musings on travel, international living, development aid, politics, turkey (the country more than the meat) and anything else that comes to mind...

Monday, March 26, 2012

Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like - Predicting Rain

Check out my guest post on Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like (one of my favorite blogs) here... enjoy!
Expat aid workers are skilled people. We have sacrificed jobs back home that would unquestionably be handed to us on a silver platter in the ‘private sector’ to help those in need of our unique, and locally unavailable, skills. Despite the fact that we may have no practical work experience in any world (much less the developing one), many EAWs are born leaders and natural experts in areas generally not handled by political science graduates (like poop). We are quick learners and, in addition to those we already bring to the table, we develop innumerable skills during our stints abroad. Almost overnight, we become fully proficient in local culture and dress, obscure languages, and the location of the best expat coffee shop.
However, the most underrated skills of an EAW come from those days and nights spent in the bush under the stars, swatting mosquitoes and protecting our anti-bacterial hand sanitizer as if it were the cure for cancer. It is only after time (at least a week) spent in a remote field post that one is qualified enough to predict the weather. - Courtesy of Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like

The beginning of the end of the AKP/Gülen marriage?

...the tactical alliance between the AKP and the Gülen movement began to fade once the two groups’ common enemies had been neutralized. As the split between the two is likely to form a central fault line in Turkish politics in coming years, it is important to briefly note wherein their differences lie. - excerpt from "The Big Split: The Differences that Led Erdogan and the Gulen Movement to Part Ways", first published in the Turkey Analyst, a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center.
A fascinating, unemotional and informative look at the roots of the AKP/Gülen partnership that has been so effective in the last decade of Turkish politics. More importantly, the authors explain how the same things that brought the two Islamist groups together may be tearing them apart now that the Kemalist military has essentially been neutralized.

Of particular interest was the focus on the specific (and different) Islamic roots of both movements. People in the west (and indeed many secular Turks) have a tendency to lump all Islamic factions, orders, movements, etc. into one, assuming that, since both the AKP and Gülenists have fundamentalist roots, they will naturally get along into perpetuity since at least one of them is (officially) in charge. Alas, this is not the case. However, against a common enemy even the most unlikely of partnerships tend to emerge, so it's understandable that the two different ideological sects would come together against the military. (But let's not forget that when religion gets intertwined in politics regardless of the country, who knows what kind of craziness will result...?)

The article concludes by saying that the rift between the two is essentially one caused by ideological differences on Iran, Israel, etc., but more importantly by a desire for power which, in terms of Erdoğan at least, is fairly obvious. The questions in my mind therefore become: will Islamist control of Turkish politics now weaken and, if so, will any of the secular parties be able to swoop in to capitalize? Sadly, after a devastatingly corrupt and inept period of secular governance in the 90s, this is unlikely - although I hope I'm wrong.

I learned quite a bit from the folks at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center (although CA-CI&SRSPJC is a mouthful) and hope you do too. This is the type of article that reminds us why academia and academics should continue to play a pivotal role in policy-making.

HT: Burhan Gurdogan (@bgurdogan)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Turkey's president doesn't think his party is religious... seriously?

“Turkey does not have religious parties,” Anatolia news agency quoted [Gül] as saying. - Hurriyet Daily News, March 15, 2012
Turkey's president, Abdullah Gül, is often overshadowed by his master colleague the prime minister. Every once in a while, though, he gets up on that ever-so-high horse and pontificates at Turkey's 'Muslim brothers'.

This article in the Hurriyet Daily News (one of a couple English language dailies) about his current trip to Tunisia actually started off very well:
Turkish President Abdullah Gül has warned Muslim countries against seeking religious-based politics... 

Excellent. Well said sir. Bravo.
...saying parties that promise such rule would ultimately harm the faith.
Doh!

So instead of saying that religious-based politics is, for example, bad for politics, the country, progress, etc... he's more concerned about it's impact on Islam should overtly religious politicians fail. Then he goes on to say that Turkey does not have religious parties... I'm not even sure where to start on that one. Is this an Onion article or something?

As much as I snark, there is a silver lining to this. Turkey's current political elite know how much of an influence they now have regionally; not only politically but culturally. Turkey is held up as the 'model' of how Islamist (or 'mildly Islamist' as the Economist would say) politicians can allegedly coexist with a western-style democracy. I don't agree with the reason behind Gül's statements (that Islamic politics harms Islam), but I do think that there is some benefit in the prescription itself (that majority Islamic countries should have secular governments). You win some and you lose some I guess...

On the bright side, Gül did say some things on his Tunisia trip that (if I remove all inner cynicism and mistrust over what he probably actually means...) I can get behind:
Gül also advised Muslim countries to adopt democracy, accountability and transparency, saying democracy and Islam did not contradict each other.
I agree. Islam and democracy do not inherently contradict one another. Especially when they're not mixed together.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Dangers of Fetishizing Globalization

So the students were not necessarily against redistribution. They were against certain kinds of redistribution. Like most of us, they care about procedural fairness.
To pass judgment on redistributive outcomes, we need to know about the circumstances that cause them. We do not begrudge Bill Gates or Warren Buffett their billions, even if some of their rivals have suffered along the way, presumably because they and their competitors operate according to the same ground rules and face pretty much the same opportunities and obstacles.
Dani Rodrik has an excellent, concise, easy-to-understand article on globalization and, more specifically, income redistribution due to globalization, written after a presentation to a class of Harvard students.

I've always considered myself a 'free-trader' of sorts but have also always been leery of it without the appropriate 'procedural fairness', lest we end up with (among countless other things) another financial crisis caused by unscrupulous traders, more exploitative labor practices in Indonesia, uncontrolled industrial pollution in China (or the US for that matter), etc.

Rodrik's article explains my fears of the system (and it's nuances) much better than I can. Well done sir ve teşekkürler.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Gems from International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day. I work with a few strong women in South Sudan, including a women's/human rights activist, so when asked if I was going to do something for the female staff on international women's day I immediately said 'yes'. Looking back this reactionary response was more out of self-preservation than any initial knowledge of the significance of the day.

Originally called International Women's Working Day (somehow I don't think that would fly these days...), turns out International Women's Day was first celebrated widely in 1977 after the UN made some sort of proclamation that it was, in fact, important to celebrate women. It only took them 30 years after their formation to figure that out. I'd say that's about par for the course with the UN.

So, slightly fearful of what was to come, I set out with seven of my female colleagues this afternoon to celebrate. We ended up on the patio of a local hotel drinking mango juice and talking about women. What could be better?!

Some gems from the hour:

  • After showing up a bit late, one lady was asked if she knew why we were meeting for drinks outside of the office: "Yes. It's Women's Day. What is HE doing here?"
  • Same lady: "He can just pay for the first round of beer then go." No filter. If it enters the brain of this particular woman (who I really like by the way), it's coming out of her mouth.
  • The societal role of Dinka women? "We dig and have babies." Still don't exactly know what that means.
  • "This is good," one lady said referring to the drinks and perhaps the atmosphere. "Next year food."
  • "I'd like a passion fruit juice please." A simple request from one of our most stellar employees. "Fashion juice? Ok. Immediately." The waiter, bless his heart, didn't quite get it despite several different attempts and even after he pulled in backup (another Ethiopian whose English was equally missing). She ended up with a fruit salad. 
  • "Last year was the first in five years that I didn't suffer over Christmas." And why is that? "You gave us a bonus." Note to journalists and well-meaning aid workers everywhere: when someone in South Sudan says they've 'suffered', ask a few follow-up questions.
  • After exactly 1 hour of celebration: "Can we go home now?"