Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Africa

Law of the land in Kigali [Journey to Rwanda]


Sue Horton, Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion editor of The Times, is in Rwanda on a two-week Gatekeeper Editor fact-finding trip organized by the International Reporting Project. She is chronicling her trip on the Opinion L.A. blog.

Tuesday, Nov. 8: The inimitable Fred Mwasa, journalist with the Rwandan weekly newspaper the Chronicles met us this morning to show us around Kigali. It’s an immensely interesting city.

Observation 1:

Kigali is incredibly clean. We passed dozens of women in simple uniforms with brooms sweeping. And they’re everywhere, not just in the city center but in the poor areas, too. There is no trash to be seen.

Observation 2:

As in most African cities, there are a lot of motorcycle taxis. But in Rwanda, not only does the driver have to wear a helmet, but he (we didn’t see any women motorcycle taxi drivers, despite Rwanda’s genuine progress on gender issues) also has to carry a second helmet for his passenger.

Observation 3:

Traffic is as orderly as in any city I’ve been in, and much more so than in many -- Boston, say. People drive the speed limit (the fines are high if they don’t). They don’t pass unless it’s clear. They stop when they’re supposed to. There aren’t a ton of cars, but still ...

Observation 4:

All my prior observations may be related to the same thing: Laws that are very strictly enforced. Fines are huge, and there are traffic cops everywhere. People don’t dare disobey the law. We asked a Rwandan today about whether the country is as safe as its reputation implies.

The response was instant: Absolutely. People don’t rob or steal or even shoplift.

Why, we asked? “The police shoot to kill.”

President Kagame has often stated his admiration for Singapore and has said it is a model for him. He’s well on his way.


Sunday, Nov. 6: Journey to Rwanda

Sunday, Nov. 6/Monday, Nov. 7: Two views of President Kagame

Monday night, Nov. 7: First impressions

-- Sue Horton

Photo: View of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, in 2004. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

First impressions [Journey to Rwanda]

Sweeper Fred-Mwasa
Sue Horton, Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion editor of The Times, is in Rwanda on a two-week Gatekeeper Editor fact-finding trip organized by the International Reporting Project. She is chronicling her trip on the Opinion L.A. blog.

Motorcycle-TaxiMonday night, Nov 7: There is a smell unique to Third World cities. It's a combination of burning trash and cooking fires, and it  hit me as soon as I stepped onto the tarmac at the airport in Kigali, Rwanda. That was impression No. 1.

Impression No. 2 was how un-Third World the airport seemed. It wasn't grand, but it was pleasant, efficient and clean. Signs warned that plastic bags are illegal in Kigali, and one of our party who was carrying some things in a plastic bag had to turn it over to a guard.

The biggest surprise, though, was how calm things were. There were no bandit cabs trying to hustle a fare or porters vying to carry luggage,  no beggars or vendors selling their wares. Just smiling airport workers offering free carts and trying to be helpful.

Our party was met by the extremely charming Fred Mwasa, a Kigali journalist who says he's 30 but looks 16. He turned up wearing a jaunty fedora and a coat jacket that hung on his thin body. All in all he looked and talked like a Rwandan version of Clark Gable in "It Happened One Night." We're going to spend more time with him on Tuesday, which I'm really looking forward to.

Hotel-LobbyIt's always a little strange to be in a poor country and stay in luxury. The Kigali Serena Hotel, where we're based for the next few days, has a vast marble lobby and a bar out by the pool surrounded by tropical vegetation. Very colonial, but at least the vast majority of the guests are Africans. We're here at the same time as a U.N. conference that includes several African presidents, so security at the hotel is tight. Lots of men in uniform out front with guns. Not the sort you want to argue with. And while the conference is going on, all bags have to go through a scanner  and guests have to walk through a metal detector and get patted down.  I can't wait to get out and see the city.


Sunday, Nov. 6: Journey to Rwanda

Sunday, Nov. 6/Monday, Nov. 7: Two views of President Kagame

--Sue Horton

Photos, top to bottom: One of the ubiquitous sweepers around town; Fred Mwasa, journalist with the Rwandan paper the Chronicles and our spirit guide; not only do motorcycle taxi drivers have to provide helmets to their passengers, they also have to have their phone numbers on them; the lobby of the elegant Kigali Serena Hotel. Credit: Sue Horton

Two views of President Paul Kagame [Journey to Rwanda]

Rwanda President Paul Kagame
Sue Horton, Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion editor of The Times, is in Rwanda on a two-week Gatekeeper Editor fact-finding trip organized by the International Reporting Project. She is chronicling her trip on the Opinion L.A. blog.

Sunday night, Nov. 6/Monday morning, Nov. 7: My great hope on the brutal back-to-back flights to Rwanda (seven hours from Washington to Amsterdam, followed by an eight-hour flight to Kigali, Rwanda's capital) was to have a seatmate who didn't try to engage me in conversation. That was not to be, but I ended up happy about it.

On the first leg, a plump, smiling Ugandan introduced himself as soon as I sat down. A healthcare professional, he'd been in Washington -- his first trip out of Africa -- for meetings. I'm reluctant to say any more to identify him because of the things he told me.

He wanted to talk about his region, so I asked him about Rwanda's president, Paul Kagame. I told him  I found it tough to figure out Kagame because on some things -- economic development, healthcare, infrastructure -- he's made huge strides, while on human rights issues he hasn't been as great.

My seatmate jumped in immediately on the Kagame-as-despot side.

"He rules by terror," he told me flatly. Sure he runs in elections and wins overwhelmingly, he said, but it's because Rwandans are terrified not to vote for his party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front. He dismissed Kagame's accomplishments, saying that "look at who they're benefiting. They're not benefiting all Rwandans." The situation was complicated, he acknowledged, in the post-genocide world, but if all the country's citizens are now simply Rwandans, not Hutus or Tutsis, as Kagame insists, then why are Tutsis getting all the good government jobs and benefiting so much more from development?

His great hope was that the Arab Spring would continue to move south, eventually getting to Uganda and neighboring Rwanda.

When I got on the plane to Kigali in Amsterdam, I found myself again sitting next to a Ugandan (the plane flew on to Entebbe after discharging its Rwanda passengers). This man, it turned out, had a master's degree in urban planning and worked as a project manager for an agency bringing drinking water and sanitation projects to rural Uganda. He is a big admirer of Kagame as well as of his own president, Yoweri Museveni.

"You have to understand that Africa is different," he explained. In Uganda, for example, much of the country still doesn't have clean water to drink or an acceptable way to handle human waste. Many places have no electricity, or they have it for only a few hours a day. Roads are unpaved and, in the rainy season, sometimes impassable. In his view, only a strong leader who isn't worrying about elections can get things done. If Kagame or Museveni had real worries about being elected every four years, he said, they'd have to spend two years of each term on reelection campaigns, during which time progress would be diverted by politics. First, he said, countries needed relatively benevolent, strong leaders with a vision for moving the country forward. Then they could think about democracy.


Journey to Rwanda

--Sue Horton

Photo: Rwandan President Paul Kagame attends a Commonwealth meeting Oct. 28 in Perth, Australia. Credit: Paul Kane / Associated Press

Journey to Rwanda

Sunday, Nov. 6: I am on a flight from Los Angeles to Washington, the first stage of  a very long journey to Kigali, Rwanda.  For the last several weeks I've been reading extensively in preparation for a trip sponsored by the International Reporting Project, which is taking a dozen journalists on a "fact-finding" mission to the central African country. I'll be writing as we go, and posting to the Opinion blog whenever possible.

It's often the unexpected things -- in both travel and reporting -- that end up being the most compelling. That said, here are three of the things I know we will be exploring on the trip.

The genocide's aftermath

Rwanda is a country so tiny, it's difficult to even locate on a world map-- close to the equator, tucked in among the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi. But the outsized horror of its genocide during the mid-1990s thrust the mountainous nation into the spotlight. Over the course of 100 days, as many as 1 million people were massacred, most of them members of the Tutsi ethnic minority killed at the hands of the Hutu majority. In the years since, Rwandans have tried to come to terms with what happened, and impose justice, through local tribunals called gacacas. Because today's world is full of places that will need to reconcile people who were once on opposite sides of a conflict -- Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, to name a few -- Rwanda's example is important.


Since shortly after the genocide was stopped by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a Tutsi rebel force, the country has been led by the leader of that army, Paul Kagame. Under his rule, Rwanda has made huge economic strides, and it is now widely regarded as the safest and cleanest country in Africa. But Kagame has been sharply criticized for his authoritarian style and lack of tolerance for opposing views. We are hoping to meet with the president during the visit.


There are serious policy issues involved with Rwanda's mountain gorillas. Preserving their habitat is complicated in a country like Rwanda -- the most densely populated in Africa -- where it's hard to strike a balance between the immediate needs of people and the long-term needs of the planet. Rwanda, like much of the continent, has lost forest to agriculture at an alarming rate, and this has threatened the gorillas.  But gorilla tourism is an important part of Rwanda's economy.

--Sue Horton

Sue Horton is Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion editor of The Times.

Photo: Rwandan children seen in the documentary movie "Shake Hands with the Devil." Credit: Peter Bregg / California Newsreel Release

Malaria vaccine: The fiction and the reality

africaamazonhealthmalariapatchettrain foreststate of wondervaccine


Ann Patchett has earned all sorts of praise for her bestseller, "State of Wonder," but as engaging as the story is, the science left something -- well, several things -- to be desired.

In the end, the mystery in the Amazon rain forest depends on the assumption (spoiler alert ahead!) that a pharmaceutical company would see all sorts of millions to be made with a drug that would allow 70-year-old women to become pregnant, but that no drug company would be interested if that same substance made an effective malaria vaccine.

Presumably, because most of the malaria deaths are among poor children in Africa, there is no money to be made. (Actually, the rain forest stuff wouldn't really qualify as a vaccine; it's a preventive medicine, taken every day.)

Fortunately, that's fiction. The reality is that with all the money spent preventing and treating malaria, an effective vaccine would be snapped up by governments, charitable foundations and nonprofit medical organizations.

The even more heartening reality is that possible vaccines are in the pipeline. British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline has a malaria vaccine in advanced trials -- not a cure-all vaccine, but one with an effectiveness rate of more than 50% -- that could become available by 2015.

And last week, the New England Journal of Medicine reported on another vaccine, being developed by various research institutes, that appeared effective in children, though the trials are at a very early stage.

Close to 800,000 people died of malaria in 2009, and indeed, most of them are young children in Africa.


Bachmann's assault on public health

Food poisoning: America's homegrown threat

STDs: How to fight frighteningly high rates of infection

When does public health supersede personal choice? The vaccination debate

-- Karin Klein   

Photo: A boy waits to undergo testing for malaria in Manhica, Mozambique. Credit: Karel Prinsloo /Associated Press

Looting Kadafi's loot


I feel like Mr. McGuire in "The Graduate," buttonholing Dustin Hoffman with advice ("Plastics").

Here it is, the first word that should have come to mind as the triumphant Libyan rebels ransacked the louche luxuries of chez Kadafi:


No, actually. Think bigger. Christie's. Or Sotheby's.

You rebels simply do not have the hang of this thing.

I understand the thrill that must have been pumping through you as you crossed the threshold of the "Brother Leader's" various cribs and saw that dazzling display of pricey junk.

What better way to humiliate your enemy than by parading his embarrassing tchotchkes through the streets?

How could the strongman of Libya, the "Guide of the Revolution," show his face after his angry people showed the world what tacky yet expensive taste he has?

Among the objects discovered in Kadafi’s quarters in Tripoli, and at a Kadafi family oceanfront compound:

A golden scepter.

A white baby grand piano (with a tray of mixed nuts still sitting on it, party-ready).

A white leather bed with Fendi cushions.

Pink carpeting.

Dolce and Gabbana jeans.

A gilded sofa shaped like a mermaid with the face of Kadafi's daughter.


A 65-inch plasma TV to watch it on.

Yacht catalogues.

High-end liquor.

A toothbrush with a gilded handle.

Gratifying as it surely was to brandish this stuff before CNN's cameras, revenge is a dish best served  cold, and to have gathered up all this high-priced junk and shipped it off to be auctioned for cold cash would have been even better.

It might have raised millions for the depleted Libyan treasury -– and given Jon Stewart enough comic material for a week. Nothing destroys a tyrant's power like mockery -– remember Lorenzo St. Dubois' petal-plucking Hitler in "The Producers"?

Eight years ago, Iraqis made off with Saddam Hussein's crap: the bone china with the Iraqi eagle, the ghastly, grandiose paintings that would even have been mortifying on black velvet. (Why do dictators have such frightfully gaudy taste?) That too was a lost opportunity, but as then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said of the general looting and pillaging in Baghdad, "Stuff happens."

The Filipinos did it better. After dictator Ferdinand Marcos was deposed and routed, his infamously well-shod first lady, Imelda Marcos, gave some of her notorious shoe collection to a museum. You can evidently still see hundreds of pairs of her size 8.5 Ferragamos, Chanels and the like in the Manila museum, which charges about $1.18 cents admission -– not much, but there's always the dough you drop in the gift shop, right?

Clan Kadafi had a Lamborghini, a golf cart, a Jacuzzi and a gold-plated rifle. But nothing, I'm sure, would have brought in the bids like Kadafi's personal treasure, the piece de resistance: a photo album filled with pictures of his "darling black African woman," the one he called "Leezza, Leezza, Leezza" -- former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

We’ll start the bidding at $50,000. Thank you -– from the lady in the back with the hair-flip and the pearls …


Moammar Kadafi's inner 'I'

When Kadafi commanded respect

Photos: Battle for Kadafi's compound

After Libya, the question: To protect or depose?

In Kadafi compound, looters take place of loyalists

-- Patt Morrison 

Photo: A Libyan rebel tackles a statue inside Moammar Kadafi's compound in Tripoli. Credit: APTN 

Libya success won't help Obama win reelection [Most commented]


With success in Libya within reach, opinionators are weighing in on how to handle post-revolution Libya. In his Thursday column, Doyle McManus asked whether the outcome in Africa would help boost President Obama's chance at reelection. The short answer is no. He elaborates by reminding us of single-term President George H. W. Bush:

Twenty years ago this summer, American cities staged noisy, flag-waving parades to celebrate the U.S. victory in a war we've almost forgotten: the Persian Gulf War against Iraq. The president at the time, George H.W. Bush, saw his poll ratings soar in the war's afterglow. But 18 months later, on election day in 1992, the victory parades were ancient history. The voters, impatient with the economy's slow recovery from a recession, turned Bush out of office after a single term.

In response, the majority of readers in our discussion board have left comments answering the question posed in the column’s headline: Will there be a Libya bounce for Obama? Here are a few of their answers.

A different bounce

Yes, a bounce right out of office!!!


Obama needs focus on the domestic front

President Obama deserves high marks for his deft handling of the NATO operation in Libya. Unlike George W. Bush's disastrous decision to invade Iraq, Obama allowed the Libyan people to determine the ultimate outcome. With the exception of Afghanistan, Obama has handled foreign affairs very well. One important factor here is the excellent job that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has done.

Having said that, as a supporter of the President I have to say that his performance on the domestic side has been a huge disappointment thus far. The problems that we face with our economy require bold leadership and a willingness to constantly communicate with the American people. Obama has been far too timid and conciliatory to the extreme views of Republicans in Congress. You can't help but think how FDR would handle the current mess that we find ourselves in with the illegal behavior of the banks causing the housing mess that still lingers...unemployment....etc. This is the worst mess we've been in since the Great Depression. The President needs to now lead on the domestic front as well.


Obama doesn't deserve praise

The only bounce Obama should get for this cruel despicable inhumane "humanitarian intervention" is to be bounced on his head. This action was in total violation of Libya's national sovereignty.  Analyses of Libya's 148 main tribes showed that well over 60 percent of Libya's population supported Gaddafi.   How ridiculous to violate the desire of a nation's majority in removing a regime that is supported by the nation’s majority.  Isn't democracy the rule by a nation's people - or should a nation's regime be determined by powerful foreign countries who want better positioning with regard to its vast oil reserves - and who remove the govt. supported by a nation's majority?  -  This was an insidious power grab for Libyan oil, as all the All African Union (organization of all Africa's nations) have been stating for many weeks as they demanded - to non listening NATO ears - that the bombing of Libya by NATO be stopped.  The US and France and UK have lost much respect in the eyes of African nations as well as such nations as Brazil and India (not to mention Russia and China) who were demanding the bombing to stop for months.   But no, the West knew it could not get sufficient clout with Kadafi’s regime regarding Libyan oil - so removed it so it could deal with a weak NTC government which would not exist apart from NATO's involvement.  How shameful has this been and embarrassing to me. 


Was this really a humanitarian mission?

No.  Because we shouldn't be there, period.

It makes no sense to topple one dictator so we can put fundamentalists in power to impose their own tyranny.

A rebellion is a civil war.  Other countries should not intervene in civil wars.  If the English and the French had intervened in ours, the outcome would have been much different.

The truth is, we went in for one thing: Oil.

Just as we did in Afghanistan, where Big Oil has been trying to put in pipelines for 15 years.

Just as we did in Iraq, where the US Army protect the Ministry of Oil while rioters sacked Baghdad after Saddam's fall.

Just as we back Saudi Arabia, the Big Daddy of Oil Dictatorships-- from whence all the 9/11 hijackers came.

Want to know the big dirty about America's wars?  They are resource wars.

We trade blood for oil.  And we don't give a hoot for the lives of our dead. 

We have become so greedy, that like Midas, our touch turns others to stone, for our hearts have long ago turned to stone.


*Spelling errors in the above comments have been corrected.


The Libya lesson

When Kadafi commanded respect

Libya's problems are far from over

After Libya, the question: To protect or depose?

The conversation: Planning for post-revolution Libya

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: President Obama leaves after speaking about Libya on Monday, in Chilmark, Mass., on Martha's Vineyard, Mass. Credit: Carolyn Kaster / AP Photo

Too soon to claim victory in Libya, but not to ask: What now? [The conversation]

Libya rebel fighters

It might be too early to claim victory in Libya, with the search for Moammar Kadafi still on in Tripoli, but enough advances have been made to prompt opinionators to ask: What now?

How to finish the mission in Libya

It is for Libya's people to decide Libya's future. But America and the West have earned the right to insist that Tripoli make a commitment to respect international law, safeguard human rights, and shun international terrorism. Only then will the mission in Libya be accomplished.

--Boston Globe editorial

What to do with Kadafi

The fall of a tyrant -- or of a tyrant's son and heir -- is usually the cause of popular rejoicing followed by public vengeance. They are hung from lampposts (the fate of Mussolini and his mistress) or rushed to kangaroo courts for pre-determined death sentences (see President and Mrs. Ceausescu in Romania). But it is just possible, should Col. Muammar and Saif Gaddafi be taken alive, that we are entering a new and better era in which tyrants and their spawn will instead be dispatched to The Hague for fair trial in an international court for their crimes against humanity.

--Geoffrey Robertson, Daily Beast

Libya needs to create a democracy and …

There will be a long-term, herculean task of building democracy in a country that knew only one man and his idiosyncratic ideology for four decades. Libya has no independent courts. It lacks a free media. It has no constitution or separation of powers. The obstacles to building democratic institutions will be huge, and Libyans will need international support.

-- Fred Abrahams, CNN

… law and order and …

The security and judicial system, a wasteland under Gadhafi, should be the first priority, though it is the area probably most in need of deeper, longer-term reform. One can only imagine the endemic nepotism and corruption that have traditionally characterized Libya’s police forces, but they will need to be made adequately operational quickly, probably via a new loyalty oath and some crash training. It is not ideal by any means, but allowing the streets to be policed by militias and various tribal-based groups would be far more dangerous.

--Christopher R. Hill, Global Public Square

… a solid economy

According to the International Monetary Fund, Libya's oil and natural gas industry in 2010 accounted for more than 95% of export earnings and 75% of government receipts. While the restoration of stability and the introduction of political reforms are crucial, Libya's economy will need to be invigorated to ensure longer-term prosperity.

--Edward Djerejian, CNN

The U.S. should continue to lead from behind

The Libyan revolution needn't end in civil war. At the same time, there is no guarantee that it won't. Either way, our ability to influence the course of events is limited. We can aid the rebels, as we have been doing all along: In fact, they've quietly received not only NATO air support but also French and British military training, as well as weapons and advice from elsewhere in Europe and the Gulf, most notably from Qatar. But we can't fight their war for them, we can't unify them by force, and we can't write their new constitution. On the contrary, if we make ourselves too visible in Libya, either with troops on the ground or too many advisers in dark glasses, we will instantly become another enemy. If we try to create their government for them, we risk making it instantly unpopular.

What we should do instead—to use a much-mocked phrase—is bravely, proudly, and forthrightly "lead from behind."  […]

Fortunately for us, leading from behind in Libya is not merely the only option, it's still the best option. This was their revolution, not ours. Now it's poised to become their transition, not ours. We can help and advise. We can point to the experience of others—in Iraq, Chile, Poland—who have also attempted the transition from dictatorship to democracy and who can offer lessons in what to do and what to avoid. We can keep expectations low and promises minimal. After all, we have a lot to learn about the Libyan rebels, their tribal divisions, their politics, and their economics. And we have a lot of ammunition to replace back home.

--Anne Applebaum, Slate

But we shouldn't praise President Obama

So on one hand, Obama can modestly take credit for the role the U.S. played in Qaddafi's downfall. And yeah, it's great that he's out of power. On the other hand, Obama has violated the Constitution; he willfully broke a law that he believes to be constitutional; he undermined his own professed beliefs about executive power, and made it more likely that future presidents will undermine convictions that he purports to hold; in all this, he undermined the rule of law and the balance of powers as set forth by the framers; and he did it all needlessly, because had he gone to Congress at the beginning and asked for permission to wage war they almost certainly would've granted it.

So I don't think this a quiet victory for Obama.

-- Conor Friedersdorf, the Atlantic

What not to do next

Some will see in the crumbling of Kadafi's regime a template for action in Syria. That's the wrong lesson. Instead, the apparent success of the Libyan rebels is a reminder that every crisis is unique, and that each calls for the nuanced application of leverage in defense of American values and interests. Force is sometimes justified, but it should only be deployed when other methods have failed, when it can serve a vital end and when it can be effective in securing that result.

--Los Angeles Times editorial

A lesson to remember

Their unity and organization are indeed more powerful than NATO's bombs and more effective than the West's sanctions. The lessons of Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia are clear: With unity comes historic opportunity.

-- Bilal Y. Saab, Christian Science Monitor


How to depose Kadafi

Photos: Battle for Tripoli

Libya's money for Libyans

Getting Kadafi to leave is Libya's best option

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Rebels advance during fighting in Tripoli. Credit: Sergey Ponomarev / Associated Press 

Helping famine-stricken Somalia: It's not as easy as sending food

Faminie in Africa

If only helping the people starving in Somalia were as simple as sending food. In a July 22 Op-Ed by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, he pleaded with readers:

That is why I reach out today: to focus global attention on this crisis, to sound the alarm and to call on the world's people to help Somalia in this moment of greatest need. To save the lives of the people at risk — the vast majority of them women and children — we need about $1.6 billion in aid. So far, international donors have given only half that amount. To turn the tide, to offer hope in the name of our common humanity, we must mobilize worldwide.

Of course, food is just part of the solution for a region afflicted by a severe drought, unrest and corruption. But we have to start somewhere, and there should be a sense of urgency surrounding this very basic need. Without food these people will die.

Still it’s possible to understand the instinct people might have to hold onto their money, especially after Tuesday’s anti-climactic debt deal and Thursday’s news about the Dow Jones industrials plunging 400 points. And then there’s the additional reservation about food possibly not making it to its intended location because of violent interventions by the terrorist organization Shabab, which controls much of Southern Somalia.

On Wednesday, the Obama administration did its partto help create an easier path for humanitarian aid groups to deliver food. Here’s what opinionators are saying must come next:

Hold leaders who don’t help accountable

Charles Kenny, Foreign Policy:

For all its horror, starvation is also one of the simpler forms of mortality to prevent -- it just takes food.  Drought, poor roads, poverty -- all are contributing factors to the risk of famine, but sustenance in the hands of the hungry is a pretty foolproof solution. As a result, famine deaths in the modern world are almost always the result of deliberate acts on the part of governing authorities. That is why widespread starvation is a crime against humanity and the leaders who abet it should be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Help increase agricultural productivity

Stewart M. Patrick, The Atlantic:

The causes of this emergency are complex, and the international effort to address the situation is well-intentioned, but the crisis demands a broader and dramatic reaction, which sadly, remains improbable. […]

Even if aid organizations could penetrate the areas held by al-Shabaab, food aid alone will not eliminate the underlying causes of the crisis mentioned above. Barring the construction of a well-functioning state by internal forces--which sadly appears unlikely given the past twenty years -- addressing the underlying causes would require long-term strategy from the international community. The 9,200-strong African Union peacekeeping force currently restricted to Mogadishu will not be able to provide political stability, and UN member states, including the United States show little appetite for a robust mission in the region. Still, the international community has the power to tailor food aid that doesn't disrupt local economies and increases agricultural productivity so farmers can save surpluses, through support for technological improvement like irrigation systems.

Establish a government that respects basic human rights

Washington Post editorial:

Notwithstanding the drought, much of this misery is man-made. Al-Shabab has driven out Western aid groups, which have not operated in southern Somalia since early 2010. It has waged perpetual war against the Somali government and U.N. peacekeeping forces. It has killed Western aid workers. According to a report in the New York Times, it has diverted water resources from poor farmers and imprisoned starving people trying to escape the country. […]

The only durable answer to Somalia’s famine is the establishment of a government that can control the entire country and that respects basic human rights. Sadly, there is little prospect of that. But the United States and other Western governments must do what they can to prevent mass starvation.

Foster peace and stability

EJ Hogendoorn and Ben Dalton, CNN’s Global Public Square

It’s no surprise that the crisis is much less serious in Somaliland and Puntland, autonomous regions in northern Somalia that have been relatively stable. Immediate, short-term food aid must be followed by longer-term efforts to promote stability and good governance. That means looking beyond the narrow focus of defeating Al-Shabaab. Given a corrupt and ineffective Transitional Federal Government, international donors should not focus exclusively on the central government in Mogadishu, but also support stable, responsive and accountable local authorities. Because of longstanding clan competition and mistrust, a decentralized form of government is much more appropriate in the current Somali environment.

Here's a look at the unrest and devastation in Somalia:



PHOTOS: Somalis flee war and drought

Helping Somalia: The fight against famine

The world's biggest problem? Too many people

Overpopulation debate comes to one conclusion

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: A child from southern Somalia eats a piece of bread inside a destroyed building where people from the south have camped out after fleeing prolonged drought in their region. Credit: Farah Abdi Warsameh / Associated Press / July 11, 2011

Helping Somalia: The fight against famine

Two-year-old in Somalia

Protesters in Greece have taken to the walls to spread their message, with such graffiti as "Life -- not just survival." In Somalia, where the U.N. declared a state of famine, the message is even grimmer. For the people there, it's just survival.

To see these photos of malnourished children, many of whom have lost parents and siblings to starvation, it's impossible not to feel. And to read U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon's plea in Friday's Op-Ed pages, it seems impossible not to want to help the more than 11 million people in desperate need. An excerpt:

Graphic - Famine in Somalia This is a wake-up call we cannot ignore. Every day I hear the harrowing reports from our U.N. teams on the ground. Somali refugees, their cattle and goats dead from thirst, walking for weeks to find help in Kenya and Ethiopia. Children who arrive alone, terrified and malnourished, their parents dead, in a foreign land. […]

Even for those who reach the camps, there is often no hope. Many are simply too weak after long journeys across the arid land and die before they can be nursed back to strength. For people who need medical attention, there are often no medicines. Imagine the pain of those doctors, who must watch their patients perish for lack of resources. […]

That is why I reach out today: to focus global attention on this crisis, to sound the alarm and to call on the world's people to help Somalia in this moment of greatest need. To save the lives of the people at risk — the vast majority of them women and children — we need about $1.6 billion in aid. So far, international donors have given only half that amount. To turn the tide, to offer hope in the name of our common humanity, we must mobilize worldwide.

Care to donate? Here's a list of organizations.


The death penalty for food crimes?

The world's biggest problem? Too many people

Somalis dying in world's worst famine in 20 years

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: A malnourished child from southern Somalia is treated at a hospital in Mogadishu, the capital. Credit: Farah Abdi Warsameh / Associated Press

Graphic: Lorena Iniguez Elebee / Los Angeles Times



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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