Good Deeds

Good Deeds

Sometimes good acts prevail even after evil-doers reverse them:

The previous Republican controlled Congress and current Trump administration wiped out Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Bill, the “Rule on Conflict Minerals.” But that rule had such a powerful effect when first passed by Congress that the world embraced it and has continued to strengthen it despite the official reversal by the United States.

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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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#2 Cold Wind Blows

#2 Cold Wind Blows

Many Africans view 2018 positively, a time when autocratic leaders solidified power and stability increased. For many African conservatives it was a good year.

It was not a good year for African liberals, human rights activists, members of the LGBT community, women or those who champion democracy. Rightists celebrated; leftists wept.

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Health Hopes

Health Hopes

Last week Rwanda, one of the smallest countries in the world, announced completion of Universal Health Care (UHC), and Kenya announced the start of UHC pilot projects across its country.

Since 2000 the U.S. has dropped from second to 19th of the world’s richest countries, in great part because it has refused to adopt UHC. When health care is private, the costs dominate economies and constantly escalate reflecting the richests’ capacity to purchase the best. Private health care is making us poorer and poorer and in the long run will destroy the country.

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Gorilla Game

Gorilla Game

There are three countries in the world where you can sit down with a mountain gorilla (gorilla beringei beringei) for an hour of very unique animal viewing: Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC. This is because this gorilla’s single habitat area overlays the point where these countries border one another.

But Rwanda is the only one that most travelers should consider visiting and tomorrow I’ll explain why. First, a primer on gorillas.

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Reality Wreck

Reality Wreck

LintonRwandaJokes and derision poked at Americans limited understandings of far-away places like Africa seemed to diminish over the last few years. I guess not.

I couldn’t have told you who Louise Linton was until yesterday, when her juvenile, unethical behavior while accompanying our treasury secretary on an official event set off a firestorm.

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Golden Gorilla

Golden Gorilla

14Jul.Gorilla.Jim.462a.PdVOnly the rich can see wild animals. That’s the message – indeed, the policy – of Rwanda’s decision over the weekend to raise the permit fee for an hour with mountain gorillas to a staggering $1500 per person.

It’s really more profound. Not just seeing, but helping, conserving, understanding … all the components of saving our earth now become the purvey of the rich and the rich alone. Other implications are equally staggering.

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Economy Stupid

Economy Stupid

economy-stupidUnending protests continue in Ethiopia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, and though unique issues power each country’s turmoil, the fundamental driver is economic.

South Africa and Ethiopia are both experiencing healthy growth despite the protests, while Zimbabwe is tanking. Excluding Zim’s recent plunge, all three countries were performing very much like the U.S. over the last 4-5 years: modest but steady growth and improved employment. So what’s going on?

Let’s examine their individual situations, first.

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A Horrible Choice

A Horrible Choice

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

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

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Dumb Historians

Dumb Historians

IraqIsNotRwandaErbil is not Rwanda.

Supporters of the U.S. air attacks in northern Iraq spent the weekend invoking the mistake the U.S. made in 1994 in Rwanda as a reason why we should restart the military campaign in Iraq.

They obviously don’t know the history.

Prior to the Rwandan genocide, the United Nations Security Council empowered a peace-keeping force with boots on the ground from more than a dozen countries including a number of Rwanda’s African neighbors.

This had occurred after the French had unilaterally sent a small military force to Rwanda. France was the lead nation in the intervention force.

But the general overseeing the UN troops was Canadian. And the troops that saw most of the active engagement were Dutch. And literally dozens of other countries were involved in air lifts and logistical support.

And the entire world, as represented in the Security Council, was behind the effort.

Right now, there is absolutely no international effort to support Kurdistan (Erbil) or to help the stranded refugees in the Sinjar mountains. Right now it is only the United States.

In Rwanda the genocide followed when the French enlisted the United States in blocking increased UN military involvement by the Security Council even as the situation worsened. That was the mistake in Rwanda: choosing sides and letting one side start massacring the other.

In Iraq today a genocide may already have happened, and the stranded refugees in the Sinjar mountains could be the next genocide.

That’s the tough question, but it has an answer however horrible. If I believe a genocide is possible, am I saying the U.S. should not go it alone to stop it?

In this specific case, yes.

Based on the recent history of the area, the effort by us alone to change history, to abate even temporarily a genocide is likely to cost thousands more lives and infinitely more misery in the future.

The question to me is quite simple. Do we react to the horror of the present by damning the future to an even more horrific destiny? Can we not refer to history?

Can we not stop rewriting history, as with the analogies to Rwanda?

This is not isolationism. If what is happening in the Sinjar mountains were happening in Puerto Vallarta then my orientation would change. If other countries in the Mideast and nearby Europe asked us for support, my support is available.

But to go it alone? No. Definitively and completely. Not only must Americans grow their sense of community, they must extend their human vision into the future and realize as nature’s greatest achievement we have the capability to fashion our future, not just react to our present like unintelligent animals.

A final subtle argument floating around the weekend talk shows was that yes, we were wrong to go into Iraq, but we did so, so we are now responsible for the mess we created.

Yes, we are completely responsible for the mess we created. So do we create a greater mess? The only responsible thing to do is stand back and let the area’s own social and historical equilibriums reappear however awful that may be.

We can’t fix it. We were unable to fix it in the beginning, and now we are unable to fix the mess we created. All we are capable of doing is making bad situations even more terrible.

Virtually every conflict that America has gone alone in my life time has been a disaster, starting with Vietnam. The world today would be so much better and happier if America had not blustered solo into those wars.

We shouldn’t feel unmasculine recognizing this fact. Power is never insurmountable, not even moral power. From my point of view, the only global power that will prevai is GLOBAL power, the combined efforts of multiple countries. We supply the warplanes. Sweden or Chile supplies the justification.

The conflicts in which we were only a part – like the Balkans War – had very good outcomes.

We are strong and should remain so. But we are dumb and should listen to the rest of the world before throwing our punches.

Israeli Fauxpolitik

Israeli Fauxpolitik

NotABowIsrael’s steamy response to Obama’s acceptance of the new Palestinian government reveals a massive hypocrisy in Israel’s dealings with Africa.

Yesterday Palestine sort of came together, as Fatah (that recognizes Israel) formed a coalition with Hamas (that doesn’t).

The attempted amalgam was further complicated by the fact that Fatah is considered a wholesome government by the U.S. and much of the western world, and Hamas is considered a terrorist organization.

Complications hardly end there: mixtures of oil and water neither lubricate engines or quench thirst. It’s not clear to me the new coalition will be able to do anything but split up, again.

Be that as it may, Israel exploded diplomatically.

Israel spent 24×7 explaining to the media how hypocritical the U.S. was. On today’s Morning Edition, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. fumed.

I applaud Obama’s action because governments rarely mean what they say, only what they do, and it made me think of Israel’s long and “hypocritical” relationship with Africa.

Apartheid was prolonged, the war in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe was prolonged, the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe is currently prolonged, the development of Ethiopia was inhibited and horrible men from today’s Kagame in Rwanda and Amin in Uganda were sustained … because of Israeli diplomacy, often secret, often not.

Israel’s justification in these and other similar African initiatives was basically two-fold: enhance their national security and protect and recover African Jews. And the dedication to these two missions was uncompromisable, even if it created a conflict with other established credos.

When I was guiding in a once peaceful eastern Congo (now the DRC) in the mid 1980s, I flew my clients south from Beni to Goma on DC3s that came from Israel carrying weapons to the then Rhodesia. I’ve never been clear which side they were destined for, but wherever they were headed it was illegal… and that didn’t matter to the Israelis.

The current dictatorship of the weirdo despot Robert Mugabe is legitimized by an Israeli firm, Nikuv, which “manages” the farce called national elections which keeps Mugabe in power. Many Israelis are themselves furious, calling Nikuv Mugabe’s “fixers.”

The arms shipments to Rhodesia in the 1980s were likely more political than commercial, but it seems Nikuv might be more commercial than political.

In the runup to his mass slaughters, Idi Amin was supported heavily by Israel when the rest of the world had abandoned him. Shortly after staging his coup, Amin visited Israel, since no one else would have him.

Today in neighboring Rwanda, another despot is supported heavily by Israel, president Paul Kagame. Apparently there are some in Israel who believe that Tutsis are ancient Jews.

That seems like a stretch, but it’s no stretch that many Ethiopians were ancient Jews. I’ve seen myself primitive huts 3 or 4 decades ago with Torahs in Hebrew the only book around, and totems of ancient Israeli personalities like the Queen of Sheebah. I’ve seen entire villages that speak only a local dialect and Hebrew.

The belief that these “Falasha” were the Lost Tribe of Dan resulted in 30 years of Israeli involvement in Ethiopia so that it could repatriate 40,000 of the Falasha. The mammoth undertaking ended last year.

In order to facilitate this undertaking, the government of Israel was the only government except the Soviet Union that supported the barbarism of ruthless Ethiopian leaders in the 1980s.

My point has nothing to do with whether these Israeli efforts were right or wrong, but that they were practical to an extreme.

Obama’s search for peace in The Mideast is not practical to an extreme, it’s just practical. Israel’s condemnation? The pot calling the kettle black.

Soldiers At Bay

Soldiers At Bay

Commie or DespotRevolutionaries make lousy politicians, and that’s why South Sudan is so unstable.

Five theoretically democratic countries in sub-Saharan Africa were born of revolution: Uganda, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, South Africa and South Sudan.

(Modern Rwanda, which rose from the pyre of the 1994 genocide, never pretended to be democratic. Kenya’s election violence was too short-lived and geographically contained to be considered revolution. And The Congo and Somalia aren’t finished, yet.)

Of the five, South Africa is doing just fine if awkwardly so. Ethiopia is a far, far distant second, and Uganda and Zimbabwe are now lost causes. South Sudan, the newest, is still figuring out its peace land legs and right now, doesn’t look too good.

These five countries provide an excellent study of modern day transition from revolution and suggest what South Sudan must do to succeed.

All five countries sustained a revolution against their previous regime for a generation or more:

South Africa’s ANC was the revolutionary, fighting arm against the Nationalist government that blew up the factories and staged a couple fire bombs while figuring out ways from time to time to close the mines. The ANC is now in control of South Africa’s politics and has been since Independence twenty years ago.

The Ethiopian regime is composed of a segments of rebel groups pursued by the Terror Triumvirate, which assassinated Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974.

The current Ugandan and Zimbabwean regimes consolidated power after violent ousters of repressive regimes (Idi Amin in Uganda and Ian Smith’s UDI in Rhodesia).

The South Sudan is the newest, created from a 2005 peace deal with (north) The Sudan that led to independence in 2011.

All five countries pretend to be democratic and are founded on constitutions based on democracy. Only South Africa is.

Uganda and Zimbabwe are iron-clad dictatorships. Ethiopia is more communist than dictatorship albeit with a pretty wide net of political involvement across various segments of Ethiopian society.

We can predict what might happen to South Sudan based on what happened to the other four.

In all cases, the men (and it’s exclusively men) who shot guns and murdered adversaries of the ancien regime are now the political leaders. As George Washington summed it up when leaving a single term in office, soldiers do not make good democratic leaders.

Foreigners are eager to cast these country’s difficulties as ethnic, and to be sure the internal adversaries are clearly ethnically different. But I think as suggested by Hilary Matfess in an article in Think Africa Press, today, there are other more important reasons.

Once fault lines occur in a society, ethnic groups tend to congeal on one side or the other, and that’s certainly what’s happened in South Sudan. But that doesn’t mean the ethnicity or racism is the actual cause.

Ms. Matfess argues that it’s the constitutional makeup, but I argue that the constitution was made up by soldiers, and that’s the problem.

In a country as diverse, successful and developed as South Africa, soldiering onto the political stage worked well for the ANC, but soldiering into governance is not working so well. Nevertheless in South Africa, autocratic moves by politicians have been checked.

South Africa will do just fine as soon as these old soldiers go, and they are slowly but surely dying or being forced out.

Uganda and Zimbabwe, however, weren’t able to make the transition that I’m sure South Africa has, and both have devolved into despotic regimes.

I see Ethiopia as trying very hard not to slip into a despotic character, and the way it’s trying to do so is by a very restrictive, highly controlled mostly communist system that is forcing the old soldiers to stay at bay. Certainly without this very powerful central authority in Addis, the country would start fighting, again, and one or other of the soldiers would come to power as the despot exactly as Museveni and Mugabe have in Uganda and Zimbabwe.

This is South Sudan’s option, I’m afraid. Lacking the development and diversity that South Africa had historically, South Sudan must figure out “how to keep the old soldiers at bay.”

The only way is by a centrally restrictive “communist” government. All that democracy will do is facilitate war.

This is exactly the opposite of what Ms. Matfess believes, even though I’m using her argument to suggest it. But democracy cannot work until the population is educated enough to engage its mechanisms.

So if The West wants peace in South Sudan, it’s going to have to accept communism.

Now there’s a twist.