Friday, July 24, 2009

An interview with Roberto Saviano

I stumbled across this interview with Roberto Saviano, the author of a stunning book on organized crime in Naples, Italy, that I am currently reading. The book Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples' Organized Crime System, chronicles the activities of the Camorra, and has resulted in the author having to live as a virtual prisoner, with round-the-clock police protection, since its publication. Watching the interview reminded me of the price that some journalists must pay to accurately inform the public of the nefarious activities of those who would rather keep those pursuits hidden.

"How do you actually earn the money?" Saviano asks at one point of the oft-romanticized criminal element in his native country, a question that I find applicable to Haiti, Guatamala and many other countries that I have covered.

Buona fortuna, Roberto.

Another view of the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. arrest

A rather thought-provoking take on the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has been posted on IReport by my fellow Pennsylvanian DesireG, where she makes some very interesting points on the circumstances of Gates' arrest, the opportunism of politicians and the the role that class, status and privilege play in situations such as this, a fact that many people don't like to talk about. Bringing up the recent but far-less covered assault on Trevor Casey in Toldeo, Ohio and the actual murder of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California, she wonders, where all the outrage was then?

For my part, while what happened to Gates was pretty distasteful, I think the whole incident provides a window on the intense narcissism and self-involvement of the United States in general and academia, in particular. Human beings are butchered like pigs in a slaughterhouse in the countries I report on in numbers greater than I can count, with nary a voice raised in protest, and yet it is the arrest of a privileged professor that causes people to be SHOCKED, SHOCKED.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

HAITI: "We Have Never Had Justice"

HAITI: "We Have Never Had Justice"

By Michael Deibert

Inter Press Service

(Read the original article here)

ST. MARC, Jul 21, 2009 (IPS) - Amazil Jean-Baptiste remembers when they came to kill her son.

"They killed my boy and burned my boy," says Jean-Baptiste, a careworn 49-year-old who lives in a dilapidated structure without running water in this bustling port town 80 kilometres north of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. "And I am still suffering."

It was February 2004, and Haiti was in the midst of a chaotic rebellion against the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. North of St. Marc, a formerly loyal street gang known as the Cannibal Army had risen up against the president and, joined by former members of the country's disbanded army, proceeded to overrun police barracks and seize control of towns throughout northern Haiti.

On Feb. 7, a lightly-armed anti-Aristide group, the Rassemblement des militants conséquents de Saint-Marc (Ramicos), based in the neighbourhood of La Scierie where Amazil Jean-Baptiste lived, took advantage of the chaos to drive government forces from the town, seizing the local police station, which they then set on fire.

Two days later, the combined forces of the Police Nationale de Haiti (PNH), the Unité de Sécurité de la Garde du Palais National (USGPN) and a local paramilitary organisation named Bale Wouze ("Clean Sweep") retook much of the city. By Feb. 11, Bale Wouze - headed by a former parliamentary representative of Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas political party named Amanus Mayette- had commenced the battle to retake the La Scierie.

What would follow would raise questions about Haiti's ability to give justice to victims and punish the guilty that persist to this day.

As Amazil Jean-Baptiste returned home, she found her son, Kenol St. Gilles, a 23-year-old carpenter with no political affiliation, groaning with a bullet in each thigh. Taking him to the home of a local pastor for aid, she watched as seven armed men, including three dressed in police uniforms, accused St. Gilles of being a Ramicos militant who had shot at them. He was dragged from the house, beaten unconscious and thrown into a burning cement depot, where he died.

Residents of the town tell of other crimes - the decapitation of unarmed Ramicos member Leroy Joseph, the killing of Ramicos second-in-command Nixon François, the gang rape by Bale Wouze members of a 21-year-old woman in the ruins of the burned-out commissariat - that were allegedly committed during or immediately following the recapture of St. Marc by pro-Aristide forces.

Witnesses recount how several people were slain and tossed into the burning remnants of the Ramicos headquarters, while still others were gunned down by police firing from a helicopter as they tried to flee over a nearby mountain, Morne Calvaire.

"They came here and they massacred people," says resident Marc Ariel Narcisse, 44. "A grenade thrown into my mother's house exploded, and the house caught fire. My cousin, Bob Narcisse, was killed there."

Following those dark days, the victims of the St. Marc killings formed the Association des Victimes du Génocide de la Scierie (AVIGES) to advocate on their behalf. But their struggle has exposed the highly politicised and often unresponsive nature of justice in Haiti, a country struggling to build democratic institutions after decades of dictatorship.

Links between armed pressure groups and the spheres of official power have long been a fact of political life here.

Faustin Soulouque, who crowned himself emperor of Haiti in 1852, was supported by groups of impoverished partisans called zinglins, while the Duvalier family dictatorship that ruled from 1957 until 1986 utilised the Tontons Macoutes, a murderous paramilitary band named after a traditional Haitian boogeyman.

The government of Aristide, who returned to office in 2001 after ruling the country for two periods in the 1990s, allied itself with his own armed partisans, often referred to as chimere after a mythical fire-breathing demon.

Of these latter groups, Bale Wouze had a reputation as one of the fiercest, and, by February 2004, its links with Haiti's National Palace were largely indisputable, especially given the presence in St. Marc of the USGPN, a unit directly responsible for the president's personal security.

On Feb. 9, as St. Marc was retaken by government forces, and as security forces and Bale Wouze members patrolled its streets together, Aristide's prime minister, Yvon Neptune, also serving as the head of the Conseil Superieur de la Police Nationale d'Haiti, flew into the city, giving a press conference during which he stated that "the national police force alone cannot re-establish order".

Witnesses in La Scierie describe how one of Bale Wouze's leading members, a government employee named Ronald Dauphin, known to residents as "Black Ronald", patrolled St. Marc in a police uniform, even though he was in no way affiliated with the police.

When the author of this article visited St. Marc in February 2004, shortly after Bale Wouze's raid into La Scierie, he interviewed USGPN personnel and Bale Wouze members patrolling the city as a single armed unit in tandem the PNH. A local priest told IPS matter-of-factly at the time of Bale Wouze that, "These people don't make arrests, they kill."

Interviewed by the Miami Herald in St. Marc in February 2004, Amanus Mayette was surrounded by Bale Wouze members and proclaimed his affiliation with the organisation.

"Amanus Mayette, Black Ronald, Somoza, these people killed my son," Amazil Jean-Baptiste explains in a trembling voice, listing the names of some of those who she says took part in her son's slaying.

Following Aristide's overthrow later that month, several members of Bale Wouze were lynched as they tried to flee St. Marc, while Yvon Neptune turned himself over to the interim government that ruled Haiti from March 2004 until the inauguration of President René Préval in May 2006.

Held in prison without trial until his May 2006 release on humanitarian grounds, a May 2008 decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found the Haitian state had violated 11 separate provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights in its detention of Neptune, though stressing that it was "not a criminal court in which the criminal responsibility of an individual can be examined".

After being jailed for three years without trial, former Bale Wouze leader Amanus Mayette was freed from prison in April 2007. Arrested in 2004, Ronald Dauphin subsequently escaped from jail, and was re-arrested during the course of an anti-kidnapping raid in Haiti's capital in July 2006. Despite several chaotic public hearings, to date, none of the accused for the killings in La Scierie has ever gone to trial.

"In our system, the criminal becomes a victim because the system doesn't work," laments Pierre Espérance, director of the Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH), which has pushed for criminal prosecutions in the La Scierie case.

Espérance himself survived a 1999 assassination attempt for which no one was ever prosecuted.

"But historically, the authorities here are so involved in corruption and human rights violations they feel very comfortable with impunity," he says.

According to RNDDH figures, nearly 81 percent of Haiti's prisoners are waiting for their cases to be heard before a judge, a situation that some hope may be improved by the re-opening of Haiti's school for magistrates, which recently renewed activities after being shuttered for many years.

Frustratingly for the people of St. Marc, however, the events of February 2004 have become a political football among Haiti's various political actors.

The United Nations independent expert on human rights in Haiti, Louis Joinet, in a 2005 statement dismissed allegations of a massacre and described what occurred as "a clash", a characterisation that seemed unaware of the fact that not all among those victimised had any affiliation with Haiti's political opposition.

Conversely, a member of a Human Rights Watch delegation that visited St. Marc a month after the killings concluded that at least 27 people had been murdered by pro-government forces between Feb. 11 and Aristide's flight into exile.

Their claims are treated with shrugging indifference by the Préval government and the United Nations, and the people of La Scierie appear to be resigned that their struggle for justice will be a long, though hopefully not fruitless, one.

"We need justice, we demand justice, because we have never had justice," says Amazil Jean-Baptiste, as another member of AVIGES stands nearby, wearing a t-shirt reading 'We won't forget 11 February 2004' in Haiti's native Kreyol language.

"I just want justice for my son," she says.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tentative calm brings optimism to a 'failed' Haiti

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tentative calm brings optimism to a 'failed' Haiti

Michael Deibert

The Washington Times

(Read the original article here)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti | The dark afternoon clouds that gradually roll over Haiti's capital herald the beginning of the rainy season, but the early-morning bursts of sunshine might more accurately capture the national mood these days.

While the country remains desperately poor, it is more peaceful than it has been in years - no small feat in a place with a volatile political history. Some of the credit goes to the United Nations and President Rene Preval.

A few years ago, the authority of the state did not extend much beyond Port-au-Prince, where armed gangs controlled neighborhoods. Since the inauguration of Mr. Preval in May 2006, however, a fragile calm has prevailed.

The capital's boisterous population again feels safe enough to patronize downtown bars and kerosine-lit roadside stands late into the evening. Billboards that once extolled the infallibility of a succession of "maximum leaders" now carry messages about the importance of respect between the population and the police as well as decry discrimination against the disabled.

Ruled by priest-turned-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide twice in the 1990s and from 2001 until his ouster in February 2004, Haiti saw violent urban warfare between heavily armed Aristide partisans and security forces, who inflicted collective punishment under an interim government in power from 2004 until Mr. Preval's inauguration.

Working with a 9,000-member U.N. peacekeeping mission, known by the acronym MINUSTAH, Haiti's government has made great strides in recent months in professionalizing security forces that were historically brutal and corrupt.

"The capacity of the police has improved quite significantly ... and the image of the police has begun to change within the society," says Hedi Annabi, a Tunisian diplomat who heads MINUSTAH.

"The level of respect for basic freedoms, such as freedom of the press, is at a historically remarkable level," he said.

In addition, according to MINUSTAH, the number of kidnappings has fallen dramatically, from more than 500 in 2006 to about 50 during the first six months of this year.

A projected five-year U.N.-supported police-reform program is in its third year of implementation, providing Haiti with 9,200 police officers - a number projected to grow to 10,000 by the end of this year and to 14,000 by the end of 2011.

The force began with only 3,500, of whom more than 1,500 had to be dismissed for poor conduct.

The surge in police recruits is a far cry from the situation that existed between September 2004 and June 2005, during which a police officer was killed every five days, according to U.N. statistics.

Some observers here credit the leadership of Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis, a respected civil society activist, who was appointed prime minister in September 2008.

Ms. Pierre-Louis lauds the U.N. mission, which is heavily Latin American, for helping to stabilize the country.

"It's a new paradigm for regional cooperation," she told The Washington Times. "They have their own interests, of course, but let's make the best of the opportunities that are offered to us."

In a country where voting has sometimes boded ill for civil order, midterm elections in April, with a runoff in June, for Haiti's Senate were poorly attended but largely peaceful, with poll workers and observers directing voters and tabulating votes in a professional fashion. The desultory participation, however, led Mr. Preval to warn that Haiti's "political class should wonder about this abstention" as he cast his own ballot at a Port-au-Prince school.

Haiti still faces massive challenges. Largely deforested, the country was battered by Hurricanes Hanna and Ike in 2008, which collectively killed at least 600 people.

Beyond the capital, after the shabby-chic resorts on the Cote des Arcadins, Haiti's Route Nationale 1 is a pot-holed, crumbling wreck long before it reaches the northern cities of Gonaives and Cap-Haitien.

Poverty and the scramble to find basic necessities remain a constant fact of life for the majority of the 8.5 million population. The social peace that has been restored is fragile and could easily fray if tangible gains are not seen in the day-to-day lives of Haitians.

One exception to the national calm are noisy and occasionally violent demonstrations by university students and other political pressure groups in the capital.

Haiti's Senate voted in May to support a law raising the minimum wage to about $4.90 per day, a 300 percent increase. Mr. Preval has not signed the measure, citing his fear that it would jeopardize Haiti's already fragile employment sector. In response, students have held regular protests, during which dozens of cars have been burned and protesters have squared off against U.N. troops and Haitian security forces. Two demonstrators have been killed.

"They chose not to listen to us, and we were obligated to peacefully mobilize about our concerns and the question about the minimum salary," said Beneche Martial, a student at the state university's medical school.

Nevertheless, there is a tenuous hopefulness here for the first time in many years.

In June, the Inter-American Development Bank approved $120 million in grants for 2010 to help Haiti improve infrastructure, basic services and disaster prevention.

Also last month, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank collectively canceled $1.2 billion owed to them by Haiti, erasing almost two-thirds of the country's outstanding debt.

The scourge of HIV/AIDS is also diminishing, with the rate of infection among pregnant women halved from 6.2 percent in 1993 to 3.1 percent, according to the U.N.

A U.N. report in December suggested that revived garment production might point the way for economic revival, saying that "it is striking how modest are the impediments to competitiveness, relative to the huge opportunities offered by the fundamentals" in the country.

For a nation viewed as a potential "failed state" not long ago, such news cannot help but be encouraging.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Barack Obama's address to the Ghanaian Parliament

July 11, 2009

Text of Obama’s Speech in Ghana

Text of President Barack Obama's speech Saturday in Accra, Ghana, as provided by the White House:

Good afternoon, everybody. It is a great honor for me to be in Accra and to speak to the representatives of the people of Ghana. I am deeply grateful for the welcome that I've received, as are Michelle and Malia and Sasha Obama. Ghana's history is rich, the ties between our two countries are strong, and I am proud that this is my first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as president of the United States of America.

I want to thank Madam Speaker and all the members of the House of Representatives for hosting us today. I want to thank President Mills for his outstanding leadership. To the former presidents -- Jerry Rawlings, former President Kufuor -- vice president, chief justice -- thanks to all of you for your extraordinary hospitality and the wonderful institutions that you've built here in Ghana.

I'm speaking to you at the end of a long trip. I began in Russia for a summit between two great powers. I traveled to Italy for a meeting of the world's leading economies. And I've come here to Ghana for a simple reason: The 21st century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Accra, as well.

This is the simple truth of a time when the boundaries between people are overwhelmed by our connections. Your prosperity can expand America's prosperity. Your health and security can contribute to the world's health and security. And the strength of your democracy can help advance human rights for people everywhere.

So I do not see the countries and peoples of Africa as a world apart; I see Africa as a fundamental part of our interconnected world ... as partners with America on behalf of the future we want for all of our children. That partnership must be grounded in mutual responsibility and mutual respect. And that is what I want to speak with you about today.

We must start from the simple premise that Africa's future is up to Africans.

I say this knowing full well the tragic past that has sometimes haunted this part of the world. After all, I have the blood of Africa within me, and my family's ... my family's own story encompasses both the tragedies and triumphs of the larger African story.

Some you know my grandfather was a cook for the British in Kenya, and though he was a respected elder in his village, his employers called him ''boy'' for much of his life. He was on the periphery of Kenya's liberation struggles, but he was still imprisoned briefly during repressive times. In his life, colonialism wasn't simply the creation of unnatural borders or unfair terms of trade -- it was something experienced personally, day after day, year after year.

My father grew up herding goats in a tiny village, an impossible distance away from the American universities where he would come to get an education. He came of age at a moment of extraordinary promise for Africa. The struggles of his own father's generation were giving birth to new nations, beginning right here in Ghana. Africans were educating and asserting themselves in new ways, and history was on the move.

But despite the progress that has been made -- and there has been considerable progress in many parts of Africa -- we also know that much of that promise has yet to be fulfilled. Countries like Kenya had a per capita economy larger than South Korea's when I was born. They have badly been outpaced. Disease and conflict have ravaged parts of the African continent.

In many places, the hope of my father's generation gave way to cynicism, even despair. Now, it's easy to point fingers and to pin the blame of these problems on others. Yes, a colonial map that made little sense helped to breed conflict. The West has often approached Africa as a patron or a source of resources rather than a partner. But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants. In my father's life, it was partly tribalism and patronage and nepotism in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is still a daily fact of life for far too many.

Now, we know that's also not the whole story. Here in Ghana, you show us a face of Africa that is too often overlooked by a world that sees only tragedy or a need for charity. The people of Ghana have worked hard to put democracy on a firmer footing, with repeated peaceful transfers of power even in the wake of closely contested elections. And by the way, can I say that for that the minority deserves as much credit as the majority. And with improved governance and an emerging civil society, Ghana's economy has shown impressive rates of growth.

This progress may lack the drama of 20th century liberation struggles, but make no mistake: It will ultimately be more significant. For just as it is important to emerge from the control of other nations, it is even more important to build one's own nation.

So I believe that this moment is just as promising for Ghana and for Africa as the moment when my father came of age and new nations were being born. This is a new moment of great promise. Only this time, we've learned that it will not be giants like Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa's future. Instead, it will be you -- the men and women in Ghana's parliament -- the people you represent. It will be the young people brimming with talent and energy and hope who can claim the future that so many in previous generations never realized.

Now, to realize that promise, we must first recognize the fundamental truth that you have given life to in Ghana: Development depends on good governance. That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. That's the change that can unlock Africa's potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans.

As for America and the West, our commitment must be measured by more than just the dollars we spend. I've pledged substantial increases in our foreign assistance, which is in Africa's interests and America's interests. But the true sign of success is not whether we are a source of perpetual aid that helps people scrape by -- it's whether we are partners in building the capacity for transformational change.

This mutual responsibility must be the foundation of our partnership. And today, I'll focus on four areas that are critical to the future of Africa and the entire developing world: democracy, opportunity, health, and the peaceful resolution of conflict.

First, we must support strong and sustainable democratic governments.

As I said in Cairo, each nation gives life to democracy in its own way, and in line with its own traditions. But history offers a clear verdict: Governments that respect the will of their own people, that govern by consent and not coercion, are more prosperous, they are more stable and more successful than governments that do not.

This is about more than just holding elections. It's also about what happens between elections. Repression can take many forms, and too many nations, even those that have elections, are plagued by problems that condemn their people to poverty. No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves ... or if police -- if police can be bought off by drug traffickers. No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top ... or the head of the port authority is corrupt. No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny, even if occasionally you sprinkle an election in there. And now is the time for that style of governance to end.

In the 21st century, capable, reliable and transparent institutions are the key to success -- strong parliaments; honest police forces; independent judges ... an independent press; a vibrant private sector; a civil society. Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in people's everyday lives.

Now, time and again, Ghanaians have chosen constitutional rule over autocracy and shown a democratic spirit that allows the energy of your people to break through. We see that in leaders who accept defeat graciously -- the fact that President Mills' opponents were standing beside him last night to greet me when I came off the plane spoke volumes about Ghana; victors who resist calls to wield power against the opposition in unfair ways. We see that spirit in courageous journalists like Anas Aremeyaw Anas, who risked his life to report the truth. We see it in police like Patience Quaye, who helped prosecute the first human trafficker in Ghana. We see it in the young people who are speaking up against patronage and participating in the political process.

Across Africa, we've seen countless examples of people taking control of their destiny and making change from the bottom up. We saw it in Kenya, where civil society and business came together to help stop postelection violence. We saw it in South Africa, where over three-quarters of the country voted in the recent election -- the fourth since the end of apartheid. We saw it in Zimbabwe, where the Election Support Network braved brutal repression to stand up for the principle that a person's vote is their sacred right.

Now, make no mistake: History is on the side of these brave Africans, not with those who use coups or change constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn't need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.

Now, America will not seek to impose any system of government on any other nation. The essential truth of democracy is that each nation determines its own destiny. But what America will do is increase assistance for responsible individuals and responsible institutions, with a focus on supporting good governance -- on parliaments, which check abuses of power and ensure that opposition voices are heard ... on the rule of law, which ensures the equal administration of justice; on civic participation, so that young people get involved; and on concrete solutions to corruption like forensic accounting and automating services ... strengthening hot lines, protecting whistle-blowers to advance transparency and accountability.

And we provide this support. I have directed my administration to give greater attention to corruption in our human rights reports. People everywhere should have the right to start a business or get an education without paying a bribe. We have a responsibility to support those who act responsibly and to isolate those who don't, and that is exactly what America will do.

Now, this leads directly to our second area of partnership: supporting development that provides opportunity for more people.

With better governance, I have no doubt that Africa holds the promise of a broader base of prosperity. Witness the extraordinary success of Africans in my country, America. They're doing very well. So they've got the talent, they've got the entrepreneurial spirit. The question is, how do we make sure that they're succeeding here in their home countries? The continent is rich in natural resources. And from cell phone entrepreneurs to small farmers, Africans have shown the capacity and commitment to create their own opportunities. But old habits must also be broken. Dependence on commodities -- or a single export -- has a tendency to concentrate wealth in the hands of the few and leaves people too vulnerable to downturns.

So in Ghana, for instance, oil brings great opportunities, and you have been very responsible in preparing for new revenue. But as so many Ghanaians know, oil cannot simply become the new cocoa. From South Korea to Singapore, history shows that countries thrive when they invest in their people and in their infrastructure ... when they promote multiple export industries, develop a skilled work force and create space for small and medium-sized businesses that create jobs.

As Africans reach for this promise, America will be more responsible in extending our hand. By cutting costs that go to Western consultants and administration, we want to put more resources in the hands of those who need it, while training people to do more for themselves. That's why our $3.5 billion food security initiative is focused on new methods and technologies for farmers -- not simply sending American producers or goods to Africa. Aid is not an end in itself. The purpose of foreign assistance must be creating the conditions where it's no longer needed. I want to see Ghanaians not only self-sufficient in food, I want to see you exporting food to other countries and earning money. You can do that.

Now, America can also do more to promote trade and investment. Wealthy nations must open our doors to goods and services from Africa in a meaningful way. That will be a commitment of my administration. And where there is good governance, we can broaden prosperity through public-private partnerships that invest in better roads and electricity; capacity-building that trains people to grow a business; financial services that reach not just the cities but also the poor and rural areas. This is also in our own interests -- for if people are lifted out of poverty and wealth is created in Africa, guess what? New markets will open up for our own goods. So it's good for both.

One area that holds out both undeniable peril and extraordinary promise is energy. Africa gives off less greenhouse gas than any other part of the world, but it is the most threatened by climate change. A warming planet will spread disease, shrink water resources and deplete crops, creating conditions that produce more famine and more conflict. All of us -- particularly the developed world -- have a responsibility to slow these trends -- through mitigation, and by changing the way that we use energy. But we can also work with Africans to turn this crisis into opportunity.

Together, we can partner on behalf of our planet and prosperity and help countries increase access to power while skipping -- leapfrogging the dirtier phase of development. Think about it: Across Africa, there is bountiful wind and solar power; geothermal energy and biofuels. From the Rift Valley to the North African deserts; from the Western coasts to South Africa's crops -- Africa's boundless natural gifts can generate its own power, while exporting profitable, clean energy abroad.

These steps are about more than growth numbers on a balance sheet. They're about whether a young person with an education can get a job that supports a family; a farmer can transfer their goods to market; an entrepreneur with a good idea can start a business. It's about the dignity of work; it's about the opportunity that must exist for Africans in the 21st century.

Just as governance is vital to opportunity, it's also critical to the third area I want to talk about: strengthening public health.

In recent years, enormous progress has been made in parts of Africa. Far more people are living productively with HIV/AIDS, and getting the drugs they need. I just saw a wonderful clinic and hospital that is focused particularly on maternal health. But too many still die from diseases that shouldn't kill them. When children are being killed because of a mosquito bite, and mothers are dying in childbirth, then we know that more progress must be made.

Yet because of incentives -- often provided by donor nations -- many African doctors and nurses go overseas, or work for programs that focus on a single disease. And this creates gaps in primary care and basic prevention. Meanwhile, individual Africans also have to make responsible choices that prevent the spread of disease, while promoting public health in their communities and countries.

So across Africa, we see examples of people tackling these problems. In Nigeria, an interfaith effort of Christians and Muslims has set an example of cooperation to confront malaria. Here in Ghana and across Africa, we see innovative ideas for filling gaps in care -- for instance, through E-Health initiatives that allow doctors in big cities to support those in small towns.

America will support these efforts through a comprehensive, global health strategy, because in the 21st century, we are called to act by our conscience but also by our common interest, because when a child dies of a preventable disease in Accra, that diminishes us everywhere. And when disease goes unchecked in any corner of the world, we know that it can spread across oceans and continents.

And that's why my administration has committed $63 billion to meet these challenges -- $63 billion. Building on the strong efforts of President Bush, we will carry forward the fight against HIV/AIDS. We will pursue the goal of ending deaths from malaria and tuberculosis, and we will work to eradicate polio. We will fight -- we will fight neglected tropical disease. And we won't confront illnesses in isolation -- we will invest in public health systems that promote wellness and focus on the health of mothers and children.

Now, as we partner on behalf of a healthier future, we must also stop the destruction that comes not from illness, but from human beings -- and so the final area that I will address is conflict.

Let me be clear: Africa is not the crude caricature of a continent at perpetual war. But if we are honest, for far too many Africans, conflict is a part of life, as constant as the sun. There are wars over land and wars over resources. And it is still far too easy for those without conscience to manipulate whole communities into fighting among faiths and tribes.

These conflicts are a millstone around Africa's neck. Now, we all have many identities -- of tribe and ethnicity; of religion and nationality. But defining oneself in opposition to someone who belongs to a different tribe or who worships a different prophet has no place in the 21st century. Africa's diversity should be a source of strength, not a cause for division. We are all God's children. We all share common aspirations -- to live in peace and security; to access education and opportunity; to love our families and our communities and our faith. That is our common humanity.

That is why we must stand up to inhumanity in our midst. It is never justified, never justifiable to target innocents in the name of ideology. It is the death sentence of a society to force children to kill in wars. It is the ultimate mark of criminality and cowardice to condemn women to relentless and systemic rape. We must bear witness to the value of every child in Darfur and the dignity of every woman in the Congo. No faith or culture should condone the outrages against them. And all of us must strive for the peace and security necessary for progress.

Africans are standing up for this future. Here, too, in Ghana we are seeing you help point the way forward. Ghanaians should take pride in your contributions to peacekeeping from Congo to Liberia to Lebanon ... and your efforts to resist the scourge of the drug trade. We welcome the steps that are being taken by organizations like the African Union and ECOWAS to better resolve conflicts, to keep the peace and support those in need. And we encourage the vision of a strong, regional security architecture that can bring effective, transnational forces to bear when needed.

America has a responsibility to work with you as a partner to advance this vision, not just with words, but with support that strengthens African capacity. When there's a genocide in Darfur or terrorists in Somalia, these are not simply African problems -- they are global security challenges, and they demand a global response.

And that's why we stand ready to partner through diplomacy and technical assistance and logistical support, and we will stand behind efforts to hold war criminals accountable. And let me be clear: Our Africa Command is focused not on establishing a foothold in the continent, but on confronting these common challenges to advance the security of America, Africa and the world.

In Moscow, I spoke of the need for an international system where the universal rights of human beings are respected, and violations of those rights are opposed. And that must include a commitment to support those who resolve conflicts peacefully, to sanction and stop those who don't, and to help those who have suffered. But ultimately, it will be vibrant democracies like Botswana and Ghana which roll back the causes of conflict and advance the frontiers of peace and prosperity.

As I said earlier, Africa's future is up to Africans.

The people of Africa are ready to claim that future. And in my country, African Americans -- including so many recent immigrants -- have thrived in every sector of society. We've done so despite a difficult past, and we've drawn strength from our African heritage. With strong institutions and a strong will, I know that Africans can live their dreams in Nairobi and Lagos, Kigali, Kinshasa, Harare, and right here in Accra.

You know, 52 years ago, the eyes of the world were on Ghana. And a young preacher named Martin Luther King traveled here, to Accra, to watch the Union Jack come down and the Ghanaian flag go up. This was before the march on Washington or the success of the civil rights movement in my country. Dr. King was asked how he felt while watching the birth of a nation. And he said: ''It renews my conviction in the ultimate triumph of justice.''

Now that triumph must be won once more, and it must be won by you. And I am particularly speaking to the young people all across Africa and right here in Ghana. In places like Ghana, young people make up over half of the population.

And here is what you must know: The world will be what you make of it. You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people. You can serve in your communities and harness your energy and education to create new wealth and build new connections to the world. You can conquer disease and end conflicts and make change from the bottom up. You can do that. Yes you can ... because in this moment, history is on the move.

But these things can only be done if all of you take responsibility for your future. And it won't be easy. It will take time and effort. There will be suffering and setbacks. But I can promise you this: America will be with you every step of the way -- as a partner, as a friend. Opportunity won't come from any other place, though. It must come from the decisions that all of you make, the things that you do, the hope that you hold in your heart.

Ghana, freedom is your inheritance. Now, it is your responsibility to build upon freedom's foundation. And if you do, we will look back years from now to places like Accra and say this was the time when the promise was realized; this was the moment when prosperity was forged, when pain was overcome, and a new era of progress began. This can be the time when we witness the triumph of justice once more. Yes we can. Thank you very much. God bless you. Thank you.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

HAITI: Deportees from U.S. Face Culture Shock, Retain Hope

HAITI: Deportees from U.S. Face Culture Shock, Retain Hope

By Michael Deibert

Inter Press Service

(Read the original article here)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jul 8, 2009 (IPS) - In the shadow of the Eglise Sainte Claire in the Petite Place Cazeau neighbourhood of Haiti’s bustling capital, Frantz Saintil is visiting his daughter and reflecting on the more than two decades he spent abroad before finding himself back in his native country of Haiti seven years ago.

"It didn’t take me long to become very Americanised," says Saintil, 34, who left Haiti for Canada and eventually the United States with his family when he was six years old.

"I like baseball and apple pie and everything American. I didn’t want to be identified as Haitian and discriminated against. I didn’t understand their way of dress, their musical preferences. I was more into rock, some R&B, country music. I didn’t identify with them at all."

Saintil is one of 3,250 Haitians that Department of Homeland Security figures show were deported from the United States back to Haiti on the basis of criminal convictions between 1997 and 2005. A soft-spoken man who was a permanent legal resident when a nolo contendere ("no contest") plea to an assault charge in Colorado landed him in prison at 19, after serving his sentence Saintil was subsequently deported to Haiti, a country he barely knew.

"When you don’t identify yourself as an immigrant or a foreigner, it’s when you get in trouble that all these things come to fruition," says Saintil of his experience with the U.S. justice system, speaking a measured, American-accented English in contrast to the boisterous Kreyol being shouted at a nearby football match.

"When you realise that you’re detained to be deported, then you start to identify (as Haitian), at that point you can’t deny it," he said.

Saintil is not alone. A recent study by the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) found, upon analysing deportation data from Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, that almost 30,000 criminal offenders had been deported to those countries between 1990 and 2005.

Even more strikingly, according to migration data in El Salvador, between 2006 and 2008 some 14,608 deportees with criminal records were sent back from the U.S. to the Central American country of 7 million, home to such transnational criminal syndicates as the Mara Salvatrucha and a nation with one of the world’s highest homicide rates.

It is thus a delicate issue, with deportees who have left their birth countries at very young ages - and having become culturally and linguistically American - being digested through the U.S. prison system and then spit out to their familial homelands only to confront a wall of mutual misunderstanding.

According to figures supplied by the Centre Oecuménique des Droits de l'Homme (the Ecumenical Centre for Human Rights or CEDH), a Haitian human rights group, the average age of deportees when they left Haiti was between four and seven years old.

Having become assimilated in the United States, deportees suffered severe culture shock when returning to Haiti, where a lifestyle unfamiliar to most is expressed in a language that only a few had been able to master with any degree of proficiency while abroad.

"What we request from the authorities of Canada and the U.S. is to take into account the family factor when considering the nature of the delinquency which leads to the decision of deportation," says CEDH’s director, Jean-Claude Bajeux. "And it is essential that the governments involved in a policy of returning people to Haiti make an evaluation of the precarious situation in this country."

Add to the mix Haiti's dire economic condition - with 80 percent of the population living under the poverty line and GDP per capita of just 1,300 dollars per year - and periodic political unrest that sees politicians only too willing to use pools of jobless young men as muscle in the country’s political wars, one quickly sees how the deportees, or dp’s, as they call themselves, marked with the stigma of forced exit from a country that many Haitians regard as the promised land, have a tough row to hoe once they step off the plane in Port-au-Prince.

In December 2006, for example, with no hard evidence supporting his claim, then-Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis blamed deportees from the U.S. for helping to spur the country's at-the-time spiraling kidnapping rates. The fearsome reputation of such gangs as Florida’s Zoe Pound, a Haitian-identified clique that specialises in robbing drug dealers of their product and money, often with extreme violence, only adds to the trepidation with which local Haitians view the deportees.

It is a reputation that some among their number feel is undeserved.

"If there was a way to integrate us into society, it wouldn’t be such a hardship on us," says Junior Telusca, who moved with his family to Florida at age three and was returned to Haiti after doing two years in prison on a drug conviction. "There’s only one thing I want, and that’s to integrate into this society, to get a job, pay for my child’s school and live my life."

Deportees often mix a certain wistfulness for the land they have been exiled from with a stated desire to try and gain some sort of advantage, both spiritual and material, from their particular status. In recent years, local organisations such as the Fondation haïtienne des familles des rapatriés have attempted to build some sort of solidarity among the newly-returned.

In tandem with Haiti's Ministry of Social Affairs and Ministry of Interior, the International Organisation for Migration has recently developed a program focusing on deportee reintegration into Haitian society that focuses on such aspects as micro-enterprise support and language training.

But for many, it has been anything but an easy lesson.

"Life in the States is great, in all senses of the word," says Frantz Saintil. "But if you get a second chance to be free, then you’ve got to make the best of it. If I can affect the life of even one person, even it is by teaching them English, to me that is a big step. There is no telling what that person might become."

"And I am hopeful that one day I will get to see the United States again," he added.

Michael Deibert is the author of Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti (Seven Stories Press).

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Manufactured diversity

Manufactured diversity

Published: June 12, 2009

Foreign Direct Investment

(Read the original article here)

The economies of north Africa’s Maghreb region – Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia – are branching out into manufacturing as the demand for hydrocarbon exports continues to decline, writes Michael Deibert.

A ribbon of countries along Africa’s northern expanse have begun to make their mark on the world’s manufacturing landscape. It is a development occurring at the same time that the export value of the region’s hydrocarbon exports has taken a dip.

Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia – often collectively referred to as the Maghreb (meaning ‘place of sunset’) – along with Libya have a combined population of 84 million people. They have all proved adept at attracting a combination of transportation and electronics manufacturers, a development that could significantly diversify the region’s economy and opportunities for foreign investment.

Opening trade barriers

With their easy access to the Mediterranean Sea and its trade routes to Europe, the Maghreb countries made natural signatories to the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements with the EU. Comprised of a series of measures designed to guarantee free access to European markets and exemption from customs duties, the agreements have deepened the region’s trade links with Europe. Libya, however, declined to sign.

Since 2006, Tunisian printed circuits company Fuba Tunisia, which specialises in electronics and telecommunications, has emerged in the country’s capital, Tunis, as a spin-off of the German digital firm Fuba Printed Circuits GMBH. Over the past two years, Fuba Tunisia has completed a modernisation worth nearly $10m and expanded its plant in Bizerta for an operation with export revenues of about $40m. It supplies companies such as Alcatel, Bosch, Delphi, Siemens and Schneider.

Tunisia’s manufacturing expansion is not limited to electronics. In 2010, Airbus is slated to open a Tunisian factory that will employ 1500 workers at a cost of $76m.

Despite president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali having ruled the country as a virtually unchallenged authoritarian since 1987, Tunisia boasts a burgeoning middle class and has experienced an annual average economic growth rate of 5% over the past decade.

“Tunisia has a fairly diversified economy and manufacturing base,” says Andrew Atkinson, an analyst with Paris-based Euler Hermes, a credit insurance provider that devises country risk assessments. “There’s a clear pecking order in the risk appetite for dealing with these countries.”

Out of a possible rating of AA, Tunisia scores a BB on the Euler Hermes scale, Morocco ranks as a solid B, and Algeria and Libya are Cs.

Next on the risk scale of foreign investment in the region is Morocco. The country’s King Mohammed, who took over in 1999 after his father, King Hassan II, has presided over deals with France for civilian and military contracts totalling more than €2bn. These deals include the construction of a high-speed train between the coastal cities of Tangiers and Casablanca, and the construction of a power plant outside the north-eastern city of Oujda.

Morocco is also enjoying playing host to Geneva-based semiconductor company ST Microelectronics, which has expanded its integrated circuit design and development centre in Morocco’s capital city of Rabat.

Algeria and Libya lag behind

Awash with oil and natural gas reserves, Algeria and Libya have been slower to industrialise their economies, but the worldwide economic turmoil may accelerate that process.

“If you look at Algeria and Libya, both economies are absolutely dependent on hydrocarbon exports for revenues,” says Craig McMahon, North Africa analyst at Wood Mackenzie, a UK-based consulting firm that closely follows the energy market. “The biggest issue [for them] has been the drop-off in oil and gas prices. They are still in a positive cash flow position but I think it’s fair to say that the scale and magnitude of drop-off has taken them by surprise.”

Algeria and Libya – both members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) – may find the precipitous drop in oil prices over the past year a driving force in the diversification of the region’s economy. Amid the global economic downturn, demand for oil has remained weak, with prices hovering near $50 a barrel for months. OPEC expects the decline in demand to continue.

Having struggled with the scourge of Islamic militancy for years, Algeria appears to have successfully extricated itself from an agonising decade-long civil war that pitted Islamic militants against the Algerian government following disputed 1991 legislative elections. Against a backdrop of quelling the activities of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, supported strongly by the military, won 90% of the vote in Algeria’s April presidential elections. This secured him another five-year mandate in an election boycotted by one of the main opposition groups.

Notable business activity in the country includes Algerian electronic manufacturer ENIE collaborating with the Spanish renewable energies companies Isofoton and Alsolar to construct a $50m thermal energy plant, which will be the nation’s first.

Libya’s new direction

Farthest east, Libya’s president, Muammar Gaddafi, has succeeded to a degree in ingratiating himself with Europe and the US following Libya’s 2003 announcement that it was abandoning its nuclear weapons programme.

The country’s capital, Tripoli, has hosted visits by Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU’s commissioner for external relations, for discussions on how to increase energy and trade relations between the two zones. Libya’s recent acceptance to the World Trade Organization will likely make such steps all the easier.

The important thing for investors to remember, observers say, is that, as can be discerned from their level of involvement with foreign investment, all the countries of North Africa maintain distinct personalities, despite their cultural links.

“You’ve got significant differences in terms of size of the economy, population, exchange rates and political systems,” says Euler Hermes’ Mr Atkinson. “These countries tend to act independently, and any sort of dealings are probably best done on a country-by-country basis.”

Friday, July 03, 2009

Q&A: "The Elites Are Like a Huge Elephant Sitting on Haiti"

Q&A: "The Elites Are Like a Huge Elephant Sitting on Haiti"

Michael Deibert interviews Haitian Prime Minister MICHÈLE PIERRE-LOUIS

Inter Press Service

(Read the original article here)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jul 3, 2009 (IPS) - Haitian Prime Minister Michèle Pierre-Louis assumed office in September 2008. Born in the southern city of Jérémie in 1947, she left Haiti with her family in 1964 following a pogrom by dictator François Duvalier against his perceived enemies in her town.

Studying in the United States and France before returning to Haiti in 1977, she has been a close confidante of Haitian President René Préval for over 40 years. After having worked in a variety of private and public sector jobs in Haiti, she and Préval opened a bakery which catered to the poor in Haiti’s capital in 1982.

Active in the first government of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Pierre-Louis was among the first to denounce the 1991 military coup against Aristide during an interview with Radio France Internationale.

After Aristide’s return by a U.S.-led multinational force in 1994, Pierre-Louis opened the Fondasyon Konesans Ak Libète (Knowledge and Freedom Foundation or FOKAL) in 1995 with support from businessman and philanthropist George Soros’ Open Society Institute.

An organisation conceived to support sectors in Haitian society most likely to bring about social change, FOKAL has been responsible for the creation of a network of over 50 community libraries throughout Haiti, a cultural centre and library for economically disadvantaged children and youths in Haiti’s capital, a debate programme for young people, and an initiative to supply running water to the nearly 80 percent of Haitians who don’t have regular access to it.

Since her installation as Prime Minister, Pierre-Louis has presided over a stabilising of the security situation in this often politically unstable country, weathered the fallout and relief efforts after a trio of hurricanes killed at least 600 people last year and traveled both within Haiti and internationally to plead her government’s case.

IPS contributor Michael Deibert sat down with Prime Minster Pierre-Louis in Port-au-Prince on Jun. 21 to hear her thoughts about where the country is heading.

IPS: Could you speak a little bit about your background?

MPL: I was born in Jérémie, and my parents were people extremely dedicated to the country. My father and my mother were raised during the U.S. occupation, and that whole generation was very nationalistic, it was very important to be proud of your country, to love your country, to know your country.

My involvement started very early because I was involved in youth groups against Duvalier, which at the time was very dangerous. There were lots of groups that were fighting clandestinely against the dictatorship, and I lost a lot of friends who disappeared.

One day you would hear that [the government] got them and put them in jail and you would never hear from them again. So I was marked by this situation, and even when I went to study abroad, Haiti was always in my mind.

IPS: How did you find your involvement in the first Aristide government?

MPL: It was very exhilarating, at the beginning. Everybody in the world was saying finally Haiti is going to come out, finally democracy is going to be built...When the 1991 coup occurred, I was probably the first person to give an interview and say, no matter what, the coup was unjustified. Aristide was our president and he was elected democratically and we’re going to fight for him to stay in power.

Those were very long years, and something happened to the country and to the president. When he came back, I think things got really rough, we really started going down the drain. Somehow, something very deep happened in the mind of this country, and we have not really put our finger specifically on it.

IPS: What did you feel was different after the return of Aristide in 1994?

MPL: The man himself had changed. He was married, he was into money, he was into corruption. He invented the Petits Projets de la Presidence [a corruption-riddled system of presidential largesse]. I don’t think he had escaped from the Haitian president’s syndrome, which is stay in power by all means.

There are many Haitian presidents who have fallen into that trap. Once that is your perspective and that is your project, all means are used...I don’t think we know our history very well, and we fall into the same trap over and over again. It’s unfortunate that we keep making the same mistakes

IPS: What political lessons should Haiti and the international community draw from the collapse of the second Aristide government in 2004 and the international intervention that followed?

MPL: For a long time, a lot of the elite would say that Haiti was not ready for democracy, and I was totally against that. It’s not because people are poor and they are illiterate that they are not ready for democracy. When you go to the people at the bottom, I have a deep feeling that these people really want things to change, and they are waiting for the leadership that will not bring miracles but will show them the way and not lie to them.

All the elites - the mulatto elites, the university elites, the union elites, the peasant elites - are like a huge elephant sitting on this country and you cannot move it, because there is no political class, because there are no political parties, and everyone becomes corrupted and perverted. If you can’t go into that system, the system rejects you. And so far we have not found the wrench that will move this thing.

IPS: Do you think the presence of the United Nations mission is important, and how are relations between your government and the mission?

MPL: From 1991 to 2008, there have been seven U.N. missions here, and they have all been asked for by the Haitian government. That means there is a problem.

When people say it’s a matter of sovereignty, I say that Haiti is a sovereign country and nobody change that. But in two areas, we have lost the exercise of our sovereignty: Control of the territory and food security.

We are dependent on outside forces, outside markets, for both. If we really want to do something, let’s work to recover the full capacity of our sovereignty now. That would mean really building a national public security force, and making sure we could massively invest in agriculture, which would be justice to the Haitian peasant.

When Aristide left and the interim government came in, the police were corrupt, politicized and inefficient. It takes a while before you can reverse that trend, but I think if there is one area today where we can feel the progress, it’s the police.

As Prime Minister you are also are chief of the Conseil Superieur de la Police Nationale d'Haiti, and I take that very seriously, because security is a major issue. We lack training, munitions and arms, but I think we have done a great job. It’s embarrassing to have foreign forces in your country, I am not happy about that. But if we don’t make the effort to regain our capacity to control our territory, they will stay forever.

IPS: What are your thoughts on the recent mid-term elections in Haiti?

MPL: In 2006, the population responded with dignity and order, and were proud to be part of [the elections]. And I have told those in parliament: "You are young. You want to have a career? Remember that in the past elections 95 percent of you were not returned to office. You think the people are not watching, that they are not judging? They are watching. They are not stupid."

There are hands that didn’t want these elections to take place, because it changes the configuration of the senate, which is now very powerful. Chaos is good for a few sectors, and the most destabilising factor here today is drug trafficking, whether by plane or by ship. And it’s polluting politics

The recovery of Haiti - justice system, health, education - should be planned over 10, 15, 20 years. We now have a good relationship within the region, with Argentina, Brazil and Chile, and it’s a new paradigm for regional cooperation. They have their own interests, of course, but let’s make the best of the opportunities that are offered to us.

Michael Deibert is a Senior Fellow at New York’s World Policy Institute and the author of "Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti" (Seven Stories Press).

Some thoughts on impunity and Africa

Flying home to Paris from a reporting trip to Haiti and a brief visit to the United States earlier this week, I read former United Nations’ secretary general Kofi Annan’s eloquent and impassioned op-ed concerning the subject of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and Africa in the International Herald Tribune.

In his article, Annan, notes that the ICC now has 108 signatory states, including 30 African countries, representing the largest regional bloc among member states. Beyond that, five of the court’s 18 judges are African and, in Annan’s word, “the ICC reflects the demand of people everywhere for a court that can punish these serious crimes and deter others from committing them.”

One cannot read Annan’s words, of course, without thinking of the ICC’s indictment of Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, which calls for al-Bashir’s arrest on five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes for his actions connected to the conflict in the Sudanese region of Darfur, a crisis which the United Nations itself estimates has killed at least 200,000 people. The indictment against al-Bashir, a sitting head of state, uses quite similar language to charges laid out against Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo, two of the militia leaders in the Ituri conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the early part of this decade. Nevertheless, opposition and criticism of al-Bashir’s indictment has become something of a cause célèbre among some in progressive circles, as well in the halls of power in Africa itself, who charge (without acknowledging such bodies as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia) that the African leader is being unfairly singled out. Since the indictment, al-Bashir, far from being treated as a pariah, has been fêted at capital’s across the continent.

“We have little hope of preventing the worst crimes known to mankind, or reassuring those who live in fear of their recurrence,” Annan writes in his article, “if African leaders stop supporting justice for the most heinous crimes just because one of their own stands accused.”

Reading Annan’s Op-Ed, I was reminded of a recent review I wrote of Columbia University professor Mahmood Mamdani’s book Saviors and Survivors : Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror, in which Mamdani argued, among other things, that none of the charges laid against al-Bashir by the ICC “can bear historical scrutiny.”

Leaving aside the question of the veracity of such a statement for a moment, the experience I had in attempting to get the review published I found instructive in terms of the way that ideology can often blind even those in the news business to the real suffering of people on the ground in a place such as Darfur, which along with the Democratic Republic of Congo (which I have reported on) and Somalia is the site of perhaps the world’s worst humanitarian crisis at present.

I pitched the idea for the review and received approval to write it from Inter Press Service editor Terna Gyuse, who has served as Africa regional editor for IPS since the departure of the rigorous and excellent Jacklynne Hobbs in 2008, a period since when, in my view, the quality and objectivity of the African reportage from the organization has slackened noticeably. After reading the book carefully, checking its footnotes and writing a highly critical review based on what I found to be Mamdani’s ideological polemicism and bad history (as typified by his absurd characterization of the charges against al-Bashir), I submitted the review to Gyuse, who took three weeks before finally rousing himself to a response. Opting to kill the review, ostensibly because of its length, Gyuse then ran in its place an interview with Mamdani, of roughly equal length, during which the latter holds forth at length in a manner that evidently matches up more squarely with Gyuse’s own ideological prejudices and desire to pander to the global intellectual establishment. The review I wrote was eventually published on the website of the AlterPresse news service and then republished on the site for the Social Science Research Council.

One cannot blame the reporter, of course, who is just doing her job by interviewing newsworthy people, or even less Mamdani, who has every right and indeed responsibility to see that his views get a wide hearing, no matter how wrong-headed I may feel them to be. But one can blame the editorial process at IPS, an organization that promotes itself as as “civil society's leading news agency,” but which seems more and more determined to silence independent, critical voices if they do not conform to what appears to me to be the organization’s increasingly ideological slant, one which seeks to avoid confrontation with elements of the the establishment left that help fund its existence at every turn.

It is really necessary to rock the boat, even among one’s own colleges, at certain times to keep them and the process honest and make sure that justice, like journalism, serves those in the greatest need of defending. Though I have often differed with Mr. Annan’s policies in places such as Rwanda, I was encouraged and hearted by his article and hope that media outlets such as the Inter Press Service will give space to similarly well thought out critiques that challenge ideological orthodoxy no matter where it occurs. Those in whose name they claim to speak deserve no less.


Addendum, as if to drive my point home:

AU to shelter Beshir from war crimes warrant: delegates

3 July 2009

SIRTE, Libya (AFP) – The African Union has decided not to cooperate with a war crimes warrant against Sudan President Omar al-Beshir and again appealed to the United Nations to delay the case, delegates said Friday.

Two delegates from different countries said the African Union summit had agreed to a text reading: "The AU member states shall not cooperate... for the arrest and surrender of Sudan President Omar al-Beshir."

The summit was expected later Friday to formally announce its decision, which effectively allows Beshir to travel across Africa without fear of arrest under the warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity issued by the International Criminal Court.

The text was backed by Libyan leader and current AU chief Moamer Kadhafi, who has said the ICC represents a "new world terrorism," and won support from many countries who felt the court was unfairly targeting Africans.

Thirty African states have signed the Rome statutes creating the court, and have treaty obligations to arrest Beshir if he travels on their territory.

But the text adopted at the summit voices frustration felt by many African nations who say the UN Security Council ignored an early AU resolution calling for a one-year delay to the indictment.

The UN Security Council can ask the court, via a resolution, to suspend investigations or prosecutions for 12 months, under Article 16 of the Rome Statute. The stay can be renewed.