KAMPALA, Uganda — When I got off the small plane chartered by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) that had whisked me from Kampala, Uganda, to a small town on the border with eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, I had less than half a day to conduct interviews, take photos, and file content for major Western news agencies. I looked around at what had become typical sights: women carrying everything they own on their backs, children with nothing to do, lounging men glancing suspiciously at the influx of journalists, and everyone visibly tired. Tired of running, tired of violence, tired […]

War Is Boring: Good News, Bad News in Somali Islamists’ Return

Against the backdrop of starvation and warfare, there are signs that Somalia’s decline might soon turn around. At this point in Somalia’s tortured history, the country’s fortunes are tethered to its resurgent Islamist groups. In early November, one of southern Somalia’s major ports fell to an advancing Islamist army. The U.N. had been using the “beach port” at Merka to deliver thousands of tons of food aid to refugee camps on the outskirts of Mogadishu. With its fall to the Islamists, there was concern that food shipments might be disrupted. But Pete Smerdon, a U.N. spokesman in Nairobi, Kenya, told […]

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Members of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party held a three-day meeting in Johannesburg this past weekend that left them considering either moving forward or delaying the country’s elections, which were initially set for April 2009. The ANC, which does not want the elections to fall in the “busy Easter period,” seems more content with calling for snap elections — possibly on March 25 — than delaying the voting. “President Kgalema Motlanthe should decide on the final election date, but the ANC — as the party which deployed […]

Putting Piracy in Perspective

Intriguing observation from Josh Marshall: I don’t want to draw over-broad interpretations. But historically, therising incidence of piracy has frequently, if not always, been a signof the receding reach of whatever great power has taken onresponsibility for policing the sea lanes. I’m admittedly a sucker for this kind of over-broad interpretation. But to put things in perspective, a) piracy has become this month’s media cycle, which means that to the same extent that the problem was being ignored last year, it’s being exagerrated now; b) I wonder how the historical comparisons would stack up if you compared the incidence of […]

BURMA CONVICTIONS RAISE CONCERNS — Burma’s ruling military junta has come in for another round of criticism and condemnation over the recent convictions of participants in 2007’s pro-democracy demonstrations. On Tuesday and Friday of last week, authorities convicted a total of 60 activists on various charges, including forming illegal organizations and illegal use of electronic media, sentencing some to as many as 65 years in prison. Human rights advocates and world leaders have expressed concern about the trials, which represent a spike in the Burmese regime’s ongoing crackdown on dissent. U.S State Department officials openly challenged Burmese authorities in public […]

EU Defense: Three out of Four Ain’t Bad

Two of the four biggest challenges facing French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s European defense ambitions were opposition from London and Washington. I mentioned in a few recent posts the sea change in British attitudes. Now comes word, via Nicolas Gros-Verheyde at Bruxelles 2, that American personnel will be participating in an EU civil-military advisory mission in Guinea Bissau. That follows similar American participation in the EU’s mission in Kosovo, formalized last month, but yet to be deployed (also via Bruxelles 2). Again, it’s a limited participation in a limited mission. But symbolically, it’s a significant attitude adjustment, especially since, as a […]

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The war in the Democratic Republic of Congo entered a complicated phase last week, with allegations that Angola and Zimbabwe had either deployed troops in the mineral rich Central African country, or had mobilized them in a bid to bolster President Joseph Kabila’s army. Last month, Kabila requested that Angola — which boasts one of Africa’s strongest armies — back him against the predominantly Tutsi rebels led by renegade Gen. Laurent Nkunda in the volatile eastern province of North Kivu. Officials within the United Nations peacekeeping force in the province’s capital of Goma have also confirmed […]

The Special Ops Option

The NY Times reports that since 2004, the U.S. military in conjunction with the CIA has been authorized by presidential directive to conduct targeted counterterrorism strikes and ground raids within 15 to 20 countries, including Syria and Pakistan, but also Saudi Arabia. I suppose there’s some news value in confirming this sort of thing, but I’m hard-pressed to feel surprised by it. On the other hand, a good part of the story here seems to be why this was leaked now, at such a sensitive moment of transition, and by whom. It seems like it ties the Obama adminstration’s hands […]

Obama’s Global Policy

Robert Hutchings and Frederick Kempe make the case over at Foreign Policy for what they call a Global Grand Bargain, an across the board approach whereby instead of trying to tackle individual problems one by one, Barack Obama tries to reach a global consensus on broad reform measures designed to clear the decks: Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower once advised, “If a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it.” Itis a way of bringing more politically relevant clout to bear andcreating opportunities for constructive trade-offs. Most of thechallenges we face are interconnected, and the only way for the newadministration to […]

Two weeks ago, the parliament of South Africa — essentially an arm of the ruling African National Congress party — voted to abolish the Directorate of Special Operations and fold their jurisdiction into the work of the National Police. The move surprised no one but has angered many. Over the course of its nine year existence, the independent crime fighting unit of the National Prosecuting Authority, colorfully known as the Scorpions, has brought charges against current ANC head — and presidential heir-apparent — Jacob Zuma, as well as other high-profile ANC-supported figures such as former National Police Chief Jackie Selebi […]

Second Wind for the Union for the Mediterranean

It’s very possible that when push comes to shove, the Union for the Mediterranean will stand as Nicolas Sarkozy’s lasting legacy. Le Monde reports that the details that seemed to be blocking progress as recently as Sunday were ironed out at a conference of foreign ministers in Marseille. The headquarters will be in Barcelona, and in what was underlined as the result of a compromise, the Arab League will be a full participant in return for Israel assuming one of the permanent Asst. Secretary General seats. No word yet on what the Union will actually do. But it looks more […]

BURMA LEADER MARKS 13 YEARS OF IMPRISONMENT — The first lady of Burmese politics, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, marked 13 years under house arrest on Oct. 25, as supporters around the world continued their calls for her release. Australia’s The Age called the date a prominent illustration of the “bitter tyranny” existing in Burma, noting that “the Lady’s unjust imprisonment is a powerful reminder of a brief moment of freedom realized by Burma’s people and the dream that remains unfulfilled.” The anniversary happened to coincide this year with the seventh Asia-Europe summit meeting, a major gathering of government […]