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.

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