Tuesday, January 13, 2004

DISARMAMENT TROUBLES IN SIERRA LEONE -- FREEDOM VS POVERTY
Lansana Fofana writes in The Daily Mail and Guardian that the disarmament process in Sierra Leone is not without problems. Last week, the programme came to a close with organisers claiming that all weapons had been taken away from the fighters and destroyed -- or recycled to make hoes, shovels and other implements. Amid the backslapping, however, there was growing discontent among some of the former combatants, who have been taught skills such as tailoring, carpentry and masonry. They say they have not been given the specialised tools that will allow them to ply their trade. Even for those who have everything they need to earn a living, jobs are scarce. “I finished training in 2002, but I am as yet unemployed -- just roaming the streets,” says Edward Kowa, formerly of the RUF. “This problem is not affecting me alone. Hundreds of my colleagues are in similar situations, and this -- I think -- is untenable for sustainable peace.” An example of why the Pandora's box of violence shouldn't be opened carelessly.

A column in South Africa's The Star claims that Freedom will give Africa its path out of poverty. The writer cited a survey by the American NGO Freedom House: The survey reported an incremental loss of political freedom in sub-Saharan Africa in 2003. It rated 11 countries free, 20 partly free, and 17 not free. The Central African Republic moved from partly free to not free because of a military coup and Mauritania because of suppression of opposition. Burundi made the only gain, rising from not free to partly free because of the integration of rebel forces into the government. This was very much the work of South African diplomacy. But if Burundi's graduation was a kudo for our Africa policy, the survey also contained an implicit warning. Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor noted: "It is common wisdom that poor countries cannot support democratic systems. But our data show that in dozens of poor countries, democracy does not depend on development. In fact, our findings suggest that freedom can be the engine of development."

Another attack on the free press in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe Independent was accused of racism after publishing a letter (by a reader!) complaining that Zimbabweans were as docile as "a herd of wild beasts" in standing up to Robert Mugabe's tyrrany. The paper's editor said, "We do not accept his view [the head of the country's media commission] that writers are necessarily being racist when they say Zimbabweans are docile in standing up to tyranny. That is a view in the national discourse, whether we as a society are doing enough to fight the depredations of the Zimbabwe regime." The attack came only days after The Independent was accused of criminally defaming Mugabe after reporting that the strongman had commandeered one of the national airline's planes to take him on a jaunt to the Far East.

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