FP alum Michael Wilkerson on the latest from Uganda:
The government response to Uganda's ongoing "Walk to Work" protests took a sinister turn today when opposition leader Kizza Besigye was violently dragged from his car and arrested. Security officers first broke the windows of the car, and then sprayed in pepper spray and/or tear gas to force the occupants out.
This is the fourth time Besigye has been arrested since the protests started on April 11, encouraging people to walk to work in solidarity as a protest against rising commodity prices and a lack of government response. At least five civilians have been killed as the government responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and, often live fire. Besigye himself is still wearing a cast after being shot in the finger with a rubber bullet during the first protest. This arrest, however, was by far the most violent.
The first three times, Besigye was actually walking when arrested, though after being arrested the first time immediately outside his house, he used his car to drive closer to downtown Kampala the second and third times. According to the Associated Press, today, Besigye got out of his car briefly and then got back in when police and military officers rushed toward him, precipitating the scene in the video.
Besigye, head of the FDC political party, has been the leading opposition candidate against President Yoweri Museveni in elections in 2001, 2006, and 2011. In the elections this February, Besigye received 26 percent of the vote to Museveni's 68 percent. Museveni, now in his 25th year at the helm, was widely expected to win the elections this year, but took no chances. Hundreds of millions of dollars in state resources seem to have been diverted to Museveni's campaign, and despite U.S. requests to the contrary, Museveni reappointed the same Electoral Commission widely regarded as either biased or incompetent after Uganda's 2006 vote.
Fearing protests like those in North Africa, the government directed mobile phone companies the day before the election to block text messages with words or phrases they feared, including Mubarak and Egypt. Massive army deployments, allegedly to protect against a terror threat like the Al-Shabab bombings in Kampala last July, were also used to suppress any thought of opposition demonstrations.
Though Besigye did indeed call for mass protests after the election results, they did not materialize, probably due to the military intimidation. Now, however, Uganda has had sharp increases in fuel and food prices due to drought and international oil fluctuations, and the opposition seized the opportunity to mobilize public dissatisfaction. The design of the Walk to Work protests also makes it harder for the government to vilify than protests rejecting election results. Each time Besigye is on foot, however, massive crowds gather and the government has used this as the reason for arrest, saying he was blocking traffic.
During the first week of protests, the government itself tried to take a page from the Egypt handbook and sent a letter to internet service providers on April 13 instructing them to block Facebook and "Tweeter (sic)" for 24 hours. TV stations were also ordered not to carry live footage of the protests. Before this most recent arrest, the U.S. State Department issued a statement of concern about the violent response to peaceful protests and the attempt to restrict access to internet or other media.
But while the protests are getting more attention for the opposition, they don't necessarily mean progress. Melina Platas points out the opposition's lack of cohesion or ideology, and uncertain outcome of the protests:
[I]f the state (read: Museveni) appears in disarray, so too does the movement opposing it. Anger, not vision, drives people to the streets. Not one Uganda, one people, but one Besigye who has been brutalized. The campaign is still more anti-Museveni than pro-anything.
As Andrew Mwenda says, Uganda is barreling down a highway, facing four exits: Exit Saudi Arabia, where protests go to die, Exit Yemen where stalemate prevails, Exit Egypt with transformative revolution, and Exit Libya, where civil war reigns.
Note that there is no exit in which Museveni decides to step down peacefully and retire anytime soon.
Follow Michael on Twitter at @MJWilkerson
When Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi goes on the offensive, great things happen for bloggers. He got worked up after a Spanish reporter asked whether he should resign for the rising scandal over his womanizing, including an escort who says she was paid to spend the night with him. Reuters reports Berlusconi's stunningly candid explanation for why he thinks he should stay:
"I sincerely believe I am by far the best prime minister Italy has had in its 150 year history (since unification in 1861)," Berlusconi said in televised news conference in Sardinia with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
Now, though struggling with corruption, Italy is a democracy, but I'm pretty sure that's what Robert Mugabe says too. But back to Berlusconi, it gets better. He has never denied sleeping with the woman accusing him, but forcefully explained why he would never pay for sex:
"Never in my life, not even once, have I had to pay for a sexual encounter," Berlusconi said. "And I'll tell you why: for someone who loves to conquer, the greatest joy is the conquest, so I ask, 'if you pay, what joy can there be?'"
That must make his wife feel even better about her decision to start divorce proceedings. But the press conference still gets better:
When Berlusconi apologized to Zapatero for his lengthy answer, the Spanish leader said there was no need and it was "very interesting."
ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images
When a giant clock reached 09:09:09 on 9/9/09, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Ruler of Dubai and Vice President of the UAE, swiped a personalised plastic card at a ticket barrier and took his place as the first passenger on a network that will, when finished, have cost an estimated Dh28 billion (US$7.6bn).
The first two trains were filled by VIPs but eventually, lucky members of the general public were allowed to take part in the festivities.
A little later, a third train left the Nakheel Harbour and Tower station with 400 members of the public, the winners of “golden tickets”, picked from about 10,000 people who entered an online competition.
One of them, MV Martin, said: “I can’t believe I am going to be part of history.”
With all the layoffs in Dubai and abandoned luxury cars everywhere, the Metro could provide a cheaper transport option. Or maybe abandoned cars are still available for bargain prices?
KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images
South African tech company Unlimited IT was so frustrated with the slow Internet speeds provided by Telkom, one of South Africa's biggest internet providers, that it hired a pigeon named Winston. As the Times of South Africa reports, Winston carried a 4gb memory card from one branch of Unlimited IT to another, far faster than Telkom's transfer speed:
The 11-month-old pigeon flew 80km from a call centre in Howick, outside Pietermaritzburg, to a head office in Hillcrest, Durban, to prove a bird is faster at transferring data than Telkom’s ADSL lines.
Winston made his delivery in 2 hours 6 minutes and 57 seconds, beating Telkom’s estimated download time of up to two days. By the time the memory card, carrying company data, had been collected from Winston and downloaded by midday, the ADSL download had managed 100MB of data.
The Christian Science Monitor's Scott Balduf, based in Johannesburg, explains why the story is more significant than just good publicity for Ultimate and Winston:
Africans pay some of the highest prices for some of the least reliable Internet service in the world. And if a country like South Africa – relatively prosperous and developed – can't solve this problem, then it's going to need a lot more pigeons.
Telkom has since responded to the South Africa Press Association and denied responsibility for Ultimate's Internet connection woes.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and his her office released two reports on violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2008, citing "possible war crimes and crimes against humanity" by the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), a rebel group formerly led by Laurent Nkunda and backed by the government of Rwanda.
Talk about your diplomatic understatement. The crimes involved dozens of killings and rapes. But for those following the DRC this statement has to seem kind of weak. There have been all sorts of atrocities in Eastern Congo for years, and the only questions really are which militia was guilty in which case. Possible? The U.N. head of mission in the DRC called the attacks war crimes immediately after they happened.
Reuters reporters shrewdly dig into the problematic fact that while Nkunda was later arrested by Rwandan forces, it was his lieutenant, Jean Bosco Ntaganda (shown above), nicknamed "The Terminator" who was commanding the CNDP forces at the time of the November killings. Guess where he is?
Ntaganda, who is being sought by the International Criminal Court on separate war crimes charges, wasintegrated into Congo's army in January along with other members of the Tutsi-dominated CNDP..."We know he is there. We are aware of it. He was integrated. He wasgiven a role. And according to our partners, he does not play a role inthe operations that MONUC is supporting," said Kevin Kennedy, MONUC's head of communications.
"But it isn't our job to investigate the role of Bosco Ntaganda in the (army)," he told journalists in Kinshasa.
One other question for other Congo watchers out there. Doesn't a lot of focus seem to be just on the CNDP, when the Hutu FDLR militia has been committing terrible massacres for years? In fact, wasn't a key reason--along with grabbing minerals--for Rwandan support of Nkunda that he was protecting Congolese Tutsis from the marauding FDLR, many of whom were genocidaires? Maybe I've just missed it or Nkunda made such a good media character. Is the FDLR getting as much U.N. heat?
Update: This post originally mistook the gender and misspelled the name of U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navanethem, or Navi, Pillay.
LIONEL HEALING/AFP/Getty Images
In the Financial Times on Wednesday, Chris Cook argues that British immigration laws are giving an unfair edge to soccer clubs with more money.
Clubs with deep pockets hire the small number of local and foreign gifted players available, while poorer clubs must make do with the remaining, potentially much weaker, local journeymen.
Not only that, he says, but the protectionist measures of allowing non-European workers only if the fit certain high-skill benchmarks also inflate wages for less-skilled Europeans, raising ticket prices.
Cook contends tougher competition would boost the English national team:
The impact of more foreign players on the elite band of players who might conceivably play for the national team is that they need to play better to keep their places in their club teams. So, they improve. The English team has markedly improved since foreign footballers started pouring into the country’s top league.
Would some British and European soccer players be pushed out of work if rules were liberalized? Probably, but a more competitive league would be worth it Cook says.
Consumers of an increasing range of products will soon feel the pain in their wallets already endured by so many fans on a Saturday afternoon, who routinely complain that they pay ever-greater sums to watch a football league dominated by just four clubs. What English football needs is fewer English footballers.
Not knowing that much about the economics of the Premiere Leage, here's a question: If teams in the lower half of the standings became much more competitive, would it increase their revenues? Higher ticket sales? More advertising?
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
It's cartoon Wednesday here at Passport. Three editors at the Uganda weekly The Independent, including editor-in-chief and FP contributor Andrew Mwenda, were summoned by police over a political cartoon in last week's magazine. The cartoon, seen above, implies that President Yoweri Museveni is beginning a strategy to rig the elections scheduled for early 2011. Uganda is one of the few self-proclaimed democracies to retain criminal libel laws which can be used to prosecute journalists. However, the sedition law is currently under appeal to the Supreme Court and no prosecutions are allowed to move forward. (Freedom House rates Uganda "partly free.")
For four hours, 10 officers of the Media Crimes Department of Uganda's Criminal Investigations Directorate questioned the editorial decisions of Managing Editor Andrew Mwenda, Editor Charles Bichachi, and Assistant News Editor Joseph Were of the bimonthly newsmagazine The Independent, according to defense lawyer Bob Kasango. Were was told to return for further questioning on Saturday, while Mwenda and Bichachi were ordered to return on Monday, according to local journalists...
Officers pressed the trio over the motive and production of an August 21 cartoon spoofing Museveni's controversial decision to reappoint members of the embattled electoral commission to supervise the 2011 general election. The Supreme Court ruled that in the 2005 election the electoral commission did not adhere to its own rules and allowed irregularities including bribery, ballot-stuffing, and voter disenfranchisement.
The second spot on the list alludes to the treason charges against opposition leader Kizza Besigye, who was brought to trial in late 2005 at the same time he was the main candidate opposing Museveni's reelection. Olara Otunnu, a former U.N. official is thought to be another possible challenger in 2011.
The third item, Kiboko squads, refers to violent groups of men that attacked anti-government protesters in 2007 and were since linked to Museveni's government by the Uganda Human Rights Commission, among others.
Museveni is expected to face a serious challenge in the 2011 elections if the opposition can unite behind a single candidate. My sources in Uganda say he personally was very angry about the cartoon, leading to the questioning.
But still, a cartoon?
Press intimidation is fairly frequent in Uganda, but most international donors tend to look the other way as Uganda is relatively stable overall.
But seditious cartoons? Really? That can't be good for aid dollars.
Full disclosure: I know all three editors well and worked at The Independent in 2008. Shortly before I arrived, a more dramatic incident occurred with government forces actually arresting several journalists at the magazine, raiding the office and seizing files and disks alleged to contain "seditious materials." No charges were filed.
The Independent, Uganda
We have received several responses to the post last week about the State Department's struggle to get security clearances for interns. The post was based on this National Journal story. Below are comments by readers identifying themselves as former interns. The consensus so far is that while the process isn't great, the clearance is important.
Matt Born, who served as an intern in Athens in 2007, responded by email, and said that he applied in May 2006, was accepted in September, had his clearance request submitted in October and received an interim clearance in January 2007:
I was a State intern a few years ago, and found the process to be opaque and difficult. I was offered and served as an intern in the political section in Athens, but I can vouch that the clearance process took a significant amount of time and only succeeded after they stopped pursuing top secret clearance and opted for interim secret. I'm on my third passport, and have spent maybe 10 percent of my life overseas, but due to the opacity of the process I don't know whether that had any impact.
Regarding whether interns handle classified material, I can say that it varied. There were times when I had to remind the FSOs that my clearance didn't go high enough to do what they were asking. There were three other interns during my stay in Athens, and some of them never saw a coversheet.
Commenter tbeau85 agreed that access is important:
As a former overseas DOS intern, I had access to classified cables for intern projects. No intern is "running" anything but your reaction does overlook the fact that in reality, "classified" material does not always include "sexy" news. It can be simply politically sensitive discussions--access to which is necessary if an intern is to get a full experience with DOS. Even not related to direct assignments, perusing the cables everyday was one of the best experiences as an intern. If interns could only read UC material, the whole experience would not be nearly the same.
alkenn93 says he/she also received an interim clearance one week ahead of time and that the process was "incredibly difficult":
Yes, it was extremely useful to be able to read classified cables and to attend sensitive meetings, and I wouldn't argue that interns shouldn't have to be granted secret clearance. Still, the difficulty of the process only serves to weed out eager students with relevant overseas experience, and is not proportionate to the actual amount of sensitive work we complete.
Another description of the access provided for cleared interns:
For better or worse, many areas and documents are marked as secret, and I agree that not clearing interns would rather limit their experiences. Cables, NIEs, and other documents that have classified versions offer a lot more insight into the whole process and are a neat perk of the job. Certainly, the process could be improved -- interns who applied nine months ahead of time should be told more than a week before the first day that they will, in fact, be permitted to show up for work -- but the difficulty in obtaining a clearance shouldn't detract from the value of that clearance.
Finally, commenter Guyver describes the frustration of never getting to start:
I was supposed to be a summer intern at State in 2006. I did not get my clearance till end of August, by which time summer was over. Funny thing, I was offered the internship because I have native-fluency in Arabic, but that’s what delayed my clearance, because I spent many years overseas in Arab countries.
Based on these comments, here are some further questions for discussion:
If State Department funding is increased, as has been indicated, will the problems lessen?
Are normal State hires having the same problems with clearance? Or is it easier because training and the first year doing consular leave plenty of time?
Update: A prospective Foreign Service Officer (FSO) wrote in to explain that the clearance process for hires is just as long. She asked to have her name withheld as her employment offer is still in the clearance phase.
As someone with a conditional offer of employment as an FSO, I must note that one cannot be accepted into training without passing the Final Suitability Review, which requires both the top-secret clearance and medical clearance to be completed before the actual hiring can take place. This process takes months to complete.
I asked what prospective FSOs do for the months while awaiting clearance:
I think some people do drop out, but the process to pass the FSO exams is so arduous, and people have invested so much time and energy already, that I think most don't. Most keep working wherever they've been working, or get short-term jobs, things like that.
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