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Gambia and the 1999 Protocol

As military interventions go, it was practically flawless.
Last month Gambia’s long-ruling dictator, President Yahya Jammeh, lost an election that turned out to be a little freer than he had planned. After first conceding defeat and even phoning up the victor, property developer Adama Barrow, to congratulate him, Jammeh changed his mind and decided to stay in power.
Within days the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had condemned Jammeh’s action and ordered him to hand over power to Barrow. Within weeks the organisation was organising a military force to make him do so, while the presidents and prime ministers of other ECOWAS countries shuttled back and forth trying to persuade Jammeh to see reason.
On 19 January (last Thursday), with Jammeh still clinging to power, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution supporting ECOWAS but asking it to use “political means first.” Typically, however, it did not endorse military action at all. It was the usual Security Council compromise, saying the right thing but not demanding decisive action for fear of triggering a veto.
So ECOWAS just went ahead anyway. On Friday a multinational force of 7,000 troops from five West African countries crossed the border from Senegal into Gambia. Barrow, who had fled to Senegal to avoid arrest or worse, was sworn in as president and immediately ordered the Gambian army not to resist. And with very few exceptions, it didn’t.
Most of Saturday was taken up with a series of missed deadlines for Jammeh to hand over power and leave the country. However, that evening he boarded a plane and left for Guinea, en route to his permanent place in exile in Equatorial Guinea, a country so isolated and obscure that it makes Gambia seem positively metropolitan.
The likely reason for the delay was revealed on Sunday, when Mai Ahmad Fatty, one of President Barrow’s advisers, reported that $11.3 million was missing from the Gambian government’s coffers, which were nearly empty.
Yahya Jammeh did not spend his 22 years in power stealing the country’s money and hiding it abroad like any normal dictator. As a full-time megalomaniac, he simply didn’t believe he could ever lose power. But when reality finally came crashing in, he quickly understood that maintaining his lifestyle in exile would require lots of money, so he grabbed whatever was available on his way out.
Good riddance – and not a single life was lost in the whole operation. Gambia has seen the first legal transfer of power since its independence in 1965, and ECOWAS has once again shown that it is the most effective regional security organisation on the planet.
You will never see the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) or the Arab League intervening militarily to defend democracy. The Organisation of American States doesn’t do military interventions at all, and one doubts that the European Union would actually resort to force to stop a dictator from coming to power in one of its Balkan members.
The African Union does a bit better (e.g. the interventions in Somalia and South Sudan), but its huge membership of 54 countries makes decision-making a lengthy and tortuous process. Whereas ECOWAS’s fifteen countries have repeatedly and successfully intervened to defend or restore democratic governments in its member states, most recently in Côte d’Ivoire (2010), Guinea-Bissau (2012), and Mali (2012).
ECOWAS was founded in 1975, and its members first committed themselves to respect human rights and to promote democratic systems of government in 1991 (when a number of them were actually still dictatorships). But the key year was 1999, when they all signed up to the Protocol relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peace-Keeping, and Security (Protocol-Mechanism).
It could be compared to the UN Security Council in the sense that it has the right to order military interventions in sovereign states to stop wars, but it goes further in two important ways: it can also intervene to thwart unconstitutional attacks on democracy – and there is no veto. Even giant Nigeria, which has half of ECOWAS’s total population, has to accept majority decisions.
Decisions to intervene are taken by a two-thirds majority on the Mediation and Security Council, a nine-member body with a rotating membership. Nigeria obviously has huge influence, which it regularly wields in favour of democracy, but it is sometimes not even sitting on the MSC when it takes its decisions.
The Southern African Development Community and the African Union (with responsibility for the whole continent) have subsequently followed ECOWAS’s lead and adopted similar rules for intervention, but this kind of tough international protection for human rights and democracy is non-existent outside Africa.
You could argue, of course, that it’s Africa that needs it most, and you would be right. But the point is a) that Africa does have it, and b) that several other regions of the world would benefit from similar institutions.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 7 and 8. (“The likely…out”)

Senegal and Haiti

18 January 2010

Senegal and Haiti

 By Gwynne Dyer

Is it megalomania or just a political stunt? Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade may not even know the answer himself, but his offer to let quake-stricken Haitians resettle in his West African country certainly qualifies as the most flamboyant response to the tragedy in Haiti.

“The repeated calamities that befall Haiti prompt me to propose a radical solution: to take measures to create, somewhere in Africa, the conditions for Haitians to return,” the 83-year-old Senegalese president said on Saturday. “They did not choose to go to that island. It is our duty to recognise their right to come back to the land of their ancestors.”

Well, some of their ancestors, anyway. The slave populations of all the Caribbean islands were deliberately drawn from different parts of the west African coast, so that they would speak a variety of languages and find it harder to rebel. But the vocabulary of Haitian Creole suggests that there were many Wolof-speakers (the most widely used indigenous language in Senegal) among the slaves of Haiti.

Educated Haitians also speak French, of course, as do educated Senegalese, so it’s not as though Turkey or Sri Lanka were to offer a new home to Haitians. But it is nevertheless mighty peculiar: just where does Abdoulaye Wade propose to put them all?

He does sound serious about his offer, and he says that large numbers would be welcome. His spokesman, Mamadou Bemba Ndiaye, explained that “The president is offering voluntary repatriation to any Haitian that wants to return to their origin. If it’s just a few individuals, then we will likely offer them housing or small pieces of land. If they come en masse we are ready to give them a region.”

Now, it’s true that 90 percent of Haitians would leap at the chance to leave their country, the poorest in all the Americas, but the destination they have in mind is Miami or Montreal. Senegal is one of the best-run and most democratic countries of Africa (though both qualities have been badly damaged during the ten-year rule of Abdoulaye Wade), but it does not feature prominently on Haitian wish-lists.

It is also true that most Senegalese feel that their country is quite full enough without a large influx of Haitians. There are fourteen million people in Senegal, and the population is still growing fast. There are ten million people in Haiti, and its population is growing fast too. Moving a million Haitians to Senegal would relieve the intolerable pressure on Haiti’s badly degraded land for less than a decade – and it would cause chaos in Senegal.

“If they come en masse we are ready to give them a region,” said the president’s spokesman, adding that it would be in a fertile part of the country rather than in its parched deserts. But there is no fertile region of Senegal that is not already fully populated by people whose families have lived there for many generations. Where is the president planning to put them?

So yes, it is a stunt, not a real offer, and what gives the game away is the fact that Senegal is offering “voluntary repatriation” to Haitians, not assisted passage. They are welcome to come to Senegal if they can find the money for the airline tickets – but how many Haitians can do that?

Abdoulaye Wade is big on stunts and dramatic gestures. His last one, now nearing completion, is an enormous bronze statue overlooking the capital, Dakar, that is higher than the Statue of Liberty in New York harbour. It is called the African Renaissance Monument, but it is being built by North Koreans. It actually looks like one of those Socialist Realist groupings of statuary, all windswept hair and eyes fixed confidently on the future, that littered the old Soviet Union. Only bigger.

Maybe he should build one overlooking Port-au-Prince too. It would be about as much use to Haitians as his offer of new homes for them in Senegal. Abdoulaye Wade is showing more and more signs of the “Big Man” syndrome that has wrecked so many African countries that once had quite functional governments. From Sudan to Zimbabwe and from Sierra Leone to Somalia, we have watched them fall into tyranny and chaos. Senegal may be next.

And what of Haiti? As hard as you might look for signs of hope amid the ruins, you will not find any. The earthquake is a dramatic interlude of natural disaster in a long history of tragedy whose sources were mostly human. What has devastated Haiti is politics, much of it imposed from outside by foreign governments: the French in the 19th century, the United States in the 20th and 21st. No honest and competent Haitian government has ever survived more than a couple of years.

The denuded land, the runaway population growth, the unskilled and illiterate population, the universal corruption: all these are due to failures of policy, not to some fundamental flaw in the character of Haitian people. But by now there have been generations of despair and neglect, and it is getting harder and harder to see how Haitians might turn it all around. No wonder most of them want to leave. But most of them never will.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 10 and 11. (“Abdoulaye…next”)

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

The Coming Food Catastrophe

25 March 2008

The Coming Food Catastrophe

By Gwynne Dyer

“This is the new face of hunger,” said Josetta Sheeran, director of the World Food Programme, launching an appeal for an extra $500 million so it could continue supplying food aid to 73 million hungry people this year. “People are simply being priced out of food markets….We have never before had a situation where aggressive rises in food prices keep pricing our operations out of our reach.”

The WFP decided on a public appeal three weeks ago because the price of the food it buys to feed some of the world’s poorest people had risen by 55 percent since last June. By the time it actually launched the appeal this week, prices had risen a further 20 percent, so now it needs $700 million to bridge the gap between last year’s budget and this year’s prices.

In Thailand, farmers are sleeping in their fields after reports that thieves are stealing the rice, now worth $600 a tonne, straight out of the fields. Four people have died in Egypt in clashes over subsidised flour that was being sold for profit on the black market. There have been food riots in Morocco, Senegal and Cameroon.

Last year it became clear that the era of cheap food was over: food costs world-wide rose by 23 percent between 2006 and 2007. This year, what is becoming clear is the impact of this change on ordinary people’s lives.

For consumers in Japan, France or the United States, the relentless price rises for food are an unwelcome extra pressure on an already stretched household budget. For less fortunate people in other places, they can mean less protein in the diet, or choosing between feeding the kids breakfast and paying their school fees, or even, in the poorest communities, starvation. And the crisis is only getting started.

It is the perfect storm: everything is going wrong at once. To begin with, the world’s population has continued to grow while its food production has not. For the fifty years between 1945 and 1995, as the world’s population more than doubled, grain production kept pace — but then it stalled. In six of the past seven years, the human race has consumed more grain than it grew. World grain reserves last year were only 57 days, down from 180 days a decade ago.

To make matters worse, demand for food is growing faster than population. As incomes rise in China, India and other countries with fast-growing economies, consumers include more and more meat in their diet: the average Chinese citizen now eats 50 kilos (110 lbs) of meat a year, up from 20 kilos (44 lbs) in the mid-1980s. Producing meat consumes enormous quantities of grain.

Then there is global warming, which is probably already cutting into food production. Many people in Australia, formerly the world’s second-largest wheat exporter, suspect that climate change is the real reason for the prolonged drought that is destroying the country’s ability to export food.

But the worst damage is being done by the rage for “bio-fuels” that supposedly reduce carbon dioxide emissions and fight climate change. (But they don’t, really — at least, not in their present form.) Thirty percent of this year’s US grain harvest will go straight to an ethanol distillery, and the European Union is aiming to provide 10 percent of the fuel used for transport from bio-fuels by 2010. A huge amount of the world’s farmland is being diverted to feed cars, not people.

Worse yet, rainforest is being cleared, especially in Brazil and Indonesia, to grow more bio-fuels. A recent study in the US journal “Science” calculated that destroying natural ecosystems to grow corn (maize, mealies) or sugar cane for ethanol, or oil palms or soybeans for bio-diesel, releases between 17 and 420 times more carbon dioxide than is saved annually by burning the bio-fuel grown on that land instead of fossil fuel. It’s all justified in the name of fighting climate change, but the numbers just don’t add up.

“It would obviously be insane if we had a policy to try and reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the use of bio-fuels that’s actually leading to an increase in greenhouse gases,” said Professor Robert Watson, former chief scientific adviser to the World Bank and now filling the same role at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in London. But that is the policy, both in Europe and in the United States.

This is the one element in the “perfect storm” that is completely under human control. Governments can simply stop creating artificial demand for the current generation of bio-fuels (and often directly subsidising them). That land goes back to growing food instead, and prices fall. Climate change is a real threat, but we don’t have to have this crisis now.

“If…more and more land (is) diverted for industrial bio-fuels to keep cars running, we have two years before a food catastrophe breaks out world-wide,” said Vandana Shiva, director of the India-based Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy, in an interview last week. “It’ll be twenty years before climate catastrophe breaks out, but the false solutions to climate change are creating catastrophes that will be much more rapid than the climate change itself.”


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 10 and 11. (“Worse…States”)