Pakistan and India Spar Over Line of Control

By Gujari Singh

Pakistan and India are continuing their verbal assault on each other concerning the so-called line of control (LOC), which is the disputed border between the two countries in Kashmir. The back and forth between the counties has played out on the floor of the U.N. General Assembly. “Pakistan regretted that the people of Jammu and Kashmir had been deprived of their right to self-determination,” said Diyar Kahn, a counselor at Pakistan’s U.N. Mission. India’s Mayank Joshi, First Secretary to the Indian mission to the U.N., called Kahn’s comments, “unsolicited,” and “factually in-correct.” Both countries claim Kashmir in entirety and the dispute has continued for 60 years.

In the past months, fighting on the LOC has increased dramatically. In October, nine civilians were killed from continued shelling along the border. Relations between the two countries have also been strained since India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi cancelled planned talks with Pakistan aimed at renewing dialogue between the two countries.

Map of the Kashmir region bordering India and Pakistan

Map of the Kashmir region bordering India and Pakistan

Military officers on both sides have increased action. The reason for this spike in aggression is not known, but there have been more than 1,000 mortars fired. One source says that Modi’s accusations aimed at Pakistan could be the cause of part of the aggression. Modi said in regards to Pakistan that it is “helping Islamist militants cross into its side (India) to keep alive a 25-year armed revolt in India’s only Muslim-majority state.”

Pakistan disputed this claim, however, and stated that it only provides moral and diplomatic support to Kashmir’s “rightful struggle to self-determination.” This aggressive exchange of ideas could be the stimulus that brought the current rise in aggression along the LOC.

When discussing the aggression south of Kashmir along the undisputed border of Pakistan and India, it cannot be separated from the dispute along the LOC. With the current rise in attacks along the LOC, there is speculation that the increased tension between the countries is creating aggression along the entire border of the two countries. On Nov. 2, 45 people were killed at the Wagah border crossing, which is the only land crossing between the two countries.

The U.S. government has raised its concern over the current violence on the LOC. Senior American Diplomat and U.S. Special Representative of Pakistan and Afghanistan Dan Feldman spoke at an Atlantic Council Forum about his worries. “I’ve personally raised these concerns with each side – and urged them to engage in dialogue to reduce tensions and end the violence.” Feldman also said that “there is no relationship more critical to Pakistan’s future than its relationship with its neighbor.”

With the increased international concern over this topic, the hope is that Pakistan and India will soon come to a resolution. While no certain agreement is on the horizon, the international community can take comfort that the two nations continue to communicate in forums such as the U.N. General Assembly.

Map of Kashmir region courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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The Social Network in Indonesia

By Suzanne Slattery

Despite the Indonesian post-election tension last summer, Joko Widodo was sworn in as the new president of Indonesia on Oct. 20. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott were among the foreign dignitaries who attended the inauguration festivities.

Known for his humble background and being a man of the people, Widodo plans to focus on improving the country’s education and healthcare sectors. While he has joked that he looks more like a street food vendor than a head of state, the president had a full schedule of meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Thailand Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-Ocha and President Obama, reported The New York Times. But what really attracted the media’s attention was Widodo’s meeting with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo

Indonesian President Joko Widodo

Around 65 million Indonesians use Facebook today, according to The Wall Street Journal. This figure is impressive when you consider the country’s Internet usage last year. A steadily increasing number of Indonesians have been logging on over the years, according to the International Telecommunication Union, the U.N.’s specialized agency for information and communication technologies. In 2013, almost 16 percent of the population, 39.5 million individuals or a little more than half of the country’s Facebook users today, had access to the Internet.

While Internet usage steadily climbs in the country, social media was integral to this year’s presidential elections. Similar to President Obama’s campaign strategy in 2008, Indonesia’s presidential campaign was fought and won around intense social media rallying.  Al Jazeera reported that Indonesia is a social media capital of the world and the “real battle [campaigning] is on digital media.”

With Indonesians embracing social media websites, it’s not surprising that a meeting between the new president and Facebook’s mastermind would make the news. The BBC Indonesia reported on a press release from Widodo’s office, in which the president said he discussed with Zuckerberg the ability of Facebook to help drive the economy, Internet taxation and the use of Facebook during the campaign. The story was noticeably absent from BBC Indonesia’s English counterpart, however.

The Wall Street Journal posted several pictures of Widodo and Zuckerberg. The paper highlighted more of a partnership, saying “the two spoke about how they could work together to help improve access to the Internet.” It also mentioned Zuckerberg dressed up in a suit and tie, saying it was “an usual” outfit from his typical jeans and sneakers. The Gulf Times, a newspaper based out of Qatar, used language that implied less of an equal partnership. The article described Zuckerberg as “pressing” Widodo to improve Internet access in the country. Zuckerberg said the world was missing out on innovation and culture from Indonesia because it is not as digitally connected, reported the Gulf Times. It also commented on Zuckerberg’s attire, saying he was without his usual hoodie and sneakers.

A local news source, the Jakarta Post, reported that Zuckerberg applauded Widodo for his impromptu visits with regular Indonesians. The article said the Facebook CEO thanked the president for using Facebook during his campaign and offered a new program that would allow him to connect digitally with Indonesians. The article also used the affectionate nickname for Widodo, “Jokowi” and did not comment on Zuckerberg’s attire.

The New York Times did not report on the event, but smaller papers on the U.S. West Coast, where Zuckerberg resides, picked up the story, including San Jose Mercury News and SF Gate. While most of the stories were brief, it will be an interesting story to follow as the new president begins to dive into improvement initiatives and as Facebook continues to seek to tap into new markets and users.

Photo Credit: Ahmad Syauki (Uyeah) from Flickr

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FARC Negotiations in Colombia Halted by Kidnapping

By Allan J. Roberts

In Colombia, tensions remain high between former President Álvaro Uribe and current President Juan Manuel Santos. After Santos’s release of negotiation details with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Uribe responded with a scathing critique. The critique consists of 68 capitulations, questioning the validity of negotiating with the left-wing rebel army. The once-former allies have become bitter rivals since Santos began peace talks with the FARC two years ago in Havana, Cuba. (Please see 10/08/2014 blog post  “Progress in Colombia with FARC Negotiations” for further negotiation details.)

Then on Nov. 16, the FARC negotiations were thrown into turmoil with the kidnapping of Gen. Rubén Darío Alzate and two soldiers. Alzate, a top general for the Colombian army, was unarmed and in civilian clothing while visiting FARC territory. Both Colombian government officials and rebel leaders say they were unsure of the reason behind Alzate’s visit. The next day, The Colombian Ministry of Defense tweeted a message quoting Pres. Santos: “Negotiations with #FARC are suspended until the facts of the kidnapping of general (Ruben) Alzate are clarified.”

In response to halting the negotiations, the FARC justified their seizure of the general by explaining their unhappiness with the military’s involvement in peace talks. The rebel group also added that military personal were not included in the kidnapping terms, as they only agreed to non-government officials. Uribe condemned both parties with the following tweet: “Santos has allowed theFarc to feel they are equal to the armed forces, that’s why terrorists kidnap.”

Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe criticizes FARC negotiations

Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe criticizes FARC negotiations

As of Nov. 24, there were conflicting reports on the status of hostages. The FARC announced the release of at least two soldiers, though Alzate’s status is undetermined. Rebel leaders demand bilateral ceasefire from the government’s military, threatening to use Alzate as leverage to meet armed demands. Alzate is the highest-ranking official kidnapped in the FARC’s 50-year history. Santos has stayed firm in his refusal to lay down arms throughout the peace negotiations for safety concerns.

A public opinion poll published in response to the recent kidnappings shows 55 percent of Colombians supporting the peace process, but 53 percent are pessimistic about the outcome.

Santos has been in negotiations with FARC for the past two years. On May 27, 2013, the finalization of the Land and Rural Development agreement with the FARC was announced. Since then, details on the talking points and negotiations were kept from the public. Former Pres. Uribe and his Democratic Center party (formed in 2013 in response to the negotiations), spearheaded pressure for Santos to release all the previous talking points. The government and FARC relented under public outcry, releasing details on all the finalized deals thus far.

The talking points were released in conjunction with Santos’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on Sept. 25.  As reported in Colombia Reports, the confirmed points are centered around three issues:

  • 1) Integrating agrarian development policy (Land and Rural Development) in the country.
  • 2) Allowing FARC political participation in Colombia’s government.
  • 3) Finding a solution to the problem of illicit drugs.

Uribe and his party responded on Oct. 23 with their own list of proposals. The 68 Capitulations of Santos in Havana: Democratic Center consists of 52 criticisms, including an additional 16 “citizen contributions” to the Democratic Center, as reported in El Heraldo. Uribe’s criticism of the released talking points include:

  • 1) Capitulations 1-27: criticizes the agrarian deal for giving FARC control of land that is labeled “limitless” without appropriation to FARC victims.
  • 2) Capitulations 28-43: criticizes the government’s lack of prosecution towards countless violent acts, murders and kidnappings throughout the FARC’s existence. Uribe says giving the FARC political power goes against the principles of democracy.
  • 3) Capitulations 44-68: criticizes FARC leaders for their refusal to handover any profits obtained illegally through the drug trade, as well as their refusal to surrender all military weapons.

Other concerns raised byUribe include the incentive for coca cultivation, as only those who voluntarily renounce cultivation are penalized. The list also points out conflicting reports of disinfecting coca plants. The government hasn’t ruled out fumigation, though theFARC insists it be abandoned.

Despite the “limitless” accusations from Uribe, the UN reports enough land can be brokered with the agrarian deal. The UN estimates 78 percent of Colombia’s arable land is still fallow. Furthermore, chief negotiator and former Vice President Humberto de la Calle announced the FARC would have to surrender their weapons to complete the peace process. In a Nov. 3 Caracol press release, de la Calle said, “The basic premise of this whole process is that once we sign a final agreement, the FARC will have to initiate the process of ceasing to have weapons in its power.”

While some critics view the “68 capitulations” as Uribe undermining Santos’s administration, legitimate concerns are raised on how negotiations will impact Colombia’s infrastructure. The 15th capitulation questions the government’s ability to finance new public institutions and facilities as part of peace negotiations. Current issues such as the $6.5 billion budget gap and decreased revenue from oil exports are causing great strain to Colombia’s economy.

Santos took a five-day tour of Europe in early November seeking funds for the peace process. His tour began in Madrid and continued through such cities as Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Lisbon and London. Santos is seeking $45 billion in aid over the next decade. Both the United States and European Union have given their support.

 Photograph by Center For American Progress from Wikimedia Commons.

 

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Ebonylife TV: Retelling Africa

By Modupeola Oyebolu

The narrative will glorify the hunter until the lion learns how to write.

Many Africans dislike the coverage of their continent by the American and European media. Komla Dumor, a well-liked BBC correspondent who died suddenly earlier this year, ended a December 2012 TED talk on this issue with some great advice: Africans must tell their own stories. As if in response to Dumor’s counsel, Ebonylife TV was launched in Calabar, Nigeria, on the 1st of July, 2013. “We believe it’s time for Africa to tell its own story, from its own perspective,” the network’s website says, describing its driving motivation.

Ebonylife TV is the brainchild of Mosunmola “Mo” Abudu, a Nigerian talk show host and TV producer. Abudu was a successful human resources executive with Exxon Mobil before her foray into the media industry, according to a profile of her featured in The Independent. Her talk show, “Moments with Mo,” was the first syndicated daily talk show that aired on MNet, a South African cable network that has audiences across Africa.

Despite the talk show’s success, Abudu had a bigger vision in mind. She wanted to start a network that would be dedicated to showing the Africa that she knew and loved. Abudu was motivated by her frustration with negative perceptions of Africa that she had encountered in her interactions with non-Africans. During a segment of “Moments with Mo,” for example, she stood at London’s Marble Arch asking people what came to mind when they heard the word “Africa.” Abudu got all kinds of responses, including mentions of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, giraffes, safaris, and poverty.

“I think the nicest thing I got was sunshine,” she told Etan Smallman of The Independent. It is not that giraffes, safaris and poverty do not exist in Africa, Abudu just thinks, like many Africans, that it is important to share other narratives of the continent. “We watch Hollywood as if all of America is Hollywood,” she said in another interview with the Associated Press. “In that same vein we need to start selling the good bits of Africa.”

Mosunmola “Mo” Abudu, the creator of Ebonylife TV in Nigeria

Mosunmola “Mo” Abudu, the creator of Ebonylife TV in Nigeria

Ebonylife TV is targeted at young people who it describes as “the custodians of the present and the future.” The network airs mostly original African content including series, short films, and talk shows. Other shows are western programs adapted for local audiences. For instance, The Fattening Room, fuses a tradition of the Efik ethnic group of Nigeria preparing women for marriage with the western reality show format. The network has also bought rights to Desperate Housewives from Disney and plans to make its own version of the show, Desperate Housewives Africa.

In an interview at an African media industry event, Abudu said she had been asked on BBC radio if these western formats could truly cater to an African audience. She insisted that African audiences are not different from any others. “I told them, ‘do you think we, as Africans, don’t have the same aspirations and obsessions, and passions as anyone else?’ I said ‘we have that!’ There’s no point re-inventing the wheel, this [Desperate Housewives] was one of the top-selling, award winning series in America. Let’s take that story, let’s localize it and then let’s make it our own,” she said.

Comments on social media suggest that Ebonylife TV is well received by the African public. The network’s Facebook page receives compliments from various parts of the continent from Zambia to Namibia and Ghana. Of course, the network is not without its critics, but the staff stay on top of responding to comments, clarifying misunderstandings and apologizing for errors. They also look frequently for feedback on the reception of their content. If Ebonylife TV can maintain and incorporate knowledge from this engagement with its audience, it is likely to grow into the pan-African force that it envisions itself to be. This will allow the network to provide a new narrative that truly represents all of Africa and will help demonstrate the diversity and complexity of the continent to the rest of the world.

Image from Nkemonwudiwe at en.wikipedia  via Wikimedia Commons, at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mosunmola_Abudu_1.jpg

 

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Rousseff Returns as Brazil’s President

By Kaye Adoo

In a historic presidential election four years ago, Brazilians welcomed their first female president, Dilma Rousseff. Rousseff ran for re-election on Oct. 5 against 11 candidates, including another woman, environmentalist Marina Silva from the Brazilian Socialist Party. Since no candidate in the presidential election received more than 50 percent of the vote, a second-round runoff was held Oct. 26 to decide if Rousseff or Aecio Neves, the candidate of the Social Democratic Party, would be the next president. Both runoff candidates campaigned for Silva’s endorsement and the 21 percent of voters who had supported her, according to Reuters.

The runoff was a battle between two politicians with two opposing visions for Brazil, Reuters reported. The state-led capitalism of the ruling Workers’ Party (PT), and the market-friendly policies promised by Neves and the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB). The PT and PSDB are the nation’s two largest political parties that have governed Brazil for 20 years.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff

Expectations for Rousseff and a PT victory were high. Rousseff’s past performance as the chief of staff to former President Lula da Silva, and her tenure as president had given her experience in running the executive branch, supporters said. Under her leadership, electricity became accessible in most areas, including many rural areas, through the “Luz Para Todos” (Light for All) program, according to CNN.com.

Rousseff’s leadership also provided an increase in educational attainment levels and moved more Brazilians into the middle class, according to the National Housing Survey and a study by Brazil’s Institute for Geography and Statistics (IBGE), which compiles economic and social inclusion statistics. In education, the level of underage children in the workforce (5-13 years) dropped considerably to 10.6 percent. In 2013, the nation experienced 96 percent of its children attending school full-time, the study said.

These numbers are due to a government policy that required poor families to keep their children in school in order to receive federal assistance. As a result of this, Brazil realized its lowest recorded rate of illiteracy, and the number of children aged 4 and 5 years old attending pre-school increased from 78 percent in 2012 to 81 percent in 2013. Some critics say, however, that the study was conducted only to make Rousseff look good.

Her presidency has also faced other criticism. After Brazil was host to the 2014 World Cup, Rousseff faced strong criticism over the expenditure of public money. Citizens questioning “the morality of pumping so much money into stadiums instead of programs to fight poverty and build infrastructure,” fueled the antigovernment street protests in early 2013. Rousseff defended the spending, saying the funds were allocated to infrastructure projects and not just the soccer event. Other criticisms include allegations of corruption from the government’s purchase of a Texas oil refinery and the management of the nation’s economy by Finance Minister Guido Mantega.

Despite these criticisms, Rousseff’s runoff victory provides Brazilians with hope. Operating under the slogan “New Government, New Ideas,” she promises a better Brazil. After her win, Rousseff’s victory speech urged Brazilians to unite.  “I want to be a much better president than I have been until now,” she told her supporters. Rousseff’s victory is historic as she is not only leading the eighth-largest economy in the world, but she is also the president of the wealthiest country in Latin America.

Photograph by Roberto Stuckert Filho, courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons

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