Monday, November 5, 2007

Hope Fading Fast: The Conflict in Darfur Continues

The situation in Darfur has only worsened with time. With increased attacks on peacekeepers (such as the one pictured in the graphic at left) and overall violence skyrocketing, peace appears to be slipping out of reach for the people of Darfur. They continue to suffer while the international community dawdles, unwilling to fully commit to ending this nightmarish genocide. Although the establishment of the UNAMID (UN-AU hybrid peacekeeping force) has mustered some sentiments of hope for change, (as I previously reported on) with time, it too has been proven ineffective in implementation. Deploying these troops to start preventing atrocities committed against Darfurians has been painfully slow at best, with hardly any troops actually having set foot in Darfur to date. Meanwhile, the people wait. This week, I decided to explore the blogoshpere to see how others might be feeling regarding the current state of affairs in Darfur. I commented on two blogs discussing different aspects of the conflict in Darfur. The first is from Britannica Blog, an intellectually stimulating compilation of blogs written by accredited authors. The post is entitled “Darfur: A Problem Worth Solving” by Alex Meixner, the Director of Government Relations for the Save Darfur Coalition. The second is from the Reuters AlertNet Newsblogs, on the post “Women Say Darfur Peace Won't Work Without Them”, by Megan Rowling, who was previously a journalist before working full time for AlertNet. My comments can be seen in their original context by clicking on the titles above, but are also reproduced below.

Response to Alex Meixner’s Post

Although Darfur has attracted substantial media attention, little has been accomplished in attaining a long-term solution to the conflict. I am the first to agree that raising awareness of a problem is crucial, but it only goes so far. Tangible action must be taken in Darfur to, as you say, “reduce the threat to Darfuri civilians of physical violence,” and most importantly, “to achieve a lasting political solution to end the conflict altogether.” I could not agree more, because without the stability of a political solution to remedy all sides of the conflict, any physical peace would be a façade and doomed to failure.

In reading your post, I cannot help but draw comparisons between Darfur and the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. Both are based on fictive racial divides arbitrarily created by outside parties; in Rwanda with the Belgians fostering hatred and resentment by creating the irrational distinction of Tutsis as superior to Hutus, and in Darfur with the separation and differential treatment of “Arabs” and “Africans,” though, as you point out, both parties are “Muslim, speak Arabic, and share the same skin tone.” Thus, I fear another parallel can be drawn in the lack of action within the international community to halt these genocides. In Rwanda, it was much too late before sufficient attention was given to this atrocity. The international community has undoubtedly dragged its feet in taking effective action in Darfur, but all is not lost. The establishment of the UNAMID force shows promise, but not unless it is deployed as soon as possible. Otherwise, it is inevitable that Darfur become a horrific repeat of shameful history.

Response to Megan Rowling’s Post

This post offers valuable insight to a struggle within a larger conflict. Women, like those inhabiting refugee camps in masses as seen in the graphic to the right, are a marginalized group who are not usually counted as necessary representatives in the peace process of Darfur. The focus is mainly on rebels and the government, but as you point out, it is very important to also look at “those who aren’t armed,” yet are still just as affected by the situation, if not even more.

My only concern lies in how the numbers of women representatives can be raised, which I agree is a vital task. The fact that women are so ignored within the system may discourage them from attempting to be heard, because they feel as though their efforts will be futile. As you point out, “’even those who have made it into the room don’t really feel like they have a voice,’” so, tragically, what is the point of getting in on negotiations if they aren’t even taken seriously? How do we break this cycle?

I do believe, however, that the international community and negotiators could learn a lot from the actions of these women’s groups. The fact that they are able to “adopt a pragmatic approach and bury their political differences” in order to achieve their common goal is remarkable. If the international community realized that the bottom line is ensuring genocide in Darfur is ended, and countries were able to put their own agendas aside in favor of a larger, humanitarian agenda, then we might have much more progression in saving thousands of lives in Darfur.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Consumption vs. Conservation of Culture: The Lost Boys of Sudan in America

Within the past week, several articles have emerged discussing the returning of Sudanese refugees to their home villages after years of residence in the United States, one man , Jacob Dau, seen reunited with his family at right. More specifically, these refugees are part of a larger group of boys who together comprise the “Lost Boys of Sudan”. These young boys have a captivating and heartbreaking story, one that has also recently been the subject of two widely acclaimed documentaries, Lost Boys of Sudan (2003) and God Grew Tired of Us (2006). The boys traveled from country to country, evading civil war and narrowly escaping death, but ended up relocated in the United States. Bringing the boys to the US offers them many opportunities, but not without a price. Some of the boys become “Americanized”, and no longer have strong ties to their Sudanese origins, nor a desire to return to help their fellow Africans. Despite the fact that some loss of culture occurs, overall, this relocation program presents amazing opportunities for refugees that otherwise would be stuck in hopeless situations without a real future to look forward to.

The Lost Boys of Sudan are a product of civil war. Although each boy has had an individual experience, a general overview of the life of a “Lost Boy” has been formulated. The Second Civil War in Sudan forced these boys out of their villages, as violence plagued the region and rebels were running wild, shooting, killing and raping at will. This group of around 20,000 boys displaced from their homes proceeded to walk for hundreds of miles, day after day, all the way to Ethiopia. During their journey, they had extremely limited water and even more limited food, and over half died along the way from disease, hunger, wild animal attacks, and more. Once they reached their destination, the refugee camp within Ethiopia’s borders became their home for around four years. Then, disaster struck, and before the boys could get comfortable, they were once again forced out of their newfound homes. The Ethiopian government went through some changes, causing rebels to “t[ake] over and expel the refugees” and frequently attack the camps. The boys set out, barefoot again, but this time to refugee camps in Kenya (see boy crossing Kenyan border below). From there, “the United States government assumed care for some of the Lost Boys”, and around 3,800 boys were relocated to various cities in the United States to escape conflict and for the chance of better opportunities than their African villages could offer.

Life for the refugees in America is vastly complicated. Upon arrival, as depicted in God Grew Tired of Us, the boys know absolutely nothing about the ways of American cities. From the moment they step off the planes, they are faced with boundaries to overcome, such as how to use an escalator and automatic doors in the airport. Mentors, sponsors and volunteers in the new city are responsible for aiding the boys in their shocking transitions. They are taken to their new apartments, and literally taught everything as if they were empty slates. There is nothing in an average American apartment that they would be familiar withusing. “They have no knowledge of technology”, and need to be told how to turn on the lights, what a shower is, how to use a toilet, what is edible in a super market⎯ everything most Americans take for granted been familiarized with and knowing how to use.

The refugees are starting life over from scratch, as if vulnerable, naïve children, who know nothing of the new world they are suddenly forced into. Not only do they have trouble with American appliances, but also the American lifestyle. Many of the refugees must work two or more jobs at all hours of the day just to support themselves, as well as send money back home to their families. In addition to work, they also attend classes at university or high school. They are awarded the luxury of having their own money, which can lead to consumerism and the boys possessing items that they would never have even known existed if they stayed back in Sudan, such as cars, Blackberry cell phones, and nice business suits. Once they do eventually feel comfortable in their environments, the desire to fit in and acculturate is strong, and they can easily get caught up in the American way. One Lost Boy, Macharia Yuot, said it best as he remarked, “when you’re here, you get so used to the lifestyle”. It is much more appealing to live comfortably than to go on suffering for something that is now so far away.

Fortunately, not all of the Lost Boys feel this way. Many are set on making a difference in the villages that they originated from, never fully being able to let their pasts slip out of their minds. Almost all have lost or dead family members to think of, and friends who they’ve left back home and hope to some day offer a better life. For these reasons, they are “doing what they can to nurture peace there [in their villages]”. Chris Garang, (pictured at right) a Lost Boy, plans to build a clinic in his home village to provide medical supplies and care to his people. Samuel Mayuol has decided to aid in the process of drilling a well in his village so that more of his friends and family will be able to have clean water. And Gabriel Deng will build a school in his village, as he believes education is crucial to healing the people and starting anew. These boys, along with several others, have graduated or are in the process of taking classes at universities in their American cities, and have formed non-profit organizations to help in fundraising and spreading awareness about issues in their native Sudan. Although a select few may become Americanized and desire to take the simpler path in forgetting their roots, most of the boys feels strong emotional ties to Africa and Sudan, and want to do all they can to ease the suffering of their families and peoples back home. They realize “they are among the fortunate ones”, and believe divine intervention has caused them to be where they are today. Hence, they do not want to waste any of the precious time they have been given with their survival.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Footsteps to Follow: President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia

Unfortunately, it is very rare that the news or other sources highlight African leaders and countries in a positive manner. The headlines mostly read about rampant corruption, massive human rights abuses, child soldiers, and dictatorships. While all of this is invariably a big part of Africa, there is another side that is often forgotten. It is the side of progression and growth, and of the leaders who work hard to produce these overshadowed outcomes. This week, Africare, a non-profit organization dedicated to African aid, reminded the world that these people and places do exist. Its annual benefit fundraiser, the John T. Walker Memorial Dinner that was held on October 18th, is meant to “pay tribute to leaders in fields pertaining to Africa”. It not only raises funds to support Africare’s work, but also presents the “Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award” to its recipient of the year, past winners most famously including Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Colin Powel, Bill and Melinda Gates, Jimmy Carter, and Desmond Tutu.

This year, a very special honoree was presented with this most revered reward, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, pictured in the graphic on the right. Fondly nicknamed the “Iron Lady” due to her “iron will and determination”, Johnson-Sirleaf has resurrected Liberia out of the ashes of civil war during her term as president. She is an example for all African leaders to follow, and proof that African countries are not doomed to become failed states, but that the most vital key to overcoming this prophecy is strong, accountable governance.

Liberia has had a rough history. It has endured 2 civil wars, one from 1989 to 1996, and then again in 1997 and lasting until 2003. Notoriously corrupt leaders have plagued its past, such as Samuel Doe, who overtook the country in a bloody coup in 1980, and Charles Taylor, the blood diamond/ child soldier enthusiast who is now facing 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court (ICC). Liberia’s resources and people have been abused and mistreated for so long, and had nowhere to turn for help, with those representing them being tainted and corrupt.

Considering the leadership she was succeeding and the state of the country she inherited, one cannot question the fact that Johnson-Sirleaf had her work cut out for her when she won the democratic election in 2005. The country’s international debt was incredibly high (4.5 billion currently, due mostly to interest accumulated by money lent to previous corrupt regimes), relations with other countries and monetary support organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in shambles, and the people’s trust in the government virtually non-existent. The wounds of years of civil war were still fresh, and peace elusive.

How has Johnson-Sirleaf overcome the stereotype of the typical power-hungry kelptocratic African president who siphons off aid money into her own pocket? To begin with, she is the first women president to be elected anywhere in Africa. This automatically sets her aside in a different category, because of the drive and strong character an achievement such as that requires. She has been quoted as saying that she hopes to bring a “’motherly sensitivity and emotion to the presidency’ as a way of healing the wounds of war”, and her supporters agree, saying “we need[ed] a woman to put things right”. But, as her nickname suggests, she is not all about emotions and sensitivity. Johnson-Sirleaf has held many financial positions in the past, including Minister of Finance of Liberia in the 1970’s, and African Director of the UN Development Program. Her political career has spanned over 30 years of involvement.

Within this time, she has also been jailed and exiled twice due to speaking out against the corrupt governments that preceded her. Her passion for the country of Liberia is indisputable, and her commitment to transparency one of her most admirable qualities. She has aggressively rooted out much of the misconduct that was so engrained in Liberia’s daily political workings. Her action has been taken to the extent of bringing government officials who violated public trust before the high court and firing many inefficient and useless officers who had previously been part of the administration. Other paramount achievements during her time in office include, but are not limited to, reforming the police and army forces, jumpstarting the economy from its previous stagnation by such actions as getting sanctions lifted off of timber and diamonds, qualifying for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), completing a 1 year staff monitoring program with the IMF, revitalizing the education system and emphasizing its extreme importance with the creation of organizations like Liberia Education Trust Program (and an increase in numbers of female students such as the ones seen in the graphic on the left), and the list continues. Her results have been astounding, her work and effort ceaseless.

Johnson-Sirleaf has been described as a “tough negotiator” and a “strong defender of her culture” by Africare’s president, Julian Coles. First Lady Laura Bush admires her “immense courage and determination”, naming her “one of the world’s most distinguished leaders who has always been devoted to her nation”. No matter from whom the commentary originates, the world appears to be embracing this so called “Iron Lady”. She is a respectable, incredible, tenacious role model that not only African leaders can learn from but that all world leaders should aspire to emulate. Her hard-nosed policy of anti-corruption and unwillingness to see anything but success in the nation of Liberia are promising for Africa enthusiasts and scholars who are often bogged down by the depression of the current state of affairs in the continent. She offers a beacon of hope that good governance and well-functioning nations are possible in Africa with the right person leading the way, one who has proclaimed her goal in life to be “bring good governance to Liberia before I die”.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Kenya's Toxic Mountain: Suggested Action on Handling Poisonous Dump Site

This past week, Kenya’s government pledged to root out public corruption and cooperate with other nations to further this goal. Kenya has long been working to improve its international reputation and economy, and is seemingly one of the more stable African countries to date. Yet, a serious problem surfaced recently that has shocked and repulsed observers. The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) has exposed a dumping site in the city’s capital of Nairobi, known as Dandora Municipal Dumping Site, as a mountain of death that is currently poisoning children and adults alike (one apartment dangerously close to the dump shown in graphic to the left). Thousands of people not only make a living off of the dump rummaging through piles of waste for hours, but also live directly next to or surrounding this hazardous mound. Though the situation is egregiously in need of investigation and correction, it may not be as overwhelming an undertaking as it initially seems. While it is true that this dump provides income for many families, solutions exist through which environmental hazards could be limited without losing sight of the people’s economic needs.

The Dandora site’s waste comes from all over Nairobi, bringing in 2,000 tons of waste a day and making it one of the biggest in Africa. This garbage is composed of industrial waste such as unused chemicals and raw material, agricultural waste including pesticides and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP’s, including DDT and PCB’s), and hospital waste consisting of old containers, biological waste, and even used syringes. Exposure to these elements has yielded horrific effects on the one million people living in the three slum settlements that encircle the dump. The UNEP conducted a study of the site, and uncovered what could only be described as devastating results. Of 328 children tested, ages 2-18, half were found to have lead concentrations far surpassing the international standard for what is deemed “safe.” Half were also found to have chronic bronchitis and asthma due to the exposure to the pollutants and low hemoglobin levels, while 30% were anemic. High levels of heavy metals were discovered in soil sample analyses, including mercury, lead, and cadmium, which can all damage internal organs and also cause cancer when in contact with the human body. , Other possible effects include skin disorders, eye infections, respiratory and gastrointestinal abnormalities, blood disorders, nervous and muscular system impairments, and even heightened possibilities of contracting malaria, hepatitis, and HIV/AIDS.

Achim Steiner, the UNEP Executive Director, explains that not only are the people inhaling and absorbing toxins through the “routine waste burnings and methane fires,” but since the Nairobi River runs right beside the dump, these poisons are leeching directly into the main water supply. Waste of all kinds ends up in the river that “many people use to bathe and to wash clothes,” and that farmers also use to irrigate crops further downstream, thus polluting and intoxicating the water supply for miles beyond Dandora alone.

Despite all of this, the people of Dandora depend heavily upon the dump. It acts as a source of income for many families living nearby, including “slum dwellers and [the] homeless.” Large numbers of children flock to the dump foraging for any valuable items they can possibly sell (see graphic at right). Sixteen year-old Rorechi Achieng collects plastic bags from the dump, washes them in the polluted river with soap left over on discarded wrappers, and sells the “clean” bags to make a living. Over an 18-month period, she has developed a chronic cough she cannot shake. Willis Ochieng, ten years old, has been coming to the dump with friends since he was eight. They collect plastic bags too, or anything metal they will be able to cash in. According to the Reuters article “Vast African Dump Poisons Children,” while the reporter speaks with Ochieng, “his friends [sit] nearby sucking on dirty plastic bottles of noxious yellow glue,” and rats scurry around his feet in search of tasty morsels. Ochieng also explains that he wants to go to school very badly, but he needs to keep collecting trash so that he can help his mother put food on the table. Without the income generated by the dump, many families would be lost and unable to eat or buy other necessities for daily life.

Monetary value aside, the dump cannot remain as is, poisoning thousands of children. Solutions exist that would balance refocusing the economic dependence with safer living conditions. The UNEP has triggered much interest through its report on the issue, and has also committed 200,000 EUR (roughly $283,000 USD) to helping improve waste management in cooperation with local and national authorities in Kenya. International donors must be called to action as well. Currently, waste dumping is “unrestricted and unmanaged,” but with the support of the UNEP and other organizations like it, correctional efforts will be more successful than if Kenya did not have aid from outside sources.

Many agree “the authorities need to clean up the site and deal with the health problems of the nearby residents” and “give these people a chance to live longer.” The people of Dandora, along with numerous others, want to see the dump closed and relocated to a non-residential area, while revamping the entire waste management system en route. It would devastate the people to take away their source of income without proper compensation. But this recompense could be achieved if the government created new, safer jobs for the people who previously depended upon the hazardous dump to make money. In the creation of a controlled and well-managed waste-processing facility, jobs would not only be safer, but would also offer long-term sustainable working conditions that do not depend on what the affluent decide to throw away that day. If there were better education on the processing of hazardous waste materials, and thus better treatment of the toxins and medical waste before it got to the dumpsite, exposure to health hazards such as the one seen to the left with kids playing in polluted river, could be avoided.

The one obstacle Kenyan officials offered is that “Nairobi doesn't have the money to manage the waste now but [hopes that] funds will be available by next year from international donors and Kenya's government.” This statement is commendable, with the government realizing this problem merits attention, and that Kenya cannot tackle it alone. This is why action from the international community is so vital. The Kenyan government, instead of ignoring the issue due to its complexities, is admitting that it does not possess the resources to properly handle the situation and is reaching out for a solution. This conveys great accountability and transparency on the administration’s behalf, and should be reason to praise and reward Kenya with its required assistance. Utilizing aid from outside donors, alongside continued government responsibility, it is possible for this problem to become manageable sooner rather than later.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Don't Cross the Picket Line: Analysis of 2 Labor Forces on Strike in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe: a country once considered the “breadbasket of Africa” with endless resources. But what happened to all the bread? It has literally disappeared from the country. Recent disappointing grain harvests have snatched bread off the shelves of Zimbabwe’s markets, along with many other basic items. The country has become starving for food and begging for regime change. President Robert Mugabe (pictured in the graphic to the left) has ruled the country with an iron fist since its independence from Britain in 1980, and at 83 years old, caused more destruction than he cares to admit. Due in part to the deteriorating conditions of the country, two critical labor forces, teachers and doctors and nurses, have gone on strike in the past week, leaving the numerous Zimbabweans they serve defeated and perplexed. While the government should consider the demands of the strikers and realize the impact the absence of these crucial workers will have on an increasingly fragile country, it is highly likely that it will continue to underestimate the potential of the situation as a serious threat.

The doctors and nurses of Zimbabwe were the first to go on strike last week, followed shortly by teachers and university employees, both academic and non-academic. All parties have been on a “go-slow” this past week, where they gradually ease into outright refusal to show up for work. This is because of the government severely underpaying both doctors and nurses. Teachers also suffer due to poor wages, but add “appalling working conditions” to their list of grievances. The two union groups organizing the strike are the Zimbabwe Teacher’s Association (ZIMTA), and Progressive Teacher’s Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ). They insist upon not returning to work until the government agrees to raise their basic pay, allocating the government a week to act. University employees are also asking for more money, both lecturers and non-academic staff. Most appallingly, the poverty datum line (PDL) has recently been set at Z$12 million per month in September, and current nursing and teaching salaries are grossly below this, while doctors are just barely within reach.

The abandon of the public service sector by its most important employers should appropriate the utmost attention of the government. First, many doctors and teachers are simply abandoning the country to look for better work in neighboring countries, “flee[ing] the economic crisis that has driven other professionals to foreign lands”. There is already a vacancy level of over 65% in lecturer positions in universities across the country, and it only aims to worsen, especially if the government does not heed warnings. If all the teachers and doctors decide to leave, no one will be left to educate the youth and take care of the sick, leaving the remaining population of Zimbabwe extremely vulnerable. This nightmare has already become a partial reality, in seeing kids wandering aimlessly through city streets in uniform during school hours, and many patients being abandoned in hospitals and left to die. Perhaps a most notable story is that of a famous guitarist who was hospitalized, but “because the doctors and nurses are on a go slow, no one was able to tend to him”, and he died on Wednesday night after being found collapsed and unconscious in the streets of Harare.

Second, living conditions on the whole in Zimbabwe have risen to a crisis level. There is a vast shortage of food, including staples such as bread and gasoline. Chronic power outages caused by shortages of coal and equipment plague the country, sweeping over vast distances several times daily. Not to mention the inflation rate is the world’s highest, currently at a whopping 6,600%, while 80% of adults are unemployed. Unfortunately, disaster is nearly upon this frail country. The World Food Program and UN Food and Agriculture Organization both agree on the dismal fact that by early next year, 1/3 of Zimbabwe’s population will need emergency food aid. In a country on such a downhill slope, the abandon of all civil servants and the educated populace serves as a near death sentence. Without these laborers who work to make people’s lives better by curing the sick or educating the new generations, there is no hope for Zimbabwe. When all the educated, professional peoples are gone, what will be left?

Despite such factors, the government is likely to remain unfazed. These same sectors have gone on strike before, and in the case of the doctors, they reached a settlement months ago. They were told new vehicles were part of the settlement, but have yet to see the government honor any of its promises. In the case of the teachers, they have engaged in talks regarding salary adjustments with the government before, only for the government to continue “refus[ing] to award teachers salaries pegged to the poverty datum line as the teachers demanded”. Both sides have fought this battle already, but have come out defeated in every turn, succumbing to false promises or alleged “intimidation practices” utilized by the government, such as text-message death threats and “uninvited guests” showing up to union member’s doors.

In addition, Mugabe is unaffected by the suffering of his people, because he has mismanaged the economy for 27 years to benefit himself and his closest cronies. He sits full and content while his people are greeted with empty shelves upon entering grocery and basic supply stores, as seen in the graphic to the right. The refugee situation where professionals are leaving the country by the thousands also works out to Mugabe’s benefit. He has a close friendly relationship with South African president Thabo Mbeki, whose country is the destination of many distraught Zimbabweans. But these doctors, engineers, agriculture specialists, and teachers are “just the kind of people who are needed by South Africa's growing economy”, and are welcomed into the country with open arms instead of as perceived burden. As for Mugabe, he remains un-pressured by his buddy Mbeki to reform his dying country, and even in the fleeing of professional workers, gets rid of those who oppose him and reaps the benefits of them sending money, meant to help support family left behind, right back into the corrupt country.

Hopefully, this time will be different. Maybe the teachers and doctors will hold their ground, and make it known that the government cannot sway them from their ultimate goal, no matter what. And perhaps this would catalyst into an entire social movement for change. Regrettably though, as of right now, history and circumstance does not bode well for this direction.

Monday, September 24, 2007

And Finally...Peace?: Sierra Leone's Democratic Elections

Governance is one of the most prominent issues in Africa today. Corruption and scandal can be found as regularities in most countries, and the people are the ones who ultimately suffer the most. But last week, a positive advancement in this area was made in the small country of Sierra Leone. Previously associated widely with savage child soldiers and blood diamonds, Sierra Leone held its first democratic elections without the help of the UN, who previously had peacekeepers stationed in the country (right graphic). And most importantly, the transfer of power was peaceful-despite the fact that it was between two opposing parties. This marks the second leader to be democratically elected (the first being while the UN still occupied the country) by the people. This peaceful process has astounded many observers, as Sierra Leone has been torn by bloody civil war since 1991-2002. This week, I chose to investigate what others might be saying regarding this phenomenon through the exploration of the blogosphere. I commented on two pieces of work from different sites, but in reference to the same topic . The first is from the New York Times blog of Nicholas Kristof, on a piece entitled “Africa’s Slow March Toward Democracy: The Latest Step” written by Steve Radelet, a development expert who has resided in both Africa and Asia, taught at Harvard, and worked at the US Treasury, and is currently a Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington and economic advisor for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. The second is from AgoraVox, a citizen newspaper based out of Europe, on an article entitled, “Sierra Leone: After the Elections…Where to?” by Omar, an African man now living in Hadhramout. My comments on these articles can be seen below, but also in their original full context by clicking on the links above in the article titles.

Response to Steve Radelet’s piece

The people of Sierra Leone are to be commended immensely for this peaceful transfer of power, and I agree it is definitely a step, although slow and tentative, towards societal and political change for Africa as a whole. Considering the country’s previous image, it is remarkable the turnaround this process has signified. Regrettably, I must agree with your point that “Sierra Leone’s elections hardly solve all of its problems”, and expand upon it. Sadly, I find it difficult to be as optimistic about democracies showing “real progress” while people suffer as governments stand by- and in the case of Sierra Leone, aside from its ranking of highest infant mortality rate in the world, 80% are unemployed, and 7/10 live on less than a dollar a day. Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission’s funding has been suspended due to serious lack of progression and effort by the government to utilize the money correctly and efficiently, conveying a lack of dedication to the problem. As you mentioned President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia in your article, I believe all African countries can learn valuable lessons from her approaches to governance. She has been extremely effective in tackling with full force issues of corruption by taking hands-on measures, such as firing inadequate “officials”-doing more than just preaching and promising. So yes, this new slowly peaceful democratization marks a positive advancement, but this new regime definitely has much to measure up to before the celebration can really commence.

Response to Omar’s piece

I find your optimism and faith in the country of Sierra Leone inspiring and refreshing. I only wish I could share it fully with you, but I am torn to both sides. I can sense the excitement and change in the air in the transforming image of the country, from “child soldiers who hacked limbs off civilians” to now “secure and peaceful” after these elections and the conclusion of war (left graphic). Yet I cannot help but question that very peace and security. I strongly agree with your statement that Sierra Leone must “reconstruct itself so that it can be secure without outside help”, but I wonder who will lead the country in these efforts? Bad governance is such a prominent issue rampant throughout Africa, and Sierra Leone is no different. In the past, the government has not been fully committed to accountability and transparency, which has made progression difficult to achieve. What Sierra Leone needs most during this period of vulnerability is a strong leader who is willing to fight corruption for the good of the people, and dedicate him or herself to effectively making this happen. It remains to be seen if Koroma can be this man. While it may be true that the people are “serious about the future”, as they proved in these recent elections, the same unfortunately cannot be said yet of the government.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Effectiveness of a UN-AU Peacekeeping Force in Darfur: Abandoning the "African Solution?"

The region of Darfur in Sudan is in definite turmoil. As most observers are aware, the division between more affluent Muslim Arabs in the north, and poor non-Arab black African Muslims and Christians in the south has led to plundering, raping and murdering at random. The persecutors are alleged government-sponsored Arab horsemen deemed “janjaweed” by Africans (the aftermath of one of their attacks is pictured in the graphic to the left). This slaughter has resulted in over 300,000 deaths, and 2.5 million peoples displaced from their homes.

Meanwhile, the international community has mostly stood by and permitted these atrocities to persist. Due in part to Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir’s unwillingness to accept foreign intervention and Western indifference and indolence, the crisis has painfully dragged on from 2003 to present⎯but not without some progress. The African Union (AU), with al-Bashir’s approval, has since deployed 7,000 peacekeeping soldiers into the region in attempt to monitor a ceasefire. More recently, the United Nations (UN) and al-Bashir have come to the agreement of creating a “hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping force” deemed UNAMID (UN-AU Mission in Darfur). Currently, the debate is circling around the question of whether the new addition of the UN peacekeeping force will prove effective in bringing this genocide and terror to a close. Through research, it can be concluded that while the new hybrid force is more well-constructed and refined than the previous AU-only force, many matters still stand in the way of this being the final step in achieving peace in Darfur.

Africa, following the times of colonization, has fostered an attitude of “African solutions to solve African problems.” After years of oppression by Western countries, the last thing newly independent African countries wanted were more outsiders meddling in their domestic issues. Although much of this sentiment has faded over time, expressions advocating these ideas resurface occasionally, as with the case of President al-Bashir. He refused UN intervention with peacekeepers when it was first offered in 2004, maintaining that the AU was capable of doing the job and that “allowing a UN force would mean Western re-colonization” for Sudan. Therefore, he only permitted AU troops to be deployed.

Unfortunately, the AU peacekeeping force has proved to be inadequate. Although, according to the Brookings Institution-University of Bern Project on Internal Displacement, the presence of the AU has caused a deterrence in the rape of women, “reduced the recruitment of children into armed forces,” protected aid and humanitarian workers, “reduced the looting of animals belonging to Arab nomads,” and helped return displaced persons to their homes, the AU force is still lacking in many other areas. For one, its size does not permit it to cover what it needs to in terms of landmass. This has led to local people feeling “frustrated with the AU’s lack of protection,” and has left them still feeling consistently vulnerable to attacks. The AU is simply undersupplied, without advanced equipment or technology to utilize. Most importantly though, the AU has a very weak mandate, in the fact that they are not given the authority to disarm or remove janjaweed forces from refugee camps, and are confined to monitoring violence over actively preventing it.

Thus the question remains: will this new “hybrid” force be any more effective? So far, good advancements have been made in that direction. The new peacekeeping officers will come from a selective portion of highly “experienced” personnel. Having veteran officers on the job will get more achieved at a quicker pace. This force will also be much bigger than that of the previous AU, consisting of 26,000 strong. The bigger size in sheer numbers will allow them to cover more ground, and therefore presumably prevent more attacks. The fact that it has UN support also means a bigger budget, and more funding to become properly equipped. Perhaps most vitally, the mandate is much stronger this time around. UN Resolution 1769 grants troops the authority to take “necessary action” with regard to humanitarian worker, personnel, and citizen protection, from armed attacks⎯and if needed, to employ the “strongest use of force.” It also appeases President al-Bashir’s worries of a foreign takeover by requiring the operation be comprised of peacekeepers of “predominantly African character.”

Are Darfur’s prayers answered? Could we finally see an end to the bloodshed? Regrettably, I do not believe this to be so. The mandate still needs much work, and in October when some of the troops are expected to be stationed, it may prove inconsequential. First, although there is a higher number of troops to be deployed, even the 26,000 will be incapable of spanning the entire region, comparable to the size of Texas. This is due mostly to the lack of infrastructure in Sudan (roads, transportation, and power), as the graphic at above right clearly depicts with a bird's eye view of clusters of refugee camps with no roads leading to them nor anything more than shacks to live in. Second, due to the sharing of burden between the UN and the AU, many critics do not see a feasible way for joint oversight to occur effectively without one side always attempting to dominate the other.

Also, although these troops are better equipped than the AU, they are still severely lacking “specialized personnel” to aid in specific aspects of peacekeeping. Despite the fact that the mandate is stronger, it is still missing some key elements, and is already being subject to different interpretations by both Western diplomats and the Sudanese government. The essential points excluded are the ability to disarm militias, pursue and arrest suspected ICC (International Criminal Court) war criminals, and most significantly, the fact that there are no repercussions whatsoever if the Sudanese government decides to demand the exit of all 26,000 peacekeepers. Therefore, in accordance with his previous actions, it is entirely predictable that President al-Bashir will renounce his previous commitments and the situation will remain stagnant.

This leads to the final point that in order for the peacekeepers to be Darfur, “there must be a peace for them to keep,” because “without peace, what is the point of peacekeepers?” In essence, the rebels could just keep fighting, and the government could keep sending the janjaweed to kill and rape thousands more Darfurians. Only time will tell, but in October the answers will become increasingly clear. To give a vaguely dystopian outlook of the situation, I leave readers with one incomprehensible fact: the Sudanese government still insists that the death toll of the “conflict” is a mere 9,000 lives (see the graphic at left).
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