Can we talk? Ugandans try to coax longtime leader to leave
By RODNEY MUHUMUZA
Monday, December 17
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Can one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders be talked into giving up power?
A new movement in Uganda wants to find out, encouraged by the president’s tentative embrace of a so-called “national dialogue” as the government is in a showdown with an opposition pop star whose popularity with disaffected young people is unsettling the ruling party.
The talks, set to be launched on Dec. 18, are being pushed by religious and civic leaders and some retired public officials who envisage a peaceful end to the presidency of Yoweri Museveni. He has held power for over 30 years and could extend his rule until the 2030s after lawmakers last year removed age restrictions on the presidency.
That decision, opposed by many Ugandans, left the door open for the 74-year-old Museveni to seek another term in 2021 and deepened concerns over the risk of a violent succession struggle the longer he stays in power.
On a continent where many leaders have been violently overthrown over the decades, it’s rare for one to simply give up office without being forced or voted out. The trend in parts of Africa has been tweaking constitutions to get around or erase term limits, while elections often are marred by alleged fraud.
Uganda’s new dialogue, if successful, will aim at a national “consensus on transformation and transition,” said Crispy Kaheru, a civic leader who is involved in drafting the agenda.
Museveni, he said, “would be at the center” of the public discussions focusing in part on achieving a smooth transfer of power that would ease him from office.
Uganda’s main opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change, has long been interested in unseating Museveni but dismissed the upcoming talks as a waste of time in a country where the president monopolizes political power.
The FDC notably skipped a rare meeting last week between Museveni and some opposition parties, the first such closed-door talks in a decade. Dialogue “is the beginning of democracy,” the president told reporters afterward. “Dialogue is a command from God.”
Museveni’s opponents often describe him as a dictator, citing his grip on the security forces and ruling party. To his supporters, he is a democrat who has presided over relative economic and political stability.
The president also has turned his back on past pledges to step aside. Asked by local broadcaster NTV six years ago whether he would still be leading Uganda past his 75th birthday, he replied: “Not at all. Certainly not.” He added that “if you want very active leaders it’s good to have the ones below 75 years.”
Some critics say Museveni cannot be trusted to leave power voluntarily.
Ceding power “is an area where he has very little interest,” said lawmaker and main opposition spokesman Ssemujju Nganda.
Uganda needs a credible mediator as well as “guarantees that the outcomes of the dialogue will be implemented,” Nganda said.
This East African nation has never seen a peaceful transfer of power since independence from the British in 1962, and Museveni took power in 1986 at the head of rebels who overran the capital, Kampala. At the start of his presidency he said he was likely to spend only a few years in office. He has since been elected five times in polls marred by rigging and violence.
Now the rise of the pop star and lawmaker known as Bobi Wine, who has a huge following among the urban poor, is forcing Uganda’s ruling party to seek new ways of reconnecting with voters.
The singer’s arrest and alleged torture at the hands of state agents in August drew widespread condemnation abroad and at home, provoking street protests in Kampala. Since then he has vowed to join up with other youthful opposition leaders across Africa to oust aging leaders like Museveni, who refers to Uganda’s young people as “my grandchildren.”
The singer did not respond to questions about whether he will be involved in the new national dialogue.
After the showdown with the pop star put an unflattering spotlight on Museveni, the president has said he is open to talks with the opposition. But he has warned that those efforts should not be guided by calls to share power.
In that, there’s trouble. For the national dialogue to taken seriously, the president “must accept to be equal to the others,” said Mwambutsya Ndebesa, an analyst who teaches political history at Uganda’s Makerere University.
The talks are not backed by any legal framework and the organizers appear too deferential to Museveni, said Ndebesa who believes the ambitious dialogue will fail.
“What if somebody reneges on what was agreed upon?” he said.
Even the United States has been watching Museveni’s long rule and wondering when it might come to a close.
“Unfortunately, President Museveni shows no signs of thinking about a transition,” Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy told a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing last week.
Associated Press writer Frederic Musisi in Kampala contributed.
Follow Africa news at https://twitter.com/AP_Africa
US conducts 6 airstrikes against Somalia extremists, 62 dead
By ABDI GULED
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Six U.S. airstrikes that killed more than 60 people in a coastal Somali town were pre-emptive strikes to prevent a major extremist attack, according to a Somali intelligence officer.
The U.S. military said Monday it carried out four strikes on Dec. 15 in which 34 people were killed and two more on Dec. 16 which killed 28. The air attacks targeted Gandarshe, south of the capital, Mogadishu, it said.
No civilians were injured or killed in the attacks, it said.
The strikes were carried out in close coordination with Somalia’s government and were “conducted to prevent al-Shabab from using remote areas as a safe haven to plot, direct, inspire, and recruit for future attacks,” said the U.S. military statement.
The U.S. airstrikes were aimed at al-Shabab fighters who were preparing a major attack on a Somali government military base in the Lower Shabelle region, said a Somali intelligence official, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
“The strike has neutralized an imminent attack,” he said. The airstrikes hit both a military camp and battle vehicles in Gandarshe, the official told The Associated Press.
Al-Shabab has long used historic Gandarshe town, roughly 48 kilometers (30 miles) southwest of Mogadishu, as a launching pad from for attacks, including car bombs that hit the capital.
Al-Shabab uses parts of southern and central Somalia to plot and direct extremist attacks, steal humanitarian aid, extort the local populace to fund its operations, and shelter radicals, said U.S. military statement.
With these attacks, the U.S. military has carried out at least 46 airstrikes so far this year against al-Shabab, which is allied to al-Qaida and Africa’s most active Islamic extremist group. Al Shabab, which is fighting to establish its version of Shariah law in Somalia, controls parts of rural southern and central Somalia and continues to stage deadly attacks in Mogadishu and other cities.
The U.S. airstrikes have picked up dramatically since President Donald Trump took office and approved expanded military operations in the Horn of Africa nation. Airstrikes also target a small presence of fighters linked to the Islamic State group. The U.S. has about 500 military personnel in Somalia and earlier this month opened a permanent diplomatic presence in Mogadishu.
Several years ago, al-Shabab controlled large swathes of Somalia, including much of the capital city. The African Union forces succeeded in pushing the extremists from Mogadishu and most other major cities. However, al-Shabab continues to be active in Somalia’s rural areas and launches suicide car bomb attacks in the capital. In October last year, a massive truck bomb killed more than 500 people.
Malaysia files criminal charges against Goldman Sachs
Monday, December 17
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia filed criminal charges against Goldman Sachs and two former executives on Monday for their role in the alleged multibillion-dollar ransacking of state investment fund 1MDB.
Attorney General Tommy Thomas said the government is seeking several billion dollars in fines from Goldman Sachs for breaches of securities laws that involved it making false and misleading statements to investors.
He said his office will seek prison sentences of up to 10 years for the former Goldman executives, Roger Ng Chong Hwa and Tim Leissner, who is married to model Kimora Lee Simmons.
Malaysian and U.S. prosecutors allege that bond sales organized by Goldman Sachs for 1MDB provided one of the means for associates of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to steal billions over several years from a fund that was ostensibly set up to accelerate Malaysia’s economic development.
The scandal, first reported by Sarawak Report and the Wall Street Journal, resulted in Najib and his ruling coalition losing power in a historic election defeat earlier this year.
Najib himself is facing corruption charges. He has said that more than $700 million that moved through his bank account was a political donation from the Saudi royal family, but U.S. prosecutors say it came from 1MDB, of which Najib was the top official.
U.S. legal filings that are part of a Justice Department civil case to recover assets bought with 1MDB funds allege the money was used to finance Hollywood films and spent on luxuries such as diamond jewelry for Najib’s wife, a yacht, artworks and high-end properties.
Goldman Sachs denied any wrongdoing in response to Malaysia’s criminal charges.
“We believe these charges are misdirected and we will vigorously defend them and look forward to the opportunity to present our case,” bank spokesman Edward Naylor said in a statement. “The firm continues to cooperate with all authorities investigating these matters.”
Thomas, the Malaysian attorney general, said $2.7 billion was stolen from three bond sales organized by subsidiaries of Goldman Sachs. The investment bank, he said, received $600 million in fees for organizing the bond deals, which was several times higher than industry norms.
Leissner and Ng conspired with Najib associate Low Taek Jho, a key architect of the entire 1MDB fraud, to bribe Malaysian government officials to use Goldman Sachs as the arranger of the bond deals, according to Thomas. They and Goldman Sachs knew that the money would be stolen, he said.
“Having held themselves out as the pre-eminent global adviser/arranger for bonds, the highest standards are expected of Goldman Sachs,” the attorney general’s statement said. “They have fallen far short of any standard. In consequence, they have to be held accountable.”
Prosecutors plan to seek fines “well in excess” of the amount allegedly stolen because of the severity of the violations of Malaysia’s laws, Thomas said.
Leissner, who headed Goldman’s operations in Southeast Asia, pleaded guilty in the U.S. last month to money laundering conspiracy and conspiring to violate foreign bribery laws after the Justice Department charged him, Ng and Low in relation to the 1MDB scandal.
Ng was arrested in Malaysia in early November and Low, also known as Jho Low, remains at large. He has previously maintained his innocence in statements via a lawyer.
“As has been stated previously, Mr. Low will not submit to any jurisdiction where guilt has been predetermined by politics and there is no independent legal process,” a spokesperson for Low said in a statement on Monday. “It is clear that Mr. Low cannot get a fair trial in Malaysia, where the regime has proven numerous times that they have no interest in the rule of law.”
Malaysian police said in July that Low had fled Macau to an unknown destination.
Before facing criminal charges, Low became well known in the New York City and Los Angeles club scenes. In 2012, he threw a lavish 31st birthday bash attended by Leonardo DiCaprio, Kim Kardashian and other celebrities.
Indian bill to ‘protect’ trafficking victims will make sex workers less safe
December 17, 2018
Author: Simanti Dasgupta, Associate Professor, University of Dayton
Disclosure statement: Simanti Dasgupta receives funding from Research Council SEED Grants, University of Dayton.
Partners: University Of Dayton provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Hoping to protect women from sexual exploitation, Indian lawmakers are pushing a bill that amends the criminal code to harden legal and financial penalties for sex trafficking.
The “Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill,” which passed the lower house of India’s parliament in July 2018 and may become law in 2019, seeks to make combat this lucrative, illicit trade.
Not everyone thinks harsh deterrence will work.
Days after it passed in the lower house of India’s Parliament in July, two United Nations experts said the bill leans too heavily on the criminal justice system. Without more of a “human-rights based and victim-centred approach,” the UN special rapporteurs on human trafficking and modern slavery warned, India “risks further harming already vulnerable individuals.”
India’s sex trade
According to the Indian government, 4,980 victims of sex trafficking were rescued in the country in 2016.
Sex workers in India oppose the bill that’s ostensibly meant to protect them, saying it inaccurately conflates human trafficking with consensual sex work.
In major Indian cities like Kolkata, Hyderabad and Sangli, sex workers are well organized and politically engaged. Yet no sex worker groups were consulted during the drafting of the legislation.
Community leaders argue that the anti-trafficking legislation promotes a dangerous idea that everyone in the sex trade is either a victim or a criminal.
“If this bill becomes law, the police will harass us even more,” said Kajol Bose, secretary of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, one of India’s largest sex worker organizations. “The number of raids will increase and the number of clients will decrease.”
I believe Indian lawmakers could improve their bill by looking to the strong systems already in place locally across India that prevent forced prostitution.
I conducted anthropological research with Kolkata’s Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, which has a membership of 65,000 people across the state of West Bengal.
The group is based in Sonagachi, Kolkata’s iconic red-light district, which is tucked behind a main artery in the northern part of the city. This bustling and congested labyrinth of narrow alleyways lined by houses, most of which operate as brothels, is home to some 10,000 sex workers. An estimated 20,000 male customers visit Sonagachi daily.
Most Sonagachi brothels are managed by female brothel owners, or “malkins,” who keep half of their employees’ payment.
Most of the women I met working in Sonagachi came from poor, rural villages in India, Bangladesh or Nepal.
Driven by increasing hunger and poverty in formerly agricultural regions, many arrived in Kolkata planning to enter the sex trade because they figured it was the best way to feed themselves and their families. Some can even afford to send money back to their families.
Keeping Kolkata’s red light district safe
Other women in Sonogachi were brought there by a friend or husband, and began doing sex work because they felt they had little choice.
This is the kind of exploitation that the sex worker’s union wants to prevent. So, in 1997, the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee founded the “self-regulatory board” to combat trafficking in Sonagachi.
Every morning, between at 10 a.m., peer educators and outreach workers visit area brothels. Since the board is comprised mainly of local sex workers, newcomers to Sonagachi are easily identified.
Women new to the scene are taken for medical evaluation to a local health center called the Abinaash Clinic. Durbar has run the clinic since it took over the government’s HIV/AIDS prevention program in 1997. The STD testing done there prevents the spread of disease in Sonagachi.
A bone ossification test, which gives an age range, helps identify minors. Underage sex workers are handed over to the Child Welfare Committee of Kolkata, a government agency.
Determining whether adult women newly arrived to Sonagachi have been trafficked requires a more extensive investigation. It can take days to get women to open up about how they arrived in Sonagachi and who brought them there.
Many of the women and girls approached by the Durbar are newcomers not just to sex work but to city living in general. They are usually confused by and even fearful of the group’s intervention. They seldom cooperate immediately.
It can take days of gentle questioning before the women start talking. During that process, newcomers to Sonagachi are housed at the nearby Short Stay Home, a residence run by the Durbar Committee.
Ultimately, those determined to have entered the sex trade willingly will be permitted to return to her brothel in Sonagachi. The women usually become members of Durbar and are given a photo ID card that confirms her status as a healthy and consensual sex worker – which usually helps them avoid arrest when police raids occur.
If the self-regulatory board concludes that a new entrant is being coerced into sex work by a trafficker, the authorities are contacted. The woman is usually placed in “shelters” – prison-like detention centers – while the government tries to get her back home.
Anti-trafficking bills hurt more than they help
In my assessment, the Sonagachi method is effective because it starts by recognizing that sex work is a job – one that must be done voluntarily, by consenting adults.
Based on that reality, it puts in place protections that keep trafficked women and children from abuse. The Durbar Committee works closely with local police, alerting them to the presence of minors and trafficked women.
Other red light districts in India, Thailand and beyond have sex worker unions use similar preventive measures to combat trafficking.
Several lawmakers I spoke with in Kolkata during my research dismissed the efforts of Durbar. They say trafficking is rampant in Sonagachi, and that the government must step in.
In my experience, most also see prostitution as a dangerous and immoral act – something that only victims of coercion would do. As a result, the Indian anti-trafficking bill they crafted outlaws the sex trade and punishes all who participate in it.
The proposed law, which includes social services for reintegrating trafficked women into society, may help some women. Organization like the Durbar Committee cannot identify and protect all victims of sexual exploitation in India.
Still, Indian lawmakers could learn something from the frontline community organizations already doing this work. Sex workers can be government partners in the fight against human trafficking – but only if they are not its targets.
UK ministers seek to downplay chance of second Brexit vote
By DANICA KIRKA
LONDON (AP) — Supporters of British Prime Minister Theresa May dampened suggestions Sunday that the government is planning a second referendum on whether to leave the European Union, arguing that another Brexit vote would exacerbate divisions in the U.K., not heal them.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox told the BBC that holding another vote on Britain’s EU membership would settle little in a country that backed leaving the EU in 2016 by 51.9 percent with the highest turnout for a U.K. vote since 1992.
“Suppose we had another referendum. Supposing the ‘remain’ side won it by 52 to 48, but it was on a lower turnout – entirely possible,” Fox said. “If there is another referendum, which I don’t think there will be, people like me will be immediately demanding it’s best of three. Where does that end up?”
The comments come as Britain struggles for a way forward after days of political drama because of unease with the terms of May’s deal to leave the 28-nation bloc. The British Parliament was supposed to vote on May’s Brexit plan last week, but she postponed it after it became clear that lawmakers would decisively reject it.
Lawmakers were outraged at not having a chance to have their say. May’s own Conservative Party triggered a confidence vote in her party leadership, which she won, but a third of her party’s lawmakers revolted against her.
Unable to secure any concessions from the EU at a summit, May faced reports in the Sunday Times that said her de-facto deputy, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, held talks with Labour lawmakers aimed at holding another Brexit vote.
In response, Lidington tweeted a link to a record of parliamentary proceedings in which he explained how a second vote could be “divisive not decisive.”
May’s chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, tweeted “Happy to confirm I am (asterisk)not(asterisk) planning a 2nd referendum with political opponents (or anyone else to anticipate the next question)”
With little time to resolve the impasse before Britain’s departure from the EU on March 29, fears are growing that Britain could leave the bloc with no deal at all — a situation with potentially devastating consequences for the U.K. economy.
Underscoring the acrimony in the nation over Brexit, May and former Prime Minister Tony Blair of the Labour Party traded jibes in the media.
May accused Blair of “undermining” her efforts to deliver Brexit by calling for a second referendum on whether or not to leave. May said his comments were “an insult to the office he once held.”
Blair shot back, saying he had a right to comment on “the most important decision our country has taken since the end of World War II.”
“What is irresponsible, however, is to try to steamroller MPs into accepting a deal they genuinely think is a bad one with the threat that if they do not fall into line, the government will have the country crash out without a deal,” Blair said.
Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit