Monday, January 30, 2006

The perils of wasting a game

Congrats to the Guinean national team. At their final group stage match at the African Nations Cup, the Syli national (I wish the BBC would not the proper spelling) offered up a shock 3-0 rout of holders Tunisia. Both teams had already qualified for the next round and rested several players. However by winning the group, Guinea has a good shot at avoiding continental power Nigeria in the quarterfinal, while Tunisia is likely to play the Super Eagles.

The Carthage Eagles are not the only side punished for fielding a weakened side for their final group match. Côte d'Ivoire could've won their group with at least a draw against hosts Egypt. However, the Elephants were thumped 3-1, resting several stars. If they hadn't lost to Egypt, Côte d'Ivoire would've played a modest DR Congo outfit apparently in disarray. Instead, Côte d'Ivoire will face a Cameroon side that has not only been rampant at this tournament, but one which has a chip on its shoulder after having been eliminated by the Ivorians at the death in World Cup qualifying.

This Nations Cup shows the perils of punditry. A BBC preview predicted a 'relatively uncomplicated group' for Tunisia and that 'few would expect to see any more than three matches from the Syli Nationale [sic].' With a likely quarterfinal against Ghana or Senegal, a semifinal appearance for Guinea is not out of the question.

Sunday, January 29, 2006


Please note: I've never been a big fan of completely anonymous notes. Lately, I've received some obscene anonymous notes on some of my entries in my various blogs. Hence, from now, only registered users can leave comments in my blogs. Becoming a member is easy and free. You don't actually have to maintain a blog to register. It's easy and free and you can choose a pseudonym if you don't want to use your real name. Just click here. I'm sorry for any inconvenience this may cause, but few newspapers publish unsigned letters either.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Hoping for a luminous display

-Sporting joy.

-National pride.

-Temporarily increased access to electricity.

Two of these are common reasons throughout the world for citizens to support their country's national team to go as far as possible in major soccer tournaments.

The third seens unique to Guinea.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

This post might be illegal in Nigeria

I suppose I should withdraw my suggestion that Nigeria's President Obasanjo serve another term as African Union chair. Musings of a Naijaman and Black Looks blogs both comment on a shocking anti-gay bill proposed by the Obasanjo's government.

The bill would order a five year jail sentence for anyone who has a gay wedding or officiates at one.

The bill doesn't merely ban gay unions recognized by the state, it would ban gay unions performed by churches as well.

Gay acts are already illegal in Nigeria.

But freedom of religion and the right to privacy are not the only freedoms under assault, but freedom of speech as well.

Justice Minister Bayo Ojo said the law would also ban "any form of protest to press for rights or recognition" by homosexuals.

This is perhaps the most astonishing provision of this hideous bill. It wouldn't merely ban gay rights, but it would ban people from agitating for gay rights.

What makes this more shocking is that Nigeria is no longer run by a brutal military dictatorship. It's a country supposedly run by democracy, constitutionalism and the rule of law.

It's not clear if this bill would be in violation of the Nigerian Federal Constitution.

Section 39 (1) of the document states: Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.

However, Section 45 essentially renders this 'freedom' meaningless: Nothing in sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of this Constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health.

One can certainly argue about the state not recognizing gay unions. But when a government that claims to be civilized and democratic attempts to ban peaceful political activism, particularly when it's to ensure that all citizens are treated equally, that government is no longer civilized or democratic.

It's one thing to ban gay unions or gay rights. But once you criminalizes freedom of expression, you've crossed a fundamental threshold in a democratic state: the supposedly democratic federal government of Nigeria essentially wants to criminialize politics.

It's even more hypocritical when you know that the current president of Nigeria was imprisoned by his dictatorial predecessor in the 1990s for doing exactly what this bill proposes criminalizing: practicing freedom of expression to denounce fundamental violations of human rights.

The internationally community rightly condemned the Muslim states of northern Nigeria for using Sharia law as a pretext to stone women for being raped and for banning women from public transport. Surely the world must condemn this terrible bill being puhsed by the predominantly Christian federal government, on the urging of vocal Christian clergy.

Anyone who believes in freedom, democracy, human rights must denouncing this sickening assault by the Nigerian government to ban peaceful activism.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

AU: shame on you!

As feared, the African Union blew it when it chose its next chairman, though not in the way most expected. Many had feared that Sudan's regime, which is committing genocide in the western region of Darfur, would be named to head the AU. Instead, Sudan withdrew (sort of) and Congo-Brazzaville's dictator Denis Sassou-Nguesso was chosen to head the organization and be its public face to the international community.

I suppose this is a negligible improvement, but the choice is disturbing for two reasons.

One is that a compromise solution was reached whereby Sudan is expected to succeed Congo in the AU presidency in 2007.. It's not snubbing Sudan completely, merely delaying its ascendancy until after the world likely will have forgotten about the Darfur genocide, because it may be complete by then.

Additionally, the human rights' record of Sassou's regime is pretty lamentable in its own right.

There are many African leaders fit to head the AU. The organization could've given another term to its current head Nigeria's President Obasanjo or to South Africa's Thabo Mbeki, who was the AU's first chairman. Both of these presidents have their flaws but they have been decent AU chairmen. Or it could've given a first term to to Ghana's John Kuffour or Senegal's Abdoulaye Wade or to Botswana's Festus Mogae or to Mali's Amadou Toumani Touré.

While Africa is not overflowing with statesmen, they are hardly non-existent. It's shameful that the AU overlooked these leaders in favor of a repressive regime to be succeeded by a genocidal one.

When Sassou's reign is up, the AU should skip politics and worry about its credibility. It should refuse a term to the genodical Sudanese regime and offer the chairmanship to one of the several meritorious leaders mentioned above.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Does the African Union deserve to exist?

Does the African Union deserve to exist? We'll find out this week.

The AU has two leaders. The chairman of the AU and the chairman of the Commission. The two people presently holding those offices are Nigerian president Olesegun Obasanjo and former Malian president Alpha Oumar Konaré. The difference between the two posts are much like the differences between a president and prime minister in a parliamentary system. The chairman of the AU is more like a figure head, someone who is the international face of the organization and who occasionally gets involved in continental mediation; he is always a current head of state. The chairman of the Commission is more involved in running day-to-day operations of the organization.

The AU was formed a few years ago to replace the Organization of African Unity. The OAU was often derided as a talking shop for dictators, whose guiding principle was the protection of autocrats rather than the protection of citizens. The AU was supposed to be different.

In fact, the Constitutive Act of the Union, a sort of constitution if you will, laid out the organization's objectives very clearly. Most notably:

to encourage international cooperation, taking due account of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

to promote peace, security, and stability on the continent

and to promote and protect human and peoples' rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and other relevant human rights instruments.

Therefore, the chairman of the AU should come from a country which generally respects these founding principles. If someone runs a country in gross violation of these principles, he should be allowed to be the public face of Africa to the world.

These self-evident statements will be sorely tested this week at the AU's summit in Khartoum, Sudan, a summit which will reveal the organization's credibility on, seriousness about and committment to human rights.

The only candidate to chair the organization is Sudan. The Sudanese regime is committing genocide in the western region of Darfur. This alone should exclude it from any leadership position of any body of the African Union.

Sudan is also accused of sponsoring rebels in neighboring Chad. The part of Chad which also houses some 200,000 refugees from Darfur who fled the genocide.

Does executing genocide take "due account" of the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Does sponsoring rebels in neighboring countries "promote peace, security and stability"?

The international perception of Africa is generally one of a place plagued by instability and violence. If AU member states voluntarily choose to elect a genocidal regime as its public face to the world, then does it really expect that perception to change? Is this how the organization is trying to fulfil Thabo Mbeki's prediction of an 'African renaissance'?

Post-colonial Africa has consistently been blighted by a failure of leadership. The African Union was supposed to be different. Rejecting Sudan's candicacy is a chance for Africa's heads of state to prove that it's serious about human rights and stability, not just in words but in deeds. Here's a chance to demonstrate that the AU deserves to exist.

Update: The Sudanese junta has reportedly offered to withdraw its candidacy for the AU's chairmanship.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

What has he been doing for the last 38 years?

Today, Gabon's head of state was sworn in for another seven-year term as the country's leader. In his inauguration speech, Bongo noted the following:

The expectations of my compatriots, notably employment, roads, health, education, housing, are great. The hope expressed in their vote is immense. The seven-year term that begins is thus of critical importance.

The social project that I presented to the Gabonese people clearly indicates the direction of our action. I defined its objectives, priorities and steps.

What I see in this project that I repeated throughout the year 2005 is a society based on solidarity, equity, justice and progress.

Through it, we will progressively vanquish poverty, we will combat social fracture, we will create development and we will give more substance to national unity, democracy, stability and peace.

It is thus fundamental that the action of the state fully realize the legitimate hopes of the Gabonese men and women.

This begs the question. Bongo has been in power since 1968. Why should one expected that the next seven years will be any better on those fronts than the previous 38?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Côte d'Ivoire on the brink of war again after ruling party declares war on peace process, UN

What little remains of Côte d'Ivoire's peace process appears to have collapsed in the last few days. The nominal pretext for the renewed tension was a recommendation by the international community that the Ivorian parliament be dissolved. The parliament's mandate expired last October.

The so-called Jeunes Patriotes (Young Patriots) went on the rampage. These terrorist mafiosi, who call themselves nationalist, paralysed the main city of Abidjan by erecting baracades and destroying United Nations' vehicules. The thugs accuse France and the international community of favoring the rebels who control the north of the country.

"This is only the beginning of a protest movement to tell the international community to leave. We want to resolve this crisis among Ivoirians," declared Serge Koffi, one of the xenophobic Jeunes Patriotes' leaders, according to

The rebels fear demobilisation so long as so-called loyalist militias, like the Jeunes Patriotes, aren't disarmed themselves. Some believe that the head of state, Laurent Gbagbo, refuses to deal with these terrorists who are nominally in his camp for fearing of being assassinated himself.

Yesterday, Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party withdrew from the peace process, which it called a UN-sponsored 'recolonization.'

The FPI declares its retreat from the peace process and its refusal to continue any longer the process of recolonization engaged under the auspices of the UN, declared the FPI's president Pascal Affi N'Guessan, who was the country's prime minister before the national unity government took over, in a statement.

The FPI asks the head of state to undertake immediately the steps necessary for the country to be freed of the foreigner occupiers and to engage in autonomous and indigeneous attempts at a process of peace and reconciliation.

Gbagbo supporters proceeded to attack a UN base in the west of the country.

Some peace and reconciliation!

The civil war was started in 2002 to protest against social and state discrimination against the Muslim north and against the foreigners who comprise some 30 percent of the country's population.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was sworn in a few days ago as president of next-door Liberia. Her inauguration hopefully marks the end of 16 years of war, violence and instability that's left the country destroyed, the people destitute, the infrastructure non-existent and the economy in ruins. Are the Jeunes Patriotes and their ilk so irrational and fanatic that they want to repeat the nightmarish experience of their neighbors?

Update: The terrorists have now reportedly seized control of state radio and television.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Failing to see the forest for the trees

I was listening to the Network Africa program on the BBC World Service. The program interviewed a man imprisoned by the regime of Hissène Habré. The former Chadian dictator is in exile in Senegal and there's heavy international pressure on the Senegalese authorities to extradite him to Belgium where he's been indicted on crimes against humanity under that country's universal jurisdiction law.

Several Network listeners objected to Habré being tried in Belgium, opining that the Belgian justice system should be more occupied with eludicating the mystery of the murder of (DR) Congo's first leader Patrice Lumumba. The assassination of Lumumba, which is universally recognized to have involved at least Belgium and the United States, is certainly one of the more despicable incidents of foreign meddling in post-colonial Africa.

But if one is going to get outraged at Belgian hypocrisy regarding crimes against humanity, isn't it more compelling to invoke one of the worst crimes against humanity of all time? Specifically the horror of Belgian King Leopold's Congo Free State, a genocide which some estimate cost as many as 10 million lives.

Monday, January 16, 2006

DR Congo on Radio Netherlands

After reading my essay last week on the horrific situation in the DR Congo which is causing some 38,000 deaths each month, a reader pointed out that Radio Netherlands' Amsterdam Forum will devote a topic to this crisis. The program will air this upcoming Sunday on shortwave (click here for more details) and will be available on demand shortly thereafter. The program will be recorded this Thursday so submit your questions before then.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Ugandan street children has a sad article about street children in Uganda. Orphans whose numbers have swollen due to the savage war waged by the so-called Lord's Resistance Army in the north of the country.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The keepers of African culture

Radio Netherlands has a great documentary on the 'Keepers of African Culture.'

Friday, January 06, 2006

38,000 die each month in the DR Congo

"One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic." -Joseph Stalin

When figuring out how people will respond to a foreign tragedy, it comes down to three things: location, location, location.

And TV cameras too.

The September 11, 2001 homicide attacks killed about 3,000 people yet it's had more impact on American politics and foreign policy than anything since World War II. And to the great extent that American foreign policy impacts the rest of the world, it had a huge impact on international affairs as well.

While 3,000 is pretty big death toll for a single incident, there have been other wars and attacks with greater loss of life that had a relatively miniscule influence on American or international affairs. Why? Because those attacks didn't occur in the heart of New York City. The international response would've been significantly less if the attack had been launched in Kathmandu, Bogota or Algiers (in countries with homegrown terrorist problems).

The Asian tsunami of 2004 had a devastating effect and cost an estimated 283,000 lives and over a million displaced. It generated an international response that was probably unprecedented in scale. As someone who regularly reads articles on underfunded international crisis appeals, I was heartened by the response to the tsunami. That it hit easily accessible coastal regions, including many tourist areas, made it easier to TV crews to get images. That Europeans and Americans were amongst the victims, if a tiny fraction, ensured that it got coverage in the western media.

But if I told you there was a conflict that has cost almost 15 times as many lives as the tsunami, could you name that crisis? If I told you there was a crisis that, in mortality terms, was the equivalent of a three 9/11s every week for the last 7 years, would you know which one I'm talking about?

I bet few westerners could, even though it's by far the deadiest conflict of the last 60 years.

The war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) is killing an estimated 38,000 people each month, according to the British medical journal The Lancet. And if not for the involvement of humanitarian non-governmental organizations and UN relief agencies, the toll would be much higher.

Most of the deaths are not caused by violence but by malnutrition and preventable diseases after the collapse of health services, the study said, notes the BBC.

Since the war began in 1998, some 4m people have died, making it the world's most deadly war since 1945, it said.

A peace deal has ended most of the fighting but armed gangs continue to roam the east, killing and looting.

The political process in the DRC is slowly inching in the right direction. Voters in the country recently approved a new constitution, to replace the one imposed on it by the outgoing Belgian colonialists. EU officials praised the referendum as free and fair, probably the first truly open poll in the country's history. Elections are scheduled for June of this year.

However, instability reigns in much of the country, particularly the east. And central government throughout the entireity of the country has never been strong in this gigantic country. There are 17,000 UN peacekeepers doing the best they can but the country's the size of Western Europe. (By contrast the Americans and British have ten times as many troops in Iraq, a country that's less than 1/5 the size of the DRC. And we know how many problems they're having there)

And this shows why war should ALWAYS be a last resort. Most of the deaths have not been directly caused by war (bullet wounds, landmines, etc). Most of the deaths have been caused by factors provoked by war's instability and destruction. The destruction of all infrastructure like roads and medical clinics. The inability to get to sources of clean water. The fear of leaving the house to tend the fields or go to the market.

38,000 people a month. If you get pissed off at Howard Dean or Pat Robertson, spare a little outrage for this.

And maybe a few bucks.

-Doctors Without Borders
-World Food Program
-Catholic Relief Services

Thursday, January 05, 2006

AU grows spine cells?

The African Union took a strong position on something!

I'll wait a moment to let the astonishment sink in.

Last month, the African Commission on Human and People's Rights adopted a resolution denouncing the lamentable human rights' situation in Zimbabwe.

The AU institution condemned Zimbabwe's razing of poor townships in the capital Harare, a horror which created hundreds of thousands of homeless people.

Granted, the atrocity took place in June and the Commission couldn't be bothered to condemn it until December. Sure, the AU said nothing about Zimbabwean thug Robert Mugabe's manipulation of international food aid for political reasons. Nor has it rendered a verdict on his program of stealing land from productive farmers to give to his cronies, a fact which even a government minister admitted has lead to a food crisis in the country. Nor has it condemned the hideous prison camps for political opponents maintained by the regime or its youth brainwashing program.

But I guess if you want to grow a spine, you have start somewhere.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A moment for the aesthetic pleasures

I am unashamed to be an Africophile. The continent's wars, violence, corruption and poverty are well-document. The warmth and openness of its peoples, less so. But aside from the great and resilient Africans, most of whom deserve much better, one of the things that I love most about the place is the continent's physical beauty.

The BBC's website has a great photo album of sunsets from across the continent.

It's definitely worth a few minutes of your time.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Starvation in Kenya

It's often been said that democracies never suffer famines. Ever. In fact, Amartya Sen won a Nobel Prize in Economics for his research to that effect. "No substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press," he has concluded.

So the question is this: is present-day Kenya the first country to contradict his theory?

Thousands of Kenyans are facing a slow death from starvation, reports Kenya's leading independent newspaper The Nation.

In one district of medical health in the heavily affected north of the country, The most common ailments there are severe respiratory infections, diarrhoea and dehydration, made all the worse by malnutrition, the daily reports.

And although doctors say they have not turned anyone away, and some health centres and dispensaries have been converted into wards, their capacity is limited. So many more are suffering in silence in their homes.

A visit yields in every homestead a child or an adult who is too hungry to walk - and plenty of tears are being spilt for dead animals, but none for the people.

Yesterday, Kenya's president Mwai Kibaki finally declared the famine a national disaster, adding that some 2.5 million Kenyans were at risk over the next six months.

He said crop failure and depletion of livestock herds due to prolonged drought had led to the current famine in the arid areas and promised some 11 billion Kenyan shillings (about US$152 million) for famine relief.

Not all agree. Former Cabinet minister William ole Ntimama said corruption and misuse of public resources was responsible for the famine. He said the country has enough resources to sustain itself, according to an article in The Standard.

President Kibaki has called in the military to offer humanitarian relief to the affected areas.