Better Not Pout!

Better Not Pout!

betterwatchoutAfrica’s a bit unsettled. Europe’s more unsettled than ever.

The world is connected by a million strings. They’re best seen from afar, because up close they’re indistinguishable from the humdrum of everyday life. The ones I watch are in Africa:

Growing protests turn really violent in the DR-Congo. The Gambian president who conceded defeat in an election now says only God can tell him to step down. The Ugandan military is flexing its arms like it did under Amin.

What’s happening and is it coming to America?

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A Horrible Choice

A Horrible Choice

congotravailsThroughout most of the continent today, Africans confront a horrible choice: Peace & Prosperity… or Freedom & Democracy. Seventeen demonstrators dead overnight in the DRC’s capital, Kinshasa, is today’s best example.

Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the DRC are located in the Lake Victoria area, and each one sits on lots of precious natural materials like rare earths and gold amounting to enormous wealth. But only Rwanda has fully exploited this. Why?

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The Largest Panda of All

The Largest Panda of All

wwfvsbakaPeople with deep faith in the good work that they do sometimes develop blinders that become destructive. This may be happening today with the world’s largest and most revered wildlife organization.

We all know – or think we do – the World Wildlife Fund. In fact it’s actual name isn’t the World Wildlife Fund, but the “World Fund for Nature.” The name morphed over time and when the organization adopted its URL, worldwildlife.org.

It’is the largest wildlife conservation organization in the world, with a balance sheet of just under a half billion dollars. Remarkably its liquid assets of $337 million are derived by less than 10% through fund raising, reflecting an “organization” that is mostly an endowment and grant sponge.

Too big too fail comes to mind.

WWF has enormous power throughout the world. In the Cameroon it implemented without much oversight what looked like good ecological programs mostly to protect the forests of the Congo Basin, but with little oversight by the Cameroon government the WWF programs may in fact be destroying the indigenous pygmies, the Baka people who live there.

In February a competing NGO, Survival International, filed a formal complaint against WWF with the OECD in Paris. According to the Guardian newspaper, “The complaint contains eye-witness accounts of alleged brutality, video testimonies, and reports from the Cameroonian press accusing the eco guards of violent actions against the pygmy groups.”

I was skeptical. Accusation is not evidence. But the evidence is now coming in, and it’s damning.

WWF’s strategy to protect the Congo Basin forests is deeply mired in partnerships with commercial enterprises like logging companies. At first this doesn’t seem so unusual: private/public partnerships is the tagline for much progressive public policy today.

The idea, of course, is that good public advocates will curtail the otherwise ungoverned exploitation of commercial interest, and that if well done, sustainable commerce can be achieved.

In logging, for example, historical partnerships between logging companies and government and private conservation entities have actually created long-term renewable forests in the U.S.

But in pursuing its private/public partnership in the Cameroon WWF embraced a French logging company, Rougier that had a long and troubled history with indigenous forest peoples. WWF had little choice who to partner with as it was the Cameroon government’s choice.

But there are now credible reports that Rougier has displaced Baka pygmies – who have claimed the forest as their home for millennia – without compensation and in violation of its own agreement with the Cameroon government.

There are even reports that many Baka have been tortured, and further claims that WWF trained anti-poaching units have been involved.

WWF portrays it otherwise insisting the issue is one of poaching, not displacement. Too many videos and eye-witness accounts have proved WWF’s defense is empty of reality.

Moreover, WWF has done everything to keep this out of the English media.

When pressed by a Belgian advocacy group for Cameroon, WWF responded (in French) that its partnership was sound and ethical, that Rougier was acting in accordance with ecological agreements, and that the logging was mostly taking place in an area soon to be flooded by a dam.

WWF aggressively defended its partnership with Rougier until April, 2015.

March and April, 2015, was when Stephen Cory, Survival International’s Director, demanded documents from WWF-International’s director, Marco Lambertini, regarding the accusations.

Shortly thereafter WWF stopped issuing press reports or field science monographs in English from the area. WWF assigned the Head of its “Issues Management” department, Phil Dickie, to respond. Dickie took several months, finally sending an email to Survival that read in part:

“Apologies for the delays… This is a personal note…. I would prefer to operate on the basis that our organisations both have the interests of the Baka and other indigenous people at heart….If you want to explore the possibilities, let me know.”
12 May 2015 15:37

It strikes me that WWF is in deep do-do, holding hands with a French logging company whose behavior is probably criminal. Like the leaders of our own Republican Party, WWF may have lost control but finds itself unable to extract itself into any original moral position nor to unentangle itself from its own perhaps unintentional involvement in displacing indigenous people.

It’s the disease of the Too Big, Too Powerful. In my view organizations and institutions this large can only function in a moral way when they are accountable to the people who support them and who they serve.

10% fund raising doesn’t reach that level.

All’s Well That Ends

All’s Well That Ends

happyfromgomaHere’s something profoundly light and happy. Contradiction? Try it out for your Friday. This is what happens when a generation of war ends.

With all the turmoil going on today in the Mideast to Iraq and Ukraine, it may be hard to fast forward your interest to when it’s all over. But I think that’s what’s happening today in The Congo.

Take a listen.

The brains behind this and many other similar good feeling videos is a diminuitive if shy Congolese, Kelvin Batumike. With help from UN agencies and the Congolese diaspora, he persists in the belief the eastern Congo is becoming peaceful.

I think Batumike is right. Peace is coming, although slowly. Less than a hundred miles north of Goma, still a part of the giant Kivu province, warlords still effect daily lives, although they do seem to be fading further into the jungle and becoming weaker.

A little bit further north towards the troubled Sudan, warlords are still fully in control. Yesterday they announced the execution of three priests who refused to convert to Islam.

The horrible conflict in central east African which includes The Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, western Uganda and little parts of both The Sudan and South Sudan, is incredibly complex. Nearly a century of horrible Belgium rule and exploitation ended when extremely rich rare earth resources were discovered here.

The end of the colonial era, which I believe came far too early and prematurely, turned over all its unfinished business to the greed, terror and rightist ideologies of The Cold War.

Strong Congolese ethnic groups pitted against one another in colonial times were let loose with new found wealth that was quickly transformed into weapons.

When the Cold War ended this part of Africa was in such a mess that the newly empowered West and the newly subdued East just walked away from it. One of the typical results was the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

A century of exploitation included the following gifts to the developed world: the (tires on your) automobile, the cell phone, the xBox and personal computers. None of these items would exist without the resources first found then exploited from this troubled region.

Do you feel guilty? You should.

The half century of serious fighting in the eastern Congo began with the assassination of its first democratically elected leader, Patrice Lumumba, on January 17, 1961. Even today the complex details of the 1960 coup against Lumumba by Moshe Tsombe and the terrible despot Sesi-Seko Mobutu, who subsequently ruled The Congo for almost 40 years, remain uncertain.

But the apology ultimately given and the reparations ultimately paid by the Belgian government to The Congo admitted that the coup, and the assassination, were not only planned but actually carried out by the secret services of Belgium and the United States.

The U.S. has never joined Belgium in the admission, but neither has it denied it.

That likely horrific act by America and Belgium was because Lumumba was an avowed socialist with policies of nationalization which attracted the support of the electorate. Of all the elections that have followed in Africa since 1960, this one was probably the freest, fairest and most democratic.

But 1960 was frozen in the Cold War. The world was seen in simple contrasts, then. Socialist was communist was the Soviet Union.

If only … There are so many “if onlys” in Africa. As one of my favorite clients says, “All’s well that ends.”

Plant the Corn

Plant the Corn

what now my childDon’t turn away from the DRC-Congo just because NPR says peace is imminent. There’s much more to the story.

I, myself, predicted a type of peace would come to the DRC-Congo just about a month ago. And this morning on NPR’s Morning Edition, former Senator Russ Feingold in his capacity as Obama’s special envoy to the region, said fighting was ending.

Good. We’re all glad, and the story behind why this decades-old fighting might, in fact, be ending is an extraordinary one that goes all the way back to when Belgium and the US colluded to disrupt the first democratically elected government of the newly independent Congo in 1961. I called that “Where Terror Was Born.”

The many fascinating chapters of barbarism and war that have followed have included X-Boxes and your cell phone.

To understand the current “peace” it would be helpful to understand all the foregoing but that’s challenging. Let me try to simplify it not too much.

The decades-long fighting in the eastern Kivu province of the DRC-Congo is very much unlike anything in the rest of Africa. The rest of Africa’s wars (excluding those that involved South Africa) are mostly guerila-based, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram jungle and mountain fighters, characterized by suicide bombings and village terrorism.

Traditional military action is pretty new for modern Africa. Obama started it when he came to the presidency and it became apparent to all the world when Kenya invaded Somalia in October, 2011.

Kenya, armed anew by America, trained by America, advised by America, we even saw American soldiers, was America’s proxy. And they “did well.” The Kenyan Army effectively disrupted and ultimately dislodged al-Shabaab from Somalia.

But prior to that 2011 action, organized military action of the sort undertaken by the OAU and UN in such places as Somalia, Rwanda, Angola and so forth, either suffered from a total lack of training (the soliders just didn’t know how to fight, didn’t want to, or just didn’t), or there was no good equipment.

That changed with Kenya’s action in Somalia and it radically continued this year when the UN Security Council approved an aggressive military unit to enter the DRC-Congo, the first ever for the UN in Africa.

And that unit was immediately joined by crack and very well trained and equipped South African troops.

And that’s what defeated the main military group in Kivu, the M23. On Monday they announced a cease-fire and on Tuesday they surrendered.

That’s good, as Feingold said. But it’s hardly the end of the story.

There are many rebel groups in the area, although the dominant one was definitely M23, and I don’t mean to minimize the good news this is. But keep in mind that M23’s leaders have all escaped.

The respectable Think Africa Press said today that M23’s “senior command has dispersed to Uganda and Rwanda,” while many of the expert soldiers of M23 have “gone into hiding, whether fleeing out of the DRC or dispersing into the Virunga forests.”

NPR’s foolish question about accountability, whether the M23 leaders will be tried for crimes against humanity, begs the question whether they will be first captured.

And even if they are, the OAU has already ordered all member states to cease cooperating with the ICC in The Hague, and Kenya’s two leaders on trial there have both been given extraordinary passes from attending their own proceedings: The ICC is falling apart and Africa is instrumental in bringing Humpty Dumpty’s walls down.

Rwanda is furious. Rwanda is ruled by a minority ethnic Tutsi dictator who came to power after the genocide that tried to wipe out his people by the opposing Hutu majority in 1993/94. M23 was formed by Tutsis fleeing Rwanda at that time.

So Rwanda has been supporting the rebellion in The Congo led by M23 for some time. It has facilitated not only an increased clamp on its own oppressed Hutu minority, but an extremely profitable rare earth mining industry overseen by M23 commanders in Kivu.

Here’s what will determine the next stage:

If the UN reaffirms its unusual aggressive mission, peace will be maintained. That itself is so unusual for this area that I wonder what exactly will then happen. Consider that there have been three generations of Congolese in Kivu who have known nothing but warlords.

Peace means fewer people will be killed. That means more people need to eat, have jobs, become somehow productive in a society that has not existed for 53 years.

And that’s where current global and western society fails so miserably. Once the field is cleared of tanks, no one plants the corn.

We Need Shrinks not Generals

We Need Shrinks not Generals

CongoMarchUnder the noise of Snowden, dysfunction of Congress, frantic media and lackluster personality of Obama, the War Against Terrorism is being massively ratcheted up in Africa.

The French Foreign Legion was dispatched last week to the remote deserts of Mali, to support a freely elected government that is being newly challenged by rebel groups in its most outlying cities.

Crack South African troops added to increased United Nations peacekeeping forces and ruthless Congolese government troops newly armed by the west, have been crushing the last of the known rebel groups in the eastern Congo, an area of conflict for nearly a half century.

How’s it going?

Hard. The unspoken but terribly obvious Hollande/Obama alliance to make Africa the last great military battleground against organized terrorism began five years ago in Somalia. American advisers were everywhere in northern Kenya and the port of Mombasa, and French warships were just off the coast of Somalia.

Drones were added and the war begun. Kenya was enlisted as the visible front army and Somalia was “liberated.” Its al-Qaeda affiliates were scattered and what was left of anything organized raced through Uganda into the center of the continent.

The world watched 90 U.S. soldiers chase them across the Uganda.

But Hollande and Obama miscalculated the arsenal of weapons that liberated Libya would make available, and scattered groups in Mali benefited enormously. France’s end-game mission to America’s chasing of the rebels into the center of the continent was to crush them in the Central African Republic (CAR).

But instead, it had to focus on Mali, far northwest of the CAR. So today the CAR is essentially anarchistic. A report published this morning by Amnesty International describes the CAR in the most horrific, barbaric terms. Every civilized person seems to have abandoned the country, making it ripe for organized terrorist control.

Hardly two years ago the focus of visible battles between the west and its proxies, and al-Qaeda and its proxies was in Somalia. Only a few months ago it reemerged in Mali where it persists. And the riffraff, disparate, heavily armed leftovers of a dozen so-called al-Qaeda affiliates or older rebel groups (like the LRA) are now duking it out like barbarians in the CAR.

You cannot eliminate terrorism, Mr. & Monsieur President.

You cannot eliminate unless you had global gun control the likes of which evades my most fanciful dreams. Where there are weapons and the materials for making them, there will be terrorism.

The question is, Are We Safer Now?

Before I give you my opinion, don’t you think it’s important to also ask, Is Africa Safer Now? What right does the west presume in order to use Africa as the backforty into which the wolves are chased and kept at bay?

If the world ever runs out of weapons, we’ll be forced to deal with conflicting ideologies, as well as crazy terrorists, in ways we should develop, now.

Modern force is so omnipresent, as easily mastered by an internet keyboard, that it can’t possibly end conflict, today. It will only interrupt or delay it.

Consider this, first. The conflict in the DRC’s Kivu Province is a half century old. It’s based largely on the same ethnic divisions that caused the Rwandan genocide. Those divisions are festering. The calm in Rwanda is the calm of a benevolent strongman. Once his biceps snap, all hell is going to break loose.

Consider this, second. Organized terrorism is fanatical. Unlike ethnic conflict, terrorism may have no other explanation except the obsession to rule and control.

Both turn men into beasts eager to die – to kill themselves – for reasons they don’t wholly understand. Hypnotic or simply psychotic.

You can’t get them all. We don’t need any more generals. We need shrinks.

Terese & Goliath

Terese & Goliath

The widely publicized elephant poaching is mostly gross exaggeration when compared to the corporate poaching that nearly extirpated them in the 1980s but nonetheless a terrifying example of how mens’ wars exploit the natural world.

I’ve written before how the current elephant poaching is being sensationalized by the media as something much larger than it really is. Elephant populations in almost every part of Africa continue to increase, even though poaching is also increasing.

This dynamic is quite different than in the 1980s. And the reason is simply that the scale of poaching then was exponential compared to now.

The near extirpation of the species then led to the world-wide CITES treaty which was instrumental in stopping, and reversing, the poaching.

Today’s poaching is different, but no less terrifying: Until recently, anyway, it was confined to individual bands of men – not corporately organized mobile slaughter houses. It was motivated by individuals’ survival, not market driven or as an OPEC hedge.

One or two tusks were hauled to local markets, not tons lifted by helicopters to Yemen. And the poachers are generally individuals who pocket the loot and disappear, not by organizations that return again and again to better their last bottom line.

But the increase in poaching – however slight compared to the 1980s – has been enough to stimulate the black market. And small-band, individual crime that characterizes the majority of elephant poaching today is transforming into something much worse in certain areas.

I only hope the telling of this story will not fuel the hype. Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times first reported the situation last September. Unfortunately the wider media took the sensitive report and exaggerated it, presuming what was happening in the jungles of The Congo was the same that was happening in Tanzania’s national parks.

It is the lazy inability by buzz-word, snapshot media to separate the two phenomenon that so disturbs me. And I continue to presume that the former situation described so well by Gettleman does not represent a significantly new threat to the species. And certainly the one-off poaching by ad hoc bans of survivalists doesn’t, either.

Nevertheless, a report we received this weekend from the famous primate researcher, Terese Hart from the depths of The Congo, suggests what Gettleman reported in September is increasing and spreading.

Hart describes with the courage of an MGM lion and in near legalistic detail how a convicted war criminal escaped poor detention and has organized a serious elephant poaching band in the depths of The Congo’s jungle where she works.

Everyone should read her blow-by-blow account: Click here.

The story illustrates the unsung courage of many local Africans wholly dedicated to conservation, of the potential effectiveness of The Congo government’s military (a story in itself), and how the wanton neglect of the developed world dumped weaponry into the hands of thugs.

Hart is a renowned researcher. She’s become now nothing less than a crusader, and many of us worry for her safety.

The sad fact of Hart’s story is that nothing is going to change unless major powers like the United States take ownership of their wanton neglect and aggressively begin cleaning up the loose weaponry of the world.

Simultaneously with powers like China aggressively stopping the trade in illegal ivory.

And until that action formula reaches The Congo, elephant may not be in as much danger as Terese Hart.

No More Grains of Rice

No More Grains of Rice

Susan Rice’s performance on the Sunday Talk Shows incorrectly explaining the Benghazi attacks is a perfect example of how she has historically allowed political considerations to trump more important foreign policy or human rights considerations in Africa.

She’s been acting like this for years. She seems incapable of intricate analysis and quiet diplomacy. She’s no engineer of foreign policy. She’s a cheerleader. Africans don’t like it. I don’t like it. Americans should not make her the Secretary of State.

Her list of failures in Africa is impressive: Blackhawk Down followed by the Rwandan genocide followed by the East African embassy bombings followed by the escalating instability of Darfur followed by the poorly created South Sudan and most recently, the mishandling of the growing violence in Kivu and Goma.

There are more, but these are the main ones.

Contrary to the Huffington Post that I usually love, there were plenty of warnings that the Kenyan embassy was going to be attacked in 1998.

An Egyptian agent, or double agent initially set up by the FBI gave warnings of the attack on East African embassies about nine months before it happened. The details were published long ago by the New York Times.

After years of further investigations, Frontline organized all the evidence in a way that was resounding proof that plenty of warning had been given, warning that had been ignored. At the time, Susan Rice was advising President Clinton on African affairs and had to have been involved in the decision (or lack of decision) to do something about the intelligence.

Today in Nairobi the “August 7 Memorial Park” stands as America’s remembrance of the bombing and in particular remembrance of the 238 Kenyans who were killed. I’ve visited the memorial often and it includes a short movie that also describes a workman who came into the embassy hours before the bombing and tried to warn everyone to leave, but who was ignored.

The memorial has had a website for years: memorialparkkenya.org. The URL is confirmed by Google. But the website no longer works… for some reason.

I was in Nairobi and heard the bomb go off. It is a day I will never forget, and I will never forget what I’ve learned about it, even if websites die.

But worse than the 1998 bombing was the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The U.S. and France are specifically responsible for having allowed the genocide to happen by their actions blocking the Security Council from sending in more peace-keeping troops as desperately requested by the Canadian General at the time.

France refused to increase peace-keeping because of a complex historical feud with Belgium and France’s blind support of the Hutu who at the time were plotting the genocide but had been seriously repressed by the existing Rwandan regime.

Clinton backed France because of his being burned by BlackHawk Down. It was a cowardly response, and one for which he has since apologized.

There is a wealth of literature on this. The two best are the movie “Hotel Rwanda“ and the book, “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families.”

According to a former President of GenocideWatch, Dr. Gregory Stanton of Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars:

“The U.S. government was forewarned of the impending genocide. Communications were sent by cable, e-mail, and secure telephone… [But] Policy makers in Washington, D.C., especially Anthony Lake, Dick Clarke and Susan Rice at the National Security Council… did not want the U.S. to get involved in another African “civil war.”

The decision to “not get involved” hooked America into a mind-boggling expensive refugee and human rights initiative, followed by billions for Rwanda aid that continues today. But beyond the expense, we’re talking of at least a million lives lost.

The guilt of supporting Rwanda is something Susan Rice knows deeply and is deeply entrenched in. As the DRC Congo/Goma crisis deepened this fall, she specifically in her capacity as UN ambassador engineered multiple softenings of European led initiatives to impose sanctions on Rwanda to restrain its wanton support of the turbulence there.

A few weeks ago, America began reversing this overly cautious policy. It was terribly wrong in the beginning and has certainly led to more violence than was necessary.

Perhaps the best example of Rice’s inability to perform more than a political role was her performance in The Sudan, including Darfur and the creation of South Sudan.

The secession of South Sudan from the greater Sudan is overall a diplomatic victory for the world and most certainly a good move for the citizens there. It took more than 20 years and involved a serious civil war that the U.S. was deeply involved in.

But the creation of the new state was poorly done. Two years after independence, South Sudan is still mired in military difficulties with the north in a modern way, and with several ethnic groups in ways reminiscent of William of Orange. The untold oil wealth is not being mined because of this instability and a refugee problem within the country has grown severe.

Rice must shoulder much of the blame. She consistently created PR moments, sound bites and veneers of western institutions neglecting the much more difficult and intricate process of creating social institutions.

At a critical juncture in the negotiations that were leading to the two-country solution in The Sudan, Rice actually organized a rally of blurry-eye Juba citizens hurriedly rounded up for something more akin to an American political rally.

As reported by Matthew Russell Lee of InterCity Press who was traveling with Rice at the time:

“‘Are you ready to protect your country?’ [Rice shouted to the small crowd.]
Yes!
‘Are you ready for independence?’
Yes! … Another diplomat … would later call it a “political rally” and deem Susan Rice’s organization of the Juba leg as inappropriate.”

Rice has never displayed the insight or vision of a Hillary Clinton. She is schooled in American bureaucracy where she has percolated through the ranks and become one of its best soldiers.

One of Obama’s most serious failings is his inability to freshen up government. Rice like Geithner and others in his close circle, are old boys/girls who have rarely lived on the outside. While you might say the same of Hillary Clinton, it could be that rising to the top as fast as she did insulated Hillary from the strictures of soldiering Rice has not liberated herself from.

I’ve come to believe that Obama chooses people like Rice and Geithner not completely from a lack of his own personal courage, but because he very deeply believes in the American government status quo. He eloquently describes government’s ups and downs, but he sees overall America as on the right path.

I’m more radical. I’d like a visionary who shakes up government and doesn’t rely exclusively on old people with old ideas to join him at the helm. Africa has changed so quickly and so radically in my lifetime, I don’t think someone schooled and processed through American bureaucracy for her entire life is how we as Americans should be represented to Africa.

“Susan Rice’s chances of succeeding Clinton as secretary of state look slim,” writes a respected South African analyst.

And he, and I, think that’s just the way it should be.

Goma Solution

Goma Solution

Starve Rwandan and Ugandan dictators of any aid, significantly beef up the UN peace-keepers in Goma, allow the “Arab Spring” to develop and let the chips fall where they may.

That’s my solution for the Goma catastrophe.

It surprised me that Goma has stayed in the news. I’m not sure why, as the current crisis is probably less severe than multiple other ones in the past.

But suddenly there are Congressmen, movie celebrities and evening nightly news casts all talking about the catastrophe of Goma. Yesterday morning NPR featured a story and that was followed by an excellent hour of OnPoint featuring a Goma resident as panelist who writes the blog I have closely followed for several years.

This is so surprising but too overwhelming to explain. Anyway, we’ve got the attention that has been lacking for nearly 20 years.

Goma in particular and the Kivu province in eastern Congo of which it is the only large city has been an ungovernable cauldron of unspeakable violence, bubbling with untold natural resource riches, for more than two decades. The question is – and always has been – how to achieve the peace to release its mind-boggling riches.

While technically a part of the country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), not since the ruthless and crazed dictator Mobutu has the DRC effectively governed, there. The city and the province are controlled alternatively by thugs, crazies on drugs, and ruthless militias all competing for the vast wealth under its soil.

The UN has had a peace-keeping force in Goma almost continuously since the Rwandan genocide. It’s had some success, but as demonstrated last week when a tiny militia of only 1500 rolled into Goma, the UN force is too weak to provide real security.

There are three players in Goma’s world, each with their own story:

RWANDA
Susan Rice is an important component in “what to do with Goma” and it’s not good news for her. I’ve never liked Susan Rice. My feelings probably originate with the fact she was Clinton’s closest adviser on African affairs, and she shares blame for much of what is happening, now.

Clinton could have prevented, at least for a time, the Rwandan genocide of 1994 but he specifically refused to do so. He has since apologized. Rice has been less forthcoming, although she was the person advising him. The presumption is that she concurred with if not crafted the decision.

The genocide and its aftermath resulted in more than a million Rwandan Hutus fleeing into Goma and Kivu. There they stayed, prospered as warlords and gangs that later became known as the Interahamwe soon posing a real threat to the Tutsi in control of the Rwandan government.

American guilt has never been so expensive. The amount of money the U.S. poured into Rwanda is absolutely mind-boggling. The stated mission was to provide security for Rwandans, especially from the Interahamwe, and to create a life style that has proved truly the envy of any African anywhere in east or central Africa.

But all this has happened at extraordinary cost, and there is no strategic need for America to do this, and the result has been to create a western country-oasis in central Africa.

No other country in Africa has fiber optic cable laid to its most remote locales. No other has a satellite “Museum of Photographic Arts.” No other African country offers a completely free 12 years of primary and secondary education to virtually every child.

The quality of medical care in Kigali hospitals rivals South Africa. Every Rwandan family is guaranteed at least one cow. The government intends that every single school child get a free laptop, with 32000 having been distributed before this year.

This is not a typical African country. It is a construct of western guilt. And it has created a monster:

Paul Kagame as president has imprisoned and assassinated every whisper of opposition. To him Goma and Kivu become a threat to him if they grow stable, as they will most certainly be ruled mostly by Hutus and at the very least provide sanctuary and training for his enemies.

From Kagame’s point of view, the only alternative to promulgating instability in Kivu is to give it to him lock, stock and barrel.

UGANDA
Uganda is the thug in the triad. Uganda’s western border is much longer with Kivu than little Rwanda. The Mountains of the Moon separate the two, but they are hardly a buffer to the experienced militia of the area, in fact they provide sanctuary.

Uganda like Rwanda has benefitted from the black-marketeering of rare earths in Kivu, and the current ruthless dictator president, Museveni, is a Tutsi. It’s abhorrent to him that his neighbor be ruled even moderately by a Hutu. And even more abhorrent that he be cut out of such rich black market rewards.

American support of the Museveni regime is even more embarrassing and immoral than its support for the Rwandan regime. I’ve written tomes on the horrible history of American involvement in Uganda’s repressive regime.

THE CONGO (DRC)
It’s ironic that the legitimate governing authority is the least important of the triad. The DRC has become an incredibly corrupt country. The president stacked the last election’s ballot boxes in almost comic ways yet succeeded. But the world recognizes the DRC as the legitimate governing authority, and so anything the world does will have to include it.

The U.S. is adrift in the jungle, still guilt ridden and not acting properly. The worst of American history is repeating itself. We are creating colonial proxies for our incorrectly presumed interests, regardless of the legitimacy of those powers and their history of human rights abuses.

We are propping up Museveni in Uganda and Kagame in Rwanda the same way we propped up the Shah of Iran and the Contras of Nicaragua. Will we never learn?

And with regards to Goma it paints us into an untenable position of broker between dictators. The actual people of Kivu, the students of Goma, the radio stations and attempts at free press, have no faith in America.

It is time to let the chips fall where they may, but our responsibility to redeem our malevolent past means we must first reduce Rwanda and Uganda to a natural state, a state without American blood money.

I don’t doubt that in the 4-5 years this will take that the turbulence in Goma and Kivu will escalate, and that absent the paymaster, Rwanda could teeter on new genocide. We can counter the worst of this by putting all our own chips in the UN basket, by considerably beefing up the UN forces and giving them a more aggressive mandate to maintain peace.

But it’s time to stop trying to master puppets whose strings slip from our hands with our tears. We are so terribly terribly sorry.

So Terribly Terribly Sorry

So Terribly Terribly Sorry

The genie is out of the hell hole, again. Sorry to burden you with another war but Goma fell, today. Rwanda’s imperial strategy worked and a man indicted for Crimes Against Humanity is in control. We’re all so terribly terribly sorry.

Goma is the biggest city (300,000) in the eastern DRC Congo, where the countries of Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC converge. Since colonial times it’s been an important commercial center and crossroads for interior Africa.

And in modern times Goma found itself sitting upon some of the planet’s greatest and most precious treasures: tantalum, uranium, and other unpronounceable and growingly essential rare earth metals. Not to mention such chip-change resources as copper, oil and gas.

Movies have been made, books have been written about Goma. I’ve written unendingly about its importance. If there were peace in the area it would be one of the most important, richest cities on the continent.

As it is, it’s a desperate pauper’s slum for would-be soldiers collecting the world’s discarded weaponry. And there’s a lot of that.

The only reason Goma fell out of the control this time of its appointed government, the DRC Congo, is because neighboring Rwanda and Uganda wanted it to. Especially Rwanda: the country’s paranoid president, Paul Kagame, has become an iron-fisted dictator obsessed that his ethnic Tutsi tribe will never again fall from supreme power.

So the newest unimaginatively named militia, M23, is a remarkably small force (probably less than 1500) Tutsi celebrities. The commander is already a candidate for war crimes in The Hague.

The U.S., Germany, France and just yesterday the most knowledgeable western power, the former colonial master Belgium, have all severely reprimanded Rwanda, withdrawn aid, withdrawn diplomats and even now imposed sanctions. To little avail.

M23 has been nipping away at DRC Congo troops backed by 1500 UN Peace-Keeping soldiers, kilometer by kilometer. Today the prize of Goma fell; it is in the hands of M23.

The age-old ethnic feud between the Hutu and Tutsi is at the crux of the whole problem. For nearly a thousand a years, Tutsi has been the overlords of the much more numerous Hutu, who in medieval times were the farm workers and slaves.

And to a Tutsi overlord that’s quite alright. Because it keeps the peace. It’s the old American southern mentality that the slaves love their masters because the masters provide them with food, lodging and basic security.

They forget about freedom.

Hutu, on the other hand, become enraged, out-of-control predators when given the chance, and on multiple occasions just in my life time have gone on rampages massacring Tutsi, the latest being the now well documented 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

That happened precisely because Bill Clinton refused to increase American support for the pitifully 500-weak peacekeeping force from the U.N. Because he was so embarrassed having lost a dozen or so marines in the fall of Mogadishu, commonly known as Black Hawk Down. He has publicly since apologized for this mistake: And we’ve all been so terribly terribly sorry about what has happened to Somalia since.

Clinton found a willing ally in the French who always supported Hutu, the French who were encumbered by their historical enmity to the Belgians who supported the Tutsi from the earliest times as their own henchmen to keep the troublesome Hutu at bay.

After the genocide was over and the Tutsi with Kagame firmly in control of Rwanda all the great powers of the U.S. and France and even Belgium felt so terribly terribly sorry. They poured millions into the little tiny country of Rwanda. Kagame grew ruthless, jailing his opponents and stifling journalism of any kind. The terribly terribly sorry western powers kept pouring billions and billions into Rwanda: They built McDonalds and call centers and Stella Artois factories.

But Clinton and all the other terribly terribly sorry world leaders forgot about the million Hutu refugees growing mad in Goma and Kivu. So child soldiers were conscripted to machete to death their parents, more rapes occurred than births, drug kings became precious mineral kings. There were more militias with eastern European weapons as big as SAM missiles than teams in the NFL.

Since real trouble broke out in Kivu in 1998, more than 5.8 million people have been slaughtered.

You do realize, of course, that this is more than all the deaths of all America’s wars in my lifetime, the Balkans wars, the current Syrian wars, all the intifadas…

What it approaches is the period of Stalin through the holocaust. It’s a terribly terribly sorry situation.

Principally money from Sony, Intel and Apple that were desperate for the raw earth metals has funded this cesspool of militarism and terrorism. Rwanda was the eager broker, the place to launder the funds. It was always in Kagame’s interest to keep the Hutu in Kivu active.

Meanwhile, Rwanda grew to become one of the cleanest and most modern countries in Africa. And with the most heavily armed and best trained military in virtually all of sub-Saharan Africa north of the great South.

And then tinctures of peace appeared in The Congo in not small part because of the Dodd-Frank bill that restricted Sony, Intel and Apple’s billions. The UN had some success in teaching the Congolese left in Kivu how to grow corn instead of marijuana, and how to bring their buckets of Coltan to a government warehouse rather than into the blackmarket of Rwanda.

Kagame got worried. It was never in his plan that the Hutu would actually become civilized.

So he started funding militias he liked. He started stirring up trouble until he found in that cauldron of opportunity a nice tall Tutsi he could trust. Commander Bosco Ntaganda, dutifully indicted by The Hague for war crimes, was the perfect candidate.

Then, with little resistance from the terribly terribly sorry western powers, he maneuvered Rwanda onto a seat of the Security Council. All was in place. Today, Ntaganda governs Goma.

There is, of course, a historical explanation for this mess, and it rests squarely with Belgium.

The former colonial power’s king was a masterful scam artist. King Leopold wrecked the Congo and raped its treasures from the getgo. In order to accomplish what probably was the greatest colonial scam in history, he created the mega myth known as “the country of the Congo,” which should never have been created in the first place.

Between the eastern sliver of precious earth resources of which Goma is the center, and the principal commercial and the developed regions of the capital, Kinshasa, there is … well nothing but impenetrable jungle. For a 1000 miles. For the distance from New York to Des Moines there is nothing but tangled weeds, swamps, marshes, malaria, heat and pristine jungle.

The geographical imperative makes Kivu and Goma truly more a part of Rwanda or Uganda than a society whose nexus is divided by a thousand miles of impenetrable jungle.

So terribly terribly sorry Belgium formerly apologized to the Congo in 2002.

And today Goma sits as the center of a new … something or other. Succeeded section of the country? Mafia headquarters? Wars-Against-Humanity criminal sanctuary?

Or, new colony of Rwanda.

We’re all so terribly terribly sorry.

Better Science on a Better Horizon

Better Science on a Better Horizon

Two new monkeys discovered in Africa since 2003 suggest the continent is becoming more peaceful and interaction with scientists from the west has become healthier.

First seen in the jungles of The Congo in 2007, the lesula monkey (Cercopithecus lomamiensis) has now been studied enough to announce its discovery as a previously unknown species.

In 2003 in high forests of southern Tanzania, the kipunji (Rungwecebus kipunji) was discovered, and the latest discovery before that was the sun-tailed monkey in Gabon in 1984.

Both of the most recent discoveries were in areas in Africa inaccessible until only recently. Ironically, they were not inaccessible five decades ago – quite to the contrary. But with the advent of The Congo wars and decreased western aid after the collapse of the Cold War, much of accessible Africa became inaccessible or too unstable for field science.

I think it significant that before these two most recent discoveries, the sun-tailed in Gabon was in 1984 just before the collapse of the Cold War.

The most recent discoveries provide science with much more than just another listing. The odd behavior of the kipunji and the very unusual forest floor niche occupied by the lesula add surprise to previous understandings of African monkey ecology. DNA analysis, particularly with the kipunji, has aided immensely with the determination of biological divergence with other primates including man.

The lesula was first seen in 2007, subsequently documented, and this month the discovery published by John Hart. John, who along with his wife Terese, are veteran African field scientists. They are best known for their work with okapi and more recently, bonobo. Most of their adult lives have been spent in The Congo, but their published work recently has accelerated.

Where they are, now, in The Congo is not exactly a tourist destination. But the agreement of not just the Kinshasa government but local authorities and militia commanders has allowed the Harts much greater security and access. They have recently been awarded global funds to create a new jungle national park.

This would have been unheard of ten years ago. The Congo is far from pacified, particularly areas just to the south of where the Harts are now working.

But compared to only a decade ago, you might be forgiven for tagging the Harts’ field a honeymoon destination. This because of intensified United Nations (Security Council) involvement in The Congo, proactive diplomacy by world powers, and particularly with regards to The Congo, the exceptional work of the Obama administration embodied in the Dodd-Frank act.

The concerted efforts of global authorities and the proactive involvement of the United States during the last 3-4 years in The Congo and Somalia in particular has brought back hope that these chaotic and violent places may yet regain their legacy as truly an African paradise.

Have we turned a corner in African peace and global sanity?

Ask me November 7.

Rwanda’s Choice: Gorillas or Guerillas

Rwanda’s Choice: Gorillas or Guerillas

Rwanda is beginning to boil. Genocide is not in cards, but tourism is definitely jeopardized.

Last month the UN issued a report clearly implicating Rwanda in the growing conflict in neighboring Congo. Western countries on the Security Council responded with reductions of aid and other sanctions, and the situation is growing tense.

The mountain gorillas live in an area that straddles the three countries of the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. There is fighting in The Congo and it’s never achieved a level of safety capable of a stable tourism industry.

Uganda remains unstable for tourism, and the market has confirmed this. A mountain gorilla permit remains $750 in Rwanda and the 56 daily permits are often booked up a year in advance. In Uganda you can now obtain a permit for around $350 for the day before.

As the situation in the Congo escalates, the safety or more correctly, the well-being of tourists visiting Rwanda is jeopardized. I’m not warning tourists to avoid Rwanda, now, but it’s very important that those who now book gorilla ascents recognize that future events could impact the efficacy of their planned visit.

They should be prepared and willing to cancel at the last minute.

While violence is increasing in The Congo, there is no violence in either Uganda or Rwanda and nothing right now to suggest any. The point it that the same discomforts and apprehension tourists traveling to Uganda to see gorillas feel today might in the next year or so develop in Rwanda as well.

These discomforts and apprehensions are often minor. We as guides are effected by them much more than the tourist. They’re manifest mostly in a breakdown of park patrolling and authority, the increase in the necessity of bribes, and the breaking of conservation rules especially those applied particularly to tourists visiting the gorillas themselves.

Eventually tourists begin to feel these, though, and that’s the reason for Uganda’s huge market decline right now.

Rwandan Tutsi seem to be throwing down the mantel, and that’s not good for tourists. Popular local journalists are growing increasingly offensive to Americans, especially.

Sensitive American tourists are now reporting the unease themselves.

The complicated problem in the area is the same as it’s been for centuries: Hutus versus Tutsis. The violence has a colonial culpability to it, and the inability for any lessons to have been learned from the great genocide of 1994 is squarely the blame of western countries, particularly France and the U.S.

I find it singularly ironic that Bill Clinton, the principal reason the 1994 genocide was not curtailed (and he has admitted this as his greatest foreign policy failure) was in Kigali a few weeks ago acting totally oblivious to the storm clouds gathering.

The UN experts determined last month that Rwanda was directly funding and in other ways supporting the main Tutsi militia group that has successfully beaten the UN peace keeping forces in several battles in the last several weeks.

M23 has taken control of considerable territory in Kivu Province and is threatening the major town of Goma. Refugees are fleeing by the thousands. The UN is in an enormous dilemma as the current peace-keeping force will be unable to curtail further M23 advances.

Following the Rwandan genocide in 1994, perhaps a million Rwandan hutus fled into the less stable eastern Congo. At first they were treated as refugees and supported by the UN but over time they became a powerful militia known as the Interamwe.

Rwanda and to a lesser extent, Uganda, supported any armed group that could push back against the growing power of the Interamwe. As time passed allegiances grew complicated, as did the politics of the greater Congo nation. In an attempt to establish authority in the far eastern Kivu province, Kinshasa essentially provoked more war in Kivu, stirring up the pot further.

Out of this extraordinarily complicated mess emerged “M23,” a militia group decidedly Tutsi. One of its first commanders is currently on trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity, specifically the conscription of children as soldiers. But M23 continued and is today the single greatest threat for stability in Kivu.

And the UN with western nations’ affirmation has charged that Rwanda is illegally supporting M23.

This will not be solved soon. Rwanda is one of the most dictatorial countries on earth, but that alone shouldn’t stop aware tourists. Safety is the paramount issue. And “well-being” which includes being able to have fun, is intrinsic to any valuable travel experience.

Rwanda’s teetering on the fence. Stay tuned.

Clinton’s Congo Collapses

Clinton’s Congo Collapses

2004 Painting by Cheri Samba
The UN’s actions in eastern Congo to stop the escalating war might work for the moment, but they are useless down the line without an American pivot in Rwanda.

America was drawn into this mess because of the political weakness and inept statesmanship of Bill Clinton.

As time accelerates off those years Clinton comes into sharp focus as a politician par excellance but a pragmatic leader without vision. He road a wave of latent 1960s American aspirations that he was unable to fulfill domestically.

So when Blackhawk Down undid his lofty rhetoric about the global arena, he cowered like a dog who had wandered unintentionally into a mad neighbor’s yard. And he failed to recover quickly enough to stop the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.

Instead, a year later he and other equally timid western leaders began an extraordinarily expensive cleanup, which like BP in The Gulf was cleverly crafted as a great humanitarian accomplishment.

The big then hidden problem was that cleanup included the enthroning of Paul Kagame, the single greatest cause of the Congo flareup, today.

And because the American economy was growing gangbusters, technology was exploding with one grand surprise after another, and America was wallowing in the presumed glory of having won the Cold War, Clinton was capable of assuming greatness just for being around at the right time.

It was inevitable that his terrible neglect – specifically of Kagame’s own obvious vision for Tutsi domination of the region — would one day return to haunt us all … and that day is today in The Congo.

A significant UN Peacekeeping force has been successfully challenged by M23, a powerful warlord army, in Kivu Province in the eastern Congo, and today the local population is being displaced as if Katrina had descended onto middle earth.

The tinderbox will explode at any minute. The only half-rational functioning society in Kivu, the main town of Goma, is due to either fall or be wiped out and the UN sent running.

Yesterday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called the leaders of The Congo and Rwanda, the two greatest arch adversaries on earth, to beg for peace. They won’t give it to him.

I’m not sure how to undo a generation of politics predicated on Clinton’s cowardice, but one thing is certain. The U.S. and Europe must stop the unchecked and often unaccounted for support of Rwanda’s merciless dictator, Paul Kagame.

Kagame is front and center in the conflict, a likely billionaire as a result of it, and a fanatic who believes that ethnic conflicts are irresolvable. He has jailed his opponents, likely assassinated them abroad, and struck terror through his population.

And he is funding the war in The Congo, with U.S. and European aid money.

But the U.S. and Europe are stuck trying to justify the past and simply can’t pivot out of their culpability. The U.S. and Europe promote policies of ethnic reconciliation that cost millions but go nowhere, and support Kagame for lack of any alternative because they were the ones that put him in power.

You know, it’s time to own up to our mistakes. We’ve got to step out of a history of governance entrenched in the notion that the past was always right.

America’s vision — Clinton’s plan — for reconstructed Rwanda isn’t working. It’s like culling deer. You might save the roses where you cull, but the problem only then gets worse on the periphery where culling didn’t occur.

The periphery of Kagame’s power is Kivu, the sore that festers and will soon burst. Kagame’s American vaccinations give him immunity so he can wade into the puss and extend his power westwards.

The conflict in the eastern Congo is so complex and daunting that a blogpost seems useless without deep background. Much of what I believe rests on personal experience and a formidable body of often conflicting intelligence and analysis. In fact, probably the only evident truth about The Congo is that its complexity is its undoing.

Study Jason Stearns: His book, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, was published last year, and I have used above the Samba painting that tops his invaluable blog, Congo Siasa.

Recalibrate your support for Kagame, America. Clinton’s shame is old news.

Top Ten 2011 Africa Stories

Top Ten 2011 Africa Stories

Twevolution, the Arab Spring [by Twitter] is universally considered the most important story of the year, much less just in Africa. But I believe the Kenyan invasion of Somalia will have as lasting an effect on Africa, so I’ve considered them both Number One.

1A: KENYA INVADES SOMALIA
On October 18 Kenya invaded Somalia, where 4-5,000 of its troops remain today. Provoked by several kidnapings and other fighting in and around the rapidly growing refugee camp of Dadaab, the impression given at the time was that Kenyans had “just had enough” of al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliated terrorism group in The Horn which at the time controlled approximately the southern third of Somalia. Later on, however, it became apparent that the invasion had been in the works for some time.

At the beginning of the invasion the Kenyan command announced its objective was the port city of Kismayo. To date that hasn’t happened. Aided by American drones and intelligence, and by French intelligence and naval warships, an assessment was made early on that the battle for Kismayo would be much harder than the Kenyans first assumed, and the strategy was reduced to laying siege.

That continues and remarkably, might be working. Call it what you will, but the Kenyan restraint managed to gain the support of a number of other African nations, and Kenya is now theoretically but a part of the larger African Union peacekeeping force which has been in Somali for 8 years. Moreover, the capital of Mogadishu has been pretty much secured, a task the previous peace keepers had been unable to do for 8 years.

The invasion costs Kenya dearly. The Kenyan shilling has lost about a third of its value, there are food shortages nationwide, about a half dozen terrorist attacks in retribution have occurred killing and wounding scores of people (2 in Nairobi city) and tourism – its principal source of foreign reserves – lingers around a third of what it would otherwise be had there be no invasion.

At first I considered this was just another failed “war against terrorism” albeit in this case the avowed terrorists controlled the country right next door. Moreover, I saw it as basically a proxy war by France and the U.S., which it may indeed be. But the Kenyan military restraint and the near unanimous support for the war at home, as well as the accumulation of individually marginal battle successes and outside support now coming to Kenya in assistance, all makes me wonder if once again Africans have shown us how to do it right.

That’s what makes this such an important story. The possibility that conventional military reaction to guerilla terrorism has learned a way to succeed, essentially displacing the great powers – the U.S. primarily – as the world’s best military strategists. There is as much hope in this statement as evidence, but both exist, and that alone raises this story to the top.

You may also wish to review Top al-Shabaab Leader Killed and Somali Professionals Flee as Refugees.

1B: TWEVOLUTION CHANGES EGYPT
The Egyptian uprising, unlike its Tunisian predecessor, ensured that no African government was immune to revolution, perhaps no government in the world. I called it Twevolution because especially in Egypt the moment-by-moment activities of the mass was definitely managed by Twitter.

And the particular connection to Kenya was fabulous, because the software that powered the Twitter, Facebook and other similar revolution managing tools came originally from Kenya.

Similar of course to Tunisia was the platform for any “software instructions” – the power of the people! And this in the face of the most unimaginable odds if you’re rating the brute physical force of the regime in power.

Egypt fell rather quickly and the aftermath was remarkably peaceful. Compared to the original demonstrations, later civil disobedience whether it was against the Coptics or the military, was actually quite small. So I found it particularly fascinating how world travelers reacted. Whereas tourist murders, kidnapings and muggings were common for the many years that Egypt experienced millions of visitors annually, tourists balked at coming now that such political acts against tourists no longer occurred, because the instigators were now a part of the political process! This despite incredible deals.

We wait with baited breath for the outcome in Syria, but less visible countries like Botswana and Malawi also experienced their own Twevolution. And I listed 11 dictators that I expected would ultimately fall because of the Egyptian revolution.

Like any major revolution, the path has been bumpy, the future not easily predicted. But I’m certain, for example, that the hard and often brutal tactics of the military who currently assumes the reins of state will ultimately be vindicated. And certainly this tumultuous African revolution if not the outright cause was an important factor in our own protests, like Occupy Wall Street.

3: NEW COUNTRY OF SOUTH SUDAN
The free election and emergence of South Sudan as Africa’s 54th country would have been the year’s top story if all that revolution hadn’t started further north! In the making for more than ten years, a remarkably successful diplomatic coup for the United States, this new western ally rich with natural resources was gingerly excised from of the west’s most notorious foes, The Sudan.

Even as Sudan’s president was being indicted for war crimes in Darfur, he ostensibly participated in the creation of this new entity. But because of the drama up north, the final act of the ultimate referendum in the South which set up the new republic produced no more news noise than a snap of the fingers.

Regrettably, with so much of the world’s attention focused elsewhere, the new country was hassled violently by its former parent to the north. We can only hope that this new country will forge a more humane path than its parent, and my greatest concern for Africa right now is that global attention to reigning in the brutal regime of the north will be directed elsewhere.

4: UGANDA FALTERS
Twevolution essentially effected every country in Africa in some way. Uganda’s strongman, Yoweri Museveni, looked in the early part of the last decade like he was in for life. Much was made about his attachment to American politicians on the right, and this right after he was Bill Clinton’s Africa doll child.

But even before Twevolution – or perhaps because of the same dynamics that first erupted in Tunisia and Egypt – Museveni’s opponents grew bold and his vicious suppression of their attempts to legitimately oust him from power ended with the most flawed election seen in East Africa since Independence.

But unlike in neighboring Kenya where a similar 2007 election caused nationwide turmoil and an ultimate power sharing agreement, Museveni simply jailed anyone who opposed him. At first this seemed to work but several months later the opposition resurfaced and it became apparent that the country was at a crossroads. Submit to the strongman or fight him.

Meanwhile, tourism sunk into near oblivion. And by mid-May I was predicting that Museveni was the new Mugabe and had successfully oppressed his country to his regime. But as it turned out it was a hiatus not a surrender and a month later demonstrations began, twice as strong as before. And it was sad, because they went on and on and on, and hundreds if not thousands of people were injured and jailed.

Finally towards the end of August a major demonstration seemed to alter the balance. And if it did so it was because Museveni simply wouldn’t believe what was happening.

I wish I could tell you the story continued to a happy ending, but it hasn’t, at least not yet. There is an uneasy calm in Ugandan society, one buoyed to some extent by a new voice in legislators that dares to criticize Museveni, that has begun a number of inquiries and with media that has even dared to suggest Museveni will be impeached. The U.S. deployment of 100 green berets in the country enroute the Central African Republic in October essentially seems to have actually raised Museveni’s popularity. So Uganda falters, and how it falls – either way – will dramatically alter the East African landscape for decades.

5: GLOBAL WARMING
This is a global phenomena, of course, but it is the developing world like so much of Africa which suffers the most and is least capable of dealing with it. The year began with incessant reporting by western media of droughts, then floods, in a confused misunderstanding of what global warming means.

It means both, just as in temperate climates it means colder and hotter. With statistics that questions the very name “Developed World,” America is reported to still have a third of its citizens disputing that global warming is even happening, and an even greater percentage who accept it is happening but believe man is not responsible either for it occurring or trying to change it. Even as clear and obvious events happen all around them.

Global warming is pretty simple to understand, so doubters’ only recourse is to make it much more confusing than it really is. And the most important reason that we must get everyone to understand and accept global warming, is we then must accept global responsibilities for doing something about it. I was incensed, for example, about how so much of the media described the droughts in Africa as fate when in fact they are a direct result of the developed world’s high carbon emissions.

And the news continued in a depressing way with the very bad (proponents call it “compromised”) outcome of the Durban climate talks. My take was that even the countries most effected, the developed world, were basically bought off from making a bigger stink.

Environmentalists will argue, understandably, that this is really the biggest story and will remain so until we all fry. The problem is that our lives are measured in the nano seconds of video games, and until we can embrace a long view of humanity and that our most fundamental role is to keep the world alive for those who come after us, it won’t even make the top ten for too much longer.

6: COLTAN WARS IMPEDED
This is a remarkable story that so little attention has been given. An obscure part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act essentially halved if not ultimately will end the wars in the eastern Congo which have been going on for decades.

These wars are very much like the fractional wars in Somalia before al-Shabaab began to consolidate its power, there. Numerous militias, certain ones predominant, but a series of fiefdoms up and down the eastern Congo. You can’t survive in this deepest jungle of interior Africa without money, and that money came from the sale of this area’s rich rare earth metals.

Tantalum, coltran more commonly said, is needed by virtually every cell phone, computer and communication device used today. And there are mines in the U.S. and Australia and elsewhere, but the deal came from the warlords in the eastern Congo. And Playbox masters, Sony, and computer wizards, Intel, bought illegally from these warlords because the price was right.

And that price funded guns, rape, pillaging and the destruction of the jungle. The Consumer Protection Agency, set up by the Dodd-Frank Act, now forbids these giants of technology from doing business in the U.S. unless they can prove they aren’t buying Coltran from the warlords. Done. War if not right now, soon over.

7: ELEPHANTS AND CITES
The semi-decade meeting of CITES occurred this March in Doha, Qatar, and the big fight of interest to me was over elephants. The two basic opposing positions on whether to downlist elephants from an endangered species hasn’t changed: those opposed to taking elephants off the list so that their body parts (ivory) could be traded believed that poaching was at bay, and that at least it was at bay in their country. South Africa has led this flank for years and has a compelling argument, since poaching of elephants is controlled in the south and the stockpiling of ivory, incapable of being sold, lessens the funds that might otherwise be available for wider conservation.

The east and most western countries like the U.S. and U.K. argue that while this may be true in the south, it isn’t at all true elsewhere on the continent, and that once a market is legal no matter from where, poaching will increase geometrically especially in the east where it is more difficult to control. I concur with this argument, although it is weakened by the fact that elephants are overpopulated in the east, now, and that there are no good strategic plans to do something about the increasing human/elephant conflicts, there.

But while the arguments didn’t change, the proponents themselves did. In a dramatic retreat from its East African colleagues, Tanzania sided with the south, and that put enormous strain on the negotiations. When evidence emerged that Tanzania was about the worst country in all of Africa to manage its poaching and that officials there were likely involved, the tide returned to normal and the convention voted to continue keeping elephants listed as an endangered species.

8: RHINO POACHING REACHES EXTREME LEVELS
For the first time in history, an animal product (ground rhino horn) became more expensive on illicit markets than gold.

Rhino, unlike elephant, is not doing well in the wild. It’s doing wonderfully in captivity and right next to the wild in many private reserves, but in the wild it’s too easy a take. This year’s elevation of the value of rhino horn resulted in unexpectedly high poaching, and some of it very high profile.

9: SERENGETI HIGHWAY STOPPED
This story isn’t all good, but mostly, because the Serengeti Highway project was shelved and that’s the important part. And to be sure, the success of stopping this untenable project was aided by a group called Serengeti Watch.

But after some extremely good and aggressive work, Serengeti Watch started to behave like Congress, more interested in keeping itself in place than doing the work it was intended to do. The first indication of this came when a Tanzanian government report in February, which on careful reading suggested the government was having second thoughts about the project, was identified but for some reason not carefully analyzed by Watch.

So while the highway is at least for the time being dead, Serengeti Watch which based on its original genesis should be as well, isn’t.

10: KENYAN TRANSFORMATION AND WORLD COURT
The ongoing and now seemingly endless transformation of Kenyan society and politics provoked by the widespread election violence of 2007, and which has led to a marvelous new constitution, is an ongoing top ten story for this year for sure. But more specifically, the acceptance of this new Kenyan society of the validity of the World Court has elevated the power of that controversial institution well beyond anyone’s expectations here in the west.

Following last year’s publication by the court of the principal accused of the crimes against humanity that fired the 2007 violence, it was widely expected that Kenya would simply ignore it. Not so. Politicians and current government officials of the highest profile, including the son of the founder of Kenya, dutifully traveled to The Hague to voluntarily participate in the global judicial process that ultimately has the power to incarcerate them.

The outcome, of course, remains to be seen and no telling what they’ll do if actually convicted. It’s very hard to imagine them all getting on an airplane in Nairobi to walk into a cell in Rotterdam.

But in a real switcheroo this travel to The Hague has even been spun by those accused as something positive and in fact might have boosted their political standing at home. And however it effects the specific accused, or Kenya society’s orientation to them, the main story is how it has validated a global institution’s political authority.

War or Peace, At This Very Instant

War or Peace, At This Very Instant

I started this blog to write about animals. Today, like so many days, it’s about elections and wars. And in this wrap-up blog before our Thanksgiving holiday, the preeminent news is at this very moment in time. Better than I would have a hoped a few moments ago.

It’s so ephemeral. It’s easy to argue that things change so quickly, that news and blog-news is disseminated so instantly, that clearly seeing a trend to events becomes more and more murky. Well, bring it on!

So let me wage a huge gamble about Kenya, Egypt and The Congo – three volatile yet extremely promising societies – which I promise to revisit next week: Last weekend the situation in all three looked nothing short of awful. This morning, at this very instant, it looks different and better.

Kenya’s advancing invasion of Somalia for the first time in six weeks has an optimistic cast. Despite unbelievable clashes in Egypt over the last few days, at this very moment in time the military seems to actually be negotiating away its position to the people, and even in the Heart of Darkness I see glimmers of goodness in the November 28th election in The Congo.

It’s only logical that the Kenyan invasion of Somali begun more than a month ago would fail and strangle the country’s developing economy and polity in the process. And the quick entry, then total abortion of the process which resulted in a Kenyan decampment less than half way to its stated objective, the port of Kismayo, looked threateningly like Kenyan defeat earlier than any could have predicted.

But then chips we didn’t know we’re in the game started to fall into place. The dysfunctional Somali transitional government got in line. Coordination began with African Union forces that have been in the country since its seems the industrial revolution. And last week, Kenya’s sometimes adversary Ethiopia resent troops into the country presumably to fight alongside Kenya.

I am not one to believe wars work very well, but reports this morning suggest that the size of the combined effort by Kenya, Ethiopia and the AU is such that routing al-Shabaab might just be possible.

In Egypt all hell broke loose last week following the military’s very ill-advised November 1 edicts setting the final rules for the election process and simultaneously entrenching itself in a cocoon of immunity from civilian authority.

Like so many countries in South America and Asia in the recent past, military autocracies justify themselves as the only cohesion to otherwise dysfunctional and often ethnically divided societies. It is laughably early for me to post this as the meetings are actually in progress in Cairo, at this very instant in time, but my intuition is on the line. I think the military is going to back down.

The poor Congo was crippled in the 1960s at the very moment of its independence, when Belgium and the U.S. teamed up to murder the duly elected first president of the country, Patrice Lamumba, for fear he was a “communist.” That body blow to its polity has seemed to fester rather than heal.

The current president is the son of the “liberator” who forcibly ousted the long-time ruthless dictator, Sesi Seko Mobutu. But Mobutu had held power for so long that throngs of people and institutions depended upon him. Chaos reigned in the eastern Kivu Province, where child soldiers and blackmarketed Star Wars rare metals fueled Dante’s inferno.

But with a little help from its friends, most notably a little acknowledged provision in the Dodd-Frank banking act, the temperature in The Congo has plummeted to near normal highland rain forest levels. The bad guys have fled north. Next Monday’s election might just actually go off well.

If these possibly irresponsible optimistic predictions come true there is an important lesson I for one should learn and could easily forget if not pointed out, now. Trust youth.

It has been us fuddy duddies predicting gloom and doom. We have nothing but history to reference. The rest of our lives would make a very short line.

It’s the youth in Tahrir Square, in Nairobi, and in the jungles of Kivu who have been insisting throughout all the ups and downs in their situations that “we will prevail.” It’s new tour companies that have contacted me from Kivu-Congo, and Nairobi and Cairo.

Tour companies? New tour companies in the midst of fire and smoke?