Saturday, 21 March 2015

Pope Francis Seems to Be Right

The Synagogue in central Florence, standing in its pretty gardens, all lit up like the Pontevecchio ( as they say here) had its usual pair of soldiers at the main gates inside their glass sentry-box as we walked home after dinner.  There are always sentries at the Synagogue.

What made me jump was a whole patrol of troops rounding the corner of piazza d'Azeglio, carrying submachine guns - in Firenze per bene, patrolling the elegant streets and palazzi of the bourgeoisie.
 The Prefect has authorised patrolling by the regular army in central Florence at 'points of particular vulnerability': so that'll be the entire city within the viali then.  But what about Poggio Imperiale, the Certosa, San Domenico.....better make that the Province.  The Prefects of Siena, Arezzo, Pisa .....will have to look to their own cities, provinces. There aren't going to be enough soldiers to go round though. The Florentine patrols are from the 187th Fanteria based in Livorno (at least they're not from Pisa).   All the Italian marines, sailors and airmen are patrolling the Mediterranean. This country is at war with barbarians

Thursday, 19 March 2015

The President of Italy Speaks Truth to Islamic Gunpower

"un gesto vile e odioso, commesso ai danni di persone inermi, in spregio alle piu' elementari norme di convivenza civile e rispetto della vita umana" *

*"a defiled and hateful act, carried out against undefended people, contemptuous of the most elementary rules of civilised existence and respect for human life"

Friday, 13 March 2015

Panga Politics and the Rule of Law

The ruling party in Zambia, the Patriotic Front  (PF)  'yesterday issued a strong warning against High Court judge Chitabo of grave consequences if he does not reverse the decision to stay the tribunal appointed to probe Mutembo Nchito',   (Nichito is the Director of Public Prosecutions, ed.).  The PF has also instructed these PF Youth Cadres       

to prevent the reinstated DPP from reaching his offices (reports the Zambian Watchdog).   Last night a PF 'delegation' also visited the house of the High Court judge who issued the order to suspend the tribunal while its constitutionality was considered.  

The judge has promised to reconsider the matter this morning.

The  President of Zambia, on whose instruction the tribunal was instituted and who set its terms of reference and membership, as well as suspending the DPP  during its enquiries -  not to mention appointing another DPP, perhaps more 'sympathetic' to his Executive - is  currently  hospitalised in Johannesburg after collapsing at a women's gala march-past in Lusaka.

Having reconsidered his suspension of the tribunal of enquiry into the Zambian DPP, this morning the judge reinstated it and reinstated the suspension of the DPP.  Well, he would, wouldn't he.   

Meanwhile the President of Zambia is to be discharged from the clinic in Pretoria to which he had been transferred from hospital in Johannesburg, and advised to proceed to Pakistan should he wish to undertake any further treatment, or to return home.  While the US ambassador to Zambia has denied that he has referred to the President having health issues the media is reporting serious concerns on the president's condition.

So Zambia has a newly elected president already hospitalized and out of the country, a vice-president out of the country on a jaunt to the UN and Japan (Japan?), and an acting president  in Lusaka swearing in high officers of the state, the executive, and the civil service.  Sata's demise in late 2014 is beginning to look positively plain sailing in comparison.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Watching African Democracy in Action

To lose one president may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness.  To lose three might turn thoughts to witchcraft.

Edgar Lungu, the newly 'elected' Zambian president is being exported for medical treatment unavailable in his own country, having collapsed at a Women's Day march past.  Frankly a legion of Angels probably would collapse during a Wimmin's Day march past: but he'd been standing there for only an hour before the legs gave way.  Perhaps he's a wimp needing the training Elizabeth II can call upon; even in advanced age there's no collapsing on parade from her. The instant  way in which Zambians are wishing him well and offering their sympathy to his relatives and affines (there's something about African politics that makes for an onset of anthropological accuracy) is courteous, patriotic even, but displays faint irritation, doubtless brought on by a considerable history in Zambian politics of presidents dying in office.

Those following the goings-on in Zambia since President Sata died in office last year (he too had been exported, in his case first to the US and then to London for medical treatment unavailable in his own country) will be aware that the vice-President is constitutionally expected to take over when the President can't manage the job.  But the vice President is at the Wimmin's Day knees-up in New York.   Mrs Lungu, First Lady of Zambia,  cancelled her flight to the same freebie at the last minute, after the incident at the march past; she cannot fulfil her speaking engagements at the UN.  The question is will Inonge Wina be persuaded to take Ms Lungu's place in New York or insist on rushing back to Lusaka to take up her constitutional role as acting president while Edgar is indisposed and out of the country?    The Zambian constitution is in the throes of reform, not least in ending the requirement for an election within 90 days of a new president for the residue of the fixed term of office of the deceased.  What a pity there has been so little sense of urgency, particularly with the swathe being cut through sitting presidents. And what a pity the Zambians couldn't leave Guy Scott to  act as president until the scheduled presidential elections in 2016.

Apart from the collapse in copper prices, the outburst of borrowing since Lungu got his hands on the presidency, the fall in the Zambian currency,  the dam could burst.  Meanwhile Zambian Watchdog offers a fine, blow by blow account of every-day politics in southern Africa.


Zambian vice-president Inonge Wina cuts short  her New York shindig to get back to Zambia.  But will the Instruments of Power have been handed to someone else before she gets there?


She didn't make it back soon enough:
President of Zambia Edgar Chagwa Lungu has with immediate effect appointed Hon. Ngosa Simbyakula to act as President during his absence; Hon. Simbyakula will also act as Minister of Defence and Minister of Justice.   That sounds like everything is covered, particularly as the Director of Public Prosecutions has also just been suspended with immediate effect and is now the subject of a tribunal enquiry under various sections of the Zambian constitution.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

A European Army Would Need to Walk on Water

The call by the Luxembourgeois  Juncker for  a European Union army to 'defend European values' is so offensive at so many levels that perhaps it's simplest to stop at the first: what is needed is a not an army but a navy.  An army  will be useful later but right now ruling the waves (and by modern extension the airspace over the waves and nearby coastal strips) has priority.  As a comment on the FT noted most  European armies are well-armed pension funds.

That the Italian prime minister has more political sense than most presidents has been demonstrated amply over the last couple of years in his own country but his evaluation of what is needed in the Mediterranean and who can offer it is a lesson in realpolitik.  The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation yearning for lumbering about in tanks on the central and eastern European plains and being rude to Russia is just so  20th century; an exemplar of the well-armed pension fund.  If President Juncker (lots of presidents these days) wants  to 'defend European values'  he needs to stop playing eastern front 1940s games and build some ships and helicopters.  Otherwise Europe will just have to hope Russia can provide.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Obviously From Central Casting

Breedlove (honestly, that is what he's called, I could hardly credit it reading Der Spiegel this morning) and Nuland (another name from some orwellian nomenklatura) better-known for her use of 'language') have faces to match, and doubtless minds to match their faces, seem to have a programme.   In Eastern Europe war is seriously raised.  Thus:  lots and lots of (outdated) arms can be  sold profitably; Ukraine can be partitioned (seeing as it couldn't quite be managed all in one gulp it'll be tried slice by slice); most of all, we all look away to the east.  We, Europeans and European Russia, look away from the Mediterranean.

President Putin and President Renzi (Italian prime ministers are also called 'president') had a three-hour discussion this week (after Renzi had made appropriate gestures in Kiev)  on setting up a naval blockade of the North African coast.  The Italian gunships had been sent earlier and are 'exercising' close to the more important oil ports and off-shore oil and gas infrastructures.  However, Italy couldn't manage more on its own; certainly it can't manage any land operations (though, in all honesty, it has its advantages).  Now, who is bestest friends with Egypt?  Who has  lots of tanks?  And military training links, and Mediterranean and energy interests?

The Mediterranean sea is becoming to Russia (in the older sense of 'becoming').  All those fleets with ports in Greece, ports in Cyprus, ports and facilities in those vulnerable smaller countries of the EU being abused to save private, non-state creditors and threatened because they try to save their populations from the collapse of health, education, housing, energy provision,  employment levels:  in the name of austerity.  Furthermore, and notably, the government in Athens continues to support the Orthodox Church.

So while Central Casting conducts a deadly propaganda war in the east, this
jihad of human misery spearheads the battle for the control of Africa's energy resources and calls into being a Russian conquest of Mediterranean bases and power sought since - oooh, I don't know when.

Between half a million and a million people in the boats of the desperate are waiting to be launched into Europe this Spring.  Those who make it to land (and the Italians are and will be doing their best to get them there) won't stop here.  Only international intervention has the resources to meet their kinds of needs and Italy offers not even state-level help; private charity does what it can but it cannot meet state-level assaults.

Soon all this will reach the Security Council of the UN.  There will be Europe and Russia pointing at the obvious and the desperate need to act, while Central Casting put NATO and the United States in Ukraine.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Giving another Meaning to Mare Nostrum

These are FREMM Italian navy frigates.  Along with a San Giorgio LPD and one (or perhaps two, the Defence Minister was unspecific) other ships with characteristics that also seem really useful  - admittedly aircraft carriers have a certain grandeur but sometimes grandeur is not what is needed - they have set off towards Libya.

The Sabratha platform and Greenstream  are attracting more commitment to  "un ruolo di sicurezza, deterrenza " e di  "dissuasione" in General Claudio Graziano's words, than the migrants being trafficked in rubber boats.