More than 100 Tibetans have self-immolated since 2011 — including monks and nuns, farmers and nomads, adults and teenagers. The Chinese government blames the “The Dalai Lama Clique.” Meanwhile, Tibetans hope that the self-immolations will bring global awareness to China’s policies towards Tibet.
Jeffrey Bartholet looks at the human and political dimensions of the burnings — their meaning, their possible impact, and the battle over who controls the narrative. He also explores the peculiar history of self-immolation, and the related debate among some Tibetan Buddhists about whether they constitute acceptable or unacceptable violence. Learn more.
Up on the Roof
Jeff Stern, who has lived and worked in Afghanistan on and off since 2007, says that the first thing he does upon returning to Kabul is head for the rooftops. From there he takes the measure of the city and its changes. On his current trip, as a Pulitzer Center grantee, Jeff surveys the Afghan capital’s changing landscape—and the implications for its inhabitants as the U.S. prepares to withdraw its troops by the end of the year.
Most analysts are deeply pessimistic about Afghanistan’s chances, but Jeff, writing for The Atlantic, takes a different view:
“[T]he feeling I have is that the Taliban is facing a simple numbers problem. There are just too many people who’ve built houses here, too many people opening restaurants, too many people playing soccer, too many people learning new languages, too many people, for the Taliban to do more than insert slivers of violence info city life, to serve as a disruptive criminal syndicate settling scores, capable of terrific violence and trauma, but not of ever really coming back.”
— Tom Hundley for the Pulitzer Center’s weekly newsletter. Get your copy here.
Twenty-seven candidates are running in the first round of Mali’s presidential elections, set for this Sunday (July 28, 2013), as the country struggles to regroup following an Islamist insurgency that took control of northern Mali and a coup led by elements of the Malian army. According to The Irish Times, top contenders include former Finance Minister Soumaila Cisse and former Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. The youngest candidate, Niankoro Yeah Samaké, has also been receiving attention.
International observers and civil society leaders within Mali view these elections—and their aftermath—as crucial to peace-building within Mali. Almost all candidates are promising to fight corruption, to create jobs and to work towards national reconciliation.
At the same time, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) continues to wield control over a remote and unforgiving part of northern Mali. AQIM set up training camps and stockpiled weapons and ammunition, as reported by Pulitzer Center grantee, Yochi Dreazen. The French kicked AQIM out of major cities and put the region under nominal central-government control but that government is weak and under-equipped.
International representatives attending a fundraising conference for Mali in May 2013 pledged $4.22 billion, “ensuring that a new administration has the money to restore basic services across the country, such as electricity, water and schooling,” according to the Wall Street Journal. The Obama administration said it would “ask Congress to approve $180 million in bilateral aid plus an additional $32 million in humanitarian assistance.” This aid would begin after the elections; European governments have tied dissemination of the aid to Mali “continuing the road to democracy” and reaching out to minorities.
Earlier this month the Stimson Center held a discussion titled “What Mali Can Teach Us,” featuringMelanie Cohen-Greenberg, President & CEO, Alliance for Peacebuilding, Vivian Lowery Derryck, President & CEO of the Bridges Institute, Retired Col. Christopher Holshek, Senior Fellow, Alliance for Peace-building, and Ambassador of Mali Al-Maamoun Baba Lamine Keita. Cohen-Greenberg and Derryck are chairs of Mali Watch, an organization focused on peacebuilding and rebuilding Mali.
The discussion focused on civilian-military relationships and lessons we can learn from Mali as the country works its way toward democracy.
Derryck emphasized the relationship between civilians and the military as the most crucial step towards peacebuilding. Before the event, Derryck emailed Malians to ask: “Should the military have staged a coup?” One response highlighted the distrust between civilians and the military: “No. In general, people do not trust the government’s or military’s capabilities … People live in fear.”
Cohen-Greenberg agreed with Derryck but took it one step further, claiming that both the U.S. and Malian militaries need to think about strategy beyond security. She said the Malian army needs to start anti-corruption training, further integrate women into the army and learn more about the constitution.
“But really what’s at the DNA of peacebuilding is talk,” Cohen-Greenberg said. “How do we encourage these kinds of hard conversations?” In a separate interview, she elaborated by saying, “There are high levels of fear and distrust in Mali and social cohesion has really broken down.”
During an interview after the event, Cohen-Greenberg said in order to have these hard conversations, community groups in the north and south as well as government officials need to think about what a united country would look like. Cohen-Greenberg emphasized a “common future” from grassroots groups all the way up to the highest level of government.
“The key is to learn from past mistakes and apply the lessons,” said Ambassador Keita. “We need a military model that emphasizes peacebuilding as much as security.”
— Rebecca Gibian, Pulitzer Center intern. Learn more about Mali here. Image by Yochi Dreazen. Mali, 2013.
The Economics of Healthcare in India
Jonathan Cox, a Pulitzer Center student fellow from Davidson College, takes a close look at how a popular health insurance program, Aarogyasri, designed to help India’s poorest, is actually hurting them and the government hospitals where they are most often treated.
“More questions are being raised about Aarogyasri’s impact on health care availability for the poor. A 2011 study by three Harvard School of Public Health fellows said that Aarogyasri only weakens government hospitals by forcing them to compete with private hospitals for patients in order to receive funding,” Jon writes in The New York Times “India Ink” blog. “Roughly 13 billion rupees of the state’s 60 billion rupee budget for health care goes to Aarogyasri – government funds that used to be spent on equipment in government hospitals are now spent paying private hospitals to treat poor patients.”
— Tom Hundley for the Pulitzer Center’s weekly newsletter. Get your copy here.
Who’s in Charge in Egypt? Short Answer: We don’t know. Pulitzer Center grantee Lauren Bohn, who is based in Istanbul, offers her take below.
Transitions to democracy have never been easy. It’s hard to tell if the last few weeks in Egypt are a rewrite of the past two years, a new chapter, or a separate book entirely. While millions convulsed in celebration over the military’s removal of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi, many concede the road ahead will be uphill.
Navigating Egypt’s political turmoil can be headache inducing. My social media feeds and networks on the ground are often split feverishly between two myopic and exclusionary camps. But the country is deeply polarized across political and cultural fault lines that are more complicated than the familiar binary tropes of Islamist vs. secular, or rich vs. poor.
Most of the youth and “secular/liberal” (a label that’s surely reductionist) forces that backed the military’s removal of Morsi haven’t submitted to convenient amnesia: they vividly recall a less-than-sunny military rule and a host of abuses under the military’s 17-month-leadership following Mubarak’s ouster. The same advocates who protested the direct rule of shadowy generals now face a difficult reality of making sure the military heeds their calls for reform. Many constantly tell me they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, between a power-hungry Muslim Brotherhood and a military better suited for staying in barracks than mediating democracy. What’s more, the new interim civilian cabinet has been disputed from the get-go. (To help one navigate the intense carousel of analyses and counter-analyses on the military’s removal of Morsi, here’s a cohesive reading list put together by Guardian journalist Jack Shenker.)
The forces behind Morsi’s ouster, a disparate cornucopia of leftist and secular movements, face the same difficult task they did following Mubarak’s ouster two and half years ago: translating the discontent and momentum that make for riveting street protests into effective and durable political movements. It’s a lot easier to stand together in a square against one figure, be it Mubarak or Morsi, than it is to unite after he’s gone. The question of what one stands for, rather than merely against, is much harder to answer.
A DANGEROUS TIME FOR TAJIKISTAN
A year ago, Tajikistan’s government sent a unit of its U.S.-trained special forces to capture four warlords in a remote frontier region that is home to the Pamiris, a Shi’a minority in the former Soviet republic. The mission backfired and the army was forced into a humiliating retreat.
“This comes at an unpropitious time for Tajikistan,” writes Pulitzer Center grantee Josh Kucera in a story for The Atlantic. “In preparation for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan, scheduled to start next year, the U.S., Russia, and other partners have been trying to help Tajikistan’s government bolster its shaky hold on the unstable country.” But according to Josh, the failure of last summer’s operation and the hardening of resistance among the Pamiris have instead reversed that momentum.
— From our weekly newsletter. Sign up here.
This week, hundred of thousands of demonstrators are pouring into streets of cities and towns across Egypt to protest the many shortcomings of the country’s first democratically elected government. In the wake of the 2011 revolution, political power in Egypt changed hands, but the deep-rooted problems that triggered the unrest—poverty, rampant corruption and a lack of opportunity—remain stubbornly entrenched.
With nearly half its population under age 30, education is the key to Egypt’s future, but as Pulitzer Center grantee Lauren Bohn reports on CNN’s website, “Egypt rank(s) near the bottom — 131st out of 144 countries — for quality of primary education. Egypt’s literacy rate is 66%, according to a 2011 United Nations report. Meanwhile, a report by London think tank Chatham House says just $129 a year is spent on each Egyptian student.” The U.S., by comparison, spends 40 times that amount.
Bohn traveled to Upper Egypt, the poorest part of the country, and found little cause for optimism: “Many schools look more like rank penitentiaries rather than hubs of learning. Students and teachers seem to be on the verge of exhaustion rather than bursting with inspiration. And forget technology. Desks and a stable electricity supply are luxuries.”
— From our weekly newsletter. Sign up here.
Qena, Egypt—In a deserted playground a few hundred miles south of Cairo, 13-year-old Asmaa Ashraf fiddles with a broken rusted slide. She is waiting listlessly for a lesson with her math tutor.
The bright-eyed teenager lives in a sepia-toned village in the province of Qena, a place of rural poverty and neglect. But she has big dreams about education. She wants to open a school one day.
"At my school, we’ll learn," she says, brushing her hands longingly over the slide.
"Teachers will show up and we’ll be allowed to ask questions. We’ll be allowed to draw with color."
Such aspirations, however, amount to fantasy for most youth in a country still struggling to land on its feet after being turned completely upside down.
Keep reading Pulitzer Center grantee Lauren Bohn’s piece for CNN here.
“People don’t want to save young men with a criminal record,” says [Yale University sociologist and gang researcher Andrew] Papachristos.
People do want to save children like Hadiya Pendleton. The 15-year-old girl was part of President Obama’s inauguration celebrations in January and was shot and killed in an alley in Chicago a few days afterwards. The case sparked national and international attention in part because First Lady Michelle Obama attended the funeral. Two gang members were arrested for the homicide; they say that Pendleton was not the target.
Stacey Lowe gets a little angry when she hears the name Hadiya Pendleton. She lost her daughter in April 2012, but it was not a high profile case. “For the police it was just one more murder.” Lowe’s daughter Michelle was 21, about to graduate from college with plans to join the Navy when she went out with her friends from Forman Mills after work. They wanted to go bowling, but got lost on the way. Michelle talked to her mother on the phone. It would be the last time they would talk. What happened afterwards Lowe only knows from what people told her.
Pulitzer Center grantee Rieke Havertz looks at the toll of gun violence in Chicago. Keep reading here.