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The World

Archive | The World

United States and China in Africa: Advancing the Diplomatic Agenda

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers her opening statement at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, September 5, 2012

It is important to look at U.S.-China interaction in Africa from the optic of statements by senior U.S. officials. These statements began in 2005 and generally reflect a desire to engage with China in Africa in a positive way.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers her opening statement at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, September 5, 2012

There have been, however, occasional expressions of concern, criticism, and caution. At the same time, the official statements rarely reflect the strident expressions of concern about China’s activities in Africa that are often heard in the American media. Let’s look at the statements chronologically. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Michael Ranneberger, told the House Africa Subcommittee in July 2005: “China’s growing presence in Africa is a reality, but it can increase the potential for collaboration between the United States and China as part of a broader, constructive bilateral relationship. China should have many of the same interests in Africa as the United States, based, among other elements, on our shared reliance on a global oil market, shared desire to diversify sources from the Middle East and shared concern over volatile oil prices.”

In remarks before the National Committee on U.S. China Relations in September 2005, Deputy Secretary of State, Robert Zoellick, addressed China’s role in the wider global community. Although not referring specifically to Africa, he stated that “it is time to take our policy beyond opening doors to China’s membership into the international system: we need to urge China to become a responsible stakeholder in that system.” The concept of China as a responsible stakeholder in the international system became the watchword throughout the Bush administration.

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PRI Resurgence & the Future of the Border Wars

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Mexico's newly elected president, Enrique Peña Nieto.  Source: eldiario.es

Election results in this year’s gubernatorial races have placed the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) back at the forefront of Mexican politics.

Mexico’s newly elected president, Enrique Peña Nieto. Source: eldiario.es

Led by front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto – the former governor of the State of Mexico – the PRI is striving to rebuild its tarnished image rightfully earned during their seventy year reign. Since the beginning of the year, the party’s confidence has acquired hubris due to it amassing a nearly 30 point advantage over the other 2012 presidential candidates.

Finding bi-partisan resolutions to domestic affairs will be limited in the lead-up to the 2012 election. PRI leadership is focused on ousting the Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) from power which is expected to bring a deadlock at the national level; party leaders will be unwilling to work across the aisle knowing full well it has the possibility of aiding the other side. Creating a political stalemate that undermines the ability of the PAN leadership to develop economic programs and combat the cartels will only benefit the PRI. A deadlock in government will create the perception that the current administration is incapable of creating the policies needed to strengthen national stability.

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Occupy Fukushima: Women of Fukushima Against Nukes

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Occupy Fukushima protest in front of the METI.  Photo:  Hiro Saito

The Occupy Wall Street movement has acted as a spur to a host of Occupy operations including Occupy Fukushima – a movement with a distinctly Japanese feminist twist, a strong link with the anti-nuclear/peace movement and a close affiliation with Greenpeace.

Occupy Fukushima protest in front of the METI. Photo: Hiro Saito

It is more accurate, to call this movement the Women of Fukushima against Nukes. Fukushima is Ground Zero, the site of the Great March 11, 2011 Earthquake, which spawned a massive tsunami, and which in turn, caused the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown. In his book, The Making of Modern Japan, Kenneth B. Pyle suggests, “[this time of nuclear crisis] is a time in Japan when the energy of anger and outrage can carry through necessary changes.” And there is much about the measures taken within the Ministry of the Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), and the Japanese ministry responsible for the Japanese nuclear power plants to fuel an activist’s outrage.

NGO worker, Yukie Tokura, is protesting the Japanese government’s plans to “dump potentially contaminated food products from Fukushima on developing countries as food aid.” Many other activists are protesting the Japanese government’s plans to distribute contaminated gravel from the reactor area to outlying prefectures, including Tokyo and Tokyo Bay. The question is: will this groundswell of outrage provide enough pressure to force change at the ministerial level?

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The Island of Miyatojima: An Architect comes to its Rescue

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Members of the IAEA fact-finding team in Japan visit the emergency diesel generator at Reactor Unit 6 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on 27 May 2011. Source: IAEA

For Americans, unless you live in New Orleans, it’s very hard to imagine the extent of the devastation of this year’s earthquake, subsequent tsunami and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown which the Japanese call “3/11”.

Members of the IAEA fact-finding team in Japan visit the emergency diesel generator at Reactor Unit 6 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on 27 May 2011. Source: IAEA

“I have seen disaster zones around the world, but none compare in the scale of damage to the latest disaster,” said architect Shigeru Ban, after visiting Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, and other devastated areas. Miyatojima Island in Higashimatsushima, Miyagi Prefecture suffered severe tsunami damage. Shots of the island show that built structures were virtually leveled. Over 70% of the 260 homes on the island, engulfed by the tsunami, were washed away. Not only were the islanders’ homes battered by the tsunami, severe damage was sustained to three of its key industries, fishing, tourism, and seaweed harvesting.

Since the earthquake, the island has become depopulated. Although Miyatojima had a population of 971 in 2010, many families have left the island along with many young people looking for work. In the Community Restoration Plan announced at the end of September, three of the four communities on Miyatojima were marked for moving from the seriously damaged coastline to the higher ground behind them. It is unclear if there will be enough land and funding available for the reconstruction. The local people have great fortitude and resilience but these qualities alone will not help them revive local industries and rebuild housing. But they do have some remarkable allies.

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Old Habits Die Hard: What the Election of Otto Peréz Means for Guatemala

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Otto Peréz-Molina, Guatemala’s newly elected president.  Source: eldiario.es

On November 6, Otto Peréz-Molina was voted Guatemala’s next president, making him the first military man to lead the country since 1986, the year the nation became reacquainted with democracy after decades of dictatorship.

Otto Peréz-Molina, Guatemala’s newly elected president. Source: eldiario.es

A prominent military figure in the 1980s and 1990s, he was active during the bloodiest period of the thirty-six year civil conflict that left some 200,000 people dead. Peréz has been accused of genocide and serious human rights violations on numerous occasions. Frankly, it is hard to believe that a man as powerful as Peréz knew nothing or did nothing as it relates to the atrocities committed against indigenous Guatemalans from 1960 to 1996. Furthermore, the bipartisan Historical Clarification Commission (Guatemala’s post-conflict truth and reconciliation commission), found that no less than 93 percent of human rights violations committed during the war had been perpetrated by the military, a damning statistic.

This year, Pérez has been the heavy favorite all along. In September many people were surprised when he did not capture the 50% needed to preclude a runoff. Clearly, Peréz’s campaign slogan, “mano dura,” has resonated with the electorate. According to the former general, this simple saying means “zero tolerance for violence and crime.”

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Can Imran Khan Change Pakistan?

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Imran Khan, former cricketer and chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.  Source: Financial Times

Imran Khan, the legendary cricket player, is larger than life in Pakistan. His fame, persona, and charisma go back to his cricket days when he mesmerized the cricket world with his dazzling performance and style, not to mention leading Pakistan to become the World Champion in 1992.

Pictured: Imran Khan, chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. Source: Financial Times

Imran Khan, 58, is long retired from cricket. But, now, he has brought his fame, charisma, along with patriotic endeavors into the political realm of Pakistan. The question is does he have the necessary skills to bring about Pakistan from rising unemployment and inflation, diplomatic fallout with the U.S., a testy relationship with India, and ongoing unrest between reformists and fundamentalists? It is one thing to woo the crowd with his skills as a cricket player but it is quite another to lead a country that is rife with internal and external economic, political, and social problems. As a politician, Mr. Khan cannot solely rely on his charm to tackle them.

Ironically, Imran Khan has done just that so far and it has worked in his favor. His popularity surging, Mr. Khan spoke before a large crowd in Lahore recently. But his speech did not have clear policy implications. He talked about corruption and called for an “investigation” to examine the “assets” of his opposition party members and openly criticized Pakistan’s relationship with the U.S. and its drone attacks. His rhetoric may have skimmed the surface of problems in Pakistan, which will hold the general election in 2013. And from here on out, Mr. Khan must convince his supporters and opposition alike about the strength of his resolve and the substance of his message.

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Poverty: A Social Burden or a Challenge?

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Slums in Jakarta, Indonesia.  Photo: Jonathan McIntosh

What is poverty? It points to a cycle of human behavior, suggesting that the poor remain in poverty because of their adaptation to the burden of unfulfilled needs.

Slums in Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo: Jonathan McIntosh

Sudhir Vankatesh, the author of Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets, said of Oscar Lewis, “Maybe there’s something in the way they live, in their lifestyle…that certain behaviors get transmitted from generation to generation.” Late Senator Patrick Moynihan once suggested that perhaps there are cultural issues at place. He said, “… family structure in most inner-city communities is so weak that it transmits these values to generations over and over, so that we have to take it - we have to find ways to take care of the family structure.”

The Census Bureau’s recent report on poverty in the U.S. is worrisome. The report, based on 2008 and 2009 data, says 42.9 million or 14.3 percent of the population now live in poverty. Thirty one states in the U.S. experienced an increase in poverty. Of course, we cannot ignore the impact of the economic calamity of 2008 on poverty. But poverty must also be examined from the social perspective.

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Bangladesh: Social Business Model

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Bangladeshi woman.  Oxfam GB/Flickr

Nobel Prize recipient, Muhammad Yunus, has developed the concept of social business, a special type of business dedicated to solving social problems.

Bangladeshi woman. Oxfam GB/Flickr

A social business is a non-loss, non-dividend company, where investors can recoup their investment but nothing beyond that. All profits go to improve the products and services offered, and/or to increase the company’s outreach. The second yearly social business day was observed on the June 28th at hotel Sonargaon in Dhaka. The theme for this year’s event, “Achieving the Millennium Development Goals through Social Business”.

Many investors and activists are trying to discover the method of solving problems through social experiments. The purpose of Yunus’s social business is to offer something beneficial to the disadvantaged within a state. The main thinking behind this new concept is that the investor will invest and will be eligible to withdraw that money after a certain period. Of the profits that will come from the investment, some shall be utilized for education and healthcare. The social business model may be the best practical weapon for removing poverty.

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From Chernobyl to Fukushima: Review of PBS’s Radioactive Wolves

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Pripyat, Ukraine

Many of us can remember Ukraine a quarter of a century ago when the city of Chernobyl experienced the horror of a nuclear meltdown and the ineptitude of the Russian government unable to cope with the disaster.

Pripyat, Ukraine

We remember the Russian government’s persistent denials of responsibility for the accident. At the same time we can visualize the blasted reddish scorched earth, collapsed buildings and faces of wailing children. But the landscape has changed. A just-released PBS special “Radioactive Wolves,” what one reviewer called a “best case scenario” for this site of the post nuclear age, today powerfully portrays Chernobyl.

The film shows that Chernobyl is no longer a scorched earth site. Dense woodlands are home to an explosion of wildlife, including what may now be the world’s largest concentration of endangered gray wolves. Even though vegetation and animal life continue to show high concentrations of inherent radioactivity, they have flourished. The release of this film, paean to the return of the gray wolf though it is, may also suggest a hidden political agenda. A way of arguing that if nuclear refugees just emigrate politely and sit tight, in a quarter of a century the blasted earth will have reverted to the wilds and all will be well. The refugees may never be able to return to their homelands, but perhaps the land will be viable again.

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The Continued Militarization of Sri Lanka

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Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president of Sri Lanka.  Source: Sri Lankan Government

Led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, post-war Sri Lanka is a sad place. In May of 2009, the Sri Lankan government achieved a resounding military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president of Sri Lanka. Source: Sri Lankan Government

Most of the LTTE’s leadership was killed. For the foreseeable future, it is hard to envision another Tamil nationalist movement taking up arms against the state. Yet, if living in Sri Lanka, one might think that the conflict is still going on. In post-war Sri Lanka, the militarization of the entire country has continued unabated. This development is less significant in the predominantly Sinhalese south, where military personnel are often viewed as heroes for defeating the LTTE.

But in the mostly Tamil north and east, they are viewed as oppressors. Indeed the military’s presence in the north and east (both former LTTE strongholds where much of the fighting took place) is disturbing. State security personnel wield enormous influence over all aspects of people’s lives. Precise statistics about military employment in Sri Lanka are not publicly available, but some of the most disturbing effects of this ubiquitous military presence are often left out of statistical analyses anyway. Members of the armed forces are literally everywhere. People are living in fear, especially single Tamil women who lost their husbands during the war.

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Us vs. Them – Is It About Immigration Or Us?

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Laura Elizabeth Poh
Laura Elizabeth Poh

Laura Elizabeth Poh

Worldwide, the issue of immigration far exceeded its focal point – the immigrants. It has transformed into our own value judgment, predicament, and prejudice. In the U.S., the issue morphed into civil rights violation in the wake of a new controversial policy in Arizona. In France, ban on burqa has accentuated the anti-immigration sentiments. In the U.K., Prime Minister David Cameron’s stance on putting a cap on immigration quota set off an economic qualm between India and the U.K.

My argument is here not about any policy but our moral indignation. How do we become so indifferent to “other” people? We perceive others as “other” because they are different. This is, perhaps, the inherent nature of human being. “Other” invokes our curiosity. “Other” makes us indifferent. “Other” makes us complacent. “Other” makes us contrived. But the “other” also has the power to change us.

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The Truth about the Peace Corps

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Senator Boxer introduces the 'Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011'. Source: Senator Barbara Boxer

As the Peace Corps turns fifty, now is an auspicious time to discuss Peace Corps reform.

Senator Boxer introduces the ‘Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011′. Source: Senator Barbara Boxer

With annual expenses of less than $500 million, the organization costs little when considered in the broader budgetary debate on Capitol Hill. Over the past ten years, two disparate narratives have encompassed most talk surrounding the organization. The first has to do with Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) safety. The second issue has to do with inadequate funding. First, the claims that the Peace Corps is not doing enough to keep volunteers safe are, for the most part, baseless. Many of the rules designed to make PCVs safer are either ineffectual or counterproductive.

Is there risk in joining the Peace Corps? Absolutely. But people are also at risk when they drive to work, cross the street, go skiing and pass through Manhattan’s Riverside Park late at night. Bad things happen. Women volunteers are at greater risk than men for obvious reasons, but that does not mean that Peace Corps Safety and Security policies are always placing PCVs in imminent danger. Many times these rules are just annoying hoops that PCVs jump through until they start to ignore them.

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Out of Options in Haiti?

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United Nations peacekeepers patrol downtown Port-au-Prince to enforce law and order and other steps necessary to rebuild. Marco Dormino/UN

Amid great fanfare, and surrounded by an entourage equal to his status as newly elected President of the Republic, Michel Martelly visited the Canaraan displacement camp out on the barren outskirts of northern Port-au-Prince early this summer.

United Nations peacekeepers patrol downtown Port-au-Prince to enforce law and order and other steps necessary to rebuild. Marco Dormino/UN

He had a message to the approximately 30,000 families who eke out an existence there: Factories are coming. Not just factories, but housing, jobs, services, investment, education, and opportunities—everything dreamed of but denied in the 20-cruel months which have followed Haiti’s earthquake. Certainly the promises contained a double edge—many residents would face eviction to make way for industrial buildings—but for those surviving among the harsh conditions of Haiti’s most forgotten camp, any cause for hope was welcome and the President’s message met a supportive and optimistic embrace.

The larger story of Canaraan is tightly linked to its neighbor, camp Corail, once touted as the very model for the international community’s humanitarian effort in Haiti. The Corail experiment, and its dismal consequences, is well documented in a recent Rolling Stone article. In short, several thousand earthquake victims were relocated from urban Port-au-Prince to temporary shelters planted in an empty wasteland some distance north of the city. Marked by the inefficiency, confusion, and high-handedness emblematic of Haiti’s stalled reconstruction effort, the Corail ‘model camp’ did not go as planned, leaving transplanted families far from economic activity and at the mercy of flooding, landslides, and hurricanes. It is widely recognized as a failure.

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Voices from the Ground in Japan: Still a Disaster Zone

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Members of the Fairfax County Urban Fire and Rescue Team head into downtown Ofunato to search for survivors following an 8.9-magnitude earthquake

“Four months after the devastation wrought in northeastern Japan by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the area must still be called a disaster zone.” – Tatsuaki Kobayashi, Deputy Director General, The Japan Foundation

Members of the Fairfax County Urban Fire and Rescue Team head into downtown Ofunato to search for survivors following an 8.9-magnitude earthquake

On July 21, 2011, a Town Hall-style discussion hosted by the Asia Society (New York), the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership (CGP) and the Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE), featured speakers from Japanese civil society organizations working to address the devastation wrought by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The affected areas in Japan were the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima, an area roughly equivalent in the US to the coastline from Boston to Washington. The disasters left 15,544 dead, 5,383 missing, and 107,347 homes destroyed. 112,405 have been left homeless.

Open questions: By the end of the evening, it is fair to say that while we were given a clear picture of the disaster statistics and of the activities of NGOs and volunteers working to reconstruct and rebuild Tohoku’s communities, some larger questions remained.

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Political Expediency May Forfeit Reform in Somalia

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A woman walks through the deserted Bakara Market in central Mogadishu. Stuart Price/UN

The worst thing that could happen to Somalia at this critical juncture — in its recovery from two decades of bloodshed and chaos — is to disrupt the momentum of security improvement and to derail the reformation process lead by Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and his cabinet.

A woman walks through the deserted Bakara Market in central Mogadishu. Stuart Price/UN

And that is exactly what the Kampala Accord has inadvertently done. But, who would have ever thought that the torpedo factor would come in the form of an accord, its inadvertent nature notwithstanding! The Kampala Accord is the byproduct of the International Contact Group for Somalia’s 19th meeting held in Kampala, Uganda. On one hand, the accord endorses a one year extension to all the Transitional Federal Institutions and endorses the postponement of elections from this August to August 2012; on the other hand, it forces the Prime Minister and his government out.

According to the accord, the Prime Minister would resign within 30 days and the President would select a new Prime Minster. This portion of the accord is what has caused profound public outrage in Somalia and in the Diaspora as well as in refugee camps in Kenya. Immediately after the controversial accord became public, thousands of civilians from all walks of life and hundreds of members of the armed forces took their outrage to the streets.

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