Monday, February 28, 2005

Gnassingbé II abdicates... for now

Togo's military-imposed leader Faure Gnassingbé, who I'll call Gnassingbé II, announced a few days ago that he was stepping down as de facto head of state. This was in the wake of harsh international criticism and African Union sanctions against the country after its military having installed Gnassingbé II to succeed his late father Gen. Gnassinbgé Eyadema. Gen. Eyadema had been the world's second longest serving leader.

The son will be replaced by Parliament Speaker Abass Bonfoh, who will serve as interim president while elections are conducted. Gnassingbé II will be the presidential candidate of the ruling party.

A spokesman for Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo, who chairs the African Union, called the decision a 'victory for democracy.'

Lydia Polgreen joined in the Halleujah Chorus.

But the African response to the Togolese military's actions were taken out of a new playbook, one in which the old insistence on "African solutions to African problems," is no longer what it once seemed - a euphemism for African leaders looking the other way while despots and corrupt governments rampaged, she wrote in The New York Times.

Mr. Gnassingbé's departure has been hailed as a huge success for African diplomacy... The swift reversal was one result of a new phenomenon: African leaders and institutions showing stiff resolve and complete unity,... [the West African regional grouping] Ecowas and the African Union were quick and merciless in their condemnation, and worked from the first day of Mr. Gnassingbé's rule to push him from power.

Jonathan, over at The Head Heeb, warns against premature celebration at the apparent demise of the Gnassingbé dynasty.

I wouldn't read too much into this. Gnassingbe will be the ruling Rally of the Togolese People [RPT] party's candidate in the upcoming election, and Bonfoh - a long-time RPT apparatchik who vocally defended the coup in its early days (despite the fact that Bonfoh was the legitimate constitutional successor) - is clearly warming his chair. The RPT is strongly backed by the security forces and controls almost 90 percent of parliament against a weak opposition, so it will have virtually free rein to administer the campaign and voting process. The battle against the coup isn't won yet; continued regional pressure and lots of international observers are still needed to make sure the election is fair.

The opposition is weak largely because of consistent repression during the 37 year Eyadema regime. But it is fairly weak nonetheless. Opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio is the only opposition candidate with sufficient support to challenge the dynasty. And many see him as an outsider since he's lived out of the country for so long due to harassment by the regime (Gen. Eyadema led a military coup that overthrew Olympio's father, who'd been Togo's first president; by all accounts, Eyadema personally murdered the elder Olympio himself).

But as I opined earlier, the military establishment that appointed Gnassingbé II isn't likely to make things easy.

In reality, this 'power vacuum' bemoaned by the military [the pretext used by the army to appoint Gnassingbé II] was created in no small part by the military itself. As a pretext, one can safely assume, to appoint to the throne Eyadéma's son, a man who would surely know which side his bread was buttered on, I noted.

This report from the UN's IRIN service echoes my observations.

Gnassingbé II's father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, ruled Togo with an iron hand for almost four decades, putting people from his northern Kabiye tribe in key government and military posts, it stated. Eyadema’s sudden death on 5 February left Gnassingbe [II] as the best bet the extended family business had of clinging on to the perks of power, diplomats and analysts say.

“These guys have not been accountable for 38 years, and they want someone who can protect their interests,” one Western diplomat in Lome told IRIN.

The actions take by the African Union and ECOWAS are a welcome change from the longstanding tradition of African regional and continental bodies (government groupings) being silent in the face of outrage.

The AU did what it was supposed to do in this case and that's laudable. Though it will be interesting to see if it shows the same resolve if a comparable situation were to occur in a much more powerful or economically significant country such as Nigeria or Egypt.

But caution is the order of the day. For 37 years, the army had a privileged position in Togolese society. It's not going to give up control without a fight.

Monday, February 21, 2005


I will be on vacation this week and will be posting essays only sporadically, if at all. I will resume regular posting next week. Cheers!

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Gnassingbé II announces elections; world underwhelmed

Faure Gnassingbé, head of the Togolese Kingdom... er, "Republic," has agreed to elections within 60 days, despite prior expectations that he would serve out the remained of his late father's term. He said he would remain interim president until the elections. His father, Gnassingbé Eyadema, organized three elections since the introduction of alleged multipartyism in Togo in the early 90s, however international observers would not sign off on the elections he won in 1993, 1998 and 2003 as being free and fair, so Gnassingbé II remaining de facto head of state until elections is sure to displease the Togolese opposition.

Interestingly, in a speech to the nation announcing the elections, Gnassingbé II never said one way or the other if he intended to be a candidate in those elections. One certainly has to wonder if members of the late Eyadema's clan will try to "legitimize" this election by running another member of the military establishment in elections to run and rigged by another of the military's hand picked men.

Update: The African Union has denounced the offer as inadequate and imposed sanctions anyway.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Children at war

The use of child soldiers has exploded in the last 15 years, making it probably the most sickening new phenomenon to emerge in "modern" conflicts.

Child soldiers are not a new development, but in the past, they were the exception. In many conflicts, such as Northern Uganda, Sri Lanka and the former (hopefully) civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, they were in fact the rule. Indicted war criminal Charles Taylor's Liberian rebel army infamously had entities called SBUs: small boys' units. And we're not talking boys of 16 or 17 here, but boys of 10 and 12 specifically recruited for the purpose.

And in conflicts that employ child soldiers, 'recruited' is often a euphemism for 'compelled' or 'kidnapped.' Some new conscripts are even forced to kill their families; this has the dual purpose of both proving their loyalty to the rebels as well as diminishing the likelihood of desertion.

A new book, Children at War, examines this troubling development. It points out the oft-noted reality that children tend to make the deadliest soldiers. Malicious commanders exploit kids' natural fearlessness. Many give the kids hallucogenic drugs to increase their sense of invulnerability. When you read of atrocious crimes from these war zones, like whimsical amputation of hands and arms, remember that these are most likely done not by rational but sadistic men with a method to their madness, but by drugged up teens or pre-teens.

How widespread is the child soldier scourge?

Sixty percent of the nonstate armed forces today use child soldiers; 23 percent use child soldiers 15 and younger; as many as 300,000 children "are currently fighting in wars or have recently been demobilized", notes this review of Children at War in The Christian Science Monitor.

Solutions? One possibility is restrictions on the international trade in small arms, which makes young children physically viable as soldiers. But since powerful governments won't let that happen, author P.W. Singer advocates putting teeth in the international treaties outlawing the use of soldiers under the age of 18. When the world's nonstate military leaders - who give little heed to international treaties and UN resolutions - realize they could be punished (and perhaps have assets seized) by the International Criminal Court, they may rethink their dependence on young, fearless, and impressionable warriors.

"The use of children as a weapon of war would be made like the use of chemical or biological weapons - simply unacceptable to the entire world, under any circumstances," he proposes.


OTHER RESOURCES listing of Children at War.

-War Child, a network of independent organisations working across the world to help children affected by war. It aims

*To alleviate the suffering of children by bringing material aid into war zones

*To support those children who have been evacuated into refugee camps.

* To initiate rehabilitation programmes once children return safely to their homes.

*To be instrumental in healing the psychological damage caused to children by their experiences of war.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

"I'm against the war but please don't quote me"

How bad are things in Côte d'Ivoire? Bad. Really bad. Some people think war fervor was bad in the United States a few years ago. It's nothing compared to Côte d'Ivoire. If you read French and can stomach virulence, just take a look at the Ivorian press [links to many of the country's media outlets can be found at the portal].

This article from the UN's IRIN service gives an idea for fanatacism reigns in the country.

“I’ve been taken off the air [of state radio] because I’m not on anyone’s side, I just want peace in Cote d’Ivoire,” said a well-known preacher whose sermons were taken off the air after the war broke out.


“But I cannot speak out this way in public because of the youths,”
he said, referring to the xenophobic, rampaging 'Jeunes patriotes' (Young Patriots) militias that are nominally aligned to Ivorian government.

“Some of them asked me how I thought the crisis could be resolved. When I said through negotiations, they said 'no way.’ If you knew how well they were organised, you’d understand why I’ve stopped speaking publicly.”

One schoolteacher explained, “A woman who lives in my suburb who’s a ‘patriot’ [a militant, pro-government person] said she was going to tell the GPP [a hardline militia group] I was a suspect individual because I never go out on their [pro-government] demonstrations.

“I tell them this is not the case, that it’s just that I’m not at war with anyone. What I want is peace for everyone in this country, not a peace that favours some and not others. But people who think the same way I do can’t really speak their minds, neither here in Abidjan [Ivorian commercial capital] nor anywhere else in the country. There’s no-one to protect us.”

“You’re either with the rebels or with the republic. You can’t sit on the fence in this war,” declared Mamadou Koulibaly, the parliamentary speaker and a key figure in the ruling party. [Does that rhetoric sound familiar?]

But not everyone is cowed by the violent fanatacism.

“If you fail to come out in favour of one or the other political camp, and make impartial appeals for peace and the respect of the peace agreements, your organisation will be attacked. But we’re ready to take on this risk because that’s our choice,” said Salimata Porquet, who heads a women’s group. “We need to think Cote d’Ivoire first and not one group or the other, because the people who are being silenced and who are suffering from the troubles are the majority of the people. We are mothers and wives and we know what we’re talking about.”

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Cult of personality not limited to ruling parties

Kenya, over at Ambiguous Adventure, wonders 'Why Can't Opposition Parties in Africa Win?' She cites a BBC article which suggests two main categories: uneven playing fields and poor campaigning among opposition parties.

I think a lot depends on the country. In some cases, like Zimbabwe, the opposition is fairly unified and the greatest barriers come from government repression.

In other cases, the biggest challenge is a divided opposition. Guinea is the country I know best. There, each opposition party wants to protect its own turf and doesn't really work together. Sure, they issue joint communiques to denounce governmental repression, but they're united only in criticizing a common enemy not in trying to develop a common program or strategy for unseating that enemy.

Plus there's the fact that the main opposition leaders (except one) are the same as they were when multipartyism was introduced in the early 90s. The parties are little more than organs to promote particular individuals. After more than a decade, no major opposition party has had a change in leadership so routine in democracies. If you were to ask the ordinary Guinean about the ideology or principles of the UPR or the RPG, the two most prominent opposition parties, few would know. All most know is that the UPR is the Peul party and the RPG is the Malinke party and that they are strongest in Central and Upper Guinea respectively and that their leaders are Ba Mamadou and Alpha Condé.

The cult of personality isn't limited to ruling parties.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Evolution of the African Union

The Christian Science Monitor has yet another good article on Africa; this time, on the African Union

The paper notes that the AU is moving away from the cows held sacred by its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity: most notably, the OAU's principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of member states. Africa's leaders now recognize that the era of nonintervention in internal conflicts is over - that the myriad conflicts on the continent drag the whole region down and that the world will not solve their problems for them.

The paper adds: Perhaps the most important development is the creation last May of the 15-member Peace and Security Council, modeled after the UN Security Council, designed to address regional conflict. The plan is to create an early- warning system, a "Panel of the Wise" to troubleshoot, and an African Standby Force to intervene in crises within 10 days.

With western platitudes of 'never again' proving as hollow in Darfur as they were in Rwanda, this is an important mechanism to deal with crises. Simply put, few non-African countries are going to feel any sense of urgency to deal with African crises. Countries that might affected by such conflicts, such as by the movement of massive populations of refugees, will feel more pressure to act expeditiously.

The AU is much like the UN in 1945 - there are high ideals, but no functioning mechanisms to realize them... The AU still has many unresolved issues, including where to find the resources and the political will to establish the standby force. How the body will relate to the many regional organizations on the continent, as well as to the EU and the UN, will only evolve with time. The AU recognizes it needs help and is refreshingly willing to seek advice and training.

The rise of a serious continental organization, instead than a talking shop for autocrats, could do wonders to transform the political culture in Africa. Or at least be a model to counter low expectations of the continent's leaders.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Somaliland: a place that doesn't exist?

One of my pet causes is that of Somaliland. It is a self-declared republic in the Horn of Africa wedged between Somalia and Djibouti. Somaliland is in what used to be the northern part of Somalia but broke away to form its own country when Somalia disintegrated. Somaliland is a normal democracy with elections and functioning institutions, such as a government, judiciary, independent press and schools. Problem is that no country in the world recognizes the Republic of Somaliland. The international community would compel the reasonably well-functioning Somaliland to remain part of the disaster that is Somalia.

There is a lot about Somaliland at the interesting Taste of Africa blog. It is maintained by Yvette, who is a development worker inside Somaliland. She has links to nearly everything Somaliland that is out on the web.

In one of her entries, entitled Somaliland: A Place That Does Not Exist?, she quotes Simon Reeve, a New York Times writer and best-selling author. "A friend of mine mentioned that he was doing business with some Somalilanders. I said, "Somaliland? Where's that?" He said it was a country in the north of Somalia and to my shame I didn't know anything about it. I found out that it's a functioning state within Somalia. It seemed extraordinary to me that there is no real government in Somalia but the world recognises it as a country, and then there's Somaliland which has elections and a functioning democracy, but the world doesn't recognise it as a proper country."

That pretty much says it all.

It became one of my pet causes, not because I've been there or because I know someone from there. But from the sheer absurdity of the situation. An absurdity exemplifed by Reeve's comments.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Denouncing a 'constitutional hold up' or angling for his own future

One of the more intriguing comments on the Togolese situation [see most of my posts from this week] came from Aboubacar Somparé, leader of Guinea's ruling PUP party.

"The deliberate vagueness put in place in Togo in order to give a semblance of legitimacy to this constitutional hold up should be cause for indignation of the entire African and international community. It would be desirable if this brother country would return immediately to constitutional legality."

Ironic, since the 2001 referendum which eliminated the two-term limit on the presidency of PUP standard bearer Gen. Lansana Conté was also denounced as a constitutional hold up... by the Guinean opposition.

Somparé's comments are even more interesting when you consider that he is also president of Guinea's National Assembly. When the ailing Gen. Conté eventually dies, the Guinean constitution mandates that the presidency be filled by... the president of the National Assembly.

Then again, when Guinea's first dictator, Sékou Touré, died in 1984, he should have constitutionally been succeeded by the prime minister.

A military coup (the old-fashioned undisguised version) took place a week later.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

New Togolese regime increasingly isolated

West African leaders are the latest group to reject the de facto military coup in Togo that occured over the weekend. ECOWAS, the West African Economic Community, denounced the machinations whereby the Togolese army appointed Faure Gnassingbé to succeed his father who (supposedly) died last week.

"The heads of state strongly condemn the military intervention which led to Faure Gnassingbe being installed as the successor to the deceased president," read the ECOWAS communique. "They agree that this constitutes a coup d'etat and they condemn the subsequent manipulation of the constitution by parliament."

"The delegation is fervently urged to express to the Togolese authorities, the necessity to return to the status quo ante," the statement said. "In case of refusal... sanctions would be rigorously applied."

Gnassingbé pledged to hold elections "as soon as possible," despite the rigged constitutional changes which would have allowed him to serve until 2008. Though he did not specify a date for the alleged future elections.

"We think that what has happened in Togo is a big setback for democracy in Africa," said Senegal's president Abdoulaye Wade, whose country has enjoyed civilian rule uninterrupted since independence in 1960.

In addition to ECOWAS condemnation, [t]he African Union has threatened sanctions and European Union officials have hinted that negotiations on a resumption of EU aid to Togo, following a break of 12 years, would be put on ice, reports IRIN, which added that Togo's membership in the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie had been suspended.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Propaganda à la togolaise

In the wake of the death of Togo's strongman Gnassingbé Eyadéma, the world's second longest serving leader, and his succession by his son, I decided to check out the Togolese government's website. This was done for the sake of amusement. Needless to say, I wasn't disappointed.

Some of the headlines:

-Faure Gnassingbé: 'Elections as soon as possible'. Gnassingbé is the son of the late dictator and was installed as new leader by the military. This claim of new elections will be met with skepticism by any sane person.

-Normal resumption of activity. This story is in response to the two-day general strike called for by the opposition to protest the coup d'Etat. It's unclear if normal activity really did resume.

-Israel-Palestine: Gnassingbé salutes the cease fire. A pathetic attempt by Gnassingbé to portray himself as a normal leader, by commenting on far away events of little relevance to his country.

-A little decency, Mr Konaré!. This commentary takes to task Alpha Oumar Konaré, president of the African Union, who condemned Gnassingbé's accession to the throne as a military coup.

-Sharon and Abbas steal the headlines from Gnassingbé. The Togolese government has a bit of an overblown opinion of its country's importance in the international scene. Besides, there could be a threat of nuclear war and most western media outlets would still give saturation media coverage to the most miniscule Palestinian-Israeli event.

-Togolese deported to Nazi camps. A story on how some West Africans were killed in the Holocaust.

-And most tragically of all: Top Model: the missed rendez-vous. The pan-African beauty contest, to be held in Togo last weekend, was annulled only hours before opening after the announcement of Eyadéma's death.

So much for 'solidarity' with the workers

One of the commonly misunderstood or misrepresented realities about authoritarianism is this: left-wing dictatorships are dictatorships first and left-wing second. Regimes will quickly shed any pretense to left-wing ideals in order to preserve their hold on absolute political power.

Since the late 70s, China has opened itself up to foreign investment and many aspects of capitalism in a way that would surely have Mao rolling in his grave. But one thing remains: absolute control by the Chinese Communist Party over the country's political space.

During the 1980s, the main opposition to Poland's communist government was the Solidarity. trade union During the liberation struggle against white minority rule, guerrilla leader Robert Mugabe was a strong proponent of Marxist rhetoric, something which he jettisonned for a while but re-adopted with a fervor a few years ago. The main opposition to Mugabe's regime comes from the Movement for Democratic Change led by former labor leader Morgan Tsvangarai. Zimbabwean trade unions are also strong opponents of the regime. How is it that the main opposition to these 'workers' paradises' can come from... the workers?

The answer is very simple: left-wing dictatorships are dictatorships first and left-wing second. The reason the regimes in Soviet Poland and Mugabe's Zimbabwe were so opposed to workers' trade unions is because they represented something far more dangerous to an authoritarian regime than even right-wing 'counterrevolutionaries.' They represented an alternative power structure.

While most of the world has been strongly critical of Robert Mugabe's dictatorship, prominent African leaders (with the notable exception of Senegal's president Abdoulaye Wade) have been largely concerned with appeasing Mugabe.

The African point man on the Zimbabwe crisis has been South African president Thabo Mbeki of the African National Congress (ANC) party. Mbeki has been reticent to criticize Mugabe for two main reasons. First, the ANC and Mugabe's ZANU-PF party (just ZANU until 1987) are ideological cousins as they are both left-wing movements that fought against white minority rule. As a result, Mugabe was a big supporter of the ANC during the latter's struggle against apartheid. It is also a fact that Mugabe's paranoid, anti-imperialist rantings have some sympathy in Africa and just enough of the occasional shred of truth to maintain that sympathy.

Though ZANU-PF and the ANC are both left-wing movements that fought against white minority rule, South Africa became a democracy and Zimbabwe did not. The ANC was a movement that was able to transcend its charismatic icon (Nelson Mandela) while ZANU-PF didn't. Though the South African poiltical system is imperfect and has some problems which I'll address in the near future, it's clear that South Africa respects the basic principles of democracy and rule of law while Zimbabwe does not.

The ANC, the South African Communist Party and COSATU, the main South African trade union grouping that is closely allied to the ANC, have jointly announced that conditions in Zimbabwe are not "conducive" to holding "free and fair elections." Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 31 March.

This is criticism Mugabe could easily write off if it came from the UN or George W. Bush or his favorite scapegoat Tony Blair, the British prime minister. But coming from folks Mugabe thought were his allies has to be a bitter pill for the bitter old man to swallow.

It will be interesting to see if how great the rift is between President Mbeki and his party and how they will try to paper over it.

But as always, Mugabe didn't take this snub lying down. A COSATU fact finding mission was refused entry to Zimbabwe. Typically, the regime accused the mission of backing the main opposition MDC (which itself was founded by trade unionists).

"If it is really levelling the playing field and conforming to SADC [Southern African regional grouping] norms, how can they feel threatened by people carrying pens and notebooks," said the general secretary of COSATU.

Authoritarian regimes often feel threatened by people carrying pens and notebooks.

The Zimbabwean goverment obfuscated by claiming the delegation needed to apply for a permit through the South African labour minister.

"[The delegation was] charged with (Section) 18A of the Immigration Act which relates to prohibited immigrants. They are being put on the next plane back to South Africa," explained the general secretary of the Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions, which organized the visit.

Not only has "Marxist" Mugabe oppressed his own country's trade unions, but now he's attacking South Africa's. So much for 'solidarity' with the workers.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Monarchical republics

Overt military coups are so 1970s. The image of thugs in camouflage and dark glasses just doesn't play well anymore in a world where pretenses of 'democracy' and 'liberty' are mouthed ad nauseum. They bring sanctions and condemnation. Absolute monarchies are the same way. Even the worst dictatorships at least pretend some popular legitimacy: 'I want to retire to my farm, but the people want me to remain Leader' is a popular lie. So what's an armed force to do when a de facto military leader dies? The military occupies a privileged position in such regimes. Those in privileged positions don't like to lose such privileges. However, exigencies require at least the facade of constitutional order. Overt military coups are denounced by international institutions and, more importantly, this typically results in the suspension of international aid. Corrupt generals aren't in it for the stripes on their shoulder.

A solution has been found: monarchical republics. Monarchical republics respect the facade of constitutionalism but are de facto monarchies. From Syria to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, dead dictators have been replaced by their sons. This succession has inevitably been ratified by the supposedly independent national assemblies. Togo, in West Africa, is the latest country to become a monarchical republic.

This weekend, the country's dictator, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, died after 38 years in power; he ascended to the throne after a 1967 military coup. Eyadéma was the world's second longest serving leader, behind only Cuba's Fidel Castro. The constitutional successor, the National Assembly speaker, was out of the country. So the military suspended the constitution and appointed Eyadéma's son as the new head of state.

"The Togolese armed forces swear allegiance to Faure Gnassingbé as President of the Republic of Togo," said Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Zachari Nandja. That the military would swear allegiance to a man, rather than to the constitution or to the republic, is telling of the mentality of an institution which has dominated the country for almost the entire independence period.

This seemed like a traditional military coup and was quickly denounced by the African Union, the West African regional grouping ECOWAS, other African leaders and pretty much everyone else. So the miltiary quickly backtracked. They ordered the parliament to change the constitution (which apparently was re-instated after the required manipulation).

Previously, the interim president would rule only for 60 days while new elections were organized. This was changed to allow the new president to complete the previous president's mandate: in this case, until 2008.

After this happened, deputies voted to oust the old National Assembly speaker and replace him with Eyadéma's son: Faure Gnassingbé. As new speaker, Gnassingbé was duly appointed as president to fill the vacancy.

So voilà, the military has the facade of constitutionalism.

The military claimed this was necessary because the National Assembly speaker was out of the country on a diplomatic mission and the armed forces wanted to quickly fill the power vacuum.

Nice try, guys.

Following Eyadéma's death, the speaker quickly flew back to West Africa. Except the military had closed Togo's borders, so the speaker had to land in neighboring Benin. If the military had really wanted to fill the power vacuum in a constitutional way (snicker), it would've allowed the speaker's plane to land or at least sent a military jet to Benin to pick him up.

In reality, this 'power vacuum' bemoaned by the military as created in no small part by the military itself. As a pretext, one can safely assume, to appoint to the throne Eyadéma's son, a man who would surely know which side his bread was buttered on.

Fortunately, no one was fooled by this charade. The continental body, the African Union, has denounced the ruse for what it was: a military coup. The AU has already showed more spine in its two years of existence than its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity (based on its infamous 'non-inteference principle'), did in four decades. The coup was also trashed by the West African regional grouping ECOWAS.

The AU has a principle of suspending countries which allow extra-constitutional transfers of power and imposing sanctions on such governments. An AU communique also encouraged foreign donors to withhold aid from the new regime in Togo.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Military coup in Togo

There has been an elaborate, but de facto military coup in Togo. This follows the death of strongman Gnassingbe Eyadema who'd ruled for the last 38 years. The constitutional successor, the National Assembly speaker, was out of the country on a diplomatic mission and could not return as Togo's borders were closed followed Eyadema's death. So the army used this as a pretext to the suspend the constitution and appointed one of Eyadema's sons as head of state.

"The Togolese armed forces swear allegiance to Faure Gnassingbe as President of the Republic of Togo," said Gen. Zachari Nandja, armed forces chief of staff. This is quite telling about the mentality of the military in Togo, and many other African countries: they don't swear allegiance to the republic or to the constitution but to an individual.

Then, the Togolese parliament dismissed the speaker from his post. Further, legislators changed the constitution so that there is no longer any no legal requirement to hold elections in Togo within 60 days of a leader's death.

The new article states that the president of the national assembly succeeds the president and can stay in office until the end of the previous president's mandate
, which in this case is 2008.

Then conveniently, Mr Gnassingbe was unanimously voted head of the national assembly which then appointed him head of state, in conformity with the newly rigged constitution.

Oh so curious. This whole process was initiated by the military because they supposed wanted to fill the power vacuum left by the absence of a constitutional successor. Yet the military itself created this situation by closing the borders.

Surely if the military wanted to respect the constitution (snicker), they would've sent a jet to neighboring Benin where the National Assembly speaker had landed since he couldn't enter Togo. Or more simply, they would've let the speaker's plane land in the country. One further wonders why they went through this whole charade for a constitution they suspended in the first place.

The African Union rightly condemned the actions as tantamount to a military coup and rejected the military's farce, as did the West African regional group ECOWAS. This is unfortunate for the military since the whole reason they likely went through the pretext of making it all seem constitutional was to get the AU's blessing. The AU now imposes sanctions on countries where overt military coups occur. Fortunately, the continental body did not seem fooled by this charade.

Conspiracy theorists will surely wonder if Eyadema, rumored ill for a long time, actually died yesterday or if the announcement was withheld a few days, Kremlin style, to be conviently timed with the speaker's absence from the country.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

African dinosaur passes on

Togolese strongman Gnassingbé Eyadéma died today at the age of 69. Eyadéma was Africa's longest serving leader, having seized power in 1967.

Fans of African literature

For fans of African literature, I discovered a great new site, updated monthly: The African Review of Books.

Friday, February 04, 2005

UN-scapegoating more important than stopping atrocities

A UN investigative commission earlier this week issued a report into the atrocities being committed in Darfur, eastern Sudan. What did it say? Well it depends a lot on what you read (again demonstrating the wisdom of not relying on a single media source).

This article from the Associated Press, which is the most important source of world news for most newspapers in this country, made its headline: 'U.N. Clears Sudan of Genocide in Darfur.'

In order for something to technically be genocide, it must fit a precise legal definition (click here to read that definition). Something can fail to meet the definition of genocide but still be a war crime.

'UN Clears Sudan of Genocide in Darfur.' That sounds pretty definitive, right? It's not genocide so the Sudanese regime should feel exonerated. Ideological critics pounced on such headlines to denounce the UN for being complicit in atrocities, for protecting war criminals, for essentially saying, 'It's not genocide, so it must be ok.'

And a shallow, superficial reading of only the headline might lead you to that conclusion.

Take this shallow, superficial attack entitled 'The Security Council tries hard to stay irrelevant.' The author, it wouldn't shock you to learn, has traditionally been very sympathetic to both President Bush and the belligerent neo-conservative agenda. In his ideological fervor, he's too lazy to distinguish between a UN investigative commission (which issued the report) and the Security Council. But this is the first time he's written about Darfur (because it gave him a chance to attack "the UN") so such lack of nuance is utterly predictable.

This critic cited an excerpt of the report which claimed that Sudanese government sponsored militias "widespread and systematic" abuses that may constitute crimes against humanity, then added snidely 'Because the distinction is just oh-so-important.'

As anyone reasonably informed person knows, such distinctions ARE important in a LEGAL context. If you want to put criminals on trial, you have to make sure they are indicted with the proper charge so they are not ultimately set free. And those more concerned with justice than partisanship would not want such war criminals to be set free. Legal proceedings have to be done with much more precision than careless political rants.

If I believed this critic's comments, I would be outraged too. It sounds really bad what the UN said. It sounds like they are acting as apologists for genocide.

[Full disclosure: I've repeatedly described the situation in Darfur as genocide, one of the few things about which I've supported unreservedly the Bush administration.]

Except a closer look reveals something significantly different.

Take the BBC article on the story, which is entitled: 'UN urges Darfur war crimes trials.'

Even conservative Fox News' headline did a better job than the critic in capturing the spirit of the report: 'U.N.: Sudan Not Genocidal, but Still Bad.'

Hold on a moment. How can the UN be urging war crimes trials? I thought the UN was acting as apologists for the atrocities? I thought they were saying it was fine and dandy? How can they be both apologists while demanding justice?

It's all so confusing.

The UN investigation recommended that the Sudanese war criminals be brought before the International Criminal Court.

You'd think the critic would support such a decision. One part of the report he cited uncritically was The Sudanese justice system, it concluded, "is unable or unwilling" to address the situation in Darfur.

Oh wait a second. The Bush administration vigorously OPPOSES the International Criminal Court. And so does the critic, who writes The ICC was an awful idea from the start. You don't deal with genocide (or crimes against humanity or whatever) with a silly little court that only has [authority] over those who agree to let it have power over them. The obvious lack of logic just boggle my mind.

So by this logic, I can get away with theft if I don't 'agree to let [a court] have power over' me?

Typically, the critic attacks 'a silly little court' as a way of deterring genocide but he doesn't bother to offer better ways. If he has better ways of implementing justice than 'silly little courts,' then he would do well to be specific. Because it's easier to sit in your computer chair and criticize those who are trying to make a more just world than it is to actually make a contribution yourself.

[Nicholas Krystof's column in The New York Times argues that the Bush administration should set aside its opposition to the International Criminal Court, an opposition that effectively shielders the war criminals]

It's quite obvious to anyone that the critic's main concern is not the fate of the victims of atrocities/genocide/war crimes in Darfur. If it were, he would've focused on them or on attacking those who were committing the atrocities. He would've focused on what COULD BE DONE to stop the massacres. I've offered several essays which included ways to deal with the situation. Instead, he choses to eviscerate a poorly constructed strawman (and he doesn't even bother to get the right target!) which neatly conforms with his pre-conceived ideological notions.

It's a sad statement on the morality and values of those who are more concerned with petty (and not even factually accurate) sniping at the UN rather than trying to figure out how to halt the terrible atrocities. The situation in Darfur is too grave for attention to be deflected by such disingenuous ranting. Save the UN-bashing for something else. Let's try to figure out how to pressure the Sudanese regime into halting their sponsorship of genocidal militias. And if you can't offer something constructive, then at least stop denigrating those who are.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Stupidity in Kinshasa

Rhetoric against colonialism and neo-colonialism is standard fare in much of Africa. The Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC] is same country that gave the world Patrice Lumumba, the Congolese nationalist who served briefly as the country's first prime minister. In 1961, Lumumba famously attacked Belgian colonial rule, especially the atrocious period during the reign of King Leopold II. He did so in the presence of Leopold's grandson King Baudoin who was in the capital Kinshasa (then called Leopoldville) for independence ceremonies. This touched off a diplomatic furor. Lumumba was assassinated later that year in a plot widely attributed to the Belgian government.

Chippla's blog points to a bizarre BBC story suggesting that attitudes in the capital might have changed. The Congolese interim government has re-erected in Kinshasa a statue of Leopold riding his horse, after spending 40 years where it properly belonged: in a garbage dump.

Leopold set up the Congo Free State in 1877 in what is now the DRC. Unlike most colonial ventures, the Congo Free State was not a Belgian colony, but was the personal property of the king. A land about the size of western Europe.

Congo Free State was Leopold's personal play thing for several decades until the Belgian state annexed it in 1908. Leopold's rule over the Free State exhibited a brutality that's hard to imagine now. Forced laborers were used mainly to extract rubber. Those who did not meet quotas had their hands chopped off.

"A people without history is a people without a soul," explained Culture Christophe Muzungu (whose surname means 'white man' ironically).

Leopold's era was surely the most soulless period in a land that's been cursed ever since. Why the descendants of his victims would want to honor this greedy terrorist with a statue is incomprehensible*.

Leopold's Congo was by far the most savage part of a not-very-pleasant European colonization of Africa. Estimates of those killed by the brutality of Leopold's forces vary widely, due to lack of numbers in early 20th century central Africa. However, estimates range from 5 million to 22 million.

Even conservative estimates put Leopold's Congo in the same league as Nazi Germany and Stalinist USSR.

At least the peoples of the former Soviet states had the good taste to tear down Stalin's statues.

Recommended reading: King Leopold's Ghost, by Adam Hochschild.

*-addendum: Perhaps not as incomprehensible as one might have originally thought. On the BBC World Service last night, Hochschild theorized that the bankrupt DRC government is trying to curry favor with Belgian donors. He noted that DRC President Joseph Kabila gave a speech before the Belgian Senate last year praising "the Belgians, missionaries, civil servants and businessmen, who believed in the dream of King Leopold II of building a state in the centre of Africa" referring to them as "pioneers." Pragmatic, perhaps, but appalling nonetheless.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Interview with Roméo Dallaire

Mother Jones has an interview with retired Canadian Gen. Roméo Dallaire. Dallaire was head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda during the genocide who was prevented from having his force intervene to stop the atrocities because of the opposition of the Belgian, French and American governments. Then when he asked his forced be enlarged and given a mandate to intervene, the Security Council, on the demands of the Belgians, French and Americans, slashed the force's size by 80%. Dallaire is one of the true tragic heroes of Rwanda. His case demonstrates that "the UN" can only act if powerful member states want it to act and it's powerless if those member states want to bury their heads in the sand. The interview is worth reading if you don't know much about the behind-the-scenes of Rwanda 1994 that could've prevented the genocide if anyone outside Dallaire's mission had been willing to take even the smallest action. His account of that horrible period is called Shake Hands With the Devil.