Sudan: nodding through a dictator’s re-election

Next week sees elections in Sudan. But there’s one thing wrong—we already know the outcome. The human cost: a child growing up in one of the biggest camps for internally displaced persons in north Darfur. Flickr / United Nations Photo. Some rights reserved. Sudan’s presidential and parliamentary elections take place as opposition figures rot in jail and the government’s campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ makes it dangerous, if not impossible, for millions to vote. Newspapers are routinely confiscated and peaceful protest is crushed with unhesitating brutality. Respectable international election-monitoring organisations are unlikely to be present, because few conditions for a credible election exist. Nevertheless, after the 13-15 April poll, the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) will…

Mary Did Not Have a Great “Day of the Girl Child”

Mary, a ten-year-old in northern Uganda, was not aware the International Day of the Girl Child was on October 11th. At the time, she was being held by a man who raped her for three days. The man is still at large, but Mary — not her real name — is in hospital, facing months of medical treatment to repair her body. We can only guess how long she will be mentally scarred by her experience. Mary’s ordeal reflects the low status of woman and girls in many traditional societies, and the powerlessness of children, as perceived by those who abuse them with impunity. You may not wish to read what follows, because some of…

The Dysfunctional Childhood of the World’s Newest Nation – South Sudan

  Interlib Article   South Sudan emerged from decades of bloodshed in 2011, liberated from its brutal Islamist masters in Sudan. Yet, ever since the heady independence celebrations in the new capital Juba, the fledgling nation has been sliding toward civil war. In August this year, the situation deteriorated to the point that aid workers now warn of a massive famine, and Sudan experts see little chance of a lasting cease-fire. It is not unusual for a guerrilla army to hold together until it reaches its goal, and then fracture into political feuds. Add to that several bloated egos who manipulate ethnic tensions to their own ends, indifferent to the thousands of innocent, unarmed civilians who are slaughtered to serve their gross ambitions. Underlying tensions within the ruling…

Ebola: An African Disease

If ever a disaster represented Africa’s challenges, it is the Ebola outbreak. The crisis has its roots in poor governance, superstition, poverty, ignorance and underlying it all, the ruling elite’s indifference to the woes of the vast majority of their citizens. Yet, at the same time the Ebola epidemic has shown African medical workers at their best, literally sacrificing their lives to save patients, limiting the spread of the much-feared virus. The fact that there is no known cure for a disease that has been around since 1976 also reveals the unpalatable truth about the pharmaceutical industry: there is little incentive to research the diseases killing poor people in the developing world. There’s more profit…

Westphalia uber alles – is international law a liberal fantasy?

In June an unlikely duo, William Hague and Angelina Jolie, hosted the London summit on rape in conflict. Delegates watched as officials from around the world pledged to improve their nation’s record on sexual violence in war. In many cases, those same officials returned to countries that systematically exclude women from medical care or legal redress in the event of rape, blaming them for surviving their ordeal, rather than dying honourably while fighting off their attackers. Some of the very nations condemning rape allow and even encourage their armed forces to oppress minorities by raping women and girls. Yet, the officials wanted to be seen to be in favour of virtue and against evil. As…

If this is what it feels like to be a woman, what does it mean to be a man?

  A mass wedding in Rwanda. Credit: http://network4africa.org/rwanda/dfd/. All rights reserved. Hawa was eighteen-years old when we met in a dusty, barren refugee camp called El Geneina in West Darfur, Sudan. She was one of dozens of women I interviewed in 2004 about their experience of being raped by the Sudanese armed forces and its proxies. In a conservative, rural society like Sudan, women prefer euphemisms for rape like “harassed” or “attacked,” but the meaning was clear when Hawa told me, “My life is over. No man will want me so I have no future.” Rather than finding sympathy after being gang raped, beaten and branded on her breasts like a slave, Hawa was rejected and…

Have they healed yet? Western dreams about Rwanda

Shattered societies cannot be mended with pills or analysis or technology or foreign aid. Our need to hear that Rwanda is ‘healing’ tells us more about ourselves than it does about Rwanda. Rwandan genocide survivors listen to the testimony of a fellow survivor in Kigali. Credit: Melissa Musgrove/www.melissamusgrove.com. All rights reserved. For the last ten years I have been involved in development projects in Rwanda. This month, in April 2014, Rwandans are marking the twentieth anniversary of the genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 people, more than one in ten of the country’s population at the time. Non-Africans frequently ask me, “Have the people there healed yet?” As a British woman working on Rwanda, it seems…

Elections for Dummies: Why Do We Let Elections Legitimize Tyrants?

Every year the international community (meaning the developed Western nations, the UN and the European Union) spends millions of dollars bankrolling ballots in profoundly undemocratic places (1). Why do we bother? The recent Crimean “referendum” should have given us pause for thought about these expensive exercises in futility. Yet, we continue to enable deeply flawed regimes to conduct elections in places where there is neither free speech nor a free media to report what opposition politicians say. Despite evidence to the contrary, our diplomats go through the motions, pretending these votes confer credibility on corrupt and brutal monsters. Do we really have such faith in a swift dose of democracy? Or do we endorse the election…

Nelson Mandela and the Stench of Hypocrisy

Politicians and journalists are falling over themselves to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela. Alas, the curse of having a good memory means recalling when the same politicians and journalists condemned the ANC leader as a terrorist. I went on my first anti-apartheid demonstration in 1976, the truly dismal days of the South African regime. Their security forces had opened fire on black children whose crime was to ask for the right to learn English at school. Yet, Barclays Bank gave the regime stalwart support at a time when a growing number of countries were imposing sanctions on South Africa. At other similar demonstrations that followed a surprising number of members of the public would denounce…

Futility in a Blue Helmet

How should the world react when there are credible signs that a country is on the verge of genocide What can we do to stop another Rwanda happening? France has warned that the remote and desperately poor Central African Republic (CAR) is sliding toward genocide. A mostly Muslim rebel group called Seleka overthrew the CAR government in March, and anarchy reigns. Muslim gangs have been slaughtering Christians, and Christian defense militias are now retaliating. The UN Secretary General wants to send peacekeepers, otherwise known as Blue Helmets. But what if there is no peace to keep? And why send soldiers without robust enough marching orders to defend themselves and protect civilians? The UN’s peacekeeping efforts have…