Land disputes behind most “ethnic” conflicts in Africa

CSM has a series of articles the past weekend on the perils of ignoring land disputes in Africa. Perhaps not at all surprising, given survival in largely agricultural and herding communities depend on pastoral and grazing grounds.

Most of the deadly conflicts in Africa over the last two decades erupted from unresolved land issues: Darfur, DRC, Ethiopia vs. Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Zimbabwe; and trouble brewing on the horizon: Burundi, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, Zambia, are all related to land.

Even the Nigerian riots over the weekend, supposedly as a result of religious frictions between the Muslim and Christian groups, can really be traced back to grievances about lands claims.

So here’s what activists say about preventing an escalation of land-related conflicts.

Africa’s most famous disasters, many argue, could have been prevented with changes in national land laws or better local conflict resolution but for one problem: Prevention doesn’t sell.

What does sell – what gets airtime, aid dollars, and military or other attention – is the violent chaos the world fails to prevent. By the time land conflict gets an international audience, land is an afterthought; talk turns to tribe and ethnicity or local politics and corruption. News coverage and nonprofits focus on the worst symptoms – refugees, rapes, massacres. Distracted by suffering, they miss the structural problem that can, it turns out, be solved.

In Africa, as elsewhere, economic grievances are behind every political movement and ethnic dispute.

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Two can play this game: China reciprocates missionary impulse of the West

While the west flounders: with liberal democracy project stalls, unlimited expansion of capitalism convulsing internally and beat down with populist pitchforks, identities of staunch republican states scrutinized through public eyes, China’s confidence is growing by the day.

Increasingly assertive (some may say aggressive) in its participation of global relations, China is following the path paved by al-Jazeera, in staking out its territory in the game of media and PR.

And it starts with the state media Xinhua sending a team of reporters to an Indian reservation in New Mexico, to dig up some American dirt.

Adam Cathcart says, and I concur:

[T]his might be a hidden “emerging trend” in US-China relations: the reciprocation from the East of the missionary impulse, the desire among young Chinese elites to see poverty, political inequality, and urban decay in the United States.

America is just the start.  If China wants to draw political parallels, whether it’s  to contextualize political situations like Tibet or Xinjiang vis-a-vis other independence movements around the world, or downplay social ills (i.e. an underclass of migrants, gender inequalities and corruption) compared to organized crime and corruption elsewhere, there is plenty to be found.

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Beijing wants people to leave the car at home, and jump back on the bike

Just twenty years ago, most Chinese urban families would not even dare to dream of owning a car, most have never been inside of one!  Ten years ago, many of the nouveau riche started showing up in them.  Nowadays, nobody bats an eyelash if there are two cars per family, as long as they can find, and pay for parking.

Needlessly to say, this singular pursuit of the four-wheeled life has marginalized the biking culture.

Horrified by the implications of billions of cars on the road – challenges in logistics, infrastructure maintenance, and worst of all, pollution, Beijing is implementing some reforms to bring the bikes back.

Xinhua says:

The city will restore bicycle lanes which were cut to make more room for cars and buses. It will also work to relieve a shortage of secure bicycle parking. …  The government will build more parking lots for bikes alongside bus and subway stations so that cyclists could easily transfer to other transport vehicles. Meanwhile, the city is making bikes more available for hire. By 2015, about 1,000 outlets will be offering 50,000 bikes for rent.

Perhaps they can learn from the Danes, or the Dutch.


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If you can make it through the first 3 segments, you can make it through the whole thing

I’m a bit late here, but finally got to watch this today.  This was not some run-of-the-mill documentary that over-promise and under-deliver on implied shocking footage, with disclaimers of violence and language plastered all over the blandness.

This was genuinely shocking, disturbing, and at times, revolting.

Location: Monrovia, Liberia.

In the first ten minutes, you see corrugated shacks with no sanitation, with people shitting along the beaches, 10-year-old boy hooked on crack and talking about raping pregnant women, the most abysmal looking brothel with blood splatters on the wall.  You hear about the massive amounts of weapons still scattered around the city, with rebels ready to pounce on the precarious peace as soon as the UN peacekeepers leave.  You hear a guy rapping about AIDS, hear some shocking statistics – 4th poorest country, where 70% of its women have been raped at some point or another.

And, yes, you see actual footage of cannibalism.

The UN mission is scheduled to leave September 15 of this year.  If and when they do – although extensions look likely, will Liberia’s post-apocalyptic wasteland tumble even further into the inferno?

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Japan grows its soft power through the export of kawaii

China is but an amateur when it comes to cultural exports, Japan has been at this for decades!

What started out as an uniquely Japanese obsession found success first in the Asian market in the early 90s, has now crossed the continent.  The industry of cute now receives the same kind of state support and heavy-duty marketing push once reserved for keiretsu.

Check out Japan’s new Kawaii Ambassadors, appointed by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

And why not?  Effectively disarmed after WWII with little room to project its political will, and increasingly marginalized on the economics front by rising stars China and India in recent years, Japan has turned to exercising “soft power”, through the export of culture and technology.

“Japan stands out in terms of its international influence in pop culture, and we need to find a means to enhance this advantage, ” said former Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Yoshikazu Tarui, who headed a group of parliamentarians seeking to promote Japan’s video games, animated characters and digital content.

I can almost hear the sound of marketing machines churning in the background.  The student has overtaken the teacher, America should be so proud!

(h/t Tim Oren)

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Win an Apple iPad, it’s on Viewsflow!

When I’m not blogging, my day job is at Viewsflow – a startup that aggregates economic and financial analysis.  We also have an impressive technology platform behind it that obsessively tracks all those that dare to leave their footprints in blogs and the Twitter-sphere.

Impressed yet?  Or maybe just a bit scared?

Anyway, with all that Apple iPad madness and all, at Viewsflow, we’ve decided to give away an Apple iPad in the coming three weeks.

I’m pretty sure working for Viewsflow will disqualify me from ever winning, so readers of my blog, go forth and snatch the prize!  Seriously, I am giving up my wages for this, go get it!


Here’s the link where you can find another link to sign up for daily our newsletter (or just click and sign up here directly), which is what you gotta do to quality.

Here’s more about Viewsflow.  And, against all odds, we are actually based in London.

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Much ado about veils

Backed when I lived in Toronto, there were areas in the city where you would see veiled women.  I feel the same way about veils as I do, well, Mormons in full Mormons dresses, or Jews in full Orthodox gear.  The light bulb that goes off is: these are some pretty religious people, and they are probably fairly segregated from the community at large.

And most likely, these not people I would end up fraternizing with, nor am I someone they would want to hang out with anyway.  But if they can navigate and do well within their own communities, what business is it of mine, or anyone else’s, to tell them how to live?  The idea of “female repression” barely registers.

So could this whole big deal about banning the hijab in France be the result of a specific French interpretation of the veil?

According to a fact-finding project conducted last year that surveyed general public’s attitudes towards Muslims in the UK, France, and Germany:

The general European populations surveyed are more likely to associate the hijab with religiosity than fanaticism, oppression, or being against women.  … [T]he general French population is more than three times as likely to associate fanaticism with the hijab than the French Muslim population.

As for the reason most frequently cited by French politicians in support of the ban?

Regarding the link between “repression of women” and the hijab, the views of the two communities differ by an even greater margin: 52 per cent of the general French population associate the hijab with repression, compared to 12 per cent of French Muslims.

If France thinks the deep-rooted social and structural problems behind integration can be solved by removing veils from the streets, then they’ve got another thing coming.

But then again, Sarkozy also supported the Swiss ban on minarets, so there you go.

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Is Syria the new pragmatist of the region?

From the way it approaches relationship-building with its neighbours, it sounds like the second-coming of Turkey, whom is also busy re-arranging regional chess pieces under the radar.

With Turkey:

The countries came close to war a decade ago, now they are establishing a strategic partnership that will have major consequences for the future of the region. Opening the Turkish/Syrian border, removing the visa requirement, and restoring a stretch of the Hejaz railway line that operated before the first world war should lead to an unprecedented increase in bilateral trade. Trade has already risen from $500m to $1.8bn over the past 10 years.

Balancing the maintenance of its long-term alliance with Iran, while adding Israel to the mix:

The Tehran-Damascus axis was formed immediately after the 1979 Iranian revolution. It has withstood crises, but the two countries do not have the same vision, or interests. Unlike Iran, Syria is ready to recognise Israel and negotiate with it.

Assad also pokes at what he perceives Europe’s lack of vision, cohesion, and independence when it comes to politics.

Europe is absent. “In the 1970s and 1980s, Europe was more objective than today; there was the Soviet Union on one side, and Europe was with the Americans. Now they have to be more independent; but they are going in the wrong direction, the cold war has ended.”

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Possibly the only communal/socialist experiment that didn’t go wrong

For decades now, Israel’s experiment with collective farming has remained free of dogma, repression, or, let’s face it, cultist stuff that scares our pants off when the word “commune” comes up.

It turns out that in the last years, most of the kibbutz have been transformed into profit-making, capitalist co-operatives.

Today, many kibbutzim not only have thriving businesses – including in the tourism industry – that operate exactly like other private enterprises, but some have even decided to embrace the capital market: 22 kibbutz companies are currently listed on stock exchanges in Tel Aviv, New York and London. With annual sales worth Shk37bn ($10bn, €7bn, £6bn), the kibbutz companies account for about 10 per cent of Israel’s industrial production.

A shift from agriculture to heavy industries switched the lights on, and the community self-corrected.  Unfortunately, the Communist bloc did not get the memo.

[T]he shift to industry that started in the 1960s and 1970s was an important factor in persuading the kibbutzim to change their ways: they realised that a factory, unlike a farm, is hard to run along egalitarian lines. Someone, in short, had to manage, and someone had to stand at the assembly line.

Much of the change in ethos also came from an increasingly rich country in general.

As the country began to prosper during the 1980s, Israelis increasingly turned away from the frugal socialist ethos that had dominated the state’s early years.

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What, whom, and where is Uzbekistan?

Many ethnic Koreans were relocated to Central ...
Image via Wikipedia

Two years ago, I spent a few week scratching the surfaces of post-Soviet Central Asian states.

The most populous one, Uzbekistan, came out of the Soviet Union richest, and the most well-equipped country of the region.  In the 90s, however, ill-advised forex controls, poor import-substitution policies led to an over-valued currency, and subsequent fall in standard of living.

I’m bringing it up now because Uzbekistan made the news recently, when the government decided those pictures taken by an Uzbek photographer give a negative image of the country.

I’d say those are pretty flattering, no?

Consider Robert Kaplan’s unforgiving portrait of Uzbeks in The End of the Earth:

[T]his generation were proles, without a history of a culture.  While in the 1930s, Maclean could write that “life seemed easy” in Samarkand, “and the inhabitants seem to spend most of their time talking and drinking tea,” six decades of communism had taken their toll.  Too many young men in the cities of Uzbekistan lived a skid-row version of A Clockwork Orange. Ignorance and alcoholism were partly responsible for a fatalistic public response to President Karimov’s dictatorship.

Attached, some Cole’s notes on those countries, highlighting the differences between countries that are with, and those without resources, following two decades of various attempts at economic development.

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Happy Republic Day in India

India became an independent nation 60 years ago yesterday.  Congratulations!

And to celebrate the day, the South Korean president was invited to attend the Indian version of the White House state dinner.  What does the two countries have in common?

A lot of trade, as it turns out.

Since the end of the cold war, India has followed a “Look East” policy that calls for building deeper trade and security ties with Asian nations rather than focusing on Europe and America. India is now diving into economic integration with Asia, beginning with a new comprehensive trade deal with South Korea.

Economically, the two countries excel at relatively different things.

“India is very good at software, Korea is very good at hardware. Similarly, there are complements between different sectors where trade should be much more, but we haven’t gotten to that level because of trade barriers.”

Well, that is, until India becomes better at hardware – Tata?  And Korea gets in the way of Infosys.

In the meantime, Korea will lend its expertise to India in infrastructure, and India will reward the knowledge transfer with those massive contracts.

On the eve of the visit, New Delhi gave the environmental OK to a South Korean firm to build a $12 billion steel plant in the Indian state of Orissa. The project represents the biggest foreign investment in the country.

South Korean companies won nine of the 44 contracts for India’s National Highway Development Project. And the country has manufactured trains for the darling of India’s new infrastructure projects, the Delhi metro.

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North Korea: Hyperinflation and mass starvation continues

Life is getting worse and worse still in North Korea.  From its currency devaluation last year, to the effective halt in black-market trading of food items due to a curb in foreign currency transactions, putting enough food on the table everyday has become an almost impossible task for over a third of its 24 million people.

And now, this piece of data: over the past two months, some parts of the country has experienced a 12-fold inflation in the price of rice.  Twelve fold!

So first currency collapse, then mass starvation and now impending famine.  How will the economy function?

Joshua Stanton think bartering is the next step.  Within the coming year, he thinks the government will either allow another country’s currency to act as the de facto medium of exchange; find cash to buy food on the international market to feed its people – difficult to do considering worldwide economic sanctions; or, the most likely option, get bailed out by its wealthier neighbours.

Stanton thinks it’s China.  But I think Japan, as well as South Korea will also feel compelled to open its checkbook, when taking into account the existence of nuclear weapons and the real political and economic implications of a collapsed regime in the region.

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Political protests in Egypt just can’t get no attention

Some say with social media, citizen journalism, and all kinds of grass-root reporting, we’re getting a better picture of the world as it happens.  Many cite the roles played by witnesses and bystanders during the Delhi siege and Iranian protests, as a testament that we are better off and more informed now with the likes of Twitter and Facebook.

I am still somewhat skeptical with those claims.

It’s certainly easier for news items to go viral and bombard us from every direction (in that, yes, if the news is important enough, it will get to us).  But there’s a lot of politicking that goes on behind the scene, in deeming what kind of news are worth the fanfare, and which ones are not.

Case in point: Egypt versus Iran.

Iran is deemed a hostile state by most of the western world, a scourge in a volatile region of the world. So unsurprisingly, it got ample coverage last year during the election and protests that followed.

Egypt, on the other hand, poor but a steady ally (the second largest aid recipient of the US, next to Israel), is only heard in the western media in connection to the Gaza, its vastly oversold tourism industry, or at worst, pollution in Cairo or of the Nile.

I lived in Cairo for three months a couple of years ago.  From what I’ve seen and experienced, and continue to hear through friends, it is a police state through and through.  It’s a place where dissents are repressed and persecuted, where the majority of its people live in poverty, many in utter misery.  There is nothing hyperbolic about the sorry state of Egyptian politics, where one strong man has dominated the regime for three ruthless decades.

But against all odds, some people do want to speak out.  But nobody’s listening.  Consider a rough comparison of our contestants again, Egypt versus Iran:

[P]opular feeling against the Mubarak oligarchy here is just as real as anti-Ahmedinejad sentiment in Iran, and the potential for monumental political upheaval just as substantial.

There is no space in this forum to detail all the ways in which the unelected political elite of the Arab World’s biggest country consistently rejects democratic freedoms, subverts the rule of law to protect its hegemony, and encroaches on the human rights of its citizens day in, day out – although a brief perusal of this week’s country report on Egypt by Human Rights Watch would provide a taste – the organisation has helpfully pointed out that despite the media frenzy over the number of post-election arbitrary detentions in Iran, Egypt’s estimated tally of detentions without charge is 150% higher.

Still think crowd-sourced, Twitter-ified, FB-grouped news have no political agenda nor editorial pushes behind them?  Then why didn’t we hear about any of these?

Here’s an account of Tibet history you don’t hear very often

I don’t know much about Tibet except when Bjork and Richard Gere make me perk up.  But this account of Tibetan military history, starring British generals, Tibetan warriors, and Red China, is a pretty entertaining read.

The military history of Tibet divides pretty clearly into two parts: the glory days of the 7th-9th century, when Tibet actually challenged China for dominance in south-central Asia, and the sad, slow decline ever since, where the slogan would be: “Tibet, where old meets new and loses.”

Read the whole thing, also because it’s told in a narrative fitting for a voice-over on Sita Sings the Blues, or something similar.

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Do you know where your adopted child comes from?

The business of child-trafficking has turned international adoption into a dubious affair in the last couple of decades. Poverty and gender biases don’t help.

For decades, there has been a steady exodus of abandoned baby girls leaving China for a better life elsewhere.  All good and well, until one delves deeper into where those children really come from, count how much money had changed through how many pairs of hands, before they were stamped for foreign adoptions.

The economics of adoption leads to almost inevitable corruption and ethical trespassing, when orphanages get a $3,000 donation from each pair of adoptive parents every time a child is adopted.

In some cases, the children were not abandoned, but kidnapped by traffickers, whom then falsified records as to the origins of the children before selling them to orphanages.

An even more callous set-up has been operating in Ethiopia for years.  With little government regulation nor policing of the process, adoption agencies flashing Christian credentials have been coercing and recruiting families from rural areas to give up their children.

Does this make you sick?

In a remote village in the country’s south, the agency openly recruits children with parents. Each child offered for adoption is then filmed for a DVD catalogue which in turn is shipped out to potential adoptive parents.

Elsewhere, Vietnam has suspended its adoption program with the US, as well as Ireland, in order to deal with corruption and ratify various accords that protect the children.

America’s second largest source of babies, Guatemala, where 1 in 100 children born is adopted by Americans, also briefly suspended its adoption program back in 2008, amidst evidence of rampant fraud and corruption.

It looks to me as though the bilateral trade of children is now back on.  But with this kind of money involved – as much as $25,000 per child adopted, how can anybody be sure that they are not complicit in this morally deplorable trade?

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