A Not So Sweet Situation - Cocoa and Cote d'Ivoire

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -  This past month Americans celebrated a holiday, originally of pagan origin, but which has been adopted by popular culture as a day for people to celebrate their love for each other. It is also a day when emotions run high. Men feel compelled to demonstrate their affection by purchasing flowers, chocolate, or other gifts. Women on the other hand, have become expectant of these affirmations, and are often upset if their partners do not deliver one of these market driven tokens of love.

While to some people a Valentine's Day without chocolate would be seen as undesirable, some cocoa producers in the Ivory Coast experienced the exact opposite problem. After an unrealized premonition by cocoa exporters in the Ivory Coast that led to them defaulting on their export contracts, cocoa growers have been left without paychecks while tons of beans have been left to rot or sit at ports along the coast awaiting shipment. Unfortunately for many, the implications of this could have a long-term effect as many producers have been left indebted and unable to prepare their next round of crops.

Perhaps ironically, the Ivory Coast's market system was designed to rely on forward sales in which a minimum market price was set for farmers in hopes of encouraging them to reinvest in their plantations. According to interviews conducted by Reuters, many farmers have not purchased fertilizer or other material for next seasons crops because of the uncertain future and their current state of financial insecurity due to the default. Additionally, this issue has surpassed cocoa farmers and reached shops selling fertilizer and pesticides, many of which have closed as a result of the excruciatingly minimal demand for their products.

While businesses have shut down and many farmers have truncated their plantation cycles, some individuals have refused to be disheartened and have decided to sell their crops for less than the government dictated market price of 1,100 CFA francs ($1.79). Still yet, others have gotten a little more crafty. Although the default has proved harrowing for many, some people have outsmarted the system and began smuggling cocoa across the border to neighboring Ghana and Guinea where they can sell it to make a larger profit than in their homeland.

Even though this has provided temporary relief for some, there does not exist a long term solution. As a result, many have taken to the streets in a cry for help for government assistance during this time of need. Likely fueling the protests is the fact that the Ivory Coast has not used either its stabilization fund or the Reserve Fund to support cocoa sales or otherwise mollify the situation.

Although the future remains uncertain for the cocoa industry in the Ivory Coast, it is almost certain that there will be global ramifications as a result of this situation. The Ivory Coast is the worlds largest cocoa producer, producing an average of 1.65 million tons a year and providing cocoa to companies to companies such as Cadbury, Hershey's, and Nestle. With this in mind, it is perhaps in more peoples best interest than just the cocoa growers that a solution is discovered for this issue, and fast.

Women in Bahrain: Living and Working in this Part of the Middle East

BAHRAIN - It has always been believed that Bahrain is different from its other Gulf counterparts. It is true especially when it comes to women and their participation towards the economic growth of the country. According to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Bahrain is counted amongst the fastest growing economies of the Middle East. This is due to the country’s emphasis on offering more opportunities for education and providing more rights to women.

The best example to support this statement is the Bahrain Economic Development Board that was established in the year 2000. Since its inception, the board has made significant strides in building capabilities of women including Bahrain’s increased investment in education, skills as well as labor market development that was introduced with an aim to increase the participation of the readily available domestic labor. Thus, the contribution of women to Bahrain’s economy can best be explained by the fact that 15% of Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry membership is represented by business women. Moreover, out of total Bahrainis employed with various financial institutions, 37% are women.

Outline of the Bahraini Society

Bahrain takes pride in being a progressive and open society of refined people who give due importance to education and employment for playing a significant role in the personal development of its people. The island kingdom has been considered a leader in the entire Gulf region in the education sector for being the first to form a public education system in 1919. Education is mandatory for children between the age group of 6 to 14 years. To further promote education, the Ministry of Education encourages improvements in the education system from time to time and offers free textbooks to the Bahraini citizens in the public schools.

The island country of Bahrain can be best explained as a satisfactory blend of modern infrastructure and typical Gulf nation. Even though Islam is the widely followed religion in the country, people show respect towards different religions also. The country expects the women to wear traditional clothes such as ‘hijab’ but is still very liberal as compared to other Gulf nations.

The Role of Women in the Bahraini Economy

Here are some interesting facts concerning the role women play in the development of the country’s economy:

  • According to the Economic Development Board, the contribution of women in the Bahraini economy is expected to increase by 5% annually until 2020. This means that by 2020, the percentage of women’s contribution to Bahrain’s GDP will comprise almost 45.6%.
  • It was also observed that the number of Bahraini women employed in the private sector in the year 2010 had gone up to more than 25,000 women as compared to what it was in the year 2002. The percentage increase is 73.5% in this particular area.
  • The increase in the women’s contribution in the private sector was much higher than their contribution in the public sector which was 45% in the same year.

Things are looking good in terms of wages for Bahraini women. The average wages increased to BD 457 in 2011 from BD 317 in 2006. They still have a long way to go as the difference between the average wages of men and women in the private sector was 30%. The gap must have improved slightly in 2016.

By the contrary, women’s wages are 10% more than the wages given to men in the public sector. The figures also suggest a positive increase in the number of women going in for academic certification after high school which is 17.1%. The percentage of men going in for higher education was 14.4%.

Unemployment rates among women also dropped drastically from 12% in 2002 to 3% in 2012.  If we talk about the share of Bahraini women employed in the financial sector, the same increased to 38.2% in 2016 from 37.4% in 2015. The total Bahraini workforce employed in the financial sector constitutes 70%.

These figures suggest a rise in the employment opportunities in Bahrain for women and will continue to rise even beyond the country’s vision towards 2020. The strides that the country has been making in the employment sector are instilling a feeling of immense confidence among the people, especially women and they are all hopeful of a better future.

A Vision for the Future - China to Construct Housing in Rwanda

President of the Senate Hon. Bernard Makuza receives Chairman of the Chinese Congress H.E Zhang Dejiang, Photo by Rwanda Ministry of Foreign Affairs    

President of the Senate Hon. Bernard Makuza receives Chairman of the Chinese Congress H.E Zhang Dejiang, Photo by Rwanda Ministry of Foreign Affairs    

KIGALI, Rwanda - It is not uncommon for cities in the developing world to experience an influx of rural-urban migration because of economic development, and thus heightened opportunities in urban areas. While at times this occurs on a scale so large that new buildings and infrastructure must be constructed to accommodate the newly enlarged population. In the case of Rwanda an entirely new microcosm of a city had to be built to mollify the citizens adversely impacted by the this issue. Befitting the optimistic prognostications for the future, the new development is called Vision City, and will eventually provide 4,500 new homes to Rwandans in 2024, its scheduled completion.

The problem; however, they plan to construct luxury, but pedestrian styled homes ranging in price from $172,00 to $560,000. At these prices the population that most requires housing is unable to afford it because the average per capita income is just $700 a year. A study in 2012 by the City of Kigali, the Ministry of Infrastructure, and the European Union revealed that by 2020 a housing deficit of upwards of 344,000 homes could prove to be problematic for Rwanda’s already populous and centrally located capital city. Just a year after the study came out, ground broke on Vision City, Rwanda’s largest housing project to date.

The project is set to be completed in four phases with phase one offering an initial five hundred housing units sometime early this month to help alleviate the housing deficiency. In addition to offering accommodations, Vision City will also provide supermarkets, schools, and a new network of public transportation, thus making the housing project truly a city within a city. While Vision City has been funded by the Rwandan Social Security Board, construction is being led by China Civil Engineering, and is utilizing a prolific quantity of imported materials which may account for the steep price of the housing units. Due to this, it seems that many Rwandans will not be able to afford to live in Vision City which could prove to be problematic especially as its very construction is part of a plan to appease the housing deficit due to migrant workers pouring into the city in search of work.

Furthermore, the project may exacerbate Rwanda’s already prominent level of income inequality especially as its construction displaced approximately three thousand people who owned more moderately valued property on the land which Vision City is currently being erected. Vision City’s location on the periphery of Kigali is of paramount importance in understanding its role in explaining and perhaps heightening income inequality in Rwanda. When there is an inundation of people migrating into economically important cities it is frequently the case that many end up settling on the outskirts as that is where they can afford to live even if they must commute to jobs that are more centrally located.

This has proved to be the case in many Brazilian cities regarding the construction of favelas (shantytowns) on the periphery of city centers as well as Kibera in Nairobi, which has evolved into the largest slum in Africa. While Vision City seeks to provide housing for this eventual overflow of migrant workers, the prices of the units do not reflect its final goal and might merely expand the perimeter of the city while encouraging the construction of slums on its outskirts. The result of this is that it will become even more difficult for migrant workers to find affordable accommodations and have easy access to jobs.

Of course, this is assuming that Vision City achieves full occupancy. Apart from the obvious problem that they are too expensive for the average Rwandan, it is quite possible that people will not want to move there because everything is too cookie-cutter and planned, which was the case in Brazil’s construction of Brasilia in 1960 as well as a similar development in Angola that finished in 2012 but remains largely unoccupied.

Nevertheless, there is a potential certainty that population in Rwanda that wants and can afford to live in luxury style homes with imported granite, but it is unlikely that this is feasible and in some cases even appealing to the general population. Ultimately, it seems that while Rwanda has poured $110 million dollars into this project, its vision for the future might be a little too optimistic and may even exclude the very people it is trying to help.

Are We There Yet? Donald Trump vs Hillary Clinton SNL Video

UNITED STATES - It has been a hellish and interminable 2016 presidential election cycle, best described by the immortal words of Charles Dickens from the opening salvo of his historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,

Written over 150-years-ago, the themes of the elite versus the populace, the concentration of immense wealth in the hands of a few while the common people suffer could not have been more prescient of the class struggles we face today as a nation. Donald Trump emerged from this miasmic discontent as an extremely flawed leader of America's version of the French Revolution.

On the converse, Hillary Clinton can be compared to Madame Defarge, the central female antagonist in the novel. Though she too was on the side of the revolutionaries, Defarge was reluctantly embraced by them as a necessary agent for change. Like Clinton she is viewed as "cold," "dreadful," and "frightfully grand," her inscrutable machinations belying her hidden past. She is smart, but ruthless, and accomplishes her dark deeds in support of the revolution through a veil of secrecy and deceit.

Though the revolution was justified neither side emerged from the war unsoiled. So, it is with the two opponents of this presidential battle. Some have suggested reforming the election process to shorten its duration, something many welcome in light of this particularly onerous season. Thus, the most enduring and perhaps memorable moments of the past 18-months will have been the political sketches presented by the cast of the Saturday Night Live (SNL) comedy show.

Every four years the SNL writers pens sketches in a trademark style pillorying politician and presidential hopefuls alike. Well known actors and comedians portray with uncanny accuracy and sardonic humor the foibles and idiosyncrasies of wannabe senators, congressmen, and most notably White House aspirants. In the words of Wally Schirra, "Levity is the lubricant of a crisis. We resort to jokes, pranks and good natured kidding to relieve tension, stress and boredom," and in this contentious competition SNL has more than delivered.

With less than two weeks left early voting has commenced. News outlets are reporting that 5 million Americans across 35 states have already voted, including 3 million people who have voted in 'Battle Ground' states. These states are must wins in order for either candidate to secure the 270 electoral votes necessary to become the next president of the United States. Hillary is well on her way to breaking the highest glass ceiling in the nation, to become the first female to occupy the Oval Office, and once this happens, "it will be the end of the world as we know it."

Credit: DonkeyHoyte created this caricature of Hillary Clinton was adapted from a photo in the public domain from the East Asia and Pacific Media's Flickr photostream. The body was adapted from a photo in the public domain from the U.S. Department of State's Flickr photostream. This caricature of Donald Trump was adapted from Creative Commons licensed images from Max Goldberg's flickr photostream.

How an Olympic Race Became Political: Feyisa Lilesa's Homage to the Oromo Nationalist Movement

Feyisa Lilesa, Ethiopian Olympian, Oromo Activist, Rio 2016 Olympics, Photo by Jeso Carneiro

Feyisa Lilesa, Ethiopian Olympian, Oromo Activist, Rio 2016 Olympics, Photo by Jeso Carneiro

ETHIOPIA -  While many Olympic runners raise their arms as they approach the finish line, few do so as a demonstration of political protest. Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa joined this elite group of politically charged Olympic athletes such as Tommie Smith and John Carlos when he crossed his arms at the end of the Men’s Marathon during the Rio Olympics. While Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a Black Power salute during the awards ceremony, Feyisa Lilesa crossed his arms at the end of the race to demonstrate his allegiance with the Oromo people as they continue a centuries long clash with the Ethiopian government. What looked like a stretch to many Olympic observers was really a powerful demonstration that resulted from many years of unrest and political strife.

Thousands of miles from where Lilesa made his protest in August, Oromo dissenters had been actively demonstrating against the Ethiopian government since 2014 when a plan was unveiled for the expansion of Addis Ababa. The plan, arguably excellent for the capitals image and perhaps even reminiscent of the rapid improvements made under Haile Selassie in the mid 20th century, also proved reminiscent to the Oromo of how they were kicked off their land when the capital was moved from the north of the country to Addis Ababa in the first place. The new plan involved permeating the capital city into the Oromo occupied outskirts of its current blueprint, displacing members of the already marginalized group in the process. Without previous knowledge of the maltreatment of the Oromo, one might think that protests involving more than one hundred thousand people across Oromia might be drastic, but the government’s plan to expand the city into heavily Oromo occupied territory was perhaps the last straw after centuries of government action taken to improve Ethiopia at the expense of the Oromo.

In 1941 at the end of the Italian occupation the imperial system made strides towards assimilating the Oromo in order to build Ethiopian nationalism at a time when the country was lacking a strong national identity. This assimilation process entailed making Amharic the national language and banning the use of the Oromo language in schools, churches, and public offices. While some Oromo’s ‘Amharised’ in order to achieve upward mobility, it was not long before campaigns such as Macha Tulama and Ethiopian Student Movement formed in opposition to the current political environment and poor treatment of the Oromo identity. While some of the more extreme followers of these movements wanted independence from Ethiopia all together, they at the very least desired equal treatment of the Oromo language, culture, and religion to that of the Amhara. [1]

Unfortunately, not all that much has changed since Oromo nationalist movements began. The Oromo remain the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia (and the Horn of Africa for that matter), yet groups such as the Amhara and the Tigray are favored in government just like they have been for decades. Interestingly though, Ethiopia is a country in which a strong sense of fraternity is felt amongst its citizens, which can perhaps be attributed to the historical bond that it is the only country to have fought off colonization. However, it must be noted that fraternity and national identity cannot be confused here because if you ask an Oromo about their national identity it is likely that they will respond “I am Oromo,” not, “I am Ethiopian

With this in mind, it is not surprising that when Oromo athlete Feyisa Lilesa ran for the Ethiopian Olympic team he also took a stand that demonstrated his allegiance to his Oromo identity during a crucial time in their history and relationship with the Ethiopian government. Even though Lilesa won silver in the race, he won gold in the hearts of many Oromo nationalists through his bold demonstration of solidarity and civil disobedience towards a government that has historically mistreated his people.

1. Bulcha, Mekuria. "African Sociological Review/Revue Africaine De Sociologie."African Studies Companion Online 1.1 (1997): 30-65. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.

Failed Military Coup Against President Erdoğan Leaves Dozens Dead in Turkey

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, (r) & Gen. Necdet Ozel (l), Source (AP Photo)

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, (r) & Gen. Necdet Ozel (l), Source (AP Photo)

TURKEY - A military coup in Turkey was announced by Turkey’s government broadcasting agency, TRT, Turkish Radio and Television, July 15th before midnight, local time. The note read by TRT’s Tijen Karas said “Control of the government is completely seized.” The note was also published in office of commander of chief, which later was removed after the situation was taken largely under control.

Chief of Turkish Military staff, Hulusi Akar was taken hostage by a group of military personnel attempting the coup, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported. His whereabouts is still unknown.

The coup simultaneously took over the control over Ataturk International Airport, and both bridges, Fatih Sultan Mehmet and Boğazici, over Bosphorus. Military tanks were stationed riot police headquarters Istanbul. An email sent to press members from Turkish Military Forces said the control of the government was seized.

President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan initially addressed the nation on CNN Turk via Facetime, where he called people to meet in squares in cities to protest to coup attempt and protect the democracy. The call received a quick reply and and large crowds started their march toward squares despite the martial law, and curfew declared by the coup.

Several of the tanks were taken over by the people and were handed to police. Many civilians were killed during the protests since the coup attacked protesters with tanks and military aircraft. At least 42 was killed in Ankara’s Golbasi district during the attacks by the coup, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported. Though the death toll of the civilians, military, and security forces is unclear, at least 60 people were reported dead in the country.

Following TRT, CNN Turk and Kanal D were raided by the military coup, which had to stop its broadcast coverage of the coup temporarily. Both outlets were liberated by the people protesting and taking over district from the military coup members, and continued their broadcast.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said the situation is largely under control and necessary actions were taken to end the coup attempt. He characterized the Coup attempt 'greatest insult' towards Turkish Republic, Anadolu Agency reported.

Though largely under control according to the government agencies, military attacks which earlier targeted Riot Police Headquarters, General Directorate of Security, as well and the parliament building in Ankara, continues to target civilians who are still on the streets protesting the coup.

President Erdoğan has returned to Istanbul where he talked to press at Atatürk International Airport. Erdoğan wowed to bring the coup plotters to justice Anadolu Agency reported.

''This is a movement of treason and an insurgency. Let me tell you that they will pay a heavy price for this treason,'' Erdoğan told TV networks during a live broadcast from Istanbul's Ataturk Airport.

''There is a government in power and a president in power elected by the people. We are on duty and we will continue to conduct our duty until the very end,'' Erdoğan said, assuring the country that ''the outcome of this will be good.''

The president also warned soldiers participating in the overthrow. ''You are our soldiers. It is impossible for us to accept you pointing your gun at the people, your parents, your brothers and sisters. These weapons have been given to you by the people. If you point these to the people, you will pay a hefty price.''

Arrests in the military would go higher up the ranks, he said.

Contributing Journalist: @ElvanKatmer
LinkedIn: Elvan Katmer

Palestinians Learn from Israel’s History of Making Handmade Weapons For Use Against an Occupying Power

"Carlo" - Handmade Imitation of the Swedish Carl Gustav M/45 Sub-machine Gun, Source: The Truth About Guns.com

"Carlo" - Handmade Imitation of the Swedish Carl Gustav M/45 Sub-machine Gun, Source: The Truth About Guns.com

ISRAEL - It’s been said that history has an uncanny tendency of repeating, and that those who don't know history are damned to relive it. But, sometimes the repetition of the past is deliberate, especially when the lessons from it are used as a proverbial playbook to frame current actions and strategies. When this happens, it can lead to some interesting conclusions. An example of this phenomenon can be found through the study of the similarities of recent events in the decades-old conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Daniel Kurtzer, the former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel, and the S. Daniel Abraham Professor of Middle East policy studies at Princeton University, published an op-ed critique in the Washington Post of the book ‘Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917-1947’ by Bruce Hoffman (Knopf). He writes about the deftness with which Hoffman draws parallels between the Jews struggle for freedom from the occupying power of British rule and those of the Palestinians today.  

“Palestinian and Israeli narratives have always been more reflective of each other than contrasting. Both peoples suffered exile from their homeland and the experience of being refugees. Both believe they have been the victims of historical injustice. Both claim the same land and have a primordial attachment to that specific land. And members of both have engaged in acts of terrorism in the pursuit of national self-determination and independence.”

At the risk of giving too much away, or even straying from the focus of this article, and in the interest of transparency, in his book, Hoffman does highlight the differences in how Jewish terrorists resisted the British versus tactics employed by the Palestinians today. 

Despite this, Kurtzer acknowledged that “…One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, and Hoffman's study will undoubtedly add to the partisan debate over who exactly was and is a “terrorist,” and whether violence associated with the struggle of one people for national independence is more legitimate than the struggle of another people.”

The weapons used by the Israelis between 1917 and 1947 to fight against the British were often handmade because of a lack of access to arms dealers. Fast forward to the current conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and it has become evident that there is a marked increase in terrorists attacks in which handmade weapons have been utilized in attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces. Of these new and potentially lethal firearms, a cheap imitation of the Swedish Carl Gustav M/45 sub-machine gun (better known by its street name, the “Carlo”) has emerged as one of the most popular handmade weapons.

The “Carlo” has been tied to a string of recent attacks, including one this past February, which took the life of a 19-year-old Border Police officer, Hadar Cohen. Though crude and inaccurate - the firearm was highly effective. It was constructed from cheap and readily found materials, and in this case the barrel of the gun used in this particular case was crafted from a commercially available water pipe. Other such weapons, used in similar recent attacks throughout the country, have been constructed from blueprints found on the internet and assembled out of household items such as fridge pipes, metal hoses, and other random pieces of metal.

Jewish militants, fighting for their independence also worked secretly and around the clock to produce a series of handmade weapons for use against the opposing British forces. Like the “Carlo,” which is now favored by Palestinian militants, a favorite firearm produced by the Jewish resistance was the Sten sub-machine gun. Cheap to produce, this weapon was essentially a hollowed-out metal tube which could spit out bullets. Yet, it became the scourge of British troops who often fell victim to its deadly simplicity.

The weapon was a favorite among the pre-state militias, such as the Lehi and the Irgun, who manufactured and used the weapon with devastating effectiveness. All too common were attacks like one in which a British police sergeant was killed, and three other police officers wounded when ambushed while sitting in a cafe.

It was the relative ease of construction and an inability to control the everyday items from which the weapons were fashioned which has led to escalating concern among local security and military officials. Similarly, the "Carlo,” a handmade Imitation of the Swedish Carl Gustav M/45 sub-machine gun, is a simple design easily constructed from discarded material.  It is comprised of three separate components: an internal mechanism, a barrel, and ammunition, and of all these the ammunition is the least complicated to compound. All other pieces can be manufactured by using common machinery; such as pipe-cutters and lathes, operated by a single person or small group of individuals.

The period in which this weapon was originally manufactured, from the 40’s to the 60’s, lends itself to uncomplicated duplication and inexpensive cost to produce. Consequently, they are readily obtainable on the black market for as little as $750. Perhaps most troubling, is that this also makes it untraceable which further complicates efforts to keep peace in the region. As use of this weapon becomes much more prevalent, and as Security officials seek ways to stop its manufacture and spread, it takes us back to the beginning of the article and to the premise of the oft penchant for humans to repeat history.

Like the Palestinians, the Israelis similarly manufactured and distributed illegal arms for use in its battle against the English occupiers. A war that sought to expel the colonialists from a region that was governed under the British Mandate prior to the creation of the modern State of Israel in 1948. Eerily, it seems that the Palestinians have studied and employed a few lessons in warfare from the history of Israel’s struggle against its own former occupier, and that they are equally determined.

Ironically, like the British, Israeli security officials now find themselves in a difficult but strangely reminiscent position that the colonialist must have certainly confronted. The reality that the efficacy of their efforts to hinder the production of the handmade weapons by the Israelis may not have been as effective or swift as they desired or required.  

The question remains, now that the Palestinians are manufacturing and distributing the “Carlo” for use in their resistance against what they see as an occupying ruling government, can the Israelis succeed where the British ultimately failed? Can they control the production and spread of similar handmade weapons used by the Palestinians to attack Israelis, or will they find themselves on the opposite side of a dynamic which may portend a repeat of history of their own independence?

Contributing Journalist: @JonEizyk
LinkedIn: Jon Eizyk

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi Continues to Purchase Defense Systems from Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) at G20 2015, Antalya, Turkey, Photo Ahmet Bolat - Anadolu Agency

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) at G20 2015, Antalya, Turkey, Photo Ahmet Bolat - Anadolu Agency

ASIA - Indian Prime Minister Modi addressed the U.S. Congress last Wednesday June 8th, marking his fourth visit to the United States since taking office. The state of India-U.S. relations as described by Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is a “pillar of strength in an important region of the world." Prime Minister Modi has also recently met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who emphasized the growing cooperation between India and Russia as he reiterates his support for “developing the privileged strategic partnership between India and Russia.”

India, the world’s largest arms importer, continues to purchase Russian arms in large and growing amounts. While policymakers in the United States stress over India’s recent growing appetite for Russian weapons, Russian officials disapprove of India’s defense deals with the United States and its allies such as Israel.

Historically, India had been a major purchaser of Soviet armaments. After the 1990s, however, India started to turn to the United States for arms imports. In the past 20 years, India has relied largely on the United States to supply it with arms.

This is not to say that the relationship between the two nations’ leadership have always been peachy. In 2005, members of the American Congress banned Prime Minister Modi from obtaining a visa to visit the United States based on his failure to stop the anti-Muslim attacks three years’ prior in the Indian state of Gujarat. Since then, American leaders and Prime Minister Modi have reconciled under President Obama’s administration. The shared interests of the United States and India included and still include maintaining maritime security in the India-Asia Pacific, such as maritime transportation of legal goods, as agreed during Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s visit with Indian Defense Minister Raksha Mantri this year in April. A major drive for cooperation to maintain maritime security has to do specifically with the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, which was called upon to reach a resolution by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) under the “U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region” agreement. As demonstrated in Prime Minister Modi’s meetings with President Obama, Congress, and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, both India and the United States intend to cooperate on matters in the India-Asia Pacific.

However, India has also started to seek out Russian bilateral ties in an attempt to change its image as an American subordinate to a more complex player in international politics.

This is great for Russia’s defense exporters. As European nations that were traditionally reliant on Russia for defense are starting to develop their own arms or purchase more Western arms than Russian, the importance of Russia’s arms exports to Asia increases. An estimated 60 percent of all Russian arms exports are to Asia, with 39 percent going specifically to India. Last year in December, India purchased five Russian S-400 supersonic air defense systems, which estimated a cost of roughly 6 billion USD. India shares a great deal of Russia’s goals when it comes to counterterrorism. In past talks, both Modi and Putin were troubled by the security in and bordering around Afghanistan. Both leaders have also expressed support for the termination of terrorist ‘safe havens’ in Pakistan. On the other hand, Russia has also supplied Pakistan with Mi-35 Hind attack helicopters and Klimov RDP93 engines for the JF-17. Despite Prime Minister Modi’s calling Russia “a strong and reliable friend”, it remains to be seen if Russia will continue to provide Pakistan with armaments without requiring it to ban ‘safe havens’ for terrorists.

This is not to say that India has decreased its American defense purchases over the recent years. In 2004, India spent 200 million USD on American arms. In 2014, India spent 2 billion USD and it was during this year that India purchased more from the United States than Russia.

The business to export more weapons to India grows even more competitive with India’s plans to expand its own defense manufacturing and to spend 250 billion USD over the next ten years upgrading its military. Both the United States and Russia have expressed interests to contribute to the development of India’s domestic defense manufacturing. Recently, India has produced the 155mm Dhanush field artillery while it is currently working on the Vibrant-class aircraft carrier.

The United States is the world’s largest arms exporter, with Russia coming in second. The competition to export to India is not exclusively for the reasons of financial gain in the defense industry. Exporting arms leverages cooperation and the cooperation of a nation with a geopolitical advantage such as India will pave way for tactical gains in counter-terrorism and security in the Asia Pacific.

Contributing Journalist: @Helene_Serena
LinkedIn: Helen Huang

The History of American Aid for Jordan

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with King Abdullah II of Jordan at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on January 18, 2012. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with King Abdullah II of Jordan at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on January 18, 2012. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

JORDAN, Amman - The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, one of the Unite States' key ally in the troubled Middle East. It is also one of more than 200 other countries and territories across the globe that consistently receive annual U.S. aid to help face their political and economic hardships. However, despite all this financial support Jordan has received from the second half of the last century up to today, the country has incurred heavy debt of almost $24 billion or around 90 percent of its GDP.  

Based on USAID’s data, this article sheds the light on the extent to which America financed the support Jordan for over the past 16 years, in effect bolstering the reign King Abdulla who ascended the throne in 1999 and continues to rule.

Money received

Jordan has received almost $13 billion during Abdulla's reign, which accounts for 46 percent of the total amount of aid given by America since 1951. When Abdulla inherited the throne of Father King Hussain, as the new ruler he took a more aggressive approach to broadening the country's relationship with the U.S. It appears that the relationship was quid pro quo, giving the appearance that America purchased the country to strengthen its presence in the Middle East. This in effect was how Jordan became a key alley to the U.S, during its invasion of Iraq in 2003, and established the foundation of a joint venture in the war against terrorism in the Middle East.

U.S giving aid to Jordan in 1951, resulting in the cumulative amount of aid given to the country at an astounding $28 billion. The data also shows that Jordan has received approximately $700 million per annum. In 2003, the year of the U.S invasion of Iraq, Jordan received its highest amount in aid which topped out at $1.5 billion.

Another notable fact was that during the intervening years of the civil war in Syria, the U.S. has exponentially increased both its presence in the region and aid to Jordan. Between 2012-2014, the country was given around 4 billion dollars, more than one billion each year in aid or roughly 14% of the total amount of aid the U.S. has given to the country since 1951.

During those three years, Jordan has also tried to absorb more than half a million refugees from neighboring Syria, while actively participating and supporting its allies in the war against ISIS.

In general, the data shows that the amount of aid has tripled over the examined period, increasing from almost $300 million in 1999 to more than $800 million in 2015.

Aid by category

Analyzing the data based on the category of the type of aid received, both economic or military, shows that economic aids was consistetly higher than that allocated to the military.

Aid by sector

Over the past 16 years, the lion share of the aid, around $3 billion or 26%, was channeled into Security System Management and Reform. Second on the list was General Budget Support, around $2 billion (18%) of the aids.Other sectors of the government have also been allocated aid during the examined period totaling five billion dollars. Second, came the category called “Other” which totaled around $3.5 billion. Of this number, the lowest awards were earmarked for education and economic growth and totaled around $300 million each. Despite the billions of dollars in aid to ostensibly improve governance, the country has failed to date to make any significant political reform.

Though initially seen as migrating toward a democracy, the government was actually more akin to a plutocracy. Now, King Abdullah rules as an autocratic monarch, a role which was codified by recent constitutional amendments which increased his powers to appoint and dismiss senior government employees. Most recently these included the president of the judiciary council, the president and the members of the constitutional court. Taken in tandem with his power to both handpick an appoint the prime minister, the chief of the staff and the president of the intelligence department, he has become the rule of law. A king who actually controls both the judiciary and executive branches of government giving him absolute power. This is in addition to his control of the army and security forces.

Transparency International, an organization with "chapters in more than 100 countries and an international secretariat in Berlin, is leading the fight against corruption to turn this vision into reality." A database of Corruption by Countries/Region, which includes a number of data points, including a "Corruption Perception Index” which assesses the amount of corruption perceived or actual which exists in any given countries' public sector. In 2015, on a scale of 168, the Kingdom scored 45, which is counter-intuitive to the fact that so much aid has been awarded to the country with a particular emphasis on political reform. The organization had another revealing indicator which measured the “control of corruption,” which reflects how much public power is exercised for private gain. The index includes both petty and grand forms of corruption, as well as "capture" of the state by elites and private interests. Jordan also scored quite low at 0.040 where the highest rank is 2.5 and lowest -2.5. (Source: World Bank)

Thus, the question remains, what has been gained by the magnanimous support of $38 billion given by America? Since it hasn't resulted in economic stability, as the country is poised on the precipice of insolvency, the priority is evidently focused on military efforts to maintain stability in the region. Hopefully in the future, once the eradication of the shared enemy, ISIS, has been accomplished and the war is won, additional aid will be tied to specific goals and milestones. One requirement may be to pay down the debt, as well as a shift toward more equitable and balanced governance, with a return to the separation of important branches of the government. But for now, Jordan like many other countries around the world has entered into a quid-pro-quo relationship with the U.S. It isn't all bad, nor as nefarious as some could make it, but what has been bought and paid for is a location from which to wage war against one of the most dangerous terrorist organization that threatens the West and the Middle East. It also provides direct on the ground access to the region which vastly improves intelligence gathering efforts. This is all good.

However, in these days and times when enemies form partnerships to achieve shared goals, governments need to take note of the potential price which may ultimately be exacted. Allies purchased through economic aid should be cautious and cognizant of the fate of many leaders in the Middle East and around the world who have benefited from Western largess, military arsenal, and technologies. The infusion of capital and assets often remains at the top and is purchased at the price of the ordinary citizens. People who end up suffering under the whims of dictators and authoritarian regimes supported by the U.S. for political expediency. In the Middle East alone this included Ruhollah Khomeini who governed Iran from 1979 - 1989, Hosni Mubarak who governed Egypt from 1981 - 2011, and Saddam Hussein who governed Iraq from 1979 - 2003 when he was executed. Of course there are many other oppressive regimes around the world that are supported by America, most notably in Africa, but the challenges and questions remain the same.

Does the need of the U.S. for political, military, or economic gain far outweigh the potential abuse of human rights? This is a question we all need to ask, and perhaps even pose to our government.

Contributing Journalist: @ImadSulieman
LinkedIn: Imad Alrawashdeh

The Miracle of Healing as a Result of Giving

fogata charity foundation, Fiictured Ms. eva fogata, Founder

fogata charity foundation, Fiictured Ms. eva fogata, Founder

PHILIPPINES - I work with an amazing person who has a young family and is dedicated, kind, but quite unpresuming and quiet. Earlier this year I noticed his absence, but as a private person myself I did not inquire as to the reason. As the months progressed and his absence prolonged, I became more aware of every conversation in which his name was mentioned. It turned out that he was suffering from a totally unexpected and aggressive type of cancer. There weren’t any prior symptoms, and neither he nor anyone in his family was predisposed to this life-threatening disease.

I immediately purchased a get well card and began to pray for him. I believe that prayer works and although at the time I didn’t know that he and his family were ardent believers, it was a pleasant surprise to learn that they were people of faith. After several months I was walking through the hallways in the suite of the office and I saw him. I was in such disbelief and relief that I ran up to him. It was truly amazing to see him and to speak with him. It was a miracle that he survived and had returned to work, his cancer in remission.

During several of our subsequent conversations we spoke about faith and giving. After a while he quietly told me that he supported several children in his home country of the Philippines. He believed that education was the only way to help improve the lives of the current and subsequent generations of children born into impoverished circumstances. I was immensely intrigued by this act of generosity and felt that it in some way it was connected on a spiritual level to his miraculous healing.

Then, I discovered that he actually supported over 40 students through the Fogata Scholarship Program. I asked if I could interview the woman who ran the eponymous organization which he and other financial backers supported. He arranged for us to meet when she was next in America.

‪‪How did you get started?

‪‪Eva: Well, I actually started running the program when my husband and I retired and moved back to our home country of the Philippines in 2008. Although, my husband and I are Filipino, we had spent many years living primarily in the States, but traveled back and forth between the two countries. At that time we sponsored a child through a Christian charity. We did this for several years $21/month which by America standards is minimal, but like in many developing nations this amount is unimaginable in the Philippines where annual salaries range from $133 to $1253. (Source: World Salaries)

Prior to the inception of the organization I began seeing lots of ads on the television about several Christian children’s charity funds. I felt like something was trying to get my attention, as if the universe wanted to get my attention, telling me that there was something bigger than me that needed to be accomplished and that I was the only person who could accomplish this task.

How do you accomplish this?

Eva: I make sure that all of the donations go directly to the children who we support. We pay tuition fees for scholarship students directly to the school for the entire year. As expected the costs to outfit each scholarship student is minimal by American standards, but for these students and their families it is something that would otherwise be unattainable.

We have minimal administrative expenses and most of these are related to charitable organization reporting and tax filings. Therefore, we are able to control all hard expenditures by taking a hands on approach. I have someone make the uniforms, I personally go to market or have one of our employees purchase all school supplies at the beginning of the school year, we also make sure that students remain supplied throughout the year and purchase all the items that will ensure that they can continue to focus on their education.

What was the inspiration for the Fogata Scholarship Program (FSP)?

Eva: I wanted to establish an organization where I could actually feel and participate in the ‘pay it forward’ philosophy. Education is a really big thing in the Philippines, because without it the only hope of joining the workforce and providing for your family is to work as domestic helpers. I think I read that “Participation in the labour force remains relatively low. Only about 65 per cent of the population aged 15 and above is looking for work, one of the lowest levels in the region……This is partly explained by the high value set on further education in the Philippines: young Filipinos typically spend some time in college before entering the labor market, contributing to the lower participation rate. Others in the region go to work earlier.” (Source: CNBC)

Was there any single incident that made you realize the necessity of your program?

Eva: On one of our trips back to the country we were told about 6 children who were abandoned and living in a dilapidated shack. Their mother was a drug addict and had left alone. Drug abuse among the uneducated is very high in the Philippines, especially in rural areas where opportunities are few. Because of this and other concomitant issues the children were not able to attend school. I heard about them and we went to their house to ascertain how we could help.

They were sleeping on dirt floor, were wearing rags, and had no heat or means to cook food. Though we couldn’t remove the children from their home, we did have the mud floor of the hut cemented and a carpenter built sleeping area. We also began to deliver food to them on a weekly basis until the mother finally came back.

Abandonment is very common as a result of drug and alcohol abuse which many people use to relieve the stress of subsistence living. For those who don’t permanently abandon their children, they get caught up in a vicious cycle of feeling guilty for not taking care of their family due to a lack of financial opportunities and continuing to have children despite of their inability to care for them. Family planning isn’t common nor readily accessible, and though this wasn’t the focus of our foundation, we recognized that people who have education and opportunities often delay having children until they are established professionally.

How did you identify candidates for the scholarships?

Eva:I thought about the best method to achieve this and it became apparent that contacting the principals of local elementary and high schools would ensure that the candidates were qualified, currently enrolled, and judged as having a commitment to complete high school and possibly matriculate to a technical school or 2-year college program. In the Philippines. I asked the principal what percentage of the students are most likely to go on to high school given the fact that many families often require their labor to keep the household above starvation threshold. These children are from families where the parents simply work as day laborers, farmers, street vendors. They are consumed with working and earning a living, and often this means that they put the household needs above the needs of their children; not realizing that by choosing to take them out of school they effectively cut off any future possibility of upward mobility.

Who were the first recipients of the Fogata Scholarships?

Eva: Unlike the United States, the cost for elementary and high school education is the responsibility of parents even though these are public institutions. As I mentioned before, the students we gave scholarships to were recommended by the principal of the school. From the list of candidates identified selected we interview the parents. It is vital that the parents are committed to the process and thus must sign a document promising to support their children in completing high school despite any economic considerations.

The support of the family is the single most determining factor in awarding financial support. Though academic achievement is a factor, it is of less importance than a commitment by the parents to ensure their children’s’ academic success.

We paid for their uniforms, school supplies, books, backpack, shoes, miscellaneous expenses, etc. In order to track all expenditures and ensure that all financial and in kind donations go directly to the children, I personally oversee every aspect.

The Philippines is plagued like other nations with the issues of child labor and the lack of protection and safety standards for them, pulling elementary students out of school to work arduous jobs for unimaginable hours seems to be the norm, and I made a decision to do something more than sending a monthly stipend to a charitable organization or merely paying lip service. This was the motivation and I chose to focus on granting scholarships to school age children. In the Philippines elementary school is comprised of grades (1- 6); and high school runs from (7 -13). When I engaged in dialogue with the principal of a local school to ascertain interest in our scholarship program he informed me that the percentage of elementary students who go on to high school is only about 70% while the remaining 30% go out into the workforce in service jobs.

Besides giving financial support do you provide other services to ensure the children’s educational success?

Eva: Yes, another component of the program is nutritional support. As we expanded our organization we started a feeding program because some of the kids are so poor that they only eat one meal a day. Hunger is a major contributor to poor academic success and I concluded that in order to ensure that the elementary students we sponsor would successfully matriculate to high school, we had to make sure that they are properly fed.

We provide lunch for students on Monday through Friday, and to ensure the efficacy of the program we ask the school to weigh the students to determine if they are severely malnutrition, moderate, etc. The students were ranked for the necessity of receiving food and every 3 months the weight of each student was rechecked to evaluate their continued food support. This program has grown exponentially and now serves over 70 students.

I started a feeding program because hunger is a major contributor to poor performance in school. Some of the students who participate in the feeding program are so poor that they were only eating one meal a day.

What is the rate of successful for Fogata Scholarship recipients?

Eva: In 2008 the year that we started the program we awarded a $500 to support 10 elementary school students who were matriculating to high school. Then, in 2010 we added an additional 26 students. In March 2014 all finished the program and 7 continued on to post-secondary trade school called Tesda and are successfully employed in their fields of endeavor. 5 work in hotel restaurant services (HRS), while 2 others are Information Technology (IT) professionals.

This coming March 2016 another 6 student will graduate from a 2-year program. 2 will receive degrees in IT, while the other 3 will receive degrees in HRS. The hospitality industry is a strong market sector in the Philippines and competition is fierce for opportunities to work on cruise ships in professional and non-professional capacities. 1 student will graduate from a four-year university with a degree in Mass Communication.

Anything else that you would like readers to know?

Eva: Yes, that though this may seem like a small organization we can each effect a positive difference in the lives of others, especially those less fortunate. Many times people may think that the problems in the world are so many and they are just one person, but I learned through this process of founding and running the Fogata Scholarship foundation that what we view as small efforts others take as great gifts.

Also, it is important that people understand that this organization is legitimate and operates under the auspices of the Filipino United Network. We have adopted a hands-on approach which engenders confidence through transparency and enables us to actively engage in our belief that “it takes a village to raise a child.” We have been successful in implementing a charity that is based on developing self-sufficiency versus dependency on government support. At the Fogata Scholarship foundation our philosophy, moto, and drive is to “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

And what of the man who inspired this interview?

His name is Amante Bustamante, and like Eva he is Filipino. I asked him if he felt somehow because of his generosity and giving that he had been blessed and spiritually repaid during the deepest, darkest moment in his life when confronted with the awful specter of dying of cancer. Amazingly, he never connected the two, but acknowledged that it required a great deal of faith and belief in God, strength, and the support and love of his family to attain healing and remission.

What made you choose to support the Fogata Scholarship Program?

Amante: I didn’t engage in this for any personal gain or tax write off. I recognized that because of the opportunities that my middle class upbringing afforded me and my siblings that I was able to finish school, come to America become a partner in a successful IT company, which helped my family advance. I realized that the only way that less fortunate Filipinos would achieve these types of opportunities was to give the rising generation a chance to achieve economic freedom which is why I chose to financially support elementary and high school students.

Education is the most effective means to achieve freedom from poverty and thus upward mobility. It isn’t about becoming wealthy, though this may be one result, but it is about preparing the way so that the next generation will be able to improve themselves and pay it forward thus ensuring that this positive cycle continues.

My ultimate joy with being involved as a supporter of the Fogata Scholarship foundation is that I have virtually met through Facebook a few of the scholarship recipients and have witnessed just how effective our financial support has been in helping them to mature and find professional jobs. Through the years I have had the pleasure of watching children who have benefited from this scholarship program mature into adulthood and then they themselves also begin to give to others and improve the destinies of their families by making education a cornerstone of their “new life.”

Have you chosen to support other charities?

Amante: As I mentioned, I moved here from the Philippines and after years of working in the IT industry in the Northern Virginia region I was fortunate to have the opportunity to become a partner with Ashburn Consulting, LLC. As our partnership coalesced we discovered that each of us shared a strong desire to give back. Each of us, unbeknownst to the others, were supporting charitable causes both in the States and internationally. It was then that we decided to promote a culture of altruism by providing opportunities for the employees to participate in "charitable giving."

My partners and I decided to actualize the commitment to our credo of "giving back to the community that we serve, either by giving our time and talents or by providing financial support." So, in addition to providing Ashburn employees with the means to allocate a percentage of their salaries toward investments, retirement, and education, we also established a selection of charities to which they can donate. Supporting a particular charity or cause isn't mandatory, but we have discovered that the culture of altruism at the company inspires everyone.

The Conclusion?

Was Amante's recovery from cancer a result of unselfishly giving of his time and resources in the years prior to his illness? Perhaps his life was spared because of his passion for humanity and his commitment to the advancement of his fellow citizens through education? We may never know the answer or whether the miracle of his healing was the result of giving; but it should inspire all of us to stretch and grow, to give and live beyond ourselves and our circle, without hope of return, and only because, it is the right thing to do.

Editor-in-Chief: @ayannanahmias
LinkedIn: Ayanna Nahmias