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Are Groups like the LRA Really Spreading Across Africa?

In a Foreign Policy feature, Jeffrey Gettleman describes the kind of roving banditry practiced by the LRA and in Eastern Congo as “Africa’s un-Wars.”

What we are seeing is the decline of the classic African liberation movement and the proliferation of something else — something wilder, messier, more violent, and harder to wrap our heads around. If you’d like to call this war, fine. But what is spreading across Africa like a viral pandemic is actually just opportunistic, heavily armed banditry. My job as the New York Times‘ East Africa bureau chief is to cover news and feature stories in 12 countries. But most of my time is spent immersed in these un-wars. (Emphasis mine)

His piece is well worth a read. but I wonder if it’s actually true that these conflicts “are spreading across Africa like a viral pandemic.” The opposite seems to be the case. In fact, they seem fairly contained to the Niger Delta, the Congo borderlands of north-eastern Congo, and a few places in the greater Horn of Africa (Sudan, Somalia). Also, to the extent that the resource-fueled conflicts in western Africa a decade ago can be considered part of this trend, the number these conflicts appears to be in decline.  Sierra Leone and Liberia, for example, no longer face big threats from roving, rootless militias.   

I don’t mean to minimize the brutality and human suffering caused by these groups. (And Gettelman does a good job explaining why it is so hard to reach a political compromise with them.)   It just strikes me that calling this a “viral pandemic” is a bit hyperbolic.     

Image: flickr user hmvh

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Video of Hillary Clinton at the Commission on the Status of Women

This video is a few days old, but I thought folks might be interested in watching Secretary of State Clinton’s address to the Commission in the Status of Women at the United Nations last week. 

Full text of her remarks here.

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Tony Lake Picked as UNICEF Chief

Secretary General Ban Ki Moon appointed President Bill Clinton’s former National Security Adviser and Obama confidant Anthony Lake to be the next head of UNICEF. Josh Rogin reported a few weeks back that the Obama administration had nominated Anthony Lake for the spot. And since UNICEF chief is a job that typically goes to an American, it was all but assured that Lake would replace former Secretary of Agriculture Ann Venemen when her five-year term expires. 

Here is ban’s official pronouncement:

I am pleased to announce the appointment of Mr. Anthony Lake as the new Executive Director of UNICEF, succeeding Ann Veneman.

He brings with him a wealth of experience after a long and distinguished career with the United States Government. He will assume his responsibilities in the first week of May.

I thank Ms. Ann Veneman for her immense dedication, energy and determination to improve the lives of children around the world. She leaves behind an organization well-equipped for the enormous challenges ahead.

Thank you very much. I am ready for your questions.

A word of praise for Venemen: even though the Bush administration’s relationship with the UN was sometimes strained, Venemen had a great reputation around the UN–and around the world.  At only one term, though, she was the shortest serving UNICEF executive director. For his part, Anthony Lake is arguably the highest-profile American to serve as UNICEF executive director. He is also formerly the chairman of the board of directors of the United States Fund for UNICEF–(they of the “trick-or-treat for UNICEF” campaign.) 

UNICEF is arguably the best-loved UN agency around the world — who’s against children? — I imagine that having Lake as its new chief will help boost its profile here in Washington. 


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Postcards from Nixonland: Reagan and Nixon Discuss the Utility of the United Nations

On October 26, 1971, California Governor Ronald Reagan phoned President Nixon to offer some foreign policy advice: get the United States out of the United Nations. The day before, you see, the General Assembly had voted to give mainland China (The People’s Republic of China) the Chinese “seat” at the UN. This was held previously by United States’ anti-communist ally, Taiwan.

The US Ambassador the UN at the time, one George H.W. Bush, tried to rally support against the General Assembly vote. He was unsuccessful, in part because the Nixon administration was simultaneously was preparing a rapprochment with the PRC.  (Nixon would visit China six months later.) Reagan, of course, would have had no way of knowing this so he called up Nixon to vent. 

The audio of that conversation is now available.  What is so striking to me is the extent to which it parallels contemporary debates about the UN.  One side sticks to emotional pleas and sloganeering to argue that the United States should withdraw from the UN. The other side offers coolly rational explanations about why sticking it out at the United Nations serves American security interests.

Reagan was clearly pursued by the former. He called the UN “morally bankrupt” and argued that pulling out of the UN would make for good domestic politics ahead of the 1972 elections. Reagan was so dedicated to this idea that he even said he would unsign a Gubernatorial proclamation for “UN Week.”

Nixon saw the bigger picture. To a certain extent he tried to placate Reagan (who, by then, was a rising star), but suggested that the United Nations was still an important entity to advance American foreign policy interests. In particular, he cited India-Pakistan. Said Nixon:

“Let me give some thought to the whole thing. It’s a tough one, as you are aware. We got some fish to fry on India-Pakistan — we are trying to avoid a war there, and the UN may have to play some damn role there, because we don’t want to get involved in that miserable place.”

The audio of this exchange, which I discovered via Dave Noon, is well worth 12 minutes of your time.

Relatedly, Gallup has been gauging Americans’ opinion about the United Nations since the early 1950s.  You can see that the UN’s favoribility ratings remained fairly steady until a slump during the Reagan years. It then peaked when his VP and former UN Ambassador became president in 1988. Americans’ perception of the UN, it would seem, can be influenced by the tone set by the president. 


H/t to Attackerman and Rick Pearlstein for the title. 


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UN Plaza: Talking Peacekeeping in Sudan and Congo

How can UN peacekeeping do a better job of protecting civlians in harm’s way? Find out in this edition of UN Plaza, in which I speak with Erin Weir of Refugees International about her new report on civilian protection in UN Peacekeeping. Enjoy!


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How Climate Change and Gender Inequality Go Hand in Hand

While war, poverty, health and a range of other pressing global issues affect women worldwide, climate wouldn’t be one of the first you’d think of. Well, think again.

According to new research conducting the United Nations, Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) and the University of London, climate change severely impacts women’s lives and contributes to the already existing gender inequalities that exist across the globe. Inhabitat picked it up:

For example, Amy North, a researcher at the University of London’s Institute of Education, notes that in sub-Saharan Africa, women are responsible for collecting water and firewood. Decreased rainfall brought on by climate change will undoubtedly make these resources more scarce. Women will need to spend more and more time searching for these items, meaning they’ll have less time to engage in money-making activities or attend school. In Kenya, poverty brought on by drought has been linked to a decrease in school attendance, and parents are more likely to withdraw girls from school than boys.

In Uganda, “famine marriages” are all too common. Less rainfall brings agricultural losses, which means increased poverty in rural areas that depend on farming. To combat this poverty, many families are marrying off their daughters at younger and younger ages in order to secure a dowry or bride price. As climate change continues to spur drought and agricultural losses, the situation may only get worse for women.

In short, we have to recognize that issues like water, food and energy are all women’s issues. It’s necessary for foks to recognize that and begin to address issues of gender when discussing climate change. Check out the entire report, it’s pretty eye-opening. 

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