Tuesday, May 27, 2008

This can’t be good

Last week, Tuareg rebels launched an attack on an army camp in northeastern Mali, killing 32.

A several decade long Tuareg insurgency in Mali ended with a peace agreement in the early 1990s but tension appears to have resurfaced.

Reuters noted: The Malian Tuareg rebels and the Tuareg-led rebel Niger Justice Movement (MNJ) in neighbouring Niger have in the past denied any formal alliance. But Malian and Niger security officials believe they sometimes work together.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Guinean strongman sacks peace agreement prime minister

Republished from Friends of Guinea blog... with permission.

Guinean head of state Gen. Lansana Conté has fired Prime Minister Lansana Kouyaté and replaced him with Ahmed Tidiane Souaré, a former minister of mines and education and ally of the general.

The sacking of Kouyaté is noteworthy because the former diplomat was named head of government in order to bring an end to the 2007 general strike.

However, the BBC's correspondent in Conakry told Network Africa that one of the trade unions' leaders said the sacking of Kouyaté was not her problem and that labor would focus on what sort of people the new prime minister brought into the cabinet.

Public reaction to Kouyaté's sacking was generally muted, although protesters in his hometown of Kankan marched and burned tires.

Guinéenews reports that in Souaré's first public declaration, the new head of government would consult with Conté to form a government that would 'avoid exclusion.'

Kouyaté is the third prime minister in the last several years to be sacked or resign after a relatively brief time due to what many believe is the refusal of the clan surrounding Conté to cede any power to a reformist leader.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Panel discussion on Things Fall Apart

WAMC Northeast Public Radio's The Book Show aired a long excerpt of a fascinating panel discussion entitled: "Revisiting Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart: A Fiftieth-Year Retrospective." One of the panelists was the great writer himself.

(Audio available here)


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ostriches realize how far in the sand their heads were buried

The miserable failure South African president Thabo Mbeki's 'quiet diplomacy' appeasement vis-a-vis Zimbabwean dictator Bob Mugabe has been evident for years. While a noble endeavor in the beginning, Mbeki should've realized years ago that the policy had failed and that a new approach was required. Mbeki continues deluding himself into believing that his approach was actually bearing fruit, despite the meltdown of the Zimbabwean economy, despite the massive influx of refugees from the country into South Africa, despite the all out war against the opposition, despite Mugabe's poll theft from President-elect Morgan Tsvangirai and most of all, despite Mugabe's all out war against Zimbabwean citizens.

But apparently he's not the only South African who's been deluding himself. This piece from South Africa's Business Day (via allafrica.com) reports: RETIRED South African army generals investigating post-election violence in Zimbabwe have uncovered "shocking levels" of state-sponsored terror, sources close to them say.
The continued violence makes any chance of a peaceful runoff election "almost impossible", they say.

That they were shocked by the level of state-sponsored terror, something that's hardly new in Zimbabwe, is testament to the clueleness (willful ignorance?) of the South African intelligence apparatus. Something that's fairly astonishing considering all the information made available by local and international human rights groups.

Though unlike Mbeki, at least the South African generals have recognized and trying to rectify their ignorance.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

You can take the man out of the guerrilla but you can't take the guerrilla out of the man

It looks like the Eritreans just can't get along with anybody. In its brief 15 year existence, Eritrea has clashed with Yemen and fought an incomprehensibly stupid and destructive war with Ethiopia.

Now, the Eritrean regime is trying to picking a fight with Djibouti, a country that traditionally gets along with its neighbors.

Note: Michaela Wrong's excellent I Didn't Do It For You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation is a fascinating historical study of just why the Eritrean regime is so paranoid.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Portrait of the head of state as a very wealthy man

The Guardian has a piece on the interminible reign of Omar Bongo. Gabon's head of state is now the world's longest serving leader, a particularly remarkable achievement given the difficult neighborhood of central Africa.

Much like Mobutu in neighboring Zaire, Bongo, while certainly a dictator, has generally used petrodollars to buy off the opposition rather than brutalize it a la Mugabe or Meles.

When multipartyism was ushered in during the early 1990s following months of unrest, Bongo again found that money could solve any problem. Opposition politicians who criticised him in public, or showed any signs of popularity, were brought into the government, and soon compromised, notes The Guardian.

The scale of the high-level cronyism and corruption astonishes diplomats from other African countries.

The most choice cabinet positions are reserved for Bongo's immediate family. His son, Ali-Ben Bongo, is the minister of defence, and, it is whispered on the streets, the heir apparent. Bongo's daughter, Pascaline, is the head of the cabinet. Her husband, Paul Toungui, is minister of finance.

But like many dictators, one of Bongo's main appeals is to stability, something that resonates in such a volatile region.

[M]any Gabonese are proud of their country, and of Bongo. His success in keeping peace in a country with 40 different ethnic groups, while neighbouring countries have all experienced serious strife, is regarded as a significant accomplishment.

But there is a serious lack of schools, health clinics and paved roads, astonishing for a country with so much oil money and so little civil conflict. Agricultural production is virtually nil; fruits, vegetables and even milk are imported. With oil running out and food prices on the rise, Bongo's control of the country may finally be seriously tested.

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