Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tea with Michelle Bachelet. Michelle Who????

Former Chilean President

Who is Michelle Bachelet? She is the former President of Chile and now the head of the new United Nations Women's Rights body.  She was the first female president of Chile and the first popularly elected South American president whose political career was independent of her husband. She is also a former pediatrician and the daughter of an army general who died after months of torture by Augusto Pinochet's forces. Ms. Bachelet also suffered torture by Pinochet's government before being exiled along with her mother who was an archeologist. It was while at the Humboldt University in East Berlin that she became active in socialist politics. She eventually returned to Chile in 1979 and completed her medical degree program. It was difficult for her to find a job under the Pinochet regime because of her family history but she ended up in a medical clinic treating victims of torture. It was after Pincochet's ouster in 1990 that Michelle became active in politics.

Michelle Bachelet
The first half of her presidential term was plagued with demonstrations and massive protests as well as strikes by copper miners. Her popularity fell sharply during this time but rebounded in the second half of her term because of her economic policies. She was able to have large profits set aside when the price of copper peaked. These savings funded pension reforms, social programs and a stimulus package to create jobs during the 2008 global financial crises. She is also credited with reducing poverty and improving early childhood education. These successes made her the most popular president in Chilean history. She is now heading the new United Nations Women agency.

Ms. Bachelet's is now focused on increasing female peacemakers and to end violence against women. She is in an organization whose processes are usually grid-locked by red tape. The body she is heading takes over from four existing, underfunded and relatively powerless institutions devoted to women's rights. Most observers feel Michelle  is the best person for the job. She has the tools to cajole and bully her way through UN diplomacy (aka red tape).

This former president is one of the very few who is smiling or laughing in almost all the images out there of her. Her smile makes one feel relaxed in her presence. I am looking forward to the amazing work this new body will be doing under her leadership. I hope she is able to break the pathetic mentality within the UN as it pertains to women.

Michelle Bachelet - Video
Encyclopedia Britannica
The Guardian

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Veiled Afghani Woman and Economics

Afghanistan economy has improved significantly since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001 due largely to billions of dollars in international assistance and investments as well as remittances from Afghans in the diaspora.  However, the country remains one of the the poorest and least developed in the world and one that is highly dependent on foreign aid. Afghanistan GDP per capita, as of 2010, was $1000 and about 35% of its population live below the poverty line.

As in any country facing various hardships, the hardest hit population is the women and children. Afghani women have had to bear the severest and hardest burden of the 23 years of relentless war and gender apartheid designed to erase them from public view. Although the political and cultural position of women has improved since the fall of the Taliban, repression of women is still prevalent particularly in rural areas where women are restricted from public participation. One in every three Afghan women experiences physical, psychological or sexual violence and every 30 minutes a woman dies during childbirth. 70% - 80% of women are forced into marriages and 87% of women are illiterate because they are denied basic education. Only 30% of girls have access to education.

Afghani women are slowly building their ability to explore and achieve improved economic potential generating hope for a brighter future for them and their families. It is becoming clear that the only way to improve Afghanistan's living conditions is by empowering women.  Women are the backbones of all economies around the world. In Afghanistan women play a significant role in agriculture. Of the 80% Afghans employed in the agriculture field or similar occupations, 30% are women. However, the women earn three times less than the men even though they spend as much time working on the land as men.

"The economic empowerment of women is not a women's issue, it is a development issue. Under-investing in women's economic opportunity limits economic growth and slows down progress in poverty reduction".  This was an express observation by the World Bank's (PREM) Vice President, Danny Leipzig, in 2007 at the Berlin-based dialogue on Women's Economic Empowerment as Smart Economics: A Dialogue on Policy Options. 

Canada has stepped up and is presenting new opportunities to the vulnerable Afghani women in the form of micro-finance credit projects. The Micro-Finance Investment Support Facility (MISFA) is known as one of the world's largest micro finance programs. It is providing small loans and savings services to more that 445,000 Afghanis across 24 provinces, of which two-thirds are women. Most clients use the loans to invest in small retail businesses, in agriculture or livestock. To date more than one million loans have been given totaling US$384 million. In many cases, these opportunities have helped Afghan women acquire more self-esteem, more respect within their families and has served to mitigate domestic violence. More importantly it lifts women out of the poverty cycle.

So as the opportunities for empowerment and access to financial backing and infrastructure support continue to be realized, the debate on Afghan women and their plight, their representation, and their fight for inclusion goes on. Kabul may have been liberated from tyrannical Taliban rule, but most women in Afghanistan remain veiled. They continue to watch wearily as the war unfolds, still observers and not participants in their own destiny.

Other Sources:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Out With Strauss-Kahn, In With Who?

Strauss-Kahn in his heydays
So now Strauss-Kahn has resigned from the IMF a few months before his scheduled departure and as of this morning granted bail.

The resignation has accelerated the race for the IMF top position with Europe scrambling to hold on to this high-profile position. The Bretton Woods institions (IMF and World Bank) are notoriously very Euro-centric and it is a well known agreement (albeit unspoken) that the IMF boss is European and the World Bank boss is American - a concession by the Europeans since both headquarters are in the USA.

Traditionally, the selection of a new Managing Director is decided by IMF's executive board which is made up of 24 representatives of IMF's 187 member countries. The US, China, Japan and the UK have their own seats on the board as they are regarded as the big economies. The other countries are grouped in constituencies. Votes cast are weighted by the country's subscription to the IMF, known as its quota, which is related to the nation's share of the world economy. Clearly, unless small economies in the same constituency unite and push one representative, the position would always be occupied by the largest economy.  China and other emerging economies are underrepresented considering the new economic power blocks recently created. China's share of the global economy (PPP-GDP) is 13.6% but its IMF vote share is only 3.82%. Yet countries like the UK and France account for 2.9% of PPP GDP, but each has 2.9% of the vote.

The European Union (EU) share of the vote is about a third so if they unify behind a single candidate that would give them a greater advantage to hold on to this position. However, the EU has been known in the past not to back the same candidate. This may change considering the ranging factors beginning with the economic troubles within the Euro-zone and the louder voices of countries like China, Brazil and South Africa regarding this top position. The Wall Street on Wednesday reported that the European officials are uniting to back French Minister Christine Lagarde for this top post. The sovereign-debt problems and other European financial challenges are likely to remain at the top of IMF's agenda for the next few years and this is being seen as enough ammunition to argue that Europe should hold on to the top job for the immediate future.

China, recognizing its IMF member position as the third most powerful member urged "fairness, transparency and merit" in the selection process. Brazil and South Africa are adding their voices urging that the next MD not be chosen on the basis of nationality. The Germans acknowledge that developing countries can make a case for the top posts at the Bretton Woods institutions but argue that under the current situation surrounding the Euro it is best placed for a European candidate.

In the meantime, other potential candidates for the position besides Christine Lagarde include Gordon Brown who has been quietly lobbying for the position; Trevor Manuel, a former South African finance minister whose name has come up in other years as a possible candidate; former Turkish finance minister Kemal Dervis; Israeli central bank chief and form IMF first deputy MD Stanley Fisher; and former German Bundesbank chief Axel Weber who earlier this year bowed out of the race to succeed Jean-Claude Trichet as president of the European Central Bank.

I wonder what kind of power shake up there would be if all the developing countries including the emerging economies decided to field their own candidate who was non-European. When Africa and South America were going through their financial difficulties, the IMF executive positions were held by Europeans (and Americans) who made fiscal decisions for regions/continents they hardly knew. Now that the Euro-zone is in trouble Europe feels it is best suited for the position because of the decisions that need to be made and negotiated. Is this euro-centric arrogance or what?

Republic Report
Market Watch

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Uganda's Museveni - A Problem for Kenya?

In a photo taken on May 12, 2011 Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (Front - C) with his wife, First Lady Janet Museveni (2L) stands with heads of state including (from-L front row) Zimbabwe President Robert MugabeKenya's President Mwai KibakiKenya's former president Daniel Moi, (from L middle row) Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, Congolese President Joseph Kabila, Nigerian President Jonathan Goodluck and South Sudan leader Salva Kiir among other dignitaries during his swearing in ceremony in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, was sworn in for a fourth term as president of Uganda
President Museveni of Uganda will be inaugurated tomorrow, Thursday, May 19, 2011. His swearing ceremony last Thursday, May 12th, was attended by heads of State from the neighboring countries of Ethiopia, DRC, Kenya, Southern Sudan and Tanzania as well as the leaders of Zimbabwe and Nigeria. Museveni will begin his fourth term as President of Uganda having already served for 25 years. Museveni has lost his charm with the Ugandans and now that the economy is on a nose dive with high fuel and food prices, his opposition opponent, Dr. Kizza Besigye, is gaining more popularity with every strike Museveni makes against him. 

Dr. Kizza Besigye
Dr. Besigye, who was undergoing treatment in neighboring Kenya after being attacked by special branch police during a demonstration, returned on Thursday in time to join protestors at the swearing in ceremony. He has also sworn to protest during the inauguration ceremony tomorrow as a rejection of Museveni's presidential win which he says was a sham steeped with rigging. Dr. Besigye addressed journalists in Kenya last week and called on the Kenyan government to promote democracy in Uganda. He warned that an unstable Uganda will unleash a refugee and economic burden if the country collapses and added that the interest of any government in Nairobi should promote justice and stability in Uganda. Clearly, Besigye's remarks were geared towards Kibaki's government whose loyalty is to Museveni. President Museveni was the first head of State to send a congratulatory message to President Kibaki during the contentious Kenyan elections of 2007. He overtly opposed Raila Odinga's claims of having defeated President Kibaki. It is a known fact that Museveni does not like or get along with Prime Minister Odinga and the latter is not hiding the fact that he supports Museveni's nemesis, Dr. Besigye. So Besigye's remarks can be taken as a warning of consequences to President Kibaki's support of Museveni.
President Museveni
In 1986, Museveni wrote a book called "What is wrong with Africa?". In it he said, "The problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people but leaders who want to overstay in power." Ironically, Museveni is about to start another 5 year term, having already served for 25 years and is ruthlessly putting down any form of opposition. Although the government will not admit it, all is not well in Uganda right now. The hard economic times being experienced in the country have provided fertile ground for the opposition to hurt the government by calling for walk-to-work protests, a guileful way of getting around the ban on demonstrations. Museveni banned demonstrations recently after having seen enough evidence of their impact in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and the Middle East.

Museveni's clamp-down on opposition politician Dr. Besigye has prompted more violent clashes. The tipping point was when Ugandans watched the evening news in horror at the sight of plainclothes police men smashing the politician's car windows and spraying him with chemical before dumping him on the back of a truck.

Museveni has forgotten what he wrote. He has become the problem for Uganda and if left unchecked may become a problem for the East African region. He has overstayed in power is now more of a liability than an asset to this small East African country.

East African Standard

French Women and Fidelity - The Case of Strauss-Kahn

Forlorn IMF Boss
The lawyers for Mr. Strauss-Kahn will make another plea for bail tomorrow (Thursday, May 19th) morning. It is not looking good for this IMF Boss. He seems to be forlorn and for whatever reason is believed to be a suicidal threat and so is under constant watch.

The chambermaid on the other hand is terrified for herself and her 15-year old daughter after learning that the man she accused is a powerful international giant. She has not been able to return to her apartment because of all the people camped outside her Bronx sub-let apartment. Her lawyer, J..J. Shapiro has her in a "safe place" as he prepares her to testify against Strauss-Kahn.

In France the story seems to be more favored toward Mr. Strauss-Kahn with polls showing that he is a victim of conspiracy. In my earlier blog I ventured to point out the peculiar reason why I think this could be a possibility. However, it does not mean I condone this man's sick actions nor do I hold the French view that politicians are supposed to be sexier, more seductive and cultured than ordinary humans. I would, however, like to know the train of events that led to the very rapid action to get hold of Mr. Strauss-Kahn and having him pulled out of a taxing plane.

Apparently French women do not always stand in solidarity when such cases come up. There is an expectation that political leaders cannot keep all their "charisma" bottled up. Strauss-Kahn's wife, Ann Sinclair, is backing her husband as she has always done when he has been caught in infidelity situations. However, this time the case against him is much more serious than infidelity.

Clearly, Ms. Sinclair, has much to lose if her husband is found guilty. She is no fool. If they are able to steer the hands of justice in their favor, she has a good chance of being the First Lady of France once her husband wins the 2012 elections. She is not going to turn her back on her husband now - there is too much at stake and she is not planning on being on the losing end.

New York Times

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Strauss-Kahn - Did you think you could get away with this? Seriously??

Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York Court

So Mr. Strauss-Kahn's sins have at last caught up with him! Who would have thought that it would take a simple African immigrant maid to bring down the popular former French Minister of Finance and current IMF president? I do not this he can believe it himself. It is incomprehensible! An African chambermaid had him pulled off a taxing plane? Wow!

I do not want to come across as not giving the Mr. Kahn the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, but his past record does not give him much room for this presumption. Mr. Strauss-Kahn is known to have been reprimanded by the IMF Board for unbecoming behavior towards his female staff and as of yesterday a 31-year old French writer says she too will file a criminal complaint against this "powerful" European for a similar alleged incident in 2002. Who knows how many other presumably "voice-less" women Mr. Strauss-Kahn has victimized in the many countries he has visited. If this incident actually took place it is clear that he thought he could get away with it as he has done previously. After all who would pay heed to a "simple African maid"? He is the IMF President, a figure to reckon with in the world of high-level economics and politics! 

Guinean Voters
The New York chambermaid who has made this sexual allegations against Mr. Strauss-Kahn is a citizen of Guinea - a former French colony in West Africa. Guinea - formally known as French Guinea - is also referred to a Guinea-Conakry to distinguish it from its neighbor Guinea-Bissau.  Guinea recently gained a democracy after military rule since 2008 after a military coup. The country has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world and is among the world's least developed countries. It is one of the 10 poorest countries and depends largely on an economy of agriculture and fishing. As per 2002 statistics, 40% of Guinea's population lives below the poverty line. This poor West African country is one of IMF's clients and in 2002 IMF suspended Guinea's Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) because the government failed to meet key performance criteria.

Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn before his fall
Considering these economic factors about Guinea I think it is safe to assume that the chambermaid came to the USA looking for a better life for her and her 7-year old daughter. It is admirable that the Sofitel New York, where the incident took place, are solidly backing the chambermaid who, the hotel says, has worked at the hotel for the last three years and has a "satisfactory record in terms of her work and behavior". Sofitel is a French-based chain of hotels. 

What is interesting to me is how quickly this incident was investigated within the hotel and a conclusion made within a few hours to pull Mr. Strauss-Kahn, the president of IMF, off a plane bound for France as it was taxing off. Within a few hours of reporting the alleged assault this West African maid had the police pulling a prominent and presumably powerful European politician off a plane. It makes me wonder how much clout this maid has at the hotel or does the hotel move this fast on these forms of allegations against their best clientele? This man was paying $3000 a night and when a simple African chambermaid made an allegation of sexual assault the hotel did not hesitate to pull all the ropes to get their client pulled off a taxing plane.  

My theory is that there may be more to this story than what we currently know. There could be an element of truth that this was a set up. After all, Mr. Strauss-Kahn, who recently declared his candidacy for Presidency in France, was favored by the polls as being the best placed Socialist candidate to beat President Nicolas Sarkozy in a run-off.  The French Presidential elections are in 2012. In the last few months it was becoming clear that this Presidential campaign was set to be a nasty in low politics and Mr. Strauss-Kahn has not been favorably portrayed by the French media.

I think there is more to this story than just the sexual allegation. Time will tell. Mr. Strauss-Kahn will be in court again on May 20th. I will patiently wait... the truth always comes out sooner or later.