Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Aid workers arrest by Sudanese junta

The government of Sudan has been widely accused on sponsoring militias who are committing genocide in the western region of Darfur. Gen. Omar al-Bashir's regime has consistently denied that the allegedly government-sponsored genocide amounts to anything more than a little bit of lawless banditry.

Curious then that, rather than arresting the 'lawless bandits,' the regime has decided to go after a pair of humanitarian workers, whose job was to save Sudanese lives. The director of the Sudan branch of Médecins sans frontières (Doctors Without Borders) were arrested on charges of spying and spreading false information. Another leading MSF official, a Dutchman, in Sudan was also arrested and has not yet been charged.

The two were arrested following an MSF report detailing mass rape and other widespread human rights' abuses in Darfur. Many Sudanese believe western aid workers have given information on alleged human rights abuses in Darfur to the United Nations, which has passed a sealed list of 51 war crimes suspects, reports the BBC. No mention on why aid workers SHOULDN'T do so.

The United Nations' Sudan envoy Jan Pronk denounced the politically-motivated arrests and the 'smear campaign' by the Sudanese media. "MSF Holland and all the other MSF have saved many lives of Sudanese people."

The state crime prosecutor said [the Dutch MSF prisoner] had failed to hand over evidence on which the report on rape was based.

A spokesman for MSF Holland defended the refusal to hand over details because women "made pregnant as a result of rape outside wedlock can be arrested by the authorities" in Sudan, which operates strict Islamic sharia law.

The arrests were deplored.as 'totally unacceptable' by the head of MSF Holland. "The arrest of two senior co-ordinators severely undermines our ability to provide humanitarian assistance. The people of Darfur, who have been through so much already, must not be allowed to suffer as a result of these actions."

And of course he's right. The arrests are even more despicable because MSF and other organizations are cleaning up the mess caused in large part by none of than the Sudanese government... the very regime that arrested them.

Update: Following widespread international condemnation, the Sudanese regime has reportedly released the aid workers

Monday, May 30, 2005

The incredible disappearing apologia

Howard, a reader of this blog, is good enough to point out a curious fact. He read this essay from July 2003 regarding Pat Robertson, a leader of America's Theocracy Brigade.

Robertson condemned Bush administration efforts to ostracize Liberia's then-dictator (who was even then an indicted war criminal) Charles Taylor. Robertson noted that Liberia was a primarily Christian country and anti-Taylor rebels were Muslim.

Robertson also felt it relevant to mention that the Guinea, from where the rebels launched their attacks, was a predominantly "Muslim country ruled by a capricious and ruthless dictator." While Guinea's Gen. Lansana Conté is certainly capricious, he never held a candle to Taylor's brutality.

Howard notes with curiosity that the link to Robertson's dubious comments on the latter's CBN website no longer works.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Try Charles Taylor now!

In 2003, then-Liberian dictator Charles Taylor accepted an offer to go into exile in Nigeria. This offer was made by Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo as a way of ending war in the country. A national unity government was installed. Taylor was given exile in Nigeria, despite an indictment for war crimes by the international Special Court for Sierra Leone (whose civil war Taylor is accused of provoking and prolonging). This immunity/impunity was given by President Obasanjo to Taylor on the condition that he not interfere in the affairs of his home country.

Not only is he still meddling in Liberian affairs, but he is still funding armed groups and political parties across West Africa. That's according the Coalition for International Justice.

The CIJ claims diplomats from the Liberian embassy in Lagos have been acting as his agents, and that Mr Taylor has been using the help of visitors to circumvent United Nations travel restrictions, reports the BBC.

The CIJ has produced a detailed report on how Mr Taylor got and spent his money, both in and out of office, saying that millions of dollars have passed through his hands over the years. The money came from diamonds, timber and a whole range of businesses, including Liberia's first mobile phone company, the group says. Report author Douglas Farah claims to have found a bewildering network of agents, front men and interlocking companies, which allowed Mr Taylor to make money and spend it buying influence and funding armed conflict in Liberia and neighbouring countries.

Most of the details have been known or reported in the past, but the CIJ's report is the most comprehensive document linking them all together.

The CIJ has called for Taylor to be handed over the Special Court, as has the Sierra Leone government itself.
"We have heard that while in exile in Nigeria, he is still straining his tentacles into Liberia,'' said Sierra Leone's vice-president Solomon Berewa. "If he has done that, then he forfeits his rights of protection and (is) liable to be surrendered to the Special Court for protection."

Additionally, he was also implicated in an assassination attempt against the Guinean leader Gen. Lansana Conté made a few months ago.

If destroying his own country isn't enough, the UN Special Court accused Taylor of working with al-Qaeda on a plan to destabilize West Africa... though in fairness, he's already accomplished this goal quite successfully.

"In November, we started learning about a plot that Charles Taylor and others in the region were trying to engage in destabilizing the region. In particular Guinea… We reported it in November, and we reported it in December in January it went down exactly the way our sources had reported it was going to occur, and that is on January 19th the assassination attempt on president Conte," a leading of official of the Court told the UN Security Council.

Perhaps appealing to the crowd that ignores any horror until the words 'al-Qaeda' are uttered, UN Special Prosecutor David Crane noted, "Al Qaeda has been in West Africa, it continues to be in West Africa, and Charles Taylor has been harboring members of al Qaeda to include those part of allegedly the takedown of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. He harbored them in 1998, we have activities as late as six April 2005."

"It is clear that until Charles Taylor is brought to justice he will be an immediate clear and present danger to the threat and peace and security, not only to Liberia, but the entire West African region," he said.

President Obasanjo's 'see no evil, hear no evil' approach, perhaps adopted from South African President Mbeki's policy toward Zimbabwe, is not working. The impunity/immunity given to indicted war criminal Taylor was designed to give Liberia in particular and West Africa in general some breathing space. But it's increasingly clear that tucking Taylor away into some far away corner of Nigeria has not stopped his malicious activities. He must be shipped to face justice immediately, before he sets the rest of West Africa ablaze.

Update: Monrovia's Liberian Observer has a a good analysis of How the Former Liberian Dictator Drained the Coffers of a Nation in Turmoil

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Taking a position

A few days ago, I received a very strange note on this blog. It read:

Brian, why do you label people and call them names. your articles would be much better without the name calling.

I found this anonymous, unsigned comment baffling.

The particular entry had only two things that conceivably be considered name calling. I made reference to:

former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, now an indicted war criminal

For full disclosure, I DO loathe Charles Taylor, who now lives in exile in Nigeria. When I lived in Guinea, I had countless friends and acquaintainces whose lives were destroyed because of Taylor, his troops, his brutality, his wars and the widespread destruction he sowed. Some of my friends and their relatives are suffering to this day because of Taylor and his cronies. So do I have a personal vendetta against him? Absolutely. Do I despise him? Without a doubt. Will I treat him with the same respect I would accord to, say, the mayor of my town? Not a chance!

As for the comment by 'anonymous': that Charles Taylor was a dictator is not only my opinion, it's the widespread consensus of both the international community and the Liberian population. In the past, I've written a several commentaries explaining WHY Charles Taylor was a despicable dictator.

In 2003, the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone issued an indictment against Taylor, accusing him of "the greatest responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law" in Sierra Leone's brutal, decade-long civil war.

That Charles Taylor is an indicted war criminal is not the biased opinion of someone who holds him in the utmost contempt. It is a VERIFIABLE FACT.

Now it's worth noting something important. My essays are not articles, they are opinions. I try to be fair, but my essays have a point of view. I make no bones about the fact that I take a position. I do not pretend to be neutral.

In my essays, I do not hesitate to call a spade a spade. Dictators deserve to be labelled as such, with the accompanying scorn. I will not soft-peddle criticism of human rights' abusers. Those whose actions kill, displace or otherwise ruin the lives of millions of people and the economies of several countries, I will not treat them in the same way I would treat civilized human beings. I'm sorry if that bothers 'anonymous' but it would be disingenuous for me to do it any other way.

At the risk of being immodest, I think my blogs are more restrained in the name calling department than 99% of the political blogs out there.

For example, it's no secret that I do not like President Bush. However, I've never referred to him as a liar, a warmonger, a war criminal or a fascist. I've never called him Shrub, Dubya, Junior or any other juvenile nickname. I have friends who've done exactly that and they probably think I'm too timid for not doing so. But I use language in a very careful, considered way. So when I do use a pejorative, it's done in a thought-out, calculated way, not recklessly toward any random thing I dislike.

Calling Charles Taylor a 'former dictator' is remarkably restrained considering what he's done and how many lives he's destroyed. I think there are some people out there who are uncomfortable with any strong opinion being expressed. They do not like the tension of disagreement. If that's the case, then such people probably shouldn't read this blog. While I try to offer intelligent, reasonable, thoroughly-explained essays, I do not shy away from taking a strong positions and I will not shy away from criticizing those things and people that deserve it.

Charles Taylor is a monster and I say that unapologetically. People realizing what he's done and demanding justice apply to him is far more important than them thinking that my essays should win a Pulitzer.

Friday, May 27, 2005

An alternate view of Morocco

owukori of the Black Looks blog took issue with my essay praising Morocco's King Mohammed VI's modest poverty reduction efforts. Well actually, she took issue with my characterization of Morocco as arguably the most progressive and democratic countries in the Arab world. Upon further reflection, I probably should've phrased it differently. I still contend that Mohammed VI is one of the most progressive leaders in the Arab world, even though that's not an especially high standard. owukori argues that life in rural Morocco is much different ('feudal') than in urban centers. She points to an essay of her own on the Equity and Reconciliation Commission (ERC) set up by Mohammed VI, to investigate human rights' abuses committed during the reign of Hassan II, his father. I'd still argue that the mere fact of the ERC is useful in breaking the silence that weighs so heavily in Morocco; the mere fact of acknowledging that the king's father's rule was imperfect (an enormous understatement!) is an important breach in the idea that you can never criticize the monarchy. However, I do echo her disappointment that specific individuals can not be named to the ERC, ostensibly because some of them are still in positions of power.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

African growth rate highest this century

Growth in Africa in 2004 was the highest for 8 years, according to a recent report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the African Development Bank.

Central Africa saw a 14.4% rise in growth in 2004 due to the expansion of its oil production capacity. East Africa grew by 6.8%, while West Africa grew by just half that amount, 3.4%, noted the BBC.

Surely West Africa's figures were hurt by the devastating civil war in Côte d'Ivoire, one of the region's main economic engine, even if conflicts wound down in smaller economies like Senegal, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Greater political stability in some countries and a significant rise in official development aid to Africa helped foster growth.
African agricultural production also took a turn for the better after the ending of the drought of 2003, which hit Ethiopia, Malawi and Rwanda.

Though the report warned that conflicts in Zimbabwe, Côte d'Ivoire and the DR Congo, as well as the Darfur genocide will hinder those countries' economic chances.

Additionally, The report highlighted what it calls the "missing middle", the shortage of small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs).

Outside of North Africa, Mauritius and South Africa, successful businesses tend to be either very small, such as cooked food sellers, hairdressers and tailors, or very large, such as oil companies or multinationals.

Lack of access to affordable bank loans and credit is the biggest obstacle to the development of African SMEs, the report found.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

While many small-minded American right wingers like to bash the UN, noble works be damned, this article exemplifies the difficulties that UN missions can face.

Part of a major UN aid operation in Sudan has been suspended and is under review after a militia leader blocked the delivery of food, reports the BBC. The delivery was stopped when a local pro-government militia leader demanded that the quantity of rations be doubled. When the UN rejected his request, he insisted the 150 tons of grain be taken away, depriving the 6,000 people of New Fanjak, as well all those in other villages down this tributary of the Nile. With the militia upset, it has been deemed too dangerous to continue.

The UN could force the food aid through against the will of the militias (but in accordance with the wishes of the villagers) but that would require the mission to have a strong mandate. But if it has a strong mandate, some would whine about 'one world government' and other fantasies.

Instead, it's chosen to withdraw, rather than pick a fight with militias. Except people will remain hungry. Those same critics will whine about the UN's 'ineffectiveness.'

So what should the UN do?

What can it do?

Sunday, May 22, 2005

A real fight against terrorism

One of the popular myths out there is that ordinary people wake up one day and choose on the spur of the moment to become terrorists. That they suddenly say to themselves, "Gee, I think I'll decide to hate [enemy of the day] and blow some people up."

Another popular myth is that poverty causes terrorism. If it were, then Africa would be the worldwide center of international terrorism because it's the region with the most poverty.

In reality, terrorism is nourished by senses of desperation, powerlessness and hopelessness. Though poverty are contributors to those two sentiments, it is not a cause of terrorism in and of itself.

Fortunately, some people can see beyond those (somewhat self-serving) myths. Such, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, arguably the most progressive and most democratic country in the Arab world (its occupation of Western Sahara aside).

King Mohammed has launched a program to improve quality of life in the country's urban slums, a prime recruiting ground for radical Islam.

Mohammed VI said the problem was the country's most serious social issue, and made a reference to Islamic extremists preying on Morocco's poor. It was young men from the city slums who carried out the suicide bombings that left 45 dead in May 2003. Their poverty and desperation apparently made them ready recruits for Islamic extremist cells, according to the BBC.

"Any exploitation of social misery aiming at political ends, at nurturing extremist inclinations... cannot be morally accepted," noted the king.

The program, which will cost almost US$115 million, will bring the basics of clean water and schools to the dusty, corrugated iron wastelands, where so many thousands of Moroccans live.

This is one of the realities that the so-called war on terrorism ignores. The fact of the matter is that in many places, Islamist organizations provide services that the corrupt, inefficient or non-existent state does not. For example, the group Hezbollah has run hospitals, schools, orphanages and a television station since the chaotic years of the Lebanon's civil war. The group Hamas also provides welfare and social social services to residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, services which neither the Israeli occupiers or the Palestinian Authority provide. In other words, these groups are filling a vacuum. Thus, it's no surprise that while westerners see these groups as terrorists, many residents of Lebanon and the Palestinian territories have a different view.

Morocco's king is wise to try and fill that vacuum before Islamist groups do. And hopefully the 'terrorist warriors' will help him and other progressive-minded leaders do the same. It's not as exciting as blowing (someone else's) stuff up, nor does it cause the adrenaline rush of invading random, non-threatening countries. But it's a heck of a lot more relevant to actually preventing terrorism.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

More unrest in Conakry

2004 was not a good year for the social climate in Guinea. This month hasn't been a great improvement. Just this weekend, two stories came out of the West African state.

The government has raised the price of fuel by more than 50 percent.

The government said it was forced to put the prices up because of the spike in international oil prices, according to Reuters. But in a dirt-poor country reeling from decades of authoritarian rule and economic mismanagement despite its vast mineral wealth, few felt much sympathy for the authorities. Last year, Guinea was shaken by riots in several towns over a rise in the price of rice. "Instead of giving up some of their perks to help ordinary Guineans, our leaders ask us to make an effort. It is unacceptable to raise fuel prices like this," said a civil servant who asked not to be named.

Then, there was a story entitled Gunfire linked to jailbreak, not mutiny - Governor.

Whew, that would make me feel better!

There were reports of heavy gunfire in the capital Conakry. "This is simply a jail break and not a mutiny as people have been claiming," El Hadj Sory Djoubate, the Governor of Conakry told reporters.

Eyewitnesses said one group of escapees, armed with guns, turned up at the headquarters of state radio and television where they stripped security guards of their weapons before running off.

This unrest comes in the wake of a revealing article on the poor health of the head of state Gen. Lansana Conté and the political vacuum this is creating.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Instability breeds instability

Instability breeds instability. That's one of the core principles of conflict prevention. Better to prevent a mess than have to clean it up. This is why I oppose militarism. That's why, unlike many on the left, I'm not a big fan even of 'humanitarian interventionism' (an uninvited military operation for purported humanitarian reasons) except in the most extreme cases.

West Africa is a case study in this concept. First, there was a brutal civil war in Liberia. Warlord (and now indicted war criminal) Charles Taylor conquered the entire country, except for the capital Monrovia. West African peacekeepers were sent to protect Monrovia from Taylor's forces. Eventually, Taylor took power anyways, following "free" elections where he promised to take the country back to war if he lost. A few years later, the conflict spilled over into neighboring Sierra Leone. There, Foday Sankoh, a Taylor comrade, led a rebel group which quickly became infamous for some of the most sickening, gratituitous atrocities the 'modern' world has seen. He who lives by the sword dies by the sword. Taylor himself was ousted by another rebel group only two years ago.

Both Sierra Leone and Liberia spent most of the 1990s and early 2000s at war. As a result, there are hundreds of thousands of young people who have known nothing but war and chaos their entire lives. There are tens of thousands of young men who, as mere boys, were forcibly recruited, drugged and commanded to kill. Many were ordered to kill, mutilate or rape their own family members. These tactics were not accidental; they were a conscious effort on the part of rebels to turn the social structure upside down, to force child soldiers to sever all ties with their previous life.

These boys and young men have seen such brutality, much of which they themselves inflicted or were forced to inflict. They are not easy to reintegrate into normal society. Close knit West African villages may not be eager to welcome with open arms people who did such horrible things. Yet these boys and young men are also victims. Many were abducted. Many were drugged before being compelled to commit atrocities.

These countries have all these young men, former soldiers. They have post-traumatic stress syndrome or other mental and emotional problems. They are detested by their former communities. They have known nothing but war. They are used to being in positions of authority, used to getting what they want, when they want, by merely snapping their fingers and flashing their Kalashnakov. And worst of all, they have become desensitized to violence. Combine this with the fact that they have no jobs and they have no skills (because they were at war, rather than in school or learning a trade), no prospects.

This is not a good mixture.

They are a prime recruiting target for troublemakers.

The Liberia conflict spilled over into Sierra Leone, then back to Liberia and then crossed the border into Côte d'Ivoire. Each of those conflicts had their own specific grievances involved but they were made all the more devastating by a large pool of potential recruits. Recruits who had already become detached from and desensitized to the norms of regular society.

Not surprisingly, the human trafficking industry has gotten involved.

Authorities are investigating a Liberian suspected of recruiting child-soldiers to fight in Cote d’Ivoire amid warnings that more and more young ex-combatants are resorting to work as hired guns in West African trouble spots, says Human Rights Watch, according to IRIN.

The report, based on interviews with ex-combatants from more than a decade of West African wars, described the mercenaries as “roving warriors”, or an “insurgent diaspora”, who will continue to fuel regional conflict unless the issue of providing an alternative livelihood is addressed.

Furthermore, it's been reported that Young veterans of West Africa's wars are being recruited to fight new conflicts across the region, according to a report by [HRW]. The New York-based group says poverty is forcing thousands of young men and boys to become mercenaries.

The report warns war will continue to be seen as an economic opportunity unless alternatives are provided... It says many of the migrant fighters began their military careers as child soldiers, abducted to fight in wars, and many are guilty of war crimes and atrocities... Economic hardship and the failure of disarmament efforts have led the men to fight for money and looting opportunities in fresh conflicts further afield, the report says. A veteran of several wars in West Africa said he fought to support his parents. "The commanders said we could pay ourselves, which meant looting," he told Human Rights Watch.

Instability breeds instability.

This is why the International Crisis Group is warning that the worst may be yet to come in the Côte d'Ivoire conflict.

The Ivorian disaster has been exacerbated by political considerations: notably fanatical xenophobia whipped up by the government, its partisans and the hate media in the commercial capital Abidjan.

The ICG notes that: The protagonists of the Ivorian crisis are adept at pleasing diplomats by giving the impression they are cooperating under the peace process framework. However, this has nearly always meant one step forward, two steps back. The explosion of violence that follows a period of relative calm has become more serious each time. Not many more cycles will be needed before the dynamic morphs into qualitatively worse violence, probably including large-scale ethnic cleansing.

It carries an ominous warning for Côte d'Ivoire's neighbors: That would be a tragedy for more than Côte d'Ivoire: Guinea, Mali, and Burkina Faso would likely be drawn into a regional conflict. The greatest damage could be done to Liberia's fragile peace process, which is meant to culminate in presidential and legislative elections just four days before Côte d'Ivoire's scheduled presidential vote.

Fortunately, there is a fair amount of international attention on Côte d'Ivoire. The UN and African Union need to keep pressure on the parties to the conflict, especially the Ivorian government, to keep to their promises.

Other related articles and links:
-Children at War: the Lost Generation, The Globalist.

-Rebels With a Cause, but No Training, IRIN.

-How Dangerous are the Loyalist Militias, IRIN.

-War Child, 'Helping Innocent Victims of War'

Sunday, May 15, 2005

European Parliament rejects Gnassingbé II's ascension

A few weeks ago, Togo held dubious presidential elections in Togo following which Gnassingbé II (aka: Faure Gnassingbé, son of the late military dictator) was proclaimed winner. The elections were only held after the Togolese military tried to impose Gnassingbé II as head of state.

This change of heart was not done because the Togolese armed forces suddenly got pangs of guilt or of constitutionalism. They did so because of intense African and international pressure to do so; such pressure was particularly powerful because Togo is heavily dependent on foreign aid.

Fortunately, the rigged election did not fool the European Union. The Euro Parliament rejected the legitimacy of the farce and refused to recognize the 'legitimacy of authorities resulting from the poll,' according to Radio France Internationale. The resolution 'underlined that the elections did not respond to established conditions necessary for the resumption' of European aid.

The Euro Parliament also called for a national conference involving political parties and civil society.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Aid slow to reach war-ravaged regions of Guinea

In late 2000, a mysterious group of dissidents based in Liberia called the MFDG invaded Guinea with the purported goal of overthrowing the regime of Gen. Lansana Conté. The so-called MFDG's incursion destroyed many settlements, including the village of a very good friend of mine.

The MFDG were backed by former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, now an indicted war criminal. The MFDG was never heard of before the invasion and after it was repelled, it's never been heard of since.

Nevertheless, the massive devastation caused by the invasions didn't go away so quickly. And as this piece from the Inter Press Service points out that aid to affected areas has been elusive.

According to Guinea's finance ministry, millions of dollars worth of damage was inflicted in the course of fighting in late 2000. There were many promises of international assistance but, as in so many other places, they proved empty.

"When the rebel attacks took place, we welcomed the Liberian and Sierra Leonean refugees, hoping that the international community would come to our aid. Today, we realise that it was nothing more than promises because we are still short of everything in this village," explains one nurse.

Ari Toubo Ibrahim, the representative in Guinea of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, says disturbances in the south have had a knock-on effect as far as regional food security is concerned.

"The southern part of Guinea had always produced an agricultural surplus, especially in rice, and today it is seeking to make up its losses. It's a terrible situation, not only for Guinea but also for villages in surrounding countries which are supplied from the (southern) region," he told IPS.

"Around [the large southeastern city of] Nzerekore alone, there are about 300,000 people native to the area who are living in true deprivation."

He points out the civil war in Côte d'Ivoire, which is adjacent to southeastern Guinea, has only further taxed a region whose resources were already stretched by the presence of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Bakassi dispute

Let's hope that the territorial dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon over the oil-rich Bakassi doesn't end the same way as the the Ethiopia-Eritrea insanity, one of the stupidest, most pointless wars in recent history.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Guinea's national stadium threatened with sanction

Bad news for Guinean fans. The international soccer federation FIFA is threatening to suspend the use of the 28 September stadium in Conakry. Guinéenews reports that the country's main stadium is "not in conformity with international norms."

A FIFA inspection team is expected to visit the national stadium on June 1. Guinean officials are reportedly hurrying to make improvements before the delegation visits.

If my memory is correct, the Syli national, Guinea's national team, hasn't lost a competitive game at home since 1994.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Sometimes in April

For those of you living in the US, PBS affiliates will this month be showing Sometimes in April. The film about the Rwandan genocide follows a Hutu family torn apart by the genocide, the film also explores the world's response to the atrocities and the Rwandan struggle to find justice and accountability 10 years later.

[Click here for local listings]

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Sierra Leonian in US university inspires other students

The Glens Falls' Post-Star (upstate NY) did a great article on a Skidmore College student from Sierra Leone named Joseph Kaifala. He and his father were caught in Liberia in 1989 when that country's civil war was provoked by now-indicted war criminal Charles Taylor. Kaifala and his father spent six months in a Liberian prison, even though the son was only six years old at the time. Two years later, the war spread across into Sierra Leone; Kaifala and his family (minus his father who'd died) fled to neighboring Guinea.

Years later, he received and accepted a scholarship to attend a United World College high school in Norway, where he initiated his own humanitarian group -- Beatitude International -- as a way to help those whom he left behind physically, but not mentally, writes The Post-Star's Jarrett Warshaw.

Once every term, Kaifala would visit his homeland to deliver donated clothing, money and medical supplies to children. He continues the charitable practice now from Skidmore, where he is a first-year student.

His story has inspired other Skidmore students to help.

"I heard his story and thought we should do something on campus," said Vanessa Ruiz, a third-year student and president of the Newman Catholic club. "A lot of people at Skidmore don't fully realize what's going on in the world. This is a person-to-person relationship, not something you can get out of a textbook."

With the help of Ruiz, the Newman club and the group's adviser, Catholic chaplain Catherine Minnery, Kaifala organized a clothing drive for students to give unwanted clothing to Beatitude International, she said.

"What I marvel at is how people experience these horrible situations and somehow come away hopeful," said Minnery, who coordinated charity efforts with St. Peter's Church in Saratoga Springs and the College of Saint Rose in Albany.

And that is probably the most admirable thing of all.

Note: subscribers to The Post-Star online can read the article here. Others can read it here, though it may only be available on Tuesday May 10.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Le pays maudit

Things are not going very well in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly in the eastern part of the country.

Chaos. Brutality. The meddling of foreign countries. Just like in the 1960s.

There's even been an apparent resurgence of secessionist rumblings in the mineral rich Katanga province. The attempted secession of Katanga in the 40 years ago caused much instability in the country.

In fact, one of those arrested and accused of plotting the province's breaking away was none other than André Tshombe, son of the infamous 60s Katanga secessionist leader Moïses.

I wonder if it might be better to break up the DRC into multiple countries. As politically incorrect as it may be, the fact of the matter is that the DRC is enormous, approximately the size of western Europe (which is over a dozen countries). Given its insane post-independence history, which was not helped by its even more destructive experience with brutal Belgian colonialism, it's worth exploring if smaller units might be actually be able to be governed. It may not be politically correct to ask the question, but given the nightmarish situation in the eastern DRC, perhaps non-traditional solutions need to be considered.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Once a war criminal scumbag, always a war criminal scumbag

Kudos to this editorial in today's Washington Post.

The paper calls on President Bush, who is meeting today with Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo, to pressure the West African leader to hand over Charles Taylor. As you probably know, Taylor is a former warlord who became dictator of Liberia and is now an indicted war criminal. Taylor also helped destabilize Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire and is accused of involvement in a recent assassination attempt against Guinea's leader Gen. Lansana Conté.

As part of the deal that saw Taylor renounce power, Nigeria gave him asylum and imm/punity on the condition that he not cause any more trouble. In addition to the assassination attempt against Conté, he allegedly traveled to Burkina Faso the next month to meet one of the candidates he is sponsoring in the Liberian elections. Mr. Taylor hopes to install a crony as Liberian president so that he can return to the country and renew his regional warfare, according to the paper.

President Obasanjo feels bound by the promise he gave to the indicted war criminal. But however pragmatic that promise may have been at the time, Taylor clearly hasn't lived up to his part of the bargain and thus Obasanjo should no longer feel under any obligation to a man who is the number one source of instability in West Africa.

The Post writes: Mr. Obasanjo has taken the position that he cannot break his promise of asylum to Mr. Taylor unless he is presented with irrefutable proof of his continued criminal behavior or is petitioned by a Liberian government -- unlikely precisely because of the warlord's influence. Mr. Bush can break this logjam by telling Mr. Obasanjo, in public as well as in private, that the United States is convinced that Mr. Taylor has violated his agreement and must be turned over to the court. He can also commit strong American support to a U.N. Security Council resolution that with the support of the current council chair, Denmark, would call on Nigeria to deliver Mr. Taylor to the court. Nigeria's president has no interest in offering further cover to a criminal who aspires to plunge his region into chaos.

Charles Taylor is a war criminal who has destabilized much of West Africa and continues to do so. President Obasanjo is hopefully smart enough to realize that if Taylor continues his activities from the safety of asylum, it's going to affect Nigeria sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Obasanjo and the presidency

The political editor of Nigeria's The Vanguard newspaper comments on speculation that the country's president, Olesegun Obasanjo, may try to extend his term in office.

Obasanjo is one of the rare people to serve both as a military ruler and a democratically-elected leader of a country, but not continuously. (Mali's Amadou Toumani Touré is the only other one I can think of). He's helped usher in an era where the thought of a military coup, long the predominant feature of Nigerian politics, is barely talked of.

If Obasanjo really wants to help democracy take root in Nigeria, the best thing he could do is NOT run again and NOT extend his term in office.

The Vanguard editor explains:

But history teaches us that in 1979 when Obasanjo had the best of reasons and excuses to prolong his stay as Nigeria’s [military] ruler, he didn’t. So, the question is, what makes it an attractive option now? Some sympathisers tell Nigerians that there is the need to ensure continuity and preserve the legacies of Obasanjo. To that, some immediately charge back, what are the legacies? Others say handing over in 2007 would amount to handing over at a time when Nigeria and Nigerians need him the most. To that critics equally ask: While he was in charge, did he endear himself to the masses?

The worst thing anyone purporting to be a statesman can do is create the impression that he is absolutely indispensible, that the country would fall apart without his munificent and brilliant leadership.

The best gift Nelson Mandela gave to the South African democracy is that he served only a single term. If the country could survive and thrive without a truly great man of his stature, then surely no lesser man in the future can have any excuse to angle for a life presidency.

Obasanjo purports to be not just president of Nigeria, but a pan-African leader. Mandela, Mali's Alpha Oumar Konaré and the late Julius Nyerere of Tanzania were once in a similar position. They left the presidency to others so they could focus on being continental statesmen. Obasanjo would do well to follow their examples. So would Africa and Nigeria.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Strange bedfellows

After a period of admirable voiciferousness, the Bush administration has been fairly quiet recently about the genocide going in Darfur, western Sudan. Now The Los Angeles Times gives a good indication why.

According to the paper, the genocidal regime in Khartoum is now providing key intelligence in the war against terrorism. The al-Qaeda type of terrorism, mind you. Though, many would contend that genocide is the most extreme version of terrorism.

As recently as September, then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell accused Sudan of committing genocide in putting down an armed rebellion in the western province of Darfur. And the administration warned that the African country's conduct posed "an extraordinary threat to the national security" of the United States.

The partnership with Sudan is an odd one. Sudan once harbored Osama bin Laden. But in the late 90s, Sudanese strongman Gen. Omar el-Bashir broke his alliance with the Islamist leader and parliamentary speaker Hassan al-Turabi. Since then, Turabi and the Islamists have been vocal opponents of the Bashir regime. This is why the general has denied any cooperation with the United States.

Responding to an uproar over rumors of collaboration with the administration in late 2001, Bashir told a Khartoum news conference, "I swear in God's name that we have not handed and will not hand in any [terrorism suspects] to the United States."

Criticism of Sudan has been led by an unusual alliance of Christian conservatives and human rights organizations. The latter has long been concerned with the regime's poor human rights record. The former have been particularly angered by the mostly Muslim government's treatment of the mostly Christian south during the long civil war in the region.

The regime recently signed a peace agreement with southern rebels and the civil war in the south is hopefully over. However, many feared that the regime settled the war in the south so it could concentrated its military resources on the genocide in the west.

The regime denies any involvement in the Darfur genocide; naturally, it insists that nothing is taking place except a few unfortunate excesses, inevitable during a little chaos. This, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, including first hand testimony by a Janjaweed militia leader.

Increasing Sudanese cooperation with Washington on some forms of terrorism makes it increasingly unlikely that the Bush administration will press the regime on the more extreme form of terrorism it's complicit in.

Monday, May 02, 2005

The Nigerian legacy in Sierra Leone?

Chippla's blog has often complained about the excessive influence of former military dictators on Nigeria's political scene. Two of them, Olesegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari, were the main contenders in the country's most recent presidential election. The extremely destructive Ibrahim Babangida is considered a leading contender for the 2007 race. Thank goodness Sani Abacha is no longer on this Earth.

Could Sierra Leone's fragile sort-of democracy be headed down the same path? It will if Valentine Strasser has anything to say about it. In 1992, then Capt. Strasser overthrew Gen. Joseph Momoh under the pretext of ending the civil war that had started the previous year. At 25, he was the youngest African head of state. He so violently repressed a late 1992 coup attempt that it led to international condemnation. He promised to hold democratic elections but was overthrown by even more junior army officials when it was thought that Strasser was going to reneg on the elections promise.

Now, he reportedly wants to contest next year's presidential poll.

He is so beloved by his countrymen that In 2001, the Sierra Leone government urged people to stop jeering and throwing stones at him, notes the BBC.