Saturday, March 19, 2011

NATO for Africa

It took the international community weeks of waiting, hand wringing and negotiations to draft, and pass UN security council resolution to impose a No-fly zone over Libyan airspace. In the mean time, thousands of lives were lost and impacted in Libya. Gaddafi's forces retook cities and towns and began a campaign to disappear and torture thousands of Libyans.

And though it was painful to watch the obvious reluctance of the United States and others to get involved I understood it. After an unpopular war in Iraq that did not have the backing of the international community, President Obama's reluctance seems prudent. The world and perhaps more specifically the U.S. is caught up in the specter of Somalia in 1991, Rwanda in 1994, and Iraq in 2003. And these images are forever etched into our psyche and brought up when the world is faced with massacres or the threat mass killings.

And the world is fraught with tension. The U.S. does not want to see images of U.S. troops invading another Arab, Muslim nation, even if with Arab League's blessing.

I think its safe to say that instruments such as the United Nations and the international community has failed in the prevention of crimes against humanity, i.e. Darfur. But what is the alternative?

I'd argue the importance of neighborhood and region. There is simply more incentive to take action if you're affected by chaos in the neighboring country, such as the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees on your border. If you're half way across the world, with an ocean separating you perhaps you are hesitant to commit your resources and the lives of your country to come to the aid of another country. And that is why Africa needs a NATO.

It'll be a challenge. The resources, infrastructure is lacking. There are still several dictators and authoritarian governments strewn across the continent, but democracy is a crafty and contagious creature. Stealthily creeping across borders. I would like to imagine if such an organization existed people like Gbago in Ivory Coast would think twice before overturning the results of the elections, and Gaddafi may have conceded to the demands of his people and left. Perhaps they wouldn't have, but even so at least there would be an organization on the ground that would be willing and able to react quickly and decisively.

And maybe there are too many countries in Africa for one central organization. It could be more feasible and efficient to have a series of military agreement treaties for west Africa, east Africa, southern Africa and northern Africa.

Either way I think lessons learned from Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Libya, and Sudan are clear. Africa needs its own NATO.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Revolution and the Madness of Gbagbo

In the coverage of the revolutions that have swept the Middle East and North Africa there has been very little talk about the implications for Africa south of the Sahara. It seems people forget that Libya, Tunisia and Egypt are very much in Africa. Egypt's Abdel Nasser was one of the founding fathers of Pan-Africanism.

What happens in these nations do not only send reverberations throughout the Arab world but through the African world as well. There is no clear division between Arab and African at least as it relates to Arab nations on the African continent. Our minds like to categorize, and catalog into neat, clean, little boxes. It's difficult for us to handle messy, complicated shades of gray, but so few things are clear cut in the world.

I'd ask you to think about the language Arabic. I would argue and am in agreement with linguists in classifying it as an Afro-Asiatic language. This is not in contradiction of its evolution from Aramaic, and its classification as a Semitic language. After all, Amharic and Tegreni, both Semitic languages that have evolved from Aramaic are also Afro-Asiatic languages spoken in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

But I digress, I want to tell you another story. Our story begins like so many after an election. It takes place in the beautiful nation of Cote D'Ivoire, where it is quite possible similar scenes witnessed in Libya may soon play out there. Cote D'Ivoire or Ivory Coast as us Anglophones know it, is a Francophone nation in west Africa. It is the main producer of cocoa. Once an economic powerhouse, its capital Abidjan was known as "little Paris", and it was once the headquarters of the African Development Bank.

In November, Outtara a Muslim from the north of the country, was declared victor of the presidential elections. Unfortunately the incumbent, Gbagbo, a Christian from the south of the country, refused to cede power despite being visited by a number of influential African leaders, and guaranteed by the Economic Consortium of West African States (ECOWAS) that he would be granted amnesty, and could leave the nation with his wealth intact (ill-begotten no doubt). Now the international community has refused to recognize him as president, and he faces economic blockades, and military embargoes. It is a mystery to me how he continues to pay government employees, the most important group for an illegitimate leader is of course the army.

Both men have now set up parallel governments, although Ouattara is restricted to his hotel, and is guarded by UN forces. These elections were supposed to help the country move on from the bloody, disastrous civil war that engulfed it in recent years and pitted north vs south, Muslim vs Christian.

I cringe to categorize, and pit one against the other but unfortunately it very much reflects the reality on the ground. Muslims in Cote D'Ivoire are mainly from the north, are less educated and poorer than their Christian counterparts and.... represent a big chunk of the population, in fact they have a slight majority. There majority has not been reflected in government or positions of leadership. Inequality does not just happen, it is deliberate, manufactured and controlled.The rebellion in the north was the result of decades of frustration at the obvious discrimination and inequality faced by the Muslim population.

Now the rebels in the north have once again taken up arms. Many have called for peaceful demonstrations but troops loyal to Gbago have responded with force killing several. If the situation continues to deteriorate then I have no doubt the country will be engulfed in another bloody civil war....The hope is that Gbagbo proves to be saner than Gaddafi, and will quit the field before countless die.

There are talks of Egypto-Tunisian like revolutions in Zimbabwe, Djibouti, Sudan to name a few. What is happening is not occurring in a bubble or in isolation, the whole world feels the reverberation, just think how much more money we will pay at the pump as conflict continues in Libya....

Contrary to the mantra of our foreign policy, time and time again history has proven that it is in the best interest of the world that everyone is guaranteed a life of freedom to live in peace and dignity.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Bravery of the Libyan People

Gaddafi, dressed in his usual safari/bedouin chic clothing just finished an hour rant where he declared war on the Libyan people. He refuses to acknowledge that the protesters are rational, sane, Libyan citizens. Rather he says that they are drunks, druggies, and gang members wanting to devastate Libya. Gaddafi and others of his ilk, the name Robert Mugabe comes to mind cannot dissociate the nation from themselves. An attack on them, is an attack on the nation.

Gaddafi says he is prepared to fight until the end, and to die a "martyr." I have often questioned his sanity and his grip on reality, but this is too much even for him. He has ordered his forces to bomb, slaughter, and exterminate the population. To put down the opposition, the protesters by any means necessary.

There is an emergency meeting of the UN security council, of the Arab League, but it is all for naught. All useless bits of paper and proclamations that mean nothing. I'm aghast at the images coming from youtube courtesy of mobiles. Bodies strewn across cars and streets, blood running and in some cases flowing. There is a complete black out of news and information so nothing can be confirmed. But I know, like many others that the death toll is in the hundreds if not thousands. That there are countless injured, and I know that the killing may very well continue until as Saif Al Islam Gaddafi said "the last bullet....the last woman and child."

I wish I had faith in the global community, that someone, anyone could stop this massacre, the killing. Don't make the mistake in thinking the Libyan people need a hero, they are their own hero.

What is needed is sanity, because if nothing else the other despots were at least sane...

Sunday, February 20, 2011


It seems that segments of the army have turned against Gaddafi. Probably moved by the senseless killing of 100s yesterday. People in military uniform opened fire on protesters killing an estimated 300 people. 300 people, that is an astronomical number of people. I can't even fathom that number.

The people in military dress are mercenaries at least that's what many Libyans claim. That these men are not Libyans, but rather people from neighboring countries.

There are reports that Benghazi has been "taken over" by civilians after they laid siege to the military compound. Allegedly military grade weapons have been passed out to civilians. Also reports of celebrations in the streets. The "mercenaries" have reportedly been captured.

Where is Gaddafi in all this. He has retreated to his ancestral Bedouin home near Sirt. Saif Gaddafi, one of his sons, is scheduled to make a statement. One can only guess that it will be similiar to the statements made by Ben Ali and Mubarak (both leaders are reportedly very ill, rumors of them both being in a coma).

I imagine the speech will recognize the desire of the people, make a series of concessions, declare that there will be elections in a couple months, meanwhile there will be a caretaker government. At this stage it may be necessary for Gaddafi to leave Libya for Saudi. I cannot imagine any western country will take him.

The African Union (AU) just lost about 50% or more of its budget. Its a well known fact that Gaddafi, aka the king of kings, is the main funder of the AU. But Gaddafi and his relationship with Africa south of the Sahara is for another day.

Interesting tid bit, that warms my heart and makes me hope that change is coming. Omar Bashir has started to reach out to the youth and college grads, making them hollow promises of jobs, and including them in the government.

And in an effort to legitimise themselves as a national, inclusive government rather than one dominated by one party, and a couple of ethnic groups squabling amongst each other, said goverment has made an offer to a close relative of mine, the position of governor of the central bank of Sudan. He's the perfect candidate you see, he's actually qualified for the job, he comes from a marginalized northern ethnic group, and he's an active member of the opposition group they overthrew in a military coup in 1989. Of course he declined.

Again we must ask, where will the revolution lead to next....Sudan (please God), Djibouti, Cote D'Ivoire?

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Revolution Continues....

A couple weeks ago my cousin joked that when Mubarak goes, the following day we'll hear that Gaddafi has imprisoned every citizen. I laughed, but not without discomfort. Because this joke struck a little too close to reality. There is real excitement, and fear that things can and will change, that there is such a thing as people power. But like in many places, an insurrection in Libya would be met with force, and that means blood will be spilled, lives will be destroyed. There have already been deaths in Libya and Bahrain.

In Libya, Benghazi, the second major city after the capital Tripoli has a history with Gaddafi. Most of the political prisoners are from this city, it makes sense that any type of insurrection would come from this city. It also home to banned Islamist party.

Many are dismissing the protests in Libya. Believing that what happened in Tunisia and Egypt will not happen in Libya. But I do not buy into this school of thought.
In response to the protests Gaddafi released several hundred political prisoners. As a gesture of good-will, or at least that's what he told the population. This to me means that Gaddafi is uneasy if nothing else. And may just serve to further encourage the movement.

Now Bahrain is a story of a minority in this case Sunni Muslim monarchy, ruling over a majority, Shii Muslims. Now a casual observer knows something is wrong with a society if the majority has the lowest education, wealth and health measures in the population.

During the first couple of days, the monarchy was willing to negotiate and concede everything except the main demand: turning the monarchy from a absolute one to a constitutional one, the latter being more in the line of British monarchy.

Obviously dissatisfied, a case of too little too late, the protests continued. And now Bahrain, has outlawed protests, and called forth its security forces.

You might say who cares, its Bahrain, so tiny. But tiny Bahrain is part of the intricate, disgustingly complex fabric of geopolitics. The Arab gulf which includes Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen etc is majority Sunni, with pockets of Shias. And close by, and always watching is Iran which is majority Shia. Fairly or unfairly, the political Shias in Iraq have been accused of getting support from Iran. And we know for a fact that Hizb-Allah,which is basically holding Lebanese political system hostage, is directly supported by Iran. So you can believe that the other countries in the gulf are watching the developments in Bahrain closely.

Of course a democratic Iran would be a game changer....

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Spoilers Part II

Quick update there have been protests in the city of Benghazi, Libya. Estimates are hundreds to a couple thousand. Despite this most people think it is unlikely that Gaddafi will lose power, but it still something to be concerned about if you are Gaddafi...

I forgot the weirdest spoiler from the list. Our very own Omar Bashir of Sudan. Shortly after Mubarak was deposed, he was on state-owned television with a crowd of women and school children. He loves this crowd, makes him look stately, and paternalistic. Bastard.

He declared to all that the youth are vital, they are the future, and that he congratulates the great youth of Egypt for demanding their freedom. And then he followed this up, by dancing with his carved cane (not functional purely decorative). This might perplex you, a singing and dancing president. It might have perplexed the Sudanese populace at one time, but he's been dancing now for the past decade or so. He danced after defying the International Criminal Court to arrest him for war crimes. Its comical watching him, like a fumbling bear in the circus.

The man is either demented, or disingenuous. Telling the Sudanese that he believes in the power of youth, and believes in freedom when only a couple weeks ago his security forces killed, injured, and imprisoned said youth for daring to protest, and demanding change.

Another interesting development, Omar Bashir has now joined Facebook. Apparently he's somewhat concerned about possible campaigns planned on social networks. He's hoping to befriend these young Sudanese activists and convince them of his fun, hip and humane ways. Short of that he hopes to entrap, imprison, torture, kill, anything to keep him president. Because unlike Mubarak, if he's deposed they'll be shipping his ass to the Hague to stand trial for war crimes. (Heard rumors that these charges may be dismissed since he's behaved so well, by get this, accepting the right of self-determination for the southern Sudanese people. Oh Omar you are such a good boy, down boy, sit).

So if you're lucky you might get to friend a dictator, yay!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Spoilers

And there are many including Colonel Gaddafi of Libya who condescendingly told the Tunisians that they made a big mistake in getting rid of Ben Ali. He was quite vocal in condemning the Tunisia people telling them that "Kleenex has fooled you, why did you believe their lies, there is no one better for you than Ben Ali." If you are confused by the Kleenex reference you are not alone. Gaddafi has his own language and sometimes occupies his own universe, Kleenex is apparently his word for Wikileaks. Interestingly enough he has been silent since Mubarak was deposed. Perhaps it hit a bit too close to home. Mubarak a military man, in power for 30 years, and Gaddafi another military man who has been in power for some 40 odd years. Gaddafi was in his late 20s when he came into power through a.... surprise, surprise, military coup! There hasn't been much noise coming out of Libya, but then the country has strict laws against protests and assembly. But nothing is beyond the realm of possibility..

Then there are the Iranians. They watched Tunisia without comment. When Egypt came they were on news channels, trying desperately to co-opt the movement. Claiming that the protesters were inspired by the Iranian Islamic Revolution of the 1970s. What a joke. If anything they were inspired by the opposition protests in Iran not so long ago, and then broken by the regime's brutal, and merciless response. And just as the Iranian regime feared thousands are organizing once again in Iran, protesting and calling for reform, for change, and for a basic human right, freedom. May God protect the citizens of Iran because if we are to put our faith in the actions and rhetoric of this regime they mean to exterminate the opposition. The political executions that have happened just in the last year or so boggles the mind, and saddens the heart. For a quick article on political executions in Iran (

Let's not forget the smug bastards, these are the monarchies that for all intents and purposes are safe. These are your King Abdullahs of Saudi, the Sheikhs of the various Emirates etc. They've been making statement admonishing the populace as if they're little children misbehaving. In King Abdullah's defense I think he's tired of building compounds for deposed leaders, let's see Iddi Amin of Uganda was exiled there, now it looks like Ben Ali, and maybe Mubarak will be living in Saudi. And please God let Omar Bashir of Sudan end up there soon, or no better yet in a jail cell in the Hague.

I can picture the brochure advertising this compound that, it will read: Saudi Retreat, your palace away from your palace. Activities: group therapy with other deposed dictators, couples therapy with your wives, group pilgrimage to Mecca guaranteed absolution for rapacious greed, torturing and killing of one's citizens. Coming soon interfaith circle, and visits to the Vatican as we expect to receive Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

And not all monarchies are safe....Bahrain?