Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Was Nkunda a victim of a financial squeeze on Kigali?

A few days after being arrested, DRC rebel leader Laurent Nkunda remains in detention in neighboring Rwanda, his former backers. Kinshasa wants him extradited but Kigali claims that there's no extradition treaty between the two countries. Despite the recent military cooperation between the two countries, it seems Rwanda is eager to find reasons NOT to hand over Nkunda to Congolese officials. One can only speculate that they are afraid what tales Nkunda might tell in open court if given the opportunity.

In an interview with Radio France Internationale, Belgian academic Philippe Reyntjens speculates that the Kagame regime's turning against Nkunda is related to last month's release of a damning UN report that, among other things, openly accused Rwanda of backing Nkunda's forces. Reyntjens pointed out that some donors had suspended aid to Kigali and that the country's biggest foreign backer, Britain, was threatening to follow suit.

I'm loathe to use the word 'victim' to describe Nkunda but it appears international pressure on Rwanda to remove him from the scene succeeded.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Trafficking vs migration

The UN's IRIN news service has a good piece exploring the nuances of human trafficking and the difficulties in fighting against it. Particularly difficult is how to discern human trafficking from legitimate economic migration.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Guinean junta summons industry leaders, is warned by Human Rights Watch

From: Friends of Guinea blog

Note: Reprinted with permission.

Guinea's military junta summoned industry leaders earlier this week, including representatives of the country's lucrative and controversial mining sector, before a commission investigating corruption.

Meanwhile, the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch called on the junta to hold members of the former regime accountable for human rights' abuses.

"Guinea stands at an historic crossroads," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Improving the chronic human rights problems that have undermined the civil, political, social, and economic rights of the Guinean population for decades must be a top priority of the current government."
Since 2006, Human Rights Watch has done extensive research into patterns of human rights abuses against ordinary Guineans, including torture, extrajudicial executions, widespread extortion, and the brutal repression of street protests. The evidence in the vast majority of these cases shows that the abuses have been committed by members of the security forces, but the government has rarely investigated these cases, much less brought those responsible to justice. This failure to act, coupled with a weak judiciary, characterized by a lack of independence from the executive branch, inadequate resources, and corruption, has left ordinary Guineans with scant hope for redress.

In 2007, then-head of state Lansana Conté agreed to set up a commission to investigate extrajudicial killings and other abuses related to the repression of that year's general strike. However, the commission never really started its work. In an interview with Radio France Internationale, Dufka called on Dadis to order the commission to start its work and cooperate with it.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Nkunda arrested

DR Congo rebel leader Laurent Nkunda was arrested by Rwandan troops. The arrest came only days after the launching of a joint military operation between the Congolese and Rwandan national armies (a mission not universally appreciated), after years of tension between the two governments. The DRC has called for Nkunda's extradition.

Rwanda was long accused of being his benefactor. Nkunda was originally a military leader in the RPF, the movement now in power in Kigali. Nkunda then joined the forces of Laurent-Désiré Kabila, which overthrown the Mobutu regime and whose son is now the DRC's head of state.

However, a BBC analysis believes that Nkunda's big mistake was launching a vicious military offensive last October around Goma that caused widespread international condemnation. The BBC analyst believes that this opened the space for a new relationship between Kinshasa and Kigali.

In mid-January, a group of soldiers part of Nkunda's movement claimed to have ousted him as leader.

A week later, he's in detention.

Some are optimistic that Nkunda's departure from the scene may lead to peace in the eastern DRC, a region devastated by war and instability for over a dozen years. But with the massive 'interest' and always murky activities in the country's mineral resources, caution is prudent.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Rebel splinter group to end DRC fighting?

Not sure what to make of this but... according to Rwanda's New Times, a DR Congo rebel group that recently claimed to have ousted its leader Laurent Nkunda announced that they were ending their hostilities against the central government in Kinshasa "with immediate effect."

A statement signed by leaders of the coup against Nkunda read, "The CNDP requests the government of the DRC the setting up of a joint commission to implement the reintegration into the FARDC (government army)."

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Is bigotry 'culturally African'?

When I lived in Senegal for three months in the mid-90s, I was well-aware that it was a conservative Muslim country. But it was also a very warm and welcoming country. Yet like many places, venal politicians have whipped up hatred to advance their own careers. A despicable recent court ruling in the country jailed nine gay men for 'indecent conduct and unnatural acts.' The judge said they were guilty of the additional crime of belong to a criminal group: one set up to fight HIV/AIDS.

Homophobia has become increasingly rampant in Senegal due to said ambitious politicians.

Typically, many Senegalese bristled at international condemnation of the unconscionable decision. "Westerners need to remember this is African culture. We do things our own way," was a common sentiment.

What a hypocritical justification for vile bigotry?

Imagine if the French or the British openly defended anti-black racism with a dismissive, "It's the European way. Africans need to respect our culture."

Do you think people in Senegal or anywhere else in sub-Saharan Africa would be 'culturally sensitive' to such a situation?

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Groundhog Day in Guinea

A long-ailing dictator finally dies. A corrupt, repressive regime heading a sclerotic state is overthrown, replaced by a military junta of young officers which tears up the constitution, promises to crack down on graft and improve the country's economic state and launches a purge of high ranking officials. 1984 in Guinea is repeating itself.

The death of the country's strongman, Gen. Lansana Conté, has cast confusion into a country that once billed itself an island of stability in a turblent West African sea. Conté himself came to power in a 1984 military coup under nearly identical circumstances as today. Less than a day after his death, a group of young soldiers took power and formed a ruling junta called the National Committee for Democracy and Development (known by its French-acronym CNDD).

As expected, the seizure of power was widely condemned by the outside world, including the US, European Union, African Union and the West African regional body ECOWAS. This is understandable, as these entities tend to have a pro forma opposition to military coups d'Etat.

What's notable is how the coup was generally welcomed by Guineans themselves. Pres. Abdoulaye Wade of neighboring Senegal was one of the few foreign leaders to urge recognition of the junta. The civilian opposition parties in Guinea were also notable in their failure to condemn the putsch.

The main difference is that outside countries and organization hold general principles like military intervention is always bad, civilian rule is always good, constitutionalism and elections are the be all and end all. These are good principles in theory and perhaps the only principles these organizations can actually enunciate but in practice, things are more nuanced.

The main reason Guineans themselves supported this military intervention against "constitutionalism" is because constitutionalism in Guinea was a fraud. The Guinean loi fondamentale was basically ignored by Conté and the cabal around him, including his minions in the judiciary. The constitution Conté himself (or his loyalists) wrote decreed that the head of state be a civilian. Yet Conté remained an active military general for nearly all of his reign. The constitution allowed the Supreme Court to declare a 'vacancy in power' should the president die or become seriously ill and that the National Assembly president become acting head of state. Despite Conté being a virtual vegetable for years, such a vacancy was never declared and the state remained paralyzed. In fact, the current National Assembly's mandate officially ended in 2006 as legislative elections have been repeatedly postponed. So it's debatable whether the normal constitutional process would even be legal in this case.

In suspending the constitution, the CNDD merely formalized what had been the reality of the past several years: the Guinean constitution had long ceased to be relevant to the country's politics.

And it's worth asking why the Conté regime's massive human rights abuses, abuses of power, corruption, arbitrary arrests and the like did not garner a fraction of the international condemnation received by the soldiers who put an end to this regime.

In reality, the military intervention was not a coup against an irrelevant constitution. It was a coup against an irredeemably corrupt system. The mafia around Conté has had a stranglehold on the economy for years. Had the "constitutional" transition taken place, this cabal would've retained its suffocating control on the floundering economy. People who had a vested interest in the system were never going to permit changes. They'd proven this in the way several of Conté's former prime ministers found their much needed ideas for reform strangled by those vested interests. A "constitutional" transition would've permitted the continuation of the dysfunctional, sclerotic institutions and faux democracy that had never been given a chance to work normally.

Conté had been a vegetable for years. It's an open secret that his cabal has been de facto running the country for a long time. The "constitutional process" would have both legitimized and perpetuated this disastrous state of affairs.

In principle, I don't like appear to be endorsing military coups. But when legality has long ceased to be part of the equation, what's the difference? Who cares whether the men illegally holding power wear khaki or not?

The main concern about the coup is talk of a split within the armed forces. High-ranking military officials opposed the coup and supported the "constitutional" continuation of the system from which many of them benefited. Junior officers, feeling they got the short end of the stick, led the coup. Guinea's new head of state, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, has publicly admitted divisions within the armed forces and urged dissident officers to remain calm, though this appeal came a few days after the junta arrested several top generals.

The CNDD's reign may not ultimately lead to democracy and good governance. But a continuation of the old system was guaranteed to prevent those things. A short-lived military junta is not sure to bring progress, but regime change is the only chance for such progress to have the slightest hope of getting enough oxygen to thrive.

It's worth remembering that the CMRN junta led by Conté from 1984-93 brought real improvements to the Guinean economic and political climate before they became too comfortable with power and fell prey to Lord Acton's Dictum.

The Guinean opposition is calcified and opposition parties are based largely on the cult of personality around their party leader. Nearly all older opposition parties have the same leader they did when pseudo-democracy was declared in the early 90s. Nearly all of the newer opposition parties formed since have been created by a dissident from an existing party who got pissed off and formed a party around their own self. Opposition parties are mostly ethnically-based and have no real ideological agendas... other than professing their belief in democracy (because that's what all parties say when in opposition).

But in fairness, the repression waged by Conté's regime really prevented opposition parties from having the political space to operate normally. Opposition party members were systematically harassed, subjected to arbitrary arrest and the like.

Neither was civil society really given much space to operate, except when they finally forced themselves onto the scene during the general strike of early 2007. And the general strike might prove to be one of the most significant events in Guinean history. It was the first civilian event that truly made the dictatorial Conté regime tremble with fear, because it was the first uprising that was truly popular in origin. It was the second time in Guinea's history that a grass roots uprising made a dictatorial regime blink, the 1977 market women's revolt being the first.

With the former opposition political parties impotent and incoherent, an organized and assertive civil society might be the difference between a military junta that keeps its promise to cede power via democratic elections this year and one that finds a million excuses to hang on to power ad infinitum.

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Friday, January 09, 2009


Since this has become an issue again, please read this blog's policy on commenting before leaving remarks. As a reminder, unsigned comments will not be published.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Congratulations to the Republic of Ghana for holding yet another free and fair election with minimal controversy, with no outside interference and marked by admirable conduct from the major candidates.

Thank goodness Ghana took its lessons in electoral democracy from Botswana and South Africa rather than Florida or Minnesota.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

DRC rebels sack Nkunda?

As if the region didn't need more chaos, elements of the main rebel group in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo claim to have fired their leader, Gen. Laurent Nkunda. A statement made to the BBC claim that that general was guilty of "bad leadership" and "bad governance". A spokesman for Nkunda denied the claim.

Analysts point out that Nkunda's group, which has been accused of widespread human rights abuses and war crimes, was one of the few factions in the war that actually spoke with one voice and that a split in the organization would make negotiations even more difficult and the situation more dangerous.

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