Tuesday, 11 March 2014

DR-CONGO: The Potential Threat of Weakened FDLR

The once mighty rebel group FDLR, built from the former Rwandan Interahamwe who committed the genocide in 1994, has considerably weakened recently. Politically, the leadership is under pressure, as high cadres Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni stand trial for war crimes in Germany. (Callixte Mbarushimana, another high-level FDLR commander, has been acquitted of International Criminal Court charges).

In military terms, the armed branch of the FDLR, called FOCA, suffered continuous losses after joint operations by the Congolese and Rwandan national armies, as well as from confronting self-defense militias in eastern Congo, such as the Raia Mutomboki. Under its commander-in-chief, ICC indictee Sylvestre Mudacumura, FOCA is still organized through a northern command, led by Pacifique Ntawunguka and based in northern parts of North Kivu’s Masisi territory, and a southern command, led by Hamada Habimana and based in South Kivu’s southern Mwenga territory.

Keeping the momentum after partially dismantling M23 movement, the MONUSCO ( U.N. Mission for Stabilization in DRC) and the Congolese Army are planning Joint operations to further weaken Rwandan Hutu rebels of FDLR( Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda).''We are in the context of operations with FARDC(Armed Forced DRC) of launching operations against FDLR'' said the MONUSCO spokesman Félix Prosper Base.

If, according to MONUSCO, the operations have not yet started, its consequences are already visible on the ground.On the night of Sunday to Monday, FARDC dismantled FDLR's camps in Luofu and Tongo (60 km north of Goma).

While the FDLR maintains its radical ethnic ideology and its highly organized military structure, troop numbers have fallen from more than 10,000 to—according to most credible estimates—around 2,500 combatants. Beyond arrests, some top commanders have been killed in action.

In addition, two major FDLR splinter groups stir trouble in eastern Congo: FDLR-RUD, with a few hundred fighters, and FDLR-Soki, with even fewer combatants. In terms of military threat, the FDLR and its splinters seem unable to do more than launch terrorist-style mortar attacks into Rwandan territory these days, but their potential to harm Congolese communities remains very high.

As the successor of Interahamwe and Hutu power groups, the FDLR has always been a major opponent of armed groups led by Congolese Tutsi with ties to the current Rwandan government. The FDLR’s combination of radical ideology and stringent military organization, even in the group’s current weakened state, is a potential threat, even more to Congolese Tutsi communities than to Rwanda itself.

Given the current U.N. Security Council resolution demanding the disarmament of nonstate armed groups in DRC, it is paramount that the Rwandan government offers some political process with FDLR that would require its disarmament.

Recently, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete—who has deployed troops for the U.N. intervention brigade currently fighting armed rebels groups in eastern DRC—urged Rwandan President Paul Kagame to engage in a political process with the FDLR. With memories of the genocide still fresh after 20 years, Kagame sharply refused.

To definitively resolve the FDLR issue, the Congolese government and army must first credibly stop any collaboration with the FDLR once and for all. A tripartite agreement among the DRC, Rwanda and the FDLR—perhaps supervised by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region or the African Union—will then be necessary to create a cross-border program to disarm and demobilize the combatants, take care of their dependents and render integrating into Congolese society or resettling in Rwanda more lucrative than continuing the war.

The main stumbling block has been a lack of DRC-Rwanda cooperation, and the Rwandan government’s limiting of political freedom even as FDLR commanders indoctrinate their people by telling them they would be killed if they returned to Rwanda.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
African Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: AFP- Young FDLR soldier in the jungle of North Kivu in Dr-Congo-Photo

Monday, 10 March 2014

CAMBODIA: From Authoritarianism to Democratization

The political crisis triggered by the Arab Spring in the Middle East, the civil war in Syria, the recent crisis in Ukraine, and the turmoil in Thailand could all serve as obvious examples of the unwanted consequences of drastic political change for other countries to avoid.

Cambodia for one, where the government maintains that there is no political deadlock, even though there is an ongoing boycott of the parliament by the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). With a simple majority vote, the Cambodian People Party (CPP) can run the legislature on its own.

Progress in political negotiations between the CPP and CNRP at the working-group level on February 18 in Phnom Penh was cheered by the public, since both parties started to soften their political stances and make concessions. The meeting decided to set up a joint commission for electoral reform, with equal representation from both parties. In addition, a national workshop on electoral reform will be organized with broader participation from all political parties, NGOs, civil society, and development partners.

However, the final outcome of the negotiations remains to be seen. The CNRP continues to boycott the National Assembly and threaten mass demonstrations in its bid to push for change. Yet, this strategy seems ineffective, since the CPP can work alone in parliament. The CNRP’s political maneuvering will only render it irrelevant in government and parliament.

Challenges still remain, as the CNRP has threatened to call off all negotiations if there is political intimidation of its public gatherings. It has also announced it will boycott the Commune Council elections in 2014. The opposition has continued to gain in popularity, which has embolden it to press an aggressive political agenda, encompassing not only new elections and comprehensive electoral reform, but also calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Will Cambodia be able to take a peaceful short-cut to liberal democracy? Chances are, of course, that the process of democratic consolidation will take longer than hoped. A peaceful transition from authoritarianism to electoral democracy in Cambodia has paved the way for speedy national rehabilitation and economic development after three decades of civil war.

Despite protests by garment workers in 2013 and early this year, Cambodia still achieved impressive GDP growth of 7.5 percent for 2013, total exports of almost $10 billion, and GDP per  capita of $1036, which places it for the first time in the lower middle income range. Cambodia is also now giving back to the international community through UN-led peacekeeping operations in Africa and the Middle East, in countries such as Chad, South Sudan, Lebanon, and Mali.

Cambodia’s relative political stability and strong economic performance cannot be ignored in either the domestic or regional contexts, especially in ASEAN. This achievement has resulted in significant international support and investor confidence. Cambodia’s image and status in the region and the world has been enhanced by its sensible foreign policy and active participation in regional and international forums, as evidenced by its chairmanship of ASEAN in 2012, which culminated with U.S. President Barack Obama’s participation in the 7th East Asia Forum in Phnom Penh, and the successful hosting of significant international events in 2013 such as UNESCO World Heritage Committee Meeting.

Cambodian leaders and politicians have more experienced now, given several rounds of national elections since 1993, and are capable of peaceful dispute settlements. That is why members of the international community, such as the U.S., EU, Australia, Japan and South Korea, have urged all parties to return to peaceful dialogue and negotiation.

Three important factors need to be considered in the process of democratic consolidation in Cambodia:

First, Cambodian leaders must ensure that a strong foundation for democratic development is in place if Cambodia is to achieve democratic consolidation over the long-term. After almost three decades of civil war, Cambodia has been left with very little in this regard. Democracy was brought to Cambodia with the UNTAC-led election in 1993, which followed the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991, as part of the resolutions to settle its internal conflicts. But the purist agrarian communist policy of the Khmer Rouge regime killed civil servants, intellectuals, teachers, students, and urbanites, and along with them the social foundations for democracy in Cambodia.

Second, democracy will not be consolidated unless Cambodia can maintain peace and stability, accompanied by economic development. This should not be read as a permanent need for developmental authoritarianism. But peace and stability in Cambodia are fragile, especially given border tensions with neighboring countries. Still today 20 percent of Cambodians live in poverty, so to sustain democracy the country needs equitable economic development and pro-poor growth with the ultimate aim of poverty eradication. When people are better-off and educated, they will tend to favor and support democracy, and reject violence as a form of dispute solution. This in turn minimizes the chances of the recurrence of civil war in Cambodia.

Third, while promoting democracy, the rule of law must be respected in order to ensure a peaceful democratic environment, social order and harmony. In a post-conflict society, the rule of law is vital for maintaining public order, peace and stability, while providing checks and balances against the abuse of power by the government. Democracy and the rule of law must work in parallel, with freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution and relevant laws.

Cambodia is relatively new to democracy, and it has yet to be consolidated. Substantial international development assistance has been provided by donor countries to help consolidate democracy and promote socioeconomic development. At least basic democratic principles are being promoted through regular senate elections, parliamentary elections and commune council elections every five years. In addition, civil society and NGOs are flourishing in Cambodia due to political openness and international support. At the same time, Cambodian youth is beginning to absorb new ideas and Western values. They do not think as their parents do.

Since Cambodia’s population is young, and social media has a growing role in spreading information, traditional media such television and radio is no longer the most effective means of seeking support for the government. To rebuild its popularity, the ruling party should introduce real and comprehensive reform, eliminate corruption and cronyism, and promote social justice and equality with a strong political commitment. If it does not, it will not only lose popularity, but also legitimacy.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP--Supporters of the Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party ( CNRP) protesting after the election- Photo

UKRAINE: Crimea Crisis- Putin doesn't listen...

Russia is fast establishing facts on the ground in Crimea. Over recent days, more soldiers have entered the region. The Kremlin denies that they are under Russian command. Yet they drive vehicles with Russian military plates. When interviewed by Western reporters, the soldiers say they are from Russia.

On March 6, Crimea’s regional parliament voted for the peninsula to join Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron that in doing so, the Crimean authorities were acting on the basis of international law. Their aim was to protect the “legitimate interests of the population of Crimea,” Putin added.

The Crimean parliament also announced that it would hold a referendum on its decision on March 16. Both Merkel and Cameron warned Putin against holding such a vote. The outcome is a foregone conclusion. EU and U.S. leaders seem powerless to stop it. They keep calling on Russia not to escalate the crisis and to negotiate with the interim government in Kiev.

So far, Moscow has ignored all such requests. And Russia has snubbed Germany’s diplomatic efforts. In recent weeks, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has gone out of his way to give diplomacy a chance, yet Russia seems uninterested. And the longer EU and U.S. diplomats try to pursue the path of mediation, the more Putin can play for time. That means consolidating his grip over Crimea.

Besides its growing military presence, Russia is gaining control in other ways, too. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which Russia is a member, has been prevented from sending observers into Crimea. Its unarmed monitors have been forced back several times. At one stage, shots were fired at them.

The OSCE’s representative for freedom of the media issued a grim report on March 8. Dunja Mijatović said that several television channels have had their signals cut and have been replaced by Russian state television. The Internet connection of the Crimean Tatar channel ATR is down. Unidentified assailants have attacked journalists and confiscated their equipment, Mijatović added.

If the Crimean authorities are so confident of popular support for joining Russia, why are they afraid of allowing OSCE monitors, journalists, and nongovernmental organizations access to the region?
What is happening now in Crimea mirrors developments in Russia. Putin’s rule is becoming ever more repressive and paranoid about diverging opinions, possibly reflecting the mentality of his KGB background. Those trends speeded up after Putin was elected president for the second time in 2012, and have accelerated further over recent weeks.

In Moscow, independent-minded television presenters and reporters have been sacked because they dared to criticize Putin’s takeover of Crimea or report in an unbiased way about the interim government in Kiev.

The Kremlin has reinforced its crackdown on nongovernmental organizations and independent public opinion polling institutes. Members of the Pussy Riot band were recently attacked in a restaurant in Moscow. Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been put behind bars, and not for the first time. It seems that any opinions that do not reflect the Kremlin’s view on Ukraine are being muzzled.

The EU and the United States can still act. Waiting for diplomacy to work merely plays into Putin’s hands. He has already started unilaterally changing Europe’s borders. He has set a dangerous precedent in Crimea, and he could be tempted to go further. Poland, the Baltic states, and Sweden understand what is unfolding in Europe: the continent’s post–Cold War order and values are now vulnerable.

Steps by the EU to boycott this year’s G8 summit in Sochi or suspend talks on visa-free travel are, at best, symbolic measures. They will not alter the facts on the ground. What would make a difference is a freeze on assets held by Russian banks and oligarchs throughout Europe and the United States. The EU should seriously consider such sanctions. If European leaders do not act soon, more than Crimea will be lost. The EU’s soft tools will be deemed useless.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP- Vladimir Putin & Barack Obama photo

Friday, 7 March 2014

UNITED-KINGDOM: Labour Party & EU's referendum

The reports that Labour are considering offering a referendum on EU membership is potentially the most significant step in the evolution of British European policy during this parliament. If it does come to pass in the next few weeks then it will mark a decisive shift in the terms of the British debate.

Of course, the referendum issue is one that has long been with British, ever since the boxing-in of the debate on membership of the euro in the late 1990s saw all parties commit to a vote. What would be different in this case is that rather than being a vote about something that hasn’t yet happened, this would be about the status quo. Moreover, it would not be about some aspect of integration, but the entire process.

The reason a Labour commitment would be so important is that this is the party that is most likely to hold the balance of power after the general election. It might be argued that one of the reasons that David Cameron has let himself be pushed around quite so much by his backbenchers is that he has not entertained very strong hopes of returning to number 10 next May: recall that his promise in last January’s speech was hedged with caveats, not least the requirement for a single-party, Tory government.

When Cameron made that pledge, Ed Miliband came under a lot of pressure from his party and the media to match it. That he didn’t reflects both his ideological position and a recognition that his situation is rather different from Cameron.

The key point to remember in all of this is that the EU is not a priority for all that many voters: IPSOS Mori polling points instead to more day-to-day matters such as employment, health, welfare and education as key concerns. If Miliband had offered a vote on the same terms as Cameron – renegotiation within two years of the election, then a referendum – then he would in all probability be committing himself to spending half his term in office on an issue that at best would win him a handful of votes. Much more likely, it would prove a massive distraction for any of his other plans for government and it could end with him leading the UK out of the EU, and spending the second half of his term trying to deal with the fall-out.

That hasn’t changed in the past year, so why might Labour be moving now on the issue? The obvious factor is the European elections. Even if most voters are indifferent about voting and oblivious about the issues, Labour needs to build its momentum in the run-up to the general election. With UKIP likely to do well once more, the referendum issue is a stick with which Labour can be handily beaten, especially if last week’s figures on immigration further stoke UKIP’s claims about open borders.

Some vague promise of a referendum down the line (which seems to be the current suggestion) would close down the issue and allow Labour to focus on other areas of policy, where they have more of a chance to impress.

However, even with a very carefully worded statement, Labour risks putting itself back into the position that the Conservatives almost managed to put them into last spring. Let’s assume that the commitment is a renegotiation at some point during the next parliament, after which Labour would offer a vote: this is probably the bare minimum that could be said without it being laughed down.

Even this modest step would attract calls from Eurosceptics to firm it up and set a date, something that Milliband would find hard to provide a good reason for not doing: if renegotiation is policy, then why hang around? Very quickly, this would lead to a locking-in on a date and all the consequences mentioned above.

The final paradox in all of this is that Labour has seen off this pressure before, in the wake of Cameron’s speech. Miliband took a pragmatic stance that he wasn’t going to be bounced into anything and eventually the debate moved on. Looking back over the past 12 months, it’s hard to see how it has really damaged Labour.

And yet the shadow of elections looms large in such matters. Remember that Blair’s commitment on a vote on the Constitutional Treaty came in the run-up to the 2004 European elections, just as the euro referendum promises prefigured the 1997 election. In both those cases, the issue got kicked into touch, albeit more by chance than design. It is much harder to see that happening in the current situation and all involved might do well to consider that in the weeks to come.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP- UK Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband, speaking at Party's Conference-Brighton-England.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

SOUTH SUDAN: The Shadow of Regional Tensions

The deadly conflict in South Sudan, itself the culmination of a long-running power struggle within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, is increasingly drawing in neighboring countries driven by disparate security and economic interests, further complicating the crisis and efforts to reach a resolution.

The U.N. has accused both sides of South Sudan’s split of committing human rights abuses in the conflict, which has so far claimed an unknown number of lives, displaced an estimated 900,000 people both inside and outside the country and shows no signs of letting up. An agreement to cease hostilities was violated even before its ink dried, jeopardizing an already faltering mediation process led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Uganda was the first of South Sudan’s neighbors to intervene militarily, sending an estimated 4,500 soldiers to the country within four days of the outbreak of fighting there on Dec. 15. Uganda was compelled, Kampala insists, by a distress call from South Sudan’s embattled President Salva Kiir and requests from the U.N., Washington and London to step in.

One of the main aims of the intervention, Ugandan Defense Minister Crispus Kiyonga told parliament, was to urgently prevent a potentially genocidal situation from emerging out of the political fallout between Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar. The conflict between their factions had rapidly manifested itself along an age-old ethnic fault line between Kiir’s majority Dinka and Machar’s Nuer ethnic group.

However, Uganda’s military presence in South Sudan has unsettled its other neighbors, not least Sudan. There is no love lost between Museveni and longtime Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who have repeatedly accused each other of supporting rebel forces hostile to their governments.

Bashir’s quick visit to Juba, South Sudan’s capital, three weeks after the conflict broke out was widely interpreted as a public gesture that he was ready to cast his lot with South Sudan’s government. But Juba apparently spurned Khartoum’s suggestion to set up a joint force to protect vital oil fields in Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei states in the north of South Sudan, which have borne the brunt of the conflict. Instead, South Sudan preferred to give that role to the Ugandan army. Bashir is now believed to be backing Machar, his longtime ally.

Khartoum fears Uganda’s military involvement will further damage Sudan’s economic ties with South Sudan, which have been significantly reduced since the South’s independence. Uganda, together with Kenya, has been pushing a $250 million infrastructure project known as the Lamu-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor, which comprises a port, an oil pipeline, a railway line and a highway, and which will depend for its success on South Sudan. Uganda needs the LAPSSET corridor to transport its newly discovered oil, as it would greatly reduce the distance the oil, which must be heated at some expense for pipeline transit, would need to travel before it reaches the coast.

Ethiopia, too, has reason to object to Uganda’s military presence in South Sudan. Ugandan intelligence reports say Khartoum is now routing its support for Machar through Eritrea, Ethiopia’s bitter rival, to cover up its involvement. The Ethiopian government also fears the South Sudan conflict could exacerbate tensions in Ethiopia’s Gambella region, which borders Sudan and has a high concentration of Nuers, potentially resulting in a full-blown conflict. Indeed, the undercurrents of such an outbreak are already perceptible. This explains why Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who is the current chair of IGAD, asked Uganda to withdraw from South Sudan, saying its presence risked regionalizing the conflict and pointedly declaring that “there are other interests also from other sides.”

Although Uganda has expressed willingness to withdraw, even announcing a two-month withdrawal timeline, there is little appetite to actually do so in Kampala’s policymaking circles. For one thing, Uganda perceives itself as the guarantor of state stability in South Sudan, which remains in jeopardy. Renewed fighting has broken out in which Machar’s forces appear to be making gains, despite having initially been pushed out of nearly all the major centers in Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei states by joint efforts of the South Sudanese and Ugandan troops.

Moreover, Uganda’s withdrawal is conditioned on the deployment of the African Union’s African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crisis (ACIRC), an outfit that is ideally supposed to rapidly respond to crises on the continent. Unfortunately, the African Union Peace and Security Council has yet to meet to work out modalities for the deployment of ACIRC in South Sudan. A tough task awaits them in finding countries willing to contribute troops to the mission.

As it is, IGAD long ago approved a force of 5,600 troops for South Sudan, but has received none to date from its eight members. Indeed, only Uganda appears willing to contribute. The same is true of the U.N., which also agreed last year to augment its presence in this beleaguered nation by 5,500 troops but has yet to implement its resolutions with more blue berets on the ground.

Uganda’s continued military presence in South Sudan is further polarizing both sides of the conflict and directly obstructing the IGAD-led mediation, which holds the best hope for a long-term political solution. Kiir, who enjoys Uganda’s military support, has demonstrated little interest in the Addis Ababa process, while Machar has preconditioned any progress in Addis Ababa on the withdrawal of all foreign military forces as well as the release of all SPLM political figures detained since the outbreak of the conflict.

Meanwhile, Kampala is testing the patience of South Sudan’s other neighbors, who might soon feel the need to join in the conflict in order to safeguard their own interests.

To break the current deadlock, IGAD must clarify the objectives of the current mediation and, together with the AU, pressure Uganda to withdraw its forces from South Sudan, while also pushing both Kiir and Machar to engage meaningfully with the mediation process. In the absence of progress in Addis Ababa, the risk of a regionalization of the conflict looms, further complicating any efforts to resolve the crisis.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
African Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: A Jazeira-

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

AFRICA: The Struggle of African entrepreneurs

African entrepreneurs are running on empty. The International Finance Corporation estimates that up to 84% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Africa lack adequate financing.

The continent is plagued by a credit financing gap worth USD 140 billion to 170 billion, a credit financing gap worth approximately 17 times the GDP of Burkina Faso. Inadequate financial markets coupled with poor access to traditional growth capital (debt and equity) remain exacerbated by insufficient infrastructure, regulatory measures and government policies.

In 2009, the McKinsey Quarterly found that 80% of adults in sub-Saharan Africa were “unbanked”, that is, without access to the services of a bank or a similar financial organisation. More recent estimates linger around 70%. While it must be acknowledged that rates of financial inclusion are low throughout most of the developing world, the fact remains that they are particularly low across sub-Saharan Africa. Challenges to accessing finance are partly (but not entirely) a supply side problem stemming from the risk-reward structure of many financial institutions.

With 9 in 10 entrepreneurial ventures failing within the first five years of operation, the risks associated with lending to entrepreneurs in frontier markets are paramount. This in turn translates into high costs of funding for those borrowing and consequently acts as a strong deterrent for SMEs. The Omidyar Network found that in some cases, banks require 150% of the borrowed amount in collateral, thereby automatically disqualifying many from funding eligibility.

Even those few institutions striving to serve the lowest income entrepreneurs have limited product offerings, often operating as credit-only, excluding the role of savings which lie at the heart of capital accumulation.

Venture capital and seed funding are popular forms of equity financing used to fund high-risk, high-return businesses in the developed world and can be instrumental in boosting finance for small to mid-scale African ventures. An additional benefit is that “angels” (as investors are called) can offer entrepreneurs business expertise alongside their capital, providing a support system that some may otherwise lack.

With seed funding and venture capital forming less than 10% of funding for entrepreneurs on the continent, there is a limited appetite of venture capitalists for early stage investments in Africa and foreign investors remain wary of currency shocks. There is a need to initiate local venture capital investing ecosystems to ensure that the most appropriate sources of funding are available for sustainable business development.

Services such as M-PESA offered by Safaricom in Kenya are harnessing the power of technology to create opportunities for entrepreneurs via micro-financing. However, these small loans are not sufficient for those firms wishing to significantly increase their market penetration rates or break out of the informal sector. Thus, the question we must ask becomes: How can we improve access to capital for SMEs?

This is just one of the questions that the 2014 LSE Africa Summit intends to address on 4-5  April 2014. With an underlying theme of entrepreneurship, the Summit will be a forum for Africa enthusiasts to address salient topics on the continent. It is also an opportunity to celebrate Africa’s entrepreneurs: their resilience, their drive and their passion.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: African Union's archives-The African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP)

MOROCCO: Mourchidat-'Spiritual Security''-Made in Morocco

Boots on the ground, drones in the skies, and government surveillance of electronic communications have become standard American tools for warding off extremist violence. The Kingdom of Morocco has armed itself with a dramatically different weapon: using the soft power of religious women to quell violence before it happens. They call it "spiritual security."

After 9/11 shook the world, Moroccan leaders began to think, "It could happen here," and it did.
In 2003, a dozen suicide bombers with ties to al-Qaida blew themselves up in Casablanca, Morocco's economic center. Now the country knew firsthand the trauma of terrorism.

In response, Moroccan leaders came up with an idea dedicated to foiling religion-based violence by using religion itself. In 2006, under the leadership of the Moroccan Ministry of Islamic Affairs, the mourchidat program was born.

Sanae Elmarouani, 23, already holds a Master's degree in Islamic studies. But she's happy being back in class at Dar al Hadith al Hassania, studying in a prestigious program to prepare her for a vocation in religious service as a spiritual guide. Her school is a small, ornately decorated building in Morocco's capital city of Rabat where men train to become imams, Islamic priests, and now - since 2006 - women prepare to become their female counterparts, mourchidat.

The setting for this unique school, its high ceilings intricately carved and tiled, is rich in Moroccan tradition. The goal of the program is similar. When asked how women with religion as their only weapon can possibly expect to beat back the forces of radicalism, Sanae is confident. "Our religion in general forbids extremism. So the program is like a representation of Islam. The role of mourchidat is to unify the constants of the Moroccan nation."

She cites the guiding principles as honoring the King, who is commander of the faithful, and adherence to the Maliki doctrine and Ashaarit creed, approved by the Islamic Ministry and taught at her school. The daughter of an imam, Sanae was a teacher in a mosque when she heard of the mourchidat program. She moved quickly to get her application in and felt lucky when she was accepted.

The program is meant to promote women's rights, giving Moroccan women unprecedented opportunity and authority. Their work takes them to all parts of the community. "We work in mosques," Sanae says. "We work in prisons, hospitals, and we teach and lead women in all parts of their lives."

She and her peers at Dar al Hadith were selected from a large applicant pool. The program is selective. In order to be admitted, women must hold university degrees and be able to recite sections of the Qur'an from memory. Students take a variety of courses, with the main focus on religious training. But in the real world, helping people deal with anger, disappointment and pain, their classes in communication and psychology will be useful. "I'll use body language first," Sanae says.
After graduating, Sanae will likely be placed in one of the many mosques that dot Morocco's cities and countryside.

She will use the Islam that she has learned at Dar al Hadith in all aspects of her work, teaching values of respect and tolerance and diffusing extremist thought. She will lead circle discussions and answer questions about faith but she will not be allowed to lead men in prayer. In some ways, mourchidat can be compared to Catholic nuns. Both are religious women connected to organized groups. Both start from a place of personal spiritual commitment and apply their advanced studies to the needs of their faith communities.

But since they are women practicing in male-dominated cultures both have limits to their religious leadership. Religious orders of nuns are subject to Church hierarchy and Catholic women are denied access to the priesthood. Mourchidat - although trained to perform the same duties as imams - are not allowed to lead men in prayer.

Sanae Elmarouani is one of 50 women in her program. Another 150 participants are men studying to be imams in a parallel program. Mourchidat take an additional course which focuses on women's issues like marriage and dress. Using this broad portfolio, the mourchidat bring traditional Islamic values to their duties at the mosque. Program creators see their presence as a way of keeping radical forces at bay and providing "spiritual security." "[Spiritual security] simply refers to saving people from the different currents that may end up ... throwing them into the hands of the people they're not supposed to deal with''.

Before the 2003 suicide bombings, religious extremism wasn't a prominent cause for concern in Morocco. But after Casablanca, the government began to take preventive action. The program [ spiritual security] is effective in promoting the "spiritual security" and directing ideological power away from fundamentalist sects. Many believe that the programme is filling that gap that only Wahhabis and Salafis were filling-the gap that people needed someone to explain religion to them - especially in a country with so much illiteracy and where religion is such an important part of culture.

Both the Wahhabi and Salafi movements practice strict, uncompromising forms of Islam which have often brought them into conflict with Western values. While these strands of Islam are not always violent, the intolerance they practice can lead in that direction. The 2003 Casablanca suicide bombers were self-procalimed Salafis linked to al-Qaida.

Another violent attack, this one in 2011 in Marrakech, "was not connected to any organized terrorist groups," the US State Department's 2012 Country Reports on Terror states, but the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior described [the bomber] as a Salafist and an admirer of al-Qa'ida."

The preferred religious code is the Maliki School of Jurisprudence which is also practiced in many nearby countries with positive relationships with Europe and the US. The Maliki school takes a traditional approach to Islam and is heavily based in the lives and actions of those who lived close to the Prophet Muhammad. The mourchidat are trained to use the official Maliki Islam.

While the mourchidat program is well liked, it does have critics. Skeptics of the counterterrorism aspects of the program point out that the 2011 bombing in Marrakech occurred well after this program had been established. Other critics are women's rights proponents who claim that the mourchidat program hasn't fulfilled its promise of improving the lot of women-that it doesn't go far enough.

Asmae Lamrabet, one of Morocco's leading female Islamic scholars, voices those concerns. She is the Director of the Center for Women's Studies in Islam in Rabat which is associated with the Rabita Mohammadia, Morocco's main organization of Islamic scholars. Lamrabet recognizes that the program has benefits, but has not yet seen real gains being made for women in Moroccan society.
Islamic tradition holds that men and women are equal, she says. But where is the equality in Morocco today?

To make her point, Lamrabet cites a seventh century Islamic scholar- Aisha, the Prophet Muhammad's youngest wife - one of the most respected Islamic scholars in the years following Muhammad's death. Aisha was integral in spreading Islamic thought and unafraid to speak out.
She publicly disagreed with misogynistic teachings of the powerful Calif Omar. Her example endures to this day. Lamrabet says Aisha's courageous voice is heard as a powerful call to Islamic feminists across the world.

Lamrabet calls the Islam that mourchidat are taught at Dar Al Hadith Al Hassania "very official, traditional, classical and orthodox, there is no progressive ideal in this kind of speech." To achieve its goal of expanding women's rights, Lamrabet wants the program to encourage women to think independently rather than strictly follow government teachings.

Other Arab countries are getting interested as well. Moroccan mourchidat have traveled to the United Arab Emirates to help train Emirati mourchidat, and it is believed that an Algerian mourchidat program is in the works. Even as the model it provides is being replicated elsewhere, the effectiveness of the mourchidat program has not yet been documented. No research has been conducted to collect data on its real impact.

The US State Department, however, has bought into its anecdotal success, using supportive language in its 2009 Country Report on Terrorism. In that document, Morocco was commended for continuing, "the pioneering experiment... of training and using women as spiritual guides."

By Jennifer Birich
AFP Blogger

Photo-Credit: Morocco's Library archives photo of the Moroccan King Mohammed VI

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

VENEZUELA: Protest & Maduro's shortcomings

The growing political violence in Venezuela, where at least 10 demonstrators were killed in the past week during protests against the leftist government of President Nicolás Maduro, has its roots in the country’s calamitous economic situation. Venezuela, once the wealthiest South American country with vast oil resources, is suffering under runaway inflation of 57 percent a year, the highest rate in the world.

Maduro's failure

Chávez died just under one year ago, but began grooming Maduro as his crown prince a few months prior. No one was as obedient as Maduro, a former bus driver that Chávez made into a government minister. It was a terrible decision for the country: What Maduro lacks in charisma, he makes up for in radicalism. Now Maduro's leadership is being questioned by the population.

When Maduro's term began, hopes had been high that he would be able to reconcile his divided country. He sought out contact with the US and gave the impression that he was willing to open a dialogue with opposition politicians. But last week, he expelled three American diplomats, claiming they had supported "the opposition fascists."

Maduro has ruined the country's economy and has often turned to Cuba, his closest ally, for guidance. And he has attempted to silence the opposition with a campaign of pure terror. Recently, though, it has begun looking as though he will have difficulty regaining the upper hand over the protests.

Students have been protesting in Caracas for days, building barricades on city streets and occupying squares. The movement began two weeks ago in San Cristóbal, in the state of Táchira near the border with Colombia. In just a few days, it spread across the entire country.

The students are protesting against inflation, shortages and corruption. Mostly, though, they are taking to the streets in opposition to the violence meted out by the country's paramilitary shock troops. "Colectivos" is the name given to the brutal militias that even late President Hugo Chávez supported.

Now, the government of his successor, Nicolás Maduro, is sending the thugs after opposition activists, with masked men on motorcycles speeding through the streets, firing on demonstrators and, sometimes, following students all the way back to their universities. At least 13 people have died in the unrest, with 150 having been injured.

Recently, Nicolás Maduro has encroached on freedom of expression to a greater degree than even Chávez did. He arranged the purchase of the last remaining television station in Venezuela that was critical of the government and has unleashed his supporters on the "fascist broadcaster" CNN and on other foreign journalists. A "deputy minister for social networks" has been charged with monitoring what Venezuelans post on Twitter and elsewhere, while the two largest government-critical newspapers have had trouble publishing due to a paper shortage.

Oil production is responsible for roughly a third of the country's economic output and over 70 percent of consumer goods are imported. But the yield from Venezuela's oil wells has been dropping for years and gasoline and foodstuffs are heavily subsidized. And now, the government is running out of hard cash. The official exchange rate is around 6.3 bolívars to the dollar, but on the black market, one can get up to 84 bolívars for a US dollar.

Many shops are empty, with even corn flour, milk and toilet paper subject to shortages. Lines like those seen in Cuba have become common and people are desperately trying to get their hands on dollars.

The government has been having difficulties supplying even the basics in the slums of Caracas. In the vast quarter of "23 de enero," people stand in long lines in front of the state-run supermarket; they are issued numbers on strips of cardboard. Chavistas control entry to the store and glorify Maduro and the revolution to shoppers. Most of those waiting remain silent. Every three days, they mumble quietly when the guards aren't paying attention, their food coupons will get them chicken from Brazil and two kilograms of flour, but nothing more.

The president is a stubborn ideologue hiding behind a jovial façade. He has launched a new wave of expropriations and increased government control in slums, with neighborhood organizations modeled after Cuba's "committees for the defense of the revolution" monitoring residents.

Cuba's invisible hand

Maduro travels frequently to Havana for consultations with the Castro brothers; he was also their preference to succeed Chávez. Cubans also monitor Venezuela's security apparatus, to the point that they even issue personal IDs. But in recent weeks, a potentially dangerous opponent to Maduro has emerged.

The problem does not stop at Venezuela’s borders, though. It is contagious throughout Latin America. Since Chávez launched the leftist fantasy called “Socialism of the 21st Century,” Venezuela has poured billions of dollars into subsidizing oil supplies for Cuba, the mecca of the movement, and financed adepts of the so-called Bolivarian Alliance throughout the region from Argentina to Bolivia to Nicaragua.

For ideological reasons, most of the Latin American “left” now provides unconditional support for Maduro with arguments that present Venezuela as a country where the state benefits the poor and rejects free market capitalism while aligning with the likes of Iran and Syrian in taking a stand against “American imperialism.”

Fortunately there’s also another set of countries on the other side of Latin America’s political divide who reject this socialist line as outdated and detrimental to genuine economic development. This group, made up of Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico, has formed a free trade region called Alliance of the Pacific, with Costa Rica soon to be a member. This South American trade and investment alliance is in close contact with Nafta.

The turmoil in Venezuela puts regional relations to a severe test, and also puts the role of the aging and authoritarian Castro regime in stark relief. President Maduro has hotly rejected advice from President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia that his government open a political dialogue with the opposition. Instead, he has unleashed thugs from the country’s security apparatus, including teams of gunmen on motorcycles, to violently repress the student demonstrators.

There is little doubt that the repression and the police tactics are backed by Cuban military advisers who are embedded in Venezuela’s security forces. For its part, Cuba has a vital interest in the survival of a friendly government in Venezuela to ensure the flow of cheap oil into the island country.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP-

Monday, 3 March 2014

RUSSIA-UKRAINE: Crimea Crisis & Russia's Ultimatum

The situation in Ukraine remains volatile and presents Russian President Vladimir Putin with a difficult conundrum but that does not seems to bother him at all. Should Ukrainian nationalist continue to gain power, pressure will grow on the Kremlin to take action. That's exactly what Russia is doing right now. Russia seems to be ready for a confrontation.

Russia's Black Sea Fleet has reportedly given an ultimatum to Ukrainian forces in Crimea to surrender by 5:00am on Tuesday or face a military assault, AFP quoted a source in the Ukrainian Defence Ministry as saying.

The ultimatum, AFP reported, was issued by Alexander Vitko, the fleet's commander, according to the source. The Ministry did not immediately confirm the report and there was no immediate comment by the Black Sea Fleet, which has a base in Crimea, where Russian forces are in control. ''If they do not surrender before 5:00am tomorrow, a real assault will be started against units and divisions of the armed forces across Crimea,'' AFP quoted the ministry source as saying.

This is perhaps the most dangerous point in Europe's history since the end of the cold war. Direct confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian forces will draw in the United States, one way or another. While there is still time, it's extremely important to understand what each party involved is aiming for.

Over the last 10 days, Moscow has been unpleasantly surprised several times. First, when Ukraine's then president, Viktor Yanukovych, halted an operation which would have cleared his opponents from the positions they occupied in central Kiev. Given the clear order, the Berkut riot police were closing in on the Maidan – the protest movement, named after Kiev's Independence Square, whose leaders were desperately calling for a truce, – but suddenly the Berkut advance was stopped. Instead, Yanukovych invited the opposition for negotiations. The second surprise came when the negotiations turned into talks about Yanukovych's concessions, with the participation of three European Union foreign ministers.

The agreement, signed on 21 February, was a delayed capitulation by Yanukovych – who had been seen triumphant only a couple of days earlier. An even bigger surprise was the rejection of these capitulation terms by the radicals, and the opposition supporting Yanukovych's immediate resignation. Finally, the German, Polish and French governments, who had just witnessed the Kiev accord, raised no objection to the just-signed agreement being scrapped within hours.

Russia, whose representative had been invited to witness the signing of the 21 February document, but who wisely refused to co-sign it, was incensed. What Moscow saw on 21-22 February was a coup d'état in Kiev. This development led to a fundamental reassessment of Russian policy in Ukraine, and vis-à-vis the West.

Viewing the February revolution in Kiev as a coup engineered by Ukrainian radical nationalists from the west of the country – assisted by Europe and the United States – the Kremlin believed Russia's important interests were directly affected. First, Russian president Vladimir Putin's plans of economic integration in the post-Soviet space would have to do without Ukraine. Second, the fact that radical nationalist components were among the beneficiaries of the Kiev revolution left no doubt about Ukraine's future foreign and security policy and its domestic policies.

The Association Agreement with the EU, whose signature was suspended by Yanukovych in November 2013, would now be signed, putting Ukraine, in principle, on track to long-term integration with the EU. More ominously, the new Ukrainian government would revoke the 2010 law on the country's non-aligned status and seek a Nato Membership Action Plan, or MAP. (It was the issue of MAP which materially contributed to the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia).

In domestic terms, the triumph of western Ukrainian nationalists threatened discrimination against the Russian language, including in the largely Russophone eastern and southern regions, and a separation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from the Moscow Patriarchate. The new official Ukrainian narrative, it was feared in Moscow, would change from the post-Soviet "Ukraine is not Russia" to something like "Ukraine in opposition to Russia".

Moscow has always been thoughtless, lazy and incoherent in its strategy towards an independent Ukraine. It preferred instead to focus on specific interests: denuclearisation; the Black Sea fleet; gas transit and prices; and the like. During the early days of the present crisis, it remained largely passive.

Now, things are changing at breakneck speed. With the delicate balance in the Ukrainian polity and society which had existed since the break-up of the USSR no more, Russia has begun to act, decisively, even rashly. Again, there is hardly a master strategy in sight, but some key elements are becoming evident.

Russia is now seeking to insulate the Crimean peninsula from the rest of Ukraine – to prevent clashes between Kiev's military or police forces or Ukrainian nationalist paramilitary groups, on the one hand, and the locals, on the other, as well as to neutralise the Ukrainian police and military forces permanently deployed in Crimea.

Moscow has given political, economic and military support to the local, pro-Russian elements who never accepted Ukraine's ownership of Crimea, which was transferred from Moscow's to Kiev's administration in 1954. Moscow now has two options: a confederacy between Crimea and Ukraine and Crimea's full integration into the Russian Federation (a relevant law is being adjusted to allow this).

With regard to eastern and southern Ukraine, Russia will seek to support those elements who resent western Ukrainian rule in Kiev. Rather than favouring their secession, Moscow is likely to support Ukraine's decentralisation up to federalisation, which would neutralise the threat of a unified anti-Russian Ukraine within Nato. The effectiveness of Russia's efforts to mobilise opposition to Kiev in the east and south will depend on the levels of wisdom and tolerance by the new authorities in Kiev. In the worst case, a unified Ukraine may not survive.

With regard to Kiev, Moscow has balked at recognising the "coup" which many Russian state-run media and officials call "fascist" or "neo-Nazi" – a reference to the collaboration between western Ukrainian nationalists and Adolf Hitler during the second world war. Russia has not recognised the provisional government and is only maintaining "working contacts" with Ukrainian officials. To poke Kiev in the eye, Russia gave the ousted President Yanukovych personal protection on its own territory, and organised his press conference in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don on Friday.

The lack of legitimate authority – the Russians say the Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, is acting under pressure from the Maidan – gives Moscow a freedom to act in "lawless" and "rudderless" Ukraine.

Unlike in 2008 in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Moscow decided not to wait for the first shot being fired before intervening: prevention, it now evidently believes, is better than counter-attack. As in 2008, however, recognition of a breakaway region by Moscow – this time, Crimea – may become the legal basis for a Russian military presence in the area beyond the terms of the 1997 Russo-Ukrainian treaty governing the status of the Black Sea fleet. This is unlikely to be a passing moment in Russian-western relations.

In Moscow, there is a growing fatigue with the west, with the EU and the United States. Their role in Ukraine is believed to be particularly obnoxious: imposing on Ukraine a choice between the EU and Russia that it could not afford; supporting the opposition against an elected government; turning a blind eye to right-wing radical descendants of wartime Nazi collaborators; siding with the opposition to pressure the government into submission; finally, condoning an unconstitutional regime change.

The crisis is also expanding to include other players, notably the United States. So far, there has been no military confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian forces, but if they clash, this will not be a repeat of the five-day war in the South Caucasus, as in 2008. The conflict will be longer and bloodier, with security in Europe put at its highest risk in a quarter century.

Even if there is no war, the Crimea crisis is likely to alter fundamentally relations between Russia and the west and lead to changes in the global power balance, with Russia now in open competition with the United States and the European Union in the new eastern Europe.

If this happens, a second round of the cold war may ensue as a punishment for leaving many issues unsolved – such as Ukraine's internal cohesion, the special position of Crimea, or the situation of Russian ethnics in the newly independent states; but, above all, leaving unresolved Russia's integration within the Euro-Atlantic community.

Russia will no doubt pay a high price for its apparent decision to "defend its own" and "put things right", but others will have to pay their share, too.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP-

AFRICA: Africa Rising & Fragile States

It is true for Mali, Somalia and Democratic Republic of Congo . But not for Burkina Faso or Kenya. To be labelled a 'fragile state' is not something any country in Africa welcomes.

The category implies that a country is unable to borrow on the market and faces stringent conditionalities put in place by international financial institutions such as the World Bank. It carries the stigma of incapacity and lack of progress; of poverty, violence and poor governance.

Despite the welcome news of 'Africa rising', new research shows that ten African states will remain fragile for much longer than previously anticipated.

In a recent policy paper, Africa's 55 countries have been classified as either 'more fragile' or 'more resilient'. By 2050 more than 1 billion people, about half Africa's population, are forecast to be living in 'more fragile' countries. Yet this number could be reduced to only 372 million, or 16% of the continent's population, with the right interventions.

In compiling the list of the 26 'more fragile' countries, the most recent harmonised list of 19 conflict-affected and fragile countries used by the African Development Bank and the World Bank was employed as a starting point. Seven other countries that repeatedly showed up on other lists of fragility and state failure were added to this. The key characteristics of this group of 26 'more fragile' countries were then analysed to see which could exit from the fragility syndrome over time, and what effect changes in violence, governance, poverty and exclusion would have.

Using the International Futures forecasting system (IFs), ten countries are likely to remain in the 'fragility trap' beyond 2050, namely Comoros, the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Republic of the Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Togo. However, others in the original grouping - Eritrea, Liberia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone - should exit from the fragility syndrome between 2030 and 2050. The remaining 12 countries in the original group of 26 - Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guinea, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Uganda and Zimbabwe - might shake off the label of fragility by 2030 or even earlier.

A fragile state is one in which armed conflict and violence threaten the lives of the country's citizens and prevent them from making a decent living. It is a state where inequality and exclusion are rife, with the majority of the population remaining poor, despite its having rich natural resources in many cases. It is also a country with very poor governance, where the state is often simply absent and doesn't provide basic services such as schools, hospitals and roads. All these factors are often present at the same time; an explosive cocktail of problems that trap countries in constant fragility.

Clearly, conflict zones are particularly fragile. They are caught in a vicious circle in which instability prevents people from undertaking normal economic activities and prevents the state from functioning as it should. In other words, it undermines development and governance. This, in turn, creates poverty and state weakness, which provide fertile ground for more conflict.

Experts agree that old wars lead to new ones. A country with a history of armed conflict is more likely to slide back into war than one that has never experienced it. Recent events in Mozambique, hitherto seen as a poster child for development, show how deeply embedded conflict and instability can be, with violence erupting even after several decades of relative peace.

Unsurprisingly, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and the DRC are all trapped in conflict situations that are very difficult to untangle. The data gathered for this study clearly indicates that there should be a greater commitment to peacebuilding and development in the war-ravaged Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region, where the majority of 'more fragile' countries are located.

History certainly can't be swept under the carpet in the discussion about fragile states. One must keep in mind, for instance, that the delayed process of state formation in Africa's more fragile countries is taking place in a rushed and sometimes chaotic way. Three historical processes of state formation are evident from studies on Europe and elsewhere - the consolidation of state security, building of state capacity and the transformation to greater inclusion. In other parts of the world these processes took place over a long time, but they are happening simultaneously in Africa. The process is open-ended and the state is constantly being challenged by the impact of globalisation.

Ultimately, the process of moving from greater fragility to greater resilience is deeply political. It is, after all, essentially about 'defining and redefining the relationship between the government and its citizens' within a specific territorial unit.

Fortunately, state fragility is not cast in stone. With the necessary domestic ownership, leadership and external support, more countries can move from being more fragile towards greater resilience. In this process, the benefits in higher GDP and income per capita that appropriate policies could hold for each of the 26 more fragile countries are quantified.

Innovations that have worked elsewhere in Africa could be put in place in fragile states to better the lives of their citizens. Countries like Ethiopia, Malawi, Liberia, Sierra Leone and possibly Niger could in the near future get important windfalls from newly discovered oil and gas resources. If some of the associated income were distributed in the form of cash grants to the poorest of the poor, this could raise their standard of living to such an extent that they could become productive and hopefully taxpaying citizens. This in turn could strengthen the state.

If governments don't spread the wealth, they should be brought to book and named and shamed by international initiatives such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and Publish What You Pay. These also force private companies and multinationals to play the game and help build a better Africa.

International donors and financial institutions like the African Development Bank and the World Bank have a role to play in lifting the most fragile countries out of a perpetual state of crisis. However, it is necessary to have good data on what is really going on in many of these less frequented locations in order to draw up effective strategies.

The analysis referred to here is based on the best data available internationally, but much of that data is outdated and may even be misleading. So-called 'big data' can help by filling the gaps in our existing system of knowledge. Certainly fresh ideas are needed in this difficult and long-term process to help Africa's most vulnerable states, and the study concludes with a series of recommendations that seek to address some of the more common challenges.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
African Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: African Union's archives photo of African countries