Tuesday, 31 January 2017

U.S.: Trump's Muslims Ban

Donald Trump's executive order, outlawing immigrants from areas of the world with a history of terrorism as part of his proposed temporary ban on all Muslims entering the United States---a radical rewriting of US counter-terrorism policy, reveals his blatant ignorance.

The executive order suspended entry of all refugees for 120 days and barred those fleeing the slaughter in Syria indefinitely. And it blocked entry into the United States for some three months for citizens of seven Muslim majority countries. The ban has been denounced by the UN's rights Chief as ''mean-spirited'' and illegal under international human rights.

In an escalating crisis for his 11 day old administration, President Trump fired his acting attorney general, removing her as the nation's top law enforcement officer after she defiantly refused to defend his executive order closing the nation borders to refugees and people from predominantly Muslim countries. 

Trump's executive order is based on the rationale that Islamic extremism is a mortal danger that he must get rd of right away. In fact, Islamic extremism is a problem but not an existential threat. But the decision to ban people from seven Muslim countries shows Trump's lunacy and absurdity and it is un-American. It places a question mark over the United States's very identity as a nation of immigrants.

Muslims have contributed a great deal to the culture and prosperity of America. In the wake of the 
Sept 11 attack in New York and Orlando attack however, Trump has lost sight of this fact. Trump even believes that Muslims and their faith collectively responsible for the decline of America's hegemony. But while the claim that violent Islamic extremism has nothing to do with Muslims and their faith is absurd, the idea that some monolithic “Islam” is to blame for this new specter haunting America is equally foolish.

This assumption that Muslim people are an existential threat to America is misplaced and unfair. The United States of today is more tolerant of difference than ever before. Indeed, cosmopolitanism is at the very heart of contemporary America. Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, one of the most best president in America's history, for example, proudly and openly proclaim his African ancestry. The US former Secretary of State, Henry Alfred Kissinger, was born in Vietnam. Steve Jobs' biological father, Abdulfattah ''John'' Jandall, was a Syrian's immigrant.  Even Trump himself has Germany origins. It stands to reason that if these minorities have not been prevented from thriving in contemporary America, the counter-terrorism policy cannot be based on xenophobia.

The complaint from the Muslim world that Muslims are being treated as second-class citizens by Trump's ban has a substantial basis in reality, and this fact is deeply troubling for America that claims to value inclusivity and equality.

With the ban, Trump is fulfilling a promise he made during his campaign--namely that he wants to make America safer by protecting it from Islamic terrorism. The desire for greater protection is a theme currently being felt in all Western societies. It is one that politicians cannot escape.

And this argument is one that applies more in the United States than in most other countries. The effect of the Sept, 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington still color the country today. More than a dozen perpetrators were involved in the attacks. They came from Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. And that gets right to the catch in his new policy: Not a single one of those countries is included in Trump's travel ban. None of these attacks would have been prevented, even if the order had been issued years ago.

Trump, himself, should know that the travel ban bypass the problem. The worst terrorist attack committed in the country since Sept 11 happened early last summer in the middle of the election campaign at Orlando's Pulse nightclub. The attacker, Omar Mateen, came from New York--a young, lost American who shot and killed more than 50 people in the name of Islamic State. A terrorist who had grown up and radicalized in his own country.

The world is complicated and terrorism, unfortunately, is as well. With his simplistic answers, Trump is not making the US any safer. It could already be considered a success if he did not take any steps to make it less safe. But his crude decree will merely fuel new prejudices against the US in the Muslim world. It will create new anger. Anger among the film directors, artists and athletes who have been or might be turned away at the country's airports or where not permitted to travel to US in the first place.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst/Author

Photo Credit:  

Friday, 27 January 2017

CHINA: -''One Belt, One Road''- Yiwu to London

China's New Silk Road just got a glitzy new route: a freight train service from the Zheijang province in eastern China all the way to London. China railway Corp, announced on Monday the departure of the first train from Yiwu, a city of 1 million near Shanghai. It is an impressive logistical feat, connecting 7,500 miles of rails to reach Europe's largest capitals in 16 days.

More importantly, the Yiwu-London line lays bare the geopolitical ambitions underpinning China's ''One Belt, One Road'' policy that aims to re-create the ancient ''Silk Road'' trade route that connected China with Central Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. This ''New Silk Road'' could take on even more importance if the US-China trade relationship goes south, as early and hawkish postures by the President Donald Trump and his team have indicated. 

''One Belt, One Road'' is not just about railroads: confusingly, the ''belt'' refers to overland connections including roads and pipelines across Central Asia, while the ''road'' refers to a Maritime Silk Road, re-creating the old Indian Ocean trading routes that brought Chinese silks to Roman markets.

China Railway already runs freight train services to other European cities, from Hamburg to Milan, to Madrid, though rail is not the most efficient shipping method for huge cargoes: The Yiwu-London train can carry only 200 containers, a small sum when compared with the 20,000 a huge cargo ship can haul. But it can be cost-effective for certain goods.

Britain, one of the largest economies in the world, importing $663 billion in 2014 alone, is an attractive prize for China's export-based economy. In recent years, China has increased investment in British industry and energy and has received--at least until recently--the red carpet treatment by British leaders eager to gain access to the world's second-biggest economy. Faced with the possible loss of trading privileges with European Union after Brexit, the UK will be only more eager to deepen trading with Beijing.

China's goal behind the ''Belt and Road Initiative'' is to make easier to trade with 65 countries that represent 60 percent of the world's population. China, suffering from overcapacity in plenty of key sectors from steel to cement, is looking for new markets to keep its economy growing at health clip.

China's rail links to Europe destinations are indeed unprecedented, and countries along the lines will benefit from better connectivity. China can then follow the trend, building up economic corridors like ''One Belt, One Road'' along the rails lines, and thereby secure wider influence in the region. In an ideal scenario China's ''New Silk Road'' could become the biggest economic stimulus program since the Marshall Plan, with which the US helped Germany get back on its feet after World War II.

The project could become even more important for China, which still relies on exports despite years of trying to re-balance its economy more toward domestic consumption, due to looming tensions with the United States. Trump has been vocal critic of free trade deals and has surrounded himself with China-bashing economists and trade advisors who blame Beijing for what ails the US economy. 

That worries leaders in China: The US trade relationship totaled $659 billion in 2015, according to the US trade representative. If that takes a hit from higher tariffs, currency wars, or the like , the New Silk Road to Europe may be a Chinese escape hatch.

By Jennifer Birich
Political Commentator.


Wednesday, 25 January 2017

EGYPT: Six years after the revolt

Six years after the revolt that swept across Egypt, the country is left with consolidated dictatorship, civil wars and failed states.

January 25 marks the sixth anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution when protesters began to gather in Cairo's Tahrir Square demanding an end to longtime president Mubarak;s 30 year rule. For 18 days, hundreds of thousands demonstrated in a makeshift tent camp, denouncing social inequalities, government corruption and police abuse and calling for democratic reforms. Under increasing pressure, Mubarak resigned on February 11th and continues to be held at a military hospital on the outskirts of Cairo.

Egyptian President Abdel Al Sisi said today that Egypt was on the right track six years after the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak. Speaking in a televised address commemorating the revolution, he called on young activists who took part in mass protest in 2011 to work for the country future. However, critics have accused Sisi of cracking down on freedoms won during the revolution since. 

During spring 2011 the streets in Cairo and the Arab World where filled with people putting off decades of fearful obedience, raising their voice to express their grievances demanding change. The uprisings that swept across the Arab world in 2011 were remarkable in many ways.

The protests broke with the oriental and paternalistic perception of “respected” authoritarian leaders. They also told us that demography matters. It was the disenfranchised youth that initiated the protests in most places, a faction of society that never before appeared on the stage as a relevant political actor. The youth across the region felt united in their demand for change. Many activists around the world felt that they had the same struggle and were in the same situation as the people in Egypt.

Despite the unprecedented protests throughout the region the bottom line prevails rather grim. Six years later – except Tunisia – we are left with consolidated dictatorship, outright civil war or failed states. Recently illustrated by the violent fourth anniversary of the revolution in Egypt.

The revival of authoritarianism after popular uprisings against Mubarak's regime can partly be explained by the failure to consolidate post-revolutionary stability in Egypt. Consequently, fellow despots in the neighborhood justified their brutal crack down of protests with the increasing instability in the neighboring countries and deteriorating security situation. The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) added further fuel to the fire of repressive authoritarian reestablishment throughout the region. 

Thus beyond specific domestic drivers the restoration of authoritarian rule can be seen as a response to increasing uncertainty about the outcomes of the Arab revolutions. Popular support for mass protests throughout the region dramatically declined over the course of 2011. In some instances, this was due to the coercive response by the regimes. In others this can partly be explained by fear of instability (Morocco, Jordan, Algeria). As an activist from the protest movement in Egypt summed up: “The aftermath of the popular uprisings in Egypt scared the people from the street. They preferred stability over the possibility of chaos.”

Many regimes credibly established the importance of security and stability as an effective counter narrative to the expression of grievances under authoritarian rule. The former general and Egyptian president Al-Sisi drew on the longing for security and stability in parts of the population setting out his candidacy for the presidential office, by saying: “We are threatened by the terrorist […] who seek the destruction of our life, safety and security.”

Such rhetoric can increasingly be found in speeches of autocrats across the region from Bashar Al Assad to Mohammed VI of Morocco: “There are no degrees of patriotism or of treason. For either one is a patriot, or one is a traitor.” The construction of a threat in the face of a popular uprising is not a new strategy and has proven effective for those states that were able to avoid the fall f the regime.

Even in Tunisia –the lighthouse of the Arab Uprisings– threat scenarios are constantly used by parts of the old elite to prevent substantial reform of the interior ministry and the related security forces. Amine Khali a Tunisian researcher working on transitional justice said: “The window for security sector reform is closing. The interior ministry successfully pacted with old and new elites in the face of growing security concerns in order to avoid substantial reform and accountability.” Similar patterns could be observed in Morocco.

But what is so worrying about this development? The answer boils down to the fact that the authoritarian elements have prevented change by successfully creating a threat and imposing themselves as the only alternative. They have instrumentalized fear in their favor and ultimately securitized the regimes themselves.

However there is as much violence at the heart of authoritarian regimes as might be triggered by the uncertainty and turmoil of revolutionary moments. We know that many revolutions fail and lead to no change at all or new authoritarian regimes. Nonetheless mass mobilizations always carry the possibility of substantial change towards more democratic politics with them. Ultimately the predominant fear of instability cannot be a reason to oppose change that entails the possibility of enduring freedom from oppression.

As mentioned at the beginning, an entire generation – that constitutes the majority of the population– has risen up against tyranny. Although they might be disillusioned and largely fallen back into political apathy, their grievances will not fade as long as despotism reigns in the region. 

The next time the young generation makes their voices heard the West should be prepared to stand by their side. To help them overcome the fear of chaos and anarchy.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst/Author

Photo Credit: Egyptian President Abdel Al Sisi

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

U.K.: The Brexit Case Appeal Ruling

Britain's Supreme Court has ruled that the Parliament has the right to vote on Article 50 before it is triggered by the Prime Minister. The decision marks a serious blow for the government, which had sought to bypass the legislature..

However the Court rejected arguments that the UK's devolved assemblies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales should give their assent before Article 50 in invoked. But the decision may potentially change the Prime Minister, Theresa May plans to trigger Article 50 before the end of March as she will now seek the consent of Parliamentarians first.

The British government launched a Supreme Court battle over who has the power to trigger the formal process of leaving the European Union, seeking to overturn a legal ruling that could derail its Brexit strategy. 

The most powerful Court in the land upheld a High Court decision that ruled it unconstitutional for Theresa May to formally trigger the process of leaving the EU without first consulting MPs. The government's lawyers argued that the High Court ruling was wrong that parliament had accepted before the referendum that ministers would use ''prerogative'' powers to implement its result. But the government's lawyers accepted that Article 50(1) allows the UK to withdraw from the European Union with its own constitutional requirements. 

The government argument failed to establish the relationship between the Crown's prerogative, i.e. the residue of monarchical authority that is now exercised by ministers, and the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. On the one hand, it is an established feature of the UK constitution since 1688 that an Act of Parliament cannot be supplanted by the exercise of prerogative power. On the central issue, settled since 1688, the Crown cannot use prerogative to remove an Act of Parliament. On the other hand, it is equally established that the prerogative powers of the Crown cover international relations and the conclusion of treaties.

The government argued that the Crown has a prerogative power to authorise the UK's withdrawal from the EU, and that this power can only be taken away by express terms in an Act of Parliament. In the absence of express statutory words, the prerogative powers of the Crown over Article 50 remain intact. This argument was correct, but only with respect to rights and obligations created as matter of international law. As soon as individual rights protected by domestic law are affected, Parliament must be involved.

In relation to individual rights protected in domestic law that could be affected by the EU withdrawal, there are three categories: 1. Rights that were capable of replication in domestic law, 2. rights enjoyed by the UK nationals in other Members states, 3. rights that cannot be replicated in UK law and would be lost upon withdrawal.

In regard of the individual rights protected in domestic law that could be affected by the EU withdrawal: rights that capable of replication in domestic law and rights enjoyed by the UK nationals in other members states, there is nothing in principle to stop Parliament from enacting its provisions in domestic law. In regard of the individual rights protected in domestic law that cannot be replicated in UK law and would be lost upon withdrawal, the government agrees that those rights would irretrievably be lost upon withdrawal. This is here lies the government's defeat.

This is why the government lost its appeal: 

First, the notification of the European Council under Article 50 could be reversed, then the Parliament must be involved. And since the question involves a question of the EU Treaty law, the final answer could only be given by the Court of Justice of the EU. 

Second, by agreeing that the Article 50 notification would inevitably lead to the loss of some individual rights, rights that cannot be replicated in domestic law, the government lost its appeal.

The ruling does throw a spanner in the works of the government's Brexit strategy. But its focus is strictly constitutional, not political. The Supreme Court has not expressed an opinion on whether Article 50 should be triggered. The only question it examined is whether, as matter of the UK constitutional law, the Crown acting through the government, is entitled to use prerogative powers to trigger Article 50 in order to cease to be a member of the European Union.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst/Author

Photo Credit: AFP-London photo:

Monday, 23 January 2017

GAMBIA: Yahya Jammeh's End

Yahya Jammeh, the Gambia's former president, has flown into exile in Equatorial Guinea after stepping down under pressure from West African nations to accept his election defeat, a stunning turn for a nation that has lived for more than two decades under what human rights groups have described as repressive regime.

Since taking power in a bloodless coup in 1994, Yahya Jammeh presided over the worst dictatorship in Africa. The eccentric Gambia's former president ruled the country through a mix of superstition  and fear, State-sanctioned torture, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary executions.

In previous elections, Gambia president Yahya Jammeh benefited from a strong media bias and greater financial resources than his rivals to secure elections victory. The gross imbalance in the financial and material capability of the candidates resulted in the lack of adequate visibility of the United Democratic Party(UDP) and the Independent candidates. 

In last December election, the Electoral Commission officially declared Adama Barrow the winners, in an upset victory that astonished observers. According to the Electoral Commission Mr Adama Barrow received 263, 517 votes while Jammeh 212, 098. Shortly after Jammeh congratulated Barrow for his clear victory. A week later Mr Jammeh, changed his mind and contested the results and filed a complaint at the Supreme Court. It is not clear why he did so.

After several weeks of intense negotiations with Yahya Jammeh, the Economic Cooperation of West African States ( ECOWAS) took the initiative to send 4,000 men to force him out. On the same day, Mr Adama Barrow sworn in as Gambia's new president in Gambia's Embassy in Senegal. 
Mr Jammeh weakened by the refusal of his security forces to fight against the ECOWAS forces, had no other alternative than to accept that his oppressive regime for decades has crumbled.

The Gambia's former president, Yahya Jammeh's end was long overdue, since he lost the support of many governments and Electoral Commission officials and African allies since an attempt coup. In December 2014, an unlikely band of diaspora members, including two US army veterans and a Minnesota businessman, staged an assault on the presidential palace while Jammeh was outside the country. The putsch failed and the regime responded with fury, sentencing eight alleged coup plotters to death and indiscriminately jailing scores of Gambians suspected of being associated with them. But the truth is, Jammeh was no longer in total control of his security apparatus. 

The crackdown drew harsh rebukes from rights activists, but it was later revealed that the United States may have indirectly tipped off the Gambian's government that a coup was in the works. The FBI had been monitoring some of the plotters communications and the State Department later informed another West African nation that one of them had left the Unites States in the hopes it would intercept him. Despite Jammeh's egregious rights records, the US government has largely refrained from speaking out against him over the years.

Further more, international isolation made Jammeh only more vulnerable at home. Since 2011 election, Yahya Jammeh lost the support of Economic Community of West African States, which refused to send observers. The European Union has suspended $186 million in aid while the Unites States made Gambia ineligible for the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a trade preference program that provides duty free treatment to US imports from sub-Saharan Africa, making it the only nation besides Swaziland and South Sudan to lose eligibility because of its dismal human rights record.

The Economic Cooperation of West African States (ECOWAS), created in 1975, have a long history of sending their military forces to intervene in neighboring countries, under the umbrella of regional cooperation bloc, to resolve regional conflicts.

The organization has 15 members, of which eight are francophone( Benin, Burkina-Faso, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo), five anglophone ( Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone) and two Portuguese speaking ( Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau) and has carried out several successful interventions since 1990:

In Mali: On January, 11, 2013, following a UN Security Council resolution, the bloc authorises the immediate deployment of an intervention force aimed at helping Mali retake its Islamist-controlled north. The same day, French military launches ''Operation Serval'' to back the Malian army and drive back the Islamists. The West African troops forced comprised 6, 300 men , including 2,000 from Chad, which is not ECOWAS member. The Chadian soldiers were on the front line alongside French soldiers in fighting the insurgents.

In Guinea Bissau: ECOWAS deployed more than 600 police officers and paramilitary gendarmes from Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal and Togo, in May 2012, to help the political transition.  
Already in February 100, a lightly armed ECOWAS force was deployed to help resolve the crisis in the insurgency-hit-country, but withdrew several months later after failing to prevent a resumption of fighting and the overthrow of the head of state.

In Liberia: In August 1990, ECOWAS deployed a several hundred men to Liberia to intervene in a civil war.

The ECOWAS' initiative to force Jammeh out will likely be viewed as a triumph for African diplomacy and could set a precedent in a in a region where democracy advocates have spent decades pressing for fair elections, an end to authoritarian regimes and have lamented a plague of ''third termism'' as more and more leaders move to scrap constitutional limits in order to remain in power. 

Mr Jammeh's end is a rare turn for longtime leaders on the continent. Many leaders have amassed so much power, and often, wealth through decades of incumbency that they manage to stay in office until death. Other so called presidents for life have interfered with elections to cling to power.

Nevertheless, a new page of Gambia's history has started with Adama Barrow. It would be interesting to see how the new Gambia's president will deal with widespread corruption, chronic food shortage, and terribly mismanaged economy. Gambia ranks dead last in Africa in terms of GDP per capita, the only country to experience a decline since 1994.

By Guylain Gustave Moke

International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst

Photo Credit: AFP-photo of :Yahya Jammeh, former Gambia's president arrived in exile in Equatorial Guinea.

Friday, 13 January 2017

RUSSIA: NATO's Preparedness

The Kremlin has hit out at the biggest deployment of US troops in Europe since the end of cold war, branding the arrival of troops and tanks in Poland as threat to Russia's national security. The deployment, intended to counter what NATO portrays as Russian aggression in eastern Europe, will see troops permanently stationed along Russia's western border for the first time.

About 1,000 of promised 4,000 troops arrived in Poland at the start of the week, and a formal ceremony to welcome them is to be held on Sunday. But their arrival is perceived as a threat by Moscow. 

Russia is concerned that these actions threaten its interests, and security. Especially as it concerns a third party building its military presence near Russia borders. However for NATO, a failure to defend Baltic countries’ sovereignty will feed the Kremlin’s appetite for military adventures and jeopardize the geostrategic stability of the European continent. 

Russia alarmed Baltic states by moving nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles to its naval base at kaliningrad  in the autumn. At the time NATO regarded the move as a response to its own deployments. But there are other causes for concern as well. You only have to consider the case of the Russian submarines in Swedish coastal waters, or the latest incident of the Russian bombers spotted above the English Channel that potentially posed a threat to civil air traffic. 

Eastern European alliance members have been requesting such demonstrations of solidarity since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis. Only now, though, has the US acted. Washington was initially skeptical but has now become a driving force of the movement.

Increasing the Baltic states’ air defenses or sending U.S. troops to Poland are reassuring. Talk of NATO reaffirming its commitment to its Article 5 mutual-defense clause is also good news for the organization’s Eastern members. The alliance also intents on signaling solidarity with the Baltic states and with Poland, with so-called "air policing" flights -- surveillance missions to guard airspace -- to be at least doubled. 

Currently, there are two aircraft constantly at the ready or in the air, a number that is expected to be increased to four or six. The airports in Ämari, Estonia and Siauliai, Lithuania are the focus of the Baltic Air Policing program. In addition, there is to be an increase in the number of AWACS surveillance flights. They are to take place "exclusively over NATO territories,". Finally, a NATO naval unit is to conduct maneuvers in the eastern Baltic Sea.

Within NATO, the leitmotif for current preparations is "reassurance," in particular for Eastern European member states, in the hopes that a clear response will be enough to calm frayed nerves in the region. Whether Russian President Vladimir Putin is likewise interested in taking a step back in the interests of de-escalation remains unclear.

As for non-NATO countries such as Finland and Sweden, they are already taking a hard look at their own defense capabilities and considering closer ties to the alliance. In 2012, Finland acquired a standoff cruise missile from the United States. That bilateral deal confirmed that Finland needed a strong deterrent weapons system—clearly motivated by the threat from Russia as well as the growing geosecurity importance of the Arctic.

The presence of these troops sends a decisive message. Following the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the Baltic countries, formerly part of the Eastern Bloc, began preparing to join NATO -- and in 2004, they too became formal members enjoying the protection of Article 5, which treats an attack against any member state as one on the alliance as a whole.

Although the Baltic states only have small militaries, NATO has thus far refrained from maintaining a constant presence there out of consideration for Russian sensibilities. During the Cold War, the permanent stationing of British, French, American, Belgian, Dutch and Canadian troops in West Germany was meant as a forceful message that NATO was serious about Article 5.

It is hard to find a Western European government or public willing to contemplate the use of force, either by Baltic states’s own military or by some sort of NATO mission. Yet most NATO countries, especially the Eastern members, know what is at stake: the post–Cold War consensus on borders, territorial integrity, and international rules. But it stops there. Even if the United States has rediscovered its interest in NATO, U.S. President Barack Obama has no appetite for resorting to force either.

Russia may hold back on retaliatory action in the hope that Donald Trump's presidency will herald a rapprochement with Washington. Trump, in remarks during the election campaign and since, has sown seeds of doubt over the deployments by suggesting he would rather work with than confront Putin. 

Few at NATO seriously believe that war with Russia is likely but there have been dangerous developments, with escalation on both sides. But the risk now is that we are returning to that era. It is a situation which could further feed Russian fears of encirclement -- fears that Putin has expertly taken advantage of in the pursuit of his political goals.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst/Author

Photo Credit: US Troops arriving in Poland

Thursday, 12 January 2017

U.S.: Obama's Accomplishments

It has been en eventful eight years. Back in November 2008, on a cool, gray evening in Chicago, people in the crowd (including myself) cried and even journalists shed tears when Obama took the stage following his election victory. It was a touching moment, (the best political moment of my life), or perhaps kitschy, depending on how unemotionally you choose to view the world. 

A young Obama, with his campaign slogan ''Yes We Can'' and rousing speeches, managed to beat out the Democratic field, led by favorite Hillary Clinton, and then defeat Republican candidate John Mccain. He came to the victory party in Hyde Park with his wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha in tow--and even cynics were aware at the time that it was an historic moment: the first black president of the Unites States. 

His tenure did not begin with the same energy as his campaign and there have been several phases of weakness during his eight years in the White House. He announced his intention to close Guantanamo prison, but then did little to deliver on that pledge. He also drew a red line in Syria, warning President Bashar Assad not to use chemical  weapons against his own populace. But when Assad did just that, the US shied away from intervention, partly because Obama thought the rebels would topple Assad anyway.

But he became more resolute after his re-election and knew that once his second term began, so too did the countdown. If he wanted to take action, he had to do it soon-and he made his move. The treaties with Iran and Cuba changed the geopolitical map. Obama also became tired of a Congress that sought to block his every move, and of the racism harbored by a significant group of Americans who never wanted to accept him as president. So he began issuing ''Executive Orders'' ( 147 of them, fewer than George W Bush and Bill Clinton) and stopped wasting time.

What though, will remain of this president? Obama's legacy seems all the more respectable in light of Donald Trump's victory. For now, at least.

Economic Legacy

Obama inherited a country sliding into economic recession, engaged in two major military conflicts, and with the costliest healthcare system in the world. He had some significant ideas for reform and campaigned on a promise of hope for a better future, bridging the partisan divide, and bringing the country together. It is remarkable what Obama was able to accomplish despite Republican opposition.

When Obama entered office, the US was on the brink of economic disaster. The causes of this downturn are a complicated myriad of financial mechanisms designed to maximize profit without ethical guideline. The history of the modern American banking system which allowed those mechanisms to flourish, however can be explained succinctly.

Shortly after entering office, US President Franklin Roosevelt passed the US Banking Act of 1933. Included in it, was the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial and investment banking, among other provisions. In short, it prohibited Wall Street investment bankers from gambling their depositors' money if it was held in commercial banks. In 1999, US President Bill Clinton passed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act which repealed Glass-Steagall, allowing the merging of investment firms, commercial banks, and insurance companies. 

As a result, the culture of investment banks was conveyed to commercial banks and everyone got involved in the high-risk gambling mentality.This included credit default and predatory mortgages which contributed to the 2008 financial crisis and global recession. 

To combat this, Obama passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010. Through these pieces of legislation, the US government re-regulated the banks, restructured the banking and auto industries, and lowered interest rates to zero. 

As a result, the US economy is much stronger. In 2009, the US unemployment rate was 10 percent and it is now 4 percent and consumer spending is up and rising at the fastest pace since April 2009. In addition, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created and due to its efforts over $11 billion has been returned to more than 25 million families who were defrauded by financial companies.

Race-Relations Legacy

Perhaps Obama's least heralded achievement was his effort to prepare the country for its future as a genuinely multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. African American will soon outnumber white Americans, religious diversity continues to grow, and differences in sexual orientation are increasingly accepted. Obama's presidency may gone one day be seen as a watershed in the construction of genuinely ''rainbow'' America.

Here is one historic trend-break that has occurred during Obama's administration that has major significance for the well-being of African American: the beginnings of a decline in the national prison population, after decades of expansion. The Obama's administration deserves a fair share of credit. 

In 2010, Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, reducing prison time for convictions involving crack, cocaine. Under Attorney General Eric Holder, sentencing guidelines were made retroactive, leading to the release of thousands. To date, the reductions have been small compared to the total incarcerated population, but the reversal is historic, and its disproportionate significance for African American is evident.

Climate Change

Obama's Climate policy, which had been a linchpin on his campaign, disappeared from his agenda for a few years only to make late reappearance, just barely in time for the 2015 Paris Agreement.

However, President Obama's actions suggest that he was truly passionate about climate change in a way that we have not fully grasped. Clearly he has not done enough. But it is important to consider how little political incentive Obama has had to do anything. Obama could have easily gotten away with talking soberly about the issue but never really doing anything about it. 

Instead, he's done a lot: tough EPA constraints on coal, a meaningful accord with China to cut emissions, serious stimulus spending on clean energy, new emissions standards for cars and trucks. History may well reveal that Obama showed more personal courage on this issue than any other.

Furthermore, the enormously significant announcement of China-US cooperation on global warming and  2015 Paris Agreement, are an indication of how Obama's climate policy has born results.

Healthcare Legacy

Obamacare is easily the signal accomplishment of his presidency, assuming current efforts to unravel it will be defeated. It is an achievement that will put Obama in the ranks of FDR (Social Security) and LBJ (Medicare) because of its enduring impact on the average American's well being. He won't need bridges and airports named after him since opponents already did him the favor of naming it: ''Obamacare''.

By introducing health insurance available to all, he brought a sense of warmth to an America that often seems cold and hard, a project that Democrats have been trying in vain to implement since Harry Truman's times. 

Foreign Policy Legacy

A good foreign policy legacy does not only depend to what political figures actively accomplish--wars won, legislation passed---but to what they prevent from happening, a negative but real accomplishment. By this measure, Barack Obama accomplished a lot. Foreign policy, says Obama, must reflect America's highest ideals and convictions. 

The ''Obama Doctrine'', a doctrine in which the use of force is an exception, the last resort--against terrorists, revised the image of a bellicose, imperialistic America that George W Bush had left behind. Obama's major foreign policy achievement will be the recovery of a bilateral approach to foreign policy after the Bush-Cheney years of unilateralism, the improvement of America's relationship with Western allies, the opening of diplomatic relations with Cuba, and the toning down of the fear-based hysteria about terrorism.

Under 8 years of Obama, we have seen how Obama moved the US into a post-imperial foreign policy, which involves a willingness to talk to partners and enemies like. The right wanted to keep military force in Iraq and demanded boots on the ground in Ukraine and Syria. Instead we have seen Obama do a jujitsu with Iraq internal politics, turning lemon into power sharing lemonade, and work with the Europeans behind the scenes. 

I have not heard anyone talk about China's move toward soft power, and what a vital pivot away from aggressive military brinkmanship this represents. But it is entirely to Obama's credit. Obama has forged military and economic alliances with China's neighbors even as he has continued to engage the Chinese leadership, telling them the U.S. supports China's peaceful rise. 

Leaving office without any substantial US military engagement in the Middle East is Obama greatest foreign policy legacy. Obama will be remembered as the president who finally realized that 70 year engagement has encouraged tyranny, cripples Arab societies, and exposed the US to profound new threats. Breaking the cycle of intervening, withdrawing, and then returning to clean up the mess is epochal.


President Obama passed bills with benchmarks to reign in the big banks and restructure the floundering auto industry. He green -lighted the US Navy Seal team which killed Osama Bin Laden and made serious progress in ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan until the military situation shifted due to IS. He created a national healthcare system, signed landmark drug and crime legislation, passed a nuclear non-proliferation deal with Iran, ended ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' in the army, and reestablished relations with Cuba, among other accomplishments. 

Whether or not you agree with his policies, Obama fought hard to fulfill his campaign promises and succeeded far beyond what the opposition predicted, or is willing to admit.. He has been, indeed, a better president than John Mccain or Mitt Romney might have been.

By Prof: Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst/Author

Photo-Credit: AFP-archives photo of US President Barack Obama

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

E.U.:''Lobbying'': A Structural Challenge affecting the E.U.

The German export lobby, the British finance lobby and the French energy lobby hinder problem solving in the EU. The continent has only one chance: the subordination of these interests.

Three major structural problems are affecting Europe: The polarization of regional competitiveness, the inability to push towards a restructuring of the finance industry and the reluctance to promote energy transition. The German export industry, the British financial sector and French energy companies are jeopardizing suitable reform projects. European solutions are needed to offer alternatives to these national interests. 

Europe is facing some profound structural challenges that require the reorganization of entire sectors. Such solutions would oppose the alleged national interests of Europe’s biggest member states. The most powerful European lobbies, that is to say, the German export lobby, the British financial lobby and the French energy lobby, will cause the needed resolutions to fail.

Instead of focusing on the entire Union’s long-term prosperity, Germany is devoted to securing short-term national success from foreign trade. Due to regional competitiveness, intensively promoted by Germany, its economy grows more slowly than, for example, the economy of the United States. 

In comparison to the general stagnation of the EU, to which Germany has contributed substantially, Germany remains quite successful economically speaking. However, the nation’s wage level does not reflect its high productivity. Germany’s trade partners are suffering from this gap in two ways: First, because German demand is disproportionately low, and second, because German products are too cheap in relation to their quality. It is therefore unsurprising that Germany has managed to accumulate a trade surplus almost every year since 1993.

Whatever one may criticize about Germany, its abundance in human as well as physical capital is not only real but underrated. A return to the German mark would probably result in a revaluation of at least 20 percent against the U.S. dollar – also a good benchmark for showing how much lower the wages are in Germany. The strength of the industry within the Germany economy (15 of the 30 biggest companies are manufacturers) is responsible for a relatively influential export lobby which has already become part of the national identity. This export lobby tries its best to delay the overall devaluation of German goods’ prices.

The United Kingdom is doing all it can to save an economic model that is built on sand. After a drastic deindustrialization following the Thatcher years, Great Britain acquired the status of being the bank of the world. Its wealth only exists on paper and has little to do with the country’s real human and physical capital. Only 10 of the 30 biggest British companies are industrial manufacturers, but all of them are financial giants. 

Great Britain has been holding a trade deficit since 1998 (they import more than they export), which indicates that the country systematically consumes more than it is able to produce. Still, it is fighting off all limitations to the financial sector, just because the City of London – the unquestioned political epicenter of power – is unwilling to question the country’s unsustainable economic model. 

A relatively small number of innovative small- to medium-size companies and the dominance of a few big businesses are often seen as the core structural problems of France’s economy. Amongst the latter, energy companies figure particularly prominently: Four of the 30 biggest European companies are energy enterprises, three of them in the French top 10. Since they are all specialized in nuclear energy, they deliver 75 percent of all the nuclear power that Europe is using. Électricité de France, the second biggest electricity generator in the world, is de facto state owned. 

Furthermore, France commands an industrial plant manufacturing site that is directly linked to a nuclear power generator. Areva, one of France’s top 50 companies, specializes in manufacturing civil and military atomic and reactor is state owned as well. The country itself hence becomes the lobby for its biggest industry. France embodies the biggest obstacle to a European energy revolution and a farewell to nuclear energy.

An economic regime change would probably be most painful for Great Britain. New industries would have to be built overnight, an enormous effort which has been overdue ever since the 1980s. For France, a nation that has not been focusing on renewable energy so far, the adjustment would likewise be of a substantial degree. It would require a complete realignment. Germany, on the other hand, would probably have to show the smallest effort to adjust itself. Its primary task would be to accept that an export (vice-)champion should also be an import (vice-)champion. All it would have to do is spend the wealth that it is generating in real terms.

Small disadvantages regarding price competitiveness – something that is of little relevance to Germany’s export success – would be more than compensated by strong impulses on domestic demand. The industry’s share of the GDP would probably decrease a little in favor of the service industries. Instead of focusing on the demand of emerging countries, the German economic structure would focus more on its own national demand.

Unfortunately, all three lobbies have managed to establish their respective economic sectors as national shrines in the public awareness of their countries – protected through politics and conjured as myths. This leaves the three main structural economic questions of our time unanswered. It seems that the only chance is the development of a European authority that is strong enough to subordinate these national interests.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Author
International Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: AFP-photo of ''AREVA'' :one of France’s top 50 companies, specializes in manufacturing civil and military atomic and reactor

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

RUSSIA: Understanding Putin

It has become dangerously difficult to predict Vladimir Putin’s next moves and the boundaries – both geographical and ethical – he will not cross.  The temptation is to regard Putin as erratic. However, while Putin is engaging in brinkmanship of a particularly aggressive and bare-knuckled variety, there is rationality and a strategy behind it.

Putin came to power as a pragmatic nationalist, skeptical of Western values and aims, but essentially convinced that Russia’s future lay in greater cooperation and economic modernization. Since his return to the presidency in 2012, he has demonstrated an ideological and political shift towards a more aggressive Russian nationalism and a belief that a distinctive and irreplaceable culture faces an existential challenge from Western values and political ambitions. 
So he is aggressively seeking not only to consolidate Russian influence in Eurasia but also to insulate it from what he regards as the negative influences outside its borders. Not a Russian “hermit kingdom” like North Korea, but connection to global economic and technological currents on his terms, without sacrificing domestic control and geopolitical autonomy. He may be – is – mistaken that this could be done, but this is at least a goal that is rational in its own terms.
The founding principles of Putin’s strategy appear to be four. First of all, he believes the West to be powerful – more powerful than Russia – but weak in discipline, ruthlessness, determination, and unity.
As a result, he has turned to what to “guerrilla geopolitics,” trying to capitalize on these perceived vulnerabilities without triggering a direct conflict. The days when NATO feared waves of Soviet tanks crashing through the Fulda Gap are long gone. Instead, the challenge is from non-linear operations that blend political misdirection, subversion and propaganda with small but carefully calibrated injections of military force, whether from local proxies or deniable special forces.
Thirdly, one of the key distinctions between today’s “hot peace” and the old Cold War is that there is no desire on the Kremlin’s part to export any ideology. The aim is entirely defensive: to protect the regime’s grip on its country and its economic and security interests in its immediate neighborhood. Putin and the small circle of elites to whom he still listens essentially want to be left in peace to rule Russia and dominate Eurasia.
Finally, Putin’s nationalism is neither Soviet nor tsarist, although he bears the stamp of both. He does not want to restore the old empire, not least because that would incorporate many non-Russians, further diluting – in his opinion – the cultural unity of the Russian Federation. Instead, his vision of Russia’s true bounds is essentially cultural, anchored on “the Russian people” as a linguistically, culturally, historically, and religiously unified entity. Whether any such unity exists outside his imagination is another matter.
Put together, these strategic imperatives help us understand the limits of Putin’s behavior. He believes that the borders of the Russian state ought to follow concentrations of Russians, which means that northern Kazakhstan, for example, may be a future bone of contention. But eastern Ukraine, with its sizable Ukrainian minority, is less appealing – a lever to use against Kiev rather than a candidate to join the Russian Federation.
Furthermore, Russia ought to have the sovereignty to be able to resist what it sees as the cultural contamination and political influence brought by globalization and international institutions.
However, Putin will not sacrifice his personal position or Russia in the name of ideology, empire, or personal crusade. So long as he still feels that the West is divided and irresolute – and no number of diplomatic statements will do anything to change this – he will continue to push and to needle.
He seeks not to invade the West, but to neuter it. At present, he knows that NATO is not eager for a fight and feels that the sanctions regime is both bearable. 
This is what Putin’s “hot peace” will mean for the West: subtle and not-so-subtle efforts to weaken, divide, and distract. Strategic leaks of embarrassing information, cyber-attacks, military probes short of casus belli, business pressure and penetration, support for fringe political movements. Everything the West can imagine – short of war.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
International Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: AFP photo of Russian's President Vladimir Putin