It's hard to imagine being criticized -- much less punished -- for taking World Cup spirit too far. Indeed, excess seems to be precisely the name of these games. For anyone who thinks their face-paint masterpieces are prize-worthy, the award for over-the-top aficionado has already been claimed by Sasa Jovic : armed only with a backpack, world map and, of course, his national flag, this Serbian ultra-fan embarked on a 10,000 mile walk to Pretoria to catch his home country's match against Ghana. The Serbs lost 1-0. No word yet on whether Jovic arrived in time to witness defeat.
As it turns out, however, not every patriotic display is quite so praiseworthy. Thirty women were ejected from Monday's Netherland-Denmark game for "ambush marketing" (a very "serious offense" according to the South Africa Police Service). Their fateful mistake? Too much color-coordination. The fans were caught cheering in identical orange mini-dresses distributed by the Dutch brewery, Bavaria. Under Fifa's strict marketing rules for the Cup, only official sponsors are permitted to advertize at matches-and Budweiser is the only beer on tap at these games. The women, two of whom were summoned to Court on Wednesday (and then released on bail), insist they were just showing Dutch pride, but Fifa claims they were illegally paid to don Bavaria apparel.
The only question left: which is worse, paying your customers to flaunt your logo, or bribing foreigners to root for your team?
David Cannon/Getty Images
The Somali government has responded to Jeffrey Gettleman's recent piece in the New York Times, which documented the use of child soldiers in the military of the U.S.-backed Transitional Federal Goverment. The e-mailed press release reads:
The Somali President, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, has expressed strong concern over the recent New York Times report that alleged the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia has recruited child soldiers for its national army.
The President stated that, contrary to the New York Times assertions, the Somali government has not and will not knowingly recruit under-aged youth for the national security forces, because, the President said, "the country is already teeming with thousands of able-bodied men that the government is working hard to demobilize"
Furthermore, President Ahmed reiterated that the Somali Government "is fully committed to upholding existing laws and provisions banning the recruitment of child soldiers."
However, as a charge of such magnitude warrants a thorough scrutiny, the President ordered the army chief "to conduct a full review and to report back to him in four weeks. The President also instructed the army to demobilize any under-age recruits without delay."
The President finally appealed to the international community to assist the Somali government with the direly needed resources to provide services that could help in the demobilization process of the estimated over one hundred thousand armed militias of all ages that are roaming in the country.
The President pointed out that, "Al Shabab terrorists are the ones who intentionally and many times forcefully enlist underage children for their terror campaigns." It is documented the TFG has actually rescued children from Al-Shabaab and returned them to their families.
As one of the few Western reporters to have gone in and out of Somalia in recent years, Gettleman raised jarring issues in his piece, but the use of child soldiers in and of itself, was -- at least in my mind -- not the most important. That spot is reserved for the questions it raised about U.S. policy toward Somalia -- one that has favored sending weapons to the government with little follow up, as we have reported here at FP. There's no better recipe for outcomes like child soldiering than the blind deposit of weapons into a state already all too plush with guns and all too short on real authority. It would have been more surprising, in fact, if such outcomes as child soldiers were not the result of such a policy.
Even from over 2000 miles away, Libyan leader Muammar al Qaddafi was able to fan the flames of sectarian conflict in 1970's Ireland. A staunch supporter of anti-imperialist, anti-West rebel movements, Qaddafi sympathized with the campaign of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Qaddafi acted as the group's arms supplier, smuggling over the explosives and weapons the paramilitary forces needed to escalate the struggle into all-out terror.
One year ago, Qaddafi expressly refused to accept liability for the Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacks of the 1980's, instead telling victims to "go to the court." Though he had already compensated the families of passengers aboard Pan Am Flight 103, victims of many other attacks executed with weaponry and explosives Qaddafi had supplied the IRA -- such as the Harrods bombing of 1983 and the Enniskillen atrocity of 1987 -- had yet to recieve any kind of consolation or apology. But yesterday, after nine months of negotiations between officials in London and Tripoli, the dictator made an unexpected concession: he announced that he would shell out up to 3.5 billion dollars in reparations to victims of IRA terrorism. The deviation from his previous response accompanies renewed bilateral relations with Switzerland, against whom Qaddafi had declared a holy war in February. Qaddafi has both released Swiss businessman, Max Goeldi -- detained in Libya for defying a travel ban put into effect after Switzerland authorities arrested Qaddafi's son on charges of assault -- and established an arbitration tribunal to settle the diplomatic dispute with Libya's former adversary.
These recent developments are productive, but they doubtfully signify that Qaddafi -- the principal financier of a laundry list of horrific terrorist attacks and rebel movements -- will now make a habit of letting reconciliation or reform govern his agenda.
MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images
The first African World Cup was always going to be a unique event, and the first four days of the tournament have been full of the good, the bad, and the Green. Particularly noteworthy (and relished by this observer) was France's dismal performance in a 0-0 draw against Uruguay last Friday.
Because it's the French national team, headed by universally-hated Raymond Domenech, Le Blues were not lacking of excuses. Captain Patrice Evra blamed his team's lack of performance on communication problems, and more specifically, the deafening noise of thousands of vuvuzelas:
We can't sleep at night because of the vuvuzelas. People start playing them from 6 a.m. We can't hear one another out on the pitch because of them.
Somehow, Uruguay wasn't similarly fazed because they apparently possess superhuman hearing. (Credit to the South Americans, they executed their gameplan perfectly and nearly came away with all three points had Diego Forlan's strike in the 73rd minute been on frame.)
Evra's complaint was one of a string from participants about the ubuqiutous South African trumpet/kazoo/noisemaker of death. Even the best player in the world, Argentina's Lionel Messi, expressed disapproval of the instrument, saying "It's impossible to communicate, it's like being deaf."
I have always said that Africa has a different rhythm, a different sound. I don't see banning the music traditions of fans in their own country. Would you want to see a ban on the fan traditions in your country?
Indeed, it would be stupid to ban the quintessentially South African element of the competition because of player complaints. If FIFA had wanted a dull tournament, they'd have mandated every team play in the Italian, anti-football style. Vuvuzelas don't provide either team with an advantage, and add distinctive flair -- or, better put, a distinctive buzz. (Perhaps worringly for spectators, South African shops are now reporting running dry of "vuvu-stoppers:" plugs to protect fans' ears from the noisemakers.)
Thankfully, not all have highlighted the vuvuzelas as the biggest problem of the tournament so far.
*Tuesday update: ESPN has just announced that they've added filters to their broadcast to lower the vuvuzela noise. We'll see whether viewers appreciate the change, or whether they feel they've lost some of the World Cup buzz. (It does seem like the sound of the vuvuzelas has been slightly dulled.)
LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images
As World Cup fever heats up around the world, there's huge interest in the tournament's biggest underdog: North Korea, which debuts against soccer juggernaut Brazil on June 15 in its first cup appearance since a Cinderella showing in 1966.
Kim Jong Il's squad, ranked 105th internationally, just barely qualified for the big show, and oddsmakers figure its chances of winning are about 1,000 to one.
Little is known about the players. There's Kim Myong Won, a striker known as "the Chariot" for his speed. But Kim will be restricted to playing goalkeeper due to a North Korean attempt to skirt FIFA rules. There's also Jong Tae-se, a stocky forward who was born and lives in Japan, where he is known as "the People's Wayne Rooney" for his resemblance to the English star. Jong scored both North Korean goals during a recent match against Greece, which ended in a 2-2 tie, and has vowed to score once in every World Cup game. The team's captain is Hong Yong Jo, who plays for FC Rostov in Russia.
The North Korean team has been cloistered since arriving in South Africa earlier this week. But one source of great speculation has been cleared up: The players will be wearing uniforms made by Legea, an Italian sportswear company that paid a reported $4.9 million for the privilege:
North Korea’s team is getting an amount similar to what might be paid to a low-ranking team in the English Premier League, the world’s richest soccer league, according to Simon Chadwick, a sports business professor at the U.K.’s Coventry University. Ri, in an interview in Tokyo last week, said it was hard to find a jersey sponsor as there’s “no market” for sports apparel in North Korea.
“If it doesn’t result in sales, there’s no point” for some sporting-goods companies, Ri said.
Legea will provide North Korea with branded World Cup jerseys and training gear, Nastro said. That will help raise the Italian brand’s international profile, although the marketing bet could backfire, Chadwick said.
Legea “will be working overtime to put clear blue water between the team and the regime,” Chadwick said. “It could get to the stage when people stop buying the brand if they’re being seen as propping up a dictatorship.”
As part of the deal, North Korea will get a 10 million-euro bonus if the team wins the cup.
It's from a firm called Covalence that calculates companies' ethical reputations and, on a neat mapping tool, tracks them against the amount of attention the companies are receiving in the media. (Methodology here.) From this report, a look at how different international industries have fared over the past half-decade, as the volume of information about them has generally increased:
Not only is the oil and gas industry in the basement, but it's one of the only industries whose reputation gets actively worse the more we know about it. For the largest oil and gas companies, the relationship is even starker -- spikes in attention track closely with drops in reputation.
On one level, this is probably just a measure of the very different reasons that different industries find themselves in the headlines. (When a tech company is in the news, it's because it's launching the iPad. When an oil company is in the news, it's because it has befouled a major ecosystem for a generation.) And energy companies are often particularly bad actors on the world stage.
But I suspect it's also a testament to the degree to which both the oil industry and the global public that depends on it are more comfortable when the latter knows less about how the former does its work -- the business of energy production is rarely pretty. Which is why all the unflattering attention is important: The best case for drilling domestically in the United States, rather than somewhere like Nigeria, is that the added scrutiny that operations here receive -- from the government, the media, and environmental organizations -- makes companies behave better than they do in the Niger River Delta, where oil operations are estimated to have leaked an amount comparable to the Gulf oil spill since the 1970s, and garnered a fraction of the international outrage.
U.S. Coast Guard
The last time I saw Monrovia in 2005, there wasn't much of a city to describe. Buildings were riddled with bullets, roads had so many potholes it was hard to tell at which elevation they were actually supposed to be. Markets were built next to trash dumps and there were children living in cemetaries. Despite all that, I found it infinitely more hopeful than Sierra Leone, where I had been coming from. And much of the reason for that hope lay in one woman: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who back then had just been elected president.
Today, as Dino Mahtani reports for FP, much has improved. But Sirleaf's record may not be as unblotted as I (and the entire Western donor community) imagined. Much of the concern boils down to one word: corruption. Whether the fight against it has been hindered by politics, resources, or the need to temper change with compromise, progress has been disappointing.
Global Witness, an organization that focuses on the transparency of resource extraction, is also worried about Sirleaf's Liberia for another reason: timber and diamonds. The very industries that so illicitly funded that country's decades of conflict are up for extraction again, and it doesn't look pretty. "In its rush to restart its forest and mining sectors, the Liberian government is making the same mistakes that in the past have resulted in natural resource-fuelled instability, corruption and poverty," Global Witness wrote in a press release last week. Specifically, the group is worried that timber concessions aren't getting due diligence, millions are disappearing into a mining industry that is not yet transparent, and the the country doesn't have control over the export of diamonds. Together, those things could open enormous opportunities for the crooked, the corrupt, or worse.
Is all this a minor blight on a government met by such an overwhelming situation just a half-decade ago? Probably. I certainly can't imagine the government doing much better than it has. But then, the bar in Liberia was set tragically low.
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images
One of FP's 2009 Stories You Missed was the growing U.S. involvement in efforts to wipe out Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army rebels -- this included a bill sponsored by Senators Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) committing the U.S. to "eliminating the threat posed by the Lord's Resistance Army." The bill was held up for a while by a hold from Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, but passed in March and signed by President Obama on Monday.
In April, Michael Wilkerson wrote about why the LRA has been so hard to wipe out.
When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf assumed office in Liberia, the government's budget was a mere $80 million -- as she put it, about the budget of a high school. Today, the budget is $350 million -- better, but still not great. So her pronouncement today speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations was particularly ambitious: "Liberia should not need aid in 10 years," she told the audience. "we've got the resources ... We're going to go from dependency to self-sufficiency."
The plan to get there? Private capital and investments, both of which have already begun to come in. And so far in that category, it's China -- not the United States, which has been a big foreign aid donor to Monrovia -- that is taking the lead. They dominate the construction sector, Sirleaf explained, and their other economic agenda is clear: "access to raw materials to keep the Chinese economy going."
"China's fast," she explained. "They know what they want and they do it quickly." Building schools, building roads, signing contracts, and offering loans -- all of it can be done in weeks or months, not years as some donors and Western investors might take. In short, "China's flexible."
That's got to be something of a wake-up call for U.S. foreign aid -- and even private investors. Thanks to its historical ties to the United States, Liberia is usually thought to be in "America's" sphere in influence on the continent -- after all, Monrovia has been a major recipient of foreign aid. But China's presence, and its increasingly attractive and flexible model, is pretty hard to out do.
That's not to say that Sirleaf doesn't want more U.S. (and other) investment. In fact, she made an appeal to exactly that. But rest assured it won't come as quickly as it would from Beijing.
GLENNA GORDON/AFP/Getty Images
If you were in Washington D.C. a few weeks ago you might have noticed the enormous security measures taken for the 46 world leaders who convened for the Nuclear Summit. A huge portion of the city was closed, sidewalks were lined with D.C. police, and streets were regularly blocked off for passing twenty-car motorcades.
South Africa will be in a similar position with the start of the World Cup next month, with 43 leaders already having confirmed their attendance. Turns out though, 43 leaders isn't seen a big problem -- rather, it's the potential of a 44th visitor that has South Africa's police department sweating. And, surprisingly, he happens to be the 44th president of the United States.
Speaking before a cabinet meeting on World Cup security, South Africa's police chief, General Bheki Cele, estimates that a visit by the U.S. president, and the subsequent crowds that would clamor to see him, would double the scale of the security requirements, saying, "that 43 will be equal to this one operation." It would be such a headache that the police chief is "praying" that the U.S. is eliminated after the first stage because of rumors that Obama might visit if the U.S. national team makes it any further.
Here's hoping his prayers aren't heard.
ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images
I imagine my colleague and FP's resident Nigeria hand Beth Dickinson is in an airport somewhere kicking herself for taking a vacation the week of the year's biggest Nigerian story.
Sad as Nigerians may be at the death of President Umaru Yar'Adua last night, I would imagine there must also be some relief that the country's political stalemate has come to an end with the official swearing in of Goodluck Jonathan as the country's president. Yar'adua has been unable to perform his duties for months and was last seen in public last November. Jonathan was finally made acting president in January, but the chain of command has remained ambiguous and the resulting power vacuum highly dangerous.
This hasn't exactly been an uneventful period for Nigeria with the breakdown of a ceasefire with the MEND rebels in Nigeria, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's attempted terrorist attack on Christmas day, and religious violence that has claimed hundreds of lives. The ambiguous leadership situation has been confusing for foreign governments, including the United States, as well. Goodluck is far from ideal, but this combustible country needs a functioning government and it's a shame that it took this long to acknowledge that Yar'Adua wasn't coming back.
On the other hand, it seems enouraging that despite all the intrigue and opportunities for foul play during this crisis, Nigeria's constitutional government is still standing and power has been peacefully passed to a new leader. Given recent events next door, that's not nothing.
ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)
Next month, 32 national football sides will compete in the first-ever African hosted World Cup --- but they might be playing in half-empty stadiums. Over half of the 500,000 tickets allotted for South Africans remain unsold, with sales significantly slowing over the last month.
I don't know why this'd be a surprise. Less than four percent of South Africans earn nearly forty percent of total personal income. Another fifth makes up the "emerging middle class," leaving seventy-five percent of the country in the lower income tier. Almost half the country is in poverty, the economy is contracting, and income inequality is in fact getting worse. I'm guessing that most South Africans figured tickets would be a luxury they couldn't afford.
This announcement comes amid a slate of bad news: the World Health Organization warned tourists of an outbreak of Rift Valley fever only yesterday, and a tragic bus accident -- allegedly caused by the bus driver falling asleep at the wheel -- claimed 23 lives today.
Aside from the tickets fiasco, the Organising Committee claims that everything is ready for June 11th. This quote from spokesman Greg Fredericks, however, doesn't alleviate all concerns: "We certainly hope that the strike season will be over." That's not exactly the voice of confidence.
To correct the ticket problem, FIFA should either slash prices even further, or free them up for more foreign fans. They've earned some good press today when they announced that workers on the World Cup stadiums would receive free tickets to two matches. Empty stands at the World Cup would be the height of embarrassment.
To be fair, it would give a break to weary ears blasted by obnoxiously (and dangerously) loud vuvuzelas.
ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images
Despite Zimbabwe not making it out of the second round of African World Cup qualifying, Robert Mugabe has still managed to turn the upcoming World Cup, hosted by neighboring South Africa, into a domestic political scandal. What a surprise. Apparently not having had its fill of international pariahs after Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's visit last week, Mugabe's government has also invited North Korea's soccer team to stay in the country prior to the World Cup. This move has brought back a decades old grudge between the two countries.
In 1982, 20,000 Zimbabweans were slaughtered by the army in Matabeleland province. It just so happens that the army brigade responsible was trained by North Korean military advisors.
Making the hosting offer even more insensitive were the original plans to base the North Korean team in Bulawayo, the second largest city in the country, located in -- you guessed it -- the region of Matabeleland. The locals were displeased:
Groups representing Matabeleland's ethnic Ndebele minority had threatened to disrupt training sessions and games in Bulawayo, and organize protests among Zimbabweans based in South Africa.
Earlier today, Zimbabwe announced it would base the side in Harare -- but insisted the change was not "politically motivated." But it doesn't look likely to appease the protesters. Methuseli Moyo of ZAPU, a small opposition party, told the BBC:
"It should be the concern of every Zimbabwean that North Korea trained those who perpetrated the atrocities. Even if they camp in Harare, we will still organise the protests."
The North Korean side has enough problems already, having drawn Brazil, Portugal, and Côte d'Ivoire in this cup's version of the "Group of Death."
DESMOND KWANDE/AFP/Getty Images
From the captain obvious department: a study in the latest issue of South Africa's Medical Journal claimed that vuvuzelas, the obnoxiously loud trumpet played at football matches in South Africa, can cause permanent hearing damage:
Participants in the stadium study were "exposed to high-intensity sound far exceeding the current legislated average exposure and peak exposure levels for occupational noise".
Tests on the 11 after the match showed a "significant" decrease in hearing sensitivity.
Worse, the study used stadiums that simulated the noise of only 30,000 people -- many of the crowds expected at World Cup matches are expected to be three times that amount.
If you watched last year's Confederations Cup, you're well aware how annoyingly ubuquitous vuvuzelas are in South African stadiums. (And if you didn't, you'll understand if you watch even a single minute of any World Cup match this summer.)
Thankfully, a South African company is taking advantage of the obvious entreprenurial opportunity and marketing foam earplugs.
H/T Andrew Harding.
ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/Getty Images
Taking a page from the Taliban, Somalia's Shabaab militants have effectively banned music from the radio in Somalia:
The BBC's Mohammed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu says the order to stop
playing music and jingles was issued 10 days ago. All but two of the
city's 15 radio stations used to broadcast music. Residents can now only hear music from the government-controlled
radio station and another Kenya-based UN-funded radio station, which
has a FM transmitter in Mogadishu, he says.
"We are using other
sounds such as gunfire, the noise of the vehicles and birds to link up
our programmes and news," said Abdulahi Yasin Jama, Tusmo radio's head
of the programmes.
The above photo shows a member of the Somali pop group Waayah Cusub recording a track at a studio in Nairobi.
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
As a dislocated Brooklynite, I've been following the New Jersey Nets' faltering attempts to build a new stadium in my borough for years now -- my distaste for poor urban planning and eminent domain abuse only slightly outweighing my fantasy of one day seeing Lebron James play ten minutes away from where I grew up. The story has already drawn in an unlikely cast of characters including rapper Jay-Z and Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, but Robert Mugabe? Really?
The New York Post reports:
Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, wants to know if companies controlled by Prokhorov in Zimbabwe violate federal rules that forbid American citizens and companies, and subsidiaries set up in the United States, from doing business with brutal strongman Robert Mugabe, his regime or associates.
Prokhorov's Renaissance Capital investment bank has interests in the Zimbabwean stock exchange, banks, a cellphone company, mining and a swanky, private big-game reserve. The company is intertwined with Onexim, the $25 billion Prokhorov-controlled investment fund behind the deal to bring the struggling NBA team to Brooklyn.
Pascrell said he will ask the Treasury Department, which oversees the sanctions, to investigate Onexim. In 2008, Onexim became a 50 percent owner of Renaissance Capital, which has been actively investing in Zimbabwe since 2007.
The Nets currently play in East Rutherford, New Jersey, located in Pascrell's district, so he's not exactly an impartial observer. On the other hand, the NBA has only itself to blame if this blows up into a scandal. Renaissance Capital hasn't exactly gone out of their way to hide their business ties to Zimbabwe: there's a Harare office listed on their website.
DMITRY KOSTYUKOV/AFP/Getty Images
One of the great ironies of reporting overseas is that it's often much easier to hear a political leader speak candidly here in Washington than in an interview back home. Such was the case today, as Nigerian Acting President Goodluck Jonathan spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations as part of his trip here for Barack Obama's nuclear summit. And it wasn't just him: his delegation included five state governors and the minister of petroleum and finance. In other words, that's more high-level Nigerian officials than any gathering I'd ever been present to in Abuja.
What struck me most about Jonathan was his almost anti-politician persona. He's a charismatic guy, who laughs often, slouches when he sits, peppers his points with anecdotes. But when he read his prepared statement, he was ice cold -- an unpracticed speaker in that context. He was in his element discussing things he knows in and out -- the Niger Delta, where he is from and where he is leading an amnesty program for militants there; election reform, which he says is a top priority.
On the substance, here's what Goodluck Jonathan promises to deliver for Nigeria while in office: First, credible elections in 2011 -- a big advance for anyone who watched the fiasco that was the last presidential poll in 2007. "I promise Nigerians and the rest of the world that 2011 elections in Nigera will be credible," he told the audience, explaining that this was an objective that could certainly be achieved in his short time left in office (maximum 12 months). He promised advances in the fight against corruption; progress on the Niger Delta amnesty deal; security reform to prevent outbreaks of violence in the North (and elsewhere); and a serious review of the power sector (or more accurately the power-cuts sector in its current state today).
The question I was hoping to ask but wasn't able to, however, is to me the crux of whether these promises will come to fruition: does Jonathan have the support and political flexibility he needs to get all this done? To follow Nigerian politics over the last several months has been to try and sort through the dramatic reversals of allegiance, apparent purges of whole swathes of people, and resurrections of swathes of other once-purged former officials. Only if that ends will any policy promises even begin to move forward.
Here's my hope: As I've written before, Jonathan ended up as the president by a series of accidents. He hasn't been voted into office, either for the presidency or the governorship, except as a running mate. So maybe he can rise above the politics and do the things he spoke about today. There would be nothing accidental about that happening.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
The coup-in-progress in Guinea-Bissau mentioned in this morning's brief appears to have failed:
The prime minister of Guinea-Bissau, Carlos Gomes Junior, has been released after being briefly detained by soldiers in an apparent coup attempt. Military music played on the radio, a telltale sign of a coup, during the incident. Gomes was released hours later as hundreds of people gathered in front of his office chanting "Never a coup d'etat in Guinea-Bissau."
The minister of territorial administration, Luis Sanca, said he and the prime minister were abducted by the soldiers at 8am and taken to the capital's main military camp, where they saw the head of the armed forces, Zamora Induta, also under guard. Sanca said the soldiers released him and Gomes at about 11 but were still holding the army chief.
"The prime minister has been freed and is meeting the president," said a family member, who asked not to be named. Mamadou Diao, the prime minister's press attache, confirmed the release.
It would be wishful thinking to hope that things will return to normal in Guinea-Bissau, an archetypal failing state and major drug transshipment point, but after a series of coups and assassinations over the last few years, it's good news that the government appears to have held on. Leaders of the West African regional body ECOWAS, having already suspended Guinea and Niger after recent coups, are probably breathing a sigh of relief as well.
As mentioned in the brief, Tanzania and Zambia were rebuffed today in their attempts to relax the international ban on ivory sales at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Doha. The decision is being hailed as a victory for conservationists after some setbacks earlier in the week:
The rulings were a rare victory for environmentalists at the two-week meeting where they have endured defeats of proposals ranging from an export ban on Atlantic bluefin tuna to a shark conservation plan to a measure to regulate trade of red and pink corals.
Not that I approve of killing elephants for their ivory, but the economic double-standard at work here seems troubling. The tuna ban, for instance, was strongly opposed by Japan, which imports 80 percent of the world's bluefin and led a concerted lobbying effort to have the current rules overturned.
Japan has, for years, employed a similar strategy in its campaign to loosen restrictions on whaling, exchanging foreign aid to disinterested countries like Togo and St. Kitts who join the International Whaling Comission and vote with the pro-whaling bloc. Economist Christian Dippel has studied this phenomenon and wrote about it in a recent piece for FP.
Aid-receiving countries like Tanzania and Zambia presumably don't have the resources to mount such a campaign, which is a large part of the reason they want the ban lifted in the first place. As Zambia's Minister of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources Catherine Namugala put it, "We can't justify failure to take a child to school because we are using resources to conserve elephants. I appeal to allow Zambia to utilize the natural resources given to us by God."
Again, I tend to side with the conservationists on this, but I certainly understand the frustration of poor-country governments who are expected to make economic sacrifices for the sake of endangered species while the world's second-largest economy continues to hunt species on the brink of extinction.
Update: New protections for hammerhead and white-tip sharks have also been shot down. Guess who led the opposition to them.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
For those of you who don't subscribe to the bimonthly print edition of Foreign Policy, you're missing a great feature: the FP Quiz. It has eight intriguing questions about how the world works.
The question I'd like to highlight this week is:
Which of these three countries has the highest annual death rate?
a) Germany b) Iraq c) Kenya
(The photo above is of half-buried headstones at Arlington National Cemetery during last month's D.C.-area "snowpocalypse.")
Answer after the jump ...
Win McNamee/Getty Images
This time it's Togo:
Togo's top opposition candidate said Monday that security forces have been provoking demonstrators with force, a day after the group staged protests claiming last week's presidential election was rigged to favor the son of the country's longtime dictator.
Anti-riot police sealed off the sandy alleys leading to the headquarters of the opposition party, stranding the country's opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre outside for more than an hour in a tense standoff days after the disputed vote.
The 57-year-old Fabre vowed Sunday to take to the streets every day to protest what he says was a fraudulent election, saying he would only stop when the police had exhausted their stock of tear gas or killed him.
From Kenya to Zimbabwe to Iran to Sri Lanka, the seemingly fraudulent eection followed by mass protest and government crackdown is becoming a familiar pattern. While Togo is unlikely to command international media attention long enough to get a "color" designation, it seems to fit the mold.
The optimistic view of all these bloody post-elections is that opposition movements are becoming bolder about challenging fraudulent results. The bad news is that except for the original color revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, the authorities always seem to win these confrontations.
ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
An extraordinary paper on poverty reduction across Africa by Columbia's Xavier Sala-i-Martin and Maxim Pinkovskiy shows:
My first thought was that the study might be so broad as to be misleading. Countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo have suffered from violent conflict and declines in GDP in the past decade; countries like South Africa haven't. It's a billion-person continent. It's hard, and in some ways useless, to generalize.
Thus, perhaps the most remarkable finding is that "poverty reduction... cannot be explained by a large country or even by a single set of countries." The authors note: "[P]overty fell for both landlocked as well as coastal countries; for mineral-rich as well as mineral-poor countries; for countries with favorable or with unfavorable agriculture; for countries regardless of colonial origin; and for countries with below- or above-median slave exports per capita during the African slave trade."
Today, in Zimbabwe, a highly controversial new law requiring businesses to be majority-owned by indigenous Zimbabwean citizens comes into effect.
Within the next 45 days, every company with an asset value over $500,000 needs to submit paperwork detailing the racial background of its shareholders. If the company has a majority of white or foreign shareholders, the Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Act -- brainchild of President Robert Mugabe, whose catastrophic land reform act caused hyperinflation and famine -- requires it to transfer shares to indigenous Zimbabweans.
The goal of the law -- "a deliberate involvement of indigenous Zimbabweans in the economic activities of the country, to which hitherto they had no access, so as to ensure the equitable ownership of the nation's resources" -- is a noble one. But the law is a calamity that promises to drive away foreign dollars and further the impoverishment of average Zimbabweans.
Facing the law, which Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai lobbied against and which many believed would never actually be enacted, uncounted companies are simply pulling out. 51 percent is a controlling stake. That means that if you're the head of, say, a South African soda company's Zimbabwean unit, in 45 days, you have a new boss -- shareholders appointed by a branch of Mugabe's government. Foreign direct investment, so vital to the economic growth of low-income countries, has already fallen off and will continue to crater.
Plus, the law, which creates an agency to help distribute shares to indigenous Zimbabweans, will likely only benefit a tiny handful of elites. "We fear that this could lead to a creation of new minority blacks who will just replace the minority whites," Lovemore Matombo, the head of Zimbabwe's Congress of Trade Unions, told AFP.
And how does Mugabe's government determine who qualifies as an "indigenous Zimbabwean" anyway? What about people of mixed race, naturalized citizens, or citizens by marriage? The law says the category includes "any person who before the 18th April 1980" -- when Zimbabwe was officially founded -- "was disadvantaged by unfair discrimination on the grounds of his or her race." That means the new law inverts the guidelines of the racist Rhodesian government, which as a foundational principle discriminated against black and mixed-race people.
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French President Nicolas Sarkozy has, in the past, shown little interest in discussing the darker periods of French history. His summed up his attitude while visiting former colony Algeria two years ago, saying:
"Young people on either side of the Mediterranean are looking to the future more than the past and what they want are concrete things. They're not waiting for their leaders to simply drop everything and start mortifying themselves, or to beat their breasts, over the mistakes of the past because, in that case, there'd be lots to do on both sides."
But in the last two weeks there have been some signs that Sarkozy may be tentatively softening his relentlessly forward-facing outlook. Visiting Haiti last week to announce a debt cancellation package, Sarkozy had this to say about France's legacy of slavery, colonialism, and economic dominance over the country:
"Our presence did not leave good memories,'' Sarkozy conceded outside the still-standing French Embassy in downtown Port-au-Prince.
"The wounds of colonization, maybe the worst, [and] the conditions of our separation have some traces that are still alive in Haitian memories.''
Visiting Rwanda today, Sarkozy didn't exactly apologize for France's conduct during the 1994 genocide, but at least took note of his country's faults:
"What happened here is unacceptable and what happened here forces the international community, including France, to reflect on the mistakes that prevented it from anticipating and stopping this terrible crime."
Asked what he felt those mistakes had been, the president cited a seriously flawed assessment of the situation in Rwanda as the genocide unfolded and a UN-mandated French military intervention that was "too late and undoubtedly too little".
But reflecting a thaw in relations, Sarkozy said he hoped the future would enable the two countries to "turn an extremely painful page" on a past fraught with mutual distrust. "Off the back of all these mistakes … we are going to try to build a bilateral relationship," he said.
Granted, this isn't much -- certainly less than the Rwandans were expecting and much weaker than the apologies Bill Clinton and Kofi Annan have made -- but it's a new style from Sarkozy, whose rhetoric has never exactly been known for its sensitivity.
PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images
The Obama administration's quick condemnation of last year's coup in Honduras and repeated (though ultimately unsuccessful) demands that leftist President Manuel Zelaya be reinstated, seemed to be an indication that the United States would no longer tolerate military coups, no matter how unsavory or anti-American the leader overthrown.
That's why it was a little surprising to see that the State Department's first response to the overthrow of President Mamadou Tandja in Niger yesterday was essentially "he had it coming":
"President Tandja has been trying to extend his mandate in office. And obviously, that may well have been, you know, an act on his behalf that precipitated this act today," he said.
Crowley was quick to stress that the United States does "not in any way, shape or form defend violence of this nature.
"Clearly, we think this underscores that Niger needs to move ahead with the elections and the formation of a new government," he added, noting that Washington still had few details of what actually took place in Niger. (Emphasis Mine.)
Hadn't Zelaya also been attempting to extend his mandate by extra-constitutional means before he was unceremoniously sent packing by his own military? Why is Tandja's reinstatement not a precondition for the restoration of democracy?
Granted the international context of the two situations is quite different. Tandja was a pariah, even in his own region, whereas Zelaya had the support of other Latin American governments. However, even ECOWAS, the West African body that had suspended Tandja's membership, has been outspoken in condemning his ouster.
It's possible that a more full-throated condemnation is coming, but it's important the the U.S. avoid even tacit acceptance of coups as a method of changing government. The fact that the United States no longer supports or tolerates coups as it did during the Cold War is likely a large factor in why they're not as common or as disastrous as they used to be.
Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, says "there is more than just spotty evidence" indicating a link between drug traffickers and terror groups.
"And before this becomes a very serious problem, it has to be dealt with and nipped in the bud," Costa said in an interview with The Associated Press, on the sidelines of a seven-nation drug summit in the Senegalese capital of Dakar.
Cocaine from South America has been moving through the West African coast for several years, and experts believe drugs are then parceled out to smugglers who move the cocaine north by boats and by road. One suspected smuggling route crosses portions of the Sahara desert controlled by insurgents. The cocaine-for-arms trade is especially worrying given the recent expansion of an al-Quaida-linked terror group, which was once based exclusively in Algeria but now has tentacles in Mauritania, Mali and Niger.
"There is plenty of evidence of a double flow. (Of) drugs moving, arriving into West Africa from across the Atlantic ... and the trading — exchange — of cocaine for arms," Costa said.
Costa did not say how extensive the cocaine-for-arms exchange was thought to be, or which countries were involved.
There seems to be an awful lot of hand-waving happening here. What we know is that drug smugglers are moving cocaine through West Africa, including regions where Al Qaeda linked militants also operate. This, in itself, may be cause for concern. But many, including prominent politicans, seem to be assuming that an established link exists when the only reported case of a suspected al Qaeda affiliate making a coke deal --again trotted out as evidence in this article -- was with someone who turned out to be a DEA agent. Until there's some more evidence, a little more cautious reporting might be in order.
In any event, if al Qaeda is getting into the cocaine business, it would seem to suggest that the organization is moving outside its core competency in order to raise money, and perhaps setting up more opportunities for authorities to infiltrate their networks.
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Uganda's Chief Magistrate's court dismissed a landmark case on Wednesday that had been filed by two Ugandan journalists, Angelo Izama and Charles Mwanguhya Mpagi. The file was introduced by the journalists as an attempt to use Uganda's Access to Information Act to force the Ugandan government to release the details of five oil Production Sharing Agreements that it has signed with oil companies. The government and the oil companies has resisted pressure to divulge even the smallest details to the public -- both attempting to deflect criticism by citing the other's insistence in maintaining secrecy over the deals.
Oil explorers have long been skeptical of Uganda's potential for holding large oil deposits but in the last few years oil exploration has proved wildly successful. The estimates now lie upwards of 6 billion barrels of oil -- if on the higher end, Uganda would surpass Sudan for the fifth largest oil reserves in Africa.
Observers are not optimistic at the implications of Uganda's oil finds. Although it would inject billions of dollars annually into Uganda's economy, widespread corruption (Uganda was ranked 126th out of 179 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index) increases the risk that the country could slip into the feared "resource curse". While the government and the oil companies paint a rosy picture for the public, analysts are less sanguine. As Taimour Lay writes in The Guardian, the components for a bad situation are all there:
The ingredients for the so-called "resource curse" are all in place: contract secrecy, government corruption, commercial disinformation campaigns, with environmental protections ignored, and a simmering border dispute with the Democratic Republic of the Congo frozen rather than resolved.
Although the Chief Magistrate's reasoning behind the dismissal of the case was less than convincing (he cited "national security"), it certainly highlighted Uganda's press freedom, right? That is, until Angelo Izama was slapped with a charge of libel and driven to jail on the very next day. The complaint? A December 2009 article in which Izama suggested parallels between President Yoweri Museveni and Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Although this is not a new tactic -- typically used by the Ugandan government to intimidate journalists -- such cases have certainly picked up in the last year. In a country where press freedom is one of the most important aspects of its "partly free" rating by Freedom House, this is a disturbing trend.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reports on the Ugandan government's widespread use of defamation statutes to coerce its critics:
"If anything proves that a government is authoritarian, it's jailing journalists who raise questions about the government," said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. "It's regrettable that the magistrate charged Angelo Izama and Henry Ochieng with criminal libel. It's time for Uganda to join the ranks of democracies by eliminating criminal defamation statutes."
Izama and Ochieng are among several Monitor journalists facing criminal charges in connection with their coverage, according to CPJ research. Sedition charges also hang over radio journalists Robert Kalundi Sserumaga and Betty Nambooze, while a government ban remains on popular debate programs and Central Broadcasting Services, the station of the traditional kingdom of the Baganda, Uganda's largest ethnic group, since last September.
Election fever for the 2011 presidential elections starts in the next few months and President Yoweri Museveni will be running for his fourth term. A potential resource curse and press intimidation are not the best of omens for a free and fair election. Ugandan journalists will play an essential role in pushing for transparency -- and I have a hunch they won't be cowed.
(Hat Tip: Michael Wilkerson)
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Until recently counter-terrorism officials weren't worried about jihadi pundits having much of an influence in the United States itself, where they believed that a higher degree of Muslim-American assimiliation, social mobility and economic well-being would act against such influences. It turns out however, that this isn't always the case.
In an article in New York Times Magazine, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Andrea Eliot profiles the captivating transformation of an all-American boy from Alabama, Omar Hammami, who is now fighting with Al Shabaab in Somalia.
Despite the name he acquired from his father, an immigrant from Syria, Hammami was every bit as Alabaman as his mother, a warm, plain-spoken woman who sprinkles her conversation with blandishments like "sugar" and "darlin'." Brought up a Southern Baptist, Omar went to Bible camp as a boy and sang "Away in a Manger" on Christmas Eve. As a teenager, his passions veered between Shakespeare and Kurt Cobain, soccer and Nintendo. In the thick of his adolescence, he was fearless, raucously funny, rebellious, contrarian. "It felt cool just to be with him," his best friend at the time, Trey Gunter, said recently. "You knew he was going to be a leader."
A decade later, Hammami has fulfilled that promise in the most unimaginable way. Some 8,500 miles from Alabama, on the eastern edge of Africa, he has become a key figure in one of the world's most ruthless Islamist insurgencies. That guerrilla army, known as the Shabab, is fighting to overthrow the fragile American-backed Somali government. The rebels are known for beheading political enemies, chopping off the hands of thieves and stoning women accused of adultery. With help from Al Qaeda, they have managed to turn Somalia into an ever more popular destination for jihadis from around the world.
And there are some downright chilling portions of the article:
In a recent propaganda video viewed by thousands on YouTube, he is shown leading a platoon of gun-toting rebels as a soundtrack of jihadi rap plays in the background.
He is identified by his nom de guerre, Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, "the American," and speaks to the camera with a cool, almost eerie confidence. "We're waiting for the enemy to come," Hammami whispers, a smile crossing his face. Later he vows, "We're going to kill all of them."
Getting native-born Americans to join the jihadist cause is a coup for groups like al Qaeda or al Shabaab. An American jihadi can increase a group's legitimacy, add appeal to radicalizing youth in Western countries and can teach foreign jihadis about American culture. Having an American passport also allows for freer travel.
Although Omar Hammami isn't the first American to reach the higher echelons of a radical Islamic organization (California native Adam Gadahn is a top spokesman for al Qaeda), Eliot's article is a uniquely in-depth look into the details of such a metamorphosis. It's definitely worth a full read.
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Always wanted to dress like Jacob Zuma? ANC designed leather jackets, initially made popular by the South African president, are now on sale. They're, well, a bit garish -- and, not surprisingly, haven't been received well by South Africa's fashionistas:
Popular fashion designer Thula Sindi says the jackets have a "members' only feel" and are only suitable for "much older people".
"I wouldn't be caught dead in them. Its all just looks like patchwork," he says.
"I don't think anybody younger than 40 would wear that, out of fear of being ridiculed."
ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images
After months of resistance against international pressure to overturn Uganda's now-notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill, Uganda's politicians seem to be pulling back. In early January, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni expressed concern that the bill was too harsh and on Jan. 12th noted:
"Because it is a foreign policy issue, it is not just our internal politics, and we must handle it in a way which does not compromise our principles but also takes into account our foreign policy interests."
The U.N. and the U.S. government, along with countries such as Britain, Canada and Sweden, have expressed their strong disapproval of the bill. Their displeasure has had an effect: during a January 19th cabinet meeting, the Ugandan government agreed to form a committee to amend the bill, with cabinet members citing the possibility of aid cuts by Western governments as a chief reason behind their reservations. The bill's author, MP David Bahati, held strong for a little longer. That is, until today when he expressed willingness to change some key clauses of the legislation.
Of course, none of this means that gay Ugandans will be getting a fair shake anytime soon -- especially when 95 percent of those surveyed in the country believe homosexuality should continue to be criminalized.
Although the U.S. government has condemned the bill, the American evangelical influences behind it are widely known. For example, Rick Warren, who advised most of the bill's leading supporters (such as Pastor Martin Ssempa), was barely ahead of Museveni in distancing himself from it. Also heavily circulated were the allegations by Jeff Sharlet that President Museveni, his ethics minister Nsamba Buturo and David Bahati, all have ties to U.S. politicians linked to The Family (a secretive evangelical organization with plenty of political influence).
Now, with human rights activists and journalists fully in the mix, friction over the bill has led to a proxy battle over the U.S.' cultural influence in the region.
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