What's behind Boko Haram 'truce'?
October 18th, 2014
03:48 PM ET

What's behind Boko Haram 'truce'?

By David Cook, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: David Cook is an associate professor in the Department of Religion at Rice University and the author of Understanding Jihad. The views expressed are his own.

News that the Nigerian Salafi-jihadi group Boko Haram may have agreed on a truce with Nigeria’s government, after some four years of warfare, could be welcome news in one of West Africa’s most violent conflicts. But it remains to be seen whether this truce will actually materialize, whether it is merely an election ploy for Nigeria’s embattled president, Goodluck Jonathan, and most crucially whether it will bring about the release of numerous captives taken by Boko Haram during the past year.

Boko Haram has its roots in a quietist Salafi movement that was originally located in the bush of northern Nigeria that taught withdrawal from society and an extreme rejection of state-run (and Western-influenced) education – rejection not characteristic of other West African Salafi movements. After its charismatic leader Muhammad Yusuf was murdered by Nigerian security forces in July 2009, Boko Haram went underground, re-emerged under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau by 2010, and since has become the dominant force in three northeastern Nigerian states (Borno, Yobe and Adamawa).

While prior to 2014 Boko Haram was able to project force over a considerable section of northern and central Nigeria (including operations in the capital Abuja, at  the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, near Kaduna, and inside the important northern city of Kano), its tactics changed to mass slaughter at the beginning of the year. Estimates of the numbers killed during the past 10 months range up to 5,000, more than the total during all previous years combined. It is apparent that Boko Haram’s strategy has been to clear out large sections of northeastern Nigeria, attacking its usual targets: Christians, educated people at universities and colleges, government and military targets, and any foreigners in the region. Even more worrying has been the tendency towards kidnappings of women and girls. FULL POST

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Topics: Africa
June 4th, 2014
04:47 PM ET

Writing Africa off is a mistake

By Amina Mohammed and Hadeel Ibrahim, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Amina Mohammed is a special adviser to the U.N. Secretary General on Post-2015 Development Planning. Hadeel Ibrahim is the founding executive director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which supports leadership and governance issues in Africa. They are working to convene a discussion on this theme on the margins of the 69th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in. The views expressed are their own.

May 25 marked Africa Day, an opportunity to celebrate the continent’s potential and its new-found economic dynamism. And yet, despite a record of growth rates consistently outperforming that of other emerging economies, huge natural resources endowments, an expanding middle class and an energetic, youthful workforce, Africa is consistently written off. Why?

The unconscionable kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls was just one of a string of recent attacks by extremists in Nigeria. But while our hearts go out to the girls and their families, and those killed by recent bombings, these tragic stories must not be allowed to completely overshadow the progress and potential that Africa has demonstrated in recent years. For while violence typically seizes headlines, the continent’s rapidly growing population and consumer base is providing an alternative, oft-overlooked narrative – one of an attractive market for regional and global companies.

In the last decade alone, growth has been broad-based, not just in commodities, but also in telecommunications, banking, construction, retail and real estate. Such opportunities have not gone unnoticed in the developed world, and an increasing number of investment funds are looking to Africa for high returns.

This is occurring against a backdrop of declining risk and an improved business environment thanks to better legislation, enforcement of such legislation, and stronger institutions. Such improvements have paved the way for some eye-catching investment numbers: according to the African Development Bank, in 2012 China alone had some $27 billion invested in the continent. And just last month, at the World Economic Forum in Nigeria, the Chinese government announced it would invest $42 billion in Africa, $30 billion of which will go to the extension of credit lines, $10 billion to finance investment and $2 billion for the China-Africa investment fund. The United States is also planning to increase business opportunities for American companies in Africa.


Topics: Africa
February 25th, 2014
11:59 AM ET

Faux fur the future in Africa?

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

After the kind of winter we've had here in New York, upgrades on winters coats have been the style of the season. And at the city's recent fashion week, one of the must-have items was what was described as a “fabulous fur.”

Halfway across the world, the South African men in the video are sporting fur of their own during a religious ritual. Carrying Zulu warrior shields, the men are wearing the traditional ceremonial attire of the Shembe religion – a monkey tail loin cloth, ostrich feathers on their head, a leopard skin belt, and a leopard skin cape.

And perhaps fashion designers should copy this African custom. You see, for some of the members the fur is fake. In fact, it’s made in China.

The international trade of leopard parts is illegal, and the skins used in this ceremonial attire usually come from poachers. But thanks to a project by the Wildcat Conservation group “Panthera,” a fake fur material is now being made in China and shipped to South Africa. Ten percent of members are estimated to have made the switch to synthetic fur, and thousands of these fabulous faux shoulder capes have been shipped to the region.

It's a strange day when African animal skins are manufactured in China and shipped via DHL...but it is certainly the bright side of globalization.

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Topics: Africa • Last Look
February 13th, 2014
10:55 AM ET

Forgotten human rights tragedy: A response

By Mustapha Khalfi, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mustapha Khalfi is minister of communication and spokesman of the government of the Kingdom of Morocco. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Kerry Kennedy’s ‘A forgotten human rights tragedy’ article last month reproduces old, doubtful and distorted allegations and accusations on the human rights situation in the Moroccan Sahara. The article also omits to discuss the serious violations of human rights in Tindouf camps that have been confirmed by many international organizations.

First, regarding human rights protection in the Sahara Province, Morocco is making significant progress. In 2011, the National Council of Human Rights (CNDH), an independent national human rights body with enhanced investigative powers, established two regional commissions in the Moroccan Sahara, in Dakhla and Laayoune, which independently monitor the human rights situation, investigate complaints, and issues special reports.

In this regard, the U.N. Security Council welcomed, through its resolution 2044 of 2012, the installation of these regional commissions and did not see it appropriate to establish any other mechanism for human rights monitoring because it has recognized the strides made by Morocco with the Council, as well as other human development initiatives and concrete reforms undertaken on many levels. The election of Morocco at the U.N. Human Rights Council last November, after a vote of the 163 states members of the General Assembly of the United Nations, is another international recognition of the efforts made by Morocco in the promotion and protection of human rights.


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Topics: Africa
February 5th, 2014
10:40 AM ET

How the U.N. should handle South Sudan

By Alison Giffen, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Alison Giffen is co-director of the Future of Peace Operations program at the Stimson Center, a nonprofit and nonpartisan international security think tank. She has worked on the protection of civilians and peacekeeping in South Sudan since 2007 and lived in Sudan from 2007-2009. The views expressed are her own.

Tens of thousands of people in fear for their lives are sheltering inside six United Nations bases in the world’s youngest country, South Sudan. They have fled to these “safe havens” to escape the violence of a civil war that has been tearing apart their country since mid-December. Swift and decisive United Nations action is needed to protect civilians from further suffering and bloodshed.

Violence flared on December 15 between South Sudanese President Salva Kiir’s government forces and supporters of his former vice president, Riek Machar.

Mass graves, mass extrajudicial executions, attacks on U.N. personnel, sexual violence and the targeting of individuals based on their ethnicity have been reported since the first weeks of fighting, and the conflict has displaced approximately 740,000 men, women and children – a number that continues to grow. And, although civilian casualties are notoriously difficult to count and confirm, the International Crisis Group has reported that as many as 10,000 deaths may have occurred during the first month of fighting.


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Topics: Africa • Sudan
January 24th, 2014
10:21 AM ET

A forgotten human rights tragedy

By Kerry Kennedy, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Kerry Kennedy is the president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. The views expressed are her own.

Aminatou Haidar was pulled from her vehicle by a mob, shoved to the ground and repeatedly assaulted in a four hour public attack that left her severely beaten. Inside her car, destroyed during the November 2012 incident, sat her teenage daughter and her sister.

Haidar, a Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award laureate, was heading home from a meeting with United Nations officials in Western Sahara. Sadly, this wasn’t the first time her family had been attacked. Months earlier, a group of men on a bus recognized her son and daughter and attacked the children, sending them home bloody and bruised as a message to their mother. Before that, she says a thug snarled at her teenage son: “I will rape you 'til you're paralyzed.”

The most troubling aspect of all this? In all three cases, the attackers were reportedly Moroccan police officers.

Haidar is the leading human rights activist in the region known as Western Sahara, home to one of the least advertised, longest running human rights crises on Earth. Having traveled to the region, interviewed hundreds of victims, and witnessed the brutality firsthand when my own teenage daughter was attacked, I know that Haidar’s experience is all too common for the thousands of Sahrawi people living under the brutal grip of a Moroccan occupying force that believes no one is watching.


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Topics: Africa
January 6th, 2014
04:47 PM ET

Time for U.S. to focus on Western Sahara

By Michael Rubin, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, recently returned from Morocco and the Western Sahara where he interviewed former Polisario Front members and Sahrawi officials. Follow him @mrubin1971. The views expressed are his own.

Against the backdrop of North Korea and the conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, and the Palestinian territories, it is understandable that within the United States, the Western Sahara is largely forgotten. It should not be. Across North Africa and the Sahel, political chaos reigns and stability is in short supply. Nature abhors a vacuum, but terrorists love them. Fueled by loose weapons from Libya, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other offshoot terrorist groups have destabilized wide swaths of the Sahel. Freedom House once categorized Mali as the most free Muslim majority country in the world, but now it teeters on the brink of state failure, victim of weapons smuggling, terrorism, and its own porous borders. Across North Africa and the Sahel, from the Red Sea to the Atlantic, the only truly stable country is Morocco, a country whose sovereignty over the Western Sahara remains at the center of a decades-long diplomatic dispute.

It has now been almost 40 years since Spain left what was then called the Spanish Sahara, a territory that it had administered for almost a century. Conflict erupted quickly after Spain left. Morocco occupied nearly the entire territory. But Algeria, a reliable Soviet ally in the context of the Cold War, had other plans. It supported the Polisario Front, a group that claimed independence for the former Spanish territory and declared itself the rightful government of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. The subsequent guerilla conflict continued until 1991, when Morocco and the Polisario Front reached a ceasefire. The two sides initially agreed that a referendum would determine the Western Sahara’s future, but that vote was never held because they could reach no consensus about who qualified to vote. Today, the Sahrwi Arab Democratic Republic exists on paper only although thanks to Algerian largesse, which sees the Polisario as a useful wedge against rival Morocco and so bankrolls its diplomatic missions.


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Topics: Africa
Four stories you may have missed in 2013
December 28th, 2013
08:10 AM ET

Four stories you may have missed in 2013

By Greg Scoblete and Kevin Sullivan, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Greg Scoblete and Kevin Sullivan are the editors of RealClearWorld, which recently named GPS one of the top 5 international news analysis sites of 2013. The views expressed are their own.

There was no shortage of eye-grabbing global headlines in 2013. The Catholic Church chose a new Pope. China and Russia flexed their muscles. The U.S. and Iran, meanwhile, took a step back from the brink of what looked like a potentially explosive confrontation. But while these stories commanded an ample share of media attention, we’ve found four significant stories that may have slipped under your radar.

Global poverty retreats

With Southern Europe still reeling and the anemic U.S. recovery wobbling along, good economic news has been in short supply. But if you widened the lens, 2013 actually delivered some encouraging, indeed historic, news. It came in the form of a study from Oxford University’s Poverty and Human Development Initiative that concluded that developing countries were enjoying remarkable success in alleviating the worst poverty. They’ve had so much success, in fact, that Oxford predicted that crushing poverty in many of the least developed countries in the world (think Bangladesh, Rwanda, Nepal) is actually on track to be fully eradicated within 20 years.

This optimism was echoed by the United Nations’ 2013 Human Development Report, which noted that “[n]ever in history have the living conditions and prospects of so many people changed so dramatically and so fast.”


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Topics: Africa • Foreign Policy • Myanmar
December 23rd, 2013
02:34 PM ET

Time to listen to what Africa really wants

By Ben Leo, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Ben Leo is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Rethinking US Development Policy initiative at the Center for Global Development. The views expressed are his own.

"Where are President Obama and the United States?  We see China every day and more and more of our officials are getting in bed with their leaders and businesses. But, where has America gone?"

I still vividly recall the remarks from a leading Ghanaian businessman two years ago over drinks in Accra. It summed up the confused mood of many Africans at the time – not just in Ghana, but across the rest of the continent. After years of economic growth and improving investment climates, they were increasingly bewildered that Washington had not elevated its economic engagement.

But while public attitude surveys perhaps unsurprisingly suggest Africans are most concerned about a lack of jobs, poor infrastructure, the economy, and rising inequality, the U.S. response to these concerns has been puzzlingly inconsistent. Indeed, while Africans have tended to worry most about the kind of economic policies that affect their wallets, only 16 percent of U.S. development assistance in Africa over the last decade has focused on these priorities.


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Topics: Africa • Development
December 12th, 2013
12:17 PM ET

China's Mandela problem

By Phelim Kine, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Phelim Kine is the New York-based deputy director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are his own.

It’s the Chinese government’s Nelson Mandela problem.

When news broke of Mandela’s death on December 5, China’s state media joined in the global torrent of tributes for the former political prisoner turned beloved president of South Africa. President Xi Jinping praised Mandela as “an accomplished politician of global standing,” while state-owned China Central Television described him as “an old friend of China.” Glaring omissions in those early tributes were references to “freedom,” “democracy” and any mention of Mandela as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

That was no accident. For the ruling Chinese Communist Party, observing Nelson Mandela’s death is a fraught exercise in verbal contortions to distance him from China’s own imprisoned Nobel laureate and advocate for peaceful social change: the writer Liu Xiaobo.

On December 11, China’s state-owned Global Times went on the offensive with an accusation that “Western media” had “deliberately cast a light on the imprisonment of Liu and praised him as ‘China’s Mandela.’” The objective? To deflect from the striking parallels between the globally revered former South African president and the quiet, self-effacing Chinese writer in Jinzhou Prison in northeastern Liaoning province.


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Topics: Africa • China • Human Rights
No easy answers in Central African Republic
December 9th, 2013
02:32 PM ET

No easy answers in Central African Republic

By Susanna Flood, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Susanna Flood is Amnesty International’s director of media. The views expressed are her own.

What do you say to a grieving widow whose two sons have just been killed and who has 15 grandchildren at home to look after?  How do you respond when the children with whom you have just been laughing and joking – who fled with their families to a rapidly growing camp for displaced people – tell you they are hungry and haven’t eaten for two days?  How should you feel when you watch a seething mass of humanity taking refuge in desperate conditions because they feel safer there than in their homes?  What should you say when a chill goes through you as you hear people, time and time again, blame the Muslims or the Christians for their plight?

There are no easy answers to these questions but this is the reality in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic today. Conditions are desperate. And people are very afraid.

Four days after an armed group launched a flash attack on Bangui, more than 60,000 people have taken refuge in various locations around the city. Many have fled to churches; similar reports are being received from mosques – though on a smaller scale. But the largest number has taken refuge around the airport, which is known to be secure because of the presence of French forces.


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Topics: Africa • France
December 9th, 2013
12:52 PM ET

How Mandela shaped the conscience of the world

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Fareed Zakaria

When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, I remember being struck by how old fashioned he seemed. He spoke with the language, cadence and manner of figures from the 1940s and 1950s. As someone who grew up in India, he reminded me of the videos I had seen of Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru and the other great national leaders from the post-colonial world who had led their countries to freedom. He had the same formal way of speaking and dressing, the same dignity of bearing, the same sense of history.

And Mandela really was a throwback to an older time – of great leaders, who, through courage and sheer willpower, changed the course of history. Twenty-seven years in prison had kept intact his manners but also his morals.

His most important act was, of course, of forgiveness. He didn't just talk about reconciliation. He took painful actions to make it real. He learned the language of his oppressors and studied their culture. Even after the election of a new government and with a new constitution, Mandela made sure that the old Afrikaans establishment – the civil service, the army, even the hated police – was largely kept in place.


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Topics: Africa
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