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Chris Stephen assesses the grim situation in Libya one year after the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. DemLab editor Christian Caryl contends that this is the international community's last chance to help Libya find its way to democracy.
Maikel Nabil Sanad proposes four benchmarks for a democratic Egypt.
Tik Root reports on a once marginal political movement that has become a major participant in Yemen's national dialogue.
Tomas Bridle explains why democracy promoters should rely on a variety of tools.
Dalibor Rohac urges Egyptian policymakers to follow the example of Eastern Europe by pushing hard and fast for economic reform.
Juan Nagel reveals the Syria-Venezuela connection, even as Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro sends a "rambling missive" to U.S. President Barack Obama.
Min Zin explains that though Burmese President Thein Sein hopes for a timely end to the civil war, peace in Burma is coming down to political maneuvering.
This week's recommended reads:
In an open letter on the Lancet, doctors plead with armed forces in Syria to stop attacking medical centers, ambulances, health-care professionals, and patients, and allow their medical colleagues to treat the wounded. In the photo above, Syrian men evacuate a victim of an air strike by regime forces in Aleppo.
As Zarni Mannn reports for the Irrawaddy, Burmese President Thein Sein met for the first time with members of the 88 Generation Students, a group that was instrumental in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, as part of his plan to release all political prisoners by the end of the year.
The New York Times's Jeffrey Gettleman interviews Rwandan president Paul Kagame.
Writing in the Nation, Sarah Carr presents a dark portrait of post-coup Egypt.
The Atlantic's Nick Danforth explains why colonial-era borders can't be blamed for all the ills of today's Middle East.
Alakbar Raufoglu, reporting for SES Turkiye, explains why a video of police officers beating a Turkish protestor could have serious consequences for Turkey's prime minister.
Vikram Nehru, writing for the Carnegie Endowment, argues that Indonesia's succesful elections don't necessarily mean that the country has genuine political competition.
Adow Jubat reports on the false promise of devolution in Kenya's Northern Frontier, where inter-clan conflict has exploded into violent clashes.
And the Guardian's Music Blog explains how a taboo-breaking Lebanese band is shifting political boundaries.
ABO AL-NUR SADK/AFP/Getty Images
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.]
Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images
Christian Caryl reports on the Salafi movement, which has been implicated in many of this week's protests around the Middle East.
Rohan, an emaciated nine-year-old, lies coughing in his father's arms. "He has tuberculosis," the man tells me. "But I cannot afford the medications." Behind the pair stands Lakshmi, a slight young woman who cradles a pale, listless baby. Has her child had her vaccinations? "No," the mother says. "We began but they became too expensive." Both families have waited hours in line for a two-minute appointment with a doctor at a free healthcare camp.
Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images
In a country where consulting a psychologist is taboo, Portia Walker explores the challenge of overcoming the civil war in Libya.
Endy Bayuni examines why few Indonesians are prepared to come to terms with the darkest chapter of the country's recent history.
Min Zin wonders whether the regime will succeed in its bid to co-opt the pro-democracy opposition through appeals to nationalism amid continuing sectarian strife.
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.
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images
In March I blogged about nodding disease affecting children in northern Uganda, and the government's slow response to addressing the problem. A couple of months later, and the response is half-hearted. The disease has spread to six districts in the region, and according to media reports, there are up to 5,000 affected.
A civil society organization, Health Watch Uganda, had taken the government to court over its failure to adequately respond to the epidemic. The suit requires the government to compensate families whose children died from the disease. But the Attorney General presented the government's defense 15 days after the response was due; it came only after Health Watch requested the High Court proceed with the trial without the government's defense.
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.
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
In their recently launched report on inequality in Latin America, Christian Aid describes the situation as scandalous, and they're right. Latin America is by no means poor. With very few exceptions, most Latin American countries qualify as middle income. Yet the region remains the most unequal in the world, a dubious honor it has held for decades. Throughout Latin America, inequality remains rooted in highly unequal patterns of land distribution and other forms of wealth and power that are deeply entrenched and reproduce themselves from generation to generation. By one estimate, the richest 10 percent of the population in Latin America captures as much as 40 percent of total income, while the poorest 10 percent receives a mere 1 percent.
RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
To our readers:
Democracy Lab Highlights:
In his profile of the Tibetan government-in-exile's democratically elected leader, Sudip Mazumdar explores the grim options facing Tibetans fighting for greater autonomy.
Jackee Budesta Batanda explains that Uganda's biggest problem isn't the Lord's Resistance Army. It's nodding disease, a mysterious ailment that is ravaging the countryside - with little response from the Ugandan government or the international community.
Mohamed El Dahshan reports on the peculiar saga of an Egyptian parliamentarian's wayward nose.
And Christian Caryl argues that, from Russia to Burma, political personalities are more important than ever. (Above, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin celebrates his victory in Sunday's presidential election -- flanked by his sidekick, current President Dmitri Medvedev.)
Democracy Lab's recommended reads:
Elsewhere on the FP website, Michael Wilkerson offers a critical take on the #StopKony campaign, which, according to Wilkerson, is presenting distorted claims in its highly publicized effort to stop the Lord's Resistance Army.
In a provocative piece entitled "Don't Despair of Democracy," the FT's Gideon Rachman argues that "the world's democracies are still winning the global beauty contest." (Subscription may be required.)
Leigh Nolan, an expert at the Brookings Doha Center in Doha, describes how monarchies in the Gulf are trying to manage the expectations of their citizens through the educational system.
Just in time for International Women's Day, the International Federation for Human Rights presents a skeptical report about the state of women's rights in the Arab Spring.
An analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, offers a fine-grained look at the capabilities of the Syrian guerillas now fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Stephanie Strom at The New York Times offers a must-read on an India-based website that tracks bribery. The site aggregates reports on bribes submitted by anonymous donors.
The excellent Democracy in Africa website offers an illuminating podcast and a number of other resources that examine the continuing electoral turmoil in Senegal.
ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images
While the rest of the world jumps onto the Kony2012 bandwagon -- wrongly assuming that the main problem in Uganda is the Lord's Resistance Army -- Ugandans are worrying about the much more urgent problem plaguing their country: nodding disease.
The cause of the disease is unknown. It affects thousands of children in Northern Uganda, causing symptoms similar to epilepsy, but with more severe mental and physical retardation. (The photo above shows 12-year-old Nancy Lamwaka, a victim of the disease.) Yet the Ugandan government has been notably slow to deal with the problem.
A lot has happened since I last blogged about the government's strange priorities. As I noted at the time, the Ugandan president's office requested additional funding for its own needs that amounted to nine times of what the Health Ministry had specified for its first response to the disease. The government's failure to allocate resources to this threat raises serious questions about its competence and its commitment to dealing with crises.
I recently heard an odd story from a source very close to the government in Burma. The source predicted a serious bout of political instability for the country in June 2012. The cause, he said, will be neither an Arab Spring-style mass uprising nor a resurgence of civil war in the country's borderlands.
The reason, he said, is that the health of Thein Sein, our general-turned-civilian-president, is set to go downhill about then.
I asked the source how he knew this.
"This is what an astrologer has been telling us for the past few months," he replied.
Soe Than WIN/AFP/Getty Images
The Ugandan president's office has announced that it is requesting 92 billion Ugandan shillings [$39m] in additional funding to run its activities. This comes just five months after State House already asked for a supplementary budget of 66.6bn [$28.3m]. This is, to put it mildly, outrageous.
The request comes just weeks after the government announced that it is refusing to increase spending (except for the security sector). The government had offered to increase teachers' salaries by only 15 percent, an offer rejected by the teachers, who were demanding a 100 per cent raise.
Here's more from The Daily Monitor piece:
If approved, the State House budget will balloon to more than Shs158.6 billion [$67.3m] -- more than twice the 2011/12 Budget for Mulago National Referral Hospital. This money would meet the Shs75 billion [$31.8m] required to answer teachers' demands for a 100 per cent salary increment.
(The photo above shows Mulago National Referral Hospital, Uganda's largest.)
Meanwhile, the northern part of the country is being ravaged by a strange disease referred to as "nodding disease." Of the 7 billion shillings [$2.9m] requested by the Ministry of Health to address the outbreak, the government only released a miserly 100m [$42,436]. The ministry's supplementary budget for tackling the outbreak is being delayed amid reports of bureaucratic infighting.
In a dramatic speech today from his home state of Barinas, Hugo Chávez seemed to confirm that his cancer has returned. Offering no details, and with his visibly-shaken daughter and ministers standing by, he told the nation that doctors in Cuba had found "a lesion" in his pelvis, in the same area where was operated on a few months ago. He announced he needed to undergo surgery again for further evaluation.
This development is sure to shake up an already interesting presidential race.
A year ago, those of us who obsess over Venezuelan politics thought we knew the story line of the October 2012 presidential election. It was supposed to be about the twelve years of the Hugo Chávez era and whether the opposition was mature enough to take the reins.
Then, late in June, the plot changed. In an awkward speech from Havana, Chávez (shown above in a meeting with U.S. actor Sean Penn on Feb. 16) confirmed that doctors had removed a tumor from his pelvis.
Since early July, Chávez has undergone four rounds of chemotherapy. But neither the president nor his medical team has explained the type of cancer he has, where exactly it is located, or the specifics of his treatment, much less his prognosis.
LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images
Last week the International Monetary Fund (IMF) released a statement saying that Burma has a chance to become "the next economic frontier in Asia." But the IMF went on to note that the country can realize its potential only "if it can turn its rich natural resources, young labor force, and proximity to some of the most dynamic economies in the world" to its advantage.
In a word, it's up to the government.
Contrary to what you might think from the headlines, it's not western sanctions that are causing Burma's economic woes. It's government policy. The Burmese government's Industry Minister, attending the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, admitted as much when he responded to a journalist who asked whether the country has done enough to get U.S. sanctions lifted: "We have a lot of things to reform and lots of things have to change: laws, regulations and institutions, not only in the political sector but also in the economic sectors. But sanctions are up to them."
In 2004, the well-known U.S. economist Jeffrey Sachs wrote that sanctions against Burma had "systematically weakened the economy by limiting trade, investment and foreign aid." It's an argument that many critics of sanctions have made.
The media love to use terms like "pariah," "isolated," and "closed" whenever they describe Burma and the effects of sanctions on the country.
If the term "pariah" denotes a country that utterly disregards international norms and behavior, and correspondingly meets with unrelenting censure from the international community, then that's a pretty good fit for Burma. But when the word is used in a way that's supposed to characterize the country's overall economic position (invariably in combination with words like "closed" and "isolated"), then it doesn't describe the situation at all.
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, in 2010 Burma's exports and imports stood at $8.7 billion and $4.9 billion respectively. That's higher than the data for some of the comparable members of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN), such as Cambodia and Laos. Meanwhile, many experts caution that the official figures for Burma's exports fall far short of the real numbers because they don't cover the value of timber, gems, narcotics, rice, and other products smuggled to neighboring countries.
As far as foreign direct investment (FDI) is concerned, Burma reached a record high in 2010-11 of almost $20 billion. That's more than the figure in the same year for Southeast Asia's latest investment darling, Vietnam.
These facts suggest that Burma's exposure to trade and FDI is higher today than ever before, and even higher than that of some comparable ASEAN countries. In this light it becomes extremely hard to argue that sanctions have deprived Burma of FDI and trade, much less that Burma is "isolated" or "closed." (This also offers an eloquent commentary on how ineffective the sanctions regime has actually been.)
Of course, sanctions do have negative effects on the economy (for instance, job losses in garment industry after the 2003 sanctions imposed by the U.S.), and there are many spillovers to other sectors, ranging from education to the growth of civil society. But the government cannot use sanctions as an excuse for its mismanagement and kleptocratic corruption.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
It was near midnight one day earlier this week when my colleagues and I returned from a long field trip. It was a searing experience. We had traveled about nearly 500 kilometers from Kampala, Uganda's capital, to one of the forgotten villages in the north. This village is called Tumangu.
A village in Northern Uganda is typically a place where people are extremely poor, illiterate, and have no access to social services. It's not that they don't want services; there are simply very few that are available. There's little access to health care or education. Tumangu is worlds away from Kampala, which for all its problems boasts many of the conveniences of modern life. In Kampala you can easily use a cell phone, or walk into a bar for a cold beer, or even catch a ride on a boda boda. And if you're sick, you can easily get treatment at a hospital or clinic (assuming you can pay for it, of course). But people can only imagine such things in a place like Tumangu.
And no one knows when the situation will change. For all its sadness, the trip inspired me to do something about the plight of the people of Tumangu, many of whom are suffering from an incurable ailment called "nodding disease."
It's an appalling situation. Some politicians have described it as "the silent genocide." You may have heard about some of the other problems of this part of Uganda, many of which stem from the conflict with the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). In October 2011, for example, President Obama sent U.S. Special Forces to hunt down LRA rebels, who are notorious for the atrocities they've committed in the region in the past. Lately, though, they've been causing most of their chaos in Southern Sudan, and their absence from Northern Uganda has resulted in relative peace. This is not to rule them out as a future threat, of course.
People in Kampala are exhausted by corruption, inflation, and rising prices for food and fuel. Northern Ugandans are worried above all about their health. Disease is undermining their ability to cultivate food and provide sustenance for their families. In Tumangu, 9 children have already died from nodding disease, and another 97 have been admitted, in critical condition, to the local clinic - which, of course, has little in the way to resources. (There are no precise figures for the population of the town. In the election last year there were 456 registered voters in the town - which, of course, leaves out those under 18 and those who didn't register to vote in the first place.)
Shockingly, no one, not even health officials, really knows what causes this sickness or how it is transmitted. Nodding disease is a mysterious illness that stunts brain growth among the small children who are its victims, sometimes causing mental retardation. (It takes its name from the convulsive nodding motion that marks those infected with it.) Sometimes its victims break out in violent tantrums, as if possessed by demons; some act as though they're being pursued by people armed with machetes or guns. In some cases victims report being weighed down or suffocated by "something heavy" that they cannot see. Those who contract the disease usually die from it within a few years. It is a horrible thing to watch. The Ugandan media are filled with stories about it: see Monitor.co.ug, Irinnews, and Dailymail.
With all the information now available about this deadly disease, it is all the more astonishing that nobody has been able to figure out what causes it or how to develop a vaccine. Even AIDS, ebola, and cholera -- all diseases that have caused terrible epidemics in Northern Uganda -- are capable of treatment today. Why not nodding disease? It is spreading rapidly in Northern Uganda, and as the threat increases, so, too, does the urgency of the need for a response.
One side effect of the disease is that it is deepening the local people's sense of estrangement from the authorities. Many people say that the government does not care about them, and that it only pays attention during election season. (The photo above shows a woman voting last year in the northern village of Wiiaworanja.)
As one male resident of Tumangu put it to me: "Past election, nobody bothers about us, are we not Ugandans? If the President can spend millions of shillings buying fighter jets, yet there is no war to fight, why can't they attend to this killer disease?" Many people in this village say that they have lost all hope in a government that has failed to attend to their plight. Surely, by now, it is time to start paying attention.
MARC HOFER/AFP/Getty Images
Transitions is the group blog of the Democracy Lab channel, a collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Legatum Institute.