St Helena opens up to world trade

The remote island is due to open its airport, and is looking for a statistician to deal with the con

A fascinating job advert on the Guardian's board:

Statistician, St. Helena Government

A self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom, St Helena is an island of 47 square miles and around 4,000 people in the South Atlantic. With Cape Town in South Africa some 1,700 miles distant, the Islanders enjoy a unique lifestyle in truly unspoilt, friendly and peaceful surroundings.

St Helena is poised for the biggest transformation in the island’s history, with the imminent construction of an airport. It will grow from a centralised economy with 1,000 visitors per year to a market economy with up to 30,000 visitors per year. In order to prepare for air access Saint Helena Government is introducing a package of reforms aimed at stimulating economic growth and social development. During this period of significant change the importance of assessing the impact of policy decisions is heightened. Similarly, increased funding from donors increases the demand for reliable and timely economic, social and environmental analysis.

The island is one of the most isolated in the world. At the moment, the only access to it is a two day trip by boat from "neighbouring" (810 miles away) Ascension Island, which itself has two RAF flights a week. It is most famous as the site of Napoleon's second, more successful, exile, and much of its tourism is based around that. However, due to the difficulty of access, the three hotels on the island are around 10 per cent occupied over the year.

The creation of the airport began in 2005, and was originally planned to be ready in 2010. Inevitably, of course, the £40m building project overran, but when it does open it will radically alter the islands economy. Currently, the majority of its exports are to the UK and South Africa, and consist almost entirely of canned fish, coffee, honey, and a spirit made from prickly pear called "tungi spirit", and according to the Guardian in 2005 were worth just £200,000. The island also sold £60,000 worth of stamps alone, to collectors enthused by its right to print its own postage.

Assuming the Government's predictions of tourism numbers are correct, the proportion of the economy contributed by tourism will rise from around 3 per cent to around 50 per cent. This will be an enourmous change for the island, not just equivalent to switching economic focus, but more like, as the advert suggests, a change from a centrally planned economy to a free-market. As it stands, over half the island's population work for the government, which renders them relatively immune from economic shocks. It will be interesting to see the new dynamic play out, but whether or not it works depends on more than just the skill of the statistician they hire. Still, if you are a level 3 statistician or equivalent and fancy spending 11 months of the year on a 127 km2 lump of volcanic rock in the middle of the Atlantic, consider applying. They'll even pay for your flights, once they exist.

Jamestown, the capital of Saint Helena. Photograph: Andrew Neaum, CC-BY-SA

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The Taliban's succession crisis will not diminish its resilience

Haibatullah Akhunzada's appointment as leader of the Taliban may put stress on the movement, but is unlikely to dampen its insurgency. 

After 19 years under the guidance of the Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Omar, the group has now faced two succession crises in under a year. But although Haibatullah Akhunzada’s appointment as leader of the Taliban will likely put stress on the movement, it shows few signals of diminishing its renewed insurgency.

The news pretty much ends speculation about former leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s death in a US airstrike in Pakistan’s south-western Baluchistan province, which was criticised by Islamabad as a violation of its sovereignty.

The Taliban would have prepared extensively for this eventuality. The fast appointment, following days of intense council, appears to be a conspicuous act of decisiveness. It stands in contrast to the two-year delay the movement faced in announcing the death of the Mullah Omar. It will be not be lost on the Taliban that it was subterfuge around the death of Mullah Omar that caused the fracture within the movement which in turn led to the establishment of an ISIS presence in the country.

The appointment is a victory for the Taliban old guard. As former head of the Taliban's judiciary and Mullah Mansour’s deputy, in many ways, Haibatullah is a natural successor. Haibatullah, described by Afghanistan expert Sami Yousafzai as a “stone age Mullah,” demonstrates the Taliban’s inherent tendency to resort to tradition rather than innovation during times of internal crisis.

The decision taken by the Taliban to have an elder statesman of the group at the helm highlights the increasing marginalisation of the Haqqani network, a powerful subset within the Taliban that has been waging an offensive against the government and coalition forces in northwest Pakistan.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network who already has a bounty of 5 million dollars on his head, was touted in some Taliban circles as a potential successor, however the decision to overlook him is a conservative move from the Taliban. 

The Taliban’s leadership of the jihad against the Afghan government is hinged on their claims to religious legitimacy, something the group will hope to affirm through the Haibatullah’s jurisprudential credentials. This assertion of authority has particular significance given the rise of ISIS elements in the country. The last two Taliban chiefs have both declared themselves to be amir ul-momineen or ‘leader of the faithful,’ providing a challenge to the parallel claims of ISIS’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Any suggestions that Mansour’s death will lead to the unravelling of the Taliban are premature. The military targeting of prominent jihadi leaders within group structures has been seen in operations against the leadership of ISIS, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and other groups.

In recent research for the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics, we found that it is often less prominent jihadis that play an integral role in keeping the movement alive. Targeted killings do create a void, but this often comes at the expense of addressing the wider support base and ideological draw of militant outfits. This is particularly relevant with a relatively decentralised movement like the Taliban.

Such operations can spur activity. If the example of the Taliban’s previous leadership succession is to be heeded, we might expect renewed attacks across Afghanistan, beyond the group’s strongholds near the eastern border with Pakistan. The brief capture of Kunduz, Afghanistan's fifth-largest city, at the end of September 2015, was a show of strength to answer the numerous internal critics of Mullah Mansour’s new leadership of the movement.

In a news cycle dominated by reports of ISIS, and to a diminishing extent al-Qaeda, atrocities, it is important to comprehend the renewed brutality of the Afghan insurgency.  Data from the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics Global Extremism Monitor found a seventeen per cent rise in fatalities from March to April, marking the start of the Taliban’s spring fighting season. A suicide attack in central Kabul on the headquarters of an elite military unit that killed 64 people was the single most deadly act of terror around the world in the month of April, and the group’s bloodiest attack in the Afghan capital for years. Reports this morning of a suicide attack on a bus killing 10 staff from an appeal court west of Kabul, suggests that the violence shows no sign of diminishing under the new leadership.

All these developments come during a period of renewed impetus behind international peace talks. Last week representatives from Pakistan were joined by delegates from Afghanistan, the United States, and China in an attempt to restart the stalled negotiation process with the Taliban.

Haibatullah Akhunzada’s early leadership moves will be watched closely by these countries, as well as dissonant voices within the movement, to ascertain what the Taliban does next, in a period of unprecedented challenge for the infamously resilient movement. 

Milo Comerford is a South and Central Asia Analyst for the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics