Iconic Image Makes Trump the Ultimate Hero

Civil Society, Democracy, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, North America, TerraViva United Nations


Donald J. Trump, President of the United States, addresses the General Assembly’s 75th session in September 2020. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

ATLANTA, Georgia, Jul 19 2024 (IPS) – Republican Vice-Presidential nominee JD Vance and other speakers at the GOP Convention gleefully referenced the party’s latest icon: a wounded Donald Trump with blood on his face raising his fist in defiance beneath Old Glory’s stars and stripes.

The MAGA party realizes that they have a powerful symbol that will likely return Trump to the White House, because symbols are supremely powerful for both politics and religion. Associated Press photographer Evan Vucci captured the image, one of the most iconic ever recorded in American history. It fits perfectly into the Republican Campaign theme—“Trump is a hero and only he can save us.” The only other comparable photograph is the unforgettable one showing embattled Marines raising the American flag on Iwo Jima during WW II.

Vucci’s photograph framed a bloody former President, wounded in the assassination attempt, heroically pumping his fist in defiance beneath a red, white, and blue flag against a clear blue sky. It was the perfect photo, taken at a moment of extreme peril for American democracy, and sure to win a Pulitzer Prize.

It could be the key visual message that motivates people to side with Trump as a hero and propel him back to the White House. Photojournalist Doug Mills of the New York Times snapped a remarkable photo of the bullet in mid-air just beyond Trump, but Vucci’s stirring image of the wounded former president conveys a much more impactful message of heroism and patriotism.

Americans clearly prefer a tough, vigorous, even pugnacious and younger male leader (even if the image is false) to an old, decrepit President, especially one stammering to express himself and now sidelined with Coronavirus.

MAGA Republicans insist that people should vote for their hero Trump instead of Biden, pictured as a weak old man, or heaven forbid, by a scrappy female like Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, or even Republican Nikki Haley.

Aging leaders have been required to prove their virility from time to time throughout history—in ancient Egypt by running around a course, and in Communist China by swimming, or more likely floating, for ten miles in the Yangtze River, as did Mao Tse-tung in 1966.

His claim of fitness, especially in the photo of him swimming, became an icon across China and revived his political fortunes after the disaster of the Great Cultural Revolution.

Americans consider themselves to be a tough breed. That in turn requires a macho man to be our leader. Even if Trump is not really that, the picture of a defiant Trump surviving an assassin’s bullet and pumping his fist is an incredibly powerful icon at this moment of destiny in the nation’s politics.

There were no photos when Lincoln was shot and the Kennedy assassination photos show blurs in the back of a speeding convertible. The only other iconic photo to stir the emotions of patriotic Americans with equally intense feelings would be that snapshot by photographer Joe Rosenthal Showing US Marines raising the flag on Mount Suribachi.

That picture captured American patriotism so perfectly that it was later sculpted into a colossal statue near the US Capitol in Washington.

Not many people know about semasiography—the science of symbols—but throughout history symbols have had an underlying, supremely powerful influence on religion, politics, and human behavior. This photo of Trump, like the one of the marines, has the capacity to impact people at a visceral level and therefore to change human behavior on a large scale.

There is no question of the overwhelming influence of such a potent symbol at this point in an evenly balanced and fiercely divided, nation.

The way symbols work is like this: they are simple, convey meaning in a generalized sense, and have the capacity to rally multitudes of people, sometimes continuing to evoke allegiance for thousands of years. Many national flags in the modern era include symbols.

The red, white, and blue of the American flag can cause tears to flow, pride to swell the chest, and infuse soldiers with the courage to face cannons on the battlefield.

One of the most omnipresent symbols worldwide is the Christian Cross, which has provided meaning and identity for millions of people over thousands of years. The Nazi Swastika and the Hammer and Sickle rallied Germans and Russians, functioning in a similar way for unbelievably vast numbers of people during WW II.

The swastika, or broken cross, was an ancient Aryan cultural sign, meaning to the Germans “Deutchland Uber Alles,” the racial-political creed of Germany. Hitler was delighted when he found it, knowing he could use it to rally the nation to his banner.

The Soviet hammer and sickle dominated great parts of the globe for much of the Twentieth Century, signifying the rise of the Proletariat. During the Vietnam War, millions of college students protested wearing the peace sign in support of the anti-war movement.

A symbol can carry a different meaning for millions of people, allowing each individual to put his or her own meaning into it, often leading to action. In short, a symbol is a way to capture and intensify personal feelings.

An appropriate and timely icon can be used to lure, move, or drive masses of people toward a desired goal, even if its message is vague and diffuse.

Several modern psychiatrists have focused on symbolism, beginning of course with Freud. The study of semasiography became a major preoccupation of his most prominent successor, Jung. Both knew the power of symbols.

Soon the icon of a defiant Trump—the ultimate American tough guy—will appear on t-shirts and coffee mugs, helping to build a different national culture than the one bequeathed to Americans by Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and others of the Greatest Generation.

This new political culture has already shown its true colors—dominance, retribution, reaction, discrimination, with threats of violence and coercion as the new mechanism of control. Sadly, this is the way history works. Change is coming—prepare for it.

James E. Jennings is President of Conscience International and Executive Director of US Academics for Peace.

IPS UN Bureau


Biden Administration Faces Rebellion Within its Own Ranks over Gaza War

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Featured, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Middle East & North Africa, TerraViva United Nations


Schools-turned-shelters run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, have suffered serious damage in strikes in the last week. July 2024. Credit: United Nations

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 19 2024 (IPS) – The Biden administration, which has come under heavy fire for its unyielding pro-Israeli stand on the nine-month-old war in Gaza, is facing a rebellion within its own bureaucratic ranks—12 and counting.

The 12 government officials, who recently resigned, have accused the US of providing diplomatic cover for the continuous flow of arms to Israel ensuring “our undeniable complicity in the killings and forced starvation of a besieged Palestinian population in Gaza.”

This is not only morally reprehensible and in clear violation of international humanitarian law and US laws, but it has also put a target on America’s back,” they continue, arguing that it has put the lives of service members and diplomats at risk.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, a retired professor of international relations, most recently at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University (NYU), and who taught courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies, told IPS: “I share the overall view of the 12 US government officials who have resigned in protest against the Biden administration’s policy in connection with the Israel-Hamas war”.

They wrote in their joint statement, titled Service in Dissent, that “America’s diplomatic cover for, and continuous flow of arms to Israel has ensured our undeniable complicity in the killings and forced starvation of a besieged Palestinian population in Gaza. This is not only morally reprehensible and in clear violation of international humanitarian law and US laws, but it has also put a target on America’s back.”


“I have supported Israel’s right to defend itself as well as the Biden administration’s support of Israel’s war efforts, standing by the US’s iron-clad commitment to Israel’s security by providing it with all necessary military aid and political cover.

“I have stated time and again that Hamas’s unprecedented October 7, 2023 attack and Israel’s unparalleled retaliation have reinforced my own view, which I share with many others, that there will be no resolution to the 76-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict short of a two-state solution.

I still hold to the position that it will be impossible to return to the status quo that prevailed before October 7, as a new paradigm was created that offered the inimitable opportunity to recommence the peace negotiations that could lead to a two-state solution,” said Dr Ben-Meir.

Meanwhile there have also been negative reactions in European capitals. Last February, the New York Times ran a story headlined “US and European officials release a Letter Protesting Israeli Policies.”

According to the Times report, more than 500 officials in the US, Britain and the European Union (EU) released a “public letter of dissent” against their (respective) government’s support of Israel in its war in Gaza.”

In an oped piece published on the IPS wire July 18, Mouin Rabbani, Co-Editor of Jadaliyya and Non-Resident Fellow with the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies (CHS), says the Letter of Dissent makes indisputably clear that US policy towards the present crisis has been an absolute failure at virtually every level.


Not only has it failed to achieve any of its objectives and further consolidate Western hegemony in the Middle East, but it has made the US government directly and actively complicit in the genocide currently before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, he said.

As the signatories note, the US is “wilfully” violating not only international laws that are binding upon Washington, but is similarly and knowingly violating US domestic law in its fanatic determination to see Israel’s mass atrocities through to the bitter end, said Rabbani, who is also a Non-Resident Fellow at Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).

“Tellingly, and quite accurately, they also point out that the Biden administration’s determination to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his ultra-rightist, annexationist government has led to the suppression of basic constitutional freedoms within the United States,” he declared.

Meanwhile, in an address to the UN Security Council on July 17, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that recent developments are driving a stake through the heart of any prospect for a two-State solution.

“The geography of the occupied West Bank is steadily being altered through Israeli administrative and legal steps. The seizure of large land parcels in strategic areas and changes to planning, land management and governance are expected to significantly accelerate settlement expansion”.

These changes, he pointed out, include the issuance of two military orders at the end of May. These orders transferred powers to, and appointed, a civilian deputy in Israel’s Civil Administration, which is alarming.

This move is another significant advance in the ongoing transfer of authority over many aspects of daily life in the occupied West Bank, and a further step towards extending Israeli sovereignty over this occupied territory.

If left unaddressed, these measures risk causing irreparable damage, he said.

“We must change course. All settlement activity must cease immediately. Israeli settlements are a flagrant violation of international law and a key obstacle to peace. The violence must end, and the perpetrators of the violence must be swiftly brought to justice.

Israel must ensure the safety and security of the Palestinian population, Guterres declared.

Elaborating further Dr Ben-Meir said: “Personally, I was in favor of crippling Hamas militarily. Still, I have also repeatedly stated that while Israel may be able to crush Hamas militarily, it will be unable to destroy it as a political movement that holds a specific ideology that calls for Israel’s destruction.

“However, I have never subscribed to the notion that Hamas will ever be in a position to extinguish Israel for many reasons, including the fact that Hamas leaders know only too well that Israel is a formidable military power whose existence is irrevocable. The war has made it clear that challenging Israel’s right to exist is tantamount to suicide”.

President Biden was the first global leader to affirm that, given the new developing circumstances, a two-state solution is a prerequisite to end this endemic conflict.

As the war continued to grind on and as the Palestinians’ death toll and destruction were mounting, and Prime Minister Netanyahu categorically refused to even mention any solution along the lines of an independent state, the whole idea of a two-state solution was dropped from Biden’s lexicon. But the flow of weapons to Israel, if anything, was increasing without any preconditions.

Moreover, the US vetoed two UNSC resolutions that called for a ceasefire while food, water, fuel, and medical supplies were dwindling, and the displacement of Palestinians by the hundreds of thousands continued unabated.

Meanwhile, Israel’s relentless bombing using American-made bombs, which were killing thousands in densely populated areas, made the US complicit in the horrific carnage. By now, more than 37,000 Palestinians have been killed, and more than half of Gaza lies in ruin, Dr Ben-Meir said.

IPS UN Bureau Report


BRAZIL: ‘The Law Should Protect Women and Girls, Not Criminalise Them’

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Inequality, Latin America & the Caribbean, TerraViva United Nations

Jul 18 2024 (IPS) –  
CIVICUS discusses abortion rights in Brazil with Guacira Oliveira, director of the Feminist Centre for Studies and Advice (CFEMEA). CFEMEA is an anti-racist feminist organisation that defends women’s rights, collective care and self-care and monitors developments in Brazil’s National Congress.

In June, thousands of women took to the streets of São Paulo and other cities to protest against a bill that would classify abortion after 22 weeks as homicide, punishable by six to 20 years in prison. Protests began when the lower house of Congress fast-tracked the bill, limiting debate. Abortion is currently legal in Brazil only in cases of rape, foetal malformation or danger to the life of a pregnant person. The proposed bill, promoted by evangelical representatives, would criminalise people who have abortions more severely than rapists. Public reaction has slowed down the bill’s progress and its future is now uncertain.

How would this new anti-abortion law, if passed, affect women?

Currently, abortion is legal in Brazil only in cases of rape, danger to a pregnant person’s life and severe foetal malformation. However, current legislation doesn’t set a maximum gestational age for access to legal abortion. The proposed bill would equate abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy with homicide, punishing the person seeking the abortion and the health professionals who perform it.

This would particularly affect girls, as over 60 per cent of rape victims are children under the age of 13. In more than 64 per cent of these cases, the rapist is someone close to the girl’s family, making it difficult to identify the rape and the resulting pregnancy.

Another perverse aspect of the problem is racial inequality. Forty per cent of rape victims are Black children and adolescents, and of those under 13, more than 56 per cent are Black girls. Of 20,000 girls under the age of 14 who give birth each year, 74 per cent are Black. In addition, Black women are 46 per cent more likely to have an abortion than white women. The passage of this bill would make Black women and girls even more vulnerable than they already are. The law should protect these women and girls, not criminalise them.

How has civil society mobilised against the bill?

CFEMEA has been monitoring threats to legal abortion for decades and is part of the National Front Against the Criminalisation of Women and for the Legalisation of Abortion. Threats increased with the rise of the far right to the presidency in 2018, and feminist movements mobilised over cases of girls who were victims of sexual violence and faced institutional barriers to accessing legal abortion.

In 2023, in response to regressive legislation, they launched the ‘A child is not a mother‘ platform, recently reactivated as the new anti-abortion bill was submitted as a matter of urgency. More than 345,000 people signed up to the campaign and sent messages to parliamentarians. They also applied pressure on social media through posts and hashtags such as #criançanémãe (#ChildNotMother), #PLdagravidezinfantil (#CongressForChildPregnancy) and #PLdoestupro (#CongressForRape).

We also campaigned through face-to-face actions and other collectively defined strategies, led mainly by state-level alliances against the criminalisation of women and for the legalisation of abortion. In May, we laid a symbolic wreath in front of the Federal Council of Medicine, which in April had published a resolution banning foetal asystole, a procedure recommended by the World Health Organization for legal abortions after 22 weeks. By doing so we symbolised our grief for all the women and girls whose lives are cut short due to lack of access to a legal abortion. We reenacted this outside the official residence of the President of the Chamber of Deputies, just before the fast-track request for the anti-abortion bill was approved, on the evening of 12 June.

The following day, the first public protests took place in several Brazilian state capitals. These continued over subsequent days, culminating in a nationwide action on 27 June. The issue is still on the agenda in July and demonstrations are still going strong.

Why is Brazil moving against the regional trend towards legalisation?

Brazil has seen advances by the religious fundamentalist far right since 2016, when President Dilma Rousseff was removed from office through a legal-parliamentary manoeuvre that amounted to a political coup. The violent ethnocentric, LGBTQI+-phobic, neopatriarchal and racist reaction intensified in 2018 with the victory of Jair Bolsonaro in an election marred by disinformation.

Conservatives view the rights to diverse and plural ways of life as a threat to their existence. In this sense, their regressive proposals are a direct response to women’s struggles against patriarchy and all forms of women’s oppression.

Even after its defeat in the 2022 presidential election, the far right has become stronger in the National Congress, where extremists have obtained majorities in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. This has led to the revival of a bill known as the ‘Statute of the Unborn Child’, aimed at granting ‘personhood’ to the foetus in order to criminalise abortion.

Many factors explain the conservative reaction in Brazil and around the world. For fascists in power and in society, violence is justified against groups considered to be ‘enemies of the people’, which can include any dissenting voices – those of women, Black people, Indigenous peoples and LGBTQI+ people. In the case of women, they are trying to re-domesticate us, to send us back home, subservient to the command and judgement of patriarchs. Control over reproduction and our bodies is a crucial part of this strategy.

What are the forces for and against sexual and reproductive rights in Brazil?

The main force against sexual and reproductive rights is religious fundamentalism, which positions itself as a harbinger of control over women’s bodies and gender dissidents and is strongly represented in the National Congress. The defence of these rights lies in the progressive camp, represented by the political left and the feminist, women’s and LGBTQI+ movements.

But it’s worth noting that even with a Congress besieged by anti-rights groups, most people have a less punitive and more empathetic understanding of feminist struggles and women’s rights. A survey we carried out in 2023, in collaboration with the Observatory of Sex and Politics and the Centre for Studies and Public Opinion of the State University of Campinas, showed that 59 per cent were against the criminalisation and possible imprisonment of women who have abortions.

What are the main demands of the Brazilian feminist movement?

The feminist movement is plural and diverse, but what it has in common is the fight to end all forms of violence against women. CFEMEA seeks to transform the world through anti-racist feminism and by taking a stand against all gender inequalities and oppression. This is our position when we enter dialogue with society and make demands of governments. We demand public policies that reduce inequalities between men, women and people with other gender identities, considered in their intersectional dimensions of age, creed, ethnicity, nationality, physical abilities and race, among others.

A fundamental issue is the sexual and racial division of labour, a powerful structure that maintains and exacerbates the inequalities experienced by women. After all, the care work they do, despite being rendered invisible and devalued by patriarchal capitalism, is an indispensable condition for human life and the construction of collective good living. The manifesto of the Anti-Racist Feminist Forum for a National Care Policy, signed by dozens of movements and organisations, affirms the need for social reproduction activities to be recognised and shared by the state. This means that care work, which is currently unpaid and done at the family and community levels almost exclusively by women, must be effectively taken over by the state, because care is a human need.

We demand that governments allocate public investment to combat gender inequalities in areas as diverse as care, culture, education, the environment, health, justice, labour, leisure and wellbeing. It is the state, not the market, that can and must combat such inequalities.

Civic space in Brazil is rated ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

Get in touch with CFEMEA via its website or its Facebook or Instagram page, and follow @cfemea on Twitter.


Silenced: Women’s Many Layered Struggles for Climate Justice in Nepal

Active Citizens, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Climate Change, Climate Change Justice, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Climate Change, Women in Politics

Women & Climate Change

Silenced and sidelined, women politicians in Nepal fight for their voices to be heard, especially as they represent a population most impacted by climate change.

Women farmers in Helambu, Sindhupalchwok. Women, who are the primary growers, have to deal with changing patterns of snowfall and rain, which is affecting their agricultural activities. However, they feel like no one is listening to their concerns. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

Women farmers in Helambu, Sindhupalchwok. Women, who are the primary growers, have to deal with changing patterns of snowfall and rain, which is affecting their agricultural activities. However, they feel like no one is listening to their concerns. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

KATHMANDU, Jul 18 2024 (IPS) – A group aligned with the mayor of Chhayanath Rara Municipality in the Mugu district of Nepal’s Karnali Province physically attacked Aishwarya Malla for simply asking for a budgetary review of the local government.

“As a deputy mayor, I have the right to know where the budget is allocated, but the mayor’s team attacked me,” Malla said. “They did it only because I’m a woman, but they forget I’m also an elected representative with a responsibility to serve people, especially women and marginalized sections of our society.”

Malla has had an upward battle trying to get her voice heard.

Earlier in May, she requested just a few minutes to lay out her area’s issues related to climate change. She was in the nation’s capital, Kathmandu, where the International Dialogue on Climate Change was happening.

“If you want to know the ground reality, you have to give time to speak,” she said in her loud, passionate voice, but she didn’t get the chance. “We represent the women and lower sections of society, and nobody listens or wants to give us space.”

Aishwarya Malla (left), Deputy Mayor of Chhayanath Rara Municipality, and Shanti Malla Bhandari (right), Vice President of Guthichaur Rural Municipality. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

Aishwarya Malla (left), Deputy Mayor of Chhayanath Rara Municipality, and Shanti Malla Bhandari (right), Vice President of Guthichaur Rural Municipality. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

In Nepal, local governments have the responsibility to be the first and most accessible authority to serve people, and elected representatives run their constituencies.

In leadership positions (mayor and their deputies or presidents and their vice presidents), women’s representation as candidates is mandatory for political parties. However, only 25 local governments have women serving as either mayors or presidents. Out of 753 local governments, 557 have women as deputy mayors or vice presidents.

Largely, women leaders are forced to remain second in line of power. But as Malla says, women leaders are the ones whom people in need reach out to, but they struggle to find their space within the male-dominant local political sphere.

“This is affecting our efforts to find solutions and adaptive measures to the climate change impact in our community and the same is true of other issues too,” Malla said, expressing her frustrations.

Local Struggle on National Platform

During the International Expert Dialogue on Mountains, People, and Climate, organized by the government of Nepal on May 22–23, experts discussed the importance of locally led adaptation to tackle the impacts of climate change in the community. However, there was no representation from the local community.

Apsara Lamsal Lamichhane, vice president of Helambu Rural Municipality, Sindhupalchowk district, stood up and expressed her frustrations when the floor was opened for questions.

“We are the ones who are suffering from the dire impacts of climate change, and we are trying to find a way to adapt,” Lamichhane angrily said as her microphone was about to be cut off. “But the central government doesn’t even listen to us, and we don’t get a chance to present our ground reality on platforms like this.”

Apsara Lamsal Lamichhane, Vice President of Helambu Rural Municipality, Sindhupalchowk, during the International Expert Dialogue on Mountains, People, and Climate. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

Apsara Lamsal Lamichhane, Vice President of Helambu Rural Municipality, Sindhupalchowk, during the International Expert Dialogue on Mountains, People, and Climate. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

She comes from one of the most vulnerable areas, where locals are facing the direct impacts of disasters exacerbated by climate change.

Lamichhane, Malla and other women in deputy mayor or vice president posts share the same complaint: that the provincial and central governments don’t listen to their concerns, including the losses caused by climate change.

“At the local level, the Mayor or President tries to silence us. In national discussions like this, we are invited but not allowed to speak. It’s our reality,” says Shanti Kumari Malla Bhandari, vice president of Guthicahur Rural Municipality in Jumla.

The Same Story on the International Stage

Just as there are internal obstacles to getting even a few minutes to present the issues local communities on the frontlines are dealing with, experts and leaders at the national level complain that in international climate forums, their voices are suppressed, and they don’t get enough space to present the reality of the climate plight.

Former Foreign Minister Dr. Bimala Rai Paudyal acknowledges that there is much to do to foster smooth discussion internally and to create a listening environment.

“We are working in isolation; there is an inter-ministerial communication gap, and yes, local representatives have to struggle much to make their voices heard,” Paudyal, who advocates for women’s representation in climate change discussions, says.

“Women are not only frontline victims of the climate crisis but also the first responders. We need to give them space, and then we can make our case in international forums. But there is a long way to go.”

To have better negotiation power in global forums, internal discussions need to prioritize local voices, she says. If we listen to each other here, then we can raise our collective voice with much conviction in international forums like the Conference of the Parties (COP) and climate finance committees.

According to Raju Pandit Chhetri, who works on climate finance negotiation, for countries like Nepal that are dependent on donor countries and agencies, negotiating on the global stage is not easy.

“There is already a giver-receiver relationship, and our psyche may be hesitant to negotiate strongly on climate finance issues. I think that kind of mentality may also exist at the national level too,” climate finance expert Chhetri said. “We have to break that wall of hesitation both internally and on the global stage.”

Note: This feature is published with the support of Open Society Foundations.

IPS UN Bureau Report


Kanak Ambition for Independence Is Defiant Following Political Turmoil in New Caledonia

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Democracy, Editors’ Choice, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Indigenous Rights

Kanak Pro-Independence supporters display the Kanak flag during a rally in the streets of Noumea prior to New Caledonia's first referendum on Independence in 2018. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Kanak Pro-Independence supporters display the Kanak flag during a rally in the streets of Noumea prior to New Caledonia’s first referendum on Independence in 2018. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

NOUMEA, New Caledonia , Jul 17 2024 (IPS) – It’s been 26 years since a peace agreement, the Noumea Accord, was signed following an outbreak of conflict in the 1980s between Kanak islanders and French armed forces in the French overseas territory of New Caledonia.

But the eruption of turbulent protests and unrest again two months ago has shown that the cleavage of indigenous political grievances with the French state remains deep in this group of islands located east of Australia in the southwest Pacific.

The centre of New Caledonia’s capital, Noumea, a popular holiday destination in the Pacific Islands, is usually abuzz with tourists patronizing sidewalk cafes. But many of the streets, now patrolled by French police, are deserted and eerily quiet.

The protests, which began in mid-May, escalated to armed clashes between activists and French security forces, resulting in ten deaths. And the destruction of homes, public buildings and looting of shops and businesses has had a devastating impact on the small island society. The cost of the damage is estimated to be more than USD 1 billion; at least 7,000 people have lost jobs and incomes, and the territory’s economy has suffered a major downturn.

Barricades were erected in the streets of Noumea when confrontations escalated between Pro-Independence activists and French police in May following the French Parliament's adoption of electoral reforms in New Caledonia. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Barricades were erected in the streets of Noumea when confrontations escalated between Pro-Independence activists and French police in May following the French Parliament’s adoption of electoral reforms in New Caledonia. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

The unrest has revealed the gaping fracture between France’s determination to retain control of the territory and the indigenous Kanak islanders, who are riled at lack of progress toward their call for self-determination.

“We protested in the streets. We wanted to say to the French state, you must respect the Kanaks because France voted for the reforms without consent from us,” Jacques (his name has been changed), a Kanak activist in Noumea, told IPS.

He was speaking of the adoption of electoral changes in New Caledonia by the French Parliament, which would have opened the electoral roll to tens of thousands of recent migrant settlers, the majority from Europe.

About 41 percent of New Caledonia’s population is indigenous and many believe it would have led to the declining influence of their vote against rising numbers of Loyalists in future elections and referendums. The changing demographic balance between Kanaks and non-Kanaks is a longstanding grievance.

The uprising in the 1980s was driven by grievances about land dispossession, poverty, inequality, the absence of civil and political rights, and France’s policy of promoting migration from France to New Caledonia.

While French President Emmanuel Macron suspended the electoral reforms in mid-June, many Pro-Independence supporters are unappeased.

Jacques is among a group of Kanak activists who have set up a campaign site next to a main road on the outskirts of the capital. They are sitting around a table under a marquee, surrounded by flags and banners.

“We want our country to be decolonized, as it is written in the Noumea agreement. The French state is only interested in dominating the population here. If the French state stays here, we will have more violence,” Jacques claims.

The French government agreed in the 1998 Noumea Accord to grant New Caledonia more governing powers, recognition of Kanak culture and right to consultation, restrictions on the local electoral roll allowing only Kanaks and long-term residents to vote and the holding of referendums on its future political status.

But by 2021, three referendums had been held, all with majority outcomes, to remain part of France. There was a 43.33 percent vote for Independence in the first referendum in 2018, which increased to 46.74 percent in the second in 2020. But Kanaks, severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, boycotted the third referendum in 2021. The overwhelming Loyalist vote of 96.5 percent has never been accepted by Pro-Independence political parties, such as the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS).

“We firmly support the call by FLNKS for the UN to declare the result of the third referendum null and void due to the non-participation of the people of Kanaky. Voter turnout was below 50 percent of registered voters; hence, it cannot be taken as the legitimate wish of the silent majority,” the sub-regional inter-governmental organization, the Melanesian Spearhead Group, stated in 2021.

Kanak separatists’ determination to keep their aspirations alive, even though options for changing the political status quo through referendums have been exhausted, has led to an increasingly polarized political landscape. Some entrenched Loyalists believe that the French state should “take over the New Caledonian government because of all the political problems that we have,” Catherine Ris, President of the University of New Caledonia in Noumea, told IPS. And, “on the Pro-Independence side, we do not hear the moderate people anymore.”

The recent mobilization of the Field Action Coordinating Cell (CCAT) by the Pro-Independence Caledonian Union party was a sign of some Kanaks’ belief that their demands are not being met through the political process. The core group of activists were a major force behind the recent protests and the Cell’s leader, Christian Tein, is currently being held in a jail in France on charges related to the unrest. Similarly, the major presence of youths on the streets in May is evidence that a new generation has lost faith in the pace of social and political change.

“The younger people want the change now because in their lives they have experienced and seen a lot of hardship—the persecution of the Kanak people, the difficulties of getting a job,” Jacques emphasized. An estimated 45 percent of people in New Caledonia who don’t have a high school certificate are indigenous, and the Kanak unemployment rate is reported to be as high as 38 percent.

Yet the representation of Kanaks in the territory’s government and politics has steadily increased over the past two decades. The number of seats held by Pro-Independence politicians in New Caledonia’s 54 seat Congress rose from 18 to 25 between 2004 and 2014, while Loyalists witnessed a decrease from 36 to 29 seats, reports Australia’s Lowy Institute for International Policy.

In 2021, Louis Mapou, the first Kanak Pro-Independence President of the government, was elected. And, following the French national election this month, Emmanuel Tjibaou, a Kanak leader from the rural North Province, was voted in as one of New Caledonia’s two members of the National Assembly in Paris.

In the wider region, New Caledonia’s self-determination movement has the international support of other Pacific Island countries, especially those that have indigenous Melanesian populations, such as Papua New Guinea and Fiji, as well as Azerbaijan and Russia. And the French overseas territory has been on the United Nations’ Decolonization List since 1986.

Yet there are New Caledonians who are concerned about the viability of a New Caledonian state. The territory relies heavily on France’s fiscal support, which amounts to 20 percent of the local gross domestic product (GDP) and pays for public services, local economic development programs and civil service salaries.

“We have a good economy here,” Marcieux, a Frenchman who has lived in New Caledonia for 30 years, told IPS in Noumea. “It is easy to speak of independence, but, in reality, it is very difficult. You need a way to make independence.”

But, until the yawning political divisions laid bare by the events of May are addressed, it will be difficult for New Caledonia’s leaders to present a united will to President Macron and the French Parliament located more than 16,000 kilometres away.

However, Tjibaou, the new member of the French National Assembly, is the focus of hope that meaningful dialogue can emerge from the recent conflict. He told local media soon after his election this month that “we all have to offer a framework for discussions to resume between the three partners, which are France, the FLNKS and the Loyalists… we have to capitalize on this.”

IPS UN Bureau Report


How Climate-Smart Strategies Revitalized Tanzania’s Livestock Sector

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Climate Change Justice

In a quest for survival, farmers and pastoralists living in Oldonyo Sambu, Tanzania’s northern Maasai Steppe, used to fight over every drop of water. However, 12 villages have now adopted climate-smart bylaws after months of negotiations, putting an end to hostilities.

A pastoralist gazes into the horizon while taking a break from grazing cattle in Ikolongo Village. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

A pastoralist gazes into the horizon while taking a break from grazing cattle in Ikolongo Village. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

IRINGA, Tanzania , Jul 16 2024 (IPS) – As the sun sets, its golden hues piece through the dusty haze, creating a dazzling display when a herd of livestock lazily roams on the arid landscape as they return home from grazing.

Dressed in shiny red robes, the youthful Maasai pastoralists routinely whistle as they steer cattle, goats and sheep to maintain a unified path.

The quest for survival has forced these herders in Oldonyo Sambu, Tanzania’s northern Maasai Steppe, jostling for dwindling water and pastures as they try to sustain their herds.

Surprisingly, 670 kilometres (416 miles) away in Ikolongo village, south of Tanzania, the plight of water consumers has improved, thanks to a community-led initiative that brought farmers and pastoralists together  to resolve their water woes.

Sitting under a baobab tree, 47-year-old Leinot Leboo watches his cattle drink from a pond. This tranquil moment contrasts sharply with the situation in Oldonyo Sambu, where farmers often clash with herders as they jostle for water.

“I don’t recall any fight between pastoralists and farmers here.We get enough pastures and water for our livestock,” says Leboo.

Unlike in Oldonyo Sambu, local villagers here have created specific grazing lands and water points for livestock to prevent clashes with farmers. “We often bring our cattle here and let them graze and drink without causing any disturbances,” says Leboo.

According to Ignas Mashaka, Ikolongo village chairman, the residents have created a system where pastoralists pay a small fee to feed their herds on rice husks produced by farmers, especially in the dry season.

“This arrangement provides a steady source of feed, but it also give farmers extra income,” says Mashaka

Cows drink from a pond used exclusively by pastoralists in Ikolongo village, Tanzania. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

Cows drink from a pond used exclusively by pastoralists in Ikolongo village, Tanzania. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

Strict Rules

After months of negotiation between local residents and local district authorities, the villagers enacted strict by-laws, which have now been adopted and ratified by 12 surrounding villages.

“These rules have helped to ease tensions over water use,” says Mashaka.

Under the initiative, local residents joined forces to construct dams and reservoirs which have reduced water scarcity, providing a reliable supply for farmers and pastoralists.

“We used to fight over every drop of water,” says Musa Chacha, a farmer at Ikolongo village. “But now, there’s enough for everyone and there’s no reason to fight,”

By working together and managing resources sustainably, Ikolongo villagers have built a strong and resilient community.

Female farmers in Ikolongo village learn horticulture to grow vegetables as part of their strategy to cope with drought. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

Female farmers in Ikolongo village learn horticulture to grow vegetables as part of their strategy to cope with drought. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

The Bigger Picture

Despite having vast grazing lands, the east African country faces frequent conflicts over water and other resources due to climate change and weak land governance. Prolonged droughts often lead to clashes between farmers and pastoralists as they jostle for water and grazing space.

Tanzania’s livestock sector, a vital source of livelihood for millions, holds potential for growth in production and trade. With a cattle population of 36.6 million, the country ranks second in Africa, after Ethiopia. This accounts for 1.4% of the global cattle population and 11% of Africa’s. Beyond cattle, Tanzania also boasts large numbers of sheep, goats, chickens, and pigs, placing it among the continent’s top ten in overall livestock numbers.

However, the sector is plagued by many challenges due to climate risks and low investment, World Bank analysts say.

Transformative Initiative

As part of its broader efforts to improve the livestock sector, Tanzania has launched a new USD 546 million initiative to bolster productivity, increase resilience to climate change and improve the livestock industry. The initiative entails innovative strategies to curb extreme weather by constructing water reservoirs, introducing drought-resistant forage crops, and improving livestock breeds.

Challenges and Solutions

According to a recent World Bank report, “Harnessing the Opportunity for a Climate-Smart and Competitive Livestock Sector in Tanzania,” the pasture-based livestock sector in Tanzania faces serious challenges due to climate change and endemic livestock diseases, impacting animal health, productivity, and market access.

A herd of cattle grazes in a designated pastoralist area in Ikolongo village. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

A herd of cattle grazes in a designated pastoralist area in Ikolongo village. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

Pastoralist’s Perspective

Saidi Juma, a 55-year-old pastoralist from Kilolo village, has witnessed changes in weather patterns over the years. “When I was young, the rains were predictable, and the grass was plenty,” he says. “But in recent years, we have struggled to find pasture for our animals, and the rivers dry up too soon.”

One aspect of the scheme is adopting climate-smart innovations, such as better animal husbandry practices, drought-resistant fodder, and efficient water management systems.

The introduction of drought-resilient Brachiaria grass at Ikolongo village has maintained better livestock health during dry spells. “We planted these grass because they are resilient to drought and provide enough food for our livestock,” says Mashaka.

According to him, drought-resistant forage crops has ensured a steady supply of nutritious feed for livestock in  dry seasons.

Expert Insights

In an interview with IPS, Malongo Mlozi, Professor of Agricultural studies and extension at Sokoine University of Agriculture, hailed the government initiative to revamp the ailing livestock sector by improving water management techniques.

“Water is life; by ensuring a reliable water supply, we can significantly improve the resilience of our livestock farmers against climate change,” he says

According to Mlozi, pastoralists must be trained to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to cope with the vagaries of the weather.

“When pastoralists understand the benefits of climate-smart practices, they are more likely to adopt them and see positive results,”

Mlozi says the government scheme is likely to improve food security.

“By increasing the productivity of our livestock sector, we can ensure a stable supply of meat, milk, and other livestock products,” says Mlozi

Leinot Leboo grazes his cattle in a bushy enclave in Ikolongo village. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

Leinot Leboo grazes his cattle in a bushy enclave in Ikolongo village. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

“This will help in addressing the nutritional needs of our population and reduce dependency on imports.”

Under the initiative, the government will construct water harvesting structures and introduce solar-powered boreholes to provide an eco-friendly solution.

“Access to water has always been a problem for farmers and pastoralists.The solar-powered boreholes will provide enough water.”

The scheme is also aiming to improve market access for livestock products by improving value chains so pastoralists can fetch better prices in livestock markets closer to their communities.

Tanzania’s livestock sector is changing with climate-smart practices and community-led efforts, setting an example for other regions. By focusing on sustainability and innovation, Tanzania is improving the lives of pastoralists and promoting peace and cooperation.

“We have come a long way from those tough times. Now, we look forward to a future where our children can grow up without the fear of conflict and scarcity.”

This feature is published with the support of Open Society Foundations.

IPS UN Bureau Report