One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

War in the Northern Mozambique Channel?

(cross-posted at UN Dispatch)

To the list of major concerns for the 798,000 inhabitants of the small Indian Ocean archipelago of Comoros — such as frequent coups and hyperactive volcanoes — add secession and, um, war with France? An independent country since 1975, Comoros has co-existed awkwardly with a couple of islands in the chain, together known as Mayotte, which has been “politically separate” since independence. Now, as of yesterday, with the endorsement of 95% of Mayotte voters, the islands officially constitute a departement outre-mer of France. In response, Comoros’ vice president has, naturally, suggested that this is tantamount to a declaration of war.

mayotteWhile France is probably not about to send its destroyers down into the Indian Ocean, it is interesting to note that, in the past, UN attempts to grant sovereignty of Mayotte to Comoros were stymied by the French Security Council veto. This is not necessarily neo-colonialism, though, as indicated by the heavy support by Mayotte’s population for incorporation into the metropole. Economic benefits abound, but there also seems to be a somewhat odd sense of national belonging, somewhat disturbingly expressed by this Mayotte legislator quoted by Reuters: “We may be black, poor and Muslim, but we have been French longer than Nice.” Interesting what the island assumes that the French think of “Frenchness.”

(image of a Mayotte sunset, from flickr user gunner.romain under a Creative Commons license)


March 30, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Foreign politics | , | 1 Comment

How do you say “Envoy” in Swahili?

I’ve been struck by how many news reports announcing the appointment of Scott Gration as Envoy to Sudan have prominently noted that the former Air Force general also speaks Swahili. This is great and all, as is the fact that he grew up in DR Congo, but Swahili is not a major language in Sudan. But, hey, it’s an African language, and Sudan is in Africa, so he’s basically already won over the confidence of the entire country continent.

March 18, 2009 Posted by | Darfur, Sudan | , , , | 3 Comments

Pope: condoms don’t stop HIV, friendship does!

popeUh-oh, the Pope is spreading love and good cheer making the HIV problem in Africa much, much worse.

Pope Benedict XVI has said that handing out condoms is not the answer in the fight against HIV/Aids, as he makes his first visit to Africa as pontiff.

No, please your Popeliness…

Speaking en route to Cameroon, he said distribution of condoms “increases the problem”. The Vatican urges abstinence.

Please be silent…

The solution lies in a “spiritual and human awakening” and “friendship for those who suffer”, the AFP news agency quotes him as saying.

Friendship…cures…AIDS?  More blood on papal hands.

(image from flickr user miqul under a Creative Commons license)

March 17, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Religion | , , , | 2 Comments

Israel conducts genocide elsewhere, too

Of all the reasonable legal, political, and humanitarian arguments for why the UN Security Council should suspend indictment of the Sudanese president for genocide and crimes against humanity, the new president of the Afribbean African Union, Muammar al-Ghaddafi, gives what is probably the most reasonablest:

“Why do we have to hold President Bashir or the Sudanese government responsible when the Darfur problem was caused by outside parties, and Tel Aviv (Israel), for example, is behind the Darfur crisis?”

Blame Israel — of course.  Why didn’t anyone think of that before?

February 25, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Darfur | , , , , | Leave a comment

Impossible dream of a lunatic, delayed by a day

From the Department of Don’t Hold Your Breath:

An African Union (AU) summit in Ethiopia has been extended to a fourth day amid disagreements on the issue of creating a United States of Africa.

Ummm…I’d wager it more likely that it only took seven days (or was it six?) for God to create the Earth. Even setting aside his penchant for regional meddling (not to mention for concocting bizarre Middle Eastern beverages peace proposals), the selection of Libya’s Muammar Ghaddafi as chairman of the African Union does not bode well for the credibility of the organization.  If this year’s summit is being extended so that heads of state can seriously discuss the outdated fiction of creating a “United States of Africa,” then the AU is not getting off to a very good start in taking care of actual business.  This is an organization that was created to improve upon the notorious “club of dictators” that its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity, had become.  Yet now, after in previous years resisting the “campaign” of Sudan’s democratically elected president genocidal dictator, the AU has now appointed a man who calls himself the “king of kings.” But then, maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up, and there will be a United States of Africa, proving me wrong and retroactively vindicating Sarah Palin in the process.

UPDATE: A view from a fire escape: the U.S. of Africa plan is fudge.

UPDATE II: Claudia Rosett, whose opinions I loathe and whom I therefore do not like to cite, claims that in Arabic, the suffix “-tine” means “mud” or “dirt,” making Ghaddafi’s “Isratine” either a “sick joke” with a subtle (if childish) jab at Israel, or perhaps just an even yuckier cocktail.  While this sounds exactly like the kind of self-righteous paranoia and scandal-mongering that typically characterize Rosett’s writing, it’d be easier to dismiss the idea of this underhanded ploy were the alleged perpetrator…anyone other than Muammar Ghaddafi.

February 4, 2009 Posted by | Africa | , , | 4 Comments

If you can’t shield dictators in Zimbabwe anymore, try Sudan

mbekimugabeForgive me for my skepticism re: the AU’s choice of moderator for the whole ICC-Darfur mess in Sudan.

The African Union has asked former South African leader Thabo Mbeki to head a panel on how to reconcile the need for accountability in Darfur with opposition to calls for Sudan’s president to be prosecuted.

Mbeki was a notorious obstacle in attempts to pressure Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, so I don’t hold out hope of him taking a hard line toward Sudan’s resident autocrat.  Moreover, this whole scheme seems set up for failure: the AU has made clear its opposition to the possible ICC indictment of President Bashir, so any “reconciling” here will surely only be for show.

(image from flickr user Sokwanele – Zimbabwe under a Creative Commons license)

January 29, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Darfur, Zimbabwe | , , , | Leave a comment

Could Rebel Fighting Possibly Be Good for Gorillas?

In the Year of the Gorilla, and amidst a consistent panoply of violence, comes this bit of surprising good news:

The population of mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park has risen by 12.5%, a census shows.

Doesn't seem too worried about rebels...

Doesn't seem too worried about rebels...

Rebels have had control of the park for a over a year, and the first census taken since then shows an increase in their population?  This is either an anomaly, or it belies the convention intuition that having a huge protected forest in the hands of murderous rebels probably does not bode well for primates.  That, or some entirely different explanation that has more to do with gorilla demographics than I’d care to know.

With only the first two options available, I’d say a little bit of both.  Not to disparage the benefits provided by the gorillas’ caretakers — the deplorable attacks against whom, one could reasonably wager, have been a destabilizing factor with regard to the area’s gorilla population (and they have a blog, so there’s no way I could disparage them) — but rebel presence in the enormous Virunga National Park may not have affected gorillas as much as is typically assumed.  Over 3,000 square miles. a couple hundred gorillas are not too likely to get hit by a stray bullet.

Really, though, the relative well-being of the region’s gorillas should just provide further reason to the, shall we say, morally eerie logic of bemoaning gorilla deaths when many, many more human beings are being raped and killed.  May the Year of the Gorilla continue successfully, but may the Year of Peace in Eastern Congo flourish at least equally.

cross-posted (hopefully soon) at UN Dispatch

(image of a gorilla in Virunga National Park, from flickr user bertieboy70 under a Creative Commons license)

January 27, 2009 Posted by | DR Congo | , , | Leave a comment

Michael Gerson wishes death upon people

And I thought that was, you know, not the most Christian thing to do.

Aragorn...dispenser of justice in Northern Uganda

Aragorn...dispenser of justice in Northern Uganda

There is a natural and appropriate hesitance to wish death for any man. “Many that live deserve death,” warned J.R.R. Tolkien. “And some die that deserve life. Can you give that to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice.” It is a wise saying — with some notable exceptions. And one of those exceptions is Joseph Kony, who has dealt out death to so many.

Well, he did cite J.R.R. Tolkien — who may have been talking about orcs, for all we know — so I guess he’s going on credible authority here. Look, I think Kony is a despicable fellow.  The most despicable of the despicable, in fact.  But I don’t think he is deserving of a summary judgment for execution — nor, as a pundit, do I even presume to have the authority to wade into that moral territory.  I’m not a Christian.  But I don’t believe in the death penalty — as a principle, and least of all as a cute way to end an op-ed.

(image from flickr user under a Creative Commons license)

January 9, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Conservatives | , , , | 2 Comments

Pumpkin helmets

Ready to ride.

Ready to ride.

Happen to have saved and dried any carved pumpkins from Halloween?  I seriously hope not.  But if you do, try putting them on your head.

Motorcyclists in Nigeria have been wearing dried pumpkin shells on their heads to dodge new laws forcing them to wear helmets, authorities have said.

Officials in the northern city of Kano said they had stopped several people with “improvised helmets”, following this month’s introduction of the law.

I think my interest in safety should trump my interest in creative uses for pumpkins here.

(image from flickr user zizzybaloobah under a Creative Commons license)

UPDATE: By some bizarre coincidence, the fiction piece in this week’s New Yorker, by Joyce Carol Oates, is titled — what else? — “Pumpkin Head.”

January 7, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Humor | , | Leave a comment

Treason is a very scary word

The dynamics within DR Congo’s most infamous rebel group appear to be, uh, sorting themselves out:

Rebel commanders in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have pledged their loyalty to Gen Laurent Nkunda, following claims he had been toppled.

His spokesman said those rebel officials saying he had been ousted had committed “high treason”.

Under the standards of either a notoriously rights-abusing rebel leader or his even more brutal rival — known as “the Terminator” and indicted for war crimes — “high treason” likely means only one thing: summary execution.  Human rights organizations, please pay attention.

UPDATE: My read on Bosco Ntaganda’s treason cum execution may have been a bit premature.  Well, that’s if you can trust the justice system of, um, Laurent Nkunda…

January 7, 2009 Posted by | DR Congo | , , | 1 Comment

One more year of good Ghanaian democracy, please

kufuorProbably not the best time for an ousted president to make this proposal:

Ghana’s outgoing leader John Kufuor has called for presidential terms to be extended from four years to five.

In his last state of the nation address to parliament, President Kufuor said the extra year would give leaders time to complete vital industrial projects.

Granted, Kufuor’s stepping down after an extremely tight and contentious election is an admirably democratic thing to do, and he doesn’t appear to be forcing his suggestion onto anyone. But if he was serious, maybe he should have thought to suggest longer terms before he was voted out of office.

(image of President Kufuor from flickr user World Economic Forum under a Creative Commons license)

January 5, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Foreign politics | , , , | Leave a comment

Airplane baby

Professor Blattman nominates the following Ugandan Canadian (literally) airborn[] baby as Baby New Year:

plane-babyA Ugandan woman has given birth to a baby girl on board an international flight from Amsterdam to Boston after going into labour mid-flight.

The six-pound (2.7kg) baby named Sasha was delivered on New Year’s Eve with the help of two doctors on the eight-hour-long Northwest Airlines flight.

Mother and baby were taken to a Boston hospital on landing and are doing well.

Sasha was deemed a Canadian citizen for customs’ purposes because she was born over Canada’s airspace.

This may indeed have been “smart thinking on the mother’s part,” as one commenter joshed, though it does not seem to have been very smart thinking on the part of the airline to let an about-to-deliver mother on to the flight.  And while the baby’s Canadian citizenship is perhaps just for the customs forms, this whole episode seems to demonstrate the silliness of assigning nationality.  Even if Sasha had been born on Canadian soil, what makes her more Canadian than Ugandan?  By an accident of birth, she will derive the benefits of dual citizenship that many can only dream of.  The point is, New Year’s Baby Sasha was not born a Ugandan, or a Canadian, or anything else; she was born a baby.

(image from flickr user Mr. Wright under a Creative Commons license)

January 4, 2009 Posted by | Africa | , , , | Leave a comment

When to bomb Khartoum…

Nick Kristof proposes a series of seriously tough measures that President Obama can take vis-à-vis the recalcitrant and stubbornly unrepentent survivalists running the Sudanese government.

The United States could target Sudanese military aircraft that defy a United Nations ban on offensive military flights in Darfur. The first step would be to destroy a helicopter gunship on the ground at night. A tougher approach would be to warn Sudan that unless it complies with international demands (by handing over suspects indicted by the International Criminal Court, for example), it will lose its air force — and then if it does not comply, to destroy all its military aircraft on the ground.

Thumbs up to bombing

Thumbs up to bombing

I’ve tended to agree with these relatively low-hanging aggressive actions, such as openly planning a mission to bomb Khartoum with enough seriousness to give Omar al-Bashir the willies, as was suggested, I believe, by Susan Rice, Tony Lake, and Don Payne in a Time article about two and a half years ago.  The problem is, what would be the immediate impetus for such an aggressive response?  To destroy a country’s air force for failing to reign in the chaos of a genocide that it unleashed nearly six years ago is hardly the most clear-cut or reflexively legitimate course of action.  This isn’t to say it isn’t warranted — just that such decisive action would have proved a lot more effective years ago (or, say, had Iraq not happened).

The situation now requires announcing some sort of ultimatum for the Sudanese authorities; and this is not nearly as neat a deal as it may seem on its face.  The génocidaires in Khartoum have survived this long not only because of the international community’s inability to commit to such game-changing steps, but also precisely because of their ability to fudge their way out of agreements and to baldly proclaim they are making concessions when they are in fact doing no such thing.  The tricky part for the Obama administration will be both to call this bluff, and, perhaps more importantly, to identify it at the appropriate time as a bluff.

(image of U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Rich Williamson from flickr user talkradionews under a Creative Commons license)

December 28, 2008 Posted by | Darfur, Sudan, U.S. Foreign policy | , , , | Leave a comment

The ten most important things that happened in Africa this year

The BBC has a fun ten-question quiz on “the good, the bad, and the bizarre” in Africa this year (it’s mostly the “bizarre”).  Check it out, and find out things like whether the Chadian government did or did not stretch a big fishing net over the entrance to the capital to prevent rebels from entering.

For what it’s worth, I scored 5 out of 10, making me a “yahoo yahoo” (you’ll see).

December 24, 2008 Posted by | Africa | , , , | 2 Comments

Everyone who knows about Somalia is named Mark Bowden

Based on the book of those Mark Bowdens

Based on the book of those Mark Bowdens

I had assumed that when The Washington Post commissioned Mark Bowden to write an op-ed about Somalia, it was because he had written a book called “Black Hawk Down,” which then got turned into a popular movie, which subsequently became the lodestar of American policy toward the region.  But then Bowden admitted he hasn’t been to the country since 1997.  And sure, the country is still a mess, anarchy still reigns, and all hell is perpetually on the brink of being loosed (except with pirates this time), but surely readers could use a fresher perspective.  Yes.  And that’s where the other Mark Bowden comes in:

More than $900 million will be needed next year just to avoid famine and disease, according to Mark Bowden (no relation), the U.N. humanitarian and resident coordinator for Somalia. The European Union and the United States have begun to chase pirates more aggressively, but that’s like swatting at bees while ignoring the hive.

This is way too much of a coincidence.

(image from flickr user James Spahr under a Creative Commons license)

December 24, 2008 Posted by | Somalia | , , , | Leave a comment