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When newspapers are closing their foreign bureaus…

...who will report from the desolate border area between Kenya and Somalia?  For now, fortunately -- though covering what seems like half a continent -- there is The New York Times' Jeffrey Gettleman, who reports how easily Somali al-Shaba militants are slipping easily to and from the thinly marked border with Kenya.

The most interesting takeaway from the piece, for me -- more so even than the dangers of Shabab recruitment in refugee camps, of destabilization in Kenya, or of the bribery that is rife along the border -- is that the region is not going unwatched.

Ever since Al Qaeda blew up the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing more than 200 people and wounding thousands, American counterterrorism officials have been watching East Africa warily. But in the areas along the Kenya-Somalia border, it seems that anti-Americanism is still spreading, despite the millions of dollars the American government has spent on a hearts-and-minds campaign.

Take an American-built well in the village of Raya. No one is using it, though Raya is desperately poor and dry.

“The Americans wanted to finish us,” said one villager, Ibrahim Alin, convinced that the American water engineers who built the well had poisoned it to sterilize him.

Bizarre.  I don't think this shows the futility of "hearts-and-minds" campaigns, but it does speak to their great difficulty, when anti-Americanism is such a cheaply easy political card for regional actors to play.

(image from flickr user doneastwest under a Creative Commons license)

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The most neglected Millennium Development Goal… #5, the agreement to reduce global maternal mortality levels by 75%, according to a moving appeal in The Huffington Post by Ethiopian model Liya Kebede.  She sounds a welcome call for a "Global Fund for Moms," whom she rightly calls "our best stimulus package":

In times of economic crisis, it is tempting to turn inward, to ignore or postpone the problems of the outside world and focus on ourselves. But, if we hope to thrive once again, we must realize that there are no outside problems in today's interwoven, globalized world. Each mother who dies leaves behind a devastated family and weakened community that will eventually, somehow, affect each of us. Each mother who dies deepens the financial and social strain on our world and puts economic recovery further away. Mothers are our best stimulus package because they invest in their families and in our collective future.

Half a million women and girl, disproportionately in the developing world, die in childbirth every year, yet funding for maternal health programs from wealthy nations has actually decreased.  While this sad statistic may not be surprising, given the desperate humanitarian funding shortage that has accompanied the slumping economy, it is nonetheless counterproductive.  Helping mothers around the world ensures a better future for all, in this generation and the next.

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Abyei loses an oil field, Sudan gains better prospects for peace?

As Mark forecasted, The Hague's Permanent Court of Arbitration handed down a ruling today on Abyei, the contentious border area that could prove the tinderbox for renewed civil war in Sudan.  A bit surprisingly, the ruling effectively favored the North, shifting the borders of Abyei to award valuable oil fields to the government in Khartoum.  Even more surprising, though, is that -- for now at least -- everybody seems happy with the decision.

Mutrif Siddig, the Sudanese foreign ministry under-secretary, said that Wednesday's decision was a "step forward".

"We respect this decision. And this decision is final and binding because all the parties agreed from the beginning that the decision of the court was binding and final," he said.

Riek Machar, a representative of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which heads an autonomous regional government in the south, said that he hoped that the ruling would increase the chances for peace.

"We want peace. We think this decision is going to consolidate the peace," he said. "We came to see justice and it's a decision we will respect."

Such punctiliousness is nice and all -- particularly on the part of the South, which could be aggrieved at the ruling -- but I don't exactly share U.S. Sudan Envoy Scott Gration's robust optimism at these rhetorical promises.  It's worth remembering that a deal was reached four years ago, through an objective commission that determined fair boundaries for Abyei, and that that ruling was also supposed to be "binding and final."  Diplomatic niceties were followed up to -- and no farther than -- the point of actually implementing the agreement.

One of the authors of the previous Abyei commission report, the very knowledgeable Douglas Johnson, says that "each side can come away feeling that they have been given something from this arrangement."  If that's all it takes to get a viable resolution of the border dispute, then an oil field or two seems worth trading for peace.  Let's hope both North and South Sudan agree.

(image from UN Photo)

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Time for the Save Darfur movement to declare victory

Enough Project chief John Norris links approvingly to Randy Newcomb's Foreign Policy piece explaining why the next 18 months are a make-or-break time for the Save Darfur movement. The argument is that the forthcoming dissolution of Sudan into two separate countries (following a 2011 referendum) may presage the return to civil war. If the Obama administration doesn't provide a clear roadmap for how to handle the dissolution of Sudan, disaster may ensue. So, Newcomb writes, it is up to the movement to convince the Obama administration to make good with that roadmap.  Norris agrees that "the time for activism is now." 

I respectfully disagree.   The time for activism is long gone.   In terms of being able to affect change, the movement has played itself out. This is not meant to diminish the accomplishments of the Save Darfur movement. In fact, I would argue that the Save Darfur movement is a singular example of successful activism (thanks, in part, to the likes of Newcomb and Norris). Like the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s, the Save Darfur movement was able to bring to light a disaster halfway around the world and nurture a general political consensus around it. In fact, the movement was so successful it infiltrated the institution whose behavior it was seeking to change. A number of the leading lights of the Save Darfur movement now hold top positions in the Obama administration.   Darfur is a household name. 

These are amazing successes -- for any movement.  

But we are now at a point where outside pressure has reached its limit. Unlike the previous administration, the Obama administration does not need convincing that Darfur should fit somewhere on its roster of global issues to which it ought to pay attention. Thanks to the movement it’s already there. 

Rather, the question now is what to do about Sudan policy, which is something relegated to the vagaries of the inter-agency policy making process. And here, there is a dispute within the Obama administration on the best way to approach Sudan. On the one hand, movement alumni in the administration are pressing for a hard line while others, like Sudan Envoy Scott Gration, reportedly prefer a more conciliatory approach that the movement abhors.

It is hard for me to see how activism (among, frankly, people who will vote Obama anyway) can influence this inter-agency debate. It seems hard to distill support for Susan Rice's policy prescriptions over those of Scott Gration and the State Department's Sudan desk into a placard.  It's unrealistic to ask a movement to get that in the weeds of a policy debate.  Furthermore, pinning the success or failure of the movement  on the outcome of that interagency debate does disservice to the great successes that the movement has achieved. 

The fate of Sudan may very well hang in the balance over the next 18 months. But the trajectory of U.S. policy toward Sudan depends more on whether key administration officials are willing to go down in flames in support of policies they think will make a difference than activists making phone calls or attending rallies. 

(image of 2006 Save Darfur rally  from flickr user james calder)

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The recession hits…

...everyone who needs assistance the most.

The United Nations Tuesday revealed a record $4.8 billion (2.9 billion pound) funding gap for its 2009 aid projects as a result of strained foreign assistance, widespread economic trouble and a ten-fold increase in needs in Pakistan.

"This recession is driving up humanitarian needs," U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes told a news briefing in Geneva, where he held meetings with donor nations who will soon set their 2010 aid budgets.

A financing report prepared for those sessions stressed that the United Nations has received less than half the $9.5 billion it sought for humanitarian work this year. Yet some 43 million people need assistance this year, up from 28 million in 2008.


The $4.8 billion shortfall for 2009 affects all major U.N. humanitarian projects, which involve supplying water, food, medical care and shelter, clearing landmines, and helping vulnerable people improve their agricultural output.

The temptation may be for countries to skimp on foreign aid in tough economic times; but ultimately, this will only prolong the recession in the places that have been impacted worst by it.

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More reasons it sucks to be a refugee

Kate Cronin-Furman at Wronging Rights lists the top five (only five?) "reasons it sucks to be a refugee." The suckiest, IMHO, seems to be number four: "Your brain might swell up and kill you." Because if you're a refugee, you aren't facing enough pressure from your home country, the country where you've been displaced, and the dire conditions in which you live; no, your own brain has to come after you.

But to continue this line of morbid thinking helpful understanding of refugees' plight, I thought I'd add a few reasons that it sucks to be a refugee that we've mentioned over the past few months:

  • You lose contact with your friends and family -- and hope that someone invents a sort of "search engine" to help you out.
  • You could be rejected for asylum by the very country that started a war in your backyard to begin with. And struggle if you are lucky enough to get there.

(image from flickr user hdptcar under a Creative Commons license)

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R2P2: This is not the doctrine you are looking for

In September 2005, countries of the United Nations took a momentous step and endorsed the "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine, a framework designed to protect civilians from mass atrocities in cases in which their own governments prove unable or unwilling to do so.  The doctrine is contentious, and it has only become more so with misinterpretation -- a common caricature is that it means that "borders are nothing and human rights are everything" -- and discussion of the concept in inappropriate contexts.  Yet the basis of Responsibility to Protect remains universally endorsed, as expressed by the General Assembly three years ago: the international community must find a way to ensure the protection of innocent civilians, using mechanisms that neither abridge nor are effaced by the concept of state sovereignty.

Today the Secretary-General presented his report on R2P, and tomorrow the potential for controversy grows when the GA meets to discuss the doctrine.  As it was the GA that endorsed R2P in 2005, it is in a position to reaffirm its support.  The possibility, however, given some countries' growing discomfort with (at least a misinterpreted version of) the concept, as well as GA President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann's particular style, exists that the GA will try to water down R2P or back off from the UN's embrace of it.

This would be a grievous, and terribly counterproductive, mistake.  In adopting R2P three years ago, GA countries signaled their commitment to helping the doctrine progress, making its laudable goals an achievable reality.  The emphasis on R2P shifted to the more powerful Security Council, which officially incorporated the next year in Resolution 1674, then applied it to the specific case of Darfur.  It has been hard enough to implement R2P; the misguided notion that it provides carte blanche for military intervention by Western powers is entirely fictitious, but it carries with it easy political points for the leaders of developing countries.

The GA naturally has many such leaders, and it would be regrettable if the current structure and politics of one UN body were to undermine -- or just treat without its due seriousness -- a seminal accomplishment in the UN's history.  Efforts should be focused on operationalizing R2P, strengthening its robust protection imperatives, and negotiating the global means to provide protection when it is needed.  Provocative, and utterly substanceless, conceptions of R2P -- those that claim that it is merely a vehicle for neocoloniasm -- only detract from these efforts.  I echo the plea Ban Ki-moon made this morning:

First, resist those who try to change the subject or turn our common effort to curb the worst atrocities in human history into a struggle over ideology, geography or economics. What do they offer to the victims of mass violence? Rancor instead of substance, rhetoric instead of policy, despair instead of hope. We can, and must, do better.

This is not about an R2P #2; this is the same Responsibility to Protect, one that countries still share as their crowning objective.  Rather than mar its integrity in a raw publicity stunt, it'd be helpful for the GA to take note of the S-G's report and move forward in a positive direction.

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New report: Every third day a trans person is killed

Via Questioning Transphobia, a sorrowful new study on violence directed against trans people worldwide.








From the release: 

In April 2009 the international NGO Transgender Europe (TGEU) in cooperation with the multilingual Online-Magazine “Liminalis — A Journal for Sex/Gender Emancipation and Resistance” started a new project, the /Trans Murder Monitoring Project/, which focuses on systematically reporting murdered trans people on a worldwide scale.

The very preliminary results of the first step of this project have revealed a total of 204 cases of reported murders of trans people world wide in the last 1 1/2 years. 121 cases of murdered trans people have been reported in 2008. From January to June 2009 already 83 cases of murdered trans people have been reported.

Furthermore, the preliminary results show an increase in the number of reports of murdered trans people over the last years. Since the beginning of 2008 the murder of a trans person is reported every third day, on average.

You can read the full report here.