The New York Times reports: First the trees dried up and cracked apart.
Then the goats keeled over.
Then the water in the village well began to disappear, turning cloudy, then red, then slime-green, but the villagers kept drinking it. That was all they had.
Now on a hot, flat, stony plateau outside Baidoa, thousands of people pack into destitute camps, many clutching their stomachs, some defecating in the open, others already dead from a cholera epidemic.
“Even if you can get food, there is no water,” said one mother, Sangabo Moalin, who held her head with a left hand as thin as a leaf and spoke of her body “burning.”
Another famine is about to tighten its grip on Somalia. And it’s not the only crisis that aid agencies are scrambling to address. For the first time since anyone can remember, there is a very real possibility of four famines — in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen — breaking out at once, endangering more than 20 million lives.
International aid officials say they are facing one of the biggest humanitarian disasters since World War II. And they are determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
One powerful lesson from the last famine in Somalia, just six years ago, was that famines were not simply about food. They are about something even more elemental: water.
Once again, a lack of clean water and proper hygiene is setting off an outbreak of killer diseases in displaced persons camps. So the race is on to dig more latrines, get swimming-pool quantities of clean water into the camps, and pass out more soap, more water-treatment tablets and more plastic buckets — decidedly low-tech supplies that could save many lives.
“We underestimated the role of water and its contribution to mortality in the last famine,” said Ann Thomas, a water, sanitation and hygiene specialist for Unicef. “It gets overshadowed by the food.”
The famines are coming as a drought sweeps across Africa and several different wars seal off extremely needy areas. United Nations officials say they need a huge infusion of cash to respond. So far, they are not just millions of dollars short, but billions.
At the same time, President Trump is urging Congress to cut foreign aid and assistance to the United Nations, which aid officials fear could multiply the deaths. The United States traditionally provides more disaster relief than anyone else.
“The international humanitarian system is at its breaking point,” said Dominic MacSorley, chief executive of Concern Worldwide, a large private aid group.
Aid officials say all the needed food and water exist on this planet in abundance — even within these hard-hit countries. But armed conflict that is often created by personal rivalries between a few men turns life upside down for millions, destroying markets and making the price of necessities go berserk. [Continue reading…]
Lauren Collins writes: Wasil awoke to the sound of a knife ripping through nylon. Although he was only twelve years old, he was living alone in a small tent at a refugee camp in Calais, France, known as the Jungle. Men entered his tent; he couldn’t tell how many. A pair of hands gripped his throat. He shouted. It was raining, and the clatter of the drops muffled his cries, so he shouted louder. At last, people from neighboring tents came running, and the assailants disappeared.
Wasil had left his mother and younger siblings in Kunduz, Afghanistan, ten months earlier, in December, 2015. His father, an interpreter for nato forces, had fled the country after receiving death threats from the Taliban. Later, Wasil, as the eldest son, became the Taliban’s surrogate target. Wasil was close to his mother, but she decided to send him away as the situation became increasingly dangerous. Her brother lived in England, and she hoped that Wasil could join him there. To get to Calais, Wasil had travelled almost four thousand miles, across much of Asia and Europe, by himself. Along the way, he had survived for ten days in a forest with only two bottles of water, two biscuits, and a packet of dates to sustain him. Before leaving home, he hadn’t even known how to prepare a meal.
Wasil was stunned by the conditions of the Jungle. The camp, a forty-acre assemblage of tents, situated on a vast windswept sandlot that had formerly served as a landfill, didn’t seem fit for human habitation. “I did not come here for luxury,” Wasil told me, in excellent English, which he had learned from his father. “But I can’t believe this is happening in Europe.” A chemical plant loomed nearby. There was no running water, and when it rained the refugees’ tents filled with mud and the camp’s rudimentary roads became impassable.
The Jungle had one thing to recommend it: its proximity to the thirty-mile-long Channel Tunnel, which connects France and England at the Strait of Dover. Thousands of refugees and migrants from all over the world congregated at the camp, amid rats and burning trash, with the sole objective of making it, whether by truck, train, or ferry, onto British soil. On one of Wasil’s first days at the camp, he called his mother on his cell phone. “Are you safe?” she asked. “I was saying to her, ‘I’m in a good condition, I am too safe. I’m going to school and learning French. . . . I can touch the water that one side is here and the other side is England,’ ” Wasil recalled. “I’m not telling her the real situation.” [Continue reading…]
Nicholas Kristof writes: She is just a frightened mom, worrying if her son will survive, and certainly not fretting about American politics — for she has never heard of either President Obama or Donald Trump.
What about America itself? Ranomasy, who lives in an isolated village on this island of Madagascar off southern Africa, shakes her head. It doesn’t ring any bells.
Yet we Americans may be inadvertently killing her infant son. Climate change, disproportionately caused by carbon emissions from America, seems to be behind a severe drought that has led crops to wilt across seven countries in southern Africa. The result is acute malnutrition for 1.3 million children in the region, the United Nations says.
Trump has repeatedly mocked climate change, once even calling it a hoax fabricated by China. But climate change here is as tangible as its victims. Trump should come and feel these children’s ribs and watch them struggle for life. It’s true that the links between our carbon emissions and any particular drought are convoluted, but over all, climate change is as palpable as a wizened, glassy-eyed child dying of starvation. Like Ranomasy’s 18-month-old son, Tsapasoa.
Southern Africa’s drought and food crisis have gone largely unnoticed around the world. The situation has been particularly severe in Madagascar, a lovely island nation known for deserted sandy beaches and playful long-tailed primates called lemurs.
But the southern part of the island doesn’t look anything like the animated movie “Madagascar”: Families are slowly starving because rains and crops have failed for the last few years. They are reduced to eating cactus and even rocks or ashes. The United Nations estimates that nearly one million people in Madagascar alone need emergency food assistance. [Continue reading…]
The first-person stories of refugees and migrants fleeing war, persecution and hardship — drawing on footage filmed by the families themselves as they leave their homes on dangerous journeys in search of safety and refuge in Europe. Watch the complete Frontline report here.
ThinkProgress reports: At least 12 million people lived in ongoing displacement caused by conflict, violence, and other disasters across the African continent in 2015. And in the future, climate change may be the lead driver of even greater displacement.
In the Africa Report on Internal Displacement — a new report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre that focused on internal displacement across the entire African continent — researchers found that “disasters triggered by rapid-onset natural hazards” forced 1.1 million people from their homes across 33 African countries last year. What’s more, disaster-induced displacement makes people more vulnerable from one year to the next and more susceptible to food insecurity since planting and harvesting become disrupted when farmers are absent.
“The figure of 12.4 million internally displaced people (IDPs) is more than double Africa’s 5.4 million refugee population across the continent, and is a reminder of the protracted nature of many conflicts in Africa,” Alexandra Bilak, the director of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), said in a statement. “But it still underestimates the full scale of Africa’s internal displacement crisis because data over time is not available for the millions more who become trapped in displacement as a result of disasters and development projects.” [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: Gambia has announced that it will withdraw from the International Criminal Court, the third African country to declare its departure in just two weeks.
Explaining the country’s decision, Gambian Information Minister Sheriff Bojang said on state television late Tuesday that the global judicial body was really an “an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of color, especially Africans.”
Last Tuesday, Burundi announced its own intention to leave the court and on Friday, South Africa did the same. Then came Gambia, the tiny West African country. There are worries that this could be the beginning of an African exodus from the court, a dwindling membership on a continent with a long list of conflicts and human rights abuses to adjudicate.
Experts believe Kenya, Namibia and Uganda could be among the next countries to leave the court.
For years, many African nations have claimed that the ICC, which was established in 2002, is biased against the continent’s leaders. Nine of its 10 current investigations involve African countries.
The decision of three successive countries to leave the court could mark a watershed moment for an institution whose legitimacy is derived largely from its members’ consent. No country had previously withdrawn from the ICC. [Continue reading…]
Jason Burke reports: It is a war within a war, fought across thousands of miles of desert, scrub and forest, from the Atlantic seaboard to the Indian Ocean coastline.
It pits the Islamic State (Isis), the Iraq and Syria-based group that has expanded deep into Africa since surging to international attention in 2014, against al-Qaida, the veteran extremist group, which has maintained a significant presence in much of the continent in recent years.
Both groups and their affiliates are also fighting an array of armies and counter-terrorist agencies: French soldiers, US special forces, British military trainers, as well as the local armies of a dozen states. Last week, it was revealed the US was building a $50m base for drones in Niger, which is at the very centre of the conflict zone.
But at the same time, the extremist groups are fighting each other. Such internecine struggles between militant groups may seem esoteric to casual observers. But the eventual result will have an enormous impact on the security of dozens of often fragile states in Africa and, more broadly, on the future of Islamic militancy.
Though they share many aims, al-Qaida and Isis have divergent strategic visions and favour dramatically different tactics. Al-Qaida has largely avoided attacks on other Muslims, including Shias, and has sought to build support from local communities. Though still committed to strikes in the west, it does not appear to see a terrorist campaign in Europe or the US as a priority. Isis, also known as Isil, has made other Muslims who do not share its beliefs a key target, often used violence to keep local communities in line, and launched bloody attacks in the west. [Continue reading…]
Bel Trew writes: The smugglers forced the last 100 frightened migrants to board a listing ship at knifepoint. They were 12 kilometers (8 miles) off the Egyptian coast and the battered fishing boat was already packed. The smugglers snarled death threats at the appointed “captain” who refused to set sail for Italy because, with over 450 people on board, the vessel was dangerously overloaded.
One we’ll call Mohamed, because he is only 17, is an impoverished Egyptian tuk-tuk driver who waited on the bow of the crammed ship with a dozen of this friends as the fight erupted. It was 4:00 a.m. and nearly light but the new influx of passengers had sparked panic on deck.
The battered ribs of the ship began to groan as the shifting weight rocked the vessel violently to the side. Locked inside a fish refrigerator in the hold, dozens of people clawed at the walls to get out.
Mohamed and his 15-year-old friend, whom we’ll call Osman, were the first to jump into the churning water after failing to coax their best friend Karim, also 15, to join them. Karim, like many others on board the boat, could not swim.
“From the water I saw something snap on top and the boat suddenly flipped on its side. It was as if it was sucked under the waves,” Mohamed said days later from his impoverished hometown of Green Island, east of Alexandria.
“We watched people drowning each other to get air. The living were floating on the dead,” he added, his voice cracking.
Osman spotted Karim, 15, clutching onto a water bottle. “He was slipping. We tried to reach him. But I looked back and he was gone.”
The two boys, who swam for seven hours looking for land, were among the 163 people dragged out of the water by fishermen, who came to their rescue when the Egyptian coastguard failed to show up.
An estimated 300 people from Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Syria, and Somalia drowned that morning of Sept. 21, although only 202 bodies have so far been recovered. On Tuesday, 33 corpses, some unrecognizable after a week on the sea floor, were pulled out of the hull of the ship, which was finally brought to the surface and towed to shore.
Dozens of Egyptian children like Mohamed were onboard, part of an increasing number of minors leaving alone for Italy, because they cannot be repatriated under Italian law and so can stay to make money to send home.
Over 16,863 unaccompanied children have made the perilous Mediterranean crossing from North Africa to Italy so far this year, nearly double the 8,354 who traveled last year, according to an email sent to me by Save The Children. Over 2,666 of those unaccompanied minors were Egyptian, more than triple the 854 who traveled in the same period last year.
Desperation is driving families to urge their young sons to take the deadly 10-day sea trip. A crumbling economy in Egypt, fueled by five years of unrest and political oppression, means few have opportunities if they stay. [Continue reading…]
Nick Turse reports: From high above, Agadez almost blends into the cocoa-colored wasteland that surrounds it. Only when you descend farther can you make out a city that curves around an airfield before fading into the desert. Once a nexus for camel caravans hauling tea and salt across the Sahara, Agadez is now a West African paradise for people smugglers and a way station for refugees and migrants intent on reaching Europe’s shores by any means necessary.
Africans fleeing unrest and poverty are not, however, the only foreigners making their way to this town in the center of Niger. U.S. military documents reveal new information about an American drone base under construction on the outskirts of the city. The long-planned project — considered the most important U.S. military construction effort in Africa, according to formerly secret files obtained by The Intercept through the Freedom of Information Act — is slated to cost $100 million, and is just one of a number of recent American military initiatives in the impoverished nation.
The base is the latest sign, experts say, of an ever-increasing emphasis on counterterror operations in the north and west of the continent. As the only country in the region willing to allow a U.S. base for MQ-9 Reapers — a newer, larger, and potentially more lethal model than the venerable Predator drone — Niger has positioned itself to be the key regional hub for U.S. military operations, with Agadez serving as the premier outpost for launching intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions against a plethora of terror groups. [Continue reading…]
Marc Parry writes: Help us sue the British government for torture. That was the request Caroline Elkins, a Harvard historian, received in 2008. The idea was both legally improbable and professionally risky. Improbable because the case, then being assembled by human rights lawyers in London, would attempt to hold Britain accountable for atrocities perpetrated 50 years earlier, in pre-independence Kenya. Risky because investigating those misdeeds had already earned Elkins heaps of abuse.
Elkins had come to prominence in 2005 with a book that exhumed one of the nastiest chapters of British imperial history: the suppression of Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion. Her study, Britain’s Gulag, chronicled how the British had battled this anticolonial uprising by confining some 1.5 million Kenyans to a network of detention camps and heavily patrolled villages. It was a tale of systematic violence and high-level cover-ups.
It was also an unconventional first book for a junior scholar. Elkins framed the story as a personal journey of discovery. Her prose seethed with outrage. Britain’s Gulag, titled Imperial Reckoning in the US, earned Elkins a great deal of attention and a Pulitzer prize. But the book polarised scholars. Some praised Elkins for breaking the “code of silence” that had squelched discussion of British imperial violence. Others branded her a self-aggrandising crusader whose overstated findings had relied on sloppy methods and dubious oral testimonies.
By 2008, Elkins’s job was on the line. Her case for tenure, once on the fast track, had been delayed in response to criticism of her work. To secure a permanent position, she needed to make progress on her second book. This would be an ambitious study of violence at the end of the British empire, one that would take her far beyond the controversy that had engulfed her Mau Mau work.
That’s when the phone rang, pulling her back in. A London law firm was preparing to file a reparations claim on behalf of elderly Kenyans who had been tortured in detention camps during the Mau Mau revolt. Elkins’s research had made the suit possible. Now the lawyer running the case wanted her to sign on as an expert witness. Elkins was in the top-floor study of her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when the call came. She looked at the file boxes around her. “I was supposed to be working on this next book,” she says. “Keep my head down and be an academic. Don’t go out and be on the front page of the paper.”
She said yes. She wanted to rectify injustice. And she stood behind her work. “I was kind of like a dog with a bone,” she says. “I knew I was right.”
What she didn’t know was that the lawsuit would expose a secret: a vast colonial archive that had been hidden for half a century. The files within would be a reminder to historians of just how far a government would go to sanitise its past. And the story Elkins would tell about those papers would once again plunge her into controversy. [Continue reading…]
We continue to witness violent attacks – bombings and murders in France, Germany, Turkey, Afghanistan and Iraq; fighting in South Sudan and the continued civil war in Syria. These conflicts have renewed interest in the global refugee crisis and the movements of displaced persons around the globe.
The United Nations Human Rights Council announced in June that 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes in 2015. This is a record number and is equal in population to the U.K. or France.
People who have been forced to leave their homes, their nations and occupation against their will are often referred to as “displaced.” And 65.3 million is a lot of displaced people. They are found across the globe in response to crises that range from the social to the environmental, and include Syrian refugees fleeing civil war, Central American children crossing international borders to reach family and security in the U.S., Colombians moving internally to avoid warfare and violence and Filipinos who are forced to relocate in response to changing climates and environmental disasters.
The UNHRC’s report identifies important global patterns that we must acknowledge. But, the overwhelming size of the displaced population reported confounds a complex issue and creates new fears. The numbers overwhelm and make it difficult to define potential solutions.
Ashley Gilbertson writes: Last year, the news media focused intensely on the European refugee crisis. Some 800,000 people crossed the Mediterranean to Greece, many fleeing wars we had a hand in creating, in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Each segment of their journey was carefully documented by thousands of reporters and photographers.
But there is another humanitarian crisis in Europe we have heard much less about: the roughly 200,000 migrants and refugees who left Africa for Italy since last year. This year alone, some 2,000 have died while making the voyage.
No one gets excited by an epidemic of despair. Some African refugees — largely from Nigeria, Gambia, Somalia, Ivory Coast and Guinea — are escaping wars, but others are fleeing despots, corruption and poverty, a tapestry of problems that have plagued the Continent for generations. When they arrive here in Sicily, they face an overloaded system that is unable to meet their needs.
In May, I spent a week in Sicily with a team from Unicef taking photographs and interviewing those who have made the journey. In the island’s capital, Palermo, I met Peace, a 17-year-old Nigerian living in a shelter for girls. She fled home after being told she would have to marry a 40-year-old man. “This man took me to his house and made me his house girl,” Peace said. “I said to my aunt, ‘He’s older than my dad,’ but she said, ‘If you don’t marry this man, I will poison you.’ ”
Peace traveled to Agadez, Niger, a waypoint where smugglers load migrants into crowded trucks to cross into Libya. “So many people died in the desert. We saw dead bodies, skeletons,” she said. Upon arriving in Libya, she was locked in a windowless room for six weeks. “There was no water, no changes of clothes, not enough food. There was fighting outside, I could hear shooting.”
Libya is particularly brutal on migrants. Boys are set to work by local residents at backbreaking jobs in construction and in the fields for less than $5 a day until they earn enough to afford the $1,500 passage. Girls are often forced into sex work. “They used to rape us and beat us,” said Tsenga, an Eritrean woman who today lives at a sprawling refugee camp in Sicily. “The girls cried, they cried bitterly. They cried because they are just children.” [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: In a city where nightclubs and mosques coexist peacefully, Islamist violence long felt like a foreign problem — something residents watched on news clips from the Middle East or other parts of Africa.
“We just didn’t worry very much about it,” said Abdullaye Diene, the deputy imam of the country’s largest mosque. “Here you can spend your nights drinking at the disco and then shake the hand of the imam.”
But Senegal and its neighbors are facing a new threat from extremists moving far from their traditional strongholds in northwest Africa. Since November, militant groups have killed dozens of people in assaults on hotels, cafes and a beachside resort in West Africa, passing through porous borders with impunity.
The attacks have occurred in countries that had been rebounding from political turbulence, such as Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso. Now fears of such bloodshed are growing in this pro-Western democracy, which serves as a regional hub for international organizations. [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: Walking from classroom to classroom at the Ahl ul Bayt Linguistic Center, which teaches Arabic and Islam, director Ahmed Tijani pointed at his students, a mixture of teens and young adults.
“This one is Shiite, these ones are also Shiite,” he said. “And these ones, they are still Sunni.”
Mr. Tijani, whose office in the Cameroonian capital is decorated with an Iranian flag and a poster of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was also once a Sunni Muslim. Then he made the life-changing choice of enrolling at a similar Iranian-funded academy in the coastal city of Douala.
Since converting to Shiite Islam a decade ago, the 39-year-old educator has risen through the ranks, establishing this school in Yaoundé and even visiting Iran on a government-sponsored trip in 2012.
“There is a big difference between Shiite Islam and Sunni Islam,” he said. “Only the Shiites are spreading the truth.”
Such sectarian talk used to be exceedingly rare in much of Africa. So were actual Shiites. The few who could be found in Africa belonged to immigrant communities from Lebanon or the Indian subcontinent. Now, parts of the continent’s Sunni Muslim heartland are living through the biggest wave of Sunni-to-Shiite conversions since many Sunni tribes of southern Iraq adopted Shiism in the 19th century.
Hard figures are difficult to come by. But in Nigeria alone, Africa’s most populous nation, some 12% of its 90-million-strong Muslim population have identified themselves as Shiite in a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, up from virtually zero in 1980. The number is 21% for the Muslims of Chad, 20% for Tanzania, and 8% for Ghana, according to the survey.
That demographic change is occurring just as the Muslim world becomes increasingly polarized along sectarian lines, with Saudi Arabia, a self-proclaimed standard-bearer of the Sunni cause, engaged in proxy struggles from Yemen to Syria to Bahrain against a rival axis led by Iran’s Shiite theocracy.
“The core of the Saudi-Iranian confrontation over power and territory is in the Middle East. But West African Shiites are of symbolic value to Iran, for it to be able to say that its vision of Islam is expanding rather than shrinking. They give Iran more of a claim that they’re able to speak for Muslims in the whole world,” said Vali Nasr, dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and author of a book on the Shiite revival. [Continue reading…]
These are dark days for southern Africa. The last month has seen xenophobic riots and killings in Zambia, once an almost immaculately peaceful country, and the reinstatement of several hundred corruption charges which could be delivered against South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma.
Times have changed in Zambia since its first president, Kenneth Kaunda, galvanised the country’s 72 ethnic groups (not counting European and Indian populations) into a united nation. During his decades in power, he defied the white minority regimes to his south, Rhodesia and Apartheid South Africa. He hosted the exile headquarters of the ANC and sheltered the Namibian exile group SWAPO, whose country South Africa occupied in defiance of the UN.
Landlocked Zambia took a terrible hammering as the white regimes controlled its transport links to the sea. From time to time there were military incursions into Lusaka, the capital city – yet the Zambians took it all with a stoicism born of genuine solidarity.
But times have changed. Kaunda’s successors have not developed their own moral stature, and the country has been badly mismanaged.