Guest blogger Ehsan Ghafourian Torbati is a degree candidate, Master of International Relations program, Maxwell School of Public Affairs, Syracuse University (Emphasis in Security, Peace and Conflict).

What Happened

Ever since the U.S. withdrew from the Nuclear Deal (JCPOA), back in 8 May 2018, the country is facing a military entanglement in the Middle East. Both the US presidential candidates for 2020 election have declared their intentions to reach an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program. They want to meet Iranian officials on the negotiation table. However, Iran’s economic conditions did not deteriorate so significantly that it would cause Iran to bend its knee. Iranians are adept to muddle through and tolerate the sanctions in short term at least. For example, we heard this sentence a year ago from Iran’s supreme leader that “there will be no war, and no negotiations with the United States.” Also, we can see more conservative people around Iran leadership circle who prefer different model of engagement. According to this model if the U.S. increases pressure against Iran, then Iran will be ready to increase tensions in the region and vice versa. This is a new path adopted by Iran’s leader to share the economic cost with Unites States and further expand the conflict to other areas. Nuclear program, ballistic missiles, harassment in Persian Gulf and recent involvement in Venezuela demonstrates the willing of Khamenei to test US intention and could spring a surprise at any time, make his predicament a priority for the international community.

The big picture

Since its establishment, Israel has experienced multiple threats from all directions 24/7. IDF’s strategic and tactical decisions deterred the centerpiece of Israel’s psyche. This made Israel national security so professional that any nation can learn from it.

What It Means

Fundamentally, no matter what U.S. does, Iran’s supreme leader is obsessed with the belief that his regime is under threat by west values. Technically, Khamenei was emboldened by having adopted a more offensive posture in the region and made a gamble on Trump extremely unwillingness to start a new conflict in the Middle East. The U.S. should remain open to new negotiations with Iran, but at the same time it should have an aggressive strategy to counter Iranian potential threats actively. Indeed, the U.S. has supposed that its pressure will bring Islamic revolution to the table sooner or later.

To assess President Trump’s success we need to consider two factors; 1)Does Iran show less aggression? 2)Does the U.S. have more options now after withdrawing from JCPOA? The first question obviously is negative, but people have different view about the second one. In fact, the U.S. should be ready to accept and address that Iran will not come to a direct negotiation even after the November election. So, the situation now is different from 2013 that Iran has entered JCPOA. Iran’s economic and political system is so fragile that IRGC and hardliners play a critical role to system’s survival especially after recent parliament election. Also, Iran has focused to multiply its strategic relationship with China even more than before. It is an interesting path for Iran’s leader because he found it a useful way to resist U.S. pressure. On top of that, engagement with a paranoid older leader and a theocracy irrational system that defines U.S. as great Satan is not easy. This mission is more trickier in the present context since past endeavors did not bear the desired fruits. As a result, the U.S. needs to keep any option on the table because the greatest failure is lacking imaginations about Iran new threats.

The best way to prepare and think about unthinkable threats related to Iran is the lessons that U.S. can learn from Israel’s “campaign between the wars” against Iran and Iranian-backed groups in Syria. This is the most effective military strategy for the U.S. right now as long as Washington is not sure about future deal and also does not want to stumble into another war in Middle East. The U.S. needs an active deterrence with focus to decapitate Iran’s dangerous evolving capabilities. Instead of temporary mission, it should be continuous push back against Iran in the “gray zone.”

According to this strategy, Iran will not be able to escalate if does not have an operational plan. This includes infrastructure and deadly weapons. So, it is imperative for the U.S. national interests to keep the pressure no matter who wins the November election because IRGC will have less money at least. Basic assumptions and rule of engagement with Iran should emphasize on vital U.S. national interests from a position of strength. This is a doctrine made with principles including deterrence, early warning, defense, and decision. This doctrine needs a clear-cut definition for conflict goals, army’s role and its relation to additional efforts (political, economic, media, social).

Also, U.S. should decrease immediate risk of conflict with Iran in the region and have information superiority through surveillance to expose and denounce Iran’s military movements. This deterrence could inspire Iran to conduct more complicated and expensive operation to keep itself in world’s radar. The U.S. needs a threat Lenz system that warns about Iran’s intentions. Each specific area in Middle East including Iraq or Persian Gulf needs different operation due to different environment. But in all of them U.S. should have a policy to make Iran responsible and force them to act or avoid confrontation with U.S. forces.

Furthermore, the U.S. needs to use disruptive technology and cyber warfare systems to neutralize IRGC weapon operation. The U.S. should use all the instruments in its power in coordinated action to impede the Iran’s capabilities in explosive charges, conventional warheads, short-range missiles, anti-tank weapons, surface-to-air missiles, anti-ship missiles, electronic warfare, subconventional warfare. These are critical to reduce Iran’s freedom of action.

Last but not the least, resorting to preemptive surgical strikes to destroy imminent threats like elimination of Soleimani is a good approach to reduce Iran’s firepower. Drawing clear red lines like missing the life of any soldier or warning ships in Persian Gulf to stay 100 meters away, could formulate any strike. It is also helpful to justify to build up the forces in different bases in the region. The U.S. needs this assumption to use military force decisively but in a systematic way to achieve political goals through diplomacy. This assumption also needs to signal Iranians that rule of games has been broken by them and the U.S. is ready to take any risk.

Any attack should harm the Iran’s capability extremely, makes it difficult for them to regain strength and dictate the conditions for ending the fighting. This is important because Iran is ready to accept cost of a limited military strike while it is still in a position of relative strength. So, strike should happen quickly in a shocking way and remind them always victory of the United States and futility of using force against it. Indeed, the U.S. should crush Iran’s desire to continue the fighting and also protect U.S. forces and facilities to minimize Iran’s achievement. This will show Iranian that propaganda is not working for them since the potential of damage to government sustainability is greater the benefits of escalation.

Finally, it is not wise to go after all Iran threats due to priority issue, but it is important to have a coherent strategy to respond all Iran malign behaviors. The characteristics of the Iran’s use of force have changed and pose new challenges including actions that combine military activities, guerrilla actions, terror, and “soft” warfare. This means confrontation needs realistic-flexible ways to integrate and prioritize the various means in accordance with the rules of international law and public relations. Nobody should forget that all these initiatives have been designed to readiness, limit civilian casualties, prevent the war and delegitimizing the enemy. Building the force will focus on lethality, mobility, and survivability of the force. And using them on the preferred scenario to foil an attack on U.S. interests when there is very clear undeniable provocation by Iran.

Background After 1979 revolution, the religious leadership in Iran is intertwined with the senior leadership of the state. Also, after revolution, Islamic Republic of Iran has challenge with United States and both states have been locked in varying degrees of confrontation. Unites States at this administration has three fundamental demands this time from Iran’s leaders: stop supporting regional proxies, ending its nuclear enrichment program and significant limitations on its ballistic missile program. It has been two years ago U.S. withdrew from the JCPOA, we have been seeing very severe impact on the Iranian economy. Although Iran’s economy shrunk by more than 5 percent in 2018 and more than 7 percent in 2019, it still did not push Iran to come on the negotiation table. Now as we are closing to the U.S. election, Iran has more motivation to ratchet up pressure on President Trump by tit for tat tension.

Mark Temnycky wrote this post originally for the Wilson Center’s Focus Ukraine. It examines Ukrainian demographic decline and how it will affect the Ukrainian economy especially during the coronavirus pandemic. He is an alum of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School.

Ukraine endured a series of hardships after the Euromaidan protests. From the annexation of Crimea and the Donbas conflict to various economic problems and the coronavirus pandemic, the Eastern European state has yet to overcome its recent national security issues. Threading through all these problems, however, is another issue: Ukraine’s demographic decline and the impact it will have on the Ukrainian economy.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine held its first census as an independent country in 2001. At that time, 48.5 million people resided in Ukraine. The Eastern European state then conducted its second census in 2019. The new results found that 37.3 million now lived in Ukraine, meaning the population had declined by 11.2 million. Critics, however, were quick to question these findings. This was because the Ukrainian government opted to conduct the 2019 census electronically rather than through traditional channels. The 2019 census data were gathered by obtaining records from mobile operators in Ukraine, registered Pension Fund users, and the State Register of Ukrainians who paid taxes.

The 2019 census also did not collect data on eastern Ukraine and Crimea. According to recent estimates from the Ukrainian government, four million people reside in Donetsk oblast and two million live in Luhansk oblast, including both government-controlled and non-controlled areas. Another two million are believed to inhabit the Crimean peninsula. If these figures are correct, roughly eight million people were not accounted for in the 2019 census, meaning Ukraine’s current population is closer to 45 million—still a loss of 3.5 million from the 2001 tabulation.

Based on this trend, the United Nations predicts that the country will lose a fifth of its population by 2050.

What Has Caused Ukraine’s Depopulation Problem?
First, Ukraine has one of the highest crude death rates in the world. Poor health conditions and the widespread abuse of alcohol and drugs have led to a rise in Ukraine’s death rate. The country also has the highest global mortality rate from infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, meaning that inadequate medical care has contributed to the rise in Ukraine’s mortality rate. The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated these health care issues.

Second, Ukraine’s fertility rate has declined. According to the World Bank, Ukrainian families were having two children per household during the 1990s. Recent economic hardships, however, have forced families to have only one child per household. The effects of Ukraine’s struggling economy and the Donbas conflict have also discouraged some young couples from having children, and this has contributed to the decline in Ukraine’s fertility rate.

Third, emigration has played a significant role in Ukraine’s population decline as some Ukrainians have sought financial stability abroad. According to recent data from the UN, Ukrainians have moved to countries within the European Union, such as Germany, Italy, and Poland, as well as to non-EU states, including the United States and Russia. At the height of the Donbas conflict in 2016, the average monthly salary in Ukraine was roughly US $200. While the monthly average eventually rose to about $450, it is still difficult to live on this wage. In contrast, per the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the average monthly salaries in Germany, Italy, Poland, and the United States in 2016 were $4,060, $3,172, $2,163, and $5,180, respectively. Meanwhile, according to the Carnegie Moscow Center, the average monthly wage in Russia in 2016 was just over $500, which was still more than double the monthly average in Ukraine in 2016. Based on these figures, it is understandable why thousands of Ukrainians have migrated to these countries in search of a better standard of living.

Should Ukrainian workers continue to move abroad, Ukraine can expect to see a smaller workforce. Fewer workers will result in slower economic growth as not as many goods and services can be produced and consumed, and the Ukrainian economy will stagnate.

Furthermore, as some Ukrainians permanently relocate, the number of pensioners in Ukraine is expected to eventually exceed the number in the workforce. This imbalance is expected to put an additional strain on the Ukrainian economy to provide for these retirees.

Compounding the demographic problem are the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The International Monetary Fund has predicted that Ukraine’s GDP will decline by 8 percent due to COVID-19, meaning the combined economic impact of a waning population and the coronavirus pandemic may be catastrophic for Ukraine.

Resolving the Depopulation Crisis
With its economy at stake, how might the former Soviet republic overcome its depopulation problem?

A first step is to address the poor health conditions that have led to an increased mortality rate in Ukraine. A government-backed program to encourage Ukrainians to cut back on alcohol and drug consumption should see an overall improvement in national health. Providing better medical care for chronic infectious diseases such as tuberculosis would also improve morbidity and mortality rates while enhancing the standard of living in Ukraine.

Second, several Ukrainians cite corruption in Ukraine as a reason for moving abroad. Many of the ambitious anti-corruption reforms envisioned in 2014 have not yet been fully implemented. If the Verkhovna Rada were to pass meaningful anti-corruption reforms that improved citizens’ quality of life, this might encourage Ukrainian emigrants to return to Ukraine.

Third, the Ukrainian government must encourage its emigrants to come home. For example, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has proposed that the government provide loans to workers who return to Ukraine to start new businesses. Should this program successfully incentivize Ukrainian émigré business owners to return to Ukraine, this could help boost the Ukrainian economy.

Overall, Ukraine’s demographic decline is a significant issue for the country. Persistence of this problem will put a considerable strain on the Ukrainian economy, compounded by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. To reverse the decline, Ukrainian officials must improve their country’s health standards, pass real anti-corruption reforms, and incentivize workers to remain in Ukraine. Otherwise, Ukraine can expect an economic crisis with devastating effects.

This post by Professor Jok Madut Jok originally appeared in the Daily Nation.

If ever there were any regional efforts in the East African Community (EAC) in which countries of the region coordinated their measures to fight Covid-19 together, the question of whether or not South Sudan would pull any weight in that effort would undoubtedly present itself.

Though the country was the last in the EAC to report a first case of the Coronavirus, it quickly surpassed all of the others in new daily infections. The sense of casualness that the disease was initially greeted with has now given way to a widespread feeling of anxiety, as the virus spreads, infecting senior government officials, including two vice presidents, their families and several national ministers, and killing prominent individuals in government and in the private sector.

On May 26, for example, the country registered a whopping 188 positive cases, the largest in a single day, out of a total 300 tests conducted on that day. Based on these developments, it would not be surprising if the rest of the region sees South Sudan as a potential exporter of new cases to their territories, even long after these countries have curbed the pandemic within their borders. It is already being seen by some as the weakest link in any joint regional efforts, not only offering very little in any collaboration, but possibly becoming a liability.

Recently, a local government official in northern Uganda, close to the border with South Sudan, railed in a recorded message, telling the local people not to allow South Sudanese to come into their country and that any Ugandan found hosting South Sudanese would be jailed or fined. While it was probably within the lock down orders, the message was delivered in a way that smacks xenophobia. But such attitudes are common throughout the region. South Sudanese themselves had a similar posture at the start of the pandemic, when their leaders saw the country as virus-free and that it would only get the virus if foreigners were allowed to enter their country. All this may well have been with xenophobic tendencies, but they were also great public health measures that should have been taken up officially and enforced in ways that did not victimise anyone. Because these were not streamlined as national policies, they were bound to be implemented haphazardly, hence ineffective while diminishing the fervor for regional collaboration.

The way Covid-19 is being managed in South Sudan and the speed at which it is spreading, despite the late onset, gives the neighbours chills. Not only does the country lack a well-coordinated response to the pandemic but its health system has also been totally overwhelmed, health personnel frustrated and a big portion of its population is not observing the physical distancing orders. Additionally, the country’s available resources are not being managed properly as to take care of its poor people who are now made all the more vulnerable by the shifting of focus away from services in an attempt to meet the expenses of the public health emergency responses. This situation is not relieved by the realities of South Sudan being both landlocked and imports-dependent, posing such a serious challenge of screening truck drivers and other essential travellers at border crossings, quite possibly wiping out its economy and making the country the last bastion of the pandemic in Eastern Africa.

Does this mean there is no need for a collaborative effort against Covid-19 within the EAC? As South Sudan is the newest member of the EAC, many of its citizens are still riding in the euphoria of their country’s partial admission into the bloc. Whereas many citizens of the older core founding countries, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, have seemingly become cynical about the organisation’s capacity to rally its member states for collective action on urgent matters affecting them, South Sudanese are still trusting in the EAC. There is a strong expectation that their country’s partial membership in the regional body bears benefits to them, not just in trade, residence and access to educational and health services they have been buying for years in Kenya and Uganda, but more because there is now a global pandemic that is quickly threatening to inflict a massive damage on the young country’s population, and that requires any assistance it can get from its neighbours.

Without a strong national response plan that has a dedicated political figure to rally troops against the pandemic and becoming the face of that fight, South Sudanese cannot be blamed for looking beyond the borders, to the EAC, to some of the region’s strong leaders who have demonstrated visions and credible plans in the fight for their peoples’ lives. They hold out hope that there is still a chance of coordinated actions between the member states, perhaps to the benefit of all. Even if South Sudan has nothing to contribute to a collaboration, it is in the region’s interest to help South Sudan contain this virus, lest that country remains a vector, to the detriment of the whole region.

That said, however, despite pronouncements to the effect that the governments of the EAC member states need to work in concert with one another against Covid-19 scourge, the Coronavirus collaborative response has not materialised beyond communication between the heads of state and the public statements that follow their conversations promising joint efforts on screening and quarantining of people who cross borders to provide essential services and to keep the national economies of the region alive.

In his address to the African Union on April 29, Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta declared that “If we are to defeat this enemy, we need to ensure that through our regional economic communities we are able to communicate, work together and able to deal with cross-border issues because unless we fight together, we will lose together.” Rwanda’s Paul Kagame has lamented the willingness of the region’s leaders to allow bureaucratic procedures to get in the way of working together to fight an enemy that is likely to leave a massive health, social, economic and political impact the region.

There is an EAC Covid-19 Response Plan, unveiled on April 30, discussed and supposedly revamped at the virtual summit of four leaders of the bloc on May 12. But to the extent that this can be called cooperation, it has been limited in scope and seriousness at the political level. It does not go beyond the sharing of case reports to the regional bloc’s Headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania. If the pandemic is going to be contained in the whole region, such that no country is left behind to become the source of the next wave of the Coronavirus spread, what’s blocking collective efforts? Weakest link or not, it seems that it is not the suspicion that some countries would have little to bring to the collaboration table. Instead, it’s both national pride and local political dynamics in each country that almost prohibit the leaders to think and act regionally.


This post by Prof. Jok Madut Jok originally appeared in the Daily Nation.  

Coronavirus is killing black Americans at six times the rate at which it is killing white Americans. But this is not because there is anything uniquely innate in blacks that makes them less able to withstand the viral assault. Health experts tell us that the reason for this racial disparity in infection and death rates is that “This is an outward manifestation of structural racism where African Americans are at an increased risk,” said Mother Jones magazine about two weeks ago. In other words, a long history of racial discrimination has produced poverty,crumbling of black neighbourhoods in major United States metropolitan cities, police brutality and incarceration of young black men on minor charges and for longer jail terms than Whites. It has also meant that more blacks work odd jobs such as serving fast foods, shelving commodities in groceries, delivering post and serving at gas stations, all of which, in the age of Covid-19 and the physical distancing measures effected by states to fight it, have been considered essential occupations, to keep America running during lock down. But these occupations disproportionally expose them to coronavirus infections.

Above all, this long history of marginalisation, governance deficit and wealth disparities have become more fundamental formations of chronic health conditions in African-Americans, from hypertension to diabetes to lung disease, than anything else. It is these conditions that form a fertile ground for coronavirus to create serious damage to the lungs. It is these circumstances and the history underpinning them that makes the subsequent Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) more deadly for black Americans. Meanwhile, black people in southern US live in states that have not expanded public health insurance system known as Medicaid, leaving blacks with limited or without coverage at all. And people without insurance in the US are less likely to report to the nearest healthcare centre when they experience Covid-19 symptoms, for they would get hit with a hefty medical bill they would have no capacity to pay.

I report this US situation simply to illustrate how Covid-19 infections and deaths are likely to show similar disparities in many African countries, where socio-economic disparities have become increasingly acute over the past 40 years of the so-called market liberalisation. That opening up of African markets to ‘globalisation’ has seen major foreign corporations, along with their local political and legal facilitators and the local parasitic capitalists, have moved much of Africa’s wealth away from Africans and into the hands of foreign corporations and into the hands of the local petty bourgeoisie class that arranges and expedites this foreign economic onslaught, leaving a gaping hole in the basic services that would have guarded Africans against any health emergencies. In essence, local African corruption and greed have met the global lust for Africa’s natural resources, oil and minerals, land and rivers, cheap labour with a colonised mind to boot, to create a deadly marriage of extraction that has left African landscape laid open to disease.

Wealth and Poverty

This has created gross inequality in Africa’s health-care systems, such that although coronavirus does not discriminate on the basis of class and political power, it will still be the most politically and economically marginalised who will suffer the most should it start spreading its wings in Africa full circle the way global experts are insisting it will. A health system that is gutted of its workforce and the resources necessary for an equitable national response to a health emergency of the Covid-19 magnitude is one that is likely to manifest disparities in infection and death rates that draw a clear line between wealth and poverty. Will the racial disparities that have been seen in the US and the inability of the US healthcare system to respond equitably to a national health crisis manifest itself in Africa due to economic disparities. despite the absence of a racial factor? If such disparity should come to pass, revealing the impact of power and wealth on the one hand and poverty on the other, it will be a classic proof that this disease only sees wealth and poverty in Africa, the same way it only sees the colour of skin in America.

The only caveat that one must add in the case of Africa is that Covid-19 deaths will not just follow wealth disparities, but also the unequal application of the emergency response measures against the virus, as the wealthy elite also wield political power that will most likely grant them preferential treatment in the use of the meagre health resources available, now that there is no way for them to run to foreign hospitals, as they have been doing in normal circumstances. With the infection rates gathering momentum in Africa and the whole world pointing to Africa, predicting that its less effective health systems and Africa being home to a higher burden of underlying health conditions will cause the black continent to be more vulnerable, it is even more worrying to picture poor, post-war and politically fragile African countries like Sudan, Congo, South Sudan or Central African Republic. There, it seems, the landscape lays open to the virus.

Warped System

Overcrowded and unplanned urban settlements that lack basic services and with crumbly hygiene, subsistence industries that just can’t be closed down without risking the lives of people who work in them, poor rural areas without access to healthcare and millions upon millions of refugees and internally displaced persons squeezed together into unworkable spaces, all make Africa seems like the continent has stretched her arms out to welcome Covid-19. And then there is the economy that hardly employs anyone formally, a large and growing gap between a vast impoverished population and a small group of politically-connected who live nicely and get the best healthcare by virtue of the warped system that only looks at how much money people have, not how sick they are.

Looking to the future, the question now is how much longer can Africans go on ignoring or learning to live with these disparities and still expect their countries’ health systems to come to their rescue when emergencies emerge? Do we adhere to these unworkable isolation measures that have been put in place as the only panacea, pretend it is natural that some of us will have access to quality healthcare, should they get afflicted by this disease, and others don’t? Or can we use the inequities to which Covid-19 has exposed to stand together for equitable systems? It is my conviction that anything short of civic solidarity spells death.

What measures can civic activists, public health workers and all people who uphold values of fairness embark upon in readiness to call out these long-established inequities that decide who dies of Covid-19 or the next epidemic or pandemic and who lives?




This post by Professor Jok Madut Jok, Professor of Anthropology, Syracuse University, originally appeared in the Daily Nation.  Link to Prof. Jok Madut Jok’s article in the Daily Nation

The fact that the global pandemic, Covid-19, has exposed the deplorable state of health systems in Africa is not surprising at all. Will these systems examine their worth when the emergency has passed? Perhaps in view of the ongoing struggles to contain the virus, this question may not be a priority at this point. But it is an important one nevertheless. With all due recognition of the efforts that African scientists, physicians and other recognition of the efforts that African scientists, physicians and other healthcare workers are putting into the fight against Covid-19 and into caring for the victims of the disease, all under hard working conditions, the obvious question has been whether or not they have a health system that gives them the tools, the weapons and the robust backing that an army at war needs to have. The answer is “no”. What they got is political and bureaucratic bluster. The exceptions to this reality are few and far between.
What Africa’s healthcare workers get are politicised emergency response announcements, lip service to the disease control measures, physical isolation orders that have proven draconian as to be counter-productive, and politicians who speak about the need for patriotism in this combat but then go about their own lives in violation of the very measures they want the rest of their populations to abide by. What the healthcare workers need most and are not getting are honest political decisions. They also need money, along with transparent systems for the public to know how these huge sums are disbursed. Right now, emergency funds have been announced left and right, but there have been no accountability measures to go with these funds.

All across the continent, national budgets show such paltry allocations to healthcare, often justified on the basis of resource dearth. This has meant that much of the financing and staffing of health systems has fallen on the shoulders of donor countries, the United Nations and International non-governmental Organisations; or on private clinics for the few who can afford.

In South Sudan, for example, more than 80 per cent of the country’s health services are covered by these foreign entities. The result is that these services are insufficient, uncoordinated and are not thought out well enough to respond to the country’s healthcare priorities. Instead, the foreign health interventions largely address the problems the NGOs and their donor countries deem as priority. Because the country’s healthcare system is run by foreign organisations, it does not include the development of the country’s healthcare cadres to any meaningful length and standards, beyond the rudimentary “nursing” or “midwifery” skills that are offered on the job. Biomedical research remains singularly in the hands of medical colleges that are housed in woefully underfunded universities, producing far fewer and ill-prepared medical officers than the country requires.

In Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, the trend is towards privatisation of the health systems. The big public hospitals, from Kenyatta National to Mulago to Muhimbili, these countries’ major referral hospitals and the training grounds for the best healthcare cadres, are left gasping for breath, as they struggle to retain the best physicians, pay their staff decent wages obtain and maintain medical equipment and other supplies, provide quality care that is affordable for the vast low income populations that need their services.

Sadly, there have been no signs that governments of these countries would ever prioritise the health sector, to inject new investments into it or increase its budget by directing some cash away from, say, defence to revamp public hospitals, public health surveillance, sponsor research and stand ready to combat any health emergencies.  The challenge facing healthcare systems in East Africa does not stop at the decay of facilities but extends most importantly to staff morale as they struggle unsupported, unequipped and unclear about the processes of procurement and distribution of medical supplies. This has forced some of the best biomedical minds to seek work in private practices, where wages and working conditions are far better, but where they end up only catering for the small segment of population who can pay. Such private outfits, uncoordinated by any national body, cannot respond meaningfully to a public health emergency. This came to a head when the novel coronavirus showed up in Africa in late February.

This goes beyond the usual claim that attributes this poor investment into healthcare to the weak economies and lack of resources. It is primarily caused by corruption, where even the minimum funding allocated to health is diverted or wasted through mismanagement, much of which is hardly ever accounted for, as oversight institutions, parliaments and ethics commissions are toothless due to their subjugation by and submission to the presidency.

Lack of investment in health can also be attributed to a political leadership that lacks the will to act decisively, with the politicians of most African countries becoming the butts of all jokes, that they do not care about the well-being of their populations, that they abandon the national healthcare systems in preference for seeking their own individual and family medical care in foreign countries at the expense of the public.

In South Sudan, health budget stands at four per cent of the national expenditure in good years, a level of investment that has left physicians in public hospitals unpaid for months on end, forcing them to either flee the public system or reduce themselves to consultants for the NGOs and the United Nations. Meanwhile, 400 members of South Sudan’s parliament were offered cash of $40,000 (Sh4 million) each as car loans in 2019 and $25,000 (Sh2.5 million) as health insurance in 2020. They were also given additional monies outside their salaries, all as a way to buy their loyalty to the executive office. The entire illegitimate expenditure on the lawmakers amounted to a total of $28.1 million (Sh2.81 billion), a sum that could have equipped all the three major teaching hospitals, provide them with constant supply of water and electricity, hire their consultants, provide medications and then have more left to replicate those upgrades in seven other state referral hospitals throughout the country.

Similar echoes can be heard about big medical research institutes in East Africa, which have been drowning in under-funding, chronic maladministration, graft and nepotism. These conditions have rendered them unable to be at the forefront of the fight against outbreaks. Covid-19 pandemic has called their bluff.

The strategy adopted by most of the world’s governments is to “protect the health system” by “flattening the curve” and reserving resources for coronavirus cases. Africans seem to follow suit. But this approach not only has negligible benefits for Africa because there is really no health system to protect, the designers of physical isolation measures have also forgotten that it is near-impossible to achieve the level of isolation necessary to slow down or prevent infections when dealing with populations that are desperately poor, who just can’t stay home without their usual hand-to-mouth livelihood activities. At least not for much longer than this. On the contrary, spending the meagre resources on beating people into isolation diverts these resources from tackling the leading killers of Africans, malaria, complications in childbirth, Hepatitis B, child malnutrition, food insecurity and push back on violence as a public health scourge. How was it that the continent’s research centres could not see this and recommend a more suitable course of action is testament to the quality of health system they undergird?





On Taking Action

This post also appears on the  Beyond Intractability website.   The blog is the Constructive Conflict Initiative / COVID-19 Blog and Lou’s essay is at https://www.beyondintractability.org/cci-mbi-cv19-blog1/kriesberg 

We Americans are beset by many awful circumstances in our country and in the world. As analysts and sometimes as activists we examine such developments, analyzing why they are bad and how they have happened. So many bad things are occurring every day, it is hard to fight against any one of them, as new ones distract us. I sketch out an approach to taking actions that have a good chance to be effective and satisfying in overcoming objectionable circumstances.

First, we should select three or four matters that we believe should be bettered. We can each choose those matters that particularly concern us. The matters may or may not be connected and they will vary in magnitude. We should include some local aspects of one or more of the matters that are of concern. We do know that even now, some good things are happening in some cities, some neighborhoods, and some local institutions. They are important, because they have a better chance of being successful, which is encouraging and helps sustain progress. Most bad matters entail contentions, conflicts that embody and sustain them.

Second, we should work with other people to resolve the undesirable matter of concern. It isn’t necessary to build one’s own organization. There are many organizations acting to overcome the bad developments that might concern each of us, which we could join. For example, Indivisible, which functions across the country and was founded soon after Donald Trump’s election, does political action stuff at the local, state, and national level. There also are local union chapters, religious and ethnic organizations, which might be joined or aided. There are also political reform groups and ones working on specific environmental issues. Notably, there are formal official institutions with the charter to manage the undesirable circumstances, which may be joined or aided.

Third, we should reflect on alternative strategies that might ameliorate or overcome the destructive matters of concern. Certainly, one part of any effective strategy is to mobilize support for the possible action to win over the adversaries. The primary objective at this stage is to gather the needed power. There are three sources of power: coercion, persuasion, and positive sanctions, which are combined in many ways in the course of waging a conflict constructively. It would be helpful to hone and apply our persuasive skills in writing and speaking on various platforms; we ought to develop skills to communicate broadly, not only to and for professional colleagues. We should seek to amass resources that can be used as negative sanctions and/or used as positive sanctions. Adversaries should not be dehumanized and their heterogeneity should be recognized so that some cooperative actions might become feasible with some elements of the opposing side.

Finally, we must do something. We should formulate both long term and short-term goals. Long term goals project a vision of a hopeful future. Short term goals should be attainable in some visible way, so a gain can be won. This helps gather more support. In any case, moreover, overreaching should be avoided, since large losses by opponents can provoke them to win great pushbacks. Best of all, opponents may come to see that they have also gained some benefits by the new circumstances.
Acting is a wonderful way of avoiding feeling despair. It can be fun. It keeps hope alive. Having written this, I recognize that I have pursued changing versions of this approach throughout my life.


By Mark Temnycky, Freelance Journalist who covers politics and sports in Europe and Ukraine and PARCC Alumni.

Originally posted on the Euractiv.com website on ‎Jul‎y ‎5‎, ‎2019.

Despite its continued meddling in European affairs, Russia has been reinstated in the Council of Europe, with full voting powers. The decision will only encourage Moscow to continue its erratic behaviour on the European continent while others, like Turkey, may follow its example, writes Mark Temnycky.

On 25 June, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted to reinstate Russia as a full voting member within the assembly. The Russian Federation was stripped of its voting power in 2014 after the illegal annexation of Crimea and for supporting the separatist movement in eastern Ukraine. Continue Reading »

By Gladys McCormick, Assistant Professor of History, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University

Originally posted on The Hill, April 1, 2019.  

On Sunday morning, an on-screen banner for an episode of “Fox & Friends” displayed “Trump Cuts Aid to 3 Mexican Countries” during a segment on the administration’s cut of hundreds of millions of dollars of promised foreign aid to help Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador deal with their ongoing security crisis.

Later in the day, Fox News issued an apology and clarified that they knew these nations were part of Central America and not of Mexico. However, the damage was done and the screenshots of the banner had been displayed far and wide among social media circles. Responses ranged from horror to laughter at the geographical mistake. Among Latinos/as, it confirmed that Fox News is not sensitive or knowledgeable of issues important to our community. I am originally from Costa Rica and I laughingly posted on Facebook that little did we know that, as Central Americans, we belonged to Mexico — and to please pass the mescal. Continue Reading »

By Mark Temnycky, Freelance Journalist who covers politics and sports in Europe and Ukraine and PARCC Alumni.

Originally posted on the Atlantic Council website on February 28, 2019.

Five years after the Euromaidan, most analysis of Ukraine is grim. It tends to focus on the patchy reforms that have been put in place, the country’s endemic corruption, the ongoing war in its east, and the current unpredictable presidential election campaign. Hardly any of the coverage is positive.

But that’s not the full picture. Writers and analysts have missed something important: the country has emerged as a leader in sports, uplifting the spirits of Ukrainians in the process. Ukrainian athletes have given their compatriots a renewed sense of pride and optimism during this difficult period. Continue Reading »

By Gladys McCormick

Assistant Professor of History, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University

Originally posted on The Hill, February 27, 2019.

Mike Pence’s visit to Colombia this week is in line with the Trump administration’s overt interest in the Venezuelan crisis. His presence there suggests that the U.S. government wants to undermine humanitarian aid and diplomatic routes to diffusing the crisis. As he and President Trump have stated on several occasions, “All options are on the table.” Continue Reading »