Who am I?Where am I?

11 January 2009

Benazir Bhutto

27 December marked the 1-year anniversary of the Bhutto's assassination in Rawalpindi as she left an election rally. The world has changed quite a bit since 27 December 2006. George Bush will no longer be American President in a few days; Pervez Musharraf is no longer in Pakistan; yet one thing is clear: the world is a lesser place because Benazir Bhutto is no longer with us. As evidenced by the outpouring of grief and mourning on 27 December, she is sorely missed.
Bhutto's party, the Pakistani People's Party, won the ensuing election following her murder. With Pervez Musharraf no longer in the political picture, Bhutto's widower is now in charge of Pakistan. Asif Ali Zardari has a reputation for political corruption and is suspected of swindling millions of dollars from the Pakistani government's coffers during the tenures his late wife served as Prime Minister. However, his government has remained unpopular. Pakistan is facing serious problems: the economy is in tatters, the recent Mumbai attacks have been linked to Pakistani militants, Islamic insurgents are operating in Pakistani tribal areas, and the US is increasing military operations in tribal areas along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, and Pakistan has not hosted an international cricket match at home since before Bhutto's assassination (this is my effort to shamelessly mention the world's greatest game into each and every blog that I write).
Pakistan is a virtual failed state with a seemingly endless chain of democratic governments toppled by military coups and the use of murder as a political tool. The bottom line is that Benazir Bhutto might not have had all of the answers to solve the myriad problems that Pakistan faces. Her political past was marred by corruption charges. She certainly would not have had the answers to the global economic crisis which is affecting Pakistan. It is highly doubtful that she would have been able to extend the rule of law into the tribal areas of Waziristan and those surrounding Peshawar. The Mumbai attacks would still have occurred. There would still be tension between India and Pakistan would over Kashmir. But somehow, the region does not seem as stable without Benazir Bhutto's long shadow. She knew the risks of reutrning to Pakistan. She paid for her ideas with her life. For better or worse, her tragic death marked the end of an era and dimmed the hopes that Pakistan can emerge as a peaceful country with a stable government.


Kenyan Communications Act of 2008

As I have traveled the world, there have been numerous opportunities for me to sit back and think about what it means to be American. Though I have lived overseas continuously since 2002, no matter where I go, I am defined by Americanness. For six years, people have asked me about George Bush, Iraq, September 11th, and why Americans don't play football or cricket. Now I am being asked about Barack Obama, the economy, and why Americans don't play football or cricket. But what does it mean to be American? After reading about the Kenyan Communications Act of 2008, I have grasped part of the answer. Somewhere, inherently ingrained into our being, Americans value freedom. We may have misguided leadership that tries to impose our rights onto others ala Iraq, but at the core, Americanness on some level means having personal rights.

After reading about the recent passage of the Kenyan Communications (Amendment) Act of 2008, one of the fundamental rights that Americans value is freedom of the press. Generally speaking, the American media is inherently biased, not in how it covers a story, but in what it chooses to report. (A case in point would be covering the exploits of Somali pirates and the hijacking of ships while not covering the root cause of the problem which is illegal fishing and the dumping of toxic waste in Somali waters.) However, with the internet, satellite dishes, and other modern forms of communication, informtion can be gathered, processed, and discussed on a large scale. Nobody will limit my right to say whatever I want to say. I can say that George W. Bush is the worst President in American history. I can say that George W. Bush is my hero. Regardless of my position, I will not be thrown into a United States prison for writing what I think.

This is perhaps what is so disturbing about Kenya. Kenya has largely been seen as the most developed country in East Africa, and perhaps along with South Africa, Ghana, Botswana, and a select few other African countries, as being a stable bastion of democracy on the continent. This image was further burnished by the election of Mwai Kibabi in 2002, in an election that saw KANU, the party that had ruled Kenya since independence, trounced in a landslide election. Five years later, Kibaki's election was controversial and resulted in ethnic violence which left over 1000 people dead and thousands more displaced (many of whom are still internally displaced persons...IDPs). To be fair, Kibaki has done many good things, including the aboltioin of school fees. Moreover, Kibaki has allowed ministers to run their departments (and thus introduce much needed reforms) rather than concentrating so much power in the head of government.
However, his enthusiasm for reform has dissipated as his government has become increasingly unpopular. This has culminated in the Kenyan Communications Act (Amendment) 2008. This bill essentially vests in the government the power to regulate the media within the state of Kenya. There are two main points of contention with the current bill. The first is that the state has the right to seize broadcasting equipment if the Internal Security Minister deems the usage of such equipment to be neccessary during a "State Emergency". The second issue is that letters can be seized and opened if the Internal Security Minister deems the contents to be a threat to the government of Kenya. Currently, a debate rages about these two issues. Media outlets have written to Kibaki's government to ask him to reconsider some of the provisions in the bill. http://www.eastandard.net/InsidePage.php?id=1144003450&cid=418&

The interesting thing to me is the fact that these provisions have already been enshrined in Kenyan law for ten years. They were originally part of the Kenyan Communications Act of 1998. Thus, Kenyans have already been denied their political voice for years. Was this not a problem during Daniel Arap Moi's government, which was one of the most corrupt in African history in terms of money stolen from the country's coffers? Were these provisions not a problem for the media during Kibaki's first term when Kibaki was popular with the media?

I think that the answer is quite clear. The media is feeling the pinch of criticizing Kibaki's government and is justifiably fearful that the government will use these old laws in an attempt to curb their freedom and independence. This would be a travesty to democracy in Kenya and lurch Kenya ever closer towards being another autarchic government where the people's freedoms are limited. If this law is not amended, it will be a sad day for Kenyan democracy. Therefore, it is important that this Amendment exclude provisions which allow for freedom of the press.
Richard the Nomad
P.S. Someone please tell the government of Kenya to clean the Statehouse website. http://www.statehousekenya.go.ke/ I tried to download a picture of Mwai Kibaki for this blog and it gave me a virus. Eish. Thanks Kenyan government!


07 January 2009

The Rise of Somali Piracy

I am not even going to pretend that this was something I knew a lot about several months ago. I basically just thought that Somali Piracy was yet another example of the lawlessness that existed within the debacle of perhaps the world's most failed state. However, someone made a comment on an earlier post on this blog which caught my eye and forced me to do some research. The results are startling and really demonstrate the depths to which the world has abandoned Somalia.

On 19 January 2002, the weekend before I left for Peace Corps, several of my fraternity brothers and I went to a movie at Pentagon City in Arlington, Virginia. The movie that we watched was Blackhawk Down, which narrates the day that an American Blackhawk helicopter was shot down over the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia. Several American Marines were killed and had their bodies drug through the streets of Mogadishu. This is the enduring image most Westerners have of Somalia. The US, which had placed it's military in Somalia to provide food aid to starving Somalis and to try to force various warring factions to negotiate a peace deal, summarily withdrew its troops. The rest of the world figured that if the American military could not successfully intervene, there was no way for anyone else to, and thus have been reluctant to commit forces to Somalia. The country descended into chaos. To this day, there has been no fully functioning national government since the fall of Siad Barre's government in 1991.

The resultant 17-year interregnum since the fall of Siad Barre's government Somalia has fallen into an abyss of lawlessness, disorder, and chaos. The sea around Somalia's coasts has experienced the same, but not necessairly in the way the current news media reports. The original lawlessness came not from Somalis themselves but from countries within Europe and Asia that have large sailing fleets. These countries, sensing an opportunity, began engaging in commercial fishing operations in the waters off of Somalia's coast. Because Somalia has an extensive coastline yet no coast guard nor Navy, these fishing vessels could work with impunity.

To be fair, not all foreign fishing vessels were engaged in completely clandestine operations. Some were invited by Somali warlords who "governed" the majority of the country. These warlords "allowed" fishing ships into coastal areas in exchange for cash payments, which were then used to fund their own clans war effort. Even in the relatively stable enclave of Puntland, in Northern Somalia, the government has allowed the pillaging of its fisheries in exchange for payments, which have seemingly disappeared and not trickled down to people. Who was the loser in all of this? As usual, the hoi polloi, the common man. The Somali fishermen who engaged in small-scale fishing off of Somalia's coast lost their livelihood. These fishermen were not yeggs. There were documented cases of European fishing vessels chasing off local Somali fishermen with weapons. Somali fishermen were outgunned, outmaneuvered, and out of work. In an act of desperation, many turned to piracy.

In 2004, four ships were hijacked. In 2008, over 42 have been hijacked bringing the total number of hijacked ships in the region to approximately 90. According to Professor Derrick Reveron at the United States Navel War College in Newport, Rhode Island, Pirates have collected over $30million in ransom money to release ships. There have been a few highly documented cases, such as the hijacking involving an illegal Ukrainian arms shipment to the government of South Sudan, which was being shipped through Kenya and the hijacking of the Saudi Abrabian oil tanker Sirius Star, which have generated a lot of media attention and have resulted or will result in significantly higher ransoms. However, most hijackings are of small ships, yachts, and fishing vessels. What I find fascinating about Reveron's comments is the value of the fishery that has been depleted by this illegal fishing. According to Reveron, US$300million of fish have been illegally caught in Somali waters by Asian and European fishing vessels. ( http://www.wbbm780.com/pages/3363365.php? )

Presumably, not included in Reveron's figures is the cost of the dumping of millions of cubic tons of toxic waste off of Somalia's coast. So too does illegal fishing and dumping of toxic waste. This waste poses a health problem for Somalia, but also other African and Middle Eastern countries ringing the Gulf of Aden and African coast of the Indian Ocean. Despite the passage of UN Resolution 1838 (2008) which states that “that the incidents of piracy and armed robbery against vessels in the territorial waters of Somalia and the high seas off the coast of Somalia exacerbate the situation in Somalia which continues to constitute a threat against international peace and security,” piracy continues unabated. This will not change until illegal fishing and dumping ceases. This is not mentioned in Resolution 1838 (2008) and needs to be according to Professor Abdi Ismail Samatar of the University of Minnesota's Geography and Global Studies Department.

I want to make one final point. Piracy ebbed significantly during the rule of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). This was the first group since Siad Barre's government that had begun to get a real grasp on power. Though the government was Islamic, it was not inherently radical. There were radical elements in the government, such as those estimated 3000 individuals who went underground and formed Al-Shabaab. However the ICU also contained more secular Islamic groups which were largely in control of the government. The ICU deemed piracy to be against the Qu'ran and worked hard to curb it.

Though it is unclear whether the efforts of the ICU would have borne fruit over the long-term, the current spike in piracy coincided with the arrival of Ethiopian troops, the installation of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), and the current eruption of chaos, after what had been a stable time (by Somali standards) under the ICU. The obstensible reason for the intervention of Ethiopian forces, with the support of the west, was to ensure that the ICU was removed from power because it was deemed a "terrorist" organization. The ICU's removal has created more instability, a power vacuum, and allowed pirates to operate with virtual impunity along the Somali coast. Until the world can commit itself to helping Somalia emerge from the ashes of failed a failed state, piracy will continue. Furthermore, western governments need to stop viewing all Islamic governments as threats and terrorist organizations. There needs to be an objective understanding of local issues that are foremost amongst the popluation of that area and the west needs to realize that it is possible for Islamic governments have the support of the masses, work hard to improve the lives of the population they serve, and that these governments are more than willing to be part of the community of nations.

Richard the Nomad


06 January 2009

The Government and the people (Complete with visual aids to help us all understand)

Greener Grass...

Its important in life to reach out, to strive for greater achievements, to go for that greener grass that is on the other side of the fence.

But one also must be careful because...Sometimes you can reach too far !

But when you find yourself over-extended and you're stuck in a situation that you can't get out of,there is one thing you should always remember.......

Your government......Is there to help you!!!!


2008 in Review


I enjoyed this review of 2008. Hope you do too!


Nomadic Richard


01 January 2009

New Year's Resolutions

You know perhaps the best New Year's Resolution I ever made was in 2008. I vowed that I was going to make a list of people who influenced my life and helped me get to where I am today. Then, I was going to track them all down and contact them. The list was not extremely long and I have been successful in tracking down most of the people on it. In the month of December alone, I tracked down three teachers (#'s 1, 2, and 4 on my list) who greatly impacted my life and I was able to thank each of them. This was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. It feels good to show an old teacher, mentor, or family friend that you have done well in life and to thank them for helping you make it. We stand upon the shoulders of those from whence we came. So to the people who received a letter like this from me, please let me publicly thank you for helping to make me into the man I am today.


Richard the Nomad


Happy New Year

To all of those that read this blog, I want to say Happy New Year. I was going to do a serious year in review, but decided that I want to start off 2009 on a light note and with a good laugh. I love jib-jab productions and this one was no exception...so without further adieu...So Long 2008...Happy New Year!

May this year be better than the last and may you realize your goals and dreams!


Richard the Nomad