Good Reads: Libya's oil, WikiLeaks' hit list, and Rwandan cyclists

Was the Libyan war really all about oil after all? Statements by France and Libya's interim government suggest it was a consideration, at the least. Today's Good Reads also shouts out pieces on WikiLeaks and a New Yorker piece about cycling enthusiasts in the hills of Rwanda.

Ever since the rebellion began in Libya, antiwar critics across Africa have repeated the mantra “it’s about the oil,” and Western diplomats would insist, “it’s about democracy and citizens overthrowing dictators.” Now, in a Guardian story, Julian Borger and Terry Macalister write that it may have been all about oil after all.

Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, has indicated that his country expects to get a good chunk of the oil exploration rights from the new Libyan government; British Petroleum, the state-owned oil company, also told the Guardian that it is in talks with the rebel government.

Mr. Juppe’s motto in all this seems to be “c’est normal.”

According to the Guardian, which quoted RTL radio, Juppe said: "What I know is the (National Transitional Council, Libya's interim government) said very officially that concerning the reconstruction of Libya it would turn in preference to those who helped it. That seems fair and logical to me."

The Guardian piece points out that the rebels are likely to favor its Western backers over the oil companies of countries that were more supportive of Muammar Qaddafi, such as those from Russia, China, and Brazil. Those three countries are part of BRICS, a grouping of emerging economic powers that also includes India and South Africa.

By backing Mr. Qaddafi, or at least by criticizing the Western effort to support the anti-Qaddafi rebels, BRICS nations may have hurt their own chances to enter the Libyan game, the Economist points out this week in a strong political piece that focuses on South Africa.

The South African government argues that it “holds the moral high ground” by opposing NATO’s air operation to support rebels in Libya, the Economist writes. Even though South Africa’s own ruling party had a military wing that fought to bring down the apartheid government, “the government now says there can be ‘no justification in the use of violence to solve global challenges, whether social, political or economic.’ The removal of repressive autocracies, it says, should be achieved by negotiation, not by the bullet.”

Is the South African government standing on principle, or is it standing in the dust as the bus of Libyan business opportunities pulls away?

In the spooky world of Wikileaks, where top secret US intelligence is just one mouse click away, all 251,000 of the US diplomatic cables in Wikileaks’s treasure chest are now available to the public.

The full text of the cables was in an encrypted file accidentally released by WikiLeaks and posted in multiple places on the Internet. A book released earlier this year about WikiLeaks by two Guardian reporters discloses the password necessary to access the encrypted file, making the information accessible to anyone with the password.

Both Wikileaks and the newspapers that published the cables are blaming each other for the release. The effect could be the end of careers, and in some cases, the deaths of people who are quoted by name in the cables as having spoken with US diplomats.

First, a word about who in their right mind would speak with US diplomats: Often, they are journalists who have agreed to help explain to US diplomats what is happening in a foreign country. Sometimes they are high profile politicians or business leaders who have insight into how the political elite thinks, or what they are likely to do next. Occasionally, in a repressive country like Iran or China or Zimbabwe, these individuals are taking great personal risk speaking to the US government.

Wikileaks often portrays itself as an organization that helps keep a check on superpowers such as the US, and the potential for them to do that is certainly there when it comes to uncovering the use of torture or third-country rendition for terrorism suspects over the past decade. But for the untold thousands who may have talked with US diplomats about their own repressive governments, the release of the cables could be a death sentence.

The New York Times and The Christian Science Monitor both do a good job of unpacking the question of who released the cables this time around.

The Times’ Scott Shane emphasizes the danger this latest release poses to the once-anonymous sources who are now exposed by Wikileaks:

The release of the unedited texts of all the cables will make meaningless past efforts by WikiLeaks and journalists to remove the names of vulnerable people in repressive countries, including activists, academics and journalists, who might face reprisals for speaking candidly to American diplomats. While no consequence more serious than dismissal from a job has been reported so far, both State Department officials and human rights advocates are concerned about the possibility that people named in the cables could face prison or worse.

The Monitor’s Gloria Goodale, meanwhile, focuses on the blame game between Wikileaks and the Guardian, one of the papers that had access to the Wikileaks cables.

Quoting Gene Grabowski , senior vice president of Levick Strategic Communications and manager of the firm’s crisis and litigation practice, Ms. Goodale writes that the greatest damage in the latest release may be not to the US government but to the reputation of Wikileaks itself.

“The reputation and ability of WikiLeaks to continue with its stated mission may be one of the first casualties of this security breach, Mr. Grabowski says. "WikiLeaks needs the trust and cooperation of other organizations to be relevant,” he says, pointing to its relationship with The New York Times and Guardian. Both those newspapers worked hand in hand with WikiLeaks when the documents first surfaced last year.

And finally, because it’s Friday, here’s a shoutout to The New Yorker, still one of the best practitioners of long-form magazine writing – or as normal people call it, the Saturday afternoon read. Take a look at this week’s piece by Philip Gourevitch about an unlikely group of competitive bicyclists in Rwanda.

A decade and a half ago, Mr. Gourevitch was The New Yorker’s man in Rwanda, chronicling the horrors of the 1994 extermination of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis by the Hutu-led government. This week, he shows that societies like Rwanda are never completely defined by one single event. Survivors move on, countries rebuild, and individuals find new passions that give their lives meaning.

Gourevitch profiles Gasore Hategeka, a one-time bicycle-taxi driver who decided to train to join the Rwandan national cycling team.

“In 2007, a national cycling team was established, and shortly before Gasore began riding his taxi-bike the team set up its training camp twenty-five miles east of Sashwara, in the town of Ruhengeri. As he plied his trade routes, Gasore watched the helmeted racers whiz by, dazzling in their tight Team Rwanda jerseys and shorts – in the national colors of blue, yellow, and green – crouched over the curved handlebars of their slender road bikes, pedalling in close formation. ‘I would chase them,’ he told me. ‘Even when I had a passenger, I would race after the racers.’ On the long descent to Gisenyi, he could keep up for three minutes at a stretch. He began to train every morning before work, pushing himself up hills and down. He called out to the racers to ask when they’d be by again, and he’d lay in wait for them.”

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