Country Reviews: Weeks 9-10

BAHRAIN
The Khalifa family has been ruling Bahrain since 1783, and as of late, that rule has required a heavier hand to keep Bahrain away from the Arab Spring fervor that hit in 2011. The country is considered particularly susceptible to that kind of revolt because the population is majority Shia, while the ruling family is Sunni. That said, human rights groups have said that freedom of speech has been improving in recent years, so that’s something. Bahrain is unbelievably tiny, and yet it’s composed of 30 different islands. Also, they’re known for their sick Formula 1 race tracks.

NAMIBIA
Colonised by Germany, then became part of South Africa after World War I, fought a 25 year bush war (check out this 1987 WashPo article about it), and finally achieved independence of its own in 1990. Now, Namibia is seen as one of the most stable African countries. For one, it’s actually sticking to term limits! But there are still racial tensions, often spurred on by economic inequality. The white minority owns half the fertile land.

SLOVAKIA
Slovakia was borne out of the ‘velvet divorce’ in 1993 – that is, the bloodless revolution that led to the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. It hit a rocky start to independent governance, made even more difficult by trust issues with the EU and NATO. The two international bodies felt Slovakia’s first Prime Minister Meciar was authoritarian and too nationalistic, and Slovakia’s accession into the EU went much smoother once he was overthrown in 1998. In the most recent Slovak elections, an anti-migrant party made huge gains, just as Slovakia is about to assume the EU presidency, so that could go a long way towards shaping policy in the European migrant crisis that is still ongoing.

SOMALIA
Somalia was considered a failed state for much of the last 50 years. After independence in 1960, communist leader Siad Barre had temporarily held the country in his grip (united, but not ideal), and his fall in 1991 led to complete anarchy. The country is made up of many smaller clans, and in ’91, those clans created many fiefdoms across the nation. The ensuing chaos gave birth to Al Shabaab, which has terrorized Somalia and surrounding countries for years now. The map in thisBBC article shows just how much territory Al Shabab actually holds in Somalia, and they impose a very strict version of sharia law in the land they control.

FINLAND
2/3 forest, 1/10 water – Finland sounds like a nature-lover’s paradise. Assuming he/she can handle the cold winters and ‘white nights’ of summer, a 10 week period when the sun doesn’t set. The Finnish love their land so much they have something called ‘Everyman’s Right,’ which states that about 90% of the land in the country is open to anyone, for camping, berry picking, fishing, whatever. In the spirit of ‘sharing’, Finland’s government also decreed that broadband internet is a universal right, and telecommunications companies in the nation are required to provide all residents with internet.

MYANMAR
It’s not often you hear of a country purposely trying to hurt its reputation, but in 1987, the regime in charge falsely reported that Myanmar’s literacy rate was really low in order to get UN debt relief. The literacy rate in Myanmar is actually astonishingly high though. Myanmar’s military junta ruled for decades, but is now starting to lose a degree of power. The opposition party, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, won overwhelmingly in elections last fall. The junta will still have a significant portion of parliament, however, because the constitution dictates that as a necessity.

SOUTH SUDAN
Youngest country in the world. Won independence in 2011, after fighting Africa’s longest civil war. But as one of my colleagues says, they won independence but lost the ability to feed themselves (my cheeky response was that freedom feeds their souls). Half the population doesn’t have access to clean water. And despite an abundance of oil, the economy is in the gutter. I was however pleasantly surprised to read about about South Sudan’s ethnic and linguistic diversity. And most of the population follows traditional religions.

ANGOLA
I read a lot about the Republic of Cabinda, a region of Angola that has declared itself a sovereign state, but is unrecognized as such by Angola and most of the world. The interesting thing about Cabinda is that it’s a coastal region not even connected to the rest of Angola; it’s separated by part of the DRC. But most of Angola’s oil source is in Cabinda, which would explain why they don’t want to let it go.

SYRIA
Let’s journey back to the Ottoman empire, and even before then actually. From what I read, Syria has always had a very diverse population, and the Ottomans actually encouraged that pluralism. They subscribed to the belief that diversification, and representation from each of those groups, would allow for the most stable society and prevent rebellion. But after the French adopted the Syrian colony in 1916 (after the Sykes-Picot), they instituted a centralised government, and played favourites with the various minority groups. That tradition continued on within the government that assumed control after the French (in 1944), and you could argue that those ethnic differences and clashes are what led to the Syrian Civil War that’s now entered its fifth year. And now having typed that all out, it sounds shockingly similar to what happened in Rwanda before the genocide…

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