Tuesday, 3 March 2015

A year after Euro-Maidan, Ukraine coming apart at the seams

It has been a year since protestors descended on Kiev’s Independence Square calling for the ouster of President Victor Yanukovich. Though the movement consisted of both liberal pro-European elements and rightwing quasi-fascist groups, most international media chose to frame the events of Maidan in a way that misleadingly obscured the role of the latter.

While reports indicate that pro-Western intelligentsia and activists are leaving their country in droves, the situation in Ukraine today cannot be properly understood without fully appreciating the role of quasi-fascist paramilitaries and their private-sector backers, who now exert tremendous influence on the leadership in Kiev and the political climate in Ukraine more generally.

Though the crisis in Ukraine remains a domestic conflict between the majority of citizens in the west who favor ties with Brussels and those in east who seek autonomy, independence or ascension into the Russian Federation, the growing internationalization of the conflict risks an irreversible escalation.

The recent Nato exercises in the Estonian frontier town of Narva that saw a parade of military hardware laden with American flags some 300 yards from Russia’s border, prompting counter-exercises from Moscow, is indicative of the increasingly provocative measures being taken. As the neo-conservative faction in Washington essentially steers the Obama administration’s policy, the idea of a Cold War-style stand-off between Russia and Nato grows ever more plausible.

Read the full story on New Eastern Outlook

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 29 December 2014

A year of disaster for Malaysian aviation

The disappearance of AirAsia Flight marks the third incident this year involving a Malaysia-affiliated airline. Why have they been struck by such bad fortune? Before vanishing from radar less than an hour into the flight, the pilot of the Singapore-bound plane contacted air traffic control to request an alternate course to avoid extreme weather conditions.

The AirAsia Flight QZ8501, an Airbus A320-200, was carrying 162 people and is now presumed to have crashed off the coast of Indonesia near Belitung Island, about halfway between Singapore and Surabaya, Indonesia’s second biggest city where the flight originated. Southeast Asia has also been experiencing severe flooding, and intense thunderstorms could have been a major contributing factor in the latest incident.

Though the AirAsia plane may have crashed as a result of severe weather, there is an eerie similarity with MH370, which disappeared in March and presumably flew for hours toward the Indian Ocean after radically changing its flight path. Both planes vanished from radar without any emergency signal or indication of distress.

During the last communication with the plane, the captain requested clearance to fly at a higher altitude to avoid clouds that would have caused heavy turbulence, which is an entirely normal action for a pilot to take. What is strange, however, is that the pilot did not attempt to relay any further information or an emergency signal to air traffic control.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Why ICC prosecution won’t help improve human rights in N. Korea

If improving human rights conditions in North Korea is the real aim of the international community, putting the country’s political leadership on trial is a non-starter.

A recent vote at the UN General Assembly called for North Korea to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) over alleged human rights abuses. Pyongyang has faced growing international pressure following the publication of a UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report in February accusing the country of committing crimes against humanity against its own population.

The 372-page report on rights violations in North Korea primarily raises concerns over the country’s penal system, where it claims citizens have been subjected to arbitrary detention, torture, executions and deliberate starvation. Authors of the report have made resolute comparisons between Pyongyang’s alleged abuses and those of Nazi Germany.

North Korea has categorically denied the COI’s findings, claiming the report is intended to provide a moral justification for a foreign military intervention into the country under the auspices of protecting human rights – a scenario that would not be without precedent when country-specific UN special procedures have been sought in the past, such as the case of Libya.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

ALBA’s humanistic growth model pushes Latin America ahead

From continent to continent, policies promoting regional integration have become a core tenant of 21st century development strategies. Whether laying the foundations of transportation and communication infrastructure or shaping trade opportunities, broader market access and economic development, the politics of regional integration are central to consensus building and cooperation in our era.

Regional integration in itself, however, has not proven to a recipe for dynamic policies – as evidenced by public disenfranchisement with traditional politics throughout the European Union. The growing popularity of once-fringe nationalist parties throughout Europe should be seen as a response to economic policies centered on liberalization and denationalization by broad deregulation and austerity measures; a disproportionate focus on free trade; the erosion of state sovereignty by supranational bylaws and one-size-fits-all monetary policies.

Events that have unfolded in Latin America over the last decade, although woefully underreported by the globe’s dominant media outlets, have set an example that demands a reevaluation of conventional regional integration strategies. The embassies of Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador recently held a panel discussion in Kuala Lumpur to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – Treaty of Commerce of the People (ALBA-TCP), an alternative regional development platform for the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Since its formation in 2004, originally as an alliance between Cuba and Venezuela, the ALBA grouping has positioned itself as an alternative to the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement championed by the United States, which sought to remove trade barriers and introduce sweeping intellectual property laws that would have limited the cross-importation of pharmaceuticals. Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and several other Caribbean states later joined the ALBA bloc.

Liberalizing trade regimes and economic policies have failed to achieve economic development and alleviate poverty in Latin America, according to Lourdes Puma Puma, Ambassador to Ecuador in Malaysia, during her address to the panel, explaining the factors that contributed to the expansion of ALBA into a nine-nation regional grouping. Based on the emancipatory ideas of Simón Bolívar and José Marti, both being historical figures that symbolize the independence of Latin American nations from colonial Spain, the ALBA grouping defines itself by emphasizing policies that create social uplift and focus more on complementarity rather than competition.

ALBA’s unique significance compared to other regional organizations, according to Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), is precisely on the tremendous importance it places on human welfare and social justice with programs that provide free medical care and treatment for the disabled. ALBA’s integration strategy is built on the foundations of a people-centered, inclusive model though prioritizing the common distribution of medicines, emphasizing food self-sufficiency, and ambitious projects to eradicate hungry and illiteracy.

One of the features of ALBA’s complementarity economics is the use of compensated trade through direct product exchanges so that countries can use their resource advantages in a mutually beneficial way that doesn’t necessarily imply a financial transaction. A common example of this is how Venezuela provides oil to Cuba in exchange for doctors and healthcare professionals; this system of trade-offs also includes educational and medical services, scientific projects and commodities.

Cuba, which has punched far above its weight in the fight against Ebola, has more doctors per capita than any other country in the world by virtue of its state-run healthcare system. One of the crowning achievements of ALBA’s partnership has been the ‘Operation Miracle’ project that saw the deployment of Cuban ophthalmologists across Latin America to perform surgeries on vision-impaired people suffering from cataracts and glaucoma. Some 3.4 million people have had their sight restored, free of charge.

Throughout the ALBA bloc, 1.2 million disabled people have been treated while more than 2 million consultations have taken place. Another regional initiative has been the Grand-National Project of Literacy and Post-Literacy, offering universal primary education. More than 3.8 million people have been made literate through the “Yo si peudo (Yes I can)” program to promote reading and writing, which has been recognized by UNESCO. ALBA has also incentivized scholarships for higher education and academic exchanges within the bloc.

Contrary to traditional regional economic intergradation schemes that encourage the scaling back of the state in favor of the market, ALBA countries believe that the state has a role to play in regulating economic activity in the interest of maintaining social welfare. As both an economic and political alliance, the grouping shares common positions on the principals of sovereignty, multi-polarity, self-determination, environmentally sustainable development strategies and an opposition to interventionism and war.

ALBA’s drive to create a complementary economic zone with PetroCaribe, a separate grouping between Venezuela and Caribbean states, has enormous potential for development as a region encompassing 21 nations within a 7 million km zone, boasting a workforce of 60 million people. Investment opportunities are also aplenty, in areas ranging from mining and energy to tourism. The grouping has also launched a bank and a digital currency – the Sucre – as a mechanism for international payments and the use of local currency for payment of imports, in addition to reducing dependence on US dollar transactions.

The United States, with its long-standing hostility toward Cuba and continued unilateral blockade of the island’s economy, views the independent direction of ALBA as an affront to its interests. ALBA countries believe that the media coverage of developments in Latin America throughout the West are tinged with bias and misinformation, which led the bloc to introduce a number of television and radio stations such as Telesur and AlbaTV to present their side of the story to international and domestic audiences.

There are undoubtedly challenges ahead as ALBA solidifies its indigenous regional integration model and deepens cooperation with other regional blocks in Latin America, such as CELAC and Mercosur, of which many ALBA states are participants. In attempting to reverse the legacy of hegemony and dominance in the region, the nations of ALBA understand the limitations of the nation-state. A regional body has far more clout to enact systemic changes that the people of Latin America have been enormously supportive of.

Simón Bolívar once said that it was the inexorable destiny of Latin America to be united – there is no question that ALBA is at the forefront of this struggle for dignity and social justice.

This article was appeared in the November 26, 2014 print edition of The Malaysian Reserve newspaper.

Nile Bowie is an independent journalist and political analyst based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. His articles have appeared in numerous international publications, including regular columns with Russia Today (RT) and newspapers such as the Global Times, the Malaysian Reserve and the New Straits Times. He is a research assistant with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), a Malaysian NGO promoting social justice and anti-hegemony politics. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com. 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive takes a great leap forward

Upon becoming general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 2012, President Xi Jinping put forward a frank assessment that endemic corruption among party elites and cadres threatens to delegitimize the reform process and undermine the CPC’s rule. Xi announced a broad anti-corruption campaign and vowed that the party’s graft watchdog would be“striking tigers and flies at the same time” – a signal that both prominent officials and grassroots cadres would be equally held accountable.

In the two years since the anti-corruption campaign began, it has proven to be the longest reaching and most impactful clampdown effort since the reform era began in 1978. Anti-graft inspectors have launched thousands of investigations, ending the political careers of hundreds of officials engaged in bribery, embezzlement and acquiring illicit funds through land deals, official infrastructure projects and land development. The scope of the anti-corruption efforts has not spared those in the CPC’s inner circle, creating anxiety within the party.

Zhou Yongkang, one of China’s most powerful men until his retirement in 2012, has been the most prominent official probed for abuses of power. During his tenure as the head of the CPC’s political and legislative affairs committee, Zhou’s only superiors were the president and prime minister. He was a member of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) and oversaw the state’s internal security, judicial system, law enforcement, and paramilitary operations, operating with a larger budget than China’s military.

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) – the party’s formidable anti-corruption agency – has also detained reputable officials known to be Zhou’s protégés and opened investigations into the extraordinary wealth of his family members. It is widely believed that the long delays in announcing the probe against Zhou were due to huge inner-party resistance, indicating that Xi engaged enormous political capital in order to create conditions for the investigation.

Read the full story on New Eastern Outlook

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

West touting ‘classified’ evidence to avoid impartial MH17 investigation

Western governments insist that Ukrainian rebels assisted by Russia were responsible for shooting down flight MH17, but they are unwilling to disclose their evidence and explain their methodologies.

As the enquiry continues into the demise of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over the skies of eastern Ukraine in July, the preliminary findings of the international investigation have done little to develop a clearer understanding of the incident. The parties responsible for bringing down the aircraft, and exactly what means were utilized to do so, have yet to be firmly established.

Due to the continued obstruction and contamination of the crash site as a result of military hostilities, it is highly questionable whether further forensic examinations can be carried out under such protracted circumstances. Another barrier is a lack of political will to consider certain findings, on the part of those states that rushed to make politically charged accusations before any investigation could take place.

The Dutch Safety Board (DSB), which is leading the investigation into the MH17 crash, released a preliminary report in September, which sought to analyze air traffic control and radio communication data, assess the inflight break-up sequences, and conduct a forensic examination of the wreckage. Assigning culpability to any party was not in the report’s mandate; the authors of the text use highly guarded and ambiguous language to explain their findings.

Read the full story on New Eastern Outlook

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Saudi Arabia is shooting itself in the foot by executing Shiite cleric

The House of Saud’s plans to execute a revered Shiite cleric and protest leader reveal the extent to which the regime is vulnerable and desperate to perpetuate itself. Going ahead with the execution would be strategic miscalculation.

Significant political developments have unfolded in Saudi Arabia in recent weeks following a court decision to execute Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, a polarizing Shiite cleric and political activist who has campaigned for civil equality, an inclusive socio-political system, women’s rights, minority rights, and the release of political prisoners. Prosecutors condemned the cleric to death by beheading as punishment for charges of sedition, though the execution date has not yet been set.

Sheikh Nimr has been the fiercest critic of the Kingdom’s absolute Sunni monarchy for the last decade, but gained a considerable public following after leading a series of protests in 2011 in opposition to the Saudi military’s violent intervention and suppression of the pro-democracy movement in neighboring Bahrain, a satellite state with a Shiite majority ruled by a heavy-handed Sunni dynasty. His sermons and political activism continually emphasized non-violent resistance.

The Kingdom’s decision to sentence Nimr to death has complex implications that will push sectarian tensions to fever pitch inside Saudi Arabia and throughout the region, dangerously sharpening tension with Iran. Prominent clerics in Iran and Bahrain, as well as Shiite militant groups such as Hezbollah of Lebanon and the Houthi movement of Yemen, have all condemned the verdict and warned the Kingdom not to proceed with the execution.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a columnist with Russia Today, and a research affiliate with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.