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The Discipline of Diligence

Our attention spans as humans seem to be getting shorter and shorter.  Some blame the Internet generation, video games and the touch-pad age.  Others blame a general apathy on our part to see the importance of following anything that is not immediately gratifying.  I tend to be an optimist.  Whatever the reason, following an issue or subject that we are passionate about, that is bigger than ourselves and that most likely, challenges and confounds our ability to find answers for, is a discipline.   There is an inherent importance in this day and age for actually paying attention to the same subject over a longer period of time.  With that said, I wanted to continue to follow and to update you, the reader, about any developments on the stories and subjects that I have written about so far.  I will start with the oldest story herein and move forward, chronologically and will likely post in several parts. 

The Machine Gun Preacher

The movie had mixed reviews in the box office. Many critics thought it was a bust but apparently it is being widely hailed among evangelical church groups as a brave testament, and sermon topic for the role that one man can have in saving people.  I still have not seen it and do not intend to.  However, a friend, who is an academic, encouraged me to see it and try and weigh the film and the idea through the academic lens.  I intend to do so, at some point.  In the meantime I have been awaiting the documentary that has been promised to show his questionable trip to Darfur.  To date, I have not been able to locate a copy.  I have repeatedly attempted to contact Sam Childers himself via his website, blog, his friends and his email address with no response to date.  I believe that constructive criticism is important and dialogue should be exercised accordingly.  He may in fact be able to dispel the rumours and my arguments and questions to his legitimacy.  I would welcome that.  However, so far, his silence tends to raise more questions about the legitimacy of many of his claims about his work in Sudan.  Alas, it seems that under legitimate questioning he is more likely to pawn it off as “persecution” for doing God’s will.

Southern Kordofan

Southern Kordofan, along with Blue Nile State and the Darfur states, continue to be subjected to the marginalization policies and violence of the National Congress Party (NCP) in Khartoum.  This has intensified greatly since the South Sudanese seceded in July.  Continued attacks along the border regions in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile State specifically have resulted in massive displacement into refugee camps just inside the new borders of South Sudan.   The NCP government has pursued civilians into these areas and continued aerial bombardment well within South Sudan’s territory.   The resultant displacement is a humanitarian disaster.  South Sudan’s recent decision to simply shut off the oil pipeline has only served to exacerbate the tensions.  The posturing by the new government in the South is expected.  However, the resistance and intolerance of the NCP’s actions in Sudan itself is growing as well, both by civilians and armed rebel groups.  In fact, this shared persecution is one of the uniting factors between rebel forces in each of the three states and a recent announcement of uniformity in their goals has sparked a renewed hope that the brutal regime’s continued crimes against their own people will come to and end. Khartoum’s response was as efficient and brutal as ever with the killing of Khalil Ibrahim, one of the rebel leaders and a former minister in the Government of Sudan.  However, with each passing day we are hopeful that the seeds of change sewn elsewhere in the world will begin to inspire ordinary citizens stand up to the NCP government of Omar Bashir.  In fact, residents of Nyala, South Darfur, where I once resided, displayed their discontent with the ruling NCP today in what can only be described as general civil disobedience in the town.  As expected, they were met with a categorical show of force by police, military and the infamous Abu Tira, all loyal to the NCP.  Undoubtedly, there is a long road ahead.

Unfortunately, the situation in neighbouring Southern Kordofan has gone from bad to worse with intensified bombing of civilian targets and a complete blockade of aid reaching the state.  There are now legitimate concerns that the NCP is laying siege to towns in order to ready themselves for a full on attack of both rebel and civilian targets, particularly in the Kauda Valley.   The resultant civilian casualties of a siege and subsequent attack are likely to be disastrous.  Already aid groups estimate that nearly half a million civilians are at risk of food insecurity in the coming months. Although plans for the African Union to negotiate access for aid, one wonders, diplomatically speaking, what will be sacrificed.  For example, will the support for the ICC warrant for the arrest Omar Bashir be dropped?

Citizen journalist Ryan Boyette continues to exemplify what it means to be committed to constructive action.  His professional, and extremely important work remains a valuable contribution to the mountain of evidence of the NCP’s atrocities, through his regular reporting from the front lines including heavy fighting: http://twitpic.com/7rz48v.   

Ryan’s most recent report is as follows:

“On January 9th and 10th, 2012 there was heavy fighting between SAF and
SPLA-N forces in the village of Braum and Tess.  The SAF forces pushed their way to Braum in an offensive attack.  The SPLA-N forces repelled the attack and the SAF forces retreated back to Kadugli.

During the attack in Tess the SAF air force bombed the surrounding area
wounding and killing many civilians.  The exact number is unknown.  Although I have attached pictures of the wounded civilians.  The civilians were treated by the SPLA-N medic in a near by village.  There have also been reports of rape of women in Tess village by SAF soldiers.  Since SAF troops are still located near the road to Yida Refugee camp many civilians are scared to travel south to the refugee camp.”   

You can follow Ryan on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/ryanboyette

At this juncture I think it is important to tip our hats to two groups of people.  The first group is rather obvious; immense appreciation should be shown to all of the people assisting to bring aid to those displaced by the tensions and fighting.  Your diligence, devotion and sacrifices are appreciated.  Secondly, and more importantly still, I commend the ordinary Sudanese citizens who are participating in acts of civil disobedience in the northern towns and cities in order to show their own distaste for the current leadership.  Undoubtedly, you will need to be brave. 

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Update on The Price of Plunder

In the intervening days since Friday’s deadly events, some progress has been made in stabilizing Ijema Funan, the injured ranger.  Although his injuries are severe and likely to be a life-long disability, he is stable and in excellent hands in Nairobi.  For that I am intensely grateful. He will undergo multiple, lengthy and extensive surgeries to replace his shattered shoulder and repair the wound on his face.

Abdullahi Mohammed’s (aka Abdi) funeral was attended by many in the community, a testament to the loss and pride of the community of the role rangers play in protecting the local environment.  He will be sorely missed.

Additionally, in an excellent turn of events, two of the perpetrators have been captured in the nearby town of Mackinnon Road.  A full report of their capture is available here.  Their capture represents an important step in bringing justice to the families of Abdi and Ijema and the wider WW family.  Their arrest is also leading to a wealth of intel on other nefarious activities in the area, including the recovery of the assault rifle used the incident.

Thank you for your continued reading.  I will keep you updated. La Luta Continua

Image.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

The Price of Plunder

I write this post with sadness. As I am typing, one of my friends and former colleagues is in surgery in a Nairobi hospital, a round from an AK having ripped off half his face and a second round through his shoulder.  Another former colleague has just been buried in the red sands of Tsavo.  This is the human price of plunder. 

In the last two years, the massive escalation of elephant and rhino poaching in eastern and southern Africa has resulted in the emergence of powerful cartels which fund and control the wealth generated from the sale of the ivory and horn.   There are various theories as to where the money ends up with some experts claiming that the money funds Al-Shabab activities in nearby southern Somalia.  Others believe that there is at least complicity, if not full involvement, within the local government structures in order to allow for the massive scale of the current crisis.  The crisis that is emerging erodes the natural ecosystems on which Kenyans are intrinsically tied and on which forms the foundation for the future.

Often, brave men like my two friends are all that stand between the widespread plundering of the environment by powerful groups of criminals.  They have selflessly given their lives for that cause and will be remembered as heroes. 

In Paul Collier’s book, The Plundered Planet, he asserts that the developing world’s greatest asset is its natural capital.  Collier claims that the governance and management of natural assets can have one of two impacts: either to buoy the country towards a sustainable development path, or in the absence of regulation, result in the absolute plunder of the natural environment.  In the past, too often, the latter has been the case. Governance (regulation), technology and natural capital form the three main components of his argument.  A poignant reminder of this paradigm comes in the form of one of Collier’s simple equations: Nature + Technology – Regulation = Plunder.  I will write more on this at a later date. 

As one man’s family mourns him, and another man’s prays for his recovery, the plundering of the environment continues unabated.  If the environment is crucial to our development, and the foundation of our future, it is my hope that we soon come to realize that the price of plunder is ultimately a human one. 

Rest in peace brother.

                                                                    

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Follow-up to Canada, Kyoto and the Crisis of Climate in East Africa…

I came across this excellent video from Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.  I encourage you to take a few minutes to watch it.

When The Water Ends: Africa’s Climate Conflicts by : Yale Environment 360.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Canada, Kyoto and the Crisis of Climate in the Horn of Africa

Canada’s recent decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol irks me.  It irks me because, as a Kenyan – Canadian, it is a poor reflection of the values our society purports to have, the values that once made Canadians well-respected, defenders of human rights. It is no secret that the decision was almost entirely motivated by financial and political pressures.  However, Peter Kent, the Environment Minister, a man who recently failed to articulate what the ozone layer was, claims that the Kyoto Protocol is bad for Canada.  I am really not sure what metric of success Mr. Kent is using but unfortunately if we are not part of the solution we are certainly part of the problem.  Canada is now the only country in the G8 to actually increase our emissions over the period of the Protocol.  What is ‘bad’ for Canada should be more accurately and succinctly be put as ‘bad for the Conservative government and the deep pockets of the oil-rushers’ in northern Alberta.  Our failure to meet our obligations under the Kyoto Protocol is not only a national embarrassment, but it also means that we are actually actively undermining many of the ideals which we as Canadians claim we support.

The Kyoto Protocol

I am not going to tell you that the Kyoto Protocol is perfect because it is not.  However, it is the best tool we have, and has been continually refined over almost two decades. In Europe for example, it has been very successful in many parts of the world at reducing the emissions generated from industrial processes, transport, and promoting reforestation.   More recently, the promise of mechanisms such as REDD, can help to augment those successes by articulating the financial resources of the developed world, with developing countries, that host significant forest resources in return for “credits”.   Although these REDD credits are not yet applicable to compliance oriented targets, future iterations of the agreements such as Kyoto will likely allow for REDD credits to be applied towards compliance. Ironically, this concept was actually birthed in Canada at the CoP 11 in Montreal.  Through mechanisms like REDD, the developing world can receive the funding they need to protect tropical forests from which we all benefit, as these forests act to recycle significant amounts of CO2 emissions.  Under the current Kyoto obligations, by the end of 2012, Canada would owe roughly $14 billion in penalties, having missed all of our compliance emissions targets.  In the future iterations of the Protocol, those penalties will most likely go directly towards purchasing REDD credits from projects which not only provide massive sustainable forest management benefits, but also multiple co-benefits such as poverty reduction and biodiversity conservation.  However, instead, we have simply decided to abandon Kyoto, the only country EVER to sign, ratify and subsequently abandon the legally binding agreement.  Our excuse?  It is too expensive and we must concentrate on our economy…

Debunking Myths

I was recently a caller on a talk radio show in eastern Canada discussing climate change.  The radio presenter was asking callers to convince him that climate change was real (yes, there are still some deniers out there).  What surprised me was the bulk of the callers actually believed that climate change is made up and that it was a scam to make money.  A second, and possibly more important part of the debate revolved around the question of whether or not Canada was right to pull out of Kyoto.  Most people agreed that Canada was indeed right and “why should we give money for climate change mitigation when we don’t emit that much?” or “The Chinese emit way more than we do…”. Now, I realize that radio call-in shows are not the best gauge of public opinion in Canada. However, what struck me is that if many Canadians are so unsure as to whether or not the climate is indeed changing, and furthermore, whether or not we are to blame, then is it not easier than ever to effectively ‘pull the wool over our eyes’?  Could it be that that is exactly what is happening?  At it’s best this is short-term thinking, at its worst, it is an abuse of human rights.  If you feel I am getting fired up, than just wait.

Many people raise confusing arguments about Canada’s contribution to the world of emissions.  There are some confusing numbers out there as well. However, in response to those that claim Canada is not a “big emitter”, we are not, in gross terms. However, we have a tiny population and yet our emissions per capita are some of the highest in the world

Others claim that China emits way more so why should they get a free ride?  China does emit more, again in gross terms.  But there are two reasons not to take that statistic at face value: 1) there are 1.3 billion Chinese (of course they have greater emissions) and 2) many of those emissions are created running factories to build cheap stuff for North Americans. 

Other people have raised the idea that Kyoto Protocol has failed to get these big emitters on board and that they are in effect getting a “free ride”.  Yes, the Kyoto Protocol has failed to get big emitters on board, the US in particular.  Although the US originally signed the protocol, it was never ratified by the legislative branch.  Other big emitters are not currently on board but will be in the future. China, India, Brazil and others are only enjoying a “free ride” in so much as we have had a “free ride” for the past 150 years.  In fact, under future iterations of the Kyoto protocol, their free ride would be much shorter than ours. 

Human Induced Climate Change

I believe that the climate is changing on the earth and that we, as a human race are responsible for much of that change.  I am not a climatologist, but I am a social scientist and human nature is often easier to predict than we think.   We are selfish and we don’t like to know we messed things up.  In particular industrialized societies have generated billions of tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalents) which have acted to exacerbate the greenhouse effect causing an increase in atmospheric carbon from roughly 280ppm in 1750 to roughly 380ppm now, an era that corresponds exactly to the Industrial Revolution and the subsequent fossil-fuel driven growth that has defined our times.  The correlation is undeniable.  Furthermore, climate change is not something that can be forecast effectively and so there are bound to be mistakes in some of the models. Nothing of this scope has ever been encountered by humankind and so, although the science is rigorous, there will inevitably be mistakes in prediction.  However, that is not to say that the science is debatable.  It simply isn’t.  Science is a tool and inherently neutral.  But I want to push this envelope slightly further by taking the emphasis off of the forecasting and predictions of climate change, so hotly debated by North Americans, and bring it back to the present tense.  Climate change is already having devastating impacts on many parts of the world.  You can debate it until you are blue in the face if you would like to, but the truth is that major emitters per capita such as Canada are having a catastrophic impact on people in other areas of the world. 

The Current Impacts of our Emissions

It is no secret that scarcity causes conflict.  Whether that conflict is a bargain sale at the local Best Buy, or something much more basic such as access to clean water or food, conflict is, sadly, often the result of competition over something scarce.  Most of us know this inherently but few of us actually realize our role in promulgating such scarcities in the wider world today.   If we knew that we were causing conflict, even indirectly, would we change?

In my work and private life, I have had the privilege of spending some time in places like Darfur and the Horn of Africa over the last two decades.  During this time, I have seen firsthand the impacts of a changing climate on the lives of those most vulnerable with increasingly erratic rainfall, failures in crops and loss of livestock, loss of livelihoods, deepening conflicts and poorly implemented responses to those conflicts.  Climate change has been, and continues to be, one of the most devastating drivers of conflict and human suffering in the world today. Paradoxically, the people caught up in the conflicts are people that have the lowest ecological footprint in the world.   Ban Ki Moon, when speaking about the Darfur conflict, puts it bluntly in a 2007 Washington Post article “Almost invariably, we discuss Darfur in a convenient military and political shorthand – an ethnic conflict pitting Arab militias against black rebels and farmers. Look to its roots, though, and you discover a more complex dynamic. Amid the diverse social and political causes, the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change”.

I recently watched an excellent short documentary by Al Jazeera linking the increasingly severe conflicts in northern and northeastern Kenya directly to the failure of climate change mitigation efforts in developed countries.  I encourage you to watch it is as well.  Seldom are my thoughts and investigations put as coherently as this short documentary.

The Government of Canada’s decision to pull out of the obligations inherent in the Kyoto Protocol is disturbing to me because it represents the insidious deterioration of transparency and global leadership that Canada once showed.   Mr. Kent explicitly highlighted that Canada did not want to spend $14 billion buying credits to make up for the emissions targets that we have missed, mainly because of our ever-growing bitumen mining exercises in northern Alberta. Instead, Canada seems content to continue to pump foreign aid to the tune of $5.335 billion in 2009-10 in to places like eastern Africa’s Horn with hopes of bringing stability to the region, attempting to mitigate conflict but certainly not carbon.  Interestingly, CIDA, Canada’s International Development Agency, claims that one of their three priority, cross-cutting themes is “environmental sustainability”.   

As a Canadian, it irks me to know that we are no longer part of the solution, but rather only part of the problem. Our excuses for being part of that problem are nothing more than financial.  Our emissions, and our subsequent failure to prioritize mitigating those emissions, are having directly harmful and negative impacts on other people in the world, human beings that we purport to defend the rights of. We find ourselves instead, embroiled in silly arguments as to whether or not climate change is even real while our government serves the interests of a few hyper-emitting industries.  Climate change is indeed a current reality.  I am sorry to say Mr. Kent, but without meaningful carbon emissions reductions, inherent in the Kyoto Protocol, than all the aid money in the world will not reverse the damage our emissions are doing to the lives of those in East Africa.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
— Martin Luther King Jr., 1963, Letter from a Birmingham Jail


 
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Posted by on December 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Lest We Forget

Today is Remembrance Day in Canada, Armistice Day in the UK and Veterans Day in the US.  I have been watching the History Channel today and I am always struck by the tremendous actions of the generations that lived and died during the World Wars in particular.  I will never claim to have seen war as intimately as those generations did, but having seen some facets of war during my life and work and the type of violence that these men and women witnessed, I can say that it must have been hell.  As the documentary interviewed veterans, strong men moved to tears by the losses they witnessed, I found myself desperately wanting to ask them just two questions: Is the type of lifestyle that you see our generation living now, what you believed that you were protecting? And secondly, Is the generation that I live in exhibiting the values that you fought and bled for? I would like to imagine that their answers would be surprising.

As I was pondering this today I have come up with two things (among many) where I believe that we are have and continue to be heading in the wrong direction.  These two things are the subtle yet profound differences in the way we view Rights and Freedoms.

Concerning our Rights, I believe that we have conflated the fundamental human rights with qualitative augmentations to human rights.  We can all agree that every human has the right to water.  However, we don’t have the right to hot water.  We have the right to clean air, not necessarily air conditioning.  We have the right to education but University is still a privilege.  Food – but not whatever we want, whenever and wherever we want. All these qualitative augmentations to our basic rights are things that bring relief, insight and joie de vivre, but they are not rights.  They are functions of our management of resources and the dynamics of international trade.  And here’s the kicker, qualitative augmentations to our rights always come at a cost to someone, somewhere.  Whether that was your grandfather on a beach in Normandy, or a kid mining coltan in the DRC, qualitative augmentations, cost someone somewhere.

Concerning, our Freedoms, I believe that we have conflated the Freedom to…do whatever I want, with the Freedom from…oppression, injustices, tyranny and unrepresentative governments.   I think our generation has been sold on the idea that the American Dream was the freedom to consume at any rate we want.  Our generation was told that our “Freedom and way of life are under threat” in the era of terrorism and that the “Axis of Evil” is the boogie-man coming to keep you from living the way you want.  AND that if we wanted to fight that oppression, we need to go out and spend money, stimulating the economy.  I believe that many in our societies have lost track of the definitional difference between rich living, and living richly, demonstrated by our obsession with economic growth and GDP as the sole metric of our “health”.  Could it be more ironic that our freedom to…spend all our money on rich living, is what is actually killing us, driving the divisions in our own society, drawing the hatred of others and above all, undermining the planet itself?

Freedom from oppression, tyranny and injustice are true freedoms, freedoms which dignify the human existence, bring mutual understanding and unity.  The Freedom to do whatever we want, live however we feel like living, perpetrate crimes against others in our country and the rest of the world if it threatens our way of life and our social standing, is not a freedom that I would be willing to die for.  I am not sure that our veterans would think that that was worth seeing their friends die for either.

Today in our world, there are a tremendous number of opportunities to exercise our freedoms and rights in a way that constructively extends those rights and freedoms to others. In fact, just yesterday friends of mine working in Southern Sudan were bombed by Omar Bashir’s SAF as he attempted to annihilate a refugee camp, including a school. In a world that we sometimes feel is going to hell, there are still good fights to be fought although rarely are the “bad guys” as easily identifiable as Hitler or Bashir.  In fact, we have to be willing to admit that our own lifestyles are driving the repression of others and in so doing our enemy may even be ourselves.  But in order to know that, we must revisit the definitions of rights and freedoms.  It is essential that our generation is as ready to fight for these things as other generations were.  It is essential that we continue to fight those good fights, not to pass on oppression in our rates of consumption, greed and mock-up of the American Dream, but to pass on the freedom from oppression and human rights.

Our rights and freedoms have come at a tremendous cost and revisiting the definitions of each of those rights and freedoms is a necessary and important exercise if our generation is going to take a different trajectory than those before us.  If we allow the definitions to fade, the meanings to be blurred, we too may find that we will have to revisit the costly mistakes of our forefathers in the endless cycle of violence that is war.  Lest we forget – veterans, I salute you.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

East Africa rising…?

I wanted to link a couple of interesting articles this morning talking about the emerging importance of East Africa. As the balance of power in the world shifts, the dynamics of trade, governance and especially the management of the environment become ever more important.  As we surpassed the ‘7 billion people’ mark this past month, the realization that the world is getting smaller and smaller is more pertinent than ever.  This growth presents an excellent opportunity for emerging economies such as those in eastern Africa.  Harnessing the power of people in the region will ultimately be inextricably linked to providing good environmental governance. As the region’s population grows, it’s economic potential is not only linked to the availability of a skilled workforce but how that workforce interacts with the environment and the Ecosystem Goods and Services derived from it.  Have a look at these two perspectives on the population growth and the strategic importance of the East African region.  Let me know your thoughts:

http://blogs.worldbank.org/africacan/kenya-rising-and-germany-falling-a-tale-of-two-populations#comment-12803

http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/10/201110289314839415.html

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2011 in Uncategorized