The New York Times reports over the past two years a piece of land in Bossaso increased in price 66 percent, a pair of men's shoes is up 150 percent. The reason? Pirates.
It appears the massive amount of booty being swashbuckled by Somali pirates is having very real effects on the consumer market. In a sign that not much has changed in piracy over the past few centuries, the Somali pirates are spending their plunder on prostitutes, booze and drugs.
Last month alone, Somali pirates raked in over $3 million; and the E.U. reports that 11 ships are being held by pirates off the Somali coast, paydays waiting to happen. This is translating to a giant disparity on the shore, as pirates drive around in luxury SUVs and don't even bother to collect their change after buying something. People who can't afford consumer goods often use the excuse, "we are not pirates."
They're not exactly romantics, though. ''Pirates do not waste time to woo women, but instead pay them a lot,'' said Sahro Mohamed, owner of a beauty salon.
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
I know this is a terrible thing for an internationalist-type American such as myself to admit, but I don't actually like watching soccer all that much. I like my sports fast-paced, high-scoring and frequently interrupted by beer and truck commercials, thank you very much.
However, I do enjoy the World Cup for the opportunity to see bitter geopolitical rivalries play out in a forum where no one gets killed or injured. (Well, not usually.) So, as Mark Leon Goldberg notes, today's World Cup draw is the first chance to see what we're in for. I must say, it looks like kind of slim pickings in the international drama department:
Goldberg points out a few colonizer vs. ex-colonized games in the first round, (Brazil-Portugal, U.S.-England, Spain-Chile/Honduras) but these are all centuries old and not that bitter.
The addition of North Korea to the mix is interesting, but it won't face South Korea, Japan, or the United States unless it makes it to the later rounds.The Round of 16 offers the possibility of a Honduras-Brazil match, which could be interesting depending on how the Manuel Zelaya situation plays out and an ex-Yugoslav matchup of Serbia and Slovenia could be good too. But all-in-all, it seems unlikely that any of these games will crack Steve Walt's "Sporting Events that Shook the World" list. Would a Venezuela-Colombia game or a Russia-Poland game be too much for a foreign-policy blogger to ask for?
The bigger drama (except for the soccer if you're into that sort of thing) will likely be whether South Africa can prove the skeptics wrong and put on an event that showcases its recent achievements more than its shortcomings.
Q: “How do you see the current American-Sudanese relations?
A: “For more than ten years, i.e. during the term of the administration of President Clinton then the administration of George Bush, the relationship has been very tense. And there have been many differences and clashes. But of course and thanks to the efforts of General Gration and after president Barack Obama has declared his new Sudan policy, it has became clear that the relationship developed greatly. We are very optimistic. For many years now, the relationship has not improved that much and it is not the best relation. But things are on the right track."
Q: "But many American NGOs are criticizing Obama's policies towards Sudan?"
A: "In the United States as in other countries, there are some parties that want our relations with Washington to deteriorate and wish to give a negative image of Sudan around the world, not only in regard to the Darfur issue but also in other cases. They think that Sudan is an easy target. But we in Sudan will always welcome anyone who wants to work with us peacefully and away from any media commotion. And now under Obama who has decided to open up to everybody and deal with many countries among which is Sudan, I sincerely hope that his efforts will be successful."
Update: This post has been updated to reflect a correction. A wise commenter has pointed out that our Arabic transcript was incomplete. The ambassador, Akec Khoc (not John Akweg) is a member of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) -- not the Khartoum government. We regret the error and thank our commentor for pointing this out!
ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images
The France-Ireland dispute over Thierry Henry's handball is getting all the international press, but the three-way diplomatic dispute between Egypt, Algeria, and Sudan over violence at a recent World Cup qualifying match looks more serious:
Egypt has recalled its ambassador to Algeria after World Cup qualifying football matches between the two countries resulted in a number of outbreaks of violence..
Egypt says a number of its fans who travelled to Sudan for a match on Wednesday to decide which of the sides would go to next year's World Cup finals in South Africa were assaulted by Algerians.
Algeria beat Egypt 1-0 with local police saying that there was little violence due to the massive security operation mounted.
Meanwhile, the Sudanese government summoned the Egyptian ambassador in Khartoum to complain about the insinuation that Sudanese security personnel were to blame for the violence. Egyptian authorities claim that Algerian fans throwing rocks wounded 21 Egyptian fans. This was in retaliation for an earlier game in Cairo in which Algerian players were wounded by Egyptian fans throwing rocks at their bus.
Some are comparing the dispute to the famous 1969 "football war" fought between El Salvador and Honduras. That's probably a stretch -- relations between Egypt and Algeria are, for the most part, pretty good -- but here's hoping that this dispute, and the Henry spat, aren't a preview of what to expect in South Africa this summer.
Hat tip: Nightwatch
CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP/Getty Images
It was reported last week that attacks on and kidnappings of aid workers in Chad have caused six aid organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, to suspend operations there. Undeterred, this morning the top U.N. official in Chad announced "positive signs on the horizon," predicting increased peace and stabilization in the country.
This isn't the first time violence has driven away aid groups: in May, 2008, the head of the Eastern Chad mission of British aid organization Save the Children was shot and killed. At first, the organization announced that it would continue working in the country, but five months after the killing ultimately decided to leave.
At this point, the situation doesn't seem that dire with regards to the ICRC: In an interview, Bernard Barrett, an ICRC spokesman, said, "We're not pulling out totally. We're suspending some activities -- we're maintaining life-saving services, particularly medical services." The organization's other work in Chad ranges from water sanitation projects to animal vaccinations; hardly trivial work, particularly given the persistent lack of food security. As far as resuming these activities, Barrett reports a wait-and-see scenario. "Once we've obtained the release of our delegate who was kidnapped, at that point we'll be able to ascertain the security situation," he says.
Chad is a country in dire need of help. Last May, Doctors Without Borders led the effort to combat an outbreak of meningitis, immunizing 7.5 million people in the region. DWB is another organization that has been driven to suspend operations in Chad because of the recent violence. It's terrible to contemplate how many deaths might have resulted from the 65,000 cases of infection in and around Chad had DWB left just six months earlier.
The violence that has hindered desperately needed assistance ultimately stems from poor governance, said Richard Downie in an interview with FP. According to Downie, a fellow with the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, "Until you have credible political parties and some sort of civil society developing, it's hard to see the long-term prospects of Chad looking bright."
That sort of civil society seems a ways off. Chad ranks 173 out of the 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index, just three spots up from Afghanistan. And the country's heavily oil-dependent economy has only reinforced the political maladies that accompany "the devil's excrement."
It's tough to avoid Downie's conclusion: "I don't see a long-term solution to what's going on in Chad at the moment without much more engagement from the international community."
Photo: FRANCESCO FONTEMAGGI/AFP/Getty Images
Woe to the Maersk Alabama, the U.S.-flagged freighter captured by pirates in April! Today, the U.S. Navy reported, pirates attacked and nearly boarded the same boat again. The New York Times has some pirate commentary on the incident:
Pirates in Xarardheere, one of their strongholds in Somalia, said Wednesday that some of their colleagues had been killed Tuesday night. "We have been told over the phone today that four of our colleagues were killed and two were injured," said a Somali pirate boss known as Red Teeth. "We will keep attacking on foreign vessels until illegal fishing and toxic dump is stopped," he added.
A few things of note.
First, the pirate activity off the Somali and Kenyan coasts and in the Gulf of Aden is generally chalked up to insecurity in the teetering African state. Pirates steal and murder at sea because of the dearth of opportunities and complete lack of governance at home. I hadn't heard the "illegal fishing and toxic dump" political argument, which sounds like it comes from Greenpeace, not Red Teeth, before.
Second, what strikes me most is the detail that the Maersk Alabama was 600 miles off of the Somali coast at the time of the attack -- the distance the Navy recommends. As ships have fortified and moved off the coast, the number of attacks has not decreased as one would expect (cf. the ICC maps of incidents from 2008 and 2009). The pirates have moved off shore with the boats -- and attacks have become more resource-intensive, dangerous, and difficult for them.
A guest post from Foreign Policy contributor and human-rights activist Rebecca Hamilton.
Last week, the State Department partnered with two U.S.-based advocacy organizations (Save Darfur and STAND) to launch AskUS -- a web 2.0 initiative to connect the Obama administration with citizen activists.
More than 500 citizens emailed and used the Twitter hashtag #AskUS to submit questions on Sudan policy that they wanted Save Darfur to ask; students around the country voted online for the questions they wanted answered. The exercise culminated yesterday with a meeting, web-streamed live and cross-posted on the State Department's Facebook page. Leaders from Save Darfur and STAND asked a selection of the citizens' questions to U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan Scott Gration and Director of Multilateral Affairs at the National Security Council Samantha Power.
The event was not quite as "live" as its billing implied. Advocates had to give the administration their questions in advance. One former State Department official I interviewed referred to Darfur activists as "noise we had to manage" -- and I feared that AskUS would be nothing more than a web 2.0 opportunity for the administration to "manage" a vocal and often critical advocacy movement.
As it turned out, the shoe was on the other foot. Activists were given the opportunity to ask follow-up questions, and they pursued that avenue with such vigor that any fear of them being co-opted by their well-publicized access to the White House ceased to be a concern. What was a concern was the administration's inability to provide concrete answers to the advocates' questions.
During the session, Gration explained that there are some aspects of policy that cannot be shared publicly, and presumably no one would disagree that the need to keep some material confidential is inherent in any nation's diplomatic activities. But Gration's backtracking caused confusion among advocates who had eagerly tuned in: Despite the AskUS initiative being promoted as a forum for open dialogue, the administration was cagey on some fairly rudimentary points about its new Sudan policy.
Indeed, the Obama administration's Sudan strategy, rolled out on October 19, focuses on calibrating pressures and incentives on the basis of "verifiable changes in conditions on the ground." Yet during yesterday's meeting, advocates were told that the benchmarks for measuring progress were "a process we're working through."
The best summation of the State Department's first foray into citizen engagement 2.0 is, appropriately enough, encapsulated in a tweet by TechPresident blogger Micah Sifry. Responding to the frustration advocates were expressing in real-time to the vagueness of the administration's answers, he wrote, "Whatever you may think about substance of Gration/Power's answers, State Dept just raised the bar on admin transparency efforts." Indeed.
It's not by chance that AskUS was launched around an issue that has such a strong U.S.-based constituency. Let's hope the next meeting sees activists on Congo, Burma, Sri Lanka, or any of the other many neglected crises, get an invite to the White House.
Rebecca Hamilton is the author of The Promise of Engagement, a forthcoming book on citizen advocacy in Sudan. She is an Open Society Institute fellow and a visiting fellow at the National Security Archives at George Washington University.
A World Bank research paper posted today finds that countries with a high proportion of young males with low levels of secondary education are significantly more conflict-prone. The combination of these "youth bulges" and low rates of secondary education is especially likely to lead to conflict in low- and middle-income countries, the authors also report. The findings focus particularly on Sub-Saharan Africa, as "the continent with the largest youth cohorts and the lowest levels of male secondary education, scoring on average nearly 30 percentage points lower than the world average."
Countries outside of the region also call for concern. In Syria, for example, males 14 years old and younger make up nearly 20 percent of the population. Only 39.1 percent of secondary school-aged students are enrolled in school, making it the 101st lowest-ranking country of 135 surveyed. In the long run, Syria is facing declining oil production and rapid population growth - a recipe for violent unrest.
The policy implications are clear. Programs that focus on primary education, like the U.N.'s Education for All and Millennium Development Goals programs are important (after all, students have to read and write before they can pursue secondary schooling), but there must be more support for programs like the World Bank's own Secondary Education in Africa initiative.
The total cost of a secondary education in Kenya is estimated at $6,865. A 2007 Oxfam report found that on average a "war, civil war, or insurgency shrinks an African economy by 15 percent," and conflict causes the continent to lose about $18 billion a year. You do the math.
Photo: SONIA ROLLEY/AFP/Getty Images
According to opposition parties in Ethiopia, nearly 450 of their members have been jailed, as part of an effort by the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) to secure national elections being held this May. One opposition party reports that seven of its members have been murdered for political reasons during the course of this past year. The allegations fit Ethiopia's history of violent repression, including arrests and harassment of dissenting students and teachers.
During Ethiopia's last elections, held in 2005, widespread protests led to violent clashes with police, with about 200 protestors killed and many opposition leaders jailed. The ruling party, led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, said that the crack-down was simply to maintain law and order, and to stave off widespread ethnic conflict. Members of the opposition said it was a means of denying opposition parties electoral success.
The ruling party's bid for electoral dominance has certainly been effective -- during last year's local and bi-elections, the EPRDF and affiliated individuals lost only three seats, out of nearly 3.6 million contested seats. This past January, the government took another step towards consolidating its power by essentially outlawing human rights work and curtailing freedom of association. And according to a Reuters news analysis, the EPRDF's dominance is bolstered by a general sense that the West "would be comfortable with Meles staying on - as long as he remains a loyal ally in the volatile Horn of Africa and liberalises his potentially huge economy."
Even so, former Ethiopian Minister of Defense Seeye Abraha characterizes his country as a dormant volcano. A recent statement posted by the opposition party Ginbot 7 makes it abundantly clear that tensions remain high:
[One type of nation] is composed of countries that are ruled by corrupt tyrants whose governance is characterized by gross human rights abuse, economic polarization, ethnic conflict and political intolerance...almost all of these dictators have become turn coat democrats and hold sham elections to satisfy the demand of donor nations. The reality, however, is that they never respect election results, or care for democracy. A perfect example of one such government is the illegitimate regime of Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia that deviously preaches democracy, but has ruled the country with an iron fist for the past 18 years."
Over a million people die unnecessarily from malaria in Africa, according to a survey by ACTWatch. The group released a study of seven countries in Africa today, it found that most people in these countries are obtaining ineffective anti-malarials in the private market, due to the low availability and high prices of the far more successful Artemisinin combination therapy (ACT). ACT costs 20 times more than the older medications to which malaria has developed resistance. At about $11 it's 65 times more than the average daily wage in many of these countries.
Malaria needs to be treated with speed, explained Dr. Desmond Chavasse, speaking from the Pan-African Malaria conference being held in Nairobi. Children must receive medication within 48 hours of displaying malarial symptoms if they are to survive. This is why ACTs must get "out through the marketplace, so they are available at the end of the supply chain, in small shops, at affordable prices."
The study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, is intended to provide baseline information for a program that will subsidize ACT medication.
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
Its supposed success signing deals with China aside, the junta in Guinea may well be falling apart. The coalition led by Moussa Dadis Camara that took over last fall is looking increasingly frayed -- its leadering increasingly unstable, and the situation increasingly volatile. (Watch out China -- if you were planning to invest, might be rough times.)
To be honest, the junta didn't get off to a bad start -- for a junta, that is. The soldiers were greeted with cheers back in December, when the military officers replaced a notoriously corrupt and patronistic President Lansana Conte. Junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara promised to hold elections -- and not to stand as candidate. The junta even made gestures toward cleaning up the state, including the arrest of high profile leaders thought to be involved in the international drug trade, a Congressional Research Service report issued at the end of September, explains.
After months of muddling through, however, the junta took a turn from unpleasant to drastically worse on September 28, when opposition protestors were massacred in a stadium, in a pre-mediated way, Human Rights Watch claims this week. Those killed were protesting a change of heart by Dadis about elections -- he now says that he may well stand as candidate. Taken together, the election bid and the massacre have catalyzed the opposition in a way rarely seen in the small, West African state. There are about 91 or 92 political parties in the opposition, says an international NGO worker who cannot be named for security purposes. "Most political parties and civil society organizations are all working together" against the coup, she told me.
All the comes at a time when the junta itself is falling apart. Dadis comes across as crazy, drugged, or bi-polar in his interviews and TV spots. He has become increasingly fragile, observers say, as the pressures of patronage and a fractured junta coalition weigh on him.
And fractured the junta certainly is. The group of 30 or so soldiers who came to power, with the backing of about 500 more, make up just a handful of the armies 20,000 forces. Within the high ranks, the most obvious split has emerged between Dadis and his defense minister, General Sekouba Konaté. The latter was an important figure in the military prior to the coup as is largely percieved as the biggest "threat" to Dadis's rule -- an impression codified by the fact that, since earlier this year, Dadis has refused to let his defense minister out of his sight for more than a few moments (they are pictured together above). When Konaté left the country several weeks ago to Morocco (the rumor mill claims he was sent to procure arms), many in Guinea wondered if he would be let back in to the country. His whereabouts now are unknown.
All this raises the scepter of civil war that Guinea has been fighting back literally for decades. During the wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia earlier this decade, Guinea's role was largely in taking collateral damage and refugees. But internal ethnic strife has always been both a real component of governance in Guinea, and an element of the society with the potential to be exploited for the worse. "You have a sporadic history of state-sponsored violence targeted at different ethnic groups thorughout Guinea's history," CRS researcher Alexis Arieff told me. "Now, you have a situation in which every self-identified group has a narrative of political exclusion, and there's some truth to all of those narratives." Instrumentalize the grievances, many fear, and Guinea will be headed for trouble.
Add to that one more ugly truth: "many observers will say that it is likely or at least possible that members of the [junta] and or business interests that support them are involved in the international drug trade," a business increasingly penetrating Western African shores. It's got the potential to truly criminalize the state -- though the junta has done a pretty good job of this already.
Photo: SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images
The World Economic Forum posted the 2009 Global Gender Gap Report today, its yearly survey of gender inequality based on economic, political, educational and health factors. For the first time, two African nations entered the top 10 rankings: South Africa at #6 position (up from #22 in 2008) and Lesotho in the #10 slot (up from #16 in 2008).
The increased ranking for South Africa is due to increases in parliamentary and ministerial positions for women under the new government. Lesotho holds its strong position thanks to its lack of gender gap in health and education services.
These advances for South Africa may come as a surprise to many who feared for women's empowerment in South Africa following the May election of President Jacob Zuma, a practicing polygamist and accused rapist.
The World Economic Forum reports that two thirds of countries surveyed have made reduction in their gender gaps since 2006. However, the United States fell four spots since last year, coming in at #31 on the list. It looks like the death of macho due to the global recession may not be occurring as quickly as some expected. In any case, the United States is not alone in its loss of gender equality; Germany, the United Kingdom and France also saw declines in their rankings since last year.
Unsurprisingly, the bottom of the list remained largely unchanged from last year with Yemen, Chad, Pakistan, Benin, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran continuing to boast the world's worst gender gaps.
ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images
It's not a good sign when your leadership prize runs out of eligible candidates to honor after a whopping two years. Welcome to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation's Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, whose winner was meant to be announced in London today.
This year the Prize Committee has considered some credible candidates. However, after in-depth review, the Prize Committee could not select a winner."
Yikes. It's been a rough year for African governance. A coup in Guinea led off the year last November, followed shortly by another unwelcome transition of power in Madagascar. Retiring heads of state this year included only Ghana's John Kufuor and South Africa's Kgalema Petrus Motlanthe, who served for under a year. All the other elections were marred by voting irregularities, repression, and/or the reinstatement of long-time rulers for whom 3rd term is not a dirty word.
The good news? The Mo Ibrahim Foundation was founded to make a statement about the need for more and better African Leadership -- and it has certainly done that this year.
SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki has been implicated in the corruption trial of former police chief -- and former Interpol President -- Jackie Selebi. Convicted drug trafficker named Glenn Agliotti alleges that Selebi warned him about a British police investigation in exchange for cash and gifts. Allegedly, Selebi didn't forget his friends:
Agliotti said he had been asked during a shopping spree with Selebi to buy shoes for the former president.
"I bought shoes for the accused and one other person, ex President Thabo Mbeki. We were at Grays shopping, the accused said he was looking to buy a pair of shoes for the president."
"He indicated to the shop assistant that he needed to buy a size 7, if my memory serves me correctly, because the president had small and broad feet."
Mbeki's office was not immediately available for comment.
Critics of Mbeki accused him of protecting Selebi, suspended in 2008, despite repeated calls for his dismissal. Mbeki always rejected such accusations.
ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images
The city council of Nairobi passed a series of by-laws yesterday outlining new illegal activities for the streets of Kenya's capital. Newly outlawed activities include blowing one's nose in public without using a hankercheif and spitting into trash cans. Another of the laws criminalizes loud noise.
This particular ordinance may have the biggest impact on the economy of Nairobi, in which street hawkers, cab drivers and store owners rely on verbally cajoling customers into their services. One resident argued the city is just trying to make money, either from imposed fines or bribes, and directly ignoring the needs of its citizens:
"We get our daily bread here,We are not making noise. The council must know that we are self-employed."
The city maintains that the purpose of the news laws is to make the city more habitable and reduce general nuisance.
Ask anyone who watches Sudan policy in Washington about the Obama administratin's special envoy to the country, J. Scott Gration, and one phrase will keep popping up: "He's wandered way off the reservation."
A scathing profile of Gration in the Washington Post today makes all too clear why. What's his strategy? "We've got to think about giving out cookies...Kids, countries -- they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement.
Gration, a former Air Force Major General, has angered just about everyone he could have -- except the Sudanese government (their embassy raved about him when I visited earlier this year). Sudan watchers worry about Gration's engaging approach to Khartoum, getting cozy with a government whose president is indicted for war crimes in the International Criminal Court. Human rights activists think that Gration risks not just overseeing inertia in Darfur but sparking another round of combat. In trying to "unite" the rebels, they note, he has favored certain factions over others -- a dangerous recipe in a volatile cocktail of conflict. Aid workers on ground say he doesn't understand what is going on. And colleagues at the State Department say his office doesn't communicate with them, nor heed their policy advice.
At best, he's a headache, they say.
Now, even Congress is concerned. "[I]n recent weeks, the leadership of South Sudan and Darfur have expressed serious concerns about Special Envoy Scott Gration's warm and incentive driven approach toward the ruling National Congress Part (NCP)," members of the House's Sudan Caucus wrote in a letter to President Obama. They add at the end: "It is...important that the Special Envoy's office coodinate and work closely with the State Department..."
Why is all this coming out now? This week will see a meeting among administration officials who will at last approve a long-awaited Sudan Policy Review. Gration's critics are hoping other officials can reign him in. Gration's team told a blogger round table that I attended earlier this month that everything had already been agreed upon, and this meeting was a mere formality.
The Enough Project, Save Darfur Coalition, and Genocide Intervention Network offered a stark warning after the WaPo profile: “The quotes from Special Envoy Gration are deeply troubling. The time is well past for the President, Vice President and Secretary of State to exert much-needed leadership over U.S. diplomatic efforts with Sudan or face the prospect that Sudan will descend into much broader violence.”
Meanwhile, Gration is just back from Sudan, and off to Moscow soon.
Update: The White House says the Washington Post profile inaccurately reflects their policy toward Sudan. This post has also been updated to correctly reflect Gration's travel schedule.
Photo: PETER MARTELL/AFP/Getty Images
Later this afternoon, Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina will address the General Assembly here in New York, but some don't want him here at all. Rajoelina took power in a military-backed coup in March, toppling then leader Marc Ravalomanana. The two leader signed an internationally-mediated power-sharing deal in August, but Rajoelina unilaterally disolved it this month.
General Assembly President Ali Treki met with foreign from the Southern Afircan Development Community -- which has refused to recognize Rajoelina's government -- after the foreign minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo wrote a letter to him protesting Rajoelina's presence at the assembly.
The U.N. maintains that the invitation was not a reflection on Rajoelina's legitimacy and that the president was invited to participate in the climate summit earlier this week.
Recent U.S. military activity in Somalia is causing ripples throughout
the African community. AFP is reporting that Monday's closing of the
American embassy in Pretoria, South Africa was due to threats from an al-Qaeda
splinter group seeking revenge for Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan's death last week in Somalia.
Last week's raid in Somalia signifies a shift in US policy toward the region, and may be linked to the increasing militarization of AFRICOM since its inception in 2007. Officials continue to argue its role is as a "force for peace." However, the perception by others is increasing negative. Recently, the American National Conference on Black Lawyers petitioned Attorney General Eric Holder to dismantle the operation in an open letter blasting AFRICOM as:
"A military command that is designed to facilitate warfare. In the context of African politics, the mere presence of AFRICOM will be perceived as an act of aggression that will decrease, not increase, the likelihood of peaceful resolution of conflicts."
The embassy threat could be the beginnings of increased hostility toward U.S. interests in southern Africa, opening up a new counter-terrorism arena rather than pre-empting one.
Speaking today at the Center for American Progress in Washington, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson discussed yesterday's Special Forces operation in Somalia on alleged terrorist Saleh Ali Nabhan. "[T]he individual who was reportedly killed in Somalia yesterday was in fact one of the two top leaders of al Qaeda in East Africa. He was in fact the individual who was directly responsible for organizing the destruction of the Paradise hotel [in Kenya in 2002] and the attempted shoot-down of the Isreali aircraft [also in Kenya]."
"We think that his departure form the ranks of the al Qaeda leadership in East Africa will substantially reduce the capacity of that organization to plan and carry out future attacks," Carson said.
The discussion comes on the heels of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's August trip to Africa, a subject that Carson brought up in greater detail. He re-emphasized that among the countries visited on that trip, Nigeria remains "the most important" for its size, population, oil supplies, and ongoing challenges (read: conflict, corruption, poverty). Similar concern was expressed about the dire humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Clinton's visit took her to meet with victims of rape and abominable living conditions.
Most interesting of all were some of the meetings that Secretary Carson alluded to, both past and present including:
Photo: PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images
ABC and several other media outlets are reporting that a U.S. airstrike has killed Saleh Ali Nabhan, a senior al Qaeda leader accused to have been behind the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.
If the reports are true, it would be the first reported time since the new administration came to office that airstrikes have been used in the country. The Bush administration targeted several alleged terrorists during his two terms, most notably prior to and during an Ethiopian occupation of Somalia in early 2007. In fact, Nabhan was among those initially reported to have been targeted in that assault, two years ago.
The strike was said to have been executed by U.S. Special Forces. It took place in the town of Barawe, a coastal city just south of the capital, Mogadishu. Barawe is said to be in the control of Islamist insurgents al-Shabab, a group also alleged to have al Qaeda ties.
And again, if reports are true, this is indeed an interesting development for U.S. policy in Somalia. As I reported last week, the State Department has staunchly backed the Transitional Federal Government there -- to the extent of sending weapons and cash to stave off their collapse to the Shabab and other militias. This strike would seem to be a continuation of that support, as well as a reminder to the Somali government that fighting terror in the country is a top U.S. priority. Finally, it could help the administration look "tough" on terror -- a issue that it cannot afford to lose political capital on amid a plethora of domestic debates.
Amidst the continued debate and controversy surrounding South African world champion runner, Caster Semenya, South African officials have gone a bit overboard in their outrage about gender testing procedures used by IAAF. In regard to revoking Semenya's title, South African Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile stated earlier today:
"I think it would be the third world war. We will go to the highest levels in contesting such a decision. I think it would be totally unfair and totally unjust."
South African tech company Unlimited IT was so frustrated with the slow Internet speeds provided by Telkom, one of South Africa's biggest internet providers, that it hired a pigeon named Winston. As the Times of South Africa reports, Winston carried a 4gb memory card from one branch of Unlimited IT to another, far faster than Telkom's transfer speed:
The 11-month-old pigeon flew 80km from a call centre in Howick, outside Pietermaritzburg, to a head office in Hillcrest, Durban, to prove a bird is faster at transferring data than Telkom’s ADSL lines.
Winston made his delivery in 2 hours 6 minutes and 57 seconds, beating Telkom’s estimated download time of up to two days. By the time the memory card, carrying company data, had been collected from Winston and downloaded by midday, the ADSL download had managed 100MB of data.
The Christian Science Monitor's Scott Balduf, based in Johannesburg, explains why the story is more significant than just good publicity for Ultimate and Winston:
Africans pay some of the highest prices for some of the least reliable Internet service in the world. And if a country like South Africa – relatively prosperous and developed – can't solve this problem, then it's going to need a lot more pigeons.
Telkom has since responded to the South Africa Press Association and denied responsibility for Ultimate's Internet connection woes.
Somalia may generally be thought of as a source of refugees, but fierce conflict in Ethiopia is sending more and more refugees into the country with predictably negative effects. There's recently been a large increase in street children and a rise in gang conflict in the city of Hargeisa, which is often an initial stopping point for immigrants seeking to travel further into Somalia or Yemen.
Children flocking to Hargeisa join Somali kids in searching for the most basic necessities, using any means necessary to find their next meal off the streets. Current estimates claim there to be about 3,000 children, most of them boys between five and 18, living on Hargeisa's streets. Lacking families and home environments many of these children cling to gangs as a source of fraternity and stability. In the past two years, approximately 5,000 knives and weapons, commonly used in robberies, have been recovered from street children. Mohamed Ismail Hirsi, Hargeisa's Central Police Station commander recently stated:
"In the last 72 hours, we have arrested more than 30 street children who have committed crimes such as stealing mobile phones in different parts of the town."
Increased crime by these young boys is complicated further by the fact that a 2008 juvenile justice law has yet to be implemented, forcing these children to be charged and processed as adult perpetrators.
Blade Nzimande, general secretary of the South African Communist Party, is under fire for using $120,000 in taxpayer money to buy himself a BMW 750i. This is a bit much from a politician who likes to sing "My mother was a kitchen girl, my father was a garden boy. That's why I am a communist" at party rallies, but Nzimande, who serves as South Africa's higher education minister, has no intention of giving the car back.
This reminds me a bit of a Marxist professor I had at college, who was known for zipping around campus in a rad European sports car. Occasionally students would ask him if he saw any contradiction in this. "Not at all," he'd reply. "After the revolution, everyone will drive a sports car."
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and his her office released two reports on violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2008, citing "possible war crimes and crimes against humanity" by the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), a rebel group formerly led by Laurent Nkunda and backed by the government of Rwanda.
Talk about your diplomatic understatement. The crimes involved dozens of killings and rapes. But for those following the DRC this statement has to seem kind of weak. There have been all sorts of atrocities in Eastern Congo for years, and the only questions really are which militia was guilty in which case. Possible? The U.N. head of mission in the DRC called the attacks war crimes immediately after they happened.
Reuters reporters shrewdly dig into the problematic fact that while Nkunda was later arrested by Rwandan forces, it was his lieutenant, Jean Bosco Ntaganda (shown above), nicknamed "The Terminator" who was commanding the CNDP forces at the time of the November killings. Guess where he is?
Ntaganda, who is being sought by the International Criminal Court on separate war crimes charges, wasintegrated into Congo's army in January along with other members of the Tutsi-dominated CNDP..."We know he is there. We are aware of it. He was integrated. He wasgiven a role. And according to our partners, he does not play a role inthe operations that MONUC is supporting," said Kevin Kennedy, MONUC's head of communications.
"But it isn't our job to investigate the role of Bosco Ntaganda in the (army)," he told journalists in Kinshasa.
One other question for other Congo watchers out there. Doesn't a lot of focus seem to be just on the CNDP, when the Hutu FDLR militia has been committing terrible massacres for years? In fact, wasn't a key reason--along with grabbing minerals--for Rwandan support of Nkunda that he was protecting Congolese Tutsis from the marauding FDLR, many of whom were genocidaires? Maybe I've just missed it or Nkunda made such a good media character. Is the FDLR getting as much U.N. heat?
Update: This post originally mistook the gender and misspelled the name of U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navanethem, or Navi, Pillay.
LIONEL HEALING/AFP/Getty Images
For the last year, one question has been at the core of the piracy debate: Who or what made the Somali pirates into the real, armed, threat that they are? Chaos on land? Opportunity at sea? Poverty all around? Or the latest theory, from an Al Jazeera report: Western defense contractors trained them.
Before piracy spun out of control, Al Jazeera reports, contractors such as the Hart Group trained a Somali Coast Guard force in the semi-autonomous Pundtland region -- where piracy thrives. Those skills, one Somali tells the Al Jazeera reporter, were later helpful in hijacking ships and training others in his newly learned sea-faring ways.
Sounds like a big "oops" for the contracting world... though any experience helping the "other side" hasn't deterred them much from working to stop the pirates. Remember when Blackwater said they would help fight pirates? Better yet, about how winning a lucrative "ransom and release contract" for handsome $500,000 each.
Another piece of news from today's roundtable with Sudan envoy Scott Gration comes more subtlely, but perhaps just as importantly for anyone watching Sudan. "The neighbors" are pushing for unification when a vote comes in 2011. In other words, they are not keen on an independent Southern Sudan.
Gration says: "In many ways, the neighbors are all pushing for unity because they understand that the instability caused by a fledgling nation that is not ready for independence will have ramifications that spread far and wide across Africa. So countries like Ethiopia and Egypt and others are fearing, to some degree, an independence [vote]."
To recap: the 2005 peace agreement signed between North and South Sudan, ending a decades long war, stipulated that in 2011, the autonomous South would hold a referendum in which it would be allowed to decide whether it would prefer independence or unification. If the vote were to happen today, it's almost certain they would vote to become Africa's newest state.
If only it were that easy. In recent months, tensions have picked up along the border. The South blames the North for stirring up trouble and arming militias. The North blames the South for the same. More importantly, there has yet to be a settlement on the referendum law that will govern the 2011 vote. So it's far from clear that Khartoum is ready to let its Southern half... go.
If the neighbors are reluctant, matters are even more complicated. (Imagine moving into a 7 person townhouse with 6 hostile roommates... multiplied by South Sudan's between 7.9 and 9.5 million people.... and you've got the idea). Reticient neighbors would, uh, complicate the process that Gration already described as seriously daunting: "We're trying to bring about an environment [such] that, in five months, we can help make a country -- a country that will have its own currency, if they choose independence, have embassies around the world, have a central bank, control it's own airspace... there's a lot of work."
Gration promised to push ahead with the referendum law, acknowledging the overwhelming popular support for independence.
Unrelated, one more piece of news from the briefing: queried about the statement by the outgoing peacekeeping chief that the war in Darfur is essentially over, Gration replied that the he agreed, but said the tasks ahead in Darfur were no less daunting: "Even though the war, where the technical answer in terms of military view is that the war is over, the insecurity and the fear associated -- fearing for your life -- is still there."
It's cartoon Wednesday here at Passport. Three editors at the Uganda weekly The Independent, including editor-in-chief and FP contributor Andrew Mwenda, were summoned by police over a political cartoon in last week's magazine. The cartoon, seen above, implies that President Yoweri Museveni is beginning a strategy to rig the elections scheduled for early 2011. Uganda is one of the few self-proclaimed democracies to retain criminal libel laws which can be used to prosecute journalists. However, the sedition law is currently under appeal to the Supreme Court and no prosecutions are allowed to move forward. (Freedom House rates Uganda "partly free.")
For four hours, 10 officers of the Media Crimes Department of Uganda's Criminal Investigations Directorate questioned the editorial decisions of Managing Editor Andrew Mwenda, Editor Charles Bichachi, and Assistant News Editor Joseph Were of the bimonthly newsmagazine The Independent, according to defense lawyer Bob Kasango. Were was told to return for further questioning on Saturday, while Mwenda and Bichachi were ordered to return on Monday, according to local journalists...
Officers pressed the trio over the motive and production of an August 21 cartoon spoofing Museveni's controversial decision to reappoint members of the embattled electoral commission to supervise the 2011 general election. The Supreme Court ruled that in the 2005 election the electoral commission did not adhere to its own rules and allowed irregularities including bribery, ballot-stuffing, and voter disenfranchisement.
The second spot on the list alludes to the treason charges against opposition leader Kizza Besigye, who was brought to trial in late 2005 at the same time he was the main candidate opposing Museveni's reelection. Olara Otunnu, a former U.N. official is thought to be another possible challenger in 2011.
The third item, Kiboko squads, refers to violent groups of men that attacked anti-government protesters in 2007 and were since linked to Museveni's government by the Uganda Human Rights Commission, among others.
Museveni is expected to face a serious challenge in the 2011 elections if the opposition can unite behind a single candidate. My sources in Uganda say he personally was very angry about the cartoon, leading to the questioning.
But still, a cartoon?
Press intimidation is fairly frequent in Uganda, but most international donors tend to look the other way as Uganda is relatively stable overall.
But seditious cartoons? Really? That can't be good for aid dollars.
Full disclosure: I know all three editors well and worked at The Independent in 2008. Shortly before I arrived, a more dramatic incident occurred with government forces actually arresting several journalists at the magazine, raiding the office and seizing files and disks alleged to contain "seditious materials." No charges were filed.
The Independent, Uganda
A Canadian immigration court has granted refugee status to South African citizen Brandon Huntley, saying that he faces persecution as a white man in his home country:
Huntley, 31, "would stand out like a 'sore thumb' due to his colour in any part of the country", the board's panel chair, William Davis, said in his decision.
Huntley, who grew up in Mowbray, said he had been attacked seven times and stabbed four times "by African South Africans" between 1991 and 2003.
Davis found he "was a victim because of his race rather than a victim of criminality".
The South African goverment is peeved that it wasn't even allowed to testify in the case, particularly since none of the attacks on Huntley were ever reported to the police. "Canada's reasoning for granting Huntley a refugee status can only serve to perpetuate racism," said an African National Congress statement.
The "sore thumb" remark is particularly ripe for mockery, as evidence by this Onion-esque piece reporting the tribunal's shock that Hartley "wasn't the last white in South Africa" and warning Canada to "expect a deluge of young, unemployable, white South Africans."
Hartley's case, argued by a South African immigrant who had been looking for a test-case for years, does seem a little dodgy. And all the more so since the country's "white flight" and its high crime rate are real issues that deserve more serious discussion.
Fun stories from the Democratic Republic of Congo are pretty hard to come by, but the third launch of the Congolese Space Program is pretty cool, even if "Troposphere 5" didn't get very far. I feel kind of bad for the rat astronaut on board, though. (Video in French.)
(Hat tip: Kings of War)
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