2014: year in review (by countries, part 2)

2014

 

This is the continuation of previous post I published yesterday. Here are a few more countries under the spotlight this year:

 

Iraq – this country has long been notoriously associated with sectarian strife, the failed US invasions, and right now, a seemingly new synonym is ironically added into once was an influential power in Middle East a millennium ago: ISIS. Since its advent in the middle of this year, this organization, led by a former CIA informant (ha!), has committed numerous atrocities against religious and ethnic minorities across much of the country, most notably Christians and Yazidis. Excluding their poor public-relations exercise by means of decapitation, which, as horrendous as it seems, still continues to entice thousands of foreigners across the whole world to join this movement.

With the Iraqi Army still in partial disarray due to internal conflicts, who else remains in charge of limiting ISIS’s movements? Big kudos to Peshmerga, the army for Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region in northern Iraq. While the Army’s offensive has been largely limited (and some even escape), the Peshmerga fighters remain fiercely committed to defending their region, and more generally, the country as a whole, despite the frequent fracas between Baghdad and Erbil (capital of Iraqi Kurdistan) in regard to oil production sharing contracts.

Iran – it has been an uneasy year for President Hassan Rouhani, as nuclear deals with Western countries remain largely in limbo. But one piece of slightly good news abounds: Iran has, for the first time since Ahmadinejad era, achieved positive economic growth, albeit small compared to most emerging markets. With GDP growth estimated at 2%, no matter how small it is, Iran is expected to move slowly into better direction in the years to come.

The big concern that matters, as of my opinion, is the limited freedom of expression that prevails.

Israel / Palestine – “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Gandhi’s quote resonates very obviously in terms of how these two countries relate to each other. A few Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered, followed by a retaliation by which a Palestinian child was done so in similar manner. And huge conflicts, due in part to deep scars that remain in both governments, reverberated again, as history has taught. More than 2,000 Palestinian civilians were killed during an offensive by Israeli military in August this year. But is Israel the sole culprit in this conflict? What about Hamas, notoriously known for exploiting civilian places like schools and hospitals to launch unending attacks to Israel? With now Israel dominated by hard-line Zionists, and Palestine partially under control of hard-line leaders as well, the doors towards negotiation and dialogues will not be achievable in the near future.

A piece of good news that remains largely overlooked in this conflict zone: start-ups, mostly in software development and creative products, in both countries are flourishing, and more European countries are recognizing Palestine as a sovereign state.

Japan – Shinzo Abe was reelected as Prime Minister of Japan in a somewhat risky bet he placed in this year’s general election, as his Abenomics was showing failure. In short term, his quantitative easing policy has pumped over trillions of dollars into the market, therefore stimulating exports growth, abundant cash, as well as inflation, the word first time appearing in the news after more than 20 years experiencing continuous periods of deflation. Nonetheless, with Abe’s introduction of consumption tax at 8%, this deals a catastrophic blow for his ambitious initiative intended to revive Japanese economic miracle. With GDP contracting this quarter, the country unofficially enters its recession again. Even his ‘Womenomics’ program, aimed to increase female participation in leadership seats across Japan’s corporations and organizations into 30%, will be hardly achievable in this decade.

In 2015, challenges will not be even easier for Abe, as a whole range of issues will soon face his administration. Revision of US-drafted post-war constitution has attracted massive opposition from largely Japanese public, still traumatized by the deadly repercussions of World War II, even though Japan will never become a militarist power again, given the country’s increasing demographic pressure. His plans to restart nuclear power plants, ratify the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), pass national secrecy laws, and handle Japan’s fragile relations with China similarly encounter big resistance from much of the Japanese population as well. 2014-2018 will not be a smooth path for Abe, were he to continue his tenure.

Libya – the country remains largely fractured three years after Muammar Qaddafi was overthrown and brutally murdered by opposition forces in a NATO-led civil war that destroyed Libya in 2011. Some militants have previously formed their own ‘governorate’ in the country’s eastern part, only to face another armed resistance from other fighters, while several ISIS sympathizers have begun to infiltrate the country’s security. Even with Libya’s riches stored abroad (the country’s sovereign wealth fund reaches a staggering amount of 120 billion US$, but mostly in bank accounts in Switzerland, notorious for their secrecy laws), the money can hardly be used for Libyan public, given that much of the money remains under control of Qaddafi’s relatives, many of whom had escaped abroad (except for his son, Saif al-Islam, who may possibly face death sentence).

Malaysia – 2014 is the most disastrous year for the country’s aviation industry, as three airliners belonging to its most reliable carriers, Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia, perished this year. The most puzzling of which was Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a scheduled flight between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing that ended up nowhere. After almost 10 months of investigation, involving hundreds of rescue ships and even war ships from more than 27 countries, not even the slightest trace of the plane can be found. The plane was presumed, as by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, to have ‘ended up somewhere in Indian Ocean’. This makes the search efforts even riskier, given that much of Indian Ocean’s terrains remain largely unmapped, some of which may have depth over 6,000 meters. Four months after this tragedy, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 again became a tragedy, as pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine mistook it as ‘Ukrainian military transport plane’ and shot it down. 239 people in MH370 had never been found, while 298 people in MH17 were instantly killed by the missile launched by the separatists.

And this Sunday, Air Asia, long notable as Asia’s largest low-cost carrier with great safety records, faced its first major crisis with the disappearance of its plane in Air Asia Flight QZ 8501, flying from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, to Singapore. 162 passengers and crew were inside the plane, which remains missing as of this hour.

However, other than aviation disasters, Malaysia faces another major issue in regard to the country’s increasing authoritarian rule, as Najib’s administration restarted decades-old sedition laws, used only during British colonial rule, to detain political opponents without prior permission from judiciary powers, including Anwar Ibrahim, the most outspoken. The country also faces ethnic and religious tumults, as Christians are no longer allowed to use ‘Allah’ in their sermons, and more pro-Malay policies at the expense of Chinese and Indian minorities, many of whom have increasingly emigrated abroad.

Myanmar – the country doesn’t experience much progress in democratic transition, as one-fourth of the national parliament remains solely reserved for military. Even the constitution itself requires a law to be approved by more than three-fourths of the entire members, something which can be easily aborted by the powerful military members.

How the country handles its ethnic minorities will remain a concern to be observed in 2015 and years to come, most commonly illustrated by the country’s failure to relate with Muslim Rohingya minorities, many of whom have fled abroad to avoid persecution by ultra-nationalist Buddhists.

One thing almost for sure: in next year’s 2015 election, there is large probability Aung San Suu Kyi will not become the country’s president, given many of the current constitution’s limitations.

Nigeria – Africa’s most populated country faces its major crisis when Boko Haram, an Islamist movement affiliated with Al-Qaeda in northern Nigeria, kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls, sparking an international campaign to free them. However, the kidnapping itself is not the mere problem the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration is being faced with. Continuous suicide-bomb attacks have killed over thousands of civilians in many parts across the country, prompting military operations to capture those involved.

Nonetheless, there remains some good news that is worthy of international attention. The country, given its proximity to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, was once thought as a potential ‘bomb’ for Ebola epidemic to turn itself into a pandemic, given the country’s population that now reaches 170 million, as well as high density, low sanitation, acute poverty, and little awareness about cleanliness. However, within months, less than two dozens of cases took place across the whole country, with the number of mortality countable by fingers. This is something seemingly impossible for many experts, but Nigeria, given the national unity in facing this crisis, has proven to the world that no matter how problematic things seem to be, they can resolve it successfully.

And Nigeria’s GDP has for the first time surpassed that of South Africa, therefore becoming Africa’s largest economy. While oil and gas revenues remain the largest source for government budget (and often corrupted), Nigerian economy has been more diversified in recent years.

North Korea – other than the Kim-Obama fracas about naughty comedy ‘The Interview’ and the subsequent Sony hacking attacks that follow (which may possibly be conducted by third parties using North Korean IP addresses), the country is not as isolated as people perceive anymore. Over hundred thousands of Chinese tourists are now visiting North Korea every year, followed by a large flow of cash from China, its principal ally, largely driven by informal economy that the country is mostly depending upon. As economy has collapsed, majority of the North Koreans have now turned into either smuggling or small trade, and the country’s unofficial currencies are either US dollar, euro, or Chinese yuan (South Korean won is not allowed).

The purge, and eventual execution, of Jang Song-thaek remains a proof, however, that Kim Jong-un can be as ruthless as his grandfather and father were (Jang was his uncle, and a sort of ‘intermediary’ between North Korea and China in terms of economic, trade, and investment relations).

 

(wait for part 3)

 

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How Libya Blew Billions and Its Best Chance at Democracy

libya battle

 

 

When Muammar Qaddafi, then so-called the ‘Madman of Africa’, ruled Libya, this nation of nearly 6.5 million, despite brutal totalitarian rule and very strict control in all aspects of life, achieved unprecedented success as one of the richest, and most prosperous, in Africa. While dissident voices were crushed and government opposition was severely curtailed and tortured in underground prisons, literacy rate was nearly in its absolute terms. Healthcare was provided free for everyone, and its populace even received yearly bonuses from the government. It also has one of the world’s highest foreign exchange reserves, with the bulk worth more than 100 billion US$ stored safely in bank accounts across the globe, excluding their another sovereign wealth funds. Economy was highly booming, with numerous projects being implemented across the whole country. Infrastructure, in particular its irrigation, was fully functional.

All these hopes shattered when Arab Spring took the country by force. Preferring ‘freedom’ to ‘stability’, the country’s people, young and old, men and women, moderates and hardliners, all took their weapons to overthrow what they had deemed ‘four-decades of soul-deafening rule’. Everyone was looking for that voice, the opportunity for them to express themselves as they wished. They staked everything else for the sake of democracy, and for the sake of freedom.

Now, with Qaddafi’s rule coming to a tragic end, Libya is now at its own tatters. Democracy is partially achieved, but under a very dangerous cost: militia battles become a daily consumption for most of its populace. Paradoxically, and sadly enough, almost everyone was longing for his leadership, once again.

Read the full article in Bloomberg Businessweek to know more the fate of post-Qaddafi Libya.

 

Excerpt:

 

In the last few months, the Libyans have been finding out. Warring militias have destroyed large sections of Tripoli’s international airport with mortars, shoulder-launched missiles, rockets, and tanks. The fighting made the news again in July when a rocket or shell set a large oil depot on fire, sending clouds of choking black smoke over Tripoli. Shortly thereafter, 27,000 Libyans fled the fighting on foot in a single day, arriving as refugees in neighboring African countries. In just one week in July, according to a brief issued by the Soufan Group, a consultancy specializing in the Middle East, more than 60 people were killed in Benghazi, and the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, and Canada have evacuated their diplomatic personnel.

Libyan oil production has declined to about 300,000 barrels a day, and a half-dozen prominent figures on the Libyan political scene, whose names had appeared in optimistic Western newspaper articles about the brave Libyans who opposed Qaddafi and fought for a more equal and democratic future, have been murdered. Their deaths have passed without any demonstrations or other significant forms of public notice inside Libya, a measure of how irrelevant the causes for which Libyans fought three years ago have become.

Libya’s economic future, once touted as the brightest in Africa, looks equally bleak. Western news sources around the time of Qaddafi’s death reported that the dictator had stashed tens of billions of dollars away in overseas accounts that the country desperately needed to pay its bills. After the dictator was toppled, the search began for his hidden personal fortune—an El Dorado of imagined gold that was built in part on the confusion between Qaddafi’s personal assets and state-controlled assets such as the LIA. This fortune was estimated in various publications to be from $70 billion to $100 billion and quickly gave rise to a cottage industry in which fortune hunters struck deals with representatives of Libya’s National Transitional Council to locate missing assets in return for 10 percent of the take.

Our Man in Africa

hissene habre

JOEL ROBINE/AFP/Getty Images

 

A 12,000-word article from Foreign Policy which details about United States government’s involvement in supporting a bloodthirsty authoritarian regime in Chad, and how, in the eventual face of international scrutiny, supported the trial of the ex-leader, Hissene Habre, for the war crimes US government had actually indirectly assisted.

Click the link here to read the full story.

 

Excerpt:

 

The first step was to put Habré in the presidential palace.

The CIA’s station chief in Khartoum, a French speaker, made the initial approach, meeting Habré and his advisors in Sudan. Soon, weapons and cash were wending their way to Habré’s rebel camp on the Chad-Sudan border. The CIA would send supplies through regional allies to Khartoum; then Sudanese intelligence, which was closely allied with the CIA, would move them by train to Nyala, the former British Administration Headquarters in Darfur, where Habré would pick them up and drive them across the border.

The possibility that the assistance would help Habré terrorize his own people was hardly considered. “Little to no attention was paid to the human rights issues at the time for three reasons,” a former U.S. intelligence official who worked with Habré explained in an email. “(1) We wanted the Libyans out and Habré was the only reliable instrument at our disposal, (2) Habré’s record suffered only from the kidnapping (the Claustre Affair), which we were content to overlook, and (3) Habré was a good fighter, needed no training, and all we had to do was supply him with matériel.”

On June 7, 1982, Habré and 2,000 of his fighters fought their way into N’Djamena and declared the founding of Chad’s “Third Republic.” He consolidated power with brute force from the beginning: POWs from rival militant groups were executed, political opponents were captured and shot, and civilians thought to be sympathetic toward his opponents were targeted in reprisal operations. Oueddei fled to Libya, where Qaddafi would retrain and rearm his forces. And soon the United States was ferrying C-141 StarLifters loaded with weapons to Chad to arm Habré for the next step in its proxy war with Libya.

 

 

Infographics: how 5 countries could become 14

future map

Actually, combined with the possible city-states, and one ‘missing’ plenipotentiary, the number could be instead 18.

Sorry, I was instead counting ‘Sunnistan’ as two separate countries – Syria and Iraq.

Source: The New York Times