I’ve started a (nearly) annual tradition of writing about things I’ve learned or observed about life on my birthday (I try to write as many things as my age, so yeah, I’m 45). I don’t write these because I’ve mastered life or am an expert on anything, but mainly as a reminder and challenge to myself that I need to grow and learn and change.
Hopefully you’ll find something interesting, amusing, or even helpful for your life.
Actively put limits on yourself. Try not saying more than 100 words in a day. Wake up in the morning 10 minutes earlier every day for a week.
When you find yourself feeling angry when speaking with someone, shut up and just listen.
When you encounter a new thought or idea, accept it as truth for 24 hours. Not because you’ll eventually believe it but because it’ll change your perspectives and allow you to understand others (and I lied, sometimes it will change your beliefs).
Take one of your existing beliefs (or assumptions) and question it’s validity. Read about opposing views. You will get defensive, even angry. Do your best to suppress your desire to attack. This is almost the same as above. Together, this is the only way to adapt, grow, and evolve what you understand and believe about yourself, others, and the world.
Constantly experience life as if you’re searching for a moment to photograph.
Don’t become so consumed by your career, or family, or hobbies that you neglect personal relationships because one day when your kids are grown and you’ve moved away and your career is over, you’ll find yourself old and alone and regretting that you didn’t purposefully invest more time into your friendships.
Create an alternate reality version of yourself where a major milestone in your life that didn’t happen. How would your life be different? Would it be better or worse?
Try communicating for a day using only emojis.
Spend a day sending notes (via Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat or email or even a letter) purposefully and specifically praising those who are important to your life (at least once a year).
Invest in some non-traditional socks — the uglier and crazier the better.
Make a playlist of songs from your childhood. Mine would include “Baby Elephant Walk” — I can vividly remember dancing around in our living room, moving the coffee table out of the way, and pacing the floor with my body bent down, holding my arms together as they dangled in the air like a trunk — more Barry Manilow than I care to admit, and “Little Nash Rambler”.
Find some puppies and let them devour you in their furious furry love.
Every year (on your birthday, since it’s an easy date to remember, hopefully) go through all the things you own and donate anything that you haven’t worn or used in that entire year (I also highly suggest you do this with your kids and their toys).
Support whatever you believe in, whether financially or volunteering.
Find somewhere that makes you happy and peaceful — that doesn’t cost money, that you can get to quickly and easily, and where no one you know will interrupt you — and just sit in silence for 15 minutes (for me, it’s on the banks of the Ohio in downtown Cincinnati when I get to work in the morning).
Play laser tag (mostly because it’s really fun to shoot kids — oh you know what I mean).
Find an interesting topic and try and learn as much as you can about it in 60 minutes (it’s why the internet exists!), like rubber bands, switchblade combs, vinyl records, or those three-legged, small, table-like contraptions they put in the middle of pizza so the boxes don’t crush into your food.
Buy a headlamp. They’re cheap and you’ll be amazed at how often you’ll need to see in the dark while also having both hands free.
For fun, think about a name you wouldn’t mind changing to. But take it seriously (would you really want to be called Chavez Dumplings? That’s for me, because that’s a stupid online alias I used to have). Would you be different than you are now?
Buy two pairs of your favorite shoes (because there is no guarantee that they will always exist).
Find a simple, non-linear (meaning something you can stop and start at any time) game that you can play or do as a family while eating dinner. For us, it is (was) Akinator.
Go to a movie alone. Get your favorite movie foods. Preferably a movie that you really want to see but would be ashamed to admit.
Collect something (preferably inexpensive), perhaps enamel pins, interesting coffee mugs, branded coasters, or velvet clown paintings. I collect well-designed playing cards.
Ask yourself “is this the most important thing I can be doing right now?”
Visit a local art museum. Find a painting you love. Observe it for 10 minutes. Every year go back to that same painting for the same amount of time and try to find something new.
If you feel stuck on a problem or a thought or a fear, get some crayons and color in a coloring book, or work a challenging puzzle, or play Solitaire. Engage your mind in something completely, and you’ll find that a solution for a problem will surface, your anxiety will vanish, and you fear will dissipate.
Get a tattoo. Find a local tattoo artist whose work (and style) you love. Tell them about who you are — where you’re from, what you do, who you love, etc — and let them create something for you.
There is no tomorrow. You will never reach the horizon. Don’t live for the unknown and unknowable.
For the love of God if you’re not listening to podcasts, then start. There are so many amazing podcasts. When you find a favorite, write to them and tell them you love what they do.
If you aren’t intrigued by a book by the first chapter, stop reading.
Get a favorite hat. Mine is this one made from Wire And Twine (hat by Legacy Athletic, so so so comfortable). Why? Because everyone needs a comfort blanket.
Learn a curse word in a foreign language.
Practice finding positive attributes in people you really (really) dislike. This doesn’t mean you will suddenly like, tolerate, or forgive them, but it will help assuage your hate (and hurt).
Learn one new fact a day. This is a great place to start or here or here. For example, today I learned about this.
Whenever you find yourself wanting to skip a minor action — like hanging up a towel, putting socks in a drawer, putting dishes into a dishwasher, cleaning up that spill — take the extra few seconds it would take to do it and do it.
Slow down. Always. The flow of life traffic will tempt you to keep up and before you know it, everything is going by in a blur.
Always keep a package of bandaids, a stain remover pen, and a spare shirt and pants somewhere quickly accessible. You never know when you’ll be eating lo mein that splatters over all your shirt.
Learn something new about your parent(s) while you can.
Find a new way to say something you’re feeling. Rather than saying “I’m furious” say “I’m filled with the bubbling rage of a cat wearing a sweater” or instead of saying “No thank you” say “I’d rather bathe in a tub full of bacon grease”.
Stop watching the news. Substitute that time with reading. Or eating. Or even just looking out the window at that one squirrel who seems to have lost his mind. There are so many things better than watching TV news.
Allow auto-complete to write your sentences. I’m now about ethics at half year things — that was me trying to type “it’s not as easy as you’d think”.
Eat a vegetable you don’t like once a week for a year. Prepare it in different ways. I guarantee by the end of the year you will like that vegetable (like how I love Brussels sprouts to the point of obsession).
Watch and listen. Wherever you are — at home, in a mall, at Costco, on the street — stop for just a few minutes and observe people in what they do and say and act (obviously don’t be creepy about, don’t ask for an autograph or inject yourself into their conversation or start clapping).
If you have appliance that breaks, see if you can repair it yourself. For example, the ice maker in our refrigerator broke, so I researched the brand on YouTube, watched several repair videos, found the part online and replaced it myself. It’s an amazing feeling. I know it’s meaningless, but in a world where everything is a hidden disaster solving even the most insignificant problems is fulfilling (and therefore meaningful).
Challenge yourself to write a list of things you’ve learned about life based on your age (I’m kidding, don’t do it, it’s nearly impossible).
I’ve started a (nearly) annual tradition of writing about things I’ve learned or observed about life on my birthday (I try to write as many things as my age, so yeah, I’m 45). I don’t write these because I’ve mastered life or am an expert on anything, but mainly as a reminder and challenge to myself that I need to grow and learn and change.
Nigeria’s Democracy Day passed with deafening silence. Without the fanfare and drama that saw the ushering in of the Buhari administration merely two years ago. The atmosphere was calm and yet highly sensitive. Sensitive to the unspoken words of the people, calm in the face of the unmasked anger of over 170million citizens shocked by a staggering unemployment, a recession, and an ailing president. The hubris of endless campaigns, queue’s and the quarrelling with friends and neighbours over which political party best held the infrastructure to secure Nigeria’s future is all but gone. The conversations are more pragmatic now: power, the weather, and the dollar.
At the Yar’Adua centre in Abuja, the Ernest Ibrahim Foundation triggered a conversation about the state of the nation in the light of recent developments. Its goal according to the founder was to set the course for improved governance through the theme Fixing Nigeria. The age old question arose: What is the problem of Nigeria, and how can we solve them? The topics ranged from the deeply idealistic questions of recycling the political elites, to more concrete questions around bridging the generational gaps in governance, youth inclusiveness, and gender equality in governance. One notable voice was the author and political analyst Gimba Kakanda as it echoed through the chambers: ‘…there are no succession plans for youths in Nigeria, and there is no independent youth in Nigeria, each influential youth you see is powered by a god-father…’ Perhaps Gimba is right, perhaps the irony of such a statement is that in exception of those assassinated or died in office, the rest are still alive, and play a significant role in the affairs of Nigeria. Them, aged men, and not through their children.
At the international space however the IPOB had called for a sit-home strike aimed at surfacing the political marginalization of the Igbo ethnic group. Their actions geared to revisit the clash of colonial constructions and ethnic differences in what has been dubbed by some as a civil war, and by others, genocide. Thousands would later be seen on national television waving ‘half-yellow-sun’ flags, and dancing to the dream drums of succession. All these constructions passed by quietly, and as well intensely: a soft reminder that the problems of Nigeria may never truly die.
Another Democracy Day
Speaking at the Fixing Nigeria event, Assistant Head of Delegation of the European Union Richard Young remarked that such a time was adequate to think through how to design a constitution for improved leadership and economic development. Quoting CNNs Fareed Zakaria and economics science Nobel winner laurete Roger Myerson’s position on embracing structural reforms, and increasing the supply of leaders with good reputation, Young climaxes his thoughts with a philosophical question: Is there a demand for responsible leaders? I find his question quite interesting, shifting the bar a bit, I asked and answered myself: Are Nigerians looking forward to better leadership? If ordinary everyday Nigerians spend their time surfing the net and creating dummy platforms aimed at defrauding locals and foreigners, if ordinary Nigerians travel all the way to Malaysia to peddle drugs, if young Nigerian girls can be psyched into laundering money to as far as Dubai for great Instagram posts, or sent to Italy for physical services, or rallied as mob during election campaigns, or rented as election crowds for bags of rice, then perhaps the demand for good leadership isn’t quite as high as we think it to be.
Itua sees it as a value conversation. Speaking at the event, the youth activist lamented that after two decades of fighting against the system, it still feels like there’s so much more to be done.
It’s is almost like Chinua Achebe’s saying that since man has learnt to shoot without aiming, the birds have learnt to fly without perching. No matter the laws we introduce, people have always found ways to circumvent them.
In his engagements, he flagged the eroding and corroding of social values as a key component in the super-structure called corruption and urged the promotion of better leadership. I am almost inclined to accept his value prepositions, romantic as they are. Among the panellists, Premium Times Idris Akinbanjo argued the problem to be both systematic and institutional: the amount of money in political office, and the refusal to use public facilities by public office holders.
Two years of Change
For every other Nigerian witnessing the unpredicted turn of events the narrative remains the same. Two teams arguing for and against the party which butters their bread and the people are the grass beneath the elephants. The facts speak for themselves: dollar at sky-scrapper rate, increasing cost of basic amenities, power shortages, rising unemployment, social tension and more politicking towards 2019: nobody truly cares.
For me, May 29 is another chapter in the history books of failed promises, unbundled propaganda’s, scripted successes and a seemingly endless struggle to get it right. If anything, I am already convinced that the current political elite, do not have what it takes to govern the more modern and complex Nigeria that is today. If they were, such disturbing quotes as ‘change begins with you’ would not find a place in our history books, especially not after the brazenly divisive elections of 2015. I will go with Gimba on this one: Change does not begin with the people this time, it must begin with those who were elected on the promise of that change. They it is who must take responsibility to deliver on that change. That is if they can, we have two more years to find out.
A Dutch student has learned the hard way that if something seems to good to be true – it probably is.
Milan Schipper, from Vaassen in the Netherlands, thought he was heading to Sydney, Australia for a working holiday.
It turns out he was actually heading to Sydney, Canada instead. Speaking to Canada’s CBC radio, Schipper said he thought he was planning on going to Australia to go backpacking and “enjoy the land” however when he got to Toronto he started to realise that he may have made a mistake.
“When I was already in Toronto… I saw the plane the plane and the plane was really small. So I figured would that make it to Australia?” “But afterwards, I checked the screen on the seat in front of me and I checked the flight plan and everything and then I saw all the flight plan was going to go right and up left.”
“Yeah, that was about the time that I realised there was another Sydney. I felt terrible. I think I swore in my head for like 10 minutes.”
The 18-year-old’s first clue would have been the price of the flight, he found some super cheap flights at only 800 Euros (about £683) significantly cheaper than most flights from Amsterdam to Sydney which are about 1000 Euros (£853).Sydney, Nova Scotia is 1,860 square miles and has a population of 31,597. Sydney, Australia has a population of 5,005,400 and is 4,775.2 square miles.Incredibly, Schipper claims he wasn’t the only passenger to make the mistake.He said he met woman from the US, who also thought she was going to Australia. Sydney, Nova Scotia is popular with hikers and known for it’s views. However, Schipper only saw the car-park before heading back to Toronto after only five hours in the city.
He waited 12 hours in the airport for his flight back to Amsterdam where his father picked him up. There is a silver lining for the clumsy backpacker.
An airline has offered him free tickets to Sydney, Australia – but he’s not sure when he’s going to be able to make it.
“In the meantime, I’d like to get some work done. So I’m not really sure if I’m going to go.”
He says however, he’s learned his lesson, and will check before flying again.
On the Dutch television, they made a whole item about it.
China in recent times has begun to drastically alter its role in the Asia-Pacific (A-P) region, from that of being a docile observer for many decades to being a more forthright regional actor. Within this paradigm the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government has tasked itself with redefining and altering its historic status quo—historically succumbing to the implicit and explicit demands of the West—and is now also moving beyond the A-P. The current situation within the A-P is that China is mounting a very robust challenge within the region and this state of affairs is reflected in recent actions. The PRC definitively asserting its rights (perceived or actual) in its littoral or ‘green water’ zone—the Sea of Japan, Yellow Sea, East China Sea, South China Sea and the Philippine Sea. However, before addressing why and how China is moving beyond the A-P it is necessary to place the dynamic of how its current role in the A-P developed and how it has offered China confidence to move beyond this region. Whilst China’s move into South Asia—to be precise Afghanistan and Pakistan—has been somewhat rapid (and possibly has caught the West by surprise) it has nevertheless, been premised on a much more agile and determined foreign policy, further reflecting a new and unwavering China. Nevertheless, it is safe to argue that the confidence China has gained in the A-P region has enabled its most recent move to take place. Underpinning this latest move is a sign that China is on a pathway of incrementally operating a more ‘hard’ power/militaristic approach than what has gone before. In attempting to comprehend this change of action it is necessary to observe the geo-political driving forces behind the move; and the geo-strategic underpinnings of why it has decided to move in a new direction.
Beyond the Asia-Pacific: China and South Asia
Underpinning China’s latest move is what was once an imagined scenario of staking a geo-strategic presence in the world is now becoming a reality. To wit, China has become more sophisticated and cosmopolitan; is assured of its power-trajectory; and is becoming more and more cognizant with unifying its geo-strategic and geo-political powers per se. The latest move toward South Asia shows it is now willing and able to pursue its policies through the prism of a military or quasi-military presence. This is different from its previous passive expansion into Africa and Oceania. China’s previous expansion was largely premised on its fiscal capabilities: foreign aid; purchasing land; and offering loans. The engagement that China is having with the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, whilst resting on the premise of it being a definitive statement about its power-projection abilities, over the past decade, China has been much more tenacious within the A-P region. Chinese engagement with the governments of Vietnam and the Philippines, has been much more collision-oriented and has in recent times caused all three countries to utilize ‘brinkmanship’ as a form of rheostat. China currently exercises its military leverage through the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and/or the People’s Liberation Army Navy, and through the use of quasi-military assets, such as the China Coast Guard. China’s reinvigoration, now with an incremental and systemic usage of hard power, poses a question: what is relevant in China’s history which has encouraged such a strong foreign policy stance which it is willing to back with military force?
China and the West
Whilst it is true China was a feudal country for many centuries, it nevertheless has a long and strong history of domestic cum regional successes. China’s emperors have been dedicated to developing their society—from which a sophisticated and learned culture developed. This is ensconced in an exceptional example of progress: the Song dynasty (960–1126). The Song dynasty marked ‘China out as the most literate and numerate society in the world … with Europe lagging far behind.’ Furthermore, China would continue to progress throughout the Song dynasty and into the Qing dynasty (1644-1912), via the gaining of geographic territory using direct force and passively through exploration—Zheng He’s Indian Ocean expeditions. To be sure, Chinese culture would, in general, thrive during these two dynasties and in relative terms China was much like Europe during this time with their elite, in the case of China its emperors, seeking to retain their grasp on power. It would be the Qing dynasty that would finally unite the country albeit through a different method of governance, the ‘tributary system’, and not through the more formal cum legal avenues Europe pursued. Paradoxically, for all of its power over its domestic reign and the region it would be the Qing dynasty that would finally be subjugated by and to, the objectives and needs of Western European powers over time. For all of its culture and sophistication, China, during the Qing dynasty, would not have enough control to exclude the West. Eventually China would succumb to the demands of Western Imperialism and within this body-politic be usurped by the European-Westphalian system. The continuous influence and penetration of the West into China would incrementally and then exponentially grow, and in doing so subsequently diminish China’s ability to exert a strong political stance in both its domestic, and international political arenas.
The Subjugation of China
The Treaty of Nanking (1842)
ceded to Britain the island of Hong Kong and opened four ports, in addition to Canton to foreign trade … and a supplementary trade treaty was signed in 1843, fixed a schedule on tariffs and imports … which was produced in later Chinese treaties with the United States (July, 1844), and France (October, 1844) … [which] deprived China of the right to fix her own tariff levels at a time when an increase in the revenue from Customs duties was most needed by the Chinese government.
This type of economic bias by, and for, the benefit of the West would increase and become an ongoing fiscal burden for the Chinese, and eventually retard any chance of systemic economic and political recovery. Moreover, the impact of the West, during the late nineteenth and at the beginning of the twentieth century would result in China being reduced to ‘an object of international relations to be discussed and dispensed with by foreign powers.’ This state of affairs would be further exacerbated by China’s diplomatic isolation at the 1921-22 Washington Naval Conference, with the favouring of Japan during the Conference by the United States of America (US), France and Great Britain. At this time, China would be reduced to a semi-colonial ‘possession.’ One which lacked political unity, developed resources, and strength at home which resulted in a lack of the necessary status abroad to play an independent role in world politics. China, due in part to its own domestic incongruities and the international inertia imposed on it by the West from 1912 through to 1949, would be incapable of sophisticated and cosmopolitan responses to Western impositions. This state of affairs however would not remain. After the end of World War Two (WWII), and the beginning of the ‘Mao-era’ (1949-1976), China would finally achieve unity and have an, albeit limited, international presence. The most powerful attributes of the West through the prism of demarcated borders, fiscal, geographic, military and political conventions would force China to politically conform to the West overall. This state of affairs too, however, would not remain.
Copying the Past: China Begins to Rise
China would begin to reinvigorate its status and slowly but surely move beyond the subjugation of the Qing dynasty and emerge from its ‘Century of Humiliation’ that had been forced upon it by Western nation-states; and their regional neighbour, Japan. Notwithstanding, the political solidity of Mao-era China’s large-scale internal struggles would also essentially end with the death of Mao. A new age would come to the fore—the Deng Xiaoping era (1976 – 1997). During this time, and with the gradual implementation of the ‘’Four Modernizations’ of industry, agriculture, defense, and science and technology’ a new China would emerge and would continue to develop through a pragmatic and disciplined industrial, economic, agricultural and political tutelage. As an ‘emerging’ nation-state China would begin to exercise its newfound status cum confidence and as a newly-powerful nation-state’s are wont to do, it would move toward proactively shaping its own polity rather than reacting to external influences; and begin to exert a stronger presence in the international political arena. The West had already embarked upon this trajectory, and to be sure so had Japan through its regional power-stakes after the Japan-Russo War (1904-1905). In no particular order the expansion of nation-states as they gain power is borne out in the following examples: Japan’s (first) invasion of Manchuria and occupation of Korea; the Kingdom of the Netherlands’ occupation of the East Indies in 1948 under the guise of ‘police actions; the US’ ‘frantic grab for colonies, taking over Hawaii, Midway Island, Guam, Samoa … and getting the Philippines in the late-nineteenth century’; and the British Crown establishing rule over India in 1858.
All are examples of nation-states exercising their will as their influence grows; and as their power increases. Moreover, this type of intervention is not exclusive to communism and is present numerous in political blocs, from the monarchies of Britain, Portugal and Spain, the Republic of France and the (post-WWII) liberal-democracy of the US. And it is with this understanding that as geo-strategic and geo-political power grows, so too does the need for addressing past geo-political injustices; and of shoring up present and future geo-strategic proclivities. China is essentially following the same trajectory as Japan, the (then) Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the US in the post-WWII era and Britain circa-1750 through to 1939. China, as a rising power, is exhibiting the same tendencies as others that have gone before. What is the modus operandi that the PRC government is adopting?
China Continues to Expand
China’s expansionist policies are underpinned by the same pattern that Britain displayed during its Industrial Revolution and the US exercised in the post-WWII era: a combination of growing naval power and a vibrant domestic economy. Whilst it is true China has decided to take a somewhat different path than Britain and the US did in the nascent stages of their power, which largely consisted of outright ‘occupation,’ and when this was not possible a combination of accommodation, inducement and coercion, increasing displays of military force by China have come to the fore in their recent operations. However, whilst China may share the same patterns of utilizing force in order to solve its aspirational intent it has not (as yet), applied any specific Western-style doctrines to its interventions. This is particularly true of its previous more passive interventions. Of importance here is what are the principles underlying previous interventions and what has triggered a change. Previously the PRC government portended:
it is wrong to impose political and economic conditionality in exchange for aid and that countries should be free to choose their own [political] direction. Moreover, this is consonant with the Chinese respect for sovereignty, a principle they regard as inviolable and which is directly related to their own historical experience during the aforementioned ‘century of humiliation’.
This is in part, due to the fact that China has not invaded any lands it does not consider to be part of its ‘Middle Kingdom’ and the ‘land under Heaven (tianxia)’ mandate; and moreover any waters it does not consider to traditionally have rights over it also has not applied military pressure to. Hence, in laying claim to the South China Sea islands—the so-called ‘Iron Triangle,’ encompassing the Paracel Islands in the north down to the Spratly Island in the south and the Scarborough shoals in the east— China believes it is acting within its rights. The US and its allies in the A-P region have essentially rejected China’s claims under the pretext of ‘freedom-of-navigation,’ however China has largely ignored the rebuttal and continues to occupy and build upon its traditional claims in the region. Herein is the iconoclastic change in China’s approach to its claims in the A-P. Furthermore, it is safe to argue that concomitant to its claims China also believes it has been a victim of imposed directives and will have no more of Western powers dictating its geo-strategic policies. There is also a recognition by China that the West’s aggrandisement of democratic liberties and values is not seen to have integrity: the ongoing and shameful occupation of Diego Garcia by the US, and the non-negotiable occupation by Britain of the disputed Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas are two examples that severely undermine Western commitment to its ideals.
China’s expansion into the A-P region and the successful application of proactive tactics which have amounted to an overall strategy of gaining a solid presence in the A-P, it can be safely argued, has given China the confidence to be an overt actor in South Asia—Afghanistan and Pakistan to be precise. The way in which China has accomplished this and the way in which it has gone about executing this recent regional geo-strategic move will now be addressed.
South Asia: China’s Next Geo-Strategic ‘Footprint’
Part of the reasoning behind the decision to move into South Asia’s geo-strategic and geo-political arenas is in the first instance to create a ‘knock-on’ effect of other countries observing that China is now a proactive and assertive actor; and to show that it is willing and able to intrude on areas that have in recent times had strong input from the West in the second. Thus, as China grows it will become more opportunistic in opening economic and military agreements, and this will establish a higher international profile for China and reinforce its geo-strategic agenda. This is already in place with the promise of military support to Afghanistan which has a beneficial dyad for China: the possibility of greater stability in the northwest of China—through the auspices of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region—and also with the positive initiatives associated with the China-Afghanistan Silk Road Economic Belt. China has also put effort into Pakistan, with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which offers China a 12,000 kilometre reduction in distance for its energy imports from the Middle East. This has resulted in direct boots-on-the-ground involvement and though it consists of a largely protective and guarding role it nevertheless sends a definitive signal that China will not step back from a more deliberate presence in the South Asia region. However, the current deals China has made deeply encroach on the established military footprint the West has developed through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—including the US and its allies—in Afghanistan; the ongoing military pursuit (via Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) of terrorists in Pakistan; the support of the (previous) Pakistani Musharraf government; and the auspices of the ‘War on Terror.’ All bear out the consistency of recent incursions by the West into South Asia.
Notwithstanding the multi-faceted political elements of the intrusion of China into the South Asia region the ultimate signal that China is no longer at the behest of the West in its geo-strategic policies. The geo-strategic wait-and-see approach of whether a move should be made and whether it is one that will impact Asian-Western relations is simply no longer tenable. China’s recent actions constitute a direct rebuttal of the political conditioning that has been imposed on it by the West. China has moved on from this paradigm and Afghanistan and Pakistan is a form of this new politics writ large.
A country that is on the cusp of being a newfound global power begins to extend its influence for a multitude of reasons and seeks to achieve what it once would have considered ‘unobtainable’ objectives. With its move into South Asia, China is rapidly and exponentially becoming a direct and indirect force to be reckoned with. The era of the US retaining its complete and absolute control over its post-WWII gains in the A-P and its major influence in South Asia is coming to an end. South Asia is now expanding its regional presence, and it has the military and political wherewithal to exacerbate and encourage ‘the end of the Vasco da Gama era.’
The PRC government’s movement into South Asia should be viewed as a quasi-unilateral stance, one that comprises a signal that China is not answerable to the West and its definitions of what the terms of ‘acceptable’ expansion are. The PRC government will continue to exercise its ‘rights’ and will without doubt, in the future, use direct force if necessary, in order to stake their claims, as it has done proactively in the building of airstrips on neighbouring atolls. At this point in time, China, in relative terms, is operating unilaterally in only two regions and this for the West is ‘manageable.’ The dangers for the West will incrementally and then exponentially increase when China utilizes a more multilateral approach toward its territorial ambitions. The prospect of obtaining direct allies—such as Indonesia in the A-P and Afghanistan and Pakistan in South Asia —is what will fundamentally and catastrophically change the geo-strategic landscape for the West. There is no reason to believe China will not approach its ambitions in a multilateral way in the future, as this is what the West has embarked upon for decades, and moreover, the PRC government has learned from this approach. Much to the chagrin of the West, China will not turn back to its subservient past and will inevitably adopt a trajectory of increasing pressures on the West as its ambitions increase.
 Paul Pryce. ‘The Brazilian Navy: Green Water or Blue.’ Center for Maritime Security. 25 Jan, 2015 Green-water navies … focusing mainly on securing a country’s littorals [although do retain an] ability to venture out into deeper waters.’ However, a ‘blue water navy’ consists of having a navy which is able to venture into open ocean and/or the high seas and according to Kirtz is able to defend against ‘open ocean naval threats…and [is consistent with] gaining command of the sea.’ See: James Kirtz. ‘Introduction.’ Naval Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Operations. Stability from the sea. Edited by James Wirtz and Jeffrey Larsen. Oxon: Routledge, 2009, 1.
 South Asia consists of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. See: ‘South Asia: Countries.’ The World Bank.
 According to Gochman ‘brinkmanship’ becomes part of political manoeuvrings when, ‘decision makers perceive a dramatic impending shift in the balance of power in favour of an adversary and/or a substantial internal challenge to their own political position at home.’ See: The Process Of War. Advancing the Scientific Study of War. Edited by Stuart Bremer and Thomas Cusack. Australia: Gordon and Breach, 1995, 97.
 There are common features in what Calhoun describes as the ‘rhetoric of nations’ and though they do not completely define what a nation comprise, they include boundaries of territory, indivisibility, sovereignty, legitimacy, participation in collective affairs, direct membership, culture, temporal depth, common characteristics and special histories. See: Craig Calhoun. Nationalism. Buckingham: Open University Press, 1997, 4 -5.
 Martin Jacques. When China Rules the World. The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order. London: Penguin, 2nd Ed, 2009, 89.
 The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) set in place the (Western) accepted legal parameters of sovereignty, however it was driven by what the elites of Europe deemed necessary for their co-existence. One of the most pertinent aspects of the Treaty is: ‘[T]he world consists of, and is divided into, sovereign territorial states that recognize no superior authority; the processes of law-making, settlement of disputes and law enforcement are largely in the hands of individual states; [and] international law is oriented to the establishment of minimal rules of coexistence.’ See: Roger King and Gavin Kendall. The State, Democracy and Globalization. Houndsmills: Palgrave, 2004, 34.
 Michael Edwards. The West in Asia 1850 – 1914. London: B. T. Batsford Ltd, 1967, 114.
 Kuo-kang Shao. Zhou Enlai and the Foundations of Chinese Foreign Policy. Houndsmills: MacMillan Press Ltd, 1988, 40.
 Zhou Enlai and the Foundations of Chinese Foreign Policy, 27.
 See: ‘Four Power Treaty’ Dictionary of American History. Encyclopedia.com, The Gale Group, 2003.
 Zhou Enlai and the Foundations of Chinese Foreign Policy, 41-42.
 See: ‘China under Mao 1949-1976.’
 For a comprehensive analysis of this state-of-affairs see: When China Rules the World, 297-308.
 When China Rules the World, 303 – 308.
 Katherine Keyser. ‘Three Chinese Leaders. Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and Deng Xiaoping.’ Asia for Educators. 2009
 Ezra Vogel. The Transformation of China.’ Tvo, The Agenda. 2013.
 Edwin Hoyt. Japan’s War. The Great Pacific Conflict 1853 – 1952. London: Hutchinson, 1986, 26.
 Gerda Hendriks. ‘’Not a colonial war’: Dutch film propaganda in the fight against Indonesia, 1945 – 49.’ Colonial Insurgency and Mass Violence. The Dutch Empire in Indonesia. Edited by Bart Luttikhuis and A. Dirk Moses. London: Routledge, 2014, 202.
 Japan’s War, 30.
 Chandrika Kaul. ‘From Empire to Independence: The British Raj in India 1858 – 1947.’ British Broadcasting Corporation, History, 2013.
 Norrie MacQueen. Colonialism. Harlow: PeasrsonLongman, 2007, 15.
 Occupation’ according to Benvenisti is ‘the effective control of a power … over a territory to which that power has no sovereign title, without the volition of the sovereign of that territory.’ See: Eyal Benvenisti. The International Law of Occupation. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993, 4.
 Accommodation ‘attempts to satisfy the nationalist demands of the population by incorporating elements of that population in the governance of the occupied territory.’ Inducement, ‘provides resources to the occupied population in an effort to buy acquiescence.’ Coercion is ‘the use or threatened use of military force to defeat any elements of the population that resist or threaten to resist an occupation.’ See: David Edelstein. Occupational Hazards. Success and Failure in Military Occupations. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008, 49-53.
 When China Rules the World, 303 – 308.
 When China Rules the World, 303.
 Matthew Carney. ‘China’s secret maritime militia: Fishermen the forward guard in South China Sea dispute.’ 9 May, 2016. Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
 See: David Vine. Island of Shame. The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2009.
 See: Shannon Tiezzi. ‘What’s Behind China’s Offer of Military Aid to Afghanistan?’ The Diplomat. 11 Mar, 2016.
 Sudhi Sen. ‘Chinese Troops Will Be Positioned in Pakistan: Security Agencies Tell Government.’ The Diplomat. 13 Mar, 2016.
 See: Coral Bell. ‘The end of the Vasco da Gama era. The Next Landscape of World Politics.’ Lowy Institute. Paper 21, 2007.
As the civil war in Syria enters its sixth year, its effects continue to wreak havoc not only on its own war-ravaged population, but also upon countries farther afield. In the 2016 Fragile States Index, Syria was again one of the most worsened countries year-on-year, catapulting them into the list of the top ten most fragile countries on the planet.
To date, thousands of Syrians have made treacherous and uncertain journeys across land and sea to the relative safety of Europe, and it is likely that many more will continue to do so. The countries of Europe – particularly those situated on a trajectory between Turkey and Germany and Scandinavia – have found themselves overwhelmed by the influx, and have responded to these pressures with attempts to close previously open borders. At the same time, ultra-nationalistic, right-wing, anti-immigrant political parties in multiple countries across the continent have taken the opportunity to politically manipulate the crisis and further destabilize domestic politics.
Most-Worsened Country for 2016: Hungary
Given these spreading waves of instability, it is perhaps no surprise that the most worsened country for 2016 is European. Hungary worsened by 3.6 points on its score from 2015, its score heavily influenced by its performance on its Refugees and Human Rights indicators. Of the 20 most-worsened countries since 2015, nearly half are European: Hungary is joined by the Czech Republic, Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Sweden, Slovakia, and Slovenia – all of which happen to lie on that same fated trajectory to northwest Europe. Notably, of all countries worldwide, the top 18 most worsened scores on the Refugees Indicator since 2015 are European. Though, on overall Refugees Indicator scores, the pressure experienced by European countries with regard to refugee flows should be placed in perspective: only two European nations, Serbia and Turkey, even rank in the top 30 for pressures from refugees, with the highest scores reserved for countries primarily in Africa and the Middle East.
But it would be way too easy to blame Hungary’s (or Europe’s) woes on refugee flows. Throughout history, many countries have been confronted with the challenge posed by an influx of desperate people fleeing en masse from war, violence, and persecution in their own fragile states. Kenya, for example, is a current example of the pressures that significant refugee inflows from another country – in this case, Somalia – can impose upon a country. Similarly, for Pakistan and its large populations of refugees fleeing war torn Afghanistan; for Lebanon, where 1 in 5 of its population are refugees from either Syria or Palestine; or for Turkey, for whom the Syrian civil war is on its doorstep. However, no one would suggest that refugee flows are the only cause of any of these countries’ current levels of fragility. Similarly, although Hungary’s policy responses to the refugee crisis have been restrictive and protectionist, this year’s worsening in Hungary is merely an accelerated trend based on largely domestic issues.
Hungary’s five year trends demonstrate a worsening in the indicators that measure Group Grievance, State Legitimacy, Human Rights, and Factionalized Elites, which suggests that many of Hungary’s pressures are home-grown. Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz government has limited the powers of judiciary and stacked it with political allies. There are allegations that a change in the electoral system allowed the party to sweep to victory again in 2014. As restrictions on the freedom of the press have increased, Hungary’s public television channels have been packed with pro-Fidesz journalists. These measures have all culminated in a rapidly shrinking space for civil society and threats to the rights and freedoms of Hungarians. It is therefore little coincidence that after Refugees, the worst indicator score for Hungary is for State Legitimacy.
Beyond Hungary, the outlook for Europe remains concerning. Though many countries in Europe have, perhaps predictably, recorded worsening in their indicator scores for Refugees, this has been accompanied by similar worsening in Group Grievance and Factionalized Elites scores, suggesting deepening rifts within society, particularly along sectarian lines. The increasing fragility in Europe is further fueled by rapidly increasing Euroscepticism, which manifested itself in last week’s “Brexit” referendum, wherein British voters elected to leave the European Union, no doubt severely undermining the political and economic alliance going forward and potentially leading to a far less cohesive Europe. Although much of the former Yugoslavia and Eastern Bloc countries have seen great improvements in the past decade, the Fragile States Index shows that much of “Old Europe” has at best stagnated, or has significantly worsened. Indeed, Greece remains the eighth most worsened country over the past decade, in no small part due to its economic woes and continued political dysfunction which saw the country as the third most worsened European country – and sixth overall – over the past year.
Nigeria and Regional Instability
Interconnectedness and cross-border pressures have been felt significantly as a result of the civil war in Syria. However, another example of destabilizing cross-border effects can be seen clearly in the West African powerhouse nation, Nigeria. Beset by a tumultuous electoral campaign in 2015 that saw the administration of Goodluck Jonathan unseated by the return to power of Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s standing in the Fragile States Index has worsened, as the economy is deeply impacted by falling oil prices and the north of the country is terrorized by Boko Haram insurgency.
As with the crisis in Syria, pressures have bled across Nigeria’s borders to its neighbors. The second most worsened country in 2016 is Cameroon, which has seen a marked increase in cross-border violence perpetrated by Boko Haram – violence that has generally originated in Nigeria. These pressures have been experienced in multiple ways. Firstly, and most visibly, Boko Haram have widened their campaign beyond Nigeria’s borders and are now kidnapping and ambushing Cameroonian security forces, as well as targeting Cameroonian civilians. Cameroon is also experiencing increasing pressures from Nigerian refugees fleeing into Cameroon to escape the violence in their own country, in turn placing intense pressure on food and medical supplies in Cameroon. The World Food Programme has estimated that as many as 100,000 people find themselves displaced in Cameroon as a result of the Boko Haram-generated instability, including both Nigerian refugees and internally-displaced Cameroonians.
Niger, to Nigeria’s north, is similarly under pressure as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency. Though Niger has not worsened as much in the past year as has Cameroon, it is nevertheless still experiencing intense pressures. In late 2015, the Nigerien government declared a state of emergency in the border region of Diffa, adjacent to Nigeria, to deal with the continued cross-border attacks by Boko Haram, that has already claimed a growing number of civilian casualties. Adding further pressure on Niger – which is one of the world’s poorest countries and finds itself at the bottom of UNDP’s annual development report – it is estimated by UNHCR that in 2015 alone, 150,000 Nigerian refugees had fled across the border into Niger to escape the violence perpetrated by Boko Haram.
Notably, Chad has also seen notable worsening over the past year, however it is less clear as to how much of that worsening was contributed by the spillover from Nigeria, particularly as Chadian troops find themselves heavily involved in engaging Boko Haram, even within Nigeria’s borders. Regardless, it is clear that Cameroon and Niger – and to a lesser extent, Chad – are coming under intense pressure induced by violence and instability in its larger neighbor, demonstrating again the extensive interconnectedness evident in the Fragile States Index scores.
Most-Improved Country for 2016: Sri Lanka
Meanwhile, the most improved country in 2016, Sri Lanka, is a country that until recently was wracked by civil war and extensive violence along ethnic lines. Sri Lanka’s performance demonstrates that improvement within the Fragile States Index must be interpreted in context. The improvements in Sri Lanka should not be taken to be a wholesale endorsement of government policy or for the government’s widely-criticized strategy towards the end of the civil war, but rather a recognition that economic development, along with political stability, has improved since the conclusion of the war. Indeed, Sri Lanka’s ranking of 43rd, and its place in the “High Warning” category of the Index, cannot be ignored. Even more concerning for a post-conflict country, indicators such as Group Grievance and Factionalized Elites (along with Human Rights), which suggest deep schisms within society, remain perilously high.
The 10-year trends of the Fragile States Index demonstrate a mix of near self-evident cases, as well as a number of other negative trends that bear further monitoring. The four most worsened countries over the past decade probably come as little surprise – Libya, Syria, Mali, and Yemen, which have all experienced internal conflict and strife. But the performance of some other countries that have worsened the most in the past decade should perhaps serve as a warning. South Africa, for example, long heralded as an economic engine of Africa and certainly the most developed nation on the continent, is also demonstrating significantly worsening trends in line with deepening political divisions and social unease, including increasing protests and civil disturbances. Though Eritrea’s shaky performance under the isolationist dictatorship of Isaias Afwerki may not come as much of a surprise, the significant worsening of other African countries such as Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Gambia, Djibouti, and Ghana should be cause for alarm – in particular for Ghana, which is often cited as a shining light of democracy and development in a frequently conflicted region.
At the other end of the spectrum, Moldova, as the most improved country of the last decade, is one of 23 former Eastern Bloc or post-Soviet countries to have demonstrated an improving trend. (Interestingly, the only Eastern Bloc or post-Soviet country to have worsened over the past 10 years is Ukraine, which worsened largely as a result of its conflict with Russia that involved its larger neighbor occupying the Ukrainian region of Crimea). The second most improved country of the past decade is Cuba, which despite continued pressures as regards human rights, has nevertheless seen improvements under the leadership of Raul Castro, a trend that is likely to be even more pronounced when the recent warming of relations with the United States is captured by the 2017 Fragile States Index.
* * *
In 2016, 78 countries improved upon their previous year’s score, while 77 countries recorded worsened scores. In addition, a further 23 countries recorded either no change or a very marginal movement. This is a reversal of a positive trend last year that saw 108 countries improve on the previous year, and only 52 worsen. Over the decade, 91 countries have improved upon their position of a decade ago, while 70 countries have worsened over the same period. Finally, a further 16 countries recorded insignificant changes over the period.
There is much to be concerned about in the findings of the 2016 Fragile States Index, as Europe confronts a refugee crisis of massive proportions and increasing political illiberalism, as civil wars rage on in Syria, Yemen, and Libya, and as insurgents continue to terrorize civilian populations such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad and Daesh throughout parts of the Middle East and North Africa. The opening six months of 2016 suggest justified pessimism for the outlook for much of the world as continuing crises show little indication of resolution, and new threats begin to arise. Nevertheless, despite the doom and gloom that tends to occupy the current news cycle, countries like Moldova, Cuba, Turkmenistan, Belarus, the Seychelles, and Barbados demonstrate that away from the headlines, there are plenty of countries that are quietly making long-term progress. It is that steady, largely unsung progress that should give us hope that for every crisis wracked country we read of in the headlines, there is another country that is moving well in the right direction
South Africa recently discovered that 17 banks were colluding to manipulate the national currency to make super profits. Often, government officials are part of such scandals. What is needed is a unified, Africa-wide solidarity network from below and beyond borders working together to get governments and institutions to ensure that damaging profiteering is stopped.
In the global marketplace today, the strength and stability of a nation’s currency is hugely important. A currency’s performance ultimately impacts everything and everyone in the country, and beyond. When exchange rates shift, so does the price of commodities like food and fuel, which in turn impacts cost of living and employment. A fluctuating currency can have a chilling effect on foreign investment.
So, what then should happen when a government discovers that profiteering banks, which it has allowed to trade on its soil, have been manipulating the strength of their currency to make more money?
In South Africa, the national Competition Commission has found that 17 banks – three of them South African – had been colluding and manipulating trading of the South African currency the rand (ZAR) with the US dollar. The banks worked together illegally by discussing desired prices, coordinating trading times and taking turns to transact, hold or pull bids. These colluded trades would have affected anyone buying rands or using dollars to buy rands, such as African businesses and state-owned enterprises involved in international trade.
The two-year investigation showed that the collusion was a global effort across four continents as the multinational banks worked together to make as much profit as they could, despite the implications for South Africans and their economy.
So what will the government ultimately do about it? In this instance, the Commission recommends fines not exceeding 10 percent of the bank’s annual turnover in South Africa.
American banking giant, Citibank, which was found to have been manipulating the rand for profit for the past 10 years, has agreed to pay a penalty of just less than R70 million (around $5 million) in exchange for dishing the dirt on its co-collaborators. We don’t know how much money they made of their illicit dealings in the past decade – or exactly what that cost South Africans economically – but we do know that the bank raked in more than $87 billion last year alone. What impact is $5 million really going to have on its profit-by-any-means-necessary outlook?
Multinationals involved in irregular or illegal practices are known to prepare for penalties like this – they count it as the cost of doing business. Fines are not effective deterrents, particularly for financial institutions raking in billions of dollars annually. They simply work to make up the loss in subsequent quarters.
There are calls for criminal charges, including against senior bank executives in charge. In trade-related cases, prison time for corporate bosses are rare.
Indeed, in a news interview, a spokesperson declined to say whether the Competition Commission would recommend criminal prosecution for individuals involved. Discussions with parties are ongoing, is all he would offer.
Regardless, with everything we know about South Africa’s own history of unscrupulous dealings and impunity, we cannot simply trust government on its own, to see to it that justice is fully served. Civil society needs take the lead in ensuring that our governments are held responsible for holding companies fully accountable for their actions. In this instance, as in many of corporate exploitation, ordinary South Africans have paid the price, literally. The knock-on losses suffered by the country and its citizens as a result of decade-long currency manipulation are enormous.
While the statutory Competition Commission should be applauded for their investigative work here, the bigger issue is that these practices are systemic. It is the modus operandi of many corporates to push moral, ethical and legal boundaries so as to exploit markets, wherever possible, for maximum profit, regardless of how much it hurts communities.
And in a globalised business world, where there’s smoke, there’s probably wildfire. It is very possible, if not likely, that banks like these, operating in other African countries, are engaged in the same kind of collusion and currency manipulation, where profitable, at the expense of local populations.
Across the continent, big business generally shares a cozy relationship with many of our governments, in an environment where a culture of impunity is entrenched.
Authorities allow multinationals to evade accountability for unethical and illegal practices that are damaging to the economy and the people, and in some cases, even shield them from scrutiny and prosecution. It is hard to know just how prevalent this is because this relationship is not transparent.
What we do know is that, with our markets more inter-connected than ever before, we all feel the blow when big corporations behave in this way. And directly or indirectly, they are enabled to do so – and get away with it – by governments.
We can and should certainly oppose individual cases of manipulation and abuse like this when they are (rarely) exposed. But the reality is that the exploitative practices of the kind uncovered in South Africa are part of deeply entrenched operating norms in the financial world, with roots in colonialism. And any meaningful change in the way that conglomerates, like multinational banks, operate across our regions and will only be really achieved via a unified, Africa-wide solidary network of people and organisations, from below and beyond borders, working together to get our governments and institutions to ensure that such damaging profiteering is stopped.
We, as Africans, have to let the entire global system that supports this know that it can no longer be business as usual in Africa. And that call needs to include a diversity of affected voices from across the continent. The good news is an effective vehicle is now being built to take on this mission.
Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity is an emerging, pan-African movement of people and formations, working for peace, justice and dignity. This de-centralised, citizen-owned movement seeks to foster Africa-wide solidarity and unity of purpose, building support for local, national, regional and continental struggles.
Africans Rising was formed at a gathering of hundreds of representatives from civil society, trade unions, women, young people, men, people living with disabilities, parliamentarians, media organisations and faith-based groups, from across Africa and the African diaspora in Arusha, Tanzania in August 2016.
The movement’s founding document, the Kilimanjaro Declaration declares that Africa is a rich continent, with the wealth belonging to all, not just a narrow political and economic elite. Corporations, like the 17 banks named in the investigation and many unnamed others, are part of an economic elite, which manipulates and exploits our economic systems for their own gain, most with impunity.
The constriction of civic space in some countries means that not only are people denied the freedom to confront the political status quo but also the economic status quo and big business’ harmful strategies. This is where the extensive solidarity framework of a broad-based, Africa-wide movement of grassroots, national, regional and continental groupings can play a crucial role. We would need to work to expose similar abusive practices by financial institutions in other nations and integrate these efforts into a pan-African campaign for positive change.
As Africans, we have a right to economic integrity and freedom from corporate exploitation and manipulation, enabled by governments and a global financial system that largely excludes us, and our interests. Africans Rising seeks to restore these rights, working collaboratively towards shared goals that advance all our interests.
The movement will be officially launched on 25 May 2017, African Liberation Day.
You can join by signing the Kilimanjaro Declaration then participating in the launch and the critical mission to see all Africans rising for the #FutureWeWant and deserve.