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South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission

After nearly 50 years of brutal apartheid in South Africa, it is almost impossible to imagine how people could coexist peacefully. However, the new, post-apartheid government demonstrated the power of reconciliation, which eventually served as a blueprint for similar initiatives throughout the world.

Apartheid, the racial segregation system in South Africa, lasted from 1948 to 1994. During this time, black individuals in South Africa were deprived of citizenship and virtually every aspect of life in South Africa was segregated by race including education, neighborhoods, medical care, and public spaces.

As a way to heal the deep wounds among people, the new Government of National Unity in 1995 established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which invited perpetrators of violence to speak about their past transgressions. Read more

A Tale of Two Countries — and One Bizarre Hostage Situation

If you think your relationships are complex, consider the convoluted ties among Ghana, Guinea, and the United States in the mid-1960s. The friendship between Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkrumah, and Guinea’s first President, Ahmed Sékou Touré, proved problematic for the United States, and even led to the first U.S. diplomatic hostage situation, years before Iran.

Nkrumah and Touré were both anti-Western presidents of recently independent countries. In 1966 after Nkrumah was deposed while on a trip to China, Touré welcomed Nkrumah to Guinea, and named him Co-President of Guinea. Washington, which was glad to see Nkrumah go, had little desire to deal with him now in Guinea. However, the new Ghanaian government then kidnapped the Guinean Foreign Minister and said it would not release him until they got Nkrumah. On October 29, in an odd counter move, Guinea then detained American diplomats until their Foreign Minister was released. Read more

The Last Emperor – The Fall of Haile Selassie

None could be more considered more central to the modern history of Africa’s longest independent nation, Ethiopia, than Emperor Haile Selassie.  Regent from 1916-1930, he became emperor of Ethiopia on November 2, 1930 and ruled for nearly 45 years. While Ethiopia was able to avoid colonization and remained a political leader and symbol of African independence throughout his reign, the feudal system of governance prevented the country from keeping pace with economic and technological developments happening elsewhere and the lack of progress eventually led to his ouster. More than most other authoritarian rulers, Emperor Selassie embodied one-man rule, ultimately to the detriment of his own health and the growth of his nation.

In the end, his efforts to modernize the country’s education system also contributed to his downfall, as foreign-educated students returned to Ethiopia seeking reform. Calls for change by students, the military and other members of the ruling family, combined with the emperor’s decreasing mental awareness, led to his abdication in 1974. Haile Selassie can be considered the world’s last emperor who held true political power.

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French Colony to Sovereign State: Moroccan Independence

Moroccans celebrate November 18 as Independence Day in commemoration of their Sultan’s return from exile in 1955 and Morocco’s transition from French protectorate to autonomous nation the following year. France claimed Morocco as a protectorate in 1912. Moroccan nationalists would eventually base arguments for independence on declarations such as the Atlantic Charter, a U.S.-British statement that set forth the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which to live. Moroccan nationalists believed an Allied victory in World War II would lead to independence, but when it did not, in 1944 the Istiqlal (Independence) Party demanded self-rule.

A 1952 riot in Casablanca prompted French authorities to outlaw the Moroccan Communist and Istiqlal parties and to send Sultan Mohammed V into exile in Madagascar. This kindled opposition both from political nationalists and from those who revered the Sultan as a religious leader. Faced with such opposition, the French brought Mohammed V back to Morocco, where he negotiated independence through reforms that would transform the country into a constitutional monarchy. In 1956, France officially relinquished its protectorate.

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That’s What Friends Are For

One of the great advantages of being in the Foreign Service is the opportunity to live abroad, learn new languages, experience different cultures — and have some very unusual pets. Here are a few anecdotes about families who decided not to have their turkey for Thanksgiving and one boy who insisted on having a vulture as a pet. And for you more conventional types, we included a story about a dog. (Sorry, nothing here for cat lovers, though you can read this Moment about how one cat almost caused a military crisis.)  Read more

Windshield Tour of a Military Coup in Benin

The small Western African country of Benin (formerly Dahomey) has had a turbulent post-colonial history. Since gaining independence from the French in 1960, the country has experienced various forms of government, coups, periods of military rule and ethnic strife. A number of politicians rose and fell from power in a series of coups between 1960 and 1972.

On October 26, 1972, the army led by Commander Mathieu Kérékou overthrew the government, dissolved its governing bodies and suspended the constitution.  In November 1974 he announced that the state would be Marxist-Leninist, and banks and the petroleum industry were nationalized.

In 1975 the country was renamed the People’s Republic of Benin.

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Picking Up the Pieces After Black Hawk Down

The State Department dispatched Richard Bogosian to Somalia to repair political and diplomatic damage following an attempt to rescue crews of two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters. The military aircraft were shot down during a fight between forces loyal to Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid and U.S. Army Rangers October 3-4, 1993.  The operation to secure the crew turned into the Battle in Mogadishu, resulting in  serious American losses: 18 deaths, 73 wounded and one captured.  It marked the first time in American broadcasting history that networks showed footage of battered corpses of U.S. soldiers on television, an event portrayed in the film Black Hawk Down.

The political crisis raged on despite the best efforts of the United Nations, but the United States continued to respond to the humanitarian needs of the Somali people, providing a significant source of bilateral aid.

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Congo in Crisis: The Rise and Fall of Katangan Secession

When the Republic of the Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) became independent from Belgium in June 1960, the new country immediately descended into a political chaos known as the “Congo Crisis.” The arbitrary boundaries drawn by Colonial powers combined with leftover racial tensions and general uncertainty led to violence along racial lines and widespread mutiny in the Belgian-led army. Belgian troops sent in to protect Belgian citizens clashed with Congolese forces, leading to the U.N. ordering the Belgian forces out of the country.

On July 11, 1960, less than two weeks after the country formally gained independence, a politician named Moise Tshombe declared the southernmost province of the Congo to be an independent nation called the State of Katanga. Katanga, with its copperbelt and lucrative mining operations was the wealthiest province of the Congo. The Belgians, French, and British, wanting influence in the wealthy region, supported the Katanga movement in practice, if not in name. Read more

Which Witch?

When stationed abroad, Foreign Service Officers may face dangers such as carjackings, bombings, or even assassination attempts. However, for some, the most serious threat may be a supernatural one:  being cursed by a local witch doctor. The supernatural threats encountered by FSOs must always be taken seriously; otherwise, one risks temporal pain and spiritual punishment (probably even greater than dealing with HR).

Fred Coffey, Jr., was serving as a Public Affairs Officer in Surabaya, Indonesia, when locals sought out a witch doctor to bring about his demise. While working in Kuala Lumpur as a Political Officer (1969-1973), John Helble was forced to seek help in performing an exorcism on his house when word came out that his home was cursed.  Read more

Crazy Train — A Congolese Victory Tour

What’s a party without prostitutes, undrinkable whiskey, and the best seats in the house, cleared for you at sword-point? Following the successful defeat of a secessionist movement by the breakaway province of Katanga in the newly formed Republic of the Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), the new prime minister of the region held a kind of reunification tour to demonstrate the new leadership and direction of the province. The trip across the Congo included plenty of revelry, dodgy hygienic situations, and diplomatic pranks. Read more