Archive for May, 2010

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Hatoyama’s Faux Pas

May 24, 2010

Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama - AFP

Japan’s prime minister can’t seem to catch a break these days.

Last week, a fashion critic lambasted Yukio Hatoyama for his decision to wear a garish red, blue, green, yellow, and purple checkered cowboy shirt at a recent voter meet-and-greet. “Is anyone able to stop him wearing such a thing?” asked fashionista Don Konishi. “It’s too old. It’s out of date.”

Hatoyama, who led his left-leaning Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) to a landslide victory just last year, has since seen his popularity rating sink below 20 percent. While it’s unclear how heavily the premier’s fashion choices are weighing on his popularity, he has come under harsh scrutiny for his rudderless leadership and for dithering over a series of issues, including a campaign pledge to move a controversial U.S. military base off Japan’s southernmost island of Okinawa.

After months of vacillating and missing several of his own self-imposed deadlines, Hatoyama finally announced Sunday that the base would stay in Okinawa after all. Appearing alongside Okinawan Governor Hirokazu Nakaima, Hatoyama said the base “will have to stay in Okinawa,” and apologized, “from the bottom of my heart for the confusion I have caused the people of Okinawa in not being able to keep my promise.”

Nakaima, called the prime minister’s decision, “extremely regrettable and very difficult to accept.” Like many of his fellow Okinawans, he is opposed to keeping the base on the picturesque island. Protestors outside the press conference chanted, “Hatoyama, go home.”

The problem, many say, is not the decisions Hatoyama makes, but the way he makes them. On Okinawa, for instance, he managed not only to break a campaign promise and offend Okinawans and his own supporters, but also irritated his coalition partners, who are opposed to the base, and damaged Japan’s relations with the United States, its closest ally.

Hatoyama faces critical elections for the upper house of parliament in July, and many in his DPJ party are worried their dithering—and increasingly unpopular—leader could lead the party to a disastrous defeat.

Konishi, the fashion critic, had his own predictions.

“It seems the DPJ is over with this shirt,” he warned.

-By Brian J. Forest, Contributing Editor

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Water Fight in East Africa

May 23, 2010

A girl carries a container filled with water from the Nile from a pump in Manshiyet Nasser shanty town in eastern Cairo May 18, 2010. Four east African countries signed a new deal creating a permanent commission to manage the River Nile's waters on Friday, putting them on a collision course with Egypt and Sudan. Stretching more than 6,600 km from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean, the Nile is a vital water and energy source for the nine countries through which it flows. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh (EGYPT - Tags: SOCIETY)

When one thinks of a natural resource being at the center of conflicts in an area of the globe such as Africa, one tends to identify commodities such as oil or diamonds as the likely culprit. But it’s the most basic and fundamental resource of all that’s the focus of an ongoing standoff in East Africa: Water.

Water from the Nile River, to be exact. 

While the Nile may be the world’s longest river, thanks to a colonial-era agreement, about 90 percent of its waters belong to two countries: Egypt and Sudan.

While disputes over water can be divisive—it’s becoming increasingly acknowledged that desertification and the ever-worsening shortage of water in the Sahel region are major causes of the ongoing conflict in Darfur, for example—in this case, the struggle for the resource is actually bringing several countries together.

Representatives from Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Ethiopia met in Uganda last week to sign an agreement to pressure Egypt and Sudan to share the Nile’s bounty. The agreement is the result of frustration produced by 13 years of negotiations between nearly a dozen African countries that have yet to produce an agreement.

Ethiopia, for example, contends that is the source of the Blue Nile, and yet is allotted very little of the resource under current agreements. Egypt and Sudan counter that their control over the Nile is a matter of national security and, in the case of Sudan, that the other East African countries get more rainfall per year and therefore need the water less.

With several other countries considering signing on to the agreement, it doesn’t look like the fight over the Nile is likely to end anytime soon.

-By John Bavoso