Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Zambian leader passes away

Apparently this time it's true.

Zambia's president Levy Mwanawasa has died in hospital in France, two months after suffering a stroke.

He will be succeeded by Vice-President Rupiah Banda, who announced the president's death on state television.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Free Moussa Kaka

Moussa Kaka is a political prisoner from Niger who worked as a journalist for Radio France Internationale. He was imprisoned almost a year ago by that country's government because he made contacts with Niger's Touareg rebels in order to do his job as a journalist.

Also see here (or the more comprehensive French version here)

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

10th anniversary of East African embassy bombings

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." -Aristotle

Yesterday, there were commemorations in East Africa to mark the 10th anniversary of the bombings of the American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

My father was driving me to the bank that morning when US National Public Radio broke the story of the bombings. I remember being worried because I knew a friend of mine and her mother were visiting Kenya at the time. Apparently, they had been in the embassy for some reason left something like half an hour before the attacks. She said they were so close that they heard the explosion from their taxi but had no idea what it was until later on.

This was effectively the first al-Qaeda attack on US interests; though it's important to remember that of the hundreds who died, almost all were Africans. US President Bill Clinton responded by flexing American military muscle and bombing an aspirin factory in Sudan.

Some regional press accounts on the anniversary...

-The East African Standard had some first hand accounts of what happened in Nairobi on that day.

-The Kenyan Nation has a photo essay.

-The Nation also mentions how the present Kenyan government has promised more vigilance in dealing with potential terrorism.

-Tanzania's Daily News has an account of the ceremony in Dar es Salaam.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Cocaine trafficking in West Africa approaching crisis point?

Friends of Guinea blog has a piece on the drugs' cartels invasion of West Africa. Reprinted with permission.

The Washington Post has an article by the executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime on a problem that's causing increasing concern: drugs trafficking in West Africa.

The sub-region has become a major transit point for cocaine smuggling between Latin America and Europe. Originally, activity was centered in Guinea-Bissau, a borderline failed state that has been without a strong central government for a decade.

However, The Post's article reports that the cartels are threatening to branch out into Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Last month alone, more than 600 kilos [of cocaine] were seized in a plane with fake Red Cross markings at the airport in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and at the international airport in Bissau, several hundred boxes were unloaded from a jet.

It notes that fighting this problem will be difficult.

Poverty is the biggest problem. These countries are the worst performers on the human development index -- their populations at the bottom of the "bottom billion." Unemployed and desperate youths are vulnerable to being recruited as foot soldiers for criminal groups. West African countries must take control of their coasts and airspace. This requires hardware (boats, planes and radar), know-how (investigative techniques and container security) and counter-narcotics intelligence. Some of these capabilities can be developed nationally, but some assistance will have to come from abroad.

Another obstacle is those countries' public institutions, which are weak and plagued by corruption.

TIME also ran a piece on Guinea-Bissau becoming West Africa's first narco-state as did the UK Independent. A Russian news site reported on the seizure of a ship ferrying a huge load of cocaine of the coast of Conakry earlier this year. The UN's Office on Drugs and Crime has a thorough report on the West African cocaine trafficking problem.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

That didn't take long

A little over a year after the country's first democratic elections, the Mauritanian military has seized power in a coup d'Etat. The elected president Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi has been removed as well as his prime minister. Earlier in the day, the president had tried to remove several senior military officers, including Gen. Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz, who was head of the presidential guard. Gen. Abdelaziz responded by launching the coup.

According to Wikipedia, the US NGO Freedom House had considered Mauritania as one of only two real 'electoral democracies' in the Arab world. The other was the Comoros, the most coup-prone country in Africa.


Monday, August 04, 2008

The long road to recovery

The UN's IRIN news service has a series of articles on the troubles many Sierra Leonians are having, five years and one democratic transfer of power after brutal, nearly decade long uncivil war.

From young boys who already admit to having no future to war orphans haunted by hideous memories to a young teenager suicidal because of his horrific experiences during the war, it's a poignant reminder that it may be tragically easy to start a war or otherwise engage in an orgy of violence in the name of fake noble goals, recovering from such horror takes much, much longer.


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Yet more war fears in the Horn

Earlier this week, fears of yet another war in the Horn of Africa were raised after Eritrea evicted the UN mission monitoring the border between itself and Ethiopia. The move was ratified by the Security Council shortly thereafter.

In the last decade, the countries have fought a bloody and incomprehensibly stupid war over a patch of sand known as Badme. It was so insane that the war was likened to 'two bald men fighting over a comb.'

Eritrea tried to allay fears of a new war by stating the the UN mission's presence was merely 'symbolic' so its departure won't matter much. It also accused Ethiopia of continuing to occupy Eritrean territory.

Probably a more compelling reason that makes another war unlikely is that Ethiopian forces are otherwise engaged in their US-backed aggression against Somalia.

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

A return to the bad old days

Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade has been seen as a beacon of the much-touted African Renaissance since his election in 2000. He was one of the main proponents of the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), which basically tries to get African leaders to keep tabs on their own. Its motto is 'Democracy and good political governance.'

Yet Wade's rule has become increasingly authoritarian, according to some critics, going after both the press, the opposition and former allies.

Recently, pliant parliamentarians approved a measure to extend the presidential mandate from five years to seven.

Critics attacked the move not only on substance but on procedure. They claim that such an act can only be done via referendum.

Extending presidential mandates is one of the most common methods in particularly West Africa to create a monarchical republic.

Not surprisingly, main opposition parties criticised the move saying Senegal has now become a "monarchy", while others denounced the "numerous changes" in the nation's constitution.

According to a study of West African university professors, since Wade came to power in 2000, Senegal's constitution has been changed at an astonishing rate of once every six months.

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