Thursday, May 27, 2004

Ten stories the world should hear more about

With the world's focus on Iraq and its perpetual obsession with Israel-Palestine, it's easy to forget that those aren't the only two things going on in the world. But the UN News Center offers its list of ten stories the world should hear more about.

Child soldiers in Uganda
Turbulence in the Central African Republic
AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa
Demands for peacekeeping stretch UN resources
Post-civil war rebuilding Tajikistan
Women as peacemakers
Persons with disabilities fight for equality
The Bakassi Peninsula
Overfishing and its threat to marine biodiversity
Indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation

For more on any of these stories, click here.

And of course, you can't forget the ethnic cleansing in Darfur, Eastern Sudan which has cost tens of thousands of lives and displaced over a million people. Another 100,000 are believed to be at risk for famine if the dictatorship (whose militias are committing the ethnic cleansing) doesn't allow humanitarian workers into the region.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Mugabe spews

Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe has to be a journalist's dream, providing that journalist doesn't actually live in Zimbabwe. His incoherent rantings must make headline writers around the world salivate, especially since most politicians stenuously avoid saying anything. The thug accorded a rare interview with a western media outlet, British broadcaster Sky News. Some of his nice observations...

When asked about violence committed against opposition supporters, he said, "You are just looking at violence, alleged violence affecting ZANU PF, what about the other side, have you looked at it also?" This is a cute Orwellian trick since his regime bans most foreign journalists.

Mugabe is one of the world's true masters at cute Orwellian tricks. He equated systematic state- and party-sponsored violence with Britain's Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott confronting a protester.

STUART RAMSAY [Sky reporter]: Trade Union leaders do not get taken out and beaten and left for dead by the police in Britain.
ROBERT MUGABE: I saw Mr Prescott box one person, whether he had been...

STUART RAMSAY: That was a totally different incident. Mr Prescott did not then go and get the police to take that man outside and...

ROBERT MUGABE: Goodness me, you mean the whole prime minister and deputy prime minister beats a person, boxes a person and that person falls down, that is more acceptable than the violence of a small group that might just be mistaken in its own belief that violence will work.

According to Mugabe, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu "is an angry, evil and embittered little bishop." I guess the strongman knows a little something about being an angry, evil, embittered, little man.

He denied that hunger is a problem in Zimbabwe, despite all accounts. When asked to respond to the Archbishop of Bulawayo's accusations concerning hunger and political use of food aid, Mugabe answered, if you can call it an answer, "No, no. That's another Tutu, the bishop, an unholy man, he thinks he is holy and telling lies all the day, every day. Oh come on, 10,000 people, where did they die? Even show me a single person who died of hunger that is." Bulawayo is the largest city in the opposition heartland, not coincidentally.

He distinguished between good white people and bad white people, "The good ones can stay and we have quite a good many good ones who are just and the Britons for one reason or another have that difficulty, psychological difficulty to adjust to rule by blacks. The Afrikaaners in South Africa, no. Yes, you may get a few extremists but they are adjusting and they say they have nowhere to go but perhaps the problem we have about Britons here is they still think Britain is their home, you see. They have two homes, their Zimbabwean home and the British one. In some cases they are three-legged and they have Britain, Zimbabwe, Britain, South Africa."

Given the way Mugabe's goon squads operate, any Zimbabwean, black or white, would be insane not to maintain a foreign residence if they had the means to do so.

How did corruption in Zimbabwe develop? " The same way as it developed in other countries, surely you shouldn't ask that question. Corruption develops, the human being is greedy, in some cases he wants to enrich himself by adopting irregular methods of attaining the wealth he desire and this is what happens. There are thieves who think the shortest way to enriching themselves is by way of possessing that which doesn't belong to them." This tends to happen when a man and party have absolute power for two and a half decades.

Mugabe's personal hatred of British Prime Minister Tony Blair can't be overstated, though he certainly tried. When asked if he was surprised by Blair's visit to Tripoli to visit Col. Gadafhi, a friend of Mugabe's: "Yes, yes I was, I was actually surprised and I knew that the idea was not just to get Libyan oil but also to get Libya to desist from assisting us."

Overall, it was an interesting read. It's always amusing to see the contortions used by criminals like Mugabe and Charles Taylor when they attempt to pass themselves off as decent human beings.

US Congress holds hearings on Darfur -- Cote d'Ivoire's 'chocolate war' journalist Charles Cobb cites a US official who contends that the Sudanese government is more scared by rebel movements in the eastern region of Darfur than of its longtime nemesis Sudanese Peoples' Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the south. Rebellion and "effective" military operations in Sudan's western Darfur area by the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) "poses in many respects a greater threat than the activities of the SPLM, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Charles R. Snyder told the International Relations Committee of the US House of Representatives. In perhaps a promising sign to get more attention to the ethnic cleansing in Darfur, AllAfrica notes that Rarely is the full committee called to discuss an African issue. But the unusual and powerful coalition of conservatives and liberals that keep a watchful eye on that beleagured east African nation is now calling Darfur's conflict "the world's worst humanitarian crisis." The piece also noted: According to Snyder, sustained rebel attacks by combined SLM and JEM forces, on and around the regional capital of El Fasher early this year, rang loud alarm bells in Khartoum. At one point this past summer, the rebels appeared about to cut off the roads linking the Sudanese capital of Khartoum with Nyala, the main city in Southern Darfur state. "The SPLM has never threatened the north militarily," said Snyder. This past March, Ted Dagne, an Africa specialist at the Congressional Research Service told the Associated Press: "Darfur has really shaken up this regime. Where do they stop this train? If you give in to the political demands of the Darfur rebels, why not to the Beja (in eastern Sudan), why not to the Nuba (in central Sudan) and a bunch of the other marginalized areas." As a result, said Snyder, Khartoum's response has been ruthless and what amounts to 'ethnic cleansing' is taking place "on a large scale." The government, he told the committee, has armed Arab 'Jinjaweed' militias to carry out attacks against civilians. Government security forces have also been coordinating Jinjaweed attacks, he says.

As though the country didn't have enough problems, The Guardian reports on a chocolate war that's erupted in Cote d'Ivoire. Cocoa plantations from this west African state supply the raw ingredient for almost half the world's chocolate, worth an estimated $350m (£198m) a year, which means there is wealth and power to be reaped from the yellow, green and red pods. The British paper reported on simmering tensions between indigenous farmers and immigrants from Cote d'Ivoire's northern neighbor's Burkina Faso and Mali. Not coincidentally, the xenophobia whipped up by forces loyal to the regime of Laurent Gbagbo* targets primarily northerners, who are accused of being not real Ivorians, even those whose families have been here for generations. [*-Ironically, this pandora's box of xenophobia, known as Ivoirité, was first opened by the PDCI regime that Gbagbo fought against for years. Though when it comes to West African politics, I think irony is dead.] People are being killed, folks are being expelled from their villages but To the relief of chocolate makers such as Nestlé and Cadbury Schweppes, the cocoa war has not dented Ivory Coast's output - last year it harvested 1.4m of the world's 3m tonnes. Gee, I can sleep well now.

It seems there are two types of elections in Africa. In North Africa, "elections" tend to be held with very low key campaigns, especially by the opposition (where the opposition is even permitted freedom of activity). Except of course for the Dear Leader and ruling party, whose face and logo can be found everywhere and whose speeches get full play on state media. In sub-Saharan Africa, elections tend to be more controversial affairs. The usual pattern is: a) election campaign plagued by opposition accusations of intimidation and violence and restrictions on opposition leaders' movements, b) election day accusations of rigging and voter intimidation, c) results are announced which almost always proclaim "victory" for the ruling party and this is met with rioting by disgruntled opposition supporters claiming fraud and that their candidate really won. This Script was followed pretty closely in Malawi where President Bakili Muluzi's handpicked successor was declared winner of the election by the election authorities. The opposition cried foul, though the alleged president-elect, Bingu wa Mutharika of the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF), was conveniently sworn in only a day after the election, before the opposition could mount any legal challenges; he'll have to work with a parliament in which his party isn't even the largest party. Mutharika was credited with 35% of the vote, while the Malawi Congress Party's (MCP) candidate was credited with 27%. Though in simulatenous legislative elections, the MCP won 35% of the seats compared to 28% for the UDF. Hmm...

The East African notes that the region's writers are doing well in the literary prize game. It notes that the shortlist for the Caine Prize for African literature includes: Doreen Baingana (Uganda) for Hunger from the Sun Magazine, March 2003; Brian Chikwava (Zimbabwe) for the Seventh Street Alchemy from Writing Still, Weaver Press 2003; Parselelo Kantai (Kenya) for The Story of Comrade Lemma and the Black Jerusalem Boys Band from Kwani?, Nairobi 2004; Monica Arac de Nyeko (Uganda) for Strange Fruit from Cook Communication, online magazine AuthorMe; and Chika Unigwe (Nigeria) for The Secret from online literature magazine Open Wide.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Rioting in Kano -- Cell Phones Popular in Africa

Sectarian violence in northern Nigeria is about as rare as sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. But the Tuesday's mayhem in the city of Kano was still disturbing enough to be called "shocking" by the country's The Guardian paper. [A]t least 20 persons were feared dead, while several shops were either looted or razed. Ironically, the killings resulted from an attempt by some citizens to protest the on-going killings over religious differences in Plateau State... One eyewitness told The Guardian that he saw at least 10 bodies hacked to death by some of the protesters.

The BBC reports that violence is continuing into Wednesday in Kano. Riots spread to suburbs not secured by police, after an overnight curfew was lifted. Police say 10 people have died but other reports have higher figures. Thousands of people have fled their homes after Muslim youths went on the rampage burning homes and vehicles. They are demanding that the government take action after a massacre of Muslims last week by a Christian militia. Islamic leaders in the mainly Muslim town of Kano have joined Nigeria's president in urging calm.

The Sudanese government reportedly issued a statement claiming its determination to resolve the conflict in the eastern province of Darfur. In Darfur, Arab militias, believed to be sponsored by the central government, are accused engaging in ethnic cleansing against black African residents. Over 30,000 have been killed and over 1 million forced to flee. The central government's Foreign Ministry's declaration read: The government has reiterated its keenness to achieve a lasting solution to the problem of Darfur, as well as normalisation of the situation and maintaining stability there. Skepticism of Khartoum's intentions remains.

South Africa's reports that Darfur desperately needs aid and quickly. Aid agencies say help to the victims of the conflict in western Sudan is too slow in coming, and that relief efforts have been delayed by the Khartoum government. "Since the beginning of May we have waited for the necessary permits to distribute aid to around 100 000 displaced people in and around the town Kutum", Ruediger Ehrler of the aid organisation German AgroAction said on Wednesday. Ehrler said over 1 000 tons of food was sitting in the town Kutum in Darfur, waiting to be distributed. The World Food Programme (WFP) said they too had faced some constraints in delivering aid. "There are still difficulties in reaching all the locations we want to reach", a WFP spokesperson said on Wednesday.

The Addis Tribune reports on the rush for mobile phones in Africa. Use of mobile phones has been increasing at an annual rate of 65%, more than twice the global average, the Ethiopian daily explained. This remarkable expansion is, in part, a reflection of the wretched state of many fixed line networks throughout the continent. They have often been confined to cities and have suffered from decades of under-investment. Customers have embraced the opportunity to have reliable telephone service, largely free of government interference, and at a relatively cheap price. The fact that mobile phone calls can be funded on a pay-as-you-go basis makes it easier for less well-off customers to budget. Yet another industry that flourishes in Africa in the absence of state meddling.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

African Emigration -- Word of Mouth and the Anti-AIDS fight

The BBC is doing a series on African emigration to Europe and the economic desperation that drives it. In one, a Guinean nicknamed Billy recounts his extraordinary tale of how he crossed the Sahara Desert to reach Morocco, where he smuggled himself into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. He is now working in Italy, where he has been given a residence permit, and has just been back to see his family for the first time since he set out on his adventure more than four years ago. He wrote of meeting a Senegalese man who'd made the trip across the Sahara: "He told me that because of the conflict with Islamic radicals, the Algerian police often shot on sight people they came across in remote areas. I also heard about armed robbers who would rob migrants of all their money and leave them for dead in the desert. "

The British broadcaster also did a piece on how many Guineans are afraid that with such a mass exodus of working aged men, only women, children and old men will remain. Billy's uncle, Mohamed Diallo, says that unless you have modern equipment such as tractors, it is hard to move beyond the subsistence agriculture. "Look at my father, he was born in 1922 and has worked hard all his life. All he has is the house he built himself, he does not even have a bank book," he says.

America's National Public Radio program Morning Edition reported on a study that suggested: word-of-mouth warnings about AIDS played a major role in helping Uganda reduce the spread of the disease by 80 percent. According to the study, the biggest factor in slowing AIDS wasn't condom use, but a drop in the number of Ugandans engaging in high-risk sex. The audio can be accessed by clicking here

The Nigerian paper This Day explored the challenges faced as the international community marked International Humanitarian Day on 8 May. The daily cited some of the challenges facing Africa: From all fronts, peacekeeping experts pointed to the availability of small arms, lack of good governance, human rights abuses and uneven distribution of material resources as causes of conflicts not only in Africa, but across the globe. Closely related to these is the issue of debt burden on the continent and other third world nations that has resulted into serious economic crises, and the citizens wallowing in abject poverty. Others include colonial legacy of illogical state boundaries and arbitrary creation of multinational states without the consent of the peoples. But the paper also doesn't fall into the trap of complacency by blaming everything on westerners. It points out However, among the urgent issues that must be addressed in Africa if the continent is to contain the level of crises and conflicts as well as the intensity of the violence, observers said, is to encourage good governance. There is indeed, too great a gap between the peoples and their respective governments across the continent", they noted. This has brought about the endemic, chronic and abject poverty that characterises social and economic life of the people, together with religious divide and the intolerance associated with it. There is the hegemonic-mission mentality of the ruling elites and the ethnic configuration, which are fertilising agents for ethnic hostility and war-fare within the national frontiers.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Ethnic Cleansing in Eastern Sudan [essay]

The world media (or the small part of it that noticed) recently marked the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. There was the requisite soul-searching about the media's role in failing to report more vigorously on the genocide while it was actually happening.

I'm not convinced this would've mattered. Western countries were given near-saturation media coverage on the situation in the Balkans; the non-reactions varied from hand washing (US govt saying "It's not our problem) to doing something to assuage one's conscience without really doing anything (Europe wagging its finger at Milosevic: "We're warning you. If you don't stop, we're going to... warn you ever more vigorously next time" and then holding interminable conferences).

The fact of the matter is that if another situation similiar to Rwanda occurred, the western media would likely act in the same way. People in western countries generally aren't that interested in what's going on in non-western countries. Sure, there are a few exceptions. The British and French tend to be moderately interested in the doings in their former African colonies because a) they maintain considerably economic ties in many of them and b) there are many African immigrants in those countries. Western Europeans tend to be disproportionately interested in the Israeli Occupied Territories. But generally speaking, most westerners care little about non-western countries, except in a tangential way. Ask them if 'x' crisis is bad and they will say "Yes, it's awful." It usually doesn't translate into anything more than that.

The media likes to engage in a bit of self-serving chest-puffing. "We don't make news, we just report it," is one myth. "All the news that's fit to print" and other mottos appeal to some notion of service.

Yet most media outlets are first and foremost businesses. As such, they give the consumers what they want, not necessarily what they need. Like I said, they are business, so that's the way businesses operate. But journalism would be better served if it acknowledged this reality. Individual journalists may aspire to a more noble cause, but do they call the shots?

In recalling the Rwandan genocide, a BBC producers remembered: Months [before the genocide erupted], the BBC newsroom had been bombarded with complaints when a small massacre in neighbouring Burundi had been shown in dreadful detail, once, on the lunchtime news. Someone had issued a directive about pictures. This was allowed to set the tone, in the BBC at least, for a story of unimaginably greater consequence.

The BBC tried to give the people a fair idea of what was going on and the people screamed that they didn't want to know. The BBC is a public broadcaster, less suspectible to economic pressures and whose very charter incorporates the notion of public service, but even it can't totally ignore what the consumers want.

So while the media and the politicians went on about how they failed Rwandans 10 years ago, they did so while similiarly failing black Africans in eastern Sudan. And they did so without the slightest hint of irony.

Apparently, everyone is much better at remembering the anniversaries of tragedies than they are at addressing them while they happen or, God forbid, try and prevent them (which, before I get bombared by people jumping to conclusions, doesn't necessarily imply a military response)

Ethnic cleansing in the province of Darfur, in the east of the Sudan, has led to what is widely described as the worst humanitarian situation in the world today. Arab militias, widely believed to be armed by the central government, have engaged in a scorched earth campaign against black residents and villages. The Arab-dominated government, which also stands accused of tolerating slavery and the slave trade in the southern (black) regions, naturally denies the ethnic cleansing allegations. "What is happening in Darfur is neither ethnic cleansing nor genocide," the country's foreign minister told the official Sudan News Agency. "It is a state of war, which resulted in a humanitarian situation."

Just an unfortunate, but unavoidable, by-product of the war, according to the regime. A by-product which is believed to have already caused 30,000 deaths and over one million Sudanese displaced from their homes.

And, chillingly, many in the UN believe it could get worse wrote: Political tension and rivalry in Khartoum [the capital] also underlies its response or lack of response, said Snyder. Over 50 percent of the government's military forces come from Darfur, but from the region's African Muslim population. Those forces have been sympathetic to the anger of their kith and kin at government favoritism toward "Arab" people there, and thus have been reluctant to fight.

Rivalries within the ruling elite have complicated things. The military government had previously formed an unholy alliance with Islamist clerics. They imposed Sharia law on the land. However, when the clerics got too powerful, the military regime engaged in a crackdown and had its leader, the parliament speaker Hassan al-Turabi, arrested.

The New York Times relayed one girl's account: Hawa Muhammad, 15, lost just about everything when the men on horseback came. They took her family's horses, donkeys and small herd of goats and sheep. They took her cooking pots and her clothing. They took her mother and her father, too. "The men on horses killed my parents," she said, referring to the Janjaweed, loose bands of Arab fighters. "Then the planes came."

Despite the slavery and ethnic cleansing allegations, Sudan somehow got elected to the United Nations' Human Rights Commission. Maybe the country will nominate North Korea as its successor. But despite the corruption of the Human Rights Commission (a body elected by member states), the UN's humanitarian organizations (staffed by bureaucrats) are under no illusions as to the situation.

"This is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with so many people in the most belligerent way being chased from their homes. Everything has been taken away from these people. This is tragic," UN World Food Programme Executive Director James Morris was quoted by UN News as saying in London on Tuesday.

"As in many other recent conflicts, rape has become a weapon of war in western Sudan, with disastrous consequences for women and girls," added Pamela Delargy, the chief of the humanitarian response unit of the UN Population Fund.

Normally, the Arab press spends most of its energy demonizing even the slightest misdeeds of Israel while barely mentioning the massive human rights abuses, economic mismanagement and corruption and total lack of democracy in most Arab countries. So I was certainly surprised and heartened to read an editorial in the Lebanese paper The Daily Star calling on the Arab League to get involved in the Darfur crisis. The paper asked: Why is Amr Moussa not in Darfur? Why is the secretary-general of the Arab League not physically present at, and diplomatically active in, the latest and most disturbing violent Arab crisis? If the Arab League has a purpose and the idea of collective Arab action has any legitimacy, then surely the situation in Darfur in western Sudan is the kind of issue that begs for active Arab intervention. The paper added that Darfur was a "horrendous example of ethnic cleansing and mass murder - crimes against humanity, by any standard - except perhaps that of the collective Arab conscience?" Though I don't know how reflective The Daily Star's editorial is of its colleagues, the position is certainly a welcome break for the normally reflexively defensive Arab press.

As California Congressman Tom Lantos wrote in The Boston Globe: The US government should have no illusions that what is taking place in Darfur is ethnic cleansing. The Sudan is a government determined to use every opportunity, whether through peace negotiations or war, to expand its grip on local resources, impose Sharia law on non-Muslims, and to propagate a hateful racial and cultural ideology to maintain political hegemony over the diverse communities in Sudan. The United States must lead the international community to pressure the Sudanese government to halt the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians, open access to humanitarian aid, and agree to a strong monitoring mechanism for the cease-fire agreement. This must include a robust role for the entities that have played key roles in the peace negotiations: the UN, the United States, the Africa Union, and the European Union.

In fairness, the world media finally does seem to be getting the Darfur story. It took a while, but the man-made nightmare in eastern Sudan is finally getting a little attention. At least as much as any international story outside of Iraq and Israel-Palestine is ever going to get today.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Foxes Chosen to Guard Henhouse [essay]

The UN High Commission for Human (UNHCHR) has become a bete noire for neo-conservatives. Yes, these are the same neo-cons who laud the inclusion of repressive dictatorships like Uzbekistan and Eritrea in the coalition of the willing for freedom and liberty. It started when Libya was named to chair the commission. This was before the west began its canonization of Col. Gadaffi. Now, The Sudan was recently elected to the commission.

Neo-cons aren't known for being big on the language of human rights. They speak more about freedom. A country that allows US corporations to exploit its natural resources is, according to them, a free country.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been complaining about the weak and ineffectual nature of the UNHCHR for years, but Washington's never paid attention. Maybe it's because the NGOs had been trying to call awareness to the situation in places like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the Israeli-occupied territories. These places are slightly more uncomfortable targets for Washington than Libya or the Sudan.

Nevertheless, there is a legitimate point if you fight through the disingenuousness. Libya has no business chairing a human rights panel.

The Sudan is home to what is widely considered the most serious humanitarian situation in the world in its eastern province of Darfur, one which many are calling genocide. There, militias sponsored by the Arab government have killed at least 30,000 black Africans and forced over one million people to flee their home. "This is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with so many people in the most belligerent way being chased from their homes. Everything has been taken away from these people. This is tragic," UN World Food Programme Executive Director James Morris was quoted by UN News as saying in London on Tuesday. And this doesn't even take into account the Khartoum regime's tolerance of slavery and the slave trade within its borders.

Part of the problem is the large nature of the commission (50-something members) and the consensual group way in which members are chosen. Essentially, each continent nominates a bloc of countries to serve on the commission and those nominations are almost always accepted. In addition to the Sudan, the most atrocious example,three other countries with lamentable human rights records were also named to the commission: Guinea (where I lived), Pakistan and Togo.

The UNHCHR should be reformed if it wants to be relevant. It should be made much smaller. Maybe two countries per continent. And continents should nominate several countries for one seat so a choice can be made. Ghana, Senegal, Mali and Botswana would all be credible African members of the commission. Thabo Mbeki's willful blindness to the rapidly deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe rules out South Africa for now.

It should be reformed but it won't. Sadly, most governments, and not just those from "the third world," think they have an interest in maintaining a powerless, irrelevant, emasculated international human rights' body.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Guinea PM Dramatically Quits -- People: Africa's Problem, Says Museveni

Guinean Prime Minister Françous Loucény Fall sensationally resigned from office last week while on a visit to New York. He told the pan-African magazine Jeune Afrique/L'Intelligent that the country's head of state, Gen. Lansana Conté, had not given him sufficient room to maneuver. [That issue of the weekly was reportedly seized by Guinean authorities before it could go to newstands] Fall's resignation letter spoke of many differences with other elements of the government such as reform of the justice system, foreign debt and dialogue with the opposition. Fall also told Radio France Internationale that he disagreed with the justice minister's decision to arrest former prime minister and now opposition party leader Sidya Toure and charge him with attempting to overthrow the government. He said he warned that such a move would bring Guinea into "difficult moments" but that his warning was ignored.

The Nigerian federal government broke up an opposition rally protesting results of last year's general elections. The Nigerian daily The Guardian reported that: About 300 persons were arrested, 200 in Abuja [the capital] and 100 in Lagos [the largest city], after policemen had dispersed the protesters with tear gas. The rallies, billed for all state capitals, turned out an anti-climax as they were held only in Lagos and Abuja. Even in both venues, attendance was remarkably low. An elated Federal Government later said that Nigerians shunned the rallies because of the citizens' commitment to democracy and dialogue... An eyewitness said the policemen went to the place at about midnight and attempted to arrest the people who had come from various parts of the country. The youths, however, put up resistance, forcing the policemen to retreat and re-enforce for the 3.00 a.m. attack. At about 9.00 a.m. yesterday, the Secretary-General of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), Mr. Maxi Okwu, started sending short message service (SMS) to reporters alleging that their leaders had been boxed in, in their hotels at both the NICON Hilton Hotel and the Agura Hotel.

Another Nigerian daily, This Day, ran a slightly more colorful description of the march. The protesters, rained curses on President Olusegun Obasanjo, and bore placards with unprintable inscriptions, condemning the decision of the president to hold on to allocation of newly created local councils, alledging that Lagos was being marginalised.

South African site News24 carried some interesting comments by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on his visit to the University of Pretoria. Africa's greatest problem is its people, said Museveni. According to him, the lack of innovative ideas, business acumen and stubborn adherence to perceptions among people on the continent - which has long been seen as worthless - will make it difficult for Africa to become a factor in global trade and investment. The post-colonial governments, in some instances, still suppress the development of the private sector, he said... [adding that] most African countries were stuck in the mode of exporting raw materials rather than working at producing goods with the materials and exporting them at a higher price. Africa also does not believe in its own products and will instead import coffee at extremely high prices, despite the beans coming from their own land. The Ugandan leader added provocatively, "Leaders still don't know how to motivate people to work - they have not studied the anatomy of the business world." In most of Africa, the people already know how to work. If they don't, they die. It's their "leaders" who need to learn how to work.

Boring is good. That's the BBC's verdict on Ghana's President John Kufour. The British site several un-sexy but important changes Kufour's New Patriotic Party government has implemented since arriving in power in 2000. Ghana is one of the few countries in Africa where, if you visit a standard hotel or restaurant, you get a bill with a proper VAT [value added tax] receipt. The receipt is numbered and bears a difficult-to-copy logo, or hologram. The idea is that the hologram is impossible to counterfeit, and so the intended tax revenue actually goes to the government... A friend tells a story of how, twice this month, he was caught speeding in his car by the Ghanaian police. On both occasions he was politely and promptly told of his infringement and fined the requisite amount - the same amount, both times. The correct amount. BBC West Africa veteran Mark Doyle concluded, This may sound banal, but the truth is that in the west African context it is little short of revolutionary.

The New Internationalist, a a British monthly magazine, ran a cover story on an increasingly common theme: is Africa's great wealth of natural resources a blessing or a curse? The author writes Private interests from warlords to unscrupulous corporations to arms dealers and organized crime have helped to fuel African conflicts over the past decade as they vie for control over valuable resources. Globalization has added a key dimension to contemporary warfare – armed groups from some of the world’s most remote places can be directly linked with commerce in the ‘technological heartland of metropolitan society’. A complex international network of smugglers, brokers and traders means that everything from diamond rings and garden furniture to the components of mobile phones and Playstations may have originated as the booty of Africa’s conflicts.