Today is Valentine’s Day, and it seems that the marketing of the day, and of many occasions throughout the year, has stepped up substantially over the past couple of years. Many believe that Valentine’s Day (or VD for short), is now simply feeding our consumerist culture. But there is probably more to it than simply marketing gone mad – although marketers are pretty good at tapping into our very human vulnerabilities.
A plan to end the South Sudan conflict being brokered by neighbouring governments is not likely to come to fruition. Despite talks around a ceasefire proposal since before the first of the year, there has been no sign of movement towards ending a spiral of violence that has torn apart the world’s newest state.
The key protagonists and the immediate causes of the conflict are well known. In mid-July, ethnic Dinka President Salva Kiir sacked his government following a power struggle within the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). In the face of a claimed attempted coup d'etat, in mid-December ethnic Dinkas in the presidential guard began disarming their ethnic Nuer colleagues, linked to former vice-president Riek Machar, leading to tit-for-tat killings that quickly spiralled out of control.
The question is, though, why did a country that became independent just two-and-a-half years ago fall apart so quickly? There are three inter-linked answers, each of which will have to be addressed if the country is to have any hope of saving itself from collapse.
The first problem is one that besets most newly independent states that comprise more than one large ethnic group. With most political institutions still poorly formed and economies not sufficiently developed to create economic classes upon which to base political parties, politics tends to cohere around tribal and language groups, usually establishing geographic isolation.
Political leaders develop patron-client relationships with supporters, in which, in simple terms, loyalty is financially rewarded. Thus ethnic identification and reward come to be linked, with other ethnic groups constituting not just a political threat but a challenge to economic survival. This competition for economic resources is most acute when the state relies on a narrow income base; South Sudan is the most heavily oil-dependent country in the world, with oil receipts accounting for 98% of its income. There are, effectively, no other sources for economic distribution.
Even in cases where there is little or no prior internal conflict, such a setting is ripe for internal conflict. In the case of South Sudan, its factions also have a pre-independence history of open conflict.
Machar joined the SPLM/A in 1984, but in 1991 fell out with then SPLM/A leader and ethnic Dinka John Garang over whether South Sudan should remain part of a secular, democratic Sudan or become independent. Favouring full independence, Machar formed the splinter group SPLM/A-Nasir, based in the oil-rich north-east of South Sudan. As a result of this split, there were a number of massacres and a famine that left tens of thousands dead.
Despite his earlier pro-independence leaning, six years later, Machar reached a peace agreement with the Sudanese government and was made head of the South Sudan Defence Force, in 2000 forming a new militia, the Sudan People’s Defence Force/Democratic Front. Yet in 2002, he re-joined the SPLM/A as a senior commander.
Garang died in a helicopter crash in 2005, with Kiir assuming leadership of the SPLM/A. It appeared, however, that Machar’s primary interest had been, from the outset, to establish his personal authority over the movement, leading to the events of 2012.
An end to the fighting will now only be possible if one of two outcomes are met. The first is that Kiir’s predominantly Dinka forces militarily defeat Machar’s largely Nuer forces. While possible, this does not look like presenting a permanent solution to a complex ethnic, regional and economic problem.
The second course -- which would be difficult but more sustainable -- would be if Machar abandons what appears to be continuing political ambition to control the state dominated by an opposing ethnic majority. This may be achieved by Machar being given autonomous control over the ethnic Nuer northern region of South Sudan.
There would then need to be a regional revenue sharing agreement, given that most oil production occurs in the north of South Sudan, currently under Machar’s control. As well, there would also need to be some agreement with smaller ethnic groups that are also involved in fighting.
South Sudan’s politics would continue to be dominated by tribalism, patronage and a narrow economic base, meaning it would remain fragile. But, assuming such an agreement, there could at least be an end to the killing, the resumption of oil exports and the rebuilding of this still very under-developed state.
Without a comprehensive political agreement, however, a ceasefire seems improbable, and South Sudan’s warfare is likely to continue.
There's been a bit of a flurry on the internets and in the media about this advertisement (below) from Pantene in the Philippines. Many have questioned whether this is an advertisement for a hair product, or something bigger - perhaps a contribution to the feminist discourse.
It certainly has the capacity to contribute to a discussion about the role of women in the workplace, and some of the entrenched difficulties that women have when compared to the way that men operate (and are rewarded).
My brilliant colleague, Amanda Allisey, put it eloquently recently when arguing (on that great font of debate, Facebook) about the media's portrayal of women, and how it influences social norms (which means we don't notice it):
Just one woman has been appointed to new prime minister Tony Abbott’s first Cabinet of 19.
When great political change transforms a nation, there is often a defining image that comes to symbolise it. The iconic Barack Obama “Hope” poster from the 2008 US presidential campaign, for instance, embodied the spirit of a nation that was seeking social change and to make history with its first African-American president.
Many Australians would have watched Muslim MasterChef contestant Samira get kicked off the show on Wednesday night for cooking the worst pork hot dog.
The removal of Egypt’s president Mohamed Morsi has done nothing to heal a deeply divided nation and an even more polarised political class. One of the many questions that will persist for some time is whether this was really a ‘military coup’ in the classical sense or whether it was ‘people power’ driven by mass demonstrations and enacted by the military.But this is a mere sematic debate that does not advance any particular practical argument, nor does it change a fundamental reality: that is any political action should always be judged by its outcome first and foremost and not simply by its discursive construction.
Egyptians and observers worldwide just woke up to the shocking but not un-expected news of the ousting of President Mohammed Morsi, the first ever democratically elected president in Egypt. Depending on which camp you align with, this is either a correction and restoration of the democratic project initiated following the overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak just over 29 months ago, or simply a military coup against a legitimate President whose only crime is that he is an ‘Islamist’ president representing the ‘Justice and Freedom’, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Friday night’s AFL match between Collingwood and Sydney marked the opening of the code’s Indigenous Round. Yet the chance for the contribution of Indigenous footballers to the game – both past and present – to be recognised and celebrated was marred by a racial taunt from a young supporter at Sydney’s Indigenous star Adam Goodes.
The round of games aimed to recognise the contribution of Indigenous people and culture to the broader Australian society. While showcasing the unique talent and pride in culture of the Indigenous community, it simultaneously noted the struggle against racism that has accompanied the achievements of many Indigenous people in this country.