Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bloody hands

Last November, Rwanda broke ties with France after French anti-terrorist judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere implicated then-rebel leader Kagame in the 1994 downing of a plane carrying Habyiramana and the president of Burundi. This incident was the spark that set off a meticulously planned genocide that cost the lives of an estimated million people.

Kagame denied the allegations, denounced Bruguiere as politically motivated and said that he was more interested in covering up the cozy relationship between French authorities and the genocidal regime. Something echoed by one of the inquiry's key witnesses, even though he maintains Kagame's role in the assassination.

I have made it clear that I am not a big fan of Kagame and his authoritarian regime. That said, whether the allegations are true or not, I'm afraid I can't get too worked up over all this.

Kagame was a rebel leader in a civil war. His forces were fighting a regime that had launched many small pogroms and anti-Tutsi campaigns. Am I outraged that he may have killed a racist dictator? Am I disgusted that he fought a regime that was in the process of planning (well before Habyriamana's death) one of the bloodiest campaigns of mass murder of the 20th century?

It's good that Kagame has reportedly agreed to an independent investigation of his predecessor's assassination. But no, I do not care if Kagame is prosecuted for this wartime act. I reserve my tears not for Habyrimana's family but for the families of the one million Rwandans slaughtered in his name.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Police repression in Senegal

Senegal was once thought of as a vanguard of the so-called African Renaissance but that impression may be crumbling. President Abdoulaye Wade has been trying to mess with poll dates, much to the consternation of the opposition. Legislative elections were originally slated for 2005 but were rescheduled to this year. Presidential elections were slated for next month but Wade is trying to move them as well. Critics contend that Wade is afraid that the country's shaky economy will cost him votes.

Opponents held a rally this weekend demanding that elections be held as scheduled but were attacked by police wielding electric batons.

Several opposition leaders, including Wade's former ally and prime minister Moustapha Niasse, were roughed up and briefly thrown in jail.

The police director of national security defending the actions of the authorities saying that protesters did not have permission to march.

Wade spent nearly 20 years as Senegal's main opposition leader and often took part in protests that were violently broken up by former ruling Socialist Party.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

This can't be good

I was one of the many people thrilled by the decision of soccer's international governing body FIFA to award the 2010 World Cup to South Africa. But this certainly was not anyone had in mind.

Two hospitals in the remote Northern Cape have been told their buildings will be delayed because of cuts in government spending.
The rising cost to South Africa of hosting the World Cup is beginning to take its toll on government spending.

A Northern Cape health official claimed, "The hospital building programme will resume in 2008/9 financial year."

Though the stadium construction costs are already hundreds of millions of dollars over budget, according to the BBC.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Liberia's Iron Lady

The Los Angeles Times has a nice profile of Liberia's president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Taylor trial postponed

Al-Jazeera reports that the trial of former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor at The Hague has been postponed until June to give the defense more tmie to prepare. One of the most despicable human beings alive, Taylor is facing 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in helping destabilize much of West Africa.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

"Another World Is Possible"... but for whom?

Sokari at Black Looks blog offers her impressions of the World Social Forum in Kenya which she is attending. She is disappointed with the WSF's lack of women's perspectives and interests.

She notes that some attendees protested about the cost of food, the cost of entry, the corporate sponsorship of CellNet and Kenya Air. Food is expensive and entry at 450shillings [more than US$6] for low income and unemployed is prohibitive - there should at least be some means tested entry charges or grass roots groups get in free. This seems eminently reasonable considering the whole purpose of the WSF!

In another entry, she reports that many attendees have had stuff stolen, which is sadly in line with the general international perception of Nairobi but otherwise, Sokari seems to like the city. She reports that Coca-Cola had been banned from the event but some people had smuggled it in and were selling it. She expressed frustration at the haphazard internet connection.

In her most recent piece, she notes how organizers tried to deny a lesbian activist from Uganda a chance to speak before the WSF. And how when the courageous activist finally was able to make her remarks, she was roundly jeered by the audience and many shouted obscenities at her.

"Another World Is Possible" was the slogan of the WSF. Are gays and lesbians excluded from that world?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Guinean insecurity forces gun down 17

At least 17 people have been killed today and over 100 injured in running battles between the Guinean police and anti-government protesters. Most of the dead were in or around the capital Conakry but deaths were also reported in the northeast cities of Kankan and Siguiri.

10 people were killed in the previous dozen days of the country's nationwide general strike. The strike was launched by trade unions to demand the resignation or constitutional removal from office of the country's head of state Gen. Lansana Conté, who they argue is too ill to govern effectively.

But Conté remained defiant. In a Saturday speech broadcast of state radio, the military strongman warned, "Those who want power must wait their turn. It is God who gives power and when he gives it to someone, everyone must stand behind him."

Food is also becoming scarce in Conakry.

"When you've had more than two decades of suffering, you're ready to suffer some more to get a final result," said Aboubacar Fofana, a 30-year-old economics graduate who scrapes together a living as a market trader. "Maybe at some point the security forces will realize they can't kill everyone just to save one man."

Guinéenews reports that on Monday, all of the major union leaders were arrested and thrown into the Conakry jail.

Additionally, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon asked the Guinean regime to launch an investigation into the deaths of the protesters. He added that the UN was 'gravely disturbed by the use of excessive force.'

Note: Friends of Guinea's blog has regular updates on the general strike in Guinea.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Teenage pregnancy complications in Ethiopia

US National Public Radio has a disturbing story about a frequent but serious condition faced by teenage (and even pre-teen) girls giving birth in Ethiopia. The condition is called fistula which I won't describe here but, while not physically life threatening, is very humiliating and often causes girls who suffer from it to be treated as social outcasts. (Of course, it's society that does that not the condition itself)

The condition is preventable and rarely occurs in western countries, but poverty and the brain drain make it more common than it should be in East Africa. As the report noted:

"Poverty is why the little girl of 2 is taught to carry a water jar. It's a small water jar, but by the age of 8, she is carrying weights I cannot carry. So then by the age of 10, 11, 12, she is carrying all the wood for cooking, all the water for cooking and washing purposes," [Addis Ababa midwife Ruth] Kennedy says.
"This consumes enormous calories for this small child, and her consumption intake of calories is not enough," she says. "The little girl loses stature. Her bony pelvis is small"
which makes injury during childbirth more likely.

The report added that there are more Ethiopian doctors in the city of Washington, DC than there are in all of Ethiopia.

Update: The day after, NPR also had a segment on an interesting innovation in Uganda: medical co-operatives.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Popular discontent shakes Guinean regime

Thursday marked the ninth day of the nationwide general strike in Guinea. According to the French news agency AFP, a 20-year-old man was killed by gunfire when police dispersed demonstrators Wednesday in Labe, in central Guinea.

Union leaders asked National Assembly president Aboubacar Somparé "to convene the Supreme Court, in line with provisions of the basic law, to declare a vacancy in power" and thus remove head of state Gen. Lansana Conté from power. They claimed that Gen Conté was 'phyiscally weakened and visibly amnesiac.' Somparé would be the constitutional successor if a vacancy in the presidency were to occur.

The UN's IRIN news service reported that marches in the major interior cities of Mamou, Kankan, Fria, Nzerekore, Pita, Labe and Kindia were also broken up by armed police, with marchers in Labé ransacking government offices.

Speaking on Guinean national radio, police superintendent Mansou Mansare denied that the security services were responsible for the deaths and said they were there to "protect the marchers".

He did not say who the marchers needed protection from.

The IRIN added, In a statement read on state television on Tuesday evening, Conte said he needed more time to consider the union’s demands that he change the government, but did offer to cut the cost of fuel and to force foreign mining companies to keep their revenues in the country.

Guinéenews reports that the préfet of Pita was chased out of the city by angry mob.

Union leaders met with Gen. Conté but the one-time military dictator reportedly threatened to have them killed.

Though a local journalist opined that security forces have been better disciplined than usual, analysts believe the regime is terrified of a popular uprising. Dustin Sharp of Human Rights Watch explained, "There have been strikes going back years where a handful of people [were] either injured or gunned down during those strikes. The threat is not imaginary. The consequences and the possibilities of a blood bath are very real and I think they know that."

This is the most significant public expression of discontent with the government in the country since independence.

Workers in the bauxite industry have joined the walkout. Bauxite, which is used in alumnium and of which Guinea is the world's largest producer, is the most important source of the country's cash.

Update: Friends of Guinea's blog offers a useful (mostly) daily summary of general strike news from Guinea.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A sacred duty

Reading the Nigerian press is always an interesting experience. This Day reports that the Roman Catholic Church in Enugu State, eastern Nigeria, has warned that non-voters will not be allowed to participate any of the Church's sacraments. The bishop of Nsukka has stated that adult parishioners will have until early February to show their voter cards to parish priests. Those that don't will be denied holy communion, marriage and other sacraments.

In a statement, the bishop's office warned parishioners against calculated political propaganda aimed at creating despondency in you so that they will steal away an unmerited victory. You are reminded and requested to quickly get yourselves registered, if you have not done that, because it is your civic responsibility and a sacred duty. As adults (18 years and above), you are doing great disservice to the Church and the nation if you fail to register. You should know that it is your right to register, to have voters’ cards, to vote and that with your voters’ cards, you shall be able to enthrone true democracy by willful, correct choices of leaders through the ballot boxes.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

One year of Ellen

One year ago, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was sworn in as Liberia's president and Africa's first elected female head of state. The Voice of America offers an analysis at her first year in charge. The BBC also takes a look back at the last twelve months in Liberia and at the gargantuan challenges still facing her administration. Nevertheless, it's encouraging that she has the country headed in the right direction about as quickly as anyone could reasonably expect. Whether the expectations remain reasonable in one of the world's poorest, most devastated countries is another question. As able as she certainly is, Madame President will need as much good luck as she can get.

Update: the president is also leading a much needed crusade against rape, particularly of girls.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Rwanda calls for former first lady's arrest

The Rwandan government has demanded that France (with whom Kigali broke diplomatic relations not long ago) arrest Agathe Habyrimana, wife of the assassinated former dictator Juvénal Habyrimana. Rwanda's justice minister accused the former first lady of being one of the main plotters of the 1994 genocide. Mrs. Habyrimana was seen by many as a Lady MacBeth-like figure running things behind the scenes but she claims she's been a scapegoat for the massacres. She recently applied for, but was denied, refugee status in France. The French refugee agency stated that there were "serious reasons... to believe that she participated as instigator or accomplice in committing genocide," though they have refused to act on a longstanding extradition request.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Guinean police fire on strikers

Today marked the sixth day of a nationwide general strike in Guinea to protest against the misrule of head of state Gen. Lansana Conté. While the first five days were largely peaceful, today saw clashes between police and strikers in the capital Conakry.

The clashes followed a decree on Sunday night by the governor of the Conakry region banning all public demonstrations in the capital.

Dozens were arrested and several were injured by tear gas and rubber bullets. The BBC reports that live bullets were also used.

The Voice of America added: There is almost no traffic in Conakry, says journalist Maseco Conde. There are only military vehicles on the roads, and the banks, markets, and gas stations are all closed, he says.

Strikers met with National Assembly president Aboubacar Somparé asking him to start legislative procedures to remove the seriously ailing Conté from power. Somparé is the head of Conté's PUP party, but would be the constitutional successor if Conté were deemed incapacitated.

Guinéenews reports that when faced with a proposal by a union delegation, Conté replied, "As I am also a functionary, I am on strike. When my strike has ended, I will respond to your proposition."

The general also warned a union leader, "I have never lost a war."

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

US military action against Somalia

Yesterday, the Bush administration launched military action in yet another Muslim country when it bombed Somalia.

The Ethiopian dictatorship, with US backing, invaded Somalia to force out the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), which had taken over and pacified much of the country. The Ethiopians say they were invited by Somalia's Transitional National Government, the internationally-recognized but largely powerless government comprised largely of warlords.

The BBC World Service's Newshour program has a great interview on the airstrikes and the counterproductive Bush administration policy in the Horn of Africa with Michael Schueur, a man who once ran the CIA's anti-al Qaeda unit. It's extremely insightful, a must-listen for anyone who wants the war on terror to actually diminish the terror threat.

(Note: the audio will probably only be available until Wednesday morning US time, so listen to it soon. Just go to the Newshour page and there should be a story to click on entitled 'Targeting al-Qaeda.' You'll need Real Player.)

Monday, January 08, 2007

Small arms, mass murder

Voice of America has a report on the illegal trade in small arms and its effects particularly in Africa.

When one person is accidentally killed by the Israeli or US militaries, it's guaranteed to be a global cause célèbre. But when at least 500,000 people (mostly Africans) die every single year because of small arms, there are no celebrity-laden rallies, no condemnations from Washington or Damascus, no coverage on CNN or al-Jazeera.

Makes you wonder who profits from the silence.

Actually, you already know the answer.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Eid al-Adha in Mali

South Africa's Daily Mail and Guardian has an interesting look at West African sheep traders and the importance to them of the Muslim world's biggest sacrificial feast.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

One of the world's most unenviable jobs

The UK Independent has a portrait of the country's president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and the gargantuan task she faces in rebuilding the mess that is Liberia. As much praise as she received for being the Africa's first elected female president, it's foreign aid, not glowing testimonials, that she and her government need right now.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Guinean trade unions to resume general strike, hint at military coup

Guinea's main trade union collective, CNTG-USTG, has announced that it will launch an unlimited national general strike starting on Jaunary 10.

The unions' communiqué (the text is available here in French) cited a number of reasons for their decision, including what it describes as:

-The interference of the head of state into judicial affairs by illegally liberating citizens in conflict with the law, particularly those accused of corruption and graft,

-The inability to the government to stop the continued depreciation of the Guinean franc, which aggravates inflation and hurts the purchasing power of workers,

-The government's violation of Article 18 of the Guinean constitution regarding the independance of labor organizations and

-The indifference of other national institutions (Supreme Court, National Assembly, Economic and Social Council) toward this state of affairs.

The communiqué also the following quixotic reference in explaining its decision to strike...

"Given the that the valliant Guinean army will continue to play its role and defend the hard working people of Guinea in distress..."

A call which some might interpret as an appeal for the military to stage a coup d'État.

Update: A high ranking official of the CNTG insists that his union 'will never encourage a military coup d'Etat.'

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Graft and instability in Guinea

Reuters ran a piece on the alleged fight against graft in Guinea. The country was recently named by Transparency International as the most corrupt country on the most corrupt continent.

However, continued internecene fighting at the top of the regime certainly doesn't help the supposed anti-corruption campaign.

The head of state Lansana Conte, a reclusive army general who has ruled Guinea since 1984, dismissed three ministers on Friday [Dec. 22] in a surprise reshuffle which strengthened the hand of his right-hand man, minister for presidential affairs Fode Bangoura.
But one of the three sacked men, Transport Minister Alpha Ibrahima Keira, is linked closely to a rival faction surrounding Conte's second wife
and was re-instated five days later.

The Dec. 22 cabinet reorganization was one of many that happened during 2006 and is widely attributed to the internal power struggles around the ailing head of state.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Police-army tension in Burkina

Often times, what's left unsaid is far more tantalizing that what's actually said.

Take the title of this news article: Burkina police and army in truce.

The BBC reports that Clashes between police and soldiers in Burkina Faso that led to five deaths in the past week have ended as both sides' officers agreed to halt hostilities.

Apparently, the fighting began Christmas week after a soldier was killed during a brawl with police.

Makes you wonder if something is brewing behind the scenes.

Update: The Burkinabé weekly L'Opinion has thorough coverage (in French) of the events. It suggests a rampage by young soldiers.