Monday, August 27, 2012

Gambian Executions

President Jammeh of the Gambia made headlines on 19 August 2012 at a celebration of Eid (Muslim holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan) by announcing his plans to execute all 47 prisoners on death row by September.  President Jammeh said "There is no way my government will allow 99 per cent of the population to be held to ransom by criminals."  Some of the death row prisoners were political prisoners sentenced to death for treason, including former military and intelligence chiefs.  Amnesty International reported the first executions on 24 August 2012, saying nine prisoners were executed the previous night.  On 27 August 2012 the Interior Minister confirmed that nine prisoners were executed by firing squad and that the rest of the executions would taken place by mid-September.

Coming from a country (the United States) where prisoners are still executed for their crimes I am familiar with the debate surrounding capital punishment, and the US can't really criticize the Gambia for executing their prisoners since we do it too.  We also have criticism regarding the fairness of trials and executing innocent prisoners, but I question the timing of the executions.  It seems that the government of the Gambia is drawing out the period of executions over a couple weeks.  Is the plan to execute nine or ten prisoners per week?  Wouldn't it be more merciful and efficient to execute all the prisoners at once?  What advantages does the Gambia gain by lengthening the execution period as with every execution or the discussion of the execution generates more international outrage?  Perhaps the intent is to keep the Gambia and President Jammeh in the spotlight?  Perhaps I am missing something else entirely- if so, please let me know.

I thought President Jammeh's speech was interesting that he kept addressing Muslims in general and the true believers, asking them to come together to save their noble religion and the Quaran.  He also referred to conflicts in the middle-east and in Afghanistan and the need to rid themselves of false believers/pretenders within. 

Details on the 9 executed can be found at 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Leadership Transition in Africa

When the Arab spring blew through northern Africa in early 2011 many had high hopes of popular uprisings that would lead to regime change and better quality of life for the rest of the continent.  However, sustained popular uprisings didn’t blossom into a season of change for a number of reasons: violent crackdowns, lack of a middle class that could support the change, lack of hope, etc… But maybe Mother Nature had a back-up plan for change in sub-Saharan Africa.
Over the past two years a number of long-lasting African heads of state have expired, leading to change.  Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua led the charge, dying on 5 May 2010 causing an unexpected change in leadership with then Vice-President Jonathon Goodluck completing the term and upsetting a rotation of political leadership between the North and South of Nigeria, which also has contributed in part to the ongoing violence in Nigeria. 
Guinea-Bissau has experienced lately a mess of leadership since the death of Malam Bacai Sanhà on 9 January 2012.  Raimundo Pereira was the acting president until he was deposed in a coup d’état on 12 April 2012.
In Malawi, President Bingu wa Mutharika died of a heart attack on 5 April 2012 and then Vice-President Joyce Banda was only able to secure the presidency two days later on 7 April 2012 after the military stepped in to support her and the succession of the presidency as directed in the constitution.  Mutharika’s brother had tried to secure the presidency for himself and had recruited the Chief of Police in his support but ultimately failed in his bid for power.
Ghana’s President John Atta Mills died on 24 July 2012 and was replaced by Vice-President and now current President John Dramani Mahama.  Unlike in Malawi there was no drama in the passing of power to the Vice-President. 
Ethiopia’s Head of State, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi Asres' was the latest to expire on 20 August 2012 after a long undisclosed illness.  Prime Minister Zenawi had not been seen for many weeks as he was in treatment in an undisclosed location, but following notice of his death his body was shipped back to Ethiopia from Belgium.  Zenawi was the President of Ethiopia from 1991 to 1995 and then became Prime Minister in 1995 until his recent death.  Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who is also Ethiopia’s foreign minister, is now the acting head of state for Ethiopia.
Other African leaders that expired in office include Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia and Lansana Conté of Guinea in 2008.  Mwanawasa was replaced by his Vice-President Rupiah Banda without any disruption of government but the political situation in Guinea destabilized.  Conté’s successor, Aboubacar Somparé was deposed in a coup the day after taking power. Eventually current President Alpha Condé was elected and assumed the presidency on 21 December 2010.
In every case besides Guinea and Ethiopia, where Conté ruled for 24 years (1984-2008) and Zenawi ruled for 21 years (1991-2012), the fallen African presidents had been democratically elected and had ruled for less than 10 years.  Some were even in their initial terms of office so their governments had and were experiencing changes of leadership and power. 
However, some African heads of state have managed to hang on to power for decades, despite their old age.  President Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, although he was the Prime Minister from 1980-1987.  President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda came to power in 1986, President Paul Biya of Cameroon in 1982, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola in 1979, and President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea also in 1979.  President Nguema has the distinction of being the longest serving leader in Africa, coming to power on 3 August 1979, a month before President dos Santos in Angola.  President Denis Sassou Nguesso has also ruled the Republic of Congo since 1979, taking only a five-year break after losing elections in 1992, but returning to power after civil war in 1997.
The mostly peaceful transition of power in Senegal in 2012 following contentious Presidential elections where President Wade altered the constitution to allow him to run for a formerly forbidden third term could have been a disaster.  Violent protests across the country indicated that if President Wade had won a third term chaos would have ensued.  Thankfully, current President Macky Sall defeated Wade in the second round of voting to secure the Presidency.  Former President Wade then gracefully assisted in the transition of power without further incident.
In Cote d’Ivoire the people were not as fortunate as former President Laurent Gbagbo (2000-2011) refused to give up power to the victor of the 2010 elections, current President Alassane Ouattara.  Both claimed the Presidency from December 2010 until April 2011 when forces loyal to Ouattara and backed by France and the United Nations defeated Gbagbo.  In November 2011 Gbagbo was extradited to the Hague (International Criminal Court) where he awaits trial for crimes committed during the post-election violence. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

AFRICOM good intentions

In the 16 August 2012 Foreign Policy article The Pivot to Africa: Circumcision, mosquito killing, and other strange doings of Africom the author, Rosa Brooks, describes several of the projects undertaken by the Department of Defense (DoD) to improve relations with the locals and African governments.  AFRICOM is different from other regional military commands, like EUCOM in Europe or SOUTHCOM in South America, as it was designed to integrate civilian and military teams as a unified approach to helping the African continent.  So in Africa you have military service-members interfacing with Africans in a variety of ways, from teaching Africans how to clear minefields and purify drinking water to building schools.

In the Pivot to Africa article, Brooks listed several examples: 
  • Construction of school classrooms in Chad
  • Research on the "Association of Sexual Violence and Human Rights Violations With Physical and Mental Health in Territories of the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo"
  • Cattle vaccination in Uganda, designed to provide healthy cattle to internally displaced civilians returning to their homes
  • Activities to combat drug trafficking through the West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative
  • Construction of closed wells with solar-powered pumps in Senegal
  • Establishment of an East African Malaria Task Force to combat "one of the biggest killers on the continent: the mosquito"
  • Development of a news and information website aimed at local audiences in the Maghreb region, featuring "analysis, interviews and commentary by paid Magharebia correspondents"
  • Construction of a maternal- and pediatric-care ward at a Ugandan hospital
  • Collaboration with Botswana's military to "promote Botswana's national program of education, HIV screening and male circumcision surgeries"
  • Cooperation with the Sierra Leone Maritime Wing and Fisheries Ministry that "result[ed] in the apprehension of an illegally operating fishing vessel"
This is just a very small list of all the activities the Office of Security Cooperation (OSC) in the US Embassies in Africa manage.  Each DoD Office of Security Cooperation manages hundreds of thousands of dollars of projects in each country in efforts to enhance relations and the capabilities of the African host nation.  These projects are coordinated with the rest of the embassy offices including USAID and approved by the Ambassador to synchronize US efforts in the country in accordance with the US mission plan.

Some projects are better conceived and received than others.  For example a school opening I witnessed in Senegal was very well received by local government officials and the community but in Chad the US funded schools I saw were padlocked and not used by the locals.  Instead the locals were holding class in a more traditional hut that provided ventilation and light and a much more comfortable learning environment than the concrete box with tiny windows and tin roof provided by DoD.
US DoD built school in Chad

Where we found the locals holding class nearby in Chad

I think that AFRICOM has good intentions but mixed results due to mistrust across the continent and less than thorough understanding of the locals and their needs.  To be fair AFRICOM is a very young organization that is still growing its team to work on the continent and it takes time to develop relationships and expertise in 54 African countries.  At the very least, AFRICOM is a good effort for the US to try to reengage on the continent after its near abandonment following the disaster of "Blackhawk Down" in Somalia in 1993.

Book Review: Dancing in the Glory of Monsters

Finished reading the book in my hammock this afternoon.  Read it cover to cover in 5 days

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa by Jason K. Stearns.
After struggling to get through Gerard Prunier’s Africa’s World War but failing several times, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters was a breeze to read.  Jason Stearns connected the many central African conflicts together to show the complexity of the two Congolese wars but also debunk several theories of why the wars took place, why peace is so hard to achieve, and why the world outside of Africa doesn’t care. 
One of the connections made by Stearns was the personal relationships between Presidents Musevini of Uganda, Kagame of Rwanda, and Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  All three worked together to come to power but fought protracted wars in eastern Congo over resources.  The Tutsi-Hutu conflict also helped define relations throughout the region as Stearns explains Tutsi relations in the region were always in conflict with others.  For example, Tutsi in the Congo who had lived there for generations were always treated as outsiders and during the genocide in Rwanda harassment increased.  After the genocide Hutu-Tutsi conflicts enveloped the region with Rwandan Tutsi forces massacring Hutus and other Congolese who stood in their way.
The book concludes by bringing the reader up to date on how Joseph Kabila, son of Laurent Kabila who was assassinated in 2001, worked to expel Ugandan and Rwandan forces from DRC and formed a government.  All is still not well in eastern Congo and an estimated 5 million people were killed or disappeared during the conflicts. 
This book is a must read as it gives color and personality to the monsters that were key players in these African world wars.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Liberian Expat

This morning while I was volunteering in a foodbank in Mass., I was teamed up with an older gentleman from Liberia to clean and bag produce and stock shelves.  My 78 year-old friend had emigrated to the Boston area 15 years ago but still managed to return home every couple years. My new friend's most recent trip was last fall during the elections.  It was great to swap stories about Liberia and get his perspectives on Liberian politics and it's future.

My new Liberian friend was proud of his president but accepted the corruption of her son and other warlords that managed to secure a place in government as part of politics.  He also spoke highly of a new bridge built by the Chinese but deplored the state of the rest of the roads in Liberia.  In the end he was left wondering how the government could be fixed and said he feared a return to chaos after President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf steps down at the end of her second term.

Another interesting point he brought up was the foreign control of the Liberian military.  Not only is it being trained by Americans, but the highest leadership is Nigerian.  When I visited the Liberian Army barracks in 2010 I met a Nigerian Command Sergeant Major who showed us around the base.  He took pride in leading the Liberian troops and the Liberian officers seemed smart, motivated, dedicated.  However, my new Liberian friend thought foreign control of the military was extremely dangerous.  He was worried that the Nigerians knew all of Liberia's defense secrets, capabilities, and weaknesses and that made them especially susceptible to a Nigerian invasion (I dont think that is likely).

It was an interesting circumstance to discuss Africa, in a foodbank that gave away tons of food everyday, as we worked stocking shelves with more food that could probably be found in all the stores of Monrovia.