Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Americans can learn from the struggles and wins of Rwandan women

October 6, 2017

Swanee Hunt (U.S. Ambassador to Austria, 1993-1997; Chair, Inclusive Security)

Cross posted from The Hill


If the hand-wringing of pundits has left you in despair that this country is beyond healing, learn from the women of Rwanda.

Most people rightly recall that small nation in East Africa as the site of a 1994 genocide of unspeakable brutality, in which as many as one million (mostly Tutsi) died in a span of 100 days. With machetes and clubs, Hutu extremists slaughtered not only neighbors, but even Tutsi in their own families. The country was decimated — the equivalent of 32 million Americans murdered this fall.

What fewer people know is that when the killing ended, the impossible happened. Women created 15,000 village councils that formed a leadership pipeline; they designed a grass-roots justice process that allowed healing; they took on influential roles historically denied them.

As chaos cracked open the culture, women surged into the breach: today they hold a world-record 64 percent of parliamentary seats. They passed landmark legislation enabling females to inherit property, which opened paths to economic opportunity.

An astounding 55,000 community health workers have been elected by their neighborhoods. Illiteracy has plummeted, thanks in part to compulsory education for girls as well as boys through the 9th grade.

These advances, forged primarily by women, have made Rwanda the gold standard for development in Africa. Virtually free of corruption, the nation’s annual economic growth has averaged eight percent.

Over the past two decades, Rwanda’s women have built bridges across the deepest chasm imaginable. To put a lid on strife, the government forbade the use of ethnic labels. And women took transformative reconciliation an unfathomable step further, adopting hundreds of thousands of orphans of the other group.

Why should this matter to Americans? Of course we should care as humanitarians. But there’s another reason. It’s at the heart of our security, our well-being, and our pocket books.

It’s a matter of insistent cooperation. Compared to men, American women co-sponsor more bills across party lines, and the huge majority declare to researchers that they’re more willing to reach across aisles. The examples are usually little known, but sometimes front- page “above the fold.” A few weeks ago, women in the Senate joined hands to protect healthcare for the poor. And remember 2013, when they dramatically banded together to avert a government shutdown.

Of course, we’ve seen only hints of what collaboration can mean in our Congress. That’s primarily because women’s representation the United States doesn’t come close to our Rwandan counterparts. Just 20 percent of our Congress is female, far from the “critical mass” (around 30 percent) that can reshape an institution.

Embarrassingly, 120 countries have a higher percent of women legislators than we do.

How do we change this? Americans aren’t going to formalize a gender quota, which is a matter of course in most countries. But our political parties could adopt minimums to reduce the huge disparity of men to women. In fact, one-third of Congressional Democrats are female; the problem is that the GOP women’s caucus has only eight percent. Republican women do run, but they have a very hard time getting out of their primary races, which are closely guarded by good ol’ boys.

Apart from quotas, we can embrace other Rwandan strategies. There, women rose because of a pull from the top and push up from the bottom. Cues from leadership matter; in both parties, high officials should be urging specific women to run, then supporting them with money and top talent to break through and win.

But let’s take apart our situation further: As Rwandan women graduated from their village boards to climbed a ladder of councils, they built a knowledge base of issues as well as the political process, and they formed professional connections. Likewise, we can support an unruly female crowd to step onto political rungs from city-wide boards to major municipal and state-wide offices. Every one of us could join organizations like She Should Run or Running Start, and encourage women we know to throw their hats in the ring.

The good news is that U.S. women compete evenly in open-seat races. Our structural problem is that Congressional incumbents (mostly men) are re-elected at a rate well over a whopping 90 percent. Some doors may open in 2018 since an unusual number of Republican men are likely not to run again, in part because home district resistance to President Trump’s policies is so vociferous.

Genocide has no silver lining. Still, Rwanda is our teacher. If women there reinvented a country out of smoldering ashes, surely we Americans can clear the way for women to break gridlock, embrace differences, and restore civility in our country.


Mali: Radisson Blu Hotel Attack to Thwart Peace Accord

December 2, 2015

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

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s November 30, 2015 blog post.


The terrorist attack on November 20 at the Radisson Blu hotel in the capital city of Bamako shows that radical Islamists continue to be active in Mali. Reportedly the attack was to thwart the peace accord between the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) seeking autonomy, and the Mali government. I believe the Islamists embedded in the northern region want to hinder the peace process so they can create an Islamic caliphate.

The Islamists reportedly affiliated with Moktar Belmoktar’s al-Mourabitoune militia killed eighteen hotel guests and one local guard. Two of the Islamist gunmen were also killed. I had stayed at the Radisson Blu hotel in the past and found it popular with foreign business people, diplomats, and airline personnel.


Why Change in Nigeria Matters to the World

May 29, 2015

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

Cross-posted from Secretary Albright’s May 28, 2015 special to Time Magazine. The article was co-authored by former Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson.


This week, something unprecedented is happening in Africa’s most populous country, where groundbreaking political change is underway. Nigeria’s incumbent president will step down and a new president from another political party, Muhammadu Buhari, will be sworn in.

The March election that brought Mr. Buhari to office was a political triumph for Nigeria and a positive step for the future of democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. Few expected that the election would be peaceful or credible, but the Nigerian people demanded nothing less.

As one of us witnessed first-hand while serving on a National Democratic Institute election observer delegation, people across Nigeria waited in lines that stretched for hours simply to have their voices heard through the ballot box. Thousands were willing to risk the threat of election violence to volunteer as citizen observers, and the outcome was seen as legitimate thanks in large measure to the work of the Independent National Electoral Commission, which oversaw the rapid release of election results. A coalition of 400 civic organizations conducted a parallel vote tabulation that protected the integrity of the process and promoted confidence in the official results; other groups conducted a large-scale, and effective anti-violence campaign.


The Increase of Islamist Attacks is Alarming

January 13, 2015

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

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s January 13, 2015 blog post.


We are living in the most crucial time in modern history since the Cold War. Today’s enemy is not a standing army of a sovereign nation. It is a theological movement with a mission to destroy Western civilization. As the Cold War ended in the 1980s, the U.S. focused more on the Eastern Bloc countries, although the real threat to our security was brewing in Africa and the Middle East. We continued to build up our military might for ground-style wars, but did not see the danger of terrorism that would erupt into a different kind of warfare.

The U.S. could have learned a lesson in the early 1980s, when there were thirty-six suicide attacks against Americans inside Lebanon. In April 1983 the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was bombed by Hezbollah, killing 63 people. At the request of the Lebanese government, the U.S. established a peacekeeping force to control the conflict between Muslims and Christians. The Muslim military viewed our soldiers as their enemies and attacked them regularly. In October 1983 truck bombs struck two barracks, killing 241 U.S. troops for which the Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility. In December 1983 a truck filled with explosives rammed into the three-story administrative wing of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City, killing five people. That attack was claimed by a radical Shiite group with ties to Iran.


Education for Somalia’s Children is Key to the Future

November 12, 2014

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

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s November 11, 2014 blog post.


Somalia is a poor Muslim country, where agriculture provides a meager existence in its arid climate, and people live on less than $2.00 a day. The country has one of the lowest primary-school enrollment rates in Africa with less than 25% of the children participating, of which one-third are female students. Somaliland has fared better than the rest of Somalia, with 44 percent of the children receiving an education.

Ms. Hodan Guled, the founder of the Somali and American Fund for Education (SAFE) noted, “With basic reading skills, a child has the opportunity to be lifted out of poverty”. SAFE has been building schools in Somaliland, the autonomous northern state, which has not seen the violence that has devastated the rest of Somalia. The southern region has been destabilized by al-Shabaab Islamists since 2006.


Africa’s Future in the Global Economy

November 5, 2014

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

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s November 5, 2014 blog post.


“Africa is the second largest continent, with over one billion people, which is expected to double by the year 2050”.

On October 20-21, 2014 the Council of American Ambassadors and the Hinckley Institute of Politics co-sponsored a conference on Africa’s Future in the Global Economy at the University of Utah. Global leaders and academics made presentations to an audience consisting of government and community leaders, diplomats, former U.S. ambassadors, educators and students.

Governor Gary Herbert opened the conference noting that a number of Utah businesses have increased their trade with Africa–a new frontier for export growth. TIME’s October 27 issue had a Gallup poll survey taken in 131 countries, indicating that 35% of the respondents planned to do business in sub-Saharan Africa within the next year; 23% in the Middle East and North Africa.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield gave an overview of U.S. involvement in sub-Saharan Africa—major achievements and some shortcomings. The future looks bright, except some of the Millennium Development Goals established at the UN in 2000eight targets to eradicate poverty and human suffering–will not be accomplished by 2015. Ms. Thomas-Greenfield served as U.S. ambassador to Liberia 2008-2012, where today there is an Ebola crisis that is also affecting several other West African nations.


U.S. at War: Airstrikes have begun in Syria

September 25, 2014

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005) Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s September 25, 2014 blog post.


Fighting between tribal and religious factions is not new. Rulers and dictators have come and gone through history. In the 12th century Sultan Saladin’s Muslim forces defeated the Crusaders, and created a caliphate in the Middle East and North Africa. The mantle was passed on to the Ottoman Empire rulers who controlled much of the Middle East and Eastern Europe until 1915. Islamists today want to establish another caliphate in the same region. In the early 1700’s the Muslim preacher Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab formed a political pact with Muhammad bin Saud to engage in armed jihad against the other tribes in the region. The al-Saud dynasty by 1932 had become the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, controlling a vast region in the Middle East. The Wahhabi sect has since spread throughout the Middle East, Africa and Southern Asia, and adopted armed jihad as part of the Islamic doctrine. (more…)

Ambassador Gabriel: In Africa, Solidarity Will Lead to Stability

September 2, 2014

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


In early August, the heads of state of nearly fifty African countries gathered in Washington, DC for the first-ever US-Africa Leaders Summit. Over the course of several days, attendees participated in a myriad of forums, roundtable discussions, meetings, and other events to address issues of mutual concern, like economic development and investment, security and counterterrorism, women’s rights, and youth engagement. Individual business deals were signed and joint statements were issued. From a big-picture perspective, the Summit can be boiled down to two goals: promoting development and securing stability on the continent.

As any development or security expert will tell you, the two are intertwined, and you cannot have one without the other. The real question then becomes HOW to achieve these goals. If the Summit provided an answer, it was that of continental integration—in other words, solidarity. And for good reason.


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.


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.