Monday, January 31, 2005

Inside La Maison BBY

For those of you who read French, the Ivorian Le Courrier d'Abidjan has some some dirt on the internal workings of the influential pan-African weekly L'Intelligent (formerly Jeune Afrique).

I'm not sure what Le Courrier d'Abidjan's axe to grind is, and pretty much all media outlets in Côte d'Ivoire have one, but it makes interesting reading.

The ironic demise of an Orwellian master

Africa lacks many things. Infrastructure. Political leadership. Respect for the rule of law. But one thing the continent is never short on is irony.

Jonathan, over at The Head Heeb, comments on the amusing demise of Zimbabwe's Information Minister Jonathan Moyo.

As you may know, Moyo was the architect of the country's repressive media laws that have all but annihilated any press breathing space. Press organs have to register with the government and that press registration can be denied on a whim. Printing presses of the Daily News, the country's only independent daily have been repeatedly sabotaged and bombed. Foreign reporters can only be denied entry in the country on a whim. The BBC has been banned altogether. This was all organized by Moyo. The former anti-government university professor who was bought off with a cabinet position even officially banned the opposition ('disloyal opposition parties') from access to state media.

Yet despite this and despite his loyal shilling for dictator Robert Mugabe, the old professor has fallen out of favor. First, he backed a ruling party candidate for vice-president that was different than the one prefered by Mugabe. Now, the ZANU-PF party politburo (yes, that's what it's actually called) has decided to take action against its former apologist.

According to the Zimbabwe Independent weekly, the politburo discussed the manipulation of the state-controlled media by Moyo and expressed concern about the role of Zimpapers [state print media corporation] editors who it said had been roped into party politics.

Some politburo members said the editors were being used as “foot soldiers” to fight Moyo’s factional battles.

Zanu PF officials expressed alarm that the Herald, Chronicle, Sunday Mail and Sunday News and to some extent state radio and television had become propaganda vehicles for Moyo.

They reportedly complained that stories and anonymous columns in these newspapers were advancing Moyo’s personal interests and not those of Zanu PF.

If you've ever listened to an interview with Moyo, you know he is one of the most Orwellian spin doctors you'll ever hear. It was amusing to see him at work, twisting the truth and changing the subject with the skill of a master.

Too bad the professor apparently never read Machiavelli.

I'm sure what's left of an independent media in Zimbabwe is having trouble containing its glee at Moyo's plight.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Global gimmickery

Although French President Jacques Chirac was right about the Iraq war, he is indeed a slimeball. Not for the reasons war supporters gave, but he is a slimeball nonetheless. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, on the other hand, was wrong about Iraq but is not a slimeball.

Blair has made attacking poverty in Africa one of his goals for this year. His government is one the provided the so-called Marshall Plan for Africa. As I I wrote earlier, it would be a good idea if it placed more emphasis on democracy, human rights, rule of law, respect for private property and good governance. But its heart is in the right place and, with some tweaking, might actually have a chance of badgering some African governments into fundamental change.

Jacques Chirac, for his part, was not happy about being upstaged by Blair. Africa has always been France's plaything, much like Latin America has always been the US' plaything. The French have never wanted the Anglos to gain too much influence in Africa, which is why the Paris backed the francophone genociders in Rwanda against the anglophone rebels.

So Chirac decided to combat Blair's legitimate plan with a gimmick. He wants to institute a global tax on financial transactions to fight global poverty. It would only be a tiny fraction of each transaction, but multiplied by millions of transactions a day, it would be a lot of money.

Or perhaps I should say "He proposes to institute..." because I'm not really sure if he wants to or not. It seems more like a gimmick to gain brownie points and look like he cares about Africa than a serious approach. It's unworkable and Chirac knows it. Who would collect the tax? Who would distribute it? To whom would it be distributed? Besides, Washington, who's approval would be necessary for such a scheme to work, would never ok it anyway. Nor should they.

Prominent African leaders, for their part, continue to insist that opening European markets to African goods would do far more than aid given with countless strings attached or only for disasters.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The more things change...

African leaders manipulating the national constitution to allow themselves to become presidents-for-life is current fashion among African heads of state. Guinea's Lansana Conté, Tunisia's Ben Ali and Togo's Gnassingbé Eyadema (all generals incidentally) all succeeded at such trickery. Others, like Zambia's Frederick Chiluba, Ghana's Jerry Rawlings and Namibia's Sam Nujoma, were less successful.

Burundi's leader Domitien Ndayizeye is the latest to attempt such constitutional manipulation. The difference is that Ndayizeye wasn't even elected in the first place. He is the country's INTERIM president and was NAMED so as the result of a painstaking negotiated peace deal between the Burundian government and rebels.

African countries which are stuck with "leaders" like Ndayizeye and Conté, will remain mired in stagnation. Those that reject the monarchical president for life model will have a chance of moving forward.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Abacha loot to be returned?

The Nigerian paper This Day (via reports that money stolen by the country's late dictator Sani Abacha and hidden in Swiss bank accounts is to be returned, promised Switzerland's ambassador to Nigeria.

The repatriation of the stolen funds, some US$500 million, is not surprisingly opposed by the Abacha family. I'd be curious how they might explain how the general amassed so a huge fortune on a modest military salary.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Signs of normalcy return to southern Sudan

Ethan Zuckerman's primarily Africa-themed blog noted an interesting article in The Christian Science Monitor. 'Cellphones, roads, and girls in school. Is this south Sudan?' asks the CSM's Abraham McLaughlin.

As you may remember, a peace agreement was recently signed between the central government in Khartoum and the southern SPLA rebel group. This would end one a 20-year civil war.

[Note: this peace deal does not affect the genocide being perpetrated by the regime in the eastern region of Darfur. In fact, some have argued cynically that the peace deal in the south allows the military regime to concentrate MORE military resources in Darfur.]

Anyways, McLaughlin notes optimistic signs of progress in the de facto southern Sudanese capital of Rumbek. Since the peace deal was signed earlier this month, the first signs of normalcy are appearing: Children, even girls, are going to school - many for the first. (Only Afghanistan under the Taliban had fewer girls graduate from eighth grade.) Some are starting to see a life beyond the battlefield. And commerce is coming back, he notes.

Former Sprint PCS engineer Richard Herbert is trying to develop a mobile phone network in the region from scratch. Herbert's cellphone team is on the leading edge of a developing post-war investment boom. When he arrived last August, he had only a few acres of land and a broken 30-foot satellite dish to work with. He had to charter planes to bring much of the new equipment.
"Most countries, even Afghanistan, have at least some infrastructure," he says. "But southern Sudan - zero."

But that hasn't daunted Herbert. Or the SPLA's head honchos. [S]outhern Sudan's leaders - former rebels who are joining the national government and will control the south - are keen for private-sector help, too. They invited in Herbert's firm, Network of the World.

And it's not merely telecommunication improvements that are coming.

Local markets are improving, too. Most used to be so anemic that they were barter-only: Want a chicken? Better have some salt to trade.

Now traders demand cash. Prices have fallen by about 30 percent in Rumbek. When Muhammad goes to the market, he sees imported items like pink Joe Boxer underwear, Casio watches, and fresh fruit.

You know things are on the upswing when pink Joe Boxer underwear arrives!

Soon, unheard-of products like refrigerators will arrive. Until now, the roads have been too risky for such high-value items.

But Muhammad is proudest that he now earns $375 a month - enough to put all four of his kids in school for the first time. "The children," he says, "they must be in school."

Friday, January 21, 2005

Freedom House rankings

Kenya Hudson, over at the excellent Ambiguous Adventure blog, comments on the 2005 Freedom Assessments.

The rankings are issued by the non-governmental organization Freedom House, which calls itself a clear voice for democracy and freedom around the world and says it has championed the rights of democratic activists, religious believers, trade unionists, journalists, and proponents of free markets.

It ranks countries' level of freedom based on political liberties and civil liberties. It has three statuses: free, partially free and not free.

There was remarkably little movement as compared to the 2004 survey. Liberia went from not free to partially, after the demise of the dictatorship of indicted war criminal Charles Taylor. Djibouti went in the other direction. All other countries' statuses remained unchanged.

The countries with the lowest numerical ranking were Libya, Somalia (it would be interesting if they'd measured the self-declared Republic of Somaliland) and Sudan. Those with the highest numerical ranking were Cape Verde and Mauritius.

Of the 52 countries in Africa, 11 were classed as free (22 as partially free). 6 of those free countries are in West Africa with 5 in southern Africa (including Namibia, despite its periodic bad press). An observant reader will notice that this means not a single country in East or North Africa was ranked as free.


Thursday, January 20, 2005

Eritrea self-sufficient no more

Do you remember back when Eritrea was seen as a model for the world? After independence in 1993 from Ethiopia, Eritrea adopted a national policy of self-sufficiency that was supposed to be a stark contrast to most of the rest of Africa. Especially to its former colonizers who are reportedly the most foreign aid-dependent country in the world.

Those days are long gone. Given the association of Eritrea with 'self-sufficiency,' I was particularly saddened to read that an article stating that Some two-thirds of the population of Eritrea will require varying degrees of food assistance this year, say United Nations food agencies.

I have three words for you: insane border war.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Apparent assassination attempt against ailing Guinean leader

Earlier today, armed men attacked the motorcade of Guinea's leader Gen. Lansana Conté. The general was apparently unhurt.

Reuters and the Canada-based internet news service Guineenews ( both reported that men in military uniform who appeared to be dissident soldiers had carried out the attack on Conte. Guineenews said one of the president's bodyguards had been seriously wounded in the incident, which took place in a suburb known as Enco 5, according to IRIN.

The country has been hit by a series of strikes and much social tension in the last several months. Conté, who is either 70 or 71 according to the Guinean government website (not 69 as the BBC reported), has been ailing for years as the result of severe diabetes. The government has been unable to address the deteriorating living conditions as the political class seems paralyzed while waiting for Conté, who has named no successor, to die.

Some speculated that the incident could've been the result of overzealous police officers shooting at criminals in a nearby area. Though, not surprisingly, the government is certain it was an assassination attempt. "There was an attempt on the life of the head of state, but the assailants did not hit their target," said Moussa Sampil, the security minister.

Conté has been head of state since taking over in a 1984 military coup.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Remember when...

"We will not seize land from anyone who has a use for it."

-Robert Mugabe, then Rhodesian opposition leader, 27 January 1980

Monday, January 17, 2005

Don't forget other emergencies: WFP

With international focus on the victims of the south Asian tsunami, the UN's World Food Program ('The World's Largest Humanitarian Organization,' according to its website) asks donors not to forget about other crises equally meriting attention.

The WFP urged donors not to forget 1.5 million survivors of recent conflicts in West Africa who are still heavily dependent on food aid.

WFP said in a statement that it needed US$155 million this year to feed nearly a million people in Liberia and over 500,000 people in neighbouring Guinea and Sierra Leone.

It added that it had only received about 10% of that goal and has been forced to slash food handouts as a result.

The WFP's West Africa spokesman warned that disruption of food aid to Liberia could endanger peace and stability in the country, which only emerged from 14 years of civil war in 2003.

"You still have lots of ex-combatants there and they can quickly pick up a gun if they get hungry," he said.

Individuals can donate as well to help the WFP, as I just noticed. Click here to find out how.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Nairobi 2016?

On a lighter note is Kenya's bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The absurdity of a country like Kenya thinking it could host the world's largest sporting event is plain to see. Then again, absurd bids aren't rare. Bangkok (Thailand), Cairo (Egypt) and Havana (Cuba) all bid for the 2008 Games.

If the Kenyan government thinks it has the capacity to host major sporting events, it should start with something smaller like the All Africa Games (Olympic-type continental competition) or the athletics' world championships.

Or maybe it could use the billions of dollars (the recent Athens Games cost over $15 billion, according to the UK Telegraph, not including new public transport systems) in a more sensible way like developing a passable infrastructure, fighting the capital's obscene crime rate or building affordable urban housing.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Polio cases on the increase

Last year, a bunch of reactionary idiots in northern Nigeria vigorously fought a national campaign to immunize the entire country against polio. Well, shock of shocks. the number of polio cases increased by more than 50% in 2004 as compared to 2003. The overwhelming majority of those cases are in Africa.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Zambian leader apologizes

I read a lot of news from all different parts of the world. So there's very little that surprises me anymore. But every so often, a headline makes my jaw drop. For example, earlier this week, I saw a headline that read:

I failed Zambia, says president

Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa apologized to his countrymen for failing to tackle poverty.

"It has not been possible to reduce poverty and I feel sad about it," Levy Mwanawasa said, describing the issue as "one of my failures".

"Unfortunately, if Zambians made a mistake to elect me as president, they are stuck with me," he added.


"Poverty continues to grip our nation. I want to work hard this year so that poverty levels are reduced," he said.

Politicians rarely apologize, except on specific issues for the purpose of diffusing a particular crisis. I can't remember the last time any leader, from any part of the world, apologized for generally failing in his duties.

Such contrition is even rarer in Africa, where the notion of Leader as savior is particularly strong. Let alone a president deciding to serve only one term. President Mwanawasa, who's only been in power for not even two years, has far less to apologize for than much longer serving heads of state like the dictator in Zambia's neighbor to the south, Zimbabwe.

President Mwanawasa's admission was ironic since his anti-corruption campaign has been very successful. Even to the point of putting on trial the previous president Frederick Chiluba, the man who annointed Mwanawasa as his successor.

Knowing when it's time to go is not an easy thing in many professions. It's especially difficult in politics, where power can be so intoxicating. Thus, it was uncharacteristic that last year, after not even than two years in power, Mr Mwanawasa said he was tired of his "artificial" life as president, complaining that everything was done for him.

I dare say President Mwanawasa did quite a great service to Zambia with his forthright admission. In daring to hold himself accountable, he's giving the green light to Zambians to hold all their politicians accountable. Given that poor political leadership is Africa's biggest obstacle to development, I can think of few greater gifts he could've given his country.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Mugabe's attempts to buy off rural electorate under threat

Attempts by Zimbabwe's ruling party to buy off the rural electorate is being threatened by a row over pay, according to the country's Financial Gazette.

ZANU PF, which is banking on chiefs to deliver the crucial rural vote in the March general election, could be in for a rude awakening as some headmen, who are considered as chiefs by their people but are a rung below, are disgruntled by the huge gap between their allowances and those of the top traditional leaders.

Robert Mugabe's party uses money to buy off influential rural leaders, which is perhaps why ZANU's main support is in the countryside and has little support in urban areas. Chiefs are paid a monthly allowance of $1 million [Zimbabwean or nearly US$182] and have been promised Mazda B18000 trucks, electricity and potable water at their homesteads. Headmen are paid an allowance of $400 000 [US$73].

Furthermore, the party gave chiefs astonishing authority to ensure appropriate "loyalty." ZANU PF has given chiefs more powers in the run-up to the election, allowing them to fine people up to $100 million [US$18,200]. The party also used them to distribute seed to the people, a move aimed at ensuring that come elections, it would be pay back time.

Such is life in Paradise Zimbabwe.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Poverty doesn't mean lack of dignity or compassion

African nations have a reputation of being overly reliant on foreign aid. This reputation is not entirely undeserved. But despite the reputation and despite the ofter overwhelming poverty at home, sometimes Africans end up as the givers.

I was interested to read this article at the IRIN news service which reported that a number of West African nations, some of the world's poorest, have donated funds to victims of the Asian tsunami.

This would be hardly surprising to those familiar with the region. I suspect any westerner who's spent any time in West Africa has had the experience of being invited to share a meal or given a bed by an African villager or city-dweller whose living conditions are exponentially more difficult and whose incomes are a mere fraction of their own.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Portrait of an Ivorian jeune patriote

BBC's Focus on Africa magazine has an fascinating portrait of a jeune patriote, part of the fanatical and xenophobic Ivorian Young Patriots militias.

"The problem is not with the French; it is with Jacques Chirac and his military," said Michel, the Young Patriot in question.

Which makes it so odd that so many businesses owned by French CIVILIANS were targeted in their rampages.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

'Le Onze septembre'

Peace Corps Writers Online has a great essay entitled Le Onze Septembre. It was written by Matt Brown who, like me, was a Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea. Except Brown was in Guinea when the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He recounts how he experienced that national tragedy thousands of miles away from home in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. It's a very personal account and very much worth a read.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Guinean opposition pol arrested

Just when you thought they might be liberalizing things a little, the Guinean leader Gen. Lansana Conte proves again that you should be very wary when applying optimism to his regime.

Prominent opposition figure Antoine Soromou was arrested earlier this week by the regime (the IRIN news services incorrectly implies that he is an opposition party leader). Soromou is a leading figure in the Guinean People's Rally (RPG). RPG leader Alpha Conde is the leading bête noire of the regime.

No explanation of what the charges were. Though a betting man would be wise to wager on something like illegally holding a meeting without police approval or something frivolous like that.

The arrest came the day after Conte's new prime minister promised to lift the ban on private radio stations, during a meeting with opposition leaders to re-start national dialogue.

Some dialogue!

Hydara killing was an assassination: watchdog group

The killing of prominent Gambian newspaper editor Deyda Hydara was a pre-meditated assassination by well-organized professionals. That's according to the NGO Reporters Without Borders.

Hydara's death three weeks ago had striking similarities with murders of other critics of the regime of President Yahya Jammeh, the group says.
They have called for an independent commission to investigate.

Following Deida Hydara's killing, media protests were staged in Gambia and in neighbouring countries.

Hydara had been a fierce opponent of new laws restricting press freedom and had written articles severely attacking them.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Guinea to allow private radio stations?

Surprising news from Guinea. The country's new prime minister, Cellou Dalien Diallo, has proposed lifting a ban on private radio stations. This is an important step in a country where a majority of the citizens are illiterate and newspapers are available only in bigger cities.

The regime of Gen. Lansana Conté has staunchly resisted efforts to allow local private broadcasters, perhaps mindful of the role private radio stations played in preventing electoral fraud in neighboring Senegal's 2000 general elections (which saw the party that had ruled since independence evicted).

International donors, including the European Union (EU), have been withholding big aid packages to Guinea pending a move towards greater democracy, better governance and liberalisation of the media, reports IRIN. “The situation has become so dire in Guinea that the government has decided this is a lesser evil,” Mike McGovern, the West Africa director of the Brussels-based think-tank, International Crisis Group (ICG) told IRIN. “It’s a good step in the right direction,” he added.

The country has faced a year of social unrest and deteroriating conditions due to the crumbling economy and failure of the sick Gen. Conté to do much of anything. Discontent among Guinea's eight million people is on the rise. Soaring food prices, rising electricity bills and unpaid state salaries have sent former railway workers, students, miners and angry residents out onto the streets in the last few months.

In the worst of the protests, hungry and angry citizens attacked rice trucks in the capital, Conakry, in July. A fast depreciating Guinean franc meant imported rice was selling for US$ 30 per 50 kg bag -- more than many Guineans earn in a month.

Re-charting the Congo

The BBC's From Our Own Correspondent has a fascinating essay entitled Re-charting the mighty Congo. Journalist Tim Butcher traveled the length of the river and reported on the utterly decrepit state of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He notes that war, repression, corruption and a non-existent state have made the Congolese into some of the most resilient peoples in the world. They have to be or else they die.

"There is nothing in my home town, Kongolo - this is my only chance to feed my family, " [a trader], Muke Nguy, said before heaving his tottering bike down the trail.

"What's that?" I asked, pointing at a loop of vine on his shoulder.
"My bicycle repair kit," he said. The sap makes a gummy resin, ideal for mending flat tyres. I shook my head in sorry disbelief.

Think how great Africa could be if the skills and talents of its people were released from survival and self-preservation.

While Africa is certainly the least developed part of the world and has the lowest standards of living and highest standards of poverty, anyone who says that this is because Africans are lazy or stupid is an idiot to be disregarded. The typical African will work five times harder than the typical American just to earn maybe 2% of the typical American's income.

In most parts of Africa, there is no universal welfare system. No public housing. No soup kitchens. Erratic health care systems. To survive means relying on your own wits. The real problem is Africa is not the people, but their so-called leaders who counter every step forward with four steps back.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Malawian cowboy pols arrested

Bizarre doings from Malawi. Three leading members of the ruling UDF party were arrested for carrying guns into a meeting with the country's current and former presidents.

Deputy transport minister Roy Cumsay, Harry Thomson and MP Alfred Mwechumu were stopped at the entrance to the presidential palace on their way to a tete-a-tete with President Bingu wa Mutharika and former president Bakili Muluzi. The purpose of the talks, ironically, was for Muluzi to mediate a growing rift between senior UDF figures over Mutharika's anti-corruption drive.

The politicians said they always carry guns for their personal security.

Mutharika's crusade against corruption and government waste has angered much of Malawian establishment, much like Levy Mwanawasa's drive in neighboring Zambia. Though Mutharika would've done better to lead by example, rather than moving into a palace near the capital Lilongwe. It contains 300 rooms, most of which are air-conditioned and its own school and supermarket. The palace is so huge that it previously housed the country's entire parliament before it was evicted by the champion of wasteful spending.

[Update: the three politicians have been reportedly charged with treason]

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

A 'Marshall Plan' for Africa?

Chippla, over at his blog writes about an International Herald Tribune article on international development aid. In recent years, there have been various calls for a "Marshall Plan" for Africa.

Yet compared to the original Marshall Plan (which helped rebuild Western Europe following World War II), Africa is already relatively flooded with aid. The continent as a whole receives development assistance worth almost 8 percent of its gross domestic product. Exclude South Africa and Nigeria, and aid jumps to more than 13 percent of GDP - or more than four times the Marshall Plan at its height - for the other 46 African countries.

It then added a point that mirrors one of my pet peeves: It's true that the United States now gives less as a share of its own economy, but that's a measure of donor generosity rather than help to a needy country.

I'm sorry to say but development aid should generally bypass governments or at least require government structures to work with local civil society organizations. Aid should take into account the governments' records on democracy, human rights, rule of law, respect for private property and good governance. Though I don't object to blanket debt cancellation for African governments, future loans and aid should be conditioned upon a demonstrable record of money being used for its intended purposes.

Money has been poured into Africa, yet Africa's the only continent where the standards of living is LOWER than it was decades ago. The money's been there but it just hasn't been used wisely by the continent's mis-leaders. And in most cases, that it be used wisely was never a priority with donors. This is why money was still loaned to crooks like the kleptocratic Mobutu in Zaire (now DR Congo), when any sane standards of banking would've cut him off after a few years. The money went into Mobutu's Swiss bank accounts but the Congolese people are now responsible for that debt.

Aid was often used by donor countries for a plethora of reasons which usually had more to do with buying the support of leaders on various issues than anything else. The US used aid to prop up regimes that called themselves anti-communist such as Mobutu or the savage Guatemalan regime (genocide as good development policy, there's a novel idea). China and Taiwan only use aid to buy diplomatic recognition from countries (a clever recipient country can go back and forth between the two). In the absence of self-interest, aid allows leaders of donor countries to tell their citizens "we're doing SOMETHING," when they're really not.. Donors have only demanded accountability of regimes which have proven not as pliant as expected.

The problems of Africa will not be solved by more foreign money. Maybe this is a non-leftist thing to say, but perhaps it's down to my first-hand experience in Africa. Saying "we're stingy and we need to give them more money" may assuage liberal guilt. But an equally common impulse among liberals and progressives is to want to help people and if that money isn't actually helping people, then what's the point? The point should be to help people, not to make your conscience feel a little better by some token nothing. Handouts might be a short term solution, but they're not a long term solution, as demonstrated by the last four decades.

And having lived there, I observed that Africans, or at least the Guineans, generally don't like handouts. When I lived in Guinea, there were two families who regularly had me over for dinner. I offered to buy one of them a bag of rice every so often since he was so nice to feed me. His salary was about the same amount as my Peace Corps living allowance. Except I was living by myself and his salary had to support a wife, several children, a nephew and leeches masquerading as relatives; and that's when his salary was actually paid. When I made the offer, he looked offended, like no person in his position with a shred of dignity could possibly have even considered accepting my offer, like my offer was an implicit suggestion that he couldn't provide for his family. I don't know if he was actually offended or if he wrote it off to a western tendency to see relationships in commercial terms, but that's what his expression implied. And that was for a proposed exchange, reimbursement if you will, not an actual handout.

Africa's problems will be solved, in part, by a more effective use of the money that's already being given. Right now, some African countries, most notably Ethiopia, are totally dependent on foreign aid. In the absence of conditions, these governments have no incentive to reform. Aid, if structured properly, can help countries transition back to a more self-sufficient situation. It can't be done overnight, but the process has to start somewhere and it has to be maintained with consistency. No exceptions for anti-communists or terrorist warriors or Clinton haters.

Simply put, development aid has to be used for its intended purposes in order to work. If your gas tank has a hole in it, putting ever more gas into it isn't a very good solution. This has to be recognized not just by recipient countries, but also by donor countries.

To that end, development aid must require standards of good governance, rule of law and respect for human rights and private property. In other words, it must require those things which will set the groundwork for sustainable, long-term development, not just temporary feelgood projects that will disappear as soon as the foreign money does.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Peace deal signed in Casamance!

After 22 years of conflict, the Senegalese government and rebels in the southern province of Casamance have signed a peace deal. President Abdoulaye Wade, most of the government and a bevy of foreign ambassadors and officials descended on Ziguinchor on Thursday, journeying the 450 km [about 300 miles] south from Dakar to the capital of this region wedged between Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, reports the UN's IRIN service.

The peace accord, not ceasefire, was signed last week by Senegal's interior minister and Augustin Diamacoune Senghor, leader of the main separtist group Movement of the Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC). Several groups in the faction-ridden [separatist] movement refused to ink the peace accord, but it was unclear how much influence they wielded or how significant the snubs would be in the long run.

Casamance is a fertile region for agriculture and is lush with green, unlike much of the rest of Senegal which is Sahelian dry. The peace deal may bring a revival in the tourist industry, which is one of Casamance's main sources of income.

Blame thy neighbor

The Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo has called for international sanctions on neighboring countries he claims are implicated in his nation's civil war. This was in response to a leaked United Nations report which blamed government forces and rebels and speaks of mass executions, torture, rape and death squads.

Mr Gbagbo called for the UN to name the countries involved
, according to the BBC but, not shockingly, says abuses committed by his forces should not be compared with those committed by the rebels.

Gbagbo has been critical of neighbors Mali and particularly Burkina Faso, for alleged support of Ivorian rebels; not surprising since Malian and Burkinabe residents of Côte d'Ivoire are the primary targets of xenophobic violence advocated by many of Gbagbo's supporters. Though other African countries, such as Guinea and Angola, are widely suspected of supporting the government forces.

No word on if the target of Gbagbo's call for sanctions on foreign meddlers includes his allies.

Given Burkina Faso's role in destabilizing other West African countries, most notably Liberia and Sierra Leone, Gbagbo's claim probably has some basis in truth. But it reminds me of the French saying 'L'arbre qui cache la forêt': the forest that hides the trees. It could well be one of those things with just enough credibility to be a small truth that is used to hide a greater truth. Namely, the Pandora's Box of Ivoirité (nationalist xenophobia) opened by former strongman Henri Konan Bédié and seized on to by Gbagbo has destroyed the country.

"On both sides of the conflict women were used to assuage the bestial appetites of the combatants, some of whom were under the influence of drugs," according to the UN report as quoted by the French daily Libération.

Tragically, sexual violence perpetrated by drugged up wanna-be Rambos (some of whom you wouldn't think are even old enough for physical act of sex) is an increasingly common horror of 'modern' wars.