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Nude Painting Scandal Shows South Africa’s Racial Tensions Are Still Raw
June 7, 2012 | 0 Comments

A painting of black President Jacob Zuma, in full frontal nudity, by a white artist creates a racial controversy that reminds South Africa the wounds of the Apartheid are not even close to be healed

By Jean-Philippe Rémy*
LE MONDE/Worldcrunch

JOHANNESBURG– It’s a grade-A scandal, with sex, politics and – because this is South Africa – a racial dimension. At the center of the scandal is a painting by South African artist Brett Murray. It depicts South African President Jacob Zuma, and was shown in a Johannesburg gallery as part of an exhibition called “Hail to the thief II.” Zuma is

Spear of the the nation by Brett Murray

Spear of the the nation by Brett Murray

represented like Lenin in a realist Bolshevik painting of the 1960s, but without any pants or underwear, exposing large genitals painted deep red. The title, “Spear of the Nation,” confirms that the artist had no intention of being subtle.

The Goodman gallery is the most famous gallery in South Africa. It sells to rich collectors, and doesn’t do scandal as a marketing ploy. Liza Essers, the new owner, comes from the world of finance and has a lot of ambition for contemporary art, but angering South Africa isn’t part of the plan. This sort of thing accentuates racial problems: whites are accused of indulging in a type of codified racism of which “Spear of the Nation” is probably the “most prominent example.”

The day after the opening, curious crowds flocked to the gallery. Comments flew and anger grew. Was this the end of the “Rainbow Nation” fairy tale? Each person feels defined by their skin color, as if each hue had its own set of predetermined values and opinions. A white artist ridiculed a black president? White people say it is art, black people say it violates their dignity. This dialogue of the deaf is further proof that racism is still prevalent.

President Zuma asked the gallery to take down the painting. They refused, stating their right to free speech. As a result, Zuma is suing the Goodman gallery and the artist for violating his right to dignity, a value enshrined in the South African constitution alongside free speech.

Meanwhile, other South African artists are strangely silent and Brett Murray is holed up. In an interview, he declared that he did not understand the controversy, since his painting was meant to be a social “satire.” Satire is supposed to be fun. But there’s nothing to smile about when you look at Brett Murray’s work, which is laden with anti-ANC (African National Congress, the ruling party) rhetoric.

Anger spills over

A few days later, two men entered the gallery, one white and the other black. The former, Barend La Grange, took out a red paint bucket and painted crosses on Zuma’s face and crotch. The latter, Louis Maboleka, daubed the canvas with black paint, until a burly security guard pinned him down and gave him a head butt in front of the cameras. These images soon provoked a new outcry: why was this black security guard so violent with the black man while ignoring the white one? This debate quickly died down; Barend La Grange said in court that he acted to avoid a “racial war.”

The ANC called for “all of South Africa” to demonstrate in front of the Goodman gallery, to force them to take down the painting. Fifty thousand protestors were announced, but only 2,000 activists came to walk along the large, blocked Johannesburg boulevard leading to the gallery. The anti-riot police, horseback units and circling helicopters were totally ridiculous compared to the small crowd walking up the boulevard.

In front of the Goodman gallery, a couple of speakers voiced their uncensored opinions. “We must prevent the painting from leaving South Africa and we must destroy it,” demanded Blade Nzimande, secretary general of the South African communist party, which governs with the ANC. Another speaker lashed out against the “progressive whites” who supported the ANC’s years of struggle but are now criticizing it. Talk about populism. Politics are always racial in South Africa.

In the end, the ANC and the gallery signed an agreement to remove the painting “because it was vandalized.” The agreement came just in time to avoid a catastrophe. Unfortunately the scandal never provoked a real debate- even though scandals often serve to bring certain things in the open. Arts South Africa editor in chief Bronwyn Law-Viljoene says: “The only thing you see in this painting – since removed and sold to a German collector – is a naked, humiliated black body. There may be places in the world where showing naked bodies is inconsequential, but not in South Africa. Apartheid was the humiliation of Blacks. The art world can’t be the only place for debate- we need to come together to talk about what is acceptable for the whole country.”

* Courtesy of LE MONDE/Worldcrunch

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Malawi’s Joyce Banda discards presidential jet and luxury car fleet
June 7, 2012 | 0 Comments

New president increases popularity with ongoing rejection of predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika’s lavish lifestyle and policies

By David Smith*

Malawi’s new president has made numerous breaks from her autocratic predecessor but few will be this popular: she has dumped his presidential jet and fleet of luxury cars.

Joyce-Banda-has-dumped-her-predecessors-presidential-jet-and-fleet-of-luxury-cars.

Joyce-Banda-has-dumped-her-predecessors-presidential-jet-and-fleet-of-luxury-cars.

Joyce Banda, who came to power in April after the death of Bingu wa Mutharika, has barely paused in her drive to overturn his controversial policies and lifestyle.

Her decision to sell or lease the impoverished country’s £8.4m presidential jet and fleet of 60 Mercedes government cars seems likely to cement domestic goodwill – and confirm her as a darling of the west.

Britain, Malawi’s biggest aid donor, announced on Friday that Andrew Mitchell, the international development secretary, had raised the issue of the Dassault Falcon 900EX jet with Banda at a private meeting with the new government. Mitchell said: “At a time of austerity in both Britain and Malawi, president Banda’s decision to sell or lease the presidential jet and expensive fleet of cars sends an enormously encouraging signal to British taxpayers and the international community about the seriousness President Banda is applying to overturn bad decisions taken under the previous government.

“The proceeds can be used to provide basic services to Malawi’s poorest people who urgently need help following the vital devaluation of the currency.”

Last month Banda was quoted in local media saying the cabinet would discuss the jet’s future, explaining she had no problems “offloading it as I can well use private airliners; I am already used to hitchhiking”.

Mutharika bought the presidential jet in 2009, claiming it was less expensive than leasing a plane every time he travelled. But it came to be seen as a symbol of African kleptocracy and some observers compared him with Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.

Mutharika was also condemned for purchasing a 58-room mansion in his home district and granting a salary to his wife. His regime lashed out at allegations of corruption and cronyism at a time when Malawi was suffering severe shortages of foreign currency and fuel.

The president’s sudden death from a heart attack changed the course of the country’s history. Having thwarted an attempt by his allies to block her, Banda assumed control and has since appointed a new cabinet, sacked his police chief, announced the lifting of a ban on homosexuality and restored the country’s independence-era flag.

The turnaround has been welcomed by western countries such as Britain, whose high commissioner was expelled by Mutharika for branding him “autocratic and intolerant of criticism”.

During a four-day visit, Mitchell confirmed that the Bank of England will work directly with the Reserve Bank of Malawi to help it cope with the impact of slashing the value of the local currency, the kwacha, by one third earlier this month on the advice of the IMF.

The minister said: “I am also delighted to be in Malawi to relaunch Britain’s development partnership with the new president. Britain is leading the international community by providing urgent balance of payments support and technical assistance to Malawi through the Bank of England.”

In May this year Britain pledged £23m to help stabilise the Malawian economy and £10m for the country’s health system. – The Guardian

*Culled guardian.co.uk

 

 

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How some western entrepreneurs are abandoning Silicon Valley for Africa
June 3, 2012 | 0 Comments
Jeremy Gordon says that he finds the opportunities in east Africa more exciting than those in Silicon Valley

Jeremy Gordon says that he finds the opportunities in east Africa more exciting than those in Silicon Valley

By Dinfin Mulupi*

East Africa’s growing opportunities in the technology sector have proved too good to ignore for some entrepreneurs from western countries. While many people in Africa have for a long time viewed the US and Europe as the lands of opportunity, young entrepreneurs from western countries are abandoning Silicon Valley to participate in east Africa’s technology sector.

Jeremy Gordon (27) came to Kenya two years ago to work as a volunteer with a microfinance institution in Nairobi for four months.

“I just wanted to come and see how mobile money was being applied in microfinance. I had read a lot about M-Pesa. I was planning to go back to graduate school, but I decided to stay and explore opportunities here,” says Gordon.

Today Gordon is involved in a number of technology startups. He co-founded Niko Hapa Ventures, a loyalty programme that enables businesses to reward loyal customers, get feedback and generate buzz on social media.

Though he grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area – home of Silicon Valley – Gordon says he finds the ICT opportunities in Kenya more interesting than those in the US.

“It is significantly easier to raise money in Silicon Valley, but both the problems being addressed by ICT and the solutions people are working on [in Silicon Valley] aren’t as exciting to me,” says Gordon.

Michael Benedict moved to Uganda to work for an NGO, but when his contract expired he opted to stay and founded Carbon Keeper, a mobile phone and web based software for collecting customer information on rural energy projects.

“I worked on rural energy for four years in Washington D.C. Moving to east Africa was an opportunity to come out and actually be involved in a project on the ground and work on technology that people in D.C. are promoting. I am able to do it in a better way than I would at my desk in D.C.,” says Benedict.

“East Africa is at the cusp of a technology-driven inflection point. We saw an opportunity to help redefine commerce and be a part of something meaningful,” says Ben Lyon (26), a US expat who co-founded Kopo Kopo, a web based mobile payment gateway that helps businesses process mobile payments in real time.

Having witnessed the internet revolution in Denmark in the early 1990s, Michael Pedersen sees the technology revolution in east Africa as a second chance to grab opportunities missed earlier.

“East Africa is a place I have been following since 2006. I worked with a digital agency in Kenya and later moved back to Denmark. When the fibre optic cables landed I moved back because it presents new and exciting opportunities,” says Pedersen, developer of Uhasibu, a web and mobile cloud based accounting system developed for SMEs.

 Ben Lyon notes that east Africa is at the cusp of a technology revolution

Ben Lyon notes that east Africa is at the cusp of a technology revolution

Sandra Zhao (23) cooked at a restaurant and ran a tech startup on the side in New York. She moved to Kenya and is today working with a technology focused social enterprise; One Degree Solar, a solar energy company that uses a mobile platform for communication with its customers.

“My friend who was here (in Kenya) kept talking about the iHub (a co-working space and business incubator in Nairobi) and all the cool things happening here. The more she talked about it the more I wanted to come. It is a unique place to be,’ says Zhao.

Bas Hoefman (35), a Dutch national, explains that he established Text to Change, an organisation that uses SMS to challenge people on their knowledge of personal health, in Uganda primarily because of the wide penetration of mobile technology in the region.

Hoefman explains that mobile phone technology is the most effective and affordable medium of communication and has and will continue having a huge impact on rural communities in east Africa.

“With the promising growth of cheap Android phones it will also be Africa’s laptop as most people will not need to own one to access communication. The mobile phone landscape in Africa has rapidly evolved over the past decade with 500 million mobile subscribers and 1 million added every week due to liberalisation and increased competition,” says Hoefman.

Opportunity cost

Being in east Africa comes at heavy price as these entrepreneurs have found out. Pedersen reckons that for every month he is in Kenya he losses Ksh. 1 million (US$12,000) that he would have made elsewhere.

“Before I came here I was making more than what I do now. When I think about opportunity cost it is not just about finances. Considering the chance to build interesting, potentially high-impact products and services here in Kenya, I would say the opportunity cost of being in the US is much higher for me,” says Gordon.

Toni Maraviglia has sacrificed a position in one of the world's top business schools to work in Africa

Toni Maraviglia has sacrificed a position in one of the world's top business schools to work in Africa

Toni Maraviglia (28), a teacher from the US, moved to Kenya to work for an education focused NGO in rural Nyanza, Kenya. Maraviglia worked with teachers to create MPrep, an assessment-based system that quizzes students on topics learned in class via SMS. Though she was later admitted to the Haas School of Business in Berkley, one of the top business schools in the world, she opted to stay in Kenya and build MPrep.

“I don’t feel I have given up that much to be here. I don’t see this as a loss. I am in love with this place. It is really hard being away from your family. I have to miss four weddings this year. However, besides that, there is a great opportunity to do something good here,” says Maraviglia.

A different market

Even as foreign entrepreneurs flock to the region, concerns have been raised about how effective they will be in a market that is very different from western countries.

“The most effective way to build products is to build them in markets you are familiar with. Foreign entrepreneurs working in east Africa cannot compare themselves with locals. I am aware that there are certain things that will take a while for me to understand. It is very easy to make false assumptions,” says Jeremy Gordon.

Sandra Zhao reckons that how people in the US interact with technology is very different from how people in east Africa do.

“Working with Kenyan staff and partnering with Kenyans is the way to do it. We have to understand how mobile technology works here. Even though smartphones have done so well in the region, most people still don’t have smartphones,” says Zhao.

What does the future hold?

Although most of these young expatriates are uncertain about whether they will be staying in east Africa permanently, they are optimistic about the region’s future.

“By having worked in east Africa for over five years I have learnt that it has enormous potential. The region has shown a vast economic growth and there is a rapid growing middle class. I believe, despite its challenges, east Africa has enormous business potential and not only in the ICT sector, but also in other industries,” says Bas Hoefman.

Ben Lyon adds: “There is a possibility I could stay here permanently. Kenya has an exciting future ahead of it and I feel obliged to contribute to that future. I am also interested to see how the IT space in South Sudan and Somalia develops in the next five to ten years.”

*Culled From How We Made It In Africa http://www.howwemadeitinafrica.com/

 

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“Parlement” did more than Selfish Politicians in the fight for Change
May 24, 2012 | 0 Comments

-Corantin Talla re-visits the students’ movement in Cameroon

By Ajong Mbapndah L

Created in 1991, the Students Union body at the University of Yaoundé dubbed “Parlement” was a fundamental actor in the early stages of the struggle for democracy in Cameroon. Many believe that the threat posed by the activities of Parlement at the lone State University of the time precipitated the creation of other Universities by the government across the country. Led by Corantin Talla, the Association was a thorn in the flesh of government. Talla says multiple frustrations on the living and studying conditions led to the creation of the Association. Though the government accused the Association of been a fabrication of the opposition, Talla says Parlement was created by Students to cater for their interests. The strategic alliance it formed with the opposition was to sanction a government which had failed to respond to the grievances of the students in particular and Cameroonians in general, he explains. Talla, who graduated in 1992 with a Degree in Biology, says he was perplexed when the former Minister of Higher Education Titus Edzoa expelled him from the University when he was already on exile in Nigeria.

Now in the USA for some 17 years, Talla who says self serving and opportunistic opposition leaders derailed the struggle for change is proud of the contribution that Parlement made to the struggle. The students of Parlement selflessly gave their all to bring about positive political change in Cameroon Talla contends but regrets that the change that Cameroonians yearn for remains elusive. A graduate of Public Administration from the University of Florida, Talla who currently works for a Global Information Technology says it is time for patriotic forces to synergize resources and strategies towards the common objective of building a truly free and democratic country. Talla still believes that the Youth hold the key to the change Cameroon needs and for this to happen, they must break free from the faux mentorship and leadership of politicians who continue to use them in furtherance of selfish designs.

.PAV: Corantin Talla, you were the leader of the students’ movement in Cameroon known as “Parlement” may we know how it was created?

 Corantin Talla: The “parlement” was created as a result of the multiple frustrations of university students about their living and studying conditions.  Moreover, the students were vehemently opposed to the cancelation of the election of their representatives by the then minister of high education, Joseph Owona.  In fact, the university was overcrowded; there was no adequate library and other amenities for students were so lacking.  More importantly, the university administrators as well as the Minister Owona Joseph were trying to impose their handpicked student representatives after unilaterally canceling an ongoing student election.   The above-mentioned reasons led to the creation of ‘Cameroon Students’ Parliament’, dubbed ‘Parlement’, on April 2nd, 1991.  The main leaders at the inception of parlement were Talla Corantin alias General Schwarzkopft, Yimga Yotchou Blaise alias ‘Abu NIDAL’, Waffo Wanto Robert alias General Collin Powell, Chebe Elsie alias Margaret Thatcher and many other less known members of the initial leadership.  As far as the name Parlement is concerned, I personally chose that name for our student movement on April 2nd, 1991 and publicly announced the creation of the Parlement in front of thousands of students that day, in front of the restaurant U.  I chose that name because it was a forum where all the students could utter their grievances so that we could deliberate on the appropriate demands and actions against a government that had failed to resolve our problems.

PAV: Who were some of the people you were associated with in the leadership of the movement and there is this confusion as to who actually was the students leader, was it you or was it Senfo Tokam?

Corantin Talla: The real leaders of parlement included the names I gave you earlier and other students like Chah Orlando, Eyock, Njock, Chebe Pius, Bakeson Rick, and Christopher Atene Acha.  Senfo Tonkam was not a member of the leadership at the inception of that popular students’ movement.  I was the President of Parlement and Senfo Tonkam was the President of ‘la coordination des Etudiants Camerounais -CEC (National Coordination of Cameroon Students).  The CEC was a legalized organization, whereas the ‘Parlement’ was a clandestine but legitimate movement of pro-democratic students.  Senfo Tonkam even granted an interview in Cameroun Tribune in which he denounced the activities of the Parlement.  It is amazing how the CEC later claimed to be the Parlement.  That is the true history of the creation of Parlement.

PAV: We will like you to clarify a few things that were said here and there about the parlement, one it was a tool used by the opposition to fight Biya and the CPDM and secondly its membership was full of Anglophones and Bamileke students.

Corantin Talla: The Parlement was a movement created by the students in the interest of students.  The parlement was never a tool in the hands of opposition. But at one time we formed a strategic alliance with the opposition under the banner of the ‘coordination des parties politiques et associations’, (Coordination of Opposition parties) and later on under the banner of ‘Union for Change’ and ARC-CNS.  We participated in those opposition gatherings because we wanted a change of the regime that failed to solve students’ problems in particular and Cameroonian problems in general.  In short, the parlement was an independent association of grown up students who knew how to think and organize themselves.

PAV: It may have started as a student movement but it aligned itself so strongly with the opposition, why so considering that as students at the time, the CPDM government had you guys on a reasonable monthly allowance, and took care of feeding with a restaurant at your disposal?

Corantin Talla: The monthly allowance and restaurant were just tools used by the government to distract the attention of students from their critical problems, such as the lack of academic infrastructures and the lack of elected student representatives, who could serve the interests of the students instead of promoting the interests of the government on the Campus.  It was okay for students to sing ‘Paul Biya toujours chaud gars” during the national day. But it was not okay for them to have dissenting ideas or to freely choose their leaders.  That is one reason why my comrades and I decided to fight the system from the nation’s capital and later expanded our battle fields in the provinces.

PAV: So what became of your comrades, it appears you guys all faded into obscurity as there is no visible face playing a leadership role in Cameroon politics

Corantin Talla:It is true that many comrades have abandoned the struggle for several reasons.  But there are still many of us who continue to fight for the course of genuine democracy in Cameroon.  I personally continue to fight from my exile in the USA as you can see from the multiple protests we have organized in front the Cameroon embassies on several occasions when there are critical issues that occur in the life of our nation.  For instances, the NGO called Conscience du Cameroun that I head, in conjunction with other associations of the Cameroon Diaspora organized a huge protest against the change of constitution in 2008, campaigned for a  boycott the 2011 election mascarade  in Cameroon.

The change in Cameroon will come from Cameroonian themselves says Talla

The change in Cameroon will come from Cameroonian themselves says Talla

We also engaged in many lobbying actions in the USA and Europe under the Banner of the United Front of the Cameroon Diaspora.  We will continue to fight for the change of the current regime that lacks the political will to facilitate the implementation of political reforms that could bring about genuine democracy and a state of law in Cameroon.

As the president of Conscience du Cameroun, I am tirelessly working to sensitize and mobilize young Cameroonians in particular and Cameroonians in general for the final assault on the system that has pauperized the vast majority of Cameroonians; given up our land and all our natural resources to foreigners; that has perverted the moral values of Cameroonians and transformed our country into an ocean of corruption.

PAV: Parlement was indeed a strong force for change, in retrospect, do you have any regrets or do you think things would have been done differently by your group to help the struggle for change in Cameroon?

Corantin Talla: The students of Parlement selflessly gave their all to bring about positive political change in Cameroon.  They were not, like many opportunistic politicians of that period, interested in holding government or political offices.  They were the true combatants.  But unfortunately, they were betrayed by their own people they helped to  free from prison like Daikole Daissala,  Issa Tchiroma Bakari and the likes of Kodock, Bello Bouba and other power-hungry selfish opportunistic politicians.  Despite all the drawbacks as a result of those multiple acts of treason by senior politicians, the former Parlement leaders, most of whom have been in exile for close to 2 decades, are finalizing plans to return to Cameroon to finish the battle for democracy they started in 1991.

PAV: Looking at the generation of students in Cameroon today, what do you think of their response or involvement in the challenges facing the country?

Corantin Talla: The youth of Cameroon feel betrayed by politicians of both sides of the political spectrum.  Hence, their lack of interest for politics and their distrust of the political system.  The youth of Cameroon should cease to be the followers of discredited politicians and take their destiny into their own hands and demand for democratic reforms in Cameroon. The youth and conscience du Cameroon will work hands in glove to bring about genuine democratic changes in Cameroon without counting on divine intervention or any foreign power. In short, the youth should rise up and create the necessary counter-power needed to force the dictatorial Regime of Biya to leave power and give way to genuine democratic reforms by a transitional leadership chosen by the people.

PAV: You now head an Association known as Conscience du Cameroon; may we know what it does and what bearings it has on the political landscape in Cameroon?

Corantin Talla: Conscience du Cameroun is an American NGO that the government of Cameroon refused to register in Cameroon in 2009.  However, as an organization whose mission is to promote democracy, peace, and development in Cameroun, we have organized many protests in the USA against the Cameroonian dictatorial regime; we have participated in the creation of the United Front of progressive Cameroon movements in the Diaspora. And more importantly, we have help Cameroonians in the Diaspora in terms of academic, legal, and professional integration.

We have also created a synergy between progressive forces of the Diaspora and local progressive movements.  We have helped to strengthen the civil society in Cameroun.   Now, our main goal is to sensitize and mobilize Cameroonians

The students of Parlement selflessly gave their all to bring about positive political change in Cameroon.

The students of Parlement selflessly gave their all to bring about positive political change in Cameroon Talla contends

so that we can bring down the current regime or force them to agree to a consensual implementation of political and electoral reforms that will bring about genuine democracy in Cameroon.  We reject the recently voted electoral code in Cameroon and warn the government about the consequences of their unwillingness to open the political system to genuine democracy for the sustenance of peace and social cohesion in Cameroon.

PAV: You certainly interacted with a lot of political leaders in the 90s and there are all still in place today, which of these leaders impressed you most and what is your take on the democratization process?

Corantin Talla: None of the leaders impressed me the most. But I did recognize the then courage of Fru Ndi, the selfless leadership of Pr. Jean-Michel Tekam, the determination of other leaders of the opposition as well as the students’ members of le Parlement.   I thank all my former comrades of le Parlement wherever they may be today and call upon them to get ready so that we can be back to finish the job of liberating our people from the shackles of neo-colonialism and local dictatorship  of President Biya and his creatures.

PAV: Cameroonians agree the need for change is even more acute today than it was in the early 90s but things are not evolving as fast as many want, where do you think the change Cameroonians want is going to come from and how?

Corantin Talla: The change in Cameroon will come from Cameroonian themselves and not from some hypothetical external or foreign power.  We Cameroonians have to wake up from the Stockholm syndrome and take our destiny in our own hands.  We should not count on any godly help but on our own actions.  The civil society and genuine opposition as well as the progressive movements of Cameroon in the Diaspora should form a united front for political reforms in Cameroun.  And then the front should sensitize and mobilize Cameroonians towards the creation of a powerful counter-force to the entrenched dictatorial regime of Yaoundé.

PAV: Last question Sir, your reaction to the recent arrest of Prime Minister Ephraim Inoni and Minister Marafa and your opinion on the whole operation Sparrow Hawk which has seen the arrest of Government Barons

Corantin Talla: The arrest of anyone deemed corrupt, including Marafa and Inoni is a good thing for the Cameroonian people provided that the judicial system is not used to punish innocent people.  Nevertheless, all the thieves and embezzlers should be arrested without discrimination. More importantly, in the end the man who incarnates the system, President Paul Biya, should be held accountable for his own economic crimes.

PAV: Thanks very much for granting this interview

Corantin Talla: Thanks very much too.

 

 

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Liberalism: The Only Credible Alternative For Africa
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Mamadou Koulibaly*

We often hear Intellectuals speak of the problem of poverty which continues to haunt Africa after more than half a century of independence. Discussions are passionate and more and more Africans are speaking out and rebelling, while others are proposing solutions. As concerns problems, everybody is unanimous: Africa is still suffering today from a great domination by the former colonial powers and in the French speaking zones comprising former French colonies, the domination is even more glaring with the currency (cfa franc) ,military bases, the so called French-African networks which include protected multi-national corporations .Domination accepted and even supported by easily manipulated or gullible African leaders. Consequently, Africans are held in captivity both by a system of world domination as well as by their own leaders. This is a well established fact.Generally; capitalism, globalization, and neo-liberalism are mostly responsible for this.

Opinions differ as concerns the solutions most frequently proposed. Some people think that it would be necessary that the rich countries should finance Africa in order to enable her come out of poverty, while others say that solutions should rather come from Africa herself. Leaders this school of thought believes should be less corrupt and more responsible in supporting the development of their countries through assistance and investments and support programmes which could create jobs and resist big multi-national corporations. In addition to these proposals, there are numerous local and international associations, international institutions specialized ministeries, writers, and scholars fighting for human rights and freedom through fiery written works, passionate seminars, and various support programs with huge budgets. The background thus set requires that some contradictions be pointed out and new proposals for solutions made.

First ambiguity, some people expect assistance from the international community whereas since independence, these assistance programmes have not brought progress and worse of all there have proven to be part of the domination strategy of the great powers of the African continent. The solution proposed is aimed at making the problem worse rather than solving it. In addition, this humanistic vision of the world is totally at odds with imperialistic realities which control the world since the mist of time. A country or group of countries does not have the inclination of helping the development of another.

Second ambiguity, many are those who expect African countries to effectively take control of the development of the continent through a well planned pattern. However, the corruption of these leaders is part of the problems identified as being the cause of the poverty of the people. Since it is known that a monopoly cannot exist when it is not protected by the elite in power, we can understand the perversity of their implication, since for the most part; they support and maintain foreign domination. This is either for financial interest, the fear of being overthrown, or still for the most zealous, for the pleasure and admiration or simply due to inferiority complex which makes them try to make amends to the other without attempting to position themselves. Fifty years in power that led African countries to the top of the list of failed states(Fund for peace report) is a sign of the inability of these leaders to surpass themselves and it seems quite unwise to continue to look up to them for solutions for a better future. The question is simple: since the state is part of the problem, why use it as a solution?

Finally, the other striking ambiguity is that which consists in defending freedoms while referring to them as been responsible for the problems destroying the continent. Are there good and bad freedoms? Professor Pascal Salin a distinguished liberal reminds us in his book “Liberalism” that” the liberal ideology is in favor of individual freedom in all areas ,precisely because a person cannot cut himself or herself into pieces ,with one part economic, another social  or one part family”.

Prof Koulibaly has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of President Ouattara in Ivory Coast

Prof Koulibaly has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of President Ouattara in Ivory Coast

The rejection of liberalism is a great misunderstanding that must certainly be cleared up. Infact, it is the only thing that can tackle in a therapeutic way the problems that the continent is facing. It alone enables the consolidation of a of a prosperous economy because it frees and stimulates the creative power of human beings. Further more in many respects, liberalism would enable a return to the African roots since traditions depended on spontaneous organization of societies with wise mediators. As for free trade which frightens so much, it existed in the past and was nothing more than caravans which crossed the desert to exchange products with a currency free of state regulations and depended only on human activity, on sale of products whose degree of scarcity created value.

Given that property is the base of progress throughout the world, we should be aiming at a society where people can easily become owners and where they are thus responsible and no longer subjected to authoritarian decisions of the state. Liberalism is the most efficient system to enable people to use their property rights whether they are rich or poor.

The globalization defended by the liberals is the international aspect of freedom. Far from being the shapeless dominating monster, it is the fruit of exchange for millions of people among themselves. This big competitive market enables quality improvement ,price reduction and innovation incentive for producers .As for monopoly ,it is not the fruit of globalization ,rather, it is a product purely created and protected by the states that share the benefits of these friendly companies . He who pays the bills is the consumer, prisoner of choices of a powerful state. Powerful in the sense that it takes the liberty of doing everything. Liberal policies, on the contrary, would enable all Africans to develop their personal projects, save and invest. A poor country cannot afford to waste its resources whereas, in Africa, it can be seen that numerous obstacles delay the people and choke them. That is the case with excessive and complex taxes and also heavy and complicated regulations which block development. There are expensive, waste precious time and encourage corruption for, one ends up slipping a bill under the table in order to unblock a file. This does not mean that the liberal refuses all regulations. Liberalism is the exercise of freedom within a legal framework that enables the protection of people’s property as well as their relations amongst themselves.

Every African should have their chance. Powerful states, those where the political leaders have too much power, forget the poor who would be able to develop themselves if they were freed. Everybody should have the right to participate in development. It is this humanistic vision that is important. The leaders of powerful states are immoral, for they refuse this from their people. If they are incapable now, it is simply because there are too many laws and constraints on them. Consequently, in order to be logical in the process, in order to effectively solve the various problems of Africa, it is absolutely urgent to liberalize the economies. The continent is the youngest in the world. Imagine for one moment the impact that this liberated youth would have in the continent!

Today in their international relations, the states are limited to a few people and often, one only in the first place, a hyper President. The domination by foreign powers is facilitated by this personal configuration of power. What would happen if power were not exclusively in the hands of these people? External sovereignty can be obtained only through the freedom of the people. The African should first of all obtain his sovereignty from his own state. It is at the second level that the sovereignty of the state shall precede to the international stage. Africans should therefore understand that liberalism is the only worthy and credible alternative for Africa.

 

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A Disciple of Bin Laden?
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Tajudeen Suleiman*

 

Ibrahim Shekau, leader of Nigeria’s Boko Haram sect appears to model his activities after the late Osama bin Laden, leader of Al Qaeda, the international terrorist organization

 

Ibrahim Shekau is a paradox. He was not just a student of Mohammed Yusuf, the late founder of the Boko Haram movement, killed in 2009; he was also one of the devout to his teachings. He believed in the utopian Islamic evangelism of Yusuf, who preached against the evils of the modern secular states of the world.

But unlike his late mentor, who believed an Islamic state was realisable through preaching and mobilisation of the people to reject secularism, Shekau believed the more realistic way was to take up arms, fight and conquer the “unbelievers.” While Yusuf was said to be calm and even meek, Shekau is hotheaded and has a warrior’s heart. He was prepared to die for the cause and also willing to kill for it. He is also said to be quick-tempered. For his loyalty and bravery, he became the deputy leader of the group.

Several times during his lifetime, Yusuf was said to have had hot arguments with Shekau over the group’s modus operandi. Shekau had relentlessly advocated arms struggle for the group to actualise their objective, quoting several verses in the Qur’an to justify aggression against “unbelievers.”  But Yusuf was said to have stood against any form of violence, saying it was against the teachings of Islam.

But with the growing attacks on members of the group by the police and security agencies over the “inciting preaching” of Yusuf, Shekau’s influence in the group began to grow. Counter-violence became an attractive option to save the group and advance its cause. Shekau became a rallying point for the offensive against the police. Long before the military’s attack on the group in 2009, members of the sect, led by Shekau, had attacked police formations in parts of Yobe State in retaliation.

By June 2009, Shekau had become the commander of the group’s army, executing traitors and defending loyalists of the sect. When it became obvious that the military had planned to attack the headquarters of the group in Maiduguri in June 2009, Yusuf and some of the members of the group decided it was unwise to engage the military in any fire-fight, and planned their escape.

But Shekau held them hostage, and called Yusuf a coward who was unwilling to fight for his cause. He reportedly threatened to kill anyone who tried to escape, and ordered that all must be ready for the fight. Many members of the sect lost their lives in the attack and Yusuf eventually died in police custody, Shekau managed to escape with some injuries, and became a survivor of the military onslaught against the sect.

After his recovery, he brought the group together again and planned the armed struggle, which began with serial attacks against the police, military and other security personnel for the attack and killing of members of the sect. The group stopped preaching and went underground. That was when the insurgency started and they began to target top members of the Borno State government for their alleged role in the killing of Yusuf and other members.

The group accused Ali Sheriff; former governor of the state, of giving the order for the execution of their leader after the military captured him and handed him over to the police. Sheriff has denied the allegation. The attack on the Police and security forces culminated in the attack on the Police headquarters in 2010.

Since he took over as the spiritual head of the group, the sect appeared to have shifted focus from its original objective of seeking to Islamise the country, starting from the North, through evangelism. Bomb attacks on churches; social spots and innocent people have continued to portray the group as insurgents seeking the disintegration of the country.

Muslim leaders have condemned the activities of the sect as un-Islamic and evil. Abubakar Sa’ad, the Sultan of Sokoto and spiritual head of Muslims in the country, said Islam is a religion of peace, and that Boko Haram is evil. The Sultan also urged Nigerians not to see the activities of the group as a war declared by Muslims in the country.

There are many Muslim sects in the North whose objective is to make Nigeria an Islamic state, but have not taken to arms struggle to achieve this. The most popular and the biggest is the Nigerian Muslim Movement led by Sheikh El-Zak-Zaki based in Zaria.

Shekau, said to be about 43 years of age, was originally from Kaduna State but settled in Shekau village in Yobe state. He later adopted the name of the village as an almajiri who went to Maiduguri to learn about Islam. He did not have any formal education apart from the local Islamiyya schools he attended in Maiduguri. But his deputy, is said to have travelled widely in search of Islamic knowledge. The countries he visited include Sudan, Egypt and Somali. It is believed that he must have been exposed to the extremist ideologies in these countries.

The methods of some of those organisations appear to have rubbed off on Shekau’s group. For instance, the sect is using the same tactics by the Al Qaeda, the international terrorist organisation led by Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a special operation by the United States forces in Pakistan, last year. In a message posted on the Internet on January 12, Shekau, dressed in military camouflage and spotting a bin Laden look-alike beard, said his group had no other motive for fighting than promoting the cause of Allah by killing anybody who tries to stop them.  Aside from his appearance in that video, this is also a method used by the late terrorist to issue threats to his adversaries and communicate to his followers. The message was directed at President Goodluck Jonathan and Ayo Oritsejafor, president, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN.

Jonathan had described the activities of the sect as cancerous, and urged all hands to be on deck to eliminate them. On his part, Oritsejafor told Christians in the country to defend themselves, following repeated attacks on churches in parts of the North. Shekau interpreted the statements of Jonathan and Oritsejafor as a call on Christians and the armed forces to attack Muslim, stressing that the group would retaliate any attack against them.

He warned the President that the group was unstoppable because it was doing Allah’s work, and that Allah is behind its activities. “What we are doing is what Allah asked us to do,” he warned, beating his chest and saying his group is not afraid of death.

Sources told the magazine that Shekau and his gang of killers may have fled Maiduguri, following the heat brought on them by the Joint Military Task Force which has ripped the town open, searching for leaders of the group. Shekau is, therefore, believed to be between Kano and Adamawa states, from where he coordinates the group’s attacks.

*Culled from Tell Magazine Nigeria

 

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Nigeria: Is Jonathan Running Out of Goodluck?
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Ajong Mbapndah L

In over fifty years of independence, Nigeria, the most populous black nation on earth had more than its fair share of turbulence. Its crisis have spanned from religious with acrimony occasionally erupting between Muslims and Christians, leadership where the corruption and incompetence of some civilians was always exploited by an avaricious military to grab power until recent times. For over a decade now, the country has enjoyed uninterrupted civilian rule with current President Goodluck Jonathan at the helm since 2010 when he completed the mandate of late President Musa Yar’Adua and subsequently earned his own mandate which is currently ongoing.

The peculiar name Goodluck amply sums up the political career of Mr. Jonathan. A man who progressively found his way to the pinnacle of political power in Nigeria with minimal effort. Serving as Deputy Governor in the State of Bayelsa, Mr. Jonathan became Governor in 2005 when sitting Governor became embroiled in a corruption scandal that swept him from Office. Mr. Jonathan played the role of the loyal Deputy until the process played itself out. He was bracing up to seek a mandate of his own as Governor when to the surprise of many, he emerged as the running mate of Musa Yar’Adua the flag bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party –PDP  for the 2007 elections.  Sworn in as Vice President in May 2007, Mr. Jonathan served in the shadows of President Yar’Adua until 2010 when his extraordinary goodluck resurfaced again. On January 13 2010, a Federal Court granted him the power to pilot state affairs as President Umaru Yar’Adua sort medical treatment in a Saudi hospital. The Nigerian Senate followed suit in February 2010 confirmed these powers to act. Jonathan continued as acting President upon Yar’Adua’s return and upon his death took the oath of office on May 2010.

Getting his own mandate proved tough. Scaling through the primaries was already a hard sell with acrimonious debates on whether the flag bearer of the ruling PDP had to come from the North or from the South. Jonathan’s opponents argued that according to the informal arrangement of zoning, it was the turn of the North to produce the next President considering that a Southerner in former President Obasanjo had served two uninterrupted terms. Jonathan went ahead to win primaries and eventually the general elections.

The Goodluck that guided the amazing journey of Mr. Jonathan to the zenith of Nigeria politics seems to have hit speed bumps in recent months. The problems he inherited were many .Corruption was still way too rampant; the Niger Delta remained a powder keg which could go off at any time despite the efforts to address it with the amnesty program. On his already very plate comes one of the most serious threats the country has faced in recent history: the Boko Haram. This previously little known Muslim sect has earned itself worldwide for causing attacks in Nigeria with reckless abandon. On August 26 2011, the sect bombed a United Nations building in the capital city of Abuja. President Jonathan labeled it as an attack not just on Nigeria but also on the International Community and told reporters that all will be done with the United Nations and other world leaders to ensure that terrorism is brought under control.

On Christmas day 2011, the Boko Haram made even bigger news with multiple bomb attacks, some targeting Christian facilities and dozens killed. The attacks were roundly condemned by Nigerians and the wider International Community. Mr. Jonathan on his part earned severe criticisms from fellow Nigerians from his rather lackluster reaction to yet another embodiment of galloping insecurity. The borders of the country were sealed and some states like Yobe, Jos, Niger and Plateau placed under a state of emergency. The Boko Haram took its menace further by declaring that all Christians living in the largely Muslim part of the country should leave and Muslims in the largely Christian South should do same.

Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, visits the site of the police headquarters bombed by a suicide bomber in Kano, Nigeria, January 22, 2012

Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, visits the site of the police headquarters bombed by a suicide bomber in Kano, Nigeria, January 22, 2012

Acknowledging the complexity of the threat posed by Boko Haram, President Jonathan admitted on January 8 that the sect represents a worse threat to the country than the civil war of 1967-1970. At a Memorial Day Church service in Abuja, where he spoke on the deteriorating security situation in the country, Jonathan said “some of them are in the executive arm of government; some of them are in the parliamentary arm, while some are in the Judiciary.” Mr. Jonathan went on to say there are even members of the sect in the armed forces, police and other security agencies. During the civil war President Jonathan said “we knew and could even predict where the enemy was coming  …but the challenge today is more complicated”

While the impact of the palliative  measures taken are still to be measured, the Christian groups think the government has not done enough to make them feel protected. Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria believes the killings suggest a pattern of ethnic and religious cleansing. “We have the legitimate right to defend ourselves, we are also saying today that we will do whatever it takes” the Pastor says.

Still licking its wounds from the Christmas day attacks, the Jonathan administration and the entire country was stunned again when on January 20, security facilities and government buildings in Kano were the target of more bombings. The casualty rate was estimated at about 176 from the attacks on a regional police office, an immigration office, and a building used by the state security police. “They are not spirits” President Jonathan implored Nigerians on a visit to Kano after the bomb attacks. “Look at your neighbours  and know what they do, and if there is any suspicious movement ,inform security agencies” the President implored his compatriots who live in fear not knowing when to expect the next attack.

On Tuesday 13 Dec 2011, the 2012 budget presented to the National Assembly removed provisions for fuel subsidy. On Sunday January 1st, the Jonathan Administration ignored the concerns of many Nigerians and went ahead with a controversial to abolish fuel subsidies. A very thorny issue in Nigerian politics, a poll conducted by the Alliance for Credible Elections showed some 80% of citizens opposed the plan which amongst others kept the price of fuel affordable for Nigerians.

The message on this banner sums up the frustrations of Nigerians

The message on this banner sums up the frustrations of Nigerians

The immediate effect of the measure was that fuel prices shot up, a thing considered by many Nigerians as unaffordable for them in times of economic difficulties. Sold at 65 naira or 0.41 dollar per litre prior to the removal of subsidy, Nigerians were going to start paying 141 naira or 0.89 dollar. The intensity of the protests that followed had eerie reminders of the Arab spring. Huge crowds led by Labour leaders in Nigeria and civil society groups literally brought Nigeria to a standstill.

The government of Jonathan blinked and a reduction of the fuel price to some 97 naira 0.64 US dollar placated Labour leaders who called for an air to the historic show down. “We are sure that no government or institution will take Nigerians for granted again,” the president of the Nigeria Labour Congress Abdulwaheed Omar said. Although the argument from government officials that removing the subsidies estimated at circa $ 8 billion annually will free up resources to fund public projects like roads, electricity, and clean water has its merits, the cost was considered by many Nigerians to be very burdensome. To some this policy reportedly favoured by the Bretton Woods Institutions meant depriving ordinary Nigerians of one of the few benefits they can identify with from the huge oil resources of the country.
“In both crises, the President has been accused of dithering. After Boko Haram blew people up in their churches on Christmas Day he took a week to visit the scene. On the fuel issue, he appeared to hide from public view before performing a U-turn and buying off opposition to the reform. Those in the West who hailed Mr. Jonathan as a reformer now deride him as “indecisive”, saying he takes weeks over minor matters”. Says Daniel Howden writing in the Independent newspaper in the UK.  His election ignited hopes that Africa’s most populous country might be changing direction. Yet nearly a year on, Nigeria appears closer to civil war than a new economic dawn, Howden says. While Nigerians got cheap fuel, a cabal of politically-connected fuel importers looted the subsidy system of billions of dollars of public money, Howden cites from a recent conclusion of the Nigerian Senate.
“The argument for the withdrawal of the subsidy, which cost the government of $7.67bn last year was clear and has been backed by development economists such as Paul Collier at Oxford’s Centre for the Study of African Economies. He argues that the subsidies represent a cash transfer from Nigeria’s overwhelming poor majority to its wealthier consumers and fuel profiteers and that the money would be better spent on social programmes” Howden writes in his piece “Good luck Jonathan”. “The Senate report on the cabal of fuel importers which named names – several of them very close to President Jonathan – led to no action” Howden makes a point which portrays the dilemma Jonathan finds himself in. How does he walk the line between power brokers who have profiteered from system that has held Nigeria hostage for decades and the legitimate aspirations of a people who have had enough of it and want a new direction for the way things are handled in the country?
There was little luxury for a honey moon for Mr. Jonathan after he assumed office. It has been nothing but a galore of challenges for him. Its size, population, complexities, complicated political history, conflicting interests, vaulting ambitions of its politicians and a restive citizenry et al means the job of governance in Nigeria more herculean than what may obtain in other countries. The excitement of his resounding electoral victory was over shadowed by a wave of violence that engulf several parts of the country especially in the North.Did Mr. Jonathan underestimate the enormity of the challenges that he will face? His easy going demeanor may make some to conclude in the face of severe crisis may make some answer in the affirmative. But there is much that Mr. Jonathan deserves credit for. He looks like every ordinary Nigerian with his own kind of Cinderella grass to grace tale.  The President elections of 2011 that he won got rave reviews and there has been a sincerity to improve on the electoral process.

Jonathan may lack the cunningness of Ibrahim Babaginda which earned him the sobriquet of Maradona or the abrasive style of former President Obasanjo but he has shown a willingness to listen and to compromise. Putting speed breaks on the subsidy saga Jonathan said “Government appreciates that the implementation of the deregulation policy would cause initial hardships and commends Nigerians who have put forth suggestions and credible alternatives in this regard. Government also salutes Nigerians who by and large, conducted themselves peacefully while expressing their grievances. Let me assure you that government will continue to respect the people’s right to express themselves within the confines of the law and in accordance with the dictates of our democratic space.”

The state of Nigeria today is a very pale reflection of its potentials. One of the richest countries in the continent, Nigeria was amongst the first African countries to join the elite oil producers’ cartel dubbed OPEC. Whereas the oil resources have transformed entire economies around the world, corruption, bad governance and the absence of credible leadership have left behind a country where short of where it ought to reasonably be with its potential. President Jonathan is only amongst a handful of civilians like the late Tafarwa Balewa, Shehu Shargari and the late Musa Yar’Adua who have held power. Even President Obasanjo came from a military background despite enjoy two four year terms as a civilian elected leader. The military has occupied power for a greater portion of the over fifty years Nigeria has been independent. In the wake of the security challenges and the fuel subsidy brouhaha, some pundits expressed fears that the military might make a dash for power. One wonders if the mood of Nigerians today no matter how dire will entertain any move by the military to grab power. “Coups belong to a different era” a critic of Jonathan said.

Nigerians are eager to see results, and frankly Africa as well needs a strong Nigeria to provide the kind of leadership that is sorely missing across the continent today. From Ivory Coast to Libya, Africans have been reduced to the role of spectators in the regulation of crisis. Where is the leadership of Nigeria, where is the leadership of Jonathan many in the continent?

The mandate of Mr. Jonathan is still early but he was elected to meet challenges and to solve problems. There is the risk that Nigerians may not have amply appreciated the enormity of the challenges facing the country or the monstrous hurdles erected over the years to ensure the perpetuity of   systems and agendas which work for interest of a privileged few to the detriment of the over whelming majority.

PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN INAUGURATING DANGOTE CEMENT COMPANY AT IBESE IN OGUN STATE

PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN INAUGURATING DANGOTE CEMENT COMPANY AT IBESE IN OGUN STATE

President Jonathan has to justify the wisdom of Nigerians in picking him as a fresh face and taking a break from recycled politicians whose failed legacies and policies have created the kind of atmosphere which makes Boko Haram to excel, which makes the Niger Delta to remain disgruntled, and the kind of battle royale recently witnessed over the subsidy crisis. His everyday Nigerian look, simplicity amongst others may have endeared him to many. However to survive politically and move the country forward, President Jonathan needs to step up his game less his meticulously poised demeanor  even in the face of grave crisis is taken as a weakness by both friends and foes alike. The problems may be far from his making but the onus is on him to produce tangible results to move Nigeria forward. An assiduous task and one he is capable of achieving hopefully with all the goodluck that has accompanied him thus far.

 

 

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The Powers Behind Nollywood
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Ayodeji Adeyemi*

Nigerian producers and film directors who wield a lot of influence in the movie industry struggle to overcome the challenges of piracy and new technology so that the good old days can return

It was 6.30am and dawn had just spewed like a silky fabric over the neatly tarred streets of Lekki Peninsula, a high-class urban district of Lagos. A convoy of vehicles rattling along Bajji Close came to a halt in front of house number two. Lancelot Imasuen, a movie director and leader of the team, hopped out of a Toyota bus and marched into the sprawling compound nestling a duplex. Minutes later, he shuffled out and started barking orders at his team. At once, his crew, consisting of technicians, engineers and cameramen, sprang to life. As they busied themselves setting up equipment, some of the young actresses and their minders converged beside a bed of shrubs. The little brightness in the sky which had filtered down from the balconies and windowpanes, revealed the apprehension on their faces. Though they were relatively unknown stars, they had big dreams which seemed to weigh heavily on their shoulders. The assistant director, a fair complexioned middle-age lady, clutching the movie manuscript, made a robust attempt at calming their frayed nerves, easing them through their lines. The promise of stardom seemed to have a stranglehold on the starlets.

Eventually, the film site, a luscious sitting room bedecked with paintings, antique flower vases and furnishings, was prepped up for the first shoot. Imasuen, stepping away from the camera, edged towards the artistes, explaining to them his concept of the role. After a string of rehearsals, frequently punctuated by the director’s dissension, shooting began. The three actresses wove their craft, summoning an assortment of expressions to their faces, as they eased into their respective make-believe roles. Sometimes their acting impressed the director who had ascended to the status of a demigod venting his approval from Mount Olympus with a nod. At other times, Imasuen demurred calling for a retake, eliciting muted grimaces from the artistes.  Seconds stretched into minutes and minutes soon ran into hours. By the time the scene wrapped up two hours later, the director, turning to this reporter, says, “This scene that took two hours to shoot is just about a minute scene in ‘On Bended Knees’ – the title of the movie.”

From that point, Imasuen led his crew to another location still within the Lekki Peninsula where a similar routine was performed. Again, hours sped by like the speed of light. Soon, it was evening time and the cast and crew had to retire for the day. Imasuen retired into a posh hotel in Lagos Mainland. For directing this movie, he will be smiling to the bank. And he has done several like that in his over 15 years’ career as a film director. As at the last count, Imasuen agreed he had directed over 200 movies and was still having a lot more on his plate. His movies have also been a breakthrough, a launch pad for many stars. For instance, his 2005 smash hit ‘Behind Closed Door’ is credited as the movie that turned Nollywood heartthrob, Desmond Elliot, into an A-list actor. The same thing can be said of Chioma Chukwuka-Akpotha, another A-list actress, as well as several other big names in Nollywood.

Yet, Imasuen is little known to the average film lover. He belongs to that special class of star manufacturers. They are the fingers behind the camera, the unseen forces that can make or mar a star in

Nollywood, the third largest movie industry in the world. Imasuen’s obscurity seems to have been adequately compensated for with tons of cash he has earned for his directorial role. This, perhaps, explains why Imasuen can afford the luxuries of life. When he is not on locations, he shuttles between award shows and film festivals across the globe. Indeed, Imasuen lives a fairy tale life that the average Nigerian would literally kill to have. A recent icing on the cake for him was when the Canadian government, last October, honoured his efforts with a Media Merit Award.

But things have not always been that rosy for him. In his over 15 years sojourn in Nollywood; he has had his fair share of ups and downs. In the early days, he went through lengthy dry spells of not having any movie to direct. His breakthrough however came with ‘Twisted Fate’, a movie he produced in 1995 which earned him critical acclaim. Other movies followed in quick succession. And so was money and growing influence as some of the unseen directing spirits and forces behind Nollywood.

He is not alone. In the same shoes with Imasuen is Teco Benson, one of Nollywood’s top directors and producers who, though relatively unknown, have struck gold in the industry. But while Imasuen teed off as a director, Benson sauntered into the industry as an actor. He recalls that his first pay as an actor was N8,000 for the movie, ‘Forbidden Fruit’, produced in 1995. That might seem small, but Benson observes that it was more than his take-home pay at his former job as a civil servant.

After playing many minor roles in movies, Benson decided to go behind the camera in 1996. He started off as a film producer before easing into directing movies. This transition was seamless for him but he notes that he invested thousands of naira into movie books and attending workshops both within and outside the country. “I bought books on all branches of movie production, producing, directing, cinematography, acting for films and television,” he says.

Benson has so far directed over 50 movies and still has more in the pipeline. And what he missed in fame, he made up for in fortunes. Take for instance ‘State of Emergency’, a movie he directed in 2000. Never mind that it took a month to produce, it still sold over one million copies. “By now I guess the movie should have moved three million copies in sales,” he says. Hence Benson can afford to live a five-star luxury life. Apart from the fact that he lives in the exclusive high-class residential area of Lekki, he also cruises around town in flashy cars in his fleet.

Benson is not the only one living his dreams from behind the cameras. There is also Tunde Kelani, top movie director and British-trained cinematographer. Unarguably one of the most celebrated filmmakers in Nigeria, Kelani only last week just returned from a trip to São Paulo, Brazil, where he hosted a successful film festival. The festival, which spanned three weeks, had the top brass of Brazilian cultural and movie industry in attendance. Nine of his previous works (in Yoruba language) were screened, including the smash hits ‘Saworoide’ and ‘Agogo Eewo’ while his new movie ‘Maami’ also premiered to an appreciative crowd.

He is however not new to such successful outings. Kelani’s career in the movie industry has been nothing short of a five star. Even though his movies are shot using Yoruba as the dialogue language, they have been smash hits with the audience both at home and abroad. Little wonder Kelani globetrots from one film festival to another exhibiting and promoting his works. In the process, he also makes stars like Kunle Afolayan, who is now also a prominent producer in his own right, Sunkanmi Omobolanle, and Peju Ogunmola among many others who now adorn the Nollywood landscape.

Just like Kelani, there is also Tade Ogidan, ace movie director. In addition to making chart bursting movies and creating stars in Nollywood, Ogidan has also found fortune simply being behind the scenes. A former producer with the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, Ogidan left the television station to start OGD Pictures Limited in 1990. He has since gone ahead to produce a string of jackpots as a number of his films have been screened in international film festivals. These include films like ‘Hostage’ (parts 1, 2 & 3), ‘Owo-Blow’ (parts 1, 2 & 3), ‘Out of Bounds’, ‘Saving Alero’ and ‘Dangerous Twins’ (parts 1,2 & 3). In the process, he also literally created a number of stars like Femi Adebayo and Stella Damasus while catapulting the likes of Richard Mofe-Damijo, Lanre Balogun, Yemi Solade, Bimbo Akintola and Bimbo Manuel amongst others into A-list actors. Ogidan’s latest film, ‘Family on Fire’, recently premiered in London to much applause.

The former continuity announcer with NTA Channel 5 equally has plans to screen the movie in many international film festivals. The edge this affords is that it opens more doors for the movie to be shown in many cinemas across the world. This, of course, is a jackpot for any film-maker worth his onions. Also in the same ilk with Ogidan is Amaka Igwe, a renowned film-maker. Apart from the fact that her movies were also screened abroad, she actually organises her own film festival which has become a melting pot for both local and international filmmakers and stakeholders. Her film festivals have since become prime market for sourcing Nollywood movies and television programmes. They are also a veritable cash cow that guarantees her a comfortable life.

Imasuen, Benson, Kelani, Ogidan, and Igwe however represent a small breed of directors who have found fortune by being behind the scenes in Nollywood. Though the Nigerian movie industry reeks of gold from afar, in between the glittering lines and the razzmatazz lies an industry that is tottering.  Save for a few stars and even fewer directors, many in the industry are barely managing. If in doubt, one just needs to ask Dickson Iroegbu, an award-winning movie director whose current state aptly captures the unseen truth of the industry. Today Iroegbu, in spite of being one of the top directors and producers in the industry, struggles to make ends meet.

Pause and rewind to 2003 when Iroegbu was on top of the world. His lifestyle then was red carpet. His movie ‘Romantic Attraction’, which cost N3.5 million, grossed over N9 million, making a healthy profit of N5.5 million. In 2005 his movie, ‘The Mayor’, apart from being a box office hit, garnered four awards at the maiden edition of the African Movie Academy Awards, AMAA. It scooped up gongs in Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor. In 2006, ‘Women’s Cot’, which he also directed, notched three AMAA. The categories were Best Cinematography, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.

At that time, Iroegbu’s life rotated around award shows, corporate events, movie locations and film festivals. But before anyone could say Jack Robinson, Iroegbu found himself at the bottom rung of the ladder. His movies that once sold millions of copies could not even sell 1,000 copies anymore. He thus became prone to poverty, which swiftly swooped on him like an ill-tempered eagle. This was the technical knockout that literally turned Iroegbu’s world upside down.

He is not alone. Tragically there are many film-makers like Iroegbu who in the past had been accustomed to seeing their movies sell millions of copies, but suddenly woke up in another world where their movies could no longer sell a paltry 3,000 copies. Hence their livelihood and lifesavings went down the drain. “In those days, making movie was like narcotics. You invested a million naira in a movie and you’re sure to make over N10 million, but suddenly an earthquake came and movies hardly sell up to 10,000 copies,” says Imasuen.

But was it really sudden? Hadn’t there been tectonic plate movement within the bowels of the industry to which many had failed to pay attention? So what is responsible for this seismic shift in the industry that is regarded as the third biggest in the world, just behind Hollywood of the United States and Bollywood of India? While many are wont to blame piracy, the real culprit is actually a combination of self-inflicted injuries, which came together to create a perfect storm. In essence, Nollywood became a victim of its own success.

Indeed Nollywood became a huge success almost overnight in what some have described as a freak accident. It was said that Kenneth Nnebue, proprietor, Net Video Links, who had excess capacity of blank videocassettes was at a loss over the surplus. His desire to unload the tonnes of imported videocassettes, monopolising precious space in his warehouse, berthed the idea of producing the movie ‘Living in Bondage’. The film which hit the stores in 1992 became a runaway success selling millions of copies. This soon became an eye-opener to many about the lurking goldmine in the local movie industry.

Learning from his experience, many hopped into the Nollywood bandwagon, especially those who knew nothing about the industry. Still, they all struck gold. This good fortune was due to the insatiable appetite of the audience for locally produced movies, which had themes that resonated with daily experiences. In fact, so unshakeable was the honeymoon between the audience and the moviemakers that the former gladly forgave the latter for the many mistakes and shoddiness embedded in some of the films they churned out.

As a result, film-makers smiled all the way to the banks as movies with production budget of N2 million raked in more than three times what was invested. Benson observes that those were the golden days of the film-makers’ influence, when they were regarded and treated like the kings of the industry. At that time, he said, the power balance between the film-makers and the artistes was tilted towards the former, as the early set of actors and actresses had not yet gained the limelight and the accompanying clout. “In those early days the artiste did everything to impress the movie directors. Even if you told them that a scene involved jumping from the bridge, they were willing to do so just to impress you,” says Benson who has directed over 50 movies.

But as the rat race within the industry intensified, with many more entrants joining the fray, something happened which many in the industry neither accorded the appropriate attention nor adopted the right strategy for. Technology improved and the VHS videocassettes, which had been the building block of Nollywood, became supplanted by VCD and later DVD. “Many of us in the industry were neck deep in the chain line of producing movies that we did not even stop to consider how the change would affect the industry,” says Iroegbu.

At first, the migration appeared seamless, as the film-makers opted for the new technology, which brought on board several advantages over the old videocassettes. What they however failed to take cognizance of is the fact that they had lost a chief advantage of the videocassettes, which was the difficulty it posed for the unscrupulous business of piracy. While pirated videocassettes content were of abysmal quality, pirated VCD content displayed the same crisp and sharp quality of the original discs. The reality was slow in hitting the local film-makers. At the beginning, they thought that the good news was that the pirates had not yet dipped their treacherous fingers into the pie of the local film-makers. “It was only Western movies that were pirated in those days,” says Iroegbu.

On the surface, everything appeared to be going on well as film-makers were still making big money, even though movie standards had started declining. They however failed to plough a decent part of the proceeds back into the industry to develop the appropriate structures. One of the neglected structures that would later come back to bite the industry was the distribution channel. Distribution of films was centred in three streets across three cities, which were mostly a sloppy assemblage of stalls and shops. They are Nnamdi Azikiwe Street, Idumota, Lagos State; Iweka Road, Onitsha, Anambra State; and Pound Road, Aba, Abia State.  Consequently the three centres – Lagos, Aba and Onitsha – were oversaturated with movies, while many of the inner parts of the country were not serviced. Pirates would later come to fill that gap. “We soon discovered that six months after our movies were released they had not yet reached other cities because the marketers were not keen about investing outside these three zones. How do you expect three places to serve an entire nation?” Imasuen queries while adding that, “we told the marketers to expand to other cities but they refused.”  The result was that while the pirates brought the films closer to more fans, thus increasing the exposure of artistes, their actions robbed the film-makers lots of revenue.

Equally glaring was the industry’s brazen failure to invest in movie studios thereby breaching one of the ground rules of movie production. In the movie kingdom, studio production enhances the quality of movies as they serve as a sort of laboratory in which the director can create any scene he imagines. The absence of this vital structure greatly curtailed the creativity in Nollywood. As a result, the country became inundated with films, which had almost identical locations, similar scenes and, in some cases – because of the lack of expertise of some budding directors – similar story lines. It was almost easier to predict a Nollywood movie after watching the first three scenes than crossing a highway.

Boredom soon crept in for the audience who wanted more excitement. The home video no longer had the allure that swept them off their feet in its early days. To worsen an already bad situation, pirates also suddenly saw the goldmine in Nollywood. The newer DVD technology and the faulty distribution chain proved just the right incentives for them to hop into the market. Hence they employed the successful formula they had used in wooing the audience into buying pirated Western movies. Pronto! They came out with 24 movies in one DVD for a cheap price of N150! The movie audience which had been questioning the rationality of parting with N250 for a Nollywood movie, with similar storylines and scenes, gleefully became the pirates’ bedmates.

The advent of African magic, a cable channel on popular subscription based Digital Satellite Television, DSTV, also added a twist to the Nollywood tale. Initially it was hailed because it made global stars out of the local stars. However this new outlet for viewing Nollywood movies greatly reduced the reliance of the audience on new movies in the stores. “What the heck! We could watch them for free,” many said. By the time the industry realised that the development was a double-edged sword, many had sold their broadcasting rights to the television station for pittance. Many other channels also came up adopting the African Magic template.  Internet sites like ‘Naija Pals’ also sprang up offering Nollywood films for free on the Internet. The prices of Nollywood movies had to be reduced to compete with the vastly advantaged pirated ones and the free ones on cable channels.

With all these factors combining, moviemakers woke up only to find out that their movies, which before could push a million copies within a few days, could not even push 10,000 copies in a whole year. This happened at a time when the power balance between the film-makers and the artistes had shifted in favour of the artistes. Thanks to several cable channels dedicated to Nollywood movies, the artistes were now global stars. Hence they could now command higher fees at a time the fortune of moviemakers was nose-diving.

The marketers who had become the major sponsors in the industry however tried unsuccessfully to persuade the A-list stars to cut their pay. When this failed, a one-year ban was clamped on their careers.  The unintended price of the ban was that it created division in the industry while it miserably failed to produce the desired result. Not surprising, the artistes came out of the ban unscathed while some even commanded higher fees. “The marketers did not inform the film-makers before taking such actions, so many of us did not support the ban which only helped divide the industry,” says Iroegbu.

Caught in a Catch-22 situation in which the movies would not sell without the superstars, while having them on set also rendered the project unprofitable, the marketers decided to cut the dispensable cost. They stopped patronising top movie film-makers, relying on those who would collect a fraction of the cost. These led to a proliferation of sloppy movies, which only reinforced the vicious cycle leading to more viewers’ apathy.

In no time, the industry could no longer attract the funds it once attracted. “It became difficult to source funds from the corporate world because we could not allay their fears on recouping their money,” says Imasuen. Many filmmakers and sponsors lost out, as Nollywood became the victim of its on success because of its lack of foresight.

But where was the government in all of these? It largely acted like a spectator in a football match. In the heyday when the industry was booming and churning out thousands of jobs with each movie, top brass of the movie industry insisted that the government was indifferent. Except for a weak attempt at reform, which was when the Nigerian Films and Video Censors Board, NFVCB, came out with a framework stipulating the minimum capitalisation for national distributor, nothing concrete was done.

 

And where attempts were made, they failed to hit the right target. For instance, Tinapa Studio was built by Cross River State government in partnership with the private sector and aimed at helping the local film industry. But the studio has turned out to be a white elephant project. The movie industry would not touch it with the longest poles. Why? They claim that the cost of shooting a movie in the studio would create a massive hole in their shoestring budgets. “I have a movie budget of N3.5 million and Tinapa is asking for N1 million to use their facility. How on earth will I go there?” Imasuen and Iroegbu query.

Another attempt to help the film industry, this time coming from the federal government, appears to have also failed. In the run up to the 2011 general elections, President Goodluck Jonathan, in what was described as a thunderstorm manoeuvre, promised to set up a $200 million intervention fund for the movie industry but this has so far remained only in the realm of promises. “The government is no longer talking about the funds again,” Imasuen said. Practitioners in the industry did not help matters. They became divided over who disburses the fund that is yet to be put on the table.

Given this scenario, can one then conclude that the death knell has been sounded on the make-believe industry and the careers of moviemakers? Imasuen says this is far from the truth. The industry’s ground zero experience appears to have forced the moviemakers back to the drawing board.

Imasuen argues that directors and producers now appear to have finally come to terms with the stark reality that the movie-to-video template, which the industry was built upon, is no longer sustainable. Their response, the magazine gathered, is to create a framework where movies now first go to the cinemas before they are printed on DVD. This of course requires that Nollywood movies attain higher standards suitable for cinema viewing.

Imasuen contends that the industry is poised for such, noting that movies are already being shot using the new HD technology. “We are already at the next phase which is shooting movies that can fit cinema standard. In other climes, film-makers make the bulk of their money from the cinema, and Nollywood is ready to cash in on that,” he says. Whether this approach will bring back the good old days of money and influence for the likes of Iroegbu remains a question only time can answer.

*Culled from Tell Magazine Nigeria. Illustrations by PAV

 

 

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The Cameroon Movie Industry Needs To Step Up
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments

-Land Of Shadows Producer Gilbert Agbor

By Pandita Njoh Etta

The Cameroon Movie Industry is in need of an extreme makeover says Gilbert Agbor one of the most enterprising producers in the country. Despite the abundance of talent in the industry, the industry suffers from chronic neglect from government officials. The movie industry has the potential to employ about 10.000 to 50.000 Cameroonians if properly structured and supported says Agbor whose movies have earned him local and international fame. Trained in Nigeria, the difficulties have not daunted the resolve of Agbor to continue forging a path for the Cameroon movie industry. In a chat with PAV’s Pandita Njoh Etta, Gilbert Agbor sheds light on his career, projects as well as a critique of the movie industry in Cameroon.

PAV: How did you become a film producer and may we know how many movies you have produced so far and the reaction of the public to your productions?

Agbor Gilbert: I went to the film school in Nigeria for 6 years at the University Science and Technology in Calabar in the year 2000. Later, i went for training in Algeria for 9 months. In the course of my school, I met so many people who encouraged me and helped directed me as I pursued my passion for movies. i have been producing movies since the year 2005, when I came up with my first movie, BEFORE THE SUNRISE–which i received an award for in south Africa as the Youngest producer to come with a very successful movie. Later on, THE BLUES KINGDOM–from which I was awarded Peace Ambassador For Female Circumcision, LAND OF SHADOWS– which recently had an award for best costume at the nollywood and African film critics award, NAAFCA in the U.S, and DEEPER LOVE. My fans and the public in general do love and appreciate what I do, from the successes and my physical interaction I have had with them from time to time.( travelled overseas for three movie festivals and returned with three different awards) I also had a recognition in Burkina Faso for my contributions to the Cameroonian movie industry.

PAV: What would you describe as the major highlights of your career as a producer thus far?

Agbor Gilbert: My fans, and the appreciation i get from them made me who I am today. I am not the best, but i am good at what I do.

PAV: Are there any producers in the African movie industry and the world at large whom you consider as role models and what is it you like about them?

Agbor Gilbert: Oh yes definitely there are, only a foolish person will not have mentors or people they look up to, Fred Amata–nollywood actor and producer,  I met him during my school time in Nigeria. Collaborated with him to produce my film, Before the Sunrise. Zach Orji–nollywood actor and director. worked with him for my movies Before the Sunrise and Land of shadows. Mama Kinta- who is also a film producer and actress. Jean Pierre Bekolo, Agbor Steven Ebai–Cameroonian film producer and Tyler Perry–his struggles to be who he is today encouraged and still encourage me to be what I am today and to work harder.

PAV: You come from Cameroon where the movie industry has a lot of potential but is not very strong still organized , from the name, to the funding, to the  audience which seems to have a preference for  foreign films etc what is going on with the movie industry in your country?

Agbor Gilbert: We have negligence from all directions. From both the audience-consumers and the producers too. There is so much piracy amongst the consumers. For instance, a person would buy a single movie, plays it in his/her house and connect cables to distribute it to neigbours who will then pay him a few hundreds of France. Thus the movie cannot sell to develop money for the industry’s growth. Also, there is so much disorganization amongst producers, thereby limiting them to work together in unity and achieve a higher goal. Furthermore, there is no good networking and distribution agency for the movies, and the movies end up not getting to the greater part of the market, leading to a shortage of funds to pay the production body. In addition, the ministry of culture does not play their role in assisting production at all. When the head of government gives funds to the ministry to assist movie production in the country, they don’t give the money; and when they do, they give the money to the wrong people, who end up not doing the work. The ministry of culture needs to do better in assisting with funds and joining forces with the production bodies to fight against piracy, which is one big of a problem.

PAV: We have seen Cameroonians working with more acclaimed Nigerian actors like Patience Ozorkwor, Emeka Ike and others; does this reflect a deficiency of talent amongst Cameroonian actors or what reasons are there for the penchant to have big names in movies instead of promoting local talents?

Agbor Gilbert: No not at all. There are great talents in Cameroon and I do work with them. As a producer, primarily I will say it is a marketing strategy. Consumers buy movies because they love the faces they see on there and will want to buy only those movies, and in the cause, discover new and talented people like; Eyong Quinta Ashu, Lynno Lovette etc. also, collaborating with the nollywood actors, increases the market for the particular movie, and the Nigerians will want to see their own faces in the movie too.

PAV: Mr. Agbor, we come back to the issue of name, what is the name of the Cameroon movie industry? We have Hollywood in the USA, Bollywood in India, Nollywood in Nigeria etc, we have heard about Camwood, Camerlywood? Must the name be mimicked after what obtains in other countries and why can’t there be a unique name that reflects the culture of your country?

Agbor Gilbert: In 2008, the Cameroonian film industry–production houses back home, the president of the actors guild in Nigeria, prime minister of Cameroon at that time Ephraim Inoni, the minister of culture in Cameroon , representatives from the ministry of cultures in Ghana and Gabon, and also nollywood actor Jim Iyke came to an agreement that the official name of the Cameroon film industry is COLLYWOOD.

PAV: In Nigeria we learned that in the next twenty five years or so, the movie industry will have the potential of generating income that could rival what comes from oil, what potential would you say the movie industry has in Cameroon and is there anything the authorities are doing to help the industry move forward?

Agbor Gilbert:-I feel pity for the system in Cameroon; -high rate of unemployment, but the film industry stands a chance to employ 10,000 to 50,000 Cameroonians and more. -the government administrators have a great role to play in helping with the situation. Their security and unavailability makes it difficult for the producers to go to them for help and even when they get the chance to, they don’t listen. All the ministries not only the ministry of culture, need to assist.

Agbor Gilbert with Nigerian actor Jim Iyke

Agbor Gilbert with Nigerian actor Jim Iyke

The ministry of communication needs to help in marketing and other duties, the ministry of education needs to implement movie production and film studies in their schools, take for example me, I had to travel to Nigeria for my studies. Many others with acting, directing dreams have to travel abroad for education. They don’t consider it relevant. The ministry of finance needs to work together too, for assistance in making this work. the Nigerian government for example understands the benefits of the film industry over there, thus they work very hard to support them. The other day while looking at some videos in you tube, I came across a video of some top Nigerian stars singing a good luck song, campaigning for their now President Jonathan. The government knows that the people listen to these actors and actresses, and thus respect them and collaborate with them for events as such.

PAV: Taking a look at the continent as a whole , Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa etc, how would you size up the African film industry, from artistic performance, the way it is structured, quality of movies etc?

Agbor Gilbert:South Africa for instance has no limit. There is support from every corner. The ministry of culture and the government in Rwanda built shops for the production houses to help them distribute and market their films. In Mozambique, their head of state comes to their premiers to support them. Here in Cameroon, even the ministers will not come, and will not even send a representative that can contribute in any way.

Gilbert  Agbor all smiles after bagging an award at NAFCA 2011

Gilbert Agbor all smiles after bagging an award at NAFCA 2011

PAV: What are the projects that Gilbert Agbor is working on right now or has in mind for the nearest future?

Agbor Gilbert: I am presently working on a new movie, sharing ideas, travelling abroad for distribution and marketing. I am also working on launching the H- foundation which is a non profit organization to give allowances to the less privileged, scholarships for outstanding students in school. Also working with 28 HIV/AIDS patients with financial help and building their hope for living. In addition, we are also working to help the widows.

PAV: We end by asking if you have a word of advice to talented young Africans interested in the world of movies with the potential to excel as Directors, Actors etc.

Agbor Gilbert: -It is a rich profession in knowledge, finance, style-also known as swag-Follow your heart, and your dreams. It’s too big a world, the movie industry is so big that one has to have a great potential to be recognized. It is a very fun profession with advantages and disadvantages; when you choose to be part of this industry, you have decided to give out you life to serving the audience and no more privacy for you. Every day we learn, and when you fall just get up and run again, never give up on the dreams.

 

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A Salute To The ANC: Of Celebrations and Challenges
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments

A hundred years in the life of any individual or organization is a mile stone worth all the celebrations .It could not be any different when it came to the historic African National Congress-ANC the ruling party in South Africa. The ANC is the stuff of legends, with figures like Walter Sisulu, Giovan Mbeki, Chief Albert Luthuli and the venerable Nelson Mandela amongst others who will always occupy a choiced place in any recitation of African history. With two Nobel Peace Laureates in Chief Luthuli and Nelson Mandela, with the feat of leading with relentless pressure and steadfastness that charge that ultimately led to the demise of the inhumane apartheid system and the emergence of black rule in South Africa, the ANC at 100 deserves the best of salutes.

Its historic mission of defeating apartheid now achieved, the ANC is now saddled with an even bigger challenge: catering for the welfare not the entire South Africa-Blacks, Whites, Indians, Afrikaners etc. Since 1992, the party has been the ruling party in South Africa. Been in the opposition is one thing, putting the vision you stood for into tangible results once you get to power is quite another thing. As to how well the ANC has fared since it got to power, is a question of individual judgement and assessment but the reality is that there is palpable discontent  and the most disappointed seem to be the Blacks for whose cause the ANC was formed in the first place.

Although apartheid is now ever and the democracy has made black majority rule possible, the plight of black folks still leaves much to be desired. Unemployment is still highest amongst black folks in South Africa, and the poverty still alarmingly high amongst the black folks.  Unemployment and poverty are good breeders of crime. This combination amongst others is what could account for the senseless killing of an icon in the apartheid struggle like Lucky Dube.  Certainly a lot has changed for the Black Africans but the pace is slow and there is growing disgruntlement that the ANC led government is not doing enough to alleviate their plight.

Fighting poverty is a challenge the ANC has to work on with more seriousness and with more urgency. A few years back South Africans took out their anger on fellow Africans living there. Some lost their lives, some had property destroyed and many foreign nationals were forced to flee South Africa.  The xenophobia from South Africans left Africans stunned. Virtually the entire continent worked in great solidarity with South Africa to dismantle apartheid and was the xenophobia the best appreciation South Africans could show?

With its economic might, many in the continent look up to the ANC led South African government for leadership in the continent. South Africa may have been instrumental in the creation of projects like the New Partnership for African Development-NEPAD. This blue print for the transformation of the continent is still to bear tangible fruits for all to see. Leadership in the continent has been sorely missing in the continent especially in crisis from Tunisia, to Egypt, Ivory Coast and most recently Libya. The influence of South Africa has not been felt at all.

A potential candidate for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council should Africa have one, the influence of South Africa has been on the wane. A most recent sign is the failure of its candidate to be picked as the Chairman of the African Union. One of the reasons whispered here and there about the failure of Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma was the desire to curb the growing influence of South Africa. Already a major player in the Union, South Africa did not need to seek the Chairmanship. And what about this talk that surface not long ago about South Africa seeking a single currency for the so call BRIC countries comprising Brazil, Russia, India and China? Where does this leave Africa? Why not militate more for a single African currency?

Democracy is one area where the ANC has fared well. The resignation of President Thabo Mbeki before the end of his term was a pace setter in the continent. Strive is no stranger to the politics of the ANC and cadres like the ANC Youth League Chairman Julius Malema have been increasingly vocal of their criticism of the party leadership. There have been disgruntled comrades who have been forced to part ways and there is no doubt there certainly will be more .The ANC should not became a too big to fail party. As it starts another century, the challenges have changed. The defeat of apartheid which was the rallying call has been achieved.  Meeting the needs and aspirations of citizens in the entire polity is the biggest challenge especially the black folks who are still hanging on the fringes of poverty. It is a challenge that needs to be met for the ANC to enjoy electoral successes and remain in power. There will come a time when people will not support the party for the sake of it but based on positive transformation of the country. This is even more when historic figures continue to fade into the back ground. The generational shift comes along with greater potential for conflicting ambitions and agendas and the ANC will need to step up its game to remain master of the political scene in South Africa.

Like the recent African Nations Cup suggests, even countries hitherto considered as small are stepping up. A tournament without continental soccer giants like Nigeria, Cameroon and Egypt was unthinkable. South Africa itself missed out at the rendez vous. This is the spirit that will help move the continent forward. One of healthy competition, one where every country strives to be the best. PAV brings you volume 45 with Guest Columnist Mamadou Koulibaly doing a series of brilliant write ups. A former speaker of the Ivory Coast Parliament, Prof Koulibaly has been a staunch critic of French foreign policy in Africa and is today one of the most vocal opposition voices in Africa. With her country hosting the Nations cup for the first time, Equatorial Guinea Ambassador to the USA Purificacion Angue Ondo sounds off to the tremendous progress that is taking place. Equatorial Guinea is on the right path to sustainable development she affirms. Samuel Tsonga Stone takes a look at the tumultuous year that 2011 was in Uganda. Africa is indeed high on the foreign policy priorities of the Obama Administration says Bruce Wharton a State Department Official in an interview. Is President Jonathan out of Goodluck in Nigeria? The issue takes a lot at disturbing developments in Nigeria.

Happy Reading!!

 

 

 

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.Marrackechgate & The Downward Spiral Of Cameroon Football
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Zelifac Asong*

Once upon a time football was the pride of Cameroon. It brought solace to the people, the exploits of its clubs in the continent were legion, and the glory brought by its national team was aplenty. The name Indomitable Lions was amply justified and opponents dreaded prospects of playing with Cameroon .Every football loving Cameroonian will honestly admit a love affair with the indomitable lions, the Cameroonian senior national football squad. My love affair with the lions started in 1981, during the African eliminatory rounds of the 1982 world to be held in Spain. It was the first time I remember being aware of our national team, and of the pride and joy the team brought me and many other Cameroonians who love the game of football. Mine began with the qualifying match against morocco.

Like in most, if not, every love relationship, there have been ups and downs. There have been times when the lions have rewarded my loyalty with sweet victories and impressive results. I will never forget Mbida Arantes holding the 1984 African cup of nations high above his head as the lions paraded the streets of Yaoundé on a one sunny March afternoon. Who could forget the repeat of the performance in 1988, together with the memorable semis against Morocco? The long and hard shot from Makanaky?  We all still talk about the stellar performance of the lions at mondiale 1990, especially Omam Biyik’s miraculous header against no other than Maradona’s Argentina. Who does not remember the pride he or she felt when the lions made Africa proud by winning the Sydney Olympics in Australia.  The Indomitable Lions

Despite all these great moments there have equally been moments of frustration, sadness and almost certain divorce. The abysmal performance in 1996 Nations cup in South Africa, when an emerging South Africa, led by Dr. Khumalo and Mark Fish trounced the lions three goals to zero (3-0). A competition for which there were so ill-prepared that there arrived late in South Africa. Hard as well to forgot the 1994 mondiale in the USA. The coach Henri Michel was punched by Pagal for not including him in the list. There had to be a protest march in Yaoundé for Ndip Akem and Louis-Paul Mfede to be included in the list. At the competition itself, the indomitable lions were flogged six goals to one (6-1) by Russia’s Salenko. To crown it all, moneys collected for the players through so called “Coups des Coeur” got missing between Paris and New York according to then Minister of Communications Kontchou Kogmeni. During world cup organized by Korea and Japan in 2002, the same problems resurfaced. Players arrived in Asia with tired and heavy legs, and not enough time to rest before their opening match. Reason? The players had threatened to forfeit the trip if their match bonuses were not paid. As a result, one of the best teams the lions ever boasted of came out of the competition in the first round. In the South African world cup in 2010, Cameroon had its worst performance ever in its six participations at a world cup event.

Marrakech gate

The indomitable lions of Cameroon where in invited to four nations tournament in Marrakech, Morocco, from the 13th to the 15th of November 2011. The tournament was organized by South Korean based electronic giant LG Electronics. Equally invited were Sudan, Uganda, and host nation Morocco. The Lions lifted the trophy beating host country Morocco. The victory was tonic for disenchanted fans after the failure of the Lions to qualify for the African Nations Cup hosted by the neighbouring countries of Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. The celebration turned sour with when yet another storm brewing within the team over match bonuses became uncontrollable.  The result was a decision by the players to refused traveling to Algeria for a scheduled friendly sparking a row which went beyond the confines of football.

The scandal was a stark portrayal of the poor shape of Cameroon football. Beyond the mere aspect of sports, there were strong indications that diplomatic relations between Cameroon and Algeria could be strained. No amount of damage control could mitigate what became a humiliating moment for Cameroon football. The Cameroon Football Federation –FECAFOOT was forced to part with circa $ 500.000 in settlement of damages to the Algerian Federation.

Meanwhile the captain of the indomitable lions, Samuel Eto’o, was summoned to appear before the arbitration committee of FECAFOOT, alongside vice captain, Eyong Enoh, on charges that they were responsible for Marrakech fiasco. Also summoned was Tottenham based defender gone rogue, Assou-Ekotto for refusing to honor call ups for the national team on various occasions. On the 17th of December 2011, sanctions were handed down to the players. These sanctions were at the same time serious and controversial. Serious because there were heavy, and controversial because there did not go to the root of the problem, but seemed instead to target a particular group of players, and could therefore destroy the unity that was slowly returning to the team after the complete breakdown of team harmony during , and after the South African world cup. Samuel Eto’o was suspended for 15 matches with the national team, vice captain Enoh was sanctioned for 2 matches, while Assou-Ekotto was handed a fine of FCA one million.

FECAFOOT came under severe criticism from virtually all quarters with disgruntled fans threatening to take to the streets of Yaoundé and Douala. There were even fears that these marches, if held, could turn into a Cameroonian Arab spring. Very vocal in their criticism, were former players of the indomitable lions. The outspoken former goalkeeper of the Lions Bell Joseph Antoine condemned the sanctions as misguided, and partial. Said Bell “this is not an Eto’o problem that is why I find the sanctions unjust. The problem does not concern him personally; therefore, there is no reason for him to be singled out.” Bell felt that as captain, Eto’o had acted in the name of the team, and ought not to be singled out for sanctions. The legendary Roger Milla no stranger to controversy himself and not a big fan of FECAFOOT felt the punishment was uncalled for. Milla threatened to march himself if it was the last thing he had to do.

Also adding his voice to chorus of criticism aimed at FECAFOOT was Kalkabar Malboum, chairman of the Cameroon Olympic committee. Mr. Malboum said of the decision “this affect the future career in the national team of one of our greatest footballers of the moment.” He went to say that even on the football pitch, referees always protected the star players. Many agreed with him. Other former star players like, Makanaky , Mayebi, Mvoumin, Massing,Libiih, all agreed that FECAFOOT  was hasty in its decision to mete out punishment without due consideration for justice. There was near unanimity that the sanction did nothing to address the endemic problems of match bonuses and the cacophony which have resulted in the National Team losing its fangs.

No Prophets in Their Homeland

FECAFOOT and the Ministry of Sports which has an over bearing attitude have over the years engaged in  a cat and mouse game with the result been the unenviable position that Cameroon football occupies in the world today. The most recent rankings by the world football governing body FIFA place the Lions at the 56th position. A lamentable position for a country which used to compete with the best in the world. Each time there is a crisis; there has always been a scapegoat. At the 1990 world cup in Italy, it was goalkeeper Bell Joseph Antoine who was almost excluded from the Squad by the football authorities but for the solidarity of his team mates. In 2004, it was Coach Henri Michel who bore the brunt. At the 1996 Nations Cup in South Africa, it was Coach Jules Nyonga. At the 1998 Nations Cup in Burkina Faso, it was coach Manga Ougene and Goalkeeper Jacques Songo. After the non qualification for the 2008 world cup the scape goat was Pierre Wome Nlend. In the Ghana 1998 Nations Cup, the culprit was emblematic Captain Song Bahanack. The abysmal performance of the Team at the 2010 Nations Cup was placed on the shoulders of Goalkeeper Kameni, Alex Song and Achille Emana.Today it is Marracketchgate and the blame is dumped on Eto’o.

After the 1990 world cup where the Indomitable Lions became the first African Team to reach the Quarter Finals, Bell Joseph Antoine sensationally opined that what the Lions did to make Cameroon known around the world was a feat decades of diplomacy could not achieve. He probably was very right. For a long time and even today, tell anyone around the world you are from Cameroon and the first response will be Roger Milla or Samuel Eto’0. Milla was voted best African player about twice. Manga Ougene, Thomas Nkono, and Patrick Mboma equally were voted as Africa’s best in the past. Samuel Eto’o holds the record having been voted best footballer in Africa about four times. He is today the most expensive footballer in the world after winning all that Europe has to offer as trophies with elite clubs like Barcelona of Spain and Inter Milan of Italy.

Despite their talent, the players certainly have their fair share of short comings but the management of football in Cameroon has been at best chaotic. How comes that for all its stars, glory and stature, there is no International Stadium worthy of the name? How comes that Cameroon has not been able to host the African Nations cup since 1974? Many find it that the country of origin of Issa Hayatou who heads the Confederation of African Football since 1988 is unable to host the Nations Cup. Even President Biya who has used the glory of lions for political gains does little to encourage the sport. Recently he had to keep finalist of the Cameroon challenge cup waiting for months just to set a date for which he could be present at the final. In 1990 he claimed credit for the inclusion of Roger Milla in the world cup squad. At the 1992 elections which almost flushed him out of power, the Lion was the symbol he used .In 2002, of all the dates available, he timed the Legislative and Municipal elections to coincide with the world cup in Korea and Japan. Some thought the political calculus was to cash in on the anticipated good performance of the Lions. The strategy backfired as against all odds; the Lions could not go pass the first round. Why are FECAFOOT and the Ministry of Sports always at logger heads? Money is the answer. Everyone is fighting to get a chunk off the huge revenue generated by the National Team and putting in place structures that will facilitate the emergence of talent and sustain top notch performance is secondary. FECAFOOT has cover in the autonomy that FIFA accords its member Associations. The skeletons within the closet of Cameroon football are mammoth.

Although the 15 match sanction on Eto’0 was later reduced to an eight month suspension, kicking the can down the road is a stop gap measure which will not provide lasting solutions. Cameroon has produced enough stars whose experience could be used in moving the game to the next level. From the Federation to Coaching Assignments, the former players have at best a peripheral role. A perfect example of what they could bring to the table is the goal medal obtained at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 under Coach Jean Paul Akono. Toying with football could have political fallouts. Football has for a long time shielded the regime from its severe short comings. When the Lions, Cameroonians tend to forget that they have problems. When the National Team does not do well, it seems to dawn on many that things are not going right for the country.FECAFOOT President Iya Mohammed and his group may be stirring the hornets’ nest and better be ready for the consequences that may eventually come with that.

In the midst of the ineptitude of Football and sporting authorities, the Lions remain very popular and continue to fly high the flag of Cameroon all over the world. Some of them have football academies in Cameroon to fine tune budding talents. Bertin Ebwelle, Samuel Eto’o just to cite a few run football academies. Eto’o recently launched a telecommunications company in Cameroon. Roger Milla runs a Foundation in Cameroon through which he has sort to dignify former International Stars with activities which stop them from fading into obscurity. Marrackechgate may have been swept under the rug for now but it is safe bet to say beyond the damage it has had on the aura of Cameroon, there likelihood of the same problem or similar ones resurfacing remains pretty high.

 

 

 

 

 

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U.S. Efforts To Counter the Lord’s Resistance Army
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Johnie Carson*

Let me first thank the U.S. Institute of Peace for having me back, and for organizing this important event. The United States is engaged in a number of efforts to help address violent armed groups and to promote security in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. Among those efforts, countering the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been a priority for us. Over the last several years, hundreds of thousands of Americans, especially young Americans, have mobilized and expressed concern for the communities in central Africa placed under siege by the Lord’s Resistance Army. We greatly appreciate your efforts, and we are committed to working with you in pursuit of an end to the LRA’s atrocities.

For several years, the people and Governments of Uganda, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan have worked to bring an end to the scourge of the LRA. They have endured difficult circumstances and many sacrifices in search of peace. The United States has sought to support them in their struggle. We believe the LRA’s actions are an affront to human dignity and a threat to regional stability. We believe that those abducted should be freed and that the leadership of the LRA should be brought to justice. In collaboration with our partners in the region, we have sought to put in place a strategy that draws on the lessons of history, improves our support to the governments of the region, and increases the chances of successfully ending the LRA threat once and for all.

Let me begin with the history. The LRA has now been active for 25 years, a quarter of a century, making it one of Africa’s oldest, most violent and persistent armed groups. For two decades, the people of northern Uganda were caught in the midst of the fighting between the brutal LRA insurgency and the government. Some two million people were forced into internal-displacement camps, where they languished in squalid conditions. Tens of thousands of children were abducted by the LRA, maimed, and forced to become child soldiers or sex slaves and ordered to commit unspeakable acts. Since it began its insurgency, the LRA has abducted 66,000 youth. To repeat: 66,000.

At the conflict’s height in northern Uganda, thousands of children would walk long distances every evening from villages into town centers to avoid being abducted by the LRA. They became known as “night commuters.”

When I served as ambassador in Uganda from 1991 to 1993, the United States recognized the enormous suffering caused by the LRA and tried to support the Government of Uganda’s efforts to end this scourge. Over the years, we have provided security assistance and training to the Uganda People’s Defense Force, supplied humanitarian assistance, supported peace talks and reconciliation initiatives, and worked with partners to enhance the protection of civilians and the reintegration of former combatants.

Under increasing pressure, in 2005 and 2006, the LRA’s leader Joseph Kony ordered the LRA to withdraw completely from Uganda and move west into the border region of the DRC, the CAR, and what would become South Sudan. Kony believed, rightfully, that it would be more difficult to track and pursue his forces in this remote region. In 2006, the LRA accepted an offer to engage in peace talks with the Government of Uganda.

From 2006 to 2008, the United States supported the peace talks in Juba. We believed the talks offered a real opportunity to bring an end to the conflict, and our diplomats worked with the mediators and civil society for two years to move the process forward. However, it became increasingly clear that Joseph Kony was not committed to the process. In 2007, he reportedly killed his second-in-command Vincent Otti who was engaged in the peace process. When a peace agreement was finalized, Kony refused to come out of the bush and sign. He was given the opportunity to sign on multiple occasions over several months, and each time he failed to do so. Meanwhile, throughout 2008, the LRA began to carry out new attacks and abductions in Congolese and Central African communities.

By late 2008, it was very clear that Joseph Kony had no interest in peace and was resuming hostilities and working to replenish his ranks. It was also clear that Kony had no regard for the lives of the people of the CAR, the DRC, and Sudan, and would continue to kill and pillage. Regional leaders agreed to launch new military operations against the LRA. Unfortunately, the LRA managed to escape the initial assaults on their camps in Garamba National Park in the DRC. Over the following months, at Kony’s direction, the LRA committed a series of new large-scale massacres, including the brutal “Christmas Massacres” in northern DRC, in which hundreds of Congolese were hacked to death and burned alive.

Since that time, the UPDF and national militaries in the region have continued to pursue the LRA and to expand protection to the local populations. Despite tremendous challenges, the UPDF’s sustained efforts have yielded some success in reducing the LRA’s numbers and in keeping them from regrouping. Dozens of LRA officers have been killed or captured or have simply surrendered. The LRA’s core fighters have been reduced to an estimated 150 to 200, in addition to accompanying women and children.

However, there are significant challenges in pursuing small groups of LRA across this densely forested and difficult jungle terrain. This is one of the least developed regions in all of Africa, and lacks basic road and telecommunications infrastructure. Local authorities are far removed from their capitals and often lack resources to govern effectively. As a result, Kony himself and the other top LRA commanders have managed to evade capture.

The LRA retains the capacity to cast a wide shadow across the region because of its brutality and the fear it arouses in local populations. As of August 2011, the UN estimated 440,000 people were displaced or living as refugees across CAR, the DRC, and South Sudan due to LRA activity. The remaining LRA elements have continued to commit attacks across the three countries. According to the UN, this year alone, there have been over 250 attacks in the CAR, the DRC, and South Sudan attributed to the LRA.

The LRA’s continued attacks have been cause for universal concern and condemnation – by the people and governments of the region, the United Nations, and the African Union. Just last month, African leaders from across the continent came together to declare the LRA as a terrorist group, the AU’s first such designation. Here in the United States too, people have come together to condemn the LRA’s atrocities. In the Congress, Senator Russ Feingold teamed up with Sam Brownback and James Inhofe, and Congressmen Ed Royce and Jim McGovern in 2009 to write legislation calling for more comprehensive U.S. efforts to help end the LRA threat. With the support of youth activists and human rights organizations, this legislation won historic bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Obama.

After coming into office, the Obama Administration reviewed ongoing and past U.S. support to governments in the region for countering the LRA. We worked to identify what had worked and what had not, and how we could best support our partners in the region to accomplish their mission. In line with the Congressional legislation, we worked last year to develop a comprehensive, multi-year strategy to guide U.S. support to help our partners in the region better mitigate and ultimately eliminate the threat posed by the LRA. In our strategy, we sought to incorporate a number of lessons learned from history.

The first lesson we identified is that LRA will use any reduction in military or diplomatic pressure, or the provision of safe haven by any actor, to regroup and rebuild its forces. As he did during the Juba peace talks in 2008, Joseph Kony will use any chance he gets to kill, abduct, and loot in order to regenerate his ranks and capabilities. Therefore, we made a strategic decision to continue assisting the UPDF as they carry out forward operations against the LRA. We have continued to provide logistical support for their operations on the condition that they remain focused on the mission, cooperate with the other regional governments, and do not commit abuses. They have lived up to those commitments.

We also realized the need to encourage stronger regional partnerships to effectively address the LRA. As a result, we have increased our engagement with the militaries of CAR, DRC, and South Sudan regarding the LRA, and supported their increased efforts to address this threat. With our encouragement, earlier this year, the government of DRC deployed a U.S.-trained and -equipped battalion to participate in counter-LRA efforts in the LRA’s areas of operations in the DRC. We have also provided some equipment to CAR forces deployed in the LRA-affected area, and we plan to provide targeted training to SPLA forces that will deploy to the LRA-affected area of South Sudan.

The second lesson we identified in developing our strategy is that additional critical capabilities were needed to increase the chances of militaries in the region apprehending or removing LRA top commanders from the battlefield. As part of developing the President’s strategy, we asked U.S. Africa Command to review how we could improve our support to national militaries in the region to increase the likelihood of success. AFRICOM planners traveled throughout the region and met with the governments there. Their conclusion was that sending a small number of U.S. military advisors to work with these national forces, both at headquarters and the field-level, could enhance their capacity to coordinate and fuse intelligence with effective operational planning.

On October 14, President Obama reported to Congress that he had authorized a small number of U.S. forces to deploy to the LRA-affected region, in consultation with the national governments, to act as advisors to the militaries that are pursuing the LRA.

There has been some confusion in the media about this announcement, so let me clarify a few things. First, contrary to some conspiracy theories in the press, this deployment is focused on the LRA and the LRA only. Second, although they are equipped for combat in case that they need to defend themselves, the U.S. forces in this operation are there to play a supportive role to the UPDF and national militaries pursuing the LRA. Third, although the total number of U.S. military personnel participating in this operation will be approximately 100, only a portion of those total personnel will travel to field locations in LRA-affected areas to serve as advisors to regional forces pursuing the LRA; the personnel who remain in Uganda will perform logistical and other functions to support our advisors. Fourth, this is not an open-ended commitment; we will regularly review and assess whether the advisory effect is sufficiently enhancing our objectives to justify continued deployment.

In his report to the UN Security Council last month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that regional military operations against the LRA must continue, but acknowledged that national militaries in the region “lack the full range of resources and capabilities in areas such as logistics, intelligence gathering, and air power, to effectively deal with the problem.” In a Presidential statement following its meeting, the UN Security Council welcomed international efforts to enhance the capacity of these militaries, and noted the efforts of the United States.

Over the last month, the U.S. military personnel have, in coordination with the UPDF, been planning and laying the groundwork for forward deployments to field locations in the LRA-affected areas. Starting this month, teams of the advisors are beginning to deploy to LRA-affected areas. It is critical that they get out to field so they can directly interact with all of the forces pursuing the LRA and assess the operating environment. Our embassies have been in close touch with all of the governments in the region in developing this operation, and we are not sending any personnel into their countries without their consent. We have also made clear that this operation is contingent on their sustained commitment and cooperation toward ending the LRA threat.

The third lesson we identified in developing our strategy is the importance of civilian protection. The LRA has often responded to new military campaigns by committing reprisal attacks against vulnerable communities, taking advantage of soft targets that lack protection and early warning capabilities. National militaries bear responsibility for civilian protection, but we realize that they face significant challenges in this regard. We have ensured that our military advisors are sensitive to the challenges of civilian protection and are incorporating protection considerations into all training and operational planning. Our advisors are also seeking to strengthen information-sharing among militaries in the region to allow better communication with local populations, and other civilian actors with the aim of enhancing protection. In partnership with the State Department’s new Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, we have deployed a civilian officer to the region to assist our advisors in this regard.

We have also encouraged the UN peacekeeping missions in the DRC and South Sudan to augment their protection efforts in the LRA-affected areas to the extent possible. MONUSCO’s leadership has told us that they will take additional steps over the coming month in an effort to prevent a repeat of the Christmas Massacres that took place in 2008 and 2009. At MONUSCO’s request, the United States has embedded two U.S. military personnel into MONUSCO’s Joint Intelligence and Operations Center in Dungu. These personnel are working with MONUSCO, FARDC, and UPDF representatives there to enhance information-sharing, analysis, and planning. In addition, our Embassy in CAR has encouraged the UN Integrated Peace building Office for CAR to put greater focus on the LRA-affected area.

Still, we have to acknowledge the enormous challenges for regional governments and their security forces given their limited resources, lack of mobility, and the poor transportation and communications infrastructure in this region. We have worked with partners to empower communities to make decisions related to their own safety. The State Department and USAID are now funding projects in the DRC to expand existing early warning networks to remote communities. USAID is also implementing a pilot project to install low-cost cell phone towers in LRA-affected areas of the DRC. We’re talking to partners about trying to initiate similar projects in the CAR and South Sudan.

The fourth and final lesson we identified in developing our strategy is that there is no purely military solution to the LRA threat. We believe a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach is required. Military support must be embedded within a broader strategy and complemented by civilian efforts. Uganda’s Amnesty Act has been a hugely effective tool for reducing the LRA’s overall numbers. As regional actors increase military pressure on the LRA, it is critical to complement that effort with an increased push for LRA fighters and abductees to defect and escape.

In the last two months, we have seen the release and defection of dozens of women and children from the LRA’s ranks in the DRC. I was especially struck by the story of two young women, one Congolese and the other Ugandan, both pregnant, who courageously escaped from the LRA’s ranks in the middle of the night. They walked for four days, crossing three rivers, until they found a Congolese soldier on the road. These women were tired of living in dire conditions in the bush, and they wanted a different, brighter future for their babies. We know there are many more in the LRA’s ranks who want the same thing, but who are afraid of what will happen to them when they come home.

All of those individuals who have left the LRA recently in the DRC and been handled by MONUSCO have received food, medical attention, and transportation assistance to return home and reunite with their families. We urge those remaining in the LRA’s ranks to seek opportunities to escape, and take advantage of offers of reintegration support. We have encouraged the UN to work with governments in region to establish a region-wide process to facilitate the safe return, repatriation, and reintegration of those who leave the LRA’s ranks. USAID has funded programs to support the rehabilitation of former abducted youth in CAR and the DRC, and their reunification with their families.

At the same time, we continue to work to support those communities who have suffered at the hands of the LRA. In the last two fiscal years, we have provided over $50 million in humanitarian assistance to populations affected by the LRA in CAR, the DRC, and South Sudan. We look forward to the day when we can stop providing humanitarian assistance and focus on development. In northern Uganda, that process has begun. With the LRA’s departure, northern Uganda has undergone a visible transformation in just a few years. The population is able to move freely, stores are open, and fields are being cultivated. Ninety-five percent of the people who once lived in displacement camps have gone home to rebuild their lives and the United States has played a leading role, among donors, in supporting northern Uganda’s recovery.

A future free of the LRA is possible. The United States believes it is in our interest to help our partners in the region to realize that dream. That is why, despite significant budget constraints, the United States has taken a number of steps over recent years both to increase and improve our support to the region for countering the LRA and their impact.

However, the challenges facing our regional partners remain great. As we have learned over the last twenty-five years, ending the LRA will not be accomplished easily. We continue to ask all donors to step up their efforts and help address critical funding gaps. Just last month on my trip to Asia, I discussed the counter-LRA effort and appealed for support. We also continue to engage with other partners who are providing support for different aspects of this effort, especially the European Union with whom we co-chair the International Working Group on the LRA.

Finally, success in countering the LRA will ultimately depend upon the continued resolve and partnership of the affected countries. Although CAR, DRC, South Sudan, and Uganda have many differences, they are bound together by this common regional threat and have a shared interest in working together to end it. They have all lost lives to the LRA and made sacrifices to combat the LRA. Their continued cooperation is essential to finish this fight. We welcome the African Union’s role in facilitating greater regional cooperation, and we hope they will move quickly in this regard.

For our part, the United States will continue to stand with the people and governments of Africa as they stand up and work together to end the LRA’s reign of terror, and establish sustainable peace and security. Doing that is on the right side of history, on the right side of our values, and on the right side of our strategic interests.

Thank you.

* Ambassador Carson is Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs and the paper was presented at the United States Institute of Peace, Washington, and DC.December 7, 2011

 

 

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