The sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims that started in western Burma last June has now taken 200 lives and caused some 100,000 refugees. This issue should take a prominent place in President Barack Obama's agenda as he stops off in Burma this week. It will be the first time that any U.S. president has visited the country.
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James A. Robinson explains why Colombia's remarkable degree of political stability is not all that it's cracked up to be.
Malik Al-Abdeh wonders whether the creation of a new umbrella group for the Syrian opposition group will actually help to bring down the Assad regime.
Mohamed El Dahshan argues that the current government ban on pornography in Egypt threatens freedom of expression.
Larry Jagan analyzes the dynamics within the Burmese leadership and explains why fragmentation of the ruling party would be a disaster for the country.
Christian Caryl explores the comparison between two civil war presidents, Bashar al-Assad and Abraham Lincoln.
Besar Likmeta profiles Ina Rama, Albania's first female general prosecutor and valiant hero in the fight against sleaze.
Jackee Batanda reports on the increasing demoralization of a Ugandan public battered by new revelations of corruption in high places.
And here are this week's recommended reads:
Thomas Carothers and and Nathan J. Brown explain the real danger for democracy in Egypt.
Katrin Verclas and Lina Srivastava wonder why a new list of democracy promotion heavyweights is bereft of women.
In a Guardian interview with Colin Poulton, the SOAS research fellow makes the case that the establishment of democratic institutions in developing countries can be detrimental to the rural poor.
A new RAND report assesses the nation-building challenges in post-Qaddafi Libya.
A new report on Burma from the International Crisis Group, Storm Clouds on the Horizon, shows how continuing sectarian conflict is casting a shadow over the reform process. Writing in The Independent, Emanuel Stoakes stresses the need for President Obama to acknowledge the issue during his upcoming trip to Burma.
In an analysis for the Middle East Research and Information Project, Pete Moore explains why -- despite the recent turmoil there -- Jordan is unlikely to experience its own version of the Arab Spring.
Sarah Kendzior argues that there are good reasons for holding policy forums in authoritarian countries.
Alina Rocha Menocal takes issue with the notion that "building institutions" is the best formula for promoting development.And finally, Evelyn Lamb, writing in Scientific American, explains the background of the Gini coefficient -- and why it's not like the Kardashians
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The Daily Monitor managing editor and columnist, Daniel Kalinaki, deftly captures the state of Uganda's corruption in a poignant opinion piece he's just published in the paper. The title says it all: "Uganda used to have thieves, now the thieves have Uganda." He writes about the sky-high level of official corruption and how it has become an institutionalized phenomenon. Kalinaki's piece neatly expresses what a lot of Ugandans have been thinking, and it's become a favorite in online discussions. As for me, I agree with Kalinaki that the thieves have Uganda by the balls.
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Mac Margolis explains why Brazilian political consultants are all the rage in Latin America and beyond.
Min Zin anticipates President Obama's planned trip to Burma and what it might mean for the development of the country's democracy.
Pedro Pizano and Jamie Leigh Hancock offer a rare glimpse inside one of Africa's harshest dictatorships.
Based on an interview with Transparency International co-founder Laurence Cockcroft, Christian Caryl contends that corruption is set to become one of the defining political issues of the twenty-first century.
Liana Aghajanian reports on Armenians' revolt against the political and economic power of business tycoons.
Azzurra Meringolo interviews the leading Bahraini human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja.
Juan Nagel looks ahead to the approaching state elections in Venezuela and wonders whether the opposition will have a chance.
And Endy Bayuni tells the sad story of a scandal over judges with poor judgement.
And now for this week's recommended reads:
Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart, writing for the Legatum Institute, present an outline for a post-war transition in Syria.
Democracy Digest examines Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's vow to stay no matter what, and analyzes the impact of his statement on the continuing civil war.
Writing for the Center for International Policy Studies, Alexandra Gheciu examines the possibility of military intervention in Mali.
At Jadaliyya, Fawwaz Traboulsi maps out the political opportunities that the Arab Spring has provided to the forces of the left -- and suggests how they might be exploited.
Shannon K. O'Neil at the Council on Foreign Relations analyzes how U.S. state votes on the decriminalization of marijuana will affect drug policies in Latin America.
Radio Free Asia provides a profile of the "multimedia monk" who has been campaigning for human rights in Cambodia.
The Economist presents a video report on the ethnic violence in western Burma.
Golnaz Esfandiari, author of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty's Persian Letters blogs, provides a unique look into the mindset of one of Iran's basij paramilitaries.
At Al-Akhbar English, Sarah El Sirgany offers an intriguing comparison of the U.S. and Eygptian presidential elections.
Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/GettyImages
M. Steven Fish and Katherine E. Michel explain why Tunisia is taking the right approach to establishing democractic institutions.
Anne Applebaum explores the motivations for people to support authoritarian regimes.
Dalibor Rohac argues that religion isn't necessarily the key to understanding the success of Islamist parties in the MENA region.
Endy Bayuni explains the tensions underlying recent violence among Indonesian migrants.
Peter Passell introduces the Legatum Institute's 2012 Prosperity Index.
Jackee Batanda reports on the corruption scandal that has soured Uganda's relations with foreign aid donors.
And now for this week's recommended reads:
David Rieff attacks the assumptions behind America's democracy promotion agenda.
The Arabist provides alternate sources of English versions of the new Egyptian draft consitution -- with a bit of arch commentary along the way.
Amrit Dhillon criticizes the Indian government's restrictions on morphine for the poor.
At The Monkey Cage, Joshua Tucker offers a handy overview of Ukraine's parliamentary elections and what they tell us about the Ukraine's continued drift toward authoritarianism.
Writing for The Irrawaddy, Burmese journalist Aung Zaw explains why the resurgence of ethnic conflict in northwestern Burma bodes ill for the next phase of reforms.
At Jadaliyya, Basma Guthrie and Fida Adely explain why the Jordanian government is tightening the screws on the domestic media.
Foreign Policy's own Marc Lynch writes on the burgeoning dissatisfaction in Kuwait.
Writing for OpenDemocracy.net, Paul Rogers argues that western intervention in Mali would be a gift to Al Qaeda.
Democracy Digest offers a useful situation report on the state of democratic institutions in Tunisia.
[The photo above shows Cubans lining up to receive government coal rations in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.]
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Recently Ugandans had one small cause to celebrate. The World Bank announced that their country had moved up in the rankings in its annual ease of doing business survey. And not only did Uganda move up -- it also overtook regional rival Kenya, which had long enjoyed a much better rating in this area. The ratings are important, of course, because foreign investors quite understandably prefer to put their money into places where there are fewer obstacles to business.
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In 2009, Moe Thee Zun, a famous student leader during Burma's 1988 pro-democracy movement and a former chairman of the All Burma Students' Democratic Front, flung his shoe at a car carrying then-prime minister Thein Sein while he was attending the UN General Assembly in New York. He argued that Thein Sein and the repressive military junta ruling Burma do not represent the people of Burma -- whom they brutally killed during the peaceful protests of the 2007 Saffron Revolution.
Now Moe Thee Zun is back in Burma after 24 years in exile. The student leader, who was condemned to death in absentia by the old military regime, can now legally return to his homeland -- now that-President Thein Sein's pseudo-civilian government has removed his name, along with 2,081 others, from a blacklist denying him entry into the country. After his arrival on Saturday he held a press conference at which he declared that he had returned to help the president's reform process and make peace in the war-torn areas of the country.
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Burmese government ministers and their proxies are building up their frequent flyer miles. They've been making trips to their Southeast Asian neighbors as well as Western countries ranging from Norway to the U.S., the newest enthusiasts of Burma's reform. The cynics might characterize these trips as part of a charm offensive, but in fact they're much more substantive than a PR ploy. These are not the usual attempts to solicit aid from the West; they are, in fact, part of a campaign "to bring the exiles back home."
Major Zaw Htay, the director of the Presidential Office, recently made a visit to the U.S., where he met with a cozy reception from the State Department and some Burmese groups. Hla Maung Shwe, a leading businessman-cum-advisor to the regime, is due in August. In fact, Burma's general-turned-civilian president, Thein Sein, has apparently assigned his trusted aides to lead these delegations to court the West and the community of political exiles.
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In a new report launched today, the liberal group Political Research Associates (PRA) documents the role of U.S. right-wing evangelicals and religious institutions in fostering homophobia in several countries in Africa. With data from seven countries (Uganda, Liberia, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Nigeria), the report exposes the impact of U.S. conservatives on policies toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people as well as reproductive rights. This latest report builds on PRA's earlier research on the issue.
The report argues that the culture wars between pro-life and pro-choice groups within the U.S. have been exported to Africa. Homophobia has connected different Christian denominations which are usually suspicious of one another, such as Evangelicals uniting with Catholics and Mormons who promote a "pro-family" agenda.
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In March, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi troweled dollops of concrete onto a barren patch of land on the picturesque island of Lamu, Kenya, where a future seaport will lie. The Lamu Port-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET), a $23-billion undertaking that will connect Kenya's coastal Lamu region to South Sudan and Ethiopia with oil pipelines, railways, and super highways, is one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Africa to date. According to President Kibaki, LAPSSET "will stimulate the growth of regional economies through promotion of trade and other productive activities." He predicted that the project will boost employment and contribute to better prospects for some 167 million people in the surrounding region.
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Can Burma make headway towards democracy when it's still saddled with an authoritarian constitution? Michael Albertus and Victor Menaldo argue that countries in comparable situations have managed to overcome similar obstacles in the past.
Skeptics say that Brazil's economy is losing its mojo. But Albert Fishlow begs to differ, explaining why investors shouldn't give up so soon.
Christian Caryl tells the peculiar story of a West Texas town that has become a player in the global human rights industry.
The White House announced yesterday that it is lifting two of its major sanctions against Burma. At the same time, the Obama Administration nominated the first U.S. ambassador to Burma in 22 years. (Technically speaking, President Obama first extended one more year of the "national emergency" that serves as the legal basis for the investment ban, then used his presidential waiver to suspend the sanction. Yeah, it's confusing.) He also decided to waive a measure banning the export of financial services, which was a provision of the JADE Act passed by the Congress in 2008.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlined five possible responses to the political opening in Burma in remarks she made on April 4. The United States, in Ms. Clinton's words, resolved to "meet action with action." Yesterday's announcement means that the U.S. has now implemented all five of the measures she alluded to.
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Mohamed Fadel Fahmy interviews Robert Becker, who decided to stay in Egypt and have his day in court rather than leave the country with the other Americans implicated in the NGO affair.
Francisco Martin-Rayo argues that America is undermining Yemen's opportunity to build democracy for the sake of waging war on Al Qaeda. (The photo above shows Yemeni jihadis manning a checkpoint.)
Reporting from The Hague, Christopher Stephen explains why the welcome verdict against Charles Taylor shouldn't divert attention from the continuing irrelevance of the International Criminal Court.
We already know that drones are powerful weapons. In "Predators for Peace," Jack C. Chow depicts a not-too-distant future in which airborne robots can be used to boost humanitarian relief efforts and good governance.
As governments cut back on foreign assistance budgets, Peter Passell makes the case for a smarter approach to development aid.
Alina Rocha Menocal, noting that Latin America still suffers from gross inequality, sees the answers in sound public policy.
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I've been waiting for this story to die away but it doesn't appear to want to. I'm observing its escalation with amused horror. Amused, because it looks like the Egyptian military government is effectively bullying the U.S. in a crisis neither really controls. Horror, because when all is said and done the losers will be the Egyptian people.
A brief recap: In December, the Egyptian authorities raided the offices of 17 humanitarian organizations. The police confiscated documents, money, computers. The government, basing its actions on a shameful and draconian Mubarak-era law, accused the groups of receiving illegal funding from overseas and operating in Egypt without proper registration.
Four of the 17 are U.S.-based organizations: the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), and Freedom House. One is German, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. Several of the groups' staffers, including such notable figures as Nasser Amin, director of the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession, were detained and questioned for hours on end.
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"Folks in Uganda love your story," Elizabeth Wood, my publisher, wrote to me recently. She was referring to my children's book The Blue Marble, which has just been imported back into the country in a novel way. She forwarded an email from Daria, one of her colleagues, who is currently on a trip to Uganda for the Worldreader project:
I'm so excited! When the teachers at Humble [a school in Uganda] saw that there were African books on their e-readers they actually seemed astounded. A quick look into Humble's library and you know why: everything was American. This might be going too far but they looked like they were in a state of disbelief, almost as if they themselves had never really connected the idea of books and African authors. Actually, when Esther said The Blue Marble was by a Ugandan writer a few of them commented in disbelief. Seeing the Ugandan names actually made a few of them giggle with surprise and delight. Jackee Batanda is going to be the first Ugandan author most of them read.
Worldreader is a non-profit organization committed to delivering digital books to children and families in the developing world using e-reader technology. Already launched in Kenya and Ghana, the project seeks to promote reading through e-readers and works with underprivileged schools. Worldreader launched in Uganda last week, and, judging by the emails, Ugandan teachers are excited.
Generally speaking, teachers in Uganda have little to be excited about. Last week, I read with trepidation that the government has, for the time being, ruled out pay rises for all civil servants (except those in the security sector). This country's fixation on high defense spending over quality of education and health care bodes ill for the nation's future. Around the world, the debate on the failing education standards is growing. What are the nations with the best education standards doing right? And what are those with low education standards doing wrong?
Uganda boasts high student enrollment due to a policy of free universal primary and secondary education. The numbers look good when it comes to World Bank statistics on enrollment, but they tend to ignore the quality of education. In an op-ed he published in Uganda's The Independent newspaper last year, Bob Kasango argues for the need to overhaul the whole education system and motivate teachers. He quotes reports indicating that children who have passed through the Ugandan school system cannot tell time or do simple mathematical calculations. He argues that the need to improve education standards is of the essence.
To compete, we either must raise our educational standards or we shall be left out and left behind. But how do we do this? The answer is simple. Get more and great teachers, pay them well and treat them with the same professional respect we accord to lawyers, engineers, doctors, accountants etc. But developing great teachers requires an extremely rigorous and competitive process. They must be subjected to entry exams to a teaching job and continuously assessed and given regular periodical training to widen and upgrade their knowledge base. The teacher-student ratio must not defy the principal laws of meaningful learning....
Last year teachers participated twice in national strikes, calling on the government to increase their salaries by 100 percent. The average income of a primary school teacher is 260,000 shillings ($93 USD) per month, according to local press reports. They threatened another strike this year. Instead the government promised to raise their salary by 15 percent in the next financial budget cycle. The decision to increase teacher's pay by only 15 percent underscores the failure to grasp that more money needs to be channeled into education if we are to develop as a nation.
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Transitions is the group blog of the Democracy Lab channel, a collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Legatum Institute.