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7.25.2003

 
A Team Effort
The Namibian editorializes on Liberia:
Liberia also represents a humanitarian challenge for the newly-formed African Union, whose leadership could be more proactive in trying to forge a solution for the sake of the Liberian people.

We have not heard our own Government react to the crisis in that country; and we believe that protesting African voices should be in the forefront of those who are seeking a settlement in the strife-torn West African state.

It is one thing for Africa to urge the involvement of US peacekeepers, but they too must play their part, rather than rely on the West to do it for them. [...]

There seems to be little to no pressure on Taylor from African heads of state to leave, apart from an offer of political asylum from Nigeria, and the AU must be cognisant that their reputation as an 'old boys club' will perpetuate unless they try to convince people otherwise.
Liberia is a perfect argument for multilateralism. So long as the world thinks the US should go it alone or take the first step, nothing will happen. And as long as the US thinks it will have to take on the burden of pacifying and rebuilding Liberia single handedly, it will hesitate.


 
...Come Tumblin' Down
The Beeb reports today that South African authorities are tearing down some of the "security fences" set up by crime-weary Johannesburg residents. Oddly, the article dances around the question of race, though I assume these fences were erected in white suburbs, many of which are already gated and patrolled by private armed security.




7.24.2003

 
Let the Market Decide
Here's a solution to the Liberia crisis that the privatization-loving Bush administration could go for: send in mercenaries. As reported in the Financial Times:
Northbridge Services, a private military company (PMC) founded by retired UK and US soldiers, says it could deploy 500 to 2,000 armed men in Liberia in three weeks to halt the fighting, which has raged around the capital, Monrovia. [...]

The proposal has not received US support, which would be needed to finance the operation. But it represents an idea being taken seriously by the US and other governments reluctant to commit their own forces. [...]

Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution, an expert on PMCs, says there is discussion in the Bush administration, and particularly the Pentagon, about using such companies.




7.23.2003

 
The Real Quagmire?
A few items on Liberia. First, some letters from today's NYT that echo some of my (unresolved) thoughts on the question of whether to send US troops:
Liberians are piling their dead at the gates of the American Embassy in Monrovia [...] They're pleading for help from Americans, whom they consider a force for peace and good in the world.

But President Bush is resisting the calls, except for a few soldiers sent to protect that embassy.

It seems that we're too busy liberating a people who have not greeted us with jubilation and thanks, but rather with resentment and distrust.

With our invasion and occupation of Iraq, we've deepened Muslim and European suspicion and hostility toward us.

In Liberia, we have a chance to show Africans that we are the peace-loving guardian of the world we claim to be, our indifference to Rwanda's massacres notwithstanding.

Let's use our powerful military to stop a war, rather than start one.

NIC ARP
Iowa City, July 22, 2003



Now let me get this straight: The rest of the world asked us not to send troops to Iraq; we sent them anyway, and chaos ensued. Then, the rest of the world asked us please to send troops to Liberia; we didn't send them, and chaos ensued. Whatever the rest of the world asks, we do the opposite, and chaos ensues.

Are there others out there who think that maybe we should try a different way of dealing with the rest of the world?  

MARK C. EADES
Berkeley, Calif., July 22, 2003
As an NPR report yesterday emphasized, any US intervention in Liberia would undoubtedly be "messy." A lot of this would be due to the mess that already exists there. But some of it would likely come from our military's inexperience with keeping the peace. Asked for comment from NPR, this Somalia vet illustrates this:
Colonel Gary Anderson (Retired Marine): They [Liberians] need to know what's acceptable conduct and what's not acceptable conduct. If you show up on the ground and point a weapon at a US Marine, you probably better expect to die. If that's not clear to them before you go in, you know, somebody's probably not making things as clear as they should be. That's the kind of guidance I would like to have laid down so people understand what it is they're getting into on both sides.
With an attitude like this, the US would just become another warring faction. I have to admit, I agree with some of the statements made by a Hertiage Foundation rep on yesterday's "Talk of the Nation":
[T]he United States simply does not make good peacekeepers. Our troops are trained and equipped to fight and win wars. We're seeing now in Iraq whenever they're asked to take on the functions of providing internal security and things of that nature, that's just not really what they've been trained to do. It's not that we couldn't do that or train them to do that, but that's not what they are currently trained to do.
We should be training our troops to be better peace keepers (especially if we plan on knocking off more governments). In the meantime, given the situation in Liberia and the US Army's inability to reconcile its military mission with its moral one, it's hard to imagine a scenario where we could come in (with ECOWAS or others), restore order and ride into the sunset.

But then I read something like this and wonder how we can turn away...




7.22.2003

 
The Gray Lady Meets the Dark Continent
See if you can identifiy where these quotes came from:
"I vastly prefer the primitive bush people. After all, cannibalism may be the logical antidote to this population explosion everyone talks about."

"A pocket of barbarism still exists in eastern Nigeria despite some success by the regional government in extending a crust of civilization over the tribe of the pagan Izi."

"Independence is an abstraction not easily grasped by Congolese and they are seeking concrete interpretations....To the forest pygmy independence means a little more salt, a little more beer."
Henry Morton Stanley or some other 19th century bearer of the white man's burden? No, they're all from the New York Times' man in Africa during the early 1960s, Homer Bigart. As detailed in this article by Milton Allimadi, Bigart was quite a bigot, sending scurrilous and often fictional dispatches about untamed cannibals, simple-minded pygmies and other stereotypically hopeless Africans. The message being: these people are not ready for self-rule.

Allimadi argues that Bigart was not an exception and that the Times' Afirca coverage has been marred by an ongoing pattern of racism and fabrication. He has dug up some notable examples from the 1960s as well as some complaints by former South Africa correspondent Joseph Lelyveld about his articles being rewritten improperly. He doesn't present much proof that the Times Africa problem went beyond the 1960s or persists today, but he's right to suggest that there is a story here about the ugly moments in its past coverage.


 
Not Yet at the Tipping Point
Just read a fascinating look at the ineffectiveness of AIDS prevention in South Africa by Helen Epstein in the New York Review of Books. Though Mbeki's obstinance is partly to blame, she also singles out high-profile education campaigns such as loveLife, which she finds to be engaging yet remarkably skimpy when it comes to openly confronting AIDS. (A quick glance at its flashy web site reveals very few mentions of HIV/AIDS.)

Programs such as these are based on the concept of "social marketing," in which ideas such as safe sex or abstinence are be "sold" to the public using the same methods used to advertise and sell consumer goods. In South Africa (and elsewhere), the logic goes, "If all the kids are wearing Nikes because it's cool, why can't we convince them that wearing condoms is cool, too?" It's a provocative idea that's received a lot of positive press in the past few years (e.g., Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point.) But in South Africa, writes Epstein, the commodification of AIDS awareness doesn't seem to be doing much to stem infection rates. As she observes:
The techniques of marketing attempt to impose scientific principles on human choices. But it seems a mad experiment to see whether teenagers living through very difficult times can be persuaded to choose a new sexual lifestyle as they might choose a new brand of shampoo, or that children can be trained to associate safe sex with pizza and self-esteem.

[...] I spoke to some of the children who had participated in the [loveLife] seminar. They all knew how to protect themselves from HIV, and they were eager to show off their knowledge about condoms, abstinence, and fidelity within relationships. But they all said they didn't personally know anyone with AIDS; nor did they know of any children who had lost parents to AIDS. They did mention Nkosi Johnson, the brave HIV-positive twelve-year-old boy who became world-famous in 2000 when he stood up at an International Conference on AIDS and challenged South African president Thabo Mbeki to do more for people living with the virus.

[...] People like the colorful, frank advertising and the basketball games sponsored by loveLife. But its programs may well be reinforcing the denial that poses so many obstacles to preventing HIV in the first place. A more realistic program to prevent AIDS should pay greater attention to the real circumstances in people's lives that make it hard for them to avoid infection. It should also be more frank about the real human consequences of the disease. But this means dealing with some very painful matters that South Africa's policymakers seem determined to evade.
Epstein contrasts this with Uganda (and part of Tanzania), which has managed to knock down its infection rates substantially. The difference between Uganda and South Africa, she writes, is that Ugandans not only talk openly about sex and prevention, but they also know AIDS sufferers first hand. They have an emotional, personal connection to the disease that many South Africans do not. That's not because South Africans don't know people with AIDS-- they do, even if they don't know it explicitly. But the stigma and denial that surround the disease keep this reality hidden. So no matter how "cool" condoms seem, if people can't picture what getting AIDS really means, such attempts at marketing AIDS awareness are ultimately as empty as the consumer ethos they build upon.

P.S.
This scene in a Washington Post article about the African version of "Big Brother" struck me in light of Epstein's piece. Note how one Ugandan adolescent reportedly reacted to a recent episode:
Viewers don't know whether [show participants] Abby and Gaetano used condoms after they reportedly started sleeping together. No one is absolutely sure that they are having sex, but they appear in the same bed every night cuddling and kissing, and the love affair has schoolchildren discussing the issue.

"I don't think Gaetano should be having sex with Abby," offered Maria Mutonjo, 12, a student at Nakasero Primary School. "He does not know her HIV status!"





7.21.2003

 
Captive Audience
It's already been widely reported how, as Bush visited Goree Island in Senegal, the locals were herded into a stadium and locked up for the day. Read this first-hand account of how ordinary Senegalese were treated while Bush played Compassionate Conservative and held hands with President Abdoulaye Wade (an image that Bush looked a tad uncomfortable in). An excerpt:
More than 1,500 persons have been arrested and put in jail between Thursday and Monday. Hopefully they will be released now that the Big Man is gone; The US Army's planes flying day and night over Dakar; The noise they make is so loud that one hardly sleeps at night; About 700 security people from the US for Bush's security in Senegal, with their dogs, and their cars. Senegalese security forces were not allowed to come near the US president; All trees in places where Bush will pass have been cut. Some of them have been there for more than 100 years; All roads going down town (were hospitals, businesses, schools are located) were closed from Monday night to Tuesday at 3 PM. This means that we could not go to our offices or schools. Sick people were also obliged to stay at home; National exams for high schools that started on Monday are postponed until Wednesday.

Bush's visit to the Goree Island is another story. As you may know Goree is a small island facing Dakar where from the 15th to the 19th century, the African slaves to be shipped to America were parked in special houses called slave houses. One of these houses has become a Museum to remind humanity about this dark period and has been visited by kings, queens and presidents. Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, and before them, Nelson Mandela, the Pope, and many other distinguished guests or ordinary tourists visited it without bothering the islanders. But for "security reasons" this time, the local population was chased out of their houses from 5 to 12 AM. They were forced by American security to leave their houses and leave everything open, including their wardrobes, to be searched by special dogs brought from the US. [...]

We have the feeling that everything has been done to convince us that we are nothing, and that America can behave the way it wants, everywhere, even in our country.
Visiting Africa should have been a slam-dunk for Bush, if he'd managed it properly (and hadn't lied about the Niger-Iraq connection-- but that's something else). Instead, by being aloof and sweeping into town with draconian security measures, he seems to have alienated people wherever he went. It's ironic that "dangerous" elements such as Senegalese villagers were kept away from Bush while real dangers, like elephants, were allowed to come within petting distance.


 
Bend it Like Gatete
I won't ruin it by saying too much, but the Observer recently ran a thrilling story about the Rwandan national soccer team. Not just for sports fans.


 
The Other Side of the Gates
If you can ignore his grating, self-congratulatory writing style for a moment, investigative journo Greg Palast has a rebuttal to the Times' recent profile of Bill Gates' philanthropy in Africa:
... [L]et me let you in on a little secret about Bill and Melinda Gates so-called "Foundation." Gate’s [sic] demi-trillionaire status is based on a nasty little monopoly-protecting trade treaty called "TRIPS" – the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights rules of the World Trade Organization.  TRIPS gives Gates a hammerlock on computer operating systems worldwide, legally granting him the kind of monopoly the Robber Barons of yore could only dream of.  But TRIPS, the rule which helps Gates rule, also bars African governments from buying AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis medicine at cheap market prices. 
Also check out his previous reporting on Pat Robertson's unholy connections to diamond mining in Congo. Again, you'll first have to get past the Palast bombast.


 
No More Amin? Amen.
It looks like Idi Amin is not long for this world. Nothing sad about that, but maybe his demise will spur someone to ask why the Saudis played host to him for so long.


 
419: the Widowmaker
Here's a new twist on the old 419 scam emails. Many of these messages usually involve the sender posing as the son or relative of a recently deceased African leader (e.g. Sani Abacha, Laurent Kabilia, Jonas Savimbi) and claiming that they need help recovering their relatives' ill-gotten gains. The other day, I received this message from someone claiming to be the wife of a murdered white Zimbabwean farmer:
Most of us have lived in Zimbabwe all our lives, and everything we had is in these farms. We are financially ruined by Mugabe's planned "ethnic cleansing" of whites [sic] farmland and we have nowhere to go. Our laments have been largely ignored by the rest of the World.
I am Mrs. Juliet Williams, the Wife of the late Stephen D.Williams, of the Commercial White Farmers [sic] Union in Zimbabwe.
Of course, the late Mr. Williams tucked away millions in foreign accounts and his widow needs assistance in securing said funds.

From what I can tell, there never was a white Zimbabwean farm leader named "Stephen D. Williams." Nor is there a Commerical White Farmers' Union, though there is a Commerical Farmers' Union whose membership is largely white. My theory about this message is that it's a clever attempt to appeal to its (presumed) white recipients' sense of racial solidarity with Zimbabwe's white farmers. For instance, the writer claims her "husband" was killed by by a "mob action" of "Black protesters." (Specifically, an attack on the CFU offices in Harare-- which appears to have never happened.) Mostly, I just find this to be an interesting example of how these messages change to reflect current events. Anyone need a Folklore dissertation topic?




7.18.2003

 
Happy 85th, Madiba!
I'm coming out of semi-retirement to join the world in wishing Nelson Mandela a happy, healthy 85th birthday. The Mail & Guardian has an informative tribute page and there's an official online guestbook if you want to spread the love. Some sample entries that struck me:
On behalf of the management and staff of the Voortrekker Monument, our sincerest best wishes on your birthday. Thank you for what you have done for the Voortrekker Monument and for South Africa and the world.
Respectfully yours.
Maj Gen GN Opperman
Pretoria, South Africa

First off, I would like to offer my apologies to Mr Mandela. When I was a teenager (about 10 years ago), I often wondered why the rest of the world was so intrigued by Nelson Mandela, a convicted terrorist. Of course he had been sent to prison for his beliefs, but plenty of people in South Africa, and around the world had suffered the same fate. I dismissed Mr Mandela and people's perception of him, as someone the rest of the world used to epitomise racial injustices. Thankfully I have since "grown up", and realised the folly of youth and managed to identify just why the world was so taken by Mr Mandela, and continues as such. Something I had failed to see when I was younger was that not only is Mr Mandela indeed one of the most profound minds in recorded history, not only that he has a near abundance of compassion for both friends and enemies, and not just that he has an unquenchable spirit for life; it's that his thirst for life is in fact the thirst for other people's lives. Please know that you've managed to enlighten at least one cynic. Happy birthday Madiba, I hope the "big" day and the following year bring you much joy.
Paul Brown
Johannesburg, South Africa
Meanwhile, not everyone gets what Mandela really stands for, much less his life story. California gubernatorial hopeful Arnold Schwarzenegger compared himself to the great man just the other day:
Nelson Mandela was never in politics. He was in prison for 26 or 27 years. And then he led South Africa and did a fantastic job.
Right, except for the tiny little fact that Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years because of his politics. Aside, from that, his biography pretty much mirrors Arnie's: the steroids, the bad movies, that stinging "I'll be back" line just as the judge announced the life sentence...