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January 28, 2009
Japan to deploy ships to fight piracy in Somalia

Members of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.

Japan announced plans to deploy members from the maritime division of its Self-Defense Force (SDF) to help fight piracy off of the coast of Somalia.

Japan’s pacifist constitution prohibits waging war and provides the SDF with a strictly defensive mandate. When the country sent ground SDF forces to Iraq in 2004, the decision was met with fierce debate.

Deployment in Somalia would be considered a “police action,” and Japan is expected to focus primarily on protecting Japanese-owned ships or ships carrying Japanese cargo or crew.

Tobias Harris is a graduate student in political science at MIT who worked for a member of the Democratic Party of Japan in the national legislature for two years. He writes at “Observing Japan” to argue that Japan should acknowledge its wider responsibilities to the international community.

Japan Looks Homeward

This mission should have nothing to do with collective self-defense and everything to do with Japan’s responsibilities to the international community. If Japan’s politicians are reluctant to fulfill those responsibilities, then the question is not to pin blame to one party or another but to pull back the curtain on Japanese foreign policy and ask why the Japanese people are so reluctant to approve any mission abroad by the JSDF [Japan Self-Defense Forces].

In recent years, it appears that foreign policy has become a luxury for the Japanese people. Of course, given the difficulty of getting Japan to contribute more internationally in the best of times, is it fair to expect a substantial shift in Japan during the worst of times?

Opinion poll after opinion poll has shown that a tiny portion of the public thinks foreign policy is an important priority for the government. Polls show that a plurality favors some contribution to the multinational coalition in Somalia, but on the whole foreign policy achievements promise few gains and much risk for Japanese politicians. The Japanese people are, for the time being, interested in cultivating their own garden. Japan’s institutions are broken, the economy is tanking, and the Japanese people are rightly concerned with whether their futures are secure. Arguably ensuring access to energy is essential to the country’s economic future, but no leader has explained why events in the Horn of Africa (for example) are intimately connected with Japan’s prosperity.

No Japanese leader has gone before the Japanese people and said that Japan has been free riding throughout the postwar period, and that it is time to change. The Japanese people, it seems, would rather be Switzerland, at least for the time being, while their elected representatives are torn between the demands of their tired constituents and the demands emanating from foreign capitals, in the case of some the demands from their friends abroad.

The Japanese people have little interest in being a normal nation, at least for now. They want their abductees accounted for, they want their pensions paid, and they want to know that they will have access to quality medical care as they age. This may not be what Washington wants to hear, but for the time being it is what Washington will get. For now Japan is not a global great power, nor was meant to be.

Sooner or later Japan will resolve its foreign policy identity crisis.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

For more on Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and their strictly defensive mandate, see PBS Wide Angle’s documentary “Japan’s About Face.”

Photo courtesy of Flickr user kamoda under a Creative Commons license.

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January 26, 2009
The simple pleasure of smoking water pipes in Gaza City

A water pipe is called a “narghile” in parts of the Middle East.

Photographer Asim Rafiqui is a photojournalist based in Sweden. He is currently in Gaza documenting the effects of Israel’s blockade and military operations on Gaza’s medical infrastructure, working with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. He writes about his discussions with Palestinians while smoking a water pipe (also known as a “hookah” or “narghile”) in this war-torn region.

The Defiance Of The Nargila

The water pipe has many names.

In the balkans it is called a ‘lula’ or ‘lulava’.

In Egypt and the Persian Gulf it is often referred to as a ‘shishe’.

In Iran it is called a ‘ganja’ pronounced as ‘ghelyoon’.

In India and Pakistan it is called a ‘huqqa’.

In Jordan, Greece, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Israel, it is called by the beautiful name of ‘narghile’ — a word that has its roots in sanskrit.

But I doubt if it has ever been called a weapon of defiance.

In 2003 I decided to rent an apartment in the city of Rafah, Gaza and document lives of the people living along the border with Egypt.

These mostly refugee neighborhoods were under assault from Israeli armored bulldozers and tanks – all part of the construction machinery being used to build the steel wall along the Philadephia Corridor – the code name the IDF used to describe the stretch of land it controlled between Rafah, Gaza and the Egyptian border.

Today it is the stretch of land that is being used by the Palestinians for the construction of tunnels, and the area the Israeli Air Force concentrated on as it attempted to destroy these tunnels.

One afternoon as I walked around these neighborhoods photographing displaced families, destroyed homes and the bulldozers working the area, I ran into a group of Palestinian men preparing to sit and smoke a narghile. They had spread out, in sight of a group of Israeli tanks protecting a bulldozer demolishing yet another Palestinian home in the area, a small blanket on the edge of the construction area, but within the 100 meter ‘no go’ zone the Israeli’s insisted on enforcing between the steel wall and any Palestinian building or person.

The men invited me to join them.

I hesitated, knowing full well that within minutes the tanks would approach this group of men and either threaten them or simply shoot at them. And sure enough, before we had managed to take our first few puffs of the narghile we saw the tanks starting to move towards us to investigate. We were soon forced to pack and leave.

When I asked the men why they had chosen to smoke there where they were sure to provoke the Israelis they laughed. To me it had seemed a careless act of bravado. I suspect that it was also a small act of defiance – to be where the Israelis had warned them not to be.

Last night in Gaza City, I went out for a narghile with some young Palestinians I have come to know while working here documenting the aftermath of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead.

We sat and talked about ordinary things. The Palestinians always ask me the most ordinary questions; how do you spend your time with your wife? What do you do when you are not working? How do you play with your daughter? What games do you enjoy?

In turn, they tell me about their most important aspirations, and I am always struck by the ordinariness of them; The desire to find a good wife. The hope of finding a job that will bring them financial security. The hope of children, many children.

Ordinary things that over a narghile become the thing of dreams. And the water-pipe, a small act of defiance in the face of the incarceration and deprivation of life in Gaza.

An object that enables pleasures still available to the people here; companionship, conversation and the laughter of friends.

And in the aftermath of the horrors of this last confrontation with Israel, a small act of living life, a small act of defiance.

See the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Johny under a Creative Commons license.

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January 26, 2009
E.U. splits on the future of Guantánamo’s prisoners

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana called Guantánamo “an American problem.”

Though members of the European Union have expressed support for Barack Obama’s decision to close the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, few are eager to accommodate its roughly 245 detainees.

Concern has grown since it emerged that a former detainee is now an al-Qaeda leader in Yemen.

Ahto Lobjakas writes at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty about the positions of many E.U. member states and varying reasons for their reluctance to accept detainees.

For more on Obama’s future with Guantánamo and Cuba, tune into our blogtalkradio show tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. EST.

In Brussels, EU Strains For Guantanamo Goodwill Gesture

EU foreign ministers are gathered in Brussels for the bloc’s first chance to extend a joint welcome to President Barack Obama’s administration, with widespread hopes that the new U.S. president will consult them more on issues of mutual interest.

Most observers in the EU agree the bloc has a narrow window of opportunity to prove to Obama that it deserves to be taken seriously.

Yet EU member states were struggling in the run-up to the meeting to reach a common position on the fate of Guantanamo and its 245 prisoners, an issue that, more than most, symbolizes the hopes associated with Obama.

[…]At one level, the issue has become a well-rehearsed squabble of jurisdiction. A proposal has emerged that envisions the EU accepting up to 60 former detainees. But despite attempts at EU-wide harmonization, asylum policy remains a national matter. For some, like Germany’s Christian Democrat minister of the interior, Wolfgang Schauble, safeguarding national prerogatives is a matter of principle.

Schauble has said Germany would only have agreed to accept prisoners if there had been any of German origin. But generally, he says, the Guantanamo detainees are the United States’ problem to deal with.

That is a sentiment echoed before the January 26 meeting by EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana. “This is an American problem that they have to solve, but we will be ready to help if necessary,” Solana said.

Other countries, like Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands, decline for ideological reasons, saying accepting Guantanamo prisoners would legitimate the more dubious detention and interrogation practices of the U.S. “war on terror.”

They stress that the Guantanamo camp was set up in violation of international law and remains a U.S. responsibility. “We did not set up or support Guantanamo Bay. We did not make these mistakes,” the Dutch foreign minister, Maxime Verhagen, told the country’s parliament two months ago.

Still others fear the potential security risks the terrorist suspects may pose once they are released. Some EU countries argue their legislation limits asylum rights to refugees — a status for which Guantanamo inmates do not qualify. Many of Washington’s close allies in Eastern Europe fall into this category, meaning their natural inclination to give the United States a hand could be undone by their restrictive immigration laws.

The governments of France and Britain appear prepared, in principle, to host people freed from Guantanamo, but have argued for a joint European response that would leave member states free to make their own individual decisions.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Bertelsmann Stiftung under a Creative Commons license.

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January 23, 2009
Congolese rebel leader is arrested in Rwanda

Laurent Nkunda. Photo: Michael Kavanagh

Rebel leader General Laurent Nkunda, who had campaigned against the Congolese government, has been arrested in Rwanda, a country that had been accused of supporting him.

Nkunda was caught as he tried to repel a joint force of Congolese and Rwandan soldiers.

Rob Crilly is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi who has written for The Times, The Irish Times, The Daily Mail, The Scotsman and The Christian Science Monitor. Crilly’s blog “African Safari” appears on the blog network “From the Frontline,” where he discusses why Nkunda has lost the support of Rwanda’s leaders.

Rwanda Finally Ditches Nkunda

So General Laurent Nkunda has been arrested in Rwanda. About time too. His thuggish rebellion scattered 250,000 people in the last months of 2008 as he flexed his muscles and played games with the lives of the families he claimed to represent. There are still questions to be answered – will Rwanda hand over to the DRC where he is a wanted man – but this, for what it’s worth, is my take on the affair…

Either General Laurent Nkunda has spent four years protecting his Tutsi tribemates from Hutu genocidaires or he is a Rwandan-backed troublemaker, intent on destabilising the Democratic of Congo depending on who you talk to.

Today it seems time has run out for the rebel leader.

It may be that he has fallen out with too many of his senior lieutenants or that his arrest was the price Rwanda was willing to pay in order to send troops over the border to clear out Hutu militias hiding in Congolese forests.

Either way the man known as the Butcher of Kisangani appears to have lost support in key places. “Nkunda didn’t realise that he had lost political capital with a series of foolish moves,” said a UN source in the regional capital of Goma. “He thought he was indispensable and that he could do whatever he pleased.”

The forests of eastern Congo are the refuge of FDLR guerrillas, Hutu militias who fled Rwanda after the genocide. Kigali has long accused the DRC of not doing enough to clear the forests of Hutu gunmen. As a result few doubt that Rwanda was offering assistance to Nkunda to do the job instead.

A United Nations report last year cited evidence that Nkunda’s rebels were receiving cash and recruits from Rwanda, and that senior commanders had a direct line to officials in the Rwandan capital Kigali. But his leadership had been under threat ever since a breakaway faction of his National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) declared a ceasefire earlier this week.

At times his comrades have been irritated by his erratic, narcissistic style promising one thing in media interviews, before contradicting himself days later.

Last year his rebels sparked a major humanitarian crisis as they moved on the city of Goma. A quarter of a million people were forced from their homes.

In the end Rwanda probably decided it no longer needed Nkunda’s bloody help.

To read more, see the original post.

See more of our coverage of the crisis in Congo.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

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January 23, 2009
South Africa plans summit on political dispute in Zimbabwe

Thado Mbeki, the former president of South Africa, is mediating Zimbabwe’s power-sharing agreement.

South African leaders are scheduled to meet next week to discuss the political situation in Zimbabwe, where rival political parties remain at a standstill despite a power-sharing agreement signed four months ago. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) complained that President Robert Mugabe was refusing to share key government posts.

Some, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, have called for military intervention in the country and for the forced removal of Mugabe.

Michael Keating is a senior fellow and associate director of the Center for Democracy and Development at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, where he is an Africa specialist. He writes at World Politics Review to argue that military intervention would further destabilize Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe: Military Intervention Would Be a Disaster

While the United States and most of the world celebrated the inauguration of Barack Obama, the people of Zimbabwe were once again being pushed to the brink. Talks between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangarai have broken down over several key issues, prompting Tsvangarai to say: “For us as the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), this is probably the darkest day of our lives, for the whole nation is waiting.”

At the heart of the dispute is control of key ministries in the power-sharing arrangement being pushed by the South African Development Community (SADC) and its chief mediator, former South African President Thado Mbeki. It appears that the SADC agreement is basically the same one that was put on the table last September, essentially undermining attempts by the Tsvangarai faction to assume some control over key ministries that the Mugabe camp refuses to cede.

In other words, Mbeki is promoting a compromise plan without a compromise. Although the plan calls for Tsvangarai to assume the post of prime minister, it also allows for Mugabe to appoint two vice-presidents from his ZANU-PF party, and it fails to specify which ministries will go to the MDC and which to ZANU-PF. MDC has made it clear that it wants — at least — Home Affairs and Finance, but Mugabe refuses to budge. So the Zimbabwean danse macabre continues.

This outcome, which spells disaster for the people of Zimbabwe, might have been avoided if Mbeki and the other SADC leaders had taken a harder line with Mugabe from the beginning. Instead, the Zimbabwean president feels he has a mandate to make whatever shoddy offer he pleases to his opponents in a take-it-or-leave-it strategy that Tsvangarai has decided is just too paltry.

Headlines dealing with Zimbabwe dwell on the collapsing economy and health-care system, and calls from international activists for military intervention are growing. But there are still people working within the broken-down Zimbabwean judicial system to address some critical legal issues, particularly around land-reform.

The issue is whether the people in Mugabe’s inner circle who benefited from land confiscations will be able to hold on to all of their ill-gotten gains, since the compromise agreement says explicitly that beneficiaries can only hold one farm at a time. Many white farmers view this as an opening to use the court system to get their land — or at least portions of it — back, and to resume pursuing their livelihoods on some of Africa’s richest soil.

The simple fact that white farmers have yet to pack up and leave their native country suggests that, from their perspective, there is still hope.

International activists who have called for military intervention seem to forget the lessons of the Congo, where marauding interveners from multiple countries raped and plundered their way across the landscape, doing nothing but enriching themselves while further destabilizing a chaotic situation. To think that wouldn’t happen in Zimbabwe is naïve.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user World Economic Forum under a Creative Commons license.

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January 22, 2009
Antarctica warming more than previously thought

An image reflecting warming that has occurred in West Antarctica over the last 50 years, with the dark red showing the area that has warmed the most. Photo: EurekAlert

Professors Eric Steig and Michael Mann are the authors of a new report that points to warming in Antarctica, a continent that had previously been thought to be mostly cooling or remaining the same temperature.

They write at the “RealClimate” blog to explain the results of their research and counter false interpretations that have been circulating in the press and on the Internet.

State of Antarctica: red or blue?

A couple of us (Eric and Mike) are co-authors on a paper coming out in Nature this week (Jan. 22, 09). We have already seen misleading interpretations of our results in the popular press and the blogosphere, and so we thought we would nip such speculation in the bud.

The paper shows that Antarctica has been warming for the last 50 years, and that it has been warming especially in West Antarctica (see the figure). The results are based on a statistical blending of satellite data and temperature data from weather stations. The results don’t depend on the statistics alone. They are backed up by independent data from automatic weather stations, as shown in our paper as well as in updated work by Bromwich, Monaghan and others (see their AGU abstract, here), whose earlier work inJGR was taken as contradicting ours. There is also a paper in press in Climate Dynamics (Goosse et al.) that uses a GCM with data assimilation (and without the satellite data we use) and gets the same result. Furthermore, speculation that our results somehow simply reflect changes in the near-surface inversion is ruled out by completely independent results showing that significant warming in West Antarctica extends well into the troposphere. And finally, our results have already been validated by borehole thermometery — a completely independent method — at at least one site in West Antarctica (Barrett et al. report the same rate of warming as we do, but going back to 1930 rather than 1957; see the paper in press in GRL).

Here are some important things the paper does NOT show:

1) Our results do not contradict earlier studies suggesting that some regions of Antarctica have cooled. Why? Because those studies were based on shorter records (20-30 years, not 50 years) and because the cooling is limited to the East Antarctic. Our results show this too, as is readily apparent by comparing our results for the full 50 years (1957-2006) with those for 1969-2000 (the dates used in various previous studies), below.

2) Our results do not necessarily contradict the generally-accepted interpretation of recent East Antarctic cooling put forth by David Thompson (Colorado State) and Susan Solomon (NOAA Aeronomy Lab). In an important paper in Science, they presented evidence that this cooling trend is linked to an increasing trend in the strength of the circumpolar westerlies, and that this can be traced to changes in the stratosphere, mostly due to photochemical ozone losses. Substantial ozone losses did not occur until the late 1970s, and it is only after this period that significant cooling begins in East Antarctica.

3) Our paper — by itself — does not address whether Antarctica’s recent warming is part of a longer term trend. There is separate evidence from ice cores that Antarctica has been warming for most of the 20th century, but this is complicated by the strong influence of El Niño events in West Antarctica. In our own published work to date (Schneider and Steig, PNAS), we find that the 1940s [edit for clarity: the 1935-1945 decade] were the warmest decade of the 20th century in West Antarctica, due to an exceptionally large warming of the tropical Pacific at that time.

To read more, see the original post at the “RealClimate” blog.

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January 22, 2009
Life in a fishing village behind Myanmar’s walls

An Intha fishing boat in Myanmar.

As Myanmar’s military junta cracked down on protesting monks over a year ago, the regime tried to limit the flow of information from the country.

The authoritarian government also strictly controls travel to and from the country.

David Kootnikoff is a citizen journalist who writes at OhMyNews about visiting the small fishing village of Nyuangshwe, where he tries to get a sense of the reality of daily life in Myanmar.

Burmese Days

When Soe hears my wife is Japanese he quietly apologizes. During the 2007 anti-government protests in Burma one of his fellow compatriots – a young soldier in flip-flops – shot and killed Japanese photographer, Kenji Nagai, at point blank range in the heart of Rangoon.

We’ve just arrived in the village of Nyuangshwe on the shore of Inle Lake about 400 kilometers north of Rangoon. Soe (not his real name) had seen the protests on the BBC at a teahouse in town and watched in horror as Nagai collapsed in front of the soldier. The junta, bearing the Orwellian moniker the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), had forgotten to cut the country’s satellite and Internet connections. “No one supports the government – everybody hates them,” Soe says under his breath. As we soon discover, it’s a familiar refrain.

Deciding whether or not to travel into Burma, a nation of 50 million, wasn’t easy. Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has recommended tourists stay away until “genuine progress towards democratization” is made, while others such as Thant Myint-U, an historian and grandson of former United Nations Secretary General U Thant, argue for engagement.

I made my decision after befriending a Burmese man while studying in Hong Kong who had been confined and tortured by the regime. He urged me to go, meet the people and report back about his country. I knew to avoid any organized tours and meet the locals to prevent our money going directly to the junta.

Another issue is what to call the country. The SPDC unilaterally changed the name in 1989 from Burma to Myanmar without consulting its citizens. Most opposition groups use Burma, as do some governments such as the U.S. and Canada, while the United Nations recognizes Myanmar.

The next morning Soe takes us out on the lake as the damp air seeps into our clothes and a lone bird from the surrounding marshes breaks the silence. Nestled between two mountain ranges in Shan state, Inle seems far removed from the catastrophe of Cyclone Nargis, which devastated the country last spring. Inle is home to the Intha, one of Burma’s more than 130 ethnic groups. They live in homes built on stilts that balance precariously above the lake’s surface like giant long-legged spiders. For sustenance they fish and farm floating gardens attached to the shallow lake bottom by bamboo poles.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user flappingwings under a Creative Commons license.

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January 21, 2009
Wal-Mart heads to Russia as unemployment soars

Wal-Mart may expand its presence in Russia.

Europe has been hard-hit in the world financial crisis, and unemployment is rising.

But Russia may see more growth than other European countries in the coming months, and some retail giants are looking to Moscow — including Wal-Mart, which plans to expand its overseas presence.

Blogger “Sean” is a graduate student studying history at the University of California, Los Angeles. He writes at “Sean’s Russia Blog” about what Wal-Mart’s presence might mean for Russian jobs.

Russian Unemployment Rising, Fast

Russian unemployment is growing fast, especially in Moscow. Mikhail Nagaitsev, the chairman of the Moscow Federation of Labor Unions, reported on Ekho Moskvy that during the holiday period the number of people registering for unemployment doubled.

Now there are about 290,000 unemployed in Moscow compared to 56,500 a year ago.

Some statisticians are saying that unemployment is perhaps higher that the official 6.6 percent.  According to a survey conduced by FOM, only one percent of Russians register as unemployed when the lose their job making the overall figure probably closer to 7.5 percent.  If correct, that would put the number of unemployed in Russia at 6 million out of 76 million people of working age.  Experts believe that social unrest tends to occur when unemployed surpasses the 10 percent mark.  With officials admitting that joblessness in Russia might increase by 2.1 to 2.2 million people in 2009, that 10 percent mark is inching closer and closer. Couple this with another FOM survey which finds that every fifth Russian not only expects an increase in labor strikes, but are also willing to participate in them and the situation is looking more ominous.

Unemployed, disgruntled Russians might not need to worry too much longer. Walmart has made some serious steps for entering the Russian market.  It’s cheap goods, enormous stores, and abundant service jobs will certain ally the frustrations of any downtrodden public.  But as anyone from small town America knows that box store on the hill is a temple of false gods.  Walmart is cancer to small businesses, acid to the idyllic downtown Main Street, and a snake oil cure for disparity.  Walmart may have branded itself as that blue vested, smiley faced cornucopia of consumerism, but its real face is a low wage and viciously anti-union substitute for the loss of well paid jobs.  I urge Russians to beware.

But Walmart’s penetration into the Russian sales and labor market is still a while off.  In the meantime something is needed to get a grip on any future public disorder.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user racineur under a Creative Commons license.

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January 20, 2009
Q&A: Answers to lawlessness in Somalia’s weekly radio show explores the worsening situation in Somalia, taking a look beyond the pirate frenzy offshore and examining the causes of instability onshore.

Martin Savidge hosts a panel of guests and address viewer questions about the region. In addition to the audio interview, here are some written answers to user-generated questions regarding the history, politics and the humanitarian crisis in Somalia.

Lynn Fredriksson is a researcher on the Horn of Africa, including Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, for Amnesty International. She co-leads missions to the Horn. Most recently she has traveled to Nairobi, Kenya and Hargeisa, Somaliland to interview refugees from the armed conflict in southern and central Somalia.

Abdi Samatar is a professor and chair of the department of geography and global studies at the University of Minnesota. He was Fulbright Scholar to Ethiopia and Botswana. His research focuses on the relationship between democracy and development in the Third World in general and Africa in particular, and he has written extensively about Ethiopia and Somalia.

David H. Shinn is a former Ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso. He is currently an adjunct professor at George Washington University.  Amb. Shinn’s research interests include Africa, terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism and U.S. foreign policy in Africa. He also blogs regularly here.


Photo: Abukar Albadri

Q: Why hasn’t Somalia had a stable central government in 17 years?

Prof. Abdi Samatar: Two factors contributed to the demise of a national government: Internal and external factors. Unlike what many conventional analysts claim, it has not been the genealogical structure (clans) of Somalis that has been the problem.

Instead, the key problem has been sectarian politicians who undermined the integrity of the public order by using state resources and power for personal gain and to oppress those who challenge them. The internal problem has been political rather than cultural in the sense of genealogy.

Second, the internal factor dovetailed with cold war agendas that supported whichever local groups that served their interests. These two forces jointly destroyed the legitimacy of the state and alienated the population. Once warlords divided the country into fiefdoms it has been difficult to create the space for civic minded citizens to mount a counter-attack and the international community continues to support the sectarian politicians and warlords.

Q: Has piracy always been a problem?

Prof. Abdi Samatar: Piracy is a new phenomenon and can easily be eliminated by a legitimate Somali government.

Q: How much of this is a religious struggle between Somali Muslims and Ethiopian Christians? Is radical Islam and the war on terror the root causes here?

Prof. Abdi Samatar: There is little that is religious in the conflict between Ethiopian and Somalis. The struggle is centered on the marginalization of the Somali population in Ethiopia as well as Ethiopia¹s long-standing attempt to undermine Somali unity. The war on terror is the problem. Most of Somalis who subscribe to political Islam are nationalist.

Q: What does the resignation of the Somali president in December mean for internal Somali politics and leadership going forward? How has the power sharing between Somali leaders and Islamists worked out so far? Which party/group will likely emerge from the power vacuum?

Prof. Abdi Samatar: It will not change things significantly as far as the legitimacy and capacity of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is concerned. It is hard to predict which political grouping will come out on top.


Q:  What were Ethiopia’s goals in occupying Somalia in 2006? Did Ethiopia accomplish them? What were Ethiopia’s interests/fears concerning Somalia?

Amb. David H. Shinn
: Ethiopia actually had small numbers of troops inside Somalia before 2006. The growing strength of the militias of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and, especially, their march towards Baidoa in south central Somalia in late 2006 persuaded the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and Ethiopia to take strong action. Baidoa was the TFG headquarters. A few UIC leaders had even expressed an interest in waging a jihad against Ethiopia. At least one of the leaders revived the idea of Somali irredentism, or taking back land under the control of Ethiopia.

At the time of independence in 1960, it was the goal of the Somali government to incorporate into Somalia that part of Ethiopia inhabited by Somalis. This region constitutes about one-quarter of Ethiopia’s land area. Ethiopia decided it was time to defeat the UIC militia.

After defeating the UIC, Ethiopia wanted the more compliant TFG to take control of Somalia. This would remove the threat of jihad against Ethiopia and neutralize any thought of reviving Somali irredentism. Ethiopia initially succeeded militarily by soundly defeating the UIC, whose militias evacuated the capital of Mogadishu as the Ethiopians and TFG approached. Within months, however, the situation began to deteriorate in the capital. The Islamists have slowly rebuilt their strength ever since.

The Ethiopian military force and their TFG and African Union force allies became bogged down in urban guerrilla warfare. As financial costs and casualties mounted, the Ethiopians concluded it was necessary to pull out. Ethiopia says that it achieved its objectives. Over the short term, it is true that they need not fear an attack from Somalia nor is irredentism a serious threat. On the other hand, they did not install the compliant TFG in Mogadishu and forces in Somalia opposed to Ethiopia have reasserted themselves and eventually might decide to revive the idea of Somali irredentism.

My own view is that the Ethiopians decided to cut their losses and leave Somalia. In the best case scenario, this decision may permit moderate Islamists and the TFG to take control of the country and reestablish a degree of stability.

Photo: Abukar Albadri

Q: Did Ethiopia invaded Somalia with the backing of the U.S.? How did the U.S. support Ethiopia, and why?

Amb. David H. Shinn
: The U.S. denied that it supported Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia. It is important to remember that the TFG invited Ethiopian troops to join them in opposing the UIC. It is still not clear to me, and I believe the public generally, to what extent the U.S. supported Ethiopia in this endeavor. We know a few facts.

The U.S. never publicly called on Ethiopia to end its military action inside Somalia nor did it publicly criticize the effort. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi publicly acknowledged that the U.S. shared intelligence with Ethiopia as the Ethiopians moved deeper into Somalia. I do not know if the U.S. provided any military equipment that could be used in the action or paid any of the costs for the invasion.  Many Somalis and Ethiopians in the region believe that the U.S. provided more tangible support. They either have information that is not available to me or they are just guessing. At a minimum, however, the U.S. gave a green light to Ethiopia.

The U.S. was sympathetic to the Ethiopian position for several reasons. The U.S. supported the TFG and Ethiopia was trying to put the TFG in power in Mogadishu. A defeat of the UIC, which at the time had both moderate and extremist members, would in the view of the U.S. reduce the likelihood that terrorism would increase in Somalia. In fact, a TFG/Ethiopian victory might even create a situation that would allow the U.S. to root out a small number of foreign terrorists that it believed had taken refuge in the country.

Q: How does the crisis in Somalia affect the greater region (Horn of Africa)?

Amb. David H. Shinn: It has had huge, negative implications for the wider region. The crisis drove Somali refugees into neighboring countries, especially Kenya and Yemen. It attracted Ethiopian troops into Somalia, further exacerbating relations between Somalis and Ethiopians.

The crisis destroyed the economy of Somalia so that it became a net importer of virtually everything rather than a producer. Somalia is traditionally a nomadic country with herds crossing between Somalia and Ethiopia. The crisis disrupted these movements and forced many nomads to move to the capital where international agencies provided emergency food aid.

Outside powers joined in the fray, seeking advantage for their own purposes. As Ethiopia supported the TFG, Eritrea supported the UIC in an effort to put additional pressure on Ethiopia.  You will recall that relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea were poor because of a dispute over demarcation of their border. A small number of outside extremists began funding radical elements in Somalia, thus increasing the specter of terrorism.  As the Somali economy broke down, more and more Somalis took to the profitable business of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. This has had a major impact on international shipping in the region.

The biggest losers in all of this, however, have been the Somalis themselves, especially innocent men, women and children who have nothing to do with the conflict.  They face regular danger, minimal food and health care, and often find themselves internally displaced.

Q: What does the resignation of the Somali president in December mean for internal Somali politics and leadership going forward? How has the power sharing between Somali leaders and Islamists worked out so far? Which party/group will likely emerge from the power vacuum?

Prof. Abdi Samatar: It will not change things significantly as far as the legitimacy and capacity of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is concerned. It is hard to predict which political grouping will come out on top.


Q: On Friday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution expressing its intention to establish the U.N. force in Somalia, but postponed the final decision for several months to assess the situation and strengthen the African Union force currently deployed in the capital. Why the delay? Is the situation in Somalia on the scale of Darfur? Has the situation changed since Ethiopia pulled out?

Lynn Fredricksson: The delay appears to be based in large part on the inability of the UNSG to find lead and other country willing to make troop and other necessary commitments to constitute a full U.N. peacekeeping operation. It is also perhaps bad timing in that the Ethiopian forces are only now pulling out and the immediate imposition of a significant international force might be less than welcome, especially before the Somali people know what is happening in relation to the presidency, the impact of Ethiopian troop withdrawal and the impact of recently strengthened anti-piracy operations.

Amnesty International’s greatest concern about the new resolution is that it does not include preparations for human rights provisions to be included in any upcoming operations nor does it address the lack of capacity and  mandate for civilian protection by the current AU peacekeeping operation. While I don’t think it’s worthwhile to compare African crisis situations, I would say that the interlinked humanitarian and human rights crises in Somalia are among the worst for civilians in the world.

Photo: Abukar Albadri

Q: When were you in Somalia last, what did you see on the ground?

Lynn Fredricksson: While direct access to Somalia has been challenging due to ongoing security concerns, Amnesty International has been regularizing its missions to the region since late 2007 — including field work in the self-declared independent Somaliland and in Nairobi, Kenya, where we have interviewed refugees from southern and central Somalia, including journalists and human rights defenders who have been forced to flee, and in Djibouti where we have been monitoring the progress of the peace process there.

Our findings throughout 2008 have indicated a disturbing and ongoing targeting of human rights defenders, humanitarian aid workers and journalists, the very people who we depend on to have revealed consistently dire human rights conditions in which humanitarian organizations are obstructed from providing desperately needed assistance to some 3.2 million vulnerable Somali civilians.

Q: Has the safety of humanitarian workers and journalists improved?

Lynn Fredricksson: Conditions for Somali human rights defenders, aid workers and journalists has not yet improved. It often takes time for developments like the Ethiopian withdrawal, the resignation of the president or United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions to result in clear changes in conditions on the ground.

It is therefore essential that the international community, particularly the UNSC and donor countries, pay close attention and commit significant resources to humanitarian access and assistance, human rights monitoring and a commission of inquiry, and enforcement of the arms embargo, beyond only peacekeeping operations and anti-piracy operations.


Q:  What will an Obama administration mean for Somalia?  Will the international community intervene?

Amb. David H. Shinn
: The UNSC, with strong support from the outgoing Bush administration, adopted a resolution on Jan. 16, 2009 that called on the African Union to strengthen its force in Mogadishu from 2,600 to 8,000 troops. It also authorized the U.N. Secretary General to submit a report by April 15 that includes a possible mandate for a U.N. peacekeeping force in Somalia and to make a decision on this matter by June 1.

The U.S. has been pressing the U.N. for months to put a peacekeeping force in Somalia. So long as there is no peace to keep, this idea is problematic. U.S. ambassador-designate to the U.N., Susan Rice, expressed no enthusiasm for a U.N. peacekeeping force in recent testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Even if the U.N. eventually agrees to a peacekeeping force, it will probably be predicated on the ability to “keep” the peace rather than to “make” peace.  The Obama administration, in view of the unhappy U.S. experience in Somalia in 1992-1993, would not likely allow the U.S. to contribute boots on the ground. At best, the U.S. would pay its share of the cost and provide logistical and intelligence support to the peacekeeping force.

I believe the Obama administration will pursue a more flexible approach to the Somali crisis by consulting with a wider range of Somali participants involved in the conflict. It may also pay greater attention to ameliorating the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the conflict.  It may try to grapple more effectively with the root causes of the crisis rather than focus almost exclusively on the conflict as a counter-terrorism issue.

Photo: Abukar Albadri

Q: What needs to happen in order to stabilize the humanitarian crises?

Lynn Fredricksson: Stability and security in Somalia will require a the confluence of a number of factors:

  • progress on the various facets of a more inclusive peace process
  • development of a mandate and capacity for whatever peacekeeping operation exists in Somalia to protect civilians
  • strengthening and enforcement of the arms embargo
  • the eventual deployment of human rights monitors and progress toward the establishment of a commission of inquiry into past human rights abuses
  • and, security focus on unhindered access and adequate funding for humanitarian operations to provide for the immediate needs of more than 1.2 million internally displaced Somali civilians, hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees in Kenya, Somaliland and other areas of the region, and other vulnerable Somali civilians; and protection for Somali human rights defenders, aid workers and journalists.

Photo courtesy of Abukar Albadri and the CIA World Factbook.

Host: Martin Savidge
Producers: Lisa Biagiotti, Katie Combs and Stephen Puschel

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January 20, 2009
Bhutanese still in Nepal’s refugee camps after 18 years

Bhutanese refugees at the Beldangi 2 camp in Nepal.

Though they fled or were forced out of Bhutan more than 18 years ago, Bhutan’s ethnic Nepalis have yet to return.

Altogether, more than 103,000 people of ethnic Nepali origin in Bhutan left that country in the 1990s after new citizenship laws were implemented. Many ended up in sparse refugee camps in Nepal.

The Bhutanese government says the majority of the refugees were illegal immigrants.

In the past few years, several thousands of refugees have resettled in the West — but thousands more still remain in the Nepalese camps. 

Don Duncan is a freelance print and radio reporter and videographer who has reported from Afghanistan, France, Bhutan, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Nepal, Spain and the United States.  He writes at World Politics Review about the situation of Bhutan’s ethnic Nepalese minority.

Bhutan’s Radicalized Refugees

When Matimya Moktan, 41, saw her husband Manbahadur standing unannounced in their doorway after a nine-year absence in prison, her heart sank.

“I was sad to see him back here again,” said Matimya, one of more than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees living in United Nations-administered camps in eastern Nepal. “I had hoped I would see him again in Bhutan, but his standing back in our doorway meant we may never get back there,” she adds, seated in the corner of the family’s dark wattle-and-daub hut in the Beldangi I refugee camp, five kilometers outside the Nepalese town of Damak.

Manbahadur returned following nine years spent in a Bhutanese prison for having illegally re-entered the country and staging a protest demanding the return to Bhutan of his people, Bhutan’s ethnic Nepalese minority that was expelled in 1991.

Sandwiched between Communist China and largely Hindu India, tiny Buddhist Bhutan, with its population of a mere 600,000, has been given to fits of ethnic and cultural protectionism throughout its history. An impressive necklace of cliff-perched fortresses — or Dzongs — that dot the country’s mountainous perimeter testify to past efforts.

By the 1980s, when the ethnic Nepalese bloc mushroomed to represent one third of the kingdom’s population, Bhutan responded with a “one nation, one people” policy that at once bolstered the majority Drukpa culture by mandating its traditional dress and language for all, and restricted the rights of the ethnic Nepalese population. After a series of civil rights protests by the ethnic Nepalese, many of whom were Bhutanese citizens, the state clamped down — hard.

“We left because we were scared that they would imprison us, that they would beat us, that I would be raped,” Matimya told World Politics Review. In the weeks leading up to her family’s departure from Bhutan in 1991, she says, the army had begun to take women away from their houses.

This was just one tactic in what human rights groups say was a widespread campaign of ethnic cleansing of a minority population that claims to have arrived in Bhutan as early as the mid-1800s. Other tactics, say the refugees, included torture, beatings and the destruction of property.

But in today’s Bhutan, which in March made the transition from a century of absolute monarchy to become the world’s newest democracy, another narrative prevails.

“Deep inside, they know they never belonged to this country,” says Bhutanese Prime Minister Dorjee Y Thinley in his office in Bhutan’s capital Thimphu. What is labeled elsewhere as an ethnic cleansing of Bhutanese citizens is seen in Bhutan as the “regularization” of an illegal immigration problem that had been left unbridled for decades. “They are refugees not of Bhutan, but of the ecological degradation, political upheavals, economic deprivation and insecurity in Nepal,” Thinley says, referring to Nepal’s 10-year civil war that ended in 2006.

For almost two decades, the fate of these refugees has been suspended between these two versions of events.

To read more, see the original post

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Katrine Syppli under a Creative Commons license.

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