Archive for the ‘Regions’ Category

8
Apr

KIGALI, Rwanda—A jet roared overhead as we approached the crash site, strolling through a garden of fruit trees at the home of the late Rwandan president, Juvénal Habyarimana. In front of us, a guard manned a small concrete tower perched atop a red brick wall that obscured our view of the wreckage.

Walking under a massive ficus tree, past a pond that once housed Habyarimana’s python, my guide Christine motioned me toward a ladder that led to a small viewing platform. Minutes earlier I’d stood inside Habyarimana’s bedroom, explored his secret weapons closet, and the chamber where he’d practiced witchcraft. Now, I was about to see the remains of the plane in which Rwanda’s longest-serving president was assassinated—the event that ignited the Rwandan genocide.

It’s been 20 years since Habyarimana’s Falcon 50 aircraft was shot down on the outskirts of Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, and the country has come a long way from the 100 days of mass murder that followed. Although political tensions still simmer and current President Paul Kagame has been accused of suppressing dissent, Rwanda is now one of Africa’s safest nations and its economy is among the fastest growing on the continent. The country that in the spring of 1994 witnessed the worst genocide since the Holocaust is now defined by a lack of crime, spotless public areas, and officials who are harshly punished if caught soliciting bribes or skimming off of public contracts. Today, aside from a handful of memorials filled with skulls, photos of the dead, and displays of the instruments of death—spiked clubs, hoes, machetes—there’s little visible evidence of the nightmare that saw the deaths of up to 1 million Rwandans, mostly members of the Tutsi minority.

The 20th anniversary of the genocide will be commemorated on April 7, and I decided to visit the scene that triggered the bloodshed. On an afternoon in March, I made my way to Habyarimana’s residence: a three-story brick and concrete structure located a mile from Kigali International Airport’s runway. Built in 1976, three years after Habyarimana seized power, the mansion has been open to the public since 2008, when it was reborn as the State House Museum. An hourlong tour includes a walk through the house and gardens and a visit to the Falcon 50 wreckage, which sits just beyond the edge of the compound. Read more…

 

By Jon Rosen. Jon Rosen is a freelance journalist focusing on East Africa and Africa’s Great Lakes region. He is a two-time finalist, and one-time winner, at the Diageo Africa Business Reporting Awards in London.

Published on April 4 in http://www.slate.com

 

7
Apr

seminar 4

On Friday 4 April, the IE School of International Relations in cooperation with the LSE enterprise and Citpax,  hosted  Dr. Fawaz Gerges , Professor of International Relations at the Middle East  Centre of the London School of Economics and Dr. Peter Jones, Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. In this very interesting seminar both academics addressed the complicated issue of Iran’s relations with Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

According to the Dr. Gerges, in order to understand these complex relationships, one has to acknowledge the deep rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the region. This rivalry is considered to be “the Cold War in the Middle East” and has been ongoing for decades. The sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shiites is central but it is not the only cause of the rift between the two countries. According to Dr. Gerges the geostrategic struggle between the two nations is even more important. This would explain Iran’s current role in the Syrian conflict. In order to consolidate and deepen its influence in the region, Iran has made a critical commitment to prop up the Assad regime in Syria at any cost. They have been sending weapons and combatants from Hezbollah in order to uphold the regime. It is in large part because of the Hezbollah forces fighting on his side that Assad is still in power almost three years into the conflict. This investment in Syria comes at great cost for Iran but for them the cost is offset by the benefits of influence in Syria and the direct access it gives the country to Israel.

One of the clear costs of Hezbollah’s role in Syria is reflected in its diminished influence in Lebanon. Until now Hezbollah represented a movement that was even more important and influential than the formal state in Lebanon. Their role propping up a dictatorship that is killing civilians has greatly undermined Hezbollah’s legitimacy (and hence Iran’s standing) in Lebanon. The sectarian fault line between Sunnis and Shiites that we see in Syria is spreading to Lebanon and to Iraq and could polarize the entire region. Saudi Arabia is adding fuel to the sectarian divide.

Finally, according to Dr. Gerges, Iran also plays an instrumental role in Iraq today and assists the government in battling Sunni minorities and in controlling the Shiite majority. Iran funnels its weapons and assistance to Syria through Iraq. It could not do so without the approval of the Iraqi government.

To Dr. Gerges, Iran’s strategy is one of defensive realism. It does not want to invade or attack its neighbors but it does wish to consolidate its influence. Dr. Peter Jones in his comments agreed with almost all of Dr. Gerges’ remarks but did disagree in one thing. According to him, Iran does not have a clear strategy. It has a defensive set of activities. It is only reacting to events, such as the Arab Spring, as they unfold, always two steps behind.

The audience had many questions for both speakers, but perhaps the most heartfelt one came from one of the IE students who asked: what about the humanitarian catastrophe that is currently occurring in Syria? What can we do to stop it? Both speakers were very pessimistic about the prospects of the Syrian conflict ending any time soon. For Dr. Peter Jones, the only glimmer of hope came from the possibility of a nuclear agreement between the US and Iran. Only then would Iran lose interest in having access to Israel and hence might no longer prop up Assad. But the possibility is quite low indeed.

4
Apr

If the bookies are to be believed, Chelsea Clinton could turn out to be luckiest US president in history.

The holy grail of American leaders over the past four decades, from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama, has been energy independence, and thanks to shale oil and gas, the dream could soon become reality.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) and oil giant BP certainly think so – they believe the US will be energy independent by 2035.

As Mr Obama said in his State of the Union address last year: “After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future.”

No-one is suggesting America will stop importing power overnight, but being largely self-sufficient in energy could have widespread implications not just for the US, but for the rest of the world.

US economy

Last year, the United States spent about $300bn (£180bn) on importing oil. This represented almost two-thirds of the country’s entire annual trade deficit. Oil imports are, therefore, sucking hundreds of billions of dollars a year out of the US economy.

As the IEA says, a persistent trade deficit can act as a drag on economic growth, manufacturing and employment.

If the US achieved energy independence, not only would the country spend far less on cheaper, domestically generated power, but the money would be going primarily to US-owned energy producers.

The US’s oil import bill also constitutes about 2% of the country’s annual economic growth. As the US economy averages about 2% growth a year, the country would, in effect, be getting a year’s growth for free.

Paul Dales, at Capital Economics, argues that as this would be spread out over the next 10-20 years, the annual benefits would be much smaller – in this instance, 0.2%-0.1%.

True, but comparing now with energy independence, the boost to the US economy of ending oil imports would be significant.

US energy imports

US manufacturing

Energy independence will come about only through cheap and abundant shale oil and gas, which could help spark a golden age for US manufacturing.

US energy prices are far lower than those in Europe and Japan, and this fact – together with rising wages in China and the increasing productivity of US factories – means a number of US firms are looking to bring production back home – a process known as reshoring.

Several companies, including Dow Chemical, General Electric, Ford, BASF and Caterpillar, have announced hundreds of millions of dollars of investment, either in new plants or in re-opening shutdown facilities. Even Apple has announced a new factory in Arizona more than a decade after closing its last US plant.

In fact, between 2010 and the end of March 2013, almost 100 chemical industry projects valued at around $72bn were announced, according to the American Chemistry Council.

Indeed a study by accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that one million manufacturing jobs could be created by 2025 thanks to low energy prices and demand from the shale gas industry. Further analysis by the Boston Consulting Group points to a surge in US exports of manufactured goods.

An Uncle Sam balloon
Many economists believe shale will spark a renaissance in US manufacturing

Any boost in production to US manufacturing would obviously lift overall economic growth even further. In fact, the benefits are already being felt – many economists point to cheaper energy as one reason why the US has outperformed in recent years. Read more…

By Richard Anderson, Business reporter, BBC News

Published on April 2nd, 2014 in http://www.bbc.com/

2
Apr

Is le tea party brewing in France?

Written on April 2, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Europe, Op Ed, Political Economy

Steeped in conservative rage and tasting of grass roots, a political backlash has traditional politicians and the news media asking the once-unthinkable: Is le tea party brewing in France?

If it were, it would be populated by the likes of Catherine Mas-Mezeran, a Parisian mother of three who wrinkles her nose at the mention of President François Hollande. She calls him “the Socialist,” which, technically, he is. But if President Obama had the birthers, Hollande now has the baptismists.

 

French President Francois Hollande has made Interior Minister Manuel Valls his new prime minister, replacing Jean-Marc Ayrault, who, with other ministers, took the blame for the Socialists' defeat in local elections.

French President Francois Hollande has made Interior Minister Manuel Valls his new prime minister, replacing Jean-Marc Ayrault, who, with other ministers, took the blame for the Socialists’ defeat in local elections.

Like others in a growing movement here, she firmly believes an unsubstantiated rumor emanating from conservative circles that Hollande may have secretly renounced his Christianity. “He has rejected his baptism,” she said. “This is really shocking.”

An Elysee Palace spokesman responded, “This rumor is as ridiculous as it is unfounded.”

The movement’s strength in numbers, however, cannot be ignored. Initially a reaction to a same-sex marriage law passed last year, the movement has morphed into the most sustained mobilization of social conservatives here in more than a generation.

A reinvigorated right delivered a devastating blow to Hollande in Sunday’s local elections across the country, prompting a humbled Hollande to reshuffle the French government on Monday. He replaced Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault with Interior Minister Manuel Valls, a politician considered more palatable by some on the right.

Results of the runoff vote showed the far-right National Front scoring its biggest victory ever, taking 11 towns and a major district in Marseille in part by appealing to outraged residents. The left ceded more than 150 other cities to the center-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP).

Losses by the Socialists also reflected economic doubts and disenchantment with Hollande. But across Europe — a continent often viewed on the other side of the Atlantic as a bastion of liberal thought — several nations are in the throes of their own full-blown culture wars, and perhaps nowhere are they raging quite as fiercely as in France.

Tens of thousands of people are taking to the streets in repeated protests, many for the first time in their lives. They are organizing assemblies and social-media campaigns even as some angry newcomers run against incumbents on the right whom they consider not socially conservative enough.

A show of strength on French streets in February led Hollande to backtrack on a measure that opponents feared could have helped same-sex couples have children through in vitro fertilization and surrogacy.

Scores of social conservatives took their children out of public schools for one day in January to protest new lessons being tested in some French schools aimed at dispelling gender stereotypes. The social conservatives said the lessons could lead to boys wearing dresses and girls playing mechanic, or even masturbation classes for children.

“We are witnessing the rise of a tea party of the French,” Valls warned in the newspaper Journal du Dimanche.

A continent already hit by economic upheaval is confronting a wave of bitter societal polarization over a host of issues such as euthanasia, abortion and same-sex marriage.

In Spain, the conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is seeking to push through legislation that would greatly limit abortion rights, unleashing a bitter confrontation with the left and reversing the steady march of liberal social policies there since the death of Gen. Francisco Franco. In Poland, a measure that would grant same-sex civil partnerships failed last year because of major opposition, prompting Prime Minister Donald Tusk to say he saw no chances of such unions passing within the next 10 to 15 years.

During Germany’s national election campaign last year, center-right Chancellor Angela Merkel sparked outrage among progressives after expressing doubts about full adoption rights for same-sex couples. “To be completely honest with you, I’m having difficulty with full equality,” she told public TV. Read more…

 

Published on March 31st in the Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com

31
Mar

Granted, the crisis in Ukraine is worrisome, Vladimir Putin’s behavior is unpredictable, and the 30,000 Russian troops amassed on the Ukrainian border arouse a sense of dread and danger unfelt since the Cold War. That said, the alarmism is getting out of hand. Legitimate concerns are spiraling into war chants and trembling, a weird mix of paranoia and nostalgia, needlessly inflating tensions and severely distorting the true picture.

A bizarre example of this is a March 26New York Times story headlined “Military Cuts Render NATO Less Formidable as Deterrent to Russia.” The normally seasoned reporters, Helene Cooper and Steven Erlanger, note that the United States “has drastically cut back its European forces from a decade ago.” For instance, during “the height of the Cold War” (which was actually three decades ago, but let that pass), we had about 400,000 combat-ready forces defending Western Europe—whereas now we have about 67,000. In terms of manpower, weapons, and other military equipment, they write, “the American military presence” in Europe is “85 percent smaller than it was in 1989.”

Yet the article contains not one word about the decline of Russia’s “military presence” in Europe since that time. It only takes one word to sum up that topic: disappeared. The once-mighty Warsaw Pact—the Russian-led alliance that faced NATO troops along the East-West German border—is no more. And its erstwhile frontline nations—East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Poland—have been absorbed into the West, indeed into NATO. This is hardly an esoteric fact, yet its omission makes the Times’ trend lines seem much scarier than they really are.

Nor, even with its own borders, is the Russian army the formidable force it once. According to data gathered by GlobalSecurity.org, Russian troop levels have declined since 1990 from 1.5 million to 321,000. Over the same period, tank divisions have been slashed from 46 to five, artillery divisions from 19 to five, motorized rifle divisions from 142 to 19, and so it goes across the ranks. Read more…

By Fred Kaplan, author of The Insurgents and the Edward R. Murrow press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Published on March 28th, 2014 in Slate http://www.slate.com/