The world's newest state -- South Sudan -- and Israel today established full diplomatic relations and will soon exchange ambassadors. The move was not a surprise. South Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar said two weeks ago that his country would have "relations with all the Arab and Muslim countries and even with Israel." And a delegation of Israeli officials recently visited the African nation's capital, Juba, to hold talks with officials there.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu officially recognized the new country a week before the U.N. voted to make it the 193rd state to be admitted to the world body, earlier this month. "We wish it success," Netanyahu said at the time. "It is a peace-seeking country and we would be happy to cooperate with it in order to ensure its development and prosperity."
Israel, which has no relations with northern Sudan, has promised South Sudan economic help -- something it is in need of.
The Jewish state sees Africa as important diplomatic territory and has been offering economic aid and lucrative business deals in recent years -- including arms and agriculture -- in an attempt to counter Iran's growing clout on the continent. The effort is partially about votes in the U.N. -- Africa has 54 now. Iran has been trying to extend its outreach to African states like Senegal and Nigeria in an effort to counter its growing isolation in the West.
"This isn't likely to take the form of an auction-like bidding contest, but increased financial diplomacy by both the suitors, including targeted investments and aid projects designed to curry favor," Eurasia Group's Philippe de Pontet told Reuters last year.
Israel has another reason for wanting to establish ties with the new country. In recent years it has been flooded with thousands of refugees from Sudan -- people fleeing strife in both Darfur and South Sudan. They sneak into Israel through Egypt and have stirred debate about whether the country should be more or less welcoming. Already, since the announcement of new ties, the country's interior minister, Eli Yishai, has called on Israel to begin negotiations with South Sudan to return the refugees.
(In the image above, Sudanese refugees living in Tel Aviv celebrate independence on July 10.)
In al-Shabab-controlled regions of Somalia, anything deemed un-Islamic is outlawed. This includes mustaches, the World Cup, wearing bras, and dancing at weddings. The militant Islamist group recently added something new to that list: Samosas.
How can a seemingly harmless pastry be un-Islamic? Apparently, it's the shape. Samosas are fried in a triangular shape, which al-Shabab finds to be strikingly similar to the Christian Holy Trinity. Samosas, known as sambusas in the region, are often enjoyed to break the fast during Ramadan. But now, those caught selling, cooking or eating sambusas could face harsh punishment -- if history is any guide. The militant group follows a strict interpretation of Islam, enforcing their moral rulings to the utmost degree. In 2009, al-Shabab gunmen went village to village, rounding up women who were found wearing bras. Traditionally moderate Muslim Somalis were horrified as the women were beaten, their bras forcibly removed, and then told to publicly shake their chests for the men. Al-Shabab's justification for the public humiliation was that the bras promoted deception, a breach of Islam.
Last year, radio stations were shut down for playing music. Men and women who are not related can no longer shake hands, or even speak to one another in public. Women who are found working in public places face execution in some cases. Women and young girls alike have been arrested and flogged for not wearing hijabs. Watching soccer in general has been outlawed, but al-Shabab took a particular disliking to the World Cup since Somali boys and men were watching soccer instead of joining the group's jihad against the government. Cinemas no longer show the matches after numerous theaters were attacked with grenades.
It seems anything remotely enjoyable (and triangular) is prohibited, and now, al-Shabab's control has struck at the core of human survival. As Somalia starves to death, the militant group bans a staple food in East African culture as it is too "Christian." Humanitarian aid from Western organizations has been mostly outlawed, with UN famine reports called "sheer propaganda". Al-Shabab's outlandish rulings may cost millions of lives.
_ubik_ via Flickr Creative Commons
While an increasingly devastating famine continues to drive Somalis from their homes, many families are citing another reason for leaving: the forced recruitment of child soldiers. A recent Amnesty International report revealed that al-Shabab has intensified its recruitment process in order to gain more control of Central and South Somalia.
Primary schools are raided for soon-to-be soldiers and children are abducted from local playgrounds. Some are bribed with money and phones. Those who run away are often shot in the back, deemed traitors.
A Somali woman who lost several young family members at the hands of the armed rebels told Amnesty International:
"Those recruited by al-Shabab do not come back."
Boys, sometimes as young as eight, are given guns and forced to fight alongside grown men. Girls are used as servants for al-Shabab members, and in some instances, even wives. One testimony of a 16-year-old boy described how young girls are charged with adultery if they refuse to comply with the marriages. Floggings are a common punishment, sometimes ending with the death of the child. Girls and women accused of being raped (yes, accused) have been beaten or stoned to death - even though refugees have told Amnesty International that al-Shabab was responsible for the rape themselves.
Interviews with youth in the region have produced evidence that the Islamist militant group may be using children as suicide bombers, although Amnesty International cannot verify this. A 15-year-old boy described al-Shabab's recruitment tactics:
"They have a methodology, they say you will fight a jihad and then go to paradise. One friend was recruited by them and then he came to the village asking us to join...He had an AK47 and he said he was given lots of money."
While al-Shabab has been criticized for using children as weapons of war, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which is internationally-backed and U.S.-funded, has been listed on the UN's annual list of parties that recruit children for armed conflict for seven years in a row —although they dispute the accusation. During a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland on May 4, 2011, TFG members cited a lack of birth certificates and international financial assistance as the main causes of child recruitment. Human Rights Watch, alongside Amnesty International and other humanitarian organizations, have expressed grave concern over TFG training camps that hold refugee children against their will in neighboring Kenya, which has also denied allegations of using child soldiers.
An ex-child soldier who fled to Kenya told Amnesty International:
"I am not feeling safe. I am stressed. I have flashbacks. I am scared that al-Shabab will come here too. I want a better future, better security, further education. I live in fear here."
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
It goes by several names: The Iron Snake, the Lunatic Line, the Jambo Kenya Deluxe. Winston Churchill shot zebras sitting next to its great engines and man-eating lions stalked its trains' carriages, devouring men at night. Over the years, hundreds have perished in its iron body from faulty brakes, exploding gas tanks, and powerful floods that washed away bridges.
The mysteries and horror stories attached to the African railway are legendary. But, the system -- stretching through Kenya and Uganda -- is about to get a 21st century facelift thanks to a nearly $40 million loan from the African Development Bank.
A new transportation plan is in the works for East Africa. Kenya Railways will build 12 commuter train stations to connect the Nairobi metropolitan area. The rail between the coastal city of Mombasa in Kenya, and Kampala, Uganda is to be re-vamped by 2017. There is also talk of railway lines connecting Lamu, Kenya to Juba, South Sudan, as well as Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The last rail stations in Kenya were built in 1935. The BBC's Ruth Evans reports:
"Inside Nairobi station, it is like stepping into a time warp. The arrivals and departures board looks as though it hasn't been updated since I first did the journey 28 years ago...As we pull slowly out of the station shortly after 7pm, the sun is setting behind the shacks that have sprung up all along the track...The ticket collector tells me to close the windows and lock the doors before going to sleep. But the window doesn't shut properly, the fan doesn't work, and the lights keep going on and off...The road to the coast runs parallel with the railway for much of the route, and heavily laden trucks churn up the pot-holed tarmac, taking goods to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, Congo and beyond."
The trains, which can run at a sloth-like pace of 18 mph are to be replaced with high speed trains. A once 15 hour ride from Nairobi to Mombasa will only take two or three hours. The new rail system won't just benefit commuters and tourists. It will also create a trade network for goods like coffee, cotton and gold. Kenya Railways is currently managed by Rift Valley Railways -- a mix of Kenyan, Ugandan, Brazilian and Egyptian companies. But the railway is plagued by great debt and a region battling high levels of corruption, not to mention the worst famine in decades. East Africa's perhaps grandiose rail endeavor will either be a boom or a bust.
YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images
While gay Americans have a lot to celebrate lately -- the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and New York becoming the sixth state to legalize gay marriage, among them -- 76 countries still consider being gay a crime. Homosexuality has long been a heated issue in Ghana, and now its LGBT community may face jail time. "All efforts are being made to get rid of these people in the society," said Paul Evans Aidoo, an MP from the western region. Ghana's Bureau of National Investigations has been directed to track down and arrest anyone suspected of being gay.
Aidoo is not the first high profile person to go on the attack publicly. Reverend Stephen Wengam, a prominent religious figure in Ghana, recently wrote an op-ed for the Ghana Broadcasting Company where he stated:
"If homosexuality is tolerated, very soon the human race will be extinct."
Aidoo's efforts could lead to a witch-hunt as he has asked landlords to keep an eye out for "people they suspect of being homosexuals". The police are to be informed of any suspicious activity.
Ghana News Agency, a media outlet based in Accra, is claiming that homosexuality can lead to HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. While Ghana has recently cut its AIDS rate in half, the disease remains a constant fear of the small West African nation. The homosexual community has now fallen victim to the AIDS blame game.
Apart from South Africa, where gay marriage is formally recognized, homosexuality is shunned by most African leaders. Along with Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran, Africa is also home to several countries where being gay is quite literally, a death sentence. In Nigeria, those convicted face death by stoning. LGBT individuals in Ghana may soon join this disturbing trend. One member of parliament, David Tetteh Assuming, recently hinted that more permanent punishments will be instituted for those found guilty of homosexuality:
"I believe that they are treading on dangerous grounds and they could face lynching in future."
Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
How desperate is Muammar Qaddafi to raise cash? According to a new report, the Libyan leader is trying to unload the country's fleet of 22 shipping vessels as economic sanctions and continued fighting take a toll on the regime.
According to the report from Petroleum Economist, which covers the energy industry, two companies based in Hong Kong and Singapore are in talks to buy the ships from the General National Maritime Transport -- a company under the control of Qaddafi's son, Hannibal. A source close to the discussions said the younger Qaddafi is "desperate to have access to money."
Can you blame him? The United States and other countries have frozen his father's assets ($30 billion alone in the United States; and another $5.1 in Canada, Australia, and Britain). And there is evidence that Qaddafi's regime is running low on fuel. Late last month, one of his largest oil pipelines was cut off by rebels -- slashing his reserves by somewhere between a third and a half. The government has reportedly sunk to smuggling fuel into the country from Algeria and Tunisia to bypass sanctions. In Tripoli there are long lines to fill up tanks at gas stations, and more people are using bicycles to get around.
A U.S. intelligence official told the Daily Beast this week: "[Qaddafi's] not going to run out of fuel tomorrow, but over the next month or two he'll have to make tough decisions about how to continue."
Sanctions have taken a toll as well, with Qaddafi finding it difficult to do business around the world -- even Turkey seized control of Libyan assets earlier this month.
Without cash or fuel, Qaddafi's grip on power is showing signs of slipping -- U.S. officials say there are indications of growing discord among his troops. At the same as he is looking for cash, he may also be eyeing the exit door -- quietly negotiating with several countries on a deal that could see him step down from power, but avoid prosecution.
Could Muammar al-Qaddafi remain in Libya if he agrees to give up power? It may sound hard to imagine, but as the conflict drags on and the stalemate shows no sign of ending, the idea is gaining traction -- even among Qaddafi's staunch opponents. Today, France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe suggested it was a possibility.
"One of the scenarios effectively envisaged is that he stays in Libya on one condition which I repeat - that he very clearly steps aside from Libyan political life," Juppe told France's LCI TV.
The solution would require some major legal maneuvering. The new Libyan government -- most likely made up of leaders of the Transitional National Council (TNC) -- would have to agree not to prosecute Qaddafi or his son for the deaths of thousands of people. Internationally, the move would certainly require some sort of Security Council agreement, since Qaddafi, after all, is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes (and since any agreement would likely require some international oversight).
The fact that France is suggesting this is significant. It was, after all, one of the first countries to recognize the TNC, and it pushed other nations into supporting the NATO air campaign against Qaddafi. Other governments have hinted at a similar solution in the past -- though mainly countries outside the coalition. Recently, Konstantin Kosachyov, the chairman of the international affairs committee in Russia's lower house of parliament, said: "Probably what can be discussed is some kind of guarantees of his personal security, the security of members of his family."
Last week, Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told journalists that "an exit strategy for Qaddafi to leave power, but not necessarily the country, should be sought."
Officially, Britain and the United States want Qaddafi to be handed over to the ICC, but even their positions have softened recently. British officials say they don't regard that demand as a "red line" in negotiations with Qaddafi. And today, in response to Juppe's statement, the United States made it clear the key was getting Qaddafi to leave power, after that, all things could be considered.
"He needs to remove himself from power," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "And then it's up to the Libyan people to decide."
Earlier this month, the head of the TNC even hinted that a solution that keeps Qaddafi in Libya was possible. Mustapha Abdul-Jalil told Reuters that the TNC had offered Qaddafi that very deal -- allowing him to stay in Libya if he resigned. (Abdul-Jalil quickly back-pedaled, however, saying the next day that while the TNC discussed that scenario internally, there was no "current or future possibility for Qaddafi to remain in Libya.")
So could a solution like this actually work? Qaddafi would need to be assured he would remain free and safe. Some reports have said he is pushing for a role for his son, Saif al-Islam, in a future government -- though it's highly unlikely the rebels would agree to that.
Another reported possibility is that the U.N. would protect him at his tribal home of Sabha in southwestern Libya. But that would require countries guaranteeing he wouldn't be handed over to the ICC at some point in the future. And that might be a step too far.
As the almost entirely unreported humanitarian disaster in the Horn of Africa grows -- with the number of people in need of food aid expected to rise to an estimated 10 million in the coming weeks -- one interesting development has been the reversal by al Shabab (the militant Islamist group tied to al Qaeda) to allow aid workers into areas of Somalia under its control. Today, the U.N. World Food Program indicated it might take the group up on its offer.
"We're assisting thousands of Somali refugees ... but if we need to enter south Somalia, we need to work with al-Shabab," a spokesperson told Al Jazeera. The aid organization had to pull out of al Shabab-controlled areas last year after security risks proved too severe.
Al Shabab controls most of the country and about half of the war-torn capital, Mogadishu, but it has avoided trying to govern its territories and provide social services, experts say, choosing to remain a purely military force. The group has a complicated history with Western aid organizations. In the past, segments of al Shabab worked with aid groups -- even helping to retrieve kidnapped aid workers. (That said, they've also kidnapped foreigners.) That changed about three years ago as the terrorist group moved closer to al Qaeda and came to see Western aid as politically motivated and anti-Muslim. They've called U.N. and other international aid staffers spies and said they were legitimate targets. Among other ludicrous assertions, they've said food aid was a plot to drive Somali farmers out of business.
They declared war on the U.N. and Western NGOs, according to the New Yorker's Jon Lee Anderson, and killed 42 aid workers in 2008 and 2009. As a result the World Food Program ceased its operations there in January, 2010.
So, what's behind al Shabab's reversal? For starters, it is a testament to the overwhelming scale of the humanitarian disaster -- the worst the country has seen in over 20 years.
One unnamed aid worker in the region told the BBC: "You know things are desperate when even al Shabab is forced to appeal for help. They are a deeply unpalatable lot but we have to work with them if we are to save lives."
For al Shabab, there is also a degree of embarrassment at play. Many refugees are coming from areas they control like southern Somalia (and are either finding their way to other parts of the country, or are leaving to camps in Ethiopia or Kenya). Many say the lack of aid forced them to flee.
In the past, al Shabab defectors have cited the banning of food aid and other cruel practices against people in their areas as reasons for leaving the group. But this crisis surpasses anything in recent memory. Even al Shabab can't ignore it.
The death of 50 percent of Somalia's camels poses a grave question: If camels can't survive, what can? Eastern Africa's drought is proving to be a death sentence for an animal that can normally survive weeks without water. In some areas, over 80 percent of livestock have perished, forcing families to abandon their homes and relocate in overcrowded refugee camps. Ahmed Mohammad, a Somali camel herdsman, told BBC:
"It is a terrible sign when camels start dying because when they start to die, then what chance have sheep, goats and cattle?"
Around two-thirds of Somalia's population depend on their livestock for survival, especially in drought-stricken northern Kenya, Somalia and southern Ethiopia where the majority of people are pastoralists. Without camels, families not only lose milk and meat, but also purchasing power. Oxfam reports that the value of Somali camels has been slashed in half -- many nomadic herders are watching as their livelihood dies off, one by one.
Government buy-back programs have been deemed ineffective by many locals and critics. One program in nothern Kenya only offered compensation for goats and sheep, disregarding the herds of cattle that provide the majority of income for families. Save the Children's Kenya county director, Prasant Naik, noted the significance of the dying camels, saying:
"Pastoralists are used to coping with occasional droughts and dry seasons, but these successive droughts have pushed their resiliency to the limit."
As drought continues to ravage Eastern Africa, livestock have begun to migrate in search of water -- and with mass migration comes widespread crop and pasture destruction. For the first time in nearly twenty years, aid agencies are expected to make a formal declaration of famine. But for now, the Somali government is advising starving families to eat leaves in order to stay alive.
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
Before hopping a plane to Sudan tonight, the Christian leader and son of iconic Evangelical Billy Graham talked to Foreign Policy about his work in the African nation, why the American Evangelical community is so passionate about it, and what he plans to tell President Omar al-Bashir when he meets with him.
Foreign Policy: How many trips have you made to Sudan?
Franklin Graham: I really don't know. It's been quite a few. We've been doing this for over 20 years, so it's a number of trips.
FP: Why is it such a passion of yours?
Graham: During the war, the north -- predominantly Muslim -- was trying to annihilate the Christians in the south. I saw it as a racial war, but I also saw it as a religious war. I thought it was important to stand with my brothers and sisters in faith and do all I could to help them in their time of suffering.
FP: Critics say this is just a case of a conflict involving Christians vs. Muslims and that's why you're concerned. Is that fair?
Graham: No, it's more than that, but no question that's a part of it. The north declared Shariah law. And the Christians said we're not going to raise our children and live under Islamic law and have Islam taught to our children in schools. We want to be free and have our own schools. They wanted a secular government. So, religion, no question was at the heart of this.
FP: It is one of the foreign policy issues that has really resonated with the Evangelical community. How come?
Graham: I don't think it's just Evangelicals. I think it was Christians in Europe and around the world that saw where Islam was trying to annihilate the Christians in the south. It was Arab against black, for the most part. But I try to make friends on both sides. Our hospital in Lui [in South Sudan] was bombed on seven separate occasions by the government in the north. I finally went to see President Bashir and I asked him personally if he would stop bombing our hospital. And he did. I since have had a number of meetings with him. And these meetings have always been productive. I found Bashir to be somebody you could speak with, could negotiate with. You know, he signed the comprehensive peace agreement. He's a key player to the peace program. I find that you have to talk to both sides if you want to have peace.
FP: You plan on meeting with him again this trip. He's a leader who has been indicted on war crimes by the International Criminal Court. What do you plan on saying to him?
Paul Rusesabagina is credited with saving the lives of 1,268 people during the darkest moments of the Rwandan genocide. In April 1994, as an assistant hotel manager at the Sabena Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali, he took in and sheltered desperate Tutsis on the hotel's grounds, as Hutu militias rampaged the city. An estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in 100 days. Rusesabagina's story was eventually told in the Hollywood film "Hotel Rwanda." He was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 and has become an international celebrity and human rights advocate.
Now, Rwandan authorities are accusing him of having ties to a Hutu rebel group, whose leaders took part in the genocide. Rusesabagina was questioned last week in Belgium -- where he lives -- at the request of Rwandan prosecutors. They accuse him of wiring money to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a group that operates out of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo -- where many fugitive Rwandans, as well as hundreds of thousands of refugees, fled after the genocide.
The prosecutors say he sent thousands of dollars to commanders of the group via Western Union late last year, evidence that was supposedly corroborated by former FDLR commanders who have since been arrested.
So why would the hero who risked his life 17 years ago to shelter likely victims of slaughter send money to a group tied to the perpetration of that genocide? Or is this simply a smear campaign by his enemies back home?
In October, when the charges were first leveled against him, Rusesabagina denied them and said they were political payback for his outspoken criticism of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who has been in power since 2000. Rusesabagina has said Rwanda could be heading toward another genocide if Tutsi elites, like Kagame, continue to hoard power.
"[The prosecutors are] not only lying, but lying with bad logic.... The government has said that I sent money to people who I met many years ago but have not seen or spoken with since the genocide in 1994," Rusesabagina said back in October. "The last time I sent money to Rwanda was in 2002 or 2003 -- I think 2002 -- to my younger brother for a brain operation."
While celebrated overseas, in Rwanda he has become a controversial figure.
"Back home in Rwanda, Rusesabagina is seen by some as an imposter who took advantage of the information vacuum surrounding what really transpired in Rwanda to claim hero status and rake in millions of dollars," reported one Nigerian newspaper.
Some survivors of the genocide have disputed his version of events, while other critics accuse him of being a publicity hound, the Guardian has reported.
In a statement issued through his charity fund earlier this year, Rusesabagina said Kagame was trying to distract the world's attention from last year's "complete sham" election and his government's heavy-handed tactics in the Congo, where Kagame's government is accused of "war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly even genocide against Hutus in that country."
Nelson Mandela, the former South African president, who turns 93 next month, has largely stayed out of the spotlight this past year. But today he met with First Lady Michelle Obama, who is on a week-long official visit to Africa with her daughters, Sasha and Malia.
According to USA Today, the meeting was unplanned. Obama and her group were invited to Mandela's house at his invitation, while they were touring his foundation in Johannesburg.
It was the first time the two have met. Mandela and Barack Obama met back in 2005, when he was still a senator.
Nelson Mandela Foundation
It's been a tough couple of weeks for al Qaeda. Since the successful Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the terror network has suffered additional losses that analysts say are taking a heavy toll on the group.
Ilyas Kashmiri, al Qaeda's operational leader in Pakistan, was reportedly killed by a U.S. drone strike earlier this month (though al Qaeda hasn't confirmed his death, reports of which have been incorrect before). And last week, an al Qaeda leader in East Africa -- Fazul Abdullah Mohammed -- was killed by Somali forces in Mogadishu. Mohammed was the most wanted man in Africa.
Analysts and U.S. officials say the deaths have created a power vacuum.
"The organization is in a great deal of turmoil," a U.S. counterterrorism official told Foreign Policy. "It's trying to sort itself out with what's going on."
Bruce Hoffman, director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, said Kashmiri and Mohammed were key operational figures, not easily replaced due to their long pedigrees of planning and executing attacks.
"They are especially important because they would have been looked on to plan and implement any acts of retribution [for bin Laden's death] from al Qaeda," he said. "Their killings knock them seriously off balance."
Of course, al Qaeda is well-known for its ability to replenish its ranks. Analysts like Hoffman and Evan Kohlmann, who has consulted with the U.S. government, see a few key names potentially emerging to fill the void.
1. Saif al-Adel
Born in Egypt in 1960 or 1963, according to the FBI. Currently believed to be hiding in Pakistan's tribal region.
Al-Adel was reportedly named the interim chief of Al Qaeda after bin Laden's death. After the 9/11 attacks, he fled to Iran, where he was eventually put under house arrest. In 2008, Iran swapped him for a diplomat taken captive by al Qaeda in Pakistan.
Signature attacks: Has played a hand in many al Qaeda attacks, allegedly dispatching Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, to meet Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; and aiding the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Africa.
Getty Images, AFP/Getty Images
As Americans rushed to Ground Zero and to the White House gates last night in joy at the news that Osama bin Laden had finally been killed, across the world, Kenyans were gathering at the site of another al Qaeda attack: The old U.S. embassy, bombed in 1998. Victims of that attack reacted with joy and relief.
"The killing of Osama has taken place nearly thirteen years after the terrorist bombings in Nairobi that led to the death of over two hundred people, in an act believed to have been masterminded by Osama. His killing is an act of justice to those Kenyans who lost their lives and the many more who suffered injuries," Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said in reaction to the news.
Word of bin Laden's death resonates for more reasons than just the memory of terror in the Kenyan capital. Outside of South Asia, East Africa today is arguably the most active hotbed of al Qaeda activity. In next-door Somalia, the militant group al Shabbab has pledged allegiance to the group. Uganda became the site of the first international Shabbab attacks last summer, when two restaurants were bombed during the World Cup. In short, terrorism is not a memory but an everyday, indigenous threat.The hope is that bin Laden's death will weaken al Qaeda in Africa, too. The Ugandan military, for example, expressed hope today that terrorist funding would feel a pinch after the death of the al Qaeda leader. Still, Kenyan security services are on high alert today, particularly in the largest cities and near the Somali border.
Indeed, in addition to congratulations, Kenya sent another message to the United States today: Time to get more active in fighting terror in this part of the world too. This is a long-running frustration for the Kenyan authorities, who worry that their security concerns get upstaged by more high-profile al Qaeda activity elsewhere. "Osama's death can only be positive for Kenya," the country's Prime Minister Raila Odinga put it, "but we need to have a stable government in Somalia."
After all, as this part of the world viscerally remembers, however, bin Laden used to live in Sudan. In a previous attempt to kill bin Laden following the Nairobi bomging, the United States bombed a pharmaceudical plant there, believed to have been making chemical weapons. Not long after, bin Laden left Sudan, abandoning a compound similar to the one where he would finally perish yesterday.
Speaking to Reuters, residents for the Sudanese town bin Laden called home expressed mixed reactions of relief and anxiety at the news. Fearful of American bombings, no one has occupied bin Laden's former compound for over a decade. Bin Laden may be gone, but here, like so many places, his legacy may live on.
When Alassane Ouattara finally took over the presidency in the Ivory Coast earlier this month, he did so with the help of a rag tag group of militiamen. There were the formal rebels from the country's brief civil war, known as the Forces Nouvelles. There were local men who picked up alongside the other regular fighters. And then there were the more pernicious militias, such as the so-called "Invisible Commandos" in Abidjan, who hitched their wagon to Ouattara's because -- for at least a moment -- their objectives aligned. What all these groups had in common was their desire to at last unseat an intrasigent outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo who had refused to step down for four months after a lost election.
Today, Gbagbo is gone. He's being held in detention in the north of the country while he faces a criminal investigation. That's good news by most accounts; at last, Ivory Coast has just one president. But it also means that the glue holding together Ouattara-loyal forces has also lost its stick.
The most alarming split that's arisen is between the Ouattara army, now calling itself the Republican Forces of the Ivory Coast (FRCI), and the Invisible Commandos. For Ouattara, the commandos are a massive liability. During the worst of the election stand-off, they were accused of carrying out rather arbitrary night raids in pro-Gbagbo neighborhoods. Their commander, Ibrahim Coulibaly (who goes by the nickname IB), is something of a renegade. He also happens to be the old-time rival of Ouattara's Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, who led the Forces Nouvelles early last decade.
Ouattara ordered the Invisible Commandos back to their barracks after taking office; he also told them to disarm. Apparently the progress wasn't fast enough, and this morning in the Abidjan suburb of Abobo, gunshots rung out as government troops (mostly the former Forces Nouvelles, as well as defectors from Gbagbo's former army) tried to root out IB's militiamen.
All this raises three questions in my mind: First, can Ouattara gain control of the military that brought him to power -- and does he really want to? It was always a gamble to use the "nuclear option" and call on the rebel forces to bring Ouattara into office by force. Now that he's there, those troops are not going to just sit back and let their new civilian leader rule them. They're owed for their duty, and Ouattara may well be a captive to the whims of his army, lest he himself suffer their wrath.
Second, does this new relationship make Ouattara complicit in "his" military's crimes, such as a masscare in Duékoué in March? Probably, it does; it's impossible to argue that Ouattara didn't know who he was getting in bed with when he called on the former rebels and other militia groups to fall in line. After all, his prime minister, Guillame Soro, used to head the Forces Nouvelles.
Which brings to perhaps the most important parlor game of post-crisis Ivory Coast: What does Soro want, and how will Ouattara have to placate him? The military operation against the Invisible Commandos may be at least in part Soro's doing, given that he and IB are old rivals. As the leader who can keep the new Ivorian army in their barracks -- or call them out again -- Soro might be the man to watch.
PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images
Before I ever met Tim Hetherington, the renowned photojournalist and filmmaker who died today in Misrata, Libya, he had already offered to help me. It was June 30, 2006, and I was on my way to Liberia, a country just settling back into a degree of normalcy and peace after decades of on-off civil war. I was an intern in Dakar, working for the New York Times West Africa bureau chief, Lydia Polgreen, who had put me in touch with Tim as a helpful contact on the ground. But I wanted to take a one-week trip to Monrovia to write a story about military reform. I wrote to Tim a few days earlier, and he quickly replied. "Beth, I can get you a driver. Let me know what time you'll arrive and he'll be there," he offered in an email. "Are you coming in with a photographer...perhaps we can do this [project] together if it suits you?"
Over the next week, Tim became a mentor and a friend. I tried to hide my age from his noticing -- attempting to look and act as professional as I could, but I'm sure he knew right away that I was barely 20-something. But without making me feel anything less than his peer, he never forgot to check in during that week I was in Monrovia. He was concerned for my safety, without being patronizing at all. He didn't have any stake in my story; it certainly wasn't going to make the pages of the Times. But he still helped out at every turn. That was Tim. He didn't have to care. He just did.
I distinctly remember the first face-to-face conversation we had once I landed in Monrovia. It was a Tuesday in July, and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan had come into town for the day to visit the newly elected (but not yet inaugurated) President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. That morning, I'd made my way across town from a friend of a friend's house toward the meeting point where the press would begin the whirlwind day of diplomatic convoy-chasing. Despite Tim's offer to arrange a car, I was on a budget of essentially nothing, and so I walked.
When I arrived, Tim was seated on a ledge outside a tall, old building that had no windows and looked like a Manhattan skyscraper hollowed out by fire. Ominous-looking gold letters on the side of the building described it as the Ministry of Justice, but no one had worked there for years. Tim was well dressed for a foreign correspondent, in nice slacks and collared, light-colored suit shirt, his cameras strewn across various shoulders.
We began with the conversation that two journalists inevitably seem to have in the field: What are you covering, where were you last.... Oh, so you must know my friend so-and-so? Tim told me about the book he was working on at the time, Long Story Bit by Bit, about Liberia's long civil war. I remember the excitement in his eyes as he told me the details. Many photographers and journalists follow stories for the rush, the chance to be in the thick of things, before they move elsewhere. Tim certainly did that; he captured the most brutal stages of the war in vivid detail -- from the rebels' organization in the bush to their assault on the capital. But Tim was not only piqued by war; he was interested in the fate of Liberia -- in seeing this country recover. In short, he was there because he gave a damn. And his mere presence proved his commitment: Now that things were calming down in Liberia, most other journalists were gone.
The day's events then began, and we caravanned back and forth, from the presidential palace to the congressional chambers and back again, attending all of Annan's and Johnson-Sirleaf's meetings amid the mob of local reporters who swarmed every meeting with their microphones and cameras. Throughout the next few days, I ran about the city reporting and didn't get the opportunity to sit down with him again. But he called several times to make sure I had met the contacts I needed.
From Liberia, Tim went on to document other war-torn regions. He authored another book, Infidel, from Afghanistan. He worked on the award-winning film The Devil Came on Horseback about Darfur, and directed Restrepo. It wasn't just that his photography was stellar. It also made you feel something visceral inside -- a connection to the story that was some filtered bit of Tim's own experience. "My work is about trying to get us to understand that we are connected and trying to build bridges and understanding between people," Tim tweeted on August 27, 2010.
But if Tim had become a giant in his field, he was more down to earth than most anyone. If he noticed how young I looked, back then, Tim never let on. He treated me like a colleague. That's the best tribute I can give him today, amid the terrible news of his passing. He was one of my first colleagues as a journalist working in Africa, and I'll always remember his kindness as an exemplar of what it means to be a compassionate human being in a place that demands the most from journalists.
The sound of heavy gunfire is thick in the air in Abidjan this morning; the situation is opaque. Correspondents on the ground for french radio RFI admit on air that they simply can't confirm much about what's going on amid the chaos. The streets are chillingly empty save for combattants. Rumors circulate about where the fighting is, where it's going, and who's in charge.
But what's clear is that the end game between political rivals Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, both of whom claim to have won last November's presidential election (Ouattara actually did), is every bit as bloody and brutal as feared. After months of talking, this question is being answers with guns.
And to be clear: that's guns on all sides.
There's been a tendency -- an understandable one -- to single out Gbagbo for the atrocities that his troops have committed. As the obsinate one in this political crisis, it's Gbagob who is under sanction by the West and who the African Union is calling upon to step down. It's Gbagbo whose forces fired upon and killed protestors, vividly captured on YouTube. It's Gbagbo's men who have refused to let the U.N. peacekeepers patrol Abidjan. It's Gbagbo who gave weapons to civilians in Abidjan and asked them to defend him. And so naturally, it's Gbagbo who most people expect to end up in the International Criminal Court, paying for his crimes. That's what Ouattara's troop are banking on; they have been ordered to guard his "physical integrity" should he be caught for precisely that reason.
But it's important not to forget that Ouattara-loyal forces are also fighting. And on the battlefield, there's always a risk that atrocities could be committed. Reuters reports that Ouattara-loyal forces have remained disciplined so far, though they have executed some Gbagbo militiamen, according to Human Rights Watch. And yesterday, the United Nations called on Ouattara to "rein in" his forces as they take final control in Abidjan. When I was in Liberia earlier this months, officials in the peacekeeping mission there were adamant that refugees fleeing into that country were of all political persuasions -- meaning that Gbagbo supporting civilians feared for their lives under pro-Ouattara forces, just as the opposite was also true.
The fog of war clouds everything for the moment; it's impossible to tell who is responsible for what -- and against whom. But it's important to look at all sides of the fighting, because when the dust settles, Cote d'Ivoire is going to be torn apart. Civilians of all political persuasions are going to have horror stories to tell. And if only half the perpetrators are selectively brought to justice, it will be no justice at all; a society divided cannot be stable for long.
JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP/Getty Images
MONROVIA, Liberia — Less than an hour's flight away from the Ivory's Coast's capital of Abidjan, fears are growing that what started as a national Ivorian crisis could quickly infect the entire West African region.
Since outgoing Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo first refused to step down from office late last year, tension has consistently ratcheted up, and violence between Gbagbo and his political rival, election winner Alassane Ouattara, has only grown. In just a matter of days, the number of refugees leaving the Ivory Coast for Liberia has quadrupled from 20,000 to 80,000, and fighting -- once far in the interior of the country -- has reached the border.
"The civil conflict [in the Ivory Coast] … at times it seems like it's on the verge of war," U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Karl P. Albrecht told me yesterday. "It could be a destabilizing or unsettling influence, and in addition to all the challenges that Liberia faces," he said, noting that this is a presidential election year for the country, "now this [Ivory Coast] factor is in the mix."
Here in West Africa, peace is fragile. Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone have all suffered civil wars within the last decade, and in every case, the fighting was regionally tainted. Liberia's warlord-turned-president, Charles Taylor, supported rebels in Sierra Leone and backed a certain faction in Ivory Coast's civil war as well. The greatest fear for this region -- so desperate to recover from years of conflict -- is that the smallest spark could reignite the regional fire again. Over the last few days, those fears haven't looked unfounded. Two developments are of greatest concern: the growing refugee crisis and the active fighting along the Ivory Coast-Liberia border.
Take the refugee crisis -- the largest West Africa has seen in half a decade. After an initial flood of refugees in January, the numbers of people crossing the border had slowed to a mere 100 per day -- until just a few days ago. Now there are some 80,000 refugees in Liberia, far outpacing capacity to house and assist them. The current refugee camp under construction has room for a mere 15,000. That's less than half of the number that arrived in the last weekend alone.
For now, many of the incoming refugees are staying with Liberian families, sharing their food and being welcomed into their homes. "They have shared their rice with them, even though they themselves are getting strained," Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said in a radio address to her country on Monday. "If [the number of refugees] climbs too high, it will be trouble for us."
The fighting along the border is even more troubling -- and the cause of the refugee crisis in the first place. On Monday, the rebel group Forces Nouvelles took a third town along the border, now controlling a 30-mile strip along the border. The ex-rebels support Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of last November's presidential election; Gbagbo supporters have fought back. And civilians have undoubtedly been the victims. In many ways they already are; Gbagbo cut electricity and water to the Ouattara-stronghold in the northern part of the country over a week ago.
But here's the part that scares Liberia -- and West Africa -- most of all. During Ivory Coast's civil war early this century, the Forces Nouvelles had allies in a faction of former Liberian rebels who supported Charles Taylor. And rumors are circulating here that those Liberian men might be traveling back across the border to join the fighting again. U.N. security forces here confirm that armed men also tried to cross the border into Liberia on Sunday.
It's a potent combination: fighting along the border, recruitment of ex-rebels into the Ivorian conflict, and refugees streaming over the border, burdening already economically stretched Liberians. An Ivorian resident of Monrovia, whose wife lives in Abidjan, told me that his family hadn't left the home for days, afraid of the violence on the streets. "It's a civil war in Abidjan. It's really bad." The question is, will it spread?
ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
For the last six years, Ivory Coast's government-controlled south and rebel-controlled north have held together thanks to a fragile cease-fire. Everyone's greatest fear since the cease-fire was signed was that it would break -- that the tiniest escalation could bring the country back into the brutal civil war it endured between the two sides throughout the first half of the decade.
Early Thursday morning, the cease-fire broke in Ivory Coast's interior. The government forces and the rebel forces -- known as the Forces Nouvelles -- started shooting. And they haven't really stopped since then. This morning, the Forces Nouvelles seized a government- controlled town.
The fighting in the countryside is a manifestation of escalating political conflict in the Abidjan. Outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo (backed by government troops) remains staunchly unwilling to step down to the internationally recognized election winner, Alassane Ouattara (backed by the Forces Nouvelles). On the streets and in the neighborhoods of Abidjan, things are also getting ugly -- or rather uglier. After weeks of rumors and reports that pro-Gbagbo militias were hunting down opposition supporters, now there are signs that the violence cuts both ways. Pro-Ouattara militias -- known to locals as "invisible commandos" -- have risen up in resistance. "Hundreds" of residents were seen streaming out of the neighborhood after overnight clashes.
Not so long ago, the West African community, ECOWAS, was talking about possible military intervention if Gbagbo refused to step down. But these days, there's only talk about a possible unity government between the two rivals -- a terrible idea, if you ask me -- and continued economic sanctions. The international community has done a pretty good job of trying to starve Gbagbo of cash. And in theory it's a good strategy, since much of his support comes from his uncanny ability to keep salaries flowing even in the trickiest times. But Gbagbo is not too easily caged, and is now considering printing his own currency. At the very least, he'll switch all the government accounts from sanctioned banks into hard cash.
As I've written before, this is the trouble with trying to wait out a strongman: You risk the very real chance that he can wait longer than his people can. While Gbagbo is busy finding ways to pay his military, regular Ivorians are getting tired. Shortages of food and cooking oil are now common; a whopping nine out of every 10 bank accounts is now inaccessible due to sanctions and freezes. Some 45,000 people have now fled the country as refugees, and another 39,000 are internally displaced -- 9,000 of whom are all based at a single Catholic mission near the border with Liberia, according to a briefing from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees this morning.
Active fighting, refugees, economic crisis -- what other indicators are we waiting for? This is becoming a civil war again, and fast.
SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images.
As a measure of how bad violence has gotten inside Libya, look to the borders, where tens of thousands have already fled -- and a further 300,000 might be on their way. "It is a biblical exodus," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told Reuters today. Speaking on BBC News World Service this morning, a representative from the International Red Cross said that his organization was preparing capacity along the border with Tunisia for as many as 10,000 new refugee arrivals today.
This isn't just Libyan nationals; the country is home to 1.5 million immigrants, the International Organization for Migration estimates, many from sub-Saharan Africa. Libya even played host to some 8,000 refugees from places such as Somalia, Eritrea, and Chad. Now, the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, says it has "no access" to that population. And those populations may indeed be in danger; tweets this morning from Libya indicate that African immigrants in Libya are afraid to leave their homes, for fear of being mistaken for mercenaries.
Aside from the immediate-term humanitarian challenge this presents, the refugee situation matters because it is a sign of structural upheaval within a society. It takes innumerable courage to go to the streets and protest against one's government wherever repression is strong. But it takes equally incredible levels of fear -- and distrust of the future -- to pick up everything and leave.
It takes years, not weeks or months, to resolve refugee crises. So if there was any doubt of the magnitude of events unfolding, this should give us a final clue: No matter what happens to Qaddafi, there will be no quick fixes for the country he has ruled.
LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images.
As revolutions across the Arab World are sending autocrats fleeing for exile, at least one ousted president -- far away from Cairo and Tunis -- claims he will soon return home: to Madagascar. Marc Ravalomanana, who was booted from office in a 2009 coup, vowed today that he would return on Feb. 19, leaving his exile in South Africa.
It's not clear what exactly Ravalomanana (shown sporting his plane tickets above) is hoping to achieve by showing up. Not least because he's likely to be arrested as soon as his plane lands; the current regime, headed by coup-instigator Andry Rajoelina, lobbed massive charges against him for corruption and convicted him in absentia. (To jog your memory: Ravalomanana's unseating was a particularly ugly one; the army surrounded the presidential palace and sent him fleeing. After weeks of stand off, he finally resigned, handing power over to the fiery ex-disc jockey who remains president to this day.)
That Ravalomanana wants to return is a potent reminder that this crisis was never actually solved. The African Union suspended Madagascar's membership in protest of the coup. But then once it looked like an irreversible development, everyone started to look the other way. There was a sigh of collective resignation. Time to just to put up with Rajoelina, and then expect elections to be held eventually.
But now, elections are supposed to be held -- later this year. And African Union mediators have had trouble convincing the current regime to get on board with any transition plan. Having lost the momentum at the beginning of the crisis, outsiders are finding themselves helpless to try and pull strings toward democracy now.
Maybe all this would be a shruggable matter -- if it weren't for the example it sets at a time when African countries need some better ones when it comes to democratic transition. A record number of African countries will hold presidential elections this year -- including Uganda tomorrow, then Chad, Nigeria, Djibouti, and Niger, to name just a few. None of those countries' leaders is apt to step down without a fuss (and several will make sure that election outcomes are sufficiently fixed before hand.) Turning the other way on little Madagascar makes that all the more likely.
STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images
While there will always be those who would rather chuck those chalky candy hearts than eat them with their sweetheart on Valentine's Day, anti-V-Day sentiments usually focus on how big, evil corporations make couples spend unnecessary cash on each other and how single people hate themselves. But how about the global implications of the holiday?
While examples of romantic gifts gone wrong like conflict diamonds are unfortunately already ubiquitous, some groups are spending this Valentine's Day raising awareness about the global impact of the cocoa trade. This year the focus on cocoa is especially relevant thanks to an ongoing political crisis in the world's biggest cocoa supplier: the Ivory Coast, which produced 1.2 million tons of chocolate's main ingredient last year. Avaaz, an activist group, has been pushing Hershey, Nestle, Cargill, and Cadbury, to boycott Ivorian cocoa, the trade in which is helping to prop up President Laurent Gbagbo's pariah regime.
The European Union's sanctions on the Ivory Coast's ports extend to cocoa. Last month, Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of the most recent presidential election, embargoed cocoa exports for a month, in an attempt to cut off support to Gbagbo. He's threatened to extend the ban if Gbagbo doesn't leave office.
Another activist group, Green America, is pushing for increased awareness of the use of child labor in cocoa production. According to the U.S. State Department's 2009 Human Rights Report on the Ivory Coast, nearly a quarter of children between the ages of 5 and 17 who lived in cocoa-growing regions had worked on a cocoa farm, often in hazardous conditions. Green America suggests that buying Fair Trade chocolate can help combat child labor, as well as support small farmers and lessen environmental impacts.
Meanwhile, according to Reuters, cocoa futures prices have risen more than 20 percent since Ivory Coast's disputed Nov. 28 election. And the continuing ban in the Ivory Coast means prices are likely to continue to rise.
This year, instead of blood diamonds, chocolate … whatever, try giving your special someone a hug instead. It just might be sweeter.
ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
If Southern Sudan successfully secedes, will other African pseudo-states follow suit? Guest-blogging at the Christian Science Monitor, Alex Thurston takes a look at Somaliland:
There is one other region in Africa that appears within reach of independent nationhood: Somaliland, which has claimed independence since 1991. Somaliland has its own government and enjoys a greater degree of stability than other regions of Somalia. Recently Somaliland successfully transferred power from one democratically elected leader to another, reinforcing democratic credentials that outshine those of many independent African nations. As crisis continues in southern and central Somalia, moreover, the US and other Western powers are showing greater willingness to consider recognizing Somaliland or at least treating it, de facto, as its own nation.
He also links to an Economist interview with Somaliland's foreign minister, Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, discussing the referendum (my emphasis):
If the international community accepts South Sudan’s independence, that opens the door for us as well. It would mean that the principle that African borders should remain where they were at the time of independence would change. It means that if Southern Sudan can go their way, that should open the door for Somaliland’s independence as well and that the international position that Somaliland not be recognised separate from Somalia has changed.
I'm skeptical that the international community's support for Southern Sudanese independence sets much of a precedent outside Sudan. There was similar talk of nationalist movements being emboldened immediately after Kosovo declared independence in 2008, including talk about Somaliland.
The fact is, new states tend to be recognized by the international community on a case by case basis, and the laws and norms governing who gets to be a country are remarkably arbitrary. Precedents are far less important than they appear. Kosovo and Southern Sudan both had the advantage of having recently been at war with regimes accused of crimes against humanity. The Kremlin may have claimed that Kosovo's independence was a precedent for its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia several months later, but it actually had a lot more to do with things coming to a head between Russia and Georgia.
So I don't think Southern Sudan's positive reception indicates an urge to redraw more African borders, no matter how problematic those borders are. (See Bill Easterly's new paper on the artificial states problem.) Somaliland may have a good case for independence, but it will have to get there on its own.
Over the course of the last month, the international community has thrown everything it's got at the Ivory Coast's refusing-to-leave-office president, Laurent Gbagbo. They've tried sanctions. They've sent envoys. They've vowed to increase the number of U.N. peacekeepers. And they've cut off all funds to the Gbagbo camp. Barack Obama offered Gbagbo a dignified exit with amnesty in the United States. Even the idea of a unity government was floated, in which the widely recognized winner of the presidential election, Alassane Ouattara, would join Gbagbo in a cabinet. Nothing has worked; and despite weeks of standoff, little has changed.
But the worse news is that the world is fast running out of plays to run.
The central conundrum isn't, in fact, tactical. It's strategic. Everyone from the African Union to Foggy Bottom to Beijing wants Gbagbo out and Ouattara in. That would be good news, except that the situation is dramatically different within the Ivory Coast. The population is actually quite divided. If Gbagbo were removed forcefully, it really could respark civil war.
So although the foreign powers have decided to get tough with Gbagbo, they really can't afford to get too tough. Not that military intervention is popular either; Ghana has said it won't be involved in such an action, and Nigeria is preparing for its own contentious elections at home -- hardly the time to engage in military adventures abroad. No Western power will intervene -- and the only one that cares enough about tiny Ivory Coast to do so is France, the country's much-distrusted colonial power. Paris couldn't touch the current situation without lighting it on fire.
Oxford economist Paul Collier had an idea this morning, as he wrote in the Guardian: to convince the military in the Ivory Coast to stop supporting Gbagbo. In theory that could work; Gbagbo is only able to remain in the presidential palace because of the military's support. But as I mentioned before, this isn't just about a few fringe supporters. Gbagbo's got 50 percent of Ivorians behind him.
I have to say, I'm fresh out of ideas too. My favored tactic had been to recruit former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to knock a few heads together. He's a Big Man even among big men -- someone who doesn't even give you the option of disagreeing. But apparently the West African regional group ECOWAS had the same idea, to little avail. Obasanjo went to the Ivory Coast over the weekend and, well, Gbagbo is still in power.
What I do know is that the country's people probably have the best sense of where this is going. And they are betting on the future with their feet. Yesterday, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that some 600 Ivorians are entering Liberia as refugees every day; there are some 25,000 in the neighboring country so far. And 16,000 more have fled their homes within the Ivory Coast. The U.N. is concerned enough about the influx to start building permanent camps.
If there's a larger lesson here, it's that ousting a strongman is never as easy as we'd like to think. It may be an obvious point, but in the particulars it's actually profound. Even if the entire world musters its political might, the Laurent Gbagbo's of the world -- Robert Mugabe, Than Shwe, Kim Jong Il -- would still be around.
SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images
George Clooney's "anti-genocide paparazzi" seems to be dominating nearly every transmission coming out of south Sudan this week. Clooney, along with the Enough Project, Harvard researchers, and some of his wealthier Hollywood friends, have hired satellites to monitor troop movements along the north-south border, particularly the oil-rich region of Abyei. Clooney, active for years in the Save Darfur movement, has also become something of a celebrity spokesperson for the independence referendum. Naturally, the international humanitarian blogosphere's snark brigade is out in force.
Laurenist: "If you're anything like George Clooney, you lounge around on your yacht off the coast of Italy thinking up ways to save Africa."
Texas in Africa: "While John Prendergast, George Clooney, and other advocates who don't speak a word of Arabic have been raising fears about violence for months … the likelihood that a genocide or war will break out immediately seems to me to be slim to none."
Wronging Rights: "Clooney has described it as 'the best use of his celebrity.' Kinda just seems like he's trying to recruit a mercenary for Ocean's Fourteen."
Troubling as this morning's border violence is, there seems to be good reason for skepticism about the satellite project. The imagery the satellites provide isn't all that clear, showing about 8 square
miles inches [Corrected.] per computer-screen pixel, making it difficult to figure out just what's going on on the ground. That level of imprecision can be dangerous when trying to assign guilt or innocence in crimes against humanity. There's also the question of how much of a deterrent this type of monitoring really is. Laurenist again:
In 2007, Amnesty International and the American Association for the Advancement of Science launched “Eyes on Darfur,” a satellite project that monitored developments on the ground in Darfur. As you’ll recall, mere months later, Darfur was saved after millions of people updated their Facebook statuses with a link to blurry photos of sand.
But what about Clooney's presence itself? The actor's use of the paparazzi and basketball as analogies for horrific human rights violations might be grating to those who study these issues seriously, but isn't it worthwhile to bring attention to an often overlooked conflict? Here's UN Dispatch's Mark Leon Goldberg:
I know some people (cough, cough, Bill Easterly, cough, cough) have hangups about celebrity activism. But does anyone really think that Sudan’s upcoming referendum would be covered on a National Sunday morning broadcast without George Clooney’s handsome face to greet viewers?
(Interestingly, Bono-basher-in-chief William Easterly doesn't appear to have weighed in yet.)
Clooney has his own words for the haters:
“I’m sick of it,” he said. “If your cynicism means you stand on the sidelines and throw stones, I’m fine, I can take it. I could give a damn what you think. We’re trying to save some lives. If you’re cynical enough not to understand that, then get off your ass and do something. If you’re angry at me, go do it yourself. Find another cause – I don’t care. We’re working, and we’re going forward.”
This kind of "at least I'm doing something" rhetoric drives development scholars absolutely bonkers and for good reason. But for now at least, it's hard to see how Clooney's presence as a cheerleader is really hurting. Once the referendum is over however, I hope he heads back to Lake Como. In international negotiations, a certain degree of obscurity can often be just as helpful as the media spotlight. Making a new country is a messy business anywhere, and in Southern Sudan, it's going to involve some very ugly compromises. (I wonder, for instance, what Clooney thinks about the Southern Sudanese government expelling Darfuri rebels in what seemed to be a conciliatory gesture to Khartoum.)
In the difficult weeks and months ahead, Southern Sudan will certainly need international help, but it should come from people with a slightly more extensive background in the situation. Most of all, it's probably not helpful for celebrities and the media to promote a narrative of the Juba government as the "good Sudan." Even in the best-case scenario, it's bound to be shattered pretty quickly.
In any event, the Southern Sudanese themselves seem pretty nonplussed about Danny Ocean's presence in their midst:
“Who is that man talking?” a Sudanese journalist asked, gesturing to a white man with a group of reporters around him. When told it was George Clooney, a movie star, the Sudanese journalist looked confused and walked away.
For more on Southern Sudan, check out Maggie Fick on the dangers of referendum euphoria, view a slide show of Juba on the eve of independence, and read Robert Klitgaard on how the region's leaders are preparing to crack down on corruption.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
The president of LUKoil Overseas, Andrei Kuzyayev, met Ghana's energy minister, Joe Oteng Adjei, for discussions about the expansion of the company in Ghana, including the development of new projects, according to the latest corporate newsletter, Neftyanie Vedomosti. After leaving Ghana, Kuzyayev held talks in the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown, and LUKoil Overseas senior vice president Dmitry Timoshenko visited Liberia's capital of Monrovia.
Countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia, “which have just come through terrible civil wars … are today, with the interest of foreign investors, quickly resurrecting their shattered economies,” the company's publication said.[…]
The West African continental shelf is an interesting prospect for many international companies, said Valery Nesterov, an oil analyst at Troika Dialog. “I think almost all Russian companies will be looking at the West African shelf — including TNK-BP,” he added.and
LUKoil's potential resources in the area currently consist of up to 35 million barrels. The company said in September that it might have more petroleum in West Africa than in West Siberia.
Between the increasing international competition for the region's oil resources, burgeoning nuclear programs, the promise of greater U.S. engagement, the fallout from the Ivory Coast's political crisis, elections in Nigeria, the beginning of Liberia's election cycle, and concerns over drug trafficking and terrorism bubbling just below the surface, this should be an extremely interesting and consequential year for West Africa. Thankfully, for the United States at least, Iran's efforts at engagement in the region appear to have badly faltered in 2009.
Andreas Markessinis has an intriguing post on the Nation Branding blog wondering just what the new country that will likely be created next week will be called:
One possible option is ‘New Sudan’, but some oppose the idea as that name would associate the new country with the actual Sudan, which is considered a pariah state. For a weak, new country with weak influence, getting the world population to distinguish between ‘Sudan’ and ‘New Sudan’ would take aeons. Many people still confuse South Korea with North Korea and don’t remember which one is the rogue state, so any combination of names including the word ‘Sudan’ will probably be counter-productive to the new country, nationals say.
In fact, another suggestion most Southern Sudaneses don’t like either is ‘Southern Sudan’. They discard it because the name raises fears that this name would also confuse people, as many people would think that ‘Southern Sudan’ is the Southern region within Sudan, and not a different country.
But while there are ones who oppose the ‘Sudan’ word, there are others who don’t want to lose it. The latter consider their region to be the real ‘Sudan’, while the Northern part, which has become arabized and islamized, is not. They unpolish semantics to substantiate it. ‘Sudan’, they say, etymologically means in Arabic ‘land of the black people’, which is how fairer-skinned Arabs called the lands of conquered black tribes under their power. So this would justify that the name ‘Sudan’ makes more sense in the blacks-populated South than in the Arab-occupied North.
Other possibilites up for consideration include plays on the Nile river, the area's main geographic feature, such as Nilotia, Nolotland, or the Nile Republic. Cushitia or Azania -- archaic geographic and ethnic names -- are other possibilities, though also fraught with uncomfortable overtones.
I have a feeling that intertia may dictate that "South Sudan" stays, given that it's already how the international media is referring to the place. But despite its past significance, I'd have to think that at this point dropping "Sudan" -- with its contemporary connotations of genocide and famine -- from the name would be a wise branding move. I doubt anyone in Bangladesh wishes today that the country had stuck with "East Pakistan" after independence. Most of all, Southern Sudan should be sure to avoid the nomenclatural abomination that is the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Nile Republic isn't bad, though as Markessinis notes, Egypt is pretty protective of the Nile brand, raising the possibility of a FYROM situation. Maybe the country could go the Altria route and just make up a name? Not the worst idea for a place badly in need of a fresh start.
YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images
After two weeks of stalemate, the political controntation in Cote D'Ivoire is finally moving -- in the very, very wrong direction. Last month, opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara won a presidential election -- but incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo has refused to leave. In recent days, the two have set up rival headquarters, named rival cabinets, and claimed rival military forces for their protection. Now it seems, the stage is set for a showdown.
Earlier today, troops loyal to Gbagbo surrounded Ouattara's headquarters at a local hotel. Now, Ouattara has set a date -- Dec. 17 -- on which his own loyal forces will attempt to take the government offices away from Gbagbo.
Ouattara is likely trying to put pressure on Gbagbo to step down -- something that the international community has also been trying for the last two weeks. The European Union, for example, today announced sanctions on Gbagbo's government. Cote D'Ivoire has already been kicked out of the African Union and the regional economic grouping ECOWAS, until the crisis is resolved.
Unfortunately, Gbagbo remains unyielding. Most every news report has been reminding readers about just how volatile the country remains, and just how real the possibility is that it could slip back into war. It looks more and more like this is not a case of crying wolf.
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It's all the rage. Got a contested election in a fragile African country? Send in the elderly statesmen, make the warring parties sit down, and force them both into an uncomfortable but face-saving unity government. It happened in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe now shares power with the real vote-winner, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. It happened in Kenya, where incumbant President Mwai Kibaki was force-married with Prime Minister and rival Raila Odinga. And now, it's in danger of happening again in Cote d'Ivoire.
The mayhem in Cote d'Ivoire is serious. The country's presidential election was delayed repeatedly since 2005. When it finally took place, the results were delayed until international pressure came sufficiently to bear. The opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara is believed to have won and has been endorsed by international observers. But both he and the incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo have now held swearing-in ceremonies.
So the temptation arises for a coalition. Le Monde has already floated the possibility, and African Union meditor (and former South African President) Thabo Mbeki has already flown to Abidjan. How else can we get both sides peacefully to come to some sort of agreement? But Zimbabwe and Kenya should be evidence enough of why not. Both pacts have ended in stagnation, infighting, and political deadlock. Ending the short-term crisis has come at the cost of sacrificing long-term political development.
Just take Zimbabwe, where the unity government may well have simply delayed the crisis. After months of being sidelined from Mugabe's unilateral decision-making, Prime Minister Tsvangirai has repeatedly boycotted his own government. He has been forced to sacrifice his entire reform agenda in favor of focusing all his political capital on a single goal: another election. There's no reason to believe another vote will go any differently that the last, when Mugabe lost and still claimed victory. Kenya has likewise proved troublesome; the president and prime minister are rumored to have gone months without talking. And so great was mediator Kofi Annan's frustration with the government's inability to push reforms and prosecute perpetrators of the 2008 election violence that he referred the names of the offenders to the International Criminal Court himself.
Now to Cote d'Ivoire, where the situation has more in common with Kenya and Zimbabwe than just its potential for turmoil. Here, as in those two countries, the two political rivals aren't just political foes but personal ones who are not likely to work well together (if the current standoff isn't evidence enough.) Incumbent Gbagbo, who lost, blames Ouattara for imprisoning him when the former was a rebel leader long ago. Ouattara, meanwhile, can't possibly feel fondly toward Gbagbo, having been barred from previous elections for his supposed non-Ivorian roots tracing to Burkina Faso.
It would be great if these two could get along. But the stakes are too high to let them try while running a country. Cote d'Ivoire's government is already suffering. And tensions have left more than a dozen dead in rival protests. Reconciliation is great and much needed -- but probably not best handled within the country's top office.
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Tiny Gambia added itself to Iran's enemies this week when it abruptly cut diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic and ordered its diplomats to leave the country. The announcement likely marks the end of Iranian investment in the African country which includes a $2 billion deal to provide commercial vehicles. Gambian President -- and perhaps soon king -- Yahya Jammeh gave no official reason for the move, but it's thought to be linked to last month's seizure of Iranian weapons in Nigeria, which some officials now say was bound for The Gambia.
Alaeddin Borujerdi, head of the foreign-policy committee in Iran's parliament, said an "Iranian company" had struck an agreement to sell arms to Gambia several years ago and that the cache was sent "under international law." Gambia's decision to sever ties was made under pressure from the United States, he said, but would have little effect because Iran's diplomatic involvement there did not even amount to having an embassy.
However, Scott Lucas, editor of the Enduring America website and an Iran analyst at Birmingham University in the United Kingdom, says the arms may have been linked to a failed 2009 attempt to overthrow Jammeh, who himself came to power through a coup in 1994.
"Since the recent coup in Gambia, there have been factions vying for power," argues Lucas. "It is unclear to whom the arms were to be sent, but it is likely to be one of those factions. [...]
As to who might have provided these arms, Lucas also suspects Revolutionary Guards involvement: "The most likely explanation is that they had come from a faction within the Iranian government, in or connected to the Revolutionary Guards." [...]
[Analyst Meir] Javedanfar says Iran has tried to cultivate ties with African countries with strategic waterways, possibly to give it the means of making retaliatory strikes against Western interests in the event of an armed conflict.
"One of the linchpins of Iran's Africa policy has been to try and improve relations with countries that have coasts on the important waterways," says Javedanfar, who points out that Gambia is wedged between Senegal on the Atlantic coast.
"This would be an important attraction to the Iranians. It would certainly add to Gambia's strategic value. There is also the fact that it is close to Senegal, which is an important Iranian ally. Any country that has access to important waterways and has important relations with Iran could later on be used to pressure the U.S. and to help Iran expand its influence in Africa."
Michael Singh wrote recently over at Shadow Government about the Iranian government's seemingly contradictory double-game in West Africa: building trade a diplomatic ties with local governments while simultaneously supporting militants and arms-smuggling groups in the region. Whatever the full story is, it seems that Tehran may have overplayed its hand in The Gambia.
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