Last week in the Washington Post, Michael O'Hanlon lamented the inability of the U.S. military to get "boots on the ground" in peacekeeping operations in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo. O'Hanlon, who served in the Peace Corps in Eastern Congo, made the case that an all-volunteer military force trained for peacekeeping could help overcome the current overstretch of the military and the U.S. hesitation to deploy peackeeping troops for fear of public outcry when, as in Somalia in 1993, casualties could result:
The notion is this: Ask for volunteers to join a peace operations division for two years. They would begin their service with, say, 12 weeks of boot camp and 12 weeks of specialized training and then would be deployable. They would receive the same compensation and health benefits as regular troops, given their age and experience. Out of a division of 15,000 troops, one brigade, or about 3,000 to 4,000 soldiers, could be sustained in the field at a time.This type of training would be modeled after standard practices in today's Army and Marine Corps. To be sure, soldiers and Marines in regular units usually go beyond this regimen to have many months of additional practice and exercise before being deployed. But the peace operations units could be led by a cadre of experienced officers and NCOs -- perhaps some of whom would be drawn back to military service after leaving...
The dangers of deploying such units to missions such as the one in Congo, would be real, but the risks would be acceptable. First, those volunteering would understand the risks and accept them. Second, in most civil conflicts such as Congo's, possible adversarial forces are not sophisticated. Soldiers in the new division would not need to execute complex operations akin to those carried out during the invasion of Iraq or current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They would largely monitor villages and refugee camps, inspect individuals to make sure they did not have illicit weapons, and call for help if they came under concerted attack.
agree with O'Hanlon's major point that it can be difficult for
peacekeeping operations to succeed without active U.S. support. Most
current missions are undermanned and underfunded, even for their
already very limited
mandates. I also think the volunteer idea has potential, but my hangup
is the idea of creating a separate track within the military that has
less training. Wouldn't it be better to ask for volunteers from within the armed forces and give them additional peacekeeping training?
To get a perspective on this proposal from the kind of person who might volunteer, I called my friend Marcus Williams, who at the last minute this spring chose to withdraw from his planned Peace Corps deployment in West Africa and instead apply to Officer Candidates School for the U.S. Marines.
Interestingly, Marcus cited peacekeeping and development as one of the reasons he hopes to join the Marines. "Arguably the Iraq war and Afghanistan are right now peace keeping missions. So it becomes kind of hard to define where people are deploying," he said. He added that for better or worse, working on development from within the military means you get resources that Peace Corps volunteers simply do not.
The proposed short training period and separation from the normal military also worried Williams, who graduated from Stanford in four years with both a degree in International Relations and a Masters in African Studies:
If you had people volunteering and there was less training involved, there's this sort of vision of the idealistic African advocate who's in college or going to college and may not have the serious commitment it takes to serve in the armed forces. They're going to end up in the field and not be a very effective unit. When it comes down to it you have to follow orders and accept very seriously that you might die.
Williams pointed out that for the Marine Corps, Officer Candidates School itself is almost 12 weeks and for those who choose to join afterward another six months or so of basic training is required.
Ultimately, Williams argued, if the U.S. wants to get serious about supporting peace-keeping operations in places like the DRC, that would be great, but U.S. troops aren't necessarily the key.
I think that if the U.S. were really committed to these peacekeeping operations we wouldn't be focused on getting U.S. boots on the ground. The cost of the Ghanaian peacekeeper on the ground is much less and if the U.S. peacekeeper is going to literally receive less training, it seems like it would be better to support other troops.
If the U.S. really wants to help, he said, it should focus on its comparative advantages:
flying helicopters, intelligence, communications operations. I'm thinking most of the peacekeepers in Sudan. They had boots on the ground but they didn't have any real logistics.
Does all this mean O'Hanlon's idea should be written off? Absolutely not, Williams said, it just needs some careful thought. "I think you'd have a lot of people interested in volunteering," he said.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
King Mswati III of Swaziland (above, in traditional dress) is Africa's last absolute monarch, and, not surprisingly, has a huge amount of wealth at his disposal. Using it to send his wives on multimillion dollar shopping sprees has, shockingly, not gone over well, despite the inherent dangers in criticizing the king's life:
Reports from the kingdom said that the king had dispatched at least five of his 13 wives and dozens of retainers to France, Italy, Dubai and Taiwan on a secret tour last week, using £4 million from the state budget. In Swaziland it is a criminal offence to criticise the king’s private life.
Both the king's profligacy and his large number of wives have been points of controversy in the past. In April, Mswati bought 20 armored Mercedes cars for £150,000 each, and once attempted to buy a $45 million jet (more than twice the country's health care budget). Meanwhile, the tradition of the king marrying multiple wives has been under fire in the past decade, twinned with a push for more women's rights.
PABALLO THEKISO/AFP/Getty Images
It seems the most comment-worthy aspect of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Cape Verde last Friday was neither her meeting with Prime Minister José Maria Neves nor the praise she heaped on the government as a "model of democracy and economic progress in Africa." It was her headband.
In a rare nod to her stylings as first lady, Clinton sported a beloved accessory that's been missing on the political scene for more than a decade -- with good reason. Please, please send it back to wherever it came from. Headbands don't suit anyone over the age of eight, least of all a secretary of state who's trying desperately to be taken seriously.
I'm sure she was fighting some frizz after her grueling, 11-day, seven-nation tour of Africa last week, but that's really no excuse.
Sudan's president has allegedly replaced Salah Gosh, the veteran chief of the country's National Intelligence and Security Services, with the organization's deputy general manager.
It's not clear why the switch was made; the BBC reports only that Gosh has now been named President Omar al-Bashir's "adviser."
Gen. Mohamed Atta al-Mawla is in his early fifties and holds a degree in engineering, according to one Sudanese newspaper. In 1992, Mawla signed on with the country's national security bureau and has been working in government ever since, even serving a year-long stint at the Sudanese embassy in Kenya.
His most curious position? "Peace advisory secretary-general."
Political expression has grown up in Madagascar. After a coup deposed the government in March, previously dormant bloggers who once had little to talk about fired up their computers to comment on the instability. The BBC has the story:
Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and Twitter have become popular forums for debate, and video and picture sharing.
"The crisis has triggered something like social-media activism here in Madagascar," says Tahina.
Lova Rakotomalala, who analyses Malagasy bloggers for Global Voices, a project promoting citizen media across the world, believes the political crisis has helped inspire political expression among young Malagasies.
He says he wants to see the Malagasy blogosphere evolve into an internet forum similar to Kenya's Mzalendo.
Mzalendo, meaning "patriot" in Swahili, is a volunteer-run website whose self-declared mission is to "keep and eye on the Kenyan parliament".
The emerging trend seems to be that social media can help legitimize public unrest in politically unstable countries. Recent protests in Iran and Moldova appear to prove the point. Does Madagascar's experience with Web 2.0 confirm anything?
It's too bad that much of the attention from Hillary Clinton's trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has come from a rare off-the-cuff remark clarifying to a university student that she, not her husband, was the U.S. secretary of state. Because the real story is far more dramatic than that mini drama: it's the fact that Clinton went to Congo in the first place, that she went to the eastern, war-torn city of Goma, and that she talked tough on a few key things.
Goma is the epicenter of the violence that has torn the DRC apart for the last decade and a half. There are no diplomatic-bubble hotels in Goma. There are no five-star restaurants. Clinton's plane couldn't even land there; she had to take a United Nations flight instead. And once you arrive, there's no hiding the reality on the ground. Clinton knew that, and she went anyway: "It was very important for me to go to Goma," she explained yesterday. "A lot of concerns were raised and many objections. And I said, I know we can get there and we're going." She's already won points in my book.
Clinton's comments about human rights -- speaking out about rape, for example, rightfully caught a lot of attention. But here's a few more subtle messages that she sent that could prove equally important:
1) "The Congolese military has to be better trained. It has to be paid." Simple as it sounds, this message is anything but. DRC is home to the largest U.N. peacekeeping mission -- a force that has still struggled to keep control over a vast country the size of Western Europe. If that is ever to change, the national army will have to fill the gap. The trouble is, for now, soldiers go unpaid, healthcare is limited if it exists at all, and training is spotty at best. No wonder soldiers are among those implicated in stealing, pillaging, and yes, rape; a steady salary would go a long way. If the government in Kinshasa isn't up to the task, a strong-stomached donor should be sought.
2) "Right now, the benefits from [Congo's] resources are not ending up broadly developing the country." The economy is at the center of Congo's crisis, and to think it's not would have been to miss half the briefing book. It will be a miracle to reverse the resource curse that has overtaken Congo since the moment it became a Belgian colony over 100 years ago. But Clinton sounds like she's ready to push for the best available option: "The model that Botswana used when it discovered diamonds -- it made sure there was a trust fund created for the country so that all of the money didn’t leave the country."
3) "I’m aware of the commitment that China has made, and I think that building roads is a very important development goal for this country. But so is good governance." DRC is in the process of considering an offer from China in which Beijing would build infrastructure for the Congo -- with deposits of some of the world's most lucrative minerals for collateral. Opinions about the deal are surely mixed (the IMF is worried that it will just incur further debt for Congo), but some good roads wouldn't hurt the country, and they would probably do more for many of its people than the last several decades of foreign mineral contracts ever have
What did the secretary leave out? Surely lots -- and more specifics about mining are at the top of that list. U.S. companies are among those interested or involved in extraction in the country. Of course, Clinton doesn't speak for private interests, but her voice is certainly heard. Strong words and committments on the U.S. side -- for monitoring of the transparency and legality of U.S. operations in the country -- would have gone a long way.
Off to Nigeria, for more tough talk.
Photo: ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
This article is a discredit to FP. The writer could at a minimum have checked with Independent Diplomat before writing the blog. We are available for inquiries, even from web bloggers. Relaying false facts is in some countries illegal; it is in all countries irresponsible.
The facts are that Independent Diplomat does not lobby for its clients. We advise our clients on how to represent themselves diplomatically. We are required by US law to submit certain of our contracts under FARA legislation. But these do not give a complete picture of our finances or, in all cases, our contractual relationships with clients. It is highly misleading to draw conclusions from such public filings. Finally, we do not only advise “semi-autonomous regions” which is itself a misleading and ignorant way of describing some of our clients. Many of Independent Diplomat’s clients, not listed in the AP article from which the author lifts his piece, are “normal” states.
This FP blog draws extensively from a recent AP article about Independent Diplomat. The AP article itself is not a complete picture of Independent Diplomat’s work and contains some inaccuracies. The writer of this piece has added his own misinterpretations to that article. Independent Diplomat will raise these concerns directly with the editors of FP.
Ross is right about this: We should have called him before posting. That's FP's policy and it makes good sense.
And I understand Ross's concern that his firm be correctly represented, so let me address his points one at a time:
"The facts are that Independent Diplomat does not lobby for its clients. We advise our clients on how to represent themselves diplomatically.
Here is the definition used in the United States Lobbying Disclosure Act:
The definition of a lobbying contact includes any communication with a government official regarding "the formulation, modification, or adoption of a Federal rule, regulation, Executive order, or any other program, policy,or position of the United States Government."
Here is what Independent Diplomat's contract with Southern Sudan pledges:
"Staff members will solicit the views of the US Government by meeting with key officials and desk officers in the State Department and other US agencies to gather their views."
ID is accepting money to arrange consultations with government officials its clients cannot arrange on their own and advising them on how to follow up themselves. Because it is representing foreign entitites in the United States, it is required to register with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agent Registration Act [FARA]. The term "lobbying" does not seem wrong or unfair to describe ID's activities.
We are required by US law to submit certain of our contracts under FARA legislation. It is highly misleading to draw conclusions from such public filings."
The only "conclusions" drawn from public filings were the amounts and terms of some of ID's contracts, reproduced word for word.
"Finally, we do not only advise “semi-autonomous regions” which is itself a misleading and ignorant way of describing some of our clients. Many of Independent Diplomat’s clients, not listed in the AP article from which the author lifts his piece, are “normal” states."
The post does not state that Independent Diplomat only advises "semi-autonomous regions." The list of clients was not taken simply from the AP story, but checked with (and linked to) ID's own client list on its Web site. Southern Sudan is not on that list, despite the filing I found, but it, as well as Somaliland, Western Sahara, and Northern Cyprus (which are listed) are all commonly referred to as "semi-autonomous regions," though I do understand why the term is controversial.
Moreover, one of ID's other clients, again featured on their own client list, is Kosovo, which recently gained statehood -- after signing up for ID's assistance. Aside from Kosovo, which ID represented before it was internationally recognized, the only "normal" states mentioned on ID's client list are: "a group of North Pacific small island states."
This FP blog draws extensively from a recent AP article about Independent Diplomat. The AP article itself is not a complete picture of Independent Diplomat’s work and contains some inaccuracies. The writer of this piece has added his own misinterpretations to that article."
The AP article was assumed to be credible not only because it was published and vetted by that organization, but because Independent Diplomat prominently displayed links to it on its own home page. In linking to the piece, ID does not in any way dispute its content.
Finally, the original post was not mean to be particularly critical of Independent Diplomat. In fact the AP story referenced and the Al Jazeera video attached to the post are both quite positive about the organization.
As FP's coverage of Honduras shows, D.C. lobbyists are open to nearly anyone if the price is right. But for those with less cash, Independent Diplomat (ID), a non-profit organization, lobbies with a mission. With a team of experienced former diplomats, its stated purpose is lobbying on behalf of those without diplomatic representation with a goal of reducing conflict.
"Very often government or international officials will refuse to talk to our clients, or if they talk to them they're reluctant to givethem the information they need," said Nicholas Whyte, who heads the Brussels office of the nonprofit group.
"And from our clients' side, they are often inexperienced in dealing with international bureaucracies precisely because nobody talks to them,"said Whyte, an Irish international affairs expert.
According to the AP, Independent Diplomat's annual budget is $1.8 million, funded partly by foundations and partly by client fees--which depend on ability to pay.
Because the United States makes it fairly easy to look up lobbying records, especially for foreign entities, I checked out exactly how much ID is making from its U.S. operations.
According to lobbying disclosure forms, ID's most recent client, registered July 20, is the Government of the Southern Sudan. The contract between the two agrees that the fee to ID will be $294,000 for a maximum of 100 days work. This amount would be high for one contract, even for the standards of, say, Saudi Arabia ($150,000/quarter), but this is where the sliding scale applies. The contract states:
The Parties agree that the Client is not in a position itself to fully fund the Fee and the Expenses payable pursuant to this Agreement but as a contribution to that Fee and the Expenses will pay ID USD $10,000 at a time... to be determine by the parties. As to the remaining amount...the Client agrees that ID and the Client will seek project funding from external sources.
Any donors out there want to pick up this tab? It's a drop in the bucket compared to the $530,000 the official Sudanese government shelled out in 2005.
As for ID's other clients, it appear that Northern Cyprus is paying its full bill of £104,000 ($176,945) and the Burmese exiles have already payed half of their $100,000 year-long fee. Somaliland and Western Sahara, however, are paying only ID's expenses--and it promises to only travel economy class.
In 2008, Al-Jazeera English did a short documentary on Independent Diplomat, and its founder, Carne Ross, who quit the British foreign service over differences on Iraq. Viewable below.
H/T: David Axe
While the Nigerian President has been enjoying his jaunt to Brazil (where he has picked up some lovely soccer paraphernalia), bad news keeps coming from home. The death toll from violence in Northern Nigeria is pretty staggering: between 700 and 800 gone, with hundreds more injured. That's not to speak of the displaced, who are no doubt far more numerous. Clashes between police and Islamist group Boko Haram took place in cities; and Nigeria's cities -- even in the sprawling, dust-covered North -- are dense. And the military's tactics are blunt. The toll was bound to be big.
But bigger still for Nigeria is the danger that this bout of violence will be seen as the "latest front" in the war on Islamic extremism. As I blogged last week, and as Jean Herskovits writes on our site today, that perception is a mistake. Newsweek agrees for the same reasons: it's poor governance, not religious extremism, that is the heart of the matter.
Why does the distinction matter so much? Religious extremism is easy to write off -- and indeed, that's precisely what the Nigerian state looks inclined to do. A meeting of governors in the Northern region yesterday condemned the sectarian clashes... saying nothing about the frustration that sparked them. (Exhibit B: Yar'Adua in Brazil; an excellent place from which to show his concern for good, attentive governance.)
Pointing all this out would be a good subject for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to call attention to when she visits Nigeria as part of her African tour this week. Here's hoping that Clinton's staff understands what's to blame for the violence better that the State Department Travel Bulletins seem to.
Photo: JOEDSON ALVES/AFP/Getty Images
229,524, according to the AIDS & Rights Alliance for Southern Africa in a PR video calling out the African Union and African leaders for not spending enough on health.
The organization also calculates that Robert Mugabe's 85th birthday party could have covered 10,501 TB treatment courses. See the rest in this video set to Akon's "I'm So Paid":
Hat tip: Jina Moore
West Africa's SAT-3 broadband cable connection to Europe was severely disrupted this week, temporarily crippling many industries like Nigeria's banking sector, as that country lost 70% of its bandwidth. It could take up to two weeks to fix the offshore cable, which runs from Portugal all the way to South Africa.
Along with excitement, the Internet boom raises some policy questions for African governments and companies. On the governmental side, Nigeria is now being lobbied by business groups to declare SAT-3 "critical infrastructure" and help avoid future breakdowns. East African governments should take note: the downside of increased Internet connectivity is increased vulnerability when one of your only connections goes down.
As far as the private sector, Steve Song, creator of that awesome broadband cable map, has an interesting series: "What Google Should do in Africa." Song's biggset priorities are that the company should 1) Support open spectrum; 2) Launch Google Voice in Africa; and 3) Lobby for cheaper SMS (text messaging) rates.
Of particular interest to me is the SMS suggestion, as mobile phones and SMS are frequently cited as a potentially powerful tool for poverty reduction. A Stanford classmate of mine, for example, helped found FrontlineSMS: Medic to reduce costs of rural healthcare using mass texting technology.
As Song notes, Google is interested, and recently rolled out a partnership in Uganda with the Grameen Foundation and MTN, a wireless company, to increase information availability, particularly for rural farmers. Though applauding the initiative, Song is skeptical of the choice to make the new technology available with only one company.
There is a desperate need for organisations like Google who have a vested interest in seeing more data traffic to help lobby for more competition, for lower barriers to entrepreneurship in the telecom sector, and for cheaper access for all.
So when I see the company that wagered billions in the 700MHz spectrum auction in the U.S. to effectively arm-wrestle Verizon into OpenAccess conditions, the company that has made countless submissions to the FCC to lobby for unlicensed access to television white spaces spectrum, announce that they have “partnered” with a single mobile operator in Uganda to deliver SMS services, you will understand me if I seem a little let down.
I agree with the sentiment, but for what it is worth MTN Uganda is the largest provider, with over half of the market share. And as desirable as it may be for Google to work with everyone, logisitcally, you have to start somewhere.
Brent Stirton/Getty Images
Time reports that for tobacco companies, Africa is the next great unsold frontier.
Driven in no small part by commodity booms, Africa has seen rapid economic growth in the last decade, and tobacco companies are betting on a pattern of rising incomes leading to higher smoking rates. With few smokers and increasing disposable income, the market logic makes sense:
In Ghana, the male smoking rate (which in most places in the world is higher than the female rate) is only 8%; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it's 14%; in Nigeria, it's 12%. Compare that with 31% in India, 56% in Malaysia and a whopping 61% in China.
Along with increasing marketing and production within the continent, cigarette companies are also preemptively aiming for good publicity.
Tobacco companies have jumped into the corporate-social-responsibility game, doing all manner of benevolent work across Africa and Asia. In 2005, Philip Morris paid $5 billion to buy Indonesian cigarette-maker Sampoerna, a company that was already pouring money into scholarships for local students. British American does similar work in Malaysia, and in Nigeria has devoted 1% of its local profits to improving access to drinking water, health care and vaccines. That kind of largesse buys the companies a measure of indebtedness.
"It's hard to tell a village, 'You shouldn't accept these new wells or bicycles because it's from industry,' " says Stella Bialous, an adviser to the World Health Organization. "[But] when it comes time to pass regulatory things the company doesn't think reasonable, they can call in their chips. They have all these little groups dependent on their money."
Though the Sudanese children pictured above seem to have gotten the message that cigarettes are dangerous (and have bloody fangs), it will be hard to prevent smoking from taking off in the conditions of poor regulation, low healthcare, and low life expectency common to many African countries.
Isam Al-Haj/AFP/Getty Images
The mid-to-late 20th century was difficult time for linguists: globalization meant languages were going extinct ever more rapidly, there was little interest in reviving or preserving those languages, and the process of catching a few parts of these decaying tongues was very difficult.
In the past few decades, though, as intellectuals recognized the social importance of language, the field's fortunes have turned somewhat: although globalization continues to encourage standardization of languages, some are being revived (for example: Manx, Hawaiian, and, contrary to the photo above, Cornish), and more universities and foundations are interested in supporting research. Now, perhaps most importantly from an academic perspective, the tools for recording these dying languages have now gone digital.
The New York Times reports on Dr. Tucker Childs's work in Sierra Leone, where he is using a digital recorder and language-recognition software to record the Kim language. Rather than having to lug back boxes of casettes and then record and decipher the language's structure manually, Dr. Childs is able to both record more words and analyze languages far more thoroughly. And the research, archived at the University of London, will be more accessible to amateur linguists and other professors doing similar work.
While most of these languages will not be saved, as the article puts it, "the aim is not just to salvage, but to revive." The ideal outcome? The comeback that Hebrew has experienced: since the 19th century, it has shifted from liturgical use to being spoken by millions of people.
News is emerging today from Nigeria that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set for a visit there, as well as Kenya and several other African countries in the not-so-distant future.
As Dow Jones puts it, "many African countries felt snubbed by [Obama's] choice of Ghana" last month for his inagural trip to the continent. That's an excellent understatement. As I wrote here a few weeks ago, "miffed" might be a more accurate word to describe Nigeria's feelings, in particular. Africa's most-populous country didn't take kindly to being upstaged by its smaller neighbor -- who is, ahem, also in Nigeria's self-dubbed sphere of influence.
Now the injustice will be at least partially remedied, it seems. Maybe Nigeria's U.S.-based diplomats went on overdrive to secure Clinton's visit. Or the White House was worried about angering its 3rd largest supplier of oil. Then again, the visit could have been in the cards long before the Ghana-row erupted.
Whatever the truth may be, Clinton may have to do some reassuring that Nigeria is not an afterthought (...even if it is).
Maybe it was bound to happen. The Save Darfur Coalition says its mission is "inspiring action, raising awareness and speaking truth to power on behalf of the people of Darfur."
"Toss these message panties onstage at your favorite rock star or share a surprise message with someone special ... later."
Admittedly, this description is the same for the thong regardless of which logo is chosen. But I'm still cringing.
The dealer, CafePress, gurantees that "100% of the profits will be dontated directly to the Save Darfur Coalition (www.savedarfur.org)." And the deal goes beyond just thongs. Save Darfur pet bowls and beer steins are among the other items on offer.
In fact, even though they didn't make it, I'll be surprised if the Save Darfur Coalition doesn't distance themselves, given that they are featured as the recipient. On the other hand, if the Save Darfur Coalition's "millions of everyday citizens" all sent a thong to the White House, someone would have to pay attention.
Everyone hates cell phones going off at inappropriate times -- movies, classrooms, funerals (especially bad for anyone with a cheerful disco ringtone), and of course religious services come to mind. Kenyan Muslims are ecstatic to discover a device that jams mobile phone signals:
Imams in Kenya have long complained that mobile phones constantly rang during prayers, disrupting services.
Imam Hassan Kithiye says he bought the machine in Dubai and it has been well received by his congregation.
A BBC correspondent in north-eastern Kenya says other mosques around Garissa town are now trying to raise enough funds to buy their own device.
One mosque has resorted to fining congregants $3 if their phones ring during a prayer service.
But this failed to solve the problem, imam Sheik Abbi-Azziz Mohamed told the BBC.
"We used to use that tyrant approach but it didn't work. Some people are so poor that they cannot even afford to buy airtime. We couldn't expect them to pay," he said.
It's a effective solution, but it still doesn't answer my question: "why does every cell phone user over 40 forget about a little compromise known as 'vibrate?'"
SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images
One of the biggest mysteries of former Liberian president Charles Taylor's career is how, exactly, he managed to escape from a Massachusetts county jail in 1985. With Taylor now on trial for war crimes at the Hague, many hoped that his testimony might shed light on this mystery. Taylor addressed the matter today but his recollection of the events may have raised more questions than it answered:
On the night of Sept. 15, 1985, he recounted Wednesday, a guard unlocked his cell at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility - where he was awaiting extradition to Liberia on embezzlement charges - and escorted him to a less-secure unit of the jail. Taylor then tied sheets together, climbed out an open window, and clambered over a fence before meeting two men he assumed were US agents, who whisked him to New York by car.
“I am calling it my release be cause I didn’t break out,’’ Taylor, 61, told his special war crimes court. “I did not pay any money. I did not know the guys who picked me up. I was not hiding’’ afterward.
The jail guard, he added, “had to be working with someone else.’’
The most popular conspiracy theory is that the C.I.A. helped him escape, a charge the agency vehemently denies. Liberian senator (and fellow war criminal) Prince Johnson repeated the theory in an interview with journalist Glenna Gordon for FP.
With Taylor revealing few specifics, it seems like the mystery will continue.
The Christian Science Monitor highlights an April report by the International Food Policy Research Institute entitled "'Land Grabbing' by Foreign Investors in Developing Countries." The report details purchases of farmland in developing countries by China, South Korea, India, and a handful of gulf states.
Another analysis of the "land-grabbing" trend relased in June by the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization and two other agricultural research groups examines more closely the potential positives and negatives of the purchases.
Increased investment may bring macro-level benefits (such as GDP growth and improved government revenues), and may create opportunities for economic development and livelihood improvement in rural areas.
But as governments or markets make land available to prospecting investors, large-scale land acquisitions may result in local people losing access to the resources on which they depend for their food security – particularly as some key recipient countries are themselves faced with food security challenges.
And, as Devindeer Sharma from India's Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security told the Telegraph on June 28, there is a high chance of a local backlash and investors will have to avoid a neo-colonial image:
"There are 80 Indian companies trying to get land in Ethiopia, and it's all to be imported back to India. The government of India has been encouraging them," he said, and warned of danger if famine returned to Africa.
"If food is being shipped out and poor people are dying, what will happen? There would be riots," he said.
Thoughts? Is the investment good or bad for the recipient countries?
RANCOIS XAVIER MARIT/AFP/Getty Images
As promised, Barack Obama recorded a video response to several questions from Africans submitted by text message about his administration's policy towards Africa.
That only three were answered is probably a let down to the more than 5,000 people who submitted questions. However, the White House tried to reiterate its interest in African concerns by allowing three African journalists from Senegal, Kenya and South Africa to each select a question. The video is below and to summarize the three questions were:
These aren't exactly the hardest questions ever, and Obama had time to prepare, but the video, which was released to African radio and tv stations, shows a president who in his own words, is "probably as knowledgeable about African history as anybody who's occupied my office."
This is a good thing. Now let's see how the policy measures up.
Just hours after Nigeria's Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) announced its 60-day truce, promising to prepare for negotiations, ("...wise men and women will be put together after consultations with relevant stakeholders. They will speak on our behalf and convey our demands to government.")... they may be changing their minds.
E-mailed to this blogger from spokesman alias Jomo Gbomo at 7:49am EST:
Barely 12 hours into our ceasefire, the military Joint Task Force has dispatched seven gun boats with heavily armed troops from Warri and are headed towards one of our camps located around the Delta/Ondo state border.If this information from a very reliable source within the JTF happens to be true, the ceasefire will be called off with immediate effect.We are monitoring the armada and sincerely hope that the planned attack will be converted to a war exercise.
In a fascinating feature in the new issue of the Boston Review, Oxford economist (and recent FP contributor) Paul Collier makes a radical proposal: What if instead of trying to find ways to promote economic development politely from afar, international actors considered full scale "interventions" to help poor countries jumpstart their development?
Collier, author of The Bottom Billion and the more recent Wars, Guns and Votes, argues that the two main obstacles for development in the 60 or so poorest countries are institutional inabilities to provide security or government accountability. Rather than keep trying to build these institutions first, Collier proposes that outside actors should supply them for an interim period:
Recall what the United States did last time it got serious about developing another insecure region. Its agenda was radically more ambitious then. The time was 60 years ago, and the insecure region was post-war Europe. The United States got serious because the consequences of Europe falling apart, given the neighboring nuclear Soviet Union, were so alarming. Washington brought the full range of pertinent policies to bear. There was a large aid program, the Marshall Plan. But aid was only a part of the solution. A massive security program, NATO, complemented the aid; more than one hundred thousand American soldiers were stationed in Europe for more than 40 years.
Along with Collier's admittedly provocative piece, the BR has shorter reactions from a host of aid experts: Stephen Krasner, William Easterly, Larry Diamond, Edward Miguel, Mike McGovern, and Nancy Birdsall. Collier then responds.
In contrast to Collier, Obama told allAfrica in an interview that with foreign aid he thinks "what [the U.S.] should be doing is trying to minimize our footprint and maximize the degree to which we're training people to do for themselves."
There is a lot to be said for reforming a system in which billions of U.S. foreign aid dollars go straight to contractors in Washington, but I think Collier has a point. Some countries like Somalia and the DRC are unlikely to put the pieces back together on their own. But while the idea of providing institutional strength for the bottom billion is attractive, it is still difficult to imagine how this could be implemented anytime soon.
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From the Financial Times coverage of Obama's arrival in Ghana (seen at right):
“When a white man like the French president comes to tell you to put your house in order it is seen as an offence. When a black brother comes it is good advice,” Ablade Glover, the Ghanaian painter, said.
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It was bound to happen: President Barack Obama's innocuous little trip to Ghana was apt to annoy someone or another. One might have exptected Kenya, where Obama still has family, to feel slighted. But the visit did even more damage the ego of another African power: Nigeria.
As soon as the news of Obama's trip was announced, the editorials began. Nigeria is the largest country in Africa by population. It has oil reserves that head, by and large, to the United States for consumption. It is a regional leader in economic and political terms. So why, the country wondered, would Obama pick its relatively smaller neighbor to the South?
The answer, many in civil society concluded, is pretty clear: Nigeria must get its house in order before it will be honored with such a visit. Notorious for corruption, flawed elections, and an ongoing insurgency in the oil-producing region, Nigeria is in many ways everything Ghana is not. One Nigerian commentor on the BBC site proclaimed, "Snubbing Nigeria is okay. It is a wake up call for those who drag Nigeria by the nose." Even Wole Soyinka, one of the country's most esteemed intellectuals, said that he agreed with Obama's decision; Nigeria didn't merit the honor, he told a gathering in the capital, Abuja.
How has the Nigerian government reacted? If the Daily Trust newspaper has it pegged, "the honey pot of the 'big men' has turned paranoid." The head of the Foreign Relations Committee in Nigeria told the BBC that Obama should express any concerns he had about Nigeria in Abuja -- in person -- rather than by sending cryptic foreign policy signs. Criticism of the foreign service abounds, as well, as many claim that it was poor Nigerian diplomacy that failed to win the visit.
So if Obama has been trying to send a message by visiting the relatively democratic and peaceful Ghana, it appears to at least be causing a stir. Of course, there are those who favor other theories for Nigeria's being slighted of the visit:
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Come to think of it, you know Obama likes to play basketball. Suppose he invites President Yar'Adua while visiting to a game of basketball, one on one, and the man out of politeness agrees. And you know President Yar'Adua doesn't play basketball, he only plays squash.
A new United Nations report released Tuesday has spurred international law enforcement into action in West Africa. As many as four UN bodies, ECOWAS, and Interpol are involved in what is to become a concerted effort aimed at stopping organized crime.
Among other conclusions, the 90-page UN report finds that up to half of all medication used in the region may be either "substandard or counterfeit," and that "80 percent of the cigarette market ... is illicit, meaning that cigarette sales in those countries chiefly profit criminals."
In particular, reports the BBC, the new campaign targets Guinea-Bissau, the Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Observers can expect strengthened border security as well as attempts to improve local judicial systems.
We want to be different from other African countries. We want to show the world that the money given to us will be going to where they want it, to be used in a transparent way.
Obama will respond to questions submitted this week by text message (SMS) in a recording made sometime before his speech at the Ghanaian parliament. The tape will be released to African radio stations and other media after his speech, and the speech will also be broadcast simultaneously on African radio stations and on the internet.
The White House page with all the details is here, including the numbers Africans can use to submit their questions. Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa have dedicated local shortcodes with longcodes available for other Africans. According to Kenya's Daily Nation, local SMS rates will be charged, and mobile users can choose to receive excerpts from the speech via SMS in French or English.
Erik Hersman, a new media guru who blogs at White African, worked with the White House on the platform and has a great post on logistics and some of the reasoning behind the various outreach platforms. Hersman says that U.S. citizens cannot participate in the SMS platform because of cold-war era legislation on public diplomacy, but other efforts including a live chat on Facebook and a dedicated Twitter tag (#obamaghana) will try and encourage global discussion. News site allAfrica is also collecting questions for Obama.
With no glitches, this demonstration of interest in the views of Africans will probably boost Obama's global approval ratings, which already are almost double those of the United States. At Accra's tourist market, Obama t-shirts and paintings are flying off the shelves and Ghanaians are hoping for a boost in tourism after the visit.
More on Obama's decision to visit Ghana can be found in a recent post by FP editor Elizabeth Dickinson.
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You would not speak to an idiot of that nature. I was very angry with him, and he thinks he could dictate to us what to do and what not to do. We have the whole of [the South African Development Community] working with us, and you have the likes of little fellows like Carson, you see, wanting to say: 'You do this, you do that.' Who is he? I hope he was not speaking for Obama.
A little American girl trotting around the globe like a prostitute.
Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation commission reccomended several days ago that a number of politicians, including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, be banned from politics for a period of 30 years because of their past support for warring factions in Liberia's civil war. A World Bank veteran and Africa's first elected female head of state, Sirleaf is a darling of the Western media and aid community and some commentators are just shocked, shocked to realize that she's something other than a saint.
Blogging from Liberia, Chris Blattman advises everyone to take a deep breath and get real:
Sirleaf openly supported at least two rebel movements -- Charles Taylor's attempt to overthrow President Doe in 1989, and LURD's invasion to oust Charles Taylor a decade later. The TRC is condemning these actions--not something you'd expect human rights advocates to disbelieve, let alone protest.
Of course, it's not clear that there is a Liberian over the age of six who hasn't supported one rebel group or another the past twenty years. If they were all banned from politics, there wouldn't be a local left to run the place.
Not that it matters. The TRC has no teeth. I don't know the legal details, but the idea that the Commission can bar the President from politics seems laughable. Oh, did I mention that the TRC judges (a) laughably bad at their job, and (b) have political interests themselves?
But was dear Ellen unjustly maligned? Please. The outside world paints Sirleaf as an angel and Charles Taylor as a demon. Black and white politics are easy to digest. But there are no angels or demons in politics anywhere, least of all Liberia. Ellen is not the noble cherub you think. Taylor is not the black devil you fear. The truth of the matter, as always, is more subtle.
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Human Rights Watch has issued a statement asking for the removing of contentious proposals in a draft bill before the Rwandan parliament. Health and human rights director Joe Amon said that if enacted, the law would require the forced sterilization of mentally disabled persons, mandatory HIV/AIDS testing for couples who plan to wed, for married individuals at his or her spouse's request, and for children or incapacitated persons for whom it is deemed "necessary" without their consent. He said:
While Rwanda has made notable progress in fighting stigma and responding to the AIDS epidemic, and has pledged to advance the rights of persons with disability, forced sterilization and mandatory HIV testing do not contribute to those goals. These elements of the bill undermine reproductive health goals and undo decades of work to ensure respect for reproductive rights.
In recent years Rwanda has made not simply strides but rather leaps in combating HIV/AIDS. UNAIDS figures reveal a dramatic drop in national adult HIV prevalence, from nine percent in 1990 to a little under three percent in 2007.
Essentially, Rwanda's efforts to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS need to be decoupled from any attempts at compulsory sterilization or testing. If undertaken in a widespread manner or as part of systematic practice as the bill intends, forced sterilization is regarded as a crime against humanity by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to which Rwanda is party. Rwanda has also signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol as of December 15, 2008.
Deputy speaker of the Rwandan parliament Damascene Ntawukuriryayo has subsequently denied the existence of the bill.
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