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Violence in Chad drives aid away

It was reported last week that attacks on and kidnappings of aid workers in Chad have caused six aid organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, to suspend operations there. Undeterred, this morning the top U.N. official in Chad announced "positive signs on the horizon," predicting increased peace and stabilization in the country.

This isn't the first time violence has driven away aid groups: in May, 2008, the head of the Eastern Chad mission of British aid organization Save the Children was shot and killed. At first, the organization announced that it would continue working in the country, but five months after the killing ultimately decided to leave.

At this point, the situation doesn't seem that dire with regards to the ICRC: In an interview, Bernard Barrett, an ICRC spokesman, said, "We're not pulling out totally. We're suspending some activities -- we're maintaining life-saving services, particularly medical services." The organization's other work in Chad ranges from water sanitation projects to animal vaccinations; hardly trivial work, particularly given the persistent lack of food security. As far as resuming these activities, Barrett reports a wait-and-see scenario. "Once we've obtained the release of our delegate who was kidnapped, at that point we'll be able to ascertain the security situation," he says.

Chad is a country in dire need of help. Last May, Doctors Without Borders led the effort to combat an outbreak of meningitis, immunizing 7.5 million people in the region. DWB is another organization that has been driven to suspend operations in Chad because of the recent violence. It's terrible to contemplate how many deaths might have resulted from the 65,000 cases of infection in and around Chad had DWB left just six months earlier.  

The violence that has hindered desperately needed assistance ultimately stems from poor governance, said Richard Downie in an interview with FP. According to Downie, a fellow with the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, "Until you have credible political parties and some sort of civil society developing, it's hard to see the long-term prospects of Chad looking bright."

That sort of civil society seems a ways off. Chad ranks 173 out of the 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index, just three spots up from Afghanistan. And the country's heavily oil-dependent economy has only reinforced the political maladies that accompany "the devil's excrement."

It's tough to avoid Downie's conclusion: "I don't see a long-term solution to what's going on in Chad at the moment without much more engagement from the international community."

Photo:  FRANCESCO FONTEMAGGI/AFP/Getty Images

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Lightning strikes twice

Woe to the Maersk Alabama, the U.S.-flagged freighter captured by pirates in April! Today, the U.S. Navy reported, pirates attacked and nearly boarded the same boat again. The New York Times has some pirate commentary on the incident: 

Pirates in Xarardheere, one of their strongholds in Somalia, said Wednesday that some of their colleagues had been killed Tuesday night. "We have been told over the phone today that four of our colleagues were killed and two were injured," said a Somali pirate boss known as Red Teeth. "We will keep attacking on foreign vessels until illegal fishing and toxic dump is stopped," he added.

A few things of note.

First, the pirate activity off the Somali and Kenyan coasts and in the Gulf of Aden is generally chalked up to insecurity in the teetering African state. Pirates steal and murder at sea because of the dearth of opportunities and complete lack of governance at home. I hadn't heard the "illegal fishing and toxic dump" political argument, which sounds like it comes from Greenpeace, not Red Teeth, before.

Second, what strikes me most is the detail that the Maersk Alabama was 600 miles off of the Somali coast at the time of the attack -- the distance the Navy recommends. As ships have fortified and moved off the coast, the number of attacks has not decreased as one would expect (cf. the ICC maps of incidents from 2008 and 2009). The pirates have moved off shore with the boats -- and attacks have become more resource-intensive, dangerous, and difficult for them.