Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ed Kashi on Syria, past and present

Today the NYT published an interview with me conducted by James Estrin for the New York Times LENS blog. We talk my work from Syria in the 1990's and the present day, discussing what changes, if any, have taken place in this important and fascinating country. As I've said in the past, Syria is a country that the United States must be friends with and achieve a deeper level of trust and cooperation with. They are too important a linchpin to not only peace but deeper and healthier connections to the Arab world and the Middle East.



Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Daily Kos Essay and Nigeria's Sea Change

The Daily Kos has just posted a fantastic essay written by Sven Eberlein revisiting the history and complications in the political state of Nigeria – something that should be closely studied to understand the inevitable shockwaves that will be felt on an international scale.

With Goodluck Jonathan, the newly unexpected and unorthodoxly appointed president being from the Niger Delta, the world is and should be watching closely. There is every opportunity for change in not only the Political State, but the Mental, Economic, Ethical and perhaps even Cultural State as well.

It seems that the most pervasive worry about Goodluck’s seating is that he will be veered from his agenda by government bodies comprised of little more than sycophants and corrupt heads of power. Both of these brands of men, their actions and etiquette are the product of decades of foreign influence and financial corruption. Foreign corporations and the remnants of imperialism are at the root of the problem, and need to be addressed immediately.

It is for all of these reasons and the national and environmental circumstances in Nigeria, that yesterday’s development is simply exhilarating.

Please take the time to read Sven’s essay on Daily Kos, crossposted on his own blog. It is very well written and illustrates the history of the well-warranted skepticism the world has as it watches Goodluck’s assent.


Friday, February 12, 2010

An Open Letter From The Friends of NEGIP Network

Through facebook we were sent this message from The Friends of NEGIP Network, an advocacy group which rallies for sustainable energy in Nigeria - a topic that is close to our heart. Originally I intended to edit it down, but realized that each sentence is too important for the statement, and that it wouldn't be fair for Deji Adenusi, one of the administrators of the group. Here it is in its entirety, eloquently written and well worth the short amount of time it will take to read.


The revelation that the administration of the former president of Nigeria, General Olusegun Obasanjo "spent" about $16.00 billion on energy and power with no appreciable impact on Nigeria's energy and power sector. We recall that at the inception of the current civilian dispensation in the year 2000, the former President raised the genuine hopes and yearnings of the average Nigeria when he said: "On my honour, by the end of 2001, they (Nigerians) would begin to enjoy regular, uninterrupted power supply".

On the heels of that solemn promise came the creation of the Liyel Imoke Technical Committee on Energy and Power. However, today the problem of endemic power outages still pervade as the nation remains in darkness. The Electricity Power Sector Reform Act 2005 was promulgated on March 5, 2005, to liberalize the energy sector and break the monopoly in the industry. The Act also established the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC). The legislation was passed in a bid to resuscitate the power sector. In spite of all these Committees and legislations, the sector remains epileptic. Current and ongoing investigations by the legislature highlight an unfortunate scenario of allegations and counter pandering on the part of government officials.

To date, there is no agreement on the actual figure expended in the energy sector between 1999-2007. This in itself is very worrisome. Equally, recent revelation that due process through public tender of energy contracts was never followed is regrettable when such contracts were solely awarded between the minister and General Olusegun Obasanjo's (rtd) presidency. We have equally taken note of the award of electricity contracts to blacklisted companies by the former President which amounts to a betrayal of the trust of the Nigerian people still saddled with the torture of continued epileptic power supply and broken promises.

Energy is the engine that drives industrialization, which improves communication, helps innovation in science and Technology, provides sound healthcare delivery system and improves citizens' standard of living. Since energy is the engine that drives industrialization, a sound energy policy would indirectly create jobs even in unexpected sectors. Considering the central and pivotal role electricity plays in an economy, we fully endorse President Musa Yar'Adua's position that,

"we must solve this problem because until we do that, we cannot address the fundamental problems of our economy like poverty and unemployment. Even while the circumstances may be different, we may need to follow the telecommunication formula in order to solve the nation's power and energy problems. Our ultimate goal is to achieve what we did with the GSM or I declare a state of emergency in the sector...Power is a key priority of this administration and we all agreed that our efforts at developing the nation cannot succeed unless we solve the power problem."

Addressing the electricity crisis is one of President Umaru Yaradua's seven-point agenda promised Nigerians while on his 2007 campaign trail. An Energy Council was set up. In addition an 11-man Committee for the Accelerated Expansion of Nigeria's Power Infrastructure was inaugurated on Tuesday, February 19, to deliver 6,000 additional megawatts over the next 18 months and add an extra 11,000 megawatts by 2011. To day the reverse is the case has power has dropped to 2000 mega watts what is was some 4 years ago . Nigerians can no longer bet on government promises because of monumental failures to keep promises made in the past. Any real moves must be bold, private sector-driven and devoid of bureaucratic bottlenecks. There has to be time lined Electricity Development Plans backed by statutes. The Nigerian Society of Engineers ought to be directly involved at all levels.

I believe that a sound Energy Policy is not and should not be limited solely to electricity production from fossil fuel - Oil & Gas and/or Nuclear Energy Sources. There are of course better, and more efficient and environmentally friendly ways of generating electricity. The following sources must be tapped - Biomass, Geothermal, Hydro Power, Nuclear (fission and fusion), Ocean waves, Solar, Wind, and other pollution free renewable sources.

As a responsible corporate citizen I encourage the Nigerian government in conjunction with other stakeholders to focus her energy policy strategy on areas such as Solar, Wind, Ocean waves and Biomass. These are energy areas that most developing nations like Nigeria can exploit safely and efficiently. They are also environmentally sound.

The acting President Good luck Jonathan has a chance for a new beginning and a renaissance to building a proud and industrial nation. He must tap into the entrepreneurial spirit and bring on board "the can do attitude" of his fellow citizens.

In the meantime, we urge the National Assembly to step up its oversight functions so as to find answers to the whereabouts of the $16 billion that the last administration claimed to have invested in the power sector and move the nation forward by ensuring that recent promises by the current administration remain a marked difference from previously failed promises.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"Crisis & Opportunity: Documenting the Global Recession" Exhibit Opening

If you are unfamiliar with you should check them out. The consistent quality of their content and admirable effort goes above and beyond what one typically expects. This is why we're excited about the upcoming exhibit next Tuesday that they and powerHouse Arena, one of our favorite galleries, are launching. The exhibit will directly address the Global Recession and how it has impacted our world with striking photographs and an educational panel discussion, featuring some of the world's most qualified speakers on the subject.

It's sometimes easy to think of the global recession as an abstract event, as a topic of discussion and not much more... especially when we're insulated in a metropolitan area of a first world nation. This exhibit, the photographs and discussion, will attempt to bridge the disconnect many have from our global community.
To find out more please read this online announcement, and visit the powerHouse website. We hope to see you there, to foster a great discussion and launch an exhibit that will be as enriching as it is provocative.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

An Excellent Point Made by Mark Schapiro

Even without an education in finance, the strong point made in this, the conclusion of Mark Schapiro’s article in Harper’s Magazine, has a ring of disheartening truth:

"Indeed, carbon exists as a commodity only through the decisions of politicians and bureaucrats, who determine both the demand, by setting emissions limits, and the supply, by establishing criteria for offsets. It was the United States that sculpted the cap-and-trade system during the Kyoto negotiations, before pulling out of the accord and leaving the rest of the world to implement the scheme. Since then, most of the world’s major political financial and environmental interests have aligned themselves with the idea, because of its potential to generate profits out of adversity and to avoid the difficult economic decisions posed by climate change. Now the Obama Administration and the Democratic Congress – along with most American companies, which see cap-and-trade as the friendliest regulation they could hope for – want to rejoin the world and multiply the market. That market is, in essence, and elaborate shell game, a disappearing act that nicely serves the immediate interests of the world’s governments but fails to meet the challenges of our looming environmental crisis."

Mark Schapiro, Harper’s Magazine, February 2010

The metaphor of the Shell Game seems fitting, conjuring both the feel of deceit and exposing the economic incentives that foster short-term goals. Has the world lost sight of, or rather, does the world understand the long-term goal? Beyond grassroots organizations, it seems so at times.

Earlier we discussed the protests that surrounded the Copenhagen Summit, and what seemed like a large division between the parties involved and their interests. Perhaps that division runs deeper, and that rift might prove to be more detrimental than I had thought. But still, I can’t believe that many international parties don’t have good intentions.

Is that naïve?