Things Falling Apart

Things Falling Apart

soyinkaSometimes, you can’t take you with you.

Wole Soyinka, an 82-year old Nigerian Nobel laureate is going home after 20 years in New York. (Three years ago, also at 82, his revered countryman, Chinua Achebe, also left New York… when he died. Alas, New York is now bereft of great Nigerian writers.)

Soyinka tore up his green card. He’s protesting Donald Trump. He’s elite. Trump confirms he doesn’t read.

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Decamping to the Desert

Decamping to the Desert

desertjihadistsAs radical jihadists slowly and systematically lose control of Iraq and conditions improve in Somalia, it’s clear where they’re fleeing to: the deserts of Africa.

From eastern and northern Mali to western Niger radical jihadism is on the rise. This is the very southern fringe of the great Sahara. The dynamic is accelerated by Nigeria’s successful campaign against jihadists, both militarily and diplomatically.

Why now, and why the desert?

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Religion is Tribalism

Religion is Tribalism

kerry listeningObama is trying to be the Great Mediator in Africa having failed in America. Don’t hold your breath.

John Kerry is completing a whirlwind tour of Africa, today, dolling out money like carnival candy and telling the McCoys and Hatfields that they’ll be a lot more if they have Thanksgiving dinner together.

Kerry’s bitter sweet journey carries cargoes of carrots and sticks.

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What a Mess

What a Mess

freefallingrandLest this be too technical for those unfamiliar with Africa, this morning is a mess.

“Chaos has been unleashed and we all will be poorer,” writes a commentator this morning in the respected journal, African Arguments.

Many former British colonies in Africa are forcing calm while quietly panicking about Brexit, especially South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.

I can’t see this getting better. Even if the hoped for British pivot occurs and somehow Article 50 is never triggered, the genie is out of the bottle. Economies don’t pause for politicians to catch their breath.

The biggest single concern with South Africa and Kenya is the plummeting pound. Kenya is also worried that a new British executive will be less disposed to foreign aid. Nigeria’s concern is the increased dollar which puts downwards pressure on oil prices, Nigeria’s lifeblood. South Africa suffered a 1.2% retraction last quarter and Brexit is likely now to dump them into a full blown recession.

There is even widespread concern that money transfers will be more difficult, something that will effect all aspects of business and trade.

By 0730cdt this morning all the indicators were moving in terrible directions. Former African colonies’ currencies usually move with the pound. Although weaker currencies are often spun positively for manufactured exports, most former colonies import more than they export so their economies become stressed when their currency weakens.

Add to this a 10% drop in the price of oil (as of 0730 cdt) and Britain’s former colonies are in a terrible mess this morning.

“Politicians paint a very beautiful picture of a very bad idea just to ascend to power,” writes one Kenyan about Brexit, today. “They dupe [the electorate] into voting for them, knowing very well that whatever they are promising cannot work even under any circumstance. That is exactly what Cameron did.”

Most Americans have never traveled to Kenya or South Africa or Nigeria, much less even the UK. Our economy remains the largest on earth so likely the one that can be least hurt by any other. But we are not immune to the effects of Brexit, and I mean that as much politically as economically.

Every Britain should have known what a disaster this would be, but their politicians duped them, to use the Kenyan’s words. The Leave Campaigners promised all sorts of things that they are today retracting like yo-yos, essentially admitting lying.

But there were even double-dupes like Cameron bringing up the whole idea then trying to turn it back; and triple-dupes like Corbyn only half-heartedly campaigning against the Leave because he really wants it.

In the end the electorate was only given one choice: leave or not. I think what the electorate manifest was a protest vote, a No vote, a vote against politics, against the status quo, because like many of us around the world, that’s the only power we’ve been left by our hoarding, power hungry politicians.

The most terrifying lesson to learn from this mess is that Donald Trump might win.

Goose Steps in Nigeria

Goose Steps in Nigeria

buhariandgeneralsDemocracy’s principle flaw allows the right to choose something that’s wrong. Mature societies seem to handle this OK. Young and troubled societies are twisted apart.

For the last decade Nigeria’s GDP has been the highest in Africa exceeding $1 trillion in just the last few years. It has more than half as many people as the U.S. but an area only about a tenth as big.

Nigeria’s history since independence from Britain in 1960 has been a dosey-doe between democracy and military rule. Today a former general is the president of a democracy, but the rumors are growing that won’t last much longer.

“We are constrained to let the cat out of the bag,” a top military commander said today in the typical African way of saying something you shouldn’t. “Some military men are making moves to remove [President Buhari].”

The current President, Muhammadu Buhari, understands this better than most. Although he was freely elected last year as President, he had also been the Head of State for two years in the 1980s after leading a coup against the then democratic regime.

Yes, that’s what I said. The man who forcefully toppled democracy on New Year’s Eve, 1983, was freely elected its democratic President on May 31, 2015.

Well, a lot can change in 32 years, no?

The longest and most damaging civil war in modern Africa was the Biafran civil war in Nigeria from 1967-1970. Only 15 years into independence, Cold War headaches were disrupting Nigeria’s polity, famine appeared in 1968, and the better educated and democratic Biafran was feeling increasingly oppressed by the growing non-secular, autocratic government that favored the Islamic north.

That was almost a half century ago. It’s happening all over, again.

The Nigerian economy is in a free fall with the price of oil, its soul fuel. The world Battle Against Terrorism is playing out in its northeast. Climate change is decimating its agriculture, and the better educated and democratic Biafran is feeling increasingly oppressed by the growing non-secular, autocratic government that favors Buhari’s Islamic north.

In a partially televised official dinner last night, President Buhari reminded his nation that two million mostly Biafrans died in that civil war:

“We were quarrelling with our brothers, we were not fighting an enemy… Somebody is saying that once again: he wants Biafra. I think this is because he wasn’t [yet] born” and doesn’t remember the horror of the war.

Agreeing with British Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent statement that “Nigeria is fantastically corrupt,” one of the leaders of the modern Biafran secessionist movement said yesterday:

“”Nigerians … have blood in their hands. They are ethnic bigots, unrepentant dictators, religious fundamentalists and arch genocidists. They are arch supporters of terrorism. They circumvent the electoral laws… They do not understand the basic tenets of democracy… These are men whose only mission is to annihilate their perceived enemies.”

This deputy leader of the Biafran secessionist movement is too young to have experienced his last civil war, but he’s certainly hell bent on another one.

As we know all too well here in the United States, democracy gives you the right to lie. Many of these lies are believed by the electorate without due diligence. An absolute lie becomes an unmitigated truth, and the resultant battle has clearly drawn borders: Right-vs-Wrong.

But real democracy rarely creates thoughtful policy that is neither wholly right or wholly wrong, and that reality flies in the face of the easiness and sanctity of believing something is truthful or a lie.

The gun replaces the vote. Some strongman takes over, and at least in the beginning of his reign he brings with him something all people pine for: peace.

Goose steps replace strolling.

History repeats itself.

Young Discontent

Young Discontent

africandiscontentYou know, it’s not just US. Enormous discontent is sweeping across the most important countries in Africa with a heavy involvement by the youth.

Such generalizations are dangerous, so I’ve thought about this a lot. I’ll stop making conclusions: you make them. Let’s just survey today’s news.

Yesterday was budget day in South Africa. In Parliamentary fashion, the president is supposed to submit the annual budget, say a few words and then Parliament retires for a day before beginning a classic debate. That’s not what happened.

South Africa is a mess. The session was six hours of mayhem :screaming, fisticuffing, security officials pulling out MPs while those just pulled out snuck back in. The budget was never discussed.

The South African’s polity’s mess has a lot to do with one old peculiar man, Jacob Zuma, and one old revolutionary movement, the ANC, but many insist that it was the university students in the country who brought it to a head.

Last year’s country-wide student protests regarding fees and instructional language have moved into virtually all universities, even technical colleges.

Last year Nigeria elected a controversial old politician/general to clean up one of the most profoundly screwed up societies on the continent. I was skeptical but for the first few months things seemed to be going well.

They aren’t now. Leaks that the new president has sanctioned arresting the old president, a very public and questionable trial of a former Senate president, rising unemployment because of falling oil prices … and police and the military now battling not only Boko Haram, but students.

Tanzania’s good-guy president is suddenly behest by a host of unexpected protests, including support of indicted government officials, growing Islamic fundamentalism, and more which all probably began with the government’s stupid move to close all universities and colleges before last years presidential election.

In an attempt to avoid the turmoil of its neighbors, the president of Kenya announced yesterday he would remain neutral in the growing student protests in his country.

But what really caught my interest is the protests of youth in countries that … well, don’t allow protests.

A week of horrific student protests in Khartoum, the capital of one of the most dictatorial, autocratic countries in the world, ended today with tear gas and police shutting down the country’s main university.

And in neighboring Ethiopia, which tries hard to rival Sudan for in violating human rights, IT savvy government officials have so far failed at shutting down this internet music protest by youth of Oromo: click here.

My apologies if by the time you read this the Ethiopian government once again succeeds.

My take? The world is unsettled and it is largely the impatience of youth anxious for justice.

Cheering Your Opponents

Cheering Your Opponents

cheeringtooloudlyNigerian forces have fallen into a jihadist trap as they wipe out Boko Haram.

Terrorist strategies are simple: provoke fear and reprisal, and that’s exactly what’s happening worldwide as their power declines.

The change of presidents in Nigeria last year heralded a major offensive against the jihadists that once controlled nearly a third of the country. The army was finally paid and reconstituted by the new Nigerian president Buharu who was previously a decorated Army general.

In Nigeria, like in Syria with Russian forces, jihadists began falling like straws. In Iraq ISIS, too, has been in retreat following increased coalition attacks.

So what’s the problem?

Non-jihadist Muslim Nigerians warned Buharu yesterday “against plunging the country into another Boko Haram-like insurgency.” Read carefully: “another” – ‘ a different.‘

Terrorists are terrorists because they don’t have battleships and long-range bombers. They are guerrillas who master weapons of small but notorious destruction. The success of their killings is not evident across fields of slaughter, but on millions of tiny television screens. Geographical control is no longer as important as mind control.

The Nigerian sweep against Boko Haram has been impressive and fast. Hundreds of hostages have been freed after months, almost all of the country has been liberated from the terrorists’ control.

That’s good. Cheers to the Nigerian Army! But they didn’t stop. Fed by the propaganda of the bits of Boko Haram that remain, their fears were stoked and they charged on.

Nigerian soldiers this weekend swept into Islamic areas that had never been under jihadist control and that had never been associated with insurgents.

They ransacked homes of these Muslim leaders, detained others, laid to waste several Muslim facilities and in the course of this “over-reaction” provoked a number of Muslim (but non-jihadist) leaders to vow revenge.

This is exactly what the terrorists want: they will die happily knowing that others will replace them.

As a real corollary here in the U.S., individuals attacking mosques and presidential candidates claiming they will somehow effect policy against virtually all Muslims… this breeds new terrorism.

Nigeria is the petri dish right now for this theory.

Personally, I fear President Buharu has already gone too far. He’s a ruthless soldier. Not exactly a Donald Trump, he nonetheless swept to power in a wave of nationalist sentiment of “no-holds barred” against the terrorists.

He delivered on his promise, but then he didn’t stop. In a sense it’s not entirely reflective of any over intentions, it’s just that terrorists are the chimera of world conflict. One moment they’re al-Qaeda, and the next, ISIS. Hack one down, and another arises.

Nigeria must stop now and read history: As Russia and the U.S. learned decades ago, you never wipe out terrorists, whether that be in Vietnam or Afghanistan. You simply clean the surface of old terrorists so that new ones can grow.

Terrorists will never be defeated on the battlefield. Terrorists might never be defeated, period. But they can be massively diminished and with time suffocated out of importance.

This requires a certain military restraint by the aggrieved societies of the sort I worry Nigeria cannot develop so long as Buharu is at the helm.

Ridiculous, Simply

Ridiculous, Simply

carsonstoneageTwo notable attacks this morning, one on the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali and a powerful Nigerian air force offensive against Boko Haram, clarify what terrorism means to many Americans when overlaid Paris.

Up to a dozen masked gunmen driving cars with diplomatic license plates stormed Bamako’s principal expatriate hotel this morning, forced their way in, briefly interrogated a few people who were allowed to leave after reciting sections of the Koran, then rounded up others in what at this moment remains a hostage situation.

Next door, Nigeria’s powerful air force blasted to smithereens “an outdoor gathering” that it claimed was of Boko Haram terrorists in the east of the country.

When these two events play themselves out, over no more time than it took the Paris events to unfold, many more people will have been killed than in Paris, and many more terrorists as well.

And I’ll wage you dollars to donuts it will receive a fraction of the attention, even in this currently charged atmosphere so sensitive to security and terrorism.

Why?

First, because the vast majority (say 90%?) of media consumers take little interest in Africa.

Second, media consumers presume that bad things happen more in Africa than where they live. It’s not as unusual.

Third and most sinister, media consumers impugn African failures at moral governance – a sort of “they got what they deserve.”

I doubt you will disagree with the first reason.

The second is almost a tautology; I think we’ll agree.

I may get resistance to my third from holier-than-thou effetes, but the more honest among us will be unable to completely shed this characterization. We may resist our weakness to believe punishment is both just and a course of remedy, but we must admit to it.

So while it’s not a satisfying analysis and hardly one that naturally leads to any rectification of the problem, it stands solid.

Let’s own the situation and our frailty at grappling with it, and then let’s roll up our sleeves and figure out what to do about.

Here’s when I get mad: When instead of confronting this terribly complex situation head-on, we look for shortcuts out of dealing with it.

Today on PBS’ Morning Edition, the intellectual weakling Steve Inskeep asked his even worse reporter assigned to the Mali attack, the ever confused Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, ‘Is this attack linked to anything more global?’ (I can’t remember the exact words. That’s my characterization: Listen to the link.)

Then in a terribly disappointing followup, the good journalist Renee Montagne asked Gerard Araud, France’s ambassador to the United States, if the Mali attacks were linked to anything globally.

To his eternal credit there was an unnatural radio pause before he answered that he thought the situation was more “local.”

Americans want everything linked to the Joker. They want Syrian refugees to be trained by Him. They want the Syrian Opposition (which yet isn’t organized) to fight Him. They want then “to wipe him out.”

The trouble in the world today is, first it’s not more than it’s probably always been, but second, it’s more deadly because of the geometrically increased number of available weapons, and third: it’s way more complicated than before and if linked to anything singular it’s probably climate change.

I’d love to hear how the Republicans plan on wiping out Climate Change.

There is no Joker. Massive increases in technology allow us to know about so much more of the conflicts in the world than we used to. Huge illogical wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq coupled with the end of the Cold War have thrown unimaginable amounts of weapons out there to be picked up.

So throw all that on your chess board and stop trying to simplify it.

Smiling Terrorists

Smiling Terrorists

mamoutdouadIf you’re an American, you probably don’t understand terrorism. Your egoism’s unique fears cloud your rational analysis. Two excellent examples of this, today:

The first is simple. On a not-very-left but not-right morning TV show, today, Morning Joe, a quick mention of the ISIS beheading of a Croatian oil worker who was kidnapped in Cairo elicited the following conclusion : “…shows the increasing reach of ISIS.”

The correct take on what happened is exactly the opposite. Terrorist groups that are failing at normal warfare, as ISIS is in the Levant, break up into individuial guerillas undertaking easier, simpler acts.

It’s a clear demonstration they are becoming weaker.

It’s equally true of the other major terrorist organization in Africa: al-Shabaab. Both BH & Shabaab were large-scale military organizations that have been routed leaving no well organized terrorist armies left in Africa.

BH’s long time leader, Abubakar Shekau, who at one point controlled nearly a fifth of Nigeria, has apparently been killed or exiled and replaced by Mahamat Daoud who the Chadian leader said yesterday wants to negotiate peace.

There’s no reason to negotiate with Boko Haram, now. There’s little of it left.

According to Reuters, BH now controls hardly anything in Nigeria except a small, remote forest.

Mahamat Daoud smiles. Find me another picture of a major terrorist smiling.

The remarkable turnaround in Nigeria this year is linked to several factors. First, the newly elected president is a former general who has successfully consolidated Nigeria’s civil administration with its military, not seen before.

Like former times in several South American countries, the military and civilian sects of society never got along. Civilian rule was corrupt and inefficient. Frequent military coups returned stability to the country but also resulted in massive human rights violations.

Nigeria’s current president, former general Muhammadu Buhari, who won the March presidential election seems to have changed this … at least so far.

The other factor is widespread presumption of massive U.S. military aid. In fact the sudden and productive delivery of U.S. weapons to Nigeria seems to have become an issue locally.

The Christian Science Monitor reported last week that Buhari is himself concerned that defeating BH depended upon outside military support, and has called for the creation of a Nigerian military-industrial complex so the country can produce its own weaponry.

(A topic of its own, of course. Whatever else can be said of ‘supporting your allies’ it becomes undeniable that the world becomes further militarized.)

The new conciliatory face of BH is quite unlike what happened to Shabaab. Shabaab splintered and fled in face of Kenyan troops and U.S. special services on the ground in East Africa. Shabaab never offered to negotiate.

In Kenya and Uganda it devolved into guerilla attacks such as the Westgate Mall. That now has all but ended as what’s left of Shabaab evaporates outside of Somalia. Within Somalia the remaining militants are struggling to retain small areas of control.

For good reasons or bad ones, whether the current state of affairs will be lasting or short-lived, terrorism in Africa is way down.

Many American’s problem is that they demand 100% of everything. Something that’s bad, like terrorism or back problems or faulty car brakes, gnaws at them virtually until there is no problem left at all.

And that rarely happens.

So their ability to calmly consider the problem and enthusiastically work towards a best if partial solution is compromised by their fear that that itty-bitty 1% not taken care of, will take care of them.

Only in movies is this a meaningful way of life.

Stability at What Price?

Stability at What Price?

freedomprosperityAre freedom and prosperity at least somewhat mutually exclusive? Why is Africa so stable, today?

There is serious turmoil in Burundi, but in the major hothouses of death and destruction, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan, right now there is a remarkable level of peace.

Tuesday, Secretary of State Kerry became the first high American official to visit Somalia since Blackhawk Down in 1993. Kerry justified his visit because Somalia “is turning around.”

There are many wonderful indications to suggest this is true.

There is worrisome fragility in the current Mali government, and troublesome weakness in a number of West African governments probably due to the prolonged ebola outbreak, but governments in North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa (other than Burundi) look strong and stable.
Why?

The answer is becoming clearer and clearer. Very strong military assistance mostly from the U.S. and France has propped up existing governments and laid to waste many areas of terrorism.

The starkest of the stark is Nigeria.

Literally for the last 5 years Nigeria was decimated by Boko Haram, at its worst situation (hardly a few months ago) ceding nearly 20% of its territory to terrorists.

Today Boko Haram is absolutely on the run. The explanation from one of Nigeria’s best media outlets:

“Unlike a year ago, when Nigerian troops would run away from Boko haram militants after running out of ammunition or for possessing inferior weapons, the Nigerian soldiers are now better armed, better equipped and better motivated.”

‘Better equipped’ is the understatement of the decade. The list of new equipment in the hands of Nigerian soldiers is astonishing, particularly when compared to the situation less than a half year ago.

It was not for wont of giving. The western powers were ready, as clearly demonstrated by the current situation, to arm the Nigerian military sufficiently. But a mixture of local politics and western hesitation because of the equivocal politics kept the ammunition in warehouses until now.

Legitimate concerns with protecting human rights were front-and-center in the paradigm that kept the previous Nigerian government of Goodluck Jonathan weak. These have been cast to the crows by the current president Buhari, a former general nearly imprisoned by his own society for human rights’ violations.

Ditto in South Sudan, the more “peaceful” Somali and ever more stable Kenya.

In addition to arming Africa to the teeth, Obama’s militarism these last six years has decimated terrorist cells and American drones have wiped out more than two dozen terrorist leaders.

Media freedom is a great barometer of authoritarian governments, since there has never been a government in the history of mankind that wasn’t vain.

Press freedom is under serious attack in … Nigeria, South Sudan and ever more stable Kenya.

So that’s the reason it’s safer than ever for you to travel to Africa: growingly authoritarian governments infused with western military might.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m troubled by this. I’m delighted that Africa is a calmer, safer, more stable place, but troubling if at the expense of freedom and the sanctity of human rights.

It seems that this age-old paradigm is near inviolable. Freedom and prosperity are at least somewhat mutually exclusive.

But wait.

Didn’t we try this, once? Weren’t there horrible South American generals and racist American governments and horribly cruel potentates that ruled the world for a long time not too long ago.

Did things get better? For whom?

Boko Bust Not Enduring

Boko Bust Not Enduring

badboyLike all terrorist groups Boko Haram cannot be eradicated but it looks like they are being massively defeated, replicating what has happened to al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab.

Reuters reported yesterday that “Nigerian forces invade last known stronghold of Boko Haram.. n an effort to finally defeat their six-year-old insurgency.”

Once nearly a fifth of Nigeria was controlled by Boko Haram. Today the rebel group has retreated to Nigeria’s vast undeveloped jungles.

Like al-Qaeda in the Levant and al-Shabaab in Somalia, organized government military operations, covert or otherwise, have firmly routed avowed terrorist groups in the last decade. Even ISIS has been stopped, although ISIS and the intertwined war in Syria remain the most problematic.

Why?

Terrorists can never be totally defeated: One individual with the right video program and a suicide belt constitutes a terrorist movement.

The last vestige of terrorism is protected by basic human rights. By this I mean that the “freedom” of one’s actions, much less the freedom to acquire deadly weaponry or the freedom to expound provocative speech, aren’t easily curtailed. Few societies – much less our own – ban citizens from obtaining weapons, for example.

Even fewer are successful in banning provocative speech, no matter how hard they try. Censorship in China is becoming progressively impossible.

There is nothing that a political leader can do that is more popular than suppressing terrorism, but to succeed many human rights have to be suppressed. Obama and Hollande’s covert war in Somalia is at least extra-legal if not illegal. Arbitrary drone assassinations which have been so instrumental in this war’s success are hardly humanitarian.

The U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq blow to smithereens centuries of fairness in conflict. The Russian policy of years ago in Chechnya applied now to the Ukraine violates all sensibilities of human rights. China’s suppression of Tibet exceeds even its own universal suppression of all its citizens.

Yet that is where today there is the least on site terrorism: U.S., Russia and China.

Strong quasi-legal brute force absolutely suppresses terrorism.

Since the Nigerian presidential election which ousted the moderate pro-democracy president for a much tougher, conservative and Muslim former general, the Nigerian army has racked up success after success in defeating Boko Haram.

The Nigerian military has always been able to suppress Boko Haram, it just chose not to do so under the current out-going administration. Progressive democracy and conservative strong-arm government often actually run by the military is the ying and yang of Nigeria.

The ying is out. The yang is in. Boko Haram is being suppressed, and expect in due course that many other things will be suppressed in Nigeria, too: like freedom of speech in the media and public demonstrations.

But .. the mantra will be that Nigeria is now “at peace, again.”

Here’s the rub, folks. Each time terrorism is suppressed by force it returns more powerful. Terrorists learn by experience. The disaffected of the world who survive being eradicated learn new, more powerful ways to reemerge.

Force suppresses but cannot eliminate. A single highly refined ounce of uranium is infinitely more powerful than a pound of uranium ore.

That is what we are doing with terrorists, today. We are making them better and more powerful and entrenching antithetical restraints on our human rights to do so.

When will we ever learn?

The Season Change… Again

The Season Change… Again

bokoharamleaderThis week’s aggressive attacks against Islamic extremists by Egypt, Jordan and now Nigeria is a significant turning point in the wars against ISIS and Boko Haram.

That’s not to say it’s a significant turning point in the “War against Terror.” But we’ll never get to figuring that one out until we start dealing in realities and admitting that the current western mission against ISIS and Boko Haram appears to be working.

It’s now been a day or more since countries in the region of Islamic terror have begun to fight back, and the response from the terrorists indicates they’re worried.

I believe the many seemingly disconnected events that happened this week in Africa and the Levant indicate that Islamic terrorists for the first time believe they are losing.

Al-Jazeera reported this morning that the Taliban and America are exploring “peace talks” in Qatar. The Taliban has had an office in Qatar for several years, and there have been other rumored meetings with America to no avail.

But in light of the much more extreme ISIS and affiliates, the Taliban now seems like Switzerland, very much worth talking to – or through – in times of travail.

Egypt bombed Libya, and Jordan bombed Syria and Iraq, to retaliate against ISIS’ beheadings of their nationals. In Nigeria a new offensive by the army claims to have killed hundreds of terrorists and reclaimed villages that had long been under Boko Haram’s control.

For so long Obama and other sane minds have explained that the war against Islamic extremists in the Levant will only improve when the countries in those regions actually pick up the fight.

Normally Boko Haram and ISIS would never the twain meet. The raw racism that exists between Arabs and Africans is something westerners can’t understand. It exceeds the antipathy of tribalism within Arabs (mostly Sunni versus Shiia) and Africans with their multitude of different ethnic groups.

If things weren’t going badly for radical Islamists as a whole, there would be no collaboration between the African Boko Haram and Arab ISIS. Yet that is exactly what is suggested today.

In a video released by Boko Haram vowing to disrupt the Nigerian election, the Boko Haram leader shows himself for the first time. That together with the professionalism of the production has all the markings of ISIS propaganda.

Recently the two groups released photos of each other’s flags and praised each other’s fighting. That’s hardly collaboration, but even if it’s a stretch to conclude anything more than empathy among villains that’s a significant change.

Almost exactly two years ago a similar new fight was happening in Mali. That represented the last hurrah of al-Qaeda. I predicted as such, and I think that is now what is happening to ISIS and Boko Haram.

Obama/Hollande’s strategy of chasing terrorists and wearing them down works, especially when countries in the area actually begin fighting.

As with al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, they never disappear altogether and they fracture into new thugs, but they lose their original power and focus.

I’m not suggesting that’s enough, and I’ve often written how short-sighted this strategy is:

ISIS emerged from the fracturing of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Boko Haram emerged from the defeat of certain Tuaregs and other Islamic groups. So theoretically we’ll spend eternity squashing one group that emerges in the pyre of the previous.

Yet call a spade a spade, folks. The single greatest threat today to the specific if questionable mission to defeat ISIS and Boko Haram is to deny they are being defeated, that the mission is succeeding.

So the single greatest threat is ourselves, those of us who thrive on the need to be threatened: The McCains and Grahams, the Righties and Fox News who can’t see beyond their nose and believe they’re threatened from all sides until the room is nuked.

It’s exactly what the terrorists want. It is, in fact, their only hope: turning America into the quintessential suicide bomber.

More Than Goodluck

More Than Goodluck

goodluckvsbuhariAfrican democracies are not doing well in the face of growing terrorism, and next weekend one of the biggest tests occurs when Nigerians go to the polls.

Secretary of State John Kerry made an unannounced visit to Lagos a day ago on his way to Kiev. His message was unequivocal: pursue, protect and keep clean the upcoming elections. None of the three are likely.

The presidential election is too close to call. President Goodluck Jonathan is seeking a second term. His unexpected best challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, is seeking a return to power.

Jonathan is an avowed Christian. Buhari is an avowed Muslim.

Jonathan at least talks democracy and claims he champions it. Buhari was one of Nigeria’s most ruthless military dictators currently being investigated by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

Neither candidate talks much about the ineffective war against Boko Haram, which controls about an eighth of the country.

Both candidates publicly disavow the possibility of a military coup. Both candidates’ advisers say otherwise.

There had hardly been a more popular man in Nigeria before Goodluck Jonathan came to power in 2011. His first few years were a love fest with the nation, and Nigeria was doing very well.

As with other popularly elected Nigerian leaders, Jonathan’s most important task was to keep the military at bay. The military has ruled Nigeria for more years than civilians since Independence in 1960. Occasionally those periods have been reasonably fair and peaceful; Buhari’s was not.

Almost all the military rulers, beneficent or tyrannical, looted the country. Nigeria is only now emerging from a state of constant corruption.

Jonathan carefully emasculated his own army so that when Boko Haram emerged, a dilemma of unexpected proportions did as well.

Foot soldiers were rarely paid because the military budget was systematically reduced or reallocated. Military leaders remain firmly in control, though, so what money was left was hoarded at the top. Foot soldiers get fed and clothed and are provided with enough aura to build egos instead of pensions.

But it’s the reason Nigeria’s military mostly fled Boko Haram, rarely fighting. All the successful military operations against Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria have come from the Chadian Army.

Which both Jonathan and Buhari say is just fine.

Despite Secretary Kerry’s noble visit, democracy is not working in Nigeria. Certainly for the moment it is not working for Nigeria’s Muslim community who is adamantly opposed to Boko Haram but getting no help from the central government.

A Buhari victory could come at the ballot box or the barracks. Either path is paved by Nigerians of all dispositions increasingly afraid of Boko Haram.

Next weekend’s elections will be unable to justly determine a winner. Jonathan’s democratic presidency achieved that goal the last time because he last won by such massive margins.

That won’t happen this time. It’s too close.

Each side has enormous resources for “getting out the vote” which means “getting out the vote as many times as you can.”

A contested election is certain and it’s hard to imagine anything peaceful. Bush vs Gore, or more appropriately, Kenyatta vs Odinga, are not models for this massively powerful and divided country besieged by terrorism.

So rumors now flourish in Lagos that Jonathan is courting military leaders to fracture any support that may exist for Buhari.

No irony ever before would match Jonathan installed in power by a military coup after losing a democratic election. That reality may be fanciful, though, as I expect the election will be inconclusive.

Let the strongest man win.

Besting Barbie

Besting Barbie

QoAvsBarbieBaz Luhrmann said it all, and Nigerian Queens of Africa dolls are now outselling barbies.

Nigeria is a complex place, among the most difficult African countries for a westerner to visit and enjoy, much less understand its foreign or social policies. Yet Nigeria often best embodies the contest between The West and Africa. Today in Nigeria, barbie dolls are losing.

Think about it. What toys do little Russians buy? What do those cute little primary school girls in Shanghai do after school? After all those primly dressed little Indian kids get home from their expensive Delhi boarding schools, what do they play with?

Other than smartphones and xBoxes, what do nonwestern kids play with?

I know images are developing in your minds of poverty struck barefoot Africans rolling the frame of a canabalized bicylcle wheel down a dirty path. (It happens in Appalachia, too.) It happens less and less in Africa, where the majority of the population – including kids, by the way – are growing up in cities that often don’t have dead grass.

Do you remember your toys? I bet if you tried hard enough you’d be able to create a narrative of your life, today, that begins with your toys as a child.

The Queens of Africa dolls intentionally challenged the barbie doll market in Africa, and they’re winning.

They’re beginning to sell well in Brazil as well, and they would probably sell well in America if the barbie cartel weren’t blocking them. What are we afraid of?

“The ‘Queens of Africa’ [dolls] … represent progressive qualities such as endurance, peace and love, while developing literary potential in children as well as enhancing their career development for the future,” doll creator, Taofeek Okoya, told Elle Magazine.

Moulin Rouge film producer, Baz Luhrmann nailed it: “It’s not about turning into a blonde Barbie doll or becoming what you dream of being; it’s about self-revelation, becoming who you are.”

Exactly as with barbie, Queens of Africa come in upteen different styles with upteen different outfits and upteen different accessories.

Hip culture digital magainze, TakePart, said: “As Barbie sales continue to plummet, another doll is aiming to slide in and take her place,” but then unfortunately added, “– in Nigeria, that is.”

Therein lies the battle between The West and Africa. TakePart is a creation of Jeff Skoll, the first president of eBay. Skoll who is Canadian sees the world from a much more global perspective than most Americans, even though he’s now firmly entrenched in the L.A. scene.

But he can’t fanthom a future in which Africa betters The West.

Even though with dolls for kids it already has. Averaging a quarter of the cost of a barbie, and with no other discernible functional differences, Queens of Africa would devour barbie in the American market.

After all, for years black kids in America played only with white barbie dolls.

“Okoya is starting to ship more of his dolls overseas, which means it could only be a matter of time before toy shelves in America are filled with African Queens and Naija Princesses,” according to the Atlanta magazine, BlackStar.

I have some reservations, by the way. The dolls are modeled after Nigeria’s three major ethnic groups … not helpful for anti-racism. Okoya is something of a playboy, the son of a Nigerian billionaire and few Nigerian billionaires are nice people… not helpful for moral capitalism.

But I probably could find similar reservations about Mattel.

So if you got one Barbie Rambo in a ring with one Queen of Africa Sheba, who’d be on the turf first?

Uber Alles

Uber Alles

uberafricaUber is rolling over Africa despite growing protests in Cape Town and Nairobi.

Last month Uber launched in Nairobi, its third African market after South Africa and Nigeria.

In my opinion Uber’s genius is principally its app. I think if yellow cab or Marvin’s Machines in Keokee had had the foresight to move with the times, it would be Uber Over.

Uber, however, claims otherwise. It claims its genius lies in contracting with independent drivers who get their own licenses independently of any company, but the fact is there’s nothing new about this.

Limo drivers do essentially the same thing. Shuttle services, too. No, Uber’s genius is in its app.

Cab service throughout the world is one of the most uniform, corrupt and nepotistic services in the world. So essential and never sufficient, travelers stand in lines for ridiculously long times, get drenched waving their appendages into the rain and oncoming 18-wheelers and argue endlessly to keep their cab going on the shortest route.

The cabals that provide workers to the cab cartels across the world are a multi-layered no-contract service licensed by metropolitan cities whose nature of doing business is rarely transparent and never fair.

The only place in the world that I enjoy riding cabs is in London. Of course a cab ride from Heathrow to a hotel in Piccadilly costs almost as much as the flight to London. You get what you pay for.

Other than London? It’s one of the most stressful parts of a trip.

Enter uber. Nigerians love it. The response “has been overwhelming,” according to an Uber executive in Lagos.

Uber plowed over Nigeria. It launched with one of the country’s most famous hip-hop stars, Ice Prince, and then it devoured an earlier similar startup, EasyTaxi, by offering up to $12 to every person for the first ride. It moved from Lagos to Abuja faster than Boko Haram.

EasyTaxi just can’t compete. It doesn’t have the snazzy app or the tech behind it. That’s the wizardry of Uber.

Negotiations continue in Cape Town where over the weekend Uber claimed to have a licensing deal that was then denied today by a city official.

Uber Kenya launched recently in association with the very popular Restaurant Week in Nairobi, offering to give free or reduced rides to certain restaurants.

Resistance is severe in Kenya where living and working successfully means mastering a network of dependency.

The universal argument against Uber is that there is no systematic driver training or qualification. The widely cited Indian rape case is forever mentioned.

One wonders, though, how many rapes and other incidents of abuse routinely occur in regular cabs around the world.

Last month as a hostage situation developed in downtown Sydney, Uber jacked up its fares by 400% as terrified customers tried to leave the city center. (It has since offered refunds.)

Uber’s market-driven pricing rather than set pricing determined by expensive citizen commissions is one of the novelties attracting Africa’s new entrepreneurs. And they need cabs.

In Nigeria Uber usually costs more than EasyTaxi and many conventional cabs, but provides snazzy cars and well-dressed drivers that appeal to a huge segment of this trendy populace.

In South Africa and Kenya, as through much of the rest of the world, Uber costs the same or less.

Who’s making that decision? Uber will say “the market” but then, who’s got their statistical fingers on the market pulse?

Uber Up There.