Sunday, March 26, 2017
In late March, Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) Connect Camp 11 brought together innovative leaders from around central and eastern Africa together to work on mentoring, networking, and community specific issues. The YALI Connect Camps are administered four times a year in four regions of sub-Saharan Africa, funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) in the U.S. Department of State and administered by the Institute for International Journalism at Ohio University. The Connect Camp was made up of participants came from Mauritius, Uganda, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. Their personal projects focused on varying issues such as youth development, public health, legal advising, and financial literacy. This YALI Connect Camp was able to bring all of these interests together.
On the first day, Dr. Millesen mapped the interests and questions of the participants by doing a sticky note exercise. The sticky notes said things like “mentorship” or “networking”. As the week went on the sticky notes came down as the facilitators covered the subjects. This shaped the Connect Camp so that they could get the most useful seminars for their goals and objectives.
Dr. Judith Millesen of the Voinovich School of Ohio University was the lead facilitator of the week. Dr. Millesen has experience working with NGO and nonprofits. Dr. Millesen worked with the students on strategy, on creating a business canvas, and on implementation of their projects. Dr. Millesen has worked on several camps. She reflected that “each time a camp starts I’m curious how Camps can get better and every time I am amazed. Each camp has unique personality and feel from participants. And it is always a valuable learning experience for me as well”. This camp was full of energy and innovation which made Dr. Millesen's session flow.
Throughout the week, country presentations explored the work that each of the participant is doing and where they are from. These sessions truly showed the diversity of each of the participants and their projects. As hosts, the Batswana participants passed some of their traditional food around for all of the participants to try. Then they presented some of their traditional clothes.
On day four of the camp, Dr. Mame Yauto FAYE continued the discussion of communication drawing from her professional experience and her area of expertise. This was her third YALI Connect Camp experience. Her talks challenged participants and made them reflect on their communication strategies.
During the final day, two of the mentors actually led a discussion session on mentoring and mentorship programs that they run in their own countries. Marietta Agathe, a mentor from Mauritius, began her mentorship by partnering with young adults in the country to learn more about the dreams and aspirations of the mentees. Martin Muganzi, a mentor from Uganda, developed his mentorship program from the non-profit Youth Rising. The session demonstrated the aspirations of many of the mentors and mentees in YALI Connect Camp 11 to go back and start mentorship programs of their own.
The closing event was held in Mokolodi Nature Reserve. The participants were given their certificates by Director of Operations from the United States Department of State. The Director spoke about the importance of leaders in Africa and on the goals of the Young African Leadership Initiative. Already some of the participants are discussing ways to stay connected or start a multinational project.
Monday, January 2, 2017
Produced and edited by: Austin Greene
|Tea as far as the eyes can see. Literally|
Saying goodbye is difficult. Saying murabeho was harder because I don't know if I'll ever get to say it
again. I'm back in the United States now, and what a journey I had.
I don't have a long list of places that I can recommend people to travel to. My entry and exit visas from Rwanda are the only stamps in my passport, but I can't recommend a trip to Rwanda enough. For anyone wanting to visit Africa, this is the perfect entry point.
I've mentioned before that one of the more pleasant surprises for me was how safe and clean the entire country was. This isn't limited to the capital city, Kigali, either. Even the towns further out were much cleaner than I would have ever imagined. When I went to Rusizi, you could see across the river into the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the difference was telling.
When I told people that I was going to be in Africa for three months, many of them told me that I was going to die. I'm pretty sure I'm still alive, I made it back to America just fine. People had plenty of opportunities to kill me and take all my money, but that's just not the reality of Rwanda. They are great and wonderful people with some of the biggest hearts I've seen.
Malaria wasn't an issue either, at least for me. I didn't take the medications, and wasn't even bitten by mosquitoes all that much. I get more bites in Ohio as a matter of fact. However, two of my friends, both Rwandans, contracted malaria while I was there. They were both back on their feet within two days though, as the medication to treat it is readily available.
The only issue for safety would probably be the buses and the moto taxis. It was normal for me to see up to 25 people crammed into a small bus no larger than a van. I couldn't imagine getting into an accident in one of those. The moto taxis were another story. I saw at least two accidents in Kigali involving the motorcycles, but they didn't look too severe. That never deterred me from taking them whenever I needed to go somewhere. Cheap is cheap and I'm going to die some day anyhow.
|Locals gather for a ceremony after umuganda.|
The food will always hold a special place in my heart, or should I say on my tongue? Going to the restaurant and getting a plate of food for about 50 cents was a blessing. It was pretty much just rice, beans, fried bananas, cassava and beef every day, but I grew accustomed to it. I'll miss going to the bar and ordering brochettes with my beer. Did I mention that beer was only about 50 cents as well?
That's right, everything there is cheap if you know what you're doing. If not, well... let's just say I hope you have a nice job. The tourist traps are expensive. The cheapest trail to walk in Nyungwe National Forest costs about $40. All national parks in the United States are free to walk in as far as I know, and while I understand that Rwanda has to generate money to help fund biodiversity conservation, it's a major deterrent for younger travelers like myself.
For instance, the trek to see the mountain gorillas will run you $750 per person. At that price, you should go see them in the zoo. I get it, you get to see wild gorillas! However, you should know ahead of time that those gorillas are selected by the government to be habituated to people. They do this so the paying tourists are guaranteed to see a troop of gorillas. That's not exactly gorilla trekking in my opinion. Walking through the national parks without a guide is forbidden. Even with a guide, you're not allowed to stray from the marked trails that you've specifically paid for.
If that's your thing, more power to you. If you're a more intrepid soul then Rwanda might not be ideal, however it does have much more to offer than just the tourist traps. Earlier I wrote about renting motorcycles to travel on my own. I wrote about the genocide memorials. Walking around Kigali and just seeing the way that the Rwandan world operated was an adventure in itself.
I'd like to thank everyone involved with sending me, if they're reading this. I only wish I could have stayed longer, if just to avoid Ohio weather. Murabeho, Rwanda!
|Food is prepared for Growing Helath's beneficiaries|
Subsistence farming dominates the Rwandan economy. In fact, more than 85 percent of the population works in the fields. Rows of crops dominate the landscape. Farms are everywhere.
Even inside a hospital.
In early 2015, two American doctors, Medie Jesena and Emily Esmaili, were working in the pediatrics ward of the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire du Butare (CHUB) when they noticed that their patients were not responding to treatment.
According to Laurette Mushimiyamana, the program's coordinator and president, the children's treatments were ineffective because the kids were malnourished.
"Simply because children had no food, that medicine had no effect," she said. "After discovering that, both of them and their colleagues started gathering money to buy food."
When the patients' conditions began to improve, Jesena and Esmaili began putting together a program that would grow food on the hospital grounds. They named it Farming for Child Health (F4CH), and it initially provided food for 30 children. However, the doctors soon realized that the problem was not isolated to the pediatrics ward.
"The patients from surgery were facing the same problem," Mushimiyamana said. "They were having anemia because they had no food. Surgery became our second priority and we added 30 more patients."
Meanwhile, new mothers suffering the effects of hunger were unable to produce breast milk. Tragically, many babies passed away from undernourishment. F4CH stepped in, adding 30 more patients from maternity and internal medicine to bring the total number of patients served to 90.
At this point, the program wasn't solely farming for children's health, but for the health of any person who could not afford food. F4CH was renamed Kuzamura Ubuzima, or Growing Health in English.
Ange Imanishimwe, the training and M&E manager, said that another important goal for the program is to teach the beneficiaries to select better food when they leave the program.
"What we are doing is to integrate food security, nutrition and human health," he said. "Those patients also come in our plots and learn the basic cultivation practices and we can train them. When they are good, they can go home and do the same practices."
|Samuel Byiringiro speaking to patients at CHUB|
"Growing Health is really helping me grow my career," he said. "Because the skills when I'm teaching them, I will keep mastering it and I will keep doing it everywhere that I practice as a nurse."
With almost two full years under its belt, the program has so far succeeded in its goals of helping Rwandans in need. Both Mushimiyamana and Imanishimwe hope that Growing Health can be a model for similar programs in other parts of the country.
"We have the plans to scale up," Imanishimwe said. "We are also partnering with the government of Rwanda through Huye District so that this program could be implemented in other district hospitals. We are all responsible for this world, so we have to help each other."
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
|YALI Connect Camp 9 participants pose for a photo after|
receiving their certificates at Friday's closing ceremony.
By Kate Hiller
In early December 2016, sixteen participants from six countries met in Dakar, Senegal to participate in the 9th Connect Camp of the Young African Leaders' Initiative (YALI). Participants were from Chad, The Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Senegal and Uganda. The YALI Connect Camps are administered four times a year in four regions of sub-Saharan Africa, funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) in the U.S. Department of State and administered by the Institute for International Journalism at Ohio University. These participants learned about leadership, mentorship, the Art of Hosting, Human Centered Design, and more. They interacted with resource experts such as Kofi Essien of OLE Ghana, Mamadou Sarr of CorpsAfrica, and Dr. Mame Yauto Faye of the Institute of Management in Dakar.
Participants began the week with ice breakers, and some goal-development exercises. They wrote down their goals of the week, ranging from improving English language skills to creating mentoring tools and engaging with different subgroups within their communities. The sticky notes were utilized to put into broader categories and posted on the wall for shared learning. As different goals were accomplished, participants moved the sticky notes from the "We Want To" wall to "We Did It" wall.
Over the course of the week, participants divided into groups to develop projects with a goal to improve different aspects of their communities, such as equality for disabled people, empowerment for women, sustainable farming practices, and a higher quality of education for youth. While every participant has his or her own ideas that fit under the aforementioned broad categories, the use of human centered design and other new concepts in the project development allowed them to develop their own ideas while also contributing to others' projects and providing immediate feedback. At the beginning of this process, participants were allowed to move around to other groups to share their expertise and experience with others. However, later in the week they had to select a group and stick to it. Participants presented their projects and ideas for implementation at the end of the week.
This was not the only presentation that participants gave. Each mentor-mentee pair was asked to give a 10-minute presentation about their country and what they thought made it special. These presentations were fun, with videos, laughter and even some dancing thrown in!
|YALI CC 9 Participants Babacar Birane, Fatoumata Bangaly|
Barry, and Menggeh Lowe dance with Dr. Judy Millesen of
Ohio University on Thursday, December 8.
On the final day of YALI CC 9, participants completed the final touches on their final projects, gave brief presentations, and were then given a tour of Blackboard, one of several Ohio University resources that they will have as alumni of this YALI program. All of the work they did this week, from inspiration to ideation to implementation, was drawn out in an easy-to-follow graphic by Dr. Judy Millesen of the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University. This tool corresponds to a multitude of resources now available to the participants, and serves as a road map from taking an idea through from its birth to implementation and success.
|Dr. Judy Millesen of the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs|
at Ohio University presents the "road map" of YALI CC9.
To see more photos from this week, please click here.
To follow the Institute for International Journalism on Twitter, click here.
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
|Luzius Whipf at his roaster.|
The aroma of fresh coffee lures in tourists, students and business people in just about any corner of the world. That much is certain. But what makes Café Connexion in Butare, Rwanda so special?
Luzius Wipf has it down to a science.
"If you go to a cafe in Europe or even Kigali, coffee can be quite expensive," he said. "Here we offer it at 50 cents per cup."
The coffee's taste likely has a lot to do with it too. The beans come from local farms in the Southern Province, seven of which won the prestigious "Cup of Excellence" award from the Alliance for Coffee Excellence in 2015. Perhaps that's why the cafe is attracts so many Europeans and Americans visiting Rwanda.
Wipf is a globetrotting coffee connoisseur who has been in the business for over 20 years. A native of Switzerland, his last venture before coming to Rwanda was the Asia Coffee Company in southern Vietnam. The cheap, local coffee found similar success there.
"We had several people carrying around trays delivering coffee around the offices in the buildings," he said. "At our peak we were selling thousands of cups per day at 50 cents."
After traveling to Africa, Wipf saw the potential on the coffee business in Rwanda. It was here that he met his current business partner, Jean-Marie Irakabaho, who co-owns the cafe.
"My partner knew the local farms and the Rwandan coffee business better than anyone," Wipf said. "I had the experience of running businesses and it was a great combination."
|Wipf explains the different tastes that can be achieved with|
various roasting methods using the "Flavor Wheel"
"Coffee is not very popular in Rwanda," Wipf said. "But as time has gone by, we've been seeing more and more Rwandans come in for coffee. That's a good thing too, because one of our goals was to create an environment where people can come in and meet and connect."
Hence the name, Café Connexion. Another "connection" that he created was a network for local farmers. Wipf and Irakabaho use their expertise to help the farmers sustain their crops by teaching better agricultural management processes. And in order to sustain his own businesses, Wipf has one final secret.
"You have to work with good people, people that you can trust," he said. "I have that here. And without the people I work with, this would all be impossible."
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
|The loudspeakers high above Nyamagabe.|
Radio is, at least in most parts of the world, broadcast to its audiences over its namesake, radio waves. The preferred mode of delivery for Radio Voice of Parking Station Nyamagabe?
Music plays throughout the town of Nyamagabe, Rwanda from morning until night. Sometimes there are breaks for sports shows, and other times locals call in to the "radio station's" DJ, Emmy Valentine.
"People mostly call in to give shout outs to their friends and family," Valentine said. "Other people just want to request a song."
Three loudspeakers are affixed to a 30 ft. tower to broadcast Valentine to the people of Nyamagabe, whether they want to tune in or not.
|The entrance to Radio Voice of Parking Station Nyamagabe.|
Behind the counter is the inconspicuous entrance to RVPSN.
"I work here from 6 in the morning until about 8 at night," Valentine said. "I began to work here in order to expand my talents as a journalist and as an artist."
Aside from being an on-air personality, he's also an aspiring musician. Some of his songs are even played from the makeshift radio station.
|Emmy Valentine at his workstation.|
"We run a program about hygiene in the city," he said. "Most of it is for the drivers, but it's also about keeping the city clean."
The "Parking Station" in the radio's name refers to the bus station in Nyamagabe. It's also a trade hub for the southern part of the country, sitting on the main road to Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The drivers that pass through make up the show's target audience.
Radio Voice's composition raises a question: is it really even a radio station? Valentine seems to think so.
"We do everything that the other stations do," he said. "And this way, we know that people are always listening."
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
|The exterior of the main building.|
"I can't go back there," Ashley Weselak told her friends. "I've been to Auschwitz and Birkenau before but Murambi is so much worse."
It had been two years since her last visit to the Murambi Genocide Memorial just outside of Nyamagabe, Rwanda, and she vowed not to return, never again.
"I had nightmares after I went," she said. "It's just an awful place."
Weselak and her friends from Huye had planned a hiking trip around the rolling hills of the Southern Province. At the last minute, Murambi was added to the itinerary. With that, the group that was seven was now six.
Of the six memorials commemorating the 1994 genocide, Murambi carries the reputation of being perhaps the most shocking. It was planned to be a technical school, but the civil war and subsequent massacre of over 800 thousand Rwandans halted its construction. Here, over 65 thousand of those people sought respite from the bloodshed under the guise of protection by French soldiers.
20 years later, a small group of European students and volunteers walks the same dirt road that the Tutsi refugees once walked. The atmosphere is certainly different; the sounds of a church choir and children laughing and playing can be heard from the hilltop where Murambi sits. The site is well-maintained, with rows of shrubs lining the dirt path that leads to the entrance.
|The path leading to Murambi.|
"More than 50 thousand people are buried here," she tells the group. "The bodies were uncovered from the original mass grave to receive a proper burial. Some of the bodies that were not claimed are kept preserved and are on display as a reminder of the terrible events that took place here."
The first part of the tour takes its visitors through a winding hallway that tells the history of Rwanda and the events that led to the genocide. The walls are adorned with pictures and text in English, French and Kinyarwanda to recount the grisly story of what happened to the tens of thousands of people who sought refuge here.
Soon after the refugees arrived to the still unfinished school building, the French soldiers abandoned their posts. Water and supplies were cut off. Those attempting to flee the grounds were immediately killed by the Interahamwe militia. On April 18, the surrounding Hutu forces began to attack the tired, starving Tutsis inside the building. The initial attack was repelled, but on April 21, a full assault was carried out. Some fell to gunfire, some died from grenade blasts. Most of the victims, however, succumbed to wounds from axes, clubs and machetes. Of the 65 thousand people trying to escape the violence, only 34 survived.
|The guide leads a tour group through the memorial.|
Behind the main building are smaller structures that were meant to be classrooms. In a way, they still are classrooms, teaching a much more profound lesson.
"In these buildings are the remains of several of the victims," the guide says sadly as she leads the visitors outside. "They were kept preserved in lime in the same positions they were in when they died."
|848 bodies are on display at Murambi.|
Even in their state, the half skeletons, half bodies still show expressions of terror. One holds his hands over his eyes while another grabs at wounds that are no longer visible. Others wounds are still there, such as many cracked skulls and bullet holes.
The next room is more of the same. The one after is too, as is the next, and the next, and the next. Room after room is the final resting place for unidentified victims of an unspeakable crime. A few exhibits feature cases that showcase more skulls in one, stacks of femurs in another and shelves of clothes from the victims in the last.
The final part of the tour is the mass grave that was dug when the French soldiers returned.
|Femurs inside display cases.|
"When the French learned what happened, they told the Hutus to clean the blood off the walls so nobody would find out," the guide says. "Then they came in with bulldozers and buried the bodies."
After the bodies were covered, the French built a volleyball court on top of the grave as an extra measure. Today, the bodies have been moved near the front of the grounds. The volleyball court has been removed.
The group that had arrived talking and laughing left the museum in silence. After a short walk back to Nyamagabe, they met back up with Ashley Weselak. She didn't need words to see the effect on her friends.
"Told you so," she said.
Monday, October 17, 2016
|It's OK, I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.|
Mom won't like this one.
"Be safe over there," she told me before I left home.
Naturally, I decided to rent a motorcycle and ride the dirt roads over the Rwandan mountains.
The iconic Guerrillero Heroico adorns the windshields of many cars and motorcycles in Rwanda, so perhaps my inspiration to zigzag the deeps ruts and jagged rocks came from a bit of subliminal messaging. That, and the fact that tourism here mostly caters to those whom Che Guevara would have despised.
|Hey, I can see my house from up|
here! No, the one in America.
One day I was told that I can rent one of the motorcycle taxis for just around six dollars per day. Riding trails on four-wheelers and dirtbikes was always one of my favorite passtimes in the US, and I also wanted to see more of this beautiful country and discover on my own.
My assistant, Irene, called up a driver and off I went.
Wanting to get the feel of the bike and make sure everything worked correctly, I decided to take the safer, paved road from Gasarenda to Huye before trusting myself to attempt the windy and rocky dirt roads that careen through the mountains and lack guard rails.
OK, not really. It was Saturday and I wanted to watch college football.
The instant I set off on my journey, mother came to punish me. By mother, I mean Mother Nature of course. It rained the entire one-hour drive to Huye and quit right when I arrived.
"Why didn't you just turn around?" one of my friends asked me.
|Good news: the speedometer works.|
Bad news: it's not in Freedom Units.
Being soaked from head to toe an hour away from home and without a change of clothes, I had to think of a way to dry myself once the game was over.
"Oh that's right!" I said to myself. "I have a motorcycle!"
I paid to have the motorcycle for two days and wanted to get the most out of my money. My plan was to take any dirt road that I saw and just drive until I felt like turning around. Google Maps would save me if I got lost. My plans never go wrong.
|On the bright side, road work doesn't last anywhere near as long.|
When a reached a small village called Musebeya, I stopped for a drink before turning around. An ice-cold Coke would have been nice, but the lack of refrigerators in Rwanda don't allow for that. It's even ingrained in their culture; you have to specify that you want your drink to be cold when ordering at a restaurant or bar, as Rwandans prefer their drinks warm, even their beer.
|If they had a gas station, they could do away with the tithe.|
Speaking of bleakness and reminiscence, my travels on the bike bring me back to Che Guevara once again. Much like the events chronicled in The Motorcycle Diaries, I experienced a much larger disparity of wealth than I've gotten used to. Children around Gasarenda are poor, but when you venture further away from the main road, there's a difference that almost can't be described in words.
I've seen many houses made from mud and logs. Kids carrying jerrycans filled with water pass by me on a daily basis while their parents work their hands to the bone in the fields. Further out, I could use the same words to describe the situation, but it's somehow worse.
|This is a waterfall. I named it Carlos.|
That's not to say that Rwanda isn't making strides. There's income inequality now, but Rwanda's upper class has only relatively recently emerged. Rwandans are very optimistic towards their future, and there are many NGOs that work to lift these people up. Also, the Kagame government seems to genuinely care about its less fortunate.
It's safe to say that I won't be replicating Che Guevara's subsequent journey.
Sunday, October 9, 2016
By Alena Klimas, IIJ Programs Coordinator
This past week, Nivette Dawod visited Ohio University in the midst of election season and talked to students about reporting from a global perspective. Nivette came to Ohio after reporting directly from the first Presidential debate. Her articles on the election as a Swedish foreign correspondent have been featured in the magazine Aftonbladet. During her visit, I sat down with Nivette to talk about her experience as a journalist and her visit to the United States.
From the start, Nivette always knew she wanted to be a journalist but didn’t know how to go about doing so. She did her bachelors in Political science and after graduation found a magazine that Nivette felt very connected to. The magazine was founded by second generation immigrants in Sweden. Nivette submitted a sample story and before long she was working for the magazine full time. Ever since then, she has been in the journalism field.
Nivette’s passion for international reporting is in the Middle East. When she was growing up, Nivette did not feel like she could express her background. Nivette comes from Syrian father and a Lebanese mother. When she was younger she would hear the stories of their countries. However, she grew up in Sweden in Scandanavia far from these connections. When she was 18 she visited Lebanon for the first time. She felt like she “home for the first time” even though she had never been there before. The Lebanese culture embraces immigration and so for the first time ever didn’t feel like the odd one out. No one questioned her nationality and asked her where she was really from, common in Sweden. The feeling of home in the Middle East has stuck with Nivette and has shaped her career in journalism.
It was a “long ride” to report on the Middle East and Nivette had to push for the spot in foreign news. She always said “we should cover this, we should write about this”. Finally, her bosses decided this is good. Her work became bigger and bigger. She then received a fellowship from a Swedish radio. Nivette has since been to the Kurdish region of Iraq, working with the foreign correspondence Cairo, conflict in Israel/Palestine, and Saudi Arabia to cover the first women’s vote in municipal election.
However, for now, Nivette is covering the 2016 election in the United States. Athens, Ohio was one of her first stops in the US. She was happy to be in her first “college town”. Nivette also saw her first sorority house while walking on campus. She was so thankful to have visited our “nice little world”. Nivette was able to speak to an array of “inspiring” students and professors. She did a more extensive interview with WOUB with Professor Hodson. Over the weekend, Nivette visited the more rural part of Ohio. She drove to Amish country which was quite interesting for her. Then on her last day in Ohio, Nivette drove to Columbus to explore the Somali community there. She spent time with some of the community members and visited the more Somali places like the “Global Mall”. She was interested in seeing how the refugees had been integrated life in Ohio.
|Ms. Nivette Dawod and Dr. Kalyango at dinner/reception with IIJ faculty and students.|
Ms. Nivette Dawod is a 2016 fall fellow from the Washington-based Transatlantic Media Network and sponsored by the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) in partnership with the Institute for International Journalism (IIJ) for the portion of the Ohio University campus visit. Dr. Yusuf Kalyango, IIJ Director, says is very grateful to CSIS for their continued partnership over the past five years and the sponsorship of the fellows to explore important issues in the United States. Having Nivette Dawod on the OU campus gave students a more global perspective on the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. “We were so happy to have such a talented, interesting journalist on campus,” said some students. Nivette will continue on to other states and universities for her reporting on the U.S. presidential election.
Friday, October 7, 2016
By: Lucas Hakes-Rodriguez
Produced and Edited By: Sam Campbell
The relationship between China and Vietnam is
decidedly difficult. That’s putting it lightly.
|Workers at a site in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo via World Bank/Flickr.|
In 2014, tensions between the two countries over a Chinese national oil company moving a platform into the South China Sea resulted in protests, and then riots, in Vietnam. This conflict in the hotly disputed waters has been ongoing, but it’s recently grown inflamed as China flexes superiority in the South China Sea, and thereby, in many countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones.
But Vietnam is also developing because of China, as much as it would like to think it’s doing so in spite of its hefty neighbor to the North, who consistently provides official development assistance (ODAs) to Vietnam. This assistance is multifaceted, be it in the form of building factories, setting up company branches in-country, or mining its natural resources.
“I do hate what China has done to Vietnam.”
China is investing money in Vietnam so that Vietnam can help grease the big Chinese machine, which has been losing momentum as of recent.
But the ongoing rout in disputed waters is dampening China’s scarcely-perceived good will towards the people of Vietnam. Many laypersons in Vietnam take issue with the Chinese government’s behavior.
Phuong Do, a junior majoring in English language teaching methodology in Ho Chi Minh City, said, “One of the most strictly illegal actions that China has carried out in Vietnam may be the violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelago."
“I personally think illegal actions of China are morally unacceptable as they cause [sic] bad impact on Vietnam and China as well.”
This conflict between the two governments is unfortunate, in that the Vietnamese people typically don’t have hang-ups over the Chinese people themselves. “I do hate what China has done to Vietnam,” read a comment from Maily Dao, a software engineer from Hanoi, on the answer crowdsourcing website Quora.
“To be exact, [I hate the actions of] the Chinese government. However, as a person, I don’t hate the Chinese people, [because] most of them seem [sic] to be oblivious to what their government has done to neighboring countries.”
Indeed, China’s campaign of swallowing up nearby resources has relationship statuses set to “complicated.”
The Chinese government’s move toward corralling auxiliary income streams in international waters wouldn’t be so difficult to abhor in the minds and hearts of the Vietnamese if relations with China weren’t so beneficial to their development.
Vietnam News reported that Chinese investment increased dramatically as of recent, from “$312 million in 2012 . . . [to] $7.9 billion in 2014.” In other words, many Vietnamese people see these money showers as Beijing trying to rub salve on the wound as it tears the skin.
The leniency of the Vietnamese government toward foreign investment in the name of rapid growth is allowing exploitative practices to slip through the cracks.
The rush to modernize Vietnam through foreign investment isn’t just a violation of sovereignty, argued Lee, a 21 year-old from Ho Chi Minh City who requested to have his surname and occupation withheld.
The Taiwanese materials production company Formosa Plastics caused an uproar in April of 2016, when it illegally released toxic waste into the ocean in central Vietnam. “[The Formosa Company] used [the] sea for discharge.... the sea [became] very [polluted] ... [many] fish ... died … and [the] air [and] land [were polluted as well].”
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (Vietnam) called Formosa’s 2016 toxic waste dump “the most serious environmental incident Vietnam has faced.” The result of the Taiwanese company’s gross negligence was widespread protest of foreign investment.
This outrage is a sliver of an ongoing trend across the globe: nationalist sentiments causing people to recoil at the destabilizing potential of globalization. Make no mistake. The Formosa Company’s ecological disaster was not a product of China. But the leniency of the Vietnamese government toward foreign investment in the name of rapid growth is allowing exploitative practices to slip through the cracks.
The tumultuous economic environment in Vietnam is not an easily mendable situation. While it’s unique in that it’s growing and developing, in the already globalized age (and at the heart of a region hotly debated over thanks to globalization), Vietnam has its limitations.
|Oil rig in the South China Sea. Photo via Chris/Flickr.|
While the Government of Vietnam has a voice over what happens on land, its presence on sea has been riddled with issues as it emerges as a semi-developed state. In 2014, from May to August, Vietnam had conflicts with the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation, which built oilplatforms in Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone proper.
While China played the role of earnest adventurer in its own economic region, many countries decried its actions. Vietnamese citizens were particularly livid while the Vietnamese government sent envoys to disrupt China’s unwelcome harvest.
As China continues to apply pressure, the Vietnamese people’s sense of entrapment will only rise.
Lee claimed the situation caused his country much “stress,” and the talks with China in the aftermath were “meaningless,” as they did not convince China to do much of anything.
Ultimately, these growing pains are a sign that when relying on a regional power for support, expecting them to stop with the coddling when it’s time to “spread one’s wings” is fanciful thinking.
In response, Vietnam is looking across the Pacific to Washington, which has been opening up to Hanoi thanks to President Obama’s “Pivot to Asia.” The Obama Administration’s increased challenges towards Chinese claims of regional control has manifested itself across Southeast Asia, as the President just concluded a tour of countries ranging from Laos to Thailand. According to NPR reporter Michael Sullivan, he skipped the Philippines, after Filipino president, Rodrigo Duterte, called Obama a “son of a whore."
The region in the South China Sea is volatile, as a myriad of nations claim ownership over islands and waters. Vietnam, though still developing, has barriers to break if it hopes to attain economic stability, independence, and congeniality comparable to real players in the global market.