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Well-wishers hold a poster of former South African President Nelson Mandela during a prayer meeting outside the African National Congress (ANC) headquarters in Johannesburg July 2, 2013. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

Can South Africa's ruling party survive the loss of its global icon?

By John CampbellGuest blogger / 07.10.13

•A version of this post first appeared on the blog Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own. 

South African politics recently appears to be entering a period of flux. The opportunity for change is signaled by national icon Nelson Mandela’s serious illness. The media is regularly reporting that he is now on life support and South Africans seem to be reconciling themselves to his death.

Increasingly in recent years, he has been an important touchstone for the legitimacy of the governing African National Congress (ANC), especially as scandals involving party leaders have multiplied.

Indeed, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, second only to Mandela as an icon of the anti-apartheid movement, compared the ANC to the old National Party that imposed apartheid because the government of President Jacob Zuma was unwilling to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama, likely for fear of offending the Chinese.

Meanwhile, the media reports ANC scandals on an almost daily basis. The archbishop has said specifically that he will not vote for the ANC in the next elections. Furthermore, the Mandela family is feuding publicly even as their patriarch lies ailing, creating such a spectacle that the archbishop has publicly pleaded with them to stop airing their dirty laundry in public.

But, there are also signs of new growth. Cyril Ramaphosa, one of the architects of the 1993-94 transition to non-racial democracy, was widely thought to be hand-picked to be Mandela’s successor as ANC leader and president of the republic. When Thabo Mbeki became the party’s choice instead, Mr. Ramaphosa removed himself from politics and went into business.

He was highly successful and appears to have the confidence of both the domestic and international business communities. Often described as both “brilliant” and “highly competent,” he is now deputy president of the party. That makes him well placed to be Mr. Zuma’s successor. One possibility is that before the next national elections in 2014, Zuma could step down as president but stay on as party leader. Ramaphosa would then be in a strong position to be the ANC’s presidential candidate. Many speculate that an ANC government under Ramaphosa would be very different from the current Zuma government.

The formal opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), dominates a single province, the Western Cape – where Cape Town is located. The provincial premier, Helen Zille, Cape Town Mayor Patricia De Lille, and the party leadership generally are seeking to expand the party’s electoral base beyond its traditionally white and coloured (or mixed race) constituencies.

Its parliamentary leader is a young black woman, Lindiwe Mazibuko. They are particularly looking to make electoral inroads among the black middle class. They emphasize improved service delivery, clean government, and “constitutionalism.” The DA is looking to increase its total share of the parliamentary vote and, just possibly, to capture the Johannesburg city government and that of Gauteng province where the city is located, which is the heart of South Africa's economy.

What's more, an altogether new party has also been organized by anti-apartheid icon Mamphela Ramphele. A medical doctor, she was one of the founders of the Black Consciousness movement and is the mother of liberation martyr Steve Biko’s children. Subsequently she was the first black vice chancellor (equivalent of president) of the University of Cape Town, and later a World Bank official and a businesswoman.

Her newly formed party, Agang SA, will focus on four areas where many South Africans believe the ANC has failed: the economy, education, health, and security. The DA shares many of her views, and she has been chided by some for not joining forces with them so as not to split the anti-ANC vote. But as veteran journalist Allister Sparks observes, under proportional representation, the percentage of votes that a party receives determines the number of seats it has in parliament. If both the DA and Agang SA do well and cooperate (as they are likely to), the ANC’s dominance in parliament could be eroded in this election and possibly end in the next – scheduled for 2019. The ANC, however, will almost certainly continue to provide the executive.

Finally, Julius Malema, the former ANC Youth League bad boy, is talking about launching a radical, black political party. However, he faces fraud charges and may go to jail. Even if he does not, it is questionable whether he has the finances or organizational skills to launch a viable political party.

A soldier walks past a burnt vehicle during a military patrol in Hausari village, near Maiduguri, Nigeria, June 5, 2013. The area has been part of an intensive government crackdown against the Islamist rebel group Boko Haram over the last month. (Joe Brock/Reuters)

The hidden force behind Islamic militancy in Nigeria? Climate change

By Jim SandersGuest blogger / 07.08.13

•A version of this post first appeared on the blog Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own. 

Recent protests in Turkey and Brazil are being lionized in the financial press as products of rising prosperity in “developing” countries, where economic growth grates against stagnant institutions. Yet simultaneously another powerful force is also engendering violent social unrest and revealing institutional deficiencies: climate change. 

Ohio State University professor Geoffrey Parker argues in his new book, Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century, that “the experience of the seventeenth century shows that long-term turbulence and unreliability of the weather inevitably produces calamitous outcomes for humanity.” Civil unrest, conflict, disease, government collapse, and commercial disruption are among the dire consequences.

For Parker, close study of the past, of how governments and people coped with climatic catastrophe in previous centuries, can yield valuable lessons for dealing with such disasters today. But “denial … the commonest human reaction to environmental catastrophe,” is an obstacle.

“The worsening droughts, desiccation, and desertification in equatorial Africa over the past forty years have caused massive migrations, famines, and wars that resemble those of the mid-seventeenth century; yet the rest of the world does virtually nothing,” Mr. Parker wrote in an article five years ago. We want to believe that climate change is not happening yet, or at least not to us, he says.

But in Africa, its effects are undeniable and likely to dwarf those of “booming” middle classes. According to a 1990 paper by Ahmadu Bello University professor Sabo Bako, members of the Maitatsine sect, active in northern Nigeria in the 1980s and described as the “forerunner” of Islamist militant group Boko Haram, included victims of ecological disasters that left them in “a chaotic state of absolute poverty and social dislocation in search of food, water, shelter, jobs, and means of livelihood.”  Climatic factors are cited in analyses of Boko Haram’s emergence and, in the view of one Nigerian security official, religious violence in the country is strongly correlated with environmental stress.

Terrorism and jihadist ideology dominate analysis of groups such as Boko Haram. But Parker suggests a different approach: rewind the tape of history as a means of bringing to light 350 year old coping strategies that could help manage what looks to be the world’s crisis around climate change. Such strategies are needed in Africa today.

Youths hold a candle as they pay their respects outside the Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital, where ailing former South African President Nelson Mandela is being treated, in Pretoria July 1. (Dylan Martinez/Reuters)

Mandela prayer vigil turns political

By Correspondent / 07.01.13

They arrived by the hundreds, spilling out of buses dressed in the green and gold of South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, and carrying signs calling for the swift recovery of former South African President Nelson Mandela.

But as the crowd of well-wishers began to swell near the Pretoria hospital where Mr. Mandela lies is being cared for, its character took on a sharp political edge.

Visitors waved ANC flags and sang anti-apartheid protest songs. Volunteers passed out T-shirts bearing the slogan, “There is no born-free without a liberator. Vote ANC 2014,” and a truck rumbled by emblazoned with a massive image of the country’s current president and ANC party leader, Jacob Zuma.

“We don’t see anything wrong with that,” ANC national spokesman Jackson Mthembu told a local television reporter last Thursday. “No people here at the hospital were asked to vote for the ANC. There was no electioneering.”

But when it comes to Mandela, grief and politics are difficult to disentangle. The ailing former president is the ruling party’s most venerable face, a living reminder of its central role in bringing segregation to its knees and ushering in a new era of democracy and racial reconciliation.

“Very little that happens in South Africa is apolitical,” says Zine Magubane, a professor of sociology at Boston College who studies southern Africa. “Mandela reminds people of the ANC’s highest and most singular achievements.”

He commands a kind of unifying respect unparalleled in American politics, the rare figure behind whom citizens of nearly every political stripe in this rowdy democracy can rally. And with South Africans preparing to go to the polls next year to decide whether or not to give Mandela’s party another term in office, his legacy has taken on a pressing political importance.

Mr. Zuma took pains to draw connections between his administration and the Mandela presidency as he met with President Obama on Saturday in South Africa.

“We are pursuing the dreams and aspirations that Mandela was part of,” he said. “He said [to me] when I go to sleep I'll be very happy because I know South Africa is moving forward.”

However, attempts to draw connections between the moral stature of Mandela and the present-day ANC – muddied by accusations of corruption and mismanagement – have not been universally well received.

In May, a wide variety of critics blasted Zuma for using Mandela to boost his own political standing after a state television station broadcast footage of him and other party leaders visiting the former president in his Johannesburg home. In the video, the visitors circle the room, laughing and chatting as they snap photographs and clasp Mandela’s hands. All the while, Mandela sits rigidly and stares straight forward in silence, his expression slack and unchanging.

"I honestly cannot put in words how hurt the family was” by the decision to air the footage, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the former president’s ex-wife, told Britain's ITV News Sunday. "It was insensitive, it compromised the family, compromised his dignity, and it should have never been done."

Meanwhile, the leading opposition party, the Democrat Alliance, also drew fire when it released a poster showing Mandela embracing one of its white founders, tagged with the slogan, “We played our part in opposing apartheid.”

“The attempt by DA to appropriate Nelson Mandela as an icon with no political identity but a neutral person who can be in a poster of any political party is a clear desperate propaganda attempt,” wrote ANC leader Gwede Mantashe

There is, however, another voice rising in the political conversation about Mandela’s legacy – that of the country’s youth.

For the first time in next year’s election, there will be voters who were not alive to see Mandela released from prison in 1990, or to watch the wrenching political violence that shook the country as it transitioned to majority rule. These "born frees” grew up in a South Africa where apartheid, and the leaders who fought it, are historical figures rather than contemporaries.

“They don’t have the automatic allegiance to the ANC that their parents and grandparents did,” Ms. Magubane says. “At the same time, they understand the legacy of the past, and while they’re open to alternatives, they’ll wait for those alternatives to be compelling.”

US President Barack Obama greets Tanzanians at an official arrival ceremony in Dar Es Salaam, July 1, 2013. (Gary Cameron/REUTERS)

Far apart on US shores, Bush and Obama find time to meet in Africa (+video)

By Staff writer / 07.01.13

President Obama and predecessor George W. Bush haven’t exactly spent a lot of time together on American shores.

But with Mr. Bush still quite popular in Africa for his robust US aid programs, and with Tanzania going slightly crazy about the visit of an American president of African heritage, the US duo is hoping to offer up a bit of American soft power on behalf of US trade and better relations on the continent.

The 44th  and 43rd  US presidents will jointly lay a wreath in Dar es Salaam tomorrow in honor of those killed 15 years ago at a bombing of the American embassy, in what proved to be one of the first attacks on a US target by Osama bin Laden.

The White House described the joint wreath-laying as a coincidence, not scripted. At first, it appeared the two men would not meet despite being in the same city in the same corner of Africa.

Mr. Obama’s journey to Africa has included stopovers in Senegal and an emotional visit to South Africa, where Obama met the family of Nelson Mandela, the civil and human rights icon and former president who helped end apartheid.

The White House admits the Africa trip is an effort to improve the administration’s engagement with a continent where Chinese investment has risen from $10 billion in 2000 to some $200 billion last year, usually through state-run or state-linked companies.  In March, new Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Tanzania on his first overseas trip.

Yesterday Obama announced a surprisingly robust $7 billion initiative to help with African electrification, and tomorrow the president visits a US-designed and run power plant in Tanzania. 

The White House is in the East African nation partly because, on a six-day Africa trip designed to promote  trade and democracy, Obama needed to go to East Africa but could not easily visit old ally Kenya, since both the recently elected president and vice president are under indictment by the International Criminal Court for complicity in 2007 election violence.

Bush is in Dar es Salaam for a women’s conference on health that is run out of his George W. Bush institute. Contrary to many assumptions, Bush, as well as former President Bill Clinton, is widely seen as bringing far more tangible help to Africa than Obama.

Bush’s Emergency Plan of AIDS Relief is one of his administrations signal foreign policy successes, and Obama has praised it both in Senegal and then South Africa for helping to save millions of lives. At the same time, Obama has said the old US model of handing out aid willy-nilly on the continent is now giving way to a "new model" of trade and joint US-African partnerships, as Africa's economy continues to rise. 

In the Obama-Bush event, the White House evidently feels it makes sense to show togetherness in a place where Chinese investment and a wide network of expatriate business and trade communities from Great Britain, France, and Germany have often put American firms well in the back of the race on a continent that is starting to show dramatic signs of economic rise.

As Monitor correspondent Mike Pflanz noted in talking with Kenyan sources last week:

Obama is perfectly placed to “leverage the lashings of soft power he has in Africa” to succeed in both of his trip’s main aims: opening up new trade and cautioning over corruption, says Aly-Khan Satchu, a Kenyan economic analyst.

“He’s arriving behind the curve, but now is the chance for him to inflect that curve for the next few years,” Mr. Satchu says. “Obama has so much soft power here that he has not yet used. Put that on the table, and you watch the dialogue change immediately about his supposed semi-detached engagement in Africa."

Mr. Pflanz also pointed out the other side of the US trade equation, noting that China in recent months:

has inked deals on a raft of major infrastructure projects across Africa, the most recent being a $10 billion new port, railway, and economic zone agreed in May for Tanzania.

 “The US under Barack Obama seems only now to be waking up to what others are doing in Africa, and they are having to play catch-up,” says Andrews Atta-Asamoah, senior researcher at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies.

Announcing the electricity program in Capetown yesterday, Obama stated that: 

Access to electricity is fundamental to opportunity in this age. It's the light that children study by, the energy that allows an idea to be transformed into a real business. It's the lifeline for families to meet their most basic needs, and it's the connection that's needed to plug Africa into the grid of the global economy.

US President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama wave from Air Force One as they depart Dakar, Senegal, June 28. President Obama heads to South Africa on Friday hoping to see ailing icon Nelson Mandela, during his three-nation visit to Africa. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

Circle of history: Will Barack Obama visit Nelson Mandela?

By Staff writer / 06.28.13

Whether US President Obama, now in South Africa, will over the next few days have a quick but symbolic visit with Nelson Mandela -- is a question the White House is monitoring hour by hour.

Mr. Mandela has been ailing for several months, but his family has made tentative but affirmative signals that the two men – the first blacks to lead their respective countries – could have a moment.

If Mr. Obama does makes a bedside visit, the family has indirectly suggested, it needn't be a media or political carnival, but can take place on the grounds that it might be meaningful to Mandela himself.

The 94-year-old leader of the African National Congress is one of the more significant human rights leaders of the past century, helping guide a peaceful transition away from white rule in South Africa. Mandela inspired a politically maturing 19-year-old Barry Obama at Occidental College in California, the president has been reminding the world.

Mandela’s daughter Zindzi Mandela-Motlhajwa said this week her father visibly brightened, opening his eyes and smiling from his hospital bed, when told that Obama was soon to visit the country.

Over the past five days, Mandela's condition has been swathed in rumors and confusion, though yesterday, South African president Jacob Zuma said the elderly figure's condition had stabilized. 

“We’ll see what the situation is like when we land,” Obama told reporters aboard Air Force One this morning, as the White House left Senegal for South Africa. Obama's three-nation visit to Africa will end next week in Tanzania, a tour that is meant to show American interest in trade and civil society on the continent.

The White House doesn’t want a gauche Mandela media circus at a time the world press is being criticized for sensationalizing the health of the former leader and conducting a macabre watch outside his hospital. Ms. Mandela-Motlhajwa said her father was showing his qualities as a fighter by confounding some of the rumors of his demise, including a media report Wednesday that he had died. 

"I think the main message we'll want to deliver, if not directly to him, but to his family, is simply profound gratitude for his leadership," Obama said today.

The two men did meet briefly and quite spontaneously at the Four Seasons hotel in Washington. At the time, Obama was the senator from Illinois, and, en route to another meeting but knowing Mandela was at the hotel, suddenly redirected his car.

Whether or not a direct meeting takes place,  Obama will likely visit Mandela’s family.

The president is also scheduled in two days to visit Robben Island, the prison where Mandela was incarcerated for the majority of the 27 years he spent in prison.

On Sunday, Obama gives a major address at the University of Capetown on Sunday. The speech comes nearly 50 years after martyred American political figure Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a civil rights champion, addressed students there, saying in 1966 that:  “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice … he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and … those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Today Obama is scheduled for a “town hall” at the University of Johannesburg in Soweto, where he will meet with  “the next generation of African leaders in civil society,” as White House spokesman Ben Rhodes described it.  The forum is expected to be one in which the American president also takes up the meaning of Mandela both in South Africa and to the larger world. 

By Melanie Stetson Freeman

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, delivers his speech, at the funeral of Deputy President John Nkomo, at the Heroes Acre, in Harare, Zimbabwe. Mugabe called for 'peace, peace and more peace.' (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)

Is Nelson Mandela too soft on white South Africans? Robert Mugabe says so.

By John CampbellGuest blogger / 06.03.13

•A version of this post ran on the blog Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own.

Nelson Mandela is an international icon for the politics of reconciliation and the rule of law. Since its transition to non-racial democracy, South African elections have been credible, following the pattern of the first all-race elections in 1994. Mr. Mandela voluntarily stepped down after a single term as chief of state, and most South Africans regard him as the father of democratic, non-racial South Africa. 

Robert Mugabe is notorious for shredding the rule of law, uncountable human rights violations, and resorting to violence to maintain his power. He has been chief of state for more than thirty years, during which Zimbabwe devolved from being one of Africa’s most successful states to one of the worst in terms of international social and economic indicators. (Zimbabwe’s standing has improved of late.) He faces national elections this year. Zimbabwe’s electoral track record over the past decade does not bode well for them to be non-violent. For many, he is the iconic “big man” African tyrant.

This background provides some context for an astonishing, soft-focus television documentary by Dali Tambo on Mr. Mugabe, the first part of which was aired in South Africa over the weekend. The documentary is focused on a State House lunch that humanizes the Mugabe family and provides the chief of state with a platform to comment on personalities ranging from Margaret Thatcher (favorable) to Tony Blair (unfavorable). 

Mugabe says that Mandela “was too much of a saint” with his emphasis on reconciliation. According to Mugabe, Mandela did not do enough for black people. “Mandela has gone a bit too far in doing good to the non-black communities, really in some cases at the expense of [blacks],” he says in the film, according to Agence France Press.

Mr. Tambo’s soft-focus treatment of Mugabe has predictably generated hostile reaction. Cape Town media presenter Kieno Kammies criticized Tambo’s glossing over Mugabe’s human rights violations and land grabs. In a shouting match between the two presenters, Tambo replied that his program, “People of the South,” is about people, not politics. “I present the man as he actually is, and you must take what you want from it," he said. 

Tambo is the son of Oliver and Adelaide Tambo, leaders of the anti-apartheid struggle, who were also close to Mugabe. The Johannesburg airport, South Africa’s principal international hub, was renamed for Oliver Tambo in 2006.

Mandela and Mugabe together are symbolic of the contradictions of southern Africa. For if many regard Mandela as a democrat and a healer and Mugabe as a thug, others see the latter as an African liberator who drove the whites out and restored the land to black Africans. In post-Mandela South Africa, most blacks remain impoverished and land reform has proceeded very slowly. Accordingly, Mugabe has many admirers in South Africa. 

Perhaps the best known is the now officially-disgraced former leader of the African National Congress Youth League, Julius Malema, who famously called for the nationalization of South Africa's mines and of white-owned farms without compensation. Still, Mugabe’s criticism of Nelson Mandela will not go over well with many South Africans. As one blogger commented: “What’s next, vacations with Hitler?”

Rhinos are being hunted systematically by well-armed and well-organized poaching crime syndicates for the profits to be had from rhino horn in the illegal wildlife trade. Perceived by organized criminals to be high profit and low risk, the illicit trade in wildlife is worth at least US$ 19 billion per year, making it the fourth largest illegal global trade after narcotics, counterfeiting, and human trafficking. (James Morgan/AP)

Rhino poachers, meet your match: poisoned pink food dye

By Emily MellgardGuest blogger / 05.22.13

•A version of this post ran on the blog Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own.

Demand for rhino horn increased exponentially over the past few years. The market is heavily concentrated in Asia, particularly Vietnam. Rhino poaching has leapt to keep pace with demand, and South Africa’s rhinos are among the most affected.

According to the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA), between 2010 and 2012 the number of rhinos killed for their horns went from 333 to 668. So far in 2013, 216 rhinos have been poached in South Africa’s Kruger National Park alone. That is more death the past five months than in the years 2000-2008 combined. The rhino population in Mozambique, which was wiped out by large game hunters a century ago and later reintroduced to the national parks, has again been eradicated, this time with the connivance of some of Mozambique’s own rangers.

Convictions for poaching and trafficking in rhino horn are rare. But the US Attorney’s office in Los Angeles, California announced on May 16 the conviction of Vinh Chung “Jimmy” Kha, and Felix Khaon for, among other crimes, smuggling rhino horn into the United States with the intent of selling it to Vietnam.

In Vietnam, and other parts of Asia, powdered rhino horn is considered a cure for everything from a headache, hangover, or cold to cancer, and is also often advertised as an aphrodisiac. It holds no such properties. In fact, rhino horn is keratin, the same substance as human hair and fingernails. Despite this, rhino horn sells for between $25,000 and $40,000 per kilogram.

A Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) conference in March 2013, appears to have invigorated the international community to act to save these creatures. South Africa is threatening to re-erect the boundary fences between the South African and Mozambican halves of Kruger.

Some game parks in South Africa have taken the additional measure of poisoning their rhinos’ horns to deter consumer demand. The poison is combination of a parasiticide normally used against ticks on livestock and a pink dye that can be detected by airport scanners and is visible even when in powdered form. That means potential consumers will know what they are buying.

The parasiticide is not lethal, but it does make the consumer seriously ill. A logical next step is campaigns to raise awareness of rhino horn’s complete lack of medicinal properties and that the animals die, horribly, through the process. Similar campaigns are running in Asia against elephant poaching. They are spearheaded by celebrities such as China’s Li Bingbing, an actress, and United Nations Environmental Programme goodwill ambassador and retired NBA basketball player Yao Ming.

These initiatives are key because they focus on a crucial truth – anti-poaching and conservation efforts must be holistic to be effective. By addressing conservation efforts not just at halting the poachers, but also in decreasing the demand for rhino horn altogether, poisoning the horns and educating consumers is an important step forward.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (R) greets his supporters with his deputy, William Ruto after attending a news conference in Nairobi on Mar. 9, 2013. (Siegfried Modola/Reuters)

President at home, on trial abroad: How Kenya's new leader is coping

By John CampbellGuest blogger / 05.16.13

•A version of this post ran on the blog Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own.

Kenya, the International Criminal Court (ICC), and, by extension, the international community currently face the dilemma of dealing with a president and a deputy president, freely and fairly elected (more or less) that are charged with crimes against humanity associated with 2007 election bloodshed. 

Africa Confidential has an excellent review of the current state of play.

On May 2, Kenya’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Kamau Macharia, sent a thirteen-page letter to the UN Security Council (UNSC) asking it to end the ICC cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto. He argued that Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto were duly and democratically elected and could not perform their duties in the face of “an offshore trial that has no popular resonance and serves no national or international purpose.”

A variation of this argument is echoing among Kenyatta’s supporters – “peace” is more important than “justice,” and the ICC process should somehow go away.

But Ruto promptly disavowed the letter on the basis that the UNSC lacks the legal authority to stop the ICC proceedings. Ruto’s lawyer reaffirmed his client’s cooperation with the ICC. The attorney general of Kenya, Githu Muigal also disavowed the letter saying Kenya is not a party to the cases and has reaffirmed Kenyan cooperation with the ICC.

On May 13, however, the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, rejected the Kenyan government’s claim that it is cooperating with the court. Specifically, she said that the government failed to provide certain financial records and has not facilitated interviews that could provide her with information about the role of the police in the aftermath of the 2007 elections. Earlier, she said that the government failed to provide adequate protection for potential witnesses and that bribery and intimidation played a role in the withdrawal of potential witnesses.

The ICC charges against Kenyatta and Ruto were an issue in the 2013 Kenyan elections and popular backlash against the court probably helped them. Many Kenyans seemed to think the charges would be dropped in the aftermath of an election victory, probably at the instigation of the United States and the United Kingdom because of the importance of their ties with Kenya and Nairobi’s crucial role in Somalia.

In fact, UK Prime Minister David Cameron hosted Kenyatta in London at the May 7 Somalia conference. The UK argued Kenyatta’s presence was “essential,” and, in effect, trumped British policy to have only “essential contact” with Kenyatta and Ruto.

However, Africa Confidential credibly speculates that President Obama will skip Kenya during his next Africa trip and suggests, also credibly, that there will be a cooling of relations between Kenya and the UK and the US.

The ICC has agreed to postpone Ruto’s trial until October. Many observers think that the ICC case against him is stronger than that against Kenyatta. If the ICC were to convict one and acquit the other, there could be serious political consequences in Kenya.

Kenyatta is a leader of the Kikuyu, Ruto of the Kalenjin. The two ethnic groups have long been rivals, and fighting among them was an important element in the 2007 violence. Then, Kenyatta and Ruto were on opposite sides. For 2013, they made a political alliance, and there was little fighting between Kikuyu and Kalenjin, a factor in the largely peaceful elections.

A Ruto conviction and a Kenyatta acquittal might put at risk the current truce between the Kalenjin and the Kikuyu.

In this Wednesday, April 24, 2013 file photo, Somali mothers and their babies wait in line for the babies to receive a five-in-one vaccine against several potentially fatal childhood diseases, at the Medina Maternal Child Health center in Mogadishu, Somalia. (Ben Curtis/AP)

Why is Africa's healthcare so far behind the rest of the world?

By Lee-Roy ChettyGuest blogger / 05.10.13

A version of this post first appeared on the author's personal blog. The views expressed are his own. 

Despite Africa’s exponential economic growth and development over the past decade and additional support from the international donor community, progress towards many of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has been slow.

Greater gains have been made over the past 15 years, however Africa’s performance overall continues to lag on health indicators and with the result, the continent is off-track to meet all of the MDGs.

In addition, a number of challenges still face the vast majority of the continent, including insufficient internal and external resources allocated to achieving the MDGs, inadequate human resources, weak institutional capacity, persistent inequities in access to proven interventions, inadequate statistical health data, and weak monitoring and evaluation capacity.

Looking closer at the specific goals that have an impact on health-related issues on the continent, the following challenges still exist:

* Childhood mortality: Although the majority of African countries have made steady progress in reducing child and under-five mortality, only six countries are on track to reduce the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015.

More African countries need to scale up preventative healthcare in the fight against the main diseases that cause child mortality, namely measles, pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria, and AIDS. Targeted interventions for newborn babies need to be accelerated, as newborns are more likely to succumb than older children.

(Read about efforts being made around the world to reduce infant mortality.)

A potential solution to this challenge is empowering more women and removing social barriers to their accessing basic services, introducing measures to give poorer families better access to critical services, and increasing the local accountability of health systems.

* Maternal health: The maternal mortality rate for the African region as a whole stands at 460 deaths per 100,000 live births. Indeed, only two countries, Eritrea and Equatorial Guinea, are on track to reduce maternal mortality by 3/4 between 1990 and 2015. Most countries in southern Africa have made no progress at all on this target. 

In addition, one in four women on the African continent who wish to space or delay their next pregnancy cannot do so because of lack of contraceptives. The rates of delivery attended by a skilled health practitioner are very low, especially in West Africa. Lack of access to maternal health services tends to be especially acute in rural areas and urban slum communities.

The cost of accessing prenatal care services (including transportation and user fees), geographical access, and cultural barriers are major impediments to women seeking care during their pregnancies.

Maternal mortality also remains the leading cause of death in adolescent girls. Poor quality of service for pregnant women is another major concern. In Malawi, for example, a recent study found that only 13 percent of clinics had 24-hour midwifery care, which represents a major hazard for maternal emergencies.

* Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases: Africa is starting to win the battle against HIV/AIDS in most countries, partly due to the significant vertical funding from external aid agencies.

There has been a fall in the prevalence rate, particularly among women, a steep decline in the regional rate of new infections, a reduction in the number of AIDS-related deaths, and a drop in mother-to-child transmission of the disease. Greater access to antiretroviral therapy, in combination with behavioural changes such as the increased condom usage, have underpinned HIV/AIDS progress in Africa. Sustaining access to critical antiretroviral medicines in an uncertain funding environment will however present a major challenge to the countries worst affected by the disease.

With regard to malaria, the acceleration of preventative and control strategies such as the distribution of free or heavily subsidized insecticide-treated bed-nets has reduced its incidence. Malaria mortality rates have consequently declined by more than 1/3 since 2000. But access to the most effective drugs, namely Artemisinin-based combination therapy, is still limited. Furthermore, the targeting of substantial amounts of donor funding to individual diseases has reduced amounts available for broader health needs.

Tuberculosis remains a major problem in the African region with 500,000 deaths annually, accounting for over 26 percent of notified TB cases in the world. Southern Africa is the worst affected sub-region. While 19 countries have been able to treat over 85 percent of those affected, the co-infection of TB and HIV as well as drug-resistant TB and multidrug-resistant TB continue to complicate treatment of the disease.

As we enter the last two years of the UN mandate for the Millennium Development Goals, time is running out for Africa to reach the finish line. But strides have been made in improving the lives of millions on the continent, including the most vulnerable in society.

Greater policy focus and efforts will need to be developed and effectively implemented in the future to ensure that more is done in relation to development and progress on the continent to have a real impact for the generations to come.

A security man walks pass the charred remains of buses after explosions at a bus park in the northern Nigerian city of Kano March 19, 2013. Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram was suspected of planting the bombs. (Reuters)

In fight against insurgents, Nigerian Army cracks down on civilians

By John CampbellGuest blogger / 05.09.13

•A version of this post ran on the blog Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own.

The May 8 New York Times carried above the fold an Adam Nossiter story, “Bodies Pour in as Nigeria Rounds Up Islamists.” The story mostly consists of horrific reports of Nigerian security service – Army and police – abuses of northern Nigerian citizens who are alleged members of or connected to Boko Haram, a radical Islamic insurgency.

Mr. Nossiter notes that Boko Haram is “thoroughly enmeshed” in the local population, making it difficult to root out the insurgents. He observes that security service brutality “has turned many residents against the military, driving some toward the insurgency.” The security services and the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja continue to flatly deny that any abuses are happening, much less that they are being systematically carried out – this despite the testimony of a wide range of credible northern observers. 

Many of us have heard reports similar to Nossiter’s from Nigerian contacts for some time. Human Rights Watch also issued a report late last year that, in effect, argued that the International Criminal Court should investigate both Boko Haram and the security services for crimes against humanity. 

For a long time I have heard that the security services round up large numbers of young men who simply disappear. They are never formally arrested, prosecuted, tried or, if convicted, punished. They simply disappear, outside the justice system altogether. I had assumed that most so detained were quietly released after a time, in part because there were few reports of mass graves. To some extent, that may be true. But Nossiter’s grim report confirms what many local people say – that in fact, many are murdered. 

The Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) has long followed security service abuses in northern Nigeria. NST data – current through April 30 – confirms that violence involving Boko Haram and the security services continues to escalate in northern Nigeria. April 2013 had the highest death toll since the NST started, in May 2011. The numbers of dead that Nossiter saw are a reflection of the escalating carnage.

Among the security services, training is often poor or non-existent and pay is also poor. As a matter of policy, soldiers and police are deployed outside their region of origin. Hence, security service personnel often have little understanding or sympathy for the populations they are supposed to protect.

Literally, many don’t even speak the same language. But such factors are no excuse: the security services, an arm of a state with democratic aspirations, must be held to a higher standard than vicious insurgents. Boko Haram terror is no justification for what Nossiter and others report the security services are doing. And the government’s stonewalling is counterproductive.

Times coverage will raise the profile of Nigeria’s dirty war in the United States. Hopefully there will be more American political pressure on the Jonathan administration to take concrete steps to control its security services.

John Campbell served as the US ambassador to Nigeria between 2004 and 2007.

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