Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Foxes guarding the henhouse in Darfur -- Much hairdo about nothing

A truly Orwellian story from the genocide-torn Darfur. Upon visiting the area last week, UN Human Rights Commissionner Louise Arbour was told by refugees that Arab militiamen responsible for atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region are now guarding camps for the displaced. Arbour added that "They claim to see former Janjaweed... recycled into the police," referring the the Janjaweed militias who are widely accused of committing genocide and of being armed by the Sudanese government. "There is a widespread belief they are being protected by their very oppressors."


File this in the 'haven't we heard this one before' file. According The Monitor, a Ugandan army spokesman claims that the vicious Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels are disbanding. The Kampala daily writes, that the military spokesman, Maj. Shaban Bantariza, told The Monitor on Monday the rebels had been ordered to resettle in their homes if they so wished. "They have orders to go to Uganda and those who wish can also go back to their homes," Bantariza said by telephone. He did not say who issued the orders.

The LRA war in the north of Uganda is one of the most savage conflicts in the world today. About 1.5 million people have been internally displaced from their homes and are living on food hand-outs from humanitarian organisations. Unicef estimates 12,000 children have been abducted in the barbaric war.

As much as I'd love to believe that the nightmare in northern Uganda is nearing an end, history has shown the danger of being overconfident against such truly despicable, but hideously resilient, band like the LRA.

And if the war wasn't bad enough, it's also compromising the country's well-known success against AIDS. World Vision claims AIDS is killing three times more people in northern Uganda than the ongoing violence there.

"World Vision found that HIV/AIDS was the leading cause for death, constituting 69 percent of deaths in the Gulu area, three times higher than direct killings during military confrontation," the aid agency said.

World Vision noted that although the national HIV/AIDS prevalence rates for Uganda were estimated at 6.2 percent and declining, the rates in war-affected areas such as Gulu were 11.9 percent, almost double the national average. Gulu is the district most affected by the conflict.


The UN's IRIN service notes that war has also hindered the fight against AIDS in Côte d'Ivoire. The country's UNAIDS coordinator said only 2,300 people living with AIDS benefited from life-enhancing ARV treatment in Cote d'Ivoire at present, even though donor financing existed to provide the drugs at a subsidised price to many more. He said the authorities currently knew of 12,000 people in the country who were in urgent need of the drugs, which improve the health of people living with AIDS and can extend their life. But he added that the disruption of medical services caused by two years of civil war has meant the Ivorian health authorities could no longer reach all those living with AIDS. The conflict had led to irresponsible sexual behaviour and drug abuse which was compounding the spread of the disease.


Nigeria is infamous for being one of the most corrupt countries in the world. It also has a reputation for being one of the most violent countries not at war. Its north is a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism abused for political purposes. Even others who live in West Africa, a notoriously unstable region, view Nigeria as a country that simply doesn't work.

So it's natural that one of the big flaps in Nigeria has to do with... hair.

Officials of the NFA, Nigeria's soccer federation, are clashing with players who wear hair braids, dreadlocks and earrings.

Many of Nigeria's top footballers, including their captain Jay-Jay Okocha and top striker Nwankwo Kanu, have their hair braided, notes the BBC.

A football administrator claimed that players with unorthodox hairstyles should be suspended or banned and went so far as to tell those refereeing the Youth Championships to remove offending players even if they are the best players on the field.

It's hardly unprecendented. A few years ago, Guinean dictator Gen. Lansana Conté ordered his country's national teamers to visit the barber. [Incidentally, Conté is almost never seen in public anymore and when he's photographed, it's always with a skullcap.]

Why such a fuss?

As if you didn't know...

"Our youths are now taking after our great football stars... don't forget that in the developing world that the braiding of hair and ear-rings have a sense of homosexuality," claimed an official from the information ministry.

Some Nigerian bureaucrats have a reeeeeeally active imagination. Or else too little to do.

Monday, September 20, 2004

People smuggling -- 'Tantamount to genocide'

The UN reports that people smuggling has become the biggest crime business in West Africa after drugs.

The International Office for Migration (IOM) told the three-day conference organised by the international police organisation Interpol that in 1991 there were an estimated two million "irregular migrants" in Europe from West and Central Africa.

Today, it said, the figure was just over three million.

Armand Rousselot, the IOM regional representative for West Africa, said France, Italy and Spain were the most favoured destinations of illegal migrants, many of whom travel overland across the Sahara before attempting the short sea journey across the Mediterranean or across the Atlantic approaches to Spain in dangerously overcrowded boats.

“If a migrant wants to go, he will find the means to do so”, Rousselot said.

But the services of those who supply forged documents and provide clandestine transport do not come cheap. Obtaining a forged passport and entry visa for the European Union can cost up to US$4,000.

And those who try instead to make it clandestinely across the sea in a crowded boat to a lonely beach pay heavily for a place on board.

An average of $2000 each. A huge amount in most West African countries.


The European Parliament has finally spoken on the Darfur crisis. The EU's legislative arm categorized the events in Western Sudan as "tantamount to genocide."

No explanation was given as to the different between something that is genocide and something that is "tantamount to genocide."

Though, as Reuters noted, the Euro Parliament's declaration supported sanctions against Khartoum but omitted a call for an oil embargo.

Odd. I thought Americans were the only ones who allowed oil to enter into political considerations. Not righteous, conscientious Europeans!


Radio Netherlands has yet another excellent dossier, this time on the effect of the brutal civil war in northern Uganda on the region's children.

The rebel Lord's Resistance Army isn't using [insert ominous music] WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION like mustard gas or what not. They only recruit very young children into their ranks; 'recruit' meaning force. Their raw and random cruelty is arguably unmatched anywhere in the world. The LRA are descendants of Milton Obote's gang; Obote was basically Idi Amin with a little charisma. The LRA claims to want a government based on the Ten Commandments.

Excluding, of course, the ones that deal with acting like moderately civilized human beings.


Many West Africans are changing their money. Literally.

The West African central bank, BCEAO, is giving residents of their CFA franc zone* until the end of the year to exchange their bank notes for brand, spanking new ones.

One advantage is sanitary. As anyone who's ever used CFA franc notes, the bills are grimy and disgusting.

Another reason is to prevent bank notes stolen from the BCEAO branch in northern Cote d'Ivoire from being laundered.

The central bank is also using the exercise to determine the precise value of CFA francs in circulation.

There are concerns that the information campaign may not reach all people, especially in rural areas, of the member countries.

[*-the West African CFA franc zone comprises Guinea-Bissau and all of the French-speaking West African countries, except for Guinea]


The Namibian government has promised to expel hundreds of Bangladeshi workers.

Their crime? Complaining about working conditions in their factory that provides sportswear to Nike and other manufacturers.

The workers claimed their employers were withholding more than one third of their monthly salary to pay for food... An [Agence France Presse] journalist who was shown their living conditions at the plant said the Bangladeshis were forced to share a single toilet and to use outside taps to wash.

Whiners! One toilet's surely enough for 400 workers.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Powell declares Darfur 'genocide'

Late last week, Secretary of State Colin Powell declared the crisis in Darfur, Eastern Sudan to be genocide. Some criticized Powell for waiting so long, but in fairness, he said long ago that whether Darfur was legally genocide or not was almost beside the point; the atrocities were intolerable and resulting man-made humanitarian catastrophe disastrous regardless of the semantic description. This is one foreign policy situation where the Bush administration is actually on the right side.

The US becomes the first major outsider to state the obvious. The Washington Post reports: Both the African Union and the Arab League have said there is no genocide. The European Union said it does not have enough information.

Despite the desire of its leader, Alpha Oumar Konaré, to prove its relevance, the African Union is proving as ineffectual as its predecessor, the Organization for African Unity. So much for the much vaunted 'African solutions to African problems' utopia.

That the Arab League adopts a 'see no evil' policy is hardly surprising; anything bad in the world is automatically the fault of Israel and the United States.

That the EU has adopted a head in the sand policy despite overwhelming independent evidence to the contrary is more disturbing, though hardly surprising. If the Bush administration trusts militarism as its preferred option, the EU has traditionally gone with the 'interminable peace conferences no matter how little progress is made' route. Slobodan Milosevic appreciated this tactic. What's happening in Darfur is, by all accounts, worse than what's happening in Chechnya, but the Russian conflict draws far more ire from Europe's politicians, editorialists and indignant outrage specialists.

While Powell's declaration is just that, words, it is not insignificant. To my knowledge, it's the first time the US has ever declared a situation genocide while the crisis was actually happening.

Security Council members Britain, Spain and Germany back U.S. efforts to establish a commission of inquiry. But some European diplomats expressed concern that Powell's statement would complicate efforts to win broader support. China warned that it may veto the resolution, noting that it does not believe genocide has occurred. "There are problems in Darfur, but we don't see it as that category," said Wang Guangya, China's ambassador to the United Nations. The council should "come up with constructive ideas to help solve the problem, not to make the problem more complicated."

It must be nice to insist on such patience when it's not your people getting massacred. China, of course, has a sterling human rights reputation, as the people of Tibet will attest.

Will Powell's declaration "complicate" efforts to set up a commission of inquiry? Who cares?

By the time the inquiry is set up (after much haggling), does its investigation, delivers its report and then the Security Council spends months arguing furiously whether or not to inflict even a slap on the wrist to Khartoum, the genocide will be over. By then, there'll be no one left to kill.

The UN should place sanctions on the complicit and/or willfully obstructionist Sudanese regime immediately. Then it can debating about further courses of action.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Mugabe's mistake?

Sometimes I wonder if Zimbabwean thug Robert Mugabe didn't make a tactical mistake. Wouldn't it have been easier for him to declare that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change was funded by al-Qaeda?

All he had to do was claim to be an ally in the so-called war on terror and part of the "coalition of the willing" for freedom and liberty. If he did that, Mugabe would be free to boil his opponents alive (like Uzbekistan's dictator) or eliminate any semblance of opposition (like Eritrea's) all while maintaining the unflinching support of the Bush administration.