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May 02 2012

Africa: Calls for Transparency Over Marked Increase in Land Deals

The UK Guardian newspaper's Global Development blog reports that an international coalition of researchers and NGOs has released the world's largest public database of international land deals. This marks an important milestone in highlighting a developmental issue that has received little attention in the international news cycle.

The report states that almost 5% of Africa's agricultural land has been bought or leased by investors since 2000, and emphasizes the fact that this is not a new issue, yet points out that the number of such land deals has increased tremendously in the past five years.

Many observers are increasingly worried that these land deals usually take place in the world's poorest countries and that they impact its most vulnerable population, the farmers. The benefits seldom go to the general population, partially because of a lack of transparency in the proceedings of the transactions.

An additional report by Global Witness, entitled Dealing with Disclosure, emphasizes the dire need for transparency in the making of land deals.

World's poorest nations targeted 

The Global Witness report lists that 754 land deals have been identified, involving the majority of African countries for about 56.2 million hectares.

Target countries of land deals from the Land Matrix Project

Target countries of land deals from the Land Matrix Project

The nations targeted are usually some of the poorest in the world. The countries with the most deals in place are Mozambique (92 deals), Ethiopia (83), Tanzania (58) and Madagascar (39). Some of those deals have made headlines because they were conducted to ensure control over food imports, when the targeted regions faced major food crises.

The NGO GRAIN has already explained in detail the gist of their concerns in an extensive report released in 2008:

Today’s food and financial crises have, in tandem, triggered a new global land grab. On the one hand, “food insecure” governments that rely on imports to feed their people are snatching up vast areas of farmland abroad for their own offshore food production. On the other hand, food corporations and private investors, hungry for profits in the midst of the deepening financial crisis, see investment in foreign farmland as an important new source of revenue. As a result, fertile agricultural land is becoming increasingly privatised and concentrated. If left unchecked, this global land grab could spell the end of small-scale farming, and rural livelihoods, in numerous places around the world.

In Malawi, land deals have grown increasingly prevalent to the detriment of the local farmers. A report from Bangula explains the challenges faced by Malawian farmers, Dorothy Dyton and her family:

Like most smallholder farmers in Malawi, they did not have a title deed for the land Dyton was born on, and in 2009 she and about 2,000 other subsistence farmers from the area were informed by their local chief that the land had been sold and they could no longer cultivate there. […] Since that time, said Dyton, “life has been very hard on us.” With a game reserve on one side of the community and the Shire river and Mozambique border on the other, there is no other available land for them to farm and the family now ekes out a living selling firewood they gather from the nearby forest.

Land construction in Madagascar. Photo by Foko Madagascar, used with the author's authorization

Land construction in Madagascar. Photo by Foko Madagascar, used with the author's authorization

Farmers in Madagascar share similar concerns because they do not own the rights to the land they farm and an effective land reform is yet to be implemented. The Malagasy association Terres Malgaches has been at the forefront of land protection for the local population. They report that [fr]:

 Les familles malgaches ne possèdent pas de document foncier pour sécuriser leurs terres contre les accaparements de toutes sortes. En effet, depuis la colonisation, l’obtention de titres fonciers auprès de l’un des 33 services des domaines d’un pays de 589 000 km2 nécessite 24 étapes, 6 ans en moyenne et jusqu’à 500 dollars US. (..) .  Face aux convoitises et accaparements dont les terres malgaches font l’objet actuellement, seule la possession d’un titre ou d’un certificat foncier, seuls documents juridiques reconnus, permet d’entreprendre des actions en justice en cas de conflit.

Malagasy families do not usually own an estate property document that enable them to secure their lands against land grab. In fact, since colonial times, one has needed about 24 steps, 6 years and up to 500 US dollars to get such documents. There are merely around 33 agencies in the country that deliver such documents for a country that is 589,000 kilometres square […] In the face of the increasing land grabs that Malagasy land is currently at risk of, this certificate is the only document that can trigger legal action in case of conflict.

The association also reports on the practices of a mining company Sheritt, in Ambatovy, which have created a buzz in the local blogosphere because of environmental concerns for the local population and business malpractices (via MiningWatch Canada):

Sherritt International’s Ambatovy project in eastern Madagascar – costing $5.5 billion to build and scheduled to begin full production this month – will comprise a number of open pit mines (..) it will close in 29 years. There are already many concerns about the mine from the thousands of local people near the facilities. They say that their fields are destroyed ; the water is dirty ; the fish in the river are dead and there have been landslides near their village. During testing of the new plant, there have been at least four separate leaks of sulphur dioxide from the hydro-metallurgical facility which villagers say have killed at least two adults and two babies and sickened at least 50 more people. In January, laid-off construction workers from Ambatovy began a wildcat strike, arguing that the jobs they were promised when construction ended have not materialized. The people in nearby cities like Moramanga say that their daughters are increasingly engaged in prostitution.

Video of a worker's testimony in Ambatovy.

Solutions for the local population? 

The plight of Madagascar's farmers' plight may be slowly changing though. Land reform discussions are in progress, according to this report:

 According to a paper presented at the 2011 International Conference on Global Land Grabbing, about 50 agribusiness projects were announced between 2005 and 2010, about 30 of which are still active, covering a total land area of about 150,000 ha. Projects include plantations to produce sugar cane, cassava and jatropha-based biofuel.
To prevent the negative impacts of land grabbing, (The NGO) EFA has set up social models for investors, with funding from the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The goal is to help investors negotiate with the people in the area where they want to implement projects, as a way to prevent future problems.

Joachim Von Braun, formerly  of the International Food Policy Insitute (IFPRI), wrote the following regarding land deals:

 It is in the long-run interest of investors, host governments, and the local people involved to ensure that these arrangements are properly negotiated, practices are sustainable, and benefits are shared. Because of the transnational nature of such arrangements, no single institutional mechanism will ensure this outcome. Rather, a combination of international law, government policies, and the involvement of civil society, the media, and local communities is needed to minimize the threats and realize the benefits.

The need for transparency in land deals is further emphasized by  Megan MacInnes, Senior Land Campaigner at Global Witness:

Far too many people are being kept in the dark about massive land deals that could destroy their homes and livelihoods. That this needs to change is well understood, but how to change it is not. For the first time, this report (Dealing with Disclosure)  sets out in detail what tools governments, companies and citizens can harness to remove the shroud of secrecy that surrounds land acquisition. It takes lessons from efforts to improve transparency in other sectors and looks at what is likely to work for land. Companies should have to prove they are doing no harm, rather than communities with little information or power having to prove that a land deal is negatively affecting them.

 

April 07 2012

Mali: A War, a Declaration of Independence and Conflicting Objectives

Things have been moving rapidly in the civil war that is tearing Mali apart. On Friday, April 6, Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) proclaimed [fr] the “Independence of Azawad” [fr]. In this crisis that threatens to sweep across the entire Sahel region, several actors with conflicting objectives are playing a dominant role.

In a post published on camer.be, Valère MBEG presents the issues [fr] behind this war:

Le Mali est un vaste pays de 1.241.238 km² et une population galopante de 15.000.000 d’habitants selon le recensement de 2009, la région de l’AZAWAD couvre les 2/3 de la superficie pour une population ne représentant que  10 % des habitants avec d’énormes richesses naturelles qui sont actuellement peu exploitées en raison de l’absence de financement en infrastructures de transports qui renchérissent le coût des exploitations. Le Mali est également le troisième producteur africain d’or après l’Afrique du Sud et le Ghana, de quoi aiguiser les appétits des multinationales qui verraient bien dans l’AZAWAD un nouveau Sud Soudan avec peu de populations pour beaucoup de richesses naturelles ….

Mali is a vast country of 1,241,238 km² with a growing population of 15,000,000, according to the 2009 census. The AZAWAD region covers two-thirds of the area and has a population representing only 10% of people and also enormous natural resources which are currently underexploited due to a lack of funding for transport infrastructure which increase the cost of operations. Mali is also the third largest African producer of gold after South Africa and Ghana—something to whet the appetites of many multinationals that could easily see AZAWAD as a new South Sudan with a small population and vast natural resources….

the territory claimed by the MNLA by @twitafrika on twitpic

Sabine Cessou wrote [fr] about the military situation on Slate afrique:

 ”La donne est complexe dans le désert: les rebelles touaregs du MLNA disent ne pas poursuivre les mêmes objectifs qu’Aqmi. Ils ne se battent pas pour une République islamique de l’Azawad, mais pour la création d’un État laïc.

“The issue  is complex in the desert: Tuareg rebels of MLNA say they do not pursue the same objectives as AQIM. They are not fighting for an Islamic Republic of Azawad, but for the creation of a secular state.

In a posting on malijet.com, Nouhoum DICKO reviews the situation and introduces the actors [fr] on the ground:

Le mouvement islamiste Ansar dine, (l'Armée de la religion), est l'un des autres groupes armés de la région  dirigé par Iyad Ag Ghaly, principal artisan de la prise de Kidal, dont il est originaire. Celui qui fut le principal chef de la rébellion touareg des années 1990, aurait subi l'influence des islamistes pakistanais. Ansar dine serait composé de jeunes radicalisés au contact d'Al-Qaïda au Maghreb islamique (Aqmi).

Un nouveau groupe islamiste a fait irruption en décembre 2011, le Mouvement pour l'unicité et le jihad en Afrique de l'Ouest (Mujao). Se présentant comme une dissidence d'Aqmi, il serait dirigé par des activistes maliens et mauritaniens. Il avait revendiqué l'enlèvement des trois humanitaires européens dans un camp de réfugiés sahraouis. Ce groupe revendique sa participation à la prise de Gao, le samedi dernier.

The Islamist movement Ansar Dine, (The Religion Army), is one of the region's other armed groups, led by Iyad Ag Ghaly, main architect of the capture of Kidal, his home district. This man, the principal leader of the Tuareg rebellion of the 1990s, would have been influenced by Pakistani Islamists. Ansar dine would be made up of of radicalized young people who have come into contact with Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
A new Islamist group, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Afrida (Mujao), sprang up in December 2011. Describing itself as a breakaway faction of AQIM, it would be run by Malian and Mauritanian activists. It had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of three European humanitarian workers in a Sahrawi refugee camp. Tge group also claims to have participated in the capture of Gao last Saturday.

The blue men of the desert by Aysha Bibiana Balboa on Flickr ( License CC-NC-BY)

The leaders of Ansar Dine wasted no time in displaying their true colours. Indeed, maliactu.net reports [fr] that:

Le leader d’Ansar Dine, Iyad Ag Ghaly, ex-figure des rébellions touareg des années 1990, a rencontré lundi soir les imams de Tombouctou, une ville d’environ 30.000 habitants où il compte instaurer la loi islamique, selon un fonctionnaire de l’agglomération. A la faveur de l’avancée foudroyante des rebelles touareg dans le nord du Mali, le groupe Ansar Dine et des éléments d’Al-Qaïda au Maghreb (Aqmi) ont pris lundi le contrôle de Tombouctou, aux portes du Sahara, à environ 800 km au nord-est de la capitale Bamako. Tombouctou, grand centre intellectuel de l’islam et ancienne cité marchande prospère des caravanes, surnommée “la perle du désert”, est inscrite sur la liste du patrimoine mondial de l’Unesco.

On Monday night, the leader of Ansar Dine, Iyad Ag Ghaly, former figure of the Tuareg rebellion of the 1990s, met the imams of Timbuktu, a city of about 30,000 inhabitants, where he plans to introduce Islamic law, according to an official of the city. On Monday, through the lightning advance of the Tuareg rebels in northern Mali, the Ansar Dine group and Al-Qaeda elements in the Maghreb (AQIM) took control of Timbuktu, the gateway to the Sahara, about 800 km northeast of the capital Bamako. Timbuktu, a leading intellectual centre of Islam and ancient commercial city which prospers from merchant caravans, dubbed “the pearl of the desert”, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Ibrahima Lissa FAYE, in a post entitled “Mali: Tuareg Rebels and Ansar Dine Islamists Each Claim Control of Timbuktu,” wrote [fr] on pressafrik.com:

Le chef du mouvement Ansar Dine, Iyad Ag Ghali, semble en effet contrôler la ville après avoir fait reculer les rebelles touaregs du MNLA qui étaient entrés les premiers dans Tombouctou dimanche. Alors contrairement au MNLA qui ne s'intéresse qu'au nord du Mali, dont il réclame l'indépendance, Iyad Ag Ghali, lui, veut imposer la charia, la loi islamique, à tout le pays et à Tombouctou on signale même la présence de dirigeants d'Aqmi.

The leader of the movement Ansar Dine, Iyad Ag Ghali, indeed appears to have control of the city after having caused the the MNLA Tuareg rebels who first entered Timbuktu on Sunday to retreat. So, unlike the MNLA who are interested only in northern Mali, where it calls for independence, Iyad Ag Ghali, himself, wants to impose Islamic Sharia law in the country and in Timbuktu, where there is even a presence of AQIM leaders.

There are major concerns among Malians regarding the respect for human rights. Rape and looting are reported in several towns under rebel control. According to a post on afriquinfos.com, at a special general meeting held in Bamako, Malick Alhousseini, president of the Collective of Residents of Northern Mali (COREN) said [fr] that:

cette rencontre se tient à un “moment douloureux de notre histoire, avec notre pays occupé, notre terroir natal aux mains des envahisseurs et des terroristes”.

Il a rappelé que depuis dimanche dernier, le Mali est un pays coupé en deux, de fait que les assaillants et les terroristes ont tout dévasté dans les localités qu'ils occupent : banques cassées, administration pillée, centres de santé vandalisés, entre autres.

this meeting was held at a “painful moment in our history, with our country occupied, our native lands in the hands of the invaders and terrorists”.
He recalled that since last Sunday, Mali has been a country divided in two, because the assailants and terrorists have destroyed everything in the communities they occupy: banks broken, administrative buildings looted, health facilities vandalized, among others.

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), indicating that its objectives were achieved, put an end to hostilities for a few days before proclaiming its independence.

But there is proof of the differing objectives of the groups who participated in the fighting: according to atlasinfo.fr (the Algerian consulate in Gao, one of the conquered cities), while the MNLA made ​​these statements, another movement and six of its officials were abducted and taken [fr] to an unknown location:

L’attaque s’est produite en fin de matinée. Un groupe armé a attaqué le consulat. Il a remplacé le drapeau algérien par un drapeau noir avec des écritures arabes, emblématique des mouvements salafistes.

The attack occurred in the late morning. An armed group attacked the consulate. It replaced the Algerian flag with a black flag with Arabic writing, emblematic of the Salafi movement.

Condemning the abduction and all acts of vandalism and attacks against civilians in the liberated towns, the MNLA, in a press release signed by [fr] Bakaye Ag Hamed Ahmed, Communications, Information and Media Relay Officer, made the following statement:

Le Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad se désolidarise de toutes les organisations mafieuses s’étant introduite ces jours-ci dans l’Azawad, contribuant à instaurer un climat de chaos et de désordre, après la libération du territoire.

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad dissociates itself from all mafia organizations that are being introduced in Azawad these days, contributing to a climate of chaos and disorder, after the liberation of the territory.

This imbroglio is complicated by the fact that severe sanctions have been imposed upon Mali by the Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union and the United Nations, following the military coup that overthrew President Amadou Toumani Touré and helped precipitate events.

Beyond Mali, there are all the neighbouring states where Tuareg populations threatened with collapse are found. The demographic structures are identical: a Sahelian area in the north where the Tuaregs and other black minority populations dwell, many of whom are nomadic, and a more hospitable area inhabited by sedentary populations. In all countries, this second area is the one that absorbs the most investment and is inhabited mainly by blacks, causing resentment on the part of the first area's inhabitants, who believe that the distribution of resources is inequitable.

This complex situation is a threatening one for the civilian population, and is further complicated by Boko Haram's potential to do harm, the flow of arms from the Libyan arsenal, the chronic shortage of water and the risk of famine.

April 05 2012

Mali: An Introduction to the Tuareg Population

The blog of the Tuareg movement Temoust Survie  publishes a post that provides [fr]a brief introduction to the Tuareg culture : “we are a nomadic people living from farming and trade. The Tuaregs are estimated to be about 1.5 million in a region that spans across Mali, Niger, Algeria, but also Libya, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. The common language Tamashek is related to the Berber language. With the Ethiopian population, the Tuaregs are one of the few African people with their own calligraphy.  The distinguishing features of the Tuareg clothing are the indigo veil they wear hence their nickname “the men in blue”.

March 07 2012

Africa: Interview With Africa Desk Officer at the Committee to Protect Journalists

Abdoulaye Bah (AB): First of all, who is Mohamed Keita ?

Mohammed Keita (MK): I run the Africa desk of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which is based in New-York.

AB: What are the aims of CPJ?

MK: CPJ is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide since 1981. CPJ was founded by a group of eminent American journalists, including the late Walter Cronkyte and Dan Rather, to support their colleagues around the world during a period of kidnappings and murders of journalists in Lebanon and Latin America in the 1980s. CPJ cherishes its independence from any government and does not take any contributions from any state.

Abdoulaye Bah (AB): First of all, who is Mohamed Keita ?

Mohammed Keita (MK): I run the Africa desk of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which is based in New-York.

AB: What are the aims of CPJ?

MK: CPJ is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide since 1981. CPJ was founded by a group of eminent American journalists, including the late Walter Cronkyte and Dan Rather, to support their colleagues around the world during a period of kidnappings and murders of journalists in Lebanon and Latin America in the 1980s. CPJ cherishes its independence from any government and does not take any contributions from any state.

Logo of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Image source: http://cpj.org/.

AB: What are the African countries where freedom of expression is most at risk?

MK: Eritrea: President Isaias Afewerki brutally closed down the independent press in this Red Sea nation in a September 2001 crackdown on dissent. Since then, Isaias' information minister Al Abdu runs and directs the propaganda machine of the state-controlled press. The government directs journalists what and how to report on. It is the African country whose prisons are holding the largest number of journalists (at least 28). All the journalists are held in secret prisons without charge or trial and without contact with their families, with many of them thought to have died in custody. Only Iran is imprisoning more journalists worldwide.

Ethiopia: In February 2011, Ethiopian police threatened to throw into prison dissident blogger Eskinder Nega if he did not stop comparing the Arab Spring uprisings to Ethiopia’s 2005 pro-democracy protests. Eskinder was arrested 9 months later on terrorism charges and faces a possible life sentence in a politicized case based on his critical online writings. Ethiopia operates sub-saharan Africa’s most extensive snd sophisticated Internet censorship infrasctructure and was ranked among CPJ’s top 10 Online Oppressors.

The government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is trailing only Eritrea in imprisonment of journalists. Almost all the journalists, including two Swedish reporters, have been charged with terrorism for reporting on opposition and rebel groups. With a series of restrictive laws, Meles' ruling EPRDF has tightned absolute grip over media licensing and regulation, the public state media and all public institutions. The independent press is limited to a handful of private newspapers and one radio station. The government also jams radio programs from Voice of America and Deutsche Welle and bans journalists’ access to the Ogaden where a rebellion is taking place. Meles' government has driven into exile the largest number of journalists in the world over the last decade.

Gambia: President Yahya Jammeh's years of intimidation of the press, a series of arson attacks on media houses, the closure of newspapers and radio stations, the unsolved murder of Deyda Hydara and the disappearance in government custody of reporter Ebrima Chief Manneh, have created a climate of terror for journalists in Gambia and forced the best journalists into exile.

Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe arrested and prosecuted a man last year for posting a political comment on Facebook. President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF has allowed only a handful of independent newspapers to operate in Zimbabwe while retaining absolute grip over media licensing and regulation and national airwaves. Journalists operate under some of the world's most restrictive security and media laws.

Equatorial Guinea: President Teodoro Obiang's grip on the oil-rich nation is based on strict control of news and information. The president and his associates control all the media outlets in the country and no journalist is able to report independently about national priorities or spending or corruption.

Rwanda: Paul Kagame justifies restrictions on the press by invoking Radio Milles Collines, which in fact was a government-sponsored radio station, not an independent station. Kagame's government also abuses laws against “genocide ideology” and “ethnic divisionism” to prosecute and jail critical journalists and opinions contradicting the official version of the 1994 genocide.

Somalia: all belligerents in Somalia's conflict target journalists who are caught in the crossfire between rival militias, warlords, government and insurgents. Somalia is the deadliest country for the press in Africa: at least 40 journalists have been killed since 1992.

South Africa: President Jacob Zuma's ruling African National Congress has faced press criticism over its record on corruption, crime and poverty. To silence the critics, the government has introduced a series of legislative proposals that would criminalize investigative journalists, including the controversial Protection of State Information Bill, which critics have called the secrecy bill. Verbal and physical intimidation of journalists, particularly by the ANC’s youth league is on the rise.

Angola: President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos and his associates of the ruling MPLA control most of Angola's media outlets and enforce censorship of news and information. only 2 newspapers and 2 radio stations were not controlled by the government. Journalists reporting about official corruption are prosecuted and given prison sentences. Security forces attacked and intimidated journalists reporting on anti-government protests by youths calling for Dos Santos to step down.

Angola and Cameroon have introduced legislative measures to combat “internet crime” but the laws punish the electronic dissemination of photos and videos of public events with prison terms.

Democratic Republic of Congo: Journalists operate at the mercy of security forces, rebel groups and powerful politicians who abuse journalists in total impunity. at least 8 journalists have been murdered since 2005 with justice falling short of solving the murders.

Ethiopia's dissident blogger Eskinder Nega. Photo courtesy of Lennart Kjörling.

AB: Bloggers from North Africa have contributed significantly to the success of revolts in the countries of North Africa. Is it conceivable that in sub-Saharan Africa bloggers play a similar role?

MK: Social media tools have become platforms for the kind of dissent that is repressed offline and they are used to organize protests offline. Some governments, such as Ethiopia, Angola, and Cameroon, are beginning to crack down on this use of the Internet, by passing laws against “cyber crime” or intimidating bloggers. In addition, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube users who are posting photos and videos from the streets using their cell phones are breaking some of the biggest news in Africa these days, and traditional media is trying to keep up with them.

AB: In Mozambique, in 2008 and 2010, well before the revolutions in the Arab world, the civil society was able to organize a demonstration against the rising cost of living using SMS. In Ghana, in 2010, citizens participated massively in constitutional review by using Facebook and mobile phones. Should these examples be regarded as exceptional cases or other similar events may occur elsewhere?

MK: Social media in the hands of young citizen journalists is fueling protest movements in Angola, Nigeria and Senegal.

The cover of CPJ

AB: What role do you attribute to social media in Africa and what are the obstacles?

MK: They have democratized news and information - making it more difficult for governments and the enemies of press freedom to keep a nation into the dark. it has created a virtual bridge between Africans in the Diaspora and those in the home countries. but the users are still largely unprepared to the dangers lurking online. Zimbabwe arrested and prosecuted a man last year for posting a political comment on Facebook. and many governments regularly demand email passwords of journalists in custody. Data security is the next challenge for journalists as more of them start to mostly work online.

AB: What can we expect from the African Union?

MK: The AU has a Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression but she works only part time and lacks the resource to do her job. AU member states still lack the political will to respect press freedom and protect journalists. Regional human rights instruments like the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African states (ECOWAS) give us hope. The court issued landmark rulings against the Gambia on cases of disappearance and torture of journalists, but the problem is enforcement.

AB: The year 2011 was difficult for the press freedom in Africa, how do you see the year 2012?

MK: Each new year brings new challenges in this battle to keep the press free. The secrecy bill in South Africa has to be defeated, because South Africa is a model of democracy and free press for the continent, and this bill threatens to undo 18 years of progress since the end of Apartheid. South Sudan, the world's newest nation, is already abusing press freedom, this is also worrying. Ethiopia and Burundi's abuse of terrorism laws to prosecute and jail critical journalists is a disturbing new trend that has to be stopped. Press freedom is on the brink of extinction in Ethiopia, Angola, Gambia and Rwanda. Niger is probably the best example of a country where press freedom has advanced.

You can follow Mohamed Keita on Twitter @africamedia_CPJ and also read his articles on CPJ blog.

 

February 22 2012

Sahel: Islamic Fundamentalist Organisations Tighten Their Grip

[All links to articles in French unless stated otherwise] 

For a few months now, two religious Islamic fundamentalist organisations, Boko Haram and AQIM (Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb), have intensified their war against the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the surrounding nations.

On December 25, 2011, Boko Haram coordinated explosions against Christians [en], including one at a church near Abuja that killed at least 37 people. On December 12, an AQIM offshoot calling itself Jamat Tawhid wal Jihad fi Garbi Afriqqiya (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa - MOJWA) released a video [en] of three abducted European aid workers in Algeria.

These religious groups are attempting to spread their activities into countries of the Sahel region. The regional blogosphere has quickly reacted to recent attacks showing concern and providing thorough analyses.

Boko Haram recruits arrested by police forces in Biafra. Photo posted to yfrog by @tianmine

Boko Haram recruits arrested by police forces in Biafra. Photo posted to yfrog by @tianmine

Philippe Hugon's post, published on the Grotius website, provides one of the cause of the increasingly perilous tension threatening Nigeria's unity:

Dans la capitale de l’État des plateaux, à Jos, les conflits opposent ainsi les Fulani musulmans aux Berom chrétiens, deux populations qui disposent de droits différents. Quant aux mouvances islamiques du Nord, elles sont plurielles (soufisme des confréries traditionnelles, mouvements salafiste, maadhistes et chiites) avec 12 États (sur 36) qui ont instauré la charia.

In Jos, the administrative capital city of the Plateau State, the conflicts are between the Muslim Fulani and the Christian Berom, two group of populations who have different sets of rights. There are various Islamic cultures in the North with different influences (traditional brotherhood of Sufism, Salafist movement, Madhist and Shiites) and with 12 states (out of 36) that have introduced sharia law.

According to the author, far from becoming weaker, the movement is growing and presents serious cause for concern:

La question la plus importante, en raison des bouleversements intervenus en Libye, est à présent la prolifération de la nébuleuse AQMI. Le mouvement anti occidental Boko Haram, apparu après le 11 septembre 2001, localisé dans l’État de Borno développe désormais le djihadisme ; il s’est scindé en plusieurs branches dont l’une est proche des Chebabs de Somalie et d’Aqmi. Or par sa radicalisation et ses actions violentes, il favorise un clivage religieux engendrant un engrenage des violences, des représailles et de la répression.

The most important issue right now, owing to the disruptions that took place in Libya, is the proliferation of the nebulous AQMI. The anti-western movement, Boko Haram, that surfaced after September 11, 2001, confined in the state of Borno, has henceforth adopted jihad; it is divided into many branches, one of which has ties to the Chebabs of Somalia and AQMI. Through violent and radical actions, this group promotes religious splits causing a spiral of violence, repression and retaliation.

On January 26, 2012, the United Nations published a report by a team that travelled to many of the Sahel countries, in order to investigate the local impact of the civil war in Libya. According to this report, armed groups such as the Boko Haram sect in Nigeria and AQMI would have had access to a dangerous arms cache.

Antoine Barbizon, wrote a post on the subject, on the Geo Tribune blog saying the following:

Les gouvernements et responsables des États dans lesquels s’est rendue l’équipe d’évaluation de l’ONU ont communiqué les informations en leur possession selon lesquelles de grandes quantités d’armes en provenance de Libye seraient parvenues illégalement dans de nombreux pays du Sahel. Livré clandestinement par d’anciens combattants de Libye, des soldats et des mercenaires à la solde du Colonel Mouammar Kadhafi, cet arsenal comprendrait des lance-grenades, des mitrailleuses avec visée inti-aérienne, des fusils automatiques, des munitions, des grenades, des explosifs ainsi que de l’artillerie légère montée sur véhicules. Ces armes seraient cachées dans le désert et une partie d’entre elles vendues aux groupes terroristes. Le rapport de l’équipe de l’ONU évoque également l’inquiétante perspective d’un rapprochement entre Boko Haram et AQMI, les deux groupes ayant décidé d’étendre leurs actions au-delà de leurs périmètres actuels.

The governments and officials of the states that were visited by the evaluating United Nations team provided information they had in their possession, that large quantities of weapons from Libya would have entered illegally in many Sahel countries. Smuggled by ex-Libyan fighters, soldiers and mercenaries of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, this arsenal included grenade launchers, anti-aircraft machine guns, automatic rifles, ammunition, grenades, explosives, as well as light artillery mounted vehicles. These weapons were hidden in the desert and some of them were sold to terrorist groups. The United Nations report highlights the troubling prospect of a rapprochement between Boko Haram and AQMI, the two groups having decided to expand their actions beyond their current perimeters.

The people of neighbouring Sahel countries are expressing their fear about the situation and the risks of overflow. In Cameroon, many Internet surfers are reporting a dangerous evolution. Elizabeth Kendal writes in her blog [en]:

Garga Aoudou, a community activist with a Dutch development organization, told IPS that Garoua has been “literally inundated with fliers inciting Muslims towards a hatred of Christians”. Aoudou continues, “Religious fanatics exhort Muslims to increase the number of marriages between young Muslim men and Christian girls in order to convert them to Islam, to refuse to rent houses or sell land to Christians - or to get them to move by raising the rent”.

On the blog sanfinna.com, Jean Baptiste Naudet writes:

C’est l’un des pires cauchemars des services de renseignement. Et il est en train de se matérialiser. Au Nigeria, la secte islamiste Boko Haram (ce qui signifie « l’éducation occidentale est un péché » en haoussa) est en train non seulement de monter en puissance et de se radicaliser, mais surtout de devenir un centre puissant de l’arc du terrorisme qui va de la Mauritanie à la Somalie.

….Lors des attaques régulièrement lancées par la secte contre des commissariats, des églises ou des prisons dans le nord, les morts se comptent par centaines. Outre la montée de la violence, le développement de la nébuleuse terroriste d’Al-Qaida hors du Sahel inquiète car il correspond au retour des combattants subsahariens (pro-Kadhaf) de Libye, ainsi qu’à l’arrivée d’armes lourdes en provenance des arsenaux pillés de ce pays.

It's one of the worst nightmares of intelligence agencies and it is being carried out. In Nigeria, the Islamic sect Boko Haram (meaning “western education is a sin”, in Hausa language) is not only increasing in power and becoming more radical but is also becoming a powerful centre for terrorism, extending from Mauritania to Somalia.

..During the frequent attacks launched by the sect in the north, against police, churches and prisons, hundreds are left for dead. In addition to the escalation in violence, the development of the nebulous terrorism of Al Quaida outside of the Sahel is of great concern, as it corresponds to the return of Sub-Saharan Libyan fighters (pro-Gaddafi) as well as the arrival of heavy weapons from this country's arsenal.

The Mautitanian site noorinfo.com writes:

La Mauritanie, l'Algérie, le Niger et le Mali sont confrontés à une insécurité croissante liée aux activités d'Aqmi et d'autres groupes criminels, ainsi qu'à l'afflux d'armes, dont de l'armement lourd, issues du conflit libyen.

Mauritania, Algeria, Niger and Mali are confronted with a growing sense of insecurity linked to the activities of AQMI and other criminal groups, as well as to the influx of weapons and heavy armament stemming from the Libyan conflict.

Muslims understand that they too are hostages and that violence towards Christians, is also of concern to them and that they must be involved in preventing it. In an interview on the camer.be site, Ernest Djonga, regional president of the Islamic Youth of the North group, explained the measures taken thus far by his movement and by the Muslim religious authorities, in order to confront the challenge posed by the presence of Bako Haram in the North of Cameroon.

Voyant le danger venir, nous avons sollicité l’intervention du Lamido [la plus haute autorité traditionnelle] de l’époque, le regretté Ibrahim Abbo, qui avait pris des dispositions fortes en réglementant la fonction de prédicateur et au niveau de la Jeunesse islamique du Cameroun, nous nous sommes attelés à superviser les différents thèmes à développer dans les 19 mosquées … [de] la ville de Garoua. Cette méthode s’est pérennisée sous le règne de sa majesté Alim Garga Hayatou. Des garde-fous ainsi posés nous ont permis de sélectionner les prédicateurs certifiés et agréés.

Seeing the danger approaching, we solicited Lamido's intervention (the highest traditional authority) the late lamented Ibrahim Abbo who took strong measures in controlling the preachers' duties. At the level of the Islamic Youth of Cameroon, we got down to work, supervising the different themes to be developed in 19 mosques in the town of Garoua. This method was perpetuated under the reign of his majesty Alim Garga Hayatou. Safeguards that were installed, allowed us to select registered, certified preachers.

It is in this context that old ancestral conflicts that had simmered are now re-awakening, such as in the North of Mali where thousands of people were obliged to flee their village to take refuge in neighbouring countries.

The temoust.org site, Tuareg Survie, published a communique on the conflict, indicating that:

Au moins 30 000 personnes sont déplacées au Mali et vivent dans des conditions extrêmement précaires, à la suite des combats opposant l’armée malienne à des groupes armés dans le nord du pays depuis la mi-janvier. Le CICR porte assistance à des milliers d’entre elles, ainsi qu’à 15 000 autres déplacés au Niger voisin. Il a également pu visiter des détenus et soigner des blessés au Mali.

At least 30,000 people have been displaced in Mali and are living in extremely precarious conditions, due to fighting since mid-January, between the Mali army and armed groups North of the country. CICR is assisting thousands among them, as well as 15,000 others that were displaced in neighbouring Niger. The organization was also able to visit detainees and to care for the wounded in Mali.

February 09 2012

Sahel Region: 1.6 Million Children at Risk of Malnutrition

Afrik.com reports that [fr]: ” because of the low harvest and an increase of 60 to 80 % in cereal pricing, 10 millions people across Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad will be affected by food security issues, including 1.6 million children.”

February 06 2012

Africa: Highs and Lows of the 2012 African Cup of Nations

Beyond their ethnic, political and regional divides, people unite together around their national football team. We saw the First Lady of Gabon dancing like an excited schoolgirl every time one of the eleven players of the ‘Azingo Nationale' scored a goal and became “the Panthers” for their country.

The people of Equatorial Guinea were ecstatic with the qualification of their national team, languishing in the midst of one of the most ferocious dictatorships. According to Human Rights Watch, journalists who have visited the country to report on the human rights situation have been detained, interrogated, censored and deported.

In the fervour surrounding the 2012 African Cup of Nations, there are two key points that attract attention. The first is the absence of some of the higher achieving teams in African football.

Michael Dodje's blog explains [fr] the unusual goings-on in this year's Cup of Nations:

Imagine a Euro competition without Germany, Spain, Holland and England. Impossible you say, even though Ukraine or Poland would not have to participate in the qualifying rounds as host nations. And yet, this is what happened in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Indeed, for the first time in ages we will not see Egypt, Cameroon, Algeria, Nigeria or even South Africa in this championship. How did this happen?

Remembering that the five teams mentioned above have won 15 out of 27 previous Cup of Nations tournaments. Nicholas Mc Anally on le229.com responded [fr]:

…If these teams do not qualify then there will be others to replace them. It's a breath of fresh air seeing teams like Botswana, Niger and Equatorial Guinea making their debuts in the Cup of Nations.

Another novelty in this year's Cup is the way that the thorny issue of bonuses has been resolved. A post on the blog plat du pied explained [fr] what happened on the 15 November, 2011:

After the cancellations of the matches against China, Gabon, Salvador and Mexico, Cameroon has again cancelled a friendly match at the last minute for the fifth time since the start of the season.  The players went on strike, once again, in protest against the federation over their bonuses for the match.

On the same blog, a statement issued by the Cameroon players, known as the ‘Indomitable Lions', said:

Due to the absence of attendance bonuses, the players have decided not to travel to Algiers and to not play any part in the match against Algeria scheduled for the 15 November.

Different solutions to the problem have been found by building on past negative experiences. A post [fr] on the blog marocfootball.info, concerning the Moroccan national team, the ‘Atlas Lions' stated that:

The President of the highest court in Moroccan football announced that a deal has been made with the Atlas Lions in that they accept that they will not receive any form of attendance bonus if they fail to reach the quarter finals of the 2012 African Cup of Nations.

Côte d'Ivoire, not long out of a prolonged and disastrous civil war, will pay their national team the ‘Elephants' a bonus of 5 billion CFA francs (1 million US dollars) if they win the final. The blog afrik11.com states [fr]:

The 23 players in the side receive 5 million CFA francs (10,000 USD) in attendance bonuses. This amount will be paid if the team is eliminated in the first round. In the quarterfinals, the bonus of each player will rise to 8 million, rising further to 10 million in the semifinals and then to 20 million in the final (40,000 USD). The coach, Zahoui François will also enjoy his share of the pie, receiving double the bonuses of his players.

afrik11.com also comments [fr] on the bonuses paid to the Mali national team, the ‘Eagles of Mali' at the beginning of January:

Earlier this week the Malian football team received their bonuses for qualifying for the 2012 African Cup of Nations. Two hundred million CFA francs (40,000 USD) were given in cash to the players and coaching staff before the national team left Lomé (Togo) for the final stage in their preparations for the competition.

The Equatorial Guinea team in training by @FlorianK_Sport

The Equatorial Guinea team in training by @FlorianK_Sport

Equatorial Guinea, co-hosts of the event, is a country unable to build a stadium capable of hosting a match due to the frequent rains. Yet abidjan.net posted a blog surrounding their first victory [fr] in the competition:

Teodorin Obiang, the Minister for Agriculture presented a cheque for 500 million CFA francs (760,000 euros) to Francisco Pascual Eyegue Obama Asué, the Minister for Sport, in the absence of the national team in Mbini (mainland Mali). He added a cheque for 20 million CFA francs (30,400 euros), 10 million that had been promised for each goal scored ; the team only won the match 1-0 but he explained that the goal disallowed by the referee deserved to be credited with a bonus.

This blog points out that the actions of Teodorin, tipped to succeed his father as president, are under scrutiny by the Americans.

The generosity of petrodollars being used for the bonuses for the Equatorial Guinea football team makes the Republic of Guinea look like a poor relation. In Conakry, the first problem was in trying to find the money to pay for the bonuses. As reported by lejourguinee.com, the country set up a National Committee for Support, led by General Mathurin Bangoura, Minister for Housing and Urban Development with the aim of raising funds for the bonuses. Notably, the first contributions came from the Indian community settled in the country.

The least well-spent money during the tournament, without doubt, has to be the bonuses awarded to the ‘Teranga Lions', the Senegalese national team, who had entered the competition as strong favourites and fell at the first hurdle. Yet, at the beginning of the competition the blog can.starafrica.com stated [fr] that:

There are some concerns surrounding the bonuses given to the Senegalese side.  On Wednesday the Sports Ministry gave the squad bonuses amounting to 140, 650,000 francs in full for their qualification for the 2012 African Cup of Nations.

January 25 2012

Africa: 2012 Cup of Nations Kicks Off!

[All links to external content are in French]

The Africa Cup of Nations began in Bata, Equatorial Guinea this Saturday January 21, 2012, kicking off three weeks of fierce competition. The Cup of Nations, the most important international football competition in Africa, is taking place in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea between January 21 and 12 February.

Supporters in Africa and around the world have been enjoying the build-up to the two opening matches; dancing, light and sound were all part of the spectacle:

GaGuie the Mascot! With GAGUIE : GA as in Gabon, GUI as in Guinea and E as in Equatorial! Image from fr.cafonline.com with permission

GaGuie the Mascot! With GAGUIE : GA as in Gabon, GUI as in Guinea and E as in Equatorial! Image from fr.cafonline.com with permission

Here is a round up of the first three days of the tournament.

Matchday One

Libya took on Equatorial Guinea in the curtain raiser on 21 January, and it was co-hosts Equatorial Guinea, making their tournament debut, who took a surprise 1-0 win.

With just six minutes remaining, Balboa, the Equatorial Guinea number 11 finally opened the scoring after a one-on-one with the Libyan goalkeeper. The score stayed 1-0 until the final whistle, to the delight of the Equatorial Guinea fans who had packed the stadium.

The Senegalese fluffed their entry to the competition with a 2-1 defeat inflicted by Zambia on the same day. Senegal fans took to the web to place the blame on coach of the national team.

Touy wrote on Seneweb News [fr]:

le souci avec un entraîneur local c'est que même s'il se rend compte que le capitaine par exemple Niang n'est pas au niveau il aura la crainte la peur ou la pudeur de le faire sortir au détriment de la victoire bien sur!!

The problem with having a local coach is that even if he realises that the captain, let's say Niang, is not good enough he'll either be afraid or too modest to take him off, to the detriment of getting the win of course!

Amara Traoré [fr] on RFI sheds some light on the subject for us:

Tout le monde savait avant même le début de la CAN que les zambiens sont très vifs et utiliseraient cette vivacité pour gérer les sénégalais beaucoup plus costauds. Alors lui l’entraîneur et son staff devraient trouver un bon système pour les contenir avant de les attaquer.Donc je trouve kil n'a pas fais son boulot qui était de voir les choses venir et de jouer avec des joueurs rapides mais surtout de ne pas trop bourrer cette attaque ou personne ne se retrouve .

Everyone knew, even before the Cup of Nations began, that the Zambians are very energetic and would use that energy to combat the much bigger and stronger Sengalese. So the coach and his staff should find a system to contain thembefore going on the attack. He hasn't done his job which is to anticipate and play fast players but above all not to throw men forward who then can't find each other.

Matchday Two

The second matchday saw the entry of one of the competition favourites: the ‘Elephants' of Côte d'Ivoire. A magnificent strike by Didier Drogba in the 39th minute secured the victory for Côte d'Ivoire over Sudan. The win for the Elephants wasn't enough for every Ivorian fan on the net however. Many felt that they could have done better.

Phox Hermann [fr] said:

la vérité est bonne à dire heinnn. ELEPHANT ke moi jai vu là c N'IMPORTE KOI

Good to tell the truth, riiight. That was no ELEPHANT that I saw

Bi Tia Vincent Toh [fr] added:

la conservation d'un unique but nous a donné des sueurs froides.
Que Mr Gervino soit un peu plus réaliste devant les buts,
Que Mr Yaya Touré regagne sa place au milieu et joue effectivement comme à city
Que la defense cesse d etre trop permeable,

keeping hold of a one goal lead brought us out in a cold sweat.
If only Mr Gervino [sic] was more realistic in front of goal,
If only Mr Yaya Touré could get his place back in the middle and play as well as he does at city
If only the defence stopped leaking,

Angola also played their first game and overpowered Burkina Faso with a 2-1 victory.

Matchday Three

Gabon, the second co-host team of the 2012 Cup of Nations showed their strength with a 2-0 win over Niger, the opening Group C match of the tournament played in a fantastic atmosphere in the Stade de l'Amitié in Libreville.

Rodrigue Magaya [fr] commented on Aubameyang's goal on Facebook:

que dire?!!!merci aux gars, il fallait ça pour la beauté du spetacle et naturelement monter a tt nos adversaires que nous sommes la!!bien en place et on a pas peur!!!vive la can, et vive encore plus nos pantheres;que Dieu benisse le gabon!!!!!!

what can I say?!!!thanks to the lads, we needed that for the beauty of the contest and naturally to show all our opponents that we're here!!right on the spot and with no fear!!long live the cup of nations, and may our panthers live even longer;God bless Gabon!!!!!!

The 2012 Cup of Nations can be followed on TV5 MondeCanal+ Afrique and on Twitter and Google+ via the hashtags #CAN2012 (in French) et #ACN2012 (in English).

November 28 2011

Understanding the Implications of the Kidnappings of 6 Westerners in Mali

The Wal-Asat blog attempts to figure out the implications of the recent slew of kidnappings in Mali.  Didier François highlights the mysterious background and activities [fr] of the two kidnapped Frenchmen while AllAfrica points out the poor regional coordination between the nations combating this issue.

November 15 2011

Sahel Region: Slavery still very much a Reality for Some

In an interview carried out by François Mauger with Mme Sophia Lakhdar [fr], Director of the Comité Contre l’Esclavage Moderne (Comittee Against Modern Slavery) published on the mondomix.com blog, she states: “Today human trafficking has taken over as the notion of modern slavery, which is a bit contrived.  However it helps raise awareness and mobilize public opinion in the 1990's.  That does not mean that in certain countries slavery no longer exists.  I am thinking most notably of Mauritania, Sudan and Niger”

November 02 2011

Gadaffi's Lost Arsenal, a Threat to the Sahel Region

Since the beginning of the conflict in Libya that toppled the Gaddafi's regime, weapon trafficking has been on the rise in the Sahel region. The consequences of this trafficking threatens peace in a region that is already destabilized by poverty and vast uncontrolled areas.

The Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS in French) is an international organization whose mandate is to invest in research for food security and the fight against the effects of drought and desertification in the region. Its country members include Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Chad. All of them are on high alert regarding the potential impact of weapons on the loose reaching their borders.

Africa Boyebi repost a report from the AFP on his blog that describes an uncontrolled weapons site [fr]:

L'arsenal compte quelque 80 bunkers de béton peints couleur sable destinés au stockage de munitions, essentiellement de fabrication russe et française.
Dans un seul de ces bunkers, l'AFP a compté environ 8.000 obus de 100 mm. Dans d'autres, des centaines de bombes de 250, 500 et 900 kg larguées par avion, sont empilées sur plusieurs mètres de haut, mais aussi des roquettes, des bombes à fragmentation, des obus d'artillerie et de mortier de tout calibre, des munitions de canon antiaérien…

The arsenal includes about 80 bunkers painted sand color that were used to stockpile ammunitions, mostly made in Russia or France.
In one of those bunkers, AFP counted as many as 8,000 100 mm long shell bombs. In other bunkers, hundreds of 250, 500 and 900 kg bombs were also piled up to several meters high, as well as rockets, artillery shells and mortars of any caliber, and anti-aircraft gun ammunitions…

Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch's emergencies director and an expert in humanitarian crises provides the details of the weapons [fr] that were found unguarded 100 km south of Syrte in the following video. He states that some of weapons here were retrieved in the Sinaï desert and even Gaza later:

Way before conflict broke out in Libya, there were weapons circulating throughout the Sahel region at the unguarded borders of many countries, but these weapons were much smaller in size and range. However, more sophisticated weaponry has been introduced in the past few months.

However, more sophisticated weaponry has been introduced in the past few months. Samuel Benshimon on Sahel Intelligence explains that AQIM (Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb - a radical Islamist militia) may have claimed some of these heavy weapons [fr]:

According to reliable sources from the capital cities of  Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria and Mauritania, heavy weaponry, including anti-aerial missiles abandoned in Libya were seized by mysterious terrorists groups. A military source in Bamako states that many of these weapons were already transported  towards AQMI bases in the north of Mali by African mercenaries.

Samuel Benshimon adds that a high level officer has confirmed the accuracy of this information and that he also said [fr]:

The authorities of his country are very worried about AQIM reloading on weapons in such manner and that it presents a very palatable threat fro the entire region. He adds that amongs the weapons are Sam7, anti-aerial missiles made in Russia. Similar concerns were expressed by the president of Chad Driss Deby. The weapons were retrieved by African mercenaries or AQIM elements and were transported overnight to their final destination. The branches of AQIM  based in the north of Mali are controlled by Algerian emirs Mokhtar Belmokhtar and Abdelhamid Abou Zaid

What ought to be even more worrisome are the issues that author and blogger Thérèse Zrihen-Dvir has listed in the following post [fr] :

The revolution is now over and Libya is free. However, the former rebels are not ready to let go of their weapons right away. Just in case, you know. The region is still not stabilized, the police is still composed of volunteers for half of them. No national army has been fully set up so the population feel like they ought to protect their communities themselves and hold on to their weapons.

In an article on elkhabar.com blog, Moroccan scholar Mohamed Drif (specialized in Islamic movement), predicts that the region will be controlled by three groups that sprung from the fall of Muammar Gadaffi in Libya [fr]:

The first group will be composed of the Gadaffi's loyalists, the tribes that fought by his side and that went home in the North of Niger. The group is experienced with combat and that owns weaponry that allows to pursue the fight against the new regime in Libya and will target western interests in the region.

The second group will be composed of the many Africans that were linked to the Gadaffi regime. This group will start to destabilize the region not because they want to avenge Gadaffi but because they want to regain the financial loss they incurred when the support from Gadaffi ran dry. Guerilla warfare from this group is likely in order to claim some quick financial spoils.

The third group will be composed of Gadaffi partisans in Libya or in neighboring nations who are striving to destabilize the region for tribal reasons.

Cafe Aboki blog posts an AFP report, which claims that the National Transitional Council of Libya has found yet another stockpile of weaponry [fr], this time, of the chemical type. Chemical weapons are very mobile [fr] and have a great capacity to kill and destroy the surrounding environment.

A study by Olivier Lepick for Recherche Stratégique indicates the multiple  angers that chemical weapons [fr] can present:

Some characteristics of chemical weapons are tailor made for terrorist activities, most notably the fact that there are no reliable detectors of chemical and biological weapons, they are not easily traceable and the relative ease with which one can procure such substances. Evidently and unfortunately, these weapons also have a tremendous capability to spread fear and panic among the civilian population.

September 06 2011

Burkina Faso and Niger: Haven for Gaddafi ?

René Dassié reports that Gaddafi and a heavily armed convoy might be headed to Burkina Faso via Niger [fr]. Burkina Faso president Blaise Compaoré has yet to confirm that he offered refuge to the deposed Libyan leader.

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.

February 08 2011

Comment le Sahel reverdit

Au Niger, près de la moitié de la population est menacée de famine ; au Tchad, la cote d'alerte est dépassée. Flambée des prix, sécheresse, baisse de l'aide internationale expliquent pour partie le désastre actuel. Pourtant, des techniques agricoles nouvelles ont transformé certains espaces (...) / Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Mali, Niger, Sahel - 2010/08

January 10 2011

La France « ennemi global » au Sahel

Ca passe, mais ca casse ! La nouvelle « leçon » infligée aux kidnappeurs présumés AQMI du Niger débouche dans l'immédiat, une fois encore, sur des pertes en vies humaines, notamment celles des jeunes otages. La France fait figure désormais de « grand Satan » aux yeux des desperados du désert sahélien, avec rang « d'ennemi global », au point que – selon le Quai d'Orsay – « aucun endroit ne peut plus être considéré comme sûr dans le Sahel ». Le rôle de matamore n'est pas pour déplaire au président français (...) - Défense en ligne / Armée, Terrorisme, Niger

January 07 2011

Au Niger, le cycle des crises alimentaires

L'histoire semble se répéter à l'identique, sous sa plus mauvaise facette, sans même bégayer. Après la « famine » largement médiatisée de 2005, le Niger a fait, une fois de plus, face à une grave crise alimentaire, entre mars et août 2010. Avec les mêmes chiffres, toujours aussi désespérants : plusieurs millions de personnes menacées, des taux de malnutrition infantile catastrophiques. A nouveau, les médias, qui semblent ne s'intéresser au Niger que lors des famines ou des coups d'Etat, ont inséré peu à peu (...) - Visions cartographiques / Agriculture, Aide au développement, Aide humanitaire, Alimentation, Développement, Enfance, Faim, Santé, Niger, Afrique de l'Ouest

December 28 2010

Africa: West Africa's First Commercial Data Center Launching in 2011

By Ndesanjo Macha

A company simply identifying itself as West Africa Data Centres is taken the bold step to launch the first commercial large-scale data centre, in West Africa, David Ajao reports.

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 21 2010

Africa: Journalists Still Struggling for Press Freedom.

By Lova Rakotomalala

Reporters Without Borders published the Press Freedom Index today (10/20/2010). The section of the report on Africa mentions that Eritrea is last for the 4th consecutive year and that amongst the French-speaking African nations, Rwanda, DR of Congo, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire and Madagascar show worrisome signs for press freedom. [fr]

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].

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