Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Got To love Dreamers Because Where Would We Be Without Dreams?

Mitt Romney has recently spoken out against a controversial Act which is being resubmitted to the houses after failing to pass in 2010. The so-called Dream Act allows undocumented migrants in their twenties to gain citizenship if they attend college, join the military and keep a clean criminal record. Immigration hard-liners are yet again spouting the same old arguments that immigrants are getting a free ride and such help is un-American. This is patently ridiculous and the Dream Act concept comes with some clear advantages:

  • It obviously reduces the number of illegal immigrants in America as well as giving incentives to not commit crime
  • By joining the military or higher education these young people get to employ their skills (which at the moment are useless) in service to the United States. This is by no means a free pass
  • Calling the bill in any way un-American because it impeaches on the idea of the American Dream is ridiculous. By naming them illegal you are removing them from the society in which people can achieve anything if they have the will to do so. Many of these young people want to find work and learn but they are stuck between a rock and a hard place and forces into unemployment, crime or illegal and unsafe work.
This stance has placed Mitt Romney at odds with the Latino voters of America who by-and-large support the bill. On his upcoming trip to California a mixed group of undocumented young people or 'Dreamers' and Latino voters are planning marches in San Diego, Los Angeles, Irving and San Francisco to 'unwelcome' him to the state.
Personally, I say good luck to them, because where would we be without dreams? Where would America be? People's dreams have led to many political changes in US history so why not now? 

To the dreamers I say - 'Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world, indeed, it is the only thing that ever has' 

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/blackberry/p.html?id=1379962
Quote: Margaret Mead

Monday, 26 March 2012

Kenyan Oil - New Oppertunity or New Niger Delta?

Kenya announced today that it had discovered oil deposits in its arid Northern region of Turkana. These deposits, possible bigger than those of local rival Uganda, may be an excellent economic opportunity for the country and a big boost to regional co-operation. However, Kenya must be careful of jumping to readily on the first offer that comes along. The example of the Niger Delta shows what can happen if oil companies take control of an area.
The people of the Delta have been systematically repressed, economically disenfranchised and often face violence and even death for going up against the international oil giants present in the region. The use of militias and PMCs to defend the oil production, a vital part of the Nigerian economy, has had terrible consequences. Little or no law governs the actions of either the companies or the PMCs meaning that the peoples rights are often ignored and their voices silenced. Environmentally the Niger Delta has been transformed in places from a thriving natural habitat into a toxic, stripped out mess where the traditional owners of the land can't live or farm.
This is an extreme place for Kenya to end up but it should act as a small warning to Kenya. By all means use this golden economic opportunity but be careful not to be so dazzled by the oil wealth that you forget your own people or their environment. Doing so may cost you more than a few constrictions on oil production and a bit of accountability.

Al Shabab may have a hidden agenda...

The news reports coming out of Somalia at the moment tend to show a certain amount of optimism. As the National Theatre reopens in Mogadishu the alliance of military forces opposing the fundamentalist Islamic group Al Shabab capture various strategic positions without too much of a fight.
In recent weeks the forces of the African Union AMISOM mission and the Transitional Federal Government have pushed out of Mogadishu for the first time and the towns of Baidoa, Beledwyne and Hudur have fallen to Kenyan and Ethiopian forces pushing from the West and South. The capture of the last strongholds around the port town of Kismayo seem likely and the collapse of Al Shabab's conventional military force would follow soon after. However, there is a longer game that must be considered. The tactic of falling back ahead of enemy forces has several clear strategic points behind it.
Firstly, through preserving their forces, Al Shabab are not throwing lives away needlessly against an enemy with superior air, land and intelligence support. Secondly, it shows that they understand both tactical and strategic considerations:
  • Strategically they know that these forces will not be in theatre for ever and fighting them now is pointless and damaging. This is especially true with Ethiopia who have already announced a pull-out date. Once these forces have been withdrawn then it is a much simpler and equal contest between Al Shabab and AMISOM/TFG.
  • Tactically, Al Shabab are demonstrating a combination of guerrilla and insurgency tactics in combating enemy conventional power. The use of ambushes pick away at the logistical capability and morale of the Ethiopian and Kenyan forces while IEDs and mortars are being used to damage AMISOM control of Mogadishu. These tactics are simple, cost-effective and endanger few if any members of the group.
  • It would appear that Al Shabab's objectives have shifted from defending their territory to a much more manageable attempt to remove the threat of the enemy troops by forcing their withdrawal. By using these morale-sapping techniques they want to convince the government and public of Ethiopia, Kenya and the AMISOM countries that further military involvement is too costly and that a pull-out is necessary.
  • By not fighting for the towns being taken they also avoid damage and civilian deaths being blamed on them, thus losing public support which they rely on. Instead, by maintaining clandestine operations within the population they boost such support and turn the population against the 'invading' troops. In a battle of 'hearts and minds' Al Shabab may have the upper hand when it comes to public support. 
Such ideas need to be discussed otherwise the allied forces may be walking into an insurgency they are not prepared for or capable of combating. This is especially true of Kenya who, with a poorly equipped and under-experienced army coupled with a lack of domestic support, could fall easy pray to the tactics described.

One Week Has Shown The Best And Worst Of African Politics

Today the news is filled with the domestic joy and international approval of a successful election as Senegalese President Wade steps down to election rival and Macky Sall. Protests sparked by Wade's re-election bid led to deaths and a real feeling of tension during the actual event and after the results were announced. However, the world breathed a sigh of relief as the president admitted defeat and graciously stepped aside leading to French President Sarkozy announcing 'Senegal is a major African country and a model of democracy.' While this is excellent news, both for Senagal and for African politics, it should not be forgotten that this euphoria of democratic success should not cover the other major African news story of the week.
The future of Mali is now in doubt as a bottom-up rebellion in the armed forces led to a successful coup against the democratically elected government after resentment built over it's handling of the uprising of Taureg militias in the North of the country. After capturing the national broadcasting station the rebels, led by Captain Amadou Sanogo, stormed the capital and presidential compound defeating loyalist troops. Today, Captain Sanogo announced that he was completely in control of the country and deplored the acts of vandalism and theft the had occured after the takeover, including by his own forces. On taking control, Sanago closed the border, suspended the constitution and promised the return of democratic elections only after the country had been secured. He has also offered peace negotiations with the Taureg forces calling them 'brothers'.
This has led to condemnation across the board. Internationally almost every major figure has criticised the actions and domestically a coalition of leading parties have come out in opposition and called for the elections due to be held in a couple of months. It is unclear whether Sanogo has the support of all the armed forces as, during the coup, he was followed by soldiers of the rank of Captain or lower.
The Mali coup represents the destruction of 20 years of democratic rule in a country that had until recently been heading for an international success story. While the AU and EU have suspended operations there, no further action action by either party or the UN has been announced as everyone waits to see what will happen next...

While The Western World Debates Gay Marriage, Turkey's Military Is Far From Following The Trend

In the Muslim world, Turkey has perhaps the most tolerant view of its gay population. It has bars and clubs in Istanbul with openly gay patrons and the only Pride march in the Middle East attracting more and more support each year. However, as the BBC reports, this openness has not reached their armed forces.
Military service is mandatory for every Turkish male over the age of 20 unless they are ill, disabled or homosexual; there is no civil right to conscientiously object. In a strange echo of the US's recently repealed 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy, gay men can serve if they hide their sexuality as there is a belief that having gay men in the army would require seperate facilities such as dormetories, showeers and training areas. Proving that you are gay, and therefore gaining a 'pink certificate' of exemption is, however, humiliating and degrading. When called up for service, gay men must announce their sexuality to their commander who will decide what proof is needed (there is no set proof) which can involve photographic evidence. The BBC reveals that men have been asked for photos ranging from kissing another man to being (specifically) the passive participant in gay sex and wearing women's clothes! While the army denies it, many say these photos are kept on file afterwards.
Other men were also quizzed by their commanding officers, and the questions asked show the terrible lack of knowledge and outright prejudice of these officers:
  • 'They asked me if I liked football, whether I wore woman's clothes or used woman's perfume'
  • 'They asked me when I first had anal intercourse, oral sex, what sort of toys I played with as a child'
Men's appearance was taken into consideration with overly masculine looking men accused of not being gay because they did not fit the stereotype. The Turkish Army still believes that homosexuality is an illness and forces military doctors to attempt to diagnose the "disease" using an incredibly outdated document from the American Psychiatric Assosiation produced in 1968!
The use of such an exemption (defined as a 'psychosexual issue') can have ramifications even after its been achieved. many men fear that the proof they had to give will be leaked to family, friends or their home villages. many employers ask about military service prior to hiring someone and a 'pink certificate' can lead to the lose of job prospects.
For a country which is so enlightened in so many areas of policy (in international development for example) the Turkish military's dogmatic and outdated view on homosexuality is as rediculous as it is worrying and should be of great cause for concern.

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17474967

Monday, 12 March 2012

US Drone strikes may now be legal but are they right?

There has been a worrying move in recent weeks for the US to justify their use of drone warfare, not just in Afghanistan but also in other nations including Pakistan, Yeman, Somalia and the Philipines. They may be able to add de jure justification to their arsenal but have they truely considered the implications of their actions?
In the pursuit of victory in the elusive Global War On Terror (GWOT) the us justifies actions against Islamic fundementalist groups such as Al Qaeda and Al Shabab as legal under the international rules of war - the targeting of elected combatants within the defined theatre (in the GWOTs case the whole world). However, their blinkered view of their actions means they often miss the issue arising from following the warpath too closely.
Somalia is an excellent example; in the last few years the US has bnegun using drones, strike fighters and special forces operatives in an ongoing struggle against the terrorist group Al Shabab who control much of southern Somalia. In doing so, they argue they also help the Transitonal Ferderal Government and the forces of the African Union, kenya and Ethiopia in creating a secure Somalia. I would raise severla problems with this strategy:
  • The issue of sovereignty
  • The alienation of allies
  • The alienation of civilians
  • Military/aid balence
Somalia is the worlds worst 'failed state' and whether that is an agreeable label or not it presents certain facts. Somalia has no control over the legitimate use of force, over its territory and over its people. The only form of sovereignty existing in Somalia, indeed the only thin that really makes Somalia a state at all is the fact that it's border is supposedly protected under international law. The fact that this last shred of sovereignty was trodden into the dust under the combat boots of the invading Ethiopian and Kenyan armies does not mean that it should not give America pause for thought. If the aim is to help Somalia, a questionable statement in its own right, then abusing its sovereignty by deploying aerial and combat forces inside its borders without consent and conducting operations against its citizens, often with casualties, is a terrible way to go about it. It seems that America, and other guilty parties such as France, should take lessons from those states who actively support Somali sovereignty rather than riding roughshod over it in pursuit of selfish aims.

The US, in its hunt for terrorists, is also at risk of alienating allies and other states. Pakistan has already expressed dissatisfaction with the continued abuse of its border with Afghanistan by US forces and while one Somali minister went as far as welcoming air strikes the backlash against the statement may demonstrate that it is not the prevailing opinion. America does not have enough friends that it can afford to lose them over disputes about sovereignty and the abuse of military power.

Within the states targeted their is also an issue. Ordinary citizens fear American attacks because of the repeated loss of mass civilian life in US bombing raids. The lack of apology or restitution for these war-crimes-in-all-but-name has also turned feeling against the US, and against its allies. this can become a serious problem if America's casual and unapologetic killing of innocent people pushes citizens back into the arms of extremist groups and against democratic agents and governments.

The GWOT has also mean that one of the richest nations on Earth believes that military expenditure in the endless hunt for yet more extremists is a better way of 'helping' weak states than actually providing support and financial aid. In short America is conducting a war without boundaries or rules, a show conflict where they cannot be brought to account and paradoxically may be harming their cause more than helping it if they continue on this road of uncaring military force.