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A Congolese refugee girl covers herself with a sheet at Bukanga transit camp in Uganda, July 17, 2013. A new tool developed by UNICEF is helping displaced children reunite with their families in the country's refugee camps. (James Akena/AP )

Lost and found: UNICEF software reunites families in refugee camps

By Tom MurphyGuest blogger / 08.26.13

•A version of this post first appeared on the blog A View From the Cave. The views expressed are the author's own. 

Sudden humanitarian disasters can separate families. The trauma is then compounded further by the difficulty in reuniting family members. That problem may soon be one of the past.

A new tool from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) provides a quick way to bring families back together. The digital registration tool called Rapid Family Tracing and Reunification (RapidFTR) helps stranded children reunite with their families.

UNICEF, Save the Children, and the Uganda Red Cross are using RapidFTR for Congolese families displaced in Uganda.

“Before RapidFTR, we would have to use paper and fill out lots of forms to get all the details,” says Fatuma Arinaitwe, a child protection officer with Save the Children . “This took a lot of time, and then we would go around with a list of names and ask people if they knew these children.”

The product was developed in collaboration with New York University’s Tisch School for the Arts. Student Jorge Just was inspired by a series of visits to Uganda to develop a technology that will connect separated families.

“A child might be on one side of a refugee camp, and their parents might be on the other side, but for all intents and purposes, they might as well be on different continents,” he said to the New York Times. “Even small distances in those situations can feel insurmountable.”

RapidFTR works as a data storage system that collects, sorts, and shares information about unaccompanied children in emergency situations. When a child arrives at a camp information is collected via a mobile phone and a picture is taken.

“RapidFTR is designed to help us quickly establish a child’s identity and that of their family, after which tracing and reuniting them becomes much easier,” says Sharad Sapra, a UNICEF representative in Uganda. “We are working very closely with UNHCR [the UN High Commissioner for Refugees], ICRC [the International Committee of the Red Cross], Uganda Red Cross Society, and Save the Children to facilitate this process among the refugees from [Democratic Republic of Congo].”

The data is then available to other humanitarian workers in the network and provides them with the ability to quickly bring families back together.  By moving from paper to digital, RapidFTR has managed to reduce the time for information to become available from more than six weeks to a mere hours.

Ten-year-old Rosete Simany of Kamango, in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, was separated from her family when fighting between rebels and her family broke out. She fled to the Busunga border post before being taken to the Bubukwanga transit center in Bundibugyo District, Uganda by a truck.

The temporary transit center provided a safe space for Rosete. She was registered by RapidFTR immediately after she was identified as an unaccompanied minor.

Three days later, Rosete was reunited with her aunt and moved out of the tent for unaccompanied children.

RapidFTR is expanding to deployment in South Sudan. Even in cases where children cannot say their own names, the use of photographs hopefully speed up the process of re-connecting families.

Ben Affleck, actor and founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative, listens to testimony during the House Armed Services Committee hearing on the evolving security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 19, 2012. Mr. Affleck's involvement in advocacy efforts in the eastern Congo has now extended to a new project connecting local NGOs to potential international donors. (Susan Walsh/AP/File)

Want to help Congolese? Give them money – directly, says Ben Affleck

By Tom MurphyGuest blogger / 08.23.13

•A version of this post originally appeared on the blog A View from the Cave. The views expressed are the author's own.

Actor and activist Ben Affleck believes that community-based organizations are the best option for enabling lasting change in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

That is why his organization, the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), teamed up with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to create an easy-to-use database of Congolese community-based organizations.

“There are big NGOs that I think do very good work, but when I did research around Congo and other countries what I saw, what I found, was that the people doing the best work, with the real expertise, who understood what was needed intuitively, just like they would in my neighborhood, who knew who the guy was to talk to, were community-based organizations,” said Affleck.

Rather than seek funding for his pet project, as other celebrities might do, Affleck and ECI wanted to create a place where the organizations that are going to make the greatest difference will receive direct funding. It puts into action the much talked about idea of supporting community leaders to create change for themselves.

The information comes from a landscape analysis of community-based organizations (CBOs) carried out by ECI in 2011. Information from Congo’s Maniema, North Kivu, Orientale, and South Kivu provinces provide an avenue for providing direct support in the troubled region.
The Congolese army continues to fight with the M23 rebel group that managed to seize control of the major eastern Congolese city of Goma at one point last year. A United Nations peacekeeping mission meant to provide support has come under criticism for its inability to deter fighting. Sexual violence and abuses at the hand of rebels and the Congolese military have further complicated the situation.

Attention has focused on the region the past few years thanks to advocacy efforts from the likes of the Enough Project and stories they and other groups have told of atrocities committed by armed groups. A report linking Rwanda and Congolese rebels late last year led the UN to appoint former Irish president Mary Robinson as the new Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa. She is now working with neighboring countries, including Rwanda, to implement the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

While support in the region has often come through international individuals and organizations, the ECI wanted to assess the ability and capacity of grassroots organizations in the eastern DRC. Their research determined that many community based organizations already existed, operated effectively, and had the ability to take on more funding. Supported will be necessary for the management of finances, projects, and administrative work, it added.

Some CBOs are doing work through money that trickles down from multiple donors and NGOs. The report argues that enabling a way to directly fund CBOs will both help stabilize their work and turn into a better investment for donors. International attention on the significant problem of sexual and gender-based violence has led to small justice improvement. It is an important issue, but donors must make investments in other areas. The report affirms rising calls to fund programs that address issues like poor governance and the marginalization of women in order to address the structural problems of the country.

CBOs documented in the original report now appear on a new database on the ECI website. A series of videos accompany the release of information to explain the motivations for the project, how the database works, and what ECI and USAID hope comes of the collaboration.

“Through the database and the landscape analysis, USAID and ECI have laid the groundwork for augmenting foreign assistance in Eastern Congo,” said USAID’s Global Partnerships Division Director Christopher Jurgens. “Serving as a model of strategic investment in the region, the partnership’s assessment will shape future engagement and elevate awareness and commitment to the region within international development and donor communities.”

The database details the organizations by listing contact information, program outlines, financials, and their strengths and weaknesses. Potential donors and partners can now see where it can work directly with CBOs to enhance and improve their work.

“Data-driven insights are critical to creating effective and efficient partnerships,” said Ricardo Michel, USAID’s acting director for the office of innovation and development alliances.

Double-amputee Olympian Oscar Pistorius, left, talks with his lawyer, Kenny Oldwage, right, at the magistrates court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, Aug. 19, 2013. Pistorius was indicted Monday on charges of murder and illegal possession of ammunition for the shooting death of the double-amputee Olympian's girlfriend on Valentine's Day. (Themba Hadebe/AP)

Oscar Pistorius indicted for murder, trial set (+video)

By Correspondent / 08.19.13

In a brisk 12-minute hearing this morning, a South African court formally indicted Olympian sprinter Oscar Pistorius on charges of premeditated murder and illegal possession of ammunition in the Valentine’s Day death of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp.

As media cameras clicked in rapid fire around him, Mr. Pistorius huddled with his brother and sister in a brief prayer in the Pretoria courtroom before listening as magistrate Desmond Nair read the charges against him and set the date for the trial, which will begin on March 3, next year.

The indictment comes on what would have been Ms. Steenkamp’s 30th birthday, after being delayed by two months to give the state additional time to finish its investigation. On Monday prosecutors announced that they were now prepared to make the case that Pistorius "did unlawfully and intentionally kill a person” – Steenkamp – on the morning of Feb. 14, and will call 107 witnesses to support the charge, according to South Africa's Mail and Guardian newspaper.

Indeed, neither the prosecution nor Pistorius himself deny that he shot and killed Steenkamp through a locked bathroom door in his luxury Pretoria home earlier this year.

Instead, the trial will pivot on his intention. The state claims that Pistorius put on his prosthetic legs, retrieved his gun, and knowingly shot Steenkamp as she cowered near the toilet.

"Some of the state witnesses heard a woman scream, followed by moments of silence, then heard gunshots and then more screaming," the indictment stated, reports ABC news.

But Pistorius claims he shot into the locked bathroom on the morning of Feb. 14, because he believed an intruder was hiding inside, and that he was not wearing his legs at the time. Only afterwards, he says, did he realize it was Steenkamp behind the closed door.

The investigation into the death hit speed bumps earlier this year when the lead investigator admitted to tampering with evidence at the crime scene and falsely accused Pistorius of doping. After news surfaced that the investigator, detective Hilton Botha, was himself facing an attempted murder charge in a bungled high-speed chase in 2011, he was dropped from the case.

The first double-amputee runner to compete against able-bodied athletes in the Olympic games, Pistorius’ fall from grace has attracted a raft of international media attention – much of it unwelcome. In June, British television station Sky News published images of the blood-stained bathroom where Steenkamp was shot, prompting Mr. Nair, the magistrate, to warn that "scandalous and possibly contemptuous" reporting could jeopardize Pistorius’ right to a fair trial.

The athlete has kept a low profile since he was released on bail in February, and is currently staying with an uncle in an upscale suburb of Pretoria.  If convicted, he faces life in prison. 

A construction truck drives past the Medupi power station in Lephalele, South Africa, on April 11, 2013. Energy security remains one of the main challenges to economic growth in Africa. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

Want to grow Africa's economies? Invest in energy.

By Ken OpaloGuest blogger / 08.16.13

•A version of this post first appeared on the author's personal blog. The views expressed are his own. 

According to a recent survey by Ernst & Young, 44 percent of businesspeople in Africa identified inadequate infrastructure as one of the key constraints to doing business in the region. This means that as Africa continues to grow in the next two decades, infrastructure development must top the investment agenda. General infrastructure development will be especially crucial as African economies undergo structural transformation from being primarily resource-driven to having bigger manufacturing and service sectors.

Indeed, Ernst & Young estimates that in 2012, 43.1 percent of investments in capital in Africa went to manufacturing as opposed to 12 percent that went to the extractive sector. A key area that will require greater and smarter investment to fuel the region’s economic growth will be the energy sector. 

Everyone knows about the energy woes of many an African country – from Nigeria’s infamous generators to the total lack of functional national grids in some African states. A few countries have initiated plans to boost their energy sectors through investment in power generation (like Ethiopia’s 6000MW Great Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile), oil refining (Angola’s planned 200,000 bbl/day refinery in Lobito), and aggressive prospecting for fossil fuels (especially in eastern and southern Africa).

Despite these national efforts, however, for African states to ensure energy security for their growing economies, they must also think regional – and to some extent continental – when developing their respective energy sectors. As intra-Africa trade grows in the next two decades, there will be pressure to integrate energy markets as well. 

The reasons for a regional/continental approach to energy sector development are twofold. Firstly, investment outlays in energy infrastructure development are often prohibitively expensive because their viability relies on economies of scale, thus necessitating the pooling of resources. Ethiopia’s newest dam, for instance, will cost $4.7 billion. Not many African countries can afford such massive investments on one project. 

Secondly, there is the issue of markets. With 12 percent of the world’s population, Africa consumes a meager 3 percent of the world’s electricity. Of this, 75 percent takes place in North Africa (33 percent) and South Africa (45 percent). The remainder is shared out among all of the rest of Sub-Saharan African states. Furthermore, electricity connectivity on the continent remains relatively low, with rates averaging 43 percent (North Africa stands at 99 percent, with the other sub-regions between 12-44 percent).

This means that for projects like Ethiopia’s to make sense, access to international markets must be guaranteed. A key part of the Ethiopian project is the planned interconnector line linking the power station to the Kenyan grid. Joint investment and taking advantage of economies of scale will also help lower the cost of power in Africa.

At present the average tariff per kilowatt-hour in the region is $0.14 – compared to just $0.04 in Southeast Asia. It is estimated that investing in regional grids and hydropower will save the region up to $2 billion annually. This is music to the ears of sugar millers, cement manufacturers, and many small factory owners across the continent. 

With this in mind, African states have begun the process of integrating their power sector infrastructure, via regional power pools. The South African Power Pool (SAPP, established in 1995); the North African power pool (COMELEC , 1998); the West African Power Pool (WAPP, 2000); the Central African Power Pool (CEAPP, 2003); and the East Africa Power Pool (EAPP, 2005) are all initiatives to establish regional power markets and help harmonize energy policy. 

The COMELEC sub-region (27.4 GW, largely thermal, in 2009) has the highest connectivity and the best infrastructure. The region is also linked to the Middle East via the Egypt-Jordan interconnector line and Europe via the Morocco-Spain line (part of the future Mediterranean Electricity Ring, MEDRING). SAPP, with a capacity of 50GW (78.4 percent coal; 20.1 percent hydro; 4 percent nuclear and 1.6 percent diesel), is next in terms of infrastructure development. 

There is a plan to link the EAPP to states outside of East Africa as part of COMESA. The 19-state COMESA bloc has an installed capacity of 52MW (69 percent thermal and 30 percent hydro) and has since 2009 initiated a process to harmonize regulation and energy policy. In terms of regional (intra-power pool) trade in power, SAPP is ahead with 7.5 percent, WAPP 6.9 percent, NAPP 6.2 percent, EAPP 0.4 percent and CAPP 0.2 percent.  Clearly, there is a lot of room for improvement in levels intra-pool trade in power. 

All these developments are encouraging. But a lot more needs to be done. For starters African states must work harder to harmonize their energy policies. This will necessarily involve greater liberalization of their power sectors, especially with regard to power generation and distribution. There is also an urgent need to invest in interconnector infrastructure to ensure that power can be transmitted efficiently to market. In the Day Ahead Market (DAM) of SAPP, for instance, trading is limited by between 40-50 percent of the potential level due to lack of efficient transmission capacity.

Lastly, there will be a need to connect the regional power pools. This will reduce their overreliance on regional “anchor” economies (the best example of this is SAPP’s overreliance on ESKOM of South Africa, which has its own integrated resource plan). It will also create even bigger markets, including potentially the Middle East and Europe.  

Ultimately, whether or not the dream of regional and continental power interconnectivity is achieved will depend on politics. Unfortunately, so far things do not look good. Almost a decade after the idea of regional power pools set in, governments are yet to harmonize their power sector regulatory policies.

In many countries state monopolies dominate, with attendant inefficiencies. And across the continent power supply master plans are still very nation-centric and under the tight control of local vested interests. Moving forward, the challenge will be to convince governments and stakeholders – private sector and consumers alike – of the benefits of having an Africa-wide power market – which will necessarily require the liberalization of national power sectors.

The alternative will be more roundtable discussions and promises of policy harmonization that never get fulfilled.

In this photo taken Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. members of a civilian vigilante group with cutlasses and clubs mount a check point on the street of Maiduguri, Nigeria. They are part of a group that has arisen here as a backlash against Boko Haram, the Islamic extremist network responsible for 1,700 deaths in Nigeria since 2010. (Sunday Alamba/AP)

In northern Nigeria, vigilante groups join fight against jihadis

By John CampbellGuest blogger / 08.15.13

•A version of this post first appeared on the blog Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own. 

Very little coherent information is currently coming out of the parts of northern Nigeria under a state of emergency. What information is available indicates that activity and violence continue under the cover of the media silence, though it is difficult to judge its degree.

In May, cell phones and satellite phones did not operate in the affected areas. Those services are only slowly being restoredForeign media are almost entirely absent, and domestic media appear to be highly restricted. Foreign diplomats do not travel there. Information seems to move from the Nigerian military and police Joint Task Force (JTF) to the civilian government in Abuja, and from there to the international media.

But there are numerous signs of incoherent churning. Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the group Boko Haram, earlier was reported to have been shot and deposed by his followers because he opposes the government’s offer of amnesty for his organization. However, he has now released a video reasserting his leadership and he claims responsibility for numerous recent attacks in Borno state, including those in the towns of Mallam FatoriKonduga, and Bama, that altogether have killed about 100 people.

In this latest video, Mr. Shekau claims the military is lying in their claims of success against his movement. He has also ramped up the anti-American rhetoric, alluding to Boko Haram’s readiness to move from the "near" enemy to the "far" enemy.

There are plausible suggestions in the media that the latest Boko Haram killings are reprisals against those cooperating with the security forces and the so-called “Civilian JTF" – a vigilante justice group operating against Boko Haram in the country's north – or that they target mosques and imams who have previously been critical of Boko Haram. The "Civilian JTF" is mostly unarmed civilian groups that denounce suspected Boko Haram operatives to the security services. 

While the Civilian JTF groups have the support of the government, they appear to operate as independent vigilantes. Some observers suggest that the Civilian JTF includes young men imprisoned by the security services who are offered release in return for signing up. Others suggest that they are the nucleus of private militias that Nigerian politicians often form before elections, which are due in late 2014.

Others are said to be trying to rid their communities of Boko Haram, thereby deflecting attention from the security services. Still others claim that they lost their jobs and or family and friends because of Boko Haram and fight them to restore normalcy. Of course, the Civilian JTF could include all these motivations, and others besides.

The Nigeria media recently carried an all but incoherent interview with an ex-militant who claimed that there were many groups similar to but separate from Shekau’s Boko Haram, including his own. His particular group’s focus was killing Christians, while Shekau’s victims have usually had links to the government or to critical mosques. But this militant also claims links with Iran. He also describes practices – drinking the blood of his victims to prevent being haunted by their ghosts and consumption of “spiritual water” that engenders visions – that are far from Salafi Islam and are anathema to Shekau’s Boko Haram.

It is important to keep a perspective. The “sharia” states in the north may have seventy million people, while taken altogether “Boko Haram” and similar or associated groups and cults may number only in the hundreds, though those who support or acquiesce to what they do is doubtlessly larger. Nevertheless, it is also worth remembering that the Irish Republican Army and its splinters had probably no more than four hundred active service members at the height of its 1970s and 1980s insurgency against British rule in Northern Ireland. Yet they were able to tie down substantial British military resources, and relative peace was restored only through a political process.

In this photo taken Monday, July 22, 2013, a Somali trader sells eggs in the open-air Hamarweyne market of Mogadishu, Somalia. Most Somali business owners rely on remittances from abroad for seed money to begin their trade. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP)

British bank faces backlash for cutting money transfer service to Somalia

By Tom MurphyGuest blogger / 08.13.13

•A version of this post first appeared on the blog A View From the Cave. The views expressed are the author's own. 

Somalis are bracing for the impact of the British bank Barclay’s decision to sever ties with most money transfer companies in Somalia. About 250 remittance agencies lost their partnership with Barclays on Monday.

The banking giant says it is concerned that it does not know where money transfers are going and who is sending the money. With little ability to track cash flows, the company says it is much easier for money launderers and the financing of terrorist activities.

“It is recognized that some money service businesses don’t have the proper checks in place to spot criminal activity and could unwittingly be facilitating money laundering and terrorist financing,” said Barclays spokesperson Daniel Hunger to the UN humanitarian news agency IRIN.

Somalis living in and out of Somalia say that the plan will cut vital flows of money.

More money is sent to people in Somalia through remittances ($1.2 billion) than is provided in international aid (~$800 million). The sum of remittances accounts for roughly half of Somalia’s gross national income (GNI). Money set by family members living abroad helps to support the education of siblings or a parent’s business. Various vendors have proliferated across Somalia as a result of the amount of money flowing both in and out of the country through person to person transfers.

It is not only people who benefit. NGOs and civil society organizations use cash transfer services to process cash disbursements and budgetary funds. For instance, British-Somali Olympic gold medal winner Mo Farah issued a call for Barclays to reverse its decision, citing the impact it will have on Somalis and charities like his charity.

“The Mo Farah Foundation, along with some of the world’s biggest charities and organizations, including the UN, relies on these businesses to channel funds and pay local staff,” he said in late July. “This decision could mean life or death to millions of Somalis.”

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud pleaded with Barclays in June not to go though with the decision. He expressed concerns that the progress made by Somalia over the past few years may be set back.

“Somalia is on the brink of a breakthrough after two decades of chaos. We have the support of Britain and the world and we need the support of all our friends across all sectors. Barclays are a friend and we cannot understand their sudden decision to foreclose on legitimate accounts that support money transfer,” said Mr. Mohamud.

British politicians also urged Barclays to consider delaying the implementation of its new policy. Forty-Seven Labour ministers of parliament sent a letter to Barclays and the government to consider waiting six months.

They recognize that the decision by the United States to fine the bank HSBC $1.9 billion for its weak money laundering checks has an impact on Barclays. They say that the reaction is too harsh and will also damage the British businesses that participate in the sending and receiving of money with Somalia.

Electronic money transfers are the most efficient way to send money home, writes Somali Nadifa Mohamed in the Guardian. She says her father used to have to deliver the money he made by hand to his family in Somaliland. Now Ms. Mohamed can send money almost instantly to her family who are still do not have easy access to paved roads.

Her family is not alone – an estimated 40 percent of people in the region are reliant on remittances. She says it may be a conservative guess, nevertheless it means major cuts will have an immediate impact on regional families. And there are the 80 percent of Somali businesses that use remittances for starting up funds, said Mohamed Ali, who runs the Somali NGO Iftiin Foundation, to Al Jazeera.

Electronic cash transfers are a major technological jump in Africa. Kenya’s MPESA, a service run by phone company Safaricom, allows people to send money from one cell phone to another. It can be used to make a purchase at a street-side business

Many recognize that Barclays is concerned about funding terrorist networks in Somalia. They say that should not scare the bank away, as it has for other major transfer providers. Rather, leaders should look for regulatory solutions, Mr. Ali writes.

The regulatory burden for monitoring Hawalas (the traditional money transfer system) should be placed on the government and not banks, with clear guidelines that limit bank obligations and government officials in charge of due diligence and risk evaluation of remittance agencies. Banks, regulators and Hawala operators also need to work together to develop due diligence and monitoring strategies that work within the Hawala framework, which has its own system of checks.

185 Somali civil society groups add to the list of advocates for a change to Barclays’ pending policy change. The UK government has responded to the growing chorus by saying that it is a private decision by the bank. The changes are still on course to be enacted. 

A woman carrying a baby walks past campaign posters of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in Harare, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. After a resounding loss in recent elections, Mr. Tsvangirai must reassess his party's political future. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)

Will electoral defeat spell the death of Zimbabwe's opposition?

By Simukai TinhuGuest blogger / 08.13.13

•A version of this post first appeared on Think Africa Press. The views expressed are the author's own.

Zimbabwe’s hotly-contested elections have come and gone, leaving President Robert Mugabe with another five-year term in power and the ruling ZANU-PF with 3/4 of seats in parliament, more than enough to change the constitution. Where does this leave the opposition Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T)?

Assessing the options

The first option is for the MDC-T to challenge the electoral outcome via the courts, and the party’s leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has already said a legal challenge will be mounted.

However, there are grounds to be cautious with this option. Not only have Zimbabwe’s courts been accused of being partisan – with most judges having been appointed by President Mugabe and also benefiting from ZANU-PF patronage networks – but historically, few rulings have been made in the MDC-T’s favor. Additionally, even if the courts were independent, the very sizeable margin by which Mr. Tsvangirai and the MDC-T were beaten could be too wide to realistically contest the result.

The second option is to hope that MDC-T supporters initiate some kind of a political protest in an attempt to force Mr. Mugabe to step down. This is unlikely considering the heavy-handedness with which Zimbabwe’s security forces have handled previous protests. This is also risky because if Mugabe’s party officials perceive these protests as having been incited by the MDC-T leadership, they could use this as an excuse to incarcerate them. And in fact, there have so far been few signs of potential mass protests, with most people going about their business as usual.

The third option is make appeals internationally. MDC-T could call on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) in the hope these organizations might pressure Mugabe to organize a rerun of the election. The MDC-T is reportedly in the process of compiling a dossier to send to these bodies. But, as it appears, SADC and the AU have already endorsed the electoral outcome, and over the weekend, South African President Jacob Zuma sent a congratulatory message to the elderly statesman. Other African nations have since followed suit, with the exception of Botswana. To SADC, AU and other African nations, the Zimbabwean election is done and dusted.

Looking beyond Africa, the MDC-T could appeal to the West to put pressure on ZANU-PF. But the West’s relationship with Zimbabwe is likely to be driven more by realpolitik than other concerns. In addition, the EU and US in particular might not want to alienate the AU and SADC who have had observer missions in Zimbabwe during the elections. The UK, US and Germany might have expressed concerns on how the elections were conducted – concerns that will fall on deaf ears – but such rhetoric is likely to die down as time progresses.

A fourth option is that the MDC-T will refuse to participate in national institutions, though this is now looking unlikely with reports that the party is saying it will take up its parliamentary and council seats. This is probably a wise decision as a boycott would have been problematic for two reasons. First, it would have had the potential to split the party, with some members who won seats going against the party line and taking up their positions. And second, if the MDC-T boycotted state institutions, Mugabe’s party could simply go ahead and run the country without them.

A final possibility is that the MDC-T’s will simply focus its energies on survival. This was the MDC-T’s heaviest defeat to date, and historically, Zimbabwean opposition parties disintegrate and disappear soon after big electoral defeats.

In addition, it is an open secret that ZANU-PF is very keen to crowd out other parties, especially as it prepares for the resignation or death of its leader. Rather than focussing on governing now it has emerged victorious, ZANU-PF could well try to kill off the MDC-T while it has the chance. ZANU-PF’s long-held dream of seeing the back of MDC-T for good might be realizable if Tsvangirai and his party do not regroup quickly.

Morgan’s no more

Of these scenarios, the lattermost seems the most realistic. And in this fight for continued existence, the test of the MDC-T’s strength will be whether it will be able to march on without its main ideologue and founder, Tsvangirai. Since its formation, Tsvangirai’s name has been synonymous with the party, and his bravery must never be underestimated.

On the subject of the MDC-T’s leadership, Tsvangirai himself has said that he has no intention of stepping down and told a press conference in Harare that he has the full backing of his party. His supporters argue that he needs to finish the job that he started.

But despite this, it seems that ousting the once gargantuan politician will be crucial for the MDC-T’s survival. To begin with, Tsvangirai has already once amended his party’s constitution to allow him to have a third term as leader. And hanging onto MDC-T leadership for yet another term would no doubt provide ammunition to ZANU-PF, who could paint him as hypocritical, while Western supporters would no doubt find it more difficult to back a man engaging in undemocratic practices within his own party. Additionally, ZANU-PF’s agenda against Tsvangirai seems to be personal. It appears they have resolved that he will not get into power at any cost.

In terms of replacing Tsvangirai as the MDC-T's leader, the frontrunner at this early stage appears to be Tendai Biti, the powerful secretary-general of the party and former finance minister. However, amongst the other possibilities, Nelson Chamisa, the youthful organising secretary who is aligned to Tsvangirai's faction could prove a more interesting and viable alternative to the occassionally erratic Biti.

Meanwhile, as well as deciding on a new leader, the MDC-T will also have to make efforts to recruit new members who can match their ZANU-PF counterparts in terms of strategic political thinking. MDC-T has many dedicated and brave figures, but it will also need to specifically seek out canny strategists who can go toe to toe in the political arena with ZANU-PF’s best and brightest.

New leader, new tactics

To ensure its continued relevance, the MDC-T will also need to adapt its international allegiances and outlook. Unless it adopts a more nationalistic and pan-African outlook, the party will struggle to gain the sympathy and support of regional players, whether political parties or governments.

This may require the MDC-T to loosen its ties with the West – at least in the public’s eyes – both nationally and regionally. Below the surface, the political class in most African countries has never been comfortable with MDC-T’s perceived dependence on Britain and other Western countries. The MDC-T needs therefore to soothe other African states’ frustrations with its cozy Western relations, and play to the African political class and the region’s sense of history, nationalism, and Pan-Africanism – as ZANU-PF have so expertly managed to. In other words, a major realignment in the eyes of the public could put the MDC-T on an ideologically acceptable policy to its neighbors, and help foster stronger SADC and AU relations with the party.

Adopting a more nationalist agenda would also attract some of ZANU-PF’s soft supporters, and if done well even possibly some stalwarts along with their patronage networks, votes and supporters. The MDC-T has to give both regional and domestic critics what they want – a sense of pan-Africanism and nationalism, respectively. The MDC-T leaders may disagree with this assessment, but it is crucial that they at least address such questions over their approach.

Finding ZANU PF's cracks

Looking further into the future, one thing crucial to unseating ZANU-PF will be undermining its cohesion. Although to outsiders the revolutionary party seems in robust health, from the inside it is confused, almost dazed, and is suffering from perpetual fighting between rival factions led respectively by Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and Deputy President Joice Mujuru.

Mugabe seems able to skilfully manage this internal wrangling, but the end of his reign would no doubt mark the start of much intensified internal conflict. Either when this happens or before, for its own sake the MDC-T ought to exploit this political infighting and try to widen the divides.

Nonetheless and despite internal frictions, the downfall of ZANU-PF cannot be strategized overnight. Planning, starting from today but continuing in the long-term, will be necessary. The MDC-T’s strategic thinking should begin with a clear-eyed view of the challenge posed by ZANU-PF to its existence.

The first five years should focus entirely on survival as there is no doubt that ZANU-PF shall attempt to destroy the MDC-T as a viable opposition political party, while other political parties may try to dislodge it as the main anchor of Zimbabwe’s opposition politics. Meanwhile, a ten-year strategy – if the MDC-T survives that long – would allow a young crop of politicians to mature. In addition, ZANU-PF is heavily entrenched in many of Zimbabwe’s loci of power – from the judiciary to security sector to civil service – and dislodging it from these institutions is not simply an electoral issue. It will require much longer-term change. Lastly, in order to lock in the support and trust of other African nations, the MDC-T is simply going to require time.

If the MDC-T is not careful and strategic in its thinking, it could soon become a footnote in Zimbabwean politics. Up against a ruthless and efficient political machine such as ZANU-PF, the MDC-T simply must play politics. If it is to survive, it has to ditch its romantic face and do away with its self-conception as a little moral guy fighting the big evilness of ZANU-PF. As much as it might jar with its sensibilities, the MDC-T, if it is serious about being in power, could learn a thing or two from Mugabe and ZANU-PF.

US President Barack Obama (and former President George W. Bush attend a memorial for the victims of the 1998 US Embassy bombing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 2, 2013. Wednesday marked the 15th anniversary of the attack, which began a culture of fortress diplomacy in American embassies around the world. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

15 years after embassy attacks, America's fortress diplomacy (+video)

By John CampbellGuest blogger / 08.07.13

•A version of this post originally appeared on the blog Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own. 

Now overshadowed by 9/11, the August 7, 1998 attacks on the United States embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, also crossed a new terror threshold.

Some 200 Kenyans as well as 12 American diplomats were killed in Nairobi. Eleven Tanzanians were killed in Dar es Salaam. Many more Kenyans and Tanzanians were wounded in the attacks, which were carried out by Al Qaeda operatives. The United States continues to be responsible for their medical care and rehabilitation.

There were fresh reminders this week that terrorist attacks against diplomatic missions remain a threat – since Aug. 4, most US diplomatic establishments in the Middle East and North Africa have been closed as a precaution against a new terrorist attack.

Security of US diplomatic facilities had been a concern since at least the mob attack abetted by the Khomeini regime on the American embassy in Tehran in 1979, which led to scores of American diplomats being taken hostage for 444 days (the subject of the recent film, “Argo”). At the time of the Nairobi and Dar attacks, the Department of State prioritized diplomatic facilities for renovation or replacement according to the perceived threat level, but, as always, the chronic underfunding of the diplomatic function limited what could be accomplished. By the summer of 1998, Nairobi and Dar were way down the list as neither city was seen as the venue of a serious security threat. But the twin assaults demonstrated that no place is immune from attack by international terrorist organizations.

Since then, enormous resources have been devoted to rebuilding diplomatic facilities and increasing security. The surge in such spending has far exceeded that of traditional diplomatic activities – indeed, it accounts for much of the growth in funding over the past decade. In the Department of State’s proposed 2013 budget, 37 percent of funding is to counter threats to US security and advance civilian security around the world.

Even during the cold war, diplomatic facilities were designed to be welcoming and to project the American values of openness and individual liberty. No more. Now, diplomatic facilities sport huge setbacks from roads, high walls, and highly sophisticated technical security devices. Access is strictly controlled, and even widows are rare. The reality is a fortress, ideally outside of town, too often with a rigidly controlled line of visa applicants snaking around it.

The current shut-down of US diplomatic facilities in the Middle East is no longer exceptional, though the scope this time is especially broad. According to press reports, it is the result of credible intelligence that Al Qaeda was about to launch a terrorist operation against a diplomatic facility.

While I was ambassador to Nigeria (2004-2007) we closed the embassy in Abuja once and the consulate in Lagos at least twice, each for several days (if I remember rightly) because of credible intelligence about a possible attack. At the time, the Nigerian government was highly cooperative and supportive. It provided increased security personnel and closed adjacent streets. However, we were criticized in the media because, the argument ran, closure somehow implied that the Nigerians could not provide adequately for the security of diplomatic facilities, which is an obligation of any host country under the various Geneva conventions that govern diplomatic behavior.

Once diplomatic missions are closed, governments proceed with caution to reopen them. But, diplomatic facilities fill an essential function and prolonged closure is not really an option. Hence, the response has been to make them more and more impregnable, from Nigeria to the Middle East and beyond. And diplomatic facilities increasingly showcase “Fortress America.” Though impossible to quantify, the need to subordinate so much to security diminishes American soft power by undermining its traditional message of openness and welcome.

A woman in Gbangbegouine village, western Ivory Coast wears a shirt proclaiming her support for the country's president, Alassane Ouattara, on July 4, 2013. Political conflict between supporters of Mr. Ouattara and former president Laurent Gbagbo continue to simmer three years after they faced off in elections here. (Luc Gnago/Reuters)

Three years after bloody election violence in Ivory Coast, tension simmers

By Lisa DavisGuest blogger, Sabina ViganiGuest blogger / 08.06.13

•A version of this post first appeared on the blog of the international NGO Freedom House. The views expressed are the authors' own. 

Côte d’Ivoire has yet to reckon with the crimes committed during the conflict that followed its November 2010 presidential election, in which 3,000 people were killed and more than 150 women were raped. Although the country has taken some steps to pursue justice since, they have been slow and largely ineffective.

The unresolved issues from the post-election period have contributed to countrywide political polarization and reduced faith in both the government and the electoral process. If these crimes are not addressed, the country’s prospects of becoming a successful democracy will be in jeopardy.
The root of these problems lies in the contested election of 2010 and the ensuing power struggle between incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and challenger Alassane Ouattara. Following the vote, the Independent Electoral Commission proclaimed Mr. Ouattara the winner, and the special representative of the United Nations secretary general certified both that the electoral process met international standards for free and fair elections and that the results proclaimed by the electoral commission were indeed credible.

However, Mr. Gbagbo contested the results through the Constitutional Council, then chaired by one of his close associates. The council nullified the results in several electoral districts and proclaimed Gbagbo the winner, in violation of the electoral law. The move prompted a political crisis that soon transformed into violent conflict, pitting security forces and militias loyal to Gbagbo against former rebel forces that supported Ouattara.
After several months of fighting, and with the aid of UN and French forces, Gbagbo was arrested. During the conflict, numerous human rights abuses were allegedly committed by both sides, including murder, rape, and the torture of civilians.

In the aftermath, Ouattara declared that anyone found responsible for such crimes would be held accountable, pledging that reconciliation would be a priority of his administration. These commitments led to the formation of several institutions tasked with addressing past abuses. In 2011, the government established the National Commission of Inquiry, the Special Investigative Cell, and the National Commission on Dialogue, Truth, and Reconciliation.
The National Commission of Inquiry was created to document the specific events that had transpired during the conflict and identify people who would be subject to prosecution. Although it found evidence that both the pro-Ouattara forces and fighters loyal to Gbagbo were involved in numerous human rights abuses, criminal proceedings against the identified perpetrators have been painfully slow.
The Special Investigative Cell within the Ministry of Justice was charged with investigating attacks against state security, economic crimes, and violent crimes. Though the cell was designed as an impartial judicial body, expected to indict forces on both sides of the conflict, this balance has not been achieved. More than 150 Gbagbo supporters have been accused of crimes and arrested, but few from the Ouattara side have been similarly charged and detained, leading observers to point to the cell’s politicized leadership and a strong current of “victor’s justice.” In July 2013, the Indictment Chamber of the Abidjan Tribunal confirmed charges against 84 of Gbagbo’s close associates.
The National Commission on Dialogue, Truth, and Reconciliation was given a two-year mandate to “seek truth and determine where responsibilities lie regarding past and recent national socio-political events.” The commission has carried out little substantive work so far due to a lack of funds and institutional capacity, the tense political and security environment, and the questionable designation of a prominent political figure, Charles Konan Banny, as its leader.
Although the results of these three justice mechanisms have been disappointing to date, the broader effort to address past abuses features small but growing bright spots.
In May 2013, a warlord who fought with pro-Ouattara forces was arrested. While he was detained on the grounds that he was illegally living in a protected forest, he is accused by several domestic and international human rights groups of being responsible for the massacres of hundreds of people in western Côte d’Ivoire during and after the post-election crisis. Also in May, bodies from 57 mass graves across Abidjan were exhumed, and at least 36 of the sites contained bodies of people killed during the post-election violence. Separately, the Ivoirian government has announced plans to reform the justice system by 2015.
Although each of these constitute important incremental steps toward both transitional justice and a sustainable democracy, genuine progress and ultimate success depend in large part on a vigilant and engaged civil society. Independent civil society organizations can monitor official justice mechanisms to enhance their work, highlight their constraints, and serve as a check against abuses, bias, and negligence in the implementation of their mandates.

Civic groups can also contribute by conducting high-risk investigations to expose ongoing adverse actions by security forces and flawed judicial processes that perpetuate rights abuses and distrust, and by insisting on specific security-sector reforms, including immediate personnel vetting and increased oversight.

Only civil society is in a position to develop new means of reaching out to victims and convincing the wider population to abandon a culture of silence and fear. Finally, civil society can use the official transitional justice institutions to champion victims’ claims. This includes intensified efforts by lawyers to file court cases on behalf of victims from different sides of the conflict, to correct what increasingly appears to be a one-sided process.
Many of these activities are already under way. RAIDH (Regroupement des Acteurs Ivoiriens des Droits Humains), a coalition of five prominent human rights groups, produced a report entitled Pourquoi sommes-nous arrivés jusque-là? (How did we get this far?) that does what the National Commission on Dialogue, Truth, and Reconciliation has yet to do. It documents specific human rights abuses in several areas throughout the country from September 2002 until May 2011.

Its recommendations comprise both immediate and longer-term changes, such as urgent disarmament of the Dozos, traditional hunters who joined pro-Ouattara forces during the post election crisis, and stopping the use of torture and other abuses in detention facilities. The recommendations also suggest pursuing cases of rights violations committed by the former rebel forces that supported Ouattara, and accelerating security-sector reform.
Others within the Working Group on Transitional Justice, a platform comprising eight local civil society organizations, provide legal aid and psychological assistance to victims and engage in peace-building and reconciliation efforts. Recently, three prominent human rights organizations jointly established the Observatory of Transitional Justice, which monitors the work of the National Commission on Dialogue, Truth, and Reconciliation, the Military Tribunal, and the Special Investigative Cell.

Despite these positive actions taken by civil society, deep political divisions and persistent impunity continue to obstruct reconciliation and a successful democratic transition. To bolster the process of transitional justice that started two years ago, Freedom House launched a project to work with Ivoirian human rights groups as they engage the government and the population on coming to terms with the country’s legacy of violence. Freedom House has partnered with the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) to train local groups and leading activists and enhance their monitoring and advocacy efforts. 

An election observer looks on during Presidential and parliamentary elections in Harare, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, July 31, 2013. Some international observers are warning of a potential political crisis in the aftermath of the polling. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)

Is political crisis brewing in Zimbabwe?

By John CampbellGuest blogger / 07.31.13

•A version of this post first appeared on the blog Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own. 

On July 29 the International Crisis Group (ICG) issued an important report, Zimbabwe’s Elections: Mugabe’s Last Stand, suggesting that the aftermath of today's elections in Zimbabwe is likely to be a protracted and violent political crisis – regardless of who comes out ahead in the polls. 

Even before polling started, there have been reports of ruling-party aligned state security services resorting to violence and intimidation against opponents of President Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party.

The ICG notes the poor state of election preparations. None of the proposed reforms have been implemented that might have forestalled a repeat of the post-electoral crisis of 2008, in which violence and refugee flows led the Southern African Development and Cooperation Community (SADC) under South African leadership to intervene and impose a power sharing arrangement on Mr. Mugabe and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change–Tsvangirai (MDC-T).

This time, Mugabe has blocked any western election observers. The African Union and SADC will have teams on the ground, but they are unlikely to be critical of Mugabe, who is the surviving patriarch of the southern African liberation movements.

Given these realities, it is surprising that at least some in the opposition expect to win, and by a substantial margin. The Zimbabwe Transition Barometer (ZTB), produced by a local NGO, argues that over the past four years, the country has become democratic in culture, and a democratic wave will sweep Mugabe out and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai into the presidency.

It is hard to share that optimism. But, if the opposition should appear to be winning, we should anticipate especially vicious repression by the ruling ZANU-PF, which will not tolerate an opposition victory; even perhaps in spite of Mugabe’s personal claims that he will accept defeat, a reality he clearly sees as remote.

The Zimbabwe election shambles is no credit to SADC and South African President Jacob Zuma. They have failed to bring about a democratic transformation in Zimbabwe. Further, Mr. Zuma has thrown over his envoy to Zimbabwe, Lindiwe Zulu, a sharp-minded and outspoken advocate for a free and fair election. Zuma acted at the request of Mugabe, who notoriously called her a “street woman.”

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