The African lion: What faster decline of apex predator means for ecosystems

By Matt Hayward, Bangor University

There is nothing as awe-inspiring as watching the brutal power of a lion capturing its prey. At close range, their throaty roars thump through your body, raising a cold sweat triggered by the fear of what these animals are capable of doing now, and what they once did to our ancestors. They are the most majestic animals left on our planet, and yet we are currently faced with the very real possibility that they will be functionally extinct within our lifetime.

In fact, lion populations throughout much of Africa are heading towards extinction more rapidly than previously thought, according to new research by Oxford biologist Hans Bauer and colleagues, published in PNAS. The team looked at 47 sites with credible and repeated lion surveys since 1990, and found they were declining everywhere in Africa aside from four countries: Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

West and Central African lion populations have a 67% chance of halving in size in just two decades, and East African populations a 37% chance. Almost all large lion populations that once exceeded 500 individuals outside of southern Africa are declining. These declines in Africa’s apex predator occur at the same time that the continent’s mega-herbivores are also plummeting.

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The long march into Europe

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad writes: Migration is the topic of almost every conversation in the cafés of Baghdad and Damascus – in towns large and small across Syria and Iraq and beyond – along with the pros and cons of social aid given to migrants in different countries. The best routes are common knowledge, and information on new developments and up-to-date advice spreads quickly on social media, via Viber, WhatsApp and Facebook. These days all you need to reach Europe are a couple of thousand dollars and a smartphone. It’s a significant change from the late 1990s, when – in Iraq at least – UN sanctions combined with the conditions of Saddam’s dictatorship meant it was barely possible to get by, existence depending on government handouts and meagre state salaries. Few had the money to reach Europe. Tens of thousands left Iraq but most languished in dull Amman in Jordan. Most people I knew wanted to leave, and most failed – for lack of funds, will or simple luck.

I was one of those who failed. I had finished my degree in architecture and was desperate to continue my studies in Vienna or Beirut, or at least to get a half-decent job in Amman or Dubai. I was a military deserter, so I had no hope of obtaining a passport: my only way out of Iraq was by procuring fake documents or finding a smuggler. I tried for three years. I spent nearly $3000 – then a fortune – on fees to smugglers. I was lied to, betrayed, and conned out of money I had borrowed. For nine months I lived with my bags packed, ready to go, and every night I made a call to the smuggler, who kept lying and saying that the next day was the day. Eventually, I gave up and unpacked my bags and waited another five years.

For decades, the paths that led out of war, destruction and poverty into the safety of life in Europe was a closely guarded secret, the property of smugglers and mafias who controlled the routes and had a monopoly on the necessary knowledge. They conducted their illicit trade out of dingy cafés in the back streets of Aksaray in Istanbul and – for the lucky few who reached Greece – the district of Omonia in Athens, where those who had got that far were handed on from one network to another, to be lied to and manipulated again. After all, they had no choice but to hand over their cash in exchange for a promise and a hope.

This year everything changed. [Continue reading…]


Libya: In militia-run camps, refugees are treated like animals

Watch “Libya’s Migrant Trade: Europe or Die (Full Length)” here.


U.S. military opens a new front in the hunt for African warlord Joseph Kony

The Washington Post reports: U.S. Special Operations forces have opened a new front in their hunt for the African warlord Joseph Kony, moving closer to his suspected hideout in a lawless enclave straddling Sudan and South Sudan, according to military officials and others familiar with the operation.

As their mission stretches into a fifth year, however, U.S. troops have turned to some unsavory partners to help find Kony’s trail. Working from a new bush camp in the Central African Republic, U.S. forces have begun working closely with Islamist rebels — known as the Seleka — who toppled the central government two years ago and triggered a still-raging sectarian war.

The Pentagon has not previously disclosed its intelligence sharing and other forms of cooperation with the Seleka. The arrangement has made some U.S. troops uncomfortable. [Continue reading…]


Human migration will be a defining issue of this century. How best to cope?

Alexander Betts writes: Throughout the crisis, a debate has been on whether it is a “migrant” or a “refugee” crisis. It has been important for the public to understand that most people coming to Europe have been from refugee-producing countries and that “refugees” have a particular set of rights under international law. Furthermore, people have a right to seek asylum, and have their claims to refugee status adjudicated.

However, the stark dichotomy between “refugee” and “economic migrant” masks a growing trend: that many people coming fall between those two extremes.

The modern global refugee regime was established at a particular juncture of history, in the aftermath of the Holocaust and at the start of the cold war. The 1951 convention on the status of refugees defines a refugee as someone fleeing “persecution”, based on race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group, or political opinion. The interpretation of that definition has adapted over time. But at its core was the idea of protecting people whose own governments were either out to get them or unable to prevent persecution by others. Today, the sources of cross-border displacement are increasingly complex, and many fit poorly with the 1951 convention.

Environmental change, food insecurity, and generalised violence, for example, represent emerging sources of human displacement. In strong states, the government can usually provide some kind of remedy or resolution to people affected by these types of crisis. However, much less so in fragile states. People who fall outside the internationally recognised definition of a refugee but are nevertheless fleeing very serious socio-economic rights deprivations might be called “survival migrants”.

In the contemporary world, a significant proportion of the people we attempt to describe as economic migrants fall into this category.

Survival migration has been an emerging challenge. Nearly a decade ago, Zimbabwean asylum seekers fleeing Robert Mugabe’s regime made up the largest group of asylum seekers in the world. Most British people would probably assume that at the height of the crisis between 2003 and 2009 the majority would have been refugees. However, in South Africa, to where the overwhelming proportion fled, only about 10% were recognised as refugees and up to 300,000 people a year were deported back to Zimbabwe. The reason for this was simple: they were not judged to fit the 1951 convention definition of a refugee. However, on ethical grounds, it was incontrovertibly cruel to deport people back to a country in a state of socio-economic and political collapse.

This example illustrates how current policy responses bypass engagement with long-term trends. The world as a whole lacks a vision for how to respond to the changing nature of displacement. So much of the current “crisis” is not a crisis of numbers but a crisis of politics. We need bold leadership that correctly and honestly articulates the causes of movement and outlines global solutions. [Continue reading…]


Refugee crisis: Thousands may lose right of asylum under EU plans

The Guardian reports: European governments are aiming to deny the right of asylum to innumerable refugees by funding and building camps for them in Africa and elsewhere outside the European Union.

Under plans endorsed in Brussels on Monday evening, EU interior ministers agreed that once the proposed system of refugee camps outside the union was up and running, asylum claims from people in the camps would be inadmissible in Europe.

The emergency meeting of interior ministers was called to grapple with Europe’s worst modern refugee crisis. It broke up in acrimony amid failure to agree on a new system of binding quotas for refugees being shared across the EU and other decisions being deferred until next month.

The lacklustre response to a refugee emergency that is turning into a full-blown European crisis focussed on “Fortress Europe” policies aimed at excluding refugees and shifting the burden of responsibility on to third countries, either of transit or of origin. [Continue reading…]


Droughts used to be given names as the came and went, but now the drought has no name because it never ends

Turane Mohamed says: I come from Wajir in Northern Kenya.

Pastoralists keep camels, cattle, sheep and goats. People also try to grow crops like maize, millet and sorghum, but they often fail because of poor soil and lack of rain.

The pastoralists have come through a long journey in adapting to climate variability.

From the 1950s to the 80s, the drought was minimal. Drought used to be given a name. You only needed a small number of animals to have food security.

As a child, I used to lose weight when I went to school in town and fill up on milk, ghee, meat and wild fruit when I came home for the holidays.

The trend from the 90s to today, the drought has been happening constantly. People have given up giving it a name. [Continue reading…]


Ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the Central African Republic largely ignored by media

Khaled A Beydoun writes: Muslims are only newsworthy when behind the gun, not in front of it.

Modern journalism continually reaffirms this baseline with regards to domestic crises and, perhaps even more so, international human rights calamities.

The systematic targeting of Muslims in the Central African Republic (CAR), a nation ravaged by strife since March of 2013, has devolved into massive scale ethnic cleansing.

However, few outside of the African nation and beyond the human rights community are even minimally aware of this humanitarian crisis.

In the past several weeks, armed militias have roved through the western part of the nation, intimidating and brutalising Muslims. [Continue reading…]


Welcome to Germany: Locals step in to help refugees in need

Der Spiegel reports: The day has only just begun, but the phone in Anja Damerius’ office at the University of Siegen is already ringing off the hook. An elderly woman wants to read books to refugee children: “Yes, of course!” Damerius says into the receiver. “When are you available?” A family from the neighborhood wants to distribute food. “Come over.” Toys? “Please drop them off at the church, our garage is full.”

The masters student from North Rhine-Westphalia had actually planned on spending her semester break relaxing, sleeping in, meeting friends and doing a bit of partying. But instead, she’s been working on the campus from morning to evening, she says.

Damerius, 33, coordinates the program for 50 to 60 refugee children at the University of Siegen. She is one of a dozen volunteers at the university who are working with asylum seekers, known here as “guests.”

The regional government has placed approximately 200 asylum seekers in the university gymnasium. Initially, it was seen as a temporary solution, meant to provide shelter for a few days until space in the reception center opened up again. But by now, refugees have been living on the campus for almost a month — and nobody at the university is seriously expecting that the asylum seekers will be housed anywhere else by the time the semester starts in mid-October, despite official promises to the contrary. In fact, 17 additional refugees arrived just last week.

But hardly anyone in Siegen is complaining. The student union is organizing meals through the cafeteria; a student initiative has launched daily language courses, and almost 90 interpreters have been recruited; and, with the help of students, the city is organizing primary medical care.

Siegen University rector Holger Burckhart, who is also vice-president of the German Rectors’ Conference, says that given their status as public institutions, universities have a responsibility to help. “We are part of social life and can give something back to society here.” According to Burckhart, the students are getting a clearer sense of the scale of the world’s crises. [Continue reading…]


Life in the Jungle on a dangerous path to Britain

Owen Jones went to Calais (at the French end of the Channel Tunnel) to meet some of the people risking their lives in the hope of finding asylum in the UK: For most of its inhabitants, the Jungle is a transit camp, not a permanent settlement, but there are the rudimentary trappings of a community. A few shops have been set up in tents, mostly selling warm cans of fizzy drinks. A caravan near the entrance serves as a community noticeboard: it advertises the make-do hospital 250 metres away and its opening hours; bikes for €20-€30 (£14-£21); a bike workshop; advice for dealing with police and the asylum system.

There are political posters, too. “The grass is greener where there are no sides,” says one, featuring a dark-hooded silhouette climbing over a fence. Another says: “NO BORDER – RESIST! REBEL! REVOLT!” A large blue-and-white-striped tent functions as a community centre; it is filled with people in sleeping bags. “I’m human like you” is graffitied on the side, along with words such as “Help!” and various messages in Arabic. Young men sit outside, charging mobile phones with a few precious plug extensions as music blares from a loudspeaker. Every evening, hot meals are distributed, but not quite enough for the number of residents.

The various nationalities group together: the Afghan flag flies over one tent. As a white westerner, I swiftly attract attention. Not everyone is happy to see a British journalist. At one improvised shop, I explain where I’m from and why I’m there. The mood sours instantly. “You in England, you don’t like us,” spits out an Afghan in his early thirties with considerable venom. “You English, I don’t like you either.” With a dismissive swipe of his hand, he tells me to go away.

But nearby, there is a warmer reception: some laughing young Afghan men beckon me over, perching beneath a makeshift shelter and playing with cheap pay-as-you-go mobiles. Habib* tells me that he’s 24 years old, although his friends snigger as though that’s preposterous. “I first left Afghanistan in 2006 and went to the UK, but they refused my asylum and deported me back,” he says. He is not the only Afghan who tells me this: having settled in Britain and being sent to Afghanistan, he feels as though going to Britain is returning home. “Our life is dangerous; we are not safe in Afghanistan, that’s why we leave Afghanistan. We come here to make the good life.”

Habib comes from Jalalabad, where his mother still lives; but his brother and uncle were killed by the Taliban, he says. He travelled all the way from his war-torn home to Calais by lorry, on foot and by taxi. “In England, they give you a home, they give you a doctor, they give you the food money,” he says. When I tell him that a single asylum-seeker such as himself gets only £36.95 a week, he is taken aback but not deterred. “They’re not supporting the refugees here. We need a home, we need school, we need the good life. We are not animals.”

With so many stressed people from different cultures crammed together, he says, fights break out at night. “Of course it’s dangerous here. The Jungle is not safe.” [Continue reading…]


How money, race and religion determine the fate of Europe-bound migrants

The Wall Street Journal reports: As Europe grapples with the biggest wave of migration since World War II, the fates of those crossing the Mediterranean are increasingly being determined by class systems based on money, ethnicity and religion.

On these transnational trails, migrants tell of a fast-developing market for human cargo, where cash or creed can ensure a safer trip, more resources and better treatment.

The discrimination starts at the beginning of migrants’ journeys at the hands of smugglers looking to maximize profits, and it ends with European authorities scrambling to handle the overwhelming numbers of people arriving and prioritizing them by nationality.

In Greece this weekend, authorities deployed a 3,000-capacity passenger ferry to the island of Kos to host Syrian refugees arriving in record numbers. Thousands of other asylum seekers on the island from Iraq and Afghanistan have been left without shelter, and with only sporadic access to food and a much longer wait to get their documents processed.

Syrians are prioritized because the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has advised governments that they are so-called prima facie refugees, meaning they should be granted instant humanitarian protection because they are fleeing a war zone. [Continue reading…]


In rural Kenya, happiness comes from joining forces


Nick Turse: My very own Veteran’s Day

It’s been an incredibly quiet show. In recent years, the U.S. military has moved onto the African continent in a big way — and essentially, with the exception of Nick Turse (and Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post), just about no one has noticed. In a sense, it’s a reporter’s dream story. Something major is happening right before our eyes that could change our world in complex ways and no one’s even paying attention. Of course, in the West, developments in Africa have been “seen” that way for centuries: that is, little if at all. Think of it as the invisible continent. There can be no place that has, generally speaking, been less in American, or even in Western, consciousness until recently. This is, of course, changing fast in Europe as a wave of desperate immigrants from fragmenting Africa, dying in startling numbers in their attempts to cross the Mediterranean in every rickety kind of craft, has made a distinct impression.

The African continent has, in recent years, been aboil, a phenomenon to which the American military has only been adding as it pursues its unsettling “war on terror” in its usual disruptive ways — and Turse has been Johnny-on-the-spot. His reporting for TomDispatch and his new book, Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, have done much to give a higher profile to just what U.S. Africa Command has been doing across that continent. In his most recent report for TomDispatch from civil-war-torn South Sudan, he focused in for the first time on the phenomenon of child soldiers and how the Obama administration, which has denounced their use in countries that are not its allies, repeatedly looked the other way while a South Sudanese military it had built used them. It wasn’t a pretty tale. Today, he turns from U.S. and South Sudanese policy matters to the saddest story of all — those child warriors themselves and what makes them tick, drawing on his interviews with South Sudan’s youngest soldiers. Tom Engelhardt

The child veterans of South Sudan want to know
Will Americans support them?
By Nick Turse

PIBOR, South Sudan — “I’ve never been a soldier,” I say to the wide-eyed, lanky-limbed veteran sitting across from me. “Tell me about military life. What’s it like?” He looks up as if the answer can be found in the blazing blue sky above, shoots me a sheepish grin, and then fixes his gaze on his feet. I let the silence wash over us and wait. He looks embarrassed. Perhaps it’s for me.

Interviews sometimes devolve into such awkward, hushed moments. I’ve talked to hundreds of veterans over the years. Many have been reluctant to discuss their tours of duty for one reason or another. It’s typical. But this wasn’t the typical veteran — at least not for me.

Osman put in three years of military service, some of it during wartime. He saw battle and knows the dull drudgery of a soldier’s life. He had left the army just a month before I met him.

Osman is 15 years old.

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It’s dismally apparent that some black lives matter more than others

Emma Dabiri writes: Following the killings of unarmed men and boys such as Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and Walter Scott, the United States is entering what’s being called a new civil rights movement, with activists ensuring that the world now knows about the ongoing onslaught against black life.

Movements such as #BlackLivesMatter have been huge in their reach, spreading far beyond the US and capturing the imaginations of people of all colours and nationalities. In November, as many as 5,000 protesters marched in London to condemn the grand jury decision not to prosecute the police officer who shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Patrisse Cullors, one of the creators of #BlackLivesMatters, said: “We are in a historical moment where we can make great shifts inside and outside US borders to ensure that #BlackLivesMatter around the world.”

But do all black lives really matter? In contrast to the thousands who protested at the US embassy in London, far fewer organised for the 900 Africans who drowned in the Mediterranean last month. So where are the protests to demand that European governments deal with this situation in a humane way? [Continue reading…]


Boko Haram militants raped hundreds of female captives in Nigeria

The New York Times reports: Hundreds of women and girls captured by Boko Haram have been raped, many repeatedly, in what officials and relief workers describe as a deliberate strategy to dominate rural residents and possibly even create a new generation of Islamist militants in Nigeria.

In interviews, the women described being locked in houses by the dozen, at the beck and call of fighters who forced them to have sex, sometimes with the specific goal of impregnating them.

“They married me,” said Hamsatu, 25, a young woman in a black-and-purple head scarf, looking down at the ground. She said she was four months pregnant, that the father was a Boko Haram member and that she had been forced to have sex with other militants who took control of her town.

“They chose the ones they wanted to marry,” added Hamsatu, whose full name was not used to protect her identity. “If anybody shouts, they said they would shoot them.” [Continue reading…]


Nick Turse: One boy, one rifle, and one morning in Malakal

President Obama couldn’t have been more eloquent.  Addressing the Clinton Global Initiative, for instance, he said: “When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery.”  Denouncing Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, and offering aid to Uganda and its neighbors in tracking Kony down, he said, “It’s part of our regional strategy to end the scourge that is the LRA and help realize a future where no African child is stolen from their family, and no girl is raped, and no boy is turned into a child soldier.”  In support of Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, whom he has lauded as “not only a great champion of democracy but a fierce advocate against the use of forced labor and child soldiers,” he’skept her country on a list of nations the U.S. sanctions for using child soldiers in its military.  And his ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, has spoken movingly in condemnation of the use of child soldiers, which she’s termed a “scourge,” from Syria and the Central African Republic to South Sudan. 

Only one small problem, as Nick Turse, author of Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, points out in his latest reportage: the young, desperately divided nation of South Sudan is something of an American-sponsored creation, its military heavily supported by Washington, and so its child soldiers — and it has plenty of them — turn out not to be quite the same sort of scourge they are in Burma, Syria, or elsewhere.  Somehow, they’ve proved to be in the American “national interest” and so, shockingly enough, as Turse reveals today, were the subjects of a presidential “waiver” that sets aside Congress’s 2008 Child Soldiers Protection Act.  The willingness of a president to sideline a subject he’s otherwise denounced in no uncertain terms is worthy of a riddle that might go something like: when is slavery not slavery?  And the answer would be, when it gets in the way of U.S. policy.  With that in mind, let Turse take you deep into South Sudan, where children tote AK-47s and the sky is not cloudy all day.  Tom Engelhardt

The kids aren’t all right
Presidential waivers, child soldiers, and an American-made army in Africa
By Nick Turse

MALAKAL, South Sudan — I didn’t really think he was going to shoot me.  There was no anger in his eyes.  His finger may not have been anywhere near the trigger.  He didn’t draw a bead on me.  Still, he was a boy and he was holding an AK-47 and it was pointed in my direction. 

It was unnerving.

I don’t know how old he was.  I’d say 16, though maybe he was 18 or 19.  But there were a few soldiers nearby who looked even younger — no more than 15.

When I was their age, I wasn’t trusted to drive, vote, drink, get married, gamble in a casino, serve on a jury, rent a car, or buy a ticket to an R-rated movie.  It was mandatory for me to be in school.  The law decreed just how many hours I could work and prohibited my employment in jobs deemed too dangerous for kids — like operating mixing machines in bakeries or repairing elevators.  No one, I can say with some certainty, would have thought it a good idea to put an automatic weapon in my hands.  But someone thought it was acceptable for them.  A lot of someones actually.  Their government — the government of South Sudan — apparently thought so.  And so did mine, the government of the United States. 

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