During his imprisonment on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela found inspiration in what has come to be one of the most hackneyed poems in the English language. Mandela is hardly alone in his admiration for the Victorian-era poem 'Invictus' -- other fans included John F. Kennedy and Timothy McVeigh -- and Mandela is just one of many to appropriate (or misappropriate) the poem.
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In a world where news comes as fast as your Internet connection, and breaking stories are first announced on Twitter, confusion is bound to happen. On Thursday, news of Nelson Mandela's death unfortunately coincided with the London premiere of a new movie about the legendary South African leader -- "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom." On Twitter, the rumors of his passing, which turned out to be true just minutes later, became interwoven with the discussion of Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton's red carpet outfit, creating a jarring dissonance.
Here are some examples:
Vanity Fair's Royal Hairdo Watch didn't get the memo:
While the world turned to Johannesburg, People magazine kept a close eye on the Royal Date Night.
Some Twitter users just embraced the coincidence:
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South African President Jacob Zuma announced on Thursday night the death of Nelson Mandela. He was 95.
"Our nation has lost its greatest son," Zuma said in announcing Mandela's death on South African television. The iconic leader of the country's struggle against racism and its first post-apartheid president, Mandela died after a long battle with lung disease, an aftereffect of the tuberculosis he contracted during his 27-year imprisonment.
While Mandela's health has been in decline during the past several months, his death on Thursday nonetheless came as a shock and sparked an outpouring of grief.
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Things have gone from bad to worse in the Central African Republic. Nine months after a rebel alliance known as Seleka seized control of Bangui, the country's riverside capital, and forced President François Bozizé into exile, CAR is quickly descending into chaos. The country could be "on the verge of genocide," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned last month, echoing John Ging, the director of the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, who in mid-November reported being "concerned that the seeds of a genocide are being sown." According to U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, "the population is enduring suffering beyond imagination."
In a country that has endured five coups in as many decades, instability has been one of the few predictable elements of daily life. But since the Seleka rebels began their campaign against the government in December of last year, the state has all but collapsed. Following the ouster of Bozizé and his replacement with rebel leader Michel Djotodia, the Seleka alliance turned on itself. In September, Djotodia officially disbanded the predominantly Muslim rebel movement that propelled him into office, leaving battle hardened fighters, many of them foreign mercenaries from Chad and Sudan, to prey indiscriminately on the population. What ensued was rape, pillage, and blood-letting on a massive scale -- as well as the formation of predominantly Christian militias, known as anti-balaka ("anti-machete"), that have carried out their own atrocities against the country's Muslim population.
"The resulting tit-for-tat spiral of violence [between Muslims and Christians] is creating the foundation of a religious conflict that will be very difficult to stop," Lawrence D. Wohlers, the recently departed U.S. ambassador to CAR, told Foreign Policy. "Although it is the Christian population that has suffered the most until now, the Muslim population is a distinct minority and may suffer far more as Seleka's power declines," he said, adding that the country could be headed for "religious-inspired, murderous anarchy" in "which no one will be safe."
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If Michel Djotodia, the Central African Republic's rebel leader turned interim president, is to be believed, Joseph Kony, the head of the infamous Lord's Resistance Army, is about to emerge from the jungle and surrender. "It's true, Joseph Kony wants to come out of the bush," Djotodia told the Guardian. "We are negotiating with him." Reports suggest that Kony is sheltering near the town of Nzako and asking intermediaries for food and supplies.
Let's just say that analysts tracking Kony are, well, skeptical about that claim. What's more likely, they say, is that the government is talking to a group of LRA fighters, possibly defectors, who may have no affiliation with Kony.
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After losing a key match to their rivals How Mine, officials from the Zimbabwean soccer team CAPS United decided to check out the locker room of their opponents. What they found convinced the team that they had lost the match on account of their opponents' use of "juju." Lighted candles littered the locker room, along with liquid-filled bottles arranged in an 11-man formation.
Breathlessly recounting the weird traditions of Zimbabwean soccer, the Associated Press report on the flap over alleged juju-use describes some of the more unusual Zimbabwean rituals deployed in the hope of securing a victory: "animal bones, hair, feathers and river pebbles" stashed around sports fields, goal posts "sprinkled with urine," soccer players smeared in "ancient herbal potions."
"Juju is rampant, it's part of the game," a senior soccer official told the AP. The resulting story is a picture-postcard in gleefully revelling in the exotic tendencies of African culture -- and the strange, seemingly irrational belief system it seems to represent. What goes unmentioned is that Western sports and athletes are equally guilty of using a bit of "juju" to get the win. Les Miles, the Louisiana State University football coach, has a habit of eating grass off the field. Boxer Sugar Ray Robinson liked to drink beef blood before his bouts.
The only difference between these American superstars and their Zimbabwean counterparts? The AP would never describe their behavior as "juju."
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Mozambique has been a country on the rise in recent years. In 1992, it concluded 17 years of civil war with the Rome General Peace Accords. And after a period of dependence on international aid, its economy has begun to come into its own, as the country has attracted energy companies from around the world to develop untapped oil and coal resources. The Mozambican economy was projected to grow 7 percent this year, but progress may be derailed if the country lapses back into violence.
That seems more likely today than at any other point since the Rome Accords were signed 15 years ago. On Monday, Mozambican government forces raided the headquarters of the opposition movement, Renamo, forcing the organization's leader, Afonso Dhlakama, to flee. The organization then announced its withdrawal from the 1992 accords, and on Tuesday staged an attack on a police station in the town of Maringue (no casualties were reported). It's not the first time Renamo has clashed with the government, which since 1992 has been headed by its civil war rival, the Frelimo party -- Renamo skirmished with government forces earlier this year in April and June. But the withdrawal from the Rome Accords is a significant move, marking the end of one of Africa's most successful peace treaties and the culmination of a five-year drift towards violence.
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The tentative $4.7 billion deal to take BlackBerry private may have only been announced on Monday, but for many Americans it was a long time coming. In the United States and Western Europe, Apple's iPhone and Google's Android have come to dominate the smartphone market, while Blackberry has been lapping up less than 2 percent of the American market and has seen its share European markets decline steadily over the years. But there are some corners of the world where BlackBerry's fall may come as more of a shock -- particularly in the emerging economies of Southeast Asia, where BlackBerry has its strongest market presence, or in the several African and Latin American nations where it remains the top smartphone. Here are some of the countries where the BlackBerry still enjoys superstar status.
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As French President François Hollande spoke at the inauguration of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Mali's first elected president since the country's unrest began in March 2012 with a coup, all that was missing was a 'Mission Accomplished' banner.
"We have won this war; we have chased out the terrorists; we have secured the north and finally ... we have, you have organized an uncontested election and the winner is now the president of Mali," he told the crowd gathered at a sports arena in Bamako, the capital, on Thursday, according to the Associated Press's report.
Hollande was insistent about that we, and didn't hesitate to boast about France's role in bringing about this moment. "If there had not been an intervention," he told the crowd, "today the terrorists would be here in Bamako."
France has begun withdrawing some of the 4,000 troops it deployed to Mali last winter, and plans to pull more out as a U.N. peacekeeping force increases its presence in the country. Hollande is certainly winding down his war. But is it won, as he claimed today?
The jihadi rebels in Mali seem to have disappeared as much they were defeated. Some fled into the Central African Republic, where they're accused of committing massacres. Others have fled to Niger, Algeria, and Libya, leaving behind weapons caches buried in the Sahara. "They absolutely refuse to fight us," a French soldier told the Wall Street Journal. Now those combat-veteran jihadists are waiting in the wings, still staging occasional attacks -- like the one that occurred right after FP's Yochi Dreazen left Mali, when a roadside bomb killed two Malian soldiers in Gao -- and waiting for their moment to stage a comeback.
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President Barack Obama generated a feel-good photo-op on Tuesday in Tanzania when he took a few moments to play with the Soccket, an ingenious soccer ball that can power an LED light for three hours after you kick it around for 30 minutes. Simply play with the ball, and then plug the light into the Soccket's socket.
After some good-natured showboating (he headed the ball), Obama explained, "The Soccket turns one of the most popular games in Africa into a source of electricity and progress. You can imagine this in villages all across the continent."
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This week, for the sixth time in a row, Somalia topped Foreign Policy's Failed States Index, reinforcing its image as "the most failed of failed states." And while it's true that the country remains fragmented, with two autonomous breakaway regions, a persistent terrorist threat from al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab fighters, and foreign-financed warlords in the wide swaths of the country beyond the sovereign control of the central government, Somalia has taken tenuous steps toward asserting self-governance in the past year. The mandate of Somalia's transitional government ended in August 2012, and since then the country has come under the control of a new government in Mogadishu, formed under the auspices of a constitution approved in 2012.
In step with these developments, the new Somali political scene is quickly acquiring the trappings of other, more functional governments -- including the country's first think tank. Established in Mogadishu in January 2013, the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies (HIPS) has begun writing reports and policy papers to advise the nascent Somali government, international organizations, and other local actors. In its first six months, HIPS has provided commentary and guidance on topics as diverse as Somali refugees in Kenya, educational opportunities in Somalia, and domestic diplomatic initiatives in Kismayo and the self-declared state of Somaliland.
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Consider it a case study in getting off on the wrong foot.
Snarled traffic, shut-down streets, and security everywhere. These are things Senegalese news outlets are talking about today -- not development, investment, and American engagement -- as President Barack Obama kicks off a three-country visit to Africa with a stop in Senegal.
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On the heels of Wednesday's gay marriage rulings at the Supreme Court, a farcical piece of political theater played out on MSNBC.
As the plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case were making an appearance on the cable network, Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, wandered into the frame with a phone to his ear and announced that he had Barack Obama on the line, calling from Air Force One. The president offered garbled congratulations through an iPhone speaker phone to the plaintiffs -- Kristin Perry, Sandy Stier, Paul Katami, and Jeff Zarillo -- and MSNBC's national audience.
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It's been more than a year since Omar Hammami, an American-born jihadist in Somalia who made a name for himself with lo-fi propaganda rap productions, posted a video telling viewers he feared for his life. The threat he felt came not from the Somali government, which he had come to fight against in 2008, or from the U.S. government, which has branded him a wanted terrorist, but from his own comrades in al-Shabab, the Somali affiliate of al Qaeda.
Since then, Hammami has been hiding out in Somalia, but he's hardly kept a low profile online. He is the apparent operator of the @abumamerican Twitter account, from which he has criticized al-Shabab's leadership and communicated with journalists and terrorism analysts -- he even gave an interview for a profile by Danger Room's Spencer Ackerman. In the past week, though, his luck living on the lam has been running out.
Last Thursday, Hammami live-tweeted what he claimed was an assassination attempt in which an al-Shabab gunman shot him in the neck in a coffee shop (he quickly posted pictures of blood running down his neck and soaking his shirt). Then his hideout was assaulted by militiamen who, after a shootout, reportedly hauled Hammami before an al-Shabab tribunal. According to Hammami's account on Twitter, the tribunal released him and several members of al-Shabab's leadership issued a fatwa protecting Hammami, but others in the organization still promised to pursue him. Yesterday, as Shabab-affiliated forces closed in around the village where he remains in hiding, Hammami seemed to think he could be killed shortly:
May not find another chance to tweet but just remember what we said and what we stood for. God kept me alive to deliver the mssg 2 the umah— abu m (@abumamerican) April 29, 2013
Today he did find another chance to tweet, reporting that a militia from the Somali province of Gedo is threatening to kill him "even if they lose 100 despite defections."
The apparent end of Hammami's life on the run is certainly high drama, but it's also a rare glimpse into the divisions in al-Shabab's leadership. There have been tensions in the organization before, but "it has not, to my knowledge, resulted in such a public display of discord," wrote Katherine Zimmerman, a senior analyst for the American Enterprise Institute's Critical Threats Project, when reached by email by FP.
There seems to be bad blood between Hammami and al-Shabab's emir, Ahmed Abdi Godane, who also goes by the kunya Abu Zubayr. In Hammami's telling, he went into hiding after a fight he had with Godane over the role of foreign fighters, taxation issues, and trial procedures. "i told him every last detail in person," Hammami told Ackerman in his interview, "leading to the beginning of the oppression." As militiamen gathered last Friday to drag him to the tribunal, Hammami saw Godane's hand: "abu zubayr has gone mad," he tweeted. "he's starting a civil war."
Hammami believes the decision to pursue him has driven a wedge between Godane and his deputies. And sure enough, after he was released by the tribunal, several senior leaders -- Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, the deputy emir, Hassan Dahir Aweys, a Shabab official who ran a rival militia until 2010, and Ibrahim Haji Jama Mead, a member of al-Shabab's Shura Council -- issued a fatwa protecting Hammami. "The fatwa," Zimmerman writes, "does indicate that these three have, and will continue to, position themselves on the side of protecting Hammami."
But that doesn't necessarily mean al-Shabab is headed for civil war, as Hammami suggests. "It is still not clear to me that the divisions over the treatment of Hammami and the fighters with him will result in an actual split within al Shabaab," Zimmerman writes, stressing previous tensions in the organization's senior leadership. Specifically, she cited Robow's 2010 decision to withdraw his troops from Mogadishu after rejecting Godane's strategic approach to the city, Aweys's public disagreement with Godane over whether al-Shabab should have a monopoly on jihadist groups in Somalia, and a message Mead addressed to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in which he expressed opposition to Godane's leadership. Despite their differences, Zimmerman points out, they've all remained stakeholders in the organization: "When these divisions surface, some are quick to assume that the group is weaker, but time and again, the group has remained united despite the divisions."
What's more, the internal fight over Hammami's fate doesn't split along what seems to be al-Shabab's largest internal fault line. That would be the fight "between the 'globalists' and the 'nationalists,'" writes Zimmerman, "those who sought to establish an Islamic caliphate in Somalia for the purpose of supporting al Qaeda's vision of jihad, and those who appeared to seek an Islamic caliphate as an end-state." Both Godane and Hammami are in the globalist camp (Hammami's even rapped about it); Robow and Aweys have tended to side with nationalists.
At the end of the day, Hammami seems to be caught in the middle of these rivals' power plays. And though the debate over his fate might not tear the organization apart, his desperate tweets do shine a light on the leadership's stark divisions.
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group responsible for more than 2,000 deaths in northern Nigeria, is apparently not interested in amnesty. In rejecting an offer (before it was actually put on the table) by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, the group appeared to respond with its own offer of sorts: "It is we that should grant you [a] pardon," said a man who sounds like Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in a recording translated by AFP. "Surprisingly, the Nigerian government is talking about granting us amnesty. What wrong have we done?"
In 2011, Boko Haram rejected a similar amnesty offer from Kashim Shettima, then governor-elect of Nigeria's Borno state, on the grounds that the group did not recognize the Nigerian constitution, only the laws of Allah. (No counteroffer of amnesty was made at that time.)
This time around, Boko Haram seems to have taken its cue from the Congolese Rally for Democracy, a rebel group active in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo during the Second Congo War, which greeted an amnesty offer from President Laurent Kabila with a similarly flippant riposte.
"Kabila is the one who deserves amnesty in the first place," the rebel group's vice president said in 1999. "Kabila should seek forgiveness from the rebels and all Congolese people. The only way to do so is to quit power and leave the Congolese in peace."
For what it's worth, the reverse-amnesty strategy was also tried (under slightly different circumstances) by the leader of a breakaway splinter of the Tamil Tigers in 2004. After receiving a "ridiculous" amnesty offer from the group's northern leadership, a spokesman for the rogue colonel, Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, said, "It is they who should think of being forgiven by our people [in the east] for the sacrifices made to protect the land and the people of Wanni [in the north]."
Emotional blackmail. No, it's not Madonna's new hit single, but rather one of the accusations hurled at the pop star in a statement released by the Malawi State House on Thursday.
Earlier this week, we wrote about the material girl's less-than-stellar trip to the country, which included a series of faux pas that angered and offended the country's president, Joyce Banda. Today, tensions between the government and Madonna escalated as Malawi released a comprehensive document detailing its grievances. The full text was published in the Nyasa Times, but here are some of the highlights:
Madonna feels that the Malawi Government and its leadership should have abandoned everything and attended to her because she believes she is a music star turned benefactor who is doing Malawi good....
[I]n the feeling of Madonna, the Malawi Government and its leadership should have rolled out a red carpet and blast the 21-gun salute in her honour because she believes that as a musician, the whiff of whose repute flies across international boundaries, she automatically is candidate for VVIP [see definition] treatment.
The document then goes on to "put the record straight" with 11 bullet points. Number three accuses Madonna of emotional blackmail regarding her adoption of two Malawian children:
It, therefore, comes across as strange and depressing that for a humanitarian act, prompted only by her, Madonna wants Malawi to be forever chained to the obligation of gratitude. Kindness, as far as its ordinary meaning is concerned, is free and anonymous. If it can't be free and silent, it is not kindness; it is something else. Blackmail is the closest it becomes.
Number seven, meanwhile, draws our attention to the gaggle of "equally dazzling" celebrities who have visited Malawi without demanding star treatment, including Chuck Norris and Bono. Ouch.
Number nine may be the most cutting:
For her to accuse [President Banda's sister] Mrs. Oponyo for indiscretions that have clearly arisen from her personal frustrations that her ego has not been massaged by the state is uncouth, and speaks volumes of a musician who desperately thinks she must generate recognition by bullying state officials instead of playing decent music on the stage.
Madonna responded with a statement on her website that called the allegations against her "ridiculous," adding that she was "saddened that Malawi's President Joyce Banda has chosen to release lies." In what could perhaps be construed as further emotional blackmail, the singer then went on to list her accomplishments in the country, which include raising "millions of dollars in Malawi to support orphans and vulnerable children." I wouldn't bet on Malawi's leaders sending a thank-you note.
AMOS GUMULIRA/AFP/Getty Images
The Material Girl made a trip to Malawi over the past week. Suffice it to say it did not go well.
Among the slights the one-name-only star endured:
Madonna has had a complicated relationship with Malawi since controversy erupted over her adoption of two Malawi children, David Banda and Mercy James, both eight. The charitable organization she founded afterward, Raising Malawi, collapsed amid accusations of mismanagement; one of the heads sent rolling belonged to Banda's younger sister Anjimile Mtila-Oponyo, and a spokesman suggested to the Telegraph yesterday that Madonna was being subjected to the indignities of airport security as the result of a "grudge."
Madonna herself has yet to issue a statement on the controversy -- after making it through security, you could say she left Malawi faster than a ray of light. But she did speak briefly to cameras at an orphanage in Lilongwe, where she said her focus remained on Malawi's children -- a line that moved at least one prominent observer of the spat to join Team Madonna.
AMOS GUMULIRA/AFP/Getty Images
It looks like rare earth elements aren't the only commodity China has been allegedly keeping to itself. According to a recent study published in the journal Fish and Fisheries, the Chinese have been drastically underreporting the number of fish that Chinese ships catch in other countries' waters every year.
While China tells the UNFAO, the U.N. agency that tracks global fishing data, that Chinese distant-water fishing vessels take in roughly 368,000 tons of fish a year, the Fish and Fisheries report estimates that the actual weight of the collective catch is more than 12 times that number -- around 4.6 million tons a year. At the same time, China exaggerates its domestic catch.
The report claims that the majority of the haul (64 percent) comes from off the coast of West Africa, where Chinese fishing practices could have a serious impact on the local population. "The study shows the extent of the looting of Africa, where so many people depend on seafood for basic protein," Daniel Pauly, a professor at the University of British Columbia and one of the authors of the study, told the Guardian. "We need to know how many fish have been taken from the ocean in order to figure out what we can catch in the future. Countries need to realize the importance of accurately recording and reporting their catches and step up to the plate, or there will be no fish left for our children."
It's important to note that just because the fishing goes unreported doesn't mean it's illegal. The Chinese government may have negotiated special (and usually secret) agreements with certain African coastal states allowing Chinese vessels to fish in the waters.
It's also true that the Chinese are not alone in exploiting West Africa's abundant fishing grounds. But, if these estimates are correct, Chinese fishermen are doing it on a much larger scale than anyone else, catching as much as 22 West African coastal countries and the other 38 countries fishing in the region combined. The long-term consequences for food security could be quite severe.
Dirk Zeller et al / Journal of Fish and Fisheries
Kenya's efforts to promote safe sex and combat HIV/AIDS have apparently hit a snag, as religious leaders have accused the government of promoting infidelity instead.
The controversy began when Kenyan health officials teamed up with USAID and a similar agency in the U.K. to sponsor a television advertisement showing two women shopping in the marketplace. One of the women reminds her friend to use a condom while having sex with her boyfriend when her frequently drunk husband is away. The boyfriend is shown in the background, selling shoes and flirting with another woman.
The commercial quickly came under attack from Christian and Muslim leaders who argue that it promotes immorality and infidelity. "The advert depicts this nation as a Sodom and Gomorrah and not one that values the institution of marriage and family," a leader of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, declared. One woman criticized the ad for using a mother as the main character. "The fact that a mother figure has been used makes it worse because mothers are the people who stand for families and the ones who teach children the good morals," she said. (Past condom ads in Kenya have been decidedly humorous, though they haven't exactly put public-health messages front and center.) The government has since withdrawn the ad.
In an interview with NTV, the head of Kenya's National Aids / STD Control Program (NASCOP), Dr. Peter Cherutich, defended the spot, arguing that Kenyans "cannot bury our heads in the sand." Sexual infidelity is a reality in the country, he explained, and NASCOP is doing its duty by promoting sexual health in light of this fact:
The collaboration that we would like to have with the church is that they become our partners. They teach their congregants and they teach Kenyans how to protect themselves against HIV, by being faithful to their sexual partners. And for those that are not able to be faithful, then they need to use a condom.
"We know for a fact that a big proportion of both men and women have sex outside their regular partnerships," Cherutich told the BBC in another interview. "And so, unfaithfulness, as you would call it, is a reality that we need to address in this country." NASCOP says that it is also trying to fight the stereotype that only men are unfaithful, while emphasizing that the task of using condoms should not be left to men alone.
It's an important conversation -- but one many Kenyans appear ambivalent about having as families gather around the television.
After several months of will-she-won't-she, today brought a fresh wave of speculation that actress Ashley Judd will challenge Mitch McConnell for his Kentucky Senate seat in 2014. It's still unclear whether Judd, a Democrat, could pose a serious challenge to the Senate minority leader, and, given that Kentucky's unemployment rate continues to hover around 8 percent, it's unlikely either candidate would run a foreign-policy focused campaign. Still, just what would the foreign policy of a Senator Ashley Judd look like?
Judd doesn't appear to have staked out positions on U.S. drone policy, defense spending, or Iran just yet. But where Judd has spoken out publicly is on women's issues in the developing world like family planning, public health, and in particular rape -- perhaps as a result of being a rape victim herself. She's given a speech before the U.N. General Assembly on human trafficking and testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She's on the board of the D.C.-based Population Services International, and her role as global ambassador for their YouthAIDS program has taken her to countries such as Cambodia, Kenya, and Rwanda (the picture above shows her in Thailand). In 2010, she made a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo to highlight how valuable minerals like tin and tungsten fuel violence against women. She's also chronicled her travels on her blog, ashleyjudd.com, where she at times gets intensely personal in her reflections:
Here's what she wrote about traveling to Congo and using Apple products made with minerals potentially mined in Congo:
Apple is known for the clean lines of their products, the alluring simplicity of their designs. Dare I....go so far....as to suggest...this signature cleanness is stained by the shit and urine of raped women's leaking fistulas?
On interviewing a women whose mother was raped three times:
I am still holding her child. I have been crying some. She tells me I am not like other white women. I confide in her, telling her I have chosen not to have children because I believe the children who are already her [sic] are really mine, too. I do not need to go making "my own" baby when so many of my babies are already here who need love, attention, time, care.
Judd has made this last point before, and Republicans have sought to highlight a 2006 statement Judd made in which she called it "unconscionable to breed, with the number of children who are starving to death in impoverished countries."
While Judd may not have a fully fleshed out foreign policy platform yet, it is clear she's passionate about some issues. But whether advocacy on rape in Congo will win her traction in Kentucky remains to be seen.
PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images
French President Francois Hollande landed in Mali Saturday, and received a hero's welcome in Timbuktu, which until recently was a jihadist stronghold. Can you imagine a U.S. president doing this?
Hollande was greeted by Malians sporting shirts with the flags of both countries and banners reading “Thank You France” before being presented with a camel and wading into a crowd in the desert city. He was accompanied by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Development Minister Pascal Canfin.
Apparently the camel was extremely vocal in his support for the French leader, as you can see from this video.
The Washington Post editorial board asks: Is this Hollande's "Mission Accomplished" moment? My question: What is he going to do with the camel?
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir stands accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. But on Sunday, he met with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy in Cairo, where he received a dignified welcome at the presidential palace. A number of human rights organizations including Amnesty International urged Morsy to cancel the meeting -- which covered regional concerns as well as important bilateral issues like livestock trade and water rights in the Nile basin -- or arrest the Sudanese leader upon his arrival. "If Egypt welcomes Omar Al-Bashir it will become a safe haven for alleged perpetrators of genocide," Amnesty wrote in a press release.
Bashir, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March 2009 for crimes against humanity and then again in July 2010 for three counts of genocide, cannot travel in much of the world for fear of being extradited to the Hague. But Egypt is not a signatory to the Rome Statute -- Jordan, Djibouti, and Comoros are the only members of the Arab League to ratify the ICC's founding charter -- and U.N. Security Council 1593, which referred the Sudanese crisis to the ICC's special prosecutor, merely "urges" non-signatories to "cooperate fully" with the criminal investigation.
In theory, Bashir should fear extradition from all 121 parties to the Rome Statute, but in practice he has been able to travel more or less freely in Africa and the Middle East. Here's a look at the genocidal jet-setter's travel itinerary since he was indicted back in 2009.
ERITREA - March 2009
Only weeks after the ICC issued its first arrest warrant for Bashir, the Sudanese president ventured to Eritrea to visit President Issaias Afeworki, who had invited Bashir in a display of anti-Western solidarity. In his invitation, Afeworki declared the ICC "anti-people" and the indictment a "defamatory conspiracy on the part of external forces."
EGYPT - March 2009
Two days after his visit to Eritrea, Bashir touched down in Cairo for a state visit with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. "There is an Egyptian, Arab, African position that rejects the way the court has dealt with the status of the president of Sudan," said Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit in a press conference.
QATAR - March 2009
Following his visit to Cairo, the Sudanese leader traveled to the annual Arab League summit in Qatar, where Arab foreign ministers endorsed a draft resolution rejecting the ICC's arrest warrant. The week before, Amr Moussa, then the secretary general of the Arab League, had cleared the way for Bashir's arrival when he said, "We in the presidency of the Arab League have a clear position on this request and we totally reject it."
SAUDI ARABIA - April 2009
CHAD - June 2010
Bashir travelled to Chad -- the first Rome Statute signatory to host the Sudanese president since the arrest warrant was issued -- in June 2010 in an attempt to mend relations with its eastern neighbor. Khartoum had previously accused Chad of aiding anti-government rebels fighting in Darfur, but Bashir declared the problem "solved" during his visit, adding that he and Chad's President Idriss Deby "are brothers."
KENYA - August 2010
Kenya, which ratified the Rome Statute in 2005, invited Bashir to witness the signing of its new constitution. An assistant foreign minister later defended Kenya's decision to defy the ICC warrant on the grounds that "Sudan's stability is vitally linked to Kenya's continued peace and well being."
DJIBOUTI - May 2011
After Ismail Omar Guelleh won a third term as Djibouti's president, Bashir attended his inauguration ceremony in May. Djibouti, which was the third Rome Statute signatory to flout the ICC arrest warrant, was referred, along with Chad and Kenya, to the U.N. Security Council for failing to arrest the Sudanese leader.
MALAWI - October 2011
Malawi, which signed the Rome Statute in 1999, hosted the Sudanese president for a trade summit last October. When the ICC demanded an answer for why Bashir had not been arrested, President Bingu wa Mutharika said that it was not his country's "business" to enforce the ICC's ruling. Malawi's new president, Joyce Banda, apparently does not share her predecessor's zeal for flouting international law, and denied Bashir permission to attend the African Union summit in Lilongwe in July 2012.
CHINA - June 2011
Chinese President Hu Jintao welcomed the Sudanese president to Beijing in June 2011. There, in a ceremony in the Great Hall of the People, he gushed about the two countries "traditionally friendly relations" before diving into talks with Bashir about how to keep the oil flowing to China following Sudan's impending partition. Interestingly, Bashir's flight to Beijing was delayed because he was forced to avoid Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, both of which denied him access to their airspace. China is not a signatory to the Rome Statute.
LIBYA - January 2012
Bashir traveled to Libya to meet with Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) officials last January in order to discuss immigration, among other issues. Libya is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, but the visit sparked outrage from human rights activists who called it "disturbing" and questioned the NTC's "commitment to human rights and the rule of law."
IRAQ - March 2012
Bashir attended the Arab League summit in Baghdad in 2012.
IRAN - August 2012
Bashir made an appearance at the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran in August, where, in one of the event's least-publicized moments of irony, he met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Correction: Omar al-Bashir has also travelled to Ethiopia several times, the most recent being for the funeral of Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi in September.
Former NBA player and Chinese superstar Yao Ming has a new gig as a goodwill ambassador for the nonprofit organization WildAid, who recently brought him to Kenya to
make all of our photo dreams come true "document the poaching crisis facing rhinos and elephants, as a result of Asian demand for rhino horn and ivory." One unintended consequence of his visit was to make everything in the country appear comically small.
Above, he towers over a baby elephant named Kinango, whose mother was killed by ivory poachers. "He pushes against me partly for contact, but also testing his strength," Yao writes on his blog.
But Yao isn't just surrounded by tiny elephants. He's also accompanied by a number of diminuitive elderly men.
You can read more about Yao's adventures in Africa on his blog.
Kristian Schmidt for WildAid
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
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
The first six months of this year have been the hottest on record since 1895. In June alone, we smashed more than 3,000 temperature records across the United States. It was the 328th consecutive month in which the average global temperature exceeded the 20th century mean. As Bill McKibben put it, "the odds of [that] occurring by simple chance were [one in] 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe."
But if that much is obvious to most people who don't harbor deep suspicions about the value of science, the rate at which global warming is changing life on this planet may still come as a shock. Not only are the 3.7 million Americans living within a few feet of the coastline already experiencing more frequent flooding -- the result of rising sea levels -- but unusual weather patterns are likely to make food more expensive, and fast.
Figures released on Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture predict substantial increases in food prices as a result of weather patterns in the Midwest -- the worst drought in nearly half a century.
The prices of chicken, beef, dairy, and eggs are all supposed to rise between three and five percentage points this year. Corn futures have already spiked nearly 50 percent over the last month to roughly $8.00 a bushel on fears that crops will be ruined. (The Department of Agriculture estimated that 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop is in poor or very poor condition as a result of the drought.)
And it's not just the U.S. market that will be affected. The U.S. is the world's largest producer of corn -- exporting millions of tons every year to countries like Japan, Egypt, and China. In 2000, for example, Egypt imported 76 percent of its corn from the United States.
In 2011, revolutions erupted across the Arab world at least in part because of rising food prices. Recall that protesters in Tunisia wielded loaves of bread and Egypt suffered a spate of "bread riots" when grain prices spiked between 2007 and 2008. Now, more than a year after the uprisings, many Arab economies are struggling to get back on their feet. Significant increases in global food prices might well plunge them back into chaos.
But bad weather and worse crop yields in the U.S. are not the only forces driving grain prices skyward. Southern Europe, which typically supplies 16 percent of global corn exports, is having its own ecological disaster. Temperatures in the band that runs from eastern Italy to the Black Sea averaged about five degrees higher than normal last month, according to Bloomberg, baking corn crops that are in the critical pollination phase. Cedic Weber, whose company advises about 5,000 farmers in Europe, told Bloomberg, "in Europe we'll need to import a lot of wheat and corn...That's just adding to the problems we've got everywhere."
That doesn't bode well for the Egypts and the Tunisias of the world -- or for any other net importer of food, for that matter. As it happens, that's practically all of the Middle East and Africa, and much of Southeast Asia.
China signaled its intention to expand ties with Africa today at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation by promising $20 billion in loans to African countries over the next three years. The pledge, which is double what China offered at the Forum's 2009 meeting in Egypt, includes outlays for training, scholarships, and medical care in Africa, the Los Angeles Times reports.
In recent years, China has left Western competitors behind in its drive to curry favor with African leaders, providing loans and building roads, railways and infrastructure with a no-questions-asked approach.
China's seeming indifference to abuses of human rights has attracted criticism from Western competitors and some rights activists. Many African leaders, however, don't express such concerns.
But China's focus on infrastructure -- designed to facilitate the extraction of oil and other natural resources -- has begun to rally a growing chorus of detractors, and not just in the West. At the Forum today, South African President Jacob Zuma called Africa's trade relationship with China "unsustainable," arguing that "Africa's past economic experience with Europe dictates a need to be cautious when entering into partnerships with other economies."
Africa's approach to Chinese investment in recent decades can hardly be described as cautious, however. Chinese-African trade has tripled in the last three years, totaling $166 billion in 2011. China is now Africa's biggest trading partner, having surpassed the United States in 2009, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. (Interestingly, other emerging market countries have also deepened their economic ties with Africa, with India, Korea, Brazil, and Turkey together accounting for nearly 35 percent of the continent's trade.)
Part of China's appeal seems to stem from its ability to marry authoritarian governance with high levels of economic growth. As the Wall Street Journal put it, "leaders from South Africa to Ethiopia have been touting [China's] model for development -- one that stresses state-led growth, validates tight-fisted political control and offers a powerful counterpoint to the free-market democracy mantra promoted by the U.S."
It's no surprise, then, that China has found willing partners in some of Africa's least democratic states. Zimbabwe and Ethiopia have both attracted substantial Chinese aid and equity investments, for example, as have Angola, Congo, and Sudan, all of which have oil or minerals on offer.
But today's announcement was intended to show another side of China -- and to deflect criticisms about its imperial designs. In addition to increased credit, training, and scholarships, China has taken measures to rebalance trade ties with Africa, including the elimination of tariffs on certain African products. Could this be an indication the China is becoming a more responsible player in the international community?
As today's other major news item on China -- its third consecutive veto of sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the United Nations -- indicates, there doesn't seem to be much danger of that. But China does seem to act responsibly so long as it makes financial sense. And so it was when China voted for UN Security Council Resolution 2046, which threatened sanctions against Sudan, long a client state of Beijing, unless it deescalated its conflict with the South. Oddly enough, with its oil supplies hanging in the balance, China might actually be the best hope for peace in this region.
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
The International Criminal Court handed down its first sentence on Tuesday to Congolese war criminal Thomas Lubanga for the use of child soldiers. After over three years at trial, and following his conviction in March of this year, the court issued a 14-year sentence, with one judge dissenting on the grounds that the nature of the crimes warranted a longer sentence. The court has not yet decided where Lubanga will serve out his term.
This is the court's first conviction and sentencing after nearly a decade in existence. But others are in the works, including the first head of state to be tried, Cote D'Ivoire's former president, Laurent Gbagbo, who was transferred to the ICC for trial in November 2011. (Sudan's current president Omar al-Bashir has also been indicted but has yet to be arrested). Gbagbo is charged with crimes against humanity, including murder and rape, for acts committed after the 2010 election when electoral disputes erupted into violence as Gbagbo refused to relinquish the presidency. The next step in his trial, the confirmation of charges, is expected in August 2012.
Under the tenure of Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo -- who was replaced earlier this month by new Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda -- the court has issued open (public) indictments against 28 individuals from seven countries -- all in Africa. The list is a who's who of notorious political leaders, including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Saif al-Qaddafi, and military officials. The Court relies on national law enforcement, Interpol and the UN to arrest those charged, and only five of those indicted are currently in custody. 15 cases are currently before the Court, though trials are only scheduled for those in the Court's custody (some pre-trial proceedings are underway in absentia).
The Court's summer schedule shows proceedings will continue against the Central African Republic's Jean Pierre Bemba accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes; Sudan's Abdallah Banda and Saleh Jerbo for war crimes, including attacks on peacekeepers, and Gbagbo. Nearly a decade elapsed between Lubanga's crimes and his sentencing by the court, so don't expect speedy proceedings for any of them.
ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
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