Kenya is facing its worst drought in a decade, with 2.4 million people expected to be going hungry by November. The fast-emerging humanitarian crisis is not only the result of two consecutive poor rainy seasons in the Arid & Semi-Arid Lands region—an arc of under-developed territory in the north and east of the county. Needs are compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, chronic insecurity, as well as by pests and other diseases. Household maize stocks are well below the five-year average, and both livestock productivity and milk production have fallen, driving up prices. A glut in the livestock market, as people sell off their animals, is further eroding pastoralists' earnings. They are already forced to walk longer distances in search of water and forage, resulting in a spike in inter-communal tensions. Upcoming rains, due to fall from October to December, are also forecast to be below average, resulting yet again in poor harvests and worsening livestock conditions next year.
In Episode 88 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg revisits his predictions from 20 years ago and from a month ago about what the world would look like on the 20th anniversary of 9-11. The attack, and Dubya Bush's Global War on Terrorism, did not lead to a wave of new attacks within the US, as the jihad has proved more concerned with the struggle within Islam. But this has meant an invisible catastrophe for the Muslim world. The ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen get at least some international media attention. There are many more nearly forgotten wars and genocides: the serial massacres in Pakistan, the insurgency in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, the Boko Haram war in Nigeria that is now spilling into Cameroon, the mounting massacres in the Sahel nations. Even the insurgency in Somalia, where the US has had a military footprint, wins little coverage—despite the fact that it is spilling into Kenya. The insurgency in Mozambique has now prompted an African-led multinational military intervention. The insurgency on the Philippine island of Mindanao has been met with air-strikes. All waged by entities claiming loyalty to either al-Qaeda or ISIS. The new imperial doctrine appears to be that this violence is acceptable as long as it is not visited upon the West—as now admitted to by the elite global management.
Despite hopes for a ceasefire in Tigray region last month, the Ethiopian conflict is expanding. The Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), the main rebel group in the country's largest region, Oromia, warned on Aug. 14 that it is close to cutting off a major highway to Kenya—a move that could disrupt trade with the largest economy in East Africa. Having announced a pact with the government's arch-adversary, the Tigray People's Liberation Front, the OLA claims it is advancing on the western and southern fronts of Oromia region, and holds parts of the southern Borena zone bordering Kenya. Meanwhile, as the humanitarian crisis deepens and Tigrayan rebels push on into Amhara and Afar regions, there has been a relaunch of diplomatic efforts to halt the fighting. US special envoy Jeffrey Feltman arrived in Ethiopia last weekend, and Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok—rebuffed once by Addis Ababa—said he is still willing to mediate. Sudan, however, has its own dispute with Ethiopia over the contested al-Fashaga border region—an issue Khartoum reiterated is non-negotiable.
Somalia severed diplomatic ties with neighboring Kenya Dec. 14, accusing it of violating Somali sovereignty and meddling in its internal affairs ahead of scheduled general elections. Although the statement cited no specific grievances, it came exactly as Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was hosting in Nairobi the president of Somaliland, a breakaway region in Somalia's northwest that declared independence in 1991. Kenyatta and Somaliland's President Musa Bihi Abdi signed a pact on increased security and economic cooperation—which is clearly viewed by Mogadishu as a step toward formal recognition.
President Trump has ordered the withdrawal of nearly all US troops from Somalia by mid-January, the Pentagon announced Dec. 4. The US currently has about 700 troops in the country, assisting local forces to fight al-Shaabab and insurgents operating in the name of the Islamic State. The Pentagon statement stressed that the order to "reposition the majority of personnel and assets out of Somalia by early 2021" does not signify a change in policy: "We will continue to degrade Violent Extremist Organizations that could threaten our homeland while ensuring we maintain our strategic advantage in great power competition."
The US Supreme Court ruled May 18 in Opati v. Republic of Sudan that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) permits a punitive damages award against Sudan for the role it played in 1998 al-Qaeda bombings at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Following the bombings, victims and family members sued Sudan under the "state-sponsored terrorism exception" to the FSIA, but the act at the time included no provision for punitive damages in suits filed under the "exception." Congress amended the act in 2008 to allow punitive damages in such cases. A district court in 2017 awarded a $6 billion judgment against Sudan, but the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the amendment did not allow plaintiffs to seek damages for attacks that occurred before its enactment. The Supreme Court disagreed, and held that Congress intended the amendment to apply retroactively.
Mounting police-state measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are now resulting in stand-offs between executive and judicial authorities. In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele, for the third time in 10 days on April 16 publicly dismissed Supreme Court rulings to respect fundamental rights while enforcing quarantine regulations. First, on March 26, the court ordered the government to release individuals who had been detained while grocery shopping. Then on April 8, the court explicitly provided that the government lacked proper statutory backing to detain citizens. After both rulings, Bukele took to Twitter, urging security forces to be strict with the lockdown and reiterating that violators will be placed in a containment facility. The third order states that the Bukele administration must respect the COVID-19-related rulings. Again, Bukele responded on Twitter, declaring that "five people will not decide the death of hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans." Security forces have already arbitrarily detained hundreds of people in the containment centers, where rights observers charge they face an increased risk of spreading COVID-19. (HRW, CISPES, Jurist)
It's certainly an irony that with police-state measures mounting worldwide to enforce lockdowns and contain COVID-19, Trump is now claiming sweeping executive power to lift lockdowns in the US in spite of the pandemic. Asserting his prerogative to override state governors and order economies open again, Trump stated April 13: "When someone is president of the United States, the authority is total." After requisite media outcry, he later reiterated this assertion on Twitter. (NYT, The Guardian) The response in media and the Twittersphere has been to call this out as blatantly unconstitutional. While it is, of course, necessary to point out the illegitimacy of Trump's pretended power-grab, it is also side-stepping the real threat here: of the pandemic being exploited to declare an actual "state of exception" in which constitutional restraints are suspended altogether—perhaps permanently.