WTF Friday, 4/25/2014

On April 16, more than 200 teenage girls preparing to sit their final exams were abducted from their government-run boarding school in Chibok in northern Nigeria and taken deep into nearby Sambisa forest. The kidnappers are members of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, who strongly object to secular education, particularly of girls.

Two days after the abduction, the Nigerian military announced that the girls had been freed in an “on-going search and rescue exercise”. They hadn’t.

In fact, some of the girls managed to escape on their own, but the rest remain unaccounted for and there have been no ransom demands. As Jina Moore documents, the families of the missing students have grown increasingly frustrated with the government’s lack of action. Several days ago, they mounted a private search operation, heading into the forest themselves. They had to turn back empty-handed, lacking the firepower to confront the terrorists directly. But as one father later told a Nigerian newspaper: “If soldiers had accompanied us to the forest, we were optimistic that our missing children would have been rescued.”

BBC reports that at a meeting on national security yesterday, the national government “vowed to do all it can” to rescue the hostages. But for many Nigerians, the delay in action reflects a devastating indifference to the fate of these young women, which, as Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani reminds us, may be bleak.

#BringBackOurGirls is now trending on Twitter, castigating not only the Nigerian state, but the international press for its disinterest in this tragedy. These girls have been missing for over a week; the least we can do is pay attention.

WTF Friday, 4/18/2014

This one’s not funny, but it does tangentially involve George Clooney:

Recent Satellite Sentinel Project imagery of the Nuba Mountains reveals a “significant mobilization of Sudanese armed forces”, including a “a Chinese-made multiple rocket launcher system“. This comes on the heels of Sudan’s Defense Minister’s recent announcement of the opening of the summer military campaign season (no word on whether a giant pair of scissors and a ribbon-cutting ceremony were involved). Even more worryingly, the director of the National Intelligence and Security Services said last week that extra Rapid Support Forces (i.e. janjaweed militias) are being sent to the region to fight against the SPLM-N rebels.

So basically: Add Nuba Mountains to your list of places to be desperately worried about civilians in conflict this week.

H/T: Stephanie Schwartz

WTF Friday, 4/11/14

In this week’s news:

  • More of the same from Uganda, where the US-funded Makerere University Walter Reed Project was raided by police who claimed that the health clinic was “training” Ugandan youth to be gay. I am officially out of jokes about Ugandan gay panic, so here’s a space for you to fill in your own: ______;
  • And someone threw a shoe at Hillary Clinton, making this all but inevitable:

WTF Friday, 4/4/2014

From the (apparently not a prank) April Fools Day edition of The Washington Times: “‘The problem from hell’ is only solved when God-fearing men with steel backbones and muscular arms stand between the evildoers and their victims.

I can’t believe how much time and money has been wasted studying the root causes and dynamics of mass atrocity, when all along the answer was biceps!

WTF Friday, 3/21/2014

Today is full of mind-blowing news:

  • In Kenya, female MPs staged a walk-out in Parliament today as a bill passed allowing Kenyan men to marry additional wives without checking with their existing spouse first. Explained a (male) MP: “When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way and a third wife… this is Africa.”
  • And finally, Robert Kaplan has once again succeeded in trolling the entire internet, this time with a piece up at The Atlantic extolling the virtues of empire. Choice quote: “imperialism and enlightenment (albeit self-interested) have often been inextricable”. There’s also an approving shout-out to Rudyard Kipling’s pro-colonialist classic “The White Man’s Burden”. (Ultimately he gets to the point which is, apparently, that America needs to rediscover grand strategy, which: sure.) Obviously, Twitter is going insane over this.

WTF Friday, 2/14/14

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!  I was going to put up a WTF Friday about this batshit insane story, but I thought that might spoil the mood. So instead, you get this gem:

“There has been chaos in the lower house of India’s parliament after an MP used pepper spray to disrupt proceedings.

[...]

Mr Rajagopal smashed a glass and used pepper spray on his colleagues when Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde tried to table the bill to create Telangana, which will be carved out of Andhra Pradesh state.

Some unconfirmed reports said another MP pulled out a knife. Several other MPs were reportedly involved in clashes with their opponents.

Mr Rajagopal told Indian media he had acted in self-defence after being attacked.”

State monopoly on violence, ur doin it wrong.

WTF Friday, 2/7/2014

How did I miss the fact that the Austrian government has appointed a 27 year old as Foreign Minister?

At an age when a quarter of Americans are apparently still living with their parents, this dude is a Cabinet-level official. And I bet he has his own apartment, too.

By way of comparison, my proudest accomplishments at 27 were the following:

  1. Finally getting in the habit of flossing regularly;
  2. Leaning how to work my voicemail;
  3. Drinking whisky without making a squinchy face;
  4. Writing this blog.

You’ll note that nowhere on this list does “designing and executing the foreign policy of an entire nation” appear. Admittedly, it’s only Austria, but it still overshadows even the most exemplary dental hygiene.

WTF Friday, 1/31/2014

I remember going to a Model United Nations conference for the first time and thinking it was a shame people didn’t take it more seriously and act like REAL delegates. (Yup, that’s the kind of super-fun 16 year old I was.)

Then I went to work at the actual United Nations.

I was sitting in the General Assembly one Friday morning when a junior Tunisian diplomat surreptitiously passed me a note inviting me to a kegger at the Egyptian third secretary’s apartment, and I thought to myself, “huh, I guess Model UN was more accurate than I gave it credit for”.

Further evidence in Model UN’s defense arose yesterday after the Security Council session, when Rwanda’s ambassador accused the Congolese delegation of “crying like small babies”. I can only assume that the Congolese fired back that Rwanda are a bunch of asshats who can suck it, and then stomped off to do their math homework.

WTF Friday, 1/24/2014

What do you get when you combine an uninformed TV actress on her first trip to Africa, a Christian relief organization whose PR department are all asleep on the job, and a reporter who apparently thinks foreign aid is for chumps?

The WTF Friday that keeps on giving.

We’ll have a more detailed piece out next week about Elizabeth McGovern’s magical trip to Sierra Leone as a “charity ambassador” for World Vision, but for now, the highlight reel:

Elizabeth McGovern didn’t know that World Vision was a Christian charity, but she did know that it paid her £28,000:

“I was stupid not to realise it … I think the people at World Vision assumed it would be obvious.” McGovern has not withdrawn from World Vision, as “on balance, it is an organisation that does a lot of good for many people.” In addition, World Vision has paid her band £28,000 to fund the recording of their latest album and a UK tour, in return for which they have agreed to promote the charity. Without this money, McGovern says, her band would “never survive”. She recently turned to a crowdfunding website for donations towards her next album, with a portion of the money going to World Vision.

Elizabeth McGovern sure seemed to have a lot of questions about how hard it would be to take her “sponsored” child, Jestina, home with her:

The conversation then turns to Jestina. “Is there a problem that some celebrities and rich people try to take one of the children home?” asks McGovern. “I imagine some big-time celebrities can be more of a hindrance than a help.”

“It’s not so easy to take a child across borders,” says Wilson. “And World Vision is very big on child protection.”

“Do Jestina’s parents live together?”

Elizabeth McGovern on Sex:

“I get the impression that in Africa people have sex far more freely than we do back home,” reflects McGovern. “You see certain cultures where there’s just endemic cruelty to women. I wonder if World Vision would take on the problem of women wearing the burka? And that clitoris thing is awful.”

World Vision, on being super good about not proselytizing:

I ask the driver, a Sierra Leonean who has worked for World Vision for more than 10 years, about the extent to which Christianity drives the charity’s actions. Does World Vision ever try to convert people?

“Christianity is our goal,” he says. “In some Muslim areas they are suspicious of us. So we put our effort into setting up clinics, permanent schools, and establish a society. Gradually they see we are good people. Then we pay professional pastors to preach to them. That is our final goal.”

“But you don’t try to convert non-Christians,” interrupts Wilson from the back. “World Vision never tries to proselytise.” The man laughs wryly and shrugs. McGovern says nothing.

World Vision, on aid efficiency:

“Before I do interviews, I need to know what distinguishes World Vision from its competitors,” McGovern says. “Is it less well-known because it spends less on promotion?”

“I don’t know about that,” says Wilson. “World Vision paid for this trip, and that’s not cheap.”

Elizabeth McGovern, on the lasting tragedy she experienced in Sierra Leone:

On the final morning, in a guesthouse in a very poor area, McGovern emerges from her room as white as a sheet.

“My iPhone,” she says. “I dropped it in the toilet.” Somebody cites the urban myth that the phone should be covered with rice. McGovern asks our hostess if that would be possible. She nods and brings a sack of rice out of her storeroom. McGovern places her iPhone in a plastic bag and pours a generous helping of rice on top of it. It stays like this all the way home, but the iPhone never recovers.