Monday, April 30, 2007

Forced feeding of girls in Mauritania

BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents has an interesting piece on the force feeding of young girls in Mauritania, noting how some in the arid country are starting to question that tradition.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Election eve in Mali

Some elections get an avalanche of international media attention in their run-up. Nigeria and the DR Congo come to mind immediately. Others just sort of sneak up on you.

Malians are going to the polls tomorrow to vote decide whether Amadou Toumani Touré should serve a second term as the country's elected president. The BBC has a good Q & A piece on the election.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

UN to promote international road safety

Originally published in Friends of Guinea's blog; reprinted with permission

As many... will remember, [Peace Corps] Guinea volunteers Jesse Thyne and Justin Bhansali were killed in a car accident near Pita, in central Guinea, back in 2000.

In response, many volunteers organized a memorial walk in their honor to bring attention to the issue of road safety. Traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of death in developing countries, with Africa the most affected.

According to a UN report, the economic costs of such deaths in Africa is $6.2 billion... which is equivalent to the combined gross domestic products of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde and the Gambia.

The UN has recognized how serious an issue road safety is by creating an independent Commission for Global Road Safety. One of the commission's members, ex-Formula One driver Michael Schumacher, notes in this opinion piece that 1.2 million people are killed each year in road accidents, 200,000 of whom in Africa. The scourge is the leading killer globally of people 10-25 years old

Schumacher points out a recently issued UN report that recommends action to cut injuries in developing countries, including a $300m 10-year programme to develop road safety skills, a 10% minimum spend on safety in aid-funded road projects, and a UN ministerial conference.

Prompted by the Make Poverty History campaign, the G8 leaders of the major industrialised countries have committed themselves to doubling aid and improving Africa's road infrastructure. Fewer than 20% of roads in sub-Saharan Africa are paved, and the Commission for Africa recommended that at least 90,000 miles of new roads are needed. But roads built to transport goods as fast as possible, designed to the cheapest specification without safety in mind, will make the world's most dangerous road network worse. The roads built to make poverty history must be safe.

It recommended roundabouts be built whenever possible, since they are reportedly 70 times safer than intersections.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Nigeria's 'Godfather syndrome'

Nigeria has officially completed the path from dictatorship to democracy to the facade of democracy. Sadly, the nonlinear path is followed by far too many African countries. Yesterday's presidential elections in the country were denounced as a charade by nearly all domestic and international observer groups. This came after severe violence marred local and state elections only a week earlier. Not surprisingly, Umaru Yar'Adua, President Olesegun Obasanjo's handpicked successor was overwhelmingly elected, at least according to official figures.

The European Union says at least 200 people have died in poll violence in the past week. Voter intimidation was another serious problem, along with polling stations opening very late or not at all. Even before the official campaign, many believe that a legal smear campaign was being waged against the current vice-president Atiku Abubakar... which started not long after the vice-president objected to attempts to allow Obasanjo to serve a third term.

Not surprisingly, Yar'Adua's main opponents, former military leader Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku, have called for the election to be re-run. But the Transition Monitoring Group, which had a whopping 50,000 observers on the ground, joined in the call, as did many other observer groups both domestic and international.

Though this piece in the Nigerian Vanguard opines that at least the increasing respect for the separation of powers is tempering the executive's excesses.

However, the Council on Foreign Relations notes that charisma and 'the Godfather syndrome' remain an all-too-important part of the Nigerian political scene.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Rwanda teetering

Reuters reports on the bitter controversy surrounding Paul Rusesabagina, described by some as the Oscar Schindler of Rwanda. The hotelier was featured in the book We Wish to Inform You We Will All Be Killed Tomorrow With Our Families and was the object of the Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda.

Rusesabagina has sparked outrage with warnings of another genocide, this time by Tutsis against Hutus, and for claims that war crimes by Tutsis during the 1994 conflict were being overlooked by biased traditional courts.

Hypersensitive strongman Paul Kagame, never one to react well to the slighest criticism, and other critics say he is profiting from the victims' misery and rewriting Rwanda's history for his own gain.

"Publicity hound, genocide revisionist, promoter of ethnic hate speech ... shamelessly banking on the genocide and endangering the survivors," are among the attacks directed at him.

He shrugs off such critics. "If I really wanted Tutsis killed, I could have done it at the time," he noted.

Speaking of Rwanda, US News and World Report has a rosy series on the country.

While it's nice to read a more-or-less optimistic piece on an African country in the US media, it's ironic that they chose Rwanda. 10 years ago, most people were willing to give Kagame the benefit of the doubt, only a few years after a hideous nightmare. But given the regime's expansionism, its hypersensitivity to all criticism and general dubious human rights record, the regime's free pass expired long ago.

Update: The New York Review of Books also has a piece on the tension in Rwanda.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

UN still in Liberia, but in limbo in the DRC

I was interested to read a piece in the Monrovia Inquirer (via reassuring people that the UN mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was not going to leave the country in the next six months. It looks like quite a bit of concern had been expressed in Liberia when the UN's mission there was extended by only six months, rather than a year. But the UN secretary-general's special representative to the country reassured the local press that the UN was not going to cut its mission short.

However, the Inquirer did point out that [t]he Security Council has also requested the Secretary-General of the UN Ban Ki-moon to present a detailed drawdown plan for the mission in his next report to the Security Council scheduled for June, which should include specific recommendations on force levels and options for a drawdown.

Things are not so straightforward in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The UN mission in the country, MONUC, has been temporarily extended by one month after Security Council members failed to find a compromise about how to reshape MONUC after last year's elections.

The Christian Science Monitor reported on the concerns of many Congolese on the potential ending of the UN mission.

Given the current tension in the country, with the main opposition leader in Portugal in de facto exile, calls for his immunity to be lifted and government intimidation of the local press, it could be argued that the DRC needs an extended UN mission at least as much as Liberia. Then again, there seems to be the political will in Liberia that will allow the UN mission there to succeed. It's not readily apparent if the same will can be found in the DRC.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A differing view on Darfur... as the conflict spreads

An op-ed piece in yesterday's Los Angeles Times co-written by the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders opines that sending foreign troops into Darfur, the genocide- and war-ravaged region of western Sudan, would cost lives rather than save them.

The authors argue that contrary to the simplistic dichotomy portrayed in the western media, the situation on the ground is much more complex. Certainly the Sudanese regime and its proxies have decided to exterminate Darfur's black population and is carrying out genocide with the help of the Riders of the Apocalypse, the infamous janjaweed militia, the piece notes.

But it also points out that rebel groups are increasingly targetting not the genocidal Janjaweed, but humanitarian aid organizations.

For example, in Gereida, in South Darfur, more than 100,000 displaced people have been cut off from humanitarian aid since mid-December after a rebel attack on relief groups that still dare not return.

But far from arguing that Darfur, which is bigger than Iraq, be abandoned, the authors call for an approach which they argue is both more likely to happen and more likely to help.

A united international community needs to pressure the Sudanese government and the rebels into a meaningful peace process — and if necessary, publicly challenge China to veto a U.N. sanctions resolution against any intransigent parties. In the absence of a peace agreement to monitor, what right do we have to demand that anyone — be they our children or U.N. blue helmets from the Third World — go and die in Darfur?

And while diplomatic efforts drag on at a snail's pace, South Africa's Daily Mail and Guardian has a piece on how the conflict has spread into neighboring Chad.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Anti-corruption Crusader accused of corruption

Then-US deputy war secretary Paul Wolfowitz was rewarded for his job as an architect of the Iraq Aggression (an incomprehensibly destructive role) by being named head of the World Bank (an organization whose job is to help countries develop). The sick irony was not lost on many observers. But not the only irony.

During his time as World Bank chief, Wolfowitz has made the drive against corruption the single most important focus of the bank.

Fair enough.

So what does it say that Wolfowitz himself is being accused of corruption. His girlfriend, a press officer in the Bank's Middle East bureau, was given a 35.5 percent raise shortly after Wolfowitz became the organization's chief. She was given a 7.5 percent raise last year.

"If World Bank staff rules had been respected, she was not to receive percentage increases greater than 12% and 3,7%, respectively. Her current salary of $193 590 is about $7 000 more than what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earns," according to the watchdog Government Accountability Project.

Wolfowitz's office originally said the raise was ok'd by the Bank's ethics committee. But members of the committee said they knew nothing of the apparent nepotism.

"Wolfowitz is much, much more concerned about who leaked the information than about how to rectify the situation. He's just furious," said a source inside the Bank.

All this demonstrates that a man can leave the Bush administration, but the Bush administration never leaves the man.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

'Asians go home!'

Protests in Kampala against the Ugandan government's decision to sell national forest land to an Indian-owned group turned violent.

Regional police commander Edward Ochom told Reuters officers opened fire with tear gas and live rounds after demonstrators began attacking Asian businesses and a Hindu temple, reported Kenya's Daily Nation.

Regular readers will know I am no fan of Yoweri Museveni, Uganda's strongman.

But when I hear protesters in Uganda yelling slogans 'Asians go home!', I get an eerie feeling in the pit of my stomach.

If such xenophobia has a familiar echo, there's a reason why.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Documentary on Ethiopia coffee growers

The excellent Independent Lens documentary series is airing a piece tonight entitled Black Gold, on the travails of coffee growers in Ethiopia and one man's fight for a fair price for the beans. The show airs tonight on stations of the US PBS network (local times vary).

Saturday, April 07, 2007

JJ Rawlings: You have to take power by force!

The Accra Daily Mail (via All Africa) reports on an alleged coup alert in Ghana. Not surprisingly, the man at the center of the allegations is the country's former strongman Jerry John Rawlings.

Rawlings, an insatiable egomaniac who detests nothing more than being out of the media spotlight, told a meeting of his National Democratic Congress (NDC) party that they couldn't wait for next year's elections to seize power.

"You think you can get power from the NPP [ruling New Patriotic Party] like that? You go get it by force."

He re-iterated, "You have to take it by force."

Its no idle threat coming from Rawlings. He has a proven record of doing exactly that, seizing power via military coups in both 1979 and 1981.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Rwanda: remembrance day

13 years ago today, a plane carrying the leaders of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down, killing both men. The event was used as the pretext to carry a pre-planned genocide in Rwanda. At least 800,000 people were murdered in the slaughter.

A few years ago, I marked the 10th anniversary of the massacres' start with a series of essays and analyses exploring the genocide more deeply as well as addressing many myths surrounding its causes and implementation.

As i wrote in my introduction back in 2004:

Ten years ago today, the airplane carrying the leaders of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down, killed both. This was the pretext used by a group of extremists to execute a pre-planned genocide against the minority Tutsi community. It also targeted Hutu political opponents, most of whom were moderates in favor of a power-sharing deal with the Tutsis, a deal opposed by the regime's hardliners. In the slaughter, around 800,000 people were killed in only 100 days -- approximately 5 1/2 murdered every single minute of every single day for over three months. It is widely believed to be the most "efficient" mass murder in history. And far from being secretive or in the fog of war like previous genocides, this was unique in that it was broadcast around the world live and in color on CNN and the BBC.

Pieces in the series can be found:
-Pre-genocide history of Rwanda
-How the genocide unfolded
-Myths and realities about the genocide (part 1)
-Myths and realities about the genocide (part 2)
-The genocide's orphans
-Hate media and its role in the genocide
-International and American law on genocide
-Post-genocide justice
-The post-genocide government
-Lessons and conclusions

Please take a moment from your day to remember the dead.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Worst fighting in 15 years in 'liberated' Mogadishu

Late last year, the Ethiopian army invaded and 'liberated' neighboring Somalia from the clutches of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). The UIC, as its name implies, was a union. A union of disparate groups. Some theocratic Islamists. Some nationalists. Many moderates who simply wanted the order that the UIC brought to a previously chaotic country.

The Ethiopian invasion purported to bring an end to the tyranny of stability that the UIC brought.

It succeeded in that regard.

Violence has erupted in the capital Mogadishu with serious clashes between Somali insurgents and forces of the Somali transitional national government and the Ethiopians. 155 were killed and over 300 wounded in the first four days of the fighting.

The UN has described the violence as the worst in 15 years.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Mbeki's shame (with updates)

Whenever South African president Thabo Mbeki's offers a pronouncement on Zimbabwe, no intelligent person takes him seriously anymore. His 'quiet diplomacy' has been a joke but he refuses to admit it.

Consider this recent analysis of the situation in Mugabeland (a better description of the country since it's become the personal fiefdom of the despot and his cronies) made by the discredited Mbeki.

He told The Financial Times that he believed Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe would peacefully renounce power at some point.

At some point.

What the heck does that mean?

More meaningless nonsense from Mbeki.

"You see, President Mugabe and the leadership of [the ruling] Zanu-PF believe they are running a democratic country," he said. "That's why you have an elected opposition, that's why it's possible for the opposition to run municipal government [in Harare and Bulawayo]."


That's why opposition members and leaders are regularly brutalized by Mugabe's thugs and criminals.

The reality is that there are only two ways that Mugabe will ever leave power. Either death by natural causes or a mass popular uprising that loses him the support of the military and his insecurity forces who push him out. Given the militias that are loyally to him personally, I can't imagine the second scenario would play out without bloodshed.

Mbeki is helpless and clueless when it comes to Zimbabwe. That may not be his fault but since it's the case, he'd be better off keeping his mouth shut rather than being a fool and a joke before the world.

Update: More news from 'democratic' Mugabeland that would make Mbeki blush if he had any shame. A columnist in Mugabe's Herald newspaper made veiled death threats against Gillian Dare, political and media officer for the UK embassy in Zimbabwe.

GILLIAN DARE, the purse holder and financier of the violence being perpetrated by the MDC, should be aware that by throwing all diplomatic etiquette into the dustbin and putting on her combat gear she has become a prime target for deportation.

Not only that, there is also a real possibility that the political officer, labelled in some sections of the media as a British spy, could one day be caught in cross fire as she plays night nurse to arrested MDC hooligans.

It will be a pity for her family to welcome her at Heathrow Airport in a body bag just like some of her colleagues from Iraq and Afghanistan.

They tried to murder Tsvangirai and other opposition members, so why not Dare?

Ah yes. Such is paradise, President Mbeki.

Further update: Ms. Dare should view these as no empty threat. Mugabe's thugs murdered a cameraman (from the state television station, mind you) who ran TV pictures of the brutally beaten opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. These images went around the world and caused even more pressure to be placed upon the Mugabe dictatorship.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Political opposition approves of Soro's nomination

The Senegalese daily Sud quotidien reports that the political opposition Côte d'Ivoire gave its 'firm support' to the nomination of former rebel leader Guillaume Soro as the divided country's new prime minister.