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The last flight of AH5017

To start this story, we need to go to Burkina Faso – a relatively small African nation with a population of 16,934,839.

At 01.05 GMT, a plane took off from Aeroport International de Ouagadougou. It was a McDonnell Douglas MD-83, which was owned by Swiftair, but operated by Air Algérie. The plane (with a capacity for 167 people) was carrying 110 passengers (along with it’s six crew) on a route to an airport in Algiers – the capital of nearby Algeria. It’s flight number was 5017.

There have been multiple sets of figures for the nationalities, but the Algeria Press Service offer the following:

French 50 Cameroon 1
Burkina Faso 24 Egypt 1
Lebanon 8 Mali 1
Algeria 6 Niger 1
Spain 6 Romania 1
Canada 5 Switzerland 1
Germany 4 Ukraine 1
Luxembourg 2 Other 3
Belgium 1

All six of the Spaniards were the crew (2 pilots and 4 flight attendants). One source claimed there was a Nigerian. Another said there was 51 who were French. However, the quantities listed above are generally accepted. I should mention that at this point, it’s worrying that there isn’t one definitive manifest used by everyone. You’d think that it’d be easy enough to release it in a situation like this.

A weather map showing the storms near where the plane disappeared.

At 01.38 GMT, the plane asked to be re-routed. As you can see from the image above, there was severe weather problems in the area. This request was confirmed.

The following video shows you the final route:

What happens next is where the mystery begins. Everything was fine until 01.55 GMT, when the plane disappeared from radar and no-one could get in contact with it. Many had suspected that the storms were the cause. Perhaps it was just a case of interference. However, time went on and the level of worry increased.

The last contact with the plane was just outside the Burkina Faso border. According to the route, this put it in Mali territory. The French – who have plenty of influence in this region, as well as the most passengers on the plane – deployed two Mirage warplanes as part of the search operation. More specifically, they are Mirage 2000 single seater fighter jets, that can be heavily armed. They are multi purpose and used all over the world (over 600 in places such as Peru and India). At this point, there was a fear that AH5017 had crashed.

The Mali quandary

Courtesy of OpenStreetMap

As you can see, Mali is a geographically large country, but it actually has a lower population (15,301,650) than Burkina Faso. A large section of the land is uninhabited, due to the huge desert in the north. A large part of Mali (which includes this region) is controlled by a group of rebels called the Tuareg. Although there has been recent successes with diplomacy, they have been the source of violence and terrorism in the past. It was thought that an alternative reason for the crash could be that it was shot down. At this point, wreckage wasn’t found, so their could be no concrete evidence of this. Some have suggested that the Tuareg do not have the capabilities for that sort of thing either.

The search for the plane had taken some time at this stage. Although the desert in the region is huge, you’d think that (after a while) to advanced warplanes would be able to notice a huge pile of plane wreckage that sticks out like a sore thumb.

The wreckage is found….eventually.

Earlier in the day, the French Foreign Minister had denied that the plane had been found. This was after a statement on the Aeroport International de Ouagadougou website, which stated that it had.

At 17.59 GMT, the President of Mali (Ibrahim Boubacar Keita) had announced that the wreckage had been found between the village of Aguelhoc and the neighbouring city of Kidal, but provided no other details (helpful). Locals had reported to Radio France International that they heard loud explosions, which could have been the crash.

At 23.45 (British time) it was announced that the wreckage had been found 30 miles from the border of Burkina Faso, in the Mali village of Boulikessi. Human remains and scattered body parts have been found by a search party. I should point out though that multiple maps and Google search results put Boulikessi far inside Burkina Faso, which is confusing. A Presidential aide (General Gilbert Diendere) gave the information to the Associated Press though.

Finally…

This is yet another incredibly sad story of families losing loved ones after a plane crash. I can only imagine what they are going through right now. My thoughts are with them – obviously.

Now that the wreckage has been found, hopefully the victims can be identified quickly. The families should be allowed to bury or cremate their dead. It is only right.

It is unlikely that the Tuareg caused this crash. The most likely option is the weather. Nevertheless, it’ll be interesting to find out what the black box recorder reveals. As I explained in my posts about Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, the flight recorders can be very important.

What concerns me is the amount of confusion over the facts. I get that there’s always a certain amount of it in these situations, but there are some simple things that could have been cleared up quickly. For example, which country a particular village is in. Another example would be what nationalities were on the plane. Some people reported the crash far too early as well, which is never great for the families.

So, what do you think?

Indonesia 2014 – from obscurity to leadership

Courtesy of OpenStreetMap

Joko Widodo won’t be a name that you’ve heard of before. He is not a well-known international diplomat. He doesn’t have many years of cabinet experience either. His name isn’t necessarily associated with major events in Asia over the past few years. However, now he will be known to many and will be associated with a historical event.

In one of the most complex democratic elections in the world, in a place where the military had a number of seats allocated to them in the legislature until 2002, Widodo – the Governor of Jakarta and son of a furniture maker – has become the first President of the country to not be a general or be considered part of the establishment. He succeeds Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who was constitutionally barred because he has served two terms.

His opponent was Prabowo Subianto – the nominee of the majority coalition (more on this later). He is a former Vice-Presidential nominee, a former Lieutenant General in the Armed Forces and a businessman. He could be seen as more of an establishment figure. His experience of campaigning at this level could have helped, but it didn’t.

One thing that certainly didn’t help Subianto is past accusations of human rights abuses. He is accused of being involved in the alleged disappearance of 13 political activists in the 90’s, which led to him being dishonourably discharged from the Army. The political activists were part of a pro-democracy movement at the time. Their actions and the reaction of the establishment led to the downfall of Suharto – who was the longtime President.

Why you should care

We have had formal relation with Indonesia since 1949. That was also the same year that independence from the Netherlands was acknowledged.

The United Kingdom isn’t one of the top import or export partners for Indonesia (we are ranked 20th as an export partner) and they have never been in the top ten list of countries of birth for immigrants. However, there is still plenty to link the two countries and make this election important to you.

For example, 220,000 British nationals travel to the country every year. Even though there’s a high threat of terrorism, people still go there and there hasn’t been a great deal of problems. The most recent incident was an abduction of a British national in 2013.

We also provide them with some international aid. The budget for 2014/15 is £15,972,213. There is also a planned budget for 2015/16, which is £7,367,070. At present, there a 9 active projects – but there has been 37 if you include those in the ‘post completion’ phase (effectively meaning that it’s finished). All of the active projects are to do with the environment and climate change. The largest active project has a budget of £11,999,999. Whilst we give more aid to other countries, it is still a substantial amount of your money.

In 2012, David Cameron secured a bilateral agreement to double trade from the 2010 figure of £2.2bn to £4.4bn in 2015. Will be interesting to see if this is achieved. We also co-chair the Open Government Partnership, which seeks to increase transparency and services to citizens (will explain how that’s slightly ironic later on).

Results

Votes Valid Share (%) Total Share (%)
H. Prabowo Subianto 62,576,444 46.85 46.37
Ir. H. Joko Widodo 70,997,833 53.15 52.61
Invalid Votes 1,379,690 1.02
Valid Total 133,574,277 100.00
Overall Total 134,953,967 100.00

The full set of results can be found here. Here’s another look at the vote share:

So, you might wonder why there are only two candidates in this one (and only) round, even though there are several political parties (in 1999, 48 parties contested the legislative election). This is due to a particular aspect of Indonesian electoral law, that was implemented back in 2008. If you win 25% of the popular vote in the legislative election, or have 20% of the seats in the DPR (the People’s Representative Council, which is similar to the US House of Representatives), you can nominate a candidate. As none of the individuals parties met that criteria, two coalitions were formed and they nominated the candidates.

Interestingly, Widodo and his vice-presidential running mate are members of the minority coalition. Bear in mind that these are coalitions that are part of a democratically elected legislature where Subianto’s party (the Great Indonesian Movement Party) have 73 seats (although other coalition members have more). However (and confusingly), Widodo’s party does have 109 seats (over 19% of the 560 DPR seats), despite being part of the minority coalition. This infographic gives you more information about seat numbers for the different parties.

Pleasingly, the invalid votes total doesn’t come anywhere near the total for either of the candidates. There is a 6.3% difference between the two candidates, which could have been larger, but I have seen narrower margins. Widodo’s victory is even good enough to be over the 50% mark if you take into account the invalid votes.

Religion can sometimes play a part in elections, but not in this case. Both candidates are Muslims in a country which is 87.2% Muslim.

Turnout

Population (2013) 249,865,631
Registered Voters 193,944,150
Votes Cast (Valid+Invalid) 134,953,967
Turnout (%) 69.58

That turnout figure looks pretty good and is definitely better than some countries. As an example, the election in India earlier this year (which saw a victory for Narendra Modi) had a record turnout of 66.38%. Obviously, the one for Indonesia is noticeably more. However, it’s worth noting that 814m were registered to vote in that election, which creates more room for abstentions.

As I said, the turnout looks pretty good. However, it could be better and has been better. In 2004, it was 78.2%. The 2009 election saw this reduced to 71.7%. However, this could be due to the fact that there are fewer candidates this time. It could also be due to the high corruption levels.

The state of the country

I mentioned earlier that Indonesia’s co-chairing of a group about transparency in governments is slightly ironic. When you look at the Global Corruption Barometer, you can see why. Here are some highlights:

  • 71% of respondents believe corruption has increased either ‘a little’ or ‘a lot’ (54% say ‘a lot’)
  • 66% reported paying a bribe to the judiciary
  • 75% reported paying a bribe to the police
  • Over 50% of respondents felt the following areas were corrupt or extremely corrupt:
    • Political parties – 86%
    • Parliament/legislative – 89%
    • Business – 54%
    • Judiciary – 86%
    • Police – 91%
    • Public officials/civil servants – 79%

Since I started covering elections across the world, these are some of the highest corruption figures that I’ve seen. In addition, the Corruption Perceptions Index ranks the country as 114/177 in 2013.

Press freedom is also a big issue, although it has to be noted that there has been some improvement in recent years. In 2012, Indonesia was ranked 146/179, but in 2014 they had gone up to 132/180 (the difference in number of countries is due to the Sudan-South Sudan split).

Human development isn’t that great either. The 2012 edition of the UNDP Human Development Index gave Indonesia a score of 0.629. This is below the average for ‘Medium’, so you could consider them to have low human development.

In terms of drug trafficking, there isn’t really a major international distribution problem. However, there is domestic production of cannabis. This is also illegal production of methamphetamine and ecstasy.

In terms of governance standards, Indonesia is below the average for East Asia & the Pacific in every area. Political Stability is the only area where both Indonesia and the East Asia region has consistently increased. This does not mean corruption is more under control, but that and government effectiveness are the Indonesian indicators that have consistently increased since 2002. Interestingly, the country’s best score in 2012 (the most recent compilation) is 51/100 for Voice and Accountability. That is in line with the Global Corruption Barometer stat which shows 81% of respondents believing that ordinary people can make a difference.

Now for poverty and the economy. The GINI Coefficient is something that allows you to gauge the levels of inequality. It goes from 1 to 100. If you’re between 50 and 100, it means you are closer to perfect inequality – obviously a bad thing. The most recent figure for Indonesia is 38.1 in 2011. This is not bad and there are definitely countries who are much worse. Despite this, records show that (in that year) 30.6% of the income was held by 10% of the population. This gets worse when you consider that 46% of the income was held by 20%. Obviously, this could have gone up or down since then. However, there are no guarantees of really significant changes. In 2013, 11.4% were living below the national poverty line.

In June, Indonesian inflation was 6.31%, with an average of 6.94 for 2014 (however, this page has it at 6.7% for the same period).

As for credit ratings, they are (currently) the following:

  • Standard & Poors – BB+
  • Moodys – Baa3
  • Fitch – BBB-

Indonesia is technologically developed. 15.8 of every 100 people (39,478,769.698) are internet users and there are 122 mobile cellular subscriptions for every 100 people. In the case of the latter, this means that several people have more than one phone. Perhaps there are some with both a phone and a 3G-enabled tablet.

The one other thing worth noting is the vast improvements the country has made in terms of global competitiveness. In 2012/13, they ranked 50/144. However, in the 2013/14 index, they had gone up to 38/148. They particularly excel in the areas of business and innovation. Despite the improvements, they current rank 52/148 for ‘Efficiency Enhancers’, which takes into account things like financial development, tech readiness and non-primary education.

Finally…

Indonesia might have elected a new leader, but this is not necessarily the end.

Subianto has suggested that there has been widespread electoral fraud. A challenge of the result in a Constitutional Court has been threatened, but Widodo is expected to be inaugurated on October 20th.

Widodo has now called for a more unified approach:

“With humility, we ask the people … to go back to a united Indonesia”

This was a large scale, complex election. There were threats, rioting and possible fraud. Widodo now faces tough challenges that go beyond a simple call for unity.

So, what do you think?

MH17 – planes, trains and warships

Courtesy of OpenStreetMap

All my posts about Flight MH17 can be found here.

The events surrounding the tragic loss of life due to the actions of rebels in Donetsk seem to be developing every day. There is no slow down at all. This is a good thing. It means reporters are doing their job and we are getting closer to the families being able to bury/cremate their fallen relatives. We are also getting closer to some form of justice, although that does still seem far away.

The black box returns

In my previous post, I suggested that there was no guarantee that members of the miltia aligned with the Donetsk People’s Republic would actually hand over the black boxes (there’s two of them). They said they would once they were officially identified and it was a possibility, but could we ever consider them to be 100% trustworthy?

Well, it seems on this occasion, they have not broken a promise. As you can see from the video above, the black boxes were officially transferred to the Malaysian National Security Council, so they can be analysed. The people in the video are Alexander Borodai (Prime Minister of the self-proclaimed – and what could be considered fake – republic) and Colonel Mohamed Sakri (Malaysia).

Although it is widely known what caused the accident, the successful transfer means officials get get close to what would be considered a full investigation. According to Sakri, the black boxes were “in good condition”. It’s interesting that they weren’t transferred to Ukraine though. It is their territory (as recognised by every government cross the world). Putin is also passing the buck onto Ukraine anyway. However, Reuters report that Putin’s Ambassador to Malaysia stated that the rebels “doesn’t trust” the Ukrainian government (although Sky News suggest this was the Russian Ambassador to Ukraine. It could be both uttering the same words, I suppose.).

The train has arrived at it’s destination

In my last post, I noted that although Ukrainian forces had loaded bodies and some parts onto a refrigerated train, the militia were blocking it from moving anywhere. At the time, it was stuck in Torez. In addition, the Independent reported that the crash site was clear. The difference in the number of bodies on the train and the people on the plane was because some were vaporised and some could have been moved by rebels. The word ‘vaporised’ was used by multiple sources and can be heard in one of the YouTube videos I linked to.

Well, there has finally been some movement. In an article timed at 1.23 UK time, Sky News reported that the train was on the move from Torez and was on it’s way to Kharkiv – part of territory controlled by the Ukraine government. It also noted that rescuers had found 272 bodies, as well as 66 body parts. However, I have also seen figures of ‘around 200’ and 192 being on the train. Does this mean that some bodies have been left at the crash site? If the answer is yes, then why?

The following Reuters video shows the train leaving. You can see the belongings of some of the victims left in a pile on the platform.

This RT video shows the train arriving in Kharkiv:

What happens now? According to Reuters, the bodies will be moved to the Netherlands for identification – agreed upon by the Malaysian Prime Minister after talks with the rebels. 193 of the victims were Dutch, so this makes some sense. However, I would have thought that it would be better to identify everyone in Ukraine and repatriate the victims to their respective countries. It’s not just Dutch bodies that are on there. Maybe this will happen, but the article implies otherwise.

War – what is it good for? The sale of warships

As we know, many world leaders have been appalled by the events in Ukraine and have put the blame on Vladimir Putin. Many have suspected that the Russian government have been arming/supporting the rebels.

Many have stated that there will be sanctions and a ‘different approach’.

However, this hasn’t stopped France from giving them weapons. They have a contract to supply two Mistral warships. The first is nearly finished, but the actual sale has been suspended until October. Even though Germany have cancelled an arms contract, there is no definitive sign that France will do the same with theirs.

What about the second? Well…

“Does that mean that the rest of the contract – the second Mistral – can be carried through? That depends on Russia’s attitude”

Those were the words of Francois Hollande. His strategy could never be described as reactionary. As it stands, both warships could be delivered, despite any restrictions and sanctions implemented by other nations.

Apparently Russia would demand compensation if the contract was cancelled (it could be €1.1bn). It’s understandable since they haven’t officially admitted their backing of the rebels in Donetsk Oblast.

I suppose it’s good that they’re taking a measured approach. But this could also be interpreted as them supplying arms to a nation aiding terrorists and only thinking about the money. Hardly good PR, is it?

Russian reaction

According to RT (a  news organisation funded by Russia), Russia’s Ambassador to the United Nations, said the following:

“We could not simply allow the Security Council to endorse a Ukrainian-led investigation because we have no trust in their intention to conduct a truly objective investigation”

He followed this up with:

“Throughout the investigation Ukraine would have to answer many questions: about the actions of its air traffic controllers, the reasons for the movement of one of the Ukrainian Buk missile systems on July 17 right next to the area controlled by the militias. Why this missile defense system was moved immediately after the airplane crash? Why on July 17 Ukrainian air defense radar worked at the maximum intensity?”

In another article, RT reported several questions that were posed by the chiefs of the Russian Armed Forces and their Air Force:

  1. Why did the MH17 plane leave the international corridor?
  2. Was MH17 leaving the route a navigation mistake or was the crew following instructions by Ukrainian air traffic controllers in Dnepropetrovsk?
  3. Why was a large group of air defense systems deployed to the militia-held area if the self-defense forces have no planes?
  4. Why did Kiev deploy Buk missile system right next to the militia-controlled area straight ahead of the tragedy?
  5. On the day of the crash Kiev increased activity on its Kupol-M1 9S18 radars, which are components of the Buk system in the area. Why?
  6. What was a military plane doing on the route intended for civilian flights?
  7. Why was the military jet flying at almost the same time and the same altitude with a passenger plane?
  8. Where did the launcher – from the video circulated by Western media and showing a Buk system being moved allegedly from Ukraine to Russia – come from? As the video was made on the territory controlled by Kiev, where was the launcher being transported?
  9. Where is it right now? Why are some of the missiles missing on the launcher? When was the last time a missile was launched from it?
  10. Why haven’t US officials revealed the evidence supporting claims that the MH17 was shot down by a missile launched by the militia?

In my first post about the events, I mentioned that some have suggested the plane was off course due to thunderstorms. Perhaps the black box will help to confirm that. That addresses question 1.

As for question 4, it is widely acknowledged that the pro-Russian separatists fired the missile from the Russian-designed and Russian-created Buk missile system. Many of the other questions relating to the launcher are in line with Russia passing the buck onto Ukraine and refusing to acknowledge any involvement in supporting terrorists.

Question 8 refers to the following video:

The miltary chiefs suggest that, based on the sign in the background, this is not evidence that the launcher is being transported to Russia. They say this was a different location to the one suggested. However, the is a 13 second video taken at a corner of part of one road – which is obscured by trees. The text on the sign isn’t even that clear on the video. In addition, when comparing that video to the one I embedded in the previous post (which was put online by Belsat TV – a channel based in nearby Belarus), the colour of the cab appears to be different.

Finally…

There’s been a UN resolution that states those who are responsible should “be held to account and that all states cooperate fully with efforts to establish accountability”. Ooooh! Scary. Whilst this is something entirely expected because of who the UN are, it’s not exactly going to make the leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic quake in their boots and put down their Russian-funded arms. Anyone who believes that will happen is foolish. You have to remember that they want Donetsk Oblast to be linked to Russia in some way. The only way they will be stopped without force is if Putin says they should. However, officially saying that would put the blame on him.

However, it’s good that they handed the black boxes over. It’s great that they’ve stopped blocking the train holding the bodies of the fallen.

Will unrestricted access to the crash site be next? That would be fantastic, but debris has already been moved and I doubt the militia and it’s leaders will want to loosen it’s grip on the area.

So, what do you think?

MH17 – black boxes and revelations

Courtesy of OpenStreetMap

In my previous post, I blogged about the Malaysia Airlines plane that was shot down by the Donbass People’s Militia when it was flying over Donetsk Oblast. It was a mistake according to some sources. It is also the very definition of a tragedy which ended the lives of 298 innocent people.

At present, 192 of the bodies (as well as 8 body parts) have been loaded onto a train with refrigeration facilities (the numbers were previously unconfirmed). This was done by Ukrainian forces, who have also sealed the train in order to protect the bodies of the victims. An engineer told AP that problems with the cooling system on the train have now been resolved.

The train is currently located in Torez (before 1964, it was called Chystyakove), which is a small city with a population of over 81,000 in the Donetsk Oblast region.

Unfortunately, it has been reported that the militia (who are pro-Russian separatists) are blocking the movement of the train into territory that is controlled by the Ukrainian government (a destination also mentioned by Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri). This is from the Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine (a sort-of equivalent to Nick Clegg):

“…up until now the train has not left the station, for the terrorists are blocking the way. We are in constant negotiations with them regarding the transportation of the bodies of the victims”

You will have probably noticed a difference in the numbers of victims earlier. Unfortunately, not all of them are on the train because some have been reported as “vaporised”. According to the Independent, the crash site has no more bodies to load onto the train. In my previous post, I noted that there has been accusations of a cover-up as some of the bodies have been moved. Hopefully, all the bodies that weren’t vaporised are now on the train and not hidden from view. This AFP video from yesterday suggests otherwise:

The following is from the Ukraine Crisis Media Center. The person talking mentions that they are being watched “very carefully”.

So, what is a ‘Black Box’?

In addition to the fate of the bodies that remain, another important point is the status of the Black Box.

In case you don’t know, this is a form of flight recorder that records data and can be incredibly useful when determining the nature of a crash. It could identify a technical problem, pilot error, or something else. This is something that can be difficult to work out from a pile of wreckage, such as what we have in this case. It should be pointed out that many of them are oragne – not black as you might suspect.

As I have noted in my last post, there have been witnesses seeing machinery moving the wreckage, which makes it difficult to have a proper investigation. Rescue workers recovered the Black Box, according to Al Jazeera (via a video released by Ukrainian security services). This video on Belsat TV‘s (a Belarus-based TV channel) YouTube channel shows it being retrieved:

However, the militia is currently keeping hold of it.

“They are being held and when they’re identified by the International Civil Aviation Organisation we’re ready to hand over those objects”

So, they’ll hand it (or them – there may be more than one recorder) over eventually. I suppose that’s something. They’re still not helping much though. There’s no guarantee that they won’t change their mind either.

Any hope of an investigation?

The OSCE have already been able to access the crash site on more than one occasion. However, their movement has been restricted and the hopes of a full investigation are slim, even if it has been demanded by the international community.

This press release gives an account of what the OSCE have found. At the time, bodies were left exposed to the elements. Thankfully, that is no longer the case. They also found the rebels aligning themselves with the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic were both “visibly intoxicated and aggressive”. No debris collection was observed, but we know that some has happened.

The missile system

The plane was shot down using a surface to air missile. It was reportedly fired using an SA-11 (‘Buk’) missile system. It was created in the 1970’s by a Russian company that has recently been sanctioned by the United States.

Russia have been accused of arming the militia.

The SA-11 that supposedly caused the crash has apparently been moved back to Russian territory. This YouTube video from Belsat is (allegedly) evidence of this happening:

Finally…

The following is from the new Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond:

“They have been supplying them, they have been supporting them, they have been providing them with succour. They cannot deny their responsibility for the acts that these people are carrying out.”

The terrorist militia armed and supported by Russia might be to blame for the crash, but Russia (and Vladimir Putin specifically) has been blamed for the militia’s existence, their violence and their unwillingness to recognise sovereign territory.

Putin is still not accepting the blame, but that is unsurprising. Would you ever expect him to do anything else. He still feels that this is Ukraine’s problem and they were at fault for not having a permanent ceasefire.

As I have noted in my previous post, there will be consequences. There will be a change in approach towards Russia. They risk becoming alienated and a pariah state. However, they still have power, influence and the intimidation factor. Sanctions will not eliminate that. Wholesale changes at the top will help, but I doubt that will happen – at least in the near future.

So, what do you think?

The horror of Flight MH17

Courtesy of OpenStreetMap

Many people say that the plane is one of the safest forms of travel. Due to the horrific event in the skies over Donetsk on July 17th, it was also the last form of travel for 298 innocent people.

Due to the use of a surface-to-air missile, pro-Russian separatists shot down Flight MH17, which was part of the Malaysian Airlines fleet. According to a statement on their website, the the following is the nationalities of the passengers and crew:

  • Netherlands – 193
  • Malaysia – 43
  • Australia – 27
  • Indonesia – 12
  • United Kingdom – 10
  • Germany – 4
  • Belgium – 4
  • Philippines – 3
  • Canada – 1
  • New Zealand – 1

Amongst those who died, there was 15 crew members and several children.

According to the President of the European Cockpit Association, MH17 wasn’t supposed to be where it was and was possibly taken off course due to thunderstorms. However, travelling through Ukraine was part of it’s intial plan.

The following video contains audio of an alleged discussion about the crash by the separatists. Whilst the audio is not in English, there is a translation. Whilst many have stated that this is genuine I cannot personally verify the translation. If anyone reading this has the necessary linguistic skills, please leave a comment.

In the above video, there are suspicions that the plane was military in nature and that it contained spies, which was why it was shot down. However, they eventually realised that it was a civilian aircraft. There didn’t seem to be a great deal of remorse, but do you really expect any?

As you can see from the map above, Ukraine is a neighbour of Russia. The militia in Donetsk is widely regarded as being supported by Russia. Vladimir Putin (the multiple-time and current President of Russia, ex-KGB member and part of the Boris Yeltsin administration) had this to say:

“This tragedy would not have happened if it had not have been renewed fighting in the south-east of Ukraine”

He also said:

“Certainly, the State over whose territory it happened, is responsible for this terrible tragedy”

The alleged support of the pro-Russian separatists is clearly unofficial and he wants to absolve himself of any blame. He also implies that it’s the fault of the Ukraine military for intervening.

Wow. How dare they! They have absolutely now right to end the actions of an unofficial terrorist group that’s making the citizens of their country live in fear.

Condemnation and reaction

The Dutch Foreign Minister recently had a meeting with the President of Ukraine and said the following:

“Once we have the proof, we will not stop before the people are brought to justice. Not just the people who pulled the trigger but also those who made it possible. I think the international community needs to step up its efforts in this respect.”

There has been widespread international disgust at the actions that can be allegedly attributed to the Russian government and it’s supporters.

The Dutch Prime Minister said Putin must now “take responsibility”.

The Presidents of the European Comission and European Council issued this response:

“We are shocked by the crash of the Malaysian airliner in Ukraine and the tragic loss of so many lives. Citizens from many nationalities including from the European Union have been killed.

On behalf of the European Union, we wish to convey our deepest condolences to the Prime Ministers of the Netherlands, Malaysia, to the governments of all other affected nations, and to the families of the victims.

We call for an immediate and thorough investigation into the causes of the crash. The facts and responsibilities need to be established as quickly as possible. The European Union will continue to follow this issue very closely.”

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has joined the calls for an international investigation, but his reaction was criticised by Russia:

“Without bothering himself about evidence and operating only on speculation, Mr. T. Abbott assigned guilt”

President Obama was one of the many to accuse Russia of supporting the separatists and he said the Putin “has the most control over that situation”.

The crash site and the fate of the victims

The crash site has become a magnet for looters, who want to get whatever they can. Clearly, those people have no class. There has been limited press access to the area and there has been suspicions that bodies have been moved in order to do some form of cover up. In addition, the Associated Press has noted that machinery has been seen moving debris – prior to any investigation.

The United Nations has considered a resolution that would demand access to the crash site, so that an investigation can be performed. Interestingly, Putin has supported the idea of an investigation, but stated that it “must not leap to conclusions”. Presumably, this is part of an effort to ensure Russia isn’t blamed. Yeah…I don’t think that’s going to work. The international community will still have a new approach to Russia.

As for the bodies, there have been reports that the remains of many of the victims have been put on a refrigerated train.

The BBC state that the train’s destination is unknown, but it is obvious that the ideal situation would be to have it under the control of the Ukraine government. Unfortunately, there are no accurate figures for the numbers of victims on the train.

The Donetsk region explained

In my post about Petro Poroshenko winning in the Ukraine Presidential elections, I noted that people in the area known as Donetsk Oblast were unable to vote. Why was this? Well, it was because of the separatists, who want nothing to do with the government that is recognised by every country in the world.

The Donbass People’s Militia – the group accused of shooting down MH17 – is a recognised terrorist group and have declared allegiance to the Donetsk People’s Republic. It is self-proclaimed and not recognised by any foreign nation. Officially, it is not even recognised by Russia, despite the militia being aided by the country and being supportive of a link (e.g. federalisation or annexation).

According to UN data, there 962,445 people in the area in 2012 – a figure that will have (no doubt) increased by now. According to 2001 census data (alas, this seems to be the most recent), 38.2% are Russian. Bear in mind that Donetsk (founded in 1869) shares a border with Russia and both used to be part of the Soviet Union – two facts which explain the percentage (and the fact that the percentage is much lower in more Western parts of Ukraine). Although the population has decreased over time, I imagine the number of Russians there won’t be vastly different.

A number of the Russians there will support the actions of the militia and also being part of Russia. However, there will be many in Donetsk who live in fear and do not support the violence and intimidation. There was a referendum (organised by the militia) that took place in May. The New York Times reported that 89% supported greater autonomy, but also mentioned that voter rolls were out of date and that Russia have not officially stated that they wish to annex Donetsk. No nation has recognised the referendum as legitimate. It was unofficial and organised by a terrorist group that would obviously attempt to influence results.

Malaysia Airlines history

According to the BBC, the plane that was shot down is the same model of aircraft as Flight MH370, which famously disappeared in March.

Both of these planes were part of the Malaysia Airlines fleet, which doesn’t exactly help the company. However, corporate reputation is not the main issue by any means and in the case of MH17, it was certainly not their fault.

Finally…

Source – Twitter (@YahooNews)

In some recent blog posts, I have attempted to explain why you should care about a particular subject or country.

However, I would be greatly surprised if anyone doesn’t care about this at all.

Think about all the nations involved. Think about the grieving and loss for so many families. Think about 298 adults and children, who have been robbed of the rest of their lives. Remember that 10 were from the UK.

If you are a parent, imagine what it would be like to lose your children in an event like this. How would you feel? Look at the personal belongings in the above photo and think what it would be like to see the things your relatives own in that wreckage.

Just think for a second about what would happen if this tragedy happened within the borders of your own country. What would the reaction be? How would you feel?

The families and friends of the people on this flight deserve justice and the right to be able to give the fallen a proper burial or cremation.

The rebels (allegedly) did not realise this was a civilian aircraft. However, their ‘rule’ is not recognised by anyone and this supposed mistake cannot possibly be seen as an excuse for their actions.

So, what do you think?

Slovenia 2014 – the victory of a gymnast’s son

Courtesy of OpenStreetMap

For a country with ‘love’ in the title, there doesn’t seem to be much recent affection for leaders of the National Assembly.

This election was a true example of a triumph over the political establishment. The ruling party was beaten into opposition by someone described as a political novice, who is leading a party that is only a few months old. This could certainly be described as a rare occurrence.

Miro Cerar is a lawyer, a Professor and the son of a celebrated former Olympic gymnast. That last point gave him some popularity. The fact that he wasn’t tainted by anything seen as corrupt also helped. He established a self-titled party six weeks before the election. Based on the results released so far, his party gained just over 34% of the vote and 36 seats in the unicameral National Assembly. He will have to form a coalition, but is likely to be chosen as the latest Prime Minister to serve under President Borut Pahor.

So, where is Slovenia? Well, you will be able to see Zagreb in the map above. That’s because Slovenia is a neighbour of Croatia. It’s also next door to Austria and was part of Yugoslavia, until it gained independence in 1991.

Why should you care about this country?

There is nothing on the Dev Tracker about aid (i.e. your taxes) being given to them. According to the UK Travel Advice, there is little or no threat of terrorism either. We don’t have any military operations over there either.

Well, 93,000 British nationals visit the country each year. We also have historical military involvement in what was Yugoslavia. In addition, they are only one place lower than the UK in the 2014 Press Freedom Index. Compared to last year, we went down 4 places and they went up by 1. It’s quite possible that we could go below them in 2015.

Those of you who are interested in fighting corruption will also have an interest. Successive Prime Ministers have been toppled due to allegations of corruption. I will go into that a bit more later on in this post.

They also have significant economic problems which require European Union input.

Results

It’s a lengthy table, so I’ve decided to break it up. The official results page can be found here. At the time of typing, 99.97% of votes have been counted. Whilst that means that the following isn’t the complete set of data, what remains is very small and will not change anything important – such as the winner. It will certainly not give Cerar a majority either. These results were accurate as of 10pm on 13/07/2014. All the party names have been converted to English using Google Translate.

Party Votes Valid Share (%) Total Share (%) NA Seats Seats Share (%)
SMC PARTY MIRA Cerar 298,342 34.61 34.16 36 40
Slovenian Democratic Party – SDS 178,294 20.69 20.42 21 23.33
Pensioners – Democratic Party of Pensioners SLOVENIA 88,026 10.21 10.08 10 11.11
Coalition United Left 51,490 5.97 5.90 6 6.67
SD – Social Democrats 51,300 5.95 5.87 6 6.67
New Slovenia – Christian Democrats 47,701 5.53 5.46 5 5.56
Alliance Alenka Bratusek 37,375 4.34 4.28 4 4.44
SLS – Slovenian Peoples Party 34,286 3.98 3.93 2 2.22

In addition to the 88 seats above, there are an additional 2 for national minorities (Italians and Hungarians), who have a veto on any issue that directly concerns them. There is a Proportional Representation system that makes use of the D’Hondt method for allocating seats (you may remember this from the European Parliament Elections).

As you can see from the results above, SDS got roughly double the valid share of the Pensioners Party and they were given roughly double the number of seats as a result.

For a weeks old party to get roughly 14% more votes than one in government is incredibly impressive.

This is a more visual representation of who got the most seats:

You’ll notice the Alliance Alenka Bratusek near the bottom. Bratusek was the Prime Minister prior to this election.

The remaining results (that have been released so far) are as follows:

Party Votes Valid Share (%) Total Share (%)
Positive Slovenia 25,515 2.96 2.92
Slovenian National Party – SNS 19,069 2.21 2.18
Pirates Party of Slovenia 11,570 1.34 1.32
Verjamem Party 6,687 0.78 0.77
Citizens List 5,468 0.63 0.63
Green Slovenia 4,274 0.50 0.49
Equal Nobles – Next Slovenia 1,997 0.23 0.23
Liberal Commercial 442 0.05 0.05
Humana Slovenia 82 0.01 0.01
Invalid votes 11,341 1.30

The interesting thing here is the result for Positive Slovenia. Prior to this election, they were a party in government. However, everything seemed to change when Bratusek lost the party leadership and decided to leave. She retained enough popularity to gain seats with her own party, but Positive Slovenia seems to be lost without her.

Another point is the result for Humana Slovenia. I have seen some poor results in my time (particularly in the Ukraine Presidential election this year), but 82 is exceptionally poor. There is a 4% threshold in this country and obviously they are nowhere near that. To be honest, every party in that second table isn’t close. The Slovenian Peoples Party technically got less that 4% of the results so far. However, it’s clear that it’s rounded up.

The invalid votes total is also worth looking at. It’s higher than the total for six of the parties. People actually chose to spoil their ballot paper or leave it blank instead of voting for one of the smaller parties. That makes the Humana result even worse.

Turnout

Population (2013) 2,060,484
Registered voters (2014) 1,713,065
Total voters 873,530
Turnout (%) 50.99

The total voters figure is different from the combined total of the two earlier tables because it includes the votes that haven’t been released at the time of typing. 50.99% is low. Particularly when there is a clear appetite for change and different options available to the voter, which are viable. Perhaps this is because they don’t feel that anyone will make a difference any time soon. There is also some anti-EU sentiment in the country, which may have had an effect. They see the prospect of EU intervention and don’t feel any of the politicians will get them out (like UKIP propose to in the UK).

As you can see from this page, it’s the first time that National Assembly elections have gone below 60% in the whole of the country’s independent history. 50.99% is also lower than all but one of the Presidential elections.

Issues and talking points

Corruption and the economy are big factors in this country at the moment.

The first of those two is more complex than you’d think. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index (2013), Slovenia is 43/177 – not bad. According to the Global Corruption Barometer, there are only two areas considered by more than 50% of respondents to be corrupt or extremely corrupt (political parties – 78% and parliament/legislature – 67%). I have certainly seen a lot worse than this. However, those two areas that are above 50% are the ones being affected by this election. Also, 63% of respondents felt that the level of corruption has changed (meaning that it has increased in some way).

Previous leaders such as Janez Jansa have been ousted due to corruption charges. In his case, he was put in prison.

Unfortunately, this is an occasion where there isn’t much recent data available on the World Bank website. However, it did tell me that their deficit was less than the UK in 2012 and their account balance was in the black. This is in comparison to the UK, which is substantially in the red in 2012. In that year, their unemployment rate was only 0.9% more than the UK. Standard & Poors give them an A- credit rating. All in all, that doesn’t seem so bad, does it?

Well, hold on there. This article on The Economist website has some recent information:

  • Public debt has jumped to 63% of GDP in 2014
  • Funds set aside for supporting the banks isn’t considered to be enough
  • The bond markets are not giving Slovenia help
  • Recapitalising the banks could take the figure in the first bullet point up to 74%
  • GDP is expected to fall by 2.7%

According to this EU Observer article, unemployment is currently at 11.6%, which is substantially more than the 8.8% figure from 2012 that I used earlier.

This means that the Slovenian economy has declined dramatically and is in need of some form of recovery. Apparently there was a plan being developed under the now former government which involved privatising some government-run companies and industries. It’s a good idea as it puts less strain on public finances. Miro Cerar has stated that he will continue to develop this idea, although there are no concrete plans as yet. All he has said is:

“I’ll do my best to have our privatisation programme in place this year”

According to EurActiv, he opposes the sale of the airport and telecoms provider. What will he privatise though?

On a more positive note, the most recent Human Development Index puts them between ‘High’ and ‘Very High’. The World Governance Indicators put them above both neighbouring Croatia and the average for Europe & Central Asia in every area. However, I should qualify that latter point by reminding you that recent news has put things like ‘Control of Corruption’ and ‘Government Effectiveness’ in a more negative light than the indicators show.

Finally…

Slovenia is relatively new and it is certainly not one of the worst performers in many areas. However, recent times have seen an economic decline, corruption and political instability.

This is a nation that typically relies on coalitions in it’s National Assembly. This time will be now different. Miro Cerar’s centre-left party did not get a majority and will have to align with others. The centre-right SDS could possibly remain in opposition and there may be some opportunities for the Pensioners Party and the Coalition United Left. I would be interested in hearing from Slovenians about the prospects for the future. I’d also like to hear from anyone else who takes an interest in European issues or people who have any queries they think I could answer.

So, what do you think?

Afghanistan 2014 – you can (re)count on it

Courtesy of OpenStreetMap

This is the fifth post that I’ve done about the 2014 Afghan Presidential elections. The entire series can be found here.

The disputes seem to have lessened for now, but we still don’t have a result.

After negotiations that were led by US Secretary of State John Kerry, there will now be a full recount/audit of the second round votes. This process will be monitored/supervised by the United Nations.

“Both candidates have committed to participate in and abide by the results of the largest and most comprehensive audit; every single ballot that was cast will be audited”

Even though the UN is involved, what Kerry said is actually an expansion of the original UN proposal, which was explained in a press release on July 12th:

“If carried out, the new audit plan would lead to a review of 3.5 million ballots from 8,050 polling stations, the equivalent of 44 per cent of all votes from 35 per cent of all polling stations.

The Mission also suggested a randomly selected audit of 10 per cent of votes in each of the 34 provinces “to increase the transparency and confidence.”

What is meant by “every single ballot”? In my post about the preliminary results for the runoff, I noted that there were just over 7.9m valid votes and just over 8.1m in total. To put that in perspective, the current UK population is 64,097,085 (confirmed by the Office for National Statistics). The number of votes for the 2010 UK General Election was 29,691,380 (a turnout of 65.1%). So, you would think that 8.1m votes is quite small. However, for Afghanistan and the UN, this is a big undertaking. It’s all relative.

Ethnicity and religions

When looking at the results and trying to predict the outcome, it’s hard to ignore religion in this country. It plays a big part. People can often choose someone with the same beliefs (or even the same tribal background), regardless of policies.

The outgoing President, Hamid Karzai (yes, he’s still the leader), is from the Pashtun tribe and is a Sunni Muslim (you’ll know the Sunnis as the branch of Islam that features prominently in ISIL/Islamic State). Ashraf Ghani is also Pashtun and Sunni (Ahmadzai, which is his last name, is also a Sunni tribe). Abdullah Abdullah is Tajik. As for his brand of Islam, both he and his father originate from the Tokhi tribe, which is Sunni Muslim. Even though Abdullah considers himself to be Tajik nowadays, that particular ethnic group is also (primarily) Sunni.

In terms of the country as a whole, Afghanistan is primarily Pashtun (42%) and Sunni (80%). It is also 27% Tajik and 19% Shia (those who are oppressed in the Islamic State-controlled region).

Based on this alone, you can understand why Ghani got the lead in the second round. However, you have to remember Abdullah’s convincing lead in the first and the fact that it’s rare to see such a dramatic switch in places.

Regions/locations

Ashraf Ghani has links to Logar and Kabul. Abdullah has links to Kabul, Kandahar and Panjshir. You would expect the candidates to be successful in those areas where they have an affiliation (and it should be tighter in Kabul).

The following are taken from the preliminary results listed in this document:

Region Winner
Kabul Ghani
Kandahar Ghani
Logar Ghani
Panjshir Abdullah

It’s interesting that Ghani took Kandahar. It was also by quite a substantial margin. Abdullah’s step father was born in the region and was a former Senator for the area. Having said that, Kandahar is mostly Pashtun (70%). It seems religion is the dominant factor. Like I said in the previous section, it’s hard to ignore.

Endorsements

This is another interesting area.

Several members of the Karzai family have endorsed Abdullah (Jamil, Mahmud and Qayoum). He also has the support of a number of political parties (e.g. Hizb-e-Wahdat-e-Islami and Shuray-e-Etefaq Wa Dawat). Ghani has the support of Zalmay Rassoul’s running mate. You may remember Rassoul as an early contender in the first round and he finished 3rd with an 11.48% vote share.

Hamid Karzai is a divisive figure and someone who has not enjoyed total support during his period of leadership. It’s entirely possible that the support of the Karzai family didn’t help Abdullah. However, his supporters have proven to be both numerous and vocal.

Finally…

Remember, this is an opportunity to have a legitimate and democratic transfer of power in a nation that has been war-torn and populated by foreign military forces for years.

According to Al Jazeera, the planned inauguration ceremony on August 2nd is expected to be delayed, because the recount means the announcement of the final results will be pushed back (from it’s original date of July 22nd).

The recount will begin soon. There will be no additional voting.

The religious and tribal backgrounds suggest Ghani should still win, but Abdullah has proved popular in previous elections and the first round.

There is no guarantee that the winner will be different from what has been indicated. However, if there has been widespread fraud, then I guess there’s a chance.

So, what do you think?

South Sudan is 3yrs old and growing up fast

Courtesy of OpenStreetMap

When you’re 3 years old, you can walk and talk, speak clearly, ask plenty of questions and you’re not far off from going to school. You’re getting the basics that will allow you to have a happy and eventful life. There’s still plenty to learn and do though.

On July 9th, 2011, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan and became a full country. It has just celebrated it’s third birthday. Like a child, it still has a long way to go, but it’s getting there.

As a country, it’s still developing it’s emotions. It can go from one extreme to another very quickly. There has been a substantial amount of conflict recently. In December 2013, there was ethnically targeted violence, which killed thousands of innocent people. Groups such as the UN Security Council expressed their horror. Frankly, anyone would – making that statement rather pointless. They do have to make the world aware of what is going on though – it’s important. There has been attempts at ceasefires. Well, I say attempts – they were actual agreements until they fell apart almost immediately. At this point it is unclear if there will ever be a lasting agreement in the near future. The African Union Peace and Security Council condemned recent ceasefire violations. The AFK Insider notes the violations of a previous agreement in May. Worryingly, the former head of the Rwandan genocide court recognised many of the indicators for a future genocide.

Like I said, it has a long way to go. It still needs to mature.

Why you should care

I seek to inform people about the world around them, as well as making information relevant and accessible. I realise it’s essential that you know why you should care about a relatively new country in a continent that probably isn’t your own.

Well, many of you like to travel. Some of you have done voluntary work in developing African nations (or may want to). According to official UK travel advice, British nationals are advised against travelling to the area and consular assistance is limited due to security issues. The page also give available air travel information for British citizens currently there who wish to leave. They also note the general threat of terrorism.

We also give a lot of aid to the country (so, your money goes to them). The total project budget for 14/15 is £129.9m and there are 28 active projects (23 in the ‘implementation stage). Projects cover dealing with the humanitarian crisis, girls education, healthcare and roads. At present, there is expenditure planned up to 16/17. Although it is 1.67% of the DfID budget, it’s still a lot of money that could be used for other things. However, in this case, I firmly believe that it is worthwhile expenditure given the problems they are experiencing.

The country so far

As South Sudan is the newest country and most recent member of the United Nations, there isn’t a lot of statistical information. For example, there is no entry on the UNDP Human Development Index. There’s also several gaps in World Bank datasets. However, that will change over time.

Just because there isn’t a lot, it doesn’t mean there is nothing though.

Press freedom is a hot topic at the moment. For example, Al Jazeera journalists were recently imprisoned in Egypt for doing their job. In terms of the UK, just uttering the name ‘Leveson’ should make you think about the press. There is a number of countries that have anti-defamation laws. Being a new country, you would think that South Sudan could start with a blank slate and total press freedom. However, they are still developing structures and laws, are struggling with conflicts and have people from the days when were part of the notoriously corrupt Sudan. According to the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, South Sudan were 111th in 2012. They slipped to 124 a year later, but are back up to 119th this year. Sudan are currently at 172nd, after spending two successive years at 170th. So, even though South Sudan aren’t perfect, they have got off to a relatively decent start.

The World Bank compile World Governance Indicators every five years (since 2002) and they are something I often use in my blog posts. They cover a variety of areas. In 2012, South Sudan did better than Sudan in terms of ‘Voice and Accountability’, ‘Political Stability’ and ‘Control of Corruption’. However, the actual scores for both countries are very low and they are nowhere near the averages for Sub-Saharan Africa. It’ll be interesting to see the 2017 figures.

On the subject of corruption, we should look at the Global Corruption Barometer on Transparency.org. 1000 people are surveyed for each country. The following is a table showing percentages of people who think certain areas are either corrupt or extremely corrupt:

South Sudan (%) Sudan (%)
Political parties 51 76
Parliament/legislature 51 77
Military 53 71
NGOs 62 79
Media 51 68
Religious bodies 70 79
Business 62 71
Judiciary 60 66

Interestingly, 41% of South Sudanese respondents reported paying a bribe to police, in comparison to 17% of Sudanese. So, South Sudan is much better, but none of the figures are good. It’s interesting that the religious bodies are the worst in that list for South Sudan. In addition, they are 173/177 in the Corruption Perceptions Index (Sudan is 174th). On a positive note, the majority of people in both countries felt that people could make a difference in the fight against corruption.

Some African nations struggle with health matters. It’s obviously impossible to have data going back decades in this case. Security can also play a part in information gathering. South Sudan has nearly 11.3m people (2014 estimates show they have the 3rd biggest growth rate in the world) and poor mortality rates for it’s infants and under 5s. Per 1000 people, the figures are 67 and 108 respectively. However, in the case of infants, the more established Afghanistan and Pakistan are even worse. The death rate is 12 per 1000. They could be worse, but they definitely could be better too.

Infrastructure is so important in developing nations. Just think what it would be like for you if you had limited access to sanitation, electricity and communications. This is the sort of thing you can expect in some developing nations. In 2011 and 2012, 9% of South Sudanese have access to improved sanitation (in comparison to 24 in Sudan). To put that into context, the UK has 100%:

“Access to improved sanitation facilities refers to the percentage of the population using improved sanitation facilities. The improved sanitation facilities include flush/pour flush (to piped sewer system, septic tank, pit latrine), ventilated improved pit (VIP) latrine, pit latrine with slab, and composting toilet.”

Mobile phones are important nowadays. There has been some genuine innovation using them in Africa. They can be vital when internet and access to computers is limited. If you’re organising protests, it can also be a vital tool. In 2013, 25 of every 100 South Sudanese had ‘mobile cellular subscriptions‘, in comparison to 73% of the Sudanese (a figure which is lower than 2012).

South Sudan also has issues with child labour, refugees and sex trafficking:

“women and girls, particularly those who are internally displaced or from rural areas, are vulnerable to forced labor and sexual exploitation in urban centers; the rising number of street children and child laborers are also exploited for forced labor and prostitution; women and girls from Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Democratic Republic of the Congo are trafficked to South Sudan with promises of legitimate jobs and are forced into the sex trade; inter-ethnic abductions continue in some communities”

The UNHCR report that between January and August 2013, 26,700 came from Sudan. There are over 234,000 refugees in the country in total. That figure includes 13,600 from the Democratic Republic of Congo and 6,000 from Ethiopa. New camps have been put together to accommodate them.

Finally…

South Sudan is young. It is getting used to it’s surroundings and dealing with complex emotions that will hopefully mellow over time. Over time, it will grow up, join more organisations and have more of an influence – much like an adult.

There are problems in most areas of the country. Governance, healthcare, refugees, working practices and more. Aid continues to flow in and hopefully that will help, but that takes time. The country will need to show evidence of maturity and improvements eventually though.

You should care about this place because it’s where your money is going. You should care because the UK has a long history in Africa, going back to the British Empire days. There are a lot of people who come to the UK because they are at risk of death, which is why you should be able to understand those who want to flee from Sudan and other nearby conflicts.

As a country, the UK has changed a lot over time. It has evolved and improved in many ways. We can only hope for the same in South Sudan.

So, what do you think?

Afghanistan 2014 – preliminary runoff results

Courtesy of OpenStreetMap

I thought about leaving this until the final results were announced. I like to work with definitive figures. However, there is plenty to talk about and I don’t want a subsequent post to be too long.

It is important to know what is meant by ‘preliminary’. It is not some official telling a journalist the outcome in advance of an official news conference/press release. I’m referring to official documents on an official website. It’s just that the complaints and anti-fraud procedures haven’t been completed yet. For example, you can see from this document that not everything has been fully audited. This BBC article also tells you that several polling stations are currently being re-checked.

Why do they give incomplete information? Well, it’s been a while since the start of the first round ballot period. It’s also been a while since the beginning of the runoff. People want to have an idea of who could be their next leader. People like transparency – especially in a nation that has historical problems with corruption. It’s also well-known that someone leading the preliminary results after a particular round is unlikely to lose.

In this case, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (ex-World Bank official and candidate in a previous election) is leading after a second round runoff. The runoff took place as no-one in the first round got over 50% of the vote.

Results

Round 1 Round 2
Votes Votes Valid (%) Total (%)
Abdullah Abdullah 2,973,706 3,461,639 43.56 42.69
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai 2,082,417 4,485,888 56.44 55.32
Invalid 136,766 1.69
Disqualified 25,200 0.31
Total Valid 5,056,123 7,947,527 100.00
Total Votes 8,109,493 100.00

Although the title of this post is a clear indicator, I cannot stress enough that these are preliminary results. The final results (due to be announced on July 22nd) are highly likely to be different. However, I do not expect that the changes will give us a different winner.

All of the above figures were found using pages and PDF documents on the Afghan IEC website. I have uploaded the relevant PDFs to my webspace as I don’t particularly trust the links to stay unbroken forever. A detailed breakdown of votes for candidates can be found here. Details about disqualified votes are here. Invalid vote totals can be found here. Although ‘disqualified’ and ‘invalid’ seem to be two separate things, I’m not entirely sure of the exact Afghan definitions. It could be a mix of those who are ineligible who tried to vote, blank ballots, two ballots from one person, spoiled ballot papers and/or something else.

The difference in votes between round 1 and round 2 is startling. Abdullah Abdullah had a lead of almost 900,000 after the first round. This is after he finished second in the previous election. He seemed like a certainty for victory. Since I have started covering elections across the world, I can’t recall many recent elections where the top two have swapped places. It happened here though. Ahmadzai has a lead of over 1m now.

There are multiple possible reasons for this. It’s entirely possible that many of the supporters for other candidates in the first round would prefer to have Ahmadzai in power. Another explanation is the increased number of votes in the second round. People who were originally apathetic have decided to participate in a historic process. Of course, there’s also the possibility of fraud/corruption. I will cover that later on in this post.

The above graphic only uses valid votes for both of the runoff candidates in each round. You can see the distinct change in overall support. It is unusual.

Turnout

As I have mentioned in previous posts about these elections, it’s difficult to pin down an exact number for registered voters. It could be anything between 12m and 20m. The Afghan IEC does not help in the slightest. None of the news articles I have seen have quoted an official turnout figure. There isn’t one mentioned on this page either. For the purposes of this section, I am going to use one of the more conservative figures – 12m. It seems realistic.

Registered voters (estimate) 12,000,000
Valid turnout (%) 66.23
Overall turnout (%) 67.58

These figures are pretty good. I’ve certainly seen worse. It’s an indicator that people understand what is at stake here. There were fewer votes in the first round, which means turnout has increased, despite the reduction in candidates. Unfortunately, there is no indicator of whether there’s an increase in registered voters since last time, or whether they are allowed to vote if they missed the first round.

It will be interesting to see if the final results include a definitive figure that I can work with.

I tried calling the IEC, but the line was busy (unsurprisingly).

Disputes and ballot box stuffing

Even before these preliminary results were announced, there were disputes.

Abdullah has repeatedly criticised the IEC and called for it’s head to resign. It would explain why he hasn’t visited their Tally Center yet. He feels that the election has been “rigged” and that the non-valid votes have not been properly separated. Throughout the election, there has also been accusations of ‘ballot box stuffing’. It’s not something unusual in Afghanistan as videos circulated the internet showing this happening in the last election.

The following is a quote from Abdullah:

“I assure the people of Afghanistan that we will not accept the results of fraud,” he declared. “From today, we announce that only the government elected through clean votes will come to power.”

Many of his supporters have protested the preliminary result in the hope that a change will happen before it’s too late. They have also called for Abdullah to form his own ‘government’. This seems like a waste of time to me, as there is no guarantee he will get the job and a show of defiance should not influence the progress of the ballot checking. Nations such as the USA have also criticised the idea. Abdullah has not confirmed he will do such a thing either.

Finally…

As I have already said, the final results are due to be announced on July 22nd.

As these don’t mean we have a new Afghan President yet, I will not go over things like policies, possible key figures and more. However, I will do that in a post about the final results.

The political future of Afghanistan is still being decided. It does seem like Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai could be the new leader though.

All of my previous posts about the Afghanistan elections can be found here.

So, what do you think?

Islamic State – the happy fun group

You might have noticed the tiniest hint of sarcasm in the title.

They may not have deposed governments. They may not have been elected. They may not have even been recognised as some form of official opposition by other nations. However, the group now known as Islamic State have established the Caliphate they wanted and brought back a style of rule not seen in the region since the last days of the Ottoman Empire.

Islamic State were (until recently) known as ISIL – the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Others called them ISIS (the second ‘S’ meaning ‘Syria or ‘al-Sham’, depending on who you talk to). This is the latest in a series of name changes over the years that I went through in my first blog post about the recent events.

The leader (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) also has a name change. He is now known as ‘Khalifah Ibrahim’ (if any one knows why there is a need for him to change his name, please let me know).

In addition to the written document I look at in the next section, there was also an audio statement. According to Al Jazeera, the Caliphate stretches from Iraq’s Diyala province (just below Sulaymaniyah on the map below) to Aleppo in Syria.

Courtesy of OpenStreetMap

Some news sources have stated that the Islamic State is an Al-Qaeda offshoot, but that is not strictly true. They were not created as a result of Al-Qaeda expanding into this region. The two groups were once aligned after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi sent a letter pledging allegiance to the Al-Qaeda cause. Since his death, there have been many leadership changes and Al-Qaeda even disavowed themselves from what is now known as the Islamic State.

The statement

The above shows you the dominant words and themes from the statement. It’s quite interesting to compare it to the statement from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, where he aligned a predecessor to the Islamic State with Al-Qaeda. In that, there was fiery language, talk of battles and more talk about the enemy than the Sunnis. In the statement about the establishment of the Caliphate, Allah is (by far) the most dominant word and the whole thing seems more moderate. Notable words include ‘exalted’ ‘honor’ and ‘peace’.

It is worth taking a deeper look into the text though. Thanks to this article in the Long War Journal, I was able to find an English translation of the full text. I have uploaded the document to my web space and here is a link.

“And say to them, “We spilled rivers of our blood to water the seeds of the khilāfah, laid its foundation with our skulls, and built its tower over our corpses. We were patient for years in the face of being killed,
imprisoned, having our bones broken and our limbs severed. We drank all sorts of bitterness, dreaming of this day. Would we delay it for even a moment after having reached it?””

Well, it’s safe to say that it’s not all sweetness and light after all. In this part, the memory of Enoch Powell has been invoked with the “rivers of our blood” phrase. They take the position of the oppressed minority. Well, it’s true that they are smaller than the combined Iraqi and Syria populations. They are also the minority in the sense that there are fewer Sunnis in Iraq than Shi’as. However, surely they are the oppressors. They are forcing their will and a strict interpretation of Islam on other people. People who refuse to accept this ruling are considered sinners and will presumably be living in fear. In some ways it is admirable to fight for something bigger than you – something that you believe will benefit others. There are better ways of doing it though. Ways that don’t involve violence, terror and intimidation.

If the condition of obedience (in every way) is met:

“For by fulfilling this condition comes the ability to build, reform, remove oppression, spread justice, and bring about safety and tranquility. Only by meeting this condition, will there be the succession, which Allah informed the angels about.”

The exact words about obedience were “submitting to Allah’s command in everything big and small”. Anything you do wrong based on the interpretations of a militant minority will mean you are punished. You only get oppression removed when you submit to those who are the source of it. The thing is, oppression isn’t really removed as it is implied you have to stay this way forever.

Finally…

You can find all my posts about Islamic State and it’s previous incarnations by clicking this link.

The Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1924 and that saw the end of the last Caliphate. You could say that the goal of the Islamic State was to take the region they control back in time by 90 years. However, they feel that the word of Allah has weakened and morality has disappeared since that period.

The Islamic State continue to move on towards Baghdad, with the goal of incorporating the capital into the Caliphate. Iraqi troops protecting the likes of Tikrit (Saddam Hussein’s home town) have been pushed back and some assaults have failed. Critics across the world have portrayed Nouri al-Maliki (the Iraqi PM) as weak, but he refuses to stand down and give up. The government has also announced the recent purchase of Russian fighter jets to assist them in their goal to end the Islamic State threat (which could also be called domination at this stage).

It is certain that the war isn’t over, despite what the Islamic State claim. It is also certain that pressure on al-Maliki will continue. However, what is not certain is when the oppression, violence and killing of people such as fellow Iraqis will end.

So, what do you think?