will the nigerien colonels keep their word?

The coup leaders in Niger promised a return to democracy as soon as possible. Perhaps as a signal that they are willing to keep their word on this they have appointment a civilian as prime minister.They have also promised that none of the military leaders in government will take part in elections whenever they are held. For now I shall give the colonels the benefit of the doubt on this one, after all they proved pretty reliable when they re-instituted democratic rule after a coup in 1999. Fingers crossed.

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And in other news, do Kenyan politicians take themselves seriously? Like really? Don’t we have enough national holidays?

Also, kudos to the South African authorities for a job well done. Although if I had it my way I would have some mechanism within the AU to hold individual leaders personally accountable for violations of arms embargoes (well, if only the AU was not a club of autocrats, genocidaires and kleptocrats, with a few democrats here and there).

the drc: the fire continues to consume lives unabated

In the recent past the Niger coup, the return of the ailing Nigerian president Umaru Yar’Adua from a hospital in Saudi Arabia and the supposed peace deal between Khartoum and the Darfuris have stolen most headlines on the Continent.

But let us not forget that the eastern reaches of the DRC still approximate a war zone, to put it mildly. The ineffectual government in the opposite side of the country in Kinshasa still lacks the capacity to provide any amount of security to its citizens in the east. Makes you wonder why the DRC still survives as a single sovereign state.

The number of actual dead in the bloody civil conflict that begun with Kabila’s match towards Kinshasa in 1998 is sort of debatable – ranging from a low of just over 2 million to a high of 5.4 million, pick your number. Really, does it matter that only 2 million human beings instead of 5 million have so far died in the conflict? At this point should the numbers even matter?.

So let us not lose perspective here. Even by conservative estimates more than 2 million lives have been lost. Millions of children continue to stay out of school (with grave long-term consequences for the security and economy of the region). And those that benefit from the conflict – the generals and arms and mineral smugglers – continue to do so with impunity. There is also no question that international big business is either directly or indirectly bankrolling the conflict (check out the more detailed report from Global Witness here). Hillary Clinton’s visit last year to Goma highlighted the unbearably gruesome existence of those (especially women and children) who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in a war zone. Everyone who matters in the country and region know these facts. So the big question is: What will it take to change people’s approach to this conflict? Why isn’t more being done?

africa’s endless conflicts

The New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman has a thought-provoking piece in Foreign Policy. I don’t particularly buy his doomsday analysis (most of the Continent will definitely not head the Somalia way) but his characterization of the modern day African rebel movement is spot on. The typical rebel leader on the Continent is nothing but a roving bandit with huge amounts of ideology deficit.

a pre-election truce in darfur? fingers crossed

Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president,  might be having information that we don’t in relation to the upcoming general election in April. His government just signed a peace accord with the JEM, Darfur’s biggest rebel movement. Mr. al-Bashir is desperately trying to stay in power. He also dreads the inevitable secession of Southern Sudan come 2011. Perhaps this is why he wants to make peace with the Darfuris so that he won’t have to deal with two war fronts if he chooses to maintain the territorial integrity of Sudan by force post-2011.

The conflict in Darfur has killed at least 200,000 people and displaced almost 2 million. Like Southern Sudan, the former independent Sultanate of Darfur has never really integrated into the Sudanese state – dominated since independence by the north central valley. The Southerners fought a protracted civil war between 1983 and 2005 before Khartoum agreed to a peace agreement that provided secession as an option. Southern Sudanese will most surely vote to secede in 2011. It will be interesting to see how the Darfuris will react to this. Khartoum is obviously loathe of any further dismembering of the Sudanese state.

Sudanese elections

Southern Sudan continues to be an extremely dangerous place as it prepares for elections in April. “Ethnic clashes” have so far killed at least 2500 this year alone. The SPLM has nominated Yasir Arman, a northerner, as its presidential candidate in their attempt to dislodge the genocidal al-Bashir from power. The fact that President Kir of Southern Sudan is not running at the national level is a clear signal that the South has its eyes on secession come 2011. President al-Bashir is likely to win the presidential election in April. What matters the most is whether he will let the Southerners go if they so choose in the 2011 referendum.

In the meantime, one of the things that should be done ASAP is to professionalize the Southern Sudanese army and mop up the excess weapons floating around. There are 2.7 million small arms in circulation in Sudan. Quite the definition of a tinderbox if you ask me.

president tandja ousted in coup

Nigerien president Mamadou Tandja has been ousted in a military coup. An announcement on national radio stated that the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy was now in charge of the country. The council includes Col. Salou Djibo (the leader) and and four other colonels.The president and members of his cabinet are being held at a military barracks outside the capital Niamey after they were seized during a cabinet meeting.

Mr. Tandja had been president since 1999. Last year he was supposed to leave office at the end of his two terms but amended the constitution in a sham referendum allowing him to stay on for a third term. His presidency did not do much for Niger’s 15 million odd citizens. 63% of them continue to live on less than a dollar a day.

It is almost tempting to say good riddance, but given the track record of military rule (remember Guinea?) in West Africa the Nigeriens may have jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. Only time will tell. In the meantime condemnation of the coup and calls for an immediate return to democracy keep coming from the AU, ECOWAS, EU and other concerned parties. How things never change.

the fruits of french meddling

News reports indicate that the Nigerien leader is being held by soldiers in the capital in an apparent coup attempt. President Tandja recently extended his rule after the constitutionally mandated two term limit claiming that no one in Niger was good enough to replace him. He had French backing. The French are investing in a Uranium mine in the northern reaches of the Sahelian state. Official France was complicit in the sham referendum in which 92% of Nigeriens supposedly voted to extend Mr. Tandja’s rule so he could personally supervise the projects he had started. Mamadou Tandja has been president of Niger since 1999.

I am not fan of coups. Junior army officers make horrible presidents – just ask the Liberians about one Samuel Doe. That said, President Tandja must go. And his French connections should be exposed for what they are: illegal networks designed to continue to impoverish the vast majority of the country’s 15 million souls while a few French companies and the president’s men enrich themselves from Uranium, Gold and oil exports.

Per capita income in Niger stands at US $700. 63% if Nigeriens live below the poverty line of 1 dollar a day. Life expectancy in Niger is 52 years and the country has the 4th worst record of infant mortality in the world – about 116 deaths per 1000 births. The 2009 Human Development Index report places the country last out of 182 countries ranked, with an HDI value of 0.34. Mr. Tandja is clearly doing an excellent job as president.

sources: the CIA world fact book and the UNDP Human Development Index report

And in other news…. aren’t we at least supposed to respect those that we are helping. Here’s a quote from Care for the Children about photos of needy children that they use in their fundraising:

“We don’t keep records of individuals in our photographs. We don’t know when this photograph was taken, or where. We can only guess it was somewhere in Africa. Or maybe Haiti.”

Nice. Read more here

the “brain drain” debate

The first time I saw this paper/chapter presented at a workshop last year it left me with more questions than answers. I have since been convinced. The paper makes intuitive sense. That said, I am still a little uneasy with some of the implications of the argument. For one, providing education with a foreign labor market in mind may distract us from trying to find solutions to local problems. If we follow this route we may end up with a lot of government trained cosmetic surgeons ready to move to London or Paris but very few specialists in tropical diseases.

The minor objection cited above aside, I am all for exposure through immigration (and eventual return, of course). This might just be what it will take to undo the isolationist effects of the Sahara (from the Eurasian land mass) from centuries past.

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