Ted Talk of the Week

African Leaders: From Decolonizers to Dictators, then Stabilizers. What next?

I decided that I would listen to a Ted Talk every morning while having breakfast. The point is to keep my brain going from the beginning of the day, but not necessarily on political or topical subjects. Every week, I will pick the one that made me reflect the most. I will post it here, and share my views with you.

Fred Swaniker offers us his insights into Africa, its political history and how the continent’s lack of strong institutions have enabled single individuals to dictate their laws and act unilaterally, creating chaos and warfare throughout Africa. Coups d’état seem to be common and widely spread practice in Africa, as demonstrated by Burkina Faso’s recent military coup. This is, however, becoming less and less frequent, thanks to a shift in Africa’s politics, at least in some of its parts.

But what is the problem? Why are coups possible? Swaniker rightly explains that the continent possesses weak governmental institutions which are not capable of ensuring good governance and respecting democracy, thus allowing individuals to seize power illegally without consequences. They are also able to stay in power for long periods of time, thus ruling as autocrats, by dividing the population, annihilated the civil society and stomping on human rights. Mugabe in Zimbabwe is a perfect illustration of this type of leadership.

In Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaoré, who had been in power for 27 years and was yet willing to “run” again, was toppled by a popular uprising last November, following which the military seize power. A few days later, the military surrendered power, thus allowing the formation of a a transition government led by Michel Kafando, in charge of organizing free and democratic elections due on October 11th. On September 17th, Compaoré’s right arm, Gilbert Diendéré, perpetrated a coup against the transition government, hoping to reinstate the practices in place under the former dictator. This can also be explained by the fact that Campaoré’s clan cannot run for the upcoming presidential elections, as agreed by the transition government.

Mugabe and Compaoré are what Swaniker describes as generation 2 leaders: they came after the decolonization wave and instated regimes of terror, war and corruption in their countries, for their own profits. They exploited their countries’ resources and starved the populations. They both show that, in Africa, leadership matters because the institutions are too weak to counter balance the personal powers of autocrats, and

“Africa would rise or fall because of the quality of [their] leaders… In Africa more than anywhere else in the world, the difference that one good leader can make is much greater than elsewhere”.

Most countries in Africa have moved past generation 2, and have or are being led by generation 3 leaders, such as Nelson Mandela, who have cleaned up the mess of generation 2, stabilized their countries and developed their nations. South Africa is probably the best case of this.

Africa Ted Mandela Quote

Swaniker rightly points to the future: what will come next? All 3 generations involved old leaders, who must now pass the torch to the younger generations. But Africa is failing at producing homegrown leaders who are able to take up the task.

In addition, many challenges will surface, namely environmental ones but also linked to the demographic explosion the continent is facing. Economic opportunities will have to address the new demand in order to keep people at peace. Africa has the potential to do great things. People are resourceful, creative and the soils is full of natural resources such as oil, gas, minerals, etc. The solution to future problems are on the continent.

Africa must, however, seize its independence again. It must define solutions adapted to its own circumstances without depending on others, be it countries or international institutions. Africa must also be given a chance to build its own way to develop, which should be done by African leaders for the African people. Local institutions must be reinforced to ensure the stability of the local governments. These must be built around each countries’ specificities and not based on a universal model, dictated by foreigners. Let’s trust Africa that they know what is best for them.


Ted Talk of the Week, The political use of...

The political use of fear

I decided that I would listen to a Ted Talk every morning while having breakfast. The point is to keep my brain going from the beginning of the day, but not necessarily on political or topical subjects. Every week, I will pick the one that made me reflect the most. I will post it here, and share my views with you.

Fear triggers creativity, “a constructive response” as David Rothkopf puts it. Other times, the result is not positive. The speaker details how 9/11 pushed the American to act out of fear and take disproportionate measures in response. Al Qaeda was at the time a small group of insurgents, whose ranks swole with the deployment of the international troops in Afghanistan and later with the US’s unlawful mission to Iraq. The response was thus wrong. The fact that the crises are still ongoing there proves that point. The American response was not appropriate and ignored the bigger trends, that of change and innovation. The response failed to incorporate those elements and the power of hybrid warfare.

OSCE, Ukraine and fear 

At the beginning of the week, I went to a conference organized by the Egmont Institute, where the Panel of Eminent Persons on European Security as a Common Project presented their preliminary report on the situation in Ukraine, as mandated by the OSCE. The panelists discussed their achievements so far, all in agreement that something needed to be done in order to stabilize the region. The Russian representative, Prof. Sergey Karaganov, of course stood in opposition to the rest of the participants, calling for the right for countries to act as they please. This two edged-sword comment could be indeed interpreted several ways, as it is both positive and negative. Positive because it thus allows Ukraine to choose its own path, a path which was leading it towards the West until Moscow put his veto; negative because it also justifies Russia’s actions, its right to react when it feels endangered. This should make the West, and especially Russia’s neighbouring countries, feel frightened because there is no longer any certainty on how Russia acts, or how far they are willing to go in order to feel secure again.

Another panelist focused on the element of fear. Sir Robert Cooper, the British representative, called on the audience to take fear into consideration in regards to the situation in Ukraine. The crisis there is only one element of Russia’s strategy to protect itself and regain power in the region. And fear will make those standing against him, i.e. Western European countries and those wishing to partner with them, more eager to fight off Moscow in order to avoid a war on the Old Continent.

Let’s go back to the Cold War for a second: the reason why there was no direct confrontation between NATO and the Warsaw Pact was because both parties wanted to avoid a war in Europe (kinetic or nuclear) – the First and the Second World Wars at least had this positive effect. It was the fear that another conflict would tear Europe apart again which forced the use of proxy wars. Cmdr (Res) Kurt Engelen, in accordance with the work of Mr. Janis Berzins, rightly analyzes that we are indeed being constantly attacked by Russia. Combined with the fact that Putin declared, already in 2007, that his country was at war to stop the Western expansionism towards the East and South, we must take this into consideration and act upon it. This war which does not say its name is hybrid and indirect, but it is there. The situation is much more uncertain than during the Cold War because there is no tacit agreement by both parties that there would be no direct attacks. This time, the game has no rules, at least according to Moscow. The latter wants to change the status quo which is in its disadvantage as its former sphere of influence is slowly running away from it. We should fear the consequences of that ambition because we triggered it. And that fear should be the element which will push the endangered countries and populations’ forces together to combat the common enemy.

It is believed by some that only fear will make us react to the threats we are facing. But what if fear makes us act irrationally like the Americans did?


Ted Talk of the Week

Vaccines and Development

I decided that I would listen to a Ted Talk every morning while having breakfast. The point is to keep my brain going from the beginning of the day, but not necessarily on political or topical subjects. Every week, I will pick the one that made me reflect the most. I will post it here, and share my views with you.

On September 7th, the news broke that an African child was paralyzed by vaccine-derived polio. On top of having dramatic consequences for the child, it also meant that the outburst of joy celebrating the first year anniversary of a polio-free Africa will not be reiterated next year. Aside from the fact that polio is still affecting Africa, the saddest part is that it is only in 2014 that the possibility of eradicating polio on the continent became a reality and that it was that same year that polio was declared a world health emergency. At last.

Although there is no cure for that disease, preventing it has been possible since the invention of a vaccine in 1952 by Dr. Jonas Salk. The West has been polio-free for decades, with only very few cases in the 1980s. “When the global polio eradication drive began in 1988, more than 350,000 children around the world were paralyzed by the virus each year. Last year, only 359 were”.  Many people were thus still affected by polio even though a preventive method was available. It took a world initiative to address the issue.

Seth Berkley discusses why that is; why vaccines, and medicine in general are not developed or done so at a later point after the resurgence of a medical crisis. Berkley takes the example of Ebola, which has been around since 1976. Until the outbreak last year, this dangerous infectious disease was barely studied and no cure was developed, even though it had not disappeared and continued to kill people. Berkley also mentions the dengue fever and measles which, despite their wide reach and mortality rate, still have not find cures.

We spend practically nothing to prevent something as tangible and evolutionarily certain as epidemic infectious diseases

The explanation is straightforward: there is no commercial benefit to expect from developing drugs to stop those diseases, for the simple reason that the affected populations cannot afford the research and development costs of such endeavour. Richer regions are not concerned by those viruses and hence do not have any interest in contributing . Ebola caught our attention because of the violence of its symptoms but also because Westerners had been infected and had brought the disease back to their home countries, thus created a risk of pandemic (although Ebola is not as contagious as other viral diseases such as the flu). Globalization had made it possible for a regional outbreak to become global. It also meant that there was a market for a cure for Ebola; affected Westerners were willing and able to pay the price in order to get better.

The fact that some widely spread diseases have not been cured is appalling; it is sad and difficult to understand. The lack of market outcome is not an excuse. Investing in vaccine research is investing in people, in their security and safety.

Every year we spend billion of dollar keeping a fleet of nuclear submarine to protect us from a threat that will probably never happen

Africa seems to always been behind in terms of diseases. ” The last case of smallpox was found in Somalia in 1977, and the last case of rinderpest, a centuries-old cattle disease that may have killed millions of humans by causing famine, was recorded in Kenya in 2001″. Why is that? Because populations do not have the financial means? Most probably, yes. Africa is, however, one of the continent with the most resources and the most human and development potential. This still needs to be explored. The first step is to use those resources to invest into the human capital, by addressing the health issues the populations are facing. In order to do so, the revenues of oil, gas, minerals, wood, diamonds and gold must be used for support local initiatives to come up with local solutions to local problems, and not to feed some dictators and their foreign partners.


Ted Talk of the Week

How a truely global ethic can save us all

A few weeks ago, I decided that I would listen to a Ted Talk every morning while having breakfast. The point is to keep my brain going from the beginning of the day, but not necessarily on political or topical subjects. Every week, I will pick the one that made me reflect the most. I will post it here, and share my views with you.

The talk that marked me this week was given by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2009. National politics does not matter here, which is for the best as I am far from being an expert in British politics. You will also tell me that the speech is old, 6 years old to be precise. To that, I reply to you that old does not mean bad. And if you watch the video, you will probably notice that most of what G. Brown discusses still applies today. And this is exactly for that reason that this speech caught my attention.

The first part of the speech is made to captivate the audience, to appeal to their memories, to remind them of the horrors of the past that shocked them, of the pictures which changed the West’s perception of the world and triggered the intervention of the international community in crises abroad. This first part reminded me of a picture that was all over the internet a few days ago: the image of a little boy who was found dead on the Turkish shore after trying to cross the Mediterranean with his family in order to escape the war tearing apart Syria.

As Brown put it,

What we see unlocks what we cannot see

And although this picture is ethically wrong on many levels, it appeals to our humanity, which Europe seems to have had a hard time finding to come up with appropriate solutions to the continuous wave of migrants landing on our Southern borders.

The most important difference that I see between the picture of the little boy stranded on the Turkish beach and all the other examples given by Gordon Brown, is that this crisis has reached and directly affects the West. It is not in Africa or in the Middle East. It is right around the corner from us, within the borders of the EU. What this means is that the effects of decades of foreign intervention in the Middle East has caused a (predictable) crisis that is now asking us to correct our wrongs. It is also demonstrating that Europe is no longer immune to the problems the rest of the world is facing. And this time, sending off aid will not suffice, as it will have to be deployed within our direct realm, thus demanding extreme levels of understanding, cooperation and collaboration.

What this picture also suggests is that, we, the international community, have been unable to address a crisis that everybody knows exist. Gordon Brown rightly points to the failures of our institutions which have been created to advance human rights and human dignity, in order to create global and lasting peace. We have clearly failed, just like in Rwanda we failed to prevent a genocide, to rescue those who would rather risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean in overcrowded boats than stay in their country where their lives are at risk at every instant. And despite the importance of the media coverage relaying the information from Syria and other striken countries, we have failed to appropriately respond to their distress.

We need to tackle problems that everybody knows exist

We also fail to think global, to grasp the implications a foreign crisis could have on us. We forget that in this time and age, was goes around comes back around. Failing to support an underdeveloped country will have medium to long-term consequences that will be felt at the international level. Failing to think global, which also means diverse, compromises our chance for peace and stability. Ultimately, helping others also means helping oneself.

The example of global warming is a striking one as world leaders are due to gather in Paris at the end of November at the COP21 Summit. Gordon Brown’s speech came before the previous summit on the issue which took place in Copenhagen, but did not bring sufficient results. Institutions to regulate, punish and impose decisions must be created in order to make climate change a global common implicating everyone, for the sake of everyone.

In a time and age where people are aware and informed about what happens on the other side of the planet in an instant, more emphasis should be put on involving the people in decision-making and finding solutions to global problems. So far, civil society has been more active in welcoming the migrants coming from the other side of the Mediterranean than governments themselves. There has to be something wrong with our system. The global character of citizens is not reflected in governments. Information technologies are the key, which echoes another Ted Talk.

PM Gordon Brown calls for recognizing our responsibilities to others. We must act as global citizens to solve global problems, because they do not stop at borders. We have the potential to build a better world. Ethic must go beyond our nation interest. Let’s do it.

Gordon Brown engaged in a conversation on Global ethic vs. national interest which can be found here