Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Hope in northern Uganda

With the recent truce between the Ugandan government and LRA indicted war criminal rebels, there may be reason for hope that northern Ugandans will finally be able to resume normal lives after two decades of hell. Oxfam takes a look at their work in the region and portraits of child soldiers they are trying to help.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

'Whiter than White' ANC?

South Africa's Daily Mail and Guardian reports on wilting criticism by journalist John Pilger against the ruling African National Congress. In his new book, Pilger accuses the one-time liberation movement of selling out to corporate bosses.

"It was as if the ANC aspired to be whiter than white in its relations with the rulers of the world," Pilger writes. "Low tariffs would entice foreign imports; low inflation would preside over low wages and high unemployment ... and the rand would be subjected to the vagaries of the market."

Even pro-business economists have questioned such fiscal austerity in the face of pressing social needs, notes The DM&G. But the government says that wealth cannot be redistributed if it is not generated and that macroeconomic stability is needed for growth, which in turn will create jobs and provide a tax base to expand social services.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Nigerian troops rampage in the Delta

Late last week, Nigerian federal troops allegedly went on the rampage in the Niger Delta's main city of Port Harcourt. Residents say that the troops were furious after learning one of their comrades had been killed in a shootout and decided to set fire to slum houses. The army blamed the fires on militants, but residents rubbished these claims. They said that the soldiers then poured petrol onto their houses and set them on fire, accusing the community of sheltering militants.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Ugandan govt, LRA sign truce

The Ugandan government and the rebel war criminal Lord's Resistance Army have have signed a truce. The deal hopes to end the nightmare that has terrorized northern Uganda for two decades.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Guinea's 'entrenched culture of police brutality'

Guinean security forces routinely torture, assault and even murder people with total impunity, according to the watchdog organization Human Rights Watch (HRW).

In a report released earlier this week, HRW details how police brutally torture men and boys held in police custody. The victims are individuals suspected of common crimes as well as those perceived to be government opponents. Once transferred from police custody to prison, many are left to languish for years awaiting trial in cramped, dimly lit cells where they face hunger, disease and sometimes death.

The report is based on HRW interviews with 35 people, including many children, who provided detailed and consistent accounts of mistreatment and torture by police officers while in police custody. Victims told Human Rights Watch that, during police interrogation, they were bound with cords, beaten, burned with cigarettes and corrosive chemicals, and cut with razor blades until they agreed to confess to the crime of which they were accused.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Big Picture

In my companion blog Musings of a (Fairly) Young Contrarian, I decided take a broader look at a handful of important issues that are having a serious impact on millions of people around the world. Some of these topics might be of interest to Africophiles. They are:

-The Trade in Light Weapons

-The Targetting of Humanitarian Aid Workers

-Child Soldiers


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The evil imperialists aren't being imperial enough

The excellent Black Looks blog noted a comment left on a South African website regarding the elections in the DR Congo.

The presumably Congolese noter bemoans foreigners to the DRC because they support Kabila, who is not even a Congolese. Their support is based on profit not on sincerity. He promised and already gave them all the mining contracts. South Africa only wants our gold, cobalt, zinc, coltrane, manganese, diamond and so on, but it does not care about the well-being of our people. All the proceeds of these contracts will come back here, benefit South Africans while our people continue to suffer. Some will go into the pockets of Motsepe, Tokyo, Cyril, Mbeki, Phumzile [South African politicians] and other capitalists. For South Africans, we mean nothing. Look, they way they treat us here. Like animals, they insult and hate us. South Africans are full of xenophobia. What are doing in Congo if we are animals. What is the UN anyway? They are the useless puppets of US and Britain. We, refugees are suffering here and ill-treated by South African citizens including Home Affairs officials and police while their govt looks on, where is the UNHCR? Look at Palestine and Lebanon, where is the UN? Im telling you it is gonna be war in Congo if Kabila (Mbeki’s son, puppet and business partner) wins. Halala Congo and Lumumba! Phantsi Mbeki, IEC and capitalism!

The comment betrays a probably understandable pent up rage. The situation in the DRC has been desperate for a decade and a half. And the place has been pillaged by merciless foreign exploitation for more than the last century. It could be argued that the DRC was never truly decolonized.

However, the UN bashing gets tiresome. Those in the developing world think the UN is a puppet of Britain and the US. The US far right thinks the UN isn't sufficiently puppet-esque. This noter complains the UN is a puppet of the evil imperialists and then a couple sentences later, whines that the UN isn't doing enough for the DRC. Why would anyone want alleged malefactors to be more involved in your country?

There's no question that neo-imperialsm is alive and well in the world, not least in Africa. But one can't simultaneously that foreign powers are doing too much AND not enough.

The outside world (via the UN) have donated $500 million just for the conduct of these elections plus offered significant logistical support. They've provided thousands of soldiers for the largest UN peacekeeping mission in history. They've donated hundreds of millions more dollars for refugees, medical care and other humanitarian considerations. If this is meddlesome imperialism, then let the UN and international community withdraw peacekeepers and aid completely and let the Congolese fend for themselves.

Of course if that happened, then the same people would scream that the "racist" international community is "allowing" the ensuing humanitarian crisis.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Guinea's power vacuum

The BBC's Focus on Africa magazine has a good summary of the internal power struggles within the Guinean regime and the risks of the country becoming a failed state. Gen. Lansana Conté's regime actually did quite a bit to modernize Guinea during his first decade in power, almost all of which was under formal military rule. But shortly after the implementation of the facade of democracy, such modernization stalled to the point where the Guinean state is creaky and sclerotic, virtually irrelevant to most citizens except to occassionally harass them. When I lived there, I was often told by Guineans that they'd learned a lot from watching the anarchy that was then consuming their southern neighbors of Sierra Leone and Guinea (and has also since affected western neighbors Côte d'Ivoire and northern neighbors Guinea-Bissau) and would never let that happen in their country. Most ordinary Guineans are smart enough to realize this but the question is will the political elites plunge their nation into the abyss rather than concede an inch of power or will they show enough noble wisdom to save their country? Sadly, noble wisdom seems to be greatly lacking in the Guinean political class.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Ivorian identity politics

The always solid Christian Science Monitor has a good summary of the Pandora's Box of identity politics in Côte d'Ivoire.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Dakar drowning in garbage

Senegal's capital Dakar is one of the most interesting cities I've ever visited. Dusty, vibrant, expansive without feeling overwhelming. It was definitely different from the other national capital I've spent much time in, Conakry, which had a more provincial, constrictive feel.

But like many African capitals, the Senegalese metropolis has been faced with a massive population growth in recent decades. As the IRIN news service reports, one of the big issues confronting municipal authorities in Dakar is how to deal with mountains of garbage produced by the swelling population.

The African Development Bank has estimated that annually each city produces an average 300,000 tonnes of waste, but that only 40-60 percent is actually collected.

This has serious consequences for public health.

"For over a year, the garbage wasn't picked up. You can't allow this in the rainy season. It can bring mosquitoes and malaria, as well as other sicknesses," said Fatou-Sakho Diallo, who lives in Dakar's middle-class Liberté 6 district, where residents tossed trash onto the street when they could no longer bear to have it sitting outside their homes.

IRIN noted that only 5 years ago, the civic authorities awarded a 25 year contract to an Italian firm for trash collection. But a myriad of civic problems, such as poor and congested roads and continued urban expansion, have caused refuse pickup to deteriorate rapidly. Dakar officials have threatened to cancel the contract if service doesn't improve.

But even a new trash hauling company won't address the underlying economic problems that cause Senegalese and other Africans to flee their villages for the cities in the first place.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Ngugi wa Thiong'o

The UK Independent did a a nice portrait of the Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o. While some American neo-cons argue that the oppression of dictatorship is far worse than the oppression of chaos, reading this story makes you wonder. The author was once imprisoned without trial in the 1970s for writing a play critical of the government and fled for his own safety in 1982. He returned to the country following the arrival of democracy in Kenya only for intruders to break into his apartment who stabbed and raped his wife in front of him and branded him with cigarettes when he tried to intervene.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Familiarity breeds contempt?

I wonder what it says about the two main candidates in the DR Congo's presidential election that the incumbent head of state Joseph Kabila is dominating in rebel-held parts of the country while the rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba is strongest in the government-controlled capital of Kinshasa? Perhaps it's tellign that voters in closest proximity to each of the two men overwhelmingly oppose them.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ivorian 'peace process' in trouble again

For the first time in, well, two or three days, the Côte d'Ivoire 'peace process' is yet again in trouble. As always, French-speakers can find comprehensive coverage of the crisis at

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Seditious journalists or anti-democratic president?

Nigeria is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. But at least for the last few years, one could call Nigeria a democracy. And the country has always had one of the most vibrant press scenes in all of Africa, even during the dark days of despotic military rule. Yet all of these traits have come under attack recently, except for the corruption of course.

First, supporters of President Olesegun Obasanjo tried to manipulate the federal constitution to allow him to be president-for-life. Fortunately, the bid was rejected but a message was sent. And Obasanjo has declared corruption public enemy number one, his actions call this into question, while at the same time endangering press freedom.

Apparently, Pres. Obasanjo has a presidential jet. That is not surprising, considering how much time he spends dealing with issues outside Nigeria. Maybe if he spent more time working on the mess at home, the country would be better off.

Anyway, a reporter from The Daily Independent newspaper wrote an article questioning the age and cost of the presidential jet. The article also suggested that the plane may have experienced technical problems.

Another journalist discussed the article on a television show.

In any normal country, this would not be a big deal. But to Obasanjo, always hypersensitive to criticism, it was the end of the world. So for this ordinary article of competent investigative journalist, the reporters were charged with sedition.


They were accused of seeking to "bring into hatred or contempt or excite disaffection against the person of the president."

According to this twisted definition, any critic of the president could be charged with sedition.

Pres. Obasanjo is seen as one of the more enlightened heads of state on the continent. His jet-setting has given the impression of a true pan-African leader. Some have even tipped him to fill the soon to be vacant post of president of the African Union commission.

But this sort of garbage is what is we expect of Robert Mugabe, not of the man who would be Africa's face to the world.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Daily Chalk

Blogs are certainly becoming an increasingly influential segment of the media. Many credit blogs for helping the victory of Connecticut anti-war candidate Ned Lamont over incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman and of generally reviving the American left, so long cowed by the right's fake patriotism bludgeon. Some argue that personal media (blogs, podcasts, etc) are already starting to reshape western attitudes toward Africa. And that's certainly true. But in post-conflict countries, the messenger can be decidely low-tech.

The New York Times ran a good piece on how one Liberian, described as an 'information evangelist,' is using blackboards to help keep the citizenry informed.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

DRC election mess

Sadly, the promising elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo risk descending into exactly the kind of farce that some expect in an African election. While voting day itself got the thumbs up, international observers have reported that counting has been, well, rather creative. They've reported votes being dumped and vote tallies that do not add up. Monitors in the eastern part of the country have said their work has been severely restricted. There was a suspicious fire in one of the main voting stations in the Kinshasa, an opposition stronghold, destroying large numbers of ballots. The center was meant to process a quarter of the ballots in the capital. It's not clear which of these represent malfeasence and which represent the chaos to be expected in a country holding its first free elections in the lifetime of most of its citizens. Hopefully, authorities will get a handle on things quickly to ensure the credibility of these key elections will be respected by the population. This may be the DRC's best chance in a generation to get it right.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

NGOs: accountability and responsibility

Though I don't normally listen to it, I happened to catch the BBC World Service show World Business Review which had a good program on non-governmental organizations (NGOs), their responsibilities and accountabilty. The show featured a lively discussion between a representative from the British charity War on Want and one from a charity set up by the oil multinational Shell.

Friday, August 04, 2006

'Living With Illegals'

On of the most unfortunate aspects of CNN is that while their international service is pretty good, their domestic American service is filled with the same sensationalist garbage as the other cable 'news' channels. Or perhaps the real unfortunate part is that the international service, which is something approximating a real news channel, is not available to most Americans.

Sadly, it's only CNN International that will be showing this excellent documentary by journalist Sorious Somura entitled 'Living With Illegals.'

Somura, who gained international recognition for his documentary Cry Freetown, joined a group of illegal immigrants trying to make their way into a Spanish enclave north of Morocco. Entry to that enclave gives people access to the entire European Union.

Despite the hideous dangers, the trip attracts massive numbers of African migrants every year.

Somura essentially lived the life an undocumented migrant.

This isn't the first time Somura has 'walked in the shoes' of those he covered. He's experienced hunger, life as a refugee and as an orderly in a Zambian hospital dominated by AIDS patients.

'Living With Illegals' will air on CNN International on Saturday August 5 at 1900 GMT.