Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Burundian rebels have ordered the country's most senior Catholic leader to leave the country. The threat occured days after the assassination of the Vatican's envoy to the country, which the archbishop of Bujumbura blamed on the rebel FNL group. The FNL denied involvement in the assassination but "asked" Rome reassign the archbishop to another country.

The New York Times reported on a sad reality for many West Africans. The article reported on several young Beninois boys who joined the hard cycle of migrant labor. The boys, some as young as 8, were sent to break stones in the quarries of neighboring Nigeria. At home, the proceeds of their labor buy sacks of grain, pay a father's crippling debts, put tin roofs on mud huts and bring bicycles and radios to families who have nothing. Sometimes, after years of a boy's poorly paid work, his patron — in French, "master" — builds a house for his family. Sometimes, the boys grow up to be masters themselves: they come home dressed in smart new clothes, with cash in their pockets, and ferry a new batch of small boys to break stones across the border.

The UN's IRIN service reports that a drought emergency is hitting food security in Swaziland. "The current serious drought, which seems to be the worst in recorded history, threatens severely diminished harvests and serious water shortages in large parts of the kingdom," Ben Nsibandze, chairman of the National Disaster Relief Task Force, said in a statement.

After some problems earlier in the week, UN troops were finally allowed to enter territory controlled by the Liberian rebel group LURD.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

And South Africa's Daily Mail and Guardian reported on how Bogus Aids cures are flooding Swaziland. Authorities in the tiny mountain kingdom with one of the highest HIV rates in the world are struggling to fight against an influx of "miracle" cures. "In a blink of an eye, it seems, Swazis have gone from deep denial of the existence of Aids to panic as they realise all the people they are burying are not dying of witchcraft. The plethora of Aids 'cures' is a product of that," said Aids activist Thembi Dlamini.

In a surprising remark, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki declared that parties from the ruling NARC coalition are now obsolete. The Kenyan leader said the parties ceased to legally exist when the grand coalition was formed before last year's presidential elections. Needless to say, the theoretically defunct parties are not happy with this announcement and accused President Kibaki of reneging on his pre-election power sharing agreements.

Kenya's Daily Nation also ran a pair of commentaries. In an opinion about why US foreign policy has become baffling. The columnist noted that suspicion of America's global intentions seem to boil down to its policy-makers' inability to appreciate the role of nationalism in other societies. He added Instead of nudging Narc [government coalition] to pass the Freedom of Information Act and the equivalent of the First Amendment to buttress the fight against corruption, the US seems bent on taking away citizens' liberties as the price for fighting terror.

An editorial in the same paper complained that American diplomacy was becoming too heavy-handed. The paper noted the US is yet to deliver Kenya's share of the US-sponsored $100 million intended to benefit five East African countries. All that the US has done is to issue numerous travel advisories that end up badly damaging Kenya's economy. This has been made worse by the US pegging its support on Kenya passing anti-terror laws that will inevitably whittle away all our hard-earned civil liberties.

Eritrea has been condemned as the region's troublemaker by leaders of Ethiopia, Sudan and Yemen. The small Horn of Africa country has clashed with neighbor Ethiopia in a bloody two and a half year border war. Eritrea has also skirmished with Yemen over a Red Sea archipelago while Sudan accuses Eritrea of arming and training rebels. Though the three countries denied forming an anti-Eritrea alliance. Not surprisingly, Asmara dismissed accusations of mischief making.

Former Mauritanian leader Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidallah was given a five year suspended sentence for allegedly organizing a coup against the present regime (which overthrew him in a coup two decades ago).

Monday, December 29, 2003

The BBC, and other media outlets, report that overloading is being blamed for the Cotonou air crash that killed over a hundred people, including 15 Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers. Lebanese officials indicated that they refused registration to the airplane in question, only to have it approved by Guinean authorities. Daily Mail and Guardian used the disaster to pose the question 'What's wrong with flying in Africa?' The South African paper interviewed experts who cited various reasons such as:

-"there is no structure for working practices or for maintaining checks on operations"
-Lack of "framework for radio communication, ie for navigation means"
-"There is no administration for this almost non-existent structure, only a semblance of organisation that exists solely on paper."
-Air companies which are "extremely unstable financial basis and they only want to make money, not to spend it, so it's tempting to get a hold of any old plane that can be exploited cheaply"

Liberia's LURD has UN peacekeeping troop deployment to Tubmanburg, in the northwest of the country, reports IRIN. The rebel insists it will block futher international deployment until details of the disarmement agreement are finalized.

Several rebel ministers have returned to Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire's main city, to participate in the government of national reconciliation. Tensions had increased since rebels initially withdrew from the government and it remains to be seen if the latest move will bring stability to the country, since many, including myself, wonder if President Laurent Gbagbo still has control of his partisans.

The Ghanaian Chronicle reported on a surprising comment by a leading politician. The general-secretary of Ghana's opposition National Democratic Congress insisted that opposition parties also rig elections. Although many tend to accuse sitting governments of manipulating elections, it is equally possible that opposition parties may also manipulate elections, particularly in their strongholds, revealed Dr. Josiah Nii Aryeh, in calling for stronger electoral safeguards to prevent such problems.

Friday, December 26, 2003

A Christmas Day plane crash claimed over 100 lives in Benin, reports the BBC. The plane crashed shortly after take off from the West African country's commercial capital Cotonou. Most of the victims are believed to be Lebanese nationals going home for the holiday. The plane reportedly hit a building at the end of the runway as it was taking off.

Guinean head of state Gen. Lansana Conté was unsurprisingly re-elected in an election boycotted by the main opposition parties. Conté won nearly 96% of the vote, according to the BBC, while his only opponent, a little known figure, won barely over 4%. While the results were unsurprising, the reported turnout figure of nearly 83% has been met with incredulity. The main opposition parties called for their supporters to boycott the polls and all reports indicated they stayed away in large numbers. Gen. Conté's re-election means he will serve until 2010... assuming he lasts that long. By his own admission, the general, who took power in a 1984 military coup, is in ill-health and few believe he will live beyond a few more years.

The secretary-general of Mozambique's ruling Frelimo party muses that the country's democratic model might be too expensive. Armando Guebeza, who will be Frelimo's 2004 presidential candidate, told the Mozambican News Agency that a donor-funded form of democracy might prove unstable. Guebeza praised the current system for expressing "fundamental values that should never be called into question" only that he hoped it could be done more cheaply.

Monday, December 22, 2003

South Africa's Daily Mail and Guardian reports on how Guinea's ill ruler clings to power. General Lansana Conte will surely be re-elected after the results of yesterday's poll are counted (or "counted" depending on who you ask). The vote was boycotted by all the main opposition parties who insisted the poll was to already rigged in favor of the man who's been head of state since a military coup propelled him to power in 1984. The BBC reported that Gen. Conte "cast his vote without getting out of his vehicle." The 69 year old strongman's health (he has severe diabetes and reportedly had part of one his legs amputated) has been a critical question.. Many wonder if he will live to finish his seven-year term and, absent any apparent dauphin, what will happen to the country when he does pass on. Many are worried about Guinea's stability as it is in the heart of an extremely unstable region.

Friday, December 19, 2003

-The European Parliament denounces: 'Ivoirité is comparable to apartheid, Le Patriote (of Côte d'Ivoire). Note that this article is in French and that Le Patriote is considered close to those in the north of the country, who are the primary targets of Ivoirité. Nevertheless, the actual [English] text of the EuroParl's communique can be found here. I fear that the situation in Côte d'Ivoire might degenerate into another Rwanda. There are too many similiarities to ignore.

-First Elections for NGO Parliament, One World. Intriguing idea.

-Zimbabwe rules paper can publish, Reuters via CNN. Or a judge ruled that way at least. Whether or not the Mugabe regime, infuriated by the decision, respects the decision is another question.

-RWANDA: Commission to probe murder and harassment of genocide survivors, IRIN. There's something perverse about this headline.

-Blatter condemns European clubs, BBC. The president of soccer's world governing body condemns the giant European clubs' practice of poaching young African players as 'unhealthy, if not despicable' and 'neo-colonialist.' While his heart may be in the right place or perhaps he's pandering to African countries that were critical to his re-election in 2002, but it's another example of Mr. Blatter spouting off without offering how to address the problem.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

I was reading an article on presidential envoy and former cabinet secretary James Baker's visit to Paris. During the trip, he tried to persuade the French government, so smeared by the administration this year, to reduce Iraq's debt. The "cheese eating surrender monkeys," whose paratroopers rescued hundreds of Americans in the Ivory Coast a few months ago, agreed to the reduction.

Baker justified the appeal by stating The French and the U.S. government want to reduce the debt burden on Iraq so that its people can enjoy freedom and prosperity.

Perhaps the US, France and other western countries can also write of the crushing debts of African and Latin American countries as well so that they too "can enjoy freedom and prosperity."

-Tutu lashes out at Mugabe's supporters, SABC-South Africa. Another perspective on Archibishop Tutu's criticism of Robert Mugabe's apologists.

-Benni to retire from Bafana Bafana, Striker Benni McCarthy retires from the South African national team.

-SA to host for 2008 Nations Cup? , Ghana, Libya and South Africa are the three countries bidding to host Africa's premier tournament.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

-[Chadian leader Idriss] Deby Signs New Peace Deal With Northern Rebels, IRIN via AllAfrica. Possible end to the 5 year old rebellion in Chad?

-Nineteen shot dead in Ivory Coast, CNN. More instability in Ivory Coast. I am truly afraid that this country might become another Rwanda. There are too many similiarities.

-RWANDA: Genocide survivor group denounces killings, harassment, IRIN. Difficulties with the Gacaca genocide trials.

-Mbeki on reconciliation: 'Much remains to be done', Daily Mail and Guardian (South Africa). Perhaps he should adopt his much praised Mugabe vision for national unity.

-Morocco losing forests to cannabis, The Guardian (UK). The illicit cash crop is estimated to be worth nearly US$12,000,000,000 to trafficking networks.

-Mugabe lashes out at West, heaps praise on China, Daily Mail and Guardian. Seems appropriate.

-Driving to Bamako: a snapshot of Mali, BBC Radio 4. A series of reports from Mali.

Monday, December 15, 2003

I read an interesting article in South Africa's Daily Mail and Guardian concerning the Zimbabwe situation* entitled Tutu 'baffled' at Zimbabwe debacle. In it, Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu didn't think the decision to continue Zimbabwe's exclusion from the Commonwealth was unjustified (a point now academic, due to Zimbabwe's withdrawal from the organization).

He disagrees with his country's president, Thabo Mbeki, who claimed that Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe was treated badly. President Mbeki even reportedly suggested that Mugabe's seizure of white owned farms was "perhaps inevitable" (even though this is perhaps the least direct of his many crimes). The South African leader also suggested the Commonwealth's decision was designed to protect "white, settler, colonial kith and kin" thus deflecting attention from the miserable failure of his so-called 'softly softly' policy for gently persuading Mugabe to become a warm and fuzzy teddy bear. You'd think President Mbeki would be leading the charge to pressure Mugabe since Zimbabwe's collapse has a direct effect on South Africa's economy; further, Mbeki's spirited defense of a thug like Mugabe is at odds with the South African leader's vision of an 'African renaissance.'

Archbishop Tutu, for his part, noted, We have great expectations of the peer-review system of the African Union but it will be a futile exercise if we are not ready to condemn human rights violations unequivocally without fear or favour whatever the struggle credentials of the perpetrator. Human rights are human rights and they are of universal validity or they are nothing. There are no peculiarly African human rights. What has been reported as happening in Zimbabwe is totally unacceptable and reprehensible and we ought to say so regretting that it should have been necessary to condemn erstwhile comrades.

*-For more on the domestic situation in Zimbabwe, see Mugabe to cede favorite scapegoat? Unlikely..

-Liberia disarmament 'too popular', BBC. A good sign, I think.

-Be happy, Mugabe tells the starving, Daily Mail and Guardian. Zimbabwe's dictator employs the bread and circus routine to distract the destitute.

-West Africa's ivory trade thrives, BBC.

-CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: New premier forms government, Goumba appointed VP, IRIN.

-Nigerian fans celebrate, BBC. Enyimba becomes the first Nigerian club side to become African champions. Though the match was marred by crowd violence and a players' brawl in Ismalia, Egypt. It's the second year in a row the continent's premier competition ended with such violence.

Friday, December 12, 2003

I was saddened to learn of the passing of the great writer Ahmadou Kourouma at 76 years. Native of the north of Cote d'Ivoire, he lived in exile after having angered the regime of the late Felix Houphouet-Boigny and more recently, of the current head of state Laurent Gbagbo, Houphouet's sworn enemy. His first work is considered one of the great classics of African literature. Published in 1970, Le Soleil des indépendances (The Sun of the Independances) addressed the sensitive topic of what had become of the newly sovereign African states. He also received literary prizes for his excellent book En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages (Waiting for the Vote of the Savage Beasts) which skewered the autocratic party-state system and for the powerful Allah n'est pas obligé (Allah is Not Obliged) on the tragic life of a West African child soldier. I strongly recommend all three.

-Despots come in many colours, Sydney Morning Herald.

-Ivory Coast TV attack 'repulsed', BBC.

-Child Soldiers: Too Small to Be Fighting in Anyone's War, IRIN via AllAfrica.

-Liberian Child Soldiers Still Make Trouble Without Guns, IRIN via AllAfrica.

-Preparing for the Transition From War to Normal Life, IRIN via AllAfrica.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

-Firm seeks Charles Taylor bounty, BBC. A British firm said its looking for an investor to fund an operation to seize former Liberian dictator and indicted war criminal Charles Taylor in order to recoup a $2 million bounty allegedly offered by the US Congress. Any takers? His whereabouts aren't exactly secret.

-Monrovia's bloodiest day since peace deal, Associated Press via CNN. Militiamen loyal to Taylor rampaged in Liberia's capital demanding cash to give up their guns. Rioting continued after the UN officials in the country agreed to do exactly that.

-Ivorian foes to leave the frontline, BBC. Possible hope in the Ivory Coast conflict. But does President Laurent Gbagbo really retain control over the forces loyal to him?

-Getting girls into school is first step to reaching [Milenium Development Goals], UNICEF via One World.

-DR [Congo]: Rape, pillage continue to plague southern Lubero, North Kivu Province, IRIN.

-Mugabe slams 'global inequality', BBC. I wonder if Zimbabwe's thug-in-chief realizes that the freedom of information promoted by the conference at which he gave his tirade would necessarily represent a threat to his regime. He's certainly show little respect for such freedom at home, as editors of his country's Daily News paper can attest.

-ZIMBABWE: Rising numbers in need of food aid, IRIN. While Mugabe is off in a posh Swiss hotel blaming Tony Blair for all his ills, half his population (literally) is dependent on foreign food aid.

-Shy Nobel winner [JM Coetzee] dedicates prize to mother, Reuters via CNN. A voice of humaneness and sanity in an insane world.

The author of the blog Mostly Africa noted

US Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz issued a Determinations and Findings paper listing the countries that can bid on reconstruction in Iraq. The African countries on the list are ... Angola, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Morocco, Rwanda, and Uganda.

Now this is interesting. Of those, Egypt and Eritrea are pure dictatorships. Angola is a corrupt multiparty authoritarian state. Morocco is a monarchy with a parliament and prime minister but a system in which the king retains very strong powers and prerogatives. Rwanda and Uganda are all very heavily "managed" sort-of democracies. Uganda suffered through a brutal civil war in the early 80s but is still facing a bloody rebellion from a small band of fanatics in the north. Angola is emerging (hopefully) from three and a half decades of nearly non-stop war. Eritrea and Ethiopia recently fought an idiotic and pointless war against each other. Rwanda is still healing from the wounds of the 1994 genocide. Morocco currently maintains a controversial occupation of Western Sahara.

ALL of these countries should focus their reconstruction, humanitarian, democratic institution building and anti-poverty efforts on their own people.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

-Mbeki's dangerous game, Daily Mail and Guardian. The South African president's "strategy" referred to as 'a dangerous game' by one analyst.

-Multinationals promise Aids help, BBC. Interesting to see how this develops.

-LIBERIA: Former fighters in second day of riots, UNMIL offers initial payment, IRIN. The difficulties of demobilization.

-Chiluba on trial for corruption, BBC. The former president of Zambia, who came to power on an anti-corruption platform, prosecuted by his former vice-president.

Monday, December 08, 2003

An article in the British paper The Independent carried a startling admission. A senior executive of GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world's largest pharamaceutical giants, has admitted that most prescription medicines do not work on most people who take them.

Dr. Allen Roses noted The vast majority of drugs - more than 90 per cent - only work in 30 or 50 per cent of the people. I wouldn't say that most drugs don't work. I would say that most drugs work in 30 to 50 per cent of people. Drugs out there on the market work, but they don't work in everybody.

Most pharmaceutical giants defend their huge price increases, which go up much, much faster than the rate of inflation, by saying they saying they need to recoup the cost of research and development (even though they reportedly spend far more on advertising). This is also the same reason big pharmaceuticals oppose the development of reasonably priced generic AIDS drugs to fight the greatest scourge of humanity. Sadly, Dr. Roses' admission may bolster domestic African critics who say AIDS drugs do more harm than good or that they're a waste of money.

So this begs the question, if most drugs don't work on 50-70 percent of the people, then how effective is this R&D? And why are the prices so high for something that's so ineffective?

-Zimbabwe row mars summit finale, BBC. Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe pulled his government out of the Commonwealth. And what followed was a collective yawn.

-Former Congo PM held in Kinshasa, BBC. Bizarre story about the arrest of the former prime minister of Congo-Brazzaville reportedly arrested the capital of the neighboring DRC after trying to enter the country on a fake identity.

-First steps taken towards lowering military tension [in Ivory Coast], IRIN.

-[Ivorian] Rebels release prisoners, refuse to return to Abidjan, IRIN.

-Draw for the 2006 World Cup qualifiers, FIFA. The group of death: Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast.

Friday, December 05, 2003

So the present meeting of the Commonwealth (former British colonies) in Abuja, Nigeria, is being dominated by the question of Zimbabwe. The Southern African state was suspended from the organization last year because of rigged presidential elections.

Although it's land "re-distrbution" policies (which seizes land owned by white farmers and gives it to high-ranking officials of the ruling party) has gotten more press in the west, its the least of most Zimbabweans' concerns compared to the government's horrific human rights' record. Church leaders in the country have accused Robert Mugabe's regime of running "re-education" camps and harassing those religious leaders who speak out. It also stands accused of using food aid as a political weapon. Its attacks on protest marches, its war (literally, not just figuratively) on what remains of a domestic free press and its banning of foreign journalists seem mild by comparison to these other things.

Whatever decision is taken on Zimbabwe's Commonwealth status is going to have no impact on the appalling conditions in the country. Suspending it hasn't changed anything. Southern African leaders' "softly softly" approach of flattering the rogue only massages his huge ego and hasn't changed anything either. Mugabe has said he would rather leave the Commonwealth than cede any of Zimbabwe's independence (ie: his absolute personal power).

Although I understand no one likes their neighbor to be criticized by outsiders, Southern African leaders vehement defense of Zimbabwe's apartheid state is shameful. They should be in the forefront of pressuring the dictatorship since it is their countries, not Britain or Australia, who are most directly impacted by Zimbabwe's collapse into chaos. How can these leaders demand the west do more to help suffering Africans (AIDS, peacekeeping interventions, malaria) if they serve as apologists for a brute like Mugabe whose causes a great deal of suffering for Africans?

Thursday, December 04, 2003

-Feisty press under fire in Africa, The Christian Science Monitor. The independent press which started to bud in Africa for the last ten years is under attack in many countries. Sometimes with laws, like in Ethiopia or Botswana. Sometimes literally like in Zimbabwe.

-UN tribunal convicts media leaders of genocide, IRIN. The flip side, that is a media outlet that was complicit in genocide. The UN Tribunal for Rwanda convicted three Rwandans who ran Radio Television Mille Collines (RTLM). Known as hate radio, RTLM was an integral part in the 1994 Rwandan gvenocide as it broadcast lists of names of Tutsis to be executed by the mobs. Two of these executives were sentenced to life imprisonment and the other to 35 years.

-Charles Taylor wanted by Interpol, BBC. Interpol issued a global notice of arrest for former Liberian dictator and indicted war criminal Charles Taylor. Nigeria, where Taylor is in exile, has refused to arrest Taylor on the basis of this notice, calling it "political."

-Ivorian rebels to 'give up arms.', BBC. I suspect few Ivorians will rejoice until promises become fact.

-Rape by father 'not so bad' mother tells daughter, Daily Mail and Guardian of South Africa. Chilling article, yet a testament to the condition in which many women live around the world.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Today is World AIDS day. It's a day to inform people about the pandemic which represents by far the greatest threat to humanity. Over 39 million people are presently infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. About 14,000 are infected every day.

Susan Hunter, former consultant for the organization UNAIDS, has compared AIDS to the black death that swept across Europe centuries ago, though AIDS has already killed numerically more people. In a radio interview, Hunter did demographic studies which showed that only two other events in the last 2000 years provoked as cataclysmic a loss of life as the present AIDS pandemic: the black death and the European conquest’s eradication of the Native American populations.

Nearly 3,000,000 people have died of the disease this year alone; the Holocaust took several years to achieve death of that magnitude. To put it another way, twice as many people died of AIDS every single day this year as died in the 9/11 attacks. That’s three millions people in a single year eliminated by a disease that’s manageable, if not curable.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that many governments had described AIDS as a security threat but had devoted barely a fraction of the resources used to fight terrorism or search for weapons of mass destruction. I feel angry, I feel distressed, I feel helpless... to live in a world where we have the means, we have the resources, to be able to help all these patients - what is lacking is the political will.

Annan also ripped some African leaders who he said were too timid or embarrassed to confront the disease head on.

Click here for access to a plethora of stories on the topic.