Las autodefensas: Mexican heroes or armies ‘out of control’?

During the last two decades, drug organisations have gained tremendous power in Mexico. These groups, combined with the corruption that pervades government structures, have created a vicious environment in which civilians are the most affected. MA International Political Economy student Carlos Arturo Aguilar investigates the recent trend for civil retaliation, and its effects on the balance of power and security.


Mexico’s cartels have gone beyond drug trafficking. In many towns they control the inhabitants’ livelihoods by setting taxes for producers, distributors and retailers. They also put tariffs on property depending on the size of house or the number of vehicles a family owns. People fear that the cartel will knock on the door someday asking either for money, women or the life of a family member.

But patience has limits, especially when life is at stake. Since 2013, it has not been rare to find towns patrolled by 4x4s with men and women carrying AK-47s and assault rifles, wearing bulletproof vests and equipped with radio-transmission devices. These people are the self-defence groups (autodefensas). Their objective: to reinstate order and security by driving out the drug organisations. Continue reading

The young and the restless: a critique of security threat analysis

In our second article exploring the ramifications of youthful populations for society, MSC Security Studies student Rosemary Schwitzer explains the damaging effects of the ‘youth bulge’ theory, used to predict social unrest around the world.



A cover from Newsweek in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. Photograph of original © Hector Sanchez/Creative Commons license

In October 2001, Newsweek magazine published a report entitled ‘The Politics of Rage: Why Do They Hate Us?’, calling for analysis of the reasons behind 9/11. Accompanying this article was the image of a young Arab boy grasping a rifle, in addition to others showing Arab youth involved in anti-American protest and violence. Within the article, it was stated that ‘disoriented young [Arab] men’, searching for simplicity within the mix of tradition and modernity of their daily lives, are naturally drawn to fundamentalism.

Whilst this may appear a perfectly innocent article suggesting motives for the terror attacks, it is in reality a dangerous contribution to an already thriving collection of discourses defining youth in certain regions of the world, especially young men, as security threats. Its usage of dichotomising terms such as ‘them’, ‘we’ and ‘us’ works to divide the world into two parts – one considered threatening and the other stable – ignoring the complex reality of our ever more interconnected world. Its alarmist nature serves to incite concern amongst populations in the ‘developed’ world that the ‘dangerous’, ‘undeveloped’ portion will spill over and create widespread insecurity. Continue reading

India’s demographic dividend: public health impacts of the youth bulge

As one of the world’s most populous and fastest-growing countries, India is currently in a state of demographic flux. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Hygiene student, Catherine Rushworth, explains the population mechanics at work and predicts some of the social consequences.


© Kyle Taylor/Creative Commons license

This year’s Indian elections captured the attention of the world, with the victor, Narendra Modi, calling out for the need to ‘wage war on poverty’. Less well noted was the fact that nearly half the voters were under 24, with 150 million making their first visit to the ballot box. It’s clear that the young will have a powerful influence over India’s future. However, this demographic shift predicts some critical changes to Indian society in the coming decades, including wide-reaching public health impacts as resources and infrastructure are stretched – potentially – to their limits.

Growth in the size of the working-aged population, accompanied by a decreasing fertility rate, is known as a ‘demographic dividend’, and has been used in the past as a propeller for development in several countries. Economists estimate that the phenomenon – deliberately engineered in China through its controversial one-child policy – is responsible for a third of the huge economic growth and development experienced in recent decades by the East Asian Tigers. This outlook is unlikely to await India, however, due to the country’s current lack of infrastructure to deal with the two main products of any demographic dividend: population growth and increasing life expectancy. Continue reading

The pros and cons of business in the not-for-profit sector

With the private sector becoming more involved than ever before in international development, relationships are changing between development actors, donors and beneficiaries. Amira Aleem, herself the founder of a social enterprise, attended the annual conference of NGO RESULTS UK to explore some of the ethics surrounding the business trend.


In response to a global trend of consumers becoming more conscious and demanding of sustainable profits, businesses are aiming to expand the social portfolio of their work, as seen by the rise of the social enterprise model and corporate social responsibility.

Since entrepreneurship creates wealth, jobs and economic growth, it seems a natural step to translate the skills and expertise of the business world to the aid industry, to make it more efficient and systematic, and to generate the wealth needed to lift economies out of long-term poverty. Businesses, too, are beginning to see the commercial value of stepping into traditionally charitable fields, with some exciting – but also worrying – consequences.

Afghan girls wait for a National Afghan Police shipment of humanitarian aid to their village. Could this be considered an example of ‘poverty porn’? © ISAF Media/Creative Commons license

When the fundamental motivation for providing aid becomes a commercial interest, it questions how these two sectors can be reconciled. For instance, in business, the branding and marketing of a product is crucial to attract customers. This practice becomes complicated when superimposed onto the non-profit sector. Here, ‘selling’ an issue – often by visual means – can border on exploitation of the most vulnerable, representing them as needy and desperate: a phenomenon frequently referred to as poverty porn. Continue reading

Taming the rhino: is farming the future of conservation?

A rhino’s horn is its worst enemy, with poaching levels rising uncontrollably to supply the lucrative international black market. On International Day for Biological Diversity 2014, Sean Mowbray examines whether legalising the hunt could save Africa’s endangered rhinoceros species from extinction.


Three men walk through the undergrowth, two carrying high-powered rifles. In the distance the rhino is spotted. The first shooter calmly takes aim and fires. The rhino’s high-pitched squeal is heart-wrenching as it struggles to escape and further shots pound into its body. The gigantic animal crashes to the ground, another victim of the rampant poaching epidemic afflicting Southern Africa.

Rhino horn in packaging

Two rhino horns wrapped in cling film and hidden within a fake sculpture, confiscated by the UK Home Office. © UK Home Office/Creative Commons license

The trade in rhino species and their parts has been prohibited internationally since 1977. However, poaching rates in South Africa have hit record levels for the past six consecutive years (1004 individuals in 2013), a trend that – if it continues – would see the species become extinct in the wild by 2020. Driven by high demand in Asia, particularly in China and Vietnam, supply is maintained by sophisticated organised crime syndicates. One kilo of horn can reportedly fetch prices of up to $65,000, higher than the equivalent weight of gold and heroin.

In the face of this escalating problem, the South African government is currently deliberating submitting a proposal to legalise the trade at the next Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) meeting in 2016. The exact details of the planned proposal are vague but broadly envisage the creation of rhino ‘farms’, where the horns can be removed humanely from captive rhinos and then sold through registered traders. Continue reading