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Obamas’ freedom of Cape Town honour divides South Africa
June 12, 2012 | 0 Comments
Cape Town's decision to grant Barack and Michelle Obama freedom of the city has been branded a 'political gimmick'. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Cape Town's decision to grant Barack and Michelle Obama freedom of the city has been branded a 'political gimmick'. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Decision to honour Barack and Michelle Obama criticised by religious groups amid row over US impact on Middle East

By David Smith, Libreville, Gabon *

Bestowing an honour on America’s first black president might seem an uncontroversial choice for post-apartheid South Africa. But what was good enough for the Nobel peace prize committee is just the latest trigger for acrimony in the polarised city of Cape Town.

Its decision to grant president Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, the freedom of the city has provoked a growing backlash from rival parties, churches, Muslim groups and trade unions, who branded it a “political gimmick”.

They warn that if the couple ever set foot in Cape Town to accept the award, they will be greeted by mass protests drawing attention to America’s human rights record.

The dispute began a month ago when Patricia de Lille, the mayor of Cape Town and member of South Africa‘s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), announced the nomination of the Obamas for the city’s highest accolade.

“For this city, as for the entire world, president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are the guiding stars to our eventual destination,” she said. “In a cynical age, there is a desperate need for universal hope – hope that acts as a reminder that, no matter what the odds, even the supposedly unattainable is within our grasp.”

“Freemen of the city” include Nelson Mandela and the archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu, she added.

Michelle Obama had travelled to Cape Town last year during a tour of Africa.

To some the award seemed in keeping with a longstanding relationship between the US civil rights and South African liberation movements: Obama has recalled that his first taste of political activism was speaking at an anti-apartheid rally. In the immediate afterglow of his 2008 election victory, it may have struck a popular chord. Now, however, South Africans have doubts.

Tony Ehrenreich, the provincial secretary of Congress of South African Trade Unions in western Cape, said it was “appalled” at the award, citing “the atrocious behaviour of the USA on the Palestinian question, and their endorsement of Israel aggression against the people of Palestine.”

Ehrenreich, who as the candidate of the governing African National Congress (ANC) was defeated by De Lille in the last mayoral election, accused her of ignoring the majority of Capetonians. “Obama has done nothing for the city of Cape Town that in our view deserves the freedom of the city, as he does not represent the value system of the city people of justice and fairness.”

In a joint letter to president Jacob Zuma, two Islamic organisations, the Media Review Network (MRN) and Muslim Judicial Council (MJC), said they were “astonished and dumbfounded” by De Lille’s decision.

“Obama’s intimate role in authorising US drone attacks overseas is a cold-blooded account of how he and his disciples in Washington decide on who will live and who must die,” they wrote. “Innocent Pakistani, Yemeni, Somali and Afghani civilians have lost their lives or have suffered traumatic injuries that have changed their lives for ever.”

The National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union also condemned the move. “We are totally opposed to this because the majority of the poor people of Cape Town are still treated like outsiders in their own city and nothing has been done by Ms De Lille to narrow the huge inequality gap that exist between the rich and the poor,” it said.

De Lille’s office said the Obamas would still be given the award because more than 60% of the city council voted in favour.

Brooks Spector, a journalist and former US diplomat based in South Africa, said: “Perhaps the originators of this choice seem to have wanted to link to the assumed popularity of the Obamas – and especially Michelle Obama – without thinking through how this would become a politically controversial, touchy issue for them. Now they are caught in a dilemma: if they go forward, it is a convenient thing for the DA-run city to be criticised on; if they withdraw their offer, they look weak or indecisive.”

*Culled from guardian.co.uk

 

 

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With Kenya election, East Africa enters make or break season
June 11, 2012 | 0 Comments

By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO *

As Kenya heads into the first election under its new Constitution, the East African Community too will begin its most dramatic transition.

The transition season will end in 2017 in Rwanda, when President Paul Kagame is scheduled to step down. How the leaders and East African citizens play their hands over this period, could make or break the East African project.

President Museveni with Makerere University students in 2010. Picture

President Museveni with Makerere University students in 2010. Picture

For starters, more East African leaders will be leaving office and handing over to new leaders in this period, than at any other in the region’s history. Kenya’s president steps down next year in March when the country votes, after serving his constitutionally provided two terms in office.

Burundi and Tanzania, both countries with term limits, will go to the polls in 2015 and Presidents Pierre Nkurunzinza and Jakaya Kikwete will leave office.

Only Uganda, where term limits were scrapped, goes to elections in 2016 with uncertainties about whether President Yoweri Museveni — who has been in power since 1986 and is already the longest-serving East African president ever — will bow out or soldier on.

Over the past year, Museveni has had to continually quell his riotous ruling National Resistance Movement, where youthful MPs, sensing that the elder leader’s prestige has been tarnished by years of corrupt government and alleged nepotism, figure that he is no longer the Colossus he was some years back.

At the official age of 68, Museveni is looking wan and is frequently off colour, which has prompted what promises to be a messy internal succession scramble. So far, it is presumed that the abstemious and wily NRM secretary-general, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, is the man at the front of the succession queue.

Other claimants to Museveni’s throne have ganged up on him, and have thrown everything that is not nailed down at his head and character.
More than any other in the region, the succession in Uganda is set to be the most unpredictable.

In Rwanda, Kagame has given all indications that he is packing his bags and clearing out of State House. But Rwanda-watching and Kagame-bashing and Kagame-boosting are among the biggest industries in the world as far as Africa goes, so there are many voices who don’t think the former guerrilla leader will leave office.

In any event, there is one thing about Rwanda that is not doubt. The Rwanda Patriotic Front, easily Africa’s most disciplined ruling party and one of its richest, will continue to run the show for a long while. And Kagame, who will still be a relatively youthful 60-year-old in 2017, will continue to exert influence over how business is conducted in Rwanda.

The comings and goings in East African State Houses over the next five years are important, because over this same period, the EAC will be undergoing a radical remake. Last week, EAC Secretary General Dr Richard Sezibera said fragile South Sudan’s application to join the EAC is being studied.

South Sudan’s admission is likely to be quick. Uganda’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for East African Community Affairs Eriya Kategaya said earlier this year at the launch of the Society for International Development’s State of East Africa Report 2012 in Nairobi, that there was a strategic need to admit South Sudan into the EAC fold in order to “protect the new nation against aggression by [north] Sudan.”
War-scarred but slowly stabilising Somalia has also applied to join.

Somalia will take critical steps towards restoring functioning government for the first time in over 20 years between now and August, when it will have passed a new constitution, elected a new parliament, and its first democratically appointed president in generations.

The Amisom wand

The modest progress made in stabilising Somalia is thanks to the African Union’s peacekeeping force in Somalia, Amisom. Until this year, two EAC countries — Uganda and Burundi — were the only two countries providing troops for Amisom and it is they who broke the militant Al Shabaab’s back in Mogadishu, and lately took the key city of Afgoye, Somalia’s breadbasket, considerably improving food security, an important factor if the country is to return to normalcy.

Kenya entered the Somalia fray in October 2011, and after a cautious first few months, has been aggressive in recent weeks, taking the town of Afmadow, and setting its sights on the strategic Kismayu port town.

The Kenya Defence Forces, which were “re-hatted” as Amisom troops in February, said last week that they would have Kismayu in the bag by the key date of August.

With Kismayu, Mogadishu, and other important regions of Somalia controlled by Amisom and the Somalia government, the new government elected in August will have a reasonable degree of credibility. In all probability, Burundi, Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti Amisom forces — which will shortly be joined by Sierra Leone — will remain in Somalia for a few more years.

They are unlikely to leave their shining foreign policy prize out of the EAC, when they withdraw. Indeed, because of the mutual EAC defence pact, the regional armies will have a legal basis to remain in Somalia were the Amisom mandate to expire soon, if it were a member of the Community.

How the EAC will cope with, possibly, five new presidents having to deal with new members — South Sudan and Somalia — who are politically unstable and whose government structures will still be primitive, is anyone’s guess.

History is the best guide here. The EAC has survived transitions before — none of the EAC presidents in power today, with the exception of Museveni in Uganda, was in office when the EAC charter was first signed in 1999.

But some of East Africa’s coming challenges are unprecedented.

According to the State of East Africa Report 2012 (SoEAR2012), the region’s population has grown by 24 million since 2005 and was estimated to be 139 million in 2010.

“The most important population characteristic of East Africa are its children and youth”, said SoEAR2012, “who account for an overwhelming majority, 80 per cent, of the region’s population in 2010.”

Most of these are unemployed, with youth joblessness rates in countries like Uganda estimated to be over 80 per cent. Youth discontent and unrest is rising, and over the next five years, new — and possibly inexperienced — EAC leaders will be the ones to deal with the problem before it explodes into revolt.

Kenya’s Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is aiming to register 18 million voters in total — about four million more than the number in 2007. Not all these voters will be youths, but if we consider that Kenya’s population is currently increasing by one million every year, and that between 1999 and 2006 the working-age population increased from 9.7 million to 13.1 million (approximately 500,000 young people joining the work force every year) then it is likely that most of Kenya’s new voters will be between 18 and 24 years old.

With their vote in 2013, will come expectations of a good deal from the new leaders. This same pattern will be replicated in most of East Africa.

With the recent discoveries of oil and gas in the region, governments will have the money to pay for new job and social programmes and buy off restless voters.

Uganda’s oil is expected to start flowing in 2017, Kenya’s at perhaps around the same time. Tanzania is also likely to find a lot more deposits of gas, as is Rwanda, which is also exploring for oil.

However, most of the secessionist demons in Africa also live in East Africa. The region has seen the most number of successful secessions in Africa —Ethiopia/Eritrea, the Sudans; and there is a high possibility Somaliland will break away — evidence that perhaps East Africans are quite a schizophrenic people, integrationist and parochial at the same time. The Tanzanian Union is also coming under pressure. A fortnight ago in Zanzibar, Uamsho, a group that is demanding a referendum on Zanzibar’s secession from Tanzania, was behind three days of disturbances in which churches were burnt.

In the 2010 election, Zanzibar took some steps to put an end to perennial election violence by instituting a new power-sharing deal so that it’s no longer “winner takes all”: Ali Mohamed Shein from the governing CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi) party was voted in as president in elections in November 2010.

Zanzibar ‘wrinkle’

He narrowly beat Seif Sharif Hamad of the opposition Civic United Front. Under a power-sharing deal, Mr Sharif serves as one of Shein’s vice-presidents. The power-sharing deal was enshrined in a constitutional amendment adopted in 2010 to end perennial election violence.

While Uamsho’s secessionist demands are a new wrinkle Tanzania doesn’t need, the fact that the country’s new constitution is expected to be inaugurated in April 2014, means it has a chance to offer Zanzibar an additional calming sweetener.

The worry in Tanzania will probably be that Kikwete’s successor will have a bigger political fight on his hand than his predecessor.

The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi’s fortunes have been dwindling in recent years, as the party is bogged down by corruption scandals and rising internal struggles. In the 2005 election, for example, CCM won 206 out of 232 seats, and Kikwete was elected with 80 per cent of the vote.

It bled in the 2010 election. CCM won 186 out of 239 seats, and this time Kikwete had to make do with 62 per cent of the vote — even then, there were allegations that the vote was stolen.

CCM should still scrape by, but the fact that it has become comfortable with running the show largely unchallenged since just after Independence, means it could become nasty if faced with the real possibility of losing power. That point, though, is not about to come tomorrow.

In November last year, a rights group reported that more than 300 people had been killed in the preceding five months, including opposition and former rebel FNL members.

The dangerous slide continued in Burundi, with Human Rights Watch reporting last month that there had been a significant increase in political violence: “Reciprocal killings by members of the ruling National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) and the former rebel group the National Liberation Forces (FNL) increased, particularly in Bujumbura and in Bujumbura Rural Province. Impunity for these crimes remains one of the most serious obstacles to peace. The single largest incident of killings took place in September in Gatumba, near the Congolese border.”

Of the five members of the EAC, Burundi is probably the one over which most sleep should be lost. But if Nkurunziza’s successor is a gentler ruler, it too might still have a prayer.

Long-term, East Africa must worry about a common problem of institutional credibility. It seems that the majority of East African president are able to capture their countries’ imaginations, but the institutions th e state and other leaders don’t.

A Gallup poll published on April 25, for example, showed that in Kenya 62 per cent of respondents approved of President Kibaki, but only 38 per cent approved of the country’s wider leadership.

In Tanzania, 66 per cent approved of President Kikwete, but only 59 per cent approved of the country’s wider leadership. In Uganda, 60 per cent of respondents approved of President Museveni, but only 49 per cent of the country’s wider leadership.
There were no polling numbers for Rwanda, but President Kagame typically turns in high ratings in most opinion polling. Little polling is done in Burundi, but the same pattern might well be repeated there.

These numbers might flatter the leaders, but for as long East Africa is a region ruled by men, not institutions, it is will also more likely continue to report a democratic deficit.

*Courtesy of The East African

 

 

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France Africa relations: Le Grand Divorce? By Nicholas Norbrook
June 11, 2012 | 0 Comments

Informal networks and unscrutinised presidential authority have shaped France’s Africa policy for decades. The last time a socialist politician won the presidency – François Mitterrand (1981-1995) – he promised to radically shake up France-Africa relations, as did President Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-2012). It is now President François Hollande’s turn to try to push for good governance and to normalise relations with France’s former colonies.

Tricolores, alongside Algerian and Syrian flags, billowed over Place de la Bastille on 6 May, a historic ground zero for global revolutionaries and a happy stamping ground for France’s left. The election of the Socialist candidate to the Elysée raises hopes in Africa too. Perhaps this time there will be a definitive break with the past, an end to the nebulous and opaque net- works of what has become known as Françafrique. Perhaps.

New French President, François Hollande says he “will break, once and for all, with the out-of-control practices of Françafrique

New French President, François Hollande says he “will break, once and for all, with the out-of-control practices of Françafrique

The main charge against France is that it froze the political evolution of its former colonies, even as it gave them independence (see timeline). Proof of the perennity of the system: President Nicolas Sarkozy supported the attempt to shoe horn Karim Wade, son of the increasingly autocratic Abdoulaye Wade, into the Senegalese presidency. France’s foreign minister Michèle Alliot-Marie offered French police training to the thugs of Presid- ent Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia. This attempt by a French minister to stop the Arab Spring in its tracks – by a minister who had been accepting largesse from her Tunisian counter- parts – is the latest stain on France’s conscience.

And this political freeze has led to arrested development. On many metrics, Francophone African countries lag behind their continental peers. French-speaking Africa represents 19% of sub-Saharan Africa’s gross domestic product, whereas English-speaking Africa represents around a half – and that is excluding South Africa. Of the 187 countries ranked by the United Nations Development Programme’s human development index, seven of the 10 worst performers are Francophone countries. Burundi, Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo are the last three on that list. France gets 60% of the uranium it uses for its world-beating nuclear industry from Africa – including Niger.

CÉLLULE AFRICAINE NO MORE

Not everyone agrees. Côte d’ Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara told The Africa Report: “If you take Francophone countries of the CFA franc zone, I think that the situation is actually much better than many Anglophone countries. There has been a real mastering of inflation, which really is a cancer for the poor. There has been strong growth. Perhaps the populations of these countries did not get as fair a share of this growth as they should have.”

Regardless of the debate over how far Francophone Africa has been hamstrung by its former colonial master, the question going forward is can Hollande end Françafrique? During his campaign Hollande claimed, like Sarkozy before him, that there would be a ‘rupture’ with “the old habits of Françafrique”.

But Kader Arif, a Socialist member of the European Parliament and Hollande’s advisor on development mat- ters, says that the change will be radical. “We will get rid of the cellule africaine, place African affairs under the Minister of Foreign Affairs and give parliament anoversightrole.”This is a positive sign: the personalisation of politics under Elysée secretary general Jacques Foccart allowed for clientelism to flourish.

And there are signs that Hollande will be tougher on corruption. Addressing members of Amnesty International and Oxfam, his defence spokesman Jean-Yves Le Drian has said Hollande will impose tighter controls on arms sales. French company Thompson-CSF (now Thales) was involved in a troubled South African arms deal of 1999.

Another of Hollande’s advisors is William Bourdon of Sherpa, a non-govern- mental organisation formed by lawyers that took three Central African lead- ers to court – Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, the late Omar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon and Denis Sassou-Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville – in March 2007. The investigators behind the ‘biens mal acquis’ affair demand that these presidents account for their endless lists of properties and bank accounts in France. Eva Joly, the 2012 presidential candidate for the Europe Écologie-Les Verts party and the former investigative magistrate who brought down the national oil company Elf in the 1990s, may well receive a role in government.

NOT JUST ANY REGIME

The ties that bind France’s political elite to the Françafrique system run deep. Eyebrows were raised when Laurent Fabius, a potential future foreign minister for Hollande, made trips to see the presidents of Gabon, Togo and Benin between December 2011 and this February. Contacted for this article, Fabius declined to comment. For Jean-Christophe Rufin, France’s former ambassador to Senegal under Sarkozy, this sent all the wrong signals, “as if the bad old habits have come back”.

“Not at all,” said Arif. “We will not work with just any regime, and it’s not only the candidate [François Hollande]who is saying this but it is a collective expression of will. Those regimes that are not moving in the direction of democracy shouldn’t be frequented.” He went on to explain the importance of opening France to non-traditional partners including South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria.

Kofi Yamgnane, a Franco-Togolese politician now running Africa relations for Hollande, is a connection to the days of the late President François Mitterrand. The last time the Socialists had the presidency, there was a similar great hope for change in Franco-African relations that was quickly dashed. On discovering how Elf showered the French political class with money, Mitterrand did not close down the system but just insisted the Parti Socialiste receive its cut. His son, Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, or ‘Papa m’a dit’ (Papa told me) as he came to be known, was good friends with the son of Charles Pasqua, a key player in President Jacques Chirac’s Africa policy. Both sons would be caught up in the Angolagate affair, the illegal sale of arms to Angola.

President Sarkozy did not appear to remove himself from the shadowy net- works of years past. Pascaline Bongo, who ran her father’s finances, sat in the front row at Sarkozy’s investiture as candidate, next to the financiers of his…

To continue reading, get a copy of the June, 2012 edition of The Africa Report, on sale at newsstands, via our print subscription or our digital edition.

 

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Why Nigeria hates SA: Gloves off to be champion of Africa
June 8, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Charles Molele*

Competition over UN, AU jobs and economic rivalries are escalating tension between the powerhouses of Africa’s north and south, writes Charles Molele.

The diplomatic sabres have been rattled; the political fangs have been bared: the tensions between Africa’s powerhouse of the north, Nigeria, and its counterpart in the south, South Africa, have been escalating.

The main reasons are efforts by Abuja to obtain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and membership of the G20 group of advanced and industrialised economies. On the other hand, there are perceptions that Pretoria wants to occupy every powerful position in multilateral institutions.

These factors have forced Nigeria to go against South Africa’s attempts to replace Gabon’s Jean Ping with South African Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for the powerful position of the African Union (AU) Commission chairperson, according to a senior government diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Several South African diplomats and the ministers of foreign affairs in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are lobbying hard for Dlamini-Zuma to be elected during a re-run of the race slated for July in Lilongwe, Malawi.
But some of the diplomats, who were not mandated to talk to the press, said that Nigeria could spoil the party for South Africa.

They said Nigeria, the largest oil-producing country in Africa, was expected to support Ping, a former Gabonese foreign minister.

It would probably be joined by the Francophone countries of West Africa, which came under the banner of the Economic Community of West African States and the Economic Community of Central Africa.

Deteriorated
Earlier this year, Dlamini-Zuma stood against Ping, but neither garnered the required majority to be elected.

Relations between South Africa and Nigeria deteriorated last year after South Africa backed incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo, who lost national elections, during the battle for control of Côte d’Ivoire.

Nigeria’s new administration under President Goodluck Jonathan has also been championing efforts to surpass the size of the South African economy and join the world’s 20 largest economies by 2020. South Africa is the only African member of the G20, and this does not sit well with the Nigerians.

Like Nigeria, South Africa also wants a permanent seat on the Security Council.

In recent months, Nigerians have been complaining about South Africa dominating aspects of their economy, especially in telecommunications. Recently, a South African company opened high-profile shopping centres in Nigeria and several South African banks are eyeing opportunities there.

Immigration
According to a South African diplomat in the department of international relations and co-operation, Nigeria also hates the fact that many economically depressed African countries rush to South Africa whenever they need aid and donations, something that Nigeria cannot afford to provide. In the past two months, South Africa has given millions of dollars in aid and donations to Somalia ($100-million), Malawi ($35-million) and to drought-stricken countries in the Sahel region, such as Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and  Chad (a total of $100-million).

Immigration remains another source of tension between the two countries. The recent deportation of 125 Nigerians for not producing yellow fever vaccination certificates has made matters worse.

Said a South African diplomat: “The tension between the two countries is mainly about who is the most powerful on the continent economically, politically, even militarily.

“They [Nigerians] want to spite us because we have been getting senior positions and membership in multilateral institutions such as the Brics [Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa], Ibsa [India, Brazil, South Africa], the G20, the Non-Aligned Movement and the United Nations Security Council. Nigeria doesn’t like this. Nigeria also wanted to occupy these positions, but they do not have a stable democracy like ours, their economy is not as diverse as ours, and their financial institutions are not as highly rated as ours. Nigeria does not like this.

“Corruption is rampant in their country and terrorism is out of control. The tensions between Muslims and Christians are making it difficult for anyone to operate or conduct business there.”

Slightly fragile
Political analyst Zamikhaya Maseti said the relationship between the two countries had always been slightly fragile but remained cordial during the era of former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo.But, Maseti said, the Jonathan administration had repositioned the country as an economic powerhouse capable of playing a dominant role in African affairs.

“I support calls in diplomatic circles that South Africa should withdraw from this AU race because it is causing more harm than unity among African countries,” said Maseti.

“Nigeria believes that South Africa is holding many key positions in the multilateral institutions and should not be contesting for this … in terms of the so-called gentleman’s agreement, South Africa and Nigeria are not supposed to be contesting for these positions in the continental body.”

He added that the “mis-articulation” of the African agenda under President Jacob Zuma had also caused tension between South Africa and Nigeria and many other African countries.

No-fly zone
“Many African countries will never forgive us for backing the Security Council resolution which called for a no-fly zone in Libya. That resolution will forever remain a black spot; every bomb that landed in Libya, killing dozens of women and children, did so with our blessing in the eyes of Africa. How do we expect them to trust us now?”

But a senior diplomat in the depart­ment dismissed suggestions that South Africa should withdraw from the AU race because of deepening divisions on the continent, and also said South Africa should not have to carry the blame for the UN resolution on Libya – it was an AU decision, and Nigeria and Gabon also voted for it.

“We are not going to withdraw,” the diplomat said. “The region [SADC] has no appetite to withdraw. They believe it’s their time and this is in keeping with the rotational principle of the AU.

“South Africa was approached by SADC to lead the AU Commission and they identified Dlamini-Zuma and we agreed.

“The so-called gentleman’s agreement does not exist. Following the stalemate at the AU summit in January, the Benin president, Thomas Yayi Boni, who is the current chair of the AU, asked about it and there was no answer.
“So this gentleman’s agreement thing does not exist.

Unresponsive
“What everybody complained about was that the AU is weak; it is unresponsive to Africa’s problems; it takes time to act; and it’s unable to counter Western hegemony.”

Claude Kabemba, political analyst and an authority on Africa, said Nigeria was comfortable with Ping because he was from a small country and could be dictated to.

“If you have South Africa in the AU Commission, Nigeria is not going to do as it likes because South Africa is an influential country and Africa’s economic powerhouse,” said Kabemba. “That is why they are comfortable with Gabon or small countries in the position.

“It’s all about power relations between two powerful states on the continent. It’s also about who controls what and who is seen as leading the continent.”

Last week, the SADC extraordinary summit held in Luanda reaffirmed its support for Dlamini-Zuma and said: “There was a need to strengthen the AU in order to better position the continental body for the multitude of opportunities and challenges facing Africa.”

Victory for gender equality
In early May, the Pan African Business Forum, an umbrella body with a membership of 350 influential business people and professionals, also endorsed Dlamini-Zuma’s candidature at a press conference in Accra, Ghana.

The forum said her win would be a victory for gender equality and would give the continent a new impetus for economic development – it would be an important player in world affairs. “Dlamini-Zuma fits the bill perfectly for this all-important continental position,” the forum’s president, Prince Prosper Ladislas Agbesi, told the Ghanaian media.

“What is needed now is an AU chairperson who can not only serve as effective mediator and consensus builder among member states on a variety of issues but also serve to cut through the many vested interests, and point the continent in the right direction when making decisions in all those issues.

“This is where Dlamini-Zuma can be effective for the benefit of the AU continental body and, indeed, for the continent as a whole.”

Department of international relations spokesperson, Clayson Monyela, said: “Relations between South Africa and Nigeria are strong and cordial, both political and economic. In fact, the leadership of the Nigerian ruling party at the highest level is in South Africa this weekend to interact with our country’s leadership with a view to further consolidate the strong ties.”

Approached for comment, the Nigerian ambassador to South Africa, Sonni Yusuf, referred to a media statement he released after reports suggested that Nigeria would back Dlamini-Zuma for the AU post, in which he denied the suggestions.

The reports were based on ambiguous remarks made last month by Nigerian Vice-President Namadi Sambo after a meeting of the Nigeria-South Africa Binational Commission in Cape Town. He reportedly said that Nigeria would support South Africa for positions at multilateral institutions from time to time, whenever the need arose.

*Courtesy of Mail & Guardian South Africa

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International dimensions of the conflict in Eastern Congo
June 8, 2012 | 0 Comments

Gary K. Busch*

The African territory which includes Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been in virtually a state of war since 1995; that is at war with each other. This has engaged the national armies, militias, ‘civil defence’ groups, looters, pillagers, child abductors and abusers, rapists and murderers. Each category is not mutually exclusive. Virtually every category contains most if not all of the sociopathic designations. One can add to this the United Nations Peacekeepers whose range of social debilities accurately mimics those whose peace they are purported to be keeping.

The wars in the Eastern Congo have been responsible for the deaths of millions of Congolese who paid the price of living in a very rich and unmanaged country with failing or non-existent civil institutions. These wars, centred mainly in eastern Congo (North and South Kivu and Maniema) have involved nine African nations and directly affected the lives of 50 million Congolese.

Between August 1998 and April 2004 some 3.8 million people died violent deaths in the DRC. Since 2004 this number has almost doubled. Many of these deaths were due to starvation or disease that resulted from the war, as well as from summary executions and capture by one or more of a group of irregular marauding bands. Millions more had

The profits and riches to be gained from exploitation of Eastern Congo’s natural resources continue to propel violence, pillage and the suffering of the Congolese people

The profits and riches to be gained from exploitation of Eastern Congo’s natural resources continue to propel violence, pillage and the suffering of the Congolese people

become internally displaced or had sought asylum in neighbouring countries. Rape was endemic.

By 1996, the war and genocide in neighbouring Rwanda had spread across the border into the DRC. Rwandan Hutu militia forces (Interahamwe) were helped to escape from Rwanda by the French Army in Operation Tourquise. This allowed the creation of Hutu refugee camps in the DRC which were filled with Interahamwe escapees. Not surprisingly this attracted the attention of the victorious Tutsi in Rwanda and the Tutsis resident in the DRC (the Banyamulenge) who feared that these DRC-based Hutu camps would lead to attacks against Rwanda.

In October 1996, Tutsi-led Rwandan troops (RPA) entered the DRC with an armed coalition led by Laurent-Desire Kabila, known as the Alliance des Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Congo-Zaire (AFDL). Kabila was installed in power with the ouster of Mobuto on the 17 May 1997. Kabila declared himself president, consolidated power around himself and the AFDL, and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC’s military was renamed the Forces Armees Congolaises (FAC).

As the FAC was being reorganised the Rwandan troops took over the security in the East. They were confronted by several competing militias:

· The Interahamwe militia of ethnic Hutus, mostly from Rwanda, which fought the Tutsi-dominated Government of Rwanda;

· Hutu members of the former Rwandan Armed Forces, believed to be responsible for the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda, which also fought the Government of Rwanda;

· The Mai Mai, a loose association of traditional Congolese local defence forces, which fought the influx of Rwandan immigrants;

· The Alliance of Democratic Forces (ADF), made of up Ugandan expatriates and supported by the Government of Sudan, which fought the Government of Uganda; and

· Several groups of Hutus from Burundi fighting the Tutsi-dominated Government of Burundi.

During 1997, relations between Kabila and his former backers (Museveni of Uganda and Kagame of Rwanda) deteriorated. In July 1998, Kabila ordered all foreign troops to leave the DRC. They refused to leave; claiming that the DRC troops could not defend their interests from the exile groups operating the Eastern Congo. On 2 August 1997, fighting erupted throughout the DRC as Rwandan troops ‘mutinied’, and fresh Rwandan and Ugandan troops entered the DRC. Kagame ordered his troops to attack Kinshasa to depose Kabila in the hopes that his Banyamulenge Tutsi allies in the newly formed Rwandan-backed rebel group called the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD) would take over. Soon after, Museveni created the rebel group called the Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo (MLC) to fight for Uganda’s interests and sent into the Congo thousands of Ugandan soldiers. This campaign was impeded when Angolan, Zimbabwean, and Namibian troops intervened on behalf of the DRC.

However, this left the Eastern Congo (where the war was being fought), in the hands of Uganda and Rwanda with some sections held by the Mai-Mai and Burundi. This created a situation where the occupying forces could engage in the massive looting of eastern DRC’s riches. Numerous accounts and documents suggest that by 1997 a first wave of ‘new businessmen’ speaking only English, Kinyarwanda and Kiswahili had commenced operations in eastern DRC. Theft of livestock, coffee beans and other resources began to be reported with frequency. By the time the August 1998 war broke out, Rwandans and Ugandans (top officers and their associates) had a strong sense of the potential of the natural resources, especially coltan, and their locations in eastern DRC.

The Ugandan decision to enter the conflict in August 1998 was defended by some top military officials who had served in eastern Zaire during the first war and who had had a taste of the business potential of the region. The Ugandan forces were eager to move in and occupy areas where gold and diamond mines were located. In September 1998 this looting was put in the hands of General General Salim Saleh (born Caleb Afande Akandwanaho, 14 January 1960), Museveni’s brother, a proven money-launderer, drug dealer, resource thief and plunderer. Salim Saleh formed a company which would supply the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo with merchandise, and would return with natural resources. The project never materialised in this form, but took the form of pure looting and pillage under the protection of the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni.

Despite their claims of a security concern generating their interest in the DRC, some top army officials clearly had a hidden agenda: economic and financial objectives. A few months before the 1998 war broke out, General Salim Saleh and the elder son of President Museveni reportedly visited the eastern DRC. One month after the beginning of the conflict, General James Kazini was already involved in commercial activities. He already knew the most profitable sectors and immediately organised the local commanders to serve their economic and financial objectives.

This was mirrored in the activities of the Rwandans. At the heart of the financial setting was the Banque de commerce, du développement et d’industrie (BCDI) located in Kigali. This was the initial vehicle through which all revenues were passed at the initial stages of Rwandan and Ugandan engagement in the DRC. Then, when the war broke out the Rwandans retained the BCDI as their conduit and the Ugandans set up their own. The extraction of minerals rose to a fever pitch as hostilities began with no attention to safe or rational methods of extraction.

In September 1999, the UPDF local commander demanded the extraction of gold from the pillars of the Gorumbwa mine galleries in which dynamite was used. The galleries collapsed, leading to the death of a number of Congolese miners. Some months later, Ugandan soldiers who came to mine in the same area contracted respiratory disease. Even when the local commanders were informed about the dangers of these activities, there was an acceptable level of tolerance for death and disease

Local Congolese have been mining for years for their own benefit as artisanal miners. The novelty of their involvement lies in the fact that some of them were used as ‘convincible labour’ to mine gold, diamonds or coltan. In the Bondo locality within Equateur Province, young men from 12 to 18 years were recruited by Jean-Pierre Bemba. The Ugandan allies trained the recruits and shared with them the idea that the Ugandan army was an ‘army of development’ that aimed at improving ordinary people’s living conditions. After the one-hour morning physical training session, they were sent to gold mines to dig on behalf of the Ugandans and Bemba.

In Kalima, the RPA commander Ruto enrolled two teams of local Congolese to dig coltan; these Congolese worked under the heavy guard of Rwandan soldiers. In the Kilo-Moto mineral district, Ugandan local commanders and some of the soldiers who guarded the different entry points of the mining areas allowed and encouraged the local population to mine. The arrangement between the soldiers and the miners was that each miner would leave at the entry/exit point one gram of gold every day. On average 2,000 individuals mined this large concession six days a week. It was so well organised that the business ran smoothly. On average 2kg of gold were delivered daily to the person heading the network.

The other form of organised extraction by the occupying forces involved the import of manpower for mining. Occupying forces brought manpower from their own countries and provided the necessary security and logistics. In particular, Rwanda utilised prisoners to dig coltan in exchange for a sentence reduction and limited cash to buy food. There were 1,500 Rwandan prisoners in the Numbi area of Kalehe alone. These prisoners were seen mining coltan while guarded by RPA soldiers.

The illegal exploitation of natural resources went beyond mineral and agricultural resources. It occurred in respect of financial transactions, taxes and the use of cheap labour. Local banks and insurance companies operating in Goma, Bukavu, Kisangani, Bunia and Gbadolite dealt directly with Kigali or Kampala. A system of tax collection – enforced in some cases – was implemented by MLC, RCD-ML and RCD Goma with their established Ugandan and Rwandan counterparts. In the rebels’ own words, these taxes were aimed at ‘financing or supporting the war effort’.

Indeed, part of the funds collected was sent to Kigali (in the case of RCD-Goma). In the case of the former RCD-ML and MLC, not only was part of the taxes sent to Kampala but also individual colonels would claim direct payment from RCD-ML. In Bunia and Bukavu, people protested, demonstrated and denounced this practice of abuse. In areas controlled by Bemba, peasants carrying palm oil on bicycles had to pay taxes on the bicycles. In the mining sector, direct extraction was carried out in three ways, namely (a) by individual soldiers for their own benefit; (b) by locals organised by Rwandan and Ugandan commanders; and (c) by foreign nationals for the army or commanders’ benefit.

This was the pattern of exploitation of the DRC and its human and mineral wealth even when peace agreements, like the Lusaka Accords which supposedly ended the war, were signed. Instead of warring armies Eastern Congo became controlled by warlords and militia groups whose exploitation took the form of pillage, rape and murder. Most of these groups have affinities with either the Rwandan or Ugandan governments which handle the physical trade in the wealth which is exported. The Rwandans have been backing ‘rebel’ military warlords like Laurent Nkunda or Bosco Ntanganda. These provide the fig leaf for Rwanda’s continuing rape of the Congo. Others do the same for Uganda. They operate with impunity. The people most responsible for the continuing atrocities are protected. These include Yoweri Museveni, Salim Saleh, Paul Kagame, James Kazini, Moses Ali, James Kabarebe, Taban Amin, Jean-Pierre Bemba, Laurent Nkunda, Bosco Ntanganda, Meles Zenawi and a long list of people whose culpability is without question; many of whom have been named for atrocities again and again. Bemba was finally brought to the ICC to stand trial. This was more to do with his political opposition to Kabila Junior and the Central African Republic than his depredations in the Eastern Congo.

Theoretically, the United Nations has teams of peacekeepers in the DRC as MONUC (United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo); since 1 July 2010, MONUC was renamed the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). The track record of MONUC is not impressive. In the words of a Zimbabwean general: ‘They are like tits on a bull. They are there but serve no useful purpose!’ Two of the inbuilt reasons for their lack of success was (1) relying at the beginning on the French military who encamped at Ituri and refused to leave the city because the rebels killed two French officers on the first outing; and (2) relying on Rwandan troops to co-ordinate the fight against the rebels they are covertly supporting in the name of MONUSCO. This scheme offers limited optimism for the Congolese. In fact many peacekeepers of the MONUC were engaged in rape, murder and pillage for their own account. Some have been prosecuted and sent home. Their presence in the DRC adds to the fears of the population.

As this conflict is continuing, the world has turned its attention to another battle nearby; the fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA is a Ugandan organisation with a bloody history. The Ugandan reaction to the LRA has been equally brutal. In September 1996 the government of Uganda put in place a policy of forced displacement of the Acholi in the Gulu district into displacement camps. Since 1996 this policy has expanded to encompass the entire rural Acholi population of four districts – one million people. These displacement camps have some of the highest mortality rates in the world with an estimated 1,000 people dying per week. The LRA has derived most of its support from the displaced and dominated Acholi people who have been driven from their homes and whose families remain in displacement camps.

Joseph Kony (born 1961) is the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) He has declared that the LRA will conduct a political, military and spiritual campaign to establish theocratic government based on the Ten Commandments in Uganda. The LRA say that God sent spirits to communicate this mission directly to Kony. The LRA has earned a reputation for its untrammelled violence against the people of several countries, including northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan. The LRA has abducted and forced an estimated 66,000 children to fight for them, and has also forced the internal displacement of over 2 million people since its rebellion began in 1986. There were many international attempts at peace and an end to the abduction of children by the LRA between 1996 and 2001. All of them failed to end the abductions, rape, child soldiers, and civilian casualties including attacks on refugee camps. After the September 11th attacks, the United States declared the Lord’s Resistance Army a terrorist group and Joseph Kony a terrorist.

Following the breakdown of peace talks in late 2008, the National Security Council authorised AFRICOM to support a military operation (one of the first publicly-acknowledged AFRICOM operations) against the LRA, which was believed to be in the Congo at the time. AFRICOM provided training and US$1 million in financial support for ‘Operation Lightning Thunder’ – a joint endeavour of the Ugandan, Congolese and South Sudan forces in Congolese territory launched in December 2008 to ‘eliminate the threat posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)’. According to the United Nations, the offensive ‘never consulted with partners on the ground on the requirements of civilian protection. Stretching over a three-month period, it failed in its mission and the LRA scattered and retaliated against the Congolese population; over 1,000 people were killed and up to 200,000 displaced.

This battle against the LRA has to be seen as a continuation of the battles in Eastern Congo. In October 2011, US President Obama authorised the deployment of approximately 100 combat-equipped U.S. troops to central Africa. They will help regional forces ‘remove from the battlefield’ Joseph Kony and senior LRA leaders. ‘Although the U.S. forces are combat-equipped, they will only be providing information, advice, and assistance to partner nation forces, and they will not themselves engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defence’, Obama said in a letter to Congress.

There is no doubt that the LRA is a vicious, sociopathic organisation which engages in brutal behaviour. However, the people who are leading the fight against the LRA (Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame) have committed and continue to commit equally outrageous crimes and attacks of a similar nature, especially among the displaced wanderers of the Eastern Congo, but are feted and rewarded by the US Government for their willingness to provide mercenaries for the US ‘War on Terror’ and the protection of the newly emerging oil industry in their countries and region. Unfortunately, the area in which the LRA conduct their atrocities is exactly where major new finds of oil have been discovered.

Underpinning the Western interest in the region is the discovery of oil in Kenya, Uganda and along the shores of Lake Albert. The war between Sudan and South Sudan has made it imperative to find a route for the oil to reach the ports of the Indian Ocean as the Sudan pipeline is closed to them. The routes out all go through the territory of the rump of the remaining LRA (there are less than 600 fighters left). This struggle against the LRA has allowed the US to continue its policy of building African mercenary armies to fight its battles against ‘Global Terror’ in the Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Kenya. It supplies weapons, instructors and communication facilities to the Ugandan and Rwandan armies to combat the LRA and to fight against the US’ enemies in Somalia. Unfortunately this has also empowered the Ugandans and Rwandans in the rape of the Eastern Congo in the name of fighting the LRA.

In 2009 Heritage Oil discovered oil in Uganda. There have also been sizeable finds in Kenya. In May 2012 Kenya announced its second profitable oil discovery in two months; and large oil deposits in the remote northern Turkana region. Kenya has become the latest African country to join the great African oil boom, following recent discoveries in Uganda and the DRC. Even Rwanda and Burundi will benefit from this oil as part of the East African Community (EAC). The EAC can count on a better energy future with the discovery of oil in Kenya, in addition to the substantial reserves in Uganda and the gas discovered in Tanzania. There are also explorations in the Lake Kivu Graven in Rwanda. South Sudan, with its large oil reserves, has applied for membership of EAC. There are large oil and gas fields in Somalia. Africa is the main continent in the world with frequent and substantial new findings of oil and gas. A joint report by the African Development Bank, African Union and the African Development Fund observed that oil reserves in Africa grew by over 25 per cent, while gas has grown by over 100 per cent since the late 1980s.

This ‘new horizon’ of African oil and gas has started to attract the big fish of the international oil industry, Chevron, Shell, Exxon, Total and the Chinese oil giants. This extraction process and the refineries which will accompany the flows will require vast sums of cash up front; money the Africans don’t have. There is a symbiosis involved in the activities of ‘Big Oil’ and Africa. Big Oil has the money, Africa has the untapped oil and gas and, most importantly, the military to protect the prospective investments. The US does not have the public support for the sending of combat troops to East and Central Africa. It does have the equipment, cash and trainers to create surrogate forces in the area. In this, having a common enemy, like the LRA, is a convenient hook on which to hang a commercial policy. The LRA doesn’t have to be strong; it just has to be considered vicious and beyond the pale. It matches those criteria. The US interests and the Ugandan and Rwandan military ambitions overlap and the two armies are being paid vast sums to act as US surrogates. Museveni and Kagame are feted by the West as valuable allies, despite their activities in the DRC.

This policy is likely to continue the unrestrained pillage of the Eastern Congo and the continued misery, poverty, fear and violence of and to the Congolese people. The Congolese echo the question posed originally by the Tribune of the People, Tiberius Gracchus, ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’ (‘Who is going to protect us from our protectors?’).

* Dr. Gary K. Busch is an international trade unionist, an academic, a businessman and a political affairs and business consultant.

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How West Africa Helped Win World War II
June 8, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Kwei Quartey*

In June 1940, when France fell to the German invasion, Italy seized the moment to attack British positions in Egypt, Kenya, and Sudan. By the end of March 1941, German Major-General Erwin Rommel’s mechanized troops had driven the British out of Libya and back into Egypt. In late spring, German and Italian aircraft were pummeling Britain’s sea stations in the Mediterranean, making it difficult if not impossible for supply ships to reach British forces in the Middle East. The remaining sea route by which to deliver supplies to Egypt was via Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, but that was a protracted journey of three to four months, a luxury of time that Britain simply did not have.

In desperation, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his military advisers turned to an underdeveloped, 3,700-mile air route from Takoradi in the British colony of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) to Cairo, Egypt.

Takoradi’s Major Role

As the starting point of the Allied trans-African supply line to Egypt that became officially known as the West African Reinforcement Route (WARR), Takoradi became one of the most important bases for Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF). On September 5, 1940, the first shipment of a dozen Hurricane and Blenheim aircraft fighters in large wooden crates arrived at Takoradi by boat from the United Kingdom, and like many more consignments to come, they were unpacked and then assembled locally to be made airworthy for the flight to Cairo. The six-day journey was undertaken in stages with several rest and refueling stops that included Lagos, Nigeria; Khartoum, Sudan; and Luxor, Egypt. Nelson Gilboe, a Hurricane pilot, describes the Takoradi assembly plant as cut out of the dense forest with monkeys playing in nearby trees. (Simian residents of modern-day Takoradi still frolic in the trees of the Monkey Hill sanctuary.)

The first delivery flight to Cairo left Takoradi on September 20, 1940. Like the flights that were to follow, it was a journey plagued by problems. In the Sahara Desert portion of the route, sand took a severe toll on the aircraft engines. There was no map of the route, and many pilots used ominously burned-out aircraft on the ground as their guide.

In spite of these challenges, between August 1940 and June 1943, over 4,500 British Blenheims, Hurricanes, and Spitfires were assembled at Takoradi and ferried to the Middle East. Between January 1942 and the end of the operation in October 1944, 2,200 Baltimores, Dakotas, and Hudsons arrived from the United States (via the American base at Natal, Brazil, and a mid-Atlantic stop on Ascension Island), and virtually all of them were ferried in similar fashion. There were other final destinations via the Takoradi Route, including India.

Empire and Commonwealth

The term “Allies” is invariably used to refer to the wartime partnership between Britain and the United States, but it was the British Empire that was plunged into war from the very beginning in September 1939, a good two years before the United States took on a combatant role. In her book The British Empire and the Second World War, Ashley Jackson points out that notwithstanding the Eurocentric manner in which World War II is often remembered, the British and many ordinary people around the world viewed the war as an imperial struggle. The idealized image of Britain standing alone after the fall of France is a parochial and inaccurate one. Over a span of centuries, Britain’s imperialism had created an empire comprising dominions, colonies, and protectorates. Whom and where the British fought was largely determined by its empire. After all, there would hardly have been anything for Italy or Japan to quarrel about had it not been for two centuries of British overseas expansion right under their noses.

Churchill and many British government ministers at the time had had direct experience with the Empire and its people, and it was inevitable that the crafting of the war involved the marshaling of Empire and Commonwealth forces. African kings like the Asantehene of the Gold Coast became indispensable resources in this effort because they were able to mobilize their subjects for all manner of projects, whether it was to join the imperial army, help assemble Hurricanes, or construct airfields, harbors, and roads. In the first few years of the war, the RAF recruited 10,000 West Africans for ground duties in the British West Africa colonies of the Gold Coast, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and the Gambia. To be sure, British personnel, who were succumbing to West Africa’s punishing heat and enervating malarial attacks, needed support from an acclimatized populace in a region of the world sometimes called the “White Man’s Grave.”

Beyond that, West African soldiers went to the battlefront itself. The 4th Gold Coast Infantry Brigade, which later became the 2nd West African Infantry Brigade, contributed 65,000 men to the 1944 Battle of Myohaung, which drove the Japanese out of Burma. Today, in testament to that history, the military section of Accra, Ghana’s capital, is called Burma Camp, and there is a Myohaung Barracks at Takoradi.

Resources and Location

The war brought about a greater demand for Africa’s raw materials. With the loss of Southeast Asia’s rubber to the Japanese, Nigeria became one of Britain’s most important sources of rubber. The Gold Coast’s bauxite, the raw material for aluminum, was critical to British aircraft production. It would be misleading to say, however, that these contributions were all made under blissful conditions. Britain’s ultimately failed attempts to increase tin mining in Nigeria involved forced labor under appalling conditions.

Apart from having the Takoradi air force base on its shores and the headquarters of the West Africa Command at Achimota College, which supplied the 200,000 total military men from the four West African British colonies, the Gold Coast was of strategic importance for another reason: it was bordered on all sides by potentially hostile French colonies that were under the Vichy Government. If the Gold Coast had fallen to the enemy, the West African Reinforcement Route would have come to an end.

The lesson is that the Second World War’s Eurocentric history must be widened to give sub-Saharan Africans and many other world peoples their due. In September 1940, clearly recognizing the critical importance of defending the skies over the Mediterranean, Winston Churchill observed, “The Navy can lose us the war, but only the Air Force can win it.” The contributions and cooperation of Africans along the Takoradi Route made the fulfillment of that principle possible and the defeat of the Axis forces a reality.

*The Author is a Columnist with Foreign Policy In Focus

 

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Nigeria celebrates first home-made warship
June 8, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Will Ross *

After nearly five years in the making, the Nigerian navy ship or NNS Andoni was launched with a colourful event.

At 31m (100ft) long, this is no giant of the seas, but the fact that it was designed and built in Nigeria, by Nigerian engineers, is a great source of pride.

"Proudly Nigerian" does not just apply to the people of this vast land - the West African giant is now building its own warships.

"Proudly Nigerian" does not just apply to the people of this vast land - the West African giant is now building its own warships.

“We are all happy and elated,” said Commodore SI Alade, one of Nigeria’s senior naval officers.

“This is the first time this kind of thing is happening in Nigeria and even in the sub region.”

Moments after stepping on board NNS Andoni, sailor FL Badmus said: “I feel on top of the world.

“I’m proud to have been picked by the naval authorities to serve on this ship.

“We hope this is the beginning of very good things to come and we thank God for it.”

The warship was named after the Andoni people of south-eastern Nigeria – and several chiefs travelled to Lagos to witness the launch – including his Royal Highness NL Ayuwu Iraron Ede-Obolo II, wearing a top hat, a sequin-adorned velvet gown and a brightly coloured necklace.

The ceremony also featured multi-faith prayers, with an imam asking God to “protect and preserve this ship from the dangers of the day and the violence of the enemy”, and a Christian praying: “May she sail with success like the Ark of Noah.”

The event had an interesting twist of symbolism for the guest of honour, Nigeria’s leader, Goodluck Jonathan.

He is from a family of canoe makers – and that he is now the president launching a warship is a sign of how far he has risen.

“This is the beginning of the transformation… and I believe in another 10 to 15 years, we can be thinking about starting a project to take Nigerians into the air,” President Jonathan said.

The NNS Andoni could be key in the fight against militants operating near Nigeria’s oil fields as well as the growing threat of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

Piracy in Nigerian waters is on the increase and incidents are happening over a wider area, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

There were 10 piracy attacks off the 780km (485 miles) of Nigeria’s coastline during the first quarter this year – the same number reported for the whole of 2011.

“While the number of reported incidents in Nigeria is still less than Somalia… the level of violence against crew is dangerously high,” according to a recent IMB report.

With a speed of up to 25 knots (46km/h), this can quickly go to intercept the pirates ” Commanding Officer Adepegba

With a speed of up to 25 knots (46km/h), this can quickly go to intercept the pirates ” Commanding Officer Adepegba

The NNS Andoni is equipped with an advanced radar system and firepower.

“With a speed of up to 25 knots (46km/h), this can quickly go to intercept the pirates,” said Commanding Officer Adepegba standing on the bridge pointing out the ship’s three machine guns and the automatic grenade launcher.

Foreign orders

The Nigerian navy reportedly wants to acquire 49 more vessels over the next 10 years. But how many will be home built?

Orders are already in – for three from a French shipbuilder, and six from Singapore.

President Jonathan recently approved the acquisition of two large patrol vessels from China Shipbuilding and Offshore International, a mainly state-owned company.

In an effort to boost local industry, one of the Chinese vessels is meant to be 70% built in Nigeria.

NNS Andoni was dwarfed when a 105m-long frigate steamed past during the ceremony – with all the officers cheering on deck.

NNS Thunder, a veteran of the Vietnam War, arrived at the beginning of the year, a gift from the US.

Eyebrows were raised when it was announced that the monthly fuel bill of the 45-year-old ship would be $1m (£650,000).

When this year’s navy’s $450m budget was discussed at the House of Assembly in January, one senator described the donated ships as hand-outs that could become liabilities rather than assets.

There were also calls for corruption to be plugged.

“Corruption has sucked the blood out of our system. So we have to depend on hand-outs,” one senator lamented.

NSS Andoni’s fuel bill will certainly be lower than NNS Thunder.

‘No indigenous touch’

After parading on the deck, the naval officers took photos of each other with mobile phones – clearly delighted with the new ship.

Named after the Andoni, their chiefs were some of the guests of honour at the ship's launch

Named after the Andoni, their chiefs were some of the guests of honour at the ship's launch

“It’s a great day. It’s taken over five years but it’s worth it,” said a smiling Kelechi, one of the engineers.

“We came up with the design, the expertise and about 60% of the materials were locally sourced. The engines, generators and navigation equipment came from outside.”

Nigeria is one of Africa’s biggest oil producers, but this has not so much helped as hampered the development of local industries because the country has relied so heavily on imported goods. As he launched NNS Andoni, President Jonathan lamented the decline of industries that had been strong not long after independence in 1960.

“We had Nigerian Airways, the Nigerian shipping line and a number of investments that were doing well. But because there was no indigenous touch, all these died,” the president said.

“We are told that some countries that were on par with us are now building aircraft, choppers and other things,” he said, adding that Nigeria had for a long time not embraced technology.

The president suggested sending the brightest students of engineering to the best universities in the world.

“Then let them come back and work in Nigeria because we cannot continue to be importing. We have a very large market and even what we consume alone is enough to support an industry.”

“We have this market, we must use it,” President Jonathan said – before laying the keel to mark the start of work on the second “Made in Nigeria” warship.

*Courtesy of BBC Africa

 

 

 

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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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Francophone Africa: When defense Agreement means trade monopoly
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Mamadou Koulibaly*

On January 25th, the Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara made a state visit to France. During this extraordinarily lavish and publicized visit, a new defense agreement was signed by the Ivorian President and his French counterpart, replacing that of 1961. What do we know about this agreement?

The media have relayed some statements about this signing and it is essentially the transparency of this new agreement that is put forward. It is said that it does not include any secret clause. Apparently, France will take responsibility for the training of the new Ivorian army and 300 French soldiers will permanently be based in Abidjan, to serve as a strategic point for the fight against Al-Qaida.

Notwithstanding these brief statements, one can only wonder about the real transparency of these agreements which content is delivered with such restraint. If they are so transparent, why weren’t these agreements published in full? How could Alassane Ouattara sign a treaty that commits the Ivorian people, without even informing them of its content? Same applies to the French President, knowing that French intervention in Côte d’Ivoire is financed by the French taxpayers.

To sweep aside these objections, the Ivorian President says he will submit the text to the Ivorian Parliament. However, one thing is obvious: the Ivorian authorities do not seem eager to see the newly elected National Assembly start with its activities. In any case, the treaty is already signed and it is too late to modify its content. This is indeed a text imposed on the Ivorians by their president.

From what we know, some points are already questionable. In fact, one wonders whether it is wise to entrust the training of the Ivorian army to the former colonial power, which is already very present in the country and its largest trading partner. From the little information made public, it appears that France will become Côte d’Ivoire’s main supplier of military equipments. Are these purchases, in contradiction with the rules of the market, in favor of the Ivorian taxpayer who will have to settle the final invoice? It is shocking to see this type of protected monopolies being added to the long list of privileges already awarded by the Ivorian President to his friends and acquaintances.

Going further, Alassane Ouattara made the following statement in the daily newspaper “Le Monde” on January 26, 2012: “It is important that we have a stronger cooperation in terms of equipments and training, but also in terms of intelligence and fight against terrorism”. Is Abidjan really a strategic point for the fight against terrorism? As we all know, Al-Qaida networks are mainly grouped in the Sahel; therefore, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso would obviously be far more suitable locations.

By experience, we know that the 1961 defense agreements were actually trade agreements, and this is what raises worries and concerns. The proof that the military aspect only represented a façade for the commercial side was made in 2002, when Cote d’Ivoire was the victim of an assault and France refused to apply the agreements. Indeed, had France been compliant with the signed agreement, it would have helped the Ivorian army to repel the rebels, instead of protecting them for nine years. Yet, the French authorities had engaged themselves since 1961 to militarily defend the Ivorian regimes in place, in return for a privileged access to their natural resources.

This preferential access to the natural resources reserved for France is relatively unknown and this may be considered a chance for Côte d’Ivoire, then if a Briton, an American, a Canadian, an Australian, a Chinese, an Indians, a Brasilian and any other were aware of these clauses, they would never invest in a country where the exploitation and trading of raw materials are controlled by the French authorities. To really measure this, it is important to read a portion of the Appendix 2 of this agreement: 

Appendix 2 of the Defense Agreement between the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, the Republic of Dahomey, the French Republic and the Republic of Niger regarding the cooperation in the field of strategic raw material and products.

French President Sarkozy with African Leaders

French President Sarkozy with African Leaders

To ensure the protection of their mutual interest on the subject of Defense, the parties agree to cooperate in the area of Defense materials under the conditions defined below:

 

Article 1: Raw materials and products classified as strategic include:

–          First category: liquid or gaseous hydrocarbons;

–          Second category: uranium, thorium, lithium, beryllium, its compounds and minerals

 

This list may be modified by mutual agreement, depending on the circumstances.

Article 2: The French Republic regularly informs the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, the Republic of Dahomey and the Republic of Niger of the policy it intends to follow with regards to strategic raw materials and products, given the general Defense needs, the evolution of the resources and the world market situation.

Article 3: The Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, the Republic of Dahomey and the Republic of Niger inform the French Republic of the policy they intend to follow, with respect to the raw materials and strategic products, as well as the measures they intend to deploy for the implementation of this policy.

Article 4: The Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, the Republic of Dahomey and the Republic of Niger facilitate, to the benefit of the French military forces, the storage of raw materials and strategic products. Whenever the interest of the Defense requires, they restrict or prohibit their exports to other countries.

Article 5: The French Republic is kept informed of programs and projects to export raw materials and strategic products of the second category listed in Article 1 outside of the territories of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, the Republic of Dahomey and the Republic of Niger. With respect to such materials and products, the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, the Republic of Dahomey and the Republic of Niger, for purposes of defense, reserve a prior sale to the French Republic after meeting the needs of their domestic consumption, and purchase from her as a priority.

Article 6: The Governments shall, on any issues related to the appendix, make all necessary consultations.

Issued in Paris, on April 24, 1961

Félix HOUPHOUET-BOIGNY                                                                     Hubert MAGA

Michel DEBRE                                                                                                                  Hamani DIORI

In this context, it is understandable that any new agreement requires a thorough analysis both from the Ivorians and the investors – other than the French – settled in the country or wishing to move there. Thus, we urge the Ivorian civil society and the foreign investors to put pressure on the authorities in order to get, as soon as possible, full knowledge of the content of this new agreement signed in Paris early 2012.

* Mamadou Koulibaly is a Former Speaker of the Ivory Coast Parliament and now serves as President of the opposition party LIDER – Liberté et Démocratie pour la République and President of Audace Institut Afrique 

 

 

 

 

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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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-Nigerians Are United Against Terrorism
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments

-Country Can do without politicians in Military Uniform

– Ayodele Akinkuotu Executive Editor Tell Magazine on developments in Nigeria

By Ajong Mbapndah L

Attacks from Boko Haram, elections, the deregulation crisis with strikes which almost grounded the country et al, Nigeria has continued to make headline news. As the Boko Haram continues to run riot in the country, politicians have spent time trading blames. President Goodluck Jonathan who came in with a lot of promise has been under criticism from the break down in security that almost made the country helpless in the face of the Boko Haram. Nigerians are however united against terrorism says Ayodele Akinkuotu Executive Editor of the authoritative Tell Magazine. Approached by PAV in a bid to get an unbiased assessment of the situation in Nigeria, Ayodele says the ease with which the Boko Haram unleashes its mindless attacks has created palpable fear in Nigerians. It may take a while for the Nation to overcome the nightmare but Nigerians are united on the fact that terrorism will do the nation no good. A highly respected voice in African media circles, Ayodele answered questions from PAV’s Ajong Mbapndah L on the Boko Haram, the deregulation crisis, corruption, concerns on whether Nigeria will survive as one Nation and more.

PAV: A United Nations Office was bombed last year, On Christmas day a Christian facility, many public offices have been targeted and many innocent lives lost, as a result of the Boko Haram which has continued with its attacks unabated and even ordered Christians in the North to move back to the South and Muslims in the South to move back to the North, is Nigeria under siege from this sect?

Ayodele Akinkuotu:There is no doubt that with the mayhem they have unleashed in the last several months, the nation is certainly under siege from the Boko Haram. Their mindless atrocities have created so much palpable fear, especially with the seeming ease with which they strike at their targets. While the nation was caught unawares, the good news, however, is that the security agencies are beginning to counter them through intelligence gathering. It is true some Christians who are southerners are relocating, even if temporarily; but where will Christians who are northerners relocate to?

Nigerians in protest

Nigerians in protest

There is no doubt the militant sect wants to plunge Nigeria into a religious crisis. But many patriotic Nigerians have realised their unwholesome intention, and are not about granting them their wish. It may take a while before the nation overcomes this nightmare, but millions of Nigerians are united on one fact that terrorism will not do the nation any good.

PAV: Religion is a sensitive nerve on the politics of Nigeria, when this Muslim sect targets Christians and Christian facilities, how does the broader Muslim population in Nigeria distinctly distance itself from the Boko Haram and its activities?

Ayodele Akinkuotu: The broader Muslim population has condemned without reservation the mindless activities of Boko Haram. Members of the group are mere impostors hiding under the guise of religion to perpetrate evil. Islam abhors violence. Anybody who says anything to the contrary simply does not know the religion and such a person cannot be a Muslim, no matter his claim to being one. And that includes the Boko Haram

PAV: What is the reaction of Nigerians on the way the Government of President Jonathan has handled the crisis thus far?

Ayodele Akinkuotu:Well, the reactions have been mixed. Many people think President Goodluck Jonathan has not come down heavily on the sect. Others believe, however, that he is trying considering the constraints there are. Do not forget that this is a guerrilla war unleashed on the cities by a faceless group. What the Jonathan administration needs most is cooperation of the citizenry, especially those living in the North of Nigeria, where the Boko Haram is based.

Ayodele assesses Nigeria with the kind of objectivity missing in politicians

Ayodele assesses Nigeria with the kind of objectivity missing in politicians

Furthermore, the crisis has confirmed one thing many Nigerians have been calling for quite some time, an overhauling of the nation’s security agencies. And that should include community policing, which will ensure that criminals can be easily identified.

PAV: In previous administrations, little was heard about the Boko Haram, is the surge in their activities a as a result of Christian Southerners at the helm of the country?

Ayodele Akinkuotu: From the little we know so far, the Boko Haram did not just spring up overnight. This is a group that has been recruiting members quietly over the years. Many of their members had been arrested in the past under previous administrations only for them to be released for “no want of evidence”. And because the security agencies were not only careless, there was no synergy between them that would have created the necessary platform to interpret properly the” monster” that was growing right under their nose. The issue is beyond just a Christian being at the helm of the country’s affairs; the Boko Haram first came into national consciousness in the administration of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who was a Muslim from the north. We have been told Boko Haram has links with Al Qaeda Maghreb and even the Taliban. The countries where the latter groups originate are basically Islamic. And we have witnessed Muslim-on- Muslim violence in those places.

PAV: The USA, and the other members of the International Community have expressed interest in helping Nigeria to fight the sect, does Nigeria need international help?

Ayodele Akinkuotu: Nigeria surely needs all the support it can get from the international community. However, such assistance should be limited to sharing information with security agencies on how to combat terrorism. The United States has been fighting terrorism for years both within and outside its shores. Nigerian security agencies will benefit greatly from counter-insurgency trainings. A physical deployment of foreign troops to Nigeria for the purpose of combating the Boko Haram menace may be counter- productive. I think the nation has enough security outfits and personnel who if well equipped can stop the terrorists in their tracks.

PAV: Nigerians were in the streets expressing anger over deregulation, may we understand what deregulation is all about and who has a stronger case the government which made the decision or the people who are against it?

Ayodele Akinkuotu: This deregulation of the downstream sector has been going on for years. To the common man on the street, deregulation means removal of fuel subsidy. The issue of subsidy arose because we import refined petroleum products for local consumption, an irony for a nation, which is the sixth oil producer in the world. Therefore Nigerians could not understand why our own refineries would not work; why we import fuel from other places thus creating employment in those countries while millions of Nigerians are unemployed. The deregulation was in public discourse for several weeks and Nigerians wanted to be educated properly by government on why they have to pay more for premium motor spirit. That debate was still in progress when the government announced the removal. Many thought the government was deceitful and uncaring by deciding to inflict more pain on hapless Nigerians on the first day of a new year.

PAV: Corruption has been known to be rife in the country, are there any signs that the government is making progress in fighting it?

Ayodele Akinkuotu:There are two agencies charged with fighting the war against corruption. It will be uncharitable to say they have not done well. There are still so many constraints blocking the war. There is a Code of Ethics for public officers in Nigeria. The Code is being observed in the breach. The failure to follow due process in the execution of public contracts prepares a fertile soil for corruption to thrive in. The private sector is not left out too, as recent probes of the banking sector and even the on-going probe of the petroleum sector have shown.

There has been little for President Jonathan to smile about since he got to office

There has been little for President Jonathan to smile about since he got to office

Many of our leaders in both the public and private sectors are not transparent and accountable in their handling of their responsibilities. The nation will turn the bend for good in the anti-corruption war the day a leader who is determined and has the political will emerges. It is such a leader who can deal with all the sacred cows who are stealing the nation blind, thus mortgaging the future for generations yet unborn.

PAV: In all fairness and for the same of some objectivity and honesty though is there anything the Jonathan administration has done that deserves credit, just anything no matter how small?

Ayodele Akinkuotu: Except for his deployment of troops to the streets of Lagos and some other cities in January to frighten anti-fuel subsidy protesters off the streets, Jonathan has tried in the area of rule of law.

PAV: Are the crises that Nigeria is facing today not an invitation for the military to start nursing political ambitions again?

Ayodele Akinkuotu: The military laid the foundation of these crises during their 30-year rule. If any group of soldiers becomes adventurous and tries to stage a putsch, it will be a serious error of judgment. I

think the nation can surely do without politicians in military uniform. This democracy should be seen as work in progress. Therefore it should be allowed to grow and get a taproot so that it can thrive.

PAV: Last question Sir, is Nigeria capable of remaining one, strong and united and what will it take?

Ayodele Akinkuotu: Millions of Nigerians do not entertain any doubt that their country can remain as a strong, indivisible and united nation. Although we are just 51 years old as an independent country, the journey to nationhood began nearly 100 years ago. The 250-odd ethic groups have become so interdependent that it would be chaotic if we now declare “to your tents oh Israel”! Considering the position of Nigeria as the largest black nation on earth, a balkanized Nigeria will not only create turmoil in the sub-region, but the ugly ripples will be felt all over Africa. To avoid such a development is why many eminent Nigerians across the ethnic divide have been calling for a national conference. That call is against the backdrop that the 1999 Constitution is not “a people’s constitution”. They believe that constitution was fashioned by a cabal in the military for a hidden agenda. Thus at the moment the country which is supposed to be a federation is being run like a unitary government. A national conference in which all the ethnic groups are represented will discuss the fundamentals of our co-existence as a nation. There are many who are opposed to this conference in the belief that it may pave the way for disintegration. They are being told, however, that to continue to postpone this national dialogue by shying away from it is to perpetually bind us to discord.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Safety net for Women In Sierra Leone
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments

-Kono Business makes female Tailors Economically Sustainable.

By Ajong Mbapndah L

It may have started small but it has succeeded in transforming lives of women in Sierra Leone. What Anni Lyngskaer started after discovering firsthand the sufferings of women in a country suffering from the hangover of a civil war has succeeded today in making many empowered. The venture called Kono Business helps the activities of female tailors to become economically sustainable. Anni of Danish origin has rallied other young volunteers from her country to assist her in turning Kono Business into a formidable organization with on the ground results that are there for all to see. In a chat with PAV, Anni sheds more light on the work of her Organization, challenges faced, her observation of developments in Sierra Leone and plans for the future.

PAV: May we know what Kono Business is all about and how did this idea come about?

Anni Lyngskaer: Kono Business is a not-for-profit social enterprise aiming to empower a group of female tailors to become economically sustainable and role models in the local community. This is done through trainings and two annual production cycles. The tailors produce scarves, bags and computer sleeves that we sell in two shops in Denmark and online on www.konobusiness.com.
Kono Business is run by 10 Danish volunteers and all profit generated from sales are re-invested in the project. For example, this year we supported the tailors in shining up the shop at the local facility in Sierra Leone to help them gain more local customers. The tailors paid half of the expenses from their shared savings and Kono Business paid the other half from the profit.

We are approved by Fair Trade Denmark, which means we live up to the international standards of fair trade. Co-founder Anni Lyngskaer traveled to Sierra Leone for the first time in January 2008. She went to write a story about girl soldiers for the Danish news paper “Kristeligt Dagblad.”She met a lot of interesting and inspiring people on that trip, and one of them was Arthur Kargbo, who is the Project Manager of the local CBO that Kono Business & Development works with today.

After Anni got back to Denmark she fundraised around 3.500 us dollars to the local CBO. All the money was spent on equipment for the vocational training school the CBO is running.However, this wasn’t enough for Anni, she wanted to do more and one day she had a conversation with founder of Café Retro, Rie Skårhøj.The two young women realized that they had similar ideas. After a little while they raised money to travel to Sierra Leone to start the project that today is Kono Business & Development. The journey took place in January 2009 and Rie and Anni met with the group of female tailors who are still working for Kono Business today.

 

PAV: What made you settle on the choice of Sierra Leone and what concrete impact would you say Kono business has had on the life of Sierra Leoneans?

Anni Lyngskaer: We work with a rather small group of tailors (14), but we believe in quality and believe even a small effort can create a huge impact. We are empowering the tailors to participate in the community by talking about female issues and take part in discussions. During each production cycle we run a training as well. This past fall we carried out a video workshop encouraging the women to tell their own story through filming. They were able to create their own short documentaries and presented the results at a local film screening in Koidu town. One of the women said “I’m very happy and have realized that women are also valuable in society.” (Hawa Gborie)

PAV: How is the selection done for people that you work with?

Anni Lyngskaer: The selection of tailors was made of our local partner organization who knows the tailors from the school they are running. The tailors now select their own new sisters in the co-op. However, for the moment we have a limit of 15 women. But we hope to be able to expand in the future.

PAV: What are some of the challenges that Kono Business has faced so far?

Anni Lyngskaer: The fact that we are actually running a business. It’s A LOT of work to maintain the sales and marketing activities in Denmark. In the beginning non of us had any business background, but recently we got some new volunteers educated from Copenhagen Business School, which is really necessary.

PAV: Any prospects that the initiative may be expanded to other African countries or you intend to limit it solely to Sierra Leone?

Anni Lyngskaer: Well, we would love to. We would also love to share our experiences, so others can do similar start ups.

PAV: We noticed that you have succeeded in building a dynamic team of young volunteers, what exactly drives them towards Kono Business?

Anni Lyngskaer: That’s a very good question. We are part of a bigger organization specialized in running projects on a voluntarily basis, so we use quite a lot of energy to work on management of volunteers. Our volunteers have different motivation. Some of them do it because they want practical relevant experience while studying. Most of them study African Studies or International Affairs.
Most of our “business volunteers” work full time besides volunteering for Kono, and they do it because they like the idea of sharing their experience and also doing something “good” for others. I think most of us believe that development aid should be changed and focused more on business initiatives and entrepreneurship instead of “just” capacity building or “democracy projects telling them how we like it.”
In Kono we believe that our tailors already have a lot of capacity and knowledge and teach them through storytelling and with a trust in their ability to change their own lives.An example of them taking initiative is that they recently hired a woman to continue to teach them reading and writing. They pay her from their shared savings account.

PAV: You probably have been to Sierra Leone a couple of times, it is a country try to shirk off the hangover of a brutal civil war, what assessment do you make of the situation there today and what potentials do you see for the country?

Anni Lyngskaer: We work in Koidu and unfortunately the signs of the civil war are still very present in the community. We experience a lot of fighter spirit and a drive to move forwards, but a lot of basic needs are still not present in Koidu. There is no power unless you have a generator, no running water, bad roads lack of doctors and qualified teachers. There is a huge potential for the government to cooperate with foreign mining companies about CSR and paying a fair amount of tax to Sierra Leone. As for now the companies make a huge profit the diamond mining industry, while the local people suffer.

We also see an abrupt family structure. Only one of our 14 tailors is married, but 9 of them have kids – most of them with different fathers.

 working with the women is such an honor says Anni

working with the women is such an honor says Anni

They tell us that the young men leave them as soon as they find out the woman are pregnant. Prostitution is a problem as well, and it seems to be the easiest way for young girls to make a bit of money and often the only way to survive. To me this is a very important issue that both NGOs and the government should address in the future. Our tailors always say they encourage their sisters to get off the street, learn a trade and make money that way instead of selling their body.

PAV: You come from a much more developed background and country, what do Danes think of your initiative and what image of Africa do they have?

Anni Lyngskaer: I think most of my friends and family appreciate what I do. Some times I host talks and show pictures and films from our work and that is usually very inspiring for people.
Most of them are curious and ask a lot of questions about Sierra Leone, Africa and of course Kono Business.

 

PAV: Any other big plans or projects that Kono Business intends to work on down the line?

Anni Lyngskaer: We are working on a new web shop because we experience problem with the current payment system. We hope to expand internationally and start selling in Scandinavia and by time in the rest of Europe and The States as well. We are always open for new ideas and partnerships so you’ll never what happens next. On a more personally level, I’m about to launch my next project called This is my Story, which is also a social enterprise focusing on participatory video workshops as community development.

PAV: Anni Lyngskaer, you are quite a formidable young Lady and PAV is grateful for the interview

Anni Lyngskaer: Thank you.

 

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Uganda: Eleven reasons why 2011 was not even.
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Songa Samuel-Stone Mwesigwa*

For a minute the hand seemed to take forever as it wound the last half of the big city wall clock. And at midnight, many people around me burst out into screeching sounds of joy with the massive displays of fireworks blinking in the sky above. 2011 had finally set in. But that same year now just five days to expiration had too much up its sleeve than many dreams could tell.

January literally swam its way away without too much dust raised save for the many effigies that choked every last space around the city of Kampala. Posters urging the public to vote for whoever they heralded became common story in that even if you entered a public restaurant rest room, you were likely to find a chubby face looking down at you!

This was the first pre-election season I had beheld and followed closely; from day one, the heat of change of government brewed too many fears with the recent occurrences in many other African states not helping quell the situation at all. February being the election month came to be known as the 30 days of ‘hopes’ as many were in the race to becoming part of the next political caste till 2016.

Among the hopefuls was the three time tried Kiiza Besigye leader of the opposition Forum for Democratic Party who once again had his name on the list of those in the presidential race with of course incumbent Yoweri Museveni. Theirs has been a race filled with heat, fire, more heat and fire. This time round the cliché statements flew; the yellow side insinuated a big margin win while the blue corner assured whoever cared that this time, ‘change was coming’.

As the polls opened on the morning of February 18th, a man whose over two decades of rule at stake voted, another whose three time trial to become president had become a cliché weak point assured Ugandans ‘this was the time’, and perhaps the other of the six in the race, a more youthful new face, Norbert Mao turned heads here and there. But well, the results trickled in and as had been hoped, the fact that the opposition split their vote by forwarding eight candidates to tussle one big Goliath, the point of too many numbers in a battle just did not work. Too many cooks spoilt the soup.

With 68% of the total votes cast in his favor, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was therefore announced victor by the same election commission stained with a ‘not competent’ banner. About that time, the Ouattara-Gbagbo drama was still fresh and thousands were continuing to die in Ivory Coast. When Kiiza Besigye who was the first runner-up announced he was not siding with the commission on the results, many had a beat skip. Worry.

Kampala where much of the heat originated and spread to the rest of the 33 million people rich country had mean looking men armed with warfare arsenal fill every spot just like the effigies and posters that seemed to rob the city of the beauty. Some people actually fled the country with the backdrop fear that this was about to get bloody. This time, the assured tone of the opposition and the seemingly endless criticism of the election body added more embers to the fire. But well, none of that pictured violence, bloodshed or massacre surfaced any way. Skirmishes here and there but as the electronic vote got underway, nothing unusual happened. Nothing like the anticipated. The incumbent won and was sworn in.

The weeks that followed however, seemed like walking through a jungle to the other side with not even the littlest wound only to get to the other side and lose a leg. Nothing could have prepared Uganda for the chaotic drama that followed. On April 11, days after the opposition had accepted the result (at least pretended), hordes of people flanked by opposition figures launched the walk-to-work campaign in protestation of the high costs of living. The political campaigns had seen a lot of money pumped into the economy and somehow inflation had veered off normal limit not to forget that the world was sinking at neck levels of economic meltdowns. So in the guise of what many people saw as retaliation for the electoral loss, the campaigns presented the government as the deaf party that acted the role of the unbothered sailor on a sinking cruiser. In just three days, the campaign had thousands of people willing to swallow a bullet and walk to work to illustrate the burden of living.

All they wanted was to walk. And all the security operatives said was, ‘NO WALKING.’ Initially it seemed as a whimsical joke as the opposition tried to raise a cloud of dust that never raged during the polling season. And yes, real dusty war began.

A small town known as Kasangati became the scene of daily gun battles, tear gas storms and bloody battle field. Each morning, the FDC leader Kizza Besigye (the main walker), left his home in the hilly vicinity to trek close to 5km towards the city center not like his cars were at the mechanic’s but well, as a sign of solidarity with those he termed as the ‘common Ugandans affected by the uncaring government.’ And each time he tried, an army of men armed with enough artillery to start a world war blocked him.

What started as a humble movement to draw the government from other ‘pertinent’ issues like buying purple diamond worth fighter jets while the price for a kilogram of sugar leaped to crazy price tags and a bar of soap became nine times more expensive, gained the stark dark image in no time.

15 people were left dead some caught up in the live exchange between irate crowds described as ‘unarmed’, others were victims of a tear gas canisters flying and exploding inside a hospital ward or on the stomach of a pregnant woman. Action for Change (A4C) the contingent behind the campaign comprising of a number of opposition figures filled the headlines with many people quickly finding the whole idea of walking to work meaningless now that it had turned bloody. The police stood their ground in the short run making walking an illegal thought or action. But even then, the walkers stood their gut saying they had a right to walk.

Each day they attempted, the events that ensued did little justice to the cause. Much as the world had an early New Year’s dose of violence on the streets of an African state plus all the criticism, the people who lived along roads where bullion trucks armed with itchy water parked with crowds of reinforcements who took no second thought to flog, kick and bundle the protesters were fed up.

What started as a national motive zeroed down to a figure. Kiiza Besigye became the lamb that was to carry the cross of brutality that above all else, looked futile from all angles. Eventually, one day as he attempted to walk to work, he had the worst encounter his life can probably record. In a rather inhumane style, a security operative attacked him like a wounded hound; used a 3.3 millimeter to break the window of his car, pulled him out, and sprayed what later turned out to be a concoction of chilly and acidic components in his face and finally bundled him on a police patrol car like a pauper who had nothing to lose.

Others were sent to prison with no charge other than ‘walking’, others nursed wounds while others mourned the losses of those they loved.

If ever change was going to come, the death of a loved one, the loss of a small business to a teargas attack or looters guised as protestors was definitely not the best path to fundamental change. The fact that the police never at any one point gave the protesters a benefit of the doubt to allow them to walk to wherever it was they worked and the fact that each day the protestors seemed to dare the anger of those with the trigger, walk to work became a chapter that closed with no results recorded. I never saw them at least. The dust storm had been raised but it was not strong enough to blind the ‘enemy’.

Strategies such hoot-to-work where car owners would at a designated time honk their ear drums dead and others ended up leaving the newly sworn in government with a bruised start. Even re-launching the campaign on a more national grassroots note later on helped little; this time the disillusioned knew better than parading themselves in the way of death.

As that bruised start healed with time, the scandals begun. Petitions filed against those accused of rigging flocked the courts, corruption scandals involving billions of dollars filled headlines and many times, there was no better explanation. Fighter jets purchased emptying national coffers, grave bribery and theft in the tourism sector and rotting roads plus monstrous inflation helped Uganda seem like a long pit full of pain. The year dragged on with many people more determined to just toil their heads off to survive because politics was just no answer to their grievances.

Power became rarer and soon the electricity body even started issuing load shedding timetables; fuel prices commanded everything too expensive for the common man while an over 300-man parliament was sworn in. The 9th parliament bore the brunt of the public’s ‘I-don’t-care’ attitude. The headlines of money lost in shoddy deals ceased to shock anyone for it was too normal to hear the word ‘billions’ in the same line with ‘Ghost Company’.

Just when the first year of the new political calendar was about to go down as the bloodiest most boring ever, OIL sprouted like a cyborg returned to haunt. No doubt the corruption and bribery allegations that have rocked the yet to flourish oil sector have overshadowed any scandal be it the jailing of the former vice president or the resignation of the former female minister of presidency over stealing a national broadcaster mast.

Three cabinet ministers including the Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, Sam Kuteesa and Hillary Onek were named in a scandal that involved them taking bribes from oil companies who had their eyes on the Ugandan black gold. Over 17 million Euros were involved and the house for once had the public tune to catch the abrupt recalling of the parliamentarians to discuss the black crimes of the trio. For once this year, the public was really pleased as MPs quizzed those seen as the untouchables forcing two of them to resign. The fiery debate no matter who gained or lost out of it helped add a positive tick on the foreheads of the parliamentarians who are now arousing asleep ghosts once again. They are demanding for new fuel guzzlers set to cost the shaky coffers over 100 million shillings each.

Under heat from his own people, Museveni survived the Ugandan springBut whether the cars come, or more districts are created, more resignation papers are handed in or electricity does not return until the potholes are fixed, me I will be here waiting to usher in the New Year 2012. Perhaps make 12 new things to achieve. But am grateful days come to an end; some days this year were too hot that it seemed like never would they end. As the clock ticks again into the New Year, eyes are now fixed about 200 billion shillings that were paid to individuals and entities as compensation in what is now keeping the sloppy shoddy story of scandal running and not to forget, the millions of dollars paid to Burundi for the help forwarded to the NRA rebel war that brought Museveni to power.

 

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