Muddy Notebook

March 14, 2008

“One Book, One Philadelphia: War’s Youngest Victims

Filed under: Africa,humanitarian — carolynthewriter @ 10:16 pm

Another program with excellent panelists will be held this Wednesday, March 19, from 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. at the National Constitution Center. The Constitution Center has done a terrific job of periodically presenting forums and panels on humanitarian issues, and they’ve got a great lineup again this time. To talk about “War’s Youngest Victims,” the guests are:

  • Alyaa, born in Baghdad, Iraq and who earned a degree from the University of Baghdad’s College of Language. In 2003, she began working as an interpreter for Capt. Patrick Murphy – who, of course, is now Congressman Patrick Murphy. Because of her work with the United States, it became dangerous for her to stay in Iraq, and so last November she was granted asylum status in the U.S. She is now teaching Arabic language and applying to college. 
  • Jennifer Sime is grants and contracts unit director for the International Rescue Committee, a global nongovernmental organization based in New York that does relief work. (Full disclosure time: I worked for the IRC in 1999, as the manager of a refugee camp during the Kosovo crisis.) Sime has 13 years experience working for several international nonprofits in senior field positions.
  • Andrew Sisson joined the National War College faculty at the National Defense University in July 2007. He is a senior Foreign Service Officer on loan from the U.S. Agency for International Development. His work for the State Department included establishing the Office of the Director of foreign Assistance and serving as the senior coordinator for Africa.
  • Me, moderator.

This is a darn good panel to explore the issues surrounding war’s youngest victims, including how to prevent these conflicts in the first place, what role American intervention has had, the impact of war on children, and what can be done to help them during conflicts and after they have ended. For more information on attending, call 215-409-6700. You know, the more people who come to programs such as this one, the more the people who have the ability to put together programs such as this one have proof that there is great interest in humanitarian issues. So, don’t just complain you aren’t seeing and hearing enough on these issues. Come to this panel. Write in to editors of newspapers when you see stories on humanitarian crises. Learn something new and help encourage more coverage on these badly underreported situations around the world. 


March 11, 2008

Sudan: Fueling the Genocide

Filed under: Africa,Sudan — carolynthewriter @ 10:37 pm

For those within driving distance to Philadelphia, the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia is holding a panel tomorrow (Wednesday, March 12) night at 5:45 p.m., called “Sudan: Fueling the Genocide.” Panelists are Lauren Landis, a senior representative to Sudan in the U.S. State Department, Daoud Ibrahim Hari, a Darfuri refugee who is the author of the recently published book, the Translator, Dave Peterson, senior director of the Africa program at the National Endowment for Democracy, and Megan McKenna, a writer and advocate working with international nongovernmental organizations. Yours truly is the moderator.  Call the council at 215-561-4700 for more information. On the evening of March 17, there is a program at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on “War’s Youngest Victims.” I’ll give details for that program later. Both are part of the One Book, One Philadelphia project, which this year features Dave Eggars, What is the What. It’s a great fictionalized account of the real-life story of one of Sudan’s Lost boys. I enthusiastically recommend it.

March 10, 2008

This and that

Filed under: Central African Republic,Myanmar,Zimbabwe — carolynthewriter @ 7:17 am

Here are a few tidbits I’m picking up from wire stories. 

Carolyn’s note: Robert Mugabe’s policies continue to hurt Zimbabwe – and all Zimbabweans. Who isn’t hurt by just this one effect of his actions, as reported by the Associated Press:

  “Since the government began ordering the seizure of white-owned farms in 2000, production of food and agricultural exports has slumped drastically. Zimbabwe has the world’s highest official rate of inflation: 100,500 percent. ”

Carolyn’s note: From the Associated Press, this reminder that Mynamar is still a problem, even if it has fallen off the radar of most U.S. media:

YANGON, Myanmar: The U.N.’s special envoy to Myanmar resumed meetings with the military government Sunday despite the junta’s rejection of his efforts to speed up the country’s return to democracy.
But the meetings appeared not to be directly concerned with the political reconciliation efforts being promoted by the envoy, Ibrahim Gambari.According to the U.N. Information Center in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, Gambari met with the ministers of health and national planning as well as the chairman of the civil service board and a deputy foreign minister.Gambari apparently failed, however, to secure more talks with Information Minister Brig. Gen. Kyaw Hsan, who heads a team set up to discuss democratization.Last week the junta rejected U.N. suggestions for reconciliation, such as letting independent observers monitor the upcoming national referendum on a new constitution.Gambari also sought to have the process for adopting a new constitution made more open to incorporate the views of the country’s pro-democracy movement, led by detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The draft constitution’s text has not yet been made public. The guidelines on which it is based were drawn up by a military-guided convention and include clauses that would bar Suu Kyi from public office and perpetuate the army’s leading role in politics.

Kyaw Hsan said it would be “impossible” to rewrite the draft constitution, which will be submitted to a referendum in May.

Asked by Gambari to consider releasing political prisoners — estimated by the U.N. and human rights groups to total more than 1,100 — he said Myanmar has no political prisoners and that Suu Kyi was detained because she tried to disrupt the country’s stability.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo condemned the junta’s rejection of independent poll monitors, calling it “a sad day for democracy and our region.”

“Outside observers are not a threat to any nation’s sovereignty,” she said in a statement issued Sunday in Manila. “Rather, the participation of outside election observers is a sign of strength. These observers help show the world the credibility of the election process itself as we had long done in the Philippines.”

The Philippines has been a major promoter of democratization among its fellow members of the Association of Southeast Nations, ASEAN. Myanmar is a member of the 10-country bloc.

The junta announced last month that it would hold the constitutional referendum, followed by a general election in 2010 — the first specific dates for steps in its previously announced “roadmap to democracy.”

The country been military-ruled since 1962. The current junta seized power in 1988 and refused to honor the results of a 1990 general election won by Suu Kyi’s party.

The junta’s rejections of Gambari’s suggestions were the latest setback for the envoy, who arrived Thursday on his third trip to Myanmar since the junta’s deadly crackdown on nonviolent pro-democracy protesters in September triggered an international outcry.

His visit came amid growing concerns that the government is tightening its grip on power.

Carolyn’s note: Let us also not forget the continuing violence in the Central African Republic and Chad as well as Sudan. 

BANGUI, March 9 (Reuters) – French troops stationed near Central African Republic’s border with Sudan transferred to a European Union protection force at the weekend, launching its deployment in the country, a force spokesman said.

The European Union is deploying a 3,700-strong EUFOR force to protect civilians and humanitarian operations in eastern Chad and northeastern Central African Republic near the volatile border with Sudan’s Darfur region.

Around 200 French soldiers stationed in Birao, a remote town in northeastern CAR which was attacked and briefly occupied by rebels in late 2006, transferred to the force at a ceremony on Saturday, EUFOR’s Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Poulain said.

“They left French command and entered the command of EUFOR,” Poulain said on Sunday from the Chadian capital N’Djamena, where the force has its operational headquarters.

The French infantry unit, engineers unit and field hospital will be joined later by other European forces, although the bulk of EUFOR will be based in Chad, he said. The force will have an initial mandate of 12 months, which is expected to begin in the next few weeks when it becomes operational.

The deployment was delayed for several months by problems securing equipment, notably enough helicopters to cover an area 26 times the size of Kosovo with a fraction of the European Union force previously deployed to that conflict zone.

France, which is contributing more than half of EUFOR’s troops, formerly ruled both Chad and CAR as colonies and has stepped in to help both governments fight off rebel attacks.

March 8, 2008

The Power of Politics

Filed under: humanitarian,U.S. politics — carolynthewriter @ 9:21 am

Maybe it’s because I am so interested in looking at the impact of atrocities and prevention of them, especially when it comes to children, that I find myself wanting to give former Barack Obama advisor Samantha Power the benefit of the doubt. The Pulitzer Prize winner’s book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, is considered a classic on the topic.

Maybe she spoke so recklessly because she hasn’t been involved in a political campaign before – Obama, after all, does seem to be drawing in new voters and newcomers to being in a candidate’s inner circle. Maybe Power called Hillary Clinton “a monster” because she just wasn’t thinking strategically, or she’s used to talking about the architects of genocide. That would be a lousy excuse. Whatever her motivation, that and other comments she made in an interview to a Scottish newspaper were simply stupid.

But her unfortunate moment in the spotlight does raise an issue: If Obama had such a highly regarded expert on genocide as a foreign-affairs advisor, why wasn’t he talking about such crises on the campaign trail? In this era of horrors in Darfur, Somalia and Myanmar to name a few, why aren’t any of the presidential candidates talking about the U.S. role in global humanitarian calamities and America’s relationship with the United Nations? Heaven knows it has taken a beating in recent years. Will the United States become an ally to the international organization or continue the adversarial stance that the Bush administration has taken. How will we react when we determine the next genocide is occurring? Calling it a genocide, as the admninistration did for Darfur, is gratuitious if it’s not backed up with action to end the violence. The United States has not gone beyond words.

I challenge the candidates to speak about these issues with more frequency and at greater volume. I challenge journalists who are on debate panels, to ask the contenders least one question about how their White House would proceed with these issues. A lot of people would like to hear those answers before they go into the voting booth. 

Fixing international ties will be one of the most urgent tasks of whoever next occupies the Oval Office.

One of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s hard-working political reporters tells me he has heard those issues raised once in a while on the campaign trail. But they need to be discussed in a broader, more publicized forum for all who care about them to hear and assess as one consideration in who might be the best president.  

March 5, 2008

What Obama, Darfur and Northern Uganda have in common

Filed under: U.S. politics — carolynthewriter @ 5:01 am

I’m from Ohio and I’m addicted to following this year’s presidential race, which today features the primaries in Texas and Ohio. Many people have noted that young people, many of whom have never before participated in a presidential election, have flocked to support Sen. Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat running against N.Y. Sen. Hillary Clinton. But I want to tease out that bloc a little more. I think those young people are the same ones who, for the last several years, have become so active in advocacy on international humanitarian issues. The Philadelphia area, where I live, is a hotbed for student activism. Swarthmore College graduate Mark Hanis years ago started what now is called the Genocide Intervention Network, a nonprofit whose primary goal is stopping the Darfur violence and protecting civilians there. In Indiana several years back, two Notre Dame University alums – Michael Poffenberger and Peter Quaranto, started the Uganda Conflict Action Network and its spin-off, Resolve Uganda, both of which seek to end the two decade-plus war in northern Uganda that has taken such a high toll on children there.

Now, I have no idea who Quaranto, Poffenberger and Hanis are favoring for president, but at the recent Northern Uganda Lobby Days conference in Washington D.C., I saw 750 high school and college students descend enthusiastically upon the George Washington University campus for a day of workshops and panels on Northern Uganda and U.S. policy in Africa (full disclosure: I moderated two of them), and a day of lobbying senators and Congress members on Capitol Hill. I saw a fervor for social causes and an activism that I have to believe transcends their specific cause and seeps into wanting a voice in U.S. policy, and who should be in the Oval Office and on Capitol Hill formulating it.

I don’t know yet who I support for president. There are no chumps among Republican John McCain, Clinton and Obama. I do know that young people getting active – and staying active – is a very good development for the United States and the world. 

March 4, 2008

The LRA Walk-Out

Filed under: northern Uganda — carolynthewriter @ 10:34 am

Come on, no one who has followed the slow-moving peace talks in Juba really thought that last week’s agreement between the government of Uganda and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army meant smooth sailing toward a full and final peace accord, did anyone? The LRA delegation to the peace talks reportedly walked out of a meeting yesterday. The sore point: the International Criminal Court indictments not being withdrawn.  

February 21, 2008

Rebels, Kampala agree on national war crimes court

Filed under: northern Uganda — carolynthewriter @ 11:12 am

This agreement seems to overcome one of the biggest hurdles in the peace talks taking place in Juba, South Sudan. It tries to strike a reasonable balance between pursuing peace and holding the major players in the Lord’s Resistance Army, especially its leader Joseph Kony, responsible for their acts. Rather than use the International Criminal Court, which really never should have taken this case anyhow, the pact calls for traditional justice for lower-level LRA members and a special Ugandan court venue for Kony and his top lieutenants. It would be unfair – and wrong – to ignore that the government gets to avoid scrutiny for its multiple misdeeds in this war. Still, peace is better than war and stolen childhoods.

Human rights groups, not to mention the ICC, are unhappy with the agreement since it would sidestep the International Criminal Court indictments against Kony and two others. As I mentioned, this case should not really have come before the ICC, which is supposed to become involved if the country where atrocities have occurred does not have a sufficient national justice system to deal with the perpetrators. Uganda does have a court, though it will require international monitoring to ensure transparent and proper proceedings take place. Postponing the ICC indictments does not mean there will be no justice, or even justice at the Hague. It simply means peace should come first. Then, we can see how justice is found. Still, there is a long way to go before that point.

February 14, 2008

Life in a refugee camp

Filed under: Uncategorized — carolynthewriter @ 3:12 am

A pretty good story came over the wires yesterday about life for Kenyans in a displaced person’s camp. (Okay, the writer mixed up the terms “refugee,” someone who flees to another country, and “displaced person,” someone who has moved within his or her borders. This happens all the time in journalism because it’s easier to use the shorter, less jargon-y “refugee,” even if the meaning is wrong according to international law. Still, let’s let that pass to look at the rest of the content.)

And the rest of the content is a realistic portrayal, one I saw when I managed a refugee camp in Macedonia during the Kosovo crisis in 1999. There was crime in my 6,000-person camp, scuffling for supplies handed out, and attempts by good, decent people  to make a normal life for their family out of a most abnormal situation. In case you didn’t see it, here’s the Associated Press story.

By Katharine Houreld


ELDORET, Kenya — Since their home was torched six weeks ago, Peter Monderu’s six children sleep tangled like puppies on the cold ground.


His 9-year-old girl bears the scars of a horrific arson attack on a church that left 50 people dead, and his fearful wife startles awake at the least sound.


The Monderus are among 600,000 people driven from their homes by clashes sparked by a dispute over who won Kenya’s Dec. 27 presidential election, according to a U.N. report yesterday.


About half have taken refuge with family or friends. The rest are camping out — at prisons, churches, police stations and fairgrounds, such as such as the one where the Monderus found a haven in the western town of Eldoret.


Aid agencies fear the makeshift camps are creating new problems for the once stable East African country. The camps are breeding grounds for disease, violence and crime. And they sometimes fan the already heated ethnic tensions that forced Kenyans to flee in the first place, as the poorest of the poor in one group see the displaced of another group getting international aid.


Observers don’t see the camps emptying soon, after more than 1,000 people died in the fighting. Even if a political solution is found for the election dispute, some fear the settlements may mark a permanent shift in Kenya’s ethnic makeup.


Much of the postelection violence has pitted an array of ethnic groups against President Mwai Kibaki’s Kikuyu people. In western Kenya, some areas have been emptied of Kikuyus. Kikuyus, in turn, have inflicted reprisals on opposition supporters.

No Kikuyus are left in the countryside surrounding Eldoret. In the enclave of Huruma, within the city limits, Kikuyu refugees are crammed five to a room. Some 15,000 are camping on Eldoret’s fairgrounds, and more arrive every day, with police riding guard on trucks piled with salvaged furniture.


According to preliminary U.N. reports, girls and women have been forced to trade sex for food and protection in camps.


Alexis Moens, emergency coordinator of the medical aid group Medicins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders), said camp dwellers also suffer hygiene problems. The group is trying to monitor the camps for potential epidemics.


“Many of these people will see the rainy season in these camps,” Moens said, warning that the wet weather due in four weeks will worsen conditions.

Opportunities for reconciliation are few after the Balkanization of Kenyan communities that previously lived peacefully together.

Residents in city slums and poor farming communities watch jealously as displaced neighbors are given shiny new cooking pots, blankets and health care, forgetting the armed mobs and charred homes those people had to flee.


In the camps, meanwhile, memories of atrocities are swapped around campfires, leaping larger than the flames with each retelling.


“I can’t sleep,” Monderu said, clutching his stomach while telling of his anxieties.

He described seeing neighbors held at machete point while jeering attackers asked who wanted peace. Those who raised their hands were cut down, he said.


As Monderu spoke, children from neighboring tents gathered to listen, eyes wide.

“We have nowhere else to go because all the houses are destroyed and we have nothing to rebuild with,” Monderu said. “Even the clothes I am wearing are borrowed.”

February 10, 2008

Peacekeeping forces in Darfur and Lebanon

Filed under: Uncategorized — carolynthewriter @ 9:01 pm

Here is a thought I’ve long had: Why was it so possible to build a U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon after the Hizbollah-Israeli conflict than it has been to build one in Darfur? It seemed as though forces built up relatively quickly there, with the number standing at 13,264 military personnel as of last November, according to the U.N. The Darufr force is at about 8,200. And I don’t think the hostility and oppositional obstinence shown by the Sudanese government is solely the cause though of course Khartoum’s attitude is a big factor. There have been political moments when U.N. nations might have been able to dump in large numbers of personnel and equipment as soon as Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir had said he would support a hybrid U.N.-A.U. force. But they have moved in slow- and no-motion in giving such a mission personnel and equipment as basic as helicopters to transport people and supplies in to Darfur. I think it’s safe to say Sudan gets less attention because it, like most countries in Africa, are not perceived to be of as great as strategic importance as Lebanon and the Middle East. Thus has the lesson so quickly been lost that unstable nations not only pose a huge threat to the citizens suffering in them, but also to the world as a potential harbor for terrorism. It would be nice if helping the Darfuris were reason enough for Western nations to take speedier action. But it is only when a factor such as fighting terrorism is thrown into the factor that the West takes more notice.

February 8, 2008

The blogging begins

Filed under: Uncategorized — carolynthewriter @ 10:56 pm

I have been meaning to start a blog on humanitarian issues for years – literally. I can check one New Year’s resolution off my list now. The blogosphere is the perfect place to write on humanitarian situations, solutions and people these days. Unfortunately, newspapers are decreasingly interested in sending its own reporters and photographers to cover overseas events. I know – I’m a writer with the Philadelphia Inquirer, though I currently am doing a copyediting stint. The Inquirer actually has been terrific in allowing me to use up hundreds of inches of precious newspaper space to write on the war in northern Uganda. I also wrote for the Editorial Board on Darfur, Myanmar and other developing world issues. Newspapers always will, once in a while, cover these issues. But I want to act on my belief that these issues need constant attention – and that readers are more interested in them than most people think.

I presume I’ll be writing a bio for my blog, but let me just tell you a bit about myself. I’ve mainly been a newspaper journalist since graduating from Ohio State University in 1982. I was a Peace Corps dropout (early terminee is the technical term, which seems a bit over-dramatic to me). I’ve laced my newspaper career with stories done overseas on refugees and war zones, and outside of journalism in humanitarian work. I did human rights work in Cambodia, was a consultant to UNICEF in Rwanda, where I helped institute a child-rights monitoring program involving mayors, and was a refugee camp manager during the Kosovo crisis for the International Rescue Committee. I was, in fact, the longest-serving refugee camp manager during the Kosovo crisis – now that’s a claim for the resume.

Okay, not.

I’m a believer in the power of the published word to educate, motivate and entertain, and think college and high school studentsare increasingly interested in doing good works for horrendous situations overseas. I salute them, and hope to profile them as well periodically on this blog. I also encourage any activists to write in and join the discussion. My final comment in what I know is a long post, is to explain Muddy Notebook. That’s how my notebooks look when I’ve done reporting overseas. I’ve also estalbished a Web site,, where I eventually hope to move this blog. So, without even checking my spelling, I will hit the “save” button and join the world of blogging. Thanks for having me.

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