Tag Archives: civil war

Ouattara wins expected lopsided victory in Côte d’Ivoire

A northerner, 73-year-old Alassane Ouattara must introduce more stability in Ivorian law and politics if he hopes the progress of his administration will last beyond the 2010s.
A northerner, 73-year-old Alassane Ouattara must introduce more stability in Ivorian law and politics if he hopes the progress of his administration will last beyond the 2010s.

In a more developed democracy, Côte d’Ivoire’s October 25 election might have been a civil rematch of the 2010 contest between the incumbent, Alasanne Ouattara, and his fierce rival, former president Laurent Gbagbo.Ivory Coast

Instead, Gbagbo is imprisoned at The Hague in The Netherlands awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court as the first head of state to be tried for crimes against humanity that stem from Gbagbo’s refusal to step down from the Ivorian presidency after the 2010 elections, setting the country into its second civil war in a decade as Gbagbo and his allies clung to power.

Captured in 2011 by UN and local forces loyal to Ouattara, Gbagbo still retains a loyal following, and supporters want to see Gbagbo freed.

Instead, Ouattara easily won the presidential vote, election officials announced last week, effortlessly dispatching Pascal Affi N’Guessan, formerly prime minister under Gbagbo from 2000 to 2003 and a longtime Gbagbo supporter.

Ouattara, of northern descent, served as Félix Houphouët-Boigny’s final prime minister from 1990 until the former president’s death in December 1993. Though he attempted to run for president in 1995 and 2000, opponents like Robert Guéï, the country’s military leader from December 1999 to October 2000, managed to have him barred from the race on specious charges that Ouattara was actually born in neighboring Burkina Faso, inflaming northern Muslims by implying that they are something less than fully Ivorian. An economist, Ouattara spent the late 1990s at the International Monetary Fund, where he rose to the rank of deputy managing director. The struggle over the 2000 election and its aftermath directly led to the civil war that broke out in 2002.

Former president Laurent Gbagbo, who once represented the hopes of the Ivorian opposition, now sits in The Hague awaiting an ICC trial for crimes against humanity.

Former president Laurent Gbagbo, who once represented the hopes of the Ivorian opposition, now sits in The Hague awaiting an ICC trial for crimes against humanity.

Ouattara officially won 82.66% to just 9.29% for N’Guessan, though many of Gbagbo’s supporters boycotted the vote. That means that the lopsided victory obscures the fact that Côte d’Ivoire remains highly divided on north-south lines.

Though it might have been a less-than-scintillating contest, it is perhaps remarkable that the country made it through an election without major violence — a consequence aided by the fact of an ongoing 6,000-strong UN peacekeeping force, an international presence for over a decade. Continue reading Ouattara wins expected lopsided victory in Côte d’Ivoire

Chalabi’s legacy, for good and for bad, is a post-Saddam Iraq

Former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld relied in significant part of Ahmed Chalabi and the INC in the prelude to the 2003 Iraq invasion. (Rabih Moghrabi / AFP)
Former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld relied in significant part of Ahmed Chalabi and the INC in the prelude to the 2003 Iraq invasion. (Rabih Moghrabi / AFP)

Ahmed Chalabi, known to most Americans as the Iraqi exile who shepherded faulty intelligence to the Bush administration that became the basis for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, died today at age 71 of a heart attack.iraq flag icon

Chalabi died in his home in Baghdad.

Though Iraq today is as clear a candidate for failed state as anywhere in the world, that obituaries will dutifully report that fact — Chalabi died at home in Baghdad — is perhaps the most salient element of Chalabi’s checkered legacy. No single Iraqi national was more responsible for bringing together the elements that would topple Saddam Hussein’s brutal Baathist regime in Iraq.

It’s true, of course, that Chalabi was a corrupt and shadowy figure, and you could have suspected that from the 1980s onward when he fled Jordan amid charges of bank fraud and embezzlement from the Petra Bank that Chalabi founded and ran throughout the decade.

*****

RELATED: Don’t blame Obama for Iraq’s turmoil. Blame Maliki.

*****

It’s also true that Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC, المؤتمر الوطني العراقي) never had any true grassroots following in Iraq during the Saddam era. When Chalabi finally returned to Iraq in the aftermath of the 2003 US invasion, he quickly found that Iraq’s Shiites turned to figures who hadn’t fled into exile for decades — religious authorities like Ali al-Sistani and Muqtada al-Sadr in the 2000s and Ammar al-Hakim in the 2010s, all of whom had far more credibility with everyday Iraqis.

It’s equally true that Chalabi was one of the most vocal advocates for the ‘de-Baathification’ process that disbanded Iraq’s national military and excluded many Sunni figures (not all of whom were necessarily sympathetic to Saddam) from Iraq’s new government. That decision is now viewed as perhaps the most destabilizing thing that Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority would do in Iraq. Chalabi, who hoped to narrow the political competition in post-Saddam Iraq, helped create the sense of alienation among Iraqi’s Sunnis that would, in turn, lead to the sectarian conflict and civil war of 2006 and 2007. In an interview last year with Al Monitor, even Chalabi agreed that his vision for a democratic Iraq hadn’t materialized, though he mostly blamed the United States for that:

Iraq is now in a very difficult situation. This is not what we had hoped for when we worked to liberate the country from the regime of [former President] Saddam Hussein. However, what happened was not a surprise.

What happened could have been avoided. The fundamental problem lies in the fact that the United States was working in contrast to what we were working on, and what we had planned. The United States went in the direction of announcing an occupation, while our goal (in the Iraqi opposition), according to an agreement before the start of military operations in 2003, was to form a sovereign national Iraqi government that was recognized by a decision from countries in the [UN] Security Council. [This government would] be committed to holding free elections, so that it could subsequently ratify a constitution.

And yes, it’s true that as Washington became increasingly disenchanted with Chalabi, he turned to Iran as his patron. US policymakers pinned their hopes on other Shiite leaders, like Ayad Allawi, a London-based exile who founded the Iraqi National Accord in 1990, and eventually Nouri al-Maliki, the leader of the Islamic Dawa Party (حزب الدعوة الإسلامية‎). Allawi proved to have as little grassroots support as Chalabi, and he lasted less than a year as prime minister. Maliki proved to be a far more skilled politician than Allawi, but his initial success as a unifying nationalist in the 2009 elections gave way to an increasingly sectarian administration that excluded prominent Sunnis from the vice-presidency and key ministries and that became increasingly alienated from US officials. Disappointment with Iraq’s squabbling politicians was so bad that, after the 2013 elections, Chalabi incredulously became a candidate for prime minister in 2014 before Islamic Dawa and its allies eventually coalesced around Haider al-Abadi. To the end, Chalabi scrambled to win over allies from any community, religious or secular, Kurdish or Arab, Sunni or Shiite, in his plan to ride to Iraq’s rescue as the man with a plan to crush the jihadist ISIS/Daesh/Islamic State.  Continue reading Chalabi’s legacy, for good and for bad, is a post-Saddam Iraq

The lessons of failed Confederate foreign policy

richmond

I write tomorrow for The National Interest that the Confederate States of America lost the American Civil War, 150 years ago this month, in large part because its leaders failed horribly at the diplomatic level to secure allies abroad that would recognize the CSA or even provide the Confederacy with material support:USflag

Though Union forces compelled the surrender of the Confederate army in April 1865, the Confederacy forfeited, by mistake and misfortune, the one potential asset that could have turned the tide much sooner: international recognition from an initially sympathetic Europe. In that regard, the Confederacy lost the war in London and Paris as much as it lost it in Gettysburg and Appomattox.

In particular, the CSA got off to a slow start and, with no Benjamin Franklins or Thomas Jeffersons on its bench, it cycled through three secretaries of state in its first 13 months. Confederate president Jefferson Davis also erred in assuming that European merchants were so dependent on southern cotton that Great Britain and France would assist the Confederacy in its infancy — another fatal assumption.

Though few may necessarily lament the Confederacy’s demise on its sesquicentennial, its failure can still teach us important lessons about the wise conduct of foreign policy today. International diplomacy and outreach made the difference for countries like South Sudan and East Timor; conversely, lack of imagination has hampered countries like Kosovo in its early years, and has otherwise set back Palestinian statehood hopes.

You could imagine that the Tibetan independence movement would be way stronger today in the Dalai Lama hadn’t abandoned the effort in the 1970s. You could also easily imagine that Newfoundland would be an independent country today if the energetic Joey Smallwood hadn’t so strongly boosted confederation with Canada.

Catalan regional president Artur Mas, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon and the soon-to-be-leader of the Parti québécois, Pierre Karl Péladeau, should take note.

Read it all here.

Nkurunziza’s reelection effort brings violence in Burundi

bujumburaPhoto credit to AFP.

It was all so very predictable and very preventable. burundi

The decision by Burundian president Pierre Nkurunziza to seek a third term in the country’s upcoming May 26 elections is spawning a violent and deadly response in a country where Nkurunziza’s agreement to presidential term limits was a key element of the Arusha peace accords that ended the landlocked east African country’s civil war over a decade ago.

Amid growing repression in the last two years, and reports of intensified attacks at the hands of the Imbonerakure, a militia and youth wing of the country’s governing party, Nkurunziza’s push to win a third consecutive term in office now threatens to engulf the country once again in political violence that could morph into deeper ethnic conflict. Nkurunziza and his advisers are taking the position that because he was appointed to the presidency in 2005 and elected in 2010, he is technically entitled to run for a ‘second’ term in 2015. Nevertheless, political opposition figures and international observers alike disagree strongly with that rationale.

* * * * *

RELATED: As world remembers Rwanda genocide,
Burundi tilts into political crisis

* * * * *

With protesters defying government efforts to disperse crowds in the capital city of Bujumbura, a handful of people have already been killed, and aid workers report that hundreds of thousands are fleeing their homes. In addition, reports indicate that Burundi’s borders were being closed today to foreigners trying to enter the country, and the government is shutting down independent radio outlets.

I wrote last summer for The National Interest just how toxic a Nkurunziza reelection bid could become. Above all, the political instability exacerbates the lack of foreign investment in Burundi, which is one of sub-Saharan Africa’s poorest countries. Descent into further political chaos, and resulting internal displacements, would only emphasize the widespread poverty and lack of development throughout the country.

The best-case scenario for Burundi would be for Nkurunziza to rethink his reelection plans. It’s difficult to fathom that the governing Conseil National Pour la Défense de la Démocratie–Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie (CNDD-FDD, National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy) would lose power, even without Nkurunziza leading it as a formal matter. Conceivably, Nkurunziza might even continue to exercise discretion over top government functions, even if he is no longer Burundi’s head of state.

If Nkurunziza goes forward for a third term, the opposition will almost certainly boycott the vote, as they did in 2010 when the process was deemed unfair and unfree. That’s not a great outcome, and it would invalidate the election, as a matter of international opinion. That, however, would still be much better than a slide into civil war. Avoiding further bloodshed as the 2015 vote approaches is more important than achieving a milestone for democracy in a country where democracy has never been a priority — and will not be a priority in the midst of a violent clash. The risk is that political confrontation will eventually mutate into the kind of ethnic hatred between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority that devastated neighboring Rwanda and culminated in the 1994 genocide. No one today believes that Burundi is necessarily destined for ethnic conflict, but a new civil war, based on either political or ethnic differences, should be a major concern for regional leaders.

Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, met with Nkurunziza earlier this month, ostensibly to discuss the rising number of Burundian refugees fleeing to Rwanda. But the term-limited Kagame has pledged to step down as Rwanda’s president in 2017, and there are already rumors he may seek to extend his own mandate. Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete in March warned Nkurunziza not to seek a third term, imploring him to respect the terms of the Arusha accords signed in Kikwete’s country a decade ago.

Pressing pause: South Sudan at a crossroads

macharkiir

Guest post by Kevin Buettner

Born of a catastrophic civil war, the world’s newest country, South Sudan, is now still mired in a civil war of its very own.southsudan

Within the last 15 months, more than 1.5 million South Sudanese were displaced, and thousands more were killed in what has become an increasingly ethnically charged conflict. After a week of face-to-face meetings between South Sudanese president Salva Kiir and the leader of the armed rebels, former vice president Riek Machar, the two produced no meaningful framework. The failure to create an attainable and lasting roadmap for peace, a prerequisite for a transitional government by July 9, 2015, is the latest stumble in the troubling history of the young nation.

Initially, the February agreement to strike a deal creating an interim government for 30 months met with optimism. But the March 5 deadline for a more detailed power-sharing agreement passed without a final framework, leaving the peace talks in limbo — but planned elections nevertheless scuttled.

As part of the initial agreement, the government agreed to delay presidential elections last month until 2017, a troubling sign for any pretense of South Sudanese democracy. In a one-sided move, the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) offered an amendment to the transitional constitution of the South Sudan. Onyoti Adigo, the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement for Democratic Change (SPLM-DC), argued that the opposition didn’t have a chance to weigh in on the bill’s negotiation, and he worried that the SPLM will simply repeat the process again and again to retain power indefinitely, though he’s previously argued that any truly valid elections must follow the peace process. Adigo’s party, the second-largest in the national legislative assembly, holds just four seats in the 170-member body, versus 160 for the governing SPLM.

* * * * *

RELATED: Who would win a South Sudanese civil war? Khartoum.

* * * * *

The decision to delay the 2015 elections resulted directly from the ongoing peace negotiations between Kiir’s Juba-based government and the militant rebels that it’s been battling since late 2013. With time running out to implement a peace proposal before scheduled summer elections, which might well have resulted in an elected government that could scrap any peace deal altogether, Kiir’s administration instead offered to extend the mandate of the current government to demonstrate to the militants the willingness to adopt reforms hammered out through the negotiation process.

Those negotiations, however, may end up threatening the legitimacy of the South Sudanese government itself. Without support from more powerful regional capitals like Addis Ababa and Nairobi, the current government will have a doubly difficult task to convince international arbitrators to support any resulting proposals. Many of South Sudan’s neighboring nations in the region have distanced themselves from Juba at a time when South Sudan needed to build crucial ties with east African governments. Instead, they are increasingly aligned with the SPLM-IO (SPLM in Opposition), Machar’s party — or disillusioned with both sides altogether.

The international community, which fought so hard to facilitate South Sudan’s sovereignty, is now showing signs of impatience at a country that’s been stuck in a costly civil war for nearly half of its existence. Continue reading Pressing pause: South Sudan at a crossroads

CAR and Burundi: From civil war to democracy and… back?

ngaissonaGuest post by Kevin Buettner

Though democracy may not yet be entrenched in central Africa, 2015 marks a pivotal step in the history of at least two countries in the region — one that is potentially transitioning from war to democracy and another now in danger of losing its democracy to further civil unrest or even outright war.centrafrique flagburundi

The Central African Republic is preparing for presidential and legislative elections in August 2015, which its leaders hope will be a crucial step on the path to peace. Until the end of 2014, the country was in the midst of a brutal civil war that has displaced over a million people. The conflict continues, though the major armed groups have officially disarmed and rebranded themselves into political parties.

The Parti centrafricain pour l’unité et le développement (PCUD, Central African Party for Unity and Development), headed by Patrice Edouard Ngaissona (pictured above), evolved from the anti-Balaka (literally, ‘anti-machete’) armed rebel group that formed in response to the Séléka movement that brought former president Michael Djotodia to power for four brief months at the end of 2013.

The competing Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC, Union for Peace in the Central African Republic) is the largest of the parties formed from the Séléka alliance. Led by general Ali Djarass, the UPC was the first faction of the Séléka armed groups to disarm and join the transitional government in ceasefire accords needed prior to the elections. Other minor parties, general Joseph Zoundeko’s RPRC (Patriotic Movement for New Central African Republic) and general Nourredine Adam’s Séléka party have also disarmed and joined the political arena ahead of the upcoming elections.

The PCUD, supported by the country’s majority Christian population, is likeliest to succeed in those elections. Whichever party wins, however, the next government will face the immediate and urgent task of repatriating nearly half a million refugees from neighboring states; settling internally displaced citizens; rebuilding schools, hospitals, and other needed infrastructure; and establishing a governmental presence outside of Bangui. There will also be a call from both sides, joined by the international community, to bring perpetrators of atrocities committed during the civil war to justice. Referring cases to the International Criminal Court might be easier than attempting to try the offenders in the CAR, which will remain bitterly divided from the conflict.

Some lessons on how to accomplish the task may be found in Burundi, a country in the great lakes region of Africa, southeast of the Central African Republic. In 2006, Burundi ended a prolonged civil war and held relatively free and fair elections. Though Burundi had a democratically elected leader in Pierre Nkurunziza, its president is now threatening to throw the country into a period of unrest by running for a third term in office. His refusal to step down after his second term and the anticipated amending of the constitution to allow for further presidential reelection has discouraged engagement by opposition parties within Burundi.

* * * * *

RELATED: As world remembers Rwanda genocide,
Burundi tilts into political crisis

* * * * *

The only semi-organized opposition to the ruling Conseil National Pour la Défense de la Démocratie–Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie (CNDD-FDD, National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy) is the Alliance of Democrats for Change (ADC-IKIBIRI), which represents a merger of most of the remaining opposition parties from the prior 2010 elections. The alliance, however, has not solidified behind a single candidate to challenge the incumbent. With elections to be held in June, their time to mount an effective campaign may have already run out.

International money is flowing into both countries ahead of the elections in order to establish necessary voting infrastructure. CAR has received nearly $22 million and Burundi received $9.2 million from the European Union alone. For the elections in Burundi or CAR to be considered successful by the international community, the opposition must remain engaged in the political process and put forth viable candidates. These candidates, ideally, are not figures likely to become subjects of future ICC indictments (especially in CAR), which would serve to detract from the situations at hand.

Peace in both countries is expected to remain extremely fragile in the months leading up to the elections. To reduce the chances that the losing party will rearm and try to take power by force, power-sharing agreements may be necessary. Such arrangements are facilitated in the Burundian constitution through the mechanism of electing two vice presidents, one from each of the major Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. Perhaps the best-case scenario for both countries would be a small majority of votes going to the ruling (or in the case of CAR, the larger PCUD party). Having a narrow mandate would force the ruling party to collaborate more often with the opposition, allowing them more legitimacy, in turn, for future elections.

Kevin Buettner is a graduate student from The Ohio State University studying City and Regional Planning with an interest in international development.

Tumultuous election a test for Sri Lankan democracy

rajapaksa

Pessimists worry that today could bring the first coup in Sri Lanka’s post-independence history, as political tensions are running high and military forces are rumored to be out in strong numbers as Sri Lankans go to the polls to elect a new president. SriLanka

They’ll do so in one of the tightest such races in Sri Lanka’s history, at least the tightest since president Mahinda Rajapaksa first took power in the 2005 election, and one with profound consequences for the direction of Sri Lanka’s democratic and policy future and with important regional implications for both India and China.

When the folksy Rajapaksa (pictured above) brought forward the election by two years in November, he hoped to take advantage of a fractured opposition and new rules that allowed him to call early election in either of the final two years of his six-year presidential term and revisions to the Sri Lankan constitution that allow Rajapaksa to seek a third consecutive term to the presidency. He didn’t plan, instead, on a close election that could bring his administration to a premature end.

Sri Lanka is an island country just off the southeastern coast of India. With over 22 million people, it’s one-third as populous as France (though it pales in comparison to many of India’s states — Tamil Nadu, for example, is home to nearly 70 million people alone). Formerly the British crown colony of Ceylon, the country was trapped for much of the past quarter-century in a civil war waged between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (தமிழீழ விடுதலைப் புலிகள்), popularly known as the ‘Tamil Tigers,’ a guerrilla group fighting to form an independent Tamil state. Despite false starts at peace talks, Rajapaksa presided over the group’s military defeat in 2009, a victory that has allowed Sri Lanka to put the fighting of the 1980s and 1990s behind it. Accordingly, under Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka has enjoyed annual GDP growth of nearly 7% over the last decade,  doubled per-capita income in the last five years, and marked massive reductions in poverty.

Nevertheless, the country remains precariously split between a Sinhalese-speaking majority that practices Buddhism (around 70% of the population) and its Tamil and Muslim minorities. Its Tamil-speaking minority practices Hinduism, not Buddhism — around 11% of the population consists of Sri Lankan Tamils clustered along the northern and eastern coasts and another 4% or so Indian Tamils clustered in the central highlands. Another 10% or so of the population consists of Tamil-speaking Sri Lankan Moors, who largely follow Islam.

For all of Rajapaksa’s successes in subduing the Tamil Tigers, he has become notorious for centralizing power in the Sri Lankan presidency since taking power a decade ago and amassing wealth for himself and his family, many of whom populate powerful positions in the government.

sirisena

The widespread impression of corruption and abuse of power is at the heart of the challenge to Rajapaksa’s reelection. His opponent, Maitripala Sirisena (pictured above), was until November 21, not only the health minister in Rajapaksa’s government, he was the general secretary of Rajapaksa’s ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP, ශ්‍රී ලංකා නිදහස් පක්ෂය), the vaguely center-left ruling party that draws much of its support from the country’s Sinhalese majority.

In one fell swoop, Sirisena not only united the unruly opposition, but he brought more than two dozen members of the ruling Freedom Party into an anti-Rajapaksa coalition that includes the United National Party (UNP, එක්සත් ජාතික පක්ෂය), a more center-right party that draws support from minorities as well as Sinhalese voters, and any number of parties based on everything from Buddhist nationalism to Marxism. Less charismatic than the incumbent, Sirisena nevertheless heads a once-improbable movement that could topple Rajapaksa, tapping into the same ferocious energy with which Indian prime minister Narendra Modi ousted the long-ruling Nehru-Gandhi family and the Indian National Congress in last spring’s Indian elections. Continue reading Tumultuous election a test for Sri Lankan democracy

Five thoughts on Obama’s ISIS announcement

yeswetan

So much for US president Barack Obama’s statement last week* that the United States doesn’t have a strategy to combat the Islamic State group (الدولة الإسلامية‎) in Syria, which has taken control of eastern Syria and, more alarmingly, large parts of northern and western Iraq.USflag

In a stunning address for a president whose 2008 election owed greatly to his stand against the US war, Obama announced that he would lead a broad coalition to ‘degrade and ultimately destroy’ Islamic State, and it will include airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria and the deployment of 425 more ‘military advisers’ to Iraq.

Obama compared the new US military action against Islamic State in the same category as the Obama administration’s targeted efforts in Yemen and Somalia and against al-Qaeda. Furthermore, he warned that the operations would not involve combat troops or significant ground forces. In that sense, it’s true that Obama’s latest mission against Islamic State is more like its previous efforts against Islamic radicals elsewhere and less like the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

But that’s not the whole story. As the Obama administration’s efforts continue to unfold, here are five points worth keeping in mind that explain why the United States is entering arguably its fourth war (Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya) in the Middle East since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, what’s at stake going forward, and what the future might hold for the United States and the region.  Continue reading Five thoughts on Obama’s ISIS announcement

West Africa’s Ebola epidemic is as much a crisis of governance as health


It’s a fluke of random nature that the fearsome Ebola virus is endemic to some of the poorest and least governable countries in the world. sierra leone flagliberiaguinea

But unlike in central Africa, where previous outbreaks were controlled through limited mobility of local populations, the current outbreak, centered in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, is afflicting a corner of the world that features far greater travel.

So while central African countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo are hardly equipped to deal with modern epidemics, the epidemiological limitations of prior Ebola outbreaks haven’t always required the kind of national mobilization that’s now necessary to bring the west African outbreak under control. Though all three west African countries have worked to build governing institutions, they are all barely a decade removed from some of the most fearsome civil wars in recent African history. That’s left all three countries with populations loathe to trust public health officials, making the Ebola outbreak west Africa’s most difficult governance  crisis since the end of its civil wars in the early 2000s.

guinea-liberia-sierra-leone-2014-current

Though the three countries in the middle of the current crisis are relatively small, the news that Ebola has now travelled to Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, via a US citizen no less, has raised concerns that Ebola could also spread even farther. Though the Nigerian government’s rapid response in quarantining and monitoring those exposed to Ebola was impressive, there are already worries that Ebola has crossed the border into Mali, where the government is still battling to unite the country after a disabling civil war with northern Tuareg separatists (and an influx of international Islamist jihadists).

The outbreak is already, by far, the deadliest in history, infecting 1,201 and killing 672, as of July 25, according to the World Health Organization. in the three countries since the first case was reported in Guinea in February.

So what exactly are the political and historical backgrounds of the three countries in the maelstrom of the current Ebola outbreak? And how equipped are they to handle a full-blown epidemic?

Continue reading West Africa’s Ebola epidemic is as much a crisis of governance as health

Why is Syria holding a presidential election in the middle of a civil war?

basharvbashar

It’s always been somewhat baffling to me why authoritarian rulers and dictators go through the motions of sham elections. Syria Flag Icon

The voters inside the country know better than anyone else that the elections aren’t a real choice, and in many cases, boycotting the vote or voting for the ‘wrong’ candidate, if a choice is even permitted, can carry perilous results.

International observers aren’t really fooled, either. With the proven work of folks like the National Democratic Institute and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, there’s a 21st century international standard for free and fair elections, and the NDA, OSCE and other similar groups have a thoroughgoing process for certifying the sanctity of elections in developing democracies.

Furthermore, in the world of social media and 24-hour news, it’s harder to carry out the kind of widespread fraud. That doesn’t mean elections are perfect. In Venezuela, the collapse of the state, governing institutions and chavismo mean that a totally fair election is almost impossible. But there’s nonetheless a limit — even with a decade’s worth of dirty tricks, Nicolás Maduro managed only a narrow win in April 2013, for example.

So why is Syrian president Bashar al-Assad pushing forward with an election on June 3?

In case you were wondering about the outcome, here’s a chart of every presidential election in Syria since Hafez al-Assad came to power in a military coup in 1971:

syriaelections

In each of the prior ‘elections,’ Syrian voters were presented with a yes-or-no choice on the incumbent, either Hafez al-Assad or, since his death in 2000, his son, Bashar al-Assad.  Continue reading Why is Syria holding a presidential election in the middle of a civil war?

14 potential game-changers for world politics in 2014

2014crystalball

Though I rang in the new year with a list of 14 world elections to watch in the coming year (and 14 more honorable mentions to keep an eye on), I wanted to showcase a few more thoughts about what to watch for in world politics and foreign affairs in 2014.

Accordingly, here are 14 possible game-changers — they’re not predictions per se, but neither are they as far-fetched as they might seem.  No one can say with certainty that they will come to pass in 2014.  Instead, consider these something between rote predictions (e.g., that violence in Iraq is getting worse) and outrageous fat-tail risks (e.g., the impending breakup of the United States).

There’s an old album of small pieces conducted by the late English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, a delightfully playful album entitled Lollipops that contains some of the old master’s favorite, most lively short pieces.

Think of these as Suffragio‘s 14 world politics lollipops to watch in 2014.

We start in France… Continue reading 14 potential game-changers for world politics in 2014