Thursday, February 22, 2007

Sierra Leone War Crimes Suspect Dies

Ex-former Defence Minister of Sierra Leone Sam Hinga Norman has died, aged 67. For several months he had been receiving medical help, it is thought that he died from heart failure after an operation.
Verdict for his case was pending. He was indicted for several crimes against humanity including murder. During the 10 year civil war he had led a pro-government militia against the RUF (hence being considered a hero among some of the population of Sierra Leone).
Mr Hinga Norman had visited a hospital in Senegal for what seemed a routine medical check up but died after an operation. He was pronounced dead little more than 20 minutes after collapsing in hospital (around 1115am).
The court was set up to prosecute all those involved in the crimes committed during the civil war which created millions of displaced peoples in the region.

Mozambique's Response to Floods A "Success Story"

Paulo Zucula, head of Mozambique's National Disaster Management Institute, was surprisingly satisfied when speaking about his department's response to the flooding that has submerged whole villages in the southern nation. An estimated 70,000 families have been left homeless and the government reports that 10 have been killed (BBC News reports 120,000 Mozambicans displaced and a approximately 30 fatalities) since the flooding began in December. Such numbers would not please some disaster management agencies, unless they were comparing them to numbers from a flood like the one Mozambique was ravaged by in 2001, when around 700 people were killed by rising waters in the Zambezi River Basin.

The UN has applauded Mozambique for is deliberately early predictions of the flooding and subsequent actions that were taken months before the waters rose. Villages began preparing to evacuate, food supplies were being moved into the Zambezi Basin, and warning systems were being set up throughout the region well in advance of what could have been just as deadly of a disaster as 2001. A UN spokesperson for its World Food Program said, "If you're looking for a success story of an African government that's trying to make things better for its people, this is a very good example of that."

The disaster agency was recently set up by the government. Several outside humanitarian groups, as well as the US State Department, have applauded Mozambique for its development since its 17-year civil war ended in 1992. They point to its continued progress in creating a democratic government and sustaining economic growth, alongside its ability to manage its own affairs and crises itself (as has been demonstrated by its response to the flooding) as signs of the country being a budding model nation in Africa. The key to revamping their disaster management and creating such an effective new agency was (USA, take notes...) in making it prevention-focused rather than response-oriented. The government was predicting the floods as early as October, and acted accordingly right away, knowing that the natural course of the floods could not be stopped, but the impact could be minimized with proper action.

While land has been damaged and displaced Mozambicans are still hungry, the government's actions over the last few months are models of what a cooperative, organized government can achieve in saving the lives of hundreds of its own people. Their operations will continue as the flood-waters subside, leaving in its wake an even more difficult task: to help those who were displaced find new homes in the aftermath of the disaster that destroyed 100,000 acres of farmland.

North AFrica seen as breeding ground for terror

This article is disturbing at best and a dire warning to developed countries at worst. There is now evidence that terrorist groups are uniting and cohering in Northern African countries. These groups seek to train militant Muslims. They are uniting and establishing links with Al Queda. Currently, they have already claimed responsibility for numerous small bombings, but when are they going to plan another major terrorist attack? Last week in class, we talked about the US's motives for placing a permanent AFRICOM command in Africa. One of the motives was to deter and persecute terrorist attacks. Well, this seems to be a reasonable assumption gived the new intelligence given in the article.
Fighting terrorism in African states is especially hard because they lack the basic infrastructure which western nations take for granted in combating criminals. There is no reliable police force, army or intelligence gathering. The leaders of the nations only have their personal interests in mind, and therefore may support or finance these groups if it offers them personal gain. As we read last night, It is quite easy for terrorist groups to finance themselves from enclave economies. Therefore, it is easy for these groups to proliferate in African states. The solid eveidenccec that there are now such groups is very disturbing for developed nations. We must act together to find and eliminate such groups. Perhaps one of the best ways to do this is by helping these countries to develop. As Leonard and Straus argued, international guarantees would help to build goverrnamental stability in these unstable states. By ensuring the stability of African countries, the developed nations will also gain because they can ensure that terrorist groups do not proliferate.

The growing power of Nigeria's gangs

With the approaching 2007 elections, Nigerians are worried about the influence armed gangs will have at the ballot box. Stemming from the 2003 elections, desperate politicians hired armed muscle from gangs like the ‘KKK’, 'Greenlanders' and 'Icelanders' to steal ballot boxes and intimidate political rivals. These politicians offered political jobs and other incentives for their services. However, these jobs failed to materialize.

Leading up to the elections in April, one prominent gang leader pronounced that the upcoming elections will be… “bloodier. This time it’s [the gangs] who will say this person is good, this person can work”. Unfortunately for Nigeria and the rest of the world, these highly motivated gangs operate in and around the Niger Delta which serves as the hub for the cultivation and trade of Nigeria’s chief export: crude oil. Because the terrain of the delta is so difficult too manage, the gangs operate impervious to local police and military force. The gangs claim that political office is really a “low intensity” struggle to obtain the rights to control Nigeria’s rich oil trade. The gangs also are making their clarion call in the name of accountability, in the sense that political corruption leads to the impoverishment of their cities and people. Consequently, in a sad turn of events for all Nigerians, these gangs are openly declaring to the people that their vote will not determine the 2007 ‘democratic’ election, but instead determined by the gangs.

Unfortunately, this article begs the question about the viability for democracy in Africa. If political and in this case the power to control the lucrative oil trade changes hands every 4 years through bloodshed, is democracy really the best option? Wouldn’t stability in the form of a benevolent albeit probably corrupt dictator prove better?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Justice in Uganda

Starting on March 5th with aspirations of ending in May, eight Ugandan judges will be hearing 534 criminal cases in addition to other civil cases in the warring areas of northern and eastern Uganda. These judges will be dealing with criminal and civil cases that have been prolonged because of the instability in the region. Finally justice will (hopefully) be served to those who have been awaiting trial. This plan is part of an overall long-term strategy to bring about speedier trials. The implementation of this strategy has been granted 215 million shilling by the Prime Minister as part of the Emergency Reconstruction Programme.
There is a complexity to the judicial system in Uganda due its basis upon the British system; therefore, it can be difficult for cases to reach the appropriate court. As a result a build up of cases is not uncommon. There is also a gap in communication and authority between the Ugandan government and the judiciary, therefore, the government usually keeps from meddling in the courts' business. The attempts being made by the Ugandan government sound promising and should be a huge success if they are carried out properly. Only time will tell....

It's not so easy if you aren't Madonna

Kate and Joshua Pozzolo recently brought home Alice, a two and half year old girl from a small village in Malawi. They met her while volunteering at an orphanage and remained in Malawi for over a year and a half in order to go through the process of adopting her. Malawi requires a period of residency for perspective parents and although that time was not easy, they stuck through it to bring their daughter home. Malawi, a country stricken by AIDS, has over 1 million orphans looking for homes but the government’s strict regulations make it hard for people who are not willing to relocate as the Pozzolo family did.

Last year Madonna also adopted a child from Malawi. She breezed through the process and did not have to stay in the country as the Pozzolo family did. Child advocacy groups claim that Madonna was given preferential treatments and many are outraged that she did not have to go through the sacrifices that the Pozzolos and other couples do.

Although the Pozzolos were obviously frustrated by the fact that Madonna simply “whisked” into Malawi and adopted her son while they struggled and fought for their daughter, one can not argue the benefits the publicity has had for adoption. Adopting children from Africa is becoming one of the “hot” things to do in Hollywood. Even if Madonna and others like Angelina Jolie do not have to go through the same long process of adopting children, I applaud them for what they are doing. While obviously an increase adoption rate will not solve the problems of Africa, it will save children lives. If giving preferential treatment to Madonna enables her to adopt a child from Malawi and therefore raise awareness and publicity, I see no problem. Even if Madonna motivates just one person, then one life is changed. At the end of the day, there is one more child who is in a loving home and hopefully many more will continue to follow in the steps of Madonna and the Pozzolo family.

Rwanda Releases Genocide Prisoners

The Rwandan government is releasing 9,000 prisoners who were put in jail after the 1994 genocide. Since a 2003 provisional release decreed by President Paul Kaganem, Rwanda has freed up to 60,000 genocide suspects. These releases are said to be due to overcrowding in prisons as well as to foster reconciliation. This group of prisoners does not include any major figures involved in the genocide, and the government reports that most are the sick, elderly and children. Genocide survivors in Rwanda have expressed outrage and accuse the released inmates of carrying out more ethnic killings. The president of a local genocide survivors group, Theodore Simburdali, stated, “They should ensure that they keep an eye on these people because some of them continue to harbour a genocide ideology.” The government plans to send the prisoners to rehabilitation camps for two months before they are allowed to go home.

Is it worth freeing prisoners to ease the overcrowding of prisons? Are there any real hopes that this will foster reconciliation? Understandably, genocide survivors and critics are concerned about the release of more prisoners accused of participating in the slaughter of over 800,000 people in 1994. This move, in fact, may be detrimental to reconciliation if these prisoners continue to embrace a “genocide ideology.”

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Image is Everything...The Impact of International Media Portrayal of Africa

The South African government has taken exception to a BBC report on crime in the country, believing that the news corporation sought to portray South Africa as the crime capital of the world. According to a report in the online newsletter of the ruling party, the BBC "does not understand the universal and social phenomenon of crime, does not understand South Africa, and had, like the most die-hard racists in our country, convinced itself that crime in our country represents little more than black vengeance against the former white oppressors". This incidence highlights the important issue of the media's role in, perhaps, perpetuating Afro-pessimism. Is it a matter of simply telling the truth as it is, or does the international media selectively showcase Africa's failures to the rest of the world? And the effects...let's try to look at them in a more personal manner: Is it possible that being constantly bombarded with images of war, famine and disease could deter you from traveling to the continent (tourism money's important, after all)? Would you (after completing law school and going on to a successful career as a corporate attorney) advise your company that investing in an African country is a terrible idea?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Trees are Taking Over in Niger!

In Niger, a big effort has been put forth by farmers to make millions of trees flourish. Neither the government nor foreign companies have helped accomplished this victory. Farmers took on the initiative and stuck to it. Soon after colonization, when trees were cut down for firewood, they realized that they could make more money by selling parts of the trees such as barks, branches, and fruits.

One very important point that Lydia Polgreen makes in the article is that during colonization, the trees belonged to the government, or settlers. The farmers had no interest in taking care of the trees. When Niger became independent, farmers were soon able to own the trees. This motivated them a lot and they catered to their trees because the more healthy the trees were, the more profit they would end up making.

In the beginning of the year, we saw a movie that did not seem to show much hope for reforestation. This article does the complete opposite. There are more trees today than thirty years ago. Individuals in Africa are indeed competitive! No one is forcing the farmers to plant more trees, but they are doing it regardless. One of the farmers bought a motorized pump to irrigate his fields. Since the pump is doing the job, he is now sending his children to school (who used irrigate the fields before the pump was purchased).

Since there is clearly ways to make the land more fertile, should governments from other African countries leave it up to their people to do the work, or should they do it themselves?