North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Sunday, August 28, 2011

An August review

If one can fight through the media frenzy over Hurricane Irene, and the constant coverage of Libya, there are a few items to note and some followups.

Libya - Tripoli the capital city is now firmly, though roughly, in the hands of what we will now call the new government - the Transitional National Council (TNC)with a few of its leaders having moved to the capital in the past few days. There are hopeful signs that the leadership have been able to instill discipline on its armed forces, with little reprisals to date. The TNC, headed by Mahmoud Jibril, is also pragmatically stating the TNC goals of restoring order, requesting aid in rehabilitation, and resuming oil production as the nation's primary source of wealth.

During his two-day visit to Egypt, the second in command of Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC) and its executive head, Mahmoud Jibril, met with the head of Egypt's ruling military council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, another newer face from Egypt.

The hunt for the dictator Gaddafi continues, and early reports that his sons had been captured turned out to be premature. There are fears over the fate of thousands of political prisoners who cannot be located, and at least two massacre sites of rebels have been uncovered. One report noted the long steep climb for the country as Gaddafi had ruled for over 40 years keeping national institutions at a minimum, and playing one tribal group against another as a strategy for holding power. The shadow of Iraq looms, as well as the similar governing arrangement in Syria, where a sense of unity and purpose was considered a threat by the dictators that ruled then.

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Libyan fighter stands bemused in one of Gaddafi's luxury palaces

Islamic extremist violence continues.
In Nigeria, a bombing damages a UN office with over 21 dead, and in Iraq, another Sunni mosque torn apart with the loss of life nearly 30, this by a suicide bomber. At the same time, the US announced the killing of al-Qaeda's new number two man in Pakistan. It seems those names are less and less significant, however, as replacements step forward, and the bombings continue.

Smoke pours from a UN building in Abuja, Nigeria's capital city. The bombing was claimed by Boko Haram, an Islamic sect with possible links to Al Qaeda’s affiliates in the region.

UN vehicles destroyed in the blast

And let's not forget the East Africa famine. While Irene seemed to be the newest event to cover, and one especially easy and inexpensive to pontificate on, the seemingly forgotten story in Somalia with spillovers into Kenya and Ethiopia remains. The UN and humanitarian agencies struggle to cope with the challenges of over-promised and under delivered aid funds, as well as the complications of delivering food into a country torn to shreds from violence and anarchy.

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Forgotten this week by the world media, human suffering in the Horn of Africa continues. Here a little one is laid to rest under the most basic of conditions

As Teatree was reminded this week, a quote from Helen Keller, ""although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it." Here an unknown Somali transports an elderly woman

Singapore elects a new leader
But let's also end on a positive note - some countries continue to move forward, changing their leadership in peaceful ways, with blessings for their citizens who voted both for and against the winner. Dr Tony Tan has been voted Singapore's seventh President - a prosperous city state in Southern Asia.

One of the smallest nation states in the world, Singapore is situated along a major shipping route, and thus provides strategic and practical services for that activity

The modern Singapore skyline

71 year old Dr Tony Tan- with a very narrow win for the presidency under his belt (a split win with only 35% of the full vote) - said some of the ways he would reach out to Singaporeans include attending events, organising tea sessions and engaging Internet users via social media. Describing the result as "decisive", he added: "We should look forward to see what we can do rather than look backwards as to the narrow victory, the votes for the other candidates and for myself."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rebels enter Libya's capital city - how will this end?

In a sudden change in direction and tempo, Libyan rebels who had been making slow but significant advances in the past two weeks (with the continued aid of NATO airstrikes), have apparently entered Tripoli in force on Sunday. Two of Gaddafi's sons have been arrested, including his heir apparent Seif al-Islam. And while there are likely thousands of hard core supporters of the dictator remaining, many others are sliding away, or surrendering.

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Tripoli, Libya's capital city is Gaddafi's remaining stronghold, after losing nearly all of the country by Saturday, August 20

Gaddafi's spokesperson came out to reporters on Saturday, saying it was time for negotiations, an indicator that the regime was rapidly running out of options. So, it appears that an end game is in sight for Gaddafi.

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Rebel fighters drive from Zawiyeh, a city to the west of the capital with a major oil refinery, towards Tripoli on Saturday, after successfully gaining control

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There was joy and celebration in Tripoli Sunday evening. The whereabouts of Gaddafi is not clear.

How the "end" plays out in the next week will say much about the rebels, and the future of rebuilding a country so long under the control of the whims of the Colonel. Will there be bloodletting and ransacking, or will a discipline among the fighters be evident, with a look to the future. As we have seen in the Ivory Coast dispute of a few months ago, last minute reprisals and looting did not provide a strong platform for the more difficult and fundamental transition to building a society with a different focus.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

India celebrates Independence Day

On Monday, August 15, India celebrated its independence day. In 1947, the former British colony became an independent state, along with the "Dominion of Pakistan" to the West and East. Unfortunately, amid much violence and death, millions of Hindus fled from the Muslim regions of the colony to the center, and millions of Muslims fled east or west to Pakistan. The countries have struggled in their relationship to this day. (East Pakistan eventually seceded from West Pakistan to become Bangladesh in 1971).

A map showing India at it's independence along with West and East Pakistan in 1947

Regardless of its troubled beginnings (and as a colony for three hundred years prior), India today has much to be proud of. It jostle's along as the world's largest democracy - one that works even though additionally challenged by having to accommodate 22 to 28 languages, thousands of ethnic distinctions, and 4 major religions: Hinduism accounted for 80.5% of the population of India. Islam (13.4%), Christianity (2.3%) and Sikhism (1.9%).

A more familiar scene of India's traditional human powered cabs

India is also viewed as a rising international power - with the potential to surpass China in the next 20 years, both in population and in economic terms. The challenges are many, but August 15 is indeed a day for celebration for Indians. yet, the Sikh Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, speaking on the 60th anniversary, said the country needed to work harder to fight poverty, ignorance and disease despite fast economic growth. "India cannot become a nation with islands of high growth and vast areas untouched by development, where the benefits of growth accrue only to a few," said Mr Singh from the ramparts of New Delhi's historic Red Fort behind a bulletproof glass screen. (As reported in the UK's daily mail)

The pomp and ceremony of the official commemoration but with powerful challenges delivered by the Indian leader

"We have moved forward in the many battles against poverty, ignorance and disease. But can we say we have won the war?" India is one of the fastest growing economies, but about 46 per cent of children under three are undernourished, according to Unicef. Mr Singh said: "The problem of malnutrition is a national shame. I appeal to the nation to resolve and work hard to eradicate malnutrition within five years."

The excitement of youngsters at their country's birthday.

But malnutrition is only one aspect of India's challenges. Even as the country celebrated the day, a 74 yr old "fiesty" activist, Anna Hazare, has quickly become a 21st century Mahatma Gandhi inspiration for millions of Indians fed up with rampant corruption, red tape and inadequate services provided by the state despite the country posting near-double digit economic growth for almost a decade.

Anna Hazare - a person to watch

Hazare was arrested on Tuesday, the day after celebrations, just hours ahead of a planned fast until death against graft. Singh's government was under heavy criticism for the action, which sparked spontaneous protest across the country of 1.2 billion people. Today, when the government released him from jail, Hazare refused to go ... The beginning of the 65th year then, of India's independence, will hopefully see the government cleaning out graft and favoritism as pointed to by Hazare, as well as address the poverty and malnutrition noted by Singh.

"Democracy means no voice, however small, must go unheard. The anti-corruption sentiment is not a whisper-it's a scream. Grave error to ignore it," Anand Mahindra, one of India's leading businessmen and managing director of conglomerate Mahindra Group, wrote on Twitter.