Six Feet Under
The Kenyan wants to bury recently deceased Vice President Michael Wamalwa at its new "Heroes Square"; his family wants to lay him to rest at his ancestral home. This kind of controversy is not new in Kenya. It recalls the case of S.M. Otieno, a distinguished lawyer who died in 1986. His wife wanted to bury him in accordance with his Westernized, modern lifestyle; his clan claimed his body as theirs. The row was resolved in favor of the clan.
Good Riddance, But...
I wouldn't say that Idi Amin left this world too soon, but it is unjust that he left it without ever being held accountable for his crimes. And let's remember that he's not alone: quite a few African despots are cooling their heels in relative luxury (the greatest luxury being impunity). Ethiopia's Mengistu is still in Zimbabwe (though he's reportedly scouting North Korea as a backup if Mugabe goes down), Chad's Hissene Habre is in Senegal, Guinea Bissau's Joao Bernardo Vieira is in Portugal, and another Ugandan disaster, Milton Obote, lives in Zambia. And of course, Charles Taylor is in Nigeria, a free man for now. Hopefully Amin's unmolested retirement will renew efforts to bring all of these guys and their counterparts elsewhere to justice.
Just the (Pre-Approved) Facts, Ma'am
This kind of thing is becoming the standard M.O. of the Bush adminstration: commission a report and then bury its findings when they contradict preconceived decisions. Now it turns out this same technique was applied to our half-assed intervention in Liberia. A DoD report that recommended sending 2,300 Marines to Liberia was quietly killed:
On Air Force One, the initial draft made the rounds of State Department and National Security Council officials, including council chief Condoleezza Rice, according to officials on the trip. The report was also distributed to top officials in the Army's European Command, which oversaw the team, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Bush never wanted to send a robust force to Liberia, so he was never given the evidence that such a force might actually be a good idea. Gee, that's what I call honest leadership. I imagine Bush would have been happier if we'd sent a "factoid-finding mission" instead.
State Department officials welcomed the report's conclusions, which buttressed their arguments for a quick intervention to stem the mounting humanitarian crisis, but said they were surprised at the force and specificity of its recommendations.
The report never made it to President Bush's desk and thus never officially existed.
"The Pentagon squashed it," an administration official said. "It was way too strong for their liking."
In case you have a spare one, Idi Amin is desperately looking for a kidney. Though who'd like to find out they're compatable with the likes of him?
On a semi-related note, I highly recommend the new flick "Dirty Pretty Things", whose plot involves the human-organ black market and features a fantastic performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor as a Nigerian doctor ekeing out a living as an illegal immigrant in London.
The Big Brother backlash continues. A Ugandan pastor says it's time to appeal to a higher power :
He says that Ugandan participant Gaetano Kaggwa's eviction this week would be the only way to discourage Ugandans from watching the Big Brother Africa programme.
"My appeal to those people who oppose Gaetano's participation is to join me and we pray hard so that he is evicted from the house".
"This will stop our people, especially the youth from watching the show. We shall have saved them from being eaten up by immorality," Pastor Sekyanzi says.
Speaking of Big Brother-like aspects of modern African life, what about the seemingly ubiquitous presidential portraits found in some countries? My new favorite Zimbabwean hellraiser, Bev Clark, weighs in:
I've long wanted to start an organization called PAPP—People Against Presidential Portraits. There's no law that requires people to put them up, but many of our citizens believe that if they comply, they'll get a degree of protection.
In particular wonder if Kenya has stopped being an obligatory public presidential portrait country since Kibaki took over. Anyone know?
Big Brother Bother
The African version of "Big Brother" isn't going over too well with, well, Big Brother. Malawi just banned it. Namibian president Sam Nujoma has called for state-owned TV to pull the show. And Zambian clerics have issued a "moral alert" warning viewers that they are doomed to become "immoral, indecent and dishonest." It will be interesting to see if African reality programming follows a similar path to its American cousin (or big brother, if you will): initial shock, revulsion and prurient interest eventually fading into grudging acceptance. It is also worth noting that this "homegrown" program seems to be receiving far more criticism than the Western media that long ago introduced sex and voyeurism to African audiences.
Keeping Peacekeepers Peaceful
Africapundit recently had an interesting link to a story about ECOMOG's less-than-exemplary human-rights record in the field. Writing today in the NYT, former UN human rights officer Kenneth Cain argues that a small yet robust American peacekeeping force is needed in Liberia. Not just to secure the peace, but to ensure that West African forces act professionally. Recalling ECOMOG's previous deployment in Liberia, he notes that it was often referred to as "Every Conceivable Moving Object Gone." And looting, smuggling and drug running weren't the half of it:
While I was in Liberia, peacekeeping forces were also responsible for sexual violence. In 1996, my colleagues and I investigated — and confirmed — reports of child prostitution. In one instance, an Ecomog contingent in the city of Buchanan was trading rice for sex with 9- and 10-year-old girls from a nearby displaced persons camp. Then a contingent from another Ecomog country arrived. Its soldiers offered the girls more rice and a little money. So the girls started frequenting that camp.
While seven US soliders are on the ground, 2,000 wait offshore. Cain wonders why they can't do more, both to protect Liberians from the warring factions as well as from ECOMOG. For all of its inexperience in peacekeeping, there is no doubt that the US military could set a powerful example in Liberia-- both for other nations and for ourselves.
Soon thereafter, the bodies of young girls started appearing along the path that led to the newcomers' camp. The girls had been decapitated and their heads inserted in between their legs. According to the United Nations security officer who investigated the deaths, this was a message to the girls that it wouldn't be worth it to frequent the newcomers for the sake of a little extra rice.
And these are our peacekeepers of choice in Liberia today.
A Survivor's Tale
The Beeb's website has a nice portrait of a woman who survived the Kenya embassy bombing five years ago.
Writing in the Mail & Guardian, Raymond Tucker asks those who would equate apartheid with the worst excesses of Nazism and Stalinism to modulate their rhetoric:
There is no defence for apartheid, its perpetrators and its ruthless application. But to say that it embodied the worst excesses of the Nazi, the Stalinist, the Maoist or the Pol Pot regimes is to distort fact and history.
Likewise, people are quick to slap the label "apartheid" on situations that have similarities to the original. Sometimes I think this is an appropriate use of the term (e.g., the Jim Crow-era South), sometimes not (e.g., the current situation in Israel-Palestine). It's worth remembering that similarities between repressive regimes do not necessarily mean equivalence. All this is worth keeping in mind as people casually compare Saddam to Hitler or rail against George W. Bush for being a fascist. And it certainly doesn't diminish the heroism of those who challenged apartheid to recognize that they faced a system whose evils were unique to a particular time and place.
Where, in apartheid South Africa, were the extermination camps, the gas chambers, the purges? Where was there a system of deliberate and active genocide? [...]
Apartheid was evil. It is not necessary to exaggerate its horrors, as has become the wont of political commentators and polemicists or people engaged in historical revisionism.
Nothing in apartheid begins to equate with the Holocaust. Nothing even approximates to the horrors of the Stalinist tyranny. A far more appropriate comparison would be with the excesses of the regimes of Argentina, Paraguay, Chile and the like. [...]
The very fact that the world was able to celebrate Madiba’s 85th birthday and that he is surrounded by so many of the remarkable men and women of the struggle era (who would simply have been annihilated under Nazism or communism) gives the lie to the “worst excesses” proposition.
Sixteen Little Words
Niger is thinking about suing the Bush administration for falsely and knowingly claiming that Iraq tried to buy uranium from it. It's not clear where they would pursue this suit, but it's nice to see Bush's bluff being called once more.
Leaving His Mark
Just saw it, but cartoonist Tom Toles had a funny take on Bush's visit to Africa a couple of weeks ago.
In her Slate diary, self-described "government overthrower" Bev Clark elaborates on the risks of being pro-democracy and openly gay in Mugabe's Zimbabwe:
[...] I've been waiting for a midnight raid, either on account of my being queer or for being an outspoken critic of the Mugabe regime. So, not wanting to give the men in dark glasses any more of an excuse than they already had to drag me down to central police headquarters, I recently decided to ditch my dildos. Am I overreacting? Some might think so. But when your government has banned The Penguin Book of Lesbian Short Stories, it's quite possible that being found in possession of a fake penis will land you in the back of a police Land Rover before you can say, 'Let me see your search warrant.'
Hmmm... sounds like some of those folks who'd like to see the government regulate the private use of our orifices (e.g. Antonin Scalia) might feel at home in Harare.
Welcome to Zimbabwe, where you have no rights at all. And don't you forget it.
Liberia and the Seven Dwarfs
So after weeks of agonizing and failing to live up to his image as a man of decisive action, Bush has finally sent peacekeepers to Liberia. Seven of them, to be precise. Word is that they may up that to a whopping 20. It took over a month to arrange this? Meanwhile, contrast this skimpy response to the belated US demands for thousands of international troops to help out in Iraq.
This sounds like a bad movie twist:
A professor of microbiology at George Washington University in the US capital said on Monday he lost "priceless" work on an Aids vaccine when he was mugged at knife-point while attending an Aids conference in South Africa.
On one hand, he had his computer stolen at knifepoint in broad daylight-- a disturbing but not uncommon occurence in South Africa. But what's truly shocking is that this guy didn't keep full backups of his work. D'oh!
Dressed to Kill
Also on Slate, a smart look at the odd and at times shocking array of battle gear worn by Liberian soldiers. It does a good job of putting this phenomenon into perspective instead of writing it off as some kind of freaky African hoodoo-voodoo thing.
According to the soldiers themselves, cross-dressing is a military mind game, a tactic that instills fear in their rivals. It also makes the soldiers feel more invincible. This belief is founded on a regional superstition which holds that soldiers can "confuse the enemy's bullets" by assuming two identities simultaneously. Though the accoutrements and garb look bizarre to Western eyes, they are, in a sense, variations on the camouflage uniforms and face paint American soldiers use to bolster their sense of invisibility (and, therefore, immunity) during combat. Since flak jackets or infrared goggles aren't available to the destitute Liberian fighters, they opt for evening gowns and frilly blouses.
I'm sure a survey of US troops in Iraq would reveal all kinds of talismans, tattoos and other personal charms intended to protect the wearer from harm and/or assert that he's a badass. And as for cross dressing, our Navy used to have quite a reputation for gender-bending antics...
The Good Fight
This week Slate is publishing a diary by Zimbabwean activist Bev Clark. If working against Muagbe doesn't take enough courage, she's also openly gay. As you can imagine, that probably makes her even less popular with old Bob.
Boston immigration judge was placed on administrative leave yesterday after complaints that he made jokes about Tarzan to a woman who said she had been raped and tortured in her native Uganda.
Then he rejected her asylum petition. Nice.
The woman, whose first name is Jane, went before Judge Thomas Ragno in June, seeking political asylum in the United States, saying government soldiers killed her husband and attacked her.
''Jane, come here. Me Tarzan!'' Ragno said, according to the woman's doctor, who attended the June 20 deportation hearing to testify as an expert witness about the woman's claims.