Monthly Archives: July 2013

Clashes and Displacement in South Sudan

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The remote, eastern state of the most recently acknowledged nation, South Sudan, is experiencing growing “ethnic and tribal clashes.” What does this mean? Unfortunately it seems as if the violence goes beyond the feuding tribes of the Lou Nuer and the Murle. In fact, there have been several reports of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army’s troops attacking civilians, (the same guerrilla army that claimed initial independence for South Sudan).

It seems that the root cause of the deteriorating situation in Jonglei is that there is “tribal tension, a lot of history of bad blood, and a rebellion on top of it.” As of now “more than 100,000 people have been displaced,” and are being labeled internally displaced persons for the time being, as opposed to refugees who have crossed an international border. “Officials describe a desperate situation in which tens of thousands of people are hiding in swamps, without food, water or medicine — fearful of returning to their villages because of attacks by rival tribes or even soldiers who are supposed to be protecting them.”

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The great problem that the United States and other Western nations are having is that they have “poured billions of dollars into South Sudan” into an attempt to turn the oil-rich land into a more stable and amicable nation, but now the government, army, and stability that they invested in are crumbling. Therefore the U.S. and other supportive nations are in a predicament, forced to decide whether or not to publicly criticize a system that they assisted in creating. The current violence in Jonglei “threatens to destabilize the country and tatter the credibility of its fledgling, American-backed government.” The United States up unto this point “has strongly supported the South Sudan government, led by Salva Kiir, a leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.” But is appears that President Kiir just last week dismissed his vice president and his entire cabinet, who “threatened to challenge him for his party’s leadership before elections in 2015.” He has taken a position that foreign officials fear most; he is becoming power-hungry and rogue.

So when the United States “National Security Council, the most buttoned-up part of a buttoned-up Obama administration, is aggressively trying to get the word out about a violent, murky conflict in a distant land, it’s worth listening to.” There is serious violence and displacement taking place in the world’s newest nation, indicating real problems for the development of the Western world endorsed country.

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World Population Shifts, 1950 to 2050

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The World Bank Dataviz blog (through the Economist) has produced yet another prediction graphic that has immediately become one of my favorites-

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At the top is a percentage change forecast of population from present day up until 2050 by world region. Africa’s population change is spiking with its high fertility rates and decreasing child mortality rates, surpassing Asia with the population giants of India and China in rate of change. Europe, by this time, is expected to see negative population growth, as some northern European nations are already experiencing.

“The world in 1950 looked very different from how it does now. Europe was home to 22% of the world’s 2.5 billion people. Germany, Britain, Italy and France all counted among the 12 most populous countries. But strong economic growth in Asia coupled with high fertility rates in Africa have contributed to a big regional shift in the global population.”

Below the rate of change graph is a remarkable chart of the most populous nation within the 50 year intervals, color-coded by region. As would be assumed with the knowledge of the above graph, the blue of European nations quickly disappears as it is replaced by the yellow of Asia in the current year. Then the yellow is subsequently replaced by more of the red of Africa by 2050.

The world is changing. Rapidly. And it is important for people to understand where the trends of population are heading, for these trends predict where substantial development and social change is to take place. It would be best for the world to be a step ahead with these developments, as opposed to needing to shamefully catch up.

The Underrepresentation of a Continent

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Today a colleague was discussing their success in starting a program aimed at teaching young students about the importance and relevance of science, designed to inspire them to pursue scientific careers. His argument was that there was a contemporary gap between citizens and science, and that it’s a shame people aren’t more interconnected to such an integral part of the world today. His words got me thinking- I have experienced the same frustration, but with a different focus. I think that a thorough grasp of geography, including not only knowledge of maps but also how humans and the natural world interact with an area, is vitally important. And time and time again it seems that Americans struggle with the geography of one area in particular: Sub Saharan Africa.

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The website Sporcle is known for its addictive quizzes, some of which are focused on geography. Usually, users must name all countries of a continent on a map.  But a new version was just created for Africa, where you can correctly guess with just THREE letters of a COUNTRY name. Underneath the quiz heading was the playful retort – “This might the best we’ll ever do on an African country quiz.”

Why is it that Americans know so little about African geography, history, and culture? Why is it that even some of the most educated students still envision grass huts and tribal warfare when they think of African civilization? Why can’t we name countries, instead of resorting to a three letter abbreviation? In other words, what makes Africa the underrepresented continent in our classrooms? President Obama made his second trip as President to Sub-Saharan Africa last month, setting a long awaited bar of at least legitimate acknowledgement of the region. Let’s hope that this will be the start of a greater trend, and that in his second term the administration may actively pay more attention. More importantly though, let’s hope that Sub-Saharan geography and development become more prevalent in the education system.

My colleague’s work got me thinking – would it be possible to use his program as a template for a program addressing this issue?

If you’re not interested in geography and the complexity of the issues, you have no business being a change maker“- Ishmael Beah of Sierra Leone, made famous by his recounts of being a child soldier.