Author Archives: Guest

Protest Movement Electrifies Armenian Civil Society

(Photo: BBC)

(Photo: BBC)

By Ann Mette Sander Nielsen

The Electric Yerevan protests began on June 19, when protesters gathered on the street to express their discontent with the local power company, the Electric Networks of Armenia (ENA) and its planned 14 percent increase in electricity tariffs from August, the third price raise within the past two years, which would result in a more than 60 percent overall increase in electricity tariffs.

Public discontent was further aggravated by a report revealing evidence of gross corruption and mismanagement at the utility. The report exposed the extravagant lifestyle of the ENA management and revealed that the ENA has accumulated debt by overpaying suppliers and contractors.

On June 23, four days after the start of the protests, roughly 2,000 protesters gathered on Baghramyan Avenue to express their grievances with the ENA management. They were blocked by police forces, and in response the protesters sat down and spent the night there. They were forcibly dispersed by police water cannons and around 250 people were detained.

Images, video clips and anecdotes about excessive police force circulated on social media under the hashtag #ElectricYerevan. The next day, around 4,000 protesters showed up on Baghranyan Avenue, and a few days later, the number of protesters peaked at 20,000.

The organizers of the protests developed guidelines for the protests, including a no alcohol policy, mutual respect, and tidiness, and organized a general assembly consisting of civic initiatives and working groups open to the public with the aim of discussing issues related to the protests. In Armenia, like many other countries, social media has become the main tool for producing a counter narrative to the state-owned media outlets and has allowed the distribution of ideas and the coordination of action and attention of participants.

After two weeks of protests, the police showed restraint while clearing Baghranyan Avenue on July 6. Perhaps the Armenian authorities had understood that police violence would only attract additional protesters, as it did on June 23. The effect of social media and the loose and horizontal structure of the Electric Yerevan protests made it difficult for the Armenian authorities to dismantle.

A reason for the loose and informal structure of the protests can be found in the non-democratic context under which protesters are forced to operate in Armenia. People are afraid to lose their jobs if they participate in more organized movements. In Armenia here is a general mistrust of NGOs and social movement organizations, which are traditionally more structured and technocratic. Civic initiatives like Electric Yerevan are more consensus-based and horizontal in their decision-making process and therefore seek to distance themselves from the NGOs, relying instead on street protests, occupations, or more creative forms of protests.

In fact, over the past few years, protests by civic initiatives have been frequent. Although civic initiatives in Armenia usually address very specific issues, they symbolize the display of informed grievances concerning corruption, government mismanagement, and the absence of rule of law and democracy. The size of the Electric Yerevan protests made it different from the previous protests. Perhaps Electric Yerevan has given renewed power to Armenian civil society to make demands from its government.

Ann Mette Sander Nielsen is a Eurasia intern at CIPE.

Good Governance in Pakistan is Crucial for Greater Trade

Despite new export opportunities, Pakistan's textile factories are shutting down due to energy shortages. (Photo: Dawn)

Despite new export opportunities, Pakistan’s textile factories are shutting down due to energy shortages. (Photo: Dawn)

Huma Sattar was a CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellow at the Heritage Foundation

Successive governments in Pakistan have shown profound interest in increasing trade with the rest of the world by pursuing various trade and investment agreements. From a significant Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China signed in 2006 which will soon enter its second phase, to a trade and transit agreement with Afghanistan, as well as several free or preferential trade agreements with Malaysia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, Pakistan is also negotiating possibilities of trade agreements and cooperation with Turkey, Thailand, and the ASEAN region. The country is also part of the regional trade agreement South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) together with India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, and other South Asian countries. Though the agreement is not yet fully operational, it is a source of much discourse and tremendous unrealized potential for all countries involved.

Pakistan’s trade has increased overall, going from $24 billion in 2003 to $72 billion in 2014, and opening Pakistan’s markets may be a positive indicator of some improvements in Pakistan’s economy.  From importing primarily oil and fuel products, Pakistan is now also importing machinery, electrical and electronic equipment, and industrial inputs. The industrial sector, particularly large scale manufacturing, witnessed a growth of about five percent in fiscal year 2014.

Read More…

Could Community-Based Weather Forecasting Help Defuse Conflict?

Tuggeranong_(Isabella_Plains)_Automatic_Weather_Station

Weather stations like this one in Australia provide information that is vital to agrarian economies. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

By Gracie Cook

While religious, sectarian, and geopolitical divisions in the world’s hotspots often make headlines, an even more basic driver of conflict is often overlooked: the weather.

In agrarian or water-scarce societies, changes in weather patterns lay the groundwork for resource conflicts between ethnic and religious groups, while severe weather events like drought can exacerbate existing social, economic, and political tensions, often boiling over into violence. While poor governance in conflict-afflicted societies too often turns bad weather into catastrophe, a greater role for the private sector in dealing with weather-related problems might just help prevent future outbreaks of violence.

Read More…

The Future of a Nation: A One Minute Look at Lebanon

"Corniche beirut" by Varun Shiv Kapur from Berkeley, United States - Corniche. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Corniche beirut” by Varun Shiv Kapur from Berkeley, United States – Corniche. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

By Elie Obeid

Lebanon, it’s that country in the Middle East that you sometimes miss while going through a map. Despite its small size, Lebanon enjoyed quite a reputation in the 1960s and early 1970s as being the Switzerland of the Middle East, and Beirut, its capital, was known as the Paris of the Middle East due to the number of tourists it attracted and its role as a financial and trade hub for the region.

In recent years, however, Lebanon has been suffering from various social, political, economic problems. To discuss all these issues and possible solutions for them would require volumes so we’ll stick to economics this time with a little twist of politics. But before getting into that, how about we take a look at the numbers first.

Read More…

Carrying Crude Oil to Newcastle: The Resource Curse Strikes Again in Nigeria

Source: Newswire NGR

Source: Newswire NGR

By Otito Greg-Obi

On May 20th, 2015 the lights went out in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer. Nigeria suffers from a phenomenon known as the curse of oil which is a subset of a larger issue known as the resource curse. The idea behind the curse of oil is that countries with large oil reserves cannot seem to manage revenues in a way that benefits the majority of the population economically and socially. Some of the symptoms of the curse of oil include lack of economic diversification, revenue volatility, inability to provide public goods and services, corruption, government inefficiency and the Dutch Disease.

As soon as the massive fuel shortage in Nigeria struck, numerous businesses and banks shut down. Power outages also affected common households because neighborhoods are typically powered by individually owned generators due to inconsistent provision of public utilities. As soon as licensed gas stations closed down, black market vendors looking to make a quick Naira (Nigeria’s currency) began selling low quality oil at exorbitant prices. The shortage exemplifies the curse of oil by revealing an inability to provide a crucial public good. Furthermore, the shortage unveils the existence of corruption in black market practices.

Oil importers shut down operations claiming that the government owed them $2 billion. Nigeria’s Minister of Finance Okonjo-Iweala countered that importers misrepresented the debt in an attempt to recover lost revenue from the recent decrease in value of the Naira due to global declining oil prices. The global decrease of oil prices is a perfect example of the volatility that comes with the curse of oil and how it can complicate economic transactions between the governments and oil corporations.

Fortunately, oil suppliers and distributors eventually met with the government for negotiations that put an end to the crisis. The specifics of the negotiations have not been revealed but it appears that the crisis has been averted for now. But as global oil prices continue to decline, economic shocks are imminent. What will the government do to thwart the curse of oil?

Read More…

Enhancing Youth’s Political Participation in Pakistan

pakistani-youth-reclaim-national-anthem-world-record-1508x70

By Fayyaz Bhidal, Research Manager at Sustainable Development Policy Institute

Internationally, the average age of eligibility for election to national parliament starts at 25 years old. According to a UNDP 2012 Global Parliamentary Report, approximately 1.65 percent of parliamentarians globally are in their 20s, while 11.87 percent are in their 30s. However, the global average age of parliamentarians is 53 years old.

In Pakistan, youth represent 60 percent of the total population, but their voice is largely unrepresented in the political system. The youth population is not only a dynamic source of innovation and creativity, but has contributed to and even catalyzed important changes in political systems, power-sharing dynamics, and economic opportunities since Pakistan was created. One leading force for these changes is the Youth Parliament of Pakistan which was created in 2007 to engage youth in dialogue on important issues affecting Pakistan. Within local government, youth are also taking an active role in achieving implementation of work. In the recently held local government polls of Khyber Pakhtunkwa Province of Pakistan, 3,339 seats were devoted for the youth.

Read More…

A Trinity of Trade: Africa soon to Launch TFTA

Map of TFTA

By Otito Greg-Obi

Recently, African heads of state gathered together in Egypt to sign the Tripartite Free Trade Area agreement (TFTA) which will join the forces of the East African Community (EAC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Free trade is crucial to global economies because it reduces tariff barriers which in turn results in trade creation. The benefits of trade for developing nations in general are numerous. To name a few: first and foremost, trade allows for specialization meaning countries can build a comparative advantage by focusing on producing goods with low opportunity costs. Secondly, trade encourages healthy competition which incentivizes businesses to increase efficiency and cut costs. Lastly, trade can reduce dependence on existing markets and stabilize countries affected by seasonal changes in markets.

The TFTA agreement has been long awaited – negotiations began in 2005 and were expected to conclude in December 2013. Major components of the trade agreement include the promotion of socioeconomic development and the free movement of goods and services. A customs union is also in the works to be implemented at a future date. But, the TFTA addresses more than just trade, it promotes the upward mobility of business people and advances the cause of social justice.

Although the creation of the TFTA is an exciting development in the world of business, there are still hurdles to overcome during its implementation. Economic integration can be a slow, demanding process, especially since many African countries in this new trading bloc are at varying stages in economic development and trade activity. Furthermore, transportation costs pose a major impediment to the integration of TFTA. Connecting these 26 countries will be a difficult task because the land is vast and requires large infrastructure projects. It will be difficult to ensure that domestic African businesses reap substantial benefits from the new trade area. And lastly, some countries such as Swaziland, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia are concerned about the loss of revenue that will come from customs unions.

The promotion of the free market is a major stimulant for economic development. However, in order for the free market to run smoothly, it is important for African countries to continue working on other important issue areas such as corporate governance, transparency, and public-private dialogue. CIPE has engaged with TFTA countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya on these issues. These issues must remain at the forefront so that the new TFTA can operate effectively and remain beneficial to all parties involved.

Challenges aside, there is still plenty for businesses and governments in the new African free trade area to look forward to. This trade powerhouse totals $1 trillion in GDP. This is big news for African businesses because it will enhance enterprise ecosystems in the region immensely. With the implementation of this new agreement, trade is expected to increase from 12 percent to 30 percent, meaning economic activity will reach more than 600 million people. This could be a major step towards a Continental Free Trade Area, which the African Union aims to complete by 2017.

Otito Greg-Obi is a CIPE intern for Knowledge Management. She is a rising junior at University of Pennsylvania.