China and Civil Society

This week in IS 210 we addressed the concept of civil society–its institutions, and the relationships thereof with the state and market sectors. As part of today’s lecture, we viewed an excerpt of a video recording of a roundtable discussion about China and civil society. In a highly informative presentation, George Mason University (Fairfax, VA) research professor, Carol Lee Hamrin, assessed the changes in Chinese civil society over the last few decades. As the power and reach of the Chinese party-state recedes it has opened up room for the increasing independence of civil society institutions and (especially) the commercialisation of the Chinese economy.

You can view the whole video here.

Independence Referendum in Southern Sudan

The most important international political event occurring this week is arguably the independence referendum in southern Sudan. Despite clashes a couple of days ago along the border separating the north and south, which left dozens dead, the New York Times reports that voting is peaceful. As The Globe and Mail’s Geoffrey York notes, while the referendum may ultimately lead to a new state being created in the south, the cost “has been horrific.”

Southern Sudan has been consumed by devastating wars for most of the past half-century. An estimated 2.5 million people have perished in those wars, with atrocities on all sides that were shocking in their cruelty.

After decades of indifference by most of the world, the irony is that Southern Sudan suddenly became a fashionable cause over the past decade. Its oil exports became lucrative, forcing the north and south to try to settle their conflict in order to protect their revenue flows. Simultaneously, there was a rapid escalation of U.S. diplomatic pressure on both sides, including the threat of sanctions – partly because evangelical Christian lobbyists had persuaded Congress that it needed to protect the south’s Christians from Muslim persecution.

Here’s a fascinating set of maps creating by the BBC to show that the north and south of Sudan differ in more than simply ethnicity and oil wealth.

Here’s a report from Al Jazeera about some of the important issues related to the referendum:

German Chancellor Merkel–German Multiculturalism a Complete Failure

In a speech to the youth wing of her party last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel proclaimed multiculturalism in Germany a “complete failure.” Merkel’s remarks have caused some consternation both within Germany and abroad. Detractors have used the speech to highlight what they claim is an increasingly strident anti-immigrant (and particularly anti-Muslim) tone in the words and deeds of the right and centre-right in Germany. The clip below–from Al Jazeera’s English-language news program–places Merkel’s comments within the context of the contemporary debate in Europe on issues related to the assimilation/integration of Muslim immigrants. (Note the clip on the recent “burqa controversy” in France.

There is, I believe, a more charitable reading of Chancellor Merkel’s comments. The public debate in Germany on immigration, multiculturalism and the place of immigrants in German society has-for peculiarly German reasons–lagged the reality for a long while. It was not until the election of Gerhard Schroeder’s SDP/Green coalition in 1998 that the German citizenship law was changed to make it consistent with the social reality.

The face of Statelessness–Canadian Style

Last week I asked if all the world’s residents have citizenship. We discovered that the answer is `no’ and that there are approximately 15 million  stateless persons worldwide.  On the way to work this morning, I was listening to the CBC program The Current, which reported on the peculiar story of a young girl living in Belgium, whose father is a Canadian citizen, but who is currently not a citizen of any country. She does not fulfill the requirements of Belgian citizenship (which does not have universal jus soli citizenship rules), and as of last year falls through a loophole in Canadian citizenship law as of changes in the law that were enacted last year.

From the program:

Citizens of Nowhere – Ian Goldring

Chloe Goldring is 15 months old. She lives in Brussels, Belgium. And she has no citizenship. She is officially stateless. She has ended up in this situation because of a change made to the Canadian Citizenship Act in April of 2009.

Since then Canadians who were born abroad, in this case her father, are no longer able to pass on Canadian citizenship to their children, unless those children are born in Canada. The change was brought in to target parents born outside Canada who come here, obtain citizenship, and then return to their country of origin and pass along Canadian citizenship to children who may never have any intention of coming to Canada.

You may remember this became an issue in the summer of 2006 when there was a public outcry over Canada’s move to rescue Lebanese Canadians during the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon that summer. Well that is the change that Chloe Goldring has been swept up in.

Chloe’s father Ian Goldring is a Canadian who lives in Brussels.

Citizenship and Statelessness

Do all persons have citizenship?

No. It has been estimated that there are currently about 15 million stateless persons worldwide. From the Nubian people of Kenya to residents of the Dominican Republic of Haitian descent, statelessness is a global phenomenon affecting the health, economic well-being, and human security of the individuals, families, and groups involved.

The Open Society Justice Initiative has produced a series of documentaries on the issue, the introduction to which can be viewed below. From the description:

Although some stateless people are refugees, many have never crossed a border or left their country of birth. Although the problems related to statelessness may manifest themselves differently, at the root is a group of people who have been denied a legal identity.

A stateless person is not recognized as a citizen by any state. Citizenship enables you not only to vote, hold public office, and exit and enter a country freely, but also to obtain housing, health care, employment, and education. Citizenship is necessary in order to live a decent human life. Stateless people are denied that right.

For more information, visit http://www.soros.org/stateless

Does Africa Need a New Map?

In a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine, G. Pascal Zachary argues that it’s time to redraw Africa’s political borders, which are “unnatural” and a legacy of 19th and 20th-century colonialism. As is well-known the newly independent states that comprised the Organisation for African Unity met in 1964 and agreed that the extant international borders in Africa were sacrosanct, believing that this would best guarantee stability on the continent. It worked, to a degree. While there have certainly been very few international (i.e. inter-state) wars in Africa in the intervening 45 years, the continent has been ravaged by intra-state (i.e., internal, or “civil”) wars during the same period. What are the potential benefits of redrawing Africa’s borders to make them more coterminous with ethnic boundaries (as has been done recently in, amongst other places, the Balkans and the former Soviet Union)? Zachary’s claim:

Borders created through some combination of ignorance and malice are today one of the continent’s major barriers to building strong, competent states. No initiative would do more for happiness, stability, and economic growth in Africa today than an energetic and enlightened redrawing of these harmful lines.

How important is for for state strength and stability for ethnic and political border to be coterminous? The redrawing of borders–and it is obvious that the mechanism would be military force–would almost certainly lead to tremendous suffering and bloodshed, with competing campaigns of ethnic cleansing. But, as Zachary notes, since the start of the post-colonial era millions of Africans have died in internal conflicts, and:

Rethinking the borders could go far to quelling some of these conflicts. Countries could finally be framed around the de facto geography of ethnic groups. The new states could use their local languages rather than favoring another ethnicity’s or colonial power’s tongue. Rebel secessionist movements would all but disappear, and democracy could flourish more easily when based upon policies, rather than simple identity politics. On top of that, new states based on ethnic lines would by default be smaller, more compact, and more manageable for governments on a continent with a history of state weakness.

Assuming that the political will to achieve this goal were to evolve, what would be the best mechanism? What would Herbst’s argument be? Is this even feasible? Where would one draw the new boundaries? How would one define an ethnic group? Refer to these two maps to get a sense of the near impossibility of the task at hand. While there are about 50-odd states in Africa, there are literally hundreds of geographically-concentrated ethnic groups. In addition, there is a tremendous amount of inter-mingling of ethnic groups as well.


Failed States and the Fund for Peace’s Failed States Index 2010

On Thursday, September 23rd we will begin to analyse the exceptionally important concept–the state. It will become strikingly obvious that a strong state is a necessary–but not sufficient–condition for political stability, political and personal liberty, democracy, and economic well-being. Conversely, citizens living in weak, failing, or failed states face lives of economic destitution, personal insecurity (think of Hobbes’ state of nature, where life is nasty, brutish, and short), and lack of basic rights and freedoms. The Fund for Peace publishes an annual index of failed and failing states. A quick look at the results over the last decade or so finds that the same dozen or so states are continually at the top of the list of failed/failing states. Here is a map depicting the results of the most recent index:

Notice the geographical concentration of failed states (in red). Why are the vast majority of the world’s failed states found in central Africa and southwest Asia?

What are the characteristics of failed states that distinguish them from more stable states? Maybe this video of life in Somalia will provide some clues: