Monday, October 27, 2014

Taking a short break!

There are a few things I have let slip to such an extent, they now need my undivided attention! In other words, I will not be publishing the blog this week.

However, it will return on Wednesday November 05!

In the meantime, you may like to keep an eye on the Twitter widget on the right hand side of the page.

As always...
Wherever you may be - be safe

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Brazil: Brazil's economy at stake in presidential polls

Brazilians go to the polls on Sunday, to decide who their next President will be.Although it's the wealthiest country in Latin America, Brazil's economy has shrunk under the leftist President Dilma Rouseff. So would that trend continue if the country leaned towards the political right?Al Jazeera's Lucia Newman reports from Brasilia.

Tajikistan: Tajik Fatwa Misfires

This article originally appeared in the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, www.iwpr.net

Tajik Fatwa Misfires

Top clerics say it’s just about extremism, others see it as unwarranted political interference.

By Mehrangez Tursunzoda - Central Asia  

Muslim leaders in Tajikistan have caused controversy with a decree that appeared to condemn critics of the government, although they have since told IWPR that their only concern is to stem the flow of Islamic extremist propaganda.

The fatwa was first read out at Friday prayers on September 26 by Tajikistan’s top Muslim cleric or mufti, Saidmukkaram Abduqodirzoda. Its main thrust was to make it a sin to fight against fellow-Muslims at home or abroad – a clear reference to Syria, where Tajiks nationals are known to be fighting with the Islamic State group.

In a magazine interview on October 15, Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda said that around 200 Tajikistan nationals were known to be fighting with rebel forces. Another 50 had been reported killed, and dozens were facing criminal charges.

The decree caused controversy because as well as forbidding Muslims from sowing division and undermining national stability, it also said they must not cooperate with political parties and other groups – local or foreign – or the media to that end.

To some commentators, this looked like more a proclamation of loyalty to President Imomali Rahmon and hostility to his opponents than a theological pronouncement.

Religious affairs expert Saidahmad Kalandarov told IWPR that although the clerical council was formally independent from the secular state, it was in practice close to government. He suspected the fatwa was written for state officials and at their behest.

“I think it was driven by a desire to please the authorities ahead of the [February 2015 parliamentary] election, because there are a lot of things happening in the opposition inside the country that trouble them,” Kalandarov said.

He referred to groups like the Islamic Rebirth Party, the only opposition force now represented in parliament. The party has complained of mounting pressure from officials in recent months. (See Tajikistan's Islamic Opposition Under Pressure.) .

Dushanbe-based political analyst Parviz Mullojanov agreed with Kalandarov, saying “I doubt the [mufti] could take a public stance on such matters independently, without consulting high-ranking officials.”

Hikmatulo Saifullozoda, a leading member of the Islamic Rebirth Party, criticised the issuing of fatwas on behalf of government.

“The powers of the Council of Ulema should not go beyond matters relating to Islamic law and faith,” he said.

Saifullozoda said that while there was a lot of criticism of President Rahmon’s rule on social networking sites and other media, it was all taking place outside Tajikistan among émigrés with no plans to return. At home, people were cowed by fear and apathy.

“The view that Tajikistan might face something similar to what happened in some Arab countries is a long way from reality,” Saifullozoda said.

Mufti Abduqodirzoda told IWPR that the fatwa was not meant as a warning to any organisation in Tajikistan, as had been suggested. Instead, it was simply an exhortation for people to avoid “intrigues and acts of provocation”.

“Just look how acts of provocation led to the destruction of well-developed countries like Ukraine, Syria and Libya,” he said. “Doesn’t the Council of Ulema… have a right to care for people and warn them through precautionary measures? It does have that right.”

Solehjon Zavkiev, head of the department for religious organisations within government committee that oversees religious affairs, told IWPR said that the fatwa was a purely clerical statement addressed to Muslims.

“This fatwa has got nothing to do with interference in politics”, he said. Asked about the specific warning against engaging with the media, he said, “The media to which the mufti referred are those that spread leaflets and openly call for jihad.”
Mehrangez Tursunzoda is an IWPR contributor in Tajikistan. 

South Africa: Nene fails to put his money where Zuma's mouth is

Source: ISS
Nene fails to put his money where Zuma's mouth is

In his belt-tightening medium-term budget policy statement on Wednesday, Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene failed to provide the considerably increased finances that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) would require to tackle the enhanced peacemaking role that President Jacob Zuma envisages for it.

Nene’s gloomy – but realistic – mini budget raised searching questions, in particular about the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC). This is the clumsy name for what is supposed to be an African Union (AU) initiative to establish agile, rapid-response forces, formed from volunteer nations to tackle security crises across the continent.

ACIRC is very much Zuma’s pet project. It was inspired by the AU’s lack of progress in establishing its formal African Standby Force, which has, in the meantime, compelled the continent to rely on outside forces – particularly France – to come to the rescue in places like Mali and the Central African Republic. To Zuma in particular, this was tantamount to opening the door to neo-colonial meddling in Africa.

Zuma hosted the first ACIRC summit in Pretoria a year ago. He also expended substantial political capital in getting the initiative adopted by the AU at its summit in January this year. This was against the opposition of Nigeria, in particular, which feared that ACIRC was giving Pretoria too much power.

When the Defence Review Committee discussed its review with him before publishing it earlier this year, it was apparently Zuma who told it to scale up its ambition. The review, adopted by cabinet in March, concluded that the Defence Force is in a critical state of decline – both in its equipment and in the abilities of its personnel, of whom there were far too many, consuming some 52% of the R43 billion budget. The review authors set down five milestones to be reached, depending on the level of ambition that the government was prepared to invest in the rejuvenation of the force.

Milestone 1 was to immediately arrest the critical decline in critical capabilities; Milestone 2, rebalancing and reorganising the Defence Force as the foundation for future growth; Milestone 3, creating a sustainable Defence Force that can meet its current ordered commitments; Milestone 4, enhancing its capacity ‘to respond to nascent challenges in the strategic environment’ and Milestone 5, enabling it to fight a war to defend South Africa against attack.

Apparently the committee itself was ready to settle for Milestone 3, but Zuma – not surprisingly perhaps, urged it to go higher and it ended up recommending Milestone 4, which in effect meant beefing up the SANDF to play the role of peacemaker on the continent.

The committee calculated that the Defence Force budget would have to nearly double as a ratio of gross domestic product (GDP), from its current 1,1% to 2% (the global norm) to achieve Milestone 4.

Among the important additional capital costs would be for the Defence Force to acquire new airlift capacity, as its existing fleet of transport aircraft is too old or too small. This huge deficiency was fatally exposed in the Central African Republic in March 2013, when the Defence Force had to charter a private aircraft to reinforce its embattled troops on the ground, but the charter company decided it was too dangerous to fly in.

As Jakkie Cilliers, Executive Director of the Institute for Security Studies wrote in June this year in a policy brief titled The 2014 South African Defence Review: rebuilding after years of abuse, neglect and decay, fulfilling the review’s recommendations would require Finance Minister Nene to find an additional R11,7 billion in the 2014/15 financial year and R11,2 billion the year thereafter for defence.

But there was no sign of that in Nene’s statement on Wednesday, or in the accompanying adjusted estimates of expenditure. ACIRC received a passing mention as the estimates said the target for reserve force ‘person days’ would be increased to 2 871 852, due to the increased requirement of forces for ACIRC and border safeguarding.

But there was no money. ‘There is no additional allocation for the deployment of the defence force as part of the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises in the mini budget for 2014,’ David Maynier, the defence spokesperson for the Democratic Alliance said. ‘With the Defence Force facing cuts of more than R700 million in this financial year, the deployment is unlikely to be funded from within the existing defence budget.

‘This means that an additional allocation will be required if the Defence Force has to deploy as part of the ACIRC, which itself is very unlikely. Our peace support operations ambitions are clearly not aligned with our peace support capacity.’

Does this then mean the end of South Africa’s leadership role – or any role for that matter – in ACIRC and the like? As Cilliers points out in his policy brief, the Defence Force has options, if it chooses to take them.

The one would be to make substantial savings in other areas, to free up money. The more obvious one would be to slash the bloated staff complement, many of whom are not fit for purpose. Another would simply be to separate the veterans’ administration from the Defence Force and move it to Social Welfare, where it perhaps more logically belongs.

However, political experts believe that staff cuts are probably out of the question. As one observed, African National Congress (ANC) politicians are mostly inclined to view the SANDF as first and foremost an employer, and only secondly, as a defender of the country’s sovereignty or of the continent’s peaceful development.

Another implicit cost-cutting option raised in the Defence Review was to ‘pursue the Defence Strategic Trajectory with the assistance of either a strategic partner or a number of strategic partners,’ rather than ‘implementing the Defence Strategic Trajectory independently.’ Cilliers pointed out that ‘on 17 March 2014, the cabinet elected in favour of the independent option, having apparently realised the challenges that the SANDF would face in relying on either Western, Chinese or Russian partners in the pursuit of the country’s regional stability ambitions.’

Nonetheless, the government might need to relook that option in the obvious absence of independent financing to realise its large continent ambitions. It was revealing that at the United States-Africa Leaders summit, which President Barack Obama hosted in Washington in August this year, the United States offered support, in training and logistics, for establishing an ACIRC headquarters capability. Was that a sign of things to come?

Peter Fabricius, Foreign Editor, Independent Newspapers, South Africa

Rwanda: Rwandan parliament calls for BBC to be banned

IFEX

This article was originally published on rsf.org on 24 October 2014.

The Rwandan parliament passed a resolution on 22 October calling on the government to ban the BBC and bring “genocide denial” charges against the presenter and producer of a controversial TV documentary about the 1994 Rwandan genocide that the BBC broadcast in early October.

The vote came a few days after President Paul Kagame himself accused the BBC of “denying the genocide” of Rwanda's Tutsi minority by members of the Hutu majority.

“This parliamentary resolution is not surprising inasmuch as the Kagame government allows the political opposition no room to exist in Rwanda,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk.

“It is extremely worrying that the BBC, one of the few independent media that manages to be seen or heard within Rwanda, is in the process of being banned. We call on the government to implement the democratic principles it so readily professes in international forums and to let the media express themselves freely.”

Members of student organizations consisting mainly of genocide survivors staged demonstrations outside the BBC's Kigali bureau and parliament a few hours before the resolution's adoption and handed in a memorandum calling on the government to rescind the BBC's licence to broadcast in Rwanda. They also demanded a formal BBC apology to the Rwandan people and the entire world.

Entitled “Rwanda, The Untold Story,” the documentary caused a storm by interviewing US-based researchers who, with the help of maps, argued that the number of Hutus killed in the genocide was much higher than generally recognized. The Rwandan government declined the BBC's requests to be interviewed for the documentary.

According to the United Nations, an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered from April to July 1994.

The Kagame government has a history of refusing to comment on the human rights situation and imposing extreme censorship on freedom of information.

At least five journalists have fled the country this year because of persecution, and several were arrested and threatened by the police before and after ceremonies in April marking the 20th anniversary of the genocide. Good Morning Rwanda, Flash FM's popular phone-in programme, was banned in June. The US State Department condemned all of these developments.

An official denial of the claims made in the documentary was posted on the Rwandan government website but is no longer available online.

In 2009, the Rwandan government suspended the BBC's radio broadcasts in Kynyarwanda because of a programme about the genocide that was also described at the time as revisionist.

Any formal reference to ethnicity is punishable by imprisonment on a charge of promoting “divisions.” Over the years, the term “Rwandan genocide” has gradually been replaced by “genocide of the Tutsis,” thereby pre-empting any questioning of the official history.

Rwanda is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.