Sunday, July 31, 2005

Report: Sudan's Garang killed

The BBC is reporting that Sudanese vice-president and former rebel leader John Garang has been killed in a helicopter crash. He'd been flying back from Uganda after a meeting with that country's leader Yoweri Museveni. Preliminary reports are pointing to dreadful weather.

Ironic that Garang survived decades of civil war in southern Sudan but died after not even a month as the country's vice-president.

Update: There have been riots in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, following the announcement of Garang's death.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Ex-military dictator wins Guinea-Bissau elections

Remember the general elections in Ethiopia?

You could be excused for forgetting. The polls were held on 15 May and full results are still not yet announced.

War ravaged Guinea-Bissau, by contrast, held an election on Sunday and the results were announced today: only four days later.

It looks like Joao Bernardo (Nino) Vieira has been elected to Guinea-Bissau's presidency. Nino was the country's military from 1980 until he was ousted in a coup 19 years later (he won an alleged democratic eleciton in 1994).

The former strongman was credited with 55% of the vote by the independent electoral commission. His runoff opponent, Malam Bacai Sanha, won 44%. Ironically, Sanha, then parliamentary speaker, was installed as head of state by the military upon Vieria's overthrow. The two came from the PAIGC party that ruled Guinea-Bissau from independence in 1974 until 2000, though Vieria ran as an independent in this election.

Though the poll's conduct was generally praised by international observers, Sanha and parties that backed him in the runoff said they would refuse to accept the results. In fact, they said this before the results were even announced.

Not a good sign for a country in desperate need of stability and order.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Food emergency in Niger... and other West African states too

The food emergency in Niger is finally starting to get a little international attention, though only after it's turned into a full-fledged famine with so as to allow images of skeletal children to be beamed back into western living rooms.

West Africaphiles international aid groups and UN agencies have issued warnings and appeals since as early as ten months ago. Fears of a famine were expressed last August following a devastating locust invasion of West Africa. But food and monetary appeals have received little response until the last few weeks.

According to the BBC, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said that the international community has put more money into the Niger relief effort over the past 10 days than it had during the previous 10 months.

This is hardly surprising. The international community has repeatedly proven itself fairly generous in responding to crises, but obstitate in refusing to help PREVENT those crises in the first place. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say. International development is no different.

An excellent example is the locust invasion itself. Back in 2003, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization warned that North and West Africa were at risk from a locust invasion. The FAO called for a battle against desert locusts and disrupt their breeding grounds. They asked for $9 million for this preventitive effort. They didn't get it.

So the warnings were proven correct. In July 2004, locusts did invade West Africa where they ravaged staple crops and grazing land. Now, the UN is asking for $100 million just to fight the locusts... and that's not counting the money it's asking for to combat the resulting food emergency.

While Niger is finally getting a little ink, the UN warned that its West African neighbors also face food shortages. Notably Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania -- three countries also badly hit by drought and locusts.

Want to help? Make a donation to the World Food Prorgram or to another related organization.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Same old song and dance

Seems like I write an essay every week on some African leader or another trying to make himself president-for-life.

AUGUST 2001: Angola's president to stand down

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has announced he will not run in the next election, after having been head of state since 1979.

YESTERDAY: ANGOLA: President Dos Santos cleared to stand for next poll

Angola's main opposition party, UNITA, said it was unfazed by a Supreme Court ruling on Monday allowing President Eduardo dos Santos to stand in the country's first post-war election... Observers noted that the Dos Santos candidacy for the top job was a foregone conclusion, as he was the "unifying force" of the MPLA.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Have you no sense of decency, President Mbeki, at long last?

I've written several essays (such as here) criticizing South African president Thabo Mbeki for his appeasement of Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe. In the past, Mbeki's sycophancy has been mostly limited to serving as Mugabe's willing enabler and perpetuating the lie that Mugabe's political repression and economic destruction is dandy because it's all Tony Blair's fault.

But now, Mbeki's boot licking of Zimbabwe's thug-in-chief threatens to reach an entirely different level. Mbeki has suggested that South Africa may repay some of Zimbabwe's foreign debts.

Speaking in Pretoria, Mr Mbeki said his country could help pay off Zimbabwe's near $300m (£172m) loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In doing so, the South African president would become an active accomplice by underwriting the horrors of Mugabe's regime rather than simply a passive apologist for the Zimbabwean bully. And this unconscionable act would be subsidized by the South African taxpayers.

Sunday, July 17, 2005


I am on vacation this week so posts will be sporadic. Thanks.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Anti-corruption backlash in southern Africa

It's no secret that corruption has become severely entrenched in many African countries. Not surprisingly, efforts to root out corruption are not always well-received by those who benefit from the crooked system. Back in the day, military dictators like Nigeria's Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and Burkina Faso's Thomas Sankara could simply use their powers to decree a crackdown on corruption. Quite often, it worked. Autocrats may not be very nice but they can be quite efficient. But human rights groups tend not to appreciate the means by which such 'efficiencies' are implemented.

Today, things are different. It's a bit easier to obstruct the anti-corruption fight when the president is democratically-elected and is expected to more or less respect the constitution and the rule of law. In such a climate, not only can heads of state be blocked in their anti-corruption campaigns, but they can even be punished.

That's what happening in southern Africa.

Malawi's president Bingu wa Mutharika is facing impeachment by the country's parliament. Pres. Mutharika was elected as a member of the UDF party, which also has a parliamentary majority. But he and the party quickly fell out when his anti-corruption campaign targeted his predecessor, Bakili Muluzi. Mutharika was Muluzi's hand-picked successor so ruling party members surely thought they were safe. Mutharika has since quit the UDF to form his own party. But without much support in parliament, it remains to be seen how his efforts against impeachment will fare.

Levy Mwananawasa, in neighboring Zambia, is in a very similiar situation. Pres. Mwananawasa was elected as a member of the MMD party, which also has a parliamentary majority. But he and the party quickly fell out when his anti-corruption campaign targeted his predecessor, Frederik Chiluba. Mwananawasa was Chiluba's hand-picked successor so ruling party members surely thought they were safe. (I didn't just copy and paste the previous paragraph; it really happened that way). Now, Pres. Mwananawasa is fighting for his party to endorse him for re-election in 2006. Police intervened to break up intra-party fights between Mwanawasa loyalists and supporters of his main opponent, who he sacked as vice-president two years ago.

At least Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe has no such worries. He surely intends to die in office to preclude the possibility of facing the same justice Chiluba and Muluzi are confronted with.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Terrorist attack in Kenya kills 61

I was sickened to read of a school massacre in Kenya that cost the lives of at least 61 people, according to police, 22 of whom were school children.

The cause of the atrocity: the desire for livestock.

Cross-border raids for livestock are common in the area but correspondents say this is one of the most deadly such attacks in Kenya's history, reports the BBC.

James Galgalo of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission says that clashes have been ongoing for the last three months. "They are massacring people - from what we saw they used a lot of spears and knives," he said.

Even though this won't result in blanket coverage on CNN or provoke solemn declarations of 'resolve' from western leaders, the victims and their families still merit your thoughts and prayers.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Western NGOs part of the problem?

Western NGOs’ desire to help Africans has led them into unhealthy relationships with host countries, donor governments, and media, says Michael Holman. The result is that they share responsibility for Africa’s development disasters.

An interesting essay at the Open Democracy website. Click here to read it.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Is the jig up for Charles Taylor?

There has been increasing pressure on Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo to send indicted war criminal Charles Taylor to the UN Court for Sierra Leone, where he was accused on sponsoring one of the world's most savage rebel groups.

As you may remember, the former Liberian dictator was granted asylum in Nigeria as part of a deal to end Liberia's second civil war. The deal gave Taylor impunity in exchange for him promising to stay out of Liberian politics.

Many western countries, as well as the chief prosecutor of the UN Court, have been pushing Obasanjo to send Taylor to Freetown. The Nigerian leader has angrily refused, saying that he made a promise and that his word would mean nothing if he sent the former warlord to face justice. Obasanjo claimed he was being 'intimidated and harassed' by the west and human rights groups. He hedged his bets by saying he would only extradite Taylor if the Liberian govenment itself requested it.

Now, it has. The interim government in Monrovia has called for the exile agreement be reviewed, after accusing [Taylor] of repeatedly breaking the terms of his asylum in Nigeria with daily phone calls back home and orders to supporters that could threaten peace in Liberia and beyond.

"(The) preponderance of evidence of Mr Taylor's interference in Liberian politics as well as his destabilisation efforts of the sub-region combines to provide compelling legal necessity for a review of that internationally-brokered exit agreement," said a statement from the Liberian Justice Ministry, according to IRIN. "The ex-president's current activities (include) daily phone calls to cronies in Liberia and other parts of the world, through which he issues orders and instructions, much to the detriment of peace and security of Liberia and the sub-region."

"The ex-president cannot continue to be beneficiary of this agreement in the face of increasing, compelling evidence of his notorious violation of that self-same agreement," the statement added.

Reports from research groups Global Witness and the Coalition for International Justice have said Taylor is controlling or helping to finance at least nine of the 30 or so political parties that have thrown their hat into the ring for the [11] October ballot, notes IRIN. Special Court prosecutors in Sierra Leone have accused Taylor of wiring US $160,000 to his supporters in the Liberian capital Monrovia last October to help start riots that killed 16 people and injured hundreds of others, and have named him as being involved in a January 2005 assassination attempt on ailing Guinean President Lansana Conte.

Now that those 'meddlesome western do-gooders' aren't the only ones calling for Taylor to face justice for his destruction of two countries and destabilization of an entire sub-region, hopefully Pres. Obasanjo will do the right thing.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Why 'never again' keeps happening

I was interested to read this essay by the BBC's Fergal Keane entitled 'Why "never again" keeps happening.'

Keane was the BBC's reporter in Rwanda during that country's genocide, an experience harrowingly recounted in his book Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey.

He wrote the essay based on his trip to Darfur, where another genocide is going on.

He explains some of his frustrations:

I gave up having any faith in the phrase "never again" after Rwanda.

I now add another verbal formulation to the list of redundant phrases.

It is the sentence "We must learn the lessons."

It is of course invariably the precursor to the words "never again."

"We must learn the lessons of the Holocaust, or of Cambodia, or of Bosnia, or of Rwanda... and make sure that things like this..." and you know how this sentence ends, ..."things like this never happen again."

The teaser describes the essay as a reflection on how the international community fails to learn lessons when it comes to reacting to genocide and crimes against humanity.

In reality, this misstates the problem. What Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur have shown is that the international community doesn't want to react to genocide and crimes against humanity. At least not with anything more than endless and empty warnings. It's not that the rest of the world actively wants genocide to occur, but there is no pressure for it to act. What government was defeated at the ballot box because of inaction regarding Rwanda? What government faces massive street protests against inaction regarding Darfur? What government tried to drum up public support for action in Bosnia? None did.

Governments DID learn lessons, just not the lessons human rights groups wanted them to learn.

Ultimately, such inaction in the face of inhumanity's worst atrocities is not a failure of learning lessons. It's a failure of political leadership. It's a failure of will.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

G8 offers plan for Africa; continent underwhelmed

The G8 summit of the world's leading powers meeting in Scotland decided to double the amount of aid they spend on development aid to Africa.

They also agreed to cancel $40 billion of debt owed by 18 African countries.

Sounds like a lot of money until you consider that the amount represents only 10% of what is needed to help countries achieve the Millenium Development Goals designed to slash the most extreme forms of poverty.

Sounds like a lot when you consider that last November, a single country, Iraq, had $44 billion in debt written off by developed countries. And US and European officials were pressing for all the rest of the debts of the world's second-largest oil producer to be erased.

Some Americans oppose debt relief for Africa because it would be 'irresponsible' or would 'promote economic mismanagement.' They argue that all debts should be repaid or else it would be promoting deadbeat-ism. I don't recall any such objections being made to the erasure of Iraqi debt.

While many in the west view Africa as a charity case, its people on bended knee looking for handouts, reality is somewhat different. Most acknowledge that aid by itself won't do a lot of good. They know this simply by looking at history. In reality, the most prominent African leaders are looking not for handouts, but fundamental changes in the world's trading structures. They want increased access to developed country markets for African goods and raw materials. They want the end of huge agricultural subsidies developed country governments lavish on their farmers. They don't want charity; they just want to compete. Sadly, the G8 summit decided to avoid this issue, which is much more fundamental than aid or debt.

(And yes, I suspect many Africans would rather have fairer trade so they could make money for themselves)

Due to President Bush's objections, the G8 also avoided the issue of climate change. Many groups have warned that African poverty reduction efforts will be rendered worthless without action on climate change.

Anyone who is familiar with the increasingly erratic weather in West Africa and the rapid expansion of the dry, brush area known as the Sahel or the reduction of rainy seasons in the Horn of Africa from two to one knows that climate change isn't a figment of anyone's imagination. Not coincidentally, Horn countries Ethiopia and Eritrea are facing food emergencies after disastrous crop yields while Sahel countries Niger and Mali on the verge of famine for the same reason.

Just yesterday, the UN's World Food Programme announced that crops had failed in much of southern Africa, meaning that some 10 million people will need food aid. The main cause cited by the WFP? Erratic weather.

British Chancellor (finance minister) Gordon Brown offered a plan whereby the World Bank would offer financial incentives to developing countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and adopt "clean" technologies. But the move could provoke controversy since US companies, which are in the lead in this new industry, will benefit most from the bank's grants.

It would provoke controversy in Britain perhaps. But since US companies would clearly benefit from such emphasis on new 'green' technologies, it makes President Bush's objections all the more baffling.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Museveni: no longer anyone's darling

An article at the anti-Bush website wonders about the future relations between the Bush administration and Ugandan strongman Yoweri Museveni. Museveni was once hailed as a leader of the 'African renaissance' but his star is fading. He's increasing acting like an ordinary, old-fashioned Big Man by setting himself up to be president-for-life, by invading the DR Congo allegedly to pillage its natural resources. by allegedly trafficking arms into the DRC, by banning all political parties when he took power.

He's certainly an improvement over the two other men who mis-ruled Uganda for any period of time: the infamous Idi Amin and the equally maniacal but less bufoonish Milton Obote. But Museveni's regime has clearly reached the point of diminishing returns. Attempts to make him president-for-life will ruin any hope of Uganda maintaining its fragile stability.

The west hyped Museveni partly because he was a significant improvement on his predecessors but mainly because they wanted an African success story.

"It was not so much what was happening in Uganda, but what the international aid community wanted to project to the world, wanted to project to their key constituencies in the Western world who contribute this money," said Andrew Mwenda, a Ugandan journalist.

Museveni was charismatic. He spoke the language that western politicians and bankers wanted to hear. He threw in just enough 'We're doing political things the Ugandan way' to neutralize guilt-suspectible western liberals.

Liberals like the fact that Museveni was really the first African leader to address the HIV-AIDS issue head on and his efforts helped make a significant dent HIV infection rates in his country. Conservatives like that Museveni's position on the issue has morphed into one of anti-condoms and abstinence only. Liberals appreciated Museveni's support of the Rwandan Patriotic Army, whose invasion stopped the Rwandan genocide. Conservatives like that Museveni backed President Bush on the Iraq aggression. Museveni seduced both the Clinton and Bush administrations.

But these things can no longer hide the fact that Museveni has devolved into the stereotypical African strongman. Something which is perhaps inevitable for any military man who retains power for more htan a few years.

Merely being less bad than Idi Amin isn't good enough if you claim to care about 'liberty and freedom.' It isn't good enough if you care about democracy and human rights. And merely washing your hands of a man like Museveni who's spread havoc well beyond his own borders isn't good enough if you want 'African solutions to African problems.'

Yoweri Museveni has proven to be a threat not only to his own country's security but to regional stability. He is no longer anyone's darling.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Mugabe 'cleanup' disaster denounced by former secret police chief

Even one of Robert Mugabe's closest allies has denounced the sickening demolition of homes in the capital Harare that has left anywhere from 200,000 to 400,000 people homeless. Mugabe said the operation was intended to drive out criminals, though clearly such a plan should start at the presidential mansion.

Former MP Pearson Mbalekwa denounced the operation. He derided assertions that the demolition was well-planned: 'If there was a plan, we wouldn't have people sleeping under trees or next to rivers,' he said. 'It puzzles me and it puzzles all sane people.'

What makes Mbalekwa's criticism particularly stinging is that he was once the head of Mugabe's secret police. He was also a member of the central committee of Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party, until resigning in disgust last week.

Mbalekwa said that neither the central committee nor MPs were consulted until the crackdown had already begun.

Sure, the creation of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people has been condemned by teachers, doctors, church groups, the UN and the opposition. But when even the former secret police chief for a ruthless autocrat denounces your actions as 'callous,' then you know things are bad.

Update: UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan criticized African leaders for largely refusing to speak on the Zimbabwe disaster and other crises. He noted that self-inflicted domestic problems in one country can easily contaminate a whole region. 'Nobody invests in a bad neighbourhood and if you have just one or two countries behaving that way, that hurts everybody,' the secretary-general pointed out. This was after Zimbabwe's two most prominent Catholic archbishops and the country's doctors' association attacked the 'cleanup' operation.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Niamey view from an '82 Toyota

Nathasha Burley of The International Herald Tribune offers this view of Niger's capital Niamey.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Ambiguous Adventure ended

I was saddened to read that Kenya Hudson was ending her excellent blog, Ambiguous Adventure. Africans are fairly underrepresented in the blogosphere, African women's voices even more so. Her entries offered a fresh perspective on many issues. I hope she'll reconsider, even if it means doing the blog in a more modest way. If not, I thank her for the time she's put into the blog. Many of her writings are still worth a read.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Development aid pointless without western action on climate change

Efforts to alleviate poverty in Africa will fail unless urgent action is taken to halt climate change, a coalition of aid and environment groups claims, according this report from the BBC.

The Working Group on Climate Change and Development says the G8 nations have so far failed to "join the dots" between climate change and Africa. The group's concerns are echoed in a separate report from the UK's leading body of scientists, the Royal Society.

So the American government's response?

President Bush has rejected any Kyoto-style deal at the G8 Summit of the world's most prominent leaders. The Bush administration has gone to great strides to criticize, block or otherwise attack others' efforts to fight climate change, but it has offered precious little of its own.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Africa's next president-for-life

Following then-French president François Mitterand's noteworthy La Baule speech and the fall of the Berlin Wall (which decreased western communists for so-called anti-communist dictators), a wave of pseudo-democratization swept through Africa in the early 1990s. Many national constitutions were written or revised to limit presidential terms to two.

In recent years, as many strongmen have reached the end of their second term under said constitutions, they are increasingly pushing to eliminate those wise limits. And it's worth noting that most of those who've forced through the elimination of presidential term limits are military men who arrived in power via a coup. Tunisia's Ben Ali, Guinea's Lansana Conté, Chad's Idriss Déby. A pair of leaders who arrived to the presidency as civilians and via elections tried to eliminate term limits but failed, most notably in Zambia and Malawi.

Now, Uganda's leader Yoweri Museveni has joined this undistinguished crowd. Not content to ban political parties, Museveni's minions in parliament have rammed through a bill to eliminate the two-term limit on Uganda's head of state. Not coincidentally, Museveni is nearing the end of his second term. Not coincidentally, Museveni is a former guerilla leader who arrived in power via the barrel of a gun.

His spokeslackey defended the move with the usual baloney. He didn't want a third term but the people begged him, blah, blah, blah.

It's astonishing they think anyone believes this hogwash.

If after 19 years of Museveni in power, Uganda is still so fragile that no one can conceive of life without the Leader, then his reign has clearly been a failure.

I've often said that Nelson Mandela's greatest contribution to South Africa was to serve a single term. He served five years, did as much as he could and then gave someone else a try. Like any truly great leader, he did not make himself indispensible. I can't overstate how important such a move was in advancing the political development of South Africa. Sadly, most of his would-be peers on the continent are not endowed with such wisdom, humility and restraint.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Ivorian parties sign 9145th peace accord

Stop me if you've heard this one before:

The parties to the Côte d'Ivoire conflict have signed a peace agreement.

Could someone please wake me up if any of the accords ever get implemented?

Given the integrity of those involved, I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Development issues and celebrities

Ethan Z, over at excellent My blog is in Cambridge, but my heart's in Accra blog, wrote an interesting entry on the whole Live 8 series of concerts (described as part of a day of action across the world which kick-starts The Long Walk to Justice that calls on the leaders of the world’s richest countries to act when they meet in Gleneagles on 6th-9th July).

Ethan makes some very cogent points about the way Live 8 was organized (with hardly any actual African artists). He offers some good suggestions about how the well-meaning can sensitize themselves about Africa in a more substantive way than simply going to a concert or putting a fancy banner on one's blog. Try reading a blog written by actual Africans, he suggests. There are many out there (he suggests a few).

However, the main point of Ethan's entry had to do with the whole notion of celebrities getting involved with causes. I share Ethan's ambivalence about the celebrity causes thing. Debt relief is a potentially good thing (if properly implemented). But it's a potentially good thing on its own merits, not just because Bono or Bob Geldof says so.

Yet it's tricky. The main reason I care about third world development issues is because I lived in Africa. My concern was only vague and theoretical before then. Most people don't have the good fortune to live abroad. And you aren't going to learn anything much about development issues by reading the mainstream US media.

So does this mean that the only people who can care about development issues are people who've lived in lesser developed countries? In fact, this goes against everything I believe. Having lived in Africa, I WANT Americans to care about the place, even those who haven't been there. I WANT them to learn more about places they've never been to. In fact, that's a major reason I started this Africa blog in the first place!

I remember back when Princess Diana got involved in the landmine question. I wondered how those ordinary activists felt. They worked on the issue for years to little effect but then this fancy royal flies in and suddenly it's the cause célèbre du jour.

But on the other hand, at the end of the day, the Ottawa treaty banning landmines was signed. Most countries (not including the US) do not use landmines anymore. Is it really important who gets credit? As an activist, is it about you or the cause? Do you think any anti-landmine activist would say, "I think we should revoke the Ottawa treaty because it wouldn't have passed without star power"? I hope not. If so, they are not real activists.

(And if credit does matter, the International Committee to Ban Landmines, not Princess Di, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize)

Yes, it's unfortunate that many people won't learn much about important issues of international development unless a princess or a rock star picks up the mantle. But it's reality. And given all the serious problems facing both the world and individual countries, can you really blame people for not focusing on 10,000 issues at once?

Most people aren't going to the Live 8 concerts because of their concern for development issues. HOWEVER, once there, they will be a captive audience. Once there, they might learn a thing or two about issues they hadn't considered before. They might go home and be spurred to learn a little more. The mere fact that the concert is being held is giving development issues a lot of publicity in places where they usually wouldn't be written about... thus exposing the ideas to people who might not read Foreign Affairs.

It's easy to say, "I know so much about development issues and Live 8 can barely scratch the surface." And it's may be true. But f you want to get people interested in development issues, you have to start somewhere. You don't just wake up and become an expert on something. You can't just count on position papers and academic journals to rile up the masses. So while I really don't care much one way or the other about Live 8, if it spurs a bit of interest in what's going on outside America's and Europe's borders, then far be it from me to complain.