U.S. expands secret intelligence operations in Africa
June 14, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Craig Whitlock*
OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — The U.S. military is expanding its secret intelligence operations across Africa, establishing a network of small air bases to spy on terrorist hideouts from the fringes of the Sahara to jungle terrain along the equator, according to documents and people involved in the project.At the heart of the surveillance operations are small, unarmed turboprop aircraft disguised as private planes. Equipped with hidden sensors that can record full-motion video, track infrared heat patterns, and vacuum up radio and cellphone signals, the planes refuel on isolated airstrips favored by African bush pilots, extending their effective flight range by thousands of miles.
The nature and extent of the missions, as well as many of the bases being used, have not been previously reported but are partially documented in public Defense Department contracts. The operations have intensified in recent months, part of a growing shadow war against al-Qaeda affiliates and other militant groups. The surveillance is overseen by U.S. Special Operations forces but relies heavily on private military contractors and support from African troops.
The surveillance underscores how Special Operations forces, which have played an outsize role in the Obama administration’s national security strategy, are working clandestinely all over the globe, not just in war zones. The lightly equipped commando units train foreign security forces and perform aid missions, but they also include teams dedicated to tracking and killing terrorism suspects.
The establishment of the Africa missions also highlights the ways in which Special Operations forces are blurring the lines that govern the secret world of intelligence, moving aggressively into spheres once reserved for the CIA. The CIA has expanded its counterterrorism and intelligence-gathering operations in Africa, but its manpower and resources pale in comparison with those of the military.
U.S. officials said the African surveillance operations are necessary to track terrorist groups that have taken root in failed states on the continent and threaten to destabilize neighboring countries.
A hub for secret network
A key hub of the U.S. spying network can be found in Ouagadougou (WAH-gah-DOO-goo), the flat, sunbaked capital of Burkina Faso, one of the most impoverished countries in Africa.
Under a classified surveillance program code-named Creek Sand, dozens of U.S. personnel and contractors have come to Ouagadougou in recent years to establish a small air base on the military side of the international airport.
The unarmed U.S. spy planes fly hundreds of miles north to Mali, Mauritania and the Sahara, where they search for fighters from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a regional network that kidnaps Westerners for ransom.
The surveillance flights have taken on added importance in the turbulent aftermath of a March coup in Mali, which has enabled al-Qaeda sympathizers to declare an independent Islamist state in the northern half of the country.
Elsewhere, commanders have said they are increasingly worried about the spread of Boko Haram, an Islamist group in Nigeria blamed for a rash of bombings there. U.S. forces are orchestrating a regional intervention in Somalia to target al-Shabab, another al-Qaeda affiliate. In Central Africa, about 100 American Special Operations troops are helping to coordinate the hunt for Joseph Kony, the Ugandan leader of a brutal guerrilla group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army.
</fb:like></span><span id=check-twitter> The results of the American surveillance missions are shrouded in secrecy. Although the U.S. military has launched airstrikes and raids in Somalia, commanders said that in other places, they generally limit their involvement to sharing intelligence with allied African forces so they can attack terrorist camps on their own territory.
The creeping U.S. military involvement in long-simmering African conflicts, however, carries risks. Some State Department officials have expressed reservations about the militarization of U.S. foreign policy on the continent. They have argued that most terrorist cells in Africa are pursuing local aims, not global ones, and do not present a direct threat to the United States.
The potential for creating a popular backlash can be seen across the Red Sea, where an escalating campaign of U.S. drone strikes in Yemen is angering tribesmen and generating sympathy for an al-Qaeda franchise there.
In a response to written questions from The Washington Post, the U.S. Africa Command said that it would not comment on “specific operational details.”
“We do, however, work closely with our African partners to facilitate access, when required, to conduct missions or operations that support and further our mutual security goals,” the command said.
Surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations, it added, are “simply a tool we employ to enable host nation militaries to better understand the threat picture.”
Uncovering the details
The U.S. military has largely kept details of its spy flights in Africa secret. The Post pieced together descriptions of the surveillance network by examining references to it in unclassified military reports, U.S. government contracting documents and diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group.
Further details were provided by interviews with American and African officials, as well as military contractors.
In addition to Burkina Faso, U.S. surveillance planes have operated periodically out of nearby Mauritania. In Central Africa, the main hub is in Uganda, though there are plans to open a base in South Sudan. In East Africa, U.S. aircraft fly out of bases in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Seychelles.
Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, the head of U.S. Africa Command, which is responsible for military operations on the continent, hinted at the importance and extent of the air bases while testifying before Congress in March. Without divulging locations, he made clear that, in Africa, he wanted to expand “ISR,” the military’s acronym for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
“Without operating locations on the continent, ISR capabilities would be curtailed, potentially endangering U.S. security,” Ham said in a statement submitted to the House Armed Services Committee. “Given the vast geographic space and diversity in threats, the command requires increased ISR assets to adequately address the security challenges on the continent.”
Some of the U.S. air bases, including ones in Djibouti, Ethiopia and the Seychelles, fly Predator and Reaper drones, the original and upgraded models, respectively, of the remotely piloted aircraft that the Obama administration has used to kill al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and Yemen.
“We don’t have remotely piloted aircraft in many places other than East Africa, but we could,” said a senior U.S. military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. “If there was a need to do so and those assets were available, I’m certain we could get the access and the overflight [permission] that is necessary to do that.”
Most of the spy flights in Africa, however, take off the old-fashioned way — with pilots in the cockpit. The conventional aircraft hold two big advantages over drones: They are cheaper to operate and far less likely to draw attention because they are so similar to the planes used throughout Africa.
The bulk of the U.S. surveillance fleet is composed of single-engine Pilatus PC-12s, small passenger and cargo utility planes manufactured in Switzerland. The aircraft are not equipped with weapons. They often do not bear military markings or government insignia.
The Pentagon began acquiring the planes in 2005 to fly commandos into territory where the military wanted to maintain a clandestine presence. The Air Force variant of the aircraft is known as the U-28A. The Air Force Special Operations Command has about 21 of the planes in its inventory.
In February, a U-28A crashed as it was returning to Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, the only permanent U.S. military base in Africa. Four airmen from the Air Force Special Operations Command were killed. It was the first reported fatal incident involving a U-28A since the military began deploying the aircraft six years ago.
Air Force officials said that the crash was an accident and that they are investigating the cause. Military officials declined to answer questions about the flight’s mission.
Because of its strategic location on the Horn of Africa, Camp Lemonnier is a hub for spy flights in the region. It is about 500 miles from southern Somalia, an area largely controlled by the al-Shabab militia. Lemonnier is even closer — less than 100 miles — to Yemen, where another al-Qaeda franchise has expanded its influence and plotted attacks against the United States.
Elsewhere in Africa, the U.S. military is relying on private contractors to provide and operate PC-12 spy planes in the search for Kony, the fugitive leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a group known for mutilating victims, committing mass rape and enslaving children as soldiers.
Ham, the Africa Command chief, said in his testimony to Congress in March that he was seeking to establish a base for surveillance flights in Nzara, South Sudan. Although that would bolster the hunt for Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, it would also enable the U.S. military to keep an eye on the worsening conflict between Sudan and South Sudan. The two countries fought a civil war for more than two decades and are on the verge of war again, in part over potentially rich oil deposits valued by foreign investors.
Other aviation projects are in the offing. An engineering battalion of Navy Seabees has been assigned to complete a $10 million runway upgrade this summer at the Manda Bay Naval Base, a Kenyan military installation on the Indian Ocean. An Africa Command spokeswoman said the runway extension is necessary so American C-130 troop transport flights can land at night and during bad weather.
About 120 U.S. military personnel and contractors are stationed at Manda Bay, which Navy SEALs and other commandos have used as a base from which to conduct raids against Somali pirates and al-Shabab fighters.
About 6,000 miles to the west, the Pentagon is spending $8.1 million to upgrade a forward operating base and airstrip in Mauritania, on the western edge of the Sahara. The base is near the border with strife-torn Mali.
The Defense Department also set aside $22.6 million in July to buy a Pilatus PC-6 aircraft and another turboprop plane so U.S.-trained Mauritanian security forces can conduct rudimentary surveillance operations, according to documents submitted to Congress.
Crowding the embassy
The U.S. military began building its presence in Burkina Faso in 2007, when it signed a deal that enabled the Pentagon to establish a Joint Special Operations Air Detachment in Ouagadougou. At the time, the U.S. military said the arrangement would support “medical evacuation and logistics requirements” but provided no other details.
By the end of 2009, about 65 U.S. military personnel and contractors were working in Burkina Faso, more than in all but three other African countries, according to a U.S. Embassy cable from Ouagadougou. In the cable, diplomats complained to the State Department that the onslaught of U.S. troops and support staff had “completely overwhelmed” the embassy.
In addition to Pilatus PC-12 flights for Creek Sand, the U.S. military personnel in Ouagadougou ran a regional intelligence “fusion cell” code-named Aztec Archer, according to the cable.
Burkina Faso, a predominantly Muslim country whose name means “the land of upright men,” does not have a history of radicalism. U.S. military officials saw it as an attractive base because of its strategic location bordering the Sahel, the arid region south of the Sahara where al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate is active.
Unlike many other governments in the region, the one in Burkina Faso was relatively stable. The U.S. military operated Creek Sand spy flights from Nouakchott, Mauritania, until 2008, when a military coup forced Washington to suspend relations and end the surveillance, according to former U.S. officials and diplomatic cables.
In Ouagadougou, both sides have worked hard to keep the partnership quiet. In a July 2009 meeting, Yero Boly, the defense minister of Burkina Faso, told a U.S. Embassy official that he was pleased with the results. But he confessed he was nervous that the unmarked American planes might draw “undue attention” at the airport in the heart of the capital and suggested that they move to a more secluded hangar.
“According to Boly, the present location of the aircraft was in retrospect not an ideal choice in that it put the U.S. aircraft in a section of the airfield that already had too much traffic,” according to a diplomatic cable summarizing the meeting. “He also commented that U.S. personnel were extremely discreet.”
U.S. officials raised the possibility of basing the planes about 220 miles to the west, in the city of Bobo Dioulasso, according to the cable. Boly said that the Americans could use that airport on a “short term or emergency basis” but that a U.S. presence there “would likely draw greater attention.”
In an interview with The Post, Djibril Bassole, the foreign minister of Burkina Faso, praised security relations between his country and the United States, saying they were crucial to containing al-Qaeda forces in the region.
“We need to fight and protect our borders,” he said. “Once they infiltrate your country, it’s very, very difficult to get them out.”
Bassole declined, however, to answer questions about the activities of U.S. Special Operations forces in his country.
“I cannot provide details, but it has been very, very helpful,” he said. “This cooperation should be very, very discreet. We should not show to al-Qaeda that we are now working with the Americans.”
Discretion is not always strictly observed. In interviews last month, residents of Ouagadougou said American service members and contractors stand out, even in plainclothes, and are appreciated for the steady business they bring to bars and a pizzeria in the city center.
In April 2010, one American, in particular, drew attention. A U.S. contractor who had been assigned to support the surveillance missions in Ouagadougou was flying home from Africa on leave when he announced that he had been “in Ouaga illegally” and was carrying dynamite in his boots and laptop.
As the contractor, Derek Stansberry, mumbled other incoherent stories about allegedly top-secret operations, he was grabbed by U.S. air marshals aboard the
Paris-to-Atlanta flight. No explosives were found, but the incident drew international attention.
Stansberry, who did not respond to a request for comment, was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity; he said he was overstressed and had overdosed on the sleep aid Ambien.
A photograph on his Facebook page around the time of the incident showed him posing in the cockpit of a Pilatus aircraft. The caption read: “Flying a PC-12 ain’t that hard.”
*Culled from http://www.washingtonpost.com/world
Obamas’ freedom of Cape Town honour divides South Africa
June 12, 2012 | 0 Comments
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
“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
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
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*
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
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
Rwanda: The Corruption Free Zone of Africa
May 12, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Chika Ezeanya *
I was intrigued by his comment, so I prodded.
“Really? Why so?”
“I have worked in your country and the system is very much similar to what we have in Uganda. Things work as they should. There are no bottlenecks; you get what you want, how and when you want it.”
Is he talking of another Nigeria, or the very land of my birth and nurture? He must be implying the opposite in a subtle manner, I concluded.
“You are very funny,” I courteously offered in response.
Hurt at the fun being made of my admittedly beleaguered pedigree, I was eager to change the topic to the project we were both hired to work on.
“My sister,” he continued before I could interject; “I have been here in Rwanda for 2 years, and I cannot tell you how much I want to return to my country. I am tired of all the processes, rules and regulations that abound here. It is too much. Are we not in Africa?”
“Are you really serious?” I asked. Something is being said in sincerity here.
“In Uganda, you have your money, you get what you want exactly the way you want it and at the exact time you need it. I am used to that life. Here, no matter how much you have or even who you know, you must follow some annoying rules and unnecessary regulations. The system is too rigid. I don’t know how they survive here.” He complained bitterly, throwing both hands open in visible agitation.
“Since this is a long term project, I would have moved my family here, but I cannot endure this kind of regimentation for long. Uganda is my country, any time, any day,” he said, as smiles of endearment brightened his countenance.
I had only been a few days in Rwanda and did not really understand him. Now, I have stayed long enough, and traversed the system deeply enough for my colleague’s words to make sense.
You cannot bribe or influence your way through any system, organization or institution in Rwanda. It is that plain and simple.
My first shock, apart from the extreme cleanliness and orderliness of the city of Kigali, (see my article A Tale of Two Black Cities http://allafrica.com/stories/201108040056.html) was when I had cause to visit the immigration office to clear some outstanding documentation issues.
I must shamefully admit that coming from the background of my beloved country Nigeria, I prepared myself well for the journey. I pre-packaged enough cash in my bag – neatly folded in a way to conveniently change hands discreetly – not because there was anything illegal about my business, not at all. It is common knowledge in several sub-Saharan African countries that even the most legitimate transaction has a high probability of being stalled by an official who smiles at you, expecting you to return the smile in cash by way of saying thank you for job well done.
I informed my office that I was going to the immigration office for the day. The last time I renewed my passport in Abuja, Nigeria (2009), it was a whole day’s work. I had to wait outside with several others for several hours, while people who came much later, but who knew how to play the system were quickly attended to.
I arrived the immigration office at Kacyiru, Kigali and could not believe my sight. First, the electronic customer service at the entrance gave me a tally that showed I was number 5 in line. Incredible. I got up and went to the very polite, lone and unarmed security officer at the door. I must be in the wrong office; where is the queue?
Where are the customs officers loitering around the area soliciting for “customers” to assist in processing their immigration documents? Where are the touts, the peddlers of passport holders, passport photos and even visas? Where are the numerous roadside hawkers making brisk sales of soda, bread and sundry “gourmet” appetizers, entrees, and desserts to frustrated and fatigued patrons? Where is everybody?
“You are in the right office, madam” the officer assured me with a smile.
Soon, it got to my turn. I sat down to be attended by an amiable young lady who took her time to listen to my challenges, taking notes, entering data in the computer while engaging me in the most respectful conversation about my stay, so far, in Rwanda. In less than ten minutes after my arrival, I was handed a sheet of paper with clearly spelt out instructions on how to address my situation.
“Thank you very much, madam. Please do not hesitate to contact this office should you encounter problems following the instructions given.”
I was stunned. The last time I received such impeccable service from a public institution was earlier in the year when I had to register an organization in Washington D.C. Has the immigration office in Rwanda been privatized? I could not help but inquire of my Rwandan colleagues. Privatize the immigrations office of a country? They asked, their faces showing signs of reassessing their initial valuation of my intelligence. Forgive me for asking, but unusual sights birth unusual questions. What is going on in this part of Africa?
I was soon to get used to Rwanda. The country where things work as they should, where you are informed of the rules and regulations and it works for you if you follow it. The country where you can register your business online within 24 hours (http://org.rdb.rw/), without having to engage the expensive services of an attorney who will take weeks, sometimes months to travel to Abuja (in the case of Nigeria) to bribe his way through the corporate affairs office to get you registered. Stories abound of lawyers who collect money from clients without fulfilling their own side of the bargain. Such appalling scenario is impossible in Rwanda.
Rwanda. The country with steady supply of electricity – admittedly for the electrified areas as there are still challenges with electrifying the mountainous rural parts. For over three months of my stay, I cannot recollect more than three incidences of power failure, with none lasting longer than five minutes.
Electricity is cheaply available and easily accessible in Rwanda. With “Cashpower” equivalent of $15USD procured by sending a text message to your preferred vendor, a family of six need not worry about electricity for a whole month. There is no cheating or bribing of electricity corporation officials; there is no need for that.
During my last visit to Lagos (two months ago), I had opportunity to visit with a household where I was gleefully informed that electricity bills had not been paid in the past four years.
“We are very lucky to have a guy on our street who works with the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). We give him small money to keep us connected through the backdoor.” The head of the household informed me triumphantly.
“What is the need paying all the money when you do not even get to have light?” He continued. “I would rather use the money to keep my generator serviced than give it to some thieves.” He pointed out, stabbing the air with his fingers in a self righteously emphatic manner.
Working with civil servants on a project in Rwanda was another eye-opening experience for me. Having worked with civil servants in other parts of Africa, I must confess that the commitment of Rwandans is exceptional. 7:00 a.m. is resumption time for all civil servants and the work day ends at 5:00 p.m. Lateness is rare and frowned upon by all. Never for once did the people I had to work with miss out on work for one day, for any reason. There was no staff coming in to the office to sign-in and leave for home. People are motivated, interested in their work, forthcoming with ideas, excited about their job, dedicated, and willing to help.
In the Ministry where I worked, I was very much involved in the contract awarding process. The transparency of that process and the unconcerned attitude of the officers involved, in trying to influence the outcome were new to me. With my experience working with civil servants in other parts of Africa, I have learnt to become quite eagle-eyed about contract awarding processes, which most often than not, devolves into life and death confrontations between vested interests; it is not unusual for threats of witchcraft, voodoo, poisonings and assassinations, to be made openly. But I did not need to worry in this instance; the established system ensures that the most qualified company always gets awarded the contract in Rwanda.
No country in the world is corrupt free, but Rwanda ought to be ranked among the most “developed” countries in the corruption perceptions index, if there is any sincerity in that exercise. Whatever the case, the fact is that doing business, living and working in Rwanda could be one of the most validating experiences an African can have about the optimistic future of the continent and its people.
*Chika Ezeanya is the author of Before We Set Sail.More of Chika’s writings can be found at http://chikaforafrica.com
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.
But 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.