Jalal Talabani in hospital

News has spread across the wire that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is in hospital and in a comatose state. The ailing president and his parties (PUK) control of Kurdish Parliament has held the Iraqi state together. His current state could put Iraqi peace in jeopardy, as it leaves open a massive vacuum in Kurdish and Iraqi politics. Could the status quo shift to an undesirable one— with ethnic violence between the Arab and Kurdish populations?

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Power Sharing?

Negotiated political settlement as in the case of Zimbabwe is also reshaping the political structure in many African states. With a renewed focus on the principles of equality, inclusiveness, reconciliation, and compromise, these settlements and subsequent power-sharing arrangements are concluding protracted conflicts. Liberia, Kenya, the Central African Republic, and Burundi are cases of arguably successful power-sharing agreements providing a sense of peace, stability, and rule of law so that constitutional changes of power can take place. The 2003 Comprehensive Agreement in Liberia was fraught with complications as “the solution to [the Liberian Civil War] was not possible without Taylor, [but the] resolution was also not possible with Taylor’s participation either”, bringing into question the effectiveness of inclusivity in these agreements. Although the Liberian peace process was complicated by the interconnectedness of militia’s and divisions based on descendancy, it has brought stability and a constitutionally elected government to power—ending the decades long civil war. Political arrangements of this form might seem weak by their concentration on inclusiveness and reconciliation of past differences, but without these arrangements undue suffering and violence would continue unrestrained. The Liberian case has set a precedent in Africa that other nations are likely to follow. As Charles Taylor can confirm, now sitting in the Hague, short-term sightedness ends in long-term indictments, a sentiment Mugabe and his coterie are envisaging.



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Fast Track Land Reform

Cronyism, poor governance, and hyperinflation did not bring about change alone, a breakdown of the rule of law accelerated that process. After a humiliating defeat in the 2000 Constitutional Referendum and the Parliamentary Elections to the ‘no’ and MDC vote respectively, Zanu-PF ignited a racial sentiment in many disenfranchised, poor, and landless black Zimbabweans—especially ‘War Veterans’ and party members who saw the financial gain. “The Sunday Mail”, a Zanu-PF publication proclaimed that “while twenty years ago we fought [the whites] using AK rifles, today we are using a pen and ballot paper…the enemy is still the same.” Zanu-PF started a war of vengeance with the ferociousness of its campaign in Matabeleland in the 1980’s, only this time it was the whites who were targets. White Zimbabweans were seen as easy prey—they held significant wealth, overwhelmingly voted ‘no’ in the referendum, sympathised with the MDC, and thousands held secondary citizenship, allowing the government to declare them foreigners who must be expelled. ‘Fast Track Land Reform’ accompanied with sometimes violent farm invasions, soon brought about international attention. The Land Acquisition Act of 1992 had already abandoned the ‘willing seller, willing buyer’ clause agreed upon in the Lancaster House agreement. Now the process of ‘acquisition’, albeit unwilling acquisition without compensation was accelerated. Although court orders of cessation were initially received by white farmers, they were simply ignored—declared worthless by the men carrying pitchforks and the police holding back, not involving themselves in ‘political matters’. The immediate effects of the farm invasions were felt—increasing food prices and subsequent shortages, necessitating an increase in both imports and foreign borrowing. While the ‘War Veterans’ and the Zanu-PF supported ‘Green Bombers’ militia continued chanting “Land is the Economy and the Economy is land”, they were blind sighted by the fact that they were bringing about an electoral victory for their enemy—the MDC.

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Daily Life Under Threat

  1.  With the mobilisation of thousands, Mugabe had in place the framework for systematic intimidation and ‘re-education’, mastering the practices of torture first envisioned by Mao during the Cultural Revolution. He used the terror groups patriotically titled the ‘War Veterans’ and ‘Green Bombers’ to terrify and intimidate mostly rural voters. The police were helpless, outmanned, outgunned, and headed by Zanu-PF die hards. Mugabe had already lost Harare and Bulawayo to the MDC and trade unions, he was not going to let that happen to the peasants of his revolution. Intimidation intensified as the Central Intelligence Organisation and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) not only turned a blind eye but became active participants. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights released multiple reports which urged the Zimbabwean government to “avoid any further politicisation of the police force”. Responding to the accusations of human rights abuses perpetrated by the ZRP, Mugabe stated “when the police say move, move. If you don’t move, you invite the police to use force”. Mugabe angered and growing impatient with the opposition, after all he was the one who liberated them from the wretches of the whites. He was the liberator, without his regime, his legacy would be nothing. He had to hold on.
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A New Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe is the archetype of a post-independent nation beset by a stalled democracy—rife with strong ideological differences, power struggles, and failed political reform. But it is also representative of the power balance in Southern Africa—where economic, political, and social dominance is still held by South Africa. During the fallout of the 2008 general elections and the political stalemate that followed, a monumental shift occurred—redefining this establishment, in both Zimbabwe and South Africa. It was poetic justice as Mugabe, flanked by Zanu-PF politburo members and MPs swore-in Morgan Tsvangirai to the office of Prime Minister. The Global Political Agreement (GPA)—a power-sharing arrangement between Zanu-PF, MDC, and an impatient Thabo Mbeki, was signed and put into practice. This was a moment of genuine elation, the light was peering at the end of the tunnel, within a few minutes, political stalemate would be finished. Zimbabwe would be on a new course or so they thought. When the dust settled the politics of fear continued unabated. Zimbabwe was once the shining example of a new Africa, without the tides of racist politics, it was the example of South Africa.


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Francafrique: Thoughts on Tunis

Ryan E and I recently returned from a weeklong trip to Rome and Tunis. Revisiting one of my favorite cities and then jetting off to a post-revolutionary society was exhilarating and exciting, and offered some interesting insights that can relate to economics as well as peace and conflict.

This January I visited Rome and other Italian cities as part of the J-term course “Investigating Environmental and Economic Change in Italy” with Dr. Travis and Dr. Reiman from the econ department. A major theme for this program was studying conservation. This took the form of studying sustainable fishing in the Venice lagoon, responsible forestry in the Italian Alps, but also the question of “cultural tourism,” and how countries should handle this phenomenon.


It’s certainly worth preserving

So having previously studied cultural tourism, I was somewhat equipped to compare and contrast how it’s handled in Italy versus how Tunisia chooses to preserve their heritage, and the difference could not be more stark.

After arriving at the ruins of Carthage, just outside of Tunis (our taxi driver had taken great pleasure in calling his friends and telling them he had Americans in the car, we must be a rarity these days), we were struck at just how carelessly it was looked after. While it was certainly fun to enter these dangerous old structures, and literally climb on top of the ancient baths buildings, the only guards visible were the military men with guns that we found at the edge of the site (scary at first, but they were friendly), and they were actually guarding the adjacent Presidential Palace, not the ruins themselves. There was no care given to preservation. The same thing happened at the Bardo Museum (their National Museum), which is full of ancient Roman mosaics that you literally get to walk on.


I’m not even kidding, you literally walk on them. That definitely didn’t happen to priceless mosaics in Italy.

I think there are a few reasons for the difference. The most obvious, of course, is that Tunisia is a developing country, while Italy is a major global economy, and has resources to dedicate to preserving cultural heritage, while Tunisia might not. A corollary to this is that Tunisia has exponentially fewer visitors interested in cultural tourism, and less people equals less damage, so the incentive to protect the sites from hordes of tourists isn’t as strong. 

Another area that the Bardo museum covered extensively were the Punic wars between Rome and Carthage, a classic example of competition between regional powers. A plaque at the museum described how Rome was threatened by Carthage’s domination of trade in the Western Mediterranean basin, and control of the Straits of Messina – the route between the Eastern and Western basins. Long story short, Rome saw Carthage as antithetical to them, and destroyed it over the course of three wars spanning over a century – the tour guide at the site described Carthage as the “Hiroshima of Antiquity,” because the Romans destroyed it brick-by-brick and salted the earth around it, rendering it completely uninhabitable for decades. 

Less people = less damage, more people would necessitate better preservation, trade offs!
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Falling in Love with Norway

This weekend the other Sara, Kendal, Kari and I  were invited to spent the weekend with a friend of ours from class. Our friend Silje lives out in the woods about an hour and a half from Oslo. We left Oslo on friday morning. On our drive to her home we made a pit stop at her child hood home and met her mother. Then once back on the road she showed us the town she went to school in as a child. Then we stopped at a small cafe picked up some sandwiches and hit the road again. Pretty soon we ended up parked on a logging road. We took a quick 20 min hike up to an look out tower for wild fires called a tarnet. The tower was really cool. It had a kitchen and bedroom in the bottom floor as well as a dining room and a wrap around deck on the top floor. The view was incredible. While there  we ate our lunch and tried Gløgg a traditional Norwegian drink. It tastes like cinnamon cloves and ginger. Then we stopped at her home, dropped off our thing and went on another drive. This time grocery shopping in Sweden. While we were shopping in Sweden we went to a store about the same size of a Fred Myers. To us it seemed HUGE. I guess we’ve grown used to the small stores that you find in the city. This surprised me because in the states I do the majority of my shopping at Costco. We discovered a row of “Amerikan” food. We stood in the row laughing and almost crying at the sight of some familiar staples we hadn’t seen in three months and had taken for granted when we were home.  Thing like boxed macaroni and cheese, Goldfish crackers and BBQ sauce. Then we ventured into a massive candy store with bulk bins of chocolate… Needless to say there was a general amount of silliness in our sugar high state. When we got home our Silje and her boyfriend began making homemade pizza. But this wasn’t normal pizza. It was Moose pizza. If you imagine sloppy joes and a with white cheddar and pineapple on top. Served with sour cream and ketchup as additional topping choices. Moose tastes very similar to beef.  It is a staple in Norwegian homestyle cooking. People hunt them in fields near their homes. That night we just relaxed and watched a couple movies.

The next day we all slept in and spent the day relaxing because the weather wasn’t nice enough to go hiking in. For breakfast we had American pancakes, served in the Norwegian style with Sour cream and Jam. In the evening a friend of our hosts came over and we cooked a large meal. Similar to a thanksgiving meal in size. We had Moose,  a roast, Fried potatoes and boiled potatoes, various vegetables and homemade gravy.

The Third day we went for a walk a little ways down the road to the lake that was near the house. We spent a little while there chatting and looking around. It was very serene; no boats on the lake, only a few farms along the banks and wonderful sunny weather. I walked in to the lake up to my knees. It was colder than the puget sound water I’m used to. It was about 35 degrees out. Sara am Kendal decided to go for a swim. So after a quick change of attire and grabbing a few blankets and towels they headed in. They were in the lake for about 30 seconds. They managed to go all the way under twice before running out. After getting out and regaining feeling in their feet they said it had felt really good, they were completely refreshed. After they warmed up we packed some food and headed to Silje’s in-law’s home 15 minutes away. They lived on a farm overlooking another lake as well. They had quite a bit of forested property too. We went for a hike to a small lake on top of the hill that was hidden behind some large boulders. At the edge of the lake there was a small fishing cabin. Silje said that they stay in the cabin some times during the year so they can go fishing but it was to cold for fishing now. After that we trekked back. On the way we grabbed some water from the stream that was clean enough to drink as is. When we got to the mouth of the trail where we had started we sat around a small fire pit wit a tarp covering. Silje started a fire, then started cooking for us. She made Reindeer with sauteed mushrooms, bacon and cream served on bread. She told us this was a very Norwegian style of meal only that potatoes are normally used instead of bread. She also said that Reindeer is eaten up north more often while in the south they eat moose. It was possibly one of the most delicious things I’d ever eaten. Reindeer tasted nothing like beef, its not gamey at all. After that we headed to the farm house where Silje’s mother in law invited us in for coffee and pie. Her house was beautiful, Pine furniture and art work from Lapland where she was from. Her pie was amazing! It was a blue berry pie with vanilla custard and a latice top crust. I asked her if she could give the recipe to Silje for me. Instead she went an got it immediately and a piece of paper and a pen and handed them all to me. She grinned at me so I’m pretty sure she was testing how much Norwegian I could read.  Surprisingly I could read most of it I only needed help translating 2 sentences. I can’t wait to try out the recipe! We had a wonderful discussion about the difference in Norwegian culture and American culture, specifically pertaining to how we start a conversation by saying “how are you” when we don’t actually want to know that person’s well being. To Norwegians this is odd, they instead just say Hei (hi). Silje’s mother in law said that she thought we are more polite when we talk to people than Norwegians.

I had more fun during this quiet weekend than I’ve had the entire time I’ve been in Europe. That includes the trip we took to the UK  and Ireland for fall break and the trip we just took to Hungary.  I’ve never seen so much hospitality before in my life! It was great to get out of the city and see what normal Norway is like. The pace of life seems much slower, more relaxed. It seemed like anyone living in that environment would have a difficult time finding something to be stressed out about. Oslo is a nice city but the Norwegian countryside is where my I’ve discovered my love of Norway.



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Zimbabwean Paradox

The match struck and the nation set aflame. Zanu-PF—the party of liberation, has ruled since independence, crafting a de-facto one-party state and a nation in the guise of the man himself—Robert Mugabe. Tasked with fighting ‘anti-imperialist, foreign invaders’ Mugabe has mastered the practice of medicating his subjects with a dosing of ‘soft’ touch coercion. ‘The Miracle of Africa’ as Zimbabwe was once known as has devolved into a backwater and a serious diplomatic challenge for South Africa and the political bloc with most to lose—African National Congress (ANC). South Africa with its own internal worries—high unemployment, crime, and corruption, has to absorb those of its northern neighbour, specifically an estimated 1.5 million Zimbabweans who have crossed over the border. This situation is compounded by weak economic growth, wide spread xenophobia, and little to no political will. What was once bleak has become desperate.

What is to follow will be a glimpse—a mere drop in the sea, in a crisis between parties, countries, and the personalities that power it all—the Zimbabwean paradox.

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I ran across this interesting ad for H&M. How do you feel about it? Is it morally ok to waste so much energy and potable water on advertisements, If yes why and if no where is the line drawn?

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Beyond communication technology…

You provided an amazing array of responses to the Engeland lecture and the question I had drawn from its title.  I apologize for being so slow in responding to them.  From a structural standpoint those responses that included detailed references to the lecture did a great service to not only the individual writers, but also to all the readers by providing context for the comments.  I also appreciated Kendall’s inclusion of the “Guardian’s” interactive exercise in evaluating whether the world is better or not.  I’m curious.  Did any of you other than Kendall play around with it a little bit?   She notes that in general those of your generation were more inclined to see the world as “better,” and your comments seemed to agree with that.

Do you see a message in that for the world’s leaders?  What would it be in terms of their approaches to governance?

Another question:  Do you think this optimism among people of your age could be assumed in equal measure among the  populations of developing nations as well as the developed?  Why?

I also was intrigued by Ryan E.’s linking of the reality of “a better world” with our expectation of such a world.   I suspect we all try to find in the world around us what we WANT TO FIND there.  But is there anything “wrong” in our reacting that way?
Finally, you all alluded to the potential benefits of advanced communication technology in encouraging greater tolerance among the world’s peoples.  But is communication technology enough in itself to bring that to fruition?  From a governance perspective, what other influences are going to be necessary?








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