Burkina Volte or Faso?

Burkina Volte or Faso?

newarabspringThe crisis in little understood Burkina Faso is not over because apparently the Arab Spring that exploded in early 2011 is not over.

No one knows this better than the dictatorial leaders remaining in Africa who control the African Union (AU) which this time was instrumental in demanding that the Burkina coup leaders give up and go home.

Let me explain.

About a year ago, the old Burkina dictator of 27 years, Blaise Compaoré, was forced to flee the country by nothing more than spontaneous street demonstrations.

No one much noticed because Burkina Faso, the old Upper Volta, is one of the world’s poorest and smallest countries, a land-locked withering land that lacks any natural resources.

Compaoré didn’t blink an eye when trouble started in Africa in 2011. He didn’t blink an eye when virtually all the countries to his southwest exploded into the horrible Blood Diamond wars of the nineties.

He didn’t blink an eye the last two years when Mali devolved into chaos or when France arrived to put it back together.

Compaoré never had much to do or mismanage. His existence quite frankly was based almost entirely on his agreements (with virtually anyone who asked) to use his centrally land-locked country as a military base.

These included the good guys and the bad guys in the Blood Diamond Wars, the U.S. (for Obama’s increased militarization of Africa), France (for fighting Mali extremists) and Nigeria (for fighting Boko Haram).

So most people were yawning when about a year ago he routinely announced that he would once again stand for President for his sixth five-year term.

Out of the blue street demonstrations organized in Facebook exploded. That’s fascinating.

Did the Arab Spring never die?

A rather self-promoting piece in the Washington Post by a Vassar professor so contends.

Unfortunately the professor spent more time promoting his forthcoming book than he did explaining his proposition, so let me try.

The Arab Spring was not a singular phenomenon in Egypt sparked as Republicans may believe by Obama’s cheer leading. Nor was it confined to the most repressive of regimes and the most liberal, denying entry by any but the most extreme.

It was a cyclical phenomenon more or less linked to generational awakening of having been oppressed.

Maybe, but if it is a cycle — like anything today — it’s massively amplified by social media, the information revolution.

It’s hard, in fact, to point to any previous cycle in Burkina Faso’s history, since following a turbulent era immediately after Independence it was a single entity – Compaoré’s Company, if you will – that held control.

But the individual power provided by Facebook to organize similar sentiment is uncontained by geopolitical borders.

First there’s dissatisfaction, and the Vassar Professor may be right in that being a generational cycle. Then there’s dismay at being unable to remedy the dissatisfaction, after which there has historically in Africa been resignation and an endless stream of strongmen.

No longer. And what’s particularly fascinating about Burkina Faso’s quick devolution into revolution was its equally quick restoration out of revolution.

Hardly a day after military associated with Compaoré successfully staged the coup, they were besieged by virtually every other African leader and institution, good guys and bad guys, to reverse and get out.

The AU was most vociferous, and the AU is controlled by some of history’s most notorious strongmen. Why did they insist on a return to “democracy?”

Because they fear what is happening in Burkina will happen to them.

And, you know what? I think they’re right.

What does Egypt Mean?

What does Egypt Mean?

Cartoon reducted from original at chrislittleton.com
Cartoon reducted from original at chrislittleton.com
Karl Marx proclaimed a successful revolution was the dictatorship of the proletariat. As of today, the Egyptian revolution is the dictatorship of the middle class.

If ever there had been a truly democratic election in Africa – even including South Africa – it was the election of Mohamed Morsi as president of Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood had trained in western institutions and democracy for years. And they won.

They won because the common Egyptian, the Egyptian of the lower classes, the less educated, the less likely to be employed, the more likely to have been oppressed or even tortured, had the vote. And they voted for the one thing that they had maintained through generations of oppression: their religion.

What’s specially ironic and intellectually stinging is that they were a movement of conservative Islam whose level of violence was low. That isn’t to say it didn’t exist (the horrible murders by the recently appointed Governor of Luxor stands as the example), but compared to Hezbollah, Hamas or the Joker fringes of al-Qaeda, they were choir boys.

Many contend that it was the old dictator, Mubarak, who made them so, crushing them when they misbehaved and rewarding them ever so slightly when they towed the line.

And like African movements across the continent, from the opposition in Zimbabwe to the thrice failed people’s movement in Kenya, they displayed generational patience unfathomable to us in the west. Learning the ropes, so the speak. Patiently waiting to achieve a democratic victory.

But .. All for naught.

The most cogent argument still founded on democracy being used by the supporters of the Egyptian coup is that the Egyptian constitution under Morsi had no feature to allow for impeachment, and that the mass demonstrations of the last several weeks against Morsi were sufficient to constitute impeachment.

Weak.

The second most cogent argument was that while Morsi was elected democratically, he has systematically dismantled government institutions based on democracy and was crafting a dictatorship for himself.

In my opinion this is true. He packed the legislature and tried to emasculate the judiciary, without any constitutional or legislative authority. He started muffling all opposition media. He kept interrupting the otherwise routine schedule of upcoming elections.

In other words, like every dictator before him, he was using democracy to end it.

But what is disingenuous by the opposition is to claim this while suggesting they aren’t now doing the same thing.

The middle class has at least for the moment come to power. This elicits great sympathy from us, because we are the middle class in America. But they did not come to power democratically. And they won’t stay in power democratically. If they remain in power, it will be through a dictatorship of the middle class.

General Sisi and his underlings have indicated there will be new “democratic elections” by the end of the year, and yet another referendum on a yet another “democratic” constitution.

But no sane person believes that Morsi or the Muslin Brotherhood will have much hope of being integrated into this process. They will be excluded.

And the regime will claim they are excluded “because they aren’t democratic.”

We’ve now created the most distinguished non sequitur of democracy: We’ve proved that democracy doesn’t exist.

In America it doesn’t exist because money and other non-issue components drive elections, giving a distinct advantage to the rich. Democracy is supposed to be a debate of ideas, not bank accounts. Yet we see how quickly this gets muddled in America if a democatically achieved idea condones the advantage of money and other non-issue but controlling mechanisms like seniority and filibuster.

So democracy in America disadvantages the poor and weak. Advantage, upper classes. Same as Egypt. And by the way, the mechanism is the same:

In America so-called “democracy” may not be exclusively defined by money, but money is a principal definer. In Egypt democracy is now clearly defined by the military, and for the moment at least, the military and Egyptian middle class are allied.

And what begets the Egyptian military?

About a billion dollars annually from the U.S.

In today’s world, money is power and reigns, whether in the U.S. or Egypt. Those of us in the relative comfort of the middle class are OK with this, because we are rich enough.

But the poor and weak are not OK with this.

In Karl Marx’s time the “proletariat” was the poor and weak but undeniably the largest segment of society. As it remains today in Egypt. But in America today the “middle class” is the largest segment of society.

And in the globally connected world America has now if not imposed at least facilitated the middle class dictatorship in Egypt. Not directly, of course, because we are fooled by our own ideas. But by the very nature of capitalism, by the means by which we defend our own middle class, so must Egypt become.

This paradigm has but a single peaceful and morally correct outcome: that everyone become Middle Class. To the extent America, or Egypt, or Kenya or South Africa – or China – moves rapidly in this direction, there will be peace. To the extent societies don’t move rapidly enough in this direction, or reverse it, there will be war.

All hail the Middle Class. Long Live the Middle Class.

But don’t be hoodwinked by democracy.

No Epiphany in Egypt

No Epiphany in Egypt

Democracy is not the right to have it your way. Nor does respect of human rights (yet) include suppression of oppressive religions. Egypt is achieving democracy; let it be.

It nearly makes me laugh when Americans warn of the “Islamic state” Egypt is destined at least for a while to become.

Admittedly, many of these warnings and concerns are from our far right, like the one cited above. More studied observers have recognized Egypt’s direction for a long time, and we aren’t suggesting nuclear rearmament.

David Schenker from one of Washington’s most respected think tanks on Arab events said in July “Egypt is an Islamic state.”

Numerous other scholars realized it even earlier. But University of Chicago professor Jerry Coyne leads an aggressive faction of Bolshevik Revisionists the press is sucking up. In June Coyne said “Egypt is doomed” when Morsi was elected, then pitifully asked, “Is this what it’s about?”

Yes, as a matter of fact. It’s called democracy. Put in a way Coyne and others might well understand: It’s called The Right To Make The Wrong Decision.

It doesn’t take a history scholar to know that revolutions aren’t a simple few moments of bad guys being replaced by good guys. Every revolution of note, including our own, took lots of time to settle down.

Whether it was the Bolsheviks being ousted by the Leninists or Maximilien de Robespierre parsed by the guillotine, most revolutions are started by people who don’t get their way … at least for a very long time. Consider how long Chairman Mao was in power.

Yet night after night we get breathless reporting from our celebrity newspeople standing over Tahrir Square waiting to document Egypt’s inevitable situation just like the so-called reporters standing on Jersey’s sand beaches waiting to be slammed by Sandy.

We know already.

Or even my sanity retreats like the New York Times yelling, “The revolution in Egypt is in danger of being lost..”

Are we so steeped in our own rightness that we don’t even have the patience for a major social revolution to play itself out?

Egypt’s revolution isn’t going to be lost. It’s just going to take a while to reach any viable fruition and even longer to achieve the social graces we expect of our own mature democracy.

America should be proud of the restraint we maintain from spanking Iran, for example, or of the slow nudges we’ve been giving Burma. We dearly believe in our country and its liberal society, but we can’t drag the playground brat into our Christmas choir and expect her to sing lovely harmony.

It takes time.

Let it be.

How To .. do everything.

How To .. do everything.

We all know the media is the message. And we all deny it: the media seriously effected the U.S. Presidential election. Africans are more honest and thereby less self-destructive.

Today and tomorrow in Dakar, African intellectuals gather with African media moguls to continue work on a continent-wide framework for developing media. This is the 5th annual “Africa Leaders Media Forum” and they know that they control much of Africa’s destiny.

Last year’s conference closing declaration said, “as demonstrated by the Arab Spring…, media have a profound role to play in social transformation, giving voice to people, and promoting freedom.”

Just like CNN, MSNBC, Rush Limbaugh and the NBC Nightly News. The difference is that we Americans staunchly refuse to accept the obvious brashly insisting a good journalist can be “objective.” Africans know better.

That doesn’t mean that objectivity isn’t a plausible tenant of news reporting; it just means that it’s unattainable. With that realization a reporter is able to temper his own bias better, while clearly accepting and admitting it. There is then much less suspicion between her and her readers.

Today’s agenda began with an open public forum at a nearby university that was covered by Forbes contributor, Elise Knutsen, writing for AllAfrica.

“Panelists at the meeting spoke with manifest passion as they discussed issues related to media, governance and inclusive citizenship,” she reports. Again and again the electrified forum affirmed how powerful the media is: Whether to “promote citizenship” or “empower women” the media had a critical responsibility to frame itself correctly, otherwise it would do so intrinsically, out of control.

Is that what’s happening in America?

This is communist stuff to many Americans, despite the fact that Marshall McLuhan’s the-medium-in-the-message theory was widely accepted with his first publications in 1964.

Tomorrow’s opening session acknowledges the massive revolutions, new constitutions and increased turbulence in much of Africa. “How is the media exploiting citizens’ new wave of awareness?” the session narrative asks.

Because the media alone is the thermostat for so many public events. You dial up the enthusiasm or you dial it down. The media does this more than government organizations, schools or dining room table conversations over dinner. It’s the media, stupid!

In America we’re so afraid of power. We’re certain that power of any kind has a preeminent evil, and that any corralling of it is generally for greed and misuse which will right away curtail our own free will.

That’s really laughable, because power is power and if it isn’t corralled there’s at least an equal chance with anything else that it will curtail our own free will, and that’s the point!

Combine these notions with the false hopes that objectivity can be followed and you’ve a formula for master disaster.

What the African media understands it lacks is the technological know-how of America. Later sessions will explore the new technologies, and that will be followed by a session that then asks, “Are the African media fit to report on these multiple challenges?”

As with so much in Africa’s rapidly progressing institutions, today, there is a concern there isn’t enough money (resources) to properly develop. But the question is broader than getting enough video cameras. It includes, too, the moral and temporal fitness of the people who will be using those cameras.

Ooooh. Once again, socialism, communism whatever you want to call it, right? Yes, actually, that’s right. Media is community of-the-people and by-the-people more than many other institutions in society, certainly more than the elected assemblies and officials whose paths to power are wrought with obligation.

Media is much more dynamic. It reflects the moments of truth, and it’s those aggregate moments that we need to display, analyze and preserve.

Following Dakar’s stellar example, I intend to invite Brian Williams, Rush Limbaugh, Robert Murdoch, David Brooks and Maureen Dowd to our own American conference on how the media needs to become morally fit and responsible to the will of the people.

I’m going to call it, “The How To Do Everything” conference to attract a broad audience.

… Although I might have to run for President, first.

The Big Election Day

The Big Election Day

Today is America’s Big Election Day. This blog is for my African friends and readers, many of whom are involved in crafting new, dynamic constitutions.

Every four years America holds its largest election. This includes for the president; all House of Representatives; most state, county and city representatives including elected judges. It excludes officials whose terms are scattered including two-thirds of the Senate, half of the state governors and a few other positions.

But by far and wide, this four year cycle is “The Big Election.” The first Big Election I voted in was in 1968. I’ve voted in every election since then; this will be my 11th Big Election.

Who gets to vote, when and how, have been issues that America has addressed and redressed for centuries, and we still don’t have it right. In America’s earlier days – in fact for the country’s first 150 years if not longer – there really was no “One man, one vote.”

Most election regulations have always been left to the individual States to decide, and historically voting laws have disenfranchised many citizens in many States. For our entire history, individual states have tried and often succeeded in suppressing the vote of people traditionally unable to secure power, like Afro-Americans.

Voting suppression was effected by requiring special taxes or demonstrations of income, by proof of secure employment and other means. The suppression always effected the least powerful and tended to keep those in power for longer.

My first Big Election in 1968 was the first election in the nation governed by the Voting Rights Act (VRA), federal legislation that for the first time regulated and tried to homogenize the various States’ laws.

The VRA helped enormously to stop voter suppression, and freer voting occurred right until this very election. This time, though, a barrage of Republican state legislatures changed state laws again suppressing the vote of the poor, disenfranchised, disabled and elderly. These are all constituencies that normally support Democrats.

Successful court challenges have been made against most of these, but not all of them. Last-minute rules, such as that promulgated Friday by the Secretary of State of Ohio, may not allow for enough time for a court challenge before today’s voting.

So it remains to be seen what effect this incredible reversal of nearly a half century of improved voter enfranchisement will do. If the election is close for any of the races in the states with these voting regulation controversies in play, then the results could be delayed for some time until the court challenges are complete.

And in many cases – the Pennsylvania “billboard controversy” is a good example – illegal regulations that the court ultimately vacated were in place for a long enough time to still effect the outcome.

No political party or power can impede the growing transparency of our elections. The free access of the internet and the explosion of media outlets, more journalists and infinitely more blogs, has assured that very little if anything can be kept secret. If someone is cheating, it will be revealed.

But that radical freedom is not without its own disadvantage. It means that the sometimes truly infuriating right of anyone to lie in a political campaign and promulgate that lie without legal redress is guaranteed. Any politician can say anything, can make the most outrageous and mendacious charges against her opponent without fear of any retribution.

The argument that prevails against interdicting such behavior is the argument of transparency. As with someone cheating – if someone is lying – it will be revealed.

The problem is that the revealing takes energy, intellect and time. And a large portion of the American electorate doesn’t have any of that. A large portion of the electorate is easily fooled, even as we work tirelessly for them to be able to cast their ill-advised ballot. That’s one critical curse of democracy: that many people will vote against their best own self-interest.

Egypt, Tunisia, Kenya and likely Tanzania are all crafting new societies based on democratic elections. Lacking America’s long history of democracy can be a benefit in this modern age. Learn from our mistakes, and perhaps we can learn from your accomplishments.

Zap Zanzibar

Zap Zanzibar

Last night Pres. Obama and Gov. Romney argued whether al-Qaeda was on the run. It is, and it’s central to why Zanzibar is exploding, now.

Yesterday tear gas filled Stone Town as mostly young radicals protested the indictment of a popular extremist sheik who was then held without bail.

The unrest in Zanzibar began last week. There was also significant violence in mainland Tanzania’s largest city, Dar-es-Salaam. Many media reports claimed this was Zanzibar’s “Arab Spring.”

It’s not. Unlike in northern Africa these demonstrations will not succeed in toppling the Tanzanian government. Also unlike in northern Africa, the vast majority of Tanzanians are critical of the Islamic violence.

Mainland Tanzania has shackled Zanzibar ever since the federation in 1964 and most Tanzanians look down on Zanzibaris. This has not been a helpful attitude, in the past and especially now as unrest grows on the island. Be that as it may, the significant point is that mainland Tanzanians are in the vast majority.

But there could be a period now measured in months of unrest not significant enough to stop tourists coming to see lions but enough to seriously effect the beach business. This is because the trouble that’s brewing is on the coast.

And that’s because the coast is where East Africa’s Muslim population is, and much of it has been highly radicalized over just the last few years.

Americans who think of East Africa as big game country don’t understand that more than half of the tourists to East Africa never see an animal larger than a monkey. The extraordinarily beautiful coral coast which extends virtually all the way south of Somalia through Mozambique is East Africa’s real tourist treasure, not wild animals.

Europeans especially use East Africa the same way Americans use the Caribbean, for sun ‘n sand vacations, usually of a week long, and usually transported by charter aircraft that practically land next to your beach view hotel room. There you stay, vegging out on margaritas and reggae bands.

Trouble on the coast is not new. In November, 2002, the Israeli Paradise Beach Hotel was mostly destroyed by a terrorist bomb and a ground-to-air missile narrowly missed an El Al jumbo jet taking off from Mombasa, Kenya.

There has been nothing as dramatic until this year. There had been numerous incidents of small grenade bombs in local bars and several incidents of tourist harassment in the last decade. But none of these critically dissuaded tourists from flooding to Kenya’s beaches almost exclusively from Europe.

But all that changed with the successful Kenyan invasion of Somali just to the north of Kenya. As Kenyan soldiers routed Somali terrorists, the coast began to heat up in much more generic ways that has seriously effected tourism. Tourists were kidnaped and publicly ransomed by terrorists, and virtually all the main beach hotels began to institute extremely strict security procedures.

Then last month, just as the Kenyan forces were about to oust al-Shabaab (al-Qaeda in Somali) from its last great stronghold of Kismayo, all sorts of political turbulence erupted in both Mombasa in Kenya and Zanzibar in Tanzania.

It struck me as an obvious consequence of the successful military action in Somalia. Rebels were running for cover, and the East Africa coast with its radical Muslims provides that, and what assets and hardware they could run with began funneling through East Africa.

Kenya is in the thralls of the last legislation implementing its new constitution before March elections. Suddenly there was a newly reborn political movement in Mombasa that called itself the Mombasa Republican Congress. Its agenda was nothing less than independence from Kenya.

The independent movement in Zanzibar which has been a perennial cause every since federation with the mainland in 1964, suddenly blossomed with new and fancy leaflets, new cars for its leaders and new megaphones for its Friday prayers.

While ostensibly completely separate political movements, the timing of both the emergence of the MRC and the makeover of the Zanzibar autonomy movement struck me as anything but coincidental. Money, methods and Islamic madness was coming from the north.

And then the tinderbox exploded in both Kenya and Zanzibar. Last month the principal radical cleric was killed in a car drive-by gangster-like shooting. And last week, Tanzanian police started rounding up radical clerics. Each incident, though separated by nearly a month, resulted in violent protests.

As I write this blog today Mombasa is calm following the Kenyan government’s very tough actions which involved dozens of arrests and the closing of theoretically unregistered Muslim organizations. The Kenyan President charged Mombasa radicals to “surrender or face arrest.”

But Zanzibar is not calm, today, and depending very much upon what the Tanzanian government now does with its radical Muslims, it may not be calm for a long while. And now what happens in one place is likely to effect the other.

As far as I can see, which is all along the exquisitely beautiful coral coast from Somali to the Mozambique border, this outstanding Indian Ocean venue won’t be a place to vegge out for some time.

When and will all of this calm down?

It depends upon how quickly the Somali mop-up occurs, how peacefully and completely the March Kenyan elections go, and how placated Zanzibari successionists will feel as Tanzania flirts with the idea of a new constitution.

March is the key date. After the March 4 Kenyan elections we’ll have a much clearer picture on which to predict what the coast will look like over the next year.

Until then. Leave your flippers at home. Concentrate on the binocs.

Knight of Power

Knight of Power

Yesterday, Egypt crowned a new prince. There is nothing for us as secular outsiders to fear of a powerfully Islamic ruler but a lot for the subjects of this new Egyptian strongman to fear.

After yesterday’s palace shakeup Mohamed Morsi is Egypt’s most powerful man. Yesterday, he emasculated the two most powerful military men who have ruled Egypt since Mubarak stepped down. He replaced them with young Islamists in the military clearly now beholden to him. And he has eliminated at least for the time being any legislature that could challenge him.

What’s left?

Time. The progressives who started the revolution long ago fizzled out in the face of overwhelming Islamic democratic sentiment among voters. Rather than force issues of womens’ rights, habeus corpus, free speech and such, they chose to wait and see how oppressive Morsi and team would be to their progressive ideas.

So far there’s been no chance to rate him; the Big Boys have been fighting for the crown. We don’t know what jewels may have spilled out. But one thing is clear: Morsi is scaring to death Egyptian democrats.

Now that the crown is clearly upon Morsi’s head the world may soon know how draconian or — on the completely other hand — how Islamically permissive Morsi will be. Analysts have been delving into Morsi’s past for a clue.

His many years as a college professor in California give progressives hope. Yet I see a remarkable similarity to the young Muammar Gaddafi who carefully and systematically removed opponents as he patiently came to power in 1966-69.

Morsi, however, is no Gaddafi. The Libyan leader for all his narcissism and greed was for all practical purposes a moderate Islamist perhaps because he was a permissive and pretty immoral individual. Morsi is anything but: his Islamic purity is almost terrifyingly strong.

Morsi’s final blow to his opposition was to effectively sack the military strongman Hussein Tantawi yesterday. He did this by manipulating an effective military coup led by the younger, Islamist officers clearly allied to him. And he did it on the 23rd day of Ramadan, which the Koran labels as the “Night of Power.”

The respected Egyptian analyst, Issandr El Amrani, said immediately afterwards, “It is hard to believe [this] purely coincidental.”

Each night of Ramadan Morsi breaks his own highly publicized fast by a 5-minute radio broadcast that answers what are supposedly random call-in questions by everyday Egyptians. But the highly scripted and professionally edited segments are anything but random.

What progressive Egyptians fear most is that two popular ideologies, democracy and Islam, are in critical ways diametrically opposed. But the questions Morsi allows – quite contrary to the flattering NPR report cited above — are about how many bakeries exist and which potholes will be repaired first.

There is no mention of Egypt’s escalating crime, crumbling military in the troubled Sinai, increasing power outages, escalating unemployment or self-imploding stock exchange.

What seems clear to me is that these big, critical issues have been intentionally ignored while the fog slowly lifted from the palace.

Well, the sky is crystal clear today. There is one man in power. He controls the military. And despite earlier popular attempts to recreate a legislature, he has said that Parliament will not reconvene. Since Egypt’s judiciary is essentially a military creation, this means today that Morsi is president, lawmaker and judge.

Some kings are good. Some kings are bad.

Trouble in Paradise

Trouble in Paradise

After 4-5 years of impressive political progress throughout the continent, dark clouds form above Africa. The last two days in Kenya haven’t changed my predictions for a peaceful future, but they are worrisome.

I still believe that next year’s March 4 Kenyan election will pass into history as one of the most impressive maturations ever of a young African society into a peaceful world. There has been so much work in Kenya these last five years on a new constitution and public policy that literally tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of Kenyan citizens have all been deeply and individually vested.

But last week the ugly anemone of ethnicity waved its poisonous tentacles, again. And yesterday as the police tried to stop what they believed was a ratcheting up of ethnic violence their overly violent reaction veered into newly unconstitutional territory that almost perforce thrusts the leading presidential candidate into a death match with his adversary.

Nothing in African politics is simple. You’ve got to be a fan of Shakespeare to be motivated to mine the details for a real understanding.

But after you work through the puzzle, the picture is always the same: ethnic conflict.

Political turbulence and actual coups in Mali and Guinea-Bissau, following potentially as violent events that cooled down in Mauritania and Senegal, are equally complex to what is playing out now in Kenya. But personally I think the stakes in Kenya are much higher.

Kenya’s 2007 political violence set the stage for the rest of Africa’s so-called “spring” or “awakening.” Not just the social mores, the actual software used to organize the rallies in Tahrir Square was written and first used in Kenya in 2007. It’s why I call all this rapid, mostly positive political change in Africa “twevolution” (twitter + revolution).

If Kenya can emerge from this transition new and beautiful, it’s a model for the rest of Africa.

In all the troubled cases in Africa, Kenya in particular, the various ethnic groups are linked to radically different social theories: Raila Odinga, the current prime minister and leading presidential candidate, is a bigger government socialist. His main opponent in public polling, Uhuru Kenyatta, is a smaller government capitalist.

Odinga is Luo. Kenyatta is Kikuyu. That ethnic divide has plagued Kenya since colonial days, and in the same way the Hutus and Watutsis are divided in Rwanda. Raila’s father, Kenya’s first Vice-President, was jailed and tortured by Uhuru’s father, Kenya’s first President.

Ethnic divides around the world throughout history are all the same. Over long periods of time they become wrapped in different religions and political ideologies – which become the tools of their debate in a modern context – but it is the hate the Hatfields have for the McCoys which drives violence.

Less than 20 miles from Nairobi political rallies began several weeks ago, ostensibly for one or another candidate. Several of these were not strictly ethnic, they really were multi-ethnic but highly politically charged. Most were for Raila Odinga. He is the leading candidate and very widely respected throughout the country. He probably commands three-quarters or more of the support of educated Kenyans.

So there was nothing immediately suspicious that some of these rallies were held in a place that 20 years ago was not the multi-ethnic suburb of Nairobi it is, today. It was the heart of Kikuyuland, the home of Jomo Kenyatta, the favorite Kikuyu of the British colonial powers and Kenya’s first dictatorial if beneficent “president for life.”

So on Tuesday when the opposition announced it was going to stage a counter rally in the same place, alarms went off in the public psyche from the desert to the sea.

For one thing the demonstration was announced by a mafia leader, Maina Njenga, who barely escaped jail earlier this year. Njenga is a rabid criminal who is widely considered to have had a major part in the 2007 violence and its lingering aftermaths.

What makes matters more complex is that Uhuru Kenyatta is on trial in The Hague for instigating the violence in 2007.

Even the fact I can say that, “he’s on trial in The Hague,” is absolutely remarkable if unbelievable. Kenyatta and three others have so far submitted to the International Criminal Court’s indictments against them. They are the first accused in the history of the World Court to voluntarily travel back and forth to The Netherlands for a trial that could imprison them for most of their remaining lives.

Any presumptive notion of their public goodness, though, likely belies a much more clever strategy. If Kenyatta actually becomes a candidate (he hasn’t, yet), it would be absurd to think he would continue to succomb to jurisprudence in The Netherlands. Then, what?

The Tuesday gathering that was stopped violently by police was scheduled to have been attended by a number of leaders of several different ethnic groups. It was certainly mostly Kikuyu, but not entirely, and that “not entirely” is what gave it legitimacy.

But the police didn’t see it that way and so banned the meeting, which of course fueled the fire. Tear gas and then ultimately live ammunition were used to stop the rally.

Odinga immediately reacted with indignation, taking the high road. He denounced the police and he has the powers to fire the police leaders if he so chooses.

“Kenyans were yesterday (Wednesday) treated to a spectacle that they thought had been banished from their lives with their new Constitution,” Odinga said in his statement.

“The sight of police officers putting up roadblocks on a major thoroughfare and repeatedly firing rounds of tear gas at hundreds of perfectly peaceful people caused intense alarm,” he added.

Good. Even at his own peril, Odinga is defending the constitution.

Now let’s hope enough other Kenyans do the same. I believe they will.

Dictators Don’t Tweet

Dictators Don’t Tweet

"Hiphop is freedom of expression" from streetball.com
Twitter and African Hiphop websites are today the main source of news about Africa’s trouble spots. And they’re better than CNN!

Like so much in Africa today where economies and cultures are developing faster than anyone could have imagined, traditional news reporting is dying and being replaced by faster information facilitated by today’s hi tech.

Excellent news sources like Kenya’s Nation Media and South Africa’s Mail & Guardian, are being eclipsed in Real Time. Can you imagine the most important, accurate news from Twitter, and not from the New York Times?

Yet that’s exactly what’s happening from Somalia, where the commander of the Kenyan invasion forces is tweeting constantly. Long before the BBC, Reuters, the Times or even local media embedded with his troops file a story, Kenyans have it wholesale.

Yesterday the Kenyan forces inched their way further towards Kismayo and routed a major al-Shabaab base killing one of the main militant leaders in Somalia. Here was the real time twitter feed from the commander of the operation, Major Emmanuel Chirchir, @MajorEChirchir:

#OperationLindaNchi During the attack, 13 Al Shabaab militants were killed while others escaped with serious injuries.
#OperationLindaNchi Abu Yahya, an Al Shabaab’s field Commander in the Southern sector, is suspected to hv been gunned down during the ambush

And when battles aren’t occurring, the Major answers everyone he can. Kenyan Victor Kurutu characterizes himself as a “dairy farmer, foodie and nature lover” and became distressed when he listened to radio reports on February 4 that more than 20 of the Major’s troops had been gunned down. He tweeted the commander.

@MajorEChirchir
@VicKurutu Nothing of the sort happened…propaganda

As I’m writing this early Thursday morning my time, South Africans are preparing to hear President Zuma’s State of the Nation annual address. Earlier today in South Africa the twitter hashtag, #SONA, was created for the event and most of the address has already leaked into that feed.

Right now as I’m writing as fast as I can, two or three tweets a second are coming over #SONA!

Eyewitness News @ewnupdates
If you’re in & around parliament tweet us pics of what you see. You can also send them to iwn@ewn.co.za. Remember the hashtag #SONA

Oftentimes English-speakers won’t benefit from this real time world. Although much of the tweeting that came out of Tahrir Square was in English, most was in Arabic. Similarly, today, major trouble spots in Africa are in Angola and Senegal.

Angola’s language is Portugese and Senegal’s is French. But English is a global language, and in these cases it’s HipHop websites that are consolidating and translating the news!

Today’s www.africanhiphop.com site features the trouble in both Angola and France. The site was founded 15 years ago in Senegal, so it’s particularly sensitive to what’s going on, there.

African hiphop – very much like hiphop and rap most everywhere – is driven by issues of poverty, abuse, oppression and has released what I considered not too long ago a much too timid African psyche.

Few people outside of Angola realize what a horrible regime is doing there, and how youth are beginning to organize a protest that could rival what happened in Tunisia. You won’t read about this in the BBC or even in South African media, and not because of bad reporting, but because traditional news reporters are banned.

And while there’s plenty to learn from Twitter if you speak Portugese, it’s up to a hiphop website, Central 7311 to let the outside world know what’s happening. The site is prosperous in part because authorities don’t rap! So it was left alone.

And while the site itself is Portugese, consolidator hiphop sites like africanhiphop.com will translate and disseminate.

Dictators don’t tweet.

An Incredible Production!

An Incredible Production!

We’ve got another hit musical in the making: nuclear war over Tehran, American righties swinging from Egyptian guillotines, evil ladies wresting control of revolutions. Time to buy your season ticket.

The pointers in north Africa are swinging towards war: Egypt’s predictable predicament with the West cocks Israel’s war machine. This isn’t good.

Egypt’s prosecution of a number of Western NGOs allegedly for funding “destabilization” is the trigger. What? A revolution isn’t exactly stable. The notion that outside groups promote revolution at the peril of revolution is nonsensical.

Americans especially don’t understand revolution, not even their own distant one. Framing all regime changes in the history of our own relatively simple revolution more than two centuries is a mistake. We tend to think there are very few outcomes of a revolution: the good or the bad.

Only recently did American schoolbooks talk about the loyalists that supported the King. The idea that neighbors and friends and even relatives might have opposed the outcome at some earlier point doesn’t register. Too complicated.

But just reschedule your entertainment to include a few popular musicals like Les Miserables or Evita. A revolution unleashes all sorts of competing forces and until a lasting and dominant one prevails, all sorts of messes occur. Anything can happen.

In Egypt few were talking to the Muslim Brotherhood as it systematically garnered more and more control of the situation. Last year it was only al-Jazeera that early on regularly interviewed and reported on the Brotherhood. Barring any major disruption, the Brotherhood will soon become Egypt’s ruling force.

The 19 NGOs under prosecution are mostly American but also include one important German organization, and they’ve all been in Egypt for years. Some of the higher profile Americans, including the son of one of Obama’s cabinet secretaries, has taken sanctuary inside the American embassy. If their trial proceeds too far I can imagine SEALs attempting a rescue of those currently taking sanctuary in the American embassy in Cairo. Flashbacks to the Iranian revolution.

“The prosecution could hardly have been better designed to provoke an American backlash,” the New York Times writes this morning.

Situations like this are rarely logical, but they are predictable. I’m not suggesting that we should not have aggressively supported the Egyptian revolution, but perhaps this gives you a greater insight into why Russia and China want to try to screw a Syrian genie back into the bottle.

Societies like theirs are poorly prepared for the unprepared. In that competition, America wins the gold. And our unprepared for mistakes rattle the whole planet: CDS, anyone? Gambles sometimes lose.

In brilliantly reporting this morning NPR discovered that the person behind the Egyptian prosecutions is a woman holdover from the Mubarak regime, who apparently always distrusted Americans.

A revolution allows these types of sleeper ideologues to emerge and flourish. Imagine what chaos might ensue if Egypt’s military tries to interfere.

Yet Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy seems poised to stop Egyptian aid if the trials proceed.

Add to this fluid situation a pinch of Iranian nuclear power, an obsessively conservative Israeli regime and an American election and you have all the ingredients for a major war. A century from now, perhaps it will be the most popular musical on Broadway.

Our War for Their Peace

Our War for Their Peace

This week of violent anniversaries leads me to wonder if The West has exported its militarism to Africa.

The West – and I don’t just mean the U.S., for France is a monster military force in Africa – has ratcheted down its military, pulled back from conflicts around the world, even as I watch Africa heating up. And most of the heat involves al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, Islamic Maghreb and similar loosely affiliated fanatical Muslim jihad movements.

Today is the 100-day anniversary of the Kenyan invasion of Somalia. Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the revolution in Egypt. Neither is completed, both look increasingly fragile. Yet clearly the empirical achievement of both is that they have relieved pressure on The West.

The West’s Muslim adversaries – as divergent as the Taliban and Iran – are at the very least distracted by these revolutionary African events, and in the case of Somalia, have actually led to significant victories for The West.

The killing of bin Laden and the routing of al-Qaeda is directly linked to America and France’s covert involvement in the revolutions of the Arab Spring and the later Kenyan invasion of Somalia. The cost to France and the U.S. for these covert operations has been infinitesimal compared either to their earlier adventures like Algeria or Afghanistan. A few stealth gunships in the Gulf, a few drone airfields in Ethiopia, focused air strikes, Seal 6 mission impossibles – pennies.

But these effective covert operations succeed only under a larger public umbrella of traditional war. The cost to the Libyans for the downfall of Gaddafi, to the Egyptians for their unended revolution, or the cost to Kenyans for invading Somalia has proved enormous and strains those national fabrics in a way The West would never tolerate itself.

Have we exported conflict, because we don’t know how to end the fighting, just how to send it elsewhere?

For us westerners it’s a time for imagining the flowers may soon bloom, again. In Africa, after the adrenalin of liberation, it’s a caffeine downer. The future looks awfully grim.

Justice Over Politics

Justice Over Politics

Not just free trade, but free justice! Africa once again leads the world into a new age. Today, major Kenyan politicians seem to have submitted to the World Court to face charges of crimes against humanity.

They include Kenya’s Deputy Prime Minister, Uhuru Kenyatta, and son of the founder of the country. Also included is a former kingmaker and government minister. The president’s Chief of Staff during the troubles of 2007 is also charged, and finally, a nonpolitican altogether, a radio personality who perhaps unwittingly caused rampant violence.

At 130p local Kenyan time, the World Court at The Hague confirmed the charges and announced the trial will begin.

The Hague is 6000 miles from Nairobi. Nevertheless, over the last two years, those accused have traveled back and forth with their teams of lawyers, have submitted to questioning and accepted the jurisdiction of the court to adjudicate their futures.

Can you imagine Carl Rove standing trial in The Hague for fixing the Florida count, or Rumsfield and Cheney for trumping up WMD? Or for that matter, Deng Xiaoping for the massacres in Tiananmen? More exactly, the slavic genocide of Radovan Karadzic was prosecuted by the World Court, but only after years of undercover missions that caught him as he ran from justice.

Can you imagine any of the world’s notorious criminals willingly submitting to The World Court? The U.S. and China even refuse to recognize it!

This historic day is the first time that powerful men in a distant foreign land willingly go to trial to defend themselves against a prosecution by an entity that claims to represent … The World.

For anyone who doesn’t follow Kenyan politics, this seems nothing short of absurd.

The decision by the World Court is about the violence which followed the disputed 2007 presidential elections in which 1300 people were killed, but perhaps a quarter million injured or displaced, and which included some horrific acts of ethnic violence.

The charges claim that these individuals orchestrated the ethnic violence with money, with direct orders and with violence themselves.

For over a year Kenyans debated whether or not to try the accused in Kenya. Parliament was twice deadlocked. There were demonstrations, pro and con. Ultimately, the Kenyan populace deferred the issue to The World Court.

Why on earth would still popular politicians willingly submit themselves to a foreign justice that could incarcerate them for the rest of their lives? Because Kenyans want it that way.

Alright, why on earth do Kenyans want it that way?!

Because Kenyans know – and I dare say even some of the supporters of these accused truly believe that their flawed system of politics is self-destructive, and that only by excising some of its components might … freedom reign.

And there is an absolute analogy with the political situation in many parts of the world, including my America: Try as we might to reform campaign laws, try as we might to impose term limits, try as we might all to restrict lobbying … try as we do to wrest control from an elite of politicians and businessmen and politically appointed justices, time and again we lose.

The only way to move out of this self-perpetuating status quo is to … move out! Is to eliminate the barriers to justice in the same way we so proudly eliminate the barriers to free trade. No preconditions but a simple due diligence that to whomever we submit there will be fairness.

This is nothing short of a pipe dream, I know. To think it might occur in America in my life time is thrilling but probably idiotic. Nevertheless, the new age of the twevolution of Africa and the Mideast is not a flitting moment in history.

It will continue, and years from now if there is peace in the world, this day and the Kenyans who created it will be forever cited as moments of political brilliance.

The #1 … Place To Get Hurt

The #1 … Place To Get Hurt

Opposition Leader, Kizza Besigye, after another brutal police action yesterday.
We all know print media is on the decline, but no better example than the once stellar Lonely Planet naming one of the worst countries in the world #1 in its Top Ten Destination List.

Lonely Planet named Uganda #1 explaining, “It’s taken nasty dictatorships and a brutal civil war to keep Uganda off the tourist radar, but stability is returning and it won’t be long before visitors come flocking back.”

That was in November. Stability has not returned; it’s getting manifestly worse. And tourism has sunk to levels not seen since Idi Amin, and rightly so.

Yesterday Uganda’s main opposition leader, and in fact all opposition politicians in Parliament, were arrested without charge, following another (how many now, 24?) brutal battle on the streets of a Kampala suburb. (Most politicians, including the leader Kizza Besigye, were released late today.)

This is not a place you want to visit. Demonstrations have continued since the current dictator’s rigged last election more than a year ago. Tourism has plummeted. The road from the international airport at Entebbe to the capital of Kampala – the only road from the airport – and thence to the rest of the country is lined with police and military.

And even as some of the country’s other lower corrupt politicians try to join the twevolution of Besigye, Yoweri Museveni’s grip is tightening. This week he simply ignored Parliament’s initial moves to impeach him, and there is every indication he will jail anyone associated with moving such legislation forward.

He has jailed, fired and reappointed cronies to Uganda’s judiciary. Patent corruption of the highest kind, giant under-the-table payments from oil companies and huge swindles of private land, are widely known. But today Uganda’s newly reconstituted courts threw out all attempts to allow Parliament to investigate further.

The pattern is identical to the early days of Zimbabwe, and I must admit having traveled in Zimbabwe during the same period, there. Travel right now – if you miss a demonstration and take extra time for military check posts – can actually be an incredible value, since tourist costs have dropped so much.

From a safety point of view, if you miss the demonstrations tourists are more or less being left to their own devices.

But like Zimbabwe, the demonstrations will increase before the country settles into a state of awkward misery, where fuel and sometimes even food becomes scarce. Where officials like park rangers go on the take just to stay alive. It’s hard to predict exactly when such a time occurs.

Lonely Planet’s list was eclectic at the least. Myanmar and Switzerland also made the Top Ten.

About the only truth to Lonely Planet’s naming Uganda is that Uganda is even more lonely than before.

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.

Egypt Will Ultimately Pay for Bullies

Egypt Will Ultimately Pay for Bullies

The Egyptian military’s unwarranted, brutal response in Tahrir Square is specifically because there aren’t enough protestors, there, anymore. The bully always pounces when his adversaries thin out.

The Tahrir Square protests right now are extremely small but extremely violent, contained almost exclusively to a ten-square block area in central Cairo. The vast majority of Egypt is carrying on with everyday life, including what had been explosive centers of the February revolution like Alexandria.

I just finished watching the live al-Jazeera report (around 11 a.m. EST) following the military’s “open” press conference regarding the current violence. The reporter explained how there seemed to be “parallel universes” between the military’s constant denial of its use of force against protestors, and the protestors YouTube posts.

Yet right behind her on Tahrir Square was a massive traffic jam as everyday Egyptians headed for home after a day of work.

There is no question in my mind that the way the military has handled this nuclear pinpoint is wrong and incendiary. But what it suggests isn’t that the current set of elections will be disrupted, or that the country is right now poised for civil war. Rather, it suggests that all that may happen later, after the elections are complete and the process of writing a constitution begins.

But not now.

The facts are easy to come by, and this alone shows how far along the road to democracy and transparency Egypt has come, and this is good:

First, the numbers of people involved in the current Tahrir Square protests is a small fraction of the revolution that toppled the Mubarak regime in February, but it is actually for its much smaller numbers much more violent.

In large part this is because of the military’s heavy handed response, far more severe than its restrained responses to much larger protests earlier in the year. And it reflects the military’s confidence that a vast majority of the overall population supports it, and this is probably true.

So this time around there are “per capita” many more petrol bombs heaved from the protestors at Tahrir Square. The protestors’ rage when unpopped seems ungoverned by any ideological strategy. At times the protestors seem to fight among themselves:

According to the Associated Press, a precious research center maintained by France since its 18th century occupation of Egypt found itself in the crossfires Saturday. The building caught on fire, and protestors joined institute officials in trying to save the precious archives.

But when fire fighting equipment arrived, other protestors barred the equipment from trying to put out the blaze.

So what’s going on?

“The military’s violence suggests it feels emboldened,” Britain’s Guardian newspaper said Monday. The paper went on to say that the elections have been the “freest and fairest elections in the country’s modern history.”

Two of the three sets of elections for the lower house of Parliament are now complete; the third one is in a month, and that is followed by an upper house of Parliament election in late February and early March. All signs currently point to the Muslim Brotherhood, which currently has just under 40% of the winners, leading a coalition government that will include at least one very radical Islamic party.

And until Thursday, the Brotherhood had supported the military’s strong handling of the electoral process. That’s changed.

Mohamed Baltegy, a senior figure in the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, called the military a “collaborator” in the disruption of Egypt’s safety and security. He charged that the military rulers “create new crisis as the time for a power transfer to civilians gets closer.”

Veteran Associated Press reporter Hamza Hendawi interviewed top military officials over the weekend who insisted the protests were caused by foreign infiltrators. He continued: “What are we supposed to do when protesters break the law? Should we invite people from abroad to govern our nation?”

This, of course, is laughable. But there is a connection to reality. The military has consistently refused to cede any power over itself to any civilian authority, now or after elections. It sees the February revolution as an endorsement of its supreme authority, and it has announced that it will solely shepherd the process of creating a new constitution.

And that it has no intention to allow any new constitution to reduce its authority, a conundrum that few political activitists in Egypt will accept.

The protests are small but violent, now. When a political, civilian authority is duly placed in power through elections, and if the military then refuses to cede control over itself to that new authority, that is when Egypt will explode.