Robert Mugabe: As Divisive in Death as he was in Life

Robert Mugabe during his swearing-in ceremony in Harare, 2008. The former Zimbabwean president has died aged 95. EPA-EFE

Robert Mugabe during his swearing-in ceremony in Harare, 2008. The former Zimbabwean president has died aged 95. EPA-EFE

Robert Mugabe, the former president of Zimbabwe, has died. Mugabe was 95, and had been struggling with ill health for some time. The country’s current President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced Mugabe’s death on Twitter on September 6:

The responses to Mnangagwa’s announcement were immediate and widely varied. Some hailed Mugabe as a liberation hero. Others dismissed him as a “monster”. This suggests that Mugabe will be as divisive a figure in death as he was in life.

The official mantra of the Zimbabwe government and its Zimbabwe African National Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) will emphasise his leadership of the struggle to overthrow Ian Smith’s racist settler regime in what was then Rhodesia. It will also extol his subsequent championing of the seizure of white-owned farms and the return of land into African hands.

In contrast, critics will highlight how – after initially preaching racial reconciliation after the liberation war in December 1979  – Mugabe threw away the promise of the early independence years. He did this in several ways, among them a brutal clampdown on political opposition in Matabeleland in the 1980s, and Zanu-PF’s systematic rigging of elections to keep he and his cronies in power.

They’ll also mention the massive corruption over which he presided, and the economy’s disastrous downward plunge during his presidency.

Inevitably, the focus will primarily be on his domestic record. Yet many of those who will sing his praises as a hero of African nationalism will be from elsewhere on the continent. So where should we place Mugabe among the pantheon of African nationalists who led their countries to independence?

Slide into despotism

Most African countries have been independent of colonial rule for half a century or more.

The early African nationalist leaders were often regarded as gods at independence. Yet they very quickly came to be perceived as having feet of very heavy clay.

Nationalist leaders symbolised African freedom and liberation. But few were to prove genuinely tolerant of democracy and diversity. One party rule, nominally in the name of “the people”, became widespread. In some cases, it was linked to interesting experiments in one-party democracy, as seen in Tanzania under Julius Nyerere and Zambia under Kenneth Kaunda.

Even in these cases, intolerance and authoritarianism eventually encroached. Often, party rule was succeeded by military coups.

In Zimbabwe’s case, Mugabe proved unable to shift the country, as he had wished, to one-partyism. However, this did not prevent Zanu-PF becoming increasingly intolerant over the years in response to both economic crisis and rising opposition. Successive elections were shamelessly perverted.

When, despite this, Zanu-PF lost control of parliament in 2008, it responded by rigging the presidential election in a campaign of unforgivable brutality. Under Mugabe, the potential for democracy was snuffed out by a brutal despotism.

A wasted inheritance

Whether the economic policies they pursued were ostensibly capitalist or socialist, the early African nationalist leaders presided over rapid economic decline, following an initial period of relative prosperity after independence.

In retrospect, it’s widely recognised that the challenges they faced were immense. Most post-colonial economies were underdeveloped and depended upon the export of a small number of agricultural or mineral commodities. From the 1970s, growth was crowded out by the International Monetary Fund demanding that mounting debts be surmounted through the pursuit of structural adjustment programmes. This hindered spending on infrastructure as well as social services and education and swelled political discontent.

In contrast, Mugabe inherited a viable, relatively broad-based economy that included substantial industrial and prosperous commercial agricultural sectors. Even though these were largely white controlled, there was far greater potential for development than in most other post-colonial African countries.

But, through massive corruption and mismanagement, his government threw that potential away. He also presided over a disastrous downward spiral of the economy, which saw both industry and commercial agriculture collapse. The economy has never recovered and remains in a state of acute and persistent crisis today.

Read more: Zimbabwe's economy is collapsing: why Mnangagwa doesn't have the answers

Reputation

On the political front, the rule of some leaders – like Milton Obote in Uganda and Siad Barre in Somalia – created so much conflict that coups and crises drove their countries into civil war. Zimbabwe under Mugabe was spared this fate – but perhaps only because the political opposition in Matabeleland in the 1980s was so brutalised after up to 30 000 people were killed, that they shrank from more conflict. Peace, then, was merely the absence of outright war.

Some leaders, notably Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, are still revered for their commitments to national independence and African unity. This is despite the fact that, domestically, their records were marked by failure. By 1966, when Nkrumah was displaced by a military coup, his one-party rule had become politically corrupt and repressive.

Despite this, Nyerere always retained his reputation for personal integrity and commitment to African development. Both Nkrumah’s and Nyerere’s ideas continue to inspire younger generations of political activists, while other post-independence leaders’ names are largely forgotten.

Will Mugabe be similarly feted by later generations? Will the enormous flaws of his rule be forgotten amid celebrations of his unique role in the liberation of southern Africa as a whole?

A Greek tragedy

The problem for pan-Africanist historians who rush to praise Mugabe is that they will need to repudiate the contrary view of the millions of Zimbabweans who have suffered under his rule or have fled the country to escape it. He contributed no political ideas that have lasted. He inherited the benefits as well as the costs of settler rule but reduced his country to penury. He destroyed the best of its institutional inheritance, notably an efficient civil service, which could have been put to good use for all.

The cynics would say that the reputation of Patrice Lumumba, as an African revolutionary and fighter for Congolese unity has lasted because he was assassinated in 1961. In other words, he had the historical good fortune to die young, without the burden of having made major and grievous mistakes.

In contrast, there are many who would say that Mugabe simply lived too long, and his life was one of Greek tragedy: his early promise and virtue marked him out as popular hero, but he died a monster whom history will condemn.

ROGER SOUTHALL is a Professor of Sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION

Syria Safe Zones: What is Driving the Unexpected Rapprochement Between the US and Turkey?

Life on the border: Kurdish men in Kobani, Syria. Ahmed Mardnli/EPA

Life on the border: Kurdish men in Kobani, Syria. Ahmed Mardnli/EPA

After years of rising tensions between Turkey and the US over the situation in northern Syria, an unexpected rapprochement has pulled the two countries back from possible conflict.

Relations between the two countries had deteriorated over Turkish opposition to the US alliance with Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, and Turkey’s recent purchase of a Russian air defence missile system. In response, the US kicked Turkey out of its F-35 fighter programme in July.

But in August, Turkey and US announced they would collaborate to establish safe zones along the Syrian-Turkish border, managed by a joint operations centre in Turkey.

Turkey has long demanded these buffer zones across its northern border with Syria to protect against possible assaults from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which leads the Syrian Democratic Forces. The safe zone will effectively serve as a buffer between the YPG-controlled area and the Turkish border, and also combat the ongoing threat of Islamic State (IS) in the region.

The Turks and Americans are yet to agree on the size of the buffer zone – with Turkey pushing for it to be larger than the US wants – and it remains unclear who will police it. But in late August, YPG leaders agreed to withdraw their troops from towns near the Turkish border in what the Pentagon said was a sign of “good faith”.

But why has the US begun to condone Turkish action in northern Syria, and why now?

Deteriorating relations

Although Turkey and the US both sought to displace the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, their priorities in the region changed over time. When the US launched its coalition against IS in 2014, Turkey joined reluctantly amid fears that the fight would harm the Syrian rebels fighting against the Assad regime.

But while Turkey remained suspicious over the presence of the YPG in northern Syria, the US allied with these very forces to defeat IS and to balance Iranian influence in the region.

When US President Donald Trump declared IS had been defeated in December 2018 and that American troops would withdraw from Syria, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hurried to announce Turkish troops could replace the Americans in the region. Erdoğan has repeatedly stressed that Turkey will not harm Syrian Kurdish civilians, but rather target militant groups in the region, including the YPG which it sees as linked to the Kurdish separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

Similar styles. Ahmed Mardnli/EPA

Similar styles. Ahmed Mardnli/EPA

After the reaction in Washington to the decision to withdraw from Syria – which caused resignations and criticism from senior politicians – Trump reversed his decision. In early January the US government said it would not withdraw until the Turkish government guaranteed it would not to attack Syrian Kurds who had been part of the alliance fighting against IS. Turkey has not given this guarantee.

Mistrust has festered over alleged links with each of the allies’ foes, namely Turkey with IS fighters and the US with the YPG. Amid the tensions, the US embassy in Ankara remained vacant.

Pulling back from conflict

There are three reasons for the current rapprochement. The first is a growing desire from both sides to avoid conflict between their military personnel in the region. In 2018, Erdoğan threatened that any US soldiers who stood in the way of the Turkish invasion of Afrin, a Syrian enclave in northern Syria, with an “Ottoman slap”.

Ankara now seems more willing to collaborate with Washington. The welcome extended to the new American ambassador to Turkey, David Satterfield, at the presidential palace on August 28, signalled the allies are looking to build bridges.

The second is that Assad’s forces are encroaching into the last remaining opposition stronghold in Idlib with their Russian allies. Turkey is likely to face another stream of Syrian refugees across to its borders. The search for an agreement over safe zones in northern Syria comes to the fore as Erdoğan feels the brunt of his pro-refugee politics at home.

Since its invasion of Afrin, Turkey has sought to settle Syrian refugees in safe zones in the province. The newly proposed safe zones are likely to see a push for further refugee returns. Similar goals of returning refugees are also pushing other peace efforts in the region – notably between the US and Taliban in Afghanistan.

The third reason is more personal. Erdoğan says Trump has a feel for him. Both leaders are celebrity politicians, with their families at the foreground of their politics. They share anti-establishment mentalities, and use religious references and nationalist discourses to appeal to their supporters.

The Russian factor

Hanging over this rapprochement, however, is the issue of the Russian missiles. So far the Trump administration has not imposed economic sanctions on Turkey over the issue, despite criticisms from Congress over the risks it poses to NATO security. Turkey said it would not activate the missiles until April 2020, allowing negotiation channels with the US over northern Syria to remain open.

Turkey has been a proactive voice against military assaults by the Assad regime in northern Syria, yet it has remained quiet on the Russian-Syrian alliance in the region. Since the failed coup attempt in 2016, the Erdoğan regime has been increasingly pro-Putin, signalling it is turning its back on its traditional Western allies.

That’s why it’s so significant that Turkey and the US are searching for collaboration in the region despite their policy differences. In the Turkish case, this could be a way to enhance its buffer as Assad forces regain the northern provinces from the rebels. In the American case, it could be to expand its alliances to offset Russian and Iranian influence in the future Assad-ruled Syria.

TARIK BASBUGOGLU is a PhD Candidate at Glasgow Caledonian University.

UMUT KORKUT is a Chair professor at Glasgow Caledonian University.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION

Ukraine: How a Controversial New Language Law Could Help Protect Minorities and Unite the Country

‘The language matters!’: Activists demonstrate in Kiev, April 2019 to demand the passage of a new language law. EPA-EFE/Sergey Dolzhenko

‘The language matters!’: Activists demonstrate in Kiev, April 2019 to demand the passage of a new language law. EPA-EFE/Sergey Dolzhenko

Ukraine is celebrating 28 years of independence – but since 1991 the country has struggled to find the right policies and practices to protect and promote Ukrainian, the state language. It has also tried to prioritise policies of inclusion for ethnic and linguistic minorities while supporting the languages and cultures of Ukraine’s indigenous peoples. A new law passed in July 2019, if successfully implemented, may finally help strike the balance.

Ukrainian is currently is the eighth most spoken language in Europe with more than 33m speakers. Along with Belarusian and Russian, with which it shares Cyrillic script, it is an East Slavic language. Despite having some similarities with Russian, it is a separate language. Russian is widely spoken in Ukraine with small concentrations of Romanian and Hungarian speakers in the west. Ukraine’s indigenous languages (Crimean Tatar, Karaim and Krimchak) are recognised by UNESCO as endangered languages.

Over the past three decades, Ukrainian politicians have too often, in my opinion, exploited the issue of language policy – especially the question of giving Russian official status in the country – as a way of mobilising their respective bases, at the expense of national solidarity and cohesion.

This is despite the fact that Ukrainians routinely rank the issue of language very low on a list of the country’s problems. In 2018, only 2.4% of Ukrainians viewed the status of the Russian language as the most important problem in the country. Despite this, the former Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, made the support of the Ukrainian language a key element of his re-election campaign. But it didn’t give his campaign any discernible lift and he was ousted at the April 2019 election by comedian Volodymyr Zelensky.

Russian gets weaponised

In 2014, the Kremlin used the issue to justify its military aggression against Ukraine. Vladimir Putin repeatedly claimed that Ukraine’s post-Maidan government was targeting Russian-speakers in the country. Given that the government was led by native Russian-speakers, such as Oleksandr Turchynov and Petro Poroshenko, this was an absurd argument. But nonetheless, some western observers appeared to accept it.

The law, On the Provision of the Functioning of Ukrainian as the State Language, passed in April and took force on July 16. Unsurprisingly, it was met with a fierce reaction from the Kremlin, which called for the United Nations Security Council to debate the issue.

Russian influence: Vladimir Putin with members of the pro-Kremlin biker gang Night Wolves in Sevastopol, Crimea, August 2019. EPA-EFE/Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/Kremlin

Russian influence: Vladimir Putin with members of the pro-Kremlin biker gang Night Wolves in Sevastopol, Crimea, August 2019. EPA-EFE/Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/Kremlin

But beyond the political bluster, what are the actual features of this law and does it have the potential to allow effective functioning of Ukrainian and other languages and, at the same time, bring the country together?

Securing official status

The law affirms Ukrainian as the main language of inter-ethnic communication – a role most recently played by Russian and by German and Polish in earlier historical periods. It also ensures that information and services are available in Ukrainian – something that was not previously the case in the majority of cities in eastern and southern Ukraine, where Russian dominates in all spheres of public life. But the law also allows official interactions in languages that are “acceptable to both sides”, and it doesn’t completely rule out the use of Russian.

Drafts of the law in development were criticised for forcing media (including academic publications) to publish equal numbers in Ukrainian and other languages. It was argued that this makes the existence of such newspapers like the Kyiv Post – the most famous Ukrainian newspaper in English – very problematic. As a response to this criticism, the law was changed to allow publication in English and “other official languages of the European Union”. So, while supporting multilingualism, the law clearly rules out Russian as the language of inter-ethnic communication.

But the law’s requirements to ensure that all theatrical performances and 90% of films are in Ukrainian, with an undefined exception for “artistic necessity”, seem both unproductive and excessive.

Supporting language minorities

If successful, the law will go a long way towards protecting Ukraine’s indigenous languages. Media outlets are obliged to produce a certain percentage of their content in the indigenous language, while all higher educational institutions must have the capacity to teach indigenous languages to all students who express a desire for it.

Protesters demonstrate against the disappearance of Crimean Tatar activists. Tatars are one of Ukraine’s oppressed minority groups, October 2016. EPA/Roman Pilipey

Protesters demonstrate against the disappearance of Crimean Tatar activists. Tatars are one of Ukraine’s oppressed minority groups, October 2016. EPA/Roman Pilipey

The law also stipulates that language courses must be available in the languages of Ukraine’s ethnic minorities and, for the first time in Ukraine’s history, Ukrainian sign language is given protection and support. This empowerment has been somewhat overlooked in the recent comments on the law that mostly focused on the rights of Russian-speakers.

But Ukraine’s parliament has still to pass additional legislation on the rights of the indigenous people and minorities of Ukraine, which is required under the terms of the language law. This should provide additional mechanisms to protect the rights of Russian-speakers and other minorities. The newly-created party, Servant of the People, recently won power and has declared that it will “deal with this issue”.

As we’ve heard, despite the outside world’s obsession with language as one of the critical issues in Ukraine, only a small minority of people see it as a high-priority problem. The 2018 survey referred to above also showed people are far more worried about the ongoing military conflict and the effect it is having on living standards and the economy.

What’s clear, though, is that these problems won’t be solved without national cohesion. So, whether or not Ukrainians themselves think it important, the right formula for establishing Ukrainian as the official state language, as well as supporting and protecting indigenous and minority languages, will be key to helping the embattled country pull together.

IVAB KOZACHENKO is a Postdoctoral research associate, University of Cambridge.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION.

It’s Not Just Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest That’s Ablaze – Bolivian Fires are Threatening People and Wildlife

Firefighters and volunteers have been working around the clock to tackle the flames. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

Firefighters and volunteers have been working around the clock to tackle the flames. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

Up to 800,000 hectares of the unique Chiquitano forest were burned to the ground in Bolivia between August 18 and August 23. That’s more forest than is usually destroyed across the country in two years. Experts say that it will take at least two centuries to repair the ecological damage done by the fires, while at least 500 species are said to be at risk from the flames.

The Chiquitano dry forest in Bolivia was the largest healthy tropical dry forest in the world. It’s now unclear whether it will retain that status. The forest is home to Indigenous peoples as well as iconic wildlife such as jaguars, giant armadillos, and tapirs. Some species in the Chiquitano are found nowhere else on Earth. Distressing photographs and videos from the area show many animals have burned to death in the recent fires.

The burnt region also encompasses farmland and towns, with thousands of people evacuated and many more affected by the smoke. Food and water are being sent to the region, while children are being kept home from school in many districts where the air pollution is double what is considered extreme. Many families are still without drinking water. While the media has focused on Brazil, Bolivians are asking the world to notice their unfolding tragedy – and to send help in combating the flames.

Dry forests of the Chiquitanos before the fires. Alfredo Romero-Muñoz, Author provided

Dry forests of the Chiquitanos before the fires. Alfredo Romero-Muñoz, Author provided

It’s thought that the fires were started deliberately to clear the land for farming, but quickly got out of control. The perpetrators aren’t known, but Bolivian President Evo Morales has justified people starting fires, saying: “If small families don’t set fires, what are they going to live on?”

The disaster comes just a month after Morales announced a new “supreme decree” aimed at increasing beef production for export. Twenty-one civil society organisations are calling for the repeal of this decree, arguing that it has helped cause the fires and violates Bolivia’s environmental laws. Government officials say that fire setting is a normal activity at this time of year and isn’t linked to the decree.

Fires burn across Santa Cruz state. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

Fires burn across Santa Cruz state. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

Morales has repeatedly said that international help isn’t needed, despite having sent just three helicopters to tackle the raging fires. He argued that the fires are dying out in some areas – although they continue to burn in others and have now reached Bolivia’s largest city, Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Many say that the fires could have been contained far sooner with international help, as videos show volunteers trying to beat back the fires with branches.

As the fires worsened, people gathered to protest in Santa Cruz state. Chanting “we want your help”, they complained that the smoke was so bad they were struggling to breathe. They want Morales to request international aid to fight the fires. While firefighters and volunteers struggle to tackle the blaze in 55℃ heat, Bolivians have set up a fundraiser to tackle the fires themselves.

The extreme heat has made fighting the fires intolerable for those involved. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

The extreme heat has made fighting the fires intolerable for those involved. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

A fortnight after the fires began, a supertanker aeroplane of water arrived, hired from the US. But if the reactions to the president’s announcement on Twitter are anything to go by, many Bolivians think this is too little, too late. Morales is fighting a general election and has faced criticism for staying on the campaign trail while the fires spread.

Some Indigenous leaders are asking for a trial to determine responsibility for the fires, and the response to them. Alex Villca, an Indigenous leader and spokesperson, said:

It is President Evo Morales who should be held accountable. What are these accountabilities going to be? A trial of responsibilities for this number of events that are occurring in the country, this number of violations of Indigenous peoples and also the rights of Mother Nature.

The dry forest understorey ignites while firefighters deploy fire breaks. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

The dry forest understorey ignites while firefighters deploy fire breaks. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

President Morales came to power in Bolivia in 2006, on a platform of socialism, Indigenous rights, and environmental protection. He passed the famous “Law of the Rights of Mother Earth” in 2010, which placed the intrinsic value of nature alongside that of humans. His environmental rhetoric has been strong but his policies have been contradictory. Morales has approved widespread deforestation, as well as roads and gas exploration in national parks.

While the fires in the Chiquitano have dominated the media within the country, hundreds more rage across Bolivia, assisted by the recent drought. It’s unclear whether the response to these fires will affect the October election outcome, but sentiments are running high in the country, where more than 70% of people prioritise environmental protection over economic growth.

Bolsonaro and Brazil might grab the headlines, but Bolivia too is now host to a desperately serious humanitarian and environmental situation.

CLAIRE F.R. WORDLEY is a Research Associate, Conservation Evidence, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION.


The Netherland’s New Burqa Ban is a Sign of Hostility Towards the Dutch Muslim Community

The discriminatory law violates both religious freedom and freedom of movement.


Photo of Library Hall in the Rijksmuseum by  Will van Wingerden  on  Unsplash . This is one of many buildings now off limits to people wearing burqas or niqabs.

Photo of Library Hall in the Rijksmuseum by Will van Wingerden on Unsplash. This is one of many buildings now off limits to people wearing burqas or niqabs.

Last June, the Upper House of Parliament passed a ban on face-covering garmates such as burqas and niqabs by 35 to 40 votes. The law came into effect early this month, banning those wearing such garmates from entering public places including government buildings, public transport, hospitals, and schools.

Amnesty International has released a statement calling the ban an infringement on women's rights to dress as they choose. The ban follows similar laws throughout Europe and will make the Netherlands the 6th country in the EU to ban burqas and niqabs in public buildings. The law does not apply to streets and other outdoor public spaces.

While the exact number of women impacted by the law is unclear, the Guardian writes that according to a 2009 study by University of Amsterdam professor Annelies Moors, an estimated 100 women routinely wear a face veil and less than 400 sometimes wear a veil. Moors, a critic of the bill, states that it has the power to interfere with women's daily lives. It restricts their access to hospitals, police stations, and schools, preventing them from accessing education, reporting crimes, and other necessary abilities.

While the Dutch government has stated that the law is a non-discriminatory effort to ensure public safety, the far-right has been quick to cite the ban as a party victory. "Finally, 13 years after a majority in the Dutch Parliament voted in favor of my motion to ban the burqa, it became law yesterday!" Geert Wilders of the far-right Freedom Party tweeted last June including the telling hashtags #stopislam #deislamize.

Al Jazeera writes that Wilders hopes to go even further with the ban."I believe we should now try to take it to the next step," he told the Associated Press. "The next step to make it sure that the headscarf could be banned in the Netherlands as well."

Under the new law, someone wearing a banned clothing item must either remove it, or face a fine from 150 to 415 euro. Police and transport officials, however, have expressed a reluctance to comply with the ban. 

After a statement from the police saying that enforcing the law is not a priority for them, transportation authorities announced that they would not be enforcing the law as police assistance would not be readily available. 

“The police have told us the ban is not a priority and that therefore they will not be able to respond inside the usual 30 minutes, if at all,” Pedro Peters, a spokesman for the Netherlands transport network told the Guardian. “This means that if a person wearing a burqa or a niqab is challenged trying to use a service, our staff will have no police backup to adjudicate on what they should do. It is not up to transport workers to impose the law and hand out fines.”

Hospitals also stated that they would continue to treat patients regardless of clothing.

The Muslim community has rallied to support those affected by the law. The Nida (Rotterdam’s islamic party) has stated that it will pay all fines imposed on those wearing niqabs. The party even created a community account where people can donate money to be used for fines. Algerian activist Rachid Nekkaz also offered to cover fines.

Despite the lack of enforcement surrounding the ban, its existence alone is a sign of hostility towards the Dutch Muslim community. According to Al Jazeera, Nourdin el-Ouali, who leads the Nida Party, called the ban a “serious violation” of religious freedom and freedom of movement, and warned that it will have far-reaching consequences.




EMMA BRUCE is an undergraduate student studying English and marketing at Emerson College in Boston. While not writing she explores the nearest museums, reads poetry, and takes classes at her local dance studio. She is passionate about sustainable travel and can't wait to see where life will take her. 

emma bruce.png


 



Puerto Ricans Unite Against Rosselló – And More Than a Decade of Cultural Trauma

People wave Puerto Rican flags as they attend a rally to celebrate the resignation of Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló in San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 25.  REUTERS/Marco Bello

People wave Puerto Rican flags as they attend a rally to celebrate the resignation of Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló in San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 25. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Puerto Ricans wrote a new chapter in their history on July 24.

Governor Ricardo Rosselló finally resigned after 12 days of massive protests in Puerto Rico, as well as protests abroad, that demanded his resignation; all the protests used the hashtag #RickyRenuncia.

The beginning of the protests can be traced to the release by Centro de Periodismo Investigativo of 889 pages of a Telegram chat transcript that exposed offensive and unethical comments made by the governor and his inner circle.

But the chat was only the latest blow. A series of natural and human-made disasters have caused turmoil and trauma in Puerto Ricans’ lives, including the more than decade-long recession that started in 2006; the financial crisis and subsequent enactment of the PROMESA law in 2016that reinforced Puerto Rico’s colonial status; and the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

Rosselló’s corruption further compromised the post-disaster recovery of Puerto Ricans, many of whom continue to suffer personal and cultural trauma.

Whereas personal trauma “involves a wound and the experience of great emotional anguish by an individual,” by cultural trauma, we mean what sociologist Jeffrey Alexander says “occurs when members of a collectivity feel they have been subjected to a horrendous event that leaves indelible marks upon their group consciousness, marking their memories forever and changing their future identity in fundamental and irrevocable ways.”

The chat’s transcript served as a catalyst for Puerto Ricans to come together in indignation.

Personal and cultural trauma

Together, we have been studying Puerto Rican activism, the diaspora’s political ideologies and migration, particularly in Central Florida, for many years.

After Hurricanes Irma and Maria, approximately 159,000 to 176,000 Puerto Ricans moved to the continental U.S. This major movement is expected to continue, with an anticipated 14% of the island population leaving over the next two years.

We wanted to understand the conditions under which post-disaster Puerto Rican migrants successfully integrated into continental U.S. society, and the challenges they face. We will soon begin a two-year study on how those leaving the island after the hurricanes have fared in Central Florida.

Data we have collected already suggest that post-disaster migrants continue to experience personal trauma and stress long after the immediate disasters passed.

Some Puerto Ricans not only lost family members or everything they owned, but, even a year after impact, many in Puerto Rico still lacked access to basic necessities such as potable water, warm food, shelter, medicines, and electricity.

Of the 19 Puerto Ricans we have interviewed so far, as well as over 100 surveyed, many were deeply impacted by Hurricane Maria and its aftermath. For those in our sample who lived on the island during the hurricane but have since moved to Florida, many felt traumatic loss in leaving their homes and families behind to survive the slow recovery.

Many told us that they lost their jobs, suffered health problems and, upon migration, faced racism and downward occupational mobility in the continental U.S.

Members of the diaspora also experienced personal trauma during the days and weeks after the hurricanes, not knowing about the status of their loved ones in Puerto Rico.

One of the Puerto Ricans we interviewed, John, explained the agony he felt in the aftermath of the storm waiting to hear from his father in Puerto Rico: “I talked to my dad the night before it was supposed to hit and he said he’ll call me as soon as he can. And then I didn’t hear from him for a couple days, so it was definitely stressful,” he said.

His father finally called; John said, “That was one of the most important phone calls I ever received… I cried because I was just excited to hear from him.”

In recent years, the totality of personal traumas Puerto Ricans have faced, including the recent chat scandal, amount to an arc of cultural trauma.

A man walks past a sign that reads ‘You are finally leaving. Ricky resign. Thanks Puerto Rico for resisting’ on the street that leads to La Fortaleza, the official residence of the governor of Puerto Rico. REUTERS/Marco Bello

A man walks past a sign that reads ‘You are finally leaving. Ricky resign. Thanks Puerto Rico for resisting’ on the street that leads to La Fortaleza, the official residence of the governor of Puerto Rico. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Resiliency and resistance

Puerto Ricans told us that they have used a range of coping mechanisms to contend with their challenges. Some of the main coping strategies to deal with personal trauma were connecting with family and friends for support; finding solace in their faith; trying to adapt to new daily routines; and trying to secure a job to provide for their families.

All of these resilient acts bring meaning to their sacrifices and losses. Our interviewees are actively recreating their homes, whether in Puerto Rico or elsewhere.

We see the current collective protests as acts of resistance to their cultural trauma. The protests have brought about a sense of group solidarity that has strengthened cohesion among the people of Puerto Rico, regardless of where they are geographically. These protests also signal that Puerto Ricans are actively reconstructing a more democratic society.

That is why journalists and participants have compared these recent protests to the “Todo Puerto Rico con Vieques” (All of Puerto Rico with Vieques) movement that aimed to remove the U.S. Navy from using the island of Vieques – part of Puerto Rico – for military exercises, particularly, the “Paz para Vieques” march on February 21, 2000. Back then, these collective actions aimed to hold the U.S. government accountable for the damages caused by the bombings in Vieques and the poor health of its residents. The protests were successful in removing the navy, although Vieques residents are still battling in court for reparations and clean-up.

Research shows that these types of group political actions can help to foster a process of collective healing, notably when the objectives are achieved.

While the Telegram chat was the latest shock in an arc of cultural trauma afflicting Puerto Ricans, we think that Puerto Ricans have demonstrated powerful acts of resilience in rebuilding a hopeful future for Puerto Rico. A simple hashtag – #RickyRenuncia – represents resistance against more than a decade of struggles, yet it is only the beginning of what is to come.

ELIZABETH ARANDA is a Professor of Sociology at the University of South Florida.

ALESSANDRA ROSA is a Postdoctoral Scholar in Anthropology and Sociology at the University of South Florida.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION.


The Possibility of a International Environmental Court

Science professors and organizations are making the case for an international green court, which would fill in gaps in the existing environmental legal order.

Climate change is an existing problem. Scientists are coming up with solutions for keeping Earth habitable, including a possible international environmental court. Gerd Altmann. CCO.

Climate change is an existing problem. Scientists are coming up with solutions for keeping Earth habitable, including a possible international environmental court. Gerd Altmann. CCO.

It’s time to face scientific facts: the world is getting warmer. The five hottest years on record have all been within the last decade. Europe went through a massive heat wave this summer. Temperature changes increase the possibility of extreme heat, drought, floods, and subsequent poverty for thousands of millions of people. Climate change is a legitimate issue, seen especially by extremes in weather patterns, and scientists are pondering possible solutions beyond what is already being done.

Using previously created organizations as inspiration, one idea two scientists have suggested is a climate-based version of the International Criminal Court (ICC), according to the Huffington Post. The main problem is that the current environmental protections (which vary by country) are not enforced by any international agency, and they are failing to cope with the sheer scale of the global problem.

The 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day is less than a year away, and though the idea of getting the court up and running by then probably isn’t possible, soon afterwards would be, if initiative was taken. In 1972, the UN Environmental Programme was created, which coordinates environmental activities and assists countries with creating policies. Subsequent concerns and opinions about the environment from all corners of the world were necessary to bring attention to the problem at the time, but didn’t protect the planet on their own. Countries are now directed to measure their activities, but there isn’t any international organization in place to monitor the loopholes globally when looking at every country’s policies and activities. 

According to the Huffington Post, the International Bar Association and the Coalition for an Environmental Court have also suggested a international environmental court. The World People’s Conference recommended a similar idea, a International Climate Justice Tribunal.

One question the court would need to sort out, if organized, is which charges would be in the scope of the court. Other challenges include different priorities for developed and developing countries, discerned unenforceability of international law, and global cooperation, according to the Inter Press Service. Keeping an open mind when organizing the international green court should help solve problems before they arise. An open forum setting with understood standards should be ideal, as opposed to a criminal court setting. In a similar sense, both the state and non-state clients should be allowed to raise cases for the court. Considering the complexity of the issues likely to come up, the judge or judges assigned should be specialized and capable. Clients should, of course, be found accountable for the decisions of the court. Clear language is necessary as well. If holding states completely accountable seems too positive, then adding sufficient stakes should make it work on a international scale. 

An international green court should be able to harmonize with existing environmental regulations, provide justice to a broad range of people, create workable solutions for maintaining international standards, and build trust among the global community. Therefore, the forum should be able to start overcoming climate inaction, and enforce that progress for the international group through agreed-upon standards.







NOEMI ARELLANO-SUMMER is a journalist and writer living in Boston, MA. She is a voracious reader and has a fondness for history and art. She is currently at work on her first novel and wants to eventually take a trip across Europe.


Visiting National Parks Could Change Your Thinking About Patriotism

Entry to Mount Rushmore along the Avenue of Flags.  Xiao Fang/Wikimedia ,  CC BY

Entry to Mount Rushmore along the Avenue of Flags. Xiao Fang/Wikimedia, CC BY

When I took a post-college job as a seasonal ranger at Grand Teton National Park 23 years ago, I noticed right away that my “Smokey Bear” hat carried some serious emotional baggage. As I later wrote in my book, “Reclaiming Nostalgia: Longing for Nature in American Literature,” park visitors saw the hat as an icon of tradition and romance, a symbol of a simpler era long gone.

For many Americans the physical grandeur of parks like Grand Teton, Yosemite and Yellowstone also inspires patriotic pride. Twenty-first-century patriotism is a touchy subject, increasingly claimed by America’s conservative right. But the national park system is designed to be democratic – protecting lands that belong to the public for all to enjoy – and politically neutral. The parks are spaces where love of country can be shared by all.

But some sites send more complex messages. In my new book, “Memorials Matter: Emotion, Environment, and Public Memory at American Historical Sites,” I explore how patriotism plays out at sites where education, not recreation, is the priority. To research it I visited seven memorials to see how their structures and natural landscapes inspire patriotism and other emotions.

For me, and I suspect for many, national memorials elicit conflicting feelings: pride in our nation’s achievements, but also guilt, regret or anger over the costs of progress. Patriotism, especially at sites of shame, can be unsettling – and I see this as a good thing. In my view, honestly confronting the darker parts of U.S. history as well as its best moments is good for tourism, for patriotism and for the nation.

Whose history?

Patriotism has roots in the Latin “patriotia,” meaning “fellow countryman.” It’s common to feel patriotic pride in U.S. technological achievements or military strength, but Americans also glory in the diversity and beauty of our natural landscapes. That kind of patriotism, I think, has the potential to be more inclusive, less divisive and more socially and environmentally just.

National memorials can summon more than one kind of patriotism. Take Mount Rushmore, which was designed explicitly to evoke national pride. Tourists walk the Avenue of Flags, marvel at the labor required to carve four U.S. presidents’ faces out of granite and applaud when rangers invite military veterans onstage during visitor programs. Patriotism at Rushmore centers on labor, progress and the “great men” that the site describes as founding, expanding and defending the U.S.

But there are other perspectives. Viewed from the Peter Norbeck Overlook, a short drive from the main site, the faces of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln are tiny elements embedded in the expansive Black Hills region. The Black Hills were and still are a sacred place for Lakota peoples that they never willingly relinquished. Viewing Mount Rushmore this way puts those rock faces in context and raises questions about history and justice.

Mt. Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota, viewed from the Peter Norbeck Overlook. Jennifer Ladino,  CC BY-ND

Mt. Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota, viewed from the Peter Norbeck Overlook. Jennifer Ladino, CC BY-ND

Some national monuments conduct reenactments to help visitors relive the past and feel a sense of history and authenticity. At Golden Spike National Historic Site in Utah, tourists can view replica steam locomotives and watch a reenactment of driving the spike that completed the first transcontinental railroad.

This park also ties patriotism to technology, labor, unity and progress. But it downplays countless lives lost during construction, including a disproportionate number of Chinese laborers. There’s an implied whiteness to the patriotism here, although those Chinese workers are receiving belated recognition.

Away from the main complex, however, visitors can see an impressive natural landscape carved by geologic forces. At “Chinaman’s Arch,” they can read about ancient Lake Bonneville, which once covered 20,000 square miles. Against the backdrop of geologic time, human labor and technological power look less impressive. A different feeling of patriotism emerges here that can embrace the physical country all Americans share.

Chinese railroad workers in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, photographed between 1865 and 1869.  Alfred Hart/Library of Congress

Chinese railroad workers in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, photographed between 1865 and 1869. Alfred Hart/Library of Congress

Sites of shame

Even sites where visitors are meant to feel remorse leave some room for patriotism. But at places like Manzanar National Historic Site in California – one of 10 camps where over 110,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II – natural and textual cues prevent any easy patriotic reflexes.

Reconstructed guard towers and barracks help visitors perceive the experience of being detained. I could imagine Japanese-Americans’ shame as I entered claustrophobic buildings and touched the rough straw that filled makeshift mattresses. Many visitors doubtlessly associate mountains with adventure and freedom, but some incarcerees saw the nearby Sierra Nevada as barricades reinforcing the camp’s barbed wire fence.

Rangers play up these emotional tensions on their tours. One ranger positioned a group of schoolchildren atop what were once latrines, and asked them: “Will it happen again? We don’t know. We hope not. We have to stand up for what is right.” Instead of a self-congratulatory sense of being a good citizen, Manzanar leaves visitors with unsettling questions and mixed feelings.

Young tourists experience the humiliating lack of privacy at Manzanar National Historic Site. Jennifer Ladino,  CC BY-ND

Young tourists experience the humiliating lack of privacy at Manzanar National Historic Site. Jennifer Ladino, CC BY-ND

Humble patriotism

Visiting and writing about these sites made me consider what it would take to recast patriotism as collective pride in the United States’ diverse landscapes and peoples. I believe one essential ingredient is compassion. Recent controversies over Confederate monuments showed that many Americans were unwilling to imagine how public memorials could be offensive or traumatic for others.

Greater clarity about value systems can also help. Psychologists have found striking differences between the moral frameworks that shape liberals’ and conservatives’ views. Conservatives generally prioritize purity, sanctity and loyalty, while liberals tend to value justice in the form of concerns about fairness and harm. In my view, patriotism could bridge the apparent gap between these moral foundations.

My research suggests that visits to memorial sites are helpful for recognizing our interdependence with each other, as inhabitants of a common country. In her recent book, “The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks,” Terry Tempest Williams wonders, “What is the relevance of our national parks in the twenty-first century – and how might these public commons bring us back home to a united state of humility?” Places like Manzanar and Golden Spike are part of a common heritage embedded in public lands. It’s our responsibility as citizens to visit these places with both pride and humility.

JENNIFER LADINO is an Associate Professor of English, University of Idaho.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION

Canadian Inquiry Comes to a Close, Revealing Systematic Mistreatment of Indigenous Women

Three years in the making, the final report calls on authorities to institute a paradigm shift in policing practices.

Ottawa vigil for missing and murdered aboriginal women in 2014. Obert Madondo. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Ottawa vigil for missing and murdered aboriginal women in 2014. Obert Madondo. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Over the past three years, Canada has held 24 hearings and events, engaged with more than 2,380 citizens, and spent $92 million on a massive national inquiry into the murders and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls—who make up less than 4 percent of Canada’s female population but a whopping 16 percent of females killed in the country annually. On June 3, the harrowing process came to a close, culminating in a conclusion as decisive as it is unsettling: The Canadian government and civil society is complicit in perpetrating what amounts to genocide.

Justin Trudeau giving a speech on missing and murdered Indigenous women in 2016. Delusion23 via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0

Justin Trudeau giving a speech on missing and murdered Indigenous women in 2016. Delusion23 via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0

At the closing ceremony in Gatineau, Quebec, Indigenous youth presented the final report, wrapped in a traditional cloth, to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. All told, the report is over 1,200 pages long and includes 230 recommendations. It describes a historical failure on the part of the police and the criminal justice system, systems that have ignored the concerns of Indigenous women and viewed them “through a lens of pervasive racist and sexist stereotypes”—behavior that has in turn fostered mistrust of the authorities among the Indigenous population. In beginning to mitigate these chronic injustices, the report suggests, authorities should expand Indigenous women’s shelters and improve policing in Indigenous communities; increase the number of Indigenous people on police forces; and empower more Indigenous women to serve on civilian boards that oversee the police.

In addition, it calls for a shift in the criminal code to classify some killings of Indigenous women by spouses with a history of violent abuse as first-degree murder, regardless of premeditation. Addressing the less tangible issue of cultural discrimination, the report also requested that the federal and provincial governments afford Indigenous languages the same status as Canada’s official tongues of English and French.

Regardless of future success in creating a safer and more equitable situation for Indigenous women, helping Canadians understand the historical narrative of violence will remain crucial. As such, the report addresses teachers and post-secondary institutions, asking them to educate the public about missing and murdered Indigenous women and the root causes of their plight, and to bring attention to the state laws, policies, and colonial practices that catalyzed the genocidal conditions. In an interview for Quartz, Carol Couchie, co-chair of the National Aboriginal Council of Midwives, spoke to the lasting effects of structural discrimination: “Family structure has broken up, tribal structure has broken up, leadership has been weakened, the self-esteem has been reduced to on the ground, and these things have all affected our ability to care for young people, to care for women.” Marion Buller, chief commissioner of the inquiry and a retired Indigenous judge, expressed a similar sentiment in her succinct statement to the New York Times: “An absolute paradigm shift is required to dismantle colonialism in Canadian society.”

Woman performing at 2017 National Aboriginal Day in Regina. Ted McGrath. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Woman performing at 2017 National Aboriginal Day in Regina. Ted McGrath. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Trudeau, for his part, guaranteed a thorough review of the report, and committed to creating a National Action Plan “with Indigenous partners to determine next steps.” Yet even with promises of legislative change, some Indigenous Canadians point to harmful attitudes that may undermine the reality of reform on the ground. For instance, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, most of the violent crimes against Indigenous women are perpetrated by people within their own communities—a statistic that, according to Indigenous author Niigaan Sinclair, “has become the linchpin for arguments that murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls are not a Canadian problem, but an Indigenous one.” In a piece for the Winnipeg Free Press, Sinclair notes that former minister of Aboriginal affairs Bernard Valcourt used this argument to refute the prospect of the inquiry in the first place, and addresses the systemic factors that invalidate Valcourt’s position: “Indigenous women and girls do not join the ranks of the murdered and missing because of Indigenous men, but because of the contexts they are in. Most of these are dangerous situations imposed from circumstances brought on by poverty, abusive cycles and systems, and oppression.”

The REDress Project, on display in Winnipeg, serves as a reminder of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Ted McGrath. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The REDress Project, on display in Winnipeg, serves as a reminder of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Ted McGrath. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Still, the very existence of the report and the promises of action it has engendered are cause for optimism, however cautious it might be. In a piece for The Conversation, Margaret Moss describes her disappointment as an American Indian woman who recently moved to Canada and has observed the same racism in the United States’ northern neighbor as she did back home. Yet her viewpoint as an American also lends her perspective and a sense of hope. “[C]ompared to the lack of moral outrage in the U.S. on this issue, I am [made] hopeful by the very fact that in Canada, after much activism, such a committee was formed and a report of the findings were released with a bold statement,” Moss writes. “Maybe this will shake people out of complacency.”





TALYA PHELPS hails from the wilds of upstate New York, but dreams of exploring the globe. As former editor-in-chief at the student newspaper of her alma mater, Vassar College, and the daughter of a journalist, she hopes to follow her passion for writing and editing for many years to come. Contact her if you're looking for a spirited debate on the merits of the em dash vs. the hyphen.









Lebanon’s LGBTI Activists: Constantly Fighting Back

Lebanon’s LGBTI activists fight every day against hostility. Slowly, gains have been made. Nancy Dowd. CC0.

Lebanon’s LGBTI activists fight every day against hostility. Slowly, gains have been made. Nancy Dowd. CC0.

Lebanon’s first LGBTI organization, Helem, was registered by the government in September 2004. In the years since, LGBTI activists have fought for their rights, as well as those of others, in an increasingly oppressive environment.

Most visibly in the past two years, the Lebanese government has begun increasing crackdowns against activists, particularly on International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOTB). Obviously, on that day, organizations plan activities that bring LGBTI people and activists together, while also confirming and celebrating their rights. The government has generally taken the side of extreme religious groups that threaten the activities, and therefore completely shut down the events. Last year, activists were banned from even entering Lebanon. In the past 15 years, activists have said that hardly a day passes without a raid, arrest, or limitation of their right to privacy.

Helem was created as the result of local activism. In the early 2000s, the main concern was Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code, which criminalized sexual activity against the laws of nature. Homosexuality was widely antagonized against, for religious, socio-cultural, or moral reasons. For example, films portraying a LGBTI person in a positive manner were forbidden and public screenings and were censored.

Activists came out of the woodwork, both working with LGBTI organizations and the media by allying with and sharing their stories with journalists. Generally, LGBTI activist individuals carved out spaces for themselves in the broader civil society as the years passed. In addition to fighting for their own rights, they also fought for the rights of women, migrant workers, and for the right to freedom of expression.

Judges have passed brave rulings that don’t criminalize the right to privacy, but overall few of those judgements have been made. However, Article 534 has been rendered inapplicable, due to research with international medical references.

On the other hand, police officers still arbitrarily arrest people on the street for walking with a member of the same sex on suspicion of same-sex activity, and engineer “confessions” based on false promises or intimidation. Last September, Lebanese General Security officers attempted to shut down a LGBT conference. The officers questioned the director, Georges Azzi, and took the details of those attending from the hotel registry. Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said, according to HRW: “General Security’s latest efforts to shut down an LGBT conference in Lebanon is an attack on freedom of assembly rights and an attempt to silence the voices of courageous activists.” Though the exact reasons for attempting to shut down the conference were unclear, the previous reason the government stopped events was in order to preserve public morality. This past February, HRW also submitted a complaint to the UN regarding the police’s shutdown of LGBTI activism events.
Now, LGBTI individuals and activists are somewhere in the middle. They are not actively persecuted for their way of existence, but they are also not free to live as they wish. Unfortunately, the harassment and hostility continues, but everything has gotten better as time has passed. Last week, on May 17, which is also International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, the activists of Beirut, Lebanon agreed to fly pride flags, starting by Raouche Rock. Pride parades had been cancelled before they could take place the two years previous. An activist who wished to remain anonymous said, according to GayStarNews: “It’s saying we are here even despite the transgressions on our community.”















NOEMI ARELLANO-SUMMER is a journalist and writer living in Boston, MA. She is a voracious reader and has a fondness for history and art. She is currently at work on her first novel and wants to eventually take a trip across Europe.

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In India, Grassroots Initiatives Work to Undo the Period Taboo

For many Indians, lack of access to menstrual products is compounded by entrenched societal stigma. Across the country, women are beginning to make a change.

A sign in Bali, Indonesia, demonstrates stigmatization of menstruation in the Global South. dominique bergeron. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A sign in Bali, Indonesia, demonstrates stigmatization of menstruation in the Global South. dominique bergeron. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

For most people with periods in the Western world, menstruation is something of an afterthought—annoying and sometimes painful, but easily dealt with, and far from debilitating. In parts of the Global South, however, “that time of the month” is not only a serious health concern and financial impediment but also a source of profound social and cultural tension. Over the past two years, grassroots activists have brought increased attention to the plight of menstruating women in India, and begun to envision a future in which well-being and participation in society is not dictated by one’s reproductive cycle.

Shameful attitudes toward menstruation in India are deeply ingrained, and, especially in rural areas, can be actively harmful to women of all ages. Indian women experiencing their periods can be banned from entering the kitchen and preparing food, separated from family members, and removed from religious ceremonies, sometimes on the grounds of theistic tradition: In 2018, many Indian men were outraged at a ruling by the country’s Supreme Court allowing women of menstruating age to visit Sabarimala, a Hindu temple in Kerala dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, who is seen in traditional mythology to be disgusted by the concept of female fertility. Indignation at the ruling reached a peak in January 2019, when one person died and dozens were injured in protests against the judgment.

Equally dangerous, and highly imbricated with traditional views of menstruation, is the pervasive lack of access to sanitary products, which are crucial to keeping women clean and safe during their periods. An estimated 70 percent of Indian women are unable to afford such products, with 300 million resorting to unhygienic options such as newspapers, dry leaves, and unwashed rags. Menstruation is also a key driver of school dropouts among girls, 23 percent of whom leave their schooling behind upon reaching puberty.

Cost barriers can prevent Indian women from acquiring menstrual products. Marco Verch. CC BY 2.0

Cost barriers can prevent Indian women from acquiring menstrual products. Marco Verch. CC BY 2.0

In a sociocultural landscape where natural bodily functions are affecting the human dignity of people with periods, education, outreach, and access are crucial. In February 2018, Indian news outlet Daijiworld reported on one person working toward these goals: the so-called “Pad Woman” of Manguluru, who has been leading a group of young students in her southwestern port to create awareness of menstrual hygiene. The Pad Woman, Prameela Rao, is the founder of non-profit Kalpa Trust, which offers students at the Kavoor government First Grade College materials to manufacture sanitary pads for women in rural areas. The completed pads are distributed free of charge to the colonies of Gurupur, Malali, Bajpe, and Shakthinagar, obviating the need for women to purchase prohibitively expensive mainstream menstrual products. The pads are made from donated cotton clothing, which the students wash, iron, cut, and stitch to create the final product.

In the western state of Gujarat, an organization known as the Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP) is directly targeting period taboos among rural communities. Activists Manjula and Sudha told the Indian magazine The New Leam that, for the girls they have educated in the villages of Karamdi Chingaryia and Jariyavada, confusion and fear regarding menstruation have given way to confidence and clarity. For the AKSRP, which emphasizes gender equality and the societal participation of women, offering rural villagers the ability to make informed choices about their own menstrual health is key. As of The New Leam’s report in April 2019, the non-profit had reached about 60 Indian villages, providing information about sanitary pads of various designs, longevities, and price points.

While pads are a far more hygienic choice than rags or newspaper, they are not the only option: Back in Manguluru, two German volunteers have initiated a menstrual cup project known as “a period without shame.” In their pilot run, Nanett Bahler and Paulina Falky distributed about 70 menstrual cups free of charge to Indian women, as well as leading workshops on effective use for recipients. The cups, which are made of silicone and emptied around twice per day during one’s period, can be used for up to 10 years, making them a hygienic, eco-friendly, and potentially more affordable option for people of all ages.

Manguluru, where Indian and German activists are working to provide menstrual products. Aleksandr Zykov. CC BY-SA 2.0

Manguluru, where Indian and German activists are working to provide menstrual products. Aleksandr Zykov. CC BY-SA 2.0

Such grassroots efforts have been instrumental in chipping away at stigma among Indians in certain cities and villages, but broader change is unlikely without widespread publicity. One potential avenue for increased awareness is the newly released documentary Period. End of Sentence., which follows rural Indian women in their battle against period stigma. To create the film, Iranian-American director Rayka Zehtabchi visited small villages outside of Delhi to inquire after women’s menstrual health, and shot extensive footage of women who have learned to create their own sanitary products. The diligent pad-makers, many of whom are housewives who have never before held a full-time job, sell their creations to locals in their area, educating women on proper use and convincing shop owners to stock the products. By the end of the time span covered by the documentary, the women had set up a factory and manufactured 18,000 pads, earning economic self-sufficiency for themselves and an Academy Award nomination for Zehtabchi.


The work of these Delhi entrepreneurs, along with that of the AKSRP and Pad Woman Prameela, has made a positive difference for countless people—but, according to Mumbai-based journalist and author Puja Changoiwala, education and access must rise above the grassroots level and reach the legislative in order to create enduring change in attitudes toward menstruation. In a piece for Self, Changoiwala suggests that the Indian government should distribute free pads and launch an “aggressive nation-wide awareness program,” engaging celebrities and the press to address the dire consequences of long-held stigma. For anyone in India with a period, such a moment cannot come soon enough.






TALYA PHELPS hails from the wilds of upstate New York, but dreams of exploring the globe. As former editor-in-chief at the student newspaper of her alma mater, Vassar College, and the daughter of a journalist, she hopes to follow her passion for writing and editing for many years to come. Contact her if you're looking for a spirited debate on the merits of the em dash vs. the hyphen.








Don’t Blame Sharia for Islamic Extremism – Blame Colonialism

Conservative lawmakers in dozens of U.S. states have raised fears that Islamic fundamentalists want to impose Sharia on Americans.  Reuters/David Ryder

Conservative lawmakers in dozens of U.S. states have raised fears that Islamic fundamentalists want to impose Sharia on Americans. Reuters/David Ryder

Warning that Islamic extremists want to impose fundamentalist religious rule in American communities, right-wing lawmakers in dozens of U.S. states have tried banning Sharia, an Arabic term often understood to mean Islamic law.

These political debates – which cite terrorism and political violence in the Middle East to argue that Islam is incompatible with modern society – reinforce stereotypes that the Muslim world is uncivilized.

They also reflect ignorance of Sharia, which is not a strict legal code. Sharia means “path” or “way”: It is a broad set of values and ethical principles drawn from the Quran – Islam’s holy book – and the life of the Prophet Muhammad. As such, different people and governments may interpret Sharia differently.

Still, this is not the first time that the world has tried to figure out where Sharia fits into the global order.

In the 1950s and 1960s, when Great Britain, France and other European powers relinquished their colonies in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, leaders of newly sovereign Muslim-majority countries faced a decision of enormous consequence: Should they build their governments on Islamic religious values or embrace the European laws inherited from colonial rule?

The big debate

Invariably, my historical research shows, political leaders of these young countries chose to keep their colonial justice systems rather than impose religious law.

Newly independent Sudan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia, among other places, all confined the application of Sharia to marital and inheritance disputes within Muslim families, just as their colonial administrators had done. The remainder of their legal systems would continue to be based on European law.

France, Italy and the United Kingdom imposed their legal systems onto Muslim-majority territories they colonized.  CIA Norman B. Leventhal Map Center ,  CC BY

France, Italy and the United Kingdom imposed their legal systems onto Muslim-majority territories they colonized. CIA Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, CC BY

To understand why they chose this course, I researched the decision-making process in Sudan, the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence from the British, in 1956.

In the national archives and libraries of the Sudanese capital Khartoum, and in interviews with Sudanese lawyers and officials, I discovered that leading judges, politicians and intellectuals actually pushed for Sudan to become a democratic Islamic state.

They envisioned a progressive legal system consistent with Islamic faithprinciples, one where all citizens – irrespective of religion, race or ethnicity – could practice their religious beliefs freely and openly.

“The People are equal like the teeth of a comb,” wrote Sudan’s soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Hassan Muddathir in 1956, quoting the Prophet Muhammad, in an official memorandum I found archived in Khartoum’s Sudan Library. “An Arab is no better than a Persian, and the White is no better than the Black.”

Sudan’s post-colonial leadership, however, rejected those calls. They chose to keep the English common law tradition as the law of the land.

Why keep the laws of the oppressor?

My research identifies three reasons why early Sudan sidelined Sharia: politics, pragmatism and demography.

Rivalries between political parties in post-colonial Sudan led to parliamentary stalemate, which made it difficult to pass meaningful legislation. So Sudan simply maintained the colonial laws already on the books.

There were practical reasons for maintaining English common law, too.

Sudanese judges had been trained by British colonial officials. So they continued to apply English common law principles to the disputes they heard in their courtrooms.

Sudan’s founding fathers faced urgent challenges, such as creating the economy, establishing foreign trade and ending civil war. They felt it was simply not sensible to overhaul the rather smooth-running governance system in Khartoum.

The Sudanese city of Suakim in 1884 or 1885, just prior to British colonial rule.  The National Archives UK

The Sudanese city of Suakim in 1884 or 1885, just prior to British colonial rule. The National Archives UK

The continued use of colonial law after independence also reflected Sudan’s ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity.

Then, as now, Sudanese citizens spoke many languages and belonged to dozens of ethnic groups. At the time of Sudan’s independence, people practicing Sunni and Sufi traditions of Islam lived largely in northern Sudan. Christianity was an important faith in southern Sudan.

Sudan’s diversity of faith communities meant that maintaining a foreign legal system – English common law – was less controversial than choosing whose version of Sharia to adopt.

Why extremists triumphed

My research uncovers how today’s instability across the Middle East and North Africa is, in part, a consequence of these post-colonial decisions to reject Sharia.

In maintaining colonial legal systems, Sudan and other Muslim-majority countries that followed a similar path appeased Western world powers, which were pushing their former colonies toward secularism.

But they avoided resolving tough questions about religious identity and the law. That created a disconnect between the people and their governments.

In the long run, that disconnect helped fuel unrest among some citizens of deep faith, leading to sectarian calls to unite religion and the state once and for all. In Iran, Saudi Arabia and parts of Somalia and Nigeria, these interpretations triumphed, imposing extremist versions of Sharia over millions of people.

In other words, Muslim-majority countries stunted the democratic potential of Sharia by rejecting it as a mainstream legal concept in the 1950s and 1960s, leaving Sharia in the hands of extremists.

But there is no inherent tension between Sharia, human rights and the rule of law. Like any use of religion in politics, Sharia’s application depends on who is using it – and why.

Leaders of places like Saudi Arabia and Brunei have chosen to restrict women’s freedom and minority rights. But many scholars of Islam and grassroots organizations interpret Sharia as a flexiblerights-oriented and equality-minded ethical order.

Women in Saudi Arabia have campaigned for gender equality, including the right to drive cars.  Reuters/Faisal Nasser

Women in Saudi Arabia have campaigned for gender equality, including the right to drive cars. Reuters/Faisal Nasser

Religion and the law worldwide

Religion is woven into the legal fabric of many post-colonial nations, with varying consequences for democracy and stability.

After its 1948 founding, Israel debated the role of Jewish law in Israeli society. Ultimately, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and his allies opted for a mixed legal system that combined Jewish law with English common law.

In Latin America, the Catholicism imposed by Spanish conquistadors underpins laws restricting abortiondivorce and gay rights.

And throughout the 19th century, judges in the U.S. regularly invoked the legal maxim that “Christianity is part of the common law.” Legislators still routinely invoke their Christian faith when supporting or opposing a given law.

Political extremism and human rights abuses that occur in those places are rarely understood as inherent flaws of these religions.

When it comes to Muslim-majority countries, however, Sharia takes the blame for regressive laws – not the people who pass those policies in the name of religion.

Fundamentalism and violence, in other words, are a post-colonial problem – not a religious inevitability.

For the Muslim world, finding a system of government that reflects Islamic values while promoting democracy will not be easy after more than 50 years of failed secular rule. But building peace may demand it.

MARK FATHI MASSOUD is an Associate Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION

How LGBTQ People are Resisting Bolsonaro’s Brazil Through Art

Graffiti commemorating Rio de Janeiro city councillor Marielle Franco who was shot dead in an apparent assassination. Emanoelle Lima/photo by Catherine McNamara, Author provided

Graffiti commemorating Rio de Janeiro city councillor Marielle Franco who was shot dead in an apparent assassination. Emanoelle Lima/photo by Catherine McNamara, Author provided

Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil in October 2018 and took office in January 2019. Since then, the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights has chosen to remove the legal protection status of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) people. Some politicians are now pushing for a ban on talking about gender diversity and sexual orientation in schools.

Bathroom laws pertaining to which toilet facilities trans people are allowed to use and bills defining what constitutes a family, same sex marriage and laws enabling trans people to change their legal name are also seen to be under threat.

Brazil has a reputation as one of the most violent countries in the world and is known as the LGBT “murder capital” – 167 trans people were reported murdered between October 1, 2017 and September 30, 2018 alone. In the lead up to and since Bolsonaro’s election, LGBT hate crime has increased.

No wonder that many Brazilian LGBTQ people are worried that they are becoming isolated from the rest of the world. Marielle Franco – a young politician who took a strong stance against police violence – was murdered in Rio de Janeiro in March 2018.

She was a bisexual black woman who grew up in the Maré favela and pushed for social justice for marginalised people in the city. She was reportedly targeted by professional killers.

In Brazil, military police patrol the streets and are independent from the municipal police who carry out investigations. In March 2019, a year after her murder, it was reported that two ex-military police had been arrested for the killing.

Theusa Passareli – a 21-year-old art student who identified as genderqueer or non-binary – was murdered in April 2018, killed on their way home from a party.

Their work was incomplete in Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janiero’s design studio when I visited in November 2018 and will stay to commemorate their memory, as the university and the trans community mourn the murder of another young person.

Resin on glass by Theusa Passareli. Catherine McNamara, Author provided

Resin on glass by Theusa Passareli. Catherine McNamara, Author provided

A safe place to protest

I was in Rio for a short residency with the TransArte festival – a three day art show that explores gender identity and sexuality. The festival brings together trans people and allies to exchange ideas, make and share work, and celebrate the strengths of the LGBT community in Brazil within a place of safety.

It’s not easy to protest when faced with violence, nor is it easy to enjoy culture – particularly for people living in poverty where basic needs are difficult to meet. Trans artists have said that being trans is a barrier to participating in the arts, but “safe spaces” such as the TransArte festival allow protest art to flourish and create opportunities for LGBTQ people to express themselves.

Trans and LGB artists, activists and educators from Rio de Janeiro and London. TransArte Festival Team, Author provided

Trans and LGB artists, activists and educators from Rio de Janeiro and London. TransArte Festival Team, Author provided

Trans and LGB artists, activists and educators from Rio de Janeiro and London. TransArte Festival Team, Author provided

A theatre company led by trans people created Come As You Are – a series of autobiographical stories with physical theatre and improvisation. The stories were about family – supportive and loving family as a source of strength, and familial rejection as a result of being trans.

They explored life as trans men and women in a culture of toxic masculinity, normativity and police brutality. A photography exhibition of several artists included Bernardo de Castro Gomes, whose work also explored his identity as a black trans man facing intimidation, harassment and violence.

Queer drag artists such as Le Circo de la Drag spoke about their political performance – using their bodies to resist toxic masculinity and defy the threats of violence they often receive.

Le Circo de la drag pay tribute to Marielle Franco and Theusa Passareli. Marianna Cartaxo, Author provided

Le Circo de la drag pay tribute to Marielle Franco and Theusa Passareli. Marianna Cartaxo, Author provided

The show Monster, Whore, Bitch – Waldirene’s Dreams, directed by Dandara Vital, compiled the everyday experiences of Brazilian trans people interwoven with a re-telling of the story of Waldirene – the first trans woman to undergo gender reassignment surgery in Brazil in December 1971, at the height of the military dictatorship.

Resistance is clearly flourishing in Brazil against the odds and not only within festivals like TransArte. A Portuguese translation of Jo Clifford’splay The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven was due to open in Londrina, a city in southern Brazil, but the venue cancelled at the very last moment.

The lead, a trans woman called Renata Carvalho, received death threats. The company moved to a semi-derelict space where they performed by torchlight instead, despite injunctions from both Pentecostal and Catholic groups to stop the production.

My own experiences working with the TransArte festival team in Rio have shown me the value of safe places free from judgement and hostility. The people we worked with told us that being there in solidarity with the trans communities of Rio felt like a powerful action in itself, resisting the culture of violence that thrives in Bolsonaro’s Brazil.

CATHERINE MCNAMARA is Head of School (Art, Design and Performance) at the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries at the University of Portsmouth.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION.

Honor in its Most Dishonorable Form

Khalida Brohi sitting at a table, smiling. Joi Ito. CC 2.0

Khalida Brohi sitting at a table, smiling. Joi Ito. CC 2.0

“Even if I have nothing, I should have honor”. But what does “honor” mean for Khalida Brohi, now thirty-one years of age and continuously fighting to redefine the word. Brohi is a Pakistan native and women’s activist currently fighting to end honor killings in her small village just outside Balochistan, Pakistan. She is well-known for her numerous campaigns, the most notable being WAKE UP, Youth and Gender Development Program, and Sughar. She has been featured in multiple newsletter articles such as Newsweek 25 Under 25, Forbes 30 Under 30, and Forbes 30 Under 30: Asia for her accomplishments and hard work. Brohi started her activism at just nine years old when she discovered her cousin had been murdered in an “honor killing”, a decision made from the family that is in no way honorable.  

In her captivating memoir titled I Should Have Honor, Brohi tells us her thrilling story of her fight to end the practice of “honor killings” in her tribal village. Her memoir details her story, from the beginning to now, showing the birth of her many organizations and what sparked her passion for dismantling this horrible practice.

But what are honor killings? Honor killings are in no way honorable – they are power grab and a way to mend someone’s pride. Many cultures in Northern Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia conduct these lawful murders which affect around 93% of women in these areas. They are brutal, unjustified, and tear families apart – all for the cause of “honor”. Honor killings happen when someone rebels against what their family deems appropriate. Thousands of individuals are losing their lives every year because they just wanted to live the life that they preferred over their families judgments.

When Brohi was only 14-years-old, she found out her cousin, Khadija, was murdered by her father. The reason? Khadija did not marry the man her father choose for her, rather eloping with the man that she loved instead. Brohi, upon learning this news states, “people often become poets when they fall in love, but I became a poet when hate entered my heart” (Brohi 71). Brohi knew then, at only 14-years, that no one should go through what he cousin did.

Using the strength she found within herself that day, Brohi transformed her anger into poetry, writing and eventually performing for her father’s nonprofit organization titled Participatory Development Initiatives. Brohi’s father made her master of ceremonies, and she wowed every crowd with her passion and her words. This exposure allowed her to be discovered by a local organization called WE CAN End Violence Against Women. After being contacted by them, she collaborated and brought the organization to her local village. Brohi knew that the woman in the village would be hesitant to come to any meetings, so being clever, she framed the meetings in another light. Once all the attendees that were coming arrived, Brohi eased in conversation about “honor killings” and how to go about stopping them. The crowd got silent once she mentioned her real agenda, but soon enough, people being telling their stories and sharing their thoughts and feelings on the matter.

From that tense first meeting, Brohi used the WE CAN organization to kick start her organization, Youth, and Gender Development Program (YGDP) which focused on “educat[ing], empower[ing], and strengthen[ing] youth against cultural restrictions, enabling them to speak up about customs like honor killings” (Brohi 87). Her new organization also gave the women in her village a platform and space were they could air their grievances and address what they believed needed to be addressed. In Brohi’s words: “Until [then], they’d simply had no resources to bring them up to par” (Brohi 89).

Though her personal organization gained more traction, she also unfortunately gained unwanted attention. The work Brohi was doing threatened the power structure and patriarchy around her. Not only was Brohi, herself, being threatened, but her family as well. It was not easy for Brohi to go through the decision that she did because since she was gaining momentum and a following, she was also gaining a following of people who do not like her. They did not like her speaking out on what she believed in. Their threats did not stop Brohi, though.

Brohi, with the momentum WE CAN and YGDP was getting, traveled to Australia and America to speak at multiple conferences and events, some including Clinton Global Initiative, Women in the World, and MIT Media Lab. At those events, she railed the crowd and gave more publicity to what was happening in her tribal village back home.

In 2009, she founded the Sugar Foundation, “a non-profit dedicated to providing tribal and rural women in Pakistan with opportunities to evaluate their abilities and nurture their leadership skills in an environment of growth and development” (quote taken from her “about me” page on "her" blog, khalidabrohi.com). From there, she has also founded The Chai Spot in Arizona with her husband, David Barron. The Chai Spot, is a forum where Americans cannot only help fund her cause, but also learn the lively and enriching culture and lifestyle that Brohi, herself, grew up in. Advertisements on her blog show that she is set to open a new Chai Spot in New York City soon.

Brohi, through her activism and sympathy, created organizations and gave a platform to people who believed they could not even acknowledge their experiences. She shows the power and agency women have and how they can use it to their own advantage. She is an inspiration for all of us. If you would like to support her, visit sugharfoundation.org and click the Donate tab to fund her important and impactful nonprofit. Let Brohi continue to define and redefine what “honor” truly is.





OLIVIA HAMMOND is an undergraduate at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. She studies Creative Writing, with minors in Sociology/Anthropology and Marketing. She has travelled to seven different countries, most recently studying abroad this past summer in the Netherlands. She has a passion for words, traveling, and learning in any form.


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In Peru, a 'Foggy' Solution to a Water Shortage

Millions of people in Peru lack access to safe water and sewage services. But Abel Cruz Gutiérrez has a solution. Gutiérrez, president of the "Peruvians Without Water" association, uses an ingenious system of "fog catchers" to make water accessible to residents of Lima's low-income neighborhoods. The fog catchers resemble large rectangular sailboat sails, which are composed of nylon nets that trap microdroplets of water. The nets are set up along the foggy areas of coastal Peru and are connected to pipes, which collect the water for larger storage tanks. Residents can then use this water as irrigation for crops or to raise animals. And while the water isn't currently drinkable, Gutiérrez is working on a solution to that as well.

Indigenous Communities in Brazil Protest Encroachment on Land Rights

The annual Free Land protest takes on a new sense of urgency under Bolsonaro’s far-right government.

Photo of the Brazilian flag by by  Rafaela Biazi  on  Unsplash .

Photo of the Brazilian flag by by Rafaela Biazi on Unsplash.

Last week, more than 4,000 indigenous people from over 300 tribes across Brazil gathered in Brasilia to set up camp in front of government buildings for three days of cultural celebrations and protest.

While the Free Land protest is an annual event, it has taken on a new significance this year under president Jair Bolsonaro and his far-right government’s encroachment on the rights of native people and their territories. Al Jazeera writes that according to The Articulation of the Indigenous People of Brazil (APIB), the central organizer of the gathering, this year the event occurs in a "very grave context".

Recently, Bolsonaro promised to stop the development of new indigenous reserves, and to revoke the protected status of established land reserves. Bolsonaro has even gone so far as to publicly question the need for indigenous reserves at all.

The Guardian writes that among the new far-right government’s projects is a movement to enable commercial farming and mining on indigenous reserves. One of the reserves targeted is the Yanomami territory, Brazil’s largest reserve which already experiences threats from illegal gold miners.

“We are defenders of the land, we are defenders of the Amazon, of the forest,” Alessandra Munduruku, one of the representatives of the Munduruku tribe told the Guardian. “The white man is [...] finishing off our planet and we want to defend it.”

Instead of directly handling the demarcation of Brazil’s indigenous reserves, the government has given the project to the agriculture ministry, a branch controlled by the farming lobby, a powerful organization which has been known to oppose indigenous land rights (Guardian). Joenia Wapichana, the first indigenous congresswoman in Brazil, told Al Jazeera that during her time in office she had become aware of just how deeply the government was to indigenous rights. “The government is completely anti-indigenous,” she said, “[Jair Bolsonaro] is only open to those who defend mining and land grabbing, which is his intention.”

After days of encampment outside government buildings, indigenous groups began their annual march last friday. Protestors wore body paint and feathered headdresses, while beating beating drums and holding bows and arrows (Reuters).

The Guardian writes that last week Bolsonaro’s justice minister Sérgio Moro, requested the presence of Brazil’s national guard at the event, foreshadowing possible clashes with protestors. While Moro said that the guard would be working to “secure the public order and the safety of people and patrimony,” the guard said in a statement to Al Jazeera that it would use force “if necessary” to protect the “safety of the patrimony of the Union and its servers.”

In response to growing concern, the APIB released a statement saying that “our camp has been happening peacefully for the past 15 years to give visibility to our daily struggles. [...] We are not violent, violence is attacking our sacred right to free protesting with armed forces.”

In a statement to Reuters, David Karai Popygua, a native person from the state of Sao Paulo, summed up what is at stake for protestors. “Our families are in danger, our children are under threat, our people are being attacked,” he said. “In the name of what they call economic progress they want to kill our people.”





EMMA BRUCE is an undergraduate student studying English and marketing at Emerson College in Boston. While not writing she explores the nearest museums, reads poetry, and takes classes at her local dance studio. She is passionate about sustainable travel and can't wait to see where life will take her.

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How Sudan’s Protesters Upped the Ante, and Forced Al-Bashir from Power

Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir has resigned after three decades in power. AHMED YOSRI/EPA

Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir has resigned after three decades in power. AHMED YOSRI/EPA

Following months of protests, and a prolonged sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum, Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir was placed under house arrest on April 11 as the country’s military prepared for a transitional government.

Many have described the Sudanese uprising as a “bread protest” against a rise in inflation. In fact the Sudanese people took to the streets for much more than a struggling economy, or the price of bread. They have been calling for freedom, peace, justice and the downfall of the regime.

And they have finally won.

The generation leading the uprising was born and raised during al-Bashir’s 30-year rule. The protesters are mostly young professionals who have been directly affected by the regime’s Islamisation and Arabisation policies.

These policies have been particularly harsh against women’s freedoms and rights, which explains why young Sudanese women are at the heart of the uprising. The policies have also resulted in multiple years of conflict and insecurity in Darfur, South Kordofan, and the Blue Nile.

Sudan’s governing system has already deteriorated because of years of state autocracy, nepotism, corruption and violent conflict.

Al-Bashir’s removal may bring down the state if a strong successor isn’t positioned to replace him. But in my view, given how Sudan has historically been run, the democratic preferences of many young protesters is unlikely to come to fruition. Their expectations for a functioning democracy, with free and fair elections, and constitutional freedoms will not be met unless the next leader of Sudan is a reformist.

Al-Bashir’s first responses

The regime responded to the protests in three ways.

First, al-Bashir tried to quickly reconsolidate his power by proposing constitutional changes that would have allowed him to stand for reelection in 2020. That was quickly taken off the table.

He then declared a year-long nationwide state of emergency. The emergency state prohibited “unauthorised” gatherings and movements. Violence followed as the state deployed heavy-handed tactics to break up the protests.

Al-Bashir also dissolved federal and state governments, replacing almost all of Sudan’s 18 state governors with army officers. And he ordered parliament to delay deliberations over proposed constitutional amendments that would allow him to run for an extra-constitutional term in next year’s elections.

When the protests didn’t subside he called for broad-based dialogue.

In a bid to stay in power, al-Bashir also reached out to those who had backed him financially on previous occasions. These included the Persian Gulf states as well as Egypt and Russia. However, these allies have done little more than offer him vague statements of support.

Read more: How foreign backing is keeping Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir in power

He also began to lose the support of Western backers. Once warm to al-Bashir, they recently began to issue stern reprimands.

The protests

By the time al-Bashir stepped down protests had taken hold in more than 35 cities across the country. People took to the streets in more and more places following the first demonstration in the northern Nile-side town of Atbara.

The current uprising was triggered by a government decision to lift subsidies on essential commodities and to drastically increase bread prices. In a matter of weeks, the protest in Atbara would reach the capital Khartoum 349 kilometres away.

As protests erupted across the country agents of the powerful National Intelligence and Security Service and riot police began to crack down on demonstrators. Throughout, however, the army refrained from intervening. Rumours began to surface that al-Bashir was ready to hand over power to the armed force. But this was swiftly rejected by the Minister of Information and government spokesman of the government, Hassan Ismail.

In the final days before al-Bashir stepped down thousands of demonstrators reached the ministry compound in Khartoum. This also houses al-Bashir’s residence, the secret service headquarters and the defence ministry.

Protesters then upped the stakes by trying to gain support from the army. What began to emerge was that senior officers were possibly weakening, or that they were hoping to use the protests to pressure factions within the ruling elite.

Protesters used a number of tactics to keep the momentum going. These included using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. All evolved during the uprising despite the government’s attempts to block the user, and Virtual Private Networks were used to access the women’s only Facebook group called “Minbar Chat”.

Videos recorded by the protesters became important in documenting the crimes perpetrated by the security forces during the peaceful protests. They also became the main means of informing the Sudanese people and the international community about the brutality of al-Bashir’s regime.

Now that al-Bashir has resigned he will probably be required to leave the country by agreeing to safe passage to a friendly state, possibly somewhere like Egypt, or Qatar. The only way he can remain in Sudan is if he had prior agreement with the military to ensure his safety. It’s possible that the new generals he appointed after the declaration of a state of emergency might side with him.

Their support could have been one of the reasons why he felt that he could step down. Looking ahead, with or without Bashir, there’s also a possibility that the protests could continue if the people of Sudan feel that the swamp has not been drained of all the regime’s oppressive leaders.

ANDREW EDWARD TCHIE is an Editor at the Armed Conflict Database; a Research Fellow at the Conflict, Security and Development at International Institute for Strategic Studies at University of Essex.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION


Black-Winged Mynah Birds are Critically Endangered, Despite Thousands in Captivity

A black-winged mynah bird on a branch in Kerala, India. Ambady Sasi. CC0.

A black-winged mynah bird on a branch in Kerala, India. Ambady Sasi. CC0.

Indonesia’s illegal pet trade is an old evil, with animals from tortoises to wild birds caught in its trap. For beauty, prestige, or simply the siren call of money, Indonesian wildlife has undergone massive unasked-for change, particularly because of its bountiful resources and impressive biodiversity.

Three similar species—black-winged mynahs, grey-humped mynahs, and grey-backed mynahs—are all coveted for their brilliant plumage as well for as their vocalizations, to the point that they are explicitly captured out of the wild for songbird competitions in Indonesia. According to National Geographic, around 40,000 live in captivity, while an estimated 500 remain in the wild.

Collectively, these three species are known as black-winged mynahs, and were once thought to be one species. Members of the starling family, these birds’ plumage is distinct, with their tails and parts of their wings being glossy black, while the rest of their bodies are white. They are able to make a range of vocalizations, from trills to chirps, which is one of their most prized attributes for people. In 2010, the status of the black-winged mynah was changed from “endangered” to “critically endangered”. It is estimated that their population shrank 80 percent in the last 10 to 15 years.

Indonesia overall is an epicenter for the illegal wildlife trade, and according to data from WWF-Indonesia, the country accounts that around 85 percent of the animals traded were from illegal hunting. The loss of key animals in the biosphere disrupts the food chain that the ecosystem has built up over millions of years. In turn, this damages human food sustainability, particularly for the foods we obtain from flora and fauna. For example, declining tiger populations causes the wild boar population to rise, which causes issues for farmers in the same areas. WWF-Indonesia is currently raising awareness of the world’s wildlife, as well as how the trade ultimately destroys what we all need to survive.

Indonesia has a long history of keeping birds as pets, even to the point of mentioning the prestige of owning birds in sayings. However, this has led to what some are calling the “Asian Songbird Crisis”. Capturing birds in the wild is cheaper than breeding them. On the other hand, breeding birds in captivity is at least legal. Though breeders are supposed to release 10 percent of the birds they breed back into the wild, this is rarely done, or if it is, it’s entirely possible that the birds could be released in the wrong areas. The crisis has become so rampant that prices have dropped low enough (to an estimated $73) for black-winged mynahs to become a common pet for the middle classes, according to National Geographic.

In April 2018, a revision was submitted to the Indonesian government for an overhaul of the country’s 28-year-old conservation law. Though the draft made some steps to curb the illegal wildlife trade, it also opened many loopholes, to the point where critics saw it as a regression, according to Mongabay. Though Indonesia added 919 birds to their protected species list this past August, revising it for the first time since 1999, nothing seems to have changed about their conservation laws.

Indonesia’s illegal wildlife and pet trade still has an uncertain future, with nothing more uncertain than the eventual fate of the species driven further to extinction, including the three that make up the collective black-winged mynah birds.


NOEMI ARELLANO-SUMMER is a journalist and writer living in Boston, MA. She is a voracious reader and has a fondness for history and art. She is currently at work on her first novel and wants to eventually take a trip across Europe.