• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Sahel Blog. The views expressed are the author's own.
Hissène Habré, a French-educated political scientist, rebel commander, and politician, took power in a coup in 1982 and ruled Chad until rebel forces led by Idriss Déby overthrew him in 1990. Habré has been living in Senegal ever since. Pressure to put him on trial has come from numerous forces: groups within Chad, officials in Senegal and Belgium, the United Nations, the European Parliament, the African Union, and others.
For years, however, some observers felt that Senegalese authorities were stalling on the question of whether they would try Mr. Habré. Human Rights Watch has a chronology of the case here, an overview here, and a Q&A here.
Last week marked an important event in the case: the inauguration of special tribunal called the Extraordinary Chambers, in Dakar. There are a number of points to be made about this event. For one thing, as Voice of America reports, “this will be the first time a world leader is prosecuted for crimes against humanity by the government of another country.” The case will have major ramifications for future attempts to try former heads of state.
Second, there are questions to ponder about how Senegalese politics interacted with the trial. VOA quotes Reed Brody, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch, framing the shift in Senegalese authorities’ behavior on the case as a result of the change in administration from President Abdoulaye Wade – in office 2000-2012 – to new President Macky Sall.
“In 10 months, Macky Sall and [Justice Minister] Aminata Toure and the government of Senegal have moved this case more than Abdoulaye Wade had done in 12 years. Finally, the tenacity and the perseverance of the victims is being been rewarded by this government,” [Brody] said.
What happens next? It’s hard to tell – AFP says that no details are publicly available about when the trial will start. RFI (French) gives a broad timeline: fifteen months (maximum) for investigations; seven months for the trial; and five months for appeals. That could mean that there is no final verdict until May 2015. In the meantime, this will be an important case to follow.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Sahel Blog. The views expressed are the author's own.
In addition to the nightmarish physical dangers that wartime brings, there is a conceptual danger that arises for people watching Mali at this moment: the danger of being swept up in a triumphalist narrative of good versus evil.
It is one thing to know, in theory, that an American or Western European military can take territory rapidly from rebel groups. It is another to see, even from a distance, a display of Western military might unfold – to be shocked and awed by French bombs and soldiers reconquering in some 18 days what some observers had thought might take months to do, to see the French sweep Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal without even seeming to break a sweat.
It is one thing to know, in theory, that the early phases of military interventions like these often prove popular with both domestic constituencies and liberated populations. It is another to see French flags waving in Bamako, and President Francois Hollande receive a rockstar reception. There is a danger in a moment like this of falling prey to some kind of intoxication, and pretending there is no hangover to follow.
To their credit, many voices in the international media are sounding quite sober. One hears a drumbeat of stories about ethic tensions and violence in reconquered territories, particularly Timbuktu. In report after report, one reads of Tuaregs and Arabs fleeing their homes and abandoning their shops, afraid that they will be treated as Islamist sympathizers and hurt. One reads of Tuaregs and Arabs, even less lucky, who were caught and assaulted.
At the same time one finds recurring allegations that Malian government soldiers have tortured or summarily executed captured Islamist fighters. Laudably, politicians like Sadou Harouna Diallo, the official mayor of Gao, have promised security to Arabs and Tuaregs if they return – but evidence suggests that such promises might prove hard to keep.
My fear is that actions today are sowing the seeds of conflicts tomorrow. Historical memory – and northern Mali already has memories of ethnic violence – can play a central role in generating inter-communal violence and rebellion. What memories are being made now? If efforts at national reunification and reconstruction falter, bitterness among northern communities, combined with un-addressed grievances, could plunge Mali back into crisis a few years from now.
So I am afraid that a sense of triumphalism and a focus on preparing for elections will distract much-needed attention from the humanitarian needs of people affected by the conflict. My policy recommendations are simple to state, though I realize they would be less simple to carry out: focus on feeding people, resettling them, and keeping them from killing each other. I am thinking of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
I realize that many people, and for good reason, feel a sense of urgency concerning the question of what formal political arrangement Mali will establish now. What legitimacy the interim government of President Dioncounda Traoré currently has will likely only diminish over time. And I realize that plans are already in motion for elections in July.
But achieving a durable peace in Mali will take more than an election – it will require a durable solution to the economic and humanitarian problems of northern Mali. There is no better time to start working on those problems than the present. It is possible to address humanitarian concerns and prepare for elections at the same time. I am, moreover, recommending that those who make decisions and distribute money give priority to the former.
To give a numerical sense of the scale of humanitarian crisis in Mali, an estimated 380,000 people have already been displaced by the conflict and the UN predicts that as many as 700,000 additional Malians could be displaced. That would mean, for a country of around 16 million, that more than one in sixteen people would be displaced.
The UN also says that “over 4.6 million people in Mali are at risk of food insecurity as a result of climatic hazards and insecurity.” 4.6 million is approaching 1 in 3. This is a reminder that Mali would be in bad shape even if there had been no war. And the war, adding tragedy to tragedy, has compounded the food crisis.
As Monitor correspondent Peter Tinti has written, applying narrow counter-terrorism paradigms to the situation in Mali is a mistake. He warns, “Any intervention not delicately calibrated to local socio-political dynamics risks exacerbating the crisis, undermining the very goals policymakers aim to achieve.”
I agree with him. And what I have written here does not even begin to get at the question of what formal political arrangements might evolve in each locality. But I would submit that addressing the immediate needs of the victims of this conflict – their needs for food, shelter, and security – is one indispensable building block of any policy with a hope of success.
A version of this post originally appeared on the blog, "Africa in Transition." The views expressed are the author's own.
On Jan. 30, 2013, South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe pledged to give half of the income generated by his family assets to charity. The country's ruling African National Congress (ANC) issued a press release congratulating Motsepe.
“This unprecedented act of good will in South Africa gives expression to our view of the patriotic bourgeoisie whose outlook reflects a deep understanding of development challenges and limitations facing South Africa and its people.”
“Patriotic bourgeoisie” is a term of art. The concept behind it was first articulated by Nelson Mandela and then more fully developed by his successor as South African president, Thabo Mbeki, in 1997. The concept is that just as political power was transferred from the white minority to the black majority, so, too, should economic power.
A black capitalist class would contribute to the poor black majority through racial solidarity. Capitalist profit seeking would be harnessed to improving the opportunities and living standards of the poor. Race would trump class. The creation of such a “patriotic bourgeoisie” was an important underpinning of a policy of Black Economic Empowerment. It was also seen as a response to the ANC’s critics on the left that a “liberation” government was following a pro-capitalist economic policy.
Mr. Motsepe would certainly appear to be a shining example of the “patriotic bourgeoisie.” He is commonly regarded as the richest black South African. He has taken the “Giving Pledge” pioneered by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. Motsepe has praised by Buffett “for the advice and wisdom he shared with me in Omaha during August 2012 and for inspiring thousands of people worldwide to give and care for the less fortunate.”
He is closely tied to the ANC on many levels. His sister is the wife of Cyril Ramaphosa, nominated by the ANC for the position of deputy president for the 2015 elections. If the ANC retains its present dominant position, he is likely to be a future president of South Africa. Mr. Ramaphosa’s net worth is estimated by Forbes at $675 million, making him also a part of the “patriotic bourgeoisie, though not nearly as rich as Motsepe.
Motsepe is the founder of African Rainbow Minerals, a mining company, though now he has a variety of business interests. He was born into a poor family in Soweto, the huge black township outside Johannesburg.
According to Forbes, there are four South African billionaires. They are Nicky Oppenheimer, worth an estimated $6.4 billion; Johann Rupert, worth an estimated $5.7 billion; Christoffel Wiese, worth an estimated $3.7 billion; and Motsepe, worth an estimated $2.65 billion. All are white except Motsepe. All have highly diverse interests and holdings. That said, Oppenheimer wealth is associated with diamonds; Rupert with banking, mining, and luxury goods (headquartered in Switzerland); and Wiese with consumer retail, especially Shoprite, a huge supermarket chain.
A version of this post originally appeared on the blog, "Manila2Vanilla." The views expressed are the author's own.
The market was the epicenter of the nation’s economy, providing goods to the entire country, as well as the neighboring Congo and Rwanda. Food products, manufactured goods, beverages, clothing, construction materials, and equipment sold at the market generated about $4 million per day.
For the past week, all of that activity has been at a standstill.
Burundi doesn’t often make an appearance on the world stage. Nestled in East Africa between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Tanzania, it’s one of the smallest countries on the continent, about the size of Maryland. It is also one of the poorest. The average Burundian makes about $600 a year. Decades of ethnic conflict between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi have set back the economy considerably.
While its 10.5 million people have enjoyed peace and steady economic growth in the past few years, signs abound that the fire has weakened the country’s already fragile economy.
Though the fire was spotted at 6:30 a.m., the fire department didn’t arrive until one hour later, at which point they passively watched the blaze mount up to 65 feet tall, while attempting to retrieve non-existent water from their pumps. The fire started to diminish at 1 p.m. when neighboring Rwanda sent helicopters in with buckets of water.
But by then it was too late. The market was already demolished, along with millions of dollars worth of merchandise and local currency.
Of the 5,000 merchants employed by the Central Market, only 10% had their products insured. Taxation up of to 53 percent on high-volume bank accounts meant that many merchants stored life savings in cash at their market stalls. Most of that money has been burnt to ash.
Alongside dozens of other merchants, one woman ran into the fire with her baby strapped to her back in an attempt to retrieve 500 million Burundian Francs ($312,000) she had kept in her stand. She and her baby died in the blaze.
Burundi’s inflation, normally 11.8%, is expected to skyrocket further. Banks and exchange companies are reluctant to part with United States dollars, a currency heavily relied on for its stability and necessary to conduct business with Congo.
Signs indicate that Burundi’s currency is already headed towards a crash. The day before the Central Market fire, the exchange rate was 1515 BIF to 1 USD. Today the rate is 1572 BIF.
Further exacerbating inflation is the limited availability of goods. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to acquire food products and manufactured goods. Prices have soared since the fire. Before the fire, for example, a pair of mangoes was 1,000 BIF. One week after the fire, the price was 4,000 BIF.
The country-wide transportation system has also been affected. The main station with bus lines running throughout the country and neighboring countries was previously located at the market. It has now been relocated at the edge of town, making it difficult to access and causing a decline in the number of passengers. Trips throughout the country and the region have decreased, inevitably leading to a decrease in transport of goods and trading revenue.
All of these factors will devastate Burundi’s nascent economy.
“What we have now is a lot of desperate people, willing to do desperate things,” says a facilities manager based in Bujumbura who asked that his name not be used.
In a country familiar with violence, corruption, and stifling political dialogue, distrust runs high and rumors abound as to the cause of the fire, now widely believed to be arson.
Bujumbura’s Central Market fire was just one of many fires which have demolished Burundi’s markets in recent years. In January 2012, Kamenge Market in northern Bujumbura caught fire. In 2011, Kayogoro Market and Nyanza-Lac Market in the southern Makamba Province, as well as Bururi Market in Bururi Province all witnessed fires. And in December 2010, Mutaho Market in the central Gitega Province was destroyed by a fire.
Though market fires are common in Burundi, people are struggling to understand the motivations behind the Central Market fire.
“Whatever someone was hoping to gain by this was just plain stupid because the economic repercussions are immense,” says the facilities manager.
Like many Burundians, he hopes the country will bounce back from the fire, rather than fall into the kind of chaos the country has seen during less peaceful times.
• A version of this post appeared on the blog "Freedom at Issue." The views expressed are the author's own.
A complex series of events in recent months has transformed the vast region of Northern Mali from a site of occasional, low-intensity ethnic conflict within an otherwise functional democracy into a lawless arena for competition among rival militant groups.
The degeneration began with a January 2012 rebellion by ethnic Tuareg separatists. Although their grievances can be traced back at least to the French colonial period, the immediate catalyst for the present uprising seems to have been the return of battle-hardened Tuareg fighters from Libya, where they had fought for the ousted government of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. As the new conflict wore on in February and March, there was frustration within the Malian military over the government’s perceived inability to aid its own troops and stop the uprising in the north. Mutiny and a coup ensued, leading to disarray in the country’s leadership. President Amadou Toumani Touré was forced into hiding. Amid this chaos on the government side, the rebel National Movement for an Independent Azawad (MNLA) was able to make unprecedented gains in the northern region. On April 6, the MNLA proclaimed the creation of an independent Tuareg state, declaring, “Mali is an anarchic state. Therefore we have gathered a national liberation movement to put in an army capable of securing our land and an executive office capable of forming democratic institutions.”
Armed conflict makes for strange bedfellows. As the MNLA captured more territory, it formed a partnership with the enigmatic Salafist militant group Ansar Dine. Frequently, Ansar Dine would enter cities that had already been captured by the MNLA, tear down the Azawad flag, and raise a black Salafist flag in its place. Eventually the MNLA realized that Ansar Dine had made off with its revolution.
Although the region’s borders were already poorly monitored, the breakdown of order has created an especially permissive environment for the trafficking of arms, drugs, and human beings in the region, and some armed groups have engaged in kidnappings. Meanwhile, Ansar Dine and its arbitrary application of a crude form of Sharia (Islamic law) have devastated the local populations and their centuries-old Islamic cultural heritage. Numerous residents have endured lashings after being accused of smoking, drinking, and inappropriate relations with the opposite sex. Those who dare to protest such abuse have also been detained and whipped. In at least one case, a couple was stoned to death by Islamist militants for supposedly having children out of wedlock. Nearly 400,000 people have fled or been displaced from the region. Increasingly grave food and water shortages only compound these problems, as do reports of recruitment of child soldiers and the presence of the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram.
The brutal strain of Islamism, the complete disintegration of human rights, and the attacks on cultural monuments—including the mausoleums of revered Islamic scholars and the Sidi Yahya mosque—have prompted inevitable comparisons to the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. Columbia University professor Gregory Mann has warned against such analogies, particularly if they are used to justify an ill-considered foreign intervention. However, it seems clear that an entrenched Ansar Dine, along with its allies, would continue to have a profoundly destructive effect on Northern Mali and its entire population.
Indecision among the Malian government and international actors including the United Nations and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has held up the deployment of a standby force. Algeria, whose military is one of the most powerful in the region, seems reluctant to abandon diplomacy for armed force, even though seven Algerian diplomats have been kidnapped in Northern Mali. In the absence of help from their government and the international community, local residents have begun forming militias to protect themselves from Ansar Dine and the other militant factions, but they could serve to exacerbate the region’s human rights problems and ethnic divisions. Reports have already emerged that members of the militia group Ganda Koy are attacking and killing Tuaregs. A new government of national unity was formed in the capital today, though it remains unclear whether this government will be more successful than its predecessor in restoring constitutional rule to either the north or the south.
If the crisis is to be resolved, ECOWAS, the United Nations, and democratic states more broadly will have to develop a coordinated message and strategy. Each day that they fail to do so brings more strife and misery for the people of Northern Mali. The country’s neighbors have much to lose from the status quo, and much to gain from a successful restoration of democratic rule. Indeed, the situation offers a perfect opportunity for countries like Senegal to remind the world that vibrant democracies are emerging in West Africa and are capable of resilience in the face of perennial threats like ethnic unrest and Islamist militancy.
As events have unfolded, there has been a tendency among some foreign observers to view the north as a Tuareg region, raising the possibility of a settlement that would leave the MNLA in charge there after the ouster of Islamist extremist groups. In fact the region’s population is composed of several ethnicities, including Fula, Songhay, and others, and the idea of a united, democratic, multiethnic Mali has not lost its appeal. By means of social media, Malians of all backgrounds have been coming together to reclaim their national motto: “one people, one goal, one faith (un peuple, un but, une foi).” As the international community works with the Malian government to address the crisis, all parties should bear in mind the desires of the public, and the likelihood that a Mali united would be stronger, safer, more stable, and more prosperous than a Mali divided.
– Brendan Harrison is a Program Associate at Freedom House.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, www.sahelblog.wordpress.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
Reporting on shari’a law and groups who attempt to impose their version of it often leans toward the sensational. This tendency appears to reflect the views of many Western journalists, and much of their audience, that shari’a is barbaric, violent, and misogynist, and its application trivial and arbitrary. Negative Western views on Islamic law have, to put it mildly, a long history; for just one example, take Max Weber’s notion of “kadijustiz,” whichThe Max Weber Dictionary defines (p. 136) as “an irrational type of justice focused on the single case.” Kadi/qadi is Arabic for judge.
I mention this tendency in the media not because I want to make an apology for those who impose shari’a but because I believe that news coverage can blur our sense of context and cause us to misread the political relationships between those who apply a version of shari’a and those to whom it is applied. Reading coverage of shari’a in the news – coverage that tends to follow a model established in reports on Afghanistan, and extended to Somalia – one might easily get the impression that shari’a is simply an alternation of cruel acts and ridiculous ones. One moment the Islamists are stoning a woman, the next they are banning soccer. What this kind of coverage misses is how shari’a fits into the systematic attempts at state-building that groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan, al Shabab in Somalia, and Ansar Dine in Mali pursue. (Comparing such groups is fraught with peril, but we can at least establish these commonalities between them: they are all interested in shari’a and state-building, and the media has emphasized the brutality of shari’a when discussing all of them. Indeed the comparison may be most apt when we are talking about the media, rather than about events on the ground.)
With this in mind, recent reports on shari’a in Mali begin to seem contradictory. VOA writes:
Residents of northern Mali say Islamist militant groups currently running parts of the region are trying to win hearts and minds with an odd mix of punishment and charity.
The groups carry out harsh corporal punishment they say the religion requires, while at the same time doling out cash and other gifts.
Note how mixing punishment with charity – or could we say mixing law with social services, which are core functions of any state? – is described as “odd.” Note how corporal punishment is marked as motivated by “religion,” yet “doling out cash and other gifts” is not, even though charity is fundamental to Islam. Whipping a couple for having premarital sex, the article implies, was “shocking.” Rewarding the couple with money and gifts after they married was simply a way of trying to win the poor young man “over to their way of thinking.” Does this reward have no religious significance?
I am not saying that members of Ansar Dine are motivated solely by piety and that political calculation does not shape their thinking; quite the contrary. But is it a stretch to view all of these actions – the punishments and the charity, the whippings and the gifts – as part of an effort to impose a system seen by its architects as internally consistent, politically effective, and religiously proper?
The political opportunism of Ansar Dine’s leader Iyad Ag Ghali has been well documented, but my impression is that at least some of Ansar Dine’s leaders and fighters take piety quite seriously. Let’s look at AFP’s article “Wine, Women and Song Tempt Mali’s Islamists.” It describes the Ansar Dine delegation’s reaction to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, where they met with regional mediators and with representatives of rival group the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA, a secular Tuareg-led group fighting for the independence of northern Mali). One could read the article as exposing Ansar Dine’s delegates as country bumpkins fighting to keep their pants on in the big city. But from the article it seems that it was Ansar Dine’s delegates who mentioned the “test” they faced to AFP’s reporter, and not the reporter who caught them in the grip of temptation. Perhaps they brought up the test to emphasize that they were passing it. The delegates scrutinized what they ate, where they prayed, and how their environment affected them; these are men who care about piety, or at least want observers to believe they do.
Back in northern Mali, reporters tell us, people don’t want shari’a. But the reporting is self-contradictory enough that it becomes difficult to tell what the situation is. People flout Ansar Dine’s rulings, we learn. And yet we also learn that people live in fear of “fighters they say carry arms everywhere, from the market to the mosque.” The people are tired and may soon revolt, we hear. But we also hear that “living conditions in Gao have improved somewhat since early April…The hospital was looted in April but is functioning again under Islamist protection.” It would be reasonable to conclude from these various reports that there is real chaos in the north, and deep division among the population. We could also conclude that Ansar Dine enjoys at least some support; surely hospitals, aid, and a form of law have benefited some civilians.
The media narrative about places like Afghanistan, Somalia, and Mali has often boiled down to, “Good local Muslims just want peaceful, ‘traditional’ Islam, but the bad outsider Muslims with guns want to go back to the seventh century.” I find narratives like that too simple. Politics is complicated, and understanding it is too, particularly when information about a locality is so limited and confusing.
In previous posts, I have referred to Ansar Dine’s approach in northern Mali as “law-and-order Islamism.” I stand by that. A civilian population terrorized by men with guns may not always distinguish between different groups with different worldviews. Indeed, some of the residents quoted in the linked articles above seem to lump the MNLA and Ansar Dine into the same general category of thugs. But some residents will make a distinction, and Ansar Dine’s approach – which, I will reiterate, at least attempts to be internally consistent – seems to win some support by offering a form of law-and-order, backed by concrete social services. The MNLA, in contrast, has sometimes offered only chaos and suffering. Tellingly, it is the MNLA that has launched a campaign of reconciliation with local populations, not Ansar Dine.
In case there is any doubt about my own views, I think women should be allowed to make their own choices about fashion and sex, that youth should be allowed to watch and play games, that people should have religious freedom. I find the situation in northern Mali upsetting. But if news coverage of shari’a only provokes our indignation and not our reflection, we miss the political context, and we risk our ability to understand the complexity of religious life in a place like northern Mali.
• A version of this post appeared on the blog "Freedom at Issue" on July 12. The views expressed are the author's own.
The right to form associations, clubs, and other groups, as well as to meet or talk with people individually without government interference, is identified as a fundamental freedom under Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is an essential component of any society. This freedom can be exercised by practicing one’s faith with fellow believers, forming labor unions and other civic groups, peacefully protesting unjust government policies, or simply forming human connections, in person or online, on issues of common interest. But in more than half of the world, this right is regularly infringed upon by governments, especially when it takes a form that antidemocratic regimes find threatening.
Today, on Global Freedom of Association Day, we highlight 10 of the most ridiculous ways in which the world’s more repressive governments have restricted freedom of association and assembly:
Watching the news: Punishable in Zimbabwe
Activists who gathered in Harare to watch television coverage of the Arab Spring uprisings last year were convicted of planning to foment a similar revolt in Zimbabwe. While the judge conceded that watching videos of the protests wasn’t a crime, he argued that the group aimed to stir up antigovernment sentiment by playing them. After several days of deliberation, the court decided not to imprison the six activists, but slapped each with a $500 fine and 420 hours of community service.
Walking to work: Punishable in Uganda
Activists for Change (A4C), a nonprofit group formed last April in Kampala, organized a “walk to work” campaign to protest rising food and fuel prices. The government called the walks a form of illegal assembly, and deployed security forces to break up the actions. Although some participants responded by throwing stones, according to Human Rights Watch, police and soldiers fired indiscriminately at both violent and nonviolent walkers, as well as journalists and bystanders.
Talking on your cell phone: Punishable in North Korea
North Korea is arguably the world’s most repressive state, and freedom of association, like other freedoms, is not respected there. However, the country hit a new low following the recent death of longtime leader Kim Jong-il, when authorities announced that anyone caught using a cell phone during the 100-day mourning period would be punished as “war criminals.”
Complaining when your land is stolen: Punishable in Cambodia
Objecting when commercial logging or development projects force you off your land is now cause for arrest in Cambodia, as individuals who dared to protest recent government-backed land grabs face punishment. Land disputes have reportedly affected at least 400,000 Cambodians. In one case in May, a group of women were convicted of “illegally obtaining land” after they attempted to rebuild their own homes in a peaceful demonstration.
Waving a rainbow flag: Punishable in Russia
Authorities in St. Petersburg recently passed a law that bans the promotion of “gay propaganda.” Police wasted no time in putting the measure into action. On May 1, they arrested 17 people for displaying rainbow flags, suspenders, and pins. Others have been held in custody for wearing badges with pink triangles, and one woman was arrested for holding a rainbow-like packet of colored felt-tip pens.
Women wearing white: Punishable in Cuba
Nineteen members of the Ladies in White, a prominent dissident group formed by the wives and mothers of political prisoners, were detained on March 17 as they prepared to march toward the city center. Three were released without facing charges. The next day, 36 members were stopped by police as they walked to church. After the service, another 22 were held in police custody.
Choosing your faith: Punishable (by execution) in Iran
The Islamic Republic’s constitution purportedly protects members of recognized minority faiths—Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians—so long as they do not proselytize. However, Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who converted to Christianity as a teenager and claims he has never been a practicing Muslim, was convicted of apostasy in 2010 and is facing execution for refusing to recant his faith. Adherents of the unrecognized Baha’i faith, who form Iran’s largest non-Muslim minority, enjoy virtually no rights under the law and are banned from practicing their religion.
Praying in public: Punishable in China
Unregistered Christian “house churches” in China often have difficulty finding places to worship, so after the evangelical Shouwang Church was forced out of its rental space last year, congregants attempted to hold Easter services outdoors. The planned site was swarmed by police, and dozens of church members were arrested. Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims also face severe restrictions on their ability to pray, study, and protest, and the Falun Gong spiritual movement is strictly prohibited.
Mingling behind closed doors: Punishable in Saudi Arabia
In Saudi Arabia, it is illegal to associate with unrelated individuals of the opposite sex, apparently even if you are in your own home and are neither Saudi nor Muslim. In January, police raided a Christmas prayer gathering held at a private home by a group of Ethiopian Christians in the city of Jeddah. Thirty-five attendees were arrested—including 29 women—and charged with “illicit mingling.”
Just standing around: Punishable in Belarus
Although Belarusian authorities banned demonstrations following the contested reelection of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in December 2010, protesters have used increasingly creative means to express their dissent in public. Nevertheless, they have faced prison time for a series of ludicrous offenses. Five hundred were sentenced to as many as 15 days in jail after holding nonverbal clapping protests over the course of several months. One activist was sentenced this year to 10 days in jail for arranging a protest by teddy bears. The authorities have been forced to use increasingly vague language in their efforts to outlaw these innocuous behaviors. In July 2011, Belarusian officials proposed a ban on gathering in public places to perform a particular “action or inaction,” essentially allowing police to arrest citizens for simply standing around.
Mary McGuire is a senior communications manager who blogs at Freedom House in Washington.
• A version of this post appeared on the blog "A View From the Cave." The views expressed are the author's own.
If you have been following the #SudanRevolts hash tag on Twitter and/or read news sources such as Al Jazeera and DAWNS, the story of popular revolts against austerity measures in Sudan would not be new to you. If you happen to be the majority of people, you likely do not know much more about Sudan than Darfur and maybe heard something in regards to conflict between Sudan and South Sudan. The latter group can be excused because most reporting has ignored Sudan.
Carol Gallo provides a nice summary of what lead to the protests in the UN Dispatch a few weeks ago.
With international economic sanctions and the severing of the country’s oil lifeline in January by newly independent South Sudan, Khartoum is running out of cash fast. According to the Washington Post, “President Omar al-Bashir has said the measures are necessary to pay for his country’s conflict with South Sudan and to replace Sudan’s oil revenues. He said Sudan no longer exports oil.”
Khartoum is also fighting expensive, devastating, and unpopular wars in Darfur (in the west), Blue Nile, Southern Kordofan, and the Nuba Mountains (on the border with South Sudan); and is managing to hang onto an increasingly precarious peace with political opposition in the eastern part of the country. Late last year, students in the east protested the rising cost of living and what they alleged to be electoral fraud.
The current Khartoum demonstrations gained enormous momentum on the sixth day, June 22, after Friday prayers, and by Saturday the hashtag #SudanRevolts sprang alive on Twitter on an international scale. Outside Khartoum, protests have also been reported in the main cities of Sennar, North Kordofan, and El Gezira states. Crowd-sourced maps of protests can be found here and here.
Protesters gathered for mass demonstrations on 29 June to lick their elbows in defiance of NCP vice Chairman Nafie Ali Nafie, who famously indicated that overthrowing the regime is a futile as trying to lick one's elbow.
Despite the growing unrest, the coverage has been rather subdued. Some activists are trying to tie it to Arab Spring, but others are a bit hesitant to make that link. Jeffrey Gettlemen wrote in the New York Times last week:
“When I see tents and a successful control of significant space, an Occupy movement even for just a day or two,” he said, “I will be more willing to think about regime change in the near term.”
Maybe that will happen soon. Maybe it will not. But one thing is clear: Come this Friday, and possibly many Fridays after it, Sudanese protesters will be back on the streets continuing in their struggle to lick their elbows.
On the same day, Mohamed El Dahashan questioned in Foreign Policy why the revolution in Sudan is being ignored.
One possible explanation is "revolution fatigue." Newsrooms may believe their readers are tired of the Arab Spring's various manifestations across the Middle East. Yet last Friday, dozens of international TV channels covered Egyptian president-elect Mohamed Morsi's speech in Tahrir Square (which, though important, was not actually an official inauguration speech). Some even broadcast the entire speech live. So perhaps that particular theory doesn't hold water.
I believe there's another problem: For the past two decades at least, the international media has chosen to designate Sudan's people as global villains. Now the journalists are finding it impossible to backtrack on that position and hail the Sudanese as normal people aspiring for a better life.
He continues by pointing out that the situation may be too complex to adequately convey to an American audience.
What's more, these are complex conflicts, driven by history and oil and phosphate and colonialism and proselytism and internal strife and scheming leaders -- and, yes, often by naive followers, too. Volumes are still being written about Sudan's wars, attempting to shed light on what really happened and why.
It was easier to explain Sudan's conflicts with simple dichotomies. The North-South civil war was invariably reduced to "the Muslim North versus the Christian South." I'm sure you've read this sentence before.
When commentators and writers realized that Darfuris were Muslim too, the Darfur genocide became an "Arab versus African" conflict.
But the global community knows next to nothing about the reality of Sudan.
Though there is something to be said for the trouble with complexity, this argument misses the mark. The international media can continue the narrative that Dahashan points out. If we accept his argument that international media makes Sudan out to be villians, how hard would it be to say that the government of Khartoum has continuously disregarded the rights of people to maintain power and this is yet another example of such actions. This time, Sudanese are taking to the streets in protest.
The issue of complexity, if that story is told, remains and is not addressed. That is another conversation. The problem here is a lack of coverage. A compelling story exists, but the problem is likely what Voll points out to Gettlemen in the NYT. In Arab Spring countries there was a single place to show as the center point for the revolution. It is much more complicated in Sudan. CNN can't camp out cameras in one place.
Though I find even that explanation too simple. There must be something more. A few minute clip can make it onto the television news networks to provide an update on Sudan. For some reason it is not a priority. Given the previous revolutions in the continent, it would seem that news outlets would love to cover these stories. Maybe they do, but the inability to gain access to Sudan is the most significant barrier.
Either way, an important event is happening right now and could certainly get a little more play.
• A version of this post appeared on the blog "A View From the Cave." The views expressed are the author's own.
Yesterday, the White House unveiled a new strategy for Sub Saharan Africa. Though light on actual substance, the policy does indicate an important direction in terms of how the Obama administration views SSA. In short, trade trumps aid.
The document lays out the Four Pillars of the U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa:
- Strengthen democratic institutions
- Spur economic growth, trade, and investment
- Advance peace and security
- Promote opportunity and development
Trade Over Aid
The full text mentions the word "aid" only once* while "trade" is scattered about the strategy 20 times. That makes it a super scientific way of proving that trade is much more important than aid to the White House. Aside from fuzzy math, the report as a whole makes it quite clear that the US views sub-Saharan Africa as a partner rather than a beneficiary. President Obama notes, "two efforts that will be critical to the future of Africa: strengthening democratic institutions and boosting broad-based economic growth, including through trade and investment."
One could also point to the announcement this year that will shift USAID's policies toward supporting more local contractors as further evidence of the trend toward trade. The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is another example of the US committing to ensuring free markets and democratic countries. The latter part of the focus came in to play when Madagascar experienced a bloodless coup in 2009 which was followed by suspension from AGOA.
It seems no coincidence that the report was released at the same time as the Frontiers for Development Conference and the AGOA forum. All seemingly act together to signal both a commitment to sub-Saharan Africa, but a view that puts economic development high on the priority list. Though the Child Survival Call to Action should not be forgotten as an indication of USAID's commitment to delivering programs that ensure child and maternal health.
"AGOA has helped to increase trade and investment and opened new doors of opportunity. It's led to new jobs, the rise of new sectors and new business opportunities for people in every country represented here, as well as the United States," said Secretary of State Clinton at the AGOA Forum. It seemed as if she was everywhere in DC this week.
Yesterday, Clinton addressed the Call to Action event. The focus was on health, something that often resides in the aid column, but Clinton made it clear that there is an economic argument for ensure that every child lives to the age of five.
But we can change the shape of this pyramid if we drive down child mortality, along with investing in girls’ education and improving access to voluntary family planning. It sounds, perhaps, like a paradox, but when fewer children die, people choose to have smaller families, knowing with greater confidence that their children will survive to adulthood.
And then eventually there are more working adults supporting fewer dependents, which makes it easier for a country to make investments that drive sustained economic growth. And with that sustained economic growth, the country will likely be more stable, less prone to political crises, and more apt to become a partner to help solve global problems. So for all these reasons – politically, economically, and morally – we see the benefits of saving children’s lives.
There is little doubt of a development creep that could slowly supplant aid.
Don't forget resilience!
For those of you hoping to have escaped hearing the word resilience, I apologize. The favorite buzz word is absent for the majority of the document, but makes a for a strong finish reminiscent of I'll Have Another blowing past Bodemeister at Churchill Downs.
While continuing to lead the world in response to humanitarian crises in Africa, we will promote and bring to scale resilience policies and programs. In that context, we will work to prevent the weakening or collapse of local economies, protect livestock, promote sustainable access to clean water, and invest in programs that reduce community-level vulnerability to man-made and natural disasters.
If that generic phrasing leaves you feeling empty, you are not alone. There is good reason for building resilience so that individuals, communities and countries can withstand shocks such as changing food prices and drought. However, general sentiments do little to indicate what policies will take place. The upside is that resilience indicates a view of local capability that can be supported as opposed to determining a help dynamic.
Peace Be With You
The plan also looks into ensuring peace and preventing conflict. The Atrocities Prevention Board is an indication towards the direction the US is willing to take. For the most part, the Obama administration leans towards diplomatic solutions for conflicts. It is not a hard rule (ie. Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, etc.), but it is pretty darn close to one when it comes to sub-Saharan Africa. The strategy says:
Prevent Conflict and, Where Necessary, Mitigate Mass Atrocities and Hold Perpetrators Accountable. Consistent with the objectives of Presidential Study Directive-10, we will address atrocity risks at the earliest stage possible to help prevent violence before it emerges, and bolster domestic and international efforts to bring perpetrators to justice. We will also cultivate deeper and broader support among governments and multilateral organizations to work toward the same objectives.
The question of Sudan (and Syria for that matter) must at least be raised. The point of accountability is probably the hardest given that the US is not a signatory of the Rome Statue making it hard to pressure for Bashir to go to the ICC. Diplomatic interventions are taking place to mitigate conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, but it appears there is quite a ways to go before ensuring peace.
Gotta Mention China
Naturally, any report about African development has to mention China. It is generally brought up in the context of competition, which I largely see as a good thing for the development of the continent. Certainly there are problems that have come out of it, look no further than Sudan. AFP's take:
The freshened focus on Africa comes as China increasingly funnels investment toward the continent, seeking to bolster its diplomatic footprint partly as a route to new energy sources. But some analysts worry that China's billions of investment dollars, often spent on infrastructure projects, do not come with the same good governance strings attached as US and European help.
Wrapping it All Up
The strategy itself says very little. The US wants to support economic development, democracy, trade and peace. They could have saved a lot of paper and time just saying that. However, the document is welcome as it provides a general framework that can be applied to whomever assumes leadership following the 2012 elections. President Obama has made only one visit to SSA since assuming office. Given the situation in Sudan, the crisis in the Sahel, Mali's coup and internal strife, the DRCs ongoing problems in the east and Somalia's instability it seems that a second visit is long overdue.
Here is the full PDF version of the US Strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa.
• A version of this post appeared on the blog "Freedom at Issue." The views expressed are the author's own.
This week, US officials will once again welcome one of the world’s most kleptocratic living autocrats: president of Equatorial Guinea Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. What possible reason, you might ask, does the administration have for meeting with a man who has amassed an enormous personal fortune by siphoning the lion’s share of his country’s wealth for himself and his cronies while his citizens are literally starving? We are wondering the same thing.
Teodoro Obiang Nguema seized power in 1979 after deposing and executing his uncle, President Francisco Macías Nguema. Though international pressure compelled President Obiang to establish a multiparty system in 1992, Equatorial Guinea has yet to hold credible elections. He and his Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) remain firmly entrenched in power and justly retain the title as one of the world’s worst human rights abusers. Freedom House has ranked Equatorial Guinea Not Free for the last 29 years in its annual Freedom in the World survey. The utter lack of political rights and civil liberties in Equatorial Guinea puts the country in the same class as abysmal performers such as Sudan, Eritrea, and Somalia.
Although recent constitutional changes, including imposing a two-term limit on the presidency and pardoning a prominent political opponent as well as a number of human rights defenders, could be seen as positive developments, Obiang and his inner circle still run the country with a whip. Political opponents are monitored, harassed, arrested and tortured; ethnic groups that do not belong to Teodoro’s clan are deprived of their political rights and marginalized; and journalists are censored and prosecuted while the parliament and judiciary serve as nothing more than a rubber stamp for the regime. In the most recent showcase of autocratic crazes, in late May, Obiang has named 12 family members and friends, including his two sons and a brother, to the country's new government.
The discovery and exploitation of hydrocarbon resources off Equatorial Guinea’s coast has allowed Obiang to stockpile a vast personal fortune (estimated in 2006 by Forbes to $600 million). While the GDP per capita has reached that of Switzerland, oil revenues have stayed out of the reach for the majority of its citizens. According to the watchdog group Global Witness, 60 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day. The vast majority of Equatorial Guineans hardly have access to clean drinking water and 20 percent of children die before the age of 5—the world’s highest under-5 mortality rate.
Obiangs’s natural instinct to ignore completely his own people is appalling enough. What is more appalling is that in 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hailed President Obiang as a "good friend," despite repeated criticism of his human rights and civil liberties record by the State Department. More recently, in 2009, President Barack Obama posed for an official photograph with President Obiang at a New York reception.
Truth be told, the US has done some work to tackle Obiang’s kleptocratic and egotistic tendencies. Domestically, several federal and congressional investigations led to initiatives to seize his and his family members’ financial and material assets and to prevent further money laundering. Internationally, the US heavily lobbied in 2010 to prevent United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) from adopting the Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences aimed to recognize "scientific achievements that improve the quality of human life."
Still, these are nothing more than a Pyrrhic victory. The United States, together with China, is the biggest cumulative bilateral foreign investor in Equatorial Guinea with investments totaling $12 billion and historically, the US has been one of the largest buyers of their oil. According to the latest publicly available information from January this year, Equatorial Guinea’s exports to the US totaled over $2.39 billion in 2009 and consisted overwhelmingly of petroleum products. In the same year, US exports to Equatorial Guinea totaled $304 million, making the country the seventh-largest export market for US products in Sub-Saharan Africa. In March, UNESCO's executive board voted in favor of keeping the prize following assurances by Equatorial Guinea that it would be funded by the country's state treasury rather than Obiang's personal foundation.
Though Obiang and his clique currently run the country as their own personal feudal estate, the future could get even bleaker for ordinary Equatorial Guineans. If, as anticipated, Theodor, the oldest and most reckless of Teodoro’s sons and currently under indictment in the United States for embezzling resources from the country’s oil profits, takes over the reins from his father, the situation could easily go from bad to worse. The United States must react now and prevent making the mistake of continuously encouraging bad behavior as it did with oil rich Middle Eastern autocracies.
Quiet diplomacy—denying or overlooking issues of human rights abuses, restricted political rights, and rampant corruption—will simply encourage Obiang and Theodor’s future kleptocratic, autocratic tendencies. The US administration must act now with full force, introducing targeted sanctions and travel restrictions, not to mention acting upon its own findings and going after Teodoro for financial crimes conducted on US soil. More importantly, the US must openly support proponents of democracy and human rights in Equatorial Guinea.