Friday, April 29, 2005

Charles Taylor implicated in plot against Guinean leader

Remember the asassination attempt against Guinea's leader Gen. Lansana Conté? Former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor was involved, according to the special prosecutor for the UN war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone.

Yes, that's the same Charles Taylor who's been indicted for war crimes by that very same tribunal. That's the same Charles Taylor who was given asylum and immunity/impunity by the Nigerian government provided that he didn't cause any trouble (!!!).

There has been no love lost between Conté and Taylor ever since the Guinean strongman backed a rival warlord during Liberia's first civil war.

Update: the French-language pan-African weekly L'Intelligent (formerly Jeune Afrique) has a revealing article about the poor state of health of the very ill Gen. Conté. It appears that the Guinean leader is a mere shell of himself and barely able to function, as a human, let alone as a national leader. It also explains how Conté's sickness is paralysing many parts of the Guinean state as a whole. This particular issue of L'Intelligent was banned by the regime in Conakry, according to Guineenews.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

ADO to stand in Ivorian polls

For once, we have a possible good sign in the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire. Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo has finally allowed prominent opposition leader Alasanne Dramane Ouattara to contest this October's presidential election.

Ouattara's presidential eligibility has long been a sticking point in the Ivorian political scene and is seen as emblematic of the alleged exclusion of northerners by southerners. Ouattara has been excluded from several presidential polls because of questions raised about his nationality; this despite the fact that he was the country's first ever prime minister and even served as acting president when the late head of state Félix Houphouët-Boigny was ill or out of the country.

However, several years ago, the constitution was changed to mandate that any presidential candidate have two parents who were born in the Côte d'Ivoire (despite the fact that the country was a French colony back when any candidate's parents would've been born). This was done primarily to exclude Ouattara who was born in the Côte d'Ivoire as was one of his parents, but not the other. The nationality question is an explosive issue in the formerly prosperous country that has long been a magnet for immigrants from other West African countries.

Ouattara seemed underwhelmed by Gbagbo's gesture, noting that this was agreed several weeks ago at a summit in Pretoria. The announcement appears to be the result of pressure by South African President Thabo Mbeki (one wonders why he can't apply the same pressure to the equally destructive Zimbabwean regime).

Worringly, the former prime minister expressed concern that Gbagbo ordered the National Institute of Statistics [INS[ to prepare electoral lists. The INS is a government controlled organization whose head is appointed by Gbagbo. Ouatarra and his party naturally wanted the Independent Electoral Commission to organize the polls.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The crisis in the eastern DR Congo

I've been meaning for some time to write a long essay on the horrific situation in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It's been descirbed by the UN as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, even most desperate than genocide-striken Darfur in eastern Sudan. I have the essay largely flushed out in my head but so far haven't found the time to write it. Unfortunately the countless machinations by the Bush administration, which I've written about in my regular blog, have taken up more time, and more often, than I would've liked.

In the interim, I'd strongly encourage everyone to read this essay on the DRC by Malau, in his Salon of News and Thoughts blog. Malau is a Congolese and his essay is very passsionate and very angry. But not merely content to bemoan the plight of his countrymen, he usefully offers (particularly in the notes section at the bottom) some concrete ways the crisis can be addressed.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Violence in Togo after Gnassingbé II proclaimed winner

Faure Gnassingbé, son of the late Togolese dictator Gnassingbé Eyadema, has been proclaimed the winner of Sunday's presidential election. Gnassingbé II, who was briefly installed as head of state by the military before massive regional and international pressure forced him to step down, allegedly received over 60% of the vote while opposition candidate Bob Akitani was credited with just over 38%. The announcement was immediately challenged by the opposition and provoked violence.

Minutes after the television announcement, an IRIN correspondent saw crowds of angry youths spill onto the streets in some areas of the capital Lome waving machetes and hurling stones, reported the UN's news service. Barricades were thrown up across major arteries and a heavy pall of black smoke hung over the city as protesters set fire to tyres.

Whiel the announced results did not include polling stations where ballot boxes had been destroyed, Gnassingbé II's margin of victory according to official figures was so large that the result is not expected to change, even if court challenges are successful.

The BBC reports that The main opposition party has called on Togolese people to "resist" the government and that Gnassingbé II denied vote-rigging and called on the opposition to join a government of national unity.

Update: Opposition candidate Akitani has declared himself president at a press conference. "We must fight with our lives if necessary," he said, complaining that the vote had been rigged in favor of the son of the late dictator Gnassingbé Eyadema. Representatives of the opposition have been collating the data from their agents who were at the polling stations, and says these prove Mr Akitani won all the most populous regions of the country. The BBC World Service reported that private radio stations in Togo have been taken off the air, as has Radio France Internationale's relay in the country; though the BBC's own signal remains on the air.

Monday, April 25, 2005

MDC breaks ties with ANC, South African govt

After the South African government's endorsement of the rigged elections in Zimbabwe, the Zim opposition Movement for Democratic Change has broken off ties with the government in Pretoria and with South Africa's ruling ANC party.

"In the past we have given the South African government the benefit of the doubt, maintaining that the reason they embark on the kind of policies that they do might have a lot to do with their ignorance of what is happening in the ground," said an MDC spokesman.

He charged that the South African Observer Mission was in Zimbabwe for the sole business of observing the elections but did not bother to do that. He also said they proceeded to declare the election free and fair when they had done nothing in terms of observing the elections.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has been much criticized for his 'softly softly' approach toward the regime-provoked crisis in Zimbabwe. Many accuse him of an undignified timidity toward Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, even though the crisis in Zim has had serious repercussions on the entire southern African region. But Pres. Mbeki has defended his actions by insisting that quiet diplomacy is more effective than vocal harranguing.

Zimbabweans are still waiting for the slightest evidence of that.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

How to live down to the worst cariciature of yourself, part 2

The United Nations system has been under serious pressure in the last few years, ever since its refusal to authorize the American-led aggression against Iraq. One of the main criticisms of American neo-conservatives has been of the UN's Human Rights Commission.

Granted, this is merely a fig leaf in a greater effort* to discredit the UN into submissiveness. And though advocacy groups had complained about the HRC for years, neo-cons never showed any particular interest in the commission or in human rights in general (except as a rhetorical device) before the UN-disapproved Iraq invasion.

Yet, however disingenuous some criticisms may have been, its clear that the UN Human Rights Commission as presently constituted is worthless.

Most recently, the commission passed a resolution criticizing human rights violations in Sudan's Darfur region but refused to name the Sudanese government specifically. Yet even that watered down resolution was seen as a bitter pill for the Khartoum regime to swallow.

The HRC comprises 54 UN member states, divided by geography and headed by a chief appointed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

In other words, approximately one out of every four UN member states is on the commission. One can expect bad human rights' abusers to serve on the commission merely by the law of averages. This year's guardians of human rights include Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and, arguably the most repressive state in the world, Saudi Arabia.

Secretary-General Annan recognized that the HRC was harming the reputation of the UN as a whole and called for it to be scrapped and replaced by a much smaller council. Though the right wing should be beware: he also wants a new council to have more power, which might be problematic to the neo-con strategy of 'accountability without authority.'

The HRC is so useless that even its own head trashed it. The highly respected Louise Arbour, who is a former justice on the Canadian Supreme Court and was once head of the War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, called the commission selective and unfair.

"There is something fundamentally wrong with a system in which the question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world is answered by reference to just four states," she said.

The current HRC's sole purpose is to protect its members from being named and shamed. Annan, Arbour and others are right to call for a new body with both accountability AND authority.

*-For more on the UN's rough year and the dubiousness of its harshest critics, read here

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Reconciliation methods in traditional societies

The New York Times had a good article on the reconciliation process in Uganda. Northern Uganda has been the home of arguable the world's most savage rebel group, the grossly misnamed Lord's Resistance Army.

The fighting features rebels who call themselves the Lord's Resistance Army and who speak earnestly of the import of the Ten Commandments, but who routinely hack up civilians who get in their way. To add to their numbers, the rebels abduct children in the night, brainwash them in the bush, indoctrinate them by forcing them to kill, and then turn them - 20,000 over the last two decades - into the next wave of ferocious fighters seeking to topple the government. Girls as young as 12 are assigned as rebel commanders' wives. Anyone who does not toe the line is brutally killed, explains The NYT.

The International Criminal Court at The Hague represents one way of holding those who commit atrocities responsible for their crimes. The raw eggs, twigs and livestock that the Acholi people of northern Uganda use in their traditional reconciliation ceremonies represent another.

The two very different systems - one based on Western notions of justice, the other on a deep African tradition of forgiveness - are clashing in their response to one of this continent's most bizarre and brutal guerrilla wars, a conflict that has raged for 18 years in the rugged terrain along Uganda's border with Sudan.

War crimes tribunals should focus on the organizers and instigators of mass atrocities and the worst perpetators, such as LRA leader Joseph Kony, who tells his followers that he is in direct contact with God, and that God says it is right to kill in the cause of toppling [Ugandan President Yoweri] Museveni's evil government.

Kony explained, "If you pick up an arrow against us and we ended up cutting off the hand you used, who is to blame? You report us with your mouth, and we cut off your lips. Who is to blame? It is you! The Bible says that if your hand, eye or mouth is at fault, it should be cut off."

The rebels began cutting off the lips, hands, noses and breasts of civilians, intending that their victims survive as constant warnings to others.

Much like with the gacaca* system in Rwanda, sticking with traditional notions of reconciliation is generally a good idea, particularly in traditional societies. This is not based on softness, but on pragmatism. These societies had to deal with conflict and its aftermath long before western-style courts with robed judges were introduced.

Furthermore, western systems are more focused on punitive justice whereas post-conflict societies need a greater emphasis on restorative justice if they are ever going to move forward.

War crimes tribunals should focus on scum like Kony. Kids were abducted into the LRA and forced at gunpoint to commit atrocities or drugged up so they'd be more willing to do so, they should follow established paths to reintegrating into society as much as possible.

*-For more on the gacaca system in Rwanda, see here

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Senegal angles for Security Council seat

There has been much talk about which African representative(s) might be chosen in an expanded UN Security Council. South Africa and Nigeria have been the two main candidates. However, Senegal has thrown its hat into the ring. Since the ascension of longtime opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade to the presidency, Senegal has enjoyed increasing confidence on the international stage. Wade is probably one of the most influential leaders in Africa. Senegal is also a much healthier democracy than Nigeria, which is on its way to returning to a one party state. One might argue that it's healthier than even South Africa, since Wade's PDS party has nowhere near the stranglehold on government apparatus that the South African ANC does. Wade is also untainted by association with an almost irredeemably corrupt state (like Nigeria's Obasanjo) or sycophancy vis a vis the Zimbabwean dictatorship or crackpot ideas on HIV (like South Africa's Mbeki). Though little Senegal does not have the international name recognition of Nigeria or South Africa, I dare say it would make a fine Security Council member.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Respecting the constitution 'too costly' for Mugabe and co.

The so-called elections in Zimbabwe passed according to the pre-written script. The regime obstructed the opposition from campaigning and denied them access to the media. There were allegedly some irregularities on election day but perhaps not widespread enough to have affected the outcome (though the nature of such misdeeds is that you can never know). The ruling party was declared the winner by the electoral authorities they themselves appointed. The opposition cried foul and filed legal challenges which, according to the script, will likely be denied in large part except for a few token ones. The opposition threatened to boycott parliament and contemplated general strike action but ended up doing neither (which led some in the opposition to call for the resignation of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangarai). Now, the ruling party has more than the 2/3 majority needed to rig the constitution in its favor... not that they ever showed scrupulous respect for the document anyway.

Jonathan, over at the Head Heeb blog, points out that the ruling ZANU-PF regime is doing exactly what everyone expected with the crushing majority it was awarded (not necessarily won). He cites this article from courageous The Zimbabwe Independent. Any member of the private, independent media in Zimbabwe is, by definition, courageous.

RULING Zanu PF leaders are contemplating extending President Robert Mugabe’s current term of office by two years through a constitutional amendment to hold general and presidential elections concurrently in 2010, explained the paper. Mugabe said after the recent hotly disputed election results he would favour having the two main elections held simultaneously. He said his party would initiate constitutional amendments to reintroduce the senate among other changes.

Jonathan notes wryly: Synchronizing the elections the other way, by moving the next parliamentary poll up to 2008, was dismissed as "too costly."

Too costly indeed... for dictator Mugabe and the cronies whose jobs and riches depend on him remaining in power.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Another Ivorian agreement signed

There was tentative optimism following the latest cease fire in the Côte d'Ivoire conflict. Though perhaps the optimism is more a product of desire than expectation. A previous deal was signed in the Ghanaian capital Accra, which was supposed to clarify and implement the previous deal signed in Marcoussis, near Paris. Both remain mere pieces of paper due to a lack of political will on both sides, particularly in the pro-government camp.

The root of the rebellion is the sense of exclusion from society and state institutions felt by northerners, who are mostly Muslim and are treated as foreigners by the southern political elite. The heart of the previous aggreements had to do with integrating northerners into the political structure by revising exclusionary laws. The country's National Assembly has dragged its feet badly in doing so, blaming the rebels' refusal to disarm for their stalling. Even though political reform was supposed to be the good faith measure that PRECEDED disarmament.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has become the lead mediator between the government and rebels. Earlier this week, he asked Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo to use his special presidential powers under the constitution to allow all the parties that signed last week's Pretoria peace accord to present candidates in elections for a new head of state next October.

Essentially, Mbeki wants the main northern opposition (political) leader, Alasanne Ouatarra, to stand in the elections. Ouatarra had only one Ivorian-born parent. According a constitutional rule rigged to prevent him from standing, any presidential candidate must have two Ivorian born parents... a bizarre rule considering the fact that any presidential candidates parents would've been born in the pre-independence colony of French West Africa. The exclusion of Ouatarra has been a potent symbol of northern alienation.

The main obstacle is not necessarily the government, but the xenophobic popular hysteria in the south whipped up by the so-called 'Jeunes patriotes' (Young Patirots) militias. The 'Jeunes patriotes' are nominally aligned to the government but are really a force and a terror unto themselves. Essentially, they are the tail that's wagging the dog of the regime.

The resolution of Ivorian conflict is critical to the stability of West Africa. Each war breeds young soldiers desensitized to civilized society who are prime recruits for the next war. It's no surprise then that veterans of the Sierra Leonian civil war went to fight in Liberia's conflict. And that those who fought in Liberia eventually contaminated Côte d'Ivoire. This is a reason why Ghana and Mali have taken a keen interest in trying to help the warring sides settle their differences.

That's why I'll put my rational skepticism aside and pray that this agreement will actually lead to the resumption of normality in Côte d'Ivoire. The future of the mucy of West Africa depends on it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Documentary on Darfur refugees

Black River Eagle, over at Jewels in the Jungle blog, notes an interesting documentary by the Sierra Leonian filmmaker Sorius Samura. As you remember, Samura gained international acclaim for his chilling documentary Cry Freetown, which exposed to the world the horrific situation in his homeland in the late 90s.

Black River Eagle points to Samura's newest work Living with Refugees, about the catastrophic conditions faced by refugees from the Darfur genocide on the Sudan-Chad border.

The documentary exposes how the bureaucracy of the aid business sometimes leaves those most vulnerable behind. The UNHCR tell Sorious that "The situation here is a mess."

Yet ultimately, it's a story of an individual family and how people survive in the most unimagninably horrific situations.

Samura is increasingly gaining a reputation for a new kind of journalism which not many others can do. It's 'real' reality TV – stories that offer a unique perspective into the lives of people facing terrible situations, writes the UK's Channel Four, which aired Living with Refugees. He lived under exactly the same conditions, eating what they ate, drinking what they drank. Sorious built close intimate relationships with the people in this situation sharing their hopes and fears. This film provides a unique insight into what life is really like for a refugee.

I very much enjoy this personalized journalism, which sheds the neutrality (not to be confused with objectivity) and false equivalency of 'standard' reporting. It focuses not the presidents, dictators, warlords and cabinet ministers, but on the ordinary people whose real lives are affected by conflict. Another excellent proponent of this style of humanized journalism is Eric Beauchemin of Radio Netherlands' English service. A few years ago, he did a documentary on a related topic entitled Guinea's tattered welcome mat, which addresses the other side of the coin: the impact of huge refugee influxes on the populations of the places they settle. However, anything Beauchemin does is worth listening to.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Did Rwanda really invade the DRC last year?

I heard a disturbing story on the BBC World Service's Newshour program last week.

Late last year, it was widely reported that the Rwandan Army had (again) invaded the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Both the United Nations and the Congolese government made the accusation. Curiously, Rwandan officials went out of their way on several occasions to avoid explicitly denying the allegations. The Rwandan authorities also repeatedly insisted that they had the right to intervene in the eastern DRC under the pretext of their own national security and territorial integrity... all while not commenting one way or the other on if such an intervention was actually underway.

Last week, an intelligence analyst, who was with the UN investigative commission at the time, claims that false information was published in the UN report on the alleged invasion.

[A] dissenting member of the UN panel, William Church, has now told the BBC that the Rwandan invasion was a false claim added by other panel members who had come under pressure from un-named sources. The chair of the UN investigation, the Algerian diplomat Abdulahi Baali, has told the BBC that he is now looking into what he called "serious allegations".

In the late 90s, a huge war broke out in the eastern DRC. It was frequently referred to as Africa's First World War, since at its height, the conflict involved almost a dozen countries. Later, Rwandan and Ugandan troops even fought each other on Congolese soil. Rwanda even occupied land as deep as 1000 km (about 650 miles) into the mineral rich eastern part of the DRC. This was under the pretext of creating a security zone; by contrast, the Israeli 'security zone' only extended 9 miles into south Lebanon.

Yet, the UN is charged with the unenviable task of helping sort out the mess in Central Africa. After numerous allegations of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers in eastern Congo, more questions on its credibility is the last thing the beleaguered international institution mission needs.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Ugandans breathe huge sigh of relief

Uganda's former President Milton Obote has told the BBC that he has no plans to return home soon because the country is still a "dictatorship", reports the BBC.

I'm sure Ugandans are breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Obote's two terror-filled reigns as head of state could easily be described as 'Idi Amin without the charisma.'

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Rwandan rebels promise to disarm

I was pleased to read that Rwandan Hutu rebels have agreed to end its armed struggle against the government in Kigali. If this is actually occurs, it could mark an important shift in Rwanda's history, as the rebels include many members who perpertrated the 1994 genocide.

The FDLR, which is thought to have about 10,000 fighters, denounced the genocide for the first time and said they would return home and form a political party after receiving safety guarantees.

For years, the regime of Paul Kagame, whose army overthrew the previous genocidal government, has complained of the rebels causing insecurity in Rwanda. He even used this as a pretext to launch several incursions into neighboring DR Congo where the rebels were based. The first invasion was announced as attempting to create a "security buffer"... but it extended as far as 1000 km (about 650 miles) into DRC territory -- by contast, the "buffer zone" in southern Lebanon that Israel occupied for over a decade was only 11 miles long.

In Rwanda, the Kagame regime has used insecurity as an excuse not only to invade the DRC, but to crack down on all forms of internal dissent. Nearly any opposition to his power is denounced as genocide revisionism. If indeed the FDLR integrates into the political process, it will be interesting to see if Kagame will find a new excuse to stiffle free expression.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Anti-FGM progress in Senegal

I wrote an essay last week on female genital mutilation [FGM] and how some high officials in Sierra Leone are not only allowing the practice but overtly promoting it. While African leaders may give a wink and a nod to FGM in practice, they feel enough pressure to oppose it at least in words, which is a start.

Malau, a Congolese reader of this blog, noted:

The core of my problem, is the fact that I am a strong proponent of pride in African cultures and civilizations, while at the same time being quite a Liberal... The problem with the initial Western approach was that it was important to put an end to the excision practices as soon as possible. And they often did not stop to consider what psychological impact this would have on a society that has not yet made peace with the coniving and dominating tendencies of their forme "White" rulers.

I largely concurred:

FGM, like most social mores, can only be changed from the inside not the outside... No one, anywhere in the world, likes to be lectured to by outsiders. Outsiders can help spur the initial phase of change, by getting people talking about it. But utlimately the decisions and the commitment have to come from inside a society.

That's why I was interested to read this article in The Christian Science Monitor on anti-FGM progress in Senegal.

The piece noted that initial attempts by anti-FGM campaigners fell into the trap outlined by Malau.

Campaigners have tried for decades to bring an end to FGM. But their tactics of providing alternative employment to the circumcisers, introducing alternative rites of passage for girls, or demanding legislation to outlaw the practice have all failed to make a dent: an estimated 2 million girls in about 26 African countries are circumcised every year.

Yet real change started in Senegal only when it became a truly local, grass roots effort.

The sea-change in Senegal is being credited to a slow but steady program of human rights education that allows villagers to make up their own minds about whether to abandon female circumcision. Spearheaded by a local rights agency called Tostan, the program's success is proving so eye-catching that the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is endorsing it as a model... The program is being replicated with some success in Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Mali, and is currently being considered for one of the strongholds of FGM, Somalia, where nearly 100 percent of girls are circumcised.

And the education campaign is not a blunt effort directed solely at lecturing women on FGM, nor is the agency Tostan a strictly anti-FGM agency. They put forth a comprehensive program of health, human rights education and economic development. Once that starts, it reportedly takes a typical period of two to three years before villages decided they want to do away with FGM.

Usually, The public declarations the villages make, amid vibrant celebrations with music, dancing, and speeches from elders and prominent citizens, generally contain other statements about respect for women's rights and children's education.

Having lived in Senegal, I know it's a fairly conservative society, even by West African standards, that doesn't instantly adopt every "fad" that comes through. Tostan's approach is clearly an introduction of modern ideas done with a respect for traditional ways.

And it appears to be making progress.

Friday, April 08, 2005

How to live down to the worst cariciature of yourself

"Will the madness ever end?" can be a trite phrase, but sometimes, a situation is so unimaginably stupid that no other phrase suffices.

For example, this morning, I saw a headline that read:

ERITREA-ETHIOPIA: Stalemate could lead to war, Eritrean gov’t says.

Between 1998-2000, the two countries fought what can only be categorized as one of the most idiotic and pointless wars in recent history. It was a war that could not be justified even under the most Machiavellian definitions of self-interest or selfish-interest. It was purely a case of machismo, ego and nationalism trumping not only rational thought but even a cold calcuation of self-interest. In the conflict, some 70,000 people died in a stupid war over a mostly empty strip of land that didn't even contain any valuable natural resouces.

Ethiopia and Eritrea are two of the poorest countries in the world. The Ethiopian economy is more dependent on foreign aid that any other country in the world. Eritrea started existence in 1993 with the goal of being self-sufficient, but the insane war and subsequent militarization along with drought and mismanagement have made that goal a distant memory.

Earlier this week, UN report warned of a deteriorating humanitarian situation in Eritrea.

Drought has caused "failed harvests, loss of livestock and food insecurity throughout all parts of the country - both rural and urban," according to the report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Rains have failed for the fifth consecutive year, said the report, and recent surveys showed that pastures in Eritrea’s three most fertile regions - Anseba, Gash Barka, and Debub - were at their driest since 1998.

And the Eritrean dictatorship is STILL thinking about reprising the idiotic border war?!

If the unimaginably stupid war resumes, then the African Union and UN must suspend the two regimes from all its bodies and place an immediate travel ban on them. All foreign aid to the two countries must cease not only until the war stops but until a permanent peace treaty (including border resolution) is signed. The subsequent collapse of the two economies will hopefully be enough pressure to force the leaderships back to a more sane approach.

They, and pseudo-democratic regime in Ethiopia, seem hell bent on living down to every outsider's most offensive cariciature of Africa. The rest of the world, particularly other Africans, need to send the lunatic governments the message that there will be external consequences if they continue this unimaginable folly.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Remembering 'Never again' again

Today is the 11th anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide during which at least 800,000 people were murdered. It was one of the world's worst atrocities of the century and certainly the worst to be covered during the age of cable news television. It occured a year, almost to the week, after politicians and dignitaries in Washington solemnly promised 'Never again' while inaugurating the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

For more information, I wrote a long series of essays on the occasion of the 10th anniversary last year. The last of which can be found here (you can access previous posts from there... and I'm aware that some of the photos don't appear properly).

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Malawi president not the puppet that some feared/hoped

Former Malawian president Bakili Muluzi has turned on his successor... apparently because his successor turned on him. Bingu wa Mutharika was named by Muluzi as the ruling UDF party's candidate in last year's presidential election. Like so many candidates, Mutharika ran an anti-corruption platform. But as president, Mutharika has done a shocking thing: he is actually trying to living up to those pledges. Muluzi is not at all happy at this unexpected turn of events.

"Let me apologise to the country for the choice of Bingu wa Mutharika and imposing him on the country," Mr Muluzi told a political rally. "I didn't know he would be accommodating dissenting views."

This comment is very telling about the state of internal party democracy within the UDF, a party born in opposition to the decades of one party rule by the Malawi Congress Party.

Surely, Muluzi has taken note of related events in neighboring Zambia, where a former president's hand picked successor also turned against him. There, President Levy Mwanawasa went so far as to file criminal charges of corruption against his predecessor, Frederick Chiluba. The former president is accused of defrauding the Zambian state of some $35 million.

Both Chiluba and Muluzi used an increasingly authoritarian manner to lead parties initially born in opposition to decades of single-party rule.

As a wise Guinean friend of mine often said, "Toute opposition est démocrate." All opposition parties claim to be democratic... until they become ruling parties.