On arrival at Ethiopia's Eastern Industry Zone, 36 young African factory workers in red track suits are parading military-style in the car park.
"Welcome to Huajian," they bellow in harmony under the mid-morning sun as they march to the orders of a Chinese drill instructor.
Welcome, indeed, to the world of Huajian Group, a manufacturer of productive, disciplined workers – and shoes.
"They do this in the morning," Vice President Helen Hai, herself a recent recruit, explains about the exercise. "This is how we train to have a military mind set."
Huajian is one of the latest Chinese companies to move into Ethiopia. While the government has long leaned on Western support to feed the needy and provide social services, it is increasingly attracting Asian finance and investment for industry and infrastructure.
"China's presence in Ethiopia is filling a huge gap," says Deborah Brautigam, an expert on the Asian giant's presence on the continent at American University. "The West sees Ethiopia as a country that needs to be saved. The Chinese see multiple business opportunities and a way to 'do well by doing good.' "
But while international actors from China to the World Bank see significant potential for Ethiopia to grow as a manufacturing hub, logistical challenges such as unwieldy customs procedures and costly transportation are preventing the country from realizing its potential.
100,000 workers making $4 billion worth of shoes, clothes
Meles Zenawi, a former Marxist rebel and Ethiopia's leader for more than two decades, has long had practice soothing Western diplomats alarmed at a worsening trend of political repression. Now he's proving to be adept at wooing investors as well.
Before Prime Minister Meles headhunted Huajian on a September trip, "We had never thought about Ethiopia," says Hai. Just over three months later, the first pair of shoes from Huajian International Shoe City Plc in Dukem town was boxed and on its way to the US.
Back in China's Guangdong Province, the company produces 20 million pairs of footwear annually from operations that resemble small towns. Huajian Ethiopia plans to relocate to its own industrial zone on the fringes of the capital, Addis Ababa, where it hopes that more than 100,000 workers will be employed producing $4 billion worth of shoes and clothes for export after a decade.
After 15 years, the master plan is for it all to be Ethiopia-run, says Hai. "We want to build a system for Africa to produce [goods] themselves," she says. "That's better than giving them [goods]."
Ethiopia: good potential, but 30 years behind China
Ethiopia's exports totaled just $2.8 billion last year, with coffee making up almost a third of that figure. Imports cost $4.5 billion more than the value of goods sold abroad over the past seven months, local newspaper Capital reported last month. The government hopes that new revenue streams from mining and electricity sales will soon help balance the economy of the landlocked country.
The World Bank's Chief Economist Justin Yifu Lin believes that Ethiopia also has the potential for light manufacturing in clothes, leather, metal, wood, and agribusiness, given the low-set up costs and abundance of cheap labor and raw materials such as livestock and land.
"I am sure a low-income country like Ethiopia can also start the industrialization process" if it reduces the cost of doing business, he said at the bank's launch of a book titled "Light Manufacturing in Africa."
Despite wages being half those of Vietnam and a fifth of China's, logistics in Ethiopia are preventing a manufacturing take-off. "Currently it's not competitive because of the cost of production," Lin says.
Hai agrees. The attraction is not the policies, but the government's desire to attract investors, its duty-free access to US and European markets, local leather production, and low wages, explains Hai, who was previously chief actuary in China for Zurich Financial Services Ltd.
It takes up to 60 days from Huajian's receipt of an order to deliver it to the US from China; from Ethiopia it takes more than 100 days. A single-lane road to the nearest port at Djibouti needs improving, customs officials need training, the trucking industry needs to be liberalized, and duties waived for materials imported for export industries, Hai says.
"If the government doesn't do this, Ethiopia can't become a large manufacturer because in today's world you have to make it competitive," she states. "China made that decision 30 years ago."
Ethiopian officials sometimes seem reluctant to accept outside advice, however.
At the World Bank book launch, State Minister of Industry Tadesse Haile took issue with a recommendation to remove taxes on imports of raw materials for leather processing, signaling the prevalence of protectionist attitudes. The inputs "are all produced locally," he explained.
In another example, Ethiopian financial consultants Access Capital recently suggested partially privatizing state-owned behemoths such as Ethiopian Airlines and Ethio Telecom to raise money for ambitious infrastructure projects like railways and dams. But chief government spokesman Bereket Simon dismissed the idea of loosening the state's grip on the economy's "commanding heights."
Chinese-funded infrastructure mitigates risk
One area the government is making great strides in is transport infrastructure. A six-lane highway from the capital to Adama – en route to the neighboring Red Sea country of Djibouti – may be finished next year, and Chinese companies are building a new rail link to the Red Sea port.
Half of the $612 million highway that helps link land-locked Ethiopia to key global shipping lanes was paid for by China in the form of a preferential export buyer's credit. And subsidies from China's economic cooperation fund are helping a private Chinese company build and run the Eastern Industry Zone where Huajian set up shop.
Chinese assistance is also helping to end a patchy power supply that blights Ethiopia's factories. In 2010, the state-owned Industrial and Commercial Bank of China provided a $459 million loan for the Gibe III hydropower project, primarily for the Dongfang Electric Corporation to construct the electro-mechanical section. Although harshly criticized by environmental groups for its downstream impact on pastoral communities, the half-completed dam will more than double Ethiopia's electricity generating capacity.
"China's expanded presence certainly helped," lure Huajian to Ethiopia, says Prof. Brautigam. "Chinese-financed infrastructure – a six-lane toll road, telecoms projects, power plants – is shrinking the high costs of production in Ethiopia. This helps reinforce Ethiopia's claims that it is a good location for Chinese companies to do business."
But while it awaits these improvements, for now, Huajian relies on the personal assistance of senior officials, such as Tadesse, to get things moving and limit the risks of costly bureaucratic delays and logistical challenges.
"I was in the state minister's office almost every day pushing him," on completing the deal for the new Ethio-China Light Manufacturing Industrial Special Economic Zone, Hai says. Top officials are supportive and work "really hard," according to her. "I appreciate them very much."
The World Bank's private-sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation, and the China-Africa Development Fund, have both expressed an interest in investing in the zone – although Hai is keen to stress that so far Huajian has not received any money from the Chinese government.
'Punctuality is integrity'
Ethiopia's leadership is "development-oriented, but not terribly democratic," says Brautigam, adding that it is much like China's in the late 1970s. Currently, Meles's government is more interested in directive authority than unleashing the creative potential of a rapidly growing population of more than 80 million people. The fondness for Huajian's rigorous approach makes sense.
Slogans such as "Absolute Concentration" and "Punctuality is Integrity" bear down from banners on the factory's 500 Ethiopian and Chinese workers stitching and cutting away. One worker is assigned to salute each entering and exiting visitor.
"If they can't discipline themselves, how can they make the perfect shoes for others?" asks the steely yet impeccably polite Hai.
One employee with a grasp of Hai's concept of the "industrial culture" is 21-year-old biology graduate Mastewal Tsegaye, who had been selected to go to China for some Huajian training. "We read and accept the messages" above the production lines, she says. Ethiopia needs factories like Huajian's for its "development future" and Mastewal wants to make the company "more professional and competitive."
And marching up and down in the tropical heat as you're getting shouted at for an hour a day by a foreigner? "It's good exercise," she obediently replies.
• A version of this post appeared on the blog "Enough Said." The views expressed are the author's own.
Last November’s controversial Congolese presidential and legislative elections continue to make headlines, further diminishing a sense of legitimacy or credibility in the Congolese electoral process. Last week, the UN released a report documenting acts of serious human rights violations committed during the elections – including killings, disappearances, and arbitrary detentions – by members of the Congolese defense and security forces in the nation’s capital, Kinshasa.
The report, which is based on findings from a UN Joint Human Rights Office special investigation, documents election-related human rights violations that took place between Nov. 26, 2011, two days prior to the November 28 elections, and Dec. 25, 2011.
The report confirms that at least 33 people were killed in Kinshasa, including 22 by gunshot. It notes, however, “The number of deaths could be much higher as the team faced many difficulties in documenting the allegations of violations of the right to life that were reported.”
Furthermore, the report cites that at least 83 people were injured, including 61 by gunshot. At least 265 civilians were detained illegally or arbitrarily, many of whom, according to the report, were targeted due to their affiliation with the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) opposition party of Etienne Tshisekedi. At least 16 individuals remain unaccounted for.
"We have heard multiple accounts of Republican Guards shooting live ammunition into crowds and of the torture of arbitrarily detained individuals," said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. "The authorities must ensure that such grave violations of human rights are investigated, perpetrators brought to justice and that those who remain illegally detained are released without delay."
Colonel Kanyama, a commander with the National Congolese Police (PNC) in Kinshasa’s Lukunga district, known by locals as “death spirit,” was identified in concurring testimonies as a ring leader in the body removal process. According to the report, “[groups arrived in] a PNC vehicle from which officers fired tear gas; the vehicle was followed by a dilapidated vehicle from which marksmen in civilian clothes fired at demonstrators, and then a covered lorry with body collectors.”
These allegations of election violence are not new. In December, the attorney general of Congo and the general prosecutor of the Congolese army opened preliminary investigations, yet little progress has been made. By documenting particular human rights violations, the UN report serves as a foundation for accountability and urges Congolese authorities to follow-up with independent investigations to bring perpetrators to justice.
This path toward accountability, though, seems off to a rocky start. Congolese Justice Minister Luzolo Bambi Lessa called the UN report “lightweight and incoherent.” He claimed that the report is “selective and partisan (and) has chosen to forget or omit the serious acts carried out by armed protesters against the agents and installations of the police.”
The head of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Roger Meece, publicly thanked the Congolese government for opening an initial investigation as a first step toward fighting impunity and offered support to local authorities in efforts to identify and bring perpetrators to justice. Meece said:
Recent prosecutions and trials undertaken with MONUSCO’s support throughout the country have led to the arrest of a significant number of perpetrators of human rights violations. I welcome these recent developments and the positive cooperation between MONUSCO and the DRC military and civilian justice authorities.
Alluding to the seriousness of the human rights violations documented, the report calls for effective and prompt victim reparations. To prevent such violations in the future, it encourages Congolese authorities “to establish democratic institutions respectful of human rights.”
To begin this process though, the Congolese government must address the underlying issues of oppression and impunity that laid the groundwork for such serious human rights violations. For the 33 dead, 16 missing, 83 injured, and 265 arbitrarily arrested, inaction is unacceptable. Perpetrators must be held accountable, and the Congolese government must make fair and transparent elections a top priority for the future.
The Congolese provincial elections, which have been delayed but could take place by the end of the year, provide an opportunity for the Congolese government, in partnership with regional and international partners, to restore integrity in the country’s electoral process. The Enough Project urged the Congolese National Electoral Commission, or CENI, to resign and reconvene with new members equitably representing the country’s different political parties, including representation from Congolese civil society. Furthermore, the international community should pressure Congolese leadership to ensure increased transparency and accountability in the political process, and demonstrate respect for the rights of its citizens to speak, gather, and organize without illegal or violent oppression.
– Tracy Fehr blogs for the Enough Project at Enough Said.
• A version of this post appeared on the blog "Freedom at Issue." The views expressed are the author's own.
After a smooth start in the early post-apartheid period, South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), is increasingly afflicted by contradictions between its idealistic principles and the baser behaviors of many of its officeholders. These behaviors currently include threats to institute tighter controls over the judiciary and the ANC’s civil society critics, especially the independent media. A discernable trend toward intolerance of judicial brakes on executive power, and also toward a general aversion to any criticism of executive policies and actions, raises troubling questions about the future of democratic governance in South Africa.
The South Africa chapter of Human Rights Watch’s 2012 World Report states that the country “continues to grapple with corruption, growing social and economic inequalities, and the weakening of state institutions by partisan appointments and one-party dominance.” The 2011 Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance shows that although South Africa ranks fifth overall among African governments, its scores have consistently declined over the past five years, with a significant reduction in scores for rule of law, accountability, and participation. Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press report downgraded South Africa from Free to Partly Free status in 2010. With the recent passage in the National Assembly of a bill aimed at prohibiting public access to information about many decisions and acts of government officials, the downward trajectory appears set to continue. In South Africa and elsewhere, many people who were inspired by the liberation of the country from apartheid are asking with concern, “What’s happening?”
Unfortunately, nearly two decades after the end of apartheid, South Africans’ racial differences continue to define their politics. In terms of high political philosophy and statements directed to foreign audiences, the ANC represents itself as multiracial and committed to the “Rainbow Nation.” However, party leaders demand unwavering support from black South Africans, routinely reminding such voters who liberated them from white domination. Indeed, the sufferings of the liberators in apartheid-era jails and foreign refugee camps have been likened to the Crucifixion, and President Jacob Zuma is fond of saying that the ANC will govern “until Jesus comes.” The ANC’s sense of historical entitlement to perpetual rule, and acquiescence to this conceit by a majority of the 80 percent of South Africans who are black, keep the ANC in power and constitute major obstacles to the development of a mature South African democracy. With no real chance of losing power, elected and appointed officeholders too often ignore the obligations of public service and accountability. Regrettably, many ANC leaders seem to view the operation of get-rich-quick schemes for themselves and their allies as the key role of successful politicians.
The Democratic Alliance (DA), the official opposition in the National Assembly and the only opposition party that can effectively challenge the ANC in at least a few provincial and local elections, enjoys majority support among South Africa’s nonblack minorities—the mixed-race “coloreds,” whites, and Indians. The DA serves an important purpose in exposing the ANC’s mistakes and crimes, but, absent the advent of genuine nonracialism in South African society, the DA’s 20 percent racial base of support offers scant promise that it might someday rule South Africa.
During the lengthy struggle for South Africa’s liberation, the ANC was supported by the Soviet Union, and many ANC leaders were educated in Soviet universities. The central position of the Communist Party in Soviet governance became a model for the ANC’s consolidation of power in South Africa. The supreme body in South African politics is the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC), which when fully constituted has 88 members, elected every five years by local ANC chapters. Starting with the first universal suffrage elections in 1994, direct election of local and provincial government officeholders and National Assembly members was replaced with a proportional rolls or party-list system that gives party leaders strong powers of promotion and control over elected officials. The rolls system has effectively made the members of the ANC NEC the real rulers of South Africa. As the ANC Youth League president told an audience of South African business leaders, “The South African government is only a subcommittee of the ANC.”
Entitlement has spawned arrogance among some ANC leaders who were once fighters for justice and human rights. When 79 members of the National Assembly were exposed in the media for cashing in airline tickets that had been purchased for official travel and pocketing the reimbursements from a travel agency, the ANC’s majority in the assembly allocated public funds to purchase the travel agency’s account ledgers and sequestered the evidence. This action blocked further public scrutiny and any chance that the culprits could be held accountable in a court of law. It is unfortunately only one example of the ANC’s accustomed practice of giving its wrongdoers official protection as long as they remain in good standing with the party leadership. A number of ANC leaders have been implicated in the misappropriation of government funds, and some have reportedly been involved in crimes including influence peddling, drug smuggling, human trafficking, and murder. Yet prosecutions are rare. When asked to estimate the number of corrupt officials now serving jail sentences, prominent attorney George Bizos replied, “Fewer than the number of my fingers.”
Meanwhile, national development and the delivery of services to citizens have lagged despite ANC leaders’ earnest campaign promises. Health and education systems have especially suffered from government neglect, and widespread dysfunction in local governments has prompted public demonstrations, which in some places have been countered with police violence. These problems have been compounded by the ANC’s policy of “deployment,” whereby the selection of candidates for government jobs at all levels is inordinately influenced by the candidates’ perceived loyalty to the ANC rather than by the possession of requisite professional qualifications.
With the National Assembly and most national, provincial, and local government bodies largely under ANC control, the Zuma government is presently targeting private media and the independent judiciary as elements that allegedly require increased executive supervision. It is worth noting that not long after the wife of the minister of state security (intelligence) was convicted, amid extensive media coverage, of drug smuggling, the same minister was leading the ANC’s effort in the National Assembly to muzzle the media through passage of secrecy legislation. Many South Africans are asking whether the secrecy bill is primarily intended to shield government leaders and their families from public scrutiny and prevent detection of their wrongdoing. Separately, President Zuma and other ANC leaders are promoting the initiation of an as-yet-undefined mechanism to officially “review” Constitutional Court judgments. Zuma has complained publicly that Constitutional Court judges place themselves above the National Assembly, whose members, according to his logic, must be supreme because they have been “freely elected by the people.” Both initiatives are assaults on South Africa’s status as a constitutional democracy.
A further cause for concern is the effort by “traditionalists” within the ANC to vest judicial powers in hereditary chiefs and transform assemblies of chiefs, together with tribal elders, into courts of first instance for 14 million rural South Africans. Such traditional courts would operate under procedures and customs that in most tribal groups preclude authority roles for women and would involve practices that conflict with South Africa’s liberal constitution. One glaring example is the precept in tribal domestic law that a woman is a minor in the custody of her husband and his family. In some tribal groups, women are even prohibited from entering the place in a village where the chief sits with elders. If a woman seeks to address the chief, she must shout her statement from a distance or send a man to make the statement on her behalf. Another concern relating to the allocation of judicial powers to chiefs is the influence they would have over the legal status of persons residing in their areas of jurisdiction. Those out of favor with a chief could be denied identity documentation, and their rights as citizens, even the right to vote, could be abridged. A similar system has been used in Zimbabwe by the ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe to limit the number of registered voters.
In the ANC, closing ranks against outsiders is considered an imperative, but in fact there is declining comity among members. Prominent ANC provincial leaders and extraordinarily rich party power brokers jockey for advantage, and some of their methods are quite brutal, with incidents of physical assault on the increase. In December 2012, the ANC will hold a conference to elect the party president and ultimately the next South African president. Zuma, still in his first terms as party and state president, is facing a revolt by powerful factions that want to displace him and his allies so as to gain greater access to positions and resources for themselves.
Zuma’s future could also hinge on a March 20 ruling of the Supreme Court of Appeal, which ordered the national prosecutor to show the DA documents related to the prosecutor’s 2009 decision not to pursue 783 corruption charges against Zuma. The Supreme Court found that the DA has standing to demand the documents in the public interest. The charges involved an arms deal during the presidency of Thabo Mbeki, when Zuma was vice president, in which foreign suppliers of weapons, ships, and airplanes had bribed senior South African officials. The man who served as Zuma’s go-between with the arms dealers has already been convicted for facilitating the bribery of Zuma. However, shortly before he became president, Zuma succeeded in having the legal proceedings stopped, citing evidence that the prosecutor had manipulated the timing of his case to improve the political prospects of Mbeki, then Zuma’s principal rival. But the charges against Zuma have not been judged on their merits, and if the Supreme Court decision eventually opens the door for a trial, Zuma’s position as president might become untenable. Within days of the March 20 judgment, the justice minister, an ardent Zuma ally, moved to add the Supreme Court to the executive branch’s review of judicial decisions, which had initially targeted only the Constitutional Court. This response has been viewed by most commentators as a raw expression of pique.
At present, South Africa risks entering an antidemocratic spiral from which it would be difficult to escape. The Southern Africa region, of which South Africa is the wealthiest and most powerful country, includes seven states whose ruling parties have been in power without interruption since independence. During 2012, these parties’ cumulative years of incumbency will reach 237. The South African contribution is the smallest at 18 years. Although the region includes regimes ranging from dictatorships to democracies, there is a perceptible drift in even the more liberal states toward authoritarianism and impatience with the messy inconveniences of political pluralism and a free society.
South Africa is widely viewed as the flagship of both Southern Africa and sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. The present incremental weakening of representative and accountable government in the country therefore has both national and continental implications for human rights, the rule of law, and the quality of governance. Corruption, which is both an agent and a beneficiary of the erosion of democracy, is a potent threat to economic development and the alleviation of poverty. A South African government that continues to accommodate corruption while hacking away at independent institutions will serve neither the legitimate interests of South Africans nor the hopes of millions of others that South Africa might lead the continent toward a better future.
– Karl Beck is Southern Africa Projects Director at Freedom House.
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• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, www.sahelblog.wordpress.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
When South Sudan attained independence last July, core final status issues – namely oil revenue sharing formulas and border demarcation – remained unresolved between it and Sudan. Since that time, multiple rounds of talks have yielded more frustration than progress. Violence has occurred multiple times in the border areas, whether from the Sudanese government cracking down on alleged internal rebels or in the form of skirmishes between Sudan and South Sudan.
On Monday, violence, the worst yet, flared up again between Sudan and South Sudan, according to AFP. Fighting focused on the area around Heglig, an oil field that lies within Sudan’s borders.
Sudanese warplanes launched air raids on newly independent South Sudan, as the rival armies clashed in heavy battles. Both sides accuse the other of starting the fighting, the worst violence since South Sudan declared independence from Khartoum last July after decades of civil war.
Mohamed Vall, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum said that talks would not be occurring at 'a high ministerial level.'
He further reported that it was commonplace for fighting to break out before rounds of negotiations, as 'whenever there is negotiation, and many things at stake, the two sides try to find a kind of bargain chip on the ground, something that shows that they are in control, that they are stronger on the ground.'
Using violence as a negotiating tactic is not new. But it is dangerous. Violence can escalate beyond what tactical planners anticipated. And it is costly, in lives, money, and time. Finally, in this case, it does not appear to be working – violence does not seem to have brought a settlement closer.
The two sides say they do not want war, which is of course good, but they also need resolution. I’ve seen several pieces lately with titles like “South Sudan’s Dreams Already Slipping Away,” by the LA Times. While I would say that South Sudan was always confronting terrible problems of poverty, political inclusion, corruption, internal violence, etc., it is also true that the events of the last nine months, particularly since South Sudan suspended oil production in January, have taken their toll. Sudan does not seem to be in great shape either, economically or politically. The current rhythm of fight, talk, fight, talk is unsustainable.
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• A version of this post ran on the Enough Said blog. The views expressed are the author's own.
Cyclical violence has been common in South Sudan for decades and the most recent flare-up of heavy fighting in Jonglei state has been going on for months. The continued tension, attacks, and fear of reprisals have displaced an estimated 140,000 people as of early February 2012. The pervasive problem of insecurity, retaliatory violence, and lack of state capacity in service delivery and civilian protection presents a huge challenge to the government of South Sudan.
The layers of support and influence surrounding the Lou-Nuer White Army, a group central to fighting in Jonglei state, have been complex and rather opaque. There have been questions about diaspora support of the armed youth, speculations about the incentives of powerful local politicians in stoking violence, and support for the youth on the part of established militia groups.
A new Small Arms Survey report released last week cites evidence of external support of the White Army. After conducting research in Akobo, Likuongole, and the area surrounding Pibor town, Small Arms Survey found evidence of linking the White Army to weapons and ammunition identical to those used by both the Sudan's People Liberation Army (SPLA) and prominent rebel groups in South Sudan.
The report identifies several rounds of ammunition that were identical to cartridges seized from George Athor's forces in March 2011, suggesting that Athor’s militia was a potential source of arms and ammunition for the White Army. Similarly, in Akobo, Small Arms Survey researchers witnessed Nuer youths with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades identical to models seized from Peter Gadet and George Athor in early 2011. There has long been circumstantial evidence linking Athor to the provision of weapons to Lou- and Jikany-Nuer youth in Jonglei state.
There is also evidence that supports “allegations that Nuer members of the SPLA supported the White Army’s attack on Pibor.” Several cartridges retrieved from the area surrounding Pibor town point to some level of SPLA support for the White Army. But it is impossible, even with this newfound evidence, to ascertain the scale of support from both Athor and the SPLA to the White Army.
This report was released amid heightened tensions surrounding the South Sudan government-led disarmament campaign in Jonglei state. Regardless of where these weapons are coming from the South Sudanese government must critically reevaluate its disarmament strategy. Jonglei state, as most other regions of South Sudan, is flush with weapons. Compounding this problem, the state lacks the capacity to protect civilians from inter-communal violence, making armed civilians very reluctant to give up their weapons.
Disarmament is only one element of a plan to end violence in Jonglei state. Importantly, disarmament should be sequenced appropriately within a comprehensive approach that includes political processes, peace-building, and reconciliation. Disarmament alone cannot hope to end inter-communal violence; in fact, stand-alone disarmament is likely to further inflame the situation.
Enough has highlighted the dangers of a stand-alone disarmament campaign that attempts to confiscate weaponry before communities have undergone reconciliation and peace-building processes. Moreover, the recently announced disarmament strategy is problematic because it fails to appropriately address high-level political concerns alongside grassroots efforts for reconciliation.
– Anette LaRocco blogs for the Enough Project at Enough Said.
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• A version of this post appeared on the blog "CPJ Blog." The views expressed are the author's own.
On Tuesday, while reporting on breaking news in Mali from studios in Atlanta, CNN Wire Newsdesk Editor Faith Karimi made an ominous observation that presaged the outcome of developments unfolding 5,000 miles away. "#Mali president @PresidenceMali has not tweeted in 10 hours after reports of gunfire and a coup attempt," she tweeted.
Earlier – as a mutiny by army soldiers over President Amadou Toumani Touré's handling of a conflict with separatist ethnic Tuareg rebels gained momentum in the Malian capital Bamako – the president's Twitter account had been quick to dismiss reports of trouble.
"Formal denial: the minister of defense is neither injured nor arrested. He is at his office where he is calmly going about his work day," read one tweet. Then came an admonishment to BBC reporter Yacouba Ouédraogo, who was tweeting in his personal capacity while reporting on the crisis. "Can you verify your source? There is no coup d'état in Mali. There is just a mutiny in the garrison of Kati." In another tweet, the person running the presidency's Twitter account offered a personal reassurance, downplaying the situation. "As proof, I am tweeting from the presidential palace. Some deserters and other military who do not want to go to the frontline have mutinied."
SEE ALSO: Top Twitter moments
However, conflicting reports persisted, and journalists and others scrambled to get confirmation. "#Mali: Some mutineers control national TV, Africable TV. Someone to confirm their presence at Bamako's aeroport?" asked Ouédraogo, the journalist. Following the situation online from Farmington, Connecticut, Ousmane Diallo expressed his frustration. "We don't even know what to believe [France-based station] RFI reports that some ministers are under arrest and other news sites say that the mutineers control Bamako," he tweeted. "I'm very upset about the situation in #Mali and I would like to know what's really going on?" he added.
As the news grew into a global headline, Phil Paoletta, an expat based in Bamako, offered some advice for those just tuning in. "Anyone paying attention to #Mali for the first time-pls know that there is a lot more to this country than what you will read+see+hear today," he tweeted.
Indeed, Mali, until yesterday, had been one of the most stable and successful democracies in Africa, complete with free and abundant – though not always professional – media. In fact, the last time the Committee to Protect Journalists documented an attack on the Malian media was 2007.
The unexpected unrest prompted demands for reliable and contextual information. Mike Sefanov, a senior editor at Storyful, jumped on citizen reporter photos of the streets of Bamako and sought to contact their authors. "Hello, is this your photo? Did you take it yourself? Can the news networks use your photos of Bamako?" he tweeted to @ofalsen.
Evan Hill, an Al Jazeera English online producer, offered some direction for balanced coverage. "For news from #Mali follow @presidencemali and @martinvogl," he tweeted. Martin Vogl, a Bamako-based freelance journalist, was reporting for the BBC and other news outlets and became an authoritative source for international media. One of his tweets – "National radio and television in Mali have been cut. Soldiers have taken over the [state broadcaster] ORTM building" – was retweeted 71 times. Fabien Offner, another journalist on the ground, cast some doubt on the suggestion that soldiers were merely mutinying to demand better equipment to fight rebels. "In any case in Bamako, the military have apparently enough munitions for fun shooting in the air," he tweeted.
The military's seizure of state media drew apprehension about the intentions of the mutineers. "Black screen on ORTM....It brings about bad memories," tweeted Mariam Diaby. The station went off the air for a few hours before returning with musical programs. "While dramatic events unfold in Bamako, ORTM offers us all kinds of musical genres," tweeted Daouda Sangaré. Then an indication of an imminent announcement: "#Mali state tv back on air. Statement by 'soldiers' due soon, according to message on screen," tweeted Reuters journalist David Lewis.
The suspense drew some banter on Twitter while the country's fate hung in the balance. "#Malian military does not seem to understand meaning of instant! Over an hour now still no message," tweeted Abdul Tejan-Cole. "So, have they decided or not? They have almost exhausted all the repertoire of Malian music," tweeted @Ogobere. "So, if the mutineers continue to impose [musical program] Top Etoile on us, there will be a revolution as early as this evening," the same user joked.
As the wait stretched into today's early hours, the same @Ogobere turned his humor to the army itself. "Sleep has tried to attack me. But like the Malian army, I have proceeded to a tactical retreat," he tweeted. "Tactical retreat," referred to a term the military used to describe the humiliating rout of troops at the Tessalit army base, a major military installation in the country's north, which was run over by rebels in a deadly armed attack earlier this month.
Finally, images and sounds from state television began to change. "We hear the mutineers in the hallways of the public TV. Beginning of the liquidation of the Malian democracy," tweeted Solo Niaré. For those outside Mali, Natalie Grillon offered a way to get the news directly. "watch ortm here http://tv.senego.com/ortm-en-direct/ for military announcement," she tweeted.
Twitterers like @babtwittter and @Mbokoniko were among the first to post photos showing the faces of the mutineers-turned-coup leaders. "The new masters of Mali" read the caption of a screen shot of the live announcement by @babtwitter. Another screen shot came with chilling news: "the new CNRDRE power calls for the suspension of the constitution, dissolution of institutions. Nothing on [President] #ATT." Soon, videos of the announcement emerged on Youtube.
Calling itself the National Committee for the Redress of Democracy and Restoration of the State (CNRDRE is the acryonym in French), the junta drew immediate criticism. "The Malian military seize power within 1 month and a half of presidential elections scheduled for 29 April, 2012," pointed @JusticeJFK, adding "This is one of the + ridiculous coups d'état that Africa has known. What will the putschists promise? An election? It's in 1 month!"
Journalist and Columbia University professor Howard French offered some contextual analysis about the ousted president. "No political prisoners in Mali. No jailed journalists. ATT not perfect, but far better than many others," he tweeted. Another tweet, by Andrew Lebovich, summarized the feeling of Mali observers. "Sigh. So much for that Malian democracy."
Today, the first post-democracy day, most independent Malian newspapers, including Malijet and Journal du Mali, published as normal and independent radio stations such as Radio Kledu and Radio Kayira were on air covering the coup, local journalists told CPJ. However, the state newspaper, L'Essor, was leading its website today with a sports story and made no mention of the coup.
While the future of Mali's hitherto free press is unclear, the Twitter narrative demonstrated the ways in which traditional media are increasingly less relevant in any case. "Marking papers, with one ear tuned to RFI. But def got more quality reporting from Twitter today about #Mali than from any other medium," tweeted Philippe M. Frowd, a MacMaster University doctoral student living in Canada. As if acknowledging Frowd, traveler Hans-Peter Anzinger opened a Twitter account today, disclosing that he was in Bamako. "Cause of the military in Bamako Mali I desided to be part of the twitter thing ;-)" he wrote on his Twitter profile.
Mohamed Keita is advocacy coordinator for CPJ's Africa Program. He regularly gives interviews in French and English to international news media on press freedom issues in Africa and has participated in several panels. Follow him on Twitter: @africamedia_CPJ.
SEE ALSO: Top Twitter moments
• A version of this post appeared on the blog "Congo Siasa." The views expressed are the author's own.
I resisted, now I have to succumb to the temptation of joining the fracas that is Kony2012. Some thoughts about some apparent assumptions, in no particular order.
The Kony2012 video is simplistic and reductive.
Absolutely. Notably, the video says little about what gave rise to the killing and the LRA itself, and what the current situation in Uganda is.
However, the video never says (as some have claimed) that the LRA currently numbers 30,000 child soldiers, just that they have abducted that many over the course of their existence (which is apparently in the correct order of magnitude).
The video also never says that the LRA is still in Uganda, although they could have made this clearer.
This reductionism is dangerous and can only lead to bad solutions.
Hold on - let's not be reductionist ourselves here! The video is a bit weak on solutions - in fact, it isn't clear what exactly their policy rec is. They like the fact that the US has deployed 100 advisers to the Ugandan army, and they seem to think that these advisers are in danger of being withdrawn - which, as far as I can see, is not the case. So the video looks like a bit of ex-post facto self-justification rather than a targeted advocacy effort.
At the end of the day, it is policy makers who call the shots, influenced by what their constituencies tell them to do. In this case, one could argue that the video has successfully put the LRA on their agenda - but not necessarily to do what the video tells them to do. Policy-makers should be smart enough (I flinch as I write this) to dodge the relevant potholes.
The video neglects the fact the northern Uganda is largely peaceful now and needs support for community development and livelihoods more than anti-LRA initiatives.
This argument gets my blood pressure up. En bref, go tell that to the hundreds of Congolese who have been murdered or maimed by the LRA in the past few years. In 2010 alone, the group killed over a thousand people, and on two days over Christmas in 2008 they killed over 620 people in the Congo. The LRA is still a huge threat to the local population of the Congo, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. To say that we should stop caring about the LRA is absurd.
The video exaggerates the role of Invisible Children in getting the US to deploy advisers.
Yes, definitely. Every organization has to fund-raise.
The video pushes us toward a military solution, which provides indirect support to the Ugandan army and the patronage it provided to people in Museveni's government.
This is true, and I am very skeptical of the wholehearted endorsement of the UPDF the video provides.
However, I would like the skeptics to contemplate what a peace process would look like, and what lessons are to be learned from past attempts to negotiate with the LRA. Kony took advantage of the Juba peace talks in 2006-2008 to regroup, cross the Nile and stockpile food and supplies. He emerged stronger, and from sat phone intercepts and testimony of deserters, it appears that he never really intended to sign any deal.
Could there be a peace deal without Kony? Possibly, but instead of just shooting down the military initiative, I would like to see critics propose a viable alternative that takes into account Kony's block-headedness.
Jason Stearns is the author of the book, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, and the blog,Congo Siasa.
• A version of this post appeared on the blog "Enough Said." The views expressed are the author's own.
In a surprising move of cooperation, South Sudan and Sudan initialed agreements on citizenship and border demarcation in the latest round of talks in Addis Ababa, in the midst of heightened tensions and rhetoric between the two countries.
The seeming pivot away from the brink by both sides was reflected in rhetoric back in Juba. South Sudan’s lead negotiator Pagan Amum sounded an optimistic note on arrival from Addis on Wednesday, saying that the initialing of the “two very important agreements” signaled “huge progress in the negotiations.”
Amum also emphasized that the two parties had committed to a new spirit of cooperation in approaching the negotiations, in which both sides would cease unilateral actions and demonstrate willingness to compromise. The talks, ongoing for over a year and a half, have produced little progress to date.
The direct involvement of the presidents of both countries will also be a facet of the new approach in the talks, according to Amum. A bilateral summit between the two heads of states will reportedly take place in Juba in the near future, at which time President Kiir and President Bashir are slated to sign the agreements.
“The initialed agreements were concluded in the context of a spirit of cooperation and partnership which was discussed and agreed by the parties,” the African Union panel facilitating the talks said in a statement issued Tuesday evening. “The parties have renewed their commitment to continue negotiations in good faith and to arrive at agreements which will ensure the economic, political and security viability of both states.”
Under the nationality agreement, South Sudanese and Sudanese citizens will be granted the freedom to reside, move, acquire and dispose of property, and undertake economic activities in the other state. It remains unclear how, if at all, the agreement will affect the April 8 deadline for ethnic southerners currently residing in the North to “return” to South Sudan to obtain relevant documents necessary, according to Khartoum, for residence in Sudan.
The border agreement would commit the two sides to begin demarcating the parts of the North-South border that Juba and Khartoum agree on within 60 days, but asks that the demarcation process begin in two weeks. According to the text, demarcation should be completed within three months of the start date. It remains to be seen whether these initialed agreements, even when signed by the two heads of states, will actually be implemented or fall prey to the long history of non-implementation of agreements between Sudan and South Sudan.
– Amanda Hsiao blogs for the Enough Project's blog page Enough Said.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, www.sahelblog.wordpress.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
This includes 5.4 million people in the Niger (35 percent of the population), 3 million in Mali (20 percent), around 1.7 million in Burkina Faso (10 percent), around 3.6 million in Chad (28 percent), 850 000 in Senegal (6 percent), 713 500 in the Gambia (37 percent) and 700 000 in Mauritania (22 percent).
The looming crisis is due to a combination of factors, including drought; sharp declines in cereal production and high grain prices; a shortage of fodder for livestock; a reduction in remittances from migrant workers in several countries; environmental degradation; displacement; and chronic poverty deepened by chronic crisis.
Total 2011 cereal production in the Sahel was on average 25 percent lower than in 2010, but as much as 50 percent lower in Chad and Mauritania. There were also localized, huge food production deficits in other countries (up to 80 percent).
As the above quotation indicates, Chad is one of the most affected countries. IRIN gives a ground-level perspective on the crisis, and sets Chad’s problems in the context of broader fallout from the civil war in Libya and the violence in Northern Nigeria:
Late Chadian government recognition of a food crisis, a slow build-up from aid agencies, and severe pipeline constraints due to closed Libyan and Nigerian borders mean food aid has not yet arrived in Chad, despite many thousands of people having already run out of food.
Residents of Eri Toukoul village in Kanem Region, western Chad, told IRIN they have nothing to eat. Most are surviving by leaving for towns and cities. Grain stores are empty and the animals they used to rely on are dead.
“Before we had 10-15 animals each, now we have nothing,” said Fatou Su Hawadriss, who has seven children. Almost every family in this village once had at least one relative working in Libya who sent back money, but now all have fled the violence there.
The debate continues about how best to address the problem of food insecurity, with NPR recently showcasing new research on where relief organizations should purchase food supplies. The findings seem fairly common-sense to me:
Simple, unprocessed grain or beans were clearly cheaper in local markets; processed food such as oil sometimes was cheaper to ship from the U.S. The lesson from this is a simple one, the researchers concluded: Don’t set up rigid rules that require food to be bought in any particular place. Buy food wherever it makes most sense.
The larger question about the region’s recurring food crises still remains, however: What is the best long-term strategy for reducing food insecurity? For Chad and many of its neighbors, that question is of crucial importance.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, www.sahelblog.wordpress.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
Last spring, Burkina Faso experienced weeks of protests by trade unions and students, with an overlapping series of mutinies by soldiers and police. For a time it looked as though President Blaise Compaore, who has ruled the country since 1987, might be losing his grip on power. In June, a combination of personnel changes, policy reforms, and crackdowns on mutineers brought the nation’s intersecting uprisings to a close. But nearly a year later, Burkina Faso and its rulers are still sorting through the fallout of last year’s explosion – and looking ahead to 2015, the year of the next scheduled presidential elections.
The 2011 uprisings were back in the news last week when the government announced the firing of over 100 policemen accused of joining the mutinies. A list of the fired officers (in French) shows that most came from units in Ouagadougou, the political capital, and Bobo-Dioulasso, the economic capital. Both cities were centers of protest last year. Given earlier disciplinary firings of mutinous soldiers, the firing of mutinous police came as no surprise (French).
The firings suggest that last year’s uprisings are still on the government’s mind, but also that the government is feeling relatively strong. International actors seem to share that view of the Compaore regime’s strength. The US State Department‘s conclusion regarding the 2011 uprisings is, “As of late July, the government’s actions had produced greater calm and stability.” The IMF’s December review of loan programs to Burkina Faso makes no mention of the uprisings, but generally depicts the country as stable and making progress on the IMF’s desired reforms. The IMF does say, however, “In view of the Burkinabè economy’s vulnerability to exogenous shocks that affect the most vulnerable in the population, the authorities need to place special emphasis on the preparation of a social safety net.” This is noteworthy because two frequently cited drivers of the uprisings were the post-electoral crisis in neighboring Cote d’Ivoire and increases in the price of basic foods.
The Africa Report adds more perspective on the regime’s new strategy and how it has been received internationally:
The new government has increased its actions, most notably by reducing prices of fast-moving consumer goods and agricultural input products, promoting civil servants or suspending unpaid penalties for delayed electricity bills.
In pole position is Luc Adolphe Tiao, who has embarked on a campaign to seduce Burkinabes and economic partners. The former journalist and diplomat has a somewhat pedagogical approach to his duties.
They also seem to desire an improvement in governance, social dialogue and the economic environment, in line with the recommendations of the World Bank.
Moreover, while meeting in Paris in the beginning of February, international partners gave their support to the Burkinabe government’s social and economic programmes, with a total budget of US$14.3bn for the period 2011-2015.
Their ambition is to reach a two-digit GDP growth, the only lever to real sustainable poverty reduction.
Many observers, then, agree that calm has been restored for the present. But those same observers are questioning whether stability can hold. The Africa Report wonders whether population growth will overwhelm economic growth. Morale among soldiers and police may have taken a hit from firings. And the shocks – particularly rapid increases in food prices – that contributed to crisis not only last year, but also in previous episodes, could return.
Some uncertainty about Burkina Faso’s political future centers on the president and his intentions. In Jeune Afrique (in French), Marwane Ben Yahmed writes that Compaore is facing pressures (including from abroad) to step down when his term ends in 2015, but also getting encouragement (especially from his circle) to remain. Ben Yahmed writes (my translation) that Compaore already knows what he intends to do, but that “he cannot commit himself to leave, at the risk of undermining his authority and launching a premature war of succession, just as he could not, evidently, announce that he will cling to power.” The guessing game about the president’s intentions, which could run for over two years, will ensure that a hint of tension remains in Burkina Faso’s politics for some time to come.