Ideological thread runs through global conflicts, says Blair


blairThere has been a tendency to see the conflicts happening in different parts of the world as unconnected, as driven by a collection of separate, essentially localized disputes. So we respond to each in its own way, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. We have not yet a sense of a unifying core of strategic analysis leading to a set of actions that are governed by that core and that have coherence on a global scale.

“Governments are not NGOs. We have to represent and advance broad strategic interests in defence of our values,” Blair contends. “We should not make the mistake of dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood as if it were merely an Arab version of the Christian Democrats. It isn’t and there is little sign it ever will be.

What is happening in Syria, Iraq, and across the Middle East; and what is happening in Pakistan, Nigeria, Mali, or in parts of Russia or in the Xinjiang province of China or in multiple other parts of the globe, are linked. They form different parts of one struggle. They all have their individual aspects. They all have unique dimensions. It would be odd if it weren’t so. But they have one huge and central element in common: extremism based on an interpretation of Islam which represents a clear ideology that, even if loosely at times, is shared by all these different groups of extremists.

So in every case there are distinct factors. Some are to do with long standing grievances over territory, or ethnic and tribal differences. Some are protests against central Governments and policies of repression. Some involve a dispute over the ownership and management of resources. But to deny as a result of these distinct factors, the common factor of religious extremism and of a particular ideology associated with the extremism, is wrong as a piece of analysis and dangerous in its consequences for policy….. 

The ideologies of the 20th century which caused such distress and conflict also manifested themselves in existing grievances and disputes in a variety of different ways and situations. But there is no doubt that the common factor of shared ideology crucially impacted both the manner in which conflicts arose and the vehemence with which they were conducted. Revolutionary communism had many faces. So did fascism. But their essential ideological character played a defining part in how the history of the 20th C was written, the alliances that were formed, the spheres of influence created. We have to see this ideology born out of a perversion of religious faith, in the same way.

The Challenge is a Spectrum not Simply a Fringe

This argument goes to the heart of the scale of the challenge and why we find it so hard to comprehend it, let alone defeat it. The problem is not that we’re facing a fringe of crazy people, a sort of weird cult confined to a few fanatics. If it was, we could probably root it out, kill or imprison its leaders, deter its followers and close the doors to new recruits.

The problem is that we’re facing a spectrum of opinion based on a world view which stretches far further into parts of Muslim society. At the furthest end is the fringe. But at the other end are those who may completely oppose some of the things the fringe does and who would never themselves dream of committing acts of violence, but who unfortunately share certain elements of the fanatic’s world view. These elements comprise, inter alia: a belief in religious exclusivity not merely in spiritual but in temporal terms; a desire to re-shape society according to a set of social and political norms, based on religious belief about Islam, wholly at odds with the way the rest of the world has developed, for example in relation to attitudes to women; a view of the West, particularly the USA, that is innately hostile and regards it essentially as the enemy, not only in policy but in culture and way of living.

The problem is that we’re facing a spectrum of opinion based on a world view which stretches far further into parts of Muslim society.

This Islamism – a politicisation of religion to an intense and all-encompassing degree – is not confined to a fringe. It is an ideology (and a theology derived from Salafist thinking) taught and preached every day to millions, actually to tens of millions, in some mosques, certain madrassas, and in formal and informal education systems the world over.

It is the spectrum that helps create the fringe. A large part of Western policy – and something I remember so well fighting in Government – is based on the belief that we can compromise with the spectrum in the hope of marginalising the fringe. This is a fateful error. All we do is to legitimise the spectrum, which then gives ideological oxygen to the fringe.

Support Modern-minded Muslim Opinion

One of the tragic myths of the past years has been the idea in the West – almost like a new Orientalism – that Arabs in particular and even Muslims in general are irredeemably lost in the mire of religious and ethnic dispute, that their mind-set is incompatible with democracy, that the whole thing is really about Shia vs Sunni, that they’re condemned by some invincible force of history to be in conflict and mayhem.

You still hear people say ‘Arabs think this’ or ‘the feeling in the Muslim world is that’. This is no more accurate than saying ‘the British think this’ or ‘Christians think that’. The fact is that opinion on most issues in the West is divided. There is a plethora of views. It is no different today in the Arab or Muslim world.

The true significance of the so-called Arab Spring – in reality a series of revolutions across the region – has not been properly understood in the West. Having been initially naive about the ease with which societies creaking under oppressive regimes and out of date institutions could make the transition to modernity, we’re now in danger of making the opposite mistake, believing that the instability that has followed these revolutions shows the inherent incapability of those societies to adapt and change. 

What we’re actually witnessing is an agonising, immensely challenging but profound transition away from the past to the future. The regimes ultimately collapsed under the weight of their own contradictions, the biggest one being the contradiction between the need for a modern economy and well educated workforce in societies of burgeoning populations; and the reality of a system totally unsuited to such an economy and the absence of such education.

Islamism often became the way that people protested against the regime under which they were groaning. When the old order passed away or came under attack, there was then a struggle between those who wanted a modern economy and society to come into being and those who wanted to turn instead to a religiously based order.

This is still the essential battle.



Central African Republic: delay elections to bring peace?

africaAfter decades of political decay and recent civil war, the Central African Republic is considered a “phantom state” (International Crisis Group) or a “failed state” (Freedom House). Everything that defines a modern state is almost nonexistent or exists in an elementary form, Landry Signé and Grace Kpohazounde write for the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog:

This state collapse exacerbated the profound social, ethnic, economic and regional divisions, and offered the opportunity for a political manipulation of religious divisions. Until the recent crisis, most Central African Republic presidents, with the exception of David Dacko in 1960 and Ange Felix Patassé in the first free elections in 1993, came to power in a coup, namely Jean-Bédel Bokassa in 1966, David Dacko in 1979, André Kolingba in 1981, François Bozizé in 2003 and Michel Djotojia in 2013. The acting president, Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, and transition president, Catherine Samba-Panza, were not elected through universal suffrage.

The newly created U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), represents an opportunity to avoid repeating mistakes, build a sustainable peace and help domestic leaders create a conducive environment for democratic elections and transition, Signé and Kpohazounde contend:

With a broader scope than previous missions, MINUSCA will start implementing its mandate on Sept. 15. The CAR government and MINUSCA’s many tasks include: mobilizing and integrating various international and domestic peacekeeping efforts; reorganizing CAR security forces; disarming rebels; restoring rule of law and public institutions; and most important, ensuring a viable transition process in which to hold democratic elections. All of these will take time.

Delaying elections to build a sufficiently stable environment in which to hold the elections has a better shot at sustainable peace and can set the basis for future successful democratic development, they suggest.


Landry Signé is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alaska at Anchorage, fellow at the Stanford University’s Center for African Studies and chairman of the Global Network for Africa’s Prosperity.

Grace Kpohazounde is a political affairs officer at the Office of the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

Ethiopia: development and security require free expression

birtukanLess than three months before President Barack Obama highlighted the importance of a free press at the US-Africa Leaders Summit, three independent journalists and six bloggers were arrested and eventually charged under Ethiopia’s widely-criticized 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. The journalists were known to write on a wide range of topics, including corruption, writes Birtukan Mideksa, a former federal judge, political leader, and prisoner of conscience in Ethiopia.

The bloggers, for their part, were part of group called “Zone 9,” which had a large following on social media and were known for their campaign to promote the rights provided under Ethiopia’s constitution. They were all arrested shortly after Zone 9 posted an announcement on Facebook indicating that the group would begin blogging again after a seven month hiatus.

The six bloggers and three journalists were held without any formal charges against them for over two and a half months and were finally charged on July 18. In response, 41 NGOs sent a letter to Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn calling on his government to immediately release the detainees and revise the law. The U.S. government has also condemned such an abuse of anti-terror legislation. Secretary Kerry publicly expressed his concern about the arrests during a visit to Addis Ababa just days after they were detained. He specifically mentioned blogger Natnail Feleke, with whom he had met on a previous visit, and adamantly insisted that the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation should not be used as a mechanism to curb the free exchange of ideas.

Unfortunately, what happened to these independent journalists and bloggers is neither new nor surprising.

On September 14, 2011, Eskinder Nega, a prominent journalist and human rights defender, was arrested and charged under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. Ten months later, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison. While the Ethiopian government asserts that Mr. Nega’s prosecution is unrelated to his work as a journalist, an independent inquiry found otherwise. In Opinion No. 62/2012, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention held that Mr. Nega’s imprisonment violated Ethiopia’s obligations under international law. …..

Other international bodies have also criticized the use of anti-terror laws against journalist, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and five United Nations special procedure mandate holders.  During Ethiopia’s Universal Periodic Review earlier this year, a number of countries, including the United States, raised similar concerns. Most recently, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, denounced the arrests of journalists and bloggers declaring that “the fight against terrorism cannot serve as an excuse to intimidate and silence journalists, bloggers, human rights activists and members of civil society organizations. And working with foreign human rights organisations cannot be considered a crime.”


Birtukan Mideksa is former federal judge, political leader, and prisoner of conscience in Ethiopia. She has held fellowships with the National Endowment for Democracy and Harvard University and is a member of Freedom Now’s Board of Advisors.

Civil society responding to Liberia’s Ebola crisis


A leading national civil society  group has joined the campaign to support national efforts in addressing the Ebola Outbreak in Liberia.

NAYMOTE is using its On the Bus project to support the campaign. and setup a call center at the central office, trained and assigned volunteers who are effectively communicating Ebola prevention and control messages, targeting NAYMOTE’s network of over 800 bus volunteers as well as 2000 project beneficiaries using the institution’s database. These targeted populations are being reached by using mobile phones to conduct tele-education in simple Liberian English (Colloquial).

Subsequently, at the official launch of the Civil Society Organizations’ Response to the Ebola Virus Outbreak in Liberia on August 15, 2014, the bus volunteers dramatized and educated over 350 residents who attended the launch at the New Kru Town multi purpose building on the early symptoms of the Ebola virus, how to prevent the spread and what to do if someone gets sick.

Since the beginning of the Ebola Prevention Campaign by NAYMOTE, a partner of the National Endowment for Democracy, the call center volunteers have reached 1,890 citizens (978 females and 912 males) from within the institution’s database across the country and staff contact listing.


Swaziland labor, rights groups call for action on AGOA


Photo: Kate Conradt, Solidarity Center

Swaziland’s government needs to act on the African Growth Opportunity Act by October, according to a prominent rights advocate.

The government had limited time to salvage the situation and help the country save AGOA eligibility, said human rights lawyer and activist Sipho Gumedze.

Rights groups last week urged Swaziland and other states represented at this week’s summit of the Southern African Development Community meeting to curb rights abuses and uphold individual freedoms in their countries.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights deplored “serious human rights concerns” in Angola, Malawi, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Labor unions and rights groups condemned remarks by Swaziland Prime Minister Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini, calling for the strangulation of union representatives participating in the White House summit on Africa.

Due to systematic violations of fundamental worker rights, the USG removed AGOA benefits from Swaziland.

In a new policy paper, the AFL-CIO labor federation insists that AGOA must “ensure that it delivers on its ambitious goals of supporting democratic governance, enhancing civil society, combating corruption and promoting the rule of law in Sub-Saharan Africa”.

“Swaziland is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 60% of the country living in poverty and an official unemployment rate of 28.5%. The government, one of the world’s few remaining monarchies, has banned all political parties and refuses to recognise democratically established trade union associations. Trade unionists are regularly imprisoned, harassed and intimidated,” the AFL-CIO notes.

“While scrutiny of this repression is welcome, complete suspension of all tariff benefits is a blunt instrument,” it added. “The ability to target benefit suspensions at industries or sectors where violations are occurring would leverage the power of employers to seek better enforcement, and interim measures beyond revocation would prevent autocratic regimes from passing the harm onto workers.”

The general secretary of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) says members will protest Minister of Labor and Social Security Winnie Magagula’s appearance before parliament, VOA’s Peter Clottey writes:

Vincent Ncongwane said Swaziland is set to lose about 17,000 jobs after the country was thrown out of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) initiative over the country’s poor human rights record.

“Our members are mobilizing for protest action. Of course the challenge is that they have ensured that they are prepared to crash any protest, but that is what our members are mobilizing to do,” said Ncongwane. “We want to hear from the minister as to what is it that this government have in mind as with regards to AGOA, beyond just misleading the international community.”

U.S. trade benefits for Africa—known as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)—provide key economic support for countries such as Swaziland, according to Vincent Ncongwane, secretary general of the Trade Union Confederation of Swaziland (TUCOSWA).

Yet some in the Swazi government are falsely accusing Ncongwane and human rights lawyer Sipho Gumedze of taking a stand against AGOA benefits for Swaziland when they were in Washington, D.C., last week as part of a delegation of 40 African trade union leaders, notes the Solidarity Center, a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy:  

While in Washington, Ncongwane and Gumedze, both internationally respected labor and human rights advocates, the Swazi Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini reportedly told lawmakers “you must strangle them” upon their return. The U.S. State Department condemned the threat, saying in a statement:

“The United States is deeply concerned by the threatening remarks made by Swaziland Prime Minister Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini toward Swazi labor and civil society leaders who participated in the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington this week. Such remarks have a chilling effect on labor and civil rights in the Kingdom of Swaziland.”

“The comments made today by Prime Minister Dlamini are a clear threat to the human rights community,” said Santiago Canton, Director of RFK Partners for Human Rights. “This type of language is another indication that Swaziland’s authorities do not, in any way, respect the basic human rights of its people.”