WTF Friday, 1/30/2015

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe just became chairman of the African Union. That’s right, Mugabe, destroyer-of-hope, wrecker-of-the-economy, thrower-of-extravagant-birthday-parties-for-himself.

You might be thinking: “This man has completely mucked up the one thing he has ever been in charge of [and again, that thing is a country of 14 million people], why would anyone elect him chairman of anything?”

I don’t have an answer for you. But what I do know is that the 1115 year old Mugabe (or 90, whatever) looked “youthful and strong” speaking to press yesterday. Can’t wait to see what he does for his birthday next month.

WTF Friday, 1/23/2015

Here is a list of things I am genuinely confused about today:

  1. The International Commission of Inquiry for CAR has apparently recommended the establishment of a tribunal to try international crimes committed during the recent conflict there. Is this not exactly why we did this whole ICC thing?

  2. America is super-sad that an extremely old, repressive Saudi Arabian dude had died. Don’t worry though, he’s been replaced by another extremely old Saudi Arabian dude, who will almost certainly be just as good at repressing people.

  3. Nepalese opposition legislators staged a protest in Parliament yesterday (and, apparently, threw their shoes) preventing a long-delayed vote on a new Constitution. I’m not so much puzzled by this one as Nepal has essentially been in “political limbo” since 2008. But I would like someone to tell me what to read to understand the situation there. Anyone?

WTF Friday, 1/16/2015: Sri Lankan Election Edition

Last week, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was unexpectedly unseated in an election in which nearly 82% of eligible Sri Lankans turned out to vote. I was there, and wrote about how exciting it was for the The Washington Post’s political science blog, Monkey Cage.

I left a few highlights out, though, so to supplement that post, I give you my top 5 WTF moments of the Sri Lankan presidential election:

1. In the last week of the campaign, Rajapaksa made a visit to Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka, where he asked Tamils to vote for the “known devil” (himself, the commander-in-chief who presided over mass bloodshed in the region at the end of the civil war) over the “unknown angel” (Sirisena). Shades of Charles Taylor’s “he killed my ma, he killed my pa, I’ll vote for him“, anyone?

2. Campaigning ended on Monday, January 5 at 11:59pm and all campaign posters were supposed to come down at that time. They didn’t. A day or two later, someone got around to blacking out Rajapaksa’s face on billboards around town. This is what it looked like:

campaign poster

3. In the final hours of the campaign, state-aligned media paired coverage of the terror attacks in Paris with graphic footage of LTTE bombings, reminding voters that Rajapaksa had been responsible for the defeat of the insurgency.

4. On election day, Rajapaksa went to cast his vote accompanied by a doppelganger of his rival Maithripala Sirisena (now the president). The look-alike was one of several “joke candidates” fielded by both sides in an attempt to confuse voters. You can see him here.

5. In the days following Rajapaksa’s ouster, a number of things have emerged, not just coup attempt rumors and allegations of corruption, but secret helicopters (actually a persistent campaign issue symbolizing Rajapaksa extravagance) and illicit elephants.

WTF Friday, 12/19/2014

Who’s ready for 2014 to be over?

This week:

But hey, the U.S. is finally rethinking its nutty Cuba policy, so maybe we can do better in 2015?

WTF Friday, 11/21/2014

So:

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh signed that appalling anti-gay law;

Armed bandits stole a cooler filled with Ebola-infected blood in Guinea;

The deaths of 13 Indian women following coercive sterilization surgery was traced to antibiotics contaminated with rat poison;

Bill Cosby turned out to be an even bigger rapist than we already knew;

News broke that the Indonesian National Police requires female applicants to submit to so-called “virginity tests”;

U.S. Ambassador Charles Twining’s car was shot up by a member of the South Sudanese presidential guard;

More than seven feet of snow fell in Buffalo, killing at least 13 people;

And my hipster business name is apparently “Weather & Blood”.

Anyone else ready for the weekend?

WTF Friday, 11/14/2014

2012-08-02 00.14.53OMG you guys, President Obama went to Burma and said “Rohingya” yesterday. And that’s just a day after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon also said it, calling on the Burmese government to ensure humanitarian access to the beleagured minority.

More than a million Rohingya live in Burma. About 140,000 of them currently reside in squalid camps, displaced by attacks on Muslim Rohingyas by the majority Buddhists in Rakhine State in 2012. They lack adequate food and shelter and, since the ejection of Doctors Without Borders in February, their access to medical care is limited.

They are also stateless, denied citizenship by the Burmese government, which claims that they “have never had ethnic nationals called ‘Rohingya'”. In its 2014 official census, the government refused to count individuals self-identifying as Rohingya. Instead, it insists that they are “Bengalis”, illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who should go home. (Population data for Rakhine State reveals no influx of Muslims from Bangladesh, or anywhere else.)

Recently, the regime has stepped up pressure on members of the international community not to employ the term “Rohingya”. In June, it demanded an apology after a UNICEF staffer used the word during a briefing. Many international actors have bowed to the government’s absurd demands, in order to continue working with a population desperately in need of help, or simply to avoid stirring up trouble.

But Obama and Ban’s strong statements suggest the tide may be turning. Yesterday, the Burmese ambassador to the UK conceded that the Rohingya are “people”. Maybe with a little more prodding, they’ll get around to admitting that they have rights.

 

*That’s a photo I took of festival observers at Yangon’s iconic Shwedagon Pagoda in 2012.

WTF Friday, 10/24/2014

The following things happened this week:

  1. First lady Grace Mugabe indicated that she would like to succeed her husband Robert Mugabe, currently 3,713 years old and in his 846th year in office, as president. I feel like the Mugabes might’ve done enough for their country (if “enough” = the destruction of its economy, civil society, and performance on health indicators), how about you?
  2. Female activists in South Sudan took a page from Lysistrata and proposed a sex strike for peace. It’s a reasonable strategy; abstinence seems to be at least as effective as any other peace-building approach.
  3. Evidence emerged that ISIS is using prohibited chemical weapons against Iraqi government forces. This is, of course, in addition to their already horrifying record of violations of the laws of war such as the massacre of captured Iraqi soldiers, and the use of Yazidi women as sex slaves. Anyone got war crimes bingo? (There should be war crimes bingo, right?)

And then last night a doctor in New York tested positive for Ebola after treating victims of the epidemic in Guinea. Predictably, everyone has gone completely insane over this. Especially in my neighborhood, where Dr. Spencer hung out on Wednesday night before he began to experience symptoms.

Somehow, this has become additional fodder for the crazies (and their leader, Donald Trump) demanding that President Obama stop all flights from West Africa. Which just makes me wonder angrily: WHAT FLIGHTS ARE THEY EVEN TALKING ABOUT?

The next time I have to get to somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, I am contacting Mr. Trump to do my travel booking. I look forward to the route he will find me that will not involve 3 layovers in airports of decreasing cleanliness, and the inexplicable arrival of my baggage two days later, with one member of each pair of shoes missing.

WTF Friday, 9/12/2014

Here are some things that apparently happened this week while I was buried in research statements and cover letters. (The academic job market is super fun, you guys.*)

  • Supporters of Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election debuted a new campaign slogan: #BringBackGoodluck2015. Because nothing makes people more likely to vote for an incumbent than a reminder of his failure to take seriously the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls.
  • The Pentagon announced a plan to build a spiffy new field hospital in Liberia to treat healthcare workers responding to the ebola epidemic, then clarified that they only meant * foreign * healthcare workers. USAID has since tweeted that the hospital will in fact treat “health workers of all nationalities”. Here’s hoping everyone’s now on the same page about that.

*No it isn’t.

WTF Friday, 8/15/2014

While I was in DRC, Congolese president Joseph Kabila was here, attending the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. In a particularly stellar display of leadership, he brought along a bodyguard of thugs, who assaulted a protester outside of Kabila’s hotel.

Kabila’s entourage wasn’t the only one beating people up. Members of the Gambian diaspora protesting president Yahya Jammeh’s abuses were attacked by Jammeh’s security detail, some of whom were apparently sporting brass knuckles

If this becomes an annual event, maybe next time the White House could make clear that “assaulting peaceful protesters” is not on the list of approved recreation activities for delegates. Perhaps a nice trip to the Smithsonian instead?

*For more on these incidents, see Jeffrey Smith‘s Foreign Policy article.