Governing through violence and using dictatorial means to deal with socio-political challenges have led to the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The wind of change is now heading toward Russia and China.
On Thursday, March 22, 2012, International Federation of Electoral Systems (IFES) held an event in Washington, D.C, on the recent Russian election cycle. Debate focused on the parliamentary and presidential elections and how the resulting public reactions inside Russia are impacting the development of democracy in the country. Conversations also looked at how these factors may influence national elections taking place in neighboring countries this year.
It may be a stretch to propose that Russia is on the verge of change, but it is clear there is something different in the air. There have recently been a series of protests sweeping throughout Moscow resulting from alleged vote rigging in the December 2011 parliamentary and March 2012 presidential elections. These events have made their mark on many people in Russia, from journalists, students and academics, to more politically opportunistic professionals.
People are speaking out and gathering more freely; something that seemed impossible seven months ago. Major protests are being planned demanding that Vladimir Putin step down. Several individuals have been detained, including opposition leader Ilya Yashin.
In China, the Communist Party has undermined the rule of law and lost the confidence of the people. The Associated Press reported on March 21, 2012, that the Chinese government wants lawyers to take a pledge of loyalty to the Communist Party, a move that has been criticized by human rights lawyers who have defended critics of the ruling party.
When an administration lacks credibility, it lacks solid ground for trust from the people. However, the basic technique of the Communist Party is to acquire and preserve its control by being dependent on its dictatorial means. The Communist Party thrives by engaging in violence, which has become a panacea in keeping the people under their dictatorship. They maintain their authoritarian government by completely neglecting the doctrines of the rule of law. It is often said that the leadership in China came on board out of the “barrel of a gun”; this is their basic theory and principle. The lack of freedom of speech and other political freedoms were a major basis for the Tunisia uprising, which eventually spread to Egypt, Libya, and Syria etc.
When, on March 26, 2012, a 27-year-old activist set himself on fire inNew Delhi during a demonstration to protest a visit by China president Hu Jintao, observers commented that this is a sign of change coming to China. NDTV reported that the young man died on March 28, 2012, thus becoming the first individual outsideChinato participate in a suicidal mission, “adding his name to a list of 30 others who have committed same since March beginning to protest alleged authoritarianism by China in Tibet and demanding freedom for their homeland.”
Russia and China have the opportunity to learn from history. Can they maintain authoritarian rule and suppress the will of the people, or will they want to go the way others have gone? These questions will be a focus in the upcoming IPSA conference at NYU.
By Chris Pedersen
So often in the news the issue of the US and NATO involvement in Afghanistan is a topic that brings out strong emotions from both those that support and oppose the idea of military involvement. With such a grand question, it is futile to argue such a big issue without breaking down the US-Afghan issue into smaller pieces,limiting the number of variables. Let us focus on the US and NATO role in training Afghan police officers. With troops planning on withdrawing in July 2011, this is a very important task.
The US and Allied forces that are in charge of training the new Afghan recruits face some challenging tasks to say the least. These new recruits have some astonishing characteristics that include:
- One in five recruits test positive for drugs.
- Fewer than one in 10 can read and write, making the simplest tasks of writing down a license plate an obstacle.
- Taliban infiltration is a constant worry. Last November, five British NATO officers training a police unit in Helmand Province were killed by one of their trainees. Taliban later claimed the attack.
Afghanis off the street can become a police officer in under 3 months of training . Recruits are given an eight week training course and then placed throughout the country. With poor pay, the highest death rate of all security forces and lack of equipment, a quarter off all officers quit within a year. Recognizing the inadequacies of the current police training force, the US has tried to address some of the concerns of finding new instructors and creating programs that would raise the moral and identity of the Afghan police force.
Instead of the military or State Department taking the role of training the police force, the US government has hired a private contractor, DynCorp, to take on the large endeavor. The actions of the US should speak for itself of the limit to which the US military is stretched and the unwillingness of NATO allies to commit additional resources to the Afghan campaign.
DynCorp, after receiving a large contract by the US has sent a unit that mainly consists of retired police officers to train the police force. Since arriving, the officers have complained that they are overwhelmed by recruits incompetency and facing challenges in communicating information. NATO officers working with DynCorp complain that shortly after arrival, DynCorp contractors had lost motivation and have shown unprofessional attitudes because of lack of managerial oversight. Brig. Gen. Carmelo Burgio, an Italian Carabinieri NATO force contends that one of the biggest failings of the training program was the State Department’s over reliance on private contractors, whom he described as often over-aged, under-motivated, and expensive. Burgio says, “For the cost of 10 DynCorp, I can put 30 Carabinieri (NATO) trainers in and save money.”
Like many other parts of the region, family structure and reliance between family members for survival is crucial. Loyalties between family and the police force has been an issue where family ties prevail. For example, if one family member is in the police force and another in the Taliban, communication will not even seize and usually grow. NATO commanders have been frustrated with failed missions where police forces have planned to ambush the Taliban only to find out that Taliban forces have been tipped off by the Afghan police forces themselves.
This brings me to my last point: When President Obama addressed the world with his future plans of US involvement in Afghanistan, one of the key points that he brought up was the idea of withdrawing in July 2011. Although we will continue to have a presence, both with boots on the ground and monetarily beyond 2011, what confidence does that bring to the Afghan people, whose trust the US and Allied forces have worked so hard to win? If you were in the boots of an Afghan police man, which side would you lean to support, the Taliban who show no signs of leaving their native land or a police force that is backed by an Allied foreign military that will begin its withdrawal in 18 months?
Yesterday, I attended “Innovations in Education in Latin America, Africa and Asia,” a panel discussion held by IPSA and the Education Policy Studies Association (WEPSA) as part of NYU Wagner’s “International Week.”
The discussion focused on the innovative educational practices NGO’s are implementing in conflict-afflicted regions.
The evening began with an introduction of the panel’s distinguished speakers:
- Anita Anastacio – Senior Technical Advisor for the International Rescue Committee (IRC)
- Louisa Benton – Director of Development and Communications at WorldFund
- Tzvetomira Laub – Coordinator for Minimum Standards at the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE)
Next, the moderator Conor Grennan, Executive Director of Next Generation Nepal, posed a series of provocative questions that spurred a lively conversation:
- What is the role of education in conflict and post-conflict regions?
- What are the challenges and barriers that NGOs such as the IRC, WorldFund and INEE face in providing quality educational programs and services in these regions?
- What promising innovations are NGOs adopting to mitigate these challenges and barriers?
All the panelists spoke passionately about the important role education plays in conflict and post-conflict regions. Ms. Anastacio stated that at times of chaos (which is often the case in conflict-riddled regions), education can “create a sense of stability and normalcy.” Additionally, she added that, if done well, education can help “develop positive skills, attitudes and behaviors and increase people’s sense of empathy, inclusiveness, and collaboration.” In essence, Ms. Anastocio and the other panelists argued, that good education could alleviate many of the problems flagrant in these regions.
The panelists also discussed some of the challenges they have faced in implementing their programs. Ms. Benton pointed to teacher and principal training programs that the WorldFund has recently implemented in Brazil and Mexico. She worried that, in the future, it may struggle to secure long term funding from donors who want to see short-term results. She also mentioned the challenge of working with the local government in both countries, which have offered little support for the programs – the training efforts have rested heavily on WorldFund’s shoulders.
Ms. Anastacio also cited obtaining long-term funding and maneuvering local politics as a barrier to creating and sustaining the programs in the Middle Eastern and African countries in which she works. Ms. Benton mentioned that based on her conversations with donors, practitioners and researchers, one of the biggest barrier might come from the funding and NGO community itself. She noted that some donors see investing in education as too costly and requiring too much of a prolonged effort. These donors often see the biggest bang for their buck in smaller, more tangible programs such food drives or homeless shelters, which offer a greater probability of gaining short-term wins.
There was no consensus on what new practices or innovations could best mitigate these barriers. Ms. Laub and Ms. Benton suggested that NGOs will need to develop more robust assessment tools to evaluate their programs. Having readily-available outcome data could be used as leverage to retaining funding from donors. Ms. Benton also mentioned getting donors more involved in their work beyond funding – for example, seeking their advice on various aspects of program development. Ms. Anastocio added that another innovative approach would be to engage the local communities in the educational services they receive. This might lesson some of the tension that these communities feel about NGOs coming in and altering the systems that they have become accustomed to.
All agreed that though great inroads in education have been made in conflict areas of Latin America, Asia and Africa, much room remains finding innovative solutions to the most prevailing challenges.
By: Bukola Awobamise
Malnutrition, New York Times contributor David Rieff writes, is the “ghost at the party” in rapidly developing India. Despite the country’s rising development, 43 percent of children in India under age of 5 remain underweight. This figure perplexes readers even more next to comparative figures cited by Rieff from China and sub-Saharan Africa: a low 7 percent in China and 28 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. If India’s economic growth is indeed the success story that it has often been cited to be, why then is malnutrition still plaguing the children and people of India?
To our concern, Rieff reports, no one is quite sure why. Rieff points to the lack of women’s empowerment in rural and urban areas, the Indian government’s delayed response and sluggish initiative to act on the dire situation as major factors that contribute to the situation. However, the current status that perhaps demands more immediate attention is the “great deal of denial” among Indians that does not recognize this nutritional crisis and the severity of the stunt on the growth of India’s youth, lives, and, by and large, India’s future workforce and long-term well-being.
The path for India that Rieff is convinced of would help to radically bring change and improvement to the current malnutrition in India is a radical re-orientation of the Indian government to resemble China’s hybrid market-socialist and centralist state model. The merit of the Chinese system, according to Rieff, lies in the central power that the system confers the state to be more decisive and assertive in ways that India’s democracy does not allow. “Democracy is without question good for adults,” Rieff cited from an aid worker in India, “but I’m not convinced it’s necessarily the friend of small children.”
Despite the sensational quotation, I am unconvinced by the article’s hasty suggestion that if India is more like China, malnutrition in India would be eradicated. The article takes for granted that a more centralist state willing and ready to exercise its power would translate to an effective, better-performing state whose prioritization would always align with what is best for the country’s population. The Chinese government may have the power to make malnutrition a state priority, but would it? What solutions would it exactly propose to solve the malnutrition crisis? Clearly, malnutrition in India calls for immediate attention. But, more importantly, it calls for grounded solutions that target at the roots of the condition, not a wagering on political models and regimes.
On December 22, 2008, Guinea’s longtime dictator Lasana Conte died. Since then, military officers led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara staged a coup and Camara declared himself president. In the months since Camara has been in charge there has been outrage from the African Union, European Union, the United States, and from the Guinean people. All had different ideas of where the country should go, but they all agreed that there was a very small window for an end to dictatorship and a chance towards democracy. Camara and his military cronies had just about enough on September 28th when 55,000 demonstrators showed up at the national stadium in Conkary rallying for democracy. Guinea’s answer was violence, 157 unarmed civilians were either shot or trampled while trying to flee the stadium while the army openly fired on innocent victims. There were reports of rape, torture, and inside sources say that Camara himself was the one that ordered the shootings. While the rest of the world was in disbelief, China made a move before the dust even could settle.
15 days after the killings in the stadium, the junta government announced a $7 billion deal with China. The deal includes oil and mineral rights in return for infrastructure This is a win-win situation for both countries. Camara and his thug government now have some cash and international credibility while China, unshaken by the brutality of the government they are doing business with now have new resources to feed their booming economy. The Chinese government has long proclaimed a policy of non-interference, making parts of Africa ripe for China’s picking. While the human rights agencies of the west fight ferociously to stop western firms from supporting brutal dictatorships across the world, China is now coming in and squashing any real progress. And who is feeding China’s desire for natural resources? Take a look at yourself in the mirror, actually take a look at the back of your mirror. It is probably made in China, as well as your sneakers and most of the other items that fill the room you are in. If something was going to stop China from working with bad governments it would have to be the west boycotting the materials being made in China. With the recession taking place in the United States and one on the forecast in Europe, dollars are going to be stretched and the way you make the most out of your buck is usually buying something with a label saying “MADE IN CHINA”.
By Chris Pedersen
By Nhu Truong
Why have women been counted out of the equation for development? Why is it important that foreign aid should direct more focus to educate and empower women in ways that can allow and create opportunities for greater female involvement in society and the economy? And, finally, how do we identify the invisible pressures of culture and tradition that are visibly tied to prevalent perceptions of women’s place in the family, society, and a country’s development as a whole?
Joined by the Wagner Women’s Caucus and Professor John Gershman, students participated in IPSA’s Reading & Discussion Group on October 15, 2009 for a discussion on these important questions about the effect of development on women. The discussion was grounded on a reading of two articles: “The Women’s Crusade,” and “Rights Versus Rites.”
Last year, the New York Times, reported on the rising influx of Americans students studying in China. Pointing to findings from the Institute of International Education (IIE), the Times noted that China is now “the fifth-most-popular destination,” for American study abroad students, right on the heels of Britain, France, Spain and France. In an August 2009 story, the Times reported that a growing number of recent American graduates, facing rising unemployment at home, are flocking to China in search for better career opportunities.
So what makes China such a dynamic, lucrative place to study and work? To gain some insight, I tracked down my friend Jennifer Tippins who recently spent a year in Hong Kong on a U.S. Fulbright grant (awarded by IIE).
Jennifer, a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and an animator, is now living in Shangri-La, China. You can learn more about Jenn’s experiences in China here:
What sparked your interest in applying for a Fulbright grant? What interested you in Hong Kong?
I was interested in applying for a Fulbright while I was in college. I always wanted to study abroad, but unfortunately I did not have the opportunity because there were too many classes and requirements that had to be fulfilled in the NYC campus. Beyond my interest in living in a foreign country, I also had this film idea that I had kept in the back of my mind, based on stories my mother told me about her childhood growing up in Hong Kong. Since Hong Kong also has a strong cinematic history, I thought it would be good place to accomplish several goals- learn more about film/animation/artistic traditions in Hong Kong/Chinese culture; research Hong Kong history during the time my mother and her family lived there; collect reference material in the form of photographs, video, sound recordings, writings and drawings; and also see and experience Hong Kong for myself, to better understand its culture, and its people.
What expectations did you have about living and studying in Hong Kong? How were your expectations met? How were they challenged?
My personal expectations about my time abroad were I hoped to have a better understanding of the place where my mom and her family came from and to challenge myself that I could live in a foreign country on my own. In terms of my research and studies, I hoped to learn a lot more Mandarin Chinese, make progress on my film, and do a lot of drawing.
My Fulbright grant exceeded all my expectations about living and studying there. Nothing you think of can really ever live up to the realities of what it’s like to live in a different place. I found Hong Kong to be a very modern and convenient city, in some aspects more modern than New York City. Its transportation, technology, and many other things made living in Hong Kong a breeze. I also didn’t realize just how much people there speak English, which made communication very easy. I also didn’t expect that I would make a lot of international friends from all different countries, but Hong Kong truly is an international city, and small enough to meet people and network easily. Now I have friends from countries all over Europe and Asia. I also improved my Mandarin Chinese a lot, and picked up more Cantonese. By the last few months of my grant, I remember walking around the city, riding the tram, or getting lost in its magnificent hills and hiking trails and thinking to myself how much I love Hong Kong. I didn’t think I would like it that much, but I do!
How has your year abroad benefited you personally and professionally?
I have grown personally in so many ways. Living abroad has made me a better world citizen, one who knows more about other cultures and sees everything in more grays than in black-and-white. Professionally, I have made some great contacts and have benefited from the friendships and connections I have made within Hong Kong’s art scene. I have a wealth of ideas and new developments I want to explore with my film and future projects, all based on my experiences living in Hong Kong the past year.
What advice would you give graduates and professionals seeking to work and study in Hong Kong and in China in general? Any suggestions on how to gain the most out of an international experience.
I would highly encourage graduates and professionals to give work or study in Hong Kong and China a chance. As China continues to grow economically, it will be ever more important for Americans to understand this country and its culture. I would say the best thing to do with any opportunity is to approach it with an open mind and really stretch your comfort zone. And I mean really stretch it. Chinese culture is vastly different from Western culture, which can be overwhelming to some. I have seen expats move to Hong Kong for work, but they choose to live ‘the expat life’ and don’t really try to explore or understand the local culture of Hong Kong. I have found the people who do the best here are the ones who are willing to try new ideas and new ways of doing things, whether it be learning the language, digging in and exploring the vast and unique tastes of Chinese cuisine, or just engaging with the Chinese about their views on their country and other cultures and suspending your own pre-formed notions on what Hong Kong and China is and is not.
I would also add that Hong Kong is a great starting point to China. Often called “China Lite,” Hong Kong still affords a lot of comfort of Western living and does not have the political restrictions mainland China has (i.e. un-restricted internet access). For those who have never been to China or Asia, Hong Kong is not a bad place to start. I would also recommend doing some reading beforehand, which never hurts. I found reading Peter Hessler’s River Town and Oracle Bones offer both a personal account of an American’s experience in China and also historical information about China’s history and culture. A basic understanding of Chinese history, and of course language skills are also good. Mandarin Chinese will get you far in mainland China. Knowing Chinese characters also really helps, especially for reading menus, signs, etc. For Hong Kong you don’t really need to know a lot of Cantonese or Mandarin, but knowledge of Cantonese will give you access to more local areas and communities, and earn you points with your Cantonese-speaking co-workers or boss!
By: Bukola Awobamise
On July 1, the IPSA book club met to discuss Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson at the bar Swift, a few blocks from the Puck building. The meeting was a success! There were seven people at the meeting – 3 current students, 2 new students, and 2 friends of an IPSA member.
The group discussed how impressed we all were with the extreme dedication Mortenson showed to his mission of building schools in rural Pakistan and later rural Afghanistan. He spent years of his life working with the local people, for very little money, often putting himself in danger. We discussed how we felt his made a different in empowering rural communities, particularly because aside from helping with the building, the school’s were run by the local people without an American influence. We agreed that work like Mortenson’s, by offering an alternative, can prevent poor people from turning to terrorism. However, we did note that the leaders of terrorist organizations often have high levels of education. We also talked about how Mortenson could have benefited from some organizational management and help with his finances and fundraising operations. He was luckily able to succeed, but his organization was constantly on the brink of financial ruin in its beginning days.
In the end, we were all amazed at the power one individual can have to change so many peoples lives and have such a positive impact.