At 10:55 a.m. this morning, smoke billowed out of the parking lot of Nigeria's police headquarters in downtown Abuja. A bomb went off seconds earlier, lighting cars on fire and killing dozens. The building sits on one of the main roads near the presidential palace, just on the way to one of nicest areas in the capital city, Asokoro. If the bomb proves intention, which seems likely given everything we've learned so far, this was a suicide bomber -- the first in Nigeria.
The now-infamous Islamist group Boko Haram is the likely culprit. Local media 234Next
is reporting that the group issued a statement in Hausa, the language spoken in
Nigeria's north, claiming that its operatives have just returned from Somalia.
The group also sent a warning
letter to a newspaper in their home city of Maidugari calling for citizens
in Abuja to "restrict their movements." Throughout the last several
months, bomb attacks in the north of the country have grown more prevalent. And
neither is this the first one in the capital city; a particularly nasty one
went off last October on the country's 50th
anniversary of independence.
If this is Boko Haram, it's no accident that the police where the target; Boko Haram likely still has a vendetta for the death of its leader, which Nigerian security forces killed in a nasty shoot out in 2009. Since then, the group has had a nasty relationship with the security forces, and they have been targeting their local stations in the north for the last week. For months, they have knocked off officers here and there, for example when they attacked a police checkpoint in January.
More broadly, the police force is symbolic of everything that Boko Haram wants to "cleanse" from Nigerian society. Many scholars believe that Boko Haram is an extreme expression of grievances felt throughout Nigeria, and particularly in the North. The complaints have everything to do with poor government: politicians are corrupt,public services are non-existent, and the economy seems to rise and fall on patronage given to the kin of those in power. The police are a particular source of anger; they often take bribes, use excessive violence, and use shaming and other socially destructive techniques to detain alleged criminals. This has been widely documented, including most recently by Human Rights Watch.
In short, every expression of the Nigerian state that the average citizen encounters is somehow broken. Seeing no other outlet, many in the north started calling for a religious solution; witness the imposition of Sharia law in the region a decade ago. When even that didn't restore order to the state, groups like Boko Haram emerged, calling for an end to all Western institutions (their name means "education is forbidden") and the imposition of total Islamic rule. Their means are crude, violent, and place them on par with any other terrorist group -- which apparently is their goal if Boko Haram really is training in Somalia. They are an aberration of Nigerian society. But that doesn't mean that what they come from isn't real.
Nigeria has a freshly elected government with a president, Goodluck Jonathan, from the south. The patronage of a northern president will be missing in the coming months, meaning that the means for real political progress (instead of the usual bandaging with handouts) will be needed to gain the region's trust. (This loss of patronage is certainly one reason that tensions in the north have escalated; when you're destitute and your one lifeline disappears, it's rough.) In the meantime, this attack is a wake up call of how high the stakes are. Local problems aren't staying local anymore.
As some may know, this is my last day at Foreign Policy. After three great years here, I'm heading back to the field to report from the Middle East. But before I go, it's worth sharing a few of the things that I've learned from being here at FP and seeing how the news is made "behind the curtains."
The world is not a boring place. In case there was any doubt in your mind, we have a lot of fun at FP. Yes, we are serious too; yes, the world is a fraught with countless complex and mind-boggling conflicts and phenomena. But there's always a way to talk about them that isn't mind-bogglingly hard to follow. And usually, when you look for the new insights that reject that over-talked conventional wisdoms, you end up finding the most important angles.
Look for weak signals. Our former editor in chief Moises Naím taught us all something very important about how to read the world: behind the lines. Think of all the major news events of the last several years -- for example the Arab Spring or the financial crisis. Long before these words had any meaning, their origins were boiling up below the surface. It was a rare observer who could put the pieces together and anticipate the trend. It's what the best reporters and analysts should strive for.
Always ask why it matters. We live in busy times. Bandwidths are stretched, crises abound, and there's just no way to absorb it all. Step back from the details -- however compelling or heart-wrenching -- and imagine what you would want to know if you didn't care. I don't mean dumb it down or make it all about the Americans. But think big about how the small stuff threads into the global fabric. They always do. And if you figure out how, those non-carers might start to feel differently.
Say thank you. Ok, ok, I know this isn't a life advice column. But seriously. No matter where you are, who you're with, or what language you are speaking, you'll learn more about this crazy world if you appreciate humanity in one short sentence. And so with that, here's my thank you to FP -- for all I've learned and for all you've taught me. Keep reading!
According to allegations published today in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn has a history of past sexual assaults, including ones on a domestic worker in Mexico and a French Socialist party official. The account derives from a book written by a former colleague of DSK's. El Universal of Mexico carries details of the allegations (my translation):
[DSK] sexually assaulted a domestic worker in Mexico during an official working visit.… It seems that this incident was not reported to the authorities and the attack went unpunished.
The book also makes reference to harassment against the spokesman of the Socialist Party in the French National Assembly, Aurélie Filippetti.
He also had an affair with an unidentified woman named "Carmen," the widow of an Italian intellectual who lived in Rome.
During its short but painful existence in humans, HIV/AIDS has thwarted efforts at prevention. Vaccines have proven elusive; changing human behaviors that spread the disease is never as easy as we'd like. HIV in particular is wrapped in a complicated web of women's rights, sexual mores, and a fraught debate over family planning. Which is precisely why a new study, released by the U.S. National Institute of Health on Thursday, could change everything. Treating HIV patients with anti-retrovirals early into their infection, the study found, can prevent up to 96 percent of HIV transmission. That's as high as anyone could ever hope to get with a vaccine.
Ninety-six percent efficacy would be a headline no matter what the debate. But in the context of the HIV/AIDS debate, this is monumental because it unites two often-opposed ideologies about how best to respond to the disease: treatment or prevention. The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for HIV/AIDS, known as PEPFAR, favored the former, extending anti-retroviral access to 2.5 million people who didn't have it before. When the Barack Obama administration came into office, they wanted to emphasize prevention at least as much or more. As I wrote last summer, that tweak in policy started an advocacy war.
Why the differences of opinion? For many of the advocates of treatment, this was a way to avoid stepping into the internal U.S. debate about birth control. Preventing HIV infections usually includes condoms, something that the political right has always found distasteful to support -- at least without a heavy emphasis on abstinence. Prevention advocates meanwhile argued that this was a short-sighted strategy. Providing people with life-saving drugs was great, but it wasn't going to stop the epidemic from growing. Ever.
If the results of this new study hold, however, those two sides of the HIV equation will be joined. Treatment will be prevention, and the best prevention, treatment. The question may have answered itself. The politics and the science will suddenly agree over the most effective public health response.
So the only catch now? The cost. Under the Obama administration's new Global Health Initiative, funding for anti-retrovirals is growing at a much slower pace than it did in the previous half-decade. The pressure will be on now more than ever to ratchett that up.
ALEXA STANKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images
Not for the first time this morning, the International Criminal Court (ICC) changed the political calculations in an ongoing conflict. When Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo announced that he will request warrants for the arrest of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and a brother, Al-Sanousi, he sent a clear message to anyone who might have been tempted otherwise: No negotiations with the alleged war criminals. For Qaddafi this was no big change; governments of the Western and Arab worlds have already made it clear there's no solution to this crisis that sees the Libyan leader still in power. But there was still some latent hope that Saif al-Islam could -- maybe -- work out a transition. Now it's official: Saif is out. Actually, there pretty much no one left to negotiate with.
Interestingly, however, the United Nations has been doing exactly that -- negotiating with the Libyan government to ensure humanitarian access to the besieged city of Misrata. Earlier this month, the U.N. aid chief, Valerie Amos, called for a ceasefire across the board, including NATO strikes, to let that agreement be honored.
Humanitarians have always had to walk that tricky line -- between getting the access they need to work and appeasing the aggressors. The ICC's announcement will certainly complicate that already fraught task. True, the Qaddafi regime hadn't shown many signs of actually honoring humanitarian pledges; after the agreement a few weeks ago, the military shelled Misrata pretty much non-stop. Yet if there was any budge room, it's gone now.
But what raises more questions in my head is the fact that an ICC warrant might actually entrench Qaddafi's (and his son's and brother's) incentives to stay put. There will be no cushy exile, if that was ever in the cards in the first place. There will be no happy transition. It's either this regime -- and all its brutality -- or nothing. Everything we know about the Qaddafis tells us that they will always choose the former over the latter.
Which means the strategic thinking behind these indictments may well be this: to encourage as many defections as possible now, before the warrants spread.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
For the last decade and a half, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has spawned unfathomable statistics. First, we learned that more people had died in conflict there than in all of World War II -- a devastating number in a country that most people couldn't locate on a map. Today's news that between 1.69 and 1.8 million women there will be raped in their lifetimes -- the equivalent of 410,000 a year and 48 every hour -- feels even more viscerally upsetting. You can't help feeling outraged when you read the numbers, published today in the American Journal of Public Health. How can we stand for this -- why isn't more being done?
But the more alarming question, perhaps, isn't why we aren't doing something about this; it's the fact that many people have tried, and failed. Despite democratic elections, a U.N. peacekeeping mission, millions of dollars of aid, and women's groups on the ground that have fought back with undaunted courage, these latest figures suggest that the epidemic of rape is getting worse, not better. Something isn't working. Why is sexual violence so persistent?
For years, political scientists and journalists looking at conflict (in Congo and elsewhere) have argued that sexual violence is a political tool of warfare. Women are raped as militias sweep across territory, laying stake to their claims and shaming the men whose wives are assaulted this way. It's a means of symbolic conquer.
Here's a more alarming thought, however: What if rape has actually become systemic -- not a brutal act of conquest so much as a systemic, even rational occurrence in a system that has been built upon violence? In her recent book The Trouble with the Congo, Séverine Autesserre mentions this explanation: that rape has been persistent in the country at least since Belgian colonial rule pillaged the country and instilled a style of government so extractive as to doom Congo to centuries of fighting back against its legacy. The Congolese government's reaction, reported on BBC radio today, seemed to concur with that explanation: There was no "increase' in rapes," it said. It's just that the way they are reported has gotten better. Rape, in other words, is persistent.
Jason Stearns, whose book Dancing in the Glory of Monsters is perhaps the best account of the most recent conflict in the Congo, also argues that the violence, including rape, has to fit within a framework of politics and history. "The principal actors are far from just savages, mindlessly killing and being killed" he writes, "but [they are] thinking breathing homo sapiens, whose actions, however abhorrent, are underpinned by political rationales and motives."
Yet another argument for the idea that rape is built into the system is another finding of the survey, which journalist Jina Moore points out is the real new information: that sexual violence among married couples is extremely prevalent. This would seem to cast doubt on the idea of instrumental sexual violence as a means of waging war. Or at least that's not the only explanation.
To answer that "the system" is to blame is both comforting and disconcerting. We can reassure ourselves that humanity is not so cruel as to captivate millions of men to rape simply out of a fit of passion. And yet something that has been built by mankind -- the body politic that is the Congo -- is that cruel. If any one of us were thrown into that system, we would behave the same. And fixing it isn't an act of conversion so much as a complete destruction of the past.
In other words, to end rape would mean to rewrite the system that has grown up over decades in the Congo, an idea made all the more daunting by the fact that very few people can claim to have an understanding of what that even means. Until then, the security of Congo's women is tied to the fate of the country itself. A reminder of the political stakes in an election year for the Congo.
MARC HOFFER/AFP/Getty Images
Let's be honest: International development loves fads. The latest one to grab the headlines? Clean cookstoves. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has gotten behind it, helping fund the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. Foreign Policy named cookstove gurus Peter Scott and Agnes Klingshirn to its Top Global Thinkers in 2010. Now, this cause célèbre is getting its very own celebrity: Julia Roberts.
According to the alliance, the smoke from cooking over fires leads to 1.9 million premature deaths each year. In war zones and refugee camps, for example those in and around Darfur, Sudan, women have often been assaulted when they go and look for firewood; a more efficient stove reduces their trips. And as an added benefit, the stoves knock down greenhouse gases. In her new role, Roberts will "be instrumental in achieving the Alliance’s goal of 100 million homes' adopting clean and efficient cookstoves and fuels by 2020."
I must admit, I remain a bit skeptical of development work that just provides people with things. I've seen one too many donated items repurposed for other things. (A favorite: a refrigerator in a village with no electricity used to store pineapples. Close second: mosquito net as hair net.) Whether the recipients of cookstoves will get training on how to use the stoves and whether they wouldn't rather sell the stove for something else will be the real determinants of how well this program goes.
But with Roberts now on board, perhaps it's time for a new slogan: Eat (food cooked on clean stoves), Pray (the recipients actually use and like them), Love (it).
Jemal Countess/Getty Images
It used to be that when economists used to talk at Sub-Saharan Africa, their conversations would always turn to one country, South Africa. A decade ago, it was the wealthiest, it had the strongest institutions, it had the most developed stock market. But what it really boiled down to was this: South Africa had what no other Sub-Saharan African country could claim to -- a powerful middle class.
How things have changed. A new report released by the African Development bank today estimates that more than a third of the continent's population -- 313 million people -- are now middle class. Wake up investors: "Africa’s emerging middle class comprises roughly the size of the middle class in India or China."
That matters -- a lot. As the report bluntly puts it, "The middle class is widely acknowledged to be Africa's future, the group that is crucial to the continent's economic and political development." For businesses looking to invest in the continent, the possibilities are now much great -- Africa is a consumer base, not just a rich mine for natural resources. Services are in high demand and the new middle class is quickly adopting many of the luxuries of modern life. The Bank's research goes on to examine how a middle class status correlates with lots of good things -- higher levels of education, better access to the internet, better infrastructure, and even smaller average family size. This becomes a self-driving process; the report attributes the arrival of many newcomers to the middle class to the creation of new, private companies meant to serve, you got it, the middle class.
But the benefits of a middle class don't end with economics. Having a middle class can be a massive boom to political growth as well. It may be no coincidence that two of the countries with the largest percentage of middle class citizens -- Tunisia (89.5 percent) and Egypt (79.7 percent) -- got fed up with their corrupt, incompetant regimes. The young generation of African businessmen, thinkers, and leaders won't put up with business as usual; they have too much work to get done.
What's perhaps most promising of all about these numbers, however, is what they tell us about the future growth of the middle class. The study divides people into upper middle class, lower middle class, and a new category called "floating middle class." The latter group has just risen out of poverty, and their daily consumption ranges from $2 to $4 a day. The floating middle class is also the sub-set that has grown the fastest in recent years, up from just over 10 percent of the population in 1980 to more than 20 percent today. Think of it as a measure of future potential: they are rightly called the "emerging" middle class because the extent of their consumption power and economic drive has yet to be fully released. Watch for this group to grow -- and start moving up the class ladder -- in years to come.
Given all this, perhaps the only thing about Africa that isn't changing quickly is our perceptions of it. There's an image impressed in all of our minds of a starving child, symobilizing an impoverished continent. If that was ever true, this is an excellent reminder that today, it's at most a snapshot. Yes, there's great human suffering and it's not hard to find. But Africa as a whole is becoming a middle class continent.
Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images
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