Features

by James Jeffrey, IRIN

BORAMA — Sitting on parched ground pummelled by the sun, a camel looks on majestically as pastoralists mill around it in a whirl of activity. Loaded onto its back are sacks of grains and pulses, yellow jerry cans, bottles of cooking oil, bits of fabric and plastic to make rough bivouac structures, and more.

After a final check of ropes, a woman makes a loud purring noise while gesturing upwards. The camel jerkily stands up, emitting a loud groan. Leading it by a rope, the family rejoins other pastoralists trekking through the Awdal Region abutting Somaliland's northwestern border with Ethiopia: home for those on the move.

Faced with desiccated pastures in Ethiopia's Somali Region last November, these pastoralists and many others responded to rumors of rains and good pasture hundreds of kilometers away on the coast of Somaliland, an internationally unrecognized but de facto sovereign nation separate from Somalia.

But, when they got there, there wasn't enough rain or pasture for the numbers that descended. Thousands of goats, sheep, cows, and even drought-hardy camels died, buried in mass graves to prevent disease spreading. (It still broke out, killing further livestock). Now, the pastoralists are returning to Ethiopia, or trying to do so.

#BringBackOurGirls should be more than a hashtag

Chibok

by Hilary Matfess, IRIN

MAIDUGURI — The world united in a campaign to demand #BringBackOurGirls after the abduction of the Chibok school girls two years ago by the Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram. But there has been next to nothing in the way of support to the women that have managed to escape the militants.

They are now homeless, reduced to begging to survive, and forced to deal alone with the trauma of their ordeal.

Safiya sits on a woven mat under a scraggly tree in the grounds of Madina Mosque, on the outskirts of the northeastern city of Maiduguri, rocking her newborn son. The mosque has become a rough-and-ready sanctuary for around 2,000 people who have fled the conflict.

"We spent three months in the forest, crawling through the bush, bringing all five children and trying not to disturb the infection in my husband's wound from where Boko Haram shot him," she says.

She was pregnant as well at the time. When she felt the baby was almost due, she left her husband with the children and walked the remaining 70 kilometres to Maiduguri, and this mosque.

Safiya delivered her son here a week later, without a doctor, midwife, or medicine. Her family finally managed to join her, helped by communities along their path, and though they are now physically safe and united, that's about the extent of it.

Peace Pentagon

by Bill Weinberg, The Villager

The night of Thursday May 5 was a bittersweet one for me. For probably the last time in my life, I crossed the threshold of 339 Lafayette St., for a "Moving the Movement" farewell party. I was bidding adieu to the building that three generations of activists had affectionately called the "Peace Pentagon." The gathering was confined to one room of the three-story structure, with construction tape barring access to the other rooms, and the halls deserted. It was an eerie feeling.

The first time I entered the building at the corner of Lafayette and Bleecker, I was in my senior year of high school. It was 1980, Reagan's election was imminent, the Iran hostage crisis and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan dominated the headlines, and the big lurch to the right was in frightening progress. President Carter, who had been elected on a pledge to pardon Vietnam-era draft resisters, capitulated to the new bellicose zeitgeist by bringing back draft registration. I was in the first crop of 18-year-olds to have to register with the Selective Service System since 1973. This precipitated my first activist involvement—a student anti-draft group. Through this, I was inevitably drawn into the orbit of the War Resisters League—the venerable pacifist organization that grew out of anti-draft efforts in World War I, and was the anchor tenant at 339.

Syrian mural

by Leila Al Shami, Fifth Estate

Syria's current borders were drawn up by imperial map-makers a hundred years ago in the midst of World War I as part of a secret accord between France and Britain to divide the Mideast spoils of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. As the colonial state gave way to the post-independence state, power was transferred from Western masters to local elites.

The three major discourses which grew out of the anti-colonial struggle—socialism, Arab nationalism, and Islamism—all fetishized the idea of a strong state as the basis of resistance to Western hegemony. In the case of Syria, it led to the emergence of an ultra-authoritarian regime where power is centralized around one man in Damascus, Bashar al-Assad, bolstered by the state bureaucracy, and security forces. But today, new ways of organizing have emerged which challenge centralized authority and the state framework.

During the course of the revolution against Assad that began in Syria in 2011, land was liberated to the extent that by 2013 the regime had lost control over some four-fifths of the country. As the state began to disintegrate, communities needed to build alternative structures to keep life functioning in the newly created autonomous zones.

Kurdish Initiatives on the Rise

Rojava

by Rene Wadlow, Toward Freedom

On March 17, 2016, the "federal democratic system of Rojava" (a Kurdish term for northern Syria) was proclaimed officially. Some 150 representatives of Kurdish, Arab, and Assyrian (largely Christian) groups met in the city of Rmellane in northeast Syria and voted in favor of the union of three "cantons" largely populated by Kurds—the cantons of Afrin, Kobani, and Jezireh.

The government as well as a major opposition coalition present in the Syria negotiations which have been going on in Geneva since the middle of March, the Syrian National Coalition, both stated their refusal of a federalist system which they saw as a first step to the breakup of Syria. The Syrian Foreign Ministry said that "Any such announcement has no legal value and will not have any legal, political, social or economic impact as long as it does not reflect the will of the entire Syrian people." There was no indication of how the "will of the entire Syrian people" was to be determined in the war-torn land.

While the Kurdish issues in Turkey have attracted international attention, and the largely autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq is a major player in Iraqi politics, the Kurds in Syria have been less discussed.

A Bold Challenge to Extremism

Kafranbel

by Julia Taleb, Waging Nonviolence

On January 10, the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group in Syria, stormed the headquarters of Radio Fresh in Kafranbel and arrested its director Raed al-Fares and journalist Hadi Abdullah. The flag of the Syrian revolution was thrown on the floor and al-Nusra members stepped on it and forced the station's members to do the same. They destroyed and confiscated equipment and books, burned the flag and—according to Ghalia al-Rahal, director of Mazaia, a women's center in Kafranbel—shouted, "We do not want any media in Kafranbel." They closed the station and placed a sign at the main door saying, "Confiscated by Jabhat al-Nusra, do not approach."

This raid came in response to a post on al-Fares' Facebook page, in which he said, "If our main concern is what's between a man's lips [cigarettes] and women's legs, and as long as we are herding people to prayers and flooding our schools with Sharia books, we will have a thousand years of death to come in Syria." Al-Nusra also claimed that songs broadcast on the station were against the Islamic ruling of Sharia.

Members of the radio station were held inside the office for almost two hours while al-Fares was taken by al-Nusra. After hours of negotiations with al-Nusra's leaders and Sharia judges, Abdullah provided guarantees that al-Fares would not post messages critical of Sharia on Facebook again, and he was released. Al-Nusra had to also admit that raiding the station was a mistake and promised to return all their equipment.

"As we were waiting for the negotiation, we were organizing for a massive protest that was planned to take off the next morning," al-Rahal said. "Al-Nusra knew that we would have not kept silent."

Bangladesh

by David L. Wilson, MR Zine

On April 24, 2013, some 1,134 people died in the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex outside Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. The building housed factories where low-wage workers, largely women, stitched garments for the U.S. and European markets.

For several years before the disaster a number of U.S. opinion makers—notably New York Times columnists Thomas Friedman and Nicholas Kristof—had been arguing that assembly plants like those at Rana Plaza were crucial to the development of economies in the Global South and therefore a boon to the world's most impoverished. The media's efforts to promote sweatshops suddenly slowed down after the collapse in Bangladesh, but they seem to be reviving now, just as we approach the third anniversary of the disaster.

The occasion for the new pro-sweatshop campaign is Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' opposition to trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Senator Sanders has made criticism of the trade deals a key part of his bid for the Democratic nomination.

Mining Companies Sue Colombia for 'Right' to Pollute

paramó

by Pete Dolack, Systemic Disorder

Yet another standoff between clean drinking water and mining profits has taken shape in Colombia, where two corporations insist their right to pollute trumps human health and the environment. As is customary in these cases, it is clean water that is the underdog here.

Two million people are dependent on water from a high-altitude wetland, which is also a refuge for endangered species, that a Canadian mining company, Eco Oro Minerals Corporation, wants to use for a gold mine. The wetlands, the Santurbán páramo in the Andes, has been declared off-limits for mining by Colombia's highest court due to the area’s environmental sensitivity. Eco Oro is suing the Colombian government because of this under the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

The dispute will likely be heard by a secret tribunal that is an arm of the World Bank, even though the World Bank has provided investment capital for Eco Oro to develop the mine.