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Africa on the Rise
July 6, 2012 | 0 Comments


MASERU, Lesotho

GENERATIONS of Americans have learned to pity Africa. It’s mainly seen as a quagmire of famine and genocide, a destination only for a sybaritic safari or a masochistic aid mission.

So here’s another way to think of Africa: an economic dynamo. Is it time to prepare for the African tiger economy? Six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies between 2001 and 2010 were in Africa, according to The Economist. The International Monetary Fund says that between 2011 and 2015, African countries will account for 7 of the top 10 spots.

Africa isn’t just a place for safaris or humanitarian aid. It’s also a place to make money. Global companies are expanding in Africa; vast deposits of oil, gas and minerals are being discovered; and Goldman Sachs recently issued a report, “Africa’s Turn,” comparing business opportunities in Africa with those in China in the early 1990s.

I’m writing this column in Lesotho, a mountainous kingdom (it was snowing the day I arrived!) in southern Africa, on my annual win-a-trip journey. The winner this year, Jordan Schermerhorn, an engineering student at Rice University, and I visited garment factories that make clothing for American stores. This country is Africa’s biggest apparel exporter to America.

One set of factories we visited, belonging to the Nien Hsing Textile Company, a giant Taiwanese corporation, employs 10,000 people in Lesotho, making this its biggest operation in the world. Workers turn out bluejeans for Levi’s and other American companies, and Alan Han, a senior company official, said quality is comparable to that of factories in Asia.

While America may largely misperceive Africa as a disaster zone, China does get the promise on the continent. Everywhere you turn in Africa these days there are Chinese businesspeople seeking to invest in raw materials and agriculture. But American businesses seem to be only beginning to wake up to the economic potential here.

Why does that matter? Because trade often benefits a country more than aid. I’m a strong supporter of foreign aid, but economic growth and jobs are ultimately the most sustainable way to raise living standards.

The American Congress has badly bungled the picture this year by delaying renewal of a provision of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA. This promotes trade by providing duty-free access to the American market. It’s one of the best aid programs you’ve never heard of — except that it isn’t an aid program but an initiative to help Africa lift itself up and create jobs through exports.

Some 300,000 jobs in Africa have been created because of AGOA, according to the Brookings Institution, but, in the last few months, countless Africans have been laid off because of the delay in renewal. American importers don’t want to place orders unless they are sure that the provision will be renewed and the clothing can enter duty-free. In Lesotho alone, about 5,000 garment workers have lost their jobs because of this maddening Congressional delay.

Granted, African countries themselves have botched trade because of corruption, onerous rules and uncompetitive minimum wages. The minimum wage for garment workers is about $37 per month in Bangladesh, compared with about $120 in Lesotho.

Or consider infuriating red tape. In Swaziland, it takes 12 procedures and 56 days to start a company, according to the World Bank’s superb “Doing Business” report for 2012. In Niger, it takes 326 days to build a warehouse. In Senegal, it takes 43 procedures and more than two years to enforce a legal claim.

Some of the otherwise most impressive countries in Africa, like Rwanda, also undermine themselves with their political repression. Ethiopia’s dictator, Meles Zenawi, is doing an excellent job of raising health and living standards, but he also presides over a security service that kills and rapes with impunity — and imprisons journalists who report on abuses. Last week, a sham trial in Ethiopia found one such brave journalist, Eskinder Nega, guilty of terrorism.

All in all, though, Africa is becoming more democratic, more technocratic and more market-friendly. Yet Americans are largely oblivious to the idea of Africa as a success story.

One of the problems with journalism is that we focus on disasters. We cover planes that crash, not those that take off. In Africa, that means we cover famine in Somalia and genocide in Sudan, terrorism in Nigeria and warlords in Congo. Those are important stories — deserving more attention, not less — but they can also leave a casual reader convinced that all of Africa is lurching between genocide and famine.

So that’s why I decided to start this win-a-trip journey in a delightful country like Lesotho that just had a democratic change of power. Its streets are safe, and it is working on becoming one of the first countries in the world with an electric grid 100 percent reliant on renewable energy.

It’s a symbol of an Africa that is rising.

* comment on Kristof’s column on his blog, On the Ground.  join him on Facebook and Google+, watch his YouTube videos and follow him on Twitter.A version of this op-ed appeared in print on July 1, 2012, on page SR11 of the New York edition with the headline: Africa On the Rise.


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Who was Emperor Haile Selassie’s mother?
July 6, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Elyas Mulu Kiros

“Who was Emperor Haile Selassie’s mother?” is the title of this Amharic article. This is a controversial topic that many Ethiopians feel uncomfortable to talk about due to its political heaviness. The article discusses how the emperor and writers of his biography never revealed his mother’s full name or her photograph in public during or after his reign, deliberately due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Why was it sensitive and why was the mother’s identity hidden from the public unlike the emperor’s father? Simple answer: Because her religious and ethnic identities would have been obstacles to Haile Selassie’s ascent to power. In addition, the emperor’s mother had no royal lineage, but his father Ras Makonnen was a general and governor himself whose parents, though they had mixed heritage, were descended from nobility, which helped the emperor claim the throne.

According to the article: 1) The emperor’s mother had a mixed ethnic background, just like many Ethiopians; she was half-Gurague and half-Wara Iluu; thus, far from the then dominant ethnic group, or ruling class, the Amhara. 2) Her father was a Muslim. Orthodox Christianity was the de-facto official religion at the time.

Think of President Barack (Hussein) Obama for a second and how the US media and the Republicans play with his middle name and mixed background, especially when he visits conservative states. That was, perhaps, the kind of scrutiny that the Emperor wanted to avoid when he guarded his mother’s identity.

The emperor’s mother was called Yeshimebet Ali Gamcho. Yeshimebet is a Christian/Amharic name; Ali is Muslim; and Gamcho is ethnic/non-Amharic.

Why is it relevant to talk about this topic today? In order to fully understand the ongoing political quagmire in Ethiopia and to devise some kind of meaningful solution, one must put the present in a historical context, as Professor Markakis recently argued in an interview. One can use the past like a mirror to reflect the present on it so one can see a clearer future.

Interestingly, both the current Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the former Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam also come from a mixed background. Fortunately, after Mengistu assumed power he never had to worry about his ethnic origin, at least in public (though in private people did call him “baria,” derogatory word, which means slave, because of his very dark skin). Colonel Menigstu purposely mobilized the country under socialist mantra, advocating “one people, one country,” attempting to quell proponents of ethnic nationalism and to secure his power brutally, which he eventually failed.

On the other hand, Meles Zenawi, whose mother was Eritrean and father Ethiopian, isn’t as fortunate as Mengistu, dealing with his mixed identity. His mixed background can be seen as standing on a land mine. Even though he was born and raised in Ethiopia, his opponents constantly accuse him of favoring his mother’s country, Eritrea, instead of the country he rules.

What is more problematic is: Meles is also blamed for favouring his father’s ethnic group, the Tigrayan community that brought him to power in collaboration with other ethnic groups that sacrificed thousands of youth during the armed struggle against the Mengistu regime. Opponents of Meles say he has created a ruling class that uses the Tigrayans as a power base — a power base that also includes members of the satellite parties of other ethnic groups that make up his Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party.

Because of Meles Zenawi’s mixed background and uncontested stay in power, those who oppose him question his legitimacy to rule Ethiopia. His authoritarian rule aside, questioning his Ethiopian-ness is sort of similar to what the birthers in the US say about President Obama whose father was Kenyan.

In Ethiopia, politics, religion and ethnicity (or provinciality) have always been interwoven. The trio together has played a major role in shaping Ethiopia’s history. During the monarchy, religion, particularly Orthodox Christianity, was the uniting force, upon which the kings legitimized their kingship. The royals, even if most had a mixed ethnic background, traced their lineage only to Christian nobles who rarely embraced their diverse ethnic identities, other than claiming to be either Amharas or Tigrayans in public.

Later, in the socialist revolution, the church was stripped of its power to influence national policy, but it still remained powerful enough that the socialists barely messed with it. After the revolution, ethnicity took religion’s place as a means to fight against the Mengistu dictatorship, to unseat the dictator through armed struggle, and to introduce a new system of governance that based itself entirely on ethnicity, hence, its name ethnic federalism, which has helped Meles to rule for twenty plus years.

Today’s opposition parties that want to get rid of the Meles government are equally affected by ethnicity, divided and disorganized mainly due to their failure to find a common ground — some of them want the full implementation of ethnic federalism, while others want to completely bury it. Religion, though now in the background, is still influential since majority of Ethiopians are deeply religious. One example is the recent clash between the government and the two major religious groups (Muslims and Orthodox Christians) — both groups have demanded the federal government to stop trespassing on their spaces.

Ethiopians who are unsatisfied with the current system have yet to find a common voice to come up with a better alternative, an alternative that leaves no room for ethnic loyalty and ethnic hegemony, but at the same time that guarantees the protection of both individual and group rights — rights to have fair economic and political opportunity, for example. What is lacking most is compromise — the emergence of moderate politicians who have realistic goals and can easily cross between party lines for the common good. What we have instead is extremism — too many extremists from here and there who only want to choke one another if they get a chance.

Disregarding the needs of Ethiopia’s diverse groups and without developing Ethiopian solutions for Ethiopian problems, simply copycatting abstract ideas from other countries, will be practically fruitless as past and present experiences demonstrate. Whatever works in other nations doesn’t necessarily mean it will work in Ethiopia, unless customized to fit local needs.

The solution for Ethiopia’s unresolved political problems lies in the causes of the problems. And one of the primary causes has always been the competition for power and control of resources among ethnic elites. As a remedy, think of something like a vaccine — a curative substance for a disease, prepared from the causative agent of the disease — which means establishing a genuinely representative form of government that almost every citizen can welcome, unlike the present system that lets one party win 99.6% of seats in parliament. The diverse groups in the country must feel they have equal voice or fair representation in the national or federal government, both as leaders and followers, regardless of their population size, big or small.

Furthermore, increase the literacy rate; empower local self-governance systems that have been proven effective; internalize democratic principles; build strong institutions that secure democratization; abide by the constitution; create an environment of trust; encourage innovation in business and technology; fight poverty; let there be equal opportunity for any person anywhere in the country; never suffocate an individual or a group; allow freedom of expression and enjoy the freedom responsibly; respect and tolerate diversity (ethnic, religious, or free thinking); reward merit; say no to cronyism or nepotism; then expect a different kind of Ethiopia where the future generation will worry less about identity politics, but more about economic security, the arts, the environment, science, and technology.

Had Ethiopia achieved that before, perhaps the emperor would have embraced his mother’s identity in public, never hiding it to protect his power; perhaps the Colonel would not have sought revenge against those who called him “baria” due to his dark skin; perhaps the Prime Minister would have been considered as a legitimate leader by all; perhaps the country would have avoided authoritarian governments altogether; and perhaps most educated Ethiopians who live abroad would have happily returned to build their homeland. Perhaps …

* Elyas Mulu Kiros blogs at Courtesy of Pambazuka

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In Zambia, Bush Joins Fight Against Cervical Cancer
July 4, 2012 | 0 Comments

Brian Padden*

LUSAKA — Former President George W. Bush is in Africa this week to promote cervical cancer detection and treatment programs for women, many of whom are living with



HIV.  While Bush’s tenure in office was marked by unpopular wars and what critics say were failed economic policies, since leaving office he has been quietly building upon his success as president in fighting AIDS in Africa.

In Kabwe, Zambia’s second largest city, former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura opened of a new health clinic that specializes in the early detection and treatment of cervical cancer in women.

“We care because we believe that to whom much is given, much is required,” said Bush. “And those of us who live in America, live in the most blessed nation ever and therefore when we see suffering, we ought to act.”

Through his George W. Bush Center and other partner organizations, the former president has raised more than $85 million for cervical cancer programs.

He says his goal is to build upon one of the great bipartisan achievements of his presidency.

His 2003 AIDS initiative that initially funded $15 billion-worth of anti-retroviral drugs and treatment to extend the lives of millions of Africans with HIV and AIDS.

Zambia now has the second highest number of cervical cancer cases in the world, in part because many of the women infected with the disease are also living with HIV and have weakened immune systems.

“But the saddest thing of all is to know a lady’s life has been saved from AIDS but died from cervical cancer,” said Bush. “And so starting in Zambia, the Bush Center, along with our partners, are going to put on a cervical cancer crusade to save lives.”

Jane Chanda, who is HIV positive, is one of the first women at the center to undergo the screening.  The health worker applies vinegar to the cervix area – to turn any cancerous nodes white – and then uses a digital camera to locate any potential problems.  The screening shows Jane to be cancer-free and she says she is grateful to former President Bush.

“He’s a very nice person,” said Chanda. “I thank him and I am wishing you [him] a happy life, a good life.”

At home Bush’s presidency remains a controversial subject, dominated by the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, prolonged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and a deep global recession.

But in Zambia and much of Africa, he is remembered for saving lives.  A mother in Kabwe who just gave birth named her baby George in honor of his visit.

J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says. Bush deserves the credit.  He says in 2003,  Bush saw AIDS in Africa as a humanitarian disaster – that if left unchecked could destabilize the entire continent.

“When the president came forward and said, ‘HIV/AIDS – we can save lives,” said Morrison. “We can enhance lives. We can stabilize societies.’  It was with a very powerful ethical and moral rationale as much as it was about a security rationale.”

In his post-presidency Mr. Bush says he will continue to advocate for global health issues. For him, he says, it is a labor of love.

*Courtesy of VOA Africa


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$3m Subsidy bribe scandal: I won’t talk in secret, Otedola tells Reps
July 4, 2012 | 0 Comments

$3m Subsidy bribe scandal: I won’t talk in secret, Otedola tells Reps

BY OKEY NDIRIBE, Uduma Kalu, EMMAN OVUAKPORIE & Ikechekwu Nnochiri

ABUJA— Oil magnate Femi Otedola, yesterday, appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Ethics investigating the $3 million cash for clearance scandal but refused to speak in protest against the committee’s decision to hear him in secret.

Otedola’s appearance came as more audio recordings of the alleged bribe negotiations between him and Rep. Farouk Lawan emerged with Lawan allegedly promising to spring a surprise on his colleagues in his bid to exonerate Otedola from culpability in the fuel subsidy scam.

Unbowed by the revelations, Lawan yesterday approached an Abuja High Court and dared Otedola to release the video recording of him stuffing the bribe money in his cap.

Odetola appearing before the House of Reps yesterday. Photo: Gbenga Olamikan.

Odetola appearing before the House of Reps yesterday. Photo: Gbenga Olamikan.

Otedola’s appearance before the House Committee on Ethics followed a summon on him by the committee to appear yesterday. Otedola who appeared at the House Hearing Room at about 1.45 p.m. well before the scheduled 2.00 p.m insisted that he would not speak unless the session was open to the public and the press.

Otedola spoke through his lawyer Mr Babajide Koku (SAN) immediately after he left the House Committee conducting an investigative hearing into the allegation he levelled against Lawan.

Giving further reasons why his client won’t speak to the Committee in camera, Koku said Farouk Lawan had exhibited a high degree of inconsistency in his responses to the allegations against him.

According to Koku: “ Lawan has lied four times. He initially denied collecting any money from Otedola and later admitted”.

He continued: “ Again he said he handed over the money to the Chairman of the House Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes Hon Adams Jagaba, but Jagaba has denied collecting any money from him.

“Therefore my client insisted before the Committee that he couldn’t say anything concerning Lawan in camera”.

Otedola’s refusal to give evidence before the Committee was in line with a statement he issued earlier and circulated among newsmen.

According to the statement which was addressed to the Chairman and members of the Committee: “This is a matter that has generated a lot of public interest and controversy. The House of Representatives Committee on the Management of Fuel Subsidy headed by Hon. Farouk Lawan held all its sittings in public. When this issue arose, the House of Representatives Committee on Ethics and privileges publicly stated that its investigations would be held in public. It is therefore surprising and curious that this Committee has made a u-turn to hold its investigative sittings in-camera. I have nothing to hide and will only speak on this issue when this investigation is conducted in a very transparent manner and the press and the general public are allowed to be present at the sittings of this Committee from the beginning of its investigation to its conclusion.”

However, Chairman of the Committee, Gambo Musa described Otedola’s decision not to speak before the Committee in camera as misguided.

Commenting further, Musa reminded newsmen that when the Committee summoned Lawan last week, he appeared in camera, adding that the decision of the Committee to carry out its assignment in secret was derived from the Constitution and Rules of the House.

He said: “Our decision is in line with the convention of the House”.

He further stated that members of the Committee pleaded with Otedola to change his position and explained the powers of the House to him but he still refused to speak.

“It is one thing to appear before the Committee and another thing to speak. Otedola refused to speak and insulted us ”.

He further stated that members of the Committee told Otedola that he could not dictate what procedure and rules the House could take in carrying out its assignment.

He continued: “We told Otedola about the consequences of his action but he still refused to speak.

“We told him he was not accused person before the House but only a witness”

He maintained that the oil magnate refused to answer all the questions put to him by the committee members.

He asked: “How do you investigate such a matter if he refuses to speak in camera?”

“He was just laughing at us. He told us he was a businessman who wasn’t hungry”

“Are we honourable members hungry people? Are you press men hungry people?”

He maintained that despite Otedola’s refusal to give evidence before the Committee, members would continue with their assignment and go ahead to invite other persons who might be required to appear before them.

Otedola appeared before the committee with his Lawyer and eight other aides. Members of the Committee arrived a short while later.

The venue of the investigative hearing was jam-packed by newsmen who were once again ordered out of the venue before the Committee commenced sitting.

The Chairman of the Committee Hon. Gambo Dan-Musa cited the crowded room as excuse for asking the journalists to leave despite their protests.

The committee was several weeks ago directed by the House to investigate the $620,000 bribe allegedly given by Otedola to Lawan to clear his company from the list of those that got foreign exchange allocation from the Central Bank of Nigeria for the purpose of importing petroleum products but failed to do so. Lawan was the chairman of the ad hoc committee that probed the petroleum subsidy payments scam.

The Committee had last week grilled Lawan for four hours. It ordered Otedola to appear before it yesterday.

Otedola’s appearance caught many observers by surprise as the oil magnate had last Monday dragged the House Leadership before an Abuja Federal High Court to ask for N250 billion as damages for relisting Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd among companies that were indicted by the report of the Adhoc Committee on Petroleum Subsidy.

Already, the Police Special Task Force (STF) is investigating the bribe allegation which Lawan admitted collecting but which he said was meant to be used as an exhibit against Otedola.

Another audio tape indicts Lawan

Yesterday, another audio report of the conversation between Otedola and Lawan on how to handle the bribery was broadcast by Channels Television. The station said the broadcast was part two of the purported discussion between Lawan and Otedola over the $3million bribery allegation scandal.

In the 112-second audio tape, two men said to be Lawan and Otedola are heard clearly discussing how the contents of a report should be watered down. The transcribed version of the audio indicates that the person tagged as Lawan is telling the other of the need to keep their discussions secret, as any leak could cause untold embarrassment. The first part of the audio was released on Monday.

Here is the transcript of the latest audio recording

Lawan: It wasn’t like my brother talking. That’s one. Secondly, please this thing that we are doing, keep it to yourself otherwise you will make it difficult for us …

Otedola: Okay, okay. I am now…

Lawan: Because somebody called me now and said that we said we are going to address it.

Otedola: Address what?

Lawan: Yea. Because if it is already out that we are going to do something, when we do it, people will think that we are doing it because we have been compromised. And you know that is something that errrrr… And if my colleagues get to hear about it, I wouldn’t be able to convince them. So keep it to yourself.

Otedola: Okay

Lawan: Let it not be like anybody is aware of what is happening. If anybody asks you, simply explain that this thing, you know from your records. You have all records and you have made a case to the committee. You have sent your documents to the committee

Otedola: Yea, Yea

Lawan: Yea. It’s left for the committee… It’s left for the committee to decide what to do. Please keep it that way.

Otedola: Yea. God bless you. God bless you

Lawan: Yea. Because the moment it gets out now we are going to correct it. Then it means we have already Haaa… so let it be …

Otedola: Okay, okay

Lawan: I want to spring a surprise on the floor and only that is the only credible way I can do this. So please, please.

Otedola: God bless you. God bless you my brother. I have been crying. Anytime I hear your voice

Lawan: Yes. You know your sector is small. Everybody knows… and people are already saying … Somebody just called now and said Femi has gotten his way around you guys and he has already succeeded.

Otedola: That is not true. But let me also tell you one thing ….

Lawan: No, no, no, no. I am saying it because this is what I heard.

Otedola: But my brother, let me also tell you one thing. You know me as a person…

Lawan: It doesn’t have… I know… I don’t want…

Otedola: People just get up…

Lawan: I know. That makes it difficult. Just, just whoever… you know… no. I didn’t do this. I’m sure it must have been a mistake from the committee but I have sent a letter to set the record right

Otedola: Okay

Lawan: That’s all

Otedola: Okay my brother

Lawan: Yea. Yea

Otedola: Okay. Great, okay

Lawan: Yea

Otedola: Thank you.

Lawan dares Otedola to produce video tape

Apparently rattled by the audio tape that sought to establish his complicity in the $3 million cash-for-clearance scandal, Lawan, yesterday, dared Otedola, to go ahead and expose the video recordings where he was allegedly stuffing money into his cap.

Farouk, who spoke through his lawyers yesterday, said he was surprised that Mr. Otedola could blackmail him to the extent of releasing a “highly doctored and fabricated” audio tape to media houses.

While refuting the allegation that he traveled to Lagos to collect the alleged bribe money, Lawan, yesterday, told newsmen that he only received money from Otedola on two

Mr Farouk Lawan

Mr Farouk Lawan

separate occasions at his room at Protea Hotel at Apo Abuja and at Otedola’s house at Aso Drive Asokoro also in Abuja. Describing the released audio tape as “a devilish caricature”, Lawan urged Nigerians to give him the benefit of doubts, saying he would not rest until he proves that the primary intention why he collected the money was to uncover the level of corruption within the oil sector of the Nigerian economy.

Besides, Lawan said though Otedola has continued to tarnish his hard earned public image, he would not approach the court for redress pending the outcome of the ongoing investigation into the bribery saga.

Tracing the uncanny events that led to his travails, Lawan, through his lead counsel, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, recalled that he had on April 28, 2012, “shouted to the world with an alarm that some oil marketers were trying to bring a train load of dollars to bribe the committee and legislators so as to write a good report on them.”

He maintained that sequel to his complaint to the police, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, on May 9, instructed a commissioner of police, one Amodu Ali, to investigate the matter, saying the police boss equally wrote him a letter, urging him to cooperate with the investigating team.

According to him: “CP Ali followed this up on 16th of May and it was then that Farouk Lawan wrote a letter to the police saying he has submitted the money and complaint to relevant committee on drugs, narcotics and financial crimes of the House of Reps, as the rules required him to do.

“He therefore urged Police authorities to liaise with the leadership of the House over the matter. After then, Police wrote a letter to the Speaker of the House, Aminu Tambuwal on June 6, 2012, seeking his corporation towards investigating the statement Lawan made before it.

“During the whole of this period, Farouk was already interacting with the police having laid his complain. Is it not remarkable that it was only on the 11th of June that Otedola first told the world through Thisday newspaper that he carried out a “sting-operation”?

“Let us ask some questions because Nigerians are not fools. A sting operation is an operation in which a suspect is caught in the act by swooping in on the suspect as he is committing that crime. Otedola claimed he carried out the sting operation on April 22 and 23 but he did not say anything until June 11, almost 2 months later.

“No security agent came out to handcuff Farouk Lawan on money allegedly given on four successive occasions.

“The sum of $250, 000 was given to Lawan, another $250, 000 also to him, another $100, 000 to Emanalo, the secretary of the committee, another $20, 000 to Emenalo, yet, in none of these transactions did security agents come out and swoop on the alleged operators.

“It is clear that even if there was any video at all, it was something done personally by Otedola which he cannot show and that is why the SSS, till now, has never owned up that they carried out any sting operation; there was none.

“It is necessary for Nigerians to compare Otedola’s claims with Lawan’s statement that he collected the money quite alright, but as an agent provocateur.

“An agent provocateur provokes you to play along so as to commit an offence in order to use the proceeds of the crime as evidence against you. Which is why he could collect $250, 000 in his hotel room, go to his house and collect another $250,000 and at 3:47am of that June 24, he wrote a letter to chairman of the House Committee on Narcotics, saying this is the $500, 000 dollars that was given to us as a bribe, we have collected it to show as exhibit, that story is more credible and believable.

“It goes along with the alarm which he raised on the 28th of April; it also goes along with the police that stepped into the matter on the 9th of May.

“Mr Otedola has said that this money was collected from him in his house in Lagos, that was the dummy he sold to the whole world, and that after collecting the money, it could not contain in Farouk Lawan’s pockets so he had to put some under his cap.

“Farouk Lawan came to my chambers and debunked it and challenged them to produce the video. That said he never even wore a cap on the two occasions he saw this man.

“He said that Otedola actually gave him the first tranche of $250, 000 with some documents in his hotel room at Protea Hotel at Apo Abuja, he never stepped into Lagos.

“The last tranche of $250, 000 he collected as exhibit was at Otedola’s house at Aso drive in Asokoro Abuja.

“He said he never met Otedola in Lagos. The evidence has not been refuted by his accusers, yet, what did we see yesterday (Monday) on Channels TV, a caricature of a statement.

“Two voices were heard purportedly belonging to Otedola and Lawan. Even in the statement, Otedola was saying the money is too bulky, I cannot bring it to the airport, it’s at home, another voice purportedly being that of Farouk said, ok, so where do you want it to be collected, is it the airport? and Otedola said no, don’t you have a trusted person?

“It was obvious that Otedola was the one always putting the question. That audio started from the middle, we didn’t know the beginning. There must have been pleasantries exchanged before it got to the transaction stage.

“We didn’t hear the beginning; the tape was doctored, manipulated, engineered, surgeoned. Now, we did not get to the end, it terminated abruptly with ellipsis.

“What is it that was contained at the beginning and the end? If you take the statement itself for whatever it is worth, Mr Otedola is the one offering bribe, he is yet to tell the world if the $2.5m is a balance of an amount or the whole of an amount that was to be paid. What was the $2.5m for?

“Neither Zenon nor AP petroleum was mentioned in that tape. He is yet to answer so many questions and more importantly, Otedola had already said he gave $620, 000 to Lawan, (500,000 to him and 120, 000 to the secretary of the committee) he is the same person suggesting that the balance was $2.5m.

“If you add $2.5m to $620, 000, that becomes $3.420, 000 whereas he had maintained that it was $3m that they agreed on.”

“So, plus or minus even with multiplication, the entire story does not add up. It is a cooked story, doctored story and the security agencies and Nigerians need to look down beyond the present hysteria. Nigerians are entitled to be angry when an icon is about to be rubbished, somebody they had believed in, one of those few remaining people standing on their feet in terms of integrity.

“They have a right to be angry, but they must wait and hear from the other side because a coin must have two sides, a one sided coin is a bad tender. The second side is now coming out to show that someone is hiding the truth. Where is the video showing that Farouk Lawan was stuffing money under his cap?” he queried.

*Courtesy of



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Africa’s tallest skyscraper set to be taller than Empire State Building
June 30, 2012 | 0 Comments

BY Claude Harding*

South Africa could soon be home to one of the world’s tallest buildings, if the mayor of the City of Tshwane is to be believed. At 447 metres with 110 floors, the proposed building, set to be constructed in Centurion, will be Africa’s tallest structure and taller than New York’s Empire State Building.

The planned Centurion Symbio-City development will comprise two office buildings and one residential tower. The tallest tower will be 447 metres high, reaching 110 storeys. It will be flanked by two towers of 80 and 60 floors.

The City of Tshwane, the municipality under which Centurion falls, describes the project as a modern, technologically advanced, cutting edge development.

Centurion is situated in South Africa’s Gauteng Province, close to the country’s administrative capital Pretoria.

So how will the proposed Symbio-City’s tallest tower compare to the world’s tallest buildings? Not taking into account buildings that are currently under construction, such as the One World Trade Centre building in New York, the Symbio-City tower will be the 14th tallest freestanding structure in the world, only 5 metres shorter than the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Tshwane is home to 132 embassies and four universities. According to Kgosientso Ramokgopa, executive mayor of the City of Tshwane, “the development is a reflection of the range of economic opportunities, cultural experiences, safety and a quality physical environment that Tshwane offers.”

It is unclear when the proposed development will be completed.

*Courtesy of

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Nigerian President’s Call for Birth Control Sparks Debate
June 30, 2012 | 0 Comments

Anne Look*

DAKAR, Senegal — Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has sparked intense debate by saying Nigerian families should have only the children they can afford.  In remarks to the newly created National Population Commission Wednesday, the president said it may be time for “birth control legislation.”

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country with about 162 million people. The United Nations says the population could reach 400 million by 2050.  That’s a growth rate of 2.5 percent annually that economists say is unsustainably high for such a densely populated country plagued by poor infrastructure, poverty and unemployment.

The World Bank says a Nigerian woman has, on average, five or six children.  It is not unusual for couples to have as many as 10.

President Goodluck Jonathan has called on Nigerians “to only have the number of children they can manage.”  Managing population growth, the president said, is essential to economic planning and the government could adopt policies aimed at curbing rapid population growth and encouraging birth control use.

The president, himself a Christian, said the topic of population control is “sensitive” in Nigeria, where people, he said, are “extremely religious” and children are seen as “God’s gift to man.”

His comments have sparked religious debate.

Muslim leaders say Islam only allows family planning methods to space a woman’s pregnancies for health reasons, but not to control the number of children she has.

Sheikh Ibrahim Umar Ibrahim Kasuwar, a senior member of the Supreme Council of Sharia in Nigeria, says he was unhappy to hear of the president’s speech.  He says nowhere in the Bible or the Quran does it say that people can be discouraged from having children.  He says this is not the first time Nigerian authorities have talked about such measures but what they forget is that the people they serve are loyal first to God.

He says he has three wives and 16 children and plans to have and care for as many more as God gives him.

A local Christian leader in Kaduna state, Reverend Esra’a Kafaiza, said the Bible encourages procreation, but adds that parents have a responsibility as well.

“It is not right to give birth to more children that you can able to control – how are you going to educate them and guide them and lead them to the way of God,” asked Kafaiza. ”

Reverend Kafaiza said population growth is not the problem in Nigeria – it’s leaders are.

“The population of Nigeria cannot stop the progress of Nigeria,” said Kafaiza. “If our leaders can stand on their obligations and apply the wisdom of God and the fear of God, we can make it and succeed also in Nigeria.”

President Goodluck Jonathan

President Goodluck Jonathan

President Jonathan pointed to the example of China, which has a one-child policy and whose population growth has slowed sharply in recent years.

Politicians and community leaders said the government would be overstepping its bounds by attempting to regulate family size.

Sociologist at the University of Abuja Umar Kari says tradition and religious values make birth control a “hard sell” in Nigeria.

He says attempts to link a reduced birth rate with poverty reduction are met with disbelief.

“The ordinary people are not impressed,” said Kari. “In their own opinion, Nigeria’s major problem is not overpopulation or high rate of population increase.  Rather it is the inability of the Nigerian state to properly harness the resources – mineral, natural and human resources – of the country for the benefit of the people.”

Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer.  However, corruption and mismanagement mean that little of that wealth trickles down to the average person.

*Culled from VOA News

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The Challenges Of Writing About Africa
June 28, 2012 | 0 Comments

Malla Nunn*

The day my first novel was sold into the American market, my agent called to prod me about the delivery date for the next one in my South African crime series. “Your family must be proud,” she said. My parents and my long-gone ancestors had worked hard and sacrificed a lot to make it possible for me to jump from weeding cornfields to writing a novel. Of course they were proud.

I hung up the phone and sat in the sun on the back steps of my house to enjoy a moment of satisfaction. Years earlier, it was from this spot overlooking a small orange tree, that I had re-imagined the insular mixed-race community that I’d grown up in and re-mapped the dusty rural towns of my childhood to build a fictional world with its own secrets. Then, the radio playing in the kitchen announced that Lucky Dube, a much-loved South African reggae singer, had been shot dead during a robbery in Johannesburg. His teenaged son and daughter were in the car at the time. Carjacking is common in Johannesburg, the vehicular equivalent of purse snatching. That it should happen so arbitrarily to a man whose life’s work was to share music, shocked me to tears.

Instead of a warm glow at finally becoming a published novelist, I felt an overwhelming sense of shame. I had taken the very real suffering of my family and of my birthplace and used it as fodder for an “African Noir” detective story. With the benefit of my expensive education I had written neither a literary novel detailing the political struggle against white minority rule, nor a memoir exposing the wounds of growing up mixed race in a culture obsessed with skin color. I had chosen instead to write a crime novel: a piece of entertainment that might one day get adapted for a crime-time slot on television.

How shallow my motives had been: to use the bedrock of real family experiences under the implacable apartheid regime to excite rather than enlighten the reader. Worse still, I’d written what I hoped was a page-turner. Like a lazy, drug-addled teenager I had taken my family history and pawned it for something cheap. The ancestors would not be pleased.

I waited nervously for my parent’s reviews. My mother, a former English teacher, was thrilled to have an author daughter. Books had transported her from a mud-brick shack in Swaziland to Mark Twain’s Mississippi River and Emily Bronte’s Yorkshire Moors. In her mind, I had joined the ranks of those magnificent individuals who built time travel machines for poor people. My father liked the story but pointed out a major factual error in my novel and then told me not to worry: most people who’d lived through the 1950s (the decade in which my novels are set) were either too old to remember the facts clearly or were dead.

My parents did not believe I’d despoiled the family name by writing about sex, murder and lies in a small border town. Why then, should the ancestors take offense? The soldiers, traders and native women in my family tree lived though wars, droughts and floods. They tilled fields and camped under canvas in all weather. No book, literary or otherwise, can alleviate their pains or extend their joys. Their story is already written while I am still living and writing my own.

My third novel, “Blessed Are The Dead” [Atria, $14.00], was published unburdened by the feeling that both my stories and I are unworthy of their subject matter. The idea that I somehow failed my family and an entire continent by writing detective stories seems grandiose in hindsight but it was real nonetheless.

A locust plague in Mali, a firebombed church in Kenya, another warlord hiding in the hills with a cache of AK47’s and machetes; Africa is still a mess. No matter how many books I write about her, I will never have the power to fix her. I’m not immune to the human misery unfolding in Libya or Somalia or, most especially, Swaziland, my spiritual home, the country with the highest AIDS infection rate on Earth. I can no longer judge my own writing in terms of its ability to save Africa. Instead, I can invite readers into an exquisite, wild part of the world where exciting things happen. I can tell stories where despite the obstacles, people fight for each and for justice. Now, when I stand on a craggy mountainside high above a river in Swaziland (whether I’m really there or just in my imagination) I feel no shame, just the deepest kind of love.

*Malla Nunn is an  Author, Filmmaker.Article culled from


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Rwanda officially closes community genocide courts
June 19, 2012 | 0 Comments

Rwanda on Monday officially closed the “gacaca” community courts, the controversial tribunals both credited with easing tensions and criticised for possible miscarriages of justice.

“Today’s event is not simply to mark the closure of the courts, but also to recognise the enduring value of the process,” President Paul Kagame said at the closing ceremony in Kigali.

“It is a celebration of the restoration of unity and trust among Rwandans, and reaffirmation of our ability to find our own answers to seemingly intractable questions,” he said, according to a presidency statement.

Some 12,100 grass-roots gacaca courts, inspired by onetime village gatherings in which elders would adjudicate disputes, have tried the vast majority of suspects in the 1994 genocide that killed about 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis.

Since being set up in 2001 the tribunals have tried nearly two million people, convicting 65 percent of them.

The gacaca were introduced to reduce the backlog of genocide cases that threatened to swamp the country’s traditional court system after the weeks-long genocide. They were also meant to foster national reconciliation.

But they had also been criticised, with Human Rights Watch saying last year that violations included “restrictions on the accused’s ability to mount an effective defence; possible miscarriages of justice due to using largely untrained judges; trumped-up charges, some based on the Rwandan government’s wish to silence critics”.

HRW, which monitored the trials since they began, also cited misuse of the trials “to settle personal scores; judges’ or officials’ intimidation of defence witnesses; and corruption by judges and parties to cases”.

The group said however that the system’s achievements included “swift trials with popular participation, a reduction in the prison population, a better understanding of what happened in 1994” and helped with localting bodies of citims and “a possible asing of ethnic tensions”.

Kagame defended the tribunals at Monday’s ceremony.

“We had three choices: first was the more dangerous path of revenge, or secondly, grant general amnesty, both of which would have led to further anarchy and destruction,” he said.

“But we chose the third and more difficult course of dealing with the matter decisively and restoring the unity and integrity of the nation.”

“It received criticism both from within and outside Rwanda, yet those criticizing offered no viable alternatives that could deliver the results we needed.”

The official close of the courts had been repeatedly pushed back.

The suspected masterminds of the genocide have been tried in the International Criminal Court for Rwanda (ICTR) in the north Tanzanian town of Arusha.

Other Rwandan officials, whose cases were not deemed serious enough for the ICTR, were for some years tried only in Rwanda’s traditional court system. An amendment to the law allowed them to also be tried in the gacaca.

*Courtesy of AFP


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Introducing The African Kingdoms &Empires Theme Park or “Heritage City”
June 19, 2012 | 0 Comments
Shanda Washington

Shanda Washington

By Shanda Washington*

Despite its immense potential, Africa is grossly misunderstood by many across the world. Talk about Africa and based on the image that comes to many minds is one of misery, of disease, of illiteracy, of wars, famine, poverty and other negative labels used by the western media to brand the continent. Yet this is a continent described by US Under Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson as the last biggest emerging market in the world. It is home to some 54 countries or so I believe, it is a billion man strong markets; it has vast resources some of which are not found anywhere else in the world. Because of these resources, global powers are now making a mad rush for Africa. Beyond the vast scramble for resources that salivates predatory appetites, lies historic realities that the world is ignorant about or refuses to come to terms with. Africa is the continent where civilization started, it is the continent that is home to humanity, it is a continent that has some of the best cultures in the world, it a continent with some of the biggest empires that the world ever knew. It is partly in a bid to help immortalize the historical realities of Africa that the African Kingdoms Empires theme or “Heritage City was conceived.

Heritage city is designed to showcase Africa’s rich history, enhanced with modern technology to produce a total experience in learning, entertainment and relaxation for tourists and visitors. Heritage city represents the best initiative till date to present all of Africa’s diverse culture and history to tourists and visitors in one spot. By its existence, it is hoped that Heritage City will attract wide range of tourists from all over the world. For many African Americans who yearn to know more about their roots, the City offers a unique opportunity to get a healthy feel of Africa’s rich heritage presented in the best possible form with a dose of modernity.

The African Kingdoms and Empires Theme Park or “Heritage City”, is an idea conceived by a very good friend of mine Ekwo Omakwu, when Ekwo showed me the business plan way back in 2000, I knew I had found my life’s calling. Through lots of research, we realized that Africa did not have anything like what we were trying to do. I did not know a lot about Africa, just what I had heard. After all, they don’t teach us about Africa in school. Although so many African Americans are still not very knowledgeable about Africa a lot of it is not their fault. We are constantly being bombarded with negative images about Africa. I can remember telling my friends and family about Heritage City. And a lot of the responses were “who’s going to go to a theme park in Africa?’ “Isn’t everyone over there poor?”

When someone says that everyone in Africa is poor, I have to remind them that Porsche just opened up its first dealership on Victoria Island in Lagos. That is not to diminish the problems that the Continent does have. But, we know that Heritage city will bring thousands of jobs and boost tourism. In Monrovia, Liberia Kendeja a resort, built by African American multimillionaire and Black Entertainment television founder Robert Johnson, is a five star resort. Kendeja is the first new hotel to be built in Liberia in a decade. Retail giants like Wal-Mart are searching for inroads n the continent. I think those are positive signs for Africa and shows that Africa has potential and that people are starting to notice and understand that Africa is really the future. I think as an African Americans we have to be more proactive in our engagement with the continent. Just as the investment of Robert Johnson in Liberia is a salutary initiative so too is the school opened by Oprah Winfrey in South Africa, so too is the work done by Actor Isaiah Washington in Sierra Leone with his Goondobay Foundation. The Heritage City idea falls in line with these kind of initiatives which should forge greater bonds between mother Africa and its Diaspora.

We hope to put together groups of people to take to the park. It is so important for people to see for themselves, that what they show us about Africa is not the truth. But overall, I do feel that people have been very positive about the park. We have a Facebook page that has almost 50,000 likes.

We believe that Heritage City can help dispel the myths about Africa. Heritage city will promote a greater understanding of Africa and will highlight Africa’s contribution to human civilization. By focusing more on Africa’s pre-slavery and pre-colonial era, the achievements of African people that have been otherwise obscured will be showcased at the theme park.

Abuja- Nigeria’s capital was chosen as the location for Heritage City because it is fast becoming a magnet city for the West African sub-region and for the rest of Africa. It is a new city with new infrastructure and space for continuous expansion. There are also a number of amazing rock formations, waterfalls, hills and valleys in Abuja and surrounding areas. It must not be forgotten that Nigeria is the giant of Africa. It is the leader in the continent with developments be there social, economic or security wise which impact the rest of the continent positively or negatively. It was therefore appropriate that Nigeria be chosen to host this first of its kind project.

Heritage City Project is championed by Heritage City Parks Limited-a private development company based in Abuja, Nigeria. The project funding and planning was packaged

Plan of heritage City

Plan of heritage City

by the Washington; DC based US-Africa Technology Council, Inc. The project concept was developed since 2002 but administrative bottle-necks on the part of the Nigerian city government have since delayed the approval of a site for the project and its initial take-off in 2006.Nigeria is currently not known as a popular tourist destination. The promoters of Heritage City hope all that will change when Heritage City opens in 2013. The Heritage City Project stands to gain tremendously on an annual basis from a large influx of international tourists including African Americans, citizens of the Caribbean, and also indigenous Africans themselves who will be interested in learning more about their heritage in an atmosphere that is tranquil, relaxing and entertaining. The African Kingdoms and Empires Theme Park will promote Africa’s rich cultural heritage by focusing on the historical dimensions that shaped that heritage.

*Shanda Washington is the project assistant for Heritage city, and social media PR she can be reached at ,cell phone 202-369-7170 .website, Facebook page African heritage city.


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Feeding South Africa’s elite
June 18, 2012 | 0 Comments

South Africa’s fine dining restaurant business is largely dominated by foreign nationals and white South Africans, but this did not stop Soweto-born Desmond Mabuza from wanting to join those feeding the elite.

Desmond Mabuza is one of the very few black South Africans to own a stake in the country’s burgeoning business of fine dining.



In his high-end Johannesburg eateries, Signature Restaurant and Wall Street, Mr Mabuza serves expensive food to the rich, famous and politically connected.

“We’ve had the likes of Arsene Wenger during the World Cup, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Patrick Vieira,” he told the BBC series African Dream.

“Two deputy presidents of the country have been here in the last two weeks, ministers, the list is endless.”

A US-trained civil engineer, he returned to South Africa a year before the end of apartheid and set up his own firm.

But he decided on a career change eight years later, realising his passion did not lie in his chosen profession.

“By some chance I got involved in the restaurant business and it grew on me,” he said.

“The bug caught me in a way and I could see myself doing that for the rest of my life.”

Making history

He began his dream in 2001, when aged 28, he opened his first restaurant.

Using money generated from his civil engineering company, he raised the money needed to invest in the design of a new building.

His initial plan was to hand the business over to a manager once the restaurant had been designed, but he quickly found he enjoyed the process too much to hand it over to someone else.

“It’s a very dynamic industry, you get to meet and socialise with different people on a daily basis, no day’s ever like the one before.”

Patrons visiting his restaurant can expect to pay up to 450 rand (£32, $53) on a three-course meal and can choose anything from oysters to stuffed calamari, garlic snails or orange-glazed salmon.

Customers are then invited to wash down their meal with some of South Africa’s finest wines to complete the fine dining experience.



Many of Mr Mabuza’s customers include some of South Africa’s growing black middle class, but he asserts that he is the sole black businessman to operate at the top of the restaurant business.

“For me colour was never something that I made much of an issue of.”

However, he admits to feeling like he is making history and says that many black South Africans have told him that they are proud of him.

Attention to detail

For Mr Mabuza, the key to his success was setting himself the goal of putting out a product which would excel and stand out from everyone else on the market.

Given his lack of experience in setting up a restaurant business, many critics may have doubted his ability to create a success.

But he says his background in civil engineering has been an invaluable asset.

“[In engineering] you’re paying attention to detail, the overall project planning, being objective, processes.

“A lot of that training has come in handy for me in terms of how I implement and go about my daily business.”

Now with a second restaurant and close to 100 employees, he says business is in good financial shape.

“We are continuously full which is a good way of knowing you are doing something right, because the people will always vote and they vote by coming to your restaurant.”

Eleven years on and Mr Mabuza says his restaurants have become regular recipients of praise from food critics.

“Both, in a very short space of time, have earned themselves quite an immense reputation in terms of awards and accolades in the industry.”

He is now mapping out his plans and hopes to build his brand across the continent by building new restaurants in key markets such as Ghana, Kenya, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“The idea is to make it a pan-African venture,” he says of his expansion plans.

This is all begins in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, where he will open a restaurant in a boutique hotel.

*Culled From BBC Africa .African Dream is broadcast on the BBC Network Africa programme every Monday morning, and on BBC World News throughout the day on Fridays


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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.

 About a dozen air bases have been established in Africa since 2007, according to a former senior U.S. commander involved in setting up the network. Most are small operations run out of secluded hangars at African military bases or civilian airports.

 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.”

View Photo Gallery — From the archives: In another effort to combat al-Qaeda militants in Africa, specifically in Somalia, the United States has been training troops from other African nations to be peacekeepers.

View Photo Gallery — From the archives: In another effort to combat al-Qaeda militants in Africa, specifically in Somalia, the United States has been training troops from other African nations to be peacekeepers.

“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.”

Common aircraft

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



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

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

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

By David Smith, Libreville, Gabon *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Culled from



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