The U.S. made a critical mistake during Somalia’s last famine. Will we repeat it?

The Washington Post
Nairobi, Kenya

A newly registered Somali refugee outside a registration and medical aid facility at the Dadaab Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp in eastern Kenya in 2011. (Tony Karumba/AFP)

Later this year, a drought in Somalia will likely become a famine. Hundreds of thousands of people are at risk. International aid agencies will scramble to deliver food and medical care. As usual, most of those who may die will be children.

It will be the third famine to tear through Somalia in a quarter-century, a rate of starvation unmatched on Earth. The scenario is familiar to the United States, which has intervened in the previous famines with disastrous results. This time, the United States has a chance to get it right. Continue reading The U.S. made a critical mistake during Somalia’s last famine. Will we repeat it?

The Ivory-Funded Terrorism Myth

International New York Times, Op-Ed
Nairobi, Kenya

Late last year, the Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow produced a powerful short called “Last Days,” about the dangers and depredations of “ivory-funded terrorism.” Viewers — and Ms. Bigelow’s celebrity friends — were encouraged to share #LastDays on social media, which many duly did. Their efforts gave yet another boost to the widely accepted belief that terrorists across Africa are killing elephants and selling the ivory to finance their attacks. But like her full-length feature film “Zero Dark Thirty,” Ms. Bigelow is offering a beguiling story divorced from reality. Continue reading The Ivory-Funded Terrorism Myth

From Ben Affleck and George Clooney to Madonna and Bono: A scorecard for celebrities in Africa

Nairobi, Kenya

This Wednesday, Ben Affleck testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as an expert on Africa. Yes, Ben Affleck: actor-director Ben Affleck, Argo Ben Affleck and, lest we forget, J-Lo Ben Affleck. Ben Affleck, whose tuxedo stands a decent chance of being analyzed on live television during the Oscars this Sunday. He was invited to guide American lawmakers on their policy toward the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Ridiculous, right? Actually, no. Affleck has been involved in eastern Congo for years now. In 2010, he set up an organization called the Eastern Congo Initiative after making repeated visits to the region. It raises money and funnels it to local civil society organizations. Affleck’s commitment and sustained engagement means that if you’re looking for an advocate who has some clue about what’s actually going on and doesn’t need to take his lines from a teleprompter, you could do a whole lot worse. Continue reading From Ben Affleck and George Clooney to Madonna and Bono: A scorecard for celebrities in Africa

Why Peter Greste’s imprisonment is everyone’s problem

Nairobi, Kenya

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 presetJournalist Peter Greste, along with several of his colleagues, has been detained in Egypt since Dec. 29. He was arrested for being a journalist. He is accused of terrorism. And he has been held in solitary confinement at Cairo’s Tora Prison for over a month, allowed out for just four hours a day.

Greste is East Africa correspondent for Al Jazeera. He lives and works in Nairobi, which is why we held a protest here Tuesday: He is a friend, a colleague and daunting competition to many of us. Continue reading Why Peter Greste’s imprisonment is everyone’s problem

How to fight Africa’s wars

Nairobi, Kenya

For Western nations, wars in far off places like Mali and Somalia cannot be ignored, though they might wish they could.

US and European governments worry that Al Qaeda groups in Africa might threaten their citizens and interests — at home and abroad — and while France was willing to briefly intervene in Mali, most are wary of entrenching their own troops in potential quagmires on the continent.

Continue reading How to fight Africa’s wars

How do journalists write about Africa?

Nairobi, Kenya

Tristan Hargeisa
Correspondent Tristan McConnell reporting in Hargeisa, Somaliland (Narayan Mahon/Courtesy)

How do foreign correspondents write about Africa?

Do we travel widely getting to know the continent and its people, and write about the political and economic situations so that readers will have a better understanding? Or do we simply trot out tired clichés and promote prejudices?

In “How not to write about Africa,” a recent opinion piece for Foreign Policy, Laura Seay, an assistant professor at Morehouse College in Atlanta, describing herself as “an old Africa hand,” bemoaned the foreign coverage of Africa. It makes her “cringe,” she wrote.

Continue reading How do journalists write about Africa?