Wednesday, December 27, 2006

DRC: "Dubious mining deals..."

John LeCarre, the celebrated author, and Jason Stearns, 
analyst for the International Crisis Group, published an op-ed in the Boston Globe just before Christmas describing the 
challenges to establishing fiscal legitimacy in DRC post-elections. 

"JOSEPH KABILA was recently sworn in as president of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The ceremony marked the end of a tumultuous peace process that led the country out of seven years of war. [...] But dubious mining deals between the Congolese government and international corporations may be threatening the nation's chances of rising from the ashes."

Read "Getting Congo's wealth to its people" here...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Uganda: Is the ICC a carrot or stick to the LRA?

[LRA: children killing children]

The answer is much more complicated. Local perceptions and opposition to the ICC in Uganda are extremely high, despite popular will to see an end to the ruthless terror of the Lord's Resistance Army in the north. Published by Zed Books, Tim Allen's recent book defends the institution's pursuit of LRA leaders and tries to understand Ugandan opposition to the ICC.

From the publisher's note, "The International Criminal Court has run into serious problems with its first big case - the situation in northern Uganda. There is no doubt that appalling crimes have occurred here. Joseph Kony‘s Lord‘s Resistance Army have abducted thousands, many of them children, and have systematically tortured, raped, maimed and killed their victims.

Nevertheless, the ICC has confronted outright hostility from a wide range of groups, including traditional leaders, representatives of the Catholic and Anglican Churches, and non-governmental organizations. Even the Ugandan government, which invited the ICC to become involved in 2003, has been expressing serious reservations. For many, the Court is spoiling the peace process and is making continued warfare and suffering more likely.

This book argues that much of the antipathy to the ICC is based upon ignorance and misconception. Drawing on field research in Uganda, it shows that victims are much more interested in punitive international justice than has been suggested, and that the ICC has made resolution of the war more likely."

Darfur: Western diplomats press for sanctions

From today's Financial Times:

Sanctions would force change of policy in Sudan.
A proposal from 15 former foreign ministers...

"The surest way to save lives in Darfur would be through a fully observed ceasefire leading to a sustained political settlement that allows refugees and the displaced to return to their homes. In the interim, the under-manned and under-equipped African Union peacekeeping force must be enlarged and strengthened. In meetings in Addis Ababa and Abuja last month, a broad diplomatic coalition recommended a hybrid force that would combine AU personnel with financial, logistics and other support from the United Nations.

In the past, President Bashir has claimed that outside efforts to save lives in Darfur were a ploy to mask western interference in Sudan’s internal affairs. The Addis-Abuja proposal clearly negates that claim, coming as it does with support from the AU, Arab League and UN Security Council (including China). This is an African and Arab-supported plan to save Sudanese lives. Mr Bashir has no more excuses. [...]"

About 2.5 million Darfuris have been made homeless by the conflict

Friday, December 15, 2006

Ethiopia: Mengistu convicted... of genocide?

The BBC reports on the conclusions of the marathon Mengistu trial:

"Ethiopia's Marxist ex-ruler, Mengistu Haile Mariam, has been found guilty of genocide after a 12-year trial.

The former leader was tried in his absence. He has been in exile in Zimbabwe since being ousted in 1991 and many fear he will never face justice. In a notorious campaign - known as the Red Terror - thousands of suspected opponents were rounded up and executed and their bodies tossed on the streets. Mengistu and dozens of his officials could face the death penalty. " [read rest here]

Mugabe in Zimbabwe of course refuses to extradite Mengistu. Hoorah, the African Old Boy's Club is alive and well. No surprise there.

Still, the Mengistu conviction is surprising. Mostly, why genocide--what 'genus' of Ethiopians were targeted and killed, besides those sharing the non-physical trait of opposing socialist policies implemented by the Dirgue, the military junta that ousted Haile Selassie in 1974?

Literature on Ethiopia's 'Red Terror' tends to amalgamate the government-sanctioned killing of political dissidents with those who died from famine (approx. 1.5 million) in rural areas in the late 70s and early 80s. These deaths resulted, so the argument goes, from land redistribution programs that forced the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of farmers to uncultivated, barren areas of the country. Little information is available on the legal arguments used to frame the totality of these deaths as genocidal, which would require proof of a state apparatus constructed deliberately for the single purpose of identifying and terminating the lives of individuals exhibiting certain physical traits. Rwanda and Nazi Germany are the classic examples.

My sense has always been that Mengistu's Ethiopia fashioned itself (with Soviet support) a laboratory for Marxist land reform schemes that failed miserably, such that millions perished, as lab rats do in any controlled environment when an experiment runs amok. Large scale humanitarian tragedy, yes, made even worse by a lack of justice for its victims. Social engineering in hyper-drive, yes, but a genocide?

The affair also made me do a quick mental inventory of other African dictators who absconded with their crimes--where are they now?

Idi Amin, the self-proclaimed 'King of Scotland', died in Jeddah in 2003 after a long exile. His ouster by Tanzanian troops ('regime change' a l'africaine) in 1979 ended an eight year rule. Amin never faced trial for his alleged crimes. Up to 400,000 people are believed to have been killed under his rule. [Amin in reflection: "No coffee, just more medals."]

Chad's Hissein Habre is still alive in Senegal, having fled in 1990 after ouster by Idriss Deby, the country's currently beleaguered president. A Chadian government inquiry accused Habre's regime of 40,000 political killings and 200,000 cases of torture during his 1982-1990 rule. After significant international pressure and a call for extradition for trail in Belgium, Senegal agreed to undertake Habre's trial. It has requested international funding to do so.

[With Mitterand, looking rather like a Whirling Dervish.]

Liberia's Charles Taylor first found refuge in Nigeria, but has since been extradited to the ICC in the Hague. He is accused of funding Sierra Leone's former rebels, the Revolutionary United Front by selling diamonds on their behalf and buying weapons for them. RUF fighters were notorious for hacking off the arms and legs of the civilian population with machetes, as well as killing, raping and robbing them.
[See other charges against Taylor here]

Monday, December 11, 2006

UN Convention against Corruption: will it have teeth?

Transparency International released its Global Corruption Barometer 2006 on Dec 7 last week, in advance of the third annual International Anti-corruption Day.

Transparency International looks at corruption from several angles. Its Global Corruption Barometer tries to show corruption through the eyes of ordinary citizens, by polling around 59,000 people in 62 different countries. It asks people their opinions about which public sectors are most corrupt, and which spheres of life are most affected by corruption (family, politics, business), and how their government is doing in its fight against corruption. This Barometer report investigates bribery particularly--who pays what to whom, why and how much--particularly regarding the forces of order (police, military, civil servants).

International Anti-corruption Day is in recognition of the signing of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) in Mexico three years ago. This agreement (in PDF here) came into force last year: 140 countries have now signed on, and 80 have ratified. DR Congo is not among them.

From 10 to 14 December, the UNCAC countries will meet in Jordan to decide the fate of the agreement: the funding of monitoring, how to ensure compliance and secure the repatriation of stolen wealth, among other issues. Compliance, or enforcement of norms, and the repatriation of stolen wealth are of obvious relevance to numerous African countries, particularly those with natural resources and little effective control over their extraction.

On unregulated resource extraction in Africa, the lobby group Fatal Transactions is active and interesting. Their March 2006 report on extractive mining in Katanga, DRC, is worth a look: "The State vs. the People. Governance, mining and the transitional regime in the Democratic Republic of Congo".

Sunday, December 10, 2006

CAR: Staging ground for regional conflicts

And is itself a powderkeg.... Intelligent coverage about dynamics in this little understood region in today's NYT:

The Central African Republic — so important as a potential bulwark against the chaos and misery of its neighbors in Chad and the Darfur region of Sudan — is being dragged right into the dangerous and ever-expanding conflict that has begun to engulf central Africa.
So porous are its borders and ungoverned are parts of its territory that foreign rebels are using the Central African Republic as a staging ground to mount attacks over the border, spreading what the United Nations has called the world’s “gravest humanitarian crisis.”

Read more here...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

DRC: Volcanoes, rebel attacks and tense elections all in one day

What other country can boast such diverse forms of crippling instability, all occuring simultaneously? If the Bemba fanatics in Kinshasa dont lynch you for speaking Swahili and supporting Kabila, Nkunda's men around Goma will gladly terminate you on suspicion of 'oppressing Tutsis'. And don't go seeking refuge in the wilds around Goma, as you're sure to get cooked by fresh lava flows from Mt. Nyamuragira, which erupted last night just outside of town.

Official election results were announced last night by Supreme Court officials in Kinshasa. They spoke under heavy armed guard from their temporary digs in the Ministry of the Interior, following last week's incendiary ravaging of the Supreme Court building by rabid Bemba supporters. Never has the thirst for lawlessness been more accurately expressed. Dont care for rule of law? Just burn down the Supreme Court.

In any other country, tanks would have flooded the streets in retaliation, and martial law immediately declared. In Kinshasa, police forces stood agape for a few reflective moments before the ravenous crowd of assailants, and promptly fled. UN peacekeepers arrived after the fact. The national army did not respond. Days later, Kabila formally asked Bemba to remove some of his estimated 1000-strong private army, of which around 60 were reported to have left the city. Congolese pundits blamed the international community for letting this 'blow to the heart and soul of Congo's national integrity' transpire uncontested, and in broad daylight. When will Congolese leaders assume the minimum of responsibility for their predicament?

From the BBC election graphic above one notes the clear division in voter preference between East and West, as though little mattered more than the geographical origin of the candidates themselves. Throughout their respective campaigns, neither candidate ever developed much in the way of political platform or agenda for reform. It was largely a high school popularity contest, costing the international community over $400 million. The cult of personality as the primary ingredient of political success in the Congo has changed little from the Mobutu era. Old habits, like dictators, die hard.

Now, Kabila has five years to address the country's problems, or will otherwise (one hopes) be voted out of office. Perhaps that in itself is worth all the effort, risk and cost of introducing democratic process to this country. Immediate benefits are intangible at this point.

On a different front here in the far East of the country, on the Rwandan border, the town of Goma has been on tenterhooks these last few days for very different reasons. Dissident general Laurent Nkunda of the national army has been rallying his forces to take the town of Sake, some 15 miles from Goma.

His apparent intention was to repeat his bloody takeover of Bukavu in June 2004. Then, UN peacekeepers stood by and watched, as the national army itself was crushed by Nkunda's powerful but limited number of men. This time, however, MONUC forces were intent on defending Goma, and spent much of yesterday reclaiming Sake and pursuing Nkunda's men with a combination of ground fire and helicopter gunships.

[displacements in Sake]

Nkunda's attack was reportedly triggered by the summary execution of a Tutsi man at a Sake checkpoint, a man with direct ties to Nkunda. Given Nkunda's pretense of defending his oppressed Tutsi brethren across eastern Congo, the murder provided a convenient pretext to begin military operations again, silent since August 2006.

Having been routed by MONUC forces, today the rumor is that Nkunda is ready to negotiate, although his exact terms and conditions are not clear. Amnesty for war crimes committed during his Bukavu invasion are likely among them.

On a final front, just outside Goma at 8pm last night, Mt. Nyumalugira erupted, sending lava 150m into the night sky. There is no threat to the town or its residents, as happened with Nyiragongo in January 2002. Goma town was eviscerated, and thousands were displaced. Whether the gods are crazy, angry or celebrating current events in Congo, no one bothers to speculate. Brute life soldiers on.

[satellite image of Goma, Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira]

Friday, November 24, 2006

Rwanda: France weighs in on genocide

In the event of any lingering doubts you might have about the facts of the Rwandan genocide, have no fear. France is now the self-proclaimed expert on what triggered the genocide, and who is responsible. A French court has issued warrants for their arrest. The indicted happen to be nine of President Paul Kagame's closest government aides--including armed forces chief James Kabarebe and army chief-of-staff Charles Kayonga.

They are accused of involvement in the shooting down of a plane carrying Rwanda's former president - an incident the French judge claims sparked the mass slaughter.

The elephant in the room here is the preposterous notion that the downing of then President Habyarimana's aircraft was what triggered the genocide. The French judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, is investigating the case because the crew of the plane were French and the families filed a case in France in 1998. The credibility of the case appears to rest on a brazen re-reading of history, whereby the Hutu extremists who murdered over 800,000 Tutsis were somehow directed or at least in collaboration with the Tutsi-led army (RPF), supposedly directed by Kagame from exile in Uganda.

Go France! Invent the facts and make it up as you go--the rest of the world does it equally shamelessly!

I cant believe anyone is taking this seriously. Habyarimana's assassination by surface-to-air missile and the assassination of 800,000 Tutsis by machete and petrol fires are separate events. Thousands of eyewitnesses and survivors to the genocide have already attested to the identity of hundreds of convicted genocidaires, all Hutu, most unapologetic: none of them claimed direction or affiliation from Kagame, or any other Tutsi on the planet. Why would they?

BBC and AFP have been reporting on recent developments:

"The French allegations have sparked anger in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, where around 25,000 people are reported to have taken part in a government-organised demonstration against France. Foreign Minister Charles Murigande told AFP news agency Kigali had recalled its ambassador to Paris as they didn't "see why he should be there at this point"." I'm tempted to drive over to Kigali this weekend and savor all the anti-French ruckus.

On an entirely different front -- I'm a big fan of flags, so I cant avoid commenting on Rwanda's 'new look'.

Here's the new Rwandan flag, since Kagame took power after the events of 1994. It looks kind of South Pacific to me, less austere than the old one below.

Such was the old Rwandan flag, so devoid of creativity they had to put a big 'R' in the middle to distinguish it from the dozens of other African countries with this same color format.

Monday, November 20, 2006

DRC: Effects of Kabila's victory

Last week's announcement of the final results from the presidential elections were met with widespread celebration here in the Eastern provinces. I was in Beni, a commercial center in the Grand Nord part of North Kivu province, and everyone went wild. Not so in the Western provinces, particularly in Kinshasa, where Bemba had the majority. "Awa tozo sepila, kuna na Kin bazo lela" was the assessment of one smiling man here. (Here we're celebrating, there they're crying). Kabila won with 58.3% percent of the vote; turnout was pretty poor but I dont have the exact figure.

Bemba, the loser, claims he will contest the elections through legal process, which remains to be seen. Kinshasa is still tense, but no acts of violence since the announcement have been reported.

Here in Ituri it is relatively calm, although populations continue to be displaced in clashes between FARDC (govt army) and local militia groups. As the wider Congolese context is pacified, Ituri no longer qualifies as a 'war within a war', as was long the case. Kabila's election is likely to have a positive effect on the disarmament negotiations with local militia leaders, currently underway. Three leaders of different groups "want to be generals in Kabila's army" (they probably didnt vote Bemba!), and this may provide the carrot that should string them down the path of pacification. They are also demanding amnesty from ICC indictment, which remains to be seen. DRC government negotiators are in the area now meeting with the three leaders, something that has never been able to transpire in the past.

Kinshasa voted in favor of Bemba, from Equateur province north of Kinshasa, claiming he's the "son of the soil" (mwana mboka) -- not Kabila, who they argue is really a Rwandan, nor does he speak Lingala. The two candidates represent the two major cultures (east and west) defining and dividing the national psyche. The electoral contest has strained the limits of their compatibility: between east and west, that is.

Perhaps this grievance will abate with time, particularly if Kabila actually does something to improve the lot of the country, which wouldn’t be hard since its lows have never been lower. Political will to do so has been absent in this country for 40 years. For reasons I find incredibly myopic, people in Kinshasa think that whoever runs the country has to speak lingala and hail from Equateur, like Mobutu.

Very little time to blog or even breathe here but hope to catch up soon.

Friday, November 10, 2006

DRC: ICC 'pre-trial' hearing of Ituri militia leader

From a recent Human Rights Watch press release:
"Under rebel leader Thomas Lubanga, in ICC custody since March 2006, the Union des Patriotes Congolaises committed serious crimes in Ituri, including murder, torture, rape and mutilation of civilians. "

[Lubanga with underage cannon fodder]

"For example, UPC combatants under the leadership of Lubanga slaughtered at least 800 civilians on the basis of their ethnicity in the gold mining region of Mongbwalu between November 2002 and June 2003. More than 60,000 civilians have been slaughtered by armed groups in Ituri since the beginning of the conflict, according to the UN."

Human Rights Watch further reports that Lubanga's case will be considered for sufficient evidence before passing to trial, although the only current charges against him concern the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Numerous other rebel leaders, active in Ituri and elsewhere, have much blood on their hands but have been given military posts in the newly integrated national army as a means of securing the cessation of hostilities.

Impunity for rebel leaders is a useful bargaining tool when trying to pacify on the cheap, as the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Congo is learning. Lubanga was handed over to the ICC as a 'stick' to encourage other rebels to concede to ceasefire terms, though this is not working out as planned. For victims and their families, an ICC trial of Lubanga on the basis of child soldiers is mere theatre, a miniscule comfort given the scale of carnage associated with this war. Yet this possibility for justice in the Hague is the only light in Congo's legal darkness, whose judiciary system is non-existent and revenge the only form of justice available to victims today.

Read the ICC press release here.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Congo's Pygmies: Can they be 'made equal'?

For 2007 UN agencies are considering intensive programming aimed at establishing the equal rights of Congolese Pygmies (Bambuti and other groups) long denied by the Bantu groups dominating Congolese society, politics and administration. There is little to romanticize in the Pygmy's remote and rustic lifestyle, whose perpetuation is largely the direct result of relentless discrimination by the Congolese majority.

A National Geographic site covers their status in the country today, complete with accusations of cannibalism committed against various Pygmy groups by presidential candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba's armed group, the Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo (MLC). The degree to which they are subjected to an unparalleled degree of humiliation, ridicule and abuse by Bantu groups across the country explains their currently abject state.

Within the last five years, I have had the occasion to work directly with Pygmy groups outside Isiro, Orientale, and in the Mai Ndombe region of northern Bandundu. In both instances I was struck by the automatic and fierce prejudice with which they were treated by the surrounding Bantu Congolese, people who were living at basically the same level of extreme indigence and dispossession as the Pygmies themselves. The other primary characteristic of their misery was the degree to which they had internalized the Bantu discourse of their inferiority and ignorance.

They were at such a nadir that they actually believed the racist slander to which they were constantly subjected; their inferiority complex was total and all-consuming. Every aspect of their lives was to them proof not of the injustice of the discriminatory discourse around them but of their own failure, their incompetence, their baseness. Their identity as they expressed it in focus group discussions consisted precisely of the very insults they heard throughout their lives from their Bantu neighbors. It was stunning and tragic—they were totally brainwashed. I would not be surprised if the majority of Pygmy communities in the DRC suffered this same degree of self-abnegation, the result of the extreme prejudice and humiliation to which they are constantly subjected.

I am curious to see how the UN approaches this issue: clearly Congolese society is at fault, rife as it is with profound racism and prejudice towards its original inhabitants. Project proposals I have seen base themselves on UN legal precedents recognizing and protecting the rights of indigenous groups, based on the principle of 'autochthony'.

I’m not convinced that in a Congolese context the autochthony argument is the most appropriate to defend/restore their rights and equality. Autochthony as the right to equal treatment of oppressed indigenous groups has its role in international law, although I'm quite sure no such precedent exists in Congolese law.

But are victimhood and a history of oppression the most constructive rhetorical arguments to restore equality between peoples? Victimhood as a tool of empowerment—'victimhood' being a placeholder for autochthony given the oppression indigenous peoples have universally experienced—does not seem to result in sustainable integration or equality between peoples; it simply perpetuates a discourse of difference, resentment and the ‘you owe us’ mentality. If such is the result, I dont see how it can serve the objectives of integration or equality at all.

Even the Congolese see themselves largely as the ‘victims’ of Rwanda, the international community, colonialism, ad infinitum, to the point where they take no responsibility for their predicament because ‘the world owes them’. As anyone who has spent a long time in this country would agree, this enormous and largely vacuous grievance has achieved nothing for the Congolese. My sense is that autochthony—often a sanitized synonym for ‘oppressed group’—as a rhetorical argument to assert the equality of minorities can backfire with disastrous consequences. What worse fate for the Pygmies to go from the frying pan into the fire by trying to beat back ingrained Bantu prejudice with the victim argument... . But, who knows, there are definitely no geniuses at the helm.

More as the 'plotting for Pygmy equality' unfolds...

Saturday, November 04, 2006

"Trade not Aid": Whither the China-Africa Summit?

From the BBC today: "Beijing is plastered with billboards announcing the China-Africa summit taking place this weekend to highlight the huge and growing relationship with the continent. The summit, called the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation, began on Friday and is being attended by the heads of state and government officials from nearly 50 African nations.

Beijing has been busy wooing Africa in recent years. Trade between the two sides is expected to exceed £27bn this year but the Chinese presence has also drawn criticism. The US and the European Union say that China is dealing with what it calls the repressive regimes of Angola and Sudan, ignoring the wishes of the international community. China has been criticised for ignoring human rights and failing to meet environmental standards. However, increasingly reliant on Africa's resources, Beijing defends its actions.

Trade between the world's fastest-growing economy and the 49 African countries it has diplomatic relations with, increased tenfold from £2bn to nearly £20bn over the past 10 years."


The Chinese approach to African development is strictly business, avoiding the 'nation building', governance concerns and 'rights-based assistance' that inform the Western strategy, particularly the UN, donor governments, the World Bank and NGOs. The absence of these carrot-stick methods used by the West is welcome news to many African governments, particularly its most infamous rights abusers, such as Sudan, Angola and DRC--which happen to possess its greatest natural resources.

Will trade with China replace the Western aid machine in Africa's most troubled countries? Twenty to thirty years of foreign aid going to Africa from Western governments have had little impact, and most places are far worse off than they were at the time of independence. This is not the direct fault of the foreign aid machine, of course, but its sustained efforts are not having the desired effect.

Liberal economists and libertarians in the West should laud the Chinese invasion, because the constant hand-holding in the form of charity and aid subsidies by Western institutions has arguably generated a welfare state -- precisely the opposite approach to the domestic policies applied in the US, UK and elsewhere to bootstrap the indigent and marginalized up and out of their dispossessed state. If only the Western aid machine actually created jobs for the beneficiaries of its assistance, I could better defend its presumptions about 'good governance', democracy, and human rights.

Africa's poverty is its greatest challenge since colonialism, that much is incontrovertible. It may well be that increased trade with China allows the man in the street to improve his lot, even as Africa's worst governments remain the unaccountable, cronyistic and self-interested institutions they are today. If so, individuals will stand a better chance of prospering, even if their governments continue to be criminal and inept.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

DRC: Article on predatory governance

Research I conducted in 2004 in the DRC on the predatory practices of local administrators and the forces of order were documented in a series of internal reports. In 2005 a summary analysis of these practices and their impact on civilian livelihoods was accepted for publication by Disasters: The Journal of Disaster Studies, Policy and Management. The article, entitled "Democratic Republic of Congo: Undoing government by predation," is finally being published.

But isn't the data obsolete? I wish it were; I wish Congo were a completely different place today. Unfortunately little has changed, and the basic humanitarian and economic indicators remain as low as they were in 2004. The study is thus still relevant to the current landscape in DRC. While I dont have the right to post it here, if you are interested let me know by email and I'll send one along.

Here's an outtake from the Executive Summary:

"(...) Government by predation is an endemic and systematic feature of the civil and military administration, ensuring the daily economic survival of soldiers and officials, who are able to wield their authority in a 'risk free' environment, without oversight or accountability. The paper's conclusion tries to make sense of the persistence of corruption in social and political life, and assesses the capacity of ordinary citizens to reverse their predicament."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Fear and loathing on the eve of DRC elections

Whew -- happy to get out of Kinshasa before elections tomorrow; tensions real and imagined are in the ascendant. Kinshasa, the giant anthill of 'inhabited devastation' (Conrad), is the night of Lubumbashi's day, where I landed today, quite malarial from too many bloodsuckers in my crappy Kinshasa hotel room.

I'll be working here this coming week before heading to Ituri and the Kivus. A lovely city, this Lubumbashi, home of Patrice Lumumba, Congo's first and only true martyr; it is long since my favorite. While looking for photos of the place on the web, I ran into this curious site, apparently assembled by former colonials with a deep affection for Katanga, called Inchi Yetu. Loads of images and curios of the region from past and present.

Lots is happening across the country in these final days before voting occurs tomorrow; some of it making international news, much of it not. Kofi Annan is making the usual appeals for calm, most certainly unheard by the illiterate thugs ruling the streets of Kinshasa. Of particular note are events in Gbadolite, Mobutu's former feifdom, where his son Nzanga Mobutu, a presidential candidate in the August elimination round, was taken hostage by Bemba's forces. BBC reports on it here, but do not capture the intriguing nature of the Mobutu - Kabila alliance. I'll elaborate very unscientifically on this clever alliance below.

It seems that young Mobutu wants political relevance at any price , going so far as to ally himself with the son of the man (Laurent Kabila) who drove his father, Mobutu Sese Seko, from power in disgrace and terminal illness in 1996. Two sons of former enemies now joining forces -- stranger things have happened of course, but why this particular alliance? Both are rich as sin, which makes them equals in one way. They can visit their Swiss accounts together, perhaps even share the same private jet.

Jean-Pierre Bemba, the opposing candidate who's wanted by the International Criminal Court, hails from Equateur province, as does the Mobutu family. He married into the Mobutu clan years ago, compounding their riches with his own self-made wealth. In the popular psyche here, Bemba lays claim to the Mobutu heritage and days of yore when the place actually functioned -- rotten governance for sure but with a patina of joie de vivre that all Congolese recall with nostalgia. Like Saddam's Iraq, it was a brutal dictatorship but a boatload better than anything on the horizon today. Today, any Congolese will tell you, is relentless misery.

(Bemba and Kabila in a clever montage - IRIN)

So young Mobutu's alliance with Kabila is a veritable slap in the face to Bemba and the many Congolese voters who favor a continued reign of the Lingala speakers who descended upon Kinshasa from Equateur when Mobutu senior first seized power in the early 1960s. The alliance also offers Kabila far greater leverage over the Equateur-based, Lingala speaking electorate, with whom he had little clout up until now.

Tomorrow's voting, described by Jeune Afrique l'Intelligent as a 'Match' à la football, will hopefully attract a majority of the population. In Kinshasa people fear violence and are less keen to get out and stand around in the long lines. Adrenaline will be high among the lawless thugs supporting this or that candidate and roaming the streets looking for an exuse to explode. Here in Lubumbashi people are calm and content to see the process unfold, come what may.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sudan: Blog bites man

UN envoy Jan Pronk, former Dutch diplomat, was expelled from Sudan over the weekend. The reason given was his ongoing criticism of government atrocities in Darfur described on his blog, which is always a good read. A contentious figure in the humanitarian community working in Darfur, I have always appreciated Pronk for his classic Dutch directness, and fearlessness in the face of government intimidation and opposition to aid efforts. He worked tirelessly to increase access of humanitarian agencies to targeted populations, and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to get imprisoned or kidnapped aid workers released.

AFP reported today, "Sudan will not have any further dealings with expelled UN envoy Jan Pronk, regardless of what the United Nations may decide about his future, a senior official said Thursday.

"The decision to expel Jan Pronk is irrevocable because of positions he has taken that are incompatible with his mission in Sudan," foreign ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadek told journalists.

The Sudanese military had accused him of "waging psychological warfare on the armed forces by propagating erroneous information."

[...] Pronk has long been a thorn in the side of the Khartoum government. He has openly called Sudan a "police state" and said refugees in Darfur were victims of "Arabic racism"."

Read rest of AFP article here.

Chad: timeline of the rebellion

IRIN News offers a useful summary of the rebellion against the Deby regime in Chad, active since late 2005:

"There have been at least a dozen attacks by rebels opposed to Chad’s president and skirmishes with the Chadian army in the last 12 months. After briefly occupying the southeastern Chadian towns Am Timan and Goz Beida this week, the rebels again melted away into the desert on Wednesday, according to a Chadian government spokesman."

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

DRC elections: SADC monitors cannot communicate

Representatives from the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, are present in force here in Kinshasa, apparently to monitor elections scheduled for this Sunday, October 29. All the high end hotels (all two of them) are overbooked with election monitors and military from the European Union Force or EUFOR, a supplementary military force here to ensure calm during and shortly after the elections.

All are used to foreign militaries parading around this country, some were belligerents in the war, others here ostensibly to keep the peace. None of them spoke a single word of French or any local language, yet both groups managed to abuse and exploit local women and girls. Foreign armies, such as Uganda, Rwanda, Angola and Zimbabwe, remain above the law--surprise. But UN Peacekeepers have experienced a serious crackdown on their interaction with locals, particularly regarding sexual contact.

A minimum of communication skills ares obviously essential to ensuring positive relations with the local population that foreigners are here, for the time being, to protect and serve. And, not least, to get one's job done. But the wave of SADC officials and election monitors preparing to be dispatched across the country, none of whom speak any French or local language, sets the stage for an epic theatre of the absurd. Imagine the emphatic gesticulations and deaf mute grunts that will ensue as ballot boxes are analyzed and voting procedures contested between SADC drones and the Congolese. I hope someone films the interactions as evidence of the colossal waste of the SADC intervention.

Thabo Mbeki, South Africa's president and a major force behind SADC, has always advocated for 'African solutions to African problems'. Surely a common language should be a key competency before intervening in another's sovereign affairs.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

DR Congo: Gov't soldiers abducting civilians

This AP file photo shows a freshly uniformed government soldier walking in the fields around Goma, with its active volcano smoldering in the background. Government soldiers of the FARDC, or DRC Armed Forces, are the product of a long and expensive process of security sector reform, in which all former combatants (including rebels, ethnic militias, and popular defense forces) are disarmed, demobilized and reintegrated (DDR) either into civilian or military life, depending on their capacities.

Human Rights Watch recently released a report documenting a well known but troubling reality about the success of the country's DDR program : troops
from the 'new', reformed government army are responsible for massive human rights abuses, in particular the abduction of civilians for manual labor. Digging and sifting in open mines for coltan, diamonds and gold is one such activity, ostensibly to offset the lack of salary received from their superiors in Kinshasa.

"Congolese government soldiers were sent to Ituri to protect civilians against abuses by local militias, but they themselves are devastating the area," writes Alison Des Forges, Africa adviser at Human Rights Watch.

I will be in the DRC for the next six weeks, so expect more blogging from there. Especially as the 29 October elections approach. My camera was stolen on my last visit in June. I haven't replaced it, so will have to crib others' photos, alas.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

DRC: Democracy is no panacea

Writing this week for "The New Statesman", Michela Wrong, author of In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz and more recently I Didn't Do It For You, gazed with fresh eyes on the problems brewing in Kinshasa in advance of the 29 October elections.

"This is not hysteria," she writes, "the ingredients for serious trouble are all in place. A new form of xenophobia between Lingala-speaking westerners, who regard themselves as "sons of the soil", and Swahili-speaking easterners, rejected as "foreigners", is being stoked by television stations owned by the two candidates. Unpaid soldiers, whose wages are routinely pocketed by their commanders, roam at will. Both men control private armies that opened fire on each other after the first round of voting, leaving 30 dead, and have been importing weapons ahead of the coming showdown. Whoever loses is certain to denounce the results as rigged. Both Kabila and Bemba, after all, are men who owe their prominence to their readiness to take up arms, so why accept the verdict of the polls?"

She concludes, "If all hell breaks loose in the DRC after 29 October - and I desperately hope it does not - it will be tragic evidence of the damage a very human inclination to hope for the best can do."

But is exporting democracy--in this case with a $420 million price tag--the best the international community can do? Most ordinary Congolese lament the lack of tangible benefits to their individual lives and to society generally. Congo needs administrative structures, a capable bureaucratic class to operate these structures, and leaders capable of managing the mechanisms of modern statehood. Can such core necessities simply be bought? Of course not, only the Congolese can provide the human element.

Elections themselves are window dressing, all would agree, and if peaceably implemented, could lend legitimacy to Congo's status in a world of states. But as William Swing, the Secretary General's envoy to Congo, said last week in Kinshasa, if elections go well and the results are accepted by the losing party --but nothing improves in the country, then that $420 million will have been a complete waste.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Washington Post: UN reform falling flat

Yesterday the Washington Post editorial page published what amounts to an epitaph of reform efforts at the United Nations, in particular its Human Rights Council. The author described reform efforts aimed at the Council as having 'run amok', and as 'making the old one look good' ("Reform Run Amok").

The old one, we recall, sported the likes of Sudan, China and Libya as Council member states. Attention was successfully diverted from Darfur and Uzbekistan, and focused exclusively on Israeli 'atrocities' in Lebanon and Palestine. The exclusive focus on Israel was possible, according to Mallaby, thanks to Council rules allowing one-third of its membership to effectively run proceedings unilaterally. 17 of the 47 member states happen to be partisans of a so-called 'Organization of the Islamic Conference', and are thus able to sustain their screeching anti-Israel rhetoric while Darfur burns, China and Russia imprison and murder their journalists, and Guantanamo persists.

The editorialist maintains, "For all its faults, the previous U.N. commission occasionally discussed and condemned the regimes most responsible for human rights crimes, such as those in Belarus and Burma. China used to feel compelled to burnish its record before the annual meeting. The new council, in contrast, has so far taken action on only one country, which has dominated the debate at both of its regular meetings and been the sole subject of two extraordinary sessions: Israel."

"[...] Human rights groups that supported the creation of the council, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, admit to being appalled by the outcome; they nevertheless argue that the panel should be given time to right itself. That could happen, they say, if the democratic members of the council organize and work with the same cohesion as the "unfree" states. They also suggest that the United States, which refused to join the council, reconsider."

Personally, I have tended to withhold judgment on the success or failure of the UN's declared reform efforts given their sweeping and comprehensive nature. They will take time, and lots of dead wood will have to go. One can imagine many insiders will resist the process, like derelict renters facing eviction. [Having waited a full five months to get paid for a job I did for UNICEF in May of this year, I know intimately the unseemly odor and ungainly heft of the UN's administrative dead wood.] But widespread reform is urgent and imperative, and many UN careerists admit this.

Kofi Annan rightly recognized that the logical starting place was to fix one of the most glaring blemishes on the UN's tattered face, that of its infamously dysfunctional Human Rights Council. Why exactly this failed so egregiously is unclear. Mallaby recommends cutting off US funding, as happened to UNESCO in the 1980s. The UN only further undermines its waning credibility by allowing such anti-Zionist forums to abide and prosper.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

DR Congo: Amnesty Int'l claims child DDR programs are 'failing'

DDR is the process by which ex-combatants from rebel and government forces are disarmed, demobilized and reintegrated into civilian life. Those who pass certain tests are allowed to remain in the national army, the remaining adults are given a short-term stipend and some vocational training.

Minors, of whom there were an estimated 30,000 associated with armed groups in the DRC, qualify only for civilian life. They are automatically demobilized and reintegrated because their association with armed groups is prohibited by international humanitarian law and a clutch of related international treaties and conventions specific to the rights of children. The work of de-militarizing their minds and acclimating them to school, village life with their family, the poverty and monotony of the life they left behind, is still an experiment. Programs differ significantly from country to country, as new methods are tried in light of past failures. The children dont get any 'better' at the programs, and are generally very difficult to work with, in addition to being violent.

In 2005 and 2006 I've been working in and evaluating several such programs in Burundi and DR Congo. It has been fascinating, but also enormously frustrating. There is always much to criticize in any aid program. Things rarely go as planned and measuring impact in highly insecure and fluid environments is notoriously difficult.

But DDR is unlike any other aid effort because of its close links with human security and its centrality to the pacification of the country itself. It's no exaggeration to say that a poorly executed DDR program adds a new powderkeg to an already volatile situation, and can re-ignite widespread violence when participants decide to withdraw from the program. The consequences of poor performance in other types of aid programs, like emergency nutrition or medical services, do not include returning the country to war. This happened in Liberia: failed DDR programs in the late 1990s meant a return to war. A new
international commitment to bring belligerents back to the negotiating table took much time and money, and only then could another DDR program get

This week, Amnesty International released its independent investigation into the success of child DDR efforts in DR Congo, called "Children at war, creating hope for the future."

BBC covered the story, highlighting the fact that the "missing 11,000" children are girls "used as sex slaves by military commanders or regarded as dependents of adult fighters." Girls made up 40% of the children taken by armed groups during the war yet the vast majority remain unaccounted for, according to Amnesty. "A lot of them were used more as sex slaves and therefore the combatants are considering them as their possession or their wife," Amnesty researcher Veronique Albert told the BBC.

It is an accurate claim. Girls associated with armed groups--often abducted by force, sometimes joining voluntarily--have proven nearly impossible to access and get released by soldiers and rebels
alike. There are many reasons for this, most of them cultural: the end result is that many girls choose to stay with these men, with whom they now have children. Read Amnesty's press release here.

With the second round of presidential elections approaching on 29 October, I dont think the problems with the DDR program pose a great risk to a peaceful outcome. There is already enough hate speech circulating and private militias
waiting in the wings, to deliver a crippling blow to the country's recovery. Today's report about Kabila's party representatives in London getting assaulted by a mob of Bemba supporters is indicative of the overt tensions around elections.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Chad: Conflict spills over from Darfur

For the first time, heavy fighting between Sudanese rebel groups and the government of Sudan has spilled across the border from the embattled Darfur region into eastern Chad, IRIN new service reported yesterday. Previously, such clashes had involved the Chadian army in pursuit of rebels seeking to oust Chadian President Idriss Deby.

"Fighting spread into Chad after wounded fighters started scattering, according to reports. 80 of them have congregated at a refugee camp in Oure Cassoni, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.

A dozen refugee camps in eastern Chad host about 250,000 Sudanese who have fled looting, raping and killing in the neighbouring Darfur region of Sudan. At least 200,000 people have been killed in the violence in Sudan and more than 2.5 million have been displaced.

The camp at Oure Cassoni is less than 20 km from the Chad-Sudan border and 400 km northeast of the aid hub Abeche."


Monday, October 09, 2006

Darfur: Bearing witness to civilian massacres

Just when aid efforts in highly militarized zones such as Darfur begin to seem futile, their compassion a drop in an ocean of unchecked cruelty, one of their core raisons d'etre returns to view.

Reports, communiques and eye witness testimonies of civilian atrocities are one among several options in the humanitarian tool box. Sudanese government forces and their proxy militias have resumed their campaign against civilians across Darfur, and the heightened levels of violence make access and mobility difficult for aid agencies. The government claims it has returned to its rightful mission of clearing the state of insurgents. Witnesses say the attacks are indiscriminate and intended to decimate and terrorize specific civilian groups, whether they are armed or not.

An exerpt from a recent interview with operations directors of Doctors Without Borders captures the difficulties of responding effectively in Darfur, where twelve aid workers have been killed since June 2006 alone. "We are currently reaching the limits of our assistance. We do not have access to people who are directly affected by the conflict. [...] Today, the survival of populations in pockets where humanitarian assistance was still possible is jeopardized. Because of the lack of security, some of our operations in the field has been temporarily suspended, or continue with a smaller number of aid workers. Another consequence is that all our mobile medical activities, which target especially nomadic populations, had to stop."

Despite these difficulties, many agencies continue to document and report on ongoing atrocities, particularly against women. Rape of Darfuri women and girls is regular practice for government militias aiming to terrorize the population, break up families and destroy individual lives.

Documentation and public condemnation of the practice by aid agencies and human rights groups has been strident since war broke out in 2003. Government spokesmen dismiss the reports as 'Western propoganda', but will arrest aid workers involved in treating and documenting rape to dissuade them. So goes the debacle.

A UN communique today denounced the practice: "The rising rate of violence against women and children is increased by the participation of many different groups in these crimes. Warring parties seeking retribution against their opponents by inflicting humiliating punishment on civilians are flagrantly disregarding their obligations under international law. Moreover, there is scant evidence that culprits are being actively sought, let alone punished, for their crimes." [read the UN communique]

The Office for the High Commission of Human Rights, known as OHCHR, just published a detailed collection of testimonies documenting recent events in which "300 to 1000 armed militia from the Habbania Arab tribe carried out a series of attacks on some 45 villages in the Buram locality of South Darfur in late August. The attacks were reportedly marked by widespread targeting of civilians from tribes of “African” origin, wholesale burning of villages, looting and forced displacement. The population of the villages attacked is estimated to be about 10,000 people, mainly of the Zaghawa, Massalit and Misserya Jebel tribes.The attacks appear to have been conducted with the knowledge and material support of Government authorities, and the death toll is estimated to be as many as several hundred civilians."

There is one sign of hope in all this tragic reporting: at least there are people on the ground to document and bear witness to the seemingly relentless violence committed by government forces, and Darfuri rebel groups as well, against civilians.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

UN Assembly: Annan's departure speech

I've been meaning to post this for a while; it was delivered in late September in New York. It's the usual optimism about the state of the world one expects from those in high public office, none of whom seem to want to admit that the planet is going up in a pyromaniac flame-throwing frenzy. That said, I admire the man and his cause. His remarks about terrorism are interesting, and it is refreshing to be reminded that the UN is not the pious adherent of the pro-globalization orthodoxy so common on these shores. More cash for the rich does not float all boats. Here's the speech in full:

Madam President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

When I first spoke to you from this podium, in 1997, it seemed to me that humanity faced three great challenges. One was to ensure that globalization would benefit the human race as a whole, not only its more fortunate members. Another was to heal the disorder of the post-cold-war world, replacing it with a genuinely new world order of peace and freedom, as envisaged in our Charter. And the third was to protect the rights and dignity of individuals, particularly women, which were so widely trampled underfoot.

As the second African to serve as Secretary-General, I felt that all three of these challenges-- the security challenge; the development challenge; the challenge of human rights and the rule of law -- concerned me directly.

Africa was in great danger of being excluded from the benefits of globalization -- indeed, of being left to rot on the margins of the world economy. Africa was also the scene of some of the most protracted and brutal conflicts.

And many of Africa's people felt they were unjustly condemned to be exploited and oppressed, generation after generation, since colonial rule had been replaced by an inequitable economic order on the global level, and sometimes by corrupt rulers and warlords at the local level. In the decade since then, many people have been struggling to confront these three global challenges.

Much has been achieved, but events have also presented us with new challenges -- or rather, have given the old ones new form, or a sharper bite.

In the economic arena, both globalization and growth have continued apace. Some developing countries, notably in Asia, have played a major role in this growth. Many millions of their people have thereby been released from the prison of perpetual poverty. Meanwhile, at the level of development policy, the debate has advanced, moving from rival models to agreed targets. And the world has now recognized HIV/AIDS as a major challenge to development, and begun to confront it. I am proud of the role the United Nations has played in this.

Development, and the Millennium Development Goals, now take pride of place in all our work. But let's not delude ourselves. The Asian miracle is yet to be replicated in other parts of the world. And even within the most dynamic Asian countries, its benefits are far from equally shared. By the same token, the Millennium Goals are unlikely to be achieved everywhere by 2015.

True, in many developing countries there is now a much better understanding of what good governance is, and why it's important. But many still fall short of it in practice. True, there is progress on debt relief, as well as encouraging promises on aid and investment. But the 'global partnership for development' is still more phrase than fact -- especially in the all-important area of trade. My friends, globalization is not a tide that lifts all boats. Even among those who the statistics tell us are benefiting, many are deeply insecure, and strongly resent the apparent complacency of those more fortunate than themselves. So globalization, which in theory brings us all closer together, in practice risks driving us further apart. Are we any more secure against the second challenge -- the ravages of war?

Again, some statistics would tell us so. There are fewer inter-state conflicts than there used to be; and many civil wars have ended. Here too, I am proud of the United Nations' role in this. And I am proud of what my fellow Africans have achieved in ending many of the conflicts that disfigured our continent. But here too, we should be under no illusion.

In far too many parts of the world -- especially the developing world -- people are still exposed to brutal conflicts, fought with small but deadly weapons. And people in all parts of the world are threatened -- though some are more aware of it than others -- by the spread of weapons of mass destruction. It is shameful that last year's Summit Outcome does not contain even one word about non-proliferation and disarmament, basically because states could not agree which of the two should be given priority. It is high time to end this dispute, and tackle both tasks with the urgency they demand. Moreover, just as some who benefit from globalization may feel threatened by it, so, many who are statistically safer from conflict do not feel safe.

For that, we have terrorism to thank. It kills and maims relatively few people, compared to other forms of violence and conflict. But it spreads fear and insecurity. And that in turn drives people to huddle together with those who share their beliefs or their way of life, while shunning those who appear 'alien'.

Thus, at the very time when international migration has brought millions of people of different creed or culture to live as fellow-citizens, the misconceptions and stereotypes underlying the idea of a 'clash of civilizations' have come to be more and more widely shared; and insensitivity towards other people's beliefs or sacred symbols -- intentional or otherwise -- is seized upon by those who seem eager to foment a new war of religion, this time on a global scale. Moreover, this climate of fear and suspicion is constantly refuelled by the violence in the Middle East.

We might like to think of the Arab-Israeli conflict as just one regional conflict amongst many. But it is not. No other conflict carries such a powerful symbolic and emotional charge among people far removed from the battlefield. As long as the Palestinians live under occupation, exposed to daily frustration and humiliation; and as long as Israelis are blown up in buses and in dance-halls: so long will passions everywhere be inflamed.

On one side, supporters of Israel feel that it is harshly judged, by standards that are not applied to its enemies -- and too often this is true, particularly in some UN bodies.

On the other side, people are outraged by the disproportionate use of force against the Palestinians, and by Israel's continued occupation and confiscation of Arab land. As long as the Security Council is unable to end this conflict, and the now nearly 40-year-old occupation, by bringing both sides to accept and implement its resolutions, so long will respect for the United Nations continue to decline.

So long, too, will our impartiality be questioned. So long will our best efforts to resolve other conflicts be resisted, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan, whose peoples need our help just as badly, and are entitled to it. And so long will our devoted and courageous staff, instead of being protected by the blue flag, find themselves exposed to rage and violence, provoked by policies they neither control nor support.

But what about the third great challenge facing humanity: the challenge of the rule of law, and our rights and dignity as human beings? Here, too, there has been significant progress. More rights have been enshrined in international treaties -- and this Assembly is now about to codify the rights of a group who particularly need it: people who suffer from handicaps and disabilities. More governments today are elected by, and are accountable to, those whom they govern.

Humanity has actually brought to justice some of those who committed the most heinous crimes against it. And this Assembly, meeting last year at the highest level, has solemnly proclaimed the responsibility -- of each individual State in the first instance, but ultimately of the whole international community, acting through the United Nations to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. And yet.

And yet. Every day, reports reach us of new laws broken; of new bestial crimes to which individuals and minority groups are subjected. Even the necessary and legitimate struggle around the world against terrorism is used as a pretext to abridge or abrogate fundamental human rights, thereby ceding moral ground to the terrorists and helping them find new recruits. Sadly, once again the biggest challenge comes from Africa --from Darfur, where the continued spectacle of men, women and children driven from their homes by murder, rape and the burning of their villages makes a mockery of our claim, as an international community, to shield people from the worst abuses. In short, Madam President, the events of the last ten years have not resolved, but sharpened, the three great challenges I spoke of an unjust world economy, world disorder, and widespread contempt for human rights and the rule of law. As a result, we face a world whose divisions threaten the very notion of an international community, upon which this institution stands.

And this is happening at the very time when, more than ever before, human beings throughout the world form a single society. So many of the challenges we face are global. They demand a global response, in which all peoples must play their part.

I deliberately say 'all peoples', echoing the preamble of our Charter, and not 'all states'. It was clear to me ten years ago, and is even clearer now, that international relations are not a matter of States alone. They are relations between peoples, in which so-called 'non-state actors' play a vital role, and can make a vital contribution. All must play their part in a true multilateral world order, with a renewed, dynamic United Nations at its centre. Yes, I remain convinced that the only answer to this divided world must be a truly United Nations. Climate change, HIV/AIDS, fair trade, migration, human rights -- all these issues, and many more, bring us back to that point.

Addressing each is indispensable for each of us in our village, in our neighbourhood, and in our country. Yet each has acquired a global dimension that can only be reached by global action, agreed and coordinated through this most universal of institutions. What matters is that the strong, as well as the weak, agree to be bound by the same rules, to treat each other with the same respect. What matters is that all peoples accept the need to listen; to compromise; to take each other's views into account. What matters is that they come together, not at cross purposes but with a common purpose: a common purpose - to shape their common destiny. And that can only happen if peoples are bound together by something more than just a global market, or even a set of global rules.

Each of us must share the pain of all who suffer, and the joy of all who hope, wherever in the world they may live. Each of us must earn the trust of his fellow men and women, no matter what their race, colour or creed, and learn to trust them in turn. That is what the founders of this Organization believed in. It is what I believe in. It is what the vast majority of people in this world want to believe in. And that is what has spurred the reforms and new ideas of the United Nations over the last frenetic decade.

From peacekeeping to peacebuilding, from human rights to development and humanitarian relief, I have been lucky enough to preside over the Secretariat -- and its wonderful, devoted staff at a time when your ambitions for the Organization have sometimes seemed limitless -- although your pocket books less so. These last few weeks, especially, as I travelled through the Middle East, I saw again the legitimacy and the reach of the United Nations. Its indispensable role in securing the peace in Lebanon has reminded us all how powerful this Organization can be, when everyone wants it to succeed.

Madam President, dear friends: This is the last time I shall have the honour of presenting my annual report to this Assembly. Let me conclude by thanking you all for allowing me to serve as Secretary-General during this remarkable decade. Together we have pushed some big rocks to the top of the mountain, even if others have slipped from our grasp and rolled back. But this mountain with its bracing winds and global views is the best place on earth to be. It's been difficult and challenging, but at times thrillingly rewarding. And while I look forward to resting my shoulder from those stubborn rocks in the next phase of my life, I know I shall miss the mountain. Yes, I shall miss what is, when all is said and done, the world's most exalting job. I yield my place to others with an obstinate feeling, a real obstinate feeling of hope for our common future. Thank you very much.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Peacekeeping missions extended in Liberia, DRC, Ethiopia/Eritrean border

The UN Security Council voted unanimously today to extend the mandates of the United Nations peacekeeping missions in Eritrea and Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Liberia, which would have otherwise expired at the end of this month.

Council members adopted resolutions extending the UN Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE), the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (known by its French acronym MONUC), and the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). UNMEE has been extended until 31 January 2007, MONUC’s authority continues through 15 February 2007 and the mandate of UNMIL is now extended until 31 March 2007.

Read the full press release here.

The three peacekeeping contexts face very different challenges, yet all are equally central to building environments conducive to reconstruction and regional stability. All three contexts form each a unique epicenter of far-reaching regional tensions and cross-border interference that have caused much suffering and little political gain for the last 10 - 15 years.

How Charles Taylor's Liberia and Congo's conflict destabilized their respective regions and claimed millions of lives are well known. Less covered in the popular press is the degree to which Eritrea and Ethiopia have competed for dominant influence in both the Sudanese conflict (North & South, Darfur, and more recently the East), and in Somalia. There, Eritrea reportedly backs the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) while Ethiopia supports the feeble regime of President Ghedi, a product of western-financed mediations in Nairobi over the last 8 years. That Ghedi has been calling for a return of UN peacekeepers further allies him to the detested international community.

Congo will surely need the peacekeepers through 2007 to help control the probable violence that will follow the 29 October electoral showdown between presidential hopefuls Kabila and Bemba. International Crisis Group just released a report about the 'state of the state' in the buildup to this important date in Congolese history.

"Because both Kabila and Bemba will be tempted to use violence should they lose the second round, and the former in particular is very strong militarily, the Congolese government and the international community must move quickly to make secure the run-off as well as the provincial assembly elections on 29 October. Militias also threaten stability elsewhere in the country, notably in North Kivu and Ituri, but the capital is likely to be the most sensitive location again."

Read more from the ICG report here.

Take a tour: Kim Gjerstad's Congo

Check out this blog from Kinshasa by Kim Gjerstad, whom I've met a couple of times. The photos are particularly impressive. Images from the Ruwenzori mountains, long inaccessible because of insecurity, are stunning. Also see his photos from Salonga national parks (I&II), which few outsiders have ever visited owing to their geographic inaccessibility deep in the center of the country where roads have long been reclaimed by nature.

Here's yesterday's posting.

Street Kids Get Political and Get Locked Up

Top: street kids rioted in town two weeks ago.
Bottom: they've been catching them and locking them up since.

Kim writes: "Life without street kids is awesome. Last week, my flat mate, Tim, and I discovered the joy of walking free. Kinshasa’s main throughway, the infamous Boulevard 30 Juin, was peaceful. “The city feels like a normal city!” cried out Tim. So fine it was, we went for pleasure stroll, the first in three years."

Yes, you read that correctly. Kinshasa is not yet a place for the defenseless pedestrian. Nor has it been since 1991, the first time (of many) that I've been evacuated from there.

[read/see more here]

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Images from Mogadishu

Some more photos from the NYT Sunday article on life in Mogadishu and changes since the takeover by the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC).

The former Mogadishu municipality buildings built by Italy in the late 1920's are now destroyed and riddled with bullet holes.

Military recruits jog in formation during an exercise. Former fighters allied to the warlords who previously ran Mogadishu now train at a military camp run by the Islamists.

A boy lays out in front of Mogadishu's largest mosque, The Islamic Solidarity Mosque, seen in the distance.

Photos: Jehad Nga for the NY Times

This BBC map shows UIC areas of control after the taking of Kismayo, and the enclave that remains of Baidoa, where Ethiopian troops are currently coming to the aid of President Ghedi, who was chased from the capital earlier this year.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Somalia: Islamists pacify Mogadishu; setbacks in Kismayo

It may be premature to pronounce on 'peace returning to Mogadishu', but the recent gains in territory by the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC--yes, they're on the US terrorist list) are offering enough stability for local commerce and schooling to resume at a level unseen in years. Primary schools are mixed gender, and soccer is allowed--not what anyone expected from the UIC, who were tagged with the Taliban label early on.

Yet extremist elements are still prevalent in areas under UIC control. Witness the murder of an Italian nun in a Mog hospital last week, an apparent retaliation for the Pope's citation of a 1500 year-old quote about Islam.

Yesterday the NY Times covered life under the UIC:

"... It is hard to imagine that this is Mogadishu, the same Mogadishu of “Black Hawk Down,” and clan against clan and 15 years of anarchy. But over the past three months, the Islamists in control here have defied international expectations — in many ways. Not only have they pacified one of the most dangerous cities in the world, they also seem to have moderated their message."

“Nobody knows where we’re headed,” said Ahmed Mohammed Ali, chairman of a Mogadishu human rights organization. But, he added, the Islamists “pacified this place and brought the clans together. Whatever you think about them,” he said, “you can’t overlook that.”

This morning in Kismayo, the second largest city about 500km south of Mog, UIC troops entered and took the town unopposed. Civilians gathered to welcome their arrival, but well-armed local khat traders organized a protest, which turned violent.

UIC plans to ban the lucrative khat trade, and the daily supply flights from Nairobi that keep the population munching on the bitter green twigs. The US military tried to shut down the khat trade when they arrived in 1992 (setting fire to tons of the stuff) and triggered the hatred of Somalis that would ultimately drive them from the country in shame. Perhaps the Islamists will offer some sort of compromise.

Also this morning, dozens of trucks carrying Ethiopian troops rolled across the border towards Baidoa, the residence in exile for the beleaguered Somali President who suffered an assassination attempt last week. I'm very curious to see how the region would respond a possible confrontation between Ethiopian troops and the local Islamists. My Somali taxi drivers here in Washington are already seething with rage at the audacity of their Ethiopian neighbors.