Friday, August 20, 2010

Islam and America in the 21st Century: "Die Stunde der Demagogen" and the Ground Zero Mosque Debate

"Bataille de Poitiers en Octobre 732" by Carl von Steuben depicting Charles Martel (mounted) facing Abduhl Rahman al Ghafiqi (right) at the Battle of Poitiers (aka The Battle of Tours)

The Battle of Poitiers (CE 732) Reloaded for CE 2010
"God’s Warriors" and spineless politicians raise their swords against the invading Muslim hordes in Lower Manhattan

Author’s Note for Act I:  "I wade exhausted into the fetid swamp of American politics, xenophobia, and religious fear-mongering yet again with sword in hand to battle demons and heretics…"

There is a raging debate taking place in the United States over the construction of a new Islamic community center near the sight of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. It is a planned $100 million dollar building project that before the events of “9/11” would have attracted little attention in New York let alone throughout the whole of the U.S.A. and abroad.

After all, Muslims have been practicing their faith freely in America since the late 1700’s. African Muslim slaves taken to the American colonies in the early 1600’s practiced their faith in secret for fear of severe punishment, and the first known mosques to be erected in the United States were built in Maine, New York, North Dakota, and Iowa in the early 1900’s. Thomas Jefferson, our third president and one of the founding fathers of the new republic, a president who had difficult relations with Muslim countries during his presidency (see the Barbary Wars), kept a copy of the Holy Qur’an (a 1734 edition of the Alcoran of Mohammed translated by George Sale) in his private library.

U.S. Library of Congress
Use of Thomas Jefferson's Koran for Congressional Swearing in Ceremony

The Thomas Jefferson Papers - America and the Barbary Pirates
(American Memory from the Library of Congress)
What Jefferson really thought about Islam by Christopher Hitchens

I was totally unaware of the proposed Park51 Community Center until a few weeks ago when I saw news headlines about the growing controversy in America over the mislabeled “Ground Zero Mosque” and the outpouring of anti-Islam fear-mongering and hysteria from some of America’s best known political, civic, and religious leaders. Upon close examination of what exactly was being said about the proposed Islamic center and mosque in lower Manhattan, it become clear to me that this is NOT about respect for the families of New York’s 9/11 victims as claimed.

This so-called national debate is not about American ‘sensitivities toward Muslims’ who intend to build an Islamic center and mosque near the site of “hallowed ground” (the former NYC World Trade Center), but instead this is about low-down and dirty politics American style___ ahead of the upcoming midterm elections in the U.S. where devious politicians (mainly from the Republican Party but also including many spineless Democrats) are using fear, hatred and ignorance to fan the flames of distrust and fear between American Muslims and non-Muslim citizens. This debate in fact is an impromptu national referendum on Islam and Muslims in America.

FP Magazine’s Stephan M. Walt and Marc Lynch comments on the debate:
What's at Stake in the Cordoba House Debate by Stephen M. Walt


“It doesn't take a genius to figure out what is going on here: All you really need to do is look at how the critics of the community center project keep describing it. In their rhetoric it is always the "Mosque at Ground Zero," a label that conjures up mental images of a soaring minaret on the site of the 9/11 attacks. Never mind that the building in question isn't primarily a mosque (it's a community center that will house an array of activities, including a gym, pool, auditorium, and oh yes, a prayer room). Never mind that it isn't at "Ground Zero": it's two blocks away and will not even be visible from the site. (And exactly why does it matter if it was?) You know that someone is engaged in demagoguery when they keep using demonstrably false but alarmist phrases over and over again.

What I don't understand is why critics of this project don't realize where this form of intolerance can lead. As a host of commentators have already noted, critics of the project are in effect holding American Muslims -- and in this particular case, a moderate Muslim cleric who has been a noted advocate of inter-faith tolerance -- responsible for a heinous act that they did not commit and that they have repeatedly condemned. It is view of surpassing ignorance, and precisely the same sort of prejudice that was once practiced against Catholics, against Jews, and against any number of other religious minorities. Virtually all religious traditions have committed violent and unseemly acts in recent memory, and we would not hold Protestants, Catholics, or Jews responsible for the heinous acts of a few of their adherents.

And don't these critics realize that religious intolerance is a monster that, once unleashed, may be impossible to control? If you can rally the mob against any religious minority now, then you may make it easier for someone else to rally a different mob against you should the balance of political power change at some point down the road.”

End excerpt____

More on the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ debate at Foreign Policy:

Criticizing the Lower Manhattan Mosque is pretty stupid; saying such criticism helps Al Qaeda is stupidity squared by Daniel W. Drezner

Why the Clash of Civilizations Won't Go Away by Marc Lynch


Last evening in New York, I joined a strong panel organized by the UN's Alliance of Civilizations at the New York Times to discuss U.S. relations with the Muslim world. The room was packed to hear Roger Cohen, Joe Klein, Martin Indyk, Reza Aslan, Dalia Mogahed and I talk about a variety of issues. A surprising amount of the discussion ended up focusing on Israel, which perhaps shouldn't be that surprising, with some real sparks between Aslan and Indyk in particular over the possibility of a two state solution. While I took part in a variety of conversations about Israel, Iran, democracy, and Obama's foreign policy more generally, my main concern was the dangerous resilience of "clash of civilizations" narratives in American and global discourse about Islam. For all of Obama's efforts to change that narrative, to move away from a war on terror and focus on partnerships and respect, recent trends only confirm how deeply ingrained the older confrontational narratives really are. Why? What can be done?

The power of these post 9/11 confrontational narratives about Islam has been on full display of late. What I like to call stupidstorms break out with alarming regularity, driven by right wing media: the frenzy around anodyne comments by the NASA director about engaging Muslims, the firing of Octavia Nasr over her Hezbollah tweet, the especially nasty clashes over the Ground Zero mosque complex. The sheer amount of disinformation, vitriol, and agitation against Muslims and Islam in pockets of the right wing media (new and old) beggars belief. Part of the blame also lies with right wing politicians, who cynically (or, more frightening, sincerely) exploit the anti-Islam tropes to drum up votes and to grab attention. And part of the blame lies in the reality of the persistence and terrorist attacks of al-Qaeda affiliates and sympathizers , and the polarizing effects of the escalating arguments over Israel, Gaza, and Iran. It isn't just the right wing echo chamber, though --- the frenzies over the Captain Underpants failed bomber and the Times Square failed bomber show a mainstream media still hardwired to fall back into the comfortable tropes of the war on terror.

End excerpt_____

This so-called debate is an ugly, disgusting thing to watch from the other side of the Atlantic and it angers me beyond words. To see politicians and high-profile public figures stoop to such depths in order win votes, whip up anti-Muslim fervor amongst the American public, frighten/threaten American citizens of the Muslim faith, people who have committed no crime or acts of sedition against the nation, is outrageous. This hysteria reminds me (and I am certain many other people here in Germany) of the rapid rise of the National Socialists (the Nazis) following the collapse of the Weimar Republic.

The situation in America has gotten so out of control that a growing number of Americans surveyed in a recent national poll firmly believe that President Obama is a Muslim! This is not a new phenomenon on the American political right, but the fact that the findings released on August 18th state that a full 18% of Americans polled believe that President Obama is a Muslim is shocking. The report goes on to state that fully 43% of Americans don’t even know what President Obama’s religion is and that only 46% of Democratic Party voters surveyed say that the 44th President of the United States is a Christian. President Barack Hussein Obama has been raised as a Christian, is a practicing Christian along with his wife and two daughters, and to my knowledge has no intention of giving up his faith or changing religions. End of story!

Author’s Note: I personally do not care whether my president is a Muslim, Christian, or Jew, but that so many of my fellow citizens in America could be so ---damn stupid is absolutely un----ingbelievable! And this is the nation that claims to be the light of the world? Think again, America!

Pew Research Center: Forum on Religion and Public Life
Religion & Politics 2010 - News, Analysis and Data on Religion and the 2010 Midterm Elections
Growing Number of Americans Say Obama is a Muslim (survey report summary and download) (Slate Magazine)
The Republican campaign against a Ground Zero mosque by William Saletan
Why we should build the proposed Islamic center in Lower Manhattan
The dispute over the "Ground Zero mosque" is an object lesson in how not to resist intolerance by Christopher Hitchens

Author’s Warning: Christopher Hitchens is a card-carrying heretic and anti-theist if I ever seen one. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim readers be advised that you might find his views offensive.

The New York Times
Is the Mosque Issue a Risk for Obama? - Room for Debate
Editorial: Xenophobia - Fear-mongering for American Votes

The Los Angeles Times
Debate over mosque near 'ground zero' splits Republicans
GOP takes harsher stance toward Islam by Ben Smith and Maggie Haberman

These kinds of underhanded tactics work especially well with Americans who hold a thinly-veiled fear and hatred of Islam and Muslims worldwide. I had thought that these ‘Hetzredner’ (demagogue, hate speech) were just a lunatic fringe of the American political and religious right until I saw a CNN International report that claimed a full 68% of Americans across the US political spectrum, Republicans and Democrats alike, vehemently OPPOSE the Cordoba Initiative Park51 Center in New York. At this point my heart sank as I realized that a majority of people in a country that I love so dearly may be heading down the slippery slopes of religious bigotry and fear that has plagued humankind for millennia.

The tireless efforts by Middle East and Islamic scholars, religious leaders from all major faiths, and efforts by the U.S. Government (under two administrations) to inform and educate Americans about Islam (the faith) vs. Islamist extremist ideology has simply not worked. Even my own humble efforts to reach out and engage with Muslims here in Europe, the majority of which are very fine and decent, hard-working people from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia who live right here in my neighborhood in northern Germany is of no interest to a majority of Americans. That my personal efforts to help build bridges of knowledge and understanding between “the black American guy” and his Muslim friends, from the very young to wise old sages like myself, could be considered a total waste of time for many Americans back home makes me feel somewhat depressed.

The controversy over the building of an Islamic center and mosque in New York near the site of ‘Ground Zero’ is something that we are all too familiar with here in Europe. It is something that German literary figure and Nobel Prize laureate Günter Grass, a man who understands how fast and low an entire society can sink into the abyss of xenophobia and mass hysteria, calls Die Stunde der Demagogen (The Hour of the Demagogues). Günter Grass knows what he is talking about when the subject of demagoguery comes up because he was a teenaged soldier and member of the Waffen-SS in the Deutsche Wehrmacht (the German Army under the Nazi’s).

(Note: see articles about Islamophobia and integration of Muslims in Europe listed below)

Spiegel Online International (Germany, English language edition)
A Would-Be Role Model Hits a Dead End: Criticism of First Turkish-German Minister Grows

The War on Burqas: French Ban only Latest in European Debate

Tilting at Minarets: Germany's Anonymous Mosque Watchers

Following in Switzerland's Footsteps: International Right-Wingers Gather for EU-Wide Minaret Ban

Islam for the Diaspora: Importing Germany's Imams

Muslims in Germany: Life in a Parallel Society

Opinion: Swiss Minaret Ban Reflects Fear of Islam, Not Real Problems

The World from Berlin: 'Germany Would Also Have Voted to Ban Minarets'

Fears of Eurabia: How Much Allah Can the Old Continent Bear?

SPIEGEL Special: Muslims in Europe (all archived articles on this subject)

Foreign Policy Magazine
Europe's Burqa Wars by Kayvan Farzaneh
Ground zero mosque debate echoes Europe's fears of Muslims

My Personal Position on the Cordoba Park51 Islamic Community Center

Therefore I want to state clearly that I strongly support plans to build the Cordoba Park51 Community Center in Manhattan, 2 blocks from the site of 2,819 people from 115 nations around the world who lost their lives on that tragic day in September 2001. I think it is a great idea and can provide a place for people of the Muslim faith (and frankly all faiths) who visit New York City’s memorial to 9/11 to reflect, interact, and pray. I am a proud member of the 29% of Americans (according to a CNN poll) who say that the other 68% of Americans polled are dead wrong on this issue (as if the location and building of an Islamic center in Manhattan were any of our business to begin with). And before anyone gets all bent out of shape, the Cordoba Project for the center is only in the planning stages, there are no architectural plans completed for the center and financing for the center has not been arranged according to some reports.

(Note: see the Der Spiegel article about the Muslim prayer room at 45 Park Place in Manhattan).
Finding Allah at Ground Zero: A New Manhattan Mosque Hopes to Heal
Photo Gallery: Praying to Allah at Ground Zero

I am also appreciative for the stance taken by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, U.S. President Barack (Hussein) Obama, and the many enlightened people who stand in support of the Cordoba Park51 Center, a place as described by the project heads Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan is meant to be a sanctuary of reflection, interfaith dialogue and exchange of religious knowledge, and worship modeled after the great medieval centers of learning in the Cities of Light in 8th Century Spain (see Al-Andalus and links on Islamic Spain below). - Office of the Mayor of New York City
Mayor Michael Bloomberg Discusses the Landmarks Preservation Commission Vote on 45-47 Park Place (Cordoba House Community Center) The White House Blog
President Obama Celebrates Ramadan at White House Iftar Dinner (text summary and video)
Remarks by President Obama at White House Iftar Dinner (transcript)

What bewilders me is that former U.S. presidents and respected political figures from administrations past and present have NOT come out publicly in favor of the building of the Cordoba Park51 Community Center, especially those leaders who worked so hard after 9/11 to encourage Americans not to hate and seek revenge against Islam and Muslims worldwide. Key members of the Bush administration worked tirelessly to convince Americans that these attacks were the work of extremists and terrorists who misrepresent the tenants and principles of a great faith. Even if some political leaders do not support the building of an Islamic center and mosque near the site of the September 11th attacks in New York, they certainly should be speaking out loudly against all of the hate speech and fear-mongering surrounding this project.

Where are the voices of former U.S. presidents George W. Bush, Clinton, and Carter? Why haven’t former secretaries Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright and James Baker spoken out on this issue? President Obama’s Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has not said anything about the nasty controversy engulfing the country and electrifying our Muslim allies and friends around the world? Hillary Clinton certainly must be supportive of the work of Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf because the U.S. State Department has sent him overseas as a representative of the United States for conferences on Islamic thought and life in America. Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard and aspiring Republican congressional candidate (California), has spoken out AGAINST the building of the Islamic center (to my great surprise and dismay). Why are we hearing from the far right Republican fringe, people like Sarah Palin and former House Speaker Newt Gringrich, two presidential hopefuls who surely do not represent mainstream America on this issue.

The New York Times
U.S. Sends Muslim Center Imam to Arab World to Promote Religious Tolerance - The Lede Blog

The Washington Post – 44 blog
Newt Gingrich compares 'Ground Zero mosque' backers to Nazis
Daisy Khan - On Faith Panelists Blog at

The Wall Street Journal
Mosque Near Ground Zero Sparks Debate That Grows, Splinters

The New York Times
White House Memo - In Defining Obama, Misperceptions Stick
Palin, Shakespeare and the Ground Zero Mosque - The Caucus Blog

PBS Newshour (video and transcript)
Mosque near Ground Zero: Local or National Issue?

Informed Comment by Professor Juan Cole
Palin on the Ground Zero Mosque vs. the Founding Fathers

Yahoo! News (assorted news sources)
White House says Obama is Christian, prays daily (AP)
Mosque debate divides Democrats, especially in NY (AP)
Ground Zero Mosque: Who's For, Who's Against (The Daily Beast)

US News and World Report
Palin’s Unpresidential 'Ground Zero Mosque' Comments
Michael Bloomberg delivers stirring defense of mosque - War Room
How the "ground zero mosque" fear mongering began – Topics: Ground Zero Mosque
Newt Gingrich's summer of imaginary threats – Topics: Newt Gingrich
'Ground Zero Mosque' Park51 Not a Triumph of Radical Islam
Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Moderate Sufi Imam Behind the 'Ground Zero Mosque'
Muslim History Belies Stereotypes in 'Ground Zero Mosque' Dispute
Afghan Women and the Return of the Taliban: Afghan Women Fear Their Fate Amid Taliban Negotiations (TIME magazine cover story July 29, 2010)

Christian Science Monitor
Obama mosque dispute: In backing plans, he parts with many Americans
Is ground zero mosque imam best choice for diplomatic mission to Mideast?

End of Act I – Author exits stage right dragging sword through the murky waters of the fetid swamp singing that old American Negro spiritual “I’m with Jesus, yes I am.”

Part II coming ASAP: A critical look at the history (and myths) about conflicts between Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Europe and the Middle East from the medieval period in al- Andalus (Islamic Spain) right through to the Prostetant Reformation. Don’t miss it!

Information about Islamic Spain, Cordoba, and the Cities of Light

Foreign Policy – FP Passport blog
The other Cordoba initiative (in Cordoba, Spain) by Brian Fung

PBS (USA, Public Broadcasting Service)
Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain

Unity Productions Foundation (official website of the 2-hour documentary film)
Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain

Chicago Humanities Festival 2008
Professor David Levering Lewis: Conversation about his book "God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215" (multimedia and text)

Author’s Note: NYU Historian and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Levering Lewis talks about his book “God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe 570 to 1215”. This book is one of the most prized possessions in my personal library and I highly recommend it to all readers interested in medieval European history and the relationship between Muslims and Christians and Jews during this important period.

The New Yorker magazine review of Professor Lewis’s book
A Better Place by Joan Acocella – Feb 04, 2008

The Economist – Democracy in America (blog)
Ground Zero mosque: The symbolism of Cordoba

Got Medieval (an excellent blog on European medieval history and the media)
Professor Newt's Distorted History Lesson

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Inside the African Union Mission in Somalia (Part II): Déjà vu Mogadishu

Uganda 7/11: Al-Shabaab Spreads Its Special Brand of Terror to the 'Pearl of Africa'
Draft Version

The African Union Summit held in Uganda last month was understandably overshadowed by the World Cup bombings in Kampala on July 11th. Following the closed-door meetings between African heads-of-state, AU and UN officials and the many representatives from governments and international institutions in attendance there were several public statements made about the shock and alarm at the attacks against innocent football fans trying to enjoy the 2010 Africa World Cup finals. To be frank none of the people attending the summit should have been surprised by the attacks because both al-Shabbab and al-Qaeda spokesmen had been warning of such action against Africans for some time. The only surprise is that al Shabaab chose to strike in Uganda and not against innocent civilians in Nairobi, East Africa’s economic hub and a city which has been serving for several years as a reluctant host to the largest Somali refugee and expatriate community in the world.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, acting as host to the 43 African leaders in attendance, has been pressing the hardest for a change in the AMISOM mandate and a ramping-up of boots on the ground in Somalia along with an increase in support for the mission (military and financial) from AU partner countries and presumably UN member states who have pledged support for the African Union Mission in Somalia. As a matter of fact AU officials and leaders of key East African and IGAD* countries had a very heated four hour long discussion over their dissatisfaction with U.S. support with President Obama’s point man on Africa, Asst. Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson. I have found no information that such a heated meeting took place with other ‘key partners’ to the African Union, countries i.e. China, India, Brazil, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and of course representatives from the European Union countries. This should be a ‘red flag’ for anyone who is paying close attention to the crisis in Somalia and the lack of international support for the African Union mission to prop-up the Somali Transitional Federal Government. Don’t forget that it is the lives of young soldiers from Uganda and Burundi that are being lost in Mogadishu as well your tax dollars that finance the AMISOM mission.

At the end of meetings and discussions in Kampala a unified call-to-arms was made by top AU officials and Uganda’s President Museveni along with other African heads of state against the growing threat from al-Shabaab militants in Somalia. Yet this so-called call for unity and action espoused in statements by AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping cannot hide the fact that many African countries who had promised troops for the AMISOM mission as far back as 2006 are more reluctant than ever before to send soldiers to the war-ravaged nation. Below are articles which help to explain the many difficulties faced by the poorly organized AMISOM mission to Somalia today.

Long War Journal
The African Union's beleaguered Somalia mission by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Seungwan Chung – July 20, 2010

VOA News (Washington DC)
Analyst says planned African Union troop surge in Somalia would be a strategic blunder - July 29, 2010

World Defense Review (Strategic Interests column)
J. Peter Pham, Ph.D.: 'Muddled on Mogadishu: America's Confused Somalia Strategy' – March 23, 2010

The New York Times
News Analysis - More Troops for Somalia, but No Peace to Keep by Jeffrey Gettleman – July 28, 2010
In Somalia, Talk to the Enemy by Bronwyn Bruton – July 24, 2010
Tea with a Terrorist (in Somalia) by Aidan Hartley – July 24, 2010

Note*: IGAD denotes the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a group of seven countries in the Horn of Africa and East Africa which includes Djibouti, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Uganda. Eritrea has been suspended from the group since 2007 for bad behavior (supporting terrorists in the region).

And to make matters worse there are almost daily reports of the rapidly deteriorating situation in the country including mass defections of Somali government soldiers and police to the extremist al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam militias. Germany’s Deutsche Welle Radio reports that as many as 1000 German-trained Somali police have gone missing along with their weapons and newly acquired anti-terrorist training enroute from Ethiopia to Mogadishu. A recently completed internal IGAD report reveals that as many as 10,000 EU-trained Somali soldiers may have done the same thing (defected), and the New York Times reports that the personal bodyguards of the Somali president defected to the al-Shabaab in July. This is occurring at the same time that the African Union along with U.S. and E.U. lawmakers and ministers are trying to convince their respective citizens that the AMISOM mission has merit and the fight to support the struggling TFG to help stabilize Somalia must go on at all costs.

The Independent (Kampala weekly news magazine)
Why We Should Pull Out of Somalia by Andrew Mwenda
The Last Word: articles and commentary by Andrew Mwenda

Note: As Andrew Mwenda would tell you, despite his bias toward any policies for Africa emanating from Washington DC, President Museveni will use these terrorist attacks in Kampala to help cement his victory in presidential elections next year. Yoweri Museveni has been in power in Uganda since 1986 with no desire to step down and turn the reigns of power over to a younger, more capable person in sight. The guy is a bigger cult figure in the country than Idi Amin Dada could have ever dreamed! Then there is the problem with Museveni’s inability (and lack of willpower) to stop the murderous, brutal insurgency against women and children in northern Uganda that has been going on for nearly 20 years (Joseph Kony and the feared Lord’s Resistance Army), but hey I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s another can of worms re: M7 (Museveni undercover) for a later post down the road.

The East African (Kenya)
Al Qaeda veterans now run Al Shabaab militia
Kampala twin attacks expose US uncertainty over Somalia

Garowe Online (Puntland – northern Somalia)
African leaders blast US official Johnnie Carson for soft stance on Somalia
Hundreds of German-financed Somali police officers go missing
German government denies Somali child soldiers recruitment allegations (EU Training Mission for Somalia)

DW World (Deutsche Welle Radio Online, Germany)
EU launches new military training mission for Somali security forces
German military cooperation with African countries yields mixed results

The New York Times
Presidential Guards in Somalia Defect to Insurgents

Note: The European Union has at least three major initiatives in place to help the people of Somalia and support the Transitional Federal Government and the AU Mission to Somalia including military training of the Somali National Army (in Uganda and Ethiopia), the EU Naval Force for Somalia (Mission Atalanta against piracy) and loads of humanitarian aid and support logistics to fight hunger amongst the refugees from the long-running conflict. Approximate cost to date for EU taxpayers is more than €100 million Euros and counting. The cost to U.S. taxpayers for various forms of humanitarian and military assistance over the past two decades (1991-2010) is astronomical and probably will never be revealed, especially the cost of support for the Ethiopian invasion and occupation of Somalia from 2007-2009. Financial support to the Somali Transitional Federal Government from the rest of the international community, especially fellow Muslim countries in the region (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, and the Gulf States) and richer African countries (South Africa, Nigeria, Namibia, Tanzania, Angola, Kenya) is something that we do not hear much about in the international media, which makes one think that there is no financial support from these countries for the AMISOM mission in Somalia.

European Union websites and resources on Somalia
EU at the UN - Somalia: EU Commission allocates €35 million for victims of conflict and natural disasters
EU at the UN - EU Statement - United Nations Security Council: Debate on the Situation in Somalia
European Union Naval Force Somalia - Operation Atalanta
EU/Norway Joint Strategy Paper for Somalia 2008-2013 (pdf)
NATO - Topic: Somalia, Assisting the African Union in Somalia

The African Union Summit in Kampala was attended by 43 African heads-of-state, including Africa’s top democratic leaders (about 6-10 presidents, max), many whom I admire a great deal for the leadership they have shown on the continent and abroad. Of course there was also the usual crowd of less-than-honorable African leaders in attendance with Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe leading the pack. Libya’s flamboyant Colonel Muammar al- Gaddafi, who held the rotating Chairmanship of the African Union in 2009, was in Kampala protected by his famous troop of Amazon body guards. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir managed to stay away from the summit due to pressing appointments (a naked fear of an ICC arrest warrant). Egypt’s President Mubarak also could not attend the summit due to urgent business back in Cairo (succession worries and poor health) but he did manage to send an ambassador.  President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo chose not to make an appearance for unknown reasons (coup fears). No troops for Somalia from any of these guys as they are desperately needed to continue the repression of citizens back home.

The Obama administration sent a high-level delegation of U.S. government officials that included the administration's lead diplomat on Africa, Asst. Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, the U.S. Ambassador to the African Union Michael Battle, U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan General (ret.) Scott Gration, and surprisingly the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (head of the U.S. Department of Justice). Eric Holder, who is America’s top law enforcement official, delivered a speech during the opening day of the Kampala Summit that is worth reading as it spells out U.S. policy for Africa in light of the bombings in Kampala. There is an exclusive interview with Asst. Secretary Carson over at that highlights his perspective on U.S.-Africa relations and policies under the administration of President Barack Obama.

President Obama did not attend the African Union Summit in Kampala (he is still cleaning Gulf oil off of his shoes) and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was busy preparing for her daughter’s wedding day.  Actually, President Obama and Secretary Clinton have been busy hosting some of Africa's finest young people and budding entrepreneurs at The President's Forum with Young African Leaders in conjunction with the 2010 AGOA Forum on US / Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation. Nonetheless President Obama did manage to send his top cop (Eric Holder) and his Africa A-Team minus some notable figures such as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Dr. Susan E. Rice, an expert on failing and failed states and their links to extremism and terrorism (ref. her earlier work at the Brookings Institution before she joined the Obama administration).

Brookings Institution (Washington DC)
Weak and Failed States: What They Are, Why They Matter and What to Do About Them
Index of State Weakness in the Developing World by Susan E. Rice and Patrick Steward

Note: Many people may not know who Johnnie Carson is or what his responsibilities are in the Obama administration. An experienced U.S. diplomat in Africa serving several U.S. administrations, Secretary Carson is rather soft-spoken and reserved in his public comments___ a Jendayi Frazer he ain’t (the feisty, take-no-prisoners lead diplomat for Africa under Condoleezza Rice and George W. Bush). Dr. Jendayi Frazer always had strong rebuttals ready for Robert Mugabe’s demeaning slurs against her in comparison to the tepid response by Asst. Secretary Carson during a gala event at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Washington DC in May this year. The Zimbabwe ambassador to the U.S. referred to Secretary Carson as a ‘House Slave’, indirectly placing U.S. President Obama and other African-American lawmakers and political leaders into the racist category commonly referred to as ‘House Negroes’. Mugabe and other members of the Zanu-PF party have been making these kinds of statements about African-Americans for years (see his outburst at the 2009 African Union Summit in Libya). Yet, Mugabe remains a welcome guest and favorite son at the table of African Union summits and conferences, as does Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and other despots and dictators from the continent. This is something else for the American electorate to keep in mind when the AU comes with hat in hand looking for support and money for a 'troop surge' in Somalia and a lot of other needs it may have in the near future.

Which brings me to the main topic of my short series of posts on Somalia:

What does the world do now that two Islamist extremist groups (al-Shabaab, Hizbul Islam) lead by an international terrorist network (al-Qaeda) have finally succeeded to within a gnat’s ass of taking over an African country that sits upon one of the most geo-strategic sea lanes and land corridors in the world?

Foreign Policy Magazine
Argument: Help Wanted in Somalia by Omar Abdira Ali Sharmarke – June 21, 2010
Prime Minister of Somalia, Transitional Federal Government

End Part II___ Part III coming ASAP

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Somalia: Inside the African Union's Mission to Crush the Al-Shabab. Rolling Thunder or More Blunders?

Draft Version: Part I
From Somali blogger and Ph.D. candidate to presidential advisor in Mogadishu

Back in the early days of the blogosphere (2003-2005) when the total number of blogs in the world numbered around 7 million, African blog authors were at the forefront of the blogging movement working hard to educate readers about what life in Africa is really like. Social networking platforms i.e. Facebook with its 500 million+ users today were not on the horizon and Biz Stone, the founder and CEO of Twitter, was busy together with his small team of developers at Pyra Labs perfecting the online publishing software (Blogger) that was later bought out by Google. A lot has happened in the Sphere since then.

The majority of African blog authors in those early years were from Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Ghana and handful of other countries spread around the vast continent. There were also a small number of blog authors who hailed from Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Somalia. Many of those early pioneering blog authors from Africa were members of the African Diaspora living, studying, and working abroad in Europe and North America where access to the latest computer technology, broadband Internet connections, and free software tools needed to publish online were readily available.

This short series of posts about Somalia that I am launching today is dedicated to two blog authors from those early days who did a great job in helping me and their many readers around the globe gain a better understanding of Somalia and the many issues and challenges the people face in that very troubled country.

The first author is Yvette Lopez, a Filipino humanitarian worker who spent a considerable amount of time in Hargeisa (Hargeysa), the capital of the generally peaceful, democratic, self-declared independent Republic of Somaliland, an incredible accomplishment when compared to the complete anarchy of central and southern Somalia since the breakup of the two regions in 1991. Yvette authored the very popular Inside Somaliland blog which was an outstanding work containing great stories and lots of photos about life in the region. Among her many accomplishments Yvette also helped pioneer the use and growth of blogs and social media among the youth of Somaliland.

To my knowledge there hasn’t been anything like Inside Somaliland published from within Somaliland since Yvette left to work on other projects in Africa (she was working in Sudan last I heard). Yvette Lopez was a favorite blog author for Ethan Zuckerman (Global Voices co-founder) and I am sure many other people around the globe. Her enthusiasm and strong belief in the chances for success driven by the ordinary people of northern Somalia (Somaliland) is sorely missed.

The second blog author, a man who wrote regularly about the politics and conflict(s) swirling around Somalia is Bill Ainashe, better known to his professional colleagues, friends, and family as ‘Mukhtar’ Ainashe. Bill, who fled the chaos and fighting in Somalia as a youth was educated in Europe (Norway) and the U.S.A. (he is/was a Ph.D. candidate at George Washington University in Washington DC). Bill also worked for the World Bank during his studies at GWU in Washington DC. He is married to a lovely Somali woman and they have two beautiful young daughters who are growing up in the Washington DC area.

NOTE: Now I know that this introduction is a bit long-winded and boring, but please bear with me a while longer ‘cause this is where the story gets interesting, especially in light of the recent bombings in Uganda by Somalia’s Al-Shabab militants and the recently concluded African Union Summit in Kampala.  Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni (the Great Liberator) together with other AU leaders have called for a (massive) troop surge in Somalia to counter the growing terrorist threat posed by Al-Shabab to the region and all African countries. The idea of a troop surge for AMISOM* is ‘whack!’ for many people who have earnestly been following news about Somalia and the decision defies logic and reasoning offered by numerous Somalia experts around the world. Yet, the whole deal has received approval and backing from the Obama administration,  the UK government and other members of the European Union, the United Nations, and other key governments and players inside and outside of the region. AMISOM* is the acronym for the African Union Mission to Somalia with the approval of the United Nations and various international bilateral partner countries to the AU.

Unfortunately, neither Yvette nor Mukhtar (Bill) have been writing and publishing to their personal blogs since 2006/2007 and their earlier work is no longer available online. The two have moved on to new challenges and opportunities but Mukhtar’s trajectory has been the most astonishing. You see, he went from a comfortable life in Washington DC living together with his wife and two kids to what many journalists have described as the Most Dangerous Place on Earth (Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times), Postcards from Hell (Elizabeth Dickinson at Foreign Policy magazine), and other demeaning labels however accurate they may be. Bill has gone from being an avid Africa blogger to being a close advisor to the (interim) President of Somalia Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed , which if you ask me is a pretty big God---- big ass leap! Bill is in Mogadishu, living and working at the Villa Somalia, dodging bullets, RPG-launched grenades and mortar rounds in the Presidential Villa Mogadishu (or what’s left of it).

So that is where this story will begin, with news articles about Mukhtar ‘Bill’ Ainashe and other Somalis who were living relatively comfortable (and relatively safe) lives in America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East but have decided to return home to help save their country from the chaos and anarchy that has been branded with a red-hot iron into the world’s view of Somalia, Somalis, and failing states in Africa and elsewhere.

Spiegel Online International (Germany, English-language edition)
Inside the World's Worst Hellhole: Somalia, the Perfect Failed State by Clemens Höges – May 18, 2010

An excerpt from the Spiegel Online International feature article:

Somalia, which has been without a functioning government for almost two decades, serves as a warning for what could happen to other failed states. Rival Islamic militias battle for control of the capital, where the president, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, is in constant danger of his life. A visit to the worst place on the planet.

Dealers in the Somali capital Mogadishu are now selling cartridges for Kalashnikovs at 37 cents apiece. The price has dropped by almost half in recent weeks, probably because there is already a lot of ammunition in the city. Mukhtar Ainashe knows this. He steps on the gas and the large SUV he is driving shoots off.

Ainashe is an intellectual. He reads American philosophers like Thoreau and Emerson, he studied in Norway and, until recently, he made a good living working for the World Bank in Washington. He has a wife and two young children in the United States, and he has a passion for expensive watches. In fact, Ainashe is completely out of place in Africa's dirtiest war.

He drives the vehicle furiously across the unforgiving terrain, a former road now pockmarked with grenade craters. The SUV skids through the gravel and bounces along over rocks, its axles making cracking noises, past the ruins of bullet-riddled houses, which shimmer in the sun like the bleached bones of dead animals in the desert.

No Way to Stop

A "technical" -- a pickup truck typical of Somalia, with a machine gun mounted on the truck bed -- is visible in the rear-view mirror, also bouncing up and down on the rough road. It's manned by government fighters -- Ainashe's bodyguards. The driver of the technical can barely manage to keep up, driving as close to the rear bumper of the SUV as possible. Nevertheless, Ainashe cannot afford to slow down -- it would only make him a target for the Islamists' machine guns. Anyone who stops on this road dies.

The SUV circles "Kilometer 4," the notorious, often contested central roundabout where so many people have died. Then it passes the ruins of the parliament building, where the Islamists shoot at anything that moves. Finally, Ainashe reaches a driveway at the base of a hill.

Machine gun nests between battered walls protect the entrance. Ainashe maneuvers the SUV through a narrow alleyway, through checkpoints, around tank barricades, passing guards along the way. When he finally reaches the gate to the fortress at the top of the hill, he hears the guns of the president's forces, which kill people every day. Their task is to protect the five buildings inside the wall. Their enemies are less than a kilometer away, and they can be seen running and shooting.

"Welcome to Villa Somalia," says Ainashe.

END excerpt from ‘Der Spiegel’. Read the complete article here.

While you are at it, have a look at this Spiegel Online article about how one German company (mercenaries) has offered to help the country return to stability, peace and security, and democracy:
'Shadow Foreign Policy': Somali Warlord Hires German Mercenaries to Provide Security Services

Another article about Mukhtar Ainashe and his colleagues and associates who have decided to return to Somalia in recent years:
The National (English newspaper published in Abu Dhabi, UAE)
Appeal for Somalis to Return Home by Matt Brown – Dec. 20, 2009

More related news, editorials, and resources_____

Foreign Policy Magazine and The Fund for Peace
The Failed States Index 2010
In the Beginning, There Was Somalia by James Traub
Postcards from Hell - an FP photo essay, images from world's most failed states

And last but certainly not least, a fresh look inside Somaliland, which has recently completed free-and-fair democratic elections according to independent international elections observers but still cannot get any respect or official recognition by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and  the folks running Turtle Bay. English (Doha, Qatar)
Inside Story: Somalia vs. Somaliland - June 24, 2010
A must-see half hour video about life in Somaliland compared to that in Somalia over the past 19 years.

END Part I: Part II to follow ASAP (Yep, the story gets even better folks.)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Africa and the Beautiful Game: World Cup 2010 in South Africa? Yes we can!

Draft Version: Updates to follow

I grew up in a country (USA) where the sport of football (soccer) has struggled for decades to gain national attention, although as a youth I had the privilege to play on a soccer team at middle school for a few seasons like many American children. I now live in a country (Germany) where the sport of ‘Fussball’ is practically a religion (garnering more fans than the Pope on any given Sunday). I have experienced the overwhelming joy and excitement when the World Cup comes to town (FIFA World Cup 2006 Germany).

When Germany was awarded the honor of hosting the FIFA World Cup 2006 it was widely believed that South Africa (and the continent of Africa as a whole) had been cheated by FIFA executives and their powerful commercial and political friends and heads of national football associations here in Europe. To learn more about how FIFA works and the (alleged) corruption charges faced by its executive body and particularly the FIFA President Sepp ‘Gangsta’ Blatter, checkout the 2006 documentary by BBC’s award-winning investigative news program Panaroma “The Beautiful Bung: Corruption and the World Cup” and read the reports by investigative journalist Andrew Jennings at the Transparency in Sports website (see related articles at the end of this post). As I do not want to dwell on the negative aspects of The Beautiful Game and the clearly criminal organization that controls it worldwide (FIFA), let’s move on to why I am writing about the World Cup 2010 in South Africa today.

Any American who has friends and relatives from a football-loving nation knows when the discussion moves to soccer the United States is always at a disadvantage; this is especially true when the World Cup competition rolls around. Team USA is the quadrennial underdog in the eyes of most of the world’s soccer fans, many claiming that the American team has about a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning a World Cup trophy in my lifetime. The constant kidding and ridicule of the U.S. National Men’s Soccer Team from my European and African friends of course makes me love the U.S. boys that much more.  The U.S. National Women's Soccer Team gets a lot more respect here in Europe and across the globe due to their winning record in international competition over the years.

Every four years during the days and weeks leading up to the final countdown to the opening game of the FIFA World Cup there is a huge amount of outrageous boasting and threats of (bloodless) combat on the soccer pitch as the world’s finest national football teams meet to compete for the golden trophy valued above all other sports trophies in the world. So my question to you, my readers out there all over the globe, are you excited that the 2010 World Cup in South Africa is finally here? I’m ready!

So are more than 136,000 American soccer fans who will be attending the World Cup 2010 in South Africa, more visitors from any other country in the world outside of the host nation. Millions more of 'US' around the world and back home in the States will be rooting not only for our boys but we shall also cheer for the “underdogs” from countries that according to many football experts and pundits don’t have a chance to make it through to the second round of play. I don't know about you but I am expecting a number of surprises and upsets in the World Cup 2010 games.

This year’s competition promises to be something very special, unlike any FIFA World Cup extravaganza in the history of the game. What has caught my attention while reading various articles and viewing TV news reports leading up to the opening of the games is the importance this year’s games has for people all across the African continent. A good example of the shear joy and excitement that the South Africa 2010 games has inspired in hundreds of millions of Africans from Cairo to Cape Town is portrayed in a commercial ad by the sportswear company Puma. If you are one of my readers who enjoyed the ARTE TV (France, Germany) video links contained in my previous post about Africa’s 50 years of independence from colonialsm, you will love this short video about African football:

PUMA: ‘Journey of Football’ online video ad
PUMA Football website (videos, blog, news, features)

These games are a very big deal for people all across the African continent, despite the many controversies and negative media coverage that has been directed at the South African organizers and government officials over the past years and months. As one of South Africa’s favorite sons Bishop Desmond Tutu has offered in a recent statement to the BBC News, the hosting of the World Cup 2010 proves to the world that Africans can successfully organize and host this extremely complicated (and yes expensive) international event. It is a ‘Yes We Can’ moment for nearly 1 billion people on the African continent. Personally, I never had any doubts that they could do it. So for the next four weeks, as time allows, I am going to sit back and thoroughly enjoy together with billions of people from all around the globe some the best sports (and cultural) entertainment on the planet.

Are you excited about the World Cup 2010 in South Africa yet? Get excited by taking some time to watch these games and embrace the outreach of humanity and love from all of Africa to the world.

“Football is the reason we have feet! We love this game.”

Related articles and resources for the World Cup 2010 South Africa

BBC World Service
World Cup 2010 Africa Kicks

BBC Sport Special
BBC SPORT - Football - World Cup 2010 (full coverage)
Piers Edwards’s African Football Blog
Piers Edwards’s Blog: Algeria eager to make up for lost time
Paul Fletcher's Blog: The father and son plotting England's downfall
Andrew Harding on Africa (World Cup 2010 and other Africa news)
Africa's abandoned football legend (Ndaye Mulambe of Zaire, D.R. Congo)

BBC Programmes: Panorama
The Beautiful Bung: Corruption and the World Cup by Andrew Jennings

Transparency in Sport
(personal website of BBC Panorama investigative journalist Andrew Jennings who broke the story on FIFA bribes and corruption in 2006)

The Guardian (UK)
Football: Panorama to investigate Fifa bosses
PUMA / Orange Africa Cup of Nations, ANGOLA 2010

The New York Times
New York Times Sports - World Cup 2010 (full coverage)
Special Report - 2010 World Cup - Soccer Returns to Its Roots in Africa
Can the U.S.A. beat England on Saturday?
NY Times Point/Counterpoint interactive feature

Kenyan Pundit (Ory Okolloh blogging from Johannesburg, S.A.)
Kenyan Pundit » On Loving Football
Renowned African blogger and Harvard Law School graduate Ory Okolloh tells what it was like growing up in Nairobi, Kenya with a football-crazed father.

Spiegel Online International (German news magazine, English edition)
The Reality of the Rainbow Nation: 16 Years after Apartheid, South Africa Fights for Its Future
World Cup Jitters: Excitement and Tension Run High in South Africa
Photo Gallery: The Passion and Pleasure of African Football
A New Slave Trade?: Europe's Thirst for Young African Footballers
Photo Gallery: Dreams of Europe
The Beautiful Game in Africa: 'Football Is the Reason We Have Feet'

Reuters Africa News
Image of a continent hangs on World Cup

CNN International
World Cup South Africa 2010 - Special Coverage on
CNN World Sport Goalmouth » 2010 World Cup blog
World Cup 2010 - TIME’s coverage of South Africa's festival of football
Fabio Fumes and the Diplomats Raise the — ahem — Steaks - World Cup 2010

Sports Illustrated Magazine (USA)
2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa (full coverage)

ESPN Sports TV Network (USA)
FIFA World Cup 2010 - Football / Soccer - ESPN Soccernet

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Africa 50 Years After Colonial Rule: From Ouagadougou to Tombouctou (Timbuktu) Africans Speak Out

Last Updated: June 07, 2010

Since the beginning of January a good friend and fellow blogger from Angola has been publishing a special series (in English and Portuguese) on the 50th anniversary of African independence from colonialism (see K Faktor 1960-2010: The Year of Africa – 50 Years On). To be more specific regarding these celebrations, seventeen nations gained their independence from European colonial rule in 1960, fourteen of which were under the rule of France (Nigeria, Congo-Kinshasa, and Somalia being the exceptions).

I do not know how many people have read Koluki’s series since she started the project but what has been somewhat surprising to me is the scarce coverage of this historic year for Africa by much of the news media outside of the African continent. If it were not for contributions online from some talented African journalists, writers and new media producers (including a small group of independent blog authors) along with a handful of international foundations and government websites, Africa’s Golden Jubilee of Independence from Colonial Rule (1960-2010) would go largely unnoticed in many parts of the world.

List of African countries which gained independence in 1960:

1 January 1960: CAMEROON
27 April 1960: TOGO
26 June 1960: MADAGASCAR
1 July 1960: SOMALIA
1 August 1960: BENIN
3 August 1960: NIGER
5 August 1960: BURKINA FASO
7 August1960: IVORY COAST
11 August 1960: CHAD
15 August 1960: CONGO
17 August 1960: GABON
20 August 1960: SENEGAL
22 September 1960: MALI
1 October 1960: NIGERIA
28 November 1960: MAURITANIA

What also prompted me to write about this “golden anniversary” was a brief exchange between myself and Shay Riley of Booker Rising (Chicago, USA) regarding the visit of Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to Washington DC last month. President Sirleaf paid a visit to members of the U.S. Congress, the Whitehouse, the State Department, and she spent an evening with the public over at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As I expressed to Shay, Liberia’s President Sirleaf is without a doubt one of the best-loved and most respected political leaders on the African continent (from a Western democracy point of view) as well as being a key strategic ally in Africa for the U.S. Government and other Western capitals. Yet there was a lack of news coverage in the Western media regarding her visit with President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, House Speaker Pelosi, and others on Capitol Hill and inside the Beltway. The same can be said about the visits and appearances at key events and forums on Africa this year by several of Africa’s most prominent and respected political and civic leaders. I shall get to that subject ASAP after completing this short introductory post on 50 years of African independence from European colonialism.

New Addition June 07, 2010

Adam Nossiter reporting for the New York Times may have taken a hint about the poor coverage of Africa’s 50 year independence celebrations in the Western media.  He has just published a piece about the anniversary year and has included commentary on the France-Africa Summit 2010 in Nice. Here is an excerpt from Adam’s June 4th article at The New York Times.

African States Weigh 50 Bittersweet Years of Independence
By Adam Nossiter

DAKAR, Senegal — In a fancy resort on the French Riviera this week, limousines bearing African leaders gathered at the doorstep of France’s president for the France-Africa Summit, a time-honored ritual involving pledges of mutual love and, not surprisingly, some backbiting.

Conspicuously absent from the gathering in Nice, however, was a collective reckoning of a major milestone on the calendar: It has been 50 years since many of the countries gained independence.

Unlike the glittering extravaganza on the Riviera, where extensive retinues accompanied the leaders, the anniversary — and its potential for taking stock — is passing largely unnoticed. Few official celebrations have been organized to mark the passing of five decades since France tentatively let go, albeit with many continuing ties, of 14 of its colonies; in all, 17 African countries, including Nigeria, gained independence in 1960.

Perhaps the most substantial collective commemoration is, paradoxically enough, not being held in Africa at all. Leaders from Senegal, Mali, Niger, Ivory Coast, Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mauritania, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Chad and Madagascar have all been invited to Paris to parade their troops along the Champs-Elysées on Bastille Day, the national holiday of their ex-colonial ruler.

Here on the continent, the few remembrances so far have at times been freighted with just as much ambiguity. In one of the rare, large-scale commemorative events, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal inaugurated a giant bronze statue meant to symbolize “African Renaissance” on a desolate hill near the airport here. Built by a North Korean company in pure Soviet-realism style, it is 13 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty and its three gigantic figures — man, woman and child — tower over their surroundings.

But nearly everything about it has provoked controversy, rather than the outpouring of pan-African pride that Mr. Wade had hoped to generate: from the cost, in a country that ranks 166th on the United Nations’ Human Development Index of 182 nations; to the scantily clothed figures, in an overwhelmingly Muslim country (local imams raised a vigorous protest); to the questionable aesthetics of a monument that recalls Stalinist Russia rather than the distinctive Afro-Islamic culture of the Sahel. Some Senegalese debate whether the figures even look African.

Mr. Wade has said he simply traded state land, in exchange for building the statue, to the North Koreans, who then sold it at a profit; local and international media estimates have put the total cost at between $27 million and $70 million.

For some analysts here, the statue’s mixed signals symbolize this anniversary year’s uncertain meanings, calling it a monumental construction project conceded to foreigners and inaugurated in an April ceremony attended by heads of state like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast, both of whom have been the object of international scorn for their human rights records.

“The monumentality is somewhat misplaced,” said Ibrahima Thioub, a Senegalese historian who teaches at Cheikh Anta Diop University here. “Does Senegal have the resources to invest this kind of money?” Besides, he added, “Why concede the African Renaissance to Koreans? We’ve got some very good African sculptors right here.”

Elsewhere, commemorations have been sparse or marked primarily by back-and-forth visiting by dignitaries from neighboring countries, as was recently the case in Cameroon, rather than by public outpourings.

“It’s tough to mobilize people for celebrations, because the flowers of independence have faded,” Mr. Thioub said. “The last 50 years have not at all met the people’s hopes and expectations.”

End Excerpt from the New York Times.  Read the complete article here.

Lastly, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France along with his colorful and outspoken Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner hosted 38 presidents and prime ministers from Africa along with over 250 business leaders at the 25th France-Africa Summit in Nice (May 30-31). Again, if you didn’t know where to look for information about this important gathering of French and African political and business leaders the event would have passed largely unnoticed by much of the global audience interested in news about French-Africa relations. On the other hand, when one reviews the list of leaders in attendance at the summit and reflects upon President Sarkozy’s low popularity in Sub-Saharan Africa combined with the ‘Stop Francafrique’ backdown by the French government and business community last year, a lower-profile summit may have been in France’s interest. (reference the 2007 European Union – African Union Summit in Lisbon)

So, let’s start this ball rolling with an outstanding multimedia presentation from a French/German co-production here in Europe.  I also recommend that readers view the video interviews on African independence at, a new online African TV news service based in London  I shall follow up with a seperate post about a speech delivered by one of Africa’s favorite sons (no, not U.S. President Obama) as he addressed a group of African leaders last month attending the 50th anniversary celebration event in Cameroon.

The first video presentation is from the Franco-German news and cultural TV network ARTE TV (French and German language programming) who is airing a special production about life in 12 African countries celebrating their 50th anniversary of independence from colonialism. The 12-part series is produced and narrated by journalists, producers, and personalities who live and work in each of the countries featured. I highly recommend to my North American readers that you check out the ARTE Reportage even if your French and German language skills may be a bit rusty (my Canadian visitors of course will have no problem with the French reports at ARTE TV).

The second video presentation “Africa at 50” is from the new Pan-African TV channel VoxAfrica which produces programming about Africa in both the French and English language. You can read more about VoxAfrica TV here. VoxAfrica's "Shoot the Messenger" program host Henry Bonsu is joined in the studio by SYLVAINE DE BOGOU, Ivorian Writer and Journalist, and on the telephone ALBERTO AMURGO PACHECO, Economist at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Also featured in the 47-minute long report is Senegalese President ABDOULAYE WADE and DIDIER AWADI, an activist and founder of the hip-hop band Positive Black Soul.

ARTE TV (France, Germany) Special on 50 Years of African Independence
Afrique: 50 ans d’indépendence – Afrika: 50 Jahre Unabhängigkeit (homepage of the special feature program) (the blog for the series) (blog post for June 2010: Burkina Faso)

Video clip of comedian and producer Aminata Diallo Glez reporting from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
(Note: the rocking music tracks and HD video is simply too hot to embed here.  Check the links above.)

Note: the ARTE TV website links to full-length HD Flash videos and multimedia presentations may not work for visitors outside of the select countries where the ARTE TV network is available due to EU licensing agreement restrictions. Please notify me via the comments sections if this is the case for visitors outside of the European Union and I will try to find an alternate source for the programs.

Special Report on 50 Years of African Independence
Africa at 50 | Voxafrica, La télévision Pan-Africaine

Related articles, editorials, and other resources
Last Updated: June 07, 2010

European Union
Africa and Europe in Partnership - 25th Africa-France Summit in Nice

U.S. Department of State – Bureau of African Affairs
Celebrating "Africa Day": The 47th Anniversary of the Founding of the Organization of African Unity by Asst. Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson – Ritz Carlton Hotel, Washington DC (May 25, 2010)

VOA News (Voice of America online)
'Africa Day' Tuesday Focuses on Peace and Security
Senegal Marks 50 Years of Independence With Calls For African Unity
Senegal Set to Inaugurate Towering Monument of African Renaissance

Cameroon Faces Risk of Unrest Before 2011 Elections
Cameroon Celebrates 50 Years of Independence

Afrique Avenir (French, English)
EU congratulates Africa on 50 years of democratic process
Nice Summit’s outcome: towards a new Franco-African cooperation

Chris Blattman’s Blog
(Asst. Professor for Political Science and Economics – Yale University)
Zimbabwean ambassador calls Johnnie Carson a house slave. Carson spanks him.

Foreign Policy Magazine
The Cable blog by Josh Rogin (reporting inside the US foreign policy machine)
Zimbabwe ambassador calls U.S. diplomat a 'house slave'

BBC News (UK)
French President Sarkozy backs African global role
France-Africa summit in Nice seeks business boost
BBC Focus on Africa - How France maintains its grip on Africa

Agence France Presse (AFP)
After 50 years of independence, African states reflect
Talking Points: France - Africa: a new relationship?
Franco-African Summit: relations for the future

Radio France Internationale (rfi)
UN Security Council reform on the agenda at Nice summit
"Africa is our future", says Sarkozy at Nice summit
50 years later, Françafrique is alive and well by Christophe Boisbouvier

The New York Times
Letter from Africa - President for Life, and Then Some by Howard French
Howard W. French is a former foreign correspondent and bureau chief (West Africa, Shanghai China). He is presently teaching at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. His personal blog can be found here: A Glimpse of the World.

The Washington Post
In Africa, 50th anniversary of independence is an occasion to celebrate, lament

The Associated Press (AP)
Africa marks 1960, when 1/3 gained independence

Project Syndicate
Françafrique at 50 by Sanou Mbaye
Project Syndicate is supported by funding from the Open Society Institute and works with 431 newspapers in 150 countries

VAD Conference 2010 at Johannes Gutenberg University (Mainz, Germany)
Continuities and Dislocations: 50 Years of African Independence
Kontinuitäten und Brüche: 50 Jahre Unabhängigkeit in Afrika 7.-11. April 2010

Northwestern University Library - Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies
In the Spotlight: Exhibit Honors Fifty Years of African Independence

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Nigeria: Death Claims the Life of a Patient Leader and President

A Small but Important Fact for My Readers:

Someday, you are going to die.*

Now of course death is not something that I would wish upon anyone but the simple fact is that all human beings must someday say goodbye to this world. Unfortunately, for Nigeria’s President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, death came calling a bit too soon (he was only 58 years old). This post is about this gentle and patient leader of Africa’s most populous country, a man who for many of you was somewhat of a mystery on the international stage of world leaders, and a man who was very much a mystery for the nation that he led since being elected in 2007, especially during the last months of his terminal illness.

Some of you may ask, “Why bother paying any attention to Nigeria?” since much of what we hear and read in the mainstream media regarding this country is about the endemic corruption of its politicians and business elite that services the grinding poverty suffered by the majority of Nigerians, the seemingly never-ending turmoil and violence between people in the Muslim north and Christian south of the country, and the militant uprisings, kidnappings, murder, and environmental destruction taking place in the troubled oil-rich Niger Delta region.

I would say the following to doubters and cynics re: Nigeria’s potential and future:

Let us not forget the strategic importance of the people of Nigeria to the world, a people who account for more than 22% of the 800 million people who live in Sub-Saharan Africa, and let us not forget the importance of Nigeria’s abundant natural resources (oil, gas, agriculture, fisheries) and the ingenuity and drive of Nigeria’s most valuable natural resource, its people.

When I think of Nigeria and what Nigerians have contributed to the modern world, I often think of the many Nigerian bloggers, writers, and journalists who have made such a huge contribution to the success of open media and online journalism, and I think about international icons like the scholar and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka and the World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Oknonjo-Iweala. I treasure the wonderful communication that Nigerians like these “leaders” have so selflessly contributed to all of us in a desperate effort to educate the world about Nigeria’s dynamic people and their beautiful country on Africa’s western coast. This post is for them.

Note*: My lead sentence is borrowed from the opening paragraphs of “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak (Doubleday/Black Swan 2007).

The Passing of a Gentle Man and a Turning Point in the Modern History of Nigeria

Yesterday I left my condolences on the passing of President Yar’Adua in a comment at the blog of a friend and fellow blogger who hails from Nigeria and to my surprise it was echoed in a Global Voices roundup of Nigerian bloggers who were expressing their thoughts and feelings about the death of their president. Granted I have not been following news and developments out of Nigeria as much as I would like to over the past year, but my impression of President Yar’Adua is generally positive in comparison to my sentiments toward most of the country’s past political leaders and military dictators who had ruled Nigeria for much of the past 50 years since the end of colonial rule. Here is an excerpt of what I had to say at my friend Imankoya’s blog “Grandiose Parlor”:

“My condolences on the death of Nigeria’s President Umaru Yar’Adua. He may not have been able to accomplish all that he set out to do at the beginning of his administration, but he was able show the world that Nigerians can overcome generations of misrule and plunder by former rulers and dictators, that the country is making progress in a number of important areas (including responsible governance), that endemic corruption and cronyism by politicians and powerful business people can be defeated albeit it is slow and complicated process, and that the country Nigeria is firmly on the road to peace and democracy despite the setbacks we have witnessed during his term in office.”

As I researched news and blog posts about the death of Nigeria’s president I came across a very interesting analysis on the present state of political affairs in Nigeria written by Richard Joseph and Alexandra Gillies for Current History magazine. Here is an excerpt from what the authors had to say in the article published just a week before President Yar’Adua’s untimely death:

Nigeria: Season of Uncertainty
Current History Magazine – May 2010 issue (cross-published at

"Nothing," wrote Reuben Abati, the editor of Nigeria's The Guardian, "can be more tragic than the present season of uncertainty in which Nigeria has found itself." Indeed, in recent months the country has experienced an extraordinary and often surreal political drama seemingly scripted by a writer of fantasies.

On November 23, 2009, Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua was flown to Saudi Arabia for emergency medical treatment. Confusion swirled about his condition, though the immediate problem was reported to be pericarditis, an inflammation of tissues around his heart.

When, on Christmas Day, a young Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried (but failed) to ignite an explosive device on an airliner that was approaching the airport in Detroit, Michigan, no Nigerian head of state was available to engage with the US government over this alarming event.

Following the attempted attack, the United States placed Nigeria on a terrorism watch list of 14 nations whose air travelers were subjected to increased security screening. (On April 2, that watch list was discarded in favor of a different set of policies.)

Ill-fated politics

Yet, as serious as these developments were, a more intense drama for Nigerians was unfolding in the nation's capital, Abuja. For a harrowing three months, this country of approximately 150 million people was without a captain at the helm.
Yar'Adua had been elected president in April 2007. He owed his position to the political achievements of two individuals: his older brother, Shehu Yar'Adua; and Olusegun Obasanjo, who served on two occasions as head of state. Shehu Yar'Adua had been Obasanjo's deputy when the latter led a military government from 1976 to 1979. The two were accused in 1995 by Sani Abacha, the military dictator at that time, of planning his overthrow. Shehu Yar'Adua was later murdered in prison, but Obasanjo survived and was elected president in 1999.

When Obasanjo in May 2006 failed in an effort to amend the constitution and thus secure a third term in office, he installed as the 2007 presidential candidate of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) the younger Yar'Adua, then the governor of the small northern state of Katsina. Obasanjo proceeded to manipulate Nigeria's political and electoral machinery to ensure Yar'Adua's victory. The outcome was disputed by several losing candidates but was upheld by the Supreme Court in December 2008.

Yar'Adua in some ways resembled another president from northern Nigeria, Shehu Shagari, whom Obasanjo had also shepherded into office, in 1979.

Shagari, a well-meaning patrician, was unable to control the plunderers around him. Military putschists ended his tenure in December 1983, shortly after he had begun a second term in the wake of flawed and chaotic elections.

But Yar'Adua, a northern successor to the southern Obasanjo, was handicapped not only politically but physically. Yar'Adua had been known to suffer from kidney disease even as governor of Katsina. At the time of the Christmas bombing attempt in the United States, the president had been absent for a month, receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, but had not transferred power to his vice president, Goodluck Jonathan.

Nigeria did not even have an ambassador to the United States who could be summoned for consultations, since the US government had earlier rejected the Nigerian designee.

On January 12, 2010, Yar'Adua, most likely provoked by press reports of his dire physical condition, granted a telephone interview to the BBC.

He spoke in a weak voice of his intention to return to Nigeria as soon as his health permitted, but he did not mention any transfer of authority.

Nigeria's 1999 constitution provides two ways for power to be temporarily transferred to the vice president. The simplest mode is the transmission of a letter from the president to the National Assembly informing that body of his absence. The second requires the Federal Executive Council (the cabinet) to appoint, together with the Senate, a medical panel to provide a report on the president. If he is found unable to execute his duties, the vice president is made acting president. Neither of these constitutional paths was taken.

To adopt the term widely used in Nigeria, a "cabal" that consisted of the president's wife, Turai Yar'Adua, along with a few ministers and close political allies, worked to block a full transfer of power to Vice President Jonathan. Meanwhile, throughout the eerie interregnum, Jonathan presided over cabinet meetings that made decisions of questionable legality. Bullying the cabinet and the nation during this political parenthesis was the attorney general and minister of justice, Michael Aondoakaa, who defended Yar'Adua's authority and justified not making Jonathan the officially acting president.

These maneuvers alarmingly recalled the political gyrations that preceded Sani Abacha's assumption of power in November 1993. Then, Moshood Abiola, elected to the presidency in June of that year, was blocked from taking office and subsequently imprisoned, eventually dying behind bars. This time, however, the armed forces did not intervene, either by fully assuming power as they had done several times, or by imposing a military-civilian diarchy, as they did briefly in 1993.

Back from the brink

February 9 and 10, 2010, may be remembered as the days when the Nigerian nation pulled back from a precipice along which it had tottered for more than 11 weeks. Following unanimous votes in the Senate and House of Representatives, Jonathan was declared acting president, a decision subsequently confirmed by the cabinet.

Senior legislators found an ingenious way around constitutional obstacles by citing a "doctrine of necessity," never before invoked in Nigeria. The BBC interview with Yar'Adua, they claimed, fulfilled the constitutional requirement that a letter be transmitted to the National Assembly, albeit via modern technology. Jonathan therefore became acting president through an appointment process that deviated from the two paths set forth in the constitution. One of his first acts was to remove Aondoakaa from his ministry and from the commanding position he had assumed during Yar'Adua's absence.

"Goodluck Jonathan" could be a name invented by whatever mischievous deities look over the Nigerian nation. He had the good luck to be deputy governor of the oil-rich delta state Bayelsa in 2005, when the governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, was apprehended by the London Metropolitan Police at Heathrow Airport with suitcases filled with state money.

(Tragicomically, Alamieyeseigha skipped bail and returned to Nigeria allegedly by disguising himself as a woman.)

At that time, Obasanjo was using Nigeria's anti-corruption authorities to prosecute governors who crossed him, or crossed whatever line he inserted between the permissible and non-permissible theft of public funds. Jonathan stepped in as governor when Alamieyeseigha became the target of one such prosecution. It was also fortuitous for Jonathan to be elevated to the vice presidency - Obasanjo orchestrated his selection as Yar'Adua's running mate in the 2007 election.

In the early hours of February 24, 2010, Yar'Adua was hurriedly flown back to Nigeria by air ambulance. Six of his cabinet ministers had arrived in Saudi Arabia earlier that day, ostensibly to thank the Saudi government for looking after him but really - as the third high-level Nigerian delegation to visit that country during the crisis - in the hopes of seeing their ailing president. Jonathan was kept in the dark about Yar'Adua's precipitous return, which involved the alarming deployment of a military brigade in Abuja.

For almost two days, Nigerians experienced renewed uncertainty, especially since the first public statement by Yar'Adua's spokesman referred to Jonathan as vice, not acting, president. It seemed as if a fierce struggle over presidential authority would erupt. American and British diplomats quickly released strong cautionary statements.
Another announcement on behalf of the still unseen president, on February 26, acknowledged Jonathan as acting president and declared that all government officials should report to him. That communication lessened but did not completely disperse the constitutional cloud over Nigeria's federal institutions. It did, however, reduce the political tensions and anxiety.

Nigeria's season of uncertainty is likely to persist for some time.

End excerpt from Nigeria: Season of Uncertainty
Read the complete analysis at

The authors make it sound like quite a few shenanigans were going on in the background while Nigeria’s former president was struggling with a debilitating illness, especially the statement about “a cabal” of people attempting to manipulate the political and economic power in this nation of 150 million plus people. What was equally surprising in this article and the one that I reference below is that this was being orchestrated by President Yar’Adua’s closest political advisors and his grieving wife and widow, the (former) First Lady of Nigeria Turai Yar’Adua. Yikes!!

To help qualify some of the claims made by Richard Joseph and Alexandra Gillies in their article “Nigeria: Season of Uncertainty” I recommend reading statements attributed to one of Nigeria’s most prominent and outspoken defenders of human rights and free expression, Professor Wole Soyinka, in an article published to the Nigerian newspaper Vanguard on April 7th (cross-published at

Nigeria: Soyinka Urges Country to Save Yar’Adua from Turai
By Michael Eboh – April 7, 2010

Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, has called for urgent measures by Nigerians to save ailing president Umaru Yar'Adua from some unscrupulous and selfish individuals, benefiting from his predicament. He noted that Yar'Adua's predicament has revealed that he is a victim of spousal abuse.

Speaking at the Nigerian Economic Summit Group's, NESG, Post-Annual General Meeting Lecture, in Lagos, Tuesday, with the theme, "Leadership and Followership as Shared Responsibility," Soyinka exonerated Yar'Adua from all the crises and controversies surrounding his health.

According to him, his meetings with Yar'Adua in the past revealed that he (Yar'Adua) is not capable of treating the country with disdain as is currently being presented through the various controversies surronding his health and visit of certain groups to him.

He said, "From my meetings with Yar'Adua, I see him as someone who is not capable of treating this country with contempt. His predicament is being worsened by the so-called cabal.

"The conduct of the people surrounding the president has turned the country into the laughing stock of the entire globe. Even the papers are having a field day on the issue of Nigeria's phantom president.

"Yar'Adua is surrounded by people who are insensitive about the plight of the Nigerian people. These people holding him hostage are unscrupulous insensitive and heartless.

"It is not the Nigerian people who prevented even Yar'Adua's own mother from seeing him, it is this cabal. They are flesh and blood but they have a lion's heart or so."If his situation takes a turn for the better, which everyone hopes for, it does not make any difference, whatsoever, to what has happened already. It does not take away from the fact that refusing his mother access to him, has made him a victim of spousal abuse.

End excerpt from the Nigerian Vanguard article___

Rest in Peace President Umara Yar’Adua, you certainly gave it your best and despite your ill health and the unscrupulous behavior of some of your closet advisors during your absence, your efforts to lead Nigeria in a fair and just manner were appreciated by many people around the globe. The new Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan will certainly have his hands full in Abuja for the next 11 months as the country prepares for the general election of 2011. Good Luck President Jonathan and good luck to the people of Nigeria as you progress down the long road of democratic change, responsible and effective governance, and improvements in the lives for all of the people of this vast West African nation.

Related news articles, editorials, blog posts, and other resources

Grandiose Parlor
Yar’Adua, Nigeria’s ailing president dies – 05 May 2010

African Loft
Nigeria: “My regime was better than now” – Babangida – 20 Apr 2010
Former Nigerian military leader, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB), gives an interview to the BBC News Hausa Service regarding his presidential ambitions

Black Looks
The man died - R.I.P. Yar'Adua by Sokari Ekine – 06 May 2010

Global Voices
Nigeria: Bloggers mourn death of president Yar’Adua by Ndesano Macha – 06 May 2010
Categories and Topics: Nigeria
The Republic of Niger ain’t sexy enough for headlines by Ndesanjo Macho
Niger is not Nigeria in case you didn’t know, although Nigeriens and Nigerians are first cousins.
Nigeria: Soyinka Urges Country to Save Yar'Adua From Turai (Vanguard) – 07 Apr 2010
Nigeria: Visit Yar'Adua Now, Soyinka Tells Jonathan (Daily Champion) – 01 May 2010
Nigeria: Amnesty - Yar'Adua's Major Legacy (Vanguard) – 06 May 2010
Jonathan Takes Oath of Office as President (Vanguard)– 06 May 2010
Season of Uncertainty by Richard Joseph and Alexandria Gillies (Current History Magazine) – 29 Apr 2010

Reuters Africa
New Nigerian leader pledges electoral reform by Randy Fabi and Felix Onuah – 06 May 2010

BBC World News
Nigerians lobby to be Jonathan's vice-president – 07 May 2010
Nigeria's Goodluck Jonathan sworn in as president – 06 May 2010
Nigerian President Yar'Adua dies after long illness by Martin Plaut – 06 May 2010
Obituary: President Yar'Adua of Nigeria – 06 May 2010

CNN International
Introducing Nigeria's new president: Goodluck Jonathan - 06 May 2010
Nigeria swears in acting president – 06 May 2010

CNNI Programs: Amanpour
Nigerian Acting President gives first interview to CNN – 14 Apr 2010
Host Christiane Amanpour interviews Nigeria’s newly sworn-in president Goodluck Jonathan during his visit to the U.S. for Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit 2010

The New York Times
Nigeria Swears In New Leader, Burying Predecessor - 06 May 2010
President of Nigeria Dies After Long Illness by Adam Nossiter – 05 May 2010

TIME Magazine
Umaru Musa Yar'Adua: Remembering Nigeria's Patient President by Alex Perry – 06 May 2010
Is Goodluck Jonathan the Answer to Nigeria's Woes? by Gilbert da Costa – 13 Feb 2010
The Violence in Nigeria: What's Behind the Conflict? by Meg Handley – 10 Mar 2010
The Two Sides of Lagos - Photo Essays - TIME
TIME photographer Thomas Dworzak explores the cultural divide in the Nigerian mega-city and financial capital

Foreign Policy Magazine, FP Passport Blog
Nigeria's government of ambiguity ends by Joshua Keating – 06 May 2010
Is Nigeria's president still alive? By Elizabeth Dickinson – 07 Jan 2010
The Real Tragedy in Nigeria's Violence by Jean Herskovits – 03 Aug 2009
A Violent Window of Opportunity by Mark L. Schneider and Nnamdi Obasi – 17 Jul 2009
OIL – The Long Goodbye - An FP Magazine special report – Sep/Oct 2009 issue

YaleGlobal Online Magazine
In Nigeria, Oil Wealth Delivers Grief by Salil Tripathi – 10 Jun 2008
The Rising and Falling Power of Hydrocarbon States by Dilip Hiro – 03 Jul 2007

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