All posts by msethares

Hezbollah: Government Within a Gang

Hezbollah is a Shiite Islamic group, beginning as a loose connection of terrorists, and has now become a dynamic organization which is intertwined with the structure of Lebanese society. When Lebanon gained its independence in 1943, the Shiite population was economically and politically excluded. A man named Musa al-Sadr began mobilizing segments of the Shiite community in the early 60s. This led to the emergence of a new Shiite organization in 1975, called Amal. This is the group from which Hezbollah was created.

Hezbollah is now an internationally recognized terrorist group and has been operating out of Lebanon since the early 1980s. Despite its claim of unified control, there are two parts, one being its military wing and the other its political. This is tricky because some countries recognize the entire organization as a terrorist group, whereas others only consider its military wing terrorist. Hezbollah appears to be an Islamic-nationalist group utilizing its political power in Lebanon in order to keep its military wing powerful and functioning.

An important question to ask about Hezbollah; What are its motives? Ideologically, the group has always sought to promote a strict Islamic way of life. In its earlier days the group’s leaders implemented harsh codes of Islamic behavior on various towns and villages. Despite this strict focus on Islam, the group insists that they do not intend to force Lebanese to be a part of an Islamic-only society. Hezbollah officially published it’s manifesto in 1985. It included key goals for the group, such as: destroying Israel, expelling Western influences from Lebanon and the wider Middle East, and combatting their enemies within Lebanon, particularly the Phalanges Party. Along with these goals, the manifesto also identified the USA and the Soviet Union as Islam’s main enemies. It also claimed that the international system and 1985 Lebanese government were subject to imperial influences and thereby hostile to Islam. However, more recently in the 2009 Lebanese elections Hezbollah won ten parliamentary seats. Months after this, the group’s leader. Hassan Nasrallah, gave an updated manifesto for the group, essentially shifting the group from it’s Khomeinist roots towards an Islamist nationalist approach.

Hezbollah’s rise in the government hasn’t been a cakewalk, in fact it has had to use military force in order to not get squashed by the Lebanese government. In 1989 Lebanon’s civil war ended, and an accord called for all militias to disarm. Hezbollah, however, re-branded itself to be an “Islamic Resistance” force focused on ending Israeli occupation, allowing it to stay armed. After this, the group became more active with Lebanese politics, participating in it’s nation elections in 1992. When Israeli forces withdrew in 2000, the group was credited for this success, but once again received pressure to disarm. However, again they resisted and held their military presence near Israeli occupied areas in the south. In 2008 Lebanon’s government attempted to shut down Hezbollah’s private telecommunications and specifically remove an airport security chief as a result of believed ties to the group. Hezbollah retaliated to these actions and seized a large part of the capital and began fighting other opposing Sunni groups. This retaliation led to 81 deaths and almost caused a new civil war in the country. To end this conflict, the government conceded some of its power by agreeing on a power-sharing agreement. This is how the group’s veto power came to be.

Despite these military means, Hezbollah has demonstrated its professionalism and effectiveness in times of crises and in general for the Shiite Lebanese. The group provides crucial social services, including the management of schools, hospitals, and news and agricultural services. After the country’s civil war ended, the group rebuilt homes and businesses of Christian families returning to southern Beirut. Also, after a 1996 Israeli bombing campaign, Hezbollah led the rebuilding effort. The group rebuilt 5,000 homes, helped repair roads and infrastructure, and provided compensation to over 2,000 farmers in the area.

Despite the good that this group has been able to do through its political power, almost all of it has been specifically for Shiite Lebanese. Although some countries only recognize its military wing as a terrorist group, due to the many notable terrorist attacks carried out by Hezbollah, its use of military force to maintain political power, and events such as the country’s anti-Hezbollah Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigning and fleeing Lebanon due to supposed assassination attempts, Hezbollah appears to be an Islamic nationalist terrorist group effectively feigning its political aptitude to stay active and dangerous.

He Puts the “Kenya” in Kenyatta

A populist leader is a leader who stands for the “people.” They aim to aid the common folk whom they see as the naturally good and intelligent. These leaders see the people as held back from their potential by both the political and economic elites. Sometimes a populist will be remembered for improving their already stable country and other times for wrecking it and implementing controversial policies that split the populous for the good of their supporters.

Many view the President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta as a conservative populist with a strong sense of African nationalism. Kenyans elected him president of Kenya in 2013, making him the youngest to date. He is son of Jomo Kenyatta who was Kenya’s first ever president, serving for 14 years from 1964-1978 when he died. His father came to power with his nationalist pro-Kenyan policies. He wished for Kenya to be its own republic instead of just a colony, and he emphasized his goal to split from the British Empire. Rather than a Kenyan nationalist like his father Jomo, Uhuru is a conservative who sees great importance in pan-African nationalism.

To win his first election Uhuru had to take on Raila Odinga, an advocate for reform and democracy. Odinga’s father served as the first vice president of Kenya. Does this sound somewhat familiar? Well, interestingly enough, his father Jaramogi Odinga was vice president to Jomo Kenyatta. So, to say the least there is some history between the two. Uhuru won the 2013 election with just over 50% of the vote, while Odinga received slightly less at ~44%.

When he took office in 2013, Kenyatta’s set his aim on refocusing Kenya’s foreign policy to display an aggressive African-centered approach. This may seem an authoritarian-like action, however, it is simply due to Kenyatta’s strong African nationalistic beliefs. At his inauguration, to show his turn to a pan-African policy regarding Kenya’s region and the world, he had the anthem of the East-African community sung. He aims to strengthen ties between Kenya and the EAC member states – Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, as well as South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Kenyatta stated that the future of Kenya is inseparable from the future of the region around it.

A clear example of his populist style can be seen through his suspicion and disrespect for the media. He often insults newspapers, once actually saying their only purpose should be for wrapping meat. Also, his administration has passed laws aiming to increase the difficulty of being an independent reporter. The administration has abused journalists who ask questions that might wall in the person being asked. These journalists have reportedly been beaten and arrested, as well as having their reports pulled or even been fired.

Regarding terrorism, Kenyatta refers to Muslims and Muslim refugees in vague, villainizing terms. Kenya is involved in the African Union Mission in Somalia, aimed at halting the Islamist militant group al-Shabab, currently requiring an extra 28,000 troops to do so. The group has murdered nearly 800 Kenyans so far, with most of the violence occurring since Uhuru took office in 2013. Kenyatta’s opposition, Odinga, has continued to demand the withdrawal of troops, which would put the mission in severe danger. Kenyatta on the other hand has urged for more troops to be deployed and has even reached out internationally for help.

Kenyatta is a leader with a very colorful personality, and his supporters see him as very down to earth and approachable. He argued that the decision to annul his second consecutive win in the election for the Kenyan presidency was overthrowing the will of the Kenyan people. Kenyatta is truly a leader who claims to represent ‘The People,’ however, he then actively disregards those people who do not support him. Although this may not seem ideal, as he is not for every single Kenyan, he is a populist, for he is one for the common man.