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December 06 2011

Africa/Caribbean: Vote for the YoBloCo Awards

Public evaluation is now open for the “Youth in Agriculture Blog Competition” (YoBloCo) : “We received more than 90 entries for the competition, among which we shortlisted a total of 36 blogs for the Individual Category and 16 blogs for the Institutional Category.”

November 21 2011

Africa: Open Doors 2012: Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa

Open Doors 2012 focuses on Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa: “Following on from India in 2011, the next edition of Open Doors, the Festival del film Locarno’s co-production lab, will be devoted to francophone Africa…Application forms for Open Doors 2012 are available on www.onopendoors.pardo.ch and are restricted to projects from francophone Sub-saharan Africa”

September 04 2011

African Women Striving to be Heads of State

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf paved the way in 2006 when she was elected President of Liberia and became the first African woman to reach the top level position. Since then, several other African women have decided to run for the Presidency, most recently in Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo and Niger. The outcomes of their campaigns have had various degrees of success so far and not many expect them to follow in the footsteps of Johnson-Sirleaf just yet. Yet many African countries are scheduled for elections in 2011-12 [fr] and the increase in female candidates is undoubtedly a step in the right direction for a continent that still struggles at times with fair representation of minorities in their political systems.

Clarisse Juompan-Yakam wrote an in-depth article [fr] on the subject where she notes that the candidates share many similar traits: they are often highly educated, tenacious politicians who first got involved in the public debate as civil rights activists.

Niger

Juompan-Yakam writes that Mariama Bayard Gamatié, who lost in the recent Presidential elections in Niger, was unhappy with the lack of media coverage her campaign received [fr]:

Première Nigérienne à briguer la magistrature suprême, cette fonctionnaire des Nations unies attribue en partie à l’indifférence des médias sa contre-performance à la présidentielle de janvier dernier : 0,38 % des voix au premier tour, le pire score du scrutin.

First Nigerienne women to run for commander in chief, this United Nations staffer believes that her low score in the January Presidential elections (0.38% of votes, lowest of all candidates) is due to the lack of media coverage.

Gamatié views her candidacy as a stepping stone for other women in the region to follow.

Bénin

Marie-elise Gbedo, presidential candidate in Bénin via Benin-diaspora.com

One of them was Marie-Élise Akouavi Gbèdo in Bénin whom Mrs Gamatié joined on the campaign trail earlier this year to show her support. Mrs Akouavi Gbèdo did not win the election but she is now Minister of Justice. She helped make polygamy unlawful in Bénin.

Madagascar

In Madagascar, the actual date for the Presidential elections is not yet set. However, Mrs Saraha Georget Rabeharisoa is one of the first to submit her candidacy. Mrs Rabeharisoa is the head of the Green Party in Madagascar. The uncertainty about the electoral calendar does not agree with her [fr]:

L’Etat a fait des dépenses faramineuses pour les membres du gouvernement qui étaient descendus sur le terrain pour sensibiliser les gens à s’inscrire dans les listes électorales… Si actuellement, on décide de ne pas procéder aux élections pour permettre aux citoyens d’exprimer leur choix, on a fait des dépenses pour rien.

The government is currently spending a great deal of money for the members of the government to ask people to register for the elections… If we finally decide not to have elections for the people to express themselves, then we would have spent the money for nothing.

Saraha Georget Rabeharisoa, head of the Green Party in Madagascar via http://hasinimadagasikara.mg

The environment, evidently one of the main themes for her political party, is one of the main headlines in Madagascar because of the infamous illegal logging of rosewood from the rain forests. Mrs Rabearisoa weighs in on the scandal [mg]:

Tsy ekena ny fitrandrahana tsy manara-dalàna rehetra eto madagasikara. Mikasika ny fitrandrahana ny andramena, dia efa nanomboka ny taona 2001 no nisian’izany voalohany. Tokony hisy hatrany ny fandraisana andraikitra manoloana izany

All the illegal traffic that is going on in Madagascar is not acceptable. About the rosewood logging, it had already started back in 2001. It's high time we put measures in place to deal with this

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angèle Makombo-Eboum is running for the Presidential elections of November 2011. She explains that if a woman is good enough to run a household, she ought to be good enough to run the country.[fr] She also can brag about her level of education with a Master of Law from La Sorbonne.

Pourquoi le Congo ne ferait-elle comme le Liberia, la Thaïlande, le Brésil ou l'Allemagne où le pouvoir d'Etat est exercé des femmes. Les femmes sont capables de changement . La vie à Kinshasa donne bien l'illustration la plus patente…Ce sont les femmes qui nourrissent les familles. Elles font étudier les enfants.

Why can't Congo go the way of Liberia, Thailand, Brazil or Germany, countries where women are at the highest level of power. Women are capable of bringing change. Life in Kinshasa is the best example of that.. It is the women who feed the families. They also make sure that the children get an education.

Cameroon

Cameroonian Édith Kah Walla believes women have to overcome higher hurdles to convince their countrymen that they are competent for the job. Owona Nguini agrees with her [fr] but he also thinks that being a woman can be an important asset:

Le fait que Mme Kah Walla soit une femme peut jouer dans les deux sens..parce que c’est la première fois qu’une femme se présente et c’est rare d’aller jusqu’au bout de la compétition électorale. Ça peut aussi être un handicap compte tenu de la prévalence d’un certain machisme politique qui fait que la grande partie de la société ne voit pas nécessairement une femme à sa tête.

That Mrs Kah Walla is a woman can work both ways… it would be a first that a woman runs and goes all the way to election day. It can also be a handicap because there is still a certain machismo in the political field that makes an important part of the society not picture a woman at the top of the nation just yet.

August 06 2011

Africa : Delicious Peanut

Nadia Khouri-Dagher writes a post on afrik.com [fr] where she praises the peanut, a condiment that has been integrated in most African cuisines: “Senegalese Chicken Mafé, Malian Peanuts Tiguadegue sauce, Ghanean Inkatse-abè sauce, Togolese Azindéssi sauce, Beninese Aziin nusunnu sauce, Congolese moambe chicken, Peanut rougail from Reunion Islands,… : The peanut or goober composes a wide array of dishes and popular and delicious in the majority of Sub-Saharan African countries !”

June 15 2011

Benin: Meet Benin's Rising Star

Chale writes about the rising star of Benin's music: “Kiinzah is certainly one of the rising stars in the African music scene. We discovered the Benin singer recently through a Gabonese Youtube channel, that alone signifies how she's crossed over her country's borders and is making a mark on the African continent.”

June 03 2011

Lebanon: Story of a Migrant House Keeper, Georgette

To mark Labor Day, the non-governmental organisation Migrant Workers Task Force has published a video, in which Georgette, a house keeper from Benin working in Lebanon, relates her experiences and speaks of the changes she would like to see in migrants' working conditions.

March 27 2011

March 11 2011

Libya: Sub-Saharan Africans in Serious Danger

Written by Abdoulaye Bah · Translated by Mairi Mcgivern · View original post [fr]

This article is part of our special coverage on the uprising in Libya.

The crisis in Libya since the uprisings against Colonel Mouammar Gaddafi has not only had dramatic consequences for Libyans, but also for Sub-Saharan African citizens residing in Libya. Thousands of refugees are exposed to terrible conditions on journeys to the nearest borders, and numerous black Africans currently do not dare to leave their homes, not even to find something to eat. Why is this?

The digital portal for the civil society of Maghreb e-Joussour.net explains in an article [fr] published on March 2:

De peur d'être pris pour des mercenaires à la solde du pouvoir de Mouammar Kadhafi, les migrants subsahariens vivant en Libye se cachent depuis le début de la répression sanglante, au risque de se retrouver oubliés dans ce pays qu'ils veulent quitter.

For fear of being mistaken for mercenaries working to uphold the powerful regime of Mouammar Gaddafi, Sub-Saharan migrants living in Libya have been forced to hide themselves ever since the onslaught of the bloody repression began. Yet they run the risk of finding themselves forgotten in a county they wish to leave.

Hundreds of thousands have migrated to Libya from all over the African continent, notably from the countries within close proximity, such as approximately 300,000 from Chad, 50,000 from Nigeria and 10,000 from Mauritania. In an article on Mediapart [fr] (subscription required), Carine Fouteau remarks:

“Regrouped according to nationality in certain areas of the larger cities, they call for help without being heard. ‘The Sub-Saharan Africans are afraid. After the information we received from the Malians, they gather together as much as possible, up to 10, 20 or 30 at a time. They cannot get out, they live underground.  Anyone with black skin is in hiding due to certain individuals who have supported the violence’ reports Alassane Dicko, one of the co-ordinators/leaders of the Malian Association of Deportation (AME), situated in Bamako.”

Global Voices previously shared citizen videos related to the African mercenary question.

Al Jazeera English shares a video report on the dangers faced by black Africans in Libya.

In a report of Malian testimonies on the website Bamanet.net, Abdou Karim Maiga recounts the experience of certain individuals [fr] who are refusing to flee.

“Mamadou Diakite, who is around thirty and works as a civil servant, recounts that “since the beginning of the conflict, we have been persecuted and especially since the press began to speak of the implication that many blacks are mercenaries working closely with Gaddafi. We state here that our president should support Gaddafi and as a result we are considered as traitors.”

Another Malian, Chaka Sidibe, arrived in Libya just four months ago. He affirms that for several nights he and his friends have not slept and adds that [fr]:

“We have been abandoned by our Chinese bosses who have been evacuated by their country and their villagers have asked us to leave as quickly as possible. We grouped ourselves together and crossed the Egyptian boarder by foot.”

The website Relief Web reports real life stories of people who have attempted to save their own lives:

“Fearing for their lives, given the targeting of Sub-Saharan Africans, and desperate to leave Libya, they had paid a human trafficker to take them to Egypt in a sealed and refrigerated truck”

The information agency of the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Irin News, reports the experience of some Somalis [fr].

Their food reserves are almost totally exhausted, he explained, “The landlord did the shopping for us but we are missing a lot. We had a little bit of money when the troubles first erupted, but we are labourers and it has now been 12 days since we last worked.

Additionally, it is the women who have paid the heaviest price during this conflict, Shamso Mohammed, a Somali refugee, told IRIN in the same article:

The Somali women are particularly worried about what might happen. “I arrived here almost a year and a half ago in order to try to get myself to Europe, but so far I have not succeeded and now I find myself in the exact same situation I was trying to escape from by fleeing Somalia.”

Maryan Ali, who lives under the same roof as Shamso, has said that she fears they may come and attack them in their homes. “The residencies of several Somalians would have been, in effect, the target of attackers”, she added.

Three of her friends disappeared five days ago, she revealed. “We called them for work and they went; the last news we have of them is that they were taken by a car driven and accompanied by armoured men. We have no idea what the men have done to them and we have no one to turn to for help.”

Boukary Daou wrote in an article published on Maliweb.net:

“On this Wednesday, (2nd March), there are around 134 migrants, who have trampled the soil of home. But this is just a small fraction of our compatriots living in Libya.

According to the last administrative census carried out by the vocational electorate of the civil State, (Ravec) there are more than 9000 Malians still to be accounted for.”

The site Podcast Journal signaled other sources of worry for the HCR and the OIM:

‘Melissa Fleming, spokesperson of the HCR, made known to the HCR some concerns over the destiny of a ‘large number of refugees of Sub-Saharan African origin who are not yet authorised to enter into Tunisian territory.’ This is an issue equally signalled as a concern by the spokesperson of the International Migration Organisation (OMI), Jemini Pandya, who also works to help with the evacuation process of non-Libyan nationals.’

In another article by Carine Fouteau on Mediapart (reproduced on Centrafrique Presse), Jean-Phillipe Chauzy, spokesman of International Organisation of Migration (IOM), explains:

“Those who do not have any official papers are literally restricted over there. What’s more is that there are copious levels of people in this situation; from Mali, Guinea, Nigeria, Niger, Toga, Benin, Burkina Faso etc. Without a passport it is improbable that they would be authorised to leave the country. Their situation is a particularly pressing issue.”

This article is part of our special coverage on the uprising in Libya.

February 17 2011

Equatorial Guinea: Mr. Obiang, new Chairperson of the African Union and Human Rights profaner.

Written by Abdoulaye Bah · Translated by Rhita Boufelliga · View original post [fr]

Head of states and of government of the African Union (AU)- established in 2002, in Durban South Africa, in replacement of the Organization of African Unity-, elected on January 30th 2011 Mr. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo as the AU's new Chairperson, succeeding Mr. Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawi's president. Mr Obiang has been Equatorial Guinea's president since 1979, following a coup d'état. He rules his country with an iron fist. Despite a sobering human rights review [Fr]; he has up to now managed to avoid an international sentencing.

As soon as he was elected, Mr. Obiang Nguema made some statements confirming the self image he gives to his country's leadership. Many blogs and online media have captured them, of which Le Patriot Nefertiti [Fr] that cites him on lepost.fr :

“Les concepts de démocratie, des droits de l'homme, de bonne gouvernance, ne sont pas des nouveaux thèmes pour l'Afrique, mais il convient plutôt de les adapter à la culture africaine (…)”

“The concepts of democracy, human rights and good governance aren't new themes for Africa, but it is more suitable to adapt them to the African culture (…)”

He didn't elaborate how ideologies such as the ones defined in the “Universal declaration of human rights” are in need of adaptation to fit Africans.

Human right organizations reacted promptly:

On the blog pambazuka.org, Yves Niyiragira cites [Fr] a press release from the African Assembly for the defense of Human Rights (RADDHO), published on January 31st 2010 in Addis-Abeba, Ethiopia, expressing “its deepest indignation”:

«La situation des droits humains en Guinée équatoriale est caractérisée par les tortures systématiques contre les opposants politiques, les violations des libertés fondamentales avec une opposition muselée, l’absence d’une presse indépendante, l’inexistence de la Société civile».

“The human rights situation in Equatorial Guinea is characterized by systematic torture of political opponents, by the violation of the fundamental freedoms with a muzzled opposition, the absence of an independent media body, and the non-existence of civil society.”

The violations include death sentences. According to Amnesty International, four people; Jose Abeso Nsue, Manuel Ndong Anseme, Alipio Ndong Asumu and Jacinto Micha Obiang were kidnapped in Benin where they had fled to and “they were executed on August 21st, immediately after being declared guilty by a military tribunal in the capital Malabo.”

Obiang and Rice via a-birdie on Flickr CC license 2.0

The blog appablog.wordpress.com published [Fr]:

« …. elle [l'UA] se dote d’un nouveau président en la personne de M. Teodoro Obiang Nguema, président de la Guinée Equatoriale, arrivé au pouvoir par un coup d’Etat et régnant sur son pays au mépris des droits humains depuis 30 ans.»

“…. it [AU] acquired a new president in Mr. Teodoro Obiang Nguema, president of Equatorial Guinea, arrived to power through a coup d’état, and is ruling his country, for 30 years, completely disdaining human rights.”

Enfin, alors que l’impunité des responsables des crimes les plus graves bafoue le droit des victimes à la justice et est à la base des crises politiques et des conflits sur le continent, la FIDH déplore la décision de l’UA de réitérer sa demande de suspension des procédures judiciaires engagées par la Cour pénale internationale contre le président soudanais El Béchir, présumé responsable du crime de génocide, de crimes contre l’humanité et de crimes de guerre au Darfour

Finally, as the impunity of the people responsible for serious crimes violates the victim's rights to justice and is at the basis of political crisis and conflicts on the continent; the FIDH [International Federation for Human Rights] deplores the AU's decision to reiterate its request for the suspension of the judicial procedures started by the International Criminal Court against the Sudanese president El Bechir, alleged responsible of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfour.

« Par ses décisions, l’UA nous montre qu’elle nage en plein paradoxe. »

“Through its decisions, the AU is showing us how it is immersed in paradox.”

During it's nth reelection in 2009, with more than 95% of the votes, an article by Denis Carlier “Obiang Nguema, a president for 30 years: Authoritarianism and corruption in power on black gold ground in Equatorial Guinea” on the blogafrik.com has triggered many reactions:

The blogger Juju wrote in his first comment:

30 ans et encore sept ? c'est la malédiction de tout un peuple qui se voit dans la misère à cause de ces dictateurs, d'abord Macias Nguema et maintenant son neveau Obiang Nguema. Les gens vivaient bien avec les espagnols. Il n'y avait pas de petrol, les familles avaient leurs terres et les parents avaient des moyens pour payer les etudes à leurs enfants. Il n'y avait pas d'analphabètes. A quoi a servi l'indépendence ? pourquoi nous les africains n'avons pas le droit d'une vie digne dans nos pays ?

30 years and another 7 to go? It's the curse of a whole population that see itself in misery because of its dictators, first Macias Nguema and now his nephew Obiang Nguema. The people lived well with the Spanish. There was no petrol, families had their land, and parents had enough money to pay for their children's studies. There were no illiterates. What was the purpose of the Independence? Why don't we, the Africans, have the right to a life with dignity in our countries?

In a second comment, juju added:

… Avec un PIB de 29800 dollars [per capita], pas d'eau potable pas d'électricité pas de logements dignes pas d'hôpitaux ( lui et sa famille vont au Maroc pour se soigner).

With a GDP of $29800 [per capita], no drinking water, no electricity, no decent housing, no hospitals (him and his family go to Morocco to get medical care)

.
From his part, Malembe wrote:

« On peut également dire que ces despotes travaillent à la solde des occidentaux. Après tout c´est du théâtre, chacun a un rôle ou des rôles bien précis dans les pièces. Le Président equato-guinéen sait qu´il est une marionnette. Il n´est pas leader. »

We can also say that these despots work in the pay of the west. After all it's theater, everyone has a role or multiple well defined roles in the plays. The Equato-Guinean president knows that he is a puppet. He is not a leader.

It's hard to deny Malembe's comments since -based on this article by Denis Carlier [Fr], an investigation directed by the Securities and Exchange commission on the existence of dubious transactions on Riggs Bank accounts, in Washington (DC) has discovered:

« un total de 700 millions de dollars y a été transféré au profit d’Obiang et de ses proches, en provenance des compagnies pétrolières ExxonMobil Corp, Amerada Hess Corp, ChevronTexaco, Devon Energy Corp et Marathon Oil Corp. La banque a été condamnée à une amende record de 16 millions de dollars pour avoir tu le détail des virements, et s’est finalement faite racheter. »

A total of 700 million dollars has been transfered to Obiang and his family, from the following petroleum companies: Exxon Mobil Corp, Amerada hess Corp, ChevronTexaco, Devon Energy Corp and Marathon Oil Corp. The bank was fined a record $16 million for not disclosing the details of the transactions, and was later bought.

According to Leger Ntiga on the website africapresse.com [FR]:

Le président équato-guinéen Teodoro Obiang Nguema se trouve à la 12e place du classement des chefs d’Etat les plus riches du monde derrière huit dirigeants d’Asie parmi lesquels le sultan de Bruneï, le roi d’Arabie Saoudite, l’émir du Qatar et le sultan d’Oman, ainsi que le prince Albert II de Monaco et le Premier ministre Italien, Silvio Berlusconi. Il est ainsi accusé de confisquer les biens publics de son pays.

The Equato-Guinean president Teodoro Obiang Nguema is the 12th richest head of state in the world, following 8 Asian rulers including the sultan of Brunei, the king of Saudi Arabia, the emir of Qatar and the sultan of Oman, as well as prince Albert II of Monaco and the Italian prime minister Sylvio Berlusconi. He is thus accused of stealing his country's wealth.

A few days before Obiang's election as AU's Chairperson, Abena Ampofoa Asara commented, in an article entitled “Obiang: the pseudo humanitarian”, published by pambazuka.org, on Obiang's $3 million dollars endowment that the UNESCO almost accepted:

Avec le revenu national le plus élevé de l’Afrique subsaharienne, le revenu per capita de la Guinée équatoriale est comparable à celui du Portugal ou de la Corée du Sud. Néanmoins, 60% de la population se débat pour survivre avec moins d’un dollar par jour. Depuis la découverte du pétrole dans ce pays, en 1995, la famille de Teodoro Obiang Nguema et ses proches associés sont devenus fabuleusement riches, alors que la majorité de la population est restée embourbée dans la pauvreté.

With the highest national income of the Sub-Saharan Africa, the per capita income of Equatorial Guinea is comparable to that of Portugual or South Korea. Nevertheless, 60% of the population is struggling to survive with less than a dollar per day. Since the discovery of petroleum in this country in 1995; Teodoro Obiang Nguema's family and his close associates became extremely rich, where as the rest of the population remains mired in poverty.

December 26 2010

Tragedy bookends Year 2010 for Francophone Citizen Media

By Lova

It appears that tragedy will bookend yet another year rich in remarkable events in the world of  French-speaking citizen media.

The month of January set the tone for the rest of the year with the traumatic fallout from the earthquake in Haiti, the  attacks against the Togolese football team at the African Cup of nations in Cabinda and the firing of tear gas against protesters in Madagascar.  The end of the year did not provide much respite from violence as the ongoing political crisis in Côte d'Ivoire has already claimed close to 173 lives and social tension sparks riots in Tunisia.

The year 2010 was also marked by the 50th anniversary of the independence of  many African countries, highlighted by a controversial military parade at the Champs-Elysees in Paris and the hosting of Young African Leaders Symposium by US president Obama.  Throughout the year, citizen media in Francophone countries was once more at the forefront of information dissemination and often found itself under duress for exercising their right to free speech.

An Ominous Start


The earthquake took everyone by surprise but despite the frequent interruptions of phone services and generally poor access to internet, Haitian citizen media responded to the challenges and provided frequent updates and a much needed on the ground perspectives regarding the recovery effort.

In the midst of the tragedy, a francophone “show of solidarity” was discussed at length when Senegal's president Wade offered free land to Haitians earthquake survivors. The offer was met with a mix of skepticism and support by Senegalese, Haitian and citizen media worldwide.

On February 18th, a coup took place in Niger in which President Mamadou Tandja was captured after a gun battle in the capital, Niamey, led by led by Col. Abdoulaye Adamou Harouna.  The general sentiment of the Nigerien citizen media seemed to go from “blasé” to “good riddance”.

The financial crisis also affected the African continent; African bloggers reacted to the apparent differential treatment from the IMF when it comes to helping countries like Greece compared to some African nations.

From financial to natural crises, The northern and western African regions were plagued by prolonged period of rains and severe floods. Morocco, Mauritania, Benin, Nigeria and Togo were amongst the most affected by floods with initial reports often provided by citizen media.

The security and stability of the west African region was also on the mind of bloggers when AQIM made headlines repeatedly by taking hostages  in Mali and killing Michel Germaneau in July and again capturing several employees of AREVA hostages in Niger later that year.

AQIM Area via Orthuberra on Wikimedia - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Celebrating Independence in Francophone Africa

Despite the weary start, the year 2010 was also supposed to be a celebration of 50 years of independence and a critical election year for many African nations. Yet given the delayed human development progress, questionable governance and mismanagement of natural resources, many African bloggers wonder whether there is really a cause for celebration in Africa so far.

Yet the celebrations went on, sometimes quite lavishly as seen in Brazzaville, Congo.

None of these celebrations caused quite the stir that the military parade of African soldiers on Bastille Day at the invitation of French president Sarkozy provoked. With the growing exposure of the corrupt nature of “La Françafrique“,  refering to the relationship between some African leaders and French lobbying groups, many observers pointed out that the presence of African armies at the Champ-Elysees was condescending and awkward at best, not unlike Sarkozy's Dakar speech. [Another speech by the French president in Grenoble this summer about delinquents of foreign origins and the forced expulsions  of Roma people also provoked intense reactions in the francophone blogosphere.]

A  different approach was taken by the US administration in marking the multiple independence anniversaries in Africa. In early august 2010,  US President Obama held a three-days symposium for Young African Leaders to exchange ideas on how to foster development, human rights and democracy.  The emphasis on the youth of Africa was in clear contrast with the presence of the old guards of African leaders showcased on Bastille Day.

Hoping for Transparency

Year 2010 was also supposed to be the year when some African nations would make important strides towards free and transparent elections.

That hope quickly faded away.

The electoral process in Burundi, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Madagascar and Rwanda were all at some point subject to major question marks, marred with missed deadlines, suspicions of massive fraud and acts of violence.

Yet one has the feeling that citizens in those countries are eager to move forward and prove that mediocre leadership cannot hold countries back forever. The rise of a burgeoning civil society and local citizen media provide hope that progress are being made, often in spite of proper governance.

Théophile Kouamouo and Saint-Clavier Oula

The impact of online citizen media has become evident enough that authoritarian African governments have taken major steps towards increasing censorship of digital media. Ivorian bloggers and journalists were arrested in July for publishing documents on corruption in cocoa and coffee trade.  Since the Ivorian political crisis broke out in December, many bloggers and twitter users have withdrawn from their online activities and are no longer posting updates on the situation because of personal threats.

In Madagascar, a slew of journalists and political opponents were arrested for alleged threats against national security and voicing their dissents online.  Steps towards more control of online  content in Madagascar are also being taken,  highlighted by a proposal that all Malagasy digital content are to be be managed by a single private provider (fr).

It is yet to be seen whether this year's lessons from some African nations' electoral hardships  will be learned by their neighbors. Senegal and Cameroon among others will face important electoral deadlines  in 2011. Cameroonian bloggers do not appear overly optimistic about the upcoming elections. As for Senegal, local citizen media has already been quite vocal  about  perceived nepotism and corruption inside the current administration.

It would be a refreshing sight in 2011  if the streak of dubious electoral results and post-electoral violence were to be halted for a change. African leaders owe that much to their resilient population.

October 25 2010

Benin: How to help flood victims

By Ndesanjo Macha

How to help flood victims in Benin: “So people are homeless, kids aren’t going to school, and disease is rampant. What can we do from our armchairs? I checked with the USAID director and several other international donors to find out what they’re doing. The relief effort is being lead by Caritas, who works in partnership with the Beninese government to get supplies and support to areas affected by the flooding.”

October 22 2010

Benin: One of the Most Affected by the Floods in Western Africa

By Lova Rakotomalala

Blaise Aplogan posts a photo of floods in Benin [fr]. He adds a table that summarizes the number of casualties and people affected by the floods in several western African countries, noting that Benin was one of the most severely hit [RFI report in French].

October 20 2010

Evacuation of The Former “House of West African Students” in Paris

By Anna Gueye · Translated by Anna Gueye · View original post [fr]

Ménilmuche writes on his blog [fr] about the evacuation of “La Maison des Étudiants de l’Ouest Africain” [fr]. In 1950 [Colonial period], French West Africa (AOF) purchased this building to house the elected West African representatives. The building became a student dormitory in the 1960's when the countries reached independence. However Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal have lost interest in maintaining the building for years now[fr].

October 19 2010

Benin: Text Messages to Help Protect Children Against Violence: Lessons Learned

By Lova Rakotomalala

The Violence Against Children (VAC) project is an initiative co-implemented by PLAN and Save the Children in West Africa and takes place over 4 years (2008-2011) in seven countries: Togo, Ghana, Benin, Guinea, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire and Gambia. The VAC project trains and engages children and youth themselves as advocates and agents of change to end violence, together with adult community allies. A comprehensive UN report proposes recommendations for action to prevent and respond to violence against children around the world. Earlier this year, the project explored the idea of setting up a text message based system that will collect and map out reports of violence against children in communities in Benin and Togo.

The managers of the VAC project sent the following statistics about violence against children in Benin: according to a study conducted by the Benin Ministry of Family in 2007 (Etude nationale sur la Traite des enfants réalisée par le Ministère de la Famille en 2007) [fr]:

Le nombre d’enfants victimes de traite résidant sur le territoire béninois au moment de l’enquête a été estimé à 40317, soit 2% de la population béninoise résidant âgée de 6-17 ans dont près de 86% sont les filles.

It was estimated that at the time of the study, 40,317 children living in Benin were exploited, i.e 2% of the population between the age of 6 and 17 and of those 86% were young girls

Here is a video overview of the VAC Project there:

The following is our conversation with Linda Raftree, social media and new technology advisor for Plan West Africa Region and ICT4D Technical Advisor for Plan USA who was closely involved with implementing the text messages-based technological support for the VAC project in Benin. She wrote extensively about fostering a new political consciousness on violence against children in Benin, the solutions that ICT could potentially provide in that context and the challenges that they faced. We discussed the implementation, the strengths and weaknesses of the technology portion of the project and the lessons learned in order to provide better protection for children.

Team member Henry explains the workflow of SMS reporting during the workshop*

Interview:


Technology for Transparency Network (TTN): Tell us a little bit about the project, the genesis of the idea for a text message-based reporting system.
Linda Raftree (LR): The project is managed by my colleague who works in the West Africa regional office and I’m supporting with the ICT integration. It started off really as a youth project funded by our office in Finland and an effort to break down the UN recommendations from the Violence against Children (VAC) study into a more mainstream language. The idea was to make specific areas of the study more palatable to the general population. The original VAC study was conducted over about 3 years in consultation with hundreds of children, and the goal of the broader VAC project is to increase awareness amongst children and adults, get them to learn about the effects of violence and how to prevent it and to share the knowledge with their peers.
We (Plan) organized a conference in Kenya on social change through new media in December 2008, where my colleague Anastasie Koudoh in Dakar heard of FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi. She started wondering whether such a system could be set up to track violence via cell phone messages. We knew from the VAC study that many incidents of violence are not reported for various reasons and decided to see if we could remedy that. We discussed internally with colleagues from our Dakar and our Finnish office and we had a lot of questions about implementation, privacy and management of the platform , etc. In January, I was lucky enough to meet for a day with Josh Nesbit and James Bon Tempo at our office in Washington DC and we discussed and sorted out some basics about implementation, data collection and privacy. We got our Ushahidi instance set up with help from our colleague Mika at the Finnish office and the folks at Ushahidi. Then I went to Benin and supported Anastasie and the staff there to conduct workshops with the children in the community, the staff, the child protection services and the Ministry of Family, consulted with them and went through the whole process of how SMS reporting might be set up. We asked whether they thought this new system would help, the type of information that they thought we might want to collect and any additional risks to people reporting that we might not have thought of. Basically making sure that everyone's input was fully integrated into the system.
TTN: What type of violence is more prominent in Benin and how would the project impact on the incidents?
LR: The Ministry of Family generously sent the latest statistics. Besides the national numbers mentioned earlier, the study reports that in 2008, about 598,521 children (31%) are forced to work in illegal conditions and that 24% are performing dangerous work activities. Gender-based violence is also still very important. 88% of girls reported having experienced physical abuse and 87% were verbally abused; 7.2% were sequestered at least once; 2.8% had undergone female genital cutting (FGC) and 1.4% of girls between the age of 2 to 14 had been raped.
Evidently, one must take into account that definitions of corporal punishment and verbal abuse can be culturally different. There is also violence at school where corporal punishment is still a commonly utilized educational method. 55% of students report having experienced corporal punishment either inside or outside the school.
So we really put the emphasis on having the support of the community when raising awareness and addressing social change around this issue. We would not order people around but we would explain why this is not the best way, and provide alternative ways with the backing of the community. It can be difficult at times if it is culturally ingrained.

Partcipants looking at the VAC project Ushahidi platform*

TTN: Have you done an evaluation of the impact of the project so far, and are alternatives to the SMS reporting system (e.g. voice reporting) being considered?
LR: Colleagues are planning a check-in the first week of November with our regional specialist on child protection. They’ll be looking at achievements and challenges in the areas of: technology (is it working? If not, why? What do we need to adjust); human resources and local capacities for managing the system; partnership and the relationship with the local and national government in terms of their ability and interest to take on and manage the system; and response – what is the current capacity to respond? How can this be improved? They’ll also do a more detailed mapping out of all the different potential child protection actors in the 2 communities, including health workers, schools, and traditional authorities, in order to see how we can best ensure the system is integrated with existing community structures and see how this sort of integration can improve local capacities to respond to reports of violence. We’ll build a forward looking plan based on this assessment of the project.
So far, the staff have stated that they are satisfied with the set-up of the project as it is now, but they know that there are a lot more reports that could be coming in. They only have received 13 reports via SMS since the start of the project, but it's difficult to assess why those potentials reports are not coming in: whether it is the medium (text messages) or other factors independent of the new system in place. During the technology assessment, we’ll look at what we can do from that side, for example, potentially integrating voice in addition to SMS and adding an improved way to track verification and follow up of reported cases.
One could argue that the project already allowed for more reports that would not have been reported if the new system were not in place. Therefore, even if we are still missing many unreported cases, we are getting a few more, and that's progress. In my opinion, it is a good start if it just gets people to think differently and look at the issue differently. Also we might not see the difference just in SMS reporting, but in reporting overall. That would then allow us to evaluate what other channels we could consider for reporting and which ones would be the most effective.
At the end of the day, though, reporting is not the biggest bottleneck—the biggest bottleneck is usually the response. Suppose we had 500 reports that came in by SMS, there would not be the capacity to respond to them. So slow growth may actually be beneficial to the project. Utilizing the system to advocate for more capacity for child services is also one aspect of the project that we look into very closely. We don't want to set up a reporting mechanism that would not be able to deliver an adequate response mechanism.
TTN: How does the response mechanism work? Who manages the reports and the responses ?
LR: We are working with the Centre de Protection Social (CPS) and they ultimately report to the Ministry of the Family and have the responsibility to follow up on any type of child abuse. Benin has a government agency and clear laws against child abuse. At the workshop, we try to gather all the local agents that have some type of responsibility who can respond in case of child abuse (social agents but also police and community leaders). So when we receive reports from any victims or witnesses, a child protection officer at our district office receives the report through FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi and makes a phone call to the point person in that area (a CPS agent or a police officer). Once we get the ‘alerts’ system functioning in Ushahidi, this can be automated. At that point, the report is officially filed into the governmental system.

TTN: Could you give a broad estimate of the cost of the project?

LR: Anastasie says that the training in Benin cost around $7,500, plus the purchase of phone/modem for the FrontLineSMS platform. We used an existing computer. That's just the simple part of the project though, and doesn't include the staff time, the broader project activities and work with the youth before/after the training, and the costs of follow up that are ongoing.

TTN: Do you think the Ushahidi platform would benefit from being translated into the local language like Yoruba ?
LR: Actually, the mapping portion of Ushahidi is not useful for the local communities. Very few of them have access to internet so the Ushahidi platform is mostly utilized by the staff and the agency, who would know the local languages, French and some English. So the SMS reports can be received in any language and the administrators would translate them into French. The web interface and the map are more of an advocacy tool than a reporting system. For example, we can share the map with community leaders, local authorities, school official and the various ministries as we have more information coming in and discuss the issue with them and look for solutions. We also have a privacy issue, so we are considering making it a private page or a password-protected page because I am not convinced that it has any utility at this point for someone working outside the child protection system. That would also offer some additional protection to the victims.
TTN: Has the government approached you about downloading the data collected so far?
LR: That's a good question. I am not sure if the data has been downloaded by the government yet. What we wanted to be careful about is involving the higher level of the government in the early phases. We wanted to work with the local authorities—with the approval of the national government, of course. We wanted to optimize the system to the point where it is easy to understand and flawless, and then advocate for it to be adopted at higher levels. We would not want to present a system that is only half-way ready and risk having it rejected.
TTN: Since it is really focused on the community, how did you approach publicizing the number to which text reports should be sent?
LR: We are working on a communication strategy and outreach. We need to not only determine the best way to advertise the number, but also take care of educating the community about the importance of awareness and how to report abuse correctly. We need them to send complete information in the text messages, otherwise we cannot help. There are also some new plug-ins in FrontlineSMS that can help with better data collection. We are also looking into possibly adding a voice feature to see if more reports would come in.
TTN: Are there any additional lessons learned or remarks that you would like to add?
LR: It is interesting to compare this project, where a structure is in place for child protection, with other places. For instance, we thought about implementing a similar project in a neighboring country, but the government there is basically not interested. So the complexity there is: how does one implement a child protection service in a more fragile state? Would we be able to work with a community-based protection group and do without the presence of an established structure? In my opinion, it's becoming increasingly important not only for projects like ours, but any Ushahidi deployment or SMS reporting in general, to think beyond data collection and address the response mechanism when there is no judicial system. One can look at Haiti and the violence against women in the aftermath of the earth quake. Sure we can talk about reporting violence, but who will respond to the reports? Maybe we should also address funding for building a response mechanism to go along with the reporting mechanism. Maybe that is where we need the next wave of innovation to focus on. Even in the aid field in general, information shortage is not usually the issue, but rather what we can do with the information, what kind of response can be triggered.
It’s a difficult issue. We are looking into supporting local protection mechanisms within the communities, but this is also tricky because the perpetrators of the violence might be parents, relatives or teachers or leaders in the community. So one of the first critical points is always awareness raising on the negative impacts of violence on children or whichever issue that you are hoping to address.
What makes a difference is when the children feel empowered to discuss the issue of violence. Children are organizing radio shows centered around violence and learning to look for help. There are also traditional justice systems in most of the remote communities that deal with the issue of violence and we try to work with them whenever it's possible.

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* All photos belong to the VAC project in Benin and are published with their permission.

September 21 2010

Africa: Ajami Writing System

By Ndesanjo Macha

Do you know Ajami writing system?: “Ajami writing system has been used for at least at least a thousands years in parts of Africa. As I understand it, the script is a modification of Arabic incorporating local languages such as Hausa [mainly the northern regions of Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana] and Fula – Fulani [mainly Gambia, Senegal, Nigeria, Niger].”

August 24 2010

Benin: Traveler Recounts Experience at Porga Border

By Ndesanjo Macha

Toyin Ajao recounts his horrific experience at Porga border in Benin:”When it was my turn, the officer in charge asked me to pay 5,000cfa to get my passport stamped and I asked why it was so. He did not bother to answer me but commanded me to leave his sight and go to stay under a tent that was 500 meters away from his office.”

August 22 2010

Benin: President Boni Yayi In Impeachment Row as MPs Switch Strategy

By Lova Rakotomalala

Le Blog Visage du Benin writes that The head of Benin's parliament has rejected a request by 48 MPs to impeach President Boni Yayi on charges of fraud [fr]. It adds that the MPs have decided to switch strategy and move the impeachment motion to an emergency procedure to be subjected to a vote at the assembly rather than a signed petition.

July 21 2010

Benin: Interior Ministry Repudiates Wolosso Dance Before His Dismissal

By Lova Rakotomalala

Wilfried Léandre Houngbedji reports that the Interior Ministry Armand Zinzindohoué ordered that night clubs in Cotonou curbed down the excessive practice of a dance called Wolosso [fr]. Unrelated to the previous matter, Zinzindohoué was dismissed and arrested later in the week for fraud.

July 09 2010

African Soldiers on the Champs Elysees on Bastille Day

By Mialy Andriamananjara

RTL Info writes about France's invitation to former colonies to parade on the Champs Elysees on July 14, Bastille Day.
“Des détachements de treize pays africains (Bénin, Burkina Faso, Cameroun, République centrafricaine, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritanie, Niger, Sénégal, Tchad et Togo) défileront aux côtés de l'armée française sur les Champs Elysées. En Belgique, la participation de militaires congolais au défilé de la Fête nationale, le 21 juillet, un moment envisagée, a été annulée à la suite du tollé déclenché par une déclaration faite en mars par le ministre de la Défense, Pieter De Crem.”
“Thirteen african countries (Bénin, Burkina Faso, Cameroun, République centrafricaine, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritanie, Niger, Sénégal, Tchad et Togo) will parade beside the French army on the Champs Elysees. In Belgium, participation of Congolese soldiers at the national day parade, July 21, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Congo's independence, has been cancelled after the vehement protests following the declaration in March of the Belgian Minister of Defence, Pieter De Crem.”
Hubert Falco, secretary of state for veteran affairs, explains :
« Le président de la République a invité nos partenaires africains à ouvrir le défilé », a-t-il déclaré mardi au musée de l’Armée, à l’hôtel des Invalides de Paris. Il inaugurait un cycle d’hommage aux anciens combattants africains intitulé « Force Noire - Tirailleurs 2010 » qui comprendra, outre le défilé, la publication d’un manuel scolaire sur ce thème et des expositions.
« La présence de détachements des forces armées africaines sur les Champs-Élysées, leur défilé devant leurs aînés, anciens combattants de l'armée française, sera une image forte de cette année 2010 », a avancé Hubert Falco. « Pendant cent ans, depuis la création des premiers corps de Tirailleurs sénégalais par Napoléon III en 1857 jusqu'aux années 1960, ils ont servi la France avec loyauté, courage, abnégation », a-t-il ajouté.
La « Force noire » était le surnom donné aux troupes coloniales par le général Charles Mangin. Ces troupes étaient également appelées Tirailleurs sénégalais, bien qu’également originaires de plusieurs pays, aujourd'hui la Mauritanie, le Mali, la Guinée, la Côte-d'Ivoire, le Niger, le Burkina Faso ou encore, entre autres, le Bénin et le Tchad.
“The President has invited our African partners to open the parade.” he announced tuesday at the Museum of the Army, at the Invalides of Paris. He opened a cycle of hommage to former African soldiers entitled “Black Forces - Tirailleurs 2010″, which comprises, the parade, but also publication of a school textbook on the theme and other exhibits. ”The presence of African armies on the Champs Elysees, them parading before their elders, veterans of the French army, will be a strong image of the year 2010″ Hubert Falco supposes. During 100 years, since the creation of the Tirailleurs senegalais by Napoleon III in 1857 until the 1960s, they have served France with loyalty, courage, abnegation”, he added.  The “Black Force” was the nickname given to colonial troops by the general Charles Mangin. These troops were also called Tirailleurs senegalais, even though they came from many countries, nowadays called Mauritania, Mali, Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire, Niger, Burkina Faso, and among others, Benin and Tchad.
Out of 14 countries to which invitations were issued, only Cote d'Ivoire declined, as reported on Afrik.com :
“Les Forces armées nationales de Côte d’Ivoire ne prendront pas part au défilé militaire prévu le 14 juillet à Paris, avec la participation des troupes des anciennes colonies africaines de la France, lit-on sur Abidjan.net. “Le président Gbagbo a tranché, nos troupes ne participeront pas au défilé du 14 juillet. Elles ont d’autres occupations au moment où la Côte d’Ivoire est en guerre”, a expliqué samedi l’ambassadeur de Côte d’Ivoire à Paris, Pierre Aimé Kipré. Il a également rappelé les contentieux qui opposent les deux pays depuis le début de la rébellion, en septembre 2002, notamment la destruction en 2004 de la flotte aérienne ivoirienne par les forces françaises et la mort en 2005 de plusieurs citoyens ivoiriens fauchés par des balles françaises.”
The Ivorian army will not participate in the military parade organized on July 14 in Paris, with the participation of other former African colonies of France, one reads on Abidjan.net. President Gbagbo has decided, our troups will not participate in the parade of July 14. They are otherwise occuped at this time when Cote d'Ivoire is at war”, has explained Pierre Aime Kipre, ambassador of Cote d'Ivore in Paris. He has also reminded the contentious issues opposing the two countries since the beginning of the rebellion, in september 2002, notably destruction in 2004 of the Ivoirian Air force fleet by French forces, and numerous Ivorian citizens' death in 2005 under French bullets.
On Jeune Afrique, Deb comments:
“Mais pourquoi meme défilé en france.. on dit le cinquantenaire d´independance  des pays africains et non de  l'europe..franchement .Comme si apres 50 ans l´afrique n´est pas capable de feter son anniversaire seule sans impliquations exterieurs.. la CI ny participeras pas, oui j'en suis fiere…”
But why even parade in France… One says this is the Fiftieth anniversaries of African countries, not European ones… Frankly… As if after 50 years Africa is unable to celebrate her anniversary alone, without external interference. Cote d'Ivoire will not take part in this parade and I am proud of it…
For others, this African Bastille Day reflects the ambiguity, the impasse of French politics towards Africa.
On lemonde.fr, one reads:
que fête-t-on ? A l'évidence, le bilan de ce demi-siècle d'indépendance pour les peuples concernés n'est glorieux ni pour la France ni pour les Etats africains. Rend-on hommage aux sacrifices des tirailleurs coloniaux des deux guerres mondiales ? Pas de quoi pavoiser non plus, puisqu'il a fallu la récente décision du Conseil constitutionnel pour que le principe de l'égalité des pensions des anciens soldats africains et français soit enfin reconnue. Quant au défilé sous l'Arc de triomphe d'armées africaines dont certaines ont participé récemment à de sanglantes répressions, il apparaît pour le moins ambigu.”
What is one celebrating? Evidently the results of this half-century of independence for involved people is not glorious for France, nor for the African states. Does one honor the sacrifices of colonial soldiers under the two world wars? Nothing to be proud of either, because the recent decision of the Constitutionnal Council was sorely needed for the recognition of the principle of equality between retirement benefits for African veterans and French veterans. And seeing African armies parade, under the Arc de Triomphe, some of whom have recently participated in bloody repressions is at the very least ambiguous.
The ambiguity is a common theme reprised across African bloggers.
Joachim Vokouma on lefaso.net:
“A vrai dire, de nombreux Africains s’interrogent sur le sens de la participation des troupes africaines au défilé  du 14 juillet. Faut-il rappeler les horreurs, les massacres et les assassinats qui ont jalonné l’occupation coloniale ? Que célèbre t-on ?
La fin du mépris, des humiliations et du paternalisme ? Une Humanité enfin réconciliée ? Que le cinquantenaire des indépendances soit l’occasion, pour ceux dont l’humanité avait été mise entre parenthèse durant l’esclavage et la colonisation, de faire le point sur ce qu’ils ont fait de leur liberté recouvrée est sans doute plus que nécessaire.”
Many Africans wonder about the opportunity of African troops participating at the July 14 parade. Must one recall the horrors, massacres, murders that punctuated colonial occupation? What is one celebrating? The end of contempt, humiliations and paternalism? A finally reconciled Humanity? May the fiftieth anniversary of independances be the opportunity, for those whose humanity was put in between parenthesis during slavery and colonization, to deliberate on what they have done on their recovered freedom.

Mampouya, a Congolese blogger:
“Ce 14 juillet donc, les naïfs spectateurs français s’apprêtent à applaudir ce qu’il faut bien appeler des milices d’Etat (en tout cas au moins pour le Congo Brazzaville) sous couvert d’armées nationales. Prudent, le gouvernement français a pris grand soin d’éviter que les organes de presse “hostiles” rencontrent les membres des détachements militaires invités. Il y aurait-il des choses à cacher ?”
This July 15, the unsuspecting French onlookers are getting ready to applaud what one must call state militias (at least for Congo Brazzaville) masquerading as national armies. The French government has carefully avoided inviting “hostile” media organizations, and they will not meet with military guests. Are they hiding anything?
Joachim Vouakoma again on watching armies with sinister acts parading on the Champs Elysees :

« Verra t-on défiler toutes les armées y compris celles qui ont commis des massacres ? », interroge une journaliste allemande.
Allusion aux massacres de 150 civils commis par l’armée guinéenne fin septembre dernier dans le stade de Conakry. Jacques Toubon qui est tout sauf un néophyte en affaires « françafricaines », feint pourtant l’ignorance, botte en touche et renvoie la question à son auteur : « Pourriez-vous me dire quelles sont les armées qui ont massacré ou qui massacrent ? ». Il finira par révéler que de toute façon, ayant pris son indépendance en 1958 après son refus du référendum de la même année, la Guinée ne faisait pas partie des invités. Au Niger, où un coup d’état a mis fin à la dérive autoritaire de Mamadou Tandja, Paris espère que des élections seront organisées d’ici juillet. Quant au président malgache, c’est en catimini que Jacques Toubon l’a rencontré à Paris et son cas est pour le moins embarrassant.
Will we see armies parading including those who committed massacres, asks a German journalist. Reference to the massacres of 150 civilians committed by the Guinean army end september in the Conakry stadium. Jacques Toubon is all but a newbie in Francafrican business, and feigns ignorance, asks the question back “Can you tell me which armies have massacred or are massacring”. He ends up revealing that after getting its independence in 1958 after having rejected the referendum the same year, Guinea will not be part of the guests. In Niger, where a coup d'etat ended the authoritarian drift of Mamadou Tandja, Paris hopes that elections will be organized by July. As for the Malagasy President, Jacques Toubon met with him in secret in Paris, and his case is at the very least embarrassing.
Alain Rajaonarivony, a Malagasy blogger :
Une quarantaine de militaires de la Grande Ile qui doivent défiler pour le 14 juillet sont depuis hier à Paris. 36 officiers malgaches ont été décorés pour «service rendu à la France». 8 militaires français ont reçu en retour des distinctions, on ne sait trop pourquoi. Roindefo Monja a profité de son séjour hexagonal pour déposer une gerbe au monument des soldats malgaches morts pour la France, au Bois de Vincennes. Et le ministre de l’Education est en train de détricoter complètement les réformes de Marc Ravalomanana pour s’aligner sur le système français. On revient aux trimestres au lieu des bimestres, et au Lycée, on aura désormais les filières S (scientifiques) et L (littéraires) comme en France. Quand on vous dit que tout va bien… !
About forty soldiers of the Great Island who will parade on July 14 have arrived in Paris yesterday. 36 Malagasy officers have been decorated for “rendered services to France”. 8 French soldiers have received in return mentions, one does not really know why. Roindefo Monja (Note of the author : former Prime Minister) has taken advantage of his stay in France to place flowers at the monument of Malagasy soldiers fallen for France, at the Bois de Vincennes. And the minister of Education is busily dismantling Marc Ravalomanana's reform to align the Malagasy educational system with the French one. We are back to trimesters, no more semesters, and  we will have now S (Scientific) and L (Literary) high school diploma fields. When I told you everything is all right…
Others wonder why Black African countries are the only one parading:

sans revenir sur les détails du débat, la question à laquelle la France et ses partisans africains ne peuvent pas répondre, c’est de savoir pourquoi c’est l’Afrique Noire seule qui est invitée à cette cérémonie et non pas le Maroc, la Tunisie, l’Algérie, le Vietnam pour ne citer que certaines anciennes colonies françaises?
Cette cérémonie ne commémore pas notre indépendance mais bel et bien notre dépendance. C’est simplement insultant pour les peuples Africains.

Without rehashing the details of this debate, the question that France and her African partners cannot answer is why is it that only black African countries were invited to this ceremony and not Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Vietnam among the former French colonies? This ceremony is not to commemorate our independence but actually our dependence. This is just plainly insulting for African people.

Senegalese historian Fadel Dia on his blog:

:

“le minimum serait d’exiger que la France fasse auparavant ce qu’elle n’a pas fait en 1960 : solder ses comptes à l’endroit de ses anciens combattants d’Afrique, qui l’avaient servie et s’étaient sacrifiés pour elle. Les soldats que Paris se propose d’inviter en 2010 sont les héritiers de ces combattants oubliés dont ils doivent porter les revendications et auxquels la France peut rendre justice, définitivement et solennellement, pour boucler un demi-siècle d’occasions manquées.
Si les soldats africains doivent défiler à Paris le 14 juillet 2010, alors que ce soit plutôt les éclopés et les survivants de 39-45, d’Indochine et d’Algérie, pour étaler aux yeux des Français leurs illusions perdues et leur détresse de serviteurs mal récompensés. Il est temps, enfin, que la dette du sang que leur doit la France cesse d’être un « contentieux  », pour devenir le « gage d’une histoire commune », que les Tirailleurs Sénégalais ne soient plus, comme le craignait Senghor, des « morts  gratuits », que les Français réalisent qu’il ne s’agit pas ici seulement « d’un devoir de mémoire » mais « d’un devoir d’histoire et de vérité » selon le mot du député socialiste Alain Rousset.”
The minimum would be to demand from France that she does what she did not do in 1960 : to settle her accounts towards the African veterans, who have served her and sacrificed themselves. Veterans that Paris invites in 2010 are the heirs of the forgotten veterans whose demands they should endorse, and to whom France can render justice, definitively and solemnly, to bring an end to this half century of missed opportunities. If African soldiers must parade in Paris on July 14 2010, it must be as survivors and war wounded of 39-45, of Indochina and Algerian wars, to showcase to the French their lost illusions and their distress of ill rewarded services. It is time, at last, that the blood debt owed by France ceases to be a “contentious point”, to become “a token of common history”, that the Tirailleurs Senegalais will not be, as Senghor feared, “gratuitous dead”, that the French realize that this is not only a “duty of memory”, but also “a duty of history and truth”, as told by the socialist parlementarian Alain Rousset.

June 08 2010

50 years Later, Independence and the Resource Curse in Francophone Africa

By Lova Rakotomalala

Francophone Africa is celebrating 50 years of independence in 2010. In light of this anniversary, a summit Africa-France took place in Nice, France as the oft tumultuous relationship between France and its former colonies was again under the spotlight. Many Africans voices are wondering out loud what is there to celebrate, given the mediocre level of human development achieved in many countries since independence.
The recurrent lament of those many outraged voices is that the African continent is certainly rich in natural resources and yet, it seems that the continent is endlessly plagued with what is known as the resource curse and many believe that those foreign interests are no stranger to sustaining the curse.
From an economic standpoint, Africa has certainly benefited from the boom in commodities in the last decade but not as much as one would predict. A report for Mckinsey Quarterly entitled “What drives Africa's growth?”, the authors state that:

Oil rose from less than $20 a barel in 1999 to more than $145 in 2008. prices for minerals, grain and other raw materials also soared on rising global demand. [..] Yet natural resources generated only 32% of Africa's GDP growth from 2000 to 2008.

So why has Africa not benefited more from its resources? Many Africans would argue that the way international interests are involved and mixed in the exploitation of those resources and the lack of transparency regarding those deals do not help foster development for African states. In a dossier on FranceAfrique for Focus on Africa , Stephen Smith highlights the special ties between France and the continent:

But since he took office, President Sarkozy has perpetuated France's time-honoured tradition of parallel diplomacy in Africa.
One set of advisers presides in public over the official business with Africa, while high-ranking Elysee staff, in tandem with unofficial middlemen, is in charge of the lucrative and highly personalised politics that Mr Sarkozy denounced during his presidential campaign.
The French media regularly expose the broken promises and the new lease on life given to Francafrique.
The elite collusion of Francafrique has become an anachronism, at odds with the stark realities of shrinking French engagement - both government and private - with its former territories south of the Sahara.

The oil curse is the most cited issues in the francophone regions but certainly not the only one. In a recent report for the Africa report, Norbrook wonders who really owns Africa’s oil:

This brave new world for African oil has been driven by price hikes, which make the expensive process of exploring a risk worth taking. The move offshore, enabled by advances in technology, requires deep pockets – hiring the drill boat that discovered oil in Ghana cost about a million dollars a day.
Another important dynamic has been the multiplication of competition, with Chinese and Indian companies joining the European and US array of majors. Where oil production was traditionally controlled by a small elite whose monopoly was seen as unhealthy, new challengers have made it easier for governments to negotiate terms.

Africa Oil Map from Theafricareport.com

Blogger Achille in Antananarivo, Madagascar has been following the political crisis in Madagascar closely, here is how he links the turmoil there and the oil curse (fr):

On a tous cherché la cause de cette crise, mais on oublie que c’est le pétrole qui a lancé les offensives. Tous les autres évènements tels que le pillage des forêts, le banditisme, l’accroissement de la pauvreté ne sont que les conséquences. La Francafrique a commencé à bouger dès qu’on a entendu les premières études positives sur le pétrole sans compter les autres ressources qui attirent d’autres pays. Je viens de me rendre compte qu’on est cerné par les multinationale, les canadiens au sud, les chinois vers Soalala et évidemment Total, le grand ami des pays en développement et des dictateurs de pacotille ! Et nous, on est là comme des cons à regarder le train qui transporte notre pognon loin vers l’horizon ! Quand j’ai vu le chiffre de 100 millions pour une concession pétrolière, je me suis dit qu’enfin la stupidité avait enfin atteint son sommet avec nos dirigeants.

We have all been seeking the cause of this crisis, yet we often forget that oil is what triggered all of the turmoil. All the other events, pillaging the national forest, high crimes, the ever-increasing poverty are only the byproducts of that. Lobbyists for Francafrique only started to make their move when they heard that there was oil to be exploited, not discarding the fact that other resources were also attractive to them and other nations.
In fact, I just realize that we are surrounded by corporations, Canadians in the South, Chinese in Soalala and of course Total, every developing country and wannabe dictators’ best friend. In the meantime, we are just standing here, watching our resources being shipped to far away places ! When I saw that 100 millions were granted for an oil concession, I said to myself that stupidity has finally reached its peak with our leaders.

Back in the 70’s, oil was seen as a passport towards rapid development. That was the case for Algeria, Libya and Irak says Passion-histoire. He explains how quickly that hope has now faded away (fr):

Dans les années 1970, grâce la rente pétrolière, l’Algérie, la Libye et l’Irak paraissaient engagés dans un processus de modernisation accélérée. Le pétrole était la bénédiction qui permettrait à ces États de rattraper leur « retard » économique.
L’Algérie était un « dragon en Méditerranée », la Libye un « émirat » et l’Irak « la puissance militaire montante » du monde arabe. Sur le plan politique, le socialisme progressiste laissait penser que des transformations profondes s’opéraient : émancipation de la femme, urbanisation, scolarisation, augmentation de l’espérance de vie…
Quelques décennies plus tard, la désillusion est cruelle. Le sentiment de richesse a entraîné ces pays dans des expérimentations voire des impasses politiques, économiques et militaires aux conséquences désastreuses dont ils peinent encore à sortir.

In the 1970, thanks to petrol rent, Algeria, Libya and Irak looked like they were engaged in a rapid modernization process. Petrol was the blessing that would allow this states to catch up from an economic standpoint. Algeria was to the “Mediterranean Dragon”, Libya was the “Emirate”, and Irak was “ the rising military power” of the arab world. From a political standpoint, progressive socialism would let many believe that many deep transformational change were in the works, women empowerment, urbanization, schooling, rising life expectancy…
A few decades later, the disillusion cuts deep. The feeling is that those riches led those countries to try out experiments that led to political economical and military dead ends that had disastrous consequences from which they have a devil of a time trying to escape.

Reacting on the celebration of 50 years of independence, Faustine Vincent writes that African nations are reluctant to submit their report card (fr):

Mais, au final, le cinquantenaire embarrasse tout le monde. Côté africain, «les pays auraient dû en profiter pour faire un bilan d’étape. Ce n’est pas le cas, assure Boubacar Boris Diop, écrivain sénégalais. Certainement parce qu’ils n’ont pas lieu d’en être fiers».

In the end, this 50 year anniversary celebration is quite embarrassing for everyone. From the African side, “this was an opportunity to draw conclusions from their journeys so far. However, that is far from the being the case says Boubacar Boris Diop, a Sengalese writer. They certainly don’t have anything to be proud of”.

On the French side, the Sarkozy administration used to express a willingness to do away with the practices of former French administrations. As reported by Sarah Halifa-Legrand, this was expressed in rather crude terms by Alain Joyandet, Secretary of State for French Cooperation (fr):

…[La France] se montrant “prêt à laisser tomber l’Afrique si son pays n’y trouve pas son compte”. Dans la bouche d’Alain Joyandet, cela donne : “Ne pas avoir peur de dire aux Africains qu’on veut les aider, mais qu’on veut aussi que cela nous rapporte”

[France] is ready to “give up on Africa if the country does not find it worthwhile”. From the mouth of Alain Joyandet: “ Not to be afraid to tell Africans that we want to help them but there has got to be something in it for us as well”

In Gabon, Association Survie notes that despite last year’s turmoil in Gabon, the company Total has done quite well for itself in 2010:

Elle a publié un résultat net de 42 millions d’euros au titre du premier trimestre 2010, en hausse de 109% par rapport à la même période en 2009.

Total has reported a net benefit of 42 millions euros in the first trimester of 2010, that is an increase of 109% from the same period in 2009.

Finally, Arimi Choubadé at Quotidien Nokoue in Benin posts a sarcastic note asking us to imagine how better-off France would have been if only France could have “maintained” her privileged ties with countries that have major natural assets (fr):

Imaginez une France partenaire privilégié d’une Côte d’Ivoire forte de son cacao ; d’un Gabon, d’un Congo, d’un Tchad, d’un Cameroun voire d’une Mauritanie dopés par l’exploitation du pétrole ; d’un Mali, d’un Bénin et d’un Burkina Faso en pôle dans la production de coton ; d’un Togo transfiguré par les ristournes du phosphate; et d’un Niger comblé par l’exploitation de l’Uranium. Cela éviterait à Sarkozy sa posture actuelle de puissance mitigée.

Imagine France with a privileged partnership with Ivory Coast and its abundance of cocoa; with Gabon, Congo, Chad, Cameroon even Mauritania boosted with oil; with Mali, Benin and Burkina Faso and their cotton, with Togo transformed by its phosphate and with Niger, and its uranium reserve. It could have helped Sarkozy from having to deal with its position as just a middle-of-the-pack powerhouse.
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