Africa’s budding narco-states?

UPDATE:

The Kenyan Prime Minister just admitted to the presence of drug money in Kenyan politics. Huge. Also, check the UNODC’s drug trafficking patterns for East Africa.

Also, does anyone out there have a copy of the report on drug trafficking in Kenya? Care to share?

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I have written before about the growing problem of drug-trafficking that is creating new problems for already fragile African states.

Of note is the fact that the problem is not just limited to the usual suspects – weak or failing states – but also extends to countries that most would consider to have it together, like Ghana, South Africa and Kenya.

According to Reuters, “cocaine moves through West Africa” while “heroin transits through the eastern part of the continent.”

The most alarming thing about this new trend is that in most of these African countries drug-trafficking happens with the consent of those in government.

For instance, in Guinea the son of former president Conte was for a long time a leading drug kingpin. In Guinea-Bissau President Vieira’s and Gen. Na Waie’s deaths in March of last year were a result of drug-related feuds. In Ghana President Atta Mills has lamented that the drug lords are too powerful to rein in. In Kenya, a woman (rumored to be) close to the president and other elites have been linked to the drug trade. Indeed on June 1st President Obama listed a sitting Kenyan Member of Parliament (Harun Mwau) as a global drug kingpin.

In South Africa former Chief of Police, Jackie Selebi, was jailed for 10 years in 2010 on drug charges. More recently the wife of the South African Intelligence Minister (Sheryl Cwele) was found guilty of having connections to the illicit trade. In 2009 a Boeing 727 crashed and was later set ablaze by suspected drug traffickers in Mali. The plane is believed to have been a drug cargo plane from Latin America destined for Europe. Other African states whose drug connections have also come to light include The Gambia (where rumors abound that President Jammeh is himself involved in the trade in drugs and arms in collusion with the Bissauian army) and Mozambique (H/T kmmonroe). You can find related news stories here and here.

Clearly, this is a real problem that if not nipped in the bud has the potential of growing to Mexican proportions, especially considering the already low levels of state capacity in most of Africa.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy also addresses this issue in their newly released report:

In just a few years, West Africa has become a major transit and re-packaging hub for cocaine following a strategic shift of Latin American drug syndicates toward the European market. Profiting from weak governance, endemic poverty, instability and ill-equipped police and judicial institutions, and bolstered by the enormous value of the drug trade, criminal networks have infiltrated governments, state institutions and the military. Corruption and money laundering, driven by the drug trade, pervert local politics and skew local economies.

A dangerous scenario is emerging as narco-traffic threatens to metastasize into broader political and security challenges. Initial international responses to support regional and national action have not been able to reverse this trend. New evidence suggests that criminal networks are expanding operations and strengthening their positions through new alliances, notably with armed groups. Current responses need to be urgently scaled up and coordinated under West African leadership, with international financial and technical support. Responses should integrate
law enforcement and judicial approaches with social, development and conflict prevention policies – and they should involve governments and civil society alike.

Who will stop khartoum?

It appears that the war between north and south Sudan is inevitable. The north overran the disputed town of Abyei last week and now is angling to take over two border states. The Times reports:

Now, according to a letter from the Sudanese military’s high command, the northern army, in the next few days, plans to take over Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states, two disputed areas with a long history of conflict that are still bristling with arms.

Analysts, local leaders and Western diplomats fear that if the northern army carries through on its threat to push out or forcibly disarm the thousands of fighters allied to the south in these two areas, it could set off a much bigger clash between the northern and southern armies, who have been building up their arsenals for years in anticipation of war.

Malik Agar, Blue Nile’s governor, said Sunday night that northern forces had recently moved “dangerously close” to the bases of southern-allied fighters and that he didn’t think the southern-allied forces would surrender.

A part of me still thinks that Bashir’s sabre-rattling is designed for the northern public. After all he will go down in history as the president who lost the south. In order to avoid immediate ouster he must, at least, pretend to put up a fight. My other side, however, thinks that Bashir (and his generals) might actually want war. Oil and water are on the line.

So how can a war be avoided?

Right now everyone appears to be looking in the direction of the UN for help. But the UN is busy putting out fires elsewhere, not least in Darfur where Khartoum’s forces keep firing at UN helicopters.

That Khartoum would let the south go peacefully was always a long shot. Many analysts had predicted that the north would either finance mini-rebellions in the south or go for a full blown war. It appears that Khartoum is going for both.

South Sudan does not need this war. The whole country has less than 200 Kilometres of paved road, among other mind-boggling underdevelopment records. Its human capital development is lagging behind the regional average by decades. A sustained war would take away vital resources from much needed development work.

Which brings me back to the title of this post. Many a time I have lamented at Africa’s lack of a regional hegemon. A hegemon that would take the mantle of regional conscience and policeman. A regional power that would put out fires even when the UN and the global powers that be were too busy (like they are now) or just plain indifferent (remember the mid-1990s?).

If it occurs the north-south war will be bloody and dirty (read land mines, more child soldiers, crimes-against-humanity tactics). As many as hundreds of thousands of people could die. Millions will be affected. It will also mean more light arms in an already volatile region, not to mention potential for spillovers into ongoing insurgencies in The DRC, Chad, Uganda and Ethiopia. Who will stop Omar al-Bashir and his generals?

 

the African Union and its problems

The just concluded AU summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia had two key problems to address: the political crisis in Ivory Coast and the legal battles involving six Kenyans who face charges at the ICC. So far the continental body appears to have failed on its attempts to address both problems.

In the Ivory Coast, Mr. Gbagbo’s camp has already declared that the five person panel formed by the AU is dead on arrival unless Burkinabe president, Compraore is dropped. The Daily Nation reports:

The president of Burkina Faso, named on a high-level African Union panel tasked with settling Cote d’Ivoire’s leadership crisis, is “not welcome” in this country, a top ally of strongman Laurent Gbagbo said here yesterday.

And in Kenya, the political football involving the setting up of a credibly clean local judicial system to try perpetrators of the 2007-8 post election violence diminished the prospects of a deferral from the UN Security Council. Kenya must guarantee that it will try the suspects for the ICC to consider a deferral. It does not help that the appointment of high members of its judiciary, including the chief justice, the attorney general and the director of public prosecutions has already been soiled by political grandstanding.

quick hits

This is progress. I hope PLO does not go the way of most idealists and get sucked into the vortex that is Kenya’s corruption and patronage networks. Relatedly, the latest TI ratings suggest that corruption may have declined a tiny bit in Kenya. Rwanda still leads the pack as the least corrupt country in the wider region, although critics argue that this has come at the price of basic civil liberties as the mountainous country transmogrifies into an unapologetic police state.

Be sure to read WTF Friday on wronging rights…

three cheers to gettleman and his ilk

I am on record as being very critical of Jeffrey Gettleman, the New York Times bureau chief for eastern Africa. His sensational reporting from the region has oftentimes painted a one dimensional picture of events and portrayed east Africans as irrational and passive beings at the mercy of fate, and their sadistic rulers. That said, Mr. Gettleman and others who share in his bravery remain the only sources of somewhat credible news reports from  crazy places such as Somalia and eastern DR Congo. Listening to him on Fresh Air today reminded me that even though I may not agree with his presentation style, Mr. Gettleman is doing a brave job of reminding the world of the many evils that still define some people’s lived reality.

Links I liked

A nice piece by Moussa Blimpo on Aid Watch highlights the urgent need to improve general conditions at African universities. On a related note, I totally agree with Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda’s position that Aid should be more targeted – and perhaps at times even to the middle class – if it is to make much impact in Africa. African development in the 21st century will not come from subsistence farmers and vegetable kiosks in the informal settlements. The Continent needs big business. I am not downplaying the entrepreneural ability of those target by pro-poor development initiatives. Far from that, all I am suggesting is that the better educated African middle class have a higher chance of being able to scale up their enterprises and create the kind of firms that will create much needed jobs in most of Africa.

Also, check out Texas in Africa’s posts on the increasingly authoritarian Rwandan government and the goings on in Kivu on the eastern reaches of the DRC. The Ethiopian Strongman Meles Zenawi seems to have gotten away with sham elections (the Ethiopian economy is doing well enough, I guess, so enough Ethiopians still love him) but it is not clear if Kagame will this August or his next door neighbor Museveni next year. Given Rwanda’s recent history the Rwandans will most likely opt for stability at the expense of an open free and fair democratic process. Whatever happened to Kagame, Zenawi and Museveni being the new generation of “enlightened” African leaders….

Nimeiri bites the dust

It is un-African to be irreverent to the dead. I don’t intend to break this particular ancestral tradition. OK may be I will, just a little bit.

Jaafar Nimeiri, the man directly responsible for the start of the second Sudanese civil war, died last Saturday (May, 30). He was 79.

Nimeiri took over power in Khartoum in 1969 through a military coup. His authoritarian rule lasted until he was himself overthrown in 1985. The late Nimeiri will be remembered as the man who brokered and then broke the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement. After years of pretending to govern as per the 1972 agreement, Mr. Nimeiri (under pressure from Islamist extremists in the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood movement) finally decided, in 1983, to impose Sharia law on all Sudanese, including the non-Muslim South. In addition, he sought to redraw the borders of Southern Sudan and created new administrative structures in the region in an attempt to sap some of the newly acquired power of Southern Sudanese leaders. His actions led to rebellions in the South and the formation of the Southern Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) led by the late Col. John Garang de Mabior.

The almost certain secession of Southern Sudan in the upcoming 2011 referendum will be one of Nimeiri’s lasting legacies. His autocratic style of government and lack of spine in the face of extremist Islamism gave the South no option but to rebel against Khartoum, and win, more than two decades later. To put a positive spin on this, may be we should all be grateful that Khartoum’s extremism during his tenure exposed the non-viability of Sudan as one nation-state. The South and the North were never part of a single polity. It is probably a good thing that the South will secede from Northern Sudan and occupy its rightful place as an East African state.

May Jaafar Muhammad an-Nimeiri rest in peace.

a few stories that highlight just how bad things are for some people

The BBC reports that women in Niger have a 1 in 7 chance of dying during childbirth. The report also mentioned that more than half of maternal deaths in poor countries occur in Africa. I have talked about this in the past but it still is saddening to see such statistics and know that there are real people, real human beings behind them. IRIN also has a slightly positive story on maternal mortality in Somalia.

Turning to the bizzare, The Economist reports that albinos in East Africa are facing constant threat of death in the hands of crazies out to harvest their body parts – to be used by witches. This is the 21st century? How do people still believe in things like this? The Economist may have hyped it a bit, but the mere fact that such crazy things are still happening in communities in East Africa is shocking, and quite frankly embarrassing for Africa. I think it is time governments stopped pretending that people don’t do such weird things and go ahead and outlaw certain practices – like witchcraft and the like. Of course this may be a problem if some law-makers believe in that stuff too. And I would not be surprised if it turned out that some do because we are led by a brood of half-baked adults without a scintilla of statesmanship but full of superstitious and anachronistic nonesense that they present as “traditions.”

And lastly, a positive story from Malawi. The authorities tthere have adopted the use of mobile phones to assist in data collection. This discovery might help improve the standards of data collection across Africa, a continent where planning has been seriously hampered because of unreliable data collection and record-keeping.

go harambee stars!!

So for those of us who are not keen fans of the Stars, they will be playing the hosts – the Uganda Cranes – in the finals of the Challenge Cup tonight (Tuesday). I am hoping that our football team manages to do what our rugby team has struggled to do in the recent past – to beat Uganda in their home ground. We all know what happened with the Elgon Cup. Last year we barely won after going into the second leg in Nairobi trailing by 17 points.

So go Stars! You make us all proud.

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east africa the only region not in Ghana

As the Africa Cup of Nations tournament goes on in Ghana, one region of the world is conspicuously missing. The Eastern Africa region, with its history of poor performance is football, is a perennial absentee at this continental gala. All the other regions, North, South and especially West Africa are represented by various teams.

Perhaps it is time that the FAs of Eastern African countries – Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Somali, Ethiopia, Burundi and Rwanda – got together to find a solution to the problem of underperformance by their teams. And money is not the issue. Uganda and Kenya have bigger economies than Benin but Benin managed to make it to the tournament. Even unstable Ivory Coast is in the tournament, and shining with its world famous stars.

The problem is not just in the national teams. This region’s leagues are also the weakest on the continent. Enyimba, Asante Kotoko, Obwasi Goal fields, Esperance, Zamalek, Pirates are all famous clubs from all the other regions who have won the continental club championship or featured prominently. None of these clubs is from Eastern Africa.

So as Eastern Africans sit back and enjoy the talents of the Drogbas and Essiens of the continent, they should also ask themselves why it is that their teams remain such underachievers when it comes to continental football.