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The Women's March was a huge success. Now it's time for action

Millions of people around the world took part in local marches to support the Women’s March on Washington, following Donald Trump’s inauguration last weekend.

The slogans were funny and poignant, and the world got to see widespread, mainstream support for gender equality and intersectional feminism on display.

The grassroots organisation was able to mobilise quickly, engaging millions. So what can now be done with that engagement?

The march organisers have launched their next initiative, 10 Actions/ 100 Days, which prompts supporters to take meaningful, doable steps over Trump’s first 100 days in office.

The organisation’s first suggestion for political activism is to write to their senator about local issues they care about, using an official Women’s March postcard.

The organisers will email out a new suggestion every 10 days, keeping its activism engaging but accessible.

While the march’s actions are aimed at US politics, international supporters can easily adopt the activities for their own communities.

Gender discrimination exists everywhere, and we don’t need the incredibly motivating image of an orange reality TV regime leader tweeting immature rants to get to work.

Territorial disputes quandary in Africa is for its people to solve

News that Uganda and South Sudan have recently agreed on how to redraw a common border that has been at the center of protracted conflict is welcome relief, coming at a time when contested territories across Africa have reached epidemic proportions currently standing at 100.

The South Sudan-Uganda contested border in the Western Nile had seen South Sudan officials blame Ugandan farmers for encroaching their land, with the farmers defending it with everything they have. Armed men from South Sudan would cross over to Uganda and visit destruction, pillage and terror on the Ugandan farmers.

Yet this is one of the many cases that have seen Africa being placed among the continent with the highest cases of contested territories globally in the CIA Factbook. From the oldest conflict in the world, that pitting Namibia against South Sudan over the Orange River, the oil rich Elami triangle that has been the source of a 50-year-old conflict between Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia, to the land and maritime disputes between the Cameroon and Nigeria, there is no end in sight for these border conflicts

Yet a problem that stems miles away and decades ago, when African colonizers sat in a Berlin Conference and partitioned the continent into what they felt was good for them, is now threatening to spiral out of control.

The African Union aware of the impending catastrophe has over the years set out deadlines for countries to delineate and demarcate their borders. The latest is the end of this year, and yet only a paltry 30 per cent of the 80,000 kilometers’ borders have been demarcated. This, even as more countries continue waging war on each other and seeking redress in the International Court of Justice and Permanent Court of Arbitration. What is worrying is the trend the conflicts might take going forward. A scramble for new resources like oil and mineral deposits, dwindling pasture and food in the wake of burgeoning population and climate change are already driving people out of their traditional homes and seeing encroachment at unprecedented highs.

But solutions to these conflicts do not lie in the long protracted judicial processes and endless commissions whose recommendations are out of tune with the people in conflict. The ultimate answer is in domestic and homegrown mechanisms. This for example include having a panel of elders from parties to conflict who have watched the genesis of the conflict. They are well respected on the ground and would easily strike a compromise. Secondly strengthening domestic institutions like East Africa’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) would go a long way in ameliorating some of the situations that have gone on for decades and still no sign of truce.

But mostly importantly is identifying and taming potential sources of conflicts early enough which for example include a scramble for limited resources. Pastoralists in drought stricken areas like Ethiopia have managed to comfortably share the dwindling resources and co-exist. Africa can borrow a leaf from them.

Photo: JennaCB123/CC BY-SA 3.0

Either ultra-liberalism or ultra-nationalism

Within two weeks, French voters must choose between the ultra-liberalist Emmanuel Macron and the racist ultra-nationalist Marine Le Pen. The split result in Sunday’s elections revealed a divided society with no clear vision on how to confront its economic and social challenges.

For the first time in the history of the 5th Republic, the largest traditional parties (Socialists and Republicans) failed to progress to the second round of the Presidential election, with the Socialists suffering an especially sharp decline. This is not unique: from Greece to the Netherlands or Spain, representatives of social democracy have been continuously defeated. The failure of such parties in responding to economic crises, whilst overlooking social rights and accepting the tyranny of austerity, has consequently boosted support for the far right.

Even if Le Pen ends up defeated in the second round, as predicted in the polls, her presence in the final presidential vote is a very disturbing sign. The fact that a party with an anti-democratic message, which goes against the European values ​​of solidarity has achieved 21% of the support, is in itself alarming.

Undoubtedly, the elections to be held on May 7th, will be crucial in mapping Europe’s future. But this lack of direction in France is today a mirror of the European continent, in which confronting neoliberal austerity and far-right proposals are at loggerheads, both harmful to a project of solidarity and cooperation. Although the most alarming scenario would be a Le Pen victory, a Macron triumph will only prolong the failed policies that brought us here.

Two weeks until the future

I know everyone’s sick of hearing about elections and referendums – the previous 10 years haven’t been so positive for progressives, culminating as these votes did, in Brexit, Trump, Erdogan etc. so I totally get it if you don’t want to hear about Marine Le Pen and the French elections. 

But it’s only two weeks until this analysis will stop, and we’ll know what kind of future we’re dealing with: The breakup of the European Union and certain end to all state-assisted refugee movement in the region, or a more stable EU with a severe but at least existent policy towards refugees and migrants. 

Make no doubt about it – Marine Le Pen could still win. She secured a fifth of the first-round votes yesterday, against Emmanuel Macron’s comparable percentage – their contest on the 7th May will indeed decide the fate of Europe. This time the political analysts aren’t being complacent, and they recognise the full significance of the vote. 

If Macron wins, he will hold together a status quo of neoliberal politics binding the entire continent together, and some socially progressive ideas mixed in with welfare. It’s not perfect, but we’ve seen the alternative – and that’s Le Pen, a far-right extremist who would bring chaos, illegality and oppression back into the mainstream. That’s why Macron doesn’t seem like such a terrible choice. 

The danger is twofold here for progressives: Either through defeatism, they begin to see centrist politics as a total victory despite its many flaws; or, they give up centrism and opt for Le Pen, France’s chaos candidate, out of sheer curiosity or frustration. I think it would be worse than Trump if Le Pen took power. Trump is chaotic and unpredictable, but that actually makes him relatively tame and ineffective. Le Pen on the other hand is at the forefront of a political movement that has roots in French Politics, and she was brought up to play the role of political saviour. She would fair well on the world stage. 

So bear with the news for the next two weeks. It will be frustrating, but not nearly as damaging as the potential future which could emerge – the death of European progressivism. 

Mob justice continues

Days after the horrific mob-lynching of a young student in Pakistan over alleged blasphemy, at least two more cases of the sort have surfaced in the Muslim-majority country of over 200 million.

Protest rallies have been held in Peshawar city, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakthunkhwa province demanding justice for Mashal Khan, a student killed by mob for alleged blasphemy. But that have proved too little to stop the spree. The religious leaders of the country more than anyone else need to take responsibility for the situation, and should come forward to convince the people, particularly the growingly radicalized youth that religion is a connection between a man and his God, and no individual has the right to judge another one and then take such sever actions in that moment.

Pakistan, its neighboring country Afghanistan and many more Muslim-majority nations should learn from their fellow Muslims in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey and many more where there are set rules for all affairs, and the citizens abide by them which has made lives relatively easier for many.

On Friday, 21 April 2017, angry protestors broke windows of a police station while demanding custody of an alleged blasphemer, but the police and local officials believed the suspect is mentally-ill man recently returned from Qatar. A day earlier, the police in the country’s biggest Punjab province reported killing of a man by three young women on the charge of blasphemy. In this case though, the victim Fazal Abbas Shah was accused of blasphemy in 2004 and a case was registered against him. In the case, he was declared a proclaimed offender due to which he fled to Denmark. But, still the law does not allow people to be the judge.

This can lead to unstoppable madness when everyone with a gun or other means can overpower anyone before or after labelling him or her as the blasphemer. The country’s judiciary also has a role to play to remove obstacles and shortcomings in the delivery of justice that has created environment for mob justice.

Why sustainable development goals should be everyone’s business

In 2015, over 150 global leaders gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York to put pen to paper on a new set of 17 goals that are set to guide how the world tackles some of the most pressing issues of our time by the year 2030.

Now such policy news ordinarily attract disinterest and disengagement among small food producers because to them ‘it doesn’t concern us.’ Yet it does, in all purpose and intent. Without going into the details of the 17 goals, these resolves include two objectives that every farmer should care about. Goal two hopes to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture,” while Goal 13 targets to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.” These goals have made it the responsibility of governments, private entities and more specifically farmers to bring them to fruition in the next 13 years. So what is in it for farmers?

More importantly how can a smallholder farmer with less than an acre contribute to ending global hunger, poverty and climate change? Well more than can be imagined. With small scale production accounting for over 75 per cent of the total agricultural output in most countries and 70 per cent of marketed agricultural produce, smallholder farmers are to a large extent determines how and when we can kiss poverty good bye. Yet they are still stuck in age old farming practices that continue to yield less even as global population burgeons, increasing demand for food.

And as farmers remain stuck in age old woes, a new catastrophe has now hit farms, threatening to further curtail yields. Changing weather patterns has now meant that farmers who have traditionally relied on weather for farming are at the mercy of the gods. Intermittent rains and unpredictable climate has left farms earth scorched and millions food insecure. But how long can this be allowed to go on? While the global goals are a noble idea, they can only live up to their billing of making the world a better place if the people they are meant for actually embrace them.

The Sustainable development goals if localized can herald a crucial developmental agenda: That of getting our hands dirty and taking charge of our destiny. It is the little deeds and actions that transform and make the world complete.

Turkey: heading towards a democratic dictatorship

Erdogan got what he wanted. His narrow victory in the referendum held this Sunday will dramatically transform the Turkish constitution, greatly enhancing the powers Recep Tayyip Erdoğan enjoys and consequently allowing him to become an omnipotent president. This will simultaneously wipe out Turkey’s current system of parliamentary democracy and limit the capacity of the opposition. We are, thus, on the verge of an unprecedented democratic regression in a country that has hitherto been a symbol of coexistence between Islam, secularism and democracy.

Relations with the European Union are also becoming increasingly strained. Erdoğan clashed with EU countries such as the Netherlands, which banned Turkish ministers entering the country to hold rallies before the vast Turkish diaspora during the referendum campaign, and unwittingly ended up boosting support for the president. The spat, which involved Erdogan comparing parts of European politics to Nazism, has deeply soured the relationship with Brussels, which avoided congratulating Erdoğan on the victory, preferring to highlight concerns in voting irregularities and warning that Turkey’s application to the European Union is at stake.

Yet, with a slim margin of 51.3% of voters voting „yes“ for constitutional reform as proposed by the leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the victory has been too tight to allow Erdoğan an unhindered path to complete, centralised power. The Turkish opposition has already called for the referendum to be annulled, with the main opposition party, Social Democrats CHP denouncing „wide irregularities“ in the vote.

Undoubtedly, the result of the referendum shows that Turkey is a sharply divided nation. Worryingly for Erdoğan is the fact that „no“ has won in the main cities: Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir. This evidently strong and stark polarisation in Turkey, unfortunately, foresees an unstable future in an already very divided country, with a precarious economy and recently hit by a spate of terrorist attacks.

Call the electrician

Easter celebrations always seem to be a little less ritualistic than Christmas – there’s no presents under the tree, etc. You may have found yourself on an egg-hunt, or perhaps in a Church, or even found yourself just getting hammered with a bunch of mates until the early hours. So many days off, why not use them, eh? Over the weekend, the US and North Korea celebrated the holidays by almost bringing the world to a nuclear, or semi-nuclear conflict, the US dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb on a small group of ISIS fighters, Turkey’s Erdogan swept the board and took a whole range of new powers for himself through a dodgy-looking referendum, and the French election race which could decide the fate of the European Union, took a sharp swing to the socialist left. 

Well, those were the headlines, what about the news? Well, it seems that due to a small electrical mishap, about 80,000 years of Earth history went up in – not smoke exactly – but it melted. 

„A freezer malfunction at the University of Alberta in Edmonton has melted part of the world’s largest collection of ice cores from the Canadian Arctic, reducing some of the ancient ice into puddles.“

The ice cores contained evidence of atmospheric change, which in turn could tell scientists about the history of the globe’s climate and why and when climactic events occurred. By melting the ice, the team unfortunately lost the opportunity to do that. 

It seems that just a few days after drilling and transporting the ice at an enormous cost to the university’s new facility, where the freezer tripped a high-heat alarm, melting the ice. While none of the cores were completely destroyed, around 22,000 years of history was melted off one, and 16,000 melted off another. 

It might not seem like the biggest tragedy, considering all that’s going on in the world, but I thought it was a fitting metaphor for the way in which the planet is changing right now – heat melting all the ice, even accidentally, and melting, along with it, all of recent history. 

But it’s not to depress you – you know what you can do to help combat climate change, and there’s still time. Enjoy the rest of the holidays!

Law of the jungle; student lynched over alleged blasphemy

A young and promising student in Pakistan has been lynched by an angry mob of his fellow students over alleged blasphemy this week.

Mashal Kha, the 23-year-old student of journalism and Mass Communication department of the Abdul Wali Khan University in northwest of the country is latest victim if this spree. The bizarre incident took place in the bright day light on the university premises in which another student was seriously injured by a vigilante mob for allegedly „publishing blasphemous content online”.

According to the police, the deceased student, Mashal, had been accused of running Facebook pages „which allegedly published blasphemous content“. “The charged students then wanted to burn his body, before police intervened. Video footage of the incident showed Mashal lying on the floor surrounded by men. The student was not moving and his body bore marks of severe torture. Men could be seen kicking his lifeless body and beating it with wooden planks.

Blasphemy carries the death penalty in Pakistan. In many cases, an accusation alone is enough to inspire vigilante action against suspects. This is not the first incident of the sort in the Muslim-majority country of over 200 million inhabitants when an angry mob or fanatic individual has taken the law in hands, and claimed the lives of others. A former governor, a federal minister and scores of common citizens have borne the brunt of this law.

Usually, it has been the minorities facing the wrath, but this time a Muslim man lost his life to the mob-mentality. Father of the deceased student told the local media that his son was not a ‘blasphemer’, and he just used to criticize the corrupt political culture of the country. The fact that this mob-lynching took place on a university premises, and youth were involved, one can easily predict a bleak future for the country in terms of law and order, and tolerance towards others’ opinions and rights.