Hissène Habré’s Conviction for Crimes Against Humanity

Hissène Habré, the President of the Republic of Chad from 1982 to 1990, has been convicted of crimes against humanity by a special tribunal in the Republic of Senegal. He has been sentenced to life in prison. The punishment is well deserved. He could have been a hero to his fellow Africans for standing up to the bullying of dictator Moamar Gaddafi in neighboring Libya. But he was totally blood thirsty, murdering as many as 40,000 political opposition and ordinary citizens merely because they belonged to ethnic groups that he considered treasonous or dangerous. 

The trial and conviction in an African court of a former African head of state for crimes against humanity, may have set an interesting precedent for the international criminal courts system. African leaders and intellectuals have complained that the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague appears to be concentrating almost exclusively on African suspects. They appear to be ignoring criminal perpetrators who are hiding in plain sight in Latin America and Asia. The current President of Sudan is under indictment by the ICC, but he travels freely in African countries that refuse to do their international duty and extradite him to The Hague. The Hissène Habré convinction in Senegal may mark the beginning of the end of the ICC’s jurisdiction in Africa. 

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The Tragedy of Burundi

The Tragedy of Burundi

Thousands of people killed in just the last year. Over a quarter of a million refugees fleeing to neighboring countries. The violent internal conflict in the Republic of Burundi in Central Africa is tragically nowhere near an end. The violence started in 2015 when President Nkurunziza was able to find a “loophole” in the constitution that enabled him to run for a third term despite the constitutional limit of two terms for all elected presidents in Burundi. Nkurunziza’s election to a third term in 2015 triggered the start of violent opposition that continues today with no end in sight. 

On May 2, 2016, the U.S. State Department through spokesman John Kirby called on the conflicting parties in Burundi to resume dialogue and to find a solution within the framework envisaged by the Arusha Accords of August, 2000. The State Department’s search for a political accommodation to this primarily ethnic-based conflict is unrealistic. 

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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!

Wake Up, Addis Abeba!

“Wheat destined for Ethiopia’s Hungry Stuck in Port Logjams.”

This is the headline in the March 24, 2016 edition of Bloomberg Business.

According to the charity organization “Save the Children”, grain ships are taking about 40 days to unload in the port of Djibouti. There are 450,000 tons of wheat on ten ships waiting to unload today.

Most of this delay in the port of Djibouti could be alleviated, and delivery times shortened, if the Ethiopian government would allow some of the delivery to come through the ports of Asab and Masawa in the neighboring State of Eritrea. These ports are much closer to the drought area in northern Ethiopia than Djibouti. After the food is unloaded, there is still a long rail trip between Djibouti and Ethiopia to further lengthen the delivery time. But the delay is due to the Ethiopian government that is stupidly refusing to talk to the Eritrean government because of bitterness remaining since the war of 1998-2000. In that war, the Ethiopians lost tens of thousands of soldiers needlessly. The Ethiopians need to swallow their pride and stubbornness and request the government of Eritrea to open their ports for the unloading of food assistance to relieve the starvation and extreme malnutrition of the hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian farmers whose crops have failed, and whose animals have died.

Wake up, Addis Abeba!

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.

Red Sea Report Continued

Red Sea Report Continued

There are some intriguing new developments in the Red Sea region.

Eritrea has joined the “Islamic Coalition Against Terrorism.” What is so interesting about that? Well, the list of countries in that coalition are all good friends of the United States. American arms exporters make lots of dinars selling to those friends. 

So what does all this have to do with Eritrea? Well, can one say that the friend of my friend should also be my friend? Unfortunately, Eritrea and the US still do not call themselves friends. So, what is going on?

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Africa's Outlook for 2016

Africa's Outlook for 2016

For many African nations, the year 2016 is presenting some difficult challenges. For the second time since 1960, the commodity exports that bring in most of Africa’s revenue have suffered severe world price declines. 

Between 1960 and 1980, high world prices for African commodity exports, especially crude oil, minerals such as copper, iron ore, manganese, and cobalt, brought African governments considerable revenue. Unfortunately, that revenue was not used to finance economic diversity, especially in agro-industry, manufacturing, transportation and intra-African trade. As a result, when world commodity prices dropped heavily between 1975 and 1980, many African countries found themselves heavily in debt and unable to service those debts. Too much of the earlier wealth was squandered on the financing of white elephants, the disastrous nationalization of private companies, and sadly, extensive corruption.

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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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