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My First Blog Post

Political events are part of everyday life.

— Doris Salcedo.

Politics…

For most people, politics is a dull and tedious subject. In fact, when I told some people what I wanted to study at university, I got asked if I was just a boring person who wanted to become the next member of parliament. This is because when people think of politics, they think of the politicians on television who say that they are ‘different’ and are going to change things and make the country a better place. The lies and deceit of politicians gives a bad reputation to politics as a subject. However, what people fail to realise is that politics is more than the government and politicians. It is a vast subject that affects everyone, no matter who you are. Politics shapes our morals and how we go about our daily life. It stretches from crime to the economy. Still think it is boring?

Within this blog, I want to share my enjoyment for politics. Whilst it is a very complicated and opinion based subject, I hope to make it as simple as possible so that anyone can read and understand it. Perhaps, I may teach some people a thing or two so that they can feel confident in political discussion. I hope to do this by discussing current affairs, social issues and political books. By no means am I an expert at politics, I learn new things all the time through my degree, discussions and books. In fact, a few years ago, before I studied politics for my International Baccalaureate, I can honestly say that politics was not a passion or even strong interest of mine. However, I didn’t realise how vast the subject is. In particular, I found myself to be fascinated by security politics. I believe that, with knowledge, everyone will find their interest within the subject which is my reason for doing this blog.

Swimming in Oil

Imagine waking up every day to a view of the Indian Ocean, the beautiful translucent waves creeping gently to shore as if to protect the diverse and unique ecosystems beneath. As a Mauritian, the water is your livelihood: it is a place of work, for fishermen and activities; a place for food, to feed the country’s 1.29 million residents; and a place to explore and discover, as a biodiversity hotspot. Further to this, the alluring sea attracts over 4,600 high net worth individuals to Mauritius, as a place to relax and do business, which has made it the fastest-growing wealth market in Africa. Alongside these wealthy individuals, everyday tourism occurs which, between 2007 and 2017, made the total wealth held by Mauritius rise by 195%, in US terms. These reasons combined, make the country rely on the sea for the security of the economy.

However, on the 25th of July, this dependency was destroyed after a Japanese-owned ship ran aground offshore of Pointe d’Esny, in the south of Mauritius. About a week later, it began spilling oil near the biodiversity hotspot which left Mauritius devastated about the future of the coastal region. To make matters worse, the wind and water currents began to drift the oil towards the area that has vital marine ecosystems. The region is home to 1700 species including 800 types of fish, 17 kinds of marine mammals, and 2 species of turtle, according to the UN Convention of Biological Diversity. All of which will be affected due to the vast amount of oil in the region, if not directly, then indirectly through the food chain or the habitat. Around 25% of fish in the ocean depend on healthy coral reefs according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the US. However, the toxic hydrocarbons released from spilled oil will bleach the coral reefs and they will eventually die. This will have an impact across the food chain. Not only this but Mauritius, as an island, are already at risk due to climate change. By wetlands and coral reefs dying, the island is more at risk due to rising sea levels.

The carrier was believed to be carrying around 4,000 tonnes of fuel, whereby 1,200 tonnes of fuel is believed to have spilled into the lagoon. The type of fuel that the carrier was transporting was a new low-sulfur oil which is being introduced to reduce air pollution. This type of oil has never been spilled before so there have been no long-term studies on the impacts of the fuel on marine life. After news about the oil spread, the local and international community rushed to help the island control the matter. The island called on the international community in order to help them with the spill due to not having the facilities and knowledge to deal with the clear up of an oil spill. The first response was from the local French island, Reunion. They were able to erect ocean booms in order to contain the oil spill. In addition to this, the United Nations sent a team that involved experts in oil spills and crisis management. By working with the government, the UN has been able to coordinate clean-up efforts to quickly return the island back to reality. In as little as one weekend, 80km of make-shift oil booms were created out of cane trash- the leftover leaves and waste from sugar-cane processing- to contain the oil. This, in combination with empty bottles, aided them to float whilst anchors stopped them from drifting away.

But what caused the ship to run aground? There are currently three main theories as to why the ship ran aground. The first theory is poor weather theory. This theory was suggested by Panama’s Maritime Authorities (where the Japanese-owned vessel was registered). They state that poor weather conditions caused the ship to go off route, which led to it running aground. However, when looking at satellite images around the time, no other ship or vessel was impacted or changed trajectory due to adverse weather at the time. In observing this, the theory of poor weather leading to the spill is not satisfactory. The second theory is to do with internet signals and suggests that the ship changed course slightly in order to get a stronger internet signal. Due to the current context of the coronavirus, crew members would have wanted to get in contact with their families to make sure that they are okay. However, this theory is also weak as in 2019, Mitsui OSK Lines confirmed that all vessels that operated in its fleet had access to free and unlimited internet. This would have meant that they would not have needed to change course for ‘stronger signals’. The final theory is the alcohol theory. It is said that there could have been a possible party onboard the ship when it ran aground. However, this theory is bad for the reputation of Mitsui OSK Lines whose CEO committed to a strict alcohol management program being enforced across all vessels. This was in response to a serious crash at a US Naval Base on the island of Guam in December 2018, by a Mitsui OSK Lines cruise ship. The transport company aimed to tackle alcohol abuse through rigorous training, mental health support, crew monitoring, and having breathalyzers on board.

All three theories as to why the ship ran aground have weakened considerably after further research has been conducted. Whilst a public investigation continues to go on about what happened on the ship, the international community continues to support the island and islanders as they attempt to clear up after the disaster. Reports suggest that the Japanese and Mauritian governments have entered into talks for the Japanese government to pay 3.6 billion Yen (equivalent to 34 million USD) to the Mauritian government in order to support local fisherfolk who have been impacted. Although money will not reverse the clock, it is of considerable aid to a community with an unknown future.

The Cycle of Slavery in Libya

“Does anyone need a digger? This is a digger, a big strong man, he’ll dig”

When asked about slavery, the majority of people’s minds drift back to their history lessons on the slave trade, whereby around 12 million Africans were shipped to various parts of the world in order to become slaves. However, the dissolution of the trade in the 19th century was not the end of slavery. When Walk Free, the International Labour Organisation, and dozens of other state and non state actors came together in 2016 to form Alliance 8.7, there was an estimation of 40 million people enslaved. 16 million of these were said to be enslaved through forced labour in the private sector, whilst a further 15 million were said to be enslaved through forced marriage. Yet, the world is silent.

When footage appeared from CNN in 2017, the world became outraged. The video appeared to show several African migrants being sold at an auction at a property outside Tripoli, Libya. The UN Security Council condemned the video as “heinous human rights abuses which may also amount to crimes against humanity.” In addition to this, they encouraged cooperation between the European Union and African Union so that they could protect the lives of migrants and refugees along migration routes. Whilst the EU demanded swift action to occur, they didn’t take it much further. In fact, it is the EU who adds to the problem. After the migration crisis in 2015, the EU, particularly Italy, implemented a series of measures aimed at closing off the migration route through the Mediterranean. Instead of thinking about the consequences this may have on the migrants, they only cared about restricting migration into Europe. 

Primarily, the EU committed to providing technical support and assistance to the Libyan Department for Combating Illegal Migration. By doing this, they are supporting the detention centres where refugees and migrants are arbitrarily and indefinitely held. Within these camps, individuals are exposed to a poor standard of life, with cramped rooms and poor sanitation. To add to this, they are routinely exposed to serious human rights violations including torture. One migrant told his story about being in a detention centre. He said that the rooms were cramped and he was sometimes given as little as one piece of bread a day. In order to get out of the camps, individuals would have to pay extreme amounts of money. If they were unable to pay, they would get routinely tortured. Not only this, but within the camps, women and men would be kept separate. This made it easier for guards to sexually abuse the women. 

Secondly, through training and equipment, the EU has enabled the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept people at sea. By giving them the assistance they need, and turning migrants away, they have facilitated their exposure to abuse. Those who get intercepted at sea are then taken back to Libya to be put into centres like the ones described above. This creates a cycle of abuse which is facilitated by the EU.

Finally, the EU has created deals with Libyan local authorities and the leaders of tribes and armed groups. These deals encourage them to stop the smuggling of people and to increase border controls. However, these deals do not mean that these groups stop giving hope to migrants. They continue to sell the dream of a better life in Europe to these vulnerable individuals, in exchange for money. However, instead of helping them get to Europe, these groups take these vulnerable people and exploit them. They keep them trapped in detention centres unless they are able to pay their way out. For the majority of migrants, they do not have enough money to be able to do this which leaves them trapped, in the hands of these corrupt groups. Many of whom go on to sell them as slaves.

Whilst the EU may condemn slavery in Libya, they are not actually doing anything to stop it. Instead of spending millions to prevent migrants coming to Europe, which leaves them in the hands of corrupt groups in Libya, they could be utilising their money to improve the standard of living within Africa. The reason that so many migrants flee to Europe each year is because they are looking for a better life, a life where they can provide for their family. They want to escape countries filled with poverty, war and corruption. Libya happens to be the main transit point for refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe by sea. By travelling to Libya, a country that has been in a state of civil war since the death of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, individuals are driven into the hands of these corrupt groups who can go on to sell them as commodities. Even if they make it into the Mediterranean, the majority of migrants either die during the journey or are caught by the Libyan coast guard. 

This cycle will not stop until powerful organisations like the UN or the EU do something to address the problem. Whilst they may condemn the act of slavery, this is not enough. They need to be actively doing things to stop it. Whether this be, addressing the problem of migration and funding projects in Africa, or communicating better with Libya and holding these groups accountable. These organisations are the only ones who have the power to do so yet when the trend dies, they no longer address the problem as they themselves, are not being held accountable.

The Story of Yemen

The UN says that Yemen is on the brink of the world’s worst famine in 100 years if the war is to continue. The civil unrest has been going on for a long time with Yemen partaking in the Arab Spring uprisings. However, it escalated into a war in 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition intervened. This has had devastating effects on the Yemen population. To this day, the World Health Organisation estimates that 80% of Yemen’s population need humanitarian assistance and protection. Whilst 14.3 million are said to require an acute need of assistance, a further 10 million are considered to be one step away from famine. An estimated 2 million of that figure are said to be children, with 360,000 children under the age of 5 struggling to survive. To make matters worse, an estimated 18 million people do not have enough clean water or access to adequate sanitation. With 20 million people lacking access to adequate healthcare, this has led to a rise in deaths from disease, with 2.2 million suspected cholera cases. However, the effects have not only been in Yemen. An estimated 3.65 million people have been displaced from their homes, with refugees seeking refuge in Oman, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti and more. But, how did Yemen get here and what is the world doing to help?

After a wave of pro-democracy uprisings occurred across the Arab world, Yemen’s longtime authoritarian president, Ali Abdulah Saleh, stepped down, handing his power over to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. However, Hadi struggled to revive the country which led it to persist through high unemployment and food insecurities. Not only this, but Hadi struggled to achieve the loyalty of his security personnel, who continued to support Saleh. This made it harder for Hadi to prevent attacks by Jihadists and a separatist movement in the south.

With chaos persisting in the country, the Houthi movement decided to take advantage. The movement, which champions Yemen’s Zaidi Shia Muslim minority, repaired their relationship with former president Saleh in order to take control of the capital and much of the north. With the capital, Saana, and neighbouring areas being seized, the group looked towards taking control of the entire country. This forced Mr Hadi to flee abroad in March 2015. Neighbouring Saudi Arabia saw the Houthis, who were said to be backed by Iran, as a threat to their own security. A rise in the Houthis could be an opportunity for Iran to gain a foothold on their border. As a result of this, Saudi Arabia and 8 other mostly Sunni Arab states, began an air campaign aimed at defeating the Houthis, ending Iranian influence in Yemen and restoring Mr Hadi’s government. 

Whilst it was predicted that the war would only last a few weeks, it continued for years after. In August 2015, coalition ground troops landed in the southern port city of Aden. This helped drive the Houthis and their allies out of the south. Hadi’s government was then able to re-establish a temporary home in Aden. However, the Houthis remained in Sanaa and the north-west of Yemen.

After a deadly clash in 2017, over Sanaa’s biggest mosque, the alliance between the Houthis and Saleh collapsed, with Saleh being killed during the attacks.

In June of 2018, the coalition launched a major offensive to capture the Red Sea city of Hudaydah from the Houthis. This port was a principal lifeline for almost two-thirds of Yemen’s population. The UN said that the port’s destruction would constitute a tipping point beyond which it was going to be impossible to avert massive loss of life due to famine. This led to 6 months of fighting which ended in a ceasefire under the Stockholm Agreement. Under this agreement, both sides had to redeploy forces from Hudaydah, establish a prison exchange mechanism and address the situation in Taiz. Whilst many prisoners went on to be released, forces were not redeployed.

In September 2019, Saudi Arabia’s eastern oil fields of Abqaiq and Khurais were attacked by air. This disrupted nearly half of the country’s oil production- representing 5% of global oil output. Whilst the Houthis claimed responsibility for it, Saudi Arabia and the US accused Iran of carrying out the attacks. 

In August of 2019, fighting erupted between the Saudi-backed government forces and the southern separatist movement (Southern Transitional Council, STC). The fighting stopped in November after an agreement was signed. The Riyadh Agreement sought to end a power struggle in the south of Yemen which risked opening a new front in the multifaceted conflict. However, in April 2020, the STC declared self-rule in Aden which broke the agreement.

Fighting between the Houthis and coalition-led forces persisted through the beginning of 2020. However, in April, Saudi Arabia announced a unilateral ceasefire due to the coronavirus. The Houthis went on to reject this, demanding that air and sea blockades needed to be lifted in Sanaa and Hudaydah. 

Whilst fighting persists, Yemenis suffer. Since March 2015, the coalition has conducted numerous indiscriminate airstrikes, using munitions sold by the US, UK and others. This has led to the destruction of civilians and civilian structures. Human Rights Watch (HRW) have documented at least 5 unlawful attacks on Yemen fishing boats, by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes. In addition to this, HRW have calculated that there has been an average of 12 attacks a day. Many of these attacks have destroyed hospitals, schools, buses, markets, mosques, farms, bridges, factories and detention centres. Whilst in June 2019, the UK government agreed to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the US have continued. In fact, Donald Trump has vetoed any congressional efforts to end US arms sales to Saudi Arabia. This has led to Saudi Arabia being America’s largest weapon buyer. 

In addition to this, the Saudi-led coalition has consistently restricted imports into Yemen. This has made the humanitarian situation worse as fuel tankers have been delayed and diverted, critical ports have been closed and goods have been stopped from entering Houthi-controlled seaports. Similarly, Houthis have continued to impose severe movement restrictions, including the flow of aid into Yemen’s third largest city, Taizz. This has had a devastating impact on the local residents. 

According to ACLED, over 100,000 people have been killed in Yemen, including 12,000 civilians, as well as an estimated 85,000 who have died as a result of the ongoing famine. However, as coronavirus has escalated, the issue of Yemen has been ignored. Countries have had to prioritise themselves so that they can tackle and recover from the pandemic. The economic impact of the virus has meant that aid has not been delivered to Yemen. In fact, the UN has said that 30 out of 41 programmes in Yemen will be closed due to not receiving enough funding.

Whilst several charities continue to prioritise Yemen, through delivering aid and creating awareness, the country is far from being saved. Until countries come back together, through the UN, Yemen will continue to be a war-torn country seeping towards the worst famine in 100 years.