Monday, August 31, 2015

Sunday Globe Special: African Superpower

Now that Khadafy is out of the way....

"Nigeria is a laboratory for testing solutions to persecution" by John L. Allen Jr., Associate editor August 23, 2015

ABUJA, Nigeria — In many ways, Nigeria is the Texas of Africa. It’s a loud, bold, swashbuckling land where “go big or go home” could be the national motto. With a population of 183 million, it’s the largest nation in Africa and also the largest economy, and is the continent’s largest producer of oil.

Even Nigeria’s defects, such as its legendary corruption, are larger than life.

That also makes an economy grow.

Despite producing 2.4 million barrels of crude oil every day, generating $50 billion in annual revenue, so much money is siphoned off that the country imports gasoline and its power grid is notoriously unreliable.

In 2014, Nigeria claimed another dubious distinction: It became the world’s largest crucible for new Christian martyrs.

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In terms of its religious landscape, Nigeria — perhaps more than almost any other place on earth — captures two inescapable truths:

When the paper starts hollering truth.

Religious persecution is often bound up with economic, political, and ethnic factors, and it can be hard to know in individual cases how much “religion” was the driving factor.

Actually, that is true, and that is usually what you get: one phrase or sentence surrounded by the rest.

Christians are not immune to the radicalizing effects of violence, and don’t always take their hardships lying down.

So which intelligence agency is helping them?

On the first point, Boko Haram is often styled as the African equivalent of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, and its leader even has pledged allegiance to ISIS. 

I'm going to cut it off there and suggest you scroll through a bit before continuing.

Yet most experts insist that’s a false analogy. Boko Haram’s aim is not really global jihad, they say; rather, it’s largely a domestic insurgency whose principal nemesis is the Nigerian state.

The group’s origins lie in perceived failures of the government, especially decades of corruption and neglect after independence in 1960 that have left the country’s mostly Islamic north even poorer and more underdeveloped than its mainly Christian south.

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“The typical Boko Haram guy who attacks a church could just as easily do the same thing at a mosque,” said Musa Abdullahi, a sociologist at the University of Maiduguri in northern Nigeria and a Muslim who has lost three members of his own family to Boko Haram violence.

“Their war is not really about religion,” Abdullahi said. “It’s against the system.”

The complexities lie not only in the causes of anti-Christian violence, but also the solutions....

Not really.

Nigeria is not the Middle East, where Christians are a tiny minority vis-√°-vis a vast Muslim majority. Christians and Muslims are fairly evenly divided, and as a result, Nigerian Christians tend to be more willing to push back when they perceive their interests are threatened.

Acting like Israelis.

Last June, for instance, a Christian militia formed mainly of villagers from the northeastern Borno state took the fight to Boko Haram, launching a series of assaults on militants that reportedly left 46 people dead.

In truth, such militias are not new. They go back at least to the 1990s, when a series of sectarian clashes erupted in the country’s northern states. Pastor James Wuye of the Assemblies of God church, for instance, today runs an interfaith reconciliation center after losing his right arm leading a militia into battle with Muslims two decades ago.

Nigeria’s experience thus poses hard questions about when victims of religious persecution may be justified in fighting fire with fire, and how to ensure that legitimate efforts at self-defense don’t become swept up in a contagion of mutual hatred.

In sum, Nigeria is both a case study in the complexities of religious persecution and also a laboratory for seeking solutions to it. Because it’s an African superpower, the whole world has a rooting interest in seeing the country succeed.

Nigerians are being used in an "experiment?"

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RelatedWill Nigeria’s Muslims and Christians let Boko Haram set the agenda?

The agenda set forth by my paper:

"Teen suicide bomber kills 5 in Nigeria" Associated Press  August 26, 2015

DAMATURU, Nigeria — Two suicide bombers carried out separate attacks Tuesday that killed five people in Damaturu, a town in northeastern Nigeria, police and witnesses said.

In one attack, a girl bomber died in an explosion that killed five people at the crowded entrance to the main bus station, said Assistant Superintendent Toyin Gbagedesin. Witnesses said a young male suicide bomber killed only himself when his device exploded prematurely.

Gbagedesin said 41 people were wounded in the bus station explosion. The bomber appeared to be about 14.

Nigeria’s Islamic extremist group, Boko Haram, is suspected of being behind the attacks. It has used dozens of girls and women in recent suicide bombings in Nigeria and neighboring Chad, Cameroon, and Niger, raising fears it is using kidnap victims.

More than 1,000 people have been killed since President Muhammadu Buhari was elected in March with a pledge to annihilate the militants, whose six-year uprising has killed a total of about 20,000 people. Nearly 2 million have been driven from their homes.

Another refugee crisis, and not making the radar right now.

Earlier this year, troops from Chad and Nigeria drove the extremists out of some 25 towns held for months in what they had declared an Islamic caliphate. The insurgents have returned to hit-and-run tactics and suicide bombings.

In one attack last week, the extremists ambushed the lead vehicle in a convoy carrying Nigeria’s new chief of army staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai.

Defense chiefs have finalized details to deploy a regional army of 8,750 troops from five countries against Boko Haram, Nigeria’s Defense Ministry reported Tuesday following a meeting of commanders in N’Djamena, the Chadian capital and headquarters of the multinational force.

Yeah, that did catch my attention.

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At least Boko could never come here:

"US seeks max 15-year prison term for Kenyan in terror case" Associated Press  August 26, 2015

MIAMI — A Kenyan man who admitted he provided thousands of dollars in cash and recruits to foreign terror organizations in Africa and the Middle East should get the maximum 15-year sentence in US prison, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

Mohamed Said, a 27-year-old native of Mombasa, Kenya, served as a financier and recruiter for Africa’s violent Al Shabaab organization as well as Al Qaeda affiliates in Syria and elsewhere, Assistant US Attorney Brian Frazier said in a court filing. Many of Said’s plots were captured in FBI undercover recordings and conversations between Said and an FBI ‘‘online covert employee,’’ the prosecutor added.

It's another patsy plot set-up as the U.S. government double-crossed this guy.

‘‘Said was not just a dreamer but also a doer, an operator,’’ Frazier said.

Superpowers shouldn't have to resort to such staged and scripted deception and deceit.

Said pleaded guilty to terror support conspiracy in May and faces sentencing Friday before Miami US District Judge Ursula Ungaro. A codefendant, Gufran Mohammed, is serving a 15-year prison term after also pleading guilty.

The pair were arrested in 2013 in Saudi Arabia in a case that evolved from FBI monitoring of Internet chat rooms frequented by Islamic extremists, including Mohammed. Said received at least $11,600 from Mohammed intended for Al Shabaab, according to court documents.

Said’s attorney wants a more lenient eight-year sentence, in part because Said never engaged in any military training and did not target the United States or plot against Americans, they said.

Still, the FBI evidence contains ominous snippets that Said one day hoped to stage an attack against US interests.

Looks kind of vague.

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"Kenyan sentenced to 15 years in prison in US terror case" Associated Press  August 29, 2015

MIAMI — A Kenyan man described by US prosecutors as a fund-raiser and recruiter for terrorist groups in Africa and the Middle East was sentenced Friday to 15 years in federal prison.

US District Judge Ursula Ungaro imposed the maximum possible sentence on 27-year-old Mohamed Said. He pleaded guilty in May to charges of conspiring to support to Africa’s violent Al Shabab organization and Al Qaeda affiliates in Syria and elsewhere.

He won't be talking to anyone anytime soon.

Said’s attorney, Silvia Pinera-Vazquez, had sought a more lenient sentence because Said solely supported what she described as foreign “insurgents.”

“There is simply no evidence of direct intent to harm the United States,” she said.

But Ungaro said terrorist groups Said supported have an avowed intent to attack the United States and its interests overseas.

“It’s not reasonable to say that his conduct did not touch the United States. It did,” Ungaro said.

Said and codefendant Gufran Mohammed were arrested in 2013 in Saudi Arabia in a case that evolved from undercover FBI monitoring of Internet chat rooms frequented by Islamic extremists. Mohammed, a naturalized US citizen originally from India, is already serving a 15-year prison sentence after pleading guilty.

Said’s communications with undercover FBI operatives and Mohammed — who lived in the Los Angeles area — enabled the United States to charge him with federal terrorism support crimes.

That's how they set you up.

Of the two, Said played the more critical role because of his connections to the leadership of the terrorist groups and knowledge of their inner workings, Assistant US attorney Ricardo Del Toro said.

So who was his government case officer and handler?

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And they are now all hiding up in Maine?

Meanwhile, on the other end of the continent:

"Leaders sign deal to end South Sudan’s civil war, but challenges loom; Country faced sanctions if civil war continued" by Kevin Sieff Washington Post   August 27, 2015

NAIROBI, Kenya — South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir signed the accord under massive pressure from the international community, which threatened to impose further sanctions if the deal was not completed before September.

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In signing the deal, Kiir alluded to the pressure he faced.

‘‘There are two options,’’ he said Wednesday, ‘‘the option of an imposed peace or the option of continued war.’’

Not long after becoming the world’s newest country, South Sudan devolved into a bitter conflict, mostly along ethnic lines. There have been numerous reports of children being killed or forced to fight, women being raped, and dozens of mass killings.

A report by the United Nations earlier this week described how both sides had managed to supply themselves with arms and ammunition, ‘‘leading to large-scale violations of international humanitarian law.’’

So where did they come from, and the fact that it goes unmentioned can only mean U.S. arms, which are 80% of the market.

With the country flooded with weapons and tensions still strong, delivering on the promises of the peace agreement will be a challenge. In the past, Kiir and Machar have agreed to several cease-fires — but each of them has been broken. 

I never take cease-fires or peace talks seriously in a war-promoting paper.

The deal allows for a power-sharing arrangement, which is likely to restore Machar to the position of vice president and permit the rebels to appoint two state governors.

Experts praised the role played by the United States and other members of the international community in bringing both sides to the negotiating table.

The process appeared to be derailed last week, when Kiir missed the first deadline.

The United States was intimately involved in South Sudan gaining independence, and it has provided millions in civilian aid and military assistance in the subsequent years.

Yeah, Bush helped set it up so Sudan's oil could be controlled by the South (mostly Christian) from the North (mostly Muslim), even though the pipeline runs through the North.

Come to think of it, I read somewhere that this is the reason for the confusing violence, as another pipeline to circumvent the North is developed.

As South Sudan’s conflict simmered, the White House found itself trying to support one of the world’s poorest nations while seeking to ensure that its funds were not being diverted to fuel the civil war. It imposed targeted sanctions, which many claim were effective.

‘‘President Obama’s direct engagement with regional leaders during his trip to Africa in late July was essential in cultivating what had been missing so far in the negotiations — international leverage aimed at pressuring the warring parties toward peace,’’ said John Prendergast, founder of the Enough Project, a nonprofit organization that works in South Sudan.

Take a look if you want.

About 2 million people have been left homeless since the conflict broke out in 2013.

The economy has suffered, too, despite South Sudan’s significant oil reserves.

Or maybe because of it.

The country has a debt of more than $4 billion.

A banker just smiled.

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"Attack reported during S. Sudan truce" Associated Press  August 31, 2015

JUBA , South Sudan — A rebel official said government troops on Sunday attacked a village in South Sudan’s volatile Unity state on the first day of a cease-fire.

See?

The attack on the village in Mayendit County followed attacks on two other villages in the same area Saturday night, John Riek, who coordinates relief activities in an opposition-held part of southern Unity state, said Sunday.

He said government troops were burning houses and looting livestock on Sunday and he had to hide in a swamp to escape the violence.

The Associated Press could not independently verify his claims.

Military spokesman Colonel Philip Aguer said he was unable to verify reports of clashes. Rebel spokesperson James Gatdet Dak said he has not received reports of new clashes.

Southern Unity has witnessed chaotic violence between the sides in recent months following a government offensive against rebel forces.

Doctors Without Borders said last week it treated 50 people including women and children for gunshot wounds in the town of Leer over the past month.

South Sudan’s war began in December 2013 between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar.

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Time to hop the bus and get back home:

"At least 38 girls and young women were killed in a crash while traveling to Swaziland’s most popular traditional festival, a rights group said Saturday. An additional 20 others were injured when the truck they were in collided with another vehicle Friday."

What's wrong with the trains in South Africa?

UPDATES: 

"The death toll rose to 193 in South Sudan’s fuel tanker explosion Saturday as the government declared three days of mourning. More patients have succumbed to their injuries, said Patrick Raphael Zamoi, the governor of Western Equatoria state where the blast occurred Wednesday."

"South African prison evacuated after deadly rat infestation" Associated Press  September 24, 2015

JOHANNESBURG — A South African prison that once held Nelson Mandela is being evacuated after two prisoners died from a disease carried by rats, authorities said on Wednesday.

About 4,000 prisoners will be moved from Cape Town’s Pollsmoor Prison due to a rat infestation, provincial spokesman Simphiwe Xako said.

The inmates, both men and women, will be relocated to other prisons around the Western Cape province in the next few weeks, Xako said. The prison will be fumigated once it is empty.

Two prisoners died from leptospirosis, a disease spread by rodents, Xako said. No other prisoners have shown symptoms of the disease, he said.

‘‘Pollsmoor is a very old facility,’’ said Xako. ‘‘There have always been rats.’’

Yeah, no big deal even since the end of the apartheid. 

Mandela, South Africa’s former president, was held at Pollsmoor from 1982 to 1988.

Medical officials said overcrowding, inadequate waste management, and blocked drains contributed to the infestation.

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South Africa could have been a superpower, but....