Tuesday, July 31, 2007

ICC asked to investigate Nujoma

The Nambian Society of Human Rights (NSHR) recently asked the International Criminal Court to investigate former president Sam Nujoma. The group accuses Nujoma and others of being responsible for the deaths of thousands of people during the independence war against colonial South Africa., which ruled Namibia at the time.

The NSHR said it had evidence that bodies were pushed down a deep crevasse near the border with Angola.

The petition calls for Mr Nujoma and three others to be investigated for "instigation, planning, supervision, abetting, aiding, defending and or perpetuating" the disappearances of some 4,200 people.

Nujoma seemed unperturbed by all this. At a regional conference of the ruling SWAPO party (the former liberation movement), he called on Namibians to 'Let Swapo rule forever'.

However, this did not meet with unanimity even among the party faithful, according to The Namibian newspaper.

"This is not how democracy works," a source close to the Swapo national leadership told The Namibian after the opening. "A vibrant democracy has room for other political parties. One cannot say Swapo will always win."

Unlike in nearby Zimbabwe, Namibia is ruled by a party, not a man. SWAPO courageously blocked efforts by Nujoma to rig the constitution to allow the father of the nation to serve as president-for-life. Though some believe that Nujoma is angling for a return to power once the term of the incumbent Hifikepunye Pohamba expires, a plan that would certainly be hindered by an ICC prosecution.

Update: Almost as if to give credence to the accusations about how the then-guerilla organization was run, the secretary-general of SWAPO allegedly made a death threat against the head of the human rights' group who called on Nujoma to be investigated.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Lack of electricity in Guinea: a 'geological scandal'

The Associated Press did a story on how the parking lot of the international aiport in a suburb of the Guinean capital Conakry has become a hub for students. The airport is one of the few places in the capital where the lights don't go out.

The average Guinean uses less electricity in a year than the average American uses in two and a half days. Many children from Conakry who want to study gather after dark around light fixtures in the airport's parking lot.

Parents require girls to be chaperoned to the airport by an older brother or a trusted male friend. Even young children are allowed to stay out late under the fluorescent bulbs, so long as they return in groups.

"My parents don't worry about me because they know I'm here to seek my future," says 10-year-old Ali Mara, busy studying a diagram of the cephalothorax, the body of an insect.

Even this informal gathering has its structure. The children sit by age group with 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds on a curb in a traffic island and teenagers on the concrete pilings flanking the national and international terminals. There are few cars to disturb their studies.

To illustrate how low expectations are in Guinea, after 23 years of Gen. Lansana Conté and his cronies, one university student points out that he has an advantage over Guineans from other parts of the city (let alone the interior of the country). "We have an edge because we live near the airport," he said.

In a country referred to as 'the water tower of West Africa,' The lack of electricity is "a geological scandal," says Michael McGovern, a political anthropologist at Yale University... The Oregon-sized territory has rivers which if properly harnessed could electrify the region, McGovern says. It has gold, diamonds, iron and half the world's reserves of bauxite, the raw material used to make aluminum.

Another student admitted that sitting on the hard concrete of the airport's parking lot was uncomfortable, but added that "we prefer this hurt to the hurt of not doing well in our exams."

And bear in mind that if elecricity in Conakry is erratic, it is infrequent in other big cities and virtually non-existent everwhere else.

When I was in Guinea from 1995-97, I kept hearing about how the Garifiri Dam in western Guinea was going to dramatically expand electric power in the country. Ten years later, the dam still only provides power to some parts of coastal and central Guinea.

Only one-fifth of Guineans have access to electricty and most of those that are subjected to regular power cuts. 80 percent have no electricity at all.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Mauritanian refugees to be repatriated from Senegal

I discovered a very interesting site recently: Telediaspora.net. The site is a regular portal providing the usual news and such, but with an interesting twist. It offers live feed of state television networks from Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal, Mali and Guinea.

Anyway, I was watching the news from Senegal's RTS and they did a story about rapprochement between Senegal and Mauritania. Banjul's Daily Observer did a story as well.

The two countries fought a border in 1988 that left thousands of mostly black Mauritanians stranded in Senegal and Mali. Even though Senegal had a change in leadership in 2000, no progress was made in the refugee issue until the military that overthrew Mauritanian strongman Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya. Senegalo-Mauritanian relations seem to have thawed since newly elected president Ould Cheikh Abdallahi took over in Mauritania.

The new president recently conducted a two-day visit to Dakar to meet with his Senegalese counterpart Abdoulaye Wade. The two countries' foreign ministers met as well.

Mauritania has agreed to repatriate all Mauritanian refugees trapped in Senegal since 1988, reports The Daily Observer

A joint communique also called for expanding trade and common investment between the two countries and expressed their satisfaction over the progress being made in the construction of the Tangiers-Nouakchott-Dakar Trans-Saharan road and the "encouraging evolution" of the plans for the Tangiers-Casablanca-Nouadhibou -Nouakchott-Dakar sea link.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Climate change in Cape Verde

US' National Public Radio has a pair of stories on a place little reported on in both the western and African medias: Cape Verde.

All Things Considered had a piece on a community of refugees from Cape Verde in the USA, who'd fled the archipelago because of drought.

Morning Edition had a story on its own story on how climate change is affecting Cape Verde and how residents are coping.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Help for Sierra Leone's amputees

A column in The Christian Science Monitor praises the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone's groundbreaking first war crimes' convictions. But it also said that such justice must also be accompanied by reparations to the victims of the country's hideous civil war.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Drugs trafficking hits West Africa

It's no secret that failed states or countries with weak central authority are often havens for criminality, both internal and international. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Guinea-Bissau has already become a haven for drug traffickers and risks becoming West Africa's first narco-state.

Since 1998, the country has suffered from coups, civil wars, military mutinies and general political instability.

The CFR reports: Western officials estimate $150 million of cocaine flows into Guinea-Bissau per month from Latin America, equal to the country’s annual gross domestic product.

According to the Voice of America, the United Nations' special representative for West Africa also cites Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso as other hubs for drugs' smugglers.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Another child kidnaped in the Niger Delta

Things just keep going downhill in Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta. A few days after militants kidnaped a three-year old British girl, a two-year old son of a local chief has also been seized. The BBC reports that while adults have often been kidnaped for ransom, especially oil workers, the seizing of children is a troubling new phenomenon.

The newly-elected (sort of) president Umaru Musa Yar'adua needs to put this near the top of his priority list.

Yet This Day newspaper wonders if Yar'adua is really in charge.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Gambian fans in visa snag

The Gambian Daily Observer newspaper has an interesting piece on the visa fiasco faced by soccer fans in the country. Over 200 supporters hoping to see their national team play in the Under-20 World Cup in Canada but were denied visas by the Canadian embassy in Accra, Ghana.

Apparently the initial anger at the Canadians was misplaced. The Observer (which I presume is a state-run or ruling party newspaper due to sycophantic references to 'the benevolent Gambian leader, Dr Alhaji Yahya Jammeh') reports that the national Department of State for Youth, Sports and Religious Affairs bungled the situation by sending visa applicants and passports to Accra rather than to the consulate in Dakar, Senegal, as they'd been instructed by Canadian officials.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Africa's top oil producer needs at least $40 billion to meet MDGs

According to the BBC, more than half of all Nigerians live poverty (though it doesn't say what the standard is). This despite the fact that the country is one of the world's most important oil producers.

The poverty advisor to former president Olesegun Obasanjo recently said that Nigeria needs between $5bn to $7bn per annum to achieve the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015.

According to the UPI, Nigeria has taken in an estimated $300 billion in oil revenue since the 1970s, or an average of roughly $8 billion a year.

I suspect that if even half of those revenues had actually gone toward poverty reduction or other broad-based social programs, Nigeria would be in a lot better shape than it is now.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Demobilization in Ituri

The UN's IRIN news service reports on some welcome news from Ituri. The international body has launched a program to demobilize some 4500 in the northeastern province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The programme is being implemented by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), with the DRC government, MONUC and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Ex-fighters participating in the programme include former members of the Front Nationaliste et Intégrationniste, led Peter Karim; the Forces de Résistance Patriotique en Ituri of Cobra Matata; and the Mouvement Révolutionnaire Congolais, headed by Mathieu Ngudjolo.

The three groups had remained active, fighting each other and attacking civilians, despite peace agreements culminating in presidential and parliamentary elections in DRC in 2006.

The UNDP believes that about 30 percent of the soldiers will join the newly reconstituted national army while the rest will rejoin civilian life.

Interestingly, the demobilised will this time participate in community development activities, such as the repair of roads, bridges, schools and water-supply facilities and receive a $2 daily wage.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Somali petrol

Maybe I'm ignorant, but until recently, I was not aware that there was oil in Somalia.

Apparently, quite a bit.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

The Second Biafran War?

As if Nigeria doesn't have enough problems with a de facto insurgency in the oil-producing Niger Delta, now it has trouble again in the southeast of the country.

The one-time leader of the Biafran secessionist movement Emeka Ojukwu says that the region has more reason than ever to leave the Nigerian federation. He said that the region's 14 million people were disenfranchised during Nigeria's recent rigged presidential elections.

"What upsets the Igbo population is we are not equally Nigerian as the others," he said.

The comments were made on the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Biafran War, in which over a million people died.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Guinean police officers honored

A few days ago, I wrote how Amnesty International condemned the Guinean forces of disorder as a 'permanent menace' to the people. Particularly regarding their brutality against peaceful striking workers earlier this year which caused over 130 deaths and 1500 injured.

Now I read in Guinéenews that 37 Guinean police officers who were part of the United Nations' stabilization mission in Haiti were given medals by the international organization for their work in the country.

The UN mission chief said that the medals "symbolized the recognition of the UN for the spirit of sacrifice and devotion that characterizes the action of the Blue Helmets."

He added that the mission "refmains firmly engaged alongside the government for helping it along the path of security, reconciliation, peace and development."

Perhaps those 37 police officers should return to Guinea to be a positive influence on their colleagues. It's not like the other 'law enforcement' officials in the country have shown any respect for security, reconciliation, peace and development.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Gabon's opposition leader 'goes soft'

Dumb dictators repress the opposition, making them into martyrs and fueling public anger. Smart dictators bribe the opposition into joining their own camp. Zaire's Mobutu was a master of this. That's why none of the non-armed political opposition had any public credibility to exploit the situation when his hollow regime finally collapsed.

Another smart strongman is Gabon's Omar Bongo. Though Africa's longest serving ruler, Bongo doesn't make the continental headlines very often. This is part of what makes him a smart ruler. Bongo may treat Gabon as his personal fiefdom, but he doesn't flaunt it to outsiders too ostentatiously. Not making too many enemies has been critical to his longevity in power (40 years), especially since he runs a country with that most coveted of commodities: oil.

According to the pan-African magazine Jeune Afrique, Bongo met with then radical opposition leader Pierre Mamboundou last August in the presidential palace.

Mamboundou asked the head of state for an envelope of 11.4 billion CFA francs [US$23.6 million] to finance 21 projects in Ndendé, the small town in southern Gabon of which he was the mayor. President Bongo, often ready to loosen the purse strings to benefit his visitors, acquiesed and 3 billion [CFA francs] were earmarked later on.

Bear in mind that it was Mamboundou himself who revealed the visit, which insisting that he didn't pocket anything personally.

Normally, this might not seem anything out of the ordinary, even for an opposition politician. After all, he was simply the mayor of a town asking for help; no different than an American mayor trying to squeeze pork out of a governor or Congressman. But as Bongo's archenemy, Mamboundou had repeatedly denounced not simply Bongo, but the entire system in place.

The former radical justified his actions. "It's a system with which we don't agree but we must work with whomever's in power if we want to develop our localities."

One opposition member complained, "He always wanted to appear as a pure, hard core opponent but we see know that his tone vis-a-vis Bongo has softened," adding that "everything depends financially on the head of state, it's against this that he [Mamboundou] rallied around him all the opponents one after the other."

The ex-opposition leader has done a great deal of harm to the cause of transparency and good governance. Petrocracies like Gabon tend to be based on the premise that state money really belongs to the Leader who can dispense it entirely at his whim for his own purpose.

Mamboundou has been co-opted by the system he spent years so bitterly denouncing. He sold his soul for 20 bits of silver. But will his town or his country be any better for it? I doubt it.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A penny a day for farmworkers in Paradise Zimbabwe

The ZANU-PF land redistribution program was necessary to give the land back to the people and put Zimbabwe back on the path to self-sufficiency! Only privileged white farmers and meddlesome Tony Blair are upset about this. That's why Blair manipulated the weather to punish Zimbabwe. Ordinary Zimbabweans now live in near paradise thanks to Comrade Mugabe's vision!

One of the most obnoxious arguments made by apologists for the country's dictator Robert Mugabe is the way they've made the land seizures into a racial issue. Too many Africans and Africanists has bought into this line of propaganda. Much western media coverage has also bought into this line.

The indisputable fact of the matter is that the worst victims of the man-made calamity called Zimbabwe are black.

I wish Africa's self-styled intelligentsia would talk more about this. I wish people who should know better would stop acting like Mugabe's willful destruction of his country is some kind of noble martyresque stand against western imperialism. Tony Blair hasn't suffered one $(*&$@#! iota from Mugabe's policies. Neither has George W. Bush. White farmers have fled the country but they're probably not starving. Ordinary black Zimbabweans, the ones Mugabe and his apologists claim to care about, are the real victims of Mugabe's megalomania.

The UN's IRIN news service reports that things are so bad in the country's second city Bulawayo that even the trash scavengers are noticing. "Good garbage is hard to come by these days, unlike in the past, when we could get quality throwaways," one noted.

You know things are desperate when people complain about the low quality of refuse and bemoan the fact that garbage collection is erractic from the weathier suburbs.

According to a report issued by human rights' lawyers in Zimbabwe, Slave wages and the deaths of about 10,000 Zimbabwean farmworkers [are] a consequence of the government's land-redistribution policy.

While US$1 per day is the generally accepted marker for absolute poverty, Zimbabwean farm laborers are supposed to be paid a little over $1 per MONTH... this after a nearly three-fold pay rise.

Many laborers are still being paid under the old wage structure because of employer defiance and are thus receiving $0.36 a month... or barely more than $0.01 per day.

The report opined that 'a plausible case can be made for crimes against humanity having being committed during these displacements.'

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Civil war = unity

I notice that Libya's Muammar Gaddafi has recently engaged in his favorite activity: put himself in the spotlight. The Libyan "Guide" has repeatedly demanded Africa unite immediately under a single government.

"My vision is to wake up the African leaders to unify our continent," he told an audience in Ghana. He gave a similar message during visits to Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire, as well as the African Union summit in Accra.

Civil society groups have also criticised the summit's single-item agenda, saying leaders are discussing a utopian ideal while ignoring urgent problems like violence in Sudan's western Darfur region and repression in Zimbabwe.

The call by the Libyan "Guide" was mind-boggling. Is this not the same Gaddafi who, not long ago, backed Charles Taylor's and Foday Sankoh's unimaginably brutal rebellions that destabilized most of West Africa?

I guess he has a different concept of unity than sane people.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Guinean insecurity forces a 'permanent menace' to the people

Amnesty International issued a report on the rampaging forces of disorder that caused mass bloodshed during the general strike in Guinea earlier this year.

Amnesty declared unambiguously that the Guinean insecurity forces represented 'a permanent menace for the population.'

The human rights' organization reported that authorities resort to the use of force against the population each time that the government feels threatened. The fact that no one has been held accountable shows clearly that the authorities, up to the highest level, have ignored these dealings and even encouraged them.

AI demanded that the government prevent the security forces from using excessive force against unarmed civilians and give material and juridical reparations the the families of the over 130 people killed and over 1500 wounded during the violent repression of mostly peaceful marches that occured in Guinea in January and February 2007.

It's long been an open secret in Guinea that the soldiers, gendarmes and particularly the presidential guard (red berets) are a law unto themselves. They are never held accountable for anything... unless of course they challenge the authority of head of state Lansana Conté and his cabal.

It is doubtful that the new consensus prime minister, Lansana Kouyaté, will have enough real power to hold these people to account. It's questionable whether even Gen. Conté has enough real authority to do so... even if he actually wanted to.

Update: The excellent Mafé Tiga blog opines on the recent appointment of new préfets and governors by Guinean Prime Minister Lansana Kouyaté.

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