Thursday, May 31, 2007

Gacaca courts in Rwanda

While I am no fan of Rwandan dictator Gen. Paul Kagame, I have been very much in favor of the gacaca courts being used in the country to try suspects implicated in the 1994 genocide. That's in principle. However, Human Rights Watch warns of some of the problems with the system in its application.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Aid: more, less or better targeted?

The African Monitor called on western and multilateral donors need to make good on their promises of aid to Africa, reports the Daily Mail and Guardian.

The group also called on western countries to reform the international trade system.

African Monitor president Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane said the collapse of the World Trade Organisation's Doha talks has stalled negotiations on international trade, which is largely biased against developing countries and restricts market access by African countries.

He pointed out that, far from 'sharing the wealth,' the G8 group of the world's richest countries is sending over half its aid to only ten countires: Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Congo, Mozambique, Uganda, Ghana and Zambia.

A piece in South Africa's Business Day takes issue with that assertion, in a column entitled: 'Helping hand that hobbles Africa.'

It pointed out that Africa received $320bn in aid between 1970 and 2004, yet f[e]ll dramatically behind other regions in development terms.

It added that the rise of China as a major player in Africa is already changing the continent's development model.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Tutu slams the Anglican 'gay obsession'

The Anglican archbishop emeritus of Capetown, Dr. Desmond Tutu, recently called on his church to overcome its 'extraordinary obsession' with gay priests and same-sex marriage.

The Nobel Peace Laureate pointed out that Anglicans should spend their time on far more pressing issues that he says they were ignoring. Such as HIV/AIDS and Darfur. He also rapped the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe for not standing up to the repressive terror of Robert Mugabe.

"We've, it seems to me, been fiddling whilst as it were our Rome was burning. At a time when our continent has been groaning under the burden of HIV/Aids, of corruption," he told the BBC.

"There are so many issues crying out for concern and application by the church of its resources, and here we are, I mean, with this kind of extraordinary obsession."

To his immense credit, this is hardly the first time Archbishop Tutu has called on Anglicans to see through the smokescreen of gay scapegoating.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

ZANU-PF legislators slam Mugabe's brainwashing camps

Zimbabwean despot Robert Mugabe and other members of his dictatorship would have you believe that things are fine and dandy in Zimbabwe and that any problems are the sole result of a grand conspiracy between Tony Blair, George W. Bush and the neo-colonial west in general.

This anti-western smokescreen is eagerly lapped up by much the sycophantic so-called elite in Africa... educated fools who believe that Mugabe's Blair- and Bush-bashing do a damn thing for starving and oppressed Zimbabweans.

So imagine how shocked Bully Bob must've been when legislators from his own party rapped conditions in the brainwashing camps that his regime set up.

South Africa's Daily Mail and Guardian noted that MPs of the ruling ZANU-PF were appalled that Recruits at Zimbabwe's notorious youth camps live in substandard barracks, get very little food and may be at risk of sexual abuse.

The parliamentary report paints a bleak picture of dilapidated dormitories, minimal rations and, for females, the fear of sexual abuse.

At one camp, in the southern Matabeleland region, the barracks had no doors or windows, the report said. Some youths complained they had found snakes inside the building.

Perhaps Tony Blair's secret agents snuck into the brainwashing camps and ruined their previously pristine conditions. Yeah, that must be it!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Literature on child soldiers

The excellent Pambazuka News had a well-done review of two books by West African authors, both of which deal with the theme of child soldiers. One was Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, which is now popular in American bookstores. The other was the novel Allah Is Not Obliged by the late Ahmadou Kourouma (which was published in French several years ago and apparently is now out in an English translation).

Monday, May 21, 2007

Fake orphans in Liberia

The UN's IRIN news service has a troubling story on corruption by orphanages in Liberia.

Orphanages are big businesses in Liberia attracting millions of dollars in international assistance every year, yet thousands of the so-called orphans living there are not parentless at all, according to Liberian government officials and child rights activists, it reports.

"Most of the children living in almost all of the orphanages in this country are not actual orphans, but have been used by orphanage owners to seek external funding for their personal gains,” explained Liberia's deputy health minister for social welfare.

The number of orphanages in the country has increased more than tenfold since the eruption of civil war in the country in 1989. An investigation conducted jointly by the health ministry and UNICEF revealed that some percent of children in orphanges still have parents or family members who are alive.

“There was a case reported to the health ministry in 2006 involving an orphanage owner where a foreign philanthropist had provided thousands of American dollars for the upkeep of the orphanage, but the donor later discovered that those children were not orphans,” the deputy minister said. “Instead they were taken from families within surrounding neighbourhoods.”

In other circumstances, some of these problems might be attributed to the general chaos of war. But the report reveals that orphanges routinely block efforts to reunite children with their families, because it would mean the institutions would lose some funding.

“The more children that an orphanage has the better they can solicit external funding,” said Jerolinmek Piah, coordinator of the National Child Rights Observation Group (NACROG). "Based on assessments we have been carrying out those orphanage owners have established ties with some philanthropic organisations abroad - sometimes in the United States - seeking and receiving funding for children who they have taken from their families and describing them as orphans whereas they are not."

But despite the funding, conditions in many orphanges are not good.

“Children living in Liberia’s orphanages are denied basic rights – ranging from the right to development and health, to the right to identity, family, education, leisure and participation in cultural activities,” says a report issued by UNMIL, the UN mission in the country.

This phenomenon is extremely disturbing, as it certainly raises doubt in the minds of donors about all orphanages. I don't think many donors would have serious problems with their money being used to help children separated from their families, but I'm sure most would expect attempts to be made to reunite children with their families. A tip of the cap to the health ministry for taking this problem seriously.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Mbeki: 'quiet diplomacy' has failed

I don't like this blog to be obsessed with one country or person but South African president Thabo Mbeki keeps sticking his foot in his mouth over Zimbabwe.

For several years, Mbeki has been engaging in 'quiet diplomacy,' as he calls it, with Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe. Mbeki has bragged about this fact and derided the approach called for by critics as 'megaphone diplomacy.' Obviously, 'quiet diplomacy' has accomplished nothing. In fact, it's made things worse by allowing Mugabe and this thugs to buy more time. But Mbeki seems unable (or more likely unwilling) to put two and two together and realize he's being played by a violin by Mugabe.

In a speech before parliament, Mbeki said that his country will just "have to live with" a flood of exiles from the nightmare in Zimbabwe. As many as 3 million Zimbabweans are already believed to be living in South Africa, a number which continues to rise.

This is a clear admission of complete impotence of the disgraced 'quiet diplomacy' policy.

Zimbabwe may be the most high profile diplomatic disgrace for the Mbeki government but as this editorial in the South Africa Daily Mail and Guardian points out, it's not the only one.

The editorial blasted the South African government its meek first five months on the UN Security Council. It voted against a resolution for the UN to scrutinize the human rights' record of the junta in Burma, one of the only countries in the world that's more repressive than Zimbabwe. South Africa also opposed increased sovereignty for the Sebrian province of Kosovo, where a Serb-led genocide raged less than a decade ago.

What a sad record for an administration comprised primarily of men and women who'd dedicated much of their pre-government lives fighting AGAINST one of the world's most infamous human rights abusing regimes.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Pity the continent

When they read news stories about Africa (particularly the continent's misleaders), many Americans throw their hands up in despair and exclaim, "A pox on all their houses." Many wonder why the US should continue to send huge sums of money to countries that are only going to spit on them in return.

As a resolute Africaphile, I'm not prone to this kind of cynicism. And I'm informed enough to realize that foreign aid by governments is not some humane charity but a way of advancing the donor country's perceived interests. But every once in a while, it's easy to understand such isolationist rage.

The Christian Science Monitor had revealing piece on why most African leaders have bent over backwards to avoid criticizing Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe.

Many African heads of state are also dictators or at least have autocratic tendencies. So it's no shock when birds of a feather flock together.

But the more disturbing fact is that some of Mugabe's most ardent apologists are the democratically-elected presidents. The highly educated ones. The former 'freedom fighters.' The supposed beacons of the continent. The ones who should know better.

Mugabe has destroyed Zimbabwe by his own hand. It's not surprising that he should blame everyone but himself. It's not surprising that he blames Tony Blair, George W. Bush and John Howard for everything INCLUDING the bad weather. But it's shameful that the 'best and the brightest' of African leaders are going along with the thug's smokescreen.

As The Monitor article pointed out:

At a March 28 conference of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, South African President Thabo Mbeki called for African unity above all.

"The fight against Zimbabwe is a fight against us all. Today it is Zimbabwe; tomorrow it will be South Africa, it will be Mozambique, it will be Angola, it will be any other African country. And any government that is perceived to be strong and to be resistant to imperialists would be made a target and would be undermined. So let us not allow any point of weakness in the solidarity of SADC, because that weakness will also be transferred to the rest of Africa."

At the end of the conference, African leaders threw their unanimous support behind Zimbabwe's Mugabe and called on Mr. Mbeki (not the West) to mediate between Mugabe and the political opposition. Leaders who had been critical of Mugabe before the conference, including Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, fell silent.

This is something I would expect from Bob himself. But coming from an educated, widely-respected man like Thabo Mbeki, it leaves one speechless. Especially from someone like Mbeki who famously promised an African renaissance. If Mbeki and Mugabe embody that African renaissance, then I despair for the continent.

Zimbabwe is a place with 1700 percent yearly inflation. A place where not only the political opponents and journalists brutalized, but so are lawyers. Even bishops aren't safe.

The unpleasant fact is that a good chunk of the African 'elite' is more interested being anti-western than being pro-African. It's a sad example of egoism getting the better of both rationalism and humanity.

When Mugabe's regime razed townships in Harare creating at least 200,000 homeless, it wasn't Bush and Blair who suffered.

When Mugabe's regime seized control of international food aid for the purpose of punishing opponents, it wasn't Bush and Blair who suffered.

When Mugabe's insecurity forces torture whoever they feel like, it's not Bush and Blair who suffer.

When the ruling party's militias run rampage after attending torture training camps, it's not Bush and Blair who suffer.

That someone as educated and respected as Thabo Mbeki fails or refuses to see this is a sad commentary on the state of leadership on the continent. I'm not an Afro-pessimist but when I read comments like those from Mbeki, I wonder why I'm not. Is this the best Africa has to offer? Have all the Africans with real leadership skills fled to Europe and North America?

Via colonialism and neo-colonialism, western countries have clearly played a pernicious role in hindering the development of Africa. There can be no doubt about that. But it's about time the 'best and the brightest' realized that African leaders, even the 'good' ones, are also part of the problem.

The west is certainly the cause of some of Africa's problems, but not all of them. As long as the 'best and the brightest' on the continent continue to bury their head in the sand and refuse to accept their share of responsibility for putting their own house in order, Africa will remain a basket case.

Most ordinary Africans are industrious. In countries with virtually no social welfare programs, they have to be or else they die. If hard work were rewarded on the continent, Africa would be the most prosperous place in the world. But it's not rewarded. That's why so many Africans emigrate to the west.

Most ordinary Africans know how responsibility should be apportioned. Most ordinary Africans know that Blair and Bush are not responsible for all their problems. They are smarter than most people give them credit for. So I wonder when they will rise up against their self-delusional elites who are complicit in the continent's underdevelopment.

Update: The New York Times ran an editorial on Thursday on the same topic. Western critics claim that Mbeki's policy of quiet diplomacy needs time to bear fruit. But Mbeki has been engaging in this practice for some five years and the decline in Zimbabwe is only accelerating. It looks like Pres. Mbeki has as clearheaded a view on Zimbabwe as Pres. Bush does on Iraq.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Guinean soldiers engage in orgy of rioting, looting

Disaffected soldiers in Guinea have erupted in an orgy of rioting and looting in recent weeks.

Soldiers claim that wages have been withheld since 1996, when an army mutiny-cum-attempted coup costs hundreds of lives, and wants the re-integration of troops who were sacked after those events.

Over the weekend, soldiers went on the rampage in Conakry, causing panic in the capital.

The head of state, Gen. Lansana Conté, conceded to the demands of the mutineers by sacking the army chief and the defense minister. But troops continued to run amock.

On Saturday evening IRIN [news service] saw soldiers robbing civilians in Conakry and looting shops and warehouses. Witnesses said men in army uniforms stole vehicles and looted cacao, rice and sugar, as well electrical equipment such as generators.

Witness also said soldiers were responsible for a raid on UNFPA’s [UN Population Fund] stores, stealing stocks of condoms as well as computer equipment. UN facilities were also targeted during a civil uprising earlier this year when World Food Programme warehouses in several towns were looted.

After some of the rioting, some salary arrears and promotions were handed out, yet the violence continued.

While there is little love lost for the corrupt thugocracy of Gen. Conté, the soldiers' actions is deplorable. The insecurity forces killed over 100 peaceful protesters during the January-February general strike and now they have the unmitigated audacity to demand better pay and working conditions after their brutal aggressions against the Guinean people.

Why not take their frustrations out on the presidential palace or the head of state's cabal rather than ordinary Guineans? I hope these soldiers are soon sharing prison cell with Conté.

Update: Guinéenews reports that the raiding of the UN Population Fund's warehouses resulted in over $326,000 in losses!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Going, going, gone!

The outgoing Nigerian government of Olesegun Obasanjo seems in a great hurry to auction off oil exportation licenses before their term of office ends later this month.

I wonder why the haste...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Why not? It works for Mugabe!

Former Zambian president Frederick Chiluba was found guilty by a British court of using $39 million of public funds for personal use, on items such as fancy designer clothes. The suit was brought against him in the UK because the money passed through London bank accounts.

Chiluba reacted angrily to the ruling, calling it 'obscene' and 'racist' as well as referring to some mythical grand collusion.

"At best, this judgment is a mere political statement made by a man who represents a vicious and violent system with inherent prejudices and hatred against Africa," he fumed.

As outrageous as his statements are, the logic behind them is completely understandable. Zimbabwean thug-in-chief Robert Mugabe employs the 'racism' line every time anyone in the west criticizes him and most African leaders have given him a free pass because of it. So it's not surprising that Chiluba is trying the same approach.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Horror continues in the eastern DRC

While the western media's attention is mostly focused on Darfur (to the extent that it's focused anywhere in the non-western world), the nightmare in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo continues unabated, despite 'democratic elections' not long ago.

The BBC World Service's World Today program has a chilling piece on what continues to go on in that region.

If you click here, it's the second segment.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Guinean women attacked and raped over dance

The BBC had a bizarre story on a backlash against a dance in Guinea.

Men in the capital Conakry have begun attacking women who they accuse of doing the popular buttock-swinging Wolosso dance from Ivory Coast.
Teenagers wearing skirts or hipsters, associated with Wolosso, which partly expose their buttocks and midriff have been stripped naked and beaten up.

The police have also confirmed several cases of rape linked to this backlash.

This development has apparently started in the last week, after the visit of a Wolosso group from neighboring Côte d'Ivoire. The dance is seen by many in Guinea to be pornographic.

So the way to deal with women who engaging in 'pornographic' behavior is to strip them naked and rape them?