Update on UP

Update on UP

Africa is breaking as covid cases surge.

Data collection and compilation varies so dramatically one country to another. Moreover collection and compilation has improved equally dramatically since the start of the pandemic, so each country’s numbers may be inflated by their improved collections. Suffice it to say that not a single African country reports the situation improving and many are sounding the alarm.
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Covid Covering

Covid Covering

Traveling to Africa this year? Tanzania, South Africa, Egypt? Start right now looking for the perfect mask. If you find the perfect fit, when wearing and when not wearing glasses, travel to Africa later this year can achieve a level of acceptable safety. But it will not be like it was before the virus.

EWT’s safaris later this year include South Africa, Egypt/Jordan/Israel and Tanzania, so this blog refers mostly to those destinations. Here’s what I see coming for all EWT travelers.

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Corona Chaos

Corona Chaos

Coronavirus is creeping into Africa but at a much slower rate than some expect given the high levels of transport exchange between Africa, China and even Italy.

South Africa reported a seventh case, prompting a school closure in a suburb of Johannesburg.

Twenty-two passengers who arrived Uganda yesterday from China, Korea and Italy were given the option of two weeks self-funded self-quarantine or to turn around and go back. They all went back.

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Peace Putsch

Peace Putsch

A moment of peace in a world of war. The Nobel Peace Prize correctly heralds the young democratic Ethiopian leader, Abiy Ahmed Ali, for his efforts “to achieve peace and international cooperation, [specifically] to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea.”

But forgive my refrain, the absence of western diplomacy from “Trump” risks obliterating all the good that’s been done.

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Bad Democracy

Bad Democracy

Africa as my lifeway’s platform for roughly 5 months annually during the troubled times of the last few years has radically changed my view of democracy.

Last week Rwanda celebrated the first quarter century in possibly a thousand years without a mass genocide. The Sudanese Army fired on the Sudanese secret service last night to protect opponents of the government.

The avowed communist state of Ethiopia last year implemented a series of human rights protections that may be the most progressive on earth. All of these stellar human rights’ accomplishments were in totally undemocratic regimes.

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Raging Ripples

Raging Ripples

ripplesAmbassador Carson’s warning yesterday appears to be true today. There are unsettling ripples all over Africa, all carrying the frequency of Trump mayhem.

Wednesday’s all-so-important Somali election is in real trouble because monitors can no longer go there (or more accurately, come back). Great hopes for Libya’s national coalition collapse. Egypt sends jetboats to threaten Ethiopia’s new dam on The Nile, Eritrea makes a new alliance with Saudia Arabia to destabilize Ethiopia. The Ivory Coast is challenged by new internal military struggles.

It’s all new and hard to unweave, and it’s all related to Trump.

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Not Surprising

Not Surprising

metroTourists have been slaughtered in Egypt for a long time. It’s crazy the way the media paints Metrojet as something new.

In fact as tourist numbers increased in Egypt in the last 30 years so did terrorist killings: The period of greatest growth in Egyptian tourism, 2006-2008, also saw the largest number of tourists killed and attacked, nearly 500.

We retrieve memories of terrorism very selectively, often for political reasons. No one should be surprised by the terrorist bombing last week in Sharm el-Sheik.

Below is a quick summary hardly exhaustive. My point is that terrorism is a way of life for all of us, now, and it has been for some time.

Traveling on a vacation to an exotic destination is today similar to taking your kids on an interstate road trip. You do everything in your power to be safe, but you know that the statistics are chilling and that it’s possible that through no fault whatever of your own, tragedy can strike.

But you also know that the statistics are in your favor … as they are in Egypt, or London or Kenya or New York, and that road trip’s value to you and your family outweighs the risk.

The more exotic or unusual the adventure, usually that means the greater the risk. But I believe without this desire to travel to the far corners of the world, we’re doomed to a worse future than terrorism can create, one that secularizes the world and makes it even riper for even more terrorism.

All this doesn’t mean that the Sharm el-Sheik tragedy isn’t worthy of news, or isn’t shocking. But let’s keep it in context. Egypt is in the center of the Muslim/Christian – Democracy/Autocracy conflict, today. It’s horrible what happened, but it’s not surprising.

And if you haven’t visited Egypt yet, you must!

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egyptattacksvstouristsTerrorism in Egypt has been happening for millennia. Many of us believe in the current era the attack that began a continued escalation of terrorism against tourists was on on April 18, 1974, when 100 rebels stormed a military college trying to assassinate President Anwar Sadat.

Sadat’s overtures to Israel and ultimate peace treaty galvanized Muslim militants. They’ve never stopped protesting that in Egypt. Virtually every year since has seen violent attacks on tourists.

The Luxor Massacre took place on November 17, 1997, in front of the famous Hatshepsut temple. Six terrorists disguised as security forces simply gunned down the tourists as they filed from their bus.

The fact that the horrible Luxor Massacre was followed by years of increasing tourist growth to Egypt means either that quite a few tourists understand the risks and consider them worth taking, or that they don’t care.

I think it’s the former.

It was in the period of 2004 – 2006 that the numbers of tourist deaths and injuries really escalated, and it was not because of any any single large events like the Luxor Massacre, but rather numerous tourist killings at places like a tea house in Cairo or a beach on the Sinai. Yet this period in particular was the beginning of the fastest growth in tourism Egypt has ever seen.

Egypt No-Go

Egypt No-Go

Four-wheel drive cars cross the Egyptian western desert and the Bahariya Oasis, southwest of CairoLast week EWT promoted an Egyptian trip. The killing of a tour group by Egyptian security forces Sunday mandates that we now withdraw that offer.

Tourists deaths, kidnappings and violent injuries are way down in Egypt compared to the “good ole days.” A decade ago 12-15 million people annually visited Egypt and about 250 were killed or violently injured each year.

Many of these were horrible terrorist attacks but no one seemed to care or report about it.

Last year ten million people visited Egypt and less than 20 were killed, kidnapped or violently injured.

Sometimes, though, the numbers don’t speak for themselves.

The attack occurred about 220 miles southwest of Cairo in the Western Desert near an oasis called Bahariya (in some reports, shortened to “Bahyira.”) This is an adventure tourism area popular with backpacking tourists.

The Wall Street Journal reported that four tourist vehicles “clearly marked” with “tourists luggage on roof racks” had stopped for a lunch break.

The Journal further reported that there were 21 people in the convoy, including 14 Mexicans, an American, four Egyptian drivers, an Egyptian guide and a police officer along to guarantee that “The convoy was on the route agreed upon with the authorities.”

London’s Guardian newspaper also reported that the group had permits in their passports which were displayed on Facebook.

Al-Jazeera said helicopter gunships fired on the convoy.

It seems clear to me the Egyptian military made a mistake and that the government is now trying to cover for it.

ISIS and offshoot rebel groups are active in the Egyptian deserts, especially after the catastrophe in Libya and the current Cairo crackdown on Muslim extremists.

Ten years ago in the literal carnage that occurred to tourists in Egypt in its heyday, when everyone was going to Egypt carefree and seemingly unconcerned with the mass political killings of tourists that were regularly occurring, it was the bad guys against the tourists.

Now the problem is we won’t know who the bad guy is.

ISIS, for sure, and one way of avoiding them is to not go into the desert. Most tourists should know this.

But now what about the Egyptian government itself? So paranoid that it presumes any four-wheel drive vehicle is an insurgent?

The uncertainty and reactionary paranoia of the Egyptian government radically alters the prospect of tourism in the country. Remember, it’s not just the facts, it’s how people perceive the facts.

And I for one perceive Egypt at the moment like an over zealous fanatic with too much caffeine holding weapons that are far too dangerous for protecting me.

From Baltimore to Joburg

From Baltimore to Joburg

balt2joburgCivil violence in Baltimore, Beijing, Nairobi, Cairo and Johannesburg reflects societies coming apart.

One thing is certain: “We will bring order. We will bring calm. We will bring peace,” the (black) Baltimore mayor vowed last night as national guard troops entered her city.

Then, one of two things happens afterwards: a more democratic Tunisia, South Africa and Kenya; or a more autocratic China and Egypt.

Civil violence is quite distinct from war. It happens from within. Brothers are pitted against brothers. In the beginning new ideas link across disparate social communities. That’s the case today when we find Baltimore mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, saying things that her opponents consider collaborative with the protestors.

It’s the reason that the World Court indicted the current President of Kenya for fomenting crimes against humanity. It’s the reason Hosni Mubarak lingers in a jail guarded by the men he brought to power.

Civil violence reveals fissures and inconsistencies in social systems that are difficult to reconcile .. even by its leaders. It’s about human rights violations, not border disputes. Groups like ISIS will use civil violence to then start geopolitical warfare, but in the beginning it’s an internal conflict not an external one.

It often devolves into whether “the end justifies the means.” But it’s rarely so clear, much murkier: Is it fair that Uhuru Kenyatta paid youth under-the-table to fight a rival tribe in order to preserve his beneficence that now seems to be very positive in Kenya?

Peace at all costs?

Yes, so far anyway, eventually that’s human history. For the champions of human rights who fight in the streets, it’s a battle against the clock. They have limited time to bend society to their ideas until they’re crushed.

Civil violence is growing around the world, just as it did many times previously in human history. The hours on the clock are growing longer.

We’re entering a period of enlightened conflict, perhaps because of videos transmitted in nanoseconds by watches.

“Thank God for cell phone videos because the truth will come out,” the lawyer for the Freddie Gray family said last night.

Unlike in the past, more of us see and hear the same thing. The media can’t distort it as easily as in the past.

In this new and more volatile world, those of us in privileged situations should take stock:

“The infidels have so much to lose, they can be afraid of even losing their happiness! We,” he said, lifting his eyes to the sky as his mind’s eyes pulsated with a black sun, “We have nothing, so we fear no loss.”

That short excerpt is from my book, Chasm Gorge. It’s the world’s greatest terrorist explaining why he fights to the death.

The difference between those who have less and those who have more will not last in the new world. How much must be given away by us privileged is being determined by the battles being fought right now, from Baltimore to Johannesburg.

There’s no question a redistribution will occur. The question is how will it occur? Democratically or ruthlessly?

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.

Fight of the Hyaenas

Fight of the Hyaenas

fightofthehyaenasEgypt’s bombing yesterday is proof positive that we have to get completely out of the current fight before something horrible happens.

The Egyptian president’s decision yesterday to bomb ISIS targets in Libya is a massive escalation of the current conflict. It turns it almost into something closer to the conflict in Ukraine, where tanks and SAM missiles replace swords and horses.

King Abdullah of Jordan sends a half dozen planes daily towards Syria, and now President El-Sisi is poised to send in tens of thousands of soldiers.

Egypt’s bombing was not just revenge for the ISIS beheading of 21 Egyptians several days ago. El-Sisi is just using that as a pretense.

It was not the actual beheadings that aroused El-Sisi’s attention as much as the backdrop: the Mediterranean Sea. ISIS was announcing that it had emerged from the southern deserts of Libya where it has been maneuvering to coalesce radical Islamists for more than a year.

ISIS wanted the world and especially el-Sisi to know that it is not a dumb desert phenomenon. There is little use in controlling an oil field if you can’t get the oil to port. ISIS beheadings made it to the port.

Neither was this a surprise to el-Sisi. He has been an ardent supporter of anti-Islamists in Libya, especially for General Khalifa Haftar. Haftar is an old and duplicitous face in Libyan politics who el-Sisi dusted off of the old generals’ shelf to become his proxy in Libya last year.

But despite Haftar’s several announced and only one partially successful coup against the powerless Libyan Islamic parliament, the old fighter suffered several military loses to ISIS in the last several months.

“Let those near and far know that the Egyptians have a shield that protects and preserves the security of the country, and a sword that eradicates terrorism,” the Egyptian military said.

El-Sisi is no Mother Theresa. Egypt today suffers a repression not unlike during the days of Mubarak. So whether El-Sisi’s action in Libya is good or bad or moral or immoral it’s the fact that many of us have been shouting to Americans for years:

It’s not our war. It’s theirs.

And if “they” take it up, then we can debate the sides we’d like to support, and I hope that will restrain any involvement we deem worthy because…

… there is no good side. ISIS is bad. El-Sisi in Egypt isn’t particularly good. King Abdul in Jordan isn’t your model of democracy and King Salman of Saudi Arabia stones adulterers and tears the skin off bloggers.

Al Qaeda is a grumpy old if still dangerous demon. Iraq has fallen completely apart as Sunnis and Shiias fight even within Baghdad. Afghanistan is ready to implode.

And not one of these – not all of these allied could bring the battle back to the Twin Towers. Don’t let the terrorists play on these latent fears. Not even they truly believe their religious hyperbole. America is a symbolic punching bag for all struggles, because we have nothing left to conquer than our self.

The fight in the Mideast is now distinctly, definitively not ours.

How many westerners have been beheaded? How many Egyptians?

I learned long ago as a guide in Africa that you don’t go into a hyaena fight, no matter how good the pictures might be.

Water Wars

Water Wars

waterwarsIt was inevitable. Africa is coming to blows over water. It’s no joke that it could mean war.

Nine African countries depend upon The Nile. All of them are water deprived and all of them except Egypt are subject to devastating droughts. Only Egypt – which rarely experiences rain at any time – has matured without climate catastrophes.

But Egypt is the greatest user of the Nile waters, and the last of the nine countries on the chain from Lake Victoria and the headwaters of the Blue Nile. During colonial times Egypt was much more developed than the other nine countries, and Britain was the colonial master of them all.

So Britain produced a mid 1950s treaty that gave Egypt veto power over any of the other nine countries when deciding collectively how to use the Nile water.

Times have changed.

Fresh water is as precious a commodity among these countries as oil. In 1999 the nine countries agreed that parceling out the waters of the Nile was the most important issue among them. They formed the Nile Basin Initiative, and since the formation, nothing at all has happened except bitter name calling.

Meanwhile, parts of the shoreline of Lake Victoria have receded more than 150 feet, and the depth of the lake has dropped by nearly 30 feet.

To manage their increasingly vital resource, more than 25 dams are currently planned for different parts of the Nile. The largest dam in the world is currently being built in Ethiopia, and Egypt is furious with Ethiopia for building it.

Egypt depends upon a strong flow of water along the Nile to irrigate its enormous agricultural industry. There is every indication the Grand Renaissance Dam alone will deplete this flow.

“Egypt sees its Nile water share as a matter of national security,” strategic analyst Ahmed Abdel Halim explained. “To Ethiopia, the new dam is a source of national pride, and essential to its economic future.”

A year ago Egypt’s president Morsi said “all options are on the table” including “military responses to Ethiopia.”

Yesterday Kenya’s Natural Resource Cabinet Secretary ended another failed Nile Basin Initiative meeting. It failed principally because Egypt would not officially attend, although its ambassador to Kenya did show his face.

Nine of the countries less Egypt have agreed on an initiative agreement, but Egypt is balking. According to the 1999 accord, only 6 of the 9 countries need ratify the agreement for it to take effect. But Egypt is considered critical.

“That is the only way we can do this peacefully. Otherwise… we are going to be at war because of water,” Prof Judi Wakhungu, the Environment, Water and Natural Resources Cabinet Secretary told Kenya’s main newspaper yesterday after the meeting broke up.

Egypt without enough Nile water would be brought to its knees. It seems to me that much more powerful than the 1950s colonial shelf treaty is the fact that Egypt’s very existence for more than 7,000 years has depended upon The Nile. That’s quite a few grandfathers to be claused in.

I doubt there will actually be war, but not because Egypt doesn’t have the resolve if the waters stop flowing. Rather, I think Ethiopia is sensible enough to realize that turning off the spigot will cause war, so it won’t.

But there are many who disagree. Ethiopia is something of a maverick state, always has been. As the Grand Renaissance Dam starts to rise, the country’s leaders may also start basking in their increasing level of power.

Something To Hide?

Something To Hide?

fergusonmarikanaLike few other American news stories the Ferguson unrest is widely reported in the African media. Analysts and reporters alike are essentially claiming that America is “like the pot calling the kettle black.”

It’s hard to dispute. But the killing of Michael Brown will ultimately be judged excessive use of police force, and in my opinion, the policeman will go to jail.

That’s where much of the African perspective fails. Jumping on this event before it plays out allows African analysts to presume we won’t reach the justice in this catastrophe that I think we will.

As is much more often the case in Africa than America.

Nevertheless, the Africans have a valid pinger right now.

The loudest criticism comes from the dictators:

“The changes of story are a maddening example of police obfuscation, racial bias in policing and how television news in particular often undercuts the stories with images that exacerbate racial stereotypes,” writes an American resident Zimbabwean for its mouth-piece newspaper, The Herald.

The day the incident occurred in Ferguson, The Herald and many other newspapers in Africa quickly reported the UN’s interdiction of the police force there:

“The US Government that hypocritically accuses Zimbabwe of alleged human rights abuses has come under fire from the United Nations over the wanton shooting of an 18-year old black man in Missouri that prompted widespread demonstrations.”

This, of course, is hypocrisy on hypocrisy as Zimbabwe is right now about the cruelest society with regards to free speech that exists. But that’s the incredible destruction of hypocrisy: it can be used so easily to support both its ends.

The other great suppressor of democracy, Egypt, was almost as vocal.

Cairo’s newspaper, Aswat Masriya, said that the Ferguson police response has “led to questioning whether the incident reflects a larger trend of local police excesses” in America.

Egypt’s crackdown on dissidents since the end of the Arab Spring has been incredibly tough. “Police excesses” hardly begin to truly report the brutality.

(By the way, the U.S. State Department in its unending attempt to befriend Egypt again, immediately said it “respected” Egypt’s criticism. That, too, was reported in Egypt.)

But dispense with all this hyperbole, however momentarily nonhyperbolic it may be, and there are some very thoughtful and I think valid criticisms coming out of Africa.

“When the overwhelmingly white police department in Ferguson … some of whom are Israeli trained, responded … they brought in equipment first used in the Iraq war,” writes one of my heroes of analysis in Africa, Richard Pithouse, a professor at Rhodes University in South Africa.

Pithouse is echoing many of us Americans who believe local police departments have been militarized, an almost inevitable aftermath of winding down imperial wars abroad.

Pithouse quickly picked up on valid analogies between Ferguson and Gaza, for example:

“Unsurprisingly people in Gaza started sending advice to people in Ferguson via twitter about how to deal with stun grenades, tear gas and all the rest.”

“Just as the same water cannons are used in Gaza, Port-au-Prince and Ferguson, as well as the shack lands of Brazil and South Africa, so too are the same ideological operations repeated,” Pithouse concludes.

His astute analysis repeats what many contemporary historians believe, that immoral colonialism when abandoned abroad will circle around and eventually be applied at home. In other words, the ideology once adopted is impossible to discard.

So when the colony is set free, the colonial power will sic on itself.

I agree with Pithouse, and I think Ferguson is an excellent example. But I’m more optimistic than him. I believe we can learn from, rather than be imprisoned by these historical paradigms.

South Africa recently released an official report on police brutality at the Marikana mine two years ago that was considerably more horrific than Ferguson, today.

Pithouse acknowledges this and bemoans the response of his own government to its own admissions. I think America in this case might do better.

That, of course, remains to be seen.