December 12, 2009
Violence Grips South Sudan as Vote Nears
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
DUK PADIET, Sudan — The word went out on a Friday. Chibetek was coming, with warriors and a grudge to settle.
The whole village sprang into battle mode. Boys grabbed rusty rifles, women ran to the river to hide in the water, old men stood sentry on the village outskirts, training their yellow, rheumy eyes on the vast savannahs and malarial swamps that have kept this region cut off for decades.
And when the warriors did come, the villagers said, there were hundreds of them, maybe thousands, pouring through the chest-high elephant grass with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, dressed in crisp new uniforms that implied a level of military organization never seen before.
“This was no cattle raid,” said Majak Piok, a village elder.
Southern Sudan, one of the least developed and most war-haunted parts of Africa, is at a critical point, gearing up for a vote on independence that is likely to break an already volatile Sudan in two. It is the culmination of decades of civil war and an American-backed peace treaty to end it, but as the long-savored day approaches, many south Sudanese fear another devastating war is on the horizon.
More than 2,000 people have been killed this year in ethnically driven battles like the recent one in Duk Padiet. “Tribal war” is what the villagers here call it, but southern Sudanese leaders and some United Nations diplomats suspect these are not simply local grievances playing out at gunpoint.
Instead, they point to a recent influx of weapons in the area, saying it suggests that northern Sudanese officials are arming various factions — much as they have done before — in a plot to plunge the south into chaos so that the independence referendum, scheduled for 2011, will be delayed or even called off.
The northern politicians, who control the country, ardently deny these accusations, and there is no concrete proof of meddling. But the stability of Sudan, the largest country in Africa at nearly one million square miles, could be at stake.
More than two million people died during the civil war that ended with the 2005 peace agreement, and if a new north-south conflict were to erupt again it could drag in militants from Darfur, the Nuba mountains, eastern Sudan and other corners of the country.
This time, the center might not hold, many analysts say, given how combustible Sudan’s politics have become. The president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, has been indicted for war crimes; the nation is bracing for a contentious election in April; huge supplies of weapons continue to flow in; and militaries in the north and south are on high alert, especially in unresolved border areas.
Already in the south, villages are getting razed, children abducted and thousands of destitute civilians are streaming into refugee camps in scenes reminiscent of the Darfur conflict, which, after years of raging, is comparatively quiet. “This,” said David Gressly, the top United Nations official in southern Sudan, “is the cockpit” of violence.
He swept his hand across a map showing Jonglei State, where Duk Padiet was attacked by a renegade commander named Chibetek. Several other recent massacres have occurred in the area as well.
Cattle rustling and small-scale skirmishes have gone on for ages, Mr. Gressly said, but this year there was an unusual “ease and availability of ammunition.”
The north has a well-documented history of funneling arms to southern Sudan and pitting southerners against each other, typically along ethnic lines. And there are billions of dollars of oil in the south, which the north clearly does not want to lose.
But the Arab-dominated north is also a convenient scapegoat, and northern officials complain of being portrayed as “the bogeyman.”
Since southern Sudan was granted some autonomy in 2005, its leaders have disappointed their people in many ways, with bungled disarmament schemes and staggering corruption. Recently, $200 million earmarked for grain vanished from the south’s Finance Ministry at a time when drought and conflict-related displacement have driven more than one million southerners to the brink of famine.
The land here is unforgiving, and in places looks like a junkyard of war, with burned-out tanks and shot-down jet fighters sinking into the weeds. During the colonial period, the British carved the area into zones of influence for the few European missionaries willing to brave the rampant malaria, typhoid and unyielding heat.
The people here are strikingly different from their countrymen in the Islamic north. Most are animist or Christian, extremely tall — it’s not uncommon to meet seven-foot men — and wedded to a life revolving so closely around cows that people name children after them.
Even before Sudan was granted independence in 1956, southerners were chafing for their own country. War broke out several times, and in the late 1980s, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army emerged as the strongest, multi-ethnic guerrilla force.
But just as the S.P.L.A. was about to capture major cities, the rebels — instigated by northern politicians — violently split. Some of the worst atrocities during the civil war were south-on-south violence, like the so-called Bor Massacre in 1991, when Nuer warriors slaughtered 2,000 Dinka. It was essentially a civil war within a civil war.
Many people here say it is beginning to feel like that now.
In Duk Padiet, the ground is scarred by rings of ash from huts burned down during the attack in September. The people here are Dinka. The well-armed attackers were Nuer.
More than 160 people were killed, including local policemen, women, children, and a Somali trader and Darfurian shopkeeper buried in the same shallow grave because no one knew exactly where they were from.
Nuer leaders do not deny that Nuer warriors killed dozens. But they say the Dinka-led local government was blockading a road into Nuer areas and not allowing the Nuer access to the river.
“The Nuer felt the government was ignoring them,” said Solomon Pur, a Nuer youth leader.
In the past, these rivalries occasionally became violent, with maybe a few warriors killed on each side. But the recent attacks seem more like infantry maneuvers. In one massacre this March, 17 villages were besieged and more than 700 people killed, according to United Nations officials.
Diing Akol Diing, a county commissioner near Duk Padiet, keeps pictures of victims on his computer: Children with bullet holes in their chest. Old women curled up in pools of blood. Emaciated militia fighters in smart new camouflage.
“This is madness,” he says.
He clicks on a photograph of a dozen people wrapped in blankets, buried in a ditch.
“Mass graves?” he says. “We’ve never had mass graves.”
President's wives won't compete for 'first lady' title
Herald News ServicesJanuary 7, 2010
The three wives of South African President Jacob Zuma will not vie for the position of "first lady" because the constitution makes no provision for the title, his office said on Wednesday.
South Africa's media have speculated on which spouse might assume the role after Zuma married for the fifth time on Monday, giving the Zulu traditionalist his third current wife.
"The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (does) not make provision for a first lady or first ladies, and there is no such official designation," the presidency said in a statement.
"The president will be accompanied by any of the spouses to official or public engagements, or all of them at the same time should he so decide. This is his prerogative."
Multiple marriages are allowed in South Africa and form part of Zulu culture but the practice has drawn criticism from HIV/AIDS activists in a country with one of the highest infection rates in the world.
Zuma was previously also married to Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma before their divorce in 1998, while another wife committed suicide in 2000.
Weakened Rebel Group Kills Hundreds of Congolese
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
TAPILI, Congo — Depleted by an American-backed offensive and seemingly desperate for new conscripts, the Lord’s Resistance Army, one of the most infamous armed groups in Africa, has killed hundreds of villagers in this remote corner of Congo and kidnapped hundreds more, marching them off in a vast human chain, witnesses say.
The massacre and abductions are a major setback to the effort to stamp out the remnants of the group, a primarily Ugandan rebel force that fielded thousands of soldiers in the 1980s and ’90s. But in recent years it has degenerated into a band of several hundred predators living deep in the bush in Congo, Sudan and the Central African Republic with child brides and military-grade weaponry.
The United States is providing the Ugandan Army with millions of dollars’ worth of aid — including fuel, trucks, satellite phones, night-vision goggles and contracted air support — to hunt the fighters down.
It is one of the signature programs of Africom, the new American military command for Africa, which is working with the State Department to employ what officials call “the three D’s” — defense, diplomacy and development — to help African nations stabilize themselves.
These efforts appeared to be succeeding, eliminating up to 60 percent of the Lord’s Resistance Army fighters in the past 18 months, American officials said. But that may have been why the fighters tore off on their raid, late last year, to get as many new conscripts as possible, along with medicine, clothes and food.
They also kidnapped nurses from hospitals, witnesses said, and stripped blood-splattered clothes off corpses for themselves, a sign they are increasingly desperate.
Human Rights Watch, which sent a team to investigate the killings in February, said the L.R.A. killed at least 320 people in this area, calling the massacre one of the worst in the group’s 23-year, atrocity-filled history.
Senegal calls for new 'United States of Africa'
April 4, 2010
Crowds gather in Dakar on Saturday to unveil a controversial statue marking Senegal's 50th anniversary of independence from France.
Photograph by: Seyllou, AFP-Getty Images,
Agence France-PresseSenegal's African Renaissance statue was unveiled Saturday, with leaders from across the continent calling for unity and the realization of a United States of Africa.
In an address to a large crowd and 19 African leaders, President Abdoulaye Wade, 84, called for the continent to unite as the $20-million bronze statue, built in North Korea was unveiled.
"The time to take off has arrived," he said of the 53-state continent, which is courted for the rich minerals beneath its soil and its market of over one billion inhabitants.
While African leaders lauded the statue as a symbol for black people around the world, thousands of opponents protested it as a wasteful extravagance in a country where half the population lives in poverty.
The statue highlights Senegal's 50 years of independence from France on April 4, 1960.
Wade said "only a political integration of the United States of Africa will shelter us from potentially fatal marginalization" on the world's poorest continent, which holds rich economic potential.
"The slave traders have left, the last colonialist has left. We have no more excuses. We must seize this opportunity so that history does not repeat itself," Wade said.
Wade also announced his country was taking back military bases held by France effective immediately.
April 8, 2010
Postcard From Zimbabwe
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Here’s a measure of how President Robert Mugabe is destroying this once lush nation of Zimbabwe:
In a week of surreptitious reporting here (committing journalism can be a criminal offense in Zimbabwe), ordinary people said time and again that life had been better under the old, racist, white regime of what was then called Rhodesia.
“When the country changed from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, we were very excited,” one man, Kizita, told me in a village of mud-walled huts near this town in western Zimbabwe. “But we didn’t realize the ones we chased away were better and the ones we put in power would oppress us.”
“It would have been better if whites had continued to rule because the money would have continued to come,” added a neighbor, a 58-year-old farmer named Isaac. “It was better under Rhodesia. Then we could get jobs. Things were cheaper in stores. Now we have no money, no food.”
Over and over, I cringed as I heard Africans wax nostalgic about a nasty, oppressive regime run by a tiny white elite. Black Zimbabweans responded that at least that regime was more competent than today’s nasty, oppressive regime run by the tiny black elite that surrounds Mr. Mugabe.
A Times colleague, Barry Bearak, was jailed here in 2008 for reporting, so I used a fresh passport to enter the country as a tourist. Partly for my own safety, I avoided interviewing people with ties to the government, so I can’t be sure that my glimpse of the public mood was representative.
People I talked to were terrified for their personal safety if quoted — much more scared than in the past. That’s why I’m being vague about locations and agreed to omit full names.
But what is clear is that Zimbabwe has come very far downhill over the last few decades (although it has risen a bit since its trough two years ago). An impressive health and education system is in tatters, and life expectancy has tumbled from about 60 years in 1990 to somewhere between 36 and 44, depending on which statistics you believe.
Western countries have made the mistake of focusing their denunciations on the seizures of white farms by Mr. Mugabe’s cronies. That’s tribalism by whites; by far the greatest suffering has been endured by Zimbabwe’s blacks.
In Kizita’s village, for example, I met a 29-year-old woman, seven months pregnant, who had malaria. She and her husband had walked more than four miles to the nearest clinic, where she tested positive for malaria. But the clinic refused to give her some life-saving antimalaria medicine unless she paid $2 — and she had no money at all in her house. So, dizzy and feverish, she stumbled home for another four miles, empty-handed.
As it happened, the clinic that turned her down was one that I had already visited. Nurses there had complained that they were desperately short of bandages, antibiotics and beds. They said that to survive, they impose fees for seeing patients, for family planning, for safe childbirth — and the upshot is that impoverished villagers die because they can’t pay.
I also spent time at an elementary school where the number of students had dropped sharply because so few parents today can afford $36 in annual school fees.
“We don’t have desks. We don’t have chairs. We don’t have books,” explained the principal, who was terrified of being named. The school also lacks electricity and water, and the first grade doesn’t have a classroom and meets under a tree.
This particular school had been founded by Rhodesians more than 70 years ago, and the principal mused that it must have served black pupils far better in Rhodesian days than today.
At another school 100 miles away, the deputy headmaster lamented that students can’t even afford pens. “One child has to finish his work, and then he lends his pen to another child,” he explained.
Zimbabwe is one of my favorite countries, blessed with friendly people, extraordinary wildlife and little crime. I took my family along with me on this trip (my kids accuse me of using them as camouflage), and they found the scenery, people and wild animals quite magical.
At a couple of villages we visited, farmers were driving away elephants that were trampling their crops — and they were blaming Mr. Mugabe for the elephants. That struck even me as unfair.
The tragedy that has unfolded here can be reversed if Mr. Mugabe is obliged by international pressure, particularly from South Africa, to hold free elections. Worldwide pressure forced the oppressive Rhodesian regime to give up power three decades ago. Now we need similar pressure, from African countries as well as Western powers, to pry Mr. Mugabe’s fingers from his chokehold on a lovely country.
I invite you to visit my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
April 18, 2010
Op-Ed Guest Columnist
I SPENT March with a delegation of activists, entrepreneurs and policy wonks roaming western, southern and eastern Africa trying very hard to listen — always hard for a big-mouthed Irishman. With duct tape over my gob, I was able to pick up some interesting melody lines everywhere from palace to pavement ...
Despite the almost deafening roar of excitement about Africa’s hosting of soccer’s World Cup this summer, we managed to hear a surprising thing. Harmony ... flowing from two sides that in the past have often been discordant: Africa’s emerging entrepreneurial class and its civil-society activists.
It’s no secret that lefty campaigners can be cranky about business elites. And the suspicion is mutual. Worldwide. Civil society as a rule sees business as, well, a little uncivil. Business tends to see activists as, well, a little too active. But in Africa, at least from what I’ve just seen, this is starting to change. The energy of these opposing forces coming together is filling offices, boardrooms and bars. The reason is that both these groups — the private sector and civil society — see poor governance as the biggest obstacle they face. So they are working together on redefining the rules of the African game.
Entrepreneurs know that even a good relationship with a bad government stymies foreign investment; civil society knows a resource-rich country can have more rather than fewer problems, unless corruption is tackled.
This joining of forces is being driven by some luminous personalities, few of whom are known in America; all of whom ought to be. Let me introduce you to a few of the catalysts:
John Githongo, Kenya’s famous whistleblower, has had to leave his country in a hurry a couple of times; he was hired by his government to clean things up and then did his job too well. He’s now started a group called Inuka, teaming up the urban poor with business leaders, creating inter-ethnic community alliances to fight poverty and keep watch on dodgy local governments. He is the kind of leader who gives many Kenyans hope for the future, despite the shakiness of their coalition government.
Sharing a table with Githongo and me one night in Nairobi was DJ Rowbow, a Mike Tyson doppelgänger. His station, Ghetto Radio, was a voice of reason when the volcano of ethnic tension was exploding in Kenya in 2008. While some were encouraging the people of Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa, to go on the rampage, this scary-looking man decoded the disinformation and played peacemaker/interlocutor. On the station’s playlist is Bob Marley and a kind of fizzy homespun reggae music that’s part the Clash, part Marvin Gaye. The only untruthful thing he said all evening was that he liked U2. For my part, I might have overplayed the Jay-Z and Beyoncé card. “They are friends of mine,” I explained to him, eh, a lot.
Now this might be what you expect me to say, but I’m telling you, it was a musician in Senegal who best exemplified the new rules. Youssou N’Dour — maybe the greatest singer on earth — owns a newspaper and is in the middle of a complicated deal to buy a TV station. You sense his strategy and his steel. He is creating the soundtrack for change, and he knows just how to use his voice. (I tried to imagine what it would be like if I owned The New York Times as well as, say, NBC. Someday, someday...)
In Maputo, Mozambique, I met with Activa, a women’s group that, among other things, helps entrepreneurs get seed capital. Private and public sectors mixed easily here, under the leadership of Luisa Diogo, the country’s former prime minister, who is now the matriarch in this mesmerizing stretch of eastern Africa. Famous for her Star Wars hairdo and political nous, she has the lioness energy of an Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala or a Graça Machel.
When I met with Ms. Diogo and her group, the less famous but equally voluble women in the room complained about excessive interest rates on their microfinance loans and the lack of what they called “regional economic integration.” For them, infrastructure remains the big (if unsexy) issue. “Roads, we need roads,” one entrepreneur said by way of a solution to most of the obstacles in her path. Today, she added, “we women, we are the roads.” I had never thought of it that way but because women do most of the farming, they’re the ones who carry produce to market, collect the water and bring the sick to the clinics.
The true star of the trip was a human hurricane: Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese entrepreneur who made a fortune in mobile phones.
I fantasized about being the boy wonder to his Batman, but as we toured the continent together I quickly realized I was Alfred, Batman’s butler. Everywhere we went, I was elbowed out of the way by young and old who wanted to get close to the rock star reformer and his beautiful, frighteningly smart daughter, Hadeel, who runs Mo’s foundation and is a chip off the old block (in an Alexander McQueen dress). Mo’s speeches are standing-room-only because even when he is sitting down, he’s a standing-up kind of person. In a packed hall in the University of Ghana, he was a prizefighter, removing his tie and jacket like a cape, punching young minds into the future.
His brainchild, the Ibrahim Prize, is a very generous endowment for African leaders who serve their people well and then — and this is crucial — leave office when they are supposed to. Mo has diagnosed a condition he calls “third-termitis,” where presidents, fearing an impoverished superannuation, feather their nests on the way out the door. So Mo has prescribed a soft landing for great leaders. Not getting the prize is as big a story as getting it. (He doesn’t stop at individuals. The Ibrahim Index ranks countries by quality of governance.)
Mo smokes a pipe and refers to everyone as “guys” — as in, “Listen, guys, if these problems are of our own making, the solutions will have to be, too.” Or, in my direction, “Guys, if you haven’t noticed ... you are not African.” Oh, yeah. And: “Guys, you Americans are lazy investors. There’s so much growth here but you want to float in the shallow water of the Dow Jones or Nasdaq.”
Mr. Ibrahim is as searing about corruption north of the Equator as he is about corruption south of it, and the corruption that crosses over ... illicit capital flight, unfair mining contracts, the aid bureaucracy.
So I was listening. Good for me. But did I actually learn anything?
OVER long days and nights, I asked Africans about the course of international activism. Should we just pack it up and go home, I asked? There were a few nods. But many more noes. Because most Africans we met seemed to feel the pressing need for new kinds of partnerships, not just among governments, but among citizens, businesses, the rest of us. I sense the end of the usual donor-recipient relationship.
Aid, it’s clear, is still part of the picture. It’s crucial, if you have H.I.V. and are fighting for your life, or if you are a mother wondering why you can’t protect your child against killers with unpronounceable names or if you are a farmer who knows that new seed varietals will mean you have produce that you can take to market in drought or flood. But not the old, dumb, only-game-in-town aid — smart aid that aims to put itself out of business in a generation or two. “Make aid history” is the objective. It always was. Because when we end aid, it’ll mean that extreme poverty is history. But until that glorious day, smart aid can be a reforming tool, demanding accountability and transparency, rewarding measurable results, reinforcing the rule of law, but never imagining for a second that it’s a substitute for trade, investment or self-determination.
I for one want to live to see Mo Ibrahim’s throw-down prediction about Ghana come true. “Yes, guys,” he said, “Ghana needs support in the coming years, but in the not-too-distant future it can be giving aid, not receiving it; and you, Mr. Bono, can just go there on your holidays.”
I’m booking that ticket.
In South Africa, with Madiba, the great Nelson Mandela — the person who, along with Desmond Tutu and the Edge, I consider to be my boss — I raised the question of regional integration through the African Development Bank, and the need for real investment in infrastructure ... all the buzzwords. As Madiba smiled, I made a note to try not to talk about this stuff down at the pub — or in front of the band.
“And you, are you not going to the World Cup?” the great man chided me, changing the subject, having seen this wide-eyed zealotry before. “You are getting old and you are going to miss a great coming-out party for Africa.” The man who felt free before he was is still the greatest example of what real leadership can accomplish against the odds.
My family and I headed home ... just in time, I was getting carried away. I was going native, aroused by the thought of railroads and cement mixers, of a different kind of World Cup fever, of opposing players joining the same team, a new formation, new tactics. For those of us in the fan club, I came away amazed (as I always am) by the diversity of the continent ... but with a deep sense that the people of Africa are writing up some new rules for the game.
Bono, the lead singer of the band U2 and a co-founder of the advocacy group ONE and (Product)RED, is a contributing columnist for The Times.
May 14, 2010
In South Africa, an Unlikely Leader on AIDS
By CELIA W. DUGGER
CAPE TOWN — In a nation ravaged by AIDS, a disease still hidden in shadows of stigma and shame, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa has begun to engage in an extraordinarily open conversation about sex, AIDS and H.I.V. prevention, one ignited in part by his own recent admission that he had unprotected sex during an extramarital affair.
Last month, as he announced a vast expansion of H.I.V. testing and AIDS services, he publicly took an H.I.V. test and disclosed that he had tested negative for the virus. Then in a frank interview on Thursday, Mr. Zuma said that he had been circumcised and had encouraged his sons to undergo the procedure, which can reduce a man’s risk of contracting H.I.V. by more than half.
As an influential leader and a Zulu, South Africa’s largest ethnic group and one that had abandoned circumcision in the 19th century, Mr. Zuma could encourage other men to be circumcised through his personal endorsement of the procedure, scientists and public health officials say.
Despite being the center of the epidemic — with 5.7 million H.I.V.-positive people, more than any other country — South Africa had lagged behind some other African nations in promoting circumcision and making it available to the public, steps that experts say could help reduce the spread of new infections in the long run.
South Africa now plans to circumcise millions of men in the coming years and started its drive last month in the Zulu heartland, where infection rates are highest. The burden of the disease has strained the public health system here and led to falling life expectancies and ballooning costs for treatment, prompting health officials to act more aggressively to reduce the pace of new H.I.V. infections.
“It has been my style that I don’t hide things,” Mr. Zuma said, adding that he had been circumcised “some time ago” but hoped, by going public about it, to encourage other men to follow his lead. “I thought it was important because that could help quite a few other people who, if I did not do it, they would be hesitant and not knowing what to do.”
During a 45-minute interview on Thursday, Mr. Zuma, who has three wives and a fiancée, talked about his personal relationships with startling directness and laid out his belief that a polygamous marriage in which H.I.V. is openly discussed is safer than a monogamous union in which a man has hidden mistresses.
His comments seemed intended to counter critics who argue that Mr. Zuma’s own behavior has undermined the government’s push for safe sex. Helen Zille, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, wrote this month about Mr. Zuma’s latest affair: “He has now sent out the message that risky sexual behavior can be consequence-free. Many impressionable young people will rationalize: if the president can get away with it, why can’t I?”
The debate about Mr. Zuma’s affair — and his own increasingly open comments about H.I.V. prevention — has brought the subject into the open to an unusual degree. When Nelson Mandela was president, he rarely spoke about AIDS. His successor, Thabo Mbeki, who once famously said he never knew anyone who had AIDS and questioned whether H.I.V. caused it, is now generally seen as having impeded South Africa’s fight against the disease.
“Everyone said we need a leader who can set an example,” said Jonny Steinberg, author of “Sizwe’s Test,” which showed the deep stigma still associated with AIDS in rural South Africa. “It just so happens we’ve thrown up a leader who makes a negative example, but it’s good enough. It’s started a conversation among ordinary people.”
Mr. Zuma’s personal choices have long transfixed the nation. Well before winning the presidency, he was charged with raping the H.I.V.-positive daughter of a family friend. He was acquitted in 2006, but AIDS activists were furious that Mr. Zuma had said he tried to minimize his risk of contracting H.I.V. by showering after sex.
In office for a year, Mr. Zuma is now leading a national effort to test broad segments of the population and extend AIDS treatment to every corner of the country. United Nations officials have called it the largest and fastest increase in AIDS services ever attempted.
But Mr. Zuma’s reputation took another hard knock when news broke in February of what the South African news media dubbed his “love child” from the extramarital affair. TNS Research Surveys, a market research company, conducts surveys among urban residents of South Africa and tracks the job approval ratings of South African presidents. In its last poll, conducted during the week Mr. Zuma’s affair became public, his approval rating fell to 43 percent, down from 58 percent in November 2009.
Mr. Zuma said that many of his critics had wrongly assumed he had carelessly risked H.I.V. infection in his recently revealed extramarital relationship. He said he had told his own children that couples must openly discuss their H.I.V. status to make informed choices.
“That’s why, after the child was born, I tested negative,” he said. “And by the way, I did say it was my fourth time to test, which indicates I’ve been very careful.” He added, “Nobody’s ever asked me that. Everyone jumped to conclusions.”
While some scientists and advocates have criticized South Africa for being slow in adopting circumcision to prevent H.I.V., Mr. Zuma said that he and the premier of KwaZulu-Natal Province had approached the Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini, on the issue because they felt he should take the lead.
The king issued a call to restore the tradition of circumcision — though performed medically, rather than by traditional practitioners — in December. Mr. Zuma explained that since it was King Shaka who had stopped circumcisions many years ago, “It could only be another king who says, ‘I’m now opening it.’ ”
As with his disclosure that he was H.I.V.- negative, Mr. Zuma’s latest comments are likely to be greeted by commentators, scientists and advocates here with a mixture of praise and skepticism. But there is little doubt that the poor villages of KwaZulu-Natal are paying attention to him.
People in Sorave, whose clinic had just gotten a nurse qualified to prescribe AIDS drugs, offered a nuanced view of the president’s record.
Makhosi Nyawo, 36, who carried her baby boy on her shoulder and has taken three H.I.V. tests, heard the president speaking on the radio on World AIDS Day, encouraging everyone to take an H.I.V. test. “I see that helping us a lot because we are staying home sick without knowing what we’ve got,” she said.
Still, she did not approve of his behavior. “It’s not acceptable for him to have a child outside of marriage,” she said. “He is our role model. But if he’s been with a woman outside marriage, he could get infected. It’s not safe.”
May 14, 2010
Visiting Africa’s Eden
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
The moment I fell in love with Gabon was when my companions and I walked along the beach at sunset: an endless strip of white sand with no one in sight as far as the eye could see in any direction. Then we spotted movement, and we realized we were sharing the beach after all.
With three elephants.
The elephants had an animated conversation among themselves, presumably about the rare sighting of human beings, then ambled off into the rain forest to tell their friends.
This is my annual win-a-trip journey, in which I take a university student with me on a reporting trip to Africa. The winner this year is Mitch Smith, a University of Nebraska student who had never been outside the United States before. (He is writing about his trip on my blog, nytimes.com/ontheground).
Readers have sometimes complained that my win-a-trip journeys focus on the wretchedness of the developing world — warlords, malnourished children, maternal mortality. Frankly, I’ve always thought these critics had a point. So Mitch and I are starting this trip by covering an African triumph: Gabon’s bold steps to preserve its natural heritage.
Gabon has plenty of problems, including corruption and misspent oil revenues, but it is also covered by dense, uninhabited forest teeming with wildlife. In 2002, the government set aside more than one-tenth of the country for national parks — in one step, making Gabon a leader in wildlife conservation.
“Gabon is definitely a special place,” said Sebastiaan Verhage, an official here with the World Wildlife Fund, which is helping Gabon preserve its parks. “Where else do you see elephants roaming on the beach, buffalo on the beach, hippos in the surf, humpback whales mating just off the coast, the most important leatherback turtle nesting site in the world, one of the few last refuges for lowland gorillas? Its name of ‘the last Eden,’ ‘the last paradise on earth’ — that’s not too far-fetched.”
The head of the national parks is Lee White, a conservation specialist of Scottish origin. And the technical director is an American, Michael Fay, who famously walked across Gabon in 2000.
President Ali Ben Bongo, who took over last year from his late father, seems enthusiastic about developing a “Green Gabon.” He told me he would like to deepen the environmental protections and build up infrastructure so that Gabon can become an eco-tourism destination.
For now, that’s a problem. Gabon set aside the parks partly in hopes of diversifying its economy (it is dependent on oil, which is slowly running out) and becoming an African version of Costa Rica, bringing in revenue from tourism. But so far the economic bet isn’t paying off.
Very few foreign tourists are coming, because of the distance and the lack of modern hotels. Mitch and I ate lunch at one of the restaurants aiming for tourists, and afterward saw the staff cleaning our plates in the lagoon.
What’s more, thick forest isn’t great terrain to spot wildlife. On one walk along an elephant trail, Mitch and I smelled elephants all around us but never actually spotted them. (Elephants here normally are curious but shy — unless they’ve been nibbling on a root prized among local humans for its hallucinogenic properties, in which case be sure to accord them right of way).
Still, following elephant footprints through an untouched forest is magical. Here in the rain forest, humans seem less the masters of the ecosystem than components of it, along with others. Like gorillas.
I ran into Chloe Cipolletta, a gorilla expert I had met in the Central African Republic in 2006 on my first win-a-trip journey. Ms. Cipolletta was advising on a plan to bring tourists to visit gorillas in Gabon, and she mentioned offhand that some primates self-medicate herbally.
Development experts have been raving in recent years about the health benefits of deworming people in poor countries — but gorillas are way ahead of us. There is a furry forest plant that gorillas occasionally eat, despite evident distaste, making faces and spitting bits of it out. So why do they eat it? Ms. Cipolletta said the plant turns out to be a natural medication that kills intestinal parasites, and the gorillas are deworming themselves.
One sobering truth is that the people who gush about gorillas or elephants usually are Americans and Europeans. For local people, many of them very poor despite the country’s oil wealth, conservation can be an inconvenience. While visiting Loango, we encountered an outspoken young village chief, Evelyne Kinga, who protested that she’d rather elephants were dead than eating her cassava plants.
“The parks are for foreigners, or for rich Gabonese,” she said. “They’re not for ordinary people like me.”
That’s a real tension, and I don’t know whether Gabon can pull this off and monetize its spectacular forest the way it could monetize timber. But for the world’s sake, I’m hoping that it will.
By Mansoor Ladha, For The Calgary HeraldJune 10, 2010
On Friday and for the next month, all eyes will be on South Africa when it hosts the FIFA World Cup of Soccer -- the first African country ever to host the game. It's a distinction that South Africans of all races should be proud of.
South Africa, the apartheid capital where racism and discrimination was supreme, went through several reforms under President Frederik de Klerk until 1994 Nelson Mandela won the first multiracial elections.
On Friday, South Africa will be ready to receive the world, after polishing its image. Johannesburg, formerly called the "murder capital of the world," has cleaned up its tough neighbourhoods, filling them up with art galleries, boutiques, hotels and cafes in readiness for 350,000 tourists.
When the World Cup is over, soccer fans will hopefully go home carrying good impressions of the country and how well the hospitable locals ran the biggest sporting event in the continent's history. Each foreign visitor will post-mortem their visit to South Africa and give that country a progress report of how it did. This century is also supposed to be Africa's century when the continent is undergoing massive transformation in growth and development.
Although most African nations still have their popular image of being corrupt, poor and facing hunger, when you look beyond these stereotypes, you will find that Africa has great potential in human talents, natural resources and new technologies. For the first time, many African countries are becoming attractive to investors rather than to aid donors. A decade ago, Africa received less than $5 billion (US) in foreign investment annually while by 2008, it attracted $40 billion (US) in foreign investment.
The Internet and cell-phones have opened new horizons for African farmers and rural residents. African farmers can now learn about their crops and market situations through the Internet while rural residents can do their banking through the Internet. Africa is on the move with a fast-growing population and a mortality rate that is slowing, creating a vast consuming population.
The main thing in the African equation that needs to remain stable is the political factor. If only Africa's political leaders could be less corrupt, then their countries would have nothing to fear. I get emotional when I look back to my former homeland, Tanzania, where President Julius Nyerere nearly ruined the country by experimenting with his own form of socialism, The Arusha Declaration, until it took two of his successors to overturn these disastrous policies back to capitalism and free enterprise.
Today, with good governance, Tanzanians have shown the rest of the world what progress they can achieve when they have a stable government. Tanzania's political stability, sound macro-economic management, and considerable resources all contribute to Tanzania's great potential for sustained growth. The country's economy is driven by tourism and mining, thus making it among the foremost economies among the East African nations.
Of course, there are still many problems in Africa including in once-stable neighbouring Kenya and, of course, Zimbabwe, run by Robert Mugabe.
A major event to take place this month in Canada will be the G8/G20 gathering when Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be hosting the world in Toronto. To Harper's credit, he has invited Ethiopia and Malawi to the G20 meeting. Canada, which has decreased its presence in Africa by closing its embassies in many African countries, should reconsider its decision of shifting foreign aid from Africa to Latin America and the Caribbean. Canadian firms should also explore investment opportunities in Africa. China and India are already in the forefront courting African markets, followed by Russia, Brazil and Saudi Arabia.
Africa will likely always have areas of conflict and some of these countries will have dictators, but the number of conflict areas is decreasing. The number of conflict zones in Africa has decreased to half of what it was 15 years ago. Canada and other western G20 nations should reinforce their relations with Africa so as to beef up security against terrorism on the continent. It will be in their interest to do so. Lots of industrialized countries are Africa-bound today and see a lot of potential there. It would be a pity if Canada didn't keep its eye on the ball and profit from the economic game that is growing in Africa.
Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary freelance journalist and author. He has worked in newspapers in Kenya and Tanzania.
June 11, 2010
To Save Africa, Reject Its Nations
By PIERRE ENGLEBERT
THE World Cup, which began on Friday, is bringing deserved appreciation of South Africa as a nation that transitioned from white minority domination to a vibrant pluralist democracy. Yet its achievements stand largely alone on the continent. Of the 17 African nations that are commemorating their 50th anniversaries of independence this year — the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia will both do so in the coming weeks — few have anything to truly celebrate.
Five decades ago, African independence was worth rejoicing over: these newly created states signaled an end to the violent, humiliating Western domination of the continent, and they were quickly recognized by the international community. Sovereignty gave fledgling elites the shield to protect their weak states against continued colonial subjugation and the policy instruments to promote economic development.
Yet because these countries were recognized by the international community before they even really existed, because the gift of sovereignty was granted from outside rather than earned from within, it came without the benefit of popular accountability, or even a social contract between rulers and citizens.
Buttressed by the legality and impunity that international sovereignty conferred upon their actions, too many of Africa’s politicians and officials twisted the normal activities of a state beyond recognition, transforming mundane tasks like policing, lawmaking and taxation into weapons of extortion.
So, for the past five decades, most Africans have suffered predation of colonial proportions by the very states that were supposed to bring them freedom. And most of these nations, broke from their own thievery, are now unable to provide their citizens with basic services like security, roads, hospitals and schools. What can be done?
The first and most urgent task is that the donor countries that keep these nations afloat should cease sheltering African elites from accountability. To do so, the international community must move swiftly to derecognize the worst-performing African states, forcing their rulers — for the very first time in their checkered histories — to search for support and legitimacy at home.
Radical as this idea may sound, it is not without precedent. Undemocratic Taiwan was derecognized by most of the world in the 1970s (as the corollary of recognizing Beijing). This loss of recognition led the ruling Kuomintang party to adopt new policies in search of domestic support. The regime liberalized the economy, legalized opposition groups, abolished martial law, organized elections and even issued an apology to the Taiwanese people for past misrule, eventually turning the country into a fast-growing, vibrant democracy.
In Africa, similarly, the unrecognized, breakaway state of Somaliland provides its citizens with relative peace and democracy, offering a striking counterpoint to the violence and misery of neighboring sovereign Somalia. It was in part the absence of recognition that forced the leaders of the Somali National Movement in the early ’90s to strike a bargain with local clan elders and create legitimate participatory institutions in Somaliland.
What does this mean in practice? Donor governments would tell the rulers of places like Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea or Sudan — all nightmares to much of their populations — that they no longer recognize them as sovereign states. Instead, they would agree to recognize only African states that provide their citizens with a minimum of safety and basic rights.
The logistics of derecognition would no doubt be complicated. Embassies would be withdrawn on both sides. These states would be expelled from the United Nations and other international organizations. All macroeconomic, budget-supporting and post-conflict reconstruction aid programs would be canceled. (Nongovernmental groups and local charities would continue to receive money.)
If this were to happen, relatively benevolent states like South Africa and a handful of others would go on as before. But in the continent’s most troubled countries, politicians would suddenly lose the legal foundations of their authority. Some of these repressive leaders, deprived of their sovereign tools of domination and the international aid that underwrites their regimes, might soon find themselves overthrown.
African states that begin to provide their citizens with basic rights and services, that curb violence and that once again commit resources to development projects, would be rewarded with re-recognition by the international community. Aid would return. More important, these states would finally have acquired some degree of popular accountability and domestic legitimacy.
Like any experiment, de- and re-recognition is risky. Some fear it could promote conflict, that warlords would simply seize certain mineral-rich areas and run violent, lawless quasi states. But Africa is already rife with violence, and warlordism is already a widespread phenomenon. While unrecognized countries might still mistreat their people, history shows that weak, isolated regimes have rarely been able to survive without making significant concessions to segments of their populations.
For many Africans, 50 years of sovereignty has been an abject failure, reproducing the horrors of colonial-era domination under the guise of freedom. International derecognition of abusive states would be a first step toward real liberation.
Pierre Englebert, a professor of African politics at Pomona College, is the author, most recently, of “Africa: Unity, Sovereignty and Sorrow.”
June 13, 2010
Children Carry Guns for a U.S. Ally, Somalia
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
MOGADISHU, Somalia — Awil Salah Osman prowls the streets of this shattered city, looking like so many other boys, with ripped-up clothes, thin limbs and eyes eager for attention and affection.
But Awil is different in two notable ways: he is shouldering a fully automatic, fully loaded Kalashnikov assault rifle; and he is working for a military that is substantially armed and financed by the United States.
“You!” he shouts at a driver trying to sneak past his checkpoint, his cherubic face turning violently angry.
“You know what I’m doing here!” He shakes his gun menacingly. “Stop your car!”
The driver halts immediately. In Somalia, lives are lost quickly, and few want to take their chances with a moody 12-year-old.
It is well known that Somalia’s radical Islamist insurgents are plucking children off soccer fields and turning them into fighters. But Awil is not a rebel. He is working for Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, a critical piece of the American counterterrorism strategy in the Horn of Africa.
According to Somali human rights groups and United Nations officials, the Somali government, which relies on assistance from the West to survive, is fielding hundreds of children or more on the front lines, some as young as 9.
June 17, 2010
Freedom’s Blaring Horn
By ROGER COHEN
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA — When assessing nations, there are statistics and then there are the intangibles. Inflation and unemployment don’t tell you much about patriotism, optimism and the sense of shared identity that make or break societies. South Africa is a case in point.
I spent part of my childhood in a South Africa that marked my imagination because it combined light and shadow as no other place: a succession of sunlit afternoons in gardens of avocado trees and jacaranda punctuated — as you drove from one barbecue (“braai”) to the next — by glimpses of ragged blacks being herded into police vans.
“I supposed they don’t have their passes,” some relative would mutter and the mind of a London-born child of South African parents would wrestle with what that meant. Gradually the white supremacist apartheid system came into focus.
It was about denial — of skills to blacks, of mobility to blacks, of a living wage to blacks, of the very humanity of blacks. In the mind of the Afrikaner, with its Biblical justifications for oppression masquerading as separateness, the black majority was good only to be “hewers of wood and drawers of water” — if that.
This South Africa of my youth saw the world as “anti-T.W.O.L.” — a silly acronym for a so-called traditional way of life. Among these “traditions” was branding inter-racial sex a crime. Cataclysm always loomed. The imagined bloody end of an unsustainable system was not the subject of small talk but a lurking specter.
And here we are, two decades after Nelson Mandela walked out of captivity, in a South Africa hosting the most-watched sporting event on earth, the World Cup, and doing so in a spirit of unity that has blacks and whites alike draped in flags, blaring on the plastic horns known as vuvuzelas, and rooting for the “Bafana Bafana” — the boys.
The team is mediocre. South Africa will probably become the first host nation ever to fail to qualify for the second round. That would be sad but in the end immaterial. This particular World Cup is political. It is an affirmation of a nation’s miraculous (if incomplete) healing, of African dignity, and of a continent that deserves better than those tired images of violence and disease.
“The country is going to the dogs,” — I still hear it as I heard it long ago in different guise. What did I say about statistics? There are plenty of them.
This is still a country where only 60 percent of dwellings have flush toilets, where an estimated 6 million people are H.I.V. positive, and where unemployment runs at 25 percent. High walls — and 300,000 private security guards — testify to high murder rates.
To all of which I say: People have unrealistic expectations. They want to fast-forward life as if it were a gadget. You don’t erase the effects of a half-century of apartheid in a generation. “Non-racialism” — President Jacob Zuma’s commitment — is not the state in which South Africa lives, any more than the United States does.
Still, what I see is grandeur: a country of 49 million people, 38.7 million of them black, 4.5 million of them white, the rest mixed-race or Asian, that has held together and shunned Zimbabwean unraveling or Congolese implosion. Do not underestimate the South African achievement.
I sat this week in a packed stadium in the capital, Pretoria, as a vuvuzela crescendo greeted the Bafana and a white woman led 11 black kids — team mascots — onto the pitch. The horns fell silent for the Uruguayan national anthem. When South Africa lost 0-3, the response was dignified, peaceful: the intangibles of nationhood.
Let’s talk vuvuzela for a moment. Players have complained. Facebook pages are dedicated to banning it. Ear plugs are selling briskly among European fans. Intolerable horns!
I have news for the discomfited: This is actually Africa. The horn sounds to summon. From the kudu horn made from the spiral-horned antler to the plastic horn is not such a great distance.
The vuvuzela carries powerful symbolism. Rugby, the traditional sporting stronghold of the white Afrikaner, has shunned it. Soccer, dominated by blacks, has embraced it. Yet today Afrikaners flock into black Soweto to watch rugby and whites and blacks both carry their vuvuzelas into World Cup games.
I’m sorry, French players will have to suffer their headaches: these are not minor political miracles. As one comic here tweeted: “After one weekend Europe wants to ban the vuvuzela — if only they’d acted this fast when banning slavery!”
The other day I was talking to a distant relative, an economist named Andrew Levy. He said: “I don’t fear for my life, and that’s the miracle of South Africa. I say hello to a black in the street and he’ll say hello to me in a friendly way. I know I might get killed in the course of a robbery, not because I’m white, not because they hate me, but because there’s poverty. I’m a patriot in the end. I love this country’s beauty. And when I see the unity and good will the World Cup has created, I believe we can succeed.”
June 21, 2010
Diamond Find Could Aid Zimbabwe, and Mugabe
By CELIA W. DUGGER
JOHANNESBURG — New mining in Zimbabwe has quickly yielded millions of carats of diamonds and could help catapult the nation into the ranks of the world’s top diamond producers, according to the head of a group of experts for the United Nations-backed effort to stop the trade in conflict diamonds.
But the new wealth has provoked fears that the riches will be used to subvert attempts to bring democracy to a country that has long suffered under authoritarian rule, and also to finance conflicts.
“This is a world-class deposit, no doubt about it,” said the expert, Mark Van Bockstael. He described the concentrations of diamonds in the Marange fields in eastern Zimbabwe as among the highest in the world: “The deposit is a freak of nature.”
Other experts agree it is an important find, while awaiting more data to gauge its full magnitude. But the steady accumulation of stones has already emboldened President Robert Mugabe, 86, to consolidate control over the Marange fields to prolong his 30-year grip on power, members of his inner circle said.
Though Mr. Mugabe now officially governs under a tenuous power-sharing agreement with his longstanding rivals, the diamond fields are overseen by a ministry run by his party, ZANU-PF, and guarded by an army that reports to him and gives him and his allies lopsided control over a desperately needed economic boon.
“This is ZANU-PF’s salvation,” said one of Mr. Mugabe’s closest confidants, on the condition of anonymity because his conversations with the president were supposed to be confidential. Diamonds are being sold on the black market for partisan and personal gain, he said, with some party leaders gaining and others being cut out: “The looting has intensified over the past six months.”
Whether Zimbabwe will be able to sell the Marange diamonds on international markets as vetted stones that do not finance conflict faces a pivotal test this week. At a meeting that began Monday in Tel Aviv, the Kimberley Process — an effort by governments, the diamond industry and advocacy groups to stem the illicit diamond trade that has fueled wars in Angola, Sierra Leone and Congo — will consider whether the Marange diamonds should be cleared for export. More than 70 countries have committed to not trading with nations that do not meet the effort’s standards.
Investigators for both the Kimberley Process and human rights groups have gathered what they call credible accounts that the military used extreme violence in its 2008 operation to seize the Marange fields, employing dogs, AK-47s and even strafing from helicopters to attack miners engaged in a diamond rush. Officers then set up their own smuggling syndicates, the groups said.
“Nobody imagined that governments would be shooting their own people to get a grip on the diamonds,” said Ian Smillie, an architect of the Kimberley Process.
Shallowly deposited by a river system, the stones are found in an area of about 265 square miles. Of that, about 46 square miles are thought to have diamond potential.
Mr. Van Bockstael estimated that only 5 percent of the stones found were of gem quality, while about 90 percent were of low quality, useful only for industrial purposes. They look like pebbles or chips of broken beer bottles, tinted black, brown or green.
“If you found one on the street, you probably wouldn’t even pick it up,” he said.
Late last year, two companies in joint ventures with the state-owned mining company began mining Marange concessions and had already amassed 4.4 million carats of diamonds by May.
Mr. Van Bockstael, a geologist, says he is waiting for Zimbabwe’s promised geological report on the fields. But from interviews with officials and other data, he says they could yield $1 billion to $1.7 billion a year, earnings that would put Zimbabwe in the world’s top half-dozen diamond producers.
Those are huge sums for a country whose gross domestic product was only $4.4 billion in 2009, according to the International Monetary Fund. Zimbabwe sorely needs new money to combat hunger, disease and poverty.
Some questioned the fields after De Beers, the mining giant, let its Marange concession lapse in 2006. But Andrew Bone, the company’s director of international relations, described the diamonds there as “an important find. It’s bigger than most people anticipated.”
Mr. Bone said De Beers was worried about the country’s worsening political crisis when it withdrew. “We didn’t perhaps do as much surveying as we could have done,” he said.
Others in the industry are taking the deposit seriously. Ernest Blom, chairman of the Diamond Dealers Club of South Africa, said it contained mostly low-quality diamonds, but “yielding enormous carats per ton. It’s huge.”
Views on whether Zimbabwe should be certified to sell its diamonds are polarized. Mr. Mugabe has depicted efforts to block the country from diamond trading as part of a Western plot to topple him. Officials in his party deny all accusations of state-sponsored violence against miners and say the government has met the required international standards, securing its diamond fields.
Advocacy groups that are part of the Kimberley Process disagree, saying Zimbabwe should be suspended for continuing human rights violations.
But this month, Abbey Chikane, a South African businessman assigned by the Kimberley Process to monitor the Marange fields, recommended that the diamonds be certified and that the military continue guarding the fields until the police — also answerable to Mr. Mugabe —could take over.
“The government of Zimbabwe has demonstrated its commitment to meet the minimum requirements,” Mr. Chikane wrote in his confidential report to the Kimberley Process, which was provided to The New York Times by a participant. “A great deal of hard work has gone into their efforts.”
The Zimbabwe case poses challenges to the Kimberley Process itself. Its mission is defined as stemming the trade in conflict diamonds used to finance rebel movements. But in Zimbabwe, elements of the government itself have been accused of violence against people who flooded the Marange fields to sift for stones during a diamond rush that began in 2006.
The deliberations are likely to be contentious. Farai Maguwu, the most outspoken Zimbabwean advocate on diamond issues, was supposed to attend the meeting in Tel Aviv, but is instead jailed in Harare after providing information to Mr. Chikane.
Analysts and civic leaders fear that rather than bringing hope for Zimbabwe’s long-suffering people, this new wealth will reinforce authoritarian rule. They say it could finance more of the patronage and repression that have kept Mr. Mugabe in power, and possibly infect the Movement for Democratic Change, the junior partner in the power-sharing government, with what Eldred Masunungure, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe, called “the predatory virus.”
“The gravy train is not likely to be one that leads to a democratic destination,” Professor Masunungure said.
South Africa Beyond the World Cup
As the World Cup unites South Africa in sport, a look at the different hopes and perspectives from opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum.
June 25, 2010
Rare Haven of Stability in Somalia Faces a Test
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
BURAO, Somalia — The rallies usually start early in the morning, before the sunshine hurts.
By 8 a.m. on a recent day, thousands of people were packed into Burao’s sandy town square, with little boys climbing high into the trees to get a peek at the politicians.
“We’re going to end corruption!” one of the politicians boomed, holding several microphones at once. “We’re going to bring dignity back to the people!”
The boys cheered wildly. Wispy militiamen punched bony fists in the air. The politicians’ messages were hardly original. But in this corner of Africa, a free and open political rally — led, no less, by opposition leaders who could actually win — is an anomaly apparently worthy of celebration.
The crowd that day helped tell a strange truth: that one of the most democratic countries in the Horn of Africa is not really a country at all. It is Somaliland, the northwestern corner of Somalia, which, since the disintegration of the Somali state in 1991, has been on a quixotic mission for recognition as its own separate nation.
While so much of Somalia is plagued by relentless violence, this little-known piece of the Somali puzzle is peaceful and organized enough to hold national elections this week, with more than one million registered voters. The campaigns are passionate but fair, say the few Western observers here. The roads are full of battered old Toyotas blasting out slogans from staticky megaphones lashed to the roofs.
Somalilanders have pulled off peaceful national elections three times. The last presidential election in 2003 was decided by a wafer-thin margin, around 80 votes at the time of counting, yet there was no violence. Each successful election feeds the hope here that one day the world will reward Somaliland with recognition for carving a functioning, democratic space out of one of the most chaotic countries in the world.
June 25, 2010
Rwandan Editor Who Accused Officials in Shooting Is Killed
By JOSH KRON
KIGALI, Rwanda — A Rwandan journalist who accused the Rwandan government of trying to assassinate a dissident in South Africa was himself killed Thursday night in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali.
Jean-Leonard Rugambage, 34, an editor and reporter for a suspended private tabloid, was shot twice and killed late Thursday night near his home, police officials said. Violent crime is exceedingly rare in Kigali, which is known as one of the safest and most orderly capitals in Africa.
The shooting is the latest in a string of deadly episodes in the Rwandan capital as the country approaches presidential elections this August. Although investigations were continuing and no arrests had been made, authorities had dismissed the possibility of foul play.
“It is very unfortunate,” said a police spokesperson, Eric Kayiranga. “He was an ordinary man. At his level, I don’t think he can be a threat.”
But Jean-Bosco Gasasira, the senior editor of the local-language tabloid Umuvugizi, where Mr. Rugambage worked, claims that the Rwandan government was behind the killing and that intelligence services had been trailing his colleague for days.
“This was not an accident,” said Mr. Gasasira, who himself fled Rwanda earlier this year. “He had spoken to me all week, informing me about surveillance on him.”
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