Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.
Showing posts with label East Africa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label East Africa. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Kenyan presidential election has Nairobi on edge

Kenya will vote for a new president next month in a general election laced with ethnic tensions, which has people in Nairobi on edge.

For two five-year terms, incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta has labored to convince Kenyans that his agenda has generated economic opportunity and quelled corruption. Most of that time he has been effective, at least at the convincing, as evidenced by approval ratings exceeding 70%. But those ratings have occasionally plunged upon allegations that shook the moral high ground.

Perhaps most damning, Kenyatta faced charges in the International Criminal Court alleging complicity in violence, including the burning to death of 28 people inside a church, related to a previous election cycle. In 2014, the court dismissed the indictment for insufficient evidence. Frustrated prosecutors alleged witness tampering and intimidation.

Now Kenyatta is term limited. His exit from power has broader significance because he represents a family dynasty that has maintained control of Kenyan politics since 1963 independence. A rivalry with the Odinga family has lent Kenyatta dominance a gloss of competition, and sometimes a run for its money. But perennial presidential challenger Raila Odinga has never quite made the grade, and the seesawing fortunes of the families come off to more numerous outsiders as oligarchic.

Threads of ethnic tension underlie the contest, too.  The Kenyatta family is part of Kenya's plurality ethnic group, the Kikuyu, a Bantu people constituting about a fifth of the population. Fairly or unfairly, Kenyatta is perceived as having allocated political power to aggrandize Kikuyu hegemony.

But neither of the two leading candidates for the presidency is Kikuyu. One candidate is the familiar Odinga, who hails from the Luo ethnic group, a Nilotic people, like the well known Maasai. Traveling in the Maasai Mara in June, anecdotally, I found people more prone than their Nairobi fellows to view the presidential race through an ethnic prism. Or maybe they were just more willing to say so.

Me with a Maasai mate in June
(C) Alison 2022, licensed exclusively to RJ Peltz-Steele
Though they are longtime rivals, Kenyatta has endorsed Odinga. Further lending support to the feel of oligarchy, the two share a history of occasional accusations of financial improprieties.  Odinga has chosen a Kikuyu running mate with a history similarly suggestive of insider status.

The other contender is the incumbent deputy president, William Ruto. Ruto, who belongs to the Kalenjin ethnic group, also a Nilotic people, was charged in The Hague over election violence, alongside Kenyatta, and saw his charges dismissed likewise in 2016. Ruto also chose a Kikuyu running mate; Martha "Iron Lady" Karua would be the nation's first female deputy president.

That both candidates chose Kikuyu running mates shows the priority of appealing to an ethnic plurality that might fear the loss of long familiar station. Odinga and Ruto have traded the lead in polls, but either way, it is overwhelmingly likely that the highest office in Kenya will, historically, slip out of Kikuyu hands.

With a history of violence following elections—besides the '07-08 turmoil that precipitated ICC investigation, Kenyatta's narrow reelection margin five years ago led to civil unrest and a dramatic court challenge—people in Nairobi are on edge.  I was repeatedly warned to stay away from any assembly that might even morph into a political rally. And I found some city dwellers flatly unwilling to venture out after dark.

All that said, I have to admit, what first caused me to take an interest in the Kenyan presidential election is none of the above. Rather, it was a Ruto billboard that I saw in many places around Nairobi. The billboard boasts the curious tagline, "EVERY HUSTLE MATTERS," or, sometimes, "EVERY HUSTLE COUNTS."

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 RJ Peltz-Steele

I laughed out loud when I first saw it. I asked a taxi driver what it meant, and he told me matter-of-factly that it meant Ruto promises plenty of jobs, "hustles," for people: important in an economy in which a person might derive income from many and various part-time gigs.

A more trusted Kenyan source later told me, yes, Kenyan English does recognize the negative connotation of the word "hustle." And Ruto did indeed take some heat for his unusual choice of words in an election in which anti-corruption figures prominently.

Maybe in the end, the hustle will work for Ruto. After two terms of Uhuru Kenyatta leadership and a half-century of dynastic family control, Kenya struck me as mired in a state of development ill-befitting its reputation as an East Africa leader and below par relative to neighboring Uganda and Tanzania. Perhaps for voters, it's the economy, stupid.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Rwanda preens in Commonwealth spotlight, while genocide trauma, Congo conflict smolder just offstage

June 22, KIGALI—The usually biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, "CHOGM 2022," postponed from 2020, is under way in Kigali, Rwanda, marking both a sign of pandemic recovery and a possible Commonwealth pivot to reemphasize development.

The Commonwealth of Nations is an association of 54 states, ranging from island nations such as Dominica and Nauru to larger nations such as Australia, Canada, India, and South Africa. Constitutional origins in the British Empire, and, thus, shared history, language, and legal systems tie together almost all of the Commonwealth member states.

Notionally, the Commonwealth dates to the late 19th century; it was formalized in the early 20th century. The Commonwealth really took off functionally to fill the governance gaps left by decolonization and World War II in the mid-20th century. With the Crown as titular head, the Commonwealth mission today emphasizes rule of law, democratic governance, and human rights. Historical ambitions in the vein of common defense were largely displaced by Cold War realignments and the rise in power of the United States and NATO.

To sport fans, the Commonwealth might be best known for the quadrennial Commonwealth Games, to be hosted this summer by Birmingham, England. In contrast with the Olympics, the Games highlight sports that the United States has weakly or not embraced, such as cricket, netball, and rugby.

Commonwealth participation is not quite a multilateral treaty obligation, because membership is voluntary and terminable at will. Members can be suspended, but not expelled. In Africa, members such as Nigeria and Zimbabwe have had off and on-again relationships with the Commonwealth with waning and waxing commitments to human rights. Members such as Gambia and Maldives have left and rejoined the Commonwealth.

All photos by RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Rwanda's membership in the Commonwealth is an unusual case, adding to the significance of CHOGM 2022 taking place here. The precarious Kingdom of Rwanda was forcibly superseded by German colonization in 1884, then passed into Belgian hands from World War I until 1959. Revolution led to 1962 independence and cycles of tumult. The infamous 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which up to one million ethnic Tutsi were brutally slaughtered in about 100 days, was not a singular horror, rather a climactic installment in decades of violence, as power shifted among competing factions.

Rwanda's 2009 accession to the Commonwealth, the culmination of a six-year campaign, was therefore controversial. Varied factors motivated Rwanda to apply, despite its lack of constitutional ties to the British Empire. The Francophone country stood to gain global prestige and to strengthen foreign economic ties, both intercontinentally and with Anglophone neighbors in East Africa, as well as social development opportunities in youth, education, and sport. 

Rwanda also had a sour relationship with France over French support for the Hutu government responsible for the genocide. France played an active role in Rwanda after independence, politically and militarily, effectively treating the country as its own former colony, for better or worse. Rwandan membership in the Commonwealth therefore represented a deliberate rejection of Francophone heritage. In 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron apologized for France's role in precipitating and failing to stop the genocide, as well as subsequent resistance to investigation. Rwandan President Paul Kagame accepted the apology.

Both intergovernmental and nongovernmental human rights groups, including the Commonwealth's own investigators, found Rwanda wanting in the 20-aughts, its record on human rights still not up to snuff. They warned that Rwandan membership would degrade Commonwealth standards. Commonwealth purists objected to Rwandan membership for the country's lack of British colonial history. Rwanda looked to the example of Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony and Lusophone nation that had been admitted in 1995. In the 1990s and 20-aughts, Commonwealth members disagreed internally over whether to retain the requirement of "historic ties" to Britain. Mozambique had made a strong case upon its valuable support for Commonwealth opposition to South African apartheid. Expansionists prevailed again in 2009, and Rwanda won its membership.

In Africa, CHOGM, which has met since 1971 in Singapore, has been hosted by Zambia (1979), Zimbabwe (1991), South Africa (1999), Nigeria (2003), and Uganda (2007). Queen Elizabeth attended in Uganda, her first visit there since 1954, when Queen Elizabeth National Park took her name. The Prince of Wales is in Kigali now. So bringing CHOGM 2020/2022 to ostensibly Francophone Rwanda is a noteworthy achievement for the Kagame government.

But human rights groups have never abated in their discontent. Especially the recent abduction and imprisonment in Rwanda of "Hotel Rwanda" hero and human rights activist Paul Rusesabagina casts a shadow over CHOGM 2022 that the government would like delegates to ignore. I have written previously about the Rusesabagina matter and a related pending lawsuit in the United States by the Rusesabagina family.

My family and I arrived in Kigali last weekend to find a rush-hour traffic jam aggravated by road closures for CHOGM 2022. The formal CHOGM meeting of dignitaries happens Friday and Saturday, but delegates are here all week to do the real diplomatic work. The black, brown, and white faces of the Commonwealth circulate in the CBD, and plastic-encased CHOGM credentials dangle from lanyards. Heavily armed police and private security monitor every corner; the last thing Rwanda needs is a black-eye security breach. The CBD is plastered with posters in the vein of "Visit Rwanda" and "Invest in Rwanda," bearing images of the country's legendarily hills, green terrain, and exquisite fauna.

Last night I walked through a night-market showcase of life and culture in Rwanda (and in smaller sections, Uganda and Mozambique), from agricultural supplies and textiles to food and dance. Smiling representatives eagerly promoted their wares.  I succumbed to the hype and bought some green—literally and figuratively—cosmetic products for my wife, as well as some Rwandan coffee. (I'd already bought Rwanda and Musanze FC kits for myself.) I took a selfie in front of gigantic letters spelling "KIGALI."


Food stalls offered delights from East Africa, including Rwanda-based restauranteurs in foreign cuisines, such as Indian and Ivorian. An aside: The highlight of the showcase for me was Kigali-based "Now Now Rolex," which makes gourmet ethnic variations of the classic Ugandan street food. A rolex is an egg omelette rolled in chapati, usually with other ingredients, such as diced tomatoes and onions, added to the taste of the buyer. Typically for no more than a dollar or two, the wrap is cooked quickly in a hot skillet, crepe style, at a roadside cart or stall. The name "rolex" derives from "rolled eggs," but for its quick preparation also plays cheekily with the name of the watch brand. Now Now's gourmet options incorporate ingredients for variations such as French, Italian, and Mexican, still just $2 a pop; I had "the Rwandan," featuring minced beef. Oh, and a delectable vodka mule to wash it down.

Notwithstanding the festive atmosphere, the genocide is never far from mind in Rwanda. CHOGM 2022 takes place against the backdrop of Kwibuka 28, a three-month remembrance of the genocide sponsored by Rwanda and the African Union. With the theme "Remember-Unite-Renew," Kwibuka is recognized with its own gigantic letters at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Newscasters on Rwandan TV (English-language for me) and videos at the cultural showcase readily recognize the genocide, but reiterate a forward-looking "never again" message. They refrain from revisiting gruesome atrocities and scarcely acknowledge the ongoing public health problem of post-traumatic stress.

Personally I've been skeptical of Rwanda's reconciliation with the genocide and purported triumph over ethnic conflict. The mantra one hears throughout Rwanda today is that "we are all Rwandan now," meaning ethnic differentiation is a thing of the past. But how does a people turn that page so quickly, even in the span of one generation? Nothing I learned about the genocide at the Kigali Memorial gave me solace. The way that nationalistic leaders and opportunistic, wanna-be warlords manipulated information and exploited mass media—sound familiar?—to turn ordinary people into torturers and murderers of their friends and neighbors; decades of violence and 100 days of carnage to rival the Holocaust; and then it all just evaporated, never to happen again? I noted that the impressive and truth-rendering Kigali Genocide Memorial, which houses the remains of a quarter million people and where Prince Charles laid a wreath today, was constructed in the 20-aughts by a UK NGO, not by the Rwandan government.

To President Kagame's credit, Rwanda looks and feels peaceful. I found only warm and welcoming people traveling in the country's lush northwest. I walked around Kigali day and night with a comfort level I've had in no other African capital (though I am not recommending being carefree here; I take precautions). Kagame brokered Commonwealth membership and landed CHOGM.

Kigali

At the same time, Kagame has been president since 2000. He was a leader of the domestic military force that ultimately quelled the genocide, and many say he has been running the country de facto since then. For perspective, that's since Bill Clinton was President of the United States.

In a recent book, journalist Michela Wrong unflinchingly painted Kagame as a wolf in sheep's clothing.  (I've read about the book, but not read the book.) She charged him with political assassination of a rival and dictatorial repression of dissent. According to descriptions of Wrong's portrayal, a "sinister" and "chilling" head of state lurks behind the rendering of peace and promise that the West is so eager to embrace.

"Hotel Rwanda" today: the Hotel des Mille Collines

Wrong's take squares with details alleged in the abduction of Rusesabagina. Assiduously avoiding return to Rwanda, Rusesabagina persistently criticized the Kagame regime and alleged failure to reconcile meaningfully with the genocide. The Rusesabagina family lawsuit alleged that a covert Rwandan intelligence officer lured Rusesabagina away from his Texas residence for a purported speaking engagement in Burundi, then orchestrated his abduction to Kigali from a Dubai layover. Rusesabagina's subsequent criminal prosecution in Rwanda on terrorism charges had every hallmark of a show trial. The Kagame administration denies involvement in the abduction and any impropriety in the prosecution.

I wonder whether Rwanda's enthusiastic embrace of Kwibuka, the annual genocide commemoration, represents genuine engagement with reconciliation or mere lip service to human rights platitudes that gratify western leaders and smooth the pathways of foreign investment. I haven't seen a single mention in Rwandan media of demands by human rights groups that Rusesabagina be released. Such as I've seen, discussion of human rights in Rwanda, besides recognition of the genocide as a historical event and cause for unified patriotism going forward, has been limited to the promotion of innovations in public health and sustainable agriculture.

Meanwhile, violence and unrest in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo casts another unwanted shadow over CHOGM 2022. Like Rwanda, the DRC (formerly Zaire) has convulsed with violence since its Belgian decolonization in the 1960s. Millions have died just since the 1990s. Since 2015, the eastern border region, which shares Lake Kivu and the Virunga mountain range with Rwanda, has been the site of a bloody confrontation, costing thousands of civilian lives. Supported by UN peacekeepers, the Congolese army has been locked in conflict with "M23" revolutionaries. Making matters worse, Kinshasa accuses Kigali of funding M23 in a bid to expand Rwandan territory. Rwanda denies involvement.

I know next to nothing about the political situation in the DRC, so my perceptions are informed only by experience on the Rwandan side of the border.  The establishment of a Tutsi government after the genocide propelled Congolese Tutsi into Rwanda, and nearly 2 million Hutu left Rwanda for the DRC. More than once in the Lake Kivu region, I met Congo-born 20-somethings—the average age in Rwanda is a remarkable 19—whose Rwandan families relocated there after the genocide, only to return later to Rwanda as refugees of war in the DRC. Though born to Rwandan families, the persons I met identified as Congolese and lamented that they could not go home.

I came close to the DRC border twice. The first time, in the Virungas, I had an escort of four soldiers with automatic weapons. Armed escorts are common in East African parks to protect tourists from wild animals (ideally to scare them with gunfire, not to shoot them). But this was more than animal deterrence. The soldiers acknowledged that Rwandan officials are worried about incursion from the DRC, especially while CHOGM is ongoing in Kigali.  I was encouraged not to linger at the summit of Mount Bisoke, whose crater lake straddles the border.  (I was not allowed to photograph soldiers or border posts.)

The Virunga volcanic range sits at the junction of the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda.

I came close to the border as well in the lakeside town of Gisenyi. A Rwandan official invited me closer to the line than I cared to be. I could see where queues, asphalt road, and orderly buildings on the Rwandan side gave way to dirt road, a shantytown, and a colorful, chaotic, and predominantly pedestrian marketplace on the Congolese side.

As of this writing, CHOGM 2022 is progressing without incident, and Rwanda is availing of the opportunity to put its best foot forward in the world. Surely for the sake of everyone I've met here, I hope that Rwandan participation in the community of nations affords, for every Rwandan who wants it, opportunity for more than subsistence living.

However, for that to happen, Commonwealth delegates will have to see past colorful souvenirs, product pitches, and reconciliation rhetoric. Rwanda needs a plan for infrastructure, educational opportunity, and an improved standard of living for all its people. Rwanda does not need recolonization through the finance sector.

For an indulgent exploration of the contemporary aftermath of the Rwandan genocide and the precarious relationship with the DRC, I highly recommend the television series Black Earth Rising (2018), a co-production of Netflix and BBC Two, written and directed by Hugo Blick and starring Michaela Coel and John Goodman.  The story is fictional, but the riveting expression of social and political tensions is spot on. HT @ Jason Peura.

For a moving documentary on the plight of the gorillas in the Virunga mountains amid the chaos of war in the DRC, see the Oscar-nominated Virunga (2014), also available on Netflix.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Tort liability brakes U.S. policy shift on Sudan, marks crossroads of past, future where Africa meets Arabia

Street corner in the Arabian Market district of Khartoum
(RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

With economic sanctions exacting an intensified toll amid the pandemic and humanitarian crises fraying the peace at political borders, 40 million people in the East African Republic of Sudan may hope that long awaited normalization of relations with the United States will bolster stability and produce prosperity.  Meanwhile, in Washington, American tort claims have thrown a wrench into the diplomatic works.

Smaller Sudan after 2011 (LouisianaFan CC BY-SA 3.0)

Unending War

Before its 2011 division into north and south, Sudan was the largest country in Africa.  Its location is strategically important.  Sudan borders Libya and Egypt to the north, the lifeline of the Nile flowing into the latter.  The country's Red Sea coast positions Port Sudan opposite Jeddah and Mecca.  Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR) sit to the west, and Eritrea and Ethiopia to the east—where more than 40,000 Ethiopian refugees have fled conflict and now strain Sudan's thin resources.  Tumultuous northern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Uganda, the latter yielding the Nile, lie in reach of South Sudan's capital, Juba, along with a disputed stretch of border with Kenya.

At last abandoning imperial ambition in 1953, the British left Sudan to the tempest of regime rise-and-fall that tragically characterized post-colonial power vacuum in Africa.  The country declared itself independent in 1956, but for a quarter century, no one form of government would stick.  An Islamic state brought about some political consistency in 1983, but plenty of ills, too: reigniting civil war between north and south, and paving the path of three decades' dictatorship and an abysmal human rights record under President Omar al-Bashir, from 1989 to 2019.

Part of embassy bombing memorial in Dar es Salaam
(RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Relations with the United States went from bad to worse after Sudan backed Iraq in the 1990-91 Gulf War.  Osama bin Laden took up residence in Khartoum for five years at that time.  He built a favorable reputation for philanthropy by building legitimate businesses and financing infrastructure projects, such as the main highway, named for him, linking Khartoum to Port Sudan.  In 1993, the United States listed Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism.  Under U.S. pressure, Sudan expelled bin Laden in 1996.  But Sudan was not spared blame when al-Qaeda bombed the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, killing 224 people, including 12 U.S. citizens, and injuring thousands.  U.S. retaliation included a cruise-missile strike against a Khartoum chemical plant—unfortunately and very likely a target accused erroneously of complicity in chemical weapons manufacture.

Ironically, the bin Laden-orchestrated terror attacks of September 11, 2001, set Sudan and the United States on a winding road of fits and starts toward reconciliation.  U.S. President George W. Bush recognized the need for American allies on the East African doorstep to the Middle East.  U.S. policy leveraged austere sanctions to incentivize Sudanese cooperation in counter-terrorism, and the Bashir regime was supportive.

Sudan needed help, too.  The civil war between the Islamic government in Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), started in 1983, had never ended.  The exhausting conflict, which ultimately cost more than 2 million civilian lives, was dragging into one of the longest civil wars in modern history—besides that it was really a sequel to the never-quite-resolved first Sudanese civil war of 1955 to 1972, another tragically typical consequence, in part, of arbitrary colonial political borders.  Multi-national diplomatic interventions helped at last to draw the war to a close in 2005.  The peace agreement led to the secession of South Sudan in 2011, a development that seemed promising at the time, but since has seen the two states teetering ceaselessly on the brink of combustion.

A spellbinding sampling of the human toll of the civil war can be found in Dave Eggers's What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng (2006).  Spanning events from 1983 to 2005, the book is an artfully novelized memoir of a real child refugee among Sudan's "lost boys."

In 2017, the Obama Administration further loosened sanctions on Sudan.  A coup in 2019 sent Bashir from office the same way he came in, and in 2020, Sudan reconstituted itself as a secular state.  Al-Bashir, 76, is now in prison for corruption.  Marking a significant policy reversal, the government has signaled that it might be willing to turn Bashir over to the International Criminal Court for prosecution in connection with the genocide in Darfur during the second civil war.  In October, the Trump administration moved to clear the way for U.S. businesses to reenter Sudan, bargaining the country's de-listing as a state sponsor of terrorism in exchange for Sudanese recognition of Israel.  The administration was accused of too-little-too-late effort to bolster its foreign policy portfolio in the run-up to the 2020 election, but, at this point, the end means more than the motive.

Persistent Perseverance

In short order, Sudan has transformed from war-torn religious state, ruled by a dictator accused of crimes against humanity, to secular constitutional democracy, pivotal in Middle East peace and primed for western commercial investment.  In other words, Sudan might be in the midst of a remarkably rapid transition from paradigmatic problematic state to African success story.

View of Khartoum and the Nile from Corinthia observation level
(RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Long acquainted with the hardships of war and sanctions, the Sudanese have persevered, developing a resilient infrastructure and an enviable standard of living, especially relative to neighbors such as the CAR, the DRC, and Eritrea.  Sudanese teens wield smartphones in the dustiest of wayside villages.  Sudan has oil and refining capacity, though the division of natural resources between north and south remains a key cause of simmering contention.  The Khartoum skyline is dotted with structures infamously financed by deliberate defiance of sanctions.  Representative is the Corinthia Hotel: opened in 2008, the oval-shaped building is called "Gaddafi's egg," because Libya paid for its €80m construction.

Wayside fuel and rest area, Shendi-Atbara Road, Al Buqayr
(RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

At present, Sudan has one arm tied behind its back.  Trucks sit idle in fuel queues.  Western credit cards don't work; cash is king.  For better and worse, local products, mostly MENA-manufactured, substitute for the usual globalized glut of soda and snack options in the convenience stores, excepting the universe's inexplicably irreducible constant, Coca-Cola.

If sanctions go away, an energizing flow of auto parts, industrial equipment, transnational banking services, and development of telecommunication and physical infrastructure will irrigate Sudan's thirsty landscape.  The new constitutional government will be boosted to a threshold on prosperity unprecedented in the nation's history.  Already in June, the UK announced a £150m commitment to ease democratic transition and coronavirus impact by combating inflation and poverty.  Sudan unbound stands poised to achieve African development in a region that's long been starved of a win.

But There's a Hitch

Tort liability in U.S. courts is presently a sticking point in negotiations over normalization of U.S.-Sudanese relations and the entry of American enterprise in Sudan.  In 1996, Congress amended the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) to allow civil lawsuits against foreign state actors for support of terrorism.  Survivors and families of victims of the 1998 embassy bombings sued Sudan in 2001.  The lawsuits floundered in the 20-aughts amid confusion over what plaintiffs, defendants, and causes of action Congress intended to authorize.  In 2008, Congress clarified the law on those questions and revived the earlier suits.

Subsequently, plaintiffs, numbering more than 700, won an award in federal court of $10.2bn, including $4.3bn in punitive damages.  The D.C. Circuit struck the punitive damages, doubting that Congress intended to authorize punitive recovery retroactively.  In May 2020, in Opati v. Republic of Sudan, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, vacating the striking of punitive damages and remanding for the lower courts to reconsider.  Litigation questions remain on remand.  The defense might yet challenge the constitutionality of the retroactive authorization of punitive damages, and it's not clear whether Congress intended foreign plaintiffs to be eligible for punitive awards.  Still, the massive compensatory award stands ripe for harvest.

Sen. Schumer in October (Senate Democrats CC BY 2.0)
All that litigation might, however, amount to naught if Congress acts again.  As a condition of the current agreement over sanctions and Israel, Sudan wants free of the Opati judgment.  In October, the State Department indicated willingness to negotiate immunity for Sudan against liability for past acts.  But that immunity would require another change of law, and Congress is not yet on board.

According to a report in Tuesday's New York Times, Sudan has offered a settlement of $335m, undoubtedly a more realistic number than multiple billions.  But Sudan has threatened to exit the agreement in whole if Congress doesn't authorize immunity by year's end.  Deadlocked legislators are trying to broker a compromise through a military spending bill in these first weeks of December.  To the displeasure of some in Congress, the working proposal would compensate U.S. citizens naturalized subsequently to the 1998 attacks less than those who were citizens at the time—working a de facto racial disparity.

Even if the 1998 claims can be resolved, a bigger hurdle looms in the prospect of blanket immunity-to-date for Sudan.  While Sudan did defend the embassy-bombing lawsuits on grounds of FSIA interpretation, it has not responded to the legal claims of, The Hill estimates, about 3,000 family members of September 11 victims who blame Sudan for bin Laden's five-year safe harbor there.  According to the New York Times story, those plaintiffs have the support of Senate leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to see that their claims are not extinguished.  It seems unlikely that a closely divided Congress would have any appetite to favor foreign tranquility over September 11 victims, no matter how much U.S. businesses are chomping at the bit to trade in Sudan.

Local heroes (with a smartphone) atop Jebel Barkal
(RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Last Week in Sudan

Here in the United States, if we hear about Sudan, it's likely to be in the context of civil war atrocities, the human rights abuses of the Bashir regime, or Middle East tensions.  Yet last week in Sudan, I saw little evidence of those worldly matters.  On the roads of Khartoum, in the markets, and in the countryside, I found only a gracious and warm people, a rich Nubian cultural tradition, and a stunning archaeological record of our shared human heritage.

Your interpid blogger at the Nuri Pyramids
(Steven Mueller CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Both of those views, the ugly and the beautiful, the grim and the genial, are Sudan.  We disregard the former at our hazard.  But to disregard the latter, we risk much more.

Sudan is the beating heart of the African continent.  Sudan will not forever be deterred by colonial legacy and the politics of aging superpowers.  However we manage to balance redress for past wrongs with a way forward, America will have to decide how to be a part of Sudan's future.  The only alternative will be to join the crumbling desert relics of Sudan's past. 

UPDATE, Dec. 13, 2020: See Conor Finnegan, Trump admin offered $700M to 9/11 victims to save Sudan deal, ABC News, Dec. 11, 2020.  UPDATE, Dec. 20, 2020: Sudan's Listing as Sponsor of Terrorism Ended by US, BBC, Dec. 14, 2020.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Poor development choices may bolster quality-of-life disparity on Tanzania's Msasani Peninsula

 Coco Beach, Msasani Peninsula, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.


The short length of Coco Beach is the touristic gem of Tanzania's largest city, Dar es Salaam, which, for all its rugged charms, is not rich with touristic gems. Coco Beach sits on the eastern, Indian Ocean, coast of the ritzy Msasani Peninsula, just a few kilometers northwest of the CBD.

Msasani says a lot about wealth stratification in Africa. The worsening wealth gap is an issue that vexes me in the United States. But we've got nothing on many an African country. Where subsistence living is the norm, and social safety nets are nearly non-existent, the disparity between haves and have-nots gets closer at each end to all and nothing. And as on Msasani, the extremes are often abruptly juxtaposed. The peninsula is home to subsistence fishermen, and the polluted beaches of the slipway, in the west, and the luxury condominiums of posh Oyster Bay, in the east.

Luxury condo building on the road from Oyster Bay to Sea Cliff Village
I walked the peninsula from west to east and saw, in the span of just a few kilometers, ramshackle wood dwellings on potholed dirt trails without plumbing, in the west and center, and gated condo complexes with marble-esque, statued facades, in the east. While the former teemed with human life, the latter were eerily vacant, deserted of all but the occasional maintenance worker. I assume the condos are mostly second-home getaways and vacation rentals for the well-to-do in high season and on weekends. (I was reminded of the dark-windowed high rises that loom over Central Park West, New York.)

Qatar's is the most modest of the beachfront embassies.
At that, the most striking residences of the eastern Msasani are not luxury homes, but foreign embassies, including those of Qatar, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. (The U.S. embassy and others are in Oyster Bay, but in the interior.) They line the main coastal road that runs between Oyster Bay and Coco Beach, which runs on northward to swank Sea Cliff Village and the Yacht Club.

Present service structures on Coco Beach, astride road construction.
At present, it isn't easy to cross this road, because a massive construction project runs all along the length of Coco Beach. I had hoped that this construction would improve the beach for touristic use that might fuel economic development to benefit the peninsula's have-nots. What passes for services on the beachfront now are wood shacks of dubious hygiene, selling drinks and snacks that might prove hazardous to foreign GI tracts. One municipal toilet building has seen better days and is now inaccessible anyway because of the construction. Alas, no, a local on the beach informed me: The purpose of the construction is to convert the shoulderless, two-lane, asphalt coast road into a four-lane highway, because, he said, the embassies want better and more secure access.

Nearly completed end of beachfront highway entering the CBD.
Many an American city can today tell tales of costly woe for having built transportation and utility infrastructure along prime waterfront property. It's bad enough that embassies, with their high, secure walls, occupy this land on the peninsula to begin with. Their inefficient use of prime real estate, distant from the administrative offices of the CBD, and in the company of Tanzania's "one percent" and cloistered ex-pats, sounds an awakward echo of colonial elitism.  To boot, now, the embassies and luxury homes will soon be served by a four-lane road that will further limit public access from the peninsula to the already underdeveloped beachfront.

Tanzania in 1974 moved its capital de jure to central Dodoma, in an effort to broaden economic opportunity in the country beyond Dar es Salaam. Nevertheless, concentration of development in Dar is still a problem that plagues the country. A businessman in the northeastern town of Arusha told me there's mounting resentment there about rural taxes paying for big-city infrastructure. (Boston says hello, western Massachusetts.) Maybe foreign nations can help Tanzania take a step forward by transferring their embassies from walled beachfront luxury to central locations with better access to government, whether Dar or Dodoma, on condition that appropriate public development of the Msasani Peninsula be left in their wake.  After all, foreign diplomatic posting is supposed to be a hardship, and it's compensated accordingly.

The new highway runs in front of the historic Ocean Road Hospital, where a street sign bears a familiar name.