A Review of Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and The New Politics of Latin America

A man full of tattoos, courtesy Alejandro De La Cruz/flickr

This article was originally published by the Small Wars Journal on 15 January 2016.

Ioan Grillo has served as an international media reporter in Latin America since 2001 and is fluent in Spanish. Most of his experience comes from his in-depth coverage of the Mexican narco wars, from which he authored El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency (Bloomsbury 2012). His new book, unlike his earlier one, takes a much broader perspective on the crime wars that have broken out in many areas within the Americas. In many ways, it can be considered an evolution of his thinking concerning this broadening Western Hemispheric security concern.

To be quite truthful, the reviewer is both amazed and at times abhorred by the situations Grillo—‘a crazy Brit’— placed himself in while working on this book. His hanging out with heavily armed and drugged Shower Posse members in Tivoli Gardens (essentially a garrison or fortified ghetto) is just one illustrative example. This is very much reminiscent of the work Gary ‘Rusty’ Flemming and Robert Young Pelton have done in the past related to Mexican cartels/gangs and global combat reporting, respectively. It signifies the important investigative role independent journalists and filmmakers can make via their ability to safely gain interviews with violent non-state actors on their own turf while the rest of us—and in particular police and military officers and governmental agents—would likely not survive such ‘snake pit’ encounters.

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What Challenges Does 2016 Hold for Sub-Saharan Africa?

Soldiers during exercise Kwanza in Angola, 2010

This article was originally published by the Global Observatory on 20 January 2016.

Akin to its physical landscape, the political environment of Sub-Saharan Africa in 2015 varied greatly from country to country. On a positive note, elections in politically polarized countries such as Nigeria, Tanzania, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire concluded relatively peacefully, despite the shadow of political violence looming large. Burkina Faso, which entered the year in political limbo following the ousting of long-serving president Blaise Compaoré, also elected its first democratic government, thwarting a coup attempt by the deposed leader’s presidential guard in the process.

In another encouraging development, 2015 also marked the nadir of the West African Ebola outbreak, which killed more than 11,000 people since the virus was first reported in the region in early 2012. Just today, the World Health Organization declared Liberia—the last affected country—Ebola-free.

However, while last year saw Sub-Saharan Africa overcome a number of important challenges, it also saw the continuation and often the creation of social, political, and economic obstacles that will define the continent’s security outlook in 2016.

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For Lasting Peace, Exceptions Must Become Rule: Q&A with Séverine Autesserre

Peace dove/Mural azulejos día de la PAZ

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 12 January 2016.

Despite an increased spotlight on the disconnection between international peacebuilders and the communities in which they work, the situation does not appear to have improved dramatically in the past year, according to Séverine Autesserre, Associate Professor of Political Science at Columbia University’s Barnard College.

Dr. Autesserre, whose 2014 book Peaceland is credited with bringing the problem to wider attention, said there may have been a change in discourse, but not in practice.

A major issue is that many people and organizations think that they are the rare exceptions to the rule, she said in a conversation with International Peace Institute Policy Analyst Margaret Williams.

“People may agree with the analysis and the need for change, but they may feel it is only for other people,” she said. “That may be why we haven’t seen so many changes in the past year.”

She said policymakers, practitioners, peacebuilders, local authorities, local populations and others have at least shown a greater interest in the exceptions, and these could be highlighted as models for reform.

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What (else) to Expect in Africa in 2016?

“Africa” written in the evening sky in Malawi

This article was originally published by ISS Africa on 12 January 2016.

Africa starts the New Year with many burning issues that escalated in 2015 and need urgent action. The crisis in Burundi, where grave human rights violations are continuing, and the war in South Sudan are the two most pressing among these.

This year will also see a number of important elections taking place in Africa. Uganda’s presidential polls are being held next month, and those scheduled for the Democratic Republic of Congo later this year will also be top of mind for most Africa watchers.

It will also be a very challenging year for Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who will now have to make good on his 2015 election promises.

This includes effectively dealing with terror group Boko Haram and bringing back the kidnapped Chibok girls. Africa’s most populous nation will also look to him to continue the fight against corruption and boost economic development, despite the slump in the oil price.

But what are we missing, beyond the big newsmakers?

In 2016, we should watch for surprises from unexpected quarters. One of these might be from Zimbabwe. President Robert Mugabe, who turns 92 next month, is not immortal – even if his supporters vow to push him onto the stage in a wheelchair to celebrate his victory at the next party elections in 2019.

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In the Fight Against Violent Extremism, Why Is Prevention Elusive?

Graffiti in Syria, ‘Peace I Miss You’

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 11 January 2016.

Countering violent extremism has become a cottage industry in both the global North and South, as Daesh (also known as ISIS) and other transnational armed terrorist groups continue to threaten the very foundations on which national and international peace and stability have rested for decades. For the countries of the Sahel-Sahara and North Africa regions, brutally affected by the scourge of violence, countering violent extremism (CVE) has been embraced as the new overarching framework for a continued pursuit of the “war on terror.”

Current Approaches and Limitations

Under the CVE umbrella, these countries have multiplied initiatives and adopted various measures both at the national and regional levels to address the roots of radicalization, violent extremism, and terrorism. Efforts based on increasing education and cultural outreach—such as training imams to counter radical Islamic teachings—have become common. Some countries, with the active participation of civil society organizations, have devised national action plans that include the organization of inter-religious and inter-communal dialogue, as well as awareness-raising campaigns aimed at encouraging citizen engagement in the prevention and the fight against violent extremism. Still others have included in their national CVE strategy the creation of socioeconomic opportunities for youth and other marginalized groups to prevent their radicalization.

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