Category Archives: Terrorism

ETHSA2012: What is human security without women?


What is human security but the totality of all conditions that make a human being feel secure. Philosophers have debated this concept yet the sensible conclusion to be reached is that human security should be about empowering people to realise their full potential.

The concept of human security was first developed by the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) in its 1994 Human Development Report (HDR) encompassing all the elements that constitute freedom from want and freedom from fear.

What a wonderful world it would be, yes that world that we all aspire to have but which actively remains a figment of our own imaginations. A world in which each individual experiences a totality in security.

A world in which every individual would be free from fear; fear of death, of terror, of hate and hate speech, of violence and all other threats to the physical and mental well being of the individual.

A world where the individual is free of want. Want of employment, of food, shelter, clean water, jobs and all other factors that make human lives more comfortable and enjoyable.

A world where the individual is free from poverty, disasters, injury and disease, pollution, climate change, environmental degradation, natural and man made hazards, famine, food shortages, terrorism, political repression, torture, conflict and warfare and such other vulnerabilities.

Is human security attainable?

Human security is a wonderful aspiration whose main objective is to protect people. It can not be understated however that it is certainly difficult to achieve in its entirety. But the truth is that world does not exist where there is no will for it to exist. It probably never will exist without real commitment for it to exist. We will continue to live in a world of deep insecurity. Hence the subject of human security finds its relevance as we seek to understand the challenges and conceive solutions to these challenges.

One striking note on the concept of human security came with the address by one speaker who, speaking to the concept of human security from a gendered perspective, said that women’s involvement in all discussions on human security is imperative.

As she aptly stated, how more so important could it be in discussions on human security than to involve the very individuals who worry about what their families shall eat, where they shall sleep, where they shall get water to drink, and the same people who care for the sick and the elderly.

Here is what happens when the world ignores women’s voices…

“She saw it when her husband started keeping a machete under the bed. She knew it when he started attending late night meetings on whose agenda, not a word was uttered in their home. She also knew when the machete under the bed became 20, then 30 and then heaps and heaps of them occupied their home. She later understood it all when hundreds of thousands of Tutsis had died in barely a 100 days.”

Above is an account of a Hutu woman who knew in advance the preparations that were being made by her husband and his colleagues to launch the genocide in Rwanda. However, her knowledge failed to save lives because her voice was never given a space in the whole discourse on peace and security in Rwanda. Had she spoken out, maybe some deaths could have been averted. Hence no talk of human security should ignore women, especially women at household level whose everyday experiences are the best informants of sustainable and desirable security strategies.


Coup in Mali: The ‘Rats’ and ‘Dogs’ discussion continues


Another coup in Africa. Another decision by an elite group of citizens to take the fate of millions into their own hands.  Another threat to peace and security on the African continent.

Well here is the thing; it all begins with such events, a coup, a rebellion, a mutiny. Then it gets prolonged and for years we shall write about political instability in one or the other of the African countries affected. In the beginning, as is the case with Mali, the UN or the AU or both will make statements about how terrible it is for something like this to happen then bide their time to see if the situation will calm down.

The UN Security Council has called for the “immediate restoration of constitutional rule and the democratically elected government”. ECOWAS has said the soldiers’ behavior is reprehensible. The AU called it a’setback to the democratisation process in Mali.’

Then if the trouble continues for a while, the AU will suspend Mali’s membership and “continue to engage them to restore democratic governance.” And then the war with the rebels will continue and grow in intensity. One or such other Western powers will clandestinely give arms  to the Touareg separatists  to continue fighting the Malian government feeding their own economies on wars in Africa and then publicly condemn the protracted war and send peacekeepers to bring back sanity and ‘peace’ to the land of Mali.

Then maybe the UN Security Council will meet to decide if they should pass a resolution for action, either to intervene-which is rare- or to send the perpetrators of crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court. And then China or Russia or the US will veto that decision. Civil society organizations will make a huge outcry and continue lobbying for action.  Meanwhile thousands will be losing their lives. Then if lucky, the conflict will abate. Then some young and inexperienced European and American citizens, in a KONY 2012 style,  will come to Africa  as ‘experts’ on Demobilisation, Disarmament and Repatriation, Transitional Justice and Peace building to Africa, paid huge sums of money because they are in ‘risk zones.’ They will purport to bring peace to Mali and the process and the cycle goes on and on and on.

That has happened before and it could happen again in Mali. The reality is that for years, Africa has been riddled by these changes of government which are unconstitutional and chaotic. They chip away at any progress that could have been made in improving the governance patterns on our conflict and poverty ridden continent.

In this case, the coup by the military against the Malian government is said to have been started by the military’s anger and disgruntlement with the inadequacy of the government’s response to a rising separatist movement by Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali. This movement is alleged to have been boosted by the flow of arms remaining from the Libyan revolution. The rebellion began on 17 January. Many soldiers have been killed in the fighting and they claim that widows of the deceased have not been compensated.

Mali Coup- Credit Human Rights Watch

To refresh our memories a bit, in August 2011, when the Libyan- NATO assisted rebels took over Tripoli- Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi made a statement to the effect that the forces that defeated him were ‘rats’ and ‘dogs.’ I wrote an article questioning this statement and wondering who the real rats and dogs were.

Now, Ghaddafi is dead. NATO has left Libya. The Transitional Council is in power and all should be well in Paradise park isn’t? But really no. Why do I say so? The story that began as just a Libyan story and a Libyan civil war has now become a real threat to peace and security in the whole Sahel region and the recent coup in Mali is evidence of that.

On 19 March 2012, the African Conflict Prevention Programme of the Institute for Security Studies in their Daily Briefing gave a clear warning about the situation in Northern Mali and said;

“The demise of Gaddafi and the subsequent proliferation of arms in the region have fuelled rebellion and terrorist activities in West Africa and the Sahel region. One such negative outcome is the Touareg rebellion in Northern Mali, where the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) has launched an insurgency against the government in Bamako. It is believed that MNLA, made up of some 600 fighters, has been armed with sophisticated weapons acquired mainly from Libya or through the illicit arms proliferation channels that have emerged after the fall of Gaddafi’s regime in Libya… The rebellion has taken new threatening dimensions to the extent that MNLA is believed to have some territories under its control, as its fighters are well armed and better managed.”

Indeed their prediction was on point. However this coup has got me asking a lot of questions?

First, the warnings about the flow of arms from Libya to the Sahel region and warnings that this would lead to destabilisation of the region were widespread even before Gaddafi himself died and yet neither the NATO forces, the UN nor the AU Peace and Security Council took concrete steps to ensure the demilitarisation of this zone. Why was that?

Second, the irony of the coup having taken off immediately after an African Union Peace and Security Council Ministerial meeting, has got me wondering whether the African Union peace and security architecture is an effective tool for securing peace and security on the continent.

Third, the coup has got me wondering, how effective-if at all,  are Declarations by the AU such as the one it made tow days ago noting that the Sahel region is faced with multiple challenges, linked to terrorism and transnational organised crime, proliferation of weapons, illicit trafficking and latent armed conflicts. The PSC noted that these challenges were compounded by the Libyan crisis, in particular the influx of hundreds of thousands of returnees, as well as the inflow of arms and ammunition from the Libyan arsenal, which provided a source of armament to terrorist and criminal groups in the region. But why did they wait until these arms were being used to actually do something?

Fourth, how much real and tangible change do the Communiques such as the one passed by the  AU Peace and Security Council Ministerial meeting PSC/PR/COMM(CCCXI) bring to ensuring that the peace and security situation in Mali does not disintegrate further?

The coup itself is said to have been necessitated by the military’s wish to ‘defend the country’s security.’ Really? Can that be done? Can a coup restore the country’s security given Mali’s history?

A little history on Mali

  • 19 November 1968, Moussa Traoré led a bloodless coup, organised elections and subsequently became President after winning 99% of the votes.
  • Between 1979 and 1980, with Gen. Moussa Traoré in power there were 3 failed coups or coup attempts.
  • 26 March 1991, Amadou Toumani Touré led a coup together with 17 other military officers, suspended the constitution, formed a transitional committee as its head and spearheaded the move towards a civilian government.
  • 8 June 1992 Alpha Oumar Konaré won the election and became Mali’s third President
  • Today, yesterday and for an uncertain period to come as the success or failure of the coup has not been determined President Amadou Toumani Touré is being ousted by the military.

I keep wondering and never get concrete answers. The complexities of this world, the global politics, the toll on human suffering all seem like one big maze where nothing is ever what it seems. And so the ‘rats’ and ‘dogs’ in the equation remain unclear. Is it NATO? Is it the UN? Is it the AU? Is it the rebels? Is it the government of Mali? Is it the Partitioners of Africa who gathered in Berlin centuries ago? Is it the drafters of neocolonialism? Is it it just us as African peoples? How will we ever have peace in Africa?


They are all terrorists


When most of us hear the word terrorist this is the picture that forms in our heads because it is the most flagged stereotype.

A long bearded man, wearing a flowing robe, with a keffiyeh-Islamic headscarf- for men or a hijab for women and most probably a practicing Muslim. Yet this image and perception is fraught with inaccuracies. It is neither perpetually true nor justified.

I am also greatly concerned by the skewed reporting by the wider press on incidences whose consequences are grave and whose nature is terroristic. For instance the recent killings by Anders Breivik of  87 of his fellow Norwegians earned him the labels a ‘far-right Norwegian nationalist with ardent -anti Muslim views’,  ‘a right wing extremist’ (Wikipedia), a far right extremist (BBC News) a mad man (The Time World), a  ‘Norwegian mass killer’ (The Telegraph) and a self confessed mass killer (The Guardian). Yet when Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab tried to detonate a bomb aboard a Detroit bound flight headlines such as these were all over the news:

  • Detroit terror attack: profile of Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab – The Telegraph
  • Source: Terror suspect’s father tried to warn authorities – CNN Justice
  • Flight 253 terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab led life of luxury in London before attempted attack – Daily News UK
  • Terror suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab… Investigations still to be completed reveal he visited Houston in 2008 – The Examiner, Texas US

Clearly attaching the label ‘terrorist’ to Mutallab was an easier task for the press than it was with regard to Breivik. Worse still Breivik actually carried his act through yet Mutallab only had the intention but his plans failed. Do not get me wrong, Mutallab’s failure to detonate the bomb does not in any way make him less of a terrorist but one can not help but wonder what the cause and reasoning behind the differential labelling could possibly be.

Two days ago, my friend, Sarah Dorman, was reading a book called ‘The First Terrorists.’ I could not read it because it was in Arabic and my Arabic is still very much elementary but I did ask what it was about. She said it is an analysis of the origins of terrorism from an Islamic point of view. The book apparently identifies the Israelis as the first terrorists, arguing that the Zionist movement, which saw the Israelis trying to set up a nation and in the process displacing Palestinians began the war on terror. The book argues that had Israel not started the war against Palestinians, Arabic Islamists would not have had a reason to retaliate. And so it appears that blame shifting, labeling and in some instances misrepresentation is the order of the day when it comes to identifying who is a terrorist. It is with this struggle to define a terrorist in mind that I reached my conclusion and it is as follows:

The word terror existed before the terms terrorist or terrorism were created. The Oxford dictionary describes terror as ‘a feeling of extreme fear.’  The Cambridge Smart Thesaurus explains it as violent action which causes extreme fear. The Cambridge Thesaurus goes on to explain that terror is synonymous with fear, panic, fright, horror and dread. The Collins English Dictionary describes terror as great fear, panic or dread inspired by a troublesome person. The definitions of terror cannot get any better than these three sources, or at least my Advanced Level English Literature teacher, Miss Mpeti would say so. I believed and do still believe her.

Using these definitions, it means that any person who commits acts or threatens to commit acts that instill fear, horror and panic in people is committing terror and is therefore a terrorist. So from:

  • Osama Bin Laden (considered to be the worst terrorist ever) who took out the twin towers and killed many in the USA;
  • Al Qaeda who burn whole villages in Afghanistan and Pakistan;
  • Joseph Kony who  killed, raped and maimed civilians in Northern Uganda and continue doing so in parts of Southern Sudan and the DRC;
  • Omar Al Bashir who killed, displaced, and instigated the rape and are still killing, displacing and instigating the rape thousands in Darfur, South Kordofan and South Sudan;
  • George Bush responsible for wars that caused and still cause the death and maiming of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan;
  • Benjamin Netanyau and his  Israeli government who have caused great suffering on Palestinian civilians;
  • Retaliating Palestinian Liberation Organisation members who attack Israelis with suicide bombers;
  • Genociders in Germany in particular the Holocaust by Nazis, Rwanda 1994, Zimbabwe in the Gukurahundi 1987 and Operation Mavhoterapapi 2008, Cambodia mass killing by the Khmer Rouge, Indonesian slaughter of the East Timorese;
  • Al-Shabab attackers on Uganda in July 2010;
  • Individuals responsible for the numerous bomb blasts in Nigeria, India, Pakistan;
  • Umar Farouk, the Nigerian who attempted to detonate bombs in an aeroplane and;
  • Anders Behring Breivik the Norwegian man who killed more than 87 of his own people they are all terrorists.

Terrorists live among us. They do not only wear headscarfs and masks, they also dress in smart suits and pretty dresses. They could be men or women. They could practice Christianity, Islam or any other religion. They might have a reason for their actions driven by certain ideologies or philosophies or they may just terrorise others out of  a sadistic character complex.

So despite the many specific definitions provided in UN Conventions against Terrorism, and despite the fact that genocide is defined differently in the Convention on the prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide from terror, when we go back to the basic description of the feeling in the people against whom these acts are committed; it is terror. And it does not matter if the individuals committing the act are seating heads of state, power hungry tyrants, ambitious drug-lords, war mongering warlords, religious fundamentalists or  common thieves. In my view, they are all terrorists and should be treated with the highest condemnation and disdain!


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