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Insurgency in Myanmar: Examining
There has been an uptick in an insurgent group activity in Myanmar the past few months. A new insurgency group within the Rohingya community named Harakah al-Yaqin has been carrying out attacks in the Rakhine state. This is a small yet important economic area within Myanmar that has a large Muslim population located within a country that is mainly Buddhist.

According to a Stratfor report, the Rohingya have long been a marginalized group in Myanmar society. They are not granted full citizenship and are accused of not being Myanmar at all, but rather recent Bengali immigrants.

The group demands are more ethnic-based rather than being steeped in political Islam. They are asking for government recognition as citizens and equal rights, but with no mention of Sharia law which differentiates them from other Islamist insurgencies. The scope of what is an insurgency depends on what the goal of that group ends up being.

With insurgencies varying from movement to movement, it is important to determine what is an insurgency. A recent paper by Aaron Young & David Gray seeking to define the term looks at likely causes and examines possible solutions. They believe that an insurgency is bound to political constraints. They define what is an insurgency by the challenging of these political aspects:

  1. The integrity of borders and composition of the nation-state
  2. The political system
  3. The authorities in power
  4. The policies that determine who gets what in societies

They believe that terrorism is only an option utilized by insurgencies if they fail on achieving their political goals. Over the years, though, the inclusion of guerilla warfare and terrorist tactics have served the purpose of demoralizing their opposition which can sometimes equate to an accelerated victory of their political goals.

Gray reports that “through proper management of social services and welfare programs, the needs of insurgent masses can be met. Only by the willingness of cooperation by the state and insurgent forces can a unified agreement be reached, considering that is a goal of the organization.”

Economic factors are important to squash an insurgency according to Mr. Gray. His research has led him to believe that by including indigenous and minority groups into economic development instead of complete control by the ruling party can be key to defeating the underlying current of an insurgency. And that the only way an insurgency can continue is if economic conditions remain the same or worsen. He states “by increasing regional utilization and production of viable resources, unemployment reductions, giving the masses both a sense of control of their own destinies and increases in the distribution of wealth has the effect of reducing strife and discontent.”

The Myanmar government reportedly has very little interest in including the Rohingya population into future economic growth. There are politically motivated fears that any softening towards the Muslim population may lead to a change in power facilitated by an angry Buddhist majority electorate. Young & Gray would argue the exact opposite approach to ending the unrest currently occurring in Myanmar.

Brian Faust

Photo: Flickr

What Are the World's Fastest Growing Economies?
Though the U.S. is known as the world’s largest economy, many of the world’s fastest growing economies are those of developing nations. Among factors such as foreign aid, increased tourism and more trade, developing nations become some of the world’s fastest growing economies as more people are lifted out of poverty and become consumers.

Here are five of the world’s fastest growing economies based on World Bank data from 2013-2015 (the most recent data available):

  1. Ireland
    · 2013: 1.4%
    · 2014: 5.2%
    · 2015: 7.8%
    After the world financial crisis of 2007-2009, the economic activity in Ireland dropped sharply. After reaching the world’s largest budget deficit in 2010, Ireland accepted a loan from the European Union and International Monetary Fund to provide capital to its banking sector. In addition to the loan, lower taxes and increased public spending helped Ireland’s economy recover and reach the EU’s highest growth rate for 2014 and 2015. Low corporation taxes also attracted multinational companies to Ireland.
  2. Ethiopia
    · 2013: 9.9%
    · 2014: 10.3%
    · 2015: 10.2%
    The economy of Ethiopia has grown quickly for the past decade. This is mostly due to progress in Ethiopia’s agriculture and service industries. New infrastructure connecting previously isolated regions of the country also fuels economic growth. Rich in ancient cultures, Ethiopia is now one of the world’s top tourist destinations, providing millions of jobs to Ethiopians.
    However, as of 2014, nearly 30 percent of Ethiopians still lived below the poverty line. Ethiopia is still susceptible to droughts, with a severe drought occurring from 2014-2015. Droughts can be catastrophic for the 80 percent of Ethiopians that are employed in the agriculture industry.
  3. Palau
    · 2013: -2.4%
    · 2014: 4.2%
    · 2015: 9.4%
    Expanded air travel to the Pacific has increased tourist traffic in the island nation. While tourism is the main contributor to the economy of Palau, it also thrives from trade and fishing. Palau exports shellfish, tuna, copra (dried coconut kernels for oil making) and garments. Palau has also received about $700 million in aid from the U.S. from 1994-2009 under the Compact of Free Association, in exchange for unrestricted access to Palau’s land and waterways for strategic purposes.
  4. Ivory Coast
    · 2013: 8.7%
    · 2014: 7.9%
    · 2015: 8.6%
    The West African country is the world’s largest producer and exporter of cocoa beans. It is also a large producer and exporter of coffee and palm oil. Over two-thirds of Ivory Coast’s population is employed in agriculture or related activities.
    Though Ivory Coast was plagued by a recession in the ‘90s, a civil war from 2002-2007 and sporadic violence in years following, the country has remained mostly peaceful since 2011. This has attracted foreign investors and promoted economic growth. While the poverty rate has decreased, 46 percent of the population still lives in poverty and a small number of arms still remain in the nation.
  5. Uzbekistan
    · 2013: 8%
    · 2014: 8.1%
    · 2015: 8%
    Formerly part of the Soviet Union, the government of Uzbekistan still operates a command economy, regulating production and prices. Economic growth in Uzbekistan is driven mainly by state-led investments. The majority of the population lives in rural areas and the main focus of agriculture is cotton. Uzbekistan also exports gold and natural gas.

Though these are only the top five of the world’s fastest growing economies from 2013-2015, many other developing nations are not far behind. The economies of Nauru, Laos, India, Tanzania, Cambodia, Burma and the Dominican Republic have also grown quickly in recent years.

Cassie Lipp

Photo: Flickr

Kenya_Economy“The New Frontier of African Renaissance” is the “blue economy,” according to the African Union. The United Nation’s Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) recently released a handbook on how Africa can make the most of its vast coastal and freshwater resources.

Out of 54 total countries in Africa, 38 are coastal, including the fastest growing economy on the continent, Kenya. Last year, Bloomberg ranked Kenya the third fastest growing economy in the world. The key to its success has been a strong blue exporting economy.

The backbone of Kenya’s private sector is its horticulture and tea industries, which are both export markets. Kenya not only produces the most black tea in the world, but it also exports the most. However, while neighboring nations like Tanzania produce more horticulture than Kenya, Kenya’s well-designed shipping infrastructure makes it a vastly superior exporter.

The economic trend visible in Kenya is that even when production is comparatively low, a streamlined exportation system can cause a big economic boom. The new handbook by the ECA explains how African nations can use their coastal status to promote long-term growth.

As in Kenya, the handbook emphasizes the blue economy involving shipping and other markets. The ECA calls for an update of maritime transportation to make Africa a center for global trade.

An overarching theme of the handbook is sustainability, particularly the use of hydroelectric power over petroleum or coal. As expected, Kenya mirrors the ECA’s suggestion, with 71 percent of national electricity coming from hydroelectric sources.

It will take a lot of work to make the handbook’s blue economy a reality. Countries with big shares of coastline like Eritrea and Somalia nonetheless trail far behind economically due to political instabilities in its region. Furthermore, the other African nation seeing major GDP growth, Nigeria, is heavily reliant on oil exports–the opposite of what the ECA suggests.

While the ECA cannot expect changes overnight, Executive Secretary Carlos Lopes is hopeful that Africa will benefit massively from a well run blue economy. According to Lopes, “If fully exploited and well managed, Africa’s Blue Economy can constitute a major source of wealth and catapult the continent’s fortunes.”

John English

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Egypt
For years, poverty in Egypt has been no anomaly. Over a quarter of the population lives below the national poverty line, and many have found it difficult to secure work in a turbulent economy.

From 1995 to 2000, poverty in Egypt began to recede. The percentage of the population living under the national poverty line decreased from 23% to under 17%. However, progress began to reverse itself. In 2010, over 25% of the population was living under the national poverty line.

This rate has failed to drop since the Arab spring in 2011.

However, the Egyptian government and various international organizations have not been idle in addressing this problem. In recent years, millions of dollars have been donated to instill sustainable growth and development and to chip away at the current percentage of those living in poverty.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is at the forefront of international organizations helping Egypt achieve economic stability and poverty reduction. It has created a plan called the UNDP Strategic Plan 2014–2017 for Egypt. The plan prioritizes the elimination of poverty in Egypt.

UNDP’s strategies are wide-ranging and beginning to gain a great deal of traction due to Egypt’s recent governmental transition.

Human development, gender equality, environmental development, transparency and sustainable development are some of the many focuses that the UNDP has for the Egyptian people in an effort to make them self-sufficient in the long term.

The Egypt Network for Integrated Development (ENID) is a pilot program the UNDP is testing in Egypt. The premise of the program is to empower individuals in rural areas by upgrading public services and providing more efficient agricultural and off-farm occupations.

Through these efforts, people can build and grow their own businesses. This will promote sustainable economic growth and development in these areas long after ENID discontinues aid.

ENID has given a special focus to women through the course of its debut. Seventy percent of the 573 individuals employed by ENID’s activities between 2012 and 2014 were women.

Outside rural areas, the UNDP is also creating jobs in the most impoverished govern-orates for young men and women. The majority of these new jobs are for women.

These programs are working wonders among the Egyptian people, but unfortunately they are not free to operate. The Egyptian Government foots the bill of the majority of these programs, followed by Japan and a collection of European states and organizations. The total amount of contributions from these organizations is just over $280 million USD. In a country of nearly 90 million residents, this amounts to roughly $3 per person.

Tackling Poverty in Egypt

Despite great progress towards poverty reduction in Egypt, there must be bigger changes. Just recently, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi emphasized the need for foreign investment in large and small Egyptian enterprises. President Sisi pointed out that the government has made stellar improvements to the national infrastructure, but it still needs aid in developing businesses to use these new resources effectively.

By 2030, Egypt hopes to be well on its way toward sustainable development and a transparent governmental system. Though the country still needs help to develop its domestic affairs, many are optimistic that Egypt will be able to stand on its own within a decade.

Preston Rust

Photo: Flickr

Business_Start-Up
Kiva, a micro-finance organization, makes small loans to individuals or groups in developing countries looking to build small businesses or fund other projects.

This type of financing allows the borrowers to potentially repay the lenders when a project has been successful, re-purposing the charity money to another group in need. Financiers believe that this type of lending supports economic and entrepreneurial growth unlike traditional charity.

By lending instead of giving, Kiva enables borrowers to engender societal change by providing them the start they need to create a profit. Seema Patel, a user of Kiva, shares what she has learned from the company: “Give a person a fish, you have fed her for today; teach her how to fish, you have fed her for a lifetime.” This effectively expresses the repayment feature Kiva employs.

Kiva has been the most successful organization in the micro-financing field. It works as an intermediary, posting ads from individuals or groups seeking loans and creating profiles that contain general personal information, a description of the loan needed, and a photo of the potential borrower.

Borrowers are rated on a scale of 1 to 5 stars based on their previous credit history with loans. 1 star means the borrower is potentially risky or newer and less likely to be funded, while 5 stars means the borrower is a safer investment.

Lenders are able to fund from $25 to $5,000 and the borrowers are only responsible for making their prescheduled payments once the loan has been fully funded. The average loan from Kiva based on their past 289,329 loans is approximately $694.

Most projects receive their funding within a day or less. Of all loans, 78 percent are funded within two days, and 68.17 percent are funded within the first day. There is no evidence to show that loans perceived as risky are funded slower than the loans perceived as safe. The popularity and success of Kiva allows for this fast funding rate.

Data show that lenders are more likely to fund projects that they believe will have a greater impact on alleviating poverty. Loans to men and to projects that request higher costs are often funded slower than loans to large groups of women.

This may be because lenders are looking to alleviate the poverty of groups or individuals who may be lacking a regular source of capital. In addition, loans that are financing education and health have the fastest rates of funding.

Although lenders fund loans with the knowledge that they might not be repaid, the default rate of repayment is only 0.7 percent. Loans to larger groups have higher repayment rates which make them more likely to be funded. The high repayment rate suggests that the loans are successful in spurring potential businesses and other projects.

Amanda Panella

Photo: Flickr

Cambodia Killings FieldsForty years ago, a massacre took place in Cambodia that, while not very known, proved to be one of the most violent in history. The Cambodian genocide took place over four years and killed more than one million people. This led to the formation of killing fields in Cambodia.

The Khmer Rouge regime, led by Pol Pot, took over Cambodia in 1975. During its four-year rule, over one-quarter of the country’s entire population was killed in the regime’s ruthless pursuit of totalitarian control. In 1979, the Vietnamese ended the corruption by invading Cambodia and seizing power from the regime.

The largest pieces of evidence from this time in history are the remains of the killing fields of Cambodia. These were the places where those who did not cooperate were sent to work to their death. The fields exist today as a museum of sorts, with 20,000 people buried underground. The fields also hold displays, such as 8,000 human skulls placed in glass shrines.

The experiences that the Cambodian people underwent were deeply inhumane. Men, women and children were starved, worked to their death or were murdered in these fields. The fields are not just one inclusive area; there are 343 fields that have been discovered. Especially gruesome is that when it rains on the fields, bone and teeth fragments often wash up.

Cambodia coordinated with the U.N. General Assembly almost three decades after the Khmer Rouge were driven out. On Jun. 6, 2003, the Cambodian government agreed to prosecute the crimes committed during the genocide, which established the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). Though many perpetrators had already passed away by this time, the ECCC did prosecute five men involved.

Although they hold a dark past, the killing fields of Cambodia have actually become a positive asset to the country. According to National Geographic, tourism in Cambodia has increased by 40 percent every year since 1998 as curiosity about the genocide has grown. The fields have created many tour guide jobs for hundreds of Cambodians and the large rise in tourists has helped boost the country’s economy.

When people visit this site, however, they are most importantly paying their respects to Cambodia’s history and those who have passed. The fields will continue to exist as a reminder of the horror that comes when tyranny and genocide take hold.

Kerri Whelan

Sources: World Without Genocide, National Geographic, University of Rochester, MTVU, CyberCambodia
Photo: Reuters Media

little_market
The Little Market is making a big difference. A fair trade project based in Los Angeles, the online company works with artisans around the world, making handcrafted goods available to all and supplying a living wage to the artisans that create them.

Co-founded by fashion designer Lauren Conrad and Human Rights Watch member Hannah Skvarla in 2013, the Little Market “seeks to empower women artisans to rise above poverty and support their families”. The company is committed to building self-sufficient, economically independent women in impoverished countries around the world.

The Little Market sells a variety of handmade goods, from home décor and kitchen necessities to backpacks and bracelets. Conrad and Skvarla visit local markets in countries such as Kenya, Bolivia, India and Peru to gain inspiration, insight and appreciation for the talent, time and treasures provided by the artisans.

In order to benefit the artisans and themselves, the company searches for items with the potential to succeed in the U.S. market.

This month, The Little Market began selling olive wood products from Le Souk Olivique, an olive wood studio in Tunisia. Founded in 2013, Le Souk provides finely crafted wooden kitchen tools, including basic utensils, salad bowls and cutting boards.

The Tunisian company treats its artisans very well, setting payment above minimum wage and providing healthcare and social security payments. Le Souk will soon receive Tunisia’s Fair Trade certification.

The beautifully handcrafted kitchen tools sell at The Little Market for $12 to $44, depending on the type and size of the object. They are all made with olive wood.

Making olive wood products, however, is an intricate and time-consuming process. The raw wood must initially dry outside for a year before cutting and sanding the pieces to create a wood product fit for a kitchen.

Conrad and Skvarla expressed excitement about carrying this new line of products, available now on the company website. The Little Market has served as a catalyst in the sale of handmade goods from around the world, including those of Le Souk. As website sales increase, the demand for more products also increases, resulting in a need for more employees and thus creating more jobs for more artisans around the world, lifting many out of poverty.

Sarah Sheppard

Sources: LA Times, The Little Market 1, The Little Market 2
Photo: Style News

african_urbanization

More and more young Africans are picking up their possessions and leaving their rural villages for lives in the big city. And while this influx of migrants is creating a new wealth of potential laborers for Africa’s generally growing economy, the sheer number of new residents is causing housing prices in cities to skyrocket.

According to an article by Gant Daily, a CNN News affiliate, UN-Habitat estimates that by the year 2030, more people in developing regions will live in urban than rural environments. The UN-Habitat report specifically highlighted Sub-Saharan Africa as an affected region.

With so many young people uprooting themselves for city life, it appears to be a good sign that the African economy is growing and more jobs are consistently being created to retain the influx of immigrants. Unfortunately, most major Sub-Saharan economies are facing a serious housing shortage. Some cities, according to a survey by the Ministry of Lands and Housing, are estimated to face a housing deficit of two million units in the next 10 years.

This high demand and low supply has made city slums an even bigger issue than before. And even among nicer accommodations, living and office space is in such high demand that landlords can demand exorbitant prices.

The upwardly mobile youth are not just moving to cities seeking better jobs and improved housing conditions. As the average income of African youth increases, educated and career-focused individuals are moving to cities looking for ways to spend their disposable income. This means that, in addition to an increased demand for additional housing, there is also a demand for better infrastructure and better retail and commercial opportunities, according to an article by AFK Insider.

While the dramatic housing deficit facing rapidly burgeoning African economic centers could be a recipe for disaster, it also presents an excellent economic opportunity for investment in the real estate and development sectors.

According to AFK Insider, Africa as a whole saw a 46% increase in investment in the construction, transportation and energy projects sectors in 2014; Central Africa alone experienced a 117% increase in the value of construction projects.

Investment in constructing additional affordable housing, improving infrastructure and expanding business opportunities stimulates the economy through job expansion and the creation of a wider consumer marketplace. It is a proven trend that, as people’s quality of life improves, they spend more, thereby inject more money into the economy.

Africa’s urbanization boom may soon lead to its largest economic boom in centuries, and to a new and better quality of life for Africa’s poorest.

Gina Lehner

Sources: Gant Daily, AFK Insider
Photo: NEO

Ferry-Between-Cuba-and-Florida
For the first time in half a century, diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. are being restored. Ferry operators in Florida are quickly receiving the approved licenses to begin offering transit to and from Havana. It is estimated that as early as this coming fall, the once popular U.S. travel destination will no longer be off limits for tourists after more than half a century.

During this time, hundreds of thousands of Cubans have attempted to brave the 90-mile ocean journey between Cuba and Florida. In lieu of proper aquatic vessels, many of these migration attempts have been made on makeshift rafts and old converted cars.

Since the renewing diplomatic discussions, there has once again been a recent surge of Cubans attempting to make the voyage to the U.S. This past year alone, the U.S. Coast Guard detained almost 4,000 Cubans in the waters off the coast of Florida. In fact, during the past two years, the number of Cubans attempting the journey has doubled.

In 1965, Fidel Castro opened the port of Camarioca, which allowed almost 3,000 Cubans to flee, before he suddenly announced its closure and revisited restrictions. Once more in 1980, Castro opened the port of Mariel, and a mass exodus of over 125,000 Cubans took their chances in the open water.

In 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, a severe economic downfall in Cuba happened. This resulted in hundreds of thousands fleeing the country and making the perilous sea journey. This influx of immigrants and detainees caused President Clinton to amend the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) in 1994.

The revisions effectively limited asylum to refugees who were not intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard. Refugees who made it to dry land were allowed to stay; all others were detained and sent back to Cuba. This distinction became known as the “wet foot-dry foot” policy.

In 2013, Cuba altered its own travel policy, allowing Cubans to travel and work abroad for up to two years without losing their citizenship. While this policy provided leeway, it did not provide transportation due to the travel ban, and Cubans were also subject to the “wet foot-dry foot” policy in the U.S.

For a long time, hopeful refugees had been left with few options: brave the seas themselves in homemade water crafts or rely upon human smuggling networks who charge upwards of US$10,000. Since Cuba’s annual GDP is approximately US$6,000, the former option proved to be the most common. Cubans had to wait for months to save enough money to buy parts and to build their own makeshift water crafts.

Like migrants from many poor countries, Cubans have been fleeing their country in efforts to find economic opportunities and escape Communist oppression. Many also have been seeking to provide for their families who still reside in Cuba. These severe risks that come with the journey combined with the adverse conditions clearly state the desperation of Cuban citizens. These ferry services offered are symbolic of the new era of cooperation and could signal the end to a tragic side effect of the 50-year standoff.

Renewed relations between the two nations will provide Americans a chance to visit Cuba, but, more importantly, desperate Cubans will have the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families. One-way tickets will be starting at around US$150. The combination of the relatively inexpensive ticket price coupled with Cuba’s reformed travel policy provides desperate Cubans better chances of economic opportunity.

– Frasier Petersen

Sources: Daily Signal, BBC, Miami Herald, The New York Times
Photo: Tampa Bay Times

STEM-Education-in-Developing-Countries

The fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are being heavily encouraged in developed countries, but developing regions are also encouraging and financing STEM education.

STEM focuses on the areas of education that have a scientific focus. Students who earn these types of degrees are able to gain employment in information technology (IT), medicine, higher education and many other fields.

Encouraging STEM growth in developing countries is important because many new jobs are being created in the booming medicine, computer and IT industries worldwide. Educating people in these fields is going to bring tremendous growth to the nation’s economy and help get people out of poverty.

India has been working hard to promote STEM in their educational programs. Even in the United States, the results of their nascent success are visible. However, regions all over Africa are also promoting STEM education to help bolster their economies.

India still suffers from tremendous poverty throughout the country, but the country is trying to change this partly through educational initiatives. The India STEM Foundation strives to build up STEM education as described in their vision: “To create a world where young people are encouraged to celebrate fun and excitement of science and technology, and inspire them to take science and technology based career paths to become tomorrow’s much needed technology leaders.”

To get that vision to come to life, the foundation supports robotics programs and competitions for children. They have many world partners helping to create these positive learning environments such as Lego, John Deere, Caterpillar and United Technologies, to name a few.

Africa is another place that is using education, specifically STEM education, to move people out of poverty. In 2014, the World Bank approved financing for “19 university-based Centers of Excellence in seven countries in West and Central Africa. These competitively selected centers will receive funding for advanced specialized studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-related disciplines, as well as in agriculture and health.”

The World Bank is hopeful that this financing will help fill the shortage of skilled workers that Africa is facing in health, telecommunications and industry. Another benefit of financing universities in Africa will be that more students will have STEM education in relative proximity to their homes instead of having to travel abroad for education. This allows more students to have the option of a good higher education. Also, since those students will be trained in their own countries, the skilled workers have an incentive to remain in their regions strengthening the skilled labor force and even creating economic growth.

The United Nations has published findings that affirm that STEM education “can remove poverty and reduce inequality in developing countries.” However, there are several cultural challenges that countries face when implementing long-term improvements in STEM, including children losing interest in STEM classes and the gender stereotypes that often leave girls behind.

Those issues are being addressed. Robotic camps are popping up all over the world, not just in India, and they help encourage children’s interest in STEM fields through fun activities. In addition, more and more women are emerging into STEM fields and breaking down some common gender barriers.

STEM education is becoming more of a focus as our world becomes ever more digital. With the wonderful encouragement that children in developing parts of the world are getting, STEM education and the respective fields should continue improving.

Megan Ivy

Sources: George Mason University, India STEM Foundation, UN, World Bank
Photo: Benignant De Eagle