Scott C.

Stories by Scott C. Johnson

  • Kenya: Fleeing the Violence

    Kenya's simmering postelection violence is raising fears about a worrying pattern of ethnic migration.
  • The End of The Affair

    Like a number of hot emerging markets, South Africa's made great progress in recent years—but its leadership is faltering dangerously.
  • South Africa’s Leadership Falters

    South Africa has made great progress in recent years, but with Mbeki a lame duck its leadership is faltering dangerously.
  • China’s African Misadventures

    Beijing has dramatically outpaced its rivals in Africa. But at ground level, things don't always look so rosy.
  • Dreaming Of Checkmate

    Chess is catching on across Africa and beginning to produce some formidable players. Kasparov, beware.
  • Johnson: Onscene at Congo Gorilla Killings

    On July 23, rangers at Virunga National Park of the Democratic Republic of the Congo made a gruesome discovery. Four endangered mountain gorillas had been slaughtered, for reasons unknown, leaving two infants orphaned. The killings are signficant because the world­ wide population of mountain gorillas only numbers around 700.Richard Leakey is the founder of Wildlife Direct, a European Union-funded conservation organization based in Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), works to protect the apes in Virunga park. A renowned paleontologist, Leakey’s tough antipoaching measures are credited with putting an end to the elephant slaughter in Kenya in the 1980s. He spoke by phone from Kenya to NEWSWEEK’s Scott Johnson about the recent slaughter of some of the endangered animals, the threat posed by the charcoal industry and what the international community needs to do next. Excerpts: ...
  • Cell Phones: Mobile Money

    Cell phones have been booming in Africa for years, but Susie Lonie has bigger ambitions. Lonie ran a pilot program for Vodafone in Kenya that turns the cell phone into a device for transferring funds. With M-Pesa (Swahili for "mobile money"), anybody with a phone and an account can send and receive funds with about as much effort as it took to write this sentence. In Kenya, where M-Pesa was officially launched three months ago, people are using phone money to buy goods and services from each other.Many Kenyans—and most Africans—still do not have bank accounts. The costs of moving money through traditional institutions like Western Union can be prohibitively expensive. M-Pesa's virtual money, by contrast, is tied to real money held in the user's account and transferred for a small commission. So far the program has proved remarkably versatile. When one man was robbed during the pilot program, his wife sent him bus fare. Kenyan ministries are moving to allow users to pay electricity...
  • Digging a Grave for Crumbling Zimbabwe

    Last Maingehama was on his way to a memorial service when he was kidnapped. A little after 2 p.m. on March 20, in the middle of an upscale Harare neighborhood, government thugs dragged Last out of his car, tied a blindfold around his eyes and drove him into the Zimbabwean savanna. For the next five hours they beat the 33-year-old businessman and opposition activist relentlessly with hard wooden "battlesticks." They pounded the soles of his feet, he says, in an account verified by two independent human-rights researchers. They broke his left leg just below the kneecap. And then, when he was bruised and bloody and unconscious, the men left Last for dead and disappeared into the night. When Last finally crawled back to the road, half naked and petrified, he flagged down a passing tractor. But it is a sign of how pervasive the climate of fear has grown in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe that even to his rescuer, Last lied about what had happened in the bush that night. "I told [him] I was...
  • Zimbabwe: An Archbishop Takes On Mugabe

    It’s Sunday morning at St. Mary’s Cathedral in downtown Bulawayo and the pews are crowded.  Pius Alick Ncube, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church here in Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, peers out at the assembled parishioners over the rims of a pair of thick bifocals and takes a breath.  Then he bellows forth his rage. "This government doesn't have the holy spirit," he fumes. "They know what I think of them." A collective sigh moves through the crowd. In the farthest aisles, men and women clutch at each other, laughing and snickering. A few exchange knowing glances. "I'm not going to let them off the hook," Ncube continues. "These men are liars. They are murderers. They are only working to make themselves rich."It is not easy to be a voice of opposition in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe; legions of secret police and government enforcers make sure of that. When opposition activists do speak out they are often kidnapped and beaten and left in the open, or by the roadsides miles from...
  • South Africa: An Unlikely Opposition Leader

    Helen Zille is in a hurry. As the newly elected head of South Africa's largest and most influential opposition party and also the mayor of Cape Town, she spent one recent day catching up with hundreds of cell phone messages, meeting with a few dozen worried parliamentarians from her caucus and welcoming President Thabo Mbeki for a ceremony—all while trying to look composed for the cameras of a television crew that had been following her since 4 o'clock that morning. But Zille’s real scramble is her work to recast South African politics.When an American delegation from the Harvard Black Law Students Association visited her offices a few weeks ago, Zille challenged them. "Why aren't you just the law society?" she asked. "If people from the most advantageous position in the world are still defining themselves by race, it shows how far we have to go in South Africa." Zille admits she was "depressed" by the encounter. "If we decide that race is the automatic override then we can't have a...
  • We're Losing the Infowar

    For nearly four years, U.S. military officials have briefed the Baghdad press corps from behind an imposing wooden podium. No longer. Last week U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell relaxed with reporters around a "media roundtable." He replaced the cumbersome headset once used for Arabic translations with a discreet earpiece. He cut short his opening statement, allowing for more back-and-forth banter. Yet even as Iraq emerged from the deadliest month in 2006 for American soldiers, Caldwell maintained the relentlessly upbeat patter that has come to characterize the briefings. "The key difference you're going to see in 2007," he said proudly, "is this is truly the year of transition and adaptation."Another year, another message. In the United States this week, President George W. Bush's speech laying out his new strategy for Iraq will be scrutinized for its specifics--the numbers of an anticipated troop surge, the money for reconstruction and jobs programs. But at least...
  • Ministers of Death

    They call him the "Shiite Zarqawi," in testament to his brutality and growing political reach. And when Iraqi gunmen captured a U.S. Army translator, Ahmed Qusai al-Taie, as he left the fortified Green Zone two weeks ago, U.S. officials immediately suspected the notorious death-squad leader named Abu Deraa. American ground troops and warplanes hit the Shiite slums of Sadr City in a bid to retrieve the translator and nab his alleged captor. Two of the warlord's sons were reputedly killed in the raids, but he himself escaped. By late last week, he was back on his neighborhood streets, surrounded by armed guards and contemptuously handing out sheets of white paper, challenging residents to write down any complaints against him.So ended another inconclusive chapter in America's effort to gain control of Baghdad's bloody streets. U.S. commanders are determined to track down men like Abu Deraa and capture or kill them. But the hurdles seem to grow ever larger. Prime Minister Nuri al...
  • Iraq: A New Enemy Emerges--'The Shiite Zarqawi'

    Ever since the radical Mahdi Army leader Moqtada al-Sadr joined the Iraqi government, his power on the streets has been slipping. Now U.S. and Iraqi officials worry that even more violent men might be taking up his mantle. One name has come up again and again: Abu Deraa, sometimes called "the Shiite Zarqawi." Abu Deraa and the death squad he runs have been waging a campaign of Shia terror across the city. He is suspected of torturing and killing scores of Sunnis in a bloody wave of ethnic cleansing in neighborhoods across Baghdad. U.S. officials believe Abu Deraa is responsible for the capture of a U.S. Army translator who disappeared two weeks ago while leaving the fortified Green Zone and remains missing. Abu Deraa "is a brutal, loathsome character," says a senior U.S. official who asked not to be identified by name because of the sensitive nature of the topic. "He is definitely a guy we'd like to see not around anymore."Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki hasn't made the job of...
  • 'It's All the Same'

    For Iraqis, there was a lot to digest. More than most observers of this week’s U.S. elections, they have a personal stake in its outcome. But as the news about the Democratic takeover of the House and the departure of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld trickled in, their reactions were far from unanimous. Some were pleased; some were afraid and some were just plain cynical. "What difference does it make to people like me?" asked Ahmed Ibrahim, a 38-year-old shop owner in Baghdad. "To us our daily hope and mission is to dodge assassins and bombs and all types of death."Elsewhere in the Iraqi capital, U.S ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad tried to reassure an audience of Iraqi government officials and journalists that the "aftermath" of the U.S midterms wouldn’t bring sweeping changes. "It does look like there will be a change in the balance of power in Congress between our two leading parties," he said in written statements on Wednesday. "The American people know that this is very difficult...
  • Silent Sistani

    The plea late last week from the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was an unusually modest one. With thousands of American troops sweeping through the streets of Baghdad to prevent an escalation of civil war, and Sunni and Shiite militias continuing to murder civilians every night, Sistani--Iraq's leading Shiite religious authority-- had a simple request. "Desist from traveling abroad," he cautioned his country's politicians in a statement issued through a spokesman, "Come down to the streets and be in touch with the people, to feel their suffering."It seemed a reasonable enough request. But Sistani's appeal was also striking in its limited ambition. For months, calming statements from the ayatollah held Shiites back from retaliating for killings by Sunni insurgents. But three years of insurgency, sectarian tensions and miserable living conditions have shrunk the space for temperance and given extremists plenty of room to operate. "[Sistani] doesn't have the same degree of influence,"...
  • Iraq: War Within a War: Who Runs the Mahdi Army?

    To stop Iraq's slide into civil war, U.S. and Iraqi forces launched a new security plan in Baghdad last week. One major problem: how to deal with the country's most powerful militia, the Mahdi Army, which has been linked to death squads responsible for a string of assassinations and kidnappings. Worse, the Mahdi Army's leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, seems to be losing his grip on the thousands of armed men who once followed his every word. "There are forces that are controlled by Moqtada, but there are commanders that are not controlled by him; there are death squads that are not controlled by him," U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad told NEWSWEEK. One U.S. military intel official, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the info, says of the rogue elements: "The biggest threat now in Baghdad is the Mahdi Army."Under the leadership of Sadr, the Mahdi Army was considered a containable force, susceptible to political bargaining. After the militia's uprising against U.S....
  • An Army of One

    Variously described as a kingmaker, a radical cleric and a violent militia leader, Moqtada al-Sadr could well be all of them. What's clear is that over the last three years, Sadr has emerged as one of the most potent political forces in Iraq. His support was key in securing Ibrahim al-Jaafari's nomination for prime minister--and then for the ensuing four and a half months of political gridlock that followed. Integrating his Mahdi Army militia members, who have been accused of some of the worst sectarian killings in recent weeks, into the Iraqi police and armed forces will be one of the key challenges of the new government. Last week Sadr responded to a NEWSWEEK interview request, addressing in writing questions about his surprising and troubling rise to power. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: Back in 2003, the Americans and even various Iraqi parties described you as a young troublemaker but not a significant political force. Clearly no one would say that now.SADR: At the beginning, I think they...
  • Phantom Force

    The terrorists trying to drive Iraq toward full-scale civil war have put sacred shrines at the top of their target list. So who, then, is protecting Iraq's most revered holy sites these days? The answer might tell us something about where real power lies in Iraq--or at least how it's divvied up by rival factions competing for power and authority. With that aim in mind, Iraqi reporters for NEWSWEEK set off last week to visit some of the country's most sacred sites. They didn't get far. At the first stop on their list--the 10th-century Kadhimiya shrine in Baghdad--two reporters were detained and questioned. The armed men who held them were from an obscure security force called the Facilities Protection Services, which now apparently numbers a staggering 146,000 men.The visit began at about 11 a.m. on Wednesday. The two reporters, who do not want to be named for personal security reasons, first passed through a checkpoint manned by Iraqis clad in police uniforms. Each of the guards...
  • Fast Chat: 'She Came Home Alive'

    The State Department's Hostage Working Group is a clearinghouse for information about captives and a contact center for those involved in delicate negotiations. Dan O'Shea, the outgoing coordinator in Iraq, spoke to Newsweek Baghdad reporters Scott Johnson and Rod Nordland about U.S. journalist Jill Carroll, who was held captive for three months before her release last Thursday.I've been here 21 months, and the expression on her face made it worthwhile. There were multiple military operations designed to put pressure on the people who had her. All of our efforts were not in vain. She [went] through a hellish time. It's a process--her repatriation back into the world from a hostage situation is difficult. Talk that she didn't cooperate with the military, or that she ran down the U.S. effort, is wrong. She cooperated.That's true, but justifiable because her captors told her she'd be killed if they saw her with the military.Eight of the 10 most high-profile kidnapping cases I've dealt...
  • 'We Want Better Weapons'

    If the rest of Iraq were so quiet, U.S. troops might almost be ready to pack. "We have complete control over this city," says Col. Saadi Salih al-Maliki, making his rounds in Najaf on a sunny midwinter afternoon. "The area is stable and secure. The militias here are afraid of the Iraqi Army." The colonel's sentries salute crisply as his Land Cruiser enters their checkpoint in front of the golden-domed Imam Ali Shrine, and Maliki, 45, returns the salute through his wide-open back-seat drapes. There's a lot less fear of sniper fire and flying glass in Najaf now. Barely 18 months ago the holy city was a battleground between U.S. forces and the Mahdi Army militia of renegade Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, but these days it's a different place. Within the next few months, if all goes well, Coalition forces will hand over the city to the Iraqi Army.The colonel and his brigade seem ready. They fought beside the Americans for Najaf in August 2004, and Maliki's men say he stood with them,...
  • Exclusive: Direct Talks: U.S. Officials and Iraqi Insurgents

    American officials in Iraq are in face-to-face talks with high-level Iraqi Sunni insurgents, NEWSWEEK has learned. Americans are sitting down with "senior members of the leadership" of the Iraqi insurgency, according to Americans and Iraqis with knowledge of the talks (who did not want to be identified when discussing a sensitive and ongoing matter). The talks are taking place at U.S. military bases in Anbar province, as well as in Jordan and Syria. "Now we have won over the Sunni political leadership," says U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. "The next step is to win over the insurgents." The groups include Baathist cells and religious Islamic factions, as well as former Special Republican Guards and intelligence agents, according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the talks. Iraq's insurgent groups are reaching back. "We want things from the U.S. side, stopping misconduct by U.S. forces, preventing Iranian intervention," said one prominent insurgent leader from a group called the...
  • Iraq's Oil Bust

    Guarding the Fatah oil refinery used to be a pretty straightforward job. Insurgents hit the complex only sporadically, at night, and usually missed important targets. But by early last year, attackers were using rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and heavy machine guns in brazen daylight assaults. They seemed to know about everything and everybody in the refinery. Ambushes were common. "We were afraid to even take vacation and go home," says 26-year-old Saif Mohammed, an Iraqi security guard assigned to help protect the vast network of blackened pipes and smokestacks. "The people who worked with us used to tip off the fighters. They wanted to play both sides--to keep their jobs and be informants for the terrorists."When insurgents killed the man Mohammed shared duty with last April, then threatened Mohammed with the same, he quit. In the past year, there have been close to 20 large-scale assaults on or around Fatah, part of Iraq's largest oil-production complex in Bayji, deep in the...
  • Baghdad's Big Oil Bust

    Guarding the Fatah oil refinery used to be a pretty straightforward job for Saif Mohammed. Insurgents hit only sporadically, and usually missed important targets. But by early last year, attackers were using rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and heavy machine guns in brazen daylight assaults. They seemed to know about everything and everybody in the refinery. Ambushes were common. "We were afraid to even take vacation and go home," says 26-year-old Mohammed. "The people who worked with us used to tip off the fighters. They wanted to play both sides--to keep their jobs and be informants for the terrorists."When insurgents killed the man Mohammed shared guard duty with last April, then threatened Mohammed with the same, he quit. In the past year, there have been close to 20 large-scale assaults on Fatah, part of Iraq's largest oil-production complex in Bayji. Last month the Bayji site shut down completely for two weeks. It re-opened with the New Year, but three days later insurgents...
  • Doctors in the Cross Hairs

    Abu Mohammed can't go near a hospital now. The Iraqi bone specialist, 37, has lived in fear since August, when his younger brother, also a doctor, was shot dead one night while walking home from his clinic in Baghdad. Abu Mohammed bought a pistol after that, but he still doesn't feel safe. Recently he was offered a managerial job at one of the city's biggest hospitals. He's scared to accept it. His wife owned a pharmacy; she sold it in November. A week or so ago a doctor friend of theirs was kidnapped from his clinic in the city's Mansour district--the latest of their friends to vanish. "My brother was killed when the terrorists started a campaign against doctors," says Abu Mohammed. "He was one of their victims."Iraq's troubles just keep getting crueler. The same American officials who used to promise imminent victory are now saying openly that the insurgency seems likely to continue indefinitely. The recent elections, rather than creating a sense of common ground, only emphasized...
  • The Job Ahead: 'They're Not Going Back'

    Gen. George Casey has been in charge of U.S. and Coalition forces in Iraq since June 2004. He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Scott Johnson before and after Election Day on hopes and concerns for the country's future. Excerpts: ...
  • The New Way Out

    Only a few months ago, the road from Baghdad International Airport to the Green Zone was a symbol of American futility in Iraq. When talking heads in Washington wanted to argue that the war was hopeless, they would simply point to "Ambush Alley."How is it possible, the critics would say, that two long years after U.S. troops took Baghdad, soldiers, contractors and diplomats still had to make a "Mad Max" dash through this five-mile corridor just to get to the heart of the capital? If the U.S. Army couldn't secure such a vital chokepoint, it would never be able to pacify the rest of the country. But since August, without much public notice, the Baghdad highway has been largely secured. In April 2005, when control of the route was primarily American, there were 37 casualties. By October 2005--when Iraqi Special Police checkpoints were in the forefront--there was only one person wounded. The number of attacks plummeted, too, from 27 to eight. November has also been fairly quiet, says Lt...
  • NO MORE ILLUSIONS

    For more than a decade, Abu Sajad's small convenience store was a fixture in Doura, an industrial neighborhood in south Baghdad. Customers came for friendly service and the ease of buying rice, tea or cigarettes a few blocks from home. Abu Sajad, a 44-year-old with salt-and-pepper hair, would even let regulars--Sunnis, Shiites or Christians--run up a tab. But not long ago, Abu Sajad was found in a pool of his own blood. Sunni insurgents had shot him 11 times with an AK-47. Shortly afterward, his widow and four children left for Karbala, a Shiite town in the south. His brother, Abu Naseer, decided to move to Al Kurayat, a predominantly Shiite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. The Doura shop was closed, another debris-strewn relic of an Iraq that may no longer exist. "I have no reason or explanation why he was killed except that he was Shiite," says his brother.Across the country many Iraqis have begun to fear the worst: that their society is breaking apart from within. "The vast...