UN reports gains in the global fight against AIDS

There is more good news in the area of public health. A couple of days ago I posted on the decline of human mortality rates in the tropics. Now the UN agency for HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS, reports that HIV infection rates, especially of the mother-to-child variety, are on a downward trend.

The New York Times reports:

New infections with H.I.V. have dropped by half in the past decade in 25 poor and middle-income countries, many of them in Africa, the continent hardest hit by AIDS, the United Nations said Tuesday.

The greatest success has been in preventing mothers from infecting their babies, but focusing testing and treatment on high-risk groups like gay men, prostitutes and drug addicts has also paid dividends, said Michel Sidibé, the executive director of the agency U.N.AIDS.

Adding that:

Some regions, like Southern Africa and the Caribbean, are doing particularly well, while others, like Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East, are not. Globally, new infections are down 22 percent from 2001, when there were 3.2 million. Among newborns, they fell 40 percent, to 330,000 from 550,000.

Kenyan Intervention in (al-Shabab dominated) Southern Somalia

The ICG has an excellent new report on the state of the the Kenyan military intervention in Somalia.

The pressing issues raised in the report include economic, political and social concerns:

The slow pace of the military operation and the high cost of keeping troops in the field are the main reasons behind Nairobi’s desire to operate under AMISOM command. The treasury would then not have to pay the full cost of the campaign. It is estimated that Linda Nchi is costing the government at least KSh 210 million ($2.8 million) per month in personnel costs alone in a year of a record KSh 236 billion ($3.1 billion) budget deficit. If the interven- tion’s cost is not contained, already high inflation will spiral, and local discontent could become more serious…..

The intervention in Somalia is likely to have a complex impact on Kenyan Somalis’ political positions, because their attitude toward it is not straightforward. The government’s desire to establish a buffer zone between the border and the rest of Somalia privileges the Ogaden, the majority Kenyan-Somali clan. The possibility of a semi-autonomous state in the south of Somalia politically dominated by Ogaden may not be favoured by the minority, marginalised clans of north-eastern Kenya, such as the Ajuran and Degodia…..

Views within the ethnic Somali and wider Muslim community regarding the war are mixed but predominantly critical. Even those now mildly supportive could easily become hostile, especially if things go badly wrong, and civilian deaths mount. The notion that the war is popular within the Muslim community is wishful thinking, and the potential to exacerbate already worrying radicalisation in the country is very real. The police and other security services have shown some restraint in bigger cities, but there have been numerous reports of abuses in North Eastern Province.

The EAC needs a defense pact

UPDATE: The Government of South Sudan has barred people of Somali origin from entering the country by road for “security reasons.” This wrongheaded move has created an awkward situation since not all people of Somali origin are from Somalia. In Kenya, for instance, a good chunk of the long haul transport sector is run by Kenyans of Somali origin.

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The Ugandan government recently went on a $1 billion shopping spree for six fighter jets. The deal, which almost broke the bank, made a significant dent on Uganda’s forex reserves. Many, while acknowledging the risks that might have motivated the purchase, have questioned the wisdom of spending that much money on six jets.

For those not in the know, the key motivation for Museveni’s purchase was a desire to project military power in the region for two key reasons:

Firstly, in order to create a market for Ugandan light industries – cooking oil, soap, etc – Kampala has had to project military power to help in the pacification of pockets of eastern DRC and northern Uganda/South Sudan. These markets are crucial because they create jobs in Uganda, allowing Museveni some room as he continues to preside over Uganda’s decline into a dysfunctional police state.

The second reason was Museveni’s desire for military grandeur in the region. Kigali and Khartoum are not in the best of terms with Kampala. Museveni is probably suspicious of a potential Odinga presidency in Kenya. For these reasons, the Ugandan military establishment – the real rulers of Uganda – might have wanted to ensure that non of their neighbors are in a position to bully them in the near future.

While most of Museveni’s militarism is inspired by a mentality from a bygone era, I find Kampala’s fears against Khartoum as legitimate grounds for a regional defense pact. It is an open secret that Khartoum will try as much as it can to destabilize the new government of South Sudan (and by extension the wider region). And they have a few options:

  • They can foment civil war within South Sudan – there are a lot of disgruntled armed bands within South Sudan who might decide to take their chances with Khartoum; Remember that even Riek Machar, the current vice president of South Sudan, formed a Khartoum-backed splinter group (SPLA-Nasir) that fought Garang’ back in the early 1990s.
  • They can use armed groups in the wider central African region – including Kony’s LRA and the plethora of roving bandits in eastern DRC to engineer insecurity in South Sudan. Khartoum has used the LRA against SPLM in the past.
  • They can invade in an all out war. This option is the riskiest because of its potential to generate international opprobrium. But remember that Ethiopia and its secessionist former province Eritrea fought a bloody war that generated nothing but “stern” warnings from the UN and the wider international community. The US even armed Ethiopia because it needed Addis Ababa to fight its war in Somalia.
  • Lastly, they can use non-conventional tactics. Terrorism is slowly growing in the wider east African region. So far Eritrea has been the biggest state sponsor of terror in the region – mostly aimed at Ethiopia in the Ogaden, Oromo land and Somalia. The involvement of Ugandan and Burundian troops in Somalia has created even more enemies for these groups. There is no reason to believe that Khartoum would not use these same groups to destabilize South Sudan, if for nothing then as a survival tactic for a beleaguered Bashir administration that will forever be blamed for having lost the South’s oil.

Needless to say, an unstable South Sudan is bad for the region. Period.

The proliferation of small arms is already a major problem in the areas bordering the Ilemi triangle and eastern Uganda. That instead of sticks pastoralists have to roam around with AK-47’s says it all. More conflict in South Sudan will only make a really bad situation even worse. The potential for proxy wars within the region would also be an unnecessary drain on limited resources. Because of various interests in Juba, an aggression by Khartoum against South Sudan will definitely be met with reaction in one form or another from Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda.The conflict will definitely be regionalized. Lastly, Eritrea’s bad habit of supporting terrorists should not be permitted to catch on. Khartoum must know that if it tries this dirty tactic it will be met by more than just resolutions from the AU, IGAD or the UN.

Which is why I think that the EAC should have a robust defense pact. War should have to be a last resort. But that does not mean that the East African Community should not prepare for such an eventuality, if it arise.

That way, no single country will be burdened with the task of buying all the necessary hardware needed to keep Khartoum deterred.

Such a plan would face significant challenges, of course – key among them the fact that the region’s armies are non-professionalized. A functional defense pact would require near total civilian control of the army. Only Kenya and Tanzania come close to this in the EAC. Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda are dominated by their respective armies. Burundi can’t even win against rebels within its territory and remains a militarized tin pot dictatorship. And Ethiopia, if it were to join, is still dominated by the remnants of the rebellion that ousted Mengistu.

These challenges aside, it might be worth a try. Such a pact might even help professionalize and de-politicize the officer corp in the region’s armed forces.

And the biggest winner if this were to happen is MORE regional trade.

quick hits

Below are some links that I liked:

Sudan: It was never going to be easy to go separate ways.

Understanding the Mozambican riots.

Jammeh, the delusional Gambian president, is completely out of his mind.

Easterly on Zoellick and being kicked out of the BANK.

Bureaucracy gone mad, why does the UN have some of these agencies?

Documenting America’s non-existent class system.

Because of qualifying exams this weekend, I shall be away till some time after Monday.

catch me if you can: of presidents and genocide

Those who conceive of justice as an end in itself must be livid. The last several days have seen one appeasement after another of heads of state who may have or have committed heinous crimes against their people. First there was the Kenyan invitation and failure to arrest suspected genocidaire Omar al-Bashir of Sudan. Then came the leaked UN report accusing Kagame’s men of committing crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide, in eastern Congo that did not stop regional presidents from attending the increasingly autocratic Kagame’s inauguration after his sham reelection. The damning report even forced the UN Secretary General to fly to Kigali in order to reassure Mr. Kagame and express his regret over the leaking of the report (I wonder if Mr. Kagame reminded Mr. Ki-moon about his peacekeepers’ abysmal failure to protect civilians from sexual violence in eastern Congo).

While appreciating the complexity of the respective cases (which have serious implications for regional security and stability), the recent events related to Messrs Bashir and Kagame may serve to  create a dangerous precedent. The whole point of the ICC was to make heads of state and other people in power think twice before going Pol Pot on their people. This objective will not be served if leaders realize that not even genocide can get in the way of regional and global geopolitical considerations.

In other news, as usual, Texas in Africa has interesting posts on the Congo. Check them out.

kagame on the ropes

I respect all that Paul Kagame has done for Rwanda. Under his leadership the country appears to have survived the 1994 catastrophe, emerging as the least corrupt and one of the fastest growing economies in the region. But like most autocrats, Mr. Kagame has had his dark side. A damning UN report apparently documents atrocities committed by Rwandan troops in eastern Congo. The just concluded general election in the mountainous central African nation has also exposed the former rebel’s anti-democratic tendencies and intolerance of any form of opposition. It is slowly emerging that not even the much praised and disciplined Mr. Kagame is immune to the most common disease afflicting most autocrats: believing that they are God’s gift to their people and therefore have the right to do whatever they want with their power.

I have not read the entire UN report but for more on it check out Texas in Africa.

Continuing the human rights debate

The dysfunction within the UN system is common knowledge. I am a believable in UN causes such as humanitarian relief, peacekeeping and protection of the environment. However, when things get abstract or unenforceable, I am usually disappointed by the UN’s proclivity to shift to issuing statements and pronouncements that it cannot enforce or does not want to enforce.

Here is Bill Easterly’s take on the UN’s definition and pretension to enforce the observance of human rights.

More instability in Guinea Bissau

After killing their president earlier this year, the military strongmen in Guinea Bissau seem bent on eliminating his surviving allies. The BBC reports that the tiny West African nation’s army killed a number of suspected coup plotters, including Baciro Dabo, a minister and former close ally of the late president Vieira. Mr. Dabo had expressed interest in running for president in elections that are due later this month. The elections will now more than likely not take place.

The latest episode of violence just illustrates how much out of touch the army is with reality. The impoverished West African nation of 1.5 million has seen slow recovery from a disastrous civil war in the late 1990s. With a per capita GDP of $ 213 ($ 600, PPP) it still has a long way to go. It is heavily dependent on farming and fishing, with cashews being the major crop. Political instability and insecurity are only going to make matters worse. And perhaps the saddest part of all this is that no one beyond the Guinean borders cares. ECOWAS will not help, the UN has its gaze fixed on the many conflicts in Central Africa and the AU, under the leadership of Muamar Gaddafi, would rather not be bothered – beyond issuing statements.

will someone please take this mad man away

Robert Mugabe is a delusional mad man bent on destroying himself and his entire country. Ok, may be I am overplaying it, but what do you make of a man who is denying that there is cholera in his country while hundreds continue to die and flee into other countries? A man who continues to cling to power when the economy of his country is a total mess with super-hyper-inflation and no prospect of recovery? A man whose strongman rule and outright thuggery has sent an estimated more than three million people fleeing to neighboring countries and beyond? What do you make of this man than to conclude that there is something seriously wrong with his head?

12 million human beings should never have to suffer because of the selfishness and greed of one man. Humanity has failed and continues to fail in allowing Robert Mugabe to continue being the president of Zimbabwe. It is time someone in SADC or the AU or the UN or the EU or NATO grew a pair and sent this old man a serious message with details about his departure from the helm. Previously, I was of the opinion that he should be accorded amnesty in some country somewhere, far away from Zim but not anymore. This man should be arrested and tried for crimes against humanity. The international community should stop pretending and see the Zimbabwean political, health and economic crises for what they really are  – tools of war being used by this mad man Rob against his own people.

Why is Mbeki not being as serious as he ought to be about this? Where is Kofi Annan? Where is the UN on this? Enough with the toothless resolutions. Do something. Innocent people are dying.

And I am not being delusional myself. I am not in any way insinuating that the departure of Mugabe will be the panacea to all of Zim’s problems. Far from that. The damage has been done and it will take a generation or two to fix it. But the departure of Mugabe will definitely be the beginning of the end of the many ills that have plagued Zimbabwe since the mid 1990s.