Sunday, December 31, 2006

The fate of the Niger River and the fate of West Africa

The Inter Press Service (via has an interesting article on the affect of dimished rainfull on the communities along the Niger, one of Africa's most important rivers.

"The silting up of the Niger river has caused our revenues to tumble. The level of water does not allow for fish resources to be renewed. The fish are threatened because there are practically no more deep waters where they can breed," Lanciné Camara, who is in charge of a group of about 300 fishermen told IPS.

The the three main causes: deforestation, soil erosion and climate change, which has resulted in noticeably diminished rainfall.

As West Africa's most important waterway, the silting up of the Niger has affected 210,000 square km of arable land, and undermined the livelihood of about 110 million people.

One meterologist notes that that rainful in the south of the Niger River basin has falled from 4000 mm in 1970 to 375 mm, a decline of over 90 percent in only 35 years.

Failure to restore the river to health will have dire consequences well beyond the countries it flows through, warns [a Guinean offiial], who points out that declining harvests and fish catches lead to food insecurity, and greater poverty and misery on the African continent.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Abacha money being used well

Nigeria is generally thought of as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. But there is some good news on that front.

Last year, a Swiss court returned nearly $460 million in stolen money back to the Nigerian government, on the condition that it be monitored by the World Bank.

The Bank has reported that Nigeria is using the money wisely and efficiently to boost education, transport and health programs.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Islamists quit Mogadishu

The Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) have unexpectedly abandoned Somalia's capital Mogadishu, leaving it to be captured by the alliance of forces from the Somali transitional national government and Ethiopian military.

Reports suggest that many UIC militiamen have abandoned their uniforms. One former UIC fighter told al-Jazeera, "We have been defeated. I have removed my uniform. Most of my comrades have also changed into civilian clothes."

Ethiopian strongman Meles Zenawi has promised, "We will not let Mogadishu burn."

One resident of the capital expressed fears to the contrary. "My worst fear is the capital will succumb to its old anarchy. The government should come in now and take over - this is the best chance they have before the city falls into the hands of the warlords again."

Al Jazeera's Mohammed Adow said that local commanders have already begun taking over parts of the city.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ethiopia's 'defensive' attack on Somalia

If a foreign political story gets big play in the 'independent' US mainstream media, chances are it's because of the priorities of the administration of the day. It's even more true if it's an African political story. The Ethiopian invasion of Somalia is one of those cases. One of the main stories on the Christmas Day front page of The Troy Record, a resolutely local New York paper, was about this war.

Not everyone considers Ethiopia's action an invasion. The internationally recognized Transitional National Government (TNG) of Somalia reportedly asked for Ethiopian military help in order to eject the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), whose militias controlled most of Somalia.

The TNG was formed during internationally mediated negotiations in Kenya and comprises mostly warlords who'd kept Somalia in anarchy during the previous 15 years. The TNG controls very little of Somalia and even in the parts it did control, its members were infamous for bribery and racketeering. While the TNG may have international recognition (for lack of a better alternative), it has almost no credibility within Somalia itself.

The UIC has been able to bring much needed stability to a chaotic former nation. It imposed some sort of order. It re-opened the port in Mogadishu, the nominal capital. In other words, it filled the security vacuum in a way that the TNG was unable to do. While some may fear the potential future actions of the Islamists, most Somalis appreciate that they can now walk the streets in relative safety. Many are concerned by both what war will bring and by what would happen if the warlord-dominated TNG ever truly controlled the country.

The Bush administration has condemned the UIC, claiming that they are controlled by al-Qaeda. Outside experts say that there may be some sympathy for al-Qaeda within the diverse UIC coalition but that the group is independent of outside control.

The Bush administration has backed the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia though many fear that this will only further mistrust in the Muslim world about the west's intentions. Ethiopia, like the US, is a primarily Christian country and Somalia overwhelmingly Muslim.

Western diplomats and experts said that many Courts leaders, like most Somalis, are moderates and fiercely nationalist. For that reason and because of the complex tangle of clan allegiances within the courts, it's premature to conclude that the Islamists will impose a repressive Taliban-style Islamic regime aligned with bin Laden, they said.

The two countries have also fought a pair of wars in the past half century. Ironically, some observers think that the invasion of an old enemy might push Somalis to put aside clan differences and reignite nationalistic feeling against what the UIC is naturally portraying as a hostile foreign aggression.

This column in Kenya's Daily Nation (reprinted in The International Herald Tribune) expresses the widespread fear that the US proxy war in Somalia could destabilize the entire region.

Ethiopia and Eritrea remain tense after an insane, bloody border war. Eritrea backs the Islamists because Ethiopia opposes them. Some 240,000 refugees, mostly Somali, made their home on Kenyan soil in late September. That number is surely much higher now. The region of Kenya that borders Somalia has had its own troubles with famine even before the latest refugee influx.

Consciously mimicking President Bush's language, Ethiopia defended the invasion by stating that it was a pre-emptive measure against terrorists necessary for the country's security. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said, "As of today our defence forces have launched a counter-offensive, which is completely legal and proportional, on these anti-peace forces [the UIC]."

Prime Minister Meles added, "We are not trying to set up a government for Somalia, nor do we have an intention to meddle in Somalian internal affairs. We have only been forced by the circumstances."

Ethiopia's information minister added, "Ethiopian troops are fighting to protect our sovereignty from international terrorist groups and anti-Ethiopian elements,"

Despite claiming that the intervention was purely for its own security and not to meddle in Somali domestic affairs, the Ethiopian regime has announced that its forces will "besiege" the Somali capital Mogadishu until the UIC surrenders.

Mogadishu is on the Indian Ocean coast and thus about as far away from Ethiopia as you can get and still be in Somalia.

Update: a former US ambassador to Ethiopia points out that Ethiopia's interests (a weak Somali government with no real power or no central authority at all) and Somalia's interests (stability) are at odds.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Oil pipeline explosion kills hundreds in Lagos

A huge oil pipeline blast has killed at least 260 people in a suburb of Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital. A photographer for the Reuters news agency said he counted over 500 bodies. The Nigerian paper This Day said the number might be closer to 1000.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Getting into the Christmas spirit in the Horn of Africa

Despite numerous (and almost universally disparaged) denials to the contrary, Ethiopia has finally admitted to invading neighboring Somalia. Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi claims that the invasion is a defensive measure to preserve his country's security against the Islamic Courts Union militias which control most of Somalia.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

"Something must be done" about Darfur

Retired Gen. Roméo Dallaire recently was back in the news by by creating a multiparty group in Canada's Senate (of which he is a member) and House of Commons in order to urge the international community more seriously engage to halt the genocide in Darfur.

As many readers will remember, Gen. Dallaire was in charge of the ill-fated United Nations' peacekeeping mission in Rwanda that "failed" to prevent the genocide in that country. Dallaire famously sent a request to UN headquarters that his mission be beefed up to prevent the massacres that his sources told him were planned but instead of respecting his request to double the size of the mission and give it a strong mandate, the Security Council slashed the mission's numbers by 90 percent, essentially emasculating it.

In forming this group, Dallaire said, "The objective is prevent genocides, not to round up pieces afterward."

A prominent activist coalition was formed a while ago in the US called Save Darfur.

As its first priority, Save Darfur wants 'the immediate deployment of the already-authorized UN peacekeeping force.'

Though it tolerates the presence of an impotent African Union mission, Sudanese junta has already said it would regard any UN force as a hostile invader.

What human rights and anti-genocide activists (and I include myself in both categories) have a hard time accepting is this: there is no good external solution to the Darfur crisis.

They issue the call so often heard in crisis situations: "something must be done."

But there's a problem with this slogan.

The word "something" is vague to the point of being meaningless. WHAT must be done?

The phrase "must be done" is in the passive tense. WHO must do the doing? How can a serious call to action use the passive tense?

The African Union will never approve a stronger mandate for the force there because too many member states are afraid of setting a precedent. If an aggressive AU mission can be imposed on Darfur, then it can also be imposed on Zimbabwe or Côte d'Ivoire. It's sad that an organization that was created with so much promise, that was structured precisely to be able to act strongly in catastrophic situations, risks falling into the irrelevancy that crippled its predecessor The Organization for African Unity.

And even if the AU were to approve a serious mandate, who'd carry it out? The AU mission currently in Darfur barely has the troops or equipment to handle the present, weak mandate.

What about the useless Arab League? Deafening silence. They're so busy passing resolutions condemning Israel because an IDF soldier sneezed without covering his mouth that they haven't noticed a genocide and humanitarian catastrophe that make the West Bank and Gaza look like the Garden of Eden. A genocide and humanitarian catastrophe being perpetrated by a member state.

Why the silence? Maybe you should ask the Arab League's Sudanese presidency.

I suppose there could be a UN intervention, but who would supply the troops? The junta has already warned that a UN mission would be treated as a hostile force. Would the normal peacekeeping soldier donor countries be willing to send their troops into a hot, peacemaking conflict?

And if so, would they be equiped and trained for such an incursion? Of the top ten peacekeeping troop contributing countries, only Australia would be considered by most as a developed country. Would Kenya or Jordan or Bangladesh have the resources for their troops to engage in an invasion of Darfur? Would this even be a good use of their scarce resources?

Realistically, any aggressive UN mission in Sudan would have to be carried out by a major military power. China won't do it because they have their eye on Sudan's oil and want to cozy up to the regime. The US and Britain won't do it because they are bogged down in the morasses of Afghanistan and Iraq. France won't do it because they were badly burned in Côte d'Ivoire. So who's left?

And even if the US or Britain did lead such a mission, it would be disastrous. A hostile intervention in Sudan would INEVITABLY be seen as yet another example of the bullying of less powerful countries by an Islamophobic west. "Why don't they invade Christian Zimbabwe?" you'll hear them ask. The Bush administration's militarism in Iraq and support for militarism against Lebanon (and their militaristic language against Iran, North Korea, Somalia and anyone else that crosses them) means that any US-led intervention in Sudan would necessarily be seen as another American imperial adventure. Perception is reality.

This is something that people like Gen. Dallaire and the Save Darfur folks fail to take into account. No matter how personally well-intentioned these folks may be, the motives of a western military force in Darfur would be automatically suspect. The face of such a mission to the Arab world wouldn't be George Clooney and Roméo Dallaire but George W. Bush.

A western-led UN force would inevitably be yet another breeding ground for Islamist insurgents. They wouldn't have to go far. Both Somalia and Saudi Arabia are close to Sudan.

Despite Gen. Dallaire's well-intentioned sentiments, there is a significant difference between Rwanda and Darfur. In Rwanda, there was already a UN force on the ground with the agreement of the regime in Kigali. They were on the ground, staffed, armed, equipped (sort of) and had intelligence gathering operations. A UN force in Darfur would not only have to start from scratch while fighting its way in. Would this save lives or cost even more?

The core principle of any peacekeeping mission is the same as the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm. A hostile intervention force would clearly do more harm than good. Adding thousands or tens of thousands of dead peacekeepers to the hundreds of thousands of dead Darfuris may assuage the conscience of liberal westerners who insist that "something must be done." But if that 'something' is even more carnage, then it MUSTN'T be done.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Les Étonnants voyageurs

The BBC World Service literary program The Word has an interesting segment on Les Étonnants voyageurs. This is a book festival being held throughout the nine provinces of Mali, a country more known for fantastic music than literature.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Circumcision: an anti-AIDS tool?

South Africa's Daily Mail and Guardian reports on a World Health Organization study which concludes that circumcision can reduce a man's risk of contracting HIV by one half.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Another Joola?

About 80 suspected migrants are feared to have drowned after their small boat was shipwrecked off northern Senegal, reports the BBC. The Senegalese daily Wal Fadjiri estimates the death total at 102.

This tragedy occured only a week after another boat capsizing caused an estimated 70 deaths of the coast of Dakar, Senegal's capital.

The victims were trying to reach Spain's Canary Islands and thus gain access to the European Union labor market. The BBC has one West African's account of the journey here.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Blood diamonds

The Hollywood film 'Blood Diamond' opened in US theatres recently. It is set in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s, when illegal diamond mining was used to find one of the most vicious rebellions Africa has ever known.

The Christian Science Monitor notes that a self-policing process appears to be cleaning up the industry.

The mechanism, known as the Kimberley Process, was implemented in 2000 under pressure from non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

To me, this is a model example of how NGOs can effect positive change in international affairs. There was not demand for governments to impose punitive action or onerous regulations against diamond companies. Instead, NGOs successfully made 'blood diamonds' part of the vocabulary. This was devastating since diamonds have few practical applications and their demand and extremely high retail cost are based almost entirely on image. This naming and shaming convinced diamond companies that it was in their interest to agree to some sort of regulatory process.

This is called enlightened self-interest. The diamond industry didn't adopt these regulations because it suddenly had a tinge of guilt. Selling diamonds is an amoral activity. But activists made it so doing the right thing morally was the best thing for the industry's bottom line. In the end, a diamond boycott would hurt those engaging in legitimate mining, such as Botswana, Africa's oldest democracy.

Large corporations will always have a far greater influence on government than citizen groups, especially in the United States with its negligible campaign finance regulations. Influencing corporate-sponsored politicians will always be a long shot for citizen groups. And though government lobbying shouldn't be dismissed out of hand in all cases, appealing to enlightened corporate self-interest should be the primary tactic employed by activist organizations.

One World adds that although much progress has been made in cleaning up blood diamonds, some work still remains to be done.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The world's conscience leaves the scene

"My friends, our challenge today is not to save Western civilisation, or Eastern for that matter. All civilisation is at stake, and we can save it only if all peoples join together in the task." -UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

Former South Korean foreign minister Ban Ki-Moon was sworn in a few days ago as the new United Nations Secretary-General. Ban swore to conduct himself solely in the interests of the United Nations and to refuse to accept instructions from any government or other authority, which surely infuriated the Bush administration. Soon will end the decade long tenure of Kofi Annan. Ban certainly has big shoes to fill as he replaces one of the world's few true statesmen, widely admired for his character and integrity.

Annan's 10 years in charge of the organization were eventful. He was originally installed at the post at the behest the United States, who did not want the Egyptian Boutros Boutros-Ghali to serve a second term. This caused some resentment as only three or four of the UN's over 200 member states oppose Boutros-Ghali's re-election. But the organization was clearly much better served by the quiet, self-effacing and Nobel Peace Prize winning Ghanaian than by the obnoxious and imperious Egyptian.

Annan's accession was quite a coup for the United States because Boutros-Ghali was strongly backed by France; shortly after his departure from the UN, Boutros-Ghali was named head of La Francophonie, France's answer to Britain's Commonwealth. However, the Clinton administration calmed France by naming a Frenchman as head of peacekeeping. This was back in a time when the US government practiced diplomacy.

This piece in Foreign Affairs magazine reviews James Traub's book 'The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American Power' which takes a look at Annan's never dull decade as the world's top diplomat.

Annan had one of the most challenging tasks of any secretary-general in the organization's history. The end of the Cold War and of the bipolar world unleashed great hope around the planet that the UN would finally be allowed to function as its founders intended. Now, whenever there's a problem anywhere in the world, it's pretty much expected that the UN will deal with it.

But resources has not kept pace with these increased expectations. During Annan's first term, the Clinton administration was generally open to working with the organization but the Republican Congress regularly withheld dues because the UN wouldn't do whatever the Congress wanted. During Annan's second term, the Bush administration worked quite actively to undermine the organization at every turn. That Annan successfully wooed the notoriously isolationist Sen. Jesse Helms is a testament to his power of persuasion.

When the rest of the world expects more and more but the most powerful member is dedicated to undercutting you at every turn (except when it needs your moral stamp of approval), that's a pretty tough balancing act.

One thing the UN has come to do fairly well under Annan's leadership is nation building. To the point where, as I mentioned earlier, they are the default organization whenever a country or society needs to be rebuilt. Further, they have the international credibility as a neutral organization when it comes to humanitarian coordination and reconstruction. The disaster in Iraq only serves to underline both the UN's competence at nation building and the necessity of a non-military organization making it happen.

Under his leadership, the UN has also tried to bring human rights to the forefront. In 1998, the Rome Treaty was negotiated and the International Criminal Court to try the world's worst war criminals created. Additionally, many of his appointees have been vocal in raising international awareness about the world's worst crises. Sergio Vieria de Mello about East Timor. Jan Egeland about Northern Uganda and the DR Congo. Jan Pronk about Darfur. Olara Otunnu about child soldiers.

Some criticize him for not doing more about these things but few offer actual alternatives. Most criticisms of the UN, especially within the US, are based on an ignorance about how the organization actually works.

The position of secretary-general has been described as that of a secular Pope. And it's quite accurate. Much like the Pope, the secretary-general's international authority is almost entirely moral. Just as the Pope only has executive authority over the Catholic Church hierarchy, the secretary-general only has executive authority of the UN's bureaucracy.

People have often demanded that Annan "do something" about Iraq or Darfur, but he can not snap his fingers and send troops. The UN is barred from having a standing army. Troops can only sent if the Security Council agrees... and member states provide their own men for the mission. Those who demand the secretary-general "do something" ought to specify what exactly he should do.

Annan's remarkable tenure as 'secular Pope' was marred by one serious problem and one outright disaster, both involving Iraq.

With the massively increased expectations of the UN, it's been suggested that the post of secretary-general be split into two. One would focus on the diplomat-in-chief post that Annan was so masterful at. The other would focus on the actual internal management of the UN bureaucracy and its hugely important member agencies, an area which is reportedly Ban's strength. Continuing the papal analogy, just as John Paul II was a better diplomat and salesman for his organization's ideals than an administrator, Annan was too.

This was manifested in the oil-for-food scandal. The oil-for-food agency was set up as a way to allow Saddam's Iraq to sell oil and (theoretically) ensure the profits went to feed ordinary Iraqis instead of the regime's bank accounts. The scandal was that there was apparently a fair degree of corruption (corruption? in the oil industry? unthinkable!).

The oil-for-food program was unprecedented. Never before had the UN run the entire economy of a nation without having some sort of political stewardship over it. Annan was strongly opposed to the UN running oil-for-food but the Security Council, at the Clinton administration's behest, shoved it down his throat.

This proved the perfect excuse for those looking for an axe to grind. Annan never wanted the program in the first place but got all the blame when the exact problems he feared came to pass.

The other scar on his tenure is the US Aggression against Iraq. That the Aggression was launched despite UN opposition (and of almost the entire rest of the world, including for that matter the Pope) was seen by many as the organization's Mussolini Moment... referring to the League of Nations' failure to prevent or reverse Fascist Italy's conquest of Ethiopia, the incident widely seen as the beginning of the end for that organization. But despite massive protestations, the Ghanaian couldn't prevent the disaster, and that sense of helplessness drove him to despair.

Annan is man of great honor and dignity but he is also a man who has an almost religious belief in the institution of the United Nations. Anyone who thinks he's 'just another sleazy politician' should read the part in Traub's book where Annan is so distraught by the Iraq atrocity that he is temporarily rendered unable to speak. That's not expediency. That's principle. Can you imagine Bush, a great man of principle according to his apologists, being shaken to the point of speechless about what's happening in Iraq?

When the Bush administration went to the UN hat-in-hand and asked them for their expert help. Annan could've been prideful and told the administration, "You made this mess. Fix it yourselves." In fact, most of the UN bureaucracy wanted him to do exactly that.

But Annan believed that the ideals of the organization were more important than settling political scores, even with a government that, despite its decision to ok the US invasion of Afghanistan, had done nothing but viciously attack and undermine the UN for not sufficiently being its lap dog.

Annan swallowed his pride, ignored the opposition of most of his colleagues, and decided to ok a UN humanitarian and reconstruction presence in US-occupied Iraq. He did so because he believed the well-being of Iraqis was more important than spiting Pres. Bush and his lackeys.

Sadly, the UN mission in Iraq was seen by some extremists as an extension of US rule. As a result, a a massive bomb at UN headquarters in Bagdhad wounded over 100 UN staff and killed 22, including the widely respected Sergio Vieria de Mello.

The bombing was claimed by followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,who issued the following statement:

We destroyed the U.N. building, the protectors of Jews, the friends of the oppressors and aggressors. The U.N. has recognized the Americans as the masters of Iraq. Before that, they gave Palestine as a gift to the Jews so they can rape the land and humiliate our people. Do not forget Bosnia, Kashmir, Afghanistan and Chechnya.

The UN is attacked by the Americans as being anti-American, by the Israelis as being anti-Semitic and by the Jihadists for being pro-American and pro-Israeli.

Would you want this job?

Many lesser men would've quit, thus satisfying Christian and Muslim theocrats alike. That Annan kept going is a testament to his Job-like patience and strength of conviction and character.

Kofi Annan is not a saint, though he's about as close as any public figure can get nowadays. Some argue that he should've resigned or spoken out more forcefully when he was civilian head of UN peacekeeping during the genocides in the Balkans and Rwanda. I think that's a fair comment.

I know this piece seems like a hagiography but I can't help but concluding that UN will sorely miss this great man. At a time when the powers great and small genuflected to the gods of destruction and violence, Annan was a beacon for the most noble principles of morality and humanity. I hope Ban Ki-Moon is up to the job.

Update: This editorial from The Los Angeles Times also praises Mr. Annan for leaving the UN a stronger institution. And perhaps that's precisely why he's so hated by the American far right.

Friday, December 15, 2006

"Even aspirin is unavailable in health clinics"

Radio Netherlands' excellent documentary series did a piece on the collapse of Zimbabwe, entitled A Deep Cancer.

The piece was done by their Eric Beauchemin, who I consider to be the best radio journalist in the world. One thing that separates Beauchemin's work from that of most other reporters is proximity. Most other reporters deal with the abstract; they are most concerned about interviews with big shots: presidents, prime ministers, rebel leaders. Beauchemin's work focuses on the effect of crises on the lives of ordinary people simply trying to make a living; the stars of his work are not cabinet ministers but cleaning ladies and taxi drivers. Such journalism with a social conscience connects with listeners in a way that sterile transcription journalism, the profession's norm, does not. It also offers a fuller understanding of the situations in question.

Anyways, to refer to what's happening in Zimbabwe as a collapse is misleading. When a bridge falls apart because its component materials are old and decrepit, it's called a collapse. When a bridge falls apart because human beings blow it up or chip away with a pickaxe at its foundations and pillars, it's called sabotage. Zimbabwe is the victim of willful sabotage by its supposed leaders.

The country's medical system is in such a state that even aspirin is unavailable in health clinics. To say nothing of blood sugar monitors and insulin for diabetes' patients.

When life expectancy is halved in 15 years, that is the definition of a meltdown. This in what was one of the most prosperous countries in Africa when the current regime took over. And unlike in many other places, such a meltdown was not caused by war but by the active malfeasence of the central government. No state falls apart this quickly on its own.

And yet Zimbabwe's leader Robert Mugabe continues to get a free pass from much of Africa's so-called intelligentsia. His role in liberating Zimbabwe from white colonial rule and helping South Africa's African National Congress do the same made him a cult figure among pan-Africanists. And that may have been reasonable for a while. But surely no one who cares an ounce for the humanity of black Zimbabweans, Mugabe's main victims, could possibly have an ounce of sympathy left for this tyrant.

Only someone living outside the country (or Mugabe's cronies) could possibly think the Big Man isn't an unmitigated disaster for the people of Zimbabwe. One woman interviewed in the documentary considered the country's liberation a myth. "We are not free because we are starving. More starving than what our forefathers were doing," she explained. History doesn't fill the stomach or put a roof over the head.

Zimbabwe has gone from breadbasket to basket case in less than a decade. This is because Mugabe no longer sees himself as the country's leader (it's an open question if he ever did). He considers himself Zimbabwe's owner, his personal plaything. Mugabe may be not Leopold II in scale, but perhaps he is in spirit.

Update: Apparently Leopold of Zimbabwe feels there's some part of the country he hasn't destroyed yet and needs two more years to finish the job.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Racists revealed by Darfur genocide

I was listening to a BBC story on the Darfur genocide yesterday. They interviewed the Zambian ambassador to the United Nations who was very critical of the regime in Sudan who is almost universally believed to be actively backing the genocide. In listening to the ambassador's comments I was struck by how rare they were. The Arab and sub-Saharan African world has been virtually silent on this tragedy.

Sub-Saharan Africa has attacked the United States and Europe for not doing enough to stop the Rwandan genocide. The Arab world stirs up worldwide indignation at the treatment of Palestinians by Israelis in the Occupied Territories.

Fair enough.

If Israel were to refuse to allow one ambulance through a checkpoint, the Arab world would whip up international anti-Israeli hysteria and pass this off as "proof" of a western conspiracy against Islam. If Europe were to refuse a boatload of black African immigrants without documents, African countries would scream racism.

But when the regime in Khartoum is actively complicit in the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people (mostly black and mostly Muslim), the African and Arab worlds, with a few noble exceptions like Zambia, deafen the world with their silence.

Worse yet, when the US and Europe criticize the Sudanese regime for supporting this genocide, African and Arab countries attack THEM for supposedly advancing some sort of neo-imperialist agenda!

Apparently trying to stop the mass slaughter of Africans constitutes neo-imperialism. And protecting mass murderers constitutes some perverted version of pan-Arab or pan-African nationalism.


We know the Sudanese regime is genocidal. But an almost equal tragedy is the way that African and Arab governments are despicably more concerned with opposing Washington than with protecting innocent lives in Darfur.

They have forfeited the moral right to criticize the west for racism.

Update: This news puts the Bush administration in a quandry. The International Criminal Court is investigating crimes against humanity in Darfur and is apparently ready to launch its first prosecution regarding this conflict. The Bush administration has rightly spoken out forcefully against the genocide. But they've also done everything possible to undermine the ICC's legitimacy at every turn. It will be interesting to see whether the US administration is more committed to unilateralism or justice for war criminals and mass murderers.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Malaria-HIV link?

According to an article in the journal Science, scientists have discovered what they believe is a link between the two biggest natural killers in Africa.

Apparently, the way malaria and the HIV virus which causes AIDS may help each spread faster. The BBC explains:

When people with Aids contract malaria, it causes a surge of HIV virus in their blood, making them more likely to infect a partner, the research says.

Meanwhile people weakened by HIV are more likely to catch malaria.

Additionally, "In turn, the weakening of the immune system by HIV infection has fuelled a rise in adult malaria-infection rates and may have facilitated the expansion of malaria in Africa," said James Kublin of the Hutchinson Center.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Guinea's richest man arrested

More shenanigans in the power struggle between Guinea's richest man and the de facto leader of the country. Guinean businessman Mamadou Sylla was arrested in his Conakry home and brought to the central police station, where he remains incommunicado, his lawyers said on Friday.

"The police refused to allow anyone to accompany him. It was an illegal and arbitrary procedure," his lawyer added.

Conte's cash-strapped government accuses Sylla, the head of the country's chamber of commerce, of fraudulently withdrawing $US22 million from the Central Bank in Treasury Bills with the complicity of its former deputy governor Fode Soumah.

Sylla denies the charges and alleges the West African state owes him $US28 million for supplies, including arms to fight a rebellion between September 2000 and March 2001.

Sylla has repeatedly clashed with presidential advisor Fodé Bangoura, who many believe to be truly in chrage of the country in place of the seriously ill head of state Gen. Lansana Conté.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Poorest half of the world's people own one percent of global wealth

That the global distribution of wealth is grossly unequal is not surprising. The degree of that inequality is somewhat astonishing.

According to a UN study as reported by the BBC:

The richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of all household wealth


the poorer half of the world's population own barely 1% of global wealth.

Unlike many other reports, this study looks at not solely income but wealth (income minus debt).

As such, the study also finds that inequality is sharper in wealth than in annual income.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

HIV-AIDS funding crowding out other health programs?

This brief piece from the Center for Global Development warns that HIV/AIDS programs may be crowding out other health initiatives in a competition for scarce resources.

The piece pointed out:

For instance, over the years 1998 to 2003, as funding for HIV/AIDS grew from 9 percent to 43 percent of overall U.S. foreign assistance for health and population, funding in the health sector strengthening category nearly vanished, declining from 20 percent to just 1 percent. Aggregate funding for all other major causes stagnated, save for infectious disease control. We see similar trends among other donors and within developing countries.

The editorial notes that as serious as the AIDS pandemic is, HIV/AIDS related deaths comprised around 5 percent of total mortality in low and middle-income countries.

In addition to rapping the HIV-AIDS lobby's insularity, it argues that funding to strengthen the public health sector should be given more priority since it would help efforts to combat not only HIV-AIDS but other health crises.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Zim insecurity forces to revolt?

The Daily Mail and Guardian of Johannesburg reports on fears of a revolt by insecurity officers.

In a confidential memo dated November 22, a copy of which was seen by independent news service ZimOnline at the weekend, Chihuri said morale in the security services has hit rock bottom as the salary discrepancies have caused serious division between the security forces and the youths, who've completed a so-called national service program which trains thugs to terrorize Mugabe's opponents.

"The salaries they earn [national-service youths] are more than 20 times what trained junior members of the uniformed forces who pay tax are being given per month and this has not only killed the morale of our members, but also made them more rebellious against the government.

"It is also worrying to note that these youths ... earn more than three times a senior assistant commissioner of the ZRP [Zimbabwe Republic Police]," reads part of the memo, according to the paper.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Once a general, always a general

The East African has a profile of the increasingly dictatorial regime of Rwanda's Paul Kagame.

The paper noted that Kagame's contribution to reconstructing Rwanda's shattered economy is beyond question. The former rebel leader has also handled the delicate task of reconciliation in a country traumatized by genocide. I happen to think the gacaca courts are an innovative way of addressing this complex task. True reconciliation must take place not solely in law courts but through broader social dialogue.

But aside from the gacaca, broader social dialogue is exactly what's missing from Kagame's Rwanda. Once a general, always a general.

What Kagame has failed to do, however, is to open up political space in the country. Today, there is no single individual or institution that can be described as an alternative voice in the country.

So stiffling is the atmosphere inside Rwanda that the media rarely gives the alternative view and easily embraces the culture of self-censorship. Open criticism of the government is regarded as treason.

When asked about how might succeed Kagame after he retires, one journalist responded nervously, “Do not involve me in that kind of talk; it is dangerous, watch out.”

Like most leaders who take over after a protracted struggle against fascist regimes, Kagame has exploited the country’ history of suffering and the conformist attitudes of his people to the full.

Kagame is widely appreciated for his group's role in bringing an end to the bloody genocide. And rightly so. But much like with Mugabe in Zimbabwe, he seems to think this gives him a free pass ad infinitum.

Like Mugabe and so many other African leaders, Kagame has passed himself off as the only person capable of running the country without it falling apart. There's only one problem, he will either leave office or die eventually.

This is precisely the opposite of leadership.

Someone like Nelson Mandela continues to stand in noble contrast to Kagame and so many others. I remain convinced that the greatest gift Mandela gave to the new South Africa was to serve only one term. In making himself dispensible, he sent the message that a modern, progressive state must not be dependent on a single person for leadership and vision. He sent that message despite governing a country that was nearly as divided, traumatized and precarious as Rwanda.

That is statesmanship.

Although he came to power around the same time as Mandela, Paul Kagame has sadly not learned from Madiba's example.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Kabila's eloquence

Now that Joseph Kabila has become the democratically elected leader of the DR Congo, discussion is migrating toward what kind of job he may job. TheMalau at The Salon blog opines that Kabila's oratory skills need to improve if he's going to become an effective leader of the massive and divided country. Particularly that the head of state should focus on improving his mastery of French and of Lingala, the main language of the western DRC where the capital is located.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Health care exodus cripples rural Africa

The Center for Global Development also has a piece on the exodus of health care workers from Africa and its significant effect on the continent's rural areas.

Friday, December 01, 2006

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day.

Being based in South Africa, which has the world's largest AIDS population, The Daily Mail and Guardian offers an interesting perspective. Two of its articles illustrate how the disease impacts more than just those affect with the HIV virus.

It notes that the AIDS death rate will create some 200,000 orphaned children this year alone.

The Mail and Guardian also talks about one of the underappreciated parts of the pandemic: the grave toll exacted on medical workers treating AIDS victims.

The paper mentions a study by a South African mental health group concluding that almost 2/3 of the caregivers in the country suffer from depression. Given that these are the people who help keep AIDS sufferers alive, it's a very serious problem.

The Independent offers a few bits of good news. The center-left paper has a surprising article on how the world's drug firms sacrificed profits in the battle against AIDS. It's a great example demonstrating how shame and public pressure are far better means to address socially irresponsible corporate behavior than government mandates (which should remain an option of last resort).

The British daily also has a piece on how music is being used in Senegal in HIV/AIDS education campaigns. The west African country has the lowest rate of HIV infection in sub-Saharan Africa.

The paper also has an article on the 50 best African artists.