Friday, August 11, 2017

The Book is Published!

I finally published the book version of this blog (with a lot more information and editing) on Amazon!

The book is available as both a paperback and a kindle version.  Its also in the Kindle Lending Library program if you want to read it for free.

The whole process took six years with editing, rewriting, work, getting permission from AFRICOM and the Pentagon to publish, as well as the process of searching for a publisher with all the submissions and waiting for responses.

A big thank you to my good friend Rick for editing every chapter in the book and providing invaluable feedback.  Please let me know what you think!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Thursday, December 22, 2016

African Holiday Crisis of 2016?

It seems that every year there is some kind of holiday crisis (Cote d'Ivoire 2011, Mali 2012, South Sudan 2013, Ebola 2014, Burundi 2015) and this year there are three main contenders: the Gambia, Ghana, and the DRC.  All three contenders held recent elections or were supposed to hold election.  

In the Gambia on 1 December 2016 incumbent Yahya Jammeh lost to opposition candidate Adama Barrow.  Although he originally conceded the election, Jammeh has refused to accept the loss and is attempting to have the results thrown out and schedule another election.  The Gambian supreme court is scheduled to hear the case on 10 Jan 2017 but Adama Barrow plans on holding his inauguration regardless of the court hearing.

The 7 Dec 2016 election in Ghana passed peacefully with Nana Akuffo-Addo of the opposition winning the presidency in the first round and defeating incumbent President John Mahama.  Mahama has promised to hand over power peacefully and accept the election results, averting a crisis in this stable oasis inWest Africa.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo was scheduled to hold elections on 19 Dec 2016 but the President unilaterally postponed elections until April 2018 in order to allow for "voter registration."  Opposition groups have protested but a heavy police and military presence across the country have arrested opposition leaders and detained, beaten, and killed protesters.

The winner for the African Holiday Crisis for 2016 is likely to DRC as protests continue to escalate.  The Gambia would be a contender as well if demonstrations escalated or if Jammeh was to arrest or kill the newly elected president.  However, the Gambia usually receives little international attention and few countries outside of ECOWAS are likely to get involved.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Djibouti Trip

Seven weeks after leaving Chad I was back in Africa again, spending a week in Djibouti.  Last time I visited Djibouti was in 2011 and the highlight of the trip was snorkeling with whale sharks in northern Djibouti.  This time in Djibouti it was all work.

I noticed a number of positive changes in the city such as the addition of solar powered traffic lights and more paved roads.  For the most part the people seemed to obey the traffic lights and police and/or gendarmes were around to enforce the rules.

Some things haven't changed, like getting haircuts by the canal or khat stands throughout the city and in every village in the countryside.

I spent some time visiting projects in the hills outside Djibouti where huge hills and ravines were covered with black volcanic rocks the size of bowling balls.

The port facilities continue to improve, I just wish I had more time to spend at the beach (or with whale sharks!).

 I was glad I had an interpreter with me for this trip as very few of the Djiboutians that I met with spoke in pure French.  Most spoke in Somali or in a Somali-French hybrid.  However, the people that spoke English only wanted to practice their English.

I'm looking forward to visiting again soon!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Book Review: The Pirates of Somalia

The Pirates of Somalia: Inside their Hidden World by Jay Bahadur (2011)

To write this book about the inside world of the Puntland pirates Jay Bahadur traveled to Somalia and with great luck managed to make friends with former pirates and succeeded in returning alive to tell his story.*  Patience and a lot of khat, the tree leaves chewed in the region for its narcotic properties, allowed Jay to get pirates to tell their stories.  Surprisingly the pirates personal stories don't match the tales in the media of pirate mansions and freely flowing money.

In seeking to verify the media reports Jay Bahadur interviewed several pirates, victims, pirate associates, and villagers in the pirate areas.  In the end, Jay discovered that the pirate haven of Eyl was poor and there were no pirate mansions.  The people also claimed to be anti-pirate and wanted them to leave the area.  The former pirates all seemed to be broke and an accounting of ransom payments and the expenses of a hijacking verified that piracy didn't pay any better than a minimum wage job in the region.  However, the pirate sponsors made a lot of money.

Jay also described the three waves of piracy in Somali waters, where the first group were legitimate fisherman fighting against foreign fishing vessels which had destroyed local fisheries.  The second group of pirates started when the original fisherman weren't able to fight the foreign fishing boats (due to up arming of the foreign boats) but they found the cargo vessels transiting Somali waters to be easy targets.  The third wave transpired when Somali inlanders heard about the record ransoms for the hijacked boats and decided to get into the piracy business.  This third wave began to turn piracy into a business enterprise with motherships and speed boats that ventured hundreds of miles from Somali territorial waters to prey on big boats in the commercial shipping lanes.

An interesting point in the book is that many pirates were former members of various defunct coast guard operations designed to fight foreign fishing boats or pirates.  These coast guards learned advanced maritime operations, how to navigate at sea at distances far from shore, marksmanship, and how to coordinate attacks.  When the government of Puntland stopped paying the coast guards they turned to piracy themselves.

At the end of the book the author made several recommendations to combat the Somali piracy issue:
1. Finance an effective and well-paid Puntland Police Task Force
2. Fund an expansion of the Puntland prison system (to hold captured pirates)
3. Foster intelligence coordination between Puntland and international naval forces
4. Clamp down on illegal fishing
5. Encourage or require passive security measures abroad

The author correctly concludes by stating that the problem of piracy or land-based kidnapping for ransom in the region won't stop until the underlying issues of scarce resources is addressed. The above recommendations will help with resolving the immediate problem of piracy but addressing conflict and competition for scarce resources may never be resolved given the cultural and physical environment in Somalia.

*American journalist Michael Scott Moore wasn't as lucky as Jay Bahadur as he was kidnapped by Somali pirates while conducting research for a book on piracy in January 2012.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ebola Issues

The Ebola epidemic in Africa is about to get a lot worse thanks to the assault on a hospital in Monrovia, Liberia on 16 August 2014 where 17 Ebola patients were liberated along with their bedsheets and other Ebola contaminated items.  These patients were hand carried from the hospital and out in the general community for a couple days coming into contact with many others as their "liberators" didn't believe in Ebola.  As most people get around Liberia on mototaxi or crowded minibuses, many may have come into physical contact with the infected patients.  This close contact with others will allow the virus to spread rapidly and people may not know they were exposed.

Ebola is a virus that is spread through contact with fluids of an infected person and has an incubation period of 2 to 21 days.  Ebola kills 90% of people infected with the virus and does not currently have a vaccine.  An experimental drug has been used successfully in some cases but the supply is limited and knowledge of the side effects and associated complications are not fully known.

In the Liberian case the Ebola patients were moved around the densely populated city of Monrovia (estimated population of 750,000 in 2011) and possibly into the countryside as the liberators sought out traditional healers to cure the sick.  So far more than 400 deaths have been attributed to Ebola in Liberia but many may be unreported in the interior away from modern medical treatment centers.

Its possible that the Ebola patients may have also been moved away from the city along traditional trafficking routes towards Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, or Sierra Leone.  The borders throughout the region are extremely porous with people moving freely into Sierra Leone on many routes that avoid official checkpoints.  Given the incubation period of 2 to 21 days its possible that people are already enroute to areas that haven't been warned about Ebola and are currently reporting no issues.

Countries may also be underreporting Ebola incidents after the example of the treatment of Liberia and Sierra Leone by the international community.  Major airlines have cut off service to the affected countries and tourism has come to a stop.  As neighboring countries have sealed their borders trade has also halted and scarce supplies and food are becoming impossible to find.

The next phase of the Ebola epidemic in Liberia will explode around 6 September (21 days after the hospital escape) and may linger longer if the government claims of having recaptured all the infected patients isn't true.  The current Ebola outbreak is the deadliest in history with over 1200 killed since December 2013 and an estimated 2,200 infected.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Zakouma National Park

A couple months ago I drove 11 hours to Zakouma National Park in southern Chad and spent a couple days driving around the park and looking for elephants.  The scenery was great traveling to the park but it is so remote that there are no local cell towers and your phones won't work.  Ten years ago there were around 4000 elephants in the park but now there are less than 400 due to poaching.
Tinga Lodge for dining or relaxing

Tinga Huts

We stayed at the Tinga lodge in cloverleaf huts and had great lunches and dinners and decent breakfasts.  The rooms had private baths and screened windows, mosquito nets, and ceiling fans.  Even though I was there during the hot season in March it wasn't uncomfortable to sleep, even when the generator failed for a couple hours one night.

 There seemed to be more water buffalos than anything else in else.  During an evening game drive we ran across a huge herd of hundreds of water buffalos on a grassy plain.  Considered one of the more dangerous animals in the park, the water buffalos seemed ready to charge every time we stopped to take a picture.
We spent hours driving around the park looking for elephants checking out spots where they are usually found along the river but all we found there were crocodiles enjoying the sun.

We found a variety of other animals including groups of giraffes, baboons, and vultures.  The vultures reminded me of the ones from the old animated Jungle Book movie, even though that movie was set in Asia.

Even though we didn't find any elephants after days scouring the park we did run into a couple groups of lions.  Monkeys were normally everywhere in the park and accompanied by the loud sounds from other animals but where we found these lions enjoying the sun it was quiet and calm.  We got within 10 meters of these lions and the guide explained that the lions weren't interested in us because they were full from eating all the former monkey residents of the area.

As we left the park early on our last day at dawn we ran into another group of lions looking for breakfast near Tinga lodge.  Some monkeys were walking along with the lions about 100meters away making lots of noise to let all the other monkeys know that lions were coming.

If you are in Chad and you notice any poaching or people hassling elephants please call the numbers on this sign to alert the authorities.  The elephants aren't confined to the park and there are no real fences around the park to keep the animals in or poachers out.  Elephants can range all over southern Chad and there are several groups outside of the relatively safe borders of the park.
Le Braconage= Poaching
In April and May 2014 the US did provide training to 100 rangers from the Chadian Anti-Poaching Brigade at Zakouma National Park.  The US trained rangers will support the Zakouma park rangers and Nomadic Guard when they run into heavily armed poachers.  In 2012 heavily armed Sudanese poachers used truck-mounted heavy machine guns and RPGs to slaughter elephants in Zakouma.  Later they attacked and killed several park rangers.  Poachers remain a serious threat to elephants and other animals in the park and the high value of ivory is motivating criminal and insurgent groups to kill animals for the money to support their other activities.  At the rate elephants are being massacred, if more isn't done none will be left in Chad.