On Jean-Pierre Bemba

Jean-Pierre Bemba is the head of an important political family in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His political base is in the northwestern province of Equateur. His late father was a leading business entrepreneur during the administration of President Mobutu Sese Seko (1965-1996). He founded the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC) which began as a rebel group and evolved into a major political party.

During the interim period between the end of the great civil war in 2002 and the first democratic election in 2006, Bemba was one of four transitional vice presidents responsible for governing the country under President Joseph Kabila. He was an unsuccessful candidate for president in the elections of 2006 and 2011. The 2011 election was won by incumbent President Kabila under conditions that the international community considered deeply flawed. A number of observers expressed the view that the real winner in 2011 was Jean-Pierre Bemba.

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The Democratic Republic of the Congo is Becoming Increasingly Tense and Potentially Dangerous

The political environment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is becoming increasingly tense and dangerous as the deadline for the November 2016 presidential election approaches.

The DRC constitution stipulates that a President can be elected a maximum of two times to serve two terms. The constitution also states that the two-term limit on presidential mandates cannot be amended by parliament. To change this article of the constitution, a new constitution would have to be written, and confirmed by the people in a referendum.

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Ethiopia famine: The search for alternative ports

Ethiopia's search for alternative ports for delivery of disaster relief cargoes continues.

Ethiopia is currently exploring the possibility of utilizing the port of Berbera, in the self-declared independent state of Somaliland, as an additional place for the unloading of incoming famine relief cargoes. Logistically, this is a wise option. The United States upgraded both the Berbera port and the Berbera airport prior to the 1990 "Operation Desert Storm." If an appropriate arrangement could be made, this option would help relieve the heavy congestion in the Port of Djibouti. As of very recently, the Government of the Republic of Somalia, that claims sovereignty over Somaliland, is objecting to efforts by Ethiopia to make a separate sovereign arrangement for the use of Berbera with the unrecognized Government of Somaliland. This constitutes another reason for Ethiopia to make an arrangement with Eritrea for the use of the ports of Aseb and Masawa. The longer that Addis delays, the more Ethiopians will succumb to hunger and malnutrition. Addis, wake up!

Eritrea's Ports and Ethiopia's Famine

The severe Ethiopian famine that is just over the horizon will require the use of Eritrean ports to handle the massive arrival of food relief from the international community. The sheer volume of food for 40 million people cannot be processed solely by the port of Djibouti and the railway from Djibouti to Addis Abeba.

It is important that Ethiopia and Eritrea start making arrangements immediately for the opening of the Eritrean ports of Asab and Masawa so as to receive the ships carrying the famine relief. These ports have easy access to northern Ethiopia where most of the need exists.

While they are making arrangements, I recommend that the two governments discuss how to make Ethiopian access to these two ports permanent. At the same time, cross-border trade should be resumed. 

This would be a win-win result for both countries.

Hal Saunders

I want to say a few memorial words about my Foreign Service colleague Hal Saunders, who passed away a few days ago. We specialized in different geographic regions during our respective careers. He was a Middle East specialist. I concentrated on Africa.  For that reason, we did not have lunch very often. But we knew each other and respected each other. Hal was the quintessential American diplomat. He did not make a lot of headlines, but he quietly advised Secretaries of State and US Presidents. I would say that Hal was the key policy adviser on the Middle East during the period 1980 to 1995. His advice was wise. American interests in the region were well served. The Middle East is generally a source of frustration for American diplomats. Hal lived through some of the most troubling periods. At all times, his advice to policy makers was sound and advantageous to US interests. He is a role model for generations that will follow.

The Red Sea Is Slipping into Total Arab Control

Hey, all you Abyssinians out there.  While you are wasting time squabbling with each other and not talking to each other, the governments of the Arabian Peninsula are eating your lunch.

Have you noticed that warships from the United Arab Emirates are operating out of the port of Asab 24/7?  Their interest is in Yemen, not in Eritrea or Ethiopia.  There are reports that Saudi Arabia has taken a 50-year lease on Asab.  If that is true, the next step will be Sharia Law in the Horn of Africa big time.

I think it is time for Abyssinians to take back control of the west bank of the Red Sea before it is too late. 

One way to accomplish this is for Eritrea and Ethiopia to finally end the war of 1998-2000 and normalize relations. It can be done as a win-win.

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On Ethiopia

The political leaders of the Ethiopian Government have a policy of killing all opponents who take to the streets to demonstrate against them. Other opponents who do not demonstrate but make public statements instead, are sent to jail for long periods.

I fail to understand why the Ethiopian regime feels it necessary to exercise such extreme control to the point of committing murder periodically against their own citizens.  The government is receiving good marks from the international community for its investments in infrastructure and agriculture.  If it could relax and loosen up its controls, it could become popular.

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Tribute to the late Barry Schweid

The national press recently reported the death of Barry Schweid, a veteran Associated Press correspondent who covered the State Department for thirty-five years.

I knew Barry during my assignments to the Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer.  I found him to be one of the most serious journalists among the corps of correspondents covering the State Department. His was interested mainly in developing solid analysis of the day’s events.  He would frequently consult me and other senior State Department officials.  He never asked for classified information.  His objective was to understand the meaning of events and the background to developments in foreign countries.  His professionalism was outstanding. He was a role model for all the State Department correspondents who worked with him and who currently survive him.

Drought and famine in Ethiopia

According to press reports, Ethiopia is currently going through a very severe drought, and is in dire need of international food assistance to make up for failed crops.

Ethiopia has a history of famine situations due to drought. During every drought year, the international community has been supportive with shipments of food relief.  Since the year 2002, Ethiopia has been coping nicely with dry weather. The construction of new roads has allowed the movement of food crops from wet regions to dry regions, thereby making it unnecessary to call for international aid.  In view of the improved transportation situation, the fact that food aid is needed in the year 2015 indicates that the drought situation must be truly severe. In short, the entire country must be having a rain deficit and not just certain regions as in the past. 

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Sanctions on Eritrea

The United Nations Security Council has decided to continue sanctions against Eritrea for another year.  This decision has no basis in fact. It was taken because certain persons in the highest levels of the United States Government have mean spirited grievances against Eritrean President Isayas Afwerki. All accusations against Eritrea regarding alleged assistance to the Islamist terrorist group al-Shebab in Somalia have never been substantiated. All experts on Somalia now agree that for the past three years, there have not even been rumors about such assistance. This is pure bullying. 

Will US punish African presidents who change constitutions?

The United States is warning African leaders not to change their constitutions to eliminate two-term limits for heads of state.  It is not apparent that they are taking the warnings seriously.

Many African heads of state are subject to constitutional two-term limits, similar to the situation in the United States.  As they approach the end of their mandates, a number of leaders want to change their national constitutions to eliminate the two-term limit so that they can continue to run for election and remain in power indefinitely.

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African Governance is Still Problematic

Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese billionaire who keeps track of the state of governance in Africa, has issued his annual report. He continues to report very little progress in democracy in most African countries.

Ibrahim’s gloomy outlook for African democracy is particularly relevant this year and next because of the large number of elections that are scheduled. Unfortunately, in many of the elections, incumbent heads of state are attempting to revise their constitutions that limit presidential mandates to two terms. Needless to say, these actions are causing major unhappiness among the populations.

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Military Coup in Burkina Faso

FORMER PRESIDENT BLAISE COMPAORE IS UNDOUBTEDLY BEHIND IT

The elite Burkina Faso military unit that was formerly the Presidential Guard has executed a coup d’état. The transitional regime that came to power in October 2014 after the hasty departure of former President Blaise Compaoré, has been overthrown. The new head of state is General Gilbert Diendiere, the former Chief of Staff of the army under Compaoré. Both the United Nations and the African Union have condemned the military takeover. 

The interim regime was in the process of organizing new elections. The political party of former President Blaise Compaoré was declared ineligible to participate in the election along with anyone who had been associated with Compaoré’s rule. It was probably this decision that precipitated the coup. 

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South Africa inaugurates its first new power plant in 20 years

After many months of negative economic results, South Africa can use some good news. The announcement August 30 of the inauguration of the nation’s first new power plant in twenty years is significant for South Africa’s anemic economic health.

ESKOM, the state owned electric utility, has been suffering from poor management and poor planning for over a decade. As a result, the expansion of electric power has not met the growing needs of both industrial and household users. Unprecedented rolling power outages have become the norm. New industrial investments have been discouraged because of the power deficit. The decline of ESKOM has done significant damage to the overall economy.

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