Saturday, November 29, 2003

"Zimbabwe 'should not be isolated'" said leaders from southern Africa, many of whom once demanded the apartheid regime in South Africa be isolated.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Zimbabwe's ruling thug Robert Mugabe has been excluded from the upcoming meeting of the Commonwealth (basically former British colonies). This has caused a serious split in the rather anachronistic organization. To put it bluntly, western countries want Mugabe punished for his terrible human rights' violations, repression of the opposition and elimination of the rule of law. African countries object.

Some African leaders feel that punishing Mugabe would be neo-colonialism because of his policy of seizing white-owned farms and re-distributing them (to his cronies, of course). Apparently, these heads of state don't care that the overwhelming majority of the victims of his regime's repression are black. Since Mugabe's cabal arrests people for sending emails, attacks protest marches, assaults what little remains of a free press, runs 're-education' camps and uses food aid to punish political opponents, the land "reform" program is the least of the regime's evils.

Other African leaders feel that a diplomatic solution is preferable. Thabo Mbeki, president of regional power South Africa, is the foremost proponent of the "softly softly" approach. They feel that provoking a thug (or "freedom fighter" as some call him, in reference to the distant past) would be counter-productive and would cause a backlash... which only proves how this maniac needs to be stopped. While perhaps a noble attempt from a well-intentioned leader, "softly softly" has miserably failed to moderate Mugabe's brutality or even cause the slightest injection of oxygen into the political process that has been so deftly suffocated by the regime.

Now, Mugabe has said Zimbabwe will leave the Commonwealth if he is not treated as an equal. Since Mugabe has blamed Tony Blair for all of the country's problems, one is skeptical of Mugabe's bluff. Withdrawal might deprive him of his principal scapegoat.

Zimbabweans already hate Mugabe. Whatever brownie points he accumulated in the 1970s independence struggle, he's surely lost (and then some) but the way he's destroyed the country's economy and political system. Evoking 1979 doesn't do much for people who have no food, fuel (petrol) or medicine. One can only hope the military and police's loyalty to Mugabe falters in some way. Only then is there a possibility of success for a Serbia or Ivory Coast-style popular uprising.

Toronto's Globe and Mail ran a wires' story about former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor. Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo has said his country will turn over Taylor to face trial if Liberia asks. Taylor, who is exiled in Nigeria, has been indicted for war crimes by the international tribunal in Sierra Leone. At this point, it seems unlikely Liberia will make such a request as its interim leader, Gyude Bryant, fears Taylor's trial would jeopardize a fragile peace in the West African country.

The article also noted how the US Congress placed a US$2 million reward for Taylor's capture and rebuked Nigeria for offering asylum to the indicted war criminal. The Bush administration, who played a key role in negotiating Taylor's departure, distanced itself from the move.

Still, this concept of immunity is interesting. Some people are granted immunity from trial for crimes against humanity simply because they used to be head of state. The US opposed attempts to bring to justice former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The fundamental excuse they used was that Pinochet enjoyed diplomatic immunity because he is a former head of state. Of course, it's absurd to argue that a head of state, the highest law enforcement officer of the land, should be held to a lower standard than the ordinary citizen*.

But no such protestations were made when former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic was put on trial. Nor for Panama's Gen. Manuel Noreiga, who languishes in an American prison. Do you think Saddam will be granted diplomatic immunity if coalition forces capture him? Of course not. Nor should he.

*-See my essay Immunity is just one letter away from impunity, May 28, 2003.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I read an Associated Press article today in my local paper about Lagos, economic capital of Africa's most populous country and one of the continent's largest cities. The article wrote about how residents are now using the waterways of the lagoon which the city surrounds for transportation. This is a way for residents of the megapolis to avoid the city's horrific automobile congestion and street violence.

The headline in my local paper read "Nigerians flee to 'Africa's Venice.'" Lagos has a rather infamous reputation in the continent. In fact, its urban ills were so suffocating the the nation's leaders moved the capital away from Lagos to Abuja, in the center of Nigeria and the middle of nowhere. Lagos has acquired many nicknames. Hell-hole. The armpit of Africa. But this is certainly the first time I've ever heard Lagos compared to Venice!

(The article can be found, not via my local paper, at the San Francisco Examiner by clicking here.

Monday, November 24, 2003

There's been more chest-puffing in the border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. First, Ethiopia refused to accept the ruling of the international commission set up arbitrate the dispute between it and its former ally. Now, Eritrea from the African Union in protest. South Africa's Daily Mail and Guardian reports that Eritrea deplored the AU's "failure" to condemn Ethiopia's "gross violations" of the current peace agreement. The AU, a party to the peace accord, expressed surprise since it has been urging Ethiopia to respect the agreement but has no way of forcing them to do so. After an estimated 70,000 dead during the countries' 1998-2000 border war, let's hope cooler heads prevail in Addis and Asmara.

I read an interesting interview with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

As you may know, in the late 90s, Ethiopia fought a disastrous and idiotic border war with former ally Eritrea, which was once a province of Ethiopia. The war was fought over the Badme triangle. A region which has basically nothing.

In the interview, Meles called Badme some godforsaken village, adding that the war and border dispute were not about territory.

So if it's not about territory, then what could possibly have provoked two of the poorest countries in the world to fight such a bloody war? Meles explains:

According to the latest rendition of the Boundary Commission, Badme would be 800 metres inside Eritrea. What’s 800 metres in a country as big as Ethiopia? What’s 800 metres compared to what we willingly and happily gave up as Eritrea? It’s nothing. But it’s 800 metres which we are told is something it has never been, and something that it will never be. That’s the point. That’s the crux of the matter.

As many as 70,000 people were believed to have died in this war over "some godforsaken village" just so two politicians who didn't like each other could prove a point. I'm glad the prime minister clarified things.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Commonly-heard statement: Terrorism is the biggest problem in the world today.

Fact: Excluding other parts of the world, an average of twice as many Africans died every single day of 2002 because of HIV-AIDS than were killed in the World Trade Center attacks.

Source: UNAIDS.

Friday, November 14, 2003

I'm presently reading the excellent book A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power. It addresses genocides in the 20th century and America's (non-)responses to them. I just finished the chapter on Bosnia and am just starting the one on Rwanda.

I've read a number of works about the Rwandan genocide but it still angers me. Although it's less historically reknown/notorious than the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide is by almost all accounts the most evily efficient slaughter in history. An estimated 800,000 to 1 million dead in 100 days, as though numbers can really do justice to the magnitude of the horror.

In the book and her appearances on TV book shows, Power has made one pointed repeatedly about the greatest obstacle human rights activists come across when trying to get the America to fight genocide and other massacres: the false either-or choice.

Basically, those who don't want to intervene frame the situation this way: either we risk tens of thousands of American* troops in an all out ground invasion of [place where genocide is occuring] or we do nothing. Since risking American lives, especially for something that's "only" a humanitarian mission, is never a vote-winner, the president of the day and his team always want to avoid doing anything.

[*-As foreign powers go, the French government's hands were far more bloody in the Rwandan genocide, as their culpability was dangerous close to active. But I refer to American govt and public here because Power concentrates on her adopted country]

This is a myth because there are always more than the two choices presented. There is always more than one way to intervene.

For example, there was a small UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda when the genocide started. Their mandate almost emasculated them, forcing them to be nothing more than "witnesses at a funeral" as one person put it. This was demanded by a gun-shy Clinton administration, still scarred from the experience in Somalia.

The genociders captured 15 UN peacekeepers, 10 from Belgium and 5 from Ghana, unable to fight back due to the absurd rules of engagement. Then the genociders executed a plan that would have a huge impact on the international reaction to the massacres. They released the West Africans but murdered the Belgians. Their plan was to scare the Belgians and other westerners to withdraw or weaken the UN mission, thus imitating the Somali warlords who scared the Americans out of the Horn of Africa. That way, they could remove even the powerless witnesses from their slaughters.

Belgium asked for the Security Council to reinforce the mission, without which the Belgians would pull out. The head of the peacekeeping mission, Canadian Gen. Romeo Dallaire, asked the Council to double the size of his force, since he estimated the larger contigent would deter the massacres. Instead, the Council, under pressure from the US and France (each for different reasons), slashed the size of the mission by 90 percent. The Belgians and others pulled out. The genociders took their cue. Around million men, women and children were murdered.

The Clinton administration claimed that since committing US ground troops was inconceivable, there was nothing they could do. But this either-or, as always, was a sham. A convenient smokescreen. A few of the options, not involving US troops, that Clinton could've pursued were:

-The US could've pushed for the strengthening of the UN mission in Rwanda, rather than actively opposing it

-The US could've used jamming equipment to disrupt the broadcasts of Radio Mille Collines. This "hate radio" was broadcasting names, addresses and license plate numbers of those to be slaughtered. If the hate radio's broadcasts had been jammed, the genocide couldn't possibly have proceeded with the same ruthless, mechanical efficiency. It's likely that hundreds of thousands of lives would've been spared. When the deputy US ambassador to Rwanda (who, ironically, was ambassador to Kenya during the Nairobi bombing) suggested the jamming to her superiors in Washington, she was chided as naive. ""Pru, radios don't kill people. People kill people!"

-The US could've pushed for the expulsion of Rwanda's ambassador to the UN. A symbolic measure to be sure. But the administration barely even bothered with symbolic measures like this or even ritual condemnations of the violence. Rwanda wasn't on their radar screen in spring 1994.

-Gen. Dallaire asked the US to help transport heavy military equipment to the small number of remaining peacekeepers, since the US was one of the few countries with the logistical capacity to offer such help. The US bureaucracy instead haggled over details. Would the UN buy the equipment? Lease it? Who would pay for it to be shipped? If the administration had wanted this to be expedited, it would've been expedited. Instead, tens of thousands of people were being murdered during every week of this stonewalling..

These are only four of the options that could've saved the lives of tens or hundreds of thousands of Rwandans. Four options that entailed no risk to American military personnel. Yet they weren't done.

They weren't done because of the false either-or choice. The American people were fed the line, "Since America can't do everything everywhere, it should thus do nothing." In an part of the world not familiar to most people here and susceptible to pre-conceived notions, Americans trusted what they were told. They believed the either-or myth.

Contrast this to Liberia, another part of the world unfamiliar to most Americans and susceptible to pre-conceived notions. Although the US did not send ground troops, the Bush administration continuously condemned the country's then-dictator Charles Taylor. The Bush people excerted strong diplomatic pressure on its West African allies to push Taylor out of office. US ground troops weren't committed, but Washington did not side aside silently. Without US pressure, it's likely Taylor would still be in power rather than in exile, possibly facing international war crimes charges. When left to their own devices, the most influential African governments (Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal) tend to be very deferrential to other heads of state and prefer "silent diplomacy" even when it's clearly failed miserably. The example of Zimbabwe is a testament to that.

As Liberia shows, committing ground troops is not the only way to effectively intervene in a genocide or other brutal conflict. Don't let the political establishment tell you differently.


-The book We Wish To Inform You That We Will All Be Killed Tommorrow With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch is widely considered to be the definitive account of the Rwandan genocide. It is the most powerful book I've ever read. Fergal Keane's Season of Blood is also excellent. Gourevitch's book looks at the bigger picture while Keane's focuses in on the stories of individuals.

-For a briefer account of the Rwandan genocide, Samantha Power published a comprehensive yet concise article about it in the September 2001 issue of The Atlantic Monthly.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

News item from The Associated Press: Mauritanian head of state Maaouiya Ould Taya arrested opposition leader Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla on the eve of the Sahel nation's presidential elections for which both men are candidates. The incumbent's campaign officials have accused Haidalla of plotting to seize power if he lost the election. Haidalla was the country's leader from 1979-1984 until he was ousted in a military coup by... Maaouiya Ould Taya.

News item from The BBC: An opposition coalition in Guinea has announced that it will boycott the West Africa country's presidential election scheduled for next month. [Guinea] will end up like Sierra Leone, Liberia or Ivory Coast because if we cannot discuss with the man in power, we will fight him the way he wants threatened opposition leader Ba Mamadou, who insisted he was referring to street protests, not armed insurrection. The opposition insists the vote has already been rigged in favor of the incumbent head of state, Gen. Lansana Conte and that the party in power has blocked the opposition's access to the state media (the European Union concurring with the latter assertion). For his part, the Gen. Conte warned I will never accept that someone comes to power by force. Those who want power will have to wait until the elections and contest it under the banner of a political party. The head of state came to power in a 1984 military coup that overthrew a civilian regime whose members were thrown in prison.

News item from CNN. President Bush signed a controversial bill that would ban partial birth abortions. In remarks at the signing ceremony, the president said he hoped to "build a culture of life." "This right to life cannot be granted or denied by government, because it does not come from government -- it comes from the creator of life," added the president, who was once governor of the state that habitually murders (denies life to) far more of its citizens than any other state.