- J Brooks Spector
At first glance, it looks like he might have tripped on the water’s edge while playing on the beach. You almost expect the next frames to show the little boy getting up, gurgling in delight and then splashing around in the water, as little boys do. But there is no movement in Aylan Kurdi’s tiny body as the water swirls around him. The images and visuals of the dead three-year-old have stunned the world and prompted a new round of bluster from European leaders on the refugee crisis. Little Aylan has turned the conversation from the politics, the Islamophobia, the racism, the xenophobia, the economic costs and security issues. His death gave his war-ravaged people a human face. And hopefully it will help the world find its humanity. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
The Obama administration has sought to avoid that deeper involvement in the devastating Syrian conflict, due to scepticism about what a more robust policy could achieve and concern that the regime’s allies might retaliate against US personnel and interests elsewhere. But this conflict will not end without a shift in US policy. By the INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP.
“It’s like snow in the summer”, says Abdülhamit Bilici, director of Turkey’s Cihan News Agency, about the systematic breakdown of the rule of law and erosion of democratic freedoms in his country. Perhaps that’s the only way to keep going in the context of an assault on media freedoms, arrests of judges, manipulation of the judicial system, blocking of funding to aid agencies and raiding of schools – to see these as an aberration that will pass. Turkey is caught in a frightening maelstrom of corruption and the quest for unbridled power, a pseudo war against Isis and a real war against the Kurds, as well as a flood of Syrian refugees streaming through the borders. It is a world away from us but is a storyline that holds important lessons for South Africa. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
Next month Pope Francis will soon visit the most divided Catholic Church in the world. He is scheduled to be in the US from September 22-27. He is going to the US to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia ahead of the Synod of the world’s Catholic Bishops in Rome in October. En route the Pontiff will stop in New York, to deliver a talk at the United Nations (UN), and Washington, DC, to address Congress. Both conservatives and progressives will be watching the pope carefully and, no doubt, analysing everything he says and does to see how and if they can use it to advance their particular cause. This unpredictable pope walks a fine line: can he negotiate the tensions, will he shock both sides of the divide or will it just be another papal expedition? BY RUSSELL POLLITT.
Protests over corruption and political dysfunction are growing in Lebanon. Clashes between protesters and security forces have left dozens wounded over the last few days, increasing instability in a country highly polarised along politico-sectarian fault lines, threatened not long ago by sectarian clashes and violence, and already overwhelmed by nearly 1.2 million Syrian refugees, ongoing border tensions as well as kidnappings by Sunni Islamist militants. INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP Lebanon senior analyst SAHAR ATRACHE examines the underlying causes of the crisis and the possible scenarios that Lebanon faces.
Little has been done to alter the conditions that precipitated the 2014 Gaza war. Gaza’s acting government lacks funds; its economy is a shambles; and most Gazans have no access to the outside world. More must be done on these issues, or the next war is probably just a matter of time. By the INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP.
Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa is larger than life, and as close to a hero as Sri Lankan politics has. He’s also one of the biggest dangers to its nascent political well-being. The people love Rajapaksa out of all proportion, enough that many would like to have seen him appointed prime minister if the United People’s Freedom Alliance won the election. Loved enough, perhaps, to undo the country’s brand new term limits. By BERT ARCHER.
The current serious illnesses of both former US President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and the way they have carried out their respective public roles since retirement should urge us to consider deeply their impact on their two nations – and the world. J BROOKS SPECTOR takes a look.
If there was any remaining doubt about the direction of South Africa’s foreign policy, let it be laid to rest. The African National Congress’s top brass has spoken, unequivocally laying out a virulently anti-western, pro-Chinese vision for the future of international relations. This might be the time to start learning Mandarin. By SIMON ALLISON.
China’s two unexpected explosions – the massive inferno at the Tianjin port and warehousing area and the sudden and unanticipated devaluation of the yuan or renminbi – caught the world by surprise. The Tianjin incident may have revealed yet another chink in a less than comprehensive environmental and pollution control regimen, but the sudden currency devaluation has roiled the waters of the global economy – and its ultimate impact is still unclear. J BROOKS SPECTOR takes a closer look.
This week’s SADC summit is an important test for the organisation’s conflict management credibility as it attempts to deal with the crisis in Lesotho. Previous interventions have failed to address major causal factors or help hold to account those responsible for illegal behaviour, even murder. While only the Basotho can negotiate a genuine solution, the summit is an opportunity for reflection and tangible commitment to support a process that strengthens institutional capacities and whose minimum goals – depoliticisation of the security sector and a measure of accountability – may be difficult to reconcile with Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli remaining in office. By PIERS PIGOU and ILIJA PRACHKOVSKI for the INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP.
Internationally renowned broadcaster and writer Kenan Malik was in town this week to deliver the University of Cape Town’s annual TB Davie Memorial Lecture. Malik warns that free speech is under threat – but not necessarily in the ways we fear most, like government censorship or Charlie Hebdo bombings. By REBECCA DAVIS.
Hopes of a democratic renaissance in Sri Lanka have dimmed after President Maithripala Sirisena’s failure to take control of his Sri Lanka Freedom Party prevented deeper reform after six months of notable achievements and allowed former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and his supporters to mount a comeback. With Sirisena opposing Rajapaksa’s return, the August 17 parliamentary elections will test the continued appeal of the former president’s hardline Sinhala nationalism and provide the chance for a fresh start to find lasting solution to the country’s social divisions. By INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP.
If you want to save elephants, don’t legalise the international trade in ivory. That’s the message of a major research paper published to coincide with World Elephant Day on August 12. The paper, by South African Institute of International Affairs researcher Ross Harvey, says that instead carefully targeted demand-reduction programmes in Asian consumer countries need to be ramped up and poaching prevention strategies in elephant range states in Africa improved, followed by a ban on all domestic ivory trading. By ANDREAS WILSON-SPÄTH.
After an auspicious start to the year, the peace process between the Turkish state and the PKK has crashed, with potentially grave consequences for Turkey’s political stability and its ability to resist more violent overspill from the fighting just over the border in Syria. The ceasefire collapsed in July as 18 Turkish police and soldiers were killed in PKK-linked attacks, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has resorted to measures reminiscent of the military-dominated 1990s. Yet neither the Turkish state nor the PKK can win by military means. For both, the price of their war is potentially higher than ever. By NIGAR GÖKSEL, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP.
New research suggests things are getting worse for South Africa’s declining wild lion population as the trophy hunting industry is boosting the Asian trade in lion bones. Tiger wine, made using powdered bones, is a much sought after elixir in Asia but tiger numbers are in acute decline and lion bones are now filling the gap, with a sharp increase in lion products in the markets of Vietnam, China and especially Laos. By ADAM CRUISE.
The conflict in Syria appears likely to enter a new phase, with Turkey, the US and Syrian rebel factions working on a plan to seize the last stretch of northern border territory from Islamic State (IS). But the combined effort against IS is not going well and the US will ultimately have to address its policy disconnect to fundamentally degrade jihadi power in Syria. By NOAH BONSEY for the INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP.
The accelerating deterioration of Venezuela’s political crisis is cause for growing concern. The collapse in 2014 of an incipient dialogue between the government and opposition ushered in growing political instability. With legislative elections due in December, there are fears of renewed violence. But there is a less widely appreciated side of the drama. A sharp fall in real incomes, major shortages of essential foods, medicines and other basic goods and the breakdown of the health service are elements of a looming social crisis. If not tackled decisively and soon, it will become a humanitarian disaster with a seismic effect on domestic politics and society, and on Venezuela’s neighbours. This situation results from poor policy choices, incompetence and corruption; however, its gravest consequences can still be avoided. This will not happen unless the political deadlock is overcome and a fresh consensus forged, which in turn requires strong engagement of foreign governments and multilateral bodies. By INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP.
US President Barack Obama historic address at the African Union headquarters on Tuesday was every bit as rousing as he intended it to be – inspiring yet cutting, easy-going yet contemporary. No bluster. Just Obama being Obamaesque. Thabo Mbeki’s “I am an African” speech was probably the last big oratory moment by a world leader that could inspire hope for the future and pride in Africa’s heritage. In South Africa we no longer do big inspirational speeches – although some verbal Prozac is probably much needed in a country where people resort to being fed snakes and rats as succour in the face of increasing difficulties. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.