Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Barkina Faso Survives -- Sort Of

Henry Sebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

The trials and tribulations of some countries never seem to end.

Take the case of the West African state of Burkina Faso, the former French colony once known as Upper Volta.

This landlocked country of 274,200 square kilometres, with a population of more than 17 million people, is one of the poorest places in the world. It contains more than 60 different ethnicities.

In the late 19th century, European nations were engaged in carving up Africa into various colonial holdings. The French proved victorious in Upper Volta, though they had to subdue the followers of Samori Touré, founder of the Wassoulou Empire, an Islamic state in the region. 

It took almost two decades, but they finally prevailed, with the help of non-Muslim ethnic groups chafing under Touré’s rule. (About 60 per cent of the country is Muslim.)

Under French rule, the country remained poor. Colonial officials tried to promote the growth of cotton for export, but the policy failed, and revenue generated by the colony stagnated. 

So disappointed were the French that between 1932 and 1947 they parcelled out its territory to neighbouring French colonies.

In 1960, as part of the wave of decolonization in French Africa, Upper Volta attained full independence from France.

The first president, Maurice Yaméogo, soon created a one-party state; after six years, he was overthrown in a military coup d’état, handing power to General Sangoulé Lamizana.

A new constitution passed in 1970 provided for a four-year transition to fully civilian leadership but Lamizana remained in office (ostensibly winning an election in 1978) until he was in turn ousted in 1980 by Coloel Zerbo Saye.

Two more coups followed in quick succession, and when the smoke cleared, a left-wing regime under Thomas Sankara was in control. He changed the country’s name from its colonial designation to Burkina Faso.

A Marxist firebrand, Sankara sought closer ties to Cuba and the Soviet Union, created a youth program (the Pioneers of the Revolution) for educating children about Marxist ideals, and began a campaign to weed out suspected “anti-revolutionaries.”

This didn’t go over too well with Burkina Faso’s neighbours, nor with France, and in1987, Sankara, along with twelve other officials, were killed in a coup organized by Blaise Compaoré.

He moved the country back into the western camp, and won four elections of doubtful validity between 1991and 2010. But his attempt to amend the constitution to extend his 27-year term caused his removal from power in 2014 by a series of demonstrations and riots, and he fled the country. 

An interim military regime charged him with treason and announced it would prepare the country for elections to be held this coming Oct. 11. 

But on Sept. 16 the elite presidential guard --- Compaoré supporters – under General Gilbert Diendéré took the country’s interim leadership hostage in an attempted coup.

Presidential guard soldiers clashed with anti-coup protesters on the streets of the capital, Ouagadougou, until they were finally defeated. The African Union referred to the soldiers behind the coup as “terrorists” and the unit has been disbanded.

It remains to be seen whether the transitional government will now allow Compaoré’s allies to contest the elections, should the balloting even go ahead as planned.

Monday, October 05, 2015

It's Very Difficult to Govern Uganda

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
The east central African state of Uganda has a population of 37.8 million, divided into 56 ethnic groups, the largest being the Baganda, at more than 17 per cent.

The Nilotic peoples of the north, including the Acholi, Ateso, Iteso, Kakwa, Lango, Lugbara, and Madi, have little in common with the mainly Bantu peoples like the Baganda, Basoga, Bakiga, Bakonzo, Bamba, Banyankole, and Bunyoro, farther south.

Also, thanks to European missionaries in the 19th century, most Ugandans are either Anglicans or Roman Catholics.

Ethnicity has been such a powerful political force in Uganda that it is reflected in the political parties, the military, and local and national governments. Ethnic cleavages became responsible for coups, secession attempts, and wars. Holding the country together is a challenge.

The Imperial British East Africa Company had become active in the region in 1888, and after 1894, the area was ruled as a protectorate by the British. In 1957 Sir Andrew Cohen, the British Governor of Uganda from 1952-1957, noted that “nationalism is still a less powerful force in Uganda than tribal loyalties.” Not that much changed after independence in 1962.

National governments in Uganda have either been coalitions of various ethnic groups or ultimately unsuccessful attempts to dominate the state with the support of only a few numerically small ethnic groups, as under the rule of Idi Amin, a Kakwa, in the 1970s. None have been successful at representing all major ethnic groups in government. 

Idi Amin’s 1971 coup against the country’s first prime minister, Milton Obote, a Lango, established a tyranny characterized by human rights abuses, political repression, and gross economic mismanagement. He also expelled some 90,000 Asians from Uganda in 1972. 

The number of people killed as a result of his eight year reign is estimated by international observers and human rights groups to range from 100,000 to 500,000. 

When Amin was in turn toppled by Obote in 1979, the victorious Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) soldiers wreaked vengeance among Amin’s followers among the Kakwa, Aringa, Madi and Lugbara, who had formed the bulk of his army and government.

But in 1985, the UNLA, supported by the Acholi, was in turn battling Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA) rebels, mostly southerners. Museveni is himself a Banyankole. Following Museveni’s victory over Obote, the NRA became Uganda’s national military.

The Kingdom of Buganda, comprising all of Uganda’s Central Region, including the Ugandan capital of Kampala, had for a long time generated resentment throughout Uganda, because it had enjoyed a position of unrivalled superiority throughout the colonial period. 

Following the outcome of a 1964 referendum which returned the two counties of Buyaga and Bugangaizi, given to Buganda by the British, to the rival Bunyoro Kingdom, many in Buganda called for secession from the country. 

The kingdom was therefore abolished by Obote in 1966 and its hereditary king, the Kabaka, sent into exile. (It was revived in 1993.)

In the northern region there have been secession attempts in West Nile and the Acholi sub-regions. They have more in common with the neighbouring areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan than with the rest of Uganda.

Obote had relied heavily on the support of the Acholi, and following his defeat by Museveni, whose supporters were southern peoples, the Acholi have been fighting the current regime under different banners. 

First came the Uganda People’s Democratic Army (UPDA) formed in 1986, followed by the Holy Spirit Army (HSA), and then Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which is weakened but still operational.

Meanwhile, Museveni, who has cracked down on most opponents since taking power three decades ago and has been accused of running a dictatorial government, plans to run for the presidency again next year. A recent poll suggests that 71 per cent of Ugandans would vote for him.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Moscow's New Mosque Highlights Growth of Islam in Russia

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

If someone asked you which city in Europe has the largest Muslim population, you might answer Paris, or Berlin, or London. But you would be wrong. The correct answer is Moscow.

Estimates of Russia’s Muslim population now range from 16 million to 20 million, including more than two million in Moscow, a city of 12.5 million. Yet the city has just four mosques. 

Many Russians think that Muslims might challenge the Russian Orthodox Christian national identity that President Vladimir Putin has used to unite the country in place of Soviet Communism.

Russia’s identity was forged during centuries-long confrontation, coexistence and cooperation with Muslim neighbours. The principality of Moscow defeated the Golden Horde, a powerful Mongol-Tatar khanate, and then waged countless wars in and against Ottoman Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and the Caucasus.

Most recently, Russians have fought two brutal wars to suppress Muslim separatists in Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia.

Moscow itself was victim to a series of terrorist bombings by Chechen Islamists between 1999 and 2002, killing hundreds of people.

Orthodox believers consider Moscow a “holy city” and want only their traditional Russian churches, said Vyacheslav Ali Polosin, a former priest who converted to Islam in 1999. 

In the Crimea, Muslim Tatars, angered by Russia’s annexation of the Black Sea peninsula in March 2014, have blocked food deliveries to Crimea from Ukraine.

Russia’s often brutal approach has led many Muslims to leave the country to fight in Syria. Sergei Smirnov, the deputy director of Russia’s Federal Security Service, has estimated that some 2,400 Russian citizens were fighting for the Islamic State. 

But Putin uses carrots as well as sticks. Flanked by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, Putin on Sept. 23 spoke at the inauguration of the Moscow Cathedral Mosque, a grand structure that can accommodate 10,000 people on three stories.

“Terrorists from the so-called Islamic State are compromising a great world religion, compromising Islam; sowing hatred; killing people, including clergy; and barbarically destroying monuments of world culture,” Putin declared. 

“They are trying to recruit followers here in Russia, too. Russia’s Muslim leaders are bravely and fearlessly using their own influence to resist this extremist propaganda.”

Russia opposes any Islamic activity not affiliated with the Kremlin-sanctioned Council of Muftis.

The biggest chunk of the construction costs for the mosque, about $170 million, came from a wealthy oil tycoon, Suleiman Kerimov of Dagestan, but foreign governments, including Turkey, Kazakhstan and the Palestinian Authority, also donated. 

Given the lack of official mosques in the city, at least 40 “underground” mosques are based in apartments all over Moscow.

Ravil Gainutdin, the chairman of the Council of Muftis in Russia, has suggested that every Moscow neighborhood should have one mosque -- which would mean about 20 to 30 new ones. He argues that more official mosques would help curb other extremist groups.

But the Cathedral Mosque was built despite opposition from many quarters, and plans to construct just a few more in recent years were canceled in the face of vehement public protests. The mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, himself opposes any new mosques.

Were Sudan's Revolutions an Early Arab Spring?

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Pioneer Journal

If those people who were at first so excited, and then disappointed, by the Arab Spring had known more about the history of Sudan, they might have tempered their enthusiasm. 

That’s because the two revolutions of 1964 and 1985 in that semi-Arabized country provide a sense of déjà vu.

Sudan was the largest country in Africa until 2011, when the sub-Saharan non-Arabized third of the country became the new state of South Sudan. Its mainly Christian and Animist people had for decades been struggling against rule by the Arab Muslim north.

The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan had been under joint British-Egyptian rule since 1899, when the British defeated an Islamist state that had been established in 1885 by a charismatic mystic and religious zealot, Muhammad Ahmad, who considered himself the prophesied redeemer and purifier of Islam.

He had declared himself “the Mahdi (the guided one) of God and the representative of His Prophet.” With the defeat of the Mahdist state, the country came under joint British and Egyptian rule.  

Prior to independence, London and Cairo administered the northern and southern Sudan as separate entities of the condominium. But when the country became a sovereign state in 1956, it was united under the rule of an Arabized Muslim political order based in Khartoum. 

This would lead to constant warfare as the African south continually sought to throw off northern rule. This was finally accomplished, after 55 years, in 2011. 

Parliamentary rule in a sovereign Sudan lasted only two years. A coup in 1958 brought General Ibrahim Abboud to power in order, he declared, to end “the state of degeneration, chaos, and instability of the country.” The constitution was suspended and all political parties dissolved.

By 1964, there was popular discontent, and an open revolt followed. It was precipitated by student demonstrations at the University of Khartoum. 

The situation rapidly deteriorated, and within two days the civil service and the transport workers were on strike. Demonstrations followed in the provinces. Rather than suppress the opposition by armed force and bloodshed, Abboud resigned.

The so-called October Revolution of 1964 led to the return of civilian rule. The euphoria did not last.

Between 1966 and 1969, Sudan had a series of civilian governments that proved unable to cope with problems of factionalism, economic stagnation, and ethnic conflict. No single party controlled a parliamentary majority and there was constant friction.

All of this led to a second coup d’état in 1969. The new leader, Colonel Gaafar Nimeiry, abolished parliament and outlawed all political parties. He would remain in power until 1985, despite numerous attempts to unseat him.

Nimeiri moved closer to Islamism, and in 1983, the civil war in the south intensified following the government's Islamization policy. Anti-government discontent led to student demonstrations and resulted in a general strike in Khartoum which paralysed the country, and Nimeiri was deposed in 1985.

Once again, party factionalism, corruption, personal rivalries, scandals, and political instability characterized the ineffective coalition regimes that followed.  They proved unable to mobilize government resources to bring food relief to famine areas, reduce the government’s international debt, and build a national political consensus.

So, as in 1969, yet another coup returned Sudan to military rule in 1989. Colonel Omar al-Bashir took over and has remained the country’s president ever since, even though the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him in 2009, accusing him of war crimes in Darfur.

Both the 1964 and 1985 uprisings had been led by leftist political parties, sections of the armed forces, and what were known as the “modern forces” – students, professionals and union members. Even the Communists were strong – they had launched an abortive takeover in 1971.

Yet in each case these reform movements, products of civil society, were unable to prevent the return of authoritarian rule.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Press Under Attack

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
It’s no secret that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has an authoritarian bent of mind. And that includes his hatred of any criticism -- which makes for a hostile environment for the country’s journalists.

One of the country’s pre-eminent newspapers, Hurriyet, which has a liberal secularist outlook, suffered two attacks on its offices in Istanbul earlier this month. 

Supporters of Erdogan’s more Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) broke office doors with stones and sticks, while the police took their time arriving on the scene.

AKP deputy Abdurrahim Boynukalin, who orchestrated the first attack on Sept. 6, remarked that the paper’s editor-in-chief, Sedat Ergin, should have been given a beating. 

Asked whether his party plans to take disciplinary action against Boynukalın over his remarks, Interim Prime Minister and AKP Chairman Ahmet Davutoglu said that, while it was impossible for him to approve of such comments, he believes Boynukalin did not have bad intentions.

Erdogan himself criticized the daily on Sept. 8, claiming it had distorted some of his remarks in an interview, adding, “What kind of media outlet are you?” The second attack came that same day.

Turkish prosecutors also said they were investigating Hurriyet for spreading “terrorist propaganda,” the semiofficial Anadolu News Agency reported.

“Hurriyet is Turkey’s most influential newspaper and a symbol of free journalism,” Ergin told broadcaster CNN Turk. “Attacks on any newspaper should be condemned, but the attack on a paper with this kind of identity will particularly be put as a black page in Turkey’s democratic history.”

On Sept. 3, a Turkish prosecutor launched an investigation into Hurriyet columnist Ertugrul Ozkok to probe whether he insulted President Erdogan in an article.

Scores of people have been charged and even arrested, with at least ten being convicted, for insulting Erdogan, since he was elected president in August 2014.

On Sept. 14, Turkish police raided the offices of Nokta news magazine after it featured a photo portraying Erdogan taking a selfie at a soldier’s funeral. The magazine’s lawyers argued that impounding the magazine without a proper court order was unlawful and stated that the country had taken yet another step back in terms of press freedom.

All this comes against the backdrop of renewed fighting between the Turkish Army and the outlawed separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). On Sept. 6, the PKK killed 16 soldiers and 12 police officers. Since July, more than 110 Turkish security forces have been killed by PKK militants.

“While our nation is standing tall and our security forces have been conducting their struggle with sacrifices, each word and each manner aimed at demoralizing and confusing minds and depressing souls would solely serve terror’s goal,” Erdogan remarked on Sept. 8.

Erdogan has asked the Turkish electorate for a strong mandate in the forthcoming Nov. 1 parliamentary election in order to combat the militants. 

He hopes to increase his party’s majority from 341 seats to at least 400 out of 550, to enable him to amend the country’s constitution and give himself more power.

Hong Kong and Macau Retain Privileges

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
Though China was far too huge to become a colony during the age of imperialism, various European countries nibbled away at its coastline and islands.

Two of these outposts would remain colonial possessions until the end of the twentieth century.

Hong Kong was a British possession from 1842, after China was defeated in the First Opium War, to 1997. Britain later added parts of the Kowloon peninsula and the many smaller islands surrounding Hong Kong to its holdings. It leased the mainland New Territories in 1898.

Macau, acquired by the Portuguese in 1557, reverted to Chinese rule in 1999. The Portuguese had arrived in the Zhujiang (Pearl) River delta in 1513, but were for a long time met with hostility. 

However, when the Portuguese aided China in eliminating coastal pirates, the Chinese Ming court gave consent for a permanent and official Portuguese trade base at Macau. 
A near neighbour of Hong Kong, Macau occupies a small peninsula and two islands off China’s southern coast.

In the 19th and 20th centuries Hong Kong’s population was boosted by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants from China, many of whom were fleeing domestic upheavals.

Industrialisation gathered pace, and by the 1970s Hong Kong had become one of the region's economic powerhouses. 

Hong Kong’s economy has moved away from manufacturing and is now services-based.  It is a major corporate and banking centre as well as a conduit for China’s exports. Companies based in Hong Kong employ millions of workers in the neighbouring Chinese province of Guangdong.

Initially, Macau prospered on the lucrative returns from regional trade, and European-style mansions and churches mushroomed. Trade dwindled from the 1600s, but the introduction of licensed gambling in the mid 1800s revived Macau's fortunes. 

Macau has seen its low-key colonial character give way to massive commercial and tourist development. Macau has capitalised on its long history as a gambling centre, drawing many thousands of visitors from China and Hong Kong. 

Foreign casino companies have invested heavily and “mega-casinos,” which include major hotel developments, are now the norm. Gambling-related taxes account for 85 per cent of government revenue, but they have been in decline. 

Worried that the economy depends too much on gambling, Chief Executive Dr. Fernando Chui has pledged to diversify the local economy.

Both Hong Kong and Macau are “special administrative regions” governed under the principle of “one country, two systems,” under which China agreed to give them a high degree of autonomy and to preserve their economic and social systems for 50 years from the date of the handover. 

China controls their foreign and defence policies, but they have their own currencies and customs status. 

But Beijing can veto changes to the political system, and in Hong Kong pro-democracy forces have been frustrated by what they see as the slow pace of political reform.

Currently, of the Legislative Council’s 70 members, only 40 are directly elected, with the rest chosen by professional and corporate groups that favour Beijing loyalists. The chief executive is indirectly elected by an electoral college effectively controlled by Beijing.

China has pledged to allow the chief executive to be elected by direct universal adult suffrage by 2017, but still wants all candidates to be chosen by a nominating committee.

Occupy Central, a group pushing for more expansive democracy in Hong Kong, in June 2014 held an unofficial poll that garnered almost 800,000 votes in favour of more democracy than China is willing to allow. 

Tensions spilled over into mass protests in September 2014, with calls for full democracy and the resignation of Chief Executive C.Y. Leung, elected two years earlier. 

For two months demonstrators occupied major parts of the city and caused political upheaval. Critics argue that Leung’s true loyalties lie with Beijing.

Pro-reform forces are less vocal in Macau than in Hong Kong. A new state security law came into effect in 2009 with very little opposition, whereas attempts by the Chinese government to introduce a similar law in Hong Kong in 2003 triggered mass protests. 

Macau re-elected its chief executive Fernando Chui in August 2014, a widely expected result after the pro-China government stifled an unofficial referendum on democracy. He was the sole candidate and was selected by an electoral college. The 33-seat Legislative Assembly has only 14 directly elected members.

Activists had organised an unofficial poll calling for more democracy, but the vote was disrupted by the security forces and only 9,000 people took part, with 89 per cent voting for universal suffrage by 2019, when the next election will be held.