Ivory Coast


What determines the humanitarian military response? | 

Flickr, Runs with Scissors

Gandhi and Che, two kinds of freedom fighters

Most of us prefer to avoid using the military and killing people to solve problems.

At least, that’s what we say — that we prefer non-violence. Hollywood and the entertainment industry, however, seem to think shooting at people is, in fact, our favorite problem-solving strategy.

The reality is that a military response is sometimes the only course of action that will work.

Take what’s happening in Libya.

Is there a credible argument out there that challenges the need for the current international military response to Muammar Gaddafi’s murderous retaliation against those Libyans who are — as part of the broader Arab revolt — seeking an to end his dictatorship?

I’ve seen a few articles questioning the political validity of this move, or the specific tactics. Here’s a thoughtful post by Yale development expert Chris Blattman noting that military interventions imply broader failures in foreign policy.

But I can’t find anyone (other than Gaddafi and his few supporters) arguing that the military response aimed at stopping the pro-Gaddafi forces is fundamentally wrong. Rather, this action has become a humanitarian obligation. Yet: Continue reading

Disaster in Japan … and Haiti, Pakistan, Congo, Ivory Coast, Niger, Mali | 

Flickr, doegox

We are all focused on the disaster in Japan right now, as we should be.

But what about the other, bigger disasters?

The massive earthquake, tsunami and current concern about damage to a Japanese nuclear power plant are the top news stories today. The quake was huge, the fifth largest in the last century. President Obama said today the U.S. is “marshaling forces” to help Japan deal with the catastrophe.

Local relief organizations like World Vision and Mercy Corps have put the Japanese quake-tsunami on the “front page” of their websites even though it is unlikely either organization will be doing much in response. I talked to both organizations and they are standing by ready to help, but both said it is possible they will not be needed.

Japan can largely take care of itself. World Vision and Mercy Corps take care of those who can’t. Continue reading

How to avoid the dark (chocolate) side on Valentine’s Day | 

Flickr, Bob Fornal

“Everybody loves chocolate.”

That’s the first line of a documentary film called “The Dark Side of Chocolate” in which the film-makers investigate the use of child laborers, slave laborers, on cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast where 42 percent of the world’s chocolate production is managed by four leading international corporations.

Using a (sometimes hidden) camera, these journalists interview child traffickers in Africa, representatives of leading chocolate makers and government officials to document the ongoing abuses.

“It moves you to tears,” said Joe Whinney, founder and owner of Seattle’s Theo Chocolate, which bills itself as the only organic, fair trade “bean-to-bar” chocolate manufacturer in the U.S. Continue reading

Deadly side-effects in Ivory Coast and a Déjà Vu moment | 

Mike Urban

Child getting vaccinated

One of the unfortunate side-effects of the violent political confrontation and deadly civil unrest in Ivory Coast is that basic life-saving activities for many innocent bystanders can also get suspended.

We in the media will cover the political clashes, the riots and the shootings.

But little attention is typically given to the mothers who die at home in childbirth — or to the kids who die because of lack of efforts like vaccination.

So it was good to see that a few media in Africa, the UN’s IRIN news service and AngolaPress, broke out of this rut:

Unrest following Côte d’Ivoire’s presidential election is blocking a nationwide vaccination drive against yellow fever, a fatal mosquito-borne disease that is affecting people throughout the country.

About a dozen people have died so far from this yellow fever outbreak and more will be put at risk for as long as health workers are unable to get out and vaccinate.

I witnessed nearly the same thing there a decade ago.

Mike Urban

On assignment for Seattle PI in West Africa

I happened to be in Ivory Coast almost exactly 10 years ago to cover the intended launch of the Gates Foundation’s largest project — the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI).

At the time, I was working for a dearly-departed print newspaper, the (now much staff-reduced, online only) Seattle Post Intelligencer, with my friend and PI photographer Mike Urban. Mike took the photos featured here. The Gates Foundation had earlier announced it was giving a billion dollars to create GAVI and get basic vaccines out to kids in poor countries.

The plan was to launch GAVI in Ivory Coast because it was, at the time, one of the most stable countries in West Africa with a fairly functional if basic health system. So the Seattle PI decided to send us to get a look at the beginning of this historic project.

When Mike and I arrived, we instead found a powder keg situation. Armed soldiers were all over Abidjan and people were nervous, worried. We still went out to visit clinics and talk to health workers. My newspaper paid good money to get us there and my editor thought an impending civil war was no excuse for not doing our job.

So we reported on the folks trying to do public health amid a brewing civil war. Things didn’t look good. And soon after we left the country to go travel in Nigeria on another assignment, Ivory Coast exploded. Here’s the story I wrote about what happened and what this did to the Gates Foundation’s plans for vaccinating kids.

This tale of collateral damage is little more than a footnote to the standard way we cover political turmoil and civil unrest in these countries (or anywhere, for that matter).

But the current strife in Ivory Coast has produced a major Déjà Vu moment for me. A disturbing one. I can’t help but think of all the children, pregnant women, sick eldery folks and others who suffer, and die, to little notice when these political struggles for power erupt.

A side note: It isn’t just civil unrest that can kill. Loss of donor interest in supporting something so mundane as child vaccinations can kill just as well. As the Seattle Times recently reported, the Gates Foundation, PATH and others are big on pushing immunization as a cheap, effective way to save millions of lives.

But GAVI is now facing a serious funding shortfall and, unless rich nations step up, kids will die from apathy just as surely as from civil war.