Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: THE YEAR IN REVIEW

The year 2015 has been packed with lots of activities and occurrences on the global scene. And so in closing out the year, I decided to undertake a brief review of international events in 2015. “Charity begins at home” they say, so I’ll start with my home country: Nigeria.
On May 29th 2015, Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as Nigeria's newest President; after defeating the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan in the Presidential election. It was a “nail-biting” race up till the last minute. The former ruling People’s Democratic Party was certain that it had laid the groundwork to maintain its hold on the nation in 2015; but clearly, majority of Nigerians had bought into the “change mantra” of the APC, and voted to transfer the mantle of leadership to Muhammadu Buhari. Still remaining in Nigeria, Boko Haram continued to unleash mayhem, even as President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration’s focus areas were narrowed down to the economy, the fight against corruption, and insecurity (the fight against Boko Haram). How effective will the "wind of change" be in the coming year? Only time will tell. Away from Nigeria now but remaining in the African continent, South Africa experienced widespread Xenophobic attacks as some indigenes took to lynching foreigners i.e. “African who were non-South African natives” whom they believed were responsible for their economic woes. The Zulu king didn’t help matters either with his nonsensical utterances. People were murdered in cold blood even as police and onlookers watched. In Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term, violating the terms of the agreement that ended the nation’s 13-year civil war; and this led to widespread violence and death. In Kenya, Al-Shabaab militants mounted terror attacks, killing mostly Christians; as Libya continued to deteriorate.
In the Middle East, ISIS continued its reign of terror, murdering foreigners and citizens; while also orchestrating foreign attacks as terrorist cells spread across Europe and even into America. Paris, Tunisia, Beirut, the United States of America, witnessed ISIS-masterminded (and inspired) attacks on various scales. The Obama administration’s lack-luster handling of the situation led to increased criticism; and the administration tried to counter this by putting together a coalition of nations to fight the terrorist organization. This did not stop the rise of the “Russian Bull” though, as Russia took most of the initiative in 2015; to turn things in its favor, and place itself in a strategically important global position as regards Syria and the war on ISIS. This, as Russia also strove to strengthen its position in Eastern Europe- to the chagrin of NATO- with the annexation of Crimea. Ramadi (in Iraq) was just recently liberated by the Iraqi Armed Forces from ISIS though; so hopefully, the fighting capability of ISIS will be decimated further in 2016.
Remaining in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Iran got entangled in a proxy war for supremacy in Yemen and Syria, as both blocs (individually) sought to firmly establish themselves as leader of the Arab world. Iran also managed to score points in the international community with the nuclear deal passing the US Congress though it was rife with lots of controversies, even as President Rouhani went on his “charm offensive”. During this period, the “personal discord and subtle disdain for one another” was clearly highlighted between Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and President Barack Obama of the United States.
In Myanmar, historic elections led to great change; as hero, Aung San Suu Kyi, saw her party overwhelmingly voted in to lead the country. Remaining in Asia, China rescinded its “one-child policy” as it saw its population get older. Parents in the world’s most populous country are now allowed to have two children. Also, China continued to flex its muscle in the region, provoking its neighbors due to various disputes over territory. Still related to China, pro-democracy activists in Hong-Kong led by mostly youths, staged what became known as the “Umbrella Revolution”, challenging the Chinese mainland’s authority over Hong-Kong. They did not quite achieve their goal, but did manage to beam the spotlight on this very important (and dicey) issue, while also sparking a national (and international) conversation. India and Pakistan also achieved a record-setting feat as both its leaders met recently for the first time in over a decade. What this means for future relationships between both nations who have had deep-seated animosities for a very long time, will only be revealed with the passage of time.
In Europe, the migrant crisis was front and center. Europe received over 1 million refugees in 2015 alone mostly due to the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan; but also economic migrants from parts of Africa. The massive influx of people brought into focus, the deep divisions amongst EU member nations; as they struggled to find a solution. It also led to questions about the morality of some EU member states, as well as questions about the integrity of Europe’s borders, while also re-designing (and probably weakening) the cultural fabric of European societies and institutions. In the UK, the British House of Commons voted to take part in air-strikes against ISIS; as 2015 also saw Greece teeter on the verge of economic collapse before a last-minute Eurozone bail-out after Athens agreed to implement austerity measures. The COP-21 conference on climate change was also held in Paris, leading to an agreement to reduce carbon emissions. Modalities for how this agreement will be implemented by individual nations; will be sorted out in the future.
In the USA, the coming 2016 Presidential election has been the major story. By a combination of brashness, vulgar statements and an all-round un-orthodox campaign style never before seen in a US election season, Donald Trump has managed to remain the Republican frontrunner. On the Democratic Party side, Hillary Clinton maintains the lead. 2016 looks like it is gearing up to be the year of definitive battle between Trump and Clinton. It should be interesting- and entertaining! Also in the US, mass shootings brought the issue of gun laws into focus (again); also, the #blacklivesmatter movement gained traction due to the countless murders of blacks by mostly white cops. 2015 was also the year which brought about a historic thaw in USA-Cuba relations, with the restoration of diplomatic ties between both countries.
On the global scene, oil prices fell drastically, leading many oil-dependent OPEC nations to re-assess their economic positions. If any slight rises will be seen in the New Year, is anyone’s guess!
These are just some of the most important political and current affairs stories of 2015. As we proceed into the New Year, it is my earnest hope and prayer, that the year 2016 will be a much better (and more peaceful) one, for all humanity. From me to you, Happy New Year.



Tuesday, December 22, 2015

UNSC REACHES CONSENSUS FOR CEASE-FIRE IN SYRIA...WILL ALL NOW BE WELL?

With all the bickering that goes on within the “hallowed chambers” of the UN Security Council; and the deep-seated animosity that exists between certain permanent members, it is indeed a rare feat when any sort of consensus can be reached on certain highly sensitive issues- especially those that bear strategic importance for certain permanent member states. The issue of the war in Syria has been one of such thorny issues; but just last week, in New York, the UNSC members “unanimously approved a resolution endorsing a peace process for Syria which includes a cease fire, and talks between the Damascus government and the opposition”. Now, before I go into the downsides and the negatives of this agreement, as well as its inherent “vagueness” which will most likely lead to roadblocks and challenges ahead, it is of the utmost importance that I reiterate how laudable it is that some sort of agreement has even been reached within the UNSC. Differences in political and even military positions between permanent member states mean that the diplomats must have had to make compromises to achieve consensus. This is laudable- seeing that Russia was a part of this consensus. But then, despite the fact that this is a step in the right direction, important issues need to be addressed- issues that were not covered in the resolution.
Now, the draft makes no mention of the future of Bashar al-Assad. This is definitely an “Elephant in the room” because Assad has been responsible for the deaths of countless numbers of his own people. The Syrian government which he leads has been implicated in the use of chemical weapons as well as advanced conventional weaponry against its own people; under the guise of eradicating terrorists. In war there will always be casualties; but Assad has overseen the systematic slaughter of the people he is supposedly oath-bound to protect. He and his family have shown the greatest arrogance in the face of human suffering, and have lost the goodwill of majority of the people, and the right to be called their leader. So why is he still being allowed to stay on? Why is the issue of his political future conspicuously absent from the draft? Again, we go back to the political differences and issues of strategic importance to the UNSC permanent member states. I do not wish to address again, the issue of how Obama’s overly cautious (albeit cowardly) stance led to the continued defiance of Assad, and the emergence of Russia as somewhat of the “superpower” in all of this. I think I have over-flogged the issue (even though I would still speak on it if compelled to) and the records speak for themselves! So let’s speak about Russia for a bit. Russia and Syria share a relationship which goes back to the days of Hafez al-Assad (Bashar’s late father). At this point I would not say that Putin sees himself as a loyal friend of Bashar al-Assad, but more as the leader of a country that is concerned about reviving old-glory and maintaining all strategic positions that give it some sort of authority and importance in the global community. Russia is not about to give up its naval bases in Syria (Tartus and Latakia), which gives it influence in the Mediterranean Sea region, and access to warmer waters. So even if Assad is eventually deemed to be too cancerous to be kept on, any replacement- emphasis on the word “any”- would have to be deemed to be loyal to the Russian regime, if Moscow is going to give its “stamp of approval”. And seeing as Obama has given the bulk of authority as regards Syria to President Putin, his opinion will undoubtedly be of vital importance…except a significant shift occurs. Putin has stated that any future decisions concerning the government of Syria will have to be made by the Syrian citizens; but he fools no one. Who is to say that Assad would not put himself on any future ballot? And even if he doesn’t, another Kremlin stooge would most likely be infused into the race. What this then portends for the people of Syria, only time will reveal. But from the present vantage point, it’s not looking too good.
Then we come to the issue of the cease-fire itself. The parties to this agreement and future discussions, are the Assad government and opposition forces (i.e. the moderate rebels whose positions Russia has bombed continually, to preserve Assad). Certainly, there shouldn’t be any major problem getting the Syrian National Army and other moderate rebel factions to the negotiating table. But are they the major problem spot in Syria? The answer is no. ISIS- and other terrorist groups such as the Al-Nusra front- is the major problem right now in Syria. ISIS is not a rational organization that plays by the rule of law; so even if a cease-fire deal is reached, it certainly does not include a pact of peace by ISIS. So therefore, the war is by no means over. If a cease-fire is reached, then I imagine that a political agreement between the opposition and the government to oversee the joint military campaign against ISIS will also have to be reached. Will that even be possible? With the issue now between Russia and Turkey, can the Turkish-allied Turkmen rebels also reach an agreement with the Russian-backed Assad government? What about the Kurds, who want their own autonomy in Iraq and Syria…will they also be in agreement with the Assad regime? What will the terms of agreement even look like for the parties involved, and their respective allies/backers? Okay let’s try and be optimistic and say that by some strange spell of luck, an agreement that is acceptable (or at least somewhat acceptable) to the parties involved, emerges…does that still eliminate the threat of ISIS? No. So it’s not “problem completely solved”. ISIS controls large swaths of territory within Syria. It controls even more territory than the Assad regime itself. It controls not just territory, but people and vast resources…and it strengthens its controls through fear. I guess the best hope is that any future agreement will lead to a more concerted and intense military campaign against ISIS; employing the combined manpower, intelligence and resources of the agreed parties, within Syria. Also, the influence of the leaders of the respective parties can be brought to bear upon the Sunni tribesmen leaders, to try and bring about a shift in loyalty away from ISIS, towards the agreed parties. Again, modalities will have to be worked out in everyone’s favor. In any case, it is worth trying.
At the end of the day, no one knows what the future holds for Syria. I doubt that when the dust settles, it would still be one coherent territory…one unified people. Will the name “Syrian Arab Republic” with its previous meaning (before 2011) still exist? I’m not so sure. But regardless, for now, any step that may bring some sort of respite to the long-suffering Syrian people, and lead to the defeat of ISIS, is one worth taking. The future (after ISIS), would take care of itself!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

MUSIC DIPLOMACY: KIM JONG UN’S LATEST STRATEGY FOR INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS.

So I came across an interesting post online, earlier last week. It stated that the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Un, was sending his girl-band to China to perform at a week-long soiree. This was in order to strengthen relations with China (before a critical deliberation on Pyongyang’s human rights record, which is coming up before the United Nations). China is North Korea’s main ally; and the chosen tool to strengthen (and soften) relations with its neighbor, was music! Hmmm, sometimes, if the issues relating to North Korea and its erratic leader were not so serious, they would be comical! I mean, is this the tyrant’s idea of “soft diplomacy” at work? The sharing and show-casing of “culture”- whatever that means for Pyongyang- maybe? But then, when one reflects on the fact that in-between watching his people die from starvation , his country become more alienated in the comity of nations, while also maintaining tyranny and autocracy, and sentencing anyone who is deemed a threat (whether real or imagined) to his regime to the harshest punishment (including death); that Kim Jong-Un can still find time (and indeed possess the state of mind) to put together a pop band- whose name I cannot remember now- and send them to perform in Beijing, one is simply left flabbergasted…in addition to being completely outraged! Anyway, the performance was eventually cancelled- after the girls had already made their way to China- for reasons still not so clear, but which may have something to do with the announcement made by Kim Jong-Un that North Korea has developed a hydrogen bomb! But let us proceed. North Korea has been ruled by the same family since it was “founded” by Kim Il-Sung (Jong-Un’s grandfather). Then from Il-Sung, it passed down to his son Kim Jong-Il, before being passed down to the present Kim, upon his father’s (Jong-Il) death. In other words, since it was founded, North Korea has been passed down from father-to-son, like it was some “family heirloom” which was not to be “shared” by outsiders! Now, how does one even begin to describe North Korea as a country? How much information do we- the outside world- have about life in this extremely secretive state? Much of the information we have, is that which we have received from defectors who have fled- under very dangerous conditions- to the South, or elsewhere. Their stories have not been rosy. Countless numbers of defectors have relayed in great detail, the harrowing experiences they faced in North Korea, before they fled. Food shortages, lack of necessary infrastructural amenities, no access whatsoever to the outside world, close monitoring of citizens by the authorities, persecution by the few elites…all the while living in constant fear of the brutal regime, and with the very real fear of the outbreak of war at any given time! All these and much more, are what the average North Korean citizen faces over the course of his/her lifetime. And as Japan receives one “ghost-ship” after another in recent times”- “ghost-ships” bearing the decomposed bodies of people thought to be North Korean defectors who fled while masquerading as fishermen- the dire situation within that country has been thrust in the public’s consciousness, once again. Have you ever seen a video-clip of what life in North Korea looks like? Well, some months earlier, CNN’s Will Ripley was amongst the few journalists who were given a “guided tour” of Pyongyang. Of course, the only trouble with these “once-in-a-blue-moon media extravaganzas” is that they are nothing more than charades- highly publicized events put together by the regime, to try and fool the rest of the world! Everything is staged. The people appear like robots, reading out of a script given to them by the regime. The journalists are only given access to “previously-selected individuals”, and also given guided tours of “selected places”. Nothing happens impromptu, and everyone- I mean every North-Korean citizen- praises Kim Jong-Un. The people appear as puppets…they bow before images of the 3 Kim’s, while calling them everything from “savior” to “hero”…they wear similar styles of clothing and would not dare wear blue jeans, because it is seen as a representation of Western values! In fact, everything in North Korea screams “bondage”, “servitude” and “slavery”. But I guess one cannot expect differently, when one takes into consideration the fact that the country has been led- and continues to be- by the same family of “lunatics”! So, “music diplomacy”? Yeah, I had to “coin” that term, to describe this unique situation. Dennis Rodman, Kim Jong-Un’s “dear friend”, has already delivered to us, “basket-ball diplomacy.” But wouldn’t it be wonderful if Kim Jong-Un takes a much different approach? If he tries improving relations with his neighbors on the South, and with the rest of the world for that matter…if he tones down his continued declarations of (nuclear) war…if he works to strengthen economic relations with other nations, and thus alleviate the suffering within his country…if he gave his people the free-will to “choose” their own leaders- I mean, if they love him as much as he claims, then surely he would have no fear of losing in any “credible” election…if he stopped being such an “ass”! Now, how’s that for diplomacy? Wishes…wishes…and more wishes! Beggars are not yet riding! Funny though, “music diplomacy” may just be a rather “apt” description of his relationship-skills, based on his persona- or, what I perceive his persona to be. You see, in my mind, I can actually visualize Kim Jong-Un as the “deranged conductor of some third-world country orchestra”, than as the statesman and leader that he tries (so hard) to portray himself as! Oh, I forgot; it’s a pop-group. Okay, then I can more readily visualize him as some “wannabe Simon Cowell”- minus the looks and brain though! In any case, as Kim Jong-Un’s “girls” made their way to Beijing to serenade their audience with their melodious voices, I found myself wishing them success- not so they could make their “leader” look slightly better to the outside world, but so they wouldn't face severe punishment when they returned home, if their performance was deemed to be sub-par by the Pyongyang regime! In any case, they don't have to worry about that anymore- for now. In the end though, whether the performance is canceled entirely; or whether there may be future re-scheduling plans, i guess the “Sound of Music” will always be much better than the “Sound of War”!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

MASS SHOOTINGS IN THE US: GUN-CONTROL LAWS VERSUS GREATER BACKGROUND CHECKS.

I was soundly asleep on the night of 2nd December 2015, when from somewhere in my subconscious mind, I heard my phone ring. It was one of those nights when a throbbing pain at the back of my head, combined with pressure in my eyes, had sent me to sleep earlier than usual. I sluggishly reached for my phone and pressed the green button without first looking at the caller ID. I recognized the voice though. It was my dear friend Mr. N, calling to check up on me. After being a little surprised that I was already asleep, he asked if I was following the breaking news on CNN. Well, of course I wasn’t…I had been asleep! Anyway he quickly told me that CNN was reporting a mass shooting at a regional center in San Bernardino, California. I switched on the TV immediately; and sure enough, he was correct. We spent the next few minutes analyzing the situation and discussing about a few other things; before Mr. N said his goodnight and left me alone with my now disturbed mind. I knew there wouldn’t be any sleeping for a little while longer.
As at the time of the initial reports, facts were still not so clear. What the first responders knew was that the gunmen had opened fire, that there were a number of casualties, and that the gunmen had escaped in an SUV afterwards (the death-toll eventually rounded off at 14, with 21 wounded…and the 2 shooters were killed by police). Now, one of the things that Mr. N and I had talked about during our conversation was the issue of America’s lax gun laws; and how it was so easy for people in the US to purchase guns. As at October 1st, it was recorded that there had been 294 mass shootings in the United States since the start of 2015- of course, that number has since gone up! But think of it…294 mass shootings in just 10 months! There have been shootings in schools, churches, community centers, movie theatres, government-funded organizations etc. Barely a while ago, a man opened fire at a Planned Parenthood facility, killing a number of people. A few months ago, a disgruntled ex-employee of a news station opened fire during a live-on-air programme at his former place of work, killing a young anchor-woman and a camera-man. A guy had walked into a movie theatre showing Batman: the dark knight rises; opening fire on movie watchers. To be clear, we are not talking about guerrilla groups and organized terrorists killing innocent people…we are talking about armed civilians opening fire on other civilians. What madness!
Now, the issue of gun violence and gun laws in the US is a very dicey one. As enshrined in the US constitution, Americans possess a right to bear arms…a right which is inviolable. Then you have the powerful gun lobby- the NRA. They are one of the most powerful organizations in the United States, and are ardent supporters (and protectors) of the constitutional right of American citizens to bear arms. In the same vein, they are fierce opponents of any sort of government attempt (through laws) to curb how citizens gain access to firearms. Even politicians know to tread carefully when dealing with the NRA. As mass-shooting after mass-shooting occurs, the NRA’s argument is that guns (by themselves) do not kill…that it is humans (who use them) that do the killing. And this may certainly seem to be a logical argument when one takes into consideration that these shooters (murderers) are usually later found to be mentally unstable and/or terrorists. Whether they are hate-crimes, workplace disputes, grievance against some government programme; these crimes (mass-shootings) are usually found to be perpetuated by people with some record of mental instability and/or affiliation with some terrorist organization. So the question now is this: should the issue be about controlling (and drastically limiting access) to guns, or about more stringent background checks in order to ascertain those with mental health problems and those with previous criminal records? Most supporters of the right to bear arms are of the opinion that any attempt at restricting access to guns will just be a ploy by the government to create some sort of “police state” where individuals are stripped of all their firearms and thus cannot protect themselves; while all the guns are in the hands of the military, police force, and other security agents. But I guess the government can find ways to limit the TYPES of fire-arms that civilians can purchase. Those "assault-style rifles" that can kill a large number of people (even without reloading) in a very short amount of time, should certainly be off limits to non-military personnel! In the same vein though, we must also keep in mind that if you succeed in taking guns away from civilized (sane) people, you may not be able to do same with criminals and psychotics. You see, these ones do not operate by the same "Codes of Conduct for Peaceful Human Co-existence" that the rest of us abide by- as long as they have an intent to kill, they will find means of acquiring weapons of mass murder! And so, as the spate of mass-shootings has increased, more Americans have responded by buying more guns…to protect themselves. So where does this all lead?
 A couple of days ago, my brother and I were discussing about the process of gun-ownership (for civilians) in Nigeria. My brother had informed me that in Lagos, a “bloody civilian” such as I, would need approval from the office of the Commissioner of Police, to own a fire-arm. Now, being the daughter of an ex-Customs Officer, I grew up knowing that my father had a gun. And the thought DID make me feel safe…of course, in addition to my mother’s endless prayers! As an individual, I wouldn’t mind owning a gun- for self-defense. As the world gets increasingly crazier, I would welcome the opportunity to protect myself; if I could. I mean, if a deranged individual came to take my life (for whatever reason) and I had a gun with me, I wouldn’t wait for external help (which may be too late)…I would shoot him/her first! That’s just the plain truth. So as an individual, I am not against the principle of self-defense…even with fire-arms (legally owned). But the thing is this- I am a sane individual, and I can only vouch for my own sanity; not anyone else’s…also, the individuals who perpetuate these crazy acts of violence do not act in self-defense, but with the intent to murder innocent lives! 
The debate on gun control will certainly rage on for a very long time. While I do understand the 2nd amendment right to bear arms, I also agree that there has to be more rigorous background checks before individuals can be allowed to purchase arms. There has to be criminal background checks and health checks, to ascertain the eligibility of a would-be gun owner. But then, how does one ascertain if a (seemingly) mentally stable person with no prior history of mental-instability would not become unstable down the road? And then, what about the “home-grown” terrorists? The shy, quiet, nice-looking types who inwardly (and maybe only to a few) express some type of hateful view/opinion about certain values, peoples, or religion(s)? The ones who are meticulously calculative…waiting for the prime opportunity to strike! How do you effectively conduct “mind checks” on people to determine the likelihood of occurrence of future erratic behaviors which could potentially lead to acts of gruesome violence? I think this is where civilian-policing comes in- again. Individuals are part of a family…a school…a church…a mosque…a work-place…a community. I think that there is only so much that the Federal Government can do as it relates to gun control…especially as it would be illegal to deny individuals their constitutional rights. But then, family members and all other members of the community can also help as civilian observers to identify those whose behaviors may indicate that there is a likelihood of them becoming potential threats to society. They have a duty to report such individuals to the appropriate authorities so that investigations can be carried out, and disasters can be avoided. 
The United States is an extremely democratic society- as it should be – where everything has to be debated. Executive or legislative action cannot just be passed at will. The people must always have their say. And since it seems like a great percentage of the populace cherish their right to bear arms, then the government will have to look for other approaches to reducing mass shootings. The constitutional provision may aid in self-defense, but it also creates avenues for psychotic and hate-filled individuals to unleash mayhem. It is now left for the larger (sane) populace, whether gun-owning or not, to step up and act as defenders of society, together with the Federal (and State) Government. Now, will this completely eliminate the occurrence of mass-shootings? Maybe not. But it would certainly help in curbing it…I hope.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: MYANMAR’S SHINING STAR.

When one thinks about the heroes of democracy; people who have sacrificed their lives to see democracy flourish in their respective countries, one might come up with only a few names. In thinking of the true heroes of democracy, your thought goes to those who have risked everything, had no thought for personal gain, being victims of violence and intimidation, lost friends and loved ones in the struggle, and lived to fight another day and eventually lead their nations out of the darkness and into the light. When one reflects on all these, in addition to other great individuals, one also looks fondly on Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi.
At first glance, the image of the 70year old Suu Kyi does not reveal her innate strength and toughness. Slim, pleasant-looking, demure; Aung San Suu Kyi comes across as a friendly grand-mother, than an astute, dogged politician. It is only when one is informed of her fiery actions and harrowing experiences navigating the murky waters of Burmese politics, that one now begins to understand the ferocity of this political character; and even then, there is still much more than meets the eyes! I often ask myself: “why would certain people risk everything- including their own lives- for their country and people?” “How do great political leaders keep hope alive even when there does not seem to be any prospect for victory?” I think the answer is in “vision”. Aung San Suu Kyi always had a vision for Myanmar; and it was a vision that would take her down a very rough path and make her a symbol of polarization as well as the greatest affection, for most of her life.
If we categorize leaders into two groups: those who are born as such, and then those who become leaders by their own peculiar situations; we would have a hard time placing her solely in any of the two categories. This is because she fits perfectly in both. Her father was a General who founded the Burmese Army, and led the country’s independence. He was assassinated when Suu Kyi was only two years old. Her mother was at one time, Burmese Ambassador to India. At birth, Suu Kyi had the “blood of leadership and greatness” flowing in her veins. But rather than her parent’s story, it is her own unique political story that has earned her a much deserved place in the history books.
After a stint living abroad during which time she married her British husband and became a mother to 2 boys, Ms. Suu Kyi returned to her homeland in 1988 to cater to her ailing mother. As fate would have it, it turned out that she had arrived the country at a time of great political upheaval. Myanmar was in a crisis; and naturally, she stepped into the fray. Her actions soon incurred the wrath of the military; and in 1989, she would be placed under house arrest. As it turned out, she would eventually spend most of the time between 1989 and 2010 in one form of detention or the other. Under such conditions, her whole life was censored. She was separated from her sons and husband, and was not even by her husband’s side when he died in 1999 from prostate cancer. Actually, the military leaders in Myanmar refused to grant his visa request to see her upon his diagnosis; and even though they told her she could leave, she refused to do so for fear that she wouldn’t be let back into the country. This particular action of not leaving Myanmar at that delicate time may be seen by some as “an act of selfishness” on her part; but I think that those who reach that conclusion do not have an understanding of the wider picture...of the particularly sensitive issues that were at stake for Suu Kyi. I think that when your father is assassinated after leading the struggle for independence and when you become a victim of military brutality in your later years all because you led a push for democratic freedom in your civil-war ravaged country, your character becomes “steeled”; such that having faced the worst travails and received inhumane treatment, you become extremely determined to see your struggle to the desired end. And to Suu Kyi, if she was unable to get back into the country, then all her work would have been in vain. I think those were the stakes for Suu Kyi. Caged behind prison bars or held within walls in house arrest, her character toughened. She learned the hard way to shield her personal pain from the military, so it wouldn’t be used against her. In 1991, her sons accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on her behalf, as she was held in detention. In 1996, during a brief period of release, her convoy was lynched by an irate mob that had been paid by the military to carry out the act. Thankfully, she survived. As the country went through the harshest years of authoritarian rule, all Suu Kyi could offer from detention to her loyal supporters- who kept on increasing in numbers- was the comfort of her survival. As long as she was still alive…as long as she did not die, then there was hope. She lived. And she won. Eventually.
As Myanmar’s citizen’s trooped to the polls on November 8th 2015, in what has since been called its fairest elections in 25years, one expected Suu Kyi’s NLD party to win. But what one might not have dared to fathom- lest one border on the verge of wishful thinking- was that they would win by a landslide! The military had inserted a clause into the constitution, giving them 25% of seats in parliament; which meant that the NLD would have to win by landslide majority votes, to form a new government. They did. Suu Kyi’s beloved country people made it so. And even though under the constitution, she cannot become President due to another clause inserted (again, by the military) which makes it illegal for citizens whose children are foreign nationals to become President- Suu Kyi’s sons are British citizens- there is no doubt that Madam Aung San Suu Kyi as leader of her party, gets to call the shots! She may not be President, but she sits in parliament and orchestrates the direction of Myanmar’s foreseeable future. The buck stops with her.
It has not been an easy road for Myanmar or for Suu Kyi; and the road ahead is not guaranteed to be any easier. Even though giant strides have been made, the country is still in need of major democratic reforms. Minority Rohingya Muslims have been subjected to the worst forms of cruelty by the greater populace, and other minority groups continue to struggle to have their voices heard. These would have to be addressed. With pressure from the international community, the military gave up power...but not completely. In addition to giving themselves 25% parliamentary seats, they also get to nominate ministers for 3 key positions: defense, interior, and border security. Also, they retain veto power over any future constitutional reform. Recognizing this delicate situation, Suu Kyi called for a meeting between the NLD, USDP, and the military; to discuss reconciliation, power-sharing, and Myanmar’s larger future. Hopefully, it would produce positive results; especially seeing as she now wields greater power and influence in the country.
Like Nelson Mandela’s, the Aung San Suu Kyi story is a lesson in perseverance. It highlights the finest traits of doggedness, great internal strength and the utmost tenacity, in a single individual. But it is also blended with a lot of sadness, personal travails, and great loss. Suu Kyi has given her beloved country, everything. And she survived. And her survival makes Myanmar’s future, a great deal brighter.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

PROFITEERS OF WAR: TO COLONEL SAMBO DASUKI (RTD.)

Dear Col. Dasuki,
Greetings to you. As a concerned Nigerian, I write this most open letter. I have been rather troubled lately by the accusations which have been leveled against you by the Federal Government. I have followed your case as closely as I can; and have watched events play out publicly, as most other Nigerians have. I saw the DSS camped outside your house, and I read news feeds of your house(s) been searched. The press revealed to us that weapons and large sums of money were found during the raid. I do not quite know what to make of that. I have seen you petition the Federal Government so you could travel for medical treatment – as you claimed. You see, I am a firm believer in the rule of law. I believe that people should be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a competent court of law; whose judgment has been made, based on the analysis of credible evidence that thus points at complicity in the crime on the part of the accused, beyond all reasonable doubt…and I also believe that if a person has been found guilty, they should be punished in proportion to their crime. Am I making sense? Okay, let me proceed.
So you were appointed as the National Security Adviser in 2012, by former President Goodluck Jonathan. At that time- even till now- the nation was deeply troubled by events in the North- East, as Boko Haram carried out assault-after-assault on innocent civilians, killing so many, time and time again; and also abducting school children. As National Security Adviser, you briefed the President on events concerning internal security, and gave advice and recommendations for action as you deemed fit. As a retired military man, you certainly were within your field of expertise; and as a Northerner, you had personal knowledge of the terrain of the theatre of conflict that should certainly have made you a formidable NSA. Your advice for measures to tackle the insurgency was sought by the President, and Nigerians everywhere looked to you and to our former security chiefs for respite against Boko Haram. We expected you to act decisively. It was your duty! When some soldiers were taken into military custody because of their refusal to fight the terrorist group, you were one of those who spoke out, saying that mutiny in the military must not be tolerated. We were watching. You and the military chiefs seemed to agree that our soldiers had no cause to disobey their commander’s orders to engage the enemy in combat, when they had been adequately provided for. As an ordinary civilian not privy to the ways of the military, I watched from afar. I didn’t quite buy your argument that Nigerian soldiers were adequately provided for, though. I have heard military officers complain about their poor welfare, and the substandard equipment’s they are expected to fight with, so your argument did not ring true- at least not with me. Nevertheless, I understand that the military operates by very strict principles and codes of conduct. So Colonel Dasuki, why are there all these reports of corruption and diversion of funds leveled against you? What are all these mind-boggling figures that are bandied about everywhere? Did you really divert 2billion dollars meant for the war against Boko Haram into bogus accounts, by awarding phantom contracts, while innocent Nigerians and soldiers were dying out there? Were you a war profiteer?
You see, by definition, a war profiteer is any person or organization that profits from warfare or by selling weapons and other goods to parties at war (Source: Wikipedia). If these allegations leveled against you are true, then we can say that your actions certainly qualify as those of a “war profiteer”. I try not to form an opinion or conclude on a matter until I have seen enough evidence to reach a just conclusion. The “receipts” tendered by the Federal Government allege that you awarded contracts worth billions of dollars for the supply of military equipment’s to companies which have been found to be bogus. By so doing, it is alleged that the money was diverted into someone’s account: yours? Oga Dasuki, is this true? If it is, why? What would have been the rationale for doing something so terribly evil? You are a former military man yourself. How would you have felt as a young soldier if someone put you in harm’s way without adequate provision for your safety and service? If someone sent you into a war with obsolete weapons to face a guerilla group fighting with more advanced weapons- maybe AK 47’S, Kalashnikovs and Rocket Propelled Grenade Launchers- would you go? Sir, as the first son of the now deceased 18th Sultan of Sokoto, you come from royalty. You are privileged by birth, so money should not have been your motivation for national service. As a traditional ruler, your great father was a custodian of peace. What went wrong…if indeed it did? How could you sleep at night behind your high walls in the affluent Asokoro neighborhood of the nation’s capital, while millions of Nigerians cried every night over the poor state of national security? How did you feel each time a bomb went off in Borno…in Mubi…in Baga…or anywhere else within the country, and hundreds (and thousands) of people lost their lives? How did you feel when the nation’s best and bravest soldiers who went into battle nevertheless, were falling to their untimely deaths? Did you ever attend a soldier’s funeral? Did you ever stare into the weeping eyes of a widowed wife, children left fatherless or aged parents left without a son and provider? Did you? Did it ever occur to you that most of these could have been avoided if the required equipment’s were indeed procured, and our soldiers didn’t go into battle feeling so powerless? If indeed these allegations are true, did you ever stop to think for a minute that your incredibly callous actions were tantamount to complicity in murder…that by your actions, you were indeed aiding Boko Haram to kill many more Nigerians?
You claim that this is a witch-hunt. You seem to infer that President Buhari is on some sort of revenge mission…maybe because you were one of the 4 majors that took part in the “palace coup” of 1985, and arrested then Head-of-State, Muhammadu Buhari, ousting him from power. But intriguing as that sounds, I also don’t quite buy this argument this time around as well! But who knows? Politics can also become highly personal sometimes…I guess that is why you have to go to court to argue your case. Oga Dasuki, we want answers…actually, we demand them. If you are innocent as you claim, then you have nothing to fear. Instead of running all over the place, just calm down and let your lawyers argue your case in court- I mean, that’s what SAN’s are paid to do, and you have employed their services. Nigerians are not as foolish as some folks would like to assume…we are not a gullible bunch…we have enough sense to tell right from wrong…we can reach logical conclusions. Save all the suspense and drama for court. Now you claim that the contracts and payments were awarded and endorsed by your former boss, GEJ, and that you were only doing your job making payments upon approval by the former President. You claim there were no “fictitious” contracts and no monies diverted. But a few days after your remarks, GEJ emphatically denied awarding 2billion dollars for arms procurement! So you see, this is all quite confusing. In any case, just go to court. Go to court and let us reach our own logical conclusions. If truth is on your side then you will be vindicated, and your “royal” name would be cleared; but if by competent means, you are found guilty beyond reasonable doubt, then you must face the consequences of your actions. This is not a crime that is easily forgiven. Too many have died- unnecessarily. If indeed you are found guilty, you may have to ask yourself this question behind bars- “what does it profit a man to lose his sense of humanity, and choose to prolong a war simply because of monetary gain?" As they say, “you do the crime, you do the time!” Best of luck…you’ll surely be needing it!

Sincerely,
Buchi Obichie.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

ISLAMIC EXTREMISM, FUNDAMENTALISM, AND RADICAL JIHADIST MOVEMENTS: TERROR STRIKES IN PARIS…AGAIN!

I was awake in the early hours of Saturday 14th November, worrying foolishly about something really silly- yeah in retrospect, I can say that- when I decided to take my mind away from the situation and peruse Facebook for a bit, to see what new “life-events” my friends were documenting. All of a sudden, something caught my attention: another terror attack in Paris. Over 100 dead. Imagine my shock! Wait, barely how many hours ago were we trying to come to terms with the attack in Beirut...barely how many months ago was it that France went through the Charlie Hebdo massacre? What the heck was happening? So I hastily switched on the TV and tuned to CNN. Anderson Cooper was live. The “breaking news” banner was up, reading 149 dead. Before I could even begin to process that piece of information, Cooper declared that the death toll had just risen to 153 (later, when a proper count had been made, that number would be stabilized at 129 dead with 350+ wounded) and these were still very early hours! I froze! Apparently, multiple coordinated terror attacks had taken place across the French capital.
At a concert, gunmen opened fire sporadically with assault rifles, just shooting indiscriminately into the crowd; another venue was outside a stadium during a World Cup qualifier match between France and Germany, where suicide bombers unleashed mayhem (President Francois Hollande was in attendance, but was safely evacuated); then at a Cambodian restaurant, gunmen opened fire; and on and on in different locations. I saw people running in the streets, pavements covered with human blood, policemen and firefighters in combat gear, paramedics tending to the wounded, numerous body bags being carried away…it was just too much! One of the eyewitnesses, who had been at the concert but managed to escape, spoke with Anderson Cooper. He had gotten a good view of one of the terrorists, and was able to describe him as a young man of about 18 or 19years of age…certainly not older than 20. My goodness, a bloody child, killing people ruthlessly as though they were Birds! How can one’s humanity become so corrupted and vile that satisfaction from living and the feeling of standing on the cusps of destiny now comes from adherence to an evil and warped ideology that basically teaches that the path to glory is by the slaughtering of “infidels”? How did we all become prey for radical Islamist movements? How did a religion become so corrupted…so polluted…so tainted with lies? And how did this adulterated version become so appealing to so many?
Ever since September 11th 2001, the world has become much more dangerous. Much more unsafe. Al-Qaeda created the blue-print for modern day terror attacks and mass murders (execution style) that would now be replicated by various other jihadist movements that would come after it. And come, they surely did. But none has been as deadly as ISIS. The rise of ISIS has delivered to the world, a group so intensely evil in its operations and so erratic in its mode of behavior, that they are difficult to predict. Their propaganda arm works in overdrive…bloodthirsty individuals putting out all manner of sordid materials that portray their psychotic, dastardly acts in some sort of “pseudo-messianic ” manner, intended to sway the minds of so many who watch these clips- especially the gullible young- and convert them to their deranged ways of thinking. And so far, it has worked! The trouble with the fight against ISIS is that it is basically a fight against an ideology; and ideologies don’t die easily- Adolf Hitler knows all about this! The young men who make the journey from different corners of Europe (and elsewhere) into the bloody jungles of Iraq and Syria are somehow made to believe that they are fighting a battle for “Allah”. And since “Allah” is “God”, who cannot be defeated, then theirs is a battle already won- as they see it! They see themselves as “holy warriors”, fighting for a just cause…one that they are even prepared to die for. These young people are so completely hypnotized and indoctrinated that they have no value for life, and no fear for death…and a man who has no fear for death is an extremely dangerous man! Most of these people are confused. These are people who largely had previously questioned their existence…ISIS gave them something higher to believe in…ISIS gave them a purpose…thus, their allegiance to the caliphate is firmly cemented. How did we allow this to happen?
As I took my gaze momentarily away from the TV screen and took my pen to write this article, I could still hear Anderson Cooper talking to various terror analysts to get their opinions on the still unfolding situation. Everyone agreed that ISIS was becoming increasingly sophisticated in their overseas attacks. Everyone agreed that sleeper-cells, through which jihadists returning back into Europe and elsewhere would plan and then randomly unleash mayhem on soft targets, were only going to increase. In the immediate aftermath, France had shut down its borders and French police were cordoning off entire streets and interrogating people house-to-house…the way I saw it, the country was effectively on “Code Red”. And as I struggled to listen while also writing, my brain also began to ponder, “What can the world do”? Ironically, these attacks are becoming more indiscriminate: ISIS supporters are killing not just non-Muslims like me, whom they regard as “worthless infidels”; but they are also killing the Muslim faithful as well! How can the international community effectively police the thousands of terror cells that are springing up all over the world? Is that even possible?
We can respond to these attacks by killing these cold-blooded murderers- as we very well should! We can respond to these attacks by tightening airport security and border controls, and looking out for the minute tell-tale signs of radicalism- as we very well should! We can respond by increasing surveillance of suspected terror cells and increasing intelligence gathering (and sharing) amongst nations- as we very well should! We can respond by sustaining the aerial bombardment of ISIS locations in Iraq and Syria, and by arming the moderate rebels and the Kurds (especially the Kurds) to wage war against ISIS- as we very well should! We can do all these and much more…anything and everything that decimates the fighting capabilities of ISIS (and indeed ALL OTHER terror groups)- as we damn bloody well should! But if we are going to strike at the heart of ISIS and destroy this putrid cancer from within, we must also start to effectively combat this unholy ideology. We must reveal it for the farce…the “fake version” of Islam that it really is. We must counter ISIS propaganda everywhere, with our own message- a message of religious tolerance, a message of respect for all humanity, a message of peace and peaceful co-existence. We must give our young people a reason to believe in a different path- a path away from violence. Every Imam who stands in a mosque must preach this message. Anyone who preaches violence must be exposed and punished. People must be called out when they teach distorted versions of Koranic verses. We must defeat ISIS at its own game. We must strike at its evil heart. We must not allow its ideology to thrive. We must turn this tide in our favor. We have no other choice.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

TO THE FUTURE FEMALE NIGERIAN (AND AFRICAN) POLITICIAN

I had the privilege of growing up in a modern household. In the sense that even though I had Delta Ibo parents and 3 brothers; as an only girl, my parents did not view me as being lesser than my brothers. Yes, I was taught by my mum to cook and clean- as all girls are- but I also learned from my mum, to be just as engaging as the boys were, in affairs outside the “typical realm” of feminity. I think it was also easier, because I had a great example to learn from. I don’t think my mum would have ever described herself as a feminist- she was far too modest with words- but her actions could be said to reflect the spirit of feminism, in modern times. She was the quintessential “super woman”. She took care of the home-front with a passion that would rival that of the biblical Hebrew woman, and she was just as passionate (and shrewd) in business. Trained as a teacher- later getting involved in business- my mum was also a lifelong student. As a child, I saw my mum watch the news. I would hear her ask a million questions, even to us- her children. I saw her strive for perfection; but it was not in an aggressive manner, but in that simple, subtle, graceful approach that comes with being confident in one’s feminity, while also seeing one’s self as being just as capable as the opposite sex. Okay, enough about my mum now! So I said all that in order to trace the female path from childhood to adulthood, and to highlight those traits which are inherent in the typical African female, that inevitably set the tone for most of the female’s life. You see, I think I am the woman I am today, and think and act the way I do today, largely because (consciously and unconsciously) my mother “built” me to be this way! I was never told, “Buchi, you must become President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”- no. But I was shown that I was just as valid and just as important as the boys, and that I could become just as successful and powerful, if I set my mind to it. My mother did well!
The funny thing though is that when I look at my life today and my interest in politics, I’m still somewhat amused. Growing up, I “thought” I wanted to become a pharmacist. And for that reason, I became a science student in secondary school. But you see, even though I “thought” at the time that I wanted to do pharmacy, a large part of me always knew the path I would eventually take in life. And so for some strange reason, I took history classes…and I took literature classes…and I would stand at the window during government classes from time to time, listening with rapt attention. There was just something about policy-making and the act of governance that always appealed to me- and then I wrote, too. You see being a girl child in Africa, you are trained to serve. Serving one’s parents and siblings in childhood prepares the girl child to serve her future husband and children. The dynamics involved in the tutelage of this service in childhood, may be seen as “backward behavior…something reminiscent of cave-man days” by our counterparts in the western world. But I think that if balanced with a wholesome view of individuality as opposed to teaching the female child to simply be subservient because of gender, the tutelage of service can prepare the female for a life in politics and governance. And for me, that is what it did.
You see, the female child learns to not just serve, but to preside over her household. She is taught this in a much understated manner because “father is King”; but she quickly comes to see that the home basically ceases to function efficiently, without female supervision. The man may have brought home the money, but the woman makes the plans as to how it is spent. She oversees the implementation of the technicalities that run family life; then she gives feedback to her husband. A woman in her home is akin to a politician in the domain of public service; bestowed with resources to improve the lives of the citizenry, but also held accountable to them at the same time! The girl child is trained for public service!
So seeing as this is so, one then wonders, “Why are more women not involved in governance, when the very nature of their upbringing prepares them for this?” Good question. In the old days, one would answer by saying that unwritten rules and regulations which translated into normal ways of traditional life, were the reason why women did not take part in governance outside the household. In the old days, a woman found her worth in her husband; and he became her mouthpiece in public domains. She may speak to him within the confines of their home, but he spoke for her when in view of the watching public. She would lay with him at night, but would sit by his feet at daylight. Such were the days of our forebears. Today though, the woman is “liberated”- I chuckle as I say this. The African girl child is still brought up and guided by the “principles of African feminity”, but she is no longer restricted by the barriers of gender. Actually, she refuses to be! The African woman today is mostly learned. She may be a wife and mother, but she is also a career woman. She is politically conscious, just as much as she is “home” conscious; and even though she may keep up with BeyoncĂ©, she also keeps up with the actions of the politicians in the Capital! The reason why this “liberated” African woman does not take her place in the sphere of public governance is not because she is not capable enough…it is because even though times have changed, the status quo has not moved at equal pace. The systems of government in Africa (and some other parts of the world) are more receptive towards men…and when you reflect on the fact that these systems were designed by men, then you are not surprised! Nigerian women clamor for 35% representation in government; but when you think of it, if women make up 51% of the population, then the percentage representation being clamored for, is grossly disproportionate and unfair. But sadly, it is still not given! I find that the “rare” Nigerian female politician is usually propped up by the influence of her powerful husband. In rarer cases though, the unmarried (or married ) outstanding female technocrat may be appointed to public service solely by virtue of merit- as she should be- but this phenomenon whenever it happens, is not the norm, but rather an oddity! The African man even though he recognizes the capability of the woman, to a large extent, still does not see her as being capable enough to lead him in government! I know that there were great female leaders in historic Africa- Queen Amina of Zazzau, the great warrior queen; and Egypt’s Queen Nefertiti come to mind- but they were very few. I know that there are great female politicians in Nigeria and Africa today- hello there, Abike Dabiri and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia- but they are still so few. Nevertheless, despite their little numbers, women like me are proud of their achievements, guided by their examples, and hopeful to one day walk in their paths, and even surpass their achievements. We are hopeful that we would become the new norm.
I would say to the Nigerian woman striving for public service, “you are just as capable”. In fact by virtue of your gender, I would venture further and dare to say, that “you are more than capable…actually, you are more capable; so don’t stop striving”. I would not give too much advice, because I am even yet striving, and have not yet fully attained. But I would give you one of my favorite quotes, which was spoken by the great Abraham Lincoln- “I will study and get prepared; and perhaps, my chance will come”. Study and get prepared. Nigeria has not yet had a female President. I reckon that day is coming. I reckon your chance will come!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

SAUDI ARABIA AND IRAN: A BATTLE FOR SUPREMACY IN SYRIA

The Syrian tale is one that strikes a very painful chord. A conflict which began in 2011 as part of the wider Arab Spring; has continued into 2015, leaving in its wake countless deaths, continued acts of violence, the rise of an immensely evil terrorist organization known as ISIS, multitudes displaced internally and externally, and hundreds of thousands desperate to leave the Mid-East altogether.
With the various players now involved in the conflict, it has morphed into a proxy war; one that closely mimics the cold war of post-world war 2, up until the fall of the Berlin wall. During that era, Europe became the epic-center of a battle for supremacy between the USA and USSR. And in the same way, the Middle East- Syria (and Yemen) in particular- has become the epic-center of a battle for supremacy between two Middle Eastern power houses i.e., the Sunni house of the kingdom of Saudi-Arabia vs. the Shiite house of the Iranian theocracy. With Iran backing the Alawite- Shiite Al-Assad clan (the regime), and Saudi Arabia backing the Sunni rebels, one of humanity’s greatest civilizations has found itself engulfed in a power tussle between two Elephants!
To be clear, the war in Syria certainly did not begin as an orchestration of Iran or Saudi Arabia. The credit for its origin goes to a certain food vendor in Tunisia whose peculiar action of setting himself on fire in protest against his government, led to the rise of revolutionary citizen movements that swept across the Middle East, extending also into Basher Al-Assad’s stronghold of Syria. But while Tunisia has somehow managed to move past the revolution into political stability, other nations have not been so lucky…especially Syria. Yet, despite their non-involvement in the origin of the conflict, Saudi Arabia and Iran have certainly extended their long-founded feud into Syria, and their actions have in no small measure affected the dynamics of the conflict. Syria has become the staging point of a conflict that certainly highlights the deeply rooted sectarian divide of the Muslim world i.e., Sunni vs. Shiite.
The battle for supremacy between Iran and Saudi Arabia goes back much further to 1979. The Iranian revolution of that year led to the exile of the Shah of Iran, and the rise of the Ayatollah’s. The exportation of Iran’s new found firebrand policies, posed a great threat to the Saudi Arabian monarchy. It threatened not just the reign of the royals in Riyadh, but also Saudi Arabia’s influence in the region…it was not going to be tolerated. And as a show of its leadership, Saudi Arabia spearheaded the creation of the Gulf Cooperation Council, leading the charge for greater Arab partnership, and strengthening its influence in the Muslim world. But even though Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth has made it a force to be reckoned with, Iranian influence has steadily been on the rise; and recent moves by the Iranian regime has led to heightened tensions between both sides. Iran’s strategic diplomatic push has certainly given it more recognition and influence in the international community. And though the Iranian economy had in previous years been crippled by biting sanctions, all signs point to a soon-coming change in its economic status, with the likely enforcement of the nuclear deal, and the accompanying lifting of sanctions – refer to previous posts. In addition, with the lukewarm attitude of the United States, Iran seems poised to further entrench itself in Middle Eastern (and indeed international) affairs, in protecting its vital interests.
The proxy war in Syria has led to a situation whereby instead of opposing parties coming together to fight a common enemy i.e., ISIS, they are continually bolstering their forces against themselves! Intelligence reports have overtime showed Iran’s QUD’s force General Qassim Suleimani, training and leading the forces of Syrian President Al-Assad together with Hezbollah forces from Lebanon- all supported by Russia; while Saudi Arabia for its part continues to provide support to the Sunni rebels who sometimes become radicalized. And in the midst of it all, ISIS thrives. The ones who suffer are the helpless Syrian citizens caught in the cross-fire of all these warring factions. They are the ones who suffer the most from excruciating pains in the aftermath of a mustard gas attack, and the ones with the least fortified defenses, most likely to be caught up in the blaze of continued aerial bombardment. They are the inevitable casualties of the war.
The United Nations for its part ought to be the impartial umpire working to restore peace and stability. But sadly, internal divisions within the P5 are a mirror image of the larger divide seen on the battlefields. Iran is allied with the regime of Basher Al-Assad, and both are allied with Russia (plus China); while Saudi Arabia is allied- supposedly- with the West, led by the USA. Now because of the internal working dynamics of the UN Security Council as outlined in its charter, veto power resides only with the members of the P5. And all it takes for a resolution to fail is one veto from a permanent member of the council. Now, enter the proxy warring factions, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Their respective alliances with veto-wielding members of the P5; and the internal divisions amongst these allies, have overtime translated into a despicable situation whereby various resolutions to caution the government of Basher Al-Assad and try to find ways to achieve common ground and move towards some sort of stability, have continually failed to pass! The achievement of peace within Syria is not completely dependent on Iran or Saudi Arabia; but their unique positions in the Middle East, certainly does make them key players in any future roadmap for peace.
To be truthful, at this point, I do not know if there is any "one-fits-all" solution to the conflict that rages on in Syria. The war has been allowed to drag on for so long that I feel like opportunities to act in decisive ways, have been lost. If there is any immediate goal, it would seem to be about finding ways to reduce the amount of innocent casualties, while curbing the growth and expansion of ISIS. Within Syria alone, there are too many interest groups; and each may have to settle with their own areas of control in the long run. To achieve some semblance of stability, a couple of ideas have been floated- bolstering the moderate rebels and the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, maintaining coalition bombardment of enemy positions, continuing the diplomatic discourse amongst key players, establishing humanitarian corridors for Syrian citizens, spearheading grass-root political participation which would transition and translate into regime change etc. But while all these are being considered and put into place, there is an important factor to be considered; which is that the Syrian crisis is a uniquely Mid-Eastern problem. Thus, any long-term solution must definitely involve the sheathing of arms and sitting together of Middle Eastern power brokers. In plain terms, Saudi Arabia and Iran- together with Turkey- must be willing to talk! Any sustainable political transition will have to involve both sides not only talking to themselves, but also talking to the groups they represent within Syria, and nudging them to find common ground. Iran must use its influence with the Shiite's, and Saudi Arabia must also use its influence with the Sunni's. And then the issue of Turkey and the Kurds, must also be addressed. ISIS was born in the Middle-East, and it must be dealt with in the Middle-East; with "whole-hearted" international support and co-operation.
Iran’s President had previously stated that Iran is willing to sit at any table to discuss peace in Syria; and both parties have recently been present at talks in Vienna, together with the USA, Turkey, Russia, and other nations. But if there is anything I have learnt in my short years of observing international politics, it is that nations only act in their national interests! Power is the currency of bargain in politics; and nations are never willing to relinquish power, until the greater power prevails! Already, the Iranians have begun to issue threats stating that they would walk away from any future talks concerning Syria because of what they see as Saudi-Arabia’s antagonistic actions in Syria and Yemen; which is quite ironic because they (Iran) could also be (rightly) accused of doing the exact same thing! So what is the future for Syria? There is no definite answer at this point; only hopeful wishes. The world knows what it should do…Saudi Arabia and Iran know what they should do…but knowing the right thing to do, does not always translate into doing it. Thus as long as the power-play continues, the end will remain in the very distant future; as ISIS recuperates and thrives. We all have hopeful wishes…but if wishes were Horses, beggars would ride!



Wednesday, October 28, 2015

AND THEN THEY WERE FIVE: MY THOUGHTS ON THE CNN DEMOCRATIC PARTY PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE.

So this post was supposed to go up last week but I postponed it- as I explained in my last post. Now, the much anticipated CNN Democratic Primary Debate was held about 2weeks ago. Set in the “sin-capital of the world”, Las-Vegas, Nevada, the debate was moderated by Anderson Cooper who was assisted by Dana Bash, Juan Carlos Lopez and Don Lemon who manned the online media feed. After weeks of speculation as to whether VP Biden would enter the race and participate in the debate, it proceeded without him. The 5 Democratic hopefuls- Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martyn O’Malley, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee- stood facing a reasonably sized audience in the Wynn Resort, with Clinton strategically placed squarely in the center of the 5, signifying her position as the clear front-runner.
I remember watching the Republicans last month, and I certainly had a lot to write about. Watching the Democratic Debate though, I knew the case would be different. It is not that there weren’t many talking points- because there were- but the tempo was much different this time around. In fact, I remember thinking that the overall atmosphere was markedly at variance with the rather up-beat tempo of the location chosen for the event i.e., Las Vegas. Before the debate, Senator Sanders had clearly stated that he was not one to attack personalities as was the norm amongst Republican Presidential Candidates, but he was all about addressing the issues; and during the debate, this was to be the pattern- to an extent- amongst the remaining 4 Democratic Presidential hopefuls.
The five candidates tackled a host of issues ranging from foreign policy, economic issues especially income inequality and the role of banks, gun control, racism, college tuition, social security, immigration, veteran issues, and climate change. Even though most of the debate seemed to revolve around H. Clinton, it was clear from start to finish that the Democrats intended to be amiable towards one another, rather than engage in Cat-fights. So I’ll now proceed to state a few things. First off, I thought Mrs. Clinton had a grasp of the issues- as she should, considering the fact that she has had a long history in politics and public service. Clinton made a point of not overly criticizing the Obama administration while also making a distinction as regards to herself. I thought she handled questions regarding the E-mail scandal rather gracefully, especially when she simply said “no” in response to Anderson Cooper’s question as to whether she would want to respond to Lincoln Chafee on the matter. I also thought that Clinton was correct when she stated that the US had to stand up to Russian bullying especially in Syria, and let Putin know that his actions in Syria were highly unacceptable. She had lots of questions to answer on foreign policy, especially her decisions on US foreign policy as a Senator and as Secretary of state. She held up well. Hillary Clinton certainly endears herself to a lot of Americans for a number of reasons; one of which is that she is married to a much-loved former President. But while she enjoys this endearment, she consistently strives to show that she is her own person, and not defined by her last name. Now even though Mrs. Clinton is a very intelligent woman with great political pedigree, over time, there have been questions regarding her personality. Since her early political days with Bill Clinton in Arkansas, some have wondered as to the sincerity of her political decisions; pointing fingers at what they see as her somewhat "aloofness and lack of transparency"- not altogether without reason though. I think there is something about her personality that seems quite un-accessible to most people; but I don’t think it’s a personality flaw that is quite as “off-putting” as that of Richard Nixon! So in that regard, I would give Clinton a pass. One also has to consider that Hillary Clinton has fought a very long battle with many enemies on both sides of the American political divide- from the Whitewater scandal, to the Lewinsky debacle and the threat of Bill’s impeachment, to her health-care battle with Congress, to Benghazi, and now, the E-mail saga- she has fought all her political life, and this has in some measure caused her to view all political environments as battle fields. I cannot blame her. By the way, I cringed watching Congressman Peter Roskam of Illinois, a Republican member of the Select Committee on Benghazi grill her as she appeared before the committee some days ago. It was another attempt to demonize her and show that her actions in Libya were for self-gratification and political glory. She held up pretty well. She continues to fight. But for her Presidential aspirations, I think Mrs. Clinton would need to find more ways to change perceptions about her personality- she's doing well with all the talk shows; so at least, she's aware of the problem and is taking steps towards fixing it. Undoubtedly, she is passionate about America and about the American people. She needs to let that shine through more often.
Bernie Sanders, the Independent Senator from Vermont received many loud applauses from the audience. Watching him, I got a sense that he had his hand on the political and economic pulse of majority of the American people. He seemed to speak their minds on so many issues especially regarding his opposition to American involvement in conflicts, and the introduction of US soldiers into theatres of war. He did state that he would be willing to take military action when situations demand it; but watching him during the debate, I highly doubt that. He seems to support mostly “advise and assist roles” for American troops, and that is what I believe would be a more likely scenario in the event of a Sanders Presidency. He was all for stronger actions to be taken in checking the excesses of wall street, though towing a careful line with gun control, as he's from a state whose residents are big on hunting! True to his words, the Senator was careful not to take personal shots at his colleagues; but instead, tackled the issues squarely. 
Jim Webb, the former Senator from Virginia, did seem to me as somewhat of an oddity. If there was any hard-liner during the debate, it certainly was him. No surprises, he kept butting heads with Anderson Cooper. But he is a Vietnam veteran and a former marine…so I guess old habits die hard. But I’m pretty sure he didn’t make too many fans that night- if any at all!
In my opinion, Webb, Chafee and O’Malley were more of "un-necessary extras" added to the debate by the Democratic Caucus to broaden the field just a little; but we all know who the main attractions were. Well at least I could make out something from Webb’s performance- whatever that was. But on the remaining 2 candidates though- Lincoln Chafee and Martyn O’Malley- I’m quite indifferent. To speak rather bluntly, Chafee seemed to me like a sleepy grand-father who kept stumbling through his words, and O’Malley looked the picture of the content teenager whose major “Chutzpah” moment was his battle with the NRA. I just wasn’t impressed!
At most points during the debate, I felt like the contenders were making more of a pitch for Obama, than for themselves. Agreed they are all Democrats; but then, there were just too many accolades heaped on the incumbent President that one wondered whether Barack Obama was the person seeking political office! Aside all that though if there was one poignant moment for me, it was the acknowledgement by the contenders that “black lives matter”! As an African who shares an extended ancestral bond with blacks everywhere, it has been very troubling to see the increase in the number of black Americans gunned down by law enforcement officials, and being subjected to racial profiling and undue harassment. Even though Jim Webb tried to give a more "politically correct" answer by first stating that “as a citizen of the US, every life matters” before going on to point out how he had also aided black causes in the past, it was good to hear the candidates affirm the importance of black lives…though the real motivation might just have been the chance to whip up popular sentiment and garner black votes!
The Democrats tackled the issues as best as they could while trying to project a picture of class, decorum and amiability towards one another. There were disagreements on “means”, but coherence on “goals”. I certainly would have loved a little more fire, and for them to feed more off the vibe of the audience- I mean let's be real, we all expect political debates to be just as entertaining as they are enlightening- but I didn’t really get that. Maybe the next Democratic Party Debate would be different. As I have previously alluded, the debate was actually between two people- Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Clinton was calm, poised and meticulously calculative; and Bernie Sanders was pure Bernie- the guy for whom thousands have thronged to arenas to hear speak, over the past few weeks. Sanders is a man to watch; but truth be told, I don’t think he stands too much of a chance against Mrs. Clinton in the long run. As I see it, she has certain advantages which cannot be overlooked- a highly revered and much-loved surname, the uniqueness of being on the verge of making history by virtue of gender, these in addition to a versatile life-time experience in politics. Plus, after her superb performance before the Benghazi Committee some days ago, Hillary looks pretty hard to beat! Like all politics, American politics also runs on sentiment. I may be proved wrong eventually; but if that happens, it would most certainly be a surprise!

P.S.: The Democratic Presidential line-up has changed significantly since the debate. First off, VP Joe Biden eventually decided he wouldn't enter the Presidential race; Jim Webb then dropped out of the Democratic Party race, although stating he may return to the Presidential race as an Independent; and then Lincoln Chafee dropped out of the race completely. So they were five...then three- or maybe just two!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A CLARION CALL FOR NIGERIA’S YOUTHS.

I decided to deviate a bit from the central theme of most of my articles- international affairs- and focus today on speaking directly to Nigeria's youth, who make up 60percent of the general national population. My original article for today was supposed to be an analysis of the CNN-moderated Democratic Party Presidential Debate. It was already typed out on my laptop and waiting for upload, but I changed my mind just a few days ago. That article will now go up next week. 
What informed my decision to write a different article was a particularly interesting piece I had read online which was written by Otunba Femi Pedro; a former Deputy Governor of Lagos State, and one of the founders of Guaranty Trust Bank. It was a piece titled “Buhari and the curious case of the young generation”, in which he basically analyzed via contrast, the involvement of Nigeria’s youth in the 70’s and 80’s, versus the involvement of Nigeria’s youth today in the political and economic landscape. He started by discussing how he and a few friends all in their 30’s- early 30’s precisely- started a financial institution that turned out to be one of the most sound banks in Nigeria today- GTBank. He then proceeded to list an array of young Nigerians in the 60's, 70’s and 80’s who distinguished themselves in the field of politics, the financial sector, the civil service and the army. These names included men like 37year old Obafemi Awolowo, 27year old Anthony Enahoro, 34year old Tafawa Balewa, and 42year old Nnamdi Azikiwe who amongst others, led the struggle for independence; 29year old Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu (a man whom I have read about, and whom I personally admire) who led the first coup, 32year old Yakubu Gowon who ascended to power as a result of the coup, and even a Muhammadu Buhari who was a Military Governor in his 30’s; in the civil service, the band of 30something year olds also included Phillips Asiodu, Allison Ayida, etc.; while the financial sector had the young Jim Ovia, Tony Elumelu, Herbert Wigwe, amongst others. The bone of contention and the reason Mr. Pedro’s article was written, was the fact that young Nigerians today feel left out of governance, and this grouse has been heightened by what has been seen as the filling of President Buhari’s cabinet with “old men”- the same who have been in power since independence. In contrasting the behavior of the youth of his generation versus the behavior of the youth today, Femi Pedro noted that the youth of his generation were faced with the same problems and challenges as the youth of today, that no one did them any favors, that power did not come easily or cheaply, and that they basically had to fight for what they got! Though he noted a few excellent young Nigerians today who have carved their own niche through struggle, perseverance and hard work, he also made a point that seemed to infer that these ones were the minute minority i.e., the exception to the general prevailing norm i.e., the ones who did not wait for opportunity to be handed to them on a platter of gold, but who simply went ahead to create their own opportunities. I could see Otunba Pedro’s point, and it was well taken.
I proceeded to read the comments- comments are usually always interesting- and I was not surprised at what I found. Most young Nigerians were not having any of it! Again, I could also relate with them- somewhat. There was a particular young woman- an entrepreneur- who sounded totally pained. Her grievance was that the financial institutions built by men like Pedro and his friends, have failed young entrepreneurs today. She noted how difficult it was for SME’s to obtain loans or grants for their businesses, even when the entrepreneurs had sound financial proposals and plans. She stated that the rot in the financial sector had been created by men like Femi Pedro whose empires have developed policies that serve the interest of only a select few, rather than the majority. She reminded Mr. Pedro that his bank (GTB) was set up in the “glory days” of the financial sector when conditions for establishing such institutions were not so stringent. As a young entrepreneur, she was struggling to establish a business. I could feel her pain. Another young Nigerian scolded the older generation and seemed to be terribly angry at the impetus of Femi Pedro! He/ She proceeded further to outline the failures of Mr. Pedro’s generation- election failures, the civil war, underperformance of the agricultural sector due to the emphasis on oil, lack of world class infrastructures in the education and health-care sector, etc. And all these failures have been handed down to the present generation- us- who are then miraculously expected to make our way out of this quagmire, and basically create water in the wilderness!   
When I was younger, my late mum (bless her beautiful soul) told my brothers and I stories of a time when Nigeria was so rich that the nation’s leaders basically “begged” foreigners to come share in our wealth. I have personally met older Nigerians who were trained on Nigerian scholarships- scholarships which were handed out much more freely and generously. Professor Wole Soyinka’s generation went to universities that could be said to be of international standard in their day- those were the days when university students had access to affordable meals and laundry services for their clothes. I believe it was so much easier for the young generation of the 60’s to get involved in governance in the immediate aftermath of independence when “godfatherism” did not prevail as much as it does today. My mother seemed “astonished” the day she was told that a bottle of Fanta now sold for 20 or 25naira- I'm not so sure now. She could not understand what was happening! I remember my first day of university when I had to stand in a crowded classroom crammed with the sweating bodies of hundreds of young students like myself- you see, there were very few seats and no functioning fans. The lecturer did not have the aid of a sound system and couldn’t be bothered to raise his voice. Needless to say, I heard nothing! I have witnessed the struggles of the entrepreneurial young, firsthand. On many nights I have shed silent tears for my amazing business-minded younger brother, the most business-savvy of all my siblings. I have witnessed the struggles he has faced navigating the murky waters of entrepreneurship. I have watched him change his plans time and time again, in order to adapt to new realities. He still trudges on, and I am so proud of him. I myself am a rebel. I have basically gone against expectations, and painstakingly created a path which is greatly at odds with societal expectations of me. I have had my failures, but they are greatly overshadowed by an enduring determination to succeed.
I could take sound lesson from both Otunba Pedro and the “commenters”. While I greatly admire the gut and drive of Mr. Femi’s peers, I also know that these qualities are not in short supply amongst the young of today, of which I am a part. Agreed, far too many of my generation are carried away by irrelevant distractions created by technological advances- social media has been a blessing as well as our greatest curse! But also, there are a great many of us who have great visions, and who are on the path to fulfilling them. Mr. Pedro, we face lots of challenges- challenges which were largely created by your generation- but we have not given up, and do not intend to. Maybe you can help, by doing more to aid our success. Maybe you can come up with new financial policies that do not only favor the children of your peers. Maybe you and your friends can see the young Nigerians who do not have the advantage of name or societal status; but who possess the tenacity, the doggedness, and the stuff of what successes are made of, and maybe you can render just a little help to these ones. And then I say to my generation, expect miracles, but also acknowledge reality. Instagram is a fantasy world, and things are not always as they seem- behind every true success, there is usually blood, sweat and tears. Develop yourselves…never stop learning. When opportunity is not given, sometimes, it can be created. Remember that original ideas are few…most likely, there are others who have trudged before on your chosen path, and have succeeded- seek them out for advice if you can. Make demands of the older generation (i.e., Otunba Pedro and Co.), and make demands of life…but make sure they are “sensible” demands. Spend more time crafting a life plan than you do taking selfies. Write your own self-help manual…what you read in foreign books will not always apply to your own situation- this is Nigeria. Think for yourself. Be a civil participant, not an uninterested bystander. Listen more than you speak, and be intelligent when you speak. When you are faced with a brick wall, there is always a choice to get a ladder and climb over, to sit still by the wall and re-strategize, or to just walk away…either way, no one will ever know your vision more than you, so the choice is completely yours to make. Yes, we live in a time of great uncertainty and harsher realities; but then again, there are also advantages and opportunities, however few and far in-between- dwell on those and try to be balanced in your judgments and criticisms. Be creative. Be re-creative. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to get involved...there will be many more elections- we must find ways to be adequately positioned for leadership. We must stop selling ourselves short and stop being readily-available instruments for mischief and violence, in the hands of the same politicians we criticize. It is hypocritical to demand positive change while continuing to propagate the same negative traits you claim to despise! Finally, always remember that if there is one great failure about Femi Pedro’s generation, it is that our generation does not feel like they created an enabling environment for us to thrive. The failure of our generation will be that the next generation thinks the same of us, in the future. Let’s make a difference.



Wednesday, October 14, 2015

EUROPE’S MIGRANT CRISIS: WHICH WAY FORWARD?

As the picture of the lifeless body of little Aylan Kurdi lying washed up on the Turkish shoreline was flashed around the world, the international community was moved, saddened, outraged…even if for only a short while. The migrant crisis is one of the greatest catastrophes of present times, and the greatest refugee crisis since WW2. This year, 2015, the world has witnessed- and continues to witness- massive numbers of people fleeing their home countries for the promise of Europe. In fact, it is estimated that close to half a million people have made the perilous journey in the first 9months of 2015 alone and many more are expected to. Germany alone has seen about 10,000 migrants cross into its territory on a daily basis, in recent times. This massive exodus has also been fraught with a great many tragedies, as thousands of lives- including that of little Aylan Kurdi- have been lost to the ferocious and merciless seas. But the people keep coming.
A distinction must be made amongst these Europe-bound travelers. Some of them are genuine asylum seekers fleeing war and persecution in their home countries like those fleeing the war in Syria, and those fleeing from the savagery of the Taliban in Afghanistan. And then, there are also the economic migrants from a number of countries including Nigeria, who are simply on a quest for economic gain. But we call them all migrants. The journey to reach the shores of Europe does not come cheap, as smugglers are paid upwards of thousands of US dollars to get these migrants into Europe via European entry points such as Greece, Italy and Hungary.
At the start of 2015 no one would have predicted just how massive this European influx would be; but as the migrants keep arriving in great numbers, Europe has started to buckle under the weight of this extremely heavy burden. For most migrants, the dream destination is Germany- this in no small measure, has to do with the initial welcome policy of German Chancellor Merkel- but to arrive at Germany, one must transit through several European countries; some of which are not so gracious e.g. Hungary. In fact to register their displeasure at this “most unwelcome problem”, the Hungarian government resorted to erecting border fences, with the threat of imprisonment for any migrant who dared to scale through. The migrant crisis has only worsened the already present divisions and polarizations within the EU. There were just not enough structures on ground to accommodate so many people, and so, European nations bickered amongst themselves. Obviously, some EU nations like Germany, Austria, and Sweden are wealthier than others; and the less wealthy European nations believe their richer neighbors should bear more of the burden. A lot of animosity has also risen because the most likely entry points are nations like Greece and Hungary who are either in economic decline, or just not as economically vibrant as most other European countries; and this massive incursion into their territories has also led to a disregard for the Dublin Agreement. 
Revised in 2013, the Dublin Agreement stipulates that asylum seekers must remain in their country of contact i.e. point of entry, where they will be registered and their applications processed. Movement to another EU country will be met with repatriation, back to the point of entry. Thus, “Mr. A”, an asylum seeker arriving in the Greek island of Kos, is bound to remain in Greece, under EU laws. But the current migrant crisis has revealed that this agreement places disproportionate burden on entry states (which are usually not so buoyant, capable, or willing); thus, the migrants are quickly passed on to other European countries, without being processed at their entry points. In fact in most cases, the migrants themselves refuse to be processed in their countries of contact, as they would then be bound to remain there- something they certainly do not wish to happen. I mean, for someone who has fled war, persecution, or even economic hardship, a financially strapped or even hostile nation certainly does not seem like the ideal resettlement zone! So, what must Europe do?
To find a solution to the migrant problem, EU leaders convened. After much disagreement, they came to a conclusion that a quota system must be put in place to divide these migrants amongst themselves, with the numbers being relative to individual nation GDP. But of course, this was not acceptable to states like Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Romania who do not see reasons why they must be compelled to accept migrants. The number agreed upon for resettlement did not even amount to half the number of those who have already arrived in Europe, not to talk of those still on their way! So where does Europe go from here?
I believe that any solution will have to be comprised of long and short term plans. In the short term an agreeable quota system will have to be reached, to resettle the migrants that have already arrived. If this can be achieved, it will also help strengthen registration and screening procedures. To speak frankly, genuine asylum seekers i.e. those fleeing conflict and persecution must be given priority over economic migrants- most of whom will just have to be sent back to their home countries! A distinction must be made. I know this will not be easy as most migrants destroy their passports before reaching Europe so their true identities’ will not be ascertained. Some others give their passports to smugglers as part of the bargain for transportation. But EU border officials would just have to devise means of detecting the true identities of migrants- maybe through their distinct accents or features. Border controls must also be strengthened. I know this sounds harsh, but the truth is that extremely porous borders will only attract many more people. Maybe if the procedures for entry were more stringent, it would keep away most of the people solely seeking economic fortune who masquerade as asylum seekers, and make way for only those who truly deserve refugee rights. I mean, individuals fleeing deadly wars have nothing more to lose. They are the ones truly deserving of Europe’s help. And then, the issue of smugglers must also be addressed. These smugglers are a large part of the problem, and their careless and heartless actions are largely the reason for so many recorded and unrecorded deaths! They get paid huge sums of money; and then they ship these weary travellers in rickety boats, packing them like Sardines, without any regard for human dignity! They must be sanctioned! I am glad to hear that the UN has just recently given the green light for military action against these smugglers. This must be strictly enforced.
A comprehensive long term strategy on the other hand, will have to involve strategies for addressing the root cause of the problem. In plain terms, these wars must be stopped! This would involve not just the EU, but the international community putting aside their differences and finding viable solutions to these conflicts, once and for all. It may have to be military solutions, diplomatic solutions, political solutions, or a combination of all, but something must be done! And while this is ongoing, humanitarian corridors must be established for safe protection of the internally displaced.
The migrant problem is serious, but it is not unsolvable. It will all depend on willpower. Europe must act quickly. Already, tensions have started running high between migrants and some host communities. This is largely due to the great ideological divide between both groups. The migrants arrive Europe with their own culture, values and traditions which greatly differ from those of Europe; and this has led to a great many misunderstandings and even crimes, which have largely been kept away from the knowledge of the general populace so as to prevent the outbreak of violence on a large scale. Europe’s migrant population will have to be re-educated to cope with Western ways of life, and this would take time…time which is in short supply. No one knows just how much more tolerant host communities will be, before things turn ugly. I sincerely hope this is not a keg of gunpowder waiting to explode! Time is of the essence. I would conclude by stating that our shared humanity compels us to render help to those who need it. But our willingness to render aid must also be balanced by our acknowledgement of difficult realities. While we cannot turn our backs on those who genuinely need help, we must also be careful not to bite more than we can chew so that we do not find ourselves in positions where we become incapacitated, and no longer able to adequately alleviate human suffering. Japan has stated that it would give 1billion dollars to the migrant cause, even though it cannot take in migrants. Many more nations must bear this financial burden. Each nation must assess its position, taking account of its own capabilities, and do as it reasonably can; but in the same vein, no nation should fold its hands and feign incapability, if it can certainly do more! May the sweet memory of little Aylan Kurdi be our guiding light, as we temper mercy with reasonableness.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

THE 70TH UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY: A TALE OF ANNOYING SPEECHES.

So the biggest event coming out of New York lately- apart from the historic first visit of the pope- has been the 70th session of the UN General Assembly. The UN General Assembly is an annual gathering of world leaders held at the UN headquarters in New York. Amidst all the pomp and pageantry and the line-up of programs, the general debate sessions are a particularly interesting affair, as they provide a platform for world leaders to outline their agenda(s) in front of the general body of nations. Now, though an array of world leaders are scheduled to speak during these sessions, overtime, a few have become figures that diplomatic observers look forward to hearing from each year. These include the US President, the Israeli Prime Minister, the Russian President, the Palestinian leader, and in recent years, the Iranian leader. The mix of highly anticipated characters may change from year to year, depending on what critical event (i.e. crises) is rocking the world at that moment in time.
To be truthful, i am not keen about watching these marathon speeches as I have gotten greatly disillusioned about the UN lately. But I find myself still paying attention, out of sheer habit! You see, I have come to view these speeches as ceremonial activities which are nothing but long talks in front of a very dignified audience. Very little in terms of concrete policy formulations result in the aftermath of this elaborate yearly gathering that I am usually inclined to think of it in somewhat comical terms. I guess what I am trying to say is that I don’t take it seriously! Anyway, this year, I decided I would pay attention as much as I could. Maybe it was because Nigeria’s newly elected President was on the line-up to give his first UNGA speech, or maybe it was because there are just too many global catastrophes going on at the moment and I wanted to get a sense of where world leaders stood on these issues. But by the end of the first day, I think I was already asking myself, “why even bother”?
Can I vent a little? Okay, thanks. You see not only do UN speeches re-enforce my view that most world leaders are largely detached from reality, but also this year, some speeches just felt like a great insult to my intelligence- and I imagine to most of the world’s as well! Now let’s start with the US President, Barack Obama. This gifted orator, who believes that his brand of diplomacy holds the key to solving all of the world’s problems, graced the stage with his audacious presence. This “ought-to-be most powerful man” who cannot bring himself to face the fact that his actions and inactions have only served to strengthen global hardliners and trouble-makers, attempted again to project an aura of authority that in my opinion is largely fading away. In an attempt to scold Russia, Mr. Obama stated that “dangerous currents risk pulling us back into a darker, more disordered world,”; and I thought it was rather ironic that he would say that, because his lack-lustre foreign policy performance has contributed in no small measure, to the creation of these "dangerous currents" which have certainly produced a more disordered world! The Russians have basically dragged the carpet from under his feet and now he just sounds like a broken record- my opinion! And so at that early stage, I was already going “oh, not again please…not another wonderfully-deceptive speech without any follow-up action”! But I endured. Vladimir Putin, who missed Obama’s speech as he was on his way to the location from the airport, also did just as I knew he would. This was his first speech at the UNGA in a decade, and I figured he was coming to ignite fireworks and greatly annoy the West. Mr. Putin basically stated to the entire world that Bashir Al-Assad is the only one legitimately fighting ISIS in Syria. My goodness, even now, I cringe! Do we come across as being so gullible to Mr. Putin that he thinks we cannot see that his every move is strategically calculated to increase Russia’s global influence, strengthen its alliances, and place it squarely at the center of any future solutions in Syria- and anywhere else he deems fit to occupy with Russian military presence for that matter? In fact, to prove Putin’s true intentions, Russia launched its first air strikes in Syria primarily targeted at Homs and Hama. If you say you are going in to fight ISIS, why then bomb areas occupied by Anti ISIS/Assad fighters- the moderate rebels who are backed by the US and coalition forces! ISIS fighters are not even stationed in those places- and in most others that the Russian Airforce has subsequently bombed! And so you have the Russians actually killing those who are in fact fighting against ISIS and also Assad (Russia’s ally); and that first aerial bombardment was carried out while the UNGA was still going on! In my opinion, Putin has zero regard for the international community and I dare say he “paid no mind” to Obama’s speech. He knew it was just another “oratorial display”; and to add insult to injury and show Russian disdain for America, the Russians gave only one hour’s notice to the US to get their planes out of Syrian airspace before their onslaught began. And they did it in the most insulting and un-professional manner! Hmmm…I proceed in annoyance. And then, imagine President Xi Xinping of China calling for more powerful nations to stop bullying weaker ones! Can someone please remind him that China’s territorial maneuvers in the South China Sea pose a serious threat of direct military confrontation with its Asian neighbors, and that its actions are tantamount to bullying! And then he offered one billion dollars to the UN fund and I just thought “oh wow, there goes any hope of a reprimand by the UN”- not as if there ever would have been one! I would stop at these 3 because I am constrained for time, but not before adding President Robert Mugabe to the mix. So Mugabe traveled all the way from Harare to New York to remind the West- again- that Africans are not homosexuals, as if that was the greatest ill plaguing Africa at the moment or Zimbabwe for that matter! I guess he just felt the need to burn some jet fuel and register his presence at the UNGA! I would be tempted to question the rationale of speechwriters, if I didn't know that it is the politicians who outline the major talking points. And even if they don't, they most certainly give approval on the final drafts. So in fact, they say only what they want to say!
Another UN General Assembly gathering is now behind us. Do I expect any changes in terms of concrete policies that would stop aggression, strengthen peaceful coexistence, bolster collective security, or aid the self-determination of people(s) as the UN charter states? No, not really. This is just the way of global politics! But if I must be fair, if there was a bright spot for me, it was when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel spoke on Thursday. I had been looking forward to his speech, and I was not disappointed. Sometimes the majority is not always right, and it was a great feeling to see a leader telling the world the “bitter truth” to its face. In front of an assembly that seems to have been completely hypnotized by the Iranian charm offensive in recent times, PM Netanyahu defiantly declared, “the days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies- those days are over. Not being passive means speaking up about the dangers. We have. We are. We will”. He also stated that “Israel remains committed to achieving peace with the Palestinians as well”. And then on a final note, he told the world to stand with Israel because “more than ever, Israel is defending you”! And in the midst of his audacious speech, was that absolutely captivating 45seconds of deafening silence where it seemed like he was daring the world to challenge his facts! I wouldn't say that Binyamin "Bibi" Netanyahu is a saint- no politician is- but he most certainly is no "shrinking violet", and I thought he was completely brilliant!
So as typical UNGA's go, speeches at the 70th session were laden with name-calling, mud-slinging, and blame-games…it is to be expected- politics is not for the feeble hearted, and even the most respectable diplomatic sphere has become a warzone! But when these leaders return to their opulent palaces, majestic mansions, well-guarded white houses and imposing villas- all maintained by taxpayer monies- the war in Syria will still be raging, the exodus of migrants to Europe will still be ongoing, various conflicts will still be ravaging portions of the globe, countless lives will still be lost to hunger and preventable diseases, and our collective intelligence will still be bruised! But if I must end on a good note, at least another set of developmental goals were outlined i.e. the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) to replace the Millennium Development Goals. And so, we are now on a countdown to achieving these goals by 2030. But sadly, I do not think it will all be Peaches and Roses…I mean it’s not as if we were successful with all the MDG’s that came before. As President Muhammadu Buhari aptly stated during his speech, “for the newly adopted SDG’s to be truly global, they must be practical”. Theories are never in scarce supply in the international community; but it is the practical application of these theories and indeed the necessary willpower to enact them, that are constantly lacking. We hope things will be different this time around. And there goes my happy ending!