Tuesday, May 25, 2004

US Congress holds hearings on Darfur -- Cote d'Ivoire's 'chocolate war'

AllAfrica.com 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.

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