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Indyref – There’s plenty of arguments, but nowhere near enough detail

In my last blog post, I analysed the historic and recent headline polling figures for the Scottish independence referendum, which takes place tomorrow. As you can see from the data in that post, the dominant opinion for some time was that there should be a ‘No’ vote. However, the ‘Yes’ campaign has built up some momentum and did take a recent lead. This was partly helped by the second debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling. However, the ‘No’ campaign (called ‘Better Together’) has once again taken a lead in the polls and current predictions show 52% support for ‘No’. Many are still undecided though.

After all this time, there’s still some problems

There are many unanswered questions and some areas which still require clarification. They include:

  • The currency
  • The European Union
  • The fishing industry
  • Border control
  • The military
  • Healthcare
  • North Sea Oil

On the subject of Europe, there are reports that some MEPs could block Scotland joining the EU. Why? Well, the United Kingdom is not part of what is known as the Schengen Area. This is part of the European Union which is basically ‘borderless’. There is a lot more freedom of movement, which means more immigration. Scotland would like to stay out of this. However, it is well known that any nation wishing to join the EU must be part of Schengen. With independence, Scotland would be a brand new nation, not just part of another. A block could mean more complexities regarding trade and potential political weakness. To become a member of the EU, there needs to be a unanimous vote in favour. According to a source from the Socialist & Democrats alliance (Labour is a part of this):

“The opt-outs they’re pushing for would make it very difficult for them to get membership”

I should mention at this point that the ruling SNP are part of the Greens alliance.

Jose Manuel Barroso, Jean Claude Juncker and Herman Van Rompuy have all indicated that Scotland could be blocked, until they adopt all the EU policies that new nations are expected to implement. How will the Scottish Government deal with this? Where is the detail and planning about this major issue?

As for oil, there is a little bit more detail on this, but it’s not totally clear.

“If Scotland were to get a “geographical share” based on the median line it would mean about 90% of the UK’s oil resources would be under Scottish jurisdiction.”

Presently, North Sea Oil revenues are not allocated to any one particular part of the United Kingdom. Instead, they are assigned to an economic region called the UK Continental Shelf. Using the above quote (read the article for more detail), you would think that Scotland would benefit greatly. However, please note the word ‘if’. That does not mean the above is certain to happen. The UKCS was set up by the UK government and they could simply stall negotiations about this on purpose. They could refuse.

The issue of the currency is very unclear. According to the Yes Scotland website, there has been some notable confusion from the ‘No’/Better Together campaign. Apparently, Alistair Darling is on record as saying the pound could be kept, but then others have said it won’t. George Osborne has said there would be no currency union. From what I can see, those expecting currency union are basing that on supposition. The UK Government could simply say ‘No’, even though some believe the union to be common sense. In that situation, Scotland would have to create a new currency as they could also be prevented from using the Euro. This creates many complexities and there is no evidence to show that this has been planned for.

Finally…

Scottish independence is Alex Salmond’s life’s work and would be a crowning achievement for him. However, with the strong possibility of Scotland choosing ‘No’, you have to wonder what would happen to him in that case. There would still be plenty of work to do as First Minister. All the major parties have promised more powers, so Salmond’s government would end up having more responsibility. However, he would have failed to achieve his major goal. Could he resign? It is a possibility. After all, many have suggested David Cameron should resign if the Scottish people choose ‘Yes’. What would happen to support for the Scottish National Party? They are dominant in the Scottish Assembly, but they weren’t able to deliver on something they wanted to do. We could end up seeing a change in power.

I am a big fan of planning. There is a saying that ‘proper planning prevents p*ss poor performance’ and should be true in this case. The voters have seen very little evidence of this – at least in the areas that matter most. What does Salmond consider ‘non negotiable’? There is very little transparency and that will not help them to get what they want. The Scottish people deserve better.

On the subject of the Scottish people, it’s worth reminding you that only people who live in Scotland can vote. It’s a vote that will affect the whole United Kingdom, yet not all of us get a say. That is unfair and surely done to get the best chance of a ‘Yes’ vote.

If you live in Scotland, are you going to vote? If you are, what’s your choice and why? Also what does everyone think about the long term future for Alex Salmond and the SNP?

Indyref – the changing nature of the opinion polls

A word cloud created using the 1707 Act of Union.

That graphic above is a word cloud. The source document is the highly important 1707 Act of Union. It’s part of what led to the formation of the United Kingdom, as we know it today. Think of the things that would be different (or not even exist) without it.

On September 18th, there is going to be a vote which could end up being just as important as the source of what you see above. There will be a referendum in Scotland about independence. At present, they have a devolved Assembly with a certain set of powers. However, the Scottish National Party (leading the ‘Yes’ vote) want more. They want Scotland to be a completely separate entity (well apart from the currency, which they want to keep). They want to be a separate part of the European Union and not be restricted by old mathematics, such as the Barnett formula.

Given that this is such a hugely important vote, I think it’s worth looking at the current state of public opinion, as well as how it compares to historical figures. I will also explain some reasons for the increases and decreases.

I have an opinion on independence – just like many other people. However, I want this post to be as objective as possible. I haven’t taken part in any of the opinion polls that form part of what you see below either. It’s also worth mentioning that only British and EU citizens living in Scotland can vote anyway. I may have some Scottish elements to my family tree, but I am born, bred and live in England.

For this post, I have used data from this page, but also added more recent polls using articles found on the site.

Some polls also had a ‘Won’t vote’ option. However, I did not include that as not every poll has it. In addition, I have to point out that one or two of the polls seems to have figures that add up to more than 100%.

Headline figures

Data source – UK Polling Report. Created using Plotly.

You can find a larger version of this here and can also have a look at the full dataset.

One common way of looking at poll data is considering the ‘headline figures’. The polls and surveys that are commissioned have multiple questions and different wordings (depending on the organisation and related events). Whilst it’s always good to look at the details, the headline figures still give you a good idea about how people feel.

From this chart, you can see that there seems to be a gradual decline in the number of people who are unsure about which option to go for. The Yes vote seems to be gradually increasing, whilst ‘No’ has been going down (despite some peaks and troughs along the way). This could indicate a very close result on September 18th.

This recent article shows just how much the gap has narrowed recently.

The many different pollsters and those who commission them

Data source – UK Polling Report. Created using Plotly.

This chart uses the same dataset as the last one. You can find a larger (and interactive) version of this chart here.

All major opinion poll organisations are members of the British Polling Council and use a certain set of procedures. Whilst sample sizes don’t go into the millions, they are widely considered representative. However, the methodologies can still vary and the polls are done at different times. It’s worth taking a look at the differences of the headline figures for each of the pollsters.

What you see above is a box plot. In this case, I have taken all the ‘No’ figures and grouped them by pollster. You can see that most of them are bunched together in groups, despite the peaks and troughs in the earlier chronological chart. However, there are some ‘outlying’ figures – those out of the bunches. It’s most noticeable with TNS-BMRB and YouGov.

With the former, the highest figures were in the first three of their polls in the UK Polling Report list – the most recent being in August 2013. Since then, most of their ‘No’ percentages have been in the low 40’s, which reflects increasing support for independence – especially as the ‘Don’t Know’ figure is roughly the same. From the 28/02/13 poll to the one done on 07/08/14, the ‘No’ percentage has gone down by 7% and ‘Yes’ has only gone down by 1%.

As for the latter, the ‘Yes’ vote has gone up dramatically (from 28% to 47%), whilst ‘No’ has decreased by 10% (to 45%). YouGov are regular pollsters, so their results are better able to change based on current events. The ‘Don’t Know’ percentage gets lower and lower.

There seems to be more organisations (that do regular polling) with lower ‘No’ percentages than those with high ones.

Averages

Data source – UK Polling Report. Created using Plotly.

The interactive version is here and the dataset is here.

As I have stated previously, there has been numerous polls conducted/commissioned. You don’t always see massive increases or decreases (e.g. above +/- 10%) from poll to poll, despite the differences in methodology and regularity. Sometimes, the results fall into what you call the ‘margin of error’. That means if (in this case) the percentages have a difference of 3% or less, you could argue that they are level.

Over time, the averages become worth looking at because they are based on a substantial amount of data.

As you can see from the chart, the No vote has a noticeable lead. However, in all three cases it’s not as big as the difference between ‘Yes’ and ‘Don’t Know’.

You would think that this means ‘No’ should be victorious. However, it does conflict with the recent polling data, that shows a narrower gap. The above doesn’t take into account changing publicity. The older polls also don’t factor in the recent television debates, which have had some impact on what people think.

Finally…

As I mentioned earlier, it could be a very close result. However, there will be many voters who have not taken part in these polls. Polls aren’t always completely accurate (remember ‘Cleggmania’?) In addition, it’s hard to accurately gauge the levels of apathy. However, I would think the turnout should be high as the outcome will have a dramatic effect on the outcome of more than one nation. It’s just a shame that not everyone in the United Kingdom has the option to participate in the vote.

When the results of the referendum are announced, I will provide an analysis as soon as possible. In addition, I will be producing graphics and other things (e.g. something about the anatomy of an opinion poll) leading up to the vote. Links will be posted on Twitter, my Facebook page and the Google+ community. I hope you find it all informative and useful. If you have any questions, I will attempt to answer them.

I am also interested in your opinions about the upcoming vote. Should it be yes or no? Can you give your reasons?

So, what do you think?

Soldiers flee Nigeria as Boko Haram claim more territory

Courtesy of OpenStreetMap

Anyone keeping themselves aware of what is going on in Nigeria will probably be wondering if there is going to be any end to it all. That’s a good question. Boko Haram have blown things up, as well as killing and kidnapping innocent people (well, they don’t think they’re innocent because they support a government that believes in Western education). On Sunday, they established a Caliphate (yes, you have heard that word before). They have now made more territorial gains and forced members of the Nigeria military to flee the country. That last point was disputed initially though – presumably as part of an effort to avoid humiliation and the sight of weakness in the media.

On the subject of the territory, part of it is a town called Gwoza (more on that later). Nigerian officials have disputed any claim of ownership by Boko Haram. Major General Chris Olukolade was on record as saying the was “false and empty”. This is the same Major General who was involved in the premature announcement of the rescue of the Nigerian schoolgirls. He has a history of being wrong and it seems to be no different this time. Witnesses have said the military was pushed out of the area by Boko Haram. Whilst it might not be legal ownership, it doesn’t change the facts on the ground that show Boko Haram are in control.

As for the fleeing military, this cannot be seen as anything other than a humiliation for the government and bad news for the innocent in Nigeria. According to Didier Badjeck (Cameroon Defence spokesman):

“I can’t give the exact figure, but they should be 483 or 484 soldiers”

What did the Nigerian military say? Well, apparently it was a “tactical manoeuvre”. I suppose it could be – withdrawing if you’re losing is a well-known tactic. They mean that it was planned, but I don’t believe that for one second. That response was nothing but at blatant attempt at putting a positive spin on things.

When in Cameroon, the soldiers were disarmed and temporarily housed at a school in Maroua. Residents didn’t (initially) believe that the men were Nigerian military and thought they were Boko Haram in disguise. That’s how unbelievable the decision to flee is.

Since then, the soldiers have returned to Nigeria – going through Mubi, which is in Adamawa State.

The town and the caliphate

The video above shows Abubakar Shekau (leader of Boko Haram) declaring a Caliphate and ownership of some of the territory within it. Current locations include Gwoza, Ashigashya, Gamboru Ngala and Kerawa.

Gwoza is part of Borno State. You might remember the state for being where the Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped. Ashigashya is a town nearby Gwoza and both are on the borderline next door to Cameroon (the former actually overlaps the border and effectively exists in both countries). Gamboru Ngala is another border town. When taking over, Boko Haram took control of a training centre, military barracks and police station. They also attempted to destroy a bridge that ends up in Cameroon. Kerawa is a town in Kaduna State, which is not next door to Borno, but is still in the north. As a target for Boko Haram, the state is ideal as it has a large number of education institutions and the nation’s Defence Academy.

At present, this is something much smaller than the one in Iraq and Syria. It is also attracting less international interest and few (if any) recruits from overseas. It’s increasing size is still worrying though.

A reminder about Caliphates

I have mentioned the term ‘Caliphate’ in a few posts recently. This has been mostly in connection with what’s gone on in Iraq and Syria.

For those of you who haven’t been following my posts, it’s worth providing another definition.

At it’s most basic, it’s an area of the world that is under Islamic law (Sharia law, which I have previously discussed in this post). The leader of the area has the title of Caliph (derived from the Arabic word ‘Khalifa’), which (roughly) means that they are a successor to Muhammad – the prophet is Islam. However, the leader is more political the prophetic.

There is a long history of Caliphates and they have all had different success rates. There is absolutely no guarantee that the current crop will last forever, particularly when they have ongoing fights with countries whose borders they ignore. However, even if they go away, you can expect more to surface at some point in the future.

If you have politics, you can have disputes. If you have police and security, there’s always the chance of weakness and corruption. If religion exists, you can guarantee that some will take it to the extreme.

Finally…

Boko Haram just don’t get it. They can murder, pillage and destroy. They can threaten, kidnap and steal. However, there is absolutely nothing that they will do which would make the Nigerian government wave the white flag, submit to their rule and give up.

Having said that, it would be an awful lot better if the Nigerian government had more unity and communication. It would be much better if their levels of resistance actually looked meaningful. This is an oil rich country with a big army and they are failing against something that could be described as a glorified religious militia. It’s a failure that’s caused 650,000 people to flee their homes since May last year. It’s also a failure that’s cost the lives of 2000 people since the beginning of this year.

There is no doubt that the fighting will go on. I fully expect Boko Haram to add more towns and villages to their Caliphate. At the moment, they still seem to be focused on the financially and resource-poor north. It won’t stay like that though.

Will there be more Caliphates? I think there will be, but I don’t know if they will happen any time soon. Will this Nigerian Caliphate last? No, but it could be around long enough to cause lasting damage to a nation with a rich history.

So, what do you think?

Beheadings and brutality – a story of present day Saudi Arabia

Courtesy of OpenStreetMap

I should start this post by making a very important point. This is only one aspect of Saudi Arabia that I’m discussing. I don’t (for one second) think that this is all that the country offers. There is a rich culture and history, as well as many other positive things.

However, they do have a strict interpretation of religion and some draconian laws that have caused much controversy over many years.

Four men were recently accused of importing a large quantity of cannabis into the country. More specifically, they were two sets of brothers (Hadi and Awad al-Motleq and Mufarraj and Ali al-Yami).

Now, everyone knows that importing drugs is wrong – nobody is disputing that. If these people did import them, then they deserve to be punished in some way. There may well be evidence of them doing this crime, although it hasn’t been released yet (it may never be). Every country has a right to deal with criminals using their own legal system – nobody is disputing that either.

However, there are suspicions that confessions were obtained by by torture. If this is true, then the commonly accepted process of justice was not followed. Many lawyers in other countries could end cases like this if proper procedure wasn’t followed. In addition, there’s always the possibility that the real culprits are out there and the authorities forced confessions out of these guys just so they could say they have ‘caught someone’ and ‘solved the case’

Amnesty International condemned the event, which was one of a series this year. The following are the words of Said Boumedouha (Deputy Director of their Middle East and Africa programme):

“The recent increase in executions in Saudi Arabia is a deeply disturbing deterioration. The authorities must act immediately to halt this cruel practice”

In the above Amnesty article, the crime committed by the brothers supposedly took place in 2007 and there are rumours that families had been threatened about contacting them.

I wonder why there was such a long time between the crime and the punishment.

Human rights and Sharia law in Saudi Arabia

A word cloud of the UN Convention Against Torture

The United Nations Convention Against Torture was signed by multiple nations in 1985 and became effective in 1987. Signatories included the United Kingdom, but Saudi Arabia wasn’t one of them. In 1997, they went into the ‘accession’ category. They don’t consider themselves to be fully bound by the text and had some reservations:

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not recognize the jurisdiction of the Committee as provided for in article 20 of this Convention.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia shall not be bound by the provisions of paragraph (1) of article 30 of this Convention.”

Essentially, they decided to pick and choose what they liked to make it suit them. This isn’t a great indicator of a desire to change. They weren’t the only nation to have reservations though. If you are a signatory and it’s ratified by your country, then it’s legally binding and you have to implement your own laws against torture. The above reservations mean they will not work with the Committee Against Torture to examine evidence of torture and they will not participate in any arbitration of any dispute between them and another country. They will also not work with the International Court of Justice on this matter.

Saudi Arabia deny they practice torture. This will be why they don’t recognise article 20. Any evidence against them would prove they’ve been lying to everyone.

The following is article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (you can find images of each article on my Facebook page and Google+ community. A full slideshow is available on my Slideshare profile):

“No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

So far, they are not following international conventions and not complying with widely accepted ideas of human rights. This is partly because Saudi Arabia follows Sharia law. This is an Islamic legal system that is not fully codified. Many crimes considered not to be major by other countries are considered worthy of the death penalty in this system. That list of crimes includes:

  • Adultery
  • Armed robbery
  • Witchcraft
  • Apostasy (defection or disaffiliation – usually from a religion)

In the case of drug trafficking, it isn’t actually covered by Sharia law. You would think at this point ‘why did they get the death penalty?’ Well, that’s a good question. There is a provision that allows for a judge to effectively decide on whatever punishment he wants for a crime not explicitly covered (known as a Tazir crime). Unfortunately, this can lead to great inconsistency and injustice.

A good justice system and compliance with international laws can be an indicator of human development. If you disagree with Sharia law and the interpretation of justice in Saudi Arabia, then you might consider them ‘backward’. However, there are many other things to consider and the country does really well in comparison to many others. For example, the World Bank’s World Governance Indicators consistently have them higher than the middle eastern average for ‘Rule of Law’. The 2014 United Nations Human Development Report considers them to have ‘Very High Human Development’. They are also not far of the UK:

The wider issue of draconian punishments

The term ‘Draconian’ can be traced back to Ancient Greece. Draco was the first legislator in Athens. Whilst he replaced what existed with a written code enforced by a court, his laws were known for their harshness. For example, you could be put to death for stealing a cabbage. A debtor could be forced into slavery if they had a different status to a creditor.

There is a universal concept of fairness. A punishment must fit the crime. Many would consider it fair for a murderer to be sentenced to death (‘an eye for an eye’). There have been campaigns an petitions in the UK to reintroduce the death penalty. However, some would say that the death penalty is effectively legalised murder and they would go onto question whether murder is ever right. The intentional taking of a life could also be considered ‘playing god‘.

Many nations consider a fairer punishment to be life imprisonment. It is not death, but it is the permanent withdrawal of certain rights and privileges. One problem is that life doesn’t always mean life (here, here and here).

One idea would be to take the average life expectancy, subtract the age of the person murdered and the remainder would be the time in prison. The criminal would effectively be in prison for the amount of time that they’ve prevented a person from living. However, it is no longer fair when that time is in e.g. single figures.

I would think that life imprisonment is the best option if the murder was intentional. However, I firmly believe that life should mean life.

Of course, death or life imprisonment are the only punishments that could be considered ‘draconian’ in some cases. For example, would you think it was fair for someone to be imprisoned for 10 years for stealing a single sweet?

Finally…

Many people have condemned the actions of the Saudi Arabia authorities. Many say the death penalty shouldn’t be allowed. The UK’s Human Rights and Democracy Report has Saudi Arabia as a country of concern. Sharia law is a system from a time when there was less separation between church and state.

In some ways the judge should be blamed. After all, it was his decision that led to the brothers being executed. However, he was merely following the rules set out by the leaders of his country (a little like the Nuremberg defence, I know). Those who sanctioned the torture should also be (at least partly blamed).

I should point out that Saudi Arabia isn’t the only country to issue the death penalty for drug related crimes. Others include Thailand, Malaysia and Iran.

Saudi Arabia doesn’t fully comply with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – but it’s not legally binding anyway. The don’t fully follow what’s set out in the Convention Against Torture – which is legally binding – but they aren’t a signatory and haven’t fully ratified it.

I’m interested in how you all feel about international laws and conventions at this point. Can they really be effective and make much of a difference if not everyone signs up and there is no clear system of punishments? Also, how do you feel about the death penalty? Do you believe it should exist in a civilised world? Also, do you believe that really harsh punishments work?

So, what do you think?

Islamic State – The Mosul Dam conflict is merely one battle in a much larger war

Courtesy of OpenStreetMap

In a war, there are many things that can help you get a victory. Those things can include gaining control of utilities, transport, and communications. The group of many names – currently called Islamic State (IS) – have used this idea and (in the past) taken control of such facilities as a refinery at Baiji.

The latest action was the takeover of the Mosul Dam (also known as the Chambarakat Dam or Saddam Dam). It is one of the biggest facilities in the middle east. This happened on August 7th. Continued control would obviously mean the interruption of energy supplies to the region and the restricted permission of key services. Obviously conceding defeat and submitting to the will of IS would be the only way out of this, as far as IS is concerned. Needless to say, the Iraqi government (including the outgoing Nouri al-Maliki) and any of the forces involved in the toppling of Saddam Hussein would agree to this.

As most of you will know, the United States was one of those ‘forces’. On August 15th, President Obama ordered air strikes directed at a number of key targets – including IS arms, vehicles, etc helping them to control the Dam. Obama’s letter to Congress included the following:

“These military operations will be limited in their scope and duration as necessary to support the Iraqi forces in their efforts to retake and establish control of this critical infrastructure site”

There were two waves of strikes, which destroyed two checkpoints, an anti aircraft gun, an IED emplacement and 22 vehicles (a mix of armed vehicles and humvees and personnel carriers). The two waves had 14 separate strikes and none of the aircraft involved were damaged, destroyed or captured.

Whilst these strikes were successful based on their scope, a large number of IS forces remain and the seemingly weak domestic forces on the ground have no guarantee of retaining any control over the Dam and the wider facility.

There’s also the issue that, despite media claims, the Dam doesn’t seem to be completely controlled by Iraqi-Kurdish authorities once again. According to Al Jazeera:

“Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf, reporting from Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, said fierce fighting was still ongoing and that the announcement seemed “a bit premature”.

“Some units of Iraq’s security forces, the US-backed and trained counter-terrorism forces, are fighting with Kurdish forces to reclaim this vast critical facility,” she said.”

The quote was from an article dated August 18th. Clearly, the battle goes on, despite the military support/attacks from the United States. Arraf says that the claim is “a bit premature”. I would say it’s a clear attempt at marketing and hiding failings. You could draw some similarities with what happened in the George Orwell book, ‘1984’. This is also one battle that’s part of a much larger war.

Some of you might be wondering who asked for the strikes. Remember, military intervention without the request of a government can be considered an act of war. Well, the US has obviously being providing military support to Iraq for some time. The Kurdistan Regional Government also issued a communique that asked for support from the European Union, but that was more to do with refugees and equipping forces – nothing to do with the Dam specifically.

The following is from the ‘Dispositions’ section of Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’:

“The experts in defence conceal themselves as under the ninefold earth; those skilled in attack move as from above the ninefold heavens. Thus they are capable both of protecting themselves and of gaining a complete victory.”

Clearly, IS have no real interest in concealing what they do. In this respect, they are deficient. The must have known that someone would do air strikes. There doesn’t seem to have been much effort to stop them either. This is an important facility. Why not do more? They obviously have substantial resources. The United States have a massive advantage in being able to attack constantly from the air. One strike wouldn’t be enough. The did it constantly to have the best chance of achieving their goals. Despite the limited scope of the strikes, I’m sure these won’t be the last.

About the Dam

A satellite image of the Dam (courtesy of Google Maps)

The Mosul Dam is the biggest in Iraq and the fourth largest in the middle east. It’s been in place since 1984, but has grown substantially over time. It also requires continuous maintenance and was one called ‘the most dangerous dam in the world’. Complete reconstruction was suggested at one point. Scenarios developed by the military included one which suggested the water would reach Mosul in two hours, causing much death and destruction. IS could either turn off the supply, or lay a simple series of explosives. Presumably, the Dam was not destroyed or damaged in any way because of it’s strategic value.

A brief history of Kurdistan and Mosul

The Dam is located in Mosul, which is a district in the Nineveh Province/Governorate. It is also in Kurdistan. It is not a country (although many want it to be), but it’s a region that crosses multiple countries. The part in Iraq is covered by an autonomy agreement that was put in place back in 1970. They have their own regional government and set of powers. In terms of Iraq as a whole, the Iraqi Kurdistan is part of a federation. There is no plan to make things more centralised, according to the KRG high representative.

Mosul is a large city. In fact, it is the second largest in Iraq (only Baghdad is bigger). It’s size and resources make it a major target. The city was captured by IS in June. It stands on the bank of the Tigris, which is considered one of two great rivers that defined an old nation called Mesopotamia. The Tigris has multiple Dams on it, but control over just one is still significant.

Finally…

As part of my research for this post, I decided to consult some books of notable philosophers and tacticians. The following from Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ seems particularly appropriate:

“the less a man has relied on fortune the stronger he has made his position. It also helps if the prince has no other states and so is forced to live in his new state in person. But to come to those who became princes by their own abilities and not by good fortune, I say that the most outstanding are Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, Theseus, and others like them. Although one should not reason about Moses, since he merely executed what God commanded”

Although IS covers parts of Iraq and Syria, the Caliphate is considered one state. There is one leader and he lives there. As for the question of fortune or ability, I would say Caliph Ibrahim (formerly known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) is fortunate because he is targeting areas with ineffective governments, power struggles, poverty and dissatisfied citizens. They also offer their own unique form of hope, but it’s given after violence and intimidation. Both Ibrahim and his team have ability in that they knew what arms were needed to make progress. They also have an ability in the area of marketing and persuasion. They also know how to intimidate effectively.

Many would consider Ibrahim an effective leader who has ability. Whilst he has some, he is just carrying out what he believes to be the words of a greater power – Allah.

Although the following passage from Nietzsche’s ‘Beyond Good And Evil’ is about Christianity, some would say that it could (at least in part), be used to describe Islam (or any other religion):

“The Christian faith is from the beginning sacrifice: sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of the spirit, at the same time enslavement and self-mockery, self-mutilation. There is cruelty and religious Phoenicianism in this faith exacted of an over-ripe, manifold and much-indulged conscience: it’s presupposition is that the subjection of the spirit is indescribably painful, that the entire past and habitude of such a spirit resists the absurdissimum which ‘faith’ appears to it to be.”

It’s obvious that religion plays a part in this situation. IS is a group of people with strong (some would say ‘extremist’) beliefs and a very strict interpretation of Islam. They are committed to their cause and will not stop until it is achieved. Nietzsche might say that the IS style of rule is absurd and cruel, based on the above quote. He wouldn’t be the only one to think that way.

The problem is that IS believe that what they are doing is just. They believe they are following the word of God and will not stop until they get what they want. Any negative comment about their style will not stop them. It will not intimidate them. It will only make them carry on.

Where there are religions with texts that are open to interpretation, there will always be some form of extremism. When there are multiple religions and extremist beliefs, there is always a likelihood of conflict. You have to end religion or end ambiguity in the texts to have any chance of stopping the likes of IS. The problem is, neither of those things will ever happen. There will always be extremists with courage in their convictions and an unwavering desire to implement their version of their religion across the world.

So, what do you think?

Turkey 2014 – A lemonade salesman, a prisoner and a President

Courtesy of OpenStreetMap

Recep Tayyip Erdogan started his life in Rize, which is near the Black Sea. Later on, he moved back to Istanbul (he was born there). At one point he sold lemonade and sesame buns. He had wanted to be a professional footballer, but his father prevented it. This enterprising and competitive spirit led him into politics. He was initially involved with an anti communist group. In 1994, he became the Mayor of Istanbul and eventually won awards for his work. Before his time as Prime Minister of Turkey, he was imprisoned for poetry (well, it was classed as inciting religious or racial hatred). In 2001, he established the Justice and Development Party (a centre-right party believing in social conservatism – and a member of the ECR alliance in the European Parliament) and won a landslide election to become Prime Minister in 2002. He presided over the election of the last Turkish President not to be chosen by the people.

Turkey is well known for having periods of instability and religious troubles. There are frequent demonstrations and threats of terrorism. Erdogan is a controversial figure and the target of some protests due to his authoritarian leadership style and control of the media. Some say that the latter helped him to be elected as President (announced on August 10th). Other issues which didn’t seem to prevent his victory include a corruption scandal, a mining disaster and protests over a redevelopment project.

The OSCE suggested he improperly used his position as PM to get elected and made media coverage extremely biased. However, they did say that candidates were allowed to campaign freely.

He was constitutionally barred from getting re-elected as PM.

He has stated that he wants to increase the powers of his new job and claims to have a mandate (which is true).

Why you should care

Many of you like the country (2.5m Brits go there every year). However, you might not be bothered by the politics too much. However, I think you should be.

I know that only a few of you voted in the European elections, but many of you are concerned about EU expansion and related immigration issues. Turkey is currently not a member of the European Union, but it is a ‘candidate country‘. This means it’s in the process of integration some EU laws and regulations (not presently part of the Schengen Area though, which affects immigration). One day, they might become a full member, which will have an economic impact.

We (the UK) don’t have much of a history of giving aid to the country (only two projects and they are in the ‘post completion’ stage), but we do have some active trade relations.

If you are an advocate of the internet, or use any of the services on it, you will be interested in knowing that it was Erdogan who put a ban on sites such as YouTube and Twitter, because of some content. That (of course) show a fundamental lack of knowledge as there were ways around it. There are VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) and numerous alternative websites.

There’s also the recent (and much publicised) history of British citizens being murdered (examples here and here).

Results

To win in this election, Erdogan needed an absolute majority, or over 50% (otherwise known as 50%+1). The following table and chart shows you that he didn’t get very far beyond that mark, but the other candidates didn’t really get close. Erdogan even got over 50% when you include the Invalid Votes figure.

Candidate Votes Valid Share (%) Total Share (%)
Recep Tayyip Erdogan 21,000,260 51.79 50.87
Selahattİn Demİrtaş 3,958,510 9.76 9.59
Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu 15,587,132 38.44 37.76
Invalid Votes 737,871 1.79
Total (Valid) 40,545,902 100.00
Total (Overall) 41,283,773 100.00
Using official figures from the Election Commission in Turkey

Another way of showing you the dominance of Erdogan’s victory is the vote share:

Using the same set of official figures that were used for the previous chart

There was no need for additional rounds – the victory was that convincing. Although the other candidates had no chance, at least they both got much more than the total for ‘Invalid Votes’. It has happened to some people in other elections around the world and it’s always embarrasing when that happens. Interestingly, the other two contenders got a lot of votes in the east and west.

Turnout

In 2013, Turkey had a population of 74,932,641. The current total of registered voters is 55,692,841. Using the official voting figures listed above, the turnout is 74.13%. This is very good when you compare it to some of the countries I have blogged about. It is difficult to compare this to the past in Turkey though, as Erdogan is the first democratically elected (by the people) President. However, using turnout figures for parliamentary elections from 1950 to 2011, this turnout figure is only better than three of them (1969, 1973, 1977). You would think that a first democratic election would generate a lot of interest – and it has. However, it might have been better if Erdogan hadn’t been considered so much of a ‘dead-cert’. Some have also suggested that heat and the holidays were a factor. Isn’t it always hot in Turkey though?

It also seems that the policy of mandatory voting hasn’t worked.

The state of the country

It’s always good to have a bit of context and background information, so you can work out what issues need to be addressed by the election winner.

This chart uses data from Transparency International. ‘GCB’ is the Global Corruption Barometer.

The interactive version of the above chart with the full set of figures used can be found here. As you can see, corruption in Turkey has decreased dramatically since it’s peak in 2004/5. It’s worth noting that Erdogan became Prime Minister in 2003, so these decreases have happened on his watch. Other figures from the Global Corruption Barometer show that there were only four areas felt to be corrupt or extremely corrupt by 50% or more of the respondents (Political Parties – 66%, Parliament/Legislature – 55%, Media – 56%, Business – 50%).

That is not the whole picture though. For example, it is reported that there is little enforcement of the OECD’s Anti-Bribery Convention. This is supported by the fact that 23% of GCB respondents stated they have paid a bribe to police. Bribes were also paid to people in other sectors. So, whilst there are countries with worse corruption levels at the moment, it doesn’t mean the problem is eliminated.

There are other issues too. The levels of press freedom have gotten worse over the years, but they have never been good anyway. Back in 2012, they were ranked 148th, but they have been 154th for this year and the last.

The Global Competitiveness Index is produced by the World Economic Forum

The interactive version can be found here. It’s worth noting that with the above chart, it’s important to have the lowest possible number. The GCI has increased the number of countries it has surveyed over the years, with the present number being 148. That makes Turkey’s increases more impressive. 2012/13 was their best year, when they were ranked 43rd. It’s important to look at all the information from the report though. For example, the most problematic factors for doing business are tax rates, an inadequately educated workforce, inefficient government bureaucracy and poor access to financing. The report also has a series of ‘pillars’, that have rankings for a lot of things. The worst are:

  • Business cost of terrorism – 129
  • Inflation (annual %age change) – 125
  • Imports as a %age of GDP – 116
  • Women in the labour force (ratio compared to men) – 134
  • Exports as a %age of GDP – 123

As the report is produced by the World Economic Forum, you can understand why much of it is related to the economy and finances. The World Bank has more on this area, but their data shows things that are much more positive. The central government debt and surplus/deficit percentages have gone down (their latest figure is from 2012 though). Inflation has also gone down (again, the latest figure is from 2012). In all cases, the figures are better than the United Kingdom. The country’s credit rating isn’t too bad either (many B’s).

You’ll note the low ranking for women in the labour force. The parliament is not much different. 14% of the seats are held by women (despite almost half of their population being women), in comparison to the relatively healthy 23% for the UK. Of course, there are a number of things to consider hear. Whilst it could be partly because of sexism and maybe even some traditionalist Muslim views, it could also be partly that there’s nothing that specifically encourages women to enter politics. It could even be that the female candidates simply aren’t as good. Remember, candidates should be chosen because of their quality and not because of their gender (yes, I am against all-female shortlists).

It’s also worth looking at the World Governance Indicators. It’s best indicator is for Regulatory Quality (66 out of 100), which is interesting as the aforementioned GCI report notes that one of the most problematic factors for conducting business is inefficient government bureaucracy. Something must have changed since the last compilation (2012). 66 isn’t the highest score in the world either. In comparison to the Europe and Central Asia region, Turkey isn’t as good in every area (and never has been). It’s worst indicator is ‘political stability and absence of violence/terrorism’ (13 in 2012).

Here are some of the transnational issues:

“key transit route for Southwest Asian heroin to Western Europe and, to a lesser extent, the US – via air, land, and sea routes; major Turkish and other international trafficking organizations operate out of Istanbul; laboratories to convert imported morphine base into heroin exist in remote regions of Turkey and near Istanbul; government maintains strict controls over areas of legal opium poppy cultivation and over output of poppy straw concentrate; lax enforcement of money-laundering controls”

Finally…

After winning, Erdogan said:

“Today national will and democracy have prevailed again… Today, greater Turkey has prevailed again… With the president being elected by popular vote, obstacles between Cankaya [the presidential palace] and the public have been lifted”

There is change. Change that Erdogan wanted. He has more centralised control and is shifting the political landscape. Will the country as a whole change for the better though. The role of President can fit an authoritarian style and he could easily appoint a puppet as a Prime Minister. His tight grip on the media will continue, so don’t expect any great changes to that press freedom ranking.

If he makes no changes to security and policing, the problems with terrorism and violent will continue. In the case of protests, you have to think why they happen though. Many oppose him and his style. Many want more freedoms. Many want corruption to be reduced. Many will now be disappointed.

The second place candidate was reported as being more passive and favouring the status quo, so he wouldn’t want many changes to the powers of the President. However, what’s the point of having a popular vote if the post is nothing more than ceremonial?

Expect Turkey to remain relatively competitive in an economic sense. Expect the country to have more of a link to the EU. Expect more public dissatisfaction with the person who’s now leader, even though they chose him.

So, what do you think?

Remember the kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls? Yeah, that happened

Courtesy of OpenStreetMap

Back in April I restarted this blog with a new focus on international politics and elections. One of the first few stories I blogged about was the kidnapping of a large number of Nigerian girls on April 14th from a school in Chibok, which is part of Borno state (you can see it in the map above). The ‘people’ who did it where Boko Haram – a terrorist group based mostly in the north east who believe ‘western education is sinful’ and wish to establish an Islamic state (yes, they have recognised the one covering parts of Iraq and Syria).

In July, 60 to 70 girls were spotted in a field by US planes. This followed a similar incident where 40 were seen in another field. In both situations, the girls were moved quickly, so they haven’t been rescued.

Some have escaped since the initial abduction, but it’s hard to get accurate numbers. I mentioned in a previous post how there has been a long list of different figures. Apparently, school records have been destroyed. There should be other ways of finding what is needed though. I have said before, how can you mount an effective rescue when you don’t know who needs to be rescued?

Social media campaigns were very noticeable initially. The Bring Back Our Girls movement (here and here) was supported by a number of people, including Michelle Obama and David Cameron. That seems to have disappeared from the limelight though. The further away from the event you get, it seems that the organisers care less.

Other nations have helped. The United States sent 16 military experts. There were also offers of assistance from the likes of China, France and Israel (briefly covered the US assistance in this post). The following are the words of Ned Price, a spokesman for the US National Security Council:

“We are advising on issues of survivor support, humanitarian assistance, criminal investigations, intelligence and strategic communications. All the while, we recognize that this is a Nigerian-led effort.”

That’s produced no meaningful results at all, other than the aforementioned (and temporarily accurate) images. The Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, also believes that the US hasn’t been any help.

It is a common principle with governments that they do not negotiate with terrorists. That is also the case here, but third parties are doing the job. They must have been given the green light by the government though. Having said that, we don’t know many specifics about what is being said. What we do know is that a prisoner swap isn’t an option, although it has been suggested by some.

“We don’t exchange innocent people for criminals. That is not in the cards”

Also, it says a lot when the government led by President Jonathan needs to hire a PR firm to help deal with this situation.

Corruption and ineffectiveness lead to nowhere

One of the posts I’ve done about the schoolgirls included news that they had been ‘rescued’. That was based on announcements from Nigerian officials – more specifically, Major General Chris Olukolade (the Director of Defence Information). I turned out that information was wrong and he had fooled many news organisation around the world. He had also lost their trust quickly. More of us now knew that the Nigerian government cannot always be trusted with the facts.

There’s also the governmental corruption. For example, 73% of people believe the parliament/legislature is corrupt or extremely corrupt. 94% of people feel that way about the political parties as well.

The domestic forces involved in the rescuing of the girls and apprehending the Boko Haram members who caused this really haven’t achieved a lot so far, despite all the help from abroad. Why is this? Well, the government forces are poorly resourced – particularly in the north-east region. How can they be effective if they are not given the money and equipment to do the job properly and protect innocent citizens from terrorists?

I mentioned corruption. In 2013, 81% of people reported paying a bribe to the police and 24% doing the same to the judiciary. 92% felt the police were corrupt or extremely corrupt. 66% felt the same way about the judiciary and 45% felt that about the military. 85% feel that the amount of corruption has increased.

The Global Competitiveness Index measures a number of things. In 2013/14, they were ranked 120/148. In comparison to last year, they have gone down 5 places, even though only 4 countries have been added. In terms of ‘public trust in politicians’, they rank 121/148. For ‘irregular payments and bribes’, they are 135/148. For ‘Organised crime’, they are 136/148. There are also numerous issues with corruption and crime in business, but that’s besides the point.

Clearly, the corruption is holding them back. The refusal to invest in what is necessary doesn’t help either.

Finally…

We live in an era of 24 hour news. You can get updated on events whenever you want. This is great, but sometimes the news organisations feel there isn’t anything worth covering and they repeat some events ad nauseum.

It is true that not all the girls have been recovered. It’s true that the leaders of Boko Haram haven’t been arrested. However, it’s still worth reporting. There are things that have happened.

Why don’t the news organisations (more frequently) cover the US planes spotting the girls? Why isn’t there more criticism of the campaigns (social media based or otherwise) fizzling out and not doing their job of keeping people aware of events. Why isn’t there more criticism on the supreme ineffectiveness of much of the assistance given to Nigeria by other nations. Then there’s the failings of the government when it’s only a few month away from an election.

If you search for ‘Chibok Girls‘, ‘nigerian schoolgirls‘ or ‘Bring Back Our Girls‘ on Google, much of the news is from July or earlier.

It might have happened a while ago, but the Nigerian schoolgirls deserve to live longer in the memories of people around the world.

So, what do you think?

Cholera crisis in Africa – the situation in Nigeria

Courtesy of OpenStreetMap

In my post about the Cholera outbreak in Cameroon, I mentioned that the suspected cause of the current situation is infected people fleeing the violence taking place in Nigeria (mainly related to Boko Haram). There are a large number of cases in Nigeria (both historical and current) and it’s worth taking a look at what’s going on.

Since the beginning of 2014, there has been a large number of reported cases. I have to stress that they are ‘reported’, as some may not go to hospital for one reason or another. From my previous posts about Nigeria, I have noticed that some of their organisations have problems with statistics too. The Assessment Capacities Project report that (as of August 2nd), there has been 24,683 cases. This outbreak started in Bauchi State, where there were 15,500 cases. As of July, the threat in that state has ended.

However, it is ongoing in other areas. In Kano:

“We have recorded 16 deaths from the cholera outbreak in the past six days, which has so far infected 701 people with 20 severe cases,”

Those are the words of Surajo Alkassim, from the ISMA Medicare Initiative. However, it’s worth noting that Abubakar Labaran Yusuf (the state’s health commissioner) has announced that there have been 6 deaths from 46 reported cases. I would normally trust the government statistics, but I am inclined to believe what ISMA said, based on the government’s past problems with information. They are also dealing with cases on the ground, whereas the government may only be getting periodic updates. There is still a substantial difference in the numbers of reported cases though. ISMA has warned that the current outbreak could become a “pandemic”.

There are many examples of other cases in other states too. I mention Kano because it has one of the worst historic records with Cholera in Nigeria. Perhaps the sanitation and water supply is particularly bad in that area. Cholera is a disease which causes an infection of the small intestine and is spread by e.g. problems with the water supply.

Historical outbreaks

Source of figures – The WHO Global Task Force on Cholera Control

As I have mentioned, this isn’t the first time that Cholera has been present in Nigeria. In fact, it started around the same time as it did in Cameroon (1970/71). As you can see from the graph above, the number of reported cases has varied greatly and a couple of the years have seen noticeably more reports than the current outbreak. You can’t just look at the cases though. They might show the scale of the outbreak, but improvements in medical care and treatments mean that the CFR (the fatality rate) has gotten much lower over the years – and stayed at a relatively low level.

In 1971, there were 22,931 cases and 2,945 deaths. This means there was a CFR of 12.8%. The outbreak in 1991 had a similar CFR. Treatment definitely improved though because in 2010, when there 41,787 cases, but only 1716 deaths. This meant the CFR was 4.1%. The 2011 outbreak had the lowest CFR yet (3.2%). I should mention that part of the chart is from February to October. The World Health Organisation’s Health Statistics tell me that there was 23,377 cases for the whole year. The CFR won’t change that much though.

The affected parts of Nigeria for those outbreaks were (states, unless otherwise stated):

  • 1991 – Kano, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Niger, Oyo
  • 1999 – Kano LGA (not Kano State), Tofa (Kano), Adamawa, Edo
  • 2001 – 18 LGAs
  • 2002 – Kano
  • 2007 – Obi LGA (Benue State), Guma LGA (Benue)
  • 2008 – Eastern states
  • 2009 – Eastern states
  • 2010 – 222 LGAs in 18 states (Borno, Bauchi and Katsina were most affected)
  • 2011 – 195 LGAs/25 States

I have no information for the 1971 outbreak, although that was some time ago. ‘Eastern states’ could mean the likes of Borno, Bauchi and Adamawa (see the map at the beginning of this post). It’s interesting that the most recent outbreaks aren’t necessarily larger in terms of numbers of people, but they are more spread out across the country. Perhaps this is an indicator that people are more mobile nowadays. It could also mean that some sanitation has stayed the same or become worse, due to lack of investment.

It’s worth comparing the country to Cameroon. They share a border and recent Cameroonian cases have been caused by people from Nigeria. The first outbreaks were around the same time and their biggest outbreaks had roughly the same number of cases. However, Nigeria’s was the biggest of the two and in one year, whilst Cameroon’s was from 2009-2011. Nigeria’s biggest CFR was 12.9% (1991), but Cameroon’s was worse with 15% (1971).

The state of Nigerian healthcare (and related infrastructure)

As I have previously mentioned, Cholera can be caused by poor sanitation. In 2012, only 31% of Nigerians had access to what is known as ‘improved sanitation’ (e.g. toilets with flushes and sewer systems). This was in comparison to the relatively good 62% in Cameroon. However, many of the Nigerian cases are in rural areas, where access to this type of sanitation is even more limited. Investment in this is affected by ongoing Boko Haram-related violence (remember that Nigeria is one of the biggest economies in Africa).

When you consider that the population in 2012 was 168,833,776, that meant 47,273,457.28 didn’t have the capability to flush a toilet. This was the equivalent of 74% of the population of the UK in 2012.

In terms of aid provision, 23.74% of the current UK aid budget for Nigeria is given to healthcare. However, none of it is directly focused on Cholera or sanitation.

Medical services can be corrupt and it’s a serious issue when their are big outbreaks and pandemics. It can seriously affect treatment and the CFR. In 2013, 85% felt that corruption had increased in some way in Nigeria. 41% of people felt that medical services were corrupt or extremely corrupt. However, only 9% of people reported paying a bribe to someone in that sector. It’s worth noting that it’s much worse in Cameroon.

In terms of health and primary education, Nigeria ranks 146 out of 148 nations in 2013/14. This was a factor in giving them a Global Competitiveness ranking of 120/148.

This is bad, but it’s worth noting that Nigeria isn’t the only country to have these problems.

Finally…

It would be great if the Cholera crisis got more media attention. As I have said before, Ebola is dangerous. However, Cholera is just as bad (if not worse).

Nigeria has suffered from this disease for many years and it has affected neighbouring countries. There is no clear sign that the problem will be come negligible any time soon, despite improvements to treatment over time. This is because there are serious and long running issues with investment and infrastructure that need to be addressed.

There is a Presidential election early next year. Hopefully the winner will do something.

So, what do you think?

The worsening Cholera crisis in Cameroon

Courtesy of OpenStreetMap

You’ll have heard many reports about the ongoing Ebola crisis in West Africa at the moment. It has already claimed many lives and it will claim more. It’s first outbreak was in 1976.

However, there is something else in Africa at the moment and it’s existed for much longer than Ebola. That thing is Cholera.

This most recent outbreak is related to the actions of Boko Haram. I have previously blogged about their terrorist actions in Nigeria that have included murders, bomb blasts, schoolgirl abductions and the disruption of important sources of income for local families. Their actions have caused many to flee Nigeria into the likes of Cameroon. The first three cases of Cholera in this outbreak are as a result of refugees. According to figures, 24,683 cases of Cholera have been reported in Nigeria this year.

“People in northern Nigeria cannot get to health clinics in time due to the awful security situation and that’s one reason why they come across the very porous border where they have family or tribal ties,”

However, if the Nigerians who caused this didn’t cross the border, the latest outbreak could have easily been started by the domestic population.

The violence in the region (partly caused by Boko Haram), has also resulted in delayed treatment for many people. That violence is also why the UK Government advise against all travel to that area.

The history of the disease in Cameroon

All of the stats in this section do not include the present outbreak.

The World Health Organisation has a comprehensive history of the disease in Cameroon. The document I liked to was last updated in 2012, although there is still plenty of detail.

The first reported case in the country was in 1971 and there have been outbreaks since then in various forms. More than 1000 cases were reported in 1985. In 1991, 4000 cases were reported. 1996 saw 5786 cases.

More recently, there were 8,000 cases in 2004, 2487 in 2005 and 922 in 2006.

Between 2009 and 2011, there was the worst Cameroonian Cholera outbreak to date.

Locations of notified cases in 2011

The above map shows that in 2011 alone, there were a significant number of cases and many were in the Northern region – a place where the present outbreak is.

From May 2010 to September 2011, there was 27,880 reported cases. A CNN article dated August 17th, 2011 tells you that 13,000 cases had been reported by that point in the year. I think you can agree that this was a vast increase on previous outbreaks since 1971.

So far, I have told you about cases reported. That does not necessarily equal deaths though. In fact, treatment for Cholera means that there’s a much high recovery rate than the likes of Ebola.

If you do any research into this, you’ll come across ‘CFR’. It’s an abbreviation that means ‘Case Fatality Rate’, or how many of the reported cases result in death.

In some of the more historical cases, the CFR ranged from 8.3% to 15%. However, it’s important to note that 15% was the starting point and the figure improved from there. 2005 and 2006 saw even lower percentages – 3.86 and 3.8 respectively. You would think that improved healthcare in Cameroon and knowledge of the disease caused that.

However, the 2009-2011 outbreak had an initial CFR of 13%. Over time it improved though. First it decreased to 6.1% and it eventually went as low as 3.7%. This is the lowest historical CFR that I have found. Despite this decrease, it is still one of the worst reported outbreaks. Figures for the actual number of deaths vary based on the time period analysed, but the World Health Organisation reports that 22,433 deaths happened because of Cholera in 2011.

So, what is Cholera?

It’s all well and good hearing about the outbreak, but I definitely think it’s worth knowing something about the condition, so you can put the dangers in context.

The first outbreak started in India in 1817. It spread to the likes of Russia and lasted until 1824.

The disease is an infection of the small intestine and is transmitted through food and water. Poor sanitation can often be a major problem. Other issues can include crowding and famine.

The following is a list of risk factors:

  • Living in or travelling to areas where there is cholera
  • Symptoms
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Dry mucus membranes or dry mouth
  • Dry skin
  • Excessive thirst
  • Glassy or sunken eyes
  • Lack of tears
  • Lethargy
  • Low urine output
  • Nausea
  • Rapid dehydration
  • Rapid pulse (heart rate)
  • Sunken “soft spots” (fontanelles) in infants
  • Unusual sleepiness or tiredness
  • Vomiting
  • Watery diarrhoea that starts suddenly and has a “fishy” odour

Treatment often involves fluid and electrolytes. An oral WHO treatment is presently used internationally.

If treated early on, people can make a recovery.

Finally…

This quote from Cameroon’s Minster of Public Health should give you an idea of what’s going on:

“”I have asked them to boil water from suspicious sources before drinking,” he said, “and to stop their children from defecating in bushes and streams, adding that people should not dig pit toilets near water wells””

Cameroon most recently reported population is 22,253,959. That’s a lot of people who could be affected by Cholera unless the treatment process is expedited. To put it in perspective, imagine if a group of people 2.8 times the size of the London population were infected by a deadly disease.

As I mentioned earlier in the post, sanitation can be a factor in the transmission of Cholera. Unfortunately, the most recent figures show that only 45% of the country has access to what is called ‘improved sanitation‘ (toilets with flushes, septic tanks, sewer systems, etc). This makes them worse than the likes of Yemen.

Effective treatment means they need decent healthcare. Unfortunately, the Global Corruption Barometer shows that 61% believe medical services are corrupt and 33% reported paying a bribe to someone in that profession. The country’s health expenditure is 5.1% of GDP, which is lower than that haven of peace and tranquillity known as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Maybe it’s time for other countries to step in. Whilst Cameroon certainly has access to internationally recognised treatments, their infrastructure and problems with violence is causing them great problems. At present, the likes of the UK offers no international aid to the country. The last budget year was 2011/12. Of the 5 historical projects, none were related to health and sanitation. I find this strange as those two things have required significant improvements for a long time.

Africa is a continent known for being the source of modern humankind. Unfortunately, it’s also known for the premature death of modern humans due to disease.

So, what do you think?

MH17 – crash site restrictions and ongoing attrition

Courtesy of OpenStreetMap

All my previous posts about this horrific crash (as well as the subsequent events) can be found here.

Attrition – when used in the context of warfare – is defined as progressively wearing down the opposition. This is all that can be hoped for at the moment as conflict goes on between Ukrainian forces and the separatists exerting their influence in the region surrounding the crash site of the plane that was ‘mistakenly’ shot down. There are constant calls for access and allowing the international community to do a proper investigation. That hasn’t happened yet though and the separatists show no significant signs of weakening.

Not meeting accessibility requirements

As I and many other news sources have previously reported, the separatists controlling much of the Donetsk Oblast region have granted some outside access to the crash site. However, that has been extremely restricted and carefully monitored. As yet, a full international investigation of the area hasn’t been conducted – something which has already been harmed before it’s beginning because of the movement of debris.

Deutsche Welle reports that investigators from Holland and Australia have made repeated attempts at getting to the crash site, but have been prevented from doing that due to ongoing fighting in the region. The conflict was so bad that the investigators had to turn back, even when they were 30km away. For those of you who use old money – that’s 20 miles.

“We are sick and tired of being interrupted by gunfights, despite the fact that we have agreed that there should be a ceasefire [in the area],”

The above is a statement from Alexander Hug, who is the Deputy Head of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Whilst it’s true that everyone wants an end to the violence, everyone wants that to be on their own terms. The end that he seeks won’t come anytime soon. As I have previously mentioned, no amount of resolutions is going to help either.

Black box analysis

The plane went down due to shrapnel creating holes that caused a dramatic loss of pressure. Well, that’s what the flight recorder data has told the people examining them. The recorders were examined in Britain (in Hampshire, to be more specific). The data will be passed onto international investigators once it has been fully downloaded. It would be nice if they were allowed to conduct an investigation on the ground though – instead of relying on satellite images and highly restricted observations.

A war crime???

Navanetham (‘Navi’) Pillay is the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights. She was the first woman to start a law practice in the province of Natal, South Africa. She went on to be a lawyer for anti-apartheid activists, an acting judge on the South African High Court and was a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. It’s fair to say that she knows about the law and world affairs.

Yesterday, there was a report released by her office about the situation in Ukraine. Obviously, she talked about the Malaysia Airlines incident, although it’s worth noting that it happened after the report was completed.

“”The horrendous shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines plane on 17 July came just after the cut-off date of this report,” Pillay said. “This violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime. It is imperative that a prompt, thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation be conducted into this event.””

A war crime is serious business – no doubt. She is definitely one of the people who should be able to identify one. With that in mind, why did she say “may amount to a war crime”? Lets look at the definition – provided by the International Criminal Court (first seen on the Red Cross website).

“”…serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict” and “serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in an armed conflict not of an international character””

Conflict between multiple countries led to this? Yes. Is shooting down a plane frowned upon? Yes. Is the action not considered ‘part of a good character’? Yes. So, yeah, it’s definitely a war crime.

Maybe it’s because she thinks that what has been reported so far isn’t enough to convict anyone. Certainly, there has definitely been restricted access to the crash site and delays with the black box. Even though she seems hesitant about making concrete accusations in public, I’m sure she thinks the Russian-supported rebels are to blame. Even though it was supposedly a mistake, the firing of missiles on civilian aircraft is a no-no – a no-no that caused a tragic loss of life.

Finally…

I’m not the only one to criticise the reaction from Vladimir Putin and the Russian government. They clearly back the rebels, but I can understand why they don’t admit it. That would be admitting involvement in a terrible crime – or series of crimes.

Clearly, there are parties who want to take things further. According to the Independent, British lawyers are preparing a class action lawsuit directed at Putin – effectively suing him. This is being done on the behalf of the families of the victims. This in addition to the sanctions imposed by other countries as a result of the overall conflict – not just the plane crash. It’s obvious that any case such as this is going to take time and won’t be easy in any way. It’s also possible that the families won’t get what they want.

There is still no justice and no end. I assumed it would be like this and I also knew that it would be stating the obvious. It still needs to be said though. There is no easy road to justice in situations like these – not that there’s many which are exactly the same.

I’ll continue to report on any other major developments. I’m interested in anyone’s thoughts about these events. Also, if you have any questions, feel free to ask them. I’ll do my best to answer them.

So, what do you think?