Friday, March 20, 2009

Madagascar mob coup confirmed by supreme court, condemned by southern Africa

The long power struggle in Madagascar between the elected president Marc Ravolomanana and the opposition leader Andry Rajoelina appears to have come to an end, with Ravolomanana resigning and Rajoelina being installed by the military. The seizure of power was confirmed on who knows what grounds by the country's supreme court. In addition to the illegal means by which Rajoelina confiscated power, he is also too young to be president according to the national constitution.

The BBC has a good Q & A on the power struggle. By all accounts, the dispute appears to be virtually free of ideology and was between two groups that wanted to gain/hold on to power for its own sake and by any means.

Ravolomanana and Rajoelina have more in common than they might admit. Both became very rich and well-known public figures. Both were elected mayor of the capital Antananarivo. Both used that power base to lead mobs to chase out the sitting president.

The main difference is that Ravolomanana used the mobs to chase out the former leader Didier Ratsiraka because the old admiral refused to recognize Ravolomanana's election victory. By contrast, Rajoelina has never stood in a national election. And in fact, the coup leader explicitly rejected an earlier call by Ravolomanana for a referendum on the then-legal president's rule.

The first act of 'President' Rajoelina was to dissolve the country's parliament.

The coup was denounced by the regional Southern African Development Organization and it is widely expected that the African Union will do the same.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sierra Leone: a poor, rich nation (guest essay)

By Holly McCarthy

I don’t normally watch too many movies, but I was stuck in LA with nothing to do and time to kill before I caught my flight back home. And so I decided to watch Blood Diamond. The movie touched me in more ways than one; it made me cry over the plight of the children of Sierra Leone; it made me realize how lucky we all are to live in a country that’s free of war and strife; and it made me think twice before going gaga over a diamond.

I’m not too big a fan of movies that are hard-hitting and tending towards the realistic, but Blood Diamond struck a chord in me because of the relationship between the characters of Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hansou, one of them a crooked diamond trader who finds a little bit of humanity inside him, and the other a tormented soul in search of his son who has been abducted by the rebels and forced to kill under the influence of drugs.

The movie brought home the fact that the war in Sierra Leone is very real, that people are mutilating children, robbing them of their childhood and forcing them to become soldiers in a war they don’t understand, and that the root cause for all this mayhem and carnage is the stone we call a diamond, the miraculous transformation of common coal into a precious stone through nature’s magic and munificence. It’s an irony that a land so rich is full of people who are dirt poor, that the very reason for the civil wars in the land is the precious diamonds that lie under the soil.

Charles Taylor, erstwhile president of Liberia and the man mostly responsible for the large scale destruction in Sierra Leone, is now awaiting trial in the Hague, and three of the generals who were tried for ordering their troops to cut off the limbs or otherwise mutilate children and those who opposed them have been found guilty of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity over the past ten years. But it’s not a happy ending for Sierra Leone – there’s news that Taylor may be a free man soon because the Hague is finding it difficult to find donors in this period of economic recession.

But even if Taylor is put behind bars for life, some other dictator will step in to rape the land and keep the spoils, not caring about who or what they destroy in the process. The Dark Continent and its nations can only see the light when they’re well and truly rid of the natural resources that they hold, the bounty that unscrupulous people are willing to sell their souls for!

Editor's note: This post was contributed by Holly McCarthy, who writes on the subject of the online school. She invites your feedback at hollymccarthy12 at gmail dot com


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mob topples president, opposition leader confiscates power in Madagascar

Madagascar opposition leader Andry Rajoelina has unilaterally declared himself president as mobs backing him forced out the constitutionally-elected president Marc Ravalomanana. This came a day after the legal head of state, whose constitutional term ended in 2011, offered a referendum on his rule as solution to the country's political crisis. Rajoelina rejected this democratic olive branch.

Earlier, the African Union had warned against a coup d'Etat in the country but obviously their call went unheeded.

More on this as events unfold.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, March 14, 2009

80 percent of Guineans in uniform 'living off drug money'

Editor's note: Reprinted with permission from Friends of Guinea blog

Guinea-Bissau, where the president and army chief were recently assassinated, has often been described as Africa's first narcostate. There are increasing fears that neighboring Guinea is becoming the second.

Last month, several senior police officials along with the son of the late Gen. Lansana Conté were arrested on allegations of collaboration with South American cocaine cartels.

This Associated Press article shares details of Ousmane Conté's confession and the troubling admissions contained therein.

A junior police officer claimed "Eighty percent of the men in uniform lived off of" drug money.

Some snipets from the AP piece:

When planes loaded with cocaine arrived, Guinea's presidential guard secured the cargo. Drug deals were conducted inside the first lady's private residence and in the president's VIP salon at the airport. To avoid detection, cocaine was sent to Europe in the country's diplomatic pouch.


The confessions [of Ousmane Conté and other former top officials] paint a picture of an illicit trade conducted with total impunity, with the help of officials, members of the president's family and security forces. They also show the large role Guinea and other West African countries are playing as drug hubs, and how vulnerable they are to the corrupting influence of drug dollars.


The inner circle of former dictator Lansana Conté, who ruled Guinea for 24 years until his death, was deeply corrupt, with officials driving opulent SUVs in a capital where most people live without electricity.


In a jailhouse interview this week with The Associated Press, [Ousmane] Conté explained how he did it. He said a friend brought in "medicine" for his humanitarian foundation, using a Red Cross plane that landed at night at the international airport in the capital, Conakry. When the plane arrived, his friend called to wake him. Conté then went to the airport accompanied by the presidential guard to secure the cargo, he said.

Conté claimed he did not know at first that the cargo contained cocaine. But his friend later told him, he said, and Conte accepted a $300,000 bribe.


The late president's brother-in-law said he met with Latin American drug dealers inside a villa owned by his sister, the former first lady. The head of the country's intelligence unit said he personally accompanied a convoy of trucks containing drugs to the capital. The former head of the police force was challenged to account for the source of funds for a university he is building.

Even the former head of the country's anti-drug unit was interrogated on state TV for his alleged role. The unit was in charge of seizing drugs when a cache was found. But instead of securing and destroying the drugs, the cocaine was often "recycled," said top police officials and foreign diplomats.

Labels: ,

Monday, March 09, 2009

Thai link to Guinea-Bissau murder?

Nigerian paper This Day reports that Guinea-Bissau's prime minister and defense minister both claimed a Thai link to the assassination of the country's army chief last week, which in turn apparently provoked the murder of the nation's president. Both officials claimed that the car bomb used to assassinate Brig. Gen. Batiste Tagme na Waie came from Thailand.


Saturday, March 07, 2009

Why do the Arab League, African Union and Muslim world hate Arabic-speaking African Muslims?

The arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court of Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir has provoked outrage in the Muslim world and in much of Africa. Bashir was indicted on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur, the western region of his country.

The arrest warrant is historic. A few former leaders, such as Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic and Liberia's Charles Taylor, have been indicted by international tribunals, but Bashir is the first sitting head of state to face such charges. Whether he faces trial is highly doubtful unless, like Milosevic and Taylor, he is apprehended after being evicted from power.

The condemnation of the arrest warrant by the African Union, the Arab League and the Muslim world in general is both understandable and predictable.

Understandable in that there are legitimate complaints about double standards. The early ICC trials have dealt with warlords from Uganda and the DR Congo, and now the controversial indictment of a Sudanese one. Many ask why Pres. Bush has never had to answer for the illegal aggression against and criminal rape of Iraq. Many ask why Israeli Prime Minister Ohlmert and his cabinet colleagues don't have to answer for what even independent human rights' organizations believe are its war crimes in the Gaza Strip. Critics claim that only Africans and Muslims are ever subjected to justice. And it's hard to argue.

Predictable in that these organizations are quick to rally around brutes in high places but silent about the crimes these brutes commit. The Arab League is quick to condemn Israel every time their prime minister sneezes without covering his mouth. But it's uttered barely a peep about the hundreds of thousands that have been slaughtered in Darfur. The AU doesn't quite adhere to this despicable silence, but they still seem more concerned about not offending sitting heads of state (coughMUGABEcough) than anything else. Its predecessor organization, the OAU, was often referred to as a country club for dictators. The AU is shedding that reputation far too slowly.

The Muslim world rightly believes it's under siege from the west. They notice that pretend western 'concern' about Muslim places like Afghanistan and Iraq resulted in military invasions and about Muslim Darfur in proposed invasion and an actual attempt at international justice. They notice that pretend western 'concern' about Christian places like Zimbabwe only ever results in endless talk.

The thing that the Arab League ignores in its knee-jerk defense of Bashir is that the victims in Darfur are Arabic-speaking. The thing that the African Union ignores in its knee-jerk defense of Bashir is that the victims in Darfur are Africans. The thing that the Muslim world ignores in its knee-jerk defense of Bashir is that the victims in Darfur are mostly Muslim.

The reason is that these reactions are less a knee-jerk defense of Bashir than a knee-jerk opposition to anything that can be manipulated into being portrayed as 'neo-colonialism.' And in many cases, 'defenders' of Bashir are really more interested in not setting a precedent that might be used in the future to subject themselves to justice.

These critics don't give a crap about the fact that hundreds of thousands of Arabic-speaking African Muslims are being slaughtered. They just wanted to take up the 'anti-colonial' mantle. As I've written several times before, it's both sad and sickening that it's remarkably easy to mobilize international opinion is by being against something or hating someones (no matter how right the position), but incredibly difficult when it comes to being in favor of something (helping the victims).

When the son of the former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher unsuccessfully allegedly tried to organize a coup against the monster running the oil-state of Equatorial Guinea, he was arrested and faced trial. This was widely praised in Africa as a blow against neo-colonialism, even by people who loathed the man who is arguably the world's worst despot.

So it begs the question: if it's right and proper to put someone on trial for a crime that ultimately killed nobody and only targeted a single individual, why is it so outrageous to put someone on trial for crimes that have actually killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced many more and resulted in countless rapes?

Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu is always a strong voice first and foremost in FAVOR of humanity -- all of humanity, not just any particular sub-section of it. He had an excellent op-ed piece in The New York Times about exactly this hypocrisy.

He asks of African leaders quite succinctly, "[A]re they on the side of justice or on the side of injustice? Are they on the side of the victim or the oppressor?"

It's a question everyone should ask themselves, especially apologists for Bashir.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Guinea-Bissau president, army chief assassinated; private broadcasters silenced

The Guinea-Bissau army has claimed it's not seeking power following the assassination of the country's president Joao Bernardo Vieira by members of the military. Earlier the same day, the army chief of staff, a rival of the president, was also slain. Observers believe Vieira's murder was in retaliation for the earlier killing.

The West African regional group ECOWAS is holding an emergency summit on the Guinea-Bissau crisis. African and Portugese diplomats flew into Bissau today to try to head off a possible military coup.

"The African Union appeals urgently to the political parties and actors of this country to exercise restraint and refrain from plunging the country once again into a spiral of power struggle," said a statement from the continental body.

Guinea-Bissau has been virtually taken over by cocaine traffickers, who use the country as a transit point between South America and Europe. It has been described as Africa's first narco-state and regional observers fear that cartels will overwhelm other West African countries with weak state institutions. In neighboring Guinea, the son of the country's late dictator (a long-time ally of Vieira) as well as several senior police officials were recently arrested on drugs trafficking charges.

I've seen nothing yet to suggest that the drugs barons were implicated in either assassination but the resulting power vacuum is sure to embolden them ever further.

The constitution, if respected, stipulates that the parliamentary speaker becomes acting president and must organize elections within 60 days.

Update: The army chief was killed by a remote-controlled bomb. Analysts have noted that this means of assassination is almost unheard of in Africa but very common in Latin America, which leads one to suspect the cocaine cartels.

Further update: Radio Netherlands Worldwide's Media Network is reporting that the all of Guinea-Bissau's privately-owned radio stations have been ordered to cease broadcasting. RNW quoted Media Foundation for West Africa's correspondent in the country as saying that the radio stations were ordered to cease broadcasting because they could spread false information about the mutiny. However, Samuel Fernandes, the army spokesman told the BBC that the closure was to ensure the security and safety of the journalists.

Labels: , ,