Tag Archives: Africa

East Africans thwart illegal fishing

Greko 1. Photo supplied by FISH-i Africa

Greko 1. Photo supplied by FISH-i Africa

Early in December 2012, a South Korean vessel called the Premier entered the Indian Ocean to fish. In West Africa, authorities knew that the boat had been fishing illegally in Liberian waters before it made its way to Africa’s other coast. That raised the ire of East African countries, which weren’t keen to welcome a lawbreaker into their seas. Kenya, Tanzania, Mauritius, the Comoros, Mozambique, and the Seychelles rapidly mobilized against the vessel, shutting it out of their ports and refusing to grant it a fishing license.

“All of a sudden, the Premier was surrounded by countries that were saying no to everything,” recalls Benedict Kiilu, a Kenyan principal fisheries officer who was part of the team that tracked the vessel at the time. In 2013, unable to land its catch, the disgraced ship was finally driven out of the region. Ultimately, it was forced to pay US$2 million to Liberia for plundering its fish.

The beating heart of this crime-busting, resource-conserving effort was FISH-i Africa, a network of countries committed to sharing fisheries intelligence that was established in 2012 by the not-for-profit Stop Illegal Fishing. Composed of the six countries that drove out the Premier, along with Madagascar and Somalia, FISH-i Africa seeks to form a united front against illegal — or “pirate” — fishing.

“It’s eight like-minded countries working together to share information and stand shoulder to shoulder where illegal fishing is concerned,” says Tony Long, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Ending Illegal Fishing Project, which provides technical support to aid FISH-i’s efforts.

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Because illegal fishing is unregulated — meaning catch is concealed and almost impossible to trace — it has become a major driver of overfishing. By flouting the rules designed to protect certain habitats and species, it can also undermine vulnerable ecosystems and threaten marine species. But, where attempts to fight it were once hampered by bureaucracy and snail’s-pace information sharing between countries, now they’re happening in real-time on FISH-i’s digital communications platform. Here, member countries exchange vessel license lists, news about suspect activities and details obtained during port inspections to build up a record of the vessels entering their waters.

FISH-i also closely tracks vessels’ activities on the high seas using satellite data and shares that information via the platform. This helps authorities flag vessels that may be fishing in off-limits areas, or those that betray unusual travel patterns that suggest they’re transferring fish illegally between boats.

Ideally, these investigations can reveal whether vessels have appropriate licenses, where they’ve been fishing and perhaps if they have a criminal record. Countries that wise up to illegal fishers’ transgressions then have grounds to shut their ports to these vessels so they can’t sell their catch or even to force them to pay fines, as in the case of the Premier.

“It’s a real financial loss to the [vessel’s] owner, which means illegal fishing isn’t profitable anymore. That’s really what we want to achieve,” says Per Erik Bergh, managing director of NFDS Africa, a consultancy that works to combat illegal fishing in Africa and provides support to FISH-i.

United Front

Illegal trawl nets were found aboard Greko 1. Photo supplied by FISH-i Africa

Illegal trawl nets were found aboard Greko 1. Photo supplied by FISH-i Africa

The platform was created to reclaim the estimated US$200 million in revenue that the eight FISH-i countries lose annually to illegal fishers invading East African waters. Home to the world’s second-most productive tuna fishery, this region attracts commercial fishing vessels from around the world, including illegal fishers — whose activities range from using false flags, fake licenses and fictitious names to fishing prohibited species and fishing in protected waters.

“In the past a vessel might be fishing illegally, and one country might say, ‘You can’t come to my port,’ whereas the next country would say, ‘Come to mine.’” – Tony LongThey’ll exploit the lack of international collaboration and take advantage of a patchy system,” says Long. “In the past a vessel might be fishing illegally, and one country might say, ‘You can’t come to my port,’ whereas the next country would say, ‘Come to mine.’” This loophole is exactly what FISH-i is now trying to close.

So far, the united front is working. Since it was founded, FISH-i has been involved in more than 30 investigations of suspect ships. It has identified criminal networks distributing fake fishing licenses in Tanzania, exposed vessels using multiple fraudulent identities and tracked down fugitive ships. Its relationship with INTERPOL, the international crime investigation agency, also enables FISH-i to widely share and receive information about pirate fishing.

“Some of the investigations we are doing are going into quite substantial organized crime networks,” says Bergh.

FISH-i’s evolving satellite detection system is also helping it get around the hurdle of illegal vessels that try to avoid discovery.

“There are very sophisticated structures illegal fishers are using to hide their operations and their locations, which is what we’re trying to deconstruct,” says Duncan Copeland, chief analyst of Trygg Mat Tracking, a not-for-profit fisheries intelligence resource that provides technical support to FISH-i. Some ships turn off their automatic identification systems, for instance, which makes them impervious to satellite tracking. Copeland is helping to build a system that combines multiple layers of information to help FISH-i pinpoint criminal ships with greater precision.

Model Program

But can FISH-i’s team of African nations have an impact on the decidedly global problem of illegal fishing? John Amos, president of the nonprofit SkyTruth, thinks so. Recently SkyTruth, Google and the marine advocacy group Oceana launched Global Fishing Watch, an open-access satellite platform that reveals the location of any trackable ship in the world.

In addition to earmarking criminals, there’s evidence that FISH-i’s activities deter crime, too. Its huge global scope has attracted widespread attention — but Amos also sees the benefit of regional efforts like FISH-i’s that home in on local waters.

“Teaming up with your neighbors to get a better operating picture of who’s doing what, where, just makes sense,” he says. “This is an opportunity for countries to get together and pool their intelligence resources, and we should be doing that at a global scale.”

In addition to earmarking criminals, there’s evidence that FISH-i’s activities deter crime, too. Whereas vessels used to fish without a license and face few consequences, now they know they’re being watched. According to Kiilu, some FISH-i countries have seen a 33 percent rise in fishing revenue as vessels purchase more licenses.

Other countries are taking note of this success. “The impact is so great that other parts of Africa are copying what we do,” says Kiilu. “We’re a specimen for study.” In West Africa, where illegal fishing usurps several hundred million dollars a year, the West Africa Task Force was formed in 2015 by six nations to combat illegal fishing — and it’s based entirely on FISH-i’s model. “There is certainly the goal to eventually see more of these task force type structures set up in other regions,” Copeland says.

Recently, FISH-i’s newest member, Somalia, had its first major triumph when in October it cornered the Greko 1 — a fake-flagged vessel that not only was fishing without a license using banned trawl nets, but also had invaded an off-limits area reserved for Somali fishers. “By taking action against the Greko 1, [Somalis] are sending a strong signal that they will act against illegal fishing,” says Bergh.

For FISH-i, it’s yet another sign of its success — proof that its unique, collaborative approach really works to protect the ocean’s natural resources across its range.


This article first appeared on Ensia, and is republished here under a Creative Commons licence. View Ensia homepage


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African democratic reform falters and falls

Mo Ibrahim. Photo Chatham House via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

Mo Ibrahim. Photo Chatham House via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
June 17, 2016

Two events in the last few days make it depressingly clear that after a few years of great political and social advances, Africa is slipping back into its bad old ways.

On Thursday, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation announced that yet again there is no one worthy of receiving its latest prestigious and lucrative prize for excellence in African leadership. Only four times since the award was launched 10 years ago have the judges found democratically elected leaders who qualified by having willingly left office when their mandate ended.

The second event this week gave focus to the foundation’s bleak assessment. In Angola, President Eduardo dos Santos, who has ruled the south-west African oil state for nearly 40 years, announced that his daughter, Isabel, 43, will be put in charge of the state-owned oil company Sonangol. To all intents, Sonangol is the Angolan economy and Isabel dos Santos is already judged by Forbes to be Africa’s richest woman by dint of being daughter of the president. Putting Isabel in charge of Sonangol looks very much as though Eduardo dos Santos is securing both the succession and the family fortune.

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The thumbs down on Africa’s leadership by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation follows the publication in April of its regular assessment of the state of governance and human and social rights in Africa. The latest exhaustive assessment concluded that while overall governance in Africa improved between 2000 and 2008, “since then it has been stagnating.”

Indeed, over much of Africa there has been a marked deterioration in human and political rights, the rule of law and sustainable economic opportunity.

The improvements in governance in Africa in the first years of the century flowed from enthusiasm for the newly-created New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD). The inspiration for this initiative was that the time had come for Africa to take responsibility for its own future. To that end, NEPAD committed Africa’s 54 countries to pursuing good government, democracy, human rights, conflict resolution, and an attractive environment for economic growth.

It is on these principles that the Mo Ibrahim Foundation has judged the continent’s progress and, in the last few years, lack of it.

In a commentary on the foundation’s analysis, the British-based Oxford Analytica, which describes itself as “a global analysis and advisory firm drawing on a macro expert network to advise clients on strategy and performance in complex markets,” foresees Africa returning to an era of instability.

Oxford Analytica points to rising authoritarianism, declining respect for civil liberties and opposition disillusionment with electoral politics highlighted in the foundation report.

While much of this abandonment of the NEPAD principles is undoubtedly home-grown, Oxford Analytica points to two external forces. One is the reduced emphasis by Western donor countries on human and political rights development as a prerequisite for aid. The other is the increased availability of aid from authoritarian regimes like China and Saudi Arabia. Beijing and Riyadh put no stock in encouraging the development of broadly democratic values and are much happier dealing with pliable petty despots than with open and representative systems.

It is not only in Africa, of course, that countries have discovered that money from the current Chinese and Saudi regimes comes with a heavy dose of the corruption virus.

Mo Ibrahim, 70, has been described as Britain’s “most powerful black man.” He was born in Sudan, then a British colony in all but name, of a Nubian family. He got his first science degree at Alexandria University in Egypt, then also a British domain. Ibrahim went on to get his masters degree in electrical engineering at the University of Bradford in England, and a doctorate in mobile communications from the University of Birmingham.

With mobile communications clearly the coming thing, Ibrahim was snapped up by British Telecom, the state telephone company, and became technical director of its Cellnet subsidiary. But in the late 1980s Ibrahim struck out by himself, founding his own consultancy and software company, which he later sold to the electronics giant Marconi for a small fortune.

In the later 1990s Ibrahim founded what has become Celtel. This company aimed at Africa where it has sold over 24 million cell phones in 14 countries. In 2005 he sold Celtel for $US3.4 billion, and set up the Mo Ibrahim Foundation with an endowment of about half that money.

The aim of the foundation is to encourage the NEPAD principles, and one of those is to persuade Africa’s leaders, who are notoriously averse to retirement, to ride off into the sunset when their shelf life is done. Ibrahim’s approach to getting Africa’s “Big Man” leaders to move on is crudely practical. He pays them off.

To be eligible for the Mo Ibrahim Foundation prize the African leaders must have been democratically elected and must give up office when their mandate is over. No Presidents-for-Life need apply. To those qualified and chosen the foundation gives an initial payment of $US5 million followed by a pension of $US200,000-a-year for life. But although this is the world’s most lavish prize for statesmanship – far exceeding the $US1.3 million of the Nobel Peace Prize – it is, sadly, not enough. Only leaders of the smallest and poorest African countries find the Mo Ibrahim prize seductive. For most the lure of being President-for-Life and the over-stuffed tax haven bank accounts that go with it are far more attractive than a paltry $US5 million and the $US200,000-a-year beer money.

This is why only four former African leaders have merited the award in the 10 years of its existence. South Africa’s Nelson Mandela was made an honourary laureate in 2007, but this was really a bit of publicity to kick off the prize. Otherwise, the winners are not household names, even in Africa. There was President Hifikepunye of Namibia, President Pedro Pires of Cape Verde, President Festus Mogae of Botswana, and President Joaquim Chissano – probably the most widely known — of Mozambique.

There are no foreseeable circumstances under which Angola’s Eduardo dos Santos would be eligible for the prize, or be bothered to seek such a small sum. He may have presided over one of the poorest countries in Africa since 1979 where about 70 per cent of the 22 million people live on less than $US2 a day, but dos Santos and his family are rolling in wealth.

Dos Santos is one of the few remaining classic African revolutionaries from the colonial era. As a schoolboy in the early 1960s he joined one of the organizations fighting against Portuguese rule, the Marxist People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). He went into exile and wound up in the Soviet Union, where he earned degrees in petroleum engineering and in radar communications from the Azerbaijan Oil and Chemistry Institute in Baku. During this period he met and married a Russian woman, Tatiana Kukanova, the first of dos Santos’ three wives and the mother of Isabel.

After the Portuguese withdrew from most of their colonies in 1975, Angola fell into a three-cornered, tribal-based civil war. The MPLA kept control of the capital, Luanda, and much of the north of the country, including its oil reserves. The diamond fields of the south financed the forces of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), led by Jonas Savimbi, allied to South Africa and the United States. The civil war continued until Savimbi’s death in 2002.

After independence in 1975, dos Santos rose through the ranks of the MPLA, and in 1979 became the party’s leader and Angola’s president. Elections, all of highly questionable authenticity, have come and gone and he has remained firmly in charge especially since the end of the civil war. In recent years dos Santos has not bothered to hold presidential elections. Now and again there have been parliamentary elections, which the MPLA inevitably wins. Dos Santos has taken the view that as he is head of the MPLA, that automatically makes him president again.

From the start, dos Santos turned Angola into one of Africa’s premier kleptocracies. International oil companies loved dealing with a president with a degree in petroleum engineering and a no-nonsense approach to the cost of doing business. But dos Santos’ acquisitive instincts have gone well beyond the oil industry, which now accounts for 98 per cent of Angola’s exports and 75 per cent of government revenues. During and after the civil war he cornered control of several natural resource industries as well as other emerging companies.

To its credit, the MPLA retains a strong strand of anti-authoritarianism. In a fit of revolutionary pique a few years ago the Angolan Parliament passed laws making it illegal for the president to have equity holdings in companies or organizations. Dos Santos did the sensible thing and swiftly transferred his assets to his daughter, Isabel.

She is undoubtedly a woman of talents – she has a degree in electrical engineering from King’s College in London – but her billing as Africa’s most successful businesswoman is only partly justified. Forbes figures she’s worth $US3 billion, and that most if not all that money came her way either directly or indirectly through her father. As former Angolan Prime Minister Marcolino Moco told Forbes a few years ago: “There is no doubt that it was the father who generated such a fortune.”

The supposition, of course, is that Isabel is holding the family fortune in trust for her father so that he has a safe and secure retirement. When that might be, however, is anyone’s guess. In 2001, Eduardo dos Santos did say that he would step down soon, but it never happened. And in March this year he said he would retire in 2018, after elections due to be held next year. However, given his past equivocation on this subject, no one is holding their breath.

More than that, he is being purposefully obtuse about who his successor might be. Speculation has focused on Manuel Vicente, the state oil company boss who became vice-president, then to dos Santos’ son Jose Filomeno, and most recently to his daughter Isabel.

With Isabel’s appointment a few days ago to oversee the restructuring of the state oil company Sonangol, her name has leapt to the fore. In essence, she now heads the Angolan economy.

Sonangol needs restructuring because so much has been looted out of its treasurer chest that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been called in to cast its magic over Angola’s debt problems. Last year the dos Santos government borrowed $US10 billion — $US6 billion from China – just to fund health, water, electricity and road projects.

When the IMF first got involved in 2012 one of the first questions that turned up in Sonangol’s books was a missing $US32 billion, equivalent to a quarter of Angola’s entire gross domestic product. Well, thankfully, the IMF was able to put minds at rest by deciding that the missing oil money was linked to “quasi-fiscal operations.” Apparently this means money that Sonangol spent on the government’s behalf, but which didn’t get recorded in the official accounts. That’s all right then.

Yet there is reason to question whether dos Santos will try to make Isabel head of the MPLA and Angola’s head of state. She has little party political experience and, like most organizations with revolutionary Marxist backgrounds, the MPLA doesn’t like having people foisted on it who have not fought and bled on the frontlines. Also, Angola remains a strongly patriarchal society where the concept of a woman leader has not yet permeated the political culture.

So Isabel’s role will probably be to look after daddy’s pile and coming to terms with the disappointment that there’s no Mo Ibrahim Foundation prize in her future either.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Further information:

Mo Ibrahim Foundation

Related on F&O:

Hissène Habré: a pivotal case for international justice in Africa.  By Pierre Hazan  Analysis

On May 30, in an African court, history was made. In an unprecedented move, a former president was convicted of human rights abuses by a foreign court. In another historic ruling, the accused was also sentenced on counts of sexual abuse and the rape of a prisoner. The conviction of Chad’s former dictator, Hissène Habré, comes at a crucial time for international justice in Africa.


Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.


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Kenyan fishers swap boats for mangroves and mariculture

Kibibi Mramba replants mangroves along a creek in the Kenyan coastal town of Kilifi. TRF/Sophie Mbugua

Kibibi Mramba replants mangroves along a creek in the Kenyan coastal town of Kilifi. TRF/Sophie Mbugua

By Sophie Mbugua 
August, 2015

KILIFI, Kenya (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A slight breeze makes the afternoon humidity bearable as Kibibi Mramba and 19 others plant tiny mangrove shoots along a creek in the Kenyan coastal town of Kilifi.

For the past five years, members of the Mtongani Self Help Group have been acting as volunteer forest guards, restoring mangroves along the Kilifi Creek, some 75 km (46.6 miles) from Mombasa, Kenya’s second-largest city.

They also maintain four tidal fish ponds nearby, which help them conserve local marine life and make a living as climate change impacts bite and fish catches on the open sea shrink.

“I am educating my children from the proceeds I get from planting these mangroves, and selling the prawns and fish we farm,” said Mramba.

According to the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), coastal mangrove forests are among the world’s most important wetland ecosystems, providing crucial habitat for wildlife and fish, slowing coral reef sedimentation, and protecting coastlines from severe weather events.

But they are also being destroyed at an alarming rate. Over the past 50 years, around one-third of the world’s original mangrove forests have been lost to unsustainable wood harvesting, pollution, unfettered development, flooding, erosion and sedimentation, says KMFRI.

With aid from Slovakia, channeled through the Kilifi-based Kwetu Training Centre for Sustainable Development, the Mtongani group has replanted more than 15,000 mangrove trees since it formed in 2010.

Members also work with the Kenya Forest Service to stop illegal loggers. “The cutting has reduced since [loggers] know now even a woman can arrest them,” said Mramba.



According to James Kairu, a principal scientist at KMFRI, the destruction of Kenya’s mangroves is a major factor in the struggles of the country’s fishing communities.

Fish breed in mangroves before moving to live in coral reefs. Kairu said over-exploitation of fisheries, the felling of mangroves and rising global temperatures have put pressure on the mangrove and coral ecosystem, harming fish populations.

The villagers of Kilifi, who mostly depend on fishing for their income, have seen a drastic drop in fish numbers over the last few years.

To combat the problem, the Mtongani group decided two years ago to complement their mangrove restoration project with mariculture, the farming of sea life in salt water.

The group built four tidal ponds, each 20 metres (65.62 ft) by 15, which hug the Indian Ocean. Twice a day when the tide comes in, the water brings crabs, fish and prawns that are left behind when the tide goes out again.

The group catches the creatures to eat, sell and stock their ponds, which are replenished with new nutrient-rich water at each high tide.

“We started this project as an alternative source of food and livelihood after fishing started to become unsustainable,” said Nicholas Ngao, chairman of the Mtongani group, whose name means “a relaxing place by the sea” in Swahili.

“I have been a fisherman all my life. In a day, I used to be able to fish about 50 kg (110.23 lb) near the shores, but currently getting even 2 kg is difficult.”

Every three months, the group harvests about 300 kg of fish, 108 kg of prawns and 70 kg of crab. The members sell their catch for between Ksh 200 ($2) and Ksh 1,000 ($10) per kilo.

They also sell at least 12,000 mangrove seedlings every year for up to Ksh 20 each. A tenth of the proceeds goes towards group maintenance, while the rest is divided among members according to their workload.



Combining mangrove conservation with tidal ponds could give coastal communities a chance at a sustainable future as they feel the effects of global warming, said KMFRI’s Kairu.

A report by leading marine scientists, published in July, warned that if temperatures continue to rise at their current rate, ocean warming will further harm marine life, directly affecting food access in coastal communities such as Kilifi.

Higher temperatures can also trigger devastating storms. Kenya’s coast is still recovering from the effects of the El Niño weather phenomenon in 1997-98, which raised ocean temperatures and brought high rainfall.

The result was massive sedimentation, killing huge numbers of mangroves and exposing coastal villages to strong waves. The warmer seas also bleached enormous areas of coral reef, putting stress on the region’s fish populations.

With another major El Niño event now underway, Mramba, Ngao and the other members of the Mtongani group hope that by finding an alternative to traditional fishing and restoring mangrove forests, they can help their village survive – and maybe even thrive – in the face of climate pressures.

“The fish and prawns are breeding at a higher rate than before and the mangrove forest has reduced the wind intensity,” said Ngao. “The trees mean our farms no longer flood as they used to whenever the sea rises, which makes farming easier than it has been for a long time.”

Copyright Thomson Reuters Foundation 2015

Reporting by Sophie Mbugua; editing by Jumana Farouky and Megan Rowling.

Note: This story was made possible by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org



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In a world of youthful leaders, gerontocracies rule Africa

By Stephen Chan, SOAS, University of London
September 19, 2014

There are many African presidents whose age far outstrips that of their peers on other continents. David Cameron (47), Barack Obama (53), François Hollande (60), Merkel (60), Vladimir Putin (61) – these are striplings compared with the gerontocrats of Africa. Even the Chinese, long committed to respect for the old and wise and venerable, now seemingly have a commitment to presidential and politiburo appointments under the age of 60.


Robert Mugabe, 90, is a creature of constant rejuvenations, writes Stephen Chan. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Lock, United States Air Force

I was reminded of this stark contrast by billboards in Harare, Zimbabwe, where I spent much of the northern summer. They bore a picture of Robert Mugabe, who celebrated his 90th birthday while I was there in February, emblazoned with the slogan: “With age comes wisdom”. The picture was of Mugabe in his 60s.

The Mugabe of 90 is, notwithstanding, a creature of constant rejuvenations. His repeated visits to Singapore for medical treatment of an eye complaint seem also to add a spring to his step that is remarkable for a nonagenarian.

Indeed, at the recent Southern African Development Community summit at Victoria Falls, colleague presidents made two common remarks: that he chaired the summit with amazing vigour, and that his mind seemed to think in terms of a bygone age.

The current president of Tanzania, for example, reportedly took exception to a remark that nothing in his country has equalled the era of Julius Nyerere, who ruled from 1961 to 1985 and died in 1999.

The rumours of Mugabe’s ill health are just that, rumours. For now, he appears robust and able to give the lie to predictions of (or wishes for) his imminent demise. But with age inevitably comes speculation related to health – and the track record of previous aged African Presidents is not encouragement.

Right now, Zambia’s 77-year-old president Michael Sata is probably seriously ill, and has scarcely been seen in public for months – notwithstanding a carefully-staged recent reappearance, framed by orchestrated (or archive) footage of him chairing cabinet meetings. While he struggles with his health, his party, and even his long-time lieutenants, are locked in a vicious struggle to succeed him.

Zambian leader Michael Sata. Photo courtesy of the Commonwealth Secretariat

Zambian leader Michael Sata. Photo courtesy of the Commonwealth Secretariat

The piquancy here is that Sata’s vice president, Guy Scott, is a white man, and ordinarily, under the constitution, should succeed in the event of the president’s death. But because of a constitutional amendment brought in 1996 to prevent Kenneth Kaunda, with Malawian parentage, from running again, Scott cannot be president because his parents were not born in Zambia.

Zambia’s succession crisis has also therefore become a constitutional crisis – and all the while, the official machinery insists the president is alive and well.

This is not new; it happened before in Zambia when president Levy Mwanawasa was fatally ill – a fact both explicitly denied and hidden from the voting public.

It happened in Nigeria when president Umaru Yar-Ardua was fatally ill, but all was officially denied. His death was compounded by Yar-Ardua’s choice of a “harmless” vice president – who became the hapless president Goodluck Jonathan.

It happened too in Ethiopia, when the death of prime minister Meles Yenawi was hidden from the public – though in this case, the succession of his deputy Hailemariam Desalegn was hammered out behind closed doors with decisiveness, and later, with a show of public solidarity.

All this raises obvious questions. Why wait until presidents and prime ministers are so old and sick they die in office? And in a world of youthful premiers, why the glut of aged, even moribund leaders?

And above all, the inescapable problem: if wisdom really comes with age, Africa’s assorted gerontocracies are governed surprisingly unwisely.

The ConversationCreative Commons

Stephen Chan, Professor of World Politics at SOAS, University of London, does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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Western security concerns fund Ebola drugs

The World Health Organization said Tuesday the current outbreak of Ebola, which has to date killed an estimated 1,200 people in West Africa, is confirmed only in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, and “at present, no cases have been confirmed anywhere else in the world.” On August 8, the organization had declared an extremely rare Public Health Emergency of International Concern over the outbreak, and the world’s news media (NY Times; CBCBBC; Al Jazeera) is carrying stories about it hour by hour.


Specialists work to contain Ebola outbreak in Guinea in 2013. Photo courtesy of European Union Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection ©EC/ECHO/

Why is Ebola getting so much attention — and relative funding? For pennies per year per person, say experts, neglected tropical diseases that blight the lives of some billion of the world’s poorest people could be eliminated. But while money is scarce for such diseases, expensive drugs like ZMapp, for relatively obscure diseases like Ebola, are richly funded.

The interest in Ebola can be summed up by biodefence capacity in Western countries, notably America, writes Christopher Degeling, a veterinarian and Research Fellow at the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law at the University of Sydney. This, justifiably, raises eyebrows — but Degeling argues while U.S. national interest is driving the drug development, “in the next few months they might prove to be in everyone’s interest.”  An excerpt of his piece in Dispatches/Publica:

Ebola virus disease typically only occurs in rural and remote areas among resource-poor populations. Until the large, recent outbreak in West Africa, cases of the illness were a rarity.

So the fact that we even have experimental drugs for the disease tells a story about how responses to global health crises are shaped by the social and political interests of the developed world.

Major pharmaceutical companies have shown little interest in developing effective treatments for diseases such as this. There’s no incentive for the commercial risks of research and companies naturally prefer to focus on diseases that can sustain large markets of wealthy regular users …  read Biodefence Drives Ebola Drug Development. (Free story)

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The Dictator of Eritrea — Manthorpe

“Fellow Africa hand Remer Tyson and I were huddling behind the thickest wall we could find one bad morning in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and, as one does as the bullets fly, we grew philosophical, recalls International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe of a day in 1991. “If Africa had any sense,” said Remer, correspondent for a major American newspaper group, “it would give Somalia to the Eritreans to run.” “Trouble is,” he added, “the Eritreans are far too sensible to take it.”

306px-Isaias_Afwerki_in_2002That was then. Now, Eritrea is called “the North Korea of Africa” writes Manthorpe. An excerpt of today’s column: 

After being the driving force behind the liberation of Ethiopia, the Eritreans gained their own independence in 1993. This was a time when many African nations were overthrowing the rule of “Big Man” dictators and embarking on the stormy transition to forms of democracy. In this sea change, Eritrea, with its compact and resource-rich territory and highly motivated people, was seen as potentially the most successful.

Instead, quite the reverse has happened. Eritrea is now often called “the North Korea of Africa.” That neatly sums up the reality of today’s Eritrea as a grim totalitarian state with prisons crammed full of dissidents, shunned by its neighbours, forced into diplomatic isolation, and with its economy buckling under United Nations sanctions.

No wonder that Eritrea’s diplomats in Canada, as they do elsewhere in the world, try to strong-arm emigrant Eritreans into donating two per cent of their incomes to the government in Asmara back home.

So what went wrong? The answer is President Isayas Afeworki … read more (subscription required)*

*Log in on the top right of each page (or click here to purchase a subscription or a $1 site day pass) to read:

Eritrea: the failure of Africa’s most promising nation

Jonathan Manthorpe’s columnist page is here.

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An Argument for Carbon Divestment: Desmond Tutu

April 12, 2014

Twenty-five years ago people could be excused for not knowing much, or doing much, about climate change. It was an “environmental issue” of intense interest to environmentalists and leftists and conspiracy theorists, but not much use to us.

Today, we have no excuse. None. Knowledge of climate change is no longer limited to the scientific community and environmental activist fringes. No more can it be dismissed as science fiction; we are already feeling the effects.

And once more, it is the poor who are being asked to absorb the pain for the excesses of the rich. Africans, who emit far less carbon than the people of any other continent, will pay the steepest price.


Desmond Tutu. Creative Commons

This week, scientists and public representatives gathered in Berlin are weighing up radical options for  curbing carbon emissions contained in the third report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The bottom line, a draft of the report warns, is that we have 15 years to take the necessary steps to affordably reduce emissions to attain the targeted 2°C over pre-industrial times. The horse may not have already bolted, but it’s well on its way through the stable door.

Who can stop it? Well, we can, you and I. And it is not just that we can stop it, we have a responsibility to do so. We have a responsibility to persuade the powerful and the wealthy to stop the juggernaut of earthly destruction. It is a responsibility that begins with God commanding the first human inhabitants of the Garden of Eden, “to till it and keep it.” To “keep” it; not to abuse it, not to destroy it.

This is why, no matter where you live, the fact that the United States is even debating whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline is so appalling. It is a massive investment in what we all now know is an unsustainable and destructive fossil fuel based economy. The pipeline will transport 830 000 barrels of the world’s dirtiest oil across the U.S. to the Gulf of Mexico each day. It is estimated that producing and transporting this quantity of oil will increase Canada’s carbon emissions by more than 30 per cent.

If the negative impacts of the pipeline would affect only Canada and the United States we could say, well, good luck to them. But it will affect the whole world, our shared world, the only world we have.

Who can stop it? Well, we can, you and you and you, and I. And it is not just that we can stop it, we have a responsibility to do so. It is a responsibility that begins in the genesis of humanity, with God commanding the first human inhabitants of the Garden of Eden, “to till it and keep it”. To “keep” it; not to abuse it, not to make as much money as possible from it, not to destroy it.

Today, governments and corporations and peoples confront similar moral dilemmas, and often find the lure of the forbidden just as irresistible as Adam did. The taste of “success” in our world gone mad is measured in Dollars and Francs and Rupees and Yen. Our desire to take out and create markets to consume any and everything of perceivable value – to extract every precious stone, every ounce of metal, every drop of oil, every tuna in the ocean, every rhinoceros in the bush – knows no bounds.

We live in a world that is dominated by greed. We have allowed the interests of capital to outweigh the interests of human beings and our earth. We continue to allow the search for prosperity – not justice or equity – to dominate our interests. We are God carriers, made for one another, dependent on each other, but we subvert the innate goodness within us. We worship money instead of the living God.

So, practically, what can we do?

Throughout my life I have believed that the only just response to injustice is what Mahatma Gandhi termed “passive resistance” and others have called non-violent struggle. During the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa a passive resistance toolbox was developed containing levers such as boycotts, divestment and sanctions. Supported by our friends overseas, we were not only able to apply economic pressure on the unjust state, but also serious moral pressure.

These tools – boycotts, divestment and sanctions – work on a few different levels. They can be used by states in order to pressure other states. They can be used by corporations, such as those who stopped doing business in South Africa on moral grounds in the 1980s. And, they can be used by communities, by us so-called ordinary folk.

It is abundantly clear that those countries and companies primarily responsible for emitting carbon and accelerating climate change are not simply going to give up; they stand to make too much money. They need a whole lot of gentle persuasion from the likes of us. And it need not necessarily involve trading in our cars and buying bicycles!

Here is how we do it: There are many ways that all of us can fight against climate change: by not wasting energy, for instance. But these individual measures will not, the scientists assure us, make a big enough difference in the time that physics allows for change. In addition, they’re not appropriate for most of the world’s poorest people.

People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.

We can, for instance, boycott events, sports teams and media programming that are sponsored by fossil fuel energy companies. We can demand that the advertisements of energy companies carry health warnings. We can encourage more of our universities and municipalities and cultural institutions to cut their ties to the fossil fuel industry. We can organise car-free days and other platforms to build broader societal awareness. We can ask our religious community to speak out on the issue from their various pulpits.

We can actively encourage energy companies to spend more of their resources on the development of sustainable energy products, and we can reward those companies that demonstrably do so by using their products to the exclusion of others.

We cannot necessarily bankrupt the fossil fuel industry. But we can take steps to reduce the industry’s political clout. And through the power of our collective action we can hold those who rake in the profits accountable for cleaning up the mess.

And the good news is that we don’t have to start from scratch. Young people across the world have identified climate change as the biggest challenge of our time, and already begun to do something about it.

I cannot describe how it warmed the cockles of my heart to learn that the fossil fuel divestment campaign is, according to Oxford University research, the fastest growing corporate campaign of its kind in history.

Last month, the General Synod of the Church of England voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion to review its investment policy in respect of fossil fuel companies, with one bishop referring to climate change as “the great demon of our day”.

Already Anglican dioceses in the antipodes and members of the United Church of Christ in the United States have urged divestment; already some colleges and pension funds have declared that they want their investments congruent with their beliefs.

It makes no sense to invest in companies that undermine our future. To serve as stewards of Creation is not an empty title; it requires that we act, and with all the urgency that this dire situation demands.

© Desmond Tutu 2014

Published on F&O with permission

Desmond Mpilo Tutu is Anglican Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town. He was a leading proponent of the boycott and sanction campaign against apartheid South Africa. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. Visit the Desmond and Leah Legacy Foundation site here.


Further reading:
UPDATED April 14: IPCC Working Group III Fifth Assessment report
F&O’s running series on Energy
F&O columnist Chris Wood on climate change effects in Canada’s North, The End of the Century is Now (subscription)
F&O’s Expert Witness series republishes Tzeporah Berman’s book excerpt, The Pointy End, on finding hope in the climate campaign (public access)
The March 31, 2014 IPCC press release is here: http://ipcc.ch/pdf/ar5/pr_wg2/140330_pr_wgII_spm_en.pdf
A draft copy of the IPCC report summary for policy makers is here: http://ipcc-wg2.gov/AR5/images/uploads/IPCC_WG2AR5_SPM_Approved.pdf
F&O Dispatch: Report says 90 companies cause 2/3 of climate change, past and present, by Deborah Jones


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Analysis: Conflict in South Sudan

The sickening smell of unfulfilled vengeance hangs over fighting that broke out Sunday among rival clans in the capital of Africa’s newest nation, South Sudan — and there is an awful predictability about where it will lead, writes Jonathan Manthorpe in his latest international affairs column.

He looks at the renewed threat of civil war in the country, where at least 500 people have been killed so far. “There was a sure sign today that this fighting between the Dinka tribe of President Salva Kiir and the Nuer people led by his sacked Vice-President Riek Machar is to settle old scores,” writes Manthorpe. Log in to F&O  to read the column here.*

*Please note, F&O premium works including commentary are available for a price that’s less than a coffee, with monthly or annual subscriptions or with a $1 site day pass. Real journalism has value, and to avoid the conflicts inherent in advertising or soliciting outside funding F&O relies entirely on reader payments to sustain our professional quality.

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JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs

All too often we assess international events through the prism of our own cultures and expectations. Manthorpe aims to try to explain, in clear terms, international events and their casts of characters in the contexts of their own  political cultures. The purpose is not to excuse or downplay abuses when they occur, but to open avenues for informed reactions that are likely to succeed.


Note to readers: Jonathan Manthorpe, a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and the author of this International Affairs column, is on leave from F&O while working on a new book; he also writes for the Ottawa-based  iPolitics.  Meantime, F&O, now in its fourth year, is under review. If citizens act to support sustainable models for professional reporting and analysis, we will resume. It’s up to you. Real journalism is not free. If you value evidence-based, non-partisan, spam-free information, please support  organizations like Facts and Opinions, journalism for the public interest instead of to capture and sell your attention to advertisers or promote a cause other than democracy.

If you value the works, below, the author would appreciate a contribution, at least equal to the coffee you might enjoy while reading, to help fund his ongoing work and pay for this site. Click on paypal.me/JonathanManthorpe to be taken to his personal PayPal page.


For Britain, friendless desert looms behind Brexit door

It has taken 100 years for Britain to sink from being the world’s premier super power to the increasingly inconsequential cluster of off-shore European islands it is today. The slide into irrelevance has been slow and genteel, until the last few months. But the view from the White Cliffs of Dover is now of a vast and unwelcoming no-man’s-land.

Singapore rocked by ruling family feud

The ruling Lee family of Singapore has created for itself, at other people’s expense, such a charmed nepotistic dynasty that anyone can be forgiven for wallowing in schadenfreude and drinking deep the pleasure of seeing them come a cropper.

Trump Cries Havoc! – Dogs (still) Kenneled

Donald Trump, who pronounced Middle East rivalries a “battle between good and evil,” provides the world a master class on how ignorance and miscalculation by a United States president can trigger conflict and set the stage for war.

Theresa May’s election victory no longer certain 

Six weeks ago, when Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election, it seemed a foregone conclusion this was simply a formality to boost her parliamentary majority and strengthen her hand in negotiating Brexit from the European Union. Not any more.

Broad alliances trump Trump for Israeli security

Israel lives in a hostile neighbourhood, and has always had trouble making and keeping trustworthy friends.

Anuradha Ghandy. BBC photo via Wikipedia, Fair use

India’s Maoist uprising morphs into women’s armed insurgency

Women guerrilla fighters are at the forefront of an emerging insurgent war in India aimed at protecting women from sexual violence and human rights abuse.

Trump-Kim smackdown leaves South Koreans cold

The election to the South Korean presidency on May 8 of Democratic Party leader Moon Jae-in is primarily a demand by the country’s voters to reform government, erase corruption and improve social justice.

Venezuela spins at the rim of a black hole

Demonstrators clash with police during a rally against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins


Venezuela is being sucked into a political and social vacuum because neither its local leaders nor regional players have the slightest idea where the country of 30 million people should be heading or how to get there. The awful probability is that the vacuum will be filled by violence.

Trump ain’t seen nothing yet, Iran to top agenda

Trump is going to have to up his global game if he wants to be regarded as anything more than a gormless and dangerously unpredictable Vaudeville act. His opportunity looms as Iran, its nuclear development program and its involvement in Middle East conflicts, bubble to the top of the agenda.

Demands grow for South Africa’s Zuma to go

Demonstrators carry banners as they take part in a protest calling for the removal of South Africa's President Jacob Zuma in Johannesburg, South Africa April 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings It is fitting symbolism that one of the most intense of the many mass demonstrations in recent days, demanding the removal of South African President Jacob Zuma, was in the square in front of Cape Town’s City Hall. It was in this same square on the evening of February 11, 1990, that tens of thousands of South Africans thronged to hear the first public speech by Nelson Mandela after his release from Victor Verster Prison earlier that day.

“The Rock” Caught In A Hard Place

Gibraltar — The Rock — has been British territory since it was ceded by Spain in 1713, but it is now emerging as an issue as Britain starts the negotiations with Brussels to leave the European Union. The fate of Gibraltar is unknowable at this point, but the start of Brexit gives an insight into Brussels’ determination that Britain will leave the EU with little more than the clothes it stands up in.

Beijing brings order to its colonial “Savage Reservations”

Beijing is reaching back into the excesses of Maoist Stalinism and forward into the high-tech social control of Aldus Huxley’s “Brave New World” to try to contain the restive natives of its colonial outposts, Tibet and Xinjiang. And Beijing’s problems with its occupied territories don’t end there. After a farcical process to “elect” a new governor for Hong Kong, the stage is set for more grief for Beijing from the territory’s people, who increasingly don’t think of themselves as Chinese.

Sri Lanka’s slow shuffle to lasting peace

After all wars, the euphoria of peace quickly gives way to the bleak, forbidding reality of the human and physical toll that must now be rebuilt. Resolution is less simple in the aftermath of civil wars. Civil wars are caused by internal social dislocations of one sort or another, and if those root causes are not addressed, the peace is often just a ceasefire. That’s the conundrum facing Sri Lanka eight years after the 26-year civil war ended in 2009.

 Turkey’s dispute with Europe feeds Erdogan’s power thirst

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, in fighting off a populist challenge from Islamaphobe Geert Wilders, unwittingly gave another demagogue the leg-up he needs to achieve supreme power. The diplomatic face-off between the Netherlands and Turkey was a gift to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Americans’ Addiction to Drinking the Kool-Aid

Jim Jones at a protest at the International Hotel in San Francisco, in 1977. Photo: Nancy Wong, Creative Commons, WikipediaThe United States is singularly prone to producing charlatans, messianic faith healers, snake oil merchants, flim-flam artists and all kinds of Pied Pipers who beguile, befuddle and bemuse large numbers of the population. Donald Trump is a representative example of this flaw in the U.S. cultural DNA. But he is not America’s most horrific cult figure:  That crown must go to Rev. James Warren Jones

Renewed Scottish campaign to leave post-Brexit UK

In these times of seething rage, it is increasingly likely that Britain’s divorce from the European Union will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom itself. As the parliament in Westminster completes the process of giving Prime Minister, Theresa May, authority to start the process of taking Britain out of the European Union, anger and resentment is intensifying in Scotland and in Northern Ireland.

Pins are out for the Trump balloon

Even as the inaugural party hangovers still throb in Washington, leaders in other capitals are dreaming up ways to discover what kind of blow-hard Donald Trump is. He has given them plenty to work with.

A woman walks past a portrait of Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun at a department store in central Bangkok, Thailand January 13, 2017. REUTERS/Athit PerawongmethaThailand’s Game of Thrones enters new era

While people in the United States grapple with having done exactly what the Founding Fathers railed against and have elected a cartoon version of George III, the entrenchment of authoritarian democracy is going much more smoothly in Thailand.

Human Rights: There’s an App for that

An air quality monitor atop the United States Embassy in China  confirmed for the Chinese people what they instinctively knew:  their government lies to them. It has instigated a middle class protest that has the ruling Communist Party scurrying to respond on air pollution.

After looking into Trump’s soul, Japan’s Abe seeks new allies

There would be a delicious irony if Japan were driven out of the arms of Donald Trump, and into the arms of  Vladimir Putin because of Shinzo Abe’s suspicions about the reliability of the man who U.S. intelligence agencies unanimously believe was helped into the Oval Office by Putin’s spy agencies.

Britain’s tortuous road to “hard” Brexit 

It is becoming clearer just how wrenching a process it will be for Britain to leave the European Union, and beyond doubt that Britain is headed for a “hard” Brexit.

Canada, Fraudster’s Nirvana

Canada was slammed in a new report on corruption. It matters because tricks –blind trusts, shell companies, anonymous accounts in tax havens — are spurring the kind of populist, enraged politics that elected Donald Trump and are behind Brexit.  Unless Ottawa ensures that Canada’s privileged classes play by the same rules as everyone else Canada, too, will experience a tide of outrage.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela (L) hugs Cuba's President Fidel Castro during a visit to Mandela's home in Houghton, Johannesburg in this September 2, 2001 file photo. REUTERS/Chris Kotze/File Photo


Fidel Castro and the Defeat of South African’s Apartheid

Many people questioned it then and continue to question it now, but Nelson Mandela had no doubt that Fidel Castro played a central and critical role in the defeat of apartheid in South Africa.

Castro and Trudeau, Kindred Spirits

Canada’s Pierre Trudeau and Cuba’s Fidel Castro were brothers under the skin. It is no wonder they became life-long friends, for each could see a reflection of himself in the other.  The similarity in the backgrounds of the two men is compelling.

Ethnic Cleansing Roils Burma’s Democracy Transition

Burma’s 50 million people languished under a most vile military dictatorship for 50 years, but that has not made them a tolerant and open-handed society. The country’s military is in the middle of a scorched earth operation against the one million minority Muslim Rohingya in Burma’s north-western Rakhine state that United Nations officials and international human rights agencies have called “ethnic cleansing.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses the audience after a meeting with Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (not pictured) at the presidential palace ahead of the 2016 APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in Lima, Peru November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

Trump victory rattles Asia

It was extraordinary to see Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe take a detour on his flight to Peru for the Asia-Pacific summit next week, in order to scurry to New York to seek an audience with Donald Trump. That Abe would put himself through this distasteful encounter speaks volumes about the fear and dread with which not only Japan, but much of Asia, contemplates the ascension of Trump on January 20.

Canadians and the Battle for Hong Kong

On Nov. 11 75 years ago, 1,975 men, and two female nurses, of the Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers were steaming across the East China Sea in the New Zealand liner-turned-troop ship, SS Awatea. This small rough-hewn and makeshift expeditionary force was bound for the British colony of Hong Kong.

British Prime Minister Theresa May at a European Council meeting in Brussels in October, with Prime Minister of Luxembourg Xavier Bettel, left. Photo by prime minister's office.Britain needs election to clear Brexit fog

At the heart of Britain’s Brexit drama is a fundamental problem of political legitimacy. None of the main players now in leading roles has any mandate to have their voices heard.

Hillary Clinton Advisers Probe Prospects With North Korea

Two seemingly unconnected incidents this week suggest Washington and North Korea are limbering up for another bout in their two decades-long wrestling match over the Pyongyang regime’s nuclear weapons program.

America’s Withering Dims Age of Enlightenment

Donald Trump will lose the United States presidential election in November, but the curse of Pandora is now out of the box and the age of the collapse of the American Imperium is upon us.

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

Putin, Grand Master of the Great Game, awaits next opponent

When the new United States president moves into the Oval Office early next year, at the top of her foreign policy priorities will be what to do about Vladimir Putin.

Bush’s War on Terror Unending

Fifteen years ago George W. Bush launched the “War on Terror.” It was an incalculable strategic mistake, and there is no end in sight.

Should Trump win, Canada will benefit from fourth wave of US refugees

There are a few reasons why Canadians might welcome the prospect of Donald Trump winning the United States presidency, among them that it may set off the fourth wave of refugees seeking sanctuary in this country from political persecution and upheaval at home. By and large, Canada has done well out of all these waves of migrants fleeing the U.S

A boy rides a bicycle near rubble of damaged buildings in the rebel held al-Maadi district of Aleppo, Syria, August 31, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman IsmailIranians close in on Aleppo, not Mecca

There will be no Iranians this year among the two million Muslims who make the hajj pilgrimage to the holy sites at Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia that starts on Sunday, September 11. They are barred, in the power struggle between Tehran and Saudi Arabia. But at least the religious embargo is relatively peaceful. To the north, in Aleppo, Syria, the contest between Iran and Saudi Arabia is being fought street by street.

Trump is a feeble version of the Philippines’ Duterte

In the hierarchy of demagogues, Donald Trump is not in the same league as the Philippines new president, Rodrigo Duterte. Unlike Duterte, whose approval rating is at 91 per cent since he came to office at the end of June, Trump doesn’t have the guts to say what he means.

South African politics see tectonic shift

South African voters delivered the most stinging rebuke to the party of Nelson Mandela since it led the country out of apartheid a quarter century ago. The messianic reputation of the African National Congress is crumbling under the weight of administrative incompetence and endless corruption scandals.

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan cheer at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir

Istanbul, Turkey July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir

Turkey’s Shock Waves Slam Middle East

The fascist coup of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – for that is what it is – has thrown a large boulder into the boiling, muddy waters of the Middle East.

Zimbabwe Collapse looms over Mugabe succession

The natural span of life is approaching its end for 92-year-old Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s leader since 1980, but the infighting over the succession is so intense that no one is running the shop, and there may be nothing much left to inherit when the time comes.

Beijing’s imperial ambitions run aground on legal reefs

The Permanent Court of Arbitration has ruled that China’s claim over the South China Sea is invalid and unlawful. China must now recognise that what is on the line is Beijing’s trustworthiness as an international partner, in everything from trade deals to the working of the UN Security Council.

Brexit will save the European project

When the dust of history settles, the moment angry Britons voted to quit the European Union will stand out as the moment that saved the 28-nation project.


In England’s Mean and Truculent Land

Britain’s departure from the EU will be a journey across new territory full of terrors and treacherous terrain. Among the many stupidities in Cameron’s management of the referendum was allowing a simple majority for victory.

Mo Ibrahim. Photo Chatham House via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

African democratic reform falters and falls

Two events make it depressingly clear that after political and social advances Africa is slipping back into its bad old ways. On Thursday, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation announced that yet again there is no one worthy of receiving its latest prestigious and lucrative prize for excellence in African leadership. And in Angola, President Eduardo dos Santos put his daughter, Isabel, in charge of the state-owned oil company.

Small Stampede for the Brexit

It is unlikely that Britons are going to give a conclusive answer to the question whether they should remain in the European Union or leave it when they mark their referendum ballots on June 23.

Hong Kong activists split over Tiananmen Square

For the first time, Hong Kong’s Federation of Students, a coalition of student unions, will not take part in the Victoria Park demonstrations. Instead, it will help organize a number of events and demonstrations confronting democracy and even independence in Hong Kong’s future.

DPP Chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai gives a speech during a news conference to promote her campaign for the 2016 presidential election in TaipeiBeijing tests mettle of Taiwan’s Iron Lady President

Since Tsai Ing-wen was elected president of Taiwan in January, the Chinese regime of Xi Jinping has done everything it can to inflame cross-strait relations by goading her into making an outraged response. Tsai, who was inaugurated President of the island nation of 23 million people on May 20, has refused to react in the way Beijing wants.

Venezuela’s drawn-out agony nears crisis

A non-operative water tank is seen in a neighbourhood called "The Tank" in the slum of Petare in Caracas, Venezuela, April 3, 2016. Although their nation has one of the world's biggest hydroelectric dams and vast rivers like the fabled Orinoco, Venezuelans are still suffering water and power cuts most days. The problems with stuttering services have escalated in the last few weeks: yet another headache for the OPEC nation's 30 million people already reeling from recession, the world's highest inflation rate, and scarcities of basic goods. President Nicolas Maduro blames a drought, while the opposition blames government incompetence. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins This weekend’s largest military exercises ever by Venezuela may reveal whether the country is heading merely for an accelerated political and economic melt-down, or a full-blown civil war.

Canada’s Navy: Dying From Neglect

One highly desirable result of an isolationist Donald Trump presidency is that it would expose in short order the philosophical, economic, political and moral corruption that has been at the heart of Canadian defence policy since the year dot. Trump says he wants to jettison those allies who are freeloading on the United States and its taxpayers. By any measure, Canada is the worst freeloader of the whole lot.

North Korea’s Kim rattles the bars of his cage

A good rule of thumb is to always be deeply suspicious of optimistic projections for the future of North Korea. There have been some rose-tinted forecasts wafting from Pyongyang this week as the Workers’ Party of Korea holds its first congress since 1980. The congress was called to endorse the leadership of Kim Jong-un, 33, who took over after the death of his father Kim Jong-il at the end of 2011.

The Trump virus goes global

Trumpery – the political disease that is convulsing the United States and which is characterized by  incompetence, boastfulness and danger – appears to be mutating into a world-wide epidemic. Like America’s Donald Trump, London’s Boris Johnson and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines are riding a wave of public disgust for traditional politicians.

This Week’s Other Birthday

Until quite recently, while Queen Elizabeth and her family were celebrating her birthday every April 21, a group of elderly men in south-west Africa were nursing the effects of the birthday toasts they had drunk the night before, to Adolf Hitler,  born on April 20, 1889. The men had been senior  Nazi officials, and had managed to escape capture by the Allies at the end of the Second World War. What is now Namibia offered a lasting sanctuary.

Pakistan’s long road to the Lahore bombing

The Easter Sunday suicide bombing in Lahore, which was aimed at Christians but killed and maimed mostly Muslims, is a gruesome metaphor for the religious madness that has consumed Pakistan since the country’s creation in 1947. From the start, Pakistan has been a crippled state and no one seems able or willing to fashion a prosthetic that will allow it to function. Added to the religious turmoil, which is as bloody inside Islamic communities as outside, the political class is overpopulated with craven self-servers, bereft of courage or vision.

Party dissent in China as time for a new mandate for Xi nears

China’s leader Xi Jinping is facing serious criticism from within the ruling Communist Party as the time approaches when he must be reconfirmed as party boss and the country’s president. Since being selected by the party at the end of 2012 for China’s two top posts, Xi has raised hackles by using an anti-corruption drive to remove his political rivals, fostering an unseemly cult of personality, ramping up censorship and suppressing of dissent, and grasping more personal power than any leader since Mao Zedong.

FORTALEZA, Brazil — Leaders announce a BRICS development bank at Brazil summit. Left to right: President of Russia Vladmir Putin, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, President of China Xi Jinping, President of South Africa Jacob Zuma. Photo: Russian government, public domainBRICS turning to rubble

The leadership chaos in Brazil and South Africa is a timely reminder for emerging economies that unless they also press ahead with political, administrative, judicial and social reform they are doomed. The prospects for the BRICS —  Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — don’t look rosy, and in every case it is because the governing regimes failed to use their growing economic wealth as a tool to fuel political, administrative, judicial and social reform.

Russia and Turkey eye each other with guns drawn

Of the many disaster scenarios that could spring from the civil war in Syria, the prospect of war between Russia and Turkey is by far the most troubling.

Oil slump devastates Venezuela

Venezuela’s grey and featureless President, Nicolas Manduro, the default successor to that preening, strutting rooster Hugo Chavez, is set to become the first head of government felled by tumbling oil prices. It’s just a matter of who gets their boot lined up first to kick him out the door.

SOUTH CHINA SEA (Jan. 15, 2016) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) conducts a live fire gunnery exercise with its 5-inch .54-caliber gun. Curtis Wilbur is on patrol in the 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt.j.g. Jonathan Peterson, Public DomaineChina’s island building in defence of nuclear missile submarines

China’s island building in the South China Sea shows the challenges awaiting America’s next president. Forget the Islamic State group and the quagmire of the Middle East. Asia and the confrontation with China is where the real threat to North American interests lie. Indeed, the situation is fast approaching something that looks strikingly similar to the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

Nothing is simple about Canada’s support for Kurdish fighters

There are good tactical reasons today to back the Kurdish Peshmerga against Islamic State. But, unlike in Malaya in the 1940s, the probable consequences of supporting the Kurds are clear. The Kurds hope to emerge from the current upheaval and civil war with an independent state of Kurdistan covering their traditional homelands in northern Iraq and Syria, which they already largely control. That, they hope, will be a stepping stone toward adding their homelands in eastern Turkey and north-western Iran.

Riot police arrests a protester after a clash at Mongkok district in Hong Kong, China February 9, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip


Familiarity with China breeds contempt in Hong Kong

The only surprise in the Monday night clashes between Hong Kong police and demonstrators demanding self-rule is that it hasn’t happened before.  In all likelihood the Mong Kok riots herald increasingly violent clashes as Hongkongers vent their frustrations with Beijing’s refusal to keep its promises of political reform and the steady erosion of the territory’s freedoms. The Chinese government has only itself to blame for the alienation of Hong Kong’s seven million people.

Ghosts Gather at Najib’s Feast

For nearly a decade Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak’s control of the country’s government, its judiciary, and most of its media, has short circuited investigations into his involvement in murder, as well as bribery, theft and corruption on a mind-boggling scale.

Artist unknown. Creative Commons/Wikipedia

The Islamic State is a mere shadow of the Assassins’ Caliphate

The psychopaths of the Islamic State are not the first murderers to try to create an Muslim theocracy – a Caliphate – in Syria and what is now Iraq. But unlike their predecessors nearly a thousand years ago, the Islamic State and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, are rank amateurs as fighters, as theologians, and as promoters of their cause.

Five years on, Arab Spring’s thirst for blood still unsated

It is sobering to remember now the optimism about the “Arab Spring” that swept through the Middle East and supportive countries in Europe and North America at the upwelling across the region of popular frustration at dictatorial, repressive governments. The throngs of young people in the city squares chanting for democracy did not constitute a political movement of any utility, and the Middle East in general is in much worse shape than it was before the Arab Spring bloomed five years ago.

REUTERS/Pichi Chuang

REUTERS/Pichi Chuang

Taiwan set to complete the transition to democracy

Taiwan has surged over the hump of its 35-year voyage from a military-ruled, one-party state to one of the most successful and vibrant democracies in Asia.

Class war returns, this time as a global issue

Many mature democracies, previously characterised by the broad social harmony that defines equitable societies, are being sucked into a new world order. We are entering a world in which most wealth, and with it political power, is in the firm grasp of a tiny minority of people who have acquired their status either by luck, imagination, skill, or — in far too many cases — feral instincts. This is a shift in the structure of human society with very real and unappetizing implications.

China’s soil as poisonous as its air and water

Soil pollution in China is as extensive and as deadly as the degradation of the country’s air and water. China is cursed from the beginning because only just over 11 per cent of its land is suitable for agriculture. As much as 20 per cent is so contaminated by heavy metals that food produced on it is toxic. Thirty years of chaotic, corrupt and unregulated industrialization has so polluted China that it is killing hundreds of thousands of its people – by some estimates, millions – every year.

Beijing in smog on Nov. 29. Photo by LWYang/Flickr/Creative Commons

Beijing smog

Vancouver’s housing bubble inflated by China’s air pollution

Vancouver’s grossly inflated housing market, the United Nations’ climate conference in Paris and China’s catastrophic environmental degradation are all linked in a circle of cause and effect.

Catholic confusion over the troublesome Pope

For faithful Catholics, the whole point of the Pope and the Vatican is that they should be pillars of certainty in a troubled and troubling world. But as Argentinian Jesuit Jorge Mario Bergoglio approaches the end of his third year as Pope Francis, the relationships between the Pontif and his cardinals — the Princes of the Church – and the standing of the management of the Vatican – the Curio – are all beset by uncertainty and confusion.

Abandoned clothes of victims are out of the Bataclan concert hall the morning after a series of deadly attacks in Paris, November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Suicide Bombing: history’s least successful military tactic

The latest terrorist tactics adopted by the Islamic State show the group heading toward political irrelevance and self-destruction.  Suicide attacks have been used throughout the history of warfare — and they have an unrivalled record of total failure. They have never worked either as a last-ditch defence or as an offensive tactic aimed at overwhelming the opponent.

Ahmed Chalabi: Death of a Salesman

Ahmed Chalabi is lucky he died this week. Had he lived even a few months longer he would have had to face yet more charges that he is personally responsible for the death and destruction that has wrenched the Middle East for nearly 15 years.

Washington, courts defy Beijing imperialism

At long last, the Beijing regime has this week been dealt two significant set-backs to what is the world’s most extraordinary contemporary campaign of imperial expansionism. A tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea decided that Beijing’s claim to own almost all the South China Sea is not an indisputable fact, as the Chinese government contends.

Pierre E. Trudeau, John Turner, Jean Chretien, and Pearson. Photo: Library and Archives of Canada via Wikipedia

Justin Trudeau inherits an international freeloader

In many ways, Justin Trudeau and Canada’s newly-elected Liberal government are fortunate coming to office at this time when the whole associated field of Canada’s foreign, defence, trade and development aid policy is a wasteland.

China faces crippling water shortages and pollution

China’s drive for wealth and power is stumbling and could collapse over the country’s lack of water and its gross mismanagement of the resources it does have.

Schweizer Armee Füs Gr 2, by Wikimedia Commons user TheBernFiles

Schweizer Armee Füs Gr 2, by Wikimedia Commons user TheBernFiles

America’s gun cult, Switzerland’s firearms culture

In the ranks of “barbaric cultural practices,” the United States’ addiction to firearms is among the most deadly. The results of gun violence in the U.S. are in the same order of magnitude as the fruits of terrorism in the entire world. But the epidemic of gun slaughter in the U.S. is not entirely down to the simple availability of firearms in, it seems, almost every home. The Swiss also have firearms readily available, but they do not massacre each other at nearly the same rate as the Americans.

Europe faces a 1945 moment

Astonishingly, Europe’s dysfunctional and divisive refugee policies have now collapsed entirely in the face of the onslaught of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa. The last time Europe faced a similar crisis on this scale was at the end of the Second World War, which carries many experiences and lessons, some of which are worth examining in the light of what is happening today.

 Refugees are now the biggest crisis facing the European Union

Among the many compelling pictures in recent weeks of would-be refugees swarming across the Mediterranean one from the Greek island of Lesbos caught my attention in particular. It was a short video of an infuriated Greek woman confronting a milling throng of young and apparently fit and healthy Syrian men who had recently made the short passage to her island from Turkey in hope of sanctuary in Europe. “Go home and fight,” she yelled repeatedly at the young men. “Go home and fight.” I could see her point.

Japanese Remorse: Once More With Feeling

Japan’s current Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is having another crack on August 15, the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in the Pacific, at finally drawing a line under the country’s imperial past. The context is difficult for him. As he tries to consign Japanese militarism to history, he is also working to re-interpret the pacifist Article Nine to allow Japanese forces to play a larger and freer role as an ally of the United States and other Asian nations. This is a pressing project in the face of a newly-assertive, expansionist and well-armed China, but sits uneasily against protestations of remorse for past militarism. There is also a difficult nuclear context.

Canada’s pipeline project runs through swamp of Malaysian politics

Najib Razak, official Malaysian government photo.

British Columbians need to know how closely the fate of their $40 billion natural gas pipeline deal is tied to the survival of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. There are two unsavoury reasons. If Najib loses control of his position, his successor may see  projects associated with him as tainted. Should he survive, does Premier Christie Clark relish the prospect of the northern pipeline project, in which she has invested so much political capital and of which she has such grandiose expectations, resting in the hands of a man, Najib, around whom swirls the smell of bribery, corruption and even murder?

Beijing bristles as Taiwan prepares to elect pro-independence opposition

Taiwan’s voters are preparing for a rocky ride as they appear set to elect an opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration dedicated to preserving the independence of the island and its 23 million people. If the voters in next year’s presidential election do what they are now telling pollsters they intend, the result will excite anger in Beijing and send a frisson of anxiety through the corridors of power in Washington.

Beijing collides with China’s new community of human rights lawyers

The recent assault by President Xi Jinping on China’s community of human rights lawyers may be too late to insulate the Communist Party against a coming storm. There is a tacit acknowledgement by the party that China’s swelling community of about 300 human rights lawyers, their associates and like-minded advocacy groups have become a serious challenge to the one-party state.

Hardline, intransigent political ideologues are preparing to sink the Iran deal, writes Jonathan Manthorpe. (Paywall) Lotf Allah Mosque in Iran. quixotic54 via Flickr, Creative Commons Lotf Allah Mosque in Iran. Photo credit quixotic54 via Flickr, Creative Commons

Hardliners prepare to sink Iranian nuclear deal

With a deal on Iran’s nuclear program in the offing, hardline opponents in Washington and Tehran are sharpening their teeth and honing their claws to a razor’s edge. In both capitals, the deal — nearly 20 years in the making — faces being derailed by intransigent political ideologues with little long-term vision.

The Greek tragedy: a drama with many villains and no heroes

There is no shortage of villains in this Greek tragedy.  It hasn’t helped matters that the advent of the euro has been a huge boon for the EU’s industrialized economies, especially Germany. Because the euro includes dud or semi-functional economies like Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Ireland, the international market place marks the currency’s value down against other hard currencies like the U.S. dollar. The result is that German exports are 50 per cent cheaper, by some analysis, than they would be if the country still used its former currency, the deutchmark.

Mohammed Bin Salman al-Saud, the world's youngest minister of defence. Photo by Mazen AlDarrab, Creative Commons

Mazen AlDarrab, CC

Saudi Arabia threatens to run amok

After more than half a century as one of the few pillars of stability in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is rapidly morphing into a dangerous and unpredictable rogue elephant. The transformation has accelerated since, six months ago this week, King Salman took the throne on the death of his elder brother. One of King Salman’s first acts was to mark his young, untried, short-tempered and ambitious son Mohammed, already the country’s Defence Minister, as a future monarch.

Hong Kong legislators reject reform package in farcical vote 

The campaign for and against democracy in Hong Kong has tottered on the edge of farce for some time and this week it tumbled over the edge. Thursday’s vote in the Hong Kong legislature on plans to allow direct election of the territory’s head of government in 2017, but only after Beijing has vetted the candidates for loyalty, should have been a solemn and significant moment.  Instead the episode cascaded into farce.

Money flight impoverishes the poorest countries

It’s not just China’s “Red Nobility” and Russian oligarchs who are robbing their countries by illicitly exporting their wealth to compliant and complicit countries like Canada. There is an epidemic of money flight from developing countries, according to a new report from the Washington-based anti-money laundering organization Global Financial Integrity.

Vancouver: not mind-numbingly boring, but vacuously vain (public access)

Most Vancouver residents are shut out of the feeding frenzy on vast Chinese wealth pouring into city developments. Photo by Deborah Jones © 2014

The flood of vast wealth from China into Canada has not only contorted and distorted the Vancouver housing market beyond redemption, it has changed the sort of community the western Canadian metropolis is going to be for generations to come. In a bizarre piece of absence of mind and lack of attention, it has also hitched the future of Vancouver to the fate of the Chinese Communist Party. Vancouver’s low self-confidence and its destructive vanity have both played a part in these failures.

45 years later, Ottawa fumbles national security

In the last 45 years, successive Canadian governments have attempted various responses to the deficiencies in policing and security intelligence revealed by The October Crisis and the terror campaign of the 1960s in Quebec. But they still haven’t got it right. Bill C51 is bad legislation that will give CSIS too many unaccountable powers; the major flaw is the lack of any serious oversight of CSIS. Unlike in the United States and the United Kingdom, Canada has no parliamentary committee to oversee CSIS’ activities or to warn the agency to stay away from operations that are illegal, immoral or politically indefensible.

North Korea’s Kim glories in his reign of terror

One of the best arguments today for the use of judicious political assassination is the existence of Kim Jong-un. There is now abundant evidence that the young North Korean leader is a mad dog. The world would be a safer place without his murderous and megalomaniac finger hovering over the launch button for his nuclear weapons and inter-continental ballistic missiles. And without the evil ministrations of his pointless regime, North Korea’s 25 million people would have the opportunity to make something worthwhile out of their ravaged country.

Ethiopian immigrants arriving in Israel, 1991. Photo by Israel government press office.

Flight Out of Ethiopia

This week’s riots by thousands of Ethiopian Jews in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv mark the latest episode in a drama that stretches back well over 3,000 years, and 24 years  after Operation Solomon, one of the most extraordinarily successful rescue missions in modern history. The Ethiopians were protesting what they see as systemic racism by Israeli society against their community of about 130,000 people. The spark for the violent protests was a video posted on social media of two policemen beating a young Israeli-Ethiopian soldier, Demas Fikadey, who did not promptly respond to their order to move away from an area they were clearing..

Earthquake postpones Nepal’s bright dawn

The earthquake that struck in April has set back for at least a decade the early stages of Nepal’s climb out from the basement of global economic development, where it has languished for generations. Many will doubt whether Nepal’s fledgling democratic institutions are robust enough to manage the onslaught of the well-meaning, but often destructive, attentions of international aid agencies that will now batter the country. But there are reasons to be optimistic.

As independence approached in 1993 Eritreans, like these women carrying rocks to build a dam, were happy to volunteer for reconstruction work. Now they are drafted into unending years of servitude. Photo by Jonathan Manthorpe, © 1993

© Jonathan Manthorpe

Eritreans take perils of the Mediterranean over torment at home

Something has gone desperately wrong in Eritrea since the promise of the early 1990s, when  the Eritreans stood out as one of the most remarkable people and societies in Africa. Now, among the hundreds of people dying in the sinking of rickety boats being used by people traffickers to take refugees from Africa to Europe are many Eritreans. The United Nations reckons that at least 4,000,  almost all of them young, Eritreans a month are fleeing their country.  What happened? To put it simply, Eritrea’s zealously Maoist President Isayas Afewerki is what happened.

Generals in mufti still control Burma

 Burma has gone from military dictatorship to kleptocracy without drawing breath.  When, in 2011, Burma’s generals “hung up their uniforms” after nearly half a century of military rule and introduced an ersatz civilian democracy, no one in their right mind imagined the soldiers wouldn’t occasionally reach behind the closet door to polish their medals. But Burma’s generals are proving to be altogether more addicted to their cans of Brasso than supporters of democracy for the Southeast Asian nation, also known as Myanmar, hoped or expected. With parliamentary and presidential elections due in November, Burma’s transition to some form of genuinely representative and accountable political system appears to be stalled.

Fighting for possession of deck chairs on the Titanic

Maldives_-_Kurumba_IslandPolitically, even as climate change threatens its very existence, the Maldives is pretty much a hell on Earth.  It’s a green tourist Mecca where nearly one million tourists a year – three times the republic’s population – come to lie on its pearl white sands, wallow in its clear waters, feast in its five-star resorts, and worry about the fate of this earthly paradise. The Maldives’ environmental plight is a hugely successful economic story; tourism accounts for 90 per cent of government revenues. Sadly, progress in the economic and political lives of 330,000 Maldivians has not been as stellar.  All those green and eco-friendly resorts are owned by five families, who are also at the heart of a small coterie of inter-related clans that control everything that moves on the islands. We’re talking here about Medici Florence or Plantagenet England where members of the ruling families can be locked up in a dungeon one day, back in favour with princely authority the next, or dead on the floor after a family feud got out of hand.

China’s war for Asian domination going well

TOKYO, Japan — China’s war to supplant the United States as the regional super power in the Far East and western Pacific is under full steam and gobbling up its objectives. Over the last 15 years, China has not only built a large and potentially effective navy, it has by stealth and cunning either caused divisions between the United States and its Asian allies, or cast doubt among target states whether Washington can be trusted to support them, or both.

Canada PM distorts, inflates ISIS threat for electoral ends

The decision by the Canadian government of Stephen Harper to extend and expand its military mission against ISIS in Iraq is in wilful disregard of the real threat posed by the radical Muslim group and how it can be overcome. I say “wilful” purposefully, because it is evident that the government’s military and intelligence advisers are offering analysis and options that lead to very different conclusions than those being taken by the Prime Minister Harper and his inner circle.

Boko Haram heaps electoral bad luck on Goodluck Jonathan 

Children in a refugee camp in Niger

Refugee camp in Niger

Reports from the Nigerian military that they have launched a major offensive against Boko Haram, killed 300 of the group’s fighters and recaptured 11 towns and villages should be treated with skepticism and caution.  It is largely because of the ineptitude, ill-discipline and corrupt culture of the Nigerian army over the past six years that the militant Islamists of Boko Haram have managed to grab control of three states in northeastern Nigeria, kill thousands of people and displace another estimated one million. Over that time the army’s public statements have grossly exaggerated its efforts and successes against Boko Haram, when its greatest skills have been either to stay firmly in barracks or to run away.

Co-opted judiciary sentences Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim to 5 years

Two of the most prominent finance ministers of modern times were in court this week on sex charges, which may seem like a thesis on the relationship between power, money and priapism just waiting to be written. But there are profound differences between the case of Malaysia’s former finance minister and deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, and the former head of the International Monetary Fund and a finance minister of France in the late 1990s, Dominque Strauss-Kahn.

Truth of Franco-Taiwanese bribery scandal dies with fugitive arms-broker

The reported death in Britain of Andrew Wang at age 86 draws a line under one of the most sordid arms dealing, murder and bribery scandals in modern French and Taiwanese history. But the death of Wang, one of Taiwan’s 10 most wanted fugitives and the chief suspect in the murder at the heart of the scandal, means that key elements in the story may never be unravelled. And what a story it is.

After almost 25 years, a glimmer of light in the Somali tunnel

American boarders, suspected Somalian pirate ship, 2009The burned-out palace of ousted dictator Siad Barre was still smouldering when I got to the Somali capital, Mogadishu, almost exactly 24 years ago. On Jan. 27, 1991, Barre had emptied the contents of the national bank into a tank and sped off into the western dessert as a motley crew of fighters from a couple of dozen clan militias closed in on him. Thus ended Barre’s 22 years of always despotic, frequently murderous, and endemically corrupt rule. Yet set against all that has happened in the 24 years since to the people of this benighted nation, Barre’s dictatorship can seem like a golden age.

Labour unrest surges as China’s economy slows

As China’s economy slows to a crawl, the Communist Party is facing one of its worst nightmares: a militant labour movement. The Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, which collects data on strikes and lockouts in China as well as promoting workers’ rights, says there has been a dramatic upturn in labour unrest across the country. As the country’s economy slowed to its lowest growth level since 1990, strikes and protests in the last three months of 2014 were three times those of the same period the year before. “The dramatic upturn can be partially explained by the increased use of cheap smartphones and social media as tools by workers to get news of their protest action to a wider audience,” says the latest report by the group. “But at the same time there is clearly an increase in labour activism in response primarily to the economic slowdown in China over the last year or so.”

Ghost of murdered mistress haunts Prime Minister of Malaysia

Murdered Mongolian aspiring fashion model, translator and mistress to the mighty, Altantuya Shaariibuu, may yet get the last laugh. The men who murdered Altantuya in October, 2006, two police bodyguards to Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, who was then the defence minister, were acquitted on appeal in 2013 after a farcical judicial process. The trial was a fine example of the skill with which Malaysia’s judiciary has learned to perform in politically sensitive cases involving the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which has ruled the country at the head of the Barisan Nasional coalition since independence from Britain in 1957. So when Malaysia’s Federal Court reversed the acquittal, and upheld their original conviction and the death penalty, it is a signal that the political ground has shifted.

U.S. State Secretary John Kerry, left, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Jan. 5, 2014.

Saudi Arabia succession struggle looms as king ails

It’s been a long time coming, but the looming crisis in Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy is finally in clear sight. What has brought matters into focus was the dispatch to hospital in Riyadh this week of 91-year-old King Abdullah, who is suffering from pneumonia. The king’s months of evident ill health come after his attempt to embed some political stability in the country of 29 million people and the world’s largest oil producer by appointing not only his successor, but also his successor’s successor. Far from providing security and continuity, Abdullah’s action is more likely to set off a potentially disastrous contest for the throne among Saudi Arabia’s princely families.

Tyrants trump under-resourced International Criminal Court

When the International Criminal Court came to life in 2002 it was touted as a place where tyrants and their underlings would be brought to account for genocide and crimes against humanity. But the ICC, based in The Hague, has never gained altitude. The limits on its powers and its inability to fulfil even its restricted mandate were put on display this month by the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson

The Boris Show heads for prime time

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London who unashamedly lusts to be Tory Prime Minister of Britain, clearly relishes his role as a source of public entertainment. In his nearly two decades in the public eye, Johnson has made buffoonery a high political art form. And public delight at his verbal indiscretions, temperamental inability to parrot contemporary political correctness, willingness to make a fool of himself, and genial, basset-hound features have aligned into considerable political backing.

Uneasy lies the head that wears Thailand’s Crown

It’s a story that would have William Shakespeare licking his lips and sharpening his quill. The tale has everything that excited the creative juices of The Bard. There’s a dying king, much loved and revered by his people for his care for their wellbeing. But waiting in the wings is a hated, rapacious and vindictive Crown Prince. Even the most fervent royalists among the people are consumed with anxiety about what may happen when the prince assumes the throne and grasps the powers of monarchy. There is a rival for the crown, the king’s daughter, who has earned the public’s affection because of her charity and good works. But it is unclear whether she has the desire or the will to challenge her brother for the throne.

Robert and Grace Mugabe. Photo by Dandjk Roberts via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

Dandjk Roberts, CC

One man’s thrust for survival in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe

In great contrast to the Borgia world of Zimbabwe’s First Lady, Grace Mugabe — the subject of the column preceding this one — is the skill, imagination, talent, determination and sheer hard work that ordinary Africans have to employ to survive and succeed.  A tale … It was mid-December, the height of yet another summer of drought in Zimbabwe, and I was making the early morning coffee when there was a loud cracking and wrenching noise from the garden.

 The Rise of “Gucci Grace,” Zimbabwe’s “First Shopper” 

Sally Mugabe was much loved in Zimbabwe and many believed, with some justice, that it was only her steadying hand that stopped her husband, President Robert Mugabe, from becoming the feral tyrant that emerged after her death. In the months before her death in January, 1992, it was widely known in Harare that she would soon be taken by the liver disease from which she had suffered for several years. It was also known that the President had not waited to become a widower before seeking comfort elsewhere. At least three years before Sally’s death Mugabe had taken one of his secretaries, Grace Goreraza, as his mistress.

The Elgin Marbles on display in the British Museum.

Elgin Marbles, British Museum.

Mrs. Clooney rushes to the rescue of Greek culture

It had been a tough day interviewing victims of Khmer Rouge atrocities, and it was with great relief that I slumped down in a chair in the hotel bar in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, and ordered a beer. Through the window I could see the sun shimmering red as it sank through the torpid, tropical air hanging over the Tonle Sap tributary of the Mekong River. I was the only non-Asian in the bar, which was humming with the chatter of rich locals and visiting businessmen from other parts of the region, who had come to see what spoils there were to be harvested in a country just emerging from decades of war. … read more (paywall).

History still waits for the Fat Lady to sing

Potsdamer Platz in the former East Berlin, in 1963. Photo by Roger Wollstadt via Flickr, Creative Commons

The world would be a different place if Francis Fukuyama had been right in the essay he wrote, shortly before the demolition of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago this weekend, arguing that the Soviet Union  collapse was indeed “the end of history.” “What we may be witnessing,” wrote the Stanford University political scientist, “is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” … read more (paywall)

War on Islamic State caliphate boosts the birth of Kurdistan 

Before going to war it is always a good idea to have a clear purpose and outcome in mind.  Yet six Royal Canadian Airforce CF-18s are set for bombing missions in the Middle East without any clear vision of what victory will look like. The whole thing is depressingly reminiscent of the Libyan campaign in 2011 when allied warplanes enabled rebels to oust and kill dictator Moammar Gaddhafi. But then they all declared “mission accomplished,” packed up their kit and headed home. Meanwhile Libya has turned into bloody chaos and a killing ground for rival Islamic factions, tribal fighters and would-be new dictators. There are many days when Gaddhafi, for all his evil, looks a lot better than what Libyans have got now. … read more (paywall)

Ebola particles in a cell

Ebola particles in a cell

Ebola’s first casualty: clear thinking

The ebola panic overshadows far more deadly diseases. Unfortunately, humans are appalling bad at risk assessment. In recent weeks Ebola has tweaked our primal fears of the first Horseman of the Apocalypse, Pestilence, in the same way as my run in with the Black Death. Politicians, world health officials and the media are near hysteria as they pump out fear-inducing prophecies about the looming pestilential scourge.

Lightning-strike diplomacy opens crack between the Koreas

In a remarkable demonstration that may presage the end of one of the world’s most deeply embedded conflicts, three of North Korea’s most senior leaders have made a surprise visit to the South. The excuse for the unprecedented trip across the heavily-armed border that has divided the peninsular since the Second World War was to attend the closing ceremony of the Asian Games, held at the city of Incheon west of the South’s capital Seoul. But the three also met senior South Korean officials and agreed that talks should be held to improve relations between the two sides of the divided nation.

Beijing will outwait Hong Kong’s Protesters

Tens of thousands of Hongkongers took advantage of today’s Chinese national holiday to join students who have clogged the city’s streets for four days demanding Beijing deliver on its promise to give the territory democratic autonomy. But the numbers do not look large enough to prompt Beijing to rethink its decision to keep control of the process by which the head of Hong Kong’s government, the Chief Executive, is chosen. The likelihood now is that the authorities will stand back, watch the protests run out of steam and wither of their own accord.

Afghan unity deal ensures future conflict

As rival candidates for power in Afghanistan signed a power-sharing deal on Sunday, an understandable sigh of relief swept through the corridors of power in those countries that have expended troops and treasure in the last dozen years trying to get the central Asian nation on its feet. In the six months since the first round of the presidential elections it looked as though the whole Afghan project might collapse into new chaos as the two main candidates, former World Bank official Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, exchanged increasingly bitter allegations of vote-rigging.

Gulnara Karimova. Creative Commons via Wikipedia

Gulnara Karimova. Creative Commons via Wikipedia

Uzbekisatan’s dictator destroys “princess” daughter

Supermarket tabloid divas like the Kardashians and Miley Cyrus are rank amateurs in the league tables of manic self-obsessives and insatiable exhibitionists of their own excruciating bad taste when stacked up against the gold standards set by Gulnara Karimova. Mind you, Karimova, 41, who immodestly but truthfully describes herself as a “poet, mezzo soprano, designer and exotic Uzbekistan beauty,” has some advantages …

China manufactures islands to back its sovereignty claims

Not content with stealing other people’s territory, the Beijing government is now manufacturing islands to boost its insubstantial claim to ownership of the South China Sea. The Philippines government has released aerial photographs of Chinese dredgers and construction teams pulling up millions of tonnes of sand and rock from the ocean floor to create islands on Johnson South Reef, which is claimed by the Manila government.

Imran Khan: from sports hero to prophet of doom. September 3, 2104

Imran Khan. Photo by Jawad Zakariya, Creative Commons via Flickr

Imran Khan. Photo by Jawad Zakariya

The occupation of the heart of Pakistan’s capital by thousands of demonstrators demanding the resignation of the government is not so much a political crisis as a sad, public flameout by the protest leader, former cricket hero and international playboy Imran Khan. For over two weeks up to 15,000 followers of Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice or PTI) have occupied the country’s political hub, the “Red Zone,” in the capital, Islamabad, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

China accepts tribute from its vassal, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. August 27, 2014

The air in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People was heavy with the pungent smell of irony this week as China’s President Xi Jinping greeted his visiting Zimbabwean counterpart, Robert Mugabe, as an old comrade in the struggle against “imperialism, colonialism and hegemony.” For Mugabe had come to Beijing to give his south-east African country of 13 million people to China, if not as a colonial possession, at least as a vassal state.

Washington and Tehran find common cause against Islamic State. August 21, 2014

It’s always a bit of a shock when the stern clerics that run Iran display an impish sense of humour. So when Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, was quoted today as offering to help the West’s campaign against the Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq in return for the lifting of crippling sanctions against Tehran, the natural inclination was to chuckle at his gall and turn the page.

China’s Xi launches his own Cultural Revolution. August 13, 2014

Xi Jinping is not content with being the most powerful leader of China since Mao Zedong. He also wants to play God. Xi’s ruling Communist Party announced last week it will write its own version of “Chinese Christian theology” to ensure adherents abide by the country’s party-imposed political culture. The attempt to take control of religion in China is part of a broad campaign by Xi to establish “cultural security.” The aim is to outlaw and control all foreign influences that might undermine the communists’ one-party rule.

Hamas Leads Gaza Down a Dead-end Street. August 6, 2014

Not the least of the problems of finding any kind of solution to the plight of the Palestinians is that the Hamas zealots who control Gaza are incompetent terrorists and jihadis. Hamas’ sole strategic objective, the purpose of its jihad, is to overrun Israel and drive its 6.1 million Jewish residents into the sea. This latest month-long conflict shows Hamas has no capacity to do that and has no idea how to go about it.

Jilted Putin courts Kim Jong-un for comfort. July 30, 2014

The ripples set in motion by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s ever more blatant involvement in fighting in eastern Ukraine have reached the other side of the world, and are lapping on the shores of the hermit kingdom of North Korea. As the European Union and the United States impose increasingly onerous sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin and his court, and a long term chill in relations with the West appears likely, Moscow can’t be too choosy about the new friends it makes. In this frigid climate, even the unpredictable, spoiled brat North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the Justin Beiber of dictators, can seem warm and charming.


General Khalifa Haftar

Libya finds its new Qaddafi. July 25, 2014

A renegade Libyan general, reputedly with links to Washington’s Central Intelligence Agency, is well on his way to filling the political vacuum left by the ouster and killing of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. Since late May, Khalifa Haftar has formed a loose alliance of elements of the national military and tribal militias with the aim, he says, of destroying militant Islamist groups that had taken control of much of the country.

Religion-inspired violence not just a Muslim problem. July 18, 2014

It is not just fanatical believers in an intolerant, violent, evangelical and racist brand of Islam that are spreading a shameful stain on the pages of human history in the 21st century. All major religions have in recent decades spawned similar factions of puritanical hatred that are distorting and perverting the route and progress of public affairs, even in secular democracies.

Al-Qaida Jihadists Suspicious of Iraq-Syria Caliphate. July 16, 2014

Half a dozen so-called Islamic states have been created out of countries in crisis in the last 20 years, and each new one is more brutal and bloodthirsty than the last. The latest is the “caliphate” created by the messianic descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, soldier and Islamic scholar Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in the territory he and his followers control in the border region of Syria and Iraq.

Spy scandal confirms Germans’ growing mistrust of Washington. July 11, 2014

Angela Merkel. Official photo by Armin Linnartz, Creative Commons

The name “Intelligence Agency” often seems to be an oxymoron because spies frequently do incredibly dumb things. But before labelling the entire profession a collection of buffoons, it’s as well to remember that most intelligence agency work is divided into two main, distinct areas. There is the gathering of information through human spies, electronic surveillance or from open sources. Then there is the analysis of that intelligence into assessments of the implications that political masters can use as part of the policy-making process. Usually it’s revelations about the information-gathering process that gets intelligence agencies into trouble.


Portugal’s Foodie Empire. July 9, 2014 


Nation of Kurdistan springs from Arab chaos. July 4, 2014

Reform Agenda of Thailand’s Junta Destined to Fail. July 2, 2014

Cameron courts “heroic defeat” by European leaders. June 27, 2014


Dual Citizenship no Guarantee of Protection. June 25, 2014


Eritrea: the failure of Africa’s most promising nation. June 20, 2014

Local grievances fuel Kenyan massacres. June 18, 2014

Bin Laden’s disciples move to realize his dream. June 13, 2014

Beijing reneges on Hong Kong freedom guarantee. June 11, 2014

Bergdahl a pawn in a bigger game. June 6, 2014


Soccer bribery is the least of Qatar’s sins. June 4, 2014

Japan deals itself in to the Asian poker game. May 30, 2014

Revolt against Brussels rattles European leaders. May 28, 2014

Beijing takes another major step to control the South China Sea. May 23, 2014

Army attempts to mediate Thailand’s political crisis. May 21, 2014


“Red Shirts” protest, 2010.

Renewed fears of Thai military coup as political chaos grows. May 14, 2014

Beijing attempts to provoke conflict with Vietnam over maritime claims. May 9, 2014

North Korea’s Kim renews his quest for a nuclear life-saver. May 7, 2014

Contest to succeed Zimbabwe’s Mugabe heats up. May 2, 2014


Crumbling of the BRICs. April 30, 2014

Putin’s other hand hovers over Moldova. April 25, 2014

Scottish leader downplays difficulties of independence. April 23, 2014

Saudi Arabia sacks troublesome intelligence chief Prince Bandar. April 18, 2014

Decision time looms for Hong Kong democratic reform. April 16, 2014

Hong Kong 320px-P1020965

2005 democracy protest.

Indonesia’s White Knight stumbles at the first fence. April 9, 2014

In Iran, nuclear deal and social reform are intertwined. April 8, 2014

Student protest stalls Taiwan-China rapprochement. April 4, 2014

Xi’s growing personal power worries China’s elder leaders April 2, 2014

Leave Ukraine to the Russians. March 28, 2014

New rift among Arab states adds to Middle East security threat March 26, 2014

Mandela’s heritage tainted by President Zuma’s graft March 21, 2014


Taiwan’s People Power protest is Beijing’s Crimea moment. March  19, 2014

Fear spreads in China of Uigher insurrection. March 14, 2014.

Putin more in tune with the times than Obama March 12, 2014.

Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar again convicted after fake trial. March 7, 2014

Beijing, not Moscow, is the home of imperialism. March 5, 2014

“Patriotic” triad thugs attack Beijing’s critics in Hong Kong. February 26, 2014

Europe carries blame for the Ukrainian violence. February 21, 2014

UN report calls China complicit in North Korean atrocities. February 19, 2014

Venezuelan opposition fractures over ballots or bullets to win power. February 14, 2014

A small moment in the history of China and Taiwan. February 12, 2014

Iran’s “reformist” Rouhani faces hardliner backlash at home. February 7, 2014

Afghans survey unsavoury buffet of presidential candidates. February 5, 2014

China conscripts Blackwater chief for its march into Africa. January 31, 2014

Thailand’s PM Yingluck faces judicial as well as military coup. January 24, 2014

Arab Spring still waiting to blossom. January 17, 2014


© Greg Locke 2004

The Real Weapon of Mass Destruction. January 15, 2014.

Military poised as Thailand approaches political deadlock. January 10, 2014

Iran and United States join against common foes. January 8, 2014

Turkey’s Erdogan seeks military support after falling out with Islamists. January 3, 2013

1914 and the China Syndrome. January 1, 2014

Turkey’s Prime Minister fights for political survival. December 27, 2013

Japan moves to unshackle its military as storm clouds gather over Asia. December 20, 2013

Renewed civil war looms in South Sudan. December 18, 2013

Bodies of purged foes deck the halls in Beijing and Pyongyang. December 13, 2013

The Nightmare of Mandela’s Dream in South Africa. December 11, 2013


Nelson Mandela’s goodness harmed his leadership. December 6, 2013

China set to gain from airspace dispute. November 29, 2013

Arrest of anti-piracy mercenaries highlights maritime security. October 23, 2013

Many reasons to boycott Sri Lankan Commonwealth summit. October 18,2013

Crystal meth epidemic undermines North Korean regime. October 16, 2013

Anti-China sentiments boil in Hong Kong. October 11, 2013

China’s Xi renews threat to invade Taiwan. October 9, 2013

U.S.-Iran thaw isolates Israel. October 4, 2013

Political reform in China unavoidable. October 3, 2013

Iran-U.S.: little warmth in Tehran’s smile. September 27, 2013

U.S. steps up African anti-terrorism drive. September 25, 2013

Japan to counter Chinese “provocations.” September 18, 2013

Political upheaval looms in Taiwan. September 13, 2013

Saudi Arabia scorns U.S. Middle East policy. September 11, 2013

Domestic fears behind Putin’s support for Syria. September 6, 2013

Sordid murder saga dogs Malaysian leader. September 4, 2013

China’s leader moves to purge rivals. September 3, 2013

Egyptian coup averts threat of war with Ethiopia. August 30, 2013

Syria’s Gordian knot will not easily be cut. August 28, 2013

Iran’s international role tempered by obstacles. August 23, 2013 

Egypt’s bleak prospects after failed democratic transition. August 16, 2013

China prepares show trial of disgraced political superstar Bo Xilai. August 14, 2013


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