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
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.
Soe Than WIN/AFP/GettyImages
For decades, members of Indonesia's Shiite Muslim minority have led a somewhat secluded but peaceful life. Everyone knew of their existence in Indonesia, but no one was going around asking about their faith and practices -- and they didn't go around flaunting their religious identity either.
Most Muslims in Indonesia were not aware of their Sunni identity. They could not even tell the difference between Shiite and Sunni, or understand the historic deep-seated enmity that has split Muslims in other parts of the world. The majority of Muslims in Indonesia may follow the Sunni teachings, but many of their daily practices resemble the Shiite traditions, such as the way they pay homage for dead relatives. This suggests that Shiite influence is far larger than the number of people who profess to follow the denomination. It has had a presence in Indonesia long before many educated Muslims were drawn to Shiism after the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1978.
Silent Voices, a new play at the National Theatre in Kampala, questions the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation in Northern Uganda. The rhetoric in the last couple of years about Northern Uganda has focused on the forgiving nature of the people -- and thus on how reconciliation will successfully remove the stench of the long and terrible war against the Lord's Resistance Army.
Written by Judith Adong, Silent Voices deftly captures the experiences of the people affected by the conflict. Adong was inspired by the research she carried out in 2006, looking at the use of drama therapy for former child soldiers, at the World Vision Children of War Rehabilitation Centre and at the Gulu Support the Children Organization.
But the concepts of forgiveness and reconciliation were only negotiated at the political level; the Amnesty Act forgave perpetrators who surrendered, and in cases protected them from future litigation. Adong's meetings with community members led her to realize that, "there was a feeling of betrayal, bitterness, a need for revenge and a feeling of having been neglected, while crime perpetrators were instead being rewarded and victims being ‘forced' to forgive."
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
As you drive out of Caracas International Airport, one of the first things you see as your car starts up the Coastal Range into the city is an abandoned toll booth. Hard as it is to believe, there was a time when the rickety, 60-year-old highway linking the capital to the coast and its airport actually charged a toll.
The idea that Venezuelans would have to pay for their inherent right to drive their cars was deemed as nonsense by the Chávez administration, and was abandoned not long after the new president took power. It's a shame, because if there is one thing this country needs, it's some sort of congestion pricing.
Caracas does not top the ranks of the world's worst cities for traffic. That dubious honor usually goes to cities like Moscow, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, or Beijing. Yet if there is one thing the inhabitants of this polarized metropolis can agree on, it's that traffic is nerve-wracking.
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
Burma's president is aware that his reforms have so far failed to bring material benefits to the general public. Speaking to his cabinet in May, President Thein Sein said: "Our government must make a drastic improvement in addressing people's needs, including residential housing, water, power, transportation, and jobs." He seems to understand that his government's failure to deliver basic public services can lead not only to electoral losses (as exemplified by the opposition's sweeping victory in the April 1 by-elections), but also to instability and potentially to the reversal of the reforms themselves. There have been street protests demanding basic labor rights, stable supplies of electricity, and the reinstatement of confiscated land. Thein Sein recently urged his administration to avert street protests "by addressing the issues of the people at the lower level."
Paula Bronstein /Getty Images
Amidst the current national debate about Indonesia becoming a failing state, one important factor that has been completely overlooked is the question of whether or not the world's fourth most populous nation is dealing with demographic pressures effectively.
The Failed State Index 2012 puts Indonesia in 63rd place out of the 171 countries surveyed by Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace. This is dangerously close to the category of failed states in the top 60 of the table. Indonesia scores higher than 7.0 in five of the 12 areas surveyed (the higher score indicates higher failure): group grievance, uneven economic development, security apparatus, the rise of factionalized elites, and demographic pressures.
ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images
The demonstrations began in Khartoum on June 16, and have since spread not only to the rest of the city, but to other parts of Sudan as well. They began with a small peaceful group of students at the University of Khartoum, near the office where I work for an international organization. A few hours later the demonstration had developed into a crowd of 100 students. I could not see the demonstration, but through the open window the teargas stung my eyes, and I could hear the crowd of students shouting slogans and the sirens of the riot police approaching the scene. Now, ten days later, demonstrations are taking place daily but everyday life caries on surprisingly normal with the sound of shouting and sirens in the background.
Courtesy of Azaz Shami
The rains that swept across Uganda Monday afternoon left devastating effects. While the press showed images of the flooded capital, Kampala, more chilling pictures emerged of the mudslides in Bududa, a region in eastern Uganda.
Located on the slopes of Mount Elgon along the Uganda-Kenya border, Bududa is a fertile area, but vulnerable to disaster. Extensive pressure on the environment from human encroachment is manifesting negative results: Mudslides occur whenever there are heavy rains. The area first made news with the landslides of 2010, when over 350 people died and many others were injured and displaced.
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.
Julio Cesar Aguilar/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.
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.