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Azubuike Ishiekwene: Mo Ibrahim's Red Card

Sudanese multibillionaire Mo Ibrahim said his foundation’s decision to withhold the 2009 African Leadership Prize, now in its third year, was not an act of disrespect. It would have been nice to hand out in November in Tanzania the prize of $5 million (with promissary notes of $200,000 for life after that). But what do you do when the candidates fall short? The news headlines across the continent echo surprise, indifference and sadness, but they downplay the two biggest questions—why and what next?

It’s no laughing matter that two favorites for the prize—John Kufuor of Ghana and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa—failed to make the grade. Kufuor’s personal aide told a radio station in Ghana that the former president had no regrets. That is regrettable. In many respects, Ghana and South Africa under the leadership of Kufuor and Mbeki had been held up as shining examples to the rest of Africa. Both countries seemed to rate well on such criteria as good governance and democratic handover of power—key requirements for the prize.

For nearly eight years, Ghana ran a largely transparent and accountable government, investing heavily in economic reforms. Kufuor’s party, the New Patriotic Party, lost the last general elections not because the government had become wayward and badly corrupt—common vices on the continent—but largely because the pains of reform had been intensified by the government’s slow and confused response to the fallout from higher energy prices. Angry voters who felt they had been taken for granted lost their patience and voted for the opposition in the January 2009 runoff.

For its part, South Africa seemed to be doing well, especially given that country’s difficult post-apartheid legacy. Under Mbeki, though unemployment and crime remained major challenges, the economy was robust, posting an annual growth rate of 4.5 percent, while foreign investment surged, at least through the last quarter of 2006. Mbeki’s downfall could be laid first to his own obtuse style, and later, to his own party, which ousted him in a palace coup.

Given these achievements, therefore, it would appear that the top contenders, Kufuor and Mbeki, had been judged harshly when they were denied the African Leadership Prize, or that the award committee had been too idealistic in setting the bar this last round. What exactly was the committee looking for? I don’t think it was looking for angels. But if we consider objectively the key values of good governance and democratic handover of power, it clearly would have been difficult for either Kufuor or Mbeki to step forward for a leadership prize.

Jonathan Power: Absolutely Nothing in the News

The serious newspapers I read used to take me an hour to get through. These days it is fifteen minutes. Nothing much is happening, at least in foreign affairs. Iraq has all but disappeared from the front page. Afghanistan and Pakistan still remain; but even so, investors continue to up their investments in Pakistan, presumably judging that the conflict is over-hyped. The argument with Iran over whether it is building nuclear weapons drags on, despite the forgotten report of the CIA two years ago that found that it probably was not. (Not to mention that the West and Russia look a bit silly when they turn a blind eye to Brazil for doing exactly the same as Iran.) More recently there's Iran’s suggestion that it might ship some of its used uranium to Russia to be converted into fuel to provide medical isotopes, or else to import from Europe enriched uranium instead of manufacturing its own. So this conflict should now be relatively easy to wrap up. What else is there? Georgia is out of the picture; Chechnya was long ago. The Russians and the Americans sweet talk each other. Now that Washington has decided to abandon its ill-judged anti-missile system in Eastern Europe, the Russians have switched off their angst and are happily agreeing to the first major nuclear arms cuts in nearly a decade. China is now part of the “system.” The priorities are economic growth, dealing with financial imbalances, and, unfortunately, keeping the lid on dissent at home. It has made peaceful settlements of its border disputes with Laos, Russia, Vietnam, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and is working on its age old dispute of border demarcation with India. Its bitter clash with Taiwan, which commentators once called the most explosive issue on the map, is now quiescent. Japan and China are finally getting on fine. Add to this that India’s reflexive anti-Americanism is dead and buried—thanks to President George W. Bush’s decision to lift the embargo on nuclear materials. North Korea is isolated, even from its old mentor China. Who on earth is it going to use its two or three nuclear weapons against?

Federico Manfredi: A Cairo Moment for Kandahar

Last January, I argued on the pages of World Policy Journal that the United States should end its war against the Taliban and focus on Al-Qaeda instead. The Obama administration should negotiate directly with the moderate factions of the Taliban movement, I said, offering them a gradual withdrawal of all foreign troops and greater political inclusion in exchange for the termination of all their ties to Al-Qaeda. In March President Obama declared himself willing to negotiate with Taliban moderates, and since then, the notion that the Taliban do not pose a direct threat to the United States has slowly begun to sink in. Last week a senior White House official said that President Obama sees a role for the Taliban in Afghanistan’s future. Meanwhile, the Afghan Taliban said in a statement that they have “no intention of harming other countries” and that they are fighting solely “for the independence of Afghanistan.” Obama should continue this conversation because it could potentially split the Taliban movement along the lines of moderates and radicals. This would make it much easier for the United States to engage the former while isolating the latter. A major impediment to dialogue is that many Afghans remain cynical and deeply conflicted about U.S. policy in the region. A political analyst from Kandahar (whose assessments are generally sound and often prescient) recently told me that he believes that the United States wants to establish a permanent military presence in Afghanistan to keep China out of Central Asia. He also reiterated the oft-repeated Pashtun complaint that the United States is propping up a puppet government made up of Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks to sideline the Pashtun people, ensuring that Afghanistan remains weak and divided. Obama must dispel these myths once and for all, and the best way to go about this delicate task would be for him to give a speech in Kandahar.

THE BIG QUESTION — October 20, 2009

THE BIG QUESTION is a new multimedia project on the World Policy Blog.

THE INDEX — October 19, 2009

The Electoral Complaints Commission has concluded that Afghan President Hamid Karzai failed to win a majority 50% of votes in the August 20 Afghan presidential election. Karzai was de

Nicolaus Mills: Remembering George Marshall

The following is excerpted from a talk Nicolaus Mills will deliver Oct. 24, 2009, at the Marshall Foundation. It is part of a symposium marking the 50th anniversary of the General George Marshall’s death. Fifty years ago this month, George Marshall, army chief of staff throughout World War II and in Winston Churchill’s words, “the organizer of victory,” died as a result of a crippling stroke. Marshall, at the request of Eleanor Roosevelt, was responsible for planning the funeral of President Franklin Roosevelt, but he had no desire for a state funeral of his own. In the instructions he wrote out for the arrangements at his own death, he forbade a funeral service in the National Cathedral, ruled out lying in state in the Capital Rotunda, and asked that no eulogy be said for him. This modesty was consistent with the way Marshall conducted his life and is one reason why he is not as well known today as many of the generals who served under him. Throughout World War II, Marshall refused all United States decorations. Even at his Pentagon retirement ceremony in 1945, he relented only long enough to allow President Truman to add a second Oak Leaf cluster to the Distinguished Service Medal he had been awarded in 1919. In this era of self-promotion, Marshall’s personal example sends a powerful message. But as the United States struggles with how to engage in nation building in a post-9/11 world, it is Marshall’s crowning achievement as secretary of state—the post-World War II Marshall Plan that from 1948 to 1952 provided the foreign aid essential to Europe’s economic recovery—that really shows what national modesty can achieve.

THE INDEX — October 12, 2009

While Shiite-Sunni tensions in Ira

Jonathan Power: There Are Many Irans

Let’s exaggerate. Iran has been singled out for persecution over its alleged nuclear bomb making program because in 1979 its Revolutionary Guards took the staff of the U.S. embassy hostage, causing outrage in America with even the esteemed Walter Cronkite ratcheting up the tension, putting up on the screen, as he read the nightly news, the number of days they had been incarcerated. The sitting president, Jimmy Carter, was deposed, tarred with the brush of utter failure. Something of an exaggeration that this was the sole or even the most important factor in building a pro bomb lobby in Iran. Still it has a grain of truth: Iran has been singled out unfairly. The West and Russia are engaged in discriminating against it. Brazil has had a nuclear enrichment program for decades (including a large ultracentrifuge enrichment plant, several laboratory-scale facilities, a reprocessing facility to make plutonium, and a missile program). In the 1980s it built two nuclear devices. Three years ago I asked the chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Brasilia if Washington was worried about Brazil. “Not at all,” he replied. “In the early 1990s Brazil dismantled its nuclear weapons program, and Argentina, its supposed enemy, has done the same.” “But,” I insisted, “Brazil still has its enrichment program and a reprocessing facility”. “We have no worries about Brazil,” he answered. “We see eye to eye.” However, Brazil still resists, in part, the probing eye of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the world’s nuclear watchdog. In 1979 the attitude of the Carter administration toward Pakistan, then attempting to build its own bomb, was almost as harsh as is the attitude of the United States toward Iran today. All American military aid was suspended, even though the Taliban were a lurking potential threat. However, when Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in December of that year, Carter persuaded Congress to restart a large-scale arms program. For the next decade, in return for Pakistan’s help building up the anti-Soviet mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan (who later went to work for Osama bin Laden), Washington turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s effort to build nuclear weapons.

Frank Spring: National Innovation for a Globalized World

The White House’s National Strategy for Innovation, a white-paper from the National Economic Council and the Office of Science and Technology, was accompanied in September by a speech on innovation from President Obama in Troy, New York. Together, these efforts represent the Obama administration’s first attempt at a unified national innovation policy. This is not the first time an administration has unveiled an innovation policy. President Bush released a more limited plan in April 2004, but the latest effort is unquestionably the most comprehensive. This in itself is encouraging; globally, economic innovation policy is a sprawling issue deserving of thorough treatment. More immediately, though, the new American strategy is grounded in an understanding that innovation is not just a business phenomenon to be encouraged—it is central to the nation’s economic survival in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. If the United States is to compete in the twenty-first century economy, its national innovation policy must be internationally competitive. The administration’s strategy can certainly help the United States gain on its competitors. It focuses on increasing government funding for research and development, making the research and experimentation tax credit permanent, improving the country’s technical infrastructure, and producing a better-educated workforce. It also takes a page from President Bush’s 2004 plan, singling out alternative energy and healthcare information technology for special government attention while placing a new emphasis on advanced vehicle technology. Though its recognition of the importance of the issues is commendable, much of the National Innovation Strategy is simply a retroactive reclassification of existing policies.
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Vlad Sokhin documents life in Nauru, a tiny, once-wealthy Pacific island where land has been stripped bare and the hulking shells of the phosphate mining industry have been left to rust.


Those the Jasmine Revolution Forgot 

 

Photographer Nicholas Linn and writer Sam Kimball capture the struggles of the Tunisian underclass following the 2011 Revolution. 

Tough Love: Las Amorasas Más Bravas 

 

Bénédicte Desrus and Celia Gómez Ramos explore Casa Xochiquetzal, a shelter in Mexico City that allows sex workers to age with dignity.

Iran's House of Strength 

 

Jeremy Suyker penetrates the tight-knit community of zurkhanehs, traditional rooms for training warriors dating back to the Persian Empire, and the modern efforts to preserve this Iranian cultural heritage. 

        

Bolshoi Babylon 

 

Director Nick Read examines the dysfunction that led to an attack on Sergei Filin, artistic director of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater, before Russian President Putin stepped in to restructure the Bolshoi’s leadership.

 

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