Friday, December 30, 2005

Donors threaten aid to Ethiopian regime

Foreign donors are finally getting tough on the increasingly dictatorial regime of Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia. Western countries are threatening to withhold $375 million following the regime's crackdown against the opposition and the free press. When the opposition protested allegedly rigged election results recently, the government arrested 80 top figures. Many have been charged with treason.

Western donors are considering shifting the money away from direct support to the regime toward UN programs and non-governmental organizations. This would hurt the government's efforts to help the poor, sniffed Ethiopia's finance minister.

Foreign aid makes up 10 percent of the annual budget of Ethiopia, which is one of the most aid-dependent countries in the world. Maybe donors are afraid that when the regime isn't shooting protesters and otherwise harassing political opponents, they might use aid money not for poverty reduction but toward another insane border war with Ethiopia.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Wanted: a good copy editor

Here's a great example why copy editors are important and why a single, imprecise word can change the whole meaning of a sentence.

Take this BBC News story;

The article began about how Chad's leader Idriss Déby called for next month's African Union summit to be moved from Sudan (against whom Chad recently declared war) to Nigeria. Déby accused Khartoum of backing a Chadian rebel group.

But, the BBC wrote, Sudan's foreign minister told the BBC that Sudan's army had fought with Chadian rebels when they refused to either disarm or leave Sudan.

Does the phrase "Sudan's army had fought with Chadian rebels" mean they fought alongside the rebels or against the rebels?

Only from other parts of the article can you presume that they meant 'against.'

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Libyan extortion?

Several years ago, Libya accused several Bulgarian nurses of deliberately infecting over 400 Libyan children with the HIV virus. In May of last year, the nurses were convicted and sentenced to death. On Friday, Bulgaria's foreign ministry agreed to set up a fund to help the infected children. Two days later, the Libyan Supreme Court mysteriously overturned the death sentences and convictions and ordered new trials for the Bulgarians.


You figure it out.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Free drugs for HIV positive Nigerians

Some good news, finally on the AIDS-Africa front. The Nigerian health ministry has announced that it will, within two weeks, provide free antiretroviral drugs to HIV/AIDS sufferers.

The government had been heavily criticized for charging for such drugs even though it received them for free from international non-governmental organizations.

Nigeria has the third most HIV infections in the world.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Chad declares war on Sudan

The regime of Chadian strongman Idriss Déby has been shaky for some time. The country has been destabilized by the presence of tens of thousands of refugees from Darfur who've settled into eastern Chad. Earlier this month, several members of his inner circle reportedly quit to join a movement to oust him.

Today, the government issued a statement that claims that not only was Sudan behind [an] attack on [the eastern town of] Adre, but it also accuses Sudanese militia of making daily incursions into Chad, stealing cattle, killing innocent people and burning villages on the Chadian border.

The statement declared: "Chad is today in a state of war with Sudan."

Thursday, December 22, 2005

UN housing not good enough for Mugabe's homeless

Let's say you're a dictator who's ruined your once prosperous state. We'll call you Bob M.. Your country was once the breadbasket of southern Africa, but after stealing farm land and giving it mostly to your cronies, the agricultural sector has collapsed. Even your regime can't deny its own incompetence.

Since farming has collapsed, waves of people are fleeing rural areas to settle in the cities. But the urban centers can't handle all these extra people so they set up makeshift housing. Your regime decides to demolish these settlements which you claim are illegal. But since your regime hasn't prepared alternative accomodations, 700,000 people are made homeless. You also deny that this constitutes a humanitarian crisis. That urban areas are where the main opposition party finds its strongest support is completely coincidental, of course.

You're a populist, cult of personality obsessed demagogue who's already blamed George W. Bush and mostly Tony Blair for all your problems except the bad weather. Oops, I mean, you've already blamed them for everything INCLUDING the bad weather.

So what's a former pseudo-Marxist guerilla who claims to be the people's champion to do in such circumstances?

Blame the United Nations, of course!

The UN offered to build temporary accomodations for those you've rendered homeless. First you reject the offer, then you accept it, then you reject it again because they've said that the demolitions weren't the nicest thing in the world to do. (Though you did accept their food aid)

You change your mind again. The UN builds a model house whose replicas will house the hundreds of thousands of poor people you've rendered homeless. And you condemn the house as 'sub-standard.'

"This structure is not permanent. We want permanent houses for our people," says one of your lackies.

You make a mess. Eventually invite someone else to clean up your mess and then whine that they're not cleaning it up well enough for your high standards. You also reject their offer of tents. Because temporary houses and tents are not nearly as comfortable as sleeping on the streets for those whose residents you've destroyed.

And then you tell the UN just to give you the money instead. Unfortunately, they're well aware that you head the second most corrupt country in southern Africa.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

UN peacekeepers to leave Sierra Leone

The IRIN news service reports that the UN peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone is winding down.. Once the largest peacekeeping mission in the world, UNAMSIL has disarmed and demobilised over 72,000 combatants and collected and destroyed over 30,000 arms, explained head of mission, [Daudi Ngelautwa] Mwakawago.

During the 1990s, Sierra Leone was destroyed by arguably the most savage civil war in modern times.

Mwakawago warns that the peacekeepers' departure is just the first step in a long road to recovery. “If you imagine that UNAMSIL was spread over the country like a beautiful carpet, well now the time has come to roll that carpet back, and what you might find underneath may not be very good,” he explains.

The UN mission has trained over 9000 new national police officers and helped the central government reestablish authority throughout the country. These will be critical in helping the country return a stability necessary for the ruined economy and obscene rate of unemployment to improve.

However, there is certainly precedent for hope. In the early 90s, Mozambique had just seen the definitive end of a long civil war that left the country in ruins. But thanks to a lot of help from the UN and international non-governmental organizations as well as the willingness of the former warring factions to buy into the basic tenets of electoral politics, Mozambique is now a stable, if imperfect, democracy experiencing excellent economic growth. Sierra Leone has the same potential if its political class is willing to accept the same norms and to fight corruption.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Ugandan aggression against DRC a 'grave violation' of international law: ICJ

Most international criticism for Ugandan strongman Yoweri Museveni. Today, the International Court of Justice held responsible for massacres committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The massacres occurred during Uganda's aggression against its large neighboring in the late 90s, which the court referred to as an 'unlawful military intervention.'

The ICJ also denounced the Ugandan military for deploying child soldiers and inciting ethnic conflict as it rampaged through Congo's Ituri province in fighting between August 1998 and July 1999, notes

The DRC will reportedly seek some $10 billion in compensation.

A related complaint by the DRC against Rwanda has not yet been ruled upon.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Darfur genocide over because there's no one left to kill

South Africa's News24 carries a foreboding piece on the economic difficulties of the African Union peacekeeping operation in Darfur, Sudan. Apparently, the AU mission there will run out of money within four months unless more funding is found.

Today, the European Union donated some 70 million Euros (US$84 million) but the mission still has a shortfall of some $50 million. The AU's peace and security commissioner noted that in May, donors pledged $200 million to the mission, but obviously much of that has not been received.

For his part, Christopher Hitchens notes the failure of the international community to adequately respond to the genocide in Darfur (though beware, the piece is filled with the distraction of not-so-subtle jibes at the anti-Iraq war arguments). He chillingly claims that the genocide is basically over... because there's no one left to kill.

As I've mentioned before, Darfur was the perfect opportunity to combine two oft-mentioned calls: for American multilateralism and for African solutions to African problems. I firmly believe that an American or western military intervention in Darfur would've been a disaster and would've resulted in much the same problems as are seen in Iraq. However, an African Union intervention might've avoided many of those problems. Of course, an AU intervention would've required logistical and financial support from the United States and European Union. (The Arab League could've been another candidate, but it serves no other purpose than to bash Israel)

I'm not a big fan of military interventionism but cases of genocide are one exception I unambiguously and unapologetically make.

The fledgling AU, the US and the Europeans all dropped the ball. None of this is surprising. Those who dared hope the AU would be different than its talking shop predecessor the Organization for African Unity have been bitterly disappointed. As with Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and other crises, the AU has been largely silent for fear of offending anybody. The Bush administration ignored the Darfur genocide for a long time, focusing on helping resolve the southern Sudanese civil war; this was admittedly an admirable effort and one that pleased Bush's religious conservative base but those in Darfur got short shaft. The silence was deafening until then Secretary of State Colin Powell called the situation there genocide, the first time an American administration had ever used the word. Then Powell resigned and normal service (silence) was resumed. The EU had other internal issues at the time, such as the absorption of a bunch of new members into the Union and the drafting of a new (and ultimately rejected) constitution.

The usual international response to genocide is this
1) ignore it while it's going on except for a few empty threats
2) try assuage international guilt by prosecuting a few people after the fact.
3) hold hand over heart and proclaim 'Never again' with enough fake solemnity so people think you mean it
4) when the next genocide occurs, return to step 1

Sickeningly, Darfur seems to be no exception.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Weah, from savior to traitor?

-"We want [Liberians] to see hope in the future." -President-elect Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

-"I am President of this country, whether you like it or not, it will not change." -George Weah, loser of the presidential runoff and formerly well-respected citizen.

Looks like Liberians made the right choice.

I used to hold Weah in high regard, someone who used his status as the world's most famous Liberian to the benefit of his countrymen. It's tragic to see that beneficience now used to hold the country hostage.

African and international leaders need to make Weah accept that unpleasant fact that he lost fair and square. Sulk if he wants, but he must be made to understand that holding Liberia to ransom for his own personal ambitions or those of his entourage is completely unacceptable. If that means the threat of an international travel ban or freezing of assets, then so be it. Liberians have suffered enough at the hands of egomaniacs and their thugs.

I won't call Weah a traitor just yet. I'll give him time to reflect on the lunacy of the course of action his cabal seem intent on pursuing. But he'd better return to sanity sooner, rather than later.

Update: a reader pointed out that Weah openly called for revolution. In a country as fragile as Liberia, maybe that is traitor material.

Update 2: After much international condemnation, Weah has finally dropped his legal challenge to Johnson-Sirleaf's election. He said he wouldn't stand in the way of the president-elect's inauguration but, troublingly, will not drop claims of being cheated.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Global Voices

I recently found a great new site called Global Voices. It's a site that basically collects entries from bloggers all around the world, particularly from countries that are not often represented in the mainstream western media.

From its website:

A growing number of bloggers around the world are emerging as “bridge bloggers:” people who are talking about their country or region to a global audience. Global Voices is your guide to the most interesting conversations, information, and ideas appearing around the world on various forms of participatory media such as blogs, podcasts, photo sharing sites, and videoblogs.
Our global team of regional blogger-editors is working to find, aggregate and track these conversations. Each day they link to 5-10 of the most interesting blog posts from their regions in the “daily roundups” section. A larger group of contributing bloggers is posting daily features in in the left-hand Weblog section, shedding light on what blogging communities in their countries have been talking about recently.

You should bookmark it.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Shame on you George!

It's said that politics sullies all who enter it. George Weah is no exception. The Liberian was nothing less than a class act as a soccer player, as a UN humanitarian ambassador and as someone who's financed many good things in his country. But as a politician, he's nothing more than an ordinary, garden variety sore loser.

Weah contested internationally supervised presidential elections last month. The political neophyte lost a runoff to veteran opposition leader and economist Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, despite the fact that most of the political class endorsed him. I'm not sure if Weah is sore about losing to a woman or if his influential entourage is upset about not having access to the spoils of power. But his camp is not taking the loss well.

Despite widespread international praise for the conduct of the election, Weah and his allies continue to claim the election was stolen. Weah held a rally in Monrovia where he declared, "There is no victor for now, and I say there will be no inauguration in the country until the world gets together and finds a means for a peaceful resolution to the problem."

Nice words if you believe him, something his followers apparently didn't. After his speech, violence erupted as his supporters clashed with riot police.

Most menacingly, his supporters chanted "No George Weah, no Liberia".

Weah's camp filed complaints with the country's electoral commission. A responsible leader should try to calm the waters and at least wait for the electoral commission's decision before holding provocative rallies and making inciteful remarks.

Does he think that Liberia hasn't suffered through enough violence since 1989? If he wants to repair the serious damage to his reputation, he should graciously concede to Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf and contest the next presidential election, instead of creating the cult of personality that has been so ruinous to so many other African countries.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Ex-combattants and Liberia's future

Though the democratic election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as president is a hopeful sign for Liberia, the country is not out of the woods yet, notes Global Witness.

The NGO notes that An upsurge in illegal diamond mining and logging by ex-combatants in Liberia is undermining international efforts to promote good governance and stability in the worn torn West African country, and could fuel a return to warlordism.

The pressure group notes that international rehabilitation efforts of former soldiers have been hampered by shortage of funds and a lack of employment opportunities for ex-combattants.

It further opines that former dictator and indicted war criminal Charles Taylor also continuous with impunity to violate the terms of his exile and meddle in Liberia’s political affairs.

The report concludes that international donors have failed to grasp the challenge of demobilising thousands of ex-fighters who are finding jobs in the illegal mining and logging industries.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

New Ivorian PM named

Charles Konan Banny recently named prime minister of Côte d'Ivoire by African mediators. The head of the West African central bank will lead the divided country toward elections sometime in 2006.

Under the U.N. resolution 1633, Mr. Banny will have expanded powers he will need to get northern rebels and southern militias to disarm.

Though it remains to be seen if the powers that be in the country will allow him that authority. His predecessor as interim head of government, Seydou Diarra, was stymied by the bureaucracy.

Critically, the regime, the political opposition and the rebels gave Banny's nomination their blessing. Though it remains to be seen how the xenophobic, criminal and nominally pro-government Jeunes patriotes militias will react. They haven't been particularly accomodating to previous peace deals and are overtly hostile to fair treatment toward Ivorians from the north of the country.

While I wouldn't go so far as to be optimistic that the step will improve the toxic political atomsphere in the country, I can certainly hope.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Eritrean religious persecution denounced

Amnesty International criticized religious perseuction in Eritrea. Over 1700 people have been arrested by dictatorship for belonging to an 'unofficial' religion, according to the NGO. Many have been tortured and churches have been shut down.

The regime's information minister denounced the criticism saying that western NGOs are in no position to criticize the regime.

Given the autocracy's lamentable human rights record, it seems that those outside the country are the ONLY ones in a position to criticize the regime... at least without getting arrested

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Alleged military buildup in southern Guinea

Disturbing news from one of the more unstable regions of West Africa. There appears to be a big military buildup on the Guinean side of the Guineo-Liberian border, according to Monrovia's Liberian Observer.

According to immigration officers at the Liberian side of the porous border of the Guinea forest region, the military build-up is due to the unfolding political and economic developments in Guinea in recent weeks. Many cross border traders told our reporter off the record that business people in Guinea have been withholding goods in order to incite the population against the regime in Conakry. But this state of affairs has yet to be confirmed.

Yet, Counter-intelligence officers in Voinjama [in northern Liberia] also hinted to the Daily Observer that the huge military build-up at the Liberia/Guinea border is a precautionary measure to safeguard the porous border.

However, the Guinean side of that border, near Macenta, is particularly unstable and lacking in security. During Charles Taylor's dictatorship, the presence of Liberian rebel training camps in that part of Guinea was an open secret. So a military buildup in that part of Guinea is particularly disturbing, especially considering Liberia's fragile attempts to return to normalcy.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Ugandan LRA peace overture?

In October, the International Criminal Court issued long overdue indictments against the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army. Leaders of the LRA, one of the most notorious and sickening groups in the world, were charged with massive crimes against humanity. Such as organizing atrocities against civilians, including killings, enslavement, sexual enslavement, rapes, forced conscription of children and pillaging.

Some groups criticized the ICC's decision, the first indictments in the young court's history. These critics felt that the charges would hinder efforts to end the brutal civil war in the north of Uganda. They felt that the course of justice should've been subverted in order to pursue some vague and distant prospect of peace. The problem, of course, was that justice and peace are not separate, but intimately linked.

Amnesty for brutal rebel groups did not bring about peace in Sierra Leone. It has not ended brutality in Algeria. And it will not end widespread violence in parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It would've been a mistake for the ICC to let justice be politicized and they were wrong to bring charges against these maniacs.

Despite concerns that the indictments would worsen prospects for peace, the opposite may have occured: it may have forced their hand. Earlier this week, the LRA's deputy commander called for peace talks with the government. The deputy commander said he was speaking on behalf of the LRA's leader, the fanatical Joseph Kony.

Interestingly, the deputy commander said that he would also be willing to go to the international court to face justice, adding that in his view, the government should also face justice for crimes committed in northern Uganda.

One certainly has every right to be skeptical of the LRA's call, given the horrors they've inflicted on countless civilians of northern Uganda. But if their call truly is serious, then it could be a positive sign for the region.

The indictments, however, should be maintained and the criminals forced to answer for what they did.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

South Africa to legalize gay marriage

The Constitutional Court in South Africa today ordered that the country's parliament change marriage laws to allow gay marriage.

The court ordered that the definition of marriage be changed from a "union between a man and a woman" to a "union between two persons"

(It's worth adding that this is explicitly within the Court's authority according to the South African constitution)

The South African charter, promulgated in 1996, is the first constitution in the world to explicitly ban state discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.