This week was slow in terms of international news. The AU held its annual summit in Addis Ababa and the curious headline was that the UN Secretary General was outraged by the use of rape as a weapon of war.
Talk about the obvious. In the Middle East, in a surprise move, the Iranian President announced that his country would be willing to swap enriched [weapon’s grade] uranium for nuclear fuel.
In the next breath he asked Iranian scientists to enrich the uranium to 20%. The stand-off in the Persian Gulf continues.
My attention was however drawn to Greece and Ukraine. Greece with its budgetary deficit and debt, Ukraine with its colorful brand of democracy as the second round of Presidential elections were held on Sunday with the usual tags being applied: West vs. East, Ukrainian speaking vs. Russian speaking.
Ancient Greece may be one of the major sources of modern mathematics but their successors have on the one hand failed at balancing their accounts while on the other hand developing a reputation for creative economic statistics.
With a budget deficit of 12.5% of GDP and an overall debt of 112.6% of GDP, Greece was indeed in financial dire straits.
As the financial markets grew apprehensive and the EU mulled the effect of all this on the Euro, Prime Minister George Papandreou and his team in Athens quickly came up with an austerity plan that targeted, most notably, the reduction of the budget deficit to 3% by 2012 by the unpopular means of increasing fuel duties and freezing public sector pay.
The European Commission supported the austerity plan on condition that they would send their own people to do the monitoring. No more would they rely on the suspect statistics from Athens.
An article in the BBC discussed the possibility of expelling Greece from the Eurozone, eventually concluding that, legally at least, it was next to impossible.
In the meantime, as diverting as the Greek tragedy is, the Commission is also getting worried for the Iberian Peninsula [Spain and Portugal] and Ireland. Hopefully, our EAC will learn some valuable lessons from all this before the Community converts to a single currency.
In Ukraine, five years after the Orange revolution the lines appear to have blurred on who is pro-Western and pro-Russian.
After years of hostility with Moscow, a few gas cuts coupled with the slow pace of rapprochement with the West combined with the disastrous effects of last year’s financial crisis, both candidates appear to be pro-everything.
Viktor Yanukovych was the Kremlin’s man in Ukraine and in a flawed election was declared President elect. That is until Yulia Timoshenko, then speaker of Parliament, rallied Ukrainians to protest the results of the elections in what was then termed as the “Orange revolution”.
Yanukovych was forced to watch as the Presidency was snatched from him while he was vilified as Putin’s stooge.
Five years later, the man appears to have worked on his image and become the most formidable force in Ukrainian politics, winning the first round of elections 10% ahead of Ms. Timoshenko.
It may well be that by this week, Yanukovych will have the last laugh. Especially, now that both candidates appear to have a more pragmatic rather than dogmatic approach to Ukraine’s future orientation.
Pro-West Timoshenko has emphasized her belief in engaging Russia while Pro-Russia Yanukovych is talking about integration into the EU.
As an observation, while the candidates appear to be more sophisticated this time round, the election would be recognizable as one based mostly on region and language.
One may be forgiven for thinking this was a Belgian election. In a near diagonal line that intersects Kiev from southwest to northeast Ukraine runs the faultline of languages with the southern industrial portion predominantly Russian speaking and pro-Yanukovych and the northern agricultural, predominantly Ukrainian speaking zone going for Timoshenko.
This election is as tribal and regional as a Nigerian election. May the best man/woman win.
Oscar Kabbatende is a lawyer