MOMBASA, Kenya — In November, the port of Merka in southern Somalia, previously held by the U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) alliance, was captured without a fight by soldiers of the rival Islamic Courts Union (ICU). In the aftermath of Merka’s fall, the U.N. worried that the ICU might halt aid shipments to the starving country. Those fears proved premature, but ultimately accurate. Last week, further advances by the Islamic Courts threatened to disrupt incoming food convoys. Merka’s fall was a watershed event for this nation of 8 million that hasn’t had a functional central government since a brutal civil […]

GLOBAL EFFORT ON BEHALF OF DETAINED CHINESE DISSIDENT — Over 160 Nobel laureates, writers and academics sent an open letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao via the internet last week urging him to release intellectual Liu Xiaobo, who was taken from his home by security officers Dec. 8 and has not been heard from since. Liu, a literary critic and head of the Independent Chinese PEN Center that advocates for free speech, was a leading signatory and mover behind the document, “Charter 08.” The charter was a public call for greater reform and accountability of the Chinese Communist Party, including […]

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I think it’s safe to say that when a Nobel Peace Prize winner calls for the threat of force to remove you from power, you’re on the proverbial “wrong side of history.” Hopefully it also means that Robert Mugabe’s days as president of Zimbabwe are numbered. I had the honor and privilege of meeting and interviewing Archbishop Desmond Tutu, just following his Nobel Prize, as part of a PBS student panel TV program. (One of the fellow panelists that morning was Rachel Swarns, now the Washington correspondent for the NY Times.) I’ll never forget how, even in discussing the plight […]

MOMBASA, Kenya — Kenya won a quiet but significant victory over Somali pirates that have waged a devastating campaign against its maritime economy when a judge at the Mombasa federal court formally charged eight Somali pirates with felonies under Kenyan law on Dec. 11. The eight men were captured by the British Royal Navy in November while trying to hijack a Danish merchant ship near the Yemeni coast. The Dec. 11 hearing was brief. The defense requested more time to prepare, and the case was promptly deferred until January. But the fact that it wasn’t dismissed outright represents a major […]

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I’m not sure why this (AFP via DefenseNews) made me chuckle, but it did: An Iranian warship has entered the Gulf of Aden to protect Iranianvessels against pirates off the coast of Somalia, state radio said onDec. 20. “After traveling morethan 4,000 maritime miles . . . an Iranian warship entered the Gulf ofAden to protect Iranian ships against pirates,” the radio said, withoutfurther details. I like the way the UN, NATO and EU are mounting multilateral missions to secure shipping lanes for international trade, while Iran sends one ship to protect . . . Iranian ships. So now that […]

KAMPALA, Uganda — Rumors abound about Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a group that has terrorized northern Uganda for the past 20 years and now is thought to be active in Congo, Sudan and Chad. Some of them are stock rumors regularly applied to rebel leaders: that he’s bullet proof, for instance, or that he speaks with spirits for guidance. And then there are a few more unusual ones: that among his rumored several dozen children with more than several dozen wives, one son is named George Bush, while another is named Salim Saleh, after the […]

MOMBASA, Kenya — The top Kenyan army officer staged a dramatic press conference in this port town on Monday, intending to strike fear in the hearts of Somali pirates that have waged an escalating war on shipping in African waters. “Any attempt to commit any act of piracy within Kenya will be resisted very strongly,” Gen. Jeremiah Kianga, chief of the General Staff, told reporters at a Kenyan Air Force forward operating base adjacent to the Mombasa airport. “We want to send the message to would-be pirates that they risk being sunk.” The general outlined ongoing operations by Kenyan military […]

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Zimbabwe’s multifaceted crisis took a turn for the worse late last month when disgruntled members of the usually loyal Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) went on a six-day rampage, beating people, looting shops and clashing with anti-riot police in the capital city of Harare. More than 150 soldiers, some of them members of President Robert Mugabe’s Presidential Guard, sang revolutionary songs denouncing the octogenarian leader during the rampage, raising fears of an uprising. “The situation looked out of control,” said a Harare lawyer who came face to face with the disturbances. “The soldiers beat up riot police, […]

SOLEMN REMEMBRANCES, HOPE MARK DECLARATION ANNIVERSARY — The world community marked the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, with calls for stronger international institutions and remembrances of those around the world currently deprived of their rights. The U.N. General Assembly awarded the 2008 U.N. Prizes in the Field of Human Rights to several individuals, including slain Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto and former U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour, as well as to the group Human Rights Watch. Meanwhile, critics slammed the U.N. and the world community for their failures to address […]

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What is it with the Bush family and late-term U.N. resolutions authorizing use of force in Somalia? All the reporting I’ve read about the Somalia piracy crisis, beginning with David Axe’s WPR feature from way back in October (yes, WPR is that far ahead of the curve), has emphasized the fact that that the piracy crisis is simply a water-based expression of a land-based problem. But the land-based problem is a lack of governance, and solving it demands a thorough, bottom-to-top stabilization and reconstruction operation — what we used to call nation building under Bush I — of the kind […]

It would be simple to lay the blame for last week’s riots in Jos, Nigeria, at the doorstep of ethno-religious rivalries. This line of analysis always makes sense to outside observers and conforms to the meta-narrative of the “clash of civilizations.” But in Nigeria, nothing is ever that simple. In a move designed to shift the blame for the riots, Hon. Jonah Jang, the governor of Plateau State (where Jos is located), has been issuing statements to the effect that subversive elements from neighboring Chad and Niger were the main perpetrators of last week’s violence, which killed almost 500 people […]

Surrounded by unstable regimes and beset by national conflicts, the current Ethiopian government has long been preoccupied with containing any militant threat. In June, even as the country was gripped by its worst famine in 25 years, the government announced plans to increase its military budget by $50 million — to $400 million — just one week after appealing to the international community for assistance. As a result, in addition to deploying troops into Somalia for the past two years, and intermittently clashing with Eritrean troops along their northern border, Ethiopia’s military has also fought several internal conflicts in the […]

MOMBASA, Kenya — In the past, on many days the giant container ships lined up 10 deep just outside the entrance to Mombasa’s seaport, awaiting their turn to offload cargo. It was a sign of East Africa’s growing economy that there were more ships than spots at Mombasa’s cargo terminals. But lately there have been fewer ships. On Wednesday afternoon, just one vessel anchored in the distance, while a handful of outbound vessels emerged from the harbor and turned south. Across Mombasa, people associated with the region’s sea trade are feeling the pinch. Fewer ships mean less work for ship’s […]

TOKYO — Last month the Indian Navy sunk what it believed to be a Somali pirate “mother ship” off the coast of Somalia. The vessel turned out to be a Thai trawler, but the intervention nevertheless highlighted an increasing willingness among Asian nations to take a lead in tackling the growing piracy problem that has garnered worldwide attention and alarm. Notwithstanding the Indian misstep, the results so far are impressive. While the number of attacks off the coast of Africa, including the Gulf of Aden, has jumped about 75 percent this year, Asia’s Malacca Straits had experienced just two attacks […]

FORMER CHILD SOLDIERS FIGHT DIFFERENT BATTLE — A group of six former African child soldiers have come together to launch a United Nations-backed advocacy group, the Network of Young People Affected by War (NYPAW), which will help other children escape from war and create a worldwide network of survivors seeking to achieve rehabilitation. “We are determined to help children whose fate has been similar to ours regain their confidence and their lives. We also hope to remind the world of how resilient children are, when given the right support,” the founders said in a statement released Nov. 20. The founders […]