Wednesday, 25 December 2013

​Who is to blame for the crisis in South Sudan?

The nascent civil war in South Sudan is a product of kleptocratic governance, systemic corruption, and political posturing that has reignited deep ethnic divisions between the nation’s two largest tribal groups.

The world’s youngest nation has been in disarray since December 14th, when sporadic gunfire and skirmishes broke out in the capital, Juba. Shortly after, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir announced that a coup had been attempted by members of his own presidential guard allied with Riek Machar, the ambitious former vice president who was purged in July. Since then, the country has been destabilized by fighting between government forces and members of the army loyal to Machar, forcing tens of thousands to abandon their homes and seek shelter in squalid UN bases throughout the country. Reports indicate that rebels have captured swathes of territory, including areas such as Bentiu, a northern provincial capital in the country’s most oil-rich region, and other economically strategic areas. Kiir belongs to the Dinka – the country’s most powerful and populous ethnic group – while Machar is ethnically Nuer, and sources claim that brutal ethnic violence has broken out between the two groups with heavy involvement by government forces.

Juba has insisted that its forces have only protected civilians and have not taken part in massacres, despite numerous reports of security forces arbitrarily targeting civilians belonging to the Nuer ethnic group. The resulting violence has prompted the UN to add nearly 6,000 international troops and police officers to the more than 7,600 peacekeeping forces already in the country.

The United States – which has been South Sudan’s main political backer prior to and since its independence in 2011 – has firmly declared their support for Kiir’s government and warned the rebels against attempts to seize power through military force. Though the current crisis has undeniable ethnic dimensions that have reemerged as a consequence of historically unsettled animosity between the Dinka and Nuer people, the crux of the problem is political. The rampant corruption and misuse of governmental authority in political and economic affairs has divided the ruling party (the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement or SPLM), while the state’s inability to provide basic services and alleviate poverty has created widespread disenchantment in a society that was largely optimistic that independence would bring lasting peace.

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Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Can Uruguay hash out a progressive model for cannabis reform?

If Uruguay’s cannabis policies succeed in curbing illegal drug trafficking and promoting responsible public use of the substance, other nations have no excuse not to experiment with alternative models of narcotics regulation.

The small Latin American nation of Uruguay has taken the brave step of becoming the first country in the world to fully legalize marijuana, one of the several progressive policies being undertaken by the left-of-center government of President José Mujica. The former Marxist and guerilla revolutionary spent more than a decade in jail prior to his release in 1985, and he later climbed his way up the political ladder from an elected deputy to president in 2009. Known for maintaining a frugal lifestyle and a preference for giving most of his monthly salary to charities that benefit the poor, Mujica has overseen the legalization of gay marriage, abortion, and now marijuana. Uruguay has become perhaps the region’s most socially liberal country, and the state’s decision to regulate the sale of marijuana – a de facto nationalization – will allow it to tinker with policies that can be emulated elsewhere if proven successful.

The new legislation would make marijuana commercially available to adult citizens after registering in a government database; users will be able to purchase 40 grams of marijuana from pharmacies every month and cultivate up to six plants on their property. The government aims to make marijuana available for one dollar per gram, with the aim of undercutting the black market rate of $1.40 per gram. Uruguay is estimated to have some 120,000 to 200,000 daily-to-occasional cannabis users, and the rationale behind the policy is that instead of these users getting their marijuana from traffickers and local mafia groups, the sensible alternative is to rein in the $40 million domestic industry by legitimizing it and offering a good quality product which can be regulated and offered in a safe environment.

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Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Perestroika in reverse? High-profile purge hints at N. Korea reform rift

The public sacking of Kim Jong-un’s uncle and mentor is not a sign of regime instability; it demonstrates that the young leader is firmly in control and is able to consolidate his power by purging any possible rival figures without question. 

The man widely believed to be the second-in-command in North Korea’s political hierarchy was been publicly chastened, stripped of all posts, and even forcibly removed by police officials during a political assembly.

Jang Song-thaek, the husband of former leader Kim Jong-il’s sister, has been politically intertwined with North Korea’s ruling family for over four decades. He climbed his way through the party, fell from grace in 2004, bounced back in 2006, and received a top military post in 2011 following the ascent of Kim Jong-un. Jang was frequently seen in public as the young leader’s mentor and adviser; he is known to have been a key figure in maintaining regime stability following the death of Kim Jong-il and was widely believed to be steering the state’s economic affairs, particularly in joint projects with China.

Jang’s purging and overt public denouncement in state-media is largely without precedent, turning an elite power broker into a reactionary agitator overnight. Sources indicate that Jang is already being given the Trotsky treatment as his name and image have reportedly begun being edited out of state-produced documentaries and articles.

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Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at

Friday, 6 December 2013

Pope Francis & the globalization of indifference

In the midst of massive global inequality and economic austerity, Pope Francis’ embrace of frugality has fundamentally changed the Vatican’s narrative and breathed new life into the religious institution.

Against the backdrop of his damning critique of economic disparity, many can agree that the images of Pope Francis embracing the disfigured and washing the feet of convicts radiate the kind of humility that has been undermined by the singular dominance of capitalism and its self-centered value system.

Regardless of what faith or philosophy one subscribes to, the relevance of the Pope’s message – that capitalism has grown unmanageably reckless and tyrannical – cannot be shied away from.

The pontiff’s concept of the ‘idolatry of money’ has touched every facet of modern society. It is present in neoliberal leaders who slash social services and practice an unrestrained brand of capitalism. It’s in lobby groups and the corporate CEOs, bankers, and hedge fund managers that pull the strings of‘democracy’ from behind the scenes. It’s in environmental degradation stemming from the mass production of consumer goods under the wasteful planned obsolescence model.

It’s also in the immoral hegemony of the military-industrial-complex; in the drive to patent organisms, plants, and animals; and in the pop-culture circus that incentivizes the unchecked dominance of consumerism, self-absorption and narcissism.

Former leaders of the Catholic Church have made similar criticisms, but it is Francis’ ability to communicate to laymen and his willingness to embrace those on the margins of society that set him apart from the gold, scandal and pomp that the Vatican has become known for.

The Pope’s reformist activism, his frugality, and his economic and political views can shape the thinking of world’s billion-strong community of Catholics, but can also create social rifts generated by those opposed to his populist philosophy.

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Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at