Monday, June 28, 2004

Parts of Africa "on the brink of the largest polio epidemic in recent years"

Contrary to the rosy picture painted by the country's dictator Robert Mugabe, 2 million Zimbabweans are predicted to be short of food in the next year, according to a study carried out by Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (which comprises not only the UN and aid agencies, but also the Zimbabwean government). Even if international food aid does come, many fear that it will be manipulated by the government for political reasons.

The BBC interviewed one opposition youth leader attacked for, well, being in the opposition. The reporter described the young man's injuries: His jaw is broken in two places, his hand still terribly swollen and on his back a mark from where he was beaten with a belt - the buckle as clear as if someone had traced a marker pen around it and filled it in with bruising.

"I was attacked by 25 war vets from Zanu-PF, who said I was an opposition youth ringleader so they wanted to get rid of me by eliminating me," he said.

Not even members of parliament [MPs] are safe. "More than a third [of opposition MPs] have survived assassination attempts, others have had family members beaten to death and killed," said Shari Eppel, a human rights campaigner based in Zimbabwe. "There have been policemen torturing members of parliament - including electric shock treatment. This has got to be one of the few countries in the world that allows the opposition into parliament and then tortures them and refuses to prosecute those responsible - even when they are extremely well known,"

While some rightly point out that western press attention on Zimbabwe seems disproportionately focused on a tiny number of white farmers, the fact remains that they overwhelming majority of victims of the repression of Mugabe's supposedly nationalistic regime are black.

Things in Zimbabwe are so desperate that even members of Mugabe's party are apparently pushed to flee. An illegal network has channelled hundreds of members of Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu PF party into Britain, a BBC investigation has found.

Birmingham-based Zimbabwean Community UK is thought to have given fake documents to party members and coached them on how to falsely claim asylum.... Radio 5 Live sent along an undercover reporter who had been told he would be able to con his way into Britain.

The director of the organization in question, Zimbabwean Community UK, reportedly told the undercover journalist "For the purpose of winning, we advise you to tell the white man that you are a member of the MDC. How can you tell the white man that you are Zanu PF when you want to stay in this country? We will teach you the one, two, threes of the MDC so that when you are asked who the president is you can immediately say Morgan Tsvangirai... But we are not teaching you to be an MDC supporter. Do you get what I am saying? So when we start talking about politics, don't assume that we want you to be in politics. All we are telling you is what the white man will ask you, what he wants to hear."


National Public Radio's All Things Considered reported on the effects rape being used as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There are reports that mutinous soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo raped women Bukavu after seizing the city earlier this month, says NPR. Rape has been a part of earlier conflicts as well. During Congo's civil war, which officially ended in 2002, rape and the fear of rape often kept women from working in the fields. Crops failed as a result, and many children died of malnutrition.


The rest of the continent may reap what a few morons in northern Nigeria have sown. the World Health Organization has warned of polio epidemic as virus spreads rapidly across Africa.

You may remember earlier this year, Kano State, in conservative northern Nigeria, refused to join a national anti-polio vaccination campaign when some Islamic leaders claimed the campaign was part of a plot to render Muslim women infertile. The refusal has led to 257 cases in Nigeria so far this year, almost five times the number of cases in the same period last year, according to the latest WHO data., reports Agence France Presse. An Indonesian polio vaccine which is acceptable to local leaders has been stockpiled in the region, but immunisation has not yet restarted despite optimistic signs from local authorities.

So it was little surprise when AFP noted Central and west Africa are on the brink of the largest polio epidemic in recent years, the World Health Organisation warned after the disease appeared to have spread across the continent from Nigeria to Sudan's strife-torn Darfur region.

"Epidemiologists of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative have today issued a stark warning that west and central Africa is on the brink of the largest polio epidemic in recent years."

Hundreds of Nigerians, presumably most of them unvaccinated Muslims, have died this year because of domestic reactionaries, but it's the westerners with anti-polio vaccines who are supposedly anti-Islamic?

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Robbing Peter to pay the lawyers -- Living with severe hunger

Abiola over at Foreign Dispatches comments on a story of sheer lunacy. A group of South Africans is suing their government for reparations over apartheid-era injustices. South African firms are being sued for "genocide, expropriation and other wrongful acts." But the government is also being sued allegedly for "continuing to allow companies to exploit victims". The lawyer said the government was being targeted "because of its failure to fulfil its obligations and its conspiracy with specific companies to violate these people's rights". He wants the government and the corporations to set up a $20 billion "humanitarian fund".

In case you're confused, the current African National Congress government was not only not complicit in the apartheid-era crimes, but they were actively fighting to bring down apartheid and minority rule. If the government loses, money will be paid from the South African government's general fund, and will thus take money away from programs for education and health and housing and public transport. Programs that benefit millions of South Africans who... suffered under apartheid.

Robbing Peter to pay, er, Peter... except with American lawyers getting a nice hefty cut.

Abiola hits the nail on the head when he writes: I have a sneaking suspicion that, like the civil actions against Microsoft for "overcharging", the real motive power behind this lawsuit lies not with the victims supposedly being "represented" by Ed Fagan and his accomplices but with the lawyers themselves; a bunch of sharp Ivy League law-school grads cotton on to some piece of plausible grimcrackery to hit the financial big-time and then set about rustling up victims they can use to further their legal entrepreneurialism in court. And short of a certain Godwin's Law invoking ideology, what more appealing cause could there be to ride to legal riches than apartheid?

I'd say the suspicion should be more than sneaking.


World Press Review reports on Ghana's National Reconciliation Commission. The Commission was set up to investigate human rights abuses since independance, most notably under the former regime of flamboyant strongman Jerry John Rawlings.

In 1979, Rawlings led a popular coup that overthrew a corrupt military regime. It handed over power four months later to a civilian regime, but in 1982, he overthrow that government. This second coup set in motion what would become the longest and most brutal military regime in Ghana, the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC). In 1992, he succumbed to pressure, organized rigged elections, and continued ruling with this disputed mandate. The National Democratic Congress government he formed, many Ghanaians say, was the most corrupt government the country had known.

WPR noted the Rawlings heavy-handed attempts to eliminate his high-ranking enemies with torture, kidnappings and arbitrary executions. But it also added that the abuses did not only target the powerful. Soldiers stripped female street vendors naked and beat them up in public for selling matches above the government-stipulated price. Arbitrary detentions, confiscation of property, arrests, and tortures were everyday occurrences. Yet the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank touted Rawlings as an example of African success and muted local complaints.

In 2000, opposition leader John Kuffour defeated Rawlings' handpicked successor and immediately faced demands for such a commission. But the 1992 Constitution had indemnified all military personnel from judicial scrutiny, making it impossible for those wronged to have any legal redress. To get around this, the new regime established the National Reconciliation Commission [NRC] to compile accurate historical records of past human-rights violations by providing a formal forum for victims to tell their stories.

WPR observed many similiarities between Ghana's NRC and South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Though it noted that Ghana's body did not have the power to issue amnesty, since most of the guilty had constitutional impunity anyway. Except for very special cases bordering on national security, most hearings are conducted in public with heavy media coverage.


The CBC ran an interesting story on hunger in Ethiopia. The Canadian broadcaster's flagship news program, The National, interviewed the reknown Sierra Leonian documentary maker Sorious Samura on the topic. Samura lived for a month in a village 400 kilometres north of Addis Ababa, in the remote north of Ethiopia. It's a region where half a million people are destitute and 2.5 million more face starvation and death if the crops fail. Samura ate basically whatever the other villagers ate.

After four days, exhausted and shocked by the lack of food, he's worried he may not last a week, let alone a month. But it is not until he moves in with another family that he discovers he's been living relatively well. His new hosts have been given grain for two months, part of the government aid package. But their allowance of 12.5 kg a month is meant to feed one person, not an entire family. The reality is that the local administrator has to try and spread aid for 1,000 among 9,000 starving people under his control.
The food quickly runs out, and the family is forced to live off an unpalatable weed called Wild Cabbage. "It doesn't give you strength, you just piss it out," he is told. "We eat anything, just to have food in our stomachs," another villager tells him. "I dread sunset in this place," says a weakening Samura sadly. "I hate it when it's nightfall, because that's when most of the children start crying, and the adults coughing, simply because they've had little or nothing to eat."

By day 17, Samura is at breaking point. "Seriously, guys, you have to bring me something to eat," he tells the camera crew. "Otherwise I'm out."

The villagers live with that all the time.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Hunger-threatened Ethiopia to export corn [essay]

Two headlines earlier this month grabbed my attention.

The first, from The Addis Tribune, was: Ethiopians Hunger for the World's Help. Not really surprising for a country long viewed as an mismanaged basket case whose economy largely depends on foreign aid. After two years of drought, the crops are growing this year in Ethiopia. Some relief agencies insist that is precisely why now is the time to dedicate and target money to development aid. Progress is easier when people aren't starving, they say... A year ago, Ethiopia was a dust bowl and 14 million people needed food aid. But when Tony Hall, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations' food agencies, traveled to Ethiopia in April, he found that some emergency feeding centers for children were actually closing because the crisis had eased.

Hunger is a persisent problem in the East African country. As recently as last year, famine appeared on the horizon. Ethiopia represents a "compelling case for attention," according to a Bush administration document produced in advance of the G-8 summit and distributed by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

So after reading this, I was fairly surprised to read this headline in The Addis Fortune newspaper: Ethiopia to Export Maize [corn] to Southern Africa. Ethiopia may be looked on by the world as a food aid recipient, with close to four million people at risk of hunger in any given year [emphasis mine], so it is very difficult to think of it as a food-exporting nation. However small the quantity, the Ethiopian Grain Trade Enterprise, a state owned company with a workforce of 1,700, will be contributing to that lesser image by exporting 100,000 quintals of maize to Southern African countries. Now, I don't know if maize/corn is a staple food in Ethiopia, but if there's enough to export, maybe it should become one.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Cleaning up Addis -- MS Word in Kiswahili and Yoruba

Jonathan Edelstein, over at The Head Heeb reports on even more bad news for Darfur. Darfur, as you may recall, is the eastern Sudanese region where Arab Janjadweed militias, sponsored by the central government, are committing genocide against the region's black population. He note that The Darfur conflict has taken another disturbing turn with the recruitment of Chadian Arabs by the Janjaweed.

In an additional threat to regional stability, some of these Chadian Arabs reportedly have ties to rebel movements in northern Chad... This has the potential to disrupt an already-fragile cease-fire as well as further internationalizing the conflict and, in a worst-case scenario, turning it into a regional ethnic war... Chad has historically supported the Sudanese government in Darfur even while claiming a role as mediator, but is increasingly viewing Khartoum as an enemy; Chadian troops are mobilized along the border and politicians in Ndjamena are increasingly talking about supporting the Darfur rebels. The situation may be one clash away from turning into a Chadian-Sudanese war or even one involving Libya, and if that happens, then the humanitarian catastrophe that has occurred to date may only be the beginning.


The Associated Press reports that Al Qaeda suspects in the deadly 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies took shelter in West Africa in the months before the September 11 attacks, converting terrorism cash into untraceable diamonds, according to findings of a U.N.-backed court investigating the exiled former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, who was indicted for war crimes by the court.

"We have, in the process of investigating Charles Taylor, ... clearly uncovered that he harbored al Qaeda operatives in Monrovia [the Liberian capital] as late as the summer of 2001," said David Crane, the court's lead prosecutor. "The central thread is blood diamonds."

The blood diamond trade helped fund many of West Africa's wars in the 1990s, and is increasingly under international scrutiny as a suspected means of financing terror.


The Washington Post profiles the mayor of Addis Ababa's ambitious plans for reviving the city. Ethiopia's capital is the seat of the African Union headquarters and has often been called the political capital of Africa.

Africa, with gritty urban centers such as Nairobi, Kinshasa and Lagos, is not known for having orderly, safe and clean cities. But the new mayor of Addis Ababa is trying to transform the Ethiopian capital into a regional hub for eastern Africa and a bridge to the Middle East, and make it cleaner and more beautiful, regardless of the city's struggle with poverty... With Nairobi's once sterling reputation tarnished by persistent crime, Addis is rising to become an alternative staging point for international aid groups and political organizations. Across the city, which has a population estimated at between 2 million and 5 million, cell phones of African bureaucrats and entrepreneurs constantly chirp and construction cranes pierce the skyline.

"Things have changed, and the city has the potential to be the hub and crossroads of the Arab world and Africa," said Mayor Arkebe Oqubay. "We have a lot of work to do. But poverty doesn't justify the streets being dirty," Oqubay said. "Everyone must take responsibility. With many private stakeholders coming in, conditions are improving. But the community deserves a chance for a good livelihood, too."


An interesting BBC story noted that Microsoft plans to launch in Kiswahili The software giant has agreed to translate its Office software into the language to cater for the growing number of computer users in Africa, which is expected to be released at the end of this year. "We are focussed on Kiswahili because it's a language of choice in the East African region," says Microsoft East Africa's Patrick Opiyo. Kiswahili is something of a lingua franca in East Africa, with some 100 million speakers in nearly a dozen countries.

An Microsoft apparently plans to expand in other African languages as well. "We have begun the process in Africa (there will be) ... other languages apart from Kiswahili," says Mr Opiyo. "We are looking at Hausa, we are looking at Yoruba - we are also kicking off with Amharic in the next week. These languages will be customised and built for Windows XP and Window Office standards."

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Food vs education in Nigeria -- Nigerians, Zimbabweans especially pessimistic; Ghanaians, Kenyans upbeat

Kingsley Osadolor, from Nigeria's The Guardian, rubbishes the "hagiographic obituaries" lavished upon the recently deceased American president Ronald Reagan. Reagan was no friend of Africa, the author writes. The Reagan Administration chose its friends. But they were Africa's hated men: Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko, South Africa's Pieter W. Botha and UNITA's Savimbi. In January 1986, at a time when President Reagan was cancelling most appointments because of the Challenger space shuttle explosion, Savimbi was Reagan's guest in the Oval Office... Savimbi's first diplomatic coup occurred when he visited Washington DC in December 1981 and met with General Alexander Haig, who was then Secretary of State. Haig had assured Savimbi that the Reagan Administration would find ways to by-pass the so-called Clark Amendment, which forbade US overt or covert support for any group in the Angolan conflict. He also noted that Reagan's alleged love of expanding liberty only seemed to apply to countries where people used the word 'comrade' a lot. If Reagan was concerned about tyranny and repression, his administration did not seem to think that apartheid South Africa was a bad idea after all... To the bewilderment of all who knew of the steaming cauldron that was apartheid, President Reagan in 1985 said that P.W. Botha's "reformist administration" had "eliminated the segregation that we once had in our country". That was five years before Mandela was released from prison and nine years before the first non-racial elections that formally ended apartheid.

Folanke Ebun-Sowemimom, another Guardian columnist, writes on many of the risks faced by African children. Some of the more well-known ones include HIV-AIDS, child trafficking and pornographic or obscene television shows. One of the more interesting contentions was the practice of using children for street-trading should be discouraged. Look at our streets today and you would find plenty of children hawking... They are encouraged to take to street trading by their poor parents to make ends meet. Some parents usually get the consent of their children by promising to buy them some goodies with the money they realise from street trading. These parents think they are doing their children a great good. They have to be told that they are exploiting their children. In fact they have to be told that they are abusing their children without knowing it or that they are depriving their children of their right to education. As much as I sympathize with the notion that all kids should go to school, I'm not sure if I agree with the author's formulation. I don't think any of the parents think they are doing their children "a great good"; I imagine most of them think they are doing what they need to do to survive. An education doesn't do much for a kid with an empty belly. It's no revelation to note that hunger is a physiological barrier to good learning. Is using your kid as a street trader more abusive than making it so he can't put food in his stomach? What's really needed is an improvement in Nigeria's economy so that kids won't be forced to choose between food and education.

More good news from paradise Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe's regime has shut down yet another independent newspaper (I didn't know any were left standing). Following The Daily News and The Daily News on Sunday, The Tribune is the latest to feel the wrath of Mafia-ocracy. Interesting development from a country whose government has reportedly claimed has more press freedom than Sweden.

Given the previous two stories, it's little wonder that the BBC reported a study by an international polling organization called Globescan which indicated that Nigerians and Zimbabweans feel especially pessimistic about their own countries, with just 3% of Zimbabweans saying they think life is getting better. 75% of Nigerians think the country is heading in the wrong direction, with 66% considering the place more corrupt than a year ago (which shows, yet again, that while multiparty democracy is a necessary condition for development, it's not sufficient by itself). [M]ore than a third of Africans feel worse off this year compared with last. Though the poll did note some optimism in Kenya, where the vast majority of Kenyans believe corruption is declining, and two-thirds of Ghanaians think their government reflects the will of the people.

The continent of invisible men

At the risk of being self-referential... Abiola responded to one of my Africans and D-Day essays. He says it all more succinctly than anything I could come up with.

Shameful, isn't it? There is never a shortage of individuals willing to pile on Africans for their failings, real and imaginary, but when it comes to receiving recognition for good deeds, Africa is an entire continent full of invisible men.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Ungrateful savages [essays]

In response to my essay on Africans and the D-Day remembrances, bobochan recounts a very interesting story: Bobo and his wife have lived in various parts of central Africa.

I wanted to comment on this but I have not been able to find anything about it on the web. I was having dinner at a restaurant in N'Djamena [capital of Chad] when a group of Legionnaires came in. They had their dinner and then the whole group started slowly singing a song that I was told was the "Ballad of the African Soldier." It was incredibly sad, saying how they would fight for France but that their sacrifices would be forgotten. I used to run into old men on the streets of Bangui [capital of the Central African Republic] with medals from Dien Bien Phu. The African soldiers have been forgotten, but I think it is almost sadder that they seem to have expected it.

Bobo's story underlines one of the ironies of empire.

African nationalist movements who were agitating for independence, or even the more modest home-rule, were often denounced as selifsh. They were considered a bunch of ingrates who didn't recognize the brilliant munifence of French or British culture that colonialism generously decided to share with the savages, in true selfless Christian spirit.

The real ingrates were, of course, the Europeans. Not only did the colonial subjects fight and die for the freedom of their subjugators (any incidental benefits colonialism brought to the colonized was far outweighed by crass exploitation and the methods used to enforce foreign domination), but the liberated didn't even have the decency to properly acknowledge this contribution.

It's even more ironic that after helping liberate the French from their imperial Nazi oppressor, African soldiers were later used to suppress the nationalist ambitions of other peoples rising against imperial domination, most notably in Indochina and Algeria.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Africans snubbed at D-Day remembrances [essay]

I was listening to the African music show 'Couleurs tropicales' on Radio France Internationale. The host pointed something interesting in the light of the recent D-Day celebrations. According to and its partner Le Quotidien d'Oran, nearly 42,000 North and sub-Saharan Africans died in the Liberation of France. Yet although the leader of the country that conquered France was a guest of honor, the French government did not invite a single African head of state to the D-Day ceremonies. The site also noted that while 292,000 Americans died in World War II, some 253,000 Africans were killed in defense of their colonial masters. So when the president, at his speech at Normandy tried magnanimously to acknowledge the contributions of other nationalities, "Across Europe, Americans shared the battle with Britains, Canadians, Poles, free French, and brave citizens from other lands taken back one by one from Nazi rule," he forgot an entire continent.

Speaking of irony, I see that South African president Thabo Mbeki was a guest at the state funeral of Ronald Reagan, the great "freedom fighter." Mbeki is also leader of the African National Congress, who fought to bring down the odious pro-apartheid regime so arduously supported by the Reagan administration.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Civil war + ethnic cleansing = famine -- Rebuilding the DRC railway

The ethnic cleansing in the eastern Sudanese region of Darfur has led, not surprisingly, to starvation. Hundreds of children have already starved to death, according to the BBC. Last week, a senior aid worker said 300,000 people would starve in Darfur, even if help is sent immediately. Some 10,000 have died in Darfur, since a rebellion broke out last year and one million have fled their homes. Famine is often seen as an accidental tragedy, something that occurs when food (magically) runs out or the rains don't come. In reality, hunger rarely reaches famine stage without human meddling.

Government forces regained control of the city of Bukavu in eastern [DR] Congo on Wednesday, reports the Associated Press. Renegade troops had seized the city last week, ostensibly to protect civilians, in particular the Banyamulenge ethnic group who were allegedly being attacked. DRC head of state Joseph Kabila accused neighboring Rwanda of backing the renegades. "Apparently the government has taken the city peacefully and without bloodshed. This is a good sign for the peace process. We have been struggling for weeks to get it back on track," said Alpha Sow, the head of the U.N. mission in South Kivu province. "The fall of Bukavu shook the peace process."

A modest piece of good news from the same place. America's National Public Radio did a nice piece on efforts to rebuild a vital rail link in the central African country.

Nigerians appear to have responded to a call for a general strike. Millions of workers walked out over rising fuel prices on Wednesday, with the streets of the commercial capital, Lagos, reported to be deserted. The nationwide strike is scheduled to last three weeks. Another blow to the country's president, Olesegun Obasanjo. Much like his Senegalese counterpart Abdoulaye Wade and the late leaders Sekou Toure (Guinea) and Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Obasanjo seems more concerned about jetting off to Europe and presenting himself as a pan-African statesman than dealing with problems at home.

Zim to nationalize all land -- RIP Marcousis. RIP Cote d'Ivoire?

A few months ago, Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe wondered why his countrymen were choosing to live elsewhere."Some of our people are running away to wash the bodies of elderly people in England," referring to the large numbers of Zimbabweans there who work as carers for the elderly. the strongman added: "Yet we are giving farms to people here. What are you running away for? Zimbabwe's problems can only be solved by Zimbabweans, not by foreigners." Why indeed? Not content merely to seize some land, Mugabe's plans to end private ownership of land, says Land Reform [sic] Minister John Nkomo. According to the BBC, all title deeds will be replaced by 99-year leases. White farmers were made the national bete noire once Mugabe's iron grip on power came under serious threat a few years ago. But the BBC states that only [a]bout 500 white farmers remain on their land in Zimbabwe and those white farmers own just 3% of the best farmland, down from 70%, government figures say. So this begs the question: once there are no farmers left in the country, who will become Mugabe's next scapegoat?

Fighting appears to have resumed in northern Cote d'Ivoire, thus seeming to end the already reeling peace process. The UN's IRIN service reports: Helicopter gunships have been used to attack rebel positions for the first time in nearly a year after 20 people died in clashes between government troops and unidentified attackers on the frontline with the rebel-held north of Cote d'Ivoire, a [government] military spokesman said on Tuesday. Given the relentess hostility to the Marcousis peace accords shown by the more rabid supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo and the virulent xenophobia of some of the pro-Gbagbo press, it's hardly surprising that Marcousis appears to have definitively collapsed. One wonders if Gbagbo really has any control over the situation anymore or if militias acting in his name have spiraled out of his control. Ironically, Reuters added, Gbagbo was on a visit, at the time, to the United States to promote business ties.

Monrovia's The Analyst has stories told by those who suffered under the nightmare of Charles Taylor's forces. Nigeria granted the former Liberian strongman asylum in a deal which saw the indicted war criminal leave power. One Nigerian spoke of his nightmare at the hands of Taylor's NPFL mafia: The rebels isolated Nigerians from the other captives and began amputating their forearms. I witnessed the amputation of tens of persons. Only Emmanuel and I survived. After amputating me, the rebels set me on fire and told me to go deliver their message to the Nigerian Government. [The Nigerian Army provided the bulk of West African peacekeepers who were ostenibly preventing Taylor from seizing total control of the country] Another added: They cut off the hands of my younger brother, Benedict, from beneath the elbow. They dumped him at the cemetery behind the house. He bled to death in front of me and his pregnant wife. I was next. The machete cut through the flesh and the bones of my hands but did not entirely severe them. With my hands dangling from my arms, the rebels also dumped me at the cemetery. Taylor has been indicted by the UN Special War Crimes Tribunal for Sierra Leone, for his alleged role in that country's own civil war.

In From Our Own Correspondent, a commentary program on the BBC, journalist Hilary Anderson speaks of the unfortunate Darfur region of eastern Sudan. At a refugee camp near the Sudanese border we began to talk to those who had fled Darfur and I soon realised that these were not normal stories of war. Fadidja Isaac Ali, 35 years old and from a town in Darfur called Mulli, sat before me with her baby in her arms as she talked. She had been shopping at the market in her village when the gunmen came. "The bullets began to fly, people fell, people ran. The evil men had come", she said. "Who are the evil men?", I asked., she said. All the stories we heard were similar. No-one in the refugee camps spoke of gun battles between soldiers, only of massacres of civilians by the Janjaweed militia - Arab militiamen often seen fighting with the Sudanese government - or of massacres resulting from aerial bombings of villages by Sudanese government planes. Every time I asked why they thought this was being done to them, they said the same thing: "It is because we are black." It may seem strange that here in the middle of Africa, one type of black person - they call themselves Arabs - would drive another blacker type of person from their homes.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

African trade with the US

According to an interview with Howard French, author of A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa: ANY of the four cardinal regions of Africa (North Africa, West Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa) engage in more trade with the United States than do the countries of the former Soviet Union.

Monday, June 07, 2004

More on Togolese "dialogue" -- Tunisian police state strikes again

Last week, I noted that Togolese strongman Gnassingbe Eyadema followed up his call for dialogue with the opposition by jailing nine activists of the main opposition UFC party. The same day, the Togolese government showed its committment to an open dialogue when the communications minister accused exiled opposition leader, Gilchrist Olympio, of plotting to hi-jack Togo's National Dialogue through boycotts and diversionary political tactics, reported The Ghanaian Chronicle. "Mr. Olympio talks about President Eyadema's refusal to provide him with a Togolese passport to attend the upcoming Inter-Togolese Dialogue, when he has not even had the humility and courtesy to personally apply for one," the minister claimed, adding that allegedly Eyadema has provided Mr. Olympio with two Togolese passports in the last 10 years to enable him take part in a number of major political events in Togo. Eyadema is widely believed to have personally assassinated Olympio's father Sylvanus Olympio, who was Togo's leader in the early 60s.

The police state in Tunisia has flexed its muscles again. The regime of Ben Ali jailed opposition leader Abderrahmane Tlili for nine years allegedly for abusing power when he was head of the aviation authority. The BBC reported The court in Tunis found him guilty of awarding contracts to acquaintances for renovating three Tunisian airports. Mr Tlili's lawyers argued that as head of a public company he could not have awarded contracts "without the direct approval of government officials".

More bad news from the increasingly authoritarian regime in Kigali. Rwanda's first post-genocide president has been sentenced to 15 years in jail for embezzlement, inciting violence and associating with criminals, reported The BBC. Bizimungu is a former ally of current President Paul Kagame, but the two fell out. As president, Bizimungu was criticized as being only a figure head (one of the few prominent Hutus in the predominantly Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front party) and that the real power lied with then Vice-President Kagame. The BBC's Rob Walker in Rwanda says that the trial was seen as particularly sensitive for the authorities as Mr Bizimungu is one of the few moderate Hutu politicians to publicly oppose the government and remain in the country. While the RPF says it has introduced stability and multi-party democracy, its critics claim it has centralised power within a Tutsi elite and crushed potential opponents - by accusing them of promoting ethnic divisions. Though the RPF has certainly brought stability to Rwanda, it's hard to say they brought multi-party democracy if prominent people who try to form a party (a key aspect of, um, multi-PARTYism) are jailed or otherwise harrassed.

The Senegalese Football Federation was yellow carded this weekend. A referees' strike has halted the country's soccer season, according to the BBC. Referees are usually allowed in to watch big matches for free, but the Senegalese Sports Ministry has announced it is to put a halt to the practice... According to state newspaper Le Soleil, it is "an action that takes the championship hostage."

Speaking of soccer, the first round of African zone World Cup qualifiers took place this weekend. The shock result was Liberia's 1-0 home upset of African Nations Cup semifinalist Mali. The other head turner was unfancied Malawi's 1-1 draw in Blantyre with Nations Cup finalist Morocco. South Africa labored to a surprisingly close 2-1 win over minnows Cape Verde. [Though the biggest shocks were in the Oceania region where the Solomon Islands drew 2-2 away to Australia and New Zealand was stunned by Vanuatu 4-2, a pair of results which sent the Solomons to the Oceania finals against Australia at the expense of the Kiwis]

Saturday, June 05, 2004

More chaos in DR Congo

More chaos in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on Thursday, as though the condemned people of that country haven't suffered enough in the last hundred years. It started when renegade soldiers captured the eastern city of Bukavu. The UK paper The Independent reported that More than 2,000 dissident troops swept past United Nations peace-keepers to seize the lakeside city on Congo's eastern border, after a week of sporadic fighting. Government defenders "fled for the hills", a UN spokesman said, as UN troops tried to contain looting rebels. This is a serious threat to the massive country's precarious peace process. Now the fall of Bukavu has raised fears of a fresh war, Congo's third since 1996.

In the capital Kinshasa, on the other side of the country, In the capital, Kinshasa, a city of some 2.8 million people, demonstrators thronged the streets, shutting down schools and businesses, and erected barricades. Large crowds of students hurled stones at the MONUC [UN peacekeeping mission] headquarters in the city, reports the UN's IRIN news service. Thursday’s nationwide riots followed an appeal by DRC President Joseph Kabila for citizens to rise against Mutebusi's men, who, he said, had received Rwandan government aid... However, in Kigali, Rwandan Foreign Minister Charles Muligande has denied his nation's involvement. "We have no forces in the DRC. I think the Congolese authorities have not been able to handle the rebellion within the army and are trying to use Rwanda as a scapegoat," he said.

Though it's worth noting Rwanda invaded the DRC in the mid-90s and denied that fact until clashes erupted between their soldiers and Ugandan troops, who'd also invaded.

Incidentally, 2.8 million is a huge demonstration considering Kinshasa's population is estimated to be between 6 and 7 million.

On Friday, the renegade forces claimed to have withdrawn from Bukavu but UN officials said this was not the case. The BBC added They were meant to have withdrawn by Friday evening, but a UN spokesman said renegade fighters remained in the area.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

FIFA bans Kenya [essay]

The international soccer federation FIFA has slapped an indefinite ban on Kenya's national teams. The country's government is accused of meddling in the affairs of the soccer federation, the KFF. In 2001, my adopted country of Guinea was also banned for about a year from FIFA for the same reason and the international body has threatened similiar sanctions on Brazil and Cameroon, though such a ban was never carried out on those two powerhouses. Ironically, Kenya had a African Nations Cup qualifying match scheduled this weekend... against Guinea.

The Kenyan Sports Minister dissolved the federation in March. The KFF has been at loggerheads with the government for several months over allegations of financial mismanagement, according to the BBC.

Now this is tricky. I understand FIFA's objective of keeping politics and sports separated (at least as much as possible). No one wants a repeat of what happened to the Ivory Coast team who were detained by the military junta for a few days following a surprising early exit from the 2000 African Nations Cup. Or worse, no one wants what happened to soccer players in Saddam's Iraq when they failed to win important matches. Football is very political in many countries. Presidents' popularity can rise and fall with the fortunes of the national team: ask Senegal's Abdoulaye Wade.

One the other hand, such a hardline almost would seem to give impunity to soccer federations. They can do whatever they want and the government can't legally crack down on them for fear of incurring FIFA's wrath. The federations in Kenya, Guinea and Brazil have all been accused of corruption or financial mismanagement. Now, if any other business commits corruption, we would laud the government for cracking down. But in soccer, it's unacceptable?

FIFA, whose self-serving motto is "for the good of the game," really needs to offer advice or guidelines to governments as to what should be done if a soccer federation is getting out of control.

But this is unlikely since FIFA itself is widely accused of... corruption and financial mismanagement.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Ceasefire collapses in DRC -- Bad news for war criminals

A fragile ceasefire in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has collapsed, according to the Associated Press. Congolese soldiers battled troops loyal to a renegade commander in eastern Congo on Tuesday, breaking a shaky ceasefire and spurring UN peacekeepers to try to negotiate an end to the violence, a United Nations spokesman said, according to the AP. Brigadier-General Laurent Nkunda, a former rebel commander whose troops marched on the airport in the town of Bukavu on Monday, had earlier declared an end to the conflict after the government set up arrangements in Congo's troubled South Kivu province to prevent the persecution of the minority Tutsi community.


Two important events in the international justice arena occured on Tuesday. First, the appeals panel of the Special Court for Sierra Leone has ruled that recruiting child soldiers was established as a war crime at the time of the civil war in that country, reports the BBC. This opens the way for what will be the first ever prosecution for child recruitment at an international war crimes tribunal. The picture of a child soldier, clutching a gun almost as big as himself, has become the enduring image of West Africa's civil conflicts. Both sides in Sierra Leone used very young fighters, in defiance of international conventions on the rights of the child, and leaders from both sides now face prosecution.

The same court also ruled that former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor can be tried on accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The New York Timeswrites that Mr. Taylor's lawyers had argued that a court in one country had no right to try the head of state of another country. But the four judges on the appeals panel of the Special Court for Sierra Leone rejected that argument, ruling that as an international tribunal, the special court does have that authority. It remains unlikely that Nigeria, where Taylor lives in exile, will hand him over.


Zombyboy over at Africa Blog commented on a rant by Sam Nujoma. The Namibian leader said, "Nobody will bring peace to Africa if we don't do it ourselves. Africa must stop living on handouts of imperialist countries", Nujoma told the opening of a parliamentary forum in the Namibian capital... Africa has more riches than Europe and America together", he said at the forum of the 13-nation South African Development Community. "The imperialists take our resources or make us fight against each other", Nujoma added. He singled out as an example the Democratic Republic of Congo where fighting re-ignited over the weekend, and criticised members of the forum for not speaking out against the violence there. "The SADC Parliamentary Forum is a representative institution of the people of our region politically, but to my dismay, wrong acts, including the military invasion of a member state of SADC, the DRC, by some war-mongering countries a few years ago resulted in the genocide of more than three million persons, mostly women and children and the elderly", Nujoma said. "However, in the face of these barbaric acts, SADC parliamentarians remained silent", he said.

Zombyboy opined, While he unreasonably blamed the wars and the unrest on imperialists who want to have all of Africa's wealth to themselves, he also stated things that utterly need to be said. Namely, that African nations will never rise above their problems until they take the responsibility to solve those problems themselves. The handouts that he references are used to prop up failing economies far more often than they are used to put the systems in place to create long-term solutions to health, economic, and education problems, for instance.

Nujoma reminds me a bit of the former Malaysian leader Mahatir Mohammed. Mahatir employed some excessive verbiage and overheated rhetoric (like blaming the Jews for everything), but he also made some legitimate points (ignored by the western media) about Muslim self-reliance and bringing themselves into the 21st century. Replace Jews with imperialists and Muslim with Africa and there are a lot of similiarities between the two.


Speaking of Nujoma, his SWAPO party has chosen his successor. The man almost certain to be Namibia's next president is Lucas Pohamba, the current lands' minister. The Namibian commented on the atmosphere at the special party congress. A sense of trepidation hung in the air as the more than 500 delegates gathered on Friday. After weeks of reports that Nujoma was campaigning against Hamutenya, the President set a confrontational tone on Monday by dismissing his Foreign Affairs Minister and his protege. Hamutenya defended himself, saying he was fired on flimsy grounds and suggested that dirty tricks had been used to get him out of the race. Shortly before the congress opens, some delegates talk about their fears and concerns. For others, the body language shows that their nerves are on edge. That same day, one of the delegates is reportedly admitted for psychiatric treatment after a nervous breakdown. One delegate said the person from the Oshikoto Region was overwhelmed by the pressure of "political elephants" fighting. Others say the breakdown may have been caused by party politics in the regions rather than the presidential race. In the hall by 18h00 - Many delegates try to disguise their jitters by singing and dancing to liberation music.

Democracy in Africa -- Another president for life

The BBC's Focus on Africa magazine reported on the wave of democracy that has gripped Africa in the last 14 years as well as its setbacks. The piece also noted that accountable government was not introduced to Africa by European colonials. Legendary Nigerian singer Fela Kuti wanted Africans to look to their own traditions for political development. Pre-colonial Africa had its military dictatorships, but many regimes were bound by constitutions and forms of accountability. Oyo kings were obliged to commit suicide if presented with a calabash by a delegation of elders. Ashanti princes could be dethroned. African civil society, nice and nasty, goes back much longer than today's non-governmental organisations. Authoritarian dictatorships (and repressive pseudo-democracies, for that matter) are far less authentically African than representative democracies. Though the article does underline the fundamental hurdle sub-Saharan Africa must overcome if it wants to recapture its tradition of accountable governance: politics remains too often an expensive game with the spoils of office being shared between members of the same elite wearing different political colours. Economic uncertainties chip away at idealism and new style regimes find it easier to co-opt and corrupt rather than to bludgeon their opponents.

There was little surprise in Chad where parliament approved an amendment of the constitution that could allow President Idriss Deby to seek a third term in office. No need to rant here. This seems to be an epidemic in Africa. Tunisia. Guinea. Togo. Countries wisely put term limits in their constitutions, but at the first moment those limits might come into affect, constitutions are changed due to "popular demand" (ie: the strongman's whim). Somehow, this tendency was rejected in Namibia, despite normally forceful leadership of Sam Nujoma. It seems that Namibia is one of the few places where the party (SWAPO, in this case) actually asserts its authority against the wishes of the big man.

The BBC and the Christian Science Monitor reported on the happiness at the supposedly historic peace deal between the Sudanese military regime and SPLA rebels signed last week. Though the joy surround supposed end to the two-decade long civil war was tempered by the continuing ethnic cleansing in the the eastern region of Darfur, which is not affected by the peace deal. While praising the agreement, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "Sudan will not be at peace until the problem of Darfur is resolved."

The UN's IRIN service reported that Togolese strongman Gnassingbe Eyadema followed up his call for dialogue with the opposition by jailing nine activists of the main opposition UFC party. They were accused of being involved in the destruction of a petrol station and the explosion of a handmade bomb in a French restaurant in the capital Lome.

National Public Radio did an audio piece on illegal charcoal in Kenya. The American broadcaster reported that In 1986, Kenya banned the harvesting of trees from public lands to make charcoal in an effort to slow deforestation, a major problem in the country. But the government is having a difficult time enforcing the ban in a country where more than 85 percent of the population relies on charcoal as a main source of fuel.