• 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.
• A version of this post appeared on the blog "Texas in Africa." The views expressed are the author's own.
A new rebellion is underway in Congo's North Kivu province, and while most of the actors are familiar, the story is slightly different. Two months ago, groups of soldiers in the Congolese national army, the FARDC, began to defect from the ranks. These soldiers are all former members of a rebel-movement-turned-political-party called the CNDP. The CNDP is notorious for having been led by warlord Laurent Nkunda, who, with backing from Rwanda, almost took over the province a few years ago. Rwanda, however, arrested Nkunda, made an agreement with the Congolese president to stop backing the movement, and CNDP forces were integrated into the FARDC. Nkunda's former second-in-command, Bosco Ntaganda, took over the military leadership of the movement, which maintained parallel chains of command within the FARDC ranks. Ntaganda became a warlord and amassed large quantities of wealth as a result of this arrangement; his ability to operate despite being wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court was taken by many as evidence that he was the lynchpin of regional stability, likely because his role in controlling cross-border trade between North Kivu and Rwanda maintained Rwanda's ability to benefit from Congolese mineral resources without maintaining a formal military presence in the province. Ntaganda, like many of his ex-CNDP counterparts, is a Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese Tutsi, and Tutsis and Hutu Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese are at the forefront of the mutiny, which has christened itself M23.
There is no such thing as a unified "Tutsi position" on M23, Bosco Ntaganda's leadership, or the RPF government in Kigali. This is a common misconception that is sometimes glossed over in media reports from the region, but it's an important one. While many non-Rwandaphone Congolese are convinced that there is a "Tutsi project" - that is, a conspiracy to take control of the Kivu provinces under Kigali's rule - there is actually wide variation of opinion in the Rwandan and Congolese Tutsi communities, as well as among Congolese Rwandaphone Hutus
(To read more about what precipitated the M23 mutiny, click here to read a new piece on the M23 rebellion up at Warscapes this week.)
This is not an accurate reflection of current reality. While we know that during the war some Tutsis apparently had the idea of expanding into a "greater Rwanda" (most famously expressed through the publication of a map of said territory in the Rwandair Express inflight magazine during the war), today, there is a high degree of tension in relationships between and among the Anglophone Tutsi leadership in Kigali, other Tutsis in and exiled from Rwanda, and Congolese Tutsis and Hutus. This variety of viewpoint extends through civilian and military life and is present within the ranks of the ex-/CNDP's military and political leaderships. For example, some ex-CNDP soldiers remained loyal to Nkunda over the course of the last three years, while others have more confidence in Ntaganda's leadership.
Now that the mutiny is in full swing, opinions vary even more widely. Rumors are flying that Nkunda is directing M23's movements by telephone. Some Tutsi civilians in Goma are enthusiastically supporting M23. Others are less excited, but see it as a necessarily evil means of protecting their interests in the region. Some are afraid that if they don't support M23, they will not have anywhere to live anymore; this logic suggests that fighting is the only way to ensure that Rwandaphone Congolese aren't driven away from the land for good. Other Tutsis are furious; they view the M23 as having upset the delicate balance of peace that enabled Goma to prosper and themselves to live in relative peace in recent years. As Jason Stearns notes, there are meetings happening within the Tutsi and Hutu communities in eastern DRC in an attempt to rally more members of the communities behind the M23 cause. But as of now, their views are hardly unanimous.
Then there is Kigali, whose role in this situation is very unclear. In the past, it would have been unthinkable that if a Rwandaphone-dominated movement like M23 were pushed back against the Rwandan border that it would not be receiving direct support from Kigali. Human Rights Watch believes the Rwandan government is in fact aiding M23 by providing troops, weapons, and ammunition, as well as allowing Ntaganda to move freely between Rwanda and DRC. Rwanda's government denies these claims. What's the reality? I have no idea.
Regardless of what is going on in Kigali, it is a very dangerous time to be a Kinyarwanda-speaker in North Kivu. Since the FARDC's attention is on defeating M23, who are holed up in a corner of the province's eastern border with Rwanda, they have fewer troops in Walikale and Masisi. Not surprisingly, as soon as the FARDC presence scaled back in Walikale, the FDLR moved in to take control of several towns. In Masisi, two Mai Mai militias have been engaged in the wholesale slaughter of Rwandaphones.IRIN notes that one local leader has tallied 120 deaths since mid-May.
Another misperception about the crisis is the idea that it was caused by the perception that Kabila's government had decided to arrest Ntanganda, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. This line of thinking reasons that the international community's pressure on Kabila to arrest Ntaganda in exchange for not making more of a fuss about the contested 2011 presidential elections caused Kabila to take the arrest more seriously.
Don't give the international community too much credit. This was probably the immediate precipitating cause as to why the mutiny happened when it did, but the actual reason for the rebellion was much deeper and is based in longstanding resentment within the FARDC ranks and the view of ex-CNDP officers that the status quo was unsustainable.
As Stearns notes, there were apparently already plans underway within the ex-CNDP ranks that were sped up without warning when the rebellion broke out.
What's next in the Kivus? Who knows? It's very clear that M23 is weak, and they will not be able to hold out for long under heavy shelling without reinforcements, which at this point can only come from Rwanda. I sincerely doubt that Kigali believes a full-scale backing of the movement is in its interest; both countries have benefited and prospered under the 2009 rapprochement. Kinshasa also has a strong interest in maintaining the peace, which likely explains the Kabila administration's high level of engagement in attempting to resolve the crisis. As always, though, if the status of Rwandaphone Congolese and the question of land rights isn't resolved at the grassroots level, we're not going to see a lasting peace in the region. It's only a matter of time before the next M23 arises.
• A version of this post appeared on the blog "Sahel Blog." The views expressed are the author's own.
On May 26, the two strongest rebel groups in northern Mali, the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA, where “Azawad” refers to the idea of an independent Tuareg-ethnic state in the area) and Ansar Dine (Arabic, Ansar al Din: “Defenders of the Faith”), agreed to an alliance. Their merger was supposed to represent a compromise – the MNLA agreed to impose some version of shari’a law, as Ansar Dine wished, while Ansar Dine endorsed the MNLA’s vision of an independent Azawad.
The merger quickly began falling apart, though. The last two weeks have seen stories proclaiming that the pact was dead, or that the two sides were still talking in efforts to salvage the agreement. Whether and how to implement shari’a is a major sticking point. IRIN and France24 have published detailed analyses of the MNLA-Ansar Dine relationship.
Earlier this week, AFP reported that tensions increased when protests occurred in Kidal, one of the north’s three provincial capitals:
Ansar Dine members reportedly violently dispersed a demonstration by around 50 women and children in the city of Kidal as they rallied against the Islamists, a local resident said.
“Around 50 women and children marched today from the stadium to the main Kidal market against the Islamists,” said Abubacar Seydou Diarra, a teacher whose description of the events was confirmed by other residents.
“Some of them chanted in the local language … ‘We don’t want strangers here,’ ‘We don’t want Islamists here.’ Men in three pick-ups that had the Ansar Dine flag intervened and beat the demonstrators,” he said.
The city is the hometown of Ansar Dine chief Iyad Ag Ghaly and has become a stronghold for the group since falling under its control in late March.
Ansar Dine appears to have taken the protests as provocation by the MNLA, and the two sides clashed last night, AFP reports, in Kidal:
The clash involving automatic weapons near the remote regional capital Kidal was the first between the rebel National Liberation Movement of Azawad (MNLA) and the Islamist Ansar Dine.
Both groups are made up of Tuareg tribesmen from different various clans and the fighting has raised fears of widening chaos in the vast northern swathe of the country.
An Ansar Dine fighter, Mohamed Ag Mamoud, said by satellite phone late Thursday that the clash had broken out because “all week, the MNLA was manipulating civilians in Kidal to demonstrate” against Ansar Dine, which is believed to be backed by Al Qaeda’s north African branch.
“They encouraged women and children to demonstrate against us. Now we will show them our strength,” Mamoud said.
“We have been attacked, we will respond,” said Moussa Salam of the MNLA, for his part, asserting that the Tuareg rebels “even attacked the home of Iyad Ag Ghaly,” the head of Ansar Dine and a Tuareg born in Kidal.
It is hard for me to tell whether either side scored a clear victory. AFP says, however, “Calm had returned by dawn Friday, an official said, but he noted that several MNLA flags had been removed from around the city.”
AFP and a Malian journalist it quotes partly frame the two groups’ conflict as “tribal.” One of my weaknesses as an analyst is that I tend to minimize the importance of “tribal” affiliations. On the other hand, I am wary of the supposed explanatory power of “tribes,” which sometimes turn out to be less clearly defined entities than outsiders suppose. To me, the conflict between the MNLA and Ansar Dine seems like it centers on serious political disagreements over how northern Mali should be run. And from the reporting, it appears that the efforts to salvage their merger are failing, which means more conflict may be on the way.
• A version of this post appeared on the blog "A View From the Cave." The views expressed are the author's own.
@NickKristof Help spread the word about Sudan starving its people in Nuba Mtains, w/800,000 eating just leaves nyti.ms/L9ayBA
The tweet raises the question: Are 800,000 people eating just leaves* in the Nuba Mountain? Kristof writes:
Ryan Boyette, an American aid worker who stayed behind when foreigners were ordered to evacuate, estimates that 800,000 Nuba have run out of food in South Kordofan, the state encompassing the Nuba Mountains. Boyette has created a local reporting network called Eyes and Ears Nuba, and the Sudanese government showed what it thinks of him when it tried to drop six bombs on his house last month. The notoriously inaccurate bombs missed, and he escaped unhurt in his foxhole.Boyette has done remarkable work by providing on-the-ground reports from the Nuba Mountains. The network that he has created is doing some impressive work documenting the atrocities committed in the region. As far as I can tell, nobody is doing nearly as good of a job as Boyette when it comes to gathering information related to the consequences of the aggression by the Sudanese government.
According to the Sudanese government, just under 1.1 million people live in South Kordofan state, where the Nuba Mountains are located. If Boyette's estimates are correct, that means three quarters of the people living in the region are have run out of food. A Reuters article from mid-May puts the number much lower:
Civil society leaders in the Nuba Mountains, a jigsaw of communities mixing Muslims, Christians and others practising traditional African beliefs, estimate that out of the 350,000 displaced by the fighting as many as 100,000 are hiding in caves, eating tree leaves, sap and wild fruits. They say some are starting to die from hunger.
It seems that 100,000 seems to be a more appropriate estimate which also closely mirrors the 10% severe malnutrition rate that Kristof reports as having been recorded at the Yida refugee camp in South Sudan. The latest estimates from the Famine Early Warning System network estimates food insecurity in the region as follows:
Darfur - 3.0 million
South Kordofan - 200,000 – 250,000 in SPLM-N areas; 150,000 –200,000 in GoS areas
Blue Nile - 100,000 – 150,000 in SPLM-N areas; 100,000 in GoS areas
Red Sea, North Kordofan, White Nile, and Kassala - 1 million
Abyei - 100,000 – 120,000
Total food insecure population - 4.7 million people
See map here:
That is not to say that it isn't a striking story. 100,000 people who are forced to live in caves and gather whatever small food they can find is horrific and deplorable. Roughly 200,000 people facing food insecurity in South Kordofan and 4.7 million people in the region at risk deserves attention.
800,000 appears to be a massive overestimation. That more than doubles the number of people estimated to have been displaced by the conflict. Doing so also neglects the other factors contributing to food insecurity. In addition to conflict, the region had poor harvests over the past year, low food stocks and high prices.
It is worth repeating, what has happened in the region is terrible and must be stopped as soon as possible. However, understanding what is happening to the people in the region is of the utmost importance so the proper humanitarian and international responses can take shape. The difference between 800,000 and 200,000 when it comes to malnutrition is very big and it carries a cost. Furthermore, the fact that conflict is not the only problem means that relief and recovery will require a varied set of interventions.
The Sahel is an example of a stalling yet extremely necessary appeal. Efforts by UNICEF to raise money and awareness about the Sahel show how hard it is to get the right support to provide a proper response. The same applies to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Horn of Africa and in the Nuba Mountains.
Getting the data as close to correct as possible is crucial, so the request can be extremely targeted, the response can meet the needs on the ground and the expectations of the donors can be met. As much as I hate to admit the last part, it is important. Donors want to see their money put to work in the manner they were told.
Providing the appropriate response to people living in the Nuba Mountains matters most. It is exactly why being precise as possible is so important.
Later this week (I hope), I want to finally take on the question of the power of twitter/social media/slacktavism. There are certain benefits to raising awareness, it is why I strongly believe that DAWNS is necessary, but there are also some serious limitations that should be considered. This seems to be a good example of how easy it is to participate even when the information shared is less certain.
*It has been pointed out by a few people prior to posting this that vegetarians around the world eat only leaves.
• A version of this post appeared on the blog "Sahel Blog." The views expressed are the author's own.
On Friday, troops from Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) captured the town of Afgoye from the rebel movement al Shabab, in what the Associated Press called “the biggest victory over al-Shabab since the pro-government forces took control of the capital last August” (more here). Further south, troops from the Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF), who have been fighting in Somalia since October, took the town of Afmadow from al Shabab some time between yesterday and today (Kenyan troops also took the town of Hayo). The KDF’s next major goal is tocapture the port city of Kismayo – al Shabab’s “last key bastion” – by August.
McClatchy says the importance of Kismayo lies in the fees al Shabab charges at the port. Its loss would therefore deprive the group not only of territory but of much of its income.
Brief fighting occurred in Kismayo earlier this week, when Kenyan warships reportedly came under fire and shelled the city in response. “For the past couple of months,” VOA says, “Kismayo has come under fire targeting al-Shabab from air and sea.”
Here is a map showing Afgoye, Afmadow, and Kismayo, as well as the capital Mogadishu.
Military conquests by the government and its allies are coming at the same time as some political progress – namely a framework for holding presidential elections by August 20. This combination has generated significant optimism about Somalia’s future. It is important to note, though, that there has been some criticism of and disagreement with that line. Dayo Olopade, for example, notes that the Kenyan intervention in Somalia has lasted much longer than Kenyan leaders first implied it would, and decries “unacceptable side effects” of the conflicts, namely bombings inside Kenya that seem to be reprisals by al Shabab and its sympathizers. Roland Marchal, meanwhile, asks important questions about what political arrangements conquerors will create in areas formerly held by al Shabab:
The question is, and we see that everywhere, what kind of political answer you give to the population after having beaten Shabaab. In Beledweyne and Boosaaso, two big cities that have been taken from Shabaab, the Ethiopians promoted their friends, their allies. That makes a lot of sense. But if you don’t have local reconciliation with clans that explicitly supported Shabaab – because they had some good interest to do that, some very real interest beyond the jihaadi rhetorics – if you don’t do that, then sooner or later you create tensions and new problems come up.
So if you look at the very short term, you may believe that there are still incidents, but there is no longer a battle, and therefore the situation is going to improve. If you take a longer perspective, however, then it becomes a very concerning issue. Look at Mogadishu: the number of people who were killed last week is basically the same as the number of people who were killed ten or twelve weeks ago, so that means that the intensity hasn’t diminished. What has changed is the targeting.
To put it in a nutshell: it is very dangerous for the Somalis and the international community to assess the condition of the current war with the parameters of what was the war in 2011. And I believe that is exactly the mistake the Ethiopians made in 2007. They had been able to crush Shabaab in December [of 2006] in a very easy and very radical manner, because they fought face-to-face, and of course Shabaab couldn’t confront a professional army and therefore lost with many casualties. But then Shabaab shifted to an urban-style guerrilla, and that created a new problem for the Ethiopian army.
What do you think? Where is this all headed?
• A version of this post appeared on the blog "Africa Works." The views expressed are the author's own.
Such are the changes in the African scene that the stunning evidence of declining child mortality in nearly all sub-Saharan countries is the source, not of disbelief or skepticism, but a serious, robust debate over what caused the decline: rising economic prosperity in Africa or improved international assistance.
To step back a moment: credit for attention to the improved health of African child goes to Michael Clemens, who in early May published an assessment of a World Bank analysis that prompted him to comment on what he described as the “stunningly rapid decline” in child deaths. “Nothing like it was occurring even as recently as the first half of the [last] decade,” he added.
The underlying evidence comes from two World Bank researchers based in Kenya who ask in an exhaustive comparative paper, what has driven the decline of infant mortality in Kenya.” Gabriel Demombynes and and Sofia Trommlerova find a complex set of reasons, including rising incomes and the targeted use of antimalarial bed-nets, prompted by aid agencies trying to combat infant deaths from malaria.
The debate over causes is nicely summarized by The Economist, which concluded: “The broad moral of the story is [that] aid does not seem to have been the decisive factor in cutting child mortality. No single thing was. But better policies, better government, new technology and other benefits are starting to bear fruit.”
The relative effect on child mortality of aid versus growth may never be sorted. More critical is the new image of an Africa that is starting to address the importance of improving lives for ordinary people even as the sub-regional economies of Africa continue to boom. The whole affair is “is startling news for anyone who still thinks Africa is mired in unending poverty and death,” Clemens tells The Economist. “That Africa is slipping quickly away.”
In his comment, Clemens, whom I’ve actually never heard of before, is echoing my own perspective that the real problem of Africa today is wealth — what to do with it — and not poverty — which remains a scourge in Africa but which I believe will be most effectively addressed as a consequence of better management of African wealth.
G. Pascal Zachary, editor of Africa Works, is a professor of practice at Arizona State University, in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in Phoenix and the Consortium for Science Policy & Outcomes in Tempe.
A study published in The Lancet says the Millennium Village Project (MVP) is responsible for a decline in child mortality three times faster than comparable villages that are not a part of the intervention. The authors say the positive gains are the result of a successful program. However, critics have responded to the study citing serious errors in the analysis.
The MVP was established as a part of the Millennium Development Goals, a set of global targets aimed at reducing poverty and improving the quality of life for people in the world’s poorest nations. Columbia professor Jeffrey Sachs lead the development of the MVP based on the theory that increasing the level of spending per person through a comprehensive set of interventions will help lift people out of poverty.
The MVP is still a pilot program and runs in 9 different villages across Africa. The recent study shares data from the first three years of the MVP. According to the researchers, the under-five death rates in control villages declined an average of 2.6 percent each year over the course of a decade. The MVs averaged of 7.8 percent rate of decline per year. The data published in The Lancet study (click here) show promise for the success of the MVP.
Soon after publication, a few individuals raised some concerns about the study’s findings. An article in Nature quoted researcher Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development. Using figures in the paper, Clemens calculated that the study authors can be confident only that the annual rate of decline for child mortality in the Millennium Villages lies between 1.4 percent and 14.3 percent. “If you claim to triple rates of decline you must have the evidence to back this up,” he said.
For Clemens, this means that the study’s claim that, “the average annual rate of reduction of mortality in children younger than 5 years of age was three-times faster in Millennium Village sites than in the most recent 10-year national rural trends” is not true.
Further complicating the issue is that the evaluation is done by the people who implement the MVP. Clemens and others have criticized this decision in previous studies. For critics, a new MVP established in Ghana will be evaluated by DfID (the British Department for International Development). Though it is likely all parties will not be satisfied after the independent evaluation, an outside perspective on the project in cooperation with the MVP will quiet some of the criticisms.
Lee Crawfurd further points out the observed differences in 10 of the 18 indicators in the study are statistically insignificant. For example, the increase in the asset-based wealth index for households are nearly identical between the MVP and comparison villages.
Further, Matt Collin analyzes the data from the MVP study and compares it to recent country-level data on under-five mortality published in The Lancet just a few days prior to the MVP study. (See his chart here.)
He determines that the rate of decline in the MVPs are on pace with national averages over the same period. An even closer look at the MVP study by Gabriel Demombynes, author of the national averages study, and Espen Beer Prydz in the World Bank blog uncovers some serious errors by the MVP authors.
In short, the comparison data should be calculated from the midpoint of the observation, rather than the end.
The shift to the middle four years for the MVs and the comparison villages yields very different results. The MVPs are slightly behind national averages for that period, but are so close that it is statistically insignificant. In other words the MVs are reducing under-five mortality at the same rate as the rest of the country.
The discussion is important, say the critics, because of the popularity and cost of the MVP. According to the study, it costs $116 per person per year. For the 30,000 people in the MVs that is an annual cost of $3.48 million per year. “Diverting scarce resources towards this project's approach means that other, competing uses of that money will not occur. Such mass diversion of resources can only be done responsibly when it is shown that the new use of the resources does more to end poverty than the alternative use of the resources,” says Clemens. “The burden of proof lies on the project to demonstrate that the diversion does more to end poverty than other uses of that money.”
This morning, more than a week since the paper’s release, the authors of the paper issued a correction saying, “We thank Demombynes and others for pointing out these corrections, and as noted we have withdrawn the erroneous claims as a result. To improve the performance of the project going forward, we are inviting international public health experts along with critics of the project to join an independent expert committee to review the data collection and help improve its accuracy.”