ABOARD THE U.S.S. NASHVILLE — In his civilian clothes, Dr. Augustus Vogel stood out among the khaki, green and blue uniforms of Nashville’s military crew. As the U.S. Navy’s science liaison for the amphibious ship’s six-month “smart power” mission delivering training, humanitarian and scientific assistance to six West African nations, Vogel’s responsibilities were as unusual as his dress. On April 17, Vogel sat down in the vessel’s plush officer’s lounge to confer with a small team of diplomats and naval officers. The topic of their hour-long discussion: fish — and the catching thereof — in the bustling, anarchic Gulf of […]

MONROVIA, Liberia — A clause in Liberia’s constitution requiring black ancestry in order to hold citizenship has spurred debate on the nature of foreign ownership of land here, and in Africa in general. Many Liberians insist that the clause must be changed, decrying their country for being the only “legally racist” nation in the world. Others claim the clause protects Liberians from foreigners who might otherwise take control of the country’s vast natural resources and pristine land. Article 27(b) of Liberia’s constitution dates back to 1847, when freed American slaves declared the country an independent republic. Fearing their white former […]

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The World Bank’s 2008 Little Data Book on Africa (.pdf) might also have been called the Little Book of Horrors. It describes a world of human beings living at the extremes of poverty and at the edge of a precarious existence, particularly children under five years old. I ran some of the data from sub-Saharan countries where there are more than 200 deaths per thousand for under-5-year-olds to try to get some correlations between: – The amounts of aid flowing into a country as a percentage of GDP.– The per capita GDP.– And the number of deaths per thousand for […]

The World Health Organization on Monday raised its alert level for swine flu, edging the body closer to declaring a flu pandemic, while the death toll in Mexico, where the disease originated, neared 150. Half a dozen countries, including the United States, have identified swine flu cases, likely vectored by air travel. Governments across the planet are bracing for a full-blown pandemic that could claim thousands of lives. Among U.S. agencies, the Pentagon could arguably play a leading role in combating the disease. Recent emphasis on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief has prepared the military for a global public health […]

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party overcame factional infighting, a splinter party, a spotty governing record and the precarious position of its leader, Jacob Zuma, to win a sweeping victory in the country’s general elections. Voting took place on April 22, with official results released over the weekend. The results clear the way for Zuma to be elected president by the new parliament once it is seated. The ANC fell just short of a two-thirds majority that would have given it the power to change the country’s constitution, and below its historic victory of […]

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For a really good analysis of the challenges facing South Africa in the nowinaugurated “Jacob Zuma era,” take a look at this piece by South African author/journalist William Gumede. Unlike his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, who was something of a stick in the mud,Zuma promises to be a boon for political satirists and cartoonists. Thecontroversial South African cartoonist, Zapiro,has already gotten a head start with his infamous caricature of Zuma thatincludes a shower head embedded in Zuma’s skull, a reference to Zuma’sremark that he never worries about getting AIDS because he showers after having sex. For another example of South African […]

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What did the BBC do for Rwanda’s information minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, to suspend their programs and call them “a real poison with regards to the reconciliation of the Rwandan people” yesterday? The Beeb broadcast an interview with former Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu, now living in Belgium, who said that as a Hutu, he could never apologize for the 1994 Genocide. (A Rwandan government spokesperson was invited to participate in the program, but declined.) This is not the first time that Mushikiwabo has taken issue with the BBC. Last August, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mushikiwabo […]

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I originally thought of this week’s selection — posted a day late — in relation to the elections going on in South Africa. But then Hampton’s post from yesterday made me think of it from a different angle. Ina lot of ways I agree with Hampton that any attempt to punish theuse of torture would risk being both compromised by politics andhampered by the complexities of parsing who should be held responsiblefor what. That’s what I was referring to when I saidthere would be weaknesses to both criminal prosecutions and a truthcommission. In other words, I acknowledge the possibility that […]

ABOARD THE U.S.S. NASHVILLE — In 2007, the U.S. Navy amphibious ship Fort McHenry sailed on a six-month cruise down the West African coast. Her mission: to deliver training and humanitarian aid to new and emerging U.S. allies, in a bid to foster good will and security in a troubled and rapidly growing region. The Navy called the mission “Africa Partnership Station,” and aimed to make it a regular affair. Two years later, U.S.S. Nashville, a ship similar to Fort McHenry, sailed a similar route, calling at the countries of Senegal, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe, […]

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Jerusalem — My book of choice for traveling in Israel this past week has been “Africa’s World War” by French academic GĂ©rard Prunier. The book’s narrative covers the events that unfolded in the Congo in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Its central argument serves the primarily Francophone notion that what the Rwandans have done to the displaced Hutus in the Congo has been almost the equivalent of what the Tutsis had experienced in Rwanda. Prunier tries to make the case that Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who led the army that “liberated” Rwanda after the genocide, is not only […]

LIBREVILLE, Gabon — When the unarmed medical teams from the amphibious ship U.S.S. Nashville arrived for a scheduled visit at Centre-Arc-en-Ciel, a children’s shelter in this lush West Africa capital, the roughly 20 children there panicked. They fled into the shelter’s boys’ dormitory, one tiny boy even curling up into a ball on the bottom shelf of a locker. Seeing the uniforms, some of them camouflaged like army uniforms, the children thought the sailors were carrying guns, explained Gabriela Escudero, a humanitarian liaison from the U.S. embassy in Libreville. “They’ve had difficult lives,” Escudero said. With some coaxing, Escudero showed […]

Several analysts have noted that China is leveraging the global financial crisis to increase its economic clout — for example, by going on a commodities “shopping spree,” contributing $40 billion to the International Monetary Fund at the G-20 summit, and pushing for a greater voice in reforming international economic institutions. Recent developments, however, suggest that it is going further. China is using the crisis to step back and consider how it can rise in a more sustainable manner. That move is borne not only of its desire to be a world power, but also of its recognition that its strategy […]

There is no doubt that Zimbabwe needs financial help to revive itseconomy and social services. It is also indisputable that the SouthernAfrica Development Community (SADC) is the best-positioned organizationto spearhead this effort. An extraordinary summit of SADCleaders last month pledged to support Zimbabwe in implementing ashort-term emergency recovery plan, with promises of “budget support,lines of credit, joint ventures and toll manufacturing.” But while theregional group’s ambition to raise $10 billion for Zimbabwe is noble,its approach is bound to fail. A figure like $10 billion mightnot sound like much to Western observers. But in Africa, that amountrepresents the annual budget of […]

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Zimbabwe’s national unity government faces imminent collapse, due to its failure to get critical financial aid from the international community. Experts have now warned that the government might soon fail to pay its workers, with the potential for serious civil unrest as a result. Zimbabwe needs at least $8.5 billion in financial aid in order to reconstruct its economy. But its appeals have so far drawn blanks due to donors’ skepticism over President Robert Mugabe’s sincerity in working with the opposition. Even the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) — which brokered the accord establishing the […]

The tiny desert town of Abeche, in eastern Chad, offers a curious sight: Sandwiched between the mud huts that most people call home and the compounds belonging to international aid workers is a humble Chinese restaurant catering to Chad’s growing population of Chinese engineers and managers. Significantly, no equivalent American-style restaurant is to be found. The same holds true across the resource-rich, institution-poor developing world, in countries as remote as East Timor and as dangerous as Somalia. While much of the military establishment in Washington continues to plan for a possible conventional war with China, Beijing is studiously avoiding a […]

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In his previous post, Matt asked readers for “less cynicism and more solutions” to the Somali pirate problem. I can’t provide that, unfortunately, but John Robb at Global Guerillas has a thought-provoking post in which he provides a sort of cynical solution while dismissing the most commonly floated strategies. Here’s what Robb concludes: The most commonly suggested solutions, patrols by conventional navies and nation-building, aren’t the answer. Both are expensive and would be futile over the longer term. The Pyrrhic solution that will eventually be adopted is a combination of A) funded militias (Somali anti-pirates that raid pirate dens) and […]

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There were long odds against the corruption case of African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma going to trial in the midst of his bid to win the presidency in upcoming South African elections. As I have written in previous posts, the ANC is starting to bear an eerie resemblance to political parties elsewhere on the continent, in both its sense of entitlement as well as its manipulation of democratic processes. But now that South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority has decided not to pursue the case, the former head of the authority’s elite Scorpions anti-corruption unit, Leonard McCarthy, is now in […]

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