African Urbanization and it’s Challenges/Opportunities

Nowhere else is the trend of urbanization more apparent than in Africa. According to the 2001 World Bank Regional report on Africa, by 2025 more than half of the African population will be urban and the urban population will be growing almost twice as fast as the general population. This means that by 2020 (5 years before the “half-way” mark), Africa will have 11 megacities with over 5 million inhabitants, and 59 cities with populations between 1-5 million. This, however, has not contributed to overall GDP growth. When compared to East Asia, which urbanized at a very similar rate (4-5% per annum), Asia’s GDP growth accelerated by 3.7%pa, Sub-Saharan Africa’s declined by .66%. However, there has been a boom in investment (largely Chinese) to boost productivity by building newer modern cities. These projects are now gaining speed in countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda and Angola.

According to the World Bank report, poverty has become an urban issue as years of “immigration of destitute citizens due to wars, drought and famine, [and] difficult transitions from neo-apartheid colonial regimes” have driven millions into the already underdeveloped and overcrowded population centers looking for work, security and some relative stability. This wave of migrants has caught local government’s off-guard as population skyrocketed and basic access to social goods, which was already lacking, has now been stretched past the breaking point. This has led to sprawling slums in some of Africa’s largest cities: Lagos, Brazzaville, Dar-es-Salaam and Nairobi. Using the definition of slums as being “urban settlements that lack basic services such as water and sanitation,” almost half of Africa’s expected 2020 population of 300 million will be living in slums. Going beyond living arrangements, given the current level of investment on even the water infrastructure, the 30% of Africa’s population that was left without access to a safe water supply will grow to 50% by 2020.

This development must remain sustainable as the trending wave of urbanization cannot be stopped. With centralized governments, this sort of intuitive policymaking is very difficult. The World Bank addresses the problems as “opportunities” and brings about some issues that are present in the argument for improved urban planning:

  1. Decentralization of policymaking and investment authority as well as control over local resources. These practices are both unsustainable from both a financial and human capacity viewpoint, as well as promote rent-seeking behavior and prevent the creation of markets that allow the free exchange of land.
  2. Recognition of the undeniable trend of urbanization. Many cities’ planning and land use policies have remained unchanged since independence (as a result of strong central control over lawmaking processes), and the opportunity to recognize and embrace community based, sustainable and innovative strategies to evolve with the rapidly changing demographics that face these crowing polities.

The application of the above recommendations will help to propose and commit to infrastructure and improvement projects that are driven from the bottom-up rather than as a result of political-based decisions made by a city or central government. The population’s shift from rural to urban reinforces the need for cities to remain the primary engine of economic growth for the continent. However, it is important that policies reflect lessons learned from the past and that improvement projects are driven from the bottom, reflecting ownership by local stakeholders in cooperation with effective and autonomous city management. This relationship is critical to allow for the creation of land markets, and the eventual ownership of inner-city property that allows for the private-driven development by formalizing the informal economies that drive life in the inner city slums. The demographic shift in Africa offers the opportunity for governments to embrace decentralized authority, and forward-thinking land-use policies and incentive structures to promote the incorporation of the slums into the national economy.

 

The World Bank Regional Report

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Pipeline update

Good morning, it has been a very long time since I have been able to write for fun, but I have recently been given the opportunity to develop some pieces that have languished in blog-purgatory for an embarrassingly long time.

 

My last post provided some really great topics to explore and I sincerely hope to spend a considerable amount of time, and brainpower to learning about the following topics. Granted, a lot of time has passed since I wrote the last post, so some of the topics have changed. I note this below:

 

1) The first being a request by a dear friend and blogging machine Thomas Leamy who wanted me to take a look at the trend of urbanization in Africa and the reasonable prospects for success in the ‘new cities’ popping up throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

I have this one just about wrapped up, and placed largely within the context of elected officials accepting situations that may be politically unpopular, or may conflict with some other deeply held belief. Stated simply, urbanization is happening all throughout Africa. This provides an opportunity for centralized administrative control and antiquated land-use policies to be updated to use these cities as engines of economic growth, rather than shantytowns.

This cannot be accomplished without a willing cessation of administrative control to incorporate and engage local stakeholders. Politicians in weak African democracies will undoubtedly have a difficult time mustering enough political will to do so effectively.

2) Examination of the conditions of economic hardship, corruption and lack of rule of law that allow Boko Haram to operate and grow in Northeast Nigeria.

Lots of developments in this area – Nigeria has a new president, Muhammadu Buhari (Retired Major General, former “Head of State,” former Governor of Borno and Northeastern States) and has doubled-down on security in the country, particularly in the Northeast. Lots to cover here.

3) Since I arrived in Myanmar I have become unbelievably interested in the country. There are some extremely important aspects to the ongoing political, social, and economic situations that I believe can be analyzed side by side with other cases of similar situations.

Some of these being:

A) the transition from a military to civilian government, its prospects for success and what the timeline should realistically be in order to maintain peace in civil-military relations

The day I looked forward to for years came on November 8, 2015 where I sat in my apartment drinking scotch, exchanging cautiously optimistic texts with old friends, and constantly refreshing my browser window.

The National League for Democracy almost swept the election, gaining 218 seats in the Pyithu Hluttaw (House of Representatives) and 131 seats in the Amyotha Hluttaw (House of Nationalities). This accounts for a whopping 86% of the assembly’s seats, far exceeding the 67% needed to marginalize the pro-military voting bloc. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is technically barred from the presidency by a targeted constitutional act, has stated she will be wield all real power “above the presidency,” much to the chagrin of many of her most steadfast supporters. Her portfolio currently includes being the Minister of Foreign Affairs, State Counsellor, and Presidential Advisor, not to mention her political posts.

This all happened shortly after a mid-August purge of the United Solidarity and Development Party leadership. President HE U Thein Sein pushed out  the paty’s most powerful figure: HE U Shwe Mann (former #3 in the military junta, Chairman of the USDP, speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw), with whom the President was said to have had some tension with. This tension was evidenced by the rejection of HE U Thoe Sane’s (former Commander-in Chief of the Navy, key advisor to the president and cheerleader-in-chief for the 2010 constitution and subsequent reforms) candidacy in the 2015 election, among other moves.

A lot of ink had been spilled contemplating Thein Sein’s weakness (both physically and politically) in the months leading up to the election. It seems he put that speculation to rest.

Apparently, the move was swift. Armed guards were sent to the party HQ in Naypyidaw (I’ve driven past this building many, many times), Thura Shwe Mann was surprised to find guards posted at his house one morning and USDP Deputy Secretary Maung Maung Thein was called and told not to come into work anymore. When asked for the reason behind the party coup, the President stated it was “for unity.”

I can sympathize with how Thura Shwe Mann and Maung Maung Thein. That’s a strange thought.

Anyway, here’s a picture of me with the aforementioned HE U Soe Thane. Adorable, right?

UST.png

BFFs

We now find ourselves in the first year of HE U Htin Kyaw’s administration! Although,lets be clear, we all know who’s administration it is. Things seems to be going well to this point, and I will admit to having been skeptical of the developments made in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. But I was not “seeing the forest for the trees.” I look forward to diving head first into the ongoing developments in this country that I love so much.

B) The military of Myanmar, also known as the Tatmadaw, as an economic actor who controls a huge amount of the local economy and its similarities to the Egyptian military which has been rumored to account for nearly half of that country’s economy.

In the time it has taken me to get back to blogging, Thailand has a new government, a new, military government. Things change so quickly.

It is curious that just last week Thailand voted to accept a military-backed constitution.This is similar to Egypt where, despite a period of extreme violence in the last days of Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government and the subsequent coup, the public has appeared to acquiesce to the authority of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

I guess there is something to be said for having an authoritarian government in the Middle East. Is it the best? Certainly not. Is it not the worst? Yes. Think of how relatively peaceful Saddam Hussein’s regime was when compared to the current state of affairs.

C) The bargaining process in the Kachin conflict in the north – Is it still a fight for independence? Is it a fight to drive out Chinese FDI in the state? Is it spiraling to an enclave conflict where both the Kachin Independence Army and Tatmadaw are now fighting over the plentiful natural resources?

I don’t even know what’s going on up there anymore! I’d expect that little has changed considering violence has begun to spread to the valuable jade-producing areas, like Hpakant.

D) The violence in Rakhine – What is going wrong with the peace dialogue?

Was there ever a peace dialogue?

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Looking forward

In recent weeks I have found myself able to devote more significant amounts of time to studying and researching things I find to be interesting and potentially important. I know no one really reads this religiously but I wanted to lay out a concerted plan for some future posts:

1) The first being a request by a dear friend and blogging machine Thomas Leamy who wanted me to take a look at the trend of urbanization in Africa and the reasonable prospects for success in the ‘new cities’ popping up throughout Sub-Saharan Africa

2) Examination of the conditions of economic hardship, corruption and lack of rule of law that allow Boko Haram to operate and grow in Northeast Nigeria

3) Since my time in Myanmar I have been unbelievably interested in the country. There are some extremely important aspects to the ongoing political, social, and economic situations that I believe can be analysed side by side with other cases of similar situations. Some of these being: 1) the transition from a military to civilian government, its prospects for success and what the timeline should realistically be in order to maintain peace in civil-military relations 2) The military of Myanmar, also known as the Tatmadaw, as an economic actor who controls a huge amount of the local economy and its similarities to the Egyptian military which has been rumored to account for nearly half of that country’s economy 3) The bargaining process in the Kachin conflict in the north – Is it still a fight for independence? Is it a fight to drive out Chinese-centric FDI in the state? Is it spiralling to an enclave conflict where both the KIA and Tatmadaw are now fighting over the plentiful natural resources? 4) The violence in Rakhine – What is going wrong with the peace dialogue?

It’s a pleasure to be using my brain again.

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The Meddling of Myanmar’s Ministry of Information and the Guarantee of a Free Press

Myanmar’s transformation has shocked the world. This transition coming from one of the world’s most repressive and closed countries has garnered attention and support from Western governments and democracy advocates worldwide. The handing over of power to a quasi-civilian government, a series of social, political and economic reforms as well as the end of prior censorship and the release of political prisoners signaled to the world that the country was indeed changing its tone and making measured efforts towards a liberalized society, economy and government. One of the metrics that has garnered the most commendation by international parties was the loosening of the restrictions and censorship requirements in the news media.

For decades, Myanmar was seen as having some of the most authoritarian and brutal restrictions on the freedom of the press. The Ministry of Information (MoI) largely regulated the media through the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) and suppressive legal framework (Ismail 5). For years, MOI was seen as the surveillance arm of an authoritarian regime that saw a closely monitored flow of information and resolutely censored media as the key to identify, mitigate and subsequently eliminate any fomenting dissent from the embattled opposition and ethnic rebel groups.

In recent months, the strides take by HE U Thein Sein to move the media to a more public-service model have been subject to real questions of legitimacy as the MoI seems reluctant to abandon its role as regulator. Although censorship is over, the influence of the governing Press Council is questionable as the MoI still desires to retain power in order to maintain some semblance of supervisory control over the media.

On August 20, 2012 the government officially announced the end of prior censorship signaling the end of a practice that lasted almost a half century (Ismail 8). Despite this landmark announcement, many of the legal statutes that governed the press and media distribution in the country remain in place. For years the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division oversaw the composition and distribution of media in the private sector, however after a presidential order in May 2012, the Press Council was conceived to form a tribunal of both government and civil society voices to direct and oversee the development of the media landscape in Myanmar (Ismail 14). The council’s 20 member body would consist of 75% government appointed delegates largely overpowering the voice of the various journalism associations enlisted to ‘help’ with the law (Ismail 14).

This decision came under extreme scrutiny as the Press Council was to be under the PSRD with the mandate to “ensure that the media did not threaten the interests of the people, the state and Burma’s sovereignty” (14). This vague and imprecise language has become common practice in the evolution of the media of Myanmar post-censorship. The head of the Associated Press in Myanmar, Daw Aye Aye Win stated that “the end of prior censorship was inevitable, but the government panicked and tried to turn the Press Council into a replacement for the PSRD” (14).

The government reacted quickly to the public outcry by inviting the private sector media organizations to compose the Press Council’s regulatory framework. However in doing this the government still retained the final drafting authority and the secretly composed a council consisting of 20 members. These efforts were once again rejected by civil society as the change that had been repeatedly advocated and propelled by the regime was only skin deep and intended to generate support instead of exhibiting real institutional change (14).

Directly after this effort was rebuked by the journalists, a division of the PSRD disseminated a list of 16 guidelines to the private sector media and information outlets. According to PSRD Director U Myo Myint Aung, these are a “code of conduct” for the media, as determined by the weakening censorship Division. Some of these guidelines include such vague and ambiguous wording as “[d]o not write about or comment on the government in a negative way” or “[d]o not write about corruption…”  Local journalists saw these guidelines as a restrained device to maintain control of the media (18). Finally on September 17th, 2012 a new Press Council was formed consisting of 2/3rds private sector representatives. This council was to be replaced by an elected council after one year and formally rejected government funding in order to preserve its autonomy (14).

Even with an autonomous Council, the growing-pains were significant. While engaging civil society, international organizations and the press laws of India, Indonesia and Austria; the MPC was initially criticized for the lengthy process. However out of this deliberation and dialogue a number of drafts were completed: the first receiving disapproval because of its “restrictive rules on content that will encourage pre-censorship,” the second providing more comprehensive endorsements for “freedom of expression… the abolition of defamation, the increased use of mediation (Chapter IV) to settle disputes,… a limit on criminal penalties… and the establishment of a new right to information (Chapter III)” (Harris 2013).

While these constructive steps towards liberalized media pluralism were being taken, the MoI secretly composed and published a draft of a Printing and Publishing Enterprise Law which would render all the development made by the MPC’s Press Law useless as MoI would retain the right to license newspapers, websites and foreign news sources as it sees fit (Harris 2013). This law was rebuked with extreme prejudice and the coordinated response from civil society provoked the government to reevaluate the law, giving the MPC some time to submit a Press Law to the Hluttaw (Harris 2013). This took longer than expected and on July 4th, 2013 the Printing and Publishing Enterprise Law was approved by the Lower House of Parliament. The Printing & Publishing Law was seen as an update to the 1962 law with slightly more lenient punishments for infringement. The MPC reacted by threatening mass resignations if the Law was approved by the Lower House and the President (Harris 2013).

Unsurprisingly the MoI-published law exhibits the same sort of language that leaves enforcement open to a very expansive interpretation of violations and infringements. “The broadness of these clauses in particular the clause[s] on portraying obscenity… and publishing material that opposes the constitution… would… add to the uncertainty facing journalists reporting on public interest matters” (Harris 2013). The signaling from the Union government has led many to believe that while there have been moves to liberalize the media sector in Myanmar through the passage of progressive bodies, laws and regulations; these are being used as window-dressing in order to assuage the concerns of international stakeholders and western countries that have championed the liberalization process.

On March 4th, the Parliament “adopted the country’s first laws enshrining media freedom since reformist President U Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian administration came to power in 2011” (Lipes 2014). However “the publishing law still gives the Ministry of Information the power to withhold or revoke publishing licenses unilaterally.” While this has been seen as a step towards media freedom, U Zaw Thet Htwe of the Interim Press Council has expressed “‘The MoI still has power to withdraw the publication licenses,’… adding that the ministry’s actions meant there were now, unnecessarily, two ‘parallel’ laws on the press… ‘MoI drafted this bill to control the media, not because they care about [press freedom],’” (Nyein 2014).

This unclear process and opaque results indicate that the role of the media in the dissemination of information is still a very divisive issue to the government. These clandestine laws put forth by the union government demonstrate a desire to retain control over the media “with the clear intent [to by-pass] an established civil society… and to dictate the terms of the debate as the government used to.” (Harris 2013). The MoI needs to proactively look towards relinquishing control of the flow of information and creating an environment that is favorable to the development of a media that observes international standards and is not subjected to censorship or bodily harm as they seek to report the news. The government’s intent to continue its controlling practices poses a real threat to the development of a free and fair press that serves the public good of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.

 

 

Works Cited

Harris, Mike. Burma: Freedom of Expression in Transition. Rep. Index on Censorship, 15 July 2013. Web. 26 May 2014.

Ismail, Benjamin. Burmese Media Spring. Rep. Reporters Without Borders, Dec. 2012. Web. 1 Sept. 2013. <en.rsf.org/IMG/pdf/rsf_rapport_birmanie-gb-bd_2_.pdf>.

Lipes, Joshua. “Myanmar Parliament Passes First Legislation Granting Media Freedom.” Radio Free Asia. N.p., 5 Mar. 2014. Web. 26 May 2014.

Nyein, Nyein. “Burma’s Parliament Approves ‘Parallel’ Media Laws.” The Irrawaddy. Irrawaddy Publishing Group, 5 Mar. 2014. Web. 26 May 2014.

 

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Endangered animals are safe within the ‘fog of war,’ as long as they stay there

Over the past week or so, I have been working my way through the book “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush.” Published in 1958, long before the Afghan civil war and the US’s global war on terror, it retells the adventure undertaken by former fashion magnate Eric Newby and his friend, UK Foreign Service officer Hugh Carless in travelling to the remote region of Nuristan, Afghanistan. Their goal:  to climb one of the highest mountains in the country, Mir Samir. Measuring in at 19,880 ft, it is situated in one of the most secluded areas one can even conceive.  Throughout their approach, Newby constantly reminds the reader that the area through which they are passing is something that one would have to see to believe.

This sentiment was recently repeated by CNN correspondent Jake Tapper in his recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air program. His recent book, “The Outpost” tells the story of Combat Outpost Keating, and the troubles experienced at this unfortunately situated base.  I have not read the book, but look forward to doing so, as Tapper describes a dire situation in which 53 Americans are attacked by around 400 Taliban, a battle which resulted in 8 US dead and the recent pinning of SSG Clint Romache with the Congressional Medal of Honor.  What struck me the most is Tapper description of the area in which they were stationed:

I wanted to get across how other-worldly it was for the men to live there, because while the – you know, this part of Afghanistan is gorgeous. It’s mountains with cedar, and walnut, and fir trees; and beautiful rivers, but it is… like walking into another dimension, where the creatures are just, you haven’t ever seen anything like that.

The lizards, the horned vipers, snakes that look like they have horns, there was monkeys in trees, there are leopards. The lizard you’re referring to, they – I mean, the lizards would get as long as six feet. And then there are all these weird insects, centipedes that were longer than a man’s foot, different kinds of ants, a red bee of some sort, scorpions.

In searching for some pictures of these other-worldly animals, I came across a story  by Brian Handwerk for National Geographic News in the summer of 2011, titled “Afghanistan Bright Spot: Wildlife Surviving in War Zones.” It reports that were believed to be completely wiped out in the 1970’s have made remarkable comebacks. Excursions, weight sensitive camera traps, as well as DNA analysis have led to an astonishing increase in knowledge about the various species that inhabit “probably the most biologically diverse part of Afghanistan.” This resurgence in rare animal species is made more difficult by the international community’s campaign to modernize Afghanistan.  With the transition from modernity comes the exploitation of natural resources, in this particular part of the country it is the widespread deforestation, largely due to lack of governmental regulation and protection, but also various illegal lumber operations throughout Eastern Afghanistan. This process however is occurring slowly and with the withdrawal of NATO forces in 2014. The uncertainty facing the nation after that fateful date could very well halt the trend of compulsory modernization.

It seems in this particular instance, that within some modern day conflict zones, due to their violent interpersonal nature, animals are given the opportunity to grow in numbers that would be poached or over-hunted in times of relative stability.  However, areas that are directly adjacent to these areas experience an increase in poaching and illegal fishing. Afghanistan is truly an exception to this rule, largely because the Mountains of Central Asia hotspot are largely secluded and in such an extreme environment at such a high altitude that is simply impractical and dangerous to conduct a significant poaching operation. This desolation is not as present in the vast African plains that are now being widely poached to raise funds for insurgencies and terror organizations in the Horn of Africa.

Violent non-state actors are almost never committed to procurement of legitimate sources of money.  Particularly in Afghanistan, the Taliban takes advantage of the vast opium resources available in the Helmand Province and the insurgent group the Haqqani Network draws much of its financial support in mafia-like extortion rackets that “rel[y] on extortion, kidnapping, smuggling and ties to legitimate businesses, according to a new report by a U.S.-based think tank.” Now it appears that another insurgency with similar Taliban-like aims and tactics has sought to exploit a valuable resource adjacent to their areas of influence.  Al-Shabaab has been tied to poaching activities throughout the African savannah in efforts to raise funds to help in their retaking of the Horn of Africa.

When one thinks of illegal fund raising in Somalia, piracy comes to mind first. However, the piracy phenomenon off the Horn originated from the semi-autonomous, Northern region of Puntland. Piracy and stealing are considered haram or “forbidden” in Islamic law, and the lowest levels of piracy seen off the shores of Somalia are during the rule of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU).  The ICU ended the reign of warlords that characterized Somalia politics around the Black Hawk Down fiasco in 1996, it was out of their desire to impose what Hassan Dahir Aweys deemed a “Greater Somalia” out of the Horn of Africa.  Military pushed towards the Northern territories of Puntland and Somaliland were largely unsuccessful and eventually the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government forces were able to beat back the mujahedeen and retake Mogadishu.  The return of the TFG to Mogadishu marks the moment where the ICU stopped being a sovereign actor and continued as an insurgency, a very successful one, but an insurgency nonetheless.  It is at this time in late 2006 where the militant components of the ICU became Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahedeen. An Al-Qaeda aligned movement that Mr. Aweys, himself is the spiritual leader of. During this time where the TFG could control very limited swaths of territory, AS ruled with resolution, enforcing Shari’a and making piracy haram.  It is this code of law that has removed al-Shabaab from the almost $200 million annual income that results from piracy off the Horn and is channeled ashore almost solely to Puntland.  For example; the 2008 hijacking of the Ukrainian tanker MV Faina caused alarm across the globe as it was soon discovered that onboard the ship were 33 Russian T-72 tanks that were bound for use by the Southern Sudan military for use after their July 2011 independence. The presence of such powerful, conventional weapons so close to such a powerful, unconventional fighting force caused many countries much unease. Yet, the situation was finally diffused and the tanks, like piracy revenues, remained out of the reach of jihadi hands.

I realize that I just went from Afghanistan to Somalia, and I do not wish to represent these conflicts and countries as similar or the same. Although links can be drawn between the two conflicts, there are innumerable reasons how each one is very unique.  I find the “Country X is the new Afghanistan/Somalia” comparison’s to be hyperbolic and mostly useless and deleterious to the study or understanding of one or the other. This is increasingly true as Al-Qaeda, as an organization has been largely decentralized, and the various franchises in their respective theatres can no longer look the tribal areas of Afghanistan for financial support.

However, one similarity I will draw upon is all non-state actor’s unequivocal need to generate funding. The Taliban have capitulated on the availability of opium harvests and the extreme demand across the border in Iran. The Haqqani Network have taken advantage of the vast, previously untouched forests in Eastern Afghanistan/FATA/NWFP and the growing population and economy of Pakistan. In Lieu of extremely lucrative piracy profits, Al-Shabaab has looked westward to the terrestrial shores of Central Africa and their vast animal resources and taken advantage of close trade ties to a large demand in China.

As recently as January 25th, 2013 a man was arrested in Kenya for attempting to smuggle $18,500 of alleged ivory poaching money across the border into Somalia.  This man, who could not speak a word of Swahili nor English, is believed to be linked to the poachers who killed a family of elephants in Tsavo.” As increasing international attention is being paid to Somalia, with the convergence of a fledgling political system, recovery from a disastrous famine, an AQ-allied insurgency group and a hotbed of piracy activity; Al-Shabaab does well to focus its procurement of funds somewhere less monitored.  With recent conflicts flaring up in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda; these national entities have reallocated financial resources historically committed to conservation and wildlife protection to national security bodies.  This power vacuum has allowed the vast wildlife resource that is the beautiful African savannah to be exploited with wanton disregard for animal life. While stealing may be haram, hunting is most certainly not. So it is really not a surprise to see that Al-Shabaab has been tied to trafficking both ivory and rhino horn.  Honestly, I was surprised to see that Al-Shabaab is the only Islamist group in Africa being tied to these poaching activities.  There have been reports of terrorist groups in Bangladesh “raising funds for their operations via the illegal poaching of ivory, tiger pelts, and rhino horns, among other things in the Kaziranga jungle in Northeastern India.” In the future I see many other Islamic militant organizations taking advantage of this potential for funding.  Boko Haram would definitely not have difficulty traveling inward and building ties with poaching organizations.  With the dispersal of the insurgency in Mali, some forces will no doubt be driven southward out of the Sahara and into the plains.  Historically speaking, the Congolese Army, Rwandan Democratic Liberation Forces, Janjaweed militias, Angola’s National Union for the Total Independence of Angola and the Mozambican National Resistance have been involved in wildlife trafficking.

The problem here is attention. While extreme attention has been paid to Northeastern Afghanistan by the ISAF forces in terms of sustained, kinetic military action; it has allowed endangered species like the Snow Leopard to flourish.  As men as seeking to kill each other they will most likely not focus their time and effort upon killing a defenseless animal.  Africa has been famously ignored in terms of Western political attention. With the indefensible abstention from the conflict in Rwanada, the political gridlock in the Sudanese civil conflict, and the general ignorance of the endemic skirmishes in the DRC; the continent has been largely left to its own violent devices. These small conflicts between what western forces could consider ‘rag-tag’ rebels leave a lot of room to generate funds, and while some like the forces in Angola’s civil war focus upon the oil and diamond niche economies, others prey upon the wildlife.  I have no doubt that a well-supplied, fully-funded NATO contingency occupying some African territories would lead to a downturn in poaching (although, most likely harming the local ecology in other ways, some seen, some unforeseen). However, attention is not measure in terms of military action.  The United States as well as international governing bodies like the UN and the AU could do well to recognize the areas of conflict, and look to generate and reallocate funds to ensure the local resources, particularly if they are considered to be natural ‘wonders of the world,’ are looked after. At least, better than they are now.

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Democracy, not drones

The Republic of Yemen is a perfect storm of instability. Dwindling petroleum resources, resilient Al-Qaeda presence, endemic droughts, multiple insurgencies, swelling refugee populations, and the aftermath of a brief civil war in 1994 have all combined to make this country one of the most dangerous in the world. Arguably the first step to increased stability within the country is to instill a sense of unity, representation, and political inclusion among the excluded, Southern provinces.

A recent piece by Taieb Mahjoub for Arab News talks about the need for the Southern territories to be included in the restructuring of the Yemeni government in the wake of the Arab Spring protests of 2011. Many groups in the South still seek independence from the Republic of Yemen largely due to grievances relating to “compensation for land and property (and) jobs lost after unification.”  New president Hadi ran unopposed, and subsequently received explicit support from the Obama administration, validating his perpetuation of the complicit Saleh regime. With the creation of a committee mandated to prepare a new national constitution by the beginning of 2014, it has been announced that half of the seats will be designated for southerners. Hope is that this will change the trend of blatant disregard for the disenfranchised Southern territories that are now the frontline in the global war on terror.

With the ouster of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh after 33 years in office on 23 November, 2011, the transfer of power to then-vice president (current president) Abed Mansour Hadi included “calls for the national dialogue to produce a new constitution and electoral law.” As Saleh came to office before the integration of the northern Yemen Arab Republic and the southern, communist People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in 1990; he presided over a short but brutal civil war in 1994. The South’s still strong resentment towards the North has led to a political and economic disenfranchisement prompting many groups to call for outright independence.

The lack of state power in the South has led to large swaths of land to be appropriated by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as well as their local partners Ansar al-Shari’a particularly in the coastal Abyan province. Although AQAP influence is far from desirable to the citizens in these lawless southern areas, the influence of the militant Islamists provided law and order, as well as utilities such as water and electricity.  According to the Counter Terrorist Center at the US Military Academy at West Point: “nearly 70% of the Ansar al-Shari`a recruits currently fighting in Abyan Province come from central and northern regions,” indicating a diaspora of disenfranchised youth from their poor, ignored tribal homelands to the powerful Islamist groups.

This occupation of land is not typical nor particularly desirable of terrorist or insurgent groups.  Yet the unrest in the capital, Sana’a created a power vacuum in the south as Saleh recalled the elite units originally deployed there to bolster security around the protests. Many critics of the Saleh regime claim that as calls for his resignation increased “[he]… actually handed over Zinjibar to these militants.. He ordered his police force to evacuate the city and turn it over to the militants because he wanted to send a signal to the world that, without me, Yemen will fall into the hands of the terrorists.” President Obama’s top Counterterrorism advisor John Brennan has openly admitted that the political crisis in the capital has changed the focus of US trained Yemeni counterterror troops “to be focused on their positioning for internal political purposes as opposed to doing all they can against AQAP.”

A resolute summer offensive by the Yemeni army, as well as record numbers of drone/airstrikes ordered by US president Barack Obama and the CIA has pushed back against the terrorist insurgency in the south. Despite the loss in territory, AQAP still maintains a large degree of operational capability demonstrated by a crippling suicide attack committed by an AQAP operative dressed in a military uniform on a parade celebrating Yemen’s National Unity Day last summer, killing over 90 soldiers and injuring 222 people.  The attack was condemned worldwide and proved a fatal reminder that insurgencies as well as terrorist organizations do not need to occupy territory to be tremendously effective.

The disinterest in the inclusion of the south can be traced back to the country’s unity on 22 May 1991, the struggling PDRY’s parliament wholeheartedly voting for immunity, while to the north 25 MOP’s walked out of the session devoted to voting for unity, decrying a strong Islamist resentment for community between the two nations. At this time, over 2 million Yemenis were driven to work abroad, and the only profitable industry within its borders was the feeble oil resources controlled by the YAR  A civil war in the PDRY had forced the government to migrate away from hardline Marxist ideals and “has sought private capital from abroad; legalized political parties and freed the press.” This combination of these two national entities that while sharing so much, still have so little in common, has made the situation even more difficult. Even Yemen’s neighbor to the north, Saudi Arabia, has expressed concern with regards with uniting with the famously liberal south.

A 2005 Report on the development of democracy in Yemen by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance talks of these integrations.  At the time of unity between the two countries, the PDRY only had a population of 3 million individuals, a failing economy, remnants of civil conflict and an exponentially greater want for unity.  Along with another civil war in 1994, increases in piracy in the Gulf of Aden, as well as a steadily increasing Somali refugee population in the southern cities has made the socioeconomic situation in the south even more dismal.

Before the merger, both states were single party regimes: Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) in the North and Haidar al Attas’s  Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) in the South, yet sought to liberalize their democratic systems in the years leading up to unity.  When the countries came together, one of the large problems was consolidating two formerly dominant, currently reforming regime types into a new shared political system, the options were to:

  • Merge the GPC and the YSP,
  • Maintain the independence of both organizations,
  • Dissolution, and further liberty to reform into organic political organizations,
  • Initiate a widespread national front, with respect given to independence between organizations,

The decision reached on 15 January 1990 decided that the two groups would retain autonomy, however the bargaining power with respects to the YAR’s economic well-being, greater population, ties to Saudi Arabia, and general security led to the GPC to once again become the dominant party in the newly formed nation, currently holding 238 of the 301 seats in the elected House of Representatives to YSP’s 6.

This move against “the one-party state… towards pluralist democracy and respecting human rights” was cosmetic in nature, when in reality power is concentrated in the GPC. The Supreme Council for Elections and Referendum (SCER), oversees the elections, and although it is legally independent from the state, it is not independent of the parties, allowing the dominant GPC to extend favorable election procedures.

The foothold that AQAP has achieved in Southern Yemen is surely because of the lack of state control present in the region. Following the civil war in 1994, the government’s presence in the South was primarily to maintain security while towns remained without basic access to water, electricity, medical care, and roads. In the absence of government troops during the protests in Sana’a, the only state presence in the region vanished to defend Saleh, allowing for AQAP and Ansar al-Shari’a to fill this void and provide public goods to the previously ignored areas.

The allocation of committee seats shows some prospects for political power to be increased throughout the south.  However the one-party regime’s practices survive within the Hadi presidency.  The only hope for progress is in the implementation of some power sharing in the decisions that will eventually lead to the new constitution, and hopefully a period of healing for this nation.

April Longley Alley, an expert on patronage politics in Yemen wrote as early as 2010 that “international efforts to stabilize Yemen should prioritize democratic reform, and be arranged so as to help rather than hinder Yemeni initiatives to achieve peaceful political change through dialogue and compromise.”  Yet, the US has continually viewed its relationship with Yemen as one of a strategic national security nature.  Would it be more helpful for the US to view the Yemeni government with a wider scope and perhaps pressure the regime to liberalize and govern with the consent of all of its citizens? It couldn’t hurt.

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I figured now m…

I figured now might be as good a time to post some things I have been dwelling on lately because I don’t feel like taking the first of what will most likely be 3 showers today.  Two of the things I wanted to write about are recent developments in the power politics of the Middle East: the ongoing battle for Damascus and its implications for the Syrian conflict.  However, early this morning during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, CO; a former Colorado Med student walked in armed with what has now been confirmed as an AR-15 with a high capacity “barrel clip,” a handgun, and shotgun.  He proceeded to open fire on the audience, hitting around 70 people killing 12.  Based on what I’ve seen so far on the internet (barring some individuals), there has been a large outpouring of sympathy for the victims, as well as their friends and family.  As this is a horrible tragedy, I believe there is some political response that needs to be made regarding protection against more of this gun crime. Unfortunately this has become a debate over our 2nd Amendment rights ( which seems to be done pro forma in the wake of tragedies such as this), however this argument needs to be divorced from sensationalist, reactionary claims made in haste after an event like this.

I have no friends or family in CO, nor know any individula driectly affected by this shooting, the topic of school shootings is something I am very sensitive about. Being from Illinois, a lot of my classmates ended up at Northern Illinois University, and if you remember on February 14, 2008 a disgruntled graduate student walked into an auditorium during an afternoon class and opened fire killing 5 and wounding more than 20.   I know of two girls that I knew and had class with dating back to middle school on through high school that were in that auditorium. One survived that day, and another did not.  Being as removed from that high school as I sought to be as soon as the chance presented itself, I didn’t immediately recognized my deceased former classmate’s name, but my mother soon sent me a copy of the program that was passed out at her memorial, and I instantly remembered who it was and how we had spent most of high school in the same exact classrooms at the same exact time.  Now, I can’t say that we were friends at all, but she was a part of my day, five times a week, for about 9 months out of the year, for over three years, and no matter how little I knew her, I still can’t believe what happened.  In recent months I have been told news of acquaintances and friends passing away for a variety of different reasons, but still nothing bothers me more than what happened to her that afternoon.

Now what happened this morning has prompted debate about the 2nd Amendment in the Bill of Rights, which explicitly states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This ‘right to bear arms’ has been touted by everything from hunters, to gun nuts, to Hollywood stars and is interpreted in a variety of ways. However, simply put; the 2nd amendment is there to allow the private citizens of the United States of America to possess firearms comparable to those that could possibly be used by an invading force or a coercive regime infringing upon the most basic freedoms of those private citizens. While it does legalize hunting and most interpretations of self-defense, that is not why it was written as one of the most important rights given to US citizens.  Invariably, it is the powerful follow-up in the one-two punch that gives us the freedoms of “speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition” and the capacity to defend those in the most dire of situations.Now this young man (I hesitate to use this term but he is both young and male) used an AR-15, which has been the gun that prompts much of this debate. The AR-15 is a member of the M-16 family of rifles and in military use is fully-automatic, and certain model can fire up to 900 round a minute, yet anything sold to civilians is semi-automatic and fully legal unless modifications are made making it full-auto and illegal. This rifle has been in use since the Korean war and is still utilized in battlefields across the globe, making it comparable to machine guns used by any other nation that fields a state-funded army (as well as many de facto non-state actors. This rifle is what the forefathers were talking about in this particular tenet. The aforementioned constraint placed on civilian use make it completely legal to own, and granted, the illegalization of this firearm is no doubt, difficult to enforce.  But a firearm of this caliber and power is what the citizens of this country would need to preserve our sovereignty and freedoms.  Granted the Bill of Rights was written in the late 18th century when armies only had single-shot muskets at their disposal. I know this is very primitive, but in talking about explicit interpretation of this amendment (as best as I can with no legal experience), the AR-15 would be a current tool to uphold the “security of a Free state.”  The 2nd Amendment debate does not have any real base here as there will most likely be a number of failings uncovered in the investigation that could have prevented or alerted people to this disaster, and I suggest they be focused upon, instead of our inalienable rights as US citizens that apply to much more.

Now in the Middle East we see normal citizens in Syria, taking up arms against their coercive, repressive government with arms that are inferior to the Russian supplied weapons used by the Assad regime’s military, yet comparable.  I think, based upon their recent progress this has a little to do with the previous argument.On Tuesday, President Bashar al-Assad was targeted in a bomb attack in what I like to imagine as his ‘war room’ in Damascus.  This attack provided the largest blow to the Assad regime since the beginning of the uprising in 2011, killing his Defense Minister as well as his brother-in-law who was allegedly tasked with suppression of the uprising and the Free Syrian Army.  Allegedly Assad was injured and flown immediately to the seaside town of Latakia.  NOw battle rages on in the streets of Damasacus, as it appears the Assad Regime (beginning in early 70’s with Bashar’s father; Hafez) is in it’s death throws.  Although it is very exciting to see the Syrian people rising up against a government that seeks to preserve and consolidate power, we have seen less-than democratic results in almost every case exhibited by the Arab Spring.  The Assad family, most of the government and military are Alawites which is a sect of Shi’ite Muslim belief.  Persecuted for much of Syria’s history, as they came to power in a bloodless coup in 1970 building strong ties to Iran over time.  They make up around 15% of the Syrian population, yet hold most of the political power int he country and have utilized it with crushing statements of deadly power (the shelling of Hama, 1982).  For fear of extermination of his government and power there is significant belief that Bashar will use chemical weapons as a last-ditch effort to crush the rebellion and hold onto power.  This is a scary sentiment as they have a substantial arsenal of chemical weapons including “sarin, mustard gas and VX” that are well defended and difficult to locate.  It is obvious that Assad does not care about the survival of his countrymen and may be seeking a ‘final solution’ to the uprising within his borders.  Worst case scenario is that the weapons are used, The US would be compelled to intervene, but is it the right choice? This is a difficult question as “75,000” troops would be needed to alone fortify these stockpiles, yet would it be worth it to inject ourselves into an already precarious situation that has huge regional implications. It pains me to say this, but I am torn on what to do.  Good thing I have no decision to make.

Let’s say for a moment, that the Assad Regime does fall, violently.  Then, the enigmatic Free Syrian Army will most likely take control, largely Sunni and war-weary there is danger of violent backlash against Alawites, as well as other other members of the power structure.  This conflict has been characterized by strong sectarianism, and reciprocated attacks to and by Sunni Muslims have been occurring from the very beginning, and I highly doubt it will end.  This violence directed towards Shi’ites will no doubt anger and compel localized actors to react. Iran is Syria’s closest ally, and overwhelmingly Shi’ite.  They have been providing arms and ammunition to the Syrian army since before the conflict even began, and will most likely not be complacent in watching their closest Shi’ite allies, who have large CW stockpiles, fall into the disorganized hands of a belligerent liberation group. This brings up the topic of Hizballah, Iran’s proxy non-state force in the region.  Centered in Lebanon, which shares a Southwestern border with Syria, they have traditionally fought for people who embody their vision of the “oppressed.” Yet in the wake of the bombing in Damascus, Hizballah leader Seyed Hassan Nasrallah, denounced the attacks which are so very similar to those that characterize his own organization, because of the close ties to the Assad regime.  in my recent research, Hizballah defines oppression in three levels: oppression done by the Israelis and their ‘US puppets,’ those living in occupied territories, and finally those who live under coercive regime. The savagery unleashed upon the Syrian can be easily described as ‘oppression,’ yet Assad’s supply of rockets to the Gaza Strip to fight the Israeli occupation overrides all other parts of the conflict.  As the Arab region is changing (I won’t say ‘evolving’ until I see much more progress), the regional dynamics have evolved as Muslims have recognized their oppressive governments to be more of an imminent threat than the Zionists.  However Hizballah does not recognize this and refuses to change as well as the number one threat is Israel, regardless of the  uneasy peace experience between Israel and its neighbors, and not the murder happening to its East. I thought this would be an important step for a powerful political and terrorist presence to have a less Israeli-centric view on what is right and what is wrong.  Unfortnuately the power held by Hizballah could escalate this conflict even after Assad loses power.

This is about all I can say for now as I need to shower (really bad now) and more homework to do.  As these events unfold I hope to look even deeper into them, but for now that will be all.  I do not really think anyone will read this, but I wanted to express some views I have on the situations, and hope I was not misleading, incorrect, or demagogic. Thanks.

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