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Turkmenistan is smaller than the United States in just about every regard–except one. It possesses the world’s fourth-largest reserves of natural gas, surpassing the U.S. and ranking just below Iran, Russia and Qatar. As its leadership turns to China for investment in its energy sector, the U.S. is poised to lose much of its economic clout in the region. If the U.S. were to invest in Turkmenistan’s infrastructure, U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Turkmenistan (beyond lifting its people out of poverty) would include a less corrupt, diversified economy friendlier to U.S. business and interests and one less state reliant on fossil fuels.

Corruption in Turkmenistan

With the current state of affairs, Turkmenistan is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Freedom House, a U.S. government-funded human rights advocacy group, gave the landlocked country of six million people a score of 6.96/7 on the Democracy Score, with 1 being the most democratic and 7 being the least. Turkmenistan president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov announced the creation of an anti-corruption agency in June 2017, but his appointee was a former official in the customs service, which is known to be a hotbed of political bribery. The president himself is also suspect; in 2008, a Russian energy company “gifted” him a private yacht worth €60 million ($88 million). Berdymukhamedov also received various luxury vehicles from German automobile companies, including a Mercedes Maybach.

While one might not see the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Turkmenistan because of the corruption, investment in fighting corruption and diversifying the market could reap good results. There has been nominal recognition by Turkmenistan’s government that market reform and diversification away from natural gas is beneficial. With relatively few stakes in Turkmenistan, the U.S. could be doing more.

Two Major Steps to Benefits

  • Invest in anti-corruption and reform initiatives: The barriers to market entry in Turkmenistan are some of the highest and most opaque in the world. The U.S. State Department reports that many businesses must have the favor of government officials in order to become successful, so personal relationships and high taxes on foreign firms dominate the market. While the U.S. cannot reform Turkmenistan’s domestic policy, it can work with willing government officials and NGOs to combat the excesses of economic protectionism. Lowering barriers could help current U.S. firms in the region like Coca-Cola thrive.
  • Invest in diversifying Turkmenistan’s economy: Turkmenistan is highly dependent on fossil fuels (particularly hydrocarbons and natural gas) for a sizeable portion of its GDP. China is its largest buyer, importing 30 billion cubic meters in 2016. It holds considerable influence over Turkmenistan‘s economy and government with its purchasing power in Turkmenistan’s energy industries and infrastructure. If the U.S. invests in its agriculture and textile sectors, Turkmenistan can shift away from energy dependence toward a multi-tiered economy that would be a potential hotspot for foreign investment, including U.S. companies.

While these steps may not enact immediate change, their potential to remains a better alternative than the current status quo. The possibility of a prosperous, cleaner and relatively less autocratic Turkmenistan is far preferable to a polluting regime heavily reliant on foreign subsidies, interests and global energy prices.

– Alex Qi
Photo: Flickr

Tanzania's Improving Economy
The African country of Tanzania has a population of 53 million people, and it is estimated that around 70 percent of its people live in poverty. Although this constitutes a large amount of their population, the economy is improving and poverty is slowly decreasing. In fact, the economy in Tanzania has vastly improved over the last decade, averaging more than 6 percent growth a year. These improvements have come from many changes within the country.

Improvement in Corruption

There was a new government elected in 2015 that promised they would fight corruption within the government. In 2015, around 72 percent of Tanzanians said that corruption has been declining when compared with the previous year. In addition, 71 percent of citizens believe the government is doing a better job fighting corruption overall.

Improvements in Agriculture

Advancements in agriculture over the past few years has also helped Tanzania’s improving economy. Agriculture is one of Tanzania’s leading largest contributors to the GDP, at 30 percent, and it makes up 67 percent of the workforce. USAID has been working in Tanzania to help improve their agricultural sector. They have expanded irrigation and provide better access to the market through the reduction of transport costs for equipment and other important agricultural products. Tanzania has now become more competitive in domestic and regional markets.

Increasing Tourism

Tourism is the number one earner of foreign currency in Tanzania. In 2017, the tourism industry in Tanzania was ranked one of the fastest growing sectors in East Africa. From 2015 to 2016, there was a 15 percent increase in the number of tourists that visited Tanzania. This has helped with Tanzania’s improving economy by providing jobs and bringing in revenue to the country. In 2015, $2.9 billion had been earned from tourism, which was greatly increased by 30.4 percent in 2016 to 3.8 billion.

Growing Urban Middle Class

Around 10 percent of Tanzania’s population is a part of a small urban middle class. Although it is a small percentage of the population, it is growing at a steady rate as a direct result of Tanzania’s improving economy. Over the past few years, this group has gained political influence, purchasing power, and started to demand cheaper electricity, imported goods and improved urban social services and infrastructure. This growing middle class has motivated the government to work harder for their demands as well as for improved conditions throughout the country.

Reforms in Education

Over the past several years there have been many changes and improvements in education in Tanzania. This includes greater access to secondary education for both male and female students. This has had a large impact on Tanzania’s improving economy. Tanzania is one of the only low-income countries that has almost achieved universal access to primary education; however, there are still many obstacles keeping children from getting a good education.

Global Giving is attempting to change the lives of many children in Tanzania by placing technology in their schools to help them master their curriculum. Tanzania’s schools lack all resources, including teachers, which makes it very hard for students to learn, finish school and enter the workforce. Global Giving donates raspberry pi computers that already contain important math and science curriculum, along with tablets, laptops and phones for that can also be used to access the curriculum. Global Giving has improved the quality of education for many students in rural areas in Tanzania, which will improve their quality of life and prepare them to enter into a skilled workforce in their country.

Although there is a lot of work left to be done in reducing poverty and growing the economy of Tanzania, these are some of the important ways that the country has been improving over the past decade. A new government, advancements in agriculture, increasing tourism, a growing middle urban class and reforms in education have all had a positive effect on the economy in Tanzania.

– Ronni Winter
Photo: Flickr

Reasons for Indonesia’s Resilience
Indonesia is a beautiful country home to over 18,000 islands, the komodo dragon, jungle elephants, beautiful beaches and incredible volcanoes. Its beauty brings tourism and natural resources, but there is still high poverty rates that the Indonesian government is determined to decrease. Despite challenges of poverty and natural disasters, here are the main reasons for Indonesia’s resilience.

Indonesia Learns from the Past

Indonesia is particularly exposed to natural disasters such as volcanoes, flooding earthquakes and tsunamis. Over the last ten years Indonesia has undergone multiple earthquakes with over a 6.0 magnitude. Of the more recent earthquakes, the most devastating was one that hit Sumatra at the end of September 2009 with a 7.6 magnitude that caused over a 1000 casualties.

The history of natural disasters coupled with a high risk of more to come has fortified the Indonesian government to be ready for any future events. In April of 2012, Indonesia’s National Tsunami Warning Center alerted the Banda Aceh community of a tsunami threat.

Luckily the earthquake did not create a tsunami, and the alarm went off as intended, but misunderstood and confused procedures lead to panic and disorder. However, events like these contribute towards finding the holes, implementing solutions and ultimately, fixing the problems. Many locations like Banda Aceh have now marked evacuation routes and built safety shelters.

Fighting Poverty

At 10.2 percent, Indonesia’s poverty rate is the lowest it’s ever been. With a population of about 261 million, the fourth largest in the world, Indonesia still hosts over 26 million people living below the poverty line. However, the nation’s standard of living and social assistance increased over the last twenty years.

In particular, the poverty rate dropped about 5 percent over the last ten years. The National Development Planning Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro acknowledged the need for further improvement and hoped to see the rate drop to under 10 percent in the near future.

Growing Tourism and Economic Strength

With so many beautiful attributes, it’s not hard to believe that Indonesia’s tourism rose from a little over 12 million tourists in 2015 to over 14 million in 2017. The growing tourism industry goes a long way towards helping Indonesia make comebacks.

Even when the worldwide slowdown hit after 2011, Indonesia still received an increasing number of foreign tourists — 7.65 million in 2011, 8.04 in 2012 and 8.8 million in 2013. 

Indonesia has the tenth largest economy in the world for purchasing power. The nation’s gross domestic product grew from $861.3 billion in 2015 to $932.3 billion in 2016.

This bounce-back occurred after a dip in the GDP output but was still an overall increase. The government is still looking for ways to strengthen the economy, such as outing corruption by strengthening the legal framework or improving infrastructure by decreasing fuel and electricity subsidies.

Looking at the Long-Term Goal

Powerful changes, such as those listed for the building economic strength, will help to make Indonesia more attractive for foreign investment. However, some changes — such as cutting fuel subsidies — can result in a short-term struggle causing many citizens to become dissatisfied.

If the country can make it past the initial difficulty, the eventual removal of the subsidies will lead to long-term gain. Indonesia’s ability to recognize what sacrifices will lead to longevity is one of many reasons for Indonesia’s resilience, and a hopeful sign for the future. 

– Natasha Komen
Photo: Flickr

Police Accountability in Rwanda
Police accountability promotes stability in nations and increases safety in security. Directly related to reducing poverty, police accountability mechanisms assist community members, specifically the poor and disempowered, to politically mobilize and exercise agency over the future.

In the context of Rwanda, corruption and brutality have been historically prevalent; however, massive improvements have been made in safety and security. Today, Rwanda has one of the highest ratings of citizens’ evaluation of safety, corrupt police officers have been largely eradicated and a strong partnership has been established between the citizens and their protectors. Police accountability in Rwanda is consistently improving and measures have been taken to reduce corruption.

History of the Rwandan Genocide

In order to understand the context of police accountability in Rwanda, a brief background of the genocide that occurred in the 1990s is necessary. Before the genocide, Rwanda’s ethnic makeup was dichotomized: a large majority (around 85 percent) identified as Hutu, and the minority remaining were Tutsi. When Belgium colonized Rwanda, they put the faction of Tutsis in positions of power to rule over the Hutu.

Tensions continued to be exacerbated, even before the colonial rule ended. A Hutu revolution occurred in 1959 that caused over 300,000 Tutsis to flee and eventually resulted in Rwandan independence. Racialized violence continued for years until extremist Hutu leaders began slaughtering Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), consisting of mainly Tutsi refugees, responded with reciprocal violence, which continued until finally a coalition government was formed.

During the genocide, an estimated 800,000 were murdered, a majority of which were Tutsi. Much of the violence of the genocide was gender-specific, and it is reported that in the course of 100 days over half a million people were sexually assaulted. The aim of this violence was to tear apart communities, and it succeeded in that.

After-Effects of the Genocide

After the genocide, Gacaca courts were established in an effort to promote truth-telling and create a unified state. Gacaca courts, in the short term, disrupted women’s efforts to reestablish normal social relations in local communities, and in the long term delivered justice for some and established at least a partial truth about what happened, but many Rwandan women and men felt they were denied justice.  

These courts were flawed in their process of acknowledgment and straddled the line between restorative and punitive justice in many communities. The Rwandan government aimed to keep down mass incarceration levels after the genocide, and the Gacaca courts seemed like a good solution.

There were many shortcomings of the Gacaca tribunals. Several recent accounts of the courts’ performances reveal an egregious lack of due process protections, damaging the fairness of punishment as well as the prospects of reconciliation, according to leading scholars. Many judges of these courts, usually village elders, received minimal training and no lawyers were involved in the trials. Reports of false testimony were common and sentences neither followed a system nor were consistent.

Many Rwandans, nevertheless, served time in prison due to the determinations of these judges. Some have even said that these courts are an example of when a society so strongly yearns for reconciliation, citizens put justice before truth.

The legacy of these tribunals, and the tension that still exists for many Rwandans, led to the corruption and brutality that was perpetrated by the police in the early 2000s. Extrajudicial executions, meaning killing prisoners without legal process or judicial proceedings, were common and frequently made the news.   

Improved Police Accountability in Rwanda

Much has changed since then. Reform and a focus on security and accountability have been successful, and in Transparency International’s latest survey in 2017, Rwanda was ranked sub-Saharan Africa’s third least corrupt country. 200 police officers who were implicit in extrajudicial executions and implicated in corruption were dismissed from duty and the government has been hailed as one with no tolerance for corruption.

Police accountability in Rwanda has been condemned by leaders, and Rwanda police spokesperson Theos Badege said there would be “no mercy” upon corrupt officers in the police. “It is a national policy to ensure zero tolerance to graft,” Badege said, adding that accountability and integrity are among the core values expected of police officers while on duty. The past does not define this nation; instead, it helps shape the nation’s brighter future.

– Jilly Fox
Photo: Flickr


A group of 40 volunteers is cracking down on the corrupt medical system in India and taking a stand against the country’s soaring rate of maternal deaths.

Prenatal care at government-run medical facilities is supposed to be free of charge, but as Monika Singh discovered, not every woman is aware of this, and some doctors are more than willing to exploit their ignorance.

“Why are you charging for medicine? It’s supposed to be free for pregnant women in a government hospital,” challenged Singh when a doctor tried to make an ill mother-to-be pay for her medicine.

Armed with Nokia phones and a list of codes, Singh and fellow volunteers routinely visit a number of villages, interviewing expecting and new mothers and families. Using simple numeric codes, interviewees can text the volunteer’s details of their pregnancy and related care. For example, texting the number 25 means no ambulance was available when needed.

Cases of women being turned away from hospitals, women being extorted and forced to bribe their way to treatment, and even cases of women dying on the way to the hospital after being denied treatment at multiple clinics are just a few of the examples of the rampant corruption of the Indian medical system.

An estimated 50,000 women in India die each year from pregnancy-related causes, accounting for 17 percent of global maternal deaths each year. While there are countries with much higher rates of maternal death, the sheer volume of annual maternal deaths is unprecedented.

Aside from malnutrition and a lack of enforcement of laws meant to protect expecting mothers, many women say they are too afraid to pursue their rights, even when they know them. “They don’t have the courage to pursue their rights proactively. That’s the challenge,” said Singh. But the presence of volunteers is encouraging more women to speak out about the injustices they have faced.

Improvements have been seen, however, since Singh and her fellow volunteers took to the streets. Working with the End Maternal Mortality Now (EndMMNow) scheme, the volunteers say it is now the doctors who are afraid of them, not the other way around.

“The workers fear these volunteers. They’re afraid they will report a case about them, so now they do their jobs properly,” said Arpana Choudhury, who follows up on reported cases.

The EndMMNow program compiles the reports that they receive to create an interactive map, clearly showing areas needing the most urgent attention, hoping that a clear depiction of the need for reform will prompt much-needed government attention.

Gina Lehner

Sources: The Guardian, WHO
Photo: Women Deliver

fighting_corruptionFrom the bottom of the bureaucratic ladder to the highest offices of the state, most developing nations suffer some degree of systematic corruption. Such abuses of power are wrong and harmful to the cause of relieving people from poverty worldwide. Corruption is about self-interest and using the power vested in the state for one’s own gains, instead of helping society as a whole. What strategies work to help fight corruption and simultaneously assist the struggle against poverty?

One key strategy used to fight institutional corruption, is to keep governments accountable. Accountability is only achievable by watching the government. Watching the government and people in office requires transparency. Too many secrets in government can keep corrupt practices under the covers and away from the eyes of the fourth estate – journalists.

Journalists are a critical to keeping governments and officials accountable to the people they preside over. Without transparency of government affairs, journalists’ ability to do proper reporting is often compromised, and this system of checks-and-balances becomes weakened. Corruption can be held back by vocal journalists with access to government documents and news, so that they may raise concerns and questions to the general population.

Corruption is also made easier when the bureaucracy grows too large and unwieldy. The farther the public is from the top levels of government, the easier it is for someone in between to take advantage of his or her own position. Minimizing red tape means there is less of an opportunity for someone to be corrupted. There is a correlation between high levels of pointless and unhelpful regulation, and corrupt practices in government.

A third method to reducing corruption, and one of the most effective – but difficult to quantify and implement – is to simply create stronger institutions of governance and regulation. A strong institution is one that has loyal employees and is immune to most corruption because of its own internal integrity. Paying good wages and benefits to government workers is highly effective in working against corruption because the monetary incentives for corruption would be severely weakened by good wages.

Introducing technology to handle tasks is also an effective way to reduce corruption. It’s much harder to cook the books or do other similar elicit activity when software takes care of the work on its own and can spot irregularities.

Fighting corruption is imperative to creating conditions in which poverty can be systematically eliminated. Corruption often manifests itself through rent-seeking behaviors where regulators are “captured” (corrupted by the people that would have been regulated), and these behaviors are often very regressive against the poor because of their lack of political voice in most cases. Reducing corruption is also beneficial to local economies because it allows outside investors to have greater interest in the region, due to less risk of higher sunk costs.

Corruption is detrimental to the economy and bad for the poor. Using these aforementioned strategies can help eliminate the culture of corruption in many developing nations, as well as already developed ones.

– Martin Yim

Sources: World Bank, European Commission, IMF
Photo: World Bank