As the world has reacted -- largely with a mixture of relief and jubilation -- at the news of Osama bin Laden's death, Venezuela yesterday issued its own statement: "Venezuela Rejects Use of Terror to Fight Terrorism." Here's an excerpt:
The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, assuming Bin Laden’s announced death is true, demands an immediate stop to the occupation and violence provoked by the U.S in Central Asia with the alleged intention of neutralizing Bin Laden.
Considering the atrocities and illegal nature of the methods used by the U.S. government, the Venezuelan government is still convinced, as it warned in 2001, that terrorism cannot be fought with more terror, nor can violence be fought with more violence. The Venezuelan government is convinced that respect for the people’s dignity and sovereignty is an indispensable condition to consolidate global peace and security.
The Bolivarian government, together with the Venezuelan people, shows its solidarity with the people of the U.S., especially with the families of the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks. It also ratifies its unrestricted condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, rejects of all forms of violence and further reiterates its commitment to peace.
In its purest form, the statement reads a bit like pacifism: Don't fight violence with violence. But that also seems like a convenient framing for a country that has strategically positioned itself on the violent side of recent confrontations. Of late, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has been the ally of last resort for Muammar Qaddafi, the Libyan leader who has been abandoned by even his own foreign minister for having so ruthlessly resorted to violence against his own people. After Iran's regime cracked down on protestors after 2009's disptued presidential elections, the country's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad still found a friend in Chávez. Then there's the very recent support he's shown for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has killed scores and jailed hundreds more democracy protestors in the southern town of Deraa.
As Americans rushed to Ground Zero and to the White House gates last night in joy at the news that Osama bin Laden had finally been killed, across the world, Kenyans were gathering at the site of another al Qaeda attack: The old U.S. embassy, bombed in 1998. Victims of that attack reacted with joy and relief.
"The killing of Osama has taken place nearly thirteen years after the terrorist bombings in Nairobi that led to the death of over two hundred people, in an act believed to have been masterminded by Osama. His killing is an act of justice to those Kenyans who lost their lives and the many more who suffered injuries," Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said in reaction to the news.
Word of bin Laden's death resonates for more reasons than just the memory of terror in the Kenyan capital. Outside of South Asia, East Africa today is arguably the most active hotbed of al Qaeda activity. In next-door Somalia, the militant group al Shabbab has pledged allegiance to the group. Uganda became the site of the first international Shabbab attacks last summer, when two restaurants were bombed during the World Cup. In short, terrorism is not a memory but an everyday, indigenous threat.The hope is that bin Laden's death will weaken al Qaeda in Africa, too. The Ugandan military, for example, expressed hope today that terrorist funding would feel a pinch after the death of the al Qaeda leader. Still, Kenyan security services are on high alert today, particularly in the largest cities and near the Somali border.
Indeed, in addition to congratulations, Kenya sent another message to the United States today: Time to get more active in fighting terror in this part of the world too. This is a long-running frustration for the Kenyan authorities, who worry that their security concerns get upstaged by more high-profile al Qaeda activity elsewhere. "Osama's death can only be positive for Kenya," the country's Prime Minister Raila Odinga put it, "but we need to have a stable government in Somalia."
After all, as this part of the world viscerally remembers, however, bin Laden used to live in Sudan. In a previous attempt to kill bin Laden following the Nairobi bomging, the United States bombed a pharmaceudical plant there, believed to have been making chemical weapons. Not long after, bin Laden left Sudan, abandoning a compound similar to the one where he would finally perish yesterday.
Speaking to Reuters, residents for the Sudanese town bin Laden called home expressed mixed reactions of relief and anxiety at the news. Fearful of American bombings, no one has occupied bin Laden's former compound for over a decade. Bin Laden may be gone, but here, like so many places, his legacy may live on.
When Alassane Ouattara finally took over the presidency in the Ivory Coast earlier this month, he did so with the help of a rag tag group of militiamen. There were the formal rebels from the country's brief civil war, known as the Forces Nouvelles. There were local men who picked up alongside the other regular fighters. And then there were the more pernicious militias, such as the so-called "Invisible Commandos" in Abidjan, who hitched their wagon to Ouattara's because -- for at least a moment -- their objectives aligned. What all these groups had in common was their desire to at last unseat an intrasigent outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo who had refused to step down for four months after a lost election.
Today, Gbagbo is gone. He's being held in detention in the north of the country while he faces a criminal investigation. That's good news by most accounts; at last, Ivory Coast has just one president. But it also means that the glue holding together Ouattara-loyal forces has also lost its stick.
The most alarming split that's arisen is between the Ouattara army, now calling itself the Republican Forces of the Ivory Coast (FRCI), and the Invisible Commandos. For Ouattara, the commandos are a massive liability. During the worst of the election stand-off, they were accused of carrying out rather arbitrary night raids in pro-Gbagbo neighborhoods. Their commander, Ibrahim Coulibaly (who goes by the nickname IB), is something of a renegade. He also happens to be the old-time rival of Ouattara's Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, who led the Forces Nouvelles early last decade.
Ouattara ordered the Invisible Commandos back to their barracks after taking office; he also told them to disarm. Apparently the progress wasn't fast enough, and this morning in the Abidjan suburb of Abobo, gunshots rung out as government troops (mostly the former Forces Nouvelles, as well as defectors from Gbagbo's former army) tried to root out IB's militiamen.
All this raises three questions in my mind: First, can Ouattara gain control of the military that brought him to power -- and does he really want to? It was always a gamble to use the "nuclear option" and call on the rebel forces to bring Ouattara into office by force. Now that he's there, those troops are not going to just sit back and let their new civilian leader rule them. They're owed for their duty, and Ouattara may well be a captive to the whims of his army, lest he himself suffer their wrath.
Second, does this new relationship make Ouattara complicit in "his" military's crimes, such as a masscare in Duékoué in March? Probably, it does; it's impossible to argue that Ouattara didn't know who he was getting in bed with when he called on the former rebels and other militia groups to fall in line. After all, his prime minister, Guillame Soro, used to head the Forces Nouvelles.
Which brings to perhaps the most important parlor game of post-crisis Ivory Coast: What does Soro want, and how will Ouattara have to placate him? The military operation against the Invisible Commandos may be at least in part Soro's doing, given that he and IB are old rivals. As the leader who can keep the new Ivorian army in their barracks -- or call them out again -- Soro might be the man to watch.
PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images
Before I ever met Tim Hetherington, the renowned photojournalist and filmmaker who died today in Misrata, Libya, he had already offered to help me. It was June 30, 2006, and I was on my way to Liberia, a country just settling back into a degree of normalcy and peace after decades of on-off civil war. I was an intern in Dakar, working for the New York Times West Africa bureau chief, Lydia Polgreen, who had put me in touch with Tim as a helpful contact on the ground. But I wanted to take a one-week trip to Monrovia to write a story about military reform. I wrote to Tim a few days earlier, and he quickly replied. "Beth, I can get you a driver. Let me know what time you'll arrive and he'll be there," he offered in an email. "Are you coming in with a photographer...perhaps we can do this [project] together if it suits you?"
Over the next week, Tim became a mentor and a friend. I tried to hide my age from his noticing -- attempting to look and act as professional as I could, but I'm sure he knew right away that I was barely 20-something. But without making me feel anything less than his peer, he never forgot to check in during that week I was in Monrovia. He was concerned for my safety, without being patronizing at all. He didn't have any stake in my story; it certainly wasn't going to make the pages of the Times. But he still helped out at every turn. That was Tim. He didn't have to care. He just did.
I distinctly remember the first face-to-face conversation we had once I landed in Monrovia. It was a Tuesday in July, and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan had come into town for the day to visit the newly elected (but not yet inaugurated) President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. That morning, I'd made my way across town from a friend of a friend's house toward the meeting point where the press would begin the whirlwind day of diplomatic convoy-chasing. Despite Tim's offer to arrange a car, I was on a budget of essentially nothing, and so I walked.
When I arrived, Tim was seated on a ledge outside a tall, old building that had no windows and looked like a Manhattan skyscraper hollowed out by fire. Ominous-looking gold letters on the side of the building described it as the Ministry of Justice, but no one had worked there for years. Tim was well dressed for a foreign correspondent, in nice slacks and collared, light-colored suit shirt, his cameras strewn across various shoulders.
We began with the conversation that two journalists inevitably seem to have in the field: What are you covering, where were you last.... Oh, so you must know my friend so-and-so? Tim told me about the book he was working on at the time, Long Story Bit by Bit, about Liberia's long civil war. I remember the excitement in his eyes as he told me the details. Many photographers and journalists follow stories for the rush, the chance to be in the thick of things, before they move elsewhere. Tim certainly did that; he captured the most brutal stages of the war in vivid detail -- from the rebels' organization in the bush to their assault on the capital. But Tim was not only piqued by war; he was interested in the fate of Liberia -- in seeing this country recover. In short, he was there because he gave a damn. And his mere presence proved his commitment: Now that things were calming down in Liberia, most other journalists were gone.
The day's events then began, and we caravanned back and forth, from the presidential palace to the congressional chambers and back again, attending all of Annan's and Johnson-Sirleaf's meetings amid the mob of local reporters who swarmed every meeting with their microphones and cameras. Throughout the next few days, I ran about the city reporting and didn't get the opportunity to sit down with him again. But he called several times to make sure I had met the contacts I needed.
From Liberia, Tim went on to document other war-torn regions. He authored another book, Infidel, from Afghanistan. He worked on the award-winning film The Devil Came on Horseback about Darfur, and directed Restrepo. It wasn't just that his photography was stellar. It also made you feel something visceral inside -- a connection to the story that was some filtered bit of Tim's own experience. "My work is about trying to get us to understand that we are connected and trying to build bridges and understanding between people," Tim tweeted on August 27, 2010.
But if Tim had become a giant in his field, he was more down to earth than most anyone. If he noticed how young I looked, back then, Tim never let on. He treated me like a colleague. That's the best tribute I can give him today, amid the terrible news of his passing. He was one of my first colleagues as a journalist working in Africa, and I'll always remember his kindness as an exemplar of what it means to be a compassionate human being in a place that demands the most from journalists.
Let's start with the good news. After more than a decade of violent, fraudulent polls, Africa's most-populous country held a presidential election yesterday that was largely peaceful, fair, and calm. For anyone who remembers the 2007 presidential vote, the pleasantness of this surprise can't be understated. Then, thugs bought votes, snatched polling boxes, and rigged the counting. This time, violence was limited and observers were impressed. Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan was annouced the winner this afternoon (evening time in Nigeria). But in other contests, for example parliamentary seats, his ruling People's Democratic Party lost ground -- a welcome signal that its political monopoly may be opening up, ever so slightly, to competition.
Then there's the bad news: The results helped reveal just how fractured Nigeria's regions have become. As soon as word spread that Jonathan -- a southerner -- had won, rioting broke out in the North of the country, where voters largely favored his opponent, a former military leader, the northerner, Muhammadu Buhari.
Of course, Nigeria's regional splits are nothing new, and they go back far. When Britain ruled the country during colonial times it literally split the country in two, with one administration ruling the largely Muslim North and another ruling the largely Christian South. The military draws largely from the north, and many southerners still believe that the state is jiggered to favor the north, particularly since its territory lacks any oil wealth -- but still recieved the same share of revenue until just several years ago (now the oil-producing regions do recieve a larger share.) Parts of the north, meanwhile, fed up with the corruption of the state and frustrated that the rule of law was so corroded by graft, retreated into sharia law as a more disciplined alternative. Religion was instrumentalized to rally grievances, particularly among the youth.
So the fear is that the regional fractures are growing, rather than shrinking as democracy consolidates. To be sure, the Nigerian government hasn't really helped; in fact, its political leaders have time and time again played off the regional divide as a tool to rally voters. Even when a southerner like Jonathan desperately needed to court the north to win the election, he ventured into regional scare-mongering, as FP contributor Maggie Fick explained.
But the true test comes now that a winner has been announced. If Jonathan wants to unite the country under his leadership, the government response to violence in the north will have to be restrained and humane -- not qualities that the Nigerian security services are particularly known for.
SEYLLOU DIALLO/AFP/Getty Images
Forces of president-elect Alassane Ouattara arrested outoing President Laurent Gbagbo at his residence in Abidjan on Monday, after an assault on the compound that involved French and U.N. troops. Reuters reported that 30 tanks made their way from the French military base toward the neighborhood where Gbagbo resides. The battle that followed has finally put an end to a four-month long crisis over who was running the Ivory Coast.
Well, at least the immediate crisis. The hard part -- getting this country back to normality -- still awaits.
The most immediate complication will be the way that Gbagbo finally left power: with the help of the French. Initial reports of the arrest indicated that the French special forces were the ones who had made the catch; French officials and Ouattara government spokesmen have since emphasized that it was the Ivorian president's troops who have detained Gbagbo. But at this point, that's a detail. The French have been intimately involved in this operation since last week, including by bombing the heavy arms held by the Gbagbo loyalists. There's no question that the French troops were vital in securing this end to the conflict.
That's tricky because, in this former French colony, resentment toward Paris runs high -- a sentiment that Gbagbo became a master of channeling as man of the people. In his final days, he decried French influence in the crisis and said that the country's troops were trying to assasinate him. To his supporters, the pictures of French helicopters and tanks surrounding their leader's compound could transform Gbagbo into a martyr. The fear is that this could give a second wind to the fighters who have quit Gbagbo's side in recent days. Either way, Ouattara will have to work hard in his initial days to prove that he is not in bed with the Elysee.
Another tricky bit to watch: how the Ouattara-loyal forces and the Gbagbo-loyal military -- officially the national army -- integrate (or don't) after this all ends. There were mass defections from the Gbagbo troops to the Ouattara loyalists during the latter's march through Abidjan. Still, it's clear that at least 1,000 forces remained with Gbagbo to the end. And there are perhaps even more militias who were paid to fight but held allegiance to no one side or the other.
There's very good reason to be hopeful about Ouattara's ability to bring his polarized country back together. In a speech on Thursday, he acknowledged the splits, promised to investigate the mass of atrocities that have been committed during these last weeks, and proclaimed that he would be the president for all Ivorians, whether they voted for him or not. But Ouattara's spokesmen have also been adamant that their loyal troops were not involved in a massacre in the West of the country -- a claim that Human Rights Watch made this weekend in a seering report.
Immediate priorities of course are ending the violence, ensuring that militias stop prowling through Abidjan, getting the millions of people in that city access to water, food, electricity, and other supplies that have become scarce during the week-long siege. That would be enough for any president to accomplish in his first year -- let alone in the weeks that Ouattara will have to do it before patience runs thin. And then -- only then -- will the real work begin.
Nigeria's hoping that the third time's a charm. After two previous delays in the country's scheduled voting, today the balloting was pushed back again. Speaking at a news conference this afternoon from Abuja, the head of the country's election commission, Attahiru Jega, announced that 15 senate races and 48 house congressional races would be pushed back. Logistics -- namely, getting ballot papers printed and delivered -- were cited as the rationale. Ironically, the original postponement may be the cause of some of the further delays. Voting was stopped after polls had already opened last Saturday, meaning that many of the ballots are already marked and must be reprinted. (Sahara Reporters has a useful spreadsheet of all the re-printing that now needs to be done.)
AP correspondent Jon Gambrell quotes Jega saying, "We will do our best to revive hope and confidence in the process." Hope in the process, however, may not be enough. There are signs that politics is far more powerful than any of the country's electoral institutions. Opposition figures were arrested en masse on Thursday in the country's oil-producing state of Akwa Ibom. Elsewhere, the local press is already reporting on cases of vote buying and corruption in voter registration.
It won't be clear until the voting starts (again) how prepared Nigeria actually is. But from the looks of it, we may be waiting a while.
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, issued a statement today indicating that his team may request the authorization to open a full-fledged investigation into atrocities committed in recent months in the Ivory Coast. The statement urged the U.N. Security council to "expedite" the process so that he "can proceed faster with an investigation and start to prepare a request for an arrest warrant for those most responsible for crimes in Ivory Coast."
Clearly, there are crimes to investigate. After reports that as many as 1,000 were killed in the Western town of Duékoué over the weekend, today another massacre site is reported to have been found. Holding outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo's military to account for shelling a market and disappearing political opponents is unquestionably a good thing, right?
Yes -- but it also opens up a lot of very difficult questions about how this political crisis is going to end.
First, take the issue of exile for Gbagbo. If he believes there is a risk he'll be indicted by the International Criminal Court, he will be very unlikely to agree to take refuge in any country that recognizes the court. Offering amnesty is no longer a carrot that negotiators can offer; if the ICC succeeds in opening an investigation, and Gbagbo is to be indicted, Ivory Coast's national judicial system would be compelled to hand him over. That in turn raises the difficult question of how Gbagbo's supporters (remember, he won 46 percent of the vote) would react if their political icon were arrested. (Not good, I'm going to say.)
Actually, arrests of any political figures could be divisive. After all, there are reports (not yet confirmed either way) that Ouattara-loyal forces were involved in the civilian deaths in Duékoué. A new president might be reluctant to hand over his men for such crimes, particularly since the Ouattara camp has denied any wrongdoing. But justice that only cuts one way will be hard to stomach for Ivorians observing the political process.
This is not to say that there should not be accountability for crimes. There should be. And proponents of the court are correct to argue that the ICC's promise to investigate can be a very clear deterrant for parties on the ground to misbehave.
The point is this: the crisis in the Ivory Coast is at an unbelievably delicate moment. The country is polarized. If Gbagbo is not allowed a dignified exit -- much as it seems unfair -- the crisis runs a serious risk of getting worse. Militias armed in favor of one side or the other -- or in some cases loyal to no one in particular -- can't be accomodated but neither can they be forgotten. Once the immediate political crisis ends, social cohesion will be Ouattara's biggest challenge as president. He's going to have to ensure that divided Ivorians can live with one another again.
Successful justice has often taken place in countries as divided as this one -- take Chile after the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet of Sierra Leone after its civil war at the turn of the century. The succesful keys of those processes were the securing of a political solution first, integrating local courts and reconciliation processes into the quest for justice, and whole lot of community outreach so that citizens throughout the country would understand that indictments of individuals were not indictments of their group, be it religious, ethnic, or political.
As the situation stands this morning, negotiations to get outgoing president had "failed" and an assault of the presidential compound is underway by forces loyal to election winner and internationally recognized President Alassane Ouattara. Let's hope both sides know what a tight-rope they are walking.
VALERIE KUYPERS/AFP/Getty Images
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