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“It’s only by God’s grace that you survive pregnancy.” This statement, made by a 19-year-old girl in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), illustrates the incredible situation of women in sub-Saharan Africa with little or no access to reproductive health care. The statistics are staggering: every year, approximately half a million women around the world die from pregnancy related causes. More than half are in sub-Saharan Africa, almost all are in impoverished countries, and most deaths are avoidable. Think about the women in your life – how many people do you know who have needed an emergency C-section because the baby was breach or the labor was taking too long? Issues like obstructed labor and post-partum hemorrhage occur with women everywhere. In developed countries, they lead to scary moments and extra medical care.  In the developing world, they often lead to death.

Dire as this situation is throughout the developing world, it is much worse in areas of conflict. Here, women are subjected to the additional burdens of violence and displacement. Emergency response to conflict areas usually consists of extremely basic supplies – food, clean water, sometimes first aid and shelter. But reproductive health services are just as important.

Yesterday I went to a film screening in DC to watch BBC Documentary “Grace Under Fire”, which focuses on Dr. Grace Kodindo, a Chadian Ob/Gyn who travels to the DRC to observe the special needs of women in conflict areas. The film was followed by a panel and Q&A featuring Dr. Kodindo, Mr. Clarence Massaquoi of Liberia, and Dr. Bouba Touré of the DRC. The film was fantastic and the information I learned was staggering. You can watch an excerpt of the film on YouTube, as it was televised on BBC. Read the rest of this entry »


Guest post from Michael Boampong, Executive Director, Young People We Care

A few weeks ago I was reading a newspaper item in the March 21st 2009 edition of the Daily Graphic. In the course of reading the article, I realized a big and yet timely challenge has been thrown out by the Secretary General of the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF), Mr. Oumar N’dongo. Mr. N’dongo has called on governments of member states of the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) to ensure the full implementation of the regional protocols on the freedom of movement people and goods, which was adopted some decades ago.

Prior to reading this, I had participated in TakingITGlobal’s ‘Live Chat on Youth Migration’, which was held in commemoration of the 2008 International Migrants Day celebration. The chat was sponsored by Young People We Care (YPWC), a youth-led organization founded by myself and based in Ghana. The chat brought young people from around the world together to hear from experts and young professionals who are working on migration and youth development issues. This gave them the opportunity to share their thoughts on irregular migration and migrant rights within the context of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW).

International migration has arguably become one of the most topical issues of today’s global order. Migration has been facilitated in the 21st century by ‘globalization’ and the global development disparities of economic development and human development. In recent times, climate change and conflict have also resulted in an increase in migration.

Read the rest of this entry »

While I’m not completely comfortable referring to human trafficking and its victims in economic terms, the truth is this crime would not exist without a market that offers great financial rewards to those involved. One of the most disturbing characteristics of human trafficking lies in its most basic definition: the sale of human beings. Trafficking turns a life into a mere commodity, which can be bought and sold like any other good. Because trafficking is driven by economic motivations, it must be analyzed in economic terms–regardless of the discomfort such an analysis may cause.

As any introductory economics course teaches, in a market price is a function of supply and demand. With human trafficking, the supply side refers to the economic and social factors that create a pool of potential victims for traffickers to target. The demand side includes who is buying these people and for what purposes.

On the supply side, poverty, lack of education and social inequality are often cited as the main contributing (or ‘push’) factors. Wars, natural disasters and civil unrest can create a large number of displaced people which facilitates trafficking. The 2004 tsunami caused mass devastation and increased trafficking from Southeast Asia. Other recent examples include the 2006 Israeli-Lebanon conflict and the ongoing civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Rapid industrialization can also inflate the supply side of trafficking. In many developing countries, there is a wide socioeconomic divide between the urban centers and the rural areas. Poor, uneducated, rural populations become prime targets for traffickers who lure young people into the city with the promise of a good job and a luxurious lifestyle. Girls with many siblings seem to be the most vulnerable in this case. Also, cultural factors often play a role. Traffickers can exploit certain cultural norms such as the value placed on virginity, the responsibility of an older child to contribute to the family income, the common practice of taking out a ‘loan’ from an employer which is then repaid through work, etc. On a macro scale, insufficient birth registry and identification systems, the ready supply of fraudulent travel documents, corruption, and ineffective migration policies affect the supply side of human trafficking.

In terms of demand, I split the factors into two categories: direct and indirect. Direct factors which influence demand are obviously what and how much people are willing to pay a trafficker for particular services. The most common image of direct demand is a man paying for sex from an enslaved prostitute. However, other types include forced labor, bonded labor, illegal adoptions (‘baby selling’), begging rings and the sale of vital organs. What I call indirect demand comes from consumers’ constant quest for ever-cheaper goods and services. The nature of the capitalist system is to minimize production costs. Labor is normally one of the most expensive factors of production and as such it becomes an obvious place to try and cut corners. In fact, after being busted for trafficking many factory owners defend their actions on the grounds that they couldn’t compete in the industry (carpets, clothing, bricks, whatever) without slaves because ‘everyone else’ is using them too. This brings us to a much larger issue of sub-contracting, global supply chains, etc. which would be too long and complex for this particular piece. However, the important thing to remember is that the demand for human trafficking is not only driven by those who actually pay for the victim’s services; on the contrary, we all contribute to to trafficking demand–indirectly–even if we’re not aware of it.

As a function of supply and demand, prices fluctuate from one region and/or country to the next. Price is influenced by all the factors mentioned above as well as the distances travelled and the mode of transport employed. As Kevin Bales, President of Free the Slaves ( notes, price also influences the treatment modern day slaves receive. FTS reports that hundreds of years ago slaves cost as much as the equivalent of $80,000 apiece. Now that figure has fallen to about $100.  David Batstone echoes this point in his book Not For Sale:

"During the era of the American plantation economy, the slaveholder considered slave ownership an investment. The supply of new recruits was limited. Though the slave owner usually treated the slave like a beast, it would be equal to the treatment of a prized bull. The slave owner aimed to extract the value of his investment over the course of the slave’s lifetime." However, in the modern-day slave trade, "the glut of slaves and the capacity to move them great distances in a relatively short period of time drastically alters the economics of slave ownership. As relative costs plummet, slaves cease to be a long-term investment. The owner need not be too concerned about maintaining the health of the slave…just like used batteries, once the slave exhausts his or her usefulness, another can be procured at no great expense"

In terms of the ‘business model’ of trafficking operations, size and
strategy can range from individual entrepreneurs to small ‘mom and pop’
operations to sophisticated, mafia-style rings. "In some cases, traffickers have emerged specifically to meet the migration demand, and in other cases, there are established international criminal syndicates who have incorporated trading of humans into their existing spheres of criminal activity" (IOM report, June 1996). In many cases, law enforcement’s cooperation and/or willingness to look the other way plays a key role in traffickers’ success.

So that’s the basics of human trafficking economics. As I’ve mentioned previously, modern day slavery is a booming business; it’s the third most profitable black market activity behind drugs and arms. The current estimate of human trafficking’s total market value is $32 million, $10 million of which comes from the initial ‘sale’ of people and the rest from the profits and goods they produce.

The next post in this series will explore geographic trends in human trafficking. It will address questions such as: How are individual countries and regions categorized into places of origin, points of transit and destinations? Which specific types of trafficking are linked to each region? What are the similarities and differences in these geographic trends?

On March 5, 1957, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah proudly led the African nation of Ghana to independence from Britain. In a system theory approach, this celebration is meanful for Ghana and for the whole Africa. The system theorist would hypothesize that a 50th year anniversary of independence represents a great opportunity of self-evaluation not only for one country but for the entire African continent. Actually, the remembrance of the 1957 events for Ghana should stimulate the collective consciousness of African nation-states to mesure the progress made, acknowledge the challenges and formulate new resolutions. As the first independent African country celebrates its 50 years of independence, the African journey is full of lessons on political, social and economic levels.

The 1957 independence events continue to send a powerful political message to the world : it only takes a man with a constructive political will to change the destiny of a nation and even a continent. Kwame Nkrumah was that man of vision for Ghana and for Africa. He envisioned that Africa needed not only independence, but also unity for sustainable development. He anticipated that the politico-economic viability of Africa was function of its unity. He endlessly preached that Africa must unite. Unfortunately, 50 years after his call for political independence in Africa, the continent still experiences severe divisions and conflicts, which often emerge from issues of bad governance, corruption, weak social contract, ethno-political rivalry, greed and grievance. The African political panorama reflects destructive socio-political conflicts and civil wars. Several nation-states in Africa face identity conflicts with ethno-political and religious connotations, which require high attention and investment from the international community. The United Nations have eight peacekeeping operations and political missions in Africa over a total of eighteen in the world.

Such ethno-political divisions and conflicts maintain the African countries in a state of economic marasme. After 50 years of independence Africa remains the home of the less developed countries. The GNI for most African countries remains critical. Despite its numerous raw materials and resources, the continent still heavily relies on foreign aid from the Bretton Woods institutions (World Bank and IMF) and Western countries. The international community has witnessed more or less active initiatives to cancel the debts of African countries without solving the economic disasters of African nation-states.

As a result of the political and economic problems, the African countries face considerable social challenges. Africa is the land of millions of traumatized refugees and IDPs victims of violent conflicts and persecutions. In most African countries, many citizens lack the basic human needs. The education rate is low due to lack of financial means and ad hoc policies. The state is unable to provide adequate health care to citizens. The unemployment rate is high in the majority of the African countries. HIV Aid creates social misery in many African countries. The continent is the theater of massive violations of human rights. In addition, the flight of valuable African human resources continues from Africa to Europe and America (this is true not only for the African intelligenstia but also for African artists and entertainers in Europe and America).

Beside all the issues facing Africa, some positive achievements provide hope and excitment. As Ghana celebrates its 50th anniversary, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon praises the country for setting a good example of leadership for Africa and for the world. It is a positive fact that the African people learn to become leaders of African states affairs. Moreover, it can be said that through the representation of the former UN Secretary-General Koffi Annan, Africa took an active part in the world affairs. Another positive fact involves the recent African journey to democracy and multipartism. The end of the Cold War launched democracy and multipartism in many African countries. The emergence of peaceful democracies in Benin, Mali, Ghana and Senegal demonstrates that democracy and multipartism are promising in Africa with a strong civil society. The end of Apartheid in South Africa in the 1990s is a commendable continental achievement. The peacekeeping initiatives by the African Union to address conflict in Sudan and Somalia indicate positive contributions to regional security and international peace. The emergence of a female African president in Liberia was a good example for the world. The analyst should also salute and encourage efforts by several African governments to design policies conducive to fighting HIV Aid. Those positive achievements could be the signs that Africa is slowly on its way for sustainable development and peace. But the road ahead seems to be long, full of obstacles of corruption and misinterpretation of the meaning of leadership.

Africa cannot reach sustainable development unless its leaders understand leadership as a service. Once leadership is understood as a service the leaders serve common and larger interests instead of thinking of their own personal and narrow interests. Servant-leaders work to design and implement policies that meet the needs of all the citizens, and not the agenda of individuals belonging to a group, a party or a government. Servant-leaders fight corruption, nepotism and bad governance. Africa truly needs servant-leaders for durable peace and development.

Jacques KOKO, Senior Political Analyst -Americans for Informed Democracy

We Have a Moral Responsibility to Accept Iraqi Refugees

The majority of fatalities in the Iraq War are now Iraqis killed by their fellow countrymen, but the United States is ultimately responsible for the humanitarian catastrophe that Iraq has become. By invading and turning Iraq’s social order on its head overnight, the U.S. uncorked a civil war –replete with hideous acts of ethnic cleansing–that is as vicious as any that ravaged the Balkans during the 1990s. Now, the United States has a moral responsibility to offer safe haven to Iraqis fleeing the carnage.

An estimated more than 2 million Iraqis have fled their country since the war began in 2003. There are now more than a million in Syria, 700,000 in Jordan, 20,000-80,000 in Egypt, and around 40,000 in Lebanon. Inside Iraq, over one and a half million people are internally displaced and living in dangerous, squalid conditions.

The numbers:





Internally displaced   

Iraq’s refugee crisis has become one of the worst on earth, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 50,000 more Iraqis are fleeing escalating sectarian violence each month.

Since the beginning of the war, the United States has accepted just 466 Iraqis, including 202 in 2006. That number will rise to 7,000 this year. That’s a big increase, but nowhere close to the best we can or should do.

Let’s look at the situation in context.   

The United States is a country of 300 million people.

It will take in 7,000 Iraqi refugees this year.

Sweden is a country of less than 10 million people.

Last year alone, it took in 9,000 Iraqi refugees, roughly 80 percent of those who applied for refugee status there.

Years ago, I volunteered at a small refugee outreach organization here in the United States. The experience taught me a great deal about refugees and conflict. One lesson I learned was that in every sectarian conflict mixed families face heartbreaking decisions. Husbands and wives are torn between their mutual love and the relentless calls to arms from their respective religious or ethnic communities. Mixed couples and their children become targets for violence, as they are often seen as traitors by both sides in the conflict. This was the case in Bosnia and Rwanda, and it is now the case in Iraq.

Minorities, too, suffer even when they are not directly involved in the conflict. Iraq’s religious minorities are facing widespread persecution, and many minority Iraqi Christians and Baha’is have already fled the country.

And then, there are war’s completely blameless victims: the children on all sides. Iraq’s children are witnesses to the most horrible events fathomable: beheadings, sniper attacks, rapes, car bombings, torture. Children who see their parents and siblings murdered today will become tomorrow’s likely revenge killers –that is, if they aren’t removed from the conflict zone.

In the past, the United States has been more open to refugee resettlement. After the Vietnam War, it accepted more than 750,000 Vietnamese refugees. We should now relieve the burden of countries like Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan by taking as many Iraqi refugees as we can –and we can take many more than 7,000. This would be an expensive and complicated undertaking, but we were willing to fund the war, and we must be equally willing to fund measures to save Iraqi lives now that their country is in the throes of a full-blown civil war. Congress should pass legislation creating a large-scale resettlement program without delay. Accepting refugees is one of the few remaining ways we can ease Iraqi suffering.

There are a lot of things I want to blog about in the next few days; the Kosovo final status talks, the impending trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, and the recent disagreement between ICTY Prosecutor Carla del Ponte and EU officials. But right now, I want to tell you about a very cool-sounding video game that just came out.

It’s called PeaceMaker, and it is a game that allows you to play Israeli or Palestinian politicians trying to solve (or not solve) the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and create peace (or sow chaos) in the Middle East. It’s gotten rave reviews from the New York Times, Haaretz, and many gamer magazines, and, from the trailer, it looks like it will be awesome to play.

I’m going to see if I can use my AID credentials to get a free copy (it costs $20 to download), and, if I’m successful, I’ll post a full review. Heck, if it’s really good, AID might even decide to use it for future iniatives.

From the New York Times:

LAST week, in an effort to solve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, I
withdrew settlements in the Gaza Strip. But then a suicide bomber
struck in Jerusalem, the P.L.O. leader called my actions
”condescending,” and the Knesset demanded a stern response. Desperate
to retain control, I launched a missile strike against Hamas militants.

I was playing Peacemaker, a video game in which players assume
the role of either the Israeli prime minister or the Palestinian
president. Will you pull down the containment wall? Will you beg the
United States to pressure your enemy? You make the calls and live with
the results the computer generates. Just as in real life, actions that
please one side tend to anger the other, making a resolution fiendishly
tricky. You can play it over again and again until you get it right, or
until the entire region explodes in violence.

”When they hear
about Peacemaker, people sometimes go, ‘What? A computer game about the
Middle East?’ ” admits Asi Burak, the Israeli-born graduate student
who developed it with a team at Carnegie Mellon University in
Pittsburgh. ”But people get very engaged. They really try very hard to
get a solution. Even after one hour or two hours, they’d come to me and
say, you know, I know more about the conflict than when I’ve read
newspapers for 10 years.”

Video games have long entertained
users by immersing them in fantasy worlds full of dragons or
spaceships. But Peacemaker is part of a new generation: games that
immerse people in the real world, full of real-time political crises.
And the games’ designers aren’t just selling a voyeuristic thrill.
Games, they argue, can be more than just mindless fun, they can be a
medium for change.

And PeaceMaker is only the most recent game based on real-life international issues. Food Force, a game produced by the World Food Program, allows players to respond to a humanitarian crisis on Sheylan, a fictional island in the Indian Ocean. In MTV’s game Darfur is Dying, players play Darfur refugees struggling to find food and shelter. The latter game is nearly impossible to "win" and I suspect that was the intention of the designers. It makes a not-so-subtle point about the severity of the disaster in Darfur.

UPDATE: The WONDERFUL people at Impact Games have allowed me to download PeaceMaker for free. They are a smart and generous bunch. I’ll be blogging more about the game in the coming weeks, when I have my next bunch of papers done, and I actually have time to play it.

In the book Blood and Oil, Michael Klare endows us with an overture of United States foreign policy in the Persian Gulf throughout the last part of the 20th century, rooted on the much desired and needed petroleum resources, its ties to instability and military intervention by the United States within the region, as well as increased terrorist activity against the United States. The emphasis of the study undertaken in Blood and Oil is the United States’ economic and military dependency of oil from the Persian Gulf region as an energy source. Blood and Oil presents insightful data and analysis making the connection to resentment by Persian Gulf nations against and terrorist activity toward the United States. Klare’s main thesis is that United States dependency on foreign oil has led the United States government to become the global politico-military oil-protection service of the Persian Gulf petroleum, making alliances as well as becoming subservient to autocratic governments and anti-United States regimes to maintain access to petroleum. The rationale of the United States petro-politico-economic and military alliances, as is the case with Saudi Arabia, is to institute associations with oil exporting countries which will continue to supply unproblematic and economical access to oil, as well as long-term fueling to the United States’ and other developed nation’s economies. The high degree of reliance on foreign oil has made the United States vulnerable, thus decreasing security, while increasing military activity in the form of oil protectorates. These policies have increased resentment against the United States by citizens of nations occupied by the United States military with the purpose of protecting the flow of oil. In turn, the United States policies to protect the flow of petroleum supply fuel to extremist groups such as Al Qaeda.

The author embarks in the analysis of United States foreign policy vis-à-vis the petroleum industry by instituting the relationship of imported petroleum and United States national security. He moves on to the establishment and importance of Centcom (a United States military command center responsible for Persian Gulf military operations), United States economic vulnerability of international turmoil from within the oil exporting nations, and the subservient role the United States has occupied in its relationships with various oil producing nations. He dedicates a chapter to the United States alliance with Saudi Arabia providing significant information on the strategic power this alliance bestows both nations, as well as the United States Doctrines from mid 20th century to present time supporting this petro-military relationship and its influence and strengthening of Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda ideologies and terrorist activities. Klare goes on to demonstrate the Bush administration’s choice to perpetuate the dependency of petroleum, and the lack of response from the government vis-à-vis diversification of energy sources. Though the United States government underscores the diversification of oil imports from other petroleum exporting nations, Klare rightfully calls attention to the domestic instability most, if not all, of the petroleum exporting countries experience. Any political or military unrest in these nations affect the United States economy, thus making them probable targets of United States military intervention.

The United States government is not mitigating the effects of oil dependency with the urgency needed, thus Klare foresees that choice as negatively affecting future generations. Klare also addresses the possibility of great power geopolitical struggle for the control over territory, natural resources and other military and economic advantages, as may be the case of Russia and China competing against the United States for petroleum resources.

Blood and Oil is a great book as an introductory piece to the energy and military troubles of United States foreign policy vis-à-vis the petroleum industry. It is a great source of information for individuals whose area of study is the energy sector, as well as individuals concentrating in the petroleum sector. The book is easy to read and the organization of information is appropriate for the book’s flow. One may find the last two chapters to be particularly thought provoking, thus craving more details than the book provides. Overall, the book is well written and is easy to follow by either experts or novices to the topic.

As usual, there’s some great foreign affairs commentary over at, one of my favorite websites. They’re running a great debate called “The Politics of Climate Change” (click on this link) with a very helpful backgrounder on the topic at this link that goes into key aspects such as the science of climate change, creative energy options and climate politics.

One of the many insightful threads that runs through this series is the idea that climate change is not just important in and of itself but also because of the impact that it can have on nations’ security, economies and well-being. In an article called “Kazakhstan: Glaciers and Geopolitics,” author Stephan Harrison points out that the retreat of the glaciers in Central Asia due to climate change could have significant impacts on the geopolitics of the region. You can find the article at this link.

Scientists and observers of the region have two main concerns about climate change in Kazakhstan. The first worry is that infrastructure and transport in the country’s capital, Almaty, the powerhouse capital of the strongest economy of the former Soviet republics, will be disrupted (and endangered) by the severe flooding and debris flows that the melting glaciers might cause. The second worry is that a threatened water supply will destabilize the fragile political balance in Central Asia, since rivers do not recognize national boundaries.

Here’s the money quote:

“The case of Kazakhstan reveals two things: how intimately related are climate, landscape, political and economic systems; and that assessing the risks from future climate change is about more than producing flood hazard maps or knowing where sea-level rises will affect coastlines… More widely, climate change has the potential to disrupt the context within which economic and political decision-making operate. Few non-scientists recognise the extreme rapidity with which climate can alter, and the non-linear and dynamic nature of the climate system. Politicians have consistently failed to listen to the warnings or take them seriously. This means that climate change is likely to have some very unpleasant surprises in store for us.”

The good news is that there’s still time to start taking the advice of scientists. And the time to start addressing climate instability is now.


June 2019
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