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Top of the Morning: South Sudan’s New Dubious Distinction

It’s the world’s most fragile state. “Every year for the past 10 years, The Fund for Peace, in partnership with the Foreign Policy Magazine, has released an index of the world’s most fragile states, based on the analysis of mountains of data. And if there is a headline to this year’s index, it is that South Sudan is now the world’s most fragile nation, displacing Somalia, which has held the top spot for the last six years. (VOA

WHO is Convening Big Meeting on Ebola Crisis. You may recall that earlier this week, MSF said the outbreak was “out of control.” “The World Health Organization on Thursday called for “drastic action” to fight the deadliest Ebola outbreak on record, as it announced an 11-nation meeting to address the growing crisis. As of Sunday, 635 cases of haemorrhagic fever (most confirmed to be Ebola), including 399 deaths, have been reported across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, making the outbreak the largest ever “in terms of the number of cases and deaths as well as geographical spread,” WHO said.(AFP

What are some of Turkey’s strategic goals for Iraq? Turkish foreign policy is always a fascinating case study. As the sunni insurgency in Iraq is gaining steam, how are Turkish foreign policy elites responding? What are Turkey’s near term strategic goals for Iraq and Syria? And how does this impact Turkey’s sometimes hostile view of Kurdish nationalism? Mark speaks with professor Louis Fishman who answers these questions and more. – (Global Dispatches Podcast

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The number of civilians seeking shelter in United Nations bases in war-torn South Sudan has reached over 100,000 for the first time in more than six-months of conflict, the UN said. (AP

Zimbabwe: More than 18,000 people live in the Chingwizi transit camp in Mwenezi district, about 150 kms from their former homes in Chivi basin wait to be allocated one-hectare plots of land by the government. (IPS Farm

A months-long battle to bring West Africa’s Ebola outbreak under control has stretched medical teams to the limit, while mistrust in some communities has impaired prevention work and raised questions about the delivery of health warnings. (IRIN

Most Nigerians who suffer mental health problems never seek or are offered help. As doctors work to convince the public mental health problems can and should be treated, patients at one facility in northern Nigeria say they are among the lucky ones. (VOA

The South African Human Right Commission says many children who are Black, ethnic-Indian and Colored are trapped in the injustices of poverty – including lack of access to adequate nutrition, clean running water and proper sanitation. (VOA

Two journalists in Somaliland have been sentenced to three years in jail for false reports and defaming the government, reports said. (AP


Syria is more concerned with obstructing the United Nations than getting urgent aid to millions of its most needy, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told the Security Council. (AP

Egypt defended its judicial system at the United Nations on Wednesday amid a global outcry over the jailing of al Jazeera journalists, telling diplomats and reporters that it respects the role of the media and does not consider journalism a crime. (Reuters

The United Nations’ envoy in Iraq said it will take decisive action by the country’s political leadership to address a “grave” situation that has left at least 900 civilians dead and more than 1 million displaced. (VOA

Libya’s official news agency says one of the country’s most prominent female activists was assassinated on election day in the restive eastern city of Benghazi. (AP


Thailand’s military authorities are setting up a network of panels to closely monitor domestic and international media and crack down on criticism of what the junta sees as its efforts to right the country. (Reuters

Asian stocks rose Thursday, tracing gains on Wall Street, where shares shrugged off a poor quarterly economic report as a blip and instead factored in rebounding growth even as policymakers maintain ultra low interest rates. (AP

The Americas

The Caribbean region’s bid to become food secure is in peril as farmers struggle to produce staple crops under harsh drought conditions brought about by climate change. (IPS

The Costa Rican leader says he wants to end the “worship of the presidential image” and bans his portrait from being hung in public offices. (BBC


Could The Ebola Outbreak Spread To Europe Or The U.S.? (NPR

Ebola’s Surge Requires ‘Drastic Action’ To Stop (NPR

West Africa needs to wake up to threat from drugs trade (Guardian

Private sector action in adaptation (CDKN

Four Reasons Skilled Workers Leave Africa – and How to Keep Them (allAfrica

Uganda: US sanctions will hurt NGOs already operating in difficult environment(African Arguments

Five Big and Controversial Ideas that Can Transform Africa (Africa Can End Poverty

Involving local non-state capacity to improve service delivery: it can be more difficult than it appears (Impact Evaluations


An estimated 58 million children worldwide are not going to school, meaning that there is “no chance whatsoever” that the millennium development goal of achieving universal primary education by 2015 will be met, the UN has admitted. (Guardian

The World Meteorological Organization says an El Nino is likely in the third quarter of 2014. El Nino is a weather phenomenon characterized by unusually warm ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific. (VOA

Top of the Morning | Leave a comment
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How Afghan Women are Objectified Music Videos and Ads

When I met a well-known filmmaker and the director of a popular Afghan soap opera in Kabul, he told me that what he regrets most about filming in Afghanistan is that he must only film women’s faces. He said, “When we see American movies, we can see women’s profiles. There are even shots of women in the shower, but here we can only film their faces. We don’t have a lot to work with.”

What he meant of course was that he couldn’t film the rest of an Afghan woman’s body bare. It is no coincidence that his vision of ideal filmmaking is reminiscent of so many of the films I have watched while studying in the United States. This filmmaker’s frustrations are indicative of a broader change in Afghan media that often uses American media as a model. While feminists in America have spent decades combating the degradation of women through media, Afghan filmmakers are embracing these problematic practices in an attempt to liberate their art from perceived restrictions. However because the production process is heavily dominated by men and women are merely used as a props, this “liberation” of art comes at a price.

While Afghan movies and soap operas are unpopular among Afghans and go unnoticed, music videos are popular and advertisements are virtually impossible to avoid. The impact of foreign media is most visible in these mediums. Song like this one by Parisa Mursal, produced in the 80’s, portrays the image of young women singing and being the heroes of their production. The video remains focused on her skills as a performer. In the 1980s, women like her paved the way for female artists to perform publicly.

In music videos produced by men in the 1980s, women were either absent or singing partners. An example is the duets of Naghma and Mangal or Ahmadwali and Hangama.

In contrast, a more recent video produced in 2010, shows a group of women dancing around a male artist who praises their looks. In the background there is a woman in a black dress laying and dancing on a Hummer car, a signifier of the singer’s masculinity, wealth and power. (The video draws heavily on the video for  Pitbull’s hit, I know You Want Me , which was wildly popular in Afghanistan in 2009. One problematic aspect is that the go-to format for music videos has shifted from being focused on the musicians to one that includes several women dancing or performing for the pleasure of men. This shift is happening because Afghan filmmakers see Western media as the superior mode of production.

Like songs, advertisements have also changed to become more Western. One ad shows an Afghan woman licking her lips and fingers seductively as she bites into an ice cream cone. She has bleached blond hair, which has become a symbol of sexiness because of Western media. She tells the viewers about the ice cream in an alluring auto-toned voice. A popular male actor appears on the screen afterwards to tell viewers, “She is right. This is a unique ice cream,” as if a woman’s message needs to be reconfirmed by a male figure.

A Haagen Dazs commercial produced in 2013 sends the same messages. A male figure seduces a woman using ice cream and she sexually licks the ice cream off of her own finger to tease him as the Afghan woman is doing to her male viewers.

Afghan advertisers have also learned to use commercials to portray and reproduce women and men’s traditional roles in families. While new to Afghan advertisement, this is a technique that has long marked Western advertisement. From home products such as swiffers being advertised by female actors only, to men driving cars, eating big burgers and drinking beer images that create and recreate our definitions of gender have dominated advertising in the West. Similarly, this commercial shows a group of men discussing ways to sell a car online as they eat in a restaurant. This advertisement marks both the freedom to be outside the house and normalizes the idea of men alone owning cars. Another advertisement, like dozens of its kinds, shows a woman washing clothes and taking care of children at home. The separation of the public and private sphere as two gendered environments is reproduced and exaggerated through these commercials. For example, Shayesta cooking oil’s slogan is “worthy of worthy women” even though the vast majority of professional chefs in Afghanistan are men. These are just a few examples of how womanhood and masculinity are defined by advertisement as Afghan producers copy Western ones.

With globalization on the rise, it is inevitable that different cultures will impact one another, but the one-sided imposition of Western ideals of beauty and desirability, i.e. the preference of blond hair and white complexion, and definitions of masculinity and femininity that have long oppressed men and women alike is problematic. Not only are these images incompatible with the context of Afghanistan but they also impose narrow worldviews that reproduce the cycle of male-dominance. In addition, with Afghan women’s organizations focused on more tangible atrocities, such as violence against women, child marriage, etc. there is little attention being paid to how women are being degraded in the media, even though the media recreates and sanctifies these oppressions in many ways. While activists in the west have the tools and the resources to combat the stereotypes and sexism in their media, this growing trend in Afghanistan remains prominent and uncontested as it produces a new layer in the oppression of women.

Women | Leave a comment
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Turkey’s Strategic View of the Iraq Crisis

Turkish foreign policy is always a fascinating case study. As the sunni insurgency in Iraq is gaining steam, how are Turkish foreign policy elites responding? What are Turkey’s near term strategic goals for Iraq and Syria? And how does this impact Turkey’s sometimes hostile view of Kurdish nationalism? I speak with professor Louis Fishman who answers these questions and more.

Be sure to check out Prof. Fishman’s blog, Istanbul-New York-Tel Aviv. And subscribe to the Global Dispatches Podcast on iTunes. 

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Previous episodes

Episode 22: Live from the UN, 2014 (Vol 1); A special edition, featuring the President of the General Assembly,  the UN Ambassadors from Vietnam and Jamaica, the head of the UN Association, and more!

The UN’s View of the Iraq Crisis

Episode 21: Thomas Pickering, former Ambassador to the UN, Israel, Jordan, Russia, India and more.

Dying for the World Cup

Episode 20: Jessica Tuchman Matthews, foreign policy trendsetter

Egypt After the Counter Revolution 

Episode 19: Louise Arbour, human rights pioneer.

What Obama Left Out of His Big Foreign Policy Speech

Episode 18: Zalmay Khalizad, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the UN.

Why Libya is Suddenly on the Verge of a Civil War 

Episode 17: Gov Bill Richardson, he frees hostages.

The Foreign Policy Implications of India’s Elections

Episode 16: Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save the Children

What Boko Haram Wants

Episode: 15 Laura Turner Seydel, philanthropist

Episode 14: Douglas Ollivant, Iraq expert

Episode 13: Gary Bass, historian

Episode 12: Mark Montgomery, demographer

Episode 11: Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watcher

Episode 10: Live from the UN, Volume 2.

Episode 9: Mia Farrow, humanitarian activist and Goodwill Ambassador

Episode 8: Suzanne Nossel, Big Thinker

Episode 7: Live from the UN, Volume 1. 

Episode 6: PJ Crowley, former State Department Spokesperson

Episode 5: Octavia Nasr, reporter

Episode 4: Arsalan Iftikhar, “The Muslim Guy”

Episode 3: Dodge Billingsley, filmmaker.

Episode 2: Laura Seay,  @TexasinAfrica

Episode 1: Heather Hurlburt, national security wonk

Podcast | | Leave a comment
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Top of the Morning: Kurdistan’s Economic Declaration of Independence

Iraq’s Kurds are making moves.For sale: One million barrels of crude oil. Attractive discount offered. Currently sitting off Moroccan coast.That’s what the Iraqi Kurds are offering potential buyers, much to the fury of the government in Baghdad. It amounts to a declaration of economic independence, fraying the already tattered ties holding Iraq together. Here’s how it works:The Kurdish Regional Government, or KRG, deals with oil exploration companies independent of the central government. Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Total are among the companies working in Iraqi Kurdistan. The crude produced there goes through a pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan in the Mediterranean. Then it’s loaded onto tankers and floats about until it finds a buyer.” (CNN

USAID and Partners Re-up Maternal and Child Health commitments. “USAID will spend up to $2.9 billion of the agency’s resources to continue the fight for maternal and child health in 24 countries.While child deaths have dropped from 12.6 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012, 16,000 children and 800 mothers are dying every day, says the U.S. Agency for International Development. “The goal of ending preventable child and maternal death is within reach. Two years ago, USAID partnered with organizations around the world to help achieve this goal.” says administrator Rajiv Shah.” (VOA

The president of the UN General Assembly gives Mark an update of the intergovernmental process to replace the MDGs.  Global Dispatches Podcast

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Mali called on the United Nations to speed up deploying the remainder of its promised 12,000-member peacekeeping force and station more troops in the West African nation’s turbulent north. (Reuters

More than 50 people have been killed in two days of clashes in Central African Republic, witnesses and officials said, with foreign troops struggling to stop recurrent violence between Muslim and Christian communities. (Reuters

The Government of the DR Congo and partners launched a measles monitoring campaign, in addition to an existing polio monitoring campaign, in the community of Kimbanseke. (UNICEF

Sudan’s Minister of Information said his government did not re-arrest or detain Meriam Yahya Ibrahim, the Christian woman whose death sentence for apostasy was overturned by an appeals court Monday. (VOA

Medical personnel in French-speaking Central African countries say obstetric fistula haunts 40 percent of women. (VOA

Senegalese farmers say they have been squeezed out by an influx of private investors acquiring fertile arable land in the Senegal River Valley where he has worked as a farmer for the last two decades. (IRIN

The Zimbabwe government has awarded a $1.3 billion thermal power generation project to China’s Sino Hydro after another Chinese company failed to conclude the contract, a minister said. (AP…)

Residents of West Point, Liberia hope that one day they will be relocated from the beach as the continuous environmental degradation has resulted in most of the land eroding into the Atlantic Ocean. (IPS


Aid agencies in Iraq are straining to support the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the violence amid unclear government policies, lack of funding and a multiplicity of humanitarian actors flooding in to respond. (IRIN

A bill aimed at encouraging more births by outlawing sterilisation and vasectomies has passed a first reading in Iran’s parliament, media reported on Wednesday. (AP


Burma says it will not turn away from reforms in the wake of a controversial raid on a Buddhist monastery and the arrest of five monks. (VOA

The system for registering, protecting, and finding durable solutions for asylum seekers in Indonesia risks becoming overburdened – potentially sparking unrest – as migrant arrivals continue and Australia’s maritime immigration policy deters boat journeys, officials and activists say. (IRIN

The Americas

Chile has made a commitment to the international community to improve human rights in the country and erase the lingering shadow of the dictatorship on civil liberties. (IPS

Latin America joined Argentina in the dispute over the so-called vulture funds, and called for unity to avoid the plundering of natural resources in the region. (Prensa Latina

Hundreds of British investors are looking to take legal action to recover lost money after being convinced to buy land in Brazil in the run-up to the World Cup. (BBC

Mexico’s national commissioner against addictions, Fernando Cano, criticized the failure of the authorities to address the drug problem in Mexico, following the release of new data that substance abuse has doubled in the past decade, in Mexico. (Prensa Latina


Food fight: Coast Guard bill could limit aid to hungry (Al Jazeera America

Higher Food Prices Can Help to End Hunger, Malnutrition and Food Waste (IPS

Can aid donors help support LGBT rights in developing countries? (ODI

Education aid gets children into school but it’s not the smartest solution (Guardian

Did Boko Haram really abduct 91 more people? No one knows (Christian Science Monitor


Should Africa Limit Presidential Terms? (OSIWA


New Victorians must leave Gates and Bono in the savannah’s dust (Forbes


Forgetting Nigeria’s girls (Vox




When the United Nations began negotiating a Code of Conduct for Transnational Corporations back in the 1970s, the proposal never got off the ground because of vigorous opposition both from the powerful business community and its Western allies. (IPS
A consortium of faith-based organisations made a declaration at a side event Wednesday at the 6th Asian Ministerial Conference On Disaster Risk Reduction, to let the United Nations know that they stand ready to commit themselves to building resilient communities across Asia in the aftermath of natural disasters. (IPS

Top of the Morning | Leave a comment
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Africa’s Big Farming Challenge

Ed note. This piece by Strive Masiyiwa, a member of the Africa Progress Panel, appeared in Project Syndicate and is reprinted with permission. 

HARARE – Launching a business can be hard work, especially in Africa, where weak governance systems and inconsistent access to critical resources impede success. For Africa’s farmers, the challenges are particularly pronounced. Given the vast economic and social benefits of a dynamic and modern agricultural sector, providing farmers with the incentives, investments, and regulations that they need to succeed should become a top priority.

The recent boom in Africa’s telecommunications sector – which has revolutionized entire industries, not to mention people’s lifestyles – demonstrates just how effective such an approach can be. There are more than a half-billion mobile connections on the continent today; indeed, in many respects, Africa leads the world in mobile growth and innovation.

Why has Africa been unable to replicate that growth in the agriculture sector? Why, instead of bumper crops, does Africa have an annual food-import bill of $35 billion? According to the Africa Progress Panel’s latest annual report, Grain, Fish, Money – Financing Africa’s Green and Blue Revolutions, the problem is straightforward: the odds are stacked against Africa’s farmers.

This is particularly true for smallholder farmers, most of whom are women. These farmers, who cultivate plots about the size of one or two football fields, typically lack reliable irrigation systems and quality inputs, such as seeds and soil supplements. Moreover, they rarely earn enough to invest in the needed machinery, and cannot gain access to credit.

As if that were not enough, farmers are facing increasingly volatile climate conditions that increase the likelihood that their crops will fail. Maize yields, for example, are set to decline by one-quarter over the course of the twenty-first century. And, when the crops are ready, farmers face major obstacles – including inadequate rural road systems and a lack of cold storage facilities – in delivering them to the market.

Despite these risks, which dwarf those faced by the telecoms industry, Africa’s smallholders remain as efficient as their larger counterparts – a testament to their tenacity and resilience. Yet, instead of supporting farmers, African governments have erected even more obstacles to growth, including excessive taxation, insufficient investment, and coercive policies.

Africa’s farmers need an enabling environment that enables them to overcome the challenges they face. In such a context, the continent’s agricultural sector could unleash a revolution akin to that fueled by the communications industry.

The good news is that both the private and public sectors – motivated by soaring demand for food, especially in Africa’s rapidly growing cities, and rising global food prices – seem ready to propel this shift. Private firms have begun to channel investment toward Africa’s agricultural sector, including through initiatives like Grow Africa (of which I am co-Chair), which facilitates cooperation between national governments and more than a hundred local, regional, and international companies to achieve targets for agricultural growth. Over the last two years, these firms have pledged more than $7.2 billion in agricultural investment.

For their part, African governments and development partners, recognizing the central role that agriculture can play in their economic-development agendas, have begun to reverse a three-decade decline in public investment in agriculture. In fact, agriculture has the potential to reduce poverty twice as fast as any other sector.

The impact of such efforts is already becoming apparent in many parts of the continent. From Ghana to Rwanda, high levels of agricultural investment are fueling impressive economic growth in rural areas, thereby boosting job creation and reducing poverty and hunger.

But these gains remain fragile. To sustain them, African governments must recommit to the African Union’s Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security, which includes a pledge to channel at least 10% of their budgets toward agricultural investment. And, they must provide farmers with the infrastructure, energy supplies, and supportive policies that they need in order to get their products to the market.

The communications sector also has a key role to play. Mobile technology has already begun to transform Africa’s agricultural industry, by providing farmers with valuable information like market prices, input support through e-vouchers, and even access to credit. Many of these innovative services are more accessible to African smallholders than they are to their American or European counterparts.

Finally, private-sector actors, farmers’ organizations, and civil-society groups must cooperate to advance agricultural development. For example, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, supplies high-quality seeds – many of which are drought-resistant – to millions of smallholder farmers across the continent.

The African Union has declared 2014 the Year of Agriculture and Food Security in Africa. With broad action on policy, investment, and technology, Africa’s farmers can double their productivity within five years. It is time to give the agriculture sector the opportunity that all Africans need to usher in an era of shared prosperity.

Strive Masiyiwa, a member of the Africa Progress Panel, is the founder and chairman of Econet Wireless. He is also the co-Chair of GROW Africa, and Chairman of the Board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa

Development | | Leave a comment

Getting Children out of Goldmines

A powerful video from UNICEF about efforts to deter and prevent children in Burkina Faso from undertaking dangerous work in goldmines.

Rights | | Leave a comment

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