Inter Press ServiceInter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 20 Feb 2018 12:05:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.5 Vision 2030 & the Political Costs of Saudi Reforms – Part 2http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/vision-2030-political-costs-saudi-reforms-part-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=vision-2030-political-costs-saudi-reforms-part-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/vision-2030-political-costs-saudi-reforms-part-2/#respond Tue, 20 Feb 2018 11:57:29 +0000 Adel Abdel Ghafar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154399 Adel Abdek Ghafar is a Fellow - Foreign Policy at Brookings Doha Center*

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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, author of Vision 2030. Credit: UN Photo

By Adel Abdel Ghafar
DOHA, Qatar, Feb 20 2018 (IPS)

A pillar of the Saudi social contract has been the allocation of oil rents to the population in exchange for loyalty and fidelity to the Saud clan. A key weakness of Vision 2030 is its lack of focus on the potential political consequences of economic reforms. The plan seems to assume that its ramifications will be easily borne by the Saudi population.

However, the IMF postulates that the potential failure of the reforms to produce economic growth and ultimately private sector jobs for Saudis may lead either to rising unemployment and social pressures or increased public employment, which would have negative fiscal implications. If the government becomes unable to sustain its current level of payouts to the population, this will almost certainly result in rising public dissatisfaction.

As more austerity measures are pursued, the social contract between the population and the government is likely to come under unprecedented stress. According to a report by Chatham House, an effective renegotiation of the social contract is critical if the government is to secure the public’s buy-in on the socioeconomic changes that it is attempting to make.

This renegotiation is already unfolding. While it is unlikely that Saudi Arabia will democratize soon, the recalibration of its authoritarian bargain may mean greater avenues for involving the public in decision-making and some increased transparency and accountability.

Seven years after the Arab uprisings, chaos has resulted in some of the region’s countries affected by changes brought on in 2011. Consequently, Saudi Arabia’s argument for stability holds strong sway.

The government is presenting itself as a bulwark against regional instability. It has also encouraged hyper-nationalistic discourse, which was evident in the 2017 National Day celebrations, and its rhetoric regarding the ongoing GCC crisis.

According to the Arab Gulf States Institute, this push to reinforce the Saudi identity is part of a long-term effort by Gulf states that aims to increase a sense of national belonging, where loyalty to the state takes precedence over the tribe, region, or sect.

The arrest of a number of Saudi princes and business tycoons in November 2017, besides helping Prince Mohammed consolidate his power, is also designed to show the population that King Salman and his son are serious about fighting corruption, however selective this fight may be.

Overall, the government needs to increase its levels of transparency and openness. While all these new monitoring and reporting institutions are admirable, they are still government bodies. For Vision 2030 to have a chance for success, there has to be involvement from civil society actors and more freedom of the press.

The exact opposite has been happening as the government has cracked down on dissent and has jailed many of its critics, including a number of journalists and writers.

Barriers to transformation: Education and training

As a result of the government’s push to increase the employment of Saudis in the private sector, companies are facing substantial difficulties in hiring and retaining suitable local talent. Education and training remain key issues as the Saudi educational system—despite going through a multitude of reforms—is still unable to provide enough graduates who are able and willing to work in the private sector.

Saudi workers demand higher wages and underperform in the private sector, creating an array of issues for multinational firms operating in the country that need to meet their Saudization quotas.

By 2030, a full half of the Saudi population is expected to be under the age of 25. Educating, training, and placing those youth in economically productive jobs is one of the biggest challenges Saudi policymakers face in the coming decade.

Significant investments in education over the past two decades have led to a sharp increase in university enrollment figures, making the kingdom a regional leader in terms of educational attainment.

However, the quality of Saudi education remains a key issue. Primary and secondary education has historically been biased toward religious subjects at the expense of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.

In the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Studies (TIMSS) global rankings which take place every four years, Saudi students ranked in the lowest tenth percentile in both mathematics and science. Similar to other Arab countries, the Saudi education system encourages memorization over the development of problem-solving and creative thinking skills.

At the university level, increased investment has led to a rise in the number of graduates, but the Saudi economy is increasingly unable to absorb them into the workforce. Sustained economic growth over the past two decades has indeed increased the number of white-collar private-sector jobs. However, many of these new positions are being filled by expats.

Saudi women: the fight for equality continues

In the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Gender Gap Report, Saudi Arabia ranked 141, ahead only of Syria, Pakistan, and Yemen. The male guardianship system in the kingdom remains a major obstacle toward equality. Saudi women need their male guardian’s approval to access healthcare, get married, travel, work, or open a business.

Over the past decades, Saudi Arabia has made incredible progress in terms of women’s education and currently more than half of all university graduates are women. Despite this progress, the unemployment rate for women is 32.7 percent. Saudi women continue to face formidable cultural and regulatory barriers of entry to the labor market.

Women tend to work in a limited number of sectors such as healthcare and education. There are also restrictions on mixed gender workplaces, which further constrains employment options for women.

The Vision 2030 document states that the goal is to increase women’s participation in the workforce from 22 percent to 30 percent. The end of the driving ban for Saudi women is a step toward achieving that goal, and signals the government’s willingness to pursue socioeconomic liberalization and face down pressure from the religious establishment and more conservative elements of society.

In addition to the end of the driving ban, the government has moved to remove a number of restrictions on women over the past years including the ability to access some public services and attend sports events in stadiums. The next phase for the fight for women’s rights in the kingdom is to dismantle the male guardianship system. This will be the true litmus test for Saudi modernizers in the government.

Neom: Desert dreams

The plan to build Neom, a city operated by artificial intelligence, manned by naturalized Saudi robots, and powered by the sun, is certainly ambitious, but the plan raises more questions than answers.

To start with, aside from the robots, who will build and work in the city? The Saudi government already struggles to convince Saudis to work in the private sector, and executing a plan of this magnitude will certainly require, at least in the short to medium term, a surge of foreign consultants and contractors to build, then operate such a city.

Secondly, Saudi Arabia’s technology and industrial sectors do not have the capacity to undertake such an endeavor, meaning that all the necessary technology and equipment will have to be imported.

Thirdly, the costs of building and sustaining such a city can easily consume much of the amounts raised from the ARAMCO IPO and other revenue-generating initiatives, and there is no guarantee that the city would generate the types of returns needed to attract outside investment.

Such urban megaprojects have had mixed results in Saudi Arabia. The six “New Economic Cities” announced in 2005 are yet to be populated and as a result are not operating as intended. The most advanced of them in terms of development and infrastructure, King Abdullah’s Economic City (KAEC), has not been able to attract the projected number of residents, businesses, or investors. So far, nothing about Neom shows that it may have a different fate.

A prince with a plan, or a plan with a prince?

Central to Saudi Arabia’s drive to reform and Vision 2030 is Prince Mohammed, who was promoted to Crown Prince in June 2017 in what was considered a bloodless coup against a respected and powerful veteran prince, Mohammed Bin Nayef. Is Saudi Vision 2030 a historical attempt at reforming the kingdom, or is it a vehicle for an ambitious young prince to become king and rule Saudi Arabia for decades to come?

The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. The combination of lower oil prices and demographic changes has certainly increased the pressure on Saudi policymakers to attempt to deal with these issues before they come to a head at a later stage.

To that end, Prince Mohammed is the right prince at the right time to attempt to push through some of these much-needed reforms. However, should the plan stall or fall short of realizing its ambitious goals, the Prince Mohammed brand is likely to be tainted—domestically, regionally, and internationally.

The internal cohesion of the Saudi royal family remains an issue in light of Prince Mohammed’s moves to consolidate power, most recently by removing Prince Mutaib Bin Abdullah from command of the Saudi Arabian National Guard and arresting him with a number of other princes, technocrats, and businessmen.

While such moves may endear Prince Mohammed to the Saudi public as a fighter of corruption, internally they may add to Saudi royals’ resentment over the meteoric rise of Prince Mohammed. Should Vision 2030 stall or fail to achieve some of its stated objectives, it is likely the prince would face increased internal opposition from disgruntled elites resentful of his meteoric rise and the ongoing purges.

The relentless speed at which Prince Mohammed and his team are trying to remake Saudi Arabia is a cause for concern. According to IMF’s Director of Middle East and North Africa Masood Ahmed, “the transformation of oil-exporting economies is no easy task and will be a long-term project. It will require a sustained push for reforms and well-thought-out communication.” The kingdom would be better served by pursuing reform plans that proceed at a slower but more sustainable pace.

Saudi Arabia faces a number of long-term structural obstacles in education and employment, which may take generations to fully overcome. Doing so will require strong political will, flexibility, a willingness to reassess goals along the way and the public’s acceptance of the reforms, as they will take years to bear fruit. Time will tell if Prince Mohammed has the patience, or aptitude, for a slow-paced but sustained transformation of the kingdom.

*This piece originally appeared in The Cairo Review of Global Affairs.

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Excerpt:

Adel Abdek Ghafar is a Fellow - Foreign Policy at Brookings Doha Center*

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The United States: Innovation and Immobilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/united-states-innovation-immobility/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=united-states-innovation-immobility http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/united-states-innovation-immobility/#respond Tue, 20 Feb 2018 11:08:09 +0000 Joaquin Roy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154397 Joaquín Roy is Jean Monnet Professor and Director of the European Union Center at the University of Miami.

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Joaquín Roy is Jean Monnet Professor and Director of the European Union Center at the University of Miami.

By Joaquín Roy
MIAMI, Feb 20 2018 (IPS)

It is the country of paradox, based on the double column of creativity and tradition. Americans are unable to escape the twin submission to the adamnism of being the first and the last to accept that the rest of the planet can be more original and may outrank them in any field.

Expelled, transferred, fled from Europe, they refuse to admit that the reconstructed European civilization, which they have neglected since 1776, can be superior to them. Sometimes, as Trump came up with, they would willingly admit Norwegians, especially if this option would prevent the arrival of citizens from the shithole dumps of the galaxy. It is a useless alternative.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

The United States is in danger if it strives stubbornly to maintain myths that slow its progress. Its idyllic interpretation of its foundational moments prevents Americans from accepting how much the world has changed by technology, social habits and laws, aspects among many others to which the genuine Mayflower and Ellis Island civilization has contributed in an impressive way. But the United States insists on believing that change, especially if it implies the admission of a subtle inferiority with respect to Europe, is detrimental to the survival of its identity.

The new massacre at another school (could have been in a mall, it does not matter) reminds us that the leaders of the United States and millions of citizens injure themselves with permanent damage. They erroneously interpret certain pioneering premises of their fundamental laws to their detriment. They confuse epochs and concepts sheltered under a security blanket that is shown as brutally perforated.

The so-called “right to bear arms” (what does not mean to use them at will), enthroned in the Second Amendment, has its origin in the era when there were neither federal armed forces nor the original states had the resources to maintain security. There were no structures that guaranteed the monopoly of the exercise of force (and protective violence, if appropriate) that is the hallmark of the Nation-State that inherited the authority of the old kingdoms and empires.

The new massacre at another school (could have been in a mall, it does not matter) reminds us that the leaders of the United States and millions of citizens injure themselves with permanent damage. They erroneously interpret certain pioneering premises of their fundamental laws to their detriment. They confuse epochs and concepts sheltered under a security blanket that is shown as brutally perforated.


The perverse belief that individuals are policemen and drivers of tanks in defense of their families and heritage, beyond the living room of their homes, can contribute to a comfort in which the individual is sacred. Society is secondary. The American “exceptionalism” prevents accepting that in other countries the forging of private armies and the collection of lethal weapons is not allowed, beyond the museum pieces. The opposite would be to admit the superiority of a Europe that had to be rescued from its own sins on two occasions. Europeans are masters in stumbling over the same stone, but after WWI they have learnt.

In this new massacre, more young people and children are victims of a system with atrocious deficiencies of mental health, education, and (why not?) well understood discipline. The key to these extremely serious incidents lies in the shortcomings of health plans that are gripped by the same myth of superiority and animosity towards what is interpreted (horror!) as “socialism”. The “system” (to call it somehow that) of health of the United States is a disaster of colossal proportions. But nobody seems capable of correcting it, innovating it or changing it. It is another result of the survival of foundational myths.

The beneficiaries of this health chaos are diverse. Of particular note are the private insurance companies that offer coverage to privileged users, who can afford to pay the fees and co-pay. They are followed by the manufacturers of medicines that claim the need to recover the costs of research (often developed with public funds). Then there are the doctors who must pay the debts incurred in obtaining their licenses in private universities. And finally, there are the politicians who play on the side of opposition to medicine and public health, universal and free, under the claim that this modality is a variant of “socialism”, a word pronounced with a “communist” accent

The losers are the millions of disinherited citizens who do not have access to jobs with mandatory coverage and shared financing. The worst affected are the unemployed who must be temporarily admitted to public hospitals or covered by charities. But there are those who recklessly go free until surgery leaves them without a home and inheritance. And when someone, like Obama, tries to change this chaos, he is crucified and his project becomes a primary target of annihilation.

When one asks why millions of Europeans are willing to accept these “socialist” solutions, in many of the capitalist countries with the highest rates of development, equality, education, low crime, reasonable birth rates and life expectancy, the answer is simple: because they accept to pay high taxes. Americans themselves pay the same high contributions, and swear without questioning that primary and secondary education remains public, universal. They accept this “socialist” modality.

But Americans and the politicians who stubbornly oppose  a reform are not willing to do the same with health, a fundamental right as life, freedom and … the pursuit of happiness, as the jeffersonian motto says. And they allow this unjust madness until the next group murder, committed by a madman, lacking basic health coverage, armed to the teeth, protected by the constitutional amendment that allows him to “have and bear arms.”

Joaquín Roy is Jean Monnet Professor and Director of the European Union Center at the University of Miami.
jroy@miami.edu

 

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Excerpt:

Joaquín Roy is Jean Monnet Professor and Director of the European Union Center at the University of Miami.

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Dr. Ban Ki-moon, 8th Secretary-General of the United Nations, Elected as President and Chair of GGGIhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/dr-ban-ki-moon-8th-secretary-general-of-the-united-nations-elected-as-president-and-chair-of-gggi/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dr-ban-ki-moon-8th-secretary-general-of-the-united-nations-elected-as-president-and-chair-of-gggi http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/dr-ban-ki-moon-8th-secretary-general-of-the-united-nations-elected-as-president-and-chair-of-gggi/#respond Tue, 20 Feb 2018 09:53:39 +0000 GGGI http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154394 Dr. Ban Ki-moon, 8th Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) has been elected as the President of the Assembly and Chair of the Council of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI). Dr. Ban will begin his two-year term in office as GGGI’s President and Chair on February 20, 2018, taking over from H.E. Dr. Gemedo […]

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By GGGI
SEOUL, Feb 20 2018 (GGGI)

Dr. Ban Ki-moon, 8th Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) has been elected as the President of the Assembly and Chair of the Council of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI). Dr. Ban will begin his two-year term in office as GGGI’s President and Chair on February 20, 2018, taking over from H.E. Dr. Gemedo Dalle, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, who undertook his duties as Acting President of the Assembly and Chair of the Council in July 2017.

The appointment of Dr. Ban Ki-moon as the new Assembly President and GGGI Council Chair became effective today following the unanimous agreement by Members of the GGGI Assembly, the Institute’s supreme governing body.

Dr. Ban Ki-moon, 8th Secretary-General of the United Nations, Elected as President and Chair of GGGI

Dr. Ban Ki-moon

Dr. Frank Rijsberman, Director-General of GGGI, praised Mr. Ban for his achievements throughout his tenure as Secretary General of the UN. “Under Mr. Ban’s leadership, governments of the world agreed on concrete goals and targets necessary for achieving a more sustainable and inclusive future. The Climate Change targets agreed under the Paris Agreement and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are rightly recognized among the world’s greatest diplomatic successes. His vision and leadership will help GGGI deliver even greater impact in our mission supporting Member governments to achieve the ambitions set out under the SDGs and the Paris Agreement.”

While serving two consecutive terms as Secretary General of the UN between 2007 and 2016, Dr. Ban sought to be a bridge builder, to give voice to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, and to make the organization more transparent and “I’m delighted to have been elected as the new President of the Assembly and Chair of the Council of GGGI and am willing to contribute to promoting green growth and sustainable development around the world. I will also try my best to fulfil the expectations of the international community in this regard,”

Dr. Ban Ki-moon
effective. Dr. Ban worked closely with member states of the UN to shape the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to establish UN Women, thereby advancing the UN’s work for gender equality and women’s empowerment. Dr. Ban has also taken major efforts to strengthen UN peace operations, protect human rights, improve humanitarian response, prevent violent extremism and revitalize the disarmament agenda.

“I’m delighted to have been elected as the new President of the Assembly and Chair of the Council of GGGI and am willing to contribute to promoting green growth and sustainable development around the world. I will also try my best to fulfil the expectations of the international community in this regard,” said Dr. Ban.

Dr. Ban Ki-moon’s dedication to tackle global challenges, including climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, food security and global health is aligned with GGGI’s objectives. With its four thematic priorities on Sustainable Energy, Water and Sanitation, Sustainable Landscapes and Green Cities, GGGI is dedicated to supporting countries in their transition to low-carbon and climate resilient development pathways – what is called “green growth”.

At the time of his appointment at the UN, Dr. Ban was Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Korea. His 37 years with the Ministry included postings in New Delhi, Washington D.C., and Vienna. He was responsible for a variety of portfolios, including Foreign Policy Adviser to the President, Chief National Security Adviser to the President, Vice Minister, Deputy Minister for Policy Planning and Director-General for American Affairs.

As part of the role of as President of the Assembly and Chair of the Council, Dr. Ban will chair GGGI’s 11th Council and Assembly meeting in the fourth quarter of 2018.

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Paradise on Tenterhookshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/paradise-on-tenterhooks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=paradise-on-tenterhooks http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/paradise-on-tenterhooks/#respond Tue, 20 Feb 2018 06:02:46 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154370 It was a shutdown that was emblematic of the instability plaguing the Maldives in recent months. On Feb. 8, Raajje TV, an opposition aligned TV channel in the atolls, suspended broadcasting due to lack of security. “RaajjeTV informs our viewers that we have suspended regular broadcast due to attacks on free and independent media, continued […]

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A Maldivian activist holds a picture of slain blogger Yameen Rasheed during a UNESCO press freedom conference held in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo on Dec. 4, 2017. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A Maldivian activist holds a picture of slain blogger Yameen Rasheed during a UNESCO press freedom conference held in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo on Dec. 4, 2017. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Feb 20 2018 (IPS)

It was a shutdown that was emblematic of the instability plaguing the Maldives in recent months.

On Feb. 8, Raajje TV, an opposition aligned TV channel in the atolls, suspended broadcasting due to lack of security.

“RaajjeTV informs our viewers that we have suspended regular broadcast due to attacks on free and independent media, continued threats to RaajjeTV and its staff, following the Police’s decision to slash security to the station and the warning issued by MNDF to media sources over closure of any media stations without any warning,” the station said before it went off air.“Right now, the president has all the aces. How he got them is the problem - and how he will use them is the bigger problem."

Earlier, the Maldivian military had warned that media outlets were airing content deemed harmful to national security.

With a population below half a million, and at least over 150,000 of that jammed into Male, an island of six square kilometers, Maldives has been on a slow boil for years – since late 2012 when Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected leader, resigned and was replaced in 2013 by Abdulla Yameen.

After years of political wrangling in 2015, Nasheed was found guilty of anti-terror charges and sentenced to 13 years in jail. Out on bail in 2016, he fled to the UK and has been living there since. Scores of his supporters and members of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) are either in jail or in exile, many using Sri Lanka as a base.

The slow boil was suddenly put on a high burn earlier this month.

On February 1, the Supreme Court, in a somewhat surprising decision, declared that eight individuals, including Nasheed and seven other high-profile personalities, among them former vice president Ahmed Adeeb, had received unfair trails and should be released immediately.

“After considering the cases submitted to the Supreme Court about violations of the Constitution of the Republic of Maldives and human rights treaties that the Maldives is party to, to conduct politically motivated investigations followed by trials where prosecutors and judges were unduly influenced, the Supreme Court has found that these cases have to be retried according to legal standard,” the Supreme Court said, and Male’s streets were filled with hundreds celebrating the decision.

While the police force said it would respect the ruling, the men were not released and two police commissioners were sent home in two days by President Yameen, who dug in for a fight. Four days after the decision, the Supreme Court was stormed by the military and two Supreme Court judges – including the chief justice – were arrested. Soon after that the Supreme Court, under a different set of judges, annulled the order to release the prisoners. In between, the declaration of 15 days of State of Emergency appeared like a footnote.

The government has charged that former president Abdul Gayoom, who ruled for over three decades until Nasheed defeated him in 2008, had been at the helm of a bribing attempt to sway the Supreme Court and was arrested along with his son-in-law.

For those who have lived through these years of chaos and uncertainty, the future of the islands, sought after by tourists, is bleak.

“An executive with vast powers, in the absence of a functioning checks and balances system, coupled with support from the security services would mean that the executive would dominate all aspects of governance,” Mariyam Shiuna, executive director of Transparency Maldives, told IPS.

“The president controls state institutions through direct and indirect means, and promotes excessive use of force by the security services. All opposition leaders are currently either in jail or in exile. In this environment, Maldives is unlikely to achieve true stability any time soon,” she said.

That assessment seems to be universally shared.

“It is clear that the rule of law in the Maldives is now under siege. We call on the government to refrain from any threats or interference that may hamper the court’s independence as the supreme guardian of the country’s constitution and legislation,” a group of UN human rights experts said this week.

The government says its hand was forced with the Supreme Court acting unconstitutionally and efforts to impeach President Yameen.

The situation is unlikely to ease any time soon as elections, including presidential polls, are slated to be held between 2018 and 2019. Activists say that along with the consolidation of power by the incumbent president, there has been a rising wave of extremism. Last year, liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed was stabbed to death just outside his apartment in Male. The investigation into the murder has been slow and unproductive.

When the current crisis erupted, Nasheed in fact requested regional power India to militarily intervene as it had done in 1988. New Delhi did not respond. However, China, which has major investment in the islands, said that it did not support any external intervention.

“Right now, the president has all the aces. How he got them is the problem – and how he will use them is the bigger problem,” said an activist who was close to the murdered blogger Yameen and asked to remain anonymous.

TI Maldives’ Shiuna fears there will be further erosion of the already feeble checks on the executive branch, especially after the Supreme Court decision which took the government by complete surprise.

“Yamin’s regime is moving towards despotism, if not already there,” she said. “All democratic institutions have been hijacked by the government and it is doubtful if an election will even take place in 2018.”

Two and a half days after it went off the air, Raajje TV came back live, but it will not be that easy to shore up the rapid degeneration of democratic rights.

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Will Vision 2030 Usher the New Kingdom of Saud? – Part 1http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/vision-2030-usher-new-kingdom-saud-part-1/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=vision-2030-usher-new-kingdom-saud-part-1 http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/vision-2030-usher-new-kingdom-saud-part-1/#respond Mon, 19 Feb 2018 20:13:06 +0000 Adel Abdel Ghafar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154388 Adel Abdel Ghafar is a Fellow - Foreign Policy at Brookings Doha Center*

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The Saudi delegation at the UN General Assembly sessions. Credit: UN

By Adel Abdel Ghafar
DOHA, Qatar, Feb 19 2018 (IPS)

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is undergoing a process of change in its social, economic, and political structures unseen since its founding in 1932. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and a group of close advisors, aided by an army of multinational consultants and investment bankers, have been driving this transformation.

Prince Mohammed and his team are seeking to restructure the Saudi economy, lessening its dependence on oil and creating more socioeconomic opportunities for the Saudi people. In 2016, “Saudi Vision 2030” was launched, providing an ambitious blueprint to achieve these goals and more.

What are the various dimensions of these ongoing reforms and what are their prospects and challenges? What impact will they have on state-society relations in Saudi Arabia? More importantly, are these reforms part of a genuine nation-building program, or are they a vehicle for Prince Mohammed to solidify his hold on power for decades to come?

Diversification: Easier said than done

Saudi Arabia has attempted to create a diversified economy for more than four decades, albeit with limited success. Since the early 1970s, Saudi Arabia has pursued nine successive five-year development plans (1970–74 to 2010–15) that sought to transform its relatively underdeveloped oil-based economy into a more diversified one.

At the core of the development plans were five key goals. Firstly, the Saudi leadership sought to improve the standard of living and the quality of life for the Saudi population. Next the Saudi government planned to diversify the country’s economic base and reduce its dependence on the production and export of crude oil.

Other important goals were to develop the kingdom’s human capital, as well as increase the role of the private sector in the national economy. Finally, the five-year plans aimed to achieve a balanced development path among the vast regions of the kingdom.

Arguably, Saudi Arabia has made the most progress toward the goal of improving livelihoods for Saudi citizens, as almost all socioeconomic metrics have shown remarkable development. In addition, public works programs have transformed the kingdom’s infrastructure through building airports, highways, bridges, hospitals, and schools across the country.

The kingdom’s human capital has also developed, but foreign workers remain integral to the economy despite years of “Saudization” policies mandating that a higher percentage of the country’s jobs go to citizens. As a result, while Saudi Arabia’s private sector continues to grow, the number of Saudis working in it remains relatively low, with an estimated 70 percent of the labor force currently employed by the public sector.

Meanwhile, diversification efforts have been less successful, with oil and oil- related industries still accounting for roughly 90 percent of the kingdom’s export earnings, 87 percent of budget revenues, and 42 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2017.

The drop in oil prices from a high of $115 per barrel in 2013 to under $40 per barrel in late 2015 hit Saudi Arabia’s public finances hard. The combination of lower oil prices and a rapidly growing population has lent added urgency to Saudi policymakers pursuing radical reforms.

The Vision 2030 document itself is not detailed, but more specifics are included in the National Transformation Program 2020 (NTP) and the Fiscal Balance Program 2020 (FBP), both also launched in 2016. The NTP seeks to reduce the civil service workforce by 20 percent in the next two years and increase the overall efficiency of the public sector.

As part of the NTP, the government has established the National Center for Performance Management, Adaa, which means performance in Arabic, to monitor and report on the progress of public sector reform. The NTP also includes a strong imperative to increase the role of the private sector in the economy.

The government launched the “Removing Obstacles to the Private Sector” Program to identify unnecessary red tape that may impede the growth of the private sector. In addition, the government established a small and medium-sized enterprises authority to support the development of such firms through training, funding, and advocacy.

The state has also implemented a number of regulatory and legal reforms that are designed to spur further growth in the economy. These include updated competition, company, insolvency, franchise laws, expedited business visa applications, and a commercial mortgages law.

In terms of fiscal policy, the government has been no less ambitious. The FBP and the 2017 budget set out an aggressive fiscal consolidation program. According to the IMF, the government aimed to reduce the fiscal deficit to 7.7 percent of GDP by 2017, balance the budget by 2019, and generate a fiscal surplus by 2020. Key to achieving these goals is an expected increase in non-oil revenues, including foreign investment, increased tourism, and new taxes and fees.

Using the kingdom’s strategic location, Vision 2030 entails creating a futuristic city and a logistical hub that stretches between Saudi Arabia’s northwestern borders with Jordan and Egypt. The city, called “Neom,” is designed to make Saudi Arabia a key regional hub for trade and investment.

The kingdom is also hoping to attract investments in the non-oil mining sector, such as in gold, phosphates, and uranium. Also, Vision 2030 calls for boosting the number of pilgrims traveling to Mecca for Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia is expected to tax tobacco products and carbonated drinks, introduce a value-added tax (VAT), increase expatriate worker levy fees, raise energy and water prices, and add an assortment of smaller taxes and fees.

To spend or not to spend

A key aspect of Saudi Vision 2030 is how to fund it. The plan is to create a $2 trillion sovereign wealth fund—the world’s largest—composed of Saudi Arabia’s current Public Investment Fund (PIF) which would absorb the proceeds from the sale of 5 percent of Saudi ARAMCO, in addition to those from a number of other privatization initiatives that are not yet clear.

State-owned ARAMCO, or the Saudi Arabian Oil Company, is the world’s largest oil producer and perhaps its most valuable company. It traces its roots to 1933 when Saudi Arabia granted American giant Standard Oil permission to search for oil.

The resulting California-Arabian Standard Oil Co., or CASOC, eventually struck liquid gold near Dhahran in 1938. CASOC changed its name to the Arabian-American Oil Co., or ARAMCO, in 1944, and the powerhouse went on to discover the world’s largest onshore oilfield in eastern Saudi Arabia.

Oil demand and revenues surged following World War II, and in 1950, the Saudi government—after threatening to nationalize the industry—negotiated the “50/50” Agreement, claiming half of ARAMCO’s income.

After Saudi Arabia led Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in imposing an oil embargo against Western supporters of Israel during the 1973 October War, the kingdom quickly bought major stakes in ARAMCO, before taking full control in 1980. The current name, Saudi ARAMCO, was decreed in 1988.

Historically, Saudi Arabia’s PIF, established in 1971, made low-key investments in local industries the government wanted to develop. This has changed under the crown prince, and the fund now invests more aggressively in a wide range of companies and projects both domestically and internationally, including a $3.5 billion stake in Uber.

During President Donald Trump’s visit to Riyadh in May 2017, the PIF signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Blackstone, the U.S. private equity firm, to provide half the capital for a $40 billion infrastructure fund.

During the Future Investment Initiative Conference in October 2017 held in Riyadh’s Ritz Hotel (which a month later would hold detained princes and businessmen who were arrested in an anticorruption purge), the PIF announced a $45 billion partnership with Japan’s SoftBank to create a technology fund, and also signed an MOU with Virgin Group to invest $1 billion in Virgin Galactic. During the conference, the futuristic Neom city was also announced.

The PIF is now central to the government’s diversification plans. As it beefs up its value, it will continue to increase its investments domestically, regionally, and internationally, with the aim of creating a major new revenue stream.

To that end, the sale of a stake in ARAMCO is integral to the implementation of Vision 2030 as it would dramatically increase the value of the PIF and turn it into a global investment behemoth. However, a number of key issues remain that must be dealt with before the sale goes ahead.

Firstly, valuation—how much is 5 percent of ARAMCO worth? Prince Mohammed and his advisors have floated a valuation of ARAMCO at $2 trillion, but investors have valued it at as low as $400 billion.

According to the Oxford Institute of Energy Studies, as ARAMCO does not own the oil reserves and only has the monopoly on the extraction of the reserves, the value of the company is based on the global price of oil. The profit per barrel in turn depends on the level of taxes and royalties ARAMCO pays the government.

The fact that the government can increase taxes at a later stage increases the sovereign risk, which will negatively affect the valuation of ARAMCO.

Secondly, should the kingdom list ARAMCO on a stock exchange as planned, or offer the stake for sale as a private listing for institutional investors? As this is likely to be one of the largest listings ever undertaken, it may require a large foreign exchange as the Saudi stock exchange is unlikely to be able to absorb all of it.

According to the Economist, a listing in a foreign market like the United States would expose the company to increased obligations, such as conforming to U.S. Security and Exchanges Commission standards on reserves accounting, even if the reserves belong to the Saudi government. Such obligations would also force ARAMCO to open its books publicly and adhere to a multitude of transparency guidelines, which the Saudis would be hesitant to do.

Thirdly, the ongoing Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) crisis, which pits Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt against Qatar, has raised concerns about regional stability and is likely to have a negative impact on the general investment climate. When asked about the impact of the crisis on Saudi Arabia’s diversification plans, Prince Mohammed was bullish and dismissed the Qatar situation as a small problem that will not have an impact.

Some analysts disagree, predicting that a continuation of the GCC crisis is likely to have a negative effect on foreign investment in all of the GCC states. Moreover, the Saudi investment climate may have worsened in the short term by the recent arrests of a number of princes and business tycoons.

While these arrests were carried out under the guise of anticorruption efforts, the arbitrary and opaque nature of the crackdown means that foreign investors will be very cautious about entering into commercial agreements with Saudi entities or businesspersons that may at any later stage fall out of favor and be targeted in an extrajudicial manner.

For all these reasons and more, the Saudis have been cautious in their approach to listing ARAMCO. As of January 2018, no decision has been made on where to list, but according to some reports, the government is considering a listing on the domestic stock exchange combined with a private placement to institutional investors.

Such an approach that avoids a foreign listing would signal that the Saudis are keen to keep the oil giant’s books closed from the scrutiny that it would face in a foreign market.

(To be continued)


*This piece originally appeared in The Cairo Review of Global Affairs.

The post Will Vision 2030 Usher the New Kingdom of Saud? – Part 1 appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Adel Abdel Ghafar is a Fellow - Foreign Policy at Brookings Doha Center*

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Migration Means Reinvention – Even to Olympianhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/migration-means-reinvention-even-olympian/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migration-means-reinvention-even-olympian http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/migration-means-reinvention-even-olympian/#respond Mon, 19 Feb 2018 14:55:53 +0000 International Organization for Migration http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154387 Every Olympian, in their way, is a migrant—undertaking a life-changing journey towards their goal of athletic perfection. Yet many are more migratory than others, particularly those from the world’s least developed countries who often must leave home to access the resources necessary to transform themselves into world-beating athletes. Migrants born abroad often become citizens of […]

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Akwasi Frimpong, Ghana’s Olympic Skeleton athlete. Photo: BBC

By International Organization for Migration
GENEVA, Feb 19 2018 (IOM)

Every Olympian, in their way, is a migrant—undertaking a life-changing journey towards their goal of athletic perfection.

Yet many are more migratory than others, particularly those from the world’s least developed countries who often must leave home to access the resources necessary to transform themselves into world-beating athletes.

Migrants born abroad often become citizens of the country under whose Olympic flags they compete. Others compete for their homelands, but only after training abroad to hone their competitive skills.

Such an athlete is Sabrina Simader—Kenyan born, but mostly Austrian bred, migrating with her mother to Liezen in the Austrian Alps, where she discovered a talent for snow sports. Sabrina is skiing for Kenya this year.

Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean is a 24-year-old cross-country skier representing Togo at the Games. She was born in Kpalimé, north of Lomé, the Togolese capita, moving to France at age four. Petitjean made her Olympic debut at Sochi in 2014; she trains in Canada and is the first Togolese to compete in cross-country skiing, entering both sprint and 10km disciplines.

Then there’s Ngozi Onmuwere, Seun Adigun, Akuoma Omeoga—Nigeria’s bobsled team—three daughters of Nigerian émigré parents, each born in the USA (in, respectively, Texas, Illinois and Minnesota). All three began as track and field specialists, and then individually gravitated to winter sports.

While two already compete internationally for Nigeria in track and field, as a trio they became Nigeria’s first delegation to the Winter Olympics. Eritrea is the other African nation competing in the Winter Games for the first time.

Someone worth watching was Akwasi Frimpong, a Ghanaian national competing in the skeleton event. At the end of his run on Saturday—where he placed last—he broke into a joyous celebratory dance, delighting both fans in Korea and around the world as a joyful video of his antics went viral.

The 32-year-old athlete is the first West African to compete in the skeleton event. Born in Kumasi, Ghana, he started life in a modest home with his grandmother and nine other children. At the age of eight he arrived in The Netherlands, joining his mother who emigrated earlier. Frimpong spent years as an irregular migrant, living without proper documentation until his early twenties.

Frimpong’s journey recalls countless attempts by other West Africans to reach Europe, many of whom fall prey to the hazards of irregular routes, especially through Libya. Lack of information about legal channels puts migrants’ lives at risk as they face detention and abuse by unscrupulous smugglers. Just in 2018, 2,562 migrants from West African countries have voluntarily returned home from Libya.

Led by IOM, the Aware Migrants information campaign aims to inform migrants of the dangers of irregular migration by sharing testimonies of returnees, but also through music. In November last year, Ghanaian rapper and songwriter Kofi Kinaata became IOM’s first Goodwill Ambassador.

As part of the Aware Migrants campaign, Kinaata will release a song aimed at encouraging Ghanaian youth to value their lives and not take unnecessary risks in chasing illusionary greener pastures.

Speaking to CNN, about the many challenges he overcame on his way to the Olympics, Frimpong said, “I hope I can motivate kids in Ghana to chase their dreams.”

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Robots, Unemployment … and Immigrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/robots-unemployment-immigrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=robots-unemployment-immigrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/robots-unemployment-immigrants/#respond Mon, 19 Feb 2018 08:28:26 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154381 Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

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For every industrial robot introduced into the workforce, six jobs are eliminated.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Feb 19 2018 (IPS)

Amazon has recently introduced Amazon Go, a shop where the customer enters, chooses a product from the shelves, charges the price on a magnetic card and swipes it on the way out, transferring the charge to the customer’s bank account . No queues, no cashiers, fast and easy, and the first shop in Seattle has been a roaring success.

Putting products back on the shelves will soon be fully automated, with robots doing the work previously done by humans. Floor cleaning is already done by a robot, and the aim is to have a fully automated shop, where no human can make mistakes, fall ill, go on strike, take holidays or bring their personal problems to work.

The US petrol industry calculates that the staff required at each well will be reduced from 20 to five within three years. Also within three years it is expected that small hotels will have a fully automated reception – guests arrive, swipe their credit card and a machine supplies the room.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

We are already accustomed to automated telephone for bookings and reservations, and we ourselves now do tasks at an airport which were previously done by clerks, such as checking in.

Contrary to what many think, self-drive vehicles are just around the corner, and car makers think they will be on the market by 2021.

In the United States, according to the ABI Research company, the number of industrial robots will jump nearly 300 percent in less than a decade. The National Economic Research Bureau has reported that for every industrial robot introduced into the workforce, six jobs are eliminated.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has released a “policy brief” indicating what this robotic revolution would mean in Africa, Asia and Latin America. “If robots are considered a form of capital that is a close substitute for low-skilled jobs, then their growing use reduces the share of human labour in production costs. Adverse effects for developing countries may be significant.”

In May 2016, the World Bank’s Digital Dividend Report, calculated that replacing low-skilled workers with robots in developing countries would affect two-thirds of jobs.

China is destined to become the biggest user of robots. China is aiming to become the global leader in high-tech. To take just one example, Foxconn, the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer, reduced its workforce last year from 110,000 to 50,000 in Kunshan, thanks to the introduction of robots. The time of cheap imitations is gone, with China now registering more patents than the United States.

Economists call this wave of automation the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The first started, at the end of the 18th century, with the introduction of machines to do handicraft work, such as in textiles. Its impact become visible in 1811, when the followers of a fictional Ned Ludd started to destroy textile equipment because it left thousands of weavers jobless.

The second industrial revolution occurred in the middle of the same century, when science was applied to production, introducing engines and other inventions, creating the real Industrial Revolution. That meant rural populations migrating to towns to work in the factories. The third revolution in the middle of the last century is considered to be the introduction of the Internet, which once again changed forms of production. Gone were the jobs of secretaries in companies, lino typist in newspapers, accounting, documentation, libraries, archives and other hundreds of professions made obsolete by the ‘net’.

We see the Fourth Industrial Revolution in our daily life. But it is like climate change – we all know it exists, it is before our eyes. We have all the data showing an increase in hurricanes, disappearing glaciers, extreme weather conditions, hotter summers than have been recorded since we began measuring temperatures.

Yet, the outcome of the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference means that the world is now geared to producing an increase of three degrees centigrade, while scientists unanimously agree that exceeding 1.5 degrees centigrade would be extremely dangerous.

We even have a president of the United States who withdrew from a non-binding Paris Agreement, declaring that climate change is a “Chinese hoax”. Then his appointment of Scott Pruitt – a person who says that global warming is “positive” – as Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).is like putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank.

The political approach to automation is similar. The 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos was dedicated to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The founder and director of the Forum, economist Klaus Schwab, even went to to the effort of writing a book on the subject for the meeting: it is a book in which he expresses his concern.

Previous industrial revolutions had liberated humankind from animal power, made mass production possible and brought digital capabilities to billions of people. This Fourth Industrial Revolution is, however, fundamentally different. It is characterised by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, affecting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.

We need to take a concerted global approach in the world, to make the positive override the negative impacts. The theme was practically ignored at Davos 2016, because politicians now only discuss themes in the short term: what has to be dealt with during their period in office.

At Davos in 2016, Schwab called for leaders and citizens to “together shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering them and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.”

Clearly, that goes against the tide of nationalism, the new vision for the United States, India, Japan, China, Philippines, Hungary, Poland, Great Britain, Turkey and so on.

Well, like it or not, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is here. Today automation already accounts already for 17 percent of production and services. It will account for 40 percent within 15 years, according to World Bank projections.

But we should also take into account the surprising seeds of development of artificial intelligence (AI) – also known as machine intelligence (MI) – which is intelligence demonstrated by machines, in contrast to the natural intelligence (NI) displayed by humans and other animals.

We already have robots which can be reprogrammed and their functions changed. Without going into the vitally important relationship between AI and societies, it is important to note the most vibrant debate today concerns how our economy is mutating into an economy of algorithms and data and how this is impacting on politics.

Austrian economist and thinker Karl Polany saw this coming when he made a simple observation: capitalism, without controls and regulations, does not create a market economy but a market society where whatever is necessary for survival has a price, and that is submitted to the laws of the market.

In that kind of society, the state has no alternative but to sustain the system with laws, courts and police to protect private property and to secure good functioning of the market.

The explosion of social injustice, privatisation of common goods and fiscal support for the richest are all consequences of Polany’s analysis. Add to this monopolisation of data by a few giant companies, like Facebook or Amazon, and their impact in the social, cultural and economic sphere, and you can see where we are going. We have become data ourselves, and we are on the market.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will further reduce the centrality of the human being, who has already been replaced by the market ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall…

All this opens up another crucial issue. Labour was once considered an important cost factor in production, and it was the extent to which workers had rights to the resulting benefits that sparked the creation of trade unions, the modern Left and the adoption of universal values such as social justice, transparency and participation, which were the basis of modern international relations.

The relationship between machines and distribution of the benefits of production has inspired several thinkers, philosophers and economists over the last centuries. It was generally assumed that a time would come in which machines would eventually do all production and humankind would be free of work, maintained from the profits generated by machines.

This was, of course, more a dream than a political theory. Yet today, all managers of artificial intelligence and robotic production argue that the superior productivity of robots will reduce costs, thereby enabling greater consumption of goods and services, and this will generate new jobs, easily absorbing those displaced by machines.

The data we have do not show that at all. According to the Economic Report of the President of the United States, there is an 83 percent chance that those who earn 20 dollars an hour could have their job replaced by robots. This proportion rises to 31 percent for those who earn 40 dollars per hour.

Given that the new economy is an intelligence economy based on technical knowledge, people have a future if they are able to adapt to that kind of society, and the new generations are much more attuned to this. But what will a taxi driver who has had no technical education do to recycle himself?

The statistics show that today, when people lose their jobs at a certain age, any new job they may find will almost always be for a lower remuneration. So robotisation will affect the lower middle class above all, and a new generational divide will be created.

Over the years, a number of economists and influential people have expressed the idea of a universal basic income (UBI), arguing that there is a need to cushion society from tensions, instability and unemployment by giving all citizens a fixed income in order that they would be able to have a dignified life. In addition, by spending their UBI, they would generate wealth and increase demand, which would therefore stimulate growth and make for a just and stable society.

Martin Luther King was an early proponent, like neoliberal economist Milton Friedman. Now the billionaires of Silicon Valley like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, venture capitalist Mark Andreessen and Democratic Party senator Bernie Sanders have all expressed support for the UBI idea.

Meanwhile, Andrew Yang, an American entrepreneur and founder of Venture for America, is a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate running on a UBI platform. Yang notes that in the 2016 presidential elections, Donald Trump did particularly well in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, states which have lost four million jobs because of automation: “The higher the concentration of robots, the higher the number of disgruntled people who vote for Trump.”

Yang plans to cover the two trillion dollars that UBI would cost (half of the US budget) with a new VAT tax and taxation on the companies who profit from automation. Of course, in the United States the idea that people who do not work should receive public money is the closest thing to communism, and UBI faces formidable cultural obstacles. But Yang says that otherwise in a few years there will be “riots in the streets: just think of the one million truck drivers, who are 94 percent male with an average high school education, suddenly all jobless.”

The above leads to a few considerations and a concrete proposal.

The first consideration is that Trump and all the other politicians who want to restore a past glorious future totally ignore this debate (unfortunately, it is not part of any political debate). Calling for restoring jobs in mines and fossil fuels, for example, fails to recognise that technological developments have already led to the loss of many jobs, and will continue to do so. So, the rallying of disgruntled people, as was the case in Britain with Brexit, is a consequence of the poverty of the political debate, where traditional political parties (especially on the Left), instead of explaining clearly the world in which we now are, and the one in which we are heading, are trying to piggyback on the feelings of the victims of neoliberal globalisation, often taking up the banners of nationalists.

The second political consideration is that migration has become a major theme in elections. Trump was elected on a strong anti-immigrant platform, which continues in his administration. Governments in Hungary, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia are based on refusal of immigrants. All over Europe, from the Nordic countries to France, Netherlands and Germany, anti-immigrant feelings are conditioning governments.

In order to take votes away from the xenophobic Matteo Salvini (leader of the right-wing Lega Nord) in the Italian elections (scheduled for March 2018), the old fox of Silvio Berlusconi (former Italian prime minister) has promised that he will expel 600.000 immigrants if he wins the election.

The fear is that immigrants are stealing jobs and resources from citizens in the countries in which they live. However, statistics from the European Union tell us otherwise. The number of non-EU citizens living in Europe (some for a long time) is now 35 million, of whom about eight million are Africans, and seven million Arabs out of a total of 400 million. Those figures also include illegal immigrants.

All statistics show that more than 97 percent of immigrants are totally integrated, that they pay on average more taxes than locals (of course, they worry about their future) and to date those who do not have a job are about 2.3 million people who are still awaiting a decision on their juridical status.

There is not a single study claiming that immigrants have taken the jobs of Europeans in any significant way. It was the same story with the entry of woman into the labour market. An increasing proportion of women have joined the labour force over the last 30 years, but these increases have not coincided with falling employment rates for men. A study on Brexit demonstrated that immigrants had helped to increase GDP, and that the increase in productivity meant a global increase in employment. But we have reached a point where nobody listens any longer to facts, unless they are convenient…

And now the concrete proposal. It is clear that the real threat to employment for the large majority of citizens comes from robotisation, not immigration. No employed person has been fired to be replaced by an immigrant, unless we talk of non-qualified jobs that Europeans do not want in any case.

Truck drivers, taxi drivers, bus drivers and school drivers, to take some examples, do not fear for their jobs because of immigration. Within a very few years, their jobs will become obsolete in any case, and there will be no plans or preparations for that. When the problem explodes, politics might start looking at it.

Perhaps the more responsible thing to do – rather than stoking fear with populism and xenophobia – is that we start to come to terms with the real problem that our society is facing: automation.

And here is a simple proposal: somebody who takes a robot is making money because of its superior productivity, and he is firing somebody. After having paid the robot during usually a couple of years, he might be imagined to have a 100 percent benefit from the firing of a human being. Well, he will not have 100 percent but 60 percent because he will continue to pay the social costs of the human being fired: pension, taxes and health insurance.

That is not as costly as UBI, it is easy to organise and administer, and it will be a way to realise in part the old utopian dream that machines will work for humankind. Can a political debate be started?

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Excerpt:

Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

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Latin America Focuses on Attacking Pockets of Rural Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/latin-america-focuses-attacking-pockets-rural-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-focuses-attacking-pockets-rural-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/latin-america-focuses-attacking-pockets-rural-poverty/#respond Sun, 18 Feb 2018 02:35:05 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154379 Identifying territories where rural poverty is most entrenched in Latin America and the Caribbean to apply new tools and innovative policies to combat hunger is the new strategy that will be discussed at a ministerial meeting to be held in early March. Julio Berdegue, regional representative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), […]

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Identifying territories where rural poverty is most entrenched in Latin America and the Caribbean to apply new tools and innovative policies to combat hunger is the new strategy that will be discussed at a ministerial meeting to be held in early March. - FAO regional representative Julio Berdegue (R), and the deputy regional representative Eve Crowley, during the presentation of the organisation’s 35th Regional Conference objectives, to be held in March in Jamaica. Credit: FAORLC

FAO regional representative Julio Berdegue (R), and the deputy regional representative Eve Crowley, during the presentation of the organisation’s 35th Regional Conference objectives, to be held in March in Jamaica. Credit: FAORLC

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Feb 18 2018 (IPS)

Identifying territories where rural poverty is most entrenched in Latin America and the Caribbean to apply new tools and innovative policies to combat hunger is the new strategy that will be discussed at a ministerial meeting to be held in early March.

Julio Berdegue, regional representative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), announced this in the Chilean capital, explaining the objectives of the organisation’s 35th Regional Conference, to be held March 5-8 in Montego Bay, Jamaica, with the presence of ministers and representatives of the 33 countries in the region.

“We have over 43 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean who go to sleep every day with empty stomachs. We also have an epidemic situation of malnutrition and particularly of overweight and obesity,” warned Berdegue, who is also FAO’s Deputy Director-General.

The population of the region stands at 651 million, according to the latest projections.

Berdegue said the eradication of hunger is an uncompleted task and described as “terrifying” that “hundreds of thousands of children suffer from hunger.”

The proposal to identify these pockets of poverty, which are about a hundred, arises from the fact that the fight against hunger “is becoming increasingly difficult because we are reaching the hard core of the problem, the hunger that is concentrated in remote indigenous rural populations, and among women and the elderly,” he said."To eradicate hunger and extreme poverty, we have to deal with the problems of ethnic, gender, economic and territorial inequality and these are major challenges." -- Julio Berdegue

“To eradicate hunger and extreme poverty, we have to deal with the problems of ethnic, gender, economic and territorial inequality and these are major challenges,” he explained.

The most recent figures from FAO show that hunger increased dramatically in Venezuela, affecting 1.3 million people there. In addition, the fight against hunger was stalled because of the high rate of extreme poverty in Haiti: 47 percent of the population.

To this is added a small upturn in the proportion of people suffering from hunger in Argentina or Peru.

The regional representative also warned about the effects of climate change which threaten agriculture, and lamented that millions of rural dwellers in the region live in extreme poverty.

Poverty affects 46 percent of the rural population, while 25 percent live in extreme poverty, “a startling fact in a very rich region, with a very strong agricultural sector,” Berdegue said.

Asked by IPS about the role of rural and indigenous communities in the face of these serious problems, Berdegue responded that “they play a crucial role in food security.”

“First of all, the role of their own peoples, because the persistence of hunger is very high in indigenous populations. In many countries it even quadruples the national averages,” he explained.

Therefore, he said, “if indigenous communities are not central actors, there is no way to solve hunger in those places. This will not be solved by bringing food in helicopters.”

“In these communities we have an important issue of gender inequality, and inequality in access to land, access to political power within local communities, and access to participation, and that is a sensitive issue because of the norms and customs of native peoples,” he said.
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According to Berdegue, “the empowerment of indigenous women is part of the agenda in the fight against rural poverty and hunger in indigenous communities.”

The conference in Jamaica will also discuss the problem of overweight, which affects half of the population in the region, and the obesity suffered by some 90 million people.

According to FAO estimates, in 26 countries of the region, diseases associated with obesity are responsible for 300,000 deaths each year, compared with 166,000 people killed in homicides.

The 15 million family farmers of the region who produce fresh vegetables and traditional foods that contribute to a healthier and more diversified diet play a major role In the fight against obesity and overweight.

Another crucial issue in the 35th Conference will be the conservation of natural resources described by the regional representative as “key for a healthy life and for our survival and of all other species on the planet.”

Berdegue called for a discussion of “how we shall continue producing crops, how rural populations shall continue to live in the countryside in this era of climate change, and how to establish more effective risk prevention and management systems at a time when these risks and threats are much more intense. ”

“There is concern among the population, specialists and governments, because we cannot continue with agriculture that consumes 70 percent of the fresh water. It is no longer tolerable to say that we produce more food but on the basis of destroying tropical forests. Intensive agriculture based on the use of fertilisers that end up in rivers causing pollution is no longer acceptable,” he said.

Meanwhile, Eve Crowley, secretary of the Regional Conference and FAO deputy regional representative, said that the conference will discuss the problem of migration that affects thousands, who flee due to violence, lack of opportunities, poverty and environmental risks.

“We want migration to always be an option and not a necessity,” she said.

Crowley also highlighted the issue of conflict, saying that “conflict-ridden societies with political instability have higher levels of hunger than societies without conflicts.”

“When conflict decreases, there is less food insecurity. When food prices rise, as in the 2008 crisis, there is an increase in demonstrations and political instability,” she said.

In the first years of the century, Latin America and the Caribbean made significant progress in combating hunger, and became the first region in the world to reach the first Millennium Development Goal by 2015, by halving the proportion of hungry people, from 1990-1992 levels.

According to Berdegue, “with respect to hunger and the reduction of poverty, Latin America and the Caribbean have done their job well… the problem is that we have been losing speed.”

“We were advancing very fast and the world was seeing how well the region was doing it… They were looking at our public policies. But in recent years we have lost this great speed. What we want to discuss with the countries is how we can put our foot back on the accelerator,” he explained.

“We have been improving our capacity to eradicate hunger. Today we have instruments and tools that we did not imagine 15 or 20 years ago. The problem remains, but the specific answers to the problems have been changing and I would say that they have been improving,” he concluded.

If this continues, it would seem that the goal set by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) of reaching zero hunger by 2025 is moving away rather than getting closer.

The new commitment that FAO will now put on the table in Jamaica to the 33 governments of the region will be for the fight against hunger to focus on rural pockets that make up the hard core of extreme poverty.

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A Crisis Deepens in Libya but Where Are the Cameras?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/crisis-deepens-libya-cameras/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=crisis-deepens-libya-cameras http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/crisis-deepens-libya-cameras/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 19:37:51 +0000 Lansana Gberie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154377 Perhaps no major political or humanitarian disaster is as overlooked as the ongoing crisis in Libya. For example, although the New York Times in September 2017 published a total of seven articles mentioning Libya, only one of them touched on the violence ripping it apart. Even the Times’ gesture merely highlighted the latest permutation of […]

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The scars of war in Tripoli's Abu Salim district. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza / IPS

By Lansana Gberie, Africa Renewal
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 16 2018 (IPS)

Perhaps no major political or humanitarian disaster is as overlooked as the ongoing crisis in Libya. For example, although the New York Times in September 2017 published a total of seven articles mentioning Libya, only one of them touched on the violence ripping it apart. Even the Times’ gesture merely highlighted the latest permutation of the US government’s foreign military decisions.

The article, by Eric Schmitt, cited the Pentagon’s Africa Command and stated that the United States military had carried out a half-dozen “precision strikes” on an Islamic State training camp in Libya, killing 17 militants in the first American air strike in “the strife-torn North African nation” since Donald Trump was inaugurated as president.

Two of the Times’s September 2017 articles on Libya are about the Trump administration’s travel ban, which affects Libyans, among others. One is about Libyans seeking asylum in Germany only to find “hatred,” and the other is about the threats, including racism and violence, that sub-Saharan African migrants using Libya as a route to Europe face in that country.

Contrast the current media coverage of Libya with that of the period just before the NATO military action that led to the squalid death of Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi. In February 2011 alone—a month before the US, Britain and France began bombing that country to oust Gaddafi—the New York Times carried well over a hundred articles on Libya. One editorial, on 24 February 2011, confidently asserted that “unless some way is found to stop him, Gaddafi will slaughter hundreds or even thousands of his own people in his desperation to hang on to power.”

However, months after the dictator’s enemies, aided by Western powers, had overrun the country, the same paper ran a telling story by veteran correspondent Rod Nordland entitled “Libya Counts More Martyrs than Bodies.” “Where are the dead?” he asked, referring to the mass killings that Gaddafi had been accused of planning. No evidence of such killings was to be found anywhere in the country.

The “impression of a now well-rooted political economy of predation is palpable, as if the country were fueling its own crisis with its own resources to the benefit of the few and the frustration of the many.”

Ghassan Salamé, special representative of the secretary-general and head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya
Here’s what is currently happening in Libya, which is unlikely to be covered in corporate media.

On 28 August 2017, Ghassan Salamé, the special representative of the secretary-general and head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, told the Security Council that on his first night in the capital, Tripoli, after taking the job, “I fell asleep to the protracted staccato of gunfire.” Civilians, he said, “are killed or injured across Libya as a result of sporadic armed clashes… Thousands are also detained for prolonged periods of time, many with no prospects of a fair trial.”

Libya’s current state is one of near anarchy. A UN-led initiative resulted in a Libyan Political Agreement in December 2015 and a so-called Government of National Accord (GNA), bringing together two warring “governments,” the Council of Deputies (elected in 2014) and the Islamist General National Congress (GNC).

The GNA is backed by the UN and is internationally recognised. Its authority, however, is both unclear and limited; the country’s capital, Tripoli, the haven of the GNC, is still contested and riven by violence.

The components of the GNA still compete for authority, legitimacy and control over state resources and infrastructure. In effect, there are still two competing, even warring, governments in the country, and there is no leader commanding anything approaching national clout, let alone support or legitimacy.

Oil production in Libya reached 1 million barrels a day in early October 2017, far below the 1.6 million it produced before the crisis. Salamé said that the “impression of a now well-rooted political economy of predation is palpable, as if the country were fueling its own crisis with its own resources to the benefit of the few and the frustration of the many.”

When a convoy of UN personnel was attacked with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades on 28 June 2017 by militant groups in the country, Salamé reported that the active “presence of ISIS, Al Qaida–affiliated terrorist groups, foreign fighters and mercenaries, the trafficking of arms and the cross-border black market economy are challenges which extend across Libya’s borders and impact its neighbours and the wider international community.” Yet this was not a major news item in mainstream US media.

In June, UN investigators reported that terrorists, militants, mercenaries, and partisans have been targeting the two “governments” in the country, as well as residential areas, with improvised explosive devices, causing the death and injury of many civilians. The investigators reported summary executions of civilians, mass killings and bodies found with “bullet wounds and signs of torture.”

Kidnappings are routine, and so is the “arbitrary detention and torture of journalists and activists involving Haytham al-Tajuri, the commander of the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade. Armed groups affiliated with the National Salvation Government were involved in several cases of kidnapping and torture,” the investigators stated in their report.

Thousands have perished in the near-anarchic violence that these multiple groups and their foreign backers perpetuate, and an estimated 435,000 of Libya’s population of just over six million are internally displaced.

September ended with the report of the killing of 26 people and the wounding of 170 by rival armed groups in the city of Sabratha after two weeks of fighting.

In October, CNN reported slave trading in Libya, with a footage of black Africans being auctioned for around $400 each. The footage caused the African Union (AU) chairman, president Alpha Conde of Guinea, to demand prosecutions for crimes against humanity. He condemned the resurgence of a “despicable” trade “from another era.”

 

Why no action?

So why isn’t the world focused on Libya following the humanitarian catastrophe it has become since Gaddafi’s death? Last year the United Nations high commissioner for human rights estimated that more than 9,000 people were detained without trial in the country.

Sectarian killings are now commonplace, black migrants are brutalised and in some cases summarily executed by militia groups, and last year a report by the United Nations high commissioner for human rights estimated that more than nine thousand people were being detained without trial in facilities operated by the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Combating Illegal Migration of the Ministry of the Interior. It is now clear that those who ousted Mr. Gaddafi wanted a regime change but were unprepared for its consequences.

The latest Security Council resolution on Libya, adopted on 14 September, made a point of reiterating support for the GNA “as the sole legitimate government of Libya, with Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj as the leader of the Presidency Council.”

The resolution also expressed the Security Council’s “strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of Libya,” a country that, before its so-called revolution in 2011, was one of Africa’s most influential states, a prime actor in the transformation of the Organisation of African Unity into the AU.

Writing in the March/April issue of the journal Foreign Affairs, Ivo Daalder, then the US’s permanent representative to NATO, and James Stavridis, then supreme allied commander Europe, described NATO’s operation in Libya as “a model intervention” that “succeeded in protecting…civilians” from an impending genocide. In fact, it provides a cautionary tale for trigger-happy humanitarians and those the British journalist Simon Jenkins once called “sofa strategists and beltway bombardiers.”

 

African Union’s role

Libya’s ongoing problems raise questions about the role of the AU, of which Libya was once a prominent member. At the height of NATO’s bombing of Libya, in July 2011, Mauritania’s foreign minister Hamady Ould Hamady briefed the UN Security Council on the AU’s position.

Hamady spoke about the “indescribable suffering of the Libyan population” and then described the AU’s road map to peace: “the immediate cessation of all hostilities; the cooperation of the relevant Libyan authorities in facilitating the effective delivery of humanitarian aid to populations in need; the protection of foreigners, including African migrant workers living in Libya; and the adoption and implementation of the political reforms necessary to eliminate the causes of the current conflict.” The AU road map was routinely shelved as a Security Council document.

The AU could make greater efforts to resolve Libya’s crises. Its Peace and Security Department, which spearheads its efforts to promote peace, security and stability in Africa, is headed by Commissioner Smaïl Chergui from Algeria, a country that in the past played a prominent role in regional mediation efforts.

The current regimes in Libya may not have the same sentimental or rhetorical attachment to the AU that Gaddafi had, but experts believe that the regional body is still uniquely placed, despite the minimal interest displayed in Libya by major powers, to be more actively involved in containing the crises, whose impact has been seen in many of the neighbouring countries of the Sahel and even West Africa.

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Migrants and Refugees Must “Have the Right to Have Rights” Says Jazairy of Geneva Centrehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/migrants-refugees-must-right-rights-says-jazairy-geneva-centre/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrants-refugees-must-right-rights-says-jazairy-geneva-centre http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/migrants-refugees-must-right-rights-says-jazairy-geneva-centre/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 18:51:59 +0000 Geneva Centre http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154369 During the 23rd International Humanitarian and Security Conference held from 15 to 16 February 2018 in Geneva – organized by Webster University with the support of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Canton of Geneva – the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre […]

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By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Feb 16 2018 (Geneva Centre)

During the 23rd International Humanitarian and Security Conference held from 15 to 16 February 2018 in Geneva – organized by Webster University with the support of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Canton of Geneva – the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (the Geneva Centre), Ambassador Idriss Jazairy called upon decision-makers in the West and in the Arab region to identify joint solutions to the migrant and refugee crisis.

Jazairy said the largest and most massive movement of people on the move – since the end of the Second World War – calls for countries in the West and the Arab region to respond with one voice to the cause and consequence of the refugee and migrant crisis.

“We assert that people on the move also have the right to have rights. We need to disturb the complacency of hidebound or timid policy-makers. We must stimulate the creativeness of decision-makers from the Global North and the Global South. We must get them to talk to identify joint solutions to turn the current crisis into a golden opportunity,” the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director said.

Jazairy deplored the rise of populism, xenophobia and bigotry in the West targeting specifically migrants and refugees. He warned against the political momentum witnessed in local and national elections in European countries. “Although the inflow of displaced people towards Europe only adds 0.2% to Europe’s population, human solidarity and justice are being frayed by fear mongering about ‘the Other’ Jazairy added.

In the MENA region, decades of geopolitical power games and policies of “creative chaos” including unilateral coercive sanctions force people to leave their home societies, he noted. Although the migrant and refugees crisis is not of their doing, Jazairy underlined that Jordan provides protection and assistance to refugees that “add up to 20% of its own population.”

To overcome the current complexities, Jazairy appealed to people of good will from different faiths and denominations to work towards a world society that is reconciled with diversity, so that the latter is not feared but embraced and celebrated. “Multilateralism and consensus-building must guide the endeavours of decision-makers”, stated Jazairy.

Jazairy emphasized that “When world societies work together to achieve common goals, the fruit of their efforts bring great results. When they united their voices in decolonizing Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Middle East, it became a reality. When they agreed to eradicate smallpox, it became a reality. When they once again joined forces to eliminate apartheid in South Africa, it became a reality. These were the challenges that were successfully confronted by the international community in the 20th century.”

Jazairy emphasized that multilateralism and consensus-building must not be replaced by unilateralism and protectionism in the context of the migrant and refugee crisis. In conclusion he added, “at the present time, the Global Compacts on Migrants and Refugees will only beget ‘success stories’ if everyone is on board. Can we not in the 21st century, whose hallmark is supposed to be the victory of human rights on the ground, have the courage and the foresight to address in this spirit the challenge of people on the move? Let us hope against hope that the 21st century will be at least in this regard the century of the Great Convergence.”

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A Restructured African Development Bank Plans to Meet Economic Challenges Facing Continenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/restructured-african-development-bank-plans-meet-economic-challenges-facing-continent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=restructured-african-development-bank-plans-meet-economic-challenges-facing-continent http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/restructured-african-development-bank-plans-meet-economic-challenges-facing-continent/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 17:52:16 +0000 Akinwumi A. Adesina http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154367 Akinwumi A. Adesina is President of the African Development Bank

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Akinwumi A. Adesina is President of the African Development Bank

By Akinwumi A. Adesina
ABIDJAN, Cote d’Ivoire, Feb 16 2018 (IPS)

Over the past few years, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has confirmed its position as Africa’s premier development finance institution, generating significant impact on the continent’s economic and social development.

Akinwumi A. Adesina

To keep this positive momentum going, the Bank has recently re-designed its organizational structure as well as its development and business delivery model in order to become more effective and responsive to Africa’s economic challenges.

A more effective Bank will help African countries address many long-standing challenges, namely the immense electricity and power deficit, food insecurity, poverty, poor job creation, low levels of regional integration and industrialization, gender inequality, low levels of financial inclusion, particularly for women, and the rise in terrorism.

Overall, the new structure will expand the Bank’s business by moving it closer to its clients, improve the way it delivers services, and ensure that it can provide meaningful and effective development impact for its regional member countries.

A more effective execution of the Bank’s High 5 strategy will accelerate the continent’s economic transformation since, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the High 5s will allow Africa to achieve 90 percent of the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063. The High 5s are therefore the accelerators of Africa’s development.

The High 5s are backed by exceptionally strong investment programs, such as the New Deal on Energy for Africa with investments of $12 billion, the leveraging of an additional $45 billion to $50 billion into the power sector by 2020, as well as the delivery of 130 million new grid connections, 75 million off-grid connections, and secure access to clean cooking energy for 130 million households by 2025.

In agriculture and food, the Bank is investing a total of $24 billion over the next 10 years to help African countries achieve food security and make Africa a net food exporter. In terms of industrial policy, the Bank will make investments of up to $40 billion over the next 10 years under various flagship programs to raise Africa’s industrial outputs.

Finally, the Bank is determined to raise the quality of life of all Africans and, among other programs, create at least 25 million jobs for African youth over a 10-year period, turning Africa’s demographic assets into an economic dividend, accelerating the industrialization process of the continent, and tackling economic fragmentation across African countries.

In a nutshell, a more effective African Development Bank means a better developed Africa.

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Excerpt:

Akinwumi A. Adesina is President of the African Development Bank

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Father of Palestine’s Icon: Everyone is Blaming my Daughterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/father-palestines-icon-everyone-blaming-daughter/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=father-palestines-icon-everyone-blaming-daughter http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/father-palestines-icon-everyone-blaming-daughter/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 17:18:06 +0000 Erik Larsson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154361 As a video clip spread all over the world, so too did the name Ahed Tamimi. For Palestinians, she has become an icon of freedom. Arbetet Global met the father of the teenage girl that kicked and hit two Israeli soldiers.

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The post Father of Palestine’s Icon: Everyone is Blaming my Daughter appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

As a video clip spread all over the world, so too did the name Ahed Tamimi. For Palestinians, she has become an icon of freedom. Arbetet Global met the father of the teenage girl that kicked and hit two Israeli soldiers.

The post Father of Palestine’s Icon: Everyone is Blaming my Daughter appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Rohingya Children Draw Their Dreams: And It Looks Like Home…http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/rohingya-children-draw-dreams-looks-like-home/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-children-draw-dreams-looks-like-home http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/rohingya-children-draw-dreams-looks-like-home/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 14:12:43 +0000 International Organization for Migration http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154359 When 10-year-old Ansarullah was asked to draw his dream and greatest wish, he drew a house. So did almost every other of the 25 Rohingya refugee children who took part in a recent drawing activity session run by IOM’s psychosocial support team in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Children account for around 60 per cent of the […]

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Rohingya refugee children draw their dreams at an IOM psychosocial support workshop in the Kutapalong refugee camp, Bangladesh. Credit: IOM

By International Organization for Migration
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Feb 16 2018 (IOM)

When 10-year-old Ansarullah was asked to draw his dream and greatest wish, he drew a house.

So did almost every other of the 25 Rohingya refugee children who took part in a recent drawing activity session run by IOM’s psychosocial support team in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Children account for around 60 per cent of the 688,000 Rohingya refugees who fled violence in Myanmar to Bangladesh in the past six months.

Satellite images show widespread burning and destruction of the homes they left behind. Many lost relatives or friend to the violence or during their flight.

Most now live in what has been termed the world’s biggest refugee camp, in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, crammed into shelters made of polythene sheet or tarpaulins, which barely protect them from the elements.

Ansarullah, who says he wants to be a teacher when he grows up to help people, explained he drew things he liked the best.

“I drew flowers, home, Myanmar people and friends. I wrote my name, and my friend’s name and my school’s name at the drawing class. I enjoyed it a lot.”

Bar one creative little boy who drew a boat-like car, and a few who focused on abstract floral designs, houses, with family inside, dominated the refugee children’s expressions of their dreams.

Several of the youngsters also included pictures of the Bangladesh flag in their drawings.

“I enjoyed drawing the flowers and the house and people. And I enjoyed drawing Bangladesh’s flag,” added Ansarullah.

While psychologists stress that drawings alone cannot give a complete insight into a child’s emotional experiences, IOM psychosocial support coordinator Olga Rebolledo, who organized the drawing activity, said: “Generally speaking, the meanings that the children are giving their drawings are connected to what they expect, and their wishes to be protected and feel safe.”

Rebolledo explained that simply being given an opportunity to connect with their feelings and express their thoughts can be a therapeutic activity for children.

But for Ansarullah, the drawing session also provided another benefit. It was a chance to make new friends.

“They killed my friend in Myanmar. They (my friends) aren’t in Bangladesh. People came here, started living near us and I made friends with them. We play, fly kites, study and write together.”

But sometimes, he added, he still wanted more friends. The drawing activity, he said, made him feel good because he was surrounded by other children doing fun things.

“It was nice to spend time in a nice place like that,” he said of the basic, open-fronted shelter at the local IOM clinic where the drawing activity took place. “I liked the other kids.”

More than 1,300 children have received psychosocial support from IOM in Cox’s Bazar since September 2017.

IOM helped to provide shelter kits including tarpaulins, bamboo poles and basic household items that reached around 600,000 people in the first five months of the crisis. It is now helping roll out shelter upgrade kits that will help 120,000 families reinforce their shelters ahead of the rainy season.

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Oxfam’s Sexual Abuse Episode Must Inspire a Culture Shifthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/oxfams-sexual-abuse-episode-must-inspire-culture-shift/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oxfams-sexual-abuse-episode-must-inspire-culture-shift http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/oxfams-sexual-abuse-episode-must-inspire-culture-shift/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 10:44:53 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154353 Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

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A UN peacekeeper holds a child as her mother is helped down from a relocation truck in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Credit: UN Photo/Logan Abassi. The Oxfam scandal is an unfortunate blight. Organisations in similar circumstances must be transparent about how they punish culprits and what remedial and preventive actions they have taken. Justice must be unrelenting and exemplary, in pursuit of individuals who commit such acts, regardless of their rank or station. The guilty must go to jail in the country they commit such an offence.

A UN peacekeeper holds a child as her mother is helped down from a relocation truck in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Credit: UN Photo/Logan Abassi

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 16 2018 (IPS)

Sexual abuse allegations against Oxfam staff, and failings in the charity’s response to them, delivered a body blow to an organisation renowned for years of humanitarian and development work. At the very least the accusations will leave a stain on the reputation of a charity that works in some of the toughest environments in the world, and has made a positive difference in the lives of the most vulnerable.

The Oxfam reports come in the wake of a wave of revelations of sexual misconduct that spans churches to faith based organizations to children being abused in orphanages and schools in some of the most developed countries in the world.

What started as a Weinstein story in Hollywood, has spread to become an almost-daily parade of politicians, CEOs and celebrities facing allegations, sexual and gender-based exploitation, harassment and violence is a global issue. It is a crisis on an epic scale.

Under the hashtag #MeToo, thousands of women who had long bottled-up their pain have come forward with their stories, lifting the lid on decades of simmering frustration and repression.

But there is nothing new about the sexual abuse and exploitation of women.

The Oxfam scandal is an unfortunate blight. Organisations in similar circumstances must be transparent about how they punish culprits and what remedial and preventive actions they have taken. Justice must be unrelenting and exemplary, in pursuit of individuals who commit such acts, regardless of their rank or station. The guilty must go to jail in the country they commit such an offence.

Sadly, throughout history women have been raped or sexually exploited by armed combatants. But even where force is not used, women in conflict or post-conflict environments often live in poverty, and the power imbalance between them and humanitarian workers or peacekeepers has often led to ugly sexual transactions in return for basic necessities.

When the United Nations (UN) faced similar scandals, the organization quickly resorted to policies and procedures around sexual harassment. The UN Secretary-General is obliged to regularly report to the UN Security Council on the issue of women and peace and security. Another resolution reinforced the Secretary-General’s authority to repatriate and replace peacekeepers accused of sexual exploitation. Last year, 600 peacekeepers from the Republic of Congo were repatriated from CAR as a consequence.

While calling for solidarity in condemnation of sexual exploitation and abuse, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has said that the UN will not “let anyone cover up these crimes with the UN flag. … Let us make zero tolerance a reality”.

But it is time to look beyond policies and procedures. It is time for a candid look in the mirror and for society to make an overdue cultural shift on what has often been considered normal. The fact is that perpetrators are aware of the line between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, but in most cases they just do not think it is as ‘a big deal’. After all, while much of gender inequality is institutionalised in social, economic and political structures, it is individual men and boys who exploit, intimidate, harass and assault women and girls.

Deeply embedded cultures have continued to revere men in power and to protect them from facing consequences of their actions, even when they know that those actions cross the boundaries of decent behaviour. We have let authority, money and influence bestow on men the right to treat women as lesser beings.

Evidence abounds that misogyny and society’s structure continue to give men carte blanche to diminish women. Power and masculinity are tightly knit and sexualized, and find expression in sexual impunity or entitlement.

A comprehensive cultural shift must go beyond sexual abuse, and upend other expressions of patriarchy such as early marriage, female genital mutilation, and denial of sexual and reproductive healthcare. It is time to create gender parity in management positions to halt the patriarchal notion that power is generally a masculine characteristic.

The Oxfam scandal is an unfortunate blight. Organisations in similar circumstances must be transparent about how they punish culprits and what remedial and preventive actions they have taken.

Justice must be unrelenting and exemplary, in pursuit of individuals who commit such acts, regardless of their rank or station. The guilty must go to jail in the country they commit such an offence.

This must be seen as an opportunity to enforce zero tolerance to sexual harassment and to create a culture in which women are no longer seen as the sexually available yet socially invisible half of humanity.

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Excerpt:

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

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Migrants Are Up Against Nicaragua’s “Containment Wall”http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/migrants-hit-hard-nicaraguas-closed-border-strategy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrants-hit-hard-nicaraguas-closed-border-strategy http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/migrants-hit-hard-nicaraguas-closed-border-strategy/#comments Thu, 15 Feb 2018 22:58:10 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154348 Nicaragua’s “containment wall”, aimed at bolstering internal security, has been successful with regard to the fight against transnational crime. But its victims are migrants who are relentlessly blocked from passing through the country en route to their destination: the United States. A situation that also represents a paradox, given that Nicaragua is the Central American […]

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With a Nicaraguan flag in the background, passports from Nicaragua, with the silhouette of Central America on its cover, are held up. The country’s southern border with Costa Rica is closed by a "containment wall" policy that keeps out migrants travelling from South America towards the United States. Credit: José Adán Silva / IPS

With a Nicaraguan flag in the background, passports from Nicaragua, with the silhouette of Central America on its cover, are held up. The country’s southern border with Costa Rica is closed by a "containment wall" policy that keeps out migrants travelling from South America towards the United States. Credit: José Adán Silva / IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Feb 15 2018 (IPS)

Nicaragua’s “containment wall”, aimed at bolstering internal security, has been successful with regard to the fight against transnational crime. But its victims are migrants who are relentlessly blocked from passing through the country en route to their destination: the United States.

A situation that also represents a paradox, given that Nicaragua is the Central American country with the largest number of nationals living abroad, second only to El Salvador.

Roberto Orozco, a former social researcher at the Managua-based think tank Institute for Strategic Studies and Public Policies, and current independent consultant on security issues, reminded IPS that the origin of Nicaragua’s current migration policy lies in the crisis unleashed in the region in November 2015."It is an issue that often exceeds the capacity of a State more used to being a country that generates large numbers of migrants, than a country of transit or temporary stay of migrants." -- Ricardo de León Borges

At that time, a wave of migrants seeking to reach the United States before that country stiffened its immigration policy generated a crisis to which several Central American countries, as well as Colombia and Mexico, sought a solution.

But the government in Managua, headed since 2007 by the Sandinista National Liberation Front’s (FSLN) Daniel Ortega, refused to participate in joint actions to facilitate the mobility of the 3,000 Cubans who had been stranded in Costa Rica, on the border with Nicaragua.

This country deployed police and military troops, as well as border guards, to block access by the migrants, and created an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the region, which was only solved with measures from other governments to allow migrants to continue their journey without passing through Nicaragua.

Ortega and Nicaragua’s military and police brass have explained that the containment wall consists of the coordinated use of the armed forces and the State institutions involved in the fight against organised crime: drug trafficking, terrorism, human trafficking, smuggling of undocumented migrants, and other threats to national security.

Orozco argued that the closure of Nicaragua’s southern border, blocking the passage of people – not of Cubans today, but of Africans, South Americans, and Haitians among others – has since late 2015 benefited Mexico, antechamber to the migrants’ target: the United States. It also benefited the U.S., Nicaragua’s main trade and aid partner.

But he questioned the effectiveness of the containment wall in reducing the flow of migrants through the continent, as well as the activity of the “coyotes” or human traffickers, and noted that there is a lack of official information on the matter, from government agencies, the police and the army, as IPS confirmed.

The only hard data was provided in September 2017 by the Nicaraguan army’s commander-in-chief, General Julio César Avilés, at a ceremony in Managua celebrating the anniversary of the armed forces.

“In the fight against illegal migration, 4,579 migrants were detained, the vast majority of whom came from countries in Africa and the Middle East, and were trying to reach the United States,” he said at the time.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) states that some 800,000 citizens of Nicaragua live abroad and 40,000 migrate every year. The main reason for Nicaraguan emigration is poverty, which according to the latest World Bank figures affects 29.6 percent of the population. Credit: José Adán Silva / IPS

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) states that some 800,000 citizens of Nicaragua live abroad and 40,000 migrate every year. The main reason for Nicaraguan emigration is poverty, which according to the latest World Bank figures affects 29.6 percent of the population. Credit: José Adán Silva / IPS

Ricardo de León Borge, dean of the Faculty of Legal Sciences and Humanities at the American College, told IPS that “indeed, Nicaragua’s immigration policy responds in the first place to safeguarding the interests of the Nicaraguan population, safeguarding their security and integrity within the national territory.”

In his opinion, the containment wall policy aims to “ensure that undocumented migrants move through our country in an orderly manner, so that they are not part of the sad statistics of people swindled by the ‘coyotes’ involved in a dangerous network of traffickers and organised crime.”

But De León Borge said that irregular migration is controlled not only with laws or hard-line policies. “It is an issue that often exceeds the capacity of a State more used to being a country that generates large numbers of migrants, than a country of transit or temporary stay of migrants,” he said.

Achievements beyond migration

But the academic stressed that the “iron fist” policy, beyond the issue of migration, has provided the desired effects in terms of security.

Nicaragua is now proud to have the highest safety rates in Central America: a homicide rate of six per 100,000 inhabitants in 2017, the lowest in the last 15 years, according to the National Police.

“Both Nicaragua, as well as its neighbours in Central America, Mexico and the United States, benefit from a containment wall that provides tangible results, based on the laws that govern the issue of migration against non-traditional threats to the security of States and people, such as drug trafficking, gangs, trafficking in persons or organs, and human smuggling,” De León Borge said.

Collateral damage: human rights

However, behind the containment wall policy, abuses and violations of human rights are reported, according to the non-governmental Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights.

Gonzalo Carrión, a lawyer with the NGO, told IPS that the Nicaraguan state has criminalised illegal migration and has made it more dangerous for travelers seeking to cross the country en route to the United States.

To illustrate, he mentioned three cases: the forced expulsion of thousands of Cubans and Africans at the end of 2015, the death by drowning of 12 African migrants in 2016, who sought to circumvent the controls through Lake Nicaragua, and the trial of a Cameroonian woman who was arrested in December 2017.

Marie Frinwie Atanga is originally from Cameroon and a resident of Belgium, from where she traveled to Nicaragua in 2017 to claim the body of her 20-year-old migrant son, who was shot dead in southern Nicaragua in an alleged clash between a border patrol and a group of “coyotes”, who were transporting migrants from Costa Rica to Honduras.

She was detained and accused of belonging to an international migrant smuggling ring, and could face up to 12 years in prison, which Carrión considers to be “a legal and moral barbarism of Nicaragua against migrants.”

In addition, under the containment wall policy, the authorities have prohibited local residents from helping migrants in transit and have even brought criminal charges – of collaboration with human trafficking – against people who have provided food, water or clothing to migrants who were abandoned by the coyotes and were in a risky situation.

For Carrión, the heavy-handed approach on migration runs counter to the history of Nicaragua, a country with a population of 6.3 million people, since 11 percent of its inhabitants live and work abroad, mainly in the United States, Costa Rica, Panama and Spain.

That, according to a 2017 report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), makes it the second source of migrants from Central America, only behind El Salvador, which has 24 percent of its citizens abroad, while Honduras is third, with seven percent, followed by Guatemala (6.5 percent), Panama (four percent) and Costa Rica (3.5 percent).

Nicaragua has a poverty rate of 29.6 percent, according to the latest figures from the World Bank, which places it as one of the three poorest countries in the Americas. This year, this nation expects to receive 1.424 billion dollars in migrant remittances, 3.5 percent more than in 2017, according to data from the country’s Central Bank.

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UN Seeks Private Sector Leadership to End Violence Against Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/un-seeks-private-sector-leadership-end-violence-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-seeks-private-sector-leadership-end-violence-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/un-seeks-private-sector-leadership-end-violence-children/#comments Thu, 15 Feb 2018 17:24:10 +0000 Amina Mohammed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154346 Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General, in an address to a private sector roundtable at the Solutions Summit to end Violence Against Children

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Children sit in a UNICEF-supported centre for vulnerable children, in the conflict-affected Hajjah Governorate, Yemen. Credit UNICEF /Brent Stirton

By Amina J. Mohammed
STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Feb 15 2018 (IPS)

It may seem as if achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, and its target of ending all violence against children, depends mostly on action from governments and civil society. But we also need leadership from the business community to achieve a world where every child is free from violence, abuse, trafficking and torture.

Companies in all sectors, and of all sizes, have a powerful impact on children. Respect for the dignity of every person is at the core of sustainable development. It is also one of the keys to ensuring a socially sustainable globalization, from which business stands to be a major beneficiary.

As a starting point, any company serious about addressing violence against children should adopt a ‘respect and support’ approach, as prescribed by the Children’s Rights and Business Principles.

Developed by UNICEF, the UN Global Compact, and Save the Children, these Principles call on companies to prevent harm against children and to pro-actively safeguard children’s interests. They build on existing international standards for responsible business, such as the UN Global Compact Ten Principles and the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

By integrating respect and support for children’s rights into their core strategies and operations, a company can strengthen its reputation, improve risk management and secure its social license to operate. Creating a safer world for children also helps build strong, well-educated communities — a vital precondition for long-term, stable and sustainable business environments.

Without a principled approach to these issues, companies risk advancing one objective while undermining progress in other related areas. Looking more specifically at ending violence against children, allow me to outline some key areas where the principles and frameworks I have just mentioned can help companies have an enormous impact:

The first is child labour. Companies that contribute to ending child labour — in all their business activities and along all their supply chains — will go a long way to rooting out the circumstances that enable violence against children to persist.

Companies should also take steps to prevent, identify and mitigate harm to young workers. They must be protected from hazardous work, and companies must do all they can to prevent all forms of workplace violence – including physical and mental punishment, bullying and sexual abuse.

Beyond child labour, a zero tolerance policy for violence, exploitation and abuse should apply across all business activities – even those conducted away from business facilities.

Companies should take particular care in respecting children’s rights in emergency settings, where the risks of violence against children are even more acute.

Children are among the most vulnerable in times of humanitarian crises, especially children with disabilities, displaced or migrant children, children who are separated from family and unaccompanied, and indigenous children.

Girls often face uniquely daunting challenges reflecting the pervasive gender inequalities the SDGs are also designed to tackle.

There is a strong business case for taking great care to respect and support childrens’ rights in emergency settings. Among the many possible dividends, companies that respect and support the rights of children in emergencies can reduce operational risks, alleviate human suffering, develop tomorrow’s talent pool, invest in a more sustainable future, and identify new market opportunities and innovations.

Across all these areas, business action should involve implementing due diligence tools, including risk identification, impact assessments, management measures, reporting mechanisms, grievance procedures and other stakeholder engagement processes.

Taking action to end violence against children is simply the right thing to do. But respecting and supporting the rights of children can also create tremendous opportunities for innovative businesses.

The annual Global Opportunities Report created by DNV and the UN Global Compact noted this year that there are significant untapped business potential relating to reducing global inequalities.

In short, a solid foundation exists today for us to come together and take action to make the world a safe place for all children, everywhere, by 2030. Companies who take this seriously can have a tremendous impact while also achieving great business success. I look forward to hearing more from you about the ways you are making a difference in your own companies.

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Excerpt:

Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General, in an address to a private sector roundtable at the Solutions Summit to end Violence Against Children

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Till Her Last Breath- Remembering Asma Jahangirhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/till-last-breath-remembering-asma-jahangir/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=till-last-breath-remembering-asma-jahangir http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/till-last-breath-remembering-asma-jahangir/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 16:22:40 +0000 Rangita de Silva de Alwis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154343 Rangita de Silva de Alwis is Associate Dean of International Affairs, University of Pennsylvania Law School, and Global Adviser, UN SDG Fund

 

“No amount of pressure will deter me from representing women in distress. It has been my life’s mission. Till the last breath, I will stand by them.” -- Asma Jahangir ( 1952- 2018)

 

“We have lost a human rights giant”—UN Secretary-General António Guterres

 

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Rangita de Silva de Alwis is Associate Dean of International Affairs, University of Pennsylvania Law School, and Global Adviser, UN SDG Fund
 
“No amount of pressure will deter me from representing women in distress. It has been my life’s mission. Till the last breath, I will stand by them.” -- Asma Jahangir ( 1952- 2018)
 
“We have lost a human rights giant”—UN Secretary-General António Guterres

 

By Rangita de Silva de Alwis
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 15 2018 (IPS)

I first met Asma Jahangir, the champion of human rights in Pakistan, who died Sunday, as a teenager in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s. In a friendship that spanned political upheavals and turbulent transitions in Pakistan and in Sri Lanka, to the War on Terror in the US, Asma remained my mentor and muse.

Asma Jahangir. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

At age 18, Asma had already become the stuff of legend in South Asia. She had burnished her name in Pakistan’s Supreme Court by challenging the house arrest of her father, Malik Ghulam Jilani, a well- known liberal politician, who had been placed under “preventive detention” during the military rule of General Yahya Khan in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In a landmark petition, Jahangir challenged the legitimacy not just of her father’s detention but of Khan’s rule as well. In a watershed moment for Pakistan and South Asia, the Supreme Court ruled that Khan was an “usurper.” Asma learned to fight tyranny both in court and on the street. As a student, she was suspended from her convent school for scaling the walls of the Governor of Punjab to hoist a black flag to protest authoritarianism.

When the principal of her law school told her that as a married woman she could register in law school but would not be able to attend classes, she interpreted that to mean that she could still take the law exams. She had her unmarried friend enroll in law school and take notes for her.

Flouting conventions of the time that forbade women to work, Asma founded the first ever woman’s legal aid office with her sister Hina and two women friends. Her office in Lahore was pock marked with bullets from those who threatened to kill Asma and Hina for defending women from so called “ honor crimes,” women trying to divorce violent husbands, women trying to escape forced marriage, bonded laborers seeking freedom from their abusive landlords, child laborers, religious minorities facing death sentences under the blasphemy laws, and relatives of the forcibly disappeared. When President Amy Gutmann, President of Penn invited Asma to receive a honorary doctorate in law, it was a way of celebrating Asma’s courage, but also a way of using the university’s significant soft power diplomacy and moral authority to signal a strong message against authoritarian regimes and political tyrants who seek to muffle a hero’s voice. When Asma spoke that enchanted early summer evening before commencement, in President Gutmann’s garden, she did not speak of the battles or the bullets, the politics or the power, but rather the sheer exhilarating spirit- soaring joy of her work in the frontlines of a women’s movement in an age of change.

Asma often spoke of Humaira Kakha and Samia Sarwar to show us that there was a human story behind the lawyering, a story of forced marriage and honor crimes, where women are sacrificed at the altar of their family’s so-called honor.

During General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s 11-year rule, which ended in 1988, Jahangir organized the first women’s movement in Pakistan– the Women’s Action Forum to challenge the military dictatorship and the Islamization of the law. The group protested in the streets against the Hudood Ordinance that saw women as second class citizens.

One of the first cases that Asma protested was that of Safia Bibi, a young blind woman who had been raped by her master’s son. Safia failed to fulfil the evidentiary requirements under the ordinance which called for four adult men of honorable character to serve as witnesses to the crime of Zina (rape ) in court.

Instead, Safia’s pregnancy due to the rape was considered proof of the crime of fornication under the Hudood Ordinance, and was sentenced to public lashing, imprisonment and fine.

Asma was not without critics, detractors and attackers. She faced death threats, assassination attempts, imprisonment, house arrest, police brutality and most of all ignorance, with stoic courage, puckish humor, and unflinching grace.

My students at Penn Law analyze an article from the Harvard Women’s Law Journal on the story of Muktharan Mai, the Pakistani woman who was gang raped as part of an honor crimes attack. In the article, the author quotes critics who liken Asma and her sister Hina to “Jeans wearing women” who are agents of the West.

Neither woman has ever worn a pair of jeans and both are critics of American exceptionalism and the sometimes perilous double standards of Western powers.

During the Mushraff years, Asma led women in a mixed gender marathon, jogging all the way in a salwar kameez.

The New York Times reported about the marathon in 2005: “The police beat the woman with batons in the full glare of the news media, tore her shirt off and, though they failed to take off her baggy trousers, certainly tried their best. The ritual public humiliation over, she and others – some bloodied – were dragged screaming and protesting to police vans and taken away to police stations. This didn’t happen to some unknown student or impoverished villager. This happened to Asma Jahangir, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion and head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the country’s largest such nongovernmental group. The setting: a glitzy thoroughfare in Lahore’s upmarket Gulberg neighborhood. The crime: attempting to organize a symbolic mixed-gender mini-marathon on May 14. The stated aim of the marathon was to highlight violence against women.”

When the Mullah’s criticized the TV coverage of the “unsightly spectacle” of women running a marathon, Asma promptly advised them to shut off their TVs.

In the mid-1990s, when no one else would, Asma took up the case of Salamat Masih, a Christian teenager sentenced to death for blasphemy for allegedly scribbling grafiitii on a mosque’s wall. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have become a trap for religious minorities. An accusation can be made on the basis of little or non-existent evidence.

Despite a campaign by extremist forces, Masih was ultimately acquitted on appeal. However, the decision ignited factional violence. Following the verdict, an armed gang charged into Asma’s brother’s house threatening the entire family. In 1997, two years after the acquittal, the judge was killed.

Much is written about Asma the lawyer, and international human rights defender, but Asma was first and foremost a friend, a friend of the powerless. In my visits to her elegant home in Lahore, my most vivid remembrance is of the throng of little children, the barefoot children of the small surrounding tenements, who would rush to her, hugging her, shyly murmuring words of endearment, hanging on to her with their tiny arms, and rubbing their dusty faces on her soft cotton shawl.

I worked with Asma in those liminal spaces between her endless missions at the highest levels of the United Nations, as the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial and Arbitrary Execution, Special Representative on Darfur, Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Religion, and her final UN assignment as the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, but Pakistan always was her constant passion and focus. A love so fierce for country and her people, I have yet to witness in another.

A few days before her death, she spoke at Oxford in honor of her friend Benazir Bhutto’s tenth death anniversary. She was a champion of Bhutto, but told me that she refused Bhutto’s offers of high political office in order to remain independent of government patronage, to retain the right to challenge the politics of her friend.

As her mentee, I often feared her criticism, even when it was softened with tenderness, because she always spoke the truth. “Those who pursue perfection never do anything brave,” she would tell me. Asma on the other hand, relished the tumult of her work, the political miasma of the fight for democracy, the brave battles against injustice and impunity, and most of all, the relentless pursuit of the truth, until her last breath.

The Atlantic wrote a few days after her death that “Presidents and prime ministers decorated her with their highest civilian honors” and that Asma “was awarded three honorary doctorates.” One of the doctorates was from the University of Pennsylvania in 2016.

When President Amy Gutmann, President of Penn invited Asma to receive a honorary doctorate in law, it was a way of celebrating Asma’s courage, but also a way of using the university’s significant soft power diplomacy and moral authority to signal a strong message against authoritarian regimes and political tyrants who seek to muffle a hero’s voice.

When Asma spoke that enchanted early summer evening before commencement, in President Gutmann’s garden, she did not speak of the battles or the bullets, the politics or the power, but rather the sheer exhilarating spirit- soaring joy of her work in the frontlines of a women’s movement in an age of change.

A senior US diplomat in Pakistan once told me, “I shudder to think what would happen to Pakistan if something were to happen to Asma and her sister, Hina.” I replied, “But what would the world look like?”

While I continue to cherish Hina, who taught last year at Penn Law, the outpouring of tributes show that Asma has inspired a new generation of lawyers, policymakers, journalists, activists and human rights defenders.
As a Penn Law student wrote to me on the evening of Asma’s death, “from Peshawar to Penn Law, women will fight to defend the marginalized because we were touched by Asma.”

The post Till Her Last Breath- Remembering Asma Jahangir appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Rangita de Silva de Alwis is Associate Dean of International Affairs, University of Pennsylvania Law School, and Global Adviser, UN SDG Fund

 

“No amount of pressure will deter me from representing women in distress. It has been my life’s mission. Till the last breath, I will stand by them.” -- Asma Jahangir ( 1952- 2018)

 

“We have lost a human rights giant”—UN Secretary-General António Guterres

 

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Internet Freedom Rapidly Degrading in Southeast Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/internet-freedom-rapidly-degrading-southeast-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=internet-freedom-rapidly-degrading-southeast-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/internet-freedom-rapidly-degrading-southeast-asia/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 13:46:15 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154339 Researchers recently evaluated 65 countries which represent 87 percent of internet users globally. Half of them experienced a decline of internet freedom. China, Syria and Ethiopia are the least free. Estonia, Iceland and Canada enjoy the most freedom online. The most remarkable evolution comes from Southeast Asia. A few years ago, this was a promising […]

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Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Line, WhatsApp and WeChat are the most popular social media sites in Southeast Asia, but their power to spread free speech is declining. Credit: ITU/R.Farrell

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Line, WhatsApp and WeChat are the most popular social media sites in Southeast Asia, but their power to spread free speech is declining. Credit: ITU/R.Farrell

By Pascal Laureyn
PHNOM PENH, Feb 15 2018 (IPS)

Researchers recently evaluated 65 countries which represent 87 percent of internet users globally. Half of them experienced a decline of internet freedom. China, Syria and Ethiopia are the least free. Estonia, Iceland and Canada enjoy the most freedom online.

The most remarkable evolution comes from Southeast Asia. A few years ago, this was a promising region. The economy was growing, democracy was on the rise. Malaysia had free elections, Indonesia started an anti-corruption campaign and the social rights of Cambodian garment workers were improving."A few years ago, social media were safe havens for activists. But today these media companies are too cooperative with the autocratic regimes." --Ed Legaspi of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance

“Internet helped these movements grow,” says Madeline Earp, Asia research analyst with Freedom House. “All kinds of organisations and media started using internet more and more. That was hopeful.”

Today, democratisation has faltered. A military coup in Thailand and the dissolution of an opposition party in Cambodia are just two examples of autocratic governments resisting change.

Censorship, arrests and violence

According to the report, seven of the eight Southeast Asian countries researched have become less free in the last year.

“Censorship is on the rise and internet freedom is declining,” Earp says. “Myanmar and Cambodia were the biggest disappointments.”

Recently, journalists were arrested in Myanmar. Fake news spreads hate speech and incites violence against Muslims. Today, Myanmar has more journalists in prison then in the last years of the military regime.

In Cambodia, an independent newspaper was shut down. Activists who denounce illegal activities of companies are being arrested. In Thailan,d the strict lese-majeste law is used to silence opponents. The Philippines has a growing number of ‘opinion shapers’ to push pro-government propaganda.

The only country that has improved its score is Malaysia. But Freedom House says that is mostly because of increasing internet use. Repression is not keeping up with the rapid growth. This shows that Malaysia is following a trend in Southeast Asia. The restriction on freedom of speech starts when internet use goes up.

“The Malaysian government has censored news websites. At least one Malaysian has been sentenced for a post on Facebook,” Earp adds.

The Chinese example

Part of the cause is to be found in China. The influential country has the world’s least free internet for three years, according to the Freedom House report. It uses a sophisticated surveillance system, known as the ‘Great Firewall’. An army of supervisors check on the internet use of the Chinese, from messaging apps to traffic cameras.

Undesirable messages are being deleted by Chinese censors. Sometimes that can lead to absurd situations. A newly discovered beetle was named after President Xi Jinping. But messages about this event were deleted because the predatory nature of the beetle could be insulting to the leader.

These practices play an important role in the decline of democracy in Southeast Asia. “Vietnam is copying the techniques of China,” says researcher Madeline Earp. “More bloggers and activists are being arrested because of their social media use.”

Fake news

Not only censorship is an issue. In Southeast Asia, fake news is being used to eliminate opponents or to manipulate public opinion. This is what Ed Legaspi, director of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, explains in The Bulletin.

“Worryingly, many governments have taken advantage of existing mechanisms in social media to spread rumours and combat critical voices,” says Legaspi. “Thailand’s lese majeste law, Malaysian’s sedition act and Indonesia’s blasphemy law have all been used to curtail online speech.”

In Myanmar, inflammatory and racist language against Muslims provokes violent outbreaks regularly. Fake news sites spread rumours about a Buddhist woman who supposedly was raped by a Muslim. This contributed to the violence towards the Rohingya, a Muslim minority. And it helps the army to get support from a large part of the public.

The role of social media cannot be underestimated. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Line, WhatsApp and WeChat are the most popular in Southeast Asia, but their initial power to spread free speech is declining.

“A few years ago, social media were safe havens for activists. But today these media companies are too cooperative with the autocratic regimes,” says Legaspi. “They do nothing to protect their users.”

Manipulated elections

Various countries are organising elections this year. How these governments will deal with these moments of tension will determine the evolution of internet freedom.

Cambodia has elections with no opposition, Malaysia’s polls are heavily manipulated. Not much positive news is expected there. In Indonesia, the regional elections in June will be the first test since a fake news campaign against Jakarta’s once popular governor, Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama. He was convicted of blasphemy and jailed.

The growing knowhow of those in power is being used to improve their fortunes when elections come. Some of them already control internet use and silence activists, a sad evolution in a region that only recently seemed to be making progress.

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Turning Promise into Action: Working Towards Gender Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/turning-promise-action-working-towards-gender-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=turning-promise-action-working-towards-gender-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/turning-promise-action-working-towards-gender-equality/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 07:54:24 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154332 Persistent and pervasive gender-based discrimination is undermining sustainable development and preventing communities and countries from reaching their full potential, said a UN agency. In a new first-of-its-kind report, UN Women examines the progress in realizing the globally adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through a gender lens. Though SDG 5 specifically highlights the need to achieve […]

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Protesters gather outside the Lahore Press Club in the capital of Pakistan's Punjab province, to demand justice for victims of sexual violence. Credit: Irfan Ahmed / IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 15 2018 (IPS)

Persistent and pervasive gender-based discrimination is undermining sustainable development and preventing communities and countries from reaching their full potential, said a UN agency.

In a new first-of-its-kind report, UN Women examines the progress in realizing the globally adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through a gender lens.

Though SDG 5 specifically highlights the need to achieve gender equality, the report points to worrisome trends in the implementation of all 17 SDGs and calls on the international community to accelerate its efforts.

“Unless progress on gender equality is accelerated, the global community will fail to achieve the SDGs,” UN Women Research and Data Specialist and author of the report Ginette Azcona told IPS.

1 in 5 Say #MeToo

Among the issues highlighted in the report is sexual harassment and violence.

UN Women found that approximately one in five women and girls aged 15 to 49 from around the world have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner within the last 12 months.

However, 49 countries still do not have laws that protect women from such violence.

The issue has gained international spotlight in recent months with millions rallying behind the #MeToo campaign which aims to reveal the magnitude of sexual harassment and other forms of violence that women all over the world experience every day.

Though the original #MeToo movement was launched ten years ago by activist Tarana Burke, the recent viral campaign has inspired many to come forward with their stories, including those who have exposed celebrities and public officials.

“The women’s movement has been working for many years to raise awareness of the different forms of violence ad abuse faced by women and girls. The current spotlight is therefore a welcomed insertion of energy to this important but too often neglected area,” Azcona told IPS.

Such attention will help advance a number of SDGs such as access to safe public spaces, she added.

Intersectional-Issue Lives

UN Women particularly pointed to the the report’s figures on poverty which reveal a persistent gap between women and men.

In 89 countries, 4.4 million more women than men live on less than 1.90 dollars a day.

This is partially due to the disproportionate burden of unpaid care and domestic work that women face, especially during their reproductive years.

Poverty often does not stand alone in the lives of women and girls as different dimensions of well-being, deprivation, and even racial identity often intersect.

For instance, a girl who is born into a poor household is more likely to be forced into early marriage and thus more likely to drop out of school, give birth at an early age, suffer complications during childbirth, and experience violence than a girl from a higher-income household.

“It is the intersection of gender with other forms of discrimination that pushes women and girls from poor and marginalized groups even further behind,” Azcona said.

In the United States, race and income are deeply intertwined.

UN Women found that Black, Hispanic, and Native American or Alaska Native women are more likely to live in poverty. The rates of poverty are highest for Black women at almost 24 percent.

Women who find themselves in the bottom of the income distribution are least likely to be employed and thus lack access to health insurance.

As the range of deprivations that women face span all 17 SDGs, the report highlights the need to make progress on more than the goal to achieve gender equality.

“Progress on some fronts may be undermined by regression and stagnation on others, and potential synergies may be lost if siloed approaches to implementation take precedence over integrated, multi-sectoral strategies,” it states.

Among the report’s recommendations for action is for governments to create and implement integrated policies.

For instance, providing free and universal child care to women would allow them to access employment and income and improve the family’s health and well-being.

Universal childcare can also create generate new jobs and revenue.

Azcona also highlighted the need for spaces for democratic debate in order to hold governments accountable on their promises, including a sustained involvement of women’s organizations.

“Addressing violence and inequality after all is key to greater social and political stability,” she said.

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African Migration to Europe, Not a Crisis but an Opportunityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/african-migration-europe-not-crisis-opportunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=african-migration-europe-not-crisis-opportunity http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/african-migration-europe-not-crisis-opportunity/#respond Wed, 14 Feb 2018 17:25:24 +0000 Masood Ahmed and Kate Gough http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154329 Masood Ahmed and Kate Gough, Centre for Global Development

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Somali migrants receiving assistance from US sailors. Credit: US navy

By Masood Ahmed and Kate Gough
WASHINGTON DC, Feb 14 2018 (IPS)

An increasingly common justification for European development assistance to Africa is the notion that it will reduce migration from the South. While this sounds intuitive and makes for an appealing argument, the research shows that it is highly unlikely.

As communities become less poor, more people gain the abilities and wherewithal to undertake an expensive journey to a better life elsewhere. Development often increases migration—at least initially.

The combination of demographic and economic imbalances means that migration flows between Africa and Europe will almost certainly increase in the coming decades. By 2050, sub-Saharan Africa will have 800 million new work force participants.

This population boom will be full of young, energetic job seekers, and local markets will not be able to absorb and provide meaningful livelihood opportunities for all of them.

At the same time, Europe will continue aging, with labor demand exceeding supply in critical sectors such as nursing and healthcare. By 2050, more than 34 percent of Europe’s population is expected to be age 60 or older.

Alongside these demographic realities is the continuing imbalance in living standards. Even if African average per capita incomes were to double in each of the next three decades, by 2050 the income gap with Europe will still be large enough to make migration a promising alternative for many.

In addition to economics, many migrants will be driven by conflict or by the already-evident impact of climate change on their home countries. The bottom line is that over the next three decades, it is highly likely that tens of millions of new workers will come to Europe to run factories, provide healthcare and education, and deliver the services that make modern economies functional and comfortable for their residents.

The policy choice for Europe is not whether there will be large scale migration, but how to manage it in a way that is economically beneficial and socially sustainable. Three policy imperatives flow from these realities.

Implement policies that maximize migration’s mutual benefits.

Migration can have immense mutual benefits if it is well-governed. Host country policies governing migrants’ access to labor markets and their ease of integration into local communities will determine how quickly these positive migration impacts can be realized. There are many good ideas—and examples—that can be scaled up.

Australia and Germany have successfully tested programs to train migrants in needed skills before they arrive, part of a model that CGD has proposed called Global Skill Partnerships. Engaging the private sector from the start is critical to ensuring that such models are sustainable, meet local needs, and maximize migrant contributions to economies.

Germany and Canada can provide valuable lessons on supporting the integration of migrants into host communities. Making migration work also requires explicitly and proactively addressing the needs of host communities.

When governments fail to step up help for schools and health facilities strained by additional demands, it only aggravates tensions and resentment that can spill over in ugly ways. Migrants almost always generate net positive economic benefits to the host country at large, but these benefits need to flow quickly and visibly to the local communities most directly impacted by migration.

Ultimately, the effect of migration is a policy decision, and policymakers need to implement legislation that allows robust migrant contributions to be realized, at the community level and beyond.

Support Africa’s development for the right reasons.

A vibrant, safe, and prosperous Africa is not just important to Europe but also to the world. And many countries in Africa are making admirable progress on economic and social development.

At the same time, the continent poses the central development challenge for the next generation—eradicating remaining extreme poverty; improving health and education outcomes; providing economic opportunities for the burgeoning young population; and dealing with conflicts, extremism, and failing states. Tackling these challenges will require leadership from the continent and sustained support from its partners.

For Europe, increasing support to economic and other development in Africa is imperative, not only as a neighbor, but also to equip Africa’s future workforce with the skills and education that will maximize their contributions at home and in Europe, should they choose to move.

That is why development engagement with Africa—through aid but equally through trade, investment, and other channels—remains an essential priority for European policymakers. But for this development assistance to be effective, it needs to focus on supporting broad-based development and not be distorted by ultimately futile programs linked to deterring migration.

There is some evidence that funding projects targeted to the supposed root causes of migration and tailoring development interventions too closely to those migration drivers may instead undermine development (and migration deterrence) “by neglecting the development needs of communities.”

Given demographic realities, large-scale migration will not significantly let up in the coming decades. In some circumstances, humanitarian or development assistance can relieve immediate pressures to leave a distressed environment, but deterrence efforts alone will not counter the multitude of factors driving these migrant flows.

Too narrow a focus on deterrence mechanisms also stacks the test of success for development assistance in a way that will come back to haunt us when we inevitably fail to meet it. Instead, states and international organizations must focus on partnerships and cooperation to shape how migrants will move and contribute.

Address the political discourse head-on and change the rhetoric around migration and development.

The politics around migration are as hard in Europe as they are everywhere. Dealing with the recent and rapid flows of refugees and migrants has brought out underlying tensions within societies and divisions among European states.

In this climate, it is expedient to focus on short-term goals rather than provoke a contentious debate about longer-term strategic choices. Expediency, however, can also become an excuse to postpone the necessary dialogue to prepare European societies for the choices they face and how best to manage them.

The future migration challenge Europe faces is an example of a so-called Gray Rhino—a highly probable, high-impact, yet neglected policy challenge. To neglect it may likely mean welcoming a cycle of migration “crises” reaching Europe’s borders for decades to come.

The responsibility for changing the discourse falls on more than political or public figures. In the development community, we also sometimes fall into the trap of referring to migration as a “problem” rather than acknowledging it as a potential opportunity.

With the right policies, migration offers huge improvements in human welfare, with significant contributions to host communities, migrants’ home communities, and migrants and their families. Let’s work together to put those policies in place so Europe and Africa will both be better for our children.

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Excerpt:

Masood Ahmed and Kate Gough, Centre for Global Development

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