AfricaFarmer moving drought-affected cattle in southern Ethiopia, March 2006 (Photo: Simon Roughneen). Stories from recent years covering issues such as war in Darfur, drought in Kenya, drugs in Ethiopia, slums in Freetown, starting business in Nairobi, independence in South Sudan.
BurmaTin Maung Win (pseudonym), a Burmese prisoner of war being held by rebels in Kachin State near the Burma-China border. (Photo: Simon Roughneen, December 2012). A military dictatorship for almost 50 years, Burma's recent reforms have legitimised western business interests as governments remove sanctions. However sectarian and ethnic fighting continues in Kachin, while Buddhist-Muslim tensions have erupted into violence in Arakan in the west and in central Burma.
CambodiaLandgrabs, corruption, allegations of racism and, as it turned out, claims by the opposition that the vote was flawed, all overshadowed July 2013 elections in Cambodia. Both Hun Sen's long-ruling Cambodian People's Party and the opposition, led by Sam Rainsy, are claiming victory after a contest notable for the high percentage of young voters, and, it seems, the fading memory of the brutal Khmer Rouge era. Photo – Boeng Kak lake in central Phnom Penh. Sand now occupies the former lake, the landfill serving as the foundation for what will be a hotel/office complex, in what has been possibly Cambodia's best-known landgrab case. Photo taken by Simon Roughneen, Nov. 2012.
HaitiOne of tens of thousands of buildings felled in Port-au-Prince during the Jan.12 2010 earthquake (Photo: Simon Roughneen). Around 220,000 people were killed with 3 million more left homeless. Some reports here from the immediate aftermath of the disaster.
IndiaMen waiting to board train from Bangalore, India's IT hub, to Guwahati, a day's travel away in India's northeast (Photo: Simon Roughneen). India's economy has stalled in the past year or so, with the government slow to reform in key sectors. Hundreds of millions of Indians have seen improved living standards in recent years, but, underlining the challenges of governing this vast country, hundreds of millions more remain poor. Some related stories here.
KosovoPosters in Pristina thanking the UK for its role in helping Kosovo break from Serbia (Photo: Simon Roughneen). Serbia and allies such as Russia opposed Kosovo's independence, with protests in Belgrade and Mitrovica right after the Feb. 2008 independence declaration.
MalaysiaAfter several opposition-backed protests by Malaysians seeking reform of what they see as a rigged electoral system, the May 2013 election saw a narrow win for the Barisan Nasional, who lost the popular vote but retained office via what the opposition said was a gerrymander. Photo – Police fire teargas at protestors seeking changes to the electoral system. Taken by Simon Roughneen, Kuala Lumpur, July 2011.
Middle EastImpact of shelling and gunfire at a Sunni-Alawite interface in Tripoli, Lebanon. (Photo: Simon Roughneen, August 2008). This same street has seen fighting again in early 2013, partly an extension of sectarian clashes in Syria. Here are some stories from Israel, Lebanon and the West Bank from 2008 and 2010.
PakistanStories from Kashmir after the 2005 earthquake, and from Sindh after the 2010 floods. These children were left homeless by the 2010 floods and had spent 2 weeks sleeping outdoors on the outskirts of Sukkur, Sindh Province by the time I took this photo.
The PhilippinesThe Manila metro (Photo: Simon Roughneen). As of mid 2012, The Philippines was growing economically, but relations with China remain thorny. While the country had peaceful and free elections in 2010, issues such as impunity for murders of journalists, corruption, and poverty in urban slum areas persist.
ThailandRedshirt protestors fire home-made weapons at Thai army positions in Bangkok during 2010 anti-government protests (Photo: Simon Roughneen). Stories here from Thailand on those protests, 2011 floods, harsh conditions facing Burmese migrants in Thailand, and more.
Timor-LesteSupporters of opposition party FRETILIN rally prior to East Timor's July 2012 parliamentary elections (Photo: Simon Roughneen). After the departure of International peacekeepers and the last UN mission, Timor-Leste faces the challenge of using gas and oil revenues to boost living standards and create a more diverse economy, before the resources run out.
VietnamTraffic in Hanoi (Photo: Simon Roughneen). Vietnam's economy has sputtered in recent years, after a decade of high growth and hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign investment. Recent corruption scandals and whispers of in-fighting among the ruling Communist Party has been accompanied by more jailings of government critics, highlighting the one-party state's intolerance of dissent.
Enter the newcomer – The Edge Review
November 8th, 2013
www.theedgereview.com (magazine available here, but app/subscription only)
Myanmar’s ethnic groups form new political party ahead of 2015 elections
By SIMON ROUGHNEEN / Naypyidaw
Myanmar’s 2015 elections, if free and fair, are thought likely to be a two-horse race between the army’s governing Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).
The former won a landslide victory in Myanmar’s 2010 elections – a vote widely dismissed as unfree – while the latter won all but one seat in by-elections held in April last year that were unfettered by allegations of voting irregularities, prompting speculation that the NLD could win by a landslide in the 2015 national elections. That would reverse the injustice of the 1990 elections, in which the NLD won 392 out of 492 seats, but was denied the chance to govern by the army, which ignored the outcome and jailed many opposition leaders.
A spanner was thrown into the works last week, however, when 16 of the country’s ethnic minority political parties formed the new Federal Union Party (FUP), a coalition that could push hard for votes among the roughly four out 10 voters who are not ethnic Burman, the majority group from which Burma, the old name of the country, was derived. The party could — if it remains united and ethnic voters rally behind it — garner enough support to undermine the two-party race that otherwise seemed likely under Myanmar’s current first-past-the-post voting system. (more…)
SEA Games preparations ‘on track’ as Burma draws football foes – The Irrawaddy
November 6th, 2013
NAYPYIDAW — Just over a month before the Southeast Asian Games kick off, Burma’s football team has learned that it will compete against Indonesia, East Timor, Thailand and Cambodia for a place in the knock-out stages of a tournament expected to be a highlight of the 27th biannual Games.
Seeded third, a ranking based on the team’s performance at the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia, home favorites Burma will hope to finish among the top two in their pool to secure a place in the tournament semifinals. (more…)
Job creation a big job in Myanmar – The Irrawaddy
November 1st, 2013
Published in the November 2013 print edition of The Irrawaddy
With more than a third of the country’s workforce unemployed, the government has its work cut out
By SIMON ROUGHNEEN / PANTANAW, Ayeyarwady Region
U Than Zaw shook his head as he stared across the waterlogged fields. “Over there, that’s where my land is,” he said, swinging a tattooed arm out through the bamboo frame of a waterside hut.
We were standing just off the road linking Yangon, Myanmar’s heaving commercial capital, with Pantanaw, a flood-prone farming township famous as the birthplace of former UN Secretary General U Thant.
In 2002, an army officer commandeered 60 acres of land belonging to U Than Zaw and several other local farmers—one of thousands of land-grab cases that have come to light since Myanmar’s glasnost began in 2011.
U Than Zaw has written to officials about the stolen land, but to no avail. He’s afraid to protest without a permit as three of the other dispossessed locals are in jail for doing just that. (more…)
Fixated on the presidency – The Edge Review
November 1st, 2013
www.theedgereview.com (magazine available here, but app/subscription only)
Aung San Suu Kyi disappoints some on anti-Muslim violence during European tour
By SIMON ROUGHNEEN / Yangon
While some UK media featured florid images of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi taking a garden walk with Prince Charles during her recent visit to London, others focused on her views of the country’s Buddhist-Muslim violence, which since May 2012 has seen around 150,000 people driven from their homes and dozens killed.
Buddhist-Muslim violence has, for the most part, been Buddhist-on-Muslim violence, with the latter making up a majority of the dead and displaced.
But despite the one-sidedness of the attacks, Suu Kyi, on her third trip to Europe since being freed from house arrest in late 2010, was adamant about not laying blame entirely on Buddhists. She told the BBC that “the fear is not just on the side of the Muslims, but also on the side of the Buddhists, as well. Muslims have been targeted, but also Buddhists have been subjected to violence.”
Muslims make up perhaps 4 to 5 per cent of Myanmar’s population of 50-60 million. Ethnic Burmans are estimated to make up around 60 per cent, with the rest made up of ethnic groups such as the Kachin, Karen, Rakhine and Shan. (more…)
Burma peace process could create ‘mini-cronies,’ media coalition warns – The Irrawaddy
October 28th, 2013
RANGOON — Burma’s peace processes risk creating “mini-cronies” in ethnic minority areas, if concerns about economic development in the resource-rich borderland regions are not addressed.
The granting of business licenses and concessions to ethnic minority militia leaders as part of Burma’s peace processes is seen by some observers as “a ploy by the government to turn ethnic leaders into ‘mini cronies’ while also performing a public relations stunt to attract more foreign investors,” according to a report published on Monday by Burma News International (BNI), a coalition of Burmese news agencies.
Most of the ethnic militias “have asked for specific business concessions during peace negotiations with the government,” the report said, listing some of the deals struck. Some of the projects have turned out well, BNI added, but others did not. (more…)
Despite promise, Myanmar faces big challenges to lure foreign investors – The Edge Review
October 25th, 2013
www.theedgereview.com (app/subscription only)
By SIMON ROUGHNEEN / Yangon
When Nay Aung returned to Myanmar two years ago, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect. One of the few educated, well-to-do Burmese to come home so far since the country’s recent opening and reforms, the former Google staffer has already made a mark as a businessman on the homefront.
His online travel website Oway.com has a plush office in one of Yangon’s handful of shopping malls, and he ‘s hoping to expand in tandem with Myanmar’s chrysalis-like tourism sector.
But starting a business – even for a well-educated, well-connected young Burmese – is not easy.
“If you have a partner, it helps, but for the first six months, it is really tough in areas like finding and hiring people with the right skill-set, ” he told The Edge Review. (more…)
Punishments reduced, but Burma’s harsh online law remains – The Irrawaddy
October 24th, 2013
RANGOON — Burma’s restrictive Electronic Transactions Law, under which political dissidents were in the past imprisoned for sending or receiving “detrimental” e-mails, remains in place for now, though work continues to have the code revised or replaced.
This week Rangoon parliamentarian Thein Nyunt won the consent of fellow Lower House MPs to have punishments under the law reduced, with lawmakers voting to replace prison sentences with a system of fines.
Citing his previous attempts to have the law removed or overhauled, the New National Democratic Party MP told The Irrawaddy that “I brought this law up before Parliament four times during all the sessions of Parliament held since the government was formed.” (more…)
Investment commission could have wings clipped – The Irrawaddy
October 23rd, 2013
RANGOON — The Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC), the body that vets would-be foreign investors into Burma, could have its discretionary powers curbed as part of a review of investment policy being undertaken by the Burma government and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Dr Khin San Yee, Burma’s Deputy Minister of National Planning and Economic Development, met with the OECD Investment Committee and Advisory Group on Investment and Development last week, and, according to the OECD, the “Myanmar delegation noted that it was already working to ease the administrative burden on investors and simplify the screening process to reduce the amount of discretion of the Myanmar Investment Commission.”
Such a move, if it comes about, is necessary, according to Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). Han Tha, a member of the NLD’s central executive as well the party’s economic committee, says that the MIC has too much sway over investment into Burma. “The MIC has too much power and any reduction of that is to be welcomed,” he told The Irrawaddy. (more…)
Publisher sidelines CEO who alleged threats by Than Shwe’s grandson – The Irrawaddy
October 21st, 2013
RANGOON — The publisher of local newspaper Sunlight has seemingly sidelined a CEO who had accused a group backed by the grandson of Burma’s former dictator Sen-Gen Than Shwe and the son of Commerce Minister Win Myint of raiding his offices late on Friday.
The publisher announced that he plans to shut down the paper following the alleged incident.
Speaking to Rangoon media on Saturday, Sunlight’s CEO Moe Hein said that “a group of 15 or 20 people came to the office with six cars around midnight. Minister of Commerce U Win Myint’s son Ko Thurein, Phoe La Pyae and his friends were in the group.”
Phoe La Pyae is a name for Nay Shwe Thway Aung, grandson of Burma’s former military ruler Than Shwe.
Moe Hein said that Nay Shwe Thway Aung did not enter the premises while the raid took place, but alleged that 14 computers and copies of the newspaper were taken during the incident.
Sunlight publisher Yu Naing has since distanced himself from CEO Moe Hein.
“I told Moe Hein not to carry out personal attacks in the journal and to stick to journalistic ethics, but he did not do so,” Yu Naing told The Irrawaddy, adding that Moe Hein ran the articles without the approval of the Sunlight editorial board. (more…)
American chamber of commerce to launch Burma chapter – The Irrawaddy
October 21st, 2013
RANGOON — The American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) will launch a Burma chapter at the end of the month, another signal that businesses from the United States are showing a greater interest in a country that was off-limits to most American investors until-mid 2012.
The launch event will take place at Rangoon’s Chatrium Hotel on Oct. 31 and will be co-hosted by the US Embassy in Burma, with backing from Chevron, the US energy giant that has operated in Burma since acquiring Unocal, along with the latter’s stake in the offshore Yadana gas project, in 2005.
Judy Benn, Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand, which is supporting the launch in next-door Burma, told The Irrawaddy that 25 companies, a mix of big brands, small and medium enterprises and Burmese businesses partnering with American companies, have joined the Burma chapter so far.
“The chapter will promote US business values including compliance with laws, respect for the individual and dignity of the worker, training and education for employees, environmentally responsible business practices, encourage companies to be good corporate citizens and promote high standards of professionalism and business ethics,” Benn said. (more…)