Thursday, June 30, 2005

The proper 'context' for ethnic hatred

The Canadian Supreme Court unanimously ordered a Rwandan man accused of inciting massacres to be deported back to his homeland.

The court said there is well-founded evidence that Leon Mugesera encouraged the violence in which Hutus killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis in 1994, reports the BBC. The case rests on a speech he made 18 months before in which he allegedly called for the extermination of Tutsis. Mr Mugesera has always claimed that his speech was taken out of context.


In a speech made in 1992, which was caught on videotape, he is seen apparently telling more than 1,000 party members that they should kill Tutsis and dump their bodies in the river. He referred to Tutsis as cockroaches, and said they should be exterminated.

Now if this isn't incitement to ethnic violence, then I wonder what the proper 'context' for such filth is.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Zimbabwe drought is Tony Blair's fault too

I often noted that Robert Mugabe's regime blames Tony Blair for everything from Zimbabwe's economic catastrophe to the bad weather. That last part was just a bit of hyperbole to illustrate my point.

Or at least I thought it was.

Now, the regime really IS blaming Britain for the bad weather. The state-run Herald newspaper accused the UK and US for causing the country's drought.

In this editorial, the regime's mouthpiece wrote:

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that speculation is pointing to the prospect of the weather being doctored to induce drought conditions across Southern Africa in a bid to arm-twist the region to capitulate to the whims of the world’s superpowers.

The rag speculated that With Zimbabwe fast emerging as the possible epicentre of the furtive weather modification programme that is meant to break its agricultural backbone; the world could be entering a new phase of cyber imperialism.

Its evidence for such allegations?

An Internet website.

Not just any Internet website, but one that describes itself as the Internet's most popular destination for news, discussion, and debate on government conspiracies, cover-ups, UFO's, and other alternative topics.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Another 150 years for African democracy?

In June 1990, French President François Mitterand made his now famous discours de La Baule. At a Franco-African summit in the French town of La Baule, Mitterand declared that in order to benefit from French aid, African countries must make efforts towards democratization.

Though the rigor in which the principle was applied is open to question, le discours de La Baule is seen as one of the key events in post-independence Africa.

Since La Baule, African countries at least go through the facade of democracy. While many elections are still rigged, the formality of actually having elections sometimes has surprising results. In the 2000 Senegalese presidential election, private radio stations announced precinct-by-precinct tallies before the state had the chance to commit any fraud. Other francophone countries like Mali and Bénin have seen peaceful transfers of power and a relatively vibrant political system emerge.

This is hardly ideal, considering all the countries which haven't really changed in that time. However, historically speaking, the facade of democracy quite often precedes the real thing. So while the facade certainly isn't good enough, no one should advocate a return to naked, unbridled dictatorship à la Equatorial Guinea.

The Ouagadougou paper L'Observateur Paalga has an interesting analysis (in French) of La Baule's legacy. It comes to a very different conclusion: 'quinze ans, et presque rien.' Fifteen years and almost nothing.

The publication is based in Burkina Faso, one of the countries where the political system is still very repressed. L'Observateur Paalga notes that in many African countries, little has changed. Many of the same dinosaurs are still around: Bongo, Sassou, Biya, Conté, Oula Taya, Ben Ali and Burkina's own Blaise Compaoré.

The paper warns: Maybe we must console ourselves... that Europe took two centuries to arrive at democracy and that, as a result, maybe we should give Africans the same amount of time.

Perhaps, but I'm not sure how much consolation that will be to ordinary folks on the continent. It's clear that authoritarianism has had disastrous consequences for Africa, both pre- and post-colonial. Can Africans really afford to wait another century and a half to try something else?

Monday, June 27, 2005

'The Aid Trap'

The BBC World Service is doing an interesting documentary series on foreign aid.

In the run-up to July's G8 summit Britain is calling for the world's richest nations to treble the amount of development aid. But is Aid really a solution to the causes of poverty?
Many economists challenge the idea that aid offers an escape to the poverty trap. Some say it may even create a trap of dependency and corruption all its own. We visit the two poorest countries in the World, according to the United Nations, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Attacks in the Bakassi

Earlier, I expressed the hope that the territorial dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon over the oil-rich Bakassi doesn't end the same way as the the Ethiopia-Eritrea insanity, one of the stupidest, most pointless wars in recent history.

One faithful reader suggested: Nigeria and Cameroon will not be going to war.

I don't think they will go to an all-out war. I think Nigerian President Obasanjo and Cameroon's leader Paul Biya are too smart for this.

Incidents like this certainly aren't a step in the right direction.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

AU: we have no time for 200,000 (400,000?) IDPs

You really have to wonder what sort of incriminating photos Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe has of South Africa's otherwise respectable president Thabo Mbeki. How else to explain Mbeki's disgraceful sycophancy to the dinosaur who's destroying South Africa's neighbor?

Earlier this month, I deplored the Mugabe regime's mass razing of poor townships in the capital Harare (not coincidentally, an opposition stronghold).

US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice called on the African Union and other African leaders to speak out against the atrocity. After all, denouncing such idiocies as this is precisely what was supposed to separate the AU what its predecessor, the Organization for African Unity (often derided as a social club for dictators).

Well, the AU rejected the call by Rice and a similiar one by British Foreign Minister Jack Straw. An AU spokesman said the organization had more important things to consider. Apparently it couldn't even spend a few minutes to speak out against this disaster which has left 200,000 homeless and two young children dead.

That's 200,000 homeless in the city of Harare alone. By contrast, the entire country of Liberia, which recently ended its second devastating civil war in the last 15 years has only 150,000 internally displaced people, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

A spokesman for President Mbeki, whose failed 'quiet diplomacy' in the Zimbabwe crisis has earned much criticism, bristled at Rice's and Straw's calls.

"South Africa refuses to accept the notion that because suddenly we're going to a G8 summit, we must be reminded that we must look good and appease the G8 leaders," the spokesman said.

Ah yes, the old 'blame the westerners and the opposition (the "westernized")' card that Mugabe himself has so perfected. After all, it's been clearly demonstrated that when bad things happen in Africa, the key point according to some is not the skin color of the victim, but the skin color of the perpetrator.

Consider the regime's of apartheid South Africa, Iain Smith's racist Rhodesia and Mugabe's Zimbabwe. The primary victims of all three regimes were black. Two earned widespread condemnation from the continent's leaders, while one provokes avid defenders.

I wonder how Mbeki and his spokesman would explain the condemnation as 'inhuman' of Mugabe's destruction by the Roman Catholic archbishop of Harare. The archbishop is black, since it apparently matters.

Update: The UK Independent puts the number of homeless at 400,000. And as though the creation of possibly 400,000 homeless wasn't enough, Mugabe's regime is ignoring a famine, according to The Independent. Unofficial estimates obtained by [the paper] suggest the death rate is already outstripping the birth rate nationwide by 4,000 a week. 4000 a week times 52 weeks... I can't even bear to do the math.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The return of the life presidency

In the west African country of Chad, citizens apparently approved a series of constitutional amendments that would allow strongman Idriss Deby to seek a third term as head of state. This was after the opposition had called for a boycott of the poll.

"The results that were published were imaginary and do not reflect reality because the people massively rejected the power of President Deby on the 6 June when there was a massive boycott," said opposition spokesman Ibni Oumar.

Of course, Deby's party had a different view.

This occurs in an increasingly repressive context. The former military leader has jailed three journalists who reported unflatteringly on the regime.

The first article [of one journalist] reported a resurgence of anti-government rebel movements in eastern Chad. The second described an alleged massacre of civilians in eastern Chad that arose from conflicts between local populations, aggravated by the influx of refugees from the neighboring Darfur region of Sudan, according to sources interviewed by [Committee to Protect Journalists]. The article alleged that government security forces had participated in the massacre, and the newspaper printed a front-page photo of some of the victims.

A wave of democratizing rhetoric swept through Africa in the early 90s. In some countries, like Ghana, Benin and Senegal, democracy actually took hold. In others, regimes simply erected a facade of democracy. Two-term limits of presidents were written into most African constitutions as a guard against the president-for-life plague that infested Africa in the 70s and 80s. However, numerous countries have since rigged referenda to repeal those term limits. Tunisia, Guinea, now Chad. Uganda is presently debating a similiar move. Only Zambia's political class, particularly the ruling party, has had enough backbone to block such a move.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Ex-strongman and successor in Bissau run-off

International observers generally hailed the presidential elections held Sunday in Guinea-Bissau. The main contenders were three former heads of state: ex-military leader Joao Bernardo (Nino) Vieria, who was ousted by the army in 1999; Malam Bacai Sanha, who was interim president following Vieria's departure; and Kumba Yala, who succeeded Sanha after the country's first democratic election but whose increasingly authoritarian regime was ended by the military in 2003.

Official results gave Sanha the most votes, with Vieria edging Yala for the all-important second place and thus a spot in next weekend's run off election. Worryingly, although perhaps not surprisingly Yala's party rejected the results as 'false.'

What interesting is that Sanha is the head of the PAIGC party, which ruled Guinea-Bissau for a quarter century following independence in 1974. Though running as an independent now, Vieria was the long-time head of the PAIGC. He was even responsible for Sanha's rise to parliamentary speaker, which paved the way for Sanha's pseudo-constitutional accession to the presidency after Vieria's ouster.

Monday, June 20, 2005

African soccer update

Interesting doings in the African World Cup qualifying zone, as most of the continent's giants are struggling in their efforts to qualify for Germany 2006. If qualifying were to end today, the following surprises would make it to Deutschland...

-Togo (ahead of Senegal by two points)
-Ghana (tied with South Africa, but ahead on head-to-head tiebreaker)
-Ivory Coast (ahead of Cameroon by two points)
-Angola (tied with Nigeria, but ahead on head-to-head tiebreaker)

Morocco and Tunisia, who are fighting for a single spot, are the only continental giants who are in good shape. Though Ghana and Ivory Coast are not exactly minnows on the African stage (a combined five continental championships between them), neither they nor Angola or Togo have ever qualified for the World Cup finals.

There are still two matches left for the giants. It's a bit of a quandry. Part of me wants to support the underdog. But part of me also wants African teams to represent themselves well against the world's best. Somehow, I think Nigeria would give Brazil or the Netherlands a better match next year than Togo.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Nonsense of the week

A forum on the Africa section of the BBC News website asks:

What does independence day mean for you? After decades of independence, what is there to celebrate? Have we forgotten those that fought for us?

One genius responded:

Independence has meant the begining of a long obscure, tragic period in Africa. It has been a waste of energy and lives. Independence have been prematurely given to Africans.

Ironically, this answer was given by someone from the DR Congo. In pre-independence times, the DR Congo was known for several decades as Congo Free State and was the personal property of Belgian's King Leopold. Congo Free State was the site of arguably the most massive crime against humanity in the history of the world.

Ah... the good old days.

Political pseudo-independence was not the beginning of a long obscure, tragic period in Africa. It has been merely a continuation of the previous long obscure, tragic period but with another group of oppressors.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Disturbing troop activity in Monrovia

The Liberian Observer has reported some disturbing activity in the capital Monrovia.

As the process of restructuring the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) was expected to begin today, June 2005 with the commencement of the payment to "war recruits" and "regular AFL personnel", more than one thousand aggrieved AFL personnel, Tuesday, went amok barricading the Ministry of Defense in demand for salary arrears and resettlement benefits from government before the process commences.

Angry AFL soldiers had earlier blocked the entrance to the Defense Ministry and set up road blocks in the streets preventing officials of the Ministry from leaving their offices sending waves of confusion across Monrovia.

The Defense Ministry chief of staff assured soldiers that they would receive checks, but insisted that their ministry was not responsable for the payments.

Yet Defense Minister Daniel Chea, who was one of the world's great comic Orwellian spokesmen when he served at the same post under Charles Taylor's dictatorship, sang a different tune. "There is no money in this ministry. We have to restructure this army. That's the bottom line. You can see the problem we're going to have if we don't restructure this army."

One of the most important principles to remember if you're an African government is this: if you pay no one else, pay the guys with the guns. The basic principle has been forgotten or ignored not only by civilian leaders (like Central African Republic's Ange-Félix Patassé) but even by military men like Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko and Guinea-Bissau's Nino Vieria. And the latter two regimes were seriously damaged, if not overthrown, despite being far more entrenched in power than Liberia's transitional government.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Guinea's triple crisis

If you read French, Guineenews has a good analysis of the first six months of Cellou Dalien Diallo's term as Guinean prime minister. He was given the unenviable task as head of a government subject to the every whim of an ailing head of state, Gen. Lansana Conté. Or perhaps of the general's self-serving entourage. It's hard to know exactly how much of his faculties Gen. Conté has remaining.

Diallo was given the poisoned chalice last December, following a tumultuous year in Guinea. The country's economic and social situation was detriorating rapidly. And little has changed. Strikes. Heavy inflation. Rioting over everything from gasoline price increases to shortages of rice (the country's staple food) as well as the skyrocketing rates for basic services like water and electricty (where they're even available). This in a country known as 'the water tower of West Africa.'

Guineenews compares the situation Mobutu's Zaire. Perhaps a bit of hyperbole, but the country's economic condition is certainly critical. The website notes: An informed observer affirms that between 1997 and 2005, the Guinean franc has seen a 400% devaluation.

Speaking from personal experience... when I arrived in Guinea in September 1995, a US dollar bought approximately 1000 Guinean francs [FG]. Two years later, when I left, a dollar bought 1100 FG. Yet now, eight years after that, a greenback will get you some 3700 FG.

Perhaps just as damagingly, the Guinean franc has collapsed even further in comparison to the West African CFA franc [FCFA], the currency used by all the other French-speaking countries in West Africa... Guinea's main trading partners. Less than a decade ago, 1 FCFA was worth 2 FG; now the same amount gets just under 7 FG.

In less than a year, the price of oil products has gone up by 132%. The consequence: a sharp rise in the price of all products.

The political situation is pretty much frozen while everyone waits for the strongman to die.

Guineenews concludes that Cellou Dalien Diallo's premiership has been pretty much pointless. He doesn't appear to have the power to effectuate real reform that might weaken the stranglehold on economic and political power held by Gen. Conté's cabal; this is precisely the reason Diallo's predecessor, François Loucény Fall, resigned last year.

Update: The UN's IRIN service has another good analysis of the crises in Guinea. An example of how fast prices are rising: a 50 kg bag of the staple food rice that cost US$9.50 in March 2004, now sells for between $20 and $27.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

African literature... in Paris

The New York Times ran a good essay on why so many African writers are flourishing in Europe but not in Africa itself. It also touches on the challenges faced by ex-pat authors in Europe.

Monday, June 13, 2005

$100,000,000,000 a year.

There has been a cautious welcome for the recent deal agreed by the G8 (group of the world's seven largest economies and Russia) to offer debt relief to some developing nations.

The G8 will write off $40 billion owed by 18 mostly African countries; 9 more are expected to qualify for debt relief (totalling another $15 billion) within the next year and a half. The 18 countries will save an estimated $1.5 billion a year in debt repayment.

Though it's a positive development, it's worth remembering that the move is a good first half step.

The Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu noted, "It is a splendid start and one hopes that they will, from here, go on to cancel all debt for most of the countries - I gather it is about 62 countries - who are heavily indebted."
He acknowledged the continent had seen many corrupt leaders who had squandered aid but he told BBC News 24: "Remember the West had a hand in promoting some of those leaders because it suited them at the time.", reports the BBC.

Even with full debt relief occurs, there are still other steps that need to be taken to facilitate African development. As I explained earlier, merely cancelling the debt doesn't guarantee the money will be used for useful purposes.

The most prominent African leaders are campaigning for a reduction or elimination of western tariffs and agricultural subsidies. Those trade barriers will die hard, particularly in countries like France, Japan and the United States, which have very vocal farm lobbies.

Other problems that need to be addressed internally in Africa include winner-take-all politics and investment in infrastructure (particularly in maintenance).

But clearly the biggest impediment to African development is corruption. The G8 debt write off will total $55 billion; the total external debt of all African countries is around $300 billion. So even with the write off, remaining African debt will still be some $245 billion.

Sounds like a sum so huge as to be inconceivable.

But consider this.

According to Business in Africa online, Transparency International conservatively estimates that corruption drains a mind-blowing $100 billion from Africa... $100 billion per year.

That's many times higher than the amount African countries spend on debt repayment.

Conventional wisdom portrays the issue in stark terms: 'If African countries don't have to pay back debt to rich countries, they'd spend the savings on education, health care and other good purposes.'

With $100 billion ($100,000,000,000) being wasted on corruption every single year in Africa, what evidence is there to suggest that such an assertion?

Though the World Bank, IMF and western creditors certainly deserve their fair share of blame, but massive corruption has a far more devastating impact on African development than those convenient targets.

This is why I proposed that once full debt relief is granted, all future loans and aid MUST be conditioned upon a demonstrable record of money being used for its declared purposes. Failing to impose such conditions will only guarantee yet another cycle of crushing debt burden and aid dependency.

$100,000,000,000 a year.

Update: a graphic from this piece from BBC News shows that contrary to one might expect, African countries aren't simply deadbeats shirking their responsibility. From 1970-2002, African countries borrowed about $540 billion. In that period, they repaid some $550 billion. But they still owe nearly $300 billion. So Africa has collectively repaid the principle on what it owes; comprehensive debt relief would simply be forgiving the interest.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Truth and reconciliation for Liberia?

The website for the widely respected Star Radio of Monrovia reports that Liberia's Transitional Assembly has passed a Bill, creating the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to investigate crimes that committed since 1979.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

STAR Radio returns to Liberia

Good news for Liberians. Star Radio, one of the country's most important free press outlets, is back on the air, reports Radio Netherlands.

Star was set up with the aim of providing Liberians with impartial news and information and began broadcasting, initially on FM only, on 15 July 1997 shortly after the country's first civil war ended. Star added shortwave services not longer after its launch, but the frequencies were withdrawn by the regime of Charles Taylor.

Taylor shut down the station altogether in March 2000. Taylor told a news conference, that "during my administration, STAR Radio will not come back on the air... Only the government has the right over the airwaves in this country. It is not the right of anyone to run a radio station. It is a privilege. Your right is to free speech."

Following Taylor's explusion into exile in 2003, the transitional government of Liberia lifted the ban on Star.

The station rejoined the airwaves a few weeks ago.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Ticks and other destructive parasites in Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe is a scumbag.

I don't usually resort to ad hominem. And I know some readers get offended when I call a spade a spade. But this is as diplomatic as I can be with regard to the destructive megalomaniac who's ruined Zimbabwe.

While there are many African figures I dislike, there are very few I passionately detest. Former Liberian dictator and indicted war criminal Charles Taylor is a despicable, loathesome human being. So is Uganda's mad rebel leader Joseph Kony. While perhaps not quite yet at Taylor's or Kony's level yet, Robert Mugabe is another that gets my utmost contempt.

Sure, he blames western imperialism and Tony Blair for all his country's ills, even the self-inflicted ones. While his bellicose speeches are the main thing that gets him both scorn (from the west) and approval (from many Africans), rhetoric is the least of his crimes. He gets much attention in the western media for his land seizures from white farmers; this is done under the pretext of 'redistribution' to poor blacks but most of the land goes to his cronies. Again, this gets the headlines in London but by far the worst victims of Mugabe's madness are not whites, but ordinary poor blacks (and most are now poor because of the destruction of economy by Mugabe's regime); the latter don't have money to flee to South Africa or Britain.

(For a more comprehensive case against Mugabe, click here)

Now, Mugabe's ZANU-PF regime has decided to engage in a mass razing of townships in the capital Harare. What the dictatorship describes as a "vigorous clean-up campaign to restore sanity [sic]" has reportedly left at least 200,000 people homeless.

"The current chaotic state of affairs where [small businesses] operated ... in unregulated and crime-ridden areas could not have been tolerated for much longer," the dictator said at the state opening of Parliament without the slightest hint of irony.

The repression in Harare couldn't possibly have been related to the fact that residents of the capital overwhelmingly supported the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in recent elections.

Mugabe came to power via a Marxist-theme liberation war against the previous apartheid regime. Marxist liberation movements are usually founded on the principle of fighting for people who are poor and oppessed... not making people poor and oppressed. How rendering 200,000 poor black people homeless for purely capricious reasons squares with ZANU-PF's alleged 'liberation' struggle is beyond me. The answer is that this is that the only ideology the ZANU-PF criminals now have is staying in power at all costs.

But Mugabe better watch out. The so-called War Veterans are a group of militia-style gangs that have long terrorized ZANU-PF's opponents. It appears that the "War Veterans" actually believe in the Liberation ideology that Mugabe and his ilk cast aside long ago in exchange for absolute power. A former "War Veterans" leader recently lambasted the government over its violent clean-up campaign, warning that it faced the wrath of "people power" as tension mounted ahead of today's planned mass action, according to one of the country's few independent papers, the Financial Gazette. The former leader had previously criticized the regime for giving certain individuals multiple seized farms. He warned that the regime had "ignited a bonfire, which is going to backfire."

The state-run rag The Herald claims that farmers have welcomed the creation of 200,000 homeless people. The paper interestingly admitted that the surge in 'illegal traders' in the cities was a result of the regime's land policy.

At the peak of the fast-track resettlement programme, significant numbers of former farm workers had migrated to urban areas where they were earning a living as vendors or through other unconventional means.

As a result, A number of farmers have not been producing to their capacity as a result of inadequate labour, notes the state daily.

In other words, the 'land reform' created large swathes of rural unemployed who then moved to urban areas for work. So the cities are overpopulated with laborers with skills unsuited to urban work while rural areas have too few people to work the farms.

Sorry Bob, but those policies were yours, not those Tony Blair or your scapegoat of the day.

Another article in the state paper was entitled: War Against Ticks Persists. Apparently the climate in Zimbabwe is quite hospitable to destructive parasites.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Great Game in central Africa

Uganda's strongman Yoweri Museveni, until recently a darling of the west, has blamed 'meddling' by donor countries for his failure to end 19 years of conflict in the country's north. This was after Britain cancelled $9.52 million in aid to his government in the first sign of concern among donors over delays in Uganda's return to multi-party politics. Museveni also criticized western exploitation of Africa's natural resources.

So foreign 'meddling' and exploitation of natural resources is the main cause of Uganda's problems?

While foreign 'meddling' and exploitation of natural resources is the main cause of problems in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) too, I suspect Museveni's complaints would receive little sympathy for his Congolese neighbors.

Former guerilla leader Museveni and his Ugandan military have been a main culprit in the 'meddling' and exploitation in the DRC. In the late 90s, Uganda and Rwanda invaded the eastern DRC under the pretext of security. However, it quickly became clear the purpose was to suck dry the eastern DRC's gold and other mineral wealth. When then-allies Uganda and Rwanda wanted the same mineral-rich areas in the eastern DRC, they turned on each other, with the poor Congolese caught in the exploiters' crossfire.

The group Human Rights Watch issued a report stating: It is absolutely no coincidence that some of the bitterest fighting in the DR Congo conflict and some of the most abominable treatment of civilians has taken place near Bunia in Ituri District, the site of one of Africa's richest goldfields, notes the BBC.

Ugandan and Rwandan troops and a whole range of armed factions and militias fought over the area. One local resident told Human Rights Watch: "Every time there was a change of armed group, the first thing they did was start digging for gold."

The report also detailed rape, summary executions, ethnic killings and forced labor that occured in the mines.

The sheer scale of Ugandan exploitation is staggering. The report points out the profits made by Uganda, which exported nearly $60m worth of gold in 2002. Yet Uganda only produced $25,000 worth of gold itself that year, and recorded no legal imports.

Astonishing when you consider that the $60m figure is almost 10 times as much as Uganda was exporting in 1998... before its invasion of the DRC for 'security' reasons.

The Ugandan government has always denied any looting in the DRC. But for obvious reasons, no one believes them.

The good news?

A Swiss-based gold refining company, Matalor Technologies, says it has now suspended gold imports from Uganda following United Nations and Human Rights Watch investigations into the gold trade in DR Congo.

Now let's hope other refining companies follow suit.

Unfortunately, many western countries have a fixation on the sole fact of conducting supposedly free and fair elections while overlooking how those elected governments conduct themselves once installed. It's telling that British aid to Uganda was suspended not because of its looting of the DRC, but because Museveni was dragging his feet in authorizing political parties. In other words, it's okay to pillage a neighbor so long as you have the facade of democracy.

Further sanctions should be applied to Museveni and his government so long as it's perpetuating continental instability by its own 'meddling' and exploitation in foreign lands.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Ethiopian protesters gunned down in Addis

Protests have spread across the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa following the country's disputed 15 May general elections. Provisional results credited the ruling EPRDF party of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi with 320 of the 547 seats in Parliament. The opposition has cried foul, though it made surprising gains and provisionally won every seat in the capital. The National Electoral Board has received complaints in over 200 constituencies, more than a third of the total. As a result, official results will not be announced until 8 July, some seven weeks after the poll.

Protests have flourished despite an official ban. The government has cracked down on the protesters in clashes that have reportedly left 22 dead and some 100 injured.

State radio blamed "gangsters" for the violence. Information Minister Bereket Simon told the BBC the opposition was trying to overthrow a legitimate [sic] government in what he called a Ukrainian-style revolution.

One witness told the BBC's Focus on Africa program that rather than firing in the air to disperse protesters, (in)security forces fired directly into the crowd.

The deputy leader of the opposition CUD alliance has been placed under de facto house arrest.

Prime Minister Meles came to power via a guerrilla war that overthrew the odious Derg regime of Mengitsu Halie Mariam. Though nominally a democracy for the last decade, Meles and the EPRDF are used to running the country with a strong hand and to not being challenged. In this first ever Ethiopian election with (somewhat) independent foreign monitors, the regime was shocked by the level of support for the opposition. In violently repressing and killing unarmed protesters, the regime has revealed its true colors. And more dangerous to itself, it may have increased, rather than decreased, the likelihood of a Ukraine-style popular uprising.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

'Know the world you live in'

The excellent Black Looks blog recently had a very thought-provoking entry entitled 'Know the world you live in.' Click here to check it out. Highly recommended.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Repatriation of Rwandans from the DRC?

Wal Fadjiri ran a good article (in French) about the fate of Rwandan genociders 11 years after the nightmare. According to the Senegalese daily, many of them remain in hiding in the bush and drown themselves in alcohol. They are torn between the desire to return and turn in their weapons and the fear of having to answer for a macabre past.

The paper estimates that there are some 10,000 former combattants and 30,000 of their relatives exiled in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Interestingly, the paper notes that since a wide majority of these Hutu ex-pats were too young to have participated in the 1994 genocide, some analysts think that conditions would be favorable for a return to Rwanda.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Bush snubs Blair on debt relief

Poor Tony Blair. The British prime minister threw his lot in with President Bush's ill-conceived aggression against Iraq. Blair essentially threw away his credibility with the British people to cozy up to Bush on a war based on discredited rationale. It was a gamble and he lost. His party won re-election earlier this year only because of the weakness of the main opposition Conservative Party but Blair's legacy is in tatters, his reputation in shreds. He stayed loyal to Bush much longer than common sense would have dictated presumably because he felt it in his government's or Britain's interests to have a good relationship with the US president.

Decent men like Kofi Annan, Scott Ritter and Hans Blix have suffered vicious character assassinations by American conservatives because they dared say the Emperor has no clothes... even though they've all been vindicated by the course of events. Bush's style of governance values personal loyalty over competence, forethought or rigorous analysis. Blair seemed to feel that by backing the president to the hilt on Iraq, he could avoid being victim of the same smear campaign as Blix and company. Perhaps even it might buy Blair some credit with Bush for one of his pet initiatives.

How wrong he was.

As part of a poverty reduction effort, Blair and his chancellor (finance minister) Gordon Brown are pushing a plan to eliminate 100% of the debt of African countries. As I explained before, I support such an effort provided it be structured in such a way to prevent another debt crisis from reoccuring in a decade or two. Specifically, future loans should be conditioned on criteria like good governance, democracy, human rights, respect for private property and the loan money being spent on its state purpose.

In order for such comprehensive debt relief to occur, Blair and Brown's plan needs the support of the United States, who has decisive influence in the main international financial institutions, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

But Blair's ridiculously excessive loyalty to Bush on Iraq has proven worthless on this issue. The administration in Washington has expressed its strong opposition to the British plan.

The British want to sell some of the IMF's take advantage of a rise in the price of gold by selling off some of the IMF's reserves to fund debt relief. The US, along with a few other key economic players, is cold to the idea.

The US has already pledged to increase development aid through its own Millennium Challenge Account but little of the money has been spent so far, reports the BBC. And as I mentioned before, increasing development aid and erasing debt, as laudable as they may be, are unlikely to have any significant impact on the lives of ordinary Africans by themselves.

Critical to the British plan is the coupling of debt relief and development aid with an end to many trade subsidies, an idea which France and other European Union members have always strongly opposed. The British have also proposed funding a mass immunization campaign in Africa against communicable diseases.

The real question is this: does Washington oppose debt relief in principle or simply the mechanism proposed by the British? I can't believe that the Christianity-based Bush administration would really advocate a status quo that enslaves hundreds of millions of people in poverty. If the Bush administration really supports debt relief for desperately poor countries but think that the British plan is technically flawed, then perhaps it's time they provide an alternative.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Guinea's ruling party petrified after liberalization of the airwaves

AngolaPress reports that the Guinean government has adopted a decree legalizing private radio and television stations. Guinea becomes the last West African state to liberalize the airwaves.

The meeting chaired by President Lansana Conte Tuesday, set the conditions for the operation of private radio and television stations, specifying that political parties and religious groups are barred from operating such stations.

The opposition and the European Union backed the move.

But the ruling Party of Unity and Progress (PUP) had opposed the media liberalisation, citing the negative role of Radio Mille Collines in the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

The example the PUP REALLY feared was not Rwanda, but Senegal. Senegal had run a number of elections since the advent of multipartyism that were marred by allegations of vote rigging by the Socialist Party (PS), which had been the country's only ruling party since independence in 1960.

But during the 2000 presidential election, Senegal's nascent private radio stations broadcast results from individual precincts on election day; in other words, the radio stations publicized results BEFORE the PS had a change to rig them. And this good work was in addition to the fact that the private radio stations provided a platform for opposition candidates and objective reporting not found in state media. Opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade was elected president.

The PUP fears that Gen. Conté or his imposed successor may suffer the same fate if a private broadcast media is allowed to flourish.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Famine alert in Niger

Regarding my essay yesterday, there is one news item I didn't want to get overlooked in my broader missive on sustainable development.

There is a hunger emergency in the west African state of Niger.

Of the 12 million inhabitants in Niger, 3.6 million are affected by the food security crisis. Of these, 2.5 million urgently need life-saving support, noted the UN's humanitarian chief Jan Egeland.

Some two and a half weeks ago, he UN appealed for a meager $16.2 million to deal with this crisis but no help has been forthcoming.

Today, several thousand people marched in the Nigerien capital Niamey to protest government inaction. Only last week, the government denied that there was a food crisis at all, according to the weekly paper Le Républicain.

Feeling the pressure, Nigerien authorities have finally spoken out.

"Almost three million people in Niger are today at risk of hunger." said the country's prime minister Hama Amadou. "I want to....solemnly launch an anguished appeal to the international community for emergency food aid."

The food shortage was caused by a lack of rain, even by the standards of the normally arid Sahel. It was exacerbated by last year's invasion of locusts, which devastated crops. An invasion that could've been prevented, or at least whose damage could've been limited, had earlier UN appeal generated response. A far smaller appeal than the one made to clean up the post-locust devastation.

But, the international community responds far more generously to crises after they erupt even though far smaller sums invested in prevention could avoid the problem altogether. Sadly, I expect that international aid to Niger won't be forthcoming until AFTER kids becoming sufficiently skeleton-like to be broadcast into western living rooms.

Want to help now, before it's too late? Make a donation to the World Food Programme. Their website notes that the WFP receives no dues or portions of the UN assessed contributions. All government support is on an entirely voluntary basis.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Language bias, Live 8 and sustainable development

An intriguing story from the Inter Press Service (via Jan Egeland, the UN's undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs claims that language bias affects the way UN appeals are responded to.

Egeland said that both French and Portuguese-speaking countries "are systematically lower on our funding tables than many of the English-speaking countries."
"We urgently appealed for help to Niger (a French-speaking country). But we still have zero commitments," he added
, describing Niger as "the number-one forgotten and neglected emergency in the world."

Echoing a regular theme of my own, Egeland added "it's a tremendous dilemma that 90 percent of the attention is focused on 10 percent of the affected disasters and wars in the world."

Oxfam's Caroline Green suggested that lack of donor committment (or just as often, lack of donor follow through) also applies to English-speaking African countries.

"Yet the majority of rich donor countries continue to fund on the basis of news headlines, not need," she told IPS. She described the nightmarish situation in northern Uganda, where Christian (in name only) rebels have been terrorizing civilians for some two decades.

"Yet donor countries have given just 34 percent of the 54 million dollars the United Nations appealed for in November. Nations are shutting their eyes to what is going on in Northern Uganda, preferring to focus on high profile crises that are guaranteed public and media attention," Green said.

Green called for things such as increased development aid, African debt cancellation, increased and targeted funding of basic education, health systems, and reducing HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

These are noble ideas that really won't address the roots of Africa's problems. The biggest single flaw in these programs (save the anti-HIV/AIDS campaigns) is that they don't address the critical question of sustainability. Sustainability is only possible when the affected populations feel invested in the programs.

When I lived in Guinea, the German organization GTZ was very active in building roads, water pumps, health centers, schools, etc. But it was up to the locals the maintain that infrastructure. The government wasted its meager revenues on corruption. As a result, roads went unmaintained (a deteriotated paved road is worse than one that was never paved at all!), health centers were understaffed, many schools lacked sufficient teachers.

Roads were used mostly by merchants. Relying on medical professionals is not yet part of the Guinean culture. Guineans appreciate education because they know they are supposed to, but they don't see how it will benefit their children in any concrete way; corruption, cronyism and other un-meritocratic plagues don't help that perception.

Water pumps, on the other hand, WERE well maintained, for the most part. They were well-maintained because clean water is something tangible. If your kids get sick much less often than they did before the water pump, that's something you notice, something you appreciate, something you want to maintain. The people feel invested in this improvement so they are motivated to maintain it. As a result, water pumps represent sustainable development.

In my earlier essay A Marshall Plan For Africa?, I explained other barriers to sustainable development.

War and instability are obviously the two biggest ones. But also lack of democracy, human rights abuses, contempt for the rule of law, non-respect for private property and bad governance.

Yesterday, Bob Geldof, of Live Aid fame, disclosed plans for a series of Live 8 concerts to be held next month in Philadelphia, Paris, Rome and Berlin.

The purpose of the concert is not to raise money, but to raise awareness.

The aim will be to raise awareness of Make Poverty History, a campaign to get the richest nations to cancel debt and increase aid to developing countries, and to promote fair trade, notes the BBC.

'Fair trade' is a controversial topic which I will save for another time. I've already commented in my Marshall Plan... essay on the futility of increased aid without conditions.

I have no problem with the concept of debt cancellation. I consider it compensation for colonialism. However, anyone who believes that debt cancellation would seriously improve the lot of ordinary Africans is tragically naive. Often, you hear stats like "Cameroon spends more money servicing its debt than it does on education."

Jubliee USA is more dramatic: Debt costs lives.

These countries are paying debt service to wealthy nations and institutions at the expense of providing these basic services to their citizens. The lives of 19,000 children could be saved every day if the debt of these countries was cancelled and savings put to good use.

This is a very disingenuous way to portray the problem. Sure, lives could be save IF debt money was used for useful purposes. The problem is that merely cancelling the debt doesn't guarantee the money will be used for useful purposes.

A program of 'drop the debt' could translate into better education and health services. But it could just as easily translate into more money for high officials to siphon off. The simplistic mentality of blaming the bankers ignores the fact that the bankers aren't the problem: irresponsible, corrupt, unaccountable government officials are the problem.

I don't object to blanket debt cancellation for African governments. As I said, I consider it compensation for colonialism. However, future loans and aid MUST be conditioned upon a demonstrable record of money being used for its declared purposes. Failing to impose such conditions will only guarantee yet another cycle of crushing debt burden and aid dependency. Ordinary Africans are the most creative, ingeneous people on Earth; they have to be or else they die. They deserve better from their leaders. While the rest of the world shouldn't remove bad African leaders by force, we should under no circumstances be accomplices to or otherwise facilitate their malfeasence.

This column in the UK Independent notes some other barriers to sustainable development in Africa.

The author points out some of the things I've mentioned above.

He also notes the brain drain of educated Africans to Europe and North America. There are said to be more Malawian nurses in Birmingham than in Malawi, a country ravaged by Aids.

But can you blame the nurses? What are working conditions like in Malawian hospitals and health centers? Forget the AMOUNT of salary, are Malawian nurses even paid regularly? Are they properly trained?

As long as there is miniscule investment by African governments' in building or at least MAINTAINING domestic infrastructure, like health facilities and universities, the brain drain will only continue. I suspect many of those nurses would've stayed in Malawi near their families, even for lower wages, if they knew they would get regular paychecks and be afforded decent working conditions.

He also notes agricultural subsidies in Europe, America and Japan that keep world prices low and squeeze African commodities out the market. And end the export subsidies that allow cheap food to be dumped in Africa destroying African markets. High tariffs keeping out African goods need to be cut, but African countries need a bit of time before reciprocating the removal of trade barriers, as they have no safety nets to protect workers who lose their jobs.

The author echoes some of my comments on internal conditions on the continent. He derides the illusion that the hungry African child they [aid agencies] use in their fund-raising propaganda can be directly reached by your money. Give, and the child will receive. In this world there are no cynical rulers, no corrupt governments, no nasty armies. Instead there are governments whose only constraint are the funds which, if they did not have to spend them servicing debt, they would spend on food, medicine and school books for that child.

He underlines the damaging nature of the winner-take-all mentality of African politics. Many people in the US accuse President Bush of winning only 51% of the vote in the last election; in many African countries, it's much worse.

Africa's winner-takes-all politics lies at the heart of everything that has gone wrong with Africa. It is the reason why it has fallen behind the rest of the world economically, the reason for its wars and poverty. Its roots go back to the creation of African states themselves, the lines drawn on maps by the European powers at the end of the 19th century, that became 40-odd states overlaying some 10,000 societies and political entities... With a few exceptions African states have no common understanding or experience of nationhood. Their flags, their national anthems, their identities were created by outsiders. Patriotism in the good sense is in short supply.

The effect?

If you want power, you play the ethnic card or rubbish your religious rivals. And when you have power, you bring your own people into government, and - even more importantly - into the army. The state treasury increasingly becomes a private bank account and when you run for election the entire state structure and all its officials are at your disposal. If anyone inside the continent says anything, you accuse them of interfering in internal affairs. If anyone outside Africa criticises, you accuse them of racism and neo-colonialism. It's a simple formula that has worked brilliantly for Robert Mugabe and many others.

In no place on Earth can you find a greater contrast between the rules and the governed.

Those new to Africa are often struck by a paradox. Firstly how individualistic and cynical African politicians are. Secondly how communal and hopeful most Africans are. There seems to be little connection or even shared values between rulers and ruled.

Africa's a great place and its people are, for the most part, amazing. They deserve better. Westerners, especially progressive-minded westerners, need to think seriously about how their noble ideals fit into messy universe of African politics. Solutions can't work only in theory, they have to work in reality. Westerners shouldn't be shackled to a methodology fundamentally rooted in the western world to deal problems in a very different world.