Celebration or realisation? Uganda at 50

Uganda is to celebrate 50years of independence

Jamie Hitchen
October 9 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Ugandan independence from British colonial rule. Yoweri Museveni and the National Resistance Movement (NRM), in power since 1986, celebrated the day’s events at the official event in the district of Kololo in the capital Kampala.

Sixteen Heads of State from African countries attended, as was the Duke of Kent, representing Queen Elizabeth who granted Uganda its independence in 1962.

The NRM, in power for over half of the independence era, has been accused by the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) under the leadership of Kiiza Besigye of being the reason why Uganda is ‘still bleeding fifty years after independence’

In fact, in the week leading up to October 9, the opposition embarked on a series of protests, dubbed ‘Walk to Freedom’, to vent frustrations with the incompetence of the incumbent regime in an effort to capture the spirit and values independence promised to deliver. This is despite a government decree banning public rallies until after the independence celebrations in order to prevent any threat to national security.

Defiance has been met with tear gas. This is the scent that permeates the air of Kampala on what seems like a daily basis.


The ‘official’ celebratory atmosphere that the government was trying to generate is not so easily found amongst ordinary Ugandans who remain deeply frustrated with the incumbent regime and its inability to relate to the needs of the people it supposedly represents. The 2011 election saw the re-election of Museveni to serve another five-year term; taking his total years in charge to 30. He has since declared his desire to run again in 2016.

In this context it is easy to see why for many Ugandans the significance of the fifty-year anniversary is diminished.

There is a general sense that while it is a significant date, the self-congratulatory nature of the celebrations; the exclusive and elitist gesturing shown by government officials coupled with the current political situation has meant that its importance was being overstated. Instead, Ugandans that I have spoken to would much rather if efforts were taken to tackle the systemic corruption, elitist nature of politics and rapidly rising cost of living. Even minor improvements on these issues alone would deserve recognition and maybe even celebration.

In recent weeks I have been meeting many Ugandans to hear how they would be celebrating fifty years of freedom from colonialism. Most people have taken the opportunity to vent their displeasure at the current day to day situations in which they exist.

The colonial era and independence are less pressing issues for many Ugandans who are more concerned with the current and future situation of their country, and particularly their own day to day existence. Mzei Muna, a taxi driver, with whom I spoke at length, was eager to discuss the now well documented increase in living costs that have affected Kampala in recent months. Increased fuel prices and the knock on effect this has on other basic goods (sugar, rice, matoke), has eaten into the profits of those on the margins and with no concurrent rise in salaries people are becoming increasingly agitated about providing for their families. This was a concern reflected by communities in both rural and urban areas. He remarked that whilst he would spend the national holiday with his family they would not be celebrating lavishly simply because they couldn’t afford to.

This view was echoed by Kate, a domestic worker in Kampala: ‘We are still suffering. I cannot pay for my children’s school fees, and when I go to the hospital there is no medicine without money. They (the government) don’t pay teachers, doctors and nurses enough and everything is getting more expensive.’

Yet the rising cost of living is not the only issue that is a daily feature of the Ugandan political landscape. Widespread and systematic corruption amongst the elite, often those involved in the political sphere (for example, economic privilege given to campaign donors; job and contracts awarded based on favouritism for family ties; regular use of informal bribing payments in order to get basic bureaucratic processes sped up, and on many occasions done at all!), is a feature endured with good humour by many Ugandans. But the reality is no laughing matter.


The 2011 Transparency International Report ranked Uganda 143rd out of 183 countries globally as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. This relates to political corruption and perceptions of corruption, including bribes paid locally for services that people are already entitled to; to avoid a problem with the authorities; or in order to speed services up that are being delivered. Some stats from the report, gathered in the Global Corruption Barometer, sheds light on Uganda’s record:

• The institution perceived to be the most affected by corruption is the police. This is followed by the judiciary and then public officials and civil servants
• 87 percent of respondents reported paying a bribe in 2010 to at least one of 9 service providers
• 67 percent of people who feel that from 2007-2010 the level of corruption has increased

Instances such as the building of the Karuma Dam merely highlight the institutional corruption that is rampant in Uganda. Seventeen years down the road since the government announced plans to build the dam the project is mired in setbacks, kickbacks and blame shifting with costs expected to escalate to $2.2 billion – double the original projected costs.

Cissy Kagaba, Executive Director Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU) is not impressed:

“Actions by the Ministry of Energy officials portray the levels of impunity in our country where officials deliberately and arrogantly flout set policies and procedures, and get away with it. This clearly shows that issues relating to accountability are not about the number of laws that are enacted, but political commitment to respect and abide by those laws however few they may be. The quote “The more corrupt the state, the more laws – Publius Cornelius Tacitus” often comes to pass in the Ugandan context.

“In an ideal country, the solution would have been a total overhaul of the Ministry of Energy.”

Whilst this is not happening purely in a national vacuum, the diversion of international aid into the pockets of the elite is unquestionably an issue. In looking at Uganda at 50 I have chosen to focus on more national issues.

I have been struck, in my short time in the country, by how corruption cannot be escaped when discussing political interventions in the country. A popular youth breakfast radio, Sanyu Breakfast, last week sought to hold a debate about a report which put forward the idea of a small tax being levied on every phone call or litre of petrol, (something to the tune of 1Ush – a minimal amount) which would be collected to be used in HIV and Aids prevention schemes.

As a policy itself there are merits and flaws to such an idea: it could free up funding in the healthcare budget for tackling other issues and hold long term benefits for society as a whole in reducing the infection rate. However the debate centred little around the relative merits to support it or not, nor of the policy itself and what it spells out. The only thing worth discussing was the issue of accountability:

‘Who would be keeping tabs on this money?’

‘This is another government scheme to make money’

‘It will never be used for the purpose being outlined’

This absence of trust between those in power and those who they are supposed to represent them is clearly visible, even at breakfast time. It serves to re-emphasise the gap between the upper echelons of society and to communities at the grassroots.

The absence of political voice in the day to day occurrences is one that is a growing frustration especially amongst the youth of Uganda.

The idea that many members of the governments’ inner circle are out of touch and involved only in politics to serve their own ends is exposed by a look at the current 28-person cabinet. With the average age of the cabinet’s ministers at 62 and 20 of them being at the retirement age of 60 (including the president) suggest that they are relics of a different era; unsuited to advancing the state of Uganda as it reaches 50. Whilst places such as Kampala reflect a rapidly changing urban African environment, its government remains stagnant and insular, focused more on self-preservation than societal enhancement. Age, it seems, is not just a number:

The Museveni government is regularly criticised for being sloppy, attributed by observers to sloth and lack of imagination within a cabinet dominated by people, some of whom were already ministers and public figures in Idi Amin’s government when the new MPs late father was still in primary school.


So as Uganda marks 50 years of independence, it is still struggling to bring accountability to its institutions so that they reflect and can be shaped by the desires of its 35 million citizens.

Until this is achieved many Ugandans feel as though they have little to celebrate and that full independence has not yet been realised. Yet there is a sense that the spirit of independence remains alive and that the struggle for Ugandan democracy is a process gathering momentum.

This is more than just hope for change. A movement for holding public authorities accountable is gathering strength and popularity, even on breakfast talk shows. In that democratic spirit, it seems best to leave the last word on the subject to citizens of Uganda:

“What I like about Uganda today is the relative peace and stability that we are enjoying. The question is how long it will last, especially if we do not pursue the political lines that sustain stability and peace, such as carrying out fair elections?” – Monday Kabiito, Masaka

“I question whether we are truly independent considering the fact that we are still enormously funded by our colonialists” – Stella Ssali, Kampala

‘There is stability in the country, people are constructing big houses and there is free education for the children of Uganda” – Faith Biyinzika, Jinja

Jamie Hitchen currently lives and works in Kampala, Uganda. Having obtained a Masters in African Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) he now works for the Human Rights Centre Uganda (www.hrcug.org). This article was first published by Development education.

A year later, the war in Libya is far from over

Libyans walk on the grounds of the gutted U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Photo by AP

October 23, 2012 will be exactly one year after the Chairperson of the National Transitional Council declared that the Liberation of Libya was complete. A few days later the Secretary General of NATO, General Anders Fogh Rasmussen declared the end of the NATO mission, declaring that the NATO mission to Libya had been ‘one of the most successful in NATO history.’ Despite this announcement of success there are daily reports of fighting all across Libya with the levels of insecurity unprecedented in the history of the country with over 1,700 militias roaming. After Col Gaddafi was executed on October 20, 2011, the disinformation agencies of empire worked hard to keep the news of the militias and the insecurity out of international news. However, the competition between the differing oil companies had ensnared numerous forces. So this warfare continued with the militias linked to western oil companies through private military contractors and relevant western agencies.

Citizens of the United States learnt of the levels of insecurity of the people of Libya on September 11 when the Ambassador of the United States to Libya was killed in Benghazi, the city that was the base of the rebellion against Gaddafi. The death of Ambassador Stevens brought out facts of the US diplomatic/intelligence activities and its relationship to the militias. The differing accounts of the death entered into the presidential campaign as the Republican controlled Congress mounted hearings to get to the ‘truth’. Prior to these Hearings reports had been coming out in drips and drabs about the US intelligence presence in Benghazi. When the US security personnel were evacuated after the fateful events of September 11, 2012, the Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagour told the Wall Street Journal: ‘We were surprised by the numbers of Americans who were at the airport. We have no problem with intelligence sharing or gathering, but our sovereignty is also key.’ Libyans were awoken to the extent of the integration between the large numbers of US intelligence and the competing militias in Benghazi.

The testimony of the officials of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security at the Department of State before the US Congress only created more uncertainty in relation to the objectives of the United States in Libya. This Hearing before Congress failed to bring out the important role of the intelligence community in Libya in the coordination of the present war in Syria.

In our commentary this week, we will note that the war in Libya is not over and that the United Nations and the BRICS societies will have to be more forthright in placing a different plan for the restoration of peace and decent livelihood for the peoples of Libya. Ultimately, the triggers of war that spun out of the NATO intervention in Libya are having a tragic effect on all of the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa. The African Union will have to once again intervene in Libya as the NATO countries descend into deeper economic depression and political repression at home and abroad.


After the execution of Gaddafi on October 20, 2011 and the capture of Saif al-Islam in November, the western media went into overdrive to present the idea that a new era of peace and reconstruction had arrived in Libya. Carefully managing the news coming out of Libya, Western citizens were assured that Libya was in a ‘transition’ phase. Step one in the planning of the masterminds of the intervention was declaration of victory after the destruction of Sirte and the displacement of hundreds of thousands. Step two involved the formation of an interim government which was supposed to have been completed by October 31, 2011 with Abdurrahim El-Keib succeeding Mahmoud Jibril. This phase of the transition was supposed to be guided through February 2012 when there was an appointment of an election commission with the adoption of electoral legislation. The farcical nature of this transition was soon made obvious when in March 2012, NTC officials in the east, centred on Benghazi, launched a campaign to re-establish autonomy for the region, further increasing tension with the central NTC in Tripoli. This push for autonomy in the oil rich region ensured that there was a flurry of activities as the executives of the oil companies and their private contractors fanned out in Benghazi to ensure that their own companies would emerge as strong forces after the redistribution of oil contracts.

It was in the midst of the dangerous squabbling between oil executives and their contractors and militias when there was the constant announcement of plans for elections in Libya in June 2012. The elections for the General National Congress were held on July 7, 2012. International news organizations went overboard to highlight the success of the elections and the ‘fact’ that Islamists and Jihadists did not come out as winners. The transitional government handed power to the General National Congress. This Congress then elected Mohammed Magarief of the liberal National Front Party as its chairman, thereby making him interim head of state.

These well-crafted versions of the ‘transition’ concealed the continued warfare that was going on all over Libya. There were approximately 1,700 militia groups running the country with each neighborhood dominated by a faction that went into the business of using weapons as a means of gaining access to resources. After the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, US citizens were alerted to the existence of what the State Department called ‘security incidents.’ But the 230 ‘security incidents’ over the past year were the tip of the iceberg of the massive destabilization and killings that had occurred. Black skinned Libyans from Tawergha were expelled from their community and more than 30,000 displaced. Even the usual spokespersons for Western imperial missions had to speak out as Human Rights Watch joined in the condemnation of the rule of the militias. Human Rights Watch brought out a ‘Report Rule of Law or Rule of Militias’ bringing into sharper focus some of the outstanding questions of the role of these armed marauders all over Libya. In June one militia brigade briefly took over Tripoli international airport


Despite the 230 security situations in Libya, international oil companies were back in business so that by the end of September 2012, Libya was producing 90 per cent of its pre-NATO intervention output. In fact more oil was now being pumped out than in the month immediately prior to the start of the NATO war. Foreign companies had been trooping back into Libya with BP being the last to arrive in May. Even without the hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, the stability of the exportation of oil had driven foreign companies to focus on who would be in control of Benghazi, especially after the noisy declaration of autonomy by the militia/political leaders in February.

US oil companies did not want to be left behind in this new insensate struggle, hence US diplomatic efforts were now directed at Benghazi. Christopher Stevens had been appointed ambassador of the United States to Libya in January 2012 and arrived in Tripoli in May. When the uprisings had started in February 2011 and the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy was going into Benghazi to mobilize support for French interests, Chris Stevens was one of the first US diplomatic personnel to be on the ground in Benghazi. He had served as a ‘Special Representative’ to the Libyan Transitional National Council from March 2011 to November 2011 during the NATO intervention. Prior to this period he had served as the Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya from 2007 to 2009. At that time, Stevens described Gaddafi as an ‘engaging and charming interlocutor’ as well as a ‘strong partner in the war against terrorism.’

Chris Stevens belonged to that section of the US Department of State that was very knowledgeable about the movements of militia members between Benghazi, Libya, and the current war against the Assad regime in Syria. Libyan Islamists from the Eastern region comprise the largest single component of the ‘foreign fighters’ who are playing an ever more dominant role in the war being waged in Syria with the aim of toppling the government of President Assad. According to some estimates, they comprise anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 of approximately 3,500 fighters who have been infiltrated into Syria from as far away as Chechnya and Pakistan.


Throughout North Africa, the fallout of the NATO war was being felt with the citizens of Libya bearing the brunt of the lawlessness that had been unleashed. Such lawlessness suited the short term interests of the capital equity forces of Wall Street, the oil executives and the Emirates. The proliferation of military weaponry from unsecured Libyan stockpiles — including small arms, explosives and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles (MANPADs) — expanded the availability of weapons with the border regions suffering directly. The present destruction in Mali is directly related to these forms of plunder by Western interests.

The NATO powers and Western nations remained smug because this instability temporarily postponed the questions of African integration. However, some sections of Africa were sufficiently angry for them to work for the removal of the Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union, Jean Ping.

The purpose of Wednesday’s hearing of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee was to examine security lapses that led to the killing in Benghazi last month of the US ambassador and three others. What this hearing confirmed was what many knew; that there was no real ‘consulate’ in Benghazi, but a vast intelligence and private contractors web for the CIA and the oil companies. It was the testament of Charlene Lamb before Congress that gave away the fact that the ‘facility’ in Benghazi where Christopher Stevens and three others lost their lives was not a diplomatic facility.

The events surrounding the death of Ambassador Stevens exposed the USA in Libya at a number of levels. First, the role of Stevens exposed the hypocrisy of the so called ‘war on terror’. Second, the evidence pointed to the integration between US intelligence and the militias. In the testimony before Congress, Charlene Lamb told US law makers that the intelligence compound depended on the militia in Benghazi known as the 17th February Brigade. Lamb, Deputy Assistant Secretary State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, told Congress on October 10 that in terms of armed security personnel, there were five Diplomatic Security agents on the compound on September11. ‘There were also three members of the Libyan 17th February Brigade’ – a reference to the Libyans hired to guard the American compound.

The third level was the jockeying between French, British, Italian and US oil companies over political dominance in Benghazi. Traditionally, the Italians had been a force on the ground in Libya but during the NATO operations French, British and WE operatives muscled out the Italians as junior partners in the imperial operation.

These factors did not come out in the hearings, but what did come out was the inter-agency conflicts between the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency. The US military has kept quiet as these inter-agency squabbles were played out on C Span.

Even before the hearings, Eric Nordstrom had engaged in a media battle to place his stamp on the events leading up to the death of the ambassador. In his testimony, the regional security officer who served about 10 months in Libya, said he sought to obtain more agents and to extend a mission for the security site team in Libya.

There was in fact need for security but as the diary of Ambassador Stevens showed, he was opposed to the presence of official State Department personnel because of the integration of the private contractors, the intelligence operatives and the militias. Earlier in June there had been an attack on the intelligence facility that was called a ‘consulate,’ a June 6 bomb attack on the Benghazi consulate, a June 11 rocket-propelled grenade attack on a convoy carrying Britain’s ambassador to Libya, and an August 27 State Department travel warning noting the threat of car bombings and assassinations in Tripoli and Benghazi. However, despite these attacks Stevens argued to the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security that the matter of security should not be entrusted in the hands the Marines who usually guarded US diplomatic establishments.

Stevens took this decision to ‘show faith in Libya’s new leaders,’ according to the Wall Street Journal, which wrote: ‘Officials say Mr Stevens personally advised against having Marines posted at the embassy in Tripoli, apparently to avoid a militarized US presence.’


While the media was hailing Ambassador Stevens as a hero, the first major inclination of the depth of intrigue was the struggle between CNN and the State Department over the contents of the diary of Ambassador Stevens. This diary and the appointment calendar which was picked up by journalists were found by journalists and parts of this diary which exposed the multiple roles of Stevens were aired on the US network CNN. This same network had been complicit in the disinformation during the war, but in the current ratings competition, CNN did not wait for clearance before exposing the activities of Stevens as documented by Stevens himself. These revelations displeased the State Department. While Stevens was given a public tribute by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, the three other US personnel who succumbed to the attack on September 11 were buried quietly so that the local papers from their towns would not raise questions about what they were doing in Benghazi.


When Stevens was killed, the US representative to the United Nations, Susan Rice, stated that the killings took place in the context of the international demonstrations over the obnoxious video about the prophet Mohammed. Soon afterwards it became clearer that the attack on Benghazi was not related to the international demonstrations but in relation to the inter-militia warfare in Benghazi. The Republican candidate for president, Mitt Romney pounced on this disparity of the facts and the US Republican controlled Congress called hearings to embarrass President Obama.

However, no sooner were the hearings in session before the Republican lawmakers found out that they were opening a can of worms, exposing the extent of the CIA operations in Libya. Very early in the hearings, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) was the first to unmask the role of the CIA. ‘Point of order! Point of order!’ he called out as a State Department security official, seated in front of an aerial photo of the US facilities in Benghazi, described the night of the attack. ‘We’re getting into classified issues that deal with sources and methods that would be totally inappropriate in an open forum such as this.’

The State Department official then retorted that the information being presented was available on commercial sites and easily retrievable through Google Earth maps. The State Department revealed that the material was unclassified; bring out to the US public the differences between the CIA and the State Department. ‘I totally object to the use of that photo,’ Chaffetz continued. He went on to say that ‘I was told specifically while I was in Libya I could not and should not ever talk about what you’re showing here today.’

After Representative Chaffetz alerted the world that something valuable was in the photo, the chairman, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), attempted to close the barn door after the horses had been out. ‘I would direct that that chart be taken down,’ he said, although it already had been on C-SPAN. ‘In this hearing room, we’re not going to point out details of what may still in fact be a facility of the United States government or more facilities.’

Dana Milbank from the insider beltway media poked fun on the CIA and how they were outed in the hearings. In an article posted on Huffingtonpost, he wrote:

‘In their questioning and in the public testimony they invited, the lawmakers managed to disclose, without ever mentioning Langley directly, that there was a seven-member ‘rapid response force’ in the compound the State Department was calling an annex. One of the State Department security officials was forced to acknowledge that ‘not necessarily all of the security people’ at the Benghazi compounds ‘fell under my direct operational control.’

‘And whose control might they have fallen under? Well, presumably it’s the ‘other government agency’ or ‘other government entity’ the lawmakers and witnesses referred to; Issa informed the public that this agency was not the FBI.’

The operations of the CIA in Libya had backfired. The plan of the Republicans to make political capital out of this incident had backfired and the entire world was brought closer to the multiple roles of the US military, private contractors, intelligence operatives and oil companies in Libya.

The number of CIA operatives in Benghazi was also a revelation to the ‘provisional’ government in Libya. When the US evacuated their personnel from Benghazi, the Libyans were surprised and wanted greater accountability from the US about their operations. However, for the US intelligence community, the major question was damage control.

‘It’s a catastrophic intelligence loss,’ a US official who had been stationed in Libya told the New York Times. ‘We got our eyes poked out.’


Robert Fisk of the Independent drew the linkages between the NATO intervention in Libya and the escalating war in Syria, warning the West of the dangers of its duplicity in the Middle East and North Africa. Writing after the death of Ambassador Stevens, Fisk commented that:

‘The United States supported the opposition against Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi, helped Saudi Arabia and Qatar pour cash and weapons to the militias and had now reaped the whirlwind. America’s Libyan ‘friends’ had turned against them, murdered US ambassador Stevens and his colleagues in Benghazi and started an al-Qa’ida-led anti-American protest movement that had consumed the Muslim world. The US had fed the al-Qa’ida scorpion and now it had bitten America. And so Washington now supports the opposition against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was helping Saudi Arabia and Qatar pour cash and weapons to the militias (including Salafists and al-Qa’ida) and would, inevitably, be bitten by the same ‘scorpion’ if Assad was overthrown.’

Fisk quoted from one of his friends in Syria who was warning against the current escalation of the war:

‘You know, we’re all sorry about Christopher Stevens. This kind of thing is terrible and he was a good friend to Syria – he understood the Arabs.’ I let him get away with this, though I knew what was coming. But we have an expression in Syria: ‘If you feed a scorpion, it will bite you’.’

This bite is now being felt even in the halls of the US Congress as the Congressional hearings backfired on the Republicans who had hoped to make political capital out of the events in Benghazi because what is emerging from the press reports is that the CIA agency was not merely conducting covert surveillance on the Islamists based in eastern Libya, but providing them with direct aid and coordinating their operations with the current war in Syria.


Libya is again dominating the news as the US government is forced to juggle lies and disinformation. There are now at least seven new books that detail the quagmire of the NATO intervention. Next month, my own contribution will be published by the African Institute of South Africa. The title of my book is ‘Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya: Lessons for Africa in the Forging of African Unity’. This book will join the wave of statements from across the world calling for corrective measures for Africa against this new plunder. NATO is now completely discredited and is being called to expand war to Syria, Iran and beyond.

After the death of Stevens, the US Navy sent two destroyers to Libyan waters. Inside Libya, there have been cries for the disbanding of the militias. Demonstrators are calling on the Libyan government to disband the forces of terrorism in Libya. However, the Central government of Libya is torn between the competing interests of the French, British, Italian, US, Emirates, Saudi and Turkey. The continued warfare in Libya points to the need for an intensification of the calls for the UN Security Council to remove the private contractors and foreign military personnel from Libya. On March 12, 2012, the United Nations Security Council extended the mandate of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) for one year in order to assist the transitional authorities with security and administrative challenges. This extension of the Security Council mandate was in fact assistance to the external oil companies.

Members of the BRICS societies had been angry over the manipulation of the Responsibility to Protect resolution. The anger of Brazil, Russia, India and China must be turned into concrete support for the peoples of Africa and Libya by pressuring the USA and NATO to expel the private contractors and intelligence operatives who are now using Libya as one of the rear bases for the war in Syria.

African peoples everywhere are mindful of how the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 heralded the start of World War II. The slow and escalating wars across North Africa and the Middle East pose great dangers to humans everywhere. Vigilance is needed and clear political agendas to oppose African dictators while strengthening the Peace and Security Council of the African Union.

Horace Campbell is Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. He is also a Special invited Professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing. He is the author of the forthcoming book, ‘Global NATO and the catastrophic failure in Libya’.

Today’s world news wrap up

Kofi Annan is Chair of the Africa Progress Panel. The panel launched the 2011 Africa Progress Report


Annan warns of ethnic violence ahead of polls

FORMER UN general secretary Kofi Annan said yesterday he was “deeply concerned” by recent bouts of ethnic violence in Kenya as it prepares for polls early next year.

Annan was speaking while on a four-day visit to Nairobi. He is part of the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation panel which brought a shaky peace to the nation after elections in December 2007 led to the deaths of more than 1000 people in a wave of ethnic clashes.

“The panel is deeply concerned by an increase in tensions and violence in the run-up to the elections,” said Annan, who most recently led failed UN and Arab League efforts to bring peace to Syria.

“The violence in northern Kenya, the Tana River delta and the coast are a cause of great concern,” the visiting diplomat said. – Sapa-dpa


19 killed and hundreds of fishermen missing

AT LEAST 19 people were killed and an estimated 1500 fishermen are missing after tropical storms smashed into Bangladesh’s southern coastal islands and districts early yesterday, police said.

Police said at least 1500 mud, tin and straw-built houses were also levelled in the storms that swept Bhola, Hatiya and Sandwip Islands and half a dozen coastal districts on Wednesday.

At the worst-hit island of Hatiya, at least seven people were killed after they were buried under their houses or hit by fallen trees, said local police chief Moktar Hossain. More than 1000 houses were flattened.

“More than 100 fishing trawlers, each carrying at least 10 fishermen, have been missing since the storm,” he said, calling it one of the most powerful in decades. – Sapa-AFP


Hezbollah sent downed drone, says Netanyahu

ISRAELI Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday a drone aircraft, which flew about 55km into Israel before being shot down last weekend, was sent by Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah.

Netanyahu said during a tour of the southern frontier with Egypt that Israel would “act with determination to defend its borders”, just as “we thwarted over the weekend Hezbollah’s attempt” to penetrate Israeli airspace.

Under surveillance by Israeli fighter jets, it was shot down on Saturday over a forest near the occupied West Bank. Defence officials did not, at the time, directly accuse Hezbollah – who fought an inconclusive war with Israel in 2006 – of sending it.

The military released a 10-second video clip of the strike. – Reuters


King swears in new govt to prepare for elections

KING Abdullah swore in a new government yesterday led by reformist politician Abdullah Ensour and charged with preparing for Jordan’s first post-Arab Spring parliamentary elections.

Prime Minister Ensour, 73, has held a string of senior ministerial posts in more than two decades of public office but has backed opposition calls for wider reforms.

He was appointed by the king on Wednesday to replace Fayez al-Tarawneh, a week after the tribal parliament was dissolved half-way through its four-year term. Elections must be held within four months.

Foreign Minister Nasser Joudeh and Finance Minister Suleiman al-Hafez, who negotiated a $2-billion IMF loan, kept their posts in a smaller, 21-member conservatives-dominated cabinet. – Reuters


Danish archaeologists in ancient warships find

DANISH archaeologists in Greece have uncovered the remains of ancient slipways that may have launched the Greek trireme warships that defeated the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, officials said.

The six slipways have been dated to between the end of the sixth century BC and the early fifth century, meaning they are more than 2500 years old, the Greek culture ministry said yesterday.

They were found at a depth of over 2m at the yacht marina of Mikrolimano, near the main Greek port of Piraeus, that was known as Munichia in ancient times.

“The slipways were constructed in the early years of the Athenian democracy and the possibility that some of the triremes that took part in the Battle of Salamis were housed here is interesting,” it said. – Sapa-AFP


Chief investigator at US embassy shot dead

THE chief of investigations at the US embassy in Yemen was shot dead yesterday, reported local media, a month after the embassy was attacked.

Masked gunmen on a motorcycle intercepted the car of Qassem Aqlan, a Yemeni national who had worked for 20 years at the US embassy, fired on him and fled, reported the independent newspaper Al Watan.

The assailants targeted Aqlan as he was on his way to the embassy in central Sana’a, said the paper.

Aqlan acted as a coordinator between the Yemeni government and the US in connection with investigations into an attack by protesters angered by an anti-Islam video on the embassy last month.

Insurgents linked to al-Qaeda executed three soldiers in eastern Yemen. – Sapa-dpa

The Vatican

Lapsed Catholics warned of ‘desertification’

POPE Benedict urged lapsed and lukewarm Roman Catholics yesterday to rediscover their Church and stop the advance of “spiritual desertification”.

The pope made his comments in the homily of a Mass before tens of thousands in St Peter’s Square on the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, a far-reaching event in the Church’s 2000-year history.

“Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual destertification,” he said, opening a worldwide “Year of Faith”.

“We see it all around us … the void has spread.”

The Mass was attended by hundreds of Catholic bishops as well as officials of other Christian churches such as Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. – Reuters


Beijing defends its IMF no-show as ‘appropriate’

CHINA’S foreign minister yesterday described as “completely appropriate” a decision not to send two top finance officials to global economic talks in Japan, which Beijing is involved in a bitter territorial spat with.

China has not given official reasons for the no-shows at the annual meetings of the IMF and the World Bank, but Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said “the arrangement of the delegation for the meeting was completely appropriate”.

Yang made the brief comment in response to a reporter’s question during a joint press appearance with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle after the two held talks on their bilateral relations.

Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan had been due to deliver a lecture on Sunday . – Sapa-AFP


Scientist who helped clone sheep Dolly dies

KEITH Campbell, a prominent biologist who worked on cloning Dolly the sheep, has died at 58, the University of Nottingham said yesterday.

Campbell, who had worked on animal improvement and cloning since 1999, died on October 5, university spokesman Tim Utton said

Campbell began researching animal cloning at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh in 1991. The experiments led to the birth in 1996 of Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell.

The sheep was named after voluptuous singer Dolly Parton.

Researchers at the time said that the sheep was created from a mammary gland cell, and that Parton offered an excellent example. -Sapa-AP


Governor gives phone sex number for hotline

IN AN embarrassing mistake, Florida Governor Rick Scott gave out a phone sex hotline number to Floridians seeking information on a deadly fungal meningitis outbreak.

Scott was providing an update on the outbreak at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday when he announced what he said was the toll-free phone line, but gave out the wrong number.

The governor’s office was alerted by a public radio station in Tampa, WUSF. The station said it was “quickly notified by a reader that the number instead connected to an adult telephone line”.

Callers are greeted with the recording of a woman’s voice saying: “Hello boys, thank you for calling me on my anniversary.”

Scott’s spokes man, Jackie Schutz, said the governor inadvertently misread the number . – Reuters

Canadian PM Stephen Harper offers $5 million for jobs training in Senegal

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (L) speaks with Senegal’s President Macky Sall during a meeting in Dakar on October 11, 2012.

DAKAR, Senegal – Prime Minister Stephen Harper has committed $20 million in Canadian aid money to help famine-stricken residents in Africa’s Sahel belt.

Harper’s announcement came as he visited a United Nations centre in the Senegalese capital of Dakar on Thursday.

The $20 million covers a period of three years and is aimed at improving food distribution and farmland rehabilitation.

”Across the Sahel region of Africa, there are many problems, including millions of men, women and children who are suffering because they do not have enough to eat,” Harper said on the first full day of his trip to Africa.

”I know I speak for all Canadians when I tell you we will not abandon you. The challenges we’re talking about today go well beyond the food shortage, but obviously for many people this is the most critical challenge.”

Harper was in Senegal before heading to the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Friday for the summit of la Francophonie on the weekend.

Earlier on Thursday, the prime minister visited a vocational training centre and announced Canada will contribute $5 million between 2012 and 2017 to improve employment opportunities for young people in Senegal.

Harper was expected to take part in a roundtable with business officials later on Thursday before meeting Senegalese President Macky Sall.

Harper will be joined at la Francophonie in Kinshasa by Quebec Premier Pauline Marois and New Brunswick Premier David Alward.

Harper and the newly elected Marois are scheduled to have a private meeting on Saturday morning before the summit officially kicks off.

The summit ends Sunday and Harper will return to Ottawa on Monday.

Syria, Mali, Nigeria: war’s paralysis

Paul Roger, opendemocracy

The conflict in Syria leaves western powers with no good choices, and their agony is intensified by Islamist advances in west Africa. The search for intelligent security rersponses goes on.

The arrest of two people at London’s Heathrow airport, reportedly headed for Syria to join Islamist paramilitaries fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime, is a sharp illustration of the difficulties Syria’s conflict is posing to western governments and security agencies. A proxy war in which Damascus is backed by Iran and the rebels financed by Saudi and Qatari sources, with Turkey (a Nato member-state) close to the frontline and the United States and its European allies caught between a desire for and fear of change, adds up to a nightmarish stalemate.

A lengthy war with terrible human costs is probable, which as it unfolds will act as a magnet to committed Islamists eager to move to Syria to join the fight. American units in Turkey and Jordan are reduced to efforts to ensure that arms go to “good” rather than “bad” rebels, itself an indication of the fact that Syria is emerging as a new “front” in the evolution of the dispersed al-Qaida movement.

This development, in the context of broader tensions in the region, presents western strategists with multiple dilemmas. At the same time, equally significant developments are occurring in west Africa: the extension of radical Islamist control in northern Mali (an area the size of France) and intensifying violence in northern Nigeria as the central government reacts severely to the Boko Haram insurgency.

The Malian imbroglio

After an attempted coup in Bamako failed to dislodge Mali’s government, Tuareg militias advanced across the north of the country and appeared to establish control – only themselves to be displaced by two paramilitary groups connected to the shadowy Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

AQIM itself has links with other groups across north Africa, including Ansar al-Sharia in Libya. The latter may have been responsible for the killing of Chris Stevens, Washington’s ambassador in Benghazi, on 11 September 2012 (see “Where al-Qaida rules the roost“, Economist, 22 September 2012); some analysts, though, point to the involvement of Algerian intelligence agencies in the movement.

Mali remains the most fertile ground of agitation. The north is effectively split between two groups, Ansar al-Dine (which controls Timbuktu) and Mujao (which runs the city of Gao). There are clear indications that these groups are sufficiently in charge as to be encouraging commercial links with Mali’s south, including Bamako. They currently face few obstacles to their aim of carving out a small caliphate, though it is less clear whether this will provide a safe space for the training of recruits to the al-Qaida cause. The serious human-rights abuses reported by Ivan Simonovic, the United Nations assistant secretary-general for human rights, are already grounds for concern (see “Mali Islamists ‘buying child soldiers, imposing Sharia“, BBC news, 11 October 2012).

There has been support for external military intervention by troops drawn from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), and there are indications that United States and British special forces have recently been present in and around Bamako.

In reality, serious action from either source is a remote prospect. It might be possible for western forces to intervene on a scale sufficient to take control of northern Mali, but the weak Malian army would be unable to consolidate the hold, thus requiring a long-term foreign military presence with all the risks that entails. After all, Iraq and Afghanistan have severely blunted the western taste for “boots on the ground”. Even France, the former colonial power in Mali, will not take the initiative here.

The other option, an Ecowas intervention, is made less plausible by Nigeria’s domestic worries. Ecowas without the Nigerians lacks the resources to play a decisive role, but Abuja’s own internal-security problems make it unfeasible for them to engage in solving Mali’s problems.

The Nigerian trap

The principal focus of these problems is Boko Haram and its activities across parts of northern Nigeria. The movement is a decade old but rose to prominence only in mid-2009 in the wake of the death of its leader, Mohammed Yusuf, in police custody. The rapidity of its spread since then, it was argued in an earlier column in this series, is largely due to the robust and violent response to its campaign from the Nigerian authorities, which may well be proving counter-productive by assisting rather than subduing it (see also Adam Nossiter, “Islamist Group With Possible Qaeda Links Upends Nigeria”, New York Times, 17 August 2011).

A vivid and violent example of the state’s security reaction occurred following a bomb-attack on 8 October 2012 which targeted an army convoy in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, and injured two soldiers. In its wake, there were numerous reports of violent retribution; soldiers and police are said to have shot dead more than thirty civilians and injured many more, as well as setting fire to fifty buildings. The military and police Joint Task Force (JTF) denied the killings, but an Associated Press journalist reported counting the bodies (see “Nigerian army ‘opens fire on civilians’ in Maiduguri“, BBC News, 9 October 2012).

Boko Haram has expanded its reach over the past year, and there is no doubt that the tough action taken against it has compounded resentment against the central government among far more than the movement’s core supporters. Boko Haram may be rooted in a minority and cleave to a puritanical interpretation of Islam, but wider social factors provide it with sustenance: resentment at the region’s deep wealth-poverty divide, the relatively greater development of southern Nigeria, and widespread corruption.

The aforementioned column in this series expressed the situation thus:

“Nigeria’s tough and uncompromising official policy can be seen as contributing to rather than curbing Boko Haram’s growth. Many western security officials are concerned that it will become a regional phenomenon, and a new link in the wider al-Qaida chain. That may be overplayed, but what the arc of Boko Haram does show is that radical Islamist paramilitary groups can develop unexpectedly and rapidly” (see “Al-Qaida franchise: the Nigerian case“, 25 August 2011).

The growth of Boko Haram, and the developments in Mali since the above was written, suggest that such a conclusion was far from overplayed. In combination with the conflict in Syria, they highlight the deep sources of continuing insecurity across different regions of the world.

Nigeria’s Economic Reforms in Trouble?

IMF Managing Director Lagarde holds joint news conference with Nigeria’s Sanusi and Okonjo-Iweala in Lagos 20/12/2011. (Stephen Jaffe-IMF/Courtesy Reuters)

by John Campbell

Africa Confidential published on October 5, a clear-eyed analysis of the challenges facing Nigeria’s economic reformers and concludes that those blocking reform “are winning hands down.”  Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi states publicly that oil theft is massive and organized. He also questions whether, in fact, the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) actually knows how much oil is produced–NNPC says 2.7 million barrels a day.

The article cites Lagos bankers as saying that the current financial status quo is “not sustainable.” In addition to revenue lost through oil theft, they note the insurgency in the north which has resulted in a security vote of over U.S.$5 billion in the2012 budget, reducing the amount available for health, education and infrastructure. They also argue that the popular “fuel subsidy” has “spiraled out of control”–the backlog owed to oil traders from 2011 could be as much as U.S.$18 billion.

The country is also once again falling into debt. The Director General of the Central Bank’s Debt Management Office is quoted as forecasting that Nigeria could own U.S.$25 billion by 2015, with U.S.$16.75 billion to foreign creditors.

On the other hand, semi-privatization of the power sector is on track, and the article  states that the electric grid has produced 4,000 megawatts for the past month–“one of the longest periods of semi-continuous power in the southwest for several decades.” It concludes that if President Goodluck Jonathan can fix power generation, “then almost any other sins may be quickly forgiven.”

This conclusion strikes me as optimistic. The immediate improvement in power generation affects only one part of the country—the area around Lagos—not elsewhere. The financial issues are mostly short-term; the payoff from a revitalized power industry–if it happens–is longer term. The more existential issue facing Jonathan’s government is how to get through the next year with Boko Haram in the north, oil theft in the Delta, and, possibly, rising unemployment that could result in strikes.

When will Ethiopia economy attracks foreign investors?

Ethiopia is growing fast, but its mobile and electronic payments infrastructure is weak. Is it time for a more liberal approach to foreign investment?

Ethiopia appears to be doing something right.  One of the world’s five fastest growing economies in 2010, it’s expected to reach 7 percent growth this year and next, and the government hopes for double digit growth in the medium term.

Ethiopia’s growth is surprising for a country lacking the natural resource bonanza driving many of Africa’s high performers. Stranger still, the revolution in mobile money, ICT and electronic payments revolution has played little role. Mobile penetration is very low against the regional average. Internet connections are slow and unreliable even by African standards, and content is censored.

A frosty investment climate is one of the reasons. Foreign investment in financial services is prohibited (but domestic, non-state providers exist). Financial services are concentrated in a few towns. Addis Ababa, the capital, accounts for nearly 40 percent of total branches of commercial banks. The country scores low on financial sophistication, technological readiness and innovation according to the African Development Bank, ranking 3.05 out of 7 compared to the continental average of 3.68.

In telecommunications, state-owned Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation dominates mobile, internet and telephone landscapes. ETC has had to outsource some of its services to France Télécom – perhaps signalling the dawn of a less hostile posture, as growth picks up and public expectations change. If this prompts a more liberal approach to areas like electronic payments, it could see Ethiopia’s performance shoot up further.

“When we look at the most successful electronic payment systems, they are those that are open, completely open, and the government sets standards for how different entities can participate,” says Elizabeth Buse, Visa’s group president for Asia-Pacific, Central Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the company’s fastest growing geographies. The acquisition of phone payment company Fundamo last year was a marker of its tech-savvy Africa expansion plans.

“Given its large population, given the great potential, Ethiopia would benefit from an open approach to electronic payment systems. Foreign investments and partnerships can help drive economic growth and deliver significant benefits to the Ethiopian people,” says Buse.

Mobile advocates point out that a 10 percent increase in mobile penetration contributes as much as 1.2 percent to GDP. “The combination of mobile and electronic payments compounds that” says Bill Gajda, Visa’s head of mobile product. Might the government’s posture to foreign investment in finance and communications change over time?

“There are a lot of different models being explored, and what we see – and I think Ethiopia won’t be an exception – is that over time, these models open up,” says Gajda. “Closed systems tend to not achieve the scale they want to, there isn’t the level of customer adoption, of direct foreign investment they are looking for, and they evolve over time to where they do bring in companies”.

In banking, there are signs of a thaw. Ecobank have said publicly they want a license in Ethiopia, suggesting the authorities may be planning to open up, according to Paul Wallace, Africa editor at The Banker. And perhaps Ethiopia’s plans to woo back the diaspora lend strength to arguments in favour of greater competitiveness in electronic payments. Many would be returning from Western countries and will want to bring their plastic back too.

Is Zimbabwe PM a victim of vicious smear campaign?

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai with his wife Elizabeth Macheka during a traditional wedding in Harare on Saturday.

MORGAN Tsvangirai is a man under pressure. Ahead of next year’s elections the Zimbabwean prime minister is trying to deliver a new constitution, revive a troubled economy and manage a difficult relationship with President Robert Mugabe.

Yet one of Tsvangirai’s main concerns right now is keeping his love life from the headlines amid accusations of serial dating, illegitimate children and bigamy.

Three weeks ago Tsvangirai, 60, was forced to cancel his high-profile wedding because a judge ruled he was customarily married to another woman.

Tsvangirai, 60, and Elizabeth Macheka, 35, went ahead with a lavish ceremony but did not sign the legal marriage register after a judge warned that it could lead to bigamy charges from his 12-day marriage last year to Locardia Karimatsenga, 39.

Speaking to the Guardian in his Harare residence, Tsvangirai said he had been the victim of a smear campaign.

“I had two or three relationships and that was blown out of proportion,” he said. “If two consenting adults have a relationship what is wrong with that? I didn’t go and rape somebody. I didn’t go and take somebody’s wife.”

He said the media frenzy over his private life since his wife’s death in a car accident in 2009 had been fed by his political enemies.

Smear campaign

“They knew they could not pin me down on anything so they had to find something that they could point to as if they were angels,” he said.

“Some of these people who are writing about my so-called sexual scandals have a string of girlfriends, a string of wives and children. We fell apart, as human beings fall apart in relationships. It is natural. But to call it a scandal is a bit exaggerated.”

Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), heads a coalition government in an uneasy alliance with Mugabe’s Zanu PF party.

Despite the bitter rivalry between the two, Tsvangirai said Mugabe was still needed to help Zimbabwe transform into a functioning democracy

“Mugabe is part of the solution because of his grip on the party and the institutions of the state,” Tsvangirai said. “For the sake of his legacy and the sake of the future stability I hope that he behaves in a manner which observes the constitution.”

He said, perhaps hopefully, that Mugabe’s 88 years were catching up with him and he was contemplating retirement.

“With his age he’s frail,” he said. “To tell you honestly Mugabe is not in a fighting mood to retain power. I think he has long given up that. He knows that time and tide has gone beyond him.”

Tsvangirai would not confirm reports that Mugabe often falls asleep during cabinet meetings but he admitted that the president, whose eyesight is fading, now only receives verbal briefing on key issues.

“I don’t think he has that staying power to study, read and develop,” he said. “That time is gone.”

In 2008 Tsvangirai – leading in the presidential poll – pulled out in the face of brutal violence against his supporters. Tsvangirai himself was almost killed in 1997 when Zanu PF henchmen tried to throw him out of a tenth floor window.

But he insists he holds no rancour towards Mugabe. “He nearly killed me but what’s the use?” he said. “The way I was beaten and left for dead, I will never recover that, even if I were to beat him to the same extent. We learn a lot from reconciliation.”

Mugabe legacy

“We have gone through an evolving relationship from very polarised positions – even you might say a love-hate relationship – because at some point we both realised we needed each other to resolve the critical national crisis we were facing.”

Asked about Mugabe’s legacy, he said it would be a “mixed fortune”: “from a hero to a villain and back again to someone who has managed a transition”.

If Mugabe is losing his grip on power at home, the tide is also turning amongst Zimbabwe’s neighbours. “He is now a liability to the region. And therefore they are asking if supporting Mugabe is really in the best interests of the region,” Tsvangirai said.

Zimbabwe has been subject to international sanctions for the past decade but the European Union says it will suspend most of them once a credible referendum is held on a new constitution – which could be as soon as next month.

But Tsvangirai said the sanctions should be lifted already. “They are no longer an instrument of leverage,” Tsvangirai said. “The continuing restrictions are actually stifling any further reform.”

Since Tsvangirai became prime minister in February 2009 much has changed in Zimbabwe. Inflation, measured at 500 trillion percent in 2008, is now under 5%, mainly due to Zimbabwe adopting the American dollar.

The economy, which halved in size in the decade to 2009, has grown by more than 7% a year since then – although unemployment is still estimated at 80% and millions are still dependent on food aid.

“There is peace, there is food on the table, the hyperinflation is gone,” Tsvangirai said, eager to highlight his successes. But he knows that the real test of the country’s progress, and his leadership, will take place next year, when the country goes to the polls.

Sudan: What does it mean to talk of cooperation without justice and inclusion?

By Anne Bartlett and Adeeb Yousif

October 8, 2012 — Looking at the multiple sites of conflict, misery and humanitarian disaster around Sudan, one might be forgiven for asking what it means to talk about peace and cooperation when there is barely any sign of justice and inclusion. What is the point, for example, in labeling vast swathes of Sudan as “rebel territory”, its people as “belligerents” and the unelected minority in Khartoum as “the government” when this fiction does little to describe the actual reality on the ground? How effective are agreements that have been forced on the Government of South Sudan when they leave key issues either unaddressed or unresolved for large numbers of people? The answer seems pretty clear, yet in recent weeks, this is precisely the game of expedient diplomacy being played by the international community with, one might add, potentially disastrous results.

Even a cursory look at the recent set of agreements makes clear that that the majority of people who are suffering as a result of Sudanese government sponsored violence are not considered part of the equation. Not only are their problems ignored, but the NCP has been given a free hand to do whatever it wants to such people because their lives lie on the wrong side of national borders. This message is of course not wasted on the regime in Khartoum which is now pursuing campaigns against innocent civilians with renewed vigor. Take for example the escalating program of harassment, intimidation and killing over recent weeks in Darfur where more than 80 people were killed in the Hashaba area in Northern Darfur — 20 of whom were women and children. Elsewhere, IDP camps have been demolished around Kutum, dozens of people killed in bombing raids in the areas of Aradieb Al Ashara, Katur, Dubow and around east Jebel Marra and 16 people kidnapped by militia in Gurni, Jebel Marra in their way back from Kabkabia, Northern Darfur. Central Reserve Police known locally by Abu Terah flagrantly commit human rights abuses with absolute impunity. Recently Nigerian UNAMID personnel were also killed — by whom it is not clear — but local accounts suggest that government backed militias are taking advantage of the chaos to dirty the reputation of Darfuri people.

In the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and elsewhere, political movements are being cut out of agreements between those in Khartoum and the GoSS, despite the fact that they control large sections of the border. Elsewhere, Abeyi remains a contentious and unresolved issue; the 14 mile zone is fast being turned into a “son of Abeyi” situation, and the problems that remain are left to fall back on the terms of the CPA which, as we know, has already been broken on multiple occasions. The Sudanese Media Center talks of the need to “sensitize the peoples of Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan on the steps needed to promote security and stability”. Quite what sort of “sensitization” they have in mind isn’t exactly clear, but if it is anything like the kind of “sensitization” they have employed elsewhere, it hardly inspires confidence. Add to this the fact that the agreements are full of gaping holes, invitations to discord, diplomatic speak and promises that will be next to impossible to implement, and one is left with a feeling of impending doom.

Meanwhile, all of these issues seem to be of little consequence to international powers who are busy using Sudan and South Sudan as a playground for their own geopolitical interests. Besides framing the situation in a way that suits their interests, they are now playing a game of diplomatic chess that has little to do with the interests of the Sudanese and South Sudanese people, and rather more to do with their own needs and aspirations. For example, in recent days Russia has stepped into the breach and now appears to be advising the GoS on the matter of Abeyi. Not content in committing gross abuses of human rights on its own southern borders, Russia now seems to think that it has something to add to the discussion of borders thousands of miles away in Sudan. Of course their unbridled altruism has little to do with the people of Abeyi and rather more to do with the glistening black stuff under the ground in the region. Elsewhere, China plays its own role: a kind of “keep your mouth shut” but carry on regardless role. In this role, China makes little public comment as long as it can continue with its agenda of ratcheting up trade and debt relations in equal measure. Finally the US has recently made its donations to South Sudan contingent on certain kinds of behaviors – most particularly democracy. Of course it is hard to dispute the value of democracy, but it is unclear how this can really be achieved while multiple competing geopolitical interests force the South Sudanese government to run in a variety of directions at the same time, rather than concentrating on a viable long term strategy for governance.

This obsession with geopolitics, diplomacy and getting “in on the ground in South Sudan” by international actors is simultaneously accompanied by a complete indifference to resolving the tensions and conflicts that have shaped both countries over recent decades. It is almost as if involvement in one sphere is accompanied by a belief that other groups are expendable and can be left to their fate. There appears to be a hollowing out of attempts to mediate grievances inside Sudan as a way of pandering to the regime in Khartoum and getting them to “do the deal” on the border situation. The idea seems to be that if legitimate grievances are ignored long enough, they will somehow go away. However as anyone familiar with the history of Sudan will point out, history isn’t exactly on the side of those who want to bury their head in the sand.

Taken together, these facts suggest anything but a rosy future for cooperation. The irony is that in their desire to pursue a piecemeal approach to conflict resolution, the international community will ultimately set the parameters for future violence. The fact is that legitimate grievances do not go away; they only grow. Pretending that the Government of Sudan is a legitimate partner is foolish in the extreme; using South Sudan as playground for expedient diplomacy, geopolitical aspirations and greedy corporate interests will do nothing to help this young country get on its feet. Maybe the time has come for international actors to take a long hard look in the mirror. If they are honest, they may not like what they see.

Anne Bartlett and Adeeb Yousif are Directors of Darfur Reconciliation and Development Organization. Anne Bartlett may be reached at albartlett@usfca.edu; Adeeb Yousif may be reached at adeeb@drdoafrica.org

African Economies Resilient But Vulnerable

By J C Suresh,

A new report by the World Bank highlights the resilience of African economies despite global slowdown caused by the Euro-zone crisis and decline in growth in emerging economies, particularly China – an important market for the continent’s mineral exports.

In fact, new oil, gas and mineral wealth offer an opportunity for inclusive development. But strong growth rates could yet be vulnerable to deteriorating market conditions in the Euro-zone, the report warns.


So far, consistently high commodity prices and strong export growth in those countries which have made mineral discoveries in recent years, have powered economic activity and are expected to buttress Africa’s economic growth for the rest of 2012, according to the World Bank’s new Africa’s Pulse. African countries’ share in global reserves and annual production of some minerals is sizeable.

“A third of African countries will grow at or above 6 percent with some of the fastest growing ones buoyed by new mineral exports and by factors such as the return to peace in Côte d’Ivoire, as well as strong growth in countries such as Ethiopia,” said World Bank Vice-President for Africa, Makhtar Diop.

“An important indicator of how Africa is on the move is that investor interest in the region remains strong, with $31 billion in foreign direct investment flows expected this year, despite difficult global conditions,” Diop added.

According to the report, Sub-Saharan Africa is poised to grow at 4.8 percent in 2012, largely unchanged from the 4.9 percent growth rate in 2011 and mainly on track despite setbacks in the global economy. Excluding South Africa, the continent’s largest economy, growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is forecast to rise to 6 percent. African exports picked up particularly in the first quarter of 2012, growing at an annual pace of 32 percent, up from the -11 percent recorded in the last quarter of 2011.

New mineral wealth

The report expects new discoveries of oil, gas, and other minerals in African countries to generate a wave of significant mineral wealth in the region.

Because of minerals beginning to earn hundreds of millions of dollars in windfall revenues for countries across Africa, Diop envisages an opportunity for “strengthening economic transparency and financial controls around the new discoveries, to leverage their full potential through development policies that increase economic growth, create jobs, reduce poverty, and improve health and education especially for young people and future generations, while balancing the immediate needs.”

According to Africa’s Pulse, a twice-yearly analysis of the issues shaping Africa’s economic prospects, the economic importance of natural resources is likely to continue in the medium term in several established oil and mineral producers, thanks to the sizeable stock of resource wealth and the prospects of continued, high commodity prices.

African countries’ share in global reserves and annual production of some minerals is considerable. In 2010, Guinea alone represented over 8 percent of total world bauxite production; Zambia and the Democratic Republic Congo have a combined share of 6.7 percent of the total world copper production; and Ghana and Mali together account for 5.8 percent of the total world gold production.

“Resource-rich African countries have to make the conscious choice to invest in better health, education, and jobs, and less poverty for their people,” says Shantayanan Devarajan, the World Bank’s Chief Economist for Africa, and lead author of Africa’s Pulse.

‘Middle-income’ status

In its wide-ranging analysis of new developments in Africa, the report notes that after ten years of high growth, an increasing number of countries are moving into ‘middle-income’ status, defined by the World Bank as those countries achieving more than $1,000 per capita income.

Of Africa’s 48 countries, 22 states with a combined population of 400 million people have officially achieved middle-income status; while another 10 countries representing another 200 million people today would reach middle-income status by 2025 if current growth trends continue or with some modest growth and stabilization, says the report.

Africa’s Pulse adds: Another seven countries which are home to 70 million people could reach this milestone if they created economic growth of seven percent growth over the coming years. For example, Sierra Leone could grow at this rate because of its recent expansion in mining. Ten African countries, which are ‘fragile’ and conflict- affected states, and with a combined population of 230 million people, have almost no chance to reach middle-income status by 2025.

Increasingly urbanized

The report also notes that with rapid population growth Africa is urbanizing rapidly, with profound implications for social and economic opportunities. Today, 41 percent of Africans live in cities, with an additional one percent every two years. By 2033, Africa – like the rest of the world – will be a majority urban continent. Urbanization and development go together, avers the report.

It points out that poverty rates on the continent have been falling faster than one percentage point a year and for the first time, between 2005 and 2008, the absolute number of people living on $1.25 a day has declined. Child mortality has also been decreasing.


Because the global economy continues to be in fragile condition, Africa’s Pulse warns that the continent’s strong growth rates could yet be vulnerable to deteriorating market conditions in the Euro-zone.

In addition, recent spikes in food and grain prices are a cause for serious concern. An unprecedented hot and dry summer in the United States, Russia and Eastern Europe led to reduced yields on both maize and wheat production worldwide. Africa’s Sahel region is already suffering from higher food prices, high rates of malnutrition and recurring crisis and insecurity.

Besides, swarms of desert locusts and the ongoing conflict in The Sahel also undermine the region’s food security. Countries like Mali and Niger are already suffering from locust invasions with a possibility that the swarm could move to neighbouring countries such as Mauritania and Chad. This would aggravate the ability of families to find enough to eat in a region already grappling with drought and conflict, warns the report. But at the same time, it adds: “Because Africa’s growth recovery since 2000 – the longest expansion since independence – was based on improved macroeconomic policies and political stability, the prospects of sustained growth are strong. Discoveries of minerals are bringing the prospect of large revenues for newly resource-rich countries.”