Powerplay in Paradise: Sino-Indian Tussle in the Maldives

By Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury
SINGAPORE, Aug 31 2020 – The Maldives is a picturesque country of merely 515,000 people located just beyond the southern tip of the South Asian land mass, in an idyllic Indian ocean setting. The nation is spread across 26 pretty atolls, comprising about 1192 islets, not all still inhabited. These are lapped by crystal blue waters containing flora and fauna of remarkable magnificence. Its scenic bounties attract droves of tourists who frolic in the sands, sun and the sea in salubrious languor. It has a thriving fishing, garment and tourism industry which have recently helped it graduate out of the United Nations list of Least Developed Countries (LDCs).It is so tiny that used to be said that the catch of a single large fish any day could cause a remarkable jump in its Gross National Product (GDP) numbers. It is not without reason that the archipelago has often been compared to a paradise.

But now it appears that peace in paradise could be confronting some strains due to regional and international politics. On the global matrix China is racing to reach peer status with the United states. The Chinese see the Indians, because of the increasing chumminess between India and the US as an impediment to their aspirations. Hence they appear to be out to clip India’s wings. Obviously, the way to go about it is to try and reduce India’s regional and global influence. India obviously resists Chinese attempts to do so. The inevitable result is conflict, as of now confined to borders or Line of Actual Control (LAC), as it is called, in the Himalayan mountain heights. This is complemented by tussle for control of the seas south of the border as well. This strategic competition is not just confined to the military sphere. There is also an economic battleground. In this China’s great weapon is the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), linking scores of nations along land and sea- routes to China through mega infrastructural projects. The Maldives, located at a strategic point in the Indian ocean, therefore, could not be immune to this Sino -China rivalry at worst, and competition at best.

The Maldives, whose size precluded it, or did not require for it to play a major role in the international arena, was always close to India in the past. But that was before the transformations in the global power-paradigm with the rise of China and the onset of a major Sino-Indian rivalry. As was to be expected this became a factor in the domestic politics of the Maldives. Former President Abdullah Yameen leaned towards China. There was a course correction in 2018 when the current President Ibrahim Mohammed Solih seemed to return to the Indian fold. In the meantime, China had already scored a few points by committing US $ 200 million to build the China Maldives Friendship Bridge. This would link the capital Male with the airport island, Hulhule. At the same time there was a clutch of Chinese investments. These included plans for constructing an airport runway and housing projects.

India has now responded with a massive offer of its own. It comes under an umbrella called the Greater Male Connectivity project. The idea is to link Male with three other islands: Villingli, Thilafushi and Gulhifalhu. This will be done through a bridge, a causeway and an embankment. There will also be a port constructed in Gulhifalhu. For these purposes India would advance a loan and a line of credit worth approximately US $ 500 million. The most important component would be the 6.7 km long bridge, the construction of which is now scheduled to begin later this year. The main problem with Indian commitments, in the Maldives, as elsewhere in the region, is in the area of implementation. Disbursement of funds is often painfully slow, and the progress with infrastructural construction even more so. But for now, the government of the Maldives was happy, and President Solih described the deal as a “landmark moment in Maldives-India cooperation”. It is likely that like many other nations in the region, the Maldives will endeavour to navigate carefully between the two powerful protagonists, China and India, and try to reap some benefits from their mutual jostling for position.

It is probably in order to delve a little into the background of intra-mural South Asian politics in this context. When the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the product of a Bangladeshi initiative, was still active, it provided a structural fence around the subcontinental countries, grouping them together, stressing commonalities. But India-Pakistan rivalry has now stalled the activities of the forum. People-to-people contacts within the SAARC framework ceased, as also any public predilection for cooperation. India has encouraged formation of sub-regional bodies in its stead, but Indian preponderance in these has curbed the enthusiasm of others. The smaller South Asian States psychologically feel freer to invite outside actors like China into their midst. So, the state of comatose that afflicts SAARC has actually encouraged smaller South Asian countries to seek external linkages to enhance their capability to deal with India, which will, nevertheless, always remain a major factor in their policies.

Secondly, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)continue to turn more and more towards the fundamentalist values of Hindutva to cement their support among the Hindu power-base , in opposition to the other major community in India, the Muslims, it is likely to impact on their co-religionists of the subcontinent negatively. This includes Muslim-majority countries of South Asia. Here the Maldives assumes a special significance as the Maldivians take their faith seriously, and the government, can ill- afford to ignore this fact in the long run. This is emerging as a major structural problem in BJP-led India’s regional external policy.

So tiny Maldives may be entering a new phase in its policies where powerplay of large global actors will have a role that might grow bigger with time. Its future, as that of many other countries in comparable milieu will be shaped by how deftly it is able to handle this evolving situation.

Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury is Principal Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asia Studies, National University of Singapore. He is a former Foreign Advisor (Foreign Minister) of Bangladesh and President of Cosmos Foundation Bangladesh. The views addressed in the article are his own. He can be reached at: isasiac @nus.edu.sg

This story was originally published by Dhaka Courier.

 


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Neo Colonialism vs. Sovereignty in Sri Lanka

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka. Credit: Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations

By Asoka Bandarage
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Aug 31 2020 – On August 5, 2020, a new government was elected in Sri Lanka, bringing down the previous regime associated with the Central Bank bond scam, the Easter Sunday bomb attacks and controversial international agreements.

The new government has come into office with a two thirds majority in parliament, promising to bring prosperity, security and communal harmony to the beleaguered country. The achievement of these goals depends to a large extent on how neocolonialism and sovereignty are addressed.

Colonialism involves control of a less powerful country by a powerful country to exploit resources and increase its power and wealth. Essentially, neocolonialism involves the same factors: militarism, external expropriation of natural resources, deception and manipulation, collusion with local elites, incitement of ethnic and religious differences (and other forms of balkanization and destabilization) and consequential local resistance to external aggression.

Neocolonialism and Geopolitical Rivalry

Today, strategically located in the ancient east-west Indian Ocean maritime trade route, Sri Lanka faces a competition for control by China on one side and the U.S.-led Asia-Pacific Quadrilateral Alliance (including India, Japan and Australia) on the other.

The new Sri Lankan government says it will reconcile competing external interests. Speaking on behalf of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the recently appointed Foreign Secretary, Retired Navy Commander, Prof. Jayanath Colombage states: ‘Sri Lanka should be a neutral country. Sri Lanka does not want to be caught up in the power game. Sri Lanka wants to develop friendly international ties with everybody. Sri Lanka should have Sri Lanka-first policy.’

Is Sri Lanka’s current foreign policy moving in this direction?

Chinese Expansion

Sri Lanka has been a participant in China’s $4 trillion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) since 2005. In January 2017, the previous Sri Lankan government granted an 85 percent stake of the Hambantota port, in the most strategic central point in the Indian Ocean, to the China Merchant Port Holding Company in a 99-year lease.

China is Sri Lanka’s largest creditor and has provided generous support during the Covid-19 pandemic. Given local concerns over the Hambantota port deal, President Gotabaya has previously stated that, on election, he would revisit the lease agreement and renegotiate it.

More recently, he has stated that his government is not planning to amend the commercial terms of the agreement, but wishes to amend agreements concerning port security.

While Sri Lankan activists have been protesting the environmental and social impact of expanding Chinese projects, the Quadrilateral Alliance is seeking to involve Sri Lanka in countering Chinese expansion in Asia, making Sri Lanka a key battleground of geopolitical rivalry.

Allaying the fears of India and the U.S. that the Hambantota port could become a Chinese military base, the new Sri Lankan government has stated that the port should be ‘…limited to commercial activities only. It is zero for military purposes…Sri Lanka will not afford any particular country to use Sri Lanka as a staging area to do anything against another country- especially so India.’

But how would the Quadrilateral Alliance respond if there is real or perceived military activity? It is not hard to imagine a dangerous military situation escalating far beyond Sri Lanka’s control.

Indian Expansion

The policy of the Sri Lankan President, articulated by Foreign Secretary Colombage is that ‘…as far as strategic security is concerned, Sri Lanka will always have an India-first approach. That means Sri Lanka will not do anything harmful to India’s strategic security interests. As far as economic development is concerned, we cannot depend on one country. We are open to anyone.’

However, India’s political and military involvement during the separatist war, especially its impositions of the 13th Amendment on the Sri Lankan Constitution and the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) on Sri Lankan soil, have left fear and antipathy towards India.

The Indo-Lanka Accord that introduced these developments was hammered out in secrecy and signed without parliamentary consultation on July 29, 1987 during a 24-hour curfew. It faced massive resistance and ushered in one of the most violent and anarchic periods in the island’s modern history.

Despite India’s failure to curb Tamil militancy and the failure of the Provincial Council system, India wants Sri Lanka to maintain the 13th Amendment and the provincial councils that it introduced to appease Tamil separatist sentiments.

However, the new Sri Lankan government is under increasing domestic pressure to abrogate the 13th Amendment and to assert Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and political independence from India.

Concerned at Chinese encroachment at the Hambantota port, India is pursuing control over Sri Lanka’s other strategic seaports and to develop the British colonial era Oil Tank Farm in the eastern seaport town of Trincomalee, through a subsidiary of the Indian Oil Corporation, despite protests by Sri Lanka’s petroleum trade unions.

Port Power

External powers are also keen to gain control over the Colombo port, one of the busiest in South Asia, and an important transit hub in the region. Japan is keen for access given its high dependency on energy supplies via the Indian Ocean. There is now a push by the U.S. and India to privatize the Colombo port’s Eastern Container Terminal (ECT) and hand it over to an Indian company.

The Sri Lankan President remains committed to honor a memorandum of understanding signed in 2019 by Sri Lanka, India and Japan on the ECT. According to Foreign Secretary Colombage, ‘the policy of the President was that no national asset would be given in total control to any country’ and the MOU is being honored because it is ‘an arrangement between the two countries. The only thing is that there is opposition to it from port workers.’

On July 31, 10,000 Colombo port workers resisting the privatization of state assets began a strike blocking all roads into and inside the port, completely paralyzing it. President Rajapaksa refused to talk to the unions. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President’s brother, did meet with union leaders and indicated that their key concern was to not antagonize India. Is this an indication of further Sri Lankan subservience to external power, at the cost of local agency and sovereignty?

U.S. Expansion

Given the history of U.S. hegemony and foreign interventions, there is a justified fear in Sri Lanka of U.S. interference in local governance and control of resources. Unsurprisingly, the country is experiencing intense pressure via multiple U.S. military, and economic development treaties.

On Nov. 6, 2019, ten days before the elections that brought Gotabaya Rajapaksa to power, the Government Medical Officers Association filed a Fundamental Rights Petition seeking to halt progress of three pending treaties with the U.S.: the MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) Compact on infrastructure development, and two military treaties; the ongoing ACSA (Acquisition and Cross Service Agreement) and new SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement).

The petitioners stated that the MCC compact would violate fundamental Sri Lankan sovereignty and independence, clearly upheld by the constitution. There is also concern at the irreversible nature of such far-reaching treaties.

Among other objectives, the MCC Compact seeks to privatize and commodify state land for investors, including foreign corporations. Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised to discard the MCC Compact during his election campaign, and since in office his government appointed the Gunaruwan Committee to study the issue. Its final report in June raised serious issues on its implications to social, economic and security interests of the country.

The Sri Lankan government plans to submit the report to the cabinet and then to the parliament for debate on a compromise, i.e., as Foreign Secretary Colombage indicates, the government plans to go ahead with the MCC Compact in some form or other.

There have also been clear reports that, whether or not the compact is signed, certain elements will proceed regardless. For example, ‘the e-land registry, cadastral mapping, parcel fabric map, deed registry scanning and digitizing, state land information & valuation are being outsourced to multiple private parties selected by the U.S. embassy Colombo.’

Are external pressures so great that they will inevitably find a way to mold Sri Lanka’s future?

Military engagement with Sri Lanka is considered vital to U.S. objectives in the region. The Acquisition and Cross Services Agreement (ACSA) signed by the previous Sri Lankan government on Aug. 4, 2017 provides the basis to set up a U.S. ‘logistic hub’ in Sri Lanka to secure support, supplies and services at sea.

Similarly, the proposed Status of forces Agreement (SOFA) would allow U.S. military personnel to operate in any part of Sri Lanka, without restriction. Sri Lankans fear that SOFA would make “the whole island … a US-controlled super state operating above the Sri Lankan laws and state….” A Cabinet spokesman suggested on July 1 that the SOFA has already been signed but the new government has made no denial or retraction. Meanwhile the Sri Lankan public is left completely in the dark.

‘Sri Lanka First’

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa have been voted in with the faith and respect of most Sri Lankans, not least for their roles in ending the thirty-year war with the LTTE. Most do not doubt their devotion to the country. Their exemplary management of the Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced this respect.

However, there is a growing sense in the country that the overt and covert pressures from external powers, exemplified by these impending agreements, are so great that a path of neutrality will require deep resolve and conviction. It is, then, the democratic responsibility of Sri Lankans to stay informed, see through the bias of power, and exercise their freedom of expression non-violently.

Our ancestors sacrificed their blood, sweat and tears to safeguard the sovereignty and independence of our country, and it has no price. A luta continua.

Footnote: A luta continua was the rallying cry of the FRELIMO movement during Mozambique’s war for independence. The phrase is in the Portuguese language a slogan coined by the first president of FRELIMO, Dr. Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane, which he used to rally the population in the liberated zones of Mozambique during the armed struggle against Portuguese colonial rule. Following his assassination in 1969, his successor, Samora Machel, continued to use the slogan to cultivate popular support during …

* Asoka Bandarage’s new book ‘Colonialism in Sri Lanka” examines the political economy of 19th century British Ceylon and includes a discussion of the neocolonialism that has followed and continues. It is available as an ebook or paperback here from September 14th

 


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Energy Cooperatives Swim Against the Tide in Mexico

Onergia, one of the two energy cooperatives operating in Mexico today, installs photovoltaic systems, such as this one at the Tosepan Titataniske Union of Cooperatives in the municipality of Cuetzalan, in the southern state of Puebla. CREDIT: Courtesy of Onergia

Onergia, one of the two energy cooperatives operating in Mexico today, installs photovoltaic systems, such as this one at the Tosepan Titataniske Union of Cooperatives in the municipality of Cuetzalan, in the southern state of Puebla. CREDIT: Courtesy of Onergia

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 31 2020 – A Mexican solar energy cooperative, Onergia, seeks to promote decent employment, apply technological knowledge and promote alternatives that are less polluting than fossil fuels, in one of the alternative initiatives with which Mexico is seeking to move towards an energy transition.

“We organised ourselves in a cooperative for an energy transition that will rethink the forms of production, distribution and consumption to build a healthier and fairer world,” Onergia founding partner and project director Antonio Castillo told IPS. “In this sector, it has been more difficult; we have to invest in training and go against the logic of the market.”

The eight-member cooperative, created in 2017, has so far installed some 50 photovoltaic systems, mainly in the south-central state of Puebla.”A public policy is needed that would allow us to move towards the transition. Getting people to adopt alternatives depends on public policy. It is fundamental for people to have the freedom to choose how to consume. It is our job to organise as consumers.” —
Antonio Castillo

Castillo explained by phone that the cooperative works with middle- and upper-class households that can finance the cost of the installation as well as with local communities keen on reducing their energy bill, offering more services and expanding access to energy.

In the case of local communities, the provision of solar energy is part of broader social projects in which the beneficiary organisations’ savings and loan cooperatives design the financial structure to carry out the work. A basic household system can cost more than 2,200 dollars and a larger one, over 22,000.

“The communities are motivated to adopt renewable energy as a strategy to defend the land against threats from mining or hydroelectric companies,” said Castillo. “They don’t need to be large-scale energy generators, because they already have the local supply covered. The objective is to provide the communities with alternatives.”

Onergia, a non-profit organisation, promotes distributed or decentralised generation.

In Mexico, energy cooperatives are a rarity. In fact, there are only two, due to legal, technical and financial barriers, even though the laws governing cooperatives recognise their potential role in energy among other diverse sectors. The other, Cooperativa LF del Centro, provides services in several states but is not a generator of electricity.

The Electricity Industry Law, in effect since 2014, allows the deployment of local projects smaller than one megawatt, but practically excludes them from the electricity auctions that the government had been organising since 2016 and that the administration of leftwing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador put a stop to after he took office in December 2018.

Since then, López Obrador has opted to fortify the state monopolies of the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) and the Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) oil giant, which translates into favouring fossil fuels over renewable sources.

The National Electric System Development Programme 2018-2032 projects that fossil fuels will represent 67 percent of the energy mix in 2022; wind energy, 10 percent; hydroelectric, nine percent; solar, four percent; nuclear, three percent, and geothermal and bioenergy, four percent.

In 2032, the energy outlook will not vary much, as fossil fuels will account for 60 percent; wind, nuclear and geothermal energy will rise to 13, eight and three percent, respectively; hydroelectric power will drop to eight percent; while solar and bioenergy will remain the same.

In Mexico, rural communities are guaranteeing their electricity supply by using clean sources, thus furthering the energy transition to micro and mini-scale generation. The photo shows the "Laatzi-Duu" ecotourism site (the name means "standing plain" in the Zapotec indigenous language) which is self-sufficient thanks to a solar panel installed on its roof, in the municipality of San Juan Evangelista Analco in the southern state of Oaxaca. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In Mexico, rural communities are guaranteeing their electricity supply by using clean sources, thus furthering the energy transition to micro and mini-scale generation. The photo shows the “Laatzi-Duu” ecotourism site (the name means “standing plain” in the Zapotec indigenous language) which is self-sufficient thanks to a solar panel installed on its roof, in the municipality of San Juan Evangelista Analco in the southern state of Oaxaca. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The government cancelled the call for long-term electric auctions that allowed private companies to build wind and solar plants and sell the energy to CFE. But these tenders privileged private Mexican and foreign capital and large-scale generation.

In a dialogue with IPS, independent researcher Carlos Tornel questioned the predominant energy design promoted by the 2013 reform that opened up the hydrocarbon and electricity markets to private capital, and the form of energy production based on passive consumers.

“We don’t have an effective legal framework to promote that kind of energy transition,” said the expert via WhatsApp from the northeast English city of Durham. “A free market model was pursued, which allowed the entry of megaprojects through auctions and allowed access to those who could offer a very low cost of generation, which could only be obtained on a large scale.”

With that strategy, he added, “small projects were left out. And the government did not put in place economic incentives to foment cooperative schemes.”

“We need a more active model focused on the collective good,” added Tornel, who is earning a PhD in Human Geography at Durham University in the UK.

Mexico, the second largest economy in Latin America with a population of 129 million, depends heavily on hydrocarbons and will continue to do so in the medium term if it does not accelerate the energy transition.

In the first quarter of 2019, gross generation totaled 80,225 gigawatt hours (Gwh), up from 78,167 in the same period last year. Gas-fired combined cycle plants (with two consecutive cycles, conventional turbine and steam) contributed 40,094, conventional thermoelectric 9,306, and coal-fired 6,265.

Hydroelectric power plants contributed 5,137 Gwh; wind fields 4,285; nuclear power plants 2,382; and solar stations 1,037.

The Energy Transition Law of 2015 stipulates that clean energy must meet 30 percent of demand by 2021 and 35 percent by 2024. By including hydropower and nuclear energy, the country will have no problem reaching these goals.

Residents of the small rural community of Amatlán, in the municipality of Zoquiapan in the state of Puebla, oversee the operation of photovoltaic panels installed by the Mexican cooperative Onergia. This type of cooperative can help rural communities in Mexico access clean energy, particularly solar power. CREDIT: Courtesy of Onergia

Residents of the small rural community of Amatlán, in the municipality of Zoquiapan in the state of Puebla, oversee the operation of photovoltaic panels installed by the Mexican cooperative Onergia. This type of cooperative can help rural communities in Mexico access clean energy, particularly solar power. CREDIT: Courtesy of Onergia

By early August, the government’s Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) had granted 310 permits for solar generation, small-scale production and self-supply, totaling almost 22,000 Mw.

The 2017 report Renewable Energy Auctions and Participatory Citizen Projects, produced by the international non-governmental Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), cites, with respect to Mexico, the obligation for investors to form self-sufficient companies, which complicates attempts to develop local ventures.

Onergia’s Castillo stressed the need for a clear and stable regulatory framework.

“A public policy is needed that would allow us to move towards the transition,” he said. “Getting people to adopt alternatives depends on public policy. It is fundamental for people to have the freedom to choose how to consume. It is our job to organise as consumers.”

Affected by the coronavirus pandemic, Onergia is reviewing the way it works and its financial needs to generate its own power supply. It also works with the Renewable Energies Institute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico in the design and installation of solar power systems.

In March, the government’s National Council for Science and Technology launched a strategic national programme on energy transition that will promote sustainable rural energy projects and community solar energy, to be implemented starting in 2021.

In addition, the energy ministry is set to announce the Special Energy Transition Programme 2019-2024.

But to protect the CFE, the CRE is blocking approval of the development of collective distributed generation schemes, which would allow citizens to sell surplus energy to other consumers, and the installation of storage systems in solar parks.

Tornel criticised the lack of real promotion of renewable sources.

“The Mexican government has been inconsistent in its handling of this issue,” he maintained. “They talk about guaranteeing energy security through hydrocarbons. There is no plan for an energy transition based on renewables or on supporting community projects. We have no indication that they support renewable, and that’s very worrying.”

The REN21 report recommends reserving a quota for participatory citizen projects and facilitating access to energy purchase agreements, which ensures the efficiency of tenders and the effectiveness of guaranteed tariffs for these undertakings.

In addition, it proposes the establishment of an authority for citizen projects, capacity building, promotion of community energy and specific national energy targets for these initiatives.

Fridays for Future: How the Young Climate Movement Has Grown Since Greta Thunberg’s Lone Protest

Greta Thunberg (right), Climate Activist, speaks at the opening of the UN Climate Action Summit 2019. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By External Source
Aug 31 2020 – At the end of her first week on strike in August 2018, Greta Thunberg handed out flyers that said: “You grownups don’t give a shit about my future.” Her appearance at the 2019 UN Climate Summit capped a year in the spotlight for the teenage climate activist. Delegates at the summit gave her a standing ovation, but the sound of their applause couldn’t mask Greta Thunberg’s deep frustration.

“This is all wrong,” she said. “I shouldn’t be up here … yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!”

Everything from posters to children’s picture books have captured the inspiring example of Thunberg’s bravery and determination. But adults, even supportive ones, still shirk the opportunity to really pay attention to the remarkable movement she is a part of – its history, its present and its visions for the future.

Young climate activists today tend to perceive climate change as the symptom of a broader systemic problem, connected to the same economic and political roots that produce other forms of violence, injustice and inequality, including racism. They do not advocate making these systems sustainable. Their demand is climate justice, and a new, more just, global system.

In doing so, they miss the significance of the last two years. The climate strike movement has grown into a network of global campaigns focused on systemic change to tackle the climate crisis. In the process, young people have outgrown the mainstream environmental movement. They don’t want recognition in the world of today. They want a new world, and they are building it.

 

System change not climate change

Why is Thunberg frustrated? For one thing, adult leaders have applauded young activists before. In 2014, the then 25-year-old Marshallese poet and climate campaigner Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner addressed the opening of the UN Climate Summit, and delegates were in tears. In 2018, she published a poem with another young indigenous activist, Aka Niviana, which captured their disillusionment with the failing international leadership on climate change.

We demand that the world see beyond

SUVs, ACs, their pre-package convenience

Their oil-slicked dreams, beyond the belief

That tomorrow will never happen

The celebration of Thunberg’s speech by adults in power overlooks the oratory of Jetñil-Kijiner and others who came before. It’s an open wound for young climate activists who hear adults applaud them for having a voice, but continue to act as if the catastrophe scientists warn is already here will never come.

Certainly since 2018, the youth climate movement has outgrown the search for applause. The environmentalist Bill McKibben famously said that environmentalists won the argument on climate change long ago, but need to win the fight.

The youth climate movement that continues to build on Thunberg’s strike doesn’t aim to give adults hope that the world can be saved. They say the world that adults knew is gone. In its place, young people are determined to build a better one.

 

A movement of movements

This movement is run by young people, learning from young people, and for young people. Thunberg explained that her climate strikes were inspired by student walkouts for gun control in Parkland, Florida.

Those school strikes, in turn, learned from young people who had gone before, not least the activism of young people of colour in the US civil rights movement in the 1960s and 70s. This included the 1966 Seattle School Boycott and the work of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), founded by Ella Baker in 1960.

The young climate movement’s links to the fight against systemic racism aren’t just tactical. Mainstream environmental movements led by adults tend to focus on changing policies so that the world as it currently exists can be made sustainable.

A good example is the slogan “listen to the science”, popularised by Extinction Rebellion. It imagines change as a process of pressuring politicians to improve existing economic, social and political systems.

Young climate activists today tend to perceive climate change as the symptom of a broader systemic problem, connected to the same economic and political roots that produce other forms of violence, injustice and inequality, including racism. They do not advocate making these systems sustainable. Their demand is climate justice, and a new, more just, global system.

For instance, Extinction Rebellion activist Daze Aghaji explained in 2019 that young people are in their own, distinct branch of Extinction Rebellion that’s distinct because young people focus on “talking about indigenous communities… the global south… and climate justice”.

Another young activist called Aneesa Khan said at a demonstration ahead of the 2018 UN climate summit that this new wave of climate activism is being led by the people who bear the brunt of climate change – or will in the future. These are young people, women, indigenous people, people who suffer under racist oppression or who live in places that were conquered and colonised by European empires. Essentially, those who bear historical traumas and continue to be impoverished by an unfair global economy.

Khan said:

From environment defenders in Latin America to the Standing Rock Sioux in the US to the anti-coal activists in the Philippines and right here in Poland, we’re here, we’re rising, we’re resisting, we’re fighting, but where are you?

In research with young climate activists, we have found that many young people are inspired by Greta Thunberg, and by other icons of the movement. But they also tend to share her sense of the problem – that “our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury.”

On the second anniversary of Thunberg’s first strike, young climate activists were probably not looking at 2018 as the start of their movement. They will have placed her strike in broad sweep of other movements for justice, past and present, and they will be planning for the future. Most of all, they will be sharing with other young people their visions of a new world.The Conversation

Benjamin Bowman, Lecturer in Politics, Manchester Metropolitan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Nepal Welcomes Qatar Labour Reform

Labour reforms in Qatar – including an increase in the minimum wage announced in Doha on Sunday — may have lasting implications for migrants there

Amnesty International showed evidence of workers hired to build FIFA World Cup stadiums in Qatar not being paid for up to seven months last year. Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor, Qatar.

By Upasana Khadka
KATHMANDU, Aug 31 2020 – Even as Nepali workers stranded overseas face confusion and uncertainty during the Covid-19 crisis, labour reforms in Qatar – including an increase in the minimum wage announced in Doha on Sunday — may have lasting implications for migrants there.

On 30 August, Qatar revised the minimum wage to QAR 1,000 (USD 275), while requiring employers to ensure that they provide decent allowances for food and accommodation worth QAR 300 and QAR 500, if not directly provided.

In addition, workers are now allowed to change jobs before the end of their contract without obtaining a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the employer. The reforms will also apply to domestic workers, who are currently excluded from the labour law.

“We have been raising this issue for a long time. The previous temporary minimum wage of QAR 750 was too low, so this is positive news for our workers and reflects the Government of Qatar’s commitment to bring reforms to the labour sector,” said Nepali Ambassador to Qatar Narad Nath Bharadwaj.

There had been much criticism of the NOC requirement that forced migrants to continue working even when there were contract violations, or they were not fit for the job or employer.

“This removes the culture of employers wielding a disproportionate bargaining power by not granting NOC to workers while making them work under unfavourable terms. If migrants have jobs of their choice, their morale will be higher,” Bharadwaj says.

Recruiting agencies often over-promise or lie about job offers abroad, forcing workers to be stuck in companies despite unfavourable employment terms. In other cases, employers release NOCs only if workers are willing to pay them, sometimes as high as QAR 5,000.

 

 

As international pressure started building up from migrants’ rights groups, in 2018 Qatar removed restrictions on workers to get exit permits from employers before leaving the country. According to the International Labour Organication (ILO), this ‘effectively dismantles the long-criticized Kafala system of employment’.

The minimum wage issue had been a sticking point for workers in Qatar, where there are over 350,000 Nepalis. Qatar is the first country with which Nepal signed a labour agreement in 2005, and has remained one of the most important destination countries for Nepali workers.

The Nepal government had unilaterally imposed a minimum referral wage for the ‘unskilled’ category of QAR 900 with QAR 300 for food allowance, ensuring that employers are unable to hire Nepali workers below this wage regardless of Qatar’s lower minimum wage.

Other skill categories have a higher minimum referral wage range including semi-skilled (QAR 1,100-1,400), skilled (QAR 1,500-3,000) and professional categories (QAR 4,200-11,000 QAR).

As per this minimum referral wage requirement, all demand letters below QAR 900 used to be screened out by the Nepal Embassy during the approval phase. However, while many employers complied, there were also cases of employers and recruiters finding ways around this requirement via contract substitution. Once workers reach Qatar, they are made to sign another contract with a rate lower than the minimum referral wage.

Now, Qatar’s decision to raise the minimum wage for all workers means implementation will be more reliable via its Wage Protection System that monitors timely salary payment as per the contract and prevailing laws.

The Qatar government’s labour practices have been under international scrutiny ever since it won the bid to hold FIFA World Cup 2022. The pressure has led to some reforms over the years, although problems still prevail.

On 24 August Human Rights Watch issued a damning report on Qatar’s failure to follow through on promises of worker protection, pointing out the high incidence of withheld and unpaid salaries to workers in 60 companies. It said the situation had worsened as many employers used Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to withhold or clear dues.

Ambassador Bhardwaj says, “Nepali workers affiliated with larger companies, including in many FIFA related projects are continuing work taking extra precautions. But there are Nepalis especially in the smaller companies impacted by the lockdown that have gone bankrupt, stopped paying wages, or cut staff size.”

Some 6,000 such workers have gone back to Kathmandu on repatriation flights, but there are 20,000 more who are waiting to return.

In June, Amnesty International also showed evidence of workers hired to build FIFA World Cup stadiums in Qatar not being paid for up to seven months last year.

There has also been international scrutiny in Malaysia, another country with large numbers of Nepali workers. Malaysia produces around two-thirds of the world’s latex gloves, and the US Custom Border Patrol issued detention order citing Malaysia’s labour violations in October last year.

Responding to the pressure, and amid soaring demand for personal protection equipment during the global pandemic, Malaysian companies have started reimbursing recruitment costs to workers, including Nepalis, while upgrading their living quarters, with stricter government oversight and social audits underway.

 

This story was originally published by The Nepali Times

Racism at the UN: Practice What You Preach

An independent UN human rights expert is calling for greater scrutiny of emerging digital technologies which she said are being used to uphold racial inequality, discrimination and intolerance. So, why skip scrutiny of the United Nations?. Credit: ITU/D. Procofieff

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 31 2020 – When two recent staff surveys, one in Geneva and the other in New York, revealed widespread racism at the United Nations, it triggered the obvious question: why shouldn’t the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) probe these charges?

http://www.ipsnews.net/2020/08/staff-surveys-reveal-widespread-racism-united-nations/

Currently, the UN has a veritable army of over 80 independent experts, described as “Special Rapporteurs” appointed by the HRC and mandated to undertake “fact-finding missions” to investigate human rights abuses worldwide.

The litany of abuses include torture, arbitrary detentions, involuntary disappearances, contemporary forms of slavery, and most importantly, “racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”

Do revelations at the UN, warrant a Special Rapporteur to probe racism in international organizations? Or shouldn’t the Human Rights Council widen the mandate of the existing Special Rapporteur to include the UN?

Louis Charbonneau, United Nations Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS the results of the UN staff survey are extremely worrying.

“The UN leadership should practice what it preaches and work to end racism across the UN system,” he said.

He pointed out that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has spoken out against racism in the U.S. and around the world.

“He should continue to work on ensuring that the UN itself is a solution to — not part of– the problem.”

As for the idea of a new special rapporteur, Charbonneau argued, there’s a special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism– and looking at racism in the UN system is certainly something that could fall within that mandate.

“If member states feel a new position would be useful to investigate racism in international organizations and come up with recommendations to deal with the problem, we would certainly not object. Anything that helps combat racism is a good thing,” he declared.

Citing his personal experiences in overseas peacekeeping operations, Roderic Grigson, a former Peace Keeping Officer and a twelve-year veteran of the UN, told IPS: “When I arrived in Ismailia, which was where the UN Emergency Force (UNEF II HQ) was located, the UN compound was a mixture of both civilian and military staff. The international civilians, like me who came from overseas, were treated very differently to the local Egyptian staff in many ways”.

For example, he said, the locals who were disparagingly called ‘gyppos’ were not allowed into the international mess (club) in the compound unless they were cooks, waiters or barmen.

“If I wanted to bring a local into the bar for a meal– even if it was someone who worked right next to me during the day– I would be refused entry”, said Grigson, author of the ‘Sacred Tears’ trilogy: a historical fiction set during the civil war in Sri Lanka.

This attitude towards the locals, he noted, “extended across all the UN peacekeeping operations I visited during my time in the Middle East– whether in Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, or Cyprus, it did not matter.”

“The International UN staff in all the UN missions treated the locals like lackeys. And they hated us for it. And I felt very uncomfortable working in this environment,” he said.

“Even though I was considered an ‘international’ having been recruited in New York, I was from Sri Lanka and felt I was a ‘second class’ international given the European clique that was predominant at the time”.

Having grown up in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), which was once a British colony, “I had experienced first-hand what it felt like to be treated as one of the colonial masters on the island”.

“My grandfather who was Scottish, lived with us. He worked in a senior management position in the British colonial administration of the island. He had a position of privilege given his race and colour which extended down to his family. Working for the UN felt exactly like that,” Grigson declared.

Somar Wijayadasa who worked in multiple UN agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told IPS the UN is awakening to the issue of “racism” after 75 long years.

Racial discrimination (so discreet & subtle) was always there – especially in UN’s Human Resources Departments, headed mostly by white folks, who were also heads of departments and organizations.

This was on top of the rampant nepotism where unqualified and incompetent relatives of world politicians of all colors were appointed to professional P-level positions.

“That is worse than racial discrimination,” said Wijayadasa who also served with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and was Representative of UNAIDS from 1995 to 2000.

Wijayadasa also said: “it’s high time the UN Human Rights Council appointed a Special Rapporteur to investigate charges of racism at the UN, and more importantly, for the UN to provide iron-clad protection to whistle blowers who complain about racial discrimination in their offices– and not be punished for speaking out. ”

Asked about the UN’s role in probing racial discrimination, Grigson said: “Yes, I think the UN should investigate these charges, but I also think that the UN is just a microcosm of what takes place in individual countries around the world.”

He said racism begins at home, and by calling out those who indulge in it, however famous or well-connected they might be, is the place to start.

The history of racist ideas can be traced back to those European societies that wanted to rule the world and used slaves to grow their wealth and influence, he noted.

“Slavery was only abolished in the world between 150-200 years ago which means that we are only three or four generations away from the time when people were used as chattels.”

“We saw that happen in Ceylon, and here in Australia, where I live. But what I don’t want to see is an international organization like the UN, which does so much good around the world, become elitist and superior as they have already become to some extent, in the execution of their mandate,” he declared.

Meanwhile, in a message to UN staff on August 27, the Office of Human Resources and the Office of the UN Ombudsman and Mediation Service, said a “United Nations Survey on Racism” was sent on August 19 to all staff members, as part of the Organization’s campaign of dialogue and action to eradicate racism and promote dignity within the United Nations.

“The survey has been taken offline following a number of legitimate concerns raised by staff on some of the content of the survey and we regret any pain and distress it has caused. We fully understand their frustration and acknowledge the need to further approach the issue of race and ethnic identity with greater sensitivity and awareness.”

In its original survey, the UN asked staffers to identify themselves either as “black, brown, white, mixed/multi-racial, and any other”. But the most offensive of the categories listed in the survey was “yellow” – a longstanding Western racist description of Asians, including Japanese, Chinese and Koreans.

The new message said: “Taking into account the genuine concerns expressed by staff, we are reviewing the content of the survey and will communicate when the survey will be relaunched.”

“We take this opportunity to thank staff for their frank feedback as part of a deep and open discussion on the issue of racism and racial discrimination in the United Nations.”

Responding to a question, UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters August 27: “Racism is something that needs to be addressed in every society, whether in the United States, whether… in any country, anywhere around the world, it is an issue, and within organizations, including our own.”

What is important, he said, “is that racism be fully investigated and that people need to also be able to express themselves peacefully, and whether that is through collective action, as we’ve seen through sports figures, or other ways, that is their right.”

People have a right to express themselves when they feel strongly about injustice, he declared.

But we’re seeing the issue of racism come up again and again in many, many countries, and this is something that… needs to be an open and frank dialogue on addressing, not only the issue of racism but all the inequalities and injustices that flow from that everywhere, Dujarric declared.

FactSet Celebrates 10 Year Anniversary in UAE with DIFC

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates and NORWALK, Conn., Aug. 31, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — FactSet (NYSE:FDS) (NASDAQ:FDS), a global provider of integrated financial information, analytical applications, and industry–leading service, announced that it will be powering Elevision's Digital–out–of–Home DIFC network, including the Ticker, providing the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) with financial data and market–moving insights. This sponsorship will raise brand awareness in the region, highlighting the company's leading financial content as it nears its 10–year anniversary in the United Arab Emirates.

"Dubai is a dynamic fintech hub that matches FactSet's leadership in open data and technology solutions," said Pascale Wazen Palpied, Vice President and Regional Director, Middle East and Africa, FactSet. "The Middle East continues to be an important and growing market for the company. Fueling the DIFC with news and data underlines our commitment to the region and the many clients who have chosen to work with us as we enter our tenth anniversary year."

The iconic DIFC Ticker sits at the heart of the financial center in Dubai and is seen by an estimated 8.5 million people every year. It highlights Dubai's role as a leading hub for global finance, connecting the region's markets with those in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. As part of its sponsorship, FactSet will provide market, commodities, and energy data and real–time financial news to feed the DIFC Ticker, as well as Elevision's other Digital–out–of–Home screens across the entire DIFC district, beginning on August 31, 2020.

Alya Al Zarouni, Executive Vice President of Operations, DIFC Authority, said: "DIFC is committed to driving the future of finance by equipping the Centre with the latest technologies and innovations through collaborations with key global players to strengthen our robust financial framework. In celebration of its 10th anniversary, we look forward to having FactSet provide Elevision's Digital–out–of–Home DIFC network with financial data and market–moving insights, further enforcing the DIFC's position as the leading financial hub in the MEASA region."

About FactSet

FactSet (NYSE:FDS | NASDAQ:FDS) delivers superior content, analytics, and flexible technology to help more than 131,000 users see and seize opportunity sooner. We give investment professionals the edge to outperform with informed insights, workflow solutions across the portfolio lifecycle, and industry–leading support from dedicated specialists. We're proud to have been recognized with multiple awards for our analytical and data–driven solutions and repeatedly scored 100 by the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index for our LGBTQ+ inclusive policies and practices. Subscribe to our thought leadership blog to get fresh insight delivered daily at insight.factset.com. Learn more at www.factset.com and follow us on Twitter: www.twitter.com/factset.

FactSet Celebrates 10 Year Anniversary in UAE with DIFC

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates and NORWALK, Conn., Aug. 31, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — FactSet (NYSE:FDS) (NASDAQ:FDS), a global provider of integrated financial information, analytical applications, and industry–leading service, announced that it will be powering Elevision's Digital–out–of–Home DIFC network, including the Ticker, providing the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) with financial data and market–moving insights. This sponsorship will raise brand awareness in the region, highlighting the company's leading financial content as it nears its 10–year anniversary in the United Arab Emirates.

"Dubai is a dynamic fintech hub that matches FactSet's leadership in open data and technology solutions," said Pascale Wazen Palpied, Vice President and Regional Director, Middle East and Africa, FactSet. "The Middle East continues to be an important and growing market for the company. Fueling the DIFC with news and data underlines our commitment to the region and the many clients who have chosen to work with us as we enter our tenth anniversary year."

The iconic DIFC Ticker sits at the heart of the financial center in Dubai and is seen by an estimated 8.5 million people every year. It highlights Dubai's role as a leading hub for global finance, connecting the region's markets with those in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. As part of its sponsorship, FactSet will provide market, commodities, and energy data and real–time financial news to feed the DIFC Ticker, as well as Elevision's other Digital–out–of–Home screens across the entire DIFC district, beginning on August 31, 2020.

Alya Al Zarouni, Executive Vice President of Operations, DIFC Authority, said: "DIFC is committed to driving the future of finance by equipping the Centre with the latest technologies and innovations through collaborations with key global players to strengthen our robust financial framework. In celebration of its 10th anniversary, we look forward to having FactSet provide Elevision's Digital–out–of–Home DIFC network with financial data and market–moving insights, further enforcing the DIFC's position as the leading financial hub in the MEASA region."

About FactSet

FactSet (NYSE:FDS | NASDAQ:FDS) delivers superior content, analytics, and flexible technology to help more than 131,000 users see and seize opportunity sooner. We give investment professionals the edge to outperform with informed insights, workflow solutions across the portfolio lifecycle, and industry–leading support from dedicated specialists. We're proud to have been recognized with multiple awards for our analytical and data–driven solutions and repeatedly scored 100 by the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index for our LGBTQ+ inclusive policies and practices. Subscribe to our thought leadership blog to get fresh insight delivered daily at insight.factset.com. Learn more at www.factset.com and follow us on Twitter: www.twitter.com/factset.

FactSet Celebrates 10 Year Anniversary in UAE with DIFC

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates and NORWALK, Conn., Aug. 31, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — FactSet (NYSE:FDS) (NASDAQ:FDS), a global provider of integrated financial information, analytical applications, and industry–leading service, announced that it will be powering Elevision's Digital–out–of–Home DIFC network, including the Ticker, providing the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) with financial data and market–moving insights. This sponsorship will raise brand awareness in the region, highlighting the company's leading financial content as it nears its 10–year anniversary in the United Arab Emirates.

"Dubai is a dynamic fintech hub that matches FactSet's leadership in open data and technology solutions," said Pascale Wazen Palpied, Vice President and Regional Director, Middle East and Africa, FactSet. "The Middle East continues to be an important and growing market for the company. Fueling the DIFC with news and data underlines our commitment to the region and the many clients who have chosen to work with us as we enter our tenth anniversary year."

The iconic DIFC Ticker sits at the heart of the financial center in Dubai and is seen by an estimated 8.5 million people every year. It highlights Dubai's role as a leading hub for global finance, connecting the region's markets with those in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. As part of its sponsorship, FactSet will provide market, commodities, and energy data and real–time financial news to feed the DIFC Ticker, as well as Elevision's other Digital–out–of–Home screens across the entire DIFC district, beginning on August 31, 2020.

Alya Al Zarouni, Executive Vice President of Operations, DIFC Authority, said: "DIFC is committed to driving the future of finance by equipping the Centre with the latest technologies and innovations through collaborations with key global players to strengthen our robust financial framework. In celebration of its 10th anniversary, we look forward to having FactSet provide Elevision's Digital–out–of–Home DIFC network with financial data and market–moving insights, further enforcing the DIFC's position as the leading financial hub in the MEASA region."

About FactSet

FactSet (NYSE:FDS | NASDAQ:FDS) delivers superior content, analytics, and flexible technology to help more than 131,000 users see and seize opportunity sooner. We give investment professionals the edge to outperform with informed insights, workflow solutions across the portfolio lifecycle, and industry–leading support from dedicated specialists. We're proud to have been recognized with multiple awards for our analytical and data–driven solutions and repeatedly scored 100 by the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index for our LGBTQ+ inclusive policies and practices. Subscribe to our thought leadership blog to get fresh insight delivered daily at insight.factset.com. Learn more at www.factset.com and follow us on Twitter: www.twitter.com/factset.

FactSet Celebrates 10 Year Anniversary in UAE with DIFC

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates and NORWALK, Conn., Aug. 31, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — FactSet (NYSE:FDS) (NASDAQ:FDS), a global provider of integrated financial information, analytical applications, and industry–leading service, announced that it will be powering Elevision's Digital–out–of–Home DIFC network, including the Ticker, providing the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) with financial data and market–moving insights. This sponsorship will raise brand awareness in the region, highlighting the company's leading financial content as it nears its 10–year anniversary in the United Arab Emirates.

"Dubai is a dynamic fintech hub that matches FactSet's leadership in open data and technology solutions," said Pascale Wazen Palpied, Vice President and Regional Director, Middle East and Africa, FactSet. "The Middle East continues to be an important and growing market for the company. Fueling the DIFC with news and data underlines our commitment to the region and the many clients who have chosen to work with us as we enter our tenth anniversary year."

The iconic DIFC Ticker sits at the heart of the financial center in Dubai and is seen by an estimated 8.5 million people every year. It highlights Dubai's role as a leading hub for global finance, connecting the region's markets with those in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. As part of its sponsorship, FactSet will provide market, commodities, and energy data and real–time financial news to feed the DIFC Ticker, as well as Elevision's other Digital–out–of–Home screens across the entire DIFC district, beginning on August 31, 2020.

Alya Al Zarouni, Executive Vice President of Operations, DIFC Authority, said: "DIFC is committed to driving the future of finance by equipping the Centre with the latest technologies and innovations through collaborations with key global players to strengthen our robust financial framework. In celebration of its 10th anniversary, we look forward to having FactSet provide Elevision's Digital–out–of–Home DIFC network with financial data and market–moving insights, further enforcing the DIFC's position as the leading financial hub in the MEASA region."

About FactSet

FactSet (NYSE:FDS | NASDAQ:FDS) delivers superior content, analytics, and flexible technology to help more than 131,000 users see and seize opportunity sooner. We give investment professionals the edge to outperform with informed insights, workflow solutions across the portfolio lifecycle, and industry–leading support from dedicated specialists. We're proud to have been recognized with multiple awards for our analytical and data–driven solutions and repeatedly scored 100 by the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index for our LGBTQ+ inclusive policies and practices. Subscribe to our thought leadership blog to get fresh insight delivered daily at insight.factset.com. Learn more at www.factset.com and follow us on Twitter: www.twitter.com/factset.