Read, Debate: Engage.
Read, Debate: Engage.
map tooltip

Editors ́ Picks

Curbing corruption

For the very first time in years, Afghanistan has been not listed among the three most corrupt countries in the world. The Transparency International has published its annual ‚Corruption Perception Index‘ on January 25, which shows significant improvement in Afghanistan.

The war-torn country has jumped from the third most corrupt country in the world to the 8th in just a year. It is worth noticing that the Kabul government is pursuing a rigorous plan to curb graft at all levels. According to the TI, no country got close to a perfect score in the Corruption Perceptions Index 2016.

The anti-graft watchdog noted this year’s results highlight the connection between corruption and inequality, which feed off each other to create a vicious circle between corruption, unequal distribution of power in society, and unequal distribution of wealth. With an exception of Afghanistan, more countries declined than improved in this year’s results, showing the urgent need for committed action to thwart corruption.

Afghanistan has secured four additional points on the positive side to leave behind Somalia, South Sudan, North Korea, Syria, Yeman, Sudan and Libya to secure a relatively better place (169th from the top and 8th from the bottom). Placed in the Asia Pacific region, the country was placed among the top three corrupt nations for quite a while, and it is the first time Afghanistan has come out of it.

Often pronounced as the country’s ‘Architecture-in-Chief’, the Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani deserves the credit for striving for fairness and transparency in his war-riddled country. The man is known to go through each and every procurement file and personally interview individuals for high-level appointments. It would be much wise of him and all his backers in the west, Muslim world, and the region to help institutionalize the reform process so that the improvements in anti-graft scale continues even after Ghani.

Even with searing drought, Africa can comfortably feed the world

Two months to the year and countries in the Horn of Africa are facing one of the worst droughts in decades, better epitomized by scorched earth, barren farmlands, livestock carcasses strewn all over and millions of people with no decent meals.

The World Food Program figures put the number of those in crisis and emergency food insecurity levels at 12 million, with Somalia having 2.9 million, Ethiopia 5.6 million, Kenya at 2.6 million and 5 million in South Sudan. Kenya has gone ahead to declare the drought a national disaster and moved on to call on the international community to bolster its support in tackling the cyclic phenomenon. The ripple effects of the water scarcity, dwindling pasture for livestock and limited food supplies should be cause for concern. Human wildlife conflict has become endemic especially with reports from Wildlife authorities indicating that animals are leaving parks to search for pasture. Just recently a woman at the Kenyan coast was killed by marauding elephants that were in search of water. There is a growing number of refugees displaced by such famine moving to neighbouring countries in search of food which is further fanning a crisis. Then there is the all scarce commodity; water that researchers have said will be central to modern day conflicts.

Variations in weather have been blamed for the current predicament. Yet scientists predict that it is set to hit Africa the hardest, especially because up to 70 per cent of the population relies on rainfed agriculture. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) estimates that temperature increases will be, on average, 50 percent greater in Africa. The wakeup call for especially the Horn of Africa countries is to look for homegrown solutions that will insulate their population from drought and its attendant impacts. The reality of changes in weather has now hit home if the current drought is anything to go by. Employing simple technologies like water harvesting, low cost technologies that embraces brainfed rather than rainfed agriculture and diversification of agricultural ventures would go a huge mile in addressing the food insecurity situation in the region. World Bank agrees, reiterating that Africa is an agricultural powerhouse that is capable of feeding itself and the world. In a report, Growing Africa: Unlocking the Potential of Agribusiness, the multilateral body argues that African farmers can comfortably create a trillion dollar food market by 2030 if they embraced better technology, grew high value nutritious foods and irrigated more land. It is the little things that count, Africa just needs to get its house in order.

CETA passed but protests refuse to die down

Although few Europeans know what CETA is, the free trade agreement between the European Union and Canada was passed last week in the European Parliament. Negotiated without political debate in most of the countries it covers, CETA (alongside its sister treaty, the TTIP) sparked a surging wave of rejection in European.

However, despite the creation of hundreds of citizen groups across Europe protesting against the new treaty, a majority of MEPs decided to give the green light to CETA, which has provisionally come into effect.

According to Brussels, by eliminating custom duties between the EU and Canada, the treaty could generate 12 billion euros a year to European economies, boosting trade growth and creating thousands of new jobs.

However, activists opposed to CETA warn that the treaty represents an opportunity… for large multinationals. If investors don’t obtain the profit they were expecting, they will be able to turn to arbitration tribunals, which can prevail over national courts. By opening the door to the use of these courts to resolve issues between companies and national governments, CETA is providing a mechanism that facilitates coercion by multinationals in decisions made by administrations. Furthermore, the treaty also leaves consumers unprotected by lowering product quality standards.

Finally, campaigners claim that CETA damages progress being made in the battle against climate change, as the treaty fails to recognise targets agreed in the recent Paris climate agreement.

While the implementation of the treaty is slowly advancing, hope remains for activists, as ratification is still needed in each national parliament. Given the scale of the social protests against the treaty, at a time when the benefits of free trade and globalisation are increasingly being called into question, it’s fully expected that citizens will once again raise their voice. Perhaps it will finally become too loud to be ignored, leading the treaty to collapse.

Photo: Corporate Europe Observatory

 

One day without us

Today is a day of international celebration and protest. It is the UN World Day of Social Justice, and also when the ‚One Day Without Us‘ campaign does its thing. That is, to celebrate the contribution of migrants and refugees to host communities, many people across the UK are shutting down participation in their normal routines to demonstrate the value they make to their communities. Shops are closed, restaurants too, and many jobs will go, for one day, undone. 

Many corporate names have also backed the campaign, including some franchises of McDonald’s. There are protests, marches and meetups planned right across the Western world (not just the UK). The point is to amplify the contributions made my migrant and refugee communities; Communities which are often invisible to the host community, or indeed, all too visible. By shutting shops and restaurants, as well as providing visible protests, migrants and refugees are letting their contributions speak for them: Want to bully us? Well do your own dirty work. 

Forms of resistance may be criticised for the negative impact they have on the protesting community; People may look at migrants now and complain – why the hell don’t they just get back to work? Well, when power is oppressing you, you do whatever you can to get back at power. You joke, you disobey, you resist. This is non-violent civil-resistance in the mould of Gandhi and King and Tolstoy, albeit with a much more capitalist bent, aiming to show just how much of our communities we take for granted, and how much of our lives are made up of the contributions of people we refuse to see. It is a way of standing up to all those politicians, ideologues, media moguls and haters, and it is a way of doing it fairly. 

Celebrate. 

Not allow extremists to exploit the situation

In the aftermath of latest brazen militant attacks, the authorities in Pakistan are opting for the same old kneejerk reaction its military establishment showcased after the massacre of more than 150 children by the militants in the winter of the year 2014.

The Taliban militants killed more than 70 devotees in cold blood in a Sufi shrine in Pakistan this Thursday. This was the fourth suicide attack in Pakistan in a week. Responsibilities for all of these attacks have been accepted by different off-shots of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

The Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a Sufi who came from Afghanistan and settled in the southern parts of modern-day Pakistan, is the symbol of the mystic Islam which is under threat in Pakistan. Instead of revisiting the longstanding policy of appeasing and harboring extremist elements, the security establishment in Pakistan went ahead with extrajudicial killing spree of the alleged terrorists in different cities, and the blame game with Afghanistan.

The extremist forces in the two countries, the region and the world have been exploiting mistrust between Kabul and Islamabad for decades to ultimately cause havoc both in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan. The democratically elected governments of the two countries should realize this is not the time for them to shy away from the serious job of bringing their houses in order by simply blaming each other for the surging militancy.

Blaming Afghanistan-based militants for the latest attack, Pakistan closed its border on the thousands of Afghans visiting Pakistan everyday for medical treatment, meeting friends and relatives. On the other end, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani while condemning the attack said ‘honest determination’ is needed to collectively fight terrorism and to ensure it does not continue to commit crimes against humanity.

The international community should stop its role to from stopping the level of tension escalating between Afghanistan and Pakistan which would again only benefit the extremist forces.

Is it finally time for Somalia to redeem itself?

For a country ravaged by decades of violence, power vacuum and unprecedented turmoil, the recent election of Mr. Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo as president has been hailed as a new, dawn; a breath of fresh air and another chance for Somalia to rediscover itself. And rightly so.

For in a country once billed as Africa’s beacon of hope and democracy, the 1991 conflict that set to remove from power dictator Siad Barre degenerated into civil war, with militants taking advantage of the power vacuum to visit mayhem and deaths to the country’s population. The incoming president Mr. Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, was himself a victim of the war which saw him seek asylum in the United States. The extent of the conflict was even evident during this year’s voting when legislators tasked with picking a new president had to be moved from the planned voting venue to a heavily guarded location near Adde Airport as news went round that Al Shabab was planning attacks.

The former prime minister therefore takes office facing a herculean task in restoring confidence and hope to the over 11 million citizens while chaperoning the country towards stability democracy and prosperity.

And the challenges are monumental. From the extremist groups like Alshabaab that have become so daring to meet terror even on the former president, to a looming famine that has seen thousands migrate to neighbouring countries, feuding clans that always spark sporadic and bloody violence and unprecedented employment levels in a country with a relatively young population. Then there is the dented image in the global arena. Recently US president Donald Trump listed Somalia among seven Muslim majority states whose citizens were banned from entering United States.

This year’s elections however have inspired hope. From increasing the number of women parliamentarians entitled to vote to a quarter, to the former president Hassan Sheikh conceding defeat and urging the citizens to support the incoming president, it is a historic moment for the country, and for all good reasons. The United Nations Special representative for Somalia Michael Keating described the election as a “pretty brave thing to do.”

“Today is a new beginning for Somalia. It is the start of the war against terrorists. It is the beginning of the war against corruption,” Mohamed was quoted by the press immediately he was declared winner. As a man of action, going by his record as prime Minister, his word is his bond. He managed to tame corruption, crack the whip on Alshabab and motivated civil servants by ensuring salaries were paid in time.

A country reeling from monumental breakdown in governance, systems and processes require bold and no ‘business as usual’ steps if it is to return to its former glory, and Mr. Farmajo must be alive to such realities.

Romanians had enough with corruption

Two weeks after the outbreak of mass demonstrations, Romanians show no sign of giving up protesting against the government of Sorin Grindeanu. Recent street marches opposing the proposed decriminalisation of corruption have been the largest in the country since the fall of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989.

At its peak over half a million people gathered at the demonstrations in Bucharest alone. Outraged by a highly controversial bill, proposed by the Social Democratic Party in the government, which would eliminate prison sentences for corruption cases with damages lower than 44,000 euros. In practice, the law would give amnesty to corrupt politicians, including friends and family members of government officials.

Romania is currently listed 57th in the Transparency International ranking, a country where bribery in exchange for help and favours is commonplace. So much so that 9 out of 10 citizens consider corruption a very serious problem.

The furious reaction of the Romanian people has successfully forced the withdrawal the controversial bill to be rescinded and the resignation of a senior minister. But not even the ousting of Florin Iordache, the Minister of Justice, responsible for putting forward the decree, has put an end to the raging discontent in the streets.

Romania is thus facing its most challenging social crisis in the last three decades. No longer willing to lie down and accept abuses of power, the protesters remain unabatedly demanding the resignation of the government (in power for less than a month) and calling for strong political reforms to tackle endemic corruption and organised crime.

Fake News Daily

Heads are spinning. Is this real news or fake? How can you tell? Are 100 million refugees really flooding the EU? Did Obama really spend $5 billion on a programme to re-educate regular working class Americans in the ways of socialism? How many businesses did Donald Trump successfully run? People are finally questioning the validity of news stories, and with Kellyanne Conway’s infamous ‚alternative facts‘ gaffe, people are also questioning what constitutes facts and truth. 

I fear this will not last very long. A mainstream name for a public phenomenon is a good start, as it of course allows people to draw attention to the problem. However, since there are no defined parameters for what constitutes ‚fake news‘, it can be used by anyone to discredit news they don’t like. For example, while it might be legitimate to criticise content-producing sites for putting out lies such as ‚Muslims celebrate on 9/11 in New York‘ (since that verifiably never happened), the term ‚fake news‘ is thrown about by man-baby-president Donald Trump to describe: 

a) News he does not like. 

b) Real-world phenomena which are not being covered and/ or not covered accurately (for example crowd sizes). 

The latter is particularly problematic, since it uses the term ‚fake news‘ to mean ‚absence of news coverage‘, whereas the term ‚fake news‘ more properly should mean ’news which is demonstrably false, and knowingly produced as such‘. Both trends are of concern, since ‚fake news‘ then quickly becomes a pejorative for all news which does not paint the president (or whatever powerful figure/ institution) in a good light; It also puts media into the conspiracy-category („Well, buddy, you know, the real news is what they’re not telling you“). 

Well, the truth is, the news isn’t blind. Mainstream media outlets are biased and are tailored towards specific audiences; They have specific corporate donors which determine the particular spin a story should have. Public opinion is shaped by the media. But this is everything Noam Chomsky told the world about in Manufacturing Consent. What we need to remind ourselves is that fake news, also, is old news. While  media outlets are shaped by their audiences and donors, they also do try in earnest to produce accurate, quality reporting. The Guardian, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Haaretz, The New York Times are some examples of this. 

Fox News, the British Daily Mail, Bild and others are, on the other hand, typically fake news institutions. There’s no easy way to say this: They just make shit up. That’s why Wikipedia won’t accept the Daily Mail as a reliable source of facts – remember, not some ridiculous media upstart like Breitbart or whatever – but an old paper which has a massive circulation and online readership. They just make shit up. 

Fake news doesn’t always look like fake news. Sometimes it looks real. So there are some things we as consumers of news can do to guard ourselves against the onslaught of imaginary facts:

  1. Pay for good news. Conservative, liberal, hugely conservative, massively centrist – there are plenty of reliable news sources you can pay for, whatever your political persuasion. Paying for this news helps combat fake news.
  2. See the real conspiracy. The real conspiracy is in the aforementioned book by Chomksy – and it’s kind of obvious to see. There’s no real conspiracy against ‚far-right groups and news‘ – there’s simply a reason some things don’t get said. That reason is, it doesn’t help anyone understand anything, and more often than not, far-right news is just made up. 
  3. Use multiple media sources: Don’t just get fixated on one. Use social media to diversify opinions if you want. But, real, reliable people. Not @fascistdickhead or whatever. Seriously. 
  4. Think. The most important one. Before setting what we’re told down into a narrative, have a think about what we’re told. 
They Are #NotATarget

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) lost six of its staff members to an armed assault in the war-ravaged Afghanistan earlier this week.

This is not the first time humanitarian activists have paid the price with their lives to help the needy ones in Afghanistan. The vicious cycle seems unstoppable noting the fact that these nonaligned servants of humanity are feeling more and more insecure in the wake of growing threats. The Kabul government, the Taliban rebels, the international community and all other warning parties to the Afghan conflict urgently need to guarantee the safety of the aid workers so that they feel safe and secure to reach those in need in the far away mountains, restive villages and insecure urban centers of the country.

Thousands of aid workers striving for positive change in the lives of the Afghans need to be reassured they are #NotATarget. The International Humanitarian Law provides them the cover, and this needs to be respected because it not only affects the aid workers but many many more in the community who desperately need them.

The six local team members of the ICRC were on their way to provide aid to a similar remote countryside in northern Afghan province of Jawzjan which saw destruction on massive scale after the recent snowstorm and avalanches. They were killed on Wednesday 08 February. Two members of the aid convoy are still missing.

The ambush has been widely condemned by the Afghan government, the UN, the EU and the global humanitarian community. All of us need not to forget those who put their lives everyday just to be of some help to those who are less privileged. And, the best way to pay homage to them is to ensure there are no restrains or fears in their way to serve humanity under all circumstances.