Monday, March 29, 2004

Two dozen people were killed in clashes in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s commercial capital. The clashes erupted when an opposition demonstration went ahead despite a dubious government ban on the march. The country’s democratically-elected but increasingly autocratic head of state Laurent Gbagbo called the protest an "attempted armed revolt.” According to the BBC, The National Police Director General Yapo Kouassi insisted he gave strict orders for the police to maintain law and order using "conventional means". He said he told his men that "even if protestors spat in their faces, they must not open fire", which seems odd procedure for something that was supposedly an armed revolt. Integration Minister Mel Theodore complained, "In insisting on their [the opposition’s] wish to demonstrate, they are trying to create troubles for the government, which is at the stage where it wants reconciliation." Killing those merely expressing their disapproval of the government is a strange way to foster reconciliation. As a result of the repression, the rebel New Forces and the Rally of Republicans, one of the main opposition parties, withdrew from the power-sharing national unity government set up following the French-negotiated Marcoussis peace accords. The so-called Young Patriots, who are well-armed and uncontrolled militias ostensibly close to Gbagbo, objected to the peace agreement and have done their best to undermine it.

The Sydney Morning Herald has an intriguing revelation concerning the alleged coup plot against Equatorial Guinea’s dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema. The Australian daily cites the Nigerian paper This Day in reporting that [a]lleged mercenaries facing charges of trying to topple the president of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea were actually on a mission to abduct former Liberian president Charles Taylor from Nigeria... Sources close to some of the men [being held in Zimbabwe] suggest there was never a plan to oust President Nguema ... They say the west African state was merely to be the springboard for a seaborne expedition to Calabar, the port city in south-eastern Nigeria, where Taylor found asylum to avoid his indictment for crimes.

Last week, British prime minister Tony Blair became the first major western leader to pay a visit to Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi. Col. Gaddafi expressed the hope that the visit would signal a "new relationship" with the UK. Though the Libyan leader has gained praise for his apparent renunciation of weapons of mass destruction, many have criticized Prime Minister Blair’s visit, noting that Gaddafi has never been held accountable for many acts of terrorism or for his role in destabilizing many West African countries. The prime minister dismissed such criticism noting that [p]eople should not forget the past, they should move beyond it. (I’m sure people in countries devastated by Gaddafi’s proteges, like Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, would love to move beyond it, if they could). In a totally unrelated development [wink], British firms are to sign further significant deals with Libya in coming weeks, the British trade secretary has announced.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

In the last year, the Nigerian government has granted asulym to former Liberian dictator and indicted war criminal Charles Taylor and offered it to the ex-Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide. This prompted a Nigerian student to write to the BBC wondering

"Can anyone tell me why Nigeria is becoming a safe haven for deposed world leaders yet remains so unsafe for her own citizens?"

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

There’ve been some shocking reports of so-called ethnic cleansing coming out of the western Sudanese region of Darfur.

As Amnesty International described the situation, Men, women and children are being killed and villages are burnt and looted because the central government is allowing militias aligned to it to pursue what amounts to a strategy of forced displacement through the destruction of homes and livelihood of the farming populations of the region.

Amnesty condemned the government of the Sudan for failing to ensure the protection of civilians. This is not a situation where the central government has lost control... For the past year, no member of the Janjawid [militia] has been arrested or brought to justice for a single unlawful killing., claimed the London-based organization. The government is still severely restricting humanitarian aid in Darfur, and appears unwilling to address the human rights crisis in the region... Neither have [aid organizations] been able to reach tens of thousands of people sheltering in rural towns or in the bush with hardly any food and shelter and no medical supplies.

The ethnic cleansing occurs as the Arab-dominated government and the black African Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army are allegedly close to reaching a settlement to end the 20 year old civil war in the south of the country.

Regional analysts point out that there is a growing sense of regional identity among diverse communities sharing the same experience of marginalization, according to the IRIN news service.

The Sudanese central government is infamous for tolerating slavery in the south of the country, a practice conducted almost exclusively by a government backed militia, according to Human Rights Watch. So it’s hardly surprising that the regime in Khartoum stands accused to turning a blind eye to ethnic cleansing in the west.

The situation is so dire that the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Sudan,compared human rights violations going on in Darfur to what happened in Rwanda in 1994. He said the only difference between the two were the numbers of dead, murdered, tortured and raped. [He] said more than 10,000 people had been killed in the fighting. Additionally, some 100,000 people have fled the fighting in Darfur into neighboring Chad.

Monday, March 22, 2004

The belated "discovery" of the black box allegedly from the plane shot down carrying the Rwandan and Burundian presidents in 1994 turned out to be a hoax. The UN admitted that after research, they found the flight recorder had no link to the infamous incident. The flight recorder was discovered a day after French authorities alleged that current Rwandan President Paul Kagame was responsible for the plane's downing, an incident which was the pretext used by Hutu extremists to launch the genocide. The allegations swirling around Kagame occur on the eve of the 10th anniversary comemmorations of the tragedy.

The Somaliland Times reports on the state of Somaliland judiciary system. At least 300 ordinary people filled the meeting hall in the Somaliland Ministry of Interior’s headquarters in Hargeisa last Sunday to express strong grievances against what they termed “injustice inflicted on citizens by the country’s courts of law”, reported the paper Justice minister Ahmed Hassan Ali responded by admitting that the
judicial system was not functioning properly. However he said constitutionally, the administration and particularly his ministry are prohibited from interfering with the judiciary, as it is independent of the executive branch.
Somaliland is a republic located in the northwestern quarter of what used to be Somalia. It has a functioning government and institutions, but its sovereignty is not internationally recognized, even though it was an independent country before its union with Somalia. Want to know more? Visit the Somaliland government's website.

On the 14th anniversary of the country's independance, the Namibian Ministry of Labour has slapped a ban on the outright eviction of farm workers, reports The Namibian. Dubbed the 'Government Temporary Intervention Policy on Evictions', it comes into effect amid pledges from both agricultural workers and employers' representatives to adhere to it. The eviction and dumping of farmworkers has resulted in a number of battles between commercial farmers, trade unions and Government. "We need to restore peace in the agricultural sector and drive towards creating common understanding (between farm owners and workers)," Secretary General of the Namibia Farm Workers Union (Nafwu), Alfred Angula, said yesterday, when welcoming the policy, noted the Windhoek daily. The country's government has recently veered away from its long-standing 'willing buy, willing seller' policy on land redistribution.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The World Press Review wonders ’ Is Burundi's Slow-Motion Genocide Finally Over?’. The country’s recently installed head of state, Domitien Ndayizeye, thinks so. Speaking to journalists in Paris on Jan. 16, Ndayizeye said his country has reached “the point of no return on the road to peace and security.” He heads a transitional, power-sharing government that comprises both the majority Hutu and the minority Tutsi people, noting that “peace and security” was his top priority.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has attacked the country’s anti-AIDS activists for monopolising the funds provided by donors to fight the pandemic, reports The Daily Mail and Guardian. There are approximately 600 NGOs in Zambia. More than 450 of these work in rural communities, and 150 focus exclusively on HIV/Aids, according to the South African daily which also reported that Mwanawasa told a two-day Aids conference attended by United Nations officials and Cabinet ministers from across Southern Africa that most civil society groups are composed of family members who got donor funding under the guise of Aids prevention programmes. The Zambian leader also lashed out at the UN for favouring civil society in the distribution of Aids funds. The executive director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/Aids, Peter Piot, acknowledged that this trend “could create confusion in the distribution of funds”.

Many HIV-positive Zambian women, denied access by a tradition of subservience and sacrifice, are not benefiting from the country’s anti-retroviral drug program, according to the same newspaper. A National Aids Council report shows that of the 870 000 HIV-positive Zambians, 70% are women. But that gender ratio is not reflected in the statistics of those receiving ARVs. Instead, the majority enrolled in the programme appear to be men.

The Kenyan government has withdrawn from the national conference drawing up a new constitution. Some members of the ruling NARC coalition are angry at proposals to reduce the powers of the presidency and give them to the newly created post of prime minister. NARC was in favor of such limitations when they were in opposition to the previous KANU regime of Daniel arap Moi.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

France and Rwanda have been trading accusations. First, French authorities have accused then rebel leader (now Rwandan president) Paul Kagame of ordering the shooting down of the plane carrying the then Rwandan and Burundian leaders in 1994. This event was the pretext the Rwandan regime’s extremists were looking for as an excuse to implement their pre-planned genocide that eventually killed at least 800,000 people. Kagame denied the accusation and accused France of ‘direct involvement’ in the genocide.

Kagame told Radio France Internationale, “They [the French] trained the genociders. They were in positions of authority over the armed forces who committed the genocide. They also participated directly in the operations: by infiltrating roadblocks to identify people by their ethnicity, in punishing Tutsis in favor of Hutus. All this was done in plain site, at the roadblocks. We have everything on video, numerous proofs of French participation. Not the Frenchpeople, but certain elements who were acting on the order of the government and who managed roadblocks during the genocide.” Strong stuff. Unfortunately, plausible too, considering the close relations between Paris and its client regime in Rwanda and considering the military operation the French launched to help the genociders escape to then-Zaire.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Nigeria has pulled back from an earlier press statement that it had discussed acquiring nuclear power from Pakistan, according to the BBC. The reference to nuclear weapons was a ‘typographical error’ according to a defense ministry spokesman, in what has to be one of the lamest attempts at an excuse in recent history.

In an announcement that surprised no one familiar with West Africa, the chief prosecutor at the UN's new court for Sierra Leone has accused the Libyan leader of being behind the past decade of war in West Africa. This occurs as the Jamhariya’s relations with Britain and the United States are in the midst of a notable thaw. War crimes prosecutor David Crane noted there was a detailed plan by Mr Gaddafi to destabilise several West African countries which had caused widespread suffering in the region. "We know that, specifically up until last year, that there was a 10-year plan to take down Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire, then move to Guinea and then elsewhere as the situation developed," he said. Crane did not deny the possibility that Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi might be indicted.

While Zimbabweans are starving, the Harare regime is focusing on fighting the distribution of... ’revolutionary condoms’. Zimbabwe's state radio accused an underground local rights movement of distributing "subversive" condoms in collusion with a US-based prophylactics manufacturer, according to AFP. The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) said the popular brand of Protector Condoms, advertised widely in the country, had been "rebranded" by the underground group that calls itself "Zvakwana," or "Enough" in the local Shona dialect.

Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe also saw fit to declare how he was ‘morally revulsed’ by homosexuality. It remains to be seen if the thug is also ‘morally revulsed’ by the alleged use of international food aid to punish suspected political opponents or the general destruction of the country implemented by his regime.

From the ‘who funded this study?’ category: Some 70% of South African men experience some sort of sexual dysfunction, according to data debated at a conference on sex in Africa. The BBC cited A recent survey in South Africa showed that some men consider sex more important than food or shelter, which is why the topic is so high on the agenda at first African Congress on Sexual Health and Rights.

Monday, March 01, 2004


Moms and dads have their day. Old presidents have their day. So do labor unions and medeival saints. Soldiers have two official days plus numerous 'support our troops' rallies. Even bosses and secretaries have days, according to Hallmark. So why not Peace Corps volunteers?

Today is Peace Corps Day. It's the 43rd anniversary of the day President Kennedy signed the executive order creating the Peace Corps.

Some people think the Peace Corps is a military organization. In fact, it's quite the opposite. It's an organization which sends volunteers to developing countries to engage in such activities as teaching, public health, environmental management and small business development. Volunteers receive a living allowance to cover their basic expenses and are provided housing, but are otherwise not paid.

The goals of the Peace Corps, according to the organization's website, are three:

1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.

2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.

3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of all Americans.

Suffice it to say, all three goals have been important since the organization was created but #2 seems particularly crucial in the era of post-9/11 and random invasions.

There have been many books on "the Peace Corps experience" (which is about as broad a generalization as "the American mentality"). Nevertheless, several themes tend to be pretty common among them.

-Go to God-foresaken country with the expectation to help the noble savages.
-Learn that they are not savages and that they are noble/ignoble in more or less the same proportion as Americans.
-Sense of loneliness in a totally alien culture.
-Learn that life without TV/computer is not the apocalypse.
-Leave with the realization that you learned more than they did.
-Sadness when they have to leave their village/city.
-Transmit these themes interspersed with a lot of humorous anecdotes.
-Commentary on the impact of American foreign policy, French foreign policy and the IMF/World Bank may be included.

Common themes for volunteers who served in sub-Saharan Africa are as follows:
-Annoyance at people who call you 'toubabou' (or whatever the local language word for 'white person' is); "My name isn't 'toubabou'," fumes the author. "My name is John!"
-Agitation that everyone wanted you to marry their sister/brother/son/daughter or get them a visa to go to America.
-Rage at the dichotomy between the fabulous wealth of the political elite and the overwhelming poverty of the masses.
-Observation to the effect that "[nationality] are so poor monetarily but so rich in spirit/culture/community."
-Elogies about how welcoming [nationality] are to strangers.
-A brief history of the country and the legacy of European colonialism.
-Maddening anecdotes about dealing with corrupt officials, musings on heat, mosquitoes and hygeine and comical (or frightening) travel stories.
-General commentary about "the African condition" may be included.

The best book I've ever read about "the Peace Corps experience" was George Packer's The Village of Waiting. It was a wonderfully written book in its own right. But I enjoyed it even more because, even though it was set in Togo and I served in Guinea, it was pretty much the story of my experience. Reading The Village of Waiting is why I decided not to write a strictly autobiographical account of my experience: it had already been done.