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April 13, 2006

Save Sudan (& Chad)

SudanThe regular foot-dragging with regards to action in Africa has not been interrupted this year. While the UN continues to "agree to discuss agreements to consider possible sanctions on Sudan" or something of the sort, almost 400,000 people have been killed in Darfur region – about 35 times the number of people killed in the Israel-Palestine conflict over 50 years.

This conflict is between non-Arab black tribes (like Fur and Masalit), and tribes known collectively as Baggara. Both these groups are, by international standards, black people and Muslims. However, this has not stopped conflict between them, caused by competition in the slave trade and differing economic needs. Access to land and surface water have frequently become warring issues. Unfortunately, this conflict is part of the amorphous history of violence in Sudan and this conflict occurred alongside the second civil war (1983–2005). Meanwhile the Sudanese government blames rebels for killing more than 3000 soldiers and destroying 80 police stations.

Almost 6 million people have been displaced, many of them across the border to Chad. The American government, uncharacteristically, has pushed hard for intervention but not enough to take unilateral action, as in, say, Iraq. And now the war is spilling into Chad – another dirt poor country with few paved roads and little oil. The plot has thickened, however – the Sudanese government, which was for UN intervention, has now started to lobby against it.

Sudan was already one of Africa's poorest countries and with more than half of the state budget devoted to the war effort, economic development is inhibited by the country's security concerns, the severe shortage of foreign exchange, inadequate infrastructure and exorbitant debt. The national economy has, however, begun recovery – Sudan 's GDP grew by 6% in 1999 and inflation dropped sharply to 8.8% in 2004 after peaking at 166% in 1996. The GDP real growth rate for 2004 was 5.9% – growth attributed to oil these days. Nevertheless, oil exports that now account for about some 70% of export earnings (77% in the first quarter of 2001), are unlikely to boost the economy significantly unless the civil war can be ended.

History Lesson

The First Sudanese Civil War occurred between 1955 and 1972 between the northern part of Sudan and the south, which demanded more regional autonomy. Half a million people died over the 17 years of war – an agreement was signed in 1972 which addressed some but not all concerns. These crucial failings then led to the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005). The period between 1955 and 2005 is sometimes considered a single conflict with a ceasefire in between.

Looking ahead

There is a 6000-strong AU force present – but is widely held to be incompetent, as most AU efforts are. The peacekeeping force needs to be multiplied considerably – remember that the region of Darfur alone is the size of France and Sudan bigger than Western Europe. The fighting must be choked off once and for all using a large contingent of soldiers, about 30,000. This seems fantasy at the moment due to the lack of peacekeepers worldwide. As the Economist says, the force must have a 'Muslim face' – but as it points out, Pakistan, Nigeria, et al are busy.

There are deep economic and social structural problems in Sudan – a promised referendum in 6 years for Southern Independence is one step towards unity of a sort. The United States should use its influence with more vigour because this is a case where few would not follow the USA in a concerted attack and few would damn it for going it alone.

February 03, 2006

The Merits Of Democracy

Hamas membersThe United States is engaging the Middle East in dialogue over democracy while castigating it for harbouring and encouraging suicide bombers and other assorted terrorists. It invades Afghanistan and Iraq…talks about invading Iran.

Despite being in a quagmire in said places, it forges ahead with conviction with encouraging Muslim and Arab countries to democratise. And then, just then, the state of Palestine elects a group to government known to the rest of the world only in headlines either preceding or following any combination of the words "suicide" and "bomber". Dubya's jaw must have fallen to the floor.

It is a testament to politics today that instead of praising what appears to be a fair and open election in an area where it is rare, we are having to castigate the Palestinians for electing a party that uses suicide bombing as a tactic. To use the word 'ironic' would be a little tragic – needless to say, this is not what the Democratists hoped for. We must, however, dig deeper. Hamas won because of a broad platform that did not solely focus on the white elephant in the room; they were able to present a united front (Fatah is torn apart by internal divisions by more than a 100 'independents'). Could it be that this broader platform is part of a reform of Hamas? It is surely too soon to tell.

I am of the belief that given power, Hamas will clean itself up and attempt to do the same with Israeli relations. Our hawkish news sources had better be careful with their words, the peace process is not dead. Not yet.

Is this the will of the people? Do they share the party's ethos of action at any cost? Only time will tell: truth is stranger than expectation…

December 18, 2005

Newsflash: Having solved all other problems, Indian Parliament to discuss cricket

It would appear that the highest debating forum on the subcontinent, the Indian Parliament's Lok Sabha, will next week discuss the exclusion of Sourav Ganguly from the Indian team. This is yet another demonstration of the peculiarities of India, that it finds such topics relevant for political discussion. I expect people in general to condemn this, but I shall not.

Let us go back to the idea of parliamentary debate – discussion over issues that affect the people. Cricket impacts on Indians' lives like almost nothing else, and is frequently viewed as important as a life-death situation. Why shouldn't Parliament discuss the surprising manner of Ganguly's dismissal? Everybody's talkin' about it…

People who know me are aware of my dislike for Ganguly – but even I must admit that the manner in which the BCCI dispatched with him was a little cruel and unjust. More importantly, it seems to be a byproduct of the critical (and typically Indian) politics of the cricketing board. The loss of the previous Ganguly-supporters camp (Dalmiya et al) and the election of a new anti-Ganguly-camp BCCI President (Sharad Pawar) has directly lead to this quagmire. Note how, even before his name was placed on his office door, Pawar sacked the entire pro-Ganguly squad in the BCCI, a blatant political act. I am aware that the President is not a direct determinant of the team selected, but always privy to their decisions.

The start of the end?

While such sentiment is rare, more discreet versions are widespread, and Sharad Pawar has been forced by widespread condemnation to say:
"As a cricket lover, I am hurt and shocked over the exclusion of Ganguly. In the Delhi Test his performance was satisfactory. Also, he was a victorious captain and we feel proud of him".
Pawar can hardly hide his glee.

On the other hand, we have the spat between Chappell (the Coach) and Ganguly. Even though Ganguly is partly responsible for the Captain, Rahul Dravid’s rise, I suspect he is no longer a fan and his patience must have finally worn out. These two are directly responsible for selecting the team, and despite this, Ganguly has not tried to censor his spats with the Coach. Ganguly is a typical superstar, vain to the point of catastrophe – every major spat with Chapell has come out into the open, opponents from England to South Africa, even the Australians (!) consider him arrogant. It is sad to see such a brilliant cricketer being asked to slip away in dignity, but he is clearly having none of it.
Are we to applaud him for his “never-say-die” attitude or criticise him for being a publicity-hungry, arrogant has-been?

I am of the opinion that he is to be given more chances – I feel he should be an ‘occasional’ in the first team, a second string player. To simply dismiss such an awesome batsman at the age of 32 would be unfair and uneven. But then, cricket is a harsh mistress.

Finally, I will leave you with the wise words of P Roebuck:

"Australia has also been engaged by the axing of a well-loved player, a long-standing servant on the verge of breaking a record. His successor was booed when he played his first fifty over match and also on his Test debut. Hotheads demanded the chairman's resignation. Ian Healy was the dropped player. Adam Gilchrist was his replacement."

December 15, 2005

To the residents of the United States of America

Notice of Revocation of Independence

In view of your abject failure to elect a sentient President and thus to govern yourselves, We give hereby Notice of the Revocation of your Independence, effective today at Five O'clock Greenwich Mean Time.

Her Britannic Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume sovereign duties forthwith over all states, commonwealths, and other territories. Except Florida, which Shall be returned to His Illustrious Catholic Majesty, King Juan Carlos of Spain. Your new Prime Minister (The Rt Hon Tony Blair, for the 97.85% of you who have until now been unaware that there is a world outside your borders) will suggest to Her Majesty a Governor-General for America without the need for further elections. Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire will be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed.

To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

1. You should look up "revocation" in the Oxford English Dictionary. Then look up "aluminum". Check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing it. Generally, you should raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. Look up "vocabulary." Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as "like" and "you know" is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. Look up "interspersed."

2. There is no such thing as "US English." We will let Microsoft know on your behalf.

3. You should learn to distinguish the English and Australian accents. It really isn't that difficult.

4. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast British actors as the good guys.

5. You should relearn your original national anthem, "God Save The Queen," but only after fully carrying out Task 1. We would not want you to get confused and give up half way through.

6. You should stop playing American "football." There is only one kind of football. What you refer to as American "football" is not a very good game. The 2.15% of you who are aware that there is a world outside your borders may have noticed that no one else plays "American" football. You will no longer be allowed to play it, and should instead play proper football. Initially, it would be best if you played with the girls. It is a difficult game.

Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which is similar to American "football," but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour). We are hoping to get together at least an American rugby sevens side in 5 years.

7. You should declare war on Quebec and France, using nuclear weapons if they give you any "merde." The 97.85% of you who were not aware that there is a world outside your borders should count yourselves lucky. The Russians have never been the bad guys.

8. July 4th is no longer a public holiday. November 8th will be a new national holiday, but only in the British Empire. It will be called "Indecisive Day."

9. All American cars are hereby banned. They are crap and it is for your own good. When we show you German cars, you will understand what we mean.

10. Please tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us crazy.


December 14, 2005

The Execution Of Stanley Tookie Williams III

I am sure everyone must have heard the above name – he was an ex-gangster executed on December 13th. I, for one, rejected all the calls for clemency in this case. The fact of the matter is that while I am mostly against the death penalty, I do not believe for a moment that this man deserved any kind of consideration for his anti-gangster stance in later life.

The following is taken from Wikipedia (link):

"Stanley Tookie Williams III (December 29, 1953 – December 13, 2005) was the co-founder, with Raymond Washington, of the widely known and notorious Crips street gangs.

While in prison, Williams maintained his innocence, refused to aid police investigations with any information against his gang, and was involved in attacks on guards and other inmates as well as multiple escape plots. In 1993, Williams began making drastic changes in his behavior, and became an anti-gang activist while on Death Row in California, renouncing his gang affiliation and apologizing for the Crips' founding. He co-authored children's books and began programs to prevent youths from joining gangs."

Never mind the idea that a man can change, doesn't matter if he somehow metamorphosed into a Saint, he must do his time for his crimes, which involve shooting a 76 year old Taiwanese immigrant and his 63 year old wife for $100. Before this he had shot twenty-six year old Albert Lewis Owens in the back of his head at point-blank range even though Owens hadn't even seen his face to identify him…for $120.

Williams was invovled in more than 10 separate incidents of violence IN PRISON, even until 1993, the time of his miraculous change of heart. This man deserved no clemency.

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