More Crisis in South Sudan

I’ve taken a hiatus from posting about international news though I’ve kept up with reading it. This story out of South Sudan though was almost unbearable to read, and the accounts in here about attacks on westerners, aid workers and Americans just affirm that the South Sudanese people are living in complete hell, one that most of us cannot comprehend.

Worse (though not surprising) is the lack of response from the UN and western embassies that promised protection, and the way in which South Sudan was even created in the first place. The Time Magazine reporter Alex Perry has a kindle short about this subject if anyone is interested, highly recommend all his reporting.

Anyway, this is a horrific, depressing article to post so if you’re 100% into the Olympics or that ridiculously adorable puppy video, you might wanna skip this one.

I’m not an expert in this stuff, just interested in the third world, and the two competing products of it– the ingenuity and cruelty of poverty. Survival and the capacity for good people to do evil, bad things under extreme circumstances (again, that we cannot imagine) has always piqued my interest and strikes me as something we can stop and solve, maybe be eliminating some of the horrific circumstances. But that sounds simplistic and I hope the many people smarter than me have better solutions.

 

“Where Do People Earn the Per Capita Income?”

“Where do people earn the Per Capita Income?

More than one poor starving soul would like to know. 

In our countries, numbers live better than people. How many people prosper in times of prosperity?

How many people find their lives developed by development? “

-Eduardo Galeano, Those Little Numbers and People (The Book of Embraces), as cited in Pathologies of Power by Paul Farmer

Don’t Take the Bait, Overestimate the Enemy or Forget Politics: How to Deal with ISIS

This morning, Fareed Zakaria posted an exceptional op-ed in the Washington Post (which was also the lead in to Fareed Zakaria GPS), entitled, “Can we defeat the Islamic State?” It is an incredibly thoughtful piece that raises three important points:

First, he points out that we don’t always have to “take the bait” and that our response has basically been intentionally choreographed by ISIS. Referencing a similar strategy by Osama bin Laden, Zakaria quotes him:

“All that we have to do is to send two mujahideen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaeda,” he said, “in order to make [American] generals race there.” – Osama bin Laden

If the purpose was to provoke the US, then ISIS is succeeding and we are complicit in their success. Zakaria agrees that we have to do something, but advocates caution:

“We have to act against this terror group. But let’s do it at a time and manner of our choosing, rather than jumping when it wants us to jump.”

It is troubling that some of our elected officials are chomping at the bit to put boots on the ground. Senator Lindsay Graham pulled out the fear card today on Fox news saying that if we don’t do something, ISIS will attack Americans here, a concept that has no basis in fact and is unsupported by intelligence.

“This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home.” – Senator Lindsay Graham

But overestimating ISIS’ capability and threat is Zakaria’s second point. One overestimation has to do with geography: as he notes, much of the land they allegedly occupy or is at least contested in those flashy maps we see on cable TV is vacant desert. But the other overstimation is even more important: ISIS is a separatist group, unlike Al Qaeda which had a pan-Islamic approach. Lots of people don’t like ISIS, and it has nothing to do with the U.S.:

While the Islamic State is much more sophisticated than al-Qaeda in its operations and technology, it has one major, inherent weakness. Al-Qaeda was an organization that was pan-Islamic, trying to appeal to all Muslims. This group is a distinctly sectarian organization. It is a successor to al-Qaeda in Iraq, which was set up by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi with an explicitly anti-Shiite mission. In fact, this is why al-Qaeda broke with Zarqawi, imploring him not to make fellow Muslims the enemy. The Islamic State is anti-Shiite as well as deeply hostile to Kurds, Christians and many other inhabitants of the Middle East. This means that it has large numbers of foes in the region who will fight against it, not because the United States wants them to but in their own interests.

Finally, he argues for a political and military solution, highlighting something you never hear from American political leaders:

Military action must be coupled with smart political strategy. The Islamic State is a direct outgrowth of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the ruinous political decisions to disband the Iraqi army and “de-Baathify” its bureaucracy. The result was a disempowered, enraged (and armed) Sunni population that started an insurgency. Vice media’s recent documentary on the group interviewed some Iraqi Sunnis who said that, for all the chaos, they were happier under the Islamic State than under the “Shiite army,” which is how they referred to the Iraqi government. (emphasis added)

Zakaria offers an extremely smart, thoughtful analysis. We all feel a sick from the barbaric videos that ISIS has released showing the savage beheading of two American journalists and a British humanitarian worker. If anything demonstrates ISIS’s barbarism, and more importantly that they are terrorists who are not Islamic and have not established a state, it is those horrific videos.

Although visibly infuriated immediately after Jim Foley’s death, Obama demonstrated the kind of caution and thought that Zakaria smartly advocates for. But now, after the second American has been beheaded he is sucuumbing to pressure by those less thoughtful than him to engage in a war that has no good ending. Not even the one we seek, to destroy ISIS.

Is Boko Haram on its way to creating a two-state caliphate?

This article in PM News suggests that Boko Haram’s recent capture of a town called Banki, near the border of Cameroon and Nigeria threatens to erase the two states’ border the way ISIS has erased parts of the Syrian-Iraqi border:

Boko Haram’s “lightning territorial gains” could lead to Nigeria breaking up like Iraq, a think-thank has warned.

The Uhuru Times reports a similarly dire prediction in this article, Nigeria Losing Control of Its Northeast to Boko Haram and even goes so far as to suggest that with recent captures of large swaths of northeastern Nigeria, Boko Haram could be on its way to establishing a caliphate at least in part of Nigeria, which also puts parts of Cameroon at great risk.

Nigeria is on the verge of losing control of Borno state, including the state capital Maiduguri. Boko Haram have seized territory along at least two of the main approaches to the capital and are reported to be preparing to strike the city. Their seizure of Dikwa and attacks on Bama could indicate a two-pronged assault from the north-east and the south-east. Attacks from elsewhere also cannot be ruled out. If Maiduguri falls, it will be a symbolic and strategic victory unparalleled so far in the conflict.

If Boko Haram are able to continue seizing territory in Borno, including the state capital, it is likely that almost the entire state will soon fall under the insurgency’s control. This will be the realisation of Boko Haram’s ambition to establish a caliphate in north-east Nigeria.

Map of Nigerian states and Cameroon border

And in this Al Jazeera English article, Boko Haram Seizes Strategic Nigerian Town, the concern is evident:

Some analysts have predicted that by seizing territory, Boko Haram is seeking to encircle the state capital, Maiduguri, 70km away, to make it the centre of an Islamic state.

“Nigeria is losing control of large parts of the northeast region,” said Andrew Noakes, of the Nigeria Security Network of experts in a report that warned of potential knock-on effects.

If Boko Haram does seize Maiduguri, the best military stronghold in Borno against the group, it could be devastating. Maiduguri would be to Boko Haram, Nigeria and Cameroon what Raqqa is to ISIS, Syria and Iraq – a seat for its caliphate.

For anyone who wants to know more about Boko Haram, I recommend this Kindle Short, The Hunt for Boko Haram, by Alex Perry, (or you can learn more through his interview with Fresh Air’s Terri Gross). I found Perry’s statement about Boko Haram very compelling and also very scary:

“If you’re looking for logic and clarity and well-thought-out strategy in a group like Boko Haram, you’re going to come up wanting,” Perry tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “This is not smart jihadi thinking. These guys are really badly educated. They’re dumb, essentially.”

 

 

 

Jeffrey Gettleman (and colleagues) on American Airstrikes in Somalia, Short Profile of Al Shabaab Leader

In a press conference yesterday, Pentagon Press Sec. Rear Admiral Kirby, affirmed that the US airstrikes in Somalia were truly just airstrikes and there were no troops on the ground. Pulitzer prize winning journalist Jeffrey Gettleman and his colleagues always provide meaningful insights about what’s happening in East Africa. In this piece about the airstrikes and whether they killed the intended target, Ahmed Abdi Godand, the leader of Al Shabaab, he writes:

One American official in Nairobi said that “we’re 80 percent sure” Mr. Godane was killed in the strike. Still, militants in places like Yemen and Pakistan have been thought to be killed in drone strikes just like this one, only to resurface weeks or months later, crowing about having survived American attempts to kill them.

One of the most intersting parts of this article is how it describes Mr. Godane’s brutality, including blocking food aid during the Somali famine in 2011:

Mr. Godane has been the driving force behind turning what was once a poor, obscure local militant group in a country many had forgotten into one of the most fearsome Qaeda franchises in the world. At the height of its power, the Shabab, under Mr. Godane’s merciless leadership, controlled more square miles of territory than just about any other Qaeda offshoot.

Mr. Godane, thought to be around 40 years old, has been one of the most wanted figures in Africa, widely believed to have orchestrated countless attacks on civilians, including the massacre of dozens of shoppers at a mall in Nairobi last year. He has presided over a reign of terror inside Somalia for several years, organizing the stoning of teenage girls and crude public amputations, all part of an effort to place Somalia under a harsh interpretation of Islamic rule.

During Somalia’s famine in 2011, when more than 200,000 people died, Mr. Godane gave the orders to block food supplies from reaching starving people. His masked fighters even diverted rivers from famished farmers. Mr. Godane has also taken the Shabab’s violence international by organizing suicide attacks in Kenya and Uganda.

As it seems the world is on fire, and so many people are being terrorized or trying to survive in the midst of wars with great humanitarian losses in East Africa (and of Syria, Iraq, Gaza), I am very curious about what makes people like Mr. Godane do the things he does. This passage about how he was once a star student, is fascinating and also important. We shouldn’t assume the people waging the terror are unintelligent:

According to a recent book on the Shabab written by Stig Jarle Hansen, a professor in Norway, Mr. Godane was once a star pupil, winning scholarships to study economics outside Somalia, though soon enough he abandoned the classroom, traveling to Afghanistan and then falling into jihadist circles. In the early 2000s, he returned to Somalia, where, according to the local authorities, he helped plan the murder of several aid workers.

I can’t help but wonder that if, along with our missile strikes, we took time to understand what made Mr. Gadone “abandon the classroom”, perhaps we could all be safer sooner. (And perhaps not).