Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Here's a commentary in the NYT on the African response to the recent coup in Togo and some of the African diplomatic efforts that led to Gnassingbe's quick resignation:

Olusegun Obasanjo, the president of Nigeria and the region's most powerful leader, was perhaps the most vociferous critic of the change of power in Togo, and he scolded Mr. Gnassingbé when the latter went to Abuja, the Nigerian capital, for talks. He also refused to accord him the pomp of an official state visit , a pointed and significant diplomatic snub. When Mr. Gnassingbé offered to hold elections but remain in power until then, African leaders immediately dismissed the gesture as an insufficient half-measure.

Western nations played a role, but it was small. The United States, the United Nations and European countries issued strongly worded statements condemning the change of power and later insisted that Mr. Gnassingbé step down. But the diplomatic effort to force the Togolese government back to constitutional rule was almost entirely an African affair.

There's also some comparing and contrasting toward the end with the current state of affairs in Zimbabwe. It's strange that it wasn't long ago that Mbeki was jetting around the world promoting NEPAD -- basically a promise by African leaders to hold each other accountable to some basic standards of democracy and human rights in return for the industrialized world giving them a lot of money to spend on pet projects. So now, Mbeki has his big chance to help promote African democracy and he seems to have been rather muted (leaving the heavy lifting to Obasanjo and Wade. Instead, Mbeki has become the chief defender of Robert Mugabe. (See below.)

Am I being too harsh?

Things are looking slightly up in Togo. The president-by-coup has resigned and the government is pledging to hold elections. How free and fair those elections will be is still uncertain, but the Togolese ruling party is feeling the pressure -- both internal and external:

The presidents of Niger and Mali and top officials from the Economic Community of West African States said they backed the need for presidential elections in 60 days.

"They called on all parties to adopt an attitude that favors national reconciliation and compromise to guarantee the success of the interim period (before elections)," the leaders said in a statement after visiting the former French colony.
Despite Gnassingbe's decision to resign, opposition parties in Togo have pledged to continue weekly protest marches.

They say the job of interim president should have gone to the head of the national assembly at the time of Eyadema's death, Fambare Ouattara Natchaba. He was out of the country at the time and a new interim president has now been named.

Yes, the ruling party will do whatever they can to continue to hold onto power, but continued international pressure will make that much more difficult.

Now why won't president Bush give Togo as much attention as he's been giving to Lebanon?

Meanwhile things don't look nearly as good in Zimbabwe.... Somehow I don't find myself reassured by Thabo Mbeki's promises that Zimbabwe's elections later this month will be free and fair. Is there any evidence that would cause one to believe this, or does Mbeki just think it will be true if he says it enough times?

I promise this is my last post about Hotel Rwanda. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of people talking about this movie that don't usually discuss films...

Here are Daniel Henninger's pre-Oscars comments for the WSJ.

And according to Jay Nordlinger (third item), President Bush has seen the movie as well.

As I've noted already, it's quite a good film... go see it.

Monday, February 07, 2005
Some good news? In Liberia, the first elections since Charles Taylor's ouster have been announced for October 11. With the country still reeling from more than a decade of war, the new government will have its work cut out for it.

Mandela has this exactly backwards:
Mandela, former South African president and former prisoner of that country's apartheid government, called for trade justice, an end to rising debts for the poorest countries, and more and higher-quality aid.

"Where poverty exists, there is not true freedom," said Mandela, who wore a white strip of cloth around his wrist. "The world is hungry for action, not words. I am proud to wear the symbol of this global cause to action."

It would be closer to the truth to say, "Where there is not true freedom, poverty exists." If Mandela is asking for the elimination of trade barriers, I'll go along with that, but he is truly naive if he thinks that a simple redistribution of wealth from the West to the Third World would solve the problem of poverty. No, poverty can only be reduced by economic growth and that can be achieved by the expansion of political and economic freedoms -- an area in which many African countries, sadly, fall short.

Plus ca change...

Gnassingbe Eyadema, dictator of Togo and Africa's longest-ruling head of state, has apparently died of a heart attack. After some constitutional fiddling, Eyadema's son has been installed in his place.

Despite the hand-wringing from the usual suspects (France, the UN and the US State Department), it is most unlikely that anyone will do anything to stop this. Togo was and remains a police state, so these sorts of things shouldn't surprise anyone.

As for Eyadema, good riddance. But unfortunately for Togo, it looks as if little has changed.

Thursday, February 03, 2005
Zimbabwe is preparing for "elections" in March, and Roger Bate suggests that the opposition MDC should boycott this time rather than participating in an obviously rigged process:
As army officers, team captains, and political-party leaders know, nothing prevents infighting as well as a common enemy. So it would be of no surprise if Mugabe sincerely hopes that the MDC contests the election. Without an opposition to fight, Zanu-PF might well implode — the result of which may be civil war.

Boycotting the election will have two additional effects. First, it will force the international community to get off the fence when the reality of Zimbabwe's dictatorship replaces the façade of democracy. Second, it will exacerbate the infighting within Zanu-PF, probably leading to a real power struggle.

It would have been nice if Bush had mentioned Zimbabwe in his State of the Union last night. Certainly the Middle East is of greater concern than Africa in terms of Islamist terrorism, but there's an unfortunate number of African countries that continue to have their resources sapped by dictatorships and corrupt one-party systems. The US has generally looked the other way with African dictators provided they (a) don't threaten their neighbors and (b) aren't unusually brutal at home. And (b) is usually negotiable. I wish those attitudes would change.

I went to see Hotel Rwanda at the movie theater last weekend. It's a very good movie and one that I'd recommend to anyone -- but particularly to anyone who has any interest in Africa. The film was shot on location in Rwanda and South Africa and I think it definitely showed. All of the exterior shots definitely had an authentic African look -- the heat, the lushness of the vegetation, the style of architecture, the condition of the roads, the streetscape of a bustling African city. It looked like the real thing to me, and I suppose it was.

I won't be ruining the film to tell you that the story opens just prior to the Rwandan genocide. Paul is a manager at a 5-star Belgian hotel in Kigali. As a Hutu, Paul isn't in immediate danger when the Interhamwe militia begins their massacre of Rwandan Tutsis, however Paul's wife (as well as many friends and coworkers) are Tutsi and are soon in grave danger. Paul trusts that the "international community" will come to the rescue of any Rwandans who are in danger. The UN does evacuate the Europeans from Rwanda, but Paul is left alone with only his wits to fend for himself, his family, and all those who have come to depend on him for protection.

Well, I won't ruin the whole thing, but suffice it to say that this is an engrossing movie.

Maybe the most disturbing thing about watching Hotel Rwanda was the feeling that history keeps repeating itself. The UN was established after WWII in part to prevent anything like the Holocaust from happening again. Since then, I can't think of a single time that the UN has acted to prevent or stop genocide. (In Kosovo, of course, NATO acted without UN approval.) Sadly, I think the genocide in Rwanda, with world leaders saying nice words but refusing to take action, is more the rule than the exception.

And we're now seeing exactly the same behavior with respect to Sudan...which is awfully disturbing.

Well, despite my best intentions to post more regularly, that doesn't seem to have really happened. Things in Delaware have been busy... And who has time for blogging when there's a great big world out there just waiting to be explored?

If fact, most of my blogging time has been taken up by my spending a bit more time at school and more time reading -- therefore less time to sit in front of the computer.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004
There's a presidential election in Ghana today:
Millions of Ghanaians headed to the polls on Tuesday, with analysts predicting that voters would give President John Kufuor another four years at the helm of the West African country which has built a reputation as a haven of democracy and stability.

Three other candidates are vying with the incumbent for the ballots of some 10 million registered voters in Ghana's fourth multi-party elections since the end of military rule in 1992.

Kufuor is a much better president than most in Africa. He's strongly supported press freedom in Ghana, which has led to a very vibrant, yet civil, political dialogue. Looks like the elections are going to come off peacefully, so Ghana is once again setting an example for its neighbors. Here's hoping it's a trend.

William F. Buckley writes about the UN, John Danforth and other things.

Sunday, December 05, 2004
Here's a useful metric of Robert Mugabe's misrule in Zimbabwe: 2-3 million Zimbabweans appear to have emigrated.

Belmont Club has a long post about the status of the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo. Calling this mission ineffective is certainly an understatement. In fact, the UN's behavior in the Congo seems indicative of a larger problem:
The key problem facing the United Nations is lack of accountability not to its constituent institutions, though it lacks that, but to the individual inhabitants of the world. Its inefficiency, corruption and fantasy policies are the result and not the cause of its problems. Nowhere is that failure more evident on a macro scale than in Kofi Annan himself and his management of the Oil-For-Food Programme.

I'm by no means an expert on this sort of thing, but I think the UN peacekeeper model falls short because each deployment begins and ends without clear military and political goals. The result is that UN peacekeepers never know who they are supposed to be fighting against (today's enemy is tomorrow's partner for peace) and they never know what they are fighting for (a brokered dictatorship is as good as a democracy as long as the result is "peaceful").

No wonder morale is low among the peacekeepers.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Well, in case you hadn't noticed, it's been rather a long time since I've been blogging.... My absence was due to a variety of things: being very busy (and under stress) at school, having a few personal distractions, and being very slightly burned out with daily blogging.

When I started this blog (not all that long ago) there didn't seem to be too many US blogs focusing on African issues. Over the past few months, I've been spending less time working on my own blog and more time reading other people's. And let me tell you, there is some great Afro-blogging going on out there.

Anyway, in the next week or so, I hope to be cleaning house around here a little bit. I have some new ideas about the kind of things I'd like to post, so I hope you'll continue to stop by now and then for a different perspective on all thing African.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004
Ever wondered what it would be like to try to sell baby strollers in Africa? The Washington Post has a full report:
Irene Wambui can't imagine why anyone would buy a baby stroller. She says she sees it as a cold cage filled with useless rattles, cup holders and mirrored headlights. Imagine children being stuffed into such a contraption and pushed around town like some kind of pet.

Yet here she is in the middle-class Westlands shopping district, trying to sell her store's newest merchandise, the four-wheeled plastic and metal tool of modern motherhood. But so far, strollers have been a flop in Nairobi, an affront to a time-honored tradition.

My observation in Ghana was that even the most urban, Westernized Ghanaians chose to carry their babies on their backs (not to mention carrying a bunch of other things on their heads). I'm sure that the poor quality of roads and often non-existent sidewalks has something to do with it, but I don't think it's the whole story.

I'd say carrying babies piggy-back is probably a reflection of African ideas about proper childrearing. When a mother carries her baby, she is always available to feed, burp, change, or comfort whenever the baby gets whiny. You'd think that all this attention would lead to spoiled children, but everything seems to work out somehow.

Anyway, until there's a major change in African ideas about childrearing, I wouldn't be investing in any African stroller retailers.

Finally -- The UN appears to be taking the situation in Sudan seriously.

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