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The Blog

Archive | The Blog

South Sudan and Darfur

Gold mine workers run for cover during a sand storm in River Nile State, July 30, 2013. Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters

Foreign Affairs published on 1 May 2014 an eclectic piece titled “Out for Gold and Blood in Sudan” by Jerome Tubiana, analyst for Sudan and South Sudan. The article offers especially useful information on the Sudan government sponsored Haras-al-Hodud or border guard in Darfur. Concerning Darfur, Tubiana concludes that “it would be reductive to simply blame the government’s militia strategy. There is plenty of blame to go around. The government, the rebels, and all the other players need to work together to stop the violence in all Sudan’s peripheries.”

Tubiana also gave an interview titled “Soudan du Sud” in French to Channel Africa dated 25 April 2014 on the difficulties of the South Sudan peace process and the consequences of the war on South Sudan.

Afghan Preliminary Election Results Expected

Abdullah Abdullah

Preliminary results from Afghanistan’s presidential election are due to be announced, three weeks after the vote was held. Earlier partial results put former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah ahead with 43.8% of votes cast, short of the 50% needed to avoid a run-off. The BBC’s David Loyn in Kabul says there are increasing claims of fraud. Final official results are due to be announced on 14 May after a period for adjudication of complaints.

Incumbent President Hamid Karzai is barred from standing for a third term. Eight candidates are vying to succeed him. If none gains more than 50%, a second round between the two frontrunners is scheduled for 28 May. Saturday’s announcement will come two days after full preliminary results were expected to have been declared.

Our correspondent says the continuing delay is increasing suspicion that the result is being manipulated. There are allegations on all sides that ballot boxes were stuffed and that the count itself was rigged, he says. When 80% of votes were counted, Mr. Abdullah’s main rival Ashraf Ghani - a former World Bank economist - was in second place with 32.9% of the vote.

A second-round vote could be avoided if a power-sharing deal is struck between the two leading candidates. However, both men have vowed to fight on if a run-off is required. “We have not talked or negotiated with anyone about forming a coalition government,” Mr. Abdullah told reporters after Thursday’s results.

Millions of Afghans defied Taliban threats to take part in the election. Turnout was double that of the previous presidential election in 2009, despite a number of attacks in the run-up and bad weather on polling day. The next president will face several challenging issues, including the expected withdrawal of foreign combat troops from Afghanistan later this year and attacks by the Taliban.

Chinese Direct Investment in Africa

Chinese workers

Thierry Pairault recently published a good analysis titled “Chinese Direct Investment in Africa: A State Strategy?” in Region et Developpment. He reviews available statistical and informational databases in order to analyze the actual importance of Chinese direct investment in Africa and to infer its strategic importance. He reaches a series of conclusions, including that China does nothing that the rest of the world has not already done or would not do in its place.

Government Report: One Fifth of China’s Soil Contaminated

A woman wears a mask while riding a bicycle on the street during severe pollution on January 23, 2013 in Beijing, China

Almost a fifth of China’s soil is contaminated, an official study released by the government has shown. Conducted between 2005-2013, it found that 16.1% of China’s soil and 19.4% of its arable land showed contamination. The report, by the Environmental Protection Ministry, named cadmium, nickel and arsenic as top pollutants.

There is growing concern, both from the government and the public, that China’s rapid industrialization is causing irreparable damage to its environment. The study took samples across an area of 6.3 million square kilometres, two-thirds of China’s land area. “The survey showed that it is hard to be optimistic about the state of soil nationwide,” the ministry said in a statement on its website. “Due to long periods of extensive industrial development and high pollutant emissions, some regions have suffered deteriorating land quality and serious soil pollution.”

Because of the “grim situation,” the state would implement measures including a “soil pollution plan” and better legislation. Levels of pollution ranged from slight to severe. About 82.8% of the polluted land was contaminated by inorganic materials, with levels noticeably higher than the previous survey between 1986 and 1990, Xinhua news agency quoted the report as saying. “Pollution is severe in three major industrial zones, the Yangtze River Delta in east China, the Pearl River Delta in south China and the northeast corner that used to be a heavy industrial hub,” the agency said. The report had previously been classified as a state secret because of its sensitivity.

There is growing fear in China over the effect that modernization has had on the country’s air, water and soil. The central government has promised to make tackling the issue a top priority - but vested interests and lax enforcement of regulations at local level make this challenging. The public, meanwhile, have become increasingly vocal - both on the issue of smog and, in several cases, by taking to the streets to protest against the proposed construction of chemical plants in their cities.

Africa in China’s Foreign Policy

China in Africa

Brookings published in April 2014 an extensive analysis titled “Africa in China’s Foreign Policy” by Yun Sun, a fellow at the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington. The author notes that given the low priority of Africa in China’s foreign policy agenda, African issues rarely reach the highest level of foreign policy decision making in the Chinese bureaucratic apparatus. She also emphasizes, correctly in my view, that there is a constant tension between the narrow, mercantilist pursuit of economic interests in Africa and that pursuit’s impact on the overall health of the Sino-African relationship and China’s international image.

AFRICOM Goes to War on the Sly

Senegalese forces train with U.S. Marines. The U.S. military is now conducting exercises and operations with virtually every African military

Foreign Policy in Focus reprinted a piece on 15 April 2014 titled “AFRICOM Goes to War on the Sly” by Nick Turse, managing editor of TomDispatch.com. Although the title of the article in my view overstates the role of the U.S. military in Africa, the piece does pull together wide ranging, if limited, U.S. military activity in Africa.

The author concludes that the U.S. military is “pivoting to Africa.” (As compared to earlier years, yes; as compared to Asia, no.) He notes the the U.S. military averages far more than a mission a day on the continent, conducting operations with almost every African military force, in almost every African country, while building or building up camps, compounds, and contingency security locations. While the author identifies U.S. military activity in a significant number of African countries, the overwhelming majority of Africa’s 54 countries are not mentioned in the article.

Kiev Begins “Anti-Terrorist” Operations in the East

Ukraine's military

Ukrainian units

The “anti-terrorist” campaign, ordered by interim President Oleksander Turchynov is finally underway. He told the Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday that operations began in the eastern Donestk region. According to Turchynov, the Russian Federation wants Ukraine to be on fire. Voice of America quoted Turchynov, who spoke to the parliament early on Tuesday. “Plans of the Russian Federation were and remain brutal. They want not only Donbas [the Donetsk region] to be on fire. They want the whole south and east of Ukraine to be on fire – from Kharkiv region to Odessa region,” Turchynov said at the parliament session in Kyiv.

The operations would be executed in phases. “But it will be carried out stage by stage, responsibly and cautiously. The aim of these actions – I underline it one more time – is to protect the citizens of Ukraine, to stop terror, and to stop criminality, stop attempts to tear Ukraine to pieces,” he added. President Turchynov confirmed the offense was finally underway. The plan was announced and launched on Sunday but no Ukrainian soldiers nor SBU officers were seen conducting operations.

A Reuters correspondent in Sloviasnk reported that there was no shot fired or explosions so far on Tuesday. Around twelve Cossacks were seen proudly standing guard at the mayor’s office and approximately the same amount of civilians were seen establishing more defensive positions using tires and wooden crates outside the occupied local police headquarters. Western leaders have arraigned Moscow of being the instigator of the recent pro-Russian uprising in eastern Ukraine, which was quickly dismissed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Moscow has also denied the allegation of Russian Special Service agents’ were engaged in the protests stating it was “speculations based on unreliable information.”

Russian Fighter Jet Buzzes the USS Donald Cook

USS Donald Cook

USS Donald Cook

US military official confirmed a Russian SU-24 has made multiple, close-range passes near the USS Donald Cook (DDG-75), an Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer equipped with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System. “This provocative and unprofessional Russian action is inconsistent with international protocols and previous agreements of a professional interaction between our militaries,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said.

In fact, the Russian fighter jets flew within 900 meters of the destroyer at about 500 feet above AMSL. The captain of the Donald Cook issued several radios warning to the fighter jet. A total of 12 passes over the course of 90 minutes were made. A second SU-24 was in the area but did not do any close-range provocative passes. Fortunately, the Russian jets appeared to be unarmed and the passes concluded without any major incidents. The USS Donald Cook is presently operating in international waters east of the Romanian coast. The destroyer arrived in the area on April 10th to reassure NATO allies after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The SU-24 is a long-range strike/attack aircraft and not specifically a fighter jet as most of other media called it. It can carry various type of armaments.

Chinese Merchant Gateways for Ivory and Rhino Horns

Ivory tusks

Pambazuka News published on 10 April 2014 an investigative report titled “Chinese Merchant Gateways for Ivory and Rhino Horns” by Hongxiang Huang, a Chinese journalist, and Oxpeckers, a center for investigative environmental journalists. The report focuses on Chinese merchants in southern African involved in the illegal purchase of ivory and rhino horn. This authors visited capital cities and the Zambezi border region where five southern African countries intersect.

Religious Diversity in East Africa and the Horn

Horn of Africa

The Pew Research Center published on 4 April 2014 a study on Global Religious Diversity. It gives a score to all countries of the world on their degree of religious diversity. Higher scores indicate higher diversity. The 10-point scoring system designates countries with scores of 7.0 and higher (the top 5 percent) as having a very high degree of religious diversity. Countries with scores from 5.3 to 6.9 percent (the next highest 15 percent of scores) have a high level of diversity. Countries with scores from 3.1 to 5.2 (the following 20 percent of scores) have moderate diversity. The remaining countries have low diversity.

South Sudan (6.0), Tanzania (5.7), Ethiopia (5.6) and Eritrea (5.4) have high religious diversity. Kenya (3.1) has moderate diversity. Uganda (2.7), Sudan (2.0), Djibouti (0.7), and Somalia (0.1) have low diversity. The study also provides the percentage of different religions for each country.

U.S. Senators back Release of CIA Abuse Details

George W. Bush

The US Senate Intelligence Committee has voted to recommend declassification of part of its report into “brutal” interrogation methods used by the CIA when questioning terror suspects. But officials say it will be some time before the summary is made public. Leaked parts of the report said that the CIA often misled the government over its interrogation methods when George W Bush was president. The CIA disputes some of the findings, saying the report contains errors. Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein said that it had voted 11-3 to declassify what she called the “shocking” results of the investigation. “The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation. It chronicles a stain on our history that must never be allowed to happen again. This is not what Americans do,” the California Democrat said.

Correspondents say that while some of the committee’s Republicans voted with the Democrats in favour of declassifying the report, it was clear there were bitter divides within the panel. Georgia Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss said that while he voted for the report’s declassification “to get it behind us,” it was still “a waste of time.”

A statement released by Ms. Feinstein said that the report highlighted “major problems” with the CIA’s management of its secret Detention and Interrogation Programme, which involved more than 100 detainees. “This is also deeply troubling and shows why oversight of intelligence agencies in a democratic nation is so important,” the statement said. “The release of this summary and conclusions in the near future shows that this nation admits its errors, as painful as they may be, and seeks to learn from them. It is now abundantly clear that, in an effort to prevent further terrorist attacks after 9/11 and bring those responsible to justice, the CIA made serious mistakes that haunt us to this day.”

The statement said that the full 6,200-page report - which took five years to compile - has been updated and will be declassified at a later time. It said that the executive summary, findings and conclusions - which total more than 500 pages - will be sent to President Barack Obama for declassification review and subsequent public release. Leaks of the report in the Washington Post on Tuesday said that the CIA used secret “black sites” to interrogate prisoners using techniques not previously acknowledged. These included dunking suspects in icy water and smashing a prisoner’s head against a wall. Officials said that the CIA’s interrogation programme yielded little useful intelligence and was not helpful in the hunt for al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden or anything else of value.

U.S. Outraged Over Iran’s ‘Hostage-Taker’ Envoy to the United Nations

Hassan Rouhani

The Obama administration says Iran’s nomination of a former hostage-taker as its ambassador to the United Nations is “extremely troubling.” US senators have also balked at Iran’s pick of Hamid Aboutalebi, who was part of a Muslim student group, which seized the US embassy in Tehran in 1979. The 52 Americans were held for 444 days during the crisis.

Senator Ted Cruz says he will introduce legislation to block Iran’s application for a US visa for Mr. Aboutalebi. Department of State spokeswoman Marie Harf said at Wednesday’s daily briefing: “I will say that we think this nomination would be extremely troubling. We’re taking a close look at the case now, and we’ve raised our serious concerns about this possible nomination with the government of Iran.” Mr. Aboutalebi has reportedly said he had minimal involvement in the hostage-taking group, named the Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line. Officials for Iran’s Mission to the United Nations have so far declined to comment.

Mr. Cruz, a Texas Republican, said on the Senate floor on Tuesday: “It is unconscionable that in the name of international diplomatic protocol, the United States would be forced to host a foreign national who showed a brutal disregard of the status of diplomats when they were stationed in his country.” He added, “This person is an acknowledged terrorist.”

His legislation would require US President Barack Obama to deny a visa to any UN applicant determined to have engaged in terrorist activity. Fellow Republican Senator John McCain called Mr. Aboutalebi’s appointment “a really kind of an in-your-face action by the Iranian government,” the Associated Press news agency reports.

NATO to Meet on Steps to Pressure Russia

Russia has said the troops deployed along its border with Ukraine are taking part in military exercises

NATO foreign ministers are due to discuss ways to help Ukraine and reassure allies in Eastern Europe, at a meeting in Brussels. It is the first time ministers from the 28 member states have convened since Russia’s takeover of Crimea caused a diplomatic crisis. NATO has bolstered annual air drills being held over Baltic countries later. Meanwhile, Russia has reportedly ordered a partial withdrawal of its troops from the border with Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel he had ordered the move in a telephone conversation on Monday, according to the German government. Thousands of Russian soldiers are still said to be deployed along the eastern border of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russian energy firm Gazprom is increasing the price it charges Ukraine for gas from Tuesday. Gazprom Alexei Miller said last month that Kiev had failed to pay its bills, believed to be more than $1.5bn (ÂŁ900,000).

NATO foreign ministers are expected to discuss the formal suspension of co-operation with Moscow at the Brussels meeting. In a statement, the alliance said ministers would speak to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia about ways to support Ukraine with its defence reforms. They are also expected to look at options including situating permanent military bases in the Baltic States to reassure members in Eastern Europe.

Russia’s actions in Ukraine have rattled nerves in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which were part of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. NATO jets will take part in air patrols in the region later in a routine exercise that analysts say has taken on added significance due to the crisis. Several NATO countries, including the UK, US and France, have offered additional warplanes.

Earlier, Ukraine condemned a visit to Crimea by Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and a delegation of government ministers. A foreign ministry spokesman in Kiev said the highest-level trip to the Black Sea peninsula by officials from Moscow since its annexation by Russia was a “crude violation” of international rules. Crimeans voted to leave Ukraine for Russia on 16 March, in a referendum condemned as illegal by the UN General Assembly.

Mr. Medvedev announced that he would make Crimea a special economic zone, with tax breaks and reduced bureaucracy to attract investors. He also vowed to quickly boost salaries and pensions, and to improve education, healthcare and local infrastructure.

Tensions between Russia and the West rose after the overthrow of pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February, following months of street protests. Russia’s subsequent decision to annex Crimea triggered a crisis in relations. The US and the EU have imposed sanctions on members of President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and other officials. Russia has retaliated with its own sanctions on US politicians.

IMF Close to Agreement on Aid Package for Ukraine

IMF headquarters

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is close to agreement with Ukraine on financial assistance worth $14-18bn (£8.5-£11bn) over the next two years. An agreement still needs approval by the full board of the IMF. The stand-by arrangement comes at the end of a three-week visit by IMF officials to the country. The deal is expected to unlock a further $27bn in loans for Ukraine from the European Union and the US.

“Following the intense economic and political turbulence of recent months, Ukraine has achieved some stability but faces difficult challenges,” the IMF’s Mission Chief for Ukraine said in a statement. The deal goes hand in hand with a reform programme for Ukraine’s ailing economy. On Wednesday, Ukraine’s interim government agreed to raise gas prices by 50% in its effort to secure the IMF aid package.

Somalias Al Shabaab and Social Media

Al Shabaab militants

Jane’s Intelligence Review published in March 2014 a good analysis titled “Hashtag Shabaab: Islamists Develop Sophisticated Online Strategy” by Richard Evans, director in the Intelligence, Security and Risk division of IHS Aerospace, Defence, and Security Consulting. The author concluded that al-Shabaab and its supporters have developed a broad and sophisticated online communication strategy using multiple social media platforms to reach a global audience.

Al-Shabaab has exploited social media to engage with its supporters, adversaries, and the mainstream media, and has successfully shaped the news agenda through micro-blogging platforms such as Twitter. However, al-Shabaab faces significant challenges in using social media to directly influence people to support its agenda or attract new recruits. The full article is only available by subscription or access though a library.