Virtual Video

Virtual Video

whichistherealsavimbiWhat’s the difference between a video game and a terrorist?

The family of a controversial Angolan rebel leader who died in 2002 is suing the manufacturer of the “Call of Duty” video game for defaming Jonas Sivimbi.

I interviewed Sivimbi in Paris when I was covering the Paris Peace talks (on Vietnam) for several U.S. newspapers. Back then in the 1970s he was a hero to the independence movement as well as the South African anti-apartheid movement, since South Africa was at the time fighting the independence movement in Angola.

Subsequent to my brief acquaintance, though, Savimbi’s reputation declined substantially.

Independence was won by a rival rebel group, MPLA, from Portugal in 1975, and though initially Savimbi was a part of the overall peace process, he immediately started a brutal civil war against the MPLA that lasted virtually until the moment he was killed by government soldiers in 2002.

During that civil war he grew vicious becoming the first warlord to finance his battle with blood diamonds. UNITA and Savimbi were ultimately investigated for war crimes by The Hague.

“Call of Duty” features Savimbi, or for sure someone who looks (and acts) the spitting image.

In answering the Savimbi family suit, the French creator and owner of “Call of Duty” claimed that Savimbi-in-the-game was actually shown in a “favorable light” and a “good guy who comes to help the heroes.”

Seeking 100 million Euros, Savimbi’s now 42-year old son said, “Seeing him kill people, cutting someone’s arm off … that’s not like Papa.”

I haven’t looked at the game. I can’t stand media violence and I know that “Call of Duty” is one of the worst.

NPR featured “Call of Duty” in its series of violence in video games in 2013 as at the time the most popular and most violent.

UNITA is now a franchised part of peaceful Angolan society, and they are encouraging – possibly joining – the Savimbi family in their suit.

The line between moral freedom fighters and amoral terrorists is thin. But there is no division at all between the violence of a video game and the violence promoted by today’s jihadists.

Games targeted to teenagers who have yet to fully develop their moral compass strikes me as one of the most barbaric outcomes of crass capitalism.

Ratings are only rarely useful and require parents or guardians actually capable of enforcing them.

If Republican candidates will blithely suggest carpet bombing the Levant, I guess it’s not radical for me to suggest that video games like “Call of Duty” should be banned.

I’ve no loyalty to my brief encounter with Savimbi, who at the time was a gentle, highly respected and admired grass roots leader. He turned, and so did a bunch of kids from Minneapolis who participated in the Westgate Mall attack and dozens of others from America who appear on jihadist videos.

Carpet bombing them simply cleans the field for new faces. Getting rid of their platform is the only way to end the game.

All Alone

All Alone

rumsfeld's solitaireJust as you sensed an iota of stability settling onto the Middle East another Syrian debacle starts up in Africa.

And for all the same reasons.

South Sudan is exploding. A UN Report issued last week compares what’s happening in the South Sudan to Syria and Iraq.

More than 2.2 million people have fled recent fighting, the UN is taking care of more than 600,000 as refugees, and the vicious war is replete with widespread rape, conscripted child soldiers and already specific personalities being considered for war crimes.

A high UN official told Reuters yesterday that the conflict “was comparable to the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.”

And for all the same reasons:

Ruthless dictators were removed and the vacuum of governance was never filled. Instead, rebels of several or more generations who had fought the ruthless dictator and who were unable to consolidate their interests and power, began to fight one another.

Old big weapons procured from the havoc of the end of the Cold War and new big weapons being rapidly manufactured by military/industrial complexes around the world flooded in (in South Sudan’s case, mostly via the Ukraine).

Well-intentioned aid for such things as food and education was diverted by corrupt rebel leaders to buying weapons, and the aid givers seemed helpless to do anything about it… other than stop giving aid.

Famine and disease grows.

Neighbors either have no interest or not enough power to do anything. In several cases, the neighbors are run by ruthless dictators, and the last thing they want to do is get involved and show their colors.

Organized thugs like ISIS and al-Qaeda hover in the wings.

This morning on the world’s most schizoid cable television show, Morning Joe, a contrite, grandfatherly Donald Rumsfeld could not explain what was happening in the world other than to say it will continue. He preferred to discuss his new ap, The Churchill Solitaire Game.

The most fundamental reason for all of this is weapons. The successful empires of the 20th Century are unable to control their military/industrial complexes.

But removing this component now provides opportunities for the crazy suicide bombers, the mega-terrorist, the ultimate Darth Vader.

But own up, folks. We built the weapons, but we also built the Darth Vaders. The weapons came from steel, the bad guys came from want and starvation with a bit of added military training. Charles Dickens knew it two hundred years ago.

So we had two hundred years to do something, and we didn’t.

So what now?

Some say Trump. I say Sanders. Some say Trudeau. Some say Corbyn. We have no choice. We’ve got to move on to something new.

Kenya Backs into The Future

Kenya Backs into The Future

charcoal stockpilesJust as Kenya was doing everything right it arrests a journalist for uncovering corruption, while the Kenyan army that Obama built to route Somali terrorists turns out to be in cahoots with the terrorist leaders!

When will Kenyans stop being on the take?

The government’s interior minister oversaw the arrest Tuesday of a prominent Kenyan journalist who’d uncovered possible corruption in his ministry. The backlash was swift, the journalist was released, the minister comically claimed he hadn’t order the arrest, but the damage was done.

And today another courageous group of Kenyan journalists released a scathing report linking Kenyan occupying forces with the illicit half billion dollar trade in sugar and charcoal that had hugely financed Somali pirates.

Interior Secretary Joseph Nkaissery oversaw the arrest Tuesday of Kenyan journalist John Ngirachu. The journalist had discovered a multi-million dollar hole in Nkaissery’s budget that was unaccounted for.

By the time police brought Ngirachu to the station, the outcry in Kenya was so loud that he was simply kept for a short time and not even interrogated before being released.

Then yesterday, acting as if this was all news to him, Nkaissery ordered the “end to any investigation” by journalists claiming he knew nothing about it.

It’s so lame. Just before the arrest Nkaissery told Reuters that Ngirachu’s reporting was “unacceptable” and “calculated to harm the nation” since it portrayed his ministry as corrupt and that it was a trend by journalists “increasingly taking the shape of a larger plot of economic sabotage.”

So whether the minister then went down a floor and ordered the arrest by his chief of arrests, or whether his chief of arrests knew he would be canned if he didn’t do it on his own, the arrests came swiftly thereafter.

We often scratch our noggin wondering how in the world corrupt politicians think they can get away with it. Well, in Kenya you have to scratch all the way through the scalp to wonder how this guy would think just by denying what he had just said to a worldwide news agency, everything would be fine!

Today Kenyan soldiers are paid well and are well equipped, because of our own dear Obama. I’ve written critically many times about the Obama war effort in Somalia. We Americans built, funded and trained the Kenyans to oust the Somali warlords that had more or less run that evaporating country for nearly 20 years.

And they did a great job.

Now they’re flipping.

According to the Kenyan Journalists’ report, “Eating with the Enemy,” the Kenyan occupying soldiers have struck a deal with what’s left of the al-Shabaab they were supposed to nuke.

They are splitting about $24 million annually through illicit exporting of charcoal to the Arabian peninsula.

Charcoal burning stoves still fire many of the homes in the Arabian peninsula, where there aren’t any forests. Somalia has been deforesting itself for decades to supply them. So this isn’t just an illegal and corrupt act, it’s raping the planet.

But the Kenyan soldier scandal doesn’t stop there. Putting together UN reports with other Kenyan journalist reports, Nancy Agutu of Kenya’s Star wrote today that $400 million is being earned by the Kenyan soldiers and their middlemen back home for the illegal importation of sugar from Somalia.

There are so many angles to this story it’s hard to parse: America once again duped into trying to do good with military means; the ongoing rape of Somalia’s earth even after the war is stopped; the corruption of Kenyan officials high and low; the demand for charcoal in a modern age…

Only one thing is clear. There are some really good, possible heroes among Kenyan journalists.

One of Kenya’s most famous anti-corruption activists, John Githongo, told Reuters recently, “This is the most corrupt Kenya has been since we began measuring corruption in the ’90s.”

Kenya has been working so hard recently to combat crime and corruption, to work through their new constitution, to deal with the Somali crisis at their borders and stem terrorism … that’s it’s simply a crying shame that idiots like this minister and cowboys in the army we built would try to blow their future to smithereens.

Pitiful Profits

Pitiful Profits

zanburndi and religioniZanzibar and Burundi, today, are both tinder boxes rooted in ethnicity ready to explode.

It’s time to stop pretending that both Christianity and Islam, Hutu and Tutsi, or Arab and African are mostly “good.” It’s time to denounce religious ideology and ethnicity as mostly “bad.”

Recent studies about religion reenforce this. “Religion doesn’t work,” a South African newspaper has concluded. “Children of non-religious people are nicer than their religiously raised brethren.” (More on this below.)

Zanzibar’s divide is two-fold: Africans who link their heritage to animism and Christianity versus Arabs dedicated to Islam; and a never successful federation between Zanzibar and Tanganyika nearly a half century ago, which poorly formed modern Tanzania.

Burundi’s divide is wholly tribal: Hutu versus Tutsi, the same divide that led to the Rwandan genocide.

Zanzibar has progressed far more than Burundi has in the modern era. From ancient times the island was the seat of Arab power on the Swahili African coast. Its royal families grew trade with parts of the world as far afield as China.

Its gigantic misstep in history was to become dependent upon the slave trade. That gave the British colonizers a moral platform on which to justify their empire building. (It is, of course, illustrative that British industry – ships in particular – were indispensable in the development of the slave trade.)

Burundi is struggling through the ethnic chasm between Hutu and Tutsi that Rwanda solved by becoming an autocratic if communist state. Smaller than already small Rwanda, it’s nearly lockstep historically.

A “civil” (read “ethnic”) war was ended almost a decade ago with a peace agreement that led to free enough elections and a period of relatively stability. But the democratic mechanisms riveting the government were inevitably seen as threats by one side to the other, and the current man power is so unconstitutionally – nondemocratically.

As everywhere in the world, from Syria to Myanmar to Obama/Netanyahu, ethnic divides easily reenforce themselves with religious ideology.

Obviously I don’t want to give up St. Patty’s Day or Christmas, for that matter. But it’s time to grow up. Black Lives Matter. Intelligent Lives Matter.

A study published last week in Current Biology of 1170 children from a variety of religious backgrounds around the world concluded that children from religious families were less generous and more intolerant and sanctioned physical punishment more than children from non-religious families.

Christian and Muslims scored identically with regards to generosity, both groups are 28% less likely to share than nonreligious children.

The children were tested in seven different cities: Chicago, Cape Town, Toronto, Amman, Izmir, Istanbul and Guangzhou.

Researchers asked the parents to identify their child’s religious orientation: 23.9% were Christian, 43% Muslim, 27.6% not religious, 2.5% Jewish, 1.6% Buddhist, 0.4% Hindu, 0.2% agnostic, and 0.5% something else.

The research funded by the religious John Templeton Foundation used animation, physical games and structured social intercourse with other children in the study to reach these conclusions.

“Consistent with previous studies, in general the children were more likely to share as they got older. But …the negative relation between religiosity and altruism grew stronger with age; children with a longer experience of religion in the household were the least likely to share.”

According to Science Daily the studies “challenge the view that religiosity facilitates prosocial behavior, and call into question whether religion is vital for moral development — suggesting the secularization of moral discourse does not reduce human kindness. In fact, it does just the opposite.”

In a world of diminishing resources, increasing human demand and aggressive global warming, some very tough decisions are going to have to be made.

The Bible and the Koran, like Mao’s Little Red Book or Gaddafi’s slightly larger Green Book, should not be used as references for a solution.

The Rise of The Have-Nots

The Rise of The Have-Nots

MaliErruptsThe deteriorating situation in Mali this week made me realize the crises throughout the world aren’t clashes of ideologies or religions. It’s so simple: the Have Nots are rising.

Mali, you might remember, was the final joint success story of the Obama/Hollande alliance to defeat terrorism in Africa.

Since the Kenyan invasion of Somali on October 16, 2011, I have chronicled in my blogs the slow but methodical Obama/Hollande alliance that pushed the Afghani/Iraqi bad guys to Yemen, to Somalia, through East Africa and to Central Africa, thence finally to Mali.

Where, I wrongly presumed, they were finally clobbered to death by the French foreign legion in January, 2013.

I should have read more carefully my guest blogger, Conor Godfrey, who so passionately described the shock of a Mali suicide bomber which followed in February, 2013.

I mostly ignored that piece by Conor, who is now with the State Department and then as now has one of the finest analytical minds about Africa. That was a mistake. I jumped the gun. Mali was not pacified.

The insurgents that I believed were swept up into a single pile and ultimately defeated by the French Foreign legion that scattered the few remaining fugitives to doom in the Sahara, is now threatening central Mali.

Conor’s piece in 2013 expressed the surprised horror that a suicide bombing had taken place in Mali.

If you asked a random American if there were any suicide bombings here, what percentage do you think would say “None?”

To date this year alone, there have been 285 mass shootings in America, and while I have not had the time to go through them one by one to determine how many ended with the shooter killing himself, I know it was more than several.

That is simply a more modern consumer society’s suicide bomber. It’s easier in America to get a gun than make a bomb.

America is not yet threatening to implode like Mali, even with today’s announced resignation by John Boehner. But the acts are identical, across radically different cultures and historical time zones.

Whether Charlie Hebdo or Boston or Chechnya or a Finish island, people are blowing themselves up in order to kill others.

Conor knows what suicide bombing doesn’t mean:

“Maybe somewhere where life comes a little cheaper, and craziness prevails. This is nonsense…”

He suggests that it might be “blowback from our global war on terror.”

But folks, there has to be a common thread among all these seemingly disparate places and peoples, something that as horrible as it sounds, connects the bomber in Mali with the bomber in Colorado.

In ancient history legions of soldiers knew they were headed into sacrificial battles. But not really until the age of kamikazes did “suicide war” become an individual act.

There has always been desperate dissatisfaction with life by individuals, but the kamikaze, the suicide bomber seems fundamentally screwed up, totally irrational.

Unless you really embrace the concept of hopelessness. Everything is then lost. There is no more morality. Vengeance is the only possible success.

People become hopeless for a lot of different reasons. Many are obvious, like hunger. But many are more complicated, like losing a job. (US 2015 Mass Shooter #246, Vester Flanagan.) But certainly this isn’t just a feature of our modern age. So what is?

Guns and bombs. Never before has such powerful destruction been so easily obtained by an individual.

Hopelessness. There really seems today to be an unusual amount of this worldwide.

Anger. Today we worship and encourage anger like never before.

Hopelessness curls the finger around the trigger. Anger pulls it.

All three are needed for the tragedy. We gotta work on them all, and quick.

Freedoms Crumbling

Freedoms Crumbling

VaderPilatoNo wonder that stability may trump Africa’s expanding democracies. Just look at Mosul or the Boko Haram held areas of Nigeria.

Today a popular rap singer was arraigned by a Lusaka magistrate for “defaming the president” of Zambia even though such a specific law doesn’t exist.

Pilato’s rap depicts the president as an oaf who spends much of his time drinking.

Pilato is very popular, very political and shows a definite sophistication of complex issues. This rap, for example, berates a political merger between two previously antagonistic political parties.

But the hook which gave his rap such a wide audience was the accusation of drunkenness. Drunken old men in rural Africa are the bane of their families, a condition closely associated with dementia.

It’s understood that age and dementia are not willful situations but nonetheless divine the good old men from the bad old men: prosecutor, judge and jury be damned.

So prosecutor, judge and jury respond, waging their own powers in equally questionable ways. A judge arraigned Pilato, today, but who knows for what. A prosecutor will now have to trump up charges, and a jury may assert its legitimacy by adjudicating violations of nonexistent laws.

From my untrained ears, Pilato doesn’t seem to be a specially powerful artist. Acting as if he’s a threat to society, makes him one and only because of that.

Last week at the inauguration of the new president in Nigeria, local journalists so accosted President Mugabe of Zimbabwe that his office later called them Boko Haram.

The video of the SaharaReporters’ encounter is particularly illustrative.

In my view, the so-called journalists were offensive. I’m hardly a supporter of Mugabe, who I consider one of the most devilish leaders Africa has ever seen.

I believe there are times when journalism should work with politics. I remain a devotee of Angela Davis and Herbert Marcuse. But this incident in Nigeria is not one of them.

These reporters had little interest beyond making headlines of themselves. “There is no democracy in Zimbabwe!” the woman journalist yells after persistently being unable to get Mugabe to answer her question, “Is there democracy in Zimbabwe?”

So with Pilato, no there’s not “too much” freedom of speech. But with the Nigerian journalists, yes they exercised “too much” freedom of speech.

There are ignorant rich, and there are ignorant poor, and technology is thrusting them backwards into the age old irresolvable battles between religions and tribes.

Neither side understands the facts, yet the IT technologies of iPads and iPhones present them constantly with situations requiring immediate reactions.

There is a reason that ISIS bans most technology. It wants to control the culture and the first step in controlling anything is to neutralize or pacify it. Many in Mosul as in the Boko Haram areas of Nigeria actually prefer such pacification to confrontation. My father did.

Democracy doesn’t exist without confrontation. Open societies need it. But when it reaches the level that technology brings it to, today, it’s like fusion. It expands under its own power and becomes uncontrollable and unpredictable.

When confrontation is such that it provokes a yearning for less freedom than more, when stability becomes society’s first priority, Darth Vader arises again.

Excessive Force

Excessive Force

RangersGunManyaraNot just in Dallas or Cleveland, “Excessive Force” is a top news story in Tanzania where four Lake Manyara park rangers were arrested last week.

The rangers got into a confrontation with herders bringing cattle into the park, which is illegal.

The rangers tried to impound the cattle for trespassing on national park lands, then claimed that up to 30 villagers attacked them with traditional weapons provoking them to fire modern weapons in self-defense.

Several villagers were wounded, and one 34-year old man was killed.

Only the Arusha police commissioner issued any statement and that simply that four of the rangers were arrested for using excessive force. Tanzania national park authorities issued no comments.

East African media, though, unlike here at home was reluctant to publish the story. One of Tanzania’s smaller, independent newspapers published it only on its on-line edition, which when I checked this morning had received less than 400 views.

The reporter discovering the story, Hazla Quire, resorted to filing his news through friends on Facebook: John Mrosso: June 6 posting.

By the end of last week only the Chinese news agency, Xinhua, had picked up the story and distributed it in East Africa but notably not in China.

Incursions by local herders into national park lands are increasing throughout Tanzania as the competition for good grazing increases. It’s particularly stressful during times of drought.

I was in this remote part of Lake Manyara National Park in April, and we saw several small herds of cattle in the deep forests just after the park gate about 10k west of &Beyond’s Tree Lodge.

The private lands leading up to the gate are relatively prosperous by village standards in East Africa. Densely populated the farms here produce several types of grain and a lot of rice irrigated by waters related to Lake Manyara.

But there had been an intense although short drought in February. I think the rice was doing OK but the grains were stunted. Heavy rains had just begun and several farmers were trying to plant all over again, their normally planted first-of-the-year crops lost.

Herders were suffering more, because it takes only a few weeks of drought before all available private grassland is grazed out. As this happens more and more with climate change, grassland rejuvenation is trumped by the erosion that occurs with the first rain.

Whereas inside the national park wild animals have achieved a balance with the grassland that is more resilient to a drought. It takes only a few days of rain and the grasslands inside a national park begin to rejuvenate.

East African park rangers are among the better educated, better paid security forces in the country. Consider that regular police often miss paycheck after paycheck. This isn’t the case with park rangers who are heavily subsidized by foreign NGOs.

They are also well armed and otherwise well equipped and well trained. Like police here at home, their actions are being captured on mobile devices and provoke the debate over “excessive force.”

This is not a debate about the issues of the confrontations. I, for one, believe that much of Africa’s wondrous wilderness is protected for us rich foreigners with very little benefit to the local population, and that’s a massively important debate.

As is why Baltimore’s waterfront has received so much money for development but little more than one CVS store has been built in west Baltimore.

But those are not the issues at hand: the police have been given a job however morally compromised: it’s their sworn vocation.

I think they used far too much force in many of the incidents surfacing recently in America. But what about in Tanzania last week in Manyara?

In a less developed society where arrest is often tantamount to conviction, one would naturally surmise that the four rangers were guilty of the use of excessive force, but not necessarily.

Arresting the rangers was likely the only way to defuse the volatile situation. I think it highly unlikely that anything further will come of this.

What is now more unclear than ever is whether more cattle will intrude the remote western forests of Lake Manyara.

Listen to Africa

Listen to Africa

notpropagandaAfrican critics are condemning the Oscars for validating American Sniper, which they charge is little more than propaganda.

Calling it a “highly dangerous and simplistic film,” respected Kenyan author Rasna Warah claimed this morning that American Sniper will reenforce the lies that many Americans believe regarding the Iraq War.

Popular South African movie critic, tha-bang, called the movie Clint Eastwood’s “biggest propaganda film ever.”

Warning her African readers that “though it may be hard to believe,” Warah explained that many Americans still think Saddam Hussein was involved with the Twin Towers bombing and that he harbored weapons of mass destruction.

Kenyans were drawn into this controversy, because director Clint Eastwood used documentary footage of the bombing of the Kenyan Embassy (in 1998) as part of sniper Chris Kyle’s motivation to become a Navy Seal and go into combat.

There is of course no connection whatever between those who organized and blew up the Kenyan embassy and those who were later fighting in Iraq.

“The fact that the weapons of mass destruction lie is so conveniently skipped in this movie as the rationale for the invasion of Iraq instead of the Twin Towers, just shows what kind of film this is,” tha-bang concludes angrily.

“The film has not only angered Arabs but fueled anti-Muslim sentiments,” Wasna warns.

Warah knows her stuff: she’s a Kenyan expert on African terrorism. Her books include “War Crimes” and “Mogadishu Then and Now,” two essential reads for persons interested in understanding Somalia.

I think we need to heed these voices, and of course critics of American Sniper for being propaganda are not confined just to Africa. There have been many similar critiques here at home and from respected critics abroad.

The better a production a movie is, the more dangerous it becomes if its message is unreal or untruthful.

American Sniper carries a message which is a lie, “American avengers are honest souls.”

They are not. American soldiers were no less tricked than me or you into thinking what they were doing was right.

It was wrong, and the film pulls that reality back into the fictionalized grandeur of a nonexistent America.

So whether or not the acting is superb, or the cinematography is near perfect, or the music splendid and dramatic, a message … which is a lie … is carried into the watcher.

We pride ourselves in America for allowing any voice short of one untruthfully screaming “fire” to enter our collective consciousness.

But if critics here at home condemn Obama because he won’t say “Islamic terrorist” then they better endorse Warah and tha-bang, too, for condemning Eastwood for not just rehashing but promulgating the biggest lies of my lifetime.

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.

#1 : Ebola

#1 : Ebola

EbolaNbr12015The ebola epidemic is the Number 1 story in Africa for 2014, and for a slew of reasons.

(To see a list of all my Top Ten stories in Africa for 2014, click here.)

The epidemic started in March and will likely continue well into this year, but the spread is slowing and increased public understandings have reduced global fears and improved people’s sensitivities to poverty and war.

Today just under 7,900 people have died of ebola from a known 20,000+ cases in seven countries: Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, the US, Mali and the UK.

The UK’s case occurred just this weekend as a health worker in Glasgow became sick after returning home as a volunteer in West Africa.

Of the nine people who became sick with ebola in the United States, one died; more than 3,400 have died in Liberia and 2,700 in neighboring Sierra Leone; 1,700 in Guinea and eight in neighboring Nigeria.

That makes the U.S. the only country where this specific outbreak has caused a death outside of West Africa. Not Kenya, not Tanzania, not South Africa. Just the U.S.

The public’s control of its initial panic comes from a growing understanding that the disease while extremely serious is not uniquely so.

Had polio, HIV, SARS, MERS or even the current flu epidemic in the U.S. broken out in this part of Africa at this same time, it is likely an epidemic would have occurred just as it did with ebola.

The control of the disease is relatively simple where hardly more than a basic public health infrastructure exists, as was demonstrated in Nigeria. Similarly so in the U.S., where another lesson was learned:

Health care in the U.S. – at least at one hospital in Texas – is not what it’s ranked up to be.

A month ago I wrote ebola’s “Epilogue.”

As explained then, this was not an epilogue to the outbreak in West Africa, which is likely to continue for some time. Rather, it was an epilogue to the irrational concepts of what this outbreak was exactly.

Initially, the world panicked.

Fox News, not exactly your Bible of Reality, reported in late September that there could be more than a million cases as of … today. But note that the Fox report was based, if in a skewed way, on a CDC report.

As school opened this fall, Americans in remote farm country in Nebraska were keeping their kids home.

American movies were taking over American’s minds. American greed for the macabre made it worse. Worldwide racism exacerbated notions that what was happening in West Africa was not the human normal.

In fact, what we learned was that an infectious disease is one of the best long-term indicators of the devastation of war.

Americans know of the wars in West Africa. “Blood Diamond” was released just as the wars there were finally ending. But Americans are hesitant to embrace the magnitude of these wars, just as we are hesitant to embrace the near apocalypse we’ve caused in the Levant.

It is, in fact, that near total devastation of Liberia and Sierra Leone that among so many other horrible outcomes left a densely populated area without any public health care.

Our inability to understand that parts of the world – even in Africa – might actually be better off than us came when South Africa reported it had recently and in past outbreaks adequately treated and totally contained ebola when … in Dallas, they let it walk the street.

Nothing requires public health care as much as an outbreak of an infectious disease. We learned that inside out, I’m afraid, when we first reacted to this outbreak by believing increased monitoring at airports would be valuable.

As predicted and now as proved, it was meaningless.

We learned the power of public health policy when Chris Christie quarantined an incoming health worker, and the fallacies of knee-jerk reactions that were equally meaningless.

America as the single largest economy contributes disproportionately to the health of tourism in Africa, and African companies were spinning like tops trying to figure out what to do when the ebola panic began to effect them.

Never mind that the centers of big game safari travel, in East and southern Africa, were often more distant and cut off from the ebola centers than New York. “Africa is Africa” was the juvenile mantra.

The companies responded with equally juvenile policies that tried to protect their unthreatened backsides, although that lasted only briefly. After I and many others shook Africans back into their senses, it was a simple matter of doing what any good hotelier in San Jose, California, would do if ebola broke out there.

Because, of course, it won’t.

Some tell me I’m too calloused in my blogs about ebola. They’re dead wrong.

Just because I’m as distressed with the level of child poverty or gun homicides in the U.S. or as miffed by Americans’ fear about health care while traveling in the country that performed the first heart transplant doesn’t mean that I underestimate the severity, misery and desperation that ebola causes.

It’s just that I see that same severity, misery and desperation in many places. Like Dallas.

Boom or Bust?

Boom or Bust?

oilboomportendsrevoliutionAn extremely dangerous economic situation portends tremendous global unrest, especially in Africa.

Obama’s energy policy has put American front and center, and while Americans are reaping enormous relief from falling energy prices the developing world is poised to suffer considerably.

That may seem counter intuitive, because energy is needed by everyone. It isn’t only Americans that are benefitting from lower energy prices, is it?

Yes.

Europe, India and China have unique problems restricting them from benefiting from increased global oil and gas production.

Developing countries in Africa have an even more unique situation making it even worse for them:

African governments have long subsidized their citizens’ energy prices, especially gas and oil, because without natural resources and without refineries, a gallon of gas would just be out of the reach of even the most successful truck driver/owner.

So a gallon of petrol in developing Africa has cost $5 to $6/gallon for the last 20 years, regardless of the actual cost to the governments holding that price for their consumers.

But, you may ask, the governments win or lose depending upon the price, right?

Of course, but over the last decade an unexpected factor entered the equation. New technologies allowed a boom in oil and gas exploration in Africa. Reserves previously too difficult to get were unleashed.

Previously considered resource poor, countries like Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania now consider themselves resource rich.

Oil is being pumped from the deserts of Kenya like never before. The government has benefitted much more from the taxes on these natural resource extractions than it has expended to keep the consumer price of oil and gas at stable levels. A net positive increase.

America is unwittingly changing that.

Kenya was ecstatic when 600 million barrels of oil reserves were established in its northern deserts, and this year it celebrated a remarkable 3 million barrels of extraction.

But …

… Texas is right now extracting 3 million barrels of oil every day. This year Texas produced the entire estimated Kenyan reserves in 9 months.

America’s energy boom has crushed world oil prices. Kenya’s tax revenues are plummeting. That’s not even the worst part of the story.

Kenya’s main oil exploration company, Tullow Oil Plc of Britain, announced this week that it was massively reducing its exploration in Kenya. This was a polite way of saying, Goodbye Folks.

The net result of the loss of new revenue over the last ten years against the benefit of reduced energy prices worldwide is a net loss for Kenya and virtually every developing African nation that had recently discovered new oil and gas reserves.

This is a perfect illustration of the gap we talk about so often between the rich and poor. If the rich and poor are equated, and by that I mean subject to identical economic laws and their results, then they benefit or suffer by the same percentages.

If a big society like America grows by 6% annually and a small country like Kenya grows by 6% annually, the difference between them gets bigger and bigger.

When that dynamic is accelerated because the bigger society, America, benefits from a global price reduction in energy (because the net result of cheaper asset value is offset by even greater increases in production), while the smaller society, Kenya, suffers enormously … the gulf widens even more.

No one had predicted the size of the energy boom in America. It’s absolutely unbelievable, and it has widened the gap between America and the rest of the world in near exponential ways.

This is a terrible conundrum that seems out of control. The answer can’t possibly be to restrict production? Isn’t there something inherently correct to presume that if things cost less we’ll all be better off?

If by “we” you mean Americans, absolutely! If the “we” includes Africans, absolutely not. Africans will get poorer more quickly than they ever expected, and I think that will set off another and much greater Arab Spring.

There is a solution to this. It’s a nasty term called redistribution of wealth. It’s even more nasty than Republicans in Congress believe, because I’m not just talking about recalibrating America’s tax code.

This one is about the whole wide world.

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.

Violence is not Genetic

Violence is not Genetic

chimps fightingA recent study of chimps in Uganda is being misinterpreted to suggest human murder is natural, and sloppy scientists are reenforcing these beliefs.

Chimps have long been known to be murderers and cannibals. While dominance within many species is often violent and considered essential for the social organization of many species, it very rarely extends to murder and except for chimps, to cannibalism.

So scientists have been at odds for years trying to explain this behavior in chimpanzees. Research came to a head about five years ago when scientists carefully documented chimp gangs that persistently (sometimes over ten years) plotted against one another then celebrated territorial victories by eating their foe’s babies.

Anthropology Professor Jill Pruetz believed for many years that this chimp behavior was aberrant, that it would not occur naturally in the wild were it not for some unnatural interference. Most of the colleagues who agreed with her believed that “something else” was human interference.

It could be chimps mocking human behavior (many chimp studies occur near very violent parts of Africa) or humans stressing chimp’s habitat, but it seemed just impossible to ascribe murder and cannibalism to natural behavior.

Pruetz and most of the scientific community have relented based on a just published study in Nature.

The “study says chimpanzees kill their own as a survival strategy, not due to human contact,” summarizes science journalist Monte Morin in yesterday’s L.A. Times.

And as far as I can tell, virtually everyone agrees.

That’s fine. But what’s not fine and in my opinion absolutely horrible is to use this study as an explanation for human violence.

Arizona State professor Joan Silk wrote an opinion article in that same issue of Nature, which she titled, “The evolutionary roots of lethal conflict,” which says it all.

A closer look at Silk’s opinion may be more nuanced than the title, but her title is what was picked up and replayed time and again in the less refined media. Clearly she committed a grievous scientific error in not adding “in chimpanzees” to her title.

There is absolutely nothing scientific or even rational to presume that behavior in chimps explains behavior in humans.

In what I feel is yellow science Silk invited the comparisons.

“The origins and prevalence of human warfare may be echoed in the search for the answer to chimpanzee adaptation,” wrote one scientific blogger yesterday, and it’s a wholly rational conclusion from Silk’s title, whether she intended it or not.

“Peace-loving anti-war activists call war ‘unnatural,’ but our closest animal relatives show that at least a little bloodshed is perfectly natural,” wrote Rebecca Kaplan in Tech Times, yesterday.

And on and on.

Studies of evolutionary behavior cannot extend back 6-10 million years to the separation of the hominin and ape branches of the hominid evolutionary tree. That’s just too long ago.

Behavior changes infinitely more rapidly than DNA. To claim that today’s chimp’s murder-and-cannibalism as a survival tool means that our earliest common ancestor with chimps had that behavior, too, is ludicrous.

And even if the ECA did, it’s impossible to suggest that our behavior today is still manifest by it.

There is no question that war has been used as a survival tool by humankind. But this is not because it’s ingrained in our genes, which is how the current chimp study is being distorted.

Why human violence evolved is certainly an interesting question, but it’s not biological. And what’s even more troubling is how the uneducated reaction to this study devolves from societies to individuals, suggesting all individuals carry a kill instinct.

I am so upset by this race to justify murder and violence. It slips so easily into the contemporary narratives supporting police using excessive force, violence and abuse against the less powerful like spouses and children, and not least of all, the rush back to war.

These are very troubling times, and scientists need to be very careful today. Joan Silk was not.

Libyan Democracy in Action

Libyan Democracy in Action

stockpileweaponsThe cocks have come to roost in Libya: yet another example of why instant democracy is a bad idea.

With all the rest of the troubles going on in the world Libya is being neglected if not ignored, and yet the fighting this week in Tripoli rivals almost anything that’s happening right now in Gaza, the Ukraine or Iraq.

The Tripoli airport is in shambles. The tower is down. About 20 commercial jetliners sit idle at wrecked gates or scattered among the tarmac.

“Foreign diplomats, workers flee Libyan chaos by thousands,” the Los Angeles Times reported this morning.

The Philippines is among the dozens of countries evacuating its nationals. This will mean that Libya’s hospitals will collapse.

Thousands of Libyans themselves are also fleeing. Tunisian soldiers killed two trying to stop the crowds surging across the border.

The Washington Post tried to sort out the combatants yesterday and decided that militants, previously from the city of Misrata, are coming out on top. They’ve almost taken over the Tripoli airport.

And it’s not the national Libyan army that’s stopping them. The army has disbanded and many of its highly skilled soldiers – trained by the U.S. and allies – have fled to their respective militias… with their modern weapons. Also supplied by the U.S. and its allies.

The Misratas haven’t taken over the Tripoli airport because several other militant groups led by the Zintanis are in the passenger terminal shooting back.

At the height of the Libyan revolution, Zintanis and Misrata militias fought side-by-side.

And in Benghazi, where the Libyan revolution began three years ago, guess who’s now in control? A former Gaddafi general.

“Towns fight towns; Islamists oppose nationalists; federalists rise up against central government; ex-Gaddafi units clash with former revolutionaries – and everyone has guns, artillery, tanks and missiles, taken from the vast arsenals the deposed dictator had stashed across the country,” Reuters reported yesterday.

After the fall of Gaddafi, western powers led by the U.K., France and Britain stepped in to quickly create democratic institutions. A democratically elected government, fully in place two years ago, was deemed freely and fairly constructed by outside western observers.

The problem is that each individual faction thinks that democracy will immediately get them what they want. The Zintanis, coming from remote Berber mountain villages, felt Gaddafi stole their oil and gave them nothing in return.

The Misratas, more developed and mercantile, fear any kind of religious law and believe their taxes are too high.

Neither grievance has been addressed by the weak existing government, in large part because it has never been able to enforce anything. Too many people have too many weapons.

“Hampered by hypocritical ‘no boots on the grounds’ orders, Western military advisers could do little as Gaddafi’s vast arms stocks were pillaged by all comers,” explains London’s Telegraph’s Mideast correspondent.

Stepping beyond journalism, Richard Spencer then reminded British readers that “I … tried to alert the authorities… to the presence of 100,000 landmines, boxes of Semtex, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles lying unguarded in a field and adjacent warehouses in south Tripoli. Nothing was done, and within days they had been pilfered.”

As a columnist for Gulf News Spencer was more explicit:

“The same powers [that topped Gaddafi] seem to have turned a blind eye to a nation whose current sorry state is partly a result of their own faulty policies.”

Which faulty policies? Any of a million that contribute to the toppling of an authoritarian regime replaced by democracy.

I admire the New York Times this morning for warning western countries against abandoning Libya, but the Times analysis is simplistic. This isn’t just a battle between Islamists and non-Islamists: it’s much more complicated than that.

You can’t turn democracy on like a light bulb above the sink. It takes years, often generations to evolve. It’s both the reason that Russia is sliding back into authoritarianism and China is inching towards real democracy. Both of these dramas will likely continue long after I’m gone.

It was the height of absurdity to think that the arsenal of destruction Gaddafi had amassed could be managed by a fledgling democracy. That was the first mistake.

Democracy often works badly. Take our own current state of affairs, although we’ve dealt with ups and downs for so many years I’m hopeful we’ll finally creep out of the irresponsible governing abyss we now found ourselves.

But we demonstrate a certain immaturity if we think that the “help” we gave the Arab Spring revolutionaries would result in anything other than the bloodshed currently playing out. That was the second mistake.

You can’t liberate the oppressed with democracy. It never fills a void. It must be built carefully and that takes a lot more time than American and British election cycles.