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Vodka or Cognac: Two Tastes of Global Politics

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Cognac makes you a rebellious prankster—Somewhat not practical, but very romantic. Prodigiously hacks it away at anchors of everything that is immobile and static. Joseph Brodsky

The curious human mind has discovered two radically different ways of making hard liquor of high quality: rectification and distillation. Without going into detailed descriptions of the technologies and equipment involved, we shall note that manufacturers pursue different objectives in each case. Rectification is, in essence, fractional distillation meant to produce ethanol of the highest purity possible from raw materials that will more or less do the trick, while removing the original organoleptic properties—such as colour, taste and aroma—as much as possible. Distillation, on the contrary, seeks to both obtain quality ethanol and preserve the original aroma and taste with utmost care.

Vodka can rightfully be called the queen of rectification. Rectification involves producing refined, purified, neutral ethanol. The organoleptic properties of the original raw materials are totally eliminated—ethanol tastes and smells like ethanol and nothing else. Therefore, it does not make much of a difference what you use to produce vodka, be it wheat, rye, potatoes or sugar beets; if high quality equipment is used and strict compliance with rigid technological standards is ensured, nothing of the original raw material remains in the end product.

Naturally, true connoisseurs of vodka claim that the quality of the drink heavily depends on water quality and the professional secrets of purification. When connoisseurs taste a good vodka, they note the highlights of wheat bread, rye crust, forest moss or even cream and dried fruit. Most likely, these gastronomical subtleties are the work of evil, as it were, since products of rectification should have no additional aromas and flavours. It is only at the later stages of manufacturing that desired organoleptic properties can be artificially added to the diluted ethanol by using various flavourings, which produces a wide range of bitter and sweet infused vodkas, ethanol-based balsams and other derivatives of the classical vodka. Rectification is also used to manufacture absinthe and gin, as well as most liqueurs.

As for distillation, cognac is the rightful claimant for kingship. A true French person, though, would rather like to see Armagnac crowned. A tad cruder than cognac—one distillation instead of two—Armagnac has a richer flavour, reflecting the unique taste properties of the original grapes in a truly comprehensive fashion. Today, distillation is used to manufacture most hard liquors of quality—Scotch whisky, American bourbon, Italian grappa, French calvados, Mexican tequila and Jamaican rum are among the best. Manufacturers preserve the flavour and taste of barley malt, corn, grapes, apples or pears, blue agave and sugar cane, respectively.

Compared to high-quality rectifications, high-quality distillations set higher requirements for the shape and size of the glassware. Vodka can be drunk from a liquor glass, a shot glass, a table glass, and even an aluminium mug. Cognac, however, must only be consumed from tulip-shaped snifters, aptly dubbed “big tulip” and “small tulip” in Russia. Cognac connoisseurs are meticulous when separately evaluating the drink’s aroma, taste and aftertaste, discerning the diverse highlights of milk and bitter chocolate, vanilla, walnuts and hazelnuts (their shells and partitions even!), various fruits and berries (including most exotic ones), field and garden flowers, various types of wood, tobacco leaves, leather—and many, many other things…

Today’s mainstream approaches to matters of global politics may well be likened to the two traditions of alcohol manufacturing. The so-called “realist” approach fits with the vodka tradition of rectification. Realists construct their foreign policy vision by rectifying individual components of the original society. While so engaged, they are not particularly concerned about their material and its features, such as the history of a particular region, its culture, religion and traditions as well as the unique features of its political system. Democracies of the West and autocracies of the East, capitalist and communist regimes, patriarchal monarchies and theocratic republics—all this global hotch-potch is fed into the fractionating column producing <>the power of nations, highly purified from all kinds of admixtures. States are accounted for solely on the basis of power they generate, mostly in military terms. Foreign policy objectives of states seek to maximize power and change the regional or global balance of power to bolster their own security at the expense of others.

The liberal approach, on the contrary, follows in the footsteps of the cognac tradition of distillation. Close attention is paid to the factors that account for the unique features of individual states. From the liberal point of view, these are largely determined by the domestic facet as liberals treat foreign policies of states as a vast assemblage of flavours, highlights and shades of aftertaste processed through the copper alembic of the liberal paradigm rather than pure ethanol as it is. Liberals hold on to the premise that states are well short of being stand-alone actors in international relations, as they are—to different extents—represented by various group interests being in complex interaction with each other. In approaching some foreign policy, liberals will tend to taste the flavours of culture, the highlights of national history, the shades of domestic conflicts and social dynamics, the aromas of regional specifics, and the aftertaste of national biases and stereotypes.

For the last few decades, there have been repeated attempts to combine these two approaches into one comprehensive theory. Such attempts, as one can guess, have not proved particularly successful. Perhaps, a cocktail of vodka and cognac has the right to exist, though Benedict Erofeev, an unquestionable authority on the subject, cites no successful recipe for such a drink. Voracious consumers are unanimous in their opinion that vodka and cognac are even more incompatible than, for instance, vodka and port.

What do rectification and distillation tell us to help us understand the laws of the international system? The realistic picture of the world looks more structured and logically complete. You might remember the adage of the Russian singer Andrey Makarevich who said, “Vodka is a drink as honest as you ever find, never pretending to be something it is not.” Realists produce as simplified and rationalized a picture of global politics as possible, reducing it to a few independent variables which are, in essence, rather comprehensible and non-contradictory.

The liberal approach invites a large number of nuances and shadings, tinges of individual tastes and subjective perceptions into the analysis of world politics. To agree on which vodka is better is not that difficult—after all, any chemical analysis for the presence of fusel oils and other residual admixtures puts everything in its place. To achieve consensus on the best cognac, though, is impossible as a matter of principle. Tastes differ, as they say.

At the same time, liberal approaches to global politics are—far and by—more democratic than these of realists. By resolving a state’s foreign policy into a spectrum of multidirectional group interests, liberals “deconstruct” great powers, thus giving small and middle nations a chance to play a proactive role in global politics. It is not that liberals generally deny the presence of any hierarchy in the international system, but they categorically refuse to accept the rigid hierarchical constructs that offer no alternatives. Realists do not give small and medium-sized states that chance—in their cold and rational world, only a handful of great powers can be proactive, while other nations are a crowd of extras. The only debate allowed within the realist paradigm revolves around the idea who qualifies to be a great power and who fails.

Continuing our hard-liquor analogies, we shall note that the world of realists is unquestionably dominated by the leading global brands, such as Smirnoff, Absolut, Finlandia, Stolichnaya, Russian Standard and others. A small provincial vodka manufacturer cannot break into the major league. Cognacs have a major league of their own, the so-called “big four”, that includes Hennessy, Rémy Martin, Martell and Courvoisier. But even the smallest manufacturer in the most remote village somewhere in the department of Charente is capable of challenging the cognac’s major leaguers, which is the case for many a second-tier brand, whether Hardy, Edgard Leyrat, Denis Charpentier, Frapin, Godet Freres, A.E.Dor, Chabasse, Delamain, Bisquit, Renault, Meukow, Delon, Hine, Louis Royer, Marnier or Ragnaud-Sabourin. Even in the historical homeland of cognac, the richness of the cognac world is not limited to the brands listed, let alone the endless and wonderful “limited edition” brandies on the vast space from Spain and Portugal to Moldova and Armenia!

Realists tend to be pessimistic as they proceed from the premise of persistent nationalism and unfaltering state egotism. Hence, the logical uselessness of any attempts to significantly increase governability of the international system. There can be no cordial trust between states as a matter of principle, and talk about global public goods brings an ironic smile to the faces of realists. They view the norms of international law, activities of international organizations and other attributes of global governance with the same irony.

Rather, liberals are optimists as they believe in progress, moral foundations of humanity, international law and international organizations. Multilateralism is more important for liberals than multipolarity, and global public goods carry greater weight than the global balance of power. Liberals produce a constant stream of ideas about the new world order that would be based on harmonizing the interests of all the participants of the international system instead of the eternal confrontation between great powers.

It would be wrong to claim that all vodka drinkers are grim, unfriendly, introverted people, while cognac drinkers are merry, outgoing and charming bon vivants. But the fact remains: people drink vodka solely to bring themselves into a certain state, with all the idle talk of “tasty vodka” devoid of any empirical foundations. At most, we can talk about “soft” or “harsh” vodka, the latter essentially being an insufficiently rectified product. Conversely, people drink cognac to enjoy the process of its consumption since the drink has a virtually unlimited range of shades of aromas, flavours and aftertastes. The aesthetics of liberals is as superior to the aesthetics of realists as the aesthetics of communicating with cognac is superior to the aesthetics of a dialogue with vodka.

We shall take the liberty of assuming that it is precisely due to its logical integrity that the realist approach has fewer obvious prospects of further development than the liberal approach as it remains more of an outline for a new theory than a theory as such. In general, liberalism is more sensitive to changes in the international environment and to the fluctuations in the “currency basket” of global influence. This is precisely why it is so hard for liberalism to shape into a full-fledged theory.

The structural liberalism of today differs far more from the idealism of Woodrow Wilson than today’s neorealism does from the classical realism professed by Edward Carr, Hans Morgenthau and George Kennan. If the technology of vodka manufacturing has not changed greatly, then a 50-year-old vodka would be no different from a freshly bottled one. Fifty-year-old cognac, however, has very little in common with its young relative of two or three years. The unique organoleptic properties of a young and a mature cognac are virtually impossible to confuse.

Today’s textbooks, university lectures and academic journals on international relations treat political realism in greater detail and more extensively than liberalism. This is understandable. Neophytes explore its tenets easily and naturally, while liberalism requires a somewhat greater intellectual and emotional effort. Vodka is downed in a single gulp while holding one’s breath. Cognac is savoured, drunk in tiny sips so that it can fully reveal its bouquet.

Historically, many leading IR experts of the realist school attempted to supplement their concepts with some elements of liberal (neoliberal) approaches in the course of time. However, very few liberals have defected to the realist camp. As a lover of vodka accumulates life experiences, they sometimes switch to cognac, while a lover of cognac is hardly likely to switch to vodka, at least willingly.

Naturally, the international situation ultimately determines the current balance between the realist and liberal approaches. History shows us that political realism works particularly well in an international system where states do most of communication.

The higher international tensions run, the more Westphalian elements are present in global politics and the louder and more confident the voices of realists can be heard.

When times of international tensions are left behind, when matters of survival and security recede into the background, giving way to issues of development and prosperity, when not only states but societies, too, engage in active communication, the nearly withered liberal paradigm then sprouts leaves and flowers yet again.

You will be hard-pushed to find a confirmed lover of cognac who would refuse a warming shot of vodka upon coming back to their unheated house following a long trek through the cold winter forest. And why indeed would they? At the same time, it would be very odd and plain silly to sit in front of a fireplace, endlessly looking at its dying embers and nursing an unfinished shot of vodka while enjoying the magic sounds of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40.

As the attentive reader must already have guessed, the author of these highly subjective and somewhat rambling notes that stake no claim to gravity is rather a lover of cognac than a vodka enthusiast. Yet, he has to acknowledge the obvious. Recent years have ushered in a historically protracted process of rectification, vodka and political realism in global politics. Under the battering winds of de-globalization, amid the uninviting situation of many regional conflicts and down the heavy thunderclouds of global problems gathering on the horizon, the hand is instinctively reaching for a shot of vodka rather than a snifter of cognac. As was repeatedly the case in the past, survival and security overshadow development and prosperity on the global agenda. For most international actors, the current objective is to warm up a little and restore vitality—not to enjoy a sophisticated drink. Political realism is a convenient and, in a way, adequate reflection of the existing realities.

The time of distillation, cognac and liberalism will come, though. The hot sun of globalization will peek through the clouds of crises as the current conflicts will recede into the past. Non-state actors, as well as small and middle nations, will again play a greater role in international relations. Without clearing the familiar shot glasses from the table, we should try to keep decadent cognac snifters somewhere in the back of our kitchen cabinets. It is only a matter of time before “big tulips” and “small tulips” come in handy.

From our partner RIAC

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New Social Compact

Women in leadership ‘must be the norm’

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Ola Alaghbary, co-founder and chairwoman of a youth foundation in Yemen, works on empowering women to make positive changes in their communities.photo: Heba Naji

We can no longer exclude half of humanity from international peace and security matters, the UN chief told the Security Council on Thursday, emphasizing the need to fully address the challenges and gaps that continue to prevent women having an equal say.

Today, women’s leadership is a cause. Tomorrow, it must be the norm”, Secretary-General António Guterres told the meeting, covering landmark resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

Frontline women

Having just visited the photo exhibition, In their Hands: Women Taking Ownership of Peace – a collection of inspiring stories of women around the world seen through the lenses of women photographers – he told ambassadors that the exhibit brings to “vivid life” their dedication to “the most important and consequential cause of all, peace”.

“From the safety of this chamber, we discuss and debate pathways of peace for countries around the world”, said the UN chief. “But the women portrayed in the exhibition are on the front lines of the fight for peace”.

He called them peacebuilders, changemakers and human rights leaders, and described their work mediating and negotiating with armed groups; implementing peace agreements; pushing for peaceful transitions; and fighting for women’s rights and social cohesion throughout their communities.

Yet, he pointed out, “women remain on the periphery of formal peace processes, and they’re largely excluded from rooms where decisions are made”.

Disheartening trend

Citing rising rates of violence and misogyny; the extreme under-representation of women in decision-making positions; and a myriad of challenges faced by those in conflict, the top UN official observed that the power imbalance between men and women remains “the most stubborn and persistent of all inequalities”.

In every humanitarian emergency, the clock on women’s rights has not stopped. It’s moving backwards”, he said regretfully.

In Ethiopia, women have been victims of sexual violence; in Yemen, excluded from political processes by the warring parties; in Afghanistan, undergoing a rapid reversal of the rights they had achieved in recent decades; and in Mali, after two coups in nine months, “the space for women’s rights is not just shrinking, but closing”, Mr. Guterres said.

‘Fast-track women’

The UN chief stressed: “We need to fight back, and turn the clock forward for every woman and girl” – the commitment outlined in Our Common Agenda and Call to Action on Human Rights.

“Increasing women’s representation and leadership across every aspect of the UN’s peace activities is critical to improving the delivery of our mandate and better representing the communities we serve”, he said.

But Council’s support is needed for partnerships, protection and participation.

Women leaders and their networks must be supported to meaningfully engage in peace and political processes, he explained.

Secondly, women human rights defenders and activists must be protected as they carry out their essential work.

And finally, women’s “full, equal and meaningful participation” must be supported in peace talks, peacebuilding, and political systems as countries transition to peace, he said.

We need full gender parity”, underscored the UN chief. “We know it can be done”.

Advancing women’s rights

Women should not have to accept reversals of their rights in countries in conflict, or anywhere else.

Mr. Guterres said that the UN will double down on “truly inclusive peacemaking” and put women’s participation and rights “at the centre of everything we do – everywhere we do it”.

The best way to build peace is through inclusion, and to honour the commitment and bravery of women peacemakers we must “open doors to their meaningful participation”.

Let’s turn the clock forward on women’s rights and give half of humanity the opportunity to build the peace we all seek”, concluded the Secretary-General.

Time to say ‘enough’

To create a tangible difference in the lives of women and girls, UN Women Executive Director, Sima Bahous, highlighted the need for governments and the Security Council “to step up” to address the way we confront peace and security issues.

For too long violence has targeted females and their rights; and women continue to be marginalized and excluded “in those very places where they can drive change”, she told the Council.

“Surely the time has come to say enough”, she said.

Open doors to women

While acknowledging a “glimmer of light” resulting from the passage of the original resolution, Ms. Bahous said that while not enough, it must be used in the fight for women’s equality.

Noting that vast military spending has been “in bitter contrast” to limited investments in other areas, she advocated for curbing military spending and expressed hope that delegates “share my sense of urgency” on the issue, which impacts other priorities, including women’s rights.

The UN Women chief noted that increased participation, combined with curbing the sale of arms in post-conflict settings, significantly reduces the risk of backsliding.

She reminded ambassadors that while “equal nations are more peaceful nations”, equality requires higher levels of support for healthcare and related services.

Moreover, Ms. Bahous regretted that women’s organizations are poorly funded, noting that without the necessary financial resources, they cannot effectively carry out their work.

Turning to Afghanistan, she shone a light on the women who had collaborated with the UN and whose lives are now in danger, advocating for doors to be opened wider, to women asylum seekers.

Women at the stakeout

Subsequently, former Afghan women politicians took to the Security Council stakeout to ask the international community to pressure the Taliban “to put their words in action” and fulfill their promises made in 2019 in Qatar including supporting girls’ education and women’s rights.

“The reason we are here today is to meet with different Member States and ask them to regard women and human rights in Afghanistan as a matter of national security of their own countries, because it’s not just a political or social issue but it’s a matter of security”, said Fawzia Koofi, former Peace Negotiator and first woman Deputy Speaker of Afghan Parliament.

Former Afghan Parliamentarian and Chairperson of the House Standing Committee for Human Rights, Civil Society and Women Affairs, Naheed Fareed, questioned whether the world wanted to “register in history” their recognition of “a de facto structure that is in place in Afghanistan”,  to represent Afghan women, their dignity and desires. “From my point of view, they don’t”, she told reporters.

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New Social Compact

Gender Mainstreaming and the Development of three Models

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The field of gender mainstreaming plays a central role in the debate of critical feminist International Relations (IR) theorists. Reading the influential work of Enloe 2014 regarding the locations and the roles of women in the subject of IR brings women into the central discussion of international studies. However, some of the feminist IR scholars defy the negligible participation of women in international political theory and practice. 

The main aim of gender mainstreaming is to achieve gender equity in all spheres of life (social, political, economic), without any doubt that gender mainstreaming has had a central role in pushing the strategy of realising gender equity since the concept’s inception. However, feminist IR scholarship admits that it is not the best approach, or in other words, the right pathway concerning feminist struggle. There are many different approaches and mechanisms in which such dissatisfaction is conveyed; nonetheless, at the axis of Postcolonial Feminist scholars debate, gender main streaming depoliticises the concerns of feminist scholars. Feminist studies show that theoretically, the change of structuring of gender equity determinations from women to gender in gender mainstreaming perhaps contradicted achievements made to bring women from the periphery to the centre of Feminist IR. 

The emergence of Models in Development:

Discussion asking to what extent women have been benefited (or not) from the developmenthas given rise to the following three models. These approaches show how men and women are affected in different ways because of the development of how the lives of women, in particular, are affected. 

Women in Development (WID):

By the 1970s, the reality that women were subjugated and left far behind in the process of development became clear and widely recognised. In some areas, this recognition even acknowledged development has further worsened the status of women, for example, the exclusion of women from the main development projects. The Women in Development (WID) approach proposed the inclusion of women into programs related to development. WID was a successful initiative that strengthened the consideration of women as an integral part of society. The decade of 1975 to 1985 was even declared the decade of women. However, this approach was problematic, as WID did not focus on structural changes in social and economic systems, which were necessary for discussion. Furthermore, this approach was not enough to bring women to the mainstream of development successfully.  

Women and Development (WAD):

Thisapproach was critical and arose in the late 1970s using Marxist feminist (critical) thoughts. As its nature, the Women and Development (WAD) approach criticised WID because of an increasing gap between men and women. According to WAD, the idea of women’s inclusion was wrong because women already contributed substantially to society. Yet, they were not receiving the benefits of their contributions, and WID further contributed to global inequalities. The main rationale of WAD was to increase interactions between men and women rather than just implementing strategies of women’s inclusion. Besides, WAD considered the class system and unequal distribution of resources to be primary problems, as it’s women and men who suffer from the current system. On a theoretical level, WAD strongly endorsed changes to the class system; however, it proved impractical as it ignored the reason for patriarchy and failed to answer the social relationships between men and women. 

Gender and Development (GAD):

In the 1980s, further reflection on development approaches started the debate of Gender and Development (GAD). As GAD followed and learned from the weaknesses and failures of WID and WAD, it was a more comprehensive approach. GAD paid particular attention to social and gender relations and divisions of labour in society. The GAD approach strove to provide further rise to women’s voices while simultaneously emphasising women’s productive and reproductive roles, contending taking care of children is a state responsibility. As a result of GAD, in 1996, the Zambian government changed their department of WID to the Gender and Development Division (GADD). These changes made it easier for women to raise their voices more constructively in an African country. Gender development is a continuous, current phenomenon. Women have choices today that they did not have in prior or even the last generation. 

The main point is that instead of discussing whether to mainstream gender or not, it needs to be discussed how it can happen in a better way. Gender mainstreaming is considered a theory of change in GAD. 

The above discussion has offered an overview of how gender mainstreaming’s theoretical approaches and expectations have met with the praxis; however, some scholars critique the concept of depoliticising and diluting equality struggles. These considerations are also worth inquiry and, accordingly, are discussed below. 

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KP’s Education Reforms – Heading Towards Right Path

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The first word revealed in the holy Quran was “Iqra” which means “to read”. This first verse of Holy Quran shows us the importance of pen, greatness of knowledge and importance of education in Islam. Article 25-A of Pakistan’s constitution obliges the state to provide free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of five and sixteen. Education is the reason behind rise and fall of any nation. After the 18th amendment, on April 19th 2010, the education sector was assigned to the provinces, with a hope that provinces would focus on providing quality education, as previously; there was a lack of comprehensive planning and strategy in this sector.

During its second stint in KP, PTI-led government declared an education emergency in the province. As part of election manifesto, PM Imran Khan reiterated his firm resolve to upgrade education system across KP. Consequently, during past three years, KP government has focused on the neglected education sector and introduced various revolutionary steps to improve the quality of education.  

The provincial government is spending heavily on building infrastructure and basic facilities. The number of non-functional schools have been reduced massively due to effective policies. A real time focus is given to the lack of facilities like boundary walls, water supply, electricity, and toilets. To get rid of load shedding issues, the government installed thousands of solar panels in schools to have an un-interrupted supply of electricity at daytime.  Simultaneously, increased annual budget for education.

The present age is known as an era of Information Technology (IT) and a nation cannot progress without making full use of it. Therefore, the provincial government has established thousands of state of the art IT labs across KP. It is pertinent to mention here that Microsoft has also endorsed this effort and offered to train above 15000 IT teachers with free certification.

The major five-year revolutionary educational reform plan (2019-2023) was brought by department of Elementary and Secondary Education as a flagship project of KP government in this tenure. The four core aspects of this innovative plan includes teachers’ training, curriculum reforms, establishment and up-gradation of schools and the appointment of new teaching staff.

In order to reduce teacher to student ratio it has been decided to hire 65,000 new teachers well versed with modern education techniques, including 11,000 primary teachers under this five years’ plan. So far, more than 40,000 teachers have been recruited on merit bases through NTS. After the merger of tribal districts in KP, the education Ministry has approved a handsome amount for the restructuring the current education system. In order to modernize the current education system, KP government has established 138 Data Collection Monitoring Assistants (DCMAs) in tribal districts.

Taleemi Islahi Jirga (TIJs) are converted into Parent-Teacher Councils (PTCs) and connected them with education ministry with an aim to keep a check and balance. Government has introduced a new concept of school leaders and aims to train about 3,000 leaders who will be responsible for monitoring the classrooms, lesson management, implementation, and daily school life.

The process of expanding teachers’ training program to all districts of the province is also in process. Furthermore, the education department has almost completed its working on the development of high-quality script lessons for different subjects. Textbooks for classes 1 to 10, will also be revised according to modern standards by 2023.

Another milestone achieved by KP government is the establishment of Independent Monitoring Unit (IMU). This vigilant monitoring system has reduced teachers’ absenteeism by 17% to 20%. It also constantly collects reliable data which is helpful for realistic planning.

Previously, teachers used to take salaries without performing any duties; however, with the advent of biometric attendance system, those ghost servants have been captured. Enrollment drives have been organized every year. Government is giving free books to the children including drawing and coloring books to enhance their creative thinking. Government is also stressing on female education through its new policy of building classrooms with a ratio of 2 for female and 1 for male.

To impart the true teachings of Islam, Quranic education and Nazira is made compulsory up to class 12th. In a refreshing development, students of private schools are migrating to government schools due to student-friendly policies.

Nevertheless, there is room for improvement in the education sector like linking promotions of teaching and administrative staff with performance. Government teachers should be made bound to enroll their children in public sector. The concept of uniform curriculum will create national thinking. Another important aspect which needs attention is to address the growing role of tuition and coaching centers. Technical education should also be focused from the base. Experiences of others successful educational models like Finland model may be studied to improve the sector.  

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