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The Shimmering Illusion

Filed in Perspectives by on 15 November 2015 7 Comments
The Shimmering Illusion

Based on presentation to the Thomas More Institute in Montreal, Canada in November 2015.

Wouldn’t it be nice if political leaders actually served their citizens? However, despite noble words of taking office to serve people, over time consensus, negotiation and agreement tend to give way to such sentiments as ‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.’ One compromise leads to another and democracy slowly shifts from serving the people to serving those in power. In extreme cases, violence replaces dialogue. The Fragile States Index for 2015 assigns countries a score based on such social, economic and political criteria as mounting demographic pressures, massive displacement of refugees, uneven economic development, severe economic decline, and wide spread human rights abuses. Countries such as the United States have a score of 35.3, Canada 25.7, Germany 28.1, the United Kingdom 33.5 and France 33.7. The lower the score, the better political leaders serve their citizens. However, if we choose four countries in Africa in various states of development, we see a marked difference in the score. Mali, for example, comes in at 93.1, Malawi 86.9, Togo 86.8 and Côte d’Ivoire 100. Continue Reading »

Democracy in the Middle East

Filed in Case Studies by on 3 March 2009
Democracy in the Middle East

It is not feasible to apply the principles of democracy and capitalism as practiced in the United States to nation-building projects in the developing world. This is more an admonition against a naïve approach than a comment against an effort to accomplish a noble goal. State/Nation-building is a difficult process and no two developing countries, or their conflicts or post-conflict situations are the same. Apart from such similarities in countries in the developing world as poverty, and the frustration and inequality that lead to ethnic conflict, each situation presents its own particular problems that require a tailored approach.

To an American, a constitutional nation-state is the highest expression of democratic legitimacy. “To the extent that any international organisation like the United Nations has legitimacy, it is because duly constituted democratic majorities have handed that legitimacy up to them in a negotiated intergovernmental process” (Fukuyama, 2004, p. 109). Many countries fall into conflict because they have not yet developed inclusive or representational political systems and are unable to confer such legitimacy. In countries where ethnic groups focus on religious or tribal criteria, one group tends to gain at the expense of another, resulting in terrorist acts and ethnic displacement. This is evident in Iraq where Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims differ over their interpretation of Islamic belief. In Rwanda, tribal differences between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples resulted in the 1994 genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutu. Such conflictual situations are dramatically different than American society where “national identity is civic rather than religious, cultural, racial or ethnic” (Fukuyama, 2004, p. 113). This means that every citizen, regardless of ethnic, religious or racial affiliation is equal before the law, and free to take part in the country’s political system and economy. However, to apply the same approach in a developing country to ethnic peoples who were involved in killing each other in a process aimed at including them as equal and functional components of an open democratic society, without a well-thought out step-by-step programme would be counterproductive. To act in an ad hoc manner, reacting to events as they happen rather than planning ahead, hoping a country will begin to act on the same principles of democracy and capitalism that it took the United States more than 200 years to develop, is to strain credulity. It is possible, however, to set out guidelines and principles which, with the right training and institutions, will allow the citizens of a newly-developing state to openly practice participatory democracy. The same basic approach will also advance free markets.

State/Nation-Building in practice

When the United States became involved in a humanitarian effort in Somalia in the early 1990’s, its goal was to feed a population that was being deliberately starved by warlords. As U.S. forces focused their efforts on trying to capture Mohammad Farah Aidid, they became involved in “a misguided attempt at ad hoc nation-building” (Ottaway, 2003, p. 16). The exercise ended in failure. Without security, the United Nations left soon afterwards. The battle to control Somalia remains unresolved to this day. Continue Reading »

A Dangerous Game

Filed in Perspectives by on 11 October 2015 0 Comments

Does truth still matter in Canada? You’d never know it based on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s run for re-election. Mr. Harper’s use of the phrase ‘old-stock Canadians’ is right out of the Québec separatists’ manual. In the months before the 1995 Quebec referendum, local French radio stations began to use the phrase ‘les Québécois de souche’ in their newscasts. Quebeckers were no longer referred to as Quebeckers, they were Québécois de souche, or old-stock Quebeckers. Strangely, these newscasts never mentioned newcomers, immigrants or even English-speaking Quebeckers who have been in the province for several generations.

As an international consultant, I travel to Africa, Asia and Latin America to teach journalists how to report clearly and independently, creating a public dialogue to promote democracy. Over the years, I have taught about the need to use words clearly, to avoid ambiguity, and to include everyone as a citizen rather than return to tribal instincts and eventual violence. I always felt quietly proud to come from Canada, a country with a reputation for peace, and for helping people. However, 16 years after the 1995 referendum, and the phrase ‘Québécois de souche’ had faded into history, I was in Mali when I suddenly stopped in mid-sentence during a presentation. I was looking for an example of what not to do in the media and the first thing that came to mind was how political leaders back home were once again beating the drums of division. This time, the then-governing, pro-Quebec independence Parti Québécois was using words against Muslim women and their veils, and here I was in a Muslim country being invaded by Muslim extremists, talking to a class that was still traumatised by the violence that they had seen. Although the irresponsible speech reported in the Canadian media these days doesn’t match what happens in many of the countries where I work, it still stirs up resentment, which pushed to its logical conclusion can only result in violence.

When a phrase such as Québécois de souche is used in the media, it gains an air of authority and people start to use it in everyday speech. For a quiet Canadian hearing ‘les Québécois de souche’ on the radio day after day was not a comfortable experience. So Harper’s use of a divisive phrase for partisan ends did not go down well. After all these years, I’d hoped never to hear such a phrase again.

However, my dismay increased considerably when Mr. Harper spoke of the Niqab and how his government opposed a court ruling that allows Muslim women to veil their faces while taking the oath of citizenship. Public opinion polls support Mr. Harper’s finely-parsed phrases even though veils are few in Canada. Harper knows that the Muslim women becoming citizens have been in Canada for at least five years, have attended citizenship classes, have presented their documentation and showed their faces to Canadian authorities prior to the final two minutes of the citizenship ceremony. Mr. Harper knowingly withholds such information. His desire for power is stronger than his respect for anyone different, or for the law. When a sitting prime minister challenges the law that upholds individual rights for all, it is a sign the country is sailing into dangerous waters. When Harper used the phrase ‘old-stock Canadians’, I was surprised that he would stoop so low. But that’s nothing compared to the dangerous game he’s playing now.

Seeds of Division

Filed in Perspectives by on 1 September 2015 5 Comments
Seeds of Division

Conflict, dictatorships, instability and religious extremism in the Middle East, in the Horn of Africa, and in Central Africa plus the siren call of a better life has resulted in Europe’s worst immigration crisis since the Second World War. Hundreds of thousands of desperate people continue to crowd onto unseaworthy boats in hopes of crossing the Mediterranean, while thousands of Syrian refugees stream along railway tracks in the Balkans in hopes of finding asylum in Europe.

The number of dead continues to climb as overcrowded vessels flounder and sink, taking hundreds to a watery grave. More than 2500 people have drowned in the Mediterranean in the first nine months of this year. As in each of the ten years prior to 2015, the number of people who lose their lives in 2016 while looking for a better place to live will most likely surpass that. On the last week-end in August 2015, “the Italian coastguard plucked 4,400 people from the Mediterranean coast off Libya in 22 different operations…. Meanwhile the Greek coast guard picked up 877 people in 30 search and rescue operations.” (1)

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Gameplan

Filed in Articles by on 20 March 2015
Gameplan

Woody Island and Mischief Reef sound like names out of a Hardy Boys mystery, complete with mysterious goings-on to capture our imagination. However, instead of being off the shores of Bayport, the home of our amateur sleuths, they are part of the Paracel and Spratly island chains in the South China Sea. China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan all claim the islands because they are not only believed to contain oil and gas deposits, their placement would also confer greater influence over one of the world’s most strategic waterways.

These hundreds of islands are little more than reefs, shoals and sandbars that normally merit little notice. However, since the summer of 2014, China has sent dredgers to an estimated half-dozen islands in the Paracel and Spratly chains to suck up sand from the shallow depths to build the reefs up. According to surveillance photos published by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, an arm of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, China has started building installations on now reclaimed islands. (1)

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Veiled Priorities

Filed in Articles by on 14 January 2015
Veiled Priorities

Remember the peace dividend – the era of peace, prosperity, and jobs promised by western political leaders after the collapse of the Soviet Union?

One definition of ‘peace dividend’ is ” the money that becomes available in a national government’s budget when the country is at peace, and can afford to reduce its defence spending.”(1)  Peace dividend also refers to “an increase in investor confidence that sparks an increase in stock prices after a war ends, or a major threat to national security is eliminated. The money saved from defence spending is usually used toward housing, education and other projects”.(2)

Losing Patience

However, instead of peace, prosperity and jobs, the world seems to be growing increasingly angry, losing patience over lost opportunities. Whether in the United States, Europe, or elsewhere in the western world, the 99 versus one per cent, and the continued winnowing out of the middle class is evidence more of a plutocracy or rich élite pulling the strings of power than democratically-elected governments dedicated to the health and well-being of their citizens.

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