To prove that none of those arrested or questioned surrounding a bomb attack on the Nigerian capital of Abuja earlier this month were in fact involved, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has just released a note to journalists vowing to strike again. Letter from the spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, is pasted below:
"In an obvious attempt to intimidate anyone opposed to the presidential ambition of Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian government hiding under the cloak of terrorist hunters have been witch-hunting, falsely accusing and harassing its perceived opponents.
A perfect opportunity emerged on October 1, 2010 after the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) detonated car bombs in a symbolic attack in Abuja for which we reaffirm responsibility but with regrets to the avoidable loss of lives.
The government of President Goodluck Jonathan responded by arresting innocent persons on trumped-up charges, linking them with the attack. From Chief Raymond Dokpesi which indirectly was pointing at former military head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida to Henry Okah in South Africa, the government has also named and arrested persons not connected with our actions as suspects and masterminds.
The South African government is playing an obviously partial role over the Independence Day Bombing in its handling of the Henry Okah angle because the Nigerian government has threatened to nationalize the South Africa communication giant, MTN if the country does not follow a devious script.
Since the court in South Africa has turned into a Kangaroo one that is scandalously biased, and both governments are bent on blaming innocent persons on ridiculous insinuations and unrelated evidence, we have decided to carry out another attack in Abuja without altering our mode of operation to proof the suspects' innocence.
As usual we will give a thirty minutes advance warning to avoid civilian casualties then sit back and watch how the blame game will be played out on all those already falsely accused.
Writing in FP earlier this summer, former U.S. ambassador on global HIV/AIDS, Jack Chow, offered a glimpse into China's policy on the epidemic: When it comes to aid money, give a bit, recieve lots and lots. At the time of writing the piece, China's contribution to the global pool of donor money to fight HIV/AIDS, the Global Fund, was $2 million over eight years. Meanwhile, the country won an $1 billion in grants. For a country with $2.5 trillion in foreign currency reserves, this seemed a bit out of whack.
Perhaps they got the message. Because at the replenishment conference that took place earlier this week -- a gathering in which countries, foundations, and other donors pledge their committments for the coming three years -- China upped the ante. From $2 million annually, China's contribution rose to approximately $4.6 million, or $14 million over the next three years. That's still not terribly impressive (especially considering that Nigeria offered a not-dissimilar $10 million for the fund.)
Still, the pressure was clearly on. Prior to the conference, six U.S. senators urged China to give its fair share. The Global Fund itself has also been pushing in this regard, urging the rising powers to slowly transition from recipient to donor. "China, Brazil and India should remain net beneficiaries the Global Fund," Kazatchkine told AFP. "[A]t the same time, they have to be contributors." That was one of President Barack Obama's administration's big goals in the replenishment as well: to get other donors to take up a fair share of the burden, particularly amid difficult financial times.
There were a few other interesting funding committments that stand out from the conference as well. The United States offered $4 billion over three years -- an increase from past funding but still not enough to please activists. Perhaps more interesting, however was the massive $300 million committment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. That number dwarfs almost all country donors -- including countries known for giving a relatively high proportion of their GDPs to aid, Norway, Denmark and Australia. What a new world it is where the richest foundation in the United States can outspend the world's most generous national donors.
It has been surreal to watch the 50th Independence Ceremony of Nigeria bombed this morning. I was at a similar event three years ago in Abuja, and the sights and locations where it took place are all too familiar. At 5:15am EST -- or 10:15am in Abuja, Nigeria -- I also received the same warning that Nigerians got, in a bomb threat went out by e-mail to the international press warning that "Several explosive devices have been successfully planted in and around the venue by our operatives working inside the government security services."
About an hour later, the rebel Movement for the Emancipation for the Niger Delta (MEND) made good of their word. As many as 15 people are reported to have died, with more injured, from a series of car bombs that went off in succession in the capital, mostly within about 10 minutes from the main site of the festivities.
The rebels' point, which they made in their warning e-mail, is quite clear: "There is nothing worth celebrating after 50 years of failure." For the last half-decade, the rebels have used similar tactics, as well as kidnapping and ransom, to protest the fact that Nigeria's oil wealth has not trickled down to the region where it is produced. When I left Nigeria as a reporter in 2008, I was pretty convinced that the political rhetoric was increasingly a cover for criminality rather than politics. Now things have taken a swing in a somewhat different direction -- terror as a cover for politics. This isn't the first time that MEND has caused civilian casualties or bombed government buildings. But it is the first time that the rebels have orchestrated in Abuja, the capital. And it's the first one that seems truly aimed at any Nigerians who were patriotic enough to attend the independence events.
What is just as striking things about this attack is that the celebrations simply went on. President Goodluck Jonathan later issued a statement condemning what happened, and vowing that "To those behind these vicious acts, the president wants you to know that you will be found, and you will pay dearly for this heinous crime." Yet in the immediate term, Jonathan continued with the ceremonies uninterrupted. Of course, there's something to be said about ‘not letting the terrorists win,' so to speak. But it also strikes me that there is a certain acceptance and acknowledgement of insecurity -- whether it's bombs or car-accidents or secular violence in the North -- that indicates something very alarming lurking below the expectations for this country of 150 million. Nigerians deserve better.
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images
It's a big primary election day today here in the United States, but bear with me. Because I'm going to take you to another country with upcoming elections: Going to the polls is a tricky matter for a young democracy.
Let's take a trip to Guinea, a small country in West Africa that happens to be the world's largest bauxite exporter. The country's long-time strongman president died in 2008, and a coup followed. There was a somewhat miraculous transition to a civilian-led government, and now presidential elections are in the works. But Guinea had a serious bad-luck streak this week. On September 10, the country's courts jailed two top officials from the electoral commission for misconduct in the first round of polls in June. Violence broke out on the streets, leading the police to break up riots with tear gas. And now, one of the convicted officials has died. Nearly everyone suspects that this second round ballot is bound to be delayed.
But the political hooplah really isn't the only, or even the most important, reason that the vote will likely be delayed. It's because Guinea is utterly unprepared. There are no voter cards or ballots across much of the country. It's rainy season, and the country's dilapidated infrastructure has further thwarted efforts to get the supplies out. As AP nicely summed up:
"even if the trucks carrying voting materials were to leave Guinea's capital first thing Tuesday, they most likely will not reach the rain-soaked interior of the country in time for Sunday's vote, where major towns are several days by road and some remote polling stations can only be reached on foot."
But here's the thing: There's really nothing unexpected or disgraceful about this. It's really really hard to hold elections. And it's a lot harder when you've never done it as a democracy. Ever. Rainy season is also nothing to scoff at in West Africa; good luck driving election materials over the pothole-laden roads on any sort of timeline. Even the best planning would have suffered setbacks.
More broadly, what Guinea demonstrates is that democratic elections, however beneficial, are also risky for a volatile country just emerging from a long history of repressive politics. They open a lot of wounds. The two top candidates in Guinea, for example, are from historically clashing ethnic groups. Under the strongman rule of the former president, elections were always rigged; why should Guineans believe they won't be this time? And in a country (and region) where political power is wielded through patronage, most everyone believes the stakes are high. If their guy loses, it could mean a presidential term of poverty. This is not easy to stomach for a society that is divided and still recovering from conflict. Have elections too soon, and they risk doing as much harm as good.
That's not to say that Guinea's vote, or any other, should not go forward. They should. There is something incredible about democracy that saw a 64 percent voter turnout at the polls on the first round. But this is a perfect example of how elections don't fix volatility; they often exacerbate it. The real solutions will have to come from whoever Guinea elects.
CELLOU diallo/AFP/Getty Images
A very long decade ago, the world's leaders got together at the United Nations here in New York to agree on something pretty remarkable: that they were going to do their best to end poverty by 2015. In just over a week, they'll come back -- now with two-thirds of that time gone by -- to see how well we've done.
Sounds very nice, but the negotiations to settle on an answer to that question have been far less glamorous. A draft of the final outcome document, dated Sept. 8 at 1:00 p.m. EST, gives a hint at where the sticking points were: language about foreign occupation and blame where progress has lagged behind.
In the first case, the reference to foreign occupation is largely an allusion to Israel and Palestine, and the draft document shows that the so-called G77 group of developing countries has suggested a different set of language than the United States on four different occassions. For example, the draft indicates that the United States would like to delete a point that reads:
"We acknowledge that the persistance of foreign occuapation is a major obstacle to the realization of the Millennium Development Goals for people living under such occupation. We underline the need to take concrete and concerted actions in conformity with international law to remove the obstacles to the full realization of the rights of peoples living under foreign occupation, so as to ensure their achievement of the Millennium Development Goals."
The latter point of blame -- is it the donor-countries who have failed to give enough, or the poor countries who haven't done enough with the money? -- seems to have been settled; the draft declares that "committments [to poverty reduction] by developed and developing countries in relation to the MDGs require mutual accountability." (Not much on specifics here, leaving some to wonder whether the pledges that world leaders will no doubt bring with them to the summit in New York later this month will be more than words alone.)
Aside from the sticking points, the document is a pretty comprehensive list of everything left to do before 2015. It's essentially a catalogue of everything that the international community has learned about "development" over the last six decades. The laundry list includes a lot of general philosophies about that assistance to the poor -- that communities have to "own" their own empowerment, that every sector needs to be targeted, that technology needs to be used to boost the speed and efficiency of anti-poverty measures, that good governance matters, that everyone from the private sector to governments to NGOs to the U.N. has to be involved -- and so on. It's common sense stuff. But again, getting 192 countries to agree on it isn't so simple.
And by the way, are we going to succeed in our lofty goal? The short answer is kind of. The world will probably meet some of its headline figures when you average the sum of all countries worldwide. But the detailed picture is less upbeat: the incredible progress of countries such as China and India (as well as Vietnam, Rwanda, and other impressive gains) has brought up the global average, covering weaknesses in the many countries lagging behind. As the document puts it, while there have been some success stories, "We are deeply concerned however, that the number of people living in extreme poverty and hunger surpasses one billion and that inequalities between and witihin countries remain a significant challenge."
In other words, we haven't eradicated poverty among the poorest; we've just made the middle a little bit better. Five years to fix it starts now.
The New York office director of UNAIDS, Bertil Lindblad, is worried about the one region of the world where HIV infections are increasing, even as rates in the rest of the world level off. It's not in Africa or Asia, or even Latin America. It's Eastern Europe -- countries like Russia and Ukraine -- where a recent UNICEF report notes that increases in infection rates of as high as 700 percent have been seen since 2006.
"There is an urgent need for the whole Eastern European and Central Asian region to act quickly," Lindblad said this morning. "This is really quite scary given the fact that there is denial, and so much stigma and homophobia [in that region.] This could really create huge problems if HIV continues to spread from smaller groups in the population to wider."
It's HIV/AIDS's silent crisis, one that has been underway for the last decade. The region is home to a quarter of all injection drug users in the world (3.7 million), and this is where the epidemic is believed to have begun. These users are young -- most of them teenagers. But from there, HIV spread to sex workers (the majority of whom are also under 30), and now has fully moved into the everday lives of men and women in the region, married and unmarried. A mark of the epidemics progression -- from specific populations into the majority -- is the new incidence of HIV among women, who account for 40 percent of all new infections (that's up from only 24 percent at the turn of the century.)
The stigma attached to the disease -- and more importantly, to the groups of people percieved to be the majority infected with it -- is the biggest obstacle to doing anything about the disease. "Those living with HIV have been silenced and excluded, and risky behaviours borne of futility and hopelessness have been sanctioned or repressed," the UNICEF report notes. Government officials are said to be resistant to admitting the scale of the problem, and today that country remains a difficult places for AIDS advocacy, says Lindblad, who formerly worked in the UNAIDS office in Moscow.
But where there is challenge such as this, there is also often opportunity. Russia, I would think, should have a very serious interest in addressing this crisis. For starters, because AIDS threatens to exacerbate its larger demographic problem -- that of a fast-shrinking population. But the other point might be even more convincing: The injection drug users are using heroin. And that heroin comes from Afghan poppies. For Russia, tackling the illegal drug market in Afghanistan -- one which fuels the insurgency -- is a serious national security issue.
Of course, good old fashioned peer pressure might help edge them along as well. And when the U.N. General Assembly meets later this month, one of the side conversations, according to Lindblad, will be a discussion on HIV/AIDS "co-hosted by the government of China, the government of Nigeria, and UNAIDS," specifically, the Chinese premier and the Nigerian president (South Africa's President Jacob Zuma was also supposed to come, but had to cancel.) "That could influence other big countries such as Russia, for example, to turn around."
DENIS SINYAKOV/AFP/Getty Images
Imagine for a moment that you're a government minister in a poor or fairly poor country. You've got a limited budget and you've also got a lot of work to do -- children are undernourished, you need to increase the numbers of them that go to school, and maternal mortality is leaving behind ranks of young orphans. Let's also say that, like most countries in the world, yours is a bit unequal. So here's the question: If you want to cut poverty rates, who should you target? The lower middle class -- the "low-hanging fruit" that doesn't have far to go? Or the most destitute of the population?
For years, the answer has been the former. It seems logical: If you can only spend so much, why not help the category that is closest to overcoming poverty? Surely, the most destitute have too far to go to benefit from the limited aid available. This is the approach that countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Pakistan, and Vietnam have taken in recent years. And they have made some progress.
But you'd be wrong, according to a new study released today by UNICEF. Based on rigorous data tests from 15 countries, the researchers found that the best way to reduce poverty is to start at the bottom, not in the middle. And the difference is a lot. For every $1 million spent on anti-poverty measures, you would "avert 60 percent more deaths" if you help the poorest first, according to the study. The reason for this is simple: if you're destitute, and you recieve a bit of aid, say a cash transfer of $100 a month, that will boost your income by a massively larger percentage than if you are middle-income. Put in another context, if you are a women with no access to healthcare during childbirth, a trained midwife will mean much more to you than it would to a woman with basic care already.
This isn't wonky. It's big -- really big -- not least because it is something of a rethink of the way that governments, including the United States, have been doing development. One of the biggest focuses of the Obama administration's $63 billion Global Health Initiative, for example, is to build up health "systems" -- training healthcare workers, improving facilities, etc. This study says, that kind of thing is great -- but it's also not the most efficient solution. Health systems are usually not accessible to the poorest of the poor because of cultural barriers, poor transportation, or a pure and simple lack of information. Healthcare has to come directly to the communities.
This is, by the way, useful for another another global problem that has arisen in recent years: massive inequality. The world has lifted millions out of poverty (thanks to China and India mostly, but they weren't alone.) But those who remained poor have gotten poorer, and those who were rich have gotten richer. How great would it be if the way to tackle absolute poverty (the numbers of poor) and relative poverty (the inequality factor) was actually the same? Pretty great. As UNICEF Exectuive Director Anthony Lake put it today, "We have an extraordinary opportunity to do not only the right thing but the most practical thing."
Now, to convince the politicians...
Editors note: I am in New York this week on a generous fellowship from the United Nations Foundation, covering the lead-up to the Millennium Development Goals Summit at the U.N. General Assembly starting on Sept. 20.
ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images
Somalia's faltering transitional government seemed to be crying out for help this week, issuing an usually large number of press releases about assaults, attacks, and security woes. But among the more intriguing notes to come out of the government press shop was one from Aug. 28 proclaiming: "Al Shabab Developing Own Media Capability."
Al-Shabab, the Islamist group that today controls much of southern Somalia, has taken to looting private media stations and using their equipment for its own broadcasts, the release explained. And in addition, "Al Shabab is currently undertaking a lot of propaganda in some parts of south and central Somalia using traditional means of communication such as madarassas, mosque lectures, and workshops."
Intrigued about what this meant -- and how an organization like al-Shabab gets its message out -- I started poking around. I was not able to get comment on the record, because the threat to those who speak out against (or even about) the Islamist group is so great. But here's what I learned:
Al-Shabab has long been communicating with the international press, primarily through teleconferences and, in rare occassions, personal meetings. They have a single spokesman who arranges interviews with journalists. Their message to the world is funneled through him -- supplemented by online media geared at reaching supporters in the Somali diaspora. Al-Shabab is said to be placing an increasing emphasis on this latter aspect, upping its Internet ante.
But the message on the ground is of a different sort. Al-Shabab's primary means of communication with Somalis is face-to-face meetings. These are sometimes meant to impart a particular policy or message, or at times to undertake a public punishment. In the former case, the story can play off the violence or casualties of the day. Blame -- at least in Mogadishu -- usually goes to the African Union peacekeepers, who are essentially holed up in the capital, trying to protect the government.
In the aftermath of the attacks in Uganda, the message to the people was simple: When the blood of Ugandans is spilled, the world takes note. But the hundreds of Somalis who die here each week don't make the international news.
If you're in Somalia and you see blood on your doorstep everyday, it's a message that sells.
Daniel Kimmage of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University told me that this is a common strategy: to differentiate one's message to the international and local audiences, often quite dramatically. In Iraq, for example, jihadist groups' international message would focus on "a titanic clash of civilizations," he explained. However, "the local messages were a final warning to sheep smugglers, for example, or other local stuff."
And where does al Qaeda fit in to this picture? Al-Shabab claims a connection to the terror group, but there's no telling how integrated they are. What we do know however, as Kimmage points out, is that the central al Qaeda media shop Al-Sahab has begun releasing products about Somalia. They've issued situation updates and calls to help the jihad undertaken there.
What this may indicate is that the claim of al Qaeda affiliation goes both ways. In other words, it may not be al-Shabab that is wholeheartedly embracing the terrorist organization -- al Qaeda might be just as pleased to affiliate itself with al-Shabab. "Al Qaeda tries to derive the maximum [media] benefits from the affiliates," Kimmage explains. "Al Qaeda central is hunkered down out there, so they don’t have a lot of operations stuff to take credit for."
And unfortunately, al-Shabab is giving them a lot of material these days.
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
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