Democratic Ideals and Reality: An Enduring Tension

Portrait of Halford Mackinder
Portrait of Halford Mackinder (James Lafayette)

A century ago, a British member of Parliament and geographer, Halford Mackinder, wrote one of the famous books of geopolitics, Democratic Ideals and Reality. The book discussed the tension between what nations want (“democratic ideals”) and what they often get (geographic “reality”).

That tension seems especially topical this week. Read more

How Climate Change Will Be the Biggest Geopolitical Crisis of the Century

French troops in Mali, May 2013
French troops in Mali, May 2013 (EMA/Ministère de la Défense)

America is out of the environmental protection businesses; so says the haughty God-Emperor Donald Trump, whose word is apparently law.

Too bad even god-emperors cannot change facts. Too bad, especially, for the billions who are almost certain to be disrupted, displaced and decimated by the looming geopolitical effects of climate change.

That basic truth is denied heartily by many who have incentive to play games for short-term gain. These are old-school industrial concerns, for whom environmental regulation hammers a bottom line; alt-right, alt-truthers, for whom simple science is a threat to their incoherent worldview; and shattered working classes, seeking a simple scapegoat for the complicated story of their economic dissolution and disenfranchisement. Read more

South Sudan is Starving Itself, But We Shouldn’t Rush to Judge

Southern Sudanese soldiers parade on Independence Day in Juba, July 9, 2012
Southern Sudanese soldiers parade on Independence Day in Juba, July 9, 2012 (EEAS)

There are no famines anymore, unless people want them.

South Sudan is starving. As reported by Foreign Policy, the world’s newest country is also one of the world’s hungriest: Read more

Don’t Look Now, But West Africa Just Took a Huge Leap Forward

Yahya Jammeh, then president of the Gambia, addresses the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, September 24, 2009
Yahya Jammeh, then president of the Gambia, addresses the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, September 24, 2009 (UN/Erin Siegal)

“West Africa” should really only be a geographical label, not a geopolitical one. It is a place riddled with ethnicities overlapping tribes cut by religion bisected by language. There is nothing simple about West Africa except in the minds of long-dead imperial geographers.

That hasn’t stopped Nigeria from deciding to reorder the whole region to its liking. But for once in geopolitics, this reordering has not only been largely successful but is also incrementally pushing West Africa to better governance and stronger states. Read more

South Sudan’s Kiir Reappoints Rival to End Violence

Presidents Salva Kiir Mayardit of South Sudan and Jacob Zuma of South Africa deliver a news conference in Pretoria, October 24, 2015
Presidents Salva Kiir Mayardit of South Sudan and Jacob Zuma of South Africa deliver a news conference in Pretoria, October 24, 2015 (GCIS)

South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, reappointed his rival Riek Machar as vice president on Thursday in an attempt to end a year of civil war in Africa’s youngest country.

The two leaders have announced truces in the past only to see their supporters continue to fight.

It is unclear if the latest agreement, which restores the situation to where it was before last year’s outburst of violence, will be more successful.

Kiir fired Machar in late 2013 after accusing him of plotting a coup.

The conflict between the two men sparked an ethnic tussle, pitting Kiir’s Dinka against Machar’s Nuer people. Thousands were killed and some two million South Sudanese were forced to flee only years after they seceded from Sudan. Read more

France Expands Counterterrorist Mission Across Western Sahel

French army vehicles operating in Mali, 2013
French army vehicles operating in Mali, 2013 (EMA/Ministère de la Défense)

France will deploy troops across the western Sahel region in what its defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, described on Thursday as a new, “counterterrorism” phase in the nation’s military operations in Africa.

Le Drian said France would reorganize its troops to “pursue counterterrorism” beyond Mali, where it intervened last year to push back an insurgency of radical Islamists and local Tuareg separatists, across the “danger zone” of western Africa.

Despite earlier promises to draw down the French troops presence to 1,000 by the end of last year, around 3,000 soldiers are now to remain in the area indefinitely to check Islamist violence and arms trafficking, Le Drian said in a television interview. “We will stay as long as necessary. There is no fixed date.”

Since the collapse of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, when France, along with several of its NATO allies, intervened to support the uprising in that country, insurgency and smuggling has spread across the Maghreb and Sahel. Most states in the region are too weak to control their borders and put a stop to this criminal and jihadist activity.

Two international peacekeeping missions, one organized by the Economic Community of West African States and another by the United Nations, are deployed to Mali. The European Union has also sent trainers. The BBC’s West Africa analyst Paul Melly points out, however, that the local troops “lack the satellite and drone surveillance capabilities, the attack helicopters and strike aircraft that France can provide; moreover, France has recent combat experience from its time in Afghanistan.”

France 24 reports that the forces will be organized around four base camps. The Chadian capital Ndjamena hosts the mission’s headquarters with more than 1,000 troops. Mirage and Rafale fighter jets as well as tanker aircraft are deployed there also. Another thousand soldiers and Tiger attack helicopters are stationed in Mali’s Gao with a secondary base at Tessalit, near the Algerian border. Elite forces operate out of Burkina Faso while reconnaissance drones fly out of Niamey, the capital of Niger.

Eight French soldiers have been killed in the north of Mali since they were deployed there in January 2013.

South Sudan’s Machar Reneges on Truce

Former South Sudanese vice president Riek Machar follows the proceedings of a United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, July 14, 2011
Former South Sudanese vice president Riek Machar follows the proceedings of a United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, July 14, 2011 (GermanyUN)

Apparently reneging on a ceasefire agreement with South Sudan’s government, former vice president Riek Machar said earlier this week he had formed a “resistance” movement to fight what he described as the “regime” of President Salva Kiir.

“We decided to organize a resistance against the regime,” Machar told Voice of America in a telephone interview, adding that he wants to see free elections and political pluralism take hold in Africa’s youngest country.

“So, yes, if you heard troops in Upper Nile, in Jonglei, in Unity States, in Equatoria saying what I am saying, yes, we are now an organized resistance against the regime,” he said.

The announcement could derail a truce that both parties agreed to late last month to end a conflict that the International Crisis Group believes has killed up to 10,000 South Sudanese since violence flared up most recently and displayed several hundreds of thousands civilians, according to the United Nations.

The provinces Machar mentioned are all in the north and east of the country and home to his Nuer people. His conflict with Kiir, who is a member of South Sudan’s largest ethnic group, the Dinka, has taken on a sectarian character and evoked memories of the massacre of some 1,000 Dinka at the hands of Nuer fighters in 1991. Machar, who led those Nuer fighters, apologized for the part he played in the atrocity when he was vice president.

Last year, Kiir reshuffled his cabinet dismissed Machar, accusing him of plotting a coup.

In his interview with Voice of America, Machar denied he had tried to oust the president whom he nevertheless accused of having “dictatorial tendencies.” He vowed to challenge Kiir for the leadership of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement ahead of the elections in 2015.