Bad Lands changesTuesday, 22 April 2014
Bad Lands – my foray along the Axis of Evil, President George W Bush’s trio of Iran, Iraq and North Korea, plus six other ‘bad’ countries, was published in April 2007. A revised second edition came out in mid-2010 and I commented that remarkably little had changed: ‘The generals still rule, the dictators still dictate, the crazies are still at the controls, peace has not broken out all over.’
Just to prove me wrong changes almost immediately did start to take place, so let’s run down what’s happened in the seven years since the first edition:
• Afghanistan – things were improving when I was there in 2006, since then they’ve gone steadily backwards and there’s major concern over what will happen when the western world armed forces complete their withdrawal and it’s up to the Afghan government to keep things together. Yet there are regular signs of improvements in education, media, infrastructure, the response to the 2014 elections. And remarkably in sport! The Afghan cricket team have qualified to compete in the 2014 Cricket World Cup in New Zealand and Australia at the end of the year. For a regular dose of good news from Afghanistan try Kabul-e-News and subscribe to their email newsletter.
• Albania – a steady improvement
• Burma/Myanmar – change seemed to be in the air when I returned in 2010, but the speed and depth of the changes in the last three years have been astonishing. Visiting Myanmar is no longer a politically incorrect decision, tourism is booming and democracy seems to be happening. At the same time some of the internal tensions which the military government kept under iron control have regularly exploded, particularly in the case of the treatment of the country’s minority Muslim Rohinga population.
• Cuba – when I visited Cuba in 2001 I thought I’d managed to get there before Fidel departed and change swept through. Well Fidel may have stepped down in 2006, handing over to his nearly as ancient brother Raul, but any progress has been baby steps forward accompanied by the occasional lurch backwards. Still it was nice, on my recent 2014 visit, to note that the old American cars seemed to be proliferating rather than disappearing and the restaurant scene had got a whole lot better. Change could sweep through Cuba when the Castro brothers finally depart the scene, but it’s even more likely to arrive when the USA call a halt to their ridiculous embargo.
• Iran – Changes there, a more sensible government and signs of rapprochement with the USA. Not with Israel though.
• Iraq – Not good, it’s hardly a poster child for the wonders of democracy and the general consensus is the US-led invasion has been a near total disaster. OK it got rid of Saddam Hussein, but the alternative to Mr Hussein is hardly an improvement. Remarkably tourists are visiting the country, but don’t think of it as a safe destination.
• Libya – Another mess, when I visited Libya in 2004 the only problem was getting in the front door. Once you’d managed to get a visa, travelling around was no problem. Now it’s another destination where something could go wrong at any moment and many places are effectively off limits. Still, it’s not as bad as Iraq.
• North Korea – Switching from Kim Jong-il (Fatty 2 on Chinese social media) to his son Kim Jong-un (Fatty 3 of course) has hardly brought sanity to international relations or improvements in life for the poor downtrodden North Koreans. Every now and then little glimmers of hope are quickly tamped down by more outbreaks of madness. Although it’s generally accepted that he didn’t feed his uncle Jang Song-thaek to a pack of dogs, probably just a simple firing squad.
• Saudi Arabia – not much change here either, there’s certainly no hint of Arab Spring coming to Riyadh and women still can’t drive.