Nov. 3, 2012
Chris Kluwe Scorches
Pioneer Press "Editorial from Nowhere"
Chris Kluwe's five-tweet criticism of yesterday's St. Paul Pioneer Press editorial on the Minnesota Marriage Amendment is so pithy and accurately righteous, I stitched them together for a seamless read.
The editorial, an interesting twist on mealy-mouthed "view from nowhere" journalism, purports to be neutral when in fact it builds a case for passage of the bill.
Let Kluwe (on Twitter at @chriswarcraft), an outspoken opponent of the amendment, explain why this is just wrong:
"My main issue with the Pioneer Press editorial is this: It's a lie. I have no problem with them taking a position I disagree with. What concerns me is them presenting a completely biased piece (word choice, examples used, conclusions) as a neutral position. That's not only irresponsible journalism, it's massively hypocritical. Have the courage of your convictions. Attach your name to what you believe in. Don't try to confuse people through obfuscation and selected presentation of arguments. It ruins discussion, and you should be ashamed."
The view from nowhere is epidemic in mainstream news reporting, where many journalists claim the need to remain neutral even when their sources are making indefensible claims that cry out to be exposed.
To see the view from nowhere appear in an editorial column, where the whole point is to take and argue a position, ranks as a noteworthy low.
May 31, 2012
Minnesota Anuak React to Escalating Violence Against Relatives in Ethiopia
How is an entire Minnesota community supposed to cope when every person in that community, all at the same time, must cope with the recent violent death or the sudden, suspicious disappearance of a mother or father, a brother or sister, a relative or friend?
This was the urgent question of a May 26 St. Paul gathering of 150 Minnesotans who are members of the Anuak tribe of Ethiopia and South Sudan.
A recent outbreak of widespread killing, rape, torture and disappearance of members of Ethiopia’s Anuak tribe, of whom nearly 2,000 live as refugees in Minnesota today, is sending the Anuak of this state into a controlled panic of worry, urgent meetings and frenzied actions on behalf of loved ones who are ensnared in an outbreak of a vicious ethnic cleansing of the Anuak tribe back home.
“Psychologically, it is killing us,” said Magn Nyang, an Anuak who lives in Spring Lake Park. “People are very depressed and angry. We are trying to figure out, what can we do?”
At the St. Paul gathering, which was held in a meeting hall above the Fasika Ethiopian restaurant on Snelling Avenue, and in meetings at churches, meeting halls and living rooms around the state, Anuak are gathering these days to respond to the crisis.
The cause of the violence — detailed in a recent documentary aired on PBS’ Lehrer News Hour, and in a Human Rights Watch report — is a massive forced relocation of 70,000 Anuak and other indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands in Ethiopia, to make way for mega-farms being created by foreign investors from Saudi Arabia, India, China and other nations.
A handful of armed Anuak rebels have fought the relocations by ambushing Ethiopian soldiers, which in turn has prompted Ethiopian troops in the Anuak lands to seek vastly disproportional revenge by killing, torturing and "disappearing" innocent Anuak.
Politically active Anuak have met in recent weeks with the staffs of Senator Al Franken and Representative Michelle Bachmann, urging them to bring all possible influence, through the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa or through U.S. government aid programs, on the Ethiopian government to stop the bloodshed.
“We are writing you with a sense of the utmost urgency on behalf of our friends and families in our homeland,” the Gambella Relief Organization, a Minnesota group, wrote to Sen. Franken in a recent letter detailing dozens of recent cases of the murder, rape and disappearance of Anuak in Ethiopia, at the hands of government soldiers.
One Anuak group in Ethiopia, the Gambella Democratic Movement, recently published an article on the Minnesota-based web site Gambella Today, saying that the group’s “military wing” recently killed several Ethiopian soldiers in battle.
The article, written in English in Minnesota on behalf of an Ethiopian Anuak rebel named Ngeli Opiew, vowed that “unless the terms of the land grab in Gambella are reversed in favor of Gambella people, there won’t be peace in the region.” The article promised the rebels “will fight to stop the sale of Anuak land to foreigners and for the return of displaced Anuaks to their ancestral lands.”
Akuthi Okoth, an Anuak from Stillwater, has taken an entirely different approach in response to the crisis. Working with other Anuak women, she started a daily telephone conference call whose members share their stories and fears for their relatives who are in danger, or who have died, and ask for the prayers of the others on the call. Up to 80 Anuak from Minnesota and around the world participate on the call.
“Most of us work during the day, so it’s difficult to get together physically,” Okoth said. “There isn’t one of us who doesn’t have a loved one who has been affected. It is so sad, and we are so sad, so sad. So we pray.”
Aduk Okway, an Anuak woman from Rochester, has asked for prayers recently for her brother, who she says was beaten by Ethiopian troops and has been missing for a month. “We don’t know if he’s in jail or killed,” Okway said. “He has a knife wound jn his stomach and his front teeth are broken. My heart and my whole body is hurting with my brother missing. I am crying out so the Ethiopian government will leave our land.”
The Anuak refugees in Minnesota originally came to this state because the Ethiopian government, which came to power in a 1991 coup, began ethnically cleansing their tribe almost immediately with periodic massacres in which uniformed soldiers simply marched into Anuak villages and started shooting men and boys and raping women.
The bloodiest of these pogroms took place on December 13, 2003, when more than 200 Ethiopian soldiers killed 426 Anuak men execution-style in the town of Gambella, the largest town in Anuak territory. As verified by journalists and in later, lengthy reports by Human Rights Watch and other groups, the uniformed soldiers systematically went house-to-house in Gambella, calling out the names of the men who were the educated leadership of the Anuak tribe. They told the men to run and then shot them in the back.
This carnage directly struck the Anuak diaspora communities around the world, and their broader host cultures, including in Minnesota, where most Anuak refugees outside of Africa have have settled. This state, with its roughly 2,000 Anuak, has the world’s largest diaspora population of the tribe.
Because the Anuak tribe is tiny, numbering only 100,000 or so, every Anuak living in Minnesota has close family members or friends who died in the 2003 massacre, or were driven to live as penniless refugees in neighboring Sudan or Kenya as a result.
The recent surge of ethnic cleansing has had a similar result, causing thousands of Anuak to flee across the borders of Sudan and Kenya for safety.
“This problem is affecting the economy of Minnesota, because every Anuak here is sending money back to their friends and family in Ethiopia and Kenya,” said Gilo, a resident of Gambella who asked that his last name not be used because his wife and children remain in Ethiopia and could be targeted as a result.
At a dinner meeting at the Ramada Plaza motel in Minneapolis last week, attended by around 40 Anuaks and native Minnesotans gathered to discuss the crisis, Gilo noted that the Anuak diaspora, as small as it is, has become divided over the best way to deal with the crisis in Ethiopia.
Some Anuak groups in Minnesota favor striving for dialog with the Ethiopian government, as impossible as that may seem; while other Anuak focus on creating coalitions with other Ethiopian minority groups and tribes to pressure the government; while others actively support the Anuak rebels fighting to repulse Ethiopian troops.
Every December 13 since 2003, memorials are held around the state to remember those Anuak who perished in the massacre.
Even if they were originally airlifted to begin life in other states, most Anuak eventually make their way to live in Minnesota.
“The Anuak consider Minnesota to be their safe haven,” said Akuthi Okoth. “People here give you a big smile from far away. They treat you like you belong. It’s a state that really cares about education and family. The kids feel safe here. It’s home.”
Copyright @ 2012 The McGill Report
March 2, 2012
to Global Leaders:
"Let Us Help Rebuild Our Country"
MINNEAPOLIS, MN -- Is Somalia, the world’s ultimate failed state, on the brink of authentic renewal and reconstruction? Is its bloody, famine-furthering, piracy-producing 20-year-old civil war close to an end?
That has been the fierce if fragile hope recently of tens of thousands of Somali refugees living in Minnesota, most of whom last saw their homeland in the period after its last functioning government was toppled in 1991.
Hopes in Minnesota’s Somali community, one of the world’s largest Somali diaspora groups, soared especially high last week when top government leaders from 55 countries convened to seek answers to Somalia’s crises.
Hosted by Britain and led by British Prime Minister David Cameron, the London meeting’s goals were to help restore a legitimate and representative Somali government, to end Somali piracy and terrorism, and to ease a continuing Somali famine worsened by the war.
Yet today, a week after the conference, many Somali Minnesotans, including hundreds of former Somali civil servants, teachers and professionals, say it fell far short of its stated aims, producing a gale of high-flown rhetoric but virtually no specific plans or programs.
“A lot of people expected drastic changes, but the conference showed the same status quo thinking,” said Sakawdin Mohamed, the executive director of the Eagan-based Somali Institute for Peace Research. “The corrupt officials of the Transitional Federal Government now have huge momentum. The bad people kind of won.”
The Somali government officials who attended the London meeting appeared much different to Somali diaspora members who have known them well over the years, compared to outsiders who did not.
“What we saw as Somali citizens was tribal representation,” Sakawdin said. “They were basically representing their own tribes and interests.”
The conference was transparently insincere, many Minnesota Somalis say, noting that a draft of its final communique, containing conclusions and recommendations, was leaked days before the conference even started.
The conference offered Somalia a welcome moment of global attention, but the moment was short, with the conference lasting a mere five hours.
To many Somalis living in this state, the conference was “same old, same old” -- an all-too-familiar play by superpowers pursuing their own interests in Somalia, while disregarding the needs of average Somalis.
Britain’s keen interest in ending Somali piracy, which costs its shipping and insurance industries billions of dollars annually, and in helping British oil companies gain access to possible Somali oil reserves, appeared to many to have driven Britain’s leadership of the conference.
Most of all, many Somalis living in Minnesota today felt left out of the conference in at least two ways. First, in not having been asked for their best ideas about Somali renewal prior to the conference; and second, that the meeting’s final recommendations made scant mention of the potential role that Somalia’s global diaspora could play in rebuilding the country.
The Somalia civil war has killed a half million Somalis and forced more than two million to flee as refugees, roughly half within Somalia and the other half spread around the world. Moreover, the takeover of the country by the Shabab, the al Qaeda-linked extremist group, in 2007 has stirred fears of Somalia becoming a safe haven for global terrorists; and Somali piracy already seriously threatens major global shipping routes.
When the civil war began, thousands of trained government bureaucrats, teachers and professionals -- the foundation of a Somali middle class -- fled the country to start their lives over in countries around the world.
“The diaspora has all the skills that the country needs,” said Sheiknor Qassim, a home care executive living in Rochester, MN. “Unless there is a program to bring back the diaspora,” reconstruction will fail, he said.
Such a program would offer returnees security and at least some financial support, Qassim and others said.
The conference’s final communique mentioned the Somali diaspora only once, saying that financial contributions from the diaspora could help to rebuild the country’s livestock, fishing and other private sector businesses.
If the London meeting was vague in specifics, the intense critique of its omissions taking place now in Minnesota reveals the outlines of a far more detailed and practical vision for Somali renewal.
“The Somali problem has become an international problem, which requires an international solution,” said Mohamoud Fiqi, a Minneapolis public school science teacher. “Plus, the Somali government today just doesn’t have the resources, the power or the ability” to rebuild the country from scratch.
A critical area where the London conference failed, Minnesota Somalis say, is setting a firm policy with hard deadlines towards the three foreign armies presently occupying Somalia without a mandate.
Some 10,000 African Union soldiers now control Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, having driven Shabab from the city in recent months. Hundreds of Ethiopian troops, meanwhile, have recaptured the strategic southwest Somali city of Baidoa from the Shabab; and 2,000 Kenyan troops are pressing to free the southern port city of Kismayo from Shabab control.
On the one hand, these military successes are offering Somalis all through the global diaspora hope that the defeat of Shabab may finally be near.
“Those armies are helping one million Somalis who need them,” Fiqi said.
The Shabab’s harsh, Taliban-like rule and extortionate taxation schemes levied against ordinary citizens is terrorizing Somalia; Shabab also has blocked humanitarian aid from reaching thousands of famine victims.
Yet Somalis are deeply sensitive to foreign occupying armies, especially from Ethiopia, with whom Somalia has fought several wars in recent decades. It was Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia in 2006, to rout the Islamic Court Union from power in Mogadishu, that triggered the rise of Shabab and began the last long period of the Somali civil war.
“There is both advantage and disadvantage to having these international troops in Somalia,” said Abshir Ibrahim of Minneapolis. “The advantage is they are fighting Shabab. The disadvantage is, who will control them? Things could go wrong. We don’t know what they will do.”
The London conference should have stipulated that all international armies presently in Somalia will be unified under a central, authoritative command, many Minnesota Somalis say, such as from the African Union.
Ultimately, diaspora members here say, Somalia needs to raise, train and sustain its own army with international help, another absolute requirement for longterm stability in Somalia not addressed at the conference.
“You are not really a sovereign country until you have your own national army,” said Mohamud Hashi, a Minneapolis daycare company owner.
Two other issues, entirely absent from the London conference final communique especially rankle the Minnesota Somali community here.
One of those issues is piracy. Somali pirates regularly attack international merchant vessels hauling cargo, oil and chemicals in heavily trafficked Middle East shipping lanes. Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, cited solving the piracy problem as a major reason for holding last week’s meeting, but many Somalis here say the approach is superficial.
“You can’t solve piracy until you understand and fix its root causes, which are overfishing and waste dumping,” said Tarabi Juma, a Bush Foundation Fellow who has studied Somali piracy.
When the Somali Navy ceased to function after 1991, foreign fishing fleets decimated fish stocks off the Somali coast, and toxic waste was also dumped in the waters by foreign vessels.
Their livelihoods lost, Somali fishermen took to piracy, at first, only to defend their fishing rights. Over time, though, tempted and corrupted by the enormously lucrative ransom payouts, piracy became a more organized criminal activity. The average ship ransom today is around $5 million.
Juma and other Minnesota Somalis say that a lasting solution to piracy must include well-funded, grassroots-level programs to offer young men a chance to make a living honestly. As well, the Somali navy must be restored to the point it can stop foreign vessels from illegally fishing and dumping in Somali waters.
The other major undiscussed issue in London was oil.
Vast oil deposits may lie under Somali soil, especially in the northern state of Puntland and in Somalia’s southern coastal waters, bordering Kenya.
Clearly defining the process and timetable by which land ownership, boundaries and commercial drilling rights are decided is critical to ensuring Somalia’s stable future, many Minnesota Somalis stress.
Failure to nail down oil rights in Somalia’s favor could lead to Kenya or other countries getting access to Somali resources, which in turn would likely inflame nationalist passions, warns Sheiknor Qassim of Rochester.
“It could stir a lot of radicalization and recruitment,” Qassim said.
A final word from Minnesota Somalis on the London conference?
“It brought everyone together in a room,” Sakawdin Mohamed says. “That was positive. We saw that. But after you bring everyone together you need to ask ‘What changed? What was accomplished?’”
Copyright @ 2012 The McGill Report