The CSS Blog Network

Going for Gold in Malaysia

Can glitzy modernity be reconciled with the country’s Islamic legacy? Photo courtesy of Maher Alone/flickr

In a rather widely reported move, PAS, the conservative Islamic opposition party that rules several states in northern Malaysia, recently launched a publicly distributed ‘Islamic currency’ in Kelantan state. The gold and silver coins, worth $180 and $4 respectively, will be used in transactions by 1,000 outlets in the state and will become, so the eager authorities say, an optional means of payment for civil servant salaries and a currency for the payment of Islamic alms, or Zakat. The state government also announced that gold bars would be issued for bigger investments and that coins worth $630,000 had sold out on the first days of trading.

The CEO of Kelantan Golden Trade, the state company in charge of implementing the currency reform stated that: “The arrival of these coins mark the end of 100-year old Darurah [extreme necessity for a Muslim] of tolerating the injustice of paper money, from now on Darurah is over, at least for people in Kelantan.”

Never mind the practicalities of hauling around heavy pieces of gold and silver (a commentary in Malaysia’s most popular daily, The Star, suggested, rather facetiously, that people should start carrying around bags or pouches for the coins), the political implications, particularly the deafening silence on the part of the Malaysian federal government and the central bank, are striking. » More

Last Night a DJ Stole My Life…

Only one of Madagascar's many plagues, courtesy of William Warby/ flickr

Almost a year and a half after protests led to a coup removing elected president Marc Ravalomanana from power, the island state of Madagascar remains in political deadlock. The current rule of Andry Rajoelina, a young man born into a well-off family who rose to prominence as a disc jockey, remains paralyzed and isolated. Formal development is reeling, with hundreds of millions of much-needed aid dollars frozen by donors.

As a consequence of the illegitimate removal of an acting head of state, governments around the world declared Madagascar a pariah state. The Obama administration suspended Madagascar from the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act in December 2009, which resulted in the suspension of the country’s trade benefits. The African Union, the EU and the South African Development Committee all followed suit, quickly forcing punitive sanctions upon the country, thereby devastating the country’s already feeble industrial sector. With hundreds of thousands of jobs lost, a humanitarian crisis now seems an imminent threat. » More

Almost Perfect Yasuni Deal

Promotion video of Ecuador’s Yasuni Ishpingo Tambococha Tiputini (ITT) initiative

In May, Jonas Rey reported about a plan by the government of Ecuador to forgo the extraction of oil in its Yasuni region in exchange for money. The goal is to prevent the emission of 407 million metric tons of CO2 and at the same time protect a piece of tropical rainforest, which is considered to be the most biologically diverse place on earth.

The plan developed by the economist Alberto Acosta was first met with skepticism by Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, who thought it inappropriate for his former energy minister to come up with such an idea. Finally endorsed by the president, it began to materialize when on the 4 August Ecuador agreed with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to establish a trust fund, which would manage financial contributions by donors.

The UNDP has experience in managing such funds through its Multi Donor Trust Fund Office, which already administers more than 30 funds covering 74 countries. The balance sheet of the Ecuador Yasuni ITT Trust Fund is still at zero, but according to Swiss Radio DRS, Germany, France and Spain are considering payment to the fund, of which Ecuador will only receive the interest. The capital is kept as security, in case Ecuador changes its mind and drills oil in the region after all.

What looks like an innovative and promising scheme to link climate policy, environmental protection and sustainable development, also has its disadvantages. The initiative is intended, according to its proponents, to protect two tribes of the Huaorani indigenous people, which renounce any contact with modern civilization. According to a local expert, who talked to Swiss Radio DRS, however, the tribes do not live in the area protected by the scheme but in an area designated by the Ecuadorian government for crude oil extraction. The protected area supposedly consists of swamps not inhabitable by people.

For potential donors far away it’s difficult to judge what the effects of this initiative will ultimately be. However, as the broadcast points out, the protection of the environment should not come at the expense of human beings and vice versa. People and their environment need to be considered together. I encourage countries, companies and individuals to contribute money to the fund. Yet, it’s not too late to change the plan to better respect the indigenous people.

Find an evaluation of the Ecuadorian proposal in our Digital Library.

Coming Out or Staying In? Depends Where You’re Going.

Stonewall placard, courtesy of Helen Rickard/flickr

Last week, Germany’s Guido Westerwelle, Europe’s first openly gay foreign minister, said he would not take his partner along on official trips to countries where homosexuality is a prosecutable crime. Westerwelle, who is also Germany’s vice-chancellor, told the magazine Bunte that it is important that he and his partner “live according to our own measures of tolerance and that we do not adopt the sometimes less tolerant measures of others.” At the same time, he and his partner wish to “promote the concept of tolerance in the world … but do not want to achieve the opposite by behaving imprudently.” This strategy of problem avoidance became apparent when Mr Westerwelle made official visits to Yemen and Saudi Arabia and left his partner back in Berlin.

It is understandable that Mr Westerwelle does not wish to be reduced to his sexuality. As the German foreign minister, he cannot allow his sexuality to stand in the way of healthy foreign relations for his country.  However, traveling without his partner, and thus shunning the subject altogether, will not make him any more nor less gay. Nor will it change the way his host countries will perceive – or treat – him. So while the German Republic places the promotion of human rights at the core of its foreign policy, the foreign minister himself is exhibiting a strange tolerance towards the intolerant of this world. » More

Afghanistan in the Balance

Afghanistan in a precarious balance between great powers, photo: imagemonkey/flickr

Afghanistan has long been precariously positioned within the international balance of power, where it has served as both playground and graveyard of rival nation-states. This week the ISN takes a closer look at Afghanistan’s continued importance in relation to great power politics, in addition to its more closely documented localized conflicts.

This ISN Special Report contains the following content:

  • An Analysis by Professor John Brobst, on the importance of Afghanistan in relation to great power politics.
  • A Podcast interview with Professor Anatol Lieven of King’s College London explores the fundamental difficulties that the international community faces in trying to forge a peace or build a nation in a country with a fraught history, deep divisions and a disdain for outside interference.
  • Security Watch articles about the Wikileaks and McCrystal scandals, the donor gap and much more.
  • Publications housed in our Digital Library, including the Institute of South Asian Studies’ papers on President Zardari in China and the Afghan peace jirga.
  • Primary Resources, like the full-text of President Obama’s June 23rd statement on the General McCrystal firing.
  • Links to relevant websites, such as the ‘Afghanistan Conflict Monitor’ blog, an initiative of the Human Security Report at the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University.
  • Our IR Directory, featuring the Afghanistan Women Council, designed to assist and empower Afghan women and children.
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