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The South African farm turning flies into food for pets - and maybe people

BBC Africa - Tue, 09/07/2021 - 01:54
A South African company is aiming to take advantage of a new interest in protein-rich insects.
Categories: Africa

Guinea coup: What has been the regional reaction to the coup?

BBC Africa - Mon, 09/06/2021 - 20:52
Ecowas has condemned the coup in Guinea threatening with sanctions unless the president is released.
Categories: Africa

2022 World Cup: South Africa beat Ghana as Mali frustrated in Uganda

BBC Africa - Mon, 09/06/2021 - 20:15
South Africa score late to beat Ghana as 10-man Uganda hold on for a draw against Mali in Monday's African World Cup qualifiers.
Categories: Africa

The Main Contradiction of the Modern Era

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Mon, 09/06/2021 - 18:20

Vladimir Popov – Principal Researcher, Central Economics and Mathematics Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, Ph.D.

By Vladimir Popov
BERLIN, Sep 6 2021 (IPS)

The main contradiction of the modern era, and indeed of all human history, is not between capitalism and socialism, and not even between authoritarianism and democracy, but between individualism and collectivism, between public and personal interests. Countries that are getting ahead in the economic race allow themselves the luxury of individualism, prioritizing human rights, which ultimately undermines their political and economic power and causes their decline and the rise of more collectivist civilizations. It is literally the story that is as old, as the world itself…

Vladimir Popov

“Asian values”

“Asian values” is the priority of the interests of the community (village, enterprise, nation, world community) over the interests of the individual. As a matter of fact, what is today called “Asian values”, before the 16th century Protestantism, was a universal principle of all mankind — there was no primacy of the interests of the individual over the interests of society before that time.

Collectivist values are often juxtaposed to Western liberal values, which stress the primacy of human rights that cannot be alienated from the individual under any circumstances, even for the sake of achieving the highest public good. John Rawls, political philosopher and an authority on the issue, formulated the principle of precedence of democratic values and human rights: according to him, human rights, including political rights, “are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests.” Defenders of “Asian values”, whose roots are often sought in Confucianism, believe that, in principle, the political rights of individuals can be sacrificed for the highest public good, for example, for the sake of achieving sustained high rates of growth and social equality.

Values, of course, is largely a vague and subjective concept. Economists like to operate with something more tangible – objective and measurable categories, but there are those as well. Social harmony is based on low income and wealth inequality, which are perfectly measurable: in China and East Asia today it is lower than in other countries, if only the comparisons are made properly – adjusted for country size and level of development. And “oligarch-intensity” (the ratio of the wealth of billionaires to GDP), which measures inequality at the very top of the property pyramid, is lower in China than in most other countries.

The share of the state in the economy (government consumption as a percentage of GDP, to be precise) is higher than in states with similar characteristics, the number of violations of law and order and criminal penalties (the crime rate, murder rate and incarceration rate) is lower1. There are other measurable objective indicators – lifetime employment and unemployment rate, the ratio of bank credit to the stock market, concentration of control over corporations, etc. There are also differences in subjective preferencesmeasured by the World Value Survey and other polls – the degree of trust in the government, the willingness to defend one’s country, the importance of family ties, and so on2.

But the most important thing, of course, is the mass understanding that the country and society as a whole are more important than any individual, even the most important. For example, the one child policy, practiced in China since the beginning of reforms in 1979 and until recently, is traditionally considered in the West as a violation of the “inalienable” reproductive rights of citizens, but in China it was supported by the overwhelming majority of the population and did not raise questions.

“Ask not what your country can do for you –ask what you can do for your country,” – this famous phrase of John F. Kennedy made a strong impression in the United States and in the West, but not in China. “As if it could be otherwise” – my Chinese friend plainly noticed.

Competition of civilizations

There was a time, when it seemed that the West’s bet on personal freedom and human rights was paying off as the West overtook all other civilizations both economically and militarily. The universal feeling was that “the Rest” could only imitate the West in order to achieve the same success. However, the rise of East Asia in the post-war period, and especially the rise of its central state — China, makes one think that the “end of history” is postponed, and it is too early to end the debate on the competition of civilizations. China (and earlier — other East Asian countries based on Chinese culture — Japan, Korea, Taiwan, ASEAN countries) in the postwar period managed to raise growth rates to 7-10% and maintain these growth rates for several decades. As a result, East Asia in the second half of the 20th century became, in fact, the only large region that managed to narrow the gap in the levels of economic development with the West.

Neither Latin America, nor the Middle East, nor South Asia, nor Africa, nor the former USSR and Eastern Europe have succeeded in doing this. True, in the 1950s and 1970s, the USSR and Eastern Europe, as well as Latin America, narrowed the gap with the West. But then their model of import-substituting development ran into the dead end: Latin America after the debt crisis of the early 1980s experienced a “lost decade”, Eastern Europe in the 1990s had a transformational recession comparable only to the Great Depression of the 1930s. years.

As a matter of fact, only in East Asia there are countries that have been able to transform themselves from developing into developed – Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong. There are no other states in the world that have managed to catch up with the West due to high growth rates (and not due to higher prices for resources). The last two cases can be attributed to small scales — these are cities, not countries, but there is no way to denounce thefirst three cases. Especially now, when China is following in the footsteps of these countries with a fifth of the world’s population.

The significance of this growth today is difficult to overestimate, and not only because China is the largest country in the world, but also because for the first time in modern history we are dealing with successful catch-up development based on illiberal, if not anti-liberal principles —on “Asian values ”, collectivist in their essence institutions. After the collapse of the USSR, the Chinese, or rather, East Asian, development model is gaining more and more adherents in developing countries — from Brazil to Fiji. Geopolitics and military potential matter a great deal, of course, but in the end it will be the countries with the highest economic efficiency that will dominate. “’In the last analysis, productivity of labor is the most important, the principal thing for the victory of the new social system” (Lenin).

Comparative economic and social dynamics during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-21 is another proof of the advantages of the collectivist model, if such proof is still needed. In China, Japan, South Korea, there was practically no increase in mortality compared to the previous period (2015-19), and life expectancy did not decrease. Of the Western countries, only Australia, Iceland, New Zealand and Norway showed such a result, while in the United States the mortality rate increased roughly by 25% on an annual basis, life expectancy decreased by one and a half years – from 78.8 in 2019 to 77.3 years in 2020. This year, 2021, life expectancy in the United States will probably decrease even more, while in China it will increase, so that China canovertake the United States in longevity.

And at the same time, China is leading in economic growth: GDP growth rates in 2020 only slowed down slightly (from 6% in 2019 to 2% in 2020; 8-9% is expected in 2021 to compensate for the previous slowdown), whereas in all other G-20 countries, except for Turkey, there was a drop in production, sometimes significant – from 5 to 10% in 20203.

Forecast

Russia stands between East and West for almost its entire history. The modern Russian socio-economic model is partly liberal, but partly collectivist, especially after overcoming the chaos of the 90s.

Losing in the competition with the Chinese economic and social model in many ways, the West will probably try to create a united front of states, regardless of whether these states are liberal and democratic or not, to contain the rise of China and the proliferation of the collectivist model. It can be assumed that all countries that the West considers today authoritarian, from Venezuela to North Korea, will receive an indulgence for the alleged violations of human rights and democracy if only they join the anti-Chinese coalition. The West will probably try to seduce Russia with the lifting of sanctions and even the possibility of joining the Western club of “civilized countries”.

If Russia and other countries that the West considers authoritarian agree to such a compromise, the rise of China and the spread of the East Asian model may be slowed down, but not stopped. But if Russia ties its fate to China and the new collectivist model, the decline of the West could happen faster than expected.

1 Popov, Vladimir. Why Europe looks so much like China: Big government and low income inequalities. MPRA Paper No. 106326, March 2021.

2 Keun Lee and Vladimir Popov (Eds.) Re-thinking East Asian Model of Economic Development After the Covid-19. – Special Issue of Seoul Journal of Economics, 2020, Vol. 33;

Popov, Vladimir. Which economic model is more competitive? The West and the South after the Covid-19 pandemic. –Seoul Journal of Economics 2020, Vol. 33, No. 4, pp. 505-538;

Covid-19 pandemic and long-term development trajectories of East Asian and Western economic models. – Pathways to Peace and Security (Пути к миру и безопасности), 2020, №2 (59).

3 Popov, Vladimir. Global health care system after coronavirus: Who has responsibility to protect. MPRA Paper No. 100542, May 2020;

Popov, Vladimir. How to Deal with a Coronavirus Economic Recession? MPRA Paper No. 100485, May 2020.

 


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Excerpt:

Vladimir Popov – Principal Researcher, Central Economics and Mathematics Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, Ph.D.
Categories: Africa

Belarus Crackdown Leaves Human Rights, Minorities Exposed

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Mon, 09/06/2021 - 15:47

Flashback: March of Justice, Minsk, Belarus, in September 2020. Credit: Andrew Keymaster / Unsplash

By Ed Holt
BRATISLAVA, Sep 6 2021 (IPS)

There will soon be no one left to defend human rights or help minorities in Belarus as the country’s third sector moves closer to “complete liquidation”, international rights groups have warned.

Belarus’s authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, has stepped up his regime’s crackdown on any potential opposition in recent weeks, ordering the closure of scores of NGOs, claiming they are being run by foreign entities fomenting the destabilisation of the country.

As of mid-August, more than 60 civil society groups had been shuttered, including not just human rights organisations but some promoting women’s rights, helping the disabled, and working with people who have HIV/AIDS.

This comes amid a wider crackdown on independent media and pro-democracy activists which began a year ago after mass protests following Lukashenko’s re-election in a widely disputed election.

Heather McGill, a researcher for Amnesty International, told IPS: “We are close to the liquidation of the third sector. There is hardly anyone left in Belarus to provide help to people that need it. There won’t be any groups left in Belarus to protect anyone, or defend their rights.”

Belarussian civil society has come under increasing pressure over the last year as authorities in the country have moved to repress any possible opposition to the regime.

Not only have many organisations faced sudden police raids and checks, some staff have been arrested or harassed, while demands to fulfil what groups say are impossible administrative obligations have been used to force their closure.

Some groups have moved out of the country and are continuing their work from abroad. However, this limits what services and help they can provide.

“Some groups provide legal services, lawyers, for instance, for people. Those simply won’t be there now,” said McGill.

Groups providing key social services, including help for the elderly or the sick will also be affected.

“Many non-profit organizations did work with the issues that the state did not do and, having lost the services of NGOs, ordinary people, including those from vulnerable groups, will suffer,” Svetlana Zinkevich of the Office for European Expertise and Communications NGO, told the Devex media platform.

Her organisation, which works to build third sector capacity, has been told it must close.
Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 and during his rule, Belarus has been repeatedly criticised for human rights abuses and suppression of opposition. He has often been dubbed ‘Europe’s last dictator’.

But the scale of the attacks on the third sector, and wider repression in society of anyone seen to be linked to pro-democracy or anti-regime movements, has shocked seasoned observers of the country. 

Rachel Denber, Deputy Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS: “Belarusian civil society had, despite years of authoritarian autocracy, managed to flourish, expand, and grow quite strong. The scale and scope of the raids, arrests, and moves to close civic organizations in recent months in Belarus is unprecedented in this region.”

There has been an equally shocking crackdown on independent media with most independent news outlets having been forced to close and the few independent journalists still working talking of living in daily fear of arrest.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the country is now the most dangerous place in Europe for journalists, and the Belarussian Association of Journalists (BAJ) says that over the last year almost 500 journalists have been arrested, 29 have been imprisoned, and there have been almost 70 documented incidents of violence against reporters.

Meanwhile, the BAJ, the only independent representative organisation of journalists and media workers in Belarus and one of the country’s most prominent champions of freedom of expression, has been dissolved on the order of the Supreme Court for allegedly not dealing with alleged administrative violations after a Justice Ministry inspection earlier in the year.

One worker in what remains of Belarus’s independent media told IPS: “We have never encountered so many violations of the rights of journalists, especially physical attacks, arrests, and detentions.

“An unprecedented number of journalists are under criminal prosecution, being deemed political prisoners. It is obvious that the authorities are trying to silence the press, constantly increasing the level of pressure, thereby grossly violating the right of their citizens to information, and no one knows when this will end.”

Apart from NGOs and their staff, the dire situation has also forced many ordinary people to leave the country.

Natalia*, a former emergency services worker who was involved in organizing protests last year, told IPS she had fled Belarus after fearing she and her family were about to be arrested.

She said that she was arrested many times, abducted off the street by police, told her three children would be taken from her and put into care unless she stopped organising protests, tortured in police cells, had her leg broken by riot police at a protest before suddenly fleeing with the rest of her family one night after discovering her home had been broken into by security forces.

“I had kept a small bag of clothes packed in case I was detained and held ahead of a trial. It was all I had when I crossed the border. I later found out a warrant for my arrest had been issued,” she said.

Meanwhile, Alexiy*, a former student in Minsk, told IPS how he had left the country earlier this year by trekking through forests across the border into Russia and then travelling on to Western Europe.

He said that what has been happening in Belarus over the last year was “shocking and sad” and that life had become “terrible” in many places, especially the capital Minsk. “There is fear everywhere,” he said.

It is unclear how long the current repression in the country is likely to last. Much of the international community has condemned what they say are the appalling human rights abuses being committed in Belarus, and some countries have imposed tough sanctions on Lukashenko’s regime.

But whether these are having their intended effect is hard to gauge.

Groups like Amnesty International suspect the NGO closures are related to sanctions imposed by Western nations.

It is also thought that the regime is orchestrating flows of thousands of undocumented immigrants towards its borders with EU states in the Baltic region, to potentially provoke an international refugee crisis which it can use as leverage to get the EU to reverse sanctions.

Analysts also believe that the regime’s fate – and that of pro-democracy movements, independent media, and the wider third sector – depends more on financial injections from Russia than external pressure from Western governments.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has approved USD 1.5 billion in loans for Belarus over the last year while Lukashenko is also courting closer economic ties with his traditional ally.

McGill said: “The country can go on without the third sector, and it can go on as it is as long as there is no economic collapse, which is not going to happen while Russia is giving its financial support.”

But others see some hope in the fact that even as it faces liquidation, people working in Belarus’s civil rights groups are refusing to abandon their work entirely.

“The situation is grim. [But] it’s heartening that so many civic groups are still finding ways to carry out this work. It speaks to their commitment and sheer determination,” said Denber.

*Names have been changed for reasons of safety.

 


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Guinea coup: Who is Col Mamady Doumbouya?

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Liverpool's Naby Keita 'safe and well' in Guinea following military coup in country

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Civil Society Must Build on Protest Movements – Podcast

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Mon, 09/06/2021 - 12:09

By Marty Logan
KATHMANDU, Sep 6 2021 (IPS)

2020 was a year of tremendous upheaval. The murder of George Floyd, followed by global Black Lives Matter protests, Covid-19 and the stark light that the pandemic shone on inequality within countries and between the global north and south, protests and brutal repression after elections in Belarus, ongoing demonstrations for climate action led by youth around the world, to name just a few.

Civil society, that is all sectors of our lives that are not family, government or for-profit, played a central role in all of these movements. But are those actions leading to positive results that will change people’s lives for the better?

Today’s guest, Lysa John, Secretary General of CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society groups, responds unequivocally yes. She points to past examples like the campaigns to recognize women’s right to vote and for legal recognition of gay rights.

In these tumultuous times, she argues, what civil society must do better is channel the energy of the movements on the streets into medium and long-term projects to build alternatives to existing structures.

 

Categories: Africa

Guinea coup: Soldiers seek to tighten grip after ousting Alpha Condé

BBC Africa - Mon, 09/06/2021 - 10:28
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Afghanistan: A Swedish Officer’s Point of View

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Mon, 09/06/2021 - 08:35

Bernth in Damascus

By Jan Lundius
STOCKHOLM / ROME, Sep 6 2021 (IPS)

Like most of us, I rely on news media to find an explanation to tragedies I watch on TV. Neverthelss, some of my opinions about the Afghan tragedy have furthermore been influenced by talks I once had with my friend Bernth Dagerklint. We had for some years been working as teachers at a high school, though this was not Bernth’s main occupation. Most of the time, he served as an officer during international, armed campaigns supported by the Swedish government. He had been to former Yugoslavia, the West Bank and not the least in Afghanistan, where he since 2003 on several occasions worked as ”instructor” for Afghan officers.

The last time I met Bernth was in 2012, when he was just back after a sojourn in Afghanistan. Five years later, in 2017, an “independent” evaluation stated that the cost for the Swedish operation so far had been approximately 2 billion USD and concluded that the efforts “had not succeeded in contributing to sustainable security, but had a positive impact on the development of the Armed Forces.” When Bernth served in Afghanistan, Swedish forces amounted to 500 men supporting the International Military Task Forces, ISAF. Five Swedes had been killed and it was assumed that Swedish military had killed twenty Afghans.

The original motivation for a Swedish involvement had been solidarity with the US, after the September 11 attacks. It was assumed that Osama bin Laden was hiding in Afghanistan and being protected by the Talibans. It was first at a later date that the Swedish intervention came to be depicted as a humanitarian operation. It cannot be denied that the Taliban regime staged summary executions, had economic interests in the opium trade, while actively suppressing women’s rights, denying them access to education, social media and decision making. On these grounds the international community’s involvement in Afghanistan’s internal affairs could be justified, though the political game behind the intervention cannot be ignored, as well as the fact that local and international sinister forces benefited from the foreign occupation.

Swedish military strategy was influenced by a set of rules envisioned by the US, for example Field Manual 3-24, which under the leadership of General David Petreus had been compiled by a mixed group of generals, academics, human rights advocates, and journalists. Petreus, who had a PhD from Princeton University, was appreciated by Swedish officers and had in 2010 – 2011 been commander of the US Forces-Afghanistan, USFOR-A, at the same time as Bernth was in the country.

Manual 3-24 advocated a strategy intending “not just to dominate land operations, but to change entire societies.” If security was to be accomplished a persistent presence had to be established, especially in the most threatened neighborhoods. Of critical importance was helping a “controlled country” to increase its governmental capacity, develop employment programs, and improve daily life for its citizens, while separating “reconcilable citizens from irreconcilable enemies.” A strategy that had to be complemented by a relentless pursuit of the enemy, taking back sanctuaries and then hold on to “cleared areas while continue to assist and arm the country’s local security forces.”

According to Bernth, the Manual was a desk product, developed for the military by the military. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve an in-depth “democratization” under the umbrella of an armed intervention. Bernth told me about widespread corruption – for example had the Swedes tried to find where one of their petrol trucks, filled with diesel, had ended up. Bernth was quite sure that Afghan authorities were behind its disappearance. High-ranking community leaders and officers bagged large amounts of the financial and material support that flowed into the country. At the same time, far out in the countryside, poorly paid, unmotivated soldiers were holding out against Taliban forces, who benefited by clandestine support from drug lords, Pakistani officers and Saudi financiers. Afghan soldiers told Bernth that even if the Talibans could be quite as bad, or even worse, than “the foreigners”, they nevertheless came from the same tribes and areas as they.

Conditions prevailing in the Afghan countryside might by a “Westerner” like Bernth be considered as engulfed in superstition, religious intolerance and an outdated worldview. However, Bernth became fascinated by the Afghan countryside. He wrote poems about Sufi poets who once had lived in the country, like his admired Rumi, the dramatic Afghan landscape and its hospitable inhabitants. For Bernth, Afghanistan was far from being exclusively marked by war and Taliban terror – to him it was living history, preserving traces from centuries of unique civilisations.

Through his Afghan interpreters he had tried to convince his Afghan counterparts to express their view of life, not least their religious beliefs. Bernth soon became amazed by the generosity and openness he found. It seemed to him that Afghans generally respected that a stranger demonstrated a genuine interest in their faith. He found himself in a remote world; an ancient clan society where any individual had to rely on other clan members. A high-ranking commander asked him to explain why the world was round and not flat and he often met men who wondered why a curious, spiritually interested man like Bernth did not convert to Islam. It would make him see everything more clearly, understand his place in the world, while learning humility and understanding. Men who at the same time could advocate public executions and women’s submission to patriarchal rule.

It was a myth that poor rural, people are opposed to change. All poor people want to improve their lives. Several of the Afghan religious leaders had been on pilgrimage to Mecca, while other Afghans had as guest workers come to know Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. To them, the religiously intolerant Saudi Kingdom appeared as a marvel of modernism and success, based as it was on a strict application of Islam. Many of them claimed to be Salafists, i.e. eager to follow the rules they assumed had been taught and practiced by the first three generations of Muslims.

Among the Pashtun, Afghanistan’s largest population group and the backbone of the Taliban forces, a great deal of influence from Wahhabism can be discerned. The word taliban is derived from the Arabic ṭālib, meaning “student”. The Talibans find their strength among the religious warriors, mujaheddin, who from 1979 fought the Soviet-backed Afghan government. The religiously conservative General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq had after a coup 1977 gained power in Pakistan. Fearing that the Soviet Union would invade Baluchistan, he sought help from Saudi Arabia, which by the US was encouraged to support the Afghan insurgents.

Afghan mujahaheddin were recruited in Pakistani refugee camps, where young men were trained in Koranic schools, several supported by Wahabbis loyal to the Saudis. These madrassas built on a 200 years long tradition. Sayyid Ahmad (1786-1831 CE) had in India founded a movement opposed to British colonialism, while fomenting socio-religious reforms. Persecuted by British-Sikh forces, he had established a stronghold in India’s independent tribal belt in the Peshawar Valley, which nowadays is the heartland of the Pakistani Pashtun. Sayyid Ahmad opposed local interpretations and customs, which according to him had corrupted Islam. It is generally assumed that after he had met Wahhabi clerics during a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1821, Sayyid Ahmad began to study Al-Wahhab’s writings and eventually became a puritanical fundamentalist and Jihadist cleric. However, Sayyid Ahmad never considered himself to be a Wahhabist.

Most Wahhabis refuse to be labeled as such, especially since the movemnet’s founder had been averse to the elevation of any individual, including using a person’s name to label an Islamic school. Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab (1703 – 1792 CE) was a religious leader, reformer, scholar and theologian from Najd in central Arabia. He preached a strict adherence to Salafism, proclaiming the necessity of returning to the Quran and Hadith, calling himself and his followers Muwahhidun, Unitarians. Al-Wahhab’s opinions earned him many enemies, particularly since his followers destroyed mosques, tombs and sanctuaries, while attacking opponents to their leader’s interpretation of Islam. Al-Wahhab charted a religio-political pact with Muhammad bin Saud, supporting him in the establishment of the Emirate of Diriyah, thus initiating a still remaining power-sharing arrangement between Wahhabism and the Saud Dynasty. Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the present king of Saudi Arabia, has declared: “I dare anyone to bring a single alphabetical letter from the Sheikh’s books that goes against the book of Allah and the teachings of his prophet, Muhammad.”

Through Zia-ul-Haq, Saudi Arabia supported Wahhabi groups in an effort to limit Shiite influence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A policy supported by the US, as part of its opposition to Soviet presence in the area. Saudi Arabia still remains one of the US largest Middle East allies and has for decades acted as a mediator between Washington and Islamabad. This is just one aspect of the complicated international power game behind the Afghan tragedy. At the centre is the Afghan people, being used as pawns in a disaster caused by greed and politics. Bernth died eight years ago, though his opinions are still with me: “Everything in Afghanistan spells disaster. It is much more complicated than the US slogan of ‘winning hearts and minds’. You and I are teachers and to influence our pupils, good or bad, we have to respect and learn from them. Taliban means “pupil” and so far they have seldom been listened to, but have in every conceivable manner been used to serve foreign interests … nothing good will come out of that.”

Sources: Allen, Charles (2009) God’s Terrorists: The Wahhabi Cult and the Hidden Roots of Modern Jihad. New York: Hachette. Joint Chiefs of Staff (2009) The Petraeus Doctrine: The Field Manual on Counterinsurgency Operations. Scotts Valley CA: Create Space.

 


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Categories: Africa

Afghanistan – Another Viet Nam?

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Mon, 09/06/2021 - 07:56

By Daud Khan
ROME, Sep 6 2021 (IPS)

There are several points of similarity between the war in Afghanistan and the war in Viet Nam. The Taliban, like the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong, proved to be formidable tacticians and fighters. They managed to contain a far better equipped opponent and mount effective counteroffensives; access sufficient domestic and foreign funding to pay their fighters and support their families; build a formidable intelligence network; and acquire necessary technical capabilities in areas such as repair and maintenance of small arms.

Daud Khan

Both the Vietnamese and the Taliban were experts in the use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). In Viet Nam an estimated 10% of US army deaths and almost 20% of injuries were due to booby traps and land mines. In comparison, in Afghanistan nearly half of deaths were due to IEDs. An officer who served in a bomb disposal unit in Afghanistan told me about how the Taliban were as skilled as most conventional armies in handling explosives. According to this person, apparently one of the Taliban’s most skilled operatives was a lady whose work was recognizable for the sophistication of the associated electronics.

Like the Vietnamese, the Taliban also proved to be canny strategists. Their approach during the Doha engagement was very similar to that of the North Vietnamese during the Paris talks – negotiate but give away little; continue to fight on the ground and gain territory; and accompany this by a strong propaganda effort to undermine the morale of the weakest element in the enemy ranks (the South Vietnamese army in the one case; the Afghan National Army in the other).

There are also striking similarities in the images of representative moments of the two wars. US soldiers armed with equipment worth tens of thousands of dollars, patrolling villages and hamlets with small children, wide-eyed and ill clad, looking on; scruffy looking Viet Cong or Afghan soldiers armed only with light arms and grenade launchers marching through barren hills or torrid jungles; and, during the last days of the war, the helicopters taking off from Kabul and the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon.

Now that the USA and its allies have left Afghanistan and the Taliban are taking up the reins of Government, it is worth speculating about what kind of regime we are likely to see. Key questions in the coming years will be: how the Taliban would treat their political and military opponents; what systems of administration and justice would they set up; what will be the role of women and how they will be treated; what relations would they have with countries regional players such a Pakistan, Iran, China, Russia and Turkey, as well as with the USA; and, above all how will they bring about a prosperous Afghanistan?

The Taliban appear to have learnt from the Vietnamese in the conduct of the war. Maybe they should also learn lessons from Viet Nam about the conduct of the post-war peace.

After the USA pulled out of Viet Nam, the Communist Party took over a poverty-stricken and ravaged country where much infrastructure was destroyed, basic services were missing and the large swathes of the country side were inaccessible due to landmines or the use of Agent Orange – a chemical defoliant that was aerially sprayed to destroy the forests that the Viet Cong were allegedly hiding in. Deep social and economic divisions separated the north and the south of the country. There was also a huge flight of capital, both financial and human, soaring inflation rates and severe debt problems. Not much different from Afghanistan today?

But despite the disastrous starting point, Viet Nam’s development over the last 45 years has been remarkable. During the first decade after the end of the war, economic progress was slow as priority was given to political consolidation with the Communist Party tightening its hold on power and laying the foundations for systems for administration, security, development and fiscal management. There was also a massive focus on education at all levels, from primary to tertiary, with top students being sent abroad for doing Master’s degrees and Doctorates at top universities around the world.

Another achievement of that period was the establishment of high levels of participation, accountability and competence at commune level – the lowest level of Government. I worked in some of the poorest and most remote areas of Viet Nam and the dedication and organizational skills of Government staff even in these areas was striking. Even more striking was the level of people’s involvement – no one had qualms about berating the Commune Chairman and his team for jobs not done, duties overlooked and problems not given due attention.

The building on the political and administrative efforts made in the first decade after unification, attention turned to economic stabilization and development. Reforms introduced in the mid to late 1980s liberalized much of economy and spurred rapid economic growth, transforming what was then one of the world’s poorest nations into a lower middle-income country with GPD per capita approaching US$3,000.

A major factor in making the reforms work was the commitment of Government staff at all levels and the strong ideology that underpinned the development effort. The Communist Party played a key role ensuring that resources and processes were not captured by local elites; that development efforts focused on meeting real needs; that economic growth was by and large equitable with the result that poverty rates, which were well over 70% at one point, fell to around 5%; and that foreign policy and international relations were pragmatic and subservient to the economic needs at the time. A couple of anecdotes would illustrate the commitment and pragmatism of the some of these people.

My work often involved close interaction with senior Government staff. A routine part of this was a certain degree of socialization – a coffee together, a drink after work, or a pleasant dinner – which created a friendly, informal atmosphere where difficult issues could be discussed and hopefully sorted out. But I was puzzled by the fact that while there were plenty of official “banquets” there was never any personal invitations from our counterparts – neither to their houses nor elsewhere. The reasons became clear to me over time. The salaries of even senior Government employees were simply not enough to cover the costs of dinners or other such events.

And after several years, when I was finally invited to the house of one of my counterparts for dinner, I had the privilege – and I use the word privilege deliberately – to see how senior government staff lived, I also understood why they never invited us home. They were simply embarrassed.

My friend picked me up from my hotel on his 90 cc Honda motorcycle; took me to his modest two bedroom flat where he lived with his family of five; and we had a simple and frugal dinner cooked by his wife and mother-in-law. No big cars, no servants, no fancy electronic equipment. And this was a person who had a PhD. from Harvard University; who at the time was a Director in the ministry I was working with; and who went on to become the Governor of a Province and then a full Minister. And he, like many others, despite their low pay and limited privileges, worked incredibly hard, often sleeping in their offices when major policy changes and decisions were being formulated and implemented.

The second anecdote regards attitudes to the past and the future. Another senior Government officer told me about living in Hanoi during the war – the planes screaming overhead night after night, the rush to the bomb shelters, and the sounds of explosions. Her father was a senior officer in the army and was never at home; and every time the phone rang her mother’s hand used to tremble as she picked up the receiver as she braced herself for bad news. She also told me she still had nightmares about their home being bombed or receiving a telephone call to inform them that her father had been killed – and how she would wake up from these nightmares in a cold sweat with the smell of death and destruction in her nostrils.

I asked her how she felt about present day Viet Nam, where US investments were pouring in, various trade delegations were visiting her ministry, and the young people from US and Europe were thronging the cafes and bars of the city. Without batting an eyelid she said: “We have to close the door to the past, and open the door to the future”. This was a phrase I went to hear many time after that.

Is it at all possible that the Taliban will continue to follow in the footsteps of the Vietnamese over the coming years?

If they were to do so, they would have to overcome a series of political and social challenges such as the turning their fighters into a force for peace and security; overcoming tribal differences; limiting the influence of outside organizations such as Al-Qaeda or ISIS who may wish to make Afghanistan a base for global or regional Jihad; handling the more radical groups within their own ranks; promoting education for everyone; and unleashing the power of Afghan women. They will also have to turn their attention to economic issues such as trade, finance and development and this will involve making links with richer countries, with international financial institutions, and with humanitarian and aid agencies and NGOs.

Do the Taliban have the discipline and dedication to address these and other challenges? The Taliban have overcome immense odds to defeat the mightiest army ever present on the planet. They now have to run the country. Good luck to the Afghan people who, after over four decades of war, deserve four decades of peace and progress as happened in Viet Nam.

Daud Khan works as consultant and advisor for various Governments and international agencies. He has degrees in Economics from the LSE and Oxford – where he was a Rhodes Scholar; and a degree in Environmental Management from the Imperial College of Science and Technology. He lives partly in Italy and partly in Pakistan. He has worked extensively in Viet Nam and in Afghanistan.

 


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Categories: Africa

Afghanistan – a Turning Point?

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Mon, 09/06/2021 - 07:33

Women walk among makeshift tents in a camp for internally displaced people in Mazar-e Sharif city in northern Afghanistan. Credit: UNHCR/Edris Lutfi

By Sarala Fernando
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Sep 6 2021 (IPS)

Headlines in the press, live TV and internet coverage of the chaos at Kabul airport following the American withdrawal from Afghanistan has generated an impression around the world of an American foreign policy debacle, belittling the supremacy of American military power.

With even smaller NATO allies like Latvia criticizing the US for lack of prior consultation on the withdrawal will this be a turning point for the Europeans to assume more responsibility for their security and even to fashion a pan-European defence system as suggested by President Macron of France?

Cynics will disagree, given that European allies have for years fought shy of even increasing their financial contributions to NATO, despite constant pressure from the US. However, France has assumed a lead role as a security provider with President Macron making official visits in Africa and Iraq where he said France will continue to support the global fight against terror even where the US has decided to leave.

The real historical turning point, however, is that the US which branded the Taliban as “terrorists” and drove them out of Kabul twenty years ago, are now negotiating with the same Taliban on the basis of shared interests.

In the hurly burly of the chaotic media images, one may fail to see that the US withdrawal and the deadline of August 31 was in fact part of a carefully agreed negotiation process going back to the Trump era (and formally signed as far back as February 2020 between US Ambassador Khalilzad and Taliban chief Baradar), now unfolding into the last stage of implementation in a non-combat humanitarian mission of evacuation/withdrawal.

The tipping point for US security planners had come some years ago when they realized that the elected government in Kabul was unable to give leadership to the Afghan security forces to maintain their control of territory, despite the training and equipping provided by the US to some three hundred thousand Afghan security forces.

What has happened on the ground in the last weeks has legal implications since recognition of a government depends on its ability to control the territory within its accepted borders. The speed at which the regional cities fell to Taliban control in their recent offensive underlines the Taliban’s ability to negotiate power sharing arrangements with the feudal lords controlling those cities and representing various ethnic groups.

As on now, despite widespread media fears, ethnic war has not broken out although there are many reports of human rights violations and individual killings especially from the Hazara ethnic community. Despite the public smirking on the so called US “defeat”, Afghanistan’s great power neighbours like Russia and China have extended support ( ie see reference to “ a soft landing”) in engaging the Taliban in their common interest of a stable Afghanistan which would not give shelter and succor to terrorist groups.

Qatar has become the lead negotiator for the international community and together with Russia, China have kept their embassies open in Afghanistan. Pakistan with its old links to the Taliban has also been a key intermediary between the Taliban and the international community, leaving India isolated and the strategic partnership between India and the US somewhat in limbo.

Initially, US political advisers like Peter Galbraith had suggested that there were positive signs with the Taliban in control, none of the remaining American assets had been attacked and that there was a relative calm in Kabul without any major violence.

Despite the suicide attack on Thursday 26 August claimed by ISIS K, killing some 14 American servicemen and over 100 Afghans crowding the airport gates, the US-Taliban cooperation has continued.

The Taliban have claimed that about 30 of their members were also among the victims and significantly didn’t comment when the US in retaliation launched drone strikes against the alleged ISIS K perpetrators in Afghanistan territory. Some even suggest that the Taliban may have provided the ground intelligence for the strikes.

The US engagement with the Taliban and the attempt to bring it out of the cold, is comparable to the Oslo peace process which sought to bring the PLO and Israel into an agreement. The US withdrawal, dramatic as it has been thanks to the media coverage, is in fact just a step in a process which has involved talks on several tracks with the Taliban over some years now.

With the foreign troop withdrawal completed by August 31, the coming weeks and months will witness perhaps the most important turning point, whether an armed group like the Taliban with its strict Islamic code, can in fact convert to an “inclusive” government with sufficient legitimacy to enable resumption of Western monetary and humanitarian assistance presumably under the supervision of UN and international humanitarian organizations, including the ICRC with extended operations across Afghanistan, still remaining in Kabul.

The Taliban has publicly provided reassurance of changed behavior including more respect for women’s rights to education and work for example. However, removal of international sanctions and recognition of the Taliban government will be the last on the agenda, given the uncertainty over the counter-terrorism dilemma and meeting international human rights standards.

The re-formulation of US foreign policy catering to the domestic agenda to bring American troops home and calling upon allies to meet a greater cost share of foreign base arrangements took a brash “showman” appearance under President Trump.

However, it is President Biden who has taken the hard decision (“the buck stops with me”) on the withdrawal from Afghanistan which became possible after the capture of Osama Bin Laden and destruction of his Al Qaeda network during the Obama Administration.

Domestic calls for investigations also played a part in this decision following the audit of the millions of US dollars spent in that country, mainly through hundreds of American contractors. More scandals will break with hundreds of thousands of pieces of American weaponry transferred to the Afghan army now being flaunted in Taliban hands.

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan marks the end of the global war on terror declared by President George Bush after 9/11 and represents an important turning point for the reformulation of US foreign and national security policy.

Perceptive analysis has suggested that future American global leadership will “prioritize diplomacy, soft-power tools, economic and financial levers, technological advantage, intelligence-gathering and specialised defensive capabilities” (the Guardian) on committing of troops to full scale invasions and occupations.

This has been termed a “smart power” for a new era. This analysis also suggested that under the new strategy, US counter-terrorism policy will look beyond “Islamist terror to the rising domestic threat from far-right extremists”.

For some time now, the US military has been questioning its role in “nation building” activities in distant places like Afghanistan and calling for a return to its traditional role of securing the homeland territory.

So, what is the relevance for countries like Sri Lanka? On the recognition issue, the Foreign Ministry in Colombo has quite correctly remained non-committal given the fast-evolving situation. Opposition leaders, calling for non-recognition of the Taliban, are way off the mark.

Perhaps most important for us is to ponder how a small “terrorist” group once defeated by a pre-eminent superpower could yet sustain itself, regroup and come to power after twenty years, attracting the support of foreign fighters and overcoming local power centres.

There is another point, the Taliban has publicly announced that it will not harbor other terrorist groups in Afghanistan – how genuine this is, has been questioned by many who point to Al Qaeda and Islamic State as being embedded throughout the districts.

Following the bomb attack near Kabul airport claimed by ISIS K, the US took retaliatory action probably based on intelligence provided by the Taliban – a new pattern of pragmatic cooperation on mutual interests to watch, going into the future.

At the domestic level, will the Taliban example embolden local groups in other countries to rely on mobilizing domestic resources for their operations with distant goals in mind, while taking sustenance from foreign ideology?

This is why it is so important to know the intelligence ramifications of the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka and the nexus between the foreign and domestic networks as demanded by the Catholic church on behalf of the victims.

Sarala Fernando, retired from the Foreign Ministry in Sri Lanka as Additional Secretary. Her last Ambassadorial appointment was as Permanent Representative to the UN and International Organizations in Geneva. Her PhD was on India-Sri Lanka relations and she writes on foreign policy, diplomacy and protection of heritage.

 


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Categories: Africa

South Africa danger zone: Living in a 'hijacked' building

BBC Africa - Mon, 09/06/2021 - 01:08
Pictures of squatters in a South African inner city with high levels of crime, drugs and prostitution.
Categories: Africa

Morocco squad escorted out of Guinea after apparent coup

BBC Africa - Sun, 09/05/2021 - 22:57
Morocco are escorted out of Guinea after apparent coup postpones game, while on the pitch Namibia stun Togo.
Categories: Africa

South Africa's ex-president Zuma placed on medical parole

BBC Africa - Sun, 09/05/2021 - 16:53
Jacob Zuma will now serve the remainder of his 15-month sentence in the community.
Categories: Africa

Guinea capital Conakry on alert as heavy gunfire heard

BBC Africa - Sun, 09/05/2021 - 13:46
President Alpha Conde is said to be unharmed while soldiers are seen near the presidential palace.
Categories: Africa

Mali police storm jail to free detained commander

BBC Africa - Sun, 09/05/2021 - 12:06
The commander of Mali's anti-terror police is accused of murder during 2020 anti-government protests.
Categories: Africa

Kenyan men join battle to end FGM

BBC Africa - Sun, 09/05/2021 - 01:42
Campaigners say it is important that Kenyan men join the battle to end female genital mutilation.
Categories: Africa

Ethiopia: Thousands of Tigray rebels killed, military claims

BBC Africa - Sat, 09/04/2021 - 19:44
A leading general says 5,600 rebels have been killed in fierce fighting aided by airstrikes.
Categories: Africa

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