Guinea violence renewed after election upset

Supporters of (initial) frontrunner presidential candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo reacted with violence this week after the 11/7 election was preliminarily certified in favor of “underdog” candidate and opposition leader Alpha Conde, in the first elections since decolonization. Diallo had finished significantly ahead of Conde in the summer’s first round election but the delays and postponements of the second round apparently allowed Conde to catch up.

After a tense run up to the poll and a long wait for the results, Conde was declared winner with 52.5 percent of the vote, confirming he had succeeded in overhauling Diallo’s first round lead and cancelling out an alliance Diallo secured with the third-placed candidate.

The poll is hoped to provide legal certainty for billions of dollars of recent investment by mining firms in Guinea’s bauxite and iron ore riches.

 
The two candidates each represent one of the two largest ethnic groups, adding a nasty ethnic edge to the contest and associated clashes. The Supreme Court has not yet certified the results officially, but will do so some time before early next week.

Meanwhile, responding to the surge in violence, the military transitional government has declared a state of emergency. Reuters:

The measure includes an overnight curfew beginning from 6 p.m. (1800 GMT) and gives the police extra powers to tackle the situation, a senior police officer told Reuters.

The poll was the former French colony’s first free vote since independence in 1958 and is due to end almost two years of military rule since the death of strongman Lansana Conte.

Despite his calls for calm as he challenges the result in court, some of Diallo’s mainly Peul supporters have taken to the streets, where they have repeatedly clashed with the security forces and Conde’s mainly Malinke backers since Monday.

“Shooting and targeted arrests are continuing,” a resident in Koloma, one of the worst-affected neighbourhoods in Conakry, told Reuters by telephone on Wednesday.

 

It is unclear how many people have been killed or injured in recent days (though the security forces have been restrained, for their part, in eschewing guns for restoring order), in what has been an unfortunate extra twist on a topsy-turvy historic election. As previously discussed here, the actual runoff election a week and a half ago went very peacefully. All we can say now is that it remains to be seen what will happen next.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

American Indian law under siege by anti-Sharia movement

Remember that Oklahoma ballot proposition we covered after the election, which “thwarted” the “creeping” Islamic Sharia law in the state? Well, we knew it was ignorant and damaging before, but it appears it didn’t just take out the ten commandments as collateral damage, but was so broad and vague that it may have taken out Indian tribal law too, which is a serious problem in Oklahoma. Joan McCarter:

This law obviously makes Oklahoma feel like hostile territory for Muslim Americans. It also makes it potentially hostile territory for the very first nations to populate the land that is now Oklahoma.

Oklahoma has the second largest population of Native Americans in the U.S and law experts like Oklahoma University law professor Taiawagi Helton point out that language in the law banning courts from looking at “legal precepts of other nations or cultures” could pose a problem if applied to tribal legal cases, as the tribes are considered sovereign nations. In fact, the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission released an official memo on October 20 explaining how the “lack of specific tribal law language” could “damage the sovereignty of all Oklahoma tribes” and “starkly reminds [the Commission] that some Oklahoma lawmakers forgot that our nation and state were built on the principles, blood, and back of other nations and cultures, namely, ou[r] tribes”

A perfect example of the consequences of voting out of fear. […] A federal judge has granted a temporary order blocking the ban from taking effect. A hearing on the amendment will be held on November 22.

 
Oops. Good thing that “activist” judge thwarted the thwarting of Sharia, though.

It would be fascinating if this gets litigated up to the U.S. Supreme Court, since the whole controversy over the use of “legal precepts of other nations or cultures” stems from a couple Supreme Court rulings by Justice Anthony Kennedy, in which he referenced (but did not rule on the basis of) international laws and norms for comparison. In the intervening years since the controversy erupted, he has shifted dramatically back toward the right, under the divided and partisan Roberts court, and would probably be unlikely to rule against the proposition, although he could surprise.

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.

After delay, a smooth runoff in Guinea

After a very successful first round presidential election in June – its first in the post-independence period – the West African state of Guinea finally managed to hold a smooth second round between the top two first round candidates this weekend, after a very troubling period of delays and ethnic clashes over the past several months. NY Times:

After weeks of delays, ethnic tensions and clashes between the police and rival groups of supporters, this mineral-rich but poor West African nation quietly went to the polls Sunday to choose its first-ever democratically elected president.

Sunday’s vote unfolded calmly as citizens lined up outside schools and other polling places, waiting to cast ballots in a runoff election originally scheduled for last summer. Since then, disputes over the leadership of the electoral commission and fighting between rival ethnic groups allied with each of the two candidates have led to repeated postponements.

But apart from the late arrival of voting materials — ink and ballots — at polling places in this nation of about 10 million people, international observers said they noted few hitches on Sunday.

 
Great news. And it appears that the key to the smooth election was to bring in a total outsider from neighboring Mali to run the election commission during the runoff, to prevent accusations that one ethnic group or another was controlling the outcome.

As the vote was repeatedly delayed, ethnic tensions increased, amid confusion over who was in charge of the election.

The first head of the electoral commission was convicted of fraud and died in Paris a short while later. His replacement was accused by Mr. Diallo, who is from a different ethnic group, of bias. In October, a Malian general was appointed to head the commission, calming the rival camps. But before that, there were repeated violent clashes. In September, one person was killed and dozens were wounded in fighting in the streets here in the capital between groups of supporters of Mr. Diallo and Mr. Conde.

 
The country of Mali has had a very successful transition to democracy after the end of military rule in the early 1990s and the peaceful transfer of power between presidents in 2002. The country has a functioning unity government, a popularly elected president and assembly, and the military is supportive of the civilian rulers and does not interfere with political affairs. The decision to bring in Malian advisers and figures of authority may prove to have been the crucial decision in smoothing the way for Guinea’s first election. The Malian general is an outsider, but he is from West Africa (as opposed to bringing in European or American teams), and he represents one of the best examples of democratic transition in the region, while his military status makes him an authority figure and somebody that the Guinean Transitional Government — who are also mostly military officers — would be comfortable working with.

So my pessimistic take in mid-September seems to have been unwarranted and impatient. It was never going to go off flawlessly, and this is a huge step forward. Now we just have to see how the results are greeted and whether the new democratic government can bring enough change to the country to lend it the public confidence required to endure. If it does work out, it will still go down as one of the fastest, smoothest, most direct transitions from military to democratic civilian rule in African history, to the best of my knowledge.

Hope springs eternal.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Creeping Sharia: Thwarted!

Not that it was actually a problem or even a potentially impending problem, but Oklahoma’s voters decided Tuesday to be really proactive and ban Sharia law (or its application or legal citation of it) in the state. There are maybe 15,000 Muslims in the state right now, and as Saleem Quraishi, the President of the American Muslim Association of Oklahoma City, put it, “What’s Sharia law have to do with Oklahoma?”

Nevertheless, freaked-out right-wing Christian legislators wrote up a ballot question on it this year, asking voters to “amend a state constitution section dealing with the state courts, making them ‘rely on federal and state law when deciding cases, forbidding them ‘from considering or using international law’ and ‘from considering or using Sharia Law,'” according to CNN. International law being referenced in the courts has been a boogeyman of the past twenty years after a few Supreme Court cases made passing comparisons to European case law and statutes on issues such as the death penalty for minors, but with Islamophobia reach a fevered pitch in recent years, “Sharia law” as it is only vaguely understood has become the most well-known subcategory of laws from outside ‘MURICA.

Newt Gingrich and others have recently grandstanded about their opposition to attempted imposition of Sharia law in the United States, as if it were in the process of happening here already. It’s not. Former CIA Director James Woolsey of Oklahoma campaigned for the message saying in a radio ad:

“We must realize there is a major campaign in Europe to impose Sharia law and Sharia is beginning to be cited in a few U.S courts. It is completely incompatible with our Constitution.”

 
Again, basically made-up.

The other big problem is that voters have very little idea what Sharia law actually is. The ballot question just vaguely said it had to do with the Koran and Mohammed, but didn’t go into specifics. Many people think of the more extreme, medieval parts of Sharia law (e.g. stoning or flogging people), which tend only to be enforced in especially reactionary areas of the world, such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan under the Taliban. But there are other parts that are much more important such as special laws about business arrangements and financing — Sharia prevents making loans with interest, since the system was first developed in a zero-inflation economy that made interest automatically usurious, so there are complex workarounds for financing everything from car loans to Dubai skyscrapers — and these legal components must be followed for American businesses to operate in and partner with many predominantly Muslim countries today.

Legal experts say the ballot question, which was approved this week, thus banning Sharia in Oklahoma, is a disaster, between its business implications and its constitutional implications:

For months, legal experts had lambasted the initiative as biased toward a religion and potentially harmful to local businesses that engage in commerce with international companies. It also presents potential constitutional law problems, experts say. Is Oklahoma’s state constitution now in direct conflict with the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion … “?

There has never been a previous case in the state in which Sharia law was applied, said Rick Tepker, the first member of the University of Oklahoma School of Law faculty to try a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tepker called the passage of the measure “a mess” with implications unknown until a case that challenges it arises.

“Many of us who understand the law are scratching our heads this morning, laughing so we don’t cry,” he said. “I would like to see Oklahoma politicians explain if this means that the courts can no longer consider the Ten Commandments. Isn’t that a precept of another culture and another nation? The result of this is that judges aren’t going to know when and how they can look at sources of American law that were international law in origin.”

Businesses that engage with international companies may also find the ban is a stumbling block, Tepker said.

 
The main sponsor of the bill admitted that there was actually no evidence to date that Sharia had many any inroads whatsoever in the state of Oklahoma. But it’s the Republican target du jour, so it had to be done, I guess.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

They hate us for our oil spills

The United States gets over 40% of its oil from the Niger Delta region. We get more oil from Nigeria than from Saudi Arabia. But there’s a lot of oil being pumped that’s never making it to any refinery because instead it’s ending up smothering the landscape across the region, which is always slick with oil, as I wrote in June…

How much is being spilled or is leaking? Well, right now there are about 300 incidents a year, and that has added up over the decades.

One report, compiled by WWF UK, the World Conservation Union and representatives from the Nigerian federal government and the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, calculated in 2006 that up to 1.5m tons of oil – 50 times the pollution unleashed in the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster in Alaska – has been spilled in the delta over the past half century. Last year Amnesty calculated that the equivalent of at least 9m barrels of oil was spilled and accused the oil companies of a human rights outrage.

According to Nigerian federal government figures, there were more than 7,000 spills between 1970 and 2000, and there are 2,000 official major spillages sites, many going back decades, with thousands of smaller ones still waiting to be cleared up. More than 1,000 spill cases have been filed against Shell alone.

Last month Shell admitted to spilling 14,000 tonnes of oil in 2009. The majority, said the company, was lost through two incidents – one in which the company claims that thieves damaged a wellhead at its Odidi field and another where militants bombed the Trans Escravos pipeline.

 

 
While still images coming out of the region are shocking enough, intrepid Current TV correspondent Mariana van Zeller went into the Delta to get video footage of the literally omnipresent oil slicks and spewing wellheads, as well as to interview locals.

While rebels or other individuals damaging pipelines to steal or disrupt oil may be a problem, as the oil companies claim and the Western media dutifully repeats, one local Ogoni activist tells her simply that “the greatest problem we have is that these facilities are too old” and they just corrode away and start gushing oil into the surroundings. And in fact he believes that the violence against the oil companies and the government is probably a result from, not a cause of, the many crude spills. The organization he works for helped bring down the Nigerian dictatorship in the 1990s, ushering in a new, ostensibly more democratic era, and yet they still face the same problems from the oil, which is killing their people. The military government was unresponsive and often downright cruel, as my background post explored, and in some ways this aspect has improved under democracy, but “security” thugs hired by Shell and the other offenders continue to deter local efforts to seek justice. (I want to note that my post was at one point apparently being circulated on an internal corporate server of Shell Oil, according to my site statistics data.)

We made a huge deal out of the large multi-month oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico — and rightfully so — but we as a nation don’t bat an eye over the reality that Nigeria’s delta people have been experiencing what is tantamount to a pervasive, multi-decade oil slick in the same supply chain that is attempting to slake America’s oil thirst and led to that smaller oil catastrophe in our marine back yard. (Yes there was actually less oil going into the Gulf this summer than has been spilled almost continuously in the past five decades in the Niger Delta region!) But these days, as is often the case, it is “un-American” to question our consumer demands and resulting detrimental overseas policies, to suggest that we might be causing well-founded distrust and dissatisfaction from our fellow global citizens, or to propose that we alter the status quo to improve the lot of others and thereby secure ourselves.

1.5 million tons of oil spilled over a half century. God bless our SUVs, every one.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside and was featured by Boston.com.

This is misogyny.

What’s the function of a district attorney? Because I’m really naive. I had some silly ideas about them enforcing the law and providing justice and representing the oppressed. And I know I’m an idealist, but THAT IS HOW IT SHOULD WORK.

In my crazy pipe-dream of a world, a rape survivor could go into the DA’s office, list the facts, say, “Let’s take this criminal down,” and get a “Heck yeah!” of agreement from the DA.

But prosecuting rape is absurd to Ken Buck, who is running for senator for Colorado (guess which party!).

In 2005, while serving as District Attorney for Weld County, Buck shot down a rape survivor’s request to prosecute her attacker. But it did not go undocumented; she taped the interaction. Even though the record showed that she was asleep when raped, and that her attacker admitted she’d said no, Buck claimed, “you never said the word yes, but the appearance is of consent.”

Later in the discussion, he declares:

There is contradictory evidence over consent. The act of inviting him, appear to be consensual acts, then there are statements that appear to be indicate that there wasn’t consent. That conflict is the conflict that doesn’t give us the proof beyond reasonable doubt.

 
Let’s make something clear. There’s no such thing as “contradictory evidence” over consent. If someone says no, it’s rape. It doesn’t matter if they were invited in. It doesn’t matter if the two people dated earlier. It doesn’t matter if they made out. No means no. And if it’s not an enthusiastic “Yes!” then you STILL might want to look over what the situation is.

And having sex with someone who’s unconscious is pretty unequivocal rape even by society’s ridiculous victim-blaming standards.

Yeah, um, Colorado… can you NOT elect this guy? Please?

This post was originally published on Starboard Broadside.

Pelosi’s Parliament

In the United Kingdom, parliamentary elections in each constituency (district) are generally decided more by voters’ overall party choice than by the individual candidate standing (running) for election as member of parliament in that district. There are certainly exceptions, but as a general rule people are voting in UK general elections for which party leader they would like to become the next prime minister. In the United States, except during wave elections (which are generally referenda on the president or presidential nominees of each party than anything else), people tend far more to vote for the specific person running in a district. Local politics are more important than the congressional leaders.

Therefore it has been interesting to me to see how much the leaders in Congress, particularly in the House have been discussed during races, whether in ads, speeches, debates, or articles. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner it seems are on everyone’s lips. Now partly that is just how it seems, because I’m a political junky more than the average voter by far, but still there’s an unusual fixation on Pelosi, especially, from the electorate mostly on the right.

Here are excerpts from an article from the New York Times today looking at her campaign efforts recently to defend her Democratic majority:

In recent months, the 70-year-old speaker’s days have been packed with private fund-raising events across the country for many of the Democrats who have been publicly avoiding her like bedbugs. (Since the beginning of 2009, she has raised $52.3 million for Democratic incumbents, candidates and the party’s Congressional campaign committee, second only to President Obama among Democrats.)
[…]
It is hard to find anyone who claims to have heard Ms. Pelosi entertain doubts about winning. “She believes deep in her soul that the Democrats will keep the majority,” said Larry Horowitz, a friend and adviser.

Whether that is denial, superstition, insight or spin is a subject of some debate. Ms. Pelosi is fully aware that the bad economy, the electoral map and historical trends favor Republicans, said Roz Wyman, a longtime Democratic activist in Los Angeles.

“She knows the situation and exactly what she is up against,” said Ms. Wyman, a frequent late-night phone buddy. “We pretty much talk about everything, especially our grandchildren. But we never talk about losing.”

By all accounts, Ms. Pelosi has been engaged in district-by-district assessments of races, a type of political card-counting she learned as the daughter of a Baltimore mayor and congressman. She knows which of her members are in trouble, which need her help — and which ones absolutely do not want it. She can spout real-time reports on Republican chances of netting the 39 seats required for a majority.
[…]

While her Congressional seat appears safe, it often seems now as if Ms. Pelosi’s name is on the ballot in every Congressional district in the country.

“My opponent wants to make this election about a congresswoman from California,” Representative John Boccieri, Democrat of Ohio, told Roll Call, noting that his Republican rival, Jim Renacci, mentioned Ms. Pelosi’s name 14 times in a recent debate.

And a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll revealed that Ms. Pelosi and Sarah Palin are two of the country’s most polarizing political figures. Fifty-one percent of respondents said it was unacceptable for Ms. Pelosi to continue as speaker, a figure exceeding the percentage who say it would be unacceptable for Democrats to retain control of Congress.

Ms. Pelosi said she did not care that she was a target, as long as Democrats get re-elected — even if that means distancing themselves from her. (On Thursday, Representative Bobby Bright of Alabama became the first Democrat to publicly say he would not support Ms. Pelosi for speaker if he were re-elected.)

 
This unusual parliamentary-style attention to the House leaders is even more fascinating considering this observation by David Roberts at Grist last March, after the passage of health reform:

Nancy Pelosi is a G. Not only did she push the entire Democratic establishment to stiffen its collective spine after Scott Brown’s victory; not only did she masterfully and implacably whip votes for health care reform; under her leadership, the House has passed major progressive legislation on health care, climate change and energy, financial reform, and economic stimulus, to say nothing of many other smaller efforts. Were the U.S. a unicameral parliamentary system like most developed democracies, this past year would have changed the course of history and Democrats would have secured a generational majority. But: the Senate.

 
In other words, she ran the House like parliament, so maybe it’s not surprising she’s facing a parliamentary style referendum on her leadership, to some degree. No wonder the Republicans are desperate to stop her.