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Monthly Archives: October 2011

What if…? Exploring the Ramifications of Kenya’s War on Al Shabab

For anyone that knows me, I like to ask the question ‘what if…?’ and the last few days have resulted in a lot of such questions.

About ten days ago, the Kenya Military formally went to war with a radicalized group of fundamentalists known as  Al-Shabab.  Al Shabab has been happily entrenched in southern Somalia for the last several years, and has recently won more notoriety for denying access to their areas for the delivery of humanitarian aid.  Even more recently however, the Kenyan government has accused Al Shabab of entering Kenya and abducting several tourists and aid workers.  

It is no surprise that Al Shabab have risen out of the anarchy in Somalia over the last two decades.   I will be the first to admit that I am not a Somalia expert but it seems likely that in a place where governance of any sort is rare, the encouraging words of religiously affiliated extremists somehow allow people to have hope that somewhere, sometime, things will get better…or at least they will be forced to have said hope.

Kenya’s decision to go to war with Al Shabab and invade Somalia was an interesting one.  Although certainly not surprising, the validity of timing was debatable.  I am not really going to explore the intricacies of the war with Al Shabab from a military standpoint or as a focal point in continuation of the Bush administration’s “Global War on Terror”.  I think that many analysts have already focused on that and only time will tell whether or not Kenya’s war will turn into the protracted conflict that many are predicting.  The only thing that I will say is that the recent truck bomb that went off in Mogadishu and killed over 70 students sitting for an entrance exam had all the sophisticated hallmarks of an increased Al Qaeda presence.  I think that that really alarmed some people in Kenya’s echelons of power … only time will tell what happens on that front.

Instead, I will focus on the intricacies of the economic ramifications of the war with Al Shabab.  Although many argue that Kenyans have benefited economically from the presence of massive aid operations servicing everyone from Rwanda to Sudan to Somalia, Kenyans have also bore a huge burden in terms of pressure to admit refugees, pressure on limited ecosystem goods and services and pressure on already stretched government services.   Somalia has given Kenya millions of her people in Dadaab.  Many more thousands of those displaced from Somalia end up languishing in Eastleigh with little or no status.  Sometimes they even delegitimize ethnically Somali Kenyans by their propensity towards obtaining illegal paperwork.  In addition to the burden of more refugees, the resulting insecurity in the many rural areas of Northeastern, Coast and Eastern Provinces has meant that effectively half the country is in a state of flux and formal economic stagnation. But perhaps most worrying, is the influx of extremist infiltrating the ranks of legitimate refugees.  A spate of grenade attacks in Nairobi is an illustration of just how quickly Al Shabab can hit back at Kenya. With attacks on visitors subsequently injuring the tourist industry, still recovering from the post election violence and the global economic downturn, the economic prospects for Kenya could be dire indeed.

Now, let’s revisit the invasion of Somalia by the Kenyan army through a different lens.   We all know that wars are very costly and this one between Kenya and Al Shabab will be no different.  In fact, the Kenyan taxpayer will likely pay a massive bill for this little war over the next many many years to come.  Does that sound unfair? Absolutely, and especially considering that the failed state status of Somalia has hardly anything to do with Kenyans.  In fact, the anarchy in Somalia is quite old indeed.  However, most experts agree that what was once fairly arcane, inter-clan hostility, kept in check by camel debt, was given a boost of virility by the dumping of high-tech weaponry on a region with little or no governance during the Cold War.  The US and the USSR’s proxy war resulted in the deep erosion of traditional Somali safeguards such as environmental management, grazing management and rotation strategies and the camel debt.  In effect, everyone defaulted on camel debt all at once…sound familiar?  Anarchy ensued and when the US won the Cold War, no one was around to collect the billions of dollars worth of weaponry dumped on Somalia. 

Cleaning up, containing and simply trying to keep track of the anarchy associated with the Somali failed state has been the job of successive Kenyan governments since the 1960s and the beginning of the shifta wars, with varying degrees of success, collaboration and corruption.  Recently, the Kenya Police released their statistics on crime and successes against armed elements, criminal gangs and collection of illegal weapons.  The results were as revealing as they were impressive.  I found the “Operations against Aliens” section particularly interesting where the vast majority of cases were against Somalis.  

Economically Kenya is dependent on a number of key sectors, especially horticulture and tourism.  With this hard currency Kenya has done very well at repaying debts to the IMF for development loans and other stabilization measures.  In the IMF’s most recent report on Kenya they rank it as a dependable and say that ‘Kenya has managed its debt relatively well and has regularly met its obligations…”.  Either way you look at it though, Kenyans pay up to 24% of their GDP towards external debts of which 47% goes to IMF loans alone. Much of this has been borrowed to finance development and most importantly, to stabilize Kenya.  Stabilize Kenya?  The money is actually directly used to stabilize our rather volatile currency (volatile I might add, because investor confidence in the region is somewhat strained by the threat of anarchy from our neighbours…).

Every major bank, government, NGO, UN agency or industry leader has an office in Nairobi and the strategic importance is very clear.   Kenya has been able to attract this level of investment because it has been the stable kid on the block., the forward thinking, well-educated, well connected place where people want to be. 

Now drift with me a bit.   When Germany lost the World Wars, countries in Europe sought payments for the damages inflicted upon them.  Germany had to pay out, (and by some accounts are still paying out), billions of dollars of reparations.  Concurrent to our little war here in Kenya, Greece is asking to default on her loans.  Analysts point out that if Greece goes, Spain and Ireland could be close behind.  Bailouts, bailouts and more bailouts for those places that are considered strategically important – all in the same vein as those banks that were “too big to fail”.  So, here comes the big what if…    What if Kenyans told the IMF to take their loan repayments and buzz off and instead asked for reparations from the US for its and the former Soviet Unions’ destabilizing impacts on the entire region?   What if Kenyans say “You need to pay us for having us deal with your destabilizing mess in our region, while you enjoyed 20 years of prosperity after the Cold War”… now that is a big what if…but seriously, what if?  The ramifications are endless… but then again, the Chinese don’t seem too worried about credit ratings*

When I started this blog, I made a point of emphasizing that this was a forum for debate.  I do want to encourage that forum and I want to learn from you.  So let’s hear your thoughts and comments.

* Please note, I am not advocating that Kenya default on financial obligations to the IMF or other external lending institutions, nor am I suggesting that Kenya should flout its commitment to international laws, judicial reforms and it’s commitments to development for its people.  I am simply asking ‘what if…?’ in an effort to get to the point that the wealthiest countries in the world have direct obligations to the region for development assistance, stabilization, investment and governance and that those obligations need to extend well beyond bilateral trade obligations, structural adjustments and opening of free-market systems.

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Posted by on October 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Follow – up in Southern Kordofan…

In follow-up to my post about Southern Kordofan, Nick Kristof of the NYT posted this yesterday excellent article about Ryan Boyette.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/opinion/sunday/kristof-the-man-who-stayed-behind.html?_r=1&src=tp&smid=fb-share

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

The Emperor is gone. Fundamental questions about our relationship with the new Libya.

Like many, I awoke this morning to the news that Ghaddafi had been captured.  As I watched the television it soon emerged that, in fact, Ghaddafi had been killed, shot in the head.  I watched as they dragged his corpse through the dirt and I couldn’t help feeling moved, having seen this happen to other human beings not too long ago.  There is great jubilation and excitement as Libya is finally free from Ghaddafi’s tyranny.  His terrible memory will live on for many years as several generations of Libyans will live with the legacy of destruction that came with his iron-handed rule, rebuilding slowly and surely.  I have no idea what a new, free Libya will look like. I, for one, am optimistic that the rebuilding will have robust public institutions and espouse democratic values, chosen by the Libyans themselves. Some are already talking about the threat of radicalized fundamentalists moving in in the wake of the revolution.  Most though, are simply relishing the fact that a new chapter has started.

No sooner had I heard about the death of Ghaddafi, then I heard a certain American commentator say that Libya now owes us for helping to set them free and thus should be giving priority to direct foreign investment from countries affiliated with NATO.

Let’s be laconic and honest for just a moment.  The fact is that the irony of NATO’s involvement has not been lost on our generation.  Why are there not interventions in Yemen and Syria of the same sort?  Thomas Friedman notes that we, as North Americans, pursuing our American Dream, through cheap oil, have enabled and reinforced the ability of dictatorships such as Ghaddafi’s to deny their people basic human rights.  In many cases, we actually have supported the dictators to deny their people rights, in order to secure our own freedoms to consume.  Think about Mubarak in Egypt…

With that as the case, do Libyans owe us anything?  Do they owe us the favour of giving our companies good terms? Being our mouthpiece to the Arab world? Our key ally? Or should we be exploring more fundamentally opposite strategies? For example, what  if the Libyans asked us to pay them reparations for reinforcing the rule of four decades of dictatorship?

Questions abound about which direction Libyans will choose.  What I often wonder about is whether or not Libyans will choose the same unsustainable path that North Americans have chosen.  Will they build an economy that is buoyed by the illusions from financial institutions and under-regulated lenders?  Will they strive for unlimited economic growth, built solely on petro-dollars?  Will they aspire to the life-style of conspicuous over-consumption in every sector that North Americans live?   Or should we aspire to live more like Libyans, relishing our freedom from oppression, as opposed to freedom to inflict it?

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

For Southern Kordofan, when is Enough enough?

Today I want to highlight some important work that advocates are doing to bring attention to the situation in Southern Kordofan, Sudan.  Southern Kordofan is one of the “Three Areas” that lay along the historic North/South border in Sudan.  The Nuba Mountains, an ethnically and religiously diverse area and historic breadbasket of Sudan, lay entirely within the state and have been an area of key support to the SPLA during the most recent war (1983-2005).  The people of Southern Kordofan have endured intense persecution at the hands of the Khartoum government and with the cessation of South Sudan, bombing, displacement and massive human rights abuses have been intensified.   In addition to massive agricultural potential, Southern Kordofan is the only state in the North that has proven oil resources that are commercially viable and where there is an infrastructure.  Ryan Boyette, recently gave testimony to the attacks to a US Congressional committee.  The Enough Project in cooperation with the Satellite Sentinel Project and citizen journalists like Ryan Boyette give testimony to these atrocities here:  http://www.enoughproject.org/blogs/enough-and-citizen-journalist-brief-congress-evidence-ethnic-cleansing-sudan

Despite an ICC warrant for their arrests, both President Omar Bashir and the former Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs, Ahmed Haroun, still enjoy free-movement as demonstrated recently by a trip to Malawi.   In 2009, Ahmed Haroun was actually made Governor of Southern Kordofan.  There is strong evidence and informed testimony as to the atrocities Bashir continues to commit, including his support to groups creating mayhem in Darfur and his support to the LRA

I want to draw your attention to another situation that may not seem connected at first.  I have received many comments about my recent, rather scathing appraisal of the Machine Gun Preaceher, Sam Childers.   I stick by what I said and re-assert my appraisal that unilateral action based on religious motivations can not be supported without raising serious objections.  Many people have questioned the wisdom of Obama’s decision to send US Advisors to Uganda to tackle the LRA.  I have seen many comments (see comments section) comparing Uganda to Somalia on the basis that they are both places in Africa and that the US has no business getting involved.  The assertion that multilateral action is not helpful and that there is no merit in the utility of the role of the US, as a nation in the international community, can play in ending these atrocities can only be examined is concerning.  The wisdom in evaluating these incidents in a case by case analysis should still remain absolutely paramount.  Bringing an end to the conflict in between North and southern Sudan in the form of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005) was a case where the international community did just that.  Somalia, on the other hand was in a state of anarchy when the US troops went in 1992.  There was little, if any, coordinated action between local government and the US mission there and very few people that actually had much experience in the politics and culture of Somalia.   Uganda and South Sudan have functioning, legitimate governments in place with which US advisers cooperate.   Many advocacy groups including Human Right Watch, have been calling for this move for a long time.  In this regard, the fundamental difference between Sam Childers’ crusade against the LRA, and the move by the US government to send in advisers, is a case of unilateral religious conviction of the former and the multiplicity of regional support for the latter.  Similarly, the case for ending Khartoum’s atrocities committed in places like Southern Kordofan and Darfur is a long-standing one and multilaterally demonstrated by the issuance of ICC warrants in both the Kony case and the Bashir case.

In sum, in terms of advocating for justice for those in Southern Kordofan, I would call for the strong measures against Omar Bashir and Ahmed Haroun to be multilaterally held to account.  Primarily, I would support a renewed call for the ICC warrants to be enforced (warrants that have been multilaterally issued and supported by not only the UN but by countries who committed to such actions with the ICC at the signing of the Rome Statue ).  When it comes to Sudan, as Ryan Boyette asserts, Bashir’s regime will fall, but only with a change in leadership will there be an end to the type of executive orders that result in the wholesale destruction of civilian life in the Southern Kordofan.  

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

The Africa Trap

Most of us like to generalize.  It helps us make sense of things when we are unsure about something or have limited exposure to it.  It guides our decision-making when we are making a cost-benefit analysis or even a simple gamble. It helps us construct our view of reality.  Unfortunately, when that generalization involves assumptions about large bodies of dynamic information we tend to fall in to a problem of applicability.   One such large body of information is Africa.  Yes, I just treated it as a lump.  It is surprising how often people make generalizations about Africa.  Africa is a continent.  There are many commonalities across the continent but only as much as there are with any other continent. There are certainly more differences; a rich diversity of people, landscapes, histories and experiences.  But to many people Africa is just a place of war, famines, jungles and wild animals.  In this discussion, I try to parse out how our assumptions about the entire continent of Africa, has led to major generalizations in our thought process.  Both media and academic institutions reinforce these generalizations by avoiding context and thus the assumptions are self-enforcing.  I call falling in to these generalizations about Africa the ‘Africa Trap’, based on the scalar trap described by Brown and Purcell (2005) in their study about the economics of Brazilian market expansion in the Amazon.

I believe that this generalization of an entire continent, whether conscious or subconscious, is one of the underlying drivers of the developed world’s interaction with Africa, namely that it is raw, undeveloped, backward, full of wars and famine and even savage and importantly that we need to fix that.  We have created a mystique about Africa, much as Edward Said’s Orientalism asserts that common perceptions of the Middle East were largely the creation of Western assumptions, inferences and generalizations about some Arab cultures. This profoundly impacts how many people invest, give aid, development, and formulate foreign policy decisions. It has become the lens through which the world makes judgments about an entire seventh of the world’s population. 

Watching the CBC this morning a report entitled “Famine in Africa” came on. It is certainly not an uncommon thing to see titles of media stories flash across our screens that paint a picture about a place that we have never been.  Perhaps even subconsciously, we imagine that that is just the way it is in Africa.  It drives me bonkers. One of the things I see as a painfully indicative of our common views on development, aid, conservation and investment in eastern Africa is the almost perpetual usage of the term “Africa” in contexts where it is not appropriate.

Here is the problem: when we start to apply that sort of thinking to situations that do require specific knowledge, we can make inferences, juxtapositions assumptions and statements that are not only wrong, they are damaging.  If someone was to say something like “In Africa, they don’t have a free-market economy” many people may take that as fact, because most of the audience may not have any experience with the realities. The fact is it is not only an absurd statement, but also an amazingly broad generalization. Would anyone mind if I said “Asians eat dogs.” I would imagine that many Muslims in Turkey would find the assertion that I think they eat dogs, slightly disconcerting.   More importantly, it informs opinions in those that may not know so that they subconsciously think of Africa as backward, non-progressive etc. and that furthermore, there is little positive going on over the entire continent. That is why the generalization is so dangerous. Herein lays the issue.

Community to Continental: The Art of Generalizations

A professor I was speaking with two day ago said to me “in Africa, the men don’t do any farming do they?”  I was shocked.  If I was to say “Africans do this… “ or  “In Africa, they believe…” I would not only be generalizing everyone from Mandela to Ghadafi, K’naan to Aidan Hartley, but I would probably be leading others to believe it is a true generalization.   This professor didn’t seem to have any problem with that.

In reading Political Ecology by Paul Robbins this past week he asserts that:

“If environmental degradation is often associated with the marginalization of the poor subsistence communities and working people, it might be logical to assume that conservation and preservation of environmental systems, resources, and landscapes is commensurate with community sustainability and the protection of livelihoods.  This has proven to be far from true, however, even and especially where such communities are deeply implicated in environmental management and ecosystem maintenance.  The case of Africa is superlative in this regard.” (Robbins, 2004, p 147).

The case of Africa?  What case is Robbins talking about here?  Robbins has taken an assertion about the way several communities manage their environmental resources and in one swoop applied that assertion to an entire continent. Not only does it form the readers’ opinion that a homogenous group of poor people all act the same way, but it also insists that all people in Africa all behave the same way.  This is the epitome of dangerous thinking and these generalizations hurt societies economically, socially and developmentally.   I believe should refrain from using broad sweeping language about Africa.

There are myriad other examples of this type of thinking in the academic world but which we don’t have time to go in to here.  But I found this one particularly pronounced:  Burke and colleagues made a similar assertion in 2009 with Warming Increases the Risk of Civil War in Africa recording the impacts of climate change in a very specific contexts but in title, applied to the entire continent.   All of Africa is at risk of civil war?  Really?    But who is going to question that, right?

Economic implications of negative media coverage

The generalizations we are exposed to in the media and the implicit acceptance of them, deeply impact the way people make choices of how to interact with Africa, particularly in sectors such as the service industry.   Would you want to travel to a place that is full of bandits, militia and famine?  Probably not.  But on any given day, according to many major international news outlets, the only thing going on in Africa is famine and war.  An example that I am familiar with comes from the economy of Kenya.  (I can’t comment on Nigeria, Zambia, Madagascar or Algeria because I simply would be making a generalization about stuff I really have no business commenting on).

Kenya’s economy is dependent on a robust tourism trade.  This tourism trade, like many other countries in the region, is built on the presence of enigmatic, charismatic mega-fauna whose very presence is an amazing success story in tolerance and management. By some estimates one in six Kenyans are involved in tourism directly and indirectly through service provision.  However, despite a well-educated population, innovative mobile banking services, technologically advanced communications, dynamic resource and conservation solutions, a bustling private sector and major reforms to the entire constitution recently, how often does one hear good news coming out of the media regarding Kenya? Do a Google search of stories about Kenya in the international media and the vast majority of the news stories reported are about crime, criminals, post-election violence and famine. A recent spate of abductions of foreigners in an area of eastern Kenya closest to troubled areas of Somalia has been a good example of how the media handles such generalizations about Africa and the economic ramifications of this type of generalization are clear.   This area is an area which has a troubled past, largely due to the lack of any form of effective governance in Somalia and the influx of weaponry from the Cold War.   But let’s be specific – this is not all of Kenya, nor is it even close to where the majority of tourism activities take place.  And yet, the framing of the media stories makes it sound as if Kenya is a dangerous place.

Does it impact people’s opinions about Kenya and their decision to visit?  I would venture to say it does even though the site of the crimes was over a thousand kilometers from where most tourism operations are conducted. How does this impact all of those people reliant on the robust tourism trade? The obvious answer is very negatively, undermining the development of an entire country.

Can we say that this fits our preconception of Africa?  In some ways it is not a hard conclusion to draw that all of Africa is the same as the border area of Somalia, even if that assertion is not accurate at all.

Let’s look at it another way. British Columbia in Canada also has a robust tourism economy with thousands of people coming every year to see the natural wonders of the wild and beautiful cities alike. In early September 2011, a young boy from Sparwood, BC was abducted. Should we all stay away from BC because something happened in Sparwood?  Should we all stay away from Canada because something happened in BC? If the Kenyan media reported this story in the same way that western media outlets report on Africa, I would stay out of Canada.  Ludicrous isn’t it?

The types of assertions that the international media make about Kenya impact the lives of all Kenyans.  The same assumptions about Africa, impact all of Africa and serves to inform a much broader, if under-educated world, that “Africa is a dangerous place”.  Parts of it are.  No argument there.  So are parts of the US, such as parts of Baltimore, Atlanta and if you are gay, Wyoming.  My point is that in a world that is more hyper-connected than ever, why are we not holding our media outlets to a standard that reflects actual news connected with actual specific places in temporal and spatial scales as opposed to assertions about an entire continent?  The failure to do that is not just unfortunate or poor journalism.  It actually deeply impacts the stability of many people’s livelihoods.

Foreign Aid, Development and the Africa Trap

Whether or not we want to believe that aid and development workers are somehow better at implementing programs that avoid the “Africa trap” or not, the inherent truth is that many projects and programs are fraught with design flaws that embody this type of thinking.  I won’t go in to many examples here as they are easy to find and it is often too easy to criticize aid without taking context in to consideration.  But one or two examples do come to mind.

The wide distribution of food and Non Food Items (NFIs) in many aid programs is an example.  We intrinsically think that Africans are poor and that to make them not poor we need to give them stuff.  Although theoretically targeted, many distributions have inadvertently destroyed local economies.  In Kenya, dumping free stuff , can very often destroy local market economies on which many livelihoods are dependent.  The Kenyan textile and garment industry can not compete with the influx of free, or incredibly cheaply priced clothes sent to mitumba markets by well meaning Americans who want to “help those poor Africans”.

I need to clarify that, sometimes, it absolutely appropriate to promote some of these measures of assistance.  Careful, contextual analysis needs to happen before anything else, and certainly not just because “it is Africa and they need help”.

Conclusion

So what am I saying here?  Africa is a continent.  Most other usages of the word Africa should be challenged for context and veracity.   Our assertion that generalizations can be made about such a massively diverse continent is weak and can bias us in profound ways. We need to challenge that thinking when we come across it because context matters, temporally and spatially. When someone talks to you about Africa, whether in a media story or just in a passing conversation, remind them that no one speaks African, so could they please be more specific.

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

The Machine Gun Preacher: The incarnation of a new American foreign policy?

The hype around that upcoming movie the Machine Gun Preacher has me more than a little worried about the type of fanfare that is being generated for what is effectively a story about vigilante justice and which in actuality is almost entirely fallacious.   The story centers around a man, who, after leading a rough life as a biker in the US, meets Jesus, is transformed and decides to go to northern Uganda and what is now South Sudan to take on the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), rescuing children from the hands of terrible people. Sam Childers, aka the Machine Gun Preacher, is a self-styled hero who claims to be engaged in righting the wrongs that he claims everyone else is ignoring.  His apparently unilateral actions against the LRA in northern Uganda and newly formed South Sudan are the subject of the upcoming film, starring Gerard Butler of 300 fame.  The movie is based on Childers’ own book, Another Man’s War where he claims to be setting up an orphanage for children which he has rescued from the LRA.  He claims to have been in several firefights with the LRA and rescued scores of children.  The problem is that his claims are somewhat spurious.  Well, not just somewhat, almost completely.

Apart from the establishment of the orphanage at Nimule, many of the claims presented in the book, and now captured in the cinema, are easy to dispute.   For example, the MGP’s claim on his blog to have recently driven from Nimule to visit Darfur is highly suspect.  A reminder to the readers that the only mention of any specific places in this trip are Turalei and Nimule, both located well within South Sudan. How did he cross the river dividing the North and South? Where did he stay in South Darfur? How did he enjoy Buram? Or the hospitality in Nyala? To claim that he went to Darfur is nearly impossible and certainly sheds doubt on many of the details of his claims. As an aid-worker working for a charity in Southern Sudan (during the war, pre-2005); Southern Kordofan (2006-2007) and South Darfur (2009 – 2010), I find many of the details of his stories inaccurate, and somewhat sensationalized.  My doubts are certainly echoed by many other aid workers, journalists, the business community and even the SPLA whom he claims to have been working with.  The SPLA have gone so far as to issue a full statement disavowing any involvement with Childers. Many of the areas he describes in his book have very active aid and development operations as well as bustling local economies.  And yet he claims no one is there doing anything…

Admittedly, progress in addressing many of the systemic problems in what was Sudan and is now two countries, is slow and very frustrating.  I certainly can attest to that.  I can even identify with the feeling of wanting to pick up a gun and just shoot the “bad guys”.  However, importantly, being able to compartmentalize that urge as an emotional response is critical, and a quality of rational people. Without that self-control, the reality of the impact of such an action would likely lead only to further complications and cycles of violence.  That restraint is absolutely critical.  Let me clarify, the LRA do abhorrent things and have been a scourge in this area of the world for many years.  I am not saying that we shouldn’t be angered or moved by such things and that it shouldn’t make us want to find a way to bring justice to these children.  But one of two things is happening here:  Either 1) You have a man running around deciding who is and who is not LRA and killing them whenever he feels like it, or 2) a liar raising a lot of money in hopes that no one will challenge him on the veracity of his claims a la Greg Mortensen, but with an AK.

As disturbing as this sounds, it goes a step further. Regardless of whether or not his claims are spurious, he is being cheered, financed and encouraged by an ever-growing base of support. Most of these people claim to be evangelical Christians but I am not sure Jesus would have encouraged re-paying evil with evil…

Reading the comments on his blog, and looking at the reviews of his book, it would seem that a vocal segment of the population of the US is actually supportive of this type of unilateral, vigilante action.  In fact, I feel that it reflects a much larger and disturbing belief about the rule of law, human rights, the role of religion and the role of Americans in our modern world.  The train of thought must go something like this: “Well, we would never allow that in the US, but this is AFRICA and we don’t have to follow the rules because we are Americans and God gave us a vision to help these poor African kids.  People need to see love and stuff and we will give them both.”

Is this our new view of how our foreign policy should be enacted?  Is it ok to think that “at least he is doing something?” and it is ok because he believes God approves?  I would vehemently oppose such statements.

This lack of respect for due process and the rule of law is disturbing when one person does it. But it is terrifying when an entire segment of the population support him without asking questions about his facts.  Can you imagine if a Mexican crossed the border in to the States and decided that he would go after criminals indiscriminately with neither the support of the US law enforcement agencies nor the judicial system?  In fact, looking at the comments on his blog, it would seem that people are encouraging people like Sam Childers simply because he feels God wants him to. Is that not the very definition religious radicalism? Indoctrination? Fanaticism?

In the newly formed country of South Sudan, upholding the democratic values that we espouse in the US is just as important as feeding programs and orphanages.  Equally, upholding human rights and the rule of law is just as important in South Sudan as it is in Iowa, New York or anywhere else.  In theory, one of the key components of the US system of democracy is the right to a fair trial, no matter how guilty any one of us thinks that the person is.  A second important aspect is the enforcement of the rule of law for the betterment of society and progress, in a collective effort to avoid vigilantism.   This interpretation of justice as one of the tenets for a stable society is a key role of our foreign policy and many millions of US taxpayers’ dollars are spent on in modeling this in the form of USAID funded programming, in places like South Sudan.  Sure there are problems but it is a worthy goal, one worth protecting.

And yet our actions speak much louder than our words.  In practice, we have been quick to assassinate people in foreign countries based on algorithms and patterns of movements interpreted by drones.  We imprison people in Guantanamo for a decade without charge.  Whatever happened to fair trial? Where is the rational man?  Burden of proof? Facts? When we reduce guilt to the actions that any one of us interprets as threatening, wrong or sinful, we have eroded the very foundation of justice, let alone forgiveness, tolerance and peaceful coexistence.   Sam Childers and his supporters seem to embody this growing belief that the end justifies the means and that all things are ok to do, as long as God told you to.  I, for one, don’t believe that.

My message to Sam Childers is this: Time to come clean Sam. Whether you are truly a vigilante or just a liar, at least your followers as a group of Christians, would be compelled to forgive you.

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2011 in Uncategorized