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.
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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.
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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.
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While most countries use independence day as an excuse for over-the-top indulgence, Malawi's new President Joyce Banda has a more modest interpretation. As her country prepared to celebrate its 48th year of independence from Great Britain, Banda made it clear that this year's celebrations would be more, well...responsible. While celebrations under former President Bingu Wa Mutharika were lavish and fun (for some), they were also expensive. And so, in keeping with her track record of fiscal responsibility --in contrast to her jet-setting, free-spending predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika -- Banda decided to save some party money (roughly $400,000) and host a national worship service instead.
Standing before a packed hall of worshipers in Blantyre she called for collaboration and diligence moving forward:
I thank God for the dedicated team of personnel he has given me. Together, we make very brilliant plans for the nation. But no matter how hard we might try, if those below us frustrate such plans, we won't achieve anything."
Hopefully she at least had desert.
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Protests against government austerity measures have been spreading rapidly throughout Khartoum today, with Reuters reporting at least seven separate demonstrations in the Sudanese capital throughout the day. The number of protesters have grown substantially since yesterday, when Egyptian journalist Salma Elwardany reported a crowd of about 200 outside the University of Khartoum. 400 to 500 protesters took to the streets after Friday prayers in one suburb alone.
Elwardany was detained by security forces, as was activist Maha El-Senosy (who has been tweeting under the handle @MimzicalMimz) of the youth movement Girifna (@Girifna), or "Fed Up." Both have since been released. IRIN News reported that at least 100 people had been arrested in connection with the demonstrations as of June 20.
According to Reuters:
"The police fired tear gas and then used batons as they clashed with the protesters, who threw rocks. Witnesses said men in civilian clothes also attacked the demonstrators."
Rumors that Internet will be cut off have been circulating among the protesters via Twitter, under the hashtag #SudanRevolts, as activists attempt to circulate instructions for accessing social media via mobile phone. Other protesters have uploaded pictures that appear to show protesters blocking the streets with burning tires. Reuters reported that smaller protests have also broken out in Bahri, a suburb of Khartoum, but that they were quickly dispersed by heavy security presence.
Sudan currently has a budget deficit of about $2.4 billion, and inflation reached nearly 80 percent in May. Bashir's austerity measures include devaluing the Sudanese pound by nearly 50 percent, removing fuel subsidies and cutting back government by up to 50 percent. Austerity measures were implemented in order to cope with the loss of 75 percent of Sudan's oil production after South Sudan seceded in July 2011, taking the majority of the region's oil fields with it.
Despite calls by opposition groups for an uprising, Sudan has avoided the kind of demonstrations seen in neighboring Egypt and Libya last year.... so far.
The first plane carrying South Sudanese "returnees" out of Israel arrived in Juba, South Sudan, on June 19.
Amidst escalating tensions over African migration to Israel, Israeli interior minister Eli Yishai described the eventual "return to their homes and countries" of [migrants] as "inevitable." Of Israel's 60,000 African migrants, the majority come from Eritrea and the two Sudans.
Greeting the plane in Juba, Joseph Lual Achuil, South Sudan's minister of humanitarian affairs, claimed that the process of return was voluntary: "People are not being deported. We have agreed with the Israeli government for our people to be peacefully and voluntarily repatriated," he said. While ‘returnees' are being offered a stipend of $1300 per adult and $500 per child by the Israeli government, the degree to which repatriation is truly a matter of choice is debatable.
While those who left Israel on the first plane volunteered to do so, the crackdown, known under the code name "Operation Going Home," has rounded up and arrested hundreds of migrants so far. The usually bustling neighborhood of ‘Little Africa' in South Tel Aviv is reportedly deserted. New laws allowing migrants to be jailed for up to three years without trial or deportation came into effect on June 3. In addition, any Israeli citizen harboring or helping migrants can now face jail time of up to 15 years.
The current government campaign to stem the flow of African migrants has begun with newly independent South Sudan -- the only one of the top three source countries which maintains diplomatic relations with Israel.
Many South Sudanese fled to Israel to escape the ongoing violence at home, often crossing the Sinai desert from Egypt by foot to reach Israel. Last week, an Israeli court ruled that 1,500 South Sudanese are no longer at risk in their homeland and can be returned home, giving the government the legal right to deport them.
Recent months have seen protests and acts of vandalism targeting African communities in Israel, an atmosphere that many claim has been instigated by the comments of some politicians. The deportation drive is also creating immense discomfort amongst many Israeli citizens, who are acutely of aware of their own identity as an immigrant nation founded by Jews fleeing persecution in Europe after World War II.
The subtext beneath the deportation process is a racial argument that cuts to the core of competing views about what Israel's identity as a ‘Jewish state' should entail. For the current government, identity is clearly framed by ethno-religious demographics. As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu argues:
"If we don't stop their entry, the problem that currently stands at 60,000 could grow to 600,000, and that threatens our existence as a Jewish and democratic state. This phenomenon is very grave and threatens the social fabric of society, our national security and our national identity."
Whether such a view can be justified as commensurate with Jewish values remains to be decided.
Just days after releasing its new video, Invisible Children -- the U.S.-based NGO behind the phenomenally successful "Kony 2012" campaign -- has yet again found itself in the midst of controversy over a U.S. diplomatic cable released last year by WikiLeaks, which reports that the group cooperated with the Ugandan military to facilitate the arrest of a former child soldier who was allegedly involved in the formation of a new rebel group.
The cable, released as part of WikiLeaks' massive "Cablegate" series, was sent on June 11, 2009, and signed by then ambassador Steven Browning. Titled, "GAMES THE ACHOLI DIASPORA CONTINUE TO PLAY," it concerns reports of a "new rebellion in northern Uganda" organized by members of the Acholi ethnic group, of which Joseph Kony is also a member. The cable describes Ugandan government reports of a "new resistance group called the Peoples' Patriotic Front (PPF)" that had "begun stockpiling weapons in the districts of West Nile" and was attempting to win support of Acholis abroad for a new effort to overthrow the government of President Yoweri Museveni.
In early 2009, the Ugandan army arrested a number of people alleged to be involved in plots by the PPF (originally known as the Uganda Patriotic Front or UPF) to attack military targets, including Patrick Komakech, who had reportedly been impersonating senior LRA commanders on behalf of the new rebel group. Komakech, reportedly a former LRA child soldier, had been involved with Invisible Children for some time and appeared in several of its videos. (A 2007 Des Moines Register story describes a bike trip he and other former child soldiers took across Iowa organized by American missionaries.)
According to the cable, it was Invisible Children that gave the government the tipoff on where to find Komakech:
The latest plot was exposed when the Government received a tip from the U.S. non-governmental organization (NGO) Invisible Children regarding the location of Patrick Komekech. He was wanted by the security services for impersonating LRA leaders to extort money from government officials, NGOs, and Acholi leaders. Komekech is purportedly a former child soldier abducted by the LRA. Invisible Children had featured him in its documentaries. Invisible Children reported that Komekech had been in Nairobi and had recently reappeared in Gulu, where he was staying with the NGO. Security organizations jumped on the tip and immediately arrested Komekech on March 5. He had a satellite telephone and other gadgets, which were confiscated when security forces picked him up.
Komakech is currently facing treason charges, along with over a dozen other alleged PPF members.
While the cable has been online for months, its contents seem to have been first reported on Sunday by the obscure New York-based website Black Star News under the inflammatory headline, "Invisible Children, Makers of Kony2012, Spied for Ugandan regime." The story has been picked up in the Ugandan media as well.
Invisible Children has been criticized by a number of observers in the United States and Uganda for working with the Ugandan government -- which has itself been implicated in a number of human rights abuses -- as part of its campaign to apprehend Kony. The group responded to this critique last month on its website, noting that it "does not defend any of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Ugandan government" and "none of the money donated through Invisible Children has ever gone to support the government of Uganda," but that nonetheless, "The Ugandan military (UPDF) is a necessary piece in counter-LRA activities."
Komakech, however, was not alleged to have been a member of the LRA at the time of his arrest. And some Uganda watchers have suggested that Museveni's government may be playing up the threat from the PPF to distract from more pedestrian problems of governance, now that the LRA threat has been largely neutralized in Uganda. The diplomatic cable itself suggests that "Several sources outside the security services say that various Government officials may be overplaying the level of threat posed by the rebel group for their own interests."
Invisible Children Uganda Spokesperson Florence Ogola was quoted in Uganda's Daily Monitor newspaper yesterday denying the truth of the cable. "That is not true. We are not involved in anything to do with security. We only deal with development," she said. She described the allegations as part of the "propaganda" campaign against the group.
Felix Kulayigye, a spokesperson for the Ugandan People's Defense Force, also told the paper, "That's a lie. Komakech was arrested in broad day light and we didn't need a muzungu [foreigner] to tell us where he was."
In an e-mailed statement to Foreign Policy, a spokesperson for Invisible Children did not elaborate on whether it had played a role in Komakech's arrest, but did say it had discussed his case with the U.S. Embassy:
"In 2009, Invisible Children was contacted by a member at the US Embassy in Kampala regarding Patrick Komakech, a former LRA combatant who Invisible Children had been supporting in attempts to assist with his personal recovery and academic development, in keeping with Invisible Children's mandate to provide assistance to individuals affected by LRA violence. At the time, it was brought to our attention that Mr. Komakech and a group of others were allegedly involved in activities that could be jeopardizing the lives of civilians and putting the organization and its staff at risk.
"Invisible Children was deeply saddened to learn of these allegations; the organization was cooperative in providing information to the US Embassy regarding the nature of our relationship with and academic support to Mr. Komakech. In light of the severity of these allegations, the organization severed all ties immediately with Mr. Komakech. In this case and as always, Invisible Children acts in good faith to preserve the integrity of our programming and uphold the protection of human rights in the communities we work."
"[W]e do not conduct intelligence efforts of any kind for a foreign government," the spokesperson said.
Released last week by the NGO Invisible Children, the 30 minute film KONY 2012 has already been viewed more than 70 million times on YouTube and made the eponymous Ugandan militia leader a household name, at least for now. (For more information on Kony, here's a slideshow of the Lord's Resistance Army, and a post about some of the complexities of the viral video.) Nicholas D. Kristof, a two-time Pulitzer prize winning columnist with the New York Times, writes twice weekly columns that often focus on under-reported humanitarian issues around the world. What follows is an interview with Kristof about social media, the importance of individualizing Kony, and the far more serious problem of worms; edited and condensed for clarity.
Were you surprised by the popularity of the Kony video?
Absolutely. It's been so hard for the humanitarian world to get attention for any kind of disaster. I go places and do my videos, and my mother watches them. These guys do one about Kony and seventy million people see it.
What other international humanitarian problems would benefit from this type of attention?
Global health is hugely under-covered. (Like Kony) it's always there, it's not really news on one day. Malnutrition remains a vast problem. Kids who are malnourished early in life lag in cognitive development, and we tend not to write about it or cover it. Pneumonia likewise, I don't think people realize that it's perhaps the single greatest killer of kids around the world. Something as simple as worms: few remedies would matter more for more kids than de-worming kids around the world. Yet obviously we never write about de-worming or kids, it's just part of the backdrop.
Congo remains very under-covered, considering it's probably the most lethal conflict since World War 2. In Mali and its neighbors, there's been a growing security crisis and refugee crisis, and it's gotten very little attention.
Why have Congo and Mali gotten comparatively such little attention?
Not much happens in the way of a big event. We tend to be good at covering events but not good at just covering underlying realities. More people die in Congo from diarrhea than bullets, because you can't deliver food and health care to the middle of a conflict zone. The story in Mali is in Northern Mali, and that's very difficult to reach safely, so it's been largely off the radar. And when I write about these kinds of global issues, my readership falls. Any journalist, especially television, is better off putting a Democrat and a Republican in a room together and having them yell at each other.
Is this going to make it easier for news organizations to argue that there should be more attention paid to these far off crises?
Maybe at the margin, but these organizations have a pretty good idea of what gets viewers. If ABC had sent a crew out to Central African Republic to try to report on Joseph Kony it would have been amazingly expensive, somewhat dangerous, and I think very few people would have watched. I don't think viewers are desperate for information about Joseph Kony, I think that the producers of this video were quite brilliant in the way they did it. I wish that the larger lesson was that people cared about humanitarian crises around the world. I'm skeptical that's the case.
Will the attention this video brought to Kony make a difference in tracking him down?
Hard to know, but attention creates pressure on officials at home and around the world. I think Kony's prospects are worse this week than they were two weeks ago.
What advice would you give to young, ambitious people working in the humanitarian sphere on how to publicize things like what's going on in Congo, or with things like pneumonia?
I think the humanitarian world has traditionally been quite awful at marketing. Full of earnestness but very unsophisticated about how to get people interested in issues. These guys had an amazing marketing success that is a reminder that sometimes social media really can make something go viral. (Telling) individual stories are certainly part of that, as are stories that connect Americans to people abroad. Likewise, moving from the LRA as a whole to Kony as an individual, I think made it more specific and individual. There's always a tension between getting people's attention without over-simplifying, but I think that it made sense for them to focus on Kony as an individual.
What humanitarian crises have you covered in the past where grassroots pressure from Americans helped; conversely, any areas where you think extra pressure actually hurt the cause?
I think that in the case of Darfur, there are lots and lots of people alive today because college students and churches and synagogues around the country protested. Likewise Eastern Congo has made progress in part because it became an issue. In terms of cases where things were made worse, I think one can make a case that the sweatshop movement may have pushed companies to source in ways that were more capital intensive and less labor intensive, in ways that ultimately meant fewer jobs in the neediest part of the world.
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Coca Cola has recently been criticized by political activists for its ongoing support of Swaziland's King Mswati III. The king has come under international and domestic scrutiny for his lavish lifestyle in a country cited as one of the poorest in the world. While the company states that the King doesn't receive any direct benefit from the company's operations, activists still say that its presence constitutes a vote of confidence for the regime. The company has flown the Mswati out to its headquarters in Atlanta, and has taken out ads in Swazi newspapers celebrating the monarch's birthday.
According to activists cited by the Guardian, Coca-Cola alone contributes to nearly 40 percentof Swaziland's GDP. Though a real figure is undoubtedly difficult to procure, (especially since Coke isn't releasing any information), some studies have found that the number is a bit further from the truth.
Nearly half of Swaziland's exports are based on sugar and drink concentrates, the vast majority of which belongs to Coca-Cola. It's membership in several common markets, including the South Africa Customs Union (SACU) which includes South Africa and Botswana, has allowed it to ship hundreds of millions of dollars worth of product per year. As a result, Swaziland is the lead exporter of Coca-Cola products in Eastern and Southern Africa.
In a USAID Report from April 2008, researchers estimated that 35 percent of Swaziland's foreign exchange earnings came from Coca Cola's operations within the country. Foreign Exchange earnings are the proceeds from the exports of goods, and returns on investments in convertible currencies. From the report:
In 1987, Coca-Cola made one of the biggest capital investments in Swaziland to-date by establishing a plant dedicated to the production of concentrates used in Coca-Cola beverage products. Coca-Cola Swaziland, also known, as "CONCO" is the largest supplier of Coca Cola concentrates in Africa, with production plants also located in Egypt and Nigeria. Having recently celebrated 20 successful years of operations in the Kingdom, CONCO is by far the largest foreign exchange earner for the Kingdom, contributing to 35 percent of GDP21.
It's a bit more difficult trying to figure out what portion of GDP Coca-Cola is actually responsible for. The World Bank estimated that exports contributed to 58 percent of Swaziland's GDP in 2010, which in dollar terms would be approximately $2.1 billion. Assuming that 38 percent of exports were still drink concentrate as the USAID stated, Coca Cola would still be responsible for nearly 22 percent of Swaziland's GDP, just by selling bottles of Coke to Eastern and Southern Africa. This of course doesn't include the numbers from Coke purchasing Swazi sugar, labor, marketing and everything else that goes into making the nectar of college students everywhere. It's certainly a bigger footprint than the 18 percent the Swaziland Sugar Association estimates, but a lot less than the 40 percent number going around in the media. It's key to note that this number is not the amount that they pay in taxes to the Swazi authorities, as the number is being portrayed.
While it doesn't help that statistics in Swaziland aren't exactly easy to come by, having one company control such a large portion of a country's total output in the 21st century is still striking.
BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images
Earlier this month, we brought you the news that Somalia's al-Shabab had joined Twitter and begun tweet-taunting the Kenyan military, which has launched an offensive against the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic militant group. The account's administrator claimed the organization wasn't engaged in a larger rebranding effort, as we and other Western news outlets had suggested.
In fact, it's recruitment -- not rebranding -- that has the Obama administration worried about al-Shabab's new Twitter presence. When the group first launched the account, Wired noted that "journalists, terrorism researchers, and aid workers make up the lion's share of its early followers, not eager Muslim youth." But the New York Times reports today that officials across the U.S. government are concerned that al-Shabab's account, which now boasts over 5,000 followers, could reach potential recruits in the West with its scathing and sophisticated English-language tweeting. "American officials say they may have the legal authority to demand that Twitter close the Shabab's account," the paper explains (Twitter declined to comment).
If the government does indeed pursue legal action, the Times notes, it could open up a "debate about over the line between free speech and support for terrorism." And, indeed, the debate is already underway. In what appears to be a response to the Times piece today, al-Shabab tweeted, "With millions of websites & newspapers disseminating their propaganda, the #US couldn't endure to hear the real truth. What a travesty!" (The group also called an earlier Times article on its Twitter account an "elaborate, sentimental piece of writing accentuating the oft-repeated canard that passes for #Journalism these days.")
Over at Salon, meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald argues that the Obama administration's concern about al-Shabab's Twitter account highlights the "simultaneous absurdity and perniciousness of the War on Terror." He continues:
So the U.S. Government believes it may have "legal authority" to compel Twitter to close accounts. From where does that authority derive? Presumably, the Obama administration could consider Twitter's providing of a forum to a designated Terrorist organization to constitute the crime of "material support of Terrorism." That raises a variety of questions: is the NYT guilty of that crime by quoting some of those tweets and promoting the account (since the first NYT article was published, the number of people following @HSMPress has significantly increased and is almost certain to increase more as a result of today's article). Can one be guilty of that crime if one re-tweets any of their messages? How about if one defends their right to have a Twitter account?
What is more likely than compulsory action is thuggish extra-legal intimidation aimed at Twitter to "voluntarily" close the account. That path is less overt but just as insidious, if not more so. That is how government officials such as Joe Lieberman succeeded in cutting off all of WikiLeaks' funding sources and web hosting options without the bother of charging that group with a crime: by demanding that Amazon, Master Card, Visa, Paypal and others "on their own accord" terminate WikiLeaks' accounts and refuse to provide the group with any services.
The Guardian's Jason Burke thinks worries about al-Shabab's account are overblown. "Al-Shabab's tweeter is witty, sharp and articulate, and undoubtedly attractive to the odd aspirant jihadi," he writes. But "militancy involves a complex web of personal associations and the strongest influences are brothers, fathers and friends, not virtual web-based communities."
Abdurashid Abikar/AFP/Getty Images
Want a play-by-play of the battles al-Shabab militants are waging today with Kenyan forces in southern Somalia and Somali troops in Mogadishu? Look no further than al-Shabab's Twitter feed, which launched yesterday with a quote from the Koran ("in the name of God, the most gracious, the most
and has since tweeted in vivid and impassioned English. The Kenya Defense Forces "envisaged a lightening invasion of
but the Blitzkrieg they'd hope for became a thorny quagmire for the
inexperienced soldiers," @HSMPress (short for
Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen) declared this morning, adding, "Military ineptitude, deteriorating economy,
social imbalance, & public ambivalence trigger a desultory face-saving
attempt by the #KDF:
FLEE!" A battle cry followed minutes later: "Despite the tragedy and loss of life &
wealth, a Mujahid does not desert the dignity to defend what he holds dearest:
The new presence on Twitter, as Wired notes, may be part of a larger rebranding effort for the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic militant group. Earlier this week, Somalia Report noted that al-Shabab had decided to change its name to Imaarah Islamiyah ("Islamic Authority"). "Al-Shabab means 'youth' but many of us, including the leaders, are very old," a spokesman for the militant group explained. Wizened but still very much with it, mind you. After all, they're on Twitter.
In truth, though, al-Shabab's Twitter account represents more of a propaganda campaign than a branding campaign. On Wednesday, Wired pointed out that "journalists, terrorism researchers and aid workers make up the lion's share of its early followers, not eager Muslim youth" (hence the value of English-language tweeting). @HSMPress serves as a counterweight to the much-publicized Twitter feed maintained by Kenyan military spokesman Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir, who has used the microblogging service to warn Somali civilians about air raids and get in the occasional jab. "Even with Al Shabaab change of name, KDF/TFG is committed in delivering the promise," Chirchir tweeted this week, in reference to the Kenyan and Somali militaries. "Reduce Al Shabaab effectiveness."
The proxy microblog battle speaks to a larger trend: Twitter, for all its pluses, is becoming a bit of a propaganda cesspool as the power of new media becomes more difficult to ignore. NATO has been tweet-sparring with two Taliban feeds for months now (a sample salvo from NATO today: "Scores of coalition killed in Kunar mortar attacks, huh? @Alemarahweb How about none killed"). The North Korean government launched a Twitter feed -- @uriminzok ("our nation") -- last year, prompting the South Korean government to threaten any of its citizens who reply or retweet @uriminzok's messages with legal action. This week, the House Homeland Security subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence held a hearing on the threat posed by terrorists using social media tools such as Twitter to attract followers.
Propaganda, as the popular feeds mentioned above attest, does indeed attract followers, though one imagines not all of them are ideological sympathizers. After two days and 21 tweets, @HSMPress already has 759 followers and counting.
Abdurashid Abikar/AFP/Getty Images
Muammar Qaddafi didn't have many friends left in the days before his death, but the ones he'd maintained were still publicly supporting him against mounting odds. Earlier this month, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who blames Western meddling for the unrest in the Middle East, praised Qaddafi loyalists for "resisting the invasion and aggression" and asked "God to protect the life of our brother Muammar Qaddafi." Another Qaddafi ally, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, refused to recognize Libya's interim government, called for the country's new leaders to negotiate with their fugitive ruler, and expressed sympathy for the Qaddafi regime, which, in his view, had been torn asunder by the "machinations of the imperialists." In Cuba, Fidel Castro condemned the "genocide" and "monstrous crimes" committed by the United States and its NATO allies in Libya.
While Castro and Mugabe haven't yet made public statements about Qaddafi's death today, Chavez has already offered a eulogy. Upon returning to Venezuela after receiving treatment for cancer in Cuba, El Universal reports, Chavez expressed outrage at Qaddafi's "murder," declared that the "Yankee empire" will "not be able to master this world," and said "we will remember Qaddafi forever as a great fighter, a revolutionary, and a martyr."
The state-run news outlets in Venezuela and Zimbabwe are dutifully expressing their solidarity with Qaddafi as well. Venezolana de Televisión reports that Qaddafi was "assassinated" -- a verb we're not seeing much in the coverage today -- while the Agencia Venezolana de Noticias ridicules Western leaders (the "patrons of aggression against Libya") for invoking freedom and democracy today while waging a military campaign in Libya and establishing crass commercial ties with its new leaders. The analyst Raimundo Kabchi tells AVN that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "practically authorized and encouraged" Qaddafi's "assassination" during her recent visit to Libya.
The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation's commentary, meanwhile, comes in the form of an obituary. The ZBC explains that while Qaddafi's "anti western, anti imperialism approach" made him an "enemy of the west" (surely it had nothing to do with the Berlin nightclub or Lockerbie bombings), his "strong military support and finances" won him "several allies across the African continent" (including, of course, Zimbabwe). "Rebel forces" may have killed him today, the news outlet adds, but Qaddafi was really toppled by the U.S. and its NATO allies, who "interfered in the Libyan uprising targeting Colonel Gaddafi using their airstrikes and killing thousands of civilians in the process." The ZBC meditates on Qaddafi's legacy:
He will be to many a hero who went down fighting and exposed the west's decolonising mission in Africa in order to secure the continent's rich resources, that is oil in the case of Libya.
Retired Major Cairo Mhandu, a member of Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party, echoed ZBC's view today, according to the Global Post, warning of the "beginning of a new recolonization of Africa." Qaddafi, Mhandu argued, "won elections and was a true leader. It is foreigners who toppled him, not Libyans. Qaddafi died fighting. He is a true African hero." (Mugabe's political opponents told Voice of America that Qaddafi was the architect of his own downfall and that his death was a step in the direction of democracy).
Qaddafi's friends aren't limited to a handful of anti-Western world leaders, either. The Daily Beast reports that Qaddafi's former nurse Oksana Balinskaya, who's returned to Ukraine, is mourning the loss of her former boss, whom she considers a "brave hero" for making a last stand in his hometown of Sirte. "Why should we hate him or think of him as tyrant, if he gave us jobs and paid us well?" she asks.
Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images
Chinese ambitions in Africa have been no secret to Western policymakers. In the past 7 years, Beijing has devoted over $14 billion dollars to Africa, through a mixture of aid for resources packages and direct investment. However, the outcome of this weekend's Zambian presidential election could be an indication that the policy is beginning to backfire. Four-time candidate, and former train station sweeper Michael "King Cobra" Sata, was confirmed as the winner last Friday.
The Global Post reports:
Sata referred to Chinese investors as "infesters." He called for Chinese migrant workers to be expelled from Zambia. And he described Taiwan as a country, breaching Beijing's obsessive "one China" policy, which considers Taiwan a rogue province rather than an independent nation. China threatened to cut ties with Zambia if Sata won.
China responded to Banda's defeat with the same pragmatism as it had toward the loss of friendly regimes in South Sudan and Libya: It tried to befriend the new boss.
"As a friendly country of Zambia, China respects the Zambian people's choice and would like to work with Zambia to promote friendship and expand mutually beneficial cooperation across the board," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in Beijing.
But privately, the Chinese government must be worried. Sata has said he may implement capital controls aimed at keeping foreign-exchange earnings in Zambia, Africa's biggest copper producer and a country that has seen strong economic growth averaging 6 percent over the last three years. Foreign-exchange controls would prevent Chinese companies from sending their profits home to China.
China relies extensively on its investment and foreign aid apparatus to bolster its soft power on the continent. A white paper released this past April by the Chinese government went into more detail about the different components and extent of their operations. A significant portion of the monies are channeled through various Chinese state owned corporations and banks to the countries that they have ties with, including resources hubs Angola, D.R Congo, Sudan, and Zambia.
It will also trouble China Inc., as the election served as a vote of no confidence against their existing projects within the country. As the Economist covered in April, the reputation of Chinese companies has been slowly crumbling with the regular reports of poor working conditions, routine bribery and environmental damage. In Zambia, a Chinese built road was washed away by rainfall.
While Sata's election will not deter the Chinese from further investing in Zambia, it could signal the beginning of a trend in African politics for candidates to run on anti-Chinese platforms. Much in the way that prominent Latin American leaders such as Hugo Chavez ran on U.S-bashing platforms, African countries could see the beginnings of a similar type of movement to protest the wider abuses stemming from Chinese involvement. How it affects further economic relations will be seen in the coming months.
THOMAS NSAMA/AFP/Getty Images
As Bill Gates unveiled his plan this week to rid the world of polio, health officials in the northern Nigerian state of Kano announced their own assault on the disease. "The government will henceforth arrest and prosecute any parent that refuses to allow health workers to vaccinate his child against child-killer diseases, particularly polio," said a health ministry official.
This news, which was announced at the outset of the government's four-day vaccination campaign targeting six million children, marks a shift in government policy toward immunization programs in the north of the country. Nigeria's polio vaccination program stalled for more than a year after Muslim leaders raised doubts over the inoculations' safety in the summer of 2003 -- resulting in bans issued by some northern state governments. One leader went so far as to claim that the vaccine was "being used for the purpose of depopulating developing countries, and especially Muslim countries." Other rumors claimed that the vaccines were contaminated with HIV and caused infertility in Muslim girls.
Although it ended in 2004, the immunization ban led to a resurgence of polio outbreaks within previously polio-free regions of Nigeria, as well as in surrounding countries.
This time around, Kano officials aren't taking any chances on noncompliant communities. Officials, who have not yet detailed the punishment or fines that would meet unwilling parents, clearly mean business: The mandate extends even to medical workers, who will be held responsible for reporting unwilling parents.
The recent vaccination effort in Kano comes after UNICEF Deputy Representative Jacques Boyer's recent visit to the capital city, during which he highlighted the challenges of eradicating polio in Nigeria, one of only four nations where polio is endemic. Boyer pointed out that while Nigerian polio cases dropped dramatically -- from 338 in 2009 to 21 in 2010 -- there has been a recent rise, with 20 cases reported in the last six months.
A July 2011 report by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) partially attributed this rise to distraction brought on by the recent national elections. While the report's authors praised Nigeria's government for "showing greater commitment to eradicating polio," they also noted that Kano failed to meet indicators of progress and "remains a smouldering risk that could yet undermine the whole eradication effort." With of the weight of polio eradication hanging over them, officials had better hope the threat of imprisonment does the trick.
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Guenter Nooke told the daily Frankfurter Rundschau it was clear that "this catastrophe is also man-made".
"In the case of Ethiopia there is a suspicion that the large-scale land purchases by foreign companies, or states such as China which want to carry out industrial agriculture there, are very attractive for a small (African) elite," he said.
"It would be of more use to the broader population if the government focused its efforts on building up its own farming system."
He said that the Chinese investments were focused on farming for export which he said can lead to "major social conflicts in Africa when small farmers have their land und thus their livelihoods taken away."
Today, a written statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry vehemently denied the allegations. "China has never had plans to buy land overseas, and China has never purchased land in Africa," the statement said, adding that Nooke's claims stemmed from "ulterior motives." The Foreign Ministry also announced today that it would provide $14 million in emergency food assistance to the Horn of Africa.
Beijing's protestations aside, Chinese investment in African farmland has ratcheted up significantly in recent years, as the government seeks to quell concerns about long-term food security. One estimate puts the number of Chinese farm workers in Africa at 1 million. Meanwhile, the Atlantic quotes a June 2009 report in the Chinese weekly Economic Observer that describes how Beijing "was planning to rent and buy land abroad" to deal with "increasing pressure on food security."
That said, it's worth noting that China is far from the only foreign investor with major land holdings in Africa today. Private and public investors from India, the United States, and the petrostates of the Middle East, to name a few, have taken their piece of the African land grab, which brought 15 to 20 million hectares of the continent under foreign investment between 2006 and mid-2009. By way of comparison, that's equal to the size of all the farmland in France. If Nooke is right about the connection between foreign investment and famine, seems like there's plenty of blame to go around.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images
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