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Archive for February, 2011

Struggles of the Rentier State

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

THE president of Iran is a powerful communicator. When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke live to the nation last month, he managed to combine seductive reasoning, patriotic appeals and more than a hint of menace. For once, though, he left even his most fervent supporters unmoved, for he was announcing the beginning of the end of subsidies on which millions of them depend. These measures are the gamble of his presidency—and may be the most important economic reform in the Islamic Republic’s three-decade history.

Read more about Iran’s [latest] struggle

Nigeria’s presidential primary

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

It took President Goodluck Jonathan a mere decade to go from lowly official to undisputed leader of his country. He became president by default a year ago and has now clinched the nomination for presidential candidate in Nigeria’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) by winning 77% of the vote in a primary on January 14th. He is now the favourite to triumph at a poll due in April.

…Nigerians are far from certain what lies ahead. Africa’s most populous country and biggest energy producer, Nigeria is the continent’s giant, with 150m people, over 250 ethnic groups and at least 36 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. Yet it is also known for a level of chaos and corruption that makes other Africans raise their eyebrows at the mention of its name. A string of military and civilian leaders have embezzled the country’s oil wealth rather than investing in basic infrastructure. The chasm between rich and poor fuels militant gangs in the oil-rich southern delta and Islamist sects in the arid north.

Is he strong enough to tell those cronies that the party’s over?

David Cameron challenges radical Islamists to a contest of ideas

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

David Cameron gave a speech about Islamism and British values at a conference in Munich. Back home, the rows have not stopped since. Much of the fuss has a distinctly synthetic tang. Absurdly, Sadiq Khan, the Labour shadow justice secretary, accused the prime minister of “writing propaganda” for a far-right group that held a rally on the same day. Conservatives chortled that Mr Cameron had hailed the end of multiculturalism. What he actually said was that a doctrine of “state multiculturalism” had encouraged Britons to live segregated lives. In its stead, he proposed a “muscular liberalism” that confronts extremism and promotes a British identity open to all.

The Culture War (?) rages on…

Voting reform and the coalition

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

PARLIAMENTARY arithmetic, personal compatibility and shared ideas all played their part in bringing the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats together in a coalition government last May. But the compromise without which the deal might not have happened was the Tories’ offer to hold a referendum on the Lib Dems’ cherished goal of electoral reform. Scheduled for May 5th, the plebiscite will ask whether Westminster’s first-past-the-post voting system (FPTP) should be replaced by the alternative-vote model (AV). It could be the most fraught single issue to face the coalition in 2011, and perhaps in the whole five-year parliament.

The proposed reform itself is fairly modest. Under FPTP, voters can only back one constituency candidate at a general election. Under AV, they would rank the contenders according to preference. If no candidate won 50% of first preferences, second and subsequent preferences would be tallied until somebody did. This is not the proportional representation of Lib Dem dreams. Indeed, some experts say AV would sometimes be less proportional than FPTP, if the make-up of the resulting parliament is measured against the first-preference votes cast for each party.
Read more about what might be THE issue of this coalition Parliament

Reshaping local government

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

The coalition is making local government more powerful, but also poorer and—probably—more unpopular

Why more unpopular?

Nollywood: Movies are uniting a disparate continent, and dividing it too

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

It is hard to avoid Nigerian films in Africa. Public buses show them, as do many restaurants and hotels. Nollywood, as the business is known, churns out about 50 full-length features a week, making it the world’s second most prolific film industry after India’s Bollywood. The Nigerian business capital, Lagos, is said by locals to have produced more films than there are stars in the sky. The streets are flooded with camera crews shooting on location. Only the government employs more people.

Nigerian films are as popular abroad as they are at home. Ivorian rebels in the bush stop fighting when a shipment of DVDs arrives from Lagos. Zambian mothers say their children talk with accents learnt from Nigerian television. When the president of Sierra Leone asked Genevieve Nnaji, a Lagosian screen goddess, to join him on the campaign trail he attracted record crowds at rallies. Millions of Africans watch Nigerian films every day, many more than see American fare. And yet Africans have mixed feelings about Nollywood.

Check out this analysis of the Nigerian film industry

Mexico’s presidential campaign: Can anyone stop Enrique Peña Nieto restoring the PRI to power next year?

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

THE election is not until July of next year, but the beating of a party activist into a coma on January 12th, apparently by a rival party’s mob, signalled the start of what will be a long, rough campaign for the presidency of Mexico. Candidates are jostling for party nominations, and lieutenants are preparing for the election of six governors this year, the first of them in Guerrero state on January 30th. Already the main question is whether anyone can prevent the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico as a one-party state for seven decades until 2000, from returning to Los Pinos, the presidential residence.

Read the Economist’s premature analysis of the 2012 election

South Sudan’s future: Now for the hard part

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

The new country, which is likely to be called South Sudan, faces many hurdles. The biggest is a shocking lack of public services. At the moment southerners are loyal mostly to belligerent tribal chiefs, not the nascent government that led the fight for independence. That government will win the trust of its citizens, and with it permanent peace, only when it starts visibly caring for them. That will not be easy.

South Sudan occupies one of the least developed and most remote parts of Africa. Many of its 8m-14m inhabitants—nobody knows the exact number—live in unmapped lands. The whole region has perhaps 100km (62 miles) of paved roads, half in the capital, Juba, and the other half on Chinese-run oilfields. The few existing dirt roads between settlements are littered with potholes, some so big that cars disappear into them. Large parts of South Sudan can be reached only by helicopter—or on foot. As one official wonders, “How to administer a territory you cannot visit?”

Read more about this struggle

All Wight Now

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

On February 15th the government was forced to drop plans to split the Isle of Wight into one and a half parliamentary seats. The half-seat was to be joined to a chunk of the English mainland, creating a constituency divided by several miles of sea. Victory honours go to Lord Fowler, a former Conservative Party chairman and longtime island resident. Fully 196 peers, among them seven former Tory cabinet ministers, backed his House of Lords amendment that makes the Isle of Wight an exception to a government plan to redraw almost all British constituencies to fit a quota of 76,000 voters, with only small variations allowed. The Isle of Wight constituency (Britain’s biggest) currently boasts 110,000 electors.

Read more about this electoral tomfoolery

Gay Marriage With Chinese Characteristics

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

SHANGHAI, China—”I’m here to find a lesbian, to be with me and to build a home,” No. 11 says to the crowd clustered on floor cushions at a sunlit yoga studio in Shanghai. No. 11 is a muscular man in a flannel shirt and cargo pants, and he easily commands the attention of the crowd of 40 or so young men and women who are gingerly sipping glasses of wine and whispering to their neighbors.

“In my view, a 30-year-old man should start thinking about having a family, but two men can’t hold each other’s hands in the street. We’re not allowed to be a family,” he says. The crowd nods.

I’m at a fake-marriage market, where Chinese lesbians and gay men meet to find a potential husband or wife. In China, the pressure to form a heterosexual marriage is so acute that 80 percent of China’s gay population marries straight people, according to sexologist Li Yinhe, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. To avoid such unions, six months ago, Shanghai’s biggest gay Web site, inlemon.cn, started to hold marriage markets once a month.

Read on from Slate