Tuesday, December 31, 2013

African antics

[Update to “A spoonful of spin”.  For the full essay, with background, click here.]

[Update 24 May 2014]
ABUJA, Nigeria — Intelligence agents from all over the globe have poured into this city, Nigeria’s capital, to help find the nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram more than a month ago — but there has been little or no progress in bringing the young women home.
The problem, many involved in the rescue effort say, is the failings of the Nigerian military.

[Update 25 Dec 2013]  Reports concerning the behavior of the African Union troops in Centrafrique, saviors of the situation according to Samantha Powers and NPR, and trickling in, and are … concerning.
The Chadian forces, which blatantly favor the Muslim side, have already antagonized the Christian majority in Bangui, further inflaming tensions rather than calming them;  but more, they have engaged in gun battles with their brother Burundians in MISCA.   So they are basically being sh*t-canned -- er, redeployed, far away into the jungle  where it is hoped they can do no harm.  However, as the specialist interviewed by Medi1 points out, they will then have a free hand in the still-unpacified Séléka northern stronghold, so this actually doesn’t bode well either.

Un ressentiment croissant des Banguissois envers les soldats tchadiens

Cette annonce intervient deux jours après des tirs fratricides au sein même de la force africaine entre militaires tchadiens et burundais. Mardi, le chef du contingent burundais a révélé que ses hommes avaient été la veille la cible d'une attaque de soldats tchadiens, avec tirs d'armes automatiques et jet de grenade. L'attaque avait été repoussée et trois soldats tchadiens blessés, selon cet officier.
Le matin même, une patrouille tchadienne avait brièvement ouvert le feu - sous l'oeil des journalistes - sur des manifestants anti-Seleka devant l'aéroport, faisant un mort.
Ces incidents à répétition ont suscité un ressentiment croissant chez de nombreux Banguissois, et entamé la crédibilité des militaires de N'Djamena, pourtant aguerris et combatifs, et surtout partenaires incontournables des Français pour espérer rétablir un semblant de stabilité dans le pays.

Bienvenus dans le bourbier, les gars

[Update, 25 Dec 2013]   These, then, are the African Union forces which NPR approvingly reported were about to be showered with $100 million from the US.  Note that we are not picking a nit here -- the Chadian contingent is the main one in MISCA, both in terms of manpower and field experience.  And it is not training or equipment that they lack:

Des pick-up de l'armée tchadienne, qui forme la plus grosse part de la force africaine, filent sur le goudron. … Bien formée et bien équipée, l'armée tchadienne était l'un des éléments clés sur lequel Paris comptait pour soutenir sa mission en Centrafrique.

What they lack is something essential, and which no amount of money can wish into existence.

«Si les Français ne font rien, ils sont accusés d'impuissance, voire pire. S'ils interviennent, ils sont montrés du doigt et accusés de partialité par l'un des camps.»

According to the NPR translation department, the signs read:  “Heartfelt thanks to the great French nation for coming here out of the goodness of their hearts, risking their troops and spending their treasure, for no possible gain to themselves, simply to save us from our own murderous impulses.”  (Some might dispute a few nuances of this translation.)

[Update, 28 Dec 2013]   Meanwhile, other French activity in Africa:

Une nappe phréatique géante découverte dans l'aride Kenya
Grâce à un outil de son invention, un ingénieur français a découvert une réserve d'eau souterraine qui pourra alimenter cette région déshéritée.

To which we may expect the eventual response, “Colons go home!”


[Update 29 December 2013]
In an important interview published this morning in the Journal du dimanche, a French general and academic, Vincent Desportes,  who  despite everything  supports armed French intervention in RCA, begins by stating the obvious -- that Hollande was, as usual, lying when he said that the intervention need only be brief -- and then goes on to pop the bubble of the goodthink peddled by Samantha Power and NPR, to the effect that the noble warriors of the African Union will save the day, allowing France  gracefully to retire:  “L’effondrement de la Misca nous place dans une nouvelle situation.”

But the reality goes well beyond that:  basically, “effondrement” is about the best thing the MISCA forces could do at this point:

La force africaine fait-elle partie des problèmes ou de la solution?
Il faut être franc. La force africaine crée par elle-même des problèmes et concourt à l’aggravation des tensions au sein de la population entre chrétiens et musulmans. Les Etats qui ont fourni des troupes ont des intérêts propres à défendre dans cette crise, à commencer par le Tchad qui fournit 850 des 4.000 hommes. La première mission de l’armée française était de sécuriser et de prévenir les massacres, la deuxième de restructurer la Misca pour en faire une force opérationnelle sur laquelle s’appuyer. On voit que cela n’est pas possible pour l’instant. Après trois semaines, on aurait dû avoir une force de 4.000 Africains et 1.600 Français aptes à remplir la mission. Ça n’est pas du tout le cas.

We have focussed on France in Africa, because that is currently at the top of the news, and because much of what is going on there goes unreported in the American press.   But there are lessons for America as well.

In this morning’s report of an extensive study, the New York Times refutes the Republican fantasy-narrative about Benghazi (which was never more than an attempt to cloud voters’ minds for a while: Mission accomplished, boys!);  but in the course of it, highlights a factor that has been insufficiently appreciated:

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

A fuller accounting of the attacks suggests lessons for the United States that go well beyond Libya. It shows the risks of expecting American aid in a time of desperation to buy durable loyalty, and the difficulty of discerning friends from allies of convenience in a culture shaped by decades of anti-Western sentiment. Both are challenges now hanging over the American involvement in Syria’s civil conflict.

In short, for America as well as France:  Expect no lasting gratitude in Africa.

-- Nor Asia, b.t.w.:

KABUL, Afghanistan — Just months after American officials ceded control over all detention operations in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai’s government has quietly planned dozens of prisoner releases that American and Afghan officials said on Tuesday would include committed insurgents who had attacked Americans.

[Update 30 December 2013]  In Bangui, the French soldier on:

Le dispositif militaire français mis en place pour tenter de rétablir le calme dans la capitale centrafricaine a atteint ses limites.
Le véhicule blindé fonce et part se planter au beau milieu de l'avenue. Tout autour, de petites jeeps manœuvrent pour prendre possession des bas-côtés. Sous les auvents branlants, les échoppes alentour, la foule vocifère, brandit le poing vers les soldats français et plus encore vers «l'ennemi», les musulmans qui, au bout de la route, hurlent tout autant. Des tirs de semonce claquent pour tuer dans l'œuf les velléités évidentes de caillassage. Lentement, dans le matin de dimanche, les soldats français s'interposent entre les deux camps, prenant le contrôle du carrefour de Réconciliation [!], qui marque la frontière entre les zones chrétiennes et musulmanes du secteur.

Expect your reward in the next life, lads;  for it sure won’t come in this one.

[Update 31 December 2013]    It never stops.  Here is the latest example of African gratitude for French (and here, specifically Christian) self-sacrifice:

PARIS — A French priest kidnapped by Islamic radicals in northern Cameroon last November after ignoring danger warnings has been set free, President Francois Hollande's office said Tuesday.
Georges Vandenbeusch was kidnapped by heavily armed men on Nov. 13 in the far north of Cameroon, about 18 miles (30 kilometers) from the border with Nigeria. There was never a claim of responsibility, but suspicion fell on the radical Islamic sect Boko Haram which operates in the area, the Koza region, or on Ansaru, a Boko Haram splinter group responsible for most kidnappings of foreigners there.
The zone has been flagged as a risk for terrorism and kidnapping, but the priest — who cared for Nigerian refugees — chose to stay on to "exercise his mission".

French neocolonialist oppressor Father Georges, surrounded by some of his victims

As usual, France hotly denies having paid any ransom.  Apparently his Islamist  captors were simply seized by Christmas spirit and returned the hostage as a gift.
If you believe that, here is a song you might enjoy:
       When You Wish Upon a Star

The other day I heard a broadcast in which a French academic conceded that, yes of course, the French government pays ransoms under the table, but maintained that it is right to deny this publically, since otherwise it would endanger other Frenchmen.
But the only people fooled by this maneuvre are the more clueless voters;  the terrorists, who communicate continually among one another, know perfectly well which countries pay up, and which don’t. 

[Update 1 January 2014] 
The United States likewise used to soil itself with ransom and collaboration, most disgracefully during the Reagan administration.  But our present administration simply does not do that;  and the terrorists have got the message.  From this morning’s paper:

It would be months before Warren Weinstein’s relatives realized the Rockville man had been taken hostage by al-Qaeda, making him the only U.S. citizen known to be held by the terrorist group.

The Montgomery County family has since grieved and prayed in silence, worried that raising Weinstein’s profile could put him in greater jeopardy. But after a video and handwritten note from the 72-year-old Weinstein emerged last week, his wife and daughters decided to plead publicly for his release for the first time and discuss the ordeal his relatives have endured for more than two years.

The message released on Christmas Day was the third Weinstein video distributed by al-Qaeda. Looking forlorn, sporting a scraggly gray beard and noticeably missing a tooth, Weinstein is recorded pleading with President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry to make “hard choices” to secure his release.

[NDLR:  Il se peut que la phrase en caractères gras  exagère un tant soit peu ;  mais passons.]

That, of course, is glurge:  the “hard choice”, obviously, is to hang tough.

The Weinstein family can console themselves with one thought:  Every day their loved-one spends in AQ captivity, is another message to criminals and terrorists that kidnapping Americans does not pay.   The instant the Administration were to lose its nerve and cough up millions of new funding for al-Qaeda (already bloated with contributions from European governments, direct or indirect), at that instant a price-tag appears on every American’s head.

A further consolation:  
One of these days, his captors might find some unexpected guests “dropping in on them” (literally).

[Update 2 January 2014]  More honest than the French government, Father Georges refuses to play along with the charade to the effect that “Libéré officiellement par «compassion» après 45 jours de détention dans la brousse et sans qu'aucune rançon n'ait été payée, le père Georges Vandenbeusch, 42 ans, s'est dit chanceux”, stating flatly: «Ils n'ont de compassion pour personne»

Une source sécuritaire camerounaise a indiqué à l'AFP qu'un prisonnier de Boko Haram détenu au Cameroun avait été relâché en contrepartie de la libération du prêtre. Ce qu'a reconnu à demi-mot Laurent Fabius, le chef de la diplomatie, en évoquant «des discussions» sur «des aspects judiciaires» dans lesquelles «le président Biya a été extrêmement utile et efficace». Reste à savoir ce qu'a arraché de Paris l'inamovible chef de l'État camerounais.
Mercredi, une source liée à Boko Haram a assuré que «la direction (du groupe) avait décidé de libérer le prêtre par compassion», selon des propos rapportés par l'AFP. «Le prêtre a offert ses services médicaux à des membres (du groupe) malades pendant sa période de captivité, a fait valoir Boko Haram. La direction a ressenti qu'il n'y avait plus besoin de le garder.» Ce qu'a démenti l'ex-otage mercredi soir, au journal de 20 heures de France 2. «Je ne suis ni infirmier ni médecin. S'ils m'avaient amené quelqu'un à soigner avec une hémorragie j'aurais fait ce que je pouvais, mais ils ne l'ont pas fait. Ils n'ont de compassion pour personne», a confié le père Vandenbeusch, capturé selon lui en tant qu'«Occidental».

[Update 3 January 2014]  The tragi-comedy in Centrafrique yet yields some well-penned chronicles:

Centrafrique : l'armée française peine à sécuriser Bangui
En visite dans la capitale de Centrafrique, Jean-Yves Le Drian a nié un éventuel enlisement de notre armée.
«Sangaris» devait être rapide et discrète. L'armée avait choisi de lui donner le nom d'un papillon. Il eût mieux valu celui d'une bête plus dissuasive.
La veille, à la tombée du jour, une fusillade et une bagarre à coups de pierres et de machettes, partie comme souvent à Bangui on ne sait trop pourquoi, avaient fait un mort et une quinzaine de blessés. Le même matin, des coups de feu avaient, là encore, tué un homme et semé la panique dans le gigantesque camp de réfugiés de l'aéroport. L'arrivée des troupes françaises a mis un peu de sérénité, tout en suscitant la colère des riverains. «Désormais nous faisons toutes les missions: de l'interposition, du convoyage, de la sécurisation», résume un officier.
Cet engagement à haut risque a été lancé le 26 décembre, après deux jours de violences qui avaient conduit la capitale au bord de l'anarchie. Après être entrées dans les Ve et VIe arrondissements de la ville, hauts lieux des affrontements ces derniers temps, les troupes françaises pénétraient vendredi dans le IIIe, étendant, non sans mal, leur emprise.
Officiellement, «Sangaris» est en route et n'a pas changé d'objectifs. «Nous allons encaserner et désarmer les combattants de manière impartiale.» Dans les faits, l'opération de dissuasion a rendu caduc, pour l'instant, ce désarmement et ce casernement. Les Séléka, comme la rébellion des Anti-Balaka, circulent dans leurs zones entrelacées les unes dans les autres, faisant de la carte de Bangui une véritable peau de panthère.

[Update 12 January 2014]   It gets worse.  Forcing out the recent président centrafricain was supposed to ameliorate things, but no:

Reports of cannibalism and other horrific acts of violence surfaced in the Central African Republic on Saturday night as Christian militias went on the rampage following the resignation of the country’s Muslim president.

Western-backed peacekeepers, including French and African Union troops, were attempting to restore order after Christian mobs destroyed mosques and attacked Muslim neighbourhoods in the capital, Bangui.

The mobs sensed the upper hand after regional mediators brought about the resignation on Friday of President Michel Djotodia, who last night was bound for exile in the West African state of Benin. “It’s impossible to live with the Muslims,” one looter said. “We don’t want Arabs in Central Africa.”

Sectarian violence has already claimed more than 1,000 lives in the CAR in past month, and yesterday, eyewitnesses spoke of how a machete-wielding gang ate parts of the body of a Muslim man after attacking him on Tuesday.

(At this point, the soldats must be wondering :  Remind me again-- what is our mission here exactly?)

But then follows an intriguing detail about diplomatic history and the cuisine du terroir:

The reports have echoes of the grisly stories about the country’s late dictator, Jean Bedel Bokassa, who was alleged to have practised cannibalism during his rule between 1966 and 1979.
Charges of cannabalism against him were later dropped, despite widespread rumours that he had kept human limbs in fridges and even served parts of them to visiting French dignitaries.

This comes as a shock to most of us.  Such fare was never reviewed or reported in the guides Michelin !

Media note:   
This morning’s New York Times article on the post-Djotodia scene in Bangui, while admitting certain disorders, makes no reference to any allegations of cannibalism;  pas devant les enfants.  But it is all over the francophone press  -- and not simply buried in the thirty-seventh paragraph, but right in the headlines:

"L'un des individus ayant pris possession d'un bras est allé acheter du pain et s'est mis à mordre dans la chair, l'accompagnant de son pain. La scène a fait vomir plusieurs personnes.”

Hier soir à Bangui

It turns out, actually, that such gourmandise is not unknown even in present-day France:

In both these stories, the objective correlative -- the Dickensian detail that brings it home -- is the side-dish:  plain bread in CAR;  haricots verts in France.

This is well off the subject, but the man’s profile is baffling:

Cet ancien marsouin du régiment d’infanterie de chars de marine (RICM) de Poitiers … il a laissé le souvenir d’un soldat sans problème mais qui avait refusé une prolongation de contrat et une offre de reconversion.  Après sa décision de ne pas rempiler, il avait erré plusieurs jours, sans manger.

Oh... okay ... so you're saying ... He was just hungry?

Anyhow.   For obvious reasons, the U.S. press would rather not go there, and skirts the word when obliged to report from Bangui.  The AP story that the Washington Post just put up, speaks only of “isolated incidents of ‘score-settling’” (!), which makes it sound like no more than a bad Saturday night in Chicago;  no mention of the “C”-word:

In the anglophone media, the uncensored account is available in Canada, England, Australia, and Japan.   So far, the German-language press has shied away.  Indeed, today’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung headlines a heart-warming

Verbrüderungsszenen in Bangui
mhf. Nairobi In der Hauptstadt der Republik Zentralafrika, Bangui, ist es am Sonntag zu Verbrüderungsszenen zwischen Kämpfern der muslimischen Seleka-Miliz und ihren Feinden von den antimuslimischen Kampfgruppen Anti-Balaka gekommen. Der Versöhnungsakt ist das erste Vorkommnis der Art, seitdem sich die bürgerkriegsähnlichen Ausschreitungen in mehreren Präfekturen Anfang Dezember auf Bangui ausgedehnt haben. Laut der Agentur AFP hatten Vermittler der französischen Interventionstruppen das Treffen vereinbart. In einem Quartier der Hauptstadt hätten sich die ehemaligen Feinde unter dem Applaus von Anwohnern umarmt und anschliessend gemeinsam Strassensperren abgeräumt, hiess es.

Les musulmans et les chrétiens  annoncent leur amitié indéfectible

So, not a particularly important story, in itself -- it could always be dismissed as “isolated incidents of anthropophagy”.   But it is interesting to see in which countries the press is most skittish, when it comes to such things.


Curiosity nonetheless piqued, I poked a bit further into the anthropophagous allegations that the Telegraph reprinted and then dismissed as rumor.

First, “the charges were dropped” and (from the initial section of the Wikipedia article) “In 1987, he was cleared of charges of cannibalism”  is not quite the same thing as “it was established that he hadn’t done it”.  Secondly, the “visiting dignitaries” rumors did not involve merely assistant junior ministers of agriculture or what have you, in whom such a repast might be excused as youthful high spirits;  but Giscard himself:

Former president Dacko was called to the witness stand to testify that he had seen photographs of butchered bodies hanging in the dark cold-storage rooms of Bokassa's palace immediately after the 1979 coup. When the defence put up a reasonable doubt during the cross-examination of Dacko that he could not be positively sure if the photographs he had seen were of dead bodies to be used for consumption, Bokassa's former security chief of the palace was called to testify that he had cooked human flesh stored in the walk-in freezers and served it to Bokassa on an occasional basis. The prosecution did not examine the rumours that Bokassa had served the flesh of his victims to French President Giscard d'Estaing and other visiting dignitaries.

Also, being “cleared of charges” is not quite the same as “was never convicted”:  here the German Wiki is somewhat more frank:

Am 26. Dezember 1980 wurde Bokassa in Abwesenheit wegen Mordes, Folter, Korruption und Kannibalismus zum Tode verurteilt.http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-B%C3%A9del_Bokassa

The account in French Wikipedia is fascinatingly different:

S'il n'est pas impossible que Bokassa ait pu pratiquer la manducation sous cette forme traditionnelle, il est difficile d'accepter sans preuves, à ce stade inexistantes, l'accusation de cannibalisme à son encontre, d'autant plus qu'il semblerait que cette histoire ait été inventée par les services secrets français pour ajouter du crédit à l'image de monstre qu'on voulait donner de Bokassa à l'époque pour justifier son renversement

The exquisite cultural sensitivity of that exculpatory “manducation sous cette forme traditionnelle”,  is priceless.

[Update]  Your aid dollars at work:

January 31, 2014
MALAKAL, South Sudan — The looters came by the thousands. They were organized, systematic and took their time.
At two World Food Program warehouses in this dusty South Sudanese town, they opened thousands of USAID cans of vegetable oil and poured the contents into stolen jerry cans. They ripped open packets of high-nutrition food and took the contents. They stole computers, light fittings, fans and roof tiles, and even cut away the canvas from storage tents.
The food they took — 1,700 tons in all — would have fed more than 100,000 families for a month.

[Update, 7 April 2014]  Once again the freedom-loving people of Thirdworldistan  strike back against Western imperialism:

Le père van der Lugt, ce traître prètre qui ourdit des complots
contre le peuple syrien  paisible et innocent

APRIL 7, 2014
Father Frans van der Lugt, a Dutch Jesuit priest who became a symbol of suffering and compassion in the war-ravaged Old City district of Homs, was shot to death.
After Syrian government forces isolated and laid siege to the rebel-held Old City for more than a year, a truce in January allowed the evacuation of 1,500 people, both civilians and fighters. But Father Frans, as he was known, insisted on remaining in the monastery where he had lived for decades, offering refuge to Muslim and Christian families alike and sharing their deprivation and trauma.
Jesuits have continued to aid people in Syria regardless of their politics, an act that the Jesuit workers describe as humanitarian neutrality, but that some government supporters view with suspicion. Another foreign-born Jesuit who made his home in Syria, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, fell out with the government early in the conflict; he was kidnapped almost a year ago, it is believed, by extremist fighters.

[Update, 18 May 2014]   The latest in the annals of African military valor:


[Update 28 September 2014] The latest cautionary tale, re relying on African military forces to sort things out:

Congolese army soldiers sent to protect them would commit mass rapes nearby.

[Update 21 Nov 2015]

Maryland woman killed in Mali worked to improve global health

[Update 28 Feb 2016]   “Peacekeeper babies”


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