Picks of the Quarter

The conflicts that gain the most attention and media coverage tend to be those that are most sensational and violent. But there are many other conflicts we do not hear about, and those living through them must struggle to make their voices heard. This column seeks to bring attention to serious events, issues, and conflicts that receive little coverage but deserve our attention, our acknowledgement, and our best efforts in resolving them.


Mali, once considered one of the more stable democracies in Africa, has suffered from a violent conflict between ethnic Tauregs led by armed groups, some of them Islamists, and the government since January 2012. A military coup felled the government in March 2012, citing the government’s failure to politically check the Tauregs who held vast areas of northern Mali. Some of the areas in the North have declared independence, but have received no recognition from the regional or broader international community. In the aftermath of the coup, around 200,000 people (according to the UN) fled their homes. Many have fled the country while about 93,000 remain internally displaced. To add to its woes, Mali has suffered from acute food shortages for over a year caused primarily by drought and erratic rainfall. After the coup, the African Union suspended Mali. As coup leaders deny regional forces the chance to intervene and bring stability to Mali, African and Western leaders have been urging the UN to intervene militarily. However, aid organizations have cautioned the UN that any military intervention will cause a greater humanitarian crisis than what already exists. The presence of Al-Qaeda in the one of the armed groups, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has drawn the attention of western powers and therefore created a growing interest in intervening in Mali. One only hopes the needs and security of the ordinary people of Mali are equally considered.

Southeast Asia

Conflict over water continues to be a topic that is ignored by many. The thought seems to be that since there is no large monetary value associated with water in most developed countries, how could water serve as a source of conflict in less developed countries? But when over 60 million people depend on one river for a variety of purposes, it is easy to understand how water has been the source of increased tension among nations. The Mekong River, which originates in China and runs throughout Southeast Asia, has become a controversial issue in the region. The Mekong is the world’s 13th largest river and is shared by six countries through which it flows. The abundant resources provided by the river have already been strained due to several dams China has built in order to meet its ever-increasing energy needs, with more planned for the future. In addition to the dams built by China, Laos is currently building a $3.5 billion dam near Xayaburi without regard for the negative environmental impact it will have on the river. There are ten more dams planned for the future in the lower Mekong delta. According to the Mekong River Commission, these dams would turn over half of the river into reservoirs, having a hugely negative effect on the area’s fishing industry (which feeds about 60 million people) and agricultural industry (with losses estimated at $500 million per year) and displacing many living in the region. The countries involved must engage in multi-lateral efforts to solve their mutual dependence on the Mekong River. The governments of these countries need to take into account the effects these dams will have not only on their citizens but on the 17 million inhabitants of the entire region. Should they continue to ignore these obligations, it is likely that conflict will erupt – between countries as well as between groups living alongside the river – to the detriment of all. The increased tension over this river demonstrates how, if this issue is left unaddressed, water may become a significant source of conflict in the future.

United States

Gang violence has long been a problem in many cities across the United States. In New York City, law enforcement has turned to new methods in an effort to prevent gang activity as well as violence. Police are now using social media to track the trash talk that occurs between members of two gangs in particular, the Very Crispy Gangsters and the Rockstarz, as they utilize social media to share both their successes and to issue taunts and threats to their enemies, which usually result in violence. Until recently, the tracking was mostly done through public profiles, but the police are stepping up their tactics through the creation of internet aliases in an effort to “friend” gang members and build a legal case against them based on their social media activity. Addressing gang violence is an important function of law enforcement. But the real problems in these communities lie in the causes of gang violence. Gangs thrive due to poverty, a lack of opportunity, a lack of suitable schools, and a void of appropriate adult role models. Should law enforcement and city governments be focusing on solving these problems rather than spending their resources on tracking activity through social media? It is important to prevent violence, however, the gang violence resulting from social media activity in New York will continue until the root causes of the problems are addressed.

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