Sunday, February 29, 2004

da Nile (an update)

I found this interesting ... water and agriculture were on the agenda at the African Union summit in Libya. But it is security policy (detailed in the first post) which dominated the coverage ... especially western coverage. While security and the creation of an African Standby Force is a big story ... what greater threat to peace and security in Africa than conflicts over water.

Recall that back in December, Kenya shocked many by announcing that it would no longer honour the Nile Waters Treaty, a treaty which severely limits the amount of water that countries along the Nile can use. Egypt's water resources minister characterized this move as "an act of war".

A few tense days after their announcement, the Kenyans started backpedaling. The Regional Development Minister, Musikari Kombo, said the government would not act unilaterally and would negotiate with Egypt.
Kombo pointed out that even though the treaty is "openly biased", the Government cannot ignore it and will go ahead and hold talks with Egypt over the matter.

... the minister stated that the rule of law will be followed to the letter to avert any confrontation between the two states.

"The Government believes in the rule of law and we cannot ignore the treaty and go ahead to tell our people to use the waters," he added.
Besides a parliamentary committee in Uganda which asked the government to revoke the Treaty, things were pretty quiet on the Nile front ... until mid-February when Tanzania announced that it is going to build a pipeline to draw water from Lake Victoria, headwaters of the White Nile.

This development got some coverage in the western press because it was characterized as a rejection of the Nile Waters Treaty. However, this wasn't an entirely new development. Tanzania's founding president, Julius Nyerere, rejected the treaty back in 1962 and the goverment mearly reaffirmed this position when it announced the pipeline project. To my understanding, the significance of this project is that it serves as the first real challenge of the Treaty and assertion of Tanzania's position.

A few days after Tanzania's announcement, Dr Tom Okurut, the man in charge of the pipeline project, issued a "clarification".
"The project will supply water within the basin area and the outflow will not affect the lake nor the Nile River," he added.

... Dr Okurut noted that water supplied to Shinyanga would be recycled to the lake and "there is no need to cause unnecessary alarm.
I can't tell you if this is accurate or not. But it is interesting that like Kenya, Tanzania thought it prudent to issue a "clarification" of its position.

Egypt, understandably, is worried about all these challenges to the Treaty. It depends on the Nile for 95 percent of its water and without the Nile, Egypt would die. (See this earlier post for more on the Treaty and Egypt's concerns.)

Gamal Nkrumah writes about the Nile issue in this week's Al-Ahram Weekly.
On Sunday [Feb 22?] President Hosni Mubarak reviewed Egypt's programme of technical cooperation with the Nile Basin nations, meeting with Prime Minister Atef Ebeid and five other cabinet ministers -- defense, interior, foreign affairs, information, and irrigation and water resources. Mubarak stated that economic cooperation and development was the surest way to raise the standards of living and reduce tensions in the Nile Basin region.

... Drumming up support for Egypt's economic initiative in the region has become the mantra of its policy towards the Nile Basin countries. Cooperation and development are the new buzzwords stressed by Egyptian officials. Mubarak, in accordance with Egypt's vital national interest in keeping or enlarging its share of the Nile waters, urged the Nile Basin nations to respect the current agreements on water sharing.
Egypt's population is increasing by more than a million a year. It wants (needs?) more water. It's hoping to get a bit more water from Sudan .
Meanwhile, Cairo, which is encouraging an end to a decades-long rebellion in southern Sudan, is counting on an eventual draining of swamps in the area to provide another eight billion cubic metres of water. This would be directed into the Nile through the 360-kilometre (223-mile) Jonglei Canal and shared equally with Sudan.

Work on the canal was begun in 1978 but abandoned in 1984 after a raid by southern rebels. Cairo is hoping work can resume once peace is reached.
The Blue Nile, which originates in Ethiopia, is the source for 86% of the Nile's volume. Ethiopia would also like to utilize some of the water ... the Ethiopian government's official strategy/approach ...
"We want to see equitable use of the Nile one way or the other, but we need to do it through negotiations and diplomatic understanding," Ethiopian water resources ministry spokesman Yetebark Mengesty said.
I started this post by talking about this weekend's African Union summit. There aren't too many details on the water agreement ... but here is the little detail I managed to find.
On water, the Leaders stressed the need for Africa countries to encourage bilateral agreements for the sharing of water resources. They enjoined the various regional economic communities on the Continent to develop appropriate regional protocols to guide integrated water resources management.

The Leaders adopted the African Water facility plan and acknowledged the African Water Vision 2025 for a comprehensive integrated development of the water sector.
Egypt's Water Resources Minister, Mahmud Abu Zei, is scheduled to visit three riparian states -- Uganda, Kenya and Burundi -- in March.

I have also seen reports that Kenya is planning a conference in March to bring together the riparian states -- Tanzania, Egypt, Uganda, Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, Ethiopia and Eritrea. (Abu Zei's trip could be part of this.)


The two-day African Union summit in Libya was actually two summits.
-- Friday & Saturday: Extraordinary Summit on Agriculture and Water
-- Saturday: Extraordinary Assembly on Peace and Security Policy

African Defence

Leaders attending the African Union (AU) summit in Sirte, Libya unanimously approved the Common African Defence and Security Policy (CADSP) ... an agreement that establishes a multinational force for Africa.

(Gadaffi's proposal that countries scrap their national armies and create a continetal army wasn't taken all that seriously.)

Getting back to what the leaders agreed to ... from the AU press release ...
The African Union plans to establish an African Standby Force with a capacity to prevent and resolve conflicts on the Continent, a Military Staff Committee and a Continental Early Warning System, within the framework of the new Peace and Security Council of the Union.
Here is what the force will look like ...
The African Standby Force would be deployed at five regional bases by 2005, expanding to a continental force by 2010, a declaration adopted at an African Union (AU) summit said.

Initially, it would involve some 15,000 AU troops, drawn primarily from the continent's military powerhouses -- South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Egypt, AU sources said.

... The rapid reaction force will have a peacebuilding and humanitarian role, and may intervene unilaterally in the event of "war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, as well as a serious threat to legitimate order," the text said.
The full-text of the agreement isn't available online yet ... but fortunately, we do have access to the Draft Framework for a Common African Defence and Security Policy. According to the framework, the AU can intervene in response to "grave circumstances" ...
...namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, as well as a serious threat to legitimate order, in order to restore peace and stability to the Member States of the Union upon the recommendation of the Peace and Security Council.
The most interesting aspect of this agreement is that the AU would be allowed to intervene unilaterally (without invitation) if the organs empowered to make such a decision say so.
The principle of common defence -- that an attack on one state should be considered an attack on the entire continent and that all African countries should work together to prevent and resolve conflicts -- is enshrined in the founding charter of the AU.

... The new AU policy expands the traditional definition of defence and security to include not just states but citizens and their economic, nutritional and health-related well-being.
Caveat -- both the Reuters and the Agence France Presse stories mention the detail about the AU being allowed to act unilaterally ... however, I haven't found the exact wording in an official document ...

Let's get back to the African Standby Force. There rhetoric is certainly lofty and there are high hopes ... but how to pay for it?
Funding will be a major obstacle, the union is already US$40 million in debt [inherited from the OAU]. But aid will be sought from donor countries including the United States, Europe and Japan, said Ould Salek, a foreign minister for Western Sahara, a territory in southern Morocco recognized by the African Union.
As it happens, on Friday, the European Union pledged 250 million euros (US$312 million) for the AU's "peace-support operations". However, the funding is not specifically for the African Standby Force because right now, it only exists on paper.

For the moment, lets assume that the only issue facing this force is money. Depending on donors doesn't make for stable funding ... and it's possible that donors might attach conditions to the money ... all this could serve to limit the independence and efficacy of the AU and its Standby Force.

In the face of so many problems, the Ghanian foreign minister struck a defiant tone ...
Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo ... said the establishment of an African Stand-by Force was a good idea and feasible, therefore, the leaders should mobilize resources towards the implementation and not to allow the "no resources syndrome" to effect the maintenance of peace on the Continent.


OAU = Organization of African Unity (replaced by the AU in 2002)

Please note that there doesn't appear to be one title for this security agreement ... however, of the following, the first one seems to be the most commonly used
-- Common African Defence and Security Policy
-- African Non-Aggression and Common Defence Pact
-- Common Defense and Security Policy for Africa

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Sudan: the other conflict

While on the subject of Sudan ... a bit of news about Darfur ... SLA/M today accused government forces of killing 70 civilians in raids on villages.
Sudanese Humanitarian Affairs Minister Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid said he was "not aware" of any raids.

[SLA/M spokesperson Hassan] Mandela said there were no rebels in the villages, which are in a part of the western Darfur region controlled by the government. But the residents of the villages were largely black African Muslims, the ethnic group from which the rebels draw the bulk of their fighters, he said. The government-backed militiamen were mostly Sudanese Arabs.
And a claim of victory from the SLM/A ...
Western Sudan rebels said on Saturday they had killed 60 government soldiers and allied Arab militia on Friday in a settlement called Dumma, between Nyala and El Fasher towns.

"They were coming to attack us but we were able to destroy them. Up to now we are chasing them," Ahmed Yagoub ... [SLA/M] spokesman said by telephone.
The government of Sudan now seems to be open to new mediation efforts.
"There are initiatives that the government is examining and talking [about] with the initiators," [official government spokesman Sa'id] Khatib told IRIN. He said both the EU and the US had come forward, and that a new mediation was a possibility.
Recall that earlier this month, the President of Sudan had claimed victory in Darfur.

As you can see, the fighting is still going on and thousands of refugees are still streaming into Chad.

SLM/A = Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (active only in Darfur region)

Sudan: one-month truce extension signed in Kenya

The Sudanese government and the main rebel group [SPLA/M] signed a one-month truce extension today ...

... "I expect they will agree on the two outstanding issues even before the end of this current session of the talks on March 16," Kenyan Lazaro Sumbeiywo, the chief mediator in the peace process, said by telephone from Naivasha.

"I don't expect the final peace agreement to be reached by the end of the coming month. But with the two outstanding issues out of the way, what will be left are details on security arrangements and modalities of implementation and so on." (link)
The outstanding issues are ... sharing of political and administrative power, whether Sharia law shoudl apply in Khartoum, and the status of the three disputed regions -- Abyei, Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile.

Note ... US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Charles Snyder was also in Naivasha today, talking with Sudanese VP Taha and SPLA/M leader Garang.
"Snyder held talks with both leaders, apparently pushing them to reach a comprehensive peace deal soon," said the official, who declined to be named.
Here is something handy ... a chronology of events of the conflict (s) in Sudan.

SPLA/M = Southern People's Liberation Army/Movement

Arab League reform

The Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo officially begins on Monday ... but they've spent the weekend engaged in informal talks in preparation for the March 29-30 Tunis summit. On the Tunis agenda ... reform.
[The Arab League's deputy secretary general, Nureddin Hashed] He told AFP that the upcoming [Tunis] summit would be "a chance for Arab leaders to announce the creation of a 'New Arab League' by adopting a plan to reform and modernise the organisation".

... "Tunis will be the last chance for Arabs to show that they are still able to define common policy and take the initiative over restructuring projects of the 'Greater Middle East' [Washington's democratization policy]," a senior Arab diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

... Most League members want minimal reform, but Yemen and Libya, which are to put forward their own proposal, have called for a complete remodelling based on the European Union or the African Union.
Arabic News, quoting unnamed sources, reports that League members are really late paying their dues and that the League's secretary general, Amr Moussa, has not been paid for three months.

Libya: Gadhafi talks about WMDs

At the closing of the African Union summit in Libya, Colonel Gadhafi talked about the decision to give up his country's weapons of mass destruction program.
"Any national state that will adopt this policy cannot protect itself. On the contrary, it would expose itself to danger," he said.

... "A nuclear arms race is a crazy, destructive policy for economy and life. We would like to have a better economy and improve life," he said.
The Associated Press has a little bit more of the speech.
"Libya has informed the world that it has decided to give up weapons of mass destruction. We have found that this is not the responsibility of the national state," he said of the weapons program. "Any national state that will adopt these policies cannot protect herself, on the contrary it would expose itself to danger."

... "We have declared that Africa must be free of weapons of mass destruction."

"If a national state within the African Union has arms of mass destruction, this may lead to terrorism and terrorizing its neighbors."

Friday, February 27, 2004

Zimbabwe: withdraws request for UN election funding aid

Hmm ...
Zimbabwe has withdrawn a request to the U.N. for help funding next year's parliamentary elections, U.N. officials said Friday, renewing concerns about whether the vote will be free and fair.

A small U.N. assessment team had been planning to visit Zimbabwe on March 3-13, spurring hopes of reform after reports of vote rigging and intimidation during previous polls.

But the visit was called off after Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa informed the U.N. earlier this month that its assistance was no longer required, U.N. officials said on condition of anonymity.

In a letter to the U.N. chief representative in Zimbabwe, Victor Angelo, Chinamasa said government revenues had improved and it no longer needed help paying for the vote, the officials said.

US military in Africa

The US is increasing its presence in Africa because of concerns about specific and potential terrorist threats.

Associated Press reporter Alexandra Zavis has a great interview with the deputy head of US forces in Europe, Air Force General Charles Wald, about how the US military is positioning itself in Africa.
The United States is helping train and equip four Sahara nations - Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Chad - to better guard their porous borders against terrorists, arms and other trafficking.

There are also agreements to conduct exercises and training in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, Wald said.

Further south, the United States wants to protect oil supplies in the Gulf of Guinea, where it gets 15 percent of its oil.

There is also concern that Africa's major humanitarian crises could develop into security threats for the United States and Europe.

Wald singled out AIDS, which is cutting a swath through many of the continent's armies. The European command supports a pioneering treatment program run by South African military health services.

... "Africa, we all know, has to work itself out of this situation, which is going to take time,'' he said. "In the meantime, we have to respond to some specific threats.''
The US Department of Defense HIV/AIDS Prevention Program funds programs in certain African countries designed to address the spread of the disease in their militaries (more info here and here).

Something to keep in mind ... US Central Command is responsible for the countries in Horn -- Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan. All other countries in Africa fall under the purview of the European Command.

Cote d'Ivoire: UN troops

The UN Security Council has unanimously voted to send more than 6,000 peacekeepers to Cote d'Ivoire.
More than 4,000 French troops trying to help keep the peace will remain in the country but will not be part of the U.N. force.
The US will not be contributing troops to the mission.
The force's authorisation takes effect on April 4 for an initial period of one year.

France will continue to foot the bill for its own contingent of soldiers, while roughly 1,300 west African troops also currently on the ground will be incorporated into the new UN force.

That means the United Nations will only have to come up with around 4,000 or so troops, although it was not clear how many would be provided from contributing nations or if the UN could immediately muster the full 6,000. (link)
The US had initially opposed the idea of a mission to Cote d'Ivoire and only agreed to the deployment last week.
The American ambassador, John D. Negroponte, in a closed meeting of the Security Council [on Feb 4?], questioned a United Nations estimate that 6,240 peacekeeping soldiers were needed for the job and expressed concern that the mission might lead to a de facto partitioning of the country.
Some reports say this hesitation was due, in part, to the fact that the US pays 27% of peacekeeping costs.

A few days ago, Ivorian Prime Minister Seydou Diarra announced that government and rebel fighters will start disarming on March 8. Note that disarmament is due to start before the peacekeeping mission starts (April 4).

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Kenya: athletes who switched citizenship not allowed to run

Remember that story from last summer's World Championships in Paris ... about the Kenyan steeplechase runner who took on Qatari citizenship and won the medal for that country ....

There was some question as to why he was allowed to run because according to the rules, unless an athlete is given permission by his country of birth, he must wait three years before competing for his adopted country ...

It appears that Athletics Kenya is now availing itself of this rule ...
Leonard Mucheru and Abel Cheruiyot, who switched citizenship from Kenya to Bahrain last year, have been barred from representing the Gulf state at next month’s world indoor and world cross-country championships.

... "Mucheru competed for Kenya in the (2003) Birmingham world indoors. Cheruiyot competed for Kenya in the 2002 world cross country championships, which means that they would be eligible three years after these dates respectively," Davies said.

Kenya: fear not ladies, you can wear trousers

Good grief!
Mombasa women can dress as they wish following an assurance by police yesterday that anyone who harasses them will be arrested.

They have been told to ignore leaflets purporting to give them a March 1 deadline to stop wearing trousers and minis [and warning that those who fail to heed the deadline will be stripped].

... Police will be deployed in the streets around Kongowea and Mwembe Tayari markets — where two women were stripped recently ...

... Although the source of the rumours or authors of the leaflets are not known, some religious leaders have in the recent past been condemning certain types of clothes, which they term indecent.

Sudan: Darfur rebels taking their fight elsewhere?

Two Darfur rebel groups say they have opened a new front ... taking the fight away from Darfur and to other parts of the country ...
"Two days ago we attacked government forces in their camp about 100 kms (60 miles) north of El-Obeid," [SLA leader Abdel Wahed Mohamed Ahmed al-Nur] said, referring to the capital of Northern Kordofan state, which borders Darfur.

... "If there's no peace in Darfur there'll not be peace in any part of Sudan," Nur told Reuters from the Darfur region.

... Khalil Ibrahim, leader of the other rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), said his movement had launched a failed offensive to take Southern Kordofan state 45 days ago.

"The government defeated us and arrested 161 of our men," he told Reuters from his Paris base. "We kept this secret to protect the men in prison, but they killed four of them until now so we are announcing it."
SLA = Sudan Liberation Army

Libya: US lifts travel ban

Amazing!
The United States lifted a long-standing ban on travel to Libya on Thursday and invited American companies to begin planning their return, after Moammar Gadhafi's government affirmed that it was responsible for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988.

... U.S. firms which had holdings in Libya before sanctions were imposed were authorized to negotiate the terms of renewing their operations, the White House said. However, the companies will be required to obtain U.S. approval of any agreement, if economic sanctions remain in place.
Note ... US airlines are still prohibited from flying to Libya.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Nigeria: ... and then there were three

Health authorities have confirmed Cote d'Ivoire's first case of Polio in four years and there is worry that the disease might have spread from Nigeria. However, there's some measure of good news from Nigeria ...
... Bauchi, another predominantly Muslim state, on Wednesday rejoined the four-day campaign to immunize 63 million children in west and central African countries including Nigeria.

Bauchi had just two days earlier suspended participation in the vaccine drive. Reasons for its apparent reversal were unclear and officials there could not immediately be reached for comment.

The decision left three heavily Muslim Nigerian states - Kano, Zamfara and Niger - banning the vaccines.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Liberia: US given right to search "Liberian" ships

Interesting....
U.S. Navy forces can board thousands of commercial ships in international waters to search for weapons of mass destruction under a landmark deal signed this week between the United States and Liberia, the world's No. 2 shipping registry.

... David Osler of London-based Lloyd's List, a leading shipping industry publication, said the U.S.-Liberian accord was the first he knew of sanctioning U.S. searches of commercial ships at sea.

Panama, the top country among flags of convenience, has no such agreement and isn't currently negotiating one, Deputy Foreign Minister Nivia Rossana Castrellon said in Panama City.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Ghana: Rawlings appears before Reconciliation Commission

Former president Jerry John Rawlings appeared before the National Reconciliation Commission today (transcript here). He was there to answer questions about the 1982 murders of three judges and a retired army officer, and the 1984 interrogation and murders of three soldiers. He denied all involvement.

Story here and here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Botswana: Bushmen and their land ... and knowledge

For the second year in a row, thousands of people have signed a petition calling on the government of Botswana to give the Gana and Gwi bushmen back their land. This week, the petition will be delivered to Botswana's consulates and embassies located in the major capitals of the world.

The petition was organized by the human rights group Survival International and was signed by 100,000 people.
"The hand-in marks the second anniversary of the forced relocation of hundreds of Gana and Gwi Bushmen from their ancestral land. One year ago Survival presented the first 100 000 signatures to the Botswana government." [Miriam Ross, Survival International's spokesperson.]
Survival International asserts that the the Gana and Gwi were pushed off their land to allow for diamond exploration.
Maps from the Botswana Government's own Department of Geological Survey show a massive increase in diamonds exploration concessions on the ancestral land of the Gana and Gwi Bushmen and Bakgalagadi, just months after the government evicted them from the region.

Full colour maps of the concessions boom from the government's Department of Geological Survey can be viewed here
The government rejects this accusation.
It says exploration for minerals in the park began in the 1960s, but the only kimberlite (volcanic pipes often bearing diamonds) discovered was found to be not commercially viable.

Botswana President Festus Mogae has said: "There is neither any actual mining nor any plan for future mining inside the reserve."
The government says that it has relocated the Gana and Gwi for their own good. Here is a story that explores that idea and efforts to get the relocation order repealed.

---
In a related story ... a Canadian company today announced that it has introduced a 100% Pure Hoodia Gordonii into the North American market.

Hoodia is a cactus that has been used by the San (bushmen) for thousands of years to suppress hunger and thirst. (Here is a good article on plant and its properties.) Hoodia keeps you from feeling hungry and it has no side effects. Now consider the obesity rate in the west and how much the diet industry is worth ...

... and this is where the story gets realy interetsing.

Years ago, the San told researchers from a South African institute about the benefits of Hoodia. The researchers took the plant and isolated the key molecule. They then licensed "their" findings to a British company for more research ... and that company then licensed it to pharma giant Pfizer to market ... leaving the San out of something potentially worth billions.

But this story has a happy ending because the San fought back. They wanted their fair share of the royalties from the commercialization of Hoodia ... and in March 2003, they won. You can find more on the profit-sharing agreement here.

If you want more detail about the allegations of bio-piracy and the resulting fight, go here and here.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Sudan: Bashir claims victory in Darfur

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir announced that the Darfur rebels have been defeated and ...
He called for a general amnesty throughout the region provided that all rebels surrender their weapons to police within a month, and for the organization of a conference on "development and peace" in the Darfur area.
The AFP story carries quotes from one rebel group -- the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)
"... We still control all of our positions in the Darfur region, notably in Jabal Marrah and Jabal Moun," two mountainous districts, [JEM spokesperson] Abdel Kerim told AFP by telephone.

Abdel Kerim, who said he was speaking from the Jabal Marrah area, said his movement had been observing a unilateral ceasefire for over a week for "humanitarian reasons", especially to allow refugees to move within the region.
The BBC got through to the chairman of the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) who also issued a denial.
... he said towns and villages had been destroyed, but rural areas were in rebel hands.

Abd el-Wahad Ahmed turned down the suggestion of a conference, saying his movement would only participate in internationally mediated talks.
And, the government has declined the invitation, issued last week, to attend ceasefire talks with the Darfur rebels in Geneva. Check this post for more on the invitation.

Note: According to the AFP story, JEM is observing a unilateral ceasefire for humanitarian resons. But if you read that post on the Geneva invitation, the Reuters story has JEM saying that they wouldn't negotiate for a cesefire, even for humanitarian reasons. There is some detail missing here ... a mistake by one of the news agencies perhaps.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Sudan: Darfur rebels announce they're ready to talk

Two Darfur rebel groups and a political party have offered to talk to the government.
In a joint statement, the Sudanese Liberation Movement, the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Federal Democratic Alliance said they would participate in two days of talks at the [Henry Dunant] Center for Humanitarian Dialogue in Geneva, beginning Feb. 14.

... Government officials were not immediately available for comment on the proposed talks.
There is a bit more detail in this Reuters story. The talks are meant to negotiate humanitarian access -- to find some way to get UN aid workers and their stockpile of desperately needed food and medicine to those refugees who have fled (and are fleeing) the fighting in Darfur. The UN says the situation is unsafe and wants a ceasefire. But ...
... the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), said a ceasefire was a political issue and they would not agree to a truce for purely humanitarian reasons.

[But the Henry Dunant Centre said there were alternatives to a ceasefire like a "conflict pause" or safe-passage guarantees.]

JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim said he would personally attend the talks if the government sent a high-level delegation. JEM has not taken part in talks or any ceasefire with Khartoum.

The other group, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), said it would go to Geneva, adding political issues could be raised.

The Henry Dunant Centre said it had a mandate only to mediate on humanitarian issues, but did not rule out that political issues could also be discussed between the sides.

JEM said the government recently approached them through Ahmed Ibrahim Diraige, leader of an opposition political movement also invited to Geneva, to discuss peace talks.
Ahmed Ibrahim Diraige [Draij] is leader of the Sudan Federal Democratic Alliance. Recall that Diraige met with Sudan VP Taha in Kenya late last month and promised to use his influence to bring an end to the fighting in Darfur.

Note: If you look up top, I characterized Diraige's group as a "political party". It is my short hand ... the Sudan Federal Democratic Alliance is most often billed as a national political and military movement ... its leadership is from Darfur.

The goverment and the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement had once reached a ceasefire agreement. But efforts to negotiate an extension, hosted by Chad, failed in December.

Liberia: on disarmament and funding the reconstruction

Liberia's disarmement program is set to begin later this month after being postponed last month. UN staff are now going around the country, visiting rebel soldiers, trying to explain the disarmament program and how the money will be doled out. Recall that the process had started back in December and had to be suspended after rebel soldiers rioted over some confusion about the distribution of money.

According to this article in Nigeria's This Day, a group of MODEL rebels told UN disarmament workers that they want security assurances before they agree to hand in their weapons.
... the fighters pointed out that they were under constant threats from the civilian population. The fighters alleged that the civilians have accused them of looting their personal effects during and after the cessation of hostilities. In view of this, the combatants said civilians have planned to revenge on them when they hand in their weapons to UNMIL.
Funding the disarmament effort and other reconstruction projects is the subject of the two-day donors' conference that opened today in New York.
The World Bank and the United Nations estimate Liberia needs $488 million to meet its most urgent needs over the next two years. Indications were strong Thursday that the conference would reach that goal.

The United States will pledge $200 million in new money, and the European Union and its 15 members are expected to match that, U.N. diplomats said. Many other countries from Africa, Asia and Europe are also expected to contribute.
Interestingly, the matter of Liberia's foreign debt doesn't seem to be getting that much (western?) press. A few days ago, Liberian presidential hopeful Charles Brumskine gave an interview to allAfrica.com and had the following to say on the debt issue.
With a foreign debt portfolio of about $2.8 billion outstanding and in arrears, Liberia's economic future is challenging. Therefore, in addition to all the pledges of grants and aid that Liberia may receive at the Conference, I hope the transitional government makes a serious effort to secure commitments from donor nations for debt forgiveness.

The Liberian economy has performed at less than fifty percent of its pre-war capacity for more than a decade and currently has limited income-generating capacity. But after fourteen years of war and mismanagement, the country has a heavy burden for social spending and economic re-engineering to undertake.

Even if unrealistic growth rates and economic performance are assumed, Liberia has, at most, a limited capacity to repay current debt. Along with debt forgiveness, I hope donors realize that any assistance that includes more loans would simply add to the current debt burden and stifle growth.
MODEL = Movement for Democracy in Liberia
UNMIL = United Nations Mission in Liberia

Sierra Leone: disarmament complete

And now for some good news.

After five years, Sierra Leone has announced that its disarmamaent program is complete.
President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah wound up the process by officially dissolving the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) at a ceremony on Tuesday.

Reading his last report, Francis Kaikai, executive secretary of the committee, said that after disarming 72 490 fighters and demobilising 71 043, including 6 845 child soldiers, he was "no longer aware of any illegal armed groups posing a threat to the state of Sierra Leone".

... The entire programme, according to the executive secretary, cost $36.5 million. Most of the money was provided by a dozen overseas donors.

Gabon: Bongo in sex scandal

Gabon's president Omar Bongo is in the midst of what is shaping up to be a tawdry international incident. Miss Peru, Ivette Santa Maria Carty, invited to Gabon to host the "Miss Humanity" pageant, alleges Bongo tried to sleep with her.
Just hours after arriving January 17 in the capital Libreville, Miss Peru [claims she] was taken to the presidential palace, where Bongo tried to take her to his bedroom and seduce her, said Carty’s parents.

Carty fled the palace and spent 12 days confined at a Libreville hotel. She was able to leave Gabon only after Interpol and a French anti-prostitution humanitarian aid group intervened.
There appear to have been other allegations in the past.
In 1995, Italian fashion designer Francesco Smalto testified in a Paris court that he furnished Bongo with call girls, flying them regularly from France.

At least two opposition newspapers were shut down and French papers were temporarily banned in Gabon after reporting on the scandal.
However, this current story dosn't appear to be all that straight forward. From the Associated Press story ....
Contacted in Peru, the alleged victim's mother appeared to back away from the claims about her daughter's time in Gabon.

"Maybe we have exaggerated, but I don't mind ... if the scandal results in my daughter returning to Peru,'' Antonieta Carty told The Associated Press. (full-text)
And from Miss Peru herself ...
Miss Santa Maria stressed that the president never touched her, nor tried to stop her from fleeing and was probably not involved in what she calls a scheme by would-be pageant organisers who lured her to the West African nation. (full-text)
Also ... when questioned by reporters, Bongo's spokesperson claimed not to have heard of Miss Peru's allegations.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Nigeria: gov't program running out of AIDS drugs?

More than 14,000 people living with Aids in Nigeria who had been receiving anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs subsidised by the government are running out of supplies, an HIV/Aids activist group said on Tuesday.

Nsikak Ekpe, president of Aids Alliance Nigeria (AAN), an organisation that represents people living with Aids in Africa's most populous country, said the government had stopped supplying drugs at almost all the 25 treatment centres selected for the programme across the country.

Those still lucky enough to be receiving medication were being issued with expired drugs, he told a news conference. (full-text)
Back in November, there was a story that the the government was recalling anti-retroviral drugs because much of the stock had expired or was about to expire.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Ethiopia: members of deposed regime ask for forgiveness

Thirty three former government officials on trial for genocide have asked Ethiopia's people to forgive them for crimes they committed during the former regime of exiled dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam.

"We, the few who are being tried for what had happened, realise that it is time to beg the Ethiopian public for their pardon for the mistakes done knowingly, or unknowingly," they said in a letter to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, published on Sunday by Ethiopia's Reporter.

"We are the people who remain from the regime, our actions had the support of the majority of the people who benefitted, while we believed it was also the cause of the civil war that has consumed the life of the people and destroyed property," the letter said.

..."Even though we were the sworn servants of the regime of the emperor to protect it, when the people showed their dissatisfaction against the regime, we decided to side with them, instead of protecting it," it added. (article)
It reads kinda wonky to me. Either the translation isn't that great ... or the original is wonky. Will continue searching for another translation or the full-text.

accomodating traditions?

A gynecologist in Italy has been treating immigrant women from Africa for the long-term side effects of female circumcision (aka female genital mutilation). The tradition is not dying out even among those living in Italy and he wants to save young girls from the ordeal by....
Dr. [Omar] Abdulcadir ... publicly proposed that the hospital where he works let him perform a much less severe version of — or alternative to — female genital cutting.

His goal, he said, was to ease the physical toll of a tradition that was not going away.

"My proposal isn't ideal," he said. "But is there a better answer for how to save the children?"

Health officials in the region of Tuscany are seriously considering that question and have yet to reject his proposal, which he says may prevent immigrants from bringing girls under 10 years old to Africa or to illicit places here for more extreme operations. Opponents have denounced the doctor's proposal, calling it an implicit endorsement of an unacceptable practice.

... That alternative, as he described it, would be a piercing of the tip of the clitoris that would draw just a drop or two of blood and would be largely symbolic. He said he would use a topical anesthetic.

... Several opponents said immigrants who were deeply invested in tradition would probably deem the alternative insufficient, while immigrants who were liberated from that tradition would feel no need for a substitute.
Thanks to Gord for the link.