Timbuktu ‘Festival of the Desert’ may be Catalyst for Peace

August 13, 2014

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s August 13, 2014 blog post.


Last year I met Malian musician Mamadou Diabate, the 2009 Grammy Award winner of the “Best Traditional World Music” for his album ‘Douga Mansa’. Mamadou had also composed the song ‘Bogna’ meaning “Respect is the healing medicine of peace. Peace is the healing medicine of love. Love is the healing medicine of life. Life is the healing medicine of hope”. Mamadou came from a family of musicians in Mali that have used music to preserve the Manika language and people’s consciousness of the past dating back to the 13th century, when Timbuktu was considered the intellectual capital of the Muslim world. He came from Kita, a town long known as a center for art and culture, where he learned to play the ‘kora’ (the 21-string harp) at an early age.

In mid-2012 Islamist extremists took control of a large area of northern Mali, and muzzled its long standing history of music culture. Musicians were attacked and many instruments were destroyed. Hundreds of musicians fled fearing the wrath of these radical hard-liners. The music tradition of story-telling has served to record history and unite cultures–a language that transcends time. Today Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) and other Islamist affiliates still have a presence in the Sahel, even though French and UN troops drove the Islamists from northern Mali in 2013. They continue to move throughout the region including, Mauritania, Niger, Algeria, and Libya. The vast Sahara desert provides a safe-haven for these insurgents. The BBC News reported on August 10, that French forces bombed Islamist militants embedded in the Esssakane region west of Timbuktu. Earlier in July there was a report of an Islamist rocket attack at the Timbuktu airport.

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Mexico’s energy reform to attract international interest

August 11, 2014

Antonio O. Garza (Ambassador to Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s August 7, 2014 special to the Houston Chronicle.


With final Congressional approvals now in place, Mexico and President Enrique Peña Nieto can begin celebrating the passage of the secondary legislation necessary to codify last year’s constitutional amendments that opened the energy sector to private investment. The confetti will have barely hit the floor when the focus must necessarily turn to the crucial implementation period when the institutional and market architecture must go from blueprints to the hard work of build out.

The December 2013 constitutional reform ended the monopoly of the state-owned energy company Pemex and introduced private investment into every segment of Mexico’s hydrocarbon sector. It also gave regulatory authority to a new set of autonomous, independently funded entities that will oversee licensing, safety and environmental protection. Additionally, the reform required that Pemex be transformed into a “state productive enterprise” and established the Mexican Petroleum Fund, under the purview of the Central Bank, to manage contract payments and oil revenue.

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Can Gaza Ever Be Pacified?

August 8, 2014

Marc Ginsberg (Ambassador to Morocco, 1994-1998)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Ginsberg’s August 7, 2014 special to the Huffington Post.


The Gaza Strip will never fit neatly into a future Palestinian state jigsaw puzzle. Even in a utopian final two-state settlement it will always be separated from the West Bank across 30 Israeli desert miles. The best minds have tried to figure this one out… an elevated highway linking Gaza and the West Bank, a highway tunnel gouged under Israel, even a light rail system. Yet Gaza’s ill-fated geography is what it is no matter what Hamas may seek (and will always fail) to change.

The simplistic narratives spinning around the war about Gaza only make things worse for its victimized citizenry. For Israelis and for those truly interested in a positive future for Gaza, it is essential to understand that Hamas and the Palestinians who live there are not one and the same.

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Osama Bin Laden Could Have Been Captured Earlier

August 7, 2014

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s August 6, 2014 blog post.


On May 1, 2012, I wrote an article on Osama bin Laden noting that he could have been captured before 1996. I had spent five years researching al-Qaeda’s terrorist activities in the Horn of Africa, Arabian Peninsula and Middle East for my book “When the White House Calls”. I served as U.S. ambassador, from 2002-2005, to three island nations in the East Africa Indian Ocean region. At the embassy our regional security officer constantly received information on the possible whereabouts of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, one of the most wanted lieutenants of Osama bin Laden, who came from the Union of the Comoros. Since his wife and children, and other family members still lived there we believed the information to be credible. Some of the data possibly could have led to other al-Qaeda operatives-even Osama bin Laden. Today the debate continues on whether bin Laden and other al-Qaeda operatives could have been captured long before 2011.

The U.S. State Department didn’t respond to the detailed cables as to Fazul’s travel, even when informants told us he would be visiting his family in Comoros, or on nearby islands. Fazul was raised in Comoros, an island nation of 600,000 Muslims. Pakistani imams had infiltrated the religious madrassas on the main island of Grande Comore, where Fazul was indoctrinated by their radical teachings. Offered a scholarship to study computer science in Pakistan, he ended up at the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) center where many of the Taliban were trained. He was then sent to Afghanistan where he eventually joined bin Laden.

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The US should do more for its oldest ally

August 6, 2014

Edward M. Gabriel (Ambassador to Morocco, 1997-2001)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Gabriel’s July 30, 2014 special to The Hill.


Today, July 30, across the Atlantic and just a few weeks after the 238th anniversary of our country’s independence, America’s oldest ally will celebrate the fifteen-year anniversary of its King’s leadership. I was present at King Mohammed VI’s enthronement ceremony in 1999, as the U.S. ambassador to Morocco at the time. I remember being struck by the seeming irony: I was representing one of the world’s most important democracies at the celebration of one of the world’s most long-standing monarchies.

But as I quickly learned, it wasn’t ironic at all. From our very first conversation, just following the death of His father, King Hassan II, I understood that King Mohammed VI holds a very specific vision for Morocco that shares so many US values. He expressed his desire to devolve power to local government; he was proud that his country embraced diversity and tolerance and wanted the world to understand how essential that was to Morocco’s identity; and he wanted his country to prosper—economically, politically, and socially. Having witnessed the first few years of his reign from the US Embassy in Rabat, and having served as an adviser to the Kingdom since 2002, I have been uniquely positioned to witness Morocco’s evolution under King Mohammed VI’s rule.

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Ambassadors discuss the U.S. image abroad (Part II)

August 4, 2014

Ambassadors Anne S. Andrew (Ambassador to Costa Rica, 2009-2013), Donald Gips (Ambassador to South Africa, 2009-2013), Ford Fraker (Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, 2007-2009) and Laurie Fulton (Ambassador to Denmark, 2009-2013) appeared on “This is America & the World” to discuss the U.S. image abroad.



What Did the Arab Spring Accomplish?

August 1, 2014

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s July 30, 2014 blog post.


The root of discontent stemmed from unjust governance, poverty, food insecurity and unemployment issues. Regime change did not build democratic institutions. The political instability opened the door to Islamists bent on creating Islamic states.

The Arab Spring in North Africa began in Tunisia in December 2010, with the self-immolation of a street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi who had his fruit and vegetable cart confiscated by local authorities. Massive protests forced President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia. President Moncef Marzouki his successor failed to unify the country, and under political pressure agreed to hold new elections– which he postponed twice. Islamists have carried out attacks against members of parliament and political leaders, recently killing two moderate candidates. In May 2014 the electoral laws were changed to allow former officials in Ben Ali’s administration to run for office. Twenty former government leaders were recently released from prison, which sparked public outcry. Adding to the chaos last week fourteen soldiers were killed while pursuing AQIM Islamists embedded in the Chaambi Mountain region near the western border with Algeria.

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Operation Lifeline Syria

July 25, 2014

Madeleine Albright (Ambassador to the United Nations, 1993-1997)

Cross-posted from Secretary Albright’s July 23, 2014 post to Foreign Policy.  The article was coauthored by David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee.


The Middle East suffers a new trauma every week. Iraq is disintegrating, as the Syrian conflict crashes across its borders. Gaza is in flames, as long-term neglect takes its toll. No wonder it seems difficult for policymakers, never mind the public, to get their priorities straight.

One consequence is that the humanitarian crisis in Syria threatens to become a sideshow — not because things are getting better, but because complexity has become an excuse for inaction. Suffering on an appalling scale is now the new normal: In the last few days, upwards of 700 people have been killed in Syria, a fact that has gone unremarked in most news outlets.

For three years, humanitarian action and political progress have been put in separate boxes. On both counts the international community is failing. U.N. appeals are not funded, and U.N.-sponsored peace talks are going nowhere. Aid convoys are blocked, and U.N. resolutions are ignored.

Yet two recent developments — one humanitarian, one political — have provided a potential for a breakthrough.

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Mexico’s Energy Reform: One Critical Step Closer

July 24, 2014

Antonio O. Garza (Ambassador to Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s July 2014 newsletter.


Mexico’s landmark constitutional energy reforms, approved last December, moved another step towards final passage this week when Mexico’s Senate gave final approval to key parts of the secondary legislation necessary to regulate the opening of the country’s oil and gas industry to private investment.  That secondary legislation now goes over to the house where, within weeks, it is expected to pass.

The full legislative package addresses 21 laws necessary to implement the reform and support its goals of transparency, competition and growth. Anticipation of a new energy era in Mexico is building and expectations for the reform’s beneficial economic effects are great.

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Education is Best Way to Defeat Radical Islam

July 17, 2014

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s July 17, 2014 blog post.


On June 10, 2014 our family returned to Africa as we do every year. Kenya’s Masai Mara was again selected. There were fourteen of us, including twelve family members and two close friends, ranging in age from eight to eighty. The youngest family member had been to Africa six times. Marcia and I first visited Africa in 1970, on a fact-finding mission to review CARE, UNICEF and World Food Program operations in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. We have since been to over twenty-five countries–some a number of times. As U.S. ambassador from 2002 to 2005, I oversaw three Indian Ocean island nations off the coast of Africa–Mauritius, Comoros and Seychelles.

On our visit this year we stayed in two tented camps–Bateleur at Kichwa Tembo and Cottar’s Camp. In addition to enjoying the vast savannah with its abundance of wild life, we visited the Emurutoto Primary School again. Since our first visit twelve years ago the school had grown to almost 400 students with fifteen teachers. The school administrator reviewed with us a list of immediate needs, including adequate toilet facilities for the students, and new housing for the teachers.  At the time construction was underway for a new dormitory to house up to 200 girls, who have been sleeping on the dining hall floor, sponsored by the non-profit organization Angels in Africa. Our son Steven had brought along several soccer balls. It didn’t take long for the grandchildren to be involved with the school children in a scrimmage. On leaving we agreed to build the needed restrooms and teacher housing facilities.

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