Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Political cleansing in Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe has come under renewed international criticism following a disturbing report by Amnesty International. Amnesty obtained satellite images that recorded the regime's destruction of a housing settlement. The images documented the destruction wrought at an area called Porta Farm, just outside the capital Harare, which had been home to some 20,000 people and contained schools, a children's center and a mosque.

Amnesty says that the images - taken last month - show the horrifying transition of an area from a vibrant community to rubble and shrubs in the space of less than a year.

"These satellite images are irrefutable evidence... that the Zimbabwean government has obliterated entire communities, completely erased them from the map, as if they never existed," Amnesty's Africa Programme director Kolawole Olaniyan said.

Most of the former residents now live as internally displaced people since the regime didn't make any provisions to help them after the demolitions. This isn't surprising since late last year, Mugabe rejected a UN offer of help dealing with the homeless he created.

While such forced evictions and demolitions are disgusting in their own right, it's even more sickening when you consider that the fact that the cleared land has not been subsequently used for any purpose.

Of course, Mugabe swears up and down that the objective of the demolitions was to clean up the country, not to punish perceived opposition strongholds.

Then again, this is a megalomaniac who blames Tony Blair and George W. Bush for everything INCLUDING the bad weather, who manipulates food aid to punish political opponents and blames a western conspiracy against him for the problems inflicted by his cabal's own competence and corruption (despite the fact that even an arm of the normally docile African Union condemned his human rights record). So if I don't believe him, perhaps that makes me... sane.

(The Amnesty images are available here.)

If 20,000 people were made homeless in this single township that Amnesty was able to find evidence for, home many tens (hundreds?) of thousands of others have been displaced by the regime's malice that we don't know about?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Since the election as president of longtime opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade, Senegal has become a bit of a darling of the international community. A smooth, democratic transfer of power. A sauve president who knows exactly what words and phrases foreign diplomats and international donors want to hear. While things are certainly better off in Senegal than in most of its neighbors, things are not all they seem in le pays de la Terenga.

I've already written about Wade's autocratic political tendencies (I've done so more extensively in my francophone Africa blog).

Yet, the problems are not simply political. The economic problems are more pressing for most Senegalese. Global Voice reports on a Senegalese blogger who been chronicling the perils faced by his countrymen who try to migrate clandestinly to Europe.

Despite the well documented risks(some mortal) and the likelihood of being stopped by authorities before reaching the European mainland, thousands of Senegalese have reportedly braved this perilous journey this year alone.

A powerful video report on the subject posted by the francophone site Seneweb has provoked hundreds of responses.

The quantity and passion of the responses (of which Global Voices have helpfully translated a few) demonstrate how important this issue ranks in the minds of many Senegalese.

Sadly, this phenemenon is not limited to Senegal or even to Africa.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

South Africa 'drifting toward dictatorship'

South African president Thabo Mbeki received a stunning rebuke from one his party's most important allies. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the country's most prominent labor organization, warned that the country was headed down the path of autocracy.

"The main concern of the committee centres on signs that we may be drifting towards dictatorship," said COSATU's general secretary."This appears in the use of state institutions... in narrow factional fights."

He expressed fears that South Africa could be headed down the same road as its disastrous neighbor Zimbabwe.

The comments were seen as a reference to the tribulations of Jacob Zuma, who was recently sacked as vice-president of the country. Zuma was recently cleared on accusations of rape in a controversial trial but still faces corruption charges, which supporters insist are a politically motivated way to sideline him. Zuma retains considerable support among COSATU members.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Report: Kony ready for peace talks

Quite often, so-called pragmatists argue against legal proceedings being initiated against war criminals. They contend that indictments and prosecutions will eliminate their incentive to enter into negotiations.

When the Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal indicted then-Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, the court was widely blasted for this. There was a serious rebellion against Taylor and diplomats argued that Chuck would have no reason to give up power if he knew that it would end up with him in a cell.

The charges had no discouraging effect on Taylor because he never wanted peace talks with the rebels before the indictment anyways. He fled the country only when it was clear he was beaten militarily. The idea that the war crimes indictment suppressed his normally dovish instincts is beyond belief.

Similiar criticisms were made of the International Criminal Court (ICC) when it indicted Joseph Kony, the lunatic in charge of northern Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. The LRA's name is accurate in the sense that it's resisting the Lord's teachings.

But such criticisms were equally absurd. The fanatical Kony never showed the slightest interest in peace talks before January 2005 so it's not as though there was any good will to discourage. The situation in northern Uganda could hardly have gotten worse anyway.

Now, reports suggest that Kony may be ready for peace talks.

Kony's LRA was long supported by the Sudanese regime in Khartoum and reportedly launched raids from southern Sudan. But with southern Sudan now controlled by the SPLM/A following that region's peace agreement and with serious international pressure on Khartoum because of its support for genocide in Darfur, the LRA is likely feeling squeezed both operationally and financially.

Either way, the moves by the ICC to eventually end impunity against Kony and bring him to justice have not harmed peace efforts, despite dire predictions to the contrary.

Update: Yebo Gogo blog notes that the International Criminal Court, of which Uganda is a signatory (but not Sudan), has issued warrants for Kony's arrest... The Ugandan government would be required, under terms of the ICC treaty, to hand Kony over for extradition and trial.

Then again, Kony would probably be safer in a Dutch jail cell than on the streets of Kampala and confronted by those whose lives he has ruined.

Amen to that!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

This entry is banned in Ethiopia

Black Looks notes that while several countries have imprisoned bloggers, Ethiopia has become the first to actually a whole class of them. The country's regime has reportedly blocked all blogs originating from the site that hosts this blog.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The world's ten most underreported stories

The UN publicized its annual list of the world's most underreported stories implying that politics, murder and sex scandals still take precedence over poverty, peace-building or economic development.

It's hardly a revelation that pretty upper middle white girls being kidnapped and handsome upper middle white boys accused of acting badly hog the US 'news' programs far more than important topics that affect millions of people. Privleged lacrosse players supposedly raping a stripper makes for an easy narrative. How to improve lives for some of the billions of poor is not. Gawking draws more readers/viewers than thinking. That's just the way it is. Sadly, I no longer expect the media to lead, but to be lead. My biggest objection is that it's borderline fraud to call such voyeurism 'news.'

"We've tried over the years to show that development issues can make good stories too -- by pointing out the human interest aspects, and by helping demonstrate that such stories can be made 'readable', 'watchable' and interesting," noted Shashi Tharoor, U.N. under-secretary-general for communications and public information.

According to the UN, the ten stories the world should hear more about include post-war reconstruction in Liberia; the new challenges faced by bona fide asylum seekers; the upcoming historic elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo; children caught in the ongoing conflict in Nepal; and the compounding effects of a drought threatening to undermine stability in war-devastated Somalia.

The list also singles out several other stories under-reported by the world media: the plight of millions of refugees living in limbo; the problems of relief efforts in the aftermath of the South Asian earthquake and tsunami; the alarming number of children in conflict with the law; the collaborative solutions that have prevented conflicts over scarce water resources; and renewed violence that threatens to undermine the peace process in Cote d'Ivoire.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Journey Into the Sunset

The left-wing site Alternet has a rare article in the US media about the crisis in northern Uganda. It talks about the documentary Journey Into the Sunset, starring Hotel Rwanda's Don Cheadle. The article also has an interview with the documentary's director, Rick Wilkinson. The film focuses on the 'night commuters,' children who walk miles every evening from the countryside to urban shelters to avoid the wrath of the hideous and misnamed Lord's Resistance Army.

Best line from the interview:

Alternet: The United Nations called this crisis one of the worst to afflict children around the world.

Rick Wilkinson: Yeah, but who listens to the U.N.? I'm not going to say they're powerless, but when the U.N. releases a press release, what do you think will get covered, the press release or some lacrosse guys accused of rape?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Study: direct aid to governments works

Here's something surprising:

Direct aid to government works. At least according to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group of industrialized nations.

As the BBC reports, Giving aid directly to governments in developing countries is as effective as funding specific projects and no more prone to corruption, a study says.

The OECD says [direct aid to governments] boosts countries' capacities to manage their own affairs, and there is no evidence that money given directly to government budgets is more affected by corruption than other forms of aid [emphasis mine].

British officials cite the example of Ghana where budget support allowed the government to employ 10,000 more teachers and boost school enrolment.

While clearly direct aid to governments is not the only solution and it should continue to be closely monitored for accountability, it's an important piece in balancing the overall puzzle.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

News update: Nigeria third term bill dead

This Day newspaper is one of many outlets reporting that the Nigerian senate has voted down a controversial proposed constitutional amendment that would've allowed Pres. Olesegun Obasanjo to serve a third term. It is not clear from the report if the only the third term proposal is dead or if other proposed constitutional revisions died with it.

Read the red (Independent)

The UK Independent has dedicated today's edition to primarily to stories on and from the developing world.

The paper is also donating half of its revenues today to anti-AIDS charities in Africa.

Ethiopian human rights activists, journalists charged with genocide

Some of you may remember that late last year, Ethiopian insecurity forces went on the rampage against those protesting allegedly fradulent election results. Six protesters were murdered and dozens others wounded. Not suprisingly, the ones punished were not the insecurity forces but the protesters themselves. Both opposition leaders, human rights activists and newspaper editors were tossed in jail and charged with treason.

That part isn't really surprising. But not only were they charged with treason, which is bad enough if typical, but they were charged with genocide.


Amnesty International denounced the charges as 'absurd' and declared them prisoners of conscience. They insisted this would be a test of the independence of Ethiopia's judiciary. The UN's human rights chief also called for the political prisoners to be released on bail.

Oddly enough, the detention of the supposedly treasonous and genocidal human rights activists and journalists have not stopped violence in the country's capital. Maybe the insecurity forces aren't capable of distinguishing opponents of the regime from real criminals. Or maybe they just view them as one and the same.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Gaddafi fearful of Taylor trial

So Libya's leader Muamar Gaddafi is unhappy over the extradition of former warlord, ex-Liberian dictator and indicted war criminal Charles Taylor to the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone.

I can't imagine why. It's not like The Guide of the Libyan Revolution has anything to fear.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Nigeria's constitutional revisions

The proposal to amend Nigeria's constitution to allow the president and other high officials to serve a third term has hogged political discourse in the country. Chippla's Weblog points out that the removal of term limits is only one of dozens of amendments to the 1999 constitution promulgated by a military regime. Chippla offers a useful analysis of some of the other key clauses.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Instability in Guinea quantified

Foreign Policy magazine issued it annual Failed States Index. The ranking takes into account factors like demographic pressure, external intervention, human rights, factionialized elites, economy and more than half a dozen other factors. Not surprisingly, the worst part of the list was dominated by countries at war: Sudan, the DR Congo, Côte d'Ivoire and Iraq were judged the four most failed states in the world.

But what's interesting is to look at the states who are not (yet) suffering from or recovering from armed conflict. The two most unstable African countries by this standard are Zimbabwe (#4) and Guinea (#11).

Zimbabwe's troubles are well-chronicled by the international media; Guinea's less so. And since Guinea is the African country I'm most familiar with, I'm going to take a closer look at FP's analysis of the country.

I've written many times about how the political situation is basically paralyzed as everyone waits for the ailing head of state, Gen. Lansana Conté, to die. I've bemoaned the dysfunction of the decaying, sclerotic Guinean state and the high-level obstruction faced by any reformist prime minister or cabinet official who tries to tackle this scourge. Not surprisingly, the two categories in which Guinea scores worst on the FP index are delegitimization of state and public services. How discredited are Guinean public institutions? Guinea scores worse on delegitimization of state than Iraq or the DR Congo, two countries synonymous in the public's mind with chaos and a non-existent state.

Guinea also scored poorly in the category of factionalized elites. This is also not surprising since each of the main political parties are generally seen as the provenance of a particular ethnic group. The powerful military has become ethnically polarized as well; many fear what this will mean when Conté finally does die.

In the mid-90s, Guinea housed half a million refugees from neighboring countries, a demographic crunch which caused serious problems particularly in the southeastern part of the country. While Guinea doesn't score particularly well in any category, FP's rating underlines the easing of the refugee crisis since the apparent resolution of the Liberian and Sierra Leonian civil wars. Guinea also has less demographic pressure than most African countries.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Aid worker sex abuse scandal

Last year, the UN was rocked by a major scandal in the Democratic Republic of the Congo involving the sexual exploitation of young girls by peacekeepers. Now, the aid world has been rattled by allegations of similiar outrages in Liberia.

The NGO Save the Children reports that children in Liberia are sexually exploited by humanitarian workers, peacekeepers and local businessmen. The study was conducted in temporary camps for those displaced by the civil war and amongst those recently repatriated to their towns and villages of origin after the end of the war.

This despite commitments made by all parties to improve monitoring of staff conduct, following a similiar scandal in 2002.

Save the Children added that During the study in Liberia, children and community members consistently reported that a high proportion of girls in their camps were being sexually exploited by adults in positions of power. They reported that adults providing humanitarian assistance, peacekeepers and wealthy individuals regularly buy under-age sex.

Particularly, exchanging sex for basic necessities such as money to attend school or food to feed their families.

And this is the dirty little secret regarding soldiers and aid workers serving abroad They do good work and help people under extremely difficult conditions. But they remain mostly men who are thousands of miles away from their partners. They have sexual desires. They have power over the lives and well-being of many people. The potential for abuse is immense.

NGOs and the UN member armies must be increasingly vigilant of their workers and soldiers. Anyone committing such crimes or violations of organizational ethics policies must be punished accordingly.

Donors to such organizations expect zero tolerance for the exploitation of those the aid workers are supposed to protect, especially children.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Zuma guilty of something

The controversial rape trial of Jacob Zuma ended yesterday with his acquittal. Despite the verdict, the reputation of South Africa's former deputy president has been disastrously tarnished.

Zuma, still a wildly popular figure within the ruling African National Congress, was accused of raping a young woman; Zuma said the sex was consensual. Zuma knew the woman to be HIV positive yet he did not use a condom during the allegedly consensual sex. He also said he took a shower after the sex because he thought it would minimize the likelihood of him getting HIV himself. Zuma was widely ridiculed for the latter and scorned for the former. He was once chairman of South Africa's AIDS/HIV council. Then again, given his former boss' incomprehensible stances on HIV/AIDS (South Africa has the most HIV positive people in the world), perhaps Zuma's incoherent acts aren't surprising.

The young woman was a friend of the family who said she viewed Zuma like an uncle. Even if the sex was consensual, totally aside from her HIV status and ignoring the fact that he's married, was it in any way appropriate for Zuma to have sex with a woman half his age and who viewed him with paternal reverence? Is he a pervert, a predator, a bully or all three?

What seriously hurt the woman's credibility at the trial, and probably led to Zuma's acquittal, was the fact that she'd previously made false rape claims against other people. Yet if the woman viewed Zuma with such respect, as everyone agreed, then why would she fabricate rape claims against someone she had such high regard for? I don't know if what happened was actually rape, but why would she tear down her father figure if it were only consensual sex?

Tragically, the young woman has been forced into exile because of the way she's been demonized in some parts of the press and by the populist Zuma's fanatical political supporters. South Africa is believed a crisis of unreported rape. The way Zuma's accuser was smeared even before the trial started is only going to make the crisis of rape and silence worse.

If Zuma is not guilty of a crime, he is certainly guilty of violating the confidence of a young woman who trusted him and doing so in the most sickening and irresponsible of ways.

Monday, May 08, 2006

AU translator's lynching in Darfur underscores need for strengthened peacekeeping

There was a bit of optimism last week as the main warring parties in Darfur, western Sudan, signed a peace agreement. That optimism was tempered by the rejection of the deal by two smaller rebel groups. There is other reason for caution.

A few weeks ago, UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland was denied entry into Darfur, western Sudan. Presumably, the Sudanese regime didn't want him to see the effects of the genocide it continues to sponsor.

This weekend, they finally let Egeland into Darfur, after an avalanche of international criticism for their earlier refusal. Egeland called for the reinforcement of the present African Union mission in the region, ahead of a proposed deployment of UN troops. The Sudanese regime has vigorously resisted a UN force for western Sudan despite the presence of such peacekeepers in the south of the country.

Today, Egeland had to flee a riot at a refugee camp when a rumor started that one of his translators, who worked for the AU, was part of the Janjaweed militias who are perpetrating the genocide. Egeland escaped unharmed but the translator was killed.

In a tragic way, the slaying only reinforces Egeland's call for more troops and increased security for the region.

Egeland also praised 'the heroic efforts' of humanitarian relief workers in the region who are working under virtually impossible conditions and have often been targeted themselves by the militias.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Anti-gay McCarthyism in Nigeria

In January, I wrote about a hideous bill being pushed through Nigeria's National Assembly. The bill would ban not just homosexual acts and gay marriage (neither of which are legal in the country anyway). It would criminalize any form of free speech used to agitate for gay rights.

The justice minister was quoted as promising the proposal would ban "any form of protest to press for rights or recognition" by gays and lesbians. Perhaps Fred Phelps is an advisor to the Nigerian government.

But just when you think it can't get any worse, it does.

Black Looks blog cites The Vanguard newspaper which reports that the Bill has been widened to include "punish individuals who witness, celebrate with or support couples involved in homosexual relationships". Any persons breaking the law will be subjected to a compulsory term of 5 years imprisonment.

The Vanguard article adds:

The bill also aims to prohibit any form of publicity or registration to homosexual clubs and societies. Section 7 of the bill reads thus: Registration of Gay Clubs, Societies and organisations by whatever name they are called in institutions from secondary to the tertiary level or other institutions in particular and, in Nigeria generally, by government agencies is hereby prohibited. Publicity, procession and public show of same sex amorous relationship through the electronic or print media physically, directly, indirectly or otherwise are prohibited in Nigeria.

This bill essentially invalidates the rights not only of gays and lesbians but of any straight person who wants to show support for them or the gay rights cause.

It makes you wonder which legislator is going to advance his career by becoming the Nigerian answer to Joseph McCarthy.

Bear in mind, this is being promulgated by a purportedly democratic civilian government. Since the ruling party is sure to ram this through, the only way to stop this monstrosity is if some 'activist judge' decides to declare the obvious: this bill violates Nigeria's constitution. To say nothing of it being a grotesque violation of various pan-African and international human rights treaties of which Nigeria is a part.

The international community has been quick to condemn the states of northern Nigeria for their imposition of a reactionary interpretation of Islamic Sharia law almost worthy of the Taliban. It's one of the rare times feminists and Crusaders agree. But when the predominantly Christian federal government tries to do something nearly as regressive against gays, the only place you hear about it is the progressive blogosphere.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Unethical drug company practices in Nigeria

Grandiose Parlor blog has a disturbing piece about the ethically questionable (to say the least!) business practices of the company Julius Berger.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Irony of the week

I read on that Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade is to be awarded the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Prize in Paris.

The FHB Prize is awarded to who makes great efforts toward seeking and making peace. It's named after Côte d'Ivoire's founding leader and president-for-life, after whose death the country started falling apart.

One of the dignitaries at the award ceremony will be Henri Konan Bédié. Bédié succeded Houphouët and made the racist and xenophobic ideology known as Ivoirité state policy under his regime. Since it opened up the Pandora's box of hatred and exclusion, Ivoirité has been the single biggest factor in the country's descent to hell in the last decade.

Ironically, one of the conflicts Wade been involved in mediating is the crisis in Côte d'ivoire... originally precipitated by Bédié.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

US accused of funding Somali warlords

Somalia's sort-of president has accused the US of funding warlords in his country. Abdullahi Yusuf, who was elected to the presidency by parliamentarians, claims the US is supporting warlords in the country's capital who are targeting alleged al-Qaeda members. The warlords in question are also members of parliament and thus presumably have some sort of im(m/p)unity from prosecution. Not exactly the best thing to be encouraging in a state that's been lawless for 15 years.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

NPR interview with DRC presidential candidate

The US National Public Radio did a nice interview with Dr. Oscar Kashala. A Congolese ex-pat practicing medicine in Boston, Kashala is running for the poisoned chalice of the presidency of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Refugee schoolgirls turn to prostitution to pay fees

The Catholic Information Service for Africa has a sad, but all too familar, piece on refugee girls in Guinea turning to prostitution to pay school fees.

Last year, the UNHCR withdrew funding for schools in southern Guinea designed to help Liberian refugees. This was meant to encourage their repatriation. The money was redirected to development projects in Liberia itself.

But since some refugees aren't ready to return home to their devastated country, many girls have turned to the commercial sex industry to pay for their schooling..

One refugee whose daughters attended a semi-private school founded in the wake of the closure of a UN-funded school explained, "It is impossible for refugees without any income to meet these demands. Some of our girls even turn to prostitution to pay school fees. The situation is unhealthy, prostitution is seen as a way to make money fast and they unthinkingly expose themselves to the risk of being infected by HIV/AIDS and other diseases."