December 12, 2009
Violence Grips South Sudan as Vote Nears
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
DUK PADIET, Sudan — The word went out on a Friday. Chibetek was coming, with warriors and a grudge to settle.
The whole village sprang into battle mode. Boys grabbed rusty rifles, women ran to the river to hide in the water, old men stood sentry on the village outskirts, training their yellow, rheumy eyes on the vast savannahs and malarial swamps that have kept this region cut off for decades.
And when the warriors did come, the villagers said, there were hundreds of them, maybe thousands, pouring through the chest-high elephant grass with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, dressed in crisp new uniforms that implied a level of military organization never seen before.
“This was no cattle raid,” said Majak Piok, a village elder.
Southern Sudan, one of the least developed and most war-haunted parts of Africa, is at a critical point, gearing up for a vote on independence that is likely to break an already volatile Sudan in two. It is the culmination of decades of civil war and an American-backed peace treaty to end it, but as the long-savored day approaches, many south Sudanese fear another devastating war is on the horizon.
More than 2,000 people have been killed this year in ethnically driven battles like the recent one in Duk Padiet. “Tribal war” is what the villagers here call it, but southern Sudanese leaders and some United Nations diplomats suspect these are not simply local grievances playing out at gunpoint.
Instead, they point to a recent influx of weapons in the area, saying it suggests that northern Sudanese officials are arming various factions — much as they have done before — in a plot to plunge the south into chaos so that the independence referendum, scheduled for 2011, will be delayed or even called off.
The northern politicians, who control the country, ardently deny these accusations, and there is no concrete proof of meddling. But the stability of Sudan, the largest country in Africa at nearly one million square miles, could be at stake.
More than two million people died during the civil war that ended with the 2005 peace agreement, and if a new north-south conflict were to erupt again it could drag in militants from Darfur, the Nuba mountains, eastern Sudan and other corners of the country.
This time, the center might not hold, many analysts say, given how combustible Sudan’s politics have become. The president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, has been indicted for war crimes; the nation is bracing for a contentious election in April; huge supplies of weapons continue to flow in; and militaries in the north and south are on high alert, especially in unresolved border areas.
Already in the south, villages are getting razed, children abducted and thousands of destitute civilians are streaming into refugee camps in scenes reminiscent of the Darfur conflict, which, after years of raging, is comparatively quiet. “This,” said David Gressly, the top United Nations official in southern Sudan, “is the cockpit” of violence.
He swept his hand across a map showing Jonglei State, where Duk Padiet was attacked by a renegade commander named Chibetek. Several other recent massacres have occurred in the area as well.
Cattle rustling and small-scale skirmishes have gone on for ages, Mr. Gressly said, but this year there was an unusual “ease and availability of ammunition.”
The north has a well-documented history of funneling arms to southern Sudan and pitting southerners against each other, typically along ethnic lines. And there are billions of dollars of oil in the south, which the north clearly does not want to lose.
But the Arab-dominated north is also a convenient scapegoat, and northern officials complain of being portrayed as “the bogeyman.”
Since southern Sudan was granted some autonomy in 2005, its leaders have disappointed their people in many ways, with bungled disarmament schemes and staggering corruption. Recently, $200 million earmarked for grain vanished from the south’s Finance Ministry at a time when drought and conflict-related displacement have driven more than one million southerners to the brink of famine.
The land here is unforgiving, and in places looks like a junkyard of war, with burned-out tanks and shot-down jet fighters sinking into the weeds. During the colonial period, the British carved the area into zones of influence for the few European missionaries willing to brave the rampant malaria, typhoid and unyielding heat.
The people here are strikingly different from their countrymen in the Islamic north. Most are animist or Christian, extremely tall — it’s not uncommon to meet seven-foot men — and wedded to a life revolving so closely around cows that people name children after them.
Even before Sudan was granted independence in 1956, southerners were chafing for their own country. War broke out several times, and in the late 1980s, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army emerged as the strongest, multi-ethnic guerrilla force.
But just as the S.P.L.A. was about to capture major cities, the rebels — instigated by northern politicians — violently split. Some of the worst atrocities during the civil war were south-on-south violence, like the so-called Bor Massacre in 1991, when Nuer warriors slaughtered 2,000 Dinka. It was essentially a civil war within a civil war.
Many people here say it is beginning to feel like that now.
In Duk Padiet, the ground is scarred by rings of ash from huts burned down during the attack in September. The people here are Dinka. The well-armed attackers were Nuer.
More than 160 people were killed, including local policemen, women, children, and a Somali trader and Darfurian shopkeeper buried in the same shallow grave because no one knew exactly where they were from.
Nuer leaders do not deny that Nuer warriors killed dozens. But they say the Dinka-led local government was blockading a road into Nuer areas and not allowing the Nuer access to the river.
“The Nuer felt the government was ignoring them,” said Solomon Pur, a Nuer youth leader.
In the past, these rivalries occasionally became violent, with maybe a few warriors killed on each side. But the recent attacks seem more like infantry maneuvers. In one massacre this March, 17 villages were besieged and more than 700 people killed, according to United Nations officials.
Diing Akol Diing, a county commissioner near Duk Padiet, keeps pictures of victims on his computer: Children with bullet holes in their chest. Old women curled up in pools of blood. Emaciated militia fighters in smart new camouflage.
“This is madness,” he says.
He clicks on a photograph of a dozen people wrapped in blankets, buried in a ditch.
“Mass graves?” he says. “We’ve never had mass graves.”
President's wives won't compete for 'first lady' title
Herald News ServicesJanuary 7, 2010
The three wives of South African President Jacob Zuma will not vie for the position of "first lady" because the constitution makes no provision for the title, his office said on Wednesday.
South Africa's media have speculated on which spouse might assume the role after Zuma married for the fifth time on Monday, giving the Zulu traditionalist his third current wife.
"The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (does) not make provision for a first lady or first ladies, and there is no such official designation," the presidency said in a statement.
"The president will be accompanied by any of the spouses to official or public engagements, or all of them at the same time should he so decide. This is his prerogative."
Multiple marriages are allowed in South Africa and form part of Zulu culture but the practice has drawn criticism from HIV/AIDS activists in a country with one of the highest infection rates in the world.
Zuma was previously also married to Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma before their divorce in 1998, while another wife committed suicide in 2000.
Weakened Rebel Group Kills Hundreds of Congolese
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
TAPILI, Congo — Depleted by an American-backed offensive and seemingly desperate for new conscripts, the Lord’s Resistance Army, one of the most infamous armed groups in Africa, has killed hundreds of villagers in this remote corner of Congo and kidnapped hundreds more, marching them off in a vast human chain, witnesses say.
The massacre and abductions are a major setback to the effort to stamp out the remnants of the group, a primarily Ugandan rebel force that fielded thousands of soldiers in the 1980s and ’90s. But in recent years it has degenerated into a band of several hundred predators living deep in the bush in Congo, Sudan and the Central African Republic with child brides and military-grade weaponry.
The United States is providing the Ugandan Army with millions of dollars’ worth of aid — including fuel, trucks, satellite phones, night-vision goggles and contracted air support — to hunt the fighters down.
It is one of the signature programs of Africom, the new American military command for Africa, which is working with the State Department to employ what officials call “the three D’s” — defense, diplomacy and development — to help African nations stabilize themselves.
These efforts appeared to be succeeding, eliminating up to 60 percent of the Lord’s Resistance Army fighters in the past 18 months, American officials said. But that may have been why the fighters tore off on their raid, late last year, to get as many new conscripts as possible, along with medicine, clothes and food.
They also kidnapped nurses from hospitals, witnesses said, and stripped blood-splattered clothes off corpses for themselves, a sign they are increasingly desperate.
Human Rights Watch, which sent a team to investigate the killings in February, said the L.R.A. killed at least 320 people in this area, calling the massacre one of the worst in the group’s 23-year, atrocity-filled history.
Senegal calls for new 'United States of Africa'
April 4, 2010
Crowds gather in Dakar on Saturday to unveil a controversial statue marking Senegal's 50th anniversary of independence from France.
Photograph by: Seyllou, AFP-Getty Images,
Agence France-PresseSenegal's African Renaissance statue was unveiled Saturday, with leaders from across the continent calling for unity and the realization of a United States of Africa.
In an address to a large crowd and 19 African leaders, President Abdoulaye Wade, 84, called for the continent to unite as the $20-million bronze statue, built in North Korea was unveiled.
"The time to take off has arrived," he said of the 53-state continent, which is courted for the rich minerals beneath its soil and its market of over one billion inhabitants.
While African leaders lauded the statue as a symbol for black people around the world, thousands of opponents protested it as a wasteful extravagance in a country where half the population lives in poverty.
The statue highlights Senegal's 50 years of independence from France on April 4, 1960.
Wade said "only a political integration of the United States of Africa will shelter us from potentially fatal marginalization" on the world's poorest continent, which holds rich economic potential.
"The slave traders have left, the last colonialist has left. We have no more excuses. We must seize this opportunity so that history does not repeat itself," Wade said.
Wade also announced his country was taking back military bases held by France effective immediately.
April 8, 2010
Postcard From Zimbabwe
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Here’s a measure of how President Robert Mugabe is destroying this once lush nation of Zimbabwe:
In a week of surreptitious reporting here (committing journalism can be a criminal offense in Zimbabwe), ordinary people said time and again that life had been better under the old, racist, white regime of what was then called Rhodesia.
“When the country changed from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, we were very excited,” one man, Kizita, told me in a village of mud-walled huts near this town in western Zimbabwe. “But we didn’t realize the ones we chased away were better and the ones we put in power would oppress us.”
“It would have been better if whites had continued to rule because the money would have continued to come,” added a neighbor, a 58-year-old farmer named Isaac. “It was better under Rhodesia. Then we could get jobs. Things were cheaper in stores. Now we have no money, no food.”
Over and over, I cringed as I heard Africans wax nostalgic about a nasty, oppressive regime run by a tiny white elite. Black Zimbabweans responded that at least that regime was more competent than today’s nasty, oppressive regime run by the tiny black elite that surrounds Mr. Mugabe.
A Times colleague, Barry Bearak, was jailed here in 2008 for reporting, so I used a fresh passport to enter the country as a tourist. Partly for my own safety, I avoided interviewing people with ties to the government, so I can’t be sure that my glimpse of the public mood was representative.
People I talked to were terrified for their personal safety if quoted — much more scared than in the past. That’s why I’m being vague about locations and agreed to omit full names.
But what is clear is that Zimbabwe has come very far downhill over the last few decades (although it has risen a bit since its trough two years ago). An impressive health and education system is in tatters, and life expectancy has tumbled from about 60 years in 1990 to somewhere between 36 and 44, depending on which statistics you believe.
Western countries have made the mistake of focusing their denunciations on the seizures of white farms by Mr. Mugabe’s cronies. That’s tribalism by whites; by far the greatest suffering has been endured by Zimbabwe’s blacks.
In Kizita’s village, for example, I met a 29-year-old woman, seven months pregnant, who had malaria. She and her husband had walked more than four miles to the nearest clinic, where she tested positive for malaria. But the clinic refused to give her some life-saving antimalaria medicine unless she paid $2 — and she had no money at all in her house. So, dizzy and feverish, she stumbled home for another four miles, empty-handed.
As it happened, the clinic that turned her down was one that I had already visited. Nurses there had complained that they were desperately short of bandages, antibiotics and beds. They said that to survive, they impose fees for seeing patients, for family planning, for safe childbirth — and the upshot is that impoverished villagers die because they can’t pay.
I also spent time at an elementary school where the number of students had dropped sharply because so few parents today can afford $36 in annual school fees.
“We don’t have desks. We don’t have chairs. We don’t have books,” explained the principal, who was terrified of being named. The school also lacks electricity and water, and the first grade doesn’t have a classroom and meets under a tree.
This particular school had been founded by Rhodesians more than 70 years ago, and the principal mused that it must have served black pupils far better in Rhodesian days than today.
At another school 100 miles away, the deputy headmaster lamented that students can’t even afford pens. “One child has to finish his work, and then he lends his pen to another child,” he explained.
Zimbabwe is one of my favorite countries, blessed with friendly people, extraordinary wildlife and little crime. I took my family along with me on this trip (my kids accuse me of using them as camouflage), and they found the scenery, people and wild animals quite magical.
At a couple of villages we visited, farmers were driving away elephants that were trampling their crops — and they were blaming Mr. Mugabe for the elephants. That struck even me as unfair.
The tragedy that has unfolded here can be reversed if Mr. Mugabe is obliged by international pressure, particularly from South Africa, to hold free elections. Worldwide pressure forced the oppressive Rhodesian regime to give up power three decades ago. Now we need similar pressure, from African countries as well as Western powers, to pry Mr. Mugabe’s fingers from his chokehold on a lovely country.
I invite you to visit my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
April 18, 2010
Op-Ed Guest Columnist
I SPENT March with a delegation of activists, entrepreneurs and policy wonks roaming western, southern and eastern Africa trying very hard to listen — always hard for a big-mouthed Irishman. With duct tape over my gob, I was able to pick up some interesting melody lines everywhere from palace to pavement ...
Despite the almost deafening roar of excitement about Africa’s hosting of soccer’s World Cup this summer, we managed to hear a surprising thing. Harmony ... flowing from two sides that in the past have often been discordant: Africa’s emerging entrepreneurial class and its civil-society activists.
It’s no secret that lefty campaigners can be cranky about business elites. And the suspicion is mutual. Worldwide. Civil society as a rule sees business as, well, a little uncivil. Business tends to see activists as, well, a little too active. But in Africa, at least from what I’ve just seen, this is starting to change. The energy of these opposing forces coming together is filling offices, boardrooms and bars. The reason is that both these groups — the private sector and civil society — see poor governance as the biggest obstacle they face. So they are working together on redefining the rules of the African game.
Entrepreneurs know that even a good relationship with a bad government stymies foreign investment; civil society knows a resource-rich country can have more rather than fewer problems, unless corruption is tackled.
This joining of forces is being driven by some luminous personalities, few of whom are known in America; all of whom ought to be. Let me introduce you to a few of the catalysts:
John Githongo, Kenya’s famous whistleblower, has had to leave his country in a hurry a couple of times; he was hired by his government to clean things up and then did his job too well. He’s now started a group called Inuka, teaming up the urban poor with business leaders, creating inter-ethnic community alliances to fight poverty and keep watch on dodgy local governments. He is the kind of leader who gives many Kenyans hope for the future, despite the shakiness of their coalition government.
Sharing a table with Githongo and me one night in Nairobi was DJ Rowbow, a Mike Tyson doppelgänger. His station, Ghetto Radio, was a voice of reason when the volcano of ethnic tension was exploding in Kenya in 2008. While some were encouraging the people of Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa, to go on the rampage, this scary-looking man decoded the disinformation and played peacemaker/interlocutor. On the station’s playlist is Bob Marley and a kind of fizzy homespun reggae music that’s part the Clash, part Marvin Gaye. The only untruthful thing he said all evening was that he liked U2. For my part, I might have overplayed the Jay-Z and Beyoncé card. “They are friends of mine,” I explained to him, eh, a lot.
Now this might be what you expect me to say, but I’m telling you, it was a musician in Senegal who best exemplified the new rules. Youssou N’Dour — maybe the greatest singer on earth — owns a newspaper and is in the middle of a complicated deal to buy a TV station. You sense his strategy and his steel. He is creating the soundtrack for change, and he knows just how to use his voice. (I tried to imagine what it would be like if I owned The New York Times as well as, say, NBC. Someday, someday...)
In Maputo, Mozambique, I met with Activa, a women’s group that, among other things, helps entrepreneurs get seed capital. Private and public sectors mixed easily here, under the leadership of Luisa Diogo, the country’s former prime minister, who is now the matriarch in this mesmerizing stretch of eastern Africa. Famous for her Star Wars hairdo and political nous, she has the lioness energy of an Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala or a Graça Machel.
When I met with Ms. Diogo and her group, the less famous but equally voluble women in the room complained about excessive interest rates on their microfinance loans and the lack of what they called “regional economic integration.” For them, infrastructure remains the big (if unsexy) issue. “Roads, we need roads,” one entrepreneur said by way of a solution to most of the obstacles in her path. Today, she added, “we women, we are the roads.” I had never thought of it that way but because women do most of the farming, they’re the ones who carry produce to market, collect the water and bring the sick to the clinics.
The true star of the trip was a human hurricane: Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese entrepreneur who made a fortune in mobile phones.
I fantasized about being the boy wonder to his Batman, but as we toured the continent together I quickly realized I was Alfred, Batman’s butler. Everywhere we went, I was elbowed out of the way by young and old who wanted to get close to the rock star reformer and his beautiful, frighteningly smart daughter, Hadeel, who runs Mo’s foundation and is a chip off the old block (in an Alexander McQueen dress). Mo’s speeches are standing-room-only because even when he is sitting down, he’s a standing-up kind of person. In a packed hall in the University of Ghana, he was a prizefighter, removing his tie and jacket like a cape, punching young minds into the future.
His brainchild, the Ibrahim Prize, is a very generous endowment for African leaders who serve their people well and then — and this is crucial — leave office when they are supposed to. Mo has diagnosed a condition he calls “third-termitis,” where presidents, fearing an impoverished superannuation, feather their nests on the way out the door. So Mo has prescribed a soft landing for great leaders. Not getting the prize is as big a story as getting it. (He doesn’t stop at individuals. The Ibrahim Index ranks countries by quality of governance.)
Mo smokes a pipe and refers to everyone as “guys” — as in, “Listen, guys, if these problems are of our own making, the solutions will have to be, too.” Or, in my direction, “Guys, if you haven’t noticed ... you are not African.” Oh, yeah. And: “Guys, you Americans are lazy investors. There’s so much growth here but you want to float in the shallow water of the Dow Jones or Nasdaq.”
Mr. Ibrahim is as searing about corruption north of the Equator as he is about corruption south of it, and the corruption that crosses over ... illicit capital flight, unfair mining contracts, the aid bureaucracy.
So I was listening. Good for me. But did I actually learn anything?
OVER long days and nights, I asked Africans about the course of international activism. Should we just pack it up and go home, I asked? There were a few nods. But many more noes. Because most Africans we met seemed to feel the pressing need for new kinds of partnerships, not just among governments, but among citizens, businesses, the rest of us. I sense the end of the usual donor-recipient relationship.
Aid, it’s clear, is still part of the picture. It’s crucial, if you have H.I.V. and are fighting for your life, or if you are a mother wondering why you can’t protect your child against killers with unpronounceable names or if you are a farmer who knows that new seed varietals will mean you have produce that you can take to market in drought or flood. But not the old, dumb, only-game-in-town aid — smart aid that aims to put itself out of business in a generation or two. “Make aid history” is the objective. It always was. Because when we end aid, it’ll mean that extreme poverty is history. But until that glorious day, smart aid can be a reforming tool, demanding accountability and transparency, rewarding measurable results, reinforcing the rule of law, but never imagining for a second that it’s a substitute for trade, investment or self-determination.
I for one want to live to see Mo Ibrahim’s throw-down prediction about Ghana come true. “Yes, guys,” he said, “Ghana needs support in the coming years, but in the not-too-distant future it can be giving aid, not receiving it; and you, Mr. Bono, can just go there on your holidays.”
I’m booking that ticket.
In South Africa, with Madiba, the great Nelson Mandela — the person who, along with Desmond Tutu and the Edge, I consider to be my boss — I raised the question of regional integration through the African Development Bank, and the need for real investment in infrastructure ... all the buzzwords. As Madiba smiled, I made a note to try not to talk about this stuff down at the pub — or in front of the band.
“And you, are you not going to the World Cup?” the great man chided me, changing the subject, having seen this wide-eyed zealotry before. “You are getting old and you are going to miss a great coming-out party for Africa.” The man who felt free before he was is still the greatest example of what real leadership can accomplish against the odds.
My family and I headed home ... just in time, I was getting carried away. I was going native, aroused by the thought of railroads and cement mixers, of a different kind of World Cup fever, of opposing players joining the same team, a new formation, new tactics. For those of us in the fan club, I came away amazed (as I always am) by the diversity of the continent ... but with a deep sense that the people of Africa are writing up some new rules for the game.
Bono, the lead singer of the band U2 and a co-founder of the advocacy group ONE and (Product)RED, is a contributing columnist for The Times.
May 14, 2010
In South Africa, an Unlikely Leader on AIDS
By CELIA W. DUGGER
CAPE TOWN — In a nation ravaged by AIDS, a disease still hidden in shadows of stigma and shame, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa has begun to engage in an extraordinarily open conversation about sex, AIDS and H.I.V. prevention, one ignited in part by his own recent admission that he had unprotected sex during an extramarital affair.
Last month, as he announced a vast expansion of H.I.V. testing and AIDS services, he publicly took an H.I.V. test and disclosed that he had tested negative for the virus. Then in a frank interview on Thursday, Mr. Zuma said that he had been circumcised and had encouraged his sons to undergo the procedure, which can reduce a man’s risk of contracting H.I.V. by more than half.
As an influential leader and a Zulu, South Africa’s largest ethnic group and one that had abandoned circumcision in the 19th century, Mr. Zuma could encourage other men to be circumcised through his personal endorsement of the procedure, scientists and public health officials say.
Despite being the center of the epidemic — with 5.7 million H.I.V.-positive people, more than any other country — South Africa had lagged behind some other African nations in promoting circumcision and making it available to the public, steps that experts say could help reduce the spread of new infections in the long run.
South Africa now plans to circumcise millions of men in the coming years and started its drive last month in the Zulu heartland, where infection rates are highest. The burden of the disease has strained the public health system here and led to falling life expectancies and ballooning costs for treatment, prompting health officials to act more aggressively to reduce the pace of new H.I.V. infections.
“It has been my style that I don’t hide things,” Mr. Zuma said, adding that he had been circumcised “some time ago” but hoped, by going public about it, to encourage other men to follow his lead. “I thought it was important because that could help quite a few other people who, if I did not do it, they would be hesitant and not knowing what to do.”
During a 45-minute interview on Thursday, Mr. Zuma, who has three wives and a fiancée, talked about his personal relationships with startling directness and laid out his belief that a polygamous marriage in which H.I.V. is openly discussed is safer than a monogamous union in which a man has hidden mistresses.
His comments seemed intended to counter critics who argue that Mr. Zuma’s own behavior has undermined the government’s push for safe sex. Helen Zille, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, wrote this month about Mr. Zuma’s latest affair: “He has now sent out the message that risky sexual behavior can be consequence-free. Many impressionable young people will rationalize: if the president can get away with it, why can’t I?”
The debate about Mr. Zuma’s affair — and his own increasingly open comments about H.I.V. prevention — has brought the subject into the open to an unusual degree. When Nelson Mandela was president, he rarely spoke about AIDS. His successor, Thabo Mbeki, who once famously said he never knew anyone who had AIDS and questioned whether H.I.V. caused it, is now generally seen as having impeded South Africa’s fight against the disease.
“Everyone said we need a leader who can set an example,” said Jonny Steinberg, author of “Sizwe’s Test,” which showed the deep stigma still associated with AIDS in rural South Africa. “It just so happens we’ve thrown up a leader who makes a negative example, but it’s good enough. It’s started a conversation among ordinary people.”
Mr. Zuma’s personal choices have long transfixed the nation. Well before winning the presidency, he was charged with raping the H.I.V.-positive daughter of a family friend. He was acquitted in 2006, but AIDS activists were furious that Mr. Zuma had said he tried to minimize his risk of contracting H.I.V. by showering after sex.
In office for a year, Mr. Zuma is now leading a national effort to test broad segments of the population and extend AIDS treatment to every corner of the country. United Nations officials have called it the largest and fastest increase in AIDS services ever attempted.
But Mr. Zuma’s reputation took another hard knock when news broke in February of what the South African news media dubbed his “love child” from the extramarital affair. TNS Research Surveys, a market research company, conducts surveys among urban residents of South Africa and tracks the job approval ratings of South African presidents. In its last poll, conducted during the week Mr. Zuma’s affair became public, his approval rating fell to 43 percent, down from 58 percent in November 2009.
Mr. Zuma said that many of his critics had wrongly assumed he had carelessly risked H.I.V. infection in his recently revealed extramarital relationship. He said he had told his own children that couples must openly discuss their H.I.V. status to make informed choices.
“That’s why, after the child was born, I tested negative,” he said. “And by the way, I did say it was my fourth time to test, which indicates I’ve been very careful.” He added, “Nobody’s ever asked me that. Everyone jumped to conclusions.”
While some scientists and advocates have criticized South Africa for being slow in adopting circumcision to prevent H.I.V., Mr. Zuma said that he and the premier of KwaZulu-Natal Province had approached the Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini, on the issue because they felt he should take the lead.
The king issued a call to restore the tradition of circumcision — though performed medically, rather than by traditional practitioners — in December. Mr. Zuma explained that since it was King Shaka who had stopped circumcisions many years ago, “It could only be another king who says, ‘I’m now opening it.’ ”
As with his disclosure that he was H.I.V.- negative, Mr. Zuma’s latest comments are likely to be greeted by commentators, scientists and advocates here with a mixture of praise and skepticism. But there is little doubt that the poor villages of KwaZulu-Natal are paying attention to him.
People in Sorave, whose clinic had just gotten a nurse qualified to prescribe AIDS drugs, offered a nuanced view of the president’s record.
Makhosi Nyawo, 36, who carried her baby boy on her shoulder and has taken three H.I.V. tests, heard the president speaking on the radio on World AIDS Day, encouraging everyone to take an H.I.V. test. “I see that helping us a lot because we are staying home sick without knowing what we’ve got,” she said.
Still, she did not approve of his behavior. “It’s not acceptable for him to have a child outside of marriage,” she said. “He is our role model. But if he’s been with a woman outside marriage, he could get infected. It’s not safe.”
May 14, 2010
Visiting Africa’s Eden
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
The moment I fell in love with Gabon was when my companions and I walked along the beach at sunset: an endless strip of white sand with no one in sight as far as the eye could see in any direction. Then we spotted movement, and we realized we were sharing the beach after all.
With three elephants.
The elephants had an animated conversation among themselves, presumably about the rare sighting of human beings, then ambled off into the rain forest to tell their friends.
This is my annual win-a-trip journey, in which I take a university student with me on a reporting trip to Africa. The winner this year is Mitch Smith, a University of Nebraska student who had never been outside the United States before. (He is writing about his trip on my blog, nytimes.com/ontheground).
Readers have sometimes complained that my win-a-trip journeys focus on the wretchedness of the developing world — warlords, malnourished children, maternal mortality. Frankly, I’ve always thought these critics had a point. So Mitch and I are starting this trip by covering an African triumph: Gabon’s bold steps to preserve its natural heritage.
Gabon has plenty of problems, including corruption and misspent oil revenues, but it is also covered by dense, uninhabited forest teeming with wildlife. In 2002, the government set aside more than one-tenth of the country for national parks — in one step, making Gabon a leader in wildlife conservation.
“Gabon is definitely a special place,” said Sebastiaan Verhage, an official here with the World Wildlife Fund, which is helping Gabon preserve its parks. “Where else do you see elephants roaming on the beach, buffalo on the beach, hippos in the surf, humpback whales mating just off the coast, the most important leatherback turtle nesting site in the world, one of the few last refuges for lowland gorillas? Its name of ‘the last Eden,’ ‘the last paradise on earth’ — that’s not too far-fetched.”
The head of the national parks is Lee White, a conservation specialist of Scottish origin. And the technical director is an American, Michael Fay, who famously walked across Gabon in 2000.
President Ali Ben Bongo, who took over last year from his late father, seems enthusiastic about developing a “Green Gabon.” He told me he would like to deepen the environmental protections and build up infrastructure so that Gabon can become an eco-tourism destination.
For now, that’s a problem. Gabon set aside the parks partly in hopes of diversifying its economy (it is dependent on oil, which is slowly running out) and becoming an African version of Costa Rica, bringing in revenue from tourism. But so far the economic bet isn’t paying off.
Very few foreign tourists are coming, because of the distance and the lack of modern hotels. Mitch and I ate lunch at one of the restaurants aiming for tourists, and afterward saw the staff cleaning our plates in the lagoon.
What’s more, thick forest isn’t great terrain to spot wildlife. On one walk along an elephant trail, Mitch and I smelled elephants all around us but never actually spotted them. (Elephants here normally are curious but shy — unless they’ve been nibbling on a root prized among local humans for its hallucinogenic properties, in which case be sure to accord them right of way).
Still, following elephant footprints through an untouched forest is magical. Here in the rain forest, humans seem less the masters of the ecosystem than components of it, along with others. Like gorillas.
I ran into Chloe Cipolletta, a gorilla expert I had met in the Central African Republic in 2006 on my first win-a-trip journey. Ms. Cipolletta was advising on a plan to bring tourists to visit gorillas in Gabon, and she mentioned offhand that some primates self-medicate herbally.
Development experts have been raving in recent years about the health benefits of deworming people in poor countries — but gorillas are way ahead of us. There is a furry forest plant that gorillas occasionally eat, despite evident distaste, making faces and spitting bits of it out. So why do they eat it? Ms. Cipolletta said the plant turns out to be a natural medication that kills intestinal parasites, and the gorillas are deworming themselves.
One sobering truth is that the people who gush about gorillas or elephants usually are Americans and Europeans. For local people, many of them very poor despite the country’s oil wealth, conservation can be an inconvenience. While visiting Loango, we encountered an outspoken young village chief, Evelyne Kinga, who protested that she’d rather elephants were dead than eating her cassava plants.
“The parks are for foreigners, or for rich Gabonese,” she said. “They’re not for ordinary people like me.”
That’s a real tension, and I don’t know whether Gabon can pull this off and monetize its spectacular forest the way it could monetize timber. But for the world’s sake, I’m hoping that it will.
By Mansoor Ladha, For The Calgary HeraldJune 10, 2010
On Friday and for the next month, all eyes will be on South Africa when it hosts the FIFA World Cup of Soccer -- the first African country ever to host the game. It's a distinction that South Africans of all races should be proud of.
South Africa, the apartheid capital where racism and discrimination was supreme, went through several reforms under President Frederik de Klerk until 1994 Nelson Mandela won the first multiracial elections.
On Friday, South Africa will be ready to receive the world, after polishing its image. Johannesburg, formerly called the "murder capital of the world," has cleaned up its tough neighbourhoods, filling them up with art galleries, boutiques, hotels and cafes in readiness for 350,000 tourists.
When the World Cup is over, soccer fans will hopefully go home carrying good impressions of the country and how well the hospitable locals ran the biggest sporting event in the continent's history. Each foreign visitor will post-mortem their visit to South Africa and give that country a progress report of how it did. This century is also supposed to be Africa's century when the continent is undergoing massive transformation in growth and development.
Although most African nations still have their popular image of being corrupt, poor and facing hunger, when you look beyond these stereotypes, you will find that Africa has great potential in human talents, natural resources and new technologies. For the first time, many African countries are becoming attractive to investors rather than to aid donors. A decade ago, Africa received less than $5 billion (US) in foreign investment annually while by 2008, it attracted $40 billion (US) in foreign investment.
The Internet and cell-phones have opened new horizons for African farmers and rural residents. African farmers can now learn about their crops and market situations through the Internet while rural residents can do their banking through the Internet. Africa is on the move with a fast-growing population and a mortality rate that is slowing, creating a vast consuming population.
The main thing in the African equation that needs to remain stable is the political factor. If only Africa's political leaders could be less corrupt, then their countries would have nothing to fear. I get emotional when I look back to my former homeland, Tanzania, where President Julius Nyerere nearly ruined the country by experimenting with his own form of socialism, The Arusha Declaration, until it took two of his successors to overturn these disastrous policies back to capitalism and free enterprise.
Today, with good governance, Tanzanians have shown the rest of the world what progress they can achieve when they have a stable government. Tanzania's political stability, sound macro-economic management, and considerable resources all contribute to Tanzania's great potential for sustained growth. The country's economy is driven by tourism and mining, thus making it among the foremost economies among the East African nations.
Of course, there are still many problems in Africa including in once-stable neighbouring Kenya and, of course, Zimbabwe, run by Robert Mugabe.
A major event to take place this month in Canada will be the G8/G20 gathering when Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be hosting the world in Toronto. To Harper's credit, he has invited Ethiopia and Malawi to the G20 meeting. Canada, which has decreased its presence in Africa by closing its embassies in many African countries, should reconsider its decision of shifting foreign aid from Africa to Latin America and the Caribbean. Canadian firms should also explore investment opportunities in Africa. China and India are already in the forefront courting African markets, followed by Russia, Brazil and Saudi Arabia.
Africa will likely always have areas of conflict and some of these countries will have dictators, but the number of conflict areas is decreasing. The number of conflict zones in Africa has decreased to half of what it was 15 years ago. Canada and other western G20 nations should reinforce their relations with Africa so as to beef up security against terrorism on the continent. It will be in their interest to do so. Lots of industrialized countries are Africa-bound today and see a lot of potential there. It would be a pity if Canada didn't keep its eye on the ball and profit from the economic game that is growing in Africa.
Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary freelance journalist and author. He has worked in newspapers in Kenya and Tanzania.
June 11, 2010
To Save Africa, Reject Its Nations
By PIERRE ENGLEBERT
THE World Cup, which began on Friday, is bringing deserved appreciation of South Africa as a nation that transitioned from white minority domination to a vibrant pluralist democracy. Yet its achievements stand largely alone on the continent. Of the 17 African nations that are commemorating their 50th anniversaries of independence this year — the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia will both do so in the coming weeks — few have anything to truly celebrate.
Five decades ago, African independence was worth rejoicing over: these newly created states signaled an end to the violent, humiliating Western domination of the continent, and they were quickly recognized by the international community. Sovereignty gave fledgling elites the shield to protect their weak states against continued colonial subjugation and the policy instruments to promote economic development.
Yet because these countries were recognized by the international community before they even really existed, because the gift of sovereignty was granted from outside rather than earned from within, it came without the benefit of popular accountability, or even a social contract between rulers and citizens.
Buttressed by the legality and impunity that international sovereignty conferred upon their actions, too many of Africa’s politicians and officials twisted the normal activities of a state beyond recognition, transforming mundane tasks like policing, lawmaking and taxation into weapons of extortion.
So, for the past five decades, most Africans have suffered predation of colonial proportions by the very states that were supposed to bring them freedom. And most of these nations, broke from their own thievery, are now unable to provide their citizens with basic services like security, roads, hospitals and schools. What can be done?
The first and most urgent task is that the donor countries that keep these nations afloat should cease sheltering African elites from accountability. To do so, the international community must move swiftly to derecognize the worst-performing African states, forcing their rulers — for the very first time in their checkered histories — to search for support and legitimacy at home.
Radical as this idea may sound, it is not without precedent. Undemocratic Taiwan was derecognized by most of the world in the 1970s (as the corollary of recognizing Beijing). This loss of recognition led the ruling Kuomintang party to adopt new policies in search of domestic support. The regime liberalized the economy, legalized opposition groups, abolished martial law, organized elections and even issued an apology to the Taiwanese people for past misrule, eventually turning the country into a fast-growing, vibrant democracy.
In Africa, similarly, the unrecognized, breakaway state of Somaliland provides its citizens with relative peace and democracy, offering a striking counterpoint to the violence and misery of neighboring sovereign Somalia. It was in part the absence of recognition that forced the leaders of the Somali National Movement in the early ’90s to strike a bargain with local clan elders and create legitimate participatory institutions in Somaliland.
What does this mean in practice? Donor governments would tell the rulers of places like Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea or Sudan — all nightmares to much of their populations — that they no longer recognize them as sovereign states. Instead, they would agree to recognize only African states that provide their citizens with a minimum of safety and basic rights.
The logistics of derecognition would no doubt be complicated. Embassies would be withdrawn on both sides. These states would be expelled from the United Nations and other international organizations. All macroeconomic, budget-supporting and post-conflict reconstruction aid programs would be canceled. (Nongovernmental groups and local charities would continue to receive money.)
If this were to happen, relatively benevolent states like South Africa and a handful of others would go on as before. But in the continent’s most troubled countries, politicians would suddenly lose the legal foundations of their authority. Some of these repressive leaders, deprived of their sovereign tools of domination and the international aid that underwrites their regimes, might soon find themselves overthrown.
African states that begin to provide their citizens with basic rights and services, that curb violence and that once again commit resources to development projects, would be rewarded with re-recognition by the international community. Aid would return. More important, these states would finally have acquired some degree of popular accountability and domestic legitimacy.
Like any experiment, de- and re-recognition is risky. Some fear it could promote conflict, that warlords would simply seize certain mineral-rich areas and run violent, lawless quasi states. But Africa is already rife with violence, and warlordism is already a widespread phenomenon. While unrecognized countries might still mistreat their people, history shows that weak, isolated regimes have rarely been able to survive without making significant concessions to segments of their populations.
For many Africans, 50 years of sovereignty has been an abject failure, reproducing the horrors of colonial-era domination under the guise of freedom. International derecognition of abusive states would be a first step toward real liberation.
Pierre Englebert, a professor of African politics at Pomona College, is the author, most recently, of “Africa: Unity, Sovereignty and Sorrow.”
June 13, 2010
Children Carry Guns for a U.S. Ally, Somalia
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
MOGADISHU, Somalia — Awil Salah Osman prowls the streets of this shattered city, looking like so many other boys, with ripped-up clothes, thin limbs and eyes eager for attention and affection.
But Awil is different in two notable ways: he is shouldering a fully automatic, fully loaded Kalashnikov assault rifle; and he is working for a military that is substantially armed and financed by the United States.
“You!” he shouts at a driver trying to sneak past his checkpoint, his cherubic face turning violently angry.
“You know what I’m doing here!” He shakes his gun menacingly. “Stop your car!”
The driver halts immediately. In Somalia, lives are lost quickly, and few want to take their chances with a moody 12-year-old.
It is well known that Somalia’s radical Islamist insurgents are plucking children off soccer fields and turning them into fighters. But Awil is not a rebel. He is working for Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, a critical piece of the American counterterrorism strategy in the Horn of Africa.
According to Somali human rights groups and United Nations officials, the Somali government, which relies on assistance from the West to survive, is fielding hundreds of children or more on the front lines, some as young as 9.
June 17, 2010
Freedom’s Blaring Horn
By ROGER COHEN
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA — When assessing nations, there are statistics and then there are the intangibles. Inflation and unemployment don’t tell you much about patriotism, optimism and the sense of shared identity that make or break societies. South Africa is a case in point.
I spent part of my childhood in a South Africa that marked my imagination because it combined light and shadow as no other place: a succession of sunlit afternoons in gardens of avocado trees and jacaranda punctuated — as you drove from one barbecue (“braai”) to the next — by glimpses of ragged blacks being herded into police vans.
“I supposed they don’t have their passes,” some relative would mutter and the mind of a London-born child of South African parents would wrestle with what that meant. Gradually the white supremacist apartheid system came into focus.
It was about denial — of skills to blacks, of mobility to blacks, of a living wage to blacks, of the very humanity of blacks. In the mind of the Afrikaner, with its Biblical justifications for oppression masquerading as separateness, the black majority was good only to be “hewers of wood and drawers of water” — if that.
This South Africa of my youth saw the world as “anti-T.W.O.L.” — a silly acronym for a so-called traditional way of life. Among these “traditions” was branding inter-racial sex a crime. Cataclysm always loomed. The imagined bloody end of an unsustainable system was not the subject of small talk but a lurking specter.
And here we are, two decades after Nelson Mandela walked out of captivity, in a South Africa hosting the most-watched sporting event on earth, the World Cup, and doing so in a spirit of unity that has blacks and whites alike draped in flags, blaring on the plastic horns known as vuvuzelas, and rooting for the “Bafana Bafana” — the boys.
The team is mediocre. South Africa will probably become the first host nation ever to fail to qualify for the second round. That would be sad but in the end immaterial. This particular World Cup is political. It is an affirmation of a nation’s miraculous (if incomplete) healing, of African dignity, and of a continent that deserves better than those tired images of violence and disease.
“The country is going to the dogs,” — I still hear it as I heard it long ago in different guise. What did I say about statistics? There are plenty of them.
This is still a country where only 60 percent of dwellings have flush toilets, where an estimated 6 million people are H.I.V. positive, and where unemployment runs at 25 percent. High walls — and 300,000 private security guards — testify to high murder rates.
To all of which I say: People have unrealistic expectations. They want to fast-forward life as if it were a gadget. You don’t erase the effects of a half-century of apartheid in a generation. “Non-racialism” — President Jacob Zuma’s commitment — is not the state in which South Africa lives, any more than the United States does.
Still, what I see is grandeur: a country of 49 million people, 38.7 million of them black, 4.5 million of them white, the rest mixed-race or Asian, that has held together and shunned Zimbabwean unraveling or Congolese implosion. Do not underestimate the South African achievement.
I sat this week in a packed stadium in the capital, Pretoria, as a vuvuzela crescendo greeted the Bafana and a white woman led 11 black kids — team mascots — onto the pitch. The horns fell silent for the Uruguayan national anthem. When South Africa lost 0-3, the response was dignified, peaceful: the intangibles of nationhood.
Let’s talk vuvuzela for a moment. Players have complained. Facebook pages are dedicated to banning it. Ear plugs are selling briskly among European fans. Intolerable horns!
I have news for the discomfited: This is actually Africa. The horn sounds to summon. From the kudu horn made from the spiral-horned antler to the plastic horn is not such a great distance.
The vuvuzela carries powerful symbolism. Rugby, the traditional sporting stronghold of the white Afrikaner, has shunned it. Soccer, dominated by blacks, has embraced it. Yet today Afrikaners flock into black Soweto to watch rugby and whites and blacks both carry their vuvuzelas into World Cup games.
I’m sorry, French players will have to suffer their headaches: these are not minor political miracles. As one comic here tweeted: “After one weekend Europe wants to ban the vuvuzela — if only they’d acted this fast when banning slavery!”
The other day I was talking to a distant relative, an economist named Andrew Levy. He said: “I don’t fear for my life, and that’s the miracle of South Africa. I say hello to a black in the street and he’ll say hello to me in a friendly way. I know I might get killed in the course of a robbery, not because I’m white, not because they hate me, but because there’s poverty. I’m a patriot in the end. I love this country’s beauty. And when I see the unity and good will the World Cup has created, I believe we can succeed.”
June 21, 2010
Diamond Find Could Aid Zimbabwe, and Mugabe
By CELIA W. DUGGER
JOHANNESBURG — New mining in Zimbabwe has quickly yielded millions of carats of diamonds and could help catapult the nation into the ranks of the world’s top diamond producers, according to the head of a group of experts for the United Nations-backed effort to stop the trade in conflict diamonds.
But the new wealth has provoked fears that the riches will be used to subvert attempts to bring democracy to a country that has long suffered under authoritarian rule, and also to finance conflicts.
“This is a world-class deposit, no doubt about it,” said the expert, Mark Van Bockstael. He described the concentrations of diamonds in the Marange fields in eastern Zimbabwe as among the highest in the world: “The deposit is a freak of nature.”
Other experts agree it is an important find, while awaiting more data to gauge its full magnitude. But the steady accumulation of stones has already emboldened President Robert Mugabe, 86, to consolidate control over the Marange fields to prolong his 30-year grip on power, members of his inner circle said.
Though Mr. Mugabe now officially governs under a tenuous power-sharing agreement with his longstanding rivals, the diamond fields are overseen by a ministry run by his party, ZANU-PF, and guarded by an army that reports to him and gives him and his allies lopsided control over a desperately needed economic boon.
“This is ZANU-PF’s salvation,” said one of Mr. Mugabe’s closest confidants, on the condition of anonymity because his conversations with the president were supposed to be confidential. Diamonds are being sold on the black market for partisan and personal gain, he said, with some party leaders gaining and others being cut out: “The looting has intensified over the past six months.”
Whether Zimbabwe will be able to sell the Marange diamonds on international markets as vetted stones that do not finance conflict faces a pivotal test this week. At a meeting that began Monday in Tel Aviv, the Kimberley Process — an effort by governments, the diamond industry and advocacy groups to stem the illicit diamond trade that has fueled wars in Angola, Sierra Leone and Congo — will consider whether the Marange diamonds should be cleared for export. More than 70 countries have committed to not trading with nations that do not meet the effort’s standards.
Investigators for both the Kimberley Process and human rights groups have gathered what they call credible accounts that the military used extreme violence in its 2008 operation to seize the Marange fields, employing dogs, AK-47s and even strafing from helicopters to attack miners engaged in a diamond rush. Officers then set up their own smuggling syndicates, the groups said.
“Nobody imagined that governments would be shooting their own people to get a grip on the diamonds,” said Ian Smillie, an architect of the Kimberley Process.
Shallowly deposited by a river system, the stones are found in an area of about 265 square miles. Of that, about 46 square miles are thought to have diamond potential.
Mr. Van Bockstael estimated that only 5 percent of the stones found were of gem quality, while about 90 percent were of low quality, useful only for industrial purposes. They look like pebbles or chips of broken beer bottles, tinted black, brown or green.
“If you found one on the street, you probably wouldn’t even pick it up,” he said.
Late last year, two companies in joint ventures with the state-owned mining company began mining Marange concessions and had already amassed 4.4 million carats of diamonds by May.
Mr. Van Bockstael, a geologist, says he is waiting for Zimbabwe’s promised geological report on the fields. But from interviews with officials and other data, he says they could yield $1 billion to $1.7 billion a year, earnings that would put Zimbabwe in the world’s top half-dozen diamond producers.
Those are huge sums for a country whose gross domestic product was only $4.4 billion in 2009, according to the International Monetary Fund. Zimbabwe sorely needs new money to combat hunger, disease and poverty.
Some questioned the fields after De Beers, the mining giant, let its Marange concession lapse in 2006. But Andrew Bone, the company’s director of international relations, described the diamonds there as “an important find. It’s bigger than most people anticipated.”
Mr. Bone said De Beers was worried about the country’s worsening political crisis when it withdrew. “We didn’t perhaps do as much surveying as we could have done,” he said.
Others in the industry are taking the deposit seriously. Ernest Blom, chairman of the Diamond Dealers Club of South Africa, said it contained mostly low-quality diamonds, but “yielding enormous carats per ton. It’s huge.”
Views on whether Zimbabwe should be certified to sell its diamonds are polarized. Mr. Mugabe has depicted efforts to block the country from diamond trading as part of a Western plot to topple him. Officials in his party deny all accusations of state-sponsored violence against miners and say the government has met the required international standards, securing its diamond fields.
Advocacy groups that are part of the Kimberley Process disagree, saying Zimbabwe should be suspended for continuing human rights violations.
But this month, Abbey Chikane, a South African businessman assigned by the Kimberley Process to monitor the Marange fields, recommended that the diamonds be certified and that the military continue guarding the fields until the police — also answerable to Mr. Mugabe —could take over.
“The government of Zimbabwe has demonstrated its commitment to meet the minimum requirements,” Mr. Chikane wrote in his confidential report to the Kimberley Process, which was provided to The New York Times by a participant. “A great deal of hard work has gone into their efforts.”
The Zimbabwe case poses challenges to the Kimberley Process itself. Its mission is defined as stemming the trade in conflict diamonds used to finance rebel movements. But in Zimbabwe, elements of the government itself have been accused of violence against people who flooded the Marange fields to sift for stones during a diamond rush that began in 2006.
The deliberations are likely to be contentious. Farai Maguwu, the most outspoken Zimbabwean advocate on diamond issues, was supposed to attend the meeting in Tel Aviv, but is instead jailed in Harare after providing information to Mr. Chikane.
Analysts and civic leaders fear that rather than bringing hope for Zimbabwe’s long-suffering people, this new wealth will reinforce authoritarian rule. They say it could finance more of the patronage and repression that have kept Mr. Mugabe in power, and possibly infect the Movement for Democratic Change, the junior partner in the power-sharing government, with what Eldred Masunungure, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe, called “the predatory virus.”
“The gravy train is not likely to be one that leads to a democratic destination,” Professor Masunungure said.
South Africa Beyond the World Cup
As the World Cup unites South Africa in sport, a look at the different hopes and perspectives from opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum.
June 25, 2010
Rare Haven of Stability in Somalia Faces a Test
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
BURAO, Somalia — The rallies usually start early in the morning, before the sunshine hurts.
By 8 a.m. on a recent day, thousands of people were packed into Burao’s sandy town square, with little boys climbing high into the trees to get a peek at the politicians.
“We’re going to end corruption!” one of the politicians boomed, holding several microphones at once. “We’re going to bring dignity back to the people!”
The boys cheered wildly. Wispy militiamen punched bony fists in the air. The politicians’ messages were hardly original. But in this corner of Africa, a free and open political rally — led, no less, by opposition leaders who could actually win — is an anomaly apparently worthy of celebration.
The crowd that day helped tell a strange truth: that one of the most democratic countries in the Horn of Africa is not really a country at all. It is Somaliland, the northwestern corner of Somalia, which, since the disintegration of the Somali state in 1991, has been on a quixotic mission for recognition as its own separate nation.
While so much of Somalia is plagued by relentless violence, this little-known piece of the Somali puzzle is peaceful and organized enough to hold national elections this week, with more than one million registered voters. The campaigns are passionate but fair, say the few Western observers here. The roads are full of battered old Toyotas blasting out slogans from staticky megaphones lashed to the roofs.
Somalilanders have pulled off peaceful national elections three times. The last presidential election in 2003 was decided by a wafer-thin margin, around 80 votes at the time of counting, yet there was no violence. Each successful election feeds the hope here that one day the world will reward Somaliland with recognition for carving a functioning, democratic space out of one of the most chaotic countries in the world.
June 25, 2010
Rwandan Editor Who Accused Officials in Shooting Is Killed
By JOSH KRON
KIGALI, Rwanda — A Rwandan journalist who accused the Rwandan government of trying to assassinate a dissident in South Africa was himself killed Thursday night in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali.
Jean-Leonard Rugambage, 34, an editor and reporter for a suspended private tabloid, was shot twice and killed late Thursday night near his home, police officials said. Violent crime is exceedingly rare in Kigali, which is known as one of the safest and most orderly capitals in Africa.
The shooting is the latest in a string of deadly episodes in the Rwandan capital as the country approaches presidential elections this August. Although investigations were continuing and no arrests had been made, authorities had dismissed the possibility of foul play.
“It is very unfortunate,” said a police spokesperson, Eric Kayiranga. “He was an ordinary man. At his level, I don’t think he can be a threat.”
But Jean-Bosco Gasasira, the senior editor of the local-language tabloid Umuvugizi, where Mr. Rugambage worked, claims that the Rwandan government was behind the killing and that intelligence services had been trailing his colleague for days.
“This was not an accident,” said Mr. Gasasira, who himself fled Rwanda earlier this year. “He had spoken to me all week, informing me about surveillance on him.”
June 28, 2010
The Black and the White of It
By ROGER COHEN
JOHANNESBURG — South Africa is a country where race is not the subtext of existence. It’s the text.
I was at dinner the other night with my cousins, white South Africans divided as to whether they still have prospects here. The elder men said things like, “I now feel like a visitor,” or “The future is for the blacks.” They see race relations worsening, corruption spreading and inefficiency rampant.
Not the youngest among them, a law student in his mid-20s, proud African, brimming with indignation at his elders’ perceived conceits: “Is it race or is it class?” he asked. “What is freedom to them?” he demanded, voice rising. “They want houses, schools, sewage. They want justice.”
Conversation turned to this tidbit: Under apartheid, blacks could not be bricklayers because the job was classified as whites-only skilled labor. The student’s mother expressed anger, prompting a furious rebuke from him: “Why are you angry now when you weren’t 30 years ago? Your anger’s useless now. Drop it. When it would have been useful you didn’t have it. Now it’s payback time for them.”
“They” are the eternal other, of course, the blacks in this white conversation, the whites in mirror-image black conversations.
There are plenty of iterations of “they” in a land where the 1950 Population Registration Act (evil legislation is always innocuously named) ran a fine comb through types of inferior being, among them Indians and mixed-race “coloreds.” Almost a generation from apartheid’s end, South Africa is struggling to compose these differences into something foreign to nature: a sustainable rainbow.
The world has much at stake in this quest. South Africa — 79 percent black, 9.5 percent white and 11.5 percent Asian or mixed race — is the ground zero chosen by history and geography for the dilemma of otherness, the violent puzzle of race with its reflexive suspicions and repetitive eruptions.
At moments, as during this first African World Cup, the rainbow shimmers. This was supposed to be the competition of smash-and-grab and of machete attacks. Many stayed away.
The fear merchants, always hard at work, have been proved wrong. German grandmas do not lie savaged on the road to Rustenburg.
Unity has unfurled, calm broken out. Smiles crease black and white faces alike. To the point that the most asked question here is: Will this moving honeymoon last beyond the World Cup?
It’s a good question. South Africa, in the run-up, smoldered, crime eating at its heart like a surrogate for the post-apartheid bloodletting that never was.
There was the murder in April of the white supremacist Eugène Terre’Blanche, hacked to death after the leader of the African National Congress (A.N.C.) Youth League, Julius Malema, revived the “kill the Boer” line of black struggle. There were Malema’s endorsements of Zimbabwe’s disaster merchant, Robert Mugabe. There was the unhappy sight of the A.N.C., torn between its liberation mythology and the mundanity of governance, gripped by paralysis as unemployment climbed over 25 percent and its “tenderpreneurs” prospered.
A tenderpreneur is an insider pocketing millions from rigged government tenders for everything from air-conditioners to locomotives. The word denotes failure, that of black economic empowerment, which has come to mean much for the few and little for the many. If the powerful steal with front companies, why should the weak not steal with guns?
Yes, as my young cousin said, blacks want justice, from other blacks as well. If President Jacob Zuma does not use the lessons of this World Cup — that color lines can blur, that things can get done — to build momentum for reform, he will have failed. He must put the tenderpreneurs out of business. He must reverse the crumbling of education. Jobs do not lie in digging more stuff out the ground. The knowledge economy is where opportunity resides.
Is it class or race? South Africa is not going to rainbow race away, but it can bring blacks out of their miserable shacks and educate them — if its leaders are prepared to lead by example. I say it’s more class than race.
I was driving the other day with my colleague, Jere Longman, who mentioned that growing up in a small town in Lousiana in the early 1960s, he would see a “whites only” sign outside the launderette and imagine that meant white clothes alone. Almost a century separated the end of slavery from the end of Jim Crow segregation in the United States. Sixteen years have passed since the first free elections here.
There are no quick fixes. But I take heart from the African patriotism of my young cousin. I take heart from another 20-something white South African, a young woman who told me: “I am so happy for Ghana and so proud to be an African.”
That was after Ghana, lone African World Cup survivor, booted the United States out, a victory dedicated by its players to Africa, Nelson Mandela’s “proud continent.” We all know what Ghana long shipped to America: slaves.
It’s a pity President Obama couldn’t find time to be here in the land where race is text and the way it gets written will affect everyone’s future.
In this year’s World Cup, “The Big Man” model of both soccer and Africa has proved to be outdated.
July 1, 2010
Özil the German
By ROGER COHEN
JOHANNESBURG — No player has fascinated me more at the World Cup than Mesut Özil. He has the languid self-assurance on the ball that comes only to the greatest footballers. Where others are hurried, he has time. He conjures space with a shrug. His left foot can, with equal ease, caress a pass or unleash a shot.
Özil, at 21, oozes class. He’s a German. That’s part of my fascination. Özil’s a Muslim German of Turkish descent who believes he has married traditions: “My technique and feeling for the ball is the Turkish side to my game. The discipline, attitude and always-give-your-all is the German part.”
The technique undid Ghana in the group stage with a fizzing volleyed goal. The attitude left England’s Gareth Barry for dead as Özil burst down the left wing to set up Germany’s fourth goal in its demolition of English illusions. Poor England, consumed by inhibition before Özil’s invention!
Özil’s a German but only just. The years I spent in Berlin in the late 1990s were marked by angry debate as the country moved from a “Volkisch” view of nationality — one based on the bloodlines of the German Volk — to a more liberal law that gave millions of immigrants an avenue to citizenship for the first time. Özil would not have been German until the immigration law of 1999.
It’s this legislation that has birthed the Germany of Özil and his teammates Sami Khedira and Jerome Boateng (Tunisian and Ghanaian fathers respectively) and Cacau (naturalized Brazilian) and Dennis Aogo (Nigerian descent). The Volk have spread wings to hoist Germany into the last eight.
There’s a third reason, beyond brilliance and birthright, for my fascination with Özil. He is probably only on the team because “The Big Man” of the German squad, Michael Ballack, was injured a few weeks before the tournament.
Similarly, Ghana has advanced to the last eight — despite that defeat to Germany — even in the absence of its “Big Man,” the injured star Michael Essien. As for Uruguay and Paraguay, two other quarter-finalists, they had no “Big Man” to begin with.
Perhaps it’s not a bad thing that the first African World Cup has seen stars fail where they were not backed by teamwork. Cameroon, with its Big Man Samuel Eto’o of Inter Milan, and Ivory Coast, with Big Man Dider Drogba of Chelsea, are both out. Ghana, meanwhile, has endured through discipline and coordination.
Africa needs more of that kind of spirit. Since decolonization began in the second half of the 20th century, it has too often been the continent of “The Big Man.” That was the sobriquet V.S. Naipaul gave in “A Bend in the River” to the African dictator plundering the city of Kisangani in Congo through mercenaires granted license to run amok.
The colonizer’s plundering merely gave way to the Big Man’s impunity in stripping Africa’s assets bare.
Perhaps the most glaring examples have been in Zimbabwe and Congo, potentially wealthy nations that have hurtled backward. Robert Mugabe has single-handedly dismembered Zimbabwe, a wanton act hauntingly evoked in Peter Godwin’s “When a Crocodile Eats the Sun.”
In Congo, over a 30-year dictatorship that defined kleptocracy (Western-supported kleptocracy at that), Mobutu Sese Seko spread the wreckage that has provided the fissured stage for the recent slaughter of millions. Between games I’ve been reading Tim Butcher’s extraordinary “Blood River,” a riveting chronicle of the unraveling of a nation told through an impossible journey across Congo. Read it to understand African tragedy.
So I’m pleased that in this World Cup, the Big Men have proved dispensable. And I’m pleased it’s being held in a country that shares African problems but has not yielded to Africa’s curse.
South Africa has the mineral wealth — 90 percent of the world’s platinum reserves and 40 percent of its gold — that has proved the “resource curse” of African nations including Nigeria. It has what Moeletsi Mbeki, the brother of former president Thabo Mbeki, described to me as “a very warped society” born in part of big mining, with its single-sex hostels for laborers torn from their families and thrust into those incubators of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. It is still a land where poverty is racialized.
But it has resisted the devastating “Big Man” syndrome. Over the past 16 years, South Africa has had four free elections and four presidents. A robust judiciary and free press frustrate attempts to cow them. The interaction, under the law, of various interest groups holds South Africa back from the brink. This is its great lesson for a continent where, by 2025, one in four of every person under 24 will live.
“Ke Nako!” — “It’s Time!” — goes the chorus of the most haunting song of this exuberant World Cup: “Now it’s time to unite as black and white to be the pride of Africa’s might.” Yes, it’s time for an end to the African Big Man who trampled that pride.
When I lived in Germany, a Social Democrat once told me that the country’s ultimate victory over Hitler would lie in the reconstitution of the Jewish community, then being pursued by luring Jews of the former Soviet Union. I always thought that was a vain, slightly kitschy idea. But the Germany of Özil and Aogo is such a victory over the Big Man who destroyed Europe.
The smoking gun of Somalia
July 18, 2010
Last Sunday's suicide bombing in Uganda is a clear sign that the world cannot ignore the failed state of Somalia much longer. While the War on Terror has focused on South Asia and Iraq, jihadist outfits in the Horn of Africa have grown largely unchecked and now look to be expanding.
At least 74 people, including a few foreigners, died last Sunday at a rugby club and a restaurant in Uganda's capital, Kampala, after a pair of explosions devastated crowds watching the World Cup final on TV. Reportedly, the head of a Somali was found at one scene while further investigations turned up an unused suicide vest complete with explosives.
Al-Shabab, a Somalian terror group with links to al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility. Based in the southern part of the dismembered remnants of what used to be Somalia, al-Shabab was formerly a part of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a fundamentalist organization which ruled much of the country's southern and central portions before being defeated in early 2007 by Ethiopia and Somalia's weak internationally backed Transitional Federal Government (TFR).
After the losses and a period underground, al-Shabab emerged as a power in its own right and has been consolidating its grip on Somalia's southern reaches since 2008 through terror attacks and military operations.
There hasn't been much to stand in the group's way. Ethiopian troops withdrew in 2009 while the TFR is so feeble it can barely hang on to the few scraps of the country it maintains with outside help. While the TFR has soldiers
of its own, it relies heavily on Burundian and Ugandan troops serving in Somalia as part of the African Union Mission to Somalia for support.
The attacks reflect this state of affairs. The restaurant is Ethiopian while the rugby club is allegedly a gathering place for Ugandan officers. Somalia's seemingly endless civil war has metastasized beyond the borders of its ruined birthplace.
This is a problem both because East Africa is so unstable and because the rest of the world cares so little. Ethiopia and al-Shabab loathe each other, but the Ethiopians' attention is divided by their long-standing hatred of Eritrea, which has been accused of supporting the jihadists and by fighting in their own country with Muslim rebels who inhabit an area bordering Somalia.
Somalia is separated from Yemen only by the narrow Gulf of Aden, making cross-border links and resupply easy. Festering hatreds between Muslims and the Christians who comprise majorities in most of Somalia's neighbours could also lead to trouble.
Aside from a few air strikes, the United States has mostly stayed aloof from Somalia, while others have done even less.
East Africa looks doomed to chaos unless outside countries make a concerted effort to stabilize it -- the sooner the better.
August 5, 2010
New Kenya Constitution Passes, Early Results Show
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya’s new constitution, written to alleviate longstanding problems that have undermined good governance here for decades, received overwhelming approval from voters in a referendum on Wednesday, according to provisional results released by election officials on Thursday morning.
Sixty-seven percent of voters approved the constitution, while 33 percent voted against, with turnout as high as 80 percent in some areas, the results showed.
“YES IT IS” was the giant headline in The Standard, one of Kenya’s leading newspapers.
The new constitution is expected to be a crucial turning point in this country’s postcolonial history by finally addressing many of the political issues that have dogged this East African powerhouse since independence in 1963.
President Mwai Kibaki held a boisterous victory rally in Nairobi on Thursday afternoon and told the crowd of thousands that the new constitution would be “our shield and defender as we strive to conquer poverty, disease and ignorance.”
“I see a great people ready to build a new and prosperous future,” he said.
Voting, which began before dawn on Wednesday, was peaceful across the country. The high turnout had been expected because of the intense campaigning for and against the constitution over the past several months. But the vote was shadowed by memories of the disputed 2007 election, which set off ethnically fueled clashes across the country that left more than 1,000 people dead.
To prevent any sort of repeat, the Kenyan government overhauled the entire election process, and sent thousands of police officers to keep order in rural areas.
The new constitution curtails the powers of an imperial-style presidency, paves the way for much-needed land reform and gives Kenyans a bill of rights. The combination that could spell the beginning of the end of one of the most corrupt, deeply entrenched political systems on the continent.
Earlier in the day, the leaders of the “no” campaign conceded defeat, with just a few grumbles.
William Ruto, the minister of higher education who had been leading the opposition to the new constitution, said that “as democrats, we accept the verdict of the people of Kenya.”
At the same time, he complained about the use of state resources to promote the new constitution and about “outside forces” — a thinly-veiled reference to the American government giving civic education grants to Kenyan groups that campaigned openly for the “yes” vote.
The early referendum results showed that political leaders still held enormous sway over their ethnic communities, an influence that many observers said was exploited during the 2007 election and stoked the violence.
On Wednesday, in some polling places in strongholds of leaders who were supporting the constitution, the “yes” votes were leading by more than 99 percent. The mirror image was true in strongholds of the politicians who had been opposing the constitution. In their areas, upwards of 90 percent of the people had voted “no.”
In late July, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania announced that his government intended to go ahead in 2012 with plans to build a highway running from Arusha in north-central Tanzania to Musoma on Lake Victoria. No one disputes the economic value of developing highways and other public works in Tanzania. But this planned highway includes a potentially tragic pitfall: it cuts straight through the heart of the northern Serengeti, one of the greatest national parks on the planet.
It would bisect the route of the great migration, the annual movement of more than a million wildebeest and other herds. President Kikwete has promised that this would only be a gravel road, and has said that he would never build anything that could harm the ecosystem.
But it would be a commercial highway nonetheless, and it would link two populous regions of Tanzania. Even a gravel road across the northern Serengeti would bring an immediate flood of traffic, instantly fragmenting the ecosystem and causing enormous potential for human-animal conflict in the form of accidents and poaching.
Tanzania’s reputation as a conservation leader in Africa has depended in large part on its protection of Serengeti. And if the government so chose, it could still protect the integrity of the park and safeguard the millions of animals that live in it and migrate through it. There is an alternative southern route for the Arusha-Musoma highway, one that would link more unserved communities than the northern route and still leave Serengeti intact.
Two things are needed. The first is a clear answer to a basic question: Why does President Kikwete support this highway when its potential impact on the ecosystem and on tourism — a major component of the Tanzanian economy — could be so dire? This is not a question the Kikwete government is eager to see pursued, especially by Tanzanians.
What is also needed is international pressure on the governments and nongovernmental organizations that would normally help finance this kind of economic development. That includes China, which plays an enormous role in African development. This is not a choice between economic development and protecting Serengeti. It is a choice between the wrong kind of development and the right kind.
September 1, 2010
In Somali Civil War, Both Sides Embrace Pirates
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
HOBYO, Somalia — Ismail Haji Noor, a local government official, recently arrived in this notorious pirate den with a simple message: we need your help.
With the Shabab militant group sweeping across Somalia and the American-backed central government teetering on life support, Mr. Noor stood on a beach flanked by dozens of pirate gunmen, two hijacked ships over his shoulder, and announced, “From now on we’ll be working together.”
He hugged several well-known pirate bosses and called them “brother” and later explained that while he saw the pirates as criminals and eventually wanted to rehabilitate them, right now the Shabab were a much graver threat.
“Squished between the two, we have to become friends with the pirates,” Mr. Noor said. “Actually, this is a great opportunity.”
For years, Somalia’s heavily armed pirate gangs seemed content to rob and hijack on the high seas and not get sucked into the messy civil war on land. Now, that may be changing, and the pirates are taking sides — both sides.
While local government officials in Hobyo have deputized pirate gangs to ring off coastal villages and block out the Shabab, down the beach in Xarardheere, another pirate lair, elders said that other pirates recently agreed to split their ransoms with the Shabab and Hizbul Islam, another Islamist insurgent group.
The militant Islamists had originally vowed to shut down piracy in Xarardheere, claiming it was unholy, but apparently the money was too good. This seems to be beginning of the West’s worst Somali nightmare, with two of the country’s biggest growth industries — piracy and Islamist radicalism — joining hands.
Somalia’s pirates are famous opportunists — “we just want the money” is their mantra — so it is not clear how long these new alliances of convenience will last. But clan leaders along Somalia’s coast say that something different is in the salty air and that the pirates are getting more ambitious, shrewdly reinvesting their booty in heavy weapons and land-based militias, and now it may be impossible for such a large armed force — the pirates number thousands of men — to stay on the sidelines.
“You can’t ignore the pirates anymore,” said Mohamed Aden, a clan leader in central Somalia. “They’re getting more and more muscle. They used to invest their money in just boats and going out to sea but now they’re building up their military side.”
October 30, 2010
Serengeti Road Plan Lined With Prospect and Fears
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK, Tanzania — Every spring, out here on this endless sheet of yellow grass, two million wildebeest, zebras, gazelles and other grazers march north in search of greener pastures, with lions and hyenas stalking them and vultures circling above.
It is called the Great Migration, and it is widely considered one of the most spectacular assemblies of animal life on the planet.
But how much longer it will stay that way is another matter. Tanzania’s president, Jakaya Kikwete, plans to build a national highway straight through the Serengeti park, bisecting the migration route and possibly sending a thick stream of overloaded trucks and speeding buses through the traveling herds.
Scientists and conservation groups paint a grim picture of what could happen next: rare animals like rhinos getting knocked down as roadkill; fences going up; invasive seeds sticking to car tires and being spread throughout the park; the migration getting blocked and the entire ecosystem becoming irreversibly damaged.
“The Serengeti ecosystem is one of the wonders of the planet,” said Anne Pusey, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University. “It must be preserved.”
But it is election time in Tanzania, one of the poorest countries in the world, and Mr. Kikwete is embroiled in what political analysts say is the feistiest presidential race this country has seen. Few things symbolize progress better than a road; this road in particular, which will connect marginalized areas of northern Tanzania, has been one of Mr. Kikwete’s campaign promises.
“The decision’s been made,” said Salvator Rweyemamu, the president’s spokesman. “If this government comes back into power — and we will — the road will be built.”
He said Tanzania had done more to protect wildlife than most countries, and he added, with clear frustration at outsiders, that “you guys always talk about animals, but we need to think about people.”
Hundreds of thousands of people here depend on tourism for a living. And the Serengeti is like a giant A.T.M. for Tanzania, attracting more than 100,000 visitors each year, producing millions of dollars in park fees and helping drive Tanzania’s billion-dollar safari business, an economic pillar. “If anything bad happens to the Serengeti,” said Charles Ngereza, a Tanzanian tour operator, “we’re finished.”
Most Tanzanians scrape by on the equivalent of a few dollars a day, so economic development is a pressing issue in the election, scheduled for Sunday. But corruption is a growing — and related — concern.
Mr. Kikwete’s ruling party has been widely accused of siphoning millions of dollars out of the treasury by awarding contracts to ghost companies. Perhaps no one in the campaign has better channeled voters’ frustrations over being poor while the ruling class is getting rich than Willibrod Slaa, a former Roman Catholic priest and legislator who has crusaded against corruption for years and is now running for president, along with five other challengers.
Tanzania’s government is not accustomed to upstarts. The governing party, the Party of the Revolution, was formed in the 1970s as a continuation of the Socialist-leaning political party that brought Tanganyika independence in 1961, and it has dominated Tanzanian politics ever since.
But the government now seems to be worried. It recently threatened to close independent newspapers, and Mr. Kikwete refused to debate Mr. Slaa on television, sending his campaign manager instead. The government is also delaying opening universities until after the election, which means many students will not be able to vote and will be scattered across the country, not concentrated on campuses, should there be any trouble.
Mr. Kikwete’s green guards, the governing party’s youth wing, have attacked journalists and opposition supporters. Tanzania’s police, who rarely confront civil disobedience, have tear-gassed rowdy opposition rallies. This is one of the few African countries that has escaped civil war and ethnic violence, but some Tanzanians now wonder if their tradition of harmony will be tarnished.
“There’s no way this government can win this election in a clean shot,” said Azaveli Lwaitama, a political analyst at the University of Dar es Salaam, who predicted vote-rigging and possibly turmoil. “The masses are discontented. They’re seething for change.”
That may be true in the towns, but in rural areas, where most Tanzanians live, the president still has plenty of support. In Engare Sero, a village of 6,000 people, mostly Maasai herders, just about everyone interviewed said they would vote for him.
Engare Sero lies along the proposed 300-mile highway route, already marked by red paint on rocks. The only roads out here right now are spine-crunching gravel tracks. People here not only want the highway, said chief Loshipa Sadira, “but we’ve been praying for it for years.”
He rattled off the reasons: cheaper goods; getting to the hospital faster; being better connected to towns; and having a higher chance of someday getting electricity and cellphone service.
It is hard to argue with him. Mr. Loshipa and his family eke out a living herding cows in what is essentially a desert. There are fertile grasslands nearby. But they are mostly reserved for the animals. This policy goes back to colonial times, when Maasai were summarily evicted from their lands for the sake of conservation. It has left many Maasai destitute, with young men now converging in the towns to hustle tanzanite, a semiprecious local stone, or to seek poor-paying jobs as night guards.
None of the leading conservation groups pressing Mr. Kikwete to reconsider say they are trying to block the national highway altogether; they just oppose it running through the Serengeti, which is a Unesco World Heritage site. Grass-roots groups are mobilizing around the world, circulating petitions and setting up Web sites, like savetheserengeti.org.
Mr. Kikwete recently promised that the roughly 30-mile stretch through the park would not be tarmac but packed dirt, like the mainly tourist roads already in the park. But conservation groups say any major road would allow poachers to quickly get in, shoot the animals from the highway and get out.
Scientists say the ecological damage is very hard to predict but potentially enormous. During the annual migration, the wildebeest produce more than 800,000 pounds of dung — per day — which nourishes the grasslands. If the highway fragments that migration and makes the wildebeest turn back, “the whole ecosystem could crash,” said Bernard Kissui, a research scientist for the African Wildlife Foundation.
He spoke of a “cascading effect” on the lions, leopards, birds, plants, all interconnected in an ecological web that has been relatively undisturbed for eons.
The World Bank looked into financing such a highway around 20 years ago and rejected it, partly for environmental reasons. Western scientists have recently come up with an alternative route south of the park, which they say will link up more towns and spare the wildlife.
But the Tanzanian government is not biting. Tanzanian officials say that the original route through the park is better, that construction will start soon and that if no donors will pay the approximately half billion dollars for the road, they will build it themselves.
“We are Tanzanians,” Mr. Rweyemamu said. “We know where the people are. The research has been done.”
December 18, 2010
Zimbabwe Health Care, Paid With Peanuts
By CELIA W. DUGGER
CHIDAMOYO, Zimbabwe — People lined up on the veranda of the American mission hospital here from miles around to barter for doctor visits and medicines, clutching scrawny chickens, squirming goats and buckets of maize. But mostly, they arrived with sacks of peanuts on their heads.
The hospital’s cavernous chapel is now filled with what looks like a giant sand dune of unshelled nuts. The hospital makes them into peanut butter that is mixed into patients’ breakfast porridge, spread on teatime snacks and melted into vegetables at dinnertime.
“We literally are providing medical services for peanuts!” exclaimed Kathy McCarty, a nurse from California who has run this rural hospital, 35 miles from the nearest tarred road, since 1981.
The hospital, along with countless Zimbabweans, turned to barter in earnest in 2008 when inflation peaked at what the International Monetary Fund estimates was an astonishing 500 billion percent, wiping out life savings, making even trillion-dollar notes worthless and propelling the health and education systems into a vertiginous collapse.
Since then, a power-sharing government has formed after years of decline under President Robert Mugabe, and the economy has stabilized. Zimbabwe abandoned its currency last year, replacing it with the American dollar, and inflation has fallen to a demure 3.6 percent. Teachers are back in their classrooms and nurses are back on their wards.
But a recent United Nations report suggests how far Zimbabwe has to go. It is still poorer than any of the 183 countries the United Nations has income data for. It is also one of only three countries in the world to be worse off now on combined measures of health, education and income than it was 40 years ago, the United Nations found.
For many rural Zimbabweans, cash remains so scarce that the 85-bed Chidamoyo Christian Hospital has continued to allow its patients to barter. Studies have found that fees are a major barrier to medical care in rural areas, where most Zimbabweans live.
“It’s very difficult to get this famous dollar that people are talking about,” said Esther Chirasasa, 30, who hiked eight miles through the bush to the hospital for treatment of debilitating arthritis. Her son, Cain, 13, walked at her side carrying a sack of peanuts to pay for her care.
Mrs. Chirasasa said her family of seven was nearly out of the food they grew on their small plot, so she needed to get her pain under control to work in other farmers’ fields to feed her children.
Bartering helps plug some of the holes. A May survey of more than 4,000 rural households found that each of them, typically a family of six, spent an average of only $8 for all their needs in April, the cost of a couple of cappuccinos in New York. To help them get by, more than a third of households surveyed in September 2009 had used bartering.
Still, United Nations agencies estimate that 1.7 million of Zimbabwe’s 11 million people will need food aid in the coming months. And Mr. Mugabe’s continued domination of political life, along with persistent violations of the rule of law and human rights, have deterred foreign aid and investment needed to rebuild the nation’s shattered economy, analysts say.
Here in this rustic outpost with no phone service and often no electricity, the Chidamoyo hospital and the people who rely on it have entered an unwritten pact to resist the tide of death that has carried away so many. Life expectancy in Zimbabwe, plagued by AIDS and poverty, has fallen to 47 years from 61 years over the past quarter century.
Patients provide the crops they grow and the animals they raise — food that feeds the thousands of patients who use the hospital — and the hospital tends to their wounds, treats their illnesses and delivers their babies. Its two doctors and 15 nurses see about 6,000 patients a month and have put 2,000 people with AIDS on life-saving antiretroviral medicines.
Even during the hyperinflation of 2008, when government hospitals ceased to function as the salaries of their workers shriveled, the Chidamoyo hospital stayed open by giving its staff members food that patients had bartered.
“People are helped very well and the staff cares about the patients,” said Monica Mbizo, 22, who arrived with stomach pains and traded three skinny, black-feathered chickens for treatment.
The hospital, founded over four decades ago by American missionaries, from the Christian Church and Churches of Christ, receives limited support from a government that is itself hurting for revenue. The hospital also gets up to $10,000 a month from American and British churches, enabling it to charge patients far less in cash or goods than the fees at most government facilities. The hospital charges $1 to see the doctor — or a quarter bucket of peanuts — while a government hospital typically charges $4, in cash only.
Short of cash like the people it serves, the hospital practices a level of thrift unheard of in the United States. Workers and volunteers steam latex gloves to sterilize them for reuse, filling the fingers with water to ensure against leaks. They remove the cotton balls from thousands of pill bottles to swab patients’ arms before injections. And they collect the tissue-thin pages of instructions from the same bottles for use as toilet paper.
But there are limits to what even stringent economies can achieve. For most of the past year, the hospital did not have enough money to stock blood. Ms. McCarty said women who hemorrhaged after giving birth or experiencing ruptured ectopic pregnancies were referred to bigger hospitals, but often they had no blood either. Eight women died, she said. Just recently, the United Nations has begun paying for blood at the hospital to improve women’s odds of surviving.
Standing over an anesthetized woman before a Caesarean section, Dr. Vernon Murenje recalled how frightening it was to operate without blood in stock. “You’re operating,” he said, “but then at the back of your mind, you’ll be thinking, ‘What if we have significant blood loss?’ ”
As he prepared to make the incision, the hospital was in the midst of almost two weeks without power. Its old generator, already used when the hospital bought it 20 years ago, lacked enough juice to run the X-ray machine or to keep the florescent lights from flickering. It was turned on just before the Caesarean section. The air-conditioner coughed weakly to life in the stifling room.
When a boy emerged, Ms. McCarty cried, “Welcome to Zimbabwe!” But the newborn made no sound. She pounded his back and suctioned his nose until he let out a cry like a quavering baby bird.
“Oh, you finally realized you were born in Zimbabwe,” she said. “He thought he was born in South Africa, and he was happy.”
Postscript: The Community Presbyterian Church of Ringwood, N.J., has raised $24,000, and the Rotary Club of Sebastopol, Calif., contributed $7,000 to buy the hospital a generator.
This article is of particular significance in the context of the Imamat's involvement in cultural activities in Northern Mali. Below is an excerpt of a recent interview of MHI where he made his remark about Mali.
Engel: We are meeting in a park you have renovated in Mali. Why Mali?
January 1, 2011
Mali Tackles Al Qaeda and Drug Traffic
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
BAMAKO, Mali — The tourism minister, N’Diaye Bah, visibly bristled when asked about the possibility that Al Qaeda’s North African offshoot might kidnap foreigners in fabled Timbuktu or anywhere across Mali’s northern desert.
France spread such rumors, he insisted. “They want to create this security issue that does not exist,” he said, wagging his finger. “When you come to Mali, there is no aggression against tourists. How can you say there is insecurity in this country?”
Yet the United States and French Embassies, among other foreign missions, explicitly warn against traveling to Timbuktu and indeed the entire desert that sweeps across roughly two-thirds of this landlocked West African nation. A French Embassy map colors the entire north red, a no-go area.
This uneasy, public standoff has existed for some time, reflective of Mali’s insistence that it is not a font of violence like some of its neighbors, notably Algeria. But in a sign that Mali both acknowledges the issue and seeks to address it, the country is rolling out a new development plan, hoping to tackle the problem at its roots.
The dearth of jobs and prospects in the north helps drive the region’s twin ills — narcotics trafficking and Islamic radicalism. By setting up military barracks, infirmaries, schools, shopping areas and animal markets in 11 northern towns, the Malian government hopes to establish a more visible government presence, foster economic activity and form a bulwark against lawlessness.
“The ultimate goal of the project is to eradicate” Al Qaeda’s affiliates in Mali, said Adam Tchiam, a leading Malian columnist.
Mali does not deny that an estimated 200 to 300 fighters from Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (Maghreb being the Arabic term for west) have found a perch in their desert, although most are believed to be Mauritanians and Algerians. But Mali often depicts the terrorists as a problem generated elsewhere.
“We are hostages to a situation that does not concern us,” news reports quoted President Amadou Toumani Touré as saying.
Behind the scenes, however, the president has been more forthcoming. In a meeting with the American ambassador, Gillian A. Milovanovic, and senior American military officers last year, he said the extremists “have had difficulty getting their message across to a generally reluctant population,” according to an embassy cable obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to several news organizations. Still, Mr. Touré acknowledged, “they have had some success in enlisting disaffected youth to their ranks.”
In recent years, the Qaeda affiliate has left a trail of violence across Mauritania, Niger, Algeria and Mali, taking aim at tourists, expatriate workers, local residents and security forces. Hostages taken in the porous border regions have been executed or ransomed. Five French and two African workers kidnapped in Niger last September are believed to be held in northern Mali.
The Algerians and some Western diplomats accuse the Malians of being too soft on terrorism, an opinion reflected in the cables obtained by WikiLeaks. But Mali’s defenders argue that the regional problem is far larger than any one poor country can address.
To that end, Mauritania recently moved uninvited troops permanently across the border in Mali to eradicate a Qaeda encampment, diplomats said, and Mali did not object.
For his part, President Touré has been trying to forge a regional consensus on the issue, but the leaked cables and diplomats suggest that Algeria has been reluctant to take part. Algerian officials regularly criticize the presence of French and American training forces, saying they constitute another threat.
Mali’s own plan faces two main problems, one domestic and one foreign. Tuareg rebels fought the government in the desert for decades, with the 1992 peace treaty specifying that the government forces completely withdraw from the north. Deploying them there risks reigniting a conflict that still simmers.
Even so, some northerners endorse almost any government action in the harsh environment, where battling sand alone constitutes a daily struggle.
“There are villages that have never seen an administrator, never seen a nurse, never seen a teacher,” said Amboudi Side Ahmed, a businessman in the capital, Bamako, who was raised in the north. “You could stay in a village up there for 10 years and never see a government official.”
Then there is the question of whether these northern hubs are even feasible, given the reluctance of foreign aid workers to venture north and finance projects there. “The president says the poor protect Al Qaeda because they do not have any means,” said Mr. Tchiam, the columnist. “Where are the means?”
While foreign governments recognize that the north needs development, the lack of security hampers it. American Embassy personnel, for example, can travel north only with express permission of the ambassador, which she said she rarely granted.
“Development is critical in dealing with the north,” Ambassador Milovanovic said, but “so long as security is unstable, it is hard to get those projects going.”
“We cannot just throw money up there.”
After her own visits, she has tried to meet local requests by offering training for midwives or supplying four-wheel-drive ambulances. As part of its broader efforts to counter extremism in northern Mali, the United States also underwrote a series of radio soap operas whose plot twists emphasized the dangers of extremism.
Beyond that, Washington provides basic military training, sometimes even more basic than envisioned. An exercise on what to do when the driver of a vehicle is shot dead revealed a startling truth — most Malian soldiers did not know how to drive. Lessons were instituted. But Malian officials want more.
“How many people in the north listen to the radio? That is never going to be strong enough to change their views on A.Q.M.I. or religious fundamentalism,” said Mohamed Baby, a presidential adviser working on fixing the northern problem, using the initials of the French name for Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. “We need to deal with development, with the lack of resources.”
Qaeda fighters have sometimes ingratiated themselves by paying inflated prices for food, fuel and other goods. Diplomats believe that the extremists have also informed local smugglers that they will pay a premium for kidnapped Westerners.
Aside from collecting ransoms for hostages, Al Qaeda is believed to be financing its operations by exacting tolls from drug smugglers and traffickers in arms, humans and illicit goods. Since at least the 10th century, Timbuktu has been a crossroads for trade routes across the Sahara, and the modern age is no different.
A series of drug-laden planes make the loop from South America to the Sahel, but numbers are elusive, said Alexandre Schmidt of the United Nations drug office. In one notorious 2009 episode, a Boeing 727 believed to have ferried cocaine from Latin America was set on fire after it got stuck in the sand.
Both the drug smugglers and Al Qaeda offer young men a quick route to money and symbols of prestige like a pickup truck. The government plan has no easy, short-term ways to compete, officials concede.
“They can recruit young people and undermine both the economy and the religion,” Mr. Baby said of the militants. “We have to build up some kind of resistance.”
January 8, 2011
Mali City Rankled by Rules for Life in Spotlight
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
DJENNÉ , Mali — Abba Maiga stood in his dirt courtyard, smoking and seething over the fact that his 150-year-old mud-brick house is so culturally precious he is not allowed to update it — no tile floors, no screen doors, no shower.
“Who wants to live in a house with a mud floor?” groused Mr. Maiga, a retired riverboat captain.
With its cone-shaped crenellations and palm wood drainage spouts, the grand facade seems outside time and helps illustrate why this ancient city in eastern Mali is an official World Heritage site.
But the guidelines established by Unesco, the cultural arm of the United Nations, which compiles the heritage list, demand that any reconstruction not substantially alter the original.
“When a town is put on the heritage list, it means nothing should change,” Mr. Maiga said. “But we want development, more space, new appliances — things that are much more modern. We are angry about all that.”
It is a cultural clash echoed at World Heritage sites across Africa and around the world. While it may be good for tourism, residents complain of being frozen in time like pieces in a museum — their lives proscribed so visitors can gawk.
“The issue in Djenné is about people getting comfort, using the right materials without compromising the architectural values,” said Lazare Eloundou Assomo, the chief of the African unit of Unesco’s World Heritage Center.
Mr. Assomo ticked off a list of sites facing similar tension, including the island of St.-Louis in neighboring Senegal, the island of Lamu in Kenya, the entire island of Mozambique off the coast of the nation by the same name, or Asian and European cities like Lyon, France.
Here in Djenné, the striking Great Mosque is what put the town on the map. It is the largest mud-brick structure in the world, so unique that it looks as if it might have landed from another planet, an imposing sand castle looming over the main square. The architectural style, known as Sudanese, is native to the Sahel.
A trio of unique minarets — square, tapering towers topped by pointed pillars and crowned by an ostrich egg — dominate the facade. Palm tree boards poked into the mosque in rows like toothpicks create a permanent scaffolding that allows residents to swarm over the building to replaster the mud, an annual February ritual involving the entire town.
Djenné is the less famous but better preserved sister city to Timbuktu. Both reached their zenith of wealth and power in the 16th century by sitting at the crossroads of Sahara trade routes for goods like gold, ivory and slaves.
The town was also a gateway that helped spread Islam regionally. When the king converted in the 13th century, he leveled his palace and built a mosque. Mali’s French colonizers eventually oversaw its reconstruction in 1907.
The Grand Mosque was again near collapse when the Agha Khan Foundation arrived to begin a $900,000 restoration project, said Josephine Dilario, one of two supervising architects. The annual replastering had more than doubled the width of the walls and added a yard of mud to the roof. It was too heavy, even with the forest of thick pillars inside the mosque supporting the high ceiling — one for each of the 99 names of God.
In 2006, the initial restoration survey ignited a riot. Protesters sacked the mosque’s interior, attacked city buildings and destroyed cars. The uprising was apparently rooted in the simmering tension among the 12,000 townsfolk, particularly the young, who felt forced to live in squalor while the mosque imam and a few prominent families raked in the benefits from tourism.
The frustration seems to have lingered. While the mosque graces the national seal, residents here appear markedly more sullen about tourism than in many other Malian cities. They often glower rather than smile, and they tend to either ask for money or stomp off when cameras are pointed in their direction.
With the mosque restoration nearing completion, the town is focusing attention on other critical problems — raw sewage and the restoration of the nearly 2,000 houses.
“There is a kind of tension, a difficulty that has to be resolved by not locking people into the traditional and authentic architecture,” said Samuel Sidibé, the director of Mali’s National Museum in Bamako, the capital.
“We have to find a way to evolve this architecture, to provide the basic necessities the community needs to live, and to do it in such a way that doesn’t compromise the quality of the mud-brick architecture, the characteristic at the heart of the city’s identity.”
Elhajj Diakaté, 54, and his brother inherited three houses from their father. Mr. Diakaté hates bending over to navigate the cramped entryways, he said, and no room is big enough to accommodate a double bed. Worse, his wives and his brother’s wives all want armoires, he said.
But a Dutch-led restoration team working to save more than 100 houses ruled out expanding any rooms for armoires, he said. So Mr. Diakaté evicted them and tore down a fat interior wall graced by two narrow arches. The entire house collapsed. The Dutch restorer wept when she saw it, he said.
Collapses are the main threat, because mud brick requires regular upkeep. Just four rainstorms washed away much of the newly restored plaster at the Grand Mosque, exposing the underlying cylindrical bricks, each about the size of a mayonnaise jar.
But the natural materials needed — like rice husks or tree paste to make the bricks impermeable — have become so expensive that the art of hand-shaping the bricks almost died out.
Djenné occupies a small island amid the inland delta of the Niger River and its tributaries. The water was a rich source of mud, until it receded during an extended drought in the 1970s. Masons used more sand, weakening the bricks. Hungry residents also ate rice husks rather than build with them.
Urban problems multiplied. A project to pipe water into the city failed to include drainage, so raw sewage fouls the unpaved streets. Trash dumps mar the river embankments. Garbage has even made its way into the bricks, with black plastic bags jutting from house walls. A faint rotting odor hangs in the background.
Tourists complained, and in 2008 Unesco warned the city that something had to be done, said Fane Yamoussa, director of the city’s cultural mission. Trash and sewage alone is not cause to be kicked off the World Heritage list, until they start affecting the architecture.
The problem, said N’Diaye Bah, Mali’s tourism minister, is modernizing the town without wrecking its ambiance. “If you destroy the heritage which people come to see, if you destroy 2,000 years of history, then the town loses its soul,” he said.
Djenné residents take pride in their heritage and recognize that the Unesco list helped make their city famous. Yet they wonder aloud about the point of staying on it, given the lack of tangible gains, if they are forced to live literally in mud.
Many homeowners want to keep the distinctive facades, but alter the interiors. Unesco guidelines prohibit the sweeping alterations they would like, however.
Mahamame Bamoye Traoré, the leader of the powerful mason’s guild, surveyed the cramped rooms of the retired river boat captain’s house, naming all the things he would change if the World Heritage rules were more flexible.
“If you want to help someone, you have to help him in a way that he wants; to force him to live in a certain way is not right,” he said, before lying on the mud floor of a windowless room that measured about 6 feet by 3 feet.
“This is not a room,” he said. “It might as well be a grave.”
January 15, 2011
Nigeria’s Promise, Africa’s Hope
By CHINUA ACHEBE
AFRICA has endured a tortured history of political instability and religious, racial and ethnic strife. In order to understand this bewildering, beautiful continent — and to grasp the complexity that is my home country, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation — I think it is absolutely important that we examine the story of African people.
In my mind, there are two parts to the story of the African peoples ... the rain beating us obviously goes back at least half a millennium. And what is happening in Africa today is a result of what has been going on for 400 or 500 years, from the “discovery” of Africa by Europe, through the period of darkness that engulfed the continent during the trans-Atlantic slave trade and through the Berlin Conference of 1885. That controversial gathering of the leading European powers, which precipitated the “scramble for Africa,” we all know took place without African consultation or representation. It created new boundaries in ancient kingdoms, and nation-states resulting in disjointed, inexplicable, tension-prone countries today.
During the colonial period, struggles were fought, exhaustingly, on so many fronts — for equality, for justice, for freedom — by politicians, intellectuals and common folk alike. At the end of the day, when the liberty was won, we found that we had not sufficiently reckoned with one incredibly important fact: If you take someone who has not really been in charge of himself for 300 years and tell him, “O.K., you are now free,” he will not know where to begin.
This is how I see the chaos in Africa today and the absence of logic in what we’re doing. Africa’s postcolonial disposition is the result of a people who have lost the habit of ruling themselves, forgotten their traditional way of thinking, embracing and engaging the world without sufficient preparation. We have also had difficulty running the systems foisted upon us at the dawn of independence by our colonial masters. We are like the man in the Igbo proverb who does not know where the rain began to beat him and so cannot say where he dried his body.
May 11, 2011
A Rite of Torture for Girls
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
People usually torture those whom they fear or despise. But one of the most common forms of torture in the modern world, incomparably more widespread than waterboarding or electric shocks, is inflicted by mothers on daughters they love.
It’s female genital mutilation — sometimes called female circumcision — and it is prevalent across a broad swath of Africa and chunks of Asia as well. Mothers take their daughters at about age 10 to cutters like Maryan Hirsi Ibrahim, a middle-aged Somali woman who says she wields her razor blade on up to a dozen girls a day.
“This tradition is for keeping our girls chaste, for lowering the sex drive of our daughters,” Ms. Ibrahim told me. “This is our culture.”
Ms. Ibrahim prefers the most extreme form of genital mutilation, called infibulation or Pharaonic circumcision. And let’s not be dainty or euphemistic. This is a grotesque human rights abuse that doesn’t get much attention because it involves private parts and is awkward to talk about. So pardon the bluntness about what infibulation entails.
The girls’ genitals are carved out, including the clitoris and labia, often with no anesthetic. What’s left of the flesh is sewn together with three to six stitches — wild thorns in rural areas, or needle and thread in the cities. The cutter leaves a tiny opening to permit urination and menstruation. Then the girls’ legs are tied together, and she is kept immobile for 10 days until the flesh fuses together.
When the girl is married and ready for sex, she must be cut open by her husband or by a respected woman in the community.
All this is, of course, excruciating. It also leads to infections and urinary difficulties, and scar tissue can make childbirth more dangerous, increasing maternal mortality and injuries such as fistulas.
This is one of the most pervasive human rights abuses worldwide, with three million girls mutilated each year in Africa alone, according to United Nations estimates. A hospital here in Somaliland found that 96 percent of women it surveyed had undergone infibulation. The challenge is that this is a form of oppression that women themselves embrace and perpetuate.
“A young girl herself will want to be cut,” Ms. Ibrahim told me, vigorously defending the practice. “If a girl is not cut, it would be hard for her to live in the community. She would be stigmatized.”
Kalthoun Hassan, a young mother in an Ethiopian village near Somaliland, told me that she would insist on her daughters being cut and her sons marrying only girls who had been. She added: “It is God’s will for girls to be circumcised.”
For four decades, Westerners have campaigned against genital cutting, without much effect. Indeed, the Western term “female genital mutilation” has antagonized some African women because it assumes that they have been “mutilated.” Aid groups are now moving to add the more neutral term “female genital cutting” to their lexicon.
Is it cultural imperialism for Westerners to oppose genital mutilation? Yes, perhaps, but it’s also justified. Some cultural practices such as genital mutilation — or foot-binding or bride-burning — are too brutish to defer to.
But it is clear that the most effective efforts against genital mutilation are grass-roots initiatives by local women working for change from within a culture. In Senegal, Ghana, Egypt and other countries, such efforts have made headway.
Here among Somalis, reformers are trying a new tack: Instead of telling women to stop cutting their daughters altogether, they encourage them to turn to a milder form of genital mutilation (often involving just excision of part or all of the clitoris). They say that that would be a step forward and is much easier to achieve.
Although some Christians cut their daughters, it is more common among Muslims, who often assume that the tradition is Islamic. So a crucial step has been to get a growing number of Muslim leaders to denounce the practice as contrary to Islam, for their voices carry particular weight.
At one mosque in the remote town of Baligubadle, I met an imam named Abdelahi Adan, who bluntly denounces infibulation: “From a religious point of view, it is forbidden. It is against Islam.”
Maybe the tide is beginning to turn, ever so slowly, against infibulation, and at least we’re seeing some embarrassment about the practice. In Baligubadle, a traditional cutter named Mariam Ahmed told me that she had stopped cutting girls — apparently because she knows that foreigners disapprove. Then a nurse in the local health clinic told me that she had treated Ms. Ahmed’s own daughter recently for a horrific pelvic infection and urinary blockage after the girl was infibulated by her mother.
I confronted Ms. Ahmed. She grudgingly acknowledged cutting her daughter but quickly added that she had intended only a milder form of circumcision. She added quickly: “It was an accident.”
June 29, 2011
Yet Again in Sudan
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
The world capital for crimes against humanity this month probably isn’t in Libya or Syria. Instead, it’s arguably the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, where we’re getting accounts of what appears to be a particularly vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing, murder and rape.
In its effort to preclude witnesses, the Sudanese government has barred humanitarian access to the area and threatened to shoot down United Nations helicopters. Sudanese troops even detained four United Nations peacekeepers and subjected them to “a mock firing squad,” the U.N. said.
An internal U.N. report says that Sudanese authorities are putting on uniforms of the Sudanese Red Crescent — a local version of the Red Cross — to order displaced people to move away from the United Nations compound. They were then herded into a stadium in the town of Kadugli, where their fate is uncertain.
Western aid workers have been forced to flee, and there are credible reports of government troops and government-backed Arab militias systematically hunting down members of the black-skinned Nuba ethnic group and killing them.
“Door-to-door executions of completely innocent and defenseless civilians, often by throat-cutting, by special internal security forces,” a Westerner with long experience in Sudan recounted in a terse e-mail that I posted on my blog. The writer, who was on the scene but has now left, does not want to be named for fear of losing access.
The Rt. Rev. Andudu Elnail, an Episcopal bishop for the Nuba Mountains area, told me that the Sudanese government has targeted many Nuban Christians. Armed forces burned down his cathedral, said Bishop Andudu, who is temporarily in the United States but remains in touch daily with people in the area.
“They’re killing educated people, especially black people, and they don’t like the church,” he said. Women are also being routinely raped, Bishop Andudu said, estimating that the death toll is “more than a few thousand” across the Sudanese state of South Kordofan.
This isn’t religious warfare, for many Nubans are Muslim and have also been targeted (including a mosque bombed the other day). The Sudanese military has been dropping bombs on markets and village wells.
The airstrip that I used when I visited the Nuba Mountains has now been bombed to keep humanitarians from flying in relief supplies; the markets I visited are now deserted, according to accounts smuggled out to monitoring groups. At least 73,000 people have fled their homes, the United Nations says.
A network of brave people on the ground, virtually all locals, have been secretly taking photos and transmitting them to human rights organizations in the West like the Enough Project. My hard drive overflows with photos of children bleeding from shrapnel.
Samuel Totten, a genocide scholar at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, visited the Nuba Mountains a year ago to gather historical accounts of the mass killings of Nuba by the Sudanese government in the 1990s. Now, he says, it is all beginning to happen again.
“As I watch the international community dither as the people of the Nuba Mountains are being killed, impunity reigns,” said Professor Totten.
The Sudanese government signed a framework agreement on Tuesday that could be a step to end the violence in South Kordofan, but there has been no deal on cessation of hostilities. Sudan has a long record of agreements reached and then breached (by the South as well as the North).
Sudan is preparing for a split on July 9, when South Sudan emerges as an independent nation after decades of on-and-off war between North and South. The Nuba Mountains will remain in the North when the South secedes, but many Nuba sided with the South during the war and still serve in a rebel military force dug into the mountains.
Most of the violence in the Nuba Mountains has been by northern Arabs against the Nuba, but there are also reports of rebel soldiers attacking Arab civilians. There is a risk that violence will spread to the neighboring state of Blue Nile and ultimately trigger a full-blown North-South war, although both sides want to avoid that.
It’s critical that the United Nations retain its presence. Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, already indicted for genocide in Darfur, is now visiting China, and Chinese leaders need to insist that he stop the killing of civilians and allow the U.N. to function.
The appeals from Nubans today feel like an anguished echo of those from Darfur eight years ago. Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian organization that has long worked in the Nuba Mountains, said it received a message from a Nuban pastor: “With grief today, I want to inform you that the new church is burned down. We have lost everything. The house where my staff lives was looted, and the offices were burned. Many people fled from town, but some stayed. There is no food or water now.”
An African Adventure, and a Revelation
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
An American student and a teacher discover that economies are growing, more girls are in school and gains are being made in nutrition.
OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso
TAKE an American student and an American teacher who have never been near Africa before, lead them on a crazed “win a trip” journey through five particularly wretched countries, and what do you get?
Well, a few mishaps. There was that angry mob in Mauritania — who would have thought our cameras would upset people that much? And that bull elephant in Niger was equally inhospitable, although the giraffes seemed amiable as they approached to gawk at the strange white humans.
We encountered plenty of heartbreak, like the baby we met in Niger who was going blind from lack of vitamin A. In some places, we felt the gnawing disquiet of insecurity. The rise of banditry and a Qaeda network in West Africa forced us to take an armed escort across one particularly lawless stretch of “highway.”
Yet my travel buddies and I also found something far more significant on our journey: hope. One of the best-kept secrets in the world today can be found in thatched-roof villages like the ones we passed through: Africa appears to be turning around.
After a half-century of underperformance, Africa’s economy is growing significantly faster than America’s or Europe’s. In the last decade, 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world were in sub-Saharan Africa, and, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton noted in a recent speech in Ethiopia, that proportion is expected to rise even higher in the next five years. The global economy has turned upside down: Europe risks imploding, while much of Africa is booming.
July 9, 2011
After Years of Struggle, South Sudan Becomes a New Nation
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
JUBA, South Sudan — The celebrations erupted at midnight. Thousands of revelers poured into Juba’s steamy streets in the predawn hours on Saturday, hoisting enormous flags, singing, dancing and leaping on the back of cars.
“Freedom!” they screamed.
A new nation was being born in what used to be a forlorn, war-racked patch of Africa, and to many it seemed nothing short of miraculous. After more than five decades of an underdog, guerrilla struggle and two million lives lost, the Republic of South Sudan, Africa’s 54th state, was about to declare its independence in front of a who’s who of Africa, including the president of the country letting it go: Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, a war-crimes suspect.
Many of those who turned out to celebrate, overcome with emotion, spoke of their fathers, mothers, sons and daughters killed in the long struggle to break free from the Arab-dominated north.
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