Archive for February, 2007

HuriSearch

I have a backlog of interesting things that I want to share with people, but never have the time/power supply to write about.

But this is cool: It’s a search engine specifically for documents related to Human Rights.

HuriSearch: crap name, great tool. Apparently it searches from over 3000 different websites, and scans them at least every eight days so the content is always fresh.

And when you do a search, you can refine the results by various categories; languages, sources, themes. It’s a fantastic resource, and essential given the nature of human rights work, where accuracy is everything.

Check out the results when you type in Bangladesh

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Bangladesh Death Trap?

I’m in Dhaka at the moment, as I had a meeting at VSO office. Coming to Dhaka is always an ordeal, because the journey from Sylhet to Dhaka by bus takes about four and a half hours to go nearly 250 miles, and then the four mile  journey from the bus station in Dhaka to the office takes about two hours.

I’ve written before about how the traffic in Bangladesh, Dhaka especially, must be the worst in the world. Not only is there utter gridlock, but when you add the heat, noise and pollution it’s just hell. This time I ended up walking the last mile, at one point my taxi driver had the time to switch the engine off, go and have a cup of tea from a road-side stand, and a cigarette, and we still hadn’t even moved an inch.

To compound the problem, Bangladeshi drivers have seemingly no regard for safety, and so the obvious problem is that not only are accidents extremely likely, if and when they do occur, the chances of an ambulance reaching you within an hour is…well, forget it.

And on Sunday, the lethal cocktail of non-existent emergency services and a gridlocked road network finally exploded in to public consciousness.

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Bangladesh – a byword for Corruption?

I’ve occasionally noted the sad irony of shifting my professional focus from corruption and failures of the State in the Niger Delta thousands of miles east, and finding myself working in a country suffering from equally bad, if not worse core problems.

I don’t follow the Nigerian media anymore, but this article, published a few days ago in ‘The Daily Trust’ newspaper based in Abuja actually compares the situation in Nigeria to Bangladesh. Nigeria is scheduled for national elections very soon, and the election is already riddled with controversy.

What makes this article interesting though, and rather tragic, is that even in Nigeria, some commentators seem now to be using the word ‘Bangladesh’ as an all-encompassing byword for corruption, mismanagement, and failed state. The author warns against Nigeria being “pushed to the principe [sic] of
Bangladesh”, and criticises the “Bangladesh of Obasanjo [Nigeria’s highly controversial President] and his PDP”.

Obviously the events of the last three months here have greatly tarnished Bangladesh’s international profile, but if the name of the country is entering even Nigerian political language as short hand for disaster, then you know things have gone badly, badly wrong.

‘The greatest game’: Bangladeshi politics, the story so far

I haven’t been posting about every latest political development here because I never intended that to be the purpose of this blog – and working a six day week and doing other things means I don’t have as much time as I’d like; just keeping up with the news is hard enough.

But I do find the ever-changing situation fascinating, and I think for anyone who’s studied or had an interest in politics, what’s happening here is…in a word, spectacular.

On the Drishtipat blog, an excellent, short but thorough round-up has been published, including some eye-watering examples of gross corruption, and some photos which really do tell a thousand words. Check it out here.

The cost of corruption in Bangladesh

Of all the issues currently affecting Bangladesh, the most talked about, most contentious, and perhaps most important is the endemic, institutional corruption in the country, and how to get rid of it.

I could link to a hundred blog-postings, op/eds and articles on corruption, but they tend to repeat themselves, and I fear – given the very nature of corruption as a concept – that people will be writing many more thousands of essays on corruption in Bangladesh long after I leave the country.

The essential point is that Bangladesh over the last five years has been shown to be the most corrupt country in the world. Causes of this corruption can be attributed to base human greed, exacerbated by the economic, social and political conditions of the country over the last thirty years that have allowed human greed to flourish unchecked. And of course the worst aspect of corruption is that it reproduces and replicates; the worse the corruption is, the greater the economic, social and political problems become, and the more attractive corruption practice is as a relief – for those able to take advantage. And so this downward spiral has continued throughout the life of Bangladesh, made worse by the false democratic legitimisation of the last 15 years.

And the result is happening now, with a State of Emergency, a military/technocratic interim administration running the country, no sign of elections on the horizon, and essential political freedoms banned. The reformed Anti-Corruption Commission has just issued a list of 50 high profile politicians, who have to go to the ACC in person and declare their suspiciously obtained property, or else it will be confiscated. They’ve had their fun, and now they and the rest of the country are paying the price.

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Hercules has got nothing on me

Today I am a very happy man, because I have finally, at last, about-bloody-time completed the first section of my ‘teach yourself Bangla’ book. ‘Torture-yourself with Bangla’ would have been a more accurate name, because I’ve now, after nearly three months (with a month off in between) managed to learn the first main fifty letters in the Bangla script.

In some ways I’ve enjoyed this task, because I think learning a new language, any language, is fun, and learning to write again makes me feel like I’m four years old. But it’s bloody difficult. Hercules might have done all sorts of crazy hardcore physical labours, but I’d like to have seen him try and master an alphabet that looks like it had been first drafted on a moving train by a man with parkinsons.

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Ethnic Community Development Organisation Website!

Tuesday was a momentous day for me, my organisation and the indigenous people of Sylhet Division – http://www.ecdo-bd.org was launched.

This is the new website of my NGO, which details all the work we do, our aims, and also features unique information and resources about the indigenous peoples of the region, the very latest academic research and analysis on their situation and future.

It also hosts photos of our work and the area we work in.

Our website makes me proud for several reasons – firstly, I hope it can serve as a new bridge between the indigenous people of Sylhet and the rest of the world, sharing information and highlighting their problems. In creating access for development professionals, international donors and academics, we are creating awareness, and opportunity for change.

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