Thursday, January 29, 2004

The UN wants to send an international peacekeeping force to Ivory Coast. This is in response to a peace agreement signed in France last year signed by the government and main rebel groups. The agreement called for disarmament of the rebels and their integration into the national army. A UN Security Council already authorized a French-led mission (which was invited by all the main parties to the war), now France wants a Security Council resolution to broaden the mission. The French-sponsored resolution is being delayed by the US ambassador ostensibly because he wants verification on numbers. Let's hope it's only that.

The situation in Ivory Coast constitutes a continuing threat to the peace, security and stability of the West African region [to use the same phrasing as Resolution 688 concerning Iraq]. This is indisputable. The war in Ivory Coast has had grave repercussions in neighboring countries like Guinea, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Liberia. In fact, the Ivorian government is widely suspected of aiding the Liberian rebels who helped engineer the downfall of that country's dictator Charles Taylor. Given President Bush's stated intent to "work with the UN Security Council to meet our common challenge" posed by Iraq, one should expect similiar cooperation regarding the Ivory Coast situation.

After all, since Congress gave the president the authority to "use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to... enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq," surely the president would wish to apply the same standard to a similiarly non-threatening country like Ivory Coast whose lack of stability jeopardizes the entire region, most of whom are US allies. Particularly since the Ivory Coast mission could be achieved (and almost certainly would be done) without the involvement of any US soldiers.

"Had we failed to act, Security Council resolutions on Iraq would have been revealed as empty threats, weakening the United Nations and encouraging defiance by dictators around the world," President Bush declared in this year's State of the Union speech. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that the present international mission in Ivory Coast, authorized by the West African regional group ECOWAS, is beset by lack of financial resources. Given his professed concern for the reputation of the United Nations, President Bush should help the international mission enforce Security Council resolutions by assisting it financially. This can be likely be done for an infintesimal fraction of that which is being spent in Iraq.

"America is a nation with a mission, and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs. We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire. Our aim is a democratic peace -- a peace founded upon the dignity and rights of every man and woman," the president also said during the State of the Union. Surely the dignity and rights of every man and woman also apply to Ivorians, Mr President? Or will they suffer, sacrificed on the altar of petty anti-French snivelling, as some might have it? Only time will tell if the president does the right thing by the Ivorian peoples and by his own expressed principles.

Sources: State of the Union quote and Congressional resolution excerpts

The most disturbing story of the day is the report that Nigeria is seeking ballistic missles from North Korea. The BBC reports Nigeria has admitted it wants to develop a ballistic missile capability and has been in talks with North Korea. A spokesman told the BBC they had been offered missile technology by North Korea but nothing had yet been signed. Talks between Nigeria's Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and North Korean counterpart Yang Hyong-sop have been talking place in Abuja.

The UN's IRIN service notes that Security situation in the north and east of Uganda is still volatile. A long civil war lead by the so-called Lord's Resistance Army, one of the most savage rebel groups in the world, has devastated the region. "You are talking about 1.3 million people living in camps without adequate sanitation and water, of people who are maimed, abducted and raped - let alone the risks of HIV/AIDS infection - by their own people," said Daouda Toure said at the launch of a new book by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) highlighting the northern Uganda crisis. Toure is UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Uganda. "You are talking of children who run away from their homes every night to sleep in corridors of buildings in town without shelter over their heads."

Although the fight against blood diamonds has been resisted by some in the industry, the Bostwana government has been one of its most energetic participants. The Botswana government, anxious to protect its diamond industry from the taint of conflict diamonds, has been an energetic supporter of the Kimberly process, aimed at stamping out the unofficial trafficking in the lucrative gems. A global certification system, identifying the origin of all rough diamonds, is the cornerstone of the Kimberley process. Sixty countries involved in the production, export and import, and trade in rough diamonds have signed up to the Kimberley agreement, pioneered by South Africa reported IRIN. "We are Kimberely process compliant," Jacob Thamaga, director of mineral affairs in Botswana's Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources. "We have to now look at the issue of sustainability, and to make sure that the process achieves what it was intended to achieve. We will not allow conflict diamonds to infiltrate our system."

Today's African Nations Cup results...
Algeria-Egypt: 2-1 (1-1). A late winner puts Algeria in pole position going into the last round of matches.
Cameroun-Zimbabwe: 5-3 (3-1). A hat trick by Patrick Mboma helped this match set a CAN record for most combined goals in a match.

Yesterday's games
Tunisia-DR Congo: 3-0 (0-0). The hosts go through to the last 8 after Lomana Lua-Lua's controversial sending off dashes Congolese hopes.
Guinea-Rwanda: 1-1 (0-0). Newcomers Rwanda, largely dominated in the match, gain their first ever CAN point with an equalizer at the death preventing Guinea from advancing.

Friday's contests
Senegal-Kenya, 1300 GMT
Burkina Faso-Mali, 1800 GMT

Monday, January 26, 2004

The SABC is in the middle of a row over impartiality, according to Business Day. The South African state broadcaster got in hot water when it broadcast live the launch of the ruling African National Congress' election manifesto but refused to offer the same access to the other major parties. The official opposition Democratic Alliance claimed the public broadcaster was suppressing debates on vital issues of public policy. "A debate over key policy areas and the future direction of our country is precisely what an election in a democracy is all about," said DA spokesman Douglas Gibson. "Thanks to SABC TV's refusal to air that debate, millions are being denied their right to a diversity of views over issues which are crucially important to them."

Angola's government has proposed a national plan to deal with rights violations. The authorities and United Nations representatives have started working on a national plan to establish mechanisms that deal with human rights violations. "Since the end of the war the [human rights] situation has improved. There is more space for free public debate on human rights issues and civil society groups feel confident to speak out against injustices. The government has also said it is committed to finding a solution to some of the current problems," UN Commission for Human Rights (UNCHR) national officer, Lerena Pinto, told IRIN.

Zimbabwe's recently liberated Daily News warns the regime of Robert Mugabe that the African Nations' Cup soccer tournament will 'not mask the truth' of the nation's desperate situation. The country's national team, the Warriors, is making its first appearance in the continent's premier soccer showcase. FOR the last week, in between incessant headline news about football, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) has been telling us that the economy is well on the way to being fixed. Apparently, so the government says, inflation has gone down and according to ZBC's "man in the street" interviews, everyone is utterly delighted at falling prices. I think I must be living in another country because my grocery bill just goes up and up every week noted a Daily News columnist.

On a related note, Zimbabwe's information minister is blaming the national team's defeat in the Nations' Cup on the wrong national anthem. Apparently, the old anthem was played before the side's 2-1 loss to Egypt. This did not please Mugabe crony Jonathan Moyo, Zim's answer to Iraq's 'Chemical Ali.' "It was a cheap attempt by the organisers to demoralise our boys," Mr Moyo was quoted as saying. An official government statement is expected to attribute the incident to an ongoing plot by British prime minister Tony Blair who is also blamed by the regime for drought, gas (petrol) shortages and malaria.

African Nations' Cup scores since the opener
Group A: Tunisia 2-1 Rwanda. Guinea 2-1 DR Congo.
Group B: Mali 3-1 Kenya. Senegal 0-0 Burkina Faso.
Group C: Egypt 2-1 Zimbabwe. Cameroon 1-1 Algeria.

Tommorow's matches
Nigeria-Morocco (1300 GMT, 8 AM ET)
South Africa-Benin (1700 GMT, Noon ET)

Friday, January 23, 2004

The 2004 African Nations Cup (CAN) starts tomorrow in Tunis. The opening match is between hosts Tunisia and shock first-timers Rwanda.

As seems the case every two years, the tournament has been hit by controversy by European clubs complaining that they are losing many top players. They want the CAN to be held in the summer so it doesn't mess up the European club season. This call has been rightly dismissed by Confederation of African Football [CAF] president Issa Hayatou. The recently re-elected boss of African soccer noted that the continent's weather makes such a call unfeasible. "We once organised the tournament in March and then the big European clubs asked us to move it to January during the winter break," said Hayatou. "But with the number of tournaments, they are no longer capable of observing a winter break. Now they want us to move to a new date, but it's not possible to play in July because of the climate."

In other news, Cameroon introduced a new one-piece uniform, similiar to what sprinters wear. However, the head of soccer's world governing body says the suits contravene the laws of the game, which stipulate that players are supposed to wear both shorts and a shirt. This is the second straight African championship where Cameroon's uniforms ran into trouble. Before CAN 2002, the team introduced sleeveless uniforms... which they were not allowed to wear in that year's World Cup. You'd think they'd learn to check these things before spending the time developing new uniforms.

Now, on to the battle to prevent the Cameroonians from winning their 3rd straight African crown.

My predictions for the knockout stage...

Senegal over Tunisia
Mali over Guinea
Morocco over Egypt
Cameroon over Nigeria

Senegal over Morocco
Mali over Cameroon

Mali over Senegal

Unexpected, I know. But I correctly predicted Senegal as finalists in 2002 so we'll see if my luck holds.

You can follow the action via CAF's website

The assassin of a Radio France Internationale journalist was sentenced to 17 years in prison. A military tribunal in the Ivory Coast commerical capital Abidjan handed down the sentence to Théodore Seri, who was convicted of fatally shooting RFI reporter Jean Hélène. Sergeant Seri had admitted grappling with Helene but had denied that the fatal shot was fired from his gun. Analysts fear that the verdict will further inflame anti-French feelings in Abijdan, which have already by fanned by the pro-government hate media and militias.

Now, the ridiculous. Soldiers during the Idi Amin and Milton Obote horror shows are demanding $470 million from the government, reports The East African. UGANDAN SOLDIERS who served under the governments of former presidents Milton Obote and Idi Amin but went into hiding after the late dictator was overthrown in 1979 have sued the government over unpaid salary arrears for 23 years amounting to Ush918 billion ($470 million), the weekly notes. Although the soldiers found themselves out of work after the Tanzania-backed invasion of Uganda saw Amin flee into exile, they were never officially dismissed by the government and now say they want their terminal benefits, gratuity, pension, food rations, clothing, travelling and professional allowances, interest as well as substantial damages and costs of the suit. They also want the court to order the government to issue their discharge certificates. These are the men who ensured the barbarous reigns of Amin and Obote.

A pan-African peace force is one step closer, claims The Daily Mail and Guardian. The plan to muster a continental peacekeeping force follows persistent criticism that the African Union, formerly the Organisation of African Unity, has too often stood idle as millions perished in some of Africa's deadliest civil wars. African leaders will give final approval for the force at an AU summit in Libya next month. For the first time its 40-year history, the AU sent a group of peacekeepers -- mainly from South Africa, Ethiopia and Mozambique -- to help defuse a rebellion in Burundi. The proposed force, which has garnered support from international leaders, is expected to include up to 10 000 troops.

Liberia's interim leader has warned his countrymen against 'jungle justice. Gyude Bryant warned the country's main rebel movement on Wednesday not to let its husband-wife leadership split grow into violence, saying UN forces would respond. "We will not allow the Lurd problem spilling into the communities and growing into larger things," Bryant said on Wednesday, referring to the main rebel group's decision to replace its leader with his wife.

Much to the chagrin of the Mugabe regime, Zimbabwe's leading independent paper is again publishing. The Daily News, the country's only independent daily, appeared on the streets on Thursday after a several month absence. It was shut down in September by the regime. In the lead story of the limited eight-page issue, the Daily News said state lawyers had conceded in court that police had no legal basis to occupy the paper's offices and printing press in the capital, Harare.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

As mentioned in the previous entry, retired Gen. Roméo Dallaire is testifying before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. And Dallaire's new book, Shake Hands With the Devil, was recently published. The book details his dealings with the Hutu extremists who wanted to undermine the peace process that begin in 1993 and ultimately planned the genocide that occured the following year.

A guy named Robin Philpot savagely attacked the book in the Montreal paper Le Devoir (if you know French, it's here. Philpot is the author of Ca ne s'est passé comme ça à Kigali, which translates to "It didn't happen like that in Kigali" (the Rwandan capital). That book purports to give a different view of the widely held account of how the genocide happened.

The attack on the book provoked a strong reaction (see here and here). The backlash was all the more because Dallaire is widely considered a tragic hero in his native Canada, as well as by anyone familiar with the genocide. The latter of the above pieces accused Philpot of the "negation of a genocide." A reply by Philpot angrily denied this. The nonsense contained in this reply urged me to write a letter myself to the paper.

Below is a translatation of the letter I wrote. I included slight additions in [] to make things more clear since I won't dignify Philpot's crap with a translation.

Robin Philpot says he never "denied that there were massive killings, sometimes even of an ethnic character" in Rwanda, while at the same time "rejecting categorically the abusive use of the term genocide." These writings, as well as his inflammatory critique of Gen. Romeo Dallaire's book, demonstrate his ignorance of international law.

The Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide could not be more clear. According to this document:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

During the massacres, Radio Mille Collines, nicknamed Hate Radio, read the names of Tutsis to be killed by the masses. Two heads of the Hate Radio were recently condemned to life in prison by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda [ICTR]. The tragedy was planned, not according to the "instant historians" [who Philpot derided], but according to international justice.

[Philpot suggests] The use of the word genocide during a conflict somehow renders innocent the other warring party? How exactly?! The Allies surely committed certain war crimes during the Second World War. Does this prevent us from talking of a genocide against the Jews?

The 'revelation' of the political aspirations of the Rwandan Patriotic Front is presented as some how disproving the fact of genocide. [The RPF was the rebel group fighting the army of the genocidal regime. The RPF is now in power]

Yet, no genocide in history has taken place without any political aspect. Genocide is very much a political act. Inventing a scapegoat serves to distract people who live in misery. Hate is sometimes good politics. In Rwanda, in the Balkans, in the 3rd Reich, the list is not short.

Philpot would like us to believe that the majority of Rwandans were seized by a spontaneous madness, an angry that appeared out of nowhere. That hatred between neighbors and friends is the natural state of things... at least over there, where the savages live.
In fact, the extremist Hutu leaders of the ex-regime were ferociously opposed to power sharing with the Tutsis, even if the majority of Hutus wanted peace and tranquility.

This genocide, like all others in history, was not born in a vacuum. It was provoked by a small clan of people who cared about nothing other than protecting their own privileged position, which was under threat by the winds of change.

Mr. Philpot, it's this malicious mafia that we are demonizing, not the majority [he tried to create the contemptable strawman diversion that the world was blaming the Hutus as a whole people]. Contrary to the genociders, the international community doesn't preach a policy of collective guilt. This is why the ICTR is going after the architects who planned the genocide.

Philpot accuses members of the former rebellion of having committed crimes against humanity [as though this cancels out the genocide]. If so, then drag them before the ICTR too. Justice demands it.

Regardless of what the FPR did, a genocide against the Tutsis, in the PRECISE usage of the term, did take place.


[Incidentally, Philpot also approvingly quoted former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, without mentioning that he's defending a man accused before the ICTR.]

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is finally making progress. Last month, they convicted three journalists for incitement to genocide during the 1994 tragedy. They worked at the infamous Radio des Mille Collines which read out lists of names of people to be slaughtered. At the trial, several emotional witnesses, including employees of the media outlets, compared the role of the media to that of fuel on a fire. Phrases such as "go to work" and "the graves are not yet full" were read by radio disc jockeys during the spring of 1994. A newspaper called on citizens to exterminate the "cockroach Tutsis.", noted a Washington Post article.

Today, A former Rwandan education minister has been sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of genocide. . He was accused of personally leading militias to slaughter ethnic Tutsis sheltering in a church and a school, according to the BBC.

Now, the former head of UN troops in Rwanda is testifying against Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, the presumed mastermind of the genocide. "I had a very tense meeting with him and he threatened me with a pistol, saying that next time we met he would shoot me," General Dallaire told the ICTR.

It should further discredit the claim of a few revisionists that what happened in Rwanda wasn't planned and wasn't really genocide.

You can also read a review of Gen. Dallaire's new book Shake Hands With the Devil.

For a condensed version of the events leading up to and during the genocide, check out the extremely informative article Bystanders to Genocide which ran in The Atlantic Monthly in September 2001.

The best account of the genocide is the stunning book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch. It remains the most powerful book I've ever read.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Retired Canadian Gen. Roméo Dallaire recently testified before the International War Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda. The head of UN peacekeeping operations during that country's genocide told the court that he was threatened with death for trying to evacuate orphaned children during the genocide by then Rwandan Col. Theoneste Bagosora, widely belived to be the genocide's main architect. "I had a very tense meeting with him and he threatened me with a pistol, saying that next time we met he would shoot me," Gen. Dallaire told the court. He has frequently accused the UN security council and western powers of ignoring his warnings of the impending genocide.

Chinese soldiers have joined the peacekeeping force in Liberia. The Asian giant has begun deploying 500 troops in the West African state of Liberia, in its biggest ever contribution to a United Nations peacekeeping operation. Though it's seen by many less as a statement of concern for Liberia than the result of the new Liberian government's recent decision to open diplomatic relations with Beijing at the expense of its rival Taiwan. The two Chinas have engaged in a fierce bidding war in Africa for diplomatic recognition with foreign aid and other goodies being the prize for the right choice. Nevertheless, I'm sure Liberians are grateful, regardless of the motives.

The Daily Mail and Guardian reports that landmines, rains paralyse aid efforts in Angola. Landmines are a constant problem in Angola, one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, but the danger is worsened during periods of heavy rain, which can uncover and shift mines onto the roads. Major roads across the country have been closed to traffic because of the presence of landmines, holding up aid shipments from December 16 to January 12, said the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA).

The same paper also reports the accusation that the World Health Organization (WHO) is ill-serving malaria patients. As noted here earlier, an article in the British journal The Lancet accused the agency of approving cheap drugs that are ineffective rather than newer, more effective treatments. “Why is there so much euphoria about this new drug? It is not a magic bullet. Even with this drug, some deaths are bound to happen,” noted the WHO's representative in Ethiopia. He also denied that the approved drugs are less effective. “Let’s be very clear: no resistance has been proven scientifically. [There are] just anecdotal reports from the field suggesting that something might be happening... I would challenge anybody who has scientifically backed data that can stand WHO criteria to show that there is resistance”

Monday, January 19, 2004

The small arms traffic is one of the most evil trades in the world. It perpetuates continuous conflict, by making war a lot cheaper and by increasing the number of potential soldiers. This is directly responsible for poverty, health troubles and generalized underdevelopment in dozens of countries around the world. Countries in which a tiny group of maniacal thugs can easily hold the overwhelming majority hostage.

An article in the British paper The Guardian reports that charities say 500,000 people are killed each year by small arms. The trade has exploded since the beginning of the war on al-Qaeda, according to the paper.

"A new urgency has been created by the so-called war on terror," said Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International. "This is fuelling the proliferation of weapons rather than combating it. Many countries, including the US, have relaxed controls on sales of arms to allies known to have appalling human rights records... In the past two years, the US has increased arms sales to [such states] and Britain has followed suit. British arms sales to Indonesia rose from £2m [US$3.4 million] in 2000 to £40m [$68 million] in 2002."

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that the death toll from small arms "dwarfs that of all other weapons systems, and in most years greatly exceeds the toll of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs. In terms of the carnage they cause, small arms could well be described as weapons of mass destruction - yet there is still no global non-proliferation regime to limit their spread".

The US is one of the leading opponents of attempts to regulate trade in small arms, because it violates the US Constitution's 2nd Amendment. This treaty would, of course, interfere with free trade as well, which others object to. The Bush administration is likely to actively "lobby" other countries to scrap the treaty as well. The US is the world's leading weapons' exporter.

Critics of gun regulations argue that if more people had guns, there would much less violence. Guns are a deterrent to violence, they insist. Not even considering the shining example of Somalia, The Guardian notes In June [2003] there were 24m guns in Iraq, enough to arm every man, woman, and child. They could be bought for $10. And we know how little violence there is in Iraq as a result of all these "deterrents."

One of the insidious results of lighter and more mobile small arms is the increased phenomenon of child soldiers. The BBC notes that [t]he use of child soldiers in war is continuing around the world and in some African countries it has increased, human rights groups say. Countries like Ivory Coast, Liberia, Burma and the DR Congo are particularly hard hit by this scourge. These groups call on the United Nations to take the lead in ending the flow of weapons to those recruiting children, placing travel restrictions on leaders who use children in their armies and ending military assistance to them.

The flood of small arms didn't invent violence, war, civilian casualities or destruction. But it sure made those things exponentially easier.

[Radio Netherlands' English service has a number of dossiers on the child soldier plague including one on young boy combattants in Sierra Leone and another on ones from Liberia]

Burkina Faso's defense minister has been sacked in murky circumstances. General Kouame Lougue was questioned last week by authorities in connection with a coup plot against the country's head of state, Blaise Campaoré. Gen. Lougue lost his job this most recent weekend. Lougue had until recently been viewed as a loyal supporter of the president. He helped to suppress a coup attempt against Campaore in 1999 and was appointed Defence Minister the following year. However, there has been a growing sense of malaise within the armed forces following the arrest of 16 officers and two civilians in connection with a coup plot that was discovered in September last year. One of the soldiers detained was officially said to have hanged himself in jail a few days after his arrest.

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangarai has finally testified at his own treason trial, some 11 months after the trial started. Mr Tsvangirai told a packed courtroom that he used to regard [the country's strongman Robert] Mugabe, who led the struggle against white minority rule, as a "liberation hero". The case against Mugabe's chief rival hinges on a grainy video tape made by Canadian political consultant Ari Ben Menashe in which Mr Tsvangirai allegedly discusses Mr Mugabe's "elimination", notes the BBC.

A feature by the British news outlet chronicles Mugabe's descent into dictatorship. The piece notes that despite Zimbabwe's ever mounting set of problems inflicted by the Harare regime, Mugabe is an extremely proud man. He will only step down when his "revolution" is complete. He says this means the redistribution of white-owned land but he also wants to hand-pick his successor, who must of course come from within the ranks of his Zanu-PF party. The reporter quoted a senior official from Mugabe's party who noted, the government's proposed constitution in February 2000 - which showed the strength of the opposition - had set back Mr Mugabe's retirement by several years. That defeat stirred him into action, transforming him from a relatively relaxed man contemplating his twilight years, into someone desperate to remain at any cost, even willing to destroy the country he had fought to liberate.

Friday, January 16, 2004

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been accused of 'medical malpractice' against malaria patients in Africa. Drug resistance to traditional, cheap, treatments is an increasing problem in the fight against the disease. Writing in the Lancet, critics say the Global Fund, backed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is wrongly funding these treatments. But the WHO said it always advocated the newer, more effective, treatment. Malaria kills around a million people each year, most of whom are children.

Human rights groups say that use of child soldiers is actually on the rise globally. The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers says in Ivory Coast, Liberia and the DR Congo recruitment of children increased massively in 2003. It says a series of moves by the UN aimed at eradicating such practices has made remarkably little progress... Soldiers, sexual slaves, labourers, porters and spies: children continue to perform all those roles in conflicts around the world, a new report by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers says.

A disturbing article by the BBC reports that an African food appeal was 'exaggerated'. A group of leading charities in the UK overstated the seriousness of southern African food shortages in 2002 and 2003, an audit has said... As well as using misleading or emotive language, the audit said some groups had not consulted local people enough and did not fully understand their needs. For example, one charity provided an expensive diesel pump to irrigate a small field where a foot pump would have been sufficient. And the report said there was not enough understanding of how the Aids epidemic affects the ability to cope with food shortages. This is quite disturbing. Unfortunately, such a report risks undermining the credibility of ALL charities who engage in such work.

James Carville, strategist for then candidate Bill Clinton, famously said, "It's the economy, stupid!" to describe on what political campaigns should be focused. Apparently, this is not the case in South Africa. The Daily Mail and Guardian reports that the bulk of supporters for the ruling African National Congress party are unemployed. The ANC is believed to have the support of about 60% of South Africans despite findings by the South African Broadcasting Corporation that showed the ANC support base is stronger among the youth, South Africans with lower education profiles and those with lower incomes and that Three quarters of ANC supporters are not employed either full-time or part-time.

UN-haters ask me why I'm such a big fan of the organization. The General Assembly has a lot of autocratic members as does the Security Council and various specialized commissions. This is certainly regrettable, but I'm not sure what can be done. There are a lot of Americans who are despicable twits (racists and homophobes spring to mind) but we don't strip them of the right to vote. The Security Council gives each of members a unilateral veto over decisions (US, France, Britain, China and Russia, not coincidentally the winners of World War II); this is undemocratic but none of the five are rushing to give up that power.

One main difference (of many) is that the UN-haters see the UN as comprising solely its pseudo-legislative organs: the General Assembly (GA), the Security Council (SC) and the commissions. Frankly, there's not a heck of a lot about these organs that makes you want to wave a power blue UN flag.

The GA is run democratically but has no power; given its membership, I'm not sure I'd want it to have power. The SC has some power but is run undemocratically. The commissions are divided up geographically and seats rotate within a region. So we get the farcical spectacle of Libya chairing the Human Rights Commission or the US chairing the Disarmament Commission. Though there is something to be said for states venting their spleen at the talking shop of the General Assembly instead of going to war. It does lead to certain injustices, like the utterly disproportionate targeting of Israel by GA resolutions; the idea of Egypt or Saudi Arabia lecturing anyone on human rights is laughable. This is why I'm glad the GA has no real power. But again, better a talking shop than war.

Still though, the American press treats the UN as the totality of these legislative bodies. Having lived abroad, I see the UN differently. To me, the UN is also the World Health Organization organizing anti-polio vaccination campaigns. It's UNAIDS supporting HIV education. It's the Food and Agriculture Organization offering advice to struggling farmers. It's the UNHCR offering food and sanctuary to tens of millions of refugees around the world. It's UNICEF supporting girls' education programs or supporting efforts to demobilize 12 year old boy soldiers with kalashnakovs.

The UN is hardly perfect. And a great many of its weaknesses were consciously built in by those who wanted it to be weak; others are inherent to any multinational bureaucracy. But if you're going to judge the UN, at least be fair enough to judge it in its totality, not simply because the Security Council refused (one time) to carry water for the administration in Washington. UN agencies help millions of people around the world. And although very few of those helped are Americans, I still think it's a pretty good thing.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

IRIN notes that a bumper harvest in Ethiopia will not eliminated the need for food aid. Perversely enough, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) also noted that the 13 million tonne bumper harvest of cereals and pulses raised fears that crop prices could collapse, thereby adversely affecting rural farmers. It added that providing farmers with seeds and fertiliser had helped boost the harvest, but that action to stabilise prices being affected by oversupply was now vital.

The Angolan government is unable to for more than $4 billion in oil revenues, charged the NGO Human Rights Watch. "More than $4-billion in state oil revenue disappeared from Angolan government coffers from 1997 to 2002, roughly equal to the entire sum the government spent on all social programmes in the same period," HRW said on Tuesday. "While ordinary Angolans suffered through a profound humanitarian crisis, their government oversaw the suspicious disappearance of a truly colossal sum of money. This seriously undermined Angolans' rights," said Arvind Ganesan, director of the Business and Human Rights programme at HRW.

Good news for sick people in South Africa. The country's government will slash medicine prices by up to 70% tomorrow, according to the health minister. The Daily Mail and Guardian observed, [R]egulations on transparent pricing had been delayed by four years due to legal action by pharmaceutical companies. The draft regulations will give the pharmaceutical industry three months to comment before the government enforces them through legislation in May, [the health minister] said. "When these regulations are fully implemented, the price of medicines to consumers would be between 40% and 70% lower than the current levels."

There is also a campaign to curb child exploitation in Angola, according to IRIN. "Children are hungry and are unable to feed themselves. This leads them to the streets to seek employment - there really is no other option, given the weak system of social welfare in Angola. Most often the meagre earnings of these children help to support unemployed parents and the elderly," Sam Kambarami, the acting director of Save the Children Fund-US, told to the UN information service. "There is wide recognition that, in some cases, some families do not have any choice but to send their children to work. The solution therefore is to consider how to combine schooling with work that is not exploitative," explained UN Children's Fund's child protection officer, Abubacar Sultan.

I've often said that the political extremes are closer to each other than to the center. Many dictatorships start out with some sort of ideology but prolonged autocracy almost inevitably degenerates into a corrupt, ideology-free state whose sole purpose isn't to advance their alleged ideology but to perpetuate the power of those in charge. Take Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe. He was a Marxist, then a pan-Africanist. His latest incarnation is that of the anti-colonialist. Tony Blair, you see, is responsable for all the problems in Zimbabwe. Economic collapse? Blair's fault. Social tension? Blair's fault. Lack of any goods in the shops? Blair's fault. The drought? London ordered that too.

Naturally, autocrats aren't fond of those who point out such hypocrisy and Mugabe's no exception. His war on what's left of the free press is quite strident. "Opposition" (ie: independent) newspapers find their editors regularly arrested, their offices raided, even their printing presses bombed. Recently, editors of the Zimbabwe Independent, the country's most influential weekly, were arrested and charged with criminal defamation. They reported that Mugabe had "commandeered" an airliner from the cash-strapped national carrier, Air Zimbabwe, for a jaunt in Asia.

Defamation is normally a civil crime, which means the aggreived party can file suit and, if successful, receive monetary damages but the defamer doesn't go to jail. Criminal defamation means jail time.

The editor of the Independent noted, "Criminal defamation is a nasty law, a relic of empire used by governments to deal with critics."

Appropriate that the anti-colonial Mugabe who rails against alleged British imperialism should use a relic of the British Empire to repress those who aren't his sycophants.

The Nobel Peace Prize winning non-governmental organization Doctors Without Borders (more known by its French acronym MSF) issued its annual report on the Top 10 Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories of 2003.

The unlucky winners...

-Tens of thousands seek refuge in Chad from fighting in Sudan and Central African Republic

-Ongoing oppression of Chechen civilians

-Unrelenting violence in Burundi

-Massive displacement and isolation in Colombia

-War and neglect in the Democratic Republic of Congo

-Malaria death count soars

-Punishing cycles of violence in Somalia

-Repression of North Korean refugees

-Trading away the health of millions

-Collapse of health care in western Ivory Coast

To learn more, please click here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Ethnic clashes continue to wreck havoc in western Ivory Coast. Although a ceasefire has held firm in the rest of Cote d'Ivoire since 3 May last year, there have been continued clashes near the Liberian frontier in an area that has become known as the "Wild West." Most of these have involved informal gangs of gun and machete wielding fighters organised on ethnic lines. Last year many of these skirmishes and raids involved indisciplined bands of Liberian militiamen armed by both the government and rebels before the ceasefire. However, in recent months most have been confrontations between villagers of the local Guere tribe and settlers from Burkina Faso, Guinea and other parts of Cote d'Ivoire who grow cocoa in the region, reports IRIN. The western region was a stronghold of the MPIGO rebels who were more notoriously indisciplined than the MPCI group who controlled the north of the country.

In a related story, the UN information service reports that 50,000 returnees in need of assistance in [Guinea]. The fighting in Ivory Coast has displaced nearly 50,000 Guineans living in that country. Those that returned are living in precarious conditions in remote areas inGuinea near the Ivorian border and urgently need assistance, according to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In fact, that number includes a dozen or so relatives of a close friend of mine living in northeastern Guinea. There are so many displaced people in southern border regions of Guinea that returnees now [represent] eight percent of the population in the remote frontier prefectures of Lola, Beyla, Kankan, Mandiana and N'Zerekore. It also noted that 50 percent of the returnees were children. The returnees live in more difficult circumstances than the 80,000 refugees in Guinea from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. [U]nlike the returnees, the refugees receive substantial aid from the UN refugee agency UNHCR and several other relief organisations.

The Star runs an article with a delicious title: Jackboot on the other foot for crony of Mugabe's. One of dictator Robert Mugabe's relatives has been tossed in prison. The South African daily notes [Philip] Chiyangwa, Zanu-PF chairperson of Mashonaland West province, was arrested over the weekend while Mugabe was out of the country - and police have defied a High Court order that he be released. Chiyangwa was arrested on Saturday after being implicated in a Z$61-billion [approximately US$1400 million] fraud scandal. The flamboyant Chiyangwa, a black empowerment crusader, has now gone back to court in a bid to force the police to respect the High Court order. But magistrate Sukai Tongogara ordered that he be remanded in custody until today while she considers the application. Previously, the police have defied court orders only in favour of Mugabe's enemies.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Lansana Fofana writes in The Daily Mail and Guardian that the disarmament process in Sierra Leone is not without problems. Last week, the programme came to a close with organisers claiming that all weapons had been taken away from the fighters and destroyed -- or recycled to make hoes, shovels and other implements. Amid the backslapping, however, there was growing discontent among some of the former combatants, who have been taught skills such as tailoring, carpentry and masonry. They say they have not been given the specialised tools that will allow them to ply their trade. Even for those who have everything they need to earn a living, jobs are scarce. “I finished training in 2002, but I am as yet unemployed -- just roaming the streets,” says Edward Kowa, formerly of the RUF. “This problem is not affecting me alone. Hundreds of my colleagues are in similar situations, and this -- I think -- is untenable for sustainable peace.” An example of why the Pandora's box of violence shouldn't be opened carelessly.

A column in South Africa's The Star claims that Freedom will give Africa its path out of poverty. The writer cited a survey by the American NGO Freedom House: The survey reported an incremental loss of political freedom in sub-Saharan Africa in 2003. It rated 11 countries free, 20 partly free, and 17 not free. The Central African Republic moved from partly free to not free because of a military coup and Mauritania because of suppression of opposition. Burundi made the only gain, rising from not free to partly free because of the integration of rebel forces into the government. This was very much the work of South African diplomacy. But if Burundi's graduation was a kudo for our Africa policy, the survey also contained an implicit warning. Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor noted: "It is common wisdom that poor countries cannot support democratic systems. But our data show that in dozens of poor countries, democracy does not depend on development. In fact, our findings suggest that freedom can be the engine of development."

Another attack on the free press in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe Independent was accused of racism after publishing a letter (by a reader!) complaining that Zimbabweans were as docile as "a herd of wild beasts" in standing up to Robert Mugabe's tyrrany. The paper's editor said, "We do not accept his view [the head of the country's media commission] that writers are necessarily being racist when they say Zimbabweans are docile in standing up to tyranny. That is a view in the national discourse, whether we as a society are doing enough to fight the depredations of the Zimbabwe regime." The attack came only days after The Independent was accused of criminally defaming Mugabe after reporting that the strongman had commandeered one of the national airline's planes to take him on a jaunt to the Far East.

Monday, January 12, 2004

An example of why it's useful to read a diversity of media to get perspective. Daily Mail and Guardian ran an article entitled Germany expresses 'regret' for Herero massacre. The South African paper wrote Germany's ambassador to Namibia expressed his country's "regret" on Sunday over the ruthless quelling of the Herero tribe uprising a century ago in which tens of thousands were slaughtered by German colonial troops. The ambassador, Wolfgang Massing said that while history could not be undone, "we can give back to the victims and their descendants the dignity and honour of which they were robbed". "I also wish to express how deeply we regret this unfortunate past", Massing said at a commemoration of the January 12, 1904 uprising in Okahandja, the Hereros' erstwhile capital 70 kilometres north of the capital Windhoek. His statement is the closest a German government representative has come to an apology -- a demand repeatedly made by the Herero -- for what historians have described as a genocide.

An article on the same comments appeared in The Namibian but with a very different tone: No apology, no payout for Herero. The Windhoek daily reported: GERMANY has ruled out any question of compensating the victims of its 1904-07 genocidal campaign, as Namibians begin yearlong activities to mark the centenary of the outbreak of hostilities in the Herero-German War. Not only did the German Ambassador to Namibia, Wolfgang Massing, yesterday reject the demand for reparations, but he also fell short of offering a formal apology for the genocide. "It would be not justified to compensate one specific ethnic group for their suffering during the colonial times, as this could reinforce ethnic tensions and thus undermine the policy of national reconciliation which we fully support," Ambassador Massing told a 1 000-strong rally to commemorate the beginning of armed conflict.

A piece in Wajibu was headlined Child defilers to face castration in Zambia. The quarterly journal based in the Kenyan capital Nairobi noted After 39 years without a child defilement policy and weak legislation, Zambians are now waking up to the worst form of human torture and the seriousness of the brutal crime of child defilement... [the Zambian] Government intends to introduce a bill on sexual offences in response to cries by the people for macro-intervention. It is hoped that the law will provide for the detention of offenders without bail and castration of convicts.

A related story on the BBC reported 'Sugar daddies' fuelling HIV spread.

Friday, January 09, 2004

The Media Foundation for West Africa claims that Journalists Face Reprisals After Guinea Elections. Several independent journalists have been harrassed and intimidated for reports on the controversial election that authorities didn't appreciate. The stories denounced what were described as widespread election malpractices. The publications were also accompanied by picture illustrations of underage children stuffing ballot boxes and women who had voted more than once. Reporters from Le Diplomate and Le Populaire were apparently targeted. In the 21 Dec. election, head of state Gen. Lansana Conté was overwhelmingly re-elected, according to official figures, in the face of the boycott of all major opposition figures. Interestingly, one of the article that aroused governmental fury alleged that the Senegalese President, Abdoulaye Wade, had offered his Guinean counterpart, President Lansana Conte, exile in Dakar. Police who interrogated [the author of the piece] accused him of jeopardizing the internal security of the state. Guinea is the only country in West Africa without any private radio or television stations.

LURD rebels want their leader replaced by his wife, a strange story eminated from Liberia. Forty commanders of Liberia's main rebel group, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) have signed a statement calling for the replacement of LURD chairman Sekou Damate Conneh by his influential wife, Aisha Keita Conneh. Diplomats say she has a great deal of influence with Guinean President Lansana Conte, who for the past four years has been LURD's main backer. She is reputed to be Conte's personal fortune teller, reports IRIN.

The UN information clearinghouse also notes Three major pan-African institutions will come into force in early 2004. They include a much-heralded Peace and Security Council, modelled on the UN Security Council, as well as a Pan-African Parliament and an African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, both of which will be in force by the end of January, [African Union] officials told IRIN. In a continent where many national parliaments are marginalized, it remains to be seen how influential a continental legislature will be.

Mozambique's press agency claims a Million Children Still Unable to Study in the southern African state. An education ministry official fingered the shortage of schools and teachers as primary obstacles. The ministry did cite positive progress. Despite all the difficulties, many more children will be studying this year than in 2003. Thanks to the building of new schools last year, in 2004 the Ministry expects to enrol 731,000 children in first grade (which compares with the 685,000 places available last year).

A Daily Mail and Guardian piece argues that Zimbabwe ruins African unity. The essay notes that the row has alienated South African president Thabo Mbeki with his Nigerian counterpart Olesegun Obasanjo. The rift has large implications for African unity. It may hamper coordinated peace-keeping efforts on the continent and the implementation of Africa’s economic recovery plan, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad), suggest analysts. Details have emerged of how Mbeki’s divisive posturing embarrassed Obasanjo, for whom Chogm was the most important political function on home soil during his term in office. There was “anger and disquiet” at Mbeki’s stance, say highly placed Commonwealth insiders.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

The Daily Mail and Guardian reports the anti-democratic moves by Guinean head of state General Lansana Conte. Fantamady Conde, an opposition militant, called for civil disobedience: “We can’t resist Conte by violent means. His ruthless militants and sections of the army may come down hard on the people.” However, opposition leader Ba Mamadou disagreed. He told Ivorian paper Fraternité Matin, "Only violence can resolve the Guinean problem." This is a testament to the powerlessness and lack of ideas on the part of the sclerotic opposition. With the exception of Sidya Toure, a former prime minister under Conte, all the leaders of the main opposition parties are the same as they were ten years ago... at the birth of multipartyism. Much like the regime, the opposition is in desperate need of renewal. The regime would do well to remember President Kennedy's words, "Those who make peaceful change impossible, make violent change inevitable." On the other hand, Guinea has absolutely no need to introduce violence into its political scene. Their Liberian, Ivorian and Sierra Leonian brothers can tell them that once that Pandora's Box is opened, it's almost impossible to close back up.

The South African Communist Party (SACP) issued a statement on the 9th anniversary of the death of Joe Slovo, the formation's former leader. But interestingly, the SACP criticized the way in which Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and his cronies have betrayed their own nationalist ideals. The SACP statement noted that Slovo constantly insisted that, in the context of national liberation struggles, it was imperative for working people to safeguard an independent ideological and organisational platform. Africa, he noted, is littered with examples of once-heroic struggles stagnating post-independence under the domination of emergent, supposedly nationalist, rent-seeking bourgeoisies, abusing newly acquired state power for personal accumulation. With the contemporary example of Zimbabwe close to hand, the SACP is convinced that Slovo’s concerns in this direction were absolutely valid.

A column in Banjul's The Independent described democracy in Africa as 'new wine in old bottles.' The piece the Gambian paper begins: The problems of democracy in Africa are varied and complex. From the lack of coherent governance institutions, to the personalization of political power and authority, to the credibility of electoral politics, the African continent struggles to establish what has been identified as the best known form of governance known to humankind - over four decades after independence. There is, to my mind, one aspect of democracy that is hardly ever mentioned in debates and analysis of the subject in relation to Africa. That is, the nature of the continent's political culture.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

The Herald notes an agreement between the World Health Organization (WHO) and the pharmaceutical giant Novartis on tuberculosis drugs. The Zimbabwean state daily reports that the deal would provide drugs to tuberculosis patients in developing countries including Zimbabwe. WHO director general Mr Lee Jong-wook said the drugs to be provided by Novartis for a five-year period would assist in the control of TB in the world.

The Christian Science Monitor wrote of an innovative program in South Africa called the Community and Individual Development Association (CIDA) University. Founded in 1999 by four Johannesburg businessmen, it is a virtually free university that operates on a shoestring, largely through corporate support. The goal is to mold motivated students from the country's poorest and most marginalized communities into a new generation of African business leaders and high-powered entrepreneurs who will spread knowledge and prosperity across the continent.

The CSM also explained how Ethiopia's cooking-oil industry got burned by US aid. The paper calls the story a cautionary tale of how too much aid at the wrong time can sap a nation's self-sufficiency and create a dependence on hand-outs. While I am favor of foreign aid, this anecdote is worth noting since it shows that aid, by itself, is not the only answer and that self-sufficiency should be the ultimate goal. Ethiopia is the world's largest recipient of international aid and the country's economy would collapse without it.

Retired BBC World Service editor Robin White returns to Africa and gives his impressions of a Cameroon divided by language and culture.

The Daily Mail and Guardian tells how former Nigerian dictator Ibrahim Babangida may run for the country's presidency in 2007. The man whose controversial decision to cancel Nigeria's democratic elections in 1993 tore the country apart has founded a campaign organization called The 007 Project, which was registered shortly after he joined the ruling PDP party. Most members of the 007 project are either retired military officers or civilians who benefited immensely during Babangida’s rule from 1985 to 1993 according to the daily. Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka was disdainful. "The memory of people is not as short as he thinks. There are so many queries he still needs to answer."

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

The philosophy "talking is better than fighting" seems to have gained a little ground this week. In Burundi, the only rebel group still fighting the government has agreed to hold peace talks with the country's president. In The Sudan, the government and southern rebels have finalised an agreement on how to share the country's wealth, springing hopes that the country's 20 year civil war might end. In Ivory Coast, rebels have ended their boycott of Ivory Coast's power-sharing government.

In a troubling development, a Nigerian man now faces execution by stoning, as decided by a Sharia court. There was an international outrage last year when a woman was accorded the same sentence, so it will be interesting to see if the same verdict handed to a male provokes the same furor. [For those not familiar with Nigeria, it's a decentralized federal republic in which the states have a high degree of autonomy. Conservative Islam rules in many of the northern states, some of which have adopted Sharia law. The country's federal government opposes the northern states' imposition of Sharia, as do most people in the southern regions, but the federal govt has little authority other than to express its disagreement.]

South Africa's SABC reports that Eritrea rejects new Canadian peace envoy. I guess I don't blame. The previous panel ruled in Eritrea's favor so if that's not going to be respected, then what's the point of another envoy.

The UN's IRIN reports that two factions disarm their own fighters, commanders say. Hopefully, the country's disarmement will proceed without major problems.

Nigerian paper This Day reports that Secretary General Kofi Annan Seeks Funds for Post-Conflict Sierra Leone. The UN chief wants to help the West African nation's military and police "quickly improve their overall capability and project a credible deterrence profile" to help consolidate peace in the country.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Four French soldiers are accused of robbing a bank in Ivory Coast they were supposed to be guarding, according to sources cited by the BBC. The men are accused of taking 58,000 euros from the bank in the northern rebel-held town of Bouake. The officials in Paris said the men were detained after allegedly trying to buy diamonds and gold. They are under judicial investigation by the French authorities. This certainly isn't going to help alleviate the anti-French hysteria that's rampant in Ivory Coast and fueled by politicians and pseudo-militias.

That the seizure of thousands of white-owned farms in Zimbabwe has failed to benefit large numbers of poor black farmers is not a surprise to clear seeing folks. That this was admitted by Zimbabwe's special affairs minister is quite shocking. John Nkomo conceded that "In some cases, the percentage of people who took up the farms that they were allocated has not been encouraging," adding that "In some cases, 40% of people who were allocated land have taken it up." The minister blamed lack of finance, saying that the farmers who wanted to take the land had difficulties obtaining bank loans, noted The Daily Mail and Guardian. This is curious since the forceable seizures of the farms cost the government nothing, so why are they sold to poor peasants rather than given? Isn't that the whole alleged point of the land "reform"? The opposition spokesman on land affairs said, "'They gave land to people who are not farmers, who are soldiers and police and civil servants. These people are working in towns. They are not interested in the land. They got the land for speculation purposes, so that they can sell it later." Oddly, Minister Nkomo broke from the party line in not blaming British Prime Minister Tony Blair for the problems or for the cloudy weather in Harare.

Cameroon's government has shut down twelve independent radio and television stations in the southwest of the country in a fresh crackdown on the media during the run-up to presidential elections due in October, according to international media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF). "Cameroon is on its way to becoming one of the most repressive countries in central Africa as far as freedom of expression is concerned," said Robert Menard, secretary-general of RSF, as quoted by The Daily Mail and Guardian.

Tottenham Hotspur soccer player Freddie Kanoute has announced that he will play for Mali in this month's African Nations Cup in Tunisia, despite pleas to the contrary from his club boss. Although Kanoute played for France at the youth levels, his parents Malian heritage meant that he could choose between France and the West African nation for senior international football. Tottenham's interim manager rained contempt upon the decision. "'Do you know the population of Mali? Neither do any of my players... I don't even know where Mali is," scorned David Pleat. The Nations Cup is Africa's most important soccer competition and arguably the third most prestigious continental competition in the world. Every tournament, numerous African players have breakout performances and are discovered and signed by European clubs.

Last week, I listened to an interesting documentary on the English service of Radio Netherlands. A Dutch woman explained her involvement in small development projects in West Africa. In the last decade, she has set up over 15 projects in the Casamance region of southern Senegal and in The Gambia. From building a health center, to putting a new roof on a school, to providing running water, to giving poor women mills to grind rice and maize (corn). She has also set up cultural exchanges between Senegal and The Netherlands. She's been lauded by the Senegalese government for the way she involves villagers in every phase of her projects.

One of the most intriguing things for outsiders is, as Radio Netherlands notes, that the woman and a Senegalese partner set up a lodge on the coast of the Casamance. It's a fairly rustic place with only solar electricity and well water. But the surroundings are idyllic, with the warm waters of the Atlantic, palm trees and lush vegetation.

"It's more than a lodge," observes the woman. "It's a cultural centre. We organise many activities to highlight African culture, such as workshops on African dance, drums, music, batik-making, sculpture and drawings. All the workshops are taught by local artists."

Guests are also taken on excursions to the villages in the surroundings to get a better feel for life in that part of West Africa.

So if you've ever thought about a vacation in West Africa and want to do so in a way that benefits local people, check out

Friday, January 02, 2004

UNICEF has named its top five concerns for the world's children. The UN organization lists: child survival (children living past age 5), HIV-AIDS, children caught in war, exploitation and insufficient investment in children as the leading issues relating to young people for 2004.

South African president Thabo Mbeki's trip to Haiti was quite eventful. First, a domestic Haitian group declared that President Mbeki and his entourage were not welcome to Haiti's bicentennial celebrations. Groupe 184 opined that his visit is viewed as an insult to most of us and to the memory of our forefathers who fought for our independence and our liberty during 12 long years. Then, there were reports that the South African leader's motorcade was involved in a shooting incident in the Haitian capital, a report denied by Mbeki's spokesperson. The aide did later confirm that Mbeki's official helicopter has been shot at but that the president was not present at the time.

Despite demands from Burundi's main rebel group, a spokesman for the country's Bishops' Conference said thatthe archbishop of Bujumbura will not leave the country because that would be tantamount to giving in to terrorism.

The government of Mali has agreed to take firm but low profile action to counter the widespread practise of female circumcision, otherwise known as female genital mutilation. IRIN reports Nine out of 10 girls in this poor West African country suffer the total or partial removal of their clitoris before or shortly after they reach puberty in a ceremony that has formed part of social life for centuries.

The UN information site notes good news for another West African country. Grain production nearly doubled in Senegal in 2003 after good rains. According to documents made available by the Ministry of Agriculture, overall grain production rose 91 percent to 1.5 million tonnes in 2003.

The United Nations has appointed Lloyd Axworthy to mediate the Eritrea-Ethiopia border dispute. The former Canadian foreign minister and man who was most deserving to succeed Jean Chrétien as Canada's prime minister will be the intermediary between the two Horn of Africa countries who've fought a devastating 2 1/2 year border year.