Kenya: 9 wounded in Nairobi bomb blast

A suspected remote-controlled bomb tore through a predominantly Somali neighborhood in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on Wednesday, wounding up to nine people during the evening rush hour.

Ambulance sirens wailed through the city’s congested streets and a Reuters witness at the scene saw pools of blood on the ground. The victims had been swiftly moved from the blast site.

Kenyan authorities have blamed Somali militants and their sympathizers for a wave of grenade and gun attacks in Kenya after Nairobi sent soldiers into neighboring Somalia last year to drive out Islamist fighters with links to al Qaeda.

Moses Ombati, Nairobi’s police chief, said it appeared the bomb had been planted near a trader’s kiosk earlier in the day.

“We think it was detonated by remote control,” Ombati said by phone from the blast site where plastic household utensils littered the ground.

The attack appeared to target Kenyan nationals in Eastleigh, a rundown part of the city where there is widespread resentment towards the Somali immigrants who run many of the local businesses.

Nine people were wounded in the blast and three of those victims were in a critical condition, the Kenyan Red Cross said on the social media site Twitter.

An angry crowd pressed against a police cordon and demanded that Somalis, many of whom fled years of fighting in their home country to settle in Nairobi, leave the city.

“Why is this happening to the local people and not the Somalis. Let the police leave this place and we’ll sort it out,” said one Eastleigh resident who did not give his name.

The explosion could be heard several kilometers away in Nairobi’s central business district. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

Last month, a grenade attack on a bus in Eastleigh that killed nine people triggered a day of street battles between Kenyan nationals and Somali Kenyans and their ethnic kin.

Mounting insecurity is a growing concern as the region’s biggest economy prepares for a presidential election in March – the first poll since a contested 2007 vote which unleashed nationwide ethnic violence.

The coming war in Mali

YOU probably haven’t given much thought to the problems in Mali, but UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has, and his advice on military intervention in the West African country could be summed up in two words: forget it.

Although, being a diplomat, he used a great many more words.

Mali’s 14 million people are almost all Muslims, but there is a deep ethnic divide between the black African majority in the southern half and the Tuaregs – only 10 per cent of the population – who dominate the desert northern half.

Last March, a military coup in capital Bamako distracted the army long enough for Tuareg separatists to seize control of the north. They had been in business for many years, but an influx of weapons and fighters from Libya after the fall of the Gadaffi regime gave them a new impetus.

Having driven troops out of the north and declared the independent nation of Azawad, however, they were rapidly pushed aside by Islamic extremists who declared a jihad against practically everybody.

A military coup in a West African nation, even if the government lost control of half the country to separatists, would normally be of interest only to other West African states. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) might back military intervention to re-unite the country, or might not, but the rest of the world would ignore it.

Not this time.

What set alarms bells ringing in the US and Europe was the fact that Al Qaeda in the Maghreb is a major force in the alliance of Islamist fundamentalists that now controls northern Mali.

The mere mention of Al Qaeda sets Western governments salivating like Pavlov’s dogs, and the issue of reconquering northern Mali suddenly got onto the international agenda.

Western countries have been pushing for a UN Security Council resolution authorising military action against the rebels for months. In October, they got their way. The resolution gave regional leaders 45 days to provide plans for an international military intervention to remove the rebels in northern Mali, and the US recently war was now “inevitable”.

Ban sends his letter to the Council, condemning the rush to military action: “I am profoundly aware that if a military intervention in the north is not well conceived and executed, it could worsen an already fragile humanitarian situation and also result in severe human rights abuses. Fundamental questions on how the force would be led, sustained, trained, equipped and financed remain unanswered.”

But US drones are already overflying northern Mali on a daily basis. US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has refused to rule out direct support for training or other operations on the ground.

A real war will soon start. It would involve the same kind of UN intervention force that has been fighting the Islamist Al Shabab militia in Somalia: African countries provide troops and Western countries cover the costs. But whereas the Ugandan, Kenyan and Burundian armies doing the heavy lifting in Somalia are reasonably competent, the West African armies that would provide troops in Mali are not.

So who will pick up the pieces if the ECOWAS force, unpopular in Mali, fails to recover the north? Probably Western troops, but that would trigger powerful anti-Western reactions all over Africa. It might produce a military victory and reunify Mali by force, but it would be a political disaster. The extremists could not hope for a better recruiting tool.

This whole operation is being driven by a reflex panic about terrorism. But northern Mali is a very long way from anywhere else, and there are no flights out.

The better approach would be to wait for the rebels in the north to fall out and start fighting one another, which they probably will. Meanwhile, train and equip Mali’s army for retaking the north by force if necessary, although the fact that it is run by turbulent and ignorant junior officers who made last March’s disastrous coup doesn’t help.

Still, Ban is right. Sometimes the best thing to do is as little as possible.

Why Mali is a Strategic Minefield for the Security Council

Mark Leon Goldberg

Ed note. This is a special guest post by Michael Boyce of Refugees International

The Islamist insurgency taking place in northern Mali is one of the main drivers of recent displacement in that country. So far, roughly 400,000 Malians have been forced to flee their homes, and violence in the north has hindered the delivery of aid to vulnerable populations. Reports of human rights abuses are widespread – including executions, torture, rape and other forms of violence against women, and recruitment of child soldiers.

But recent calls for military intervention in Mali (by a joint African Union-ECOWAS force known as AFISMA) are not only a response to humanitarian and human rights concerns. The fact that Al Qaeda-inspired groups have seized a vast swathe of the Sahara has alarmed Western counterterrorism officials, who fear it could become a new base for recruitment and operations. They wish to see that threat neutralized – and fast. Mali’s neighbors likewise fear the spread of terrorist activity into their own countries and are keen to see Mali’s territorial integrity restored.

And, of course, there are the concerns of the Malian government itself. After President Amadou Toumani Touré failed to quell the rebellion in March, his own soldiers removed him from office. Those mutineers have now formally relinquished control, but experts claim that they still hold the levers of power in Bamako – and that they are committed to succeeding where President Touré failed.

Given all we have witnessed in Mali, we are concerned that the brutal logic of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism could have serious humanitarian consequences in Mali. Instead of getting more aid to those who need it, a war could further restrict humanitarian access, cause more displacement, and inflict further human rights abuses on a vulnerable population.

As part of its continuing work on the Sahel, Refugees International has been closely monitoring the intervention debate, and we recently reviewed the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s report on AFISMA. The report, which was requested by the Security Council on October 12, acknowledges the urgent need for action but notes that “fundamental questions on how the force would be led, sustained, trained, equipped and financed remain unanswered.” It also warns that the human rights fallout of such a deployment could be severe, and that the UN must be able to “monitor, report on, and respond to” rights abuses.

Arguably the most interesting part of the report, however, relates to the possibility of direct UN involvement in AFISMA. Though the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has helped to shape AFISMA’s strategic concept, the report makes clear that deeper UN involvement in the military operation would be unwise and it warns against providing UN funding or troops. Such a move, it states, would tarnish the UN’s image as an impartial actor, endanger its staff, and restrict its ability to provide humanitarian and peacebuilding support.

These concerns are all entirely valid. The Secretary General should be commended for raising them, and the UN Security Council’s members should give them serious consideration. But even if blue helmets and UN cash are off-limits in Mali, there are things the UN can do to ensure all sides are protecting civilians, preserving humanitarian access, and respecting human rights.

Specifically, the UN Security Council should support comprehensive training in civilian protection and human rights for AFISMA troops, closely monitor the mission’s activities for rights abuses, and require commanders in the field to report regularly to the Council. It should also enforce a clear distinction between humanitarian and military activities in the conflict zone, and demand that AFISMA forces allow humanitarian agencies to do their job. And to ensure that the most vulnerable civilians are protected, the Council must make sure AFISMA’s mandate is in line with existing Security Council resolutions on Women, Peace, and Security and Children and Armed Conflict.

Finally, and perhaps more importantly for the long-term, AFISMA’s strategy must be clearly linked to political efforts that address the concerns of all Malians. In the end, only a political solution can bring Mali out of this crisis, and AFISMA’s operations must reinforce that.

The sad fact is that no military intervention in Mali – even the most well-intentioned – can entirely avoid civilian casualties and suffering. But with clear objectives and careful planning, the mistakes of the past can be avoided and needless suffering can be minimized.

Michael Boyce is Press & Information Officer at Refugees International and Coordinator of the Partnership for Effective Peacekeeping. Refugees International’s new report on humanitarian needs in Mali will be published later this month.

West Africa Corruption Investigation

So-called “ill-gotten gains” investigations are underway into several current and former ruling families from West and Central Africa.

Senegal’s new government has launched a landmark investigation into several key figures from the former government, while justice officials in the United States and France continue to investigate the foreign assets of African heads of state and their families who are accused of embezzling money from public coffers back home.

Dakar has reportedly filed a complaint with a Paris court to investigate the origins of assets held in France by an undisclosed list of high-profile figures associated with the former Senegalese government.

The complaint recalls those filed by French and African anti-corruption NGOs (non-governmental agencies) beginning in 2007 that sparked on-going investigations in France into the wealth of sitting presidents of Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Republic of Congo and their family members. They are alleged to have used embezzled public money to bankroll at-times lavish lifestyles in France.

Teodorin Obiang, the son of the president of Equatorial Guinea, in particular, has made headlines since 2011 as French and American authorities have seized tens of millions of dollars of his assets abroad. A display of wealth that one analyst told VOA went far beyond Obiang’s government salary and was “so obscene” it could not be ignored – luxury cars, mansions, a jet, $2-million dollars of Michael Jackson memorabilia.

France issued an arrest warrant for Obiang after he failed to appear for questioning in July. Equatorial Guinea has, in turn, taken France to the International Court of Justice to stop the corruption case and named Obiang as second vice-president in what some observers say was an attempt to provide immunity from prosecution.

What’s different about the move made by Senegalese authorities in France is that it comes as part of concurrent investigations by authorities within Senegal.

Maud Perdriel-Vaissière of Sherpa, one of the French NGOs behind complaints filed against those three other presidential families, says collaboration between the two jurisdictions involved — in this case, Senegal and France — is “ideal.”

She says the simple fact that a foreign public official has a certain asset on French or American soil does not necessarily mean that it was obtained illegally. That must be proven, something that she said is already difficult but is made even harder when French authorities do not have the cooperation of the official’s home country, as is the case with Equatorial Guinea.

And the more time that goes by, she said, the harder it is to find assets and track down proof of any wrongdoing.

In Dakar, Karim Wade, the son of former president Abdoulaye Wade, has met with Senegalese investigators a total of four times since his father lost a March 24 run-off election.

He emerged from one marathon interrogation session at a military police station in Dakar on November 15 amid a crush of supporters.

It was after this meeting that authorities kept him from leaving Senegal pending further investigations.

Karim Wade is one of seven prominent figures from the Wade government being questioned as part of efforts by the new government of Macky Sall to increase accountability and crackdown on corruption.

Senegal’s Justice Minister Aminata Toure says the government is trying to find out what happened with public money in the course of this past 12 years.

“Because we do know of a lot of financial scandals that occurred over the years so definitely there is a big demand from the people to know how public spending occurred and what happened with public money,” said Toure…. “This is also a good lesson for the incumbents — I’m one of them — that we have to handle public money very carefully if we don’t want to find ourselves in the very same situation.”

A banker by trade, Karim Wade held several high-profile positions during his father’s 12 years in office.

President Wade put his son in charge of a “super-ministry” that included air transport, infrastructure and international cooperation. Senegalese jokingly referred to him as “the Minister of the Earth and the Sky.”

Investigations into members of the former government are being conducted by a special anti-corruption court called the Court for the Repression of Illicit Enrichment that was voted into law in 1981 and revived by the new administration.

Justice Minister Toure said they are still in the “investigation phase.” No charges have been filed.

“When the prosecutor does have strong leads that corruption might have occurred they can call anyone to explain so that person can explain herself or himself,” Toure said. “That’s where we are. On the other hand, the prosecutor would collect information to build his case like in every court. The specificity for this law is that the person who is called has one month to justify that his or her assets were legally acquired … after that month, if the explanations are not convincing, that person can be indicted for illegal enrichment.”

Supporters of Wade and the former ruling PDS party have denounced the investigations as a political witch hunt. Former president Wade has said they are unfair and threatened to retaliate with legal action of his own.

Some Senegalese say that they just don’t see the point of digging into the past.

Mamadou Souleymane says so maybe Karim Wade or others stole, but why get into all of this and why aren’t they also looking into the current president, who was part of the former government for a while? He says other problems are more important. He says they are still waiting on the jobs the new government promised but instead it’s just audits, audits, audits.

Anti-corruption watchdogs said that high-level corruption investigations currently going on in Senegal, France and beyond are meant to send a message that no one is above the law.

Experts say the actual investigations can drag on for years. They are complex and costly. Money must often be tracked through countless offshore bank accounts and shell companies and then directly linked to evidence of corruption.

The ultimate goal is often asset recovery — returning embezzled or illegally obtained wealth to public coffers where it can fund the schools, hospitals or roads for which it was intended. That’s not only another long, complex and costly process but expert say authorities must also weigh whether returned assets won’t just be stolen again.VOA

Somaliland: Another Miracle

Somaliland has demonstrated the durability of its democratic institutions, with few, if any, appropriate role-models amongst neighboring states. Again the Republic of Somaliland and its people have shown a hypocritical, a world short in ethics and what right another lesson on democracy is. In the recent municipal elections they taught whoever may lesson another lesson in indigenous democracy
The people of Somaliland showed our neigh hood dictatorships, the repressive one man regimes of Africa and the Middle East another unforgettable lesson on a homegrown democracy. I was struck when I saw Somalilanders in mega-lines who are lined up behind one another quietly and without any police supervision. People took positions in their polling stations as early as 2:00 am in the morning. The people enthusiasm level and energy was through the roof. The people did not feel the inconvenience of staying in long lines. They were all in their utmost happiness and everyone has lined up to exercise their right to vote. Clearly they are people who have high civic values who think their vote will make a big difference. That is why they were so tolerant to all the hardships they may come in their way. This attitude and peoples’ behavior the whole world witnessed is a sign of unparalleled political majority that do not exist in Africa and our neighborhood in
the Middle East. What you see here today is a nation so deep in their indigenous democratic values, and their long history of civilization of independence. We all know the soil of the Republic of Somaliland was the scene of rich and ancient civilization in terms of education, governance and civic engagement. This is the place where numerous world class Muslim scholars, military commanders and well-known religious figures are buried.

Advice to the politicians and candidates running for the local government
You need to remember elections are contests where citizens run for office. It is natural that some of these candidates will win and others will not win. If you win the election that is well and good and I commend and congratulate you for a job well-done. If you lose please you need to be contended the results supervised by the independent election commit. Stop bombastic, outrageous statements that falsely blame the election committee and other officials. You need to avoid of becoming a sour loser who blame others for his or her shortcoming. If you keep on doing that and get engaged with gutter with the politics of dictatorial neighbors, Somaliland citizens may punish you and your political may sustain a severe or event a terminal damage and you never be allowed another opportunity to run for office. Stay away from the charlatans who left Somaliland and everything they stand and join our enemies’-foreign created figments they call governments in the
former Somalia.
Warning to Somaliland’s jealous enemies
The Republic of Somaliland has passes a threshold where It can longer to be intimated by its enemies, no matter who they are and where they are. Today I would like to take the opportunity to slap another rebuttal on the face of an old diehard Siyad Bare officer called Osman Hassan. This man is relentless crusader against the republic of Somaliland and its people. These days he is in mourning and wailing mood, because even the foreign made Mogadishu figment-they call government realized that they can’t do anything about the aspirations of the people of Somaliland. This aged Siyad Barre dinosaurs has no idea how the Horn of Africa changed and the Republic of Somaliland has already becoming a regional power to be reckoned on. Another die Somaliland is a man called Yabarag whom I did not understand where his venomous hatred against the people of Somaliland is coming from. He himself is in his highest disappointment because his hallucinatory aspirations and
baseless predictions became a mirage and hogwash. One would be surprised to read the baseless trash and the false predictions this man pedals day in and day out. The good news is all his false predictions, and cheap propaganda has gone with the wind. He may be coming to his senses. The only crime the people of Somaliland committed is the reclaiming of their long lost sovereignty, independence and identity. Let me tell our enemies, Somaliland is for real, permanent and its independence and sovereignty is not subject for negotiations.  Our Republic was never handed cheap to us. Our independence tree was watered with the blood of our freedom fighters.  In the same token to keep it and preserve it, we are ready to sacrifice tens of thousands of martyrs and Majahids. I am warning you to refrain from your cheap attacks and mirage wishful thinking; a day will come when our rage may reach the boiling point and the forces of freedom will move to teach you and
the remnants of the former fascist regime an unforgettable lesson. Stay safe and keep away from the route of the freedom train. Stay away from this high speed train before it crushed you down and remember it is moving with the speed of light.
Warning to the fake claimers of Zeila, Djibouti-pretenders/impostors to ancient Zeila, which has abruptly came to an end in the recent municipal elections
Those who gave you the unopposed privileged in Zeila have committed a historical mistake we just have corrected in the last local government elections. The era of gifts has ended and it’s what has forced Somaliland to wage a second struggle to reacquire its independence. Those days are long gone, what you advocating and sable rattling for is to bring back that unopposed phenomena which is nothing but a dead dinosaur in the past. You are forced to accept the election. You got 7 representatives in Zeila, legitimately and legally you would may have to get only one or two, had the thousands of foreigners were not brought in from Djibouti.  How many seats you got would have been a true commensuration with your very tiny number in the general population.

Suleiman Egeh is a freelance writer and a senior science instructor

Ethiopian Maid Commits Suicide in Kuwait

 An Ethiopian domestic worker committed suicide in Kuwait inside an Ali Sabah Al-Salem house recently, according to preliminary investigations. The Ethiopian woman was reportedly found hanging inside the kitchen, according to her employer who called the police.

Investigators believe that the Ethiopian maid used a piece of cloth as a noose which she put around her neck and tied the other end to the ceiling, before climbing onto a chair that was found knocked off nearby.

The body was taken to the forensic department. Investigations are on to determine the circumstances that led to the suicide, according to the report.

Ghana Elections 2012: the power of the thumb

By Kissy Agyeman-Togobo

This is the last week before Ghana’s population exercises its civic right (popularly known as ‘krokromoti power’) to vote in presidential and legislative elections. The past few months of campaigning have been intense, and the cornucopia of rallies, public debates and door-to-door campaigns have reached a climax, with media reports suggesting that collectively, GHC549 million (US$288 million) has been spent on the exercise.

The carnival tone of the rallies has been countered by the more sobering, incendiary language of some politicians and activists as well as isolated instances of political violence, giving way to a sense of unease surrounding the conduct of the polls. The collective decision by the ‘international community’ not to attend the elections this time around suggests a certain level of maturity in Ghana’s democratic tradition; one hopes that this level of confidence is not misplaced.

Dividing Lines

“Belonging to a political party doesn’t make us enemies” were the words of Reverend Asante, the Chairman of the National Peace Council, but with the atmosphere on the ground as it is, you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise. A number of party supporters – and to a lesser extent candidates themselves – have gradually engaged in fighting talk in which character assassinations, injurious comments and ethnocentricism have been employed in a bid to curry favour with voters.

This will be the first time for seven out of the eight candidates on the ballot that they have put themselves forward for election before the Ghanaian electorate. It will also be the first chance for the Progressive Peoples Party (PPP) to put their ideals for change to the electorate, having been created less than a year ago by Paa Kwesi Ndoum. This is a party which has the potential to become kingmaker, should the elections get pushed into a second round. For one of the candidates, Nana Akufo-Addo, flag-bearer of the main opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), this is likely to be his last bid for the presidency, having come agonisingly close in 2008.

Ghana’s upward development trajectory has meant that these polls are being fought with particular ferocity, as victory in 2012 will elevate the incumbent’s chances in 2016 on the back of a rising tide of economic growth. With the economy set to grow by 8 percent in 2012, compared to the 4.99 percent average across the continent, the next party in power will have the advantage of being able to woo the voter with impressive big-spend projects.

Such a scenario, however, pre-supposes that the Ghanaian voter is swayed predominantly by policies and deliverables and not the traditionally important notion of ethnicity. There is no escaping the fact that this is a major consideration for most Ghanaians, to the extent that even some of the presidential candidates have made appeals to the electorate on this basis. Akufo-Addo addressed voters at a rally by saying “yen Akan fwor” meaning “we the Akans”, while president Mahama pleaded to northern constituents to “vote for one of their own”.

Such comments have, however, come under public attack on account of the extent to which they have the potential to fuel a “them and us” mentality to the detriment of a national identity. The Electoral Commission has identified 42 out of the 275 nationwide constituencies which it considers as potential flashpoints on the basis of precedent and instances of violence in the build-up to the polls.

Preach the Peace

In reaction to this potential for unrest, the message of peace has been widely preached across party lines and endorsed by civil society including influential traditional leaders, religious groups, former presidents and artists on the popular culture scene. The recent signing of the ‘Kumasi Declaration’ for peace between all eight of the presidential aspirants was indication that even in a country that is considered democratically mature amongst its peers, there is no room for complacency.

Speaking on the popular ‘Talking Points’ programme, Reverend Asante acknowledged that “it is important to take precautions because we know what happened during the [biometric] registration”.

Policy Debate

There has been more of a concerted effort this year to engage the population on policy issues through the vector of the media. The televised presidential debates organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) was, for the first time, aired across all the major television channels, played widely across the radio stations and widely reported in the newspapers. It provided a strong campaign platform for the flag-bearers of four of the parties to outline their pledges on a number of issues, including a discussion over governance, education, healthcare, the economy and security.

The two major parties find their roots in distinct rival political ideologies – the NDC considers itself aligned with the centre-left ‘Nkrumahist’ tradition, while the NPP draws inspiration from the ‘Danquah-Busia’ tradition. However, over the years there has been a substantial convergence of ideologies, with both parties pursuing a pragmatic blend of liberalisation and government intervention. The smaller parties also find their roots in the Nkrumahist tradition, namely the Convention People’s Party (CPP), founded by the man himself, the Great Consolidated Popular Party (GCPP) and the People’s National Congress (PNC) .

The PPP (a breakaway from the CPP) has preferred not to align itself with any political ideology in particular, although its emphasis on job creation could be deemed an ideology in itself. All parties are unified however in the desire to address the country’s challenging human development and physical infrastructure gaps, which implies heavy government spending to create jobs and raise productivity. Whoever wins will need to be cautious of over-spending, as Ghana has suffered from a recurring fiscal crises, bearing heavily on external balances, there is no fiscal law to stop overspend.

For some, it will take time before policy objectives really resonate with the Ghanaian voter, because as Paa Kow Ackon, the Deputy National Secretary of the PPP put it, the problem stems from “people’s understanding of issues – half of the people cannot read or write. People just follow the crowd. They vote on what is happening. They’ve seen a lot of people voting this way and then they go that way…[but it is] when you are educated that you feel that you must challenge the status [quo] but when you are uneducated you feel that they are even doing you a favour”.

Education is a hot topic across the parties, the PPP leading the charge in its espousal of free secondary high school education, but it was when it was adopted as a pledge of the NPP that it became sensationalised. According to Isaac Osei, the NPP candidate for the Subin constituency in the Ashanti region, free education “is not a just a social service, it is a development imperative”.

The NDC too is convinced that education is the way forward, placing the emphasis on ensuring widespread access for all, by “rapidly expanding access to quality education at both the basic and secondary levels by ensuring that the 20 percent of children who are not in school gain access to schooling” as stated in its manifesto.

A test for democratic institutions

With just a few days to go before votes are cast, the real test of Ghana’s democracy will be in the conduct of the polls. Elections deemed to be free and fair will ensure greater legitimacy for whoever eventually makes it to power. But with the EC coming under increasing criticism over  its failure to tackle the inclusion of minors on the electoral list and the non-registration of some 3,000 constituents in the north, it does not inspire the level of confidence that a nation heading to the ballot box for the sixth time should. The security operatives are on the alert and candidates, faith-based groups and traditional leaders among others have been appealing to the electorate to desist from violent conduct.

There is the knowledge among Ghanaians that the eyes of the world are upon the country.  As eminent Ghanaian statesman and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan put it: “Beyond party differences, there is the greater national interest at stake. After the elections, we shall have to work together across party lines to pursue the development of our country. Much remains to be done to ensure a better future for our children. We cannot afford to let them down.”

Kissy Agyeman-Togobo is Partner at Songhai Advisory LLP.

Sudan: belief that Khartoum regime will reform is misplaced

By Hamdan Mohamed Goumaa

The tendency by the United States and its allies to count on the existing regime in Khartoum to embark on serious reforms towards achieving genuine democracy and stability is illusive. Putting all the eggs in the basket of the current regime is a dangerous gamble.

It is clear that the position on Sudan of many US (and other Western) officials is based on the belief that the stability of the country and the region is dependent on maintaining the current regime in power. Recently, Ambassador Lyman – the US special envoy to Sudan – said “frankly we do not  want a regime change—we want to see freedom and democracy [in Sudan] but not necessarily via Arab spring”. This position received criticism on the grounds that it might embolden the Khartoum government as it continues to practice aggression against its own people.

Many Sudanese civil society organisations, as well as other concerned parties, have voiced their fears of the country’s potential disintegration, stating that Sudan is on the verge of collapse.  They believe that if the current political and economic situation continues to deteriorate as is currently the case, it is highly likely that the governing regime will lose control over the country, leading to chaos.

Sudan is already referred to by many observers as a failed state – a situation that is only getting worse with the new wars in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. These have resulted in mass displacements and instability among the populations of these areas. According to the UNHCR,  “South Sudan hosts some 200,000 refugees, including more than 170,000 in Unity and Upper Nile states.”  It is worth mentioning that the rebel coalition known as the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), which brought together for the first time Darfur movements that were once split into small factions, is now controlling 40 percent of the international border between Sudan and South Sudan. It has also been reported that the regime’s armed forces have recently suffered serious defeats by the SRF, whose rebels are surrounding Kadougli, the capital of Southern Kordofan state.

Adding further fuel to the fire, fighting on the border between armed forces from North and South Sudan has created a dire situation in terms of accessibility to basic consumer goods and other sources of livelihood.  The regime announced an emergency situation along the border areas, blocked cross-boundary trade between the inhabitants and declared South Sudan an enemy state.  This has stemmed from the loss of 70 percent of its oil revenue after the secession of the South, doubled by South Sudan’s halting of oil production.

Darfur remains a problem, without any progress on the latest Doha agreement/s and conflict and related crimes are still reported there on daily basis.  The protests and demonstrations, which broke out in the capital city of Khartoum and many other places in the country, due to the austerity measures declared by the government, are an indication of the complete failure of the regime’s economic policies.

Despite the recent UN resolution 2046 urging the Sudan and South Sudan governments to settle the unresolved issues between them, till this day there are no prospects of implementing the agreement. Abyei is the case in point – the government is still using it as a bargaining chip, while pretending to protect the Messeriya interest. The Messeriya have never been engaged in any serious way to participate in deciding their own position, hence there is a wide dissatisfaction among them of the manner by which the government is dealing with the issue.

It has become clear that managing and resolving the many and complex challenges facing the people of Sudan at this juncture will not be realized by the current regime alone.  It would be of high risk to count on this regime to maintain stability and unity in Sudan.  In this critical period it is crucial to bring different Sudanese political organisations, academics, representatives of various regions and ethnic groups together to explore possible alternative arrangements to ensure peace and stability.  This is imperative in order to have a political body and/or structure that can fill the gap; and preserve the integrity and unity of Sudan.

Hamdan Mohamed Goumaa, a Sudanese Peace and Development Activist, living in the USA.

Nigeria: Abacha’s looted fund returns

Switzerland is set to expose public officers who stashed away looted funds in the country’s banks, just as it announced yesterday that the country new laws did not allow anonymous bank accounts in Swiss banks. The Swiss Government also announced that $700 million, out of the reported $1 billion loot stashed in the country’s banks belonging to the late head of state, General Sani Abacha had been returned to the Federal Government. Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria, Dr. Hans-Rudolf Hodel, said this at a press briefing in Abuja yesterday.

He spoke against the backdrop of a proposed seminar on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism, which would hold in Abuja between December 11 and 13. The seminar was a collaborative effort between the Swiss Government and the Federal Government. His words: Switzerland is working closely with other countries to combat organised crime and terrorism. It employs internationally binding sanctions, in particular sanctions imposed by the United Nations.

“Let me quickly touch upon a few key words: Swiss banking secrecy protects the privacy of bank clients, but it is not unlimited. If there are suspicions of criminal activities such as terrorism, organised crime, money laundering or tax fraud, it is lifted-and the authorities are given access to banking information. Banking secrecy is not a Swiss peculiarity; it exists in many other countries. “No anonymous accounts exist in Switzerland.

The bank is obliged to know the identity of the account holder and of the actual financial beneficiary. Highly developed financial centres run the risk of being used to launder money and to finance terrorism. “The Swiss Act on the Restitution of Illicit Asset is an innovative tool that may speed up Asset Recovery proceedings in certain cases.

The law is the result of difficulties encountered by the Swiss authorities in returning asset with insufficient structures. “To resolve cases of illicit assets of politically exposed persons (PEPs) deposited in Switzerland, the law comprises the three instruments of freezing, confiscation and restitution in situations where the state of origin of the assets in question is unable to conduct a criminal procedure that meets the requirements of Swiss law on international mutual legal assistance. “The law foresees a reversal of the burden of proof.

In the confiscation proceedings, the account holders have to prove the origin of the funds. Failing to do so, illegality of the assets is assumed. “Money laundering was recognised as an offence in the Swiss Criminal Code since 1990. On February 1, 2009, various improvements in Switzerland’s anti-money laundering arsenal entered into force, enabling Switzerland to stay abreast of the more sophisticated international standards.

“Switzerland has a fundamental interest in ensuring that assets of criminal origin are not invested in the Swiss financial centre. Swiss laws and procedures to combat money laundering, corruption and the financing of terrorism are effective means of keeping out illicit funds of politically exposed persons (PEPs).” On the returned Abacha loot, the Ambassador said: “Together with the states concerned. Switzerland seeks ways of returning assets to their rightful owners.

In the last 15 years, Switzerland has returned over $1.7 billon to their countries of origin. “Examples include the Abacha case in Nigeria. $700 million blocked in Swiss bank accounts have been returned to Nigeria.” The seminar in Abuja was a follow-up to the one which held in Dakar, Senegal last year and it would expectedly focus more on cross-cutting aspects of money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

Abyei: What if Sudan’s Bashir continues defying the International Community?

By Luka Biong Deng

On 5th December, the six weeks given by the AU to Sudan and South Sudan to build consensus on the AU Proposal on the final status of Abyei will expire. Also the period of the two weeks given to the two countries to agree on the process and mechanism for resolving the disputed and claimed border areas has expired on 7th November. The AU Peace and Security Council may convene its next meeting on 14th December to endorse the AU Panel proposals on the final status of Abyei area and mechanism for resolving the disputed and claimed border areas. On the basis of its communiqué on 24th October, the AU Council is expected to endorse these proposals and to forward them to the UN Security Council for endorsement and enforcement under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. On the basis of its Resolution 2046 and its precedent of respecting regional solutions, the UN Security will most likely have unified position in endorsing these proposals.

Aware of the diplomatic consequences of the failure to reach consensus on Abyei proposal and border, the regime in Khartoum, instead of engaging with the South, opted to intensify diplomatic campaign to contain these issues at the level of AU. Bashir sent a passionate letter to all presidents and heads of state of all members of the AU Peace and Security Council to undo its decisions in its communiqué of 24th October on Abyei and border and to be given more time. In fact the essence of the AU Roadmap and UN Security Council Resolution 2046 was to put an end to the endless negotiations between the two countries.

Equally, this diplomatic campaign waged by Bashir to undo the decisions taken by the AU over Abyei and border is not only inconsistent with the principles of the AU Constitutive Act but it shows clear disrespect to the members of the AU Peace and Security Council. This diplomatic campaign also accentuates the contempt of Bashir of Africans. This attitude was shown clearly during the last summit between Salva and Bashir in Addis Ababa, when one of Bashir’s aides on Abyei insulted Africans with racial utterance in presence of the former presidents of South Africa, Nigeria and Burundi. This behaviour is not surprising as it is consistent with the implicit description of Bashir of the South Sudanese as slaves. It is a real paradox that the very person who scorns Africans is now moving with a letter from Bashir to convince African leaders to reverse their decisions. It needs to be seen whether the African leaders will reward this racist regime in Khartoum by changing their minds in the next meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council over Abyei.

While the regime in Khartoum is busy with its diplomatic campaign, the South sees the only way of resolving the pending issues of Abyei and border is to engage with Khartoum. President Salva extended invitation to President Bashir to visit Juba for a summit to resolve the pending issues and to effect the implementation of the nine (9) agreements. A high ministerial committee was set up for the reception of Bashir in Juba. President Salva made a phone call to Bashir in an effort to resolving the unjustified condition put by Sudan to allow the South to export its oil through Sudan. President Salva offered earlier to mediate between the Government of Sudan and the SPLM-North for effecting the implementation of June 2011 Agreement on the political partnership between National Congress Party (NC) and SPLM-North.

With the issue of voters eligibility in Abyei referendum being satisfactory resolved in the AU Proposal on Abyei, President Salva accepted the nominations of the Government of Sudan for the positions of Deputy Chief Administrator and the Speaker of Abyei Area Council. President Salva has gone further and sent his lead negotiator, Mr Pagan Amum, to Khartoum to resolve the stalemate in the implementation of the nine (9) agreements and the pending issues of Abyei and border. Although Pagan might have held good meetings with the key decision makers of NCP including President Bashir, we may wait to see the fruit of these meetings as the regime in Khartoum is so divided and with no real centre of power.

On the other hand, the regime in Khartoum failed not only to show any effort to implement the nine (9) agreements but also not to engage with the South in building consensus on the AU Proposal on Abyei and mechanism for resolving the border issues. The regime in Khartoum has failed the last meeting on border security by putting unrealistic condition of disengagement between Juba and the SPLM-North. The regime in Khartoum also started with aerial bombardment that resulted in loss of innocent lives in South Sudan. Besides killing of the innocent lives in South Sudan, the regime in Khartoum refused, contrary to oil agreement, to allow the export of oil of the South through Sudan.

President Bashir, instead of engaging with President Salva over Abyei, he rejected outright, after his release from Hospital in Saudi Arabia, the AU Proposal on Abyei and claimed instead that Abyei is the area of Misseriya Arab nomads. This statement dashed any hope for serious engagement over Abyei and encouraged some spoilers from Misseriya to enter Abyei town and to create havoc among the returnees and that resulted in the loss of innocent life. Also since the AU Communiqué of 24th October, the Government of Sudan has been reluctant to attend the meetings of Abyei Joint Oversight Committee under the pretext that they are finalizing their list of nominations for Abyei administration.

It is clear that while South Sudan has done what it could to implement the nine (9) agreements and to engage Khartoum on the pending issues of Abyei and border, the regime in Khartoum is revealing again its character of dishonouring agreements. Seriously, if the AU Peace and Security Council and UN Security Council are to meet, it would not take them effort to endorse the proposals of the AU Panel on Abyei and border. It needs to be emphasized that the proposal of the AU Panel on Abyei is not only an African solution but importantly it came from prominent leaders of Africa with high sense of justice and caring for peace and stability in the continent. The AU Proposal on Abyei is not a solution imposed on the two countries but it came as a result of signed agreements (Abyei Protocol, Permanent Court of Arbitration and 20 June 2011 Agreement) and processes (the AU Roamap and the UN Security Council Resolution 2046) agreed by the two countries. Any attempt to derail these processes will gravely undermine the credibility of the AU and UN and may delay justice and undermine peace.

Bashir is likely to reject these proposals and will continue to defy the international community, particularly the AU for the first time. If this defiant behaviour of Bashir is not contained, then it will continue to destabilize the region. African Union in particular should take serious actions against Bashir and to review its decision of protecting him from International Criminal Court. Equally, the AU should also consider suspending the membership of Sudan in AU as Sudan under Bashir will continue to be liability to the content and the people of Sudan.

The Government of South Sudan should rule out any serious business with Sudan and it should manage its oil sector as if it has no border with Sudan under Bashir. As the South has shown its commitment to implement in good faith the nine (9) agreements and to build good relations with Sudan, the friends of the South and international community should now assist the South to develop an alternative pipeline. Above all, the people of Sudan are to be supported as they rise up against injustice and indignation through popular uprising. The people of Sudan are great and have set examples before in fight against tyranny in Sudan through peaceful popular uprising. If Sudan continues to defy the international community, the option of regime change will be unavoidable.

Luka Biong Deng is a senior member of South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Co-Chair of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee. He can be contacted at lukabiong@kushworld.org