It has been a particularly rough week for al-Shabab. The al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist militia that has been battling for control of Somalia for the past few years has suffered three major setbacks in the course of a few days.
Just last month, prominent al-Shabab-affiliated cleric Sheikh Aboud Rogo was fingered in a leaked UN report on Somalia as a key recruiter for the group in East Africa with strong ties to al Qaeda. On the morning of Aug. 27, he was shot in his car along with several members of his family as they drove through Mombasa, Kenya.
No assailants have been identified, but crowds of thousands of Rogo's outraged supporters have taken in the streets of Mombasa to protest his death. At least one person has been reported dead so far and two churches have been vandalized by mobs, Jeune Afrique reported.
According to the U.N. report, Rogo was a key figure in the leadership of the Muslim Youth Centre (MYC) -- also known as Al-Hijra -- one of al-Shabab's main support networks in Kenya:
"The MYC relies heavily on the ideological guidance of prominent Kenyan Islamist extremists including Sheikh Aboud Rogo, a radical cleric based in Mombasa, Kenya, known associate of member of Al-Qaida East Africa and advocate of the violent overthrow of the Kenyan government. In consultation with Rogo, MYC has not only changed its name, but reorganized its membership and finances in order to permit its organization, the Pumwani Riyadha Mosque Committee (PRMC) in Nairobi, to continue funding Al Shabab."
Only a few days before Rogo's death, the U.N. Security Council announced that it was implementing targeted sanctions against Abubaker Shariff Ahmed, another Mombasa-based Kenyan national with deep links to al-Shabab. Ahmed has been in prison for over two years in Kenya for his involvement in a grenade attack on a Nairobi bus depot that killed three.
According to the Security Council resolution, Ahmed has six known aliases and is "a close associate of Aboud Rogo." Rogo's name is the only one mentioned in the Security Council resolution condemning Ahmed. Both men were placed under sanctions by the U.S. at the same time on July 5, 2012.
Also on the morning of Aug. 27, the AFP reported that African Union AMISOM troops captured the coastal al-Shabab stronghold of Marka:
"The loss of Marka, some 70 kilometres (45 miles) south of the capital Mogadishu, is another major blow for the insurgents, who have been on the back foot for several months."
Al-Shabab was pushed out of Mogadishu, the Somali capital, last year and has suffered number of further defeats over the past several months. However, they still maintain control of the two port cities of Barawe and Kismayo, their main stronghold.
Whether these events represent different strands of a coordinated regional crackdown on al-Shabab activities or whether the group is encountering a rather startling wave bad luck remains unclear.
SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images
Following weeks of speculation about the state of his health, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi died on August 21 at the age of 57. Although a government spokesperson claimed that the long-time leader of the country's authoritarian state apparatus was felled by a sudden infection, Meles seems to have been sick for some time and had not been seen in public since mid-July.
His aides concealed his condition from the public throughout his illness, feeding contradictory reports to the press which led to speculation that an internal power struggle was taking place in order to determine succession within Ethiopia's ruling party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
Government sources assured the BBC that Ethiopia will remain stable throughout the transition, though many -- including Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga -- have expressed fears that the country could unravel with the sudden absence of their strongman of over two decades. Ethiopia's last political transition was marked by violence, and increased government repression:
"In the 2005 election when the opposition won the capital, Addis Ababa, and claimed to have won nationally, the government arrested its leaders and tried them for treason. Some were imprisoned, others fled into exile. Now with 99.6% of the vote, the ruling Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has created a virtual one party state."
In accordance with the constitution, Meles will be succeeded by his deputy, Hailemariam Dessalegn, as interim prime minister. Unlike past Ethiopian rulers, who have mostly hailed from the powerful northern Tigrayan and Amharic tribes, Dessalegn comes from the populous Southern Nation, Nationalities and People's Region.
The EPRDF is expected to meet in late September, according to AFP, to determine whether Hailemariam will remain prime minister until the next scheduled elections in 2015. As a relatively inexperienced political outsider, he may face difficulty winning over the powerful military and intelligence establishments.
Somalia's Al Shabab militants, meanwhile, are gleefully pessimistic about Ethiopia's future without Meles:
"We are very glad about Meles' death. Ethiopia is sure to collapse," Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, Al Shabab's spokesman, told Reuters.
The group has reason to welcome a possible dissolution of power in Ethiopia. Ethiopian troops invaded bordering Somalia to combat Al Shabab in November 2011 and it continues to conduct combat operations alongside African Union AMISOM troops. Ethiopia also hosts U.S. military operations at a base at Arba Minch, southern Ethiopia, from which many drone operations over Somalia have been conducted.
Indeed, despite his questionable human rights record, Meles has long been a valued ally of western governments in the war on terror. A true diplomat, however, his loyalties were always targeted to ensure Ethiopia's regional ascendance - and to keep the aid money flowing in at a rate of around $4 billion a year. As Harry Verhoeven writes for Al Jazeera:
"Meles rapidly became an international statesman: He was hailed by Bill Clinton as the prime exponent of "Africa's new generation of leaders" in 1998; he sat on Tony Blair's Commission for Africa in 2004-2005; and represented the African Union in climate change negotiations since 2009. Boosted by relative political stability and spectacular - if deeply uneven - economic growth at home, the former guerrilla leader from Tigray transformed Ethiopia from an object of international pity into a powerful actor that has commended increasing global attention."
Meles' legacy is decidedly mixed. His rule was oppressive, yet he presided over the re-emergence of Ethiopia from a state of near collapse into the dominant regional power in the Horn of Africa. He was intimately involved in brokering agreements between the warring Sudans, having developed close ties with leaders on both sides since the 1980s, and became a dominant figure in the African Union - which is based in Addis Ababa, the country's capital. Nevertheless, the distribution of his country's newfound wealth - Ethiopia currently has the fastest-growing non-oil dependent economy in Africa - remains highly uneven, with the majority of the population still living in poverty.
For all his faults, Meles' was a formidable presence and his shoes will be big ones to fill.
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
For over two decades, Somalia has been touted as the paradigm of a failed state -- an ungovernable web of warring clans, militias and semi-autonomous statelets that have not seen centralized control since the last government imploded in 1991. However, on August 20, as Somalia's winding eight year U.N.-sponsored transitional process draws to a close, 215 new members of parliament were sworn in and held their first parliamentary session at the Mogadishu airport. Though the unconventional location -- chosen because it is one of the most highly secured areas in the city -- could be seen as inauspicious, the MPs selected today represent the closest thing the country has had to a real government in 20 years.
With the selection of a new president in the offing, a draft constitution on the table and relative peace holding in Mogadishu since radical Al Shabab militants were driven out of the capital earlier this year, there may be reason for cautious optimism about Somalia's political future. However, there are equally compelling reasons to see today's transition as a largely cosmetic one.
Indeed, as many expected, the selection of the new president has been postponed, with no firm indication as to when it will occur. The announcement was made on Aug. 20, as 215 MPs selected by a committee of traditional elders were sworn in -- enough for a functioning majority but short of the full 275 representatives slated slated to fill parliament's lower house. Mussa Hassan Abdulle, a former general, was appointed the interim Speaker.
Local media has reported that the Technical Select Committee (TSC), the oversight body responsible for vetting candidates put forward by the elders' committee, has rejected over 60 candidates so far.
According to a BBC analysis, the initiation of this process in and of itself is a huge step:
"In the face of serious intimidation, a technical committee has removed as MPs some of those linked to violence and corruption. Things are a bit behind schedule. Parliament was meant to have elected a new president on 20 August, but what is important is that the process has begun."
Predictably, such a system is vulnerable to interference from regional authorities and factions within clan groups. According to VOA, officials in the semi-autonomous Pundtland region have been "interfering constantly" with the elders' decisions. Critics have also been quick to point out that the elders have failed to attain a target of 30 percent female representatives in the new parliament.
The current president, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, is reportedly poised to reclaim his office. However, there are reportedly anywhere from 20 to 40 other candidates in the running. Many have maintained a low profile due to security concerns. The president, speaker and deputy speaker will all be selected by the new parliament, rather than elected by popular vote.
According to a UN report leaked in July, 68 percent of government revenues went missing and passport fraud was rampant under Sheikh Ahmed's administration. Notably, his government issued a diplomatic passport to Mohamed Abdi Hassan, known as "Afweyne," the leader of one of the region's piracy networks.
As incomplete as the process may be at this point in time, the fact that Somalia is attempting to define a national leadership for itself represents an important step -- even if, for the moment, it remains a symbolic one.
In an echo of death rumors that have periodically surrounded former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe this year, there's increasing speculation about the whereabouts of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi after a local radio station pronounced him dead. Meles hasn't been seen in public since mid-July, and confirming his whereabouts and condition has proved difficult.
The confusion hit a fever pitch on July 30 when Ethiopian opposition radio outlet ESAT announced it had confirmed that Meles had died. They claimed to have received the information from diplomatic and international sources including the International Crisis Group (ICG).
The news spread rapidly via social media, only to be denied by ICG in a July 31 statement on its website:
International Crisis Group has no direct knowledge about the state of health of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Crisis Group has never commented on Mr Meles's health or his fate, and is not in a position to speculate about it. Crisis Group categorically denies any media claims to the contrary.
Meles has ruled Ethiopia through a tightly controlled autocratic regime for 21 years, and many speculate that his demise would throw the ruling establishment into chaos as his lieutenants vie for leadership.
Of course, it's not at all clear that Meles is dead, or close to death. According to his party, he's just on vacation. Or sick. Or tired. The latest statement from an Ethiopian government spokesperson claims Meles is on the mend from his mystery ailment:
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is in "a good condition and recuperating", a government spokesman has told the BBC, dismissing reports he is critically ill.
However, Bereket Simon declined to give any details about Mr Meles' whereabouts or what he is suffering from.
Mr Bereket had earlier been quoted as saying the prime minister, 57, was on holiday.
ESAT is sticking with its story that Meles is, in fact, very dead indeed and that it used other sources to confirm a tip from a protected source inside ICG:
ESAT's decision to report that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is dead, according to reliable sources, has never been easy. It was two weeks ago that we received the news from highly credible sources in Brussels. Our sources that want to remain anonymous as they were not authorized to speak to the media on this sensitive matter told us that the International Crisis Group (ICG) concluded that Mr. Zenawi was deceased.
As a responsible media outlet, ESAT tried to investigate and verify the tip meticulously before it decided to broadcast the news. To be fair to the facts, we have also scrutinized the conflicting and contradictory information coming out from the ruling TPLF clique.
Two other African presidents -- John Atta Mills of Ghana and Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi -- have passed away this year shortly after going abroad for medical treatment. However, whereas the recent death of Atta Mills was clearly reported, Mutharika's was rife with confusion. The president at one point denied early rumors of his demise by announcing to journalists: "I'm not dead.… I'm on holiday." He passed away six months later.
Although the truth will certainly come out eventually, at present it's not clear whether Ethiopia is in a crisis of leadership or simply has a terribly uncoordinated government communications department.
Adrian Bradshaw-Pool/Getty Images
As some Americans scramble to purchase more arms to defend themselves and the media combs through every detail following last week's mass shooting at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, Toronto is also reeling in the aftermath of the city's largest ever mass shooting which left 2 dead and 23 injured on July 18.
Despite having far stricter gun control laws than their Second Amendment-loving southern neighbors, Canada is not immune from gun violence. And while you would be hard pressed to find a Canadian in public office willing to promote concealed carry as a solution, Canada is certainly not immune from the inevitable politicking that follows such events.
In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, Toronto mayor Rob Ford declared his intention to banish gun offenders from the city -- effectively pushing the problem outside his jurisdiction. According to the CBC:
Critics said the mayor's comments were confusing, and it wasn't clear why he appeared to be zeroing in on immigration as an issue when it comes to gun crime.
Ford didn't specify how he thought he would be able to move residents out of the city by persuading the federal government to change immigration laws.
"A lot of people just said: 'Rob, why are they living in this city?' No matter who they are, I don't care if you're Canadian born, I don't care if you're a Canadian citizen. I don't care if you're an immigrant, I don't care if you're refugee. It doesn't matter to me," he said.
"If you're convicted of a gun crime, I don't want you living in this city. And the only way I can find out whether that's legal or not or whether we can enforce that is through the [Prime Minister's Office], and that's what I'm doing."
Freedom of movement is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The federal government quickly signaled that it was not on board.
"Obviously we can't tell people which city [they] can and can't live in," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said.
Prime Minister Steven Harper, meanwhile, took the shootings as an opportunity to plug for the mandatory jail sentence minimums his government controversially pushed through as part of an omnibus crime bill earlier this year.
"I think these events in Toronto underscore why these penalties are essential," he said. "This is not a theoretical problem."
As recently as July 6, an Ontario court struck down the mandatory minimums for gun crimes included in the bill as unconstitutional. Mandatory minimums have been on the books in the U.S. since the 1980s as part of the country's ailing war on drugs. Critics argue that they result in overcrowded prisons and a loss of judicial independence.
Even before the Toronto shootings, the Harper government's approach to violent crime legislation could be characterized as a "lite" version of the American model which combines tougher penalties with lighter arms control. Harper abolished Canada's long-gun registry in April, amidst howls of protest from the left -- particularly out of Quebec.
The registry - which required documenting licensed ownership of all rifles, long-guns and shot guns -- was established largely in reaction to the 1989 Polytechnique shootings, an event which horrified the country as a whole and is still vividly remembered in Quebec. A decade before Columbine, a lone gunman entered a Montreal, Quebec, engineering school and, shouting his hatred for "feminists," shot 14 female students before turning the gun on himself.
So far, it appears that the Canadian response to this spate of violence has been a series of backwards steps.
Joshua Lott/Getty Images
Fifty years after Kenya's independence, the British high court opened the second part of a case brought by three Kenyan nationals against the British government today. The trial sheds light on Kenya's gulags, a largely forgotten dark corner of England's colonial legacy.
The plaintiffs -- Paulo Muoka Nzili, Wambuga Wa Nyingi and Jane Muthoni Mara -- were formerly rebels during the Mau Mau uprising against colonial rule. They allege that they were the victims of torture and brutality at the hands of the British administration during the "Kenya Emergency" that lasted from 1952-1960.
According to the BBC, the "claimants' lawyers allege that Nzili was castrated, Nyingi severely beaten and Mara subjected to appalling sexual abuse in detention camps during the rebellion."
The fourth claimant in the original case, Ndiku Mutwiwa Mutua, died in the interim between when the test case was ruled arguable in July 2011 and the opening of the trial.
The lawyers for the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) have argued that the case should be struck down because the lapse in time between the end of the insurgency and the current proceedings is too great. However, a new cache of secret British documents unveiled in April 2012 has shed new light on crimescommitted in Kenya, as well as other former colonies -- and the decades-long effort to cover them up.
The files - which had been purposely withheld from the National Archives and illegally hidden at Hanslope Park, an intelligence station -- were uncovered by historians working on the Kenyans' case. Subsequently, the Foreign Office released all of the records.
The documents include accounts of British officials "roasting detainees alive" in Kenya. The colony's attorney general in 1953, Eric Griffith-Jones, described the internment camps as "distressingly reminiscent of conditions in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia" -- yet nevertheless endorsed British policy, claiming that "if we are going to sin, we must sin quietly."
The Kenyans first requested the release of these documents in 1967, according to an internal FCO review from February 2011 that was made public in May. The review, which explains how the Kenyan request served as a blueprint for refusing such information to all former colonies, details that the files were consciously concealed by the government. They reasoned that releasing any information would set "a dangerous precedent" which would make it "difficult to withhold un-reviewed and potentially sensitive papers from other former colonies."
The Guardian confirmed that the most incriminating of the documents were systematically destroyed. Nevertheless, the remaining incriminating files -- known within the FCO as the 'migrated archives' because they were whisked out of colonial territories before the post-independence administration could take power - total 8,800 files. The Kenyan documents alone total 294 boxes.
As the trial progresses, government fears of "a dangerous precedent" may prove well-founded: this case might very well open up avenues for other colonies to bring legal cases against the former empire.
SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images
Canadian scientists and supporters staged a mock funeral in front of parliament in Ottawa yesterday to protest Prime Minister Stephen Harper's proposed cuts to scientific research.
The July 10 event, called the "death of evidence" rally, drew an estimated 2000 protesters from across the country. Led by a participant dressed as the grim reaper, lab coat wearing mock-pall bearers carried the casket containing the "body" of evidence up the steps to Parliament Hill.
The Harper government's budget cut millions of dollars and 12,000 government positions from basic research in Canada. Major slashes will impact institutions such as Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Library and Archives Canada, the National Research Council Canada, Statistics Canada, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
According to the Globe and Mail, protesters "decried the Conservative government's overall economic agenda, which they say puts the environment at risk for the sake of creating jobs." This includes the closure of research stations such as the Experimental Lakes Area - which provides cutting edge research on acid rain and phosphate pollution.
A great slide show of photos from the rally by Trevor Pritchard is available here at OpenFile Ottawa.
Trevor Pritchard/ OpenFile Ottawa
On the eve of his country's first anniversary of independence, prominent South Sudanese human rights activist Deng Athuai was found brutally beaten and tied in a bag by the side of the road in Juba, the capital. According to local sources:
A military intelligence source told [the] Sudan Tribune that Athuai was found "crying inside [a] sack along the road side" between Kabur-tit and Gumba forest by the South Sudan security services.
Athuai had been reported missing on July 4, after he disappeared from his hotel in Juba. He is now in a coma at Juba Teaching Hospital, according to the Sudan Tribune.
Athuai is the chairsperson of South Sudan's Civil Society Alliance - the country's first non-profit umbrella network and a partner of the U.S.-based think tank Freedom House. He recently participated in a protest march demanding that South Sudan's parliament release the names of 75 government officials known to have embezzled $4 billion in public funds since 2005.
Athuai's colleagues refuse to speculate as to the identity of his assailants.
That year marks the juncture when South Sudan gained autonomy (a precursor to independence in 2011) from the north after decades of war, and began receiving $2 billion a year in oil revenues. For a country in which 71 percent of GDP comes from oil exports, and oil production accounts for 98 percent of all government revenues, this is a serious chunk of cash. The auditor-general's office reported that $1.5 billion went missing in the 2005-2006 fiscal year alone.
When the scandal was revealed in June, President Salva Kiir sent a letter to officials asking that the funds be returned:
"Many people in South Sudan are suffering and yet some government officials simply care about themselves.
We fought for freedom, justice and equality. Many of our friends died to achieve these objectives. Yet once we got to power, we forgot what we fought for and began to enrich ourselves at the expense of our people."
The letter was sent to approximately 75 officials -- the same ones whose names Athuai demanded should be made public. However, in the letter Kiir had promised amnesty and confidentiality to those who returned the funds.
Despite this event, as well as the country's dire economic situation since it shut off oil production in January, celebrations for the anniversary of independence began at midnight and will continue throughout the day.
"We have fought for our right to be counted among the community of the free nations and we have earned it," President Kiir told the gathered crowds. "To the extent that we still depend on others, our liberty today is incomplete. We must be more than liberated, we have to be independent economically."
President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan apparently turned down an invitation to attend the celebrations.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
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