Monday, October 31, 2005

Côte d'Ivoire: the re-descent into hell?

At the end of Laurent Gbagbo's official term as president of the republic, the situation in Côte d'Ivoire risks deteriorating even more. Gbagbo's constitutional mandate ends today, but he announced that he would stay in power another year as part of a transition during which presidential elections will be held. Those elections had been originally scheduled according to one of the many 'peace accords' signed by the government and the northern rebels. But intransigence and mistrust between the two parties prevented that from happening.

In an address to the nation, Gbagbo promised, "I will never allow the decapitation of the state of Ivory Coast." He also announced that he would name a new prime minister to head the government within a few days.

The Forces nouvelles (ex-?)rebel group unilaterally named its leader, Guillaume Soro, as the country's new prime minister. The announcement was ridiculed not only by Gbagbo's spokesman but by the mainstream political opposition. "The New Forces [Forces nouvelles] cannot designate a prime minister. They can propose a new prime minister. It's not the same thing," said Alphonse Djedje Mady of the G7 coalition.

Jonathan, over at The Head Heeb blog, comments on the disastrous socio-economic situation in northern Côte d'Ivoire. He notes that though the Forces nouvelles have prevented the north from descending into complete anarchy, a la Somalia, they've never really developed even a basic state infrastructure in the territory they control. The New Forces' goal remains the unification of Cote d'Ivoire under their rule, and despite occasional calls from within the movement to declare statehood, they still consider themselves a rebel army rather than a provisional government. As such, they are unable to develop the country on anything more than an ad hoc basis.

But he also lays some blame at the feet of the international community.

Like the New Forces themselves, Cote d'Ivoire's African and European interlocutors have focused on the peace process and the reunification of the country to the exclusion of restoring normalcy in daily life. Some of this may be due to oversight, but there's also a certain amount of calculation; given the prevailing attitude of the international community toward the sanctity of colonial borders, it is unwilling to encourage the New Forces to do anything that looks like state-building.

By all accounts, the Ivorian state had a relatively minimal presence in northern Côte d'Ivoire even before the war. The north was poor and underdeveloped even before the devastating conflict. The short-sightedness of the international community and the Forces nouvelles and their failure to deal with basic needs has had a terrible impact on the northern population.

The previous week, Gbagbo's regime was in hot water for other reasons. The NGO Human Rights Watch accused the government of recruiting Liberians, including children, to fight the rebels.

Update: the UN's IRIN news service offers some insight into how poorly northerners were treated when the region was under control of the Ivorian state.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Liberian elections

The Globalist praises the Liberian general elections which were held recently. Despite difficult conditions and little democratic history (these being probably the first truly free and open multiparty elections in the country's history), some 75% of registered voters cast a ballot. Voters conducted themselves well, despite long lines and bad weather.

The two leading presidential candidates, who will face each other in a Nov. 8 runoff, are former soccer star George Weah and former UN official and veteran opposition leader Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who hopes to become Africa's first popularly female elected head of state.

Johnson-Sirleaf is clearly the most qualified candidate and Weah the candidate most able to unify the once-divided country. So hopefully, Liberia will win either way.

The up-side is that none of the many former warlords who were running in the presidential election will make it to the runoff. Not only will they thus not win, but since they were so soundly trounced, one can hope that they will accept the result of the election and recognize the legitimacy of the next administration.

The Globalist also pointed out the important role played by UNAMIL, the UN mission in Liberia.

Moreover, most agree that UNMIL was crucial to the elections' success in providing an enabling environment and guaranteeing security through its 15,000 peacekeepers, currently the largest UN peace-keeping contingent in the world, it noted.

In addition, the UN provided critical expertise as well as logistical and financial support. A total of $18 million of UN funding went towards organizing the elections.

After 15 years of nearly non-stop and extremely savage war (with a brief interruption for a now-defunct dictatorship) and huge populations of citizens having fled the country, Liberians are ready for their state to become a normal country again. Let's hope these elections are a first step.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Fighting homophobia in Namibia

The Washington Post ran an interesting article on modest attempts to chip away at homophobia in Namibia.

Anti-gay sentiment is prevalent throughout most of Africa. Being gay is also illegal in most of them, so taboo that a conviction for homosexual acts may bring more jail time than rape or murder. Only in South Africa is being gay widely accepted and protected by law, the paper notes.

From Uganda, where homosexuality is punishable by life imprisonment, to Sierra Leone, where a lesbian activist was raped and stabbed to death at her desk last year, homophobia has long trapped gays in a dangerous, closeted life.

Particularly in the southwestern African country which was until earlier this year run by Sam Nujoma. Nujoma, much like his demagogue-in-arms Robert Mugabe, was overtly hostile to gays to the point of urging regional leaders to identify gays and lesbians in their communities so that they can be arrested.

"Traditional leaders, Governors see to it that there are no criminals, gays and lesbians in your villages and regions," he said back in 2001, according to The Namibian newspaper.

But strides are being made against this bigory, notes The Post.

The continent's gay population, which is mostly youthful and active in cities, has also benefited from Africa's rapid urbanization.

The leader of Namibia's Rainbow Project, which pushes openness toward gays, rubbishes the idea that homosexuality was imported to Africa from Europe. He notes that many ethnic groups have long had a word for gay, even before contact with whites, which demonstrates that the phenomenon pre-existed European colonialism.

But ultimately, the Rainbow Project's first task is to simply start the discussion. And with the retirement of Nujoma and installation of a new president who will try to pursue his goals for a while, perhaps gays will cease being a scapegoat in Namibia.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

New archbishop faces bigotry

No sane person would claim that racism is dead, least of all Dr John Sentamu, who was recently installed as Archbishop of York.

Apparently, some people had a little problem with a black man (he was born in Uganda) ascending to the second-highest post in the Church of England. Archbishop Sentamu revealed that he'd been greeted with racist letters, including some covered in human excrement.

"I don't know where they are from. They don't tell you," he said of the cowards. "They simply tell you, I am Mr White X and nigger go back and this is what you are like, this is what you are worth."

He has also courted controversy by expressing his desire to fight homophobia within the Church of England.

I wish the archbishop success in his fight against bigots of both stripes.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The UN's Abu Ghraib

The United Nations as an institution has been under attack in the last few years by the US far right for its refusal to lick President Bush's boots on the Iraq invasion. On that question, the UN tried, if unsuccessfully, to do exactly what it was founded to do: discourage unprovoked international aggression.

While all the sound and fury was directed at the UN's refusal to be subservient to the bullies in Washington, a REAL UN scanda wasl being overlooked. Early this year, six peacekeepers from Nepal and six more from Morocco working under the UN flag in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were widely accused of sexually exploiting girls in their 'protected' area... some were as young as 13. An internal UN investigation substantiated the allegations and found a pattern of sexual exploitation of women and children, which it said was continuing. Most despicably, many of the victims were usually given food or small sums of money in return for sex.

The UN has since overhauled its rules for peacekeepers acting under UN auspices. The UN mission in the DRC has since banned peacekeepers from having sexual relations with Congolese.

An editorial in The New York Times rightly condemns this outrage. Because The Times understands the structure of the UN, it also calls on member states to take this issue seriously.

(If you don't have a good grasp of the structure of the UN and how authority is divided within the organization and amongst its member states, I explain it thoroughly in this essay)

Though the UN is still widely respected outside the US, the peacekeeper sex scandal risks damaging its reputation as much as Abu Ghraib stained America's.

Sex scandals are quite frequent in places where there are large numbers of foreign troops. There have been a number of such scandals in Okinawa, where there is a huge US military base. Not surprisingly, Okinawans haven't appreciated the sex assaults any more than the Congolese.

One of the particular problems with UN missions is their structure. There is no standing UN army. Rather, each time the Security Council authorizes a mission, it depends on member states to volunteer troops for the mission. In reality, the scandal was not by soldiers of a UN army, but soldiers of the Moroccan and Nepalese armies working under the UN flag. This lack of a coherent command and control structure contributes to a lack of control over peacekeepers.

The richest member states with the most well trained armies rarely volunteer peacekeepers, so UN missions are left with soldiers from countries where they might not have a lot of money to put into rigorous military training. Some are from countries where the military is deliberated kept weak so it's not tempted to interfere in politics.

For example, in September 2005, France, the US and Britain had a combined 1300 soldiers in UN missions. Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Nepal, Jordan, Ghana, Uruguay, South Africa, Morocco, Senegal and Kenya EACH had more UN peacekeepers than the three powers put together.

The Nigerian army, for example, has a poor reputation for indiscipline and corruption but it's willing to donate troops to place where no one else is so they are chosen to fill the vacuum.

One possibility to address this problem would be to establish a standing UN force with proper training and a unified vision on what peacekeeping, rather than ad hoc missions with invited forces. But the UN charter prohibits this and the UN's fiercest critics would be the most deadset against such a change.

A UN panel recommended that soldiers working under the UN flag and accused of sex crimes should be tried in their home country. I'm not sure this is a good idea since the military justice system in some countries is not trustworthy. A better option would be for peacekeepers to be tried in the country they allegedly committed the crime in. If this is not practical, then they should be tried at the International Criminal Court.

UN peacekeeping is a lucrative enterprise for some countries since the UN pays them for their efforts. This is why so many developing countries donate troops: they can keep their militaries (who in some places are politically meddlesome) occupied, get the soldiers real-life training without starting a war and get nicely remunerated for their efforts. Countries whose soldiers repeatedly commit such crimes should be banned from serving in UN missions. A potential ban (and the resultant loss of a lot of revenue) might force an emphasis on improved military discipline in those armed forces.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Not the usual suspects

Transparency International published its 2005 report indicating the most and least corrupt countries in the world. The dubious honor of being the most corrupt country in the world.was unexpectedly 'won' by Chad. The West African republic was the only African country in the bottom five, meaning TI had seen relative improvements in habitual bottom feeders Cameroon and Nigeria. Nigeria improved to sixth-worst (up from third-worst) but still remains near the bottom.

Resource-rich African states are seen as particularly corrupt, the [Corruption Perception Index] says. Nigeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo are all in the bottom 20.

Interestingly, Singapore was rated as the fifth least corrupt country in the world behind Iceland, Finland, New Zealand and Denmark. The Asian Tiger's ranking shows that it is indeed possible for non-western countries to fight corruption and reap the benefits of the resulting development and quality of life improvement.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Stinks to be them!

Guinea sure got the short end of the recent draw for the 2006 African Nations Cup.

Le Syli national were drawn with holders Tunisia and southern African powers South Africa and Zambia. But that's probably the weakest of the four groups.

Hosts Egypt were drawn with 2006 World Cup qualifier Ivory Coast and 2004 African runners-up Morocco.

Continental giant Cameroon will play surprise World Cup qualifiers Togo and Angola.

West Africans Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal placed in the same group.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

There he goes again

Zimbabwe's dictator Robert Mugabe is never out of the headlines for long. The megalomaniac makes sure of that, lest the carefully nurture cult of personality surrounding him wane. First, his regime felt it necessary to briefly arrest the US ambassador to the country. The American envoy's sin? He inadvertently walked into a poorly marked military area while walking in Harare's National Botanical Gardens.

That there a restricted area could possibly be entered inadvertantly from a public garden shows how incompetent the Zimbabwean military is. Any military with the slightest clue would have surrounded the area with well-marked fences and perhaps barbed wire, thus preventing inadvertant access from an urban and well-frequented public garden in the country's largest city.

While this is how sane people would see the incident, as you might expect Mugabe's spokesman saw it differently. "The American ambassador must consider himself very lucky that he is dealing with a professional army that the Zimbabwean national army is... Elsewhere, and definitely in America, he would have been a dead man."

Then, Mugabe attended an international food conference in Rome where he engaged in his favorite sport: blaming Tony Blair and George W. Bush for all of Zimbabwe's problems, most of which Mugabe himself created.

It's astonishing that Mugabe was invited to attend a conference on food since he's widely accused of manipulating food aid to punish political enemies, real or perceived. It's astonishing that he was invited to attend a conference on food since his destruction of Zimbabwe's agricultural sector is one of the biggest reasons for the huge food shortage throughout southern Africa. The European Union said Mugabe's rant justified its travel ban (with exceptions for UN conferences) on him.

Maybe if he spent less time scapegoating Blair and Bush and arresting foreign diplomats for no reason and more time feeding his own people, Zimbabwe would be in a far better situation. But his anti-Blair/Bush screeds make him a very popular man throughout much of non-Zimbabwean Africa which is happy to ignore his massive human rights abuses and general disrespect for indigenous Zimbabweans. And since Robert Mugabe has always been about his own gigantic ego, this is good enough for him.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Not him too!

Senegal's president Abdoulaye Wade has been widely praised (including by yours truly) as one of the new generation of African leaders. He has been a tireless campaigner for pan-African ideals as well as more concrete measures like economic and political reform throughout the continent as well as a more equitable trade relation between Africa and the west. However in the last few years, Wade has shown some signs of intolerance toward dissent. While nowhere near as severe as thugs like Robert Mugabe or even strongmen like Yoweri Museveni, some of the signs from Senegal's chief executive have been troubling, particular his targetting of the private press.

Yesterday, Senegalese authorities shut down Sud FM, probably the country's most influential private radio station. Sud FM landed in hot water for interviewing a hardline leader of the MFDC, a group that wants the southern Casamance region to secede from Senegal. The government said Sud FM's interview had posed a threat to state security, according to the BBC. Rebroadcasts of the interview were banned and the case had been referred to the state prosecutor.

The move was widely condemned in a common editorial published or aired in some 20 private press outlets, including made of Sud's commercial rivals. The editorial noted that the independent media also ran a common editorial in July 2004 after the arrest of another journalist for dubious motives. The editorial condemned Wade's government for being being "so expert in smokescreens and so prompt to invent pretexts" and accused the regime of having a plan to liquidate the Sud press group.

The irony of Wade's war against the private press is that it was precisely that independent media that helped propel him to the presidency in 2000. During that year's presidential elections, the private press was widely credited for pre-empting attended fraud by the then Socialist Party regime by broadcast precinct-by-precinct results even before they were officially announced... and presumably before they could be "fixed."

Perhaps Wade confused this with loyalty to his person and has been shocked that the press hasn't shirked its civic duty now that opposition leader has become president of the Republic.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Cactus picking

So you think your job is tough???

Try picking cacti.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

How to feed the hungry

There's been quite a debate in humanitarian circles about the best way to deliver aid to hungry people. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that donating actual food to hungry countries costs on average 30% more than providing money to buy food.

Food is donated to crisis situations because many western countries produce more food than they use as a result of huge agricultural subsidies. Superficially, this makes sense. It seems quite obscene for developed countries to throw away food while people in poor countries are starving.

The problems occur with logistics. In order to deliver food aid, the food must be transported to ports, loaded on to ships, transported across oceans, loaded off ships and then delievered to the interior of countries that often have poor infrastructure. This not only costs a lot of money, but it takes a lot of time as well... often not arriving until it's too late.

If it arrives too late, it may flood a market that now has enough food (say, because of a late harvest) thus depressing prices for local agriculture.

By contrast, food is often available in neighboring countries or other countries in the region. That food would be much quicker and cheaper to deliver because of proximity. If money were donated to buy that food, it would also help farmers in those countries, who are often also poor.

Additionally, big donors are most generous with food aid when they have big surpluses, and that, by definition, tends to be when there is plenty of food around.

Clearly, the most common concern about giving money is the potential for corruption. While direct food aid can be diverted (for political reasons as is alleged in Zimbabwe and North Korea or sold on the black market), it's more difficult to divert than cash. However, there are certainly ways to ensure transparency with these donations, the same sort of methods used in other forms of direct aid. No reinventing the wheel is necessary.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Milton Obote

I was relieved to learn of the death of former Ugandan dictator Milton Obote. Obote clearly benefited by comparison to Idi Amin, who Obote both preceded and succeeded as dictator. His reigns were barely less thuggish than Amin's, but Obote was somewhat erudite and well-spoken so many outsiders never thought he could be as brutal as the bufoonish Amin. Yet the UK Independent notes that: [a]ccording to the current government's estimates, more than half a million civilians died between 1980-85 when Mr Obote tried to force Ugandans out of rural areas and into cities. The current government is hardly an unbiased observer: it's led by the then-guerilla movement that overthrew Obote's second dictatorship. But even if the number isn't exactly 500,000, Obote's regimes were an unmitigated nightmare and I'm sure few Ugandans are sad to learn of his passing.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Winds of change in African soccer

This weekend, five African teams qualified for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany. Astonishingly, four countries will participate for the first time: Angola, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Togo. They will be joined by defending African champions Tunisia.

Perrenial giants Nigeria and Cameroon will miss out on the World Cup, for the first times since 1990 and 1986 respectively. Nigeria failed to beat Angola in their two matches against each other and thus lost out to the Palancas negras on a tiebreaker; the southern Africans were accordingly ecstatic. Cameroon was awarded a last minute penalty in their final qualifier against Egypt but Pierre Wome's spot kick slammed against the post. Cameroonian fans were not amused, though Ivorian fans were a bit more joyous.

Ghana finished ahead of South Africa and the DR Congo. Sometimes referred to as 'the Spain of Africa' in soccer terms, the Ghanaians have won a joint record four African Nations Cups but fans are celebrating their first trip to the world's biggest soccer party.

While Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana had some continental pedigree and quite a bit of international success at the youth levels, Togo's qualification was astonishing. The tiny West African country was completely unrated in the soccer world but somehow managed to top a group with more fancied sides like Senegal (2002 World Cup quarterfinalists), Mali (2002 and 2004 African Cup semifinalists) and Zambia (1994 African Cup finalists). Togo's head of state was so impressed that he declared a national holiday.

And spare a thought for Morocco. The African vice-champions went undefeated in qualifying but five of their ten matches ended in draws so the Atlas Lions lost out to their north African rivals Tunisia. (In Europe, it's also probable that either Israel, Switzerland or France will also go undefeated and fail to qualify).

Congrats to fans of Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Angola and Togo. It's good to give new fans a chance to enjoy some time in the spotlight.

Update: To say that Cameroonian fans were unamused is a gross understatement. Bloodlust might be a more appropriate term.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Now women can be as dangerous as the men

Did you know that Senegal did not have a single female taxi driver?

At least not until recently.

'Whatever a man can do, a woman can do just as well' said the woman. Given the standards of Senegal's taxi drivers, let's hope she does better.

Friday, October 07, 2005

ICC indicts Ugandan rebel leaders

In a development praised as "historic" by Human Rights Watch, the new International Criminal Court has issued its first arrest warrants. While some feared (despite many safeguards to the contrary) the ICC would become an instrument of anti-American hatred, the Court's first warrants were issued against five top figures in the so-called Lord's Resistance Army.

The LRA's nominal political objective is to overthrow the Ugandan regime and replace it with a government based on the Ten Commandments. But no one familiar with their unimaginable savagery can take these purported claims the least bit seriously, since they seem intent on VIOLATING all of the Commandments. The LRA's real target is the civilians of northern Uganda.

The LRA's fanatical leader, the self-styled prophet Joseph Kony, is wanted for many alleged atrocities, including torture and mutilation, abduction, sexual violence, forced recruitment and the killing of people the LRA considers are supporters of Yoweri Museveni, Uganda's leader.

A full catalogue of the LRA's violence against children has been compiled by Human Rights Watch. Though the organization additionally recommends that the ICC also investigate alleged abuses by the Ugandan army as well.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


I was humbled to learn that this blog was nominated for a Best of the Blogs. A Best of the Blogs, or a BOB, is a series of awards sponsored by the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. Black Star Journal was nominated for Best Journalistic Blog - English. I'm not sure if it merits the award, but I appreciate that someone thought enough of my work to nominate it.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Congolese mass graves linked to Rwandan army

Mass graves discovered by UN troops in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been linked to the Rwandan army.

The graves contain bodies thought to belong to Rwandan Hutu refugees and villagers killed by the Tutsi-led Rwandan army and the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo Zaire (AFDL), a Congolese rebel group, in 1996, reports the (UK) Independent.

Two years after toppling the genocidal regime in Kigali, Rwandan strongman Gen. Paul Kagame ordered his troops to invade its gigantic neighbor under the pretext of hunting genocide suspects who'd fled to the then-Zaire and were allegedly launching raids into Rwanda. The trouble is that the extremists were mixed in with hundreds of thousands of ordinary refugees.

While Rwanda's invasion was ostensibly to create a security buffer, Rwandan troops advanced as far as 1000 miles inside the DRC, occupying a swath of land far larger than tiny Rwanda itself. Rwanda's occupation was almost universally believed to be more about exploiting the DRC's vast mineral wealth than any security concerns.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Voters: there's more to Liberia than Monrovia

One of the common complaints heard around the world is that both the government and the news media ignores what's happening outside the major cities. Liberians outside Monrovia are no different.

"Our would-be presidents think that Monrovia is the whole of Liberia," said Johnny Smith, a shoe repairer in the central town of Gbarnga. "None of them has taken time off to tell us in detail how Liberia or our county will be developed."

Of the 1.35 million Liberians registered to vote in the 11 October polls, more than a third are in Monrovia and the surrounding Montserrado County, partly because thousands of people who flocked to the capital during the 14-year war stayed on when peace arrived in August 2003, reports the UN's IRIN. Another major factor in politicians getting out to all areas of the country is access. Liberia, a heavily-forested nation, has only two paved roads, rains have turned its other dirt tracks into muddy quagmires, bridges are still in ruins and some people are forced to travel by canoe just to reach a doctor.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Plus ça change...

The seizure of the pan-African weekly Jeune Afrique (now L'Intelligent) whenever it wrote an unflattering story on Guinea or its regime was a regular feature of the country's first dictator Sékou Touré and little has changed since the facade of democracy introduced Gen. Lansana Conté.

The magazine recently did a in-depth feature on the seriously deteriorating economic and social situation in the country.

Apparently, the authorities in Conakry didn't appreciate the magazine's efforts.