The Christian Science Monitor highlights an April report by the International Food Policy Research Institute entitled "'Land Grabbing' by Foreign Investors in Developing Countries." The report details purchases of farmland in developing countries by China, South Korea, India, and a handful of gulf states.
Another analysis of the "land-grabbing" trend relased in June by the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization and two other agricultural research groups examines more closely the potential positives and negatives of the purchases.
Increased investment may bring macro-level benefits (such as GDP growth and improved government revenues), and may create opportunities for economic development and livelihood improvement in rural areas.
But as governments or markets make land available to prospecting investors, large-scale land acquisitions may result in local people losing access to the resources on which they depend for their food security – particularly as some key recipient countries are themselves faced with food security challenges.
And, as Devindeer Sharma from India's Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security told the Telegraph on June 28, there is a high chance of a local backlash and investors will have to avoid a neo-colonial image:
"There are 80 Indian companies trying to get land in Ethiopia, and it's all to be imported back to India. The government of India has been encouraging them," he said, and warned of danger if famine returned to Africa.
"If food is being shipped out and poor people are dying, what will happen? There would be riots," he said.
Thoughts? Is the investment good or bad for the recipient countries?
RANCOIS XAVIER MARIT/AFP/Getty Images
As promised, Barack Obama recorded a video response to several questions from Africans submitted by text message about his administration's policy towards Africa.
That only three were answered is probably a let down to the more than 5,000 people who submitted questions. However, the White House tried to reiterate its interest in African concerns by allowing three African journalists from Senegal, Kenya and South Africa to each select a question. The video is below and to summarize the three questions were:
These aren't exactly the hardest questions ever, and Obama had time to prepare, but the video, which was released to African radio and tv stations, shows a president who in his own words, is "probably as knowledgeable about African history as anybody who's occupied my office."
This is a good thing. Now let's see how the policy measures up.
Just hours after Nigeria's Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) announced its 60-day truce, promising to prepare for negotiations, ("...wise men and women will be put together after consultations with relevant stakeholders. They will speak on our behalf and convey our demands to government.")... they may be changing their minds.
E-mailed to this blogger from spokesman alias Jomo Gbomo at 7:49am EST:
Barely 12 hours into our ceasefire, the military Joint Task Force has dispatched seven gun boats with heavily armed troops from Warri and are headed towards one of our camps located around the Delta/Ondo state border.If this information from a very reliable source within the JTF happens to be true, the ceasefire will be called off with immediate effect.We are monitoring the armada and sincerely hope that the planned attack will be converted to a war exercise.
In a fascinating feature in the new issue of the Boston Review, Oxford economist (and recent FP contributor) Paul Collier makes a radical proposal: What if instead of trying to find ways to promote economic development politely from afar, international actors considered full scale "interventions" to help poor countries jumpstart their development?
Collier, author of The Bottom Billion and the more recent Wars, Guns and Votes, argues that the two main obstacles for development in the 60 or so poorest countries are institutional inabilities to provide security or government accountability. Rather than keep trying to build these institutions first, Collier proposes that outside actors should supply them for an interim period:
Recall what the United States did last time it got serious about developing another insecure region. Its agenda was radically more ambitious then. The time was 60 years ago, and the insecure region was post-war Europe. The United States got serious because the consequences of Europe falling apart, given the neighboring nuclear Soviet Union, were so alarming. Washington brought the full range of pertinent policies to bear. There was a large aid program, the Marshall Plan. But aid was only a part of the solution. A massive security program, NATO, complemented the aid; more than one hundred thousand American soldiers were stationed in Europe for more than 40 years.
Along with Collier's admittedly provocative piece, the BR has shorter reactions from a host of aid experts: Stephen Krasner, William Easterly, Larry Diamond, Edward Miguel, Mike McGovern, and Nancy Birdsall. Collier then responds.
In contrast to Collier, Obama told allAfrica in an interview that with foreign aid he thinks "what [the U.S.] should be doing is trying to minimize our footprint and maximize the degree to which we're training people to do for themselves."
There is a lot to be said for reforming a system in which billions of U.S. foreign aid dollars go straight to contractors in Washington, but I think Collier has a point. Some countries like Somalia and the DRC are unlikely to put the pieces back together on their own. But while the idea of providing institutional strength for the bottom billion is attractive, it is still difficult to imagine how this could be implemented anytime soon.
Wathiq Khuzaie / Getty Images
From the Financial Times coverage of Obama's arrival in Ghana (seen at right):
“When a white man like the French president comes to tell you to put your house in order it is seen as an offence. When a black brother comes it is good advice,” Ablade Glover, the Ghanaian painter, said.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
It was bound to happen: President Barack Obama's innocuous little trip to Ghana was apt to annoy someone or another. One might have exptected Kenya, where Obama still has family, to feel slighted. But the visit did even more damage the ego of another African power: Nigeria.
As soon as the news of Obama's trip was announced, the editorials began. Nigeria is the largest country in Africa by population. It has oil reserves that head, by and large, to the United States for consumption. It is a regional leader in economic and political terms. So why, the country wondered, would Obama pick its relatively smaller neighbor to the South?
The answer, many in civil society concluded, is pretty clear: Nigeria must get its house in order before it will be honored with such a visit. Notorious for corruption, flawed elections, and an ongoing insurgency in the oil-producing region, Nigeria is in many ways everything Ghana is not. One Nigerian commentor on the BBC site proclaimed, "Snubbing Nigeria is okay. It is a wake up call for those who drag Nigeria by the nose." Even Wole Soyinka, one of the country's most esteemed intellectuals, said that he agreed with Obama's decision; Nigeria didn't merit the honor, he told a gathering in the capital, Abuja.
How has the Nigerian government reacted? If the Daily Trust newspaper has it pegged, "the honey pot of the 'big men' has turned paranoid." The head of the Foreign Relations Committee in Nigeria told the BBC that Obama should express any concerns he had about Nigeria in Abuja -- in person -- rather than by sending cryptic foreign policy signs. Criticism of the foreign service abounds, as well, as many claim that it was poor Nigerian diplomacy that failed to win the visit.
So if Obama has been trying to send a message by visiting the relatively democratic and peaceful Ghana, it appears to at least be causing a stir. Of course, there are those who favor other theories for Nigeria's being slighted of the visit:
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images
Come to think of it, you know Obama likes to play basketball. Suppose he invites President Yar'Adua while visiting to a game of basketball, one on one, and the man out of politeness agrees. And you know President Yar'Adua doesn't play basketball, he only plays squash.
A new United Nations report released Tuesday has spurred international law enforcement into action in West Africa. As many as four UN bodies, ECOWAS, and Interpol are involved in what is to become a concerted effort aimed at stopping organized crime.
Among other conclusions, the 90-page UN report finds that up to half of all medication used in the region may be either "substandard or counterfeit," and that "80 percent of the cigarette market ... is illicit, meaning that cigarette sales in those countries chiefly profit criminals."
In particular, reports the BBC, the new campaign targets Guinea-Bissau, the Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Observers can expect strengthened border security as well as attempts to improve local judicial systems.
We want to be different from other African countries. We want to show the world that the money given to us will be going to where they want it, to be used in a transparent way.
Obama will respond to questions submitted this week by text message (SMS) in a recording made sometime before his speech at the Ghanaian parliament. The tape will be released to African radio stations and other media after his speech, and the speech will also be broadcast simultaneously on African radio stations and on the internet.
The White House page with all the details is here, including the numbers Africans can use to submit their questions. Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa have dedicated local shortcodes with longcodes available for other Africans. According to Kenya's Daily Nation, local SMS rates will be charged, and mobile users can choose to receive excerpts from the speech via SMS in French or English.
Erik Hersman, a new media guru who blogs at White African, worked with the White House on the platform and has a great post on logistics and some of the reasoning behind the various outreach platforms. Hersman says that U.S. citizens cannot participate in the SMS platform because of cold-war era legislation on public diplomacy, but other efforts including a live chat on Facebook and a dedicated Twitter tag (#obamaghana) will try and encourage global discussion. News site allAfrica is also collecting questions for Obama.
With no glitches, this demonstration of interest in the views of Africans will probably boost Obama's global approval ratings, which already are almost double those of the United States. At Accra's tourist market, Obama t-shirts and paintings are flying off the shelves and Ghanaians are hoping for a boost in tourism after the visit.
More on Obama's decision to visit Ghana can be found in a recent post by FP editor Elizabeth Dickinson.
SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images
You would not speak to an idiot of that nature. I was very angry with him, and he thinks he could dictate to us what to do and what not to do. We have the whole of [the South African Development Community] working with us, and you have the likes of little fellows like Carson, you see, wanting to say: 'You do this, you do that.' Who is he? I hope he was not speaking for Obama.
A little American girl trotting around the globe like a prostitute.
Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation commission reccomended several days ago that a number of politicians, including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, be banned from politics for a period of 30 years because of their past support for warring factions in Liberia's civil war. A World Bank veteran and Africa's first elected female head of state, Sirleaf is a darling of the Western media and aid community and some commentators are just shocked, shocked to realize that she's something other than a saint.
Blogging from Liberia, Chris Blattman advises everyone to take a deep breath and get real:
Sirleaf openly supported at least two rebel movements -- Charles Taylor's attempt to overthrow President Doe in 1989, and LURD's invasion to oust Charles Taylor a decade later. The TRC is condemning these actions--not something you'd expect human rights advocates to disbelieve, let alone protest.
Of course, it's not clear that there is a Liberian over the age of six who hasn't supported one rebel group or another the past twenty years. If they were all banned from politics, there wouldn't be a local left to run the place.
Not that it matters. The TRC has no teeth. I don't know the legal details, but the idea that the Commission can bar the President from politics seems laughable. Oh, did I mention that the TRC judges (a) laughably bad at their job, and (b) have political interests themselves?
But was dear Ellen unjustly maligned? Please. The outside world paints Sirleaf as an angel and Charles Taylor as a demon. Black and white politics are easy to digest. But there are no angels or demons in politics anywhere, least of all Liberia. Ellen is not the noble cherub you think. Taylor is not the black devil you fear. The truth of the matter, as always, is more subtle.
Bruno Vincent/Getty Images
Human Rights Watch has issued a statement asking for the removing of contentious proposals in a draft bill before the Rwandan parliament. Health and human rights director Joe Amon said that if enacted, the law would require the forced sterilization of mentally disabled persons, mandatory HIV/AIDS testing for couples who plan to wed, for married individuals at his or her spouse's request, and for children or incapacitated persons for whom it is deemed "necessary" without their consent. He said:
While Rwanda has made notable progress in fighting stigma and responding to the AIDS epidemic, and has pledged to advance the rights of persons with disability, forced sterilization and mandatory HIV testing do not contribute to those goals. These elements of the bill undermine reproductive health goals and undo decades of work to ensure respect for reproductive rights.
In recent years Rwanda has made not simply strides but rather leaps in combating HIV/AIDS. UNAIDS figures reveal a dramatic drop in national adult HIV prevalence, from nine percent in 1990 to a little under three percent in 2007.
Essentially, Rwanda's efforts to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS need to be decoupled from any attempts at compulsory sterilization or testing. If undertaken in a widespread manner or as part of systematic practice as the bill intends, forced sterilization is regarded as a crime against humanity by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to which Rwanda is party. Rwanda has also signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol as of December 15, 2008.
Deputy speaker of the Rwandan parliament Damascene Ntawukuriryayo has subsequently denied the existence of the bill.
Brent Stirton/Getty images
In May, FP and our readers enjoyed going through the many, many silly acronyms in use around the world, including PIIGS, STUC, MILF, and MANPADS. But last week's agreement between Nigeria and Russia on a joint gas venture has a name that tops all of those for awkardness:
It probably seemed a good idea at the time. But Russia's attempt to create a joint gas venture with Nigeria is set to become one of the classic branding disasters of all time -- after the new company was named Nigaz.
The venture was agreed last week during a four-day trip by Russia's president Dmitry Medvedev to Africa. The deal between Russia's Gazprom and Nigeria's state oil company was supposed to show off the Kremlin's growing interest in Africa's energy reserves.
Instead, the venture is now likely to be remembered for all the wrong reasons -- as a memorable PR blunder, worse than Chevrolet's Nova, which failed to sell in South America because it translates as "doesn't go" in Spanish[...]
An article in Brand Republic pointed out the obvious: that the name has "rather different connotations" for English-speakers.
Stan Marsh sympathizes.
DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images
"Silent killers" in Africa are usually malaria, malnutrition, river blindness, HIV/AIDs...and the list goes on. But recent reports suggest it might be time to add one more, and it's one you might not expect: obesity.
"A third of women in urban Kampala and a quarter of the women in more rural central and southwestern Uganda are overweight or obese, according to 2007 government statistics. It is a major paradox since 50 percent of children in southwestern Uganda are malnourished," Derrick Z. Jackson writes in a Boston Globe op-ed.
This does not come as a surprise to me. Go to the prominent markets in cities, or take a drive through the richer neighborhoods in Nigeria, Cameroon, or even Liberia for that matter, and obesity is visible -- if not as prevelant as in the United States, for example. There are no real reliable statistics on obesity in Africa yet (check out how nearly the whole continent lacks data here) but there is a general consensus that the epidemic is growing -- at least among the wealthier.
In my experience, "fatness" is not bemoaned much in the African countries I've visited... In fact, it's applauded. I'll never forget a church service I observed in which a preacher asked attendees to greet their neighbor joyously: "Today is your day of fatness!"
Fatness, in this context, means more than just physique. It's associated with wealth of all sorts. In a continent struck by poverty, being big in all things -- wallet, house, and belt size -- is a sign of success. I was often told to gain weight, and complimented on days when I apparently looked "bigger." It's an understandable mentality when poverty is all around; when one escapes such a fate, seeking all things non-poor is a prized goal. What is harder to justify is the way that the "big man" concept fits into corruption as well. Opportunities to get rich are often taken; and big men become exactly that in all senses of the word.
Obviously, this is a small subset, and certainly there are other reasons for obesity on the rise. (It doesn't help that African food is often rich -- for example in Sierra Leone: rice, palm oil, cassava, palm oil, meat, and more palm-oil fried plantains -- so workers moving from the fields to desk jobs are likely to take in more calories than a sedentary lifestyle allows).
But if I'm right, or if being big remains a big goal, then Africa's slow rise out of poverty could bring with it a rise of obesity. But perhaps being big won't be so special anymore -- and another fashion will fill its place.
Fiber optic fever has hit East Africa. On Friday, June 12, the 4,500 kilometer (2,790 mile) East Africa Marine System (TEAMS) underwater cable connected the Kenyan port town of Mombasa with Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates and is expected to begin operating within three months.
"Until now, the eastern Africa coast was the longest coastline in the
world without a fiber-optic cable connection to the rest of the world," Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki said at the launch ceremony after the cables were pulled ashore.
This great map by Steve Song shows where things will be in a few years with line thickness representing bandwith size. The TEAMS cable (green on map above) is one of three international fiber optic cables expected to reach East Africa this year.
The next (red on map) is constructed by SEACOM, a private company in partnership with a number of African companies. It has already landed, to less fanfare because the Kenyan government has a stake in TEAMS, and is supposed to be ready by the end of June, connecting East Africa to Europe and Asia. The third, the East African Marine Cable System (EASSy) is sponsored by the International Finance Corporation, the private sector wing of the World Bank and is scheduled to be finished in 2010 (blue on map).
When the cables go online, they will replace satellite connections as the main source of internet access in Africa, increasing speed, reliability and reducing cost. This should improve productivity and allow increased access with the lower price. In Kenya, the internet company Access Kenya has already pledged that the new cables will double internet speed for its users, and companies are scrambling buy access to the broadband and to finalize internal fiber optic cables. Neighboring landlocked states like Uganda and Rwanda are seeking to do the same.
As interconnectivity between
African countries increases, economic benefits are expected, especially
in Kenya, which has a fast developing IT sector. Other potential impacts include education and access to media.
For a good visual of all the submarine internet cables operating or being built worldwide, check out this Alcatel-Lucent map (pdf).The more connections, the faster information can move. Most major websites are still hosted in the United States and Europe, but as Africa's wired status improves, this could change, and locally hosted data is much faster to access.
As the world watches Iran, one unexpected country is paying particularly acute attention: Uganda. That country's oil-exporting future lies -- for now at least -- in the hands of whoever sits in power in Tehran.
The country's President Yoweri Museveni recently concluded talks with Iran's President Mahmood Ahmadinejad for the construction of an oil refinery in the East African country. At least some of the funding for the refinery will come from Iran (reports vary on how much -- for example here and here). Tehran also promised to instruct Ugandans at its University of Petroleum Studies and invest throughout the oil pumping chain.
Uganda is a newcomer to the world of oil export. Its resources, now estimated at 2 billion barrells (Iran, by comparison, has reserves of about 130 billion), are just now beginning to come online. The deal with Iran is aimed at making the country's oil industry self-sufficient and value added; unlike other exporters on the continent such as Nigeria, crude oil will be refined in country and sent as a finished product for export. In theory, that could save the country some money -- and the need to ironically re-import its own gasoline. But some wonder if the refinery, at an estimated cost of $1.3 billion, will really be cost effective for a country looking to pump out just 100,000 barrels per day.
Either way, it's somewhat disconcerting to imagine Uganda following in Iran's path as an energy giant. The behemoth of oil revenues failed to improve the country's lot last year; and instead, economic calamity set in. If Uganda looks to that example, Iran's election outcome isn't the only gamble in the country's future.
When Somalia drops out of the news, it doesn't usually mean that it's all quiet on the East African front. It just means there's no pirates involved.
That's exactly what the weekend looked like in Somalia: eventful but (relatively) pirate free. Now, the big troubles are on land. On Saturday, a desperate Somali government begged neighboring countries for troops to shore up its grip on, well, a few blocks of the capital, Mogadishu.
On Sunday, militant group al-Shabab promised to kill any foreign troops that came to Somalia to bring calm. (Actually, the spokesman was a little more explicit: "We tell you that our dogs and cats will enjoy eating the dead bodies of your boys if you try to respond to the calls of these stooges.")
And sure enough, yesterday, the Christian Science Monitor reported that Ethiopian troops, who left Somalia earlier this year after several years of occuption, are back and ready to defend the government -- for better or for worse.
What's going on in Somalia is the battle for the country's very soul that was supressed for several years under Ethiopian occupation, but has never really gone away. The two major Islamist groups posing a challenge to the central government today are al-Shabab, and Hizbul Islam, headed by the often Eritrea-based Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys. They control much of Somalia, from what scant press reports can tell. Their forces are more armed and numerous than those of the government. And in some cases, they have a bit more street credibility as well. If either were to take power, as they have in some localities, they would likely install Sharia law. Both forces resisted the unpopular Ethiopian occupation the first time around. This time would be no different.
What is different is that this time around, the Islamist groups are looking more serious than mere street gangs. A report in the East African compares Somalia to Afghanistan and Pakistan -- and makes the not-so-unimagineable claim that "Last month, several hundred jihadis came to link up with Al Shabaab's latest offensive, and now the Taliban are reportedly flocking to Somalia en masse."
Makes the pirates look pretty benign, if you ask me.
The only useful definition of human rights is one where a human rights crusader could identify WHOSE rights are being violated and WHO is the violator. That is what historically has led to progress on human rights...Poverty does not fit this definition of rights. Who is depriving the poor of their right to an adequate income? There are many theories of poverty, but few of them lead to a clear identification of the Violator of this right.He writes in part to criticize Amnesty International's 2009 report (pictured at right) for its inclusion of poverty as a rights violation. In a following post he then publishes a response from Sameer Dossani of Amnesty:
It's true that lack of income, in and of itself, isn't a human rights violation. But poverty is about a lot more than just income. As Easterly knows, those who live on less than a dollar a day are poor not just because they lack income; the lack of income implies lack of access to services, clean drinking water, adequate education, housing, employment and so on. All of these are violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights. To give just one of many possible examples, estimates indicate that as many as 8,000 children die daily in Africa alone from preventable diseases such as cholera and dysentery. It's certainly true to say that these are diseases of poverty - the rich can ensure that their water is not contaminated and can seek treatment at private hospitals as opposed to understaffed government clinics - but they are more than that. They are violations of the right to health and the right to clean water.
Is this more than a semantic debate? Both agree poverty ought to be alleviated and that poverty is connected to actual human rights violations. Easterly calls it "disappointing" that Amnesty is "blurring its previous clear focus on human rights." Is it?
SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images
An attack on Algerian police by the militant group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) was the latest in a wave of violence in North Africa this week. It followed two major incidents in Somalia.
On June 17, Mogadishu's police chief was among those killed in heavy fighting between hardline Islamic militia and pro-government forces in the city. The following day, the Somali security minister was killed along with at least 22 others in a car bombing of a hotel in Beledweyne, north of Mogadishu. The last month has seen a push in Mogadishu by anti-government forces like the man pictured above.
Interestingly, while Somalia's rebels, including some hardline Islamists have often downplayed alleged Al Qaeda connections and told Osama bin Laden to stay out of their business, AQIM in Algeria was formed from extremist remnants from the country's civil war in the 1990s and explicitly joined Al Qaeda in 2006, showing their allegiance with the name change.
MUSTAFA ABDI/AFP/Getty Images
Five years ago, when South Africa won the right to host the 2010 World Cup, many were concerned whether the country had the infrastructure to host the huge tournament. With one year to go, though, most observers agree that the country will be pass that test. Instead, the biggest complaints have centered on an instrument called the vuvuzela.
Described by one newspaper as "a unique brightly coloured elongated trumpet that makes a sound like a herd of elephants approaching", the vuvuzela has become the biggest controversy at this summer's Confederations Cup [a small tournament between continental champions that functions as a World Cup warm-up].
Fans argue that it is an essential way to express their national identity. But players and TV commentators have called for it be banned at the World Cup.
Liverpool's Xabi Alonso, playing for Spain in the current tournament, said: "They make a terrible noise and it's not a good idea to have them on sale outside the grounds. Here's a piece of advice for Fifa [football's world governing body,] - try to ban them."
The South African Association of Audiology has warned that vuvuzelas can damage hearing.
But supporters are sticking to their horns. Chris Massah Malawai, 23, watching the national team beat New Zealand, said: "This is our voice. We sing through it. It makes me feel the game."
It's hard to say the vuvuzela is melodious; its sound can be best described as a monotone swarm of bees (judge for yourself with this news report). But the biggest problem with the vuvuzela may not be the noise. Rather, whereas most fans in other countries correlate their noise to what's going on on the pitch, it is typical in South Africa to blow the horn for the entire match. Not surprisingly, the monotone sound becomes far more grating in 45-minute doses.
Still, as FIFA president Sepp Blatter has said:
"I always said that when we go to South Africa, it is Africa. It's not western Europe. It's noisy, it's energy, rhythm, music, dance, drums. This is Africa. We have to adapt a little."
So next summer, sit back, and get ready to hit the mute button.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
A new report (pdf) from the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) found that more than a quarter of 1738 men surveyed in two provinces admitted to having committed rape, with 1 in 20 admitting to doing so in the last year.
From the (South African) Mail & Guardian:
46.3 percent of men who admitted to rape said they had done it more than once.
Of those surveyed, 28% said they had raped a woman or girl, and 3% said they had raped a man or boy. Almost half who said they had carried out a rape admitted they had done so more than once, with 73% saying they had carried out their first assault before the age of 20.
Zimbabwean editor Vincent Kahiya has had his newspaper's office raided and spent many nights sleeping on the floor in freezing, filthy prison cells for publishing editorials critical of Robert Mugabe, but he tells the Guardian he wouldn't want to work anywhere else:
[J]ust as firefighters sign up to fight fires and soldiers sign up to go to war, so journalists thrive on a "busy patch". Vincent Kahiya has had no shortage of stories in recent years to fill the Zimbabwe Independent. He mused: "It's a unique opportunity for a journalist to be in this environment. I once spent a month in Denmark on secondment and there isn't any news. People write about trees, or the trains being late."
There were probably quite a few places Nicolas Sarkozy would have rather been than at Omar Bongo's funeral today. Not only did the late Gabonese dictator have an astonishing 40-year record of human right abuses and corruption, but at the time of his death, a French court was investigating him for embezzlement, which always makes things awkward, not to mention the fact that the French government had been accused for years of protecting Bongo from prosecution.
"Go home we don't want you, leave," chanted the protesters. "Timber, petrol, manganese, we've given you everything. If France is what it is, it's thanks to Gabon. We don't want this anymore. We want the Americans and Chinese," said one.
Chirac was a close friend of Bongo (and, if you believe Valérie Giscard d'Estaing, received money from him to fund his 1981 presidential campaign); Sarkozy paid him lip service but Bongo was outraged that the French leader had failed to crush a legal complaint about where his family got the money to pay for 39 luxury properties in France and various flash racing cars. A court order to block some of his France-based bank accounts further irked him.
All of this raises the question of why Sarkozy allowed himself to be humiliated like this. Chirac got a lot of flack for not attending the funeral of former Senegalese President Leopold Senghor in 2001, but Senghor was a genuine democrat, anticolonialist icon, and major Francaphone literary figure to boot. Bongo: not so much.
I know France has economic interests to protect in Gabon, but given that the French president Bongo actually liked was going anyway, I'm sure Sarkozy could have gotten away with a sympathy card.
Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangiari is in Washington this week, part of his three-week tour of foreign capitals carrying a simple but vital message: Zimbabwe is finally headed down the right path, so please world, do pitch in.
His is not an easy task. As he told me a few weeks ago by phone from Zimbabwe, many donors have been reluctant to start up much more than humanitarian aid -- skeptical that change can come while Mugabe remains in power. But Tsvangirai and his cabinet members have already proven many critics (like myself) wrong: inflation has dropped dramatically, food is back on the shelves, and security has returned to the streets. As he put it speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations today, "Zimbabwe is changing. Already Zimbabwe is a different place, a significantly better place. As a society, we were near death, and we have come back to life."
But on top of talking policy today, Tsvangirai gave some insight during his Q&A at CFR about what his daily life is like in the government. Here's some highlights:
On what is motivating Mugabe:
I don't want to demean those who have the misfortune of being over 85. [Laughs] But I can assure you that, what probably motivates people of that age group is the legacy. I can only deduce the fact that perhaps it's about what is the legacy... I'm sure at his late, twilight years, he has realized that he has to end his life as the founding father ofthe nation, not somebody who is the villain of the nation.
On what still keeps him up at night worrying:
Let me say that what gives me optimism is the hope that we have created a new Zimbabwe. I went to my village and i met a woman who said, Prime Minister, we want you only to do two things: get our education working, get our health system working. You have succeeded. To me, it's a very easy task: the educations is working; the health is working. Now of course, there are higher, complex issues that we have to deal with of governance. And of course, I have my worries. I have my worries when we think that things are moving smoothly and all of a sudden something pops up; a journalist is arrested.. and it becomes the news -- the negative becomes the news. The postive is then ignored in the process. And that is my worry. I am also worried, like all of you, we have experienced mistrust on President Mugabe's committment to this process. I still have my one corner of my mind that says: maybe he's trying to cheat me. I have to be on my guard. But certainly, I have to always look hopeful because that's what people expect. To me, the people of Zimbabwe are cautiously optimistic that we are on the right path.
Tsvangirai meets Obama on Friday to talk about "how the United States can support the forces of reform as they work to bring the rule of law, respect for human rights, and free and fair elections back to Zimbabwe," according to the White House. Good luck, Mr. Prime Minister. Read our recent full interview with Tsvangirai here.
Gabon's Omar Bongo probably will not be remembered fondly. Before his death, confirmed today, Bongo held the title of Africa's longest-ruling leader. He recently came under investigation for corruption related to the country's oil wealth. And since he came to power in 1967, he has been accused of human rights abuses, and of doing little to improve the poverty of his country. As one online commentator put it, "The greatest indictment of his lamentable regime of 42 years is that Gabon does not have hospitals that could treat either himself or his wife."
Behold the legacy of Omar Bongo. The former member of the French Air Force became a archetypal Afrian "big man." He gave favors for political advantage. He remained staunchly close to former colonial power, France. Though oil exports brought in billions of dollars (about 80 percent of last year's $8.5 billion in trade), profits enriched only a small elite. On the plus side, he did keep the country out of regional conflicts, for example in the nearby Democratic Republic of the Congo. And he didn't stir up any "trouble" of his own. But his reign went on and on and on and on, despite his introducing democratic (albeit probably rigged) elections in 1993.
As GlobalVoices reports, commentators' responses have been a mixed bag of concern, apprehension, hope, and resentment. In the capital, Libreville, stores were closed, and some had apparently stockpiled food when the rumors of Bongo's death began to circulate. The anxiety is largely over what happens next. Reuters says that the Speaker of the House is most likely to take over, while others point to Bongo's son, the Minister of Defense.
All eyes are not just on who wins the power struggle to come, but also how they do so. Perhaps in honor of Bongo's legacy, no one is mentioning free and fair elections yet.
Madonna was bad enough, but this is really beyond the pale.
Former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, currently imprisoned at the Hague awaiting trial for war crimes in Sierra Leone, has apparently decided to convert to Judaisim, one of his wives tells BBC radio (my transcript):
Q. So he's now a practicing Jew?
A. He's now a Jew. He's practicing Judaism.
Q. Tells us about that? What led him to that?
A. Because of the difficulties, he always wanted to know God in a very diffent and special way. From a very small boy -- because we talk about his childhood a whole lot -- he asked himself questions about Christianity. Too many questions about why certain things happened. And why, this one and that one. Just too many question in Christianity and the whole thing about Christ because he does believe in Christ. When he got to the Hague, he got to know that he really, really wanted to be a Jew. Wanted to convert to Judaism. And that...
Q. Does that mean he has rejected Christianity then? Because that's quite a radical departure.
A. No, no, no he hasn't rejected Christianity. He has always been a Christian. He just decided to become a Jew. He wants to follow the two religions.
Least. Welcome. Convert. Ever.
I also can't help wondering if he got this idea from George Bluth on Arrested Development.
MICHAEL KOOREN/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. President Barack Obama met his first African leader in the White House earlier this week -- Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete. The two talked the talk on everything from "health, education, and agriculture, and working with other partners in the region to solve some of the most pressing conflicts on the African continent," according to the White House press release.
Between the Tanzanian visit and the Ghana trip scheduled for this July, I can't help noticing that Obama is going in for the softballs. Both countries are democratic, pretty darn stable, and relatively rich for their respectives regions in East and West Africa. Maybe he's warming up?
I'd like to think there's more strategic thinking at work here. As I wrote last month, Ghana is at a pivotal moment -- just having discovered oil and freshly out of a democratic presidential election. There's something to be said for building up alliances with regional power players before tackling their more troublesome neighbors.
With Tanzania, I would suspect two neighbors were on the leaders' minds: Kenya and Somalia. Following election violence and the forming a subsequent coalition government last year, today Kenya is having a rocky go of things. The government claims not to be flailing with internal conflicts, though reports are widely to the opposite effect. And cleaning up the election hooplah looks equally troubled -- with election reform slow to be seen. Kikwete was elemental in organizing the first power-sharing deal. And together with the U.S., he could put the pressure on, if by no other means than this visit's message: democracy gets you a meeting at the White House.
And then there's Somalia -- little more need be said. It would be good news if this president chooses Tanzania over Ethiopia as its stallworth ally in that struggle. Because we all saw how well Ethiopia's tries in Somalia went last time.
Hat tip: Chris Blattman
Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images
There are lots of great reasons to visit Ghana, as Barack Obama announced last week that he will do this coming July. The country was recently host to succesful democratic elections; its tourist industry is certainly one of the best in West Africa (not only is the country home to the Cape Coast and other attractions, but the buses run on time); it has a great soccer team; and the country's economic growth has been impressive. As Ghana's Black Star News concluded: "Ghana is being rewarded for good governance, good economic management, and the rule of law."
But here's another interesting tidbit about Ghana: it just found oil -- estimated over 600 million barrels -- making it one of Africa's largest future producers. Production hasn't started yet, but when it does, the government will no doubt feel a boost in revenue, estimated as high as $1 billion annually.
Wouldn't it be nice to buy oil from a country with a relatively clean record in human rights, governance, and economic management? That's a far cry fro the United States's third-largest current supplier, Nigeria, just next door. Of course, there are worries that Ghana could fall into the same rent-collecting state model, but it seems determined to resist that slip. And maybe that would be a good topic for Obama to pointedly discuss while visiting.
Who knows if this is really part of the reason for the visit, but it does seem like something that could figure into that "range of bilateral and regional issues" the White House plans to discuss with Ghanaian President John Atta-Mills.
Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai called for help today in resolving ongoing disputes within his power-sharing government with President Robert Mugabe. That's disconcerting news. Although ongoing tensions have been widely reported, this is the first outward crack in the fragile unity government since it got up and operational earlier this spring.
For weeks, negotiations have gone tediously forward with Tsvangirai pushing for more civil liberties, a freer press, the end to opposition arrests, and the finalization of key Ministry posts. Tsvangirai told Foreign Policy last week that progress on oustanding issues was "frustratingly slow." Today, he at last asked the African Union and Southern African Development Community (who originally brokered the agreement) to come broker the dispute. No word yet from either organization about what will come next.
Meanwhile, good news follows from another request for help -- this one longer standing -- which was finally answered today. The government of Zimbabwe will recieve a $22 million grant from the World Bank, available within the next weeks. Not only will those $22 million really help the broke state, but it could set a precendent for donors to restart aid to the country. Congratulations are due to Minister of Finance, Tendai Biti, who has been in intense negotiations across the world to make this happen.
Now's let's hope Tsvangirai has the same luck negotiating with Mugabe. To read more about what that's like, check out FP's full interview with the prime minister here.
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