Is Ahmadinejad a CIA spy?

By the logic of Iran’s conviction of Kian Tajbaksh, that is a reasonable conclusion. The Iranian-American academic was sentenced to 15 years in prison last week, partly for having been in contact with Gary Sick, an American expert on Iran based at Columbia University. Part of the allegations are that Sick is a CIA agent. In a refutation of the charges, Sick notes that he’s spent more time with Iranian officials than he has with Tajbaksh. Sick asks if they should also be investigated for connections to him. This is an important piece by a guy who is, ironically, sometimes accused by right wingers of being in cahoots with Tehran. Read it here on The Daily Bea(st.

(Now, to return to East African affairs…)

Obama prize: for the people

My initial reaction was, like so many Twitterers and Facebookers, “It’s too early.” Obama has not nearly dismantled the GWOT to the degree I want to see, he’s still presiding over two specific wars, he hasn’t taken a position on the Goldstone report or condemned the bombing of Gaza or Israeli nukes, he may send many more troops to Afghanistan. My expectations are high, and there’s too much about American policy that continues to reek of war and imperialism.

But as a day has passed, I’ve grown more and more excited about his award. One person whose opinion I greatly respect prodded us on Twitter:

“It’s the height of cynicism, and the triumph of punditry, to scoff from the sidelines at President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize.”

I don’t think all the negative reactions to the award from the left have been simple, sarcastic scoffing. Many are related to the continuing hugeness of the American war machine, the missile strikes on civilians in Afghanistan, the failure to satisfactorily shut Guantanamo.

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Context be damned: reactions against Saviors and Survivors from the R2P camp

As an eighth-grader learning about American slavery, I had a fantasy. I imagined that some elite Marines and I could outfit ourselves in the latest combat gear and travel back in time to the year 1820. Once we arrived in the heart of the slavery era, we’d storm the plantations with superior weaponry and free the slaves. Problem solved. It would be awesome, and I’d be a hero.

Of course, as I learned in later study, the abolition of one of history’s most monstrous atrocities was not such a simple matter. Dismantling slavery meant the splitting of a nation, a civil war that sacrificed 600,000 lives, and a burning of the South that – while possibly justified – entailed extreme and morally repugnant violence. And of course, war was only part of the solution. There were the complex political negotiations, the recalibration of society that, 150 years later, is still incomplete.

I kept thinking of these episodes in my education as I read Richard Just’s August 27 take-down of Mahmood Mamdani in The New Republic. The article – a review of Mamdani’s Saviors and Survivors and Gareth Evans’s The Responsibility to Protect – concludes that Mamdani’s book is a paranoid failure, but that Evans proposes a refreshing idealism (though Just finds that the R2P proponent is a little too conservative in promoting his doctrine).

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State Department travel warnings on Zanzibar



A U.S. State Department warning about travel to Zanzibar and Pemba arrived in my inbox a couple of days ago.

I’ve always thought that the travel warnings issued by the U.S. State Department were a bit like the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign on which we Eighties Babies were raised. Neither warning systems seem to distinguish between grave and moderate dangers, which tend to make them useless as sources of information. Continue reading

The politics of a Swahili identity

If you’ve been in Tanzania, you’ve probably heard some foreigner say something to this effect: The reason that Tanzania lags behind in some areas is that the kids learn Swahili instead of English.

Mwalimu Julius Nyerere

Mwalimu Julius Nyerere

On the surface, this makes at least some amount of sense. It may be (let me rephrase: it is) completely unfair and the result of a history of imperialism and exploitation, but nevertheless ignorance of English is a huge handicap if you want to get keyed into the global economy these days. More than that: English, this crappy, haphazard mongrel of a language, represents power. Without it, you are weak, vis-à-vis the rest of the world. And many Tanzanians struggle with English. Continue reading

Darfur debate bubbles up

Let no one say that the debate around the U.S. response to Darfur is purely an academic exercise. I have no idea if Sudan Special Envoy Scott Gration has been reading Alex de Waal’s blog at the Social Science Research Council (he should be), but in the congressional hearings last week, we saw the issues haggled over and analyzed to the minutest detail on the SSRC blog start to take on the dimensions of real life consequences.

Check out the Enough blog for its painstaking chronicling of the mainstream response to Gration’s comments that Sudan’s listing as a state sponsor of terrorism is a “political decision” and that the designation of genocide may no longer be relevant. (Enough’s coverage is of course decidedly skewed against Gration. I’m pretty impressed. Until countries like Israel and Saudia Arabia — heck, even us — are listed as state sponsors of terrorism, any such designation is purely political.)

Here’s the short clip of Gration’s comments.

If the ICC’s mandate were based on popularity…

In a recent post, the Enough blog discussed a poll by that showed there is much popularity for the indictment of Omar al-Bashir among the populations of some African countries — contrary to the position of the AU, which has rejected the ICC’s move.

Maybe African leaders are “out of step” with their populaces, Enough suggested. And in another post, the group questioned the judgment of those leaders for other reasons. An excerpt:

The AU includes a fair number of leaders with a lot of blood on their hands, so it’s no surprise that they would seek to shield themselves from individual prosecution.  But for the victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the institutionalization within the AU of impunity for the likes of Bashir, Mugabe, Deby, Meles, Issayas, Kagame, and Gaddafi is deeply troubling.

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Would Museveni arrest Bashir?

An article in Uganda’s Independent yesterday suggested that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir could face arrest if he visits Kampala for the 2009 Smart Partnership Dialogue. (This happened while International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo was in town, so maybe it’s just lip service.) What I found interesting, though, is that a country that has beef with Sudan over matters totally unrelated to the charges agains Bashir–charges over his involvement in the Darfur conflict–might be in a position of arresting the Sudanese leader. As the article puts it rather innocently: Continue reading

Fascinating Iran news round-up

My unnamed expert friend provided the following email today. It’s a great summary of the news from inside Iran, and includes some really cogent analysis. In the interest of getting it up immediately, I’ve inlcuded the whole thing, including a few typos and references to things I haven’t posted here. Hopefully you still find it useful…

Nighttime again in Tehran so below is my round-up of news from today. Unfortunately it’s becoming harder and harder to get information out of Iran. The Western press has gone from being banned from covering protests to being asked to leave—today Iran asked the BBC to leave, a few other reporters had their visas expire, and an Iranian reporter from Newsweek has been arrested without charge and hasn’t been heard from in a few days. Couple this with the fact that they’re arresting even more Iranian bloggers and journalists, scrambling satellite TV, cutting of phone and SMS service, and it’s just becoming harder and harder to find out what’s going on in Iran. Still, some amazing and courageous Iranians continue to send updates and take pictures and video, so here’s what I’ve compiled from the past 24 hours.