In Norse mythology, the god Loki was responsible for mischief and was used as a proxy between the gods to create problems. The ancients attributed earthquakes to him, as a sign of violent struggling within the heavens. Native Americans saw earthquakes as a symbol of prophecy or the wrath of god – the Abrahamic religion asserts it as the ultimate punishment from God. No wonder we have great empathy with Haitians, when collectively they turn to the heavens and ask why.
A horrific event has taken place in Port-au Prince. A grand vista of destruction can be witnessed by humanity and the world’s media. To comprehend the death and turmoil is beyond human imagination. The loss of life could be within the hundreds and thousands. But the tragedy of Haiti did not begin with an earthquake; we are recognising a two hundred year history of pain and deep suffering.
Haiti was born out of rebellion against slavery. A nation, which inspired, the world to end the cruel slave trade. Where all former slaves went to be free in a utopia. But political turmoil, violence, military coups, environmental struggle are a few demons that haunted the nation. Its capital, Port-au Prince was plagued by violent gangs that stalked the streets, randomly executing civilians. A horrifying, truly horrifying spectrum for Haitians. Even worse, the capital is situated between two fault lines – which give birth to destructive and biblical earthquakes.
Now, to events of the recent days. Members of the Catholic Church, political establishment, business and commerce, education and transportation have died. The fatalities are so high, that is lead to the horrible scenes of bodies being left on the streets. CNN reported the sight of a local school and a pile of infants outside. I cannot even fathom the words. You have to ask yourself why. The international community, to their credit, have acted in the fastest way possible with the United States immediately issuing supplies and equipment within hours. As I construct this article, European personal have landed and are beginning work. We must pray that those trapped in the rubble can hold on.
However, the Twitter movement is phenomenal in reporting and providing donations to the relief. A user locating missing people, government information and remarks from charities has helped the ordinary citizen to provide assistance. May be the greatest is this key fact; it took a destructive earthquake for the world to recognise Haiti and her problems. We’ve waited this long and allowed the nation to suffer for two hundred years. It would be a crime against humanity if we forgot about Haitians again, after the rebuild has started.
We got over the demise of the dodo, the passenger pigeon and even the Chinese river dolphin, but will the human conscience ever get over the upcoming possible extinction of sharks?
Conservative estimates reckon that between 30 to 70 million sharks are killed annually in commercial and recreational fisheries, and some conservation organisations put that figure closer to 100 million.
Sharks are killed for a whole manner of reasons, their meat is used for food, fins for soup, cartilage in health supplements, livers for oil, skin for leather and teeth for curios, some are even killed for the sheer pleasure of it.
And demand is increasing. As whitefish stocks have collapsed, previously unprofitable shark fisheries have become commercially viable and shark meat more acceptable.
Even in the most optimistic of scenarios this slaughter cannot be sustained. Sharks do not produce huge numbers of eggs like other fish, their young are either born live or in egg cases, and the average brood is only about 12 pups.
Sharks first appeared on earth some 400 million years ago, before land vertebrates and before many plants had colonised continents. Modern sharks, such as the mako and the porbeagle, are regarded as living unchanged from the species we see today, 100 million years ago. The oldest great white shark teeth date from about 65 million years ago, around the time of the extinction of the dinosaurs.
The fact that present-day sharks have not changed substantially for the last 100 million years suggests that they may have attained a level of evolutionary perfection that is unmatched by any other animal. And yet during the last 20 years alone humans have done more harm to sharks than had been done in the previous 100 million years, with some species of shark declining by 90%. It would be sadly ironic that having survived the extinction of the dinosaurs sharks may well disappear from this planet for the sake of a rather tasteless soup.
Humans have been responsible for the extinction of a single species of animal in the past, but never have a whole order been endangered as we see with sharks. In barely the time it has taken to set up and establish a cohesive shark conservation strategy we are in danger of losing one of the most iconic and evocative animals this planet has ever known.
Shark fishing is mostly unregulated, and conservation measures have been too slow in coming, but we can act now individually. If you see a Chinese restaurant selling shark fin soup, or a health food shop selling shark supplements, or a shop selling shark meat, or a media piece showing a sports fisherman with his dead shark trophy, take five minutes of your time to tell them that this is totally unacceptable.
An ocean would not be an ocean without sharks, and as an apex predator they are crucial to the marine ecosystem and yet the current situation for sharks couldn't really be much worse I'm afraid. We are on the brink of losing an animal that unlike others perhaps, we as humans, really cannot afford to lose this time.
Over 80,000 Tibetans have fled the Chinese occupation of their country and established a refugee community in Dharamsala in India. The former British Hill Station has been the site of the Tibetan government in exile since 1960, and is home to their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Many of these refugees have walked hundreds of miles across the Himalayas to reach Dharamsala to escape presecution, to seek education, and to be near the Dalai Lama. Most have left their familes behind and hope to eventually return to Tibet.
This series of portraits are from two important locations for the exile community. Firstly the Refugee Reception Centre where newly arrived refugees are provided with accomodation, food, basic amenities and support with building a new life in the community and secondly the Shugseb nunnery, where both novice and experienced Nuns lead a life of prayer, religious study and meditation.
All of the above pictures are from a series called 'Exiled' by photographer Laura Stevens and can currently be seen as part of an exhibition called 'Battleground' at the Brighton Media Centre, Brighton, UK.
A woman held up a Koran at a recent rally in Mogadishu, at which people expressed opposition to having foreign peacekeepers based in Somalia.Picture Credit: Evelyn Hockstein for The New York Times
A deteriorating official economy, displaced and repressed people, a corrupt regime, a large shadow economy involving the large scale sale of small arms, and a severe draught dictating a severe scarcity of resources, came to ahead in Somalia in the early 1990s with disastrous consequences, according to George Ayittey President of the Free Africa Foundation “Armed thugs and bandits roamed the country, pillaging and plundering, and murderous warlords battled savagely for the control of the capital, Mogadishu. The carnage and the draught claimed over 300,000 lives, and heartbreaking spectacles of emaciated bodies of a famine that became the daily diet of the Western media”.
All of Somalia’s underlining problems exploded upon Somali society when Siad Barre’s regime was overthrown by the USC (United Somali Congress) and was replaced by an interim government led by Mohammed Ali Mahdi in 1991. The Somali National Movement (SNM) proclaimed independence from Somalia breaking away to form Somaliland in the North, leaving the rest of Somalia fractured, stateless, and lawless, with an abundance of small arms from the Cold War era circulating on the shadow economy, as many sought security within clan identities. US and UN humanitarian intervention in early to mid 1990’s sought to reconcile the fragmentation of Somalia, but was criticised for making the situation worse. Foreign aid gave Somali warlords a greater ability to fund and continue violent offensives. Warlords exchanged aid for small arms upon the shadow economy creating new nodes of authority. Jacqueline Coolidge and Susan Ackerman writing for the World Bank noted “it is now understood that the politics of warlordism in Somalia is no more than a logical extension of the Siad Barre’s methods of wielding power…. Aid to Somalia has been part of the problem, not part of the solution.” Moreover, this has continued as foreign aid capital has been replaced by shadow economic networks.
According to a report in the Somaliland Times the main actors within the Somali conflict centre upon the control of property that enables them to generate, authority and profit through illicit infrastructure. Control of illegitimate airports, markets and bridges that carry a toll allows warlords to make a profit within the power vacuum left by the collapsed state. This makes fighting and power struggle within Somalia dependent upon material investment rather than notions of state building or political power struggle. The profits generated from illicit taxation allows Somali Warlords or businessmen that back the Warlords to buy arms from an endless list of willing sellers through illicit means. UN experts according to the Somaliland Times reported to the security council in 2003 that “Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, the Sudan, Yemen, Egypt , Libya, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait have given arms, money or training to Somali factions” at some point since 1991.
William Reno in a special piece for the Somaliland Times argues that the factors that have brought about the collapse and the continual fragmentation of the Somali state are not purely economical or clan based. He claims that institutions that have lasted the Somali conflict that have created violent and economic authority cannot be traced solely to structures within the collapsing state, ethnic lineage or clan families. Moreover, he claims orthodox structures of authority such as those who control the legal arrangements that exist within Somali society, world economic players and alliances with non state international actors are essential when attempting to understand the unorthodox social evolution of Somalia since the collapse of the state. Such institutions still exercise a degree of control over what and who is considered legitimate, who gets available resources and where coercion is exerted. Not discounting that Somali traders have continued economic and inter-clan networks of trust following the collapse of the state, with Somali scholars identifying at least 67 sub clans from the six major clan families that have formed defensive networks against predation since the 1990s, making clan lineage not necessarily detrimental to Somalia’s strife. For instance, oral history from the Jabba river valley outlines how loss of elder control over matters of matrimony will lead to disruption- as has been the case, while throughout other regions of Somalia (according to The Global Review of Ethnopolitics) “traditional clan structure … acted as a framework for identity the settlement of disputes and conflicts, and communal security”. However, it is undeniable that some clan structures have cooperated with violent entrepreneurial-ship activity, as by clan nature not all clan families have the same history or cultural heritage.
As the faltering Barre regime became more repressive in an attempt to hang on to power it led to a fracturing of security that to a large extent created privatised nodes of authority that would make transition to democratic rule more difficult. During the 1980s the regime began to privatise Somalia’s economic assets so that they would be tied to the regime, allowing the regime to administer authority through privileged economic networks. An example of this dates back to as early as 1975 when the regime expanded land tenure law, encompassing it in patronage networks, by giving legal legitimacy to those civil servants and businessman that could get government backing. This enabled them to claim traditional clan owned village that were not already being used for commercial farming. This has had an adverse affect especially upon southern inter-clan relations as the law was applied mostly to Southern lands destroying any autonomous traditional authority over resources. The severity of the situation meant that economic power, especially in primary export resources was now tied to a quickly fragmenting state. This has resulted in many of the most violent warlords that emerged post state collapse being part of patronage networks during the regime. An example being, General Mohammed Aydeed, a former elite within the Barre government during the 1980s, that with political backing giving him the authority to administer land in Southern river valleys, provided land on which ‘Mooryan’ (free lance armed groups), could settle. Moreover, those tied to Aydeed including his principle backer Osman Ato organized the looting of locally owned farmsteads before establishing militia controlled banana plantations that exported to Europe, providing financial support for his violent campaigns in Somalia after the collapse of the state. The already embedded networks of Southern elites meant that much of Northern Somalia was marginalized. However Barre still exercised control in the North through violent means arming Ogadeeni refugees to fight Isaaq communities that were thought to pose a threat to his rule. The control of those that posed a threat through violent armed groups made clans fight against each other down clan lineage divisions, destroying hope that stable political order would emerge after regime collapse. While illicit trades on the shadow economy promoted the fragmentation of Somalia and authoritative elements that may have had a hand in building a new order.
Rigid divides between communities formed as a result of outsiders disrupting and seizing local lands due to coercive policies created animosity and security dilemmas between communities. This forced people to seek protection from clan militias and outsiders that exploited land and resources to lead long-term violent campaigns and build rigidified ethnic in groups and out groups Moreover, since the collapse of the regime studies show that very few Somali’s have benefited from aid, with agriculture only receiving 22 percent of development spending in the 1980s, the vast majority of which was invested in large scale commercial farming in the South that was dominated by those with links to the Barre regime. The result of such un-equal and deprived spending in many parts of Somalia was that marginalized, disfavoured groups were forced to rely upon the shadow economy. This had a reinforcing affect upon warlords who participated in shadow economy activity to generate revenue for violent struggle.
The link between the Barre regime and patronage networks that dictated who controlled economic resources following the collapse of the regime meant that there was very little space for the emergence of indigenous resistance and traditional nodes of authority to stabilise Somalia. Groups that may have been able to resist the onslaught of ‘warlordism’ such as the Somali African Muki Organization (SAMO) based within the Shebelle and Jubba valleys representing the Bantu population, do not have the same access to the economic resources that were granted to warlords via patronage networks during the Barre regime. This can be seen as a taking away of responsibility of organized violence from clan division, and instead placing responsibility on regime malpractice. Moreover, it can be argued that a cause for the continuation of conflict in Somalia can actually be traced back to colonial influence that broke with customary networks of trade between what are now competing clans and regions. The same can be said upon the destruction of the traditional authority held by elders that influenced land and marriage arrangements, which helped haze ethnic lineage boundaries.
Links & Resources: Free Africa Foundation - Washington Based NGO advocating "African Solutions for African Problems"
Filmmaker Sonal Sachdeva has been nominated for best documentary film at the ‘Reduction Festival’ for her excellent short film ‘More for Less’ shown on this site in July.
The film is the story of two men called Martin and Alf who have been living over the past few years from the excessive waste generated by other people. In their way they have chosen to go against the societal norm of having steady, paid jobs and yet survive comfortably by not participating in the process of earning money and adding to the burden of existing over-consumption.
Hii Dunia wishes Sonal the very best of luck and if you too would like to show your support for her film you can cast your vote here by going to the category marked 'Documentary'.
On Tuesday 9th September 2008 Asif Ali Zardari the husband of the former two times Prime Minister the late Benazir Bhutto was sworn in as President of Pakistan. Here Faisal Hanif asseses Zardari's past and asks if Pakistan's first democractic leader this century is fit and able enough to guide this most fragile of democracies through possibly its most difficult of days.
Becoming President seems the most unlikely of achievements for a man who was indicted on endless charges of corruption for the past decade before the assassination of his wife and spent many years in prison as a result. What makes Zardari’s victory even more remarkable is that until Benazir’s assassination he had been in exile from the country for most of the last decade and returned only upon the assassination of Ms Bhutto last December. Up until July 2008 he was still facing corruption charges and as early as last month he was part of a coalition government with Pervez Musharraf still in power as President. The election of Mr Zardari marks a most remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of a man who for most of his career has carried with him the most unceremonious title of Mr ten percent in depiction of his less than amicable business and political dealings. In fact before Ms Bhutto's death, Zardari’s public image was so bad that the Pakistan People’s Party went to great lengths to keep him out of the public eye as much as possible in the run up to February's general elections. Having so recently been seen as a liability for the PPP it is somewhat of a miracle that Zardari is in the position he now currently occupies.
This does not by any means imply that Mr Zardari has now gained immense popularity. On the contrary recent polls have suggested that forty four percent of the population rejected all three of the candidates in the general election. The PPP main opposition the Pakistan Muslim League (N) led by former two times prime minister, Nawaz Sharif (still the most popular politician in the country) holds sway in Pakistan’s wealthiest and most populous region of Punjab. Zardari’s comprehensive victory in the Presidential election did not rely on the population vote but a parliamentary electoral system where members of both of Pakistan’s parliamentary bodies and provincial assemblies decide on the new incumbent. Yet Zardari’s election as President has in the words of retired army General Talat Masood “made him the most powerful civilian President one can imagine." This is especially as he inherits a scope of powers that includes the ability to sack parliament, appoint army chiefs and control over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Put it like that and many more would be indisposed to Zardari possessing the top job.
Unfortunately such simplistic notions do not hold sway over the ultimate factors that determine any politician’s fate especially in Pakistan. Asif Ali Zardari gained 480 of 702 Electoral College votes to give him victory and be sworn in as the fourteenth President of Pakistan in its sixty year history. A clearly delighted Zardari proclaimed the victory as a completion of the democratic process. Flanked by his two daughters, supporters and members of the PPP shouted slogans of ‘long live Bhutto’ in memory of their martyred leader. The assassination of Ms Bhutto has no doubt impacted on Zardari’s rise to president. Her death invigorated a fragmented political opposition in Pakistan which had failed to provide any serious opposition to Musharrafs’ reign as President. Yet it also provided Mr Zardari with a platform as de facto leader of the Pakistan’s largest political party to wield control. In the aftermath of Bhutto’s assassination Zardari’s accession has represented all the hall marks of a Machiavellian type politics to not in his words complete democracy but form a political dynasty led by him and allied to Bhutto name.
The story of this perceived cunningness begins in the immediate aftermath of Ms Bhutto’s assassination with the publication of her will which Zardari claimed to have. Her perceived wish was for her husband to take up the leadership of the political party. This is somewhat remarkable especially as mentioned Bhutto herself and the PPP had gone to great lengths to distance Zardari’s involvement with the party or politics in the aftermath of her return to Pakistan. Secondly given Zardari political liability and his status as a relative novice in such high office the decision seemed a strange one to say the least. What happened next was even more remarkable in that Asif Ali Zardari declined to accept such office and passed on the reigns to his nineteen year old son Bilawal. This was just as astonishing as Pakistan’s largest political party was to be headed by an Oxford undergraduate who had spent most of his life outside of Pakistan and had no political experience what so ever. The genius of such a manoeuvre on Zardari’s part was twofold. Firstly this was a man who realized his legitimacy for such high office was susceptible given his past dealings especially as at this point corruption charges continued to linger over him. To accept such a position without challenge would no doubt have led to the previous rhetoric of a devious and power hungry businessman come to the foe. Yet this is not a man who was about to let the opportunity of power slip so easily. In a supposed gesture of humility Zardari declined the position that his wife had anointed for him and passed the buck to his teenage son. Pakistani law does not allow someone so young to take up such high office and Zardari was not oblivious to this fact. While naming his son as a titular head for the time being Zardari would take up day to day running of the party and soon the country. He also announced that his children would from now forth be known by the name of Bhutto Zardari as opposed to the latter singular. Zardari use of Benazir’s death was symbolic making sure that the legacy of the Bhutto name would continue with him as its torch bearer. The famous Pakistani religious and political commentator Tariq Ali stated this in no uncertain terms in an article published in the Independent newspaper the day after Ms Bhutto’s assassination as he wrote "the Pakistan People's Party is being treated as a family heirloom, a property to be disposed of at the will of its leader,… the deadly angel who guided her when she was alive was, alas, not too concerned with democracy. And now he is in effect leader of the party."
What came next was an ingenious manipulation in the turmoil of Benazir’s death which would lead Zardari towards the top position. This was held at the time by Musharraf and first he must be got rid of. To do this Zardari called for unity on all sides to restore democracy in Pakistan. This meant allying himself with the traditional foe and influential ex Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. This was a major coop as Sharif had perhaps a bigger axe to grind with the man whom he had appointed Army Chief and who later would dispose of him as leader of the country. This did not prove too difficult a job as firstly elections in the aftermath of Benazir’s assassination scored an inevitable victory for the PPP. The beneficiary it seemed was a Yousaf Raza Gillani vice chairman of the PPP who was drafted in as Prime Minister to complete what Zardari referred to as the first phase of restoration of democracy. This was another surprising decision to say the least. Firstly as Gillani was elected in front of the universally popular Makhdoom Muhammad Amin Fahim who had been de facto head of the PPP for eight years of Benazir Bhutto’s exile and whose election record is 7-0 as a member of parliament. It is no exaggeration to suggest that this was the man most qualified and legitimised to take over as leader of the PPP after Bhutto’s death. On March 15th 2008 Fahim himself said that he did not understand why the PPP had still not named him as its candidate. It is clear why as this was an influential man well liked by the people who would not be susceptible to manipulation by any other. What Zardari required was a puppet and despite such a bold and controversial interpretation such a claim can be emphasised by Mr Gillani’s arrival in Washington where upon he was greeted by none higher than Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher. Many news agencies reported on the lack of diplomatic courtesies extended towards Mr Gillani and his entourage who were told to remain on the plane while Mr Gillani and his wife looking rather perturbed walked to a welcome shed instead of the usual complimentary chauffer driven experience handed to state officials. It says much of the standing of an individual who despite heading a vital United States ally in foreign affairs not to mention a nuclear state is given such a lack of prominence upon a state visit. Notably Zardari’s visit as President a few months later did not see the absence of any of the usual pomp that accompanies significant world leaders.
The coalition government with an elected PM was now in a very strong position to get rid of Musharraf. Yet this coalition existed on a number of stipulations on Sharif’s part. Firstly the disposed Supreme Court judges that had caused such an up roar with in the country and in turn signaled the beginning of the end of Musharrafs rule where to be reinstated. Of course it was under this same judiciary that allegations pertaining to outstanding corruption charges against Zardari where still pending. With this condition agreed to but later not met and Sharif’s instance on both factions uniting behind a non partisan candidate to head the country as president Sharif announced his parties decision to cease from a coalition with the PPP on August 25th 2008 stating repeated broken promises by Asif Ali Zardari on resolving a judicial dispute and on who should be the next president. This was a cunning manoeuvre by Zardari to play Sharif against Musharraf, getting rid of one while isolating the other. The path was now clear for Zardari to put himself up for the top job of President. Mr 10 % was now to become Mr 100 per cent.
Of course such a view seems opinionated and open to vast scrutiny but what makes such sentiment is in the words of Dr Farzana Shaikh, of London's Chatham House think-tank, "the problem with Zardari is not that he is a unknown quantity it is he is a known quantity" and as the old proverb goes a leopard cannot change its spots. It remains to be seen how Zardari performs with troubles looming on all sides. The United States has moved quickly to make sure Zardari is in line with its war on terror strategy. Yet with the war spilling over into Pakistani borders recently the issue of Pakistani sovereignty has come to the foe with Zardari’s inaugural address siding very much with the American position. In relation to the much documented problems with the Taliban and Al-Qaida presence with in Pakistan Zardari made a bold statements presenting common ground with America on the issue. The response was brutal as a day later a car bomb decimated Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel sending a clear message to Zardari of the battle he faces. Secondly the issue of the army remains an everlasting problem for any elected official in Pakistan. Despite General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani stating very clearly that he would make sure the army stayed out of politics such sentiments can never be relied upon especially with Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty at stake. After all it was differences between Sharif and Musharraf over Kargil and India’s incursions that led to the former being dismissed. And finally there’s the Bhutto curse. Having allied himself with the Bhutto name and legacy Zardari must also contend with its consequence that has seen so many prominent members of the family killed. Even in his inaugural speech as President Zardari was keen to highlight the Bhutto influence stating "I accept this position on behalf of my martyred wife.’ Given Zardari’s past record a return of any of these most unsavoury incidents of Pakistan’s history may be a blessing in disguise for the nation". Yet as with any aspect of Pakistan’s turbulent history watch this space.