Country Reviews – Weeks 3 and 4

Okay I’m seriously backlogged on this post, so I’m going to keep it snappy. No long rambling paragraphs. We’ve got 14 countries to get through, and I’ll still be about 10 behind. Oops.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Felt it was about time I researched a gulf country, given that I’m here. I didn’t know much about the British influence in the UAE until now. It was one of the ‘Trucial States’ formed with the British from 1820 to 1971. The various sheikhdoms that later became the U.A.E. agreed not to cede land, power or treaties to anyone except the British, and in exchange, the Brits protected them from pirates in the region. The part of this I found most interesting was that it’s been disputed whether there ever were pirates in that region to begin with. And that the Brits eventually left because they felt their security forces were spread too thin.

Also – the UAE was one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban government in Afghanistan from 1996-2001.

SAUDI ARABIA
Read a lot about the House of Saud and Wahhabiism – specifically how the ruling party these days gets its legitimacy from the religious leaders, which explains a lot about their domestic and foreign policies. Something I stumbled upon unexpectedly was the government trying to encourage a female labour force, if for no other reason than to improve the national unemployment rate. They’re doing so by creating all-women workplaces, which may not be considered the ideal approach in Western eyes, but at least it’s something.

Also – they’re currently constructing the ‘Kingdom Tower,’ which will be the tallest building in the world when it’s completed.

NICARAGUA
U.S. intervention is pretty much the bane of its existence. The U.S. government had backed the ruling Nicaraguan party for decades, until 1979, when the Marxist leader Sandinista staged a coup. Obviously, the U.S. didn’t like that. And it engaged in economic sabotage, and supported domestic terrorist rebel groups called Contras, to bring Sandinista down. That did eventually work out in the U.S.’s favour, but it didn’t win over hearts in Nicaragua. For years, the U.S. pushed for exclusive rights to the building of a Nicaraguan canal, meant to rival the Panama canal. The U.S. lost that fight, and China is now building the historic structure – even if that construction does keep being delayed due to environmental concerns.

SUDAN
I’d already known a bit about Darfur, the Sudanese civil war, and the consequent national split. So I focused on history prior to that, and statistics more recently.

Regarding the former –  I had no idea Sudan was co-ruled by Egypt and Britain for a time. It was called the’Anglo Egyptian Condominium,’ and lasted from 1899-1956.

And regarding the latter – I didn’t realize just how food-insecure Sudan is. There isn’t a ton of arable land, and the fertile land that exists is closer to war-zone areas. That means there’s a striking amount of poverty as well – something like 60%.

COMOROS
Literally had no idea this country existed before today. It’s a small island off the eastern coast of Africa, mostly inhabited by Africans and Arabs, and it’s in the Arab League. Known as ‘The Perfume Islands,’ Comoros was a French colony until 1975. It consists of 3 islands. There was a fourth called Mayotte, but it elected to stay a French colony when the other three became sovereign, and it’s still a territory of France today. Might have been a smart choice since Comoros has seen about 20 coups since independence, and it’s extremely dependent on foreign aid from South Africa and the African Union.

ANDORRA
Tiny, tiny principality between France and Spain. It’s so small that it has virtually no army of its own, and its ‘co-princes’ are technically the President of France and the Bishop of Urgell (in Catalonia, Spain). Together, they’ve ruled Andorra for 700 years.

TUVALU
Only 11,000 people live in this pacific island nation, where they make a significant portion of their money by selling their internet suffix (.tv) to television providers! That said, the economy still needs a lot of help, since the land isn’t that fertile and it’s also slowly disappearing as the oceans rise. So several countries jumped in to help out with a trust fund, mainly the UK, Australia and New Zealand, with a bit of help from Korea and Japan as well. The trust fund accounts for 20% of Tuvalu’s economy and is spent with regard to a series of checks and balances. And the most astounding part of it to me was that I really couldn’t find any benefits of this for the sponsoring nations. A wholly altruistic economic venture? I must be missing something.

BANGLADESH
It’s capital, Dhaka, is known as the Rickshaw Capital of the World, and despite its tiny size, Bangladesh is the 7th most populated country in the world. It’s war for independence from Pakistan, finally achieved in 1971, was sparked by a passion to hold on to their mother tongue, and politics over the past 20 years have been dominated mostly by 2 leading, and rivaling, women.

MONGOLIA
Mongolia’s nomads are so cool! 40% of the country lives a nomadic lifestyle, herding livestock around the country. They’re amazing at horse riding and hunting with falcons and live in portable homes called ‘gers.’ And 33% live in or on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar. The city’s geographical location in a valley, with camping nomads living all along its outer rim, create a pretty intense haze of smoke above the city. In fact, it’s got one of the worst air pollution ratings in the world.

PERU
I’ve been obsessed with Peru since 7th grade, when I had to do a project about it. Macchu Picchu and other Incan ruins have always held a fascination for me, and this was a nice excuse to google them all over again. And despite my interest with the ruins, I didn’t know how unique the country was aside from the ruins. It’s got deserts and jungles, and it’s name means “Land of Abundance.” That said, there’s also an abundance of coca leaf – Peru is the world’s largest producer of the cocaine-ingredient after Colombia, and drug trafficking accounted for 17% of the country’s GDP in 2009.

LIECHTENSTEIN
Another tiny country – this one’s population is so small that it has more companies than citizens. I also found it really unique that the citizens of Liechtenstein voted to give their prince MORE power in a referendum in 2003. That vote gave him the power to dismiss the government, nominate judges and veto legislation.

YEMEN
So there’s of course a lot happening in Yemen politically and militarily right now, and much of it goes as far back as the unification of North and South Yemen in 1990. But I wanted to focus more on the culture. Yemenis carry a small dagger called a jambuja, and the average wedding lasts 21 days. I also didn’t know that there are 200 islands technically part of Yemen, with the largest one called Socotra.

GABON
There have only been 3 presidents in Gabon since its independence, even though that was in 1960. The longest-ruling one was Omar Bongo, who led the country for more than 40 years, and was then succeeded by his son Ali. Gabon is ailed by a huge wealth gap, and most of its citizens are farmers. Something I found really cool about it was their use of masks, traditionally worn at all sorts of ceremonies – including births, weddings, and funerals.

BELIZE
It was the last colony left in the Americas when it finally got independence in 1981, and even then, a border dispute with Guatemala meant that Guatemala didn’t recognize Belize until 1992.

Belize is all about the Mayans. There are tons of ruins here, lots of jade, artefacts, the Mayan codex which was found at Altun Ha (one of the most famous Mayan sites in the world.) There’s also Caracol’s ‘Sky Palace’ which is the tallest point in Belize. I also had no idea how tropical the country’s land was – it’s got jaguars and howler monkeys and toucans.

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