TIME Sudan

Sudan’s Foreign Minister Denies War Crimes As UN Moves Toward New Sanctions

A woman rides a donkey past a convoy of government troops in Tabit village in the North Darfur region of Sudan, Nov, 2014.
Abd Raouf—AP A woman rides a donkey past a convoy of government troops in Tabit village in the North Darfur region of Sudan, Nov, 2014.

The United Nations Security Council threatened new sanctions Thursday against Sudan’s government, and United States Ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, accused the country of “obstruction, harassment and direct attacks that have impeded efforts to deliver humanitarian aid in Darfur.”

Last week on February 4, Sudan Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti sat down with TIME while he was in Washington as guest of the National Prayer Breakfast. In a tense, 40-minute exchange, Karti, a devout Muslim, spoke of everything from his love of Jesus to his categorical denial of mass rape, which Human Rights Watch and other have reported that Sudanese armed forces perpetrated in Darfur.

When TIME showed Karti photos on an iPhone of burned children and legless women, who reported their injuries came from Sudanese government forces, Karti insisted that the government targets only combatants. “Nothing of that is happening,” he said, averting his eyes from the images. “Nobody is targeting his own people.”

His presence at the Breakfast was controversial, especially as he is lobbying the U.S. to lift sanctions and remove Sudan from its list of states that sponsor terror. Senator Bob Casey Jr., a congressional co-chair of the Breakfast, objected to Karti’s invitation to a meeting the Fellowship had scheduled with Secretary of State John Kerry and other diplomats during his visit.

Over the past three decades, Sudan’s government has been implicated in what Congress has termed two genocides, one in the nation’s south that cost as many of 2 million lives, in part from famine, and one in the nation’s western province of Darfur, where an additional 300,000 people died, according to the United Nations. Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Karti oversaw the popular Defense Force militias for a time during the first genocide, and according to State Department cables released by WikiLeaks, Karti is also credited with organizing the janjaweed militia, the brutal forces that terrorized Darfur. Now, after South Sudan’s independence, the fighting is intensifying in South Kordofan, a border region in Sudan. Aerial bombardments by the government are routine. On January 20, a Medecins Sans Frontières hospital–one of the only sources of humanitarian aid in the region–was bombed for the second time, and the facility was forced to close.

Below is a transcript of TIME’s interview with Karti, edited only lightly for grammar clarity, published in full because Karti so rarely speaks on the record with reporters. The full story, “Sudan: The Forgotten War,” is in this week’s magazine and online here.

TIME: What kind of bridges do you want to build?

ALI AHMED KARTI: To me it begins from the faith, from bringing people together, from trying to build relations between nations, maybe they are different in their faith, and they may be for sure they are different in ethnicities, what is huge between south and west is this very big divide. So I’ve been educated and trained in a country whereby people, they do not know about the west. Still they think they can outreach. But what had been in the history was tremendously injuring the relationship between south, and between and west and east. To begin with the colonial period, when people were subjected to so many atrocities, and the history of that is still injuring their vision about how can they be together again with some people from the west.

I am a foreign minister of my country, and I have been following this not like any other Sudanese, normal Sudanese. Maybe a normal Sudanese, he would just remark that there is a problem. But to me the problem is projected in so many ways. I am a politician, I can see how damaging having bad relations with a great country like U.S. and also having media, negative media talking about my country and about my people. So this is one of the ways that I deemed very good, and it is fruitful, it proved to be fruitful through time. Yes, I am talking formally with the government, and I am talking formally with the ambassador there in Khartoum, but still there are so many ways of trying to get to the hearts of people other than this formal way, because in the formal relations, government to government, you have limits, but when it goes to the hearts of people, you don’t have limits.

It will be easy for me to invite others to see the country to see the situation, and to assess by themselves, even media, everybody who is interested in that. We have been open for so many years before, and I have been on this track for more than eight years now. And to me it will be the only way that I can go through, and the only way that will also help in projecting my country, and my people and the lifestyle of life there in the country and the moderate way of people used to live and the coexistence that have been through our life in the country since it has been a country called Sudan. We used to have different faiths, whether Islam, Christianity, nonbeliever also are still there in the country, in some parts of the eastern, south eastern parts of our country, and we used to lived together. We did not witness in our life or the life of our predecessors a kind of conflict based on religion. If you go there to Khartoum you will find people living together. You will find mosques and churches almost some meters between them, and we have never had in our history of fights just because somebody is a Muslim or a Christian. Not only this, but we are Muslims, we have also our schools in the Muslim sphere, also there are schools in the church, we have different church, we have the Sudan Council of church, we have also evangelicals, we have Coptics in the country, and themselves, they are also making a very good example of coexistence between themselves and between them all and the Muslim community. And some friends who visit Sudan from this country, they are seeing how people are living together, how people are receptive to them, some of them were church leaders, some of them were writers, and some of the activists who have been there in the country, they have seen something different, some of them came here to speak to friends and to others that things are not like what is going on in the media. Things are totally different.

In this respect, I would hope to see you there, to go freely, we would not make any program for you, not only you but other friends who are working on this. You will be there, we will help you to go wherever you want to go, and it is up to you, you write your heart, and you write your visit, this is the only way to put down the walls and to build bridges and to bring people together.

What does spiritual diplomacy mean for you, and what will you be doing here, with friends, toward that end?

I told you I am not here on a formal visit, and I am not representing anybody here, but I am Sudanese, and I am somebody who can also have some effect on my country, and my relationship with people here on this side of faith can benefit both our countries and both our nations. I can see it could be the easiest and the swiftest way in getting to the hearts of people, if you speak the same language that Jesus could be our guidance, both of us, Muslims and followers of Jesus from this country,

I deem myself a follower of Jesus. According to our beliefs in Islam, if you are not a believer of Jesus, you are not a believer of Mohammed, and if you are not a believer of Mohammed, that means you are out of Islam. So it is part and parcel of our belief in God and Islam that Jesus is also our prophet, and we deem ourselves followers of Jesus, so in that respect we feel we are together. Yes, there are so many differences, as even in Christianity there are so many differences, we have some differences, but what we really share is very big, and we can base on that, and we can bring people on this way of believing in Jesus and believing that his directions and his directives are suitable for Muslims and for Christians. So if that is so, that means we can get closer to each other without remembering that we are different in nations or that we have different political setup. I have seen it.

So many people with whom if I speak politics, we will fall apart. So when we come together on this basis, I think it will be easy for us to get through and open hearts. And by opening hearts we can go through the difficulties also and we can resolve so many issues and outstanding problems.

So the United States plans to take Cuba off of its list of states that sponsor terrorism, which leaves Sudan, Iran, and Syria the only ones left. How would you argue that Sudan, like Cuba, should be taken off of the list?

This is my mission also to your people here, whether on the basis of faith or on the basis of politics, that we really need to focus on the situation of Sudan, and to verify if Sudan is sponsoring terror or not. According to the reports that are issued here in this country and according to those who are interested in this issue and those who are following this issue, I can’t find any report that is accusing Sudan of sponsoring terror, but you know politics.

It is not easy to get through a decision like this, because so many through history have been in this business of putting Sudan in that cage. So it needs time for them to understand, it needs time for them also, there are some NGOs who have been through time benefitting from putting Sudan in that situation. So it will only be possible if we are able to let people understand really the situation of Sudan, and that putting Sudan under that opposition, that means that we are putting Sudan in sanctions, and sanctions are cutting the throats of the needy people in the country. Maybe the government is mainly intended to crack down or to be weakened, but what is now weakened is the population, especially those who are in the peripheries, and especially those who are deemed to be, who need the assistance. So instead of looking to the country and a country under these sanctions should not be helped, I think it is better for those who really adopt the idea of helping others is to look at the matter from this perspective.

Yes it needs time, yes it needs talking to so many, there are so many institutions here in this country, they need to understand and they need also to know the situation better, some of them they know, but you know politics is something that is, nobody can expect how things should go forward and maybe through time, we’ll be able also to go through the same line of Cuba.

So one of the things we’ve been hearing from the UN is that 10% of the Rapid Support Forces’ operations are against the armed opposition, but 90% are against civilians. I’m wondering if you could respond to that.

No, nobody could think of something like that. Why should the government put that heavyweight on the civilians? Why? The government is a government for the people, and if you know the political setup in the country, you will see by yourself how people are represented, from the level of a village to the level of some town and to the level of districts and to the central level of the assemblies and the level of government.

If you have representatives everywhere, then nobody can do anything without those representatives, having idea of that or talking about that. If you go through the media in Sudan, you will find opposition, maybe the majority of papers that are issued in the country to now, they have every right to go anywhere and talk about anything that may be causing atrocities to their home land and people, so if nothing is coming out of that, that means that is only portraying the country in a way that will not at all help somebody like me to convince those who are in charge of a decision like removing Sudan from the list of terror, they want to keep the country there.

But I will bet if anybody is ready to go to the country, we will give him the opportunity to go by himself and assess what is going on there, look for an inquisition that they claim that there are so many rapes in a village in Darfur, you know what was behind that, what was behind that was a message to those people who had been driven from their village to go to the camps, those days they were ready to go back to their village. Why? Because that was one of the villages that was rebuilt again, in a very modern way, with schools, with health care center, with police center, with so many services and water resources, and the message was to them, don’t go back to Tabit, because Tabit is under mass rape, and when it was verified by the UNAMID when they went there, they found nothing of that, because nobody can expect a village like Tabit which had been a home for some hundreds of the soldiers there, they have their homes there, they have their wives there, and they are living in a camp near that place, no one will expect those soldiers will come and rape by hundreds in that village.

So you know messages like this come out of the expectation that the government is trying to normalize the situation, so instead of leaving the government normalize the situation, we just flare up something like this for people not to go back, not only for Tabit people but also for other people who are requesting to go back to their homes. If you are fleeing this place because there is no security, then the police is there, and not only the police is there, but the army is there, and it will protect you against anyone who will infringe your security. And not only that you will have new homes, you will have health services, you will have water resources, and you will have whatever you wish in a village that had been destroyed before 7 or 8 years, so the message was not to us or to you, its to those who should go back to their homes, because they wanted to keep them in the camps, they wanted to keep, the nature of the strife there in the country, that it is still not safe to go back, why for also? There are also some NGOs that are living on collecting money that they want to go to the camps and keep these people there. This is cutting throats of so many, and the line is there, tell the donors here, they should be kept seeing the situation unstable and for them also to pay money also for those who are living on this money.

There’s a report out today about some of the carnage in the Nuba Mountains. There are some really horrible photographs that I wanted to show you, it’s children–I know you’ve seen probably worse, but I know it is all very scarring. This is in a report out of the Nuba Mountains today with lots of children who have allegedly been burned, you can scroll here

Did they tell you who burned them?

My question is, Is it true that this is happening now, with your government planes and artillery, in your country?

Nothing of that is happening. Nobody can make his policy like that. Nobody is targeting his own people. What happens is that, those rebels they get in the villages sometimes, they do it themselves and they send it to you to here, to the media, and for verification I really commend some journalists to go there to verify who is doing this. So many reports are there like this have been sent about Darfur, through five or six years we have been under this kind of media. When people went there from the west and from other countries, they found that these are untrue narratives. You may find somebody who has been, yes, targeted, but who targeted him? This is a story from one side. This is a story from one side.

We have been also noticing, through the last years, heavy attacks put on civilians in South Kordofan and also in North Kordofan, and that had been reported to you here and everywhere. But nobody took it serious. It was those same rebels who attacked the villages and killed so many hundreds at one day and also burned so many houses at the same day and destroyed everything and they looted everything, and they went back to the border of South Sudan and in such a situation, you cannot verify who is doing this. I’m not saying that government is not using artillery, it is using artillery against combatants, it is not using artillery against civilians. There is no reason, why should the government target its own civilians? Nothing of that could happen. Because we have leaders from those leaders, they know what is going on there, they know who is targeting their own civilians there.

What do you do about this?

We just try to verify, and you see a new story again, and for you to verify which is right of these stories, and you know the media, every day you see things, and when you stay for some hours you will find something different. You will find another story. It is better for somebody who is working on this issue to have time to verify, it is easy just to have this story and report it and say this is the government. But why should the government target its own people? And if there is only one bomb that is maybe on an area where rebels are taking that area, something like this could happen.

We are seeing so many causalities happening from bombings some areas in Afghanistan, with really modern technologies, but nevertheless there casualties. I’m not saying that we do not have this in our country. But if it happens then that matter will be under investigation and they will know what had been wrong. But I assure you the government will not at all target its own civilians. So if you have causalities like what is happening in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or even in Iraq, at some point of time, something like this could happen. I’m not in a position now to tell you who did this, but you are a reporter, somebody who is interested in this, you should verify these narratives.

So, we are in a setting right now where there are a lot of international aid groups, especially groups of different faith backgrounds, groups that want to do international aid in Sudan, or have been doing aid work in different regions in Sudan for some time, and I’m wondering, how do you counsel them about how they can help, when there are situations like even this week, Médecins Sans Frontières, their hospital was bombed for the second time, and they say it was the government. In South Kordofan. They’ve been pushed out, they had to leave, and they say this government bombing. So when you are in a setting like this, how do you work with international–

Look we cannot open our doors for an NGO, or anybody, and receive him, give him facilities, and then we bomb him. Can you think, for yourself now, can that be possible if there is no other story which has not been told to you?

The reason I ask these questions is–you can respond and then we can share your voice about that.

When somebody applies to come to Sudan and work, for those needy people the government will make its own assessment and it will open doors for whoever is ready to go there. And there are instructions about how you do your work, and which place, and how you do it, and the custody of whom, so if somebody is coming through the government and he is trying to outlean and deal with the rebels, than he is doing wrong. You will not be told that he is doing something wrong, and for this reason, he had been there at the territory of the rebels. So you need to verify, why should the government target somebody who has been allowed formally and legally to come to the country and work with those people who are in need.

So nothing of that could happen. There should be a missing story, and what is really meant to be missing for you just to portray that the government is bombing this or that. So I would hope if you have time, and even if it is not you, your people, who are in charge of this, would allot somebody or some two or three of you, to go and investigate on that. If they are really interested to know the fact, they will know the facts.

What is the missing story?

I don’t know if this is the missing story. But I would think that there is something wrong that happened that took them from the place where they were authorized to work to another place where they were not authorized to work. Because if you are coming through my doors, and you are going to work with the rebels, that means you are doing something different. And if you are crossing South Sudan borders just to work with the rebels, then you don’t have any security. That means you are working in an area that is targeted. So if you are coming from south Sudan without the authority knowing that you are there and without any permission, that means that you are putting yourself in that jeopardized way.

Could you tell me how your government is getting gold, and are there any areas that consumers should be concerned about where the gold is coming from?

The gold is coming from the country and it is authorized by the government and there are so many companies they come there, they apply for permission, they apply for concessions, and they have agreements on that. And this is one side of it. The other side is, there are some, maybe thousands of Sudanese who used to have the local way of collecting gold from the surface of the ground. So most of them, they have agreement with the government and through that the government is using this gold as Sudanese export, and all of it is legal, nothing is illegal. Nothing is illegal. Nothing is falsified from anybody. Nobody is forced to even sell to the government if he doesn’t want to sell to the government. Nobody is forced to give his land to the government and to do something that is illegal.

So instead of listening to stories like this, it is also good to go there. We have a mining ministry, and you can see the concessions, you can see the companies, you can visit areas where the companies, even the normal citizens in a very traditional way collecting gold from the surface of the ground. They are living their life, nobody is forcing them to do anything. So it is also good to go there and see by yourself.

Earlier this week, there was some news about a tentative peace agreement with South Sudan president Salva Kiir and the rebel leader Riek Machar. I’m wondering, do you pledge to support that peace agreement, and would Khartoum back a power-sharing agreement in South Sudan?

We have been behind that. We have been trying our best to bring them together, but unfortunately, agreements, this may be the fifth agreement that has been signed, but nobody is abiding by the agreement. The agreements did not hold. You know they have their differences. They still think it is best to go to the jungle and fight. Unfortunately. This is what I see everyday. So people are working from everywhere especially the region, and we are very active in that, and unfortunately we were not able to get to an agreement through the last five days when we were there in Addis Ababa.

If this latest agreement though, would you support an international arms embargo on all parties?

No. I don’t think it is wise now. Because we know the situation in South Sudan. If you have such forces, they may fight everywhere and they will not know who is their enemy. In the region, we do not support something like this. We are part of the region and we know how this will spoil the situation.

In know you have been alluding to this, and we have been talking about this some in previous questions, but as you said one of the main conversation points here about what is happening in Sudan is, is it an insurgency or are there war crimes happening? Which is it? What is the Sudanese government doing? Where do you draw those lines?

Good, it is good that you asked me that. You know what the government is doing in Sudan, but you did not ask me about anything positive in the country. You only asked me about the media, what is projecting into you here in the west. You did not ask me about how we opened our door for South Sudan to secede by an agreement. And that was fully backed up by the whole nation, that if the South Sudanese want to secede, they are free do to that. And by an agreement we did that. You did not ask me about the 450,000 who fled South Sudan again to come again to Sudan. We opened our doors, our hearts, and everything for them. We fed them, we gave them lodging, we gave them health care, and we opened our schools and even universities for them to go there, for free. You did not ask me about the endeavors of the government is doing to transform the lives of the people there, although they are under sanctions. You did not ask me about the elections, we are about to hold during two or three months. You did not ask me about anything that is positive in the country. Shall I have another time to talk about this?

Minister, with these questions, I am giving you the opportunity to tell that side of the story.

I am more than ready to go on that another time if you have time. Maybe the ambassador will also arrange for something for you to come, or for me also, to come to you again and speak on that.

I have time, but if you do not want to do it now that is your choice.

No, it is not that I don’t want to do it. The problem is that we have another appointment.

TIME Sudan

Sudanese Government Denies Mass Military Rape

A woman rides a donkey past a convoy of government troops in Tabit village in the North Darfur region of Sudan, Nov, 2014.
Abd Raouf—AP A woman rides a donkey past a convoy of government troops in Tabit village in the North Darfur region of Sudan, Nov, 2014.

A Human Rights Watch investigation released at the United Nations on Wednesday reports that Sudanese army troops raped at least 221 women and girls during a 36-hour attack on the Darfur town of Tabit that began on Oct. 30.

The report documents 27 first-hand reports of rape, 194 other credible accounts of rape and even confessions of two soldiers who had participated in the attacks that superior officers ordered them to “rape women.” Sudanese authorities then launched a cover-up, Human Rights Watch details, which included detaining and torturing Tabit residents for telling the truth about what happened.

Sudan Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti categorically denied reports of a mass military rape in Tabit during an interview with TIME on Feb. 4, when he was in Washington as a guest of the National Prayer Breakfast.

TIME asked him about reports that his government’s armed forces are primarily targeting civilians and not combatants. Any claims of rape in Tabit, he claimed, are lies invented to keep people in refugee camps, where NGOs can make money. Tabit has been rebuilt, he said, with modern schools, health care and police centers.

“Nobody can expect a village like Tabit which had been a home for some hundreds of the soldiers there, they have their homes there, they have their wives there, and they are living in a camp near that place, no one will expect those soldiers will come and rape by hundreds in that village,” Karti said. “Not only the police is there, but the army is there, and it will protect you against anyone who will infringe your security.”

If NGO donors see the situation in the villages as unstable, Karti added, they will keep donating. “This is cutting throats of so many,” he said.

Media in Sudan, Karti continued, “have every right to go anywhere and talk about anything that may be causing atrocities to their homeland and people, so if nothing is coming out of that, that means that is only portraying the country in a way that will not at all help somebody like me to convince those who are in charge of a decision like removing Sudan from the list of terror.”

Sudan is one of three countries on the United States’ list of states that support terrorism, alongside Syria and Iran. Karti and the Sudanese government have been lobbying Washington to get Sudan removed from the list.

Sexual violence has historically been used as a weapon of war in the region—mass rapes were common in the Darfur massacre starting in 2003 and before that in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Special Prosecutor for Crimes in Darfur Yasir Ahmed Mohamed and his team talk to women during an investigation into allegations of mass rape in the village of Tabit, in North Darfur, Nov. 20, 2014.
Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah—ReutersSpecial Prosecutor for Crimes in Darfur Yasir Ahmed Mohamed and his team talk to women during an investigation into allegations of mass rape in the village of Tabit, in North Darfur, Nov. 20, 2014.

Until Wednesday’s Human Rights Watch report, international observers had not been able to adequately investigate what happened in Tabit. The African Union United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) failed to find evidence that the rapes happened at all when they were allowed to visit Tabit for a few hours on Nov. 9—government forces prevented peacekeepers from carrying out a credible investigation, Human Rights Watch and other activists explain, and days later Sudan shut the UNAMID’s human rights office in Khartoum before expelling two senior UN officials from the country altogether. The special prosecutor for crimes in Darfur, appointed by the Sudanese government, who visited Tabit on Nov. 20, also concluded that no crimes had been committed.

The details of the Human Rights Watch report are damning. Throughout the town, the report says, the pattern of the attacks was similar: armed and uniformed Sudanese military personnel went house to house, beating the men, and then raping women and girls, sometimes mothers with daughters and sisters with sisters. Survivors, including these two below, shared their stories with Human Rights Watch:

“Khadamallah, in her mid-teens, said that soldiers came to her home at about 10 p.m. on Friday night: ‘I was in the house with my younger siblings. We were sleeping when the soldiers came into our house. … They entered the house. I took firewood and hit one of them. One of them dragged me out of the room. … They raped me. … Two of them held me down while the other one raped me. Many others who were there were standing around. … And then they brought me back [to my room], tied me [to the bed], and left.'”

“Mahassan, in her twenties, said that she and three friends were raped by soldiers after sunset. They were in her home preparing perfumes for a wedding when about 10 soldiers entered the compound, dragged the women outside, and raped each of them multiple times: ‘[The soldiers] said that they were looking for a missing soldier. … They searched the compound. … [T]hen they came towards us. They grabbed me and they grabbed my friend. The other soldiers took the other girls in a different direction. They took [me and my friend outside of the compound] towards the school. They raped both of us on the street. … Three of them raped me and three of them raped my friend. … They raped us all night. That’s why I’m still sick. I cannot sit down for a long time like I could before.'”

The full Human Rights Watch report is available here.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 21

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. China’s scramble to lock up resources in Africa has forced it to act more like a conventional superpower.

By Richard Javad Heydarian in Medium

2. Adaptive learning technology can give educators tools to keep kids who learn differently from falling through the cracks.

By Susan D’Auria and Ashley Mucha at Knewton

3. 2015 might be the year America starts to get online identity right.

By Alex Howard in Tech Republic

4. Changing a long-standing rule prohibiting sororities from hosting parties could reverse the power imbalance that underlies campus sexual assault.

By Michael Kimmel in Time

5. Ominous headlines notwithstanding, offline fraud and scams are still more costly to individuals and the government than cybercrime.

By Benjamin Dean in the Conversation

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME elections

These Are the Elections to Watch Around the World in 2015

From Greece to Argentina, elections could transform the international political landscape

This past year was marked by monumental elections that ushered in new political regimes in countries like the India, and Tunisia, and solidified or extended others in places like Egypt, Brazil and Japan.

The year 2015 is shaping up to be a respite from the chaos of democracy, with the electorate of some of the world’s largest countries sitting on the sidelines. But a spate of political developments has infused global importance into elections around the world and prompted two previously unexpected votes in Greece and Israel that will have major repercussions for their respective regions.

Here’s a look at what to expect:

United States

Three of the five largest cities are electing their mayors this year. In Chicago, former Obama adviser Rahm Emanuel is running for reelection in February and holds a strong lead in polls. In Houston, the biennial vote in November will select a successor to Democratic Mayor Annise Parker, who has reached her term limit. It will be a similar situation in Philadelphia, where Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter can’t run for a third term.

Meanwhile, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi are electing governors in November, including replacements for Kentucky’s Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and Louisiana’s Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, both of whom have reached their term limits.

Greece

The Greek Parliament’s refusal to elect Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s choice for president earlier this week triggered snap general elections set for January 25. Opinion polls have placed the radical leftist opposition party Syriza in the lead, raising the prospect of an anti-bailout government that could move to default on its massive debt and prompt a new eurozone crisis.

Nigeria

A stumbling economy and a persistent Islamist insurgency in the north have drained some public support for President Goodluck Jonathan, in office since 2010, and the vote on Feb. 14 is expected to be close. Jonathan will go up against Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler campaigning on a platform of security and anti-corruption. But the biggest determinant of who becomes the leader of Africa’s biggest economy may fall along ethnic and regional lines: Buhari is a Muslim northerner, while Jonathan is a Christian from the south.

Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disbanded his already tenuous centrist coalition in early December and called for early general elections set for March 17, expecting to win a new mandate for himself and a more right-leaning government. But polls show that a new left-leaning coalition could beat Netanyahu’s Likud party, though the incumbent could stay in power if he successfully forms a coalition with rightist parties.

Sudan

The April 13 election is all but likely to ensure that President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, wanted on genocide charges by the International Criminal Court, will extend his 25-year rule, even as violence continues between Khartoum and rebel groups in Darfur and elsewhere.

Britain

The United Kingdom is heading for what may be the closest election in a generation—and the first since a divisive vote in Scotland to remain part of the 307-year-old Union—as the Labour party seeks to unseat Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative party in elections slated for early May. The rest of the European Union will be closely watching this vote, as Cameron has promised a referendum on EU membership in 2017, while Ed Milibrand, head of Labour, has rejected the idea.

Argentina

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has drawn some public support for her obstinate stance against U.S. investors and U.S. courts who are demanding Argentina repay $1.3 billion in debt plus interest. But the skirmish has scared off investors and helped put longterm economic growth largely on hold until the dispute is resolved or, as is likely, a more market friendly president takes office following elections in October. As for Fernandez, her tenure is up after reaching her two-term limit.

Canada

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party has seen an uptick in support in recent days, putting it ahead of the Liberal party. But his party’s support took a hit this year and he’s far from guaranteed a win in elections in 2015, currently slated for Oct. 19. His biggest rival will likely be Justin Trudeau, head of the Liberal Party and son of long-serving Premier Pierre Trudeau.

Burkina Faso

In the wake of longtime President Blaise Compaoré’s ouster amid mass protests, the interim leadership agreed to hold new elections in November. If that plan holds, the Burkinabé people will select a government not headed by Compaoré for the first time since he seized power in 1983.

Spain

The nascent anti-establishment party Podemos has skyrocketed in popularity and is now competitive with the two stalwarts in a country still burdened by an economic crisis (unemployment stands at around 24 percent). Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the right-leaning Popular Party, is already under pressure from an empowered Catalan independence movement, and the populist movement does not augur well for him in next years elections, which must take place on or before Dec. 20. But he’s hoping that economic reforms and early indications of a recovery will boost his standing.

Myanmar

The vote in late 2015 could mark a significant step in Myanmar’s heralded-but-stumbling process of political reform, but that’s not certain. Though the elections will be the first since a semi-civilian government assumed power after half-a-century of military rule, the military is still highly influential and key constitutional reforms called for by the opposition are unlikely to pass ahead of the vote. Among them is a measure to repeal a law that prevents opposition leader and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from running. For now, Shwe Mann, the speaker of parliament and a retired general, is the front-runner.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 2

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Let’s push for more college-educated cops.

By Keli Goff in the Daily Beast

2. As strongmen — often U.S. allies — attempt to lock up lifetime power, an African democracy movement takes shape.

By Mark Varga at the Foreign Policy Association

3. Being connected is more of a good thing than a bad thing.

By Mathew Ingram in GigaOm

4. Beyond diamonds: Conflict minerals are a growing blight. Enforcing a global standard can stop abuse.

By Michael Gibb in Project Syndicate

5. Changing the way we classify psilocybin — magic mushrooms — could open the door to research and new treatments for depression.

By Eugenia Bone in the New York Times

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME portfolio

James Nachtwey: 30 Years in TIME

To celebrate James Nachtwey’s 30 years as a contract photographer for TIME, we have organized an exhibit of 54 layouts that have appeared in the magazine featuring his work from Chechnya to Somalia and from Afghanistan to Burma, along with a series of his powerful, previously unpublished photographs. Below, James Nachtwey, and TIME’s Managing Editor Nancy Gibbs, reflect on the relationship between photographer and publication.

Any worthwhile, long-term relationship is built on integrity, trust, caring and a common purpose, and those are the elements that have characterized my 30-year relationship with TIME. Working in the field in difficult circumstances, there are many things to be concerned about, from logistics to survival, but the ultimate goal is to get the story right. Knowing that the people who publish the pictures are just as motivated by that as I am means everything. Every image on these walls is the result of teamwork. I happened to be the point man, but the support, guidance and inspiration I have received for so many years have made this work possible, and I want to thank all my colleagues at TIME from the bottom of my heart. — James Nachtwey

unnamed-1

TIME’s exhibition at Photoville.

James Nachtwey has spent his life in the places people most want to avoid: war zones and refugee camps, the city flattened by an earthquake or a terrorist attack, the village swallowed by a flood. A Massachusetts native and graduate of Dartmouth, Jim worked in the merchant marine and as a truck driver while he taught himself photography. His assignments for TIME, where he is in his 30th year, have taken him around the world multiple times. There is a particular art to capturing the places where pain presides. Pain is the most private experience, but its causes demand public accounting. It’s exactly when you want to look the other way that Jim’s images bring you back, command attention and invite understanding. — Nancy Gibbs

James Nachtwey: 30 Years in TIME runs from September 18 to 28, 2014 and is part of Photoville, an outdoor photography exhibition in Brooklyn, New York.

James Nachtwey is a TIME contract photographer, documenting wars, conflicts and critical social issues. Nancy Gibbs is Managing Editor of TIME.

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

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
Riccardo De Luca—AP 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.

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 portfolio

‘A Kind of Purgatory': African Refugees in Israel

It is estimated that 60,000 African asylum-seekers reside in the State of Israel, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea.

By some estimates, 60,000 African asylum-seekers — mainly from Sudan and Eritrea — reside in Israel. For these men, women and children, the journey to the country is perilous: traversing hostile countries, often encountering bandits and facing the Egyptian and Sinai deserts before they even reach the border. Many who start the journey don’t make it. For those who do, they face a kind of purgatory rather than a home.

In Israel, these asylum-seekers are offered a temporary visa — called the 2(A)5 – that has to be renewed every three months, though they are not allowed to work. The State of Israel does not provide them with social assistance, and so many become cheap labor for various service industries, working, for example, as hotel housecleaners and groundskeepers while remaining under constant threat of arrest and detention.

Today, border crossings by asylum seekers has almost completely stopped – largely because of the 90-mile fence that Israel built on the border. (The government used African workers in its construction.) And while the exodus may have slowed to a trickle, the harsh realities of this purgatory remain.

On a sunny Saturday in Levinsky Park in Tel Aviv, I heard the hopelessness and frustration with recent government actions at a community meeting of Eritreans. The meeting was held in the wake of weeks of demonstrations by Africans against a new detention law. The mood was somber. In December 2013, the Israeli Knesset added an amendment to the Anti-Infiltration law. It requires asylum-seekers from Eritrea and Sudan to be automatically detained for at least a year and then placed, indefinitely, in an open detention center. The opening of Holot detention center at the beginning of this year followed the passage of the amendment. It currently holds more than 2,000 African asylum-seekers, with a plan in place to expand the capacity to about 8,000.

The demonstrations marked the first time this community made its presence known in Israel. Despite the demonstrations, the community remained in two minds, with some members discussing ways that they could make themselves more invisible. One speaker suggested that they shouldn’t pray in the park because it can upset Israelis, because they pay taxes for their parks and want this to be a Jewish country. The majority of the Eritrean refugees are Christians and the majority of Sudanese refugees are Muslim.

The country’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to what he sees as illegal immigrants as being “infiltrators” in Israel. Worldwide, Eritrean and Sudanese nationals have very high rates of what the UNHCR calls “refugee recognition“: 82% for Eritreans and 68% for Sudanese. Israel, however, has one of the world’s lowest rates of refugee recognition. In addition, a Sudanese national known to have even entered Israel faces a 10 year prison sentence in Sudan, whether they have entered with or without a visa.

The point of the open detention center, and the general policy towards the “infiltrators” seems to be to pressure Africans to self-deport. As former Interior Minister Eli Yishai put it, to “make their lives miserable,“until they give up and agree to let Israel deport them to a third country, often Uganda. If you are an African male that has been in Israel for more than 5 years you will receive an “invitation” to Holot detention center. Detainees can leave the facility, but must report for three roll calls in the morning, midday and at night.

Holot is located in the desert near the Egyptian border. Detainees are left wandering the desert between check-ins, and are not allowed to leave from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. If you don’t report on time, you can be taken to the nearby closed prison of Saharonim. Many were forced to quit their jobs in Tel Aviv and are held indefinitely without trial or grounds for release. The only option they are given is to take an offered sum of $3,500 (U.S) to return to their country of origin, a third country, or to stay in Holot indefinitely.

Mutasim Ali is a 27-year old asylum-seeker from Sudan and is acknowledged by the United Nation High Commissioner as a refugee. Yet, the Israeli Ministry of Interior has not reviewed his case. He has been in Israel for 5 years, speaks fluent Hebrew and is CEO of ARDC (The African Refugee Development Center, a not-for profit organization). He was the first to appeal the administrative processes of receiving an “invitation” to Holot without having an opportunity to be heard. “When you take someone’s life,” Ali’s lawyer Asaf Weitzen, the head of the legal department at the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, an NGO, says, “and tear them apart from his friends, work and life, it should at the very least be done with due process and must include a hearing.”

The judge rejected Ali’s petition, and he was not allowed a hearing. He entered Holot in early May.

Malin Fezehai is a photographer and filmmaker based in New York. Follow her on Instagram. This series was produced in collaboration with producer Sarah Asreghan. Follow her on Twitter.

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