Power Plays

Power Plays

brewermuseveniThe wholly political reasons that Uganda’s Museveni and Arizona’s Brewer increased gay discrimination or decreased it are identical. In the perspective of their lives we live in a very morally bankrupt world.

Stipulate: discrimination based on sexual orientation is wrong. Morally wrong.

This week on opposite sides of the world, discriminating against sexual orientation lost all meaning except politically.

It’s so enervating to think for how long, literally decades if not centuries, we’ve worked to establish the morality of equality. Not because someone is successful or not, not because they have the potential for success or not, not even because they’re functional or not.

Discrimination of biological differences, or even culturally preordained differences (nurture vs. nature) is morally unacceptable to the human community. Biology should be left to natural selection, and culture is a sacrosanct responsibility of us being a part of it.

So you would think the increasing protection of equality achieved by LGBT in America would be exhilarating, and it has been until now.

Now it’s changed. Gov. Jan Brewer does not like gays. Her intellect does not rise to relativism. She probably hates gays, and if she does, likely because she’s probably a suppressed gay herself. That’s the dynamic.

So why did she veto a bill that would have discriminated against gays?

Because she had to compromise her values to stay in power. It had everything to do with business in Arizona and religious freedom as she defined it, but it was a compromise of her core T-Party values that have identified her until now. And compromising values was something she had insisted time and again she would never do.

So, yes we won. But there is no victory for the purity of the issue.

In Africa, Yoweri Museveni signed into law one of the most draconian anti-LGBT laws in the world.

It was a long time coming. The withering opposition movement in Uganda staged heroic battles fighting the law and in fact managed to get what was a “death to gays” law changed to “life imprisonment” although no one who has the slightest understanding of a Uganda prison believes anyone can spend a very long life in one.

Museveni told CNN that being gay was “disgusting.”

He probably believes it, for the same reason Brewer does. In fact, these are two peas from the same pod. Why did they act so differently?

Museveni is growing more and more dictatorial, more and more repressive at the same time that his opposition while dwindling is growing more and more violent.

Museveni is rallying the troops, and the troops are cut from the same mold as he is: they are grossly uneducated, horribly frightened at the fast-paced modern world, and worried about their own positions in it.

They are ready to fight, and he needs power.

Dancing with The Devil

Dancing with The Devil

Little Kadogo by Cheri SambaThe U.S.’ complete disengagement from Uganda would seriously jeopardize its already faltering economy, ostensibly but not completely truthfully because we disapprove of the country’s new anti-gay laws.

Together with a variety of European countries that have already suspended aid, the expected U.S. cutoff would reduce the country’s GDP by more than the 2.7% languishing growth it’s currently struggling to achieve.

That will topple the country into recession.

Like Zimbabwe years ago Uganda would become dependent upon its neighbors. Zimbabwe has floated above complete annihilation for nearly two decades because of South African assistance.

Uganda’s neighbor Rwanda is the area’s economic powerhouse. Allied almost exclusively because of tribal reasons, I see Uganda becoming Rwanda’s client state.

Disengaging from Uganda now serves a lot more interests to the United States than just the aggressively stated ones by Secretary of State Kerry regarding human rights.

The U.S. had become somewhat mired in Uganda, starting with Bill Clinton’s forced love affair with the country in the 1990s as a manifestation of his mea culpa with regards to not acting to stop the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Disproportionately large amounts of aid flowed into Uganda from Clinton’s U.S. Particularly in a country as poorly prepared for business as Uganda, that aid developed a dependency that has been hard to end.

Bush and company nefariously increased U.S. involvement by helping Uganda enact the very law that Museveni signed this week! Bush officials and many more subterranean lobbyists actually lived in Uganda for quite a while ostensibly teaching it “to become democratic.”

The main Ugandan leader of the bill in the legislature was trained by right-wing legislators in the U.S.

All of these cross favors anted up the aid.

Obama could have pulled back, but didn’t. Instead, he used Uganda as the portal to continue the interior chase of terrorists scattered from Somalia’s cleansing. Ugandans cheered the 90 special forces that landed near the capital and marched across the country on Uganda TV, chasing the terrorist Joseph Kony.

That cost a lot.

I ally myself with Norway. The unequivocal ending of its $8 million dollar in aid is a drop in the bucket compared to the U.S., but its morality goes unchallenged:

“Norway deeply regrets that Uganda’s president today signed a new and stricter law against homosexuality,” Norway’s foreign minister, Børge Brende, said Monday. “It will worsen the situation of an already vulnerable group, and criminalize individuals and organizations working for the rights of sexual minorities.”

In contrast, Kerry’s statement comparing Uganda to Nazi Germany has so much anger in it that you know there’s more to it.

And that’s a simple deduction: we want to pull back from mistakes of the past. Clinton’s mistake in Rwanda was compounded by throwing unaccountable aid to Uganda in restitution: that was wrong.

Bush’s involvement in helping Uganda to achieve this anti-gay rights legislation is the wrongest of the wrong.

And Obama’s militarism of Africa is the third wrong. Now that all these missions are accomplished, in typical American fashion, we now disown them.

When we do we’ll be on a more correct path. But it was a moral compromise at many of the junctures that got us to this point, and if you subscribe to Kerry characterizing Uganda as Nazi Germany, then you better characterize America up until now as a House of Chamberlain.

LGBTP?

LGBTP?

rollingstoneAnti-gay and women-suppression is sweeping through much of the non-Muslim world of Africa with a poignant argument against America.

Today Uganda’s dictator signed a long anticipated anti-gay law in an unusual public ceremony with much fanfare.

Immediately after signing he delivered a very provocative speech saying his actions were a response to “western arrogance” and attempts by countries like America to change Ugandans’ way of life.

The law has been several years in the making and received crucial legal and financial support from conservative American lawmakers unable to impose such nonsense on their own country.

The original called for execution of anyone found to be gay. That’s been changed to life imprisonment. But other parts of the bill are draconian and criminalize the knowledge that someone is gay if not immediately reported to the police.

Uganda has been spiraling into oblivion for several years, and this fire-brand piece of legislation follows a whole series of less known laws that criminalize certain dress like mini-skirts.

Hardly a day after that law was best, hoodlums beat poorly dressed women in the streets of Kampala under the noses of approving police.

Uganda is certainly the most extreme example in Africa of massive reversals of human rights Africans had gained this last half century. But it’s hardly the only one.

Anyone convicted as gay in Nigeria now faces up to 14 years imprisonment, after a much controversial law was passed in January.

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan couldn’t be more different from Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni. Jonathan is considered progressive and worked closely with western governments in the pursuit of BokoHaram and other terrorists groups.

Totally unlike Museveni he has led a fight against government corruption, rocketing him to popularity. But just as in America, pressed by his right and now facing an unexpectedly close election, Goodluck reluctantly signed Parliament’s bill.

Nigeria is a much more diverse and educated society than Uganda, and the two countries literally span the continent’s diversity. But all over Africa, even in such presumed liberal places as Kenya, anti-gay sentiment is building rapidly.

I cannot find a single country in sub-Saharan Africa where there is not a public campaign to criminalize homosexuality. Even in South Africa with a constitution that more forcibly protects gays than in America, and with same-sex marriage legalized since 2006, a campaign is on.

What’s going on? Why Africa?

The highly popular and respected Kenyan commentator Charles Onyango-Obbo says it’s all about women, not gays.

In a society that condones gayness, women would not have to submit to male authority: “Once you dismantle the sexual hierarchy…then you cannot maintain a political system in which men monopolize power and women have little or none.”

While the light tike Museveni swings his fist at the big guys like America, he’s buttressed by a powerful argument also swinging through Africa:

If same sex relationships are afforded equality in modern societies, why aren’t polygamous ones?

Both deviate from the norm. And Africa not just with its modern Muslim cultures but its centuries of traditional cultures validates polygamy. South Africa’s extremely modern government that has legalized same-sex marriage at the federal level has also legalized polygamy.

So Museveni and similar demagogs around the continent have a hard time criticizing South Africa. But not America.

Has this vicious little tike exposed a flaw in our own reasoning?

Dear Uncle Kony

Dear Uncle Kony

dear uncle konyJosef Kony not Osama bin-Laden is the greatest terrorist of our time and his legacy is destroying Uganda. Osama bin-Laden is dead, Josef Kony is alive and well.

Kony is the infamous head of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA). Since Conor Godfrey wrapped up the LRA history almost two years ago in this space, Obama has sent 90 quite visible and public special forces to hunt Kony down through Africa, and America has placed a multi-million dollar bounty on his head.

Tuesday Kony circulated a letter to the people of Uganda demanding the world stop trying to track him down and urging a negotiated peace with the Government of Uganda.

Which may not be out of the question, as unbelievable as that sounds. Kony’s more-than-a-generation of terrorism structured mostly by child and female abuse in central Africa has become legacy.

In September Uganda’s Youth Minister, Ronald Kibuule, told police to prosecute the victims of rape rather than the rapist if the victim was “indecently dressed” when the abuse took place.

The remark continues to ignite worldwide protest, although little within Uganda or neighboring countries. When pressed the day after he made that remark to affirm or qualify it, Kibuule added:

“Most women currently dress poorly especially the youth. If she is dressed poorly and is raped, no one should be arrested,” Mr Kibuule said. He added any suspect should be released.

Uganda is a miserable dictatorship where police reign in rural areas like feudal lords. In the north of Uganda where the LRA once reigned instead, LRA culture has now infused the era although warring has abated.

If you think an American female soldier is reluctant to report sexual abuse, imagine an 11-year old victim in Gulu, Uganda. And yet nearly 8,000 of them annually muster the courage to report their abuse to authorities although never directly.

They would likely then be killed.

The United Nations, which first monitored and later actually operated the refugee camps for more than 1½ million displaced persons during the reign of the LRA, coordinates the abuse reporting through a variety of agencies.

In 2011 nearly 8,000 little girls found the wherewithal to report their abuse. According to one monitoring agency, not one was actioned by authorities.

Throughout much of Uganda, today, sexual abuse has become men’s new weapon to discipline’ women, the executive director of one of the NGOs in northern Gulu told a pan-African newspaper. “People learned abusive ways from the war; rebels and government soldiers raped women, and men who have become frustrated, do it as a way of life,” she said.

So long as Kony lives and prospers this isn’t going to change. He is living proof to those who believe in him as something near divine, invincible.

Although U.S. special forces chased him into the center of the continent, and that certainly contributed to the current implosion of the CAR, he remains at large, feasting on ivory, chaos and little children.

But worse, as he lives, his legend becomes legacy.

Twinkle or Spark?

Twinkle or Spark?

BesigyeAs much of the rest of Africa cuddles with a troubled peace, Uganda’s potential for violence increased substantially yesterday. Whether the iron-fisted ruler Museveni can bash it out before it flames is the question.

As I’ve written before, fights for political reform are ending throughout the continent: Africans are war weary, and in some cases like Egypt, see substantial compromise as the best they can do, now.

Even political unrest that exploded into all out war in places like the CAR and Mali is over, at least for the time being.

Places like the DRC-Congo where the conflict has been ongoing for 20 years now see large territories with no fighting at all.

And in places where global terrorism is a certain factor, like Somalia and Nigeria, the news is promising.

So what’s different about Uganda?

Uganda is one of the diminishing number of African countries run by an iron-fisted dictator. But unlike its nearest cousin, Zimbabwe, Yoweri Museveni’s Uganda keeps sticking it harder and harder to the opposition, an opposition like in Zimbabwe which had all but fizzled out.

We old safari guides know when it’s time to leave the embers die on their own. Stirring them impatiently often flames them up.

Museveni is at least 15 years younger than Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s dictator. Perhaps he sees a long life ahead of him, and perhaps that’s the difference.

Yesterday, the all but forgotten, decades-long courageous battler for Uganda’s better side, Kizza Besigye, told Ugandans to forget the ballot box, it’s time to rise up.

And his otherwise quiet speech during the funeral of an Ugandan entertainer was headlined and featured and broadcast across the country by one of its largest newspapers.

That in itself is telling. There are so many laws today in Uganda against free speech that the Observer’s gall in irritating (and probably from a Ugandan legal definition, libeling) the current regime is amazing.

Besigye called for an “Arab Spring” style uprising, but stopped short of announcing an armed revolution. Among his suggestions was that farmers withhold foodstuffs from Kampala and that the population as a whole engage in national strikes.

Besigye has been successful in organizing such movements before. Three times he actually ran for president against Museveni, each time losing in clearly fraudulent ballot counts. This week he announced he would not take part in an election, again, but will now concentrate on disrupting Museveni’s regime.

At first I couldn’t see Besigye’s call to his fellow countrymen getting very far. The poor man has more scars and broken bones than you can imagine, having been tortured numerous times.

The recent laws passed in Uganda against gays and other fringe social activity put Besigye in an odd situation of having to ignore them, as most of rural Uganda supports such oppression.

But the recent coverage given Besigye by daring media that absolutely threatens their own survival and safety, and the courage that Uganda’s remaining intellectuals have begun to show is new.

Like Cairo where we now understand the roots of the Egyptian rebellion were literally completely contained, it could be there is enough fire power in the Kampala area alone to spark something.

If it doesn’t, Besigye and whatever is left of Uganda’s opposition, is toast.

Just the Keys to His House

Just the Keys to His House

AminAndSonIn the dark and dangerous hole that Ugandan dictator Museveni has cut out of his country, a new face has emerged to challenge him: the son of Idi Amin.

Yesterday, Hussein Juruga Lumumba, announced his candidacy to become Uganda’s next dictator.

Well, not exactly. What he did was write an open letter to the current dictator, Yoweri Museveni, published in the country’s main newspaper as a lead news story, requesting the Ugandan dictator to return to him the homes and other properties confiscated from his father.

Seemingly benign enough, in the feudal Shakespearean politics of otherwise modern Uganda this is better than Ted Cruz spending a weekend in Iowa.

It appears to be the only letter ever written the current dictator, although anyone else who tried this would likely never write, again.

Let’s stipulate a few things quickly, first.

Uganda would be better without any dictator. Kenya has demonstrated that freed from oppressive politics, a country can bloom, grow incredibly fast, and truly become both an economic and cultural powerhouse for modern Africa.

Ugandans were just as well educated, maybe better than Kenyans. They were the colonial favorite of Britain (that considered Kenya a simple stepping-stone to Uganda), and in the short few years of independence before Uganda slipped into its endless dictators’ cycle, it was forging well ahead of Kenya.

And even during the rest of my lifetime in Africa, even when under the repeated oppressions of horrible leaders, Ugandans wrestled up some wonderful accomplishments, including vanguard research and implementation of many public health initiatives including malaria control.

All that keeps Uganda down is its love affair with dictators.

No credible representative leader has ever made it to any of the top echelons of Ugandan government. Rife with ethnic divides (but so is Kenya), shackled with an urban population that still reveres an ancient monarchy, Uganda just can’t break the habit of being oppressed.

My wife and I lived for two years on the Kenyan/Ugandan border during the height of Amin’s terror. The fear that every sane person felt, no matter how secure they might have been inside Kenya, was horrible.

The two weeks that we spent driving from one end of Uganda to the other during Amin’s regime might have been one of the most foolish things two 25-year olds had ever done. But what we saw and heard and experienced became fundamental to my understanding of Africa thereafter, that the continent’s enormous potential was hamstrung by its inability to shake paganism.

And now, forty years later, it comes back to haunt that poor country.

Times have changed. Hussein Juruga dresses nicely, writes and speaks with the fluency of a privileged child educated in both France and Britain. And lacking any actual job, he lists his occupation as “politician” in his blog.

His resume includes being a “media consultant.” And while it’s difficult to find many in Uganda willing to write Op Eds in the country’s newspapers, Juruga often waxes eloquently therein on the modern media, espousing greater freedoms.

Sounds pretty right on, no? And the country’s main newspaper, arguably the mouthpiece for the current dictator, gives him a glowing recommendation
as a former employee.

But dig into his prolific blog, and you find that’s he’s homophobic and dangerously militaristic, and he avoids ever discussing other current challenges to the current dictator, except his own.

Kizza Besigye and Erias Lukwago, for instance, are the two most prominent dissidents in Uganda and fairly well known outside the country. But Juruga hasn’t mentioned either of them, ever.

But the overriding evidence of Juruga’s intentions is the bone-chilling defense he constantly mounts for his father.

Claiming that all the bad stuff attributed to his father is rumor mongering, Juruga insists the smear campaign “is peddled mostly by individuals who want to access political support and for others to try and maintain political relevance today.”

He argues that it was actually the Tanzanians (whose army ultimately deposed Amin) — not his father — that caused the most misery and destruction in the country.

He admits threatening Giles Foden, the author of The Last King Of Scotland, with a libel suit.

He may be more polished than his father. His power is indisputable, given the public nature of his rages within Uganda’s current clamp on media freedom.

And a simple change, it seems, is all that he wants: Just give him the keys to his house.

Poaching? Who’s Poaching?

Poaching? Who’s Poaching?

poachingwhosepoachingElephant poaching is increasing, unorganized, ad-hoc and much more likely organized by corrupt Ugandan and Congolese government soldiers than rebels or militia.

Although rebels like what’s left of the LRA also poach, they are not the principal poachers. In fact, they probably have an extremely minor role. And news reports suggesting otherwise make it increasingly difficult for us to solve the problem of increased elephant poaching.

So says Kristof Titeca after more than a year of field work in Garamba National Park in The Congo, a young post-doc from Belgium, in an article posted today.

It’s only work and analysis like this, which rarely percolates into the world media, that gives us a handle on how to deal with the current increase in elephant poaching. It’s equally important in suggesting that established news media has more interest in fanning dying embers of scandals than digging for the truth.

Titeca’s research and analysis is about ivory poaching. But he can’t help but wonder why not-for-profits out raising money, like the established world media find it so necessary to make these untrue links:

“One cannot help thinking that these reports are primarily concerned with trying to bring the LRA back into the limelight, in a context where its reduced violence makes it much harder to do so.”

And so Titeca veers slightly from his field work about elephants and ivory to find a couple references showing how diminished the LRA has become. His own work has concluded the same.

News delivery is so entrenched and institutionalized that reality is fixed like photograph. Often today in Africa, you have to turn to young kids outside the media system to get the real story.

There are a few precious sources in established media, and Titeca for example applauds Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times. But he doesn’t applaud any NGO or charity organization, and I expect because there aren’t any to applaud.

Titeca’s research is comprehensive. He details the trail from the initial killing to the traders and middleman to the airports that finally export it. Although established media focuses on Dar-es-Salaam and the Kenyan coast of Mombasa as major exit conduits, Titeca’s own research points squarely to Uganda.

As I’ve often written elephant poaching today is totally different from the plague that nearly exterminated the beast in the 1970s and 1980s, but those days gave rise to public awareness and the birth of numerous then good charity organizations.

Those organizations just can’t get it right, this time. In part because their very successful method of helping to end the extermination forty years ago won’t work, today, and they seem incapable of changing their focus.

Back then raising awareness and putting pressure on certain governments successfully led to the creation of CITES and the international ban on trading ivory.

That’s done. And it’s no longer working, because most governments are wholly convinced of the need to ban the ivory trade (even, I sometimes think, China) and because the world is widely aware of all kinds of animal poaching.

As Titeca and so many others point out, the trouble today is small ad-hoc groups of poachers and more organized middlemen, and many, many of them.

The mischievous attempt to put the rap on rogue organizations like the LRA is a terrible distraction and untrue: hard for the public to disconnect because the LRA is so horrible, and hard for CNN because it makes such a good story.

Ivory poaching today in East Africa is hardly different than robbing a 7-11 in the U.S. And it’s on a dangerous increase, yes, but the solutions are much more complicated than when Mama Ngina collaborated with the Emirates and used Sikorsky helicopters over the Serengeti.

The world’s complicated, folks. There’s no solution in your newspaper headline.

Better the Beast You Know

Better the Beast You Know

"Gorilla Taxes": original construct by pborgbarthet at worth1000.com
The second greatest conservation success story in my lifetime may be out of control. Mountain gorilla populations may be prospering because so are bribes and corruption.

The first mountain gorilla trek I brokered was in June, 1979. At the time Dian Fossey reigned on Karisoke volcano with no aplomb and great madness. But science had arrived and the population count was reliably put at 285.

That is a dangerously low number for any life form.

Last week a consortium of field biologists announced the current mountain gorilla count is right around 800. “Right around” is the euphemistic scientific phrase that means “we can’t get an exact count in The DRC Congo because there’s a war there.”

Nevertheless, the number is fabulous. The population of this awesome beast is not going extinct, at least not right now. And really the sole reason is tourism.

Mountain gorillas live in two places near to one another: Bwindi Forest almost entirely within Uganda, and the much larger Virunga Mountains (which is actually the highland forests connecting seven dormant volcanoes) which is mostly in Rwanda but a bit in Uganda and a bit more also in The DRC Congo.

Bwindi is separated from the Virungas by a 50 kilometer long forest corridor that gorillas likely could use to migrate, although little field science has confirmed this.

Three years ago when guiding a prominent American zoo group I experienced first-hand how a large portion of Bwindi “tourism” works: illegally. It had been often reported before, but this was my first personal experience. Years before, when Uganda tourism was not yet mature, I had a similar experience with my daughter that was actually far more dangerous. This zoo experience was not dangerous, it was simply corrupt.

I knew what we were doing from the getgo. Most tourists do not. A blog I found posted by an enthusiastic traveler last March is a perfect example of a tourist who doesn’t realize she’s engaging in the black market, and it’s a perfect blow-by-blow description of just such an experience.

I’m not want to extol the virtues of capitalism, but the dynamic is a perfect indicator in this case. In Rwanda’s Parc de Volcans, where mountain gorilla trekking has merged art, science and commerce to near perfection, the cost of seeing a mountain gorilla for an hour is $750. In Uganda’s Bwindi, permits are currently going for under $350.

It happens usually with “walk-in” tourists or tourists who have booked too late for a legitimate permit. Real gorilla permits are controlled in Uganda in a very nepotistic way: a mix of officials playing strictly by the rules and demanding full nonrefundable payment at the time of reserving, or by holding a few residual permits in reserve that are allocated to relatives and friends in the tourist industry.

This means that if you book your trek through a reputable local ground handler far enough in advance, you’re probably playing by the rules. In my case three years ago, my choice of a “reputable operator” was flawed.

For a number of years I had relied on a small but extremely dignified man who had deep connections with the Ugandan government which gave me singular but above-board benefits. He had a heart attack only weeks before we arrived, long after we had fully paid him, and his tourist company fell into the control of his far less reputable nephew.

What the disreputable operators do is bribe soldiers or rangers to “guide” tourists to gorilla families that are not yet fully habituated, so to gorilla families that are not yet “on the list” to be visited. At a serious discount to the official permit price.

There are eight habituated gorilla families in Bwindi and nine (soon ten) in Rwanda’s Parc de volcans. With a maximum of 6-8 tourists allowed per family visit, that caps legal permits at right around 125 daily. The demand is far greater than this. It also means that only a fraction of the mountain gorillas alive today are a part of habituated groups. Most are wild animals ripe for exploitation.

Legitimate permits are usually sold out a year in advance. Walk-in tourists usually don’t have the funds, they are generally savvy on the internet, and they know that someone in Kampala will sell them a permit for much less. That wasn’t my unique situation of course, three years ago, but it’s the case most of the time.

There is danger in any black market, and in this one it’s physical as well as the risk that you won’t see gorillas at all. The physical danger comes from approaching a powerful wild animal before it wants you to. “Charging” very rarely happens with habituated gorillas, but you’ll note in the blog I’ve chosen above that this was central to her tourist experience. It’s not a good thing.

But missing the experience altogether is as great a risk. The chance of not encountering a gorilla family on a legitimate non-black market experience is today next to nil. But trekking to non-habituated families usually means it’s much longer, more difficult and easily aborted if weather turns bad. It also means the so-called “guide” probably knows how to shoot better than commune with a gorilla.

Ugandan society at large is much more corrupt than Rwanda, and the shenanigans in Bwindi is pretty typical of the whole range of Ugandan society from permits required to starting a business to parading in public.

The iron fist government in Rwanda, for which I have an equal tome of criticism of a different kind, is insurance that black marketeering of gorilla permits there won’t happen.

Nuff said? Almost, but there’s more. I can’t figure out if the Ugandan official response to the black marketeering was good or bad. That government response was to lower the official permit price to what the black market was commanding, $350.

(In my personal experience three years ago with eight other people, I discovered that the “guide” was given only $150 per person. We had of course paid $500 – the official rate at the time – so there was quite a profit in the capitalist chain that one morning.)

Lowering the price to the black market level is creative, but my assumption is that the black marketers will simply go lower still. Whatever the case, official Uganda is now considering raising the official price back to $500. This remains $250 below the Rwandan level.

What we have happening with mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda is a dangerously unregulated market, because official Ugandan control of Bwindi has been lost to racketeers and corrupt rangers. And I don’t think official fiddling with the price will stop it.

The free-for-all capitalism of Bwindi has led to all sorts of tourist attractions linked directly to less and less good science and wildlife management. Gorillas regularly wander into tourist lodge areas there, for example, something the Rwandans understand is neither good or safe.

Yet the fact is that the mountain gorilla population in Bwindi seems to be increasing faster than in the Virungas. Is ecology linked to an unfettered free market?

According to Uganda’s Minister of tourism, “’This result confirms beyond reasonable doubt that Uganda’s conservation efforts are paying off.”

Or something else.

Just Child’s Play

Just Child’s Play

The Grimm brothers, DOOM II, and the Lord’s Resistance Army all agree: terror is child’s play.

Uganda is a good geopolitical source for understanding terrorists. I don’t mean this is where most of the fighting goes on or is even planned; those places like Somalia and Afghanistan are well known.

But Uganda gives us an entre into the world of terrorism. Uganda keeps one foot in the world of sane civilization and one foot in the underworld, and so it’s a place for those of us who believe we’re soundly placed in sane civilization to try to understanding the other.

Uganda is where the Lord’s Resistance Army began and flourished. The country has been a target of numerous al-Shabaab attacks including the group’s most spectacular one, and it’s run by a old dictator who can’t decide if gays should be executed or not.

Today Uganda’s main newspaper published an interview, “Confessions of an ex-al-Shabaab Fighter.” It’s remarkably pro-forma and stinks to high heaven of considerable editing if not outright alteration. Even if the teenager ostensibly giving the interview is real and can be vetted by better journalists, I doubt he remembers correctly his nefarious life.

It’s not the first time that an “ex” teenage terrorist has dumped what he remembers of his terrorist life into the media. Moses, James, and Robert are among some of the LRA child soldiers whose lives became media stories. There’s even girls: Lily.

The meticulous journalist, Peter Eichstaedt, summed up all the foregoing and more in his book, First Kill Your Family.

What’s interesting about today’s interviewee is that he’s not LRA. Isa Ali Senkumbi went more or less of his free child’s will to Somali to train as a terrorist. It’s about al-Shabaab, Africa’s al-Qaeda.

That’s a significant difference with the LRA and other similar militias in mostly central Africa. The LRA usually abducted and drugged the kids before turning them into killers. The LRA is much crazier than the organizations which bombed the twin towers. It’s really more of a cult than an ideological movement. To this day it’s not clear the LRA has any sort of political or social agenda.

Just like most of the Grimm Fairy Tales and many of the (I consider objectionable) teen video horror and apocalyptic games. But whether you side with me that the Cinderella is OK because she always becomes a princess, and that DOOM II isn’t OK because from time to time the world is destroyed, we’d all agree they’re both terrifying with minimal moralism involved.

Not so with ideological terror. At the least your act of jihad can earn your family considerable money. And at most you get the key to eternity.

The LRA drugged and abducted its recruits because the younger a child is the more likely she will be convinced to do something with candy rather than philosophy. So when Isa decided to join jihad he didn’t actually.

He thought he was going for “Islamic training” and did not realize the older friend recruiting him “was recruiting me into al-Shabaab.”

Isa was 13 at the time, and over the next four impressionable teen years he claims to have become an exceptional fighter and terrorist capable of the most daring escapes and missions. But for some reason not explained, he never fully embraced the ideology. So he left.

I think it likely one of the reasons is that he’s too African despite being a Muslim. The well-discussed antipathy of American Jews to American blacks and vice versa is mirrored in that between African and Arab Muslims. It may be less true the further north in the continent with Boko Haram and similar groups. But in East and Central Africa I think it critical.

Isa is now smiling in front of a computer, reformed and protected by an NGO. His story as portrayed today is far from complete and I doubt much of its veracity. The voice in the interview does not sound like a teenager’s.

But when layered with the many other stories of children embroiled in terror it helps us realize: the understanding of good and evil comes at a very young age.

For Hitler, Claudius, Cheney and bin Laden, terror is but child’s play.

Black Gold

Black Gold

As the U.S. and Europe teeter with their economies their investors are turning to Africa where energy companies are growing rich overnight.

Fed up with the failures of austerity in Europe and the even greater failures of politics in the U.S., giant multinationals are directing investment out of their home turfs to Africa. Facilitated especially by new Chinese technologies for deep drilling, huge new reserves of oil and especially natural gas are being discovered almost daily in Africa.

Literally overnight western companies like Tulow, Royal Dutch Shell, Cove Energy, ENI, Galp Energia, the BG Group and Eskom have seen share prices skyrocket with their new African discoveries.

Global analysts think this presages a major shift in geopolitics in the not-so-distant future. Steve Levine of the trendy new quartz.com online business journal thinks that by 2020:

“.. oil prices could average $80 a barrel, Gulf monarchs … could face unrest, Mozambique—yes, Mozambique—could become one of the most important petro-states on the planet, China could more congenially assume a top rung among global powers. And the US could untether itself from some tyrants.”

What I think Levine and others fail to underscore is that we already have a Third World African energy giant, and we have had it for more than a generation, and it’s not doing so well.

Nigeria is a mess, and the $64 trillion dollar question is will that also be the outcome for Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique, Uganda, Angola and the others.

Nigeria’s oil, gas and other natural reserves rival many states in the Mideast. Civil war, rampant corruption, now Islamic extremism and a failure to develop basic infrastructure have stymied any meaningful development over the last 30 years.

Nigeria’s manifold problems have not just inhibited Nigerian development, but scared off many global energy companies grossly reducing investment and extraction.

Uganda’s new oil finds are suspended while the county battles multinationals in the courts over royalties.

And Tanzania’s new-found energy wealth is tied up in a series of new energy laws that simply can’t get through Parliament. And Kenya – struggling beautifully but ardently to implement a new constitution, hardly has time for such trivialities as trillion dollar oil reserves.

But that, actually, is a reason things might go OK for East Africa. Unlike the now drunken uncle Nigeria, these countries aren’t just waving in outsiders with no requirement except that they lace the doorman’s hand.

The reason for the stall in Tanzania’s multinational contracts is because of the immense new pressure being exerted on its Parliament by … we-the-people. Centered on new energy finds, the power of young legislators and activists around the country to create a fair energy law is unprecedented in this sheepish country whose population until now has jerked its knees whenever its leaders whistled.

And Kenya has become one of the most sophisticated democracies in Africa. Its only delay, truly, is because such heavy lifting as implementing a new and brilliant constitution must come first.

Each country is different, of course, but my take is that African democracies are maturing so fast that they are now fully capable of creating welcoming capitalist environments for these giant multinationals that will ultimately benefit them mightily. Thirty years ago, Nigeria just wasn’t mature enough.

To be sure this is a serious generalization that needs careful parsing. And don’t give it to the multinationals to do; don’t presume that they always know what’s best. Ask BP Shell and the other multinationals that struggle in Nigeria. Many wish they’d never started.

But once invested giant multinational energy companies get caught up in their own ideological web that won’t let the little spider move on even as the web gets torn to shreds. While a few multinationals have left Nigeria and Belarus, most wouldn’t walk away from their huge capital investment, even when the returns weren’t worth it.

This led to all sorts of horrible things. Horrible returns to investors, yes, but corruption and graft on huge scales that to this day continues to stymy Nigeria.

I don’t think that will happen, again. Thanks not to the greed of the multinationals, but to the sophistication of Africa’s young emerging democracies, today.

And I for one think that Kenya and Mozambique will be the leaders and shakers. Tanzania could turn out well, too. Right there are reserves of oil and natural gas that are almost a fifth of the existing reserves in the Mideast.

And if Angola and Uganda throw off their despicable governments – which could indeed happen – then the oil well overflowith.

Travel to Uganda Now Deadly

Travel to Uganda Now Deadly

There is a reason that ebola has reached Kampala, and it’s the same reason I’ve recommended against visiting Uganda for a while: the dictatorial Ugandan government.

The first (and last) time that ebola (or what we thought might have been ebola) reached a metropolitan area was in Nairobi in 1980, which became the subject of the documentary book “Hot Zone.” But in 1980 the size of Africa’s city populations were much smaller. Transport around the area and even just within the cities themselves was nowhere near as easy as it is, today.

As the most infectious disease we know on earth, the Kampala outbreak may unfortunately be a story only just beginning.

All the neighboring countries have moved into full-scale alert. Kenya has put all its national hospitals on special alert and has dispatched health officers to all border crossings with protective Hazmat gear.

“All the necessary kit and medical supplies needed have been assembled and dispatched to health facilities in the bordering districts,” Rwanda’s New Times newspaper reported this morning.

The South Sudan government said it will “not take any chances“ with the disease and has mobilized its national health network.

This is the fourth outbreak of ebola in Uganda since 2000. This is the first time that an announced original outbreak was not contained. Whatever the reasons for not being able to contain it this time, the reason it reached Kampala so quickly from the far end of the country is because the government of Uganda lied about the outbreak.

Three days before 14 people hemorrhaged to death in Kampala’s Mulago hospital, the government denied there was an outbreak. Friday, the Associated Press quoted a Ugandan government official who dismissed the possibility of a widely reported ebola outbreak in Kibaale province “as merely a rumor.”

Two days before the outbreak appeared in Kampala, a local news source quoting government authorities reported that “The team deployed in Kibaale has indicated that the outbreak is now fully contained and no further spread is expected to take place.”

This misinformation is typical of Ugandan authorities.

London’s Daily Telegraph tells the story best. After an outbreak in a nonrural area of northwest Uganda 2-3 weeks ago, the government tried to keep a lid on the story. When they were unable to, they claimed the outbreak had been contained. The confusion contributed to panic in the hospitals in the region, which led to people fleeing the area.

The Ugandan government’s policies of lies and misinformation are now beginning to undermine the little health care infrastructure that exists in its rural areas. Several weeks ago Transparency International issued a damning indictment of the government’s failing health care policies in rural Uganda.

Ebola’s incubation period is 7-10 days. One of the ironic components of this most infective of all diseases is that it’s so deadly if contained it kills itself pretty quickly. So if health officials can actually contain the disease this story will be dead and over in 3 weeks.

Unless, of course, Ugandan officials try to hide it, again.

I’ve said for a while now that the increasingly oppressive regime in Uganda with its unstable politic and jittery society makes it an undesirable destination for tourists.

And now there’s lot more reasons not to visit.

The Children Are NOT Invisible

The Children Are NOT Invisible

Invisible Children has produced a viral YouTube video that is dangerous. Like other U.S. organizations embracing an African cause they exploit part truths to make a buck.

My young hero, Conor Godfrey, wrote an incredibly balanced and unemotional blog about this that you must reread to understand the facts of the case. That way I can just continue screaming in good conscience.

I’ve written disparagingly about Invisible Children before. Among their most outlandish accomplishments was accepting money from naive high schools in America’s heartland for a cause that no longer existed. IC did this by teasing emotions and grossly ignoring details.

IC’s raison d’etre is to tell the stories of child soldiers who played such unspeakable rolls in mostly Uganda and The Congo in the 1990s, while under the control of a still wanted fugitive, Joseph Kony. That’s true.

But when the Windsor Colorado high school (and presumably others, too) raised money for the effort at the behest of IC, the cause was already over. There have been no child soldiers or Joseph Konys or Joseph Kony wanabees in Uganda since 2006.

IC’s response was to change its website slightly and go on accepting money from lots of naive high schoolers, much less pensioned widows and disabled truck drivers. The teachers, administrators and even local newspaper reporters in Windsor refused to comment on my blog or even talk to me about it.

I am so incensed by this exploitation, and watching the video that’s gone viral on YouTube makes my blood boil. IC is continuing its false cause campaign by generalizing to the point that details be damned!

Of course we all care about children! Can’t criticize the palsy filmmaker Jason Russell for spending two minutes at the beginning of the video showing baby pictures of his son, followed by a minute segment showing the birth of a very white child. Warm us up, so to speak.

The entire video is so tweaked with these generalized but irrelevant emotive gimmicks that I feel I’m watching a drug company commercial on the evening news. Russell’s honey coated commentary belies a very disturbed psyche, someone whose deepest soul is daring pushback against a blind evangelical drive to tell a story … that really isn’t.

The true story, as Conor reviews above, actually has parts with happy endings, not particularly conducive to a charity campaign.

Joseph Kony is a fugitive, probably in the Central African Republic (CAR), not Uganda. He hasn’t been there since he was roundly defeated by the Ugandan military in 2006.

We should presume Kony continues his sadistic ways of conscripting, drugging and brainwashing young children to be killers – the heart and soul of IC’s craven drive for wealth and fame. But we have little hard evidence of a scale anywhere near his robust days in Uganda.

Voice of America reported in March of his redeveloping presence in The Congo near the CAR. But as one of my all-time favorite journalists, New York Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman explains in his March essay in the New York Review of Books, Kony is involved in only one of “dozens of small-scale, dirty wars” that while absolutely terrible doesn’t begin to achieve the magnitude of murder and destruction Kony leveled on Uganda in the 1990s.

But if IC owns up to the facts it might kill the golden goose.

The warehouse of emotion that IC has harvested from an unwitting American population, much less its cash charity, corrodes to the core the intention of every good person donating to it.

IC is especially being denounced in Uganda, where it all began. Ugandans are proud that they’ve routed Kony, so when the video was shown there last month it nearly caused a riot.

The excellent blog, Upworthy, tells a more sinister fiscal tale about IC in the recent post, “Share This Instead of the New Kony Video”:

IC recently accepted $750,000 from the National Christian Foundation (NCF). The NCF designed then funded the campaign in Uganda to pass a “Kill the Gays Bill” about which I and so many others have written. NCF gives other big sums of money to “The Call” which sends youthful missionaries into “dominions of darkness” like San Francisco to retrieve gays from their purgatory.

Also on NCF’s big recipient list with IC is the Family Research Council and The Fellowship. These mega right-wing organizations are well known and so dangerous, not just to Uganda but America. Just spend a few minutes on Google to build your Darth Vader tome.

This is the recipient pool that IC shares. And its message, methods and racist causes are also the same.

Weep when you watch the video. But let the tears dry before besmirching a check. You’ll realize that your clenched fist is packaged for IC not Kony.

Kony is Going Down Whether or Not Kim Karadashian and Justin Bieber Tweet About It

Kony is Going Down Whether or Not Kim Karadashian and Justin Bieber Tweet About It

By Conor Godfrey
At least 10 people emailed me this video in the last 48 hours.

It is about 30 minutes long, and well worth a watch as the video has now entered the mysterious nexus between politics and pop culture.

Check out the hashtag #StopKony on Twitter.

(Beyonce had to ask people to stop tweeting her about it because she was already a supporter.)

I have watched a remarkable number of people turn themselves into LRA experts over the last 24 hours to cash in on the media buzz, so be very careful what you read on this issue.

Here is a good Q&A with some basic facts.

The LRA barbarism is not in dispute.

Kony kills, rapes, and abducts people, including many children, and then forces them to do the same.

Whatever ideological motivation there may have been to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) at the outset has dissipated long ago.

There is zero moral ambiguity here… but that does not mean that situation is simple.

First – as Jim reminded readers many moons ago – the LRA is not in Uganda anymore!

See Invisible Children’s Crisis Tracker Map.

The Ugandan military chased them into neighboring states with far less capacity to deal with the problem– namely the DRC, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic (possibly the three least developed states in the world).

I should note as well that Joseph Kony and the LRA have been on life support for years; experts believe that he has a few hundred core fighters at most.

These die-hards, however, have still inflicted terrible pain and suffering on rural communities in central Africa.

Central Africa is the most fragile sub-region in the world.

A decade ago (98-2003) almost every country in the region was pulled into the brutal war in the DRC, and suspicion still runs very deep on both the government to government and people to people level. (Especially between Uganda and the DRC)

Imagine the Ugandan army trying to track down Kony and the LRA in the DRC when the last time the Ugandan army crossed the border it was as an invading force!

For these reasons, the DRC government has been very cagey about allowing the Ugandan military (and embedded U.S. advisors) to operate in their territory.

You could easily see opposition politicians and op-ed columnists in Kinshasa claiming that the government was letting sworn enemies and imperialists violate their national sovereignty.

This video might unfortunately invite more scrutiny on these delicate political arrangements.

Of course, Kony and his cronies have likely taken advantage of this and slipped from the jungles of the Central African Republic (CAR) where Ugandan soldiers are allowed to operate, into the jungles of the DRC where they are more restricted.

I have seen some analyst’s claim that Kony is in CAR, but most think that the majority of the LRA militants are now in the DRC.

Here is a good account of the failed attempts to kill or capture Kony so far.

They have tried using Guatemalan hit-men, air-strikes, and now U.S. advisors, but Kony’s core loyalists are bush experts and armed to the teeth.

They often retaliate after failed attempts by slaughtering thousands of civilians.

Everyone is now talking about whether the video was a good or bad thing.

I just think it was irrelevant.

The video is not going to make DRC politicians less suspicious of Uganda, or make the Ugandan military and the U.S. advisors work any harder than they already are.

Kony is going down whether or not A-list celebrities tweet about it.

Central African militaries are slowly closing the net over unimaginably large swathes of jungle, and political obstacles have mostly ameliorated over the past few years.

One U.S. advisor was quoted as saying that Kony’s remaining time would be measured in weeks, or maybe in months.

There is bipartisan support in U.S. Congress for taking him off the field and Obama is publicly committed to the mission.

What else do they want? This video may end up triggering millions in donations for the NGO Invisible Children, but their stated political objectives have already been met.

Ugandans are understandably all over the map in their reactions to the video.

Some think the video gave the impression that the war was still in Uganda (there was a 15 second disclaimer in the middle saying the war had moved to neighboring countries), others thought the film should have mentioned the atrocities committed by the Ugandan military, and still others thought it was good that more people now understood what a monster Kony is.

In general – I think that celebrities should stay out of foreign politics.

Unless of course, they would also like to start tweeting about Uganda’s 7% GDP growth rate.

P.S. Here is a pretty good article addressing some of the criticisms of the NGO Invisible Children

P.S. Everyone remember to follow the Africa Answerman on twitter.

Can’t Do It Here? Try Uganda.

Can’t Do It Here? Try Uganda.

By South African cartoonist Zapiro.
The reemergence of the draconian Ugandan anti-gay legislation isn’t just a tedious clarion alarm. It shows that as the world’s economy improves, vital human rights concerns subside from the limelight.

It also shows how lasting wrong-minded movements once elevated to celebrity status in Africa can survive, as compared, say, to America.

Despite many of your complaints about my sarcasm and cynicism, I truly believe in America and get my sustenance from the ultimate outing of truth, here. But that’s not the case in many places in the developing world like Africa. Once launched into the heavens, it’s much more difficult to bring an errant issue down to a safe earth landing in East Africa than here.

David Bahati is the poster child for Church Street (sorry, I mean “K” street). He’s the puppet Ugandan legislator that does the gofer work for American conservatives who found an entry into Uganda after Bill Clinton’s many overtures to the country more than a decade ago.

His travel to and from America, hosting in America, and coaching as a politician came right from America’s extreme right. He introduced a bill in the Ugandan parliament in 2009 that was ultimately withdrawn because of its draconian provisions including execution for some prosecuted gays.

It is simply the American right using Uganda as a place to do what they can’t do, here.

The bill was withdrawn because of a huge public outcry worldwide. But last week Bahati reintroduced the bill, and immediately thereafter as if scripted from source, the Ugandan government supported the bill by reducing the greatest possible punishment from execution to life imprisonment.

That is the margin that the American coaches think will win the day. And they might be right.

The world’s state of happiness is improving, exception the Greece affair. The nearly two million signatures on on-line petitions against the 2009 bill set a precedent that already we know won’t be achieved this time around.

A coalition of East African clerics hopes to achieve a petition with a measly “5,000 signatures.”

Even as Uganda itself has achieved little additional political stability, its economy is no longer dive bombing. What I’d really like to see are Bahati’s emails and phone records, as I’m absolutely sure his moves are being orchestrated from here.

The right in America is on a roller-coaster right now, and each time Santorum’s head appears above the rising waters, they gloat, and I’ll bet, pick up the phone and tell Bahati, just as they would tell Santorum, it’s now or never.

They’ve got a better bet going with Bahati.

And unfortunately, Ugandan activitists are being clobbered not just by American righties but South African righties as well. Same dynamic: can’t do it at home, do it where you can when you can.

Jon Qwelane was appointed South Africa’s ambassador to Uganda last year. He was subsequently convicted of hate speech (anti-gay) in South Africa, but his ambassadorship continues. South Africa has a long tradition of gay rights, and it’s embodied in its constitution. I wouldn’t doubt an “evil axis” of K-street and aberrant South African diplomats.

So this time the Ugandan putsch is without finesse. Last time it went through Parliament several times like a ballerina pas-de-deuxing through a china shop, as quietly as possible then finally petered out after a huge international outcry.

This time several days ago, only a week after Bahati reintroduced the bill, the Ugandan Minister for Ethics and Integrity initiated a massive public campaign to arrest gays.

In fact he personally marched into a convention of presumed LGBT and took over the podium, announcing arrests as activists ran to the corridors.

Since 2009 the Ugandan parliament has been riveted with controversy, descent and wide movements of subservience to a growing executive followed by courageous acts of trying to assert their increasingly diminishing power. But the net result, today, isn’t good.

I think this time the anti-gay bill will pass. Fortunately, it won’t mandate execution for being LGBT, just life imprisonment.

Santorum won’t win. Bahati will.

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.