The news only reached me this morning here at my Cape Town home. It was not a shock because it had been expected. But a grey, heavy, and deep sadness descended. It was mixed with uncertainty and confusion because I did not know how to respond. I held back tears but am not sure why.
It is not that South Africa is now rudderless or that chaos will descend. We have come a long way since Nelson Mandela became president of the new South African democracy nineteen years ago. But in a way, with his death go the certainty and the clear direction towards a better future for our divided society. He had provided a virtual place of refuge to all South Africans who sought direction and inspiration to cope with and manage the turbulent times of our political transition. Even from his sick bed he represented the ultimate moral compass for all of us, black and white.
If all the famous people gathered in a room, all attention would be on Nelson Mandela. He is, without a doubt, the most well-known and respected public figure in the world. And yet, as I personally experienced as a young South African diplomat serving in Washington D.C. during the apartheid-to-democracy transition period—when such gatherings of the famous took place—Nelson Mandela made an effort to seek out and recognize the invisibles: the waiters, the doorman, the kitchen staff, the security.
In his own writings and in interviews, he was at pains to stress that he was no saint. He said he was an ordinary man, with the same fears, self-doubts, and vanities we all share. He acknowledged that he neglected his first family, and one can see from his early photos that he enjoyed his handsomeness, especially in a good suit. He had a great need to be liked and was able to muster considerable charm to win over any doubters. Once you were won over, however, he would expect loyalty, and he would lead with conviction and principle–his need for recognition never translated into him bending to the wind of popular opinion.
For instance, referring to his arrest, sentencing (which could have been the death penalty) and imprisonment, he explained that to act brave, one needs to pretend to be brave. His message to us is that this was not somehow a unique character trait that he was born with, but rather that we can all be as brave as Mandela if we choose to act that way.
In a December 1998 report to the United Nations Security Council, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan happily reflected on a crisis in Africa where the world body had done well. A UN peacekeeping operation had taken over from an African-led, French-supported force, and contributed to the stabilization of a dire political and security situation in the Central African Republic (CAR). “As a result of the involvement of the United Nations,” the Secretary-General extolled, “the Central African Republic has become an island of relative stability in an otherwise war-torn region.”
Fifteen years later, the Security Council is once again seized with a collapsing Central African Republic. Though the situation is markedly worse now, with warnings of the risk of genocide ringing out from New York, Paris, and Washington, a looming feeling of déjà vu is taking hold as the UN, the African Union, and the French scramble to prevent CAR’s descent into anarchy.
Back in 1996, three army mutinies against a weak CAR government led central African states to deploy the Inter-African Mission for the Surveillance of the Bangui Accords (MISAB). The UN Security Council approved MISAB’s deployment in August 1997 under Chapter VII of the charter, and called for greater support from the international community. Paris provided the majority of assistance to the operation, and increased its troop presence in the capital, Bangui.
Yet France grew weary of the cost of its presence on the African continent and decided to scale back in CAR in late 1997. This left the UN to deal with a fledgling African mission that could not fulfill its mandate without the French. As a result, Secretary-General Annan reported to the Security Council in January 1998 that the “only viable option” was the establishment of a UN peacekeeping operation in CAR. MINURCA was eventually deployed in March 1998, and by 2000, after a marked improvement in the country, the UN operation was drawn down.
Fifteen years later—and almost fifteen years to the day of Annan’s “island of stability” remark—the African Union is poised to assume responsibility for the African-led International Support Mission in CAR (MISCA) on December 19, 2013.
For at least the last two decades, there have been calls within the United Nations to develop robust, accurate, and effective early warning systems for conflict prevention. Indeed, as recently as September 2011, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the UN Security Council reiterated this need in their report “Preventative Diplomacy: Delivering Results.” The president of the Security Council at the time stated that a “key component…of a comprehensive conflict prevention strategy include[s] early warning [mechanisms].” The need for comprehensive early warning systems to analyze and disseminate data on sociopolitical and armed conflict dynamics within the UN system is well established.
Yet one of the main operational challenges to early warning is clear: how to aggregate incoming information and data to derive actionable intelligence on an emerging situation. Often (but not always), incoming data is highly qualitative, which can place strains on the limited capacity of international organizations (IOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In addition, quantitative data is often not collected in a way that can easily be fed into a larger system. Organizations can find it too resource-intensive to clean, process, and analyze the data, thus limiting the type and volume of data being looked at.
One way to overcome these resource constraints is to create tools that can automate the processing and analysis of quantitative data. Machine learning and data science seems a natural fit to improve this process. Data science is a multidisciplinary field that applies a mix of mathematics, statistics, computer science, data modeling and visualization, graphic design and hacking, as well as specific subject area expertise. Machine learning is a branch of computer science that leverages algorithms, or a set of step-by-step computer procedures, to perform actions without explicitly being programmed to. Machine learning has been used by a wide variety of private sector organizations for things like targeting user recommendations, detecting fraud and identity theft, and ad optimization.
Automated early warning systems can help NGOs and IOs in a number of ways. They can help organizations develop an evidence base to create the political will to do preventative work to intervene or mitigate negative effects of large-scale conflict as tensions ramp up. In the case of predicting conflict, organizations can use early warning risk assessments for better planning and try to target non-conflict interventions that have conflict-mitigating knock-on effects in high-risk areas.
During a short but intensive stay in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, I had the opportunity to elicit views and first-hand accounts from a variety of actors—government officials, international humanitarian and development actors, civil society organizations, and academics and experts—on the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis, and, more specifically, on what opportunities they saw for greater regional cooperation to address the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria and beyond.
Most of the people I spoke with were rather pessimistic at this time. In fact, one major takeaway from the multiple interviews was an overwhelming sense that, rather than having a sobering effect bringing regional players together, the Syrian conflict and its spillover in neighboring states is deepening antagonisms and exacerbating regional power politics.
Yet, narrow areas of converging interests could be identified that, if properly exploited, could enhance regional cooperation in partly addressing the human impact of the civil war.
The direct humanitarian consequences of the Syrian crisis—especially massive refugee flows—risk further destabilizing an already volatile region while introducing demographic changes that might have long-term regional implications.
Despite the regional nature of the crisis—or maybe because of it—there is little room for concerted regional action to address the growing humanitarian crisis. At this point in time, Middle Eastern states seem indeed mostly driven by self-interest and real or perceived “existential” threats.
Limited areas of convergence and mutual interest can be found among refugee-hosting countries regarding access to funding and the “existential” threat posed by refugees, who might change for good the existing demographic balance.
These shared concerns should be duly taken into account to devise a concerted and regionally driven response that would both address immediate refugee needs and facilitate their eventual return to Syria when conditions will allow. A coherent joined-up approach might in turn facilitate access to funding.
It has become a truism to say that the Syrian conflict is a regional crisis. Figures speak for themselves: 800,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon; 550,000 in Jordan; 520,000 in Turkey; 200,000 in Iraq; and 130,000 in Egypt. Altogether, more than 2.2 million refugees—one tenth of the Syrian population—have been registered or are in process of being registered in these five countries.
And this staggering number represents only the tip of the iceberg since it doesn’t take into account scores of Syrians not registered by the UN refugee agency. Reportedly, a popular estimate heard on the streets of Beirut is about 2 million Syrians in this tiny country of 4 million. Even if this number is highly inflated (more reasonable estimates report 1.2 to 1.4 million), it is quite telling that the perception of the Lebanese is that their country is literally flooded with refugees. In Jordan, officials reported that, to the 550,000 registered Syrian refugees in the country, one should add approximately 150,000 unregistered refugees and up to 600,000 Syrian migrants who left Syria either before the conflict or for reasons not directly related to it.
At the start of every month, the Global Observatory posts a list of key upcoming meetings and events that have implications for global affairs.
Peace & Security
December 2-8: African Leaders Summit, Paris Over 40 African representatives will meet in Paris this week to discuss security in the continent’s most unstable regions, according to the AFP. The French-led summit comes at a critical moment for the crisis in CAR; an additional special session will be held on Saturday to address the issue. Other topics to be covered are France’s role in African security, and how to successfully transfer military responsibilities from the former colonial power to AU-based operations. Additionally, a new economic partnership drafted by French Foreign Minister Pierre Moscovici will be unveiled. On the sidelines of the summit, more than 500 French and African businessmen are expected to hold discussions on trade agreements, as well as conservation of threatened species and climate change.
December 4: Deadline for Egyptian Constitution, Egypt The two-month drafting process of Egypt's constitution will close amid continued unrest between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. The 50-member committee is revising the Morsi-era constitution, but the new document will likely not resemble its predecessor much. While citizens will likely be afforded some new rights—the state may be required to protect women from violence, for example—there is concern that Islamist communities won’t be represented in the new charter. Probably the most contentious provisions being considered would significantly expand military power, including the ability to try citizens in military courts. In addition to Islamists, secular groups also joined protests—for the first time in months—to dispute this development. A referendum will take place in January 2014.
December 8: Nile Basin Countries Complete Talks on Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan are due to meet in Khartoum to reach an agreement on the controversial Grand Renaissance Dam. A recent discussion took place on the sidelines of an Afro-Arab Summit in mid-November between Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour, where further Egyptian attempts at negotiating a reduction in the size of the dam’s structure were largely unsuccessful. With 30 percent of the hydropower plant complete, it remains unclear whether an agreement will be reached. The political tug of war between Egypt and Ethiopia–each guided by a different interpretation of how the dam will affect their water security–continues to be the center of the deadlock among the Nile Basin countries.
Religious tensions have crept further into the increasingly brutal incidents of violence in the Central African Republic, where villager testimonials in this sub-Saharan country relate horrific murders, rapes, and the pillaging of their communities by young men, said Philippe Bolopion, United Nations Director for Human Rights Watch, who returned from the country just a few weeks ago.
"This is the time for the UN to send peacekeepers to the Central African Republic," he said in this interview with the Global Observatory.
"We believe that a few of them [peacekeepers] in a few places like Bossangoa, along the main roads in some of these ‘ghost’ villages would go a long way in terms of providing security for people to come back [to their villages]," he said. Thousands of people have fled the violence, leaving entire villages empty.
While in the Central African Republic (CAR), Mr. Bolopion heard first-hand accounts of grisly violence from villagers, and concluded the perpetrators would be no match for a peacekeeping force. "The Seleka fighters in Bossangoa are a bunch of nineteen-year-olds with old Kalashnikovs and flip flops. The anti-balaka are poor villagers with machetes and spears. So, this is not a situation like eastern DRC where you have a UN intervention brigade facing a well-organized rebellion supported by a powerful neighbor. The military threat is not great."
The country has slid towards chaos after President François Bozizé was ousted in March 2013 by a loose coalition of armed groups comprised mostly of Muslims known as Seleka; its leader, Michel Djotodia, has since declared himself president of the country. In response, groups known as the "anti-balaka" comprised mostly of Christians are now targeting Muslim communities.
"What we discovered is that in many cases, these [anti-balaka] groups have resorted to the same brutal tactics as the Seleka, attacking entire Muslim communities for the simple reason that there were Muslims, killing women and children, looting, killing the cattle, destroying entire communities. And so that showed us that the country has already entered in a cycle of atrocities and counter-atrocities that are conducted by two armed groups which do not very often face each other, but attack civilian communities they perceive being from the other side. And this, of course, is extremely dangerous."
He said, "There is no question that the people are using religious tensions to justify the horrendous abuses they commit against civilians, but within the country, the tension between communities is palpable as well."
"When we were on the ground, there is no question that feelings are very raw in both communities: Christians, who are the overwhelming majority of the population, as well as the Muslim minority."
He said when he arrived in CAR, he knew he would find the situation to be bad. "But we were not quite prepared for the kind of testimonies we got when we hit the ground."
He said that UN peacekeepers would have "a huge impact in a country that's on the verge of catastrophe."
Mr. Bolopion said the soldiers in the African Union mission there (known by its acronym MISCA), "are not equipped enough or professional enough, frankly, to provide security for civilians."
Jérémie Labbé: I am here with Philippe Bolopion, United Nations Director for Human Rights Watch, who recently came back from a mission in the Central African Republic, a country that is steadily sliding into chaos following the overthrow in March 2013 of François Bozizé by a coalition of armed groups known as Seleka. Philippe, thanks for being with us in the Global Observatory today.
Following your trip in the country, what are your main observations in relation to the humanitarian situation and reported human rights violations?
Philippe Bolopion: We came back very alarmed from the mission we conducted in the country only a couple of weeks ago. We knew arriving that the situation would be bad. We produced a report we released at the UN in early September describing massive crimes committed mostly by Seleka fighters who have been killing civilians in large numbers, including women and children, who have been looting, raping, setting entire villages on fire.
So, we knew it would be bad. But we were not quite prepared for the kind of testimonies we got when we hit the ground. I was particularly shocked by the violence of some of the abuse by the recently reactivated anti-balaka groups. We knew the Seleka was extremely abusive. Reading from news accounts, we thought that the anti-balaka, which are mostly Christian groups that were created in reaction to months of Seleka abuses, or, rather, reactivated, because they already somehow existed.
We thought that they were a bunch of villagers taking up a few weapons to protect their villages against Seleka attacks. What we discovered is that in many cases, these groups have resorted to the same brutal tactics as the Seleka, attacking entire Muslim communities for the simple reason that there were Muslims, killing women and children, looting, killing the cattle, destroying entire communities, and so that showed us that the country has already entered in a cycle of atrocities and counter-atrocities that are conducted by two armed groups which do not very often face each other, but attack civilian communities they perceive being from the other side. And this, of course, is extremely dangerous.
Creating family-friendly policies in the Irish Defense Forces is the challenge of its new gender advisor Commandant Jayne Lawlor. Ms. Lawlor is looking “to try to make the defense forces more attractive for people to stay in, particularly women to stay in,” she said.
Ms. Lawlor said these policies wouldn't be just for women, “it would be for primary caregivers, and it would be probably only available at a certain period in your life and you could maybe only avail it a certain number of times.”
She said it would help retain more women, “instead of women reaching a certain point in their career and deciding that the home life-work balance was too much of a conflict,” she said.
While only 4.8 percent of the Irish Defense Forces serving overseas are women, addressing the numbers issue is complex. “If we're trying to increase that number—the 4.8 percent of those serving overseas—what's going to happen is we're going to put increased pressure on the women who are serving to go overseas.”
She said if that is done, “what we're actually doing is we're not taking into consideration the fact that there are periods in a woman's life when she is not going to be available to go overseas. So, we have to factor this in. If a woman is having children, we have to allow for approximately two years, three years for a pregnancy and a baby before she is then ready to go back overseas again.”
Ms. Lawlor said education on genders issues is crucial to making this work. She said one way is by training on gender perspective and gender awareness when men and women are first inducted, and then also each time they progress in rank. “What we're trying to do is to keep it progressive in nature, but also to ensure that as people move through their careers, it's something that's been regularly brought to their attention, and that its been utilized on career courses,” she said.
Bringing this type of gender perspective is something Ms. Lawlor said needs to be communicated to both genders. “It should be men getting the gender perspective into our operations. It's not just women who can do this. It must be done by both men and women if it's going to succeed.”
Andrea Ó Súilleabháin: Today I’m speaking with Commandant Jayne Lawlor, gender advisor of the Irish Defense Forces. Jayne joined the defense forces in 1997, and has served in several UN peacekeeping missions, including in Lebanon, Liberia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan.
Jayne, you serve as the Gender Equality and Diversity Officer of the Irish Defense Forces. What does that job entail?
Jayne Lawlor: Basically, the Irish Defense Forces had a major reorganization approximately twelve months ago, and out of that, one of the new appointments that was created was that of the gender officer. Previously, we had an equality officer in place, but they decided that, due to the importance of 1325, they would actually amalgamate and make a specific job for gender within the organization.
Since I've taken up the job, what I've tried to do is come up with basically a plan and a way of implementing Security Council Resolution 1325 into the defense forces at all levels. So, be it into our policy, into our operations, and into our training.
The International Peace Institute is an independent, international not-for-profit think tank dedicated to promoting the prevention and settlement of conflicts between and within states by strengthening international peace and security institutions. To achieve its purpose, IPI employs a mix of policy research, convening, publishing and outreach.