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How to Get a Job at the United Nations

How does one get a job at the United Nations? It’s a question I put to a longtime United Nations staff member, who explains the best ways to land a career at the UN. Steven Siqueira has worked at the United Nations for over a decade in various capacities in New York and around the world. He discusses the UN’s quota system for allocating jobs based on nationality; the benefits and drawbacks of arriving as an early-career verses mid-career professional; the parallel ways to enter the UN system; and why people who have their heart set on working for the United Nations ought to think of it as a long term career goal.

This episode was inspired by listeners who asked me to cover this topic. If you have any recommendations of topics to cover or guests to interview please get in touch.

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Ebola Infection Rates Slowing in Liberia

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The WHO confirmed what other organizations have been reporting: death rates and rates of new infections seem to be declining in Liberia, which is the country most affected by the outbreak. There does not seem to be a similar decline in Guinea or Sierra Leone. This counts as good news…for now. “‘It appears that the trend is real in Liberia and there may indeed be a slowing of the epidemic there,’ WHO assistant director-general Bruce Aylward told reporters in Geneva. ‘There is increasing evidence that these countries can get on top of this,’ he said. Aylward added, though, that he was ‘terrified that the information will be misinterpreted and that people will begin to think Ebola is under control.’” (AFP

It’s Getting Easier to Doing Business in Sub Saharan Africa…A new report from the World Bank. “Doing Business 2015: Going Beyond Efficiency finds that local entrepreneurs in 123 economies saw improvements in their regulatory environment in the past year. From June 2013 to June 2014, the report, which covers 189 economies worldwide, documented 230 business reforms—with 145 aimed at reducing the complexity and cost of complying with business regulations, and 85 aimed at strengthening legal institutions. Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for the largest number of reforms.”  (World Bank

A Story to Follow: Trouble is brewing in Mali. A French soldier was killed in particularly heavy fighting.(Reuters

The USA has signaled its discontent for Burkina Faso president Blaise Compaore’s plan to amend the constitution to permit himself to run for office yet again.


The first known victim of the current outbreak was 2-year-old Emile Ouamouno, who lived with his parents and three sisters, including 4-year-old Philomene. According to the World Health Organization, the boy fell sick last December with a mysterious illness that caused fever, black stools and vomiting. (AP

South African mining tycoon Patrice Motsepe has donated $1 million to the Ebola Fund to help fight the disease that has killed nearly 4,900 people, his firm said. (Yahoo!

China’s capital will suggest to people returning from regions affected by Ebola to quarantine themselves at home for 21 days, and to undergo twice daily temperature checks if they have had contact with patients, state media said on Wednesday. (VOA

The United States has sent a health official to a Cuban meeting on coordinating Latin America’s response to Ebola. The participation of the Centers for Disease Control’s Central America director is the most concrete sign to date of the two nations’ expressed desire to cooperate against the disease. (AP

Government agencies in Maine are in the process of filing a court order to require Kaci Hickox — a nurse now in the state after recently treating Ebola patients in West Africa — to be quarantined, (CNN


Food security and malnutrition rates across the Sahel are deteriorating, with nearly 25 million food insecure, due in large part to ongoing conflict and instability in the CAR, northern Mali, and northeast Nigeria, according to UNOCHA. (IRIN

Zambian Vice President Guy Scott was named acting leader Wednesday following the death of President Michael Sata. He’s the first White leader in Africa since FW DeKlerk. (AFP

UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned Wednesday that Somalia risks returning to famine without urgent aid, as he visited the war-torn country three years since more than 250,000 people died of hunger. (AFP

About 100 female residents of Mukuru, an informal settlement in south-east Nairobi, travelled across town to wave signs and sing songs in a bid to grasp the attention of a government that has for decades failed to recognise their existence. (Guardian

West Africa missed out on significant health investment over the past decade or more because it had low rates of HIV, a detailed survey of the changing health of Africa and Asia reveals. (Guardian

One person was killed and eight others were wounded when machete-wielding youths clashed inside the United Nations camp in Malakal, where thousands of displaced South Sudanese have sought shelter, a U.N. official said. (VOA


By 2018, a large solar power plant in the Tunisian part of the Sahara desert may start sending power to energy-hungry Western Europe. (VOA

The UN warned Spain over plans to instantly deport migrants who clamber over the border fence into its north African territories, saying Madrid could end up breaking international law. (Yahoo!

There is no need to panic at the recent drop in oil prices, the secretary general of OPEC said on Wednesday, saying low prices would curb competing supplies and require the group to pump far more by the end of the decade. (Reuters


The leader of Hong Kong’s Liberal Party said he would resign on Wednesday, just hours after China’s top parliamentary advisory body expelled him for calling on the city’s embattled chief executive to step down. (Reuters

Bangladesh’s war crimes tribunal sentenced the chief of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party to death on Wednesday for crimes against humanity, including genocide, torture and rape, during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. (Reuters

North Korea is showing signs of a willingness to discuss the human rights situation in the country, possibly as a result of pressure created by a U.N. inquiry that accused Pyongyang of crimes against humanity, a U.N. investigator said. (Reuters

China’s growth could decline to close to 7 percent next year but Beijing should focus on overhauling its economy instead of trying to stick to official growth targets, the World Bank said Wednesday. (AP

Small and well-run Singapore, New Zealand and Hong Kong are the world’s easiest places to run a business, while global giants China, Brazil and India remain far down the list, according the World Bank. (AFP

India’s top counter-terrorism agency has uncovered a suspected plot by a banned militant group to assassinate the prime minister of Bangladesh and carry out a coup. (Reuters

A mudslide triggered by monsoon rains buried scores of workers’ houses at a tea plantation in central Sri Lanka on Wednesday, killing at least 10 people and leaving more than 250 missing, an official said. (AP

As Australia moves on with a plan to resettle some 1,000 refugees in Cambodia, its legislature is also debating a bill that would eliminate most references to the 1951 Refugee Convention from domestic legislation – a move critics say could bolster the government’s asylum seeker deterrence efforts. (IRIN

The Americas

The U.N. General Assembly voted for the 23rd year in a row to condemn the U.S. commercial, economic and financial embargo against Cuba. (AP

Jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez is refusing to appear in court in an attempt to pressure the government to respond to a United Nations request for his freedom. (AP

A city-run program in São Paulo, Brazil is the latest – and most holistic – intervention to try to curb the city’s large open-air drug market. Proponents say it could be a model for other cities in the region. Critics worry that it will delay addicts’ rehabilitation. (Guardian

Years of fewer births mean the number of working-age people in Cuba is expected to shrink starting next year, terrible news for an island attempting to jumpstart its stagnant centrally planned economy. The country’s governing Council of Ministers announced this week that it will soon unveil yet-unspecified financial incentives for couples considering starting families. (AP


Ebola and Quarantine (NEJM

The Inescapable Uncertainty of Popular Uprisings (Dart-Throwing Chimp

Is Refugee Rescue Attracting More? (DW

Keeping All Girls in School is One Way to Curb Child Marriage in Tanzania (IPS

Human Rights Watch gets the documentary treatment (A View From The Cave

Jessica Tuchman Mathews Steps Down from Carnegie. An Appreciation (UN Dispatch

What If We Publish Children’s Books African Kids Could Relate To? (Africa is a Country

West Africans are not powerless against Ebola…and neither are we (How Matters

“Wat bother U d most abt Ebola?” the design of U-report Liberia (Stories of UNICEF Innovation

Video of the Day: “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman”

Bringing sexy back to resilience and wellbeing of aid workers (WhyDev


Risk of acute malnutrition increasing among children in Somalia (Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit

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Jessica Tuchman Mathews Steps Down from Carnegie. An Appreciation

Jessica Tuchman Mathews is stepping down as the head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace after 18 years at the helm. She will be replaced by William Burns, the former deputy Secretary of State for Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.

I don’t know Ms. Mathews personally, but her writing has deeply influenced how I understand the world. Two Foreign Affairs articles in particular, “Redefining Security” in 1989 and “Powershift” in 1997, presented pioneering ideas that shaped the foreign policy debate during a rapidly evolving period in international relations.  In “Redefining Security” she prophetically argued that issues like climate change and global health will become priority security concerns–and that our very understanding of “security” needs to be expanded to include issues that affect populations, not just states. Today this is called “human security” — and it is commonly accepted–but at the time the notion was heretical to the international relations establishment. In “Powershift,” she argued that non-state actors like NGOs will become increasingly relevant arbiters of security. This was also heretical at the time because most international relations theorists were still arguing that “security” was firmly in the realm of state power, and state power alone.

Mathews also has a very remarkable personal story, which she told me a few months ago for a podcast episode. She discusses the influence of her mother, the Pulitzer prize winning historian Barbara Tuchman, why she opted to get a Phd in molecular biology, and how she transitioned from the hard sciences to a career in foreign policy.  She also discusses the genesis of those two influential articles.

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Mass Graves, Missing Students, and Mexico’s Long Road to Reform

A second mass grave has been found in rural Mexico a month after 43 student teachers went missing following an altercation with police in the town of Iguala. The missing students, along with the apparent involvement of local police and government officials in their suspected murders, has set off massive protests throughout the country. Things may be getting better south of the border, but rule of law issues continue to plague Mexico.

The origin of the current situation primarily dates back to a 2013 education reform program that all three of Mexico’s major political parties signed off on but generated a lot of controversy among students and teachers. The education reform bill sought to standardize evaluation and hiring processes, a monumental task in Mexico where teaching jobs are often bought and sold by individuals for their life-long tenure and above average salaries, with union and local government officials accepting kickbacks as part of the deal. But teachers, particularly in rural areas, complained that the reforms did little to address other major problems such as large classroom size, poor curriculum and few resources for schools. Fearing the government planned a mass firing to trim the education budget, protests began almost as soon as the reform package was announced.

Nowhere has the protests been as heated as Guerrero State where peaceful protests also mixed with renewed calls from local guerilla groups for an uprising against the government. Guerrero is one of the poorest states in Mexico, where education rates are low but the education sector is what provides for most families in the area. Thus, any attempt to change hiring or tenure practices not only threatens the jobs of individual teachers, but much of the region’s economy.

While numerous protests since 2013 have been met with a strong police response, little compares to what happened in Iguala on September 26. On that day, student teachers from Rural Teachers College Raúl Isidro Burgos of Ayotzinapa traveled to Iguala to protest outside a conference hosted by Maria de los Angeles Pineda, wife of Iguala’s mayor and the local president of the National System for Integral Family Development (DIF). Following the protest, the students claim they were trying to hitchhike back to their school while police claim they were trying to seize buses. In the end, police and gunmen opened fire on a bus, killing 6 and injuring several more. Another 56 students went missing that night, 43 of which have not been seen or heard from since. Some witnesses say the missing students were arrested by police while others say they were taken away by masked gunmen, now identified as members of Guerreros Unidos, a local drug cartel. Either way, the missing students and the discovery of two mass graves nearby is posing a major political problem for President Enrique Pena Nieto and his promises of less violence in a country plagued by it for the past decade.

The incident also underlines how intertwined government and organized crime has become in parts of the country. The 56 people arrested so far in connection with the missing students run the gamut from police officers and local officials to members of a local drug gang. The mayor of Iguala, his wife and the town’s police chief have all fled following the release of warrants for their arrest and amid allegations of direct connections with Guerreros Unidos. The governor of Guerrero resigned and there are calls for more action by the government, which so far has responded tepidly despite the general outcry.

As Uta Thofern points out, the continuing protests are now far more about the government’s role in this tragedy rather than the missing students themselves. In a country plagued by violence at the hands of both drug cartel and government security forces for the last 10 years, people are fed up. The rule of law is something that has become foreign to most Mexicans but the growing protests, far from Guerrero State where the students came from, demonstrate that it is something Mexicans desperately want. Even if those found in the second mass grave are the remains of the missing students – which Mexican officials claim they are despite testing not being complete – it will not be the end of this fight.

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Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 9.45.21 AM

And the Best and Worst Country to be a Woman Is..

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Iceland and Yemen, respectively. That’s according to the latest Global Gender Gap Index, out by the World Economic Forum. (AP

Hopeful news on the ebola front: The Red Cross said Tuesday the weekly total of Ebola victims collected by its body disposal teams around the Liberian capital is falling dramatically, indicating a sharp drop in the spread of the epidemic.The aid group announced its workers were now picking up little over a third of the late September peak of more than 300 bodies a week in and around Monrovia — an indication, it said, that the outbreak was retreating.  (AFP

Chart of the Day: How the Great Recession of 2008 affected child poverty levels in rich countries.


US health authorities have issued new guidelines for health workers returning from Ebola-hit nations after a firestorm of criticism over state quarantine restrictions, including from the UN chief. (AFP

Humanitarian groups in Australia are criticizing the government’s policy to impose a blanket ban on visas for citizens of the three West African nations affected by the Ebola virus outbreak. (VOA

As the Ebola outbreak rages in three West African countries – and raises fears abroad – some are questioning whether the World Health Organization is being stretched too thin. A proposal for a new global agency to deal strictly with infectious diseases is gaining some support. (VOA

Health workers are monitoring 82 people who had contact with a toddler who died of Ebola in Mali last week, but no new cases of the disease have yet been reported, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said. (Reuters

In the face of such stigmatization, Ebola survivors are joining an association in Guinea that assists the growing number of people who recover and seeks ways for them to help combat the disease. (Reuters

Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown has tripled the number of safe burials of Ebola victims in the past week and the challenge now is to expand that coordination across the country. (Reuters

The Swiss agency that regulates new drugs said Tuesday it has approved an application for a clinical trial with an experimental Ebola vaccine at the Lausanne University Hospital. (AP


Patients waited in long queues while others were being turned away at state hospitals in Zimbabwe on Tuesday as hundreds of doctors staged a strike to press for higher pay. (AFP

A leading malaria control expert has said efforts to contain the disease may be jeopardised by the Ebola crisis. (BBC

For years, poor Ghanaians have been burning old electronics in the open air to extract precious metals and sell them as scrap. But a new recycling center may mean the end of e-waste burning in Ghana. (VOA

Amnesty International has issued a new report claiming that the Ethiopian government is systematically repressing the country’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo. (VOA

Amid conflict and poverty, the Excel Academy in South Sudan is proving to be an unlikely success. (Guardian

Hundreds of Kenyans protested on Tuesday against a four-month government curfew imposed on the coastal county of Lamu after gunmen killed about 100 people there this year, authorities and residents said. (Reuters

AstraZeneca launched Healthy Heart Africa , a new program aimed at tackling the burden of hypertension in Africa. The African continent has the world’s highest prevalence of adults with raised blood pressure. (


International humanitarian officials said an immense humanitarian emergency is unfolding Iraq, where international assistance is urgently needed to help 5.2 million Iraqis, including 1.8 million displaced people, survive the coming winter. (VOA


In Afghanistan, a country where girls’ education had seen rapid growth since the fall of the Taliban, there is concern these gains could be reversed as the United States and other countries withdraw their military forces. (VOA

Myanmar’s unruly hinterlands are in the grips of what may be Asia’s worst heroin epidemic — a scourge widely ignored by the rest of the world. (GlobalPost

Cambodian anti-sex trafficking activist Somaly Mam has broken her silence to defend herself and her work, saying she didn’t lie about how she became a victim of sex slavery. (VOA

Civil society and human rights groups in Myanmar are urging the government to fully investigate the death of a journalist while in military custody. (VOA

A leading activist for Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya minority says there is a significant exodus –  on a scale possibly unprecedented – of Rohingya leaving the country. There are concerns about the fate of those who departed about two weeks ago. (VOA

The Americas

Mexican authorities searching for 43 students who disappeared after clashing with police last month are investigating a suspected mass grave. (BBC


Brazil election: Why Rousseff triumphed (CNN

We don’t need an Ebola czar (CNBC

Letter from Liberia: Ebola Is Not a Failure of Aid or Governance (CGD

Ebola, Human Rights and Poverty – Making the Links (IPS

How Much Is Actually Being Spent on Ebola? (CGD

Can Brazil Stay the Course on Reducing Deforestation? (CGD


Economic growth combined with equity is key to helping Least Developed Countries address poverty, Gyan Chandra Acharya, United Nations High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States told reporters last week. (IPS

Strengthening social justice to address intersecting inequalities (ODI

Humanitarianism in the age of cyber-warfare (OCHA

The pace of population growth is so quick that even draconian restrictions of childbirth, pandemics or a third world war would still leave the world with too many people for the planet to sustain, according to a study. (Guardian

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by @mamouchkadiop voa Africa is a Country

Why Protesters Have Taken to the Streets of Burkina Faso

by @mamouchkadiop voa Africa is a Country

The photos are remarkable. A sea of humanity has taken to the streets of Ouagadougou. Tens of thousands (and possibly hundreds of thousands - the opposition claimed a million people) are voicing their opposition to one of Africa’s longest serving heads of state, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso.

Can the protests make a difference?

At issue is Compaore’s attempt to alter the constitution of Burkina Faso to allow him to run for president once again.  Compaore has enjoyed nearly 30 straight years of uninterrupted rule. His election in 2010 – with 81% of the vote – was supposed to be his last one. Opposition leader Zephirin Diabre said in a news conference recently “The government is in the process of carrying out a constitutional coup d’etat.”

Compaore and the leading party have been seeking to have the constitution modified to allow him to run again. The protests this week in Burkina Faso are not the first of their kind, and likely not the last. There is clear resistance to Compaore’s plan to remain in power, but it’s difficult to tell at this juncture if democracy will prevail in Burkina Faso.

In an effort to make this political project look democratic, the government is asking the National Assembly to vote on allowing a referendum to take place on whether or not Article 37 of the constitution – which places a two-term limit on heads of state – should be modified to allow for a third term. In addition – or, rather, in parallel – to this strategy, Compaore and his party have been working alongside major parliamentary groups to sway them on this issue. Over the weekend, a major parliamentary group (with 18 of 127 seats at the National Assembly) announced its support for the constitutional modification, tipping the balance so far that a referendum may not even be required. Indeed, if 75% of the National Assembly votes in favor of the constitutional amendment, a referendum can be bypassed.

“Even the goats want Compaore out”

The situation in Burkina Faso is tense. Schools have been closed for the week, due to concerns about potential unrest surrounding the parliamentary vote,which will significantly impact the course of politics in the country. Compaore has been a key regional player, facilitator and broker and a Western ally – particularly in the fight against transnational threats in the Sahel region. He has strong support from loyal groups, but the events of the last few days – and, indeed, of the past year since the modification of Article 37 has been on the table – shows that the Burkinabe people will put up a fight. For many of the young people protesting, they have never had a leader other than Compaore, and his claims that you need time to build strong institutions ring hollow. Indeed, they ask, what will Compaore achieve in five additional years that was not accomplished in the last 27?

Photo credit: @mamouchkadiop, via the Facebook Page of the excellent Africa is a Country

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