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)
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
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