Mandela: South Africa's down-to-earth icon
December 6th, 2013
08:32 AM ET

Mandela: South Africa's down-to-earth icon

By Steve McDonald, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Steve McDonald is a senior advisor on the Africa Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center. The views expressed are his own.

As a young Foreign Service Officer assigned to the American Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, in the late 1970s, I was assigned to cover “black political affairs,” which meant getting to know and interacting with the majority population and its leaders during the height of the racist Apartheid government’s rule.

While I met almost all of the key African leaders of the day, it was not possible to meet Nelson Mandela, although I did try. The African National Congress (ANC) was in exile in those years and Mandela had been in prison since 1964. However, I could begin to take the measure of the man, because Madiba, as he was fondly called then and now, was never far from anyone’s thoughts or prayers. Mandela was the “leader” in every black person’s mind.

I left South Africa in 1979, and it would be more than a decade before I would actually meet the man. In that time, Mandela’s legend would grow, and his leadership became more firmly entrenched, even while he was in prison. The South African Apartheid government, recognizing his central role as a leader, would come to realize that the only way to avoid a huge confrontation of epic proportions was to begin to negotiate with Mandela for a way out.


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Topics: Africa
Zakaria: We haven't seen leadership like Mandela's for a long time
December 6th, 2013
12:50 AM ET

Zakaria: We haven't seen leadership like Mandela's for a long time

CNN speaks with Fareed about the death of Nelson Mandela, his legacy, and what set him apart from other leaders. This is an edited version of the interview.

Nelson Mandela was a world leader who made such a change, not only in South Africa, but he inspired so many people around the world.

Absolutely. You remember, this is a man born in 1918, born when the sun never set on the British Empire, and who lived a long life, and was part of a kind of tradition of nonviolent resistance to colonial power and colonial oppression that was part of the Indian independence movement. He was greatly inspired by Gandhi, by the nonviolent struggle.

And that was one of the most remarkable aspects of Mandela, when he came out after 27 years in jail. I remember being struck by even his speech pattern. It was like he came out of a different era. He came out of an age when giants walked the world – Gandhi, Nehru, Churchill, FDR. He was really part of that world, but had just been frozen in a jail for 27 years.

But when he came out, it turned out he retained not just the speech patterns and some of the mannerisms and some of the formality, he was the man who almost seemed to always wear a suit, no matter where he went, until he left the presidency.


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Topics: Africa • South Africa
U.S. must act now over Central African Republic
November 22nd, 2013
08:30 AM ET

U.S. must act now over Central African Republic

By Michael Shank and Madeline Rose, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael Shank is director of foreign policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Madeline Rose is legislative associate for foreign policy at FCNL. The views expressed are their own.

Despite dire warnings of anarchy, mass violence, and potential genocide, the White House has said nothing about the U.S. position on the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR). And while we appreciate the leadership of Representatives Ed Royce (CA-39), Chris Smith (NJ-4), and Karen Bass (CA-37) in raising awareness of the crisis within Congress. and welcome the November 20 statement by Secretary of State John Kerry, this level of engagement is insufficient.

The administration and Congress must engage quickly with the international community before more civilians are killed, and the country – and region – spiral further out of control.

The political-military crisis that the CAR has experienced since late 2012 has taken a dangerous turn. Since Seleka rebels seized the capital Bangui in March, CAR has slid further into violence and anarchy. On November 1, Adama Dieng, the U.N. Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, asserted that violence in the CAR may already constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes. On November 13, John Ging, Director of the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, warned: “We are very, very concerned that the seeds of a genocide are being sown.”

This is serious, and Washington should take it seriously, lest we end up with another preventable mass atrocity on our hands, and only grief and political regret to show for it.


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Topics: Africa
November 12th, 2013
09:36 AM ET

Why we should allow women to make their own family planning choices

By Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Special to CNN

Editor’s note:  Yvonne Chaka Chaka is a South African singer and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. The views expressed are her own.

Access to education, the right to make choices about your own body – these are things many of us take for granted. But the reality for many women and young people in developing countries is very different.

Denied rights to some very basic choices – such as how many children to have and when, whether to stay in school, and how to participate in their country’s economy – the story for young people is frequently one of opportunities curtailed. For some, this is about culture, custom, economics or just denial of basic human rights. For others it is as simple, yet life changing, as not having access to modern contraceptive methods.

I am in Ethiopia this week with politicians, researchers, young leaders, civil society groups and policymakers – a real mixture of organizations gathered together with one key objective – trying to change the way action is taken on access to family planning.

The International Family Planning Conference 2013 will showcase innovation and examine what needs to be done to enable nations to tackle the challenges they face. Why does this matter? Because more than 220 million women in developing countries lack access to contraceptives, information, and services.


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Topics: Africa • Women
November 11th, 2013
03:55 PM ET

Why a U.N. rights council seat could be good for South Sudan

By Biel Boutros Biel, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Biel Boutros Biel is co-chair of the National Human Rights Forum and executive director of the South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy. He is also a visiting scholar at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Columbia University, in New York. The views expressed are his own.

After decades of armed struggle, South Sudan became the world’s newest country on July 9, 2011. As people gathered at Freedom Square in Juba, a huge group of women surrounded the John Garang statue, tears wetting their faces. Instead of taking their pictures, I was overtaken by emotion and found myself in tears, too. “Garang my brother, thank you, though you died, finally independence has come,” one woman said.

I remembered relatives and friends who died, and how I carried a gun as a child soldier and joined in the liberation. It was a time of joy and sorrow, the independence that finally came to us through bullets, blood and ballots.

Now barely two years-old, South Sudan is one of the candidates for Africa’s open seats on the U.N. Human Rights Council. This is the first opportunity for South Sudan to become part of such an international body. And, although our governance systems are still flawed, I believe that South Sudanese can be good stewards of human rights across the globe.


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Topics: Africa
November 8th, 2013
05:28 PM ET

Light at the end of the tunnel for DRC?

By Steve McDonald, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Steve McDonald is senior advisor to the Africa program at the Wilson Center. The views expressed are his own.

The standing down of rebel group M-23 in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo made international headlines this week. After a short but intense campaign, the National Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC), backed up by the newly formed U.N. Intervention Brigade, had captured all of M-23’s strongholds and pinned it down in a small, isolated area on the border of Rwanda and Uganda. It was therefore no surprise that against such odds, they have now laid down their arms and sued for peace – an effort set to be reciprocated by Congo’s government, which announced Friday it will sign a peace deal with the rebels on Monday.

M-23 was never very strong – at its height maybe 1,000 fighters, but recently as few as 200 to 500. But it operated freely over the last two years or so because of the incompetence of the FARDC and U.N. peacekeeping forces’ unwillingness to engage, as well as the ongoing support of the Rwandan government.  In fact, the Rwandans have been supporting one group or another of Tutsi militias since 1994-95 in its continuing effort to neutralize the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and Mai Mai militias, Hutu groups of soldiers who fled Rwanda in 1994 after the genocide there.


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Topics: Africa
October 31st, 2013
12:31 PM ET

Why Kenya’s president must face ICC

By Netsanet Belay, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Netsanet Belay is Africa director at Amnesty International. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Like so many thousands of Kenyans, Pamela, David and Kanu are all still struggling to piece their lives together nearly six years after the violence that rocked parts of Kenya following the elections in December 2007.

Finding work, feeding their children and recovering from physical and psychological trauma are just some of their everyday battles.

“I suffered a lot because I have only one hand, but I have been completely forgotten,” Kanu recently told Amnesty International. His arm was hacked off with a machete after he tried to save a woman from being raped by 17 men amid the post-election violence.

Life for Pamela, a 24-year-old mother of four, is still incredibly difficult. She has a bullet lodged in her chest after police fired through the wall of her mud hut. After the incident, she tried to follow up the case with the police. The individual she believes shot her still works in a nearby suburb.


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Topics: Africa • Human Rights
October 19th, 2013
02:40 PM ET

Where are Africa's great leaders?

For more What in the World, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

The world has welcomed another batch of Nobel Laureates for accomplishments in the sciences, literature, and global peace. But there is another prize, perhaps just as important, for which there was no winner.

We are talking about the Mo Ibrahim Prize, established by the Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim. The criteria for winning are listed publicly on the prize website: You need to be a democratically elected African head of state that has left office in the last three years, and demonstrated excellent leadership. If you meet the criteria, you get a $5 million award, plus an annual pension of $200,000 that kicks in after a decade.

The point, of course, is to provide a financial incentive for African leaders to shun corruption. And yet, for the fourth time in its seven year history, the awards committee was unable to find a winner from any of Africa's 50-plus countries. Bravo to the Ibrahim prize for holding high standards, even if that means no grand ceremony.


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Topics: Africa • Governance • What in the World?
How to undermine Al-Shabaab
October 18th, 2013
08:53 AM ET

How to undermine Al-Shabaab

By Mohamed Ali, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mohamed Ali is the founder of the Iftiin Foundation, an organization that incubates social entrepreneurs and young leaders to encourage innovation in Somalia. He is also a New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute. The views expressed are his own.

As new footage emerges of gunmen chatting on cell phones and praying during their attack on an upscale Nairobi mall last month, many are still wondering how the group was able to lay siege to the building for four days, claiming almost 70 lives in the process.

But while understanding how the attack was orchestrated is important, the more pressing question should surely be why, despite international efforts to quell its power, Al-Shabaab is still able to recruit so many to its cause – including, reports suggest, foreign Somalis who grew up in the West?  And why are many of those who participate in Al-Shabaab attacks young men? The answers to these questions could hold the key to undermining Al-Shabaab’s influence in the region.

Al-Shabaab, which means “youth” in Arabic, is aptly named – not because it is a youth movement (the group is led by older religious clerics) but because young people remain its greatest resource in a bloody campaign to impose radical Islam in the region. After all, it was a Mogadishu girl who walked into the home of her uncle, a Somali government minister, and detonated a suicide vest in 2011. I have also been repeatedly advised by Somali officials that attacks such as the one on a U.N. compound in June, regularly involve youths. And now, several young attackers who broke into the Westgate mall with guns and grenades have murdered dozens of men, women and children.


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Topics: Africa • Terrorism • United States
What next for Al-Shabaab?
October 15th, 2013
09:14 AM ET

What next for Al-Shabaab?

EJ Hogendoorn, Africa deputy program director at International Crisis Group, answers GPS readers’ questions about the recent U.S. military raids in Libya and Somalia, how Al-Shabaab might respond and the implications of Africa’s “youth bulge.”

Do the two U.S. raids in Africa this month signal a shift from drone attacks?

It’s not possible to tell at this point. The two raids underscore one limitation of drones: they cannot be used in urban settings where the possibility of killing civilians is very high. This would not only violate international humanitarian law, but would be counter-productive, since it would turn the population against the United States and its allies and possibly radicalize others into joining jihadi groups like Al-Shabaab.

The raids also suggest that the U.S. government recognizes that capturing a jihadi leader is much more valuable than killing one, even if there are risks to U.S. servicemen. The intelligence that can be gleaned from these men not only allows governments to learn about impending attacks, but also about their organization, financing and networks. Even if a captured militant does not divulge any information, the possibility that he might forces groups to alter plans and change communication protocols and locations. It also sows suspicion and discord that will hamper operations and could reveal the location of other commanders. This disruption is more significant than the elimination of one, or even a small group, of leaders, who can often be quickly replaced.

Raids and drone strikes, however, can only achieve limited tactical aims. As we have hopefully learned in Afghanistan and elsewhere, it’s much more useful to support the development of effective and inclusive governments that are better able to combat jihadi groups and address the grievances that drive young men, and some women, to join them.


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Topics: Africa • Terrorism
October 5th, 2013
11:20 PM ET

Time for big business to step up on corruption

By Tom Hart, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Tom Hart is the U.S. Executive Director of The ONE Campaign. The views expressed are his own.

The annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York isn’t usually the place where the bosses of big business are made to shift uncomfortably in their seats. But ONE campaign co-founder Bono seemed to do exactly that at the CGI’s opening session last week when he took on Big Oil for its opposition to more transparent deals with developing countries.

Here is the issue. Africa is a rich continent – rich in minerals, oil, and gas. Right now, big companies pay big money to countries in Africa to extract these resources – and yet so many Africans live in extreme poverty because the money goes missing. This phenomenon is so common that it has a name – the “resource curse.” But the curse is not the resources, it’s the corruption.

That is why we are backing a global initiative to compel companies to publish what they pay to governments for these resources, forcing any corruption into the daylight. When the public can see what’s being paid, they can hold their leaders accountable for how the money is used.


Topics: Africa • Business • Economy
Nigeria must hold extremists accountable
October 4th, 2013
09:32 AM ET

Nigeria must hold extremists accountable

By Robert P. George, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Robert P. George is the chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The views expressed are his own.

As Nigeria considers its future following this week’s celebration of its 53rd anniversary of independence, its leaders must confront a real and perhaps growing threat to the nation’s stability – Boko Haram. The radical Islamist group, whose name literally means “western education is a sin,” regards Nigeria’s federal and northern state governments, as well as the country’s political and religious elites, as morally corrupt. It rejects the West and secular democracy and seeks to implement its “pure” version of Shariah law. But overcoming the Boko Haram challenge will take more than a military response – it also requires an approach that addresses Nigeria’s tolerance of long-running sectarian violence, protects religious freedom and enforces rule of law.

For the past two years, Boko Haram has been the primary perpetrator of religious-related violence and gross religious freedom violations in Nigeria. In August of this year, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which I chair, issued a report highlighting the recent toll of Boko Haram’s targeted assaults on religious institutions and leaders.  The numbers are troubling.


Topics: Africa • Nigeria
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