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Truly, I have never been able to suppress the envy I feel for their free-spirited lifestyles and dedication to musical greatness. I have also always wanted to know what it meant to live such a geographically ephemeral life. This fact may not come as a surprise to my beloved Global Poverty Project co-workers who’ve had the pleasure of sharing the office with my hair on the days I try, albeit usually unsuccessfully, to evoke a Penny Lane vibe.
If I had to choose one band to “follow,” I think it would be Band of Horses. Their crooning melodies wrench my heart. I drove four hours to see them live once, and one might say it was the proverbial “transformative experience." Suffice it to say; they are my favorite band. It seems only fitting that BOH could play such a blindly coincidental and yet crucial role in the series of events that led me to the GPP offices where I’m sitting now.
I walked into the living room of my family home about four months ago to find my Dad discovering new television channels. He’d finally broken down and purchased the ever so essential HD television. Prior to that, he owned an old box set that worked “just fine,” but he begrudgingly sprung for the new one after some careful consideration. He stopped on an independent music channel called Palladia that was showing what looked like a benefit concert for a group with a focus on global poverty. He thought I’d be interested since I’d just returned from a service trip to Guatemala.
No sooner had we set the remote down, than my beloved Band of Horses came out on the Global Citizen Festival stage to play a set for the show. What was this great and unlikely combination before my eyes? I was experiencing a musical heaven/social justice mash-up. Impossible! I couldn’t look away for a second. After the set, the show transitioned to a short documentary piece about a grassroots organization working to fight poverty in Guatemala.
If I had made that up, I would consider myself a far superior storyteller.Alas, that most coincidental of stories led me to apply for the then open position of Communications Road Scholar on the Global Poverty Project’s Spring Tour and I haven’t looked back.
Now, as we prepare to set out on this great adventure-which will take us across the entire country I’m finally realizing my dreams in more ways than one. The ability to travel is great, but the privilege of having conversations with the people we’ll meet is far greater.
I may not have worked up quite enough gumption to take on the groupie lifestyle full time, but I can’t think of a better excuse to hit the road.. We’ll be blazing our own trail this Spring as we work together to build a movement. The end of extreme poverty truly is an idea whose time has come. We can end the suffering of many with the actions of few.
Prior to last week, if you were to ask the average person about the “situation in Mali,” you might only get a puzzled look. Indeed, until I was offered a job working for an agricultural NGO in Mali last fall, I had been mostly unaware about the military coup last March and the subsequent seizing of Mali’s northern half by Islamist extremists. But this little known country has captured global attention in the past week after French and African forces sent in thousands of troops in order to retake the northern regions from militant groups, some of which are known to have ties to al Qaida. And now all eyes have shifted to neighboring Algeria as well after a hostage crisis, which has definite connections to the Mali conflict, has ended in tragedy.
The fact that no one had heard much out of Mali until last week should come as no surprise, as it is emblematic of a larger problem with the way our politicians and news organizations treat Africa—the tendency is to ignore much of what happens on the continent until things are totally out of control. From an American perspective, the sole major political discussion of the Malian crisis I heard over the past year were the few lines Mitt Romney spoke during a presidential debate about the threat of extremism spreading across the Sahara. And the news stories coming out of Mali prior to the French invasion were about the imposition of harsh Sharia law in northern cities and the destruction of tombs inside the fabled city of Timbuktu. But while all tragic and appalling, not a single one of these discussions or stories gets to the heart of Mali’s troubles. At best, they reduce the narrative to a simplistic tale of good guys vs. bad guys.
At its core, the current upheaval in Mali—a country that was until very recently one of the most stable African democracies—is not about religious extremism or global terrorism. It is about extreme poverty and an absence of any means to rise above it. Indeed, this could be said about any number of countries that have had vast swaths of territory usurped by militant groups, Islamist or otherwise. We have seen all over the world in recent years that extremism is thriving because large populations of uneducated, poor, frustrated and powerless young men all of a sudden find themselves very powerful indeed once given weapons and a target upon which they can unleash their frustrations.
So despite all of the headlines and political grandstanding over the past week about the West’s fight with radical Islam, the crisis in Mali is actually rooted in the tensions between a secular movement of ethnic Tuareg people and the central government in Bamako. Although the Tuareg people belong to a number of different countries, Malian Tuaregs specifically have fought with Bamako for decades, attempting in vain to establish their own independent state (which they call “Azawad”). So what is the chief source of the Tuareg animosity toward the government?--a total lack of economic opportunity.
Malian Tuaregs have faced a variety of economic challenges over the years, most often connected to drought and desertification brought on by climate change, as well as the inevitable famines and refugee crises that ensue. Meanwhile, the central government in Bamako has either failed to provide economic support or intentionally marginalized the Tuaregs (depending on who you ask). Either way, in the absence of any relief from a state of perpetual poverty, many Tuareg groups have turned their frustration into concerted political action by banding together into separatist groups, such as the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).
After the MNLA launched attacks to drive out the Malian army from the northern regions in early 2012, capturing several key cities, Malian armed forces then overthrew the central government in a coup, angered by Bamako’s failure to suppress the Tuareg rebellion. It was only after this point that radical Islamist groups were able to co-opt the secular Tuareg rebellion, turning northern Mali into center stage for the “war on terror” with the deployment of French and African soldiers (who have been in turn supported by American, Canadian and European intelligence, weapons and financing).
In response to the French-led intervention, news reports and op-eds hinting that Mali could become the next Afghanistan have sprung up all over. If one thing is accurate about that comparison, it is this: If the military forces leading the charge don’t go beyond bombing campaigns and ground assaults—that is, if they don’t stay for the long and arduous haul of helping to rebuild livelihoods after the dust settles—then Mali could very well become Afghanistan 2.0.
Here’s why: In the early 1980s, the U.S. government helped to arm the mujahideen to oust Soviet forces from Afghanistan—and then they left, creating a power vacuum that many argue allowed for the rise of Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban. As a result, Afghanistan today is a floundering state at best, where the most profitable economic venture for the average citizen is in the production and smuggling of opium.
In Mali, reports have already begun to surface warning that the country is on the verge of a total refugee crisis; over 200,000 Malians have already fled the fighting in the north, and as many as 700,000 more could be displaced in the coming weeks. This is an issue that must be dealt with swiftly and deliberately, though the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has reported that it is barely one-third toward its fundraising needs of $150 million for the necessary emergency operation. The UN World Food Program is also struggling to operate in northern areas because of a heightened risk of violence and kidnappings. And these are just the relief efforts, to say nothing of the rebuilding of livelihoods that must follow.
But the conflict isn’t only causing problems in the north. Even in Bamako, hundreds of miles from the fighting, the threat of violence against Westerners has forced many aid organizations to suspend vital operations and evacuate staff—which is why I am writing this post from a friend’s apartment in Senegal, and not from my house in Mali.
Last week, when I was checking in at the airport for my hasty flight to Dakar, the woman at the counter asked me, “Are you abandoning Mali?” A bit taken aback by this question, I simply answered that I was going to Senegal for business and would be back in a few weeks—I sincerely hope that’s true.
But once the fighting stops, if people aren’t able to return to their homes, if schools don’t open their doors, if the government doesn’t invest in its people (with the support of the West), and if the feelings of hopelessness and frustration amongst the Tuaregs aren’t remedied, then we all know how the story ends: militant groups will continue to exploit the conditions of extreme poverty, more kidnappings and hostage crises like that in Algeria are bound to occur, NGOs and other relief and aid organizations will be forced to evacuate again, and even beautiful Dakar might cease to be a safe place to lay low.
This is a guest blog by Daniel Skallman.
*Pictures attribution respectively: Emilio Labrador, Alfred Weidinger
On behalf of the Global Poverty Project, I would like to extend my most sincere heartfelt congratulations to Akram Azimi, a remarkable individual with a truly inspirational story, on his announcement as the 2013 Young Australian of the Year. Akram is no stranger to the Global Poverty Project family, having served as a presenter of our 1.4 Billion Reasons presentation and as an ambassador for The End of Polio campaign.
I have had the privilege of counting Akram as a dear friend ever since we first met at a student conference in Singapore several years ago, and our friendship has deepened over our time together with the Rotary Club of Crawley. Having had the pleasure of witnessing up close Akram's kind character, warm sentiment and colossal commitment to community service, this announcement comes as no surprise. Indeed, you would be hard pressed to find a more deserving and gracious awardee and I have no doubt whatsoever that his example will inspire many Australians to give much more of themselves in time, skills and money.
Yet on the day when his significant contribution to the nation is rightly being celebrated, one would have naturally excused Akram for taking a moment's break from community service to simply bask in glory. He's earned it after all. But that's not in line with Akram's character. Rather he was keen as ever to roll up his sleeves and get to work on one of many upcoming projects he will be helping us out on, and he wanted you - our loyal supporters - to be involved right from the get go. With that in mind we wish to share the below message from Akram.
Congratulations once again Akram!
Michael Sheldrick - Campaign Manager, The End of Polio
I am living and healthy proof of how foreign aid can transform the life of a person in the developing world. However, you usually don't get the chance to meet them and see what a profound difference your tax dollars have made… until today.
I could thank the Prime Minister today as a healthy young person precisely because I was immunised against polio in war-torn Afghanistan by funds contributed to by Australian tax payers. Reflecting on this, I realise that Australians saved my life well before I set foot on Australian soil.
However, I did fail today to thank someone else: you.
Because if it weren’t for you and the other supporters of this campaign, the Prime Minister wouldn’t have made polio eradication a priority. You’re the reason the Australian Government committed $50 million to polio eradication. And you’re the reason that the PM stood alongside Bill Gates and Ban Ki-moon as a leader in the world of polio eradication at last year’s UNGA.
That’s why I’m so excited to be a part of this incredibly important campaign.
I was born in Afghanistan and spent part of my childhood in Pakistan. I know what it means to live in a polio-endemic country. I even remember receiving the vaccine.
I’ve also seen the research that shows what will happen if we fail – 200,000 children paralysed by this disease every year. On the other hand, success would truly make a statement that every child’s life is as valuable as our own.
So while I thanked the Prime Minister for everything she’s done so far today, I know the Government and our community can do more – together we can fight this through to the end.
I’m planning to make the most of my time as Young Australian of the Year by sharing the inspiring story of polio eradication far and wide. I’ll be doing all I can to make sure our collective voices are heard on this issue, and I’d love to share the platform with you. Join me as I tour the country giving presentations on polio.
And if you're interested in supporting or hosting me on my tour, click here.
Thanks once again for your involvement in this campaign and I hope to see your face in the crowd!
It's more than a dream or an idea for us at the Global Poverty Project - it's a commitment.
It's a commitment that we've been talking about for years - and for which this blog post, originally posted in 2010, has sparked huge conversation.
The end of extreme poverty in a generation is an idea whose day has come.
We're thrilled to see the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, join us today in saying that this world is possible:
"Thirty years ago more than half the planet lived on the equivalent of $1.25 a day or less. Today it is around a fifth.
This amazing story of human progress shows what’s possible.
We can be the generation that eradicates absolute poverty in our world."
It's not going to be quick, nor is going to be easy. It's going to require us to keep giving aid, but to go much further.
As the Prime Minsiter said in his speech at the World Economic Forum this morning, "we’ll only achieve that if we break the vicious cycle and treat the causes of poverty, not just its symptoms."
Ending extreme poverty requires us to support the efforts of the world's poor to change systems in their own countries, whilst also changing how our ecnomies work. It's why we campaign on aid, on trade, on transparency and governance, and it's why we're a committed member of the IF campaign in the UK.
That's why we're committed to playing our part at the Global Poverty Project - by running campaigns that give you, global citizens, the opportunity and challenge to play your small role in ending extreme poverty.