Thursday, February 26, 2004

Sorry about the long gap in pieces but I've been a bit busy the last few weeks.

One of the more notable stories in that time was the admission by Malawian president Bakili Muluzi that his brother died of AIDS three years ago. Malawi has one of the most serious HIV-AIDS crises in the world and Muluzi's announcement was made to coincide with the announcement of the government's first (and overdue) policy on dealing with the pandemic.

An essay from Abderrahim Sabir of Human Rights Education Associates slammed the visit of Tunisian strong man Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to the White House last week. The North African country was once one of the most, if not the most modern, progressive societies in the Arab world with a strong educational system and free press. But that changed shortly after Ben Ali took power in 1987, according to Sabir. Between 1989-1992, Ben Ali cracked down on Islamic and nationalist dissidents and arrested over 80,000 people. Torture was routinely used and more than 60 leaders died in obscure conditions, probably as a result of torture. Tunisia has not been the same since. It has, to the surprise and dismay of all Tunisians and friends of Tunisia, become one of the most repressive regimes in the Arab world. Daniel Brumberg, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, places Tunisia as somewhere between Libya and Saudi Arabia on the political spectrum. Human rights organizations estimate there are over 600 known political prisoners in jail since 1991. Many have been in solitary confinement for the past 13 years in clear contravention of international laws and human rights treaties...Tunisia’s press is now considered one of the most muzzled and controlled media in the Arab world. Recognized non-governmental organizations and political parties are not allowed to hold meetings without prior permission from the ministry of interior. Such permissions are almost never granted. Ben Ali is one of the Bush administration's coalition of the willing in the "war for freedom."

Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe is at it again. First, he rejected the idea of talks with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). He again accused the MDC of being "dictated to from abroad" adding that "The devil is the devil... we have no idea of supping with the devil." The BBC notes More than half of Zimbabwe's population - six million people - needs food aid and the economy is in a severe recession, with inflation running at more than 600%. Mr Mugabe blames a western plot designed to remove him, and years of drought. No word yet if Mugabe blames Tony Blair for the drought too.

The Daily News is in trouble again. After being shut down earlier this month by the Supreme Court, Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper let go most of its employees because it couldn't pay their wages. The paper's head hopes to be able to rehire staff members if the paper wins its legal battle and resumes publishing.

Mugabe's spirtual protege is becoming impatient. Tired of the supposedly "cimbersome" willing buyer-willing seller program, the Namibian government announced plans to expropriate commercial farms, in an effort to speed up land reform. Prime Minister Theo-Ben Gurirab, making the announcement on [Namibian] NBC radio and television, said farmers who lost their farms would be justly compensated as provided for in the Namibian Constitution, according to The Namibian newspaper. At the Swapo [ruling] Party congress two years ago, President Sam Nujoma said the willing-buyer-willing-seller policy would be revisited if it failed to serve its purpose.


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