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Can a New Prime Minister Save the Central African Republic?

The Central African Republic has a new prime minister, appointed by President Catherine Samba-Panza.  But will he be able to stop CAR’s death spiral?

The nomination of the new prime minister, economist and long-time public servant Mahamat Kamoun - the first Muslim prime minister in the Central African Republic since the 1960s - is a result of the Brazzaville agreement last month, and represents an effort to make the government more inclusive. When asked whether he believed his religious beliefs “would be an asset” in his new post, Kamoun displomatically responded “I don’t want to put myself in that box too much, because the religious aspect didn’t play a role in my nomination as prime minister. I think what people need today is someone around whom they can rally.”

Kamoun is no stranger to power in CAR. Not only was a key senior figure in Seleka-rebel leader Michel Djotodia’s cabinet from March to December 2013, but he has been working in CAR’s power circles for years, holding senior positions in the Finance ministry and Treasury. Kamoun and his wife are also close with Catherine Samba-Panza, the transitional head of state. While Kamoun may be a known figure in the CAR elite, he is, however, not a unifying figure among the broad Seleka movement. It appears that being Muslim is not the first and only attribute that goes into the analysis of whether Kamoun is the right person to bring unity between Christians and Muslims in the CAR. Symbolizing his complex relationship with the Seleka is an incident that took place towards the end of the Djotodia presidency, when Kamoun sought to – allegedly – dissociate himself from the government: his house was looted by Djotodia loyalists, who believed he was working against them and for France.

Given this past – and quite recent – history with the Seleka, Kamoun’s appointment has not been warmly welcomed in Seleka circles. A Seleka spokesman told the BBC that the group was very disappointed with Kamoun’s appointment; that the Seleka was not consulted by President Samba-Panza. In this context, though, it’s important to distinguish between official Seleka pronoucements, and the reality on the ground which is that the official Seleka group, with which the government is negotiating, is not representing all the various armed factions that call themselves “Seleka” throughout the CAR. The Seleka representative who signed the Brazzaville agreement, third-in-command Mohamed Moussa Dhaffane, was suspended from the Seleka leadership, accused of “non-observance of the hierarchy and high treason” for having signed the Brazzaville agreement. This raises serious questions about whether the Seleka plan to respect the cease-fire and other provisions of the agreement; at this stage, very little is holding the agreement together.

Kamoun’s appointment as prime minister is not a silver bullet, reflecting the fact that the crisis in the CAR must be understood through a lens more nuanced than a simple Christian v. Muslim dichotomy. The complexity of the conflict is embedded in a long socio-political history steeped with injustice, and the factionalized nature of the rebellious movement illustrates how a single narrative cannot be applied to this conflict. As Kamoun noted when asked about his religion, it will be more important for him, the president, and the government, to rise above their religious affiliation and represent all of CAR – not just the group from which they hail.


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Sex Slaves in Iraq

The United Nations released a grave warning this week that some 1,500 women have been captured as sex slaves by the Sunni extremist group that is rampaging through parts of Iraq and Syria. I speak with Zainab Hawa Bangura the UN Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict about the situation in Northern Iraq and what can be done to help these women.


Image credit: UNHCR / N.Colt


Previous Episodes

Episode 29: Chris Hill, former Ambassador to Iraq and North Korea nuke negotiator

The International Criminal Court’s Palestine Problem

Episode 28: Nancy Birsdall, founder of the Center for Global Development

Why this Ebola Outbreak is So Hard to Contain

Episode 27: Daniel Drezner, counter-intuitive wonk

How to Negotiate a Gaza Ceasefire

Episode 25: Helene Gayle, CEO of CARE, USA. Long-time AIDS-Fighter

How Humanity is Winning the Fight Against AIDS

Episode 24: Joseph Cirincione, Nuclear Policy Wonk 

A Migrant’s Story: Why are So Many Children Fleeing to the USA?

Episode 23: Live from the UN 2014 (Volume 2); A special edition with a slew of UN officials.

Inside the Iran Nuke Talks

Episode 23: Jillian York, Digital Free Speech defender

Turkey’s Strategic Interests in Iraq

Episode 22: Live from the UN, 2014 (Vol 1); A special edition, featuring the President of the General Assembly,  the UN Ambassadors from Vietnam and Jamaica, the head of the UN Association, and more!

The UN’s View of the Iraq Crisis

Episode 21: Thomas Pickering, former Ambassador to the UN, Israel, Jordan, Russia, India and more.

Dying for the World Cup

Episode 20: Jessica Tuchman Matthews, foreign policy trendsetter

Egypt After the Counter Revolution 

Episode 19: Louise Arbour, human rights pioneer.

What Obama Left Out of His Big Foreign Policy Speech

Episode 18: Zalmay Khalizad, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the UN.

Why Libya is Suddenly on the Verge of a Civil War 

Episode 17: Gov Bill Richardson, he frees hostages.

The Foreign Policy Implications of India’s Elections

Episode 16: Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save the Children

What Boko Haram Wants

Episode: 15 Laura Turner Seydel, philanthropist

Episode 14: Douglas Ollivant, Iraq expert

Episode 13: Gary Bass, historian

Episode 12: Mark Montgomery, demographer

Episode 11: Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watcher

Episode 10: Live from the UN, Volume 2.

Episode 9: Mia Farrow, humanitarian activist and Goodwill Ambassador

Episode 8: Suzanne Nossel, Big Thinker

Episode 7: Live from the UN, Volume 1. 

Episode 6: PJ Crowley, former State Department Spokesperson

Episode 5: Octavia Nasr, reporter

Episode 4: Arsalan Iftikhar, “The Muslim Guy”

Episode 3: Dodge Billingsley, filmmaker.

Episode 2: Laura Seay,  @TexasinAfrica

Episode 1: Heather Hurlburt, national security wonk


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UN Declares a “Level 3″ Emergency in Iraq

And there are only three levels. Previously CAR, South Sudan and Syria were the only top level emergencies. “‘Given the scale and complexity of the current humanitarian catastrophe, this measure will facilitate mobilization of additional resources in goods, funds and assets to ensure a more effective response to the humanitarian needs of populations affected by forced displacements’, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq (SRSG), Mr. Nickolay Mladenov said”…And in addition to the crisis on Sinjar Mountain, there’s the situation in Dahuk province, where there’s been an influx of some 400,000 IDPs since June.  (UN

Meanwhile, US Forces To Mount Possible Rescue Operation on Sinjar…“A team of US marines and special forces landed on Mount Sinjar in Iraq on Wednesday to assess options for a potential rescue of Yazidi civilians threatened by Islamic extremists and worn down by lack of food…The team that landed on Mount Sinjar on Wednesday conducted a reconnaissance mission before returning to the Kurdish regional capital, Irbil, officials said. “Today a team of fewer than 20 US personnel conducted an assessment of the situation on Mount Sinjar. All personnel have returned safely to Irbil by military air,” a US defence official said, on condition of anonymity.” (Guardian

But on Twitter, a top White House Official says “Given the findings of the assessment team, an evacuation mission is far less likely” because there are far fewer stranded Yazidis than expected, and their condition is better than expected. — Ben Rhodes

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Members of the United Nations Security Council arrived in Mogadishu this morning on a landmark visit to Somalia to review progress made by the Federal Government and to demonstrate their continued support for the country’s efforts to ensure a sustainable peace. (UN

An unusual glimpse into the wrenching ethical dilemma of when and how experimental drugs should be used to combat the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. (NYT

The “collapse” of healthcare systems in West Africa because of the Ebola outbreak could lead to thousands more people dying from malaria and other diseases, a leading expert has said, with the additional death toll from malaria and other diseases likely to exceed that of the outbreak itself. (Independent

Peace talks between the Malian government and mainly Tuareg rebels will not resume until September 1 after both sides asked for more time to prepare, mediator Algeria said on Wednesday. (AFP

French forces in Mali captured three suspected members of terror group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an army spokesman said on Wednesday. (IOL news

Investing in ways to adapt to climate change will promote the livelihood of 65 per cent of Africans, the United Nations environmental agency reported, warning also that failing to address the phenomenon could reverse decades of development progress on the continent. (UN


A ceasefire in Gaza was extended for another 72 hours despite reports of rocket fire into Israel. (Independent

Libya’s parliament on Wednesday voted to disband the country’s militia brigades and called on the United Nations to protect civilians in an effort to end the worst fighting between armed factions since the 2011 fall of Muammar Gaddafi.


Five things to know about Pope Francis’ visit to South Korea (WaPo

Suspected rebels killed two police officers and a civilian Wednesday in an ambush in Indian Kashmir a day after prime minister Narendra Modi visited the disputed region, police said. (AFP

The Americas

Former governor and presidential candidate Eduardo Campos was killed in an airplane crash in Santos, Brazil. One political consequence of this tragedy is that a runoff is now more likely for incumbent Dilma Rousseff.  (CSM

The Military Health System is under-recognized as a strategic asset to the United States, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs said. (Defense.Gov


The response to West Africa’s Ebola Outbreak May end up doing a lot of good. (Quartz

Is a Famine Looming in Somalia? (UN Dispatch

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credit: UN

Is Somalia Facing a Famine?

Without swift donor action and a reevaluation of food aid distribution, Somalia may once again be facing a widespread food security crisis.

According to the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 1 million Somalis are internally displaced, and over 875,000 are in acute need of food aid. During a visit to Somalia in early July, Ted Chaiban, the Director of Emergency Programmes for UNICEF, stated that 200,000 of these 875,000 severely malnourished individuals are children.

The food security situation is expected to deteriorate in the coming months as minimal harvests are brought in after a year of poor seasonal rains. Food prices are already inflated, and rates of malnourishment across the country are rising.  If current trends continue, this could become a famine–which is a specific designation invoked by the United Nations when certain thresholds are reached on specific indicators like child mortality.

Somalia experienced a famine in 2011 that resulted in the death of 250,000 people, half of them children. While the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, and the UN Development Programme were each active in providing monitoring and assistance during the 2011 famine, their efforts were hindered by Somalia’s fragmented security situation. The distribution of food aid was fraught with difficulty, as all foreign aid organizations struggled to gain access to famine victims and effectively monitor food aid deliveries in areas controlled by the militant group, al Shabaab. al Shabaab rejected international food aid throughout the famine, but lost credibility and popular support as Somalis died.

Somalia’s new government, which was inaugurated in 2012, recently called the food crisis a “precursor to the situation in 2011 in its intensity.” OCHA’s Operations Director, John Ging, reaffirmed the idea during his July 2014 visit to Somalia, stating “All the signs we saw before 2011’s severe famine are here – reduced humanitarian access, insecurity, increasing food prices, delayed rains and rapidly worsening malnutrition among children.”

Also similar to the famine of 2011 is the renewed presence of al Shabaab militants, who have been carrying out continued attacks across Somalia, including repeated attacks on the capital of Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab presence in Mogadishu and the deteriorating security situation across the country have already made it difficult for aid organizations to reach those in need of food aid in militant-controlled areas. In fact, in a report released July 24, 2014, OCHA reported the “highest deterioration” is in Mogadishu, where over 350,000 individuals are in acute need of food aid.

The OCHA report also highlights to gap between the 2014 Somalia Strategic Response Plan funding request for $933 million and the available funds that have thus far been collected. So far, only $268 million has been received – only 29% of the total request. A UN emergency fund has also allocated over $21 million to support emergency humanitarian work in Somalia.

What can be done to stave off a famine? For one, the funding gap needs to close. These funds pay for the food aid and other essential humanitarian relief that can keep people alive while prices are high and food is inaccessible.  Also, humanitarian organizations need to find mechanisms to work with al Shabaab to secure humanitarian access to areas under their control. Right now, there is an estimated 350,000 people in Mogadishu alone who are in areas controlled by al Shebab.

If al Shebab refuses to grant humanitarian access, the international community should consider utilizing military action to create humanitarian corridors to access the food insecure. In 2011, the famine only broke when Kenyan forces supported a UN and African Union-backed effort to defeat al Shabaab in Somalia

While the situation in Somalia is bleak, the international community’s decisive action, effective fundraising, and internalization of lessons from the past can ensure that Somalia does not face another famine. But the clock is ticking.

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Here’s Why Children are Fleeing Central America

I speak with Mike McDonald of Bloomberg about the unrelenting violence in Central America. Mike describes how organized criminal groups use violence and murder in extortion rackets to fund their activities, and are the crucial “push” factor that is forcing unaccompanied minors to flee the USA in extraordinarily high numbers.

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WHO Approves Experimental Ebola Drug

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The World Health Organization took a highly unusual step of recommending that an unproven drug be distributed to fight the outbreak. ”The group of 12 international experts convened by the WHO concluded it was ethical in the situation in west Africa to offer unproven treatments with as yet unknown efficacy and adverse effects, either as treatment or prevention. But they made clear high ethical standards must be observed. There must be complete transparency about the implications of the treatment and patients and their families must give informed consent – which means they must understand the risks as well as the possible benefits. There must also be freedom of choice, confidentiality, respect for the person, preservation of dignity and involvement of the community, the WHO said in a statement. (Guardian

Africa’s Youth Population to Swell…If present trends continue, by 2050 Nigeria will account for one in every 10 births globally. A new report from UNICEF for International Youth Day. “Africa’s under-18 population will swell by two-thirds to reach almost a billion by 2050, a new UN report says. The findings show a “massive shift in the world’s child population towards Africa”, it says. Its projections indicate that by 2050, about 40% of all children will be in Africa, up from around 10% in 1950. This is despite the fact that child mortality rates in Africa will remain high, it says. The continent currently accounts for about half of child mortality globally and the proportion could rise to around 70% per cent by 2050, according to the Generation 2030/Africa Report released by Unicef, the UN’s child agency. BBC


There are reports that South Sudan’s warring factions are arming themselves for another bout of fighting, a delegation from the U.N. Security Council said on Tuesday, threatening both sides with sanctions amid growing fears of a man-made famine. (Reuters

An ECOWAS official has died from Ebola in Nigeria, the West African regional bloc said on Tuesday, taking the total number of deaths in the country from the virus to three. (AFP

What Uganda can teach west Africa about the ebola outbreak. (BBC

On a lighter side, here’s a list of the African airlines that are most likely to lose your bags.  (Mail and Guardian

South Africa’s ex-President Thabo Mbeki has called for a boycott of Israeli goods to show solidarity with Palestinians. (BBC

Spain picked up more than 700 African migrants trying to enter the country by boat on Tuesday, while hundreds more tried to scramble over a border fence into the Spanish territory of Melilla (AFP


An Iraqi army helicopter crashed on its way to deliver aid to stranded IDPs in Iraq. The pilot was killed and several passengers, including a New York Times journalist and a Parliamentarian, were injured. (NYT

Yazidi Refugees in Turkey recount their harrowing escape from ISIS (HuffPo

Iraq’s new prime minister-designate won swift endorsements from uneasy mutual allies the United States and Iran on Tuesday as he called on political leaders to end crippling feuds that have let jihadists seize a third of the country. (Reuters


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday accused Pakistan of waging a “proxy war” and vowed to strengthen his country’s armed forces in a speech during a rare visit to disputed Kashmir.  (CSM

The Americas

A shallow 5.1-magnitude earthquake struck the Ecuadoran capital Quito Tuesday, triggering landslides that killed at least two people and violently shaking buildings and homes. (AFP

A Chilean woman became the first legal medical marijuana patient in Latin America (NBC


Improving sexual and reproductive health for young adolescents in Kenya. Gates Foundation/Impatient Optimists

An interactive series about the history of USAID. (Devex

Despite America’s pledge to invest $33 billion in Africa’s economies, federal trade laws must change to further improve U.S.-Africa trade relations, says former under secretary of state for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer in Forbes

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