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Music as a Tool of Conflict Transformation?

Posted in Education, Kashmir, Peacebuilding, South Asia on September 29, 2013 by michaelkeating

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Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

“I have waited and dreamt of this moment for years…We only want to do good. Music must go out from here to all our friends everywhere… To all Kashmiris,” said world renowned conductor, Zubin Mehta on 7 September 2013 while leading the orchestra in the famed Mughal Garden in the heart of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir on the Indian side.

The concert, organized by the German embassy in New Delhi, was perhaps the first of its kind in the troubled Kashmir, in which the famous Bavarian State Orchestra of Germany played Beethoven, Haydn and Tchaikovsky. The orchestra also played Kashmiri music in conjunction with a Kashmiri ensemble, led by Abhay Sopori. The concert titled Ehsaas-e-Kashmir (the feel of Kashmir) can be watched  here.

 Expectedly, the music program received opposition from separatist leaders, who called for protests against it. Some opposition groups organized a parallel concert titled Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir (the reality of Kashmir) in the city. The good thing that can be observed is that the protests took the shape of another music concert, not violent demonstrations and bloodshed.

Can music be an instrument of conflict transformation? Putting it in another way, can music like other forms of art such as dance and drama, literary fests, etc. play an effective role in changing the mind of leaders and their followers who seek resolution of conflicts through violent methods? Particularly in the case of Kashmir, which has a rich Sufi culture and various  musical traditions, how far can such an occasion can be  a catalyst in moderating the violent positions of the parties?

Before the start of the program, German Ambassador John Steiner  told the audience that the concert is a tribute to the people of Kashmir and their culture. In his words, “The distance between Munich and Srinagar is 7,756-km. Today, the distance reduces to zero. German and European cultural heritage bow to Kashmir, to its history, to its beauty and to its difficult reality and journey.”

Such a program also took place in 1955 when the Soviet leaders Khrushchev and Bulganin visited the valley.   However, in the 1990s the separatism took a violent turn with support from across the border and also with repressive measures by the Indian security forces. The violence led a whole generation of Kashmiris, who were born and brought up in those years, to question the very status of Kashmir and turn towards violence under the guidance of radical leaders.

But one can notice that even the separatist leaders  were divided on this concert. Some of them questioned the very organization of the program by Germany in a disputed territory and called the move a ploy to showcase that everything is normal in Kashmir. While some others described the expensive event as a waste of resources which could be diverted for poverty eradication or development purposes. The Nawaz Sharif government of Pakistan, a party to the conflict, remained muted concerning the concert. This indicated the moderate approach of the newly elected government to the conflict, and its interest in cultivating friendly relations with India.

Music, which  is not essentially religious, has often been a victim of radicalism in Kashmir. Radical groups in Kashmir like Lashkar-e-Toiba, Dukhteren-e-Millat, Jaish-e-Mohammad, etc. perceive music as antithetical to religion. Besides music, they perceive freedom of expression and gender equality in the same way. In that sense, they share same values and ideas with other radical groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pragaash, an all-girl rock band in Kashmir, which was getting popular in the region due to its avant-garde music, had to vanish within months of its emergence due to threats from these radical groups.  In contrast, another girl of Kashmir origin in Pakistani city of Karachi, Maha Ali Kazmi has become popular due to her romantic song Nazar, which can be watched here.

Any observer with having a sense of reality of the Kashmir conflict, and an understanding of the reality of national, regional and global politics in the post-cold war globalized world will be comfortable in arguing that neither the rigid positions of  India  and Pakistan, nor the separatists are going to be realized.  The official Indian position that undivided Kashmir is an integral part of India, and Pakistan’s official position of supporting Kashmir’s right to self-determination (with the hope that it will merge with Pakistan), are  matters of the past. This was realized  in the early 2000s when both  countries decided to make the border flexible, allow people- to- people contacts and commence cross-border trade. I have argued in my monograph ‘ Making Kashmir Borderless‘  that a borderless Kashmir with free flow of goods, ideas and people across the border (while retaining the symbolic division to satisfy national egos) will perhaps be the most feasible solution to the protracted conflict.

The South Asian subcontinent, which includes India, Pakistan and the undivided Kashmir, shared a common history and many aspects of culture. This is no truer than in case of music and drama. Noted Bollywood actors like Balraj Sahni, Dev Ananad, Dilip Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Kapoors and a host of others hailed from Pakistan, while noted Pakistani singers like Mehdi Hassan, Munni Begum, Reshma and many others hailed from India. The history of cross-cultural linkages is indeed legendary. The famous Sikh shrine Nankana, the birth place of Sikh religion founder Nanak, lies in Pakistan, while the famous Sufi shrine in the name of Chisti, frequented by Pakistani Muslims, lies in India. As a friend from Pakistan told me, it is the vested interests that create most of the problems. Common people, busy in the daily routines of life, want to live in peace and enjoy themselves. The concert early this month sends this message. More such events should be organized in both parts of Kashmir with support from New Delhi and Islamabad.

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a PhD candidate in the Global Governance and Human Security Program at UMass Boston. He is also a fellow at the Center for Peace, Development and Democracy in the same university.

 

Contending Visions of Development in India, more Political than Economic

Posted in Democratic Development, Education, South Asia with tags on July 30, 2013 by michaelkeating

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Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

As India’s general elections will take place in less than a year to elect a new government in New Delhi, political parties with support from noted economists have ratcheted up rival visions of development. Though this trend could be visible in all general elections, the forthcoming election has witnessed an unprecedented uptick of participation by noted economists.

Intense debates about India’s growth are not something new as such debates have taken place since independence. While India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru called industries as ‘temples of modern India,’ his political mentor Mahatma Gandhi was against industrialization and believed in village swaraj (self-rule). Post-independence India had witnessed the influence of Gandhi’s ideas. Nehru followed a middle path, called ‘mixed economy,’ under which heavy industries remained under state control, while small scale industries were left to private initiatives. The impact of Soviet five-year plans was evident on Indian economic strategy in those years. The preamble to India’s constitution also proclaimed India to be a ‘socialist’ country. Nehru’s thinking led to the establishment of many heavy industries and particularly under the second five-year plan, also called the Mohalanobis model, many heavy industries were established in different parts of India.

This mixed economy model was largely pursued till the late 1980s. Both India and China followed socialist models of growth. China’s opening of its economy for private sector and foreign investment in late 1970s under Deng Xiaoping led it to grow at a faster rate, while India’s economic growth tottered at a lower single digit level with slogans such as ‘garibi hatao’ (eliminate poverty) occupying center stage in policy making.

It was only in the early 1990s when India underwent an acute financial crisis that it opened its economy. It was under the stewardship of then Finance Minister, currently Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh that India invited foreign capital, provided incentives to private sectors, ended quota-permit raj, and as a result in a span of one decade India’s growth story was not only India’s story, but also a story of a rising power with Indian companies like Tata, Reliance, Bharti, etc making names and investments around the world. While in 1991 India’s foreign exchange reserves stood at $1.2 billion, in 2013 the number was more than $280 billion. India’s growth story, however, was blighted by massive corruption, indecisiveness of its leaders and internal problems.

Ahead of the forthcoming elections noted economists have argued about the most appropriate model for the country and hence have deliberately or inadvertently are linked themselves to the ideology of one or the other political party. Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate and professor at Harvard University, argued in his book Development as Freedom that development does not merely imply the building of industries or foreign exchange reserves but also the penetration of fruits of development to all layers of society including the poor and marginalized. He further argued that unless human capabilities are developed, a state cannot attain levels of just and fair growth. His academic rivals Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya, professors at Columbia University, may not disagree with Sen on this point, but they sharply disagree as to how to achieve such a goal.

The debate between the noted economists can be characterized by the dilemma as to which came first, egg or chick? The Bhagwati-Pangariya duo would argue that investment in industries, infrastructure, etc. would propel growth with positive impact on the government’s welfare activities, as growth in these sectors will have its trickle down effect. Sen would argue that without development of capabilities in terms of education, health, and the alleviation of poverty, development will not be just and fair. It will lead to asymmetrical development with the rich becoming richer, and poor becoming poorer. Bhagwati and Panagariya have a different view on this. While Sen termed India’s recent growth story as ‘uncertain,’ as reflected in the title of his recent co-authored book Uncertain Glory, an indirect reference to India’s growth story, the Columbia University professors have taken a positive approach to India’s growth story in their recent book Why Growth Matters: How Economic Growth in India Reduced Poverty and the Lessons for Other Developing Countries. (see http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2013-07-18/news/40657164_1_kerala-model-gujarat-model-high-economic-growth)

The intellectual debates are politicized or are being appropriated by political parties. The current debate between these two rival groups is about the efficacy of the ‘Bihar model’ (with which Sen has sympathies) and ‘Gujarat model’ (with which Bhagwati and Panagariya have sympathies). Both Indian states have witnessed growth. But, it is not the question of which model of development that has raised the debate to such a charged atmosphere; rather it is the political implications of these debates and their likely impact on electorates. Bihar the north Indian state is ruled by a regional political party called Janata Dal Untied (JD- U), and led by Nitish Kumar, while Gujarat the west Indian state, ruled by a national party called Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The state is led by Narendra Modi. Both JD-U and BJP were allies for the last 17 years till June this year. At present Kumar is a strong critic of Modi and criticizes his secular credentials for the Gujarat riots of 2002 that led to killing of more than a thousand Muslims. Interestingly, Kumar praised Modi’s leadership in 2003 in a speech, within a year of the riots. (see http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-06-17/india/40027062_1_senior-jd-rajnath-singh-bjp-move)

Times have changed with changing aspirations. Both Kumar and Modi are now aspiring to play pivotal roles in Indian politics beyond their states. While Modi is seen as prime ministerial candidate of the BJP in forthcoming elections, Kumar has kept his political cards close to his chest though his aspirations are not hidden. The current ruling party in India , the Indian National Congress (INC) is an arch-rival of BJP; hence it has welcomed the separation of JD-U from BJP. While the economists have raised fruitful debates about India’s growth, the politicization of these debates have actually tapered much of intellectual stamina of these debates.

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security Program at UMass Boston. He is also a fellow at the Center for Peace, Development and Democracy in the same university.

Game Changing Global Education

Posted in Africa, Democratic Development, Education with tags , on June 5, 2013 by michaelkeating

 

 

 

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Conzolo Migliozzi

Think of students around the world who have limited exposure to the Internet as passengers on a captainless ship. They have no idea where they are going, and they’re unaware of the  perils that lie around them.

Then think of the most recent version of free college courseware, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), as Knowledge Islands. Not only are they safe places to land and learn, but they also point you toward other Knowledge Islands – resources like gapminder, khanacademy, free statistics software, free ebooks, and soon they’ll even grant you access to copyrighted textbooks. After visiting enough of these islands, the passenger understands how to navigate the sea, transforming from passenger to captain.

Sounds nice, but the infrastructure needed to take a MOOC doesn’t exist in the places where these courses could be most beneficial (i.e. least developed countries). You can’t take online courses with inconsistent electricity, unreliable or non-existent hardware, slow or no Internet access. The students are on leaky rafts, not ships.

To address these issues, local government and aid agencies should support MOOC initiatives. There are many ways this could take shape. For example, existing colleges could create blended courses – use MOOCs to supplement courses already being taught. This model would allow instructors to adapt the MOOC to the local context and use the college’s computer labs and technical support. Retention, which is at less than 10% for MOOCs overall, should improve because students would have an instructor to engage with and keep them on track. And students could earn college credit.

Alternatively, by-pass the traditional college model and create workforce investment boards to analyze trends in the local job market, develop certification exams based on skills sets local businesses request, and recommend MOOC courses for applicants to prepare for the exams.  Add an internship program, a computer lab with someone to assist with technical issues, and you have a mini-MOOC university.

Either approach, or a combination of the two, would allow more people to build strong educational foundations, develop problem solving skills, and access research that pushes on the edge of human knowledge. Ultimately the goal isn’t just to go from passenger to captain, but all the way to Knowledge Island creator.

 

Conzolo Migliozzi is an international education consultant. He is a Center Fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy and Development and a graduate of the M.A. degree program in international relations at UMass Boston.

Disasters Defy Borders

Posted in Conflict Resolution, Education, India, Kashmir, Natural Disasters, Pakistan with tags , , , on April 28, 2013 by michaelkeating

Arvind Mahapatra's profile photo

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Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

The recent 7.8 magnitude earthquake, with an epicenter on the Pakistan-Iran border,  impacted countries as far away as India, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and others. The earthquake that took place on 16 April 2013 was not as devastating as the one that took place in Kashmir in 2005, the impact of which spread across the borders of Kashmir, India and Pakistan. Though it was of a lesser magnitude (7.6) than the recent one, it devastated parts of Kashmir and killed more than 73 thousand people. As I was doing field studies in Kashmir those days, I could feel how disasters defy state borders , and how they provide a  a hard lesson, that conflicting nations must develop common mechanisms to address these disasters and address the issues of conflict in a peaceful manner.

Like the border areas between Iran and Pakistan, the border areas between India and Pakistan (including disputed Kashmir) are located in seismic zones.  These areas, part of the Himalayas and the Karakoram mountain range, are rich in flora and fauna and other natural resources, particularly water. Due to the rivalry between the two neighbors, these common resources are not properly harnessed as they are in a disputed area, which both claim as part of their territory. These resources are also neglected when they are devastated by natural disasters like earthquakes. The impact of 2005 earthquake could have been minimized had the rivals joined their hands in time and started rescue operations together. Thousands of lives could have been saved. Bilateral mistrust and the stereotyping of the images prevailed even during this disaster, at least in initial days. As Kashmir is highly militarized, the rivals feared that allowing the neighbor might lead to revelation of military secrets.

The recent earthquake serves a call to the countries of South Asia, particularly India and Pakistan, to transcend the narrow thinking and old policies of rivalry, and think in terms of collective gain in times of collective crisis. The earthquake killed about 9 people in Mashkel area of Baluchistan in Pakistan. About 1000 mud houses were damaged in this area. In India the tremors were felt far and wide including the national capital territory Delhi, and provinces including Rajasthan, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. Kashmir also felt the brunt of the earthquake, though no casualties have been reported so far.

The 2005 earthquake was far devastating for both the countries and the region of Kashmir. The earthquake took place on 8 October. Kashmir, particularly the part under the control of Pakistan, was most devastated though Kashmir under India’s control too was affected. There were some devastated areas, though under Pak control, which were easily accessible from the Indian side. Pakistan initially hesitated and its then ruler, Pervez Musharraf cited the reason of ‘local sensibilities’ for not accepting Indian offer of assistance. It was after some days of the disaster that Pakistan accepted the Indian offer but by that time many people, who could have been rescued, died under the rubble  or due to injuries.

If it can be counted as a positive impact at all, the earthquake did impact the mind of leaders of both the countries. Both the countries agreed to open five crossing points in Kashmir for cross-border movement of humanitarian assistance. Till that year, the border in Kashmir was closed for 58 years. The Chief Minister of the Indian part of Kashmir called the opening of border and cross-border movements a  ‘historic confidence building measure.’ Many novel ideas such as a joint Indo-Pak natural disaster committee, opening of more border points for meeting of divided families, pilgrimage and trade were mooted. In that sense, the earthquake impacted the conflict dynamics in the Indian subcontinent. The year 2005 and the years aftermath, particularly till the Mumbai terror attack in 2008, were termed the peaceful years in Indo-Pak relations. The peace process was labeled ‘irreversible.’

The Indo-Pak relations, however, can not be subject to a linear pattern. The relations are unpredictable. Mistrust is so deeply ingrained in the national psyche of both the countries, and so openly flaunted by the leaders, it becomes difficult to consolidate gains from confidence building measures. The relations are also plagued by another problem. In the case of India, on matters of foreign policy including relations with Pakistan, the political elites in New Delhi adopt a unified position despite differences in ideologies, whereas in the case of Pakistan there seems to be a tussle between the civilian government based in Islamabad and the army based in Rawalpindi in matters of policy making. While democratically elected governments may be more inclined towards democratic means of conflict resolution, the army may prefer to adopt a rigid line. Though the leaders both the countries apparently realize that the conflict can not be sustained for long as it demands a heavy cost in terms of arms preparedness (while significant sections of people in these countries are poor), they still play old games to incite popular passion to remain in power. Unless these leaders change their approach and impart a culture of peace to their national constituencies, it is difficult to think in terms of sustainable peace in the subcontinent. The earthquake in 2005 imparted a lesson in this direction. Perhaps the recent earthquake will goad the leaders to think more in terms of peace than in terms of war and violence. Even if it brings a little change, that will be worth of it.

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security Program at UMass Boston. He is also an Associate Fellow in the Center for Peace, Development aand Democracy.

Nature’s Calling Plan

Posted in Education, Human Rights, Sanitation with tags , , on April 9, 2013 by michaelkeating

by Charles Fisher-Post

 

How many people in the world do you think own a cell phone, but don’t have access to a toilet?

Not that having a toilet is a prerequisite for Nokia ownership, but it seems strange that someone could have a long-distance communication device but no place to safely defecate.

Well a recent study by the UN reports that there are over a billion people struggling with unsanitary living conditions who nevertheless have access to a cell phone.

The World Bank took note of this fact in organizing the Sanitation Hackathon App Challenge 2013 in March. More than 1000 app developers simultaneously gathered for two days in 40 cities worldwide to program virtual tools in response to 134 identified sanitation problems. Among the event’s sponsors is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, because no one can muster an international regiment of the socially-conscious ones-and-zeroes literate like Mr. Windows.

Unfortunately, there will never be an app which can conjure a safe and functional latrine. Instead, one finalist app uses games to teach children sanitary behavior, while another monitors the state of sanitation facilities in schools, and one helps users find nearby toilets, even allowing them to vote for a “Toilet of the Week.” The winning app will be announced ahead of the World Bank’s conference in mid-April.

There’s no doubt that apps which teach best practices or turn anyone with a cellphone into a data collector can contribute to improved health in communities. But it’s also clear that in the field of sanitation, before improvements can be made on (or “in”) the ground, people’s hands need to get dirty–infrastructure must be built.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recognizes this fact. Their Reinvent the Toilet Challenge in the summer of 2012 awarded grants to several teams who designed innovative lavatories, including Eram Scientific, a technology research and development company from Kerala, India.

Over 60% of the people in the world who do not use a toilet reside in India. Eram is the company behind the Delight, an electronic public toilet launched first in Kerala, although units have subsequently been installed in Delhi and the company claims 10,000 units will be installed in the next year. Models are designed to be self-sufficient, while costs can be defrayed by placing advertising on the unit’s exterior.  Doulaye Koné, Senior Programme Officer of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene wing of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation believes that with advances being made by companies like Eram and others, the 5-cents per-user benchmark will be achieved for a sustainable toilet design within the next couple years.

Hopefully some of these units will make it outside of urban centers as well. While it’s amazing that many impoverished people in rural India have the luxury of playing solitaire while they defecate, it is hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t trade that opportunity for a clean latrine and safe source of water.

Charles Fisher-Post graduated with a degree in History from Harvard University.

Food Wars?

Posted in Education, Fragile States, Globalization, Income Equality with tags , , , on January 16, 2013 by michaelkeating

by  John Michael Denney

 

As winter recess comes to an end for American college undergraduates, international relations majors are likely to be choosing between classes with powerful names like War, Peacebuilding, Ethnic Conflict, and Democracy. Imagine the surprise and laughter if one of those classes was named Food or the Stomach and Rebellion. But this might not be too far off, as a growing body of evidence shows that war, regime change, and political upheaval might not be as complicated as we first imagined. Indeed, it could all come down to having enough to eat.

In a paper out of the New England Complex Systems Institute, a group of interested scholars put together a very convincing graphical overlay suggesting that massive global food price spikes caused the uprisings of the Arab Spring and the global political unrest in 2007/2008. They draw their food price data from the FAO’s Food Price Index, which averages five separate commodity price indices.

 

If this graph is to be believed, then there appears to be a very strong case for food prices being at the very least strongly correlated with political instability. But that’s not all; a quick look at the historical record shows that food shortages and price hikes preceded some of the world’s most famous political revolutions, such as the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and the revolutions of 1848. The idea that food affects politics is actually quite simple when compared to complex analyses involving ideological shifts, economic growth, historical factors, and leadership personalities.

So what then does this mean for policy?  If food is such a strong driver of instability and political upheaval, what does this mean for security studies in the 21st century? At the very least it means that policymakers need to start taking climate change as a legitimate security threat. Policies like massive agricultural subsidies in the United States and Western Europe have worked to enrich Western farmers at the expense of developing world farmers and massive waste. These must, at the very least, be reconsidered given the way the saturate the market with cheap food, outcompeting indigenous competition in the developing world.

It would be easy to dismiss developing world rebellions and revolutions as low on the U.S. security agenda, but conflict in the developing world does affect the West. At the very least, it costs the West money. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that the United Nations system, paid for mostly by the West, has spent over 40 billion dollars in the past century on controlling developing world conflict. Much of this conflict, a UNEP report notes, is motivated by environmental factors. Indeed, as the environment continues to deteriorate, especially in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries, these conflicts are likely to increase as groups compete for control over vanishing water, arable land, and other natural resources.

Policymakers should also view this information as a better way of understanding how to promote development. Food prices are only going to rise as global climate conditions worsen, and the case of the Arab Spring shows that relying on food imports is an ultimately self-defeating strategy. More attention needs to be paid to fostering sustainable agricultural systems in the developing world, particularly in the areas targeted by international agricultural investors, a topic covered in an earlier post in this blog.  Policymakers have long focused on issues like balance of military power, trade routes, and energy control, but food is an existential part of society. It will come as no surprise to biologists that a group of animals goes into disarray when food resources are depleted, so why should it surprise policymakers that societies need food to function?

 

John Michael Denney is a graduate student in the International Relations Program at UMass Boston.

The Fight To Take Conflict Out of Minerals

Posted in Africa, Conflict Minerals, Education, Globalization with tags , , , on December 16, 2012 by michaelkeating

 

by Kylie Millbern

As a fellow blogger recently highlighted, the demand for new electronics, such as cell phones and computers, is insatiable and has numerous, serious side-effects.  Congress took notice and passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010 urging the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to adopt a rule pertaining to transparency in the supply chain of electronics.  The SEC made the rule final concerning conflict materials on August 22, 2012.  The ruling calls for any company (who reports to SEC) requiring the use of gold, tin, tungsten, or tantalum to create a public report identifying the minerals’ countries of origin.  On May 31, 2014, companies using these minerals in any product are required to issue the first annual report.  The specific requirements of the ruling can be found on the SEC website here http://www.sec.gov/news/press/2012/2012-163.htm.

Let’s focus on the cell phone, the iPhone in particular, as we discuss the minerals identified in the ruling.  Dave Gilson of Mother Jones magazine compiled a list of components making up a 16GB iPhone 3GS.  This is what he came up with: The phone uses 12 parts that are gold-plated.  Circuit boards within the phone are fused with tin. Tungsten is used in the vibrate functions.  Last, but certainly not least, inside the phone is a tantalum capacitor, which stores electricity.  (Once broken down, the mineral coltan, as discussed in the previous blog, creates two elements: niobium and tantalum.)  Many consumers are unaware of the presence of these materials in their goods, and even if they are cognizant, electronics companies aren’t required to provide that information.  Furthermore, it’s unlikely that the companies could guarantee the origin of the minerals used to create their products.

Sasha Lezhnev and John Prendergast wrote an article in 2009 on behalf of the Enough Project examining the supply chain of these minerals.  The chain is broken down into six steps starting at the mine, ending with the electronics companies, but gets more obscure along the way.  The mineral is extracted at the mine, and taken to the trading house, which may or may not be registered.  At this point it is apparently still easy to tell mineral origins according to striations and color.  Next come the exporters and the murky water.  The transaction between the exporter and the trading house do not include official documentation of mineral origins.  At best there may be verbal confirmation.  During the fourth step the minerals are moved to transit or neighboring countries where the starting point is further forgotten.  On to the refiners, usually in Asia, to create metals from minerals sourced from a variety of locations.  Lastly, the electronics company received their product and hand them out to unsuspecting customers.  It sounds like globalization and the world supply chain fast at work; however, the countries with the mines and others along the route are suffering.

These minerals come from a variety of places, such as East Asia and Africa.  With the popularity of smartphones and other electronics, these minerals are in extreme demand.  One would think that with such a highly sought after natural resources the countries would be rich and thriving, yet they are in conflict.  This unfortunate paradox has coined the term conflict minerals.  The Democratic Republic of Congo is an un-lucky example.  Violence, poverty, and human rights violations are the past and present of the DRC, and can be largely attributed to these resources.  The minerals finance the war, as armed groups use violence to control the mines as a way to support their troops, pay for supplies, and gain economic and political power. The 2012 Enough Project Report  states that recent effects of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act have decreased the ability of armed groups to acquire finances from conflict minerals by 65 percent in the past two years.  However, with the renewal of the M23 rebellion in the Congo, there may be an increase in the smuggling of conflict minerals to neighboring transit countries and beyond.

Now is the time to enforce transparency in the global supply chain of electronics, starting with raw materials.   The recent rulings have made an impact, but during the rise of armed conflict in the area, pressure needs to continue from consumers, SEC, companies, and governments.  Although I doubt that we can curtail the demand for such electronics in our technology-focused world, there needs to be focus on the demand end of the supply chain.  This means that consumers need to be conscious and companies held responsible.  Engaging the public will help the SEC to enforce it’s ruling, and forces the electronics businesses to comply.  The Dodd-Frank Act is a first step in encouraging certifications and regulation levels.  It is hopeful that movement in this direction will spur other countries and policy makers to adopt miner safety and empowerment guidelines.  With the current situation in the DRC specifically, there is a need to maintain current advances in conflict materials.

There are plenty of limitations to the current ruling beyond armed rebels groups such as M23 in the DRC.  Some skeptics claim the electronics companies are not ready for these changes, and won’t be able to produce a product with traceable resources. Others say that the electronic product is too complex and made of too many parts to be traced back to individual locations.  There is worry that production could stop with a lack of available and appropriate resources .  On the other hand, there is also a fear that legitimate mines may suffer as the crackdown takes place .  What do you think?  As a consumer, do you think you would be more apt to buy a conflict-free electronic?  Are electronics companies ready and capable to implement this change?

 

Kylie Millbern is a graduate student in the Conflict Resolution program at UMass Boston.

Congress Severely Lacking in Staff and Bipartisan Expertise

Posted in Education on December 10, 2012 by michaelkeating

by Lorelei Kelly

CONGRESS SEVERELY LACKING IN STAFF, BIPARTISAN EXPERTISE
It Once Housed One of the World’s Premier Scientific Advisory Bodies, But Congress Now Struggles with an Antiquated System of Collecting and Sorting an Overload of Information

Washington, DC – The U.S. Congress, in its present dysfunctional state, cannot serve the needs of American democracy today due to a lack of bipartisan expertise, understaffing and outdated methods of handling an overwhelming amount of information, according to a first-of-its-kind report released today by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

Avoiding the “fiscal cliff” is just the latest among many complicated policy problems faced by legislators. The “new” Congress is set to inherit many major policy decisions that require nuance, genuine deliberation and expert judgment. But the report, Congress’ Wicked Problem: Seeking Knowledge Inside the Information Tsunami— based on dozens of congressional staff interviews — shows policymakers and their small staffs are forced to sort a tsunami of incoming communication with an increasingly archaic system.

“The absence of basic modern knowledge management is holding us back,” said report author and OTI Research Fellow Lorelei Kelly. “Congress is the most powerful legislature in the world, and it lacks the wherewithal to compete on substance in today’s 24-hour news cycle. It needs more bipartisan expertise and a modern and more inclusive approach to policymaking.”

Congress wasn’t always lacking in these areas — in fact, less than 20 years ago it operated one of the world’s premier scientific advisory bodies. The report explains how Congress went from maintaining an extensive network of shared experts to where it is today.

The report recommends that Congress use technology to become more successful and efficient. It also states that non-governmental sources of trusted and reliable expertise without a financial conflict of interest are critical players to step in and fill the information gap.

Read the full report, “Congress’ Wicked Problem: Seeking Knowledge Inside the Information Tsunami.”

Read an opinion piece by Lorelei Kelly in Reuters today.

To interview our experts about the report, please contact Clara Hogan.

This report is the first in a series that will examine open government trends on Capitol Hill and around the world.

About the New America Foundation
New America Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy institute that invests in new thinkers and new ideas to address the next generation of challenges facing the United States.

About the Open Technology Institute
The Open Technology Institute formulates policy and regulatory reforms to support open architectures and open-source innovations and facilitates the development and implementation of open technologies and communications networks.

Liberia’s Efforts to Avoid the Resource Curse

Posted in Africa, Democratic Development, Education, Foreign Direct Investment, Liberia. Oil Industry, Rule of Law with tags , , , on December 10, 2012 by michaelkeating

 

 

 

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Tara Conklin

Earlier this month, Robert Sirleaf, son of Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf, came forward to defend his appointment as head of Liberia’s nascent oil industry. Admonishing critics for their charges of nepotism and corruption, Robert declared that he has the competence and experience necessary for him to serve as Chairman of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), adding, “I owe Liberia me.”

If it seems suspect to you that President Sirleaf could find no other competent, experienced individual to serve as NOCAL Chairman, (perhaps someone less related to her?) you are not alone. The appointment of her son has raised eyebrows in Liberia and throughout the international community. She no doubt exacerbated the situation by appointing to another top NOCAL spot someone currently being prosecuted for fraudulent transactions of $2.5 million USD.

These recent appointments are just the tip of the iceberg. Liberia’s oil industry has been plagued by charges of bribery, corruption, and fraud since its inception, with companies paying off legislators and their staff for votes on oil contracts. Since these allegations were brought by Liberia’s main auditing and watchdog organization, the General Auditing Commision (GAC), no one has been prosecuted, no bribes were returned, and the deals that the GAC recommended be invalidated have remained in place. (Read details about the allegations here.) Just last month, amidst the appointment of a controversial new Auditor General, NOCAL has become embroiled in a scandal at GAC, where massive layoffs have just taken place. Allegedly, NOCAL played an instrumental role in the dismissal of GAC staff in an attempt to thwart the ongoing audit of the oil sector.

While these reports are disconcerting, it is important to note that the Sirleaf administration has been ostensibly dedicated to fighting corruption and improving accountability, vowing to improve life in the country currently ranked 182 out of 187 by increasing greater transparency. By some accounts, the administration’s anti-corruption policy stance has been widely successful. This apparent contradiction hints at the complex history of Liberia, and begs the question: how did things get this way? Perhaps more importantly, what are the steps to making the oil industry translate to development in Liberia?

Liberian citizens and officials are well aware of the “resource curse”, the paradox through which countries with an abundance of natural resources tend to do worse economically and developmentally than countries without natural resources. Discussions on how to avoid becoming the “next Nigeria”, where oil has caused conflict and stagnated development, take place often in government circles. However, it is immensely difficult to overcome a past history of corruption, resource dependence, and conflict. With natural resources including iron ore, gold, diamonds rubber, and timber, Liberia’s economy is already lacking diversification and is too heavily reliant on these resources, none of which have led to development. Under the presidency of William V.S. Tubman (1944-1971), the iron ore industry propelled Liberia to being one of the fastest growing economies in the world. This growth, rivaled at the time only by Japan, was purported to be a miracle, but in reality it did little for the vast majority of Liberian citizens. In fact, this growth without development set the stage for continued political and social instability, contributing to a bloody 14-year civil war that ended in 2003.(1) The timber trade is said to have helped finance Charles Taylor’s regime, and in recent months, renewed reports of corruption and mismanagement with the country’s timber industry have sparked environmental, economic, and governmental concerns.

With pervasive corruption, an institutionalized culture of wealth grabs, and an economy overly reliant on natural resources, it is high time to ensure that the oil industry not follow in the footsteps of the timber and iron ore industries. Entrenched politicians and powerful private interests are key players in the future of the country’s oil business, so strong political will from the top is necessary to curb “business as usual”. President Sirleaf must fulfill her campaign promises and live up to her reputation as a recent Nobel Prize winner by getting tough on corruption. To do this, watchdog organizations like the GAC and the Anti-Corruption Commission must be fully funded and fully staffed. Abuses discovered must be followed up and prosecuted by the judicial branch. The culture of impunity for elected officials must become a thing of the past. Prosecution and conviction of government officials found guilty of corruption would send a powerful message. In addition, a code of conduct for elected officials must be passed into law delineating job descriptions and methods of performance assessment.

Though Liberia is already part of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), reporting is delayed and spotty. Independent audits should be conducted to ensure accountability and revenues from the resource should be put into dedicated funds, perhaps a sovereign wealth fund (like Botswana’s Pula Fund, or perhaps more ideally, Norway’s SWF) to reinvest in other industries in Liberia and encourage diversification in the country’s economy. In addition, Liberia should utilize good judgment when deciding which companies to grant oil concessions. Companies with a reputation of transparency and based in countries that will hold them accountable back home with strong foreign anti-corruption laws are good choices.

Some measures are currently being undertaken. In November, NOCAL put forth a competitive tender for general audit of its operations, seeking a “reputable international firm”, with bids from Deloitte & Touche, Ernest & Young, and Pricewaterhouse Coopers being reported. Dr. Paul Collier, expert on the resource curse and its contribution to a country getting stuck in the “Bottom Billion”, was in Liberia in September, where he observed some promising aspects of Liberia’s oil industry. These rays of hope provide a path for Liberia to break the cycle of corruption, move past its troubled history, and dodge the “resource curse”. The administration and legislature, private sector, and watchdog groups in civil society must remain vigilant if they want Liberia’s oil wealth to make a positive change for the country. There is a way, but it will require political will that we have yet to see. Here’s hoping for a transparent, accountable, and prosperous 2013 in Liberia.

Tara Conklin is a graduate student in International Relations at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

US Policy in Africa : Through the Lens of Anti-Terrorism

Posted in Africa, Education, Mali, Peacebuilding, Terrorism, Tuaregs with tags , , , , on November 26, 2012 by michaelkeating

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Michael Keating

 

Here is a rare public presentation by the leader of the US Military’s Africa Command (Africom), General Carter F. Ham. While there is nothing surprising here there is commentary on the U.S. military’s position on the upcoming effort to oust rebels from Northern Mali.  The General makes no bones about the fact that it is a very complicated situation given the intertwining of criminal, terrorist and political actors.

I think you are right to identify the presence of illicit networks, illegal trafficking in persons and drugs and weapons, financing – this is certainly present in the same region and the networks upon which that illicit trafficking is conducted are the same networks that support the terrorist organizations operating in northern Mali. One of the efforts that I think is important in an overall campaign plan – not just military – are to find opportunities to separate out the criminal aspects, separate out the politically motivated entities, and focus specifically on the terrorist presence and deal with the political in different ways.

The General goes on to say that he views the planning as an African affair with strategic inputs from the Americans and Europeans, presumably the French. He makes no mention of Special Forces involvement of the kind that is underway in Central Africa in the pursuit of Joseph Kony, but then again he is unlikely to telegraph strategy at a public gathering.

While the opportunities for a negotiated settlement seem dim, it is not at all clear that a force of ECOWAS alone troops will be trained and equipped  enough to oust a band of heavily armed determined fighters who have had two years to dig in. Furthermore, as the discussion reveals, there is still no plan for the after-battle.

Winning the peace is not yet on the ECOWAS drawing board.