Egypt: Don’t speak your mind, kids.

In every mass arrest by Egyptian security forces at political protests, an estimated 10-30% of those detained now are children, whether teens or younger. They are held indefinitely and often beaten.

This is what it looks like when the military “saves” democracy. Everyone who cheered the coup d’état last July should be ashamed of themselves.

What if you threw a coup and nobody came?

libya-flagFormer longtime Virginia resident and past/present Libyan military general Khalifa Hifter attempted to seize power in Libya on Friday, claiming he had suspended parliament and initiated a military takeover to put the country back on the right path. Then what happened?

Then, nothing happened. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan called the supposed coup “ridiculous.” A military spokesman called it “a lie.” None of the Libyan Army’s few tanks or soldiers made any visible moves. The empty Parliament was quiet.
Mr. Zeidan, who has also struggled to organize and control a government, quickly shot down the idea. “Libya is stable,” he told Reuters. Parliament “is doing its work, and so is the government,” he added.

“The army is in its headquarters, and Khalifa Hifter has no authority,” Mr. Zeidan said. “No military units have moved to touch any institutions.”

Put another way: U tried it tho, buddy.
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South Sudan: The world should be watching

south-sudan-flagSouth Sudan is Africa’s newest country and is a significant oil-producer (mostly selling to China) and fledgling democracy. At the beginning of the week we got scattered reports that there had been an attempted coup d’état by the former Vice President of South Sudan and troops loyal to him.

He is of a different ethnic group than the President, a U.S. ally. While the takeover failed in the capital, it seems the rebelling units quickly moved outside the city. The ex-VP now says his troops have control of the oil fields.

The United Nations mission on the ground — continuing to oversee the transition process from 2005 to independence in 2011 and then to present — soon reported 500 deaths in the clashes between loyalists and renegade troops in the capital. These figures have been rising quickly as casualties mount in the countryside and other towns.

Within a couple days, 20,000 civilians had crowded onto UN peacekeeping bases, seeking refuge from the fighting within the Army. That number is now up to 35,000 according to the UN. There are fewer than 7,000 UN peacekeeping troops in the country, and two soldiers from India have already been reported dead as approximately 2,000 child soldiers aligned with the renegades overran one of the bases and began massacring civilians of a the President’s (majority) ethnic group.

Troops from neighboring Uganda and Kenya have already arrived to “intervene” in the crisis as “stabilize” the government. It is fairly standard practice for the African Union — both countries are key members in AU military operations — to officially back the incumbent governments during leadership struggles and rebellions, mostly out of self-interest but also to promote legitimacy/sovereignty of existing governments. But it’s also common for East African nations to interfere military in each other’s conflicts, sometimes on the side of rebels.

The United States has hundreds of staff in the country, most of which have been evacuated from non-rebel-held areas. But BBC Africa and the New York Times reported earlier today that a U.S. emergency evacuation military mission of three planes to South Sudan was fired upon while en route from Uganda.

It turned back without completing an evacuation and landed safely in Uganda, but there were injuries on board to four U.S. service personnel. They are all in stable condition now. The Ugandan Army (a U.S. military ally in the region) said that, based on the location of the attack, that renegade troops siding with the attempted coup initiated it. The U.S. military has officially backed this hypothesis. It’s unclear when the U.S. will be able to rescue its people on the ground in the rebel zone.

President Obama announced that he has already put 45 troops on the ground — potentially from existing Ugandan or Kenyan deployments or the offshore anti-piracy patrol deployments — to protect U.S. civilians stationed in the country as part of the transition to democracy. He also announced that he would end U.S. and Western support for South Sudan for the first time, if the government falls to the rebels through force.

So to summarize: We’ve got U.S. troops on the ground now in a significant oil producing nation with close ties to China (I argued earlier this week that they should step up and intervene), the oil seems to have fallen to rebel control, UN peacekeepers have already been killed trying to protect some of the 35,000 civilian refugees hiding on their bases, and we’ve now had U.S. casualties. Oh and it’s a democracy the U.S. carefully guided into existence in just the last decade. This is about to be a way bigger global concern — unfortunately — than the nearby Central African Republic chaos.

Mali coup grave may have been found

Mali investigators searching for 23 missing elite presidential guard troops who vanished a month after the March 2012 military coup have found 21 bodies outside the base of the coup leader. The transitional government, which succeeded him after regional pressure forced him from power, recently arrested him for complicity in kidnapping.

This terrible find was probably only uncovered because of all the international and regional attention on Mali after the coup government lost control of the north to Islamist rebels and had to be bailed out by France. Meanwhile, next door, the President of Burkina Faso has been in office since the 1987 coup — and as I understand it, according to the one surviving eyewitness account of the coup d’état, pretty much everyone in the presidential mansion was gunned down during that coup. Yet there doesn’t seem to be anyone calling for a new government and investigations there.

Nigerien junta preserves Chinese alliance

It’s about time to do a follow-up post on my informal series of posts on the February military coup in Niger, and along comes a NY Times article on the matter. The Chinese had been underwriting the (previous) Tandja government, according to detractors, and the article says the Chinese made a “smooth” switch to the new regime, which is led by military officers who insist they are cleaning up government in Niger and have pledged elections in the (unspecified) near future. With basically the only significant export being uranium – Niger has some of the world’s largest deposits – the coup government recognized quickly that they needed to maintain the Chinese alliance to prevent collapse and chaos. Add to that the Western pre-coup sanctions that remain in effect until the elections, there was no other option.

China, reportedly, had been supplying the increasingly dictatorial regime with hydroelectricity installations and resource extraction sites that could eventually improve the country’s economy but in the short-term served to bolster the President Tandja. Shortly after the coup, Chinese projects and operations in Niger returned to normal. Tandja remains under arrest.

No word yet on whether China will put up the $132.9 million adequate food to head off an impending hunger crisis, as reported by the United Nations’ news service. Seems unlikely.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Niger junta taking steps to restore democracy

As previously pledged, the military regime that suddenly seized power in Niger from the democratically-elected president just over a week ago in a violent coup d’état has begun taking steps to restore democratic rule:

As its promised transition to democratic rule begins, the military junta that overthrew Nigerien president Mamadou Tandja on February 18 has named a former information minister, Mahamadou Danda, as the new prime minister while retaining legislative and executive powers for itself.

Danda, 59, is seen as unaffiliated to any political party, was appointed on Feb. 23 by the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (known by its French acronym, CSRD).

In a declaration broadcast nationally the previous day, CSRD head Djibo Salou was announced as head of state and the government; the junta will, for the moment, have the final word in governing the country.

Marou Amadou, president of a coalition of groups opposed to the ousted president known as the United Front To Safeguard Democratic Gains (FUSAD, after its French acronym) believes this first decree provides further guarantees of the junta’s intention to return power to civilians.

“The length of this transition will be decided after the consultations with all political and social stakeholders in the country announced by the junta,” Amadou told IPS. He hopes the transition will be neither too slow, nor overly hasty.

Because of the falling popularity of the democratic administration — due to it’s consolidation of power and the famine conditions nationwide — the coup has been met with generally positive reactions within Niger, though some expressed concern of a repeat of the breakdown of bureaucratic function seen in the months after the more violent 1999 coup.

Outside Niger, there were mixed reactions as most major power diplomatic corps struggled to decide whether to condemn the coup, encourage the rapid reintroduction of democratic norms, or help the average Nigerien get critical food supplies. Since sanctions placed on the democratic regime were already aggravating a food crisis, further sanctions would have been damaging and entirely unproductive. The United Nations pledged food aid, while the United States cautiously urged the junta to continue steps toward democracy and lightly condemned the illegal seizure of power (which involved heavy exchanges of fire right near the US embassy in Niamey). An interview about the coup with the Deputy Secretary of State for African Affairs, William Fitzgerald, can be read here.

As I previously examined, Niger is a major uranium-producing country, so there is a good reason for the world to be paying attention to its politics.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

A day later, Niger is calm

Following yesterday’s sudden, violent military coup in the West African nation of Niger, reports suggest all has returned to calm today:

The military junta that overthrew the president of Niger began asserting its authority on Friday, amid signs of public support within the country and condemnation from abroad.

Tanks continued to be posted at strategic locations in the capital, Niamey, a day after an assault on the presidential palace ended in the removal of President Mamadou Tandja, whose turn toward autocracy in the last year had made him widely unpopular in the nation’s cities.

Local journalists said that Mr. Tandja was imprisoned in a military barracks, as supporters of his ouster marched in the capital. “The situation is calm,” said Moussa Kaka, who runs radio station Saraounia and had been jailed by the Tandja government. Mr. Kaka said he and hundreds of others went into the streets of Niamey on Friday in a show of support for the coup. Another demonstration is planned for Saturday.

There is some confusion outside the country as to who is in charge of the military regime. Reports I read earlier today say a “squadron leader” was heading the new junta, but the NY Times currently says a major in the army is head of the “Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy,” the junta’s official title. Many past coups in Africa have been led by junior officers (e.g. Army Captain Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso), while most coups in Asia and Latin America have been led by generals, but a squadron leader seemed a bit too junior, so this makes more sense. Earlier today, the military announced that it would be keeping civilian ministers and bureaucrats in office, to keep the government running as smoothly as possible under the circumstances. Several briefly jailed ministers have been released.

UPDATE @ 9:31 PM: I’ve been looking up some stuff about Niger in the CIA World Factbook because I wanted to know more about the uranium deposits. Most of the country is a desert (it’s in the Sahara) and the remaining savanna zone is rapidly being swallowed into the desert by a combination of water depletion by overuse and global warming. Uranium mining is the biggest industry in the country, which is one of the poorest in the world. Uranium is the biggest export, since the salt trade has lots its preeminence over the past several centuries, and Niger probably has the biggest uranium supply worldwide. This unfortunately makes Niger a major chess piece in the modern geopolitical “game.” President Obama just announced yesterday major support for investment in nuclear energy, which due to US laws against repeated enrichment probably means the US needs even more uranium soon, assuming the projects go forward. And I think China is also expanding its nuclear energy program. Basically, this coup will change very little, and the people of Niger will continue to get screwed over by great powers and moneyed interests, as well as by geography.

UPDATE II @ 9:43: I’m also curious about how this coup played out yesterday. I wonder if it was intended to be a bloodless coup or not (it was not). That’s been the more modern trend in military coups. This was pretty violent, by all accounts, with the nearby American embassy staff reporting heavy gunfire and even shelling for several hours, apparently between the presidential guards and the attacking troops. However, the coup leaders notably did not assassinate the president, according to what we know right now, but they merely arrested him and are holding him captive somewhere. This suggests the violence may not have been part of the plan, but it’s also conceivable they would plan on attacking the presidential palace first before making arrests as a scare tactic or a way of eliminating armed opposition quickly… either way, now that they have him in custody, they can spin this to the people and the world as a political intervention to protect democracy, rather than a naked power-grab. It’s also a useful insurance policy if anything goes wrong, much like the Russians during their revolution held the family of the Tsar captive for a while and was rumored to have kept one member alive significantly longer (this has since been disproven). The world these days tends to be much more tolerant of coups that leave the civilian leaders alive than coups that involve bloody, cold-blooded purges of senior officials. They’re not happy with this coup right now, but they’ll be more likely to get over it if the president remains alive.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.