Tag Archives: Africa

Tough Times for the ICC

What just happened? And does it confirm that the ICC has it out for African leaders?

One reason is that every indictment issued by the ICC has been in Africa. The court’s jurisdiction is somewhat hobbled by the non-participation or non-cooperation of many countries, most notably the United States. But the fact remains that Africa has been the focus of a court based in Europe, and given that memories of colonialism are in some places still fresh and very raw, that raises hackles.

via the Atlantic.com

Or, more likely, does this reveal “a fundamental flaw” in the institution, namely that universal jurisdiction doesn’t exist–making it impossible to have individual enforcement–as noted by Nesrine Malik in The Guardian.

The ICC has hit a wall as South Africa appears to have allowed Omar al-Bashir leave the country, avoiding arrest. This international institution “will only be as relevant as the international community allows it to be,” according to Alex Whiting, a law professor at Harvard and former ICC prosecutor–quoted by Somini Sengupta in the NYT.

See Omar al-Bashir Case Shows International Criminal Court’s Limitations – The New York Times.

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Sudanese Negotiations Require Compromise on All Sides

A complicated negotiation for the future of Sudan appears to stall:

Yet some analysts question whether the divided Sudanese government can, or even really wants to, reach a deal right now.

“The question is whether the government of Sudan, comprised of the ruling National Congress Party, the military and National Security under President Bashir, is cohesive to make the bold steps, which involve politically difficult sacrifices,” said Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation.

With the end of the rainy season, fighting is expected to resume. Commanders in the Sudanese Army still believe that a military victory over the rebels is possible, and they seem to want to delay negotiations until further gains can be made.

Another problem is the dizzying number of competing interests in a country awash in rebel movements.

via A Moment of Optimism on Sudan Peace Fades as New Talks Approach – NYTimes.com.

The type of agreement that Ambassador Princeton Lyman writes about is missing in the current talks as events on the ground have become complex and numerous actors make agreements hard to come by.


Foreign Policy and USIP’s PeaceGame | A Discussion SIM focusing on Northern Nigeria



Take a look at the simulation #PeaceGame run by the US Institute for Peace and Foreign Policy magazine. The camerawork isn’t so great but the concept is interesting–sort of like a group discussion on a critical issue–but without (too many) dilatory motions:

From where does the first spark of what becomes violent extremism come? Is it poverty and lack of economic opportunity, or the twisting of religious doctrine to meet less than holy ends, or simmering frustration with political corruption and disenfranchisement?


… we’re asking some of the best minds we could find what the international community might do to about the economic and political drivers stoking the fire of Boko Haram, the militant Islamist group that has found infamy for its campaign of brutal murder, kidnapping, and intimidation in Nigeria.


So how does this work? We’ve assigned our assembled experts roles to play, from international organizations, to local leaders, to Boko Haram itself, and told them to fight it out in search of the best possible solution, based on their self-interests in two scenarios. Then they’ll break character and talk about what happened and why.

via Watch Live: Foreign Policy and USIP’s PeaceGame |.

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Missing the Real Africa Story

We are missing the big picture–and the main stories of Africa’s rise, including three clashes, according to David Brooks: pluralism, human development and governance.  But since “too many of our images of Africa are derived from nature documentaries, fund-raising appeals, and mission trips” we miss the mark.

But this is more or less the opposite of the truth. Boko Haram is not the main story in Africa or even in Nigeria. It is a small rear-guard reaction to the main story. The main story in Africa is an impressive surge of growth, urbanization and modernization, which has sparked panic in a few people who don’t like these things.

Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are growing at a phenomenal clip. Nigeria’s economy grew by 6.7 percent in 2012. Mozambique’s grew by 7.4 percent, Ghana’s by 7.9 percent. Economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole is predicted to reach 5.2 percent this year. Investment funds are starting up by the dozen, finding local entrepreneurs.

via The Real Africa – NYTimes.com.


Keep in mind that “bad news sells”–in the case of reporting, donors and even international organizations, as Karen Rothmyer writes in CJR. Stereotypes and outdated frames, such as Africa as a country and all the other images of blood diamonds, conflicts, and even groups like Boko Haram, dominate the narrative.

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Africa without Colonialism and Other Revealing Maps

African politco-tribal units circa 1844

What if colonialism didn’t happen in Africa? Rachel Strohm explores this  theoretically-expansive 19th century map by Nikolaj Cyon and asks:

I haven’t been able to find any firm documentation on the origin of the name Alkebu-lan, although a variety of questionably sourced websites suggest that it’s an Arabic phrase meaning “land of the blacks” – supposedly an original name for Africa.  Cyon notes in a presentation that the map represents the culmination of an alternate history where the Black Plague killed significantly more Europeans than was actually the case, presumably reducing the amount of early colonization which would have occurred.  Thus, while many of these territorial groupings appear feasible to me, it’s unclear if they represent the real extent of various ethnic groups in 1844.

via The colonization counterfactual | Rachel Strohm.

Another map, referenced in a remarkable post with “40 maps that explain the world” by Max Fisher illustrate the location of today’s 30 million slaves live–including a good number in Africa, pre-colonial African empires–including the West African Imperial Systems, and the diverse languages of Africa.

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What Made Nelson Mandela Such a Powerful Statesman?

Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s Liberator as Prisoner and President, Dies at 95 - NYTimes.com

Consider this answer to the most frequently asked question about how Mandela could forgive his enemies so easily:

And as president, from 1994 to 1999, he devoted much energy to moderating the bitterness of his black electorate and to reassuring whites with fears of vengeance.

The explanation for his absence of rancor, at least in part, is that Mr. Mandela was that rarity among revolutionaries and moral dissidents: a capable statesman, comfortable with compromise and impatient with the doctrinaire.

When the question was put to Mr. Mandela in an interview for this obituary in 2007 — after such barbarous torment, how do you keep hatred in check? — his answer was almost dismissive: Hating clouds the mind. It gets in the way of strategy. Leaders cannot afford to hate.

via Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s Liberator as Prisoner and President, Dies at 95 – NYTimes.com.

Mandela’s strategic vision was unpolluted.  As Paul J. H. Shoemaker of Wharton points out, three key decisions illustrated his brilliant leadership capacity.  By turning down Presiden’t Botha’s amnesty offer, making peace after Chris Hani’s assassination, and foregoing a second term, this “master of symbolism” reinforced his larger goals “by being magnanimous toward his former enemies.”

According to Jena McGregor in WaPo last summer, Mandela had mastered many of the other related skills of leadership–including letting people take credit for his own ideas, play the role, and even to avoid grandstanding (take note politicos and diplomats):

“Long speeches, the shaking of fists, the banging of tables and strongly worded resolutions out of touch with the objective conditions do not bring about mass action and can do a great deal of harm to the organisation and the struggle we serve.” (Presidential address to the ANC Transvaal Congress, also known as the “No Easy Walk to Freedom” speech, Transvaal, South Africa, Sept. 21, 1953)

Don’t forget that he fought with vigor against violent, determined, and historically-justified opponents–seen through this series of posters and the Frontline biopic, The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela. It makes you appreciate his courage and kindness even more–and illustrates so clearly what a statesman really is.

Also, take a look at the Voice of Mandela NYT interactive feature–a treasure of historical inspiration and rhetorical power.

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ICC Changes the Rules

Can justice be negotiated? In the case of a visible, head-of-state trial for the President of Kenya, the answer appears to be yes:

After intense bargaining among the 122 countries that adhere to the court, the decision was: Bend, but up to a point. The assembly of nations that oversees the court has agreed to special rules for any defendant who performs “extraordinary public duties at the highest national level.”

via International Criminal Court Wrestles With Applying Law, or Bending – NYTimes.com.


State Dept. Calls Group in Nigeria Terrorists – NYTimes.com

What can a label do?  In the case of an African group the answer is, “a lot.”  The back and forth internal government discussions result in Boko Haram being labeled a “terrorist group” with numerous implications.  From the dissenting view:

But other officials cautioned that Boko Haram did not pose an immediate threat to the United States, and that Americans and American interests could be targeted by the group as a result of the designation.The designation “would internationalize Boko Haram, legitimize abuses by Nigeria’s security services, limit the State Department’s latitude in shaping a long-term strategy and undermine the U.S. government’s ability to receive effective independent analysis from the region,” a group of 25 scholars wrote in a letter sent last year to Hillary Rodham Clinton, then secretary of state.

via State Dept. Calls Group in Nigeria Terrorists – NYTimes.com.

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Post-Attack in Kenya

What will the impact of the Shabab attract be for Nairobi? Jeffrey Gettleman, the East Africa NYT Bureau Chief explains:

I had this sinking feeling that when the Shabab finally gave up any hope of ruling Somalia, they would strike Nairobi. They had been reluctant before, because Nairobi was their back office, where the white-collar Shabab lived, the accountants, financiers and logisticians. The instant they hit here, the Shabab leaders knew, Nairobi’s Somali community would fall under such intense pressure and scrutiny that it would be impossible to do business



What Kenya Needs

Is the ICC the best hope for Kenya? Some suggest that re-opening old wounds may reduce Kenya’s stability and security.

But the record is clear and there should be no doubt: it was the Kenyan government’s own failure to provide justice to the victims and their survivors that paved the way to the I.C.C., a court of last resort. These trials also do not reflect the court’s unfair targeting of Africa, as has been alleged. Instead they are the first steps toward a sustainable peace that Kenyans want, deeply, and can only be assured of if their leaders are not above the law.

A long road lies ahead. The I.C.C. cases are not a comprehensive solution to Kenya’s impunity crisis. Kenya’s authorities must also act to investigate and prosecute additional cases connected to the 2007-8 violence. Making clear that no one is above the law is essential to combat decades of the use of violence for political ends by Kenya’s political elite.

via Justice for Kenya – NYTimes.com.