Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Is the 'rainbow nation' merely an illusion?

A piece in Johannesburg's Daily Mail and Guardian opines that 'Something is rotten in the rainbow nation.' The piece notes that many of the authors who attacked the apartheid regime in South Africa have delivered searing indictments of the state of the nation, sickened by what they see as an inexorable decline towards corruption and lawlessness.

André Brink, whose novels such as A Dry White Season brought him regular opprobrium from the apartheid rulers, has also burnt his bridges with their replacements in the corridors of power.

He has described two Cabinet members -- Health Minister Manto Tsabalala-Msimang and Safety Minister Charles Nqukula -- as "monsters", despairing at what he regards as indifference to the rising tide of crime.

Brink acknowledged to Agence France-Presse (AFP) that crime has long been a problem but he said the situation has now reached breaking point.

"The cumulative effect has just reached a point where one cannot take any more, and where the attitude of the authorities goes beyond all acceptable limits," he said.

"The attitude of Nqakula [who told Parliament that those "whingeing" about crime should emigrate] has made it clear that the government simply does not take it seriously enough and, in fact, is in itself reason for despair."

Brink added that he had in the past 12 years told those who had doubts over South Africa that the negatives of the transition period were of a temporary nature.

"I can no longer say that today," he wrote
in a French newspaper.

Literally minutes after I read these pieces, I caught a sickening report entitled 'Baby killed, penis cut off.'

I'm hesitant to draw sweeping conclusions based on one-time sensationalist events like this. But there is universal acknowledgement that South Africa is suffering from a social crisis of violence against women and children. The recent rape trial of former deputy president Jacob Zuma brought to attention this plague.

I think this is quite possibly the most tragic legacy of the apartheid period. During that time, grotesque violence was part of the everyday life for black South Africans. When you are subjected to, or at least surrounded by, massive violence all the time, you become desensitized to it.

Women and children are the main victims. A man returns home to a violent neighborhood with no running water and miserable living conditions from a menial job with low pay where his dignity is assaulted. So to blow off steam, he takes out his frustrations on the only people lower on the social pecking order in a patriarchical society: his wife and kids. This dynamic doesn't suddenly change just because the man occupying the presidency happens to share the same skin color.

Clearly, most South Africans are now better off under the present democratic and representative government. However, the government needs to do far more to tackle crime and misery. If the tyranny of state violence is replaced by the tyranny of random violence with the tyranny of poverty unchanged, then the efforts of the freedom fighters will have been for naught.

Update: Despite the problems of modern South Africa, this guy won't be missed.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Rawlings, Obasanjo planning coups?

Coups seem to on many lips in West Africa these days.

Ghana's president John Kuffour has accused his predecessor Jerry John Rawlings of trying to sollicit funds to overthrow the current democratic government. Rawlings engineered military coups in 1979 and 1981 but, when his handpicked successor lost, handed over to longtime opposition leader Kuffour. Ghana is now considered one of the most stable countries in West Africa.

The French language Le Messager of Cameroon reports on accusations that Nigerian president Olesegun Obasanjo is planning to create as much chaos as possible in the six geopolitical zones of the country in order to delay the elections planned for 2007 and maintain himself in power. One opposition leader accuses Obasanjo of 'preparing the way for a national state of emergency.'

On the other hand, the NGO Reporters Without Borders (known by its French acronym RSF) praised developments in respect for the liberty of the press in Mauritania. The pan-African weekly Jeune Afrique noted that Mauritania has improved from 138th in the world to 77th in terms of press freedom since the 2004 military coup that overthrew a long-standing dictatorship.

RSF noted that the military junta had put an end to the 'strong censorship' exercised by the previous regime and was pushing a liberalization of the airwaves.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Niger expells 150,000 Arabs

The government of Niger has ordered the expulsion of 150,000 Arabs who live in the east of the country.

The governor of Diffa State, where most of the Mahamid [nomad Arabs] live, told them it was "high time" to pack and return to Chad.

This despite the fact that many are actually citizens of Niger and have lived in the country for decades.

Most bizarrely, the central government has refused to offer any explanation for the expulsion.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

UN to give power to Ivorian PM

According to South Africa's Daily Mail and Guardian, the UN Security Council is preparing a resolution that would make Côte d'Ivoire's non-partisan prime minister effectively the leader of the country.

The resolution would give Charles Konan Banny full military and civilian authority to run the country for another year pending new elections, who would be empowered to "take all necessary decisions" in the government by "ordinances or decree" and appoint both civilian and military officials.

Additionally the five-page measures say Banny would supervise disarmament and "the identification of population and registration of voters in order to compile credible electoral rolls"

President Laurent Gbagbo's constitutional mandate expired last October but was extended another year by the Security Council because the northern half of the country is controlled by the Forces nouvelles rebel group.

Even if Gbagbo were to agree to the UN's conditions, it's almost inconceivable that the terrorist mafiosi Jeunes patriotes, who nominally support Gbagbo, would ever accept such a measure.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Ethiopian regime massacred almost 200 people: report

An Ethiopian judge named to head an investigation into violence following last year's disputed elections concluded that nearly 200 people were massacred and 763 injured by the country's insecurity forces.

The report said that the government had concealed the true extent of deaths at the hands of the police.
It said that 193 people had been killed, including 40 teenagers. Six policemen were also killed and some 763 people injured.

They had been shot, beaten and strangled.

The judge described the deaths as a massacre and said the toll could well have been higher.

"The police fired, definitely, as a kind of massacre of the demonstrators - especially in Addis, where more than 160 civilians were dead," by shooting, he told the BBC.

He said there was no doubt that excessive force had been used.

Additionally, some 20,000 people were arrested during the protests, according to police records.

The judge who conducted the investigation has since fled the country.

In a related development, the regime in Addis has expelled a pair of European Union diplomats. It said the two were arrested over "serious crimes" without specifying, according to the BBC.

There are also fears that the regime will wage a proxy war with old enemy/ally Eritrea on Somalian territory... as if the war over Badme wasn't assinine enough.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


The BBC World Service has a pair of documentaries on the late Senegalese president and cultural lion Léopold Sédar Senghor.

(Note: the audio for the first part of this series will only be available until Friday)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Mugabe tries to annex trade unions

There's something ironic about the fact that in many Marxist 'workers' paradises,' public enemy number one is quite often... the workers' trade union. Solidarity helped bring down the regime in Poland. Quite conscious of this fact, China has cracked down hard on trade unions.

Zimbabwe is also going after the trade unions, one of the few independent organizations left in Robert Mugabe's thugocracy.

The parliament, which is controlled by Mugabe's party, is ramming through a bill that would demand the main Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions sack its leadership and replace it with the tiny handful of leaders friendly with the regime.

The trade unions gave birth to the Movement for Democratic Change, the country's main opposition party. It's telling that the most dissatisfied people in Mugabe's workers' paradise are the workers themselves. Maybe this is why the regime recently barred a delegation from the main South African labor grouping COSATU... which was once a close ally with Mugabe.

Ultimately, these regimes don't give a whit about anything other than their own survival. To them, trade unions represent an alternate power structure, which is the most dangerous thing of all. This is why the Mugabe thugocracy has attacked (sometimes literally) the three main independent institutions in the country: the Catholic Church, what remains of the free press and now the trade unions.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Collapsing bridge, collapsing state

The UN's IRIN news service reports on the August collapse of a bridge on the main road linking the key southeastern Guinean city of N'Zérékoré with most of the rest of the country. The bridge must've been fairly new since it wasn't there when I lived in the country a decade ago.

For many observers, the bridge collapse is a metaphor for the steadily deteroriating Guinean economy, sclerotic state and shambolic infrasturcture.

The effect on ordinary Guineans is quite real.

Since the collapse of the bridge, the cost of a ticket on one of the dilapidated yellow minibuses that plies the route between Conakry and Nzerekore has jumped from US $27 to US $36, while the journey time has quadrupled from 24 hours to four days.

And not just on travelers.

The rise in transport costs has had a knock-on impact on the getting kids into schools. The cost of school desks which are made near Nzerekore and distributed throughout Guinea has more than doubled since the bridge collapse from US $12.50 to $27, a roughly equivalent to the monthly salary of a school headmaster in Guinea.

When I lived in Guinea, there was no shortage of construction projects. Roads, water pumps, health centers, schools. But I noticed that these structures were poorly maintained if at all after they were built. Poor infrastructure maintenance is clearly one of the biggest barriers to development in the country But that's what happens when everything is handed to a corrupt regime on a silver platter by foreign donors with no expectations: the regime lives down to those expectations.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Senegal: the new Côte d'Ivoire?

For most of its history, Côte d'Ivoire has been one of the main engines of the West African economy. As such, it was long a magnet for immigrants from other countries in the region. The civil war that erupted in 2002, as well as the anti-foreigner sentiment (known as 'Ivoirité') which provoked it, has put a damper on such migration.

Lacking Côte d'Ivoire's xenophobia and violence, Senegal (as well as Ghana) appears to be the new destination for West Africans in search of a livelihood. Though there is unrest in the southern Casamance region of Senegal, 'le pays de la teranga' has a democratic and stable government and a steadily improving economy.

It's also easy to go from other West African countries to Senegal, which becomes increasingly critical as western countries crack down on extralegal immigration.

Unlike would-be immigrants to the United States or Europe, [International Organization for Migration spokesman Amand] Rousselo explains, it is easy to move within West African countries. Thanks to a 1979 agreement, citizens from countries within ECOWAS, the Economic Organization of West African States, can move to any other ECOWAS country with nothing more than their identity card.

However, Rousselo adds that the influx of foreigners could lead to tension.

"The youth population in West Africa represents about 50-60 percent of the population," he added. "And the same percentage of youth is unemployed. You can imagine that sooner or later this will generate some social conflicts because the nationals will want to work, and the work will be done by foreigners even if they are done by people from neighboring countries."

Hopefully the Senegalese political class will deal with it in a more honorable way than their Ivorian comrades.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why are they poor? (cont.)

Last week, I published an essay which explored the different development paths of Asia and Africa. I invited readers to present their theories as to why these two continents fared so different following the end of colonialism.

Reader Rufus Arthur Wilderson wrote:

I think there's another big factor that's put Southeast Asian ex-colonies ahead of Sub-Saharan African ex-colonies; prexisting infrastructure.

Recall that the European powers colonized Asia first. They fought for it too, against the native people there and against each other. Part of the reason for the Berlin conference was to prevent colonial proxy wars between the European powers by having a mutally agreed-upon set of borders (arbitrary though they were).

The Colonial powers went after Asia first because, from a European perspective, it's a much more lucretive place to colonize. Instead of having to chase down and subue multiple tribes, power can be seized in Asia after sailing a few gunboats up a few rivers and taking the capitols. The government already there can be left in place.

That last part I think is key. When the Europeans left Asia, there was already some sort of power structure (albeit often corrupt and brutal), and usually a fairly diversified economy with lots of room for growth. When the Europeans left Africa, they left behind minimal infrastructure, almost no industrialization, and a power structure based on artificial elevation of minority groups for European proxy rule. The economies in Africa were usually built around a single cash crop or resource, and at that only the production of that resource, as the processing usually happened in Europe. Clearly, the Asians were somewhat better off at the starting line.

(reprinted with permission)

Monday, October 16, 2006

South African broadcaster tries to suppress blacklist inquiry

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) recently conducted an internal inquiry on allegations that the state broadcaster was blacklisting of commentators and analysts who said unfavorable things about the government.

One of the country's most prestigious newspapers The Daily Mail and Guardian tried to run a copy of the report on its website but the SABC sued to gag the paper from publishing the report on the PUBLIC broadcaster. The case was rightly dismissed and the report is now available on the daily's website.

The SABC tried to only release a seven-page sanitized version of the report.

No wonder.

The paper notes that the damning report confirms the existence of an arbitrary blacklist of outside commentators who should not be consulted and says there is a climate of fear in the broadcaster’s newsrooms. It is scathing about the arbitrary decision-making, the iron-fist rule and the lack of editorial knowledge of the news and current affairs managing director Snuki Zikalala.

Bizarrely, the SABC defended its initial decision to not fully publish the report. "[I]t was an internal inquiry and there was no obligation to make the report public," noted a spokesman for the broadcaster. "We have come out with the report, it is only what transpired at the hearings that we are not making public."

So a report on the suppression of information was... suppressed. This can hardly inspire confidence in the public broadcaster.

Fortunately, the country's written press is fairly vibrant. But let's hope they continue to hold the public broadcaster's feet to the fire in order to prevent a return to the bad old days of state propaganda on the airwaves.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Gambian leader wins booby prize

I see that Gambian strongman Yahya Jammeh was named winner of the Lansana Conté Prize for Agriculture for his unwavering efforts to assure food self-sufficiency for every Gambian, according to reports from the Office of the President.

The award was given by the National Unit for the Promotion of the Actions of General Lansana Conté, the Guinean head of state. Guinea may be economic, social and economic implosion but at least the ailing leader has the presidential press office, the information ministry AND this organization to do to promote his increasingly minimal actions.

Jammeh is probably honored to receive the award, but it makes you wonder. Given Guinea's food shortages and skyrocketing prices, is Conté's really the best person to sponsor such a prize?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

'Why are they poor?'

The US public broadcaster NPR has run a series of shows this week about development in Africa. In this piece, journalist Jason Beaubien wonders 'Why Are They Poor?'

Other parts of the series explore the symptoms, such as war's impact on social progress, food shortages and poverty.

The barriers to development in Africa are fairly well-known. Instability, violence, lack of infrastructure, corruption. The usual ills, if you will. Others point to the lasting legacy of colonialism and how the westerners essentially infantalized Africans (when they weren't outright enslavening or killing them) thus seriously hampering their potential for development into modern societies. They add that western meddling in Africa didn't cease with the end of formal colonialism as bad leaders and murderous rebel groups were propped up by outsiders.

But what interests me is differences between development in south and southeast Asia and development in sub-Saharan Africa. Both continents were mostly colonized for long periods of time. They were almost entirely decolonized in the two decades following the end of World War II. But while the continents had similiar income levels in the 1960s, Asia as a whole has developed quite a bit since that time while some countries in Africa have actually regressed. What explains the differences?

I'm not sure I know the answer to that so I'd invite readers to offer their theories. Here are a few of mine.

Both continents suffered under racist colonialism. Asian territory was actually more affected by World War II. Both have had wars, genocide, hunger and bad leaders. So it seems these variables do not explain the differences.

Perhaps scale is a difference.

I once heard an apocraphyal story that went something like this.

An Asian dictator and an African dictator were chum from their school days. The Asian invited his friend to visit his country. They stood in the presidential palace looking out a big window. The Asian leader pointed out the window and said, "You see that big eight-lane highway out there" then he smiled and pointed to his pocket, "15 percent." A few years later, the African leader returned the favor and welcomed his Asian friend. As they were walking around the executive mansion, the African leader pointed out the window to a wild, grassy field, "You see that highway?" and then he pointed to his pocket, "100 percent."

While this tale is admittedly crude, perhaps it offers an insight. One of the things I noticed when I lived in Africa is that while there was no shortage of stuff being built, maintenance of infrastructure was virtually non-existent. Health centers and schools were left to decay. Roads weren't kept up (and a poorly maintained paved road is worse than one that was never paved at all). This comes down to leadership. Building things is more popular than maintaining them because a road or school opening can be done with a fancy ceremony with big shot dignataries. Repaving an existing road or patching a hole in the school roof is far less 'sexy' but just as important.

Perhaps Asian cultures are more conscious about the importance of long-term planning and follow through. I don't know enough to say. But I do know that this doesn't seem to be the strength of many African cultures. This is understandable. If you might killed next week by a bullet or a disease, then what's the point of planning for ten years down the road? First things, first. However, ultimately this perpetuates the cycle of poverty for everyone.

Some argue that dependency theory is to blame for Africa's woes. Africa has received billions in foreign aid but poverty is still as crushing as it was during the independence years. So maybe aid is creating a culture of dependency that prevents African countries from being forced to develop (sort of in the way colonialism retarded development).

I think there's a grain of truth here but I'm not sure I buy this completely. Countries like Mauritania, Eritrea and, for the last decade Somalia, have received minimal foreign aid and their standards of living have hardly skyrocketed. Some contend that aid itself is the problem. I'm more inclined to think that the way aid is structured and delivered is the real problem. Foreign aid has a lot strings but usually not the right ones.

Food aid is a particular problem. Western countries donate surplus food of their own to feed hungry people. As well-intentioned as it may be, it has problems. When free food from abroad is dumped on the local market, it depresses prices for locally produced food thus hurting already poor farmers even further. A better system would be for countries to donate money that would be used to buy food from local producers. This would have several positive effects. First, delivery would be much faster. And local farmers would benefit from the increased demand for their crops. So you'd feed the people who need it while hopefully diminishing the poverty of farmers. As demand for food and agricultural revenue increased, perhaps the farmers could afford to hire some of the previously hungry people to harvest the crops. This would help dent the cycle of poverty rather than perpetuating it with annual bandaids.

As it stands, aid without fundamental reform in the global trade system (particularly western agricultural subsidies) will do nothing to alleviate structural poverty in Africa. The evidence: the last 30 years.

Despite billions of dollars in western aid, only one African country has left the ranks of the world's least developed countries: diamond-dependent Botswana. However, the case of Botswana demonstrates that natural resources need not be a curse if they are properly managed. It's not a coincidence that Botswana is a stable country with a transparent and democratic government that is more or less respectful of human rights.

Some contend that the differences are attributable to Asians being industrious and Africans being lazy. In addition to being racist, anyone who's actually spent any time in an African village would realize how patently absurd such a statement is. The typical African villager works harder than 95 percent of Americans. They have to if they want to eat. There is no welfare state to support them. In much of Africa, if you're lazy, you die. If you work hard and are industrious, you live. It's that simple. The problem isn't that most Africans are lazy; the problem is that the system in place does not reward their hard work.

I'm not really sure what reasons (and I'm sure it's plural) explain the differences in the development paths of Asia and Africa. I'd be happy to hear theories. But clearly many Asian countries have made great strides in development and poverty-reduction. I realize this is bound to be unpopular or at least touchy, but I think one of the reasons is this: both Asia and Africa were deeply ravaged by colonialism. But it seems that without denying the traumatic effects of colonialsm, at some point Asian countries realized they needed to move forward to work together to improve the standards of living for their people. I'm not sure all African countries have made that leap. It's about time they did.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

African oil politics

It's fairly well-known that natural resources are a curse, not a blessing, to most African countries that have them. Oil is certainly the most important natural resource nowadays. Pambazuka News has a good analysis of the impact of oil exploration and exploitation on the peoples of three African countries: Nigeria, Chad and Liberia.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

AU overmatched in Darfur but international pressure continues

CNN's Jeff Koinange travelled with the grossly overmatched African Union mission in Darfur, western Sudan.

And that's pretty much the way the genodical regime in Khartoum wants it.

The United Nations Security Council is discussing a possible peacekeeping mission to Darfur to replace the underfunded, understaffed and underequiped AU troops. But the Sudanese regime has angrily rejected any such possibility. They warned that any country contributing troops to such a mission would be committing "a hostile act."

It argues that transferring the mission from the AU to the UN (ie: from one multinational institution to another) would be an attack on its sovereignty. In reality, it knows that a UN mission would be well-equipped and given a significant mandate.

The US is the only major western government to describe Darfur as a genocide, one of the very few things the Bush administration has gotten right.

Anti-genocide activists scored a big victory last week when America's largest state California passed a law limiting business contacts between its companies and the regime and divesting the state's pension fund from foreign businesses who operate in Sudan If California were its own country, it would have the sixth largest economy in the world. A similar international campaign was launched in the 1980s against the apartheid government in South Africa.

The activist task force's director notes that genocide is expensive. "The Sudanese government relies heavily on foreign investment to fund its military and the brutal militias seeking to eliminate the non-Arab population of Darfur."

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Genocide in northern Uganda?

The crisis in northern Uganda is one of the world's worst. The international consensus is that the main culprits the demonic Lord's Resistance Army rebels, whose top leaders are is internationally indicted war criminals. However, Olara Otunnu argues that the regime in Kampala is the real villain.

I do not take Otunnu's opinions lightly. Otunnu is internationally respected for his years as UN Under-Secretary General and Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict. Basically, he was the international advocate for the welfare of children in war zones.

But it's worth adding that Otunnu also served as UN representative for the regime of Milton Obote, who was far more odious and murderous than the hardly angellic present government of Yoweri Museveni. Then-rebel leader Museveni fought to overthrow the Obote regime. So Otunnu isn't a completely unbiased observer of the current leadership in Kampala.

Otunnu argues that the LRA factor has been cynically manipulated to divert attention from and conceal the unfolding genocide by the Ugandan army against the Acoli/Acholi people in the north.

This is questionable use of language. His main argument is that while the LRA is actively killing people, the Ugandan regime is slowly killing people by forcing them to lvie in what he calls 'concentration camps.'

According to the Ugandan army spokesman, the LRA killed 46 people over the six months ending March 2006. Meanwhile 1500 people - a thousand of them children - are dying weekly in the camps, he notes.

He doesn't mention that if the LRA weren't fighting their vicious war with abducted child soldiers, then such camps would not be necessary.

Otunnu points out some well-documented abuses of the Museveni regime. Aggression in the DR Congo. Assaults on the rule of law. The banning of political parties. However none of this amounts to evidence supporting accusations of genocide.

Though as this piece from The Nation points out, conditions in the camps are horrendous. Congested and disease-ridden, with few social services, sources of power or clean water, they are simply unfit for human habitation.

It's absolutely to point out the hideous conditions in these camps and to call on the Ugandan government and international community to improve conditions there. But unfortunately, when the word 'genocide' gets thrown around so casually, it loses its meaning and becomes just another synonym for something bad.

The situation in northern Uganda is so dire that in terms of powerful emotional appeal, it can stand on its own. Avoid linguistic manipulations that are only bound to change the subject.

Friday, October 06, 2006

South Africa and Darfur

I see that South Africa's main opposition Democratic Alliance party has urged the government to influence the UN Security Council into taking a harder line on the genocide in Darfur.

Wishful thinking.

The South African government refused to take a harder line against the crisis in Zimbabwe, despite the fact that it has more influence on its northern neighbor and is directly affected by flows of political and economic refugees from the beleagured country.

Since the Mbeki government doesn't have the political guts take the initiative in a situation that affects them far more directly, then I can't see how they'd make a difference in far away Sudan.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Hooray for high oil prices?

Some environmentalists are thrilled by the relatively high price of oil. They see it as the only way to wean westerners off their addiction to cars. This view may be well-meaning but myopic. It presupposes that the only people affected by increased petroleum costs are upper middle class suburbanites in rich countries who could easily swap their gas-guzzler for a commuter train token with marginal inconvenience.

In reality, the people most harmed by high oil prices are in the developing world, as this VOA piece explores.

The effect in Senegal, for example, means lower energy generating capacity and thus power cuts. It means higher prices for passengers in public taxis and buses, which are the primary means of transport for most Senegalese. It means higher inflation and slower growth.

So the next time you smile with self-satisfaction about sticking it to SUV owners, just remember that they aren't being harmed anywhere near as much as African city dwellers who already can barely afford to make ends meat.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Nostalgia for Senegal

The Globalist's Guy Pfeffermann has a little nostalgia for Senegal of Senghor's time.

I also have a little nostalgia for Senegal. Except for the heat. I found it probably the most laid-back place I'd ever been. Maybe this is why it's been the most stable country in West Africa.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Kremlinology in Conakry

During the Cold War, Kremlinology was a favorite activity of journalists and foreign diplomats based in Moscow. It had to do with reading the tea leaves about what was really happening within the Soviet government, especially if the leader was ill. Guinea's head of state Gen. Lansana Conté has been seriously ill for most of this decade and this has paralyzed political life in Guinea. Sycophants are rushing to position themselves properly for Conté's eventual death but without appearing to eager for the demise of the now bedridden 'strongman.' All this while the Guinean economy crumbles.

As such, Kremlinology has been exported to Conakry. Yesterday, Guinea celebrated the 48th anniversary of its independence from France. But the infirm general not only failed to appear at independence celebrations, but he didn't even make his traditional speech to state radio and television.

The state newspaper Horoya published the text of Conté's (unspoken) speech. But its editor and general manager got in hot water because they neglected to publish a picture of 'le géneral-président' alongside the comments. They said they didn't receive a copy of the speech until after the newspaper was almost complete but that didn't satisfy the regime.

The two were suspended by the information minister.

It's a good thing the regime isn't cultivating a cult of personality, something it promised never to do over 20 years ago.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Partial insanity

There were elections held in Zambia on Saturday. The ruling party's presidential candidate won.The opposition cried foul before complete results were even announced. Rioting ensued.

I absolutely hate writing articles like this because such narratives risk perpetuating the stereotype of Africans not being able to run stable democracies. But the situation is also too idiotic to let pass by without comment. After all, those looking for such a stereotype will find out whether this essay is written or not.

Incumbent president Levy Mwanawasa was credited with 43 percent of the vote vs 28 percent for main opposition leader Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front (PF) party and 27 percent for another opposition candidate. According to Zambian electoral law, there is no runoff. Whoever receives the most votes is elected.

Mwanawasa and Sata were once colleagues in the cabinet of former president Frederick Chiluba before they fell out in 1994.

Sata was ahead after the release of partial results from urban areas but controversy erupted when results from rural areas came in propelling the incumbent into the overall lead. Apparently, he thinks that only the votes of urbanites should count.

The elections were praised by monitors from the regional Southern African Development Community (then again, SADC praised last year's Zimbabwe elections as well). The African Union and the regional body COMESA also gave their thumbs up to the polls.

PF supporters also attacked the offices of the daily Lusaka newspaper The Post. Sata accused the paper of being biased against him.

But this raises a broader question about the conduct of elections. Given that the release of partial results seems to cause all sorts of chaos and bitterness, perhaps election officials should consider not releasing partial results at all. Release only final results or final provisional results. At the very least, they wait until there is a fair population of data from all segments of the country before releasing numbers.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The British genocide in Kenya

Alternet has a review of the book Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya by Caroline Elkin. The massacre of some 300,000 Kikuyu by British forces in the 1950s is arguably the least known mass slaughter of the 20th century.

Reviewer John Dolan offers a harsh, but probably not unfair, assessment:

One of the great mysteries of the 20th century was the way Britain got away with pillaging nearly every country on the planet without suffering any retribution. I've spent a long, bitter time brooding over this experimental proof that there's no such thing as karma. Among the reasons I've found for this failure to prosecute are the reluctance of the raped to report their sufferings, the stupidity and credulity of American scholars vis-a-vis their Oxbridge colleagues, and the charmed life that seems to reward those individuals and nations lucky enough to lack any vestige of conscience.

But the answer is more simple. The Brits simply destroyed all records of the massacres. And dead men don't tell tales.

The difference between the British Empire and other fascist empires is not that these guys were nicer. Nobody who reads this book could continue to believe that, if they were fool enough to believe it beforehand. The difference is that the Brits were good at it, and had no conscience to trouble them. Thanks to that careful incineration of records and highly adaptive national sociopathic disorder, "...there would be no soul-searching or public accounting [in Britain] for the crimes perpetrated against the hundreds of thousands of men and women in Kenya."

These were the same Brits whose purported colonial mission was bringing Christian civilization to the savages.