Untold Blogpost 19: Building an Inclusive Society Together

By Degi Bolormunkh

Our guest today is Ms. Gerel, the President of the Mongolian National Federation of the Blind (MNFB). Ms. Gerel gives us an introduction to some of the work the MNFB does, offers her personal experience and advice, and addresses some of the systemic challenges faced by visually impaired people and people with other disabilities.

Mongolian National Federation of the Blind (MNFB)

The MNFB, established in 1978, is one of Mongolia’s long-standing organizations promoting disability rights. The MNFB currently has 86 employees and focuses on key areas such as education, employment, vocational training, social support, and other issues related to protecting visually impaired people’s interests in Mongolia. The MNFB undertakes various activities such as publishing audiobooks and books in Braille and runs kindergarten and adult education centers. They have training centers for massage therapy, barista, and felt craft that provide employment support for visually impaired people. The organization’s main focus is on the specific challenges visually impaired people face and the advocacy for their improvements in society. One of the main challenges is the limited access to information, and hence, the MNFB operates a FM radio station broadcasting news and featuring topics of literature. They have around 9000 members all around the country, including branches in all the 21 provinces. A core focus of the organization lies on political influence and advocacy for the legal rights of visually impaired people. The MNFB is particularly concerned with issues related to the prevention of violation of rights, intervention, and action when rights are violated, and influencing policy and decision-making that can protect and serve the needs of the people they represent. There have been some financial constraints, but the training centers, donations, partnerships, donor support, and government grants have been helpful in maintaining a continuous operation. Major pressures and problems imposed by external issues, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, can be substantially disruptive to financially constrained organizations. This is an important consideration for policy and decision-makers when supporting socially conscious organizations that advocate for social inclusion and equality. The MNFB’s long-term vision is to establish international best practices and standards concerning inclusion and accessibility in order to improve the lives and social environments for everyone in Mongolia. For instance, they are looking to establish a vocational rehabilitation center that helps people with disability to overcome relevant physical, social, and financial barriers, and assist them with socialization and employment. Notably, the center would also help people with disabilities to learn about better coping mechanisms to manage and overcome their challenges on a personal level. Ms. Gerel advises that the key to running a successful NGO is to have a clear purpose, to foster an unwavering drive to help, and to find supportive partners.

Photo: Best Massage Center, affiliated to the MNFB (with the permission of Gerel)

Ms. Gerel’s Personal Experience

Ms. Gerel started her career at the MNFB in 2006 in the position of Deputy Director. The MNFB chooses their representatives and leaders every four years at a General Assembly and has 15 board members. She was first elected as the President of the MNFB in 2013 and, in 2017 she was re-elected. Ms. Gerel emphasized the need to do more in order to create a more inclusive and equitable society. She became visually impaired in her 3rd year at the National University of Mongolia where she was a law student. At first, it was hard for her to cope with the loss of her vision and to face its many accompanying issues. With the support of her friends and family, she was able to finish her studies. However, the experience completely changed the way she thought about life, time, and the value of education. She realized that language is very important, especially for visually impaired people, and felt a strong sense of purpose in her pursuit of education. She recalls how she started learning English on the radio using a voice recorder to record and review the English lessons that aired. When she got her first computer in 2007, she was able to learn to read and write in English with a strong resolve. In 2010, she had the opportunity to go to India for ten months and when she came back, she took the IELTS test. Learning English enabled her to go on a Fulbright Scholarship in the United States where she completed her master’s degree in International Human Rights. She shares her experience about the time when she lost her sight at university and then going back to school after taking time out. She recalls that there was discomfort and doubts at the beginning with her new classmates and teachers, but as she spent more time with her class community, they became better informed about her challenges and learned to support her without discrimination. In her experience, she found that in social settings people were less informed and uneducated about the needs, challenges, and abilities of people with disability, and thus, increased socialization and interaction is important. Simply having a conversation about people with disabilities and understanding their experience can increase public awareness about the need and demand to build an inclusive and more compassionate society.

Photo: Gerel herself (with the permission of Gerel)

Major Challenges People with Disability Face

Some major challenges she and her team share are concerning the inadequacies of the current state of affairs, including full enjoyment of their human rights, equitable social inclusion, and quality of for people with disabilities. For instance, out of 1200 children aged 0-17 who are visually impaired only around 200 children are in school exercising their right to education. Basic rights such as the right to education and the right to employment are difficult rights and the legal and social environments are not accommodating to these challenges. Many people want to send their children to school, but a lot of times they just do not have the knowledge and training to accommodate children with disabilities. There are already many specialised international standards and methodologies that specifically accommodates the educational needs and challenges of visually impaired children which can be adapted and incorporated into the current education system to improve equitable accessibility. Despite being an NGO, the MNFB takes on a lot of public issues that should be tackled by governmental and legislative means. Ms. Gerel and her team identify that the underlying cause of these issues and challenges are due to ignorance and the lack of awareness among our population about the specific challenges faced by people with disability. Ms. Gerel is optimistic that Mongolians can easily adapt and improve inclusivity once there is more awareness and better understanding. However, Ms. Gerel condemns the general attitude of over-sheltering which many Mongolian families have towards family members with disability. This seemingly innocent and well-intentioned attitude can discourage people with disabilities to be active in social spaces and be involved outside their household, which then can have negative effects on the public awareness of disability issues. Many of the people who come to the training centers at the MNFB are people who rarely step out of their homes. The different resources and support provided by the organization encourages them to be more actively involved in their community and society at large.

Photo: A kindergarten affiliated to the MNFB (with the permission of Gerel)

Public Awareness and Informed Governance

Continuous social involvement, public education efforts, and advocacy are key to generating public awareness and improving the understanding of specific challenges, needs, and solutions which then can spur changes in attitude and action at all levels of society. Ms. Gerel encourages other people with visual impairment to be more involved in common spaces, public discussions, and social life in general. Ms. Gerel reminded the listeners that without deeper understanding about the specific challenges, needs, and abilities, it is difficult to bring about social and political changes. She also expressed the importance of systemic change and legal frameworks that can directly address key barriers that hinder people with disabilities from enjoying equal rights in society. Even if there are legislatures that are in place, decision-makers need to be more informed about the specific challenges for people with disabilities and focus more on execution and enforcement. Furthermore, the society needs to ensure the removal of legal, physical, and practical barriers that people with disability have today. Ms. Gerel compared the visibility of people with disability in social spheres in Mongolia with that of Australia, where there is more public awareness and social engagement surrounding the issues faced by people with disability, as well as wider availability of support and resources for people with disability.

Key Insights

Ms. Gerel highlighted the importance of distinguishing and identifying the specific challenges faced by people with different types of disabilities in order to appropriately address them in social and political domains. For instance, visually impaired people face challenges unique to their disability and therefore have different needs than people with a hearing difficulty. She touches on the diversity of special challenges, the needs that different types of disability groups experience, and the necessity to have specialized organizations that can address and advocate for those unique differences. In order to provide an equitable and inclusive environment in society, we first need to recognize and understand the different kinds of challenges different disability groups face. In terms of policy and regulations, decision-makers should not only use umbrella terms and definitions but also be considerate of the various challenges and needs different groups have. Public awareness efforts, increasing social visibility, and self-advocacy are important ways that can improve social understanding and government responsiveness to the needs and challenges of people with disability.

Author: Degi Bolormunkh is a young professional with a multi-disciplinary education and a diverse background. She is a recent graduate from the Master of Management program at the UBC Sauder School of Business. She completed her B.A. in Combined major of Political Science and Philosophy with a minor in International Relations from the University of British Columbia. She has lived in multiple countries and has developed a keen interest in issues surrounding DEI, social and political inequality, and good governance.

The Untold podcast and blog post are made available by the generous support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Mongolia. We also want to thank our editor Riya Tikku.

Posted in Civil Society, Health, Inequality, People with Disabilities, Podcast, Policy, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A More Constructive Longterm Interaction Between Rio Tinto and Mongolia

By Julian Dierkes

In a previous post, I gave my sense of where the re-negotiations regarding the OT Agreement are heading and how I see this as a step in a repeating cycle. I have also pointed to a quest for (an imagined) perfection at being a factor that contributes to this cycle.

Below, my attempt to offer suggestions of how this cycle could be broken. A third post will look at factors that have led to this dynamic. For some notes on any conflict of interest I have with this topic, see the bottom of the previous post.

How to Address Longterm Conflict Dynamic

Can that repeating cycle of agreement – public doubts about agreement – new negotiations be avoided?

Certainly not within the short-term, i.e. in less than five years, I don’t think.

But I have long thought that the single most important initiative that could place the Oyu Tolgoi project on a more solid basis when it comes to social license to operate is public education about mining. Two slightly less daunting other initiatives could focus on a change in Rio Tinto thinking that approaches Mongolians more on their own terms, including their expectations and aspirations for the mine itself, and for the government to allow more of a role and more capacity-building in the media, academia, and think tanks, for Mongolians to embrace such more independent domestic sources of analysis, and for donors to support that development.

These would all be mutually-reinforcing directions, but success in any one of these three areas would likely enable elements of a more stable longterm relationship between the government and any mining investor, not just Rio Tinto and Turquoise Hill.

Public Mining Education

Since I started getting more involved in questions around mining governance in the late 2000s, Mongolian officials have made huge strides in understanding and responding to the significant challenges that resource-based development poses to policy-makers and regulators. Many different elements responding to those challenges have been introduced and revised over the past 15 years (EIAs, sovereign wealth funds, community benefits agreements, EITI, etc.) and there has been more and more Mongolian government agency in making informed decisions about making these decisions. In 2016 when we were undertaking a small project that focused on young professionals, it was clear that many of those professionals were well-acquainted with the range of possible policy and regulatory challenges and how to meet them. That is not to say that the leadership of the relevant ministries and agencies may have always been best-equipped for these challenges, nor that patronage appointments have not regularly interfered with policy-making, but, generally, policy-making capacity has been steadily growing.

However, from my perspective, education of the public about mining and the decisions it necessitates, has been lagging behind policy capacity.

What I mean here are basic topics such as the mine life cycle from exploration, feasibility, construction, operation all the way through rehabilitation, and the various technical, financial and regulatory aspects that are of variable importance during different stages. But also some of the basic geology and engineering to be able to comprehend the technological challenges related to a deposit like Oyu Tolgoi in particular. Environmental and social impacts are of great importance to understand more fully in that context as well. And some increased financial literacy might go a long way to deepen understanding of debt, but also of different revenue streams and why the public might prefer such revenues over specific contributions made by companies locally, which Mongolians very liberally subsume under “corporate social responsibility”.

A generally greater understanding of a mining project would allow many Mongolians to make more informed decisions, to be less susceptible to populist claims, but also to ask more informed and more pointed questions of their representatives and government to hold them accountable. Such greater understanding would also leverage the desired impact of transparency measures like the EITI which go largely unnoticed by most of the general public.

Avenues to Foster Public Understanding

This kind of public mining education is a task that both, the government as well as investors, can take on. Obviously, there would have to be some prior education about why a citizen should put much trust into educational materials that are provided or promoted by one actor or the other, but that prior discussion of the reliability and trustworthiness of education materials would have many positive spin-off effects itself. Many different arrangements could be imagined where investors and government contribute funding that enables training/education developed independently.

Training could be deployed in schools (this seems really important as a basis for vocational training in any case), but also through various media and potentially incorporating the e-government platforms under development by the current government. This has also been an area for curriculum development in higher education, though largely in the technical fields focused directly on mining, less so, I think, in ancillary fields like business, law, etc.

Note that the level of public education about mining may also seem low in mature mining jurisdictions like Canada. Even a well-educated person selected randomly on the streets of Vancouver (well, perhaps not downtown where a lot of mining finance is concentrated) might know little about the life cycle of a mine. But in Canada, the public generally relies on very well-developed capacity in the press, in academia and among civil society organizations to substitute for an individual in-depth understanding. Given the huge importance of Oyu Tolgoi and the mining sector to the future of Mongolia, public education might have to take precedence over the establishment of trustworthy institutions (though see below on capacity building).

Note that I am aware of several efforts at providing public education on mining, but that they seem to not have taken root.

How Rio Tinto Approaches Mongolia

From the outside, the overwhelming sense of RT’s engagement has been that they wish they could just treat the country as a spreadsheet. There have been few attempts of engaging Mongolians on their own terms to my knowledge. Sure, RT surely has had conversations, perhaps even more social interaction, with members of the government, but even that has seemed more like a necessary burden than an opportunity to shape their strategy in developing Oyu Tolgoi. That attitude is also reflected in the frequent turnover of RT-sent OT CEOs.

Clearly, RT was hampered by the legacy of the problematic interaction between Robert Friedland/Ivanhoe and the Mongolian public, but efforts to overcome those difficulties have also been limited.

The attempt to ignore Mongolian expectations and aspirations and to represent a view that managing this kind of project would be the same where ever in the world you might find yourself, has led to some notable sources of tension or at least disappointment. The most glaring in this regard seems to be that many Mongolians did and perhaps still do expect Oyu Tolgoi to develop like Erdenet has, ie as an integrated Kombinat that houses, feeds, and employs workers and their families on the basis of a vertically and horizontally integrated enterprise. The fact that the construction of a city in the Gobi would make no sense (the lack of water is only the most obvious of many challenges), has not diminished the expectations that many Mongolians had of the project.

At least the local RT and OT management seems to have embraced a need to communicate more actively with the Mongolian public, but it is still unclear to me whether that message has landed with central RT management. This remains a big obstacle to a more stable long-term relationship, I believe.

Capacity Building

The final piece that would promote a more productive relationship in my mind would be more robust capacities outside of the government and companies. As I mentioned above, many Canadians rely entirely on the media, civil society and academia to monitor, analyze and explain the development of industries. And that is on top of the political opposition in legislatures that may have populist tendencies on occasion but will also be held accountable by the public if their analyses are not focused on specifics of a project.

This would be no different in Norway, Australia and many other countries and it is not at all limited to the resource sector. These institutions have failed to develop fully over the past 15 years in Mongolia and they have no where near the standing and resources required to act as a trusted monitor on government and corporate decisions.

Providing the independent analysis that would hold other actors to account has become increasingly more difficult (rather than easier) when the political culture has veered to suspecting any political action to be motivated by potential personal gain, not a desire at providing analyses to motivate political action for generalized benefit.

The media had its finest moment during the SME Fund scandal, I would argue, but investigative capacity has been much reduced. There are specific outlets that have a credible specialization on resources matters like the Mongolian Mining Journal, but they have failed to escape their niche, in large part, I suspect, because more general media have not embraced their brand of independent analysis.

No credible think tanks have emerged and only some academics are present with detailed analyses in policy debates. There are some commentators like Jargal de Facto, but he remains a fairly lonely voice in some part because many other commentators prefer to speculate about his motivations rather than questioning/extending/reinforcing aspects of his analysis. There are also smaller media outlets, perhaps some podcasts, for example, that may be more credible to some readers/listeners,

There have been numerous attempts to build more independent bodies for policy analysis, or to train and support journalists in their efforts at greater independence. It would be harsh to say that all of these have failed, but they certainly have not thrived. Perhaps trust in independence does not come easily and we have to accept that this may develop over time in Mongolia, but it is clear that if there were more, and more independent eyes on the OT Agreement, for example, this would force the government and perhaps political parties into clarifying any criticisms of the agreement that they might have.

Impact

Of course, the repeated cycles of negotiation and the lack of broad support for the OT project have many different aspects that lead to this dynamic. It is highlight unlikely that one suggestion or even three suggestions would “fix” this dynamic. I thus hesitate to claim that the adoption of any or all of the three suggestions would necessarily lead to a longer-term agreement. But in the absence of many other proposals on how a longer-term relationship might be forged between investors and the government to the benefit of Mongolians, I do believe that these would be three topics that should be considered by investors, the government and donor organizations, but also by Mongolian civil society.

Update

Some further discussion on Reddit:

Posted in Education, EITI, International Agreements, Mining, Mining Governance, Oyu Tolgoi, Oyu Tolgoi, Politics, Public Policy | Tagged | Leave a comment

Search for (Oyu Tolgoi) Perfection

By Julian Dierkes

I have recently shared my perspective on the negotiations of a (new) OT Agreement.

Below, I want to highlight one of the aspects that I see as bringing about this cycle, an aspect that is also prevalent in political discourse, namely a search for perfection.

Nature of Negotiations and, Ultimately, Democracy

Negotiations are not about perfect outcomes for either side and they cannot be because the interests and thus the outcomes are typically not aligned so there cannot be a perfect outcome for both parties in a negotiation and instead there needs to be an acceptable outcome.

I was reminded of this dynamic in reading some of the New York Times reports from the COP26 negotiations in Glasgow. Take the following paragraph,

John Kerry, the U.S. climate envoy, said: “If it has been a good negotiation, all the parties are uncomfortable. And this has been, I think, a good negotiation. We are seeking the shared goal of keeping the Earth’s temperature at a level that the worlds’ scientists say we must do.” (NYT Nov 13 2021, “In Glasgow, a climate agreement seems within reach.“)

Or, another version

Andrea Meza, the Environment and Energy Minister of Costa Rica, summed it up this way: “We don’t have a perfect package but we have a possible package.” (NYT Nov 13 2021, “In Glasgow, a climate agreement seems within reach.“)

That – to me – exemplifies not only the nature of negotiations, but also of democratic decision-making. If two partners come into a negotiation with different value propositions, then the purpose of the negotiation is to find some common ground that is acceptable. If I agree with someone that something needs to be done about the financial basis of Mongolian higher education, for example, I might argue that the overall social benefit of better and more accessible higher education is so great that I am committed to see it funded out of taxes (my value commitment that a distributed tax burden is an effective way to fund social outcomes), but I might be negotiating with someone who has a strong commitment to some version of the aggregate of individual decisions leading to more optimal outcomes (their values commitment) and thus prefers a financial structure for higher education that is focused on individual tuition, i.e. on contribution from students. In our negotiations, we thus try to find a compromise, perhaps around only publicly funding some level of higher education or certain subjects, or perhaps focusing on tuition exemptions depending on income levels, or something of that kind. Neither I nor my negotiation partner will think this optimal, but it is acceptable.

The Search for a Perfect OT Agreement

Back to OT…

Some of the dissatisfaction with the OT Agreement (2009 or Dubai) stems from the fact that many Mongolians (politicians, public figures and many voters, I think) think that the agreement is unfair to them or to the nation. Underlying that point of view is the conviction that there is such a thing as a fair agreement.

I alluded to this in my conversation with The Economist recently, where I was quoted with the following statement,

Complicating matters in Mongolia, Mr Dierkes asserts, is the common belief that there is a “perfect Oyu Tolgoi agreement out there in the Platonic heaven”. In Kyrgyzstan, the stakes are higher yet: not just foreign investors’ trust in a turbulent country, but Kyrgyz people’s dwindling trust in the ruling classes.

This is a pattern I see in a lot of decision-making and it is tied up with the lack of policy competition between Mongolian parties, namely the belief that a single, ideal solution to policy challenges is possible.

When asked – as I often am – whether the OT Agreement is a “good deal”, I do not offer an assessment, in part because I do not think that there is a standard of quality or fairness that I would be able to apply to such a negotiation. Sure, there could be agreements that were so lop-sided that it would be clear that they are bad deals, and there are many aspects of the Agreement that are worth considering for their merits, but “good” or “fair”? That would require some standard to measure this quality by. So, I think that the OT Agreement is a good agreement as long as one agrees that development of the mine will bring net benefits to the owners, i.e. the people of Mongolia.

However, an agreement that is negotiated on the basis of comparable information (that would be a question to raise about the 2009 negotiations, perhaps, as Rio Tinto had much more experience in negotiating this type of agreement than any element of the government had, a disparity that has certainly shrunk since then to still be present in the current negotiations, but much less consequential, I believe), is an agreement that all parties found acceptable. Somehow, Rio Tinto management is able to persuade its shareholders that the return on equity will be sufficient to justify their commitment, and the government was persuaded that enough benefits would accrue to Mongolians to make the agreement worthwhile.

I also have to emphasize in this context that I continue to object to portray attempts by the government to maximize the share of revenues that comes to the government and thus the people as somehow illegitimate, as is often captured in the term “resource nationalism“. To me, this term often signifies attempts by resource companies based in the Global North to use media and politicians to shame or brand governments of civil society of the Global South into accepting deals that are more favourable to investors, but there is almost no analytical purchase in this argument and terminology.

As an understanding of the elements of an agreement shift around, parties might always come to a view that they are less happy with such elements now than they were when agreeing to them. That triggers another round of consideration whether an attempt to renegotiate (i.e. to persuade or force the partner to reconsider) will bring substantial enough benefits to engage in that conversation. In hindsight it might be said that the Dubai negotiations led to a substantial reduction of the management fee paid to Rio Tinto and might also have signalled strongly that the government (along with minority investors in Turquoise Hill) was paying close attention to Rio Tinto’s actions. At the same time, the uncertainty around those negotiations and subsequent uncertainty caused by accusations of corruption etc., may have had significant financial costs (higher price of borrowing for investments in underground mine development primarily) than may or may not outweigh the gains in the agreement. At some point, it might be better for a party to accept terms of an agreement that it deems less than what it has come to find acceptable for the sake of preserving the agreement and progress on the project and I don’t know whether the current negotiations will bring changes that are significant enough to justify the costs of uncertainty and what follows from that uncertainty.

The Bigger Picture: Democracy

The search for perfection, I think, Mongolian politicians and political parties essentially present themselves as political pragmatists which in turn prevents competition over platforms or policies and thus deprives Mongolians of one element of the determination of their future via the ballot box, namely the choice of political representation of their own value preferences.

When running workshops on policy-making with aspiring MPP politicians in the past, we have incorporated some role-playing activities. When we have set these up with fictional political parties, most participants are inclined to what they often call the “National Party”, i.e. – in their mind – the party that “does the right thing for the nation”. From my perspective as an academic with an interest in mining governance, but also from a political theory point of view, that is a different view of democracy as some kind of process that leads to am objectively optimal outcome. But that is not what others see in democracy namely a sphere of competition over ideas that leads to outcomes that are often determined by value commitments rather than optimal outcomes, and – very importantly – by political compromise.

If there was such a thing as a party that does the best thing for the nation, all voters would support it, obviously. But that assumes that there is agreement on what the best thing for the nation is. There isn’t. It’s this disagreement about what best outcomes would be and also about how to reach those outcomes, that animates democratic competition. It is also recognition that many of the outcomes of policy decisions are not predictable that leads to competition over which avenue to take toward an imagined outcomes.

When it comes to mining agreements, just like higher education policy, there is no such thing as perfection. I’m even skeptical that there is such a thing as “best practice”, i.e. not all mining jurisdictions can and maybe even want to be Norway. However, I do think that negotiations that are structured well and start from a comparable level of information and also different forms of power, can lead to a good outcome, i.e. an outcome that is acceptable to all parties and that allows a project to continue to move forward.

Side Note

This should probably be a more academic argument that I should place in a more academic outlet, primarily for my own career benefits. The element that is missing here is a more rigorous empirical basis for my observations beyond my experience of engaging in many discussions, quasi-fieldwork, and observations in Mongolia over a sustained period of time. Perhaps I can find a different way to make a similar point in a more evidence-based fashion and then persuade others that this is worth for inclusion in more academic outlets.

Posted in Governance, Mining Governance, Oyu Tolgoi, Party Politics, Politics, Public Policy | Tagged | Leave a comment

2021 Oyu Tolgoi Negotiations

By Julian Dierkes

How can I resist the following challenge?

Before I get into my analysis of the dynamic that has led to negotiations, and my suggestions for how to address that analysis, some notes below on my sense of the negotiations themselves.

As Tolgoibaatar notes in another tweet, I am an academic, so perhaps not surprisingly, I want to acknowledge some obvious limitations on what I say below. I’ve moved those caveats to the bottom of the post to let readers get into the meat of what I am saying first, but then to interrogate that given these caveats.

Assumptions

  1. Mongolians want to see OT developed. That is, even when informed about some risks (eg, displacement of herders, water, corruption), Mongolians have chosen and would choose to develop the mine. I have not seen this fundamentally questioned by any political actor.
  2. The economics of the mine and of developing it, are sound, ie, ultimately – even after massive up-front-investment, the deposit is so rich/large and long-term copper demand stable enough, that the project will show a return on investment. Despite various hiccups, I have not seen this questioned either.
  3. It is the explicit task for both sides (investors and the government) to maximize benefits for their stakeholders. The project can only go forward by balancing those benefits.
  4. The project is of huge significance to Mongolia’s future, so broad-based social license to operate is even more crucial, perhaps, than with smaller projects.

Outlook for Negotiations

Given the assumptions above, I think that the parties will reach some kind of agreement. Neither side (investors and the government) want or can afford for the project to fail. Clearly, there are complicated relations between Turquoise Hill, its minority investors, and Riot Tinto [<- ???? a typo, that others have probably made, but I hadn’t yet, so I left it in while editing. It’s a close cousin of You Tolgoi in this context.], but here, I am treating the negotiations as if they involve two parties, investors and the government.

I cannot guess as to what exactly might bring about an agreement in the current negotiations. Abstractly speaking, the government will need some concession that they will be able to present to the Mongolian public as a significant advance from the Dubai Agreement. When I say “government” in this case, I see this as being primarily PM Oyun-Erdene rather than Pres Khurelsukh who is somewhat removed from these issues as he generally was while he was prime minister. I cannot guess what that concession might be. I cannot think of any entirely new element to be introduced into the agreement (may well be my limited understanding, however), so I think it is more likely that some tax/royalty/management rates will be adjusted or that government debt will be restructured somehow. There is always the chance of a change to the equity structure, i.e. for TRQ/RT to buy some portion of the government’s stake. That is a bit of a wildcard and could happen, but I have not seen any hints of such a more radical reconfiguration.

The challenge may be that everyone would like to reach a conclusion to the negotiations sooner rather than later, but if I had to guess, I would fear that the government may not be come to the negotiations with a specific set of asks that the investor side might evaluate as to their impact on their return on investment. Obviously, those asks would not be public (and thus my) knowledge, but I have seen little in the run-up to the process, nor any statements since, that would suggest that there was a specific set of demands to begin with.

Beyond the Negotiations

While I do think that the negotiations will be concluded with some kind of agreement, I do not think that this agreement will address the fundamentally challenging dynamic in the relationship between the Mongolian public and Rio Tinto. I would therefore guess that chances are high that there will be another set of negotiations with similarly murky goals within less than ten years.

A continuing cycle of agreements and negotiations strikes me as far more likely than either side pulling out in any meaningful way. Pulling out for Rio Tinto would presumably mean selling its stake in TRQ to another investor, most likely a Chinese investor, I suppose though that would immediately raise the question of who would actually operate the project and would be capable to operate it given the challenges of block caving.

For the government, pulling out would mean something really radical like nationalization. That strikes me as very unlikely in the current situation, though perhaps less unlikely than I would have said five years ago, for example, largely due to geopolitical developments where the increasing aggressiveness of the Chinese regime and hints at a bipolar world with U.S.-focused and China-led blocks, adds general uncertainty to Mongolia’s outlook.

What Can Be Done?

Another post will be coming that suggests three ways in which the cycle of negotiation-dissatisfaction-demand for more negotiation can be broken, I think.

The Search for a Perfect Agreement

In a separate post, I will write about another aspect that is contributing to the cycle of negotiations of an OT agreement: a perspective that sees policy-making, politics, but also this kind of negotiation as a quest for a perfect (or perfectly fair) agreement, as opposed to the recognition that this kind of agreements like all political decisions is fundamentally a compromise that satisfices rather than optimizes.

Caveats

The biggest caveat: As I’m learning repeatedly in my own policy practice (as an associate dean in UBC’s Faculty of Graduate + Postdoctoral Studies), details on constraints and on implementation of policies are often very difficult to discern from the outside. What I say below is thus more of an editorial regarding general directions, rather than advice for immediate or specific action to any of the actors.

Another caveat: I  have no insider knowledge lest anyone read this as suggestion any insights that might drive your investment decision. While I am happy to speak to people involved in conversations on all sides, they generally ask me for my views rather than sharing their positions.

Conflict of interest: I have performed consulting services for Rio Tinto, Turquoise Hill, various parts of the government of Mongolia, some related to mining governance in particular. But, I talk to everyone who is interested and am thus quite confident that I am in no one’s pocket. I certainly do not speak for any of the actors involved.

Posted in Erdenes Mongol, International Agreements, Mining, Mining Governance, Oyu Tolgoi, Oyu Tolgoi, Sovereign Wealth Fund, Taxes | Tagged | Leave a comment

Untold Blogpost 18: Хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдийн идэвхитэй оролцоо нийгмээс хамааралтай…

Чүлтэмийн Нямсүрэн 

Энэ удаагийн зочин Чиба Хисао маань Япон улсаас холбогдож байна. Тэрээр хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдийг дэмжих, тэдэнд учрах саад бэрхшээлийг арилгахын төлөө ажил, амьдралынхаа 20 гаруй жилийг зориулсан эрхэм нэгэн билээ. Бангкок хотноо НҮБ-ийн Ази номхон далайн бүс нутгийн Эдийн засаг, нийгмийн комисст томилогдсоноор энэ чиглэлээрх ажлын гаргаагаа эхлүүлж байжээ.

Чиба Хисао 2016-2020 онд Японы Олон улсын хамтын ажиллагааны байгууллага (ЖАЙКА)-аас Монголд хэрэгжүүлсэн Улаанбаатар хотын хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэд (ХБИ)-ийн нийгмийн оролцоог дэмжих төсөл дээр ажиллаж байсан. Төслийн үр дүнд ХБИ-ийн асуудлаарх мэдээлэл, судалгааны нэгдсэн статистиктай болж “Цагаан ном”-ыг 2018, 2019, 2020 онуудад боловсруулан гаргаж нэгдмэл бодлого боловсруулахад хувь нэмрээ оруулсан байна.   Харин өнөөдөр Тэрээр хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдийн ажил эрхлэлтийг дэмжихээр ЖАЙКА-аас Монголд 2021-2024 онд хэрэгжүүлэх төсөл дээр идэвхийлэн ажиллаж буй.

Зураг: Чиба Хисао (Чибагийн зөвшөөрөлтэйгөөр оруулав)

Хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдэд учирдаг түгээмэл саад, бэрхшээлүүд

Чиба Хисао хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэд нь биеийн, харилцаа мэдээллийн болон ухамсарын гэсэн 3 төрлийн бэрхшээлээс үүдэн хүрээлэн буй орчинтойгоо харьцахад хүндрэлтэй байдаг, харин эдгээр саад бэрхшээлийг давчихвал тэдгээр иргэд нийгэмд илүү оролцоотой, идэвхтэй байж чадна гэдгийг онцоллоо.

Монголд хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдэд биетээр учирдаг саад бэрхшээл маш түгээмэл байдаг. Наад зах нь тэдэнд зориулсан зам, шат гэж бараг байдаггүй. Байгаа цөөхөн нь стандартад нийцээгүй, хэтэрхий огцом өгсүүр байх жишээтэй. Мөн, харилцаа, мэдээллийн саад их учраас тэд нийгмээс тусгаарлагддаг. Сүүлийн үед Mонголын үндсэний телевиз болон өөр бусад сувгууд дохионы хэлмэрчээр дамжуулан мэдээллээ дамжуулж байгаа нь сайшаалтай. Ухамсарын түвшинд авч үзвэл хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдийг нийгэмд идэвхтэй, оролцоотой байхад саад болж буй гол зүйл нь “тухайн хүн өөрөө биш, харин нийгэм нь юм” гэдэг ойлголтыг Монголчуудад хүргэж, ойлгуулах нь Чибагийн гол хүсэл, эрмэлзэл юм.

Харилцан ажиллагаа, хамтын хүчин чармайлтын үр дүн

Тэрээр 2016 оныг одоо үетэй харьцуулахад ахиц дэвшил, өөрчлөлт гарсан эсэх талаар сэтгэгдэлээ хуваалцахдаа харилцан уялдаа холбоо, хамтын ажиллагаа хичнээн чухал болохыг онцолсон юм. Монгол улсын Засгийн газраас ХБИ-ээ дэмжих, нийгэмд идэвхтэй, оролцоотой байлгах талаар анхаарлаа хандуулан тодорхой төсөл хөтөлбөр, үйл ажиллагааг хэрэгжүүлэн, олон бодлого шийдвэрүүдийг гаргасан. Гэхдээ тухайн оролцоог яаж нэмэгдүүлэх арга замыг тодорхойлоход олон улсын байгууллага, төслүүдийн дэмжлэг хэрэгтэй байсан. Чиба ЖАЙКА-д ажиллахдаа дараах 3 түвшинд харилцан ажиллагаа, хамтын хүчин чармайлт үгүйлэгдэж байгааг олж харсан байна. Нэгдүгээрт, Монгол дахь ХБИ-ийн байгууллагууд өөр хоорондын;  хоёрдугаарт, хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдийн байгууллага ба засгийн газар хоорондын; гуравдугаарт, яамд, төрийн байгууллагууд хоорондын уялдаа холбоо байдаггүй нь маш том сул тал гэж үзсэн. Төрийн байгууллага, яамд өөрсдийн судалгаа, мэдээллүүдтэй боловч нэгдсэн системгүй байв. Тийм учраас нэгдмэл хүч, нэгэн дуу хоолойгоор төр засагтаа санал бодлоо зөв хүргэхэд нь эдгээр иргэдэд дэмжлэг үзүүлэхээр зорьсон байна. Япон улсад зохион байгуулагдсан олон тооны сургалтад хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэд болон төрийн байгууллагын албан хаагчдын аль алиных нь төлөөллийг хамтад нь оролцуулж, харилцан ойлголцолыг дэмжиж иржээ.

Түүний бодлоор, өнгөрсөн 4 жилийн хугацаанд хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдийн байгууллагууд олон чухал төсөл, хөтөлбөрүүдэд өөрсдөө биечлэн оролцож, төрийн байгууллагуудтай хамтран ажиллах тал дээр томоохон ахиц гаргасан. Тэд төр засагтайгаа асуудлыг хэлэлцэн тохирч, зарим үед шахан шаардсаар тодорхой шийдэлд хүрч чадсан.

Монгол Улсыг Азийн зарим улс орнуудтай харьцуулсан түүний бодол, дүгнэлт

Бангкокт 7 жил, Камбож, Филиппин зэрэг Зүүн өмнөд Азийн орнуудад нэлээдгүй олон жил ажиллахдаа тэрээр Монгол улсын нийгмийн хамгаалал, аюулгүй байдлын тогтолцоо нь  арай өөр болохыг анзаарчээ. Түүхэндээ Монгол улс нь социалист системтэй орон байсан. Хэдийгээр ардчилсан хувьсгал ялсан ч гэсэн тэтгэвэр тэтгэмж, нийгмийн даатгал гэх мэт хуучин системийн бодлого хэвээр хадгалагдаж байдаг. Харин Тайланд, Филиппин зэрэг улсууд эдийн засгийн хөгжлийг нэгдүгээрт тавьдаг. Тийм ч учраас эрүүл мэнд, нийгмийн даатгалын тогтолцоо нь Монголтой харьцуулахад арай сул, хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдийн асуудалд өөрөөр ханддаг санагджээ. Гэхдээ, хүний эрхийн хандлага талаас нь авч үзвэл Тайланд улс сайн хөгжсөн бөгөөд Монголчууд тэднээс сурах зүйл их байдаг.

Бидний суралцах зүйл: Нэгдүгээрт, түрүүн дурдсанчлан Монголд хамтын буюу харилцан  ажиллагаа сул. Тайландад бол хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэд нэгэн дээвэр дор нэгдэж ажилладаг. Ингэх нь засгийн газартайгаа яриа хэлцэл хийх, хамтран ажиллаж хүсэл сонирхолоо илэрхийлэхэд том боломжийг олгодог. Түүний хувьд энэ бол орхигдох ёсгүй чухал сэдэв юм.  Хоёрдугаарт ажил эрхлэлтийг дэмжих асуудал. Тайландад төрийн болон хувийн байгууллагууд квотын систем буюу 100 хүн тутамд 1 хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэнийг ажиллуулах шаадлагатай байдаг. Харин Монголын квот 100 хүн тутамд 4 байдаг. Хэдийгээр Монгол улс квотын тоогоор илүү боловч, Тайландын хариуцлага тооцох систем нь илүү сайн. Квотдоо хүрч ажиллуулж чадахгүй бол өндөр хэмжээний татварыг засгийн газартаа төлнө, тэр орлого нь эргээд хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдийг дэмжихэд зориулагддаг. Энэ нь тухайн иргэдийг ажлаар хангах том хөшүүрэг болж өгдөг байна. Энэ бол өнөөдөр түүний ажиллаж буй төслийн гол зорилго юм.

Зураг: Чиба Хисао, урд эгнээний зүүн гар талаас 2-т (Чибагийн зөвшөөрөлтэйгөөр оруулав)

2021-2024 онд хэрэгжүүлэх төслийн тухай

ЖАЙКА-аас Монголд 4 жил хэрэгжүүлэх хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдийн ажил эрхлэлтийг дэмжих төсөл нь 2 ажлыг хандлагыг голчилж байна. Нэгдүгээрт, Ажилд дадлагажуулагч буюу Job coach. Япончууд АНУ-ын туршлагад үндэслэн ХБИ болон ажил олгогч компаниудыг хооронд нь холбох энэ аргад суралцсан. Тэд төрийн оролцоо багатайгаар өөрсдөө ажил олох боломжтой болно гэсэн үг. Нөгөө талаар ХБИ-ийг ажиллуулах хүсэлтэй ч тэдэнтэй яаж холбогдохоо мэдэхгүй байгаа компаниудад бас тусалдаг юм. Ажилд дадлагжуулагчид зөвхөн гүүр болоод зогсохгүй, компаниудад ХБИ-тэй хэрхэн хамтран ажиллах тухай тусгай сургалт явуулж биеийн, харилцааны болоод сэтгэл зүйн хувьд тулгарч болох саад бэрхшээлүүдийг аль болох багасгахад дэмжлэг үзүүлдэг. Хоёрдугаарт, компаний удирдах бүрэлдэхүүний оролцоог нэмэгдүүлэх. Хэрэв тухайн компаний удирдлага чухам яагаад ХБИ-тэй хамтран ажиллаж байгаа учир шалтгаан, ач холбогдлыг ул суурьтай ойлгохгүй бол тэд зөв шийдвэр гаргаж чадахгүй.

Асуудлыг шийдвэрлэх гарц, гаргалгааг бий болгоход хүмүүсийн ухамсар, сэтгэлгээ маш чухал юм. Хараагүй, сонсголгүй зэрэг хөгжлийн биет бэрхшээлтэй хүмүүсийн хувьд  ажиллах орчин орчинг бүрдүүлсэн байхад  болох мэт санагддаг. Гэтэл оюуны болон сэтгэлгээний бэрхшээлтэй хүмүүсийн хувьд байдал өөр. Тэдэнд тохирсон ажил олгоход ажилд зуучлагчдийн үүрэг оролцоо өндөр байдаг.

Энэ бүхний эцэст бусдад өгөхийг хүссэн түүний зөвлөгөө бол “биет бус нийгмээс үүдэлтэй саад бэрхшээл”-ийг аль аль тал нь ойлгох хэрэгтэй гэв. Хүмүүс ХБИ-д зүгээр л туслах биш, тэднийг нийгмийн идэвхитэй, оролцоотой бүлэг гэж хүлээн зөвшөөрөөсэй гэж тэр боддог. Хэрэв ХБИ нь нийгэмдээ оролцоотой байж чадаж байвал, тэр нийгэм бусад бүх хүмүүсээ оролцоотой, идэвхитэй байлгаж чаднаа гэсэн үг. Энэ консептийг хүн бүхэн ойлгоосой.

Бие даан амьдрах төв

Япон улс 1980-аад оны үеэс ХБИ-ээ Америк явуулж “Бие даан амьдрах чадвар”-т сургаж, энэ аргыг хэрэгжүүлж эхэлсэн. Тэд мэдээж шууд хуулбарлаад ирээгүй, Японы онцлогт тохируулан сайжруулж ирсэн. Одоогоор Японд 140 гаруй “Бие даан амьдрах төв” байдаг. Монголд байгуулсан “Түгээмэл хөгжил бие даан амьдрах төв”-ийн тэргүүн Ч.Ундрахбаяр, Чиба нар анх 2008 онд Японд, дараа нь Монголд уулзаж байж. Бие даан амьдарна гэдэг нь зөвхөн эдийн засаг, санхүүгийн хувьд хязгаардагдах асуудал биш юм. ХБИ шийдвэр гаргахад сэтгэлзүйн хувьд маш хүнд байдаг. Яагаад гэвэд тэд үргэлж орчин тойрны болон гэр бүлийн хүмүүстээ ямар нэг байдлаар нөлөөлчихвий гэж боддог. Тийм ч учраас өөрсдийн жинхэнэ хэрэгцээ, шаардлагыг бүрэн дүүрэн илэрхийлж чаддаггүй. Тэгэхээр “Бие даан амьдах төв”-ийг ажиллуулна гэдэг өргөн агуулгатай гээд Монголын засгийн газар үүнд анхаарлаа хандуулахыг хүсэж байдагаа илэрхийлэв. Америк, Япон зэрэг улсуудтай харьцуулахад Монголд энэ төрлийн төвүүдийн санхүүжилт илүү хүндрэлтэй санагдсан. Японы хувьд 1990-ээд оны үед ХБИ засгийн газартаа хүчтэй шаардлага тавьсны үр дүнд “Бие даан амьдрах төв”-үүдийг төрөөс санхүүжүүлж эхэлсэн бөгөөд ажилчдийн цалингийн хэмжээ боломжийн түвшинд хүрсэн тухай туршлагаас хуваалцав.

Зураг: Чиба Хисаогийн зураг (Чибагийн зөвшөөрөлтэйгөөр оруулав)

Ярилцлагын явцад Чиба Монгол хүмүүс их найрсаг, тусархуу юм хэмээгээд нэгэн тохиодлыг дурсав.”Би хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй найзынхаа хамтаар автобусанд суух гэж байв. Мэдээж, зориулалтын хэрэгсэл байгаагүй. Найз минь яах бол гээд ажиж байтал түүний ойр орчимд байсан хүмүүс огтхон ч эргэлзэх зүйлгүйгээр маш хурдан түүнд тусалсан.  Японд бол нөхцөл байдал арай өөр. Тэд шууд туслахгүй, эхлээд жоохон анзаарч, эргэлзэнэ. Магадгүй Японд хөгжлийн бэрхшээлтэй иргэдэд зориулан дэд бүтцээ сайн хөгжүүлсэн, бас тэднийг сургалтад хамруулж бэлддэгтэй холбоотой байх. Японд миний найз хараагүй боловч олон нийтийн газраар ганцаараа явж, нийгмийн оролцоотой байж чаддаг. Харин Улаанбаатарт тийм бэрхшээлтэй хүн ганцаараа явна гэдэг маш хэцүү. Миний найз ийм сорилттой орчинд өөрөө явах гээд оролдоод үзье гэж хэлсэн, тэр чадсан. Гэнэт л бөөн хүмүүс түүнийг хүрээлээд, тусалсан. Зарим нь чи яагаад ганцаараа явж байгаа юм бэ, болохгүй, …. ямар нэг болбол яана гээд л…энэ бүхэн нь Монгол хүмүүсийн сайхан хандлагыг илэрхийлж байсан. Мэдээж их сайхан зүйл. Гэхдээ тэд үргэлж хүмүүст найдаж амьдрах хэцүү. Тийм учраас тулд DET /disability equality training/ буюу “Хөгжлийн бэрхшээл ба тэгш байдлын тухай сургалт”-ыг явуулж байх шаардлагатай” гэснээр яриагаа өдөрлөв.

Чүлтэмийн Нямсүрэн

АНУ-ийн Тэнгисийн явган цэргийн Төгсөлтийн дараах сургуульд Азийн улс орнуудын аюулгүй байдал судлалын чиглэлээр магистрын зэрэг, Австралийн Үндэсний их сургуульд Цэргийн болон батлан хамгаалах судлалын  чиглэлээр магистрын зэрэг тус тус хамгаалсан. Энэхүү подкастыг Фридрих-Эбертийн сангийн дэмжлэгтэйгээр хийлээ.

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Fragmented Power

By Julian Dierkes

A recent article in The Economist compares political contestation around the Kumtor mine in Kyrgyzstan and Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia. There a number of aspects to that comparison that make it very interesting:

The Economist quoted me as saying, “Power in Mongolia is too fragmented to make bribery at scale an attractive option to foreign investors, says Julian Dierkes of the University of British Columbia—though what happens to revenues once they reach government coffers is another matter.”

As I was considering what I said, it seemed like this deserves a bit of an elaboration.

Political Fragmentation

This is not a term that is commonly applied to describe Mongolian politics. But perhaps it is worth considering more often as a description.

Centralization

Perhaps first, a word on how politics is not fragmented in Mongolia.

Two aspects come to mind very quickly: state structure and political parties.

Mongolia fundamentally remains a unitary state. That is, national legislation trumps all regional decisions and administrative units below the nation (aimag, soum, bag) implement decisions that are made at the centre. Unitary states are thus different in their structure from federal structures where some areas of policy-making are explicitly delegated to subnational units (for example, education in Germany or Canada).

While I have noted in the past that the distribution of revenues from resource projects to regions where those projects are located is hinting at some devolution of resources in Mongolia, it remains fundamentally unitary and thus not fragmented.

Stable Two-Party System

Fragmentation is also a term that is sometimes applied to party politics when voters are increasingly voting for a larger number of smaller parties, most famously, perhaps, in the case of the Weimar Republic, where that fragmentation is generally in part blamed for the rise of National Socialism. That is also not the case for Mongolia where the existence and occasional electoral success of the MPRP and, now, XYH, only seems to confirm the longterm stability of a two-party system dominated by the DP and the MPP.

Fragmentation

What I mean by fragmentation then is that power is divided across the Mongolian government in a way that there are many individuals who participate in decision-making and who potentially cancel each other out in disputes. That power is also generally fleeting when it comes to particular issues/policy areas.

I do not think that Mongolians often think about their government as fragmented in that way. Instead, public portrayals focus on the small number of individuals/families that seem to hold power. The terminology that crops up in that context is that of “oligarchs” and “30 families” who are portrayed as being all-powerful. I would certainly not deny that there is a small power elite that has a lot of influence over politics in Mongolia, but by referring to this elite as fragmented, I would emphasize that policies remain contested, even if the parties/individuals involved are limited in number. No single person/company/family holds enough power to overrule other members of the elite. In other words, the ruling elite is not unified in its action.

This fragmentation is also apparent in parliament. I have long lamented the absence of coherent party platforms. Every election confirms this absence when we have examined various election platforms. Yes, occasionally the MPP describes itself as social-democratic, suggesting a policy theme at least, if not an ideology, but it is hard to detect that theme in decisions or platforms. The same is true of the economic liberalism that is sometimes ascribed to the DP.

When we look at MPs, it is also apparent that legislative initiatives are often personal projects, rather than a policy direction that their party has embraced. Resources available to MPs are so limited that they can only pursue a small number of projects, but neither of the large parties has ever really stepped in by developing more centralized policy-making capacity. This then contributes further to fragmentation of decision-making.

So, while parliament may look like it is dominated by a stable two-party system, in terms of actual policy-making and legislative activities it appears to be highly fragmented.

It remains to be seen whether the 2019 constitutional changes that limit the number of MPs in cabinet will increase the power of the PM over fellow cabinet members, but also vis-a-vis parliament, or whether the substantive expertise that some of these ministers may have, might allow them to resist political pressures. That might change the fragmentation of power then.

Corruption and Fragmentation

How is this view of Mongolian politics as fragmented relevant to corruption?

Let’s consider legitimate attempts to influence political decisions first. Occasionally, I am approached by foreign investors who think they have some kind of “in” to some particular business sector in Mongolia and seek to exploit that to construct a business.

Often this hopeful investor then tells me that they’ve connected with SoAndSo who is currently Minister of ThisAndThat. In their mind, that means that they have approval or whatever it is that they’re seeking for this business venture. My response is always that a connection to an individual is a shaky basis for a venture. Even though that individual may seem powerful, they may only be in a specific position of power for a limited time and their power is likely tied closely to the position. Also, if that powerful individual champions a certain cause/policy/actor that may well prompt active opposition from other actors. I therefore always advise such investors to pursue a broad-based strategy of engagement with decision-makers that does not rely on some individual, but pursues coalitions instead. Another alternative – one that is also highly relevant for larger political decisions that involve public debate – is to turn to the public for support either through market success or by talking about possibilities that might generate public interest.

Similar challenges also hold for illegitimate/illegal forms of influence then. If I was a misguided investor who thought corruption was a legitimate business tool, I would still evaluate opportunities to pay a bribe by the likelihood of that bribe actually delivering the influence that I was hoping for.

Take the OT agreements (2009 original and 2015 Dubai agreement) as an example. Lots of corruption has been alleged around those agreements. But, imagine that an investor had paid a substantial bribe to prime ministers at the time, could those prime ministers have actually “delivered” an agreement? I would argue that not, because of fragmentation. No recent prime ministers has been powerful enough to make that kind of decision on their own and some of the others who would be involved might be opposed for a number of different reasons.

If you actually wanted to be certain of a political outcome, there would be multiple individuals involved, so bribing just one of those individuals would be unlikely to guarantee an outcome. But if you have to bribe many people to ensure an outcome, that would be so expensive a strategy that it is unlikely to survive some kind of calculation of expected pay-off for an investor, especially when that investor – like Turquoise Hill/Rio Tinto – also faces public scrutiny by markets but also by reporting requirements such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

In my mind, this political fragmentation has always made some allegations of corruption in the Oyu Tolgoi context quite implausible. By the way, that would be a bit different for Erdenet or Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi, for example, where control over those assets is more internal to the government and power relations might thus be brought to bear more directly on decisions.

Conclusion: Talking about Fragmentation

As I was working on this post, it seems more and more appropriate to think of Mongolian politics as fragmented in the very specific sense that I discussed: political decisions are distributed across a small, but not unified elite who may often be in competition over the outcomes of such decisions, even when the state structure remains unitary and the party system suggests stability and durable preferences.

Posted in Corruption, EITI, Foreign Investment, International Agreements, Kyrgyz Republic, Mining Governance, Oyu Tolgoi, Oyu Tolgoi, Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Untold Blogpost 17: Vocational Education for Disabled People

By Ganchuluun Turbat 

Our guest is Ms. Altmaa, Director of the School of Vocational Education and Skills at the Mongolian National Rehabilitation Vocational Training Center. She shared her views on vocational education of the people with disabilities.

Vocational Training

The School for Vocational Education and Skills (Trades) provides specialized training in professions such as chef, baker, tailor, carpenter, souvenir crafter, graphic designer, and cellphone repair technicians, through 1-2.5 years of schooling. According to Ms. Altmaa, the school admits around 140 students with all types of disabilities at the different levels, except for blind individuals. For blind students, it is the Vocational Training Center of the Mongolian National Federation of Blind that provides specialized training. Ms. Altmaa’s school has a dormitory for 20-25 resident students and the class size is usually around 8-12 students depending on the level of disability levels. The school has been running for over 45 years and staffs experienced faculty members who help these young adults acquire special sets of trade skills. Their students come at different age groups, ranging from their teens to the mid-40s. The school evaluates each student at the beginning in order to tailor the vocational training programs for each student’s need and type/level of disability.

One And A Half Years Longer Than Other Vocational Schools

There is one major challenge: The school receives older students with disability, but they have never been to schools – some with hearing disability do not know the sign language or alphabet. This is mostly the fault of their parents or guardians. Many of them never have let them study at secondary schools for a variety of reasons. Then, suddenly, they realize these young adults need to acquire certain skills and choose a profession to be employed or to make their living. This requires the school to reduce the number of students and create additional programs to help these students in their 20s, 30s and 40s, to obtain some of the elementary and secondary school knowledge and skills (e.g., writing, reading, counting, and sign language) in addition to their specialized trades certificate programs. Therefore, many of their students need to complete the trades skills training over 2-2.5 years. Although there are some improvements in including children with disabilities in elementary and secondary school, Ms. Altmaa encouraged parents with disabled children to provide their kids with the opportunity to study as early as possible.

Photo: Ms. Altmaa standing front of the laptop (with the permission of Altmaa)

Getting on the Job Market

There are some improvements in the job market. “Many businesses have been working with us to employ our graduates”, Ms. Altmaa mentions. Jobs in high demand by the market are chef, baker, tailor and carpenter. Some companies seek cleaning and service workers, but the school does not provide training in such trade skills. The majority of carpenters, cellphone repair technicians, and engravers become easily self-employed. The school follows up their graduates after six months and after one year upon their employments. The retention of employment is low. “There are several reasons”, as Ms. Altmaa explains. One is that their graduates are not well prepared to handle the initial challenges of working in a new environment (e.g., routine, staff, co-workers, workload) and it could be personal. Another challenge is on the employers’ side – they are not prepared to deal with disabled employees. As soon as they find the initial difficulties, the employer seeks ways to fire the disabled employee. Another difficulty is posed by inaccessible infrastructure (e.g., the facility’s wheelchair accessibility). Lastly, parents prohibit the employment for them to take care of family matters instead, not respecting the rights of the disabled people (to see elders or children, or to manage household chores). Ms. Altmaa highlights that the school is now increasing the number of classes and also expanding the classes’ skill sets to improve the communication skills of their students. As several of our guests pointed out, there should be more collaboration between the employer and a school and the disabled employees to find a better solution to create an inclusive employment atmosphere.

New Programs Being Introduced with the EU

Before 2000, all vocational schools used to design their own programs based on their own studies. Today, the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare oversees the process of designing and accreditation of programs for vocational schools. Although the law requires having special vocational programs for the people with disabilities, we still don’t have specific programs for the people with disabilities. However, with assistance from the European Union, we are in the process of introducing three new professions (i.e., service worker, e-service person, and clerk) for the disabled students based on the studies and discussions of non-governmental organizations, employers, brokers, and people with disabilities. The school is planning to admit new students for these new programs. Since it is based on a thorough study of the job market, Ms. Altmaa does not expect any difficulties for students graduating with these new professions.

Photo: Ms. Altmaa (with the permission of Altmaa)

Lack of Human Resources

In developed countries, there are about eight staff members per student, including teacher, doctor, psychologist, and assistant, of course, depending on the degree of the disability. But, in Mongolia, the ratio is opposite: 8-15 students per teacher. Even though the standard requires a teacher-student ratio of 1:8, the school tries to include more students. A major challenge is posed by the shortage of trained and experienced instructors who could work with people with all types of disabilities. All faculty members, who were educated in the Soviet Union in methods to work with disabled people, are retired. To fill the gap, the Ministry of Education have introduced a graduate level program for teaching to the people with disabilities and mandatory pedagogical course. But the effects are slow. Since the school operates on a tight state budget, the school could not hire more teachers and staff. The school now requires all new faculty to have a bachelor’s degree and to learn the sign language. In real terms, it usually takes about 1-2 years to be competent enough to work with students with disabilities.

At the moment, everyone at the school needs psychologists. Faculty and staff need to be trained and counselled on how to deal with students and their parents. Moreover, the mental health of students is important.  “We always feel the need of psychologists to deal with parents and family members of our students”, Ms. Altmaa adds.

Impacts of the COVID-19

The COVID-19 has affected the school’s operation severely. Unlike for other students, it is impossible to carry out online schooling because students with disabilities need to have a more practical and hands-on training. The school is already two years behind of the schedule. Since students could not complete the required practical training hours, they could not graduate.

It was an insightful interview about the vocational educational programs for the people with disabilities. Ms. Altmaa wishes to increase the school’s capacity (e.g., learning space, dormitory) to reach out to many students who could not join the school because of the limitation.  Moreover, she hopes the school to do more work in regard to rehabilitation and introducing international standards.

About the Author: Ganchuluun Turbat is about to start his master’s program at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California. He graduated from the Mongolian National Defense University and logistical officer’s courses in the United States. In the military, he served in multiple peacekeeping missions, including the United Nations Mission in South Sudan and NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan.

The Untold podcast and blog post are made available by the generous support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Mongolia. We also want to thank our editor Riya Tikku.

Posted in Education, People with Disabilities, Podcast, Vocational | Leave a comment

By-elections 2021

By Julian Dierkes

In the aftermath of the presidential election in June, one of the big questions that remained was whether the strong minority support that D Enkhbat received as linked to the weakness of S Erdene as a candidate or the DP as a party, his personal popularity, or whether this was another step in the rise of XYH as a new political force. Another question emerging from the presidential election is what nature the electoral alliance of the MPP and the MPRP will take.

These are two questions that will receive partial answers in the October 10 by-election for the parliamentary seat for the Ulaanbaatar district of Songinokhairkhan vacated by Ulaanbaatar governor D Sumiyabazar. At the same time, the Khentii seat vacated by U Khurelsukh when he became a candidate for president will also be contested, though this seems like it will be significantly less exciting given the margin of victory that Khurelsukh enjoyed in the 2020 parliamentary election (72.2%) and the 2021 presidential election (82.5%) indicating the strength of the MPP in this aimag.

Songinokhairkhan Candidates

MPP: E Batshugar

The story is all in the patronymic initial here. E is Enkhbayar, of course, the former president and leader of the MPRP. This candidacy thus appears to be fairly straight-forward payback for the MPRP’s support of Khurelsukh’s presidential campaign. Batshugar is not entirely unknown or inexperienced as he has previously served as deputy governor of the Bank of Mongolia, though we might also count that as a post that might be awarded as a patronage post rather than on the basis of the qualifications of an individual.

He was born in 1987 and is thus of the same 1980s generation as some of the younger leadership of the MPP such as PM Oyun-Erdene.

At first glance, there is nothing particularly noticeable about Batshugar, though given his clear popularity, Enkhbayar’s charisma and appeal have always been somewhat mysterious as well.

Note that earlier this year at least, Batshugar was investing heavily into online advertising.

Given this investment, however, the Batshugar campaign is not very visible on Twitter at the beginning of October and MPP support for his campaign also seems limited.

Additionally, at the time of writing, Marissa’s go-to for Enkhbayar-related news, eguur.mn, is not accessible. The latest story posted on their twitter feed relates to the current fuel crisis (see more on this below).

DP: E Bat-Uul

The DP has repeatedly failed to rejuvenate its leadership and move beyond a harkening to its opposition heroics in 1990 as a basis for political mobilization. This was perhaps most glaring in the trouncing it received in the 2020 parliamentary election where the party leadership refused to appoint any of the younger party activists and instead appointed a list of candidates dominated by party grandees. This slate performed miserably.

And now? Bat-Uul…

Yes, as former mayor of Ulaanbaatar, he clearly has some political base in the city. And yes, I suspect he is personally more popular than presidential candidate and party leader, S Erdene, for example, who received 4%, yes four percent, in the presidential election in Songinokhairkhan. But… Bat-Uul also carries a whiff of corruption with him from his time as Ulaanbaatar mayor. And, he certainly is not a figure that stands for the renewal of the DP.

XYH: B Naidalaa

We have to imagine that XYH fancies its chances in this by-election with party chair Naidalaa as a candidate.

In June, Enkhbat received 22.7% of the presidential votes in Songinokhairkhan. Not his strongest result, but nearly a quarter of voters. Clearly, his candidacy and thus presumably XYH as a political alternative resonated in urban districts. There are three aspects of Naidalaa’s candidacy in the by-election that will be important in determining the outcome: how nervous are voters about MPP dominance? how eager are voters to support XYH as a new political force? Will Naidalaa connect with voters in СХД?

Conventional wisdom on the 2017 presidential election was that Battulga rode fears about the MPP into his presidency. Yet, when he tried to raise just such fears earlier this year, the public was largely uninterested and Erdene’s candidacy as an MPP alternative bombed. Have fears about dominance by the MPP thus waned in the electorate? But what about the ongoing restlessness regarding COVID measures and Oyun-Erdene’s performance. Will voters turn against the MPP because of that?

The same conventional wisdom also saw XYH electoral gains as limited to elitist urban bubbles of professionals. On the one hand, this might explain Enkhbat’s less impressive result in СХД as a district with a large and – presumably – poorer/less well-educated population. On the other hand, his nearly quarter of the vote share (over 26,000 votes) clearly shows that support for him was not limited to an elite. Naidalaa surely represents XYH as a political force and his horseback campaigning (see below) will have added a populist touch that may play well, though he personally might come across to some voters as more aloof and intellectual/technocratic than Enkhbat.

And, two weeks before the election, there has been a bit of a social media hit in that Naidalaa has taken to campaigning on horseback.

This is not (just) a vaguely traditionalist gimmick (recall S Javkhlan’s regular horseback commute to parliament), but instead has been pointing the finger straight at the MPP government for the fuel shortage that has plagued Mongolia in September.

Obviously, the imagery of XYH campaigners on horseback has provided a bit of spice to the campaign and they’ve continued this innovation with other campaign formats/looks as well.

Posted in Democratic Party, Elections, Ikh Khural 2020, Mongolian People's Party, National Labor Party, Party Politics, Ulaanbaatar | Tagged | Leave a comment

Untold Blogpost 16: Public needs to be involved to create inclusive society

By Bulgan Batdorj 

Our guest today is Mr. Ganzorig Vanchig, a chairman and co-founder of the Down Syndrome Association of Mongolia. After finding out that his son was born with Down syndrome Mr. Ganzorig, started learning about the syndrome by consulting materials in other languages, and now his son reached adulthood. At the time he started learning about the Down Syndrome, the public’s awareness and attitudes toward people with Down syndrome were negative, if existent at all. So along with other parents who have children with Down syndrome, Mr. Ganzorig co-founded the Down Syndrome Association of Mongolia, a non-profit, non-governmental organization to share their knowledge with more parents/guardians of children with Down Syndrome and further raise awareness in society.

Photo: Mr. Ganzorig himself (with the permission of Ganzorig)

Differently Abled, not “impaired and incomplete”

He says, the legal environment that concerns the children with disability is changing in many ways in Mongolia. For example, over a decade ago people with disabilities were called “impaired and incomplete” (тахир дутуу) even in our law. It has been changed to “disabled citizen”, though he much prefers “differently abled”. Also, the education law changed to allow kids with Down syndrome and other disabilities to join regular schooling, and not just special schools with other disabled kids like before. However, he further explained that the international trend is moving from “disabled” to “differently abled” since we all humans have different strengths and abilities, as well as weaknesses. Inclusiveness and an inclusive society are important notions that many countries are striving to implement/realize, and they are principles championed by Mr. Ganzorig and his organisation.

One of the stories that Mr. Ganzorig shared from the time when people were not aware: After having been interviewed, a journalist published an article on the newspaper, referring to the Down syndrome as “daavuun” (bedsheet) syndrome. However, journalists nowadays publish stories that are not only well researched but can also expand public’s knowledge on the issues.

Photo: Mr. Ganzorig himself (with the permission of Ganzorig)

The scientist to establish the reasons for Down Syndrome will get a Nobel Prize

Our guest further explains what Down syndrome means for children born with an extra chromosome. The common type is Trisomy 21 – or T21, meaning that each cell in the body has three separate copies of the chromosome 21 instead of usual 2 copies. There are different, less common types of Trisomy 21 which are called Translocation Trisomy 21 and Mosaic Trisomy 21. In addition to these variations, he says, the severity of the case also differs as some children have fewer characteristics of Down syndrome and are almost similar to children without genetic anomaly, while others have far more severe developmental difficulties. He says that “you can also tell children with Down Syndrome by their physical signs, they have slanted eyes, cute noses and much fairer skin”.

Although it is possible to carry out the diagnostic test and conduct fetal scans, we are not sure why children are born with it. Neither food, environmental factors nor race have been proven to play a role. According to our guest, if a researcher can establish why this occurs and how many different factors play a role, they will surely be awarded a Nobel Prize. Furthermore, he shares the statistics that Down syndrome occurs in about one in every 800 babies[1]. This means there should be several thousand children in Mongolia, but he has seen only two or three adults with Down syndrome in Mongolia. So, he is worried that more kids are hidden at home due to shame and social discrimination. In addition, there is no infrastructure to support those children and their families in Mongolia when they go out. Moreover, he adds, many of the children born with Down Syndrome have congenital heart disease or other diseases, and often they have a much shorter life expectancy in Mongolia.

[1] In general 1 in 800 babies in Canada and America has Down syndrome.

Challenges Within the Family

He often is contacted by parents and guardians on social media who seeking help and asking for advice. His number one advice to parents, grandparents, and in-laws, is not to blame anyone. No one is at fault. The Down Syndrome is not genetically passed down, but many young couples break up being unable to accept it. In addition to these emotional and psychological challenges, families also struggle with financial difficulties. He says that one of the parents often must bear the financial responsibility while the other, often the wife, stays home to take care of the children. It can be an overwhelming burden on the breadwinner, “you cannot get sick, you cannot die”, he says. Another common yet heartbreaking story of parents is about their often shared wish not to die before the child, as there would not be anyone else, or anywhere else that the child could get support and the care they need.

He says, “I advise parents that accepting their children is the first step, and once you accept them, you will see that your child is so much more”. He observes that parents in developed countries are increasingly choosing to birth the baby which often would have been aborted in previous decades.

In the case of Mongolia, Mr. Ganzorig shares that the conditions are improving little by little, as we have Gyals Medical Center, which provides discounted diagnostic testing for the children, compared to a decade ago when parents used to send the tests to Israel for diagnosis.

Photo: Mr. Ganzorig (with the permission of Ganzorig)

Change in public attitude requires public involvement

The number one thing that can improve the lives of the people with Down syndrome is a change in the public attitude. When we asked how it could be done, our guest explained that “getting involved” is the most effective way to change attitudes and we all have “individual social responsibility” just like the corporations. In the case of Mongolia, volunteering and public participation is not a strong part of the culture though it would be impactful in changing the lives of many. The community that supports the livelihood of children and citizens with Down syndrome is limited to parents and family members.

According to a survey conducted by the Down Syndrome Association of Mongolia’s, people who hurt the parents most were the physicians. He shared one mom’s story, who was told by their physician to prepare the funeral right away when the baby was still little. However, now that child is a special Olympic medal winner, and the mom is a happy mom. Mr. Ganzorig says that it is the awareness and acceptance of the individual physicians of course, but it further shows that resources are not dedicated to the training of these doctors. And it is not only about doctors, but also there are stories of how teachers are resistant to receive students with Down syndrome because they feel incapable of training and educating these children.

The Down Syndrome Association of Mongolia has translated many handbooks and materials from different resources and shared them with general physicians and, has been working with its international partners bringing in teachers to train schoolteachers.

Stop the discriminating and pitying

In talking about changes in public attitude, our guest shared that we are talking about discrimination and pity. Pity has as much impact as discrimination in severing the persons’ ability to engage in society and live independently. Pity does not only come from the society. Even some caretakers, whether it is parents or family members, they also feel pity for the children with Down syndrome, further disabling the kids to gain independence and learn other necessary skills.

The Down Syndrome Association of Mongolia has been working with several international and domestic organisations to create more opportunities of employment for those who have Down syndrome, though the road has not been easy. He shared his vision of creating employment opportunities for citizens with Down syndrome. The association considered opening a coffee shop that is competitive and delivers value to the customers and is not a “pity” and “charity” leveraged business.

Living Independently is the Key

Our guest shared that he and his organisation have been working on initiatives to enable those children to work. He says, “the work is not only about income, it also means a morning walk to your work, having colleagues and a lot more social interaction” than if you were at home. Children with Down syndrome and rather mild symptoms can attend kindergarten and schooling, but as soon as they reach adulthood these children are excluded from society. And it’s not only about the exclusion, but there is also really nowhere they can go in Mongolia if their parents or guardians pass away.

In many other countries, a person with Down syndrome can work in the service industry, maybe in the mailroom, in coffee shops or even act in a movie. However, in Mongolia they end up being locked up at home. Mr. Ganzorig and the Down Syndrome Association of Mongolia, have established a vocational training center and a coffee shop, so that kids can learn how to work with money, and acquire basic social etiquettes. He is proud that some children are already working in the Asia Foundation, one of Oyu Tolgoi’s supplier companies, and the Shangri La Hotel. He mentioned that even our public service is considering hiring, as he got a call from a department director of the Ministry of Culture of Mongolia inquiring to hire an individual with Down syndrome.

COVID-19 Impact on People with Down syndrome

Due to COVID-19, the association has closed the vocational training center. Children with Down syndrome often have a weaker immunity system, though in some countries they are being advised to be vaccinated, specifically with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The economic impact of COVID-19 has been severe, not only for the families with children with Down syndrome, but all disabled communities. As a result of the COVID-19 related measures, many organisations have closed their doors or reduced the salaries, which leads to struggle for those who all have disabilities. Mr. Ganzorig said “my wish is to create a society where all the individuals can live independently in Mongolia”.

The Untold podcast and blog post are made available by the generous support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Mongolia. We also want to thank our editor Riya Tikku.

Posted in Bulgan Batdorj, People with Disabilities, Podcast | Tagged | Leave a comment

World-Leading National University of Mongolia?

By Julian Dierkes and Orkhon Gantogtokh

Rankings of schools and universities were initially conceived to bring accountability and transparency to education. In this, they are similar to all kinds of rankings that are applied to countries, including Mongolia.

Yet, university rankings have also been heavily scrutinized for reifying aspects of educational quality and assigning arbitrary worth to many aspects that seem meaningful only in particular contexts. A UBC colleague, Michelle Stack, has recently published an edited volume that examines many different aspects of university rankings.

Given our at least cursory interest in university rankings, we were very surprised to see a headline announcing National Univ of Mongolia (МУИС) to be a global leader in the criterion of publications published with international collaborators.

We had never heard of u-multirank, so it seemed wise to investigate the creators of this index, their funding, and their methodology.

U-Multirank

At first glance, the ranking seemed immediately suspicious because the website is largely dysfunctional. It loads very slowly and is amateurish in design and search capacities. Some of the frustrations associated with the website turn out to be by design, as U-Multirank aspires to provide a different kind of ranking and to avoid the standard league tables.

According to the U-Multirank website, the project,

is a multidimensional, user-driven approach to international ranking of higher education institutions. It compares the performances of higher education institutions – in short: universities – in the five dimensions of university activity: (1) teaching and learning, (2) research, (3) knowledge transfer, (4) international orientation and (5) regional engagement.

And elsewhere,

U-Multirank takes a different approach to the existing global rankings of universities. Firstly, it is multi-dimensional and compares university performances in the different activities that they are engaged in. […]

Secondly, U-Multirank does not produce a combined, weighted score across these different areas of performance and then use these scores to produce a numbered league table of the world’s ‘top’ 100 universities.

Fair enough. Approaching rankings in a different way is a worthy ambition in principle.

The sense that the project is quite legitimate was reinforced by the consortium that organizes it. For example, it includes the German Centrum für Hochschulentwicklung which we had previously come across, in part because of their prize for German university managers, but also their German university ranking. Funding is provided by the equally respected Bertelsmann Foundation, but also by the EU via the Erasmus+ program.

So far so good, maybe the website is just terrible.

However, another aspect was more concerning in terms of understanding NUM’s ranking: NUM is the only Mongolian university included in this ranking!

NUM’s Ranking

This is how U-Multirank sees NUM:

In this variant of a spider graph, the longer the bar toward the outside, the stronger the performance.

The webpage dedicated to NUM provides further details on the elements that go into the “sunburst” graph.

The weakest performances come in categories like patents and programs taught in other languages. The strongest performance is the one highlighted by Udriin Sonin in their headline, namely “International Joint Publications”. Here, NUM has a score of 93.4%. What does that mean and how might this score have come about?

Unfortunately, the ? that appears on the webpage to look like a link to an explanation does not seem to provide such an explanation. The methodology page about indicators provides the following definition: “The percentage of the department’s research publications that list at least one affiliate author’s address abroad.” So, 93.4% of NUM’s research publications list at least one co-author who is based abroad. Where does this number come from then? Unfortunately, U-Multirank does not provide the raw data for its ranking to be able to pinpoint this exactly. But as far as the sources of data page explains, this percentage must be derived from bibliometric data obtained from web of science.

In the Web of Science database (fortunately, we have access through the UBC Library), there are 1,212 publications since 1995 that identify NUM as the affiliation of an author. Since we’re looking at this data anyway, here is some quick information to be gleaned.

Top five disciplines that these articles are classified as belonging to: environmental science (128 articles), ecology (90), applied mathematics (75), plant sciences (62), mathematics (61). The top five authors are: Bayartogtokh B (62), Chuluunbaatar O (56), Boldgiv B (49), Khuukhenkhuu G (49), Batkhuu J (39).

These numbers and listing of authors clearly show that some research at NUM is being recognized by peers around the world, the hallmark of a modern research university.

If we restrict the search to “articles” as document type (excluding such publication types as “proceedings”), the number of publications goes down to 989 and zoology replaces plant sciences in the top five disciplines. The top five authors remain the same, though the order is mixed up.

But what about the percentage of international co-authors? The top five co-authoring countries are Japan, Russia, USA, Germany, China.

When we exclude all articles that have a country other than Mongolia listed we end up with 126 of the 989 articles. By this search, roughly 12.7% of all articles are listed as having only a Mongolian affiliation. In other words, 87.3% of articles have a co-author not identified with Mongolia. If we use the wider definition of all publications (total of 1,212) we get 177 publications that are not affiliated with Mongolia = 14.6% meaning that 85.4% seem to share an affiliation with an international location. These numbers are not far off from the 93.4% reported in the U-Multirank index.

This still raises the question of why so many co-authors with international affiliations? As the comparison of NUM with other universities in the index shows, NUM is unusual in this regard, so it would be good to understand what this means, and how it might relate to NUM’s efforts to support and advance research among its faculty.

Web of Science does not allow for a search by citizenship of the co-author as that is (naturally) not collected as citation information. There is no obvious systematic way to see how many of the 85% of publications that are co-authored with international authors are co-authored with Mongolian researchers based abroad.

If we look at the 36 publications that show an affiliation with Canada many of them – though obviously not all – are natural science publications that have very long lists of authors where a single Mongolian name is included in this long list, but toward the very end of the listing of authors, suggesting that the role of this co-author may have been closer to a research assistant or perhaps participant in fieldwork rather than in the analysis. This is entirely impressionistic, however, and driven by the plethora of publications with NUM authors in fields that typically have many names listed as authors for publications. Perhaps the 93.4% percentage is based on a calculation that uses the total list of authors as the denominator rather than the number of articles.

Whatever the exact nature of the calculation that leads to this figure of 93.4% that  is included in the U-Multirank, there is probably some more thinking to be done about what this figure means and what it says about the research strength of NUM. NUM obviously did not create this measure and it is unlikely that their research promotion efforts were built around it, so understanding the dynamic behind these frequent co-citations would help us understand the nature of the research enterprise at NUM and other research-based universities in Mongolia.

According to U-Multirank, NUM is the strongest in the research criterion among 10 criteria, but it conflicts with the score of their research performance shown in the comparison table. In the research performance criterion, NUM has been ranked below the average (300-350 range) out of 416 Asian universities. However, they are the strongest in the international joint publications, as shown in the table below.

Source: https://www.umultirank.org/

Despite the fact that the research performance of NUM is below the average (D score) among Asian universities, NUM publications are more numerous than Mongolian Academy of Science by approximately 14% in the last 4 years in the Web of Science (MAS-394; NUM-537). This raises another question of why Mongolia’s biggest research institution’s research outcome is lower than a single university’s performance while they receive the biggest share of research budget of the country.

It is good to note that in 2018, there was a dramatic 50% increase in the number of publications at NUM (average of 140 publications per year compared to 80 publications in 2017). Since then, it has kept the same performance. However, compared to a university in the relatively similar context, for example, State University of Yerevan, whose publication performance is ranked average, they have more than twice as many publications than NUM in the last 4 years.

Therefore, does being ranked in top 25 in the world in international joint publication really mean that NUM performs well in research, considering their overall research performance and the limited number of universities included in this ranking?

Mongolian Higher Education Context

The higher education sector is seen as a crucial means to help accelerate sustainable economic and social development in Mongolia. In Mongolia, the first modern university, National University of Mongolia was established in 1942. Mongolia has seen a remarkable expansion in its higher education since 1990 when Mongolia became a democratic country. Between 1991 and 2021, the number of higher education institutions (HEIs) grew from 14 to 88, and the gross enrolment ratio in higher education grew from 14.0% to 66.0% (MES, 2021 [PDF]). The total number of students rose from some 20,000 to about 150000 during the same period.

In 2021 a total of 147,293 students enrolled in Mongolia’s 88 HEIs. 52.2% of the total students studied at state-owned HEIs, 43.1% at private HEIs, and 4.7 % at religious HEIs. By the type of higher education institutions, 42.0 % of the total HEIs are universities, 54.6 % institutes, 3.4 % colleges and  6.3 % branches of foreign HEIs (MES, 2021 [PDF]). In 2021, entrants into Mongolia’s higher education institutions were as follows: 80.9% at bachelors, 16.8% at masters,  2.2% at doctoral and 0.1% at diplomas levels (MES, 2021 [PDF]).

The total number of employees in the Mongolian higher education sector is 12,000, and 59.7% (7143) of it is full-time academics (MES, 2021 [PDF]). 59.9% of full-time faculty members work at state-run HEIs whereas 40.1% at private HEIs.

Like many other Asian countries, Mongolian HE responded in various ways to the global trends of higher education, ‘such as growing social demand, privatization, accountability, marketization, economic growth, and internationalisation’ (Hou, 2015, p.311). However, these major changes in the number of students, institutions, specializations, and degrees are having a great impact on the quality of higher education. It is quite paradoxical that Mongolia has one of the highest numbers of universities per capita and a higher level of university enrolment yet the country is falling behind in its research publications and skilled employees in the Global Competitiveness Index (WEF, 2019).

About Orkhon G

Orkhon has recently commenced her studies for a PhD in Education Studies at the University of British Columbia. She has been actively engaged with the higher education reform processes of Mongolia with her civic engagement, research activities, and involvement in national-level projects. She has led the higher education sub-committee of the Education Reform Movement, an NGO established in 2019 to address the low quality of education in Mongolia. She completed an MSc in Higher Education at the University of Oxford in 2016. Her professional experience includes positions at Higher Education Reform Project as a HE Specialist, the London School of Economics Enterprise as a Researcher, Mongolian National Council for Education Accreditation as a Research and Partnership Manager, and NUM and MUST as a Higher Education Consultant and Mongolian Academy for Higher Education Development as Executive Director.

Posted in Education, Global Indices, Higher Education, Orkhon Gantogtokh | Tagged | Leave a comment

Khurelksukh’s (First Presidential) Visit to the UN General Assembly

By Julian Dierkes

U Khurelsukh attended the annual UN General Assembly in New York for the first time since his election as president.

His participation and the speech he gave was notable for a number of things:

  • His personal involvement and meetings held on the sidelines suggest a greater interest in the UN and in international relations more generally than we saw from his predecessor, Kh Battulga
  • In his speech, Khurelsukh did not mention Mongolia’s candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council strongly suggesting that Mongolia will not actively campaign in the election and will thus leave Japan to win that seat
  • Of course, Chinggis Khaan was mentioned
  • 1 billion trees? Okay then!

This was not Khurelsukh’s first visit to the UN, of course. He spoke to the General Assembly as Prime Minister in 2018.

But, it was his first visit as president and with an MPP government in place leaving him free to design a foreign policy for his six-year term in collaboration with PM Oyun-Erdene and FM Battsetseg.

In the discussion below, I draw on the officially published English version of his speech.

UN Security Council

Ahead of the speech, I was most curious to see what would become of Mongolia’s candidacy for a non-permanent seat  on the UN Security Council. Pres Elbegdorj had declared this candidacy in 2014, eight years ahead of the 2022 election. To me, this step would have had a certain logic to it with Mongolia’s increasing involvement in UN matters.

And, indeed, Khurelsukh in his speech seemed to be leading up to some announcement like that. He pointed to the 60th anniversary of Mongolia’s UN membership and various other contributions. But then, to my surprise and disappointment, he did not end that section with a call for support, i.e. “And that’s why you should vote for Mongolia in next year’s election”. Together with the Univ of Gothenburg’s U Möller, I’ve speculated about what might have led to that decision. In this review of the speech here, I would say that the overview of UN activities led up to

Mongolia will host an international conference on participation of female peacekeepers in the UN PKOs next year in Ulaanbaatar. We call on the Department of Peace Operations and Member States to support and cooperate in organizing this conference. (p. 5)

COVID

Khurelsukh spoke A LOT about COVID.

This is an area where I am just not sure what the conventional wisdom is on what heads of state can do with these speeches. Sure, for Brazil (who traditionally goes first) or for big powers, the world is listening and announcements of unilateral initiatives or international relations will find a ready audience, though perhaps generally not a popular audience.

But what about Khurelsukh who is in the first group of speakers (heads of state) but not early on. Who is listening to this speech (other than me)? UN ambassadors? Is that the audience? The Mongolian public? Foreign governments? International publics?

Whatever the intended audience might be, do they all not know about COVID?

Khurelsukh’s first substantive paragraph was thus,

In the past two years, countries around the world have been plagued by the unforeseen pandemic and going through arduous times together. On behalf of the people of Mongolia, I would like to express my deepest condolences for the loss of 4.6 million lives worldwide due to the coronavirus. Taking this opportunity, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to doctors, medical personnel and frontline workers, who are tirelessly serving to safeguard precious lives and health of people in every corner of our planet. (p. 1)

And he continued on in a similar vein, i.e. general statements, a little bit of detail about Mongolia and COVAX. No news in this, no domestic policy announcements, no international initiatives.

Transit Mongolia

At the end of the UN history discussion, there is a short paragraph about a vision of Mongolia as a transit hub in connection to the work of the Think Tank for Landlocked Developing Countries:

As we continue the work to ensure the special needs and interests of landlocked developing countries, based upon the advantage of our geographical location, we strive to develop into “Transit Mongolia”, a transit, trade and service hub connecting Asia and Europe. (p. 4)

I do not recall the terminology of “Transit Mongolia” before, but the likelihood of Mongolia establishing itself as a logistics hub between Europe and Asia has always struck me as low, even though this has been advanced in regard to the new airport, various railroad projects and even Belt & Road.

Chinggis and Nomadic Wisdom, Really?

Readers of this blog will know by now that I have a bit of a Chinggis-as-contemporary-political-reference or research-on-Chinggis allergy. But, of course, Chinggis Khaan is definitely a Mongolian trademark and recognizable around the globe, so perhaps not surprising that 800-year-ago-history also gets a mention in the UNGA speech.

There is a widespread misconception that our ancestor Chinggis Khan was a vicious man who conquered many nations. However, world history and studies show that he was adherent of diplomacy, and he was a peacemaker with true desire to set borders without hostilities.

Congratulations, Jack Weatherford, you’ve been cited by the Mongolian president in his address to the UN General Assembly.

His dream was realized through a solid peace that lasted for almost 200 years on the great chessboard of Eurasia and world scholars call this period “Pax Mongolica” which made a noteworthy contribution to the development of humankind. We, Mongolians, have inherited this spirit of cherishing peace from our ancestors, and today, Mongolia is internationally recognized as a peace-loving democratic nation. (p. 4)

And then, some nomadic wisdom thrown in for good measure.

The natural self-recovery reminds me of the nomadic know-how of leaving the pastureland “fallow” or “leaving the pastureland for rest”. This is a Mongolian herders’ wisdom to offer to the motherland an opportunity to rest a while and to recover and revive itself. In our fight against climate change, let us draw lessons from the Mongolian traditional “nomadic civilization” to treat and regard the nature respectfully and combine it with achievements of modern science and technology as well as best practices and traditional experiences from all over the world. (p. 7)

Hm…

There we re also two short mentions of two areas that the current MPP government is prioritizing, i.e. e-Mongolia and Vision 2050.

Trees

The part of the speech that seems to have received the most attention from Mongolians is the mention of a tree-planting campaign.

In the section on climate change, Khurelsukh said,

The most efficient way to reverse desertification is planting trees. We, Mongolians, ponder that planting trees, writing books and raising children are the three superior deeds. Hence, we have launched a campaign to plant billions of trees by 2030 from this podium of the General Assembly in order to contribute to the global fight against climate change. (p. 7)

“Billions of trees” is a lot of trees, but it seems that Khurelsukh saw this as a global commitment rather than a tree planting program focused on Mongolia per se. Most Mongolians seem to have interpreted this as specific to Mongolia. But perhaps he actually did mean Mongolia. The Canadian government has committed to planting 2b trees over ten years. Canada has more than six times Mongolia’s total area, but perhaps more significantly, a much greater share of Canada’s territory is forested. Efforts at reforestation of Mongolia would certainly seem to be worthwhile, so perhaps this announcement was welcome news to many Mongolians.

Posted in Climate Change, Health, Japan, Mongolia and ..., Peacekeeping, Policy, UN | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: #NONAADAM vs #YESNAADAM – Conflict Between Urban and Rural Values in Mongolia

By Usukhbold Chimedregzen

During the first week of July 2021, Mongolia has seen two opposing protest groups who gathered at Sukhbaatar Square in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar. On the surface, it appeared that the protestors had grievances related to celebrating the Naadam festival this year. Naadam is the most famous festival and one of the biggest national holidays of Mongolia. Both protests were comparably peaceful. However, there are broader societal implications beyond the simple topic about the celebration of Naadam. This short article will illustrate the contesting nature of the more fundamental issues in Mongolian society illustrated by these two protests.

From early June, concerns had been rising about the restrictions and rules introduced by the Mongolian Government on public gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. The government had directed that, on one hand, people cannot open their businesses and all schools must be kept closed for the bulk of the last two years. However, on the other hand, at the beginning of June 2021 there were a huge number of public gatherings throughout the country for the duration of presidential election campaign, contradicting the government’s rule of business shutdowns and the closing of schools. Many of those gatherings seem to have had fatal consequences. Infection rates of COVID-19 and death tolls increased exponentially just after the election, even though a comparatively high percentage of the population had received vaccinations. The government’s use of donated vaccines from China was also criticised.

The government’s decision to permit the Naadam festival a few weeks after the election, in mid-July, during a period marked by lockdowns and restrictions was justified on the grounds of historical and cultural significance for citizens including the younger generation. Naadam in 2021 marked the 100th anniversary of the People’s Revolution. The #NoNaadam protesters disputed the decision and asked for equal and just decisions to be made for all. Protesters said it would be unfair to celebrate the festival whilst most of the country still suffers from COVID-19, and businesses are struggling to survive the pandemic-born restrictions. These events were the brewing pot for anger against the government’s decision for the last two months in Mongolia.

NoNaadam and YesNaadam Protesters on Sukhbaatar Square

Early in the morning on the 1st of July, the first group of protesters gathered on Sukhbaatar Square and collected signatures to petition against holding the Naadam festival. They also used the #NoNaadam hashtag on social platforms and encouraged the public to support the petition. Their main argument was that it would be inappropriate to celebrate the festival while thousands of Mongolians are suffering from the COVID-19 infection, many even dying from it. Instead, they suggested that all the funding received and all the effort going towards the festival should be directed at the fight against the pandemic and support the doctors and medical professionals.

Meanwhile, opposing #YesNaadam protesters claimed that the Naadam festival is a “vaccine for culture” (soyliin vaktsin) and must not be overlooked and passed over. Moreover, the #YesNaadam protesters argued that the government had a responsibility to alleviate public suffering and hardship from COVID-19, by cheering up the public’s spirit through the Naadam festivities. Many within this group were racehorse trainers, and they rode their horses to the central square of Ulaanbaatar. The sight of dozens of equestrians on horseback in the busy city streets caught the curious eyes of news outlets and circulated on social media for days. Besides, horses symbolise the Mongolians’ traditional way of living and their relationship with nature as nomads, hence, utilized hereto re-create a sense of who are the ‘true’ Mongolians.

Interestingly, some organisers of the Yes Naadam protest were prominent “uyachid” (racehorse trainers) who are in most cases, well-known and wealthy businessmen with strong political influence. In fact, horseracing, training, and racehorse trading is multibillion tugrug industry. Some politicians are heavily involved in horseracing and are willing to spend lavishly on employing the best horse trainers for their racehorses. The former head of the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) and a former adviser to the Prime Minister were both top executives of the Federation of Mongolian Horse Racing Sport and Trainers (Mongoliin Morin Sport Uyachdiin Kholboo). To put this in perspective, wealthy businessmen and politicians had pushed to celebrate Naadam festival and possibly financed the Yes Naadam protest using the support of local nomads and herders.

Moreover, a number of performing artists and famous singers also supported the move to celebrate Naadam festival, openly expressing their views on television while they were rehearsing the opening ceremony of Naadam. Although the official festival was cancelled, an opening ceremony was organised and aired on national television. However, public has responded against their support and heavily criticised their interviews and organised informal social media campaign against them which is very modern and “urban way” to respond.

At the end of this conundrum, the government eventually announced the cancellation of the Naadam festival. Even though these protests can be read as disagreements on the celebration of Naadam, they signify social segregation between the elites and non-elites, urban and rural; modern and traditional lifestyles. The clash of these two parties was perhaps the first of its kind in the public eye, but is not new. Economic, educational, and ideological differences between the urban and rural areas of Mongolia are widening. The country is confronting a worrying decline in social justice through rising inequality.

Mongolia is regarded as one of the last standing nomadic cultures, but those nomads and ‘herder’ communities in the rural areas of Mongolia are often regarded as outcasts and ‘orcs’ as Mongolians use this term from J.R.R Tolkien’s books and the Lord of the Rings trilogy; fictional humanoid monsters with no form of civilisation. From the rural side, nomadic people often criticise their urban counterparts for not maintaining traditional culture and blaming them for forgetting the Mongolian way of living. These contradictions cause social justice and inequality issues in broader society in terms of cultural values.

According to Nancy Fraser’s framework, there are three dimensions of social justice: economic, cultural, and political. As Fraser (1995) defined, social justice and inequality are multifaceted and difficult to frame in a single term. This urban and rural disparity is perhaps in the domain of cultural injustices where it happens when a dominating social value or its hierarchical patterns create status inequality or ‘misrecognition’. This misrecognition produces misunderstanding between social groups and widen the disparity. However, this disparity and tensions between social groups do not only embrace cultural injustice, but also embrace ideological conflicts concerning economic rights.

For instances, rural communities experience health care and education that is poorer in quality compared to urban dwellers. Rural people also have poorer employment and career prospects. Yet, government policies have largely focused on improving services for the capital city (Ulaanbaatar). The needs and concerns of rural communities have been neglected. As a result, there has been continuous migration from the countryside to large cities, as people seek more opportunities for a better quality of life. In the absence of appropriate government policies and plans, rural migrants have ended up in suburban ger (yurt) districts without improvement in their quality of life. On paper, the poverty rate in rural area recently fell by 4%, but remained the same in urban area. This can be explained by the rural to urban migration. Rural migrants who live on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar experience many economic and educational inequalities. Even after urban settlement they are still considered as rural people. This is an area requiring more empirical research and policy activism to address urban and rural contradictions.

Exposed to socialism and capitalism, social-democracy and neoliberalism, Mongolians are struggling to find their identity as a nation. The question is how might Mongolians effectively mediate the conflict between the urban and rural, local and global, and the modern and traditional ways of living in our nation-state (Bumochir, 2020). To prevent greater social divisions, as Fraser suggested, government needs to implement some ‘recognition approach’ to increase social cohesion and enhance the understanding between urban and rural values. Likewise, government policies should employ some redistribution approaches that highlight the importance of regional and rural Mongolians.

About Usukhbold Chimedregzen

Usukhbold Chimedregzen currently lives in Brisbane, Australia. He graduated from the NUM with BA in political science, and University of Queensland with MA in Education leadership and policy. He is passionate about Mongolian education policy and social justice issues in education. He is aiming to do more research in this field. Email: usukhbold@gmail.com

Posted in Countryside, Elections, Health, Mongolian People's Party, Naadam, Protest, Public Policy, Social Issues, Social Movements, Ulaanbaatar, Usukhbold Chimedregzen | Leave a comment

SCO Risks: Example Refugees

By Julian Dierkes

An SCO summit is looming: Sept 16-17 in Dushanbe. With it comes that seemingly perennial question about Mongolia’s role in the organization.

Chinese Pressure?

It is fair to assume, I think, that the Chinese regime will continue to apply pressure on the government of Mongolia to upgrade from observer to member. For the Chinese regime that would be an expansion of its power, legitimated by an international organization, but dominated by China. Surely, given its democratic status, Mongolia would be a catch in this regard, even more so as contemporary India – an SCO member since 2017 – is much less of a regional/global beacon of democracy these days. Obviously, it is very difficult to tell from the far outside whether/how the Chinese regime may be applying pressure on the Mongolian government in this regard.

However, it is clear that the Chinese regime sees Pres Khurelsukh as a friendlier interlocutor than it did Pres Battulga who was portrayed by Chinese propaganda outlets as anti-Chinese around his election, long before he made any decisions that would have provided a basis for the categorization, other than to marry a Russian woman, perhaps.

Are the ties between the MPP and the CCP via the Socialist International for real? They would seem to be a possible vector of influence/pressure, but I do not see any evidence that that is actually the case. The MPP has not shown itself to be noticeable pro-China in the past and has given no indication of a change of mind/heart in that regard.

Past Concerns about Mongolia’s Participation in the SCO

Only the most dedicated readers will recall that we have been writing about Mongolia and the SCO for a long time. For example, in 2018, we titled our note on Mongolian status, “Mongolia doesn’t need to join the SCO” and pointed to three main reasons for that:

  1. Irrelevant agenda: terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism are not prominent concerns for Mongolia
  2. Chinese and, to some extent, Sino-Russian domination of the organization
  3. A club of authoritarian governments.

I do not see that there has been any chance in any of these reasons.

Afghanistan, Uighurs and Refugees in Central Asia

In a Twitter Spaces discussion hosted by Mike Hilliard for The Red Line Podcast, one of the panelists pointed out that SCO would likely be responding to Afghanistan developments at the upcoming summit. As I was asking why there had been no statement on Afghanistan by the Mongolian government, that pointer took on additional poignancy.

One of the lenses on Afghanistan that I have been following is the regional situation and Central Asian governments’ stance toward Afghanistan. They are obviously much closer geographically, but also culturally and in terms of their regional context, than Mongolia, but their stance does provide some lessons for Mongolia, including the insidious role that China may be playing via the SCO, the Belt and Road Initiative and, more broadly, its engagement in the region.

As I mentioned before, among my main sources in this regard is the Majlis Podcast. The recent episode focusing on refugees across the region especially gave me pause as to how the Chinese regime is exerting its fiscal and other power across the region. While the discussion initially focused on the fate of Uighurs (hints at deportations back to China across Central Asia), it also included co-ethnics, i.e. Kazakhs who flee from Xinjiang into Kazakhstan, etc.

The underlying issues faced by Central Asian governments are somewhat similar to potential trajectories for Mongolia that include SCO membership.

Focused on the issue of refugees in particular, the bottom line from that discussion is that the Chinese regime has forced its views of religiosity, territory and development on SCO to make “terrorism” label available to be applied to all Muslim opposition and refugees. I know too little about the region to have a view on whether that label might be justified or not, but as the Majlis discussion of the region shows, that determination seems to rest with the Chinese regime, not with other countries in the region. This is even more poignant, of course, when these refugees are co-ethnics, e.g. Kazakhs or Kyrgyz from Xinjiang. It appears that any kind of asylum for co-ethnics and fellow Muslims is no longer possible across the region due to pressure from the Chinese regime and that that pressure has repeatedly turned into rendition of refugees to China. Note, however, that in her article on Tajik and Uzbek responses to developments in Afghanistan, U Hashimova does not mention China at all.

The price for Chinese financial support (loans, debt forgiveness, BRI) may be a closer political embrace that significantly reduces the degrees of freedom in areas of policy-making that many might see as very close to the core of a nation-state.

Implications for Mongolia?

Mongolia is already entirely dependent on China in economic terms. With the very small exception of oil imports from Russia, all significant import-export flows are focused on China as either a source or a destination. There is very little that the government of Mongolia can do about that.

Politically, Mongolia remains quite independent from China, of course. The most prominent exception to this rule remains the Dalai Lama. And, the government of Mongolia has generally stayed silent on reported unrest in Inner Mongolia, the closest similarity to Muslim refugees in Central Asia, of course.

But, on the question of refugees, Mongolia appears to have been subject to and given in to Chinese pressure in the rendition of North Korean, but also (Inner) Mongolian refugees with the situation being unclear for any Kazakh refugees who might come across the Xinjiang-Mongolian border. This latter route may be especially difficult if some of the predictions in the Majlis podcast discussion come true, namely that Central Asia will be increasingly inhospitable to Muslim refugees due to Chinese regime pressure. Will such refugees seek refuge in Mongolia, at minimum as a transition country to other places that might accept them? I can only imagine that issue is on the mind of Mongolian, but also Chinese officials already.

Whether or not Mongolia would want to accept any Kazakh or other refugees is a separate question and it is unclear that a deep culture of hospitality extends into the modern world of regional politics. Much clearer, in my mind, is an argument that Mongolia would maximize its ability to make that choice, i.e. to receive refugees or not, rather than have that choice dictated in Beijing or via Dushanbe or wherever else an SCO summit may be held.

To me, the risks of further integration into the SCO are significant and clear. Other than caving to Chinese pressure and some financial incentives, I can see no benefits to deeper involvement in the SCO and the example of refugee flows across Central Asia reinforces my deep mistrust of the purposes of the SCO.

Posted in Central Asia, Ethnic Groups, Human Rights, International Relations, Kazakhs, Mongolians in China | Tagged | Leave a comment

Untold Blogpost 15: Dreaming About Safe Roads to My Work

By Mendee Jargalsaikhan 

Bat-Erdene or Babu, as his friends call him, is a masseur, marathon runner, musician, and khoomii singer. After losing his eyesight at the age of 16, Bat-Erdene lost his hope and hid away from society for 4-5 years. During these years, he just listened to the radio and television, but gave his parents such a hard time, as he mentions with regret throughout the podcast. However, he made himself study a totally new profession and became a role-model runner for the Achilles International Mongolia. Here are some key points from this very open-minded interview.

Becoming a Masseur

When he was a little boy, his grandpa praised his calming hands and, of course, he didn’t like to give massages at that time. Then, as he was staying at home due to blindness, he decided to go to the school of the Mongolian National Association of the Blind. First, he graduated from the computer course, but soon realized his computer skills were not competent enough and had little chance of employment. Recalling his grandparents’ praise, he completed a six-month massage therapist training. One of the key reasons is that the association provides an immediate employment opportunity. So, he has been working as a masseur since 2014. This wasn’t as simple as I wrote. The most difficult thing for him to overcome is his fear of going outside, finding his ways to the bus stop, and walking alone relying on his cane. We all know that the road is terrible, even for a healthy person, in Mongolia. If one sets a goal and believes in themself, the person can overcome most difficult challenges.

A Role-Model Runner

In 2019, he found a new hobby. A well-known para-athlete and coach Lhagvajav lured him into running – not a simple one, but the marathon. Bat-Erdene challenged himself through rigorous training with the coach and won against himself running the New York Marathon. “The feeling after finishing the 42.195 km is impossible to describe by words,” our guest exclaimed. For him, all his previous hardship was not comparable to marathon running. You would experience all types of feelings (up and down) and test your mind and patience. When you’re running, you think a lot. Unlike the other marathon runners, a disabled runner, especially one who has lost their eyesight, runs with a guide runner. For example, Bat-Erdene trained with his guide runner for over three years – as, Bat-Erdene explains, both need to run as if they were one person. The guide runner has a number of responsibilities, including to guide, grab water, provide mental support, and monitor health. His running experience was facilitated by the Mongolian Chapter of the Achilles International.  The Mongolian Chapter now has about 20 athletes and many support staff, mostly volunteers.

 

Photo: Bat-Erdene or Babu along with his guide running the marathon (with the permission of Bat-Erdene)

From Online Running to In-Person Marathon

Bat-Erdene and his guide completed a successful marathon last year, but it was conducted online. All runners registered their start and end time through the special app. Now they are preparing to participate in the BMW Berlin-Marathon on September 26. Because of the pandemic-related restriction, they started their training in April and are now in the last phase of their training. Surprisingly, they launched their fundraising campaign on the platform Clubhouse. It was interesting, as he explained his preference for using Clubhouse – according to him, it is becoming more orderly and, people seem to have a nice attitude. Using his skills of playing the morin khuur – a horse-headed fiddle and khoomii singing, Bat-Erdene is apparently attracting more audience during this fund-raising. He learned morin khuur at the training centre of the association and is now planning to set up a morin khuur quartet. As the conversation continues, it is becoming more and more appealing/ to listen to his khoomii and morin khuur. Hopefully, he will demonstrate his skills in our upcoming vlog.

Photo: Bat-Erdene or Babu practicing with his guide (with the permission of Bat-Erdene)

Spread the News to Others

There are many people with disabilities, especially in the countryside, who do not know about the opportunities to obtain new professions, to work, and to socialize. Now the vocational training center for the people with disabilities offers many new professional programs. Some people search for opportunities by themselves, but many need the information and also the encouragement from their closed ones. If you are a relative, friend, or a parent of a person with disabilities, please let them know the opportunities and encourage them to empower themselves. Things have been changing and society has become more open to people with disabilities. In comparison to 2012, when he lost his eyesight, there are some improvements on the sidewalk for people with canes, few more pedestrian crossings have sound systems, and the youth are willing to help when you ask the whereabouts of the bus stop or the direction of the bus. Yet, he didn’t hide some ugly facts: installation of the light pole or cement block on the sidewalk, disappearance of the pedestrian sidewalk, and silence and negligence at the bus stop. However, our guest does not want to talk about negative aspects while intentionally leading our discussion to the bright side of the world.

As our discussion nears the end, Bat-Erdene said that some people do not work with the matter at heart when they are constructing the road – maybe they just think about the money. Indeed, I agree with him and should add, the people who are giving away the contracts for the road construction and those monitoring their work also are engaged in their work without heart and mind in the matter or encompassed better in a word in Mongolian – ‘setgel’. When we asked what he wished for the future, his response was simple – “…a city without traffic jams, but with accessible sidewalks. We don’t need more buildings or fancy cars, we need friendly roads which take us to our work and also faster, easier, accessible public services at the districts and khoroos.”

The Untold podcast and blog post are made available by the generous support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Mongolia. We also want to thank our editor Riya Tikku.

Posted in Mendee Jargalsaikhan, People with Disabilities, Podcast, Sports | Tagged | Leave a comment

Silence on Afghanistan

By Julian Dierkes

In August 2021, the Afghan government collapsed rather suddenly and for most observers, unexpectedly. Much ink has been spilled about what happened and what is to come for Afghanistan. Yet, as far as I can tell, the government of Mongolia has remained entirely silent on the current situation.

Caveat

I am no expert on Afghanistan nor have I followed Mongolia-Afghanistan relations particularly closely beyond my general interest in Mongolian foreign policy. But, no one stepped forward to offer to write a post in response to my above query, but many responded that the topic and the government’s silence was important. If I am missing any aspects or get parts of the relationship wrong (as is likely, I suspect), I am counting on you, dear readers, to correct me.

Why would the government of Mongolia speak on Afghanistan?

Two main reasons might compel the government to respond to the current circumstances:

  1. Past engagements with Afghanistan (foreign aid, military)
  2. Perception of Hazaras as part of a global Mongol(ian) diaspora

Past Engagement

Military. Mongolia first joined the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan in 2003. Activities were initially focused on providing artillery training. The decision to deploy troops in 2003 was significant as a stepping stone in Mongolia’s still-growing peacekeeping capacity, but also in its diplomatic efforts to support multilateralism and continue to grow relations with Third Neighbours, including the U.S., winning Mongolia the appreciation if not gratitude of U.S. Pres George W Bush. Training activities later expanded to helicopter maintenance. But the next step was even more significant as the decision to deploy troops in 2009 meant active military activities in collaboration with Belgium and, later, Germany. Decisions for these deployments were probably rooted more in overall international relations thinking, particularly focused on the UN and on Third Neighbours, than specific to Afghanistan, nevertheless the engagement in Afghanistan was prolonged, involved significant numbers of troops and some of the activities that have come under particular hindsight scrutiny, namely the training of the Afghan military. At the time of the return of the latest Mongolian contingent from Afghanistan in June 2021, a total of “about 3,300 military personnel of the Mongolian Armed Forces have served in peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan” (Montsame, June 16 2021). [Sept 10 2021 Addition: For more detail on the history of military engagement, see L Bolor‘s article for The Diplomat, “The Mongolian Armed Forces’ Contribution to Afghanistan“]

Foreign aid. Back in the early 2010s, Mongolia felt flush with (the promise of) resource-derived revenue streams. In 2013, the International Cooperation Fund was created as a “tool to share Mongolia’s experience in democracy and market economy with emerging democracies“.  I always found the argument plausible that while Mongolia’s experience may not represent an imagined global best practice, it was very relevant practice and experience for countries that share elements of a trajectory with Mongolia. The same holds for development lessons that Mongolia has tried to absorb, something that I discussed in the context of using Norway as a model of sustainability derived from finite natural resources. Beyond this “relevant practice” or “good practice” model, activities of the ICF also represented South-to-South collaboration and support.

Afghanistan was explicitly identified as a “target country” for the activities of the ICF given Mongolian military involvement, hopes for democratization and the potential of mineral resources. Examples of activities involving Afghan participation include a 2017 workshop on constitutional principles, but also some of the activities of the Canadian International Resources and Development Institute.

During the Elbegdorj presidency (2009-2017), the ICF was an element in the Mongolian government’s larger set of initiatives aimed at establishing more diplomatic visibility.

The ICF was shut down in Feb 2019, partly because it was perhaps too closely associated with former Pres Elbegdorj for the liking of his successor, and partly because the fiscal situation no longer seemed to allow Mongolia to engage in an activist development policy.

Pan-Mongolism

One of Pres Elbegdorj’ signature international relations initiatives was an embrace of ethnic Mongols around the world and offers of scholarships to them. The extent to which there are historical/ethnic/cultural links to the Hazara goes much beyond my expertise, but contemporary Mongolians clearly think of them as a Mongol population, like Kalmyks, for example.

It is not clear to me when these activities ended and why exactly. Surely, the handful of scholarships to Hazara students would not have a huge impact on the fiscal situation, but if these scholarships still exist, there does not seem to be much information about them.

More importantly than the existence of scholarships is the matter that these policies explicitly seem to recognize Hazara as co-ethnics. Most observers seem to agree that the Taliban have persecuted Hazara in the past. As Pearly Jacob wrote in 2011,

The ethnically Pashtun Taliban singled out the group for mass executions and forced deportations, most notably in Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998, and attacks on their settlements in highland towns like Bamiyan, the provincial capital., but that further persecution is also likely. [Eurasianet, Oct 28 2011]

Prospects for the Hazara under a renewed Taliban regime seem precarious at best.

Even after the US ended the Taliban’s rule in 2001, Hazaras have continued to face violence from Taliban as well as ISIS militants, who have targeted their mosques, schools and hospitals. In May this year, explosions rocked the Hazara-dominated neighbourhood of Dasht-e-Barchi in Kabul, killing over 60. A car bomb was detonated in front of a school and two more bombs exploded. Officials said most of those killed were young girls. [Rahel Philipose, The Indian Express Aug 24, 2021]

I find it odd that the potential risks that Hazara face have not prompted any kind of statement from the Mongolian government. While I am in no position to evaluate that risk, it would seem that the situation is potentially threatening, so should that not be noted?

This post specifically raises the question of accepting Hazara refugees. Ikon.mn also reported on an NGO call to accept Hazara refugees. To be sure, there may not be popular support for any government actions supporting Hazara in Afghanistan or accepting any number of refugees. Reddit user zal_yasu pointed me to some of the online reactions to the proposal of accepting refugees. Clearly, there have been some strongly negative reactions to the notion of accepting Hazara refugees online. Comments on the Ikon report are also largely negative.

The possibility of co-ethnic refugees and refugees from neighbouring countries has been a challenging issue for some time. The most obvious cases in the past have been Mongolians fleeing Inner Mongolia and North Koreans fleeing via Northeast China. More recently, there has been no public acknowledgment of any refugees coming across the long Xinjiang-Mongolia border, perhaps ethnic Kazakhs in particular. Mongolians and Kazakhs fleeing China is obviously an issue of great sensitivity to China. By contrast, any Hazara refugees would not easily make their way to Mongolia across other nations, so that this is perhaps more symbolic as a question, though surely Mongolia could signal to Afghanistan-neighbouring countries that (some) Hazara refugees would be welcome.

Why is the government not speaking about Afghanistan?

The seemingly most obvious explanation is China and, perhaps, the SCO. Clearly, the Chinese regime is somewhat gleeful about what it interprets as the U.S. failure at nation-building and democratization in Afghanistan. It is openly courting the Taliban regime as a counter-balance to U.S. influence, perhaps, and – not surprisingly – with little regard for human rights concerns. The SCO’s framing of any Islamist movements as terrorist and the overall securitization of Central Asian relations point to a security calculation that sees the Taliban regime as a chance to contain civil war to Afghanistan itself and to not let religious and tribal strife spill over into neighbouring countries, possibly including China. To understand this Central Asian context and response to developments in Afghanistan better, I heavily draw on the excellent Majlis Podcast. Given Chinese dominance of SCO decision-making, is the Chinese regime applying some pressure to countries in the region to toe their line of dealings with the Taliban? And if the Mongolian government feels like it cannot go that far given some popular interest in the fate of Hazara, is silence the option to not upset Beijing, but also not endorse that position? [Sept 10 2021 Update: On Sino-Russian alignment on Afghanistan, see D Bochkov‘s “‘Great Game’ Redux in Afghanistan” (The Diplomat)]

Another explanation for the governmental silence may be the association of many Afghanistan activities with former Pres Elbegdorj and with the U.S. to some extent. Neither of those associations are particularly attractive to the current MPP government.

While there has been no sign from recent MPP governments that there is an intention to reduce peace-keeping activities (which were the origin of contemporary Afghanistan engagement), disassociating from Afghanistan through silence may leave those policies in place without any particular attention to Afghanistan.

The democratization agenda that formed part of the impetus for the creation of the ICF is also very much associated with Pres Elbegdorj as evidenced by the fact that it was abandoned almost entirely under fellow DP-member Pres Battulga already on the domestic and international front.

Outlook

Beyond the Afghan situation itself, what does the silence say about Mongolian foreign policy under an MPP government and president?

One of the important aspects of Mongolian foreign policy to continue to watch is its manoeuvring in a world that may be turning bi-polar again. How can the Mongolian government navigate Sino-U.S. animosity especially as that is leading to block-formation. The silence on Afghanistan could thus be seen as evidence of the hope to chart a quiet, non-committal route in this regard.

Another aspect that is specific to the MPP government and Pres Khurelsukh is the fate of democracy. Yes, all MPP officials profess their dedication to democracy and highlight Mongolia’s democratic status, but what about internal and external democratization? That is an agenda closely tied to the U.S. and anathema to both of Mongolia’s neighbours. Perhaps the silence on Afghanistan is an early hint that here too, the MPP government is heading on a course of quiet and non-committal neutrality.

As I said in the opening, I have not followed the Afghanistan engagement especially closely, so I am eager to hear any views that differ from my interpretation above.

 

Posted in Afghanistan, Bilateral Aid, Development, Diaspora, Foreign Policy, International Cooperation Fund, Mongolia and ..., Mongolian Diaspora, SCO | Tagged | Leave a comment