July 27, 2006
Mail & Guardian, the South African newspaper, had an interesting article today on Eritrea’s and Ethiopia’s involvement in Somalia. Eyewitnesses reported that a cargo plane landed in Mogadishu carrying arms. All the players are refusing to comment on what was aboard the plane that was chartered from Kazakhstan.There already are allegations that Ethiopia and Eritrea are using Somalia to fight a proxy war and expand their influence in the Horn of Africa.
The Mail & Guardian article reports that Eritrea on Thursday called for the speedy withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia, where they have been deployed to protect the country’s fledgling government. Eritrea warned that Ethiopia’s continued stay risked provoking a regional conflict.
I’ve posted other items on Somalia, including last month a response from the Union of Islamic Courts in Somalia addressing fears of extremism in the country. The UIC have stated that they do not want to impose a Taliban-style state, but rather want Somali citizen to decide on the type of representation they want.
Hopefully, without contradicting anything I’ve written in the past, I will attempt to give a play-by-play account of the different players in Somalia:
The Warlords:After 15 years of an absent government in Somalia when Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991, the warlords divided the capital Mogadishu and the southern part of the country into fiefdoms. They then united to form the Anti-Terrorism Alliance to tackle the Islamists, who they accused of sheltering foreign al-Qaeda militants.
The Union of Islamic Courts:The Islamists have denied the allegations of the warlords and the US. They claim they are not a political movement, but are in Mogadishu as a grassroots movement to establish law and order in a city without any judicial system. Because they have attempted to restore order in the capital and its surrounding areas, after so many years of looting, plundering, Killing and kidnapping by the warlords, they’ve received popular support from the Somali people.
The US:Bush’s administration was accused by the new Somali government and the Islamists of backing the warlords recently defeated by the Islamists. The US has denied these reports. But according to eyewitnesses, the US did secretly back an alliance of warlords earlier this year when they tried to defeat the Islamic militia and capture three suspected al-Qaida members who were allegedly hiding out within the group. The warlords were defeated, and the United States now supports the government. Bush has said he will make sure Somalia does not become a safe haven for al-Qaeda. He probably doesn’t want it to become an Islamic state either.
July 26, 2006
Oxfam issued a report on Monday calling for a review of current efforts to end hunger in Africa. The report, “Causing Hunger: An Overview of the Food Crisis in Africa,” argues that emergency assistance is usually inefficient, arrives too late and fails to addresses the causes of hunger and food security.
InterPress Service News Agency has a news story on Oxfam’s new report. It states that humanitarian assistance to Africa increased from $946 million (US) in 1997 to just over $3 billion (US) in 2003. Nonetheless, there have been food crises during the past few months in the Sahel region, Southern Africa, and Horn of Africa.
According to the report, donors doubt the ability of United Nations agencies to administer aid effectively. This constitutes one of the reasons for insufficient or late funding of U.N. appeals. Nonetheless, Oxfam believes a one billion dollar commitment by donors to the U.N. Central Emergency Response Fund is key to “quicker and more equitable assistance.”
The news story doesn’t state why Oxfam believes a billion dollar commitment to the UN Emergency Fund would be key to more equitable assistance. Is donor money in this central fund distributed to international NGOs and not UN agencies? Second–wouldn’t Oxfam or other NGOs experience the same difficulties in administering aid as UNDP, FAO or UNICEF? Better yet, how do international NGOs administer funds marked for emergency assistance differently than UN agencies?
July 25, 2006
With elections in DR Congo less than a week away, UNICEF issued a report yesterday stating 1,200 people are killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) every day because of violence, disease or malnutrition.
The report, Child Alert: DRC, also states that more children under age five die each year in the African country than in China – a country with 23 times the population. It draws attention to the to the appalling fact that the total countrywide death toll every six months is similar to that for the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed more than 230,000 people in 12 countries.
This analogy is similar to the one made in the blog My Heart’s in Accra on how Western coverage is disproportionate to the Middle East conflict’s causalities in relation to Africa.
Nonetheless, UNICEF UK Ambassador for Humanitarian Emergencies Martin Bell, who wrote the report, said Sunday’s landmark elections could be a turning point.
“It is easy to be overwhelmed by what has happened in DRC because of the sheer scale of it. But we owe it to the children to give them the future they deserve and these elections may be the opportunity of their lifetime,” said Bell.
July 24, 2006
The BBC reported today that thousands of Somalis staged a rally in Mogadishu calling on Ethiopian troops to leave their country. Since June, Mogadishu has been run by the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). The UIC has vowed to expel Ethiopian troops who are deployed to assist the weak transitional Somali government.
Islamic leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed addressed the rally that forces loyal to the Islamic courts were ready and would be allowed to fight Ethiopians when appropriate. In May, it was reported that the US government was sending funds to Ethiopia under the guise of their supporting the ‘war on terror’ but Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was funding paramilitary troops to undermine the creation of an Islamist government
“We are talking to the international community to avoid serious bloodshed and we are urging the Ethiopians to withdraw from Somalia. Patience has its own limitations,” Agence France Presse quoted him saying.
Talks held in Sudan between the UIC and the transitional government – which correspondents say has little authority outside Baidoa – have been suspended. Ethiopian troops have amassed at Somalia’s central town, Wajid and in the government’s Baidoa base. Ethiopia and the transitional government have refused to confirm Ethiopian troops are on Somali soil. Ethiopia, a long-term ally of President Abdullahi Yusuf, has warned the Islamic courts not to make any further military advance on Baidoa.
July 23, 2006
IRIN News has a background report on DR Congo’s elections coming up next Sunday. It is the first free election in the country since Patrice Lumumba was elected prime minister in 1960. After his murder the following year in 1961, Mobutu consolidated power quickly and installed a one-party system in the country. Mobutu was a key figure in the coup that overthrew Lumumba, who had appointed him previously as the chief of staff of the Congo army.
I’ve excerpted a couple of paragraphs of the IRIN News to provide some historical content and also a thumbnail of the present situation:
- The legacy of Mobutu’s 32-year Western-backed rule extends beyond endemic corruption; to offset potential political opposition his rule was absolute, with the 1974 constitution granting him authority over the executive, legislature and judiciary branches of government. Furthermore, he maintained a system of patronage while maintaining the loyalty of the police and army, all of which required money. By 1990, the country was US $14 billion in debt. With the end of the cold war, Mobutu was no longer of any use to the US in its fight against Soviet influence in Africa, and his lines of credit were cut off.
- The present incumbent, Joseph Kabila, 35, who took over from his father, Laurent-Desire Kabila, who was assassinated in January 2001, is the favourite to win the presidential vote, which is being contested by 33 candidates. Another 9,000 politicians are vying for 500 parliamentary seats. However, security remains a problem, despite the presence of the largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world, comprising 17,000 troops, which will be backed up by 2,000 EU forces over the election period. In addition, 5,000 national and 500 international observers will oversee the polls.
Ethan Zuckerman has a great post on My Heart’s in Accra on how the Western media attention on the Middle East eclipses what’s been happening in Africa for the past ten years:
“In total, it’s likely that, over the past decade, at least forty times as many people have died directly or indirectly from violent conflict in central Africa as have died in the Middle East.”
July 22, 2006
Reporters Without Borders stated that the last of the bloggers arrested in Egypt two months ago were released Thursday.
Mohamed al-Sharqawi and Karim El-Shaer were arrested during a demonstration outside the Cairo press union on May 25th. They were held in Tora prison, where they were often harassed by fellow inmates and tortured. The Arabist blog printed an English translation of a letter sent from al-Sharqawi while in Tora prison which documents his abuse. Human Rights Watch also issued a statement on Al-Sharqawi and fellow pro-democracy activists who were assaulted.
Six bloggers were arrested in May in a crackdown on pro-democracy activists who use the Internet to mobilize and communicate with other activists. Al-Sharqawi blogs at SpeaksFreely.
July 21, 2006
New York-based Palestinian activist Farouk Abdel-Muhti, 57, died suddenly of a heart attack two years ago today on July 21, 2004, after speaking at an anti-war forum for the Philadelphia Ethical Society. His death came 100 days after he was released from immigration detention. Federal agents and the New York City police arrested Abdel-Muhti in April 2002. He was illegally held for two years by BICE (formerly the Immigration & Naturalization Service).
Abdel-Muhiti was working as a producer with the New York radio station WBAI at the time of his detention. His attorney Jeff Fogel made the following statement on a WBAI press release:
“Even though he didn’t have lawful immigration status in the US for the last 35 years…Farouk never missed a protest. He was never in hiding even though he was ‘illegal.’ Yet it was his activism that got him arrested in April 2002. It was only once he started arranging for radio interviews with Palestinians in the West Bank and doing live on-air translations of those interviews on WBAI that he was actually arrested by the Absconder Task Force- a group that’s been basically responsible for solely arresting Muslim men of South Asian or Arab extraction.
July 20, 2006
Bombing areas with civilian populations is not a sovereign state’s right to self defense. Destroying infrastructure and economic livelihood is not a measured response.
July 19, 2006
The human rights office of the U.N. Assistant Mission for Iraq- UNAMI– reported yesterday that more than 14,000 civilians had been killed during the first half of this year, including more than 3,000 in June. The death toll for the past month averaged more than 100 civilians a day.The report describes an increase in lawlessness and crime, including assassinations, bombings, kidnappings, torture and intimidation.
Hundreds of teachers, judges, religious leaders and doctors have been targeted for death, and thousands of people have fled, the report said. Evidence suggests militants also have begun to target homosexuals, the report said.
According to an article in the Washington Post, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, vowed is administration will do everything possible to tackle violence and foster reconciliation among Iraqis. His efforts to bridge the divisions among Iraq’s religious, ethnic and political groups rests on his national reconciliation initiative.
[This initiative is] “the only bridge and crossing point through which we can reach the safe shore that unites the sons of the Iraqi people, ends the violent situation, provides stability and puts an end to all discriminatory ideas, whether of sect, political party or race,” al-Maliki said.
July 18, 2006
Former South African President and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela turned 88 years old today. On Monday he held a private party for the staff of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The Foundation works on two of Mandela’s concerns: making a difference on the HIV/AIDS issue and improving the situation of children in rural schools.
Mandela, who spent 27 years in jail (about a third of this life), said he never expected to live to be 88. One remarkable feature of Mandela both as an individual and leader of a Free South Africa was his quest for knowledge. Even the mental and emotional torture of 27 years on Robben Island was not a barrier for education. In his memoirs, “Long Walk to Freedom,” Mandela wrote:
“As freedom fighters and political prisoners, we had an obligation to improve and strengthen ourselves, and study was one of the few opportunities to do so”.
This rings true today in Africa as its people mobilize and demand a knowledge-driven leadership where the country’s administrators are learned people who make sound decisions on economic and social policy issues while engaging civil society.
May he continue to lead us forward for the next 88 years.