TIME White House

Obama Hosts 51 African Leaders Amid Grumbling Over His Record

President Barack Obama speaks to participants of the Presidential Summit for the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders in Washington on July 28, 2014.
President Barack Obama speaks to participants of the Presidential Summit for the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders in Washington on July 28, 2014. Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP

Putting aside Gaza, Iraq and other distractions, Obama focuses on legacy

Barack Obama came to office representing the hopes and dreams of an entire continent. His father, after all, came to America not in the cargo hold of a slave ship hundreds of years ago, but on an academic scholarship from his native Kenya in 1954: for many on the African continent, Obama was the cousin who’d made it big in America. His election was a symbol of hope, and that maybe help was on the way.

Obama stroked those expectations and rapture with the reissuing of his book in 2005, Dreams from My Father, and with a triumphal African tour in 2006, which sparked the first speculation that he might make a bid for the White House. But in his first term in office, Obama visited Africa only once, stopping at the tail end of his first international trip in Cairo deliver his speech launching “A New Beginning” with the Arab world and spending 24-hours in Ghana where he outlined the four themes upon which, he said, the future of Africa would depend: democracy, opportunity, health and the peaceful resolution of conflict.

Those four “pillars,” as he called them, went all but neglected for the next four years as Obama’s attention swung from domestic priorities like health care reform to crises in Syria, Ukraine and Iraq. So, now, as Obama turns an eye to legacy, he is hosting 51 African leaders at the White House this week for a summit. But legacy requires achievement, and Obama has left much undone in Africa.

To be fair, Obama had a tough act to follow. His predecessor George W. Bush created the Millennium Challenge Corporation to boost foreign aid and the Presidents’ Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, where he invested $15 billion for AIDS drugs—a program universally credited for bringing down AIDS deaths in Africa. Bush also had a security vision for Africa, establishing military bases and a joint African command. He helped create an autonomous government in South Sudan in 2005 to stop the genocide in Darfur. And Bush expanded a free trade agreement created under Bill Clinton called the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA.

Under Obama—or, perhaps better said, the Republican cost-cutting Congress—Millennium Challenge funding has remained flat and PEPFAR has been cut from $6.63 billion to $6.42 bullion in fiscal 2013 and is expected to face another $50 million in cuts this year. South Sudan, whose independence America celebrated in 2011, fell into civil war this year after the U.S. neglected to appoint a special envoy for more than six months. And AGOA’s renewal remains stalled before a Congress full of members who want to rewrite it, or potentially kill it, much like the Export Import Bank, which finances most U.S. business on the continent.

While Obama did help intervene with NATO in Libya and sent special forces to Uganda in 2011 to hunt down the warlord Joseph Kony, who has yet to be found, Obama has otherwise taken a hands off approach militarily in Africa. In Somalia, he sent in seal team that took out an al-shabab leader but only after that group’s terrorist attack against a high-end Nairobi shopping mall attack, which killed 67 people from 13 countries. He declined to send troops into Mali with France but provided air support, but only after a terrorist attack on a gas plant in neighboring Algeria claimed the lives of three Americans.

“There were tremendous expectations,” says Carl LeVan, an African studies professor at American University, who has just written a book on Nigeria. “There were big expectations from some of the big emerging African players on the continent. What has emerge over time is an appreciation of the American presidency as a complex organization that speaks on behalf of a big country and not just one man.”

Obama second term African record has been better. Last year, he toured the continent with hundreds of business leaders in tow, touting American investment. His second national security adviser, Susan Rice, is largely credited with the U.S. intervention in Libya and has a long history with the continent, which she views as a priority. Ahead of that tour, Obama launched Power Africa, a $7 billion program to provide power to 20 million sub-Saharan Africans. He also started the Young Leaders’ initiative, which provides scholarships for young Africans to top U.S. universities.

Obama emphasizes how America’s innovation has helped Africa skip several steps of development. He points to the broad use of smart phones across the continent as evidence of how American innovation allowed Africa to skip poles and wires and still bring, not just phone service, but online global banking and Internet connectivity to the most rural of communities. America, he argued to The Economist last week, is “better than just about anybody else” at such applications of technology.

But America is no long Africa’s largest patron. As the U.S. is pivoting to Asia, Asia is pivoting to Africa. China’s investments in Africa surpassed those of the U.S. in 2010 and are now five times as big—$15 billion to U.S.’s $3 billion. China’s investment in the raw-resource laden continent is expected to reach as high as $400 billion over the next half century. While, Obama says “the more the merrier,” as he told The Economist, “my advice to African leaders is to make sure that if, in fact, China is putting in roads and bridges, number one, that they’re hiring African workers; number two, that the roads don’t just lead from the mine, to the port to Shanghai.”

To that end, Obama has a distinctly American message for African leaders. He has seized upon the conference to underline the power of democracy for emerging nations. It is not by accident that he invited so many former African leaders: a message to Africa’s many aging dictators that it’s okay to step aside and give someone else a chance. Obama has proven that he isn’t Africa’s savior, and there’s only so much he can do. “If there is any lesson regarding development and stability that has been consistent since the end of World War II and the colonial era,” says Anthony Cordesman, a top conflict analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “it is that we can only really help those states that are helping themselves.”

TIME Sudan

Sudanese Christian Who Refused to Renounce Faith Meets Pope

APTOPIX Italy Mideast Sudan
Mariam Ibrahim, from Sudan, disembarks with her children Maya, in her arms, and Martin, accompanied by Italian deputy Foreign Minister Lapo Pistelli, after landing from Khartoum, at Ciampino's military airport, on the outskirts of Rome, Thursday, July 24. Riccardo De Luca—AP

Mariam Yahya Ibrahim and her family landed in Italy en route to a new life in the U.S.

Updated: 9:14 a.m.

A Sudanese woman who faced the death sentence for refusing to renounce Christianity met with Pope Francis on Thursday, hours after she safely landed in Italy en route to the United States, the Vatican said.

Mariam Yahya Ibrahim met with the Pope in a “very serene and affectionate” environment, Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi said in a statement. He said Francis met with Ibrahim and her family to show “his closeness and prayers” for everyone who suffers as a result of their faith.

Ibrahim, 27, was imprisoned for apostasy in February under Sudan’s strict Islamic law, after converting from Islam to marry her Christian husband, a U.S. citizen. Born to a Muslim father but raised Orthodox Christian, she refused to convert back under threat of death.

Ibrahim was ultimately spared the death sentence amid growing international outrage, but was detained when she tried to leave the country last month. She has since been sheltered in the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, and the State Department has been negotiating for her departure.

Sudan’s Sharia laws have been used sporadically since they were imposed in the 1980s, and no one has been put to death for apostasy since 1985, according to NBC News. But Ibrahim’s case drew widespread international attention, and the U.S. and human rights groups called for her release. She is now expected to head to the U.S. in the coming days with her two children and American husband.

 

TIME Sudan

Sudanese Woman Cleared of Death Sentence Arrested Again

SUDAN-TRIAL-ISLAM-CHRISTIANITY-MINISTRY
Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, a 27-year-old Christian Sudanese woman sentenced to hang for apostasy, sits in her cell a day after she gave birth to a baby girl at a women's prison in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman AFP/Getty Images

A Sudanese woman was arrested once again a day after a court overturned her death sentence issued on charges of apostasy, her lawyer told Bloomberg News.

A Sudanese court sentenced Meriam Yehia Ibrahim to die after she refused to renounce her Christian faith. Ibrahim has said she was raised Christian by her Ethiopian mother, and she married a Christian man. Ibrahim, 27, gained national attention after she was arrested, beaten and forced to give birth in a jail cell.

A day after her release, Ibrahim was taken into custody by members of Sudan’s national intelligence and security services as she tried to board a flight leaving Sudan.

Ibrahim’s husband and two children were taken into custody as well.

“There is no legal basis for this, it is an arbitrary arrest,” her lawyer, Elshareef Ali, said.

[Bloomberg]

TIME Religion

Sudanese Woman Sentenced to Death for Apostasy Freed

Meriam Ibrahim sits in her cell a day after she gave birth to a baby girl at a women's prison in Omdurman on May 28, 2014.
Meriam Ibrahim sits in her cell a day after she gave birth to a baby girl at a women's prison in Omdurman on May 28, 2014. AFP/Getty Images

After giving birth in jail, Meriam Ibrahim finally reunites with her husband.

A Sudanese woman sentenced to death for apostasy after she refused to reject her Christian faith has been freed and reunited with her husband and family, reports CNN.

Meriam Ibrahim was convicted of renouncing her faith by a Sudanese court in May. Eight months pregnant, the 27-year-old was sentenced to be hanged, as well as receive 100 lashings for alleged adultery. She eventually gave birth in jail, the Telegraph revealed—with her legs reportedly still shackled.

The controversy stemmed from Ibrahim’s upbringing, CNN said. Her father was Sudanese Muslim and her mother a Christian. However, her father left her at the age of 6, and Ibrahim’s mother raised her as a Christian. Ibrahim married her husband Daniel Wani, also a Christian, but because of her father’s faith, the marriage was considered invalid. Her own brother filed a report against her, CNN reported.

The case gathered international attention from human rights groups and politicians, including release requests from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State John Kerry and British Prime Minister David Cameron, reported the Telegraph.

Ibrahim’s initial conviction was found faulty in an appeals case, said her lawyer.

[CNN]

TIME Religion

Protesters Rally at the White House to Free Meriam

Protestors want the Obama administration to help save a Christian woman sentenced to death in Sudan.

On Thursday morning, nearly 100 protestors gathered in front of the White House to push for the release of Meriam Ibrahim, a 27-year-old woman in Sudan who has been sentenced to death for marrying a Christian man. Representatives from the Institute on Religion and Democracy and more than three dozen affiliated organizations, including travelers from as far as Jacksonville, Fla., clasped paper red chains in their hands and gave speeches to urge President Obama to speak up in her defense.

Ibrahim, 27, was sentenced last month to 100 lashes and to death for apostasy for marrying a non-Muslim man, Daniel Wani. Her case has drawn western attention because her husband is a US citizen and because she gave birth while in prison. Her sentence has been delayed while she nurses the child, and she is being held with her newborn daughter and 20-month-old son while her case moves through an appeals process. “We’re here at the White House because it’s up to President Obama,” Faith McDonnell, event organizer and member of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), says. “We need to get them out of prison and really it will take the administration to call and say you’ve got to stop this now.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gave a brief speech at the rally and Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) attended. “We are here today to speak out for faith and for liberty,” Cruz said into a megaphone. “Meriam Ibrahim is a mom, she’s a wife, she is married to an American citizen, a New Hampshire resident.” He continued: “Her crime is very simple, she is accused of and convicted of being a Christian, and tragically in Sudan that is a crime that carries with it a horrific punishment.”

Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced a bill on June 9 to grant the mother and her children permanent resident status in the US, but Meriam supporters worry that the legislation would not pass quickly enough. Death rates at the prison are high, they fear, and many are concerned that the more time passes, the less likely the survival of Meriam, or her newborn baby, will be. Meriam’s case deserves attention, they argue, especially because it is about religious freedom and women’s freedom in the developing world more broadly. “This is an issue that completely shouldn’t be a partisan issue about whether someone should be executed for their faith,” JP Duffy of Family Research Council (FRC) says.

Other top U.S. voices are speaking out as well. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tweeted last month that “Meriam Yahya Ibrahim’s death sentence is abhorrent. Sudan should stop threatening religious freedom and fundamental human rights.” Mia Farrow also has pushed a campaign on Twitter to protest Meriam’s fate to the Sudanese Embassy.

The protestors plan to continue their efforts until action is taken. On Friday, they took their protest to the Sudanese Embassy. The hashtag #FreeMeriam continues to gain popularity, the website rescuemeriam.com has been created to further increase awareness, and a WhiteHouse.gov petition to free Meriam has received more than 45,000 signatures.

TIME Sudan

Christian ‘Apostate’ Sentenced to Death in Sudan Gives Birth in Jail

Meriam Yahya Ibrahim, 27, was sentenced to death for marrying a Christian and refusing to convert to Islam

A Sudanese woman sentenced to death for “apostasy” after marrying a Christian and refusing to denounce the faith gave birth in prison Tuesday morning.

Lawyers for Meriam Ibrahim, 27, told the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph that the mother of two wasn’t taken to a hospital or allowed to see her husband, who has been waiting outside of the prison.

Ibrahim was sentenced to death May 15 for apostasy and adultery by a Sudanese court. She will be allowed to live and nurse her child, named Maya, for two years before she is put to death. Her 20-month old child Martin is in prison with her, too.

World leaders and human rights organizations have spoken out to stop the execution.

An Amnesty International petition to override the sentencing has been signed by more than 660,000 people thus far.

Now that Ibrahim has given birth, the Telegraph reports, she is subject to 100 lashes for adultery.

[Daily Telegraph]

TIME Religion

Sudan’s Real Crisis Is the Disregard for Female Life

The death sentence for a pregnant Sudanese woman who refuses to renounce her Christian faith shows that the government's depravity extends far beyond religion and deep into the heart of humanity.

The world was shaken by the news Thursday that a pregnant woman was sentenced to death for apostasy. Meriam Yehya Ibrahim is eight months pregnant, and because she will not renounce her Christian faith, she will be hanged soon after she gives birth. In Sudan, children must be raised the religion of their father. The government claims that because Ibrahim’s father was a Muslim, she must remain so and her marriage to a Christian man is invalid.

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim’s story resonates with everything I’ve experienced in my 10 years of working in Sudan and South Sudan. Ibrahim’s story reminds me of a dear friend of mine, Mary Achai, whose Muslim slave master set her on fire, along with three of her children, because she ran away when she learned that he planned to sell her 10-year-old daughter as a virgin bride. Although Mary is permanently marred inside and out, she survived the fire. Her 10-year-old daughter, toddler and nursing baby did not.

Rightly so, much emphasis is being given to the fact that Ibrahim’s sentence of death is in retaliation of her choice to be Christian. However, fundamentally, the crisis in Sudan is not one of religion but rather a complete disregard for the dignity of life, especially female life.

I know Muslim women in South Sudan who the Islamic Janjaweed raped with sticks as they mocked, “This is so you cannot make black babies.” I know men who’ve been beaten, had their teeth knocked out and forced to swallow them and had limbs hacked off as they watched their wives and children dragged behind the tail of a horse into slavery because their skin was black instead of the beautiful bronze color of their Arab-descendant fellow countrymen. I know a beautiful young schoolteacher whose father forced her to leave her job to marry a man who already had four wives so that he could garner a few more cows. I’ve sat through bomb blitzes targeted at the indigenous people of the Nuba Mountains, which is largely Islamic, simply because they are black and yet dare to proclaim their right to life, liberty and the use of their homeland’s natural resources.

The depravity of the Sudanese government extends far beyond religion and deep into the heart of humanity. A people will not truly have freedom of religion unless it is built upon a foundation of the sanctity of life.

I find myself cheering for Ibrahim as a thundercloud of hope, proclaiming “Life is worth dying for.” Mohamed Jar Elnabi, her attorney, echoes the sonorous claps of Ibrahim’s life as he endures death threats, social castigation, and financial hardship for defending her.

From half a world away, it is tempting to turn our faces away from Ibrahim and Elnabi, but in so doing we would be turning our backs upon our own human dignity. There may be no financial incentive to pursue the arrest of Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s president who sets the pace for this human debasement and who the International Criminal Court has indicted for war crimes against the indigenous people of Sudan; in fact, it would cost us something. But I find myself wondering what cost we pay by not demanding the pursuit of justice beyond our political or personal gain.

To date, the embassies of Britain, the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands have called on Sudan to respect Ibrahim’s right to change her faith. Isn’t this woman’s life, and the principle for which she is willing to lay it down, worth more than a “call”?

Kimberly L. Smith is the president and co-founder of Make Way Partners, the only indigenously operated relief organization providing orphan care and anti-trafficking efforts in the Sudan and South Sudan. Smith has been serving alongside the Sudanese people for 10 years. Make Way Partners currently provides complete care to 1,100 orphans and employs 300 Sudanese, many of whom are former victims of sex trafficking. Smith is also the author of the award-winning book Passport through Darkness, which chronicles much of her experience in the Sudans. For more information on Kimberly L. Smith and Make Way Partners, please visit www.makewaypartners.org.

TIME Sudan

Sudanese Woman Sentenced to Death After Marrying Christian

A Sudanese woman who was born to a Muslim father was sentenced to death by hanging for marrying a Christian man

A pregnant 27-year-old Sudanese woman was sentenced to death by hanging Thursday for apostasy after marrying a Christian man and refusing to convert to Islam. Mariam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag also faces charges of adultery.

Ibrahim, who was born to a Muslim father but raised Orthodox Christian by her mother, was first sentenced on Sunday, but she was given until Thursday to change her mind and convert. She refused to do so, Al Jazeera reports.

“I am a Christian and I never committed apostasy,” Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim was found guilty of apostasy — the abandonment of one’s religious faith – because she was born to a Muslim father and married a Christian man. The adultery charge came as Islamic law prohibits Muslim women from marrying outside of their religion, a rule which effectively voided the marriage.

The death sentence will reportedly be carried out after Ibrahim gives birth.

Western embassies and human rights groups have urged Sudan to let Ibrahim choose her religion freely. Following the verdict, about 50 people protested against the sentence outside the courtroom.

[Al Jazeera]

TIME Africa

Report: Eritreans Enslaved and Tortured in Refugee Camps

Refugees meet trouble in Egypt and Sudan

Tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees have been found languishing in camps in Egypt and Sudan over the last decade, where many were kidnapped and subjected to rape and torture by traffickers, according to a new report.

The Human Rights Watch report out Tuesday says refugees from the small African country have been targeted by traffickers aiming to extort money from themselves and their families, according to the Guardian. State security forces in both Egypt and Sudan have frequently aided the perpetrators, according to Human Rights Watch.

Since 2004, more than 200,000 Eritreans have fled their home country—often with the help of traffickers—in a bid to escape poverty and political repression. Even after many had paid traffickers the money demanded, the refugees would still sometimes be sold to different groups of traffickers, according to the report. Others have been forced to work as builders or indentured servants.

[Guardian]

TIME Viewpoint

Famine as a Weapon: It’s Time to Stop Starvation in Sudan

Women and children are among the refugees waiting for food aid to be distributed in Yida refugee camp in South Sudan, near the volatile border with Sudan, on Nov 16, 2011 Hannah McNeish—AFP/Getty Images

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“We left our homes with not even a cup like this one,” recounted the woman from a Sudanese refugee camp in Ethiopia last month, gesturing toward a red plastic cup lying in the dirt next to her foot. Asma, a name we are using for her to help ensure her safety, said the Sudanese government’s Antonov planes bombed her village and government soldiers, supported by ethnic militia, chased and killed civilians. They did not spare children and pregnant women, she said angrily. “It’s all because we are black,” Asma told our colleagues in the Satellite Sentinel Project. She said that the militias were shouting, “Grab the slaves!” Her subsequent weeklong journey with 50 other women to the refugee camp was harrowing. “Many of the women had to leave their babies in their cribs.”

Incredibly, Asma and the tens of thousands of Sudanese who have run for their lives across international borders are the lucky ones. Those left behind in the war zones within Sudan — places like Blue Nile, South Kordofan, Abyei and Darfur — are subject to a regime whose war tactics break every international law on the books. But two war crimes in particular — aerial bombing against civilians and blocking humanitarian aid — are leading to the biggest killer of all: famine.

The strategy of using starvation as a weapon or means of social control is one of the oldest and most effective tactics of war. Around 400 B.C., the Spartans ended the Peloponnesian wars by starving the Greeks into submission in their siege of Athens. Two centuries later, after Rome defeated Hannibal’s army, Roman troops ploughed Carthage with salt to render it infertile.

You’d think by the second decade of 21st century — with the development of international accountability and prevention mechanisms — that the use of starvation would have disappeared from the arsenal of war weapons because it bears too high a cost for the perpetrator. The people of Sudan would beg to differ.

First, famine must be prevented. Counterintuitively, sending aid into Sudan by any means necessary — backed by heavy international pressure for humanitarian corridors — might be the best way to compel the regime to lift its aid embargo. That strategy worked in the late 1980s. A cross-border operation from Kenya and Uganda embarrassed a previous Sudanese government and eventually it agreed to a U.N. plan that allowed aid to flow. Doing the same today from willing bordering countries is necessary to prevent full-scale famine until Khartoum allows full humanitarian access. In the meantime, the regime cannot be allowed to block aid access to Darfur — the largest aid operation in the world — as “punishment” for aid flowing into the border areas.

Second, aerial bombing must be stopped. At the height of the Darfur killings, the U.N. Security Council imposed a ban on offensive military flights by the Sudanese government that was never enforced. Now that Khartoum has bombed a neighboring country, and a refugee camp at that, the threats to international peace and security that the U.N. was created to counter would justify expanding that ban on offensive flights to other parts of Sudan bordering South Sudan. This time, though, mechanisms must be created to enforce the ban.

Third, peace efforts must be enhanced. Two parallel high-profile diplomatic initiatives — building on existing processes — should focus on a comprehensive peace deal with all the rebelling regions inside Sudan on the one hand, and lasting political and security arrangements between Sudan and South Sudan on the other.

Without robust international action, the default option is protracted war both within Sudan and between Sudan and South Sudan. From her new home in the refugee camp, Asma embodied this reality. “The government attacked their own people. If we were not attacked, we would be at home right now. That was wrong. We have to defend ourselves and get what is ours.”

The authors are co-founders of the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), a partnership between the Enough Project, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and DigitalGlobe. The SSP has documented evidence that forces aligned with the government of Sudan razed five towns and villages and bombarded civilians in the border areas of Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile state.

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