The Kenyan Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission has finally reported on its five-year effort. While some of its findings will be contested, the overall picture is all to clear. Anyone still thinking of Kenya as idyllic should peruse the executive summary:
The Commission finds that between 1895 and 1963, the British Colonial administration in Kenya was responsible for unspeakable and horrific gross violations of human rights. In order to establish its authority in Kenya, the colonial government employed violence on the population on an unprecedented scale. Such violence included massacres, torture and ill-treatment and various forms of sexual violence. The Commission also finds that the British Colonial administration adopted a divide and rule approach to the local population that created a negative dynamic of ethnicity, the consequences of which are still being felt today. At the same time the Colonial administration stole large amounts of highly productive land from the local population, and removed communities from their ancestral lands.
The Commission finds that between 1963 and 1978, President Jomo Kenyatta presided over a government that was responsible for numerous gross violations of human rights. These violations included:
- in the context of Shifta War, killings, torture, collective punishment and denial of basic needs (food, water and health care);
- political assassinations of Pio Gama Pinto, Tom Mboya and J.M. Kariuki;
- arbitrary detention of political opponents and activists; and
- illegal and irregular acquisition of land by the highest government officials and their political allies
The Commission finds that between 1978 and 2002, President Daniel Arap Moi presided over a government that was responsible for numerous gross violations of human rights. These violations include:
- unlawful detentions, and systematic and widespread torture and ill-treatment of political and human rights activists;
- Assassinations, including of Dr. Robert Ouko;
- Illegal and irregular allocations of land; and
- economic crimes and grand corruption.
The Commission finds that between 2002 and 2008, President Mwai Kibaki presided over a government that was responsible for numerous gross violations of human rights:
- unlawful detentions, torture and ill-treatment;
- assassinations and extra judicial killings; and
- economic crimes and grand corruption
The Commission finds that state security agencies, particularly the Kenya Police and the Kenya Army, have been the main perpetrators of bodily integrity violations of human rights in Kenya including massacres, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, and sexual violence.
The Commission finds that Northern Kenya (comprising formerly of North Eastern Province, Upper Eastern and North Rift) has been the epicenter of gross violations of human rights by state security agencies. Almost without exception, security operations in Northern Kenya has [sic] been accompanied by massacres of largely innocent citizens, systematic and widespread torture, rape and sexual violence of girls and women, looting and burning of property and the killing and confiscation of cattle.
The Commission finds that state security agencies have as a matter of course in dealing with banditry and maintaining peace and order employed collective punishment against communities regardless of the guilt or innocence of individual members of such communities.
The Commission finds that during the mandate period the state adopted economic and other policies that resulted in the economic marginalization of five key regions in the country: North Eastern and Upper Eastern; Coast; Nyanza; Western; and North Rift.
The Commission finds that historical grievances over land constitute the single most important driver of conflicts and ethnic tension in Kenya. Close to 50 percent of statements and memorandum received by the Commission related to or touched on claims over land.
The Commission finds that women and girls have been the subject of state sanctioned systematic discrimination in all spheres of their life. Although discrimination against women and girls is rooted in patriarchal cultural practices, the state has traditionally failed to curb harmful traditional practices that affect women’s enjoyment of human rights.
The Commission finds that despite the special status accorded to children in Kenyan society, they have been subjected to untold and unspeakable atrocities including killings, physical assault and sexual violence.
The Commission finds that minority groups and indigenous people suffered state sanctioned systematic discrimination during the mandate period (1963-2008). In particular, minority groups have suffered discrimination in relation to political participation and access to national identity cards. Other violations that minority groups and indigenous people have suffered include: collective punishment; and violation of land rights and the right to development.
Yesterday’s Friends of Syria meeting occurred in Amman, just 180 miles from the battle for Qusayr, a Syrian town located just off the road from Damascus through Homs to Alawite-populated areas of the west. If the opposition can hold Qusayr and Homs, it will split Damascus from the west. If it can’t, Bashar al Asad will have what he needs to maintain a regime axis that splits the liberated areas of the south from the liberated areas of the north. Either way, the outcome is likely to be a disaster for someone.
The Qusayr fighting involves Lebanese Hizbollah fighting with the Syrian army against mostly Sunni rebels, including Jabhat al Nusra. It naturally has echoes inside Lebanon, where Alawites and Sunnis have clashed in Tripoli. There is a real risk of spillover. While some in Washington may wonder why we should worry about Hizbollah and Sunni extremists associated with Jabhat al Nusra kill each other, it is important to widen the aperture a bit: state structures in Levant are at risk. Were they to collapse, the chaos could be widespread. Syria never has been comfortable with Lebanon as a separate state and established diplomatic relations with it only in the last few years.
It is hard to be optimistic about the preparations for next month’s Syria peace conference. Apart from the parlous military situation in Qusayr, Moscow is insisting not only that Iran be present but that the Syrian opposition come to the table without preconditions (in particular that Bashar al Asad step aside before any political transition). Then and only then is Moscow willing to set a date for the conference.
Iran’s presence is certainly necessary if the conference is going to produce anything like a political solution. The Russians are not wrong about that. Its fighters, and Hizbollah fighters it supports, are very much engaged in Syria. As for Moscow’s pre-condition that there not be pre-conditions, I suppose George Sabra–the current, interim head of the Syrian Opposition Coalition–will figure out a way to fudge that, perhaps by noting the Coalition’s acceptance of the formula already accepted last year at the Geneva conference: a transitional governing body that would exercise full executive powers “formed on the basis of mutual consent.”
More problematic is the Russian transfer of major new weapons systems to Syria and its deployment of warships off the coast. Russian thinktankers claim
non-intervention is now a basic Russian principle…
but that is neither true nor new. Russia is certainly intervening in the Syria conflict on the side of the regime it considers the legitimate sovereign. And it intervened on behalf of rebel forces in Georgia, when that suited its preferences. Russian policy might better be stated as preventing Western intervention in areas it regards as within its sphere of influence. We would no doubt return the favor if they were to muck in the Gulf.
The most sensible comment yesterday comes from Salim Idris, titular head of the Free Syrian Army. He is quoted as saying in a letter to Secretary Kerry:
For the negotiations to be of any substance, we must reach a strategic military balance, without which the regime will feel empowered to dictate … while fully sustained logistically and militarily by Russia and Iran…Such untenable situation requires that the Unites States, as the leader of the free world, provide the Free Syrian Army forces under the Supreme Military Council with the requisite advanced weapons to sustain defensive military capabilities in the face of the Assad forces.
He is said to be seeking anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons. He is correct that a mutually hurting stalemate, which the opposition has not so far been able to reach, is needed before the Syrian regime will negotiate seriously. If Bashar thinks he can do better by continuing the fighting, he will.
Secretary Kerry has limited himself so far to feints: he said yesterday Friends of Syria would consider arming the opposition and supported an effort to lift the European Union arms embargo. He is a man used to the niceties of the US Senate, where sparring is a verbal activity. The Russians, Iranians and Syrians certainly understand what he is threatening, but they doubt he is willing to do it or that his doing it will be effective in the time frame available.
President Obama is fond of saying he doesn’t bluff. It is time for him to play a stronger hand, one way or another.
Shibley Telhami presented his new book, The World Through Arab Eyes; Arab Public Opinion and the Reshaping of the Middle East, at Brookings this week. BBC’s Kim Ghattas was quick to offer an alternative title: “Everything you want to know about the Middle East but aren’t getting from the headlines.”
Telhami explained that Arab public opinion is now the source of real insight into the layers of conflict spread across the Middle East. The Arab uprisings have increased its importance. The essential theme emerging after the first uprisings of 2011 was Arab identity. Understanding identity is central to understanding public opinion.
While domestic issues and authoritarian abuses may have triggered the Arab uprisings, foreign policy was also important. The years leading up to the Arab uprising were not inherently different from decades past in regards to domestic and economic woes. But Arabs are angry about the collapse of Israeli/Palestinian negotiations in 2000, the war in Afghanistan, the Iraq war and the Gaza wars. It was a strikingly violent decade (and more) in international relations.
Arab populations are angry because their leaders and governments were powerless to stand up to foreign invasions and defend the wishes of their citizens. Arab identity and sovereignty were compromised. Arab leaders played no role in stopping it.
Arab public option polls during this period were striking. One question, “who is the leader you admire most in the world?” is a crucial lens for seeing how Arabs judged and chose leaders at that time. Jacques Chirac, Hassan Nasrallah, Hugo Chaves and even Saddam Hussein were the most common answers. Telhami attributes these responses to each leader’s strong and defiant role in foreign affairs. Post Arab spring polls show Turkey’s Prime Minister, Erdogan, as one of the most popular leaders for his assertive stance in foreign policy and his ability to stand up for Turkey’s identity.
Telhami observes that identification with the state has declined while identification with Islam has increased. The adage, “you are what you have to defend” applies here, as Muslims see Islam as under assault. Increased identification as ‘Muslim’ or ‘Arab’ is also correlated with the rise in transnational media in the Middle East. Arabs are associating with others outside their national borders. This has important implications for the relationship between people and their governments, which have to take into account public opinion that extends beyond their borders.
The discussion of transnational Arab identity naturally led to a discussion of Israel and Palestine. For Arabs, the Palestinian issue reflects decades of painful defeats and remains a humiliating reminder of their powerlessness. It as an open wound.
Kim Ghattas disagreed that the Palestinian issue was central to Arab identity. She thought the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has taken a back seat now that people finally have a chance to change their domestic situation. In the past, Palestinian issues were used as a rallying cry for Arab autocrats trying to suppress and distract their own people. Finally, Arabs have a say within their own country, and they are going to speak.
There is no going back. Public opinion has been empowered.
The vast problems facing Mali and the greater Sahara region can be illustrated geographically. To provide a sense of scale, a map of Mali, superimposed over a map of the United States, stretches from Minnesota, down to Texas, west to New Mexico and east to Ohio. Have a look.
When we criticize national and international forces for not doing a better job transforming the North African region and ridding it of insecurity, it is important to keep in mind the geographic scale of what they are dealing with.
Eamonn Gearon of John Hopkins SAIS and the Middle East Policy Council began his presentation this week at the Center for American Progress with these powerful visuals. Geographic context also needs historical context. As far back as ancient Egypt, the land west of the fertile Nile river valley was referred to as the land of the dead. Egyptians saw the Sahara as insecure and unstable, and its inhabitants ungovernable.
When discussing conflicts in North Africa, everyone wants to hear about the jihadist threat or al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. But these are part of the larger security threat in the region.
Mali’s problems are political, social and economic. They are also interconnected and overlapping.
Politically, Mali’s democracy is a lightweight. Voter turnout around 30% suggests weak community engagement in politics due to jaded attitudes in the northern, more impoverished regions of the country. They see the elite population in the south as corrupt and self serving. This has been a problem in Mali for more than 30 years and is a major roadblock to fixing its democracy.
The political dynamic overlaps with the social dynamic of the country. Northern populations are mostly Arab and identify as white while most of the southern population identify as black. This north/south divided is not however a clash of civilizations. Ninety per cent of Malians considers themselves Muslim. Their Islam is heavily influenced by Sufism. The influx of foreign jihadist elements has only occurred in the past 15 years. Without the Muslim Brotherhood as an alternative to Sufism, Salafist Islam has gained a strong hold.
Economically, Mali has never been an easy place to live. Poverty, violence and failing crops all create desperation that feeds criminal and terrorist activity. Criminal gangs have the ability to pay off struggling families more effectively than the Malian government. Crime and corruption is rumored to exist in the highest rungs of the government as well.
Ransoms are the key mechanism perpetuating criminal and terrorist groups in Mali. Some millions of dollars are requested every year in kidnapping cases. Every ransom paid fuels these groups for more. Groups are forming faster, and splintering more often. As a result, they are smaller and more difficult to track down. Drone usage for surveillance is an important tool for counter terrorism, but it should be used with caution and in conjunction with other practices. International efforts in Mali have a bad reputation, but in Gearon’s opinion this comes from a dearth of development and training. The international community should be stepping up itsefforts and shaping its efforts towards long term development.
Any solutions proposed to fight Mali’s problems should come from the Malians themselves. International forces should seek to partner with willing groups within the country. Often, when the British or French attempt dialogue with the people of Mali, they go to the Tuareg population because of their familiarity. The Tuareg are fine interlocutors, but dialogue at any level within Mali must become more inclusive and diverse than it is now.
Gearon posed strong objection to the upcoming July elections in Mali. Many regional and international players are pushing to hold elections as soon as possible, hoping it will move Mali towards greater stability. But elections this soon will not be credible. Mali is facing a massive internal displacement issue, rendering a large part of the population unable to vote. Additionally, infrastructure and roads are still lacking in the northern part of the country. Travel is made more difficult in the July rainy season, when many roads will be washed out and communication is often down. Take into account the size of Mali, as illustrated above, and understand how much of the country could be excluded from the democratic process.
Gearon concluded with some thoughts on Libya’s role in the Malian crisis. The fall of Qaddafi was an accelerant, not a catalyst, to the violence in Mali. Libya faces big problems, but they are different from Mali’s. Libya is wealthy enough to pay for whatever it needs from abroad. The West should be providing training, not arms, to the Libyan security forces. Regarding the attack on the American facility and ambassador in Benghazi, Gearon believes that the tragedy is not central to the future of Libya. Continuing to play the blame game will make us miss the opportunity to ask the Libyans what they need to prevent it from happening again. The attack should not distance America from Libya, but instead should lead to more engagement on the ground and more efforts toward finding solutions to Libya’s economic and political woes.
When proposing any solution, Gearon added, whether in Libya or Mali, we must remember that these countries are alive and always evolving. There is never a point when every problem is solved and society becomes utopian. Solutions must be adaptable and continuous.
Myanmar’s President Thein Sein put on a good show at SAIS yesterday. In his prepared remarks, he talked about:
- His country’s transition from autocracy to an open society and democracy;
- Ending Myanmar’s isolation and its internal, communal wars;
- Bringing perpetrators to justice;
- Pursuing national dialogue;
- Establishing the state on the basis of the people’s sovereignty;
- Opening the economy in a way that is fair to all;
- Taking advantage of Myanmar’s geopolitical situation in a resurgent Asia;
- Protecting the natural environment;
- Reforming the military;
- Opening the political system to multiple parties, civil society and free elections;
- The coming of age of a new generation unburdened by past conflicts;
- Meeting the challenges of natural disasters, sea-level rise and epidemics;
- Broadening the concept of national identity and finding ways to work together to build the state and nation.
All this he noted will require compromise, tolerance and patience. It will also require going beyond the 10 ceasefires already in place to another imminent one with the Kachin. The ceasefires will have to be made sustainable by devolution, resource-sharing and broad popular support.
What more can a proper 21st century American professor ask of a former dictator?
Then two things happened that cast a shadow on the event: he did not take questions, and when I got back to the office news of a two-child limit on Muslims in an area where they are already subject to ethnic cleansing reached me. I already knew that the President had not fulfilled his commitments on a number of reform issues.
So what are we to make of this virtually impeccable speech and a less than perfect record? I wouldn’t doubt Thein Sein’s sincerity. I thought his speech written in Washington (a couple of well-informed colleagues disagreed), but he read it with conviction and the things it said were vigorous. He’ll have to wear them when he gets home. But his performance in an interview at the Washington Post was at times been opaque and at times defensive of the military role in Myanmar.
Thein Sein is a transition figure who can’t avoid the contradictions of his transitional position, even if he was unequivocal in describing the regime he spent his career in as an autocracy. He said a lot of the right things. What was missing in the presentation was however something fundamental: he never mentioned human rights. The transition he was describing was an elite-decided and elite-led transition, not one respectful of the rights of individuals.
Had there been a Q and A session, I and likely others would have explored this lacuna. That is only proper, in particular at a university event. It’s only the second time in many years of attending such events that I remember no Q and A. The last time was more than 10 years ago, when Michael Armitage appeared as deputy secretary of state at USIP to justify the Iraq war. No questions then either. It was a bad sign.
Jerry Gallucci, who is an eloquent spokesman for the views of northern Kosovo Serbs, writes:
No matter what the Kosovo Albanians say to their internationals, the local Serbs do not believe that they will be allowed to remain in possession of the land, water and border with Serbia in the north should they be forced to accept Pristina law and control.
Let’s not dissemble. No one is intending to leave the local Serbs in control of the land, water and border with Serbia in the north. Under the agreement Belgrade and Pristina have signed onto, the local Serbs would govern themselves at the municipal level in most respects. Their property rights would be respected under Kosovo law. But sovereignty would clearly be exercised by Pristina, not by the locals or by Belgrade.
This means customs duties would be collected at the border. Pristina will manage the Gazivoda reservoir and other water resources. I assume this will be true also for the mines of the north. Whoever told the northerners that they would be allowed to walk off with most of Kosovo’s water supply and a good piece of its (so far as I know worthless) mining assets?
I get, as Jerry puts it, that in the north
the great majority simply refuse to accept rule from Pristina because they see it as eventually being used against them. They don’t trust NATO and the EU to remain and protect them.
They are correct. NATO will not be in Kosovo five years from now. The troop contributing countries want out. The EU likely won’t be there either. The EU rule of law mission has been extended only through mid-June 2014, but it isn’t very good at protecting anyone anyway.
In five years though, Kosovo can hope to be lining up to get candidate status and a date to start negotiations with the EU. So I fully expect the northern Serbs to find EU leverage used on their behalf, if need be.
Those whom Jerry describes as frightened and hating need to consider their serious options. They mock Pristina’s office in the north as “Potemkin,” but it is clearly intended to begin providing services there, and Pristina has made it clear it is prepared to expand economic development efforts in the north. Those who don’t want that are entitled to stay and vote their consciences, as Serbs south of the Ibar have done in recent years. Last time I passed through Štrpce/Shtërpcë there was a big sign painted in English on a rock at the entrance to town: “Kosovo Is Serbia” it read. Those Serbs who don’t want to stay should be entitled to leave. Belgrade should be prepared to absorb those who want to live under its rule.
Jerry describes the northern Serb resistance this way:
The northern Serb resistance so far has been almost entirely peaceful. Perhaps KFOR is simply more aware of the tensions in the north as the locals feel that they have been abandoned by their government as the price for EU admission.
KFOR knows better because of experience. Its soldiers have been injured. That’s one of the many reasons Chancelor Merkel decided she would not put up with the resistance any longer. And no one should doubt that northern Kosovo Serbs prevent return of Albanians, and exercise of UN and Pristina authority there, by the threat and use of force.
The truth is Belgrade has abandoned its claim of sovereignty over northern Kosovo as the price for beginning negotiations on EU admission, which won’t actually happen until after 2020. Making the best of this deal would require that serious people in the Serb communities of northern Kosovo sit down with the Pristina authorities, including Serb officials, and discuss the details, in order to ensure a smooth and peaceful transition.
The jig is up. Time to waltz.