Sarkozy in Africa

I don’t want to go into a whole lot of detail about this, because I’m currently working on an article that in some ways grows out of it. But Nicolas Sarkozy’s announcement that France is ready to re-negotiate its military treaties with its former colonies in Africa is motivated by more than just a desire to finally bring an end to the archaic and patronizing legacy of post-colonialism. France currently has 9,000 soldiers stationed in Africa, predominantly in four permanent bases. To give you a comparative idea, that would be the equivalent of 42,000 American soldiers based on relative population […]

The headlong rush in many parts of the world to replace oil with biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel) illustrates how the best of intentions can run afoul of the law of unintended consequences. While positive effects have been elusive — and, in fact, are unlikely with current policies — starvation and malnourishment are becoming worse among the poorest of the poor. The European Union has announced that it wants to replace 10 percent of its oil consumption with biofuels by 2020. President George W. Bush announced last year a goal of replacing 15 percent of domestic gasoline use with biofuels over […]

NOBEL LAUREATES CALL FOR ACTION ON BURMA — Eight other Nobel laureates joined with South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu earlier this month to call for an international arms embargo, supported by the United Nations Security Council, against Burma’s military junta. Despite international anger and pressure to reform in the wake of the regime’s October 2007 violent crackdown on demonstrations led by Burma’s monks, the ruling junta has largely continued with business as usual – denying basic human rights to Burmese citizens. Several countries, including China, Russia and India, continue to sell military equipment and arms to the regime. “Despite decades […]

Did Mission Creep Kill the AFRICOM Base?

What stood out most about George Bush’s farewell tour of Africa — besides the development funds he handed out like “Santa Claus” — was his admission that American plans for another military base in that continent are dead. The question remains: Was an AFRICOM headquarters in Africa doomed by the increasing opposition to the plan among Africans and their governments, or was it done in by mission creep? AFRICOM began in February 2007 as simply a separate command to oversee all U.S. military operations in Africa (except Egypt). But it also stood for more than streamlining responsibilities. Enmeshed in its […]

AFRICA’S RAPE EPIDEMIC SPREADS — Rape has long been a tool of terror for military forces, but in Africa the practice is now spreading to civilian populations, with members of various ethnic groups using it as a weapon against women and young girls of other groups, UNICEF said Feb. 13. “Sexual violence is taking epidemic proportions and it is translating into the civilian populations, no longer only the military and the militia. It seems there is a license to rape when everything falls apart, in the sense that it becomes legitimate to do things that you otherwise never would do,” […]

The recent African Union summit originally intended to concentrate on accelerating Africa’s industrial development. By the time they met from Jan. 31 through Feb. 2, however, the 52 African heads of state who attended the 10th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, abandoned consideration of this and other planned agenda items in order to address the conflicts in Chad, Kenya, Sudan, and Somalia, which dominated their discussions. Although the need to manage urgent problems can often stimulate institutional capacity building, in this case the crises prevented AU governments from grappling […]

DAMASCUS CRACKDOWN ON DISSIDENTS CRITICIZED — Human rights groups and Western politicians have united in the past two weeks to criticize the Syrian government’s latest efforts to crack down on dissidents. Thirteen activists have been detained and allegedly tortured as part of a crackdown against individuals who participated in a Dec. 1 meeting of opposition and pro-democracy groups. They face several charges, including “weakening national sentiment,” “membership in an organization formed with the purpose of changing the structure of the state,” and “joining a secret association.” The detained include a cross-section of Syrian artists, writers, medical professionals and journalists, as […]

Earlier this year, the Republic of the Congo became the 183rd state party to join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which forbids the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, transfer, and use of chemical weapons (CW). In addition, the Indian media recently reported that the Indian government had eliminated over 90 percent of its chemical weapons, suggesting the country should fulfill its requirement to eliminate all its CW by April 2009. While welcome, these developments should not obscure the continuing difficulties facing the CWC as its April 2008 review conference approaches. Ambassador Rogelio Pfirter, head of the Organization for the Prohibition of […]

Many of us can recall when it was hazardous for tourists to drink tap water in much of Europe. Although times have changed and most Europeans (and tourists) now take clean drinking water for granted, an estimated 120 million people — one person in seven — on the continent do not have access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, according to a recent analysis by the United Nations Economic Commission on Europe (UNECE). This makes them vulnerable to water-related infections, such as cholera, dysentery, E. coli, viral hepatitis A and typhoid. To remedy this situation, UNECE produced the 1999 […]

WOMEN’S RIGHTS DRIVE CONTINUES IN SAUDI ARABIA — A royal decree on Jan. 21 allowing women to check in to hotels or rent apartments without male guardians has raised hopes among Saudi women’s rights campaigners that another key restriction on Saudi women — the ability to drive a car — may soon be removed. Campaigners have submitted two petitions to King Abdullah since September and are collecting signatures for a third. Meanwhile, a number of Saudi royals have issued fairly pointed statements saying they support women’s desire to drive. Since coming to power in 2005, the king has staked out […]