Radovan Krejcir: International Criminal and Self-Proclaimed “James Bond”

A Volkswagen Cross Polo sits in an empty bay opposite Money Point on a quiet Wednesday in the suburb of Bedfordview, Johannesburg. Unknown to the people in its vicinity, it is rigged with explosives. A matte black BMW creeps into the parking lot and assumes its usual spot next to the Money Point store. At that moment the remote controlled explosives are triggered and from the behind the license plate of the Cross Polo bullets are fired from an unknown source. This may sound like a scene from a James Bond movie but the life of Czech fugitive, Radovan Krejcir, is terrifyingly real.

Video courtesy of EWN (dated 24 July 2013).


 

Radovan Krejcir was born on 4th of November 1968 in the Czech Republic. He generated most of his wealth in the 90s during the “Velvet Revolution” and was considered one of the richest people in the Czech Republic before fleeing to the Seychelles and eventually South Africa in 2007. In November 2013 he was formally charged by Czech police with tax fraud to the equivalent of R3 million according to a report published by News24. Krejcir has been associated with numerous underworld figures such as Solly Jackson, Cyril Beeka and murder accused and convicted drug dealer, Glen Aggliotti, an association he fails to deny. When Julian Rademeyer from Rapport asked Krejcir about the nature of this relationship, Krejcir responded; “So what? People find me because they believe I’ve got money, that I’m an opportunity for them, that I can do business with them. So the people are coming…”

On Monday the 5th of May 2014 the trial of Radovan Krejcir resumed. According to an article published by eNCA, he has been charged with dealing in drugs, attempted murder and kidnapping together with 5 co-accused. He has also been charged with murder in an unrelated case. Krejcir has been denied bail four times and remains in police custody.

 The trial continues.

Military seizes control of Thailand in Coup d’etat

It was reported that today on the 22nd of May 2014, that the Thai military took control of the country. CNN has stated that CNN TV has been taken off the air in Thailand and that the “people of Thailand deserve to know what is happening in their own country, and CNN is committed to telling them”. According to a report by BBC News Asia, army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha said that the constitution had been suspended but vowed to restore order and enact political reforms.

A nationwide curfew has been put in place between the hours of 22:00 and 05:00 where no one is allowed to leave their homes, all television broadcasting has been suspended and political gatherings have been banned.

Thailand has experienced 32 coups since 1932 and over the past months political turmoil has reached boiling point. Unrest began last year in 2013 when then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra attempted to dissolve the lower house of parliament which many saw as a gross abuse of power. This view was justified earlier in May with the court-ordered removal of Yingluck for abusing her position as Prime Minister. Al Jazeera has reported that demonstrating protesters had been cleared away from various sites around Thailand. Tensions between “Red Shirts” and “Yellow Shirts”, so named for the colour of their attire, led to the military imposing martial law on Tuesday. The “Red Shirts” support the government that has been in power which tend to be supported by the majority of the population of Thailand, mostly situated in rural areas. The “Yellow Shirts” are in anti-government and are mostly supported by the urban population of Thailand. The “Yellow Shirts” are of the view that the previous Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is the brother of Yingluck Shinawatra, still has too much influence on politics and that the “Shinawatra legacy” is one rife with corruption.

It is unclear what will happen to these opposing factions now that the military has taken control. Many suspect that they will support the “Yellow Shirts”. This could lead to another “Red Shirt” rebellion similar to the one that took place in 2010 in which 90 people were killed in Bangkok’s central business district.

The story continues.

UPDATE: US Sends Troops to Nigeria

On Wednesday the 21st April 2014, the White House announced that 80 members of the United States armed forces had been deployed to Chad to aid in the search of kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. These personnel, according to CNN, “…will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area”.

Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby stated in an interview on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper” that the troops deployed were not combat infantry.

“These folks are there to support the reconnaissance mission,” he said.

He then went on to explain the geographical challenges the landscapes of Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon present. Boko Haram militants may be dispersed in an area the size of West Virginia between the borders of these three countries which would make a ground-based search nearly impossible. Adm. Kirby attributes friendly ties with the government of Chad as to why troops will be stationed there. An unarmed predator drone will be accompanying these personnel but the United States already has a drone base in Niger, a deal signed in January of 2013 according to The Times. The map below displays all known US military bases on the African continent as of 2013.

 The fact that many people are not even aware of this vast military presence does bode well for the continent. The case studies of US military involvement actually benefiting any country are few and far between although some may argue differently.

The vastness of this presence is perhaps merely suggestive of the vastness of the United States armed forces which has the largest navy and air force in the world with almost 1.5 million active personnel. Based on statistics from 2009, if one were to add up all the militaries of Africa, a continent of 1 billion people, and compare them to that of the United States. Without factoring in equipment, training and machinery, the number of active military personnel in Africa make up almost a fifth.

When thinking about how many people the US war machine employs, it becomes clear that in actual fact the United States has to go to war and they have to do so constantly. If not hundreds of thousands of people would be without a job in a country only just recovering from a brutal economic recession. War brings money into the United States economy in many ways. US arms manufactures benefit from the constant need for weapons, unfavourable governments with unfavourable economic policies can be removed and replaced, but by also employing so many people the United States has found a way to use war as a means of uplifting their own citizens at a grassroots level.

As the world finally shifts its gaze to the plight of Africa and the calls of help no longer seem to fall on deaf ears, what will truly come from an increased United States military presence in Africa? What are your thoughts? Please share your views by clicking the speech bubble above.

 

A Brief History of Boko Haram and al-Shabaab

Yesterday on the 20th of April 2014, two car bombs ripped through a market place in Jos, Nigeria, killing at least 118 people. According to an article published by the Daily Mail, the bomb blasts were timed 30 minutes apart in order to maximise fatalities. As of yet, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack but many suggest the most likely culprit is the terrorist organisation; Boko Haram. This follows a reported suicide bombing in the city of Kano the previous day in which 4 people were killed, one of whom was a girl of 12. Kano, the second largest city in Nigeria, has become a flashpoint for conflict with Boko Haram claiming responsibility for many attacks in the city including a car bomb that killed 22 people in March last year and the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls on the 14th of April this year.

Five thousand kilometres east in Kenya another Islamist terrorist group, al-Shabaab, is also becoming more active. Their attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi, on the 21st of September 2013 in which 67 people were killed, shocked the world. But more recently Reuters reported that, on Monday the 19th of May, at least 12 people were killed by suspected al-Shabaab militants in northern Kenya. As these attacks become more frequent and more violent, it becomes necessary to understand where these terrorist organisations come from and what it is that motivates them. Like the Latin saying “ex nihilo nihil fit”, “nothing comes from nothing”.

 “…declare war on Boko Haram,” Nigerian President Paul Biya said during a summit in Paris last weekend.

Artist Arnold Platon’s impression of the Boko Haram logo.

 Boko Haram militants pose for the camera. (Image courtesy of International Business Times)

The Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad is also known by its Hausa name, Boko Haram. Hausa is a Chadic language and one of the most spoken in Africa. According to a video posted by Al Jazeera, Boko Haram aims to create an Arab Emirate between the northern borders of Cameroon and Nigeria. It was started in 2002 by Mohammed Yusuf, who is a fierce proponent of Sharia law. Many scholars agree that Sharia law is a far cry from the teachings of Islam and that in many cases it stems from radical fanaticism. In Nigeria and Cameroon there are both Muslim and Christian citizens but there is a Muslim majority in the north of both states. Conservative Muslims who live in this area tend to see alcohol and girls going to school as a westernisation of their cultural beliefs. It appears Boko Haram has transpired out of those views.

 

“…it is clear after the Westgate attack that the world must unite as never before in the fight against the spread of violence by al-Shabaab outside Somalia.” These words were published by The Wall Street Journal, in an opinion piece written by the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, on 6 March 2013.

The logo of Al-Shabaab.

 Al Shabaab militants sing the Kenyan national anthem.

Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (HSM) translates to “Movement of Striving Youth”. The shortened name more commonly used, al-Shabaab, translates to “The Youth” or “The Youngsters”. The organisation was started in 2006 and is currently based in Somalia. Al-Shabaab began as an offshoot of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) which was the main judicial system in Somalia after its government collapsed in 1991. In 2006 however, after losing much territory due to conflict, the ICU was replaced by the Transitional Federal Parliament and later the Federal Parliament of Somalia. The more radical members of the ICU refused to give up their attempts to instate Sharia law in Somalia  and formed militant groups such as al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, while more liberal members went into exile in Eritrea and Djibouti.

 As large scale military operations are carried out against terrorist organisations well-armed and well-versed in the art of guerrilla warfare, what more should be done to aid those most affected? Is the African Union doing enough to prevent terrorism? Do African countries need help from foreign militaries such as those of the US or France? Please share your views by clicking on the speech bubble above.

Does Africa Need a Presidential Age Limit?

In an article published by BBC News Magazine, Ruth Alexander, suggests that it is unlikely for a president to die while in office. She goes on to state that this has occurred 13 times worldwide since 2008. Of these 13 leaders, 10 have been from Africa.  This seemingly large discrepancy may be attributed to the age of many presidents on the African continent.

If one had to calculate the average age of just five of the current African presidents ranging from highest to lowest; President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is 90, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is 77, President of South Africa Jacob Zuma is 72, Uhuru Kenyatta President of Kenya is 52 and Malian President Moussa Mara is 39. This works out to an average of 66 years of age. All the members of this sample have been elected in the past two years. The difference in age between Robert Mugabe and Moussa Mara, the oldest and youngest African presidents, is a staggering 51 years. Robert Mugabe also became the oldest president to be in elected in Africa last year at the age of 89 while Joseph Kabila became president of The Democratic Republic of Congo in 2001, age 29.

Across the continent people such as Kwaku Obosu-Mensah, from GhanaWeb, feel that the older generation are wiser. Our varying cultures have uniformly deemed their significance as knowledge bearers and custodians of wisdom, and it is perhaps for this reason that many of our national leaders are well above commonly accepted ages of retirement.

While this may not be a bad thing, the physical ailments that seem to plague many of Africa’s leaders are a cause for concern. According to an article published in the New York Times, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika suffered a minor stroke and there is now a much greater chance of him suffering another, more harmful, stroke in future. This has created uncertainties about whether or not he is fit to lead. Dr George Leeson, a gerontologist from the University of Oxford, explains.

“African presidents, before they have been elected, will have led a relatively disadvantaged life, and disadvantageous lifestyle, and that will impact on their life expectancies at subsequent ages,” he says.

“So once they get into the presidential office, even though they will be living a lifestyle far far far removed from their fellow citizens, which would increase their life expectancy in relation to those fellow citizens, they do have an accumulated disadvantageous lifestyle which they have to pay back on at some time.”

And while this may not be the case for all African presidents, this statement certainly alludes to a situation many face. These health concerns are not the only threat to administrative stability.  Many people also fear that people above the age of 70 are not as open to change and that perhaps in the digital age we need a presidential age limit.

What are your thoughts? Please comment by clicking on the speech bubble.

James Matthews: Struggle poet and laureate of National Honours

On the 27th April 2014, President Jacob Zuma awarded National Orders to 54 people for their extraordinary and invaluable contributions to South African society. These honours can be awarded to any South African citizen for civil or military service, or for an act of bravery that is seen to go beyond the call of duty. One such laureate is Cape Town poet, James Matthews, who lives in the Cape Flats suburb of Athlone.


Up until 2002 many of the National Orders were considered remnants of the apartheid era and our colonial past and were therefore revised to the 13 honours we see today. According to the South African Medals Website, there are 7 national civilian honours that can be awarded for achievements in various fields.  These range from the Order of the Baobab for service in medicine or science to the Presidential Sports Award. The Order of Ikhamanga is awarded for service in “the arts, culture, literature, journalism and music in the interest of South Africa” and like almost all other national Orders, it has three levels of distinction which are namely: Gold, Silver and Bronze.

 

Along with this scroll, laureates also receive a medal.

Along with this scroll, laureates also receive a medal.

 

On the 29th of May 1929 James Matthews was born in the Bokaap in Cape Town. He left school at a very early age because of societal pressures but thinks back fondly to an English teacher he had who perhaps inspired him to start writing.

His focus?

He began writing short stories and poetry about the world he experienced around him, both good and bad. As a black South African living under Apartheid, there were many hardships that were faced by not only himself but almost all the people he was surrounded by. This culminated in him being forced to leave the Bokaap with his children and find a new home in the newly declared so-called “coloured” suburb of Athlone where he still lives today. Fuelled by the ideas of Black Consciousness, he wrote Cry Rage (1972), which was immediately banned. This became the first book of poetry ever to be banned in South Africa by the apartheid government. When speaking about this, Matthews’ tone was a sombre one but a mischievous glint in his eye was perhaps suggestive of the fact that, even though banned in South Africa, many of his poems and short stories were translated and published overseas. Matthews continued to write and worked as an editor for the Muslim Views, then Muslim News, which published his poetry under the title Pass Me a Meatball Jones. But because of the subject matter of his work, Matthews was denied a passport for 23 years and was detained in 1976. He was the first black person to establish not only an art gallery, the Gallery Afrique, but also a publishing house, BLAC during the 1970s in South Africa. In 2004 on the 26th of October, James Matthews was awarded the National Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for his contributions to the fields of journalism and literature while striving for a non-racial South Africa.

A decade later; if you were to pay Mr Matthews a visit, you’d most likely find him sitting in his front garden reading. The first things that are noticed though are the wooden sculptures, a tombstone of someone unknown and the long overgrown grass that surrounds his humble Silvertown home. When questioned about this interesting, and somewhat intimidating, area Matthews simply referred to it as his: “exhibition space”.  This idea is carried into his home though which is eccentrically cluttered with all manner and forms of art. The walls are covered with paintings and photographs of family and friends and almost every surface is stacked with books or sculptures.

James Matthews reads in his "exhibition space".

James Matthews reads in his “exhibition space”.

The eccentric living space of an artist.

The eccentric living space of an artist.

 

Soon to be 85 years old, the poet sometimes found it difficult speak clearly and said that he struggled with mental epilepsy but still found the time to get around to the library or post office but made it clear that he could no longer do both. He still manages to work out with dumbbells when he can’t make it to the gym but concedes that he’ll only do one “rep” at a time.

When asked about receiving a National honour, the first thing that was made clear was that Matthews did not want to receive an award from a political party in the hopes of favouring their own ideals. Instead he had to be sure that it was not the ANC as a political party but rather the state that was thanking him. He noted, almost as consolation, that he has been awarded Civic Honours by the City of Cape Town in 2010 which was under DA control. Along with his many notable achievements he was also named Freeman of the towns Nienberg and Lehrte in Germany in 1986. This was like receiving the “Key to the Town”, according to Matthews, and similarly his receiving of provincial and national honours have left him feeling humbled.

In his quiet home, James Matthews mourns the death of his close friend for more than 50 years, South African artist Peter Clarke. He reads literature from the 70s on Cuba he found stored away. His voice and legs at times appear a bit shaky but his mind and spirit are clearly still strong. And when asked if his life had changed in anyway after the honours he received, his answer was simple and direct: “No”.