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Somalia is still fragile, but fragile is progress
April 20, 2016 | 0 Comments

By *

Al-Shabaab is still launching attacks, donor fatigue is rising, and countless other challenges remain. But there’s no doubt Somalia is moving in the right direction.

A military band plays during a parade at the Somali Armed Forces Headquarters to celebrate the army’s 56th anniversary in Mogadishu. Credit: AMISOM/Tobin Jones

A military band plays during a parade at the Somali Armed Forces Headquarters to celebrate the army’s 56th anniversary in Mogadishu. Credit: AMISOM/Tobin Jones

For more than two decades, Somalia was synonymous with a failed state − a country controlled by terrorists and warlords, lacking an effective government and beset by recurring cycles of man-made and natural disasters.

No doubt, Somalia remains a work in progress. But as the world’s attention has shifted to other nations on the brink of collapse such as Yemen, Libya and the Central African Republic, Somalia’s quiet progress has made a return to anarchy increasingly unlikely. Today, Somalia, one of the world’s poorest nations, is rebuilding its economy and re-establishing a functioning government.

The influx of international diplomats augurs well, as does the relocation of more United Nations staff from Nairobi to Mogadishu.  The foreign nations who have established strong presence in Mogadishu also provide a sense of optimism and much needed economic revivalism to the capital. Most importantly, the noticeable Turkish and United Arab Emirates compounds provide a necessary public perception of security for Villa Somalia (the president’s compound) and continue to provide optimism for regional and international bodies to stay engaged inside Somalia.

A additional milestone on this journey was passed in January when the Obama administration nominated Stephen Schwartz, a career diplomat and longstanding Africa specialist, to become ambassador to Mogadishu, ending a 23-year lapse. This move highlights how ties between the US and Somalia have strengthened since 2013 when Washington ended two decades without formal bilateral relations.

However, Somalia’s upgrade from failed state to fragile one must be seen for what it is. Somalia remains vulnerable to political, security and economic shocks. There’s a danger that shiny symbols of normalcy like the return of MasterCard Inc. last year − the first by a company that relies on the international payments system − could lead to complacency among donor nations that face other pressing needs. After a quarter-century of conflict, Somalia cannot tackle its reconstruction alone. For progress to continue, it will need sustained assistance −aid that also pushes Somalia’s government and people to assume growing responsibility for their own security and economic development.

Fortunately, that process has begun with a six-year long climb back from the country’s abyss. The successes notched by Somalia offer a glimmer of hope for other nations that today are imploding under the weight of their own violent extremism, sectarianism and factionalism.

What’s behind the turnaround?

A new, indirectly elected and more broadly based government, led by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke, has won the confidence of the donor community as well as many of Somalia’s strong-willed and independent clan leaders. Over the past two years, Mohamud’s government has created a viable federal system comprising half a dozen states, pushed forward on development of a new constitution, and worked out initial arrangements for the country’s next elections. (They will be more representative than the previous ones, but fall short of a one-person one-vote standard.)

The new government has also made substantial security gains. Working closely with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and military advisers from several non-African countries, the Somali government has significantly degraded the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab and pushed its fighters to the nation’s geographic margins. Greater stability in Somalia and the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, its cooperative partner to the north, has also contributed to the sharp decline in Red Sea piracy.

Although al-Shabaab continues lethal hit-and-run operations, the Mogadishu government has expanded security in urban areas and broad swaths of the country, helping rebuild the devastated economy and state institutions. The government has re-established full control over Mogadishu’s port, a lucrative source of tax revenue, while the Turkish government, one of Somalia’s strongest partners, has refurbished and expanded the main airport, boosting revenue there.

The improved fiscal situation in turn has supported restoration of some government services. Schools, health clinics, and regional government offices have reopened in most urban areas. Tens of thousands of Somali children are enrolled in an ambitious government plan to increase classroom participation by a million students.

Business is also improving. Turkish investors are moving beyond speculation and have set up new companies that include homebuilding and commercial real estate ventures. Livestock exports, once the backbone of the Somali economy, have also rebounded. 18 months ago, Somalia exported 5 million goats, sheep, cattle and camels to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. It’s the highest level in 20 years and reflects a general growth in trade between Mogadishu and Riyadh as relations warm between the two governments.

This year, Somalis will head to the polls to elect a new president and parliament. They will also vote on the proposed new constitution. This electoral trifecta could well put Somalia on the path for a future move from fragility to stability.

Challenges remain

However, challenges can be expected and certainly remain. The government of Somalia over the past two years has carried out its most successful campaigns of degrading al-Shabaab and its senior leader’s capabilities, and the terrorist group is on its heels more than ever. Yet the Somali military and security services are still heavily dependent on international and regional expertise and are in no way capable in doing it alone.  In addition, donor fatigue and ongoing frustration amongst the international community over what is seen as a culture of corruption remain at their highest levels.

Without organised and structured government institutions that address economic, social and security sector reform to name a few, Somalia will fall back into the same challenges that previous governments faced. In order to put Somalia back on the path to recovery, continued pressure on the Somali government to continue to take ownership of their own state building is necessary.

Somalis will need to be resilient in the face of near certain al-Shabaab attacks aimed at disrupting and terrorising the population. And the armed forces still need to tackle lingering clan and sub-clan rivalries. It will be a long time before Somalia can discard the security umbrella of AMISOM or the large inflows of assistance from the UN and committed donors including the EU, UK, US and Turkey.

But Somalia has changed for the better and its current leaders appear determined to prevent a return to the recent lawless past. With new embassies and business moving into Somalia and continued economic and security advances, Somalia looks like it may be poised to move out of the shadows of war and poverty and into a brighter future.

*Source  African Arguments.Muhammad Fraser-Rahim is an Africa programs officer at United States Institute of Peace.

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Ethiopian runners sweep Boston Marathon
April 19, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Jill Martin*

Lemi Berhanu Hayle won the men's Boston Marathon, and Atsede Baysa won the women's race.

Lemi Berhanu Hayle won the men’s Boston Marathon, and Atsede Baysa won the women’s race.

Ethiopia had a banner day at the Boston Marathon on Monday, as Lemi Berhanu Hayle and Atsede Baysa won the men’s and women’s titles.

It’s the first time the country has swept the men’s and women’s titles in this historic event, the world’s oldest annual marathon.
Hayle won the elite men’s division in an unofficial time of 2:12:45, completing a podium sweep by three men’s runners from Ethiopia. He pulled away late from the 2015 champion, Lelisa Desisa, with a little more than a mile to go. Desisa finished second in a time of 2:13:32. Yemane Adhane Tsegay finished third in 2:14:02.
“Very difficult,” Hayle said through a translator to CNN affiliate WBZ after he won the race.

With a late charge on the women’s side, Baysa came from behind to win her division in 2:29:19. Baysa, who was 37 seconds behind the leaders at mile 21, seemingly came out of nowhere to take the lead. At mile 24, she was by herself with the race in hand.
Through a translator, Baysa told WBZ that she is “very happy” and “very lucky.”
“To win Boston is not easy,” she said.
Tirfi Tsegaye of Ethiopia was second in 2:30:03, while Kenyan Joyce Chepkirui was third (2:30:50).
American Tatyana McFadden won the women’s wheelchair division for the fourth consecutive year, while Marcel Hug of Switzerland won the men’s wheelchair race, defending his 2015 title.
While she crossed the finish line with no other competitors in sight, McFadden didn’t lead the entire way. She admitted after the race in an on-air interview on NBC Sports Network that she got nervous around the fifth or sixth mile before taking the lead in mile nine.
“I just wasn’t catching the rest of the pack as fast as I wanted to,” McFadden said. “But you know what? I just needed to remember why I was running, to stay relaxed. The race is 26.2 (miles), and it’s a long way to go.”
The top American male finisher was Zachary Hine, who finished 10th in 2:21:37. The first American to cross for the women was Neely Spence Gracey, who finished ninth in a time of 2:35.

Marathon bombing survivors take part

The 120th running of the historic race took place under heavy security, three years after double bombings near the finish line left three dead and at least 264 injured.
Leading off this year’s marathon were the mobility impaired runners, which included bombing survivor Adrianne Haslet. A professional ballroom dancer, Haslet lost a leg in the bombing three years ago. She is one of 21 survivors competing in this year’s race. It’s her first time running a marathon.
After about 10 hours of running, she stepped across the finish line on her prosthetic leg and lifted her hands in triumph. Buoyed by the people of Boston who cheered her on, she even got a shout-out from President Barack Obama whose account tweeted: “Terror and bombs can’t beat us. We carry on. We finish the race!”
In a special moment last year, Haslet’s two brothers ran the race, and she joined them at the finish line. On Friday, she threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park before the Red Sox played the Toronto Blue Jays.
Haslet wasn’t the only survivor to get the honor at Fenway over the weekend. Patrick Downes, who lost his left leg in the 2013 bombings, threw out the first pitch to Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz on Sunday. Jeff Bauman, who lost both legs in the bombings, threw out the ceremonial first pitch Monday.
Downes and Haslet both were running to raise money for people with physical disabilities.
“Adrianne thank you for being my inspiration!! ‪#‎BostonStrong‬,” said New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in a Facebook post Monday.

McFadden: ‘I got chills’ from the crowd

Because it’s an Olympic year, the best American marathon runners are focusing on training for Rio in August rather than this race. The U.S. Olympic marathon trials were in February in Los Angeles. Many of the top Americans are in Boston, although they didn’t hit the pavement. That includes Meb Keflezighi, who was the first American to win the Boston Marathon in 31 years when he did so in 2014, and Shalane Flanagan, a Massachusetts native who has finished twice in the top 10 at the Boston Marathon. Both were at Fenway Park for the ceremonial first pitch on Saturday.
Around 30,000 people registered for the race. The 26.2-mile course starts in Hopkinton and passes through Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton and Brookline before reaching the finish line on Boylston Street in Boston. Up to a million spectators lined the streets to watch and cheer.
McFadden said this is one of her favorite races because of how it’s supported by the Boston community.
“Coming down the last mile, I got chills, literally goosebumps all over my body,” McFadden said. “The crowd was electric today, and that’s just what I needed.”
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Keep the Candle of Freedom Burning in the Congo
April 19, 2016 | 0 Comments

The U.S. should seize the opportunity to help facilitate the peaceful transfer of power in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

By *

Holding the fate of democracy.

Holding the fate of democracy.

The history of postcolonial Africa is brimming with tales of greed, avarice, corruption and thuggery that would produce envy in the heart of even the slickest Chicago pol. If it weren’t for the poverty, disease, bloodshed, war and death accompanying it, it might even be amusing, like something out of a late Graham Greene novel.

The problem is not intractable as it is seems. It’s the lack of resolve among the truly democratic nations of the world that allows it to continue. They pump in billions in aid, the plutocrats steal it, and as long as the special interests on both sides are getting what they want, everyone tries to pretend nothing is going on.

For the world to pay attention, an event typically has to be like the Ethiopian famine, the genocide in Darfur, the Rwandan civil war – extraordinary in its inhumanity and brutality. When the crisis is past, however, we all turn away.

Despite its many democratic successes, Africa is not a continent where people expect to see peaceful transitions of power in countries from one regime to the next. Democratic institutions and constitutions are still undergoing their shakedown cruise in many places, where political successors are trying just as hard to cling to power as their predecessors.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, President Joseph Kabila is giving every indication he does not plan to leave office at the end of this year but will instead run again for the presidency, in violation of the country’s newest constitution.

“A political crisis is building as [Congo] prepares, or rather fails to prepare, for upcoming historic elections scheduled for this November,” former Rep. Tom Perriello, now the U.S. Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, told a congressional hearing in February.

Such a move, he said, would undermine the political and economic gains the country has experienced over the past decade. “A confrontation between President Kabila and those demanding timely and credible elections in the country is not inevitable, but it is becoming increasingly probable,” he said.

Kabila’s signals that he may resist a peaceful transition is drawing bipartisan attention on Capitol Hill.

In a letter sent Friday to the Congo’s ambassador to Washington, Republican Sen. John McCain wrote of his “deep concern at the increasingly repressive political climate and the deterioration of the human rights situation” in the country, a former Belgian colony once known as Zaire.

McCain went on to criticize what he called “a wide-scale campaign to crack down on political dissent and consolidate power,” including the expulsion of members of the ruling coalition and the arrest and imprisonment of activists calling for a general strike to protest Kabila’s efforts to remain in office. McCain noted “reports from credible rights groups indicate that political opponents are now facing death threats from authorities.”

Alongside McCain in this crusade is Democratic Sen. Ed Markey, who wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry in February about the situation in the Congo, saying, “Continued delay and public perceptions that President Kabila is clinging to power have create a very real risk of violent upheaval.”

The Congo is no stranger to violence. Kabila came to power after his father, Laurent-Desire Kabila, who led the coalition that ousted Mobuto Sese Seko after a 31-year dictatorial reign and then proclaimed himself president, was assassinated in 2001. The prospect of civil unrest, perhaps even another war if Kabila refuses to abide by the constitution, is quite real.

In his letter to Kerry, Markey outlined three points the United States should “clearly and unequivocally” impress upon Kabila:

  • Kabila should immediately, clearly and publicly state he will not remain in power once his term ends this year.
  • Provided there is verified, on-the-ground progress toward a free and fair national election this year, including an end to the current efforts to close political space and crack down on peaceful dissent, the U.S. and international partners will help fund the electoral process, and encourage increased private investment.
  • If he fails to meet clear benchmarks required to hold a free and fair national election this year, then the U.S. and other partners will implement sanctions. Such sanctions should include targeted visa denials and asset freezes under the Executive Order on the DRC of July 8, 2014, review and reduction of bilateral and multilateral security and economic aid going through the government and discouragement of private investment.

In their letters, both McCain and Markey acknowledge that Kabila has, up to now, helped bring “relative stability” to the Congo after a prolonged period of turmoil. The respect he has earned, they caution separately, could be wiped out if he continues the transition from democrat to dictator by blocking or impeding the upcoming election, continuing to crack down on democracy supporters and standing for a third term in office.

“The United States values its good relationship with the [Congo] and is proud to have provided assistance to your government as you continue to confront ongoing challenges,” writes McCain in the penultimate paragraph to his letter. “President Kabila has been instrumental to the [Congo’s] path from conflict to relative stability. He now has the opportunity to cement his legacy by setting the country on the successful path towards democracy and prosperity that future generations of Congolese and the world will long celebrate.”

There are those within the Washington policymaking community who will no doubt say, “It’s Africa – who cares? What is America’s compelling strategic interest in what happens in Congo?” The answer is freedom, for all mankind – an idea that has animated this nation since its founding. We long ago determined that the men and women who inhabit this small planet have an inalienable right to be free that comes to us from the Creator. Our size and economic and cultural power give America a unique opportunity — some would even call it a responsibility — to spread that belief far and wide, not just through Africa but through Asia, Central and South America and the Middle East. It may not be our job to topple every tinhorn dictator who plans his flag on a plot of land. But it is our job to keep freedom’s light burning on the highest hill so that all can see it and embrace its glow.

*Source USNEWS

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NIGERIA: MAJOR GAS FACILITY WON’T BE REPAIRED UNTIL MAY
April 19, 2016 | 0 Comments

BY *

People queue to buy fuel at a station in Lagos, Nigeria, April 5. Attacks on oil pipelines and facilities have led to fuel shortages and power outages across Nigeria. AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

People queue to buy fuel at a station in Lagos, Nigeria, April 5. Attacks on oil pipelines and facilities have led to fuel shortages and power outages across Nigeria.
AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

Power outages in Nigeria are likely to persist until May as oil and gas giant Shell struggles to repair a major facility damaged by militants.

Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo visited the Forcados Export Terminal in the southern Delta state over the weekend. The facility, which is run by a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, known as the Shell Petroleum Development Corporation, was subject to an attack in February when an underwater pipeline was hit by an explosion.

Inflows into the terminal and exports out were halted after the attack, taking one of the country’s energy hubs offline. Forcados has the capacity to export around 400,000 barrels per day, the Financial Times reported.

In a statement released on Sunday , Osinbajo said that the damage to Forcados affected around 40 percent of the West African country’s gas supply and was responsible for ongoing power shortages in Nigeria. Osinbajo urged Shell to do “whatever else can be done and do it as expeditiously as possible,” but the company’s current repair plan envisages that the facility will not be fully repaired until May at the earliest.

Attacks on oil and gas facilities in Nigeria have been increasing in recent months. Two of the four refineries owned by the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) were temporarily closed in January due to supply problems caused by the attacks, which Nigerian power minister Babatunde Fashola said were costing the country $2.4 million per day at the time. One of the refineries has since reopened but attacks have continued, with three people killed in an explosion at a facility owned by Italian company ENI in March.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari recently vowed to deal with the “vandals and saboteurs” responsible for hitting oil pipelines “the way we dealt with Boko Haram,” a reference to the Nigerian military’s sustained offensive against the jihadi group.

Osinbajo reiterated the government’s intention to deal with the problem, saying that Buhari’s administration was considering the establishment of a “permanent pipeline security force” that would be “armed with sophisticated weapons to ensure we contain the vandalism and overhaul security.”

The Niger Delta was the site of a sustained militant campaign in the mid-2000s, when groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) kidnapped workers at oil facilities and destroyed pipelines in protest at what they saw as the unfair distribution of resources. At its peak, the militancy cut Nigeria’s oil production to 800,000 barrels per day—less than a third of the maximum 2.5 million barrels per day.

The recent spate of attacks came in the wake of Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency issuing an arrest warrant for ex-MEND leader Government Ekpemupolo—known as Tompolo—in January on charges of theft and money laundering totaling more than 35 billion naira ($176 million), which he denies. Tompolo has also denied any links to the recent attacks but has yet to hand himself in to the Nigerian authorities.

*Source Newsweek

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Moyosore – A journey of discovery, reappraisal, and rededication
April 10, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Chido Onumah

Chido Onumah

Chido Onumah

In a country where the value of human life is not worth more than that of a fly at a butcher’s shop; where misery is a constant companion and the candour of our politicians and rulers is the same candour that pimps extend to prostitutes, it is not out of place to celebrate every minute, every hour, every month, and every year. It is certainly not for nothing that “Happy new month” has become a refrain at the beginning of every month for many Nigerians on WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook. But I digress!

I was born exactly 50 years ago today (April 10) in a country that, by all indications, had the prospects of being the leader of the Black race. This is my story and in a way the story of Nigeria. The year of my birth, six years after independence, was the year of the first of many military coups, a bloody event – touted by those who engineered it as an attempt to redeem the country – that would spiral out of control and precipitate an internecine civil war.

Memories of that turbulent period still reverberate across the country. Fifty years after, Nigeria remains a dream deferred. And that dream is drying up like a raisin in the sun, to paraphrase Langston Hughes. If we were happy to gain independence in 1960, we failed woefully to build a nation out of what was handed to us by the departing colonialists. If we had three countries, as ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo alluded to on January 15, 2016, at an event to mark the 50th anniversary of the January 15, 1966, coup and the 46th anniversary of the end of the civil war on January 15, 1970, we took it for granted such that today we can’t keep count of the number of “countries” that are tugging at the heart and soul of Nigeria.

It is ironic that the older the country gets the more challenging it is for her people to live in peace and harmony. I remember the Nigeria I grew up in with nostalgia and I wonder always what happened to that country. It was the era of oil boom and the “Cement Armada”, when the problem of the country was not money but what to do with it, as the then Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, was reported to have said. Maybe the prosperity soothed our differences. Whatever the reasons, the Nigeria I grew up in, the country of my childhood, was one in which the concept of Nigeria was all-embracing; it was one that our rulers should have taken a cue from, but they were too busy sharing and pocketing the money because, “Their nation,” in the eternal words of radical economist, late Prof Eskor Toyo, “is a well of mineral oil and money from the territory called Nigeria.”  Building a Nigerian nation was the last thing on their mind!

Growing up in different parts of Lagos, amongst kids and friends from other parts of Nigeria, street football and table tennis were the rallying points. Nigerian Pidgin was the lingua franca. And it was spoken with relish. It was a “crime” to speak your ethnic language, even to your siblings, in the midst of friends. For many – like Nathaniel, the football star with a perpetual runny nose – without an ethnic name, nobody guessed or cared to know where they came from. It just didn’t matter. I remember, in the midst of a “set”, the three or four-a-side football game that was the staple of many streets in Lagos, our Muslim compatriots, Mohammed and his brother, Aminu, would occasionally excuse themselves and go say their prayers and we would stop the game for them to return or defer their “set” until they returned, depending on the number of people available.

Then, gradually things began to change. Because there was nothing to aspire to, the post-civil war generation went the way of their forebears. I remember a discussion I had many years ago with a Ghanaian friend of mine, a lawyer, in London. Every time we meet is an opportunity to dissect the shenanigans of Nigerian and Ghanaian politicians, among the vilest of that species of humans.

On this occasion, my friend wondered what the future held for Nigeria considering the way we treat one another. During a visit to Nigeria, he was stranded at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos. In the midst of the confusion, he saw a uniformed officer who was beseeched by Nigerians seeking help. He noticed the name on the officer’s nametag and asked a question seeking clarification in the language he thought the officer would understand based on his name. To his surprise, the officer abandoned the Nigerians he was attending to and took my Ghanaian friend away to solve his problem.

I have recounted this story to explain just one aspect of the Nigerian tragedy.  I am sure many Nigerians have similar experiences to share. What does Nigeria really mean to Nigerians? We treat foreigners better than we treat our countrymen and women because they share our faith or we speak their language. If you go to many government agencies and academic institutions in Nigeria, the lingua franca is usually the language of the head of the agency or institution; and those who do not understand or speak that language soon discover that they are “foreigners” in their own country. How can we build a nation when we look at one another with suspicion and we don’t put Nigeria first?

It is difficult to make sense of Nigeria. Every now and again, l come across Nigerians, some well-educated, who will ask in righteous indignation: “How come your children all have Yoruba names? As if Yoruba were some strange and distant part of the world. My standard answer is usually, “Oh, my spouse is Yoruba.” And the response? “That is not an excuse. Where do you come from?” For those I think can swallow it, my answer, an answer which I am sure will make comedians, Ali Baba, AY, Basketmouth, and Klint da Drunk, green with envy is: “I came from my mother. And I have never been back there.”

As part of nation-building, perhaps government could incentivize young Nigerians who marry outside their geo-political zone or ethnic stock. As a people, we must develop a national ethos, something that binds us and which we all aspire to. For example, we could launch a national name project encouraging parents to give their children at least one name from another ethnic group. In another twenty years, we may not be able to tell who comes from where.

On this occasion, in this sometimes tortuous journey in which I found God, socialism, and love, I remember my family, teachers, mentors, friends, and colleagues. I definitely would want to encounter you all if I were to live this life all over again. You have impacted and enriched my life beyond measure. Some have challenged me; others have supported me in unimaginable ways; yet, others have tolerated my “troubles” and importunity with equanimity.

My greatest gratitude, of course, goes to my immediate family, my alluring spouse, Sola, and adorable children: Femi, Mobolaji, Dotun, and Moyosore. In her I found love and with the children, a family to die for. These five persons remain the best thing to have happened to me. We have shared beautiful and unforgettable memories that could last three lifetimes. I couldn’t have done any of the things I have been able to do without their love and understanding. Sola has been an immeasurable and exceptional pillar of support and has kept the children grounded in my, sometimes, long absences from home.

There is my dad, Elder E. E. Onumaegbu, who taught me courage, honour, the virtue of hard work, and the art of cooking. He was a feminist even if that word wouldn’t have meant anything to him. There was an unwritten law in our home that whoever came back first would prepare dinner for the family. Since my dad worked in a government agency, it meant that on many occasions – except when he had to attend political or social meetings – he usually came home first and had the duty to fix dinner. And as the oldest child, I was the assistant cook. Though not an ideologue, an innocuous 14th birthday gift from my dad, a volume of the Collected Works of V.I. Lenin, leader of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, changed me forever and set me on a political and ideological discovery that would define my life.

My mum, my birthday mate, Comfort Adaku, taught me love, respect, humility and perseverance. Even when she had quarrels or disagreements with other people, she would always remind us that it was her battle and that, as children, we had a duty to respect even those we considered her “enemies”. I never saw my mum get angry. I still regret the one occasion I remember her raise her voice at me.

I was 17, fresh out of high school and enjoying the freedom that came with the transition from high school to university. My dad, always wanting new experience for me, had asked me to go spend my holiday with my uncles and cousins in Owerri, Imo State. Such visits also afforded me the opportunity to visit my maternal grandmother, Janet Ijeoma Durunna. She was the only one, out of my four possible grandparents that I met. She was a beautiful and lovely old woman who enjoyed telling us, her grandchildren, stories and emphasising the moral of each story.

I had hardly arrived Owerri when I came down with severe stomach pain. My aunty took me to her family clinic where the doctor diagnosed appendicitis. He said I had to be operated upon immediately, except that I also had malaria. That meant I had to be treated for malaria before the surgery. That gave my mum, who didn’t want me to travel in the first place, enough time to come to Owerri before the surgery. I had never seen my mum so shaken when she saw me. It was perhaps the first time I remember being hospitalized. The clinic wasn’t busy so my mum would spend time way beyond the visiting hours preparing me psychologically for my surgery.

The surgery went well. Then one day, while I was recuperating, something bizarre happened. That evening, some youth, mostly traders from the main market in the centre of Owerri were brought to the clinic with various degrees of injuries. I would later know that the cause of their injuries was the noise that roused me from sleep a few hours before their arrival. This incident took place a few weeks to one of the most contentious elections in Nigeria’s history, the 1983 general elections, that would be won or stolen (depending on who you asked) by the notorious National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the precursor of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). With that at the back of my mind, when I heard that noise I feared it was a clash of political thugs. But I was wrong. When I looked through the window in my room, I saw a helicopter hovering in the sky and tiny pieces of paper raining down; and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people following the helicopter and running in different directions trying to grab as many of the falling papers as they could. As I would learn later, the magnanimous occupant of the helicopter was no other than the controversial politician, Francis Arthur Nzeribe, who was running for a seat as a senator. That was his own way of campaigning – showering his constituents with naira. Nzeribe would emerge on the national scene a decade later in 1993 as a foot soldier of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, the self-proclaimed evil genius, and one of the leaders of the Association for Better a Nigeria (ABN), the amorphous organisation that played an important role in the infamous annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by M.K.O. Abiola.

Two weeks after I was first hospitalized, I was discharged with the instruction not to do any heavy lifting and to come back a few days later to assess the healing process. That was the beginning of my trouble with my mum. Two days after I returned home, my cousins who had not seen me in years, and wanting to impress me, persuaded me to join them to watch a match at a local football competition. I decided to accompany them without worrying about what my mum would say, partly because I assumed we would be back before dusk. I wasn’t familiar with the terrain and didn’t know how far our destination was. And there were no cell phones those days to call or text that I was safe. By the time we trekked the almost five kilometres back, it was pitch-dark and my mum had gone in search of me.

Knowing the relationship we had, I didn’t anticipate my mum’s reaction. The moment she returned and saw me, she yelled at me, asking if I wanted to kill her by going to play football considering my condition. For the first and only time in my life, I talked back to my mum. I replied that I was 17 and old enough to take care of myself. That further enraged her. I would apologise hours later, after refusing dinner, telling her that I only accompanied my cousins to the game. She said she was informed that I went to play football and wondered why I didn’t tell her I was just a spectator. I replied that she didn’t give me the opportunity to explain myself. We agreed that as soon as I was strong enough to travel, we would return to Lagos.

Lagos holds strong memories for me even though the chaos, noise, heavy traffic and general planlessness combine to fill me with dread each time I have to return there. As a preteen, I would sometimes skip school to tend my mother’s stall each time she had to attend the regular meetings, in central Lagos, called by Abibatu Mogaji, then President-General, Association of Nigerian Market Women and Men. Interestingly I was the only boy among the female preteens who would also stand in for their mothers. As a youngster, I insisted on working for my pocket money. So, during weekends and holidays, I would encourage my mum to buy me things to sell and I would “kiri” (a Yoruba word meaning to carry a tray filled with items on the head and sell in the neighbourhood) different items, mostly fruits – depending on the season. I made enough money to invest on newspapers and books. By the time I left high school in 1983 and had become too big to “kiri”, my mum made sure I never lacked pocket money. Much of that money went to buying The Guardian newspaper which debuted that year and would change the trajectory of Nigerian journalism.

One of the fondest memories about my mum took place in 1995. After graduation, I had moved back to Lagos in search of work as a journalist. I started contributing to The Punch during my National Youth Service and would spend some time at The Guardian as a trainee reporter after service, then Sentinel magazine, before moving to ICNL, the parent company of The News/Tempo magazines which had just started a daily newspaper called AM News. I was reporting education even though my interest was politics. This was at the height of the brutal military dictatorship of the maniacal general, Sani Abacha.

I had done a story on the secret foreign accounts of Abacha’s second-in-command, Gen. Oladipo Diya, way before #PanamaPapers would expose the underbelly of global capitalism and the illicit financial activities of companies and prominent individuals around the world, including past and present public officers in Nigeria, such as Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd.), one of the ringleaders of the second military coup in Nigeria on July 29, 1966, a former Chief of Army Staff and later Minister of Defence, Gen. David mark (retd.) ex-Senate President, and Bukola Saraki, former governor of Kwara State and current President of the Nigerian Senate.

Abacha would later fall out with Diya, nicknamed the “Crying General” – after a video emerged showing him on his knees, weeping and pleading for leniency on being accused of conspiring to overthrow the Abacha regime. On this occasion, before the coup allegation that condemned Diya, first to death, and later, to life imprisonment, the story on the cover of AM News had alleged that Gen. Diya maintained foreign accounts which had fallen into the hands of fraudsters. Abacha was aghast. As the mindless looting that took place under his murderous regime came to light, it became clear that his shock had to do with the fact that someone else was beating him to his game. The day after the story was published, about five operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) arrived AM News as I was preparing my story for the following day and arrested me. I was taken to the SSS headquarters at Shangisha on the outskirts of central Lagos and detained for eight days.

imagesWhile the story of my arrest was widely reported, my dad and siblings made sure they kept it from my mum. I used to visit her once or twice a week, sometimes before work, and at other times after work, depending on my schedule as a reporter. As the days rolled by and I hadn’t visited, she enquired from my siblings if they had heard from me. They were able to convince her that indeed they had heard from me and that I had indicated I would visit. By the end of the week she had become very apprehensive. She had genuine reasons to be concerned. We had endless discussions about the dangers of my job. In his attempt to legitimize his regime, Abacha had declared war on journalists and human rights activists.

I went straight to the office to inform my bosses the evening I was released. I was given the day off and I went immediately to visit my mum. I imagined the different questions and scenarios that would play out the moment I saw her. Even though I had lost a few pounds from not eating the miserable food that was served once or twice a day at the detention centre, I didn’t think I was too disheveled to betray the fact that I was in detention. I barely slept while in detention, partly because there was no bed, and partly because my interrogators kept prodding me, morning, afternoon, and night, to retract my story in order to facilitate my release.

The moment I appeared before my mum, she took one look at me, inquired why I did not visit her the week before and intoned that I looked like someone who had just been released from prison. I smiled and replied in a jocular way that she was right; that I had just been released from detention. I sensed a feeling of betrayal, that my siblings had managed to keep my arrest and detention away from her. Then I complimented her clairvoyance before narrating my experience in detention.

I learnt many life lessons from my mum. If ever there is one disappointment I have in life, it is that she did not live to see my family: her daughter-in-law and grandchildren. I remember on many occasions we would talk about love, family, and relationship. At the end of such discussion, she would say in that tone only a doting mother would use that she would not interfere in my marriage and that she would not visit my home unless she was expressly invited by my spouse and me. She was sincere about it but she would add that she knew, considering my disposition, she could not win that battle even if she wanted to act the proverbial “mother-in-law from hell”.

I remember my sibling with whom I shared laughter, love, affection, and many childhood pranks; my childhood best friends, Ben Ogazi and Kennedy Etoroma were a constant source of inspiration. Kennedy and I would share a flat much later in Festac Town after graduation. Initially called “Festival Town” or “Festac Village”, Festac Town, the magnificent housing estate along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, was built by the military regime of Olusegun Obasanjo to house participants of the Second World Festival of Black Arts and Culture in 1977. After the festival, the 5000 dwelling units were handed over to Nigerians who participated in a ballot. Festac Town was, as Andrew Apter noted in The Pan-African Nation: Oil and the Spectacle of Culture in Nigeria, “intended to evoke the modern age and the promise of state-sponsored economic development fuelled by oil”.

My high school was just opposite what was known as the 2nd Gate of Festac, and my friends and I enjoyed walking to school because of the scenic view. Sometimes, on our way from school, we would sit and chat on benches with trees along the well-paved streets providing adequate protection from the sun. Anyone who wants to understand the tragic paradox called Nigeria, our knack for abuse of systems and processes need look no further than Festac Town. Today, less than four decades after it was opened, that once serene and picturesque estate has degenerated into a slum.

One of the most interesting people I came across during high school was my principal, late Chief (Mrs.) Bolaji Aduke Awoboh-Pearse. Mrs. Pearse, as we called her, was a mother away from home. She took me and other raw preteen boys who arrived Awori Ajeromi Grammar School in September 1978 under her tutelage and refined us in character and learning. Rather than flog us, she would cry – as a sign of disappointment – each time we pulled a prank deserving of punishment like when a few of my friends and I went to swim in a stream after school.

Late Pa Alfred Poopola Jaiyesimi adopted me as one of his sons and opened a vista of interest in politics, history, and the struggle for independence. Dr. Lambert Onumaegbu, was my earliest encounter with the world of intellectualism. My cousin, Chief Ibem Onumaegbulam, the older brother I never had, saw me through university.

I salute my comrades – the cadres of the Movement for a Progressive Nigeria (MPN) – at the University of Calabar (UNICAL) where I mastered the art of insurrection and agitation. Regrettably, it was not until I arrived UNICAL that I first became aware of the role of ethnic consciousness (even amongst intellectuals) in the stymieing of the Nigerian dream. As part of the rites of passage for fresh students, we were entreated to join, depending on where you claimed to come from, one of the many “Parapo” or ethnic associations on campus that served no meaningful purpose other than to magnify our fault lines as a nation.

We fought many battles against this parochialism. Our other exploits, including the planned takeover of a radio station in Calabar, during the Orkar coup of April 22, 1990, could have cost us our lives. The “canon of the movement”, Austin “Canoways” Emaduku, rallied Malabites (male students of UNICAL) to rescue me when I was abducted by reactionary forces one early morning in those turbulent days. How can I forget my roommate for four years, Victor Oruche? Though we never knew each other before we met at UNICAL on our first day of school and our politics was polar opposite, our bond was beyond that of blood brothers.

12717196_10153602951368303_1220442934709477863_nI pay respect to Comrade Edwin Madunagu who, through his writings and many interactions, has provided directions and answers to many ideological questions in the last three decades; to the wordsmith, Dapo Olorunyomi, who has opened many doors for me, including the one that led me into professional journalism. I remember Comrade Prof. Bene Madunagu and her colleagues in the Academic Staff Union of universities (ASUU) whose dogged support ensured that I left UNICAL with a degree.

In the radical pan-Africanist and editor of The Insight newspaper, Accra, Ghana, Kwesi Pratt Jnr. and his wife, Marian Baaba, I found a family away from Nigeria during the horrid days of the Abacha dictatorship. Dr. Rosaline Okosun, President of the Association Against Women Export (ASWE) facilitated my relocation to Canada and played the role of a big sister in helping me settle in.

World War II veteran, Roy Taylor, his wife, Mae, Charlene and Clayton Root, and Westview Baptist Church, London, Ontario, Canada, were magnanimous hosts when I arrived Canada in the summer of 2000. Dr. Dascha and Alex Paylor welcomed me warmly into their family without hesitation and supported me through graduate school. I thank my dean at the Faculty of Information & Media Studies at Western University, London, Ontario, Canada, Prof. Majunath Pendakur, who believed in me and gave me career-enhancing opportunities as well as Prof José Manuel Pérez Tornero, Director of the Doctorate in Journalism and Communication Sciences at the Faculty of Communication Sciences, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain, who encouraged me three years ago to embark on a doctoral research on the digital transition of the newspaper press in Nigeria and South Africa.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge two individuals, my colleague and friend, Lewis Asubiojo, with whom I set up the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL) many years ago, and my friend, and collaborator, Godwin Onyeacholem, who has been my editorial support and guide through three books in the last five years.

Moyosoreoluwa! I thank God for life and His mercies. On this occasion of the golden jubilee of my birth, I rededicate myself to the destruction of that system, no matter what its purveyors call it, that seeks to enslave the workers of the world; to “the categorical imperative to overthrow all circumstances in which the human being is humiliated, enslaved, abandoned, and despised!”

I pledge to Nigeria; however, not Nigeria in its extremely dysfunctional state. I commit to a new, progressive, and egalitarian Nigeria where citizens will be defined not by their name, language, faith, or ethnicity; where citizens will find fulfillment no matter which part of the country they come from; above all, a Nigeria where every Nigerian can live in peace, go to school, work, raise a family and run for office wherever they choose. I believe that Nigeria is possible!

*conumah@hotmail.com; Twitter: @conumahOnumah is Coordinator of the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL). He is the author of two books: Time to Reclaim Nigeria (2011) and Nigeria is Negotiable (2013). His forthcoming book is titled: We are all Biafrans: A Participant-Observer’s Interventions in a Country Sleepwalking to Disas

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Alain Ebobissé appointed Chief Executive Officer of Africa50
April 9, 2016 | 0 Comments
Alain Ebobissé

Alain Ebobissé

Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, April 7, 2016 – The Board of Directors of Africa50 is pleased to announce the appointment of Alain Ebobissé as Chief Executive Officer of Africa50, the Pan-African infrastructure investment platform capitalized by the African Development Bank and, so far, by 22 African countries with an initial capitalization of US $830 million.

 The Africa50 fund was created at the initiative of the African Development Bank (AfDB) and officially launched in Morocco in September 2014. Its initial capital of US $830 million was provided by the AfDB and contributions from 22 countries.

“I am delighted to welcome Mr. Ebobissé to Africa50,” said Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Africa50. “His extensive experience and recognized global leadership in infrastructure development will be critical as we build Africa50 into an effective and successful infrastructure investment house widely recognized as a leader in infrastructure project development and investment in Africa, with an excellent reputation and credibility within the continent and beyond.”

A citizen of Cameroon, Alain Ebobissé is a renowned specialist in the financing and development of infrastructure and knows the African continent well.

“I am excited about the opportunity to lead Africa50 and serve Africa and to work with Government partners and private investors to develop and fund a large number of bankable infrastructure projects in the continent on the basis of strong commercial discipline and sound investment principles,” stated Ebobissé. “I look forward to working with the Board of Directors and to building a highly skilled and experienced team of infrastructure investment professionals that will enable us to help transform the African infrastructure landscape,” he added.

 “Mr. Ebobissé is well recognized global leader in the area of infrastructure finance and development. He has an impressive track record of global leadership in successful development of private, and public-private infrastructure development, structuring, financing and equity investment in emerging markets,” said Adesina.

 Prior to joining Africa50, Ebobissé served as the Global Head for the World Bank Group’s Global Infrastructure Project Development Fund (“IFC InfraVentures”) where he oversees a team of highly skilled and experienced infrastructure specialists and leads the development of and investment in several infrastructure projects in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America.

 Ebobissé has led the design, structuring and implementation of IFC InfraVentures from its inception. Ebobissé also serves as Chief Investment Officer in the Global Infrastructure and Natural Resources Department of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private-sector arm of the World Bank Group, based in Washington. Prior to joining the IFC in 1998, held several positions in the financial services industry in France, including as Deputy Head of Project and Structured Finance at Caisse des Depots et Consignations, based in Paris. Ebobissé holds a Master of Business Administration from the International School for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne, Switzerland.

 In order to finance its infrastructure, it is estimated that Africa would need US $95 billion per year. In 2012, African Heads of State therefore issued a joint declaration on the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) calling for the creation of innovative solutions to facilitate and accelerate the deployment of infrastructure in Africa. It was this call that led to the launch of Africa50, a corporation operating on commercial terms with the support of the AfDB and several African countries.

  Africa50 is a specialized international financial institution established by the African Development Bank and African countries to help accelerate infrastructure development in Africa. Africa50 held its Constitutive General Assembly on the 29th of July 2015 in Casablanca, Morocco. The countries who have so far committed funds to Africa50 are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, The Gambia and Togo. While the first closing was available only to African countries, it is anticipated that the second and subsequent closings will be available not only to African countries that are yet to invest in Africa50, but also non-sovereign investors both in Africa and outside Africa with a target to raise US $3 billionover the medium term to invest in commercially viable infrastructure projects across Africa. Africa50 is incorporated in Casablanca, Morocco and enjoys certain privileges and immunities. Africa50 is committed to the highest standards of corporate governance and ethical, environment and social responsibility. 

*AFDB

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Imani Launches First Full-Scale Africa Lawyers on Demand Service
April 9, 2016 | 0 Comments
  • Imani will offer tailored, world-class legal services across African continent and across all industries on demand basis
  • The firm is recruiting 60 lawyers and is projected to grow to 400 lawyers within 16 months
  • Imani combines flexibility of an in-house resource with support and quality assurance of a major law firm
  • Firm will offer support cost-effective support for any scenario – on site or remote, secondment or rotational work

 

Tiyani Majoko, Executive Director of Imani

Tiyani Majoko, Executive Director of Imani

CAPE TOWN, South Africa, April 7, 2016/ — The future of law is here. Imani , Africa’s first full-scale lawyers on demand service, has launched operations, based out of Johannesburg. Imani will offer tailored legal solutions across the African continent and across economic sectors on a demand basis, tapping into a large pool of skilled and qualified lawyers with experience at big firms. Imani is the first of its kind for Africa in that it combines the flexibility of an in-house resource with the guaranteed support and quality of a major law firm.

African legal clients are demanding a practice model that is cost-effective and transparent. With a cost model that is scaled to the client’s needs and a service model that is tailored to the job, Imani can extend support for any scenario, whether it’s providing experienced contract lawyers, reviewing documents for litigation or due diligence, offering specialized in-country representation or outsourced general counsel.

“Working as a legal advisor across Africa, I have witnessed first hand the need for an agile and flexible offering that is specifically designed for clients and their needs,” said Tiyani Majoko, Executive Director of Imani. “We continue to see a lot of potential and investment in legal representation in Africa. Imani’s outside of the box thinking can seize those opportunities in a way that a one size fits all traditional legal approach cannot.”

Majoko said Imani would first focus on developing relationships with major South African companies and then expand throughout the sub-Saharan region. It will target quickly developing economies such as Ghana, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Kenya. After that it will enter markets with near-term potential like Mozambique, Congo, Botswana, Cameroon, Gabon and Tanzania within the next 12 months.

“The vision of Imani is to transform the African legal landscape the same way that firms like Lawyers on Demand and Axiom pioneered the model in Europe and North America,” Majoko said.

Imani is recruiting 60 lawyers initially and is projecting a talent pool of 400 lawyers within 16 months. Its lawyers have global experience at big law firms and education from top African, European and North American universities.

Imani is a direct response to the changing legal landscape and the tremendous economic growth opportunities present on the African continent. Corporations in Africa face considerable cost pressures and are seeking affordable representation that does not compromise on the quality of legal counsel. Imani provides a flexible set of solutions that respond quickly and cost effectively to mounting workloads and budgetary constraints. Imani’s lawyers can work with clients on site or remotely, on various flexible models such as secondments, special projects, rotational work or flexible support. It’s expertise without the overheads.

“It was time for a firm like Imani to enter the African marketplace and challenge conventional legal methods,” said Gontse Moseneke, Group Executive of Encha Group, an Africa-focused investment house with interests in real estate, oil & gas and technology, of which some are listed on the JSE, Namibian Stock Exchange and London AIM. “When a service combines the highest standards of a major law firm with the flexibility and cost offering of remote representation, that presents a unique value proposition where all sides prevail.”

Imani’s skilled team of specialists will extend support in the following practice areas: Mergers and Acquisitions, Corporate Governance and Compliance, Banking and Finance, Energy, Oil and Gas, Mining, Labour Law, Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment Advisory, Contracts and General Commercial Services.

*APO

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Nigeria plans cash payments for poor, put graduates on payroll
April 9, 2016 | 0 Comments
A girl hawks groundnuts arranged on a tray along a road in Nigeria's southwest city of Osogbo, August 11, 2014.REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

A girl hawks groundnuts arranged on a tray along a road in Nigeria’s southwest city of Osogbo, August 11, 2014.REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

ABUJA, April 7 (Reuters) – The Nigerian government plans to make cash payments to poor people of about $25 per month to try to ease poverty and stimulate the economy, the vice-president said on Thursday, a plan that would cost a total of about $300 million per annum.

President Muhammadu Buhari won election in March 2015 on a promise to fight poverty and corruption, which has held most of Nigeria’s 180 million people in poverty despite its oil wealth.

“One million poor and vulnerable Nigerians would receive 5,000 naira ($25) monthly,” Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo said in a statement outlining government priorities for the next 12 months.

Nigeria’s annual per capita income in 2014 was about $3,200 according to the World Bank.

The government will also employ 500,000 graduates as voluntary teachers while they seek jobs in their chosen careers, he said.

The initiatives were part of Buhari’s election campaign. The former military ruler has come under pressure in recent weeks due to fuel shortages. The economy, Africa’s largest, is also suffering from the global slump in oil prices.

Osinbajo did not say how these benefits would be funded, saying only there were part of a 6.06 trillion naira record budget for 2016 which parliament passed last month. Buhari still has to sign the bill.

The government has said it wants to borrow as much as $5 billion abroad but has not detailed how it wants to plug a budget deficit which officials have put in the range of between 2.2 trillion and 3 trillion naira.

Buhari has rejected a devaluation of the naira, which would hit poor people as Nigeria needs to import much of its food needs.

*Reuters

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It’s time for the U.S. to rethink its approach to Uganda
April 9, 2016 | 0 Comments
Women wait in front of their food stalls for the final result of the presidential election in Kampala, Uganda, on Feb. 20. (Dai Kurokawa/European Pressphoto Agency)

Women wait in front of their food stalls for the final result of the presidential election in Kampala, Uganda, on Feb. 20. (Dai Kurokawa/European Pressphoto Agency)

UGANDA IS showing the world what electoral malfeasance can look like, more than a month after voters cast their ballots. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni won the country’s Feb. 18 elections amid widespread reports of voting irregularities, ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition candidates.

Last Thursday, Uganda’s Supreme Court unsurprisingly rejected third-place finisher Amama Mbabazi’s official petition to challenge the election, claiming that there was insufficient evidence of irregularities that would have swayed the polling result. Opposition leader and second-place finisher Kizza Besigye, who has been under effective house arrest since the vote, was unable to file a formal challenge of the results. On Tuesday, he was once again arrested after leaving his house for the first time since he was forcibly detained.

As Mr. Museveni cruises toward his fifth term in office, marking his 30th year in power, it is time for the United States to seriously revisit its relationship with Uganda. Uganda has been touted as a key ally in Africa in the fight against the al-Shabab terrorist group, and contributed troops to peacekeeping efforts in South Sudan. The United States gives an estimated $750 million in aid to Uganda annually — an estimated $170 million of which goes to military assistance and cooperation. In the past 10 years, the United States has trainedmore troops from Uganda than from any other country in sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of Burundi.

Mr. Museveni, however, is making a mockery of President Obama’s call for good governance and democracy in Africa, or “strong institutions,” not “strongmen,” as he put it in a 2009 speech in Ghana. As aging autocrats such as Mr. Museveni use U.S.-bankrolled security forces to crack down on opposition candidates, journalists and peaceful protests, lavish security assistance from the United States may be helping to enable an environment of increasing repression in Uganda, and sending the message to other African nations that trampling on rights is permissible so long as the country remains a U.S. counterterrorism ally.

The United States has raised concerns. After the flawed vote, the State Department said that the Ugandan people “deserved better.” After last Thursday’s Supreme Court announcement, the United States called for a peaceful response to the decision, and added that “we hope that the government will now address the grievances voiced by its own people in the wake of these elections and take the necessary steps to enact reforms.”

But hopeful statements are not enough. There are fears that the 71-year-old leader might change the constitution’s presidential age limit of 75 to allow him to run again. Others are concerned that Mr. Museveni’s son, Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who has rapidly risen through the ranks of Uganda’s military, is being groomed to succeed his father. The United States reallocatedaid and canceled a military exercise with Uganda in the wake of Uganda’s harsh anti-homosexuality bill in 2014 but has not publicly threatened to do the same in response to Uganda’s repression of nongovernmental organizations, crackdowns on journalists, attempted silencing of opposition leaders or tampering with elections. It’s plain for the world to see that democracy is backsliding in Uganda. It’s high time that the United States condition its support on tangible political reforms.

*Source Washington Post.

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Africa’s $30 Billion Rail Renaissance Holds Ticket for Trade
April 9, 2016 | 0 Comments
  • Railway will link Mombasa port to landlocked Uganda, Rwanda
  • Enough track to connect Cape Town with Copenhagen are planned

By  *

A wagon carries railway sleepers on a superbridge which will form part of the railway Photographer: Riccardo Gangale/Bloomberg

A rail wagon carries sections of railway sleepers and tracks towards the bridge end during the construction of a superbridge which will form part of the new Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) line, in Voi, Kenya, on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. By providing an alternative to roads, the 1,100-kilometer (684-mile) Chinese-financed railway will slash the time and cost of transporting people and goods between East Africa’s landlocked nations. Photographer: Riccardo Gangale/Bloomberg

On a sweltering Kenyan morning on the outskirts of a national wildlife park, Chinese and local workers maneuver a massive concrete rail-bridge structure onto towering support piers. In the distance, trucks loaded with shipping containers rumble down a highway.

The bridge at Voi, northwest of the port of Mombasa, is the latest construction frontline for the initial 327 billion-shilling ($3.2 billion) stretch of an ambitious railway project to link the East African country with landlocked neighbors including Rwanda and Uganda. As a faster alternative to the trucks clogging the only road running inland to the capital, the Chinese-built and -financed standard-gauge railway, known as the SGR, has the potential to transform trade in the region.

Kenya’s rail line, the country’s biggest investment since independence in 1963, is among the most advanced of the more than $30 billion of African rail projects planned or under way. Together, they span more than 11,000 kilometers (6,835 miles), enough to connect Cape Town to Copenhagen. It’s one of the bright spots on the world’s least developed continent, where governments are wrestling with drought-induced food shortages, weakened currencies and shrinking budgets following the plunge in commodity prices.

Held Back

“Infrastructure constraints are one of the major things holding back Africa and this standard-gauge railway will make a big difference,” said Mark Bohlund, an Africa and Middle East economist with Bloomberg Intelligence.

Not all the projects will be built on time, if at all, especially with the commodity-price slump weighing on those designed to move raw materials from mines to ports. And with Chinese growth slowing, the nation’s central role in African infrastructure development may diminish. Countries including Kenya and Ethiopia are also borrowing heavily to fund projects.

Already, though, U.S. and European and companies such as General Electric Co., Alstom SA and LafargeHolcim Ltd. are poised to benefit, along with Chinese builders and African suppliers such as Transnet SOC Ltd. GE is investigating opportunities in countries including Kenya, Ethiopia and Nigeria and will have almost tripled its number of service personnel on the continent from 2015 to the end of this year.

West Africa

“The overall bed of opportunities around the region remains strong, at least 50 percent higher than it was 10 years ago,” said Thomas Konditi, GE’s head of transportation for Africa. “Those opportunities are still going to be strong for another five to 10 years.”

Besides the East African line, others on the continent include Bollore SA’s plan to develop a 2,700-kilometer West African rail corridor. The project, which has faced legal challenges from rival developers, would link Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger and Benin.

 

Also in West Africa, Senegal signed an agreement in December with China Railway Construction for the renovation of 645 kilometers of railroads. Projects are also planned in Tanzania, Mali and Egypt, while Ethiopia recently completed a line connecting Addis Ababa to Djibouti and has another 4,000 kilometers of projects planned.

Economic Growth

Rail infrastructure is vital to improve trade between African countries, which stood at just 13 percent of the total last year,according to the African Union.

African and Chinese workers at the Mombasa Standard Gauge Railway construction site Photographer: Riccardo Gangale/Bloomberg

Workers assemble a structure at the Mombasa Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) terminal at KM 0, where goods coming from freighters will be uploaded onto freight trains travelling along the new Mombasa-Nairobi rail line, in Mombasa, Kenya, on Tuesday, March 15, 2016. By providing an alternative to roads, the 1,100-kilometer (684-mile) Chinese-financed railway will slash the time and cost of transporting people and goods between East Africa’s landlocked nations. Photographer: Riccardo Gangale/Bloomberg

Kenya, which moves about five percent of freight by rail, predicts the new project will add to economic growth. The government sealed agreements in March with Chinese partners to build the rest of the track up to the border with Uganda, which itself has signed construction agreements for the first phase.

Kenya’s initial stretch, from Mombasa to Nairobi, will be ready to start operating by June 2017, Kenya Railways Corp. Managing Director Atanas Maina said in an interview at the Voi bridge. The line will have daily capacity for eight freight trains in each direction, each with the ability to carry the equivalent of more than 100 containers. It’ll also run as many as two daily passenger trains each way.

Colonial Tracks

Besides the often-clotted Mombasa-Nairobi road, the only other land transportation option is the century-old railway completed by the British colonial authorities in 1901. The line operates at a leisurely pace of about 30 kilometers per hour, compared with 120 kilometers per hour for passengers and 80 kilometers per hour for freight that Kenya Railways is predicting for the SGR.

The railway design also accounts for local wildlife movements, said Kenya Railways social environmentalist James Chimera. Kenya Wildlife Service provided locations of animal-crossing corridors so elevated overpasses could allow elephants and giraffes to pass underneath safely, he said.

The Export-Import Bank of China has agreed to fund 90 percent and 85 percent respectively of the first two phases of Kenya’s project, with the government covering the rest.

Chinese History

China has a history of successful railway projects in Africa. The 1,870-kilometer Tazara railway, which linked landlocked Zambia to Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam port, was funded and built by China in the 1970s. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari plans to visit China to get funding for railway projects, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said this week.

Nigeria will struggle to meet its agricultural development targets and improve fuel distribution without “robust” rail infrastructure, Osinbajo said.

Some African mine-related freight rail and port projects have been delayed because of low commodity prices and there has been evidence of a shift towards investing in passenger rail instead, said Maria Leenen, CEO at Hamburg-based transportation consultancy SCI Verkehr. The S&P GSCI index of raw materials has dropped 24 percent in the past year.

Transnet, the South African rail and port operator marketing its train equipment and expertise across the continent as well as investing in rail at home, has seen pressure on its order book from the decline in commodity prices. However, the company continues to see opportunities, according to the head of its engineering and manufacturing unit, Thamsanqa Jiyane. Contracts the company is working on include supplying wagons to Swaziland and passenger coaches to Botswana.

For some African governments, the tougher economic conditions are requiring more imagination for funding rail investments, GE’s Konditi said.

“I’m seeing more interest in creative financing — leasing — and I’ve seen more interest in letting the private sector drive some of the maintenance and service of the rail companies,” he said. “This environment is actually helping people to see things more creatively, in a very modern way.”

*Bloomberg

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Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir ‘to step down in 2020’
April 7, 2016 | 0 Comments
The president said that evidence of popularity in Sudan could clearly be seen the huge crowds that greeted him everywhere

The president said that evidence of popularity in Sudan could clearly be seen the huge crowds that greeted him everywhere

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir has told the BBC he will step down in 2020 when his current mandate ends.

Mr Bashir also denied allegations of abuses perpetrated by the Sudanese forces in renewed violence against black African villages who took up arms in the country’s western Darfur region.

The president has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on counts of genocide and war crimes.

Mr Bashir has been in power since 1989. He won elections in April last year.

He told the BBC’s Thomas Fessy that his job was “exhausting” and his current term would be his last.

“In 2020, there will be a new president and I will be an ex-president,” he said.

However, sceptics will say that he had already pledged to step down in the past and later went back on his word, our correspondent says.

‘No aerial bombing’

The UN says more than 2.5 million people have been displaced in Darfur since 2003 – with more than 100,000 this year alone.

President Bashir said that there was no reason for the UN peacekeepers and aid workers to stay in the troubled Darfur region.

He denied reports of recent abuses in the mountains of Jebel Marra where government forces launched an offensive in January.

“All these allegations are baseless, none of these reports is true,” he said.

“We challenge anyone to visit the areas recaptured by the armed forces, and find a single village that has been torched.

“In fact, there hasn’t been any aerial bombing.”

The president said that people who fled the fighting had gone to government-controlled areas which was “proof that the government does not target citizens”.

President Bashir said that UN estimates that more than 100,000 people have been displaced in Darfur since January because of the fighting were “highly inflated and not real”.

“Only a very small number of people have been displaced and they have either reached our positions or [gone to] where the UN peacekeepers [Unamid] are deployed.

The president said that UN forces and Unamid “have no vital role to play” in Darfur, “not even in defending themselves and their units”.

“As peace has returned to Darfur, I think that they have no role to undertake and that’s why we want them to leave.”

Likewise he said there was no role in the region for aid workers because there is no food crisis in Darfur.

He said that estimates that 2.5 million people were living in camps in Darfur were “much too inflated” and the true figure is closer 160,000.

The president dismissed the ICC as a “politicised tribunal” and that evidence of his popularity in Sudan could clearly be seen by the huge crowds that greet him.

“These are the same crowds I’m accused of having committed genocide and ethnic cleansing against. This is why I’ve defied the tribunal, and [why] I’ve been travelling freely around the world.”

Mr Bashir was re-elected last year with about 94% of the vote in an election boycotted by the main opposition parties who said it was not free and fair.

*BBC

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Identity 2016: Why Nigerians melt their gold jewellery in Dubai
April 7, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Elizabeth Hotson*

_89040633_souk-getty-afp976Dubai likes to describe itself as the city of gold – but many, including Nigerians, don’t just come here to buy new jewellery, they also bring their old necklaces and bracelets to be melted down and restyled.

Rows of 22-carat gold chains and bracelets twinkle in the shops at Dubai’s main airport, one of the busiest in the world. Waiting by the gate for the 14:25 flight to Lagos in Nigeria, is the Esochaghi family, who are returning home after a shopping trip.

“My favourite pieces are these necklaces,” says Ugochi Esochaghi, gesturing towards a small butterfly bobbing on a chain round her neck. “I got one for my daughter too, spelling out her name,” she smiles, as toddler Valeria sucks her thumb.

“For me and my family, gold is a really treasured thing. I was brought up with it, I love it.”

Esochaghi’s gold butterfly sparkles under the bright airport lighting as she describes her latest visit to Dubai’s famous gold souk. “We brought some of our old jewellery and it was weighed. We were then given some designs to choose from and the ones we wanted were created by melting down the gold we already had.

“It took around two days from start to finish. The product is good and it’s also cheaper here than in Nigeria.”

Husband Enyioha, who has been anxiously watching the airport clock, agrees to pose for a photo with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Gold Label whisky he bought in duty free. Esochaghi can’t hide her glee. “You don’t see this everywhere, it’s a special thing so we’re giving it to a good friend as a gift.”

But is it normal for Nigerian families to travel to Dubai to buy gold?”Yes,” says Esochaghi, as she heads for the departure gate. “A lot of my friends come here. It’s a popular thing to do.” One of seven Emirates, for years Dubai has been furiously marketing itself as a tourist hub – last year it attracted more than 14 million visitors who stayed for at least one night. And gold tourism has been carefully cultivated.

Although there are other global centres for the gold trade – India and China being two of the biggest – according to the World Gold Council (WGC) about 30-40% of the world’s gold flows through tiny Dubai.

“Ten to 15 years ago Dubai became famous as a gold souk. Since then it’s developed as a commodities centre, and a trading business has emerged,” says John Mulligan, the WGC’s head of member investor relations.

Not having a sales tax is key, Mulligan says, as is the quality of the gold on sale, which makes it an attractive investment. “It’s generally high caratage, which means it’s relatively pure. If you’re buying jewellery, the gold will have high intrinsic value. Because of this it will be easy to work out how much it’s worth.”

Ugochi Akwiwu, a travel blogger, tells me more about her love of gold from her home in Benin City, Nigeria. “Nigerians in general love gold and in my part of the country it’s a show of wealth,” she says.

“My roots are with the Igbo community in south-east Nigeria and it’s traditional for mothers to hand down their gold to their daughters. Men get property and land, women inherit gold and Hollandais – traditional patterned fabric wraps.”

Ugochi Akwiwu’s tips for budding gold buyers

  • Haggle, haggle, haggle – it’s expected and the only way to get the best price
  • •Take your passport as this will be required by gold merchants and when you’ve bought your jewellery, don’t forget to collect your receipt
  • •Only buy from a reputable shop – you might be approached in the street by men offering to sell you jewellery but don’t be tempted
  • •Check the current price of gold on the day of your planned purchase

 

Akwiwu travels to Dubai once a year, invariably coming back with gold, often in the form of earrings. These are just for herself and her family but others have turned shopping trips into a business. “When I was at school some of my classmates made money by buying gold in Dubai and selling it in Nigeria.

“A few managed to put themselves through university with the profit. Gold is roughly $5 (£3.60; 4.50 euros) a gram cheaper over in Dubai and who doesn’t like a bargain?”

_89041550_47f510ce-cabc-441e-8323-389fa38456afWith fluctuating exchange rates, the price disparity can be even greater and there are opportunities for serious buyers. Lagos-based Talutu Ahmed Olulana, for example, is a self-made woman who trades in gold. “We buy around 5kg of gold a year and the source depends of what it’s used for,” she says. “I get raw gold from Africa but for finished gold I’ll go to Italy, India and Dubai.

“Gold is a store of value, it is movable, divisible, it appreciates and it provides a hedge against inflation. It’s really a true measure of wealth.”

Yet, like Akwiwu, she does not only regard gold as a commodity to be bought and sold. “It’s symbol of royalty. Traditionally kings, queens and chiefs would be adorned with what we call the king of metals – gold,” she says.

“I’m from Kogi state in north-central Nigeria and culturally we ascribe a lot of importance to owning it. In most parts of my state owning gold is a prerequisite of marriage.”

Fast cars and flashy jets may come and go, but – for Nigerians in particular – there will always be gold.

*Source BBC

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