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Afghanistan's Mineral Wealth: An End to Problems, or the Beginning of New Ones?

Afghanistan is one of the poorest nations on the earth, where the income per capita is only $446 per year. So when the US Department of Defense announced that Afghanistan may be holding more than a trillion dollars of mineral wealth under its soil, the future prospects of Afghanistan suddenly seemed a little brighter.  Some have even stated that Afghanistan could be the Saudi Arabia of minerals.

Great news, right? Not necessarily. First and foremost, Afghanistan will have to stabilize to even attract foreign investors. According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development, Afghanistan, with a population of 27.2 million people, saw $300 million in foreign direct investment in 2008. That might sound like a lot, but Trinidad and Tobago, a much smaller country of only 1.3 million  inhabitants attracted over $3 billion in that same year. Even if foreign countries and businesses eventually decide to heavily invest in Afghanistan (and that’s a big if) some examples from around the world show that an abundance of natural resources can create a lot of problems. These problems are often referred to as “the resource curse”. Nowhere is the resource curse more evident than in Africa.

Nigeria’s resource curse is synonymous with its oil problems. Nigeria’s political instability and history of systematic corruption has left much of its oil wealth concentrated in the hands of the few. Rather than being a force for development throughout the country, Nigeria’s oil wealth has far too often fallen prey to government mismanagement or worse - outright graft. Corruption isn’t Nigeria’s only oil problem. Rebel groups in the oil rich Niger River Delta resent both the government and foreign oil companies who ignore the environmental and social problems that come with drilling. Throughout the years, these rebel groups have kidnapped foreign oil workers, and attacked oil rigs making investment by foreign countries less attractive.


Elsewhere on the continent, the mining of diamonds have fueled deadly conflicts and activities of warlords throughout Africa. Charles Taylor, who faces charges of war crimes at The Hague, used diamond exports to fund his support of insurgency groups in Sierra Leone while he was the president of Liberia. Thankfully, the practice appears to be on the decline due to sanctions by the UN, increased international visibility, and a conflict-free diamond certification process.

While these problems may sound unique to a continent continually ravaged by war and prone to corruption, they also exist in abundance in Afghanistan. It’s not hard to imagine mineral wealth squandered by an already corrupt Afghan government. It’s equally easy to see a future in which minerals are used to fund tribal conflicts or even aid terror groups. It would be wonderful to believe that mineral wealth could create jobs, raise the standard of living, and solve many of Afghanistan’s problems. But in its current state, it may be more likely that the minerals would just create new ones.



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10 Bright Spots in a Pretty Bad Year

In this week’s special edition of Global Pulse, host Erin Coker reviews 2009 news stories that will matter in 2010. Watch the episode, and share your thoughts, below!


Between the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an upsurge in violence in Pakistan, Iran’s political upheaval and the global financial crisis, 2009 has been tumultuous to say the least. Even for someone immersed in global media, it was difficult at times not to hit the cheap (and the not-so-cheap) wine just to get through the daily barrage of bleak news.


Which is why I took it upon myself to drum up 10 of the year’s more positive stories. Some were widely reported, others warranted only a fleeting mention, but all stand out as bright spots on an otherwise challenging year. A good reminder that even in the darkest of times, a silver lining can be found if you look hard enough. I’ll drink to that!

1. A Different Kind of Hotel Rwanda
Following the instability and brutal civil war that plagued the central-African nation in the late-1990s, tourists are returning to the country to marvel at its mountain gorillas and lush landscapes. Tourism revenues rise 11 percent in the first quarter of 2009, compared to the same period last year. Even better, the Cartagena Summit on a Mine-Free World announces that Rwanda is officially “landmine free” – a distinction that is doubtless welcomed by tourists and residents alike.


2. Afghanistan and Pakistan Get More Schools
Non-profit activist Greg Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute (CAI), continue to build schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan, even in Taliban areas. Because CAI schools rely heavily on community involvement, militant groups have largely avoided destroying or damaging what are perceived as locally-backed projects.  To date, the CAI has built 130 schools in the two countries. To learn more about CAI or to get involved, visit


3. Aceh Rebuilt
Five years after the Indian Ocean Tsunami devastated communities in Aceh, Indonesia, rebuilding efforts in the hardest-hit province are wrapping up. In November, aid group CRS announces that it has met its reconstruction goals in Aceh.


4. Karadzic Faces the International Criminal Court. Sort of.
Although the alleged Bosnian Serb war criminal boycotts the opening of his trial, claiming that he did not have sufficient time to examine the evidence against him – 10 years on the lam wasn’t enough time? – Radovan Karadzic does appear in court on November 3. The trial is expected to resume in March of next year.


5. Kidnapped Aid Workers Released
After being seized by Somali gunmen in Kenya, three aid workers with Action Against Hunger are released three months later. In a similar bit of good news, assailants also free kidnapped aid workers snatched in Sudan’s Darfur region.


6. U.N. Demands Halt to Rape as War Weapon
Unanimously voted in, resolution 1888 reflects the 15-member body's "demand for the complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence with immediate effect." Plans are in the works to create a special U.N. post to front the effort.


7. Detained Journalists Freed in Iran, Iranian Writers Honored
Following domestic and international protests, jailed U.S./Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi is released from a Tehran prison. Saberi had been originally sentenced to eight years in prison for “having collaborated with a hostile state.” Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari is also released after being held for nearly four months following Iran’s June elections. In November, Human Rights Watch honors four Iranian writers with prestigious Hellman/Hammett awards for their courage in the face of political persecution.


8. Latin America Takes Steps Towards Equality
Mexico City backs a gay marriage bill, making the city the first in Latin America to legalize gay marriage. In another first, Uruguay passes a same-sex adoption bill, granting same-sex couples the right to adopt children.


9. Zimbabwe Slowly (Very Slowly) Improving
Following political instability, runaway inflation and a devastating cholera outbreak, Zimbabwe is making some inroads to recovery. HIV prevalence rates continue to fall and inflation is dropping. After months of fruitless negotiations, Zimbabwe’s rival leaders reach an agreement on commissions for human rights, election and the media, possibly putting an end to ongoing political deadlock.


10. Child Brides Take a Stand
A Saudi court rules in favor of an 8-year-old girl seeking to divorce her 47-year-old husband. Soon after the decision, the Saudi justice minister announces plans to enact a law protecting young girls from marriages. In rural India, young girls follow the lead of Rekha Kalini, who attracted widespread attention after refusing a forced marriage.


For more news highlights from 2009, catch the Global Pulse year-end special Once and Future News 2009-2010.


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U.S. Media and the Overseas Invasion

In this week's special behind-the-scenes episode, Inside Global Pulse, host Erin Coker gives viewers an inside glimpse of what goes into the making of a Global Pulse Episode, particularly the role of international news outlets. Watch this episode below!

Since the conclusion of the Cold War, and particularly in the last decade, U.S. coverage of international news has significantly declined. While U.S. news outlets briefly ramped up overseas coverage immediately following 9/11, in recent years international stories have once again dropped off in favor of nationally focused pieces. In 2008, foreign news coverage was at a record low.

Strained budgets and sinking ad revenues have further altered the global media landscape, forcing the closure of U.S. foreign bureaus from Paris to Bangkok, with foreign correspondents in the traditional sense becoming increasingly obsolete.

Ironically, news outlets broadcasting in English have exploded in the last decade. Such newly emerging global news channels include Russia Today, China’s CCTV, Al Jazeera English, France 24, and Press TV from Iran, to name a few.  

Why the news invasion? Some experts point to a desire to offer a unique country-specific perspective on a world media stage dominated by CNN and the BBC. A jab, perhaps, at "Anglo-Saxon imperialism." Others see the phenomenon as propaganda by non-democratic governments like China, attempting to skew the facts. Al Jazeera English is still reviled by many Americans as promoting anti-western bias at best, and as a mouthpiece for dangerous extremists at worst.

Regardless of one's position on these international outlets, the majority of Americans are unable (or unlikely) to tune in. In a Foreign Policy editorial, Cyril Blet, author of Une Voix Mondiale Pour un État, (A World Voice for a State), a book profiling the state of world news, notes that unlike in Europe and elsewhere, international channels in the U.S. are available only via special cable or satellite packages, if at all. The lack of easy access to international news channels, he says, puts Americans at a disadvantage.

"When American viewers can't access international news, their ability to take part in global conversations suffers greatly," argues Blet. "The average U.S. television-watcher doesn't ever see the diverse interpretations of any single event that filter in to most TVs across the world."

With the Internet making international programming more accessible than ever, this may change in the coming years. But perhaps less important than specific broadcast platforms in international news distribution, is the belief in the value of these global conversations.



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