Category Archives: Uncategorized

Nigerian government had no response to reports of >100 deaths in Borno

From Will Ross on the BBC:

There were reports that 135 people were killed in Borno state on Wednesday and Thursday but there was no comment whatsoever from the government or the military. To some analysts, it seems attacks in the north-east are sufficiently remote to be ignored even though entire villages are being massacred, sometimes without any military response.

New Crisis Group report on Boko Haram

A bombing at an Abuja bus station, possibly coordinated by Boko Haram, killed at least 70 people this morning and inspired me to read the new Crisis Group report on Boko Haram that came out last week.

The report explains the emergence of Boko Haram as a result of a series of broken political promises, exacerbated by government extrajudicial killings of Boko Haram leaders. Mohammed Yusuf, a charismatic preacher and early leader of Boko Haram, allegedly entered into an agreement with Borno gubernatorial candidate Ali Modu Sheriff in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Yusuf and his large youth following provided much support for Sheriff’s campaign. Sheriff won, but the Sheriff-Yusuf alliance was tenuous. Sheriff followed through on some promises, but did not implement Sharia in Borno to the extent that Yusuf wanted. By 2008 the alliance had fallen apart, and the Borno state government charged Yusuf with terrorism. In 2009 Yusuf was killed, though how this happened is not totally clear.

Some more current interesting points from the report:

  • Crisis Group portrays the Civilian Joint Task Force (vigilante groups with strong state support) as both highly effective, but with the potential to become extremely dangerous in their own right.
  • “With its rank and file decimated, Boko Haram reportedly has resorted to forced conscription and recruiting of criminals and thugs (area boys), paying them for attacks, sometimes with a share of the spoils.” (page 17)
  • “Another apparent obstacle to dialogue is the involvement of fraudsters. Shehu Sani, director of the Civil Rights Congress, a prominent human rights group in the north, claims that on a number of occasions the government was deceived by people who presented peace proposals that were scams. Several shadowy individuals claiming to be speaking on behalf of Boko Haram have been disowned by the sect. Some observers assert that government officials seeking to make private gain sponsored these impostors.” (p. 36-37)

Horrific account of two women who escaped from Boko Haram

A horrific account of two women who escaped from Boko Haram, by Will Ross:

“They were slitting people’s throats with knives. Both women and men were killed – especially the men who didn’t agree to fight for them,” she said.

“Those that tried to escape were shot but they hardly ever used their guns to kill. They usually used knives. About 50 people were killed right in front of me.”


“One of the captives stood up and said: ‘You only die once. Who is ready to make a run for it?’ Six of us jumped into one of the Boko Haram vehicles in the camp – a Volkswagen Golf.”

“They chased us on motorbikes, shooting at the car until we got close to Bama town. Then they left and we got out of the car to continue on foot as there was a curfew in place. It was only then that I realised the three people on the backseat had all been shot dead.”

On who Boko Haram members are:

One of the great fears people have today stems from not knowing exactly where Boko Haram has a presence in the country and whom you can trust.

A businessman from Borno state told me he had helped the Nigerian police arrest 11 Boko Haram members in the capital, Abuja.

Some working on market stalls, he believes, are sent to be the eyes and ears of the group. It is a worrying indication of Boko Haram’s desire to maintain a presence way beyond the north-east of the country.

Equatorial Guinea president’s son under formal investigation in France

The president of Equatorial Guinea’s son, Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue, has been placed under formal investigation by the French government for money laundering.

The Equatoguinean government released a statement on their blog, possibly the only post on that blog that has ever been written by an Equatoguinean and not an American PR firm.

The government’s position has nothing to do with the money laundering claim. Rather they argue Obiang has diplomatic immunity and that there is a protection of property agreement between France and Equatorial Guinea.

More in a Human Rights Watch press statement here. A press release from SHERPA, the French NGO that originally filed the legal complaint is here. If you read French, I think this article has more details on holes in Obiang’s defense; Google translate has trouble with legal phrases.

His French lawyer is Emmanuel Marsigny, who has been representing him since at least 2012.  Marsigny founded a firm that specializes in part in “foreign corruption and money laundering.”

The Equatorial Guinea government press release ends, without irony: “We have always trusted the justice system and the presumption of innocence.”

How American PR firms work for African dictatorships

Equatorial Guinea makes extensive use of American PR firms. (Follow links here for examples.) Up until recently (and maybe still?), they worked with Qorvis. Qorvis’ reported activities on behalf of Equatorial Guinea to the Department of Justice from a few years ago are here (starting on pdf page 31; h/t ThinkProgress). Qorvis appears to have had hundreds of meetings and other interactions with US-based reporters to discuss Equatorial Guinea in 2011 alone.

Excerpt from Qorvis' report on activities they conducted on behalf of the Government of Equatorial Guinea.

Excerpt from Qorvis’ report on activities they conducted on behalf of the Government of Equatorial Guinea. Here they note all of the news outlets they sent a press release to.

Qorvis also reports that they “corrected errors and provided factual content for blogs and internet databases.” Someone from Qorvis has responded in some way to virtually every blog post or Tweet I have ever written on Equatorial Guinea. They have also responded to comments I have made on other sites. Someone from Qorvis who follows me on Twitter used to re-tweet tweets I would write that were unrelated to Equatorial Guinea, seemingly trying to ingratiate himself with me so that I would engage with him more on Equatorial Guinea. 

I think Qorivs is required to report literally every expense associated with foreign government consulting. Below they report a charge, which I suspect is for this site which I think they started up a few years ago, along with iPhone charges for the specific person who would often reach out to me to discuss my blog posts or tweets. Go America and our Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 for requiring this degree of financial reporting!

Qorvis expenses associated with consulting for Government of Equatorial Guinea

Qorvis expenses associated with consulting for Government of Equatorial Guinea


2 years ago Global Voices picked up a blog post I did on Equatorial Guinea. I had noted that there was a fear among African immigrants in EG that the government would crack down on illegal immigration following the Africa Cup of Nations. Here a seemingly innocuous comment from a Qorvis employee.

2 years ago Global Voices picked up a blog post I did on Equatorial Guinea. I had noted that there was a fear among African immigrants in EG that the government would crack down on illegal immigration following the Africa Cup of Nations. Here a seemingly innocuous comment from a Qorvis employee.

Based on this Reuters article, Equatorial Guinea’s new PR firm is Richard Attias and Associates.

The perils of working with Obiang’s son

Roberto Berardi, an Italian business partner of the Equatoguinean president’s son (Teodoro Obiang) has been sentenced to over 2 years in prison on Equatorial Guinea’s mainland. The partner was arrested after broaching with Teodoro the issue of US asset forfeiture against Teodoro’s US-based properties. Teodoro was perhaps afraid Berardi would testify against him in the future. Berardi is allegedly being held in solitary confinement and tortured. via the World Organisation Against Torture:

According to the information received, Mr Roberto Berardi, business partner of Mr Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mangue, Second Vice President of Equatorial Guinea and President Obiang’s eldest son, was arrested without a warrant late at night on 18 January 2013 at his home in Bata. He was held without charges for 21 days during which he was subjected to violence and denied access to a lawyer and family members. Mr Roberto Berardi was only later informed that his business partner had accused him of misappropriation, swindling and fraud of their company assets, Eloba Constuccuion S.A., which is operating in the construction sector. On 26 August 2013, the Bata Provincial Court sentenced him to 2 years and 4 months imprisonment for misappropriation. His trial was reportedly marred by irregularities.

According to the same information received, Mr Roberto Berardi had found out early 2013 about the asset forfeiture action by the United States Department of Justice against the US-based properties that his business partner had purchased by using accounts in Equatorial Guinea banks in the name of Eloba Construccion. Mr Roberto Berardi had subsequently raised the issue with his partner Mr Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mangue. There are reasons to believe that Mr Roberto Berardi could be a very damaging witness in the US investigation and was therefore arrested and imprisoned.

Vegetarian cheese

I was pretty sad when I learned in high school that cheese was not vegetarian. It’s so delicious! But after I stopped eating it I stopped missing it. A few years ago I learned that some cheeses are vegetarian, and have been very happy ever since.

I’ve noticed just in the past year that consciousness is raising of non-vegetarian cheese ingredients. There was an NPR segment in part on this, and staff at cheese stores are usually knowledgeable about which of their cheeses are vegetarian.

Still, most people don’t know that cheese isn’t always vegetarian, and it’s tricky to figure out which cheeses are vegetarian. Good labeling is the next frontier! But in an effort to increase vegetarian cheese awareness (and procrastinate), I put together some information below.

Why are some cheeses not vegetarian?

Milk doesn’t coagulate itself. Cheese makers use an ingredient called rennet to get the milk to coagulate. Rennet often comes from young ruminant animals, which are animals that have a special stomach that is able to ferment certain plant nutrients. Cows, goats, and llamas are examples of ruminant animals. (Though cheese rennet doesn’t usually come from llamas!)

Specifically, rennet comes from a young ruminant animal’s abomasum, which is one part of this special stomach.

Some rennet, though, is made from microbial coagulants. This rennet (typically called “Microbial enzymes” or sometimes “vegetable/non-animal rennet”) is vegetarian.

The Whole Foods in Union Square (NY) labels their vegetarian cheeses.

The Whole Foods in Union Square (NY) labels their vegetarian cheeses.








How do you know if a cheese is vegetarian?

It’s difficult. Rarely can you figure this out from reading the ingredients, which is unfortunate. A minority of cheeses actually list “animal rennet” in their ingredients. These cheeses are clearly not vegetarian. Another minority of cheeses list “non-animal rennet” as an ingredient. These cheeses are vegetarian.

Which cheeses are vegetarian?

Unfortunately cheaper cheeses are rarely vegetarian. The one exception to this is Cabot Cheese. All of their cheeses are vegetarian, except for their sliced American cheese, but that’s gross anyways.

Hard cheeses are rarely vegetarian. I’m not sure why this is. Italians law prohibits calling cheese Parmesan if it does not use calf rennet, so no Parmesan is vegetarian. Yet Whole Foods-brand Parmesan is vegetarian. I’m not sure how they get away with this.

Whole Foods-brand vegetarian Parmesan.

Whole Foods-brand vegetarian Parmesan.








Up until writing this post I had been under the impression that Kosher cheese is vegetarian, since dairy and meat cannot mix for people who keep Kosher. Unfortunately, according to Wikipedia, which cites this post by a rabbi, animal rennet is not classified as meat. Sad.

British cheese tends to be vegetarian. I noticed this anecdotally, and the British Cheese Board confirms that nearly all British cheese makers use a non-animal rennt agent. I’m not sure why this is.

A rare example of an ingredient list that is explicit about the source of the rennet.

A rare example of an ingredient list that is explicit about the source of the rennet.








Haloumi cheese is vegetarian. This is nice for fellow vegetarians who travel in Africa, as Lebanese supermarkets frequently sell Haloumi cheese!

What is your favorite vegetarian cheese, Shelby?

Humboldt Fog.

The Cambridge (MA) Wine & Cheese Cask labels their vegetarian cheeses.

The Cambridge (MA) Wine & Cheese Cask labels their vegetarian cheeses.