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BRAZIL REVIEWS PRISON SYSTEM — Brazilian authorities are investigating the country’s prison system in the wake of the weeks-long rape and abuse of a 15-year old girl by male cellmates. Brazilian legislators have announced an investigation into the case and have pledged to build new prisons, upgrade existing facilities and adding space for 5,500 female prisoners. The young girl, identified in the Brazilian press only as “L,” was placed in a holding cell with 20 men aged 20-34 after being arrested on robbery charges. “L” spent a month in the cell, where she was raped, forced to trade sex for […]

The first EU-African summit in seven years has come and gone in Lisbon, Portugal. The meeting — held on Dec. 8-9 — brought together the leaders of all the member states of the European Union and African Union, except for a few, such as U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who stayed away to protest Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s attendance. Western newspapers devoted minimal attention to the meeting, and, in the eyes of their reporters, the meeting was hijacked by strife over Zimbabwe and trade. Though the summit produced endless speeches, statements, and action plans, but no concrete action, it was […]

It’s been called a perfect storm, the convergence of bad weather, tight supplies and increasing demand that is responsible for driving up food prices across the globe by an average 21 percent in the past year. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization contends that developing countries may end up paying even more. Price volatility and shocks have long been defining characteristics of the world agriculture market. But this year, consumers have seen simultaneous price increases across the board in nearly every commodity. Throughout most of the developed world, higher grocery bills luckily remain only a nuisance, although fears of […]

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MOGADISHU, Somalia — Twice a day, Ahmed Omar Hashi, a senior producer at Shabelle Radio here, receives a telephone call from an unidentified stranger who, in a muffled voice, threatens to kill him. Sometimes the stranger tells him he has been watching him, and knows where he at that very moment. Such threats are a common occurrence for members of the media in Mogadishu, where security has badly degenerated since the ousting of the Islamic Courts regime in December 2006. Somalia is now the second deadliest country for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The threats, arrests, and […]

Kenyans will elect a new president Dec. 27 in polls that are expected to be the most competitive since the East African country gained independence from Britain 44 years ago. More than 14 million voters, the highest number ever, will pick from nine contestants for Kenya’s top seat and from about 2,600 candidates for the country’s 210 parliamentary seats. But the real presidential contest will be between friends-turned-foes Mwai Kibaki, the incumbent, and Raila Odinga, a maverick opposition leader. Kibaki, the country’s third president, fell out with Odinga after the former allegedly reneged on a power-sharing agreement sculpted by a […]

The obituaries for political Islam have begun to be written. After years of seemingly unstoppable growth, Islamic parties have begun to stumble. In Morocco, the Justice and Development Party (or PJD) did far worse than expected in last September’s elections, and Jordan’s Islamic Action Front lost more than half its seats in last month’s polling. The eagerly awaited manifesto of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, a draft of which appeared last September, showed neither strength nor boldness. Instead, it suggested the group was beset by intellectual contradictions and consumed by infighting. It is too early to declare the death of political Islam, […]

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS — President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was the rogue elephant in the room at last week’s summit of African leaders and the European Union. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly denounced his poor human rights record, but otherwise European participants simply tried to ignore him. Other African leaders had insisted no Mugabe, no summit, and the Europeans wanted to deepen their penetration of the continent more than they were willing to be high minded. “At the end of the day, to see him [Mugabe] strutting around was a bit irritating,” an official in Valetta commented dryly this week, “but […]

CHINA URGED TO END CHILD LABOR IN SCHOOLS — Human Rights Watch Dec. 3 called on Chinese authorities to end the use of labor programs in Chinese middle schools because of rampant abuses. “China claims that it is fighting child labor, and repeatedly cites its legal prohibition against the practice as proof. But the government actively violates its own prohibitions by running large programs through the school system that use child labor, lack sufficient health and safety guarantees, and exploit loopholes in domestic labor laws,” Human Rights Watch Asia Advocacy Director Sophie Richardson said in a press release. The Chinese […]

Nigeria’s recent decision to affirm the handover of the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon belies a Washington theory about Nigeria and American national security. The theory goes like this: Nigeria is on the verge of collapsing into civil war. The poor, marginalized, radicalized Muslim north will rise against the Christian south and a great conflagration will ensue. Twenty percent of Africa’s population will be consumed in the fire, and America’s access to the flow of oil in the Niger Delta will disappear. Official Washington believes that we must prepare now for the inevitable. But mere war is far too simplistic an […]

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MOGADISHU, Somalia — On Nov. 17, two small groups of Islamic insurgents wielding rifles and rockets attacked Ugandan troops protecting a critical road junction in Mogadishu, sparking a 90-minute firefight that proved to be one of the first major tests of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia. The battle at the so-called four-kilometer roundabout — which links Mogadishu’s airport and seaport to major roads leading out of the city — left at least one insurgent dead. The Ugandans suffered no casualties. The fight proved that the 1,600-man AU mission can survive in the embattled city, according to Ugandan army […]