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Editors' Picks

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.

Youth and Innovation - Africa’s saving grace

At an ICT incubation center in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, a group of young people who spends about three quarters of their day next to computers continue to everyday come up with some of the most groundbreaking and life changing innovations applications that makes it easier for the unbanked to have access to financial services, intelligent greenhouses which farmers can remotely control and technology that provides pregnant women and new mothers with targeted health information and care tips using SMS and voice calls.

It is a phenomenon that reverberates across the continent where young minds have embraced technology to bridge the digital divide and address some of the continent’s most pressing problems. In a continent known to have a very young population, which stood at 226 million youth of between 15 and 24 years in 2015 representing 19 per cent of the global youth population, the sustained focus on technology by this constituency deserves extra attention and focus by policy makers.

First because of the transformatory and active role the youth of Africa are championing with tech, but secondly because of the place of innovations in addressing unemployment which affects the youth most. In all these Silicon Savannahs, from Nigeria, Cameroon to South Africa, are techpreneurs who are starting their small businesses and bringing their colleagues on board, thus creating jobs.

Such revolution is enough to transform the continent into a major powerhouse. The cofounder of Microsoft Bill Gates aptly captured this new wave last year while delivering the annual Nelson Mandela Lecture Series. “Young people can provide innovative solutions to the region’s problems — more than older people — because they are not locked in by the limits of the past,” he said.

There is nothing as powerful as a dedicated young mind, and African youth have shown that beyond the sometimes misconstrued narrative of them being trouble makers, they can shape Africa’s development agenda. Time is ripe for governments and private sector to tap into these innovations and technologies and put the youth in the front seat of transforming Africa, because the future belongs to them.

Fortress Europe

European leaders have rushed to criticise Donald Trump’s appalling immigration policy and travel restrictions, but the truth is the European Union itself continues to close its doors to immigrants, becoming more and more of a fortress.

EU policy dealing with the thousands of refugees, who began arriving at the gates of Europe since the summer of 2015, has frequently been cited as the continent’s most visible failure. Despite the commitment to house 160,000 refugees stuck in Greece and Italy, EU countries have so far only accommodated 7,000. Meanwhile, thousands of migrants and refugees remain stranded in camps in Serbia and on the Greek islands, suffering extreme conditions due to the very low temperatures.

Meanwhile, the increasingly militarised Mediterranean is another insurmountable barrier for migrants seeking entry into Europe. Last year alone, a total of 5,079 people perished in the Mediterranean attempting to reach the safety of Europe, a figure that exceeds the number registered last year by 1,200.

Those who manage to reach their intended destination, face further difficulties such as the infamous fences that surround the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in the north of Africa, summary deportations, being held at immigration detention centres and random Police stop and search checks. This situation has worsened since the signing of the EU-Turkey agreement.

In France, two months after the closure of the Jungle migrant camp in Calais, a British-funded wall worth 2.3m pounds has been built. Four metres high, the concrete barrier runs for a kilometre along the main road reinforcing pre-existing wire fences as the UK aims to strengthen its borders and reduce the influx of migrants.

Although European leaders mainly use rhetoric that defends human rights and supports minorities, the EU’s attitude towards migration policy does not reflect this. Furthermore, by trying to counter the wave of rising popularity of the far-right, conservative and liberal leaders of the EU are in fact taking over their ideas, enforcing xenophobic and racist policies. Worryingly, this will encourage rather than deter President Trump’s attempts to implement highly discriminatory immigration policy in the US.

The Church's old problem

I like the Pope. A person without faith doesn’t normally say things like that – but for me, it’s true. The Pope is cool. Many of his failings are inexcusable – sure – his stance against contraception, his reiteration that homosexuality is immoral etc. There’s no denying that he reproduces, legitimises and enshrines some of the least progressive tendencies of the Catholic world – social prejudice surrounding non-conforming lifestyles, in particular. 

However, there is something to be said for the idea that as far as Pope’s go, Francis is a decent one. That sounds like faint praise – it’s not. While progressives should be ever more ambitious in pursuing their ends, we should also take comfort in the fact that not every powerful position in the world is occupied by a Trump or Putin or Jinping or Modi. Occupants of these enormously significant positions have tremendous influence – to build up global confidence, or global paranoia. Francis is doing a lot for the former. 

However, that’s not to say the Catholic Church is doing well. The Pope is a decent shopfront – but the same problems exist in the room out back. An inquiry examining institutional sex abuse in Australia has heard 7% of the nation’s Catholic priests allegedly abused children between 1950 and 2010.

The BBC reports: Between 1980 and 2015, 4,444 children were abused at more than 1,000 Catholic institutions across Australia.

 

Those statistics, taken in line with a series of similar scandals around the world (Ireland, USA, India, Dominican Republic etc) shows that the Church is far from rooting out this problem of abuse. 

It is easy, and lazy, and also probably not incorrect to say there is a link between the focus on abstinence in the Church and abuse; But that doesn’t actually help any of the victims. The Church, and the Pope need to do two things: 1) Make institutional reforms to ensure abuse does not occur, and if it does, carry out proper, legal investigations of malpractice, and 2) Properly care for, support and make fitting reparations to victims. 

Pope Francis is a cool guy. Let’s see how he handles this. 

Left to live on the edge

After a spate of deadly accidents at the Gadani shipbreaking yard in Pakistan-one of the biggest in the world, the government has simply banned scrapping work there, leaving thousands of workers jobless.

With the apparent purpose of pushing the operators to ensure safety mechanism, the state government of Baluchistan announced early this week that the dismantling of oil tankers and LPG containers at the Gadani shipbreaking yard would not be allowed until a proper safety mechanism was put in place to save the lives of people working there. This blanket ban points to the authorities’ reluctance for ensuring better work conditions and implementation of labour laws considering the long history of accidents.

The sprawling facility just reopened a similar ban in December with literally no tangible improvement to health and safety provisions and nothing in the way of compensation for affected workers and their families after a deadly accident in November. On 1 November, a floating oil production tanker caught fire that killed at least 28 workers, and left more than 50 people injured.

Labour rights’ activists have noted that the on a daily basis, at least two labourers sustain serious injuries and 28 labourers are losing their lives every year due to the hazardous working environment and dearth of rescue or safety means.

Some 6,000 labourers work at Gadani in dangerous conditions with no contracts, no job security, few health and safety provisions, and for wages of between 450 (US$4.30) and 1450 (US13.80) rupees per day.

Instead of simply banning the shipbreaking work, which actually adds to the woes of labourers and leads to rise in steel prices in the market, the government of Pakistan should have taken the matter more seriously to put in place a transparent and efficient safety mechanism at Gadani. There are very simple lessons to be learnt from neighbouring India and Bangladesh where the world’s two biggest shipbreaking yards are functioning without any blanket ban.

Foto: NGO Shipbreaking Platform 2012

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.

 

Spain still battling its haunted past

“Could you imagine a Hitler foundation in Germany?” A recurrent question is heard across Spain as the stakes are raised in the controversy over how to deal with its past of repressive dictatorship. Unlike other countries, Spain still today pays tribute to their former authoritarian leader, Francisco Franco.

A foundation named after the “caudillo” enjoys good health, receiving public funds, whilst enjoying tax benefits. Recently, they even awarded medals of merit to Popular Party MPs.

Different parts of Spanish society repeatedly call for the Fundación Francisco Franco to be banned, but have so far been unsuccessful. The most recent move was made by the Compromís party. Last week, they submitted a proposal in parliament urging the „investigation of illicit activities“ carried out by the organisation, accusing it of praising Franco’s regime.

The Valencian party believes that the existence of the Foundation does not comply with the Spanish Historical Memory Law, passed in 2007 by the Socialist government. The bill finally recognised the victims of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and the subsequent dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. Historians estimate that during the regime (that lasted until 1975), nearly 200,000 people were killed for political reasons and 400,000 people were forced into exile.

However, some steps are being made with the removal of Francoist symbols, which is at last being taken seriously by city mayors such as Madrid’s Manuela Carmena. In the Spanish capital, there are plans to change the names of 27 streets replacing them largely with names of women, exiles and opponents of the repressive regime. Although welcomed, many Madrileños find offense in how late such a measure is.

More than 40 years have passed since the death of the “caudillo”, it is appalling how little Spanish democracy has done in order to deal with its past of a violent and repressive dictatorship. Besides being incapable of restoring justice and compensating victims, successive governments have put little effort into truly remembering the past horrors, contributing to the lingering rift that divides Spanish society today.

The dream is over

In 1947, Winston Churchill wrote an essay called ‚The Dream‘. Out of office, depressed and with not much to do, he spent his time painting – and the essay finds him in his studio. As he constructs a country scene on the canvas, a ghost appears in the room (seriously) – he realises it’s his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, who in real life died at the end of the 19th Century. Churchill speaks with his father’s ghost, and explains what’s happened since the beginning of the century. His revelations include: 

  • The Socialist Labour party is now in power.
  • Germany’s ambitions twice spilled over into global conflict. 
  • The Russian royal family was killed and replaced by a dictator far more powerful than ‚any Romanoff‘. 
  • America is the world’s leading power, and the British empire is diminished. 
  • There have been some improvements in technology and medicine. 
  • Millions and millions of people have been killed in wars, including many millions directly marked by belligerent powers for extermination. 

The ghost is especially horrified by the latter revelation: At the end of the 19th Century, war was still largely understood as playing out between professional soldiers, and the Total War and Guerilla Warfare concepts were only nascent – death tolls could go into the hundreds of thousands, but the idea that somewhere between 50-75 Million people were killed as a direct consequence of the Second World War shocks the ghost. 

The ghost is a literary device used by Churchill to decontextualise present circumstances from the present moment – it forces the reader to step away from normality, and to view the world from a distance. Displaced from its everyday context, and set into the context of broader history, the world does look shocking indeed. 

Churchill is also playing his part today – in the unbelievable psychodrama and petty visual politics of the US and Britain’s ’special relationship‘. Last Friday, Theresa May visited Donald Trump to discuss the future of this relationship based on trade. She therefore did not explicitly and completely denounce Donald Trump’s border wall with Mexico, nor his executive action temporarily banning people from a number of Middle Eastern countries (read: Muslims, read: Countries the US is attacking). Churchill’s bust was apparently removed from the Oval Office by Barack Obama and put in a different part of the White House (still on display), but with their trade discussions informally opened, their wall plans being laid bare, Muslims banned from entering the US, Churchill has his rightful place back in the office. Churchill, whatever his successes and faults, has come to symbolise a sage and tireless warrior against The Other – and his removal from the office was charged with somehow embodying wounded white pride when a black man was in charge. Now he’s back where he belongs, according to two of the most despicable people ever to hold these offices.

Donald Trump is a liar and a fraud. We know this. But Theresa May – does she deserve to be called this? Well, shortly after her trip to the US, she headed over to Turkey to sign a deal with Big Boy Erdogan for a multi-million pound arms deal. Britain makes the planes, the Kurds pick up the cheque.

When Britain and the US want to talk about history and democracy, and tolerance and the protection of human rights, they should first look at what they are doing. When Americans want to proclaim the American dream is open to all, they should have a look at their borders.Otherwise in 50 years, we could speaking to the ghost of some revered old liberal, or some sage old conservative and explain just how badly everything went wrong. The dream, as it stands, is over.   

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.