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March 30, 2007

Turkey and the European Union

Turkey has chosen to pace its internal reforms in line with European Union financial planning. Turkey has set its objective on membership by 2014. The internal reform process will go ahead whether Europe warms to Turkey or not as the reforms are expected to bring economic benefits either way. Who thinks what about Turkey’s membership of the European Union?

Relations between the EU and Turkey are not as good as they could be or even ought to be. Turkey is a secular and democratic state with a predominantly Muslim population. For the United States, Turkey as a member of the European Union would be a show-case for stability and democracy in an Islamic country with strong connections to the Middle-East. The country has experienced instability though its democracy has proven to be resistant. Turkey has since its founding been aligned with the West. It is a member of NATO and this membership recognizes its geopolitical importance as well as its significant military capacity. If Turkey were to become a full member, the EU could reach more easily into Georgia and the rest of the Caucuses and even further into Central Asia. It is also a member of a number of other European inspired organizations. Its cooperation with the European Union started in the days of the EEC. Yet it is still not a member and the enthusiasm for Turkish membership on the part of some EU nations seems to be cooling. Even in Turkey popular opinion, according to a recent article in Guardian Unlimited, is suggesting a turn to the East and to the driver economies of Asia rather than to EU membership.

Turkey is already benefiting from the process of negotiating with the EU. It has engaged in democratic and economic reform and the latest package of measures include wide-spread administrative reforms (reform of social security; of the work permit system for foreigners; independence for the Central Bank) and further economic reforms (liberalization of the natural gas sector and of the postal sector) in order to meet EU requirements. These reforms will reduce the significance of the state in production and will lead to greater market freedoms. It is also engaging civil society in the drive for EU membership in order to provide a secure political basis for membership that may assuage fears about Turkish society. The economy is strong, mixed and has achieved historically high rates of growth in recent years, largely as a result of reforms that are already in place. Turkey is determined to meet the EU regulatory standards and requirements. The Turkish government sees the objections to Turkey’s membership as basically political and based upon wide-spread misunderstanding of Turkey’s economy and society.

Officially, the EU continues negotiations on Turkish membership but at a slower pace than was once expected. From the EU point of view, there are a number of problems. The long-standing and unresolved issue of Cyprus is clearly a stumbling block. Turkey invaded in 1974 and still ‘protects’ the Northern part of the island and does not recognize the Government of Cyprus. The EU wants Turkey to speed up changes with respect to Cypriot access to Turkish ports. The EU Parliament is unsure of the progress that Turkey has made in areas such as women’s rights and minority rights. Turkey is home for a significant portion of the Kurdish people. Individual countries have different perspectives. Germany is skeptical despite the fact that Turkey is a significant trading partner. France will hold a referendum on any proposed Turkish accession. The sticking point is the French electorate’s notion that France is somehow ‘full’ and the EU over-enlarged already. The UK remains positive about Turkey’s membership as does Greece. The Commission, shocked by the lack of accord between the EU and the citizens of member states, will hold a dialogue on the issues of enlargement. The constitutional issues need to be resolved somehow and any resolution will be partly determined by the outcome of the French presidential election.

What Turkey needs to do is meet the requirements and concerns. It also needs to convince the European public that its democracy is strong and that a healthy and growing economy in Turkey will mean that even before membership it will not be exporting labor but it will be rather importing it. Europe needs to have the imagination to see that there are potentially huge political advantages that will flow from Turkish membership, not the least of which will be giving the lie to the idea of a clash of civilizations.

March 26, 2007

Educating Globally Competent Citizens

Dennis Falk writes in this guest web-log on the need for United States citizens to be globally competent and on the limitations of many young members of our society in this regard. He proposes that higher education must take the lead in addressing this gap between our society’s needs for global competence and the current state of global awareness of young citizens.

Never in our history as a nation has the United States had greater need for citizens to be globally competent. A globally competent citizen may be defined as a person who possesses the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to be an engaged, responsible, and effective member of a globally interdependent society.

Unfortunately, many young people in our country lack the necessary knowledge, skills, and attitudes related to global competence. In an era when the United States is making unprecedented incursions into foreign countries, a National Geographic/Roper study conducted in 2006 found that 63% percent of 18-24 year-olds could not identify Iraq or Saudi Arabia on a map of the Middle East and 88% percentage could not identify Afghanistan on a map of Asia. The United States increasingly needs to interact with people around the world to strengthen its economy, yet few young people possess intercultural communication skills. Chauvinistic attitudes among many United States citizens prevent our country from interacting effectively with people elsewhere to address major problems, such as climate change, deforestation or world poverty, that affect us all.

Fortunately, many colleges and universities are taking steps to enhance the global competence of their students. UMD’s Alworth Institute for International Studies, for example, provides events throughout the year that promote international knowledge. Macalester College, my alma mater in St. Paul Minnesota, is developing an Institute for Global Citizenship to build on its long-standing commitment to international issues and to integrate service learning as an integral part of its efforts to promote citizenship.

University and college campuses are working increasingly to integrate international content into courses across the curriculum. Many college and university campuses require students to take at least one course with international content. The American Association of State Colleges and Universities is partnering with the New York Times and the Center for Strategic and International Studies to develop curricula that will help educate globally competent citizens at its 430 member institutions. How much is required and for how long, to help bring a critical edge to public discussion on world issues remains an open question.

It is now recognized that we can educate globally competent citizens only if we internationalize our campus in a comprehensive manner. The Handbook on Comprehensive Internationalization, published by the American Council on Education, emphasizes that a commitment to internationalization must be clearly articulated in the institution’s mission, goals, and objectives, and that a strategy, structure, policies, and process to achieve these goals and objectives must be in place. Both the curriculum and co-curriculum must promote international learning, and study and internships abroad need to be available and encouraged. Such a mission must include the internationalization of the experience of academics as well as students. Internationalization can be an integral part of the campus culture only if the elements above are integrated into a comprehensive internationalization plan for the campus.

The United States clearly needs globally competent citizens if it is going to sustain high-quality public discussion of international issues and of the role of the United States in the world. To remain strong as a democratic nation and to have a positive impact in the world requires greater critical understanding of policy issues and contexts world wide. Colleges can tackle one aspect but society more widely also needs to have access to better information and great levels of discussion of international topics broadly defined.

March 22, 2007

South African democracy.

Earlier this week I heard the Soweto Gospel Choir, invited by a neighboring college, sing with energy and enthusiasm in Duluth, Minnesota. Individual members of the choir spoke with commitment and pride about ‘their young democracy’. The Choir, singing in Sotho, Zulu and English, demonstrated the diverse cultures of South Africa. Members afterward also collected money for their AIDS Charity. What are the prospects and problems currently facing South Africa?

After many years of civil unrest, street protest, international sanctions and armed struggle, the African population achieved enfranchisement in 1994. Nelson Mandela, who consistently refused to be released from prison until members of the ANC were free to return to South Africa, became the first President under the new constitution. The current office holder is Thabo Mbeki.

South Africa is the most industrialized and most urbanized country in sub-Saharan Africa. It is a prosperous country when compared to the rest of Africa, though problems with the distribution of income and wealth inherited from the previous regime are still present. Under apartheid, its wealth and resources were concentrated on the whites and under grand apartheid many efforts were made by the Nationalist Party to protect poorer whites from competition with black workers. Ownership of the most productive land was in the hands of white farmers and the African population was pushed into marginal areas designated as tribal land and later as Bantustans. One of the reasons that Mbeki has difficulties in confronting Zimbabwe about current abuses in human rights is that the issue of white farmers and land ownership, the product as in Zimbabwe of (former) white control, is a problematic issue within South Africa itself.

The ANC came into power as a freedom-fighting organization constructed on a broad alliance and had to face the challenge of developing as a political party. Its origin was in the fight against apartheid and its ideology was, as a freedom-fighting movement, socialist and communist in orientation. In office it has come to adopted policies of commercial and industrial growth based around the acceptance and furtherance of the free market, fiscal discipline and growth and job creation. This has helped sustain South Africa’s economic growth and its ability to compete regionally and internationally. Within the economic strategy there are polices for the promotion of black business enterprises and for the promotion of women in business so that there is activity that reaches beyond the macro-aspects of policy. Soweto, the huge high-density township where the members of the Choir come from was a dismal and neglected place during the final years of apartheid. It has experienced at local level benefits including better roads and schools, investment in better sanitation and in urban services, including the development of modern shopping malls.

Given this strong financial framework, the redistribution of wealth and incomes has tended to focus on efforts to promote equality through educational investment, health and welfare. Schools are of a very high priority for the Government and for parents in place such as Soweto. It was the revolt of young school children in Soweto that initiated the beginning of the end of apartheid. The legacy of apartheid educational policy is still to be fully-overcome. The delivery of altered educational opportunities is of key significance to the future development and stability of the country.

Unemployment is high nationally and poverty is still wide-spread. The traditional supporters of the ANC in the townships and within the Trade Union movement think that the government has not done enough to redistribute income. Violence, initially engendered by brutalization associated with apartheid and then enhanced by the civil struggle, remains a key issue. Guns are still circulating in huge numbers. The nature and level of the violence has continued to shock all communities and Mbeki recently recommitted his Government to making further investments in policing and in police training. AIDS is another huge issue and one on which the Government has not made, in the past, an adequate response. The policy in neighboring Botswana is much more advanced than that currently being applied in South Africa. The Soweto Choir collected for their AIDS Charity after the performance, illustrating just how close to individuals the concerns are. The ANC leaders may have consolidated their position as members of the middle and upper classes but their supporters still live in the less well–off parts of Soweto. Mbeki is near the end of his term as President and the challenge for change is likely to come from the left. People in the townships, if the evidence of the energy and optimism of the Soweto Gospel Choir is anything to go by, are remaining positive and hopeful about the future.

March 19, 2007

A tipping-point in Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe’s troubles continue. Opposition figures have been attacked and the images of their suffering have been broadcast on the web. Morgan Tsvangirai, beaten by police, has said that the situation has reached a ‘tipping point’ and a recent web-log on this site has asked if we are watching the start of regime destabilization and change. Has a tipping-point really been reached?

There is no doubt that Zimbabwe is facing economic and political problems. The rate of inflation is the highest in the world, shortages are causing problems with power and energy supply and significant members of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have been subject to sustained violence. Ordinary people are finding it tough to make ends meet as services contract, as basic food stuffs, in short supply, disappear unpredictably from the stores and factories close. The economic slide has been a long, slow one that is now accelerating. Many Zimbabweans are once again seeking refuge in the UK or in South Africa.

That there is unrest is not in doubt. The Opposition is being targeted though in the Government’s eyes, the MDC has also a record of violence which its spokesperson claims is ignored by the BBC and other western media. Zimbabwe’s leadership is keen on playing the easy and old ‘double-standards’ charge against western media sources and the BBC is banned from entering the country. The BBC still manages to keep itself highly informed of events on the ground. Mugabe’s regime controls the internal media. Morgan Tsvangirai’s treatment and that of his colleagues has been deplorable though they will be painted as violent trouble makers in official news sources. Tsvangirai has said that ‘this crisis has reached the tipping point and we could see the beginning of the end to this dictatorship’.

There are many people who would rejoice at the fall of Mugabe but he is unlikely to fall because of western protest or because there is unrest in the streets or because of a few sanctions. The MDC and other groups will be subjected to continued abuse. South Africa benefits to some extent from the unrest. Investment in South Africa looks more attractive than investment in Zimbabwe. South Africa’s approach has been one of ‘quiet diplomacy’ but this has yielded little in the way of change. Mugabe’s struggle against the forces of UDI and the help extended to the ANC in exile, still count for something amongst his leadership peers in Southern Africa. China is sniffing around and its foreign policy stance is not motivated by human rights issues.

The western press will continue to protest but the people who call the tune in Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s ZANU PF Party supporters, including the hard-men from the war of liberation, are the people who count. If Mugabe can keep control of the army and police and if he is backed by the Party, no amount of street unrest orchestrated by the MDC is going to lead to change. In survival terms, he is a skillful politician, however much we may dislike his methods. If the Party panics, and there are now distinct splits, then the scenario will be a different one. Removing Mugabe would not necessarily lead to radical changes in Government policy. It would at least allow for a new and more realistic approach to the mainly self-inflicted economic problems of the country. The restoration of the rule of law along liberal democratic lines is probably key to significant change but this is even more problematic and only the restoration of full liberal-democratic practices will solve this one.

If we are looking for a means of determining a tipping point in Zimbabwe then we need to look to the mood of the Party rather than at the views of the Opposition, however well meaning these are or however abused they may be. The outcome of any 'tipping point' will itself be an uncomfortable experience for everyone concerned.


March 8, 2007

Ghana celebrates 50 Years of Independence from Britain

John Arthur writes in this guest web-log on the contrasts between the political enthusiasm for and significance of Ghana’s 50th anniversary and the continued economic problems of a country full of talented people.

The mood of the country is jubilant and celebratory. Like carnival fests in Brazil and New Orleans, thousands of Ghanaians from all walks of life thronged to the Black Star Square, the largest public arena in the West African nation to celebrate 50 years of political independence on March 6, 2007. Before the actual day for the celebration to commence, feverish preparations were made to clean the city, remove rubbish, clear clogged gutters, paint state-owned buildings, and drape the national flag on virtually every public building, including the trees and promenades that form the high street section of town. Even cars were decorated with the national flag. The trail blazers of political emanicipation, notably Drs. Nkrumah, Busia, Danquah, Akufo-Addo, and Ofori-Ataa; Paa Grant and Ako-Adjei were honored. Special praise and noteworthy recognition went to Dr. Nkrumah, the country’s first President who led the fight for political independence from Britain.

Foreign dignitaries from around the world came to take part in this national birthday party. Britain, the former colonial master, was represented at the festivities by the Duke of Kent. Emissaries from the entire Continent of Africa were present. Two of Africa’s economic giants, Obasanjo of Nigeria and Mbeki of South Africa were present as well. The European Union, United States, Canada, and other members of the British Commonwealth of Nations were represented. The country spent $20 million to import cars for the foreign dignitaries, relocate some street hawkers, refurbish hotels, pave the processional routes, and many more. Everywhere there was pomp and pageantry. Radio stations blurred patriotic songs in the days and weeks leading to the celebrations. The mood of the national rank and file reached a crescendo Tuesday morning when the celebrations formally started. The current President, Dr. John Kufuor, an Oxford-trained lawyer and a two-term President hosted the national celebrations. Stevie Wonder was there in person to bring his musical talents to bear on the celebrations. The Black Caucus in the US Congress showed their support by visiting the country during the celebrations. After all, Ghana is known as the Black Star of Africa. These celebrations in essence, marks half a century of the first black country in Africa to wrestle political hegemony from a European superpower. The ripple effect was enormous as scores of countries in Africa and Asia seized on this momentous occasion to agitate for self-determination.

After the celebrations are over and the foreign and local dignitaries departed, the nearly 22 million strong population with a GNP of $450 will continue to live the daily realities of their massive economic and social problems: chronic youth unemployment, malaria infestations, graduate unemployment, mass migrations of skilled and unskilled workers to virtually every corner of the globe, and the near collapse of the manufacturing sector. For some, the country does not have much to celebrate about because after 50 years of independence, the country is still unable to put in place robust economic and political policies to steer it to the enviable standards achieved by countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea. It bears saying that at independence, the country’s infrastructures were at par with Malaysia. But almost three decades of political conflicts marked by successive military interventions crippled the economic and political development of the nation. Debt forgiveness initiatives championed by Britain’s Tony Blair has stabilized the economic hemorrhaging of the country. The opposition NDC party and its supporters are leery of the motives of the ruling NPP party in spending a colossal amount to mark the 50th birthday of the country. Some argue the money could be used to drill wells in the rural areas, fund the National Health Scheme, and pay the remuneration of teachers some of whom have not been paid for months.

Those who quibble with the celebrations have every reason to be concerned about the future direction of their country. It is also pertinent to mention that certainly, progress is being made in virtually every aspect of Ghanaian society. The next decade will prove decisive in terms of the government’s ability to sustain a robust economy, nurture democratic and civil governance, fight corruption and malfeasance, and raise the hopes and aspirations of the mass society. Only then can we talk about Ghana as the shining oasis in Africa. Only then can we truly celebrate by hoisting the red, gold, and green flag with the black start in the middle. By all accounts, the country has the human capital and the resources to reach its true zenith. Time will tell.