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Monday, July 21, 2014

Українець, частина 2: Життя після ЄвроМайдану (The Ukrainian, Part 2: Life After EuroMaidan)

In February, I interviewed Andriy, a student at Ivan Franko University in Lviv, a city in Western Ukraine, about the EuroMaidan Uprising. Shortly after it was published, President Viktor Yanukovych left office and was replaced by interim President Oleksandr Turchynov. EuroMaidan had become a revolution, Ukraine's second in ten years.

That interview can be read here.

Five months later, Ukraine is still in turmoil. Only a week after Yanukovych left office, Russian troops surrounded and took control of Crimea, an autonomous peninsula in southeastern Ukraine. The Kremlin gained de facto control of the peninsula in the biggest land grab in Europe since World War II.

The European Union and United States promptly passed sanctions against top Kremlin officials and oligarchs, but that didn't stop President Vladimir Putin of Russia from going forward with a referendum on Crimea's status. Russian nationalism and pride swelled as did Putin's approval rating. Ukrainians were furious.

A pro-Ukrainian protestor holds the flag of the Crimean Tatars at a demonstration in front of the White House. Tatars in Crimea were vehemently resistant to joining Russia. Photo by Kyle Menyhert. 

Crimeans went to the polls on March 16th, 2014, and voted overwhelmingly to join the Russian Federation, in a vote that few outside Russia recognized. The peninsula is still claimed by Ukraine. It remains recognized as part of Ukraine by the United States and European Union, but Russia controls it.

To make matters worse for Ukraine, pro-Russian separatists declared independence in two Ukrainian oblasti (provinces) in the eastern Donets basin and their central cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. The rebels renamed the oblasti the "Donetsk People's Republic" and "Luhansk (also spelled Lugansk) People's Republic", in hopes that they would gain independence from Ukraine and eventually be absorbed by Russia.

Pro-Russian demonstrators hold the flag of the "Donetsk People's Republic". 
Photo by Irina Gorbaseva, RIA Novosti. 

Ukrainian forces managed to cling to power in the eastern, Russian-speaking cities of Dnipropetrovsk and Kharkiv. After months of fighting, the Army, now under the command of recently-elected President Petro Poroshenko, advanced into the Donets basin (often called the "Donbass"), a densely populated region in southeastern Ukraine.

A few days ago, Ukrainian forces retook the rebel stronghold of Slovyansk, a city north of Donetsk, and have advanced towards Donetsk and Luhansk. President Petro Poroshenko met with inhabitants of Slovyansk as Ukrainian soldiers handed out food to residents.

Ukrainian forces are having trouble re-establishing order in Slovyansk, but they are advancing.

To shed light on the current happenings in Ukraine, Andriy has once again agreed to an interview. 

Independence Square in Kyiv, during EuroMaidan demonstrations.
Photo Credit goes to's 360-degree tour series.

How did you find out President Yanukovych was ousted from power? How did you and your friends react? Were people celebrating in Lviv? 

"We had been going to Maidan protests and rallies here in Lviv for many months. There were dozens on Lviv's Maidan in the days leading up to the revolution, staying there day and night. Of course, we're students, so we were on Maidan, but only every once in a while. It was exciting. When events in Kyiv (Kiev) escalated, we all held our breath for Yanukovych to leave. I suspected that he might leave after he became elusive."

President Viktor Yanukovych left office on the 22nd of February, 2014. Pro-western members of Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) belted out their national anthem in the chamber. The anthem's words are especially relevant to Maidan, as the hymn proclaims that

Душу й тіло ми положим за нашу свободу,
І покажем, що ми, браття, козацького роду!

"Souls and bodies we'll lay down for our freedom, 
And we'll show that we, brothers, are of the Cossack nation!"  

"I remember the exact moment, actually. I was talking with a friend in Kyiv. He asked if I had seen the news."

"We're holding our breath here in Lviv." Andriy replied.

"No, Yanukovych has left Kyiv."

"It was so casual, and yet, so powerful. We were so excited. Progress and change were finally coming to Ukraine. All the bars in Lviv were full and on every street, people were sharing food and liquor, singing, hugging. It was like we won the World Cup!"

The joy soon turned to rage.  

"Did you expect Putin’s annexation of Crimea? How did people react to that? Likewise, did you expect violence to break out in the Donbass?" I asked. 

"I do not know for certain how to answer this question. I was certain that Putin would attempt something but I was not aware that he could succeed. You've seen how people reacted to this...anger and violence. Our country was being torn apart. Russia pulls Ukraine to one side while Ukraine herself is trying to pull herself back together."

"And what of the reaction from the United States and European Union? What should and shouldn't they do?" I proceeded to ask. 

"What else can they do? Not much, I think." he replied. "It is understandable that they do not want to be involved in a war. It is a complicated conflict, unfortunately nobody wants to be involved. It is a matter of standing by and watching and waiting. Of course, showing support, spreading our message and broadcasting the truth rather than propaganda put forward by Putin and his government is important. Many people do not know any better, they must be taught the truth."

And what about you? How has life in L'viv changed since President Yanukovych was ousted?

I could sense pride and hope emanating from the answer.

"There is great hope here in Lviv. We are the European center of Ukraine, and I think we hold the heart of Ukraine. The spirit of EuroMaidan flourishes here, and we're excited for our brothers and sisters in the east to join us. As long as Lviv is standing, as long as Lviv is home to Ukrainian patriots like our president, we will endure. If Lviv falls, Ukraine has been lost.

In May, Ukrainians headed to the polls to elect a president. To learn more about the candidates that ran in Ukraine's 2014 Presidential Election, read my previous entry, A Guide to Ukraine's Presidential Election

"The days leading up to the elections were a time of great agitation", Andriy said. "This was the first time I voted in a presidential election. It was exciting, but scary. EuroMaidan would have been all for nothing had someone like Yanukovych won. Imagine how tense it was for us all!"

"Two paths of the future were in front of us, one of hopelessness and one of hopefulness. Thank God that we found the path of hopefulness," he continued.

The results weren't even close. Petro Poroshenko won easily with 54% of the vote. Yulia Tymoshenko came in a very distant second, securing a little less than 13%.

"Why was Petro Poroshenko so popular all over Ukraine?" 

"Poroshenko is popular for many reasons here. Western media hasn't stressed this much, perhaps they don't know it, but we consider Poroshenko to be one of us. Yes, he's a very wealthy businessman, but he has supported Ukrainians' desire for political progress for a long time. He knows Russia won't be going away, and he is a sensible man. He's pro-Ukrainian, but not unreasonably so. People like Poroshenko's pragmatism. And he's new to the height of Maidan, we'd have elected anyone over Yanukovych."

Andriy expressed pride in his country, but was able to admit its faults as well. And there are many of those in Ukraine. 

"People think up all kinds of reasons for Ukraine's problems. Some say it's Russia's fault, some blame the west, some still blame the USSR. Maybe the fact that there is no consensus in this country is the real problem.  There are over 200 registered political parties in Ukraine, with 5 or 6 main parties running in each major election. A former boxer runs a party in this country! There are a lot of people with clashing views fighting for different causes. I do not think that modern Ukraine has really had one leader that united us all. Maidan, to me, is what the Orange Revolution hoped to accomplish, and in a way it's a continuation of the Orange Revolution. Divisions are still present here. Young people want to be more Western while older people want to stay where it is comfortable in the shadow of Russia."

"Yulia Tymoshenko didn’t poll very well in the 2014 elections, only winning about 13% of the vote. Why not?" 

"Tymoshenko's old news. She was big in Ukrainian politics in the years immediately after the Orange Revolution until her imprisonment (roughly 2004-2011). Back then, she was a beacon of hope and the symbol of an unbroken Ukraine. Now, she has overstepped her bounds and it did not surprise me that she didn't poll well."

"I think many people just wanted new people in power. Maidan is about a new Ukraine with a new face. Poroshenko has been out in the world, he's a businessman, he knows how to deal with the West as well as Russia. Tymoshenko did a lot for Ukraine but her ego became absurdly large."

Andriy also expressed skepticism about Tymoshenko's speech at Maidan shortly after her release from prison.

"At her release from prison, she stepped onto Maidan as it was on the downslope and expected people to welcome her with open arms. Who is she? Мати Україна? (Mother Ukraine?) We rolled our eyes at her bravado."

I then turned the conversation to the recent insurgency in Eastern Ukraine. 

Do you know anyone who is currently living in the “People’s Republic of Donetsk” or the “People’s Republic of Luhansk”? What do they think of the rebels? 

I have a friend from secondary school living in Donetsk, but no one from Luhansk. I have not spoken to him about the situation recently but before he has said that he is a supporter of a Donetsk as an oblast of Ukraine. Unfortunately, I do not know anyone who lives in the Donbass. For the most part, people stay in their oblasti. If we do move, we hardly go east, especially if you are from western Ukraine.

Donetsk and Luhansk are under rebel control, but large eastern, Russian-speaking cities like Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk stayed under Kyiv’s control. Why?  

"Kharkiv is an industrial center for Ukraine, and Dnipropetrovsk is a political center. Those two cities were much more strategically important than Donetsk and Luhansk, and it was essential for them to stay in Kyiv's hands. Donetsk and Luhansk are significant parts of Ukraine, but I think Kyiv put more effort into keeping Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk Ukrainian."

Do people you know expect the Donbass return to return to Kyiv’s control? 

"Yes, I think so, for the most part. But this is relative. Even if Putin is pushed and returns Donbass to Ukrainian hands, there will still always be pro-Russian separatists living there. Russia will always have a foot there.

How did people react when the news came out that Slovyansk and Kramatorsk (two smaller cities in Eastern Ukraine near Donetsk previously under rebel control) were retaken by the Ukrainian Army? 

It was a big victory for us, a victory of great symbolism because it showed the world and ourselves that we are still a united country. We are currently being occupied by hostile outsiders but we are still Ukrainians. The words of our national anthem are truer than ever.
"Ще не вмерла України, ні слава, ні воля!" 

"Ukraine has not yet perished, nor her glory, nor her freedom!"

And President Poroshenko? What do you think of him?  Will he eventually advance to Crimea? 

Poroshenko is a smart man. He knows when to test Putin, and when to back up from confrontation. 

I think that he will advance to Crimea. Crimea is a strategic location, Ukraine needs Crimea for access to the Black Sea. Much of Ukraine's industry in the south rests on access to the Black Sea. And if Crimea was the first step in Russia's systematic overtaking of Ukraine, then it makes sense for Poroshenko to start to move in through there and take our country back completely.

Do you have confidence that Poroshenko will address and begin to fix Ukraine's other problems?

I think that Poroshenko, as an international business man, will help to solve our country's problems because he has a very Western-style mind. He has a good relationship with the West. He understands how your country, the USA, and how the countries of Western Europe do business and operate as nations. Maidan has solidified the voice of the people in government, and that is the biggest part of American democracy, is it not? Ukraine has democracy, and now we are starting to adopt the American model. As for our economy, Poroshenko's business background will be a great tool to fix the problems that plague the Ukrainian economy. He knows how to innovate and grow.

Both Andriy and I express our heartfelt condolences, thoughts, and prayers to the 298 victims of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 tragedy. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, but it was shot down in the Donbass, killing all 298 aboard. We hope the perpetrators of this atrocity face justice, and may God give rest to those who died. 

Вічна пам'ять.
Вечная память.
Eternal Memory. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Botswana: An African Success Story

This is an article I wrote for the Student Center for African Research and Resolutions, a student think tank in Washington, D.C. Check them out at for more student-produced news regarding African affairs. This article can also be accessed in SCARR's blog section.

This article was originally published on July 11, 2014. 

To the north of South Africa lies the Republic of Botswana, a country similar in size to the state ofTexas. It’s a dry, flat, and hot country (its national motto is “Rain”), but it’s a model for the rest of this vast continent.  Botswana gained its independence from Great Britain in 1966, when it was known as Bechuanaland. Botswana, unlike many other African countries, is not often in the news for bloodshed, dictatorship, and conflict. It’s not without problems, but it’s a democratic country with a vigorous and free press, strong anti-corruption measures, and despite a staggering number of people with AIDS, the CIA World Factbook claims Botswana also has “one of Africa's most progressive and comprehensive programs for dealing with the disease.” 
Modern office buildings shoot into the sky in the capital of Gaborone, which resembles a modern American city from a distance. The literacy rate stands at 85 percent for both men and women, not far behind South Africa’s figure of 93 percent, and enormous diamond deposits bolster the economy. Botswana’s republic has stood the test of time. It’s been a democratic and free country since it became independent in 1966, and in two years, Botswanans will celebrate the 50th anniversary of their republic’s independence.

Of course, like any other country, Botswana is not without its own issues. Access to water, while available, presents a challenge for the future. Poverty and disease, particularly AIDS, plague the country. Life expectancy is in the 50s, and human development is low, only 0.634. Many Botswanans are poor, and while the economy is stable, Botswana will have to diversify away from mining diamonds to keep that stability in the future. Like in South Africa, sexual violence is high inBotswana, and enforcement rates of laws against such heinous activity is low.

But the country is in good standing to face its problems head-on. As mentioned, the government’s AIDS policy is considered progressive, effective, and comprehensive. The country does not have the corruption problems or racial tensions that still plague South Africa. Some tribal tensions exist, but nothing nearly as violent and bloody as the widespread massacres in countries like Rwanda. It could be helpful for the country’s Botswana Democratic Party, the political party that’s dominated Motswana politics since independence, to break into multiple parties to diversify political interests further.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Learning to Love the Beautiful Game in America: A Personal Story

For 20 of the 21 years that I've lived, I've called the United States of America my home. And for many of those years, I've showed an interest in sport.

I fell in love with baseball around the age of seven. I embraced football around 13-14, and hockey followed about two years later. Two years ago, I caught the college basketball bug. 

For many Americans, soccer is an afterthought. I was one of those people for a long time. Like many things, I became interested in it because of my heritage. I was born in Moscow, and soccer is Russia's summer sport.
In 2008, at the age of fifteen, I noticed Russia was in the European Cup.

"Huh, that's interesting", I thought. "I should keep track of how they're doing."

My knowledge of soccer was barely existent. I didn't know what UEFA stood for, and I didn't care. I didn't know how good Russia was, or who their star players were, or who their coach was, any of it.

What I did know, however, was that the Motherland was fighting for glory and I figured I should at least pay attention. So I plopped down on the couch and turned on the day's match. I don't remember who was playing, or who won, but it was a start.

My initial reaction was pretty negative, admittedly. This is a slow game. This field is obnoxiously big. Is anyone going to score a goal?  Why is the clock going forward instead of backward? Why are they arbitrarily adding more time, this doesn't make sense? Oh come on, you're fine, get up already! 

So I turned my attention to the crowd, and this puzzled me. The fans in the packed stadium were not just focused, they were chanting. Singing, even, and not just a few bars a la "Seven Nation Army", either. Full songs, with verses and choruses and bridges. Every fan that got a closeup shot was either deadly focused or cheering happily...even if their country was down.

Wow, these guys are happy to be there. They really put their all into this, don't they? I admired that, even if it still confused me.  

That year, Russia was coached by Guus Hiddink, a Dutchman who I would later learn, encouraged a fiery offensive playing style that would be integral to Russia's performance. I didn't know how much to expect from the Russian squad, but I knew I didn't usually hear Russia grouped with names like France, Germany, or the Netherlands. 

They won game after game, however, and made it all the way to the semifinals. I forget why and when I had to switch off the television when the Russia-Spain semifinal game was on, but I do remember there being no score when I did.

I was disappointed when I was able to return to the TV. The game was over, and Russia had lost...badly. The final result was 3-0.

"Ah well. It was fun while it lasted. Back to regularly scheduled programming-the Sox are probably playing tonight."

But it fascinated me to see how the fans would belt out their national anthem as it played...I'd never seen that before, and it sent patriotic shivers up and down my spine even when the anthem was a country's I had no connection to.

I still didn't find soccer as interesting as baseball, American football, or hockey. I didn't feel a bond to the colorful history and chess-match thinking associated with baseball. It wasn't the social gathering like American football. And it lacked the same white-knuckle fluidity and physicality of hockey. But the seed had been planted within me. 
In 2010, the World Cup descended on South Africa. The United States was in the running, grouped with Algeria, Slovenia, and England. I realized I was enjoying watching the games more, and I was learning a bit more about the sport. The US battled to a draw with England and Slovenia, and beat Algeria, so I was happy with the performance.

And then it was over as quickly as it had begun. Team USA lost in the Round of 16 to Ghana’s Black Stars, and that was that. Back again to the sports I was used to. I had the same mentality when the Russians bowed out of the group stage in the 2012 World Cup. 

This year has been different. I didn’t have the highest of expectations for either the US or Russia, but I figured I’d make the most of it and be hopeful, if nothing else. Maybe...just maybe, if Germany or Portugal has a bad game, the US can squeak through. 

Right before the World Cup, I predicted the US would beat Ghana, draw against Portugal, and lose to Germany, but I sure wasn’t confident about that second prediction. Cristiano Ronaldo and company were a formidable adversary and in order for the US to get anywhere, they’d have to falter-and badly so. 

But after seeing the US keep their heads and battling Ghana to a 2-1 win and considering that 2-2 was actually a pretty admirable result against the Portuguese (even if the means to the end were heartbreaking), I was excited.
Even if we lost to Germany we'd be able to get in through a few different scenarios! Sure we weren't dominating, but advancing is advancing! 

The United States lost 2-1 to Belgium, but if not for the heroic performance by keeper Tim Howard, the final result could easily have been around 6-1. I was disappointed, sure, but I couldn’t help but marvel at the performance set forth by someone I didn’t even know the name of before the cup.

Something else had changed too. I noticed I cared about teams other than the ones I had personal connections to. I almost immediately became infatuated with the exciting Colombian team, had to admire the Algerians, and hoped for the Bosnians in their first World Cup-it was nice to hear that many Croatians and Serbians had by and large thrown support to the Bosnians. And wow, hearing 80,000 belt out the Brazilian anthem would make anyone (well, maybe not an Argentine) want them to win that day. 

And I’d noticed I'd picked up on other storylines as well. Were the Brazilians going to march on and at least temporarily relieve their home country of its anger directed towards FIFA? (Apparently not...) Could the Costa Ricans continue their miracle run? (No, but what heroes they must be for their country-not just surviving a brutally difficult group, but winning it and getting all the way to the Quarterfinals!)

I still don’t understand the rules of soccer like I do for hockey, American football, and baseball. I still think the league system in place in Europe is a bit absurd. And I’m still not the biggest fan of the fact that a match can end in a 0-0 draw. But I have decided to broaden my horizon of sport. I’m going to become a Toffeeman and place my support behind Everton F.C. and Tim "Brick Wall" Howard. Can't wait for August 16th (kickoff for the Premier League)!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Leblouh: Mauritania's Other Human Rights Atrocity

This is an article I wrote for the Student Center for African Research and Resolutions, a student think tank in Washington, D.C. Check them out at for more student-produced news regarding African affairs. This article can also be accessed in SCARR's blog section.

This article was originally published on July 4, 2014. 

Mauritania is a vast but sparsely populated desert country on the western tip of Africa, and its
atrocious human rights record is relatively unknown. The existence of slavery in rural parts of
the country is denied by the government, but it is very much a reality. However, forced servitude is not the only backwards atrocity lurking in Mauritania’s desert. Many rural Mauritanians practice leblouh, where girls from the age of five are force-fed to become obese, which is considered attractive and supposedly attracts possible husbands. This practice forces young girls to struggle with health problems associated with obesity, like high blood pressure and heart disease.
Western influence has gradually diminished the practice as more and more younger Mauritanians have considered obesity unattractive, but there seems to have been a revival after the most recent president Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz, who is backed by the military, took power in 2009. He has governed in an authoritarian fashion since 2009, after a brief period of democratization took place in Mauritania earlier in the 2000s. He was recently re-elected in a contest marked by an opposition boycott and low turnout. The opposition in Mauritania acknowledges the practice as an atrocity and calls for an end to it as they do for slavery, but the current ruling party pretends it does not exist.

The key to ending this barbaric and backwards practice may lie in the younger generation of Mauritanians. Nearly 60 percent of Mauritanians are at or under the age of 24, and their voices are important for the current government to secure legitimacy for the future. Younger Mauritanians will present a challenge to the government and its tendency to sweep Mauritania’s problems under the carpet. The problem, however, is that the younger generation of Mauritanians is undereducated and generally poor; Mauritania’s literacy rate is only 58 percent. Some effort to drive rural Mauritanians away from the practice could be productive as well, though previous efforts to do so have been relatively unsuccessful as many believe it to be a part of their culture.

As barbaric as this practice is, it is not a common one. Mauritania ranks 127th in the world in obesity rates, comparable to Turkmenistan and Botswana, neither of which are not typically known for their high obesity rates. In theory, this may make it easier for a shift in power to combat the problem, but there’s no telling when or if the opposition to President Abdel Aziz will be able to mount a serious uprising. Mauritania did briefly experience upheaval when the Arab Spring was in full swing, but it was suppressed violently, and the protests gained little media coverage. The United States currently considers the Mauritanian government to be an ally because they actively suppress terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda in Mauritania, a predominantly Muslim state.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Zimbabwe Faces an Uphill Struggle after Mugabe

This is an article I wrote for the Student Center for African Research and Resolutions, a student think tank in Washington, D.C. Check them out at for more student-produced news regarding African affairs. This article can also be accessed in SCARR's blog section.

This article was originally published on June 27, 2014. 

Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, recently celebrated his 90th birthday. He has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, and his rule has been characterized by terror and dictatorship. The Fifth Brigade, his security force and secret police, is reminiscent of North Korea’s. His political party, the ZANU-PF, is fiercely anti-colonial and racist. His land reform programs in the 1980s and 1990s forced the white minority violently out of the country and obliterated Zimbabwe’s previously strong agricultural industry, and now the country’s economy is in shambles. 
There isn’t much of an opposition to Mugabe, but whatever opposition exists will likely be thrust into the spotlight when Mugabe either resigns or dies. They have a lot of work to do, if they even get a chance to stop their country’s bleeding.

A secession debate, largely covert, has started among those in the ruling party in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean Army has expressed support for Sydney Sekeramayi, Zimbabwe’s current Minister of Defense, and cited his knowledge of security issues, but factions threaten to tear ZANU-PF apart.

The international community has been relatively quiet about Zimbabwe. Former President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa pursued “quiet diplomacy” with Mugabe rather than outright criticizing his brutal rule, which accomplished very little. Zimbabwe’s large mineral wealth is widely consumed by the EU, who has only minimal sanctions against the Mugabe regime.

Zimbabwe, like its southern neighbor South Africa, has large mineral resources. However, South Africa, flawed as it is, is a democratic and progressing nation, whereas Zimbabwe is obviously not.

The end of Mugabe’s rule represents hope for this country that’s been ravaged by his 34 years of rule, but it will take a long time to reverse the effects of Mugabe’s awful rule.  Whoever succeeds Mugabe will have to rebuild Zimbabwe’s economy from the ground up. Zimbabwe was once a wealthy breadbasket of Southern Africa, but the ZANU-PF has wiped out the white minority and with it, the agricultural industry through ethnic cleansing and widespread emigration.

Zimbabwe’s problems reach far and wide. The Zimbabwean population is very young, more than 50 percent of the population is under 24. AIDS and other infectious diseases are prevalent. TheZimbabwean dollar has become all but useless, and the people use the South African Rand or US Dollar instead.

Infrastructure and civil society barely exist in Zimbabwe, and if Mugabe’s successor wishes to establish a democracy and functional country, this will be especially important, especially with a young population. Sixty-eight percent of Zimbabweans live below the poverty line. The literacy rate is only 83 percent. Zimbabwe’s Human Development Index is a paltry 0.397, barely higher than Afghanistan. In a country like Zimbabwe, there’s really nowhere to go but up.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Rape in South Africa: A widespread, layered problem

This is an article I wrote for the Student Center for African Research and Resolutions, a student think tank in Washington, D.C. Check them out at for more student-produced news regarding African affairs. This article can also be accessed in SCARR's blog section.

This article was originally published on June 6, 2014. 

Last summer, the world was disgusted by a wave of rape in India, so much so that the UN’s Chief of Human Rights called it a “national problem.” Worse yet, a “dismally low” amount of prosecutions and convictions followed these crimes.

India is not alone in this epidemic. The Medical Research Council released a report in 2009 that claims, “based off of evidence from the Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal provinces, more than 25 percent of men in the Republic of South Africa have raped someone,” and that only about one in twenty-five men who are accused of rape are convicted, and that half a million rapes are committed in the Rainbow Nation annually.
South Africa’s rape epidemic never received the same type of coverage like that of India, but it is far from an unknown phenomenon. Rape in South Africa is a national epidemic for a multitude of reasons. The country’s history of segregation has made it difficult for its current government to advance in infrastructure and education, not to mention its present widespread corruption under President Zuma. While the country has progressed in combatting AIDS, the disease is still widespread and many believe absurd myths about AIDS and how to cure people of it. Widespread poverty persists, and while South Africa’s laws regarding sexual violence are progressive, enforcement rates are dismally low.

Apartheid has been dead for more than 20 years, but South Africa is still recovering from its fallout. Apartheid did not cause the problems that lie at the root of South Africa’s rape epidemic, but it certainly exacerbated them. Had Black South Africans been educated like their White counterparts through the majority of the 20th century, South Africa would likely not have this crisis. Black South Africans have historically been victims to poverty and a severe lack of opportunity and education because of apartheid. Strides have been made since President F.W. de Klerk repealed the racist legislation in the early 1990s, but the effects of decades of brutal institutionalized racism still smolder.

The current government, while multiracial and democratic, is led by a president who has himself been accused of rape. President Zuma also made the ridiculous claim that taking a shower after having unprotected sex would minimize the risk of contracting HIV. This claim is not the only myth that pervades South African society, and he is not the first president to be resistant to medical evidence. Former President Thabo Mbeki has downplayed the prevalence of AIDS in South Africa andappointed ministers who did not believe that HIV caused AIDS.

Would a power shift in South Africa’s government fix this crisis? Perhaps, but there’s no instant fix. While the ruling Democratic Alliance, a rival to the ANC, has a strong track record in advancing education in the Western Cape province, the province had the second-worst percentage of women experiencing sexual violence of South Africa’s nine provinces, which means present policies are not living up to expectations.

Media coverage of the epidemic has been increasing since 1994, but that alone won’t reduce the rate. Education and infrastructure development will lay a foundation for South Africa to dig itself out of this hole, and as education advances, a large stress on sexual health and proper sexual conduct will start to bring down the rates of rape in this country with such high potential.

The African Dictatorship you don't know about: Equatorial Guinea

This is an article I wrote for the Student Center for African Research and Resolutions, a student think tank in Washington, D.C. Check them out at for more student-produced news regarding African affairs. This article can also be accessed in SCARR's blog section.

This article was originally published on June 13, 2014. 

Freedom House recently published its 2014 report of every sovereign state’s government and the levels of freedom enjoyed by the citizens of those states. One of those, Equatorial Guinea, is a relatively unknown country. 
Equatorial Guinea is unique in that it receives next to no coverage from international media outlets. At first glance, it may not seem very important. It is smaller than the state of Maryland in the United States and less than one million people live within its borders. It gained independence from Spain in 1968, and in 1970, President Macias Nguema set up a one-party state, allying this new nation with the People’s Republic of China and the USSR. He was violently deposed in 1979 by Teodro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, but President Obiang established his own dictatorship rather than improving the lives of the people. His cult of personality is vast, even comparable to that of Kim Jong Un’s in North Korea.

The Financial Times considers Equatorial Guinea “perhaps the world’s best example of the resource curse.” Ninety-seven percent of Equatorial Guinea’s exported goods are either crude petroleum or liquified hydrocarbons, and Equatorial Guinea trades extensively with the United States, Canada, and the European Union. The United States considers itself an ally of the country, as President Obama recently visited and took photographs with President Obiang in Washington.

Infrastructure has benefited from oil wealth in Equatorial Guinea, and the country is hundreds of times richer than Burundi, the poorest Sub-Saharan African nation. The country’s potential, however, is still severely impeded by the immensely corrupt regime, which has hoarded much of the country’s oil wealth to itself while most Equatorial Guineans still live in poverty.

President Obiang is 71 years old, but as Zimbabweans know all too well, that doesn’t necessarily mean an end to his awful rule is nigh. He has tapped his son to succeed him, 42 year-old Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue.

An opposition exists in Equatorial Guinea, but it is far outmatched in terms of resources and media exposure. Despite the resource curse, Equatorial Guinea remains relatively stable, another entry in the list of oil-rich states with authoritarian governments.

Is there a way the international community could amass support for changing Equatorial Guinea? Oil wealth often ensures some degree of stability, even in countries like Iran where there exists an opposition with considerable influence. The country’s small size could make it easy for the international community to sanction and pressure the regime to loosen its iron grip on the people, but that may not sit well with the European Union, where nearly half of the country’s exports go to, but the crisis in Ukraine has shown how reluctant the EU is to sanction countries where they buy oil, even with geographical proximity. The Chinese, who account for 14 percent of EG’s exports, will probably be uncooperative. And while the country’s size may make it easy for the international community to pressure President Obiang to step down, it also may mean a lack of interest, considering that African countries with less than a million people are rarely on the top of superpowers’ priority lists.

Remembering Mandela and the Springboks, 19 Years Later

This is an article I wrote for the Student Center for African Research and Resolutions, a student think tank in Washington, D.C. Check them out at for more student-produced news regarding African affairs. This article can also be accessed in SCARR's blog section.

This article was originally published on June 18, 2014. 

On June 24, 1995, South Africa's national rugby team, the Springboks, faced New Zealand's All Blacks in the final of the Rugby World Cup. South Africa won the grueling match 15-12 in extra time. In South Africa, this was not just a triumph of sport, but a great victory for the South African people and for national unity.
It all started with Nelson Mandela. For 50 years, South Africa was ruled by the venomous policy of apartheid, which separated the white minority from the poor, undereducated black majority. In the 1980s, international sanctions drove South Africa into recession. Racial tensions regularly flared and ended in violence, and the country looked as if it was close to civil war. In 1989, White South Africans elected Klerk president. De Klerk surprised many South Africans in 1990 when he repealed the apartheid laws and released Nelson Mandela from prison. He and Mandela presided over South Africa's transition from apartheid state to multiracial democracy.

Even as South Africa celebrated its freedom in 1994, animosity still smoldered. Radical white South Africans were furious and calling for Mandela's head. Mandela, however, pursued national reconciliation, and in rugby, he saw a way to appeal to white South Africans who were still unsure about their country's future.

In 1995, President Mandela brought the Rugby World Cup to South African soil. This was a risk. Rugby was the "white" sport, and for Black South Africans, the Springboks were a symbol of apartheid. For White South Africans, however, rugby is a way of life, and they were overjoyed by Mandela's securing the World Cup.

Nobody expected the Springboks to do much damage in the World Cup. The Boks had been cut off from international competition because of apartheid, and didn't have the same exposure to top teams that other countries had.

But the Boks won game after game, reaching the final against New Zealand, and they united both black and white behind them . On June 24, 1995, a crowd of 65,000, mostly white Afrikaners, filled Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg. The stadium roared as President Mandela, wearing Springboks green, greeted the fans. Mandela was showered with a thunderous chant of “Nel-son! Nel-son! Nel-son!” The president, broadly grinning, doffed his cap and waved to his people.

South Africa prevailed at last on a Joel Stransky drop kick. Captain Francois Pienaar famously remarked "We didn't have 60,000 South Africans, we had 43 million South Africans!" when a reporter commented on the crowd's support. The picture of Mandela handing the World Cup to an exhausted, ecstatic Pienaar is iconic.

South Africa is still a troubled country, but its peaceful transition from segregated state to multiracial democracy still resonates. Today, the national anthem, a hybrid of the old anthem and a hymn popular with those resisting apartheid, is belted out by Springbok fans in five different languages. South Africa has enormous potential, a fact demonstrated by the heroes that brought Mandela and the Boks to victory 19 years ago.