Issues & Analysis
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ON THE MEDIA: Syrian independent media offers bold challenge to extremism

By:    April 8, 2016  Waging Nonviolence

A protest in Kafranbel on the 5-year anniversary of the uprising against Assad. (Twitter/Raed al-Fares)

A protest in Kafranbel on the 5-year anniversary of the uprising against Assad. (Twitter/Raed al-Fares)

On January 10, the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group in Syria, stormed the headquarters of Radio Fresh in Kafranbel and arrested its director Raed al-Fares and journalist Hadi Abdullah. The flag of the Syrian revolution was thrown on the floor and al-Nusra members stepped on it and forced the station’s members to do the same. They destroyed and confiscated equipment and books, burned the flag and — according to Ghalia al-Rahal, director of Mazaia, a women’s center in Kafranbel — shouted, “We do not want any media in Kafranbel.” They closed the station and placed a sign at the main door saying, “Confiscated by Jabhat al-Nusra, do not approach.”

This raid came in response to a post on al-Fares’ Facebook page, in which he said, “If our main concern is what’s between a man’s lips [cigarettes] and women’s legs, and as long as we are herding people to prayers and flooding our schools with Sharia books, we will have a thousand years of death to come in Syria.” Al-Nusra also claimed that songs broadcasted on the station were against the Islamic ruling of Sharia.

Members of the radio station were held inside the office for almost two hours while al-Fares was taken by al-Nusra. After hours of negotiations with al-Nusra’s leaders and Sharia judges, Abdullah provided guarantees that al-Fares would not post messages critical of Sharia on Facebook again, and he was released. Al-Nusra had to also admit that raiding the station was a mistake and promised to return all their equipment.

“As we were waiting for the negotiation, we were organizing for a massive protest that was planned to take off the next morning,” al-Rahal said. “Al-Nusra knew that we would have not kept silent.”

"Confiscated by Jabhat al-Nusra, do not approach," was spray-painted on the walls of the Union of Revolutionary Bureaus in Kafranbel in January 2016. (Twitter/@RamiSafadi93)

“Confiscated by Jabhat al-Nusra, do not approach,” was spray-painted on the walls of the Union of Revolutionary Bureaus in Kafranbel in January 2016. (Twitter/@RamiSafadi93)

Al-Nusra’s attack on the station generated a strong reaction on social media where al-Fares’ story was closely followed and solidarity posts were proliferating on activists’ pages. Kafranbel’s Facebook page, which tracks local demonstrations and news, posted pictures of men and women holding signs that repeated two phrases: “Freedom for Radio Fresh,” and “No Media Oppression.”

Radio Fresh is one of the many activities of the Union of Revolutionary Bureaus, or URB, a grassroots organization that tries to empower community members to uphold their rights and freedom in Idlib province. Established in Kafranbel in 2012 by al-Fares and a young activist named Khaled al-Issa, the URB currently has 475 employees with various offices that focus on enhancing education and empowering women and children. They provide training in sewing, hairdressing, nursing, and other skills that enable women to work. Similarly, URB established centers for children where they are encouraged to express themselves through painting and art. “The bureau activities came as a natural result of the needs on the ground,” said al-Rahal, whose center is part of the URB.

This was not the first time al-Nusra has attacked the station. On January 17, 2015, al-Nusra raided a number of URB’s offices, including the headquarters of Radio Fresh and Mazaia. In response to this incident and continuous harassment and interference in civilian affairs, people took to the streets calling for freedom. They forced al-Nusra to keep the station and the women’s center running.

Al-Nusra is emerging as a powerful force to rival the Islamic State in Syria and has seized several strategic towns in Idlib and Hama provinces. Al-Nusra’s goals are to overthrow the current Syrian government and create an Islamic Emirate under Sharia law. Al-Nusra uses Islam and Quranic texts to oppress people and impose strict social values, including limiting women’s movement and dress code.

Hadi Abdullah (left) and Raed al-Fares (right). (Facebook/Kafranbel Syrian Revolution)

Hadi Abdullah (left) and Raed al-Fares (right). (Facebook/Kafranbel Syrian Revolution)

Activists, who are also Muslims, have been using Islamic values to push back. The radio station dedicates the first two hours of the day to broadcast Quranic texts, transmits prayers five times a day, and airs four religious programs a day. “While religious extremists call for death and blood, we call for mercy, respect and forgiveness — all core values in Islam,” al-Fares said. “We need to use the same tool and that which is understood by the general public.”

According to al-Fares, the true reason for his latest arrest was a campaign that he launched on the radio to raise awareness of basic human rights and against religious extremists’ practices. Using female voices, nine messages were repeated between programs and songs that challenged not only extremists, but the whole culture. These messages defend women’s basic rights and ask men to take some responsibility and support them in obtaining these rights. They are also a direct response to armed and extremist factions’ strict rules on women’s dress code and education. 

In some places, al-Nusra has been busy fighting and has not had the time to interfere in civilians’ affairs. However, this may change once the fighting halts. “It is important that people increase their civil activities now as this would make it harder for al-Nusra to take control in the future,” al-Rahal said. “Al-Nusra’s members respond to people because they know that without people, nothing has value — not arms, Emirs or rulers.”

People who took to the streets in early 2011 against Assad’s oppressive regime have recently been demonstrating against all oppression. “We protest against the regime, extremists, the Russians, NATO and starvation in besieged Madaya,” al-Rahal said. Madaya is one of 19 Syrian towns under siege, where cases of death due to starvation have been reported. While Madaya is besieged by pro-Syrian government forces, other places like Foua and Kefraya are besieged by armed opposition groups. According to U.N. estimates about 500,000 people are currently living under siege.

There have been protests against al-Nusra’s aggression and strict rules all across Idlib. On January 15, people in Maraat al-Numan in Idlib demonstrated against al-Nusra and called for its departure. “Maraat is free free, al-Nursa is out out,” they chanted. A newwave of protests has coincided with the ceasefire, which went into effect on Feb. 27. On March 14, hundreds took to the streets against al-Nusra’s aggression against civilians and moderate factions. In places like Khan Shaykhoun and Salqueen, people have protested against al-Nusra’s attempt to impose Sharia clothes, or niqab, on women. In other parts of Syria, like Raqqa, where the Islamic State is in full control and brutal against civil organizations, residents are resisting by not swearing allegiance to the group. Those who do not swear allegiance have to pay for social services, which IS provides for free, and additional taxes.

Five years into the revolution, people have deeper knowledge of themselves and the concepts of citizenship, the state and human dignity, al-Fares explained. Now they are demonstrating against any regressive thoughts or oppression. “Al-Nusra and the Islamic State have arrested me and tried to kill me many times,” al-Fares said, “but this is irrelevant because what I have established in the community and with URB’s activities will always live. People believe in our values and cause, and that is why we live.”

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DEVELOPMENT: My career’s biggest lesson: no women, no development

More than two decades after the Beijing conference, the absence of women’s perspectives and voices in global forums has slowed progress on development.

Patricia Morris: ‘Bringing grassroots woman and girls’ priorities to global decision-making forums matters’. Photograph: Women Thrive Worldwide

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting on current efforts to change the course of history for women and girls.

What I’ve learned from more than 20 years working in international development is that we must grow and embrace grassroots development led by women. We should actively look for ways to amplify women and girls’ priorities and solutions for development. We should ensure that no discussion or decision happens without their input. And, perhaps most importantly, we should put money and resources behind their priorities and solutions so that they can lead the gender equality movement and propel anti-poverty efforts to the next level.

I’ve always believed that when women come together, there’s no stopping us. At the fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, this principal felt truer than ever. The energy coming out of Beijing was electric. I felt lucky to be among the thousands of women who excitedly discussed women’s rights and ways to finally achieve gender equality.

For the first time in UN history, it wasn’t just western bureaucrats crafting the conversation and determining the agenda. Women in every corner of the globe were consulted and our priorities were included in the agenda. Women in the most rural villages in the poorest countries were convened to build the Beijing Platform for Action (pdf), a global women’s agenda that will benefit men and boys as much as women and girls, when it is realised.

Beijing didn’t accomplish all it set out to, though. The necessary political will and funding did not follow. Now, some 20 years later, that collective diversity of women’s voices is needed desperately. Global decision-making circles are still missing grassroots women’s perspectives, priorities, and solutions, and we’re all losing out because of it.

The millennium development goals (MDGs) are a good example of this missed opportunity. Leading to the launch of the MDGs in 2000, a largely white, western-based group came together with the best intentions to address global poverty. The resulting eight goals set a broad agenda for tackling gaps in education, child mortality, maternal health, and more. But as the MDGs came to a close last year, some 62 million girls remained out of school, 830 women were dying each dayfrom preventable causes related to child birth, and 5.9 million children under age five had died that year alone.

Today, one in three women around the world are victims of physical or sexual violence; discrimination against women persists through laws and policies, gender-based stereotypes, social norms, and practices; women around the worldearn 24% less than men for the same work; and women constitute only 22% of the world’s parliamentarians.

We’ve made progress in cutting poverty, combating violence, and reducing inequality. But I believe that the statistics might be different – had women and girls’ concerns and ideas been part of establishing the MDGs. Instead of addressing the symptoms of poverty, we might have rooted out its causes.

The process of getting to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) was better. Those who developed the new global goals listened to and engaged with women from developing countries, including those in communities most affected by gender disparities in education, health, and employment.

In part, the SDGs are more inclusive and representative than their predecessors because grassroots women collectively pushed decision-makers to create goals that are community-led and -driven. Civil society organisations ensured that goal 4: quality education, for example, was based on real-world issues facing teachers, parents, students and community members.

In some ways, the SDGs feel very close to the Beijing Platform for Action. Both inherently understand that gender is integral to health outcomes, education gaps, environmental needs, armed conflict, and just about every other global development challenge. Both were built by a diverse coalition of perspectives, attitudes, and world views. Both have mobilised millions to advance the cause. And, at the foundation of both, is driving out inequality.

Bringing grassroots women and girls’ priorities to global decision-making forums matters and the results are policies and policy priorities that are stronger because they are built by diverse voices and ideas.

As the global community moves to financing the SDGs, my hope is that more resources will go to the grassroots women and advocates who will ensure the new global goals are implemented effectively and who in a real sense will be responsible for their success. The money and the political will must follow. Anything less and we know what will happen because we’ve seen it before. Without women, there will be no development.

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ON THE MEDIA: Media In The Cross hairs: Militants Continue To Target Journalists In Pakistan

By: Raza Rumi      

Despite the commitments of the Pakistan government to protect journalists, media freedoms remain endangered in the country. Pakistani journalists continue to struggle with the threats posed by violent extremists who consider media to be a legitimate target. In fact, extremists often target the media because it ensures that they will get publicity in the form of coverage. Thus, journalists remain quite vulnerable as the government has yet to find workable mechanisms to ensure their safety in the country.

On March 27, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban carried out a deadly attack on a busy park in Lahore that killed more than 72 and injured 300. In a message claiming responsibility on Twitter, the spokesman for the group was quick to warn, “Everyone will get their turn in this war, especially the slave Pakistani media.” He also ominously added that the group was “waiting for the appropriate time,” presumably referring to an attack. The threat is not new. In 2014 the Pakistani Taliban issued a detailed fatwathat justified attacking the media and killing journalists.

The Ongoing Threat and the Emergence of an ISIS-branch in Pakistan

This new threat comes in the wake of earlier incidents that have made media workers anxious. On January 14, ISIS claimed that it launched an attack on a Pakistan TV station. Two assailants riding a motorbike threw an explosive device and fired gunshots at the ARY television network offices in Islamabad. The shooters ran away when the guards fired at them. In December 2015, another television channel, Din News, was also attacked in Lahore injuring a staffer and two police constables. A militant group claiming itself to be an affiliate of ISIS, the Khorasan Group (Daulat-i-Islamia Khorasan), claimed responsibility for the attack. The Khorasan Group had also carried out an attack a month earlier. In November 2015 a hand grenade was thrown at the bureau office of Dunya News television in Faisalabad, the third largest Pakistani city. Two employees of the channel were injured.

The extent of ISIS presence in Pakistan is unclear, and its appeal is not widespread. Yet, reports have suggested that the group is attempting to make inroads in Pakistan. Its presence in Afghanistan has already been confirmed as splintering groups of the Taliban have been professing allegiance to the ISIS leadership. ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on a Pakistani consulate in eastern Afghanistan on January 13 that killed seven members of the Afghan security forces.

Footprints of ISIS were also noticed in May 2015 attack on a bus that targeted members of Ismaili community in Karachi killing 43 and injuring 13. A prime suspect of this terror attack told an official joint investigation team that militants affiliated with the Islamic State were involved in the carnage. Reports have also indicated that the ideological network has made some headway in middle class. The Foreign Secretary of Pakistan admitted last year that ISIS was a serious threat for the country. The country’s military has been targeting the Pakistani Taliban and the aggrieved sections are finding a new ally in the form of the Islamic State.

In the continued conflict the media comes under direct attack by the militant groups. Accused of both not giving adequate coverage to terrorists and then providing negative, non-flattering coverage when they do, journalists are harassed and attacked by the militants. In the tribal regions, many journalists have faced immense pressure from the militants to give them undeserved coverage. Anchors at Express News, where I worked for some time, once appealed to the Pakistani Taliban that they would air their point of view and that they should stop targeting them.

Counter-insurgency Environment Impedes Quality Journalism and Public Debate

Moreover, media organizations in Pakistan operate in a context where public debate on counterterrorism is limited or even simply tailored to toe the official line. The extent, nature, and results of counterterrorism operations are largely beyond the purview of independent investigation since the military offensive against the Pakistani Taliban began in 2014.

Journalists have constantly reported that they have little or no access to the tribal regions where the state is carrying out search and counterinsurgency operations, and therefore independent verification of official claims is not possible. Similarly, conflicting policy stances are frequently made by the government. For instance, the militias that openly vow to attack neighboring India are announced as banned, but then within days a few days officials state that no such ban exists. During 2014 the largest private TV channel provoked the ire of the security agencies when it implicated the premier intelligence agency in an attack on one of its TV hosts. There was a backlash, the organization was punished by a temporary suspension of its transmission, and a public campaign to brand it as an unpatriotic outlet. Since then, Pakistan’s media outlets are extremely careful to question government and military officials.

After the recent Lahore attack, the military decided to launch operations in the largest province of Pakistan. A journalist told me that details of the plan are not well known. Local commentators like foreign policy expert Ahmad Rashid have noted that there are significant differences between the civilian and military branches of the government in terms of strategy. Yet, this issue has not received detailed attention and discussion even though it would be in the public’s interest and issues of this nature merit a debate in the parliament, media, and among policy experts.

The Pakistani Government Needs to Take Action

Pakistan’s parliament has rarely intervened in terms of monitoring media freedoms. Admittedly, there is an ongoing conflict, and governments embroiled in tackling insurgencies employ different methods to regulate and streamline reporting. Yet, an open culture is vital for a democratic society. Pakistan’s democracy is likely to suffer if the attacks on media houses are not taken seriously and if there are limited avenues for open debate on public policy matters.  Such a stymied political space might actually benefit the non-state militias, which take advantage of a confusing and closed media system in which the public does not know who to trust.

A bill aimed at protecting journalists has been introduced in the Pakistani parliament for debate, however journalists objected to it because they felt its provisions were lacking. They have asked the government to consult all the stakeholders and prepare a more comprehensive bill. While new legislation would not single-handedly fix the program, the parliament needs to make efforts to ensure that a better legal environment emerges for media protection. Moreover, the government has yet to fulfil its commitment of setting up a joint government-journalist commission that would investigate and monitor attacks on journalists and media organizations. By making headway on these two fronts, the Pakistani government could demonstrate that it recognizes there is a problem and is working toward a solution.

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AFGHANISTAN: All Hail, the Brother of the Lion of Panjshir!

PUL-E-KHUMRI, Afghanistan — On a recent Monday afternoon in Afghanistan’s northern Baghlan province, in front of a whooping crowd of bearded ex-rebel commanders, a stocky, one-legged veteran grabbed the microphone to make himself heard: “The mujahideen will seek martyrdom against the Taliban,” he shouted. On stage, presidential envoy Ahmad Zia Massoud, as a consummate Afghan politician would, posed for selfies while a group of elderly men ceremoniously wrapped a blue and green chapan cloak over his shoulders. The message Massoud had come to deliver played well with the northerners. It also probably surprised, and infuriated, his boss, the president.

Massoud carries one of the most revered names in Afghanistan. His older brother was Ahmad Shah Massoud, the celebrated leader of the northern resistance against the Soviets, and later the Taliban, who was killed by al Qaeda in 2001 and has since been declared a national hero. So when the younger Massoud went on a weeklong tour of five northern provinces in February, and invited me along for part of it, he drew large crowds.

Playing to a growing feeling of angst in a populace that has spent the last year watching the Taliban gobble territory at a steady pace, Massoud attempted to portray himself as a steadfast hand of resistance in a government much criticized for its failure to defeat the insurgency. He attacked the army leadership for incompetence. He ridiculed the president’s most sensitive political gamble: attempts to reboot peace talks with the Taliban through improving relations with Pakistan. And most controversially, he called on the commanders to rally their men and arms for the spring fighting season.

While Massoud didn’t use the contentious word “militia,” for all intents and purposes, that is what he was trying to mobilize.

While Massoud didn’t use the contentious word “militia,” for all intents and purposes, that is what he was trying to mobilize.  And militias were supposed to be a thing of the past. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has told local, private militias — which were once espoused by U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, though the Defense Department often just called them “local police forces” — to stand down. Their litany of human rights abuses often did more to instigate unrest than fight it.

Massoud’s tour of the north exposed just how dysfunctional Afghanistan’s so-called national unity government has been ever since it was conceived (with help from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry) after the disputed 2014 election. Ghani, the official winner, became president, and Abdullah Abdullah, who also claimed victory, his chief executive. Since then, the national leadership has been mired in conflict but generally tries to keep differences behind closed doors. Massoud, however, took his complaints on the road. He actively undermined the president’s agenda, and that for a man named the president’s special representative for reform and good governance.

Political gridlock has stalled reforms — most notably on the economy and the electoral system — andsapped many Afghans of any hope they had left of being able to create a prosperous, safe future inside the country. Afghanistan’s international partners, eager for signs that it won’t collapse if left to its own devices, are also impatient with the unity government they helped create. And to make matters worse, some prominent officials, fueled by opportunism and ego, threaten to implode the government from within.

Recently, a scuffle between supporters of two northern strongmen, Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum and Balkh province Gov. Mohammad Ata Noor, over whose face should be allowed to adorn posters in the streets ended in armed clashes. At least one person was killed. Several prominent politicians, some of them former Ghani supporters, have created councils whose official purpose is to keep the government on the right track without explicitly opposing it. In practice, the councils seem to have served more as platforms for disgruntled mujahideen and sidelined officials to claim a place in the limelight. All the while, ex-President Hamid Karzai is believed to be waiting in the wings for an opening to return to the national stage.

That opening is moving closer. According to the agreement underpinning the unity government, a vote must be held this fall, before the government’s second year runs out, to turn Abdullah’s post as chief executive into a prime ministerial position. Nobody believes that is going to happen. In March, the embattled commission chief who oversaw the 2014 elections resigned, paving way for much needed electoral reforms, but even if the commission began now, it would not have sufficient time to prepare for the vote.

While the government will likely be able to extend its election mandate, as long as its international partners maintain their support for it, in response, political opponents of all colors will likely claim that the government is illegitimate. Meanwhile, Ghani and Abdullah have also failed to agree on key positions, including a defense minister. They also continue to argue over a new intelligence chief, and it wasn’t until this weekend that they managed to get an attorney general approved, a year-and-a-half after he was supposed to have begun his charge against corruption, a possibly bigger evil than armed insurgents. The frailty of the unity government has become so obvious that Kerry, during a visit to Kabul on Saturday, felt the need to make it “very, very clear” to opponents that the government was to last the entirety of its five-year term.

Ahmad Zia Massoud traveled with his entourage in army helicopters and on the government’s dime, but his message to northerners directly contravened his boss, the president.

Two demands are emerging, said Haroon Mir, a political analyst in Kabul. Some demand early presidential elections; others are pushing for a Loya Jirga, a grand assembly, which would attract strongmen, opposition politicians, and elites from all over the country. While a so-called traditional Loya Jirga has no binding legal authority, it could easily have more public credibility than the current government and could be used to whip up frenzy and mount a serious challenge to the government.

“A traditional Loya Jirga will not be controllable,” Mir said.

So Massoud has hit a sore spot at the right time, politically speaking. Afghans feel increasingly alienated from their leaders, and his was the first government face many in the north had seen in a long time. His crowds often numbered more than a thousand people. On a Sunday in February, outside a rally at a wedding hall, I found myself squished in the middle of a dozen thickset, brawling men, clawing and shoving their way through an entrance door barricaded by three soldiers. Inside, bathed in fluorescent lights, Massoud was showered with applause. Finally, it seemed, someone from the government was giving the north the respect it deserved.

“Our province was central for the jihad, but we have been forgotten,” one snazzily dressed elder from Samangan with a long white turban proclaimed when it was his turn at the microphone.

To many northerners, Massoud’s tirades sound honest. To sensitive ears in the palace, though, he could sound like a mutineer.

This lament resonates. To many northerners, Massoud’s tirades sound honest. To sensitive ears in the palace, though, he could sound like a mutineer. A mutineer, that is, with a rank akin to vice president, whose entourage travels in national army helicopters, all on the government’s dime.

Ali Mohammad Ali, a Kabul-based security analyst, put it this way when asked about Massoud’s political moves: “Using government resources and turning them against the government is wrong.”

Some among Afghanistan’s foreign allies, whose patience with the government is already wearing thin, feel that Massoud’s maneuvers are only making matters worse, undermining a government that is already struggling to assert its legitimacy and is taking a beating on the battlefield.

“It is irresponsible for a government official to attack the security forces in a situation where the country is at war,” said Franz-Michael Mellbin, the European Union’s special representative and ambassador in Kabul, about Massoud’s tour. “Everyone in the government doesn’t have to agree. But the discussions shouldn’t take place in public. It is disrespectful towards the security forces who are out there dying every day.”

Nearly two months after his return to Kabul, Massoud’s mutiny has yet to materialize. Nevertheless, his protest is a sign of a recent willingness among some officials to capitalize on the weakness of the government, even if they are a part of it. It also puts into question the president’s broader public support. Massoud was a key member of Ghani’s election team and is the only representative among the president’s top allies who is Tajik, the country’s second-largest ethnicity. (Ghani is Pashtun.)

“Ghani can’t claim that he is a national leader if he doesn’t have support from [such a fundamental] sector of the Afghan population,” said Mir. Vice President Dostum, an Uzbek, has also made a habit of going to his home base in the north when he seems to feel sidelined. If such officials continue to play regional powerbrokers, Mir said, “the name of the national unity government loses its meaning.”

Ahmad Zia Massoud is celebrated on stage in Samangan, one of the five provinces in his northern roadshow.

It was predictable that the Taliban would exploit the vacuum left by the international military withdrawal. The government’s inability to prevent the Taliban from gaining ground is rooted, many think, in the brittle relationships inside the leadership. Though far from the traditional Taliban heartlands, the north has recently been hit by fierce Taliban offensives. Last September, Kunduz became the first provincial capital since 2001 to fall, temporarily, to the Taliban. Even now insurgents are within a couple of miles of several more capitals. In January, militants destroyed three power pylons in Baghlan, disrupting electricity southward to Kabul.

When Massoud’s entourage arrived in Baghlan a month later, I heard security officials swear to his advisors that they had cleared the area around the electricity towers. But as we flew over the area only hours later, we saw insurgents fighting on the barren ground below. Some of them took potshots at our helicopter.

Incidents like this foster claims that the security forces don’t take the worsening situation seriously. As politicians appear inept at securing the provinces, some Afghans start looking around for others to lead them. That is one reason the Taliban can still gain significant support. It is also a reason some are nostalgic for Karzai, and why others long for old strongmen. And so the public anxiety Massoud is trying to exploit is real.

When I probed him about the need to arm and reinforce old commanders the government had chosen not to include in its security forces, Massoud was unequivocal. “The mujahideen are very keen to support our army, and they have a lot of experience,” he told me on a cold soccer pitch ringed by mountains, yelling to be heard above the rotor of the helicopter, as it prepared to fly us onward. “The mujahideen are a very big social group in Afghanistan. Now that we are in an emergency situation, we need the mujahideen to support our troops.”

When I put to him that Afghanistan’s international partners are worried about the resurgence of irregular forces outside the auspices of the government, Massoud insisted that he is not out to create militias. He wants to form local “councils of resistance,” centered in Takhar province, where his brother was headquartered, and he wants the government to enroll the mujahideen in the national forces. However, if that doesn’t happen — and it is unlikely to — “then our mujahideen will do something on their own to fight against terrorists,” he said.

Crowds of old mujahideen commanders flocked to meet Ahmad Zia Massoud, partly out of respect for his late, celebrated brother, Ahmad Shah Massoud, whom they used to fight for.

Ahmad Zia Massoud doesn’t immediately fit the prototype of a guerrilla commander. For one, he doesn’t have his brother’s charisma. On billboards, Ahmad Shah, known as the “Lion of Panjshir,” looks radiant, like a splicing between Bob Marley and Che Guevara. In contrast, Ahmad Zia, stern-faced and calm, looks more like a serious dad. When speaking in public, he folds his hands across his abdomen, as if trying to appear as unimposing as possible. His hands are soft, like a politician’s, not a fighter’s.

But the Massoud name goes a long way with the mujahideen. One of them is Baghlan’s provincial council chief, Mohammad Safdar Mohseni, who said he went to Massoud’s rally out of loyalty to the family legacy.

“If the government continues to waste time, people will take up weapons and fight the Taliban. They will ask the government to leave them alone so they can fight on their own,” he said. Another commander, Jalan Bajgar, said the mujahideen had long deterred the Taliban from attacking police posts just by being well-armed, but the insurgents had grown bolder. “We need bigger weapons and commanders to go to the front lines,” he said.

The idea of private armies scattered across the north makes foreign diplomats uneasy. “It might solve a local security problem, but it doesn’t strengthen the state,” Mellbin said. “We have invested enormous sums in moving Afghanistan out of fragility towards stability. So undermining the authority and legitimacy of the state is not a solution for those of us who would like to see a stable Afghanistan.”

In March, Ghani got a rare win in his attempts to restart the peace process when a delegation from the insurgent group Hizb-e-Islami visited Kabul to pledge their readiness to talk. Last week, the group dropped a previous demand that all international forces must leave Afghanistan before they want to talk peace. Though not as militarily important as they once were, the government hopes Hizb-e-Islami’s concession will help convince the Taliban to join the peace process as well.

That is a formula for a paralyzing tug of war.

But the consensus is that there will be no peace without serious reforms. On one side, Ghani has proved the president many feared he would be: a professorial micromanager wary of delegating responsibility. At the same time, Abdullah is facing pressure from his northern supporters, who still believe he was robbed of the presidency, to claim his fair share of influence in the unity government.  That is a formula for a paralyzing tug of war.

“The government has become very fragile,” Mir said. “It wasn’t built on a vision for the country; it was based on pure power sharing. It hasn’t come together on a specific agenda. People in government want to preserve their own interests.”

Before Massoud left Baghlan, the provincial police chief delivered some good news. Over a breakfast of bread, tea, and deep-fried fish, he reported that security forces had pushed the Taliban back, so engineers could finally repair the destroyed electricity towers. Massoud’s convoy drove to a snow-speckled mountaintop, which constituted the front line, to look at the pylons from afar. It was impossible to make them out, but the army commander said engineers were working away. While he and Massoud pored over a map, canon gunners blasted three shells from a 122 mm howitzer in the supposed direction of the Taliban. A week later, after Massoud had safely returned to Kabul, electricity had still not returned. The Taliban fired back and hit the governor’s compound with a rocket, killing one employee. Government forces later retook the district but not without U.S. planes raining bombs on the insurgents. It confirmed the often painful view of many Afghans that, politically and militarily, their government is still beholden to the United States.

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ON THE MEDIA: Shorter isn’t better, photos aren’t always alluring and deep digging pays off, recent report concludes

By Rick Edmonds   March 31, 2016  POYNTER

Gawker’s metrically-driven Big Board. (Photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid)

Shorter isn’t better, photos aren’t always alluring and deep digging pays off, recent report concludes

After two years work analyzing more than 400,000 stories, the American Press Institute is beginning to find general patterns in what works to attract and hold the attention of digital readers.

The findings are collected in a recent paper by API executive director Tom Rosenstiel for the Brookings Institution — and a number are counter-intuitive. For instance:

  • Long stories do fine and are read thoroughly, as much so on phones as any other device. In the API sample, stories longer than 1,200 words, got 23 percent more engagement, 45 percent more social referrals and 11 percent more pageviews.The received wisdom about keeping digital posts short, Rosenstiel said, may have applied to desktop browsing at work, but so much reading has shifted to smartphones. Readers see the phone as their device and their time to use as they wish.
  • Overall, photos (or audio or video clips) boost engagement by 19 percent — but the effect is selective. Surprisingly, government stories got a 75 percent boost, perhaps because they humanize what could otherwise be dry, Rosenstiel reasons.By contrast, photos had no impact on engagement with stories on food and dining — a very popular category these days. Looking for a place to go out for dinner, for instance, is a “hunter-gatherer” activity where pictures may seem to be beside the point.
    Sports fell about halfway between, with the impact of photos now undercut by the round-the-clock availability of highlight clips.
  • Majors enterprise stories are highly valued — scoring 48 percent better in engagement, but they account for only 1 percent of content produced. Of course, reduced resources together with the time required for major work limit the number of these stories. And another related finding was discouraging — doing just a little more than a very basic news story — what Rosenstiel calls “light enterprise” — didn’t improve engagement at all.

The API project began as a pilot with Pioneer News Group in the Pacific Northwest, to help editors decide which topics had particular resonance in a given community. Those “franchise topics” got added emphasis in assignments and tagging showed that they did indeed get greater reader attention.

Over time, the metrics have evolved to include performance of the full range of what a newspaper’s site covers. The 55 participating news organizations now include some large metros like The Dallas Morning News and a few specialized non-newspaper sites.

While firms like Chartbeat and Parse.ly have already been moving the metrics conversation beyond just pageviews and uniques, API was looking for more information that could be tied back to journalistic intent.

So editors tag stories the day after publication using an “Engagement Index” with a dozen factors (which can be weighted different ways by different publications). It takes about 30 seconds to tag one story, so a section editor responsible for 10 stories in a day can get that done in five minutes.

How does this then get used in the newsroom? Rosenstiel explains the basic concept this way:

Once a publisher has data about what content they are producing and what’s working and not working journalistically, the next step is try(ing) to change what they are doing to do more work that readers value inside key coverage areas and spend less effort on what isn’t working.

Editorial judgment quickly comes into play. Editors need to factor in that some topics — say, water quality — are essential though not wildly popular. And more effective coverage of a given subject might mean more explanatory, how-this-affects-you stories and fewer for-the-record, incremental pieces.

I asked Jeff Sonderman, API deputy director who runs the Metrics for News program with Rosenstiel, if they could document business benefits.  His email reply:

There are at least four primary ways in which we see this program boost business results:
a) Reducing subscriber loss or churn. The top reason readers give when they call you up to cancel a subscription isn’t that they dislike you, it’s that they “just don’t find the time to read it anymore.” That means you’ve lost relevance in their lives — that you haven’t given them any specific reason at any specific moment to reach for you as an indispensable source for a specific thing. This program helps publishers identify and execute the specific “franchise” areas of coverage that build those strong connections with readers and keep them paying.
b) Identifying and launching new products. The insights from the analytics and the community survey point toward unexploited opportunities in a publisher’s market. There may be a major concern about crime, or a major passion for outdoors recreation, or a loyal following for high school football — any one of those things can be an opportunity to launch a whole new product that brings in a new audience and revenue streams.
c) Attracting new advertisers. As publishers build new “franchise” coverage areas that they focus on and excel at, we have seen advertisers approach them and ask about how to be involved. The local bait-and-tackle shop, for instance, may never have seen a reason to spend its marketing budget in the local newspaper. But when that local paper launches a new focus and new products for outdoors enthusiasts in the community, suddenly that changes. Moving into new coverage specialities and growing deep loyalty among different audiences gives advertisers who seek to target those audiences a new reason to look at you as their solution.
d) Traffic growth. One of the things Metrics for News does that regular web analytics don’t, is to show you how to grow your traffic. Do more enterprise in this topic. Include more photos in this topic. Do more columns about this subject instead of that one. And so on. There’s a clear, evidence-based roadmap for how to grow, and that leads to large traffic growth at our partner publishers which is a general boost to the online ad revenue among other things.
Rosenstiel is a friend and a former member of Poynter’s National Advisory Board.  He and I collaborated for 10 years on Pew’s annual State of the News Media report.  Sonderman was a digital fellow at Poynter before joining API.
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ON THE MEDIA: Commentary: When faraway tragedies are ignored, it’s not always the media’s fault

Their posts will say things like …

“These Attacks Happened Days Before Brussels — But You Probably Didn’t Hear About Them.”

“Over 40 innocent people (mostly children and women) killed in today’s terrorist attack … Any #JeSuisLahore?”

This belief that the West does not care very much about people killed in faraway places is mostly true. But the idea that the fault lies with the Western media is an attempt to use journalists as convenient scapegoats.

As one Twitter user from Chicago wrote: “It’s unacceptable that when terrorism strikes in countries that arent part of the western world there is no media coverage #PrayForNigeria”

That’s just wrong. You were told, you just didn’t pay attention.

When the Boko Haram attack occurred in January, the Tribune reported it online and in print. But no throngs flocked to the story through our homepage and tweets. One of the three comments left on the story even pointed out that no one seems to care about such an act of barbarism.

Years back, when the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls first put Boko Haram on many Western minds, we saw very little engagement with our stories until a social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls started receiving attention from the first lady and fashion models. I still recall one editor here at the Tribune describing it thusly, weeks after the news broke, “I think the world is starting to catch up to that story.”

The world might have caught up at the time, but it appears to have fallen behind again.

Some will say it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy — that if we treated Nigeria the way we treated the Boston Marathon bombing, people would care. It’s a fair rebuke.

Here is what we did not do for the Easter attack in Pakistan that we might for an attack like the one in Brussels:

We did not send a news alert, and arguably we should have. We did not tweet every conceivable update to the story. We did not elevate it to the centerpiece of our website, or change our Web layout to accommodate the crush of information and reaction we expect from a major story. We did put a headline on our printed front page, though it referred readers to our Nation & World section for the story itself.

Our article on the Pakistan bombing was promoted as the second most important story on our Web homepage (just below news about the mayor’s unprecedented end-around to appoint a new interim police superintendent). Headlines made it clear this was an attack aimed at Christian children celebrating Easter in a major city. But the story was never our most-read by homepage visitors, or shared widely on Facebook. Not even close.

Stories about Chicago’s apartment building parking glut and a Brooklyn letter carrier being harassed by the NYPD on his route were more popular, at least among our online readership.

The truth is, most people didn’t seem to care much about the carnage in Pakistan. This wasn’t a uniquely American problem either. The same thing happened at The Guardian, a British paper, according to an article Monday by an online news editor on Medium.

If the reader response to the Pakistan story had been anything like what we saw for the Brussels or Boston or Paris terror attacks, we would have given it wall-to-wall coverage. My newspaper colleagues and I ache to be relevant and valuable in your lives. Literally, our jobs depend on it.

Don’t get me wrong: We will cover the important news whether or not it attracts a large audience online. But reader interest does help shape the size of the spotlight we offer to certain stories.

It’s pointless, even arrogant, for me to criticize the readers for what they’re interested in.

No one deserves shame for caring about places they have been to, or might go, or where they share a common cultural and political heritage. People generally care about news that most directly affects them. Which means they pay more attention to the Chicago Police Department than an offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban.

And yes, Western media have their biases. Absolutely. I don’t speak Urdu so I have no idea what to look for on Twitter to see if there is some #JeSuisLahore hashtag trending in support of the Pakistan victims.

The news media do a lot of criticizing. Of elected officials, of art, of ballplayers. Media deserve healthy criticism of our own.

One thing we have learned is that the complexity of world news is difficult and the media — myself included — have not done a good job of helping readers understand. These places are foreign, after all, and need to be better contextualized. It’s one of the reasons The Washington Post’s “9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask” story, and a similar one about Ukraine, were highly popular features.

Eric Rich, the Post’s editor who oversees homepages, explained to me: “If we see readers passing an important story by, for example, we might try to explain its importance more in the headline or blurb. Or we might try to convey its human dimensions more starkly.”

But sometimes, no matter how enthusiastically we present the news, the audience is just not interested.

Here is the Big Media Secret: We will generally do what you tell us to do. You, the reader, viewer, Tweeter, Facebooker currently hold more power over what is covered than at any time in history. There are no classified ads to pad salaries anymore. We survive by giving you what makes you click, subscribe and share us. This is, in some ways, a blessing. We’re responsible to what you want, and when we make an impact, we know it. But in some ways, it’s a curse. We run the risk of becoming a clearinghouse of our worst instincts, and yours.

If you show me you care about Nigeria, I’ll fly to Lagos in a heartbeat. But please don’t tell me I don’t care, just because others on your Facebook feed didn’t loop you in. Caring is what we as journalists spend our entire careers doing.

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AFGHANISTAN: What became of 25 young Afghan deportees?

By Kristy Siegfried   6 April 2016 IRIN

Zakir was just 14 when he fled pressure from Taliban fighters to join their ranks and embarked on the long and dangerous journey from Afghanistan to Britain.

In the UK, he found not only safety but also the opportunity to pursue the education he could never have in Afghanistan. But his legal status was temporary and shortly before turning 18, he received a letter from the Home Office saying his status would soon expire and he faced the prospect of being returned to Afghanistan.

Now aged 23 and still waiting for a decision on his final appeal to remain in the UK, Zakir’s life has been on hold for the past five years, but he remains determined to avoid deportation to his home country.

“There is no way I can go home,” he said in a pre-recorded speech played at an event in London on Tuesday night to launch a study into what happens to former child asylum seekers forcibly returned to Afghanistan. “People are still looking for me [there],” Zakir said. “My culture has changed. I feel British.”

The research, which followed 25 returnees over 18 months, shows that Zakir’s fears are well founded. It discovered that the young people experience numerous severe difficulties after their return to Afghanistan. These range from insecurity to a lack of social networks, work or education opportunities, and mental health problems. More than half the returnees said they planned to leave Afghanistan again. By the end of the research period, six had done so, while the whereabouts of 11 others was unknown.

Young Afghans make up the second largest group of unaccompanied children who apply for asylum in the UK – 656 out of 3,043 asylum applications from unaccompanied children made in 2015 were Afghan. The majority are given only temporary leave to remain and are placed with foster families or in the care of local authorities. Reaching 18 means not only leaving the care system but also losing the right to remain in the UK. Applications to extend status or appeal the original decision on their asylum applications are rarely successful.

“Most adult Afghans get some kind of protection status on appeal, but it’s much more common for young people to be refused because of inconsistencies in their stories,” explained Emily Bowerman, a programme manager with the Refugees Support Network (RSN), which provides educational and legal support to young unaccompanied refugee children in London and produced ‘After Return’, the report released on Tuesday.

“Imagine a 15- or 16-year-old who’s probably spent a year travelling. When they have their initial interview after they arrive in the UK… often they struggle to articulate their claim for asylum,” Bowerman told IRIN.

According to Home Office data, 2,018 young people have been forcibly returned to Afghanistan from the UK since 2007. A lack of post-return monitoring means very little is known about their whereabouts or wellbeing, but there is mounting evidence that security conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated over the past year, since the withdrawal of international forces. Last year saw the highest number of civilian casualties since 2009.

An August 2015 court injunction that had halted deportations to Afghanistan from the UK due to the worsening security situation was successfully overturned by the Home Office last month.

The ‘After Return’ study found that 12 of the returnees interviewed had experienced security incidents including bomb blasts and targeted attacks. One was beaten unconscious by unknown assailants in Kabul and another witnessed the killing of another young returnee.

“Being a returnee does increase their risk,” said Bowerman. “It makes them stand out and subjects them to particular targeting by Taliban groups.”

She added that it also affected their ability to form new friendships or reconnect with family. “Other people in society fear they’ll put them at risk,” she said.

Many young people in the study hid their status as returnees from new friends while less than half were living with their families. In some cases families were still paying off debts incurred from funding their migration to the UK and couldn’t afford to support them. Some even resented their return.

Only a fifth of the returnees had found stable employment in Afghanistan, where jobs are already scarce and their lack of personal connections and status as returnees worked against them.

Feelings of isolation, stigmatisation and hopelessness about their futures meant that 22 of the 25 returnees were struggling emotionally and 15 had mental health issues including severe anxiety and depression.

“I have seen my worst days after the return to Afghanistan,” said one. Another talked about being constantly mocked by people: “They say I have wasted my life and now have returned with empty hands. It feels so depressing from inside.”

RSN is hopeful the findings will be used as evidence that could result in fewer young Afghans having their asylum applications refused or spending long periods in limbo before ultimately being returned.

Zakir has been offered a place at university and even a bursary, but he can’t accept either until his immigration status is resolved. In the meantime, he has to sign in with the Home Office every two weeks and lives in constant fear of being detained and deported.

“I have made friends and a future for myself here in London, but I am facing having all of that taken away from me.”

 

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Haitian media partner highlights Owning Our Future, Kreole

Logo_alterpresse

 Haitian Alternative Information Network

Haïti/Reconstruction post-séisme : Des efforts de relèvement, exposés dans des mini-films documentaires

alterpresse.org/Groupe Medialternatif, originalPar Edner Fils Décime

P-au-P, 28 mars 2016 [AlterPresse] — Vient de paraître une collection de dix courts documentaires, baptisée « owning our future / Posséder notre avenir », dont a pris connaissance l’agence en ligne AlterPresse.

Cette collection de 10 courts documentaires retrace des histoires d’efforts, accomplis pour se prendre en main, malgré la précarité et les conditions de vie qui ont empiré après le tremblement de terre du 12 janvier 2010.

L’un des objectifs poursuivis est de vivre l’espoir de lendemains meilleurs, construits avec les propres mains d’habitantes et d’habitants dans le présent.

« Owning our future » donne donc à voir des perspectives haïtiennes en images.

En « se concentrant sur les défis de développement économique et social, auxquels sont confrontés les Haïtiennes et Haïtiens », cette collection entend [nourrir] « la compréhension d’une Haïti, qui va au-delà de ses catastrophes artificielles et naturelles », indique, sans ambages, la pochette de la collection.

Produits par Community supported film (Csf), en association avec le Groupe Médialternatif, ces mini-films de moins de dix minutes offrent l’opportunité « unique » de découvrir différentes facettes de la vie haïtienne, à travers des images et paroles de vendeurs de rues, de membres d’organisations de développement, d’artistes, de personnes en situation de handicap, de fermiers, etc.

Les 3 réalisatrices et 7 réalisateurs de ces mini-films sont des Haïtiennes et Haïtiens ayant suivi, fin 2014, une formation intensive de 5 semaines sur le cinéma documentaire à Port-au-Prince, sous la houlette des institutions productrices de la collection.

Chèmèt, Chèmètrès est l’histoire de la reconstruction durable des maisons des habitantes et habitants, dans une zone rurale de Gressier (à moins d’une trentaine de km, au sud de la capitale, Port-au-Prince), par la pratique du système de solidarité haïtienne, dénommé Konbit.

Le mini-film montre également comment, en plaçant les actrices/acteurs-bénéficiaires au cœur des activités, le coût des constructions est nettement moindre.

Tourné autour d’une personne non-voyante, Bouske Lavi met en lumière une personne, souffrant de handicap, mais qui se démarque, comme véritable leader, pour encourager les autres personnes dans la même situation à se construire en toute autonomie.

Transformer les décombres du tremblement de terre en objets d’art, puiser les matières premières de son art dans ce qui reste debout des édifices de la Grand’Rue (boulevard Jean-Jacques Dessalines) de Port-au-Prince est le fil conducteur de Soti nan dekonm.

Le travail des « artistes de la résistance » trouve ici une mise en spotlight.

Chanje vitès fait vivre l’histoire d’une femme, mère de famille, qui fait tomber les stéréotypes, en pratiquant le métier de mécanicienne à côté de son mari. Elle démontre combien le métier de mécanicienne n’a rien d’insolite.

Une femme entrepreneure haïtienne, affectée – au triple point de vue physique, psychologique et économique – dans le violent tremblement de terre du 12 janvier 2010, a su trouver l’énergie, en elle, pour restaurer la fierté familiale, par la mise en place d’une entreprise de décoration intérieure.

Son histoire est évocatrice. C’est File Zegwi.

On retrouve d’autres histoires, issues des perspectives locales, dans lesquelles les actrices et les acteurs se prennent en main pour maîtriser leur avenir.

Les exemples sont parlants : qu’il s’agisse d’une production, pour renforcer les capacités de sa communauté Pwodiksyon lèt pou yon kominote djanm, de la transmission de connaissances aux générations à venir, pour ne pas perdre l’illustre pratique artisanale du fer découpé dans fòme jenerasyon k ap vini an (former la génération future), ou de cette ode aux parents, vendeurs de rue, vendeurs de rien, qui investissent dans l’avenir de leur progéniture envesti nan timoun (investir dans les enfants).

Geto pwòp, Geto vèt met en lumière des pratiques positives, dans les quartiers populaires, généralement présentés sous un jour « de crasse, de pauvreté et de criminalité ».

L’adaptation du konbit (tradition rurale), au contexte urbain, crée des jardins urbains, travaillés par des voisines et voisins dans une sorte de vivre ensemble.

Le tremblement de terre du 12 janvier 2010 a pour corollaire d’autres séismes dans plusieurs branches économiques de la vie nationale, notamment dans les petits métiers.

Dezas pèpè a fait vivre le drame d’un vieux cordonnier, qui résiste, pour garder le métier et faire vivre sa famille.

Faut-il rappeler que le tremblement de terre du 12 janvier 2010 a occasionné la mort de près de 300 mille personnes et autant de blessés, sans compter des dégâts matériels considérables. [efd emb rc apr 28/03/2016 14:40]

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AFGHANISTAN: Amina Azimi — Raising the Voices of the Disabled in Afghanistan

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AFGHANISTAN: Desperate Afghans flee amid Taliban surge, economic woes, rampant corruption

 April 6, 2016 Washington Times

Young Afghan refugees are left in limbo on the Greek-Macedonia border, where a makeshift refugee camp is struggling to handle the estimated 14,000 people stranded after Macedonia announced it would close its border with Greece. (Valerie Plesch/Special to the Washington Times)

Photo by: Valerie Plesch Young Afghan refugees are left in limbo on the Greek-Macedonia border, where a makeshift refugee camp is struggling to handle the estimated 14,000 people stranded after Macedonia announced it would close its border with Greece. (Valerie Plesch/Special to the Washington Times)

KABUL, Afghanistan — For the hundreds of Afghans who lined up before sunrise here at Kabul’s only passport office one recent morning, their slow steps were the first of a long, desperate journey out of their war-stricken nation.

One applicant, 30-year-old house painter Hashmatullah Naimi from the neighboring province of Parwan, hoped to join the tens of thousands of Afghans who have already left their homeland in the last year in search of better jobs and a better life in Western Europe, a peril-filled trek that usually takes them through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Greece.


“I feel so scared of dying of poverty — there are no more jobs in Afghanistan. I am a house painter, but nowadays no one is asking me to paint their home,” he said while waiting in line with around 350 other applicants. “The economy of the country is breaking down, and people do not want to risk spending their money.”

The lagging economy and rampant corruption, along with a worsening security situation, are threatening Afghanistan’s fledging democracy despite the best efforts and huge investment of the U.S. and its allies, say analysts.

“Insecurity has increased in large parts of the country,” said Arne Strand, an Afghanistan expert in Norway and research director at the Chr. Michelsen Institute, an independent research center on international affairs. “The Taliban has gained strongholds not only in the south but also in the north, which has led them both to higher insecurity but also more migration,”

October 2016 will mark the 15th anniversary of the U.S.-led military invasion in Afghanistan that removed the fundamentalist Taliban from power but created a central government that has proven barely able to hold onto power in Kabul. Since then, two U.S. presidents have overseen the deployment of more than 130,000 American and U.S.-led coalition troops to the battlefields for a war that has cost American taxpayers more than $1 trillion.

Despite those efforts, Afghans don’t want to stay.

Stuck near the finish line

More than 3,000 miles away from Kabul’s passport office, the Afghans who made it out congregate among the thousands stranded in the makeshift camps in the northern Greek village of Idomeni. They’re stuck because the Macedonian government recently closed its doors to all refugees, creating the bottleneck.

Here they are among the estimated 14,000 refugees stranded in Idomeni who fled conflicts in Syria and elsewhere this year along the so-called “Balkan Route” that runs through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and other nations before it ends in Central Europe.

Last year more than 1 million refugees attempted to enter Europe. Around 178,000 Afghans applied for asylum in Europe last year, according to Eurostat. Many won’t be allowed to stay. The European Union has reportedly drafted a plan that would send 80,000 Afghans back to Afghanistan. The Afghan government says it is unable to accommodate and ensure the safety of those returning.

This year Afghans represent 26 percent, or roughly 37,000, of the total Mediterranean Sea arrivals to Europe, making them the second-highest group after Syrians, according to the U.N.

One Afghan at the Greek camp, Zalmai Rahimi, 32, speaks with an American accent owing to his 11 years working with the U.S. Army. He abandoned a thriving carpet and jewelry business when he left for the West. After spending close to $11,000 to escape Afghanistan with the help of smugglers, he now shares a tent with his wife and three sons on a muddy Greek field.

“I had a good home — everything was good for me, the only problem I had was working for the Americans,” he said about his life in the western city of Herat.

Taliban militants often threatened him and his family, said Mr. Rahimi. A few years ago he applied for a special visa issued by the U.S. government to Afghans who worked with the American military. In his pocket he still kept an apparently legitimate recommendation letter from the American military. But he claimed the American Embassy in Kabul never responded to his application.

“Before it was just the Taliban in Afghanistan, now Daesh is there,” he said, using the alternate name for the Syria-based jihadi Islamic State movement that has recently moved into Afghanistan. “It’s a big problem for the Afghan people.”

Rising civilian casualties

Last year saw the highest recorded number of Afghan civilian casualties since the beginning of the war in 2001 — a total of more than 11,000 deaths and injuries, according to a recent U.N. survey. Areas of the country that were once deemed safe are now wracked by violence as the Taliban test the weak, faction-ridden government in Kabul.

But some experts argue that other problems besides security are holding back Afghanistan.

“It’s not really a military issue,” said Mr. Strand. “It’s just as much a lack of governance. It’s a lack of trust in the government in Kabul.”

In 2014, after highly contested elections, the Obama administration and other governments brokered a power-sharing agreement between President Ashraf Ghani and the government’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah. But Mr. Abdullah’s allies in parliament have blocked Mr. Ghani’s nominations for key government positions, including defense minister, a position that has been vacant since the agreement was signed.

In addition to a weak government, Kabul relies on international donors to fund services for its 32.5 million people. The country received around $16 billion in international aid for 2014 through 2017. Those funds could dry up soon, however, giving more Afghans a reason to leave.

“There is a fear that by 2017 the international donors will not necessarily continue the funding at the same level as today,” Mr. Strand said.




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HAITI: 7 Articles To Read Uncovering Hillary Clinton’s Haiti Record

 

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Missing from the discussion of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s record has been her work in Haiti, where she blatantly manipulated and threatened Haitian government officials to control electoral outcomes. In that country, too, she and her husband have led the way in promoting a sweatshop-led development model.

Other Worlds has compiled a list of articles that take a closer look into Clinton’s work in Haiti and what her Presidency could portend for other nations. Take a closer look:

Clinton Emails Reveal “Behind the Doors Actions” of Private Sector and US Embassy in Haiti Elections

Recently released e-mails from Hillary Clinton’s private server reveal new details of how U.S. officials worked closely with the Haitian private sector as they forced Haitian authorities to change the results of the first round presidential elections in late 2010. The e-mails documenting these “behind the doors actions” were made public as part of an ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.

READ MORE

What Are We Missing About Haiti in the Hillary Emails?

The Fourth Estate is in foreclosure. The “who, what, where, when, and why” of traditional coverage is missing. A thorough analysis of what is redacted or completely missing in the Clinton emails is not forthcoming, and the real scandal resides in politically motivated reporting. It is time that the press wipe themselves clean of political bias and stop shouting about the paper tiger of wiped servers. To steal a quote from Hillary at the initial Benghazi hearing, “What difference does it make?”

READ MORE

A Look at Hillary (and Bill) Clinton’s Past in Haiti

Hillary Clinton might have some explaining to do before she can claim the top spot in the Democratic primary. Any pro-Hillary voters who prioritize moral plans for American foreign policy should probably look into the candidate’s past in Haiti.

READ MORE

The King and Queen of Haiti

Sunday, January 30, 2011. Two hundred thousand people occupied Egypt’s Tahrir Square, defying a military curfew to demand the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. Tunisia’s authoritarian leader had just been overthrown, unleashing a wave of anti-government protests from Yemen to Syria to Morocco. South Sudan’s provisional president announced his people had voted overwhelmingly for independence, clearing the way for the breakup of Africa’s largest country. Yet as Hillary Clinton rushed to Andrews Air Force Base to catch her battered government-issue 727, the secretary of state was not headed to Cairo, Tunis or Juba. She was going to Haiti
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Role of Hillary Clinton’s brother in Haiti gold mine raises eyebrows

Drive down the rutted dirt road a couple of miles to the guardhouse, then hike 15 minutes up to the overgrown hilltop, and there it is: a piece of 3 1/2 -inch-wide PVC pipe sticking out of the ground.

This is what, at least for the time being, a gold mine looks like.

It also has become a potentially problematic issue for Hillary Rodham Clinton as she considers a second presidential run, after it was revealed this month that in 2013, one of her brothers was added to the advisory board of the company that owns the mine.

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Outsourcing Haiti

Across the country from Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, miles of decrepit pot-holed streets give way to a smooth roadway leading up to the gates of the Caracol Industrial Park, but no further. The fishing hamlet of Caracol, from which the park gets its name, lies around the bend down a bumpy dirt road. Four years after the earthquake that destroyed the country on January 12, 2010, the Caracol Industrial Park is the flagship reconstruction project of the international community in Haiti. Signs adorn nearby roads, mostly in English, declaring the region “Open for Business.” In a dusty field, hundreds of empty, brightly colored houses are under construction in neat rows. If all goes as hoped for by the enthusiastic backers of the industrial park, this area could be home to as many as 300,000 additional residents over the next decade.

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WikiLeaks Haiti: Let Them Live on $3 a Day

Contractors for Fruit of the Loom, Hanes and Levi’s worked in close concert with the US Embassy when they aggressively moved to block a minimum wage increase for Haitian assembly zone workers, the lowest-paid in the hemisphere, according to secret State Department cables.

The factory owners told the Haitian Parliament that they were willing to give workers a 9-cents-per-hour pay increase to 31 cents per hour to make T-shirts, bras and underwear for US clothing giants like Dockers and Nautica.

But the factory owners refused to pay 62 cents per hour, or $5 per day, as a measure unanimously passed by the Haitian Parliament in June 2009 would have mandated. And they had the vigorous backing of the US Agency for International Development and the US Embassy when they took that stand.

READ MORE

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Assoc Press highlights Haitian artists group covered in trainee’s film

The Atis Rezistans (Artists’ Resistance) is highlighted in the following Associated Press article.  CSFilm’s trainee Robenson Sanon produced Out of the Rubble on an artist in this group.  The film is part of the collection,  Owning Our Future-Haitian Perspectives in Film.

Haiti Artists Forge Int’l Reputation With Art Made of Junk

By DAVID MCFADDEN, ASSOCIATED PRESS, PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Apr 11, 2016

Amid a maze of car repair shops in Haiti’s gritty capital, Andre Eugene pitches a shredded tire he found atop a towering sculpture he built out of rusty engine parts, bed springs and other cast-off junk.

“This is what I do: I work with the garbage of the world,” says Eugene, assessing the largest sculpture displayed at the entrance of his studio and open-air museum off a crumbling street cutting through some of Port-au-Prince’s poorest neighborhoods.

The Haitian sculptor is a founding member of Atis Rezistans, a shifting collective of artists who recycle whatever useful scraps they can find to give a raw, physical shape to the spiritual world of Voodoo, or Vodou as the religion is known by Haitians, and weigh in on the country’s chronic political and economic troubles.

While Haiti’s established galleries were slow to warm to the scrap sculptors of the capital’s impoverished Grand Rue neighborhood, bustling with furniture-makers and other craftsmen, the artisans working with recycled materials have been embraced by a number of international art connoisseurs and academics.

Haiti Scrap Sculpture

Over the last decade, the work of Atis Rezistans has been exhibited in cities such as Paris, London, and Los Angeles. There are sculptures included in the permanent collections of museums, including the Frost Art Museum in Miami.

Haitian art has long had a reputation for imaginative richness, and wealthy international collectors including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and filmmaker Jonathan Demme sought out self-taught painters colorfully evoking the everyday lives of Haitians or depicting dreamlike scenes. And even though found-object creations have been part of the poor country’s art for decades, experts say there has been nothing like the in-your-face works of Atis Rezistans.

“Atis Rezistans takes an old practice in new directions, expanding the range of materials used and offering stunning new meanings for objects found in everyday life,” said Marcus Rediker, a collector of Haitian art and a distinguished professor of Atlantic history at the University of Pittsburgh.

The materials that form the sharp-edged sculptures include automotive fragments, carved wood pieces, broken TVs, discarded toys and even real human skulls collected at a cemetery of mausoleums where bones were scattered by grave robbers.

Many of their artworks are a nod to Baron Samedi, the Vodou god of the dead, and his rambunctious offspring, Gede. Others offer a kaleidoscope of jarring images out of a Mad Max movie: sculptures of faces with spikes; masked figures resembling shrouded corpses; broken baby dolls fused with computer motherboards.

But it’s not all darkness. There’s plenty of evidence of playfulness and irreverent theatricality, such as a skull-topped figure with a stethoscope, snake sculptures with scales of inlaid bottle caps and much frank sexual imagery.

Perhaps their most acclaimed collaborative creation has been a mashup of high art-meets-developing world called the “Ghetto Biennale.” Every two years, international artists come to the Grand Rue neighborhood in a kind of cross-cultural festival that leaves the door open for just about anything.

The Ghetto Biennale takes a form developed for European art fairs and radically subverts it, according to Anthony Bogues, a Brown University professor who co-curated a 2011 exhibition of Haitian art at the Providence, Rhode Island school.

“Art for them is not about the elite but rather recognizing that art is a language in which Haitispeaks to itself and the world,” Bogues said of Atis Rezistans.

Collaborations with overseas artists who come to Haiti have given younger members of the collective chances to tap into art networks across the globe, while international artists are stimulated by the Haitian group’s creative process.

“Their philosophy to turn trash into art, thus something seemingly worthless into something valuable, has inspired me,” said Alice Smeets, a Belgian artist who collaborated with members of Atis Rezistans to create staged photographs in Haitian slums that depict figures from tarot cards.

Eugene hopes that the praise gathered for the group he founded with Celeur Jean-Herard, who has since departed the collective, can now translate into enough earnings to upgrade his yard’s musty museum and improve the lives of members. and local youngsters dubbed “children of the resistance” who sculpt and paint.

Though he has traveled the world with his art, Eugene still lives in a small concrete shack next to his Grand Rue workshop and “Musee d’Art,” where many sculptures are caked with dust and swathed in cobwebs. Two turkeys and several cats were the only visitors one recent afternoon.

He calls Atis Rezistans a social “movement” that should expand opportunities for its artists.

“I don’t want to be famous,” Eugene said in his rain-slicked concrete yard in the poor neighborhood, shortly after returning to Haiti from an exhibit of a major piece in Milan. “Step by step, I am looking to make money so we can improve our situation here.”

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David McFadden on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/dmcfadd

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AFGHANISTAN: Afghanistan’s ArtLords try to reclaim Kabul

4 April 2016   BBC

A group of Afghan activists and artists are attempting to reclaim Kabul after years of war – by arming themselves with paintbrushes. Because of the poor security situation, many defensive walls have sprung up around high-profile buildings in the city, and these provide the ArtLords with their canvases.

Anti-corruption painting on the wall of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security

Image copyrightArtLords

The group has produced a series of paintings of eyes on the walls, which are mostly accompanied by the slogan “I See You” and are designed as a warning to corrupt officials. This set of eyes, on the wall of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), mysteriously disappeared only a few days after it was painted in December.

After a huge public outcry, the NDS asked the ArtLords to draw the painting again, but on a different wall, which the ArtLords refused to do. “Now we have the same eyes and slogans on the same wall,” ArtLords founder Omaid Sharifi says.

Omaid Sharifi working on a painting

Image copyrightArtLords

Omaid Sharifi says he wants the paintings to penetrate the politicians’ defences.

“They use these walls for protection and we want to take all that down.”

Baryalai Fetrat, sociology lecturer at Kabul University, says these paintings are “a powerful tool” for bringing about social change, cutting as they do across the educational divide.

Portrait of Afghan policewoman Fariba Hamid

Image copyrightArtLords

Policewoman Fariba Hamid was painted on the security wall of Kabul’s ninth police district, where she serves. The portrait was put up to celebrate International Women’s Day in March.

“We face lots of struggles,” the policewoman said of her role.

This painting appeared near the area in Kabul where an Afghan woman, Farkhunda, was fatally lynched by a group of men just over a year ago. She was falsely accused of burning the Koran.

The slogan beneath the picture says: “A brave man supports women.”

Painting of camel and heart in Kabul

Image copyrightArtLords

Not all the paintings are political – this one suggests a caravan of love from a country at war.

And the ArtLords have shown their work outside Afghanistan too.

This installation, which was showcased in Berlin in December, was “a mixed work between us and German artists”, Omaid Sharifi says. It was based on an image taken in 2014 at a camp for internally displaced people in Afghanistan.

Photographer Rada Akbar was documenting underage marriage when she captured a young mother, Naghma, and her baby daughter on film. Naghma, who was then 19, had been married for two years and had lived in the camp for 15 years.

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AFGHANISTAN: Obama’s Afghan Dilemma: To Bomb or Not to Bomb

BY: DAN DE LUCE, PAUL MCLEAR  

As Kabul’s fragile army struggles to hold the line, will Washington’s warplanes come to the rescue?

Obama’s Afghan Dilemma: To Bomb or Not to Bomb

The Taliban released a propaganda video in August that showed more than 100 fighters, clutching AK-47 rifles and sitting astride motorcycles, gathered in broad daylight outside the Afghan city of Kunduz to pledge allegiance to the group’s new leader. The scene would have been impossible two years ago, when any crowd of Taliban fighters would have been decimated from the air by U.S. warplanes.

Times have changed. The United States withdrew most of its troops in 2014 and dramatically reduced the number of airstrikes against Taliban targets throughout the country. The footage from Kunduz illustrated how the Taliban has been taking advantage of their new freedom: by conquering the city. The insurgents held Kunduz for two weeks before being pushed out by Afghan and U.S. personnel in October. Still, many officials believe it’s only a matter of time before the Taliban targets the city again.

The Taliban’s growing military might is posing a thorny strategic question for President Barack Obama, who took office promising to end what is now America’s longest war. The U.S. has spent tens of billions of dollars training Afghan security personnel, who have suffered enormous casualties while trying — and failing — to repel the Taliban’s advances in the country’s south, east, and north. That leaves the White House with an unpalatable choice: Keep the stringent rules limiting the numbers of strikes in place and risk seeing the militants continue to gain ground, or allow American pilots to bomb a broader array of targets at the risk of deepening Washington’s combat role in Afghanistan.

One Saudi’s Protest, Through The Viewfinder
A photography exhibit in Washington by a Saudi doctor-turned-artist casts a critical eye on Riyadh’s relationship with big oil and Mecca.
The rules of engagement were sharply curtailed with the formal end of NATO’s combat mission in January 2015. U.S. commanders can call in airstrikes only to protect NATO troops, target al Qaeda militants, or come to the aid of Afghan forces in danger of being overrun by the Taliban or suffering a clear defeat on the ground.

In practice, that meant the U.S. was rarely directly targeting the militants from the air. After U.S. Green Berets and their Afghan allies were ambushed near the town of Marja in Helmand province in January, the Americans called in 12 airstrikes to ward off Taliban attackers to buy time for a rescue force to arrive. And last October, U.S. commandos directed an AC-130 gunship to pound Taliban positions in Kunduz city during intense house-to-house fighting. The crew targeted the wrong building, killing 42 patients and staff at a Doctors Without Borders hospital.

With the Taliban on the march and the Islamic State expanding its presence in Afghanistan, senior Pentagon officials believe it’s time for those rules to change. They’re pushing for revising the rules of engagement so they would be free to fire on Taliban forces massing to seize territory and directly target their leadership.

That could mean a dramatic increase in the number of U.S. strikes against the Taliban, a group Washington has spent years trying to coax to the negotiating table.

It would also represent a sharp reversal of recent battleground dynamics in Afghanistan. Since the new airstrike rules were adopted in 2015, the U.S. air war has been drastically curtailed, according to U.S. Central Command. In 2014, while the NATO combat mission was still going, American warplanes dropped 2,365 bombs. In 2015, by contrast, U.S. aircraft dropped just 947.

The upshot is that while the political debate in Washington has long been focused on how many U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan, the future of the war in Afghanistan could hinge not on the number of boots on the ground but on the role of American air power there.

Gen. John Campbell, until recently the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, spent nearly a year asking the White House to permit the U.S. military to bomb Islamic State targets. The administration didn’t sign off on the change until January. Defense officials have refused to detail airstrikes on ISIS targets.

The expanded air raids have helped roll back ISIS in the past two months, current and former Pentagon officials said.

Nicholas Haysom, the U.N. secretary general’s special representative for Afghanistan, told the Security Council on Tuesday that U.S. bombing raids have helped confine ISIS to a small corner of the country along its border with Pakistan.

But while Islamic State militants are under pressure from the air, the Taliban has been able to move fighters and equipment across the Pakistan border with impunity while launching conventional operations on a frequency and scale not seen since the U.S.-led invasion of 2001.

In the southern province of Helmand, where U.S. and NATO allies suffered serious casualties over the past decade, the ferocity with which the Taliban has surged into the area has knocked Afghan forces on their heels, forcing the army to pull out of key districts like Musa Qala and Now Zad. Overall, the Taliban controls five of the province’s 14 districts and is fighting to gain the upper hand in most of the remaining ones.

The Afghan government has lobbied Washington to delay a planned drawdown of the current 9,800-strong U.S. force and to keep up its assistance with air power and logistical support. About 3,000 of those troops are special operations forces, some of whom accompany Afghan commandos on missions, while the rest are trainers and advisors clustered mainly in Kabul.

James Cunningham, the former U.S. ambassador to Kabul, said Washington should allow the military to bomb a wider array of targets. “The administration should expand our commanders’ authorities to enable more flexible use of our military, especially air power, in support of both the Afghan security forces and the counterterrorism mission,” Cunningham told Foreign Policy.

The White House has been getting a similar message from Campbell. Throughout his tenure, he warned of the resiliency of the Taliban, making the case for slowing troop drawdown plans and expanding the role of U.S. advisers on the ground.

At congressional hearings last month, Campbell told lawmakers: “One of the things [Afghan forces] ask for every day is close air support.”

He said he viewed the Taliban as an enemy of the United States, because it had “killed many of my soldiers,” and that the scaling back of U.S. forces and air power had given the insurgency a boost.

The four-star general suggested Obama’s plan to reduce the number of U.S. troops to about 5,500 later this year might have to be discarded if local forces continue to struggle. “If the Afghans cannot improve, we’re going to have to make some adjustments. And that means that number will most likely go up.”

The blunt talk has landed Campbell in hot water at the Pentagon, where unnamed officials accused him of submitting his request for expanded airstrikes against the Taliban directly to the White House, bypassing Defense Secretary Ash Carter,according to The Washington Post.

At a news conference Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook declined to discuss the content of conversations between the general and Carter, though he stopped short of rebutting the report that Campbell had gone around the defense secretary. U.S. Central Command spokesman Col. Pat Ryder said Campbell went through the proper chain of command. In an email to The Washington Post, meanwhile, Campbell adamantly denied he had in any way tried to circumvent Carter’s authority.

The Pentagon said no decision has been made to broaden the air campaign in Afghanistan and that Gen. John “Mick” Nicholson, who recently succeeded Campbell as commander, is carrying out a review of the mission. The review will examine air power as well as the Obama administration’s tentative plan to reduce U.S. forces from 9,800 to 5,500 troops this year.

Obama and U.S. military leaders in Kabul have long grappled over the best use of America’s formidable air power in the war in Afghanistan. U.S. air raids helped topple the Taliban regime quickly in 2001. But former Afghan President Hamid Karzai frequently denounced Washington over airstrikes that killed and injured civilians. The U.S. approach has varied with different commanders. Gen. Stanley McChrystal scaled back the bombing to avoid alienating the Afghan population, while his successor, Gen. David Petraeus, ramped up the air raids in a bid to push the Taliban to the negotiating table.

The call for more air raids underscores the chronic weakness of Afghanistan’s security forces, despite $64 billion in American arms and training since 2002. Several provinces are now under threat of falling to the Taliban, and the Afghan forces remain plagued by desertion and shoddy leadership. When insurgents seizedKunduz city in September, Afghan police failed to put up much resistance and fled en masse. The Afghan army, meanwhile, initially refused to deploy beyond its base at the local airport, former Pentagon officials told FP.

Although the disorganized Afghan forces have struggled against the Taliban, NATO military officers have praised rank-and-file army troops for their willingness to enter into combat. Since the bulk of the NATO force departed, casualties have spiked among the Afghan army and police. About 16,000 Afghan troops were killed or wounded in 2015, up 28 percent from the previous year.

The Afghans are slowly building their own air force but it won’t be fully ready to fight until about 2020, according to Pentagon officials. The Afghan military already flies over a dozen Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter gunships, one Mi-35 attack helicopter, and 10 light-attack helicopters. Kabul’s punch from the air received a boost in January when the first four A-29 Super Tucano fighter aircraft arrived, along with eight pilots who were trained in the United States.

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DEVELOPMENT: Life Amid Conflict In Yemen: ‘Everyone has forgotten us’

By: Karl Schembri   21 March 2016The Guardian 

More than 80% of the population is now in need of humanitarian aid. On a visit to the capital Sana’a, Karl Schembri spoke to families struggling to cope.

A Yemeni child stands inside his house in Sana’a, damaged in an airstrike. Photograph: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

The first thing I noticed was the destroyed airport. I flew in to Yemen on a small aircraft chartered by the UN Humanitarian Air Service with a handful of other aid workers – at the time the only way for foreigners to make it to Sana’a. It felt surreal landing among other destroyed aircraft and the skeleton of what was once an international airport terminal.

On the way to the city, it was the types of places that had been bombed that really struck me: fuel stations, bridges, roads, factories. Instead of coffee kiosks the streets are now lined with mobile fuel sellers, as the Saudi-led blockade has made Yemenis turn to the black market for their essential daily needs.

Government and military buildings have become regular targets in the daily air strikes. Even when the attacks do not target civilians directly, it is always the innocent families who get hit in one way or another, and the effects are always devastating.

That’s what happened to Mahmoud Zeid last June. He was queuing to get cooking gas when an airstrike hit. Rushing to his home, he found his two-room house overwhelmed with fumes, all windows destroyed, part of the roof gone. His frail wife, Sabah, who suffers from kidney failure, had passed out. His children were terrified, trying to revive their mother while thinking of where to flee. There was shrapnel everywhere, kilometres away from the bombing site, and hundreds of families staggering through the rubble towards some place of safety.

A building destroyed during recent fighting in Yemen’s south-western city of Taiz. Photograph: Anees Mahyoub/Reuters

Zeid and his family walked to a school a few kilometres away, where they took refuge for months, sleeping in a classroom with other displaced families. On their first night, they slept on the floor, until they came by some blankets. The mother lost some of her kidney dialysis sessions, leaving her weaker.

I met them back in their house, where they returned after a few months, the windows still broken and the damaged parts of the roof patched with wood. They told me they’ve never been poorer. Zeid used to work as a tailor before the war and blockade started a year ago, but with no electricity in Sana’a and people having lost most of their spending power, the business had to close down.

“I can create anything: shirts, trousers, bags, but there’s no work right now,” he told me in tears. “As a father, as the head of the family … I can’t deal with this.”

Since the war started, they have had to pay for all of his wife’s medications, services and medical disposables used for her dialysis. She is weaker than ever, and keeps missing dialysis sessions when they don’t have money for the transport.

The Norwegian Refugee Council, together with support from United Nations World Food Programme, provides them with food aid, but they don’t even have the fuel to cook their dinner. While we spoke, Sabah was burning cardboard pieces, plastic and whatever they could find in streets, so that she could cook for the family.

Family in Yemen

Mahmoud Zeid, his wife Sabah and their son. The family has now returned to their damaged house. Photograph: Karl Schembri/NRC

As if Yemen – already the poorest country in the region – was not marginalised enough, the escalation in the conflict and blockade over the last year has pushed it even further out of sight but also further into poverty and desperation.

So much of what I saw during my 10 days in Sana’a reminded me of Gaza, where I lived for four years. The blockade and the massive poverty brought overnight because of it. The attacks on civilian infrastructure – from hospitals and schools to bowling alleys. And the sheer impunity with which all this happens. The air strikes at night keeps everyone guessing what the latest target is. But there is also a touching, overwhelming warmth that makes the Palestinians in Gaza and the Yemenis so similar. The more people are forcibly cut off from the rest of humanity through man-made barriers, the more they value the little details that make us human.

I cannot but admit failure in my job, in helping in any way to bring Yemen closer to the lucky, wealthier side of humanity. Even for those obsessed with raising walls and closing borders in Europe, Yemen doesn’t even feature because barely any Yemenis make it to Europe. There are 21 million people now in urgent need of humanitarian aid, more than 80% of the entire population. Half of them are suffering from hunger. But figures don’t move people.

As our driver Ziyaad took me back to the airport at the end of my stay, he asked a painful question: “I understand your job is to bring attention to our situation, but how do you do it? Nobody cares. We’ve been in this war for almost a year and everyone has forgotten us.”

Karl Schembri is Middle East regional media adviser for the Norwegian Refugee Council. Follow @Karl_Schembri on Twitter.

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ON THE MEDIA/AFGHANISTAN: Afghan Women’s Radio Returns After Taliban Attack

Afghanistan Womens Radio

In this Friday, March 4, 2016 photo, broadcasters of Radio Shaesta prepare themselves to go on-air, in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Radio Shaesta — Pashto for “beauty” — had sought to educate women about their rights and address taboo subjects like reproductive health and domestic violence. (AP Photo/Najim Rahim)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Six months after fleeing a Taliban assault on her city, the owner of an Afghan radio station devoted to women’s rights is back home and returning to the airwaves.

Zarghona Hassan is a lifelong activist and the founder of a radio station in Kunduz that until last year reached hundreds of thousands of listeners across northern Afghanistan, where the vast majority of women are illiterate and largely confined to their homes.

Radio Shaesta — Pashto for “beauty” — had sought to educate women about their rights and address taboo subjects like reproductive health and domestic violence.

A program called “Unwanted Traditions” took a critical look at centuries-old Afghan customs, like the forced marriage of young girls in order to resolve disputes. “Introducing Elites” featured interviews with women who have succeeded in politics and activism, and those who have helped other women in their communities.

“We have had an enormous impact on the lives of women, raising their awareness of their rights, of what they can achieve, encouraging women to take part in politics, to vote and to put themselves forward for provincial council seats,” Hassan said.

Programming also encouraged women to take an active role in ending the country’s 15-year war by exhorting their brothers and sons to lay down arms, she said.

Radio is a powerful medium in Afghanistan, where the literacy rate is less than 40 percent and much of the population lives in remote communities. Wind-up radios requiring no batteries are popular and widely accessible in communities where electricity is erratic or non-existent.

In northern Afghanistan, where just 15 percent of women can read and write, radio is a rare portal to the outside world. The U.N. Development Program says Shaesta reached up to 800,000 people.

“I’ve met illiterate women weaving carpets with the radio on because they can listen and it doesn’t interrupt their work,” Hassan said. “I once met a farmer out in his field who had a radio hooked over the horn of one of his cows.”

Hassan often invited Islamic scholars onto her programs to give their seal of approval. But the Taliban, who espouse a harsh version of Shariah law, view her and other women’s rights activists as purveyors of Western influence who threaten the country’s moral fabric.

She has received more death threats than she can count, one of which even specified an exact date. So when the insurgents stormed into Kunduz on Sept. 28, she knew she had to run.

“The Taliban had a list of all the women who were working in the government, civil society, media, women’s organizations,” she said. “I knew they were going to come for me.” She hid in a relative’s basement for two days before donning an all-covering burqa and fleeing the city.

The Taliban held Kunduz for three days, during which they looted businesses and hunted down activists and journalists. Afghan forces backed by U.S. airstrikes pushed them out more than two weeks later, but by then the militants had looted Shaesta and burned it to the ground, along with another radio outlet run by Hassan that was oriented toward youth.

Now, six months later, she has returned to Kunduz, and Shaesta has come back on air in time for International Women’s Day on March 8. She was able to rebuild the station with a $9,000 grant from the UNDP, which said it hopes to encourage a “courageous voice for change.”

“Women’s rights are a key lever toward improving the lives of the entire community,” said UNDP country director Douglas Keh. “When women and girls have the same opportunities (as men and boys) in education, and the same economic opportunities, society as a whole benefits.”

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DEVELOPMENT: Secret Aid Worker: Buzzwords Are Killing Development

Tuesday 8 March 2016

All I knew about the organisation was what was written on its website. A small NGO with high quality graphics? Smiling babies? Empowerment? Sold. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP

Words like ‘human-centred’ and ‘grassroots’ aren’t helping communities, they just make donors feel better about patronising neo-colonialist practices.

International development professionals love their buzzwords. Empowerment. Agency. Community-based. Human-centred. Equal partnership. Grassroots.

I work for an NGO in sub-Saharan Africa that uses all of these words on its beautifully designed website, full of high-resolution photos of smiling African babies. We are all about “empowering the community” with a battle cry of “Healthcare for everyone!” We take every chance we can find to let you know that we, like apparently no other humans on earth, believe that health is a human right.

When I was offered the chance to work here, all I knew about the organisation was what was written on its website. I was impressed. A small NGO with high quality graphics? Smiling babies? Empowerment? Sold. They spouted all the words I had learned about community-based development in class, so they had to be doing things correctly, right?

Wrong. Oh, so so wrong. Here’s what I have found.

We talk about empowerment, yet our patients and our staff members, many of whom are beneficiaries of the organisation themselves, have zero input into how decisions are made. In fact, many of our lowest-paid employees are expected to use their own salaries to pay for work-related costs, leaving them effectively with no salary at the end of the month.

We talk about agency, and yet our board of directors is 100% white. Not one person of colour or from the beneficiary country.

We talk about grassroots development, and yet many of our programmes are defined by the whims of American “experts” thousands of miles away.

We talk about equal partnership, yet the local government offers few to no resources to our health programmes. What motivation will they ever have to provide these necessary services to their own population when foreigners are continuing to provide it for them?

As a person of colour, I cannot help but see how my parents must have felt in the post-colonial country they grew up in. People who do not look like you, who do not come from your socioeconomic background, who do not share any of your life experiences are the same ones who are making decisions for your people. And it’s difficult to question these practices when you know you are receiving services that would otherwise be unavailable. I know I am part of the problem.

We Americans continue to make decisions, citing positive feedback and eternal gratefulness from African beneficiaries as justification for not involving them in the decision-making process. They’re happy having access to the healthcare we gave them, so why take the time to involve them in decisions that directly concern their lives?

Empowerment and agency and human-centricity have come to seem like euphemistic ways to get donors to feel like they are not engaging in neo-colonial practices by defining and determining the presence of healthcare for populations worlds away from their own.

To address this issue, we know we should be actively searching out local leaders in the community, hiring should be more diverse, and foreigners should be taking the role of support staff, not local. So why don’t foreign NGOs make these changes, when they know that they should? Crude pragmatism is the most often used excuse. “We’ll have an American in this role now, but eventually, we’ll hire local staff.” Or perhaps, “We’re doing our best, and it was just too difficult to find anyone else who could do this job.” Or, as all NGOs state, “We did not have enough funding.”

However, practices such as seeking out diversity and being intentional about the role of foreign staff often does not require additional resources. It does, however, require a commitment to critical reflection and to a constant, rigorous analysis of whether practice is truly reflecting the intention of the buzzword. And “doing our best” cannot be good enough when the future of communities and countries are at stake. Yes, perhaps it will take longer to train local staff to do the jobs young Americans can do with their fancy university degrees, but it is the responsibility of organisations who have taken on this work to do it correctly, or at the very least, in the way they say they are doing.

Sure, formalised colonialism is over. But now we have to make sure we aren’t implementing an even more insidious, neo-colonial system that gives white, rich people around the world the power to make decisions for countries that are not their own.

Do you have a secret aid worker story you’d like to tell? You can contact us confidentially at globaldevpros@theguardian.com – please put “Secret aid worker” in the subject line. If you’d like to encrypt your email to us, here’s instructions on how to set up a PGP mail client and our public PGP key.

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DEVELOPMENT: Does the west really care about development?

By:  5 March 2016  The Guardian

oil

Prime Minister Mossadegh (right) of Iran, is amused by a miniature oil well presented to him during the 1951 US negotiations over oil. Two years later he would be deposed with the help of the CIA. Photograph: Bettmann/CORBIS

We need to stop pretending that the United States, France and Britain are benevolent champions of the poor.

When it comes to international affairs, western politicians love to celebrate their devotion to development. In her flagship speech on development as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton offered stories about US aid transforming the lives of poor people in Indonesia, Nicaragua and South Africa. Laurent Fabius, the minister of foreign affairs for France, recently hailed his country’s commitment to development in the former colonies of west Africa. And at last year’s UN sustainable development goals summit, David Cameron spoke proudly about Britain’s record of providing “stability and security” to poor countries.

But this narrative of western benevolence only works by relying on our collective amnesia. For a slightly less fairytale-like version of the west’s relationship with development, we need to rewind to the decades following the second world war.

After the end of European colonialism in Africa and Asia, and with the brief cessation of US intervention in Latin America, developing countries were growing incomes and reducing poverty at a rapid pace. Beginning in the 1950s, countries like Guatemala, Indonesia, and Iran drew on the Keynesian model of mixed economy that had been working so well in the west. They made strategic use of land reforms to help peasant farmers, labour laws to boost workers’ wages, tariffs to protect local businesses, and resource nationalisation to help fund public housing, healthcare, and education.

sukarno

1945: Indonesian president Achmed Sukarno posing with his family, his wife (R), their son Guntur and daughter Megawati (2nd L) at their home shortly after he was elected president. Photograph: -/EPA

This approach – known as “developmentalism” – was built on the twin values of economic independence and social justice. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked quite well. According to economist Robert Pollin, developmentalist policies sustained high per capita income growth rates of 3.2% for at least 20 years – higher than at any other time during the whole 20th century. As a result, the gap between the west and the rest began to narrow for the first time in history. It was nothing short of a miracle.

One might think western states would be thrilled at this success, but they were not amused. The new policies meant that multinational companies no longer had the easy access to the cheap labour, raw materials and consumer markets to which they had become accustomed during the colonial era.

Western powers – specifically the US, Britain andFrance – were not willing to let this continue. Instead of supporting the developmentalist movement, they set out on a decades-long campaign to topple the elected governments that were leading it and to install strongmen friendly to their interests – a long and bloody history that has been almost entirely erased from our collective memory.

shah

Mohammed Riza Pahlevi was instated as Shah of Iran in 1954. Photograph: Bettmann/CORBIS

It began with Iran in 1953. The democratically-elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, was rolling out a wide range of pro-poor reforms, part of which included wresting control of the country’s oil reserves from the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP). Britain rejected this move, and responded swiftly. With the help of the CIA, Churchilldeposed Mosaddegh in a coup d’etat and replaced him with an absolute monarch, Mohammed Riza Pahlevi, who reversed Mosaddegh’s reforms and went on to rule Iran with western support for 26 years.

The following year, the US did the very same thing in Guatemala. Jacobo Arbenz – the country’s second democratically-elected president – was redistributing unused portions of large private estates to landless Mayan peasants, with full compensation for the owners. But the American-based United Fruit Company took issue with this policy, and pushed Eisenhower to topple Arbenz. After the coup, Guatemala was ruled by US-backed dictatorships for 42 years, which presided over the massacre of more than 200,000 Mayans and one of the highest poverty rates in Latin America.

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Former Guatemalan President (1982-1983), retired General Jose Efrain Rios Montt, 86, during the 2013 trial against him on charges of genocide committed during his regime. Photograph: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images

Brazil, too, was hit by a US-backed coup; they deposed President Goulart for his land reforms, corporate taxes, and other pro-poor policies that western companies disliked, and replaced him with a military dictatorship that lasted 21 years. President Sukarno of Indonesia was ousted for similar policies and replaced by a dictator, who – with British and US support – killed more than one million peasants, workers, and activists in one of the worst mass murders of the century, and went on to rule for 31 years. And then of course there was Chile: the US helped depose President Allende, the soft-spoken doctor who promised better wages, fairer rents, and social services for the poor, and replaced him with a dictator whose economic policies plunged some 45% of Chileans into poverty.

Some regions never even got a shot at developmentalism, western intervention was so swift. In Uganda, Britain raised the murderous Idi Amin to power, who crushed the progressive Common Man’s Charter before it could be implemented. In the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, the country’s first elected leader, wasassassinated by Belgium and the CIA when it became clear he would restrict foreign control over resource-rich Katanga province. Western powers installed Mobutu Sese Seko in his place, a cartoonishly corrupt dictator who commanded the country for nearly forty years with billions of dollars in US aid. Under Mobutu’s reign, per capita income collapsed by 2.2% each year; ordinary Congolese suffered poverty worse than that which they had known under Belgian colonial rule.

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Chilean President Salvador Allende (R) alongside Cuban President Fidel Castro during his visit to Chile in 1972. Photograph: File Photo/Reuters/Corbis

In west Africa, France refused to cede control over the region’s resources after the end of colonialism. Working through the secretive Françafrique network, they rigged the first elections in Cameroon and handpicked the president after poisoning his main opponent. In Gabon, they installed the dictatorship of Omar Bongo and kept him in power for 41 years in exchange for access to the country’s oil.

We could rehearse many, many more examples, all the way up to the recent western-backed coups in Haiti. It is tempting to see this as nothing but a list of crimes – albeit one that casts serious doubts on the west’s claims to promoting democracy and human rights abroad. But it is more than that. It reflects an organised effort on the part of western powers to destroy the developmentalist movement that flowered in the global south after colonialism. They simply would not tolerate development if it restricted their access to resources and markets.

The legacy of this history is that there is nowgreater inequality between the west and the rest than there was at the end of colonialism. And a soul-scorching 4.2 billion people remain in poverty today. No one has been brought to justice for the coups and assassinations that destroyed the global south’s most promising attempt at development and crushed popular dreams of independence. Probably no one ever will. But we need to acknowledge that they happened, and stop pretending that the US, France and Britain are benevolent champions of the poor.

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ON THE MEDIA: Caught Between The East And West: The “Media War” Intensifies In Serbia And Montenegro

By: Marija Šajkaš and Milka Tadić Mijović   CIMA

Videographers in the Sava Centar in New Belgrade. Photo by Pål Nordseth and licensed via Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).

As EU and U.S. assistance to independent media in Serbia and Montenegro declines, Russians are seizing the opportunity to support and promote pro-Russian media, broadcasting news in the local language, and investing in media development in the western Balkans. This turn of events bears watching by the international media development community and advocates for free and independent media.

At a meeting of EU foreign ministers in 2015, one of the hotly debated topics was Russia’s increasing influence on the countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Bloc, influence that is now especially aggressive in the media sphere. The chief conclusion of the meeting was that “extraordinary measures” have to be taken for the EU to counter Russia’s “active propaganda campaign,” and Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, was tasked with forming a “counter propaganda team.”

But it is becoming increasingly obvious that the new measures will focus primarily on the countries with large Russian-speaking populations that are part of the EU, such as the Baltic states, or the countries that Europe perceives as important, such as Ukraine. Parts of the western Balkans, which only recently emerged from ethnic wars and have yet to fully embrace democratic political processes—including creating stable, independent media institutions—are left to fend for themselves.  Due to historic ties, steady influence of the Christian-Orthodox Church, and the NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, citizens of the republics of Serbia and Montenegro are deeply divided over the relationships with the West and Russia, making it a welcoming ground for business, policies, and the messaging coming from Moscow.

Caught between the East and the West

Since the end of wars in former Yugoslavia, both countries define their foreign policy priorities in terms of the alliance with the European Union and, in the case of Montenegro, toward membership in NATO.  Not surprisingly, a number of senior Russian officials have openly opposed Montenegro’s entry into NATO. Acknowledging the current political situation, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that together with Serbia, Macedonia, and some other countries, Montenegro is in “the line of fire” between the U.S.and Russia.

Although Western media such as CNN, BBC, Radio Free Europe, and Voice of America are present in the region, media liberties are shrinking, and professional standards are at historic lows. The highly fractured commercial market for media makes it vulnerable to capture by outside influences. Due to the shift in donor interests and lack of funding, the influence of the EU and American media development organizations is diminishing, leaving the void in the media sphere to be filed with reporting coming from Moscow.

Russian efforts to strengthen ties with the “brotherly nations” of Serbia and Montenegro, to use the phrase often heard from Moscow, is not restricted to the economy. By the end of 2014, with its slogan “Sputnik Tells the Untold,” Moscow launched Sputnik, a news portal in the Serbian language –shared by Montenegrins and Serbs–available on radio stations and streaming on the Web. It provides news content, analysis, and opinions.

Examples of the analysis include arguments supporting the idea that the Malaysia Airlines flight that went down in Ukraine was targeted by a Ukrainian missile system; and an article explaining that the G-7 sanctions on Russia are not related to the conflict in Ukraine but to the fact that Russia is currently one of the world’s “strongest economies.” Although Sputnik is registered as a local organization, in order to get any information about its operations written questions have to be submitted up front, and its headquarters in Moscow must approve the conversation. With its modern design and a staff of journalists who used to work for independent media, Sputnik is treated by many Serbian media as a trusted source of information and its content is uncritically shared by Serbian media.

The number of media outlets registered locally and supported with Russian capital In Serbia and Montenegro is increasing, as is Russian-sponsored content appearing in the local press. With its 300 pages and printed in full color on glossy paper, the magazineRussia Danas (Russia Today) has a mission to “create a positive image of modern Russia.”

Russian media style is appealing in the Balkans

Zoran Stanojevic, editor at Serbian National Television and a veteran journalist is of the opinion that Russian media is popular in the region not so much because of the content, but because of the style.  According to Stanojevic, Western media  are often too politically correct, leaving the impression that there is more to be told about a certain story, whereas Russian media are more direct, which Serbian viewers prefer. He also noted that Western media almost never report positively about Russian politics and Serbian viewers perceive that as bias.

According to Elena Popovic, secretary and general counsel of the Media Development Investment Fund, media in Serbia are so underfunded that they cannot afford to pay for content from news agencies such as Reuters and have to look to Russian and Chinese sources, as they are generally free of charge.

In Montenegro, Russians run several radio stations that cover practically all the coast and the big cities. They have established Russian-language schools and are engaged in NGO development, providing economic and technical support to organizations that oppose Montenegro’s plans to join NATO. Their biggest radio station, More, advertises its services in both languages and brands itself as the place to explain Montenegro to Russians and vice versa.

Russia Today is recruiting media workers for its Serbian language service. Russian money supplements the revenues of some Serbian and Montenegrin media that for years have advocated for Russia.

Russian Soft Power on the Rise in the Region

Russia’s penetration of the media space, not only of Serbia and Montenegro but also in other countries, is not unexpected, according to Predrag Simic, professor of political science at the University of Belgrade.  “I believe that this is a logical move for a country that wants to be a global power and to demonstrate its global power, to be a rival to the United States. This is what people do today. This is the so-called ‘soft power,’ or what the Americans call the power of the media,” Simic says.

Some measurable results of Russia’s orchestrated efforts to influence the media sector in the western Balkans are that more than half of the Serbian population now perceives Russia favorably, while only one-third is in favor of the EU. There is also a drop in support for EU membership and a steady negative perception of NATO, culminating in the refusal by Serbia to take part in EU sanctions against Russia. Although Montenegro was officially invited to join NATO in December 2015, its people are bitterly divided about that, with a 2015 poll showing 36.5 percent of the population to be in favor of it, 36.20 percent against it, and 27.3 percent of Montenegrins saying they would not vote either way.

The “Media War” Continues in Serbia and Montenegro

Serbs and Montenegrins are aware of the “media war” between the EU and Russia, though in their perception, forged by the local media, this is not a war for freedom of information but rather a battle between East and West.

However, perhaps the most troubling effects of Russian style journalism will be on local media in Serbia and Montenegro as it legitimizes state-controlled information and “patriotic reporting.”  Much like in the Russian media’s portrayal of President Vladimir Putin, Serbia’s prime minister is increasingly portrayed as a larger than life figure. The media report that he is the first to come to work, and the last to leave, that he cares for the country’s progress so much that he is not taking summer vacation.

Media influenced by Russia contribute to a fragmented picture of the world in which news is tailored for Russian political and economic interests, and the people of Serbia and Montenegro are left with increasingly unreliable information.


Marija Šajkaš is a U.S. correspondent for a Serbian weekly Novi Magazin. She has 25 years of experience working as a reporter, editor, and media consultant. Milka Tadić Mijović is a journalist, media executive, and was civic activist during the turbulent transition era in the Southeast Europe. She is one of the co-founders of the weekly Monitor, the first Montenegrin private and independent weekly magazine. 

 

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ON THE MEDIA: In Burma, A Chance For New Momentum On Media Reform

MARCH 14TH, 2016   By:      CIMA

For media freedom advocates, the NLD’s rise to power is a hopeful sign. (Photo by Htoo Tay Zar via Wiki Commons)

As Burma’s new National League of Democracy (NLD)-dominated parliament nears the selection of the country’s next president, media reform advocates will be looking for the NLD to continue reforms of the country’s media environment, but little is known about the incoming leadership’s policy priorities.

Ever since the country began to open up in 2011, the media landscape has evolved dramatically. What was once a repressive state controlled media space, has become a relatively more open landscape populated by new and formerly exile media entities jockeying for a share of an increasingly crowded market. Although the previous government made progress in media reform efforts, and frequently spoke in favor of further liberalizing the sector, a series of high profile incidents over the past two years cast doubts over the former government’s commitment to free and independent media.

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(Photo by Robert Daly via Flickr)

The Ministry of Information’s August 2015 defamation case against five members of the Eleven Media Group, followed by contempt of court charges for an additional 17 company staff, cast serious doubts over the government’s commitment to a free press. In addition, the government has been accused of complicity in recent cyberattacks against independent news outlets, including Irrawaddy, Democratic Voice of Burma, and Eleven Media, and routinely harassing journalists who report on seemingly sensitive topics such as security and defense matters.

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A Multi-stakeholder Approach to Regain Momentum

With a new government of NLD leaders set to take the helm this month, there is reason to hope that the lost momentum for media reform will be reclaimed, but little is known about the media policy priorities of the incoming NLD leadership.

It is in this context that Deutsche Welle Akademie (DWA) recently convened a multi-stakeholder meeting involving 40 representatives of private and state  media organizations as well as civil society activists, media lawyers. The goal of the meeting was to discuss ways to continue media reform efforts by identifying key challenges and articulating media policy priorities.

Notably, the meeting also brought together officials of the outgoing government and the incoming NLD leadership to discuss how the transition will effect media reform in the country. The NLD’s leading voice on media policy, U Aung Shin, a close confidante of NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, represented the NLD and sought to assuage concerns among attendees that the NLD might not consider media reform a key priority and that the leadership transition might stall implementation of the 2015 broadcast law.

Although the 2015 broadcast law is not without its flaws and will require improvement, including greater independence for the Press Council, the law still marks progress in the regulatory framework for Burmese media. Implementation of the law was of particular interest to DWA and others at the meeting because of provisions that will allow for the establishment of community radio stations in the country. U Aung Shin stated that community radio is in fact a key media policy priority for Aung San Suu Kyi. Although he did not elaborate on the position, this is an encouraging sign for community radio advocates in the country.

Community Radio – the Next Frontier for Media in Burma?

I recently spoke with Andrea Rübenacker, Deutsche Welle Akademie’s regional coordinator for media development programs in Southeast Asia about this issue. Ms. Rübenacker argued that community radio could play a vital role in the development of the media environment in Burma and significantly strengthen access to information in rural parts of the country. At present there are no community radio stations in the country, and despite the 2015 broadcast law, there is still no process for issuing licenses. Much work is yet to be done before community radio becomes a reality, but according to Rübenacker, if approved under the new government, DWA stands ready to implement a pilot community radio project in the country. Community radio could provide a much needed new platform for a plurality of independent voices addressing local issues across the country’s ethnically diverse and sometimes fractured regions. Although the law only allows for community radio licenses for “geographic communities” work will need to be done to ensure that Buddhist extremists and ultra-nationalists do not co-opt community radio frequencies to further their agendas.

Multi-stakeholder meetings, such as DWA’s recent dialogue in Yangon, that engage the government, civil society, and private sector media leaders are crucial for addressing sector-wide challenges in the media in a given country or region. Even in instances where seemingly pro-reform governments come to power, media reform can still be relegated to the back burner if political pressure is not applied by a wide range of stakeholders. The risk of inaction during windows of political opportunity is serious. Arcane and restrictive laws can be allowed to persist and new laws never properly implemented. Media reform advocacy requires persistent pressure from a broad coalition of actors, and this kind of engagement could shepherd  Burma closer to an open and free media landscape that the country will need to grow and prosper.


Paul Rothman is the Assistant Partnerships Officer at the Center for International Media Assistance in Washington, DC.

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