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Editors ́ Picks

Incoming AU Commission head has his in tray full

The recently concluded African Union elections for the commission’s chair have heralded a new dawn, and come at a time when the continental body continue to loose clout and gravitas in the international geopolitics due to perceived lackadaisical approach and attitudes to matters that are at the heart of the continent.

Indeed the mention of the African Union evokes perceptions of an association of kleptocracies keen only on advancing personal interests even as the world looks at the bloc to fulfill the needs and aspirations of its people.

The election of Chad’s Foreign Affairs Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat at the helm of the Union is already inspiring hope in several quarters. Unlike his predecessor South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who was accused of being aloof, out of touch with African problems and taking too much time to concentrate on her own political ambitions back home, Mr. Mahamat has a track record of addressing a vortex of Africa’s calvaries key among them insecurity. In his foreign affairs docket in Chad he has taken the front seat in the fight against Islamists in Mali, Nigeria and Sahel catapulting him to international stardom. In fact right after his election his maiden speech envisioned an Africa where “the sound of guns will be drowned out by cultural songs and rumbling factories.”

And indeed For Mahamat, the in tray is full, for beyond the lofty walls at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, is a litany of problems, old and emerging, littered across Africa that calls for his immediate attention. The rise of radical groups and a growing list of frustrated youth who are finding refugee and comfort in these extremist groups is the continent’s greatest headache. The 2016 Global Terrorism Index shows that the deadliest jihadist group by number of casualties globally isn’t ISIS but Nigeria’s Boko Haram. Even more harrowing is the revelation by National Counter terrorism Center that out of the 18 fully operational ISIS branches, eight are in Africa.  Then there the migration puzzle, the ever growing reality of climate change and drought and a growing list of countries degenerating into orgies of politically instigated violence and dwindling democratic space.

Still Africa continues to be one of the most desirable investment destinations with seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world being in Africa. Mahamat should therefore rise to the occasion, steward Africa out its current labyrinth while inspiring confidence and hope in a continent billed as a land of plenty.

 

The fire that swallowed Grenfell Tower is political

Under a Tory government that rejects regulations for safe housing for all, it seems that the tragic fire that engulfed the 24 storey Grenfell Tower was political on every level. Just after midnight on June 14th, the fire brigade was summoned to the West London social housing tower, situated in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, in a desperate aim to salvage what would soon become a 24-hour inferno, leaving at least 58 people dead or ‘missing, presumed dead’, dozens injured and 120 families without a home.

Indeed speculative accusations that follow incidents on such scale are to be expected, but in this case the evidence of criminal negligence as well as sheer dismissal of repeated pleas to make the tower safe for its inhabitants is overwhelming. Since 1999, the residents have been reporting dangerous electrical wiring to their landlord the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO); and in 2013 laptops, refrigerators and other electric appliances were suddenly damaged by a series of mysterious power surges. Needless to say, the tenants of the social housing block had every reason to fight for their basic human right of safe housing – and precisely that they did. Yet instead of securing the electrical systems, renewing the emergency lighting and access to and from the tower, the residents of Grenfell Tower received a £10 million refurbishment that included blocked access to a fire exit on the walkway level and highly flammable exterior cladding.

Why is this devastating fire political? Because just last year the Labour party proposed an amendment to the government’s new Housing and Planning Bill which was swiftly rejected by the Conservative party. It is political because basic appeals by citizens were rejected and ignored; and it continues to be political as long as over 4,000 tower blocks in the UK remain functioning without meeting the regulation standards, of which 87 are cladded with the same flammable material.

Both Rydon, the contractor who oversaw the refurbishment of Grenfell, together with Harley Facades, the company that installed the cladding insist fire regulations were met – meanwhile The Fire Brigade Union advocates that the problem doesn’t lie within the regulation itself, but the tests that comply with the regulation. The Grenfell Tower fire is political because accountability and justice are key, and nowhere yet to be found.

New Delhi - the gang rape capital of India

There was a massive hue and cry all over India in fact the whole world following the infamous 2012 Delhi gang rape case of gang rape and fatal assault. It occurred on 16 December 2012 in South Delhi.

The incident took place when a 23-year-old female student was beaten, gang raped, and tortured in a private bus in which she was traveling with her friend. There were six others in the bus, including the driver, all of whom raped the woman and beat her friend. Eleven days after the assault, she was transferred to a hospital in Singapore for emergency treatment, but died from her injuries two days later.

Back then, one of India’s iconic film stars Shah Rukh Khan publicly said: „I am so sorry that I am a part of this society and culture“, and „I am so sorry that I am a man“. Khan said in a message that rape embodies sexuality as our culture and society has defined it. He along with bulk of the country’s top leaders, officials and civil society activists promised to fight this menace, but the capital city of the world’s largest democracy remains ‘rape capital of India’.

On this Tuesday June 20, 2017, a woman who was allegedly raped by three men in a moving car on the outskirts of Delhi was driven through several parts of the capital and its suburbs before she was she was thrown from the car onto the road. This was followed by another case reported on same day about a 24-year-old woman allegedly raped in a car parked at a famous south Delhi mall.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau 2013 annual report, 24,923 rape cases were reported across India in 2012. Out of these, 24,470 were committed by someone known to the victim (98% of the cases). The capital city reported 1,813 rapes in 2014, up from 1,441 in 2013. While Delhi continues to lead other big cities in the number of reported rapes, the increase in reported cases has tapered after a sharp spike in 2013.

With fast growing economy and rapid modernization, India badly needs to take care of its social values and needs to eliminate this taboo that has adversely tarnished the image of its capital New Delhi.

The forgotten Portugal is burning

Portugal has been burning every summer in recent decades. Year after year, the catastrophe returns, blazing thousands of acres of forest across the country. Although violent, fires in recent years have rarely caused fatalities. However, the tragedy of the enormous fire in central Portugal this weekend has gained unprecedented proportions: the death toll stands at 64 with 157 wounded.

Given the scale of forest fires in the country, the warnings that such a calamity could result in human victims of this magnitude were there, but successive governments chose to ignore it. According to a study of the University of Vila Real, between 2000 and 2013 more than 50% of the fires registered in Europe took place in Portugal. Last year it happened again: more than half of the area burned on the European continent was in Portugal.

Last week’s tragedy, like most other fires, occurred in the isolated and abandoned Portuguese interior. The severe fire and its ability to spread rapidly was, therefore, to a large extent the result of the abandonment of rural areas and the depopulation of the interior as well as a lack of maintenance of the forest environment.

Climate change and the unprecedented extreme temperatures that have plagued the country have been used to justify the catastrophe. Excessive heat and prolonged periods of drought certainly contribute to outbreaks of forest fires, but can not be the only explanations.

If Portugal has a climate similar to other countries in southern Europe, why do fires there have a more devastating impact? There are several factors behind this. On one hand, Portugal has the largest area of planted ​​eucalyptus in Europe. Despite its relative small size, the Atlantic country competes in terms of eucalyptus area with countries of much larger size such as Brazil, China and Australia. In total, about 26% of Portuguese forest area is eucalyptus, a non-autochthonous and highly inflammable tree, susceptible to forest fires. At the same time, the powerful paper industry, responsible for planting eucalyptus trees, benefits from public policies that protect their business and boosts theirs profits rather than protecting the country’s environment and sustainability.

At the same time, there are numerous failures regarding fire prevention and combat. The lack of strict regulation from central and local government in the implementation and organisation of forests is compounded by the reduction in resources devoted to this matter arising from the budget cuts of recent years of austerity.

It is urgent, therefore, to adjust public policies for forest management in Portugal, opting for a sustainable model and placing emphasis on prevention methods. Otherwise such disastrous catastrophes are likely to increase in frequency.

Refugee crisis ‘test of our own common humanity’

By the end of 2016, a record 65.6 million people had been uprooted by what they have known as home as a result of conflicts, persecution, hunger and climate change, a new report by the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR shows.

The report comes as the world marks the International day of refugees being celebrated today. Put into context the numbers portend that last year alone, about 10.3 million people fled their homes including those who crossed international borders. The refugee agency quantifies this showing that this represents one person becoming displaced every three seconds, “less than the time it takes to read this sentence,” it said.

African countries are no stranger to the refugee and internally displaced persons puzzle catalyzed by politically instigated violence, incessant drought and xenophobia with numbers standing at over 12.4 million by 2015.

From Nigerians fleeing the Boko Haram wrath, Ethiopians running from drought to those perishing in the unforgiving waters of Mediterranean Sea as they seek greener pastures abroad, the continent has recorded the highest number of displacements now more than ever. Already South Sudan has been classified Africa’s largest refugee crisis, having seen the displacement of 3.7 million people from their homes, about a third of its population, since the civil war in 2013 broke.

And as the world marks this year’s day of the refugees, interesting insights have shaped this debate world over with claims of hypocrisy and double standards featuring. While well to do countries have been accused of frustrating the international obligations to treatment of displaced people and turning their back on the suffering, the poorer countries who themselves are exposed to conditions that would force them to free their home countries have embraced open door policy towards refugees. Kenya for example is home to the largest refugee camp in the world housing more than 300,000 majority of them Somalis who fled from a country that has become synonymous with lawlessness, terrorism, famine and diseases.

Uganda, Kenya’s neighbour, has been christened the best place for refugees to live because beyond opening its gates to them, it gives them a sense of entitlement which includes owning land and starting life afresh. In fact Uganda received the largest number of new refugees last year, more than half a million people according to latest data by the Norwegian Refugee Council.

The council’s Secretary General Jan Egeland aptly captured the current refugee status. “The system protecting refugees will collapse if we do not step up our support to countries like Uganda. The richest and most stable countries from Europe to the US do their uttermost to keep refugees away. At the same time, they are not adequately funding reception of refugees in poor host countries,” 

As resources become increasingly scarce, organized criminal groups crop up and effects of climate change continue to be felt, the number of refugees will no doubt rise. It is time to walk the talk. Members of the United Nations General assembly last year each committed to provide better educational opportunities for refugee children while embracing and improving the working conditions of those displaced. That should form a starting point as each demonstrate their level of

commitment. A refugee problem belongs to the entire world and has to be solved by the world together. In the words of former US president Barack Obama,” the refugee crisis is a test of our common humanity. We must recognize that refugees are a symptom of larger failures—be it war, ethnic tensions, or persecution.”

To be poor in London means your life is at risk

Everyone knows London is basically a candyland for non-resident property investors – people who buy up swathes of bricks and mortar and then leave them lying empty, waiting to sell for maximum profit, or fill them with tenants for unbelievable rents. No, really unbelievable – it’s not uncommon to hear of tiny one-room (bedroom/ bathroom/ kitchen in one) rooms being rented out for 2,000 British Pounds Sterling per month. It’s not a city in which to be poor – however glamorous and fun it may be – a harsh reality people have to face when they live there. And poverty, inevitably, jostles with prosperity for space and the right to live in the city. 

This was made tragically material last week, when Grenfell Tower, a tower block in one of the richest boroughs in London (and therefore the world), was one of the poorest tower blocks in London – here’s a thing you probably need to know about the UK, tower blocks (as opposed to say, glitzy apartment blocks) were built in the 60s and 70s as affordable social housing. The twoer block was recently renovated, but to minimise costs, the authorities responsible opted for cheap cladding – the residents complained that the cladding was flammable, but to no avail. A fire broke out, and as I write, 79 people died because, and this should not be forgotten, they were poor, and because they were poor, no one took their concerns seriously. 

This is what happens when there is too much money in a society and not enough solidarity. This is what austerity leads to. There were reports of parents, desperate to get their children to safety as the flames engulfed the building from the inside and out, throwing their children out of windows (a heart-wrenching thought) – and the neighbourhood outside stood outside and watched, unable to help. 

Victims of the fire and its aftermath have called on the government to help – but the response has been sluggish. Theresa May and co. did not visit victims (for fear the fire would be too closely associated with her government’s austerity policies). The victims have not been given emergency housing. They have not been given substantial help that they need. 

So that’s it – to be poor in London means your life is at risk. So you can either join the rat race and earn until you die, or face a much worse fate. What has the UK become? 

EU aid policy conditioned to control migration

The recently announced European Consensus on Development is an EU measure that aims to achieve the United Nations‘ sustainable development targets, in a commitment to the 2030 Agenda. However, many NGOs and MEPs from across the political spectrum fear that much of this aid will be, once more, simply used to control migration flows.

Rather than focusing on pressing concerns such as malnutrition, poverty and human rights violations, this new framework for development directs European aid money, largely to the area of border control. The aim is to control and reduce migration from Africa, avoiding the tragedy of the perilous Mediterranean crossings. In these times of anti-immigration sentiment and heightened security concerns this strategy is a further step taken in accepting the Europe’s right-wing nationalist mentality of ‘closed doors’ towards migrants.

Therefore, the concern is that although the EU (still the world’s largest development aid donor) claim their goals are eradicating poverty, fighting hunger and preserving natural resources, their funds will be used to train troops for border control.

Created just over a year ago, the European Emergency Trust Fund for Africa has also been criticised for channelling money that should be used to fight poverty, purchase medicines and study books for other purposes.  Instead the EU has been used these funds to purchase military equipment, train police, and set up migrant detention centres and systems to facilitate repatriation and expulsions in African countries.

At least the podium was strong and stable

Probably the most bizarre aspect of our perennially televised political environment, is the fact that often politicians have to talk about events. Not promises – any idiot can go in front of a camera and promise something. It’s super easy. Talking about events – recent events – is however a different matter. This is when they have to talk about the present or recent past, and basically, make it work for them. They have to encapsulate the event in a political narrative for their advantage – and while this might seem like an easy thing to do, sometimes, it’s like watching someone in a burning house tell you everything’s absolutely 100% fine. 

Theresa May did this during her election campaign when she made an enormous u-turn on a manifesto promise, and then told journalists ‚Nothing has changed‘. But more astonishingly, after an election which cost her part the majority in government, and left the dominant narratives of the past 12 months in tatters, Theresa May stood in front of a camera, and told the world she was ready to lead the UK through tough negotiations with „certainty“. 

It was like something out of a bizarre satire – Black Mirror maybe – where reality has become melded entirely with the ridiculous fictions of a tabloid narrative. 

The problem is not only that the UK has now delayed its own exit from the EU (thereby causing uncertainty on the continent), but also, it seems that now for liberal Western democracies, talking in unreal terms like Trump is now very mainstream. This might be what people have been calling „hypernormalisation“ – but I actually think this is a positive problem. I think this because May’s conflict with reality actually shows how would-be tyrants like her and Trump can be brought down – by letting them run away with their imaginations to a disbelieving audience. 

Whether such a strategy would ever work for the likes of Erdogan or Duterte, I highly doubt. But for once, it seems like the 24-hour media has actually produced a positive outcome. 

Women are powerful

In the face of ragging violence, oppression and social barriers, a group of young Afghan women and girls have made possible the launch of the country’s one and only ‘Zan Tv’ or ‘Women TV’ for women and by women.

Stationed in the heart of the capital’s ‘Shahr-e-Nau’ neighborhood, this digital-satellite channel is one of a kind in the conservative Muslim count reeling from the brutal extremist insurgency for more than a decade now. The digital TV with up to 16 hours of programing aims to highlight not only the issues faced by Afghan women, but portray their success stories and encourage them to strive for their rights.

Founded by a local male entrepreneur Hamid Samar, ‘Zan TV’ has up to 54 women and girls working in different fields such as production, editorial, presentation and direction while some 16 male members of the team provide their services in the technical side. The ultimate aim is to train and equip the women and girls to be able to run it on their own. Last week, the Zan TV completed its three -month off-air test transmissions, and went on-air on Saturday June 3, 2017. Only months into the industry, the Zan TV has already achieved up to 80, 000 followers on Facebook alone.

Mehria Afzali, a young and promising female journalist determined to make a mark in the industry told the fairplanet: “Afghan women are strong, we want to tell to the world that women are not only for producing children and taking care of home, but we can work alongside men for positive change in the society in all fields”.

Afghanistan remains a rough and tough place for women. In its World Report 2017, the Human Rights Watch has portrayed a grim picture of women’s rights in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission reported that in the first eight months of 2016, it documented 2,621 cases of domestic violence, about the same as 2015, although the number is likely much higher due to under-reporting.