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.

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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.

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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."

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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."

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