Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The racists are quaking in their boots

A major thumbsdown to the Italian soccer federation for their weak handling of racism in the game. Or more accurately, their non-handling of racism in the game.

England has long had a terrible reputation for racism and hooliganism at their soccer grounds. But this black eye is a holdover from the 1970s ad 1980s when they truly deserved it. While English soccer authorities have made great strides in the last 15 years against the expression of hatred and violence at matches, other European countries have refused to tackle this issue. Racism and hooliganism has diminished in England partly due to efforts by the clubs and partly due to the gentrification of the once strongly working class game. But those illnesses still plague the game not only in Eastern Europe, but in other parts of supposedly sophisticated Western Europe.

Though the problem of racism and violence may not be any worse in Italy than in parts of Eastern Europe, it's more problematic since the Italian Serie A is one of the best and most high profile leagues in the world. As such, it draws a lot of black players, from Africa and Brazil.

A recent match between Messina and Inter Milan saw some Inter 'supporters' (henceforth known as morons) make monkey noises and other revolting chants at Messina's Ivorian defender Marc Zoro.

Zoro was so incensed by the lunacy that he tried to walk off the field in protest... though I'm not sure why he thought this would've displeased the morons. He was persuaded to remain on the pitch by a couple of Inter's black players, Obafemi Martins and Adriano. (That Inter itself has several black players was, not surprisingly, of no conesquence to the morons)

"They were very kind" said Zoro afterwards. "Martins and Adriano both said that this kind of thing happens to them a lot too, and not to let it provoke me. But they seemed more concerned with getting the game restarted and avoiding any complications than anything else. I came back on to avoid causing them problems."

I realize that fans will say a lot of things to unnerve opposing players. That's perfectly fine. But there has to be a line of decency that must not be crossed. Chanting monkey noises at black players is on the wrong side of that line.

The Italian soccer federation reacted as it usually does when faced with a serious issue: with shameful weakness.

The federation ordered that the next round of league matches be delayed by five minutes so that players could protest the treatment of Zoro.

So the morons will have five extra minutes to sing racist songs and make monkey noises. I'm sure that'll teach a lesson!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Ugandan lawyers strike for judicial independence

Opposition activists and members of the free press aren't the only people worried about the deterioration of the rule of law in Yoweri Museveni's Uganda. Today, the Ugandan Law Society held a one day strike in favor of the independence of the judiciary, which the lawyers feel is threatened.

They are particularly incensed by an event that I wrote about earlier. Dozens of military commandos showed up to surround the court building, during legal proceedings launched against opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye.

If Dr Besigye is truly guilty of the crimes the regime accuses him of, then surely they don't need military intimidation of the civilian courts.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Four more... decades!

Omar Bongo is Africa's longest and the world's second longest serving leader. He's run Gabon since 1967. Despite nearly four decades in charge, Bongo wants seven more years in charge.

One would think that if, after 38 years, you can't accomplish everything you set out to do, then maybe it's time to give someone else a chance.

Unless what you set out to accomplish is control over your country's lucrative and corrupt oil trade.

But Bongo seems to be doing a pretty good job at that too.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Amnesty deal for Besigye?

Jonathan over at The Head Heeb blog notes that the Ugandan government has reportedly done an about face on opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye. Besigye, as you may remember, was earlier this month arrested and charged with treason. by Yoweri Museveni's increasingly dictatorial regime. The hearing for which was marred by the intimidating appearance of military commandos.

He is also being subjected to a court martial, in addition to regular criminal proceedings against him. Critics argue military courts are more easily subjected to political pressure than the regular law courts.

Not surprisingly, Museveni defended the arrest of his chief rival. Not surprisingly, the Big Man called Besigye a terrorist, which is what one now calls any political opponent in the post-September 11 world. Museveni even had the audacity to claim that Besigye's arrest was a sign of good governance.

"One of the emphases of the new democratic order is no impunity," the strongman said.

If Museveni really believes there is no impunity is his country, perhaps he could reign in the atrocities of his army.

But maybe his 'democratic' Uganda has other emphases like no freedom of expression and a crusade against the free press.

The Ugandan independent paper The Monitor reports that the government is offering immediate freedom to Col. Besigye on condition that he applied for amnesty under the Amnesty Act.

Both Jonathan and The Monitor quite rightly notes that Besigye is almost certain to reject this offer as it would be an implicit acceptance of guilt.

A successful application for amnesty would leave Besigye vulnerable to damaging political attacks as a self-confessed rebel, comments the paper.

Jonathan adds, It looks like Museveni is having second thoughts about the arrest, possibly recognizing that the public protests that followed Dr. Besigye's seizure are more dangerous to the government than the opposition leader himself.

This is spot on. That the arrest occured on the eve of the Commonwealth meeting recalls the treason conviction of Ken Saro-Wiwa by the Nigerian dictatorship, which also occurred right before the meeting of former British colonies. Despite widespread pressure, Saro-Wiwa was hanged ten years ago this month with eight of his associates. Following the hangings, the Nigerian dictatorship faced massive international condemnation and devastating economic and political isolation. It's a fate Museveni is apparently eager to avoid. Whether he's willing to pay the price of allowing democracy and freedom of expression to exist in Uganda is another question.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Reuniting Angolan families

Radio Netherlands' English service did nice documentary on efforts by the International Committee of the Red Cross to reunite families separated during the almost 30 year Angolan civil war.

Monday, November 21, 2005

30 years of Western Sahara injustice

The UK Guardian's Ian Black wrote a piece on the 30th anniversary of the unilateral Moroccan annexation of Western Sahara.

The late King Hassan invoked centuries-old ties of allegiance by Saharan tribes to assert his sovereignty and claim the territory's rich phosphate deposits and offshore fishing grounds even as his regime assiduously worked against international efforts to organize a referendum in Western Sahara about the land's future status.

Though Hassan's successor and son, King Mohammed VI, is seen by some as more modern, his rule has seen no progress on the issue.

In 2003 a UN plan proposed to give the Sahara autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty pending a referendum, a position which Polisario reluctantly accepted even though it fell far short of its demand for full independence. Morocco rejected the plan.
Intense haggling over precisely who is eligible to vote underlines the view that Morocco cannot risk a free vote it knows it would lose.

King Mohammed uses scare tactics, such as hinting at the 'Balkanization' of the region, to deny the Saharawi the right to decide their own future.

The Western Sahara Campaign took issue with Black's characterization that the campaign might be naive.

If there were justice in the world, campaigns such as ours would not need to exist. Our purpose is to draw attention to an injustice that has long been neglected by members of the UN security council, including our own government, counters a member of the UK Western Sahara Campaign.
The security council has passed dozens of resolutions calling for a referendum on self-determination for the Western Sahara. None has been implemented, and Minurso, the UN body intended to supervise the referendum, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to achieve nothing.

She notes that diplomatic pressure on Morocco is required for movement on the question. At the last security council meeting, John Bolton suggested this dispute had gone on for long enough. Whether his sentiment inclines the US - or the security council as a whole - to at last put pressure on Morocco to do the right thing remains to be seen.

The new UN envoy, Peter van Walsum, can only make progress if the member states support him, above all by moving Morocco from its intransigent opposition to any referendum including independence as an option.

She also suggests a tourist boycott of Morocco as long as they refuse the Saharawi people their right to self-determination.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The real traitors

Much of the 90s seemed like an era of hope in sub-Saharan Africa. France demanded that its puppet allies at least present the facade of democratization. Tony Blair came to power on the wind of promises of an ethical foreign policy. The end of the Cold War also led to the end of disastrous proxy wars in places like Angola, Namibia and Mozambique. Apartheid collapsed. Sure, there was a genocide in Rwanda, civil wars of unimaginable horror in places like Liberia and Sierra Leone, chaos in Somalia and Africa's first World War. That didn't stop Thabo Mbeki from proudly declaring the beginning of an African renaissance. After all, long time dictators lost multiparty elections in places like Malawi, Zambia and Benin. Even Nigeria had a civilian democracy.

Unfortunately, some of the current regimes in Africa are going back to the bad old days where even the facade of democracy was violently repressed. Ugandan big man Yoweri Museveni (once the very embodiment of Mbeki's African Renaissance) recently arrested the main opposition leader Kizza Besigye and charged him with treason. Some have reported that Besigye may remain in custody for at least a year before he is even brought to trial; presidential elections are scheduled in less than a year. How convenient.

In fact, when Besigye and 22 of his fellow opposition activists were in court for a hearing on the dubious charges, commandos in black t-shirts mysteriously surrounded the court building.

The Ugandan military has defended the deployment of the armed men at the court saying they were there to re-arrest them fearing they would skip bail if they were released.

The head of the high court denounced this action as 'despicable,' saying he'd seen nothing like it since the dark days of Idi Amin.

"The High Court witnessed the most naked and grotesque violation of the twin doctrines of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary," the judge said.

Things are possibly worse in Ethiopia. The opposition protested there after elections earlier this year were allegedly rigged (the European Union seemed to agree).. Early results showed a strong showing by the opposition until counting was mysteriously delayed supposedly for a month, but actually two months. After all was said and done, the ruling party 'won' more than 2/3 of the seats in parliament.

The opposition protested so police shot protesters and the regime arrested both opposition activists and newspaper editors. Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi has gone Museveni one better: not only does he declare war on political opponents by charging them with treason, he does the same against the nascent free press.

The international community, and especially the African Union, need to condemn Meles' and Museveni's shameless attacks on democracy and the rule of law. There can be no 'African renaissance' when Africans are abritrarily shot or thrown in jail for opposing thuggish rulers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What's next? A world summit on good governance held in Harare?

I wonder who the genius was that decided The World Summit on the Information Society should be held in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia. Didn't the organizers realize how badly it reflects on the meetings credibility to hold a summit on freedom of information in one of the countries that does the most to restrict it?

Update: Given all the international media attention that has focused on the war against freedom of expression by the Tunisian poice state, maybe this wasn't such a bad choice of location after all.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

'The Iron Lady' to become Madame President

Kudos to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who was the convincing winner in Liberia's presidential runoff election. The 'Iron Lady' was credited with 59.4% of the vote against former soccer star George Weah. Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf, 'Ellen' to supporters, thus becomes Africa's first elected female president (though Ruth Perry briefly served as Liberia's appointed interim head of state in the mid-90s).

While Weah's supporters originally took to the streets and their champion cried fraud, things appear to have settled down. Weah called on supporters to abandon protests and his concession is reported to be imminent.

Owukori over at Black Looks blog opines that George Weah never had a chance. I profess to being surprised by Ellen's victory and shocked by the margin of her win.

Weah is a high school dropout whose main claim to fame is as a soccer star and UN goodwill ambassador. He also achieved appreciation from Liberians for personally funding the country's national soccer team for several years. Ellen, for her part, has served as Liberia's finance minister and held positions with the UN, World Bank and Citicorp. She has a master's degree in public administration from Harvard.

There is no question who was the more qualified candidate, but as everyone knows, such candidates don't always win. Weah had strong support from young men, traditionally soccer fans. He was also endorsed by all the losers in the first round runoff, including former warlords Alhadji Kromah and Sekou Conneh (something which may have done more harm than good in the end). And frankly, she did have to overcome the perception that women don't belong in the presidency.

On the other hand, she probably appealed to those who figured: men have completely messed up Liberia for the last 150+ years, particularly the last quarter century, so why not give a woman the chance? She also stood up to former dictators Charles Taylor and Samuel Doe, so there can be little question about her courage.

She has a very difficult task, rebuilding a completely destroyed country where corruption is rampant and the rule of law weak. The last three heads of state (save the appointed Perry) have left office involuntarily. But I can't think of a single Liberian more qualified for the job.

I also congratulate Liberians for looking beyond flashiness and celebrity and self-interested endorsements and choosing the most qualified person to lead their country.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Ugandan main opposition leader arrested

Gotta feel a bit sorry for Yoweri Museveni, the old dinosaur who runs Uganda. When he took power in 1986 following a guerrilla war, the African Big Man was in vogue. From Mobutu in Zaire to Omar Bongo in Gabon to Daniel arap Moi in neighboring Kenya, the head of state-as-God phenemon seemed well-entrenched. Little did he know that this trend would start its downward decline in the 1990s. Museveni never adjusted.

For most of the 1990s, Museveni and Uganda was seen as the pearl of the continent, a seemingly well-governed exception to the mess that was much of Africa. At the very least, he was a vast improvement upon the country's previous megalomaniacal leaders: Milton Obote and Idi Amin.

Then it all started going wrong for the Ugandan strongman. He risked his international reputation by collaborating with Uganda in an insane invasion of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It was done under the pretext of creating a 'security zone' but was really about exploiting the eastern DRC's mineral wealth. Then, Uganda and Rwanda fell out and their armies fought each other... ON CONGOLESE SOIL!

After 19 years of banning all political parties, Museveni's regime finally legalized multipartism.

He even invited main opposition leader Kizza Besigye to return to the country. In addition to being the main threat to his power, Besigye was once Museveni's personal doctor. When Museveni invited Besigye to return to the country, he promised that doctor wouldn't be arrested.

So Besigye came home on Nov. 1. And less than two weeks later, he was... you guessed it... arrested on dubious charges.

Update: a spokesman for Besigye's party has said Besigye is likely to remain in jail for a year before standing trial, due to Uganda's law on treason. Convenient for the Museveni regime since the next presidential election is in a few months. If found guilty, Besigye could face the death penalty. Additionally, riots have erupted in Kampala when the public learned of his arrest. This arrest could be a horrific miscalculation by Museveni. If Ugandans feel that they risk their freedom (or their lives) by simply taking part in the democratic process, then they may turn less than peaceful means to change their government. Museveni, better than anyone else, should know the resentment that builds when a regime excludes all those who disagree with the Leader; that's how he got to power himself.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Weah's camp cries foul

It would be nice to get through an election in Africa where the elections (and the campaign) are fair, the winning side is magnanimous and the losing side concedes graciously. I was hoping the internationally-run elections in Liberia would differ from the trend. Sadly, Tuesday's presidential runoff looks more like same old, same old, despite elections that were widely praised.

No need to guess who's in the lead.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Oral tradition no longer needed: Achebe

I was interested to read comments by Chinua Achebe where the great Nigerian writer insisted that there would be no cause for concern if oral storytelling died out.

"Oral storytelling was important when I was writing - it may not be important when the next generation is writing," he said. "Obviously I believe in the importance of stories, but whether oral, or written, or televised, I cannot lay down the law. We are fascinated by the oral tradition, and it's right that we should be fascinated. But if it's not going to work any more in the future, then rather than sit and weep and mourn, why don't we find out what has come to replace it?"

He also expressed the hope where the indigeneous languages of Africa would begin to re-assert themselves.

"I have made provision for that myself, by writing certain kinds of material in Igbo. For instance, I will insist my poetry is translated back into Igbo while I'm still around," he noted.

Though his hope is certainly laudable, it remains to be seen how realistic it is. The publishing industry in Africa is in a lamentable state, even when dealing with books written in more widely-spoken languages like English, French and Arabic.

It seems that for the publishing industry to make any progress in Africa, there needs to be some sort of collaborative transnational effort on a continental, or at least regional, scale. While conflict and macroeconomic issues are understandably of higher priority to institutions like the African Union and ECOWAS, these bodies certainly shouldn't forget the importance of culture.

Friday, November 04, 2005

New address for this blog

Please note that this blog has a new URL. It's blackstarjournal.blogspot.com. Please change your bookmarks!

Note: Old links to previous entries in this blog may not work. But if you replace the first part of the link (popeyeafrica) with blackstarjournal then it should work.

Honey, I shrunk the food supply!

Some news stories just make you guy 'Duh!'

Take this one from the BBC.

A Zimbabwean minister has said that many of those given land since 2000 know little about farming and this has led to food shortages.

"The biggest letdown has been that people without the slightest idea of farming got land and the result has been declining agricultural output," said the country's deputy agricultural minister Sylvester Nguni.

I'm not sure which is more shocking: that a government minister offered something vaguely resembling a mea culpa after years of blaming Tony Blair and George W. Bush for famine, political instability and even bad weather. Or that a minister from a government that normally engages in Orwellian manipulation of information even acknowledged the obvious food shortages.

It remains to be seen how long Nguini remains in his post, or a free man for that matter, after stating the truth.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

More insanity in the Horn of Africa

Remember the moronic, disastrous border war of the late 90s between Ethiopia and Eritrea? The war that cost some 70,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands, all over a worthless sliver of land called Badme?

Apparently the idiots who run Ethiopia and Eritrea feel that the 70,000 dead was too few, as both regimes are engaging in a massive troop buildup near the disputed border, which is patrolled by UN peacekeepers.

Ethiopia has not withdrawn its troops from land awarded to Eritrea by an international demarcation commission, notes the BBC.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on both sides to "exercise maximum restraint and to immediately halt any action that might be misinterpreted by the other side."

The US and European Union need to put diplomatic pressure on the Ethiopian regime to abide by the international commission's decision and withdraw from the area, before another wasted war over nothing land explodes.

(For more on the history of the border dispute, click here)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

This can't be good...

You have to wonder about the future of the Idriss Déby regime. The Chadian strongman recently dissolved his presidential guard following a wave of desertions. More dangerously, the deserters have reportedly regrouped in the unstable eastern part of the country, where thousands of refugees from Darfur have relocated.

The deserters, calling themselves the Platform for Change, National Unity and Democracy, have rejected talks with government official, according to the IRIN news service. The Chadian opposition estimates that the group of deserters number some 600 troops.

"The decision to dissolve the [Republican Guard] hints at panic within the regime and suggests that Deby - a military strategist of some merit - has moved beyond damage limitation strategies into full-blown regime survival mode," said Chris Melville of the London-based research group Global Insight.

The Republican Guard is usually the most important part of a head of state's security detail; in many countries, Guardsmen swear loyalty not to the republic, but personal loyalty to the leader. That Déby no longer feels safe with his own security detail does not auger well for the future of his regime.