Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Communicating the ASEAN Message

"I think many journalists are not aware of the impacts of ASEAN's many achievement on us. It seems that if it is not a corruption case then they will not publish it. We realize that we have to change this" -- Dian, Foreign Ministry's director general for ASEAN affairs

Haven't we been here before?

Communicating the ASEAN message graced this blog, when I first started writing it in this way back in April 2007. Then, it was the Malaysian ASEAN Youth/Sports Minister who was encouraging the youth to face up to both global and regional challenges by learning about ASEAN.

Now, like a boon to the minister, we read that most youngsters are actually in tune with what ASEAN is doing:

It found students from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam were most likely to identify themselves with the ASEAN, with 96 percent, 93 percent and 92 percent respectively.

Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam are the newest members of ASEAN, having joined the 10-nation grouping in the 1990s.

They are often referred to as the newest four, or CMLV, and their development lacks behind the other six member countries.

Students in Singapore had the weakest affinity toward the grouping, with some 49 percent saying they were citizens of the grouping.

Even if these are the latecomers expressing this opinion, it cannot hurt for ASEAN to know that they might be getting something right.

Furthermore, it was not that they were only in tune with what the regional grouping was doing but that they also identified themselves as citizens of ASEAN.

In my view, this is a great start, and very welcome news to the South East Asia grouping, especially in the light of the establishment of its Charter last year.

Work to be done
In the meantime, much needs to be done by the media--the purveyors of information, and often the putative gatekeepers to society--to showcase the works of ASEAN. This, at least, was what Indonesia was saying.

Superficially speaking, blame can be apportioned to the media for failing to write about ASEAN. Truth be told, if there is little interest in the first place, how can you expect editors to consider writing about it. Therein lies the paradox of reconciling a responsibility to encourage citizens to feel more in tune to the regional grouping, and highlighting what it means for them, with reporting actual news about the organisation--even if it is considered bad.

On communicating regional integration to citizens, there are hardly any black-and-white areas: these agreements are realities--whether we like it or not, and so it becomes incumbent on all and sundry in the media to do its level best to understand the issues inherent in them, and if it is not happening, use the media itself to question why it is not happening.

Surely, that can only be a small step to obtaining that critical and progressive view of regional integration?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Back to the (Regional) Grind: A Tale of Two Cities

To say that both the secular and non-secular world enjoyed a turbulent transition to the New Year is to seriously understate things.

I was locked up at home--gardening and listening to the BBC World Service (as I am wont to do during the weekend) when the News Hour anchor at the time--Dan Damon--interrupted regular programming to announce that there were reports coming in about the leader of the Pakistan's People Party--Benazir Bhutto--having been injured--possibly killed--in what was supposed to be a rally.

Minutes turned into hours, and over the next few days, the BBC started talking about her having been assassinated. Whilst evidently thinking of the implications for Pakistan and the lacuna of the democratic dispensations associated with the presumed assassination, I could not help but reflect over what it might mean for the role of Pakistan in no less than...SAARC.

SAARC had celebrated--or not--22 years of its existence some 20 days earlier on 8th of December, and I believed it ominous that the two countries of India and Pakistan that could make a difference in what looks like a moribund regional grouping (insofar as engaging other members to revitalize the organisation) would have one key member bedevilled by an internal crisis so profound and tortuous that the regional solution would be the last thing on its mind.

For all the analyses proferred by various pundits and whatnot, I was disappointed to not have heard mention being made of the regional implications of the violence. I would have loved to have heard SAARC issuing a statement condemning the violence. None came--and none has come.

Idem with Kenya, where, at the time of writing, AU chairman -- Ghana's John Kufuor -- is en route to try and broker peace between Odinga, leader of the ODM, and Kibaki--incumbent and "newly"-elected leader of Kenya since two Sundays ago (30 December).

It would have been equally great to have had the East African Community (EAC) condemn the violence, and also issue a statement to that effect. Neither came--and it hasn't come either.

What to me the absence of these statements speaks to is less an appreciation for the regional and more of a relatively myopic view of the conflict, and possible solutions to resolving it. Do we only turn to the regional when it's on trade? Kenya is a de facto regional leader. Look at the role it played last year in resolving conflict through the conduits of IGAD and EAC.

Does it mean that when the hegemon is under fire, the smaller members should not rally round? Where was Uganda; Tanzania; Rwanda and Burundi to say "let's go the regional way!". That the African Union (AU) was both approached and initially rejected, only to give way for their eventual intervention, in the inchoate post-election violence speaks volumes. In my view, though, the volume ought to be loudest at the regional level.

If there is to be any level of seriousness ascribed to regional integration in 2008, then here's to a greater accentuation both by smaller and bigger states within regions -- along with citizens raising the bar on the regional solution for every type of injustice being perpetrated anywhere.

My the good winds of fate blow your way in 2008!

Warm regards...