Monthly Archives: January 2015

8 things happening in Africa that we should talk about, but don’t

by Millie Radovic, Anglo-Serbian student of BA International Relations at King’s College London. Chief Editor of IR Today.

Consumed by the issues closest to us, we are often quick to dismiss those that don’t reach us. Nevertheless, as IR students and in a country that claims to be the champion of aid, here some issues we should most certainly be aware of:

1.    Ebola

The most recent outbreak, first reported in West Africa has so far claimed at least 8,810 deaths across Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Nigeria.
How far will this spread? How long until an effective cure is produced? Will the EU and UN wait until Ebola is knocking on Europe’s door to come up with a solution?

2.    Boko Haram 

Founded in 2002, the terrorist group has from 2009 in particular executed most brutal murders in Nigeria. This is above all a regional threat it advances. Nigerian casualties are now running more than double of those in Afghanistan. What is the west doing about this? Most recently with over 2,000 people being massacred at the same time as 12 people were in Paris, governments in Europe in particular were heavily criticised for not paying enough attention to the mass murders in Nigeria.

3.    Ghana – development and means of prosperity

With decelerated growth in 2014, a large current account deficit and growing social challenges pertaining to the cost of living and service delivery, Ghana is facing mounting pressure to resolve long-standing matters of governance and economic management.

4.    ‘Securitization’ of aid and its effects

Debate on the ‘securitization’ of aid and international development since 9/11 has been anchored in two key claims: that the phenomenon has been driven and imposed by western governments and that this is wholly unwelcome and deleterious for those in Africa. Yet the region is dependent on this help. What can be done to increase the effectiveness of UN aid?

5.     South Sudan civil war

South Sudan gained independence in July 2011 as the outcome of a 2005 peace deal that ended Africa’s longest-running civil war.  It plunged into crisis in December 2013 amid a power struggle between the president and his deputy whom he had sacked. Internal struggles are the highlight of its affairs in the past couple of years as the fighting between government troops and rebel factions erupted, and within weeks the conflict had killed thousands and prompted more than 800,000 to flee their homes. Its oil production (and main source of revenue) has thus fallen sharply. Worryingly, its internal conflicts are joined by its continuing friction with its neighbor, Sudan over the dispute of the region of Abyei.

6.    Political infighting in Somalia

Political infighting in Somalia is threatening to set back the implementation of the country’s timetable towards elections in 2016. The latest dispute is a contest over institution building, and may represent something of a turning point in the federal project. With Somalia being recognized as a failed state, and claimed by Americans as a breeding ground for terrorism, what’s next? How soon can we expect legitimate progress? What is the role of the west, and is it necessary?

7.    Next Steps for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), still emerging from decades of war and generations of pervasive misrule, may be in a position to break loose from a seemingly eternal repetition of violence and mismanagement, and move towards both a democratic transition of power and genuine post-conflict stabilization. Despite the significant obstacles to progress that remain, a confluence of circumstances and actors has opened the way for change. It is a definite actor to watch in 2015, especially as the current president’s second term comes to an end next year.

8.    Libya, the forgotten fallen

In February 2011, the Libyan Revolution began a series of armed conflicts between the forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and the opposition seeking to oust his government. By August, Tripoli was secured, and by October Gaddafi himself captured and killed. This ‘quick’ liberation has nevertheless not provided a positive turnaround for Libya. An anarchic like state has allowed for fractions of the previous government and militia to loom at large and facilitated the Second Libyan Civil War. Due to the exponential rise of ISIS, and other MENA issues in Syria, Iraq, and Israel being more ‘current’ last year, Libya has most certainly not received enough attention which is unforgivable as the situation there continues to deteriorate.

Sources:

BBC
Chatham House
The Independent

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4 UK policies the US should adopt now

by Kate Dinnison.

As a student in the UK it’s easy to complain about the 21 year drinking age back home, or the guns, or the Westboro-type bigots, but since living in Europe, I’ve seen many larger problems my country faces that are often ignored in middle-class suburbia.

I’ll note just four problems that have plagued the US for longer than our congress would care to note, and none of these policy changes can or will happen over night. Even if I live as an expat for the years to come I hope to see some change or progress for America in my lifetime.

1. The most obvious, the NHS 

The NHS model is by no means the most efficient or cheapest in the world, but the brits have a model that works with their capitalist structure and is insurance-driven much like the existing health care “system” in the US. It spends $3,405 per person per annum, less than half America’s expenditure of $8,508, which is mostly spent on emergency services. Despite the respectable preventative health measures (a diamond in the rough) most of the budget is spent on other inefficient and unequal coverage policies and procedures. The controversial “Obamacare” is in the process of being carried out, but is only a small step toward cost-effective and widespread health insurance. Adaptation of the tax structure as well as a integration of private into public coverage will be necessary to make these steps. Hell, maybe someday basic human services could be free for all in the land of the free.

2. Low University tuition fees

The United States already has problems with primary and secondary education – our students are falling behind in almost all subjects  science and humanities-based compared to much of Europe and Asia, and the constant battle in congress over education funding only expedites the overall system’s decline. President Obama in last week’s State of the Union Address proposed the idea of elimination tuition fees for Community Colleges, but what about the rest of the nation’s 2,800 plus four-year universities? The US citizen will pay an average $28,500 per year for a four year degree with two thirds of students leaving with some sort of debt, $30,000 on average. Top tier universities on par with King’s would cost you upwards of $60,000 per annum. All of this has caused a $1.2 trillion debt crisis among youth, which could change if we look more toward the UK model, which is even looking at eliminating tuition like Germany has before it. The UK has a 9,000 pound cap on tuition for domestic students (US $14,550) per year for undergraduate degrees over 3 years with lower interest rates for student loans and many of the universities are just as highly ranked and run just as efficiently, with the bonus of the buildings looking like Hogwarts.

3. Preparing for the death of the dollar

Fiscal analysts predict the consequences of the new $600 billion program of quantitative easing by the U.S. Federal Reserve to be massive. They predict that the “death of the dollar” may set off a chain reaction of international “competitive devaluations” that could precipitate a global currency crisis. The UK held over 44.6 billion dollars in their foreign reserves in gold, foreign currency assets and International Monetary Fund assets in case of a crisis to uphold the sterling or their monetary policy objectives. These protectionist policies could protect the US from the coming crisis, but the outstanding national debt prevents the federal reserve from saving enough to be effective relative to the US GPD. Though the United states is the “richest” country in the world, where will we be when our currency pulls an Icarus?

4. Cap on election campaign donations

In America, we look at elections almost like sports broadcasting – whose dirty past will be revealed, which global-warming deniers will run, what tie will he wear next? Also similar to big-league sports in America is the amount of money that goes in and out of those joining a “team” or party during campaign season. In the UK there are laughably low, but absolutely logical limits or “election expenditures” with an average of £4,000 of candidate self-funding as well as the prohibition of paid political advertising in the broadcast media where political parties receive a certain amount of broadcasting time on national television and radio free of charge to level the playing field. The field is anything but level in the US, look below.

Campaign contributors in the US don’t have to worry about loopholes, there are simply no limits to get around besides that it’s not tax-deductible. Switching to the UK model could also rid of the strictly two-party system we have today by giving emerging parties a chance to be heard, even if budget is low.

Sources

Her Majesty’s Treasury
Business Insider
Open Secrets
Federal Election Commission
Forbes
US Department of Health & Human Services
US Department of Education

Yemen: The unreported Collapse

by Sam Wyatt.

The collapse of Yemen, though significant, has widely been unacknowledged in mainstream media. With the crisis in Ukraine, the Syrian civil war and more recently the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the instability in the south of the Arabian Peninsula has been almost ignored by the major news networks as apparently the collapse of this ‘relatively small and insignificant’ middle-eastern state isn’t regarded as newsworthy. However, this idea that Yemen is of little importance, is fallacious. Instead of being inconsequential, the collapse of the Yemeni government provides serious damage to Western (and especially American) counter-terrorism measures as it confirms that this policy of counter terrorism-lite isn’t working.

In order to understand the ramifications of the collapse of Yemen it is important to be aware of the pivotal role it has played for the US and her allies in the fight against Al-Qaeda and affiliated groups since 9/11. The intelligence relationship between the CIA and Yemeni officials was seen to be one of the most open in the world, despite the sympathy for the goals of Al-Qaeda amongst many of the Yemeni population, and there were substantial agreements in place that allowed measures for the US to train up the local Anti-Terrorism Unit (ATU). Indeed, as late as September 2014, President Obama used Yemen as an example of the US’ effective counter-terrorism measures – “This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us while supporting partners on the front lines is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years,”

Just a short two weeks after this hopeful message by the POTUS, the Iranian-backed Houthi militia, who have been slowly making ground across Northern Yemen since the Arab spring, dislodged government officials from San’a, the capital imposing their own beliefs on the people, that included the claim that the local Sunni population were praying the wrong way (The Sunni’s in the region tend to pray by raising their arms – something frowned upon in Zaidi culture). In the last week, this situation has worsened as the Houthi forces have stormed the presidential palace and occupied the headquarters of the presidential guard, taking hostages and acquiring artillery and tanks that can only strengthen their position. The US backed president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was forced to resign his position on Tuesday and this has left the state of Yemen divided and without a clear leader.

There have been calls by some that the rise of the Houthi rebels is actually beneficial for the fight against terror. This is based on the assumption that the Houthis, due to their Shia nature, are at war with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the most active of Al-Qaeda branches, and their radical Sunni affiliates in the south of Yemen. Sarah Palin for example, showed her lack of understanding of the nuances of the situation by arguing that we should ‘let Allah sort it out’, showing no regard for the complexity of these situations that are fought on the premise of religion but also encompass tribal and socio-economic differences. She also fails to realise that this conflict will in all probability be a stalemate, the funding brought in by Al-Qaeda affiliated groups will almost immediately be countered by Iranian funding for the Houthi’s and the de-facto partition of the country into two radical groups could potentially provide safe-havens for terrorist activity (neither the Houthi’s or AQAP are particularly fond of the west) while simultaneously providing next to no security or assurance to the Yemeni population. As the map to the side shows the current trifecta split between land controlled by the Houthi’s (in Yellow), Hadi loyalists (in red) and AQAP in Grey shows how complex and how drawn out this conflict will be as each has a vast amount of resources at their disposal due to the funding that all can draw from their allies (Iran, the USA and Sunni terrorist cells respectively)

In understanding how the situation has got to such extremes, the history of the country of Yemen must be understood. The north and south of Yemen were only unified in 1990 – until then the South Yemen was a separate nation and this unification is something that many on both sides have come to regret. Indeed, the area under Houthi control makes up the vast majority of what was once North Yemen suggesting that secession may be the way forward to create a more lasting peace. Furthermore, the ‘sprawling protest encampment in Change Square’ during the period of Arab spring led to a drunken optimism amongst Yemeni’s that, unfortunately would be undermined by the simultaneous rise of the Houthi rebels

Though I do not, and cannot provide a solution to the mess that has emerged, I believe it is vital that the first world does not turn its back on countries such as Yemen. Humanitarian Aid must be given to the Yemeni peoples so that they know that the world has not cast them aside to fend for themselves with the threats of radicalisation on both sides being great. Furthermore, some argue we (the west) should provide arms to the Hadi loyalists in order to stop the progress of the Houthi’s but measures aimed at hampering opposition of the Hadi government are already being taken in the south, creating little progress (the US are already deploying air strikes in the region, targeting the Al-Qaeda strongholds), and actually provides a platform for militants to suggest that the West have little interest in the lives of middle eastern civilians. This is a fundamental problem which needs to be dealt with, but we cannot provide stability to the region and end this brutal war, without showing the Yemeni people that we care.

For anyone who is interested, here are a few facts about the Houthis:

  • Originally established as the Believing Youth in 1992 in the Saada Governorate, the group takes its current name from Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, their former leader who was shot dead by Yemeni forces in 2004.
  • Though often described as a tribe or a sect it a better definition is that they are a radical Zaidi-Shiite political movement whose aims are very similar to Hezbollah.
  • Their motto – ‘God is great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam’ provides a serious threat to western interests.

Death Penalty and the Brazilian Case

by Tulio Konstantinovitch

While most Americans and Europeans were still worried about the killing in France inside the magazine Charlie Hebdo on January the 7th, another political assassination was happening on the other side of the world. This was the execution of a Brazilian man, Marcos Archer Cardoso Moreira, 53, who has been imprisoned in Indonesia for 12 years due to illegal drug trafficking.

He was sent to jail in 2003 when he arrived in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, with 13.4 kg of coke hidden inside a hang glider which he owned because  he was a former instructor. He attempted to smuggle the drugs into the country because he was still paying for medical expenses due to an accident in 1997 in Bali.

Although drug trafficking is a serious action and resoundingly should lead to a consequence, is execution the right measure in this situation? Also, shouldn’t personal circumstances be taken to court, so a fairer decision is made?

In the United States, out of the 50 states, only in New Hampshire and Florida can someone be killed due to drug trafficking. In the UK, the law forbids execution in all cases, including murder, and the same is in Brazil. According to the article 5 in the 1988 Constitution (the last one implemented):

Everyone is equal before the law, without distinction of any kind, guaranteeing to Brazilians and foreigners residing in the country the inviolable right to life, liberty, equality, security and property. In the clause XLVII – there will be no penalties with a) death, except in cases of declared war, pursuant to art. 84, XIX; b) of perpetuity; c) forced labour; d) of banishment; e) cruel.

His execution brought a serious debate regarding human protection and international law. The idea of sovereignty was strictly respected until the Cold War, but after that the international community saw a need of preventing and containing mass killing, genocide and ethnic cleansing. However, shouldn’t other countries intervene in regard of death penalty? To what extent is the maxima eye for an eye in the lex talionis  acceptable in the 21th century?

Indeed, other cases of being sentenced to death penalty due to drug trafficking have happened in Indonesia. In 2012, Lindsay June Sandiford, a former legal secretary from Yorkshire, was sentenced to death after caught in Bali, Indonesia, due to drug smuggling. Even though she has  not been executed yet, based on the Brazilian case that this will be her ultimate destiny.

Dilma Rousseff’s (the president of Brazil) appeals (2005 and 2012) to the president of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono secured Moreira’s survival. With the new president elected in 2014, Joko Widodo, a new appeal turned to be ineffective and Widodo showed to the international community that the law that plays in his country is sovereign, and international demands are ineffective.

ECB starts large scale ‘Quantitative Easing’

by Julia Chladek, German first year student of BA International Relations. Editor of Europe section.

Having been thrown back and forth by the challenges of the Euro crisis during the past few years, the European economy, especially in the south of Europe, is still stagnating and facing the threat of deflation.

The normal approach you would expect from a Central Bank aiming to boost the economy is probably simply lowering the interest rate, thus allowing banks to give more loans to firms and hence attract new investments. So far so good.

But what if the interest rate has already been close to 0% for quite a long time without achieving the desired effect? Apparently broader and more profound measures have to be taken.

The instrument the European Central Bank recently chose as a response to that is known as ‘Quantitative Easing’, which in fact means that the ECB is about to buy government bonds worth 1140 billion Euro from banks and large-scale investors in order to make new loans available to the economy.

How are they going to be able to do that, you wonder?The answer is simple again: They’re the Central Bank. They’ll just start the printing press.

Certainly the process is not as simple and not as bad as it seems at first glance.

The ECB’s main aim is to prevent deflation, a mechanism even worse than inflation and difficult to escape once it has started, through boosting the economy and increasing aggregate demand. The controversially debated idea of predominantly buying bonds from crisis countries of the Eurozone has indeed been abolished. The ECB will choose which bonds to buy with regard to the capital share of the respective countries – which effectively means that it will buy German bonds as well as and to a larger extent than Spanish or Italian bonds.

Greece – and this may surprise many critics – is meanwhile completely out of the game. Its bonds are not rated as ‘secure’ and are therefore not allowed to be part of the Quantitative Easing process at the moment.

Not as much to worry about as it seems at first glance then. But still, Draghi’s policy decision is not for nothing subject of discussion.

The first and most obvious consequence of increasing the money supply through simply starting the printing press is, of course, inflation. The euro has already experienced a vast devaluation and is currently facing the lowest exchange rate since 2003. Quantitative Easing is not very likely to improve that.

Additionally, if the constantly low interest rate was so far not able to convince firms to take loans and make investments it is questionable if Quantitative Easing will. In general this decision asks the question in which direction the ECB is going?

The combined effect of low interest rates and Quantitative Easing especially devaluates the kinds of bonds life insurances and related companies hold their assets in. And this, broken down to the individual, in fact means people loose money they were calculating with as – for example – retirement provisions.

Shouldn’t the ECB be on the side of the savers instead of the borrowers? What we have to ask ourselves is how far we are willing to go for the European idea. Are we willing to risk inflation and personal losses for the good of the whole European economy?

Many, for example in Germany, who are currently losing money while experiencing a properly working economy on their doorstep obviously say no. And that is comprehensible. The mistakes indeed have been made earlier when precision of economic examinations and proper checking of criteria where sacrificed for the realisation of a political idea: the European Union. It is not fair to deliver the consequences of these mistakes on the backs of individuals losing their savings. But it is equally not fair – and politically not possible – to turn a blind eye on one’s responsibility and the economic requirements.

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