Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Is Ethiopia’s development plan too “ambitious”?

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DAVOS/AFRICA

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi seemed to anticipate this week exactly what a lot people were thinking about his government’s plan to double the poor country’s GDP and wean it off food aid within just five years.

“I think that this is a very ambitious plan,” he said.

“This is indeed an extremely ambitious plan,” a few minutes later.

And, once more for luck, “We have put in place a high-case scenario which is clearly very, very ambitious.”

So far, so ambitious.

But, after those disclaimers, a man many see as Africa’s most economically literate leader didn’t shy away from saying he thought Ethiopia could get there.

The “base-case” scenario of 11 percent average economic growth over the period was “doable” and the “high-case” scenario of 14.9 percent was “not unimaginable”.

Nigeria’s Jonathan flying high

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NIGERIA-BANK/IFCWould you order three new jets just so your successor could use them?

President Goodluck Jonathan is keeping Nigerians guessing as to whether he plans to stand in elections due next January, but suspicions are growing that he will eventually decide to contest.

Plans he has set out range from boosting power supply – perhaps Nigeria’s most critical need – to improving roads. Those are certainly not projects that anyone could complete quickly. On Wednesday, cabinet approved the purchase of three presidential jets at a cost of $150 million – adding to the suspicions he sees himself making use of them.

Desmond Tutu – highs and lows

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tutuDesmond Tutu was Cape Town’s first black archbishop and a vocal critic of South Africa’s apartheid government. 

Last month the Nobel peace prize winner announced he would retire from public duties later this year, when he turns 79. He spoke to Reuters Africa Journal about his long career as a churchman and activist.

Is Kenya’s high-tech referendum a model for other nations plagued by flawed elections?

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prisonersFor a brief moment just after dark on Aug.4, Kenya’s referendum on a new constitution seemed to be heading towards the dangerous precedent set in the last election of 2007: disputed results, followed by violence that killed 1,300 people.

 At the national vote tallying centre at the Bomas of Kenya, a cultural centre about 20 minutes drive from the Nairobi city centre, politicians and church leaders who opposed the new constitution accused electoral officials of rigging in favour of their opponents.

Darfur – when peace talks cause conflict

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- It’s a well-established fact that peace talks can spark fighting. I remember before every round of doomed peace talks on Darfur since 2003, either the govenment or the rebels would start a tactical military campaign to gain ground ahead of any potential settlement determining what areas their forces controlled. But the violence in the past week in Darfur’s camps for 2 million Darfuris displaced by conflict is different. It would be easy to blame the mediation who convinced more than 400 members of civil society to join a Qatari-based peace process which the two main rebel groups are not present at. Some Darfuris after seven years festering in miserable camps decided the rebel leaders were unable to represent the interests of their people and went to make sure their voices were heard. It was their return to the rebel-dominated Kalma Camp in South Darfur housing 100,000 people and the camps surrounding Zalingei in West Darfur sparking the fighting which claimed at least eight lives, injured dozens and drove thousands to flee the camps they had sought refuge in years ago. But to only blame the mediation would ignore the problems they inherited which almost amount to a mission impossible. Rebel commanders have been splitting to form dozens of factions for years disillusioned with their leaders, most of whom were young and inexperienced before being propelled into the international limelight as Darfur’s conflict went global. Those factions are drowning in a sea of personal conflicts and individuals’ desire for power while the people they went to war to protect are arguably worse off than before the revolt and Darfur has descended into a chaotic, anarchic, violent mess neither Khartoum nor the rebel leaders are able to clean up. International intervention has also worsened divisions. Diplomats say U.S. envoy Scott Gration wanted to find a way to break Darfur rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) leader Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur’s hold over the IDP camps. He began to help smaller factions hoping to cut of the head of Nur’s support, the diplomats said. The camp violence is just one manifestation of that policy. Nur’s stronghold Jabel Marra descending into intra-rebel fighting killing dozens and forcing tens of thousands more to flee this year was another. Talks in Qatar are now solely focused on a new rebel coalition of tiny factions with few forces on the ground albeit with an impressive ex-U.N. Economic Commission for Africa staffer Al-Tijani Sese brought in to lead them this year. Sese, from a leading Fur tribe family, has garnered some positive reaction in the camps, sowing the seeds of dissent against Nur which manifested itself into the violent confrontations in Kalma and Zalingei in July. While the mediation’s idea that Sese would help bring the camps on side was based on good faith, the reality alienated the two main Darfur rebel groups and divided the camps. Further impacting the mediation’s efforts is the government’s continued military action which prompted JEM rebels to walk out of the talks and Khartoum’s clear disregard for the only rebel leader who did sign a 2006 peace deal in Abuja, Minni Arcua Minnawi, who has yet to be reappointed to his post as presidential assistant since elections in April. Darfur’s peace process has disintegrated into a bewildering mess of conflicting personalities and interests which appears to have sight of the goal of achieving a sustainable peace so those in the camps can go home. Sudanese have a trait often confusing to outsiders. They can be sworn enemies, fighting to the death one minute. But the next day they will breakfast together, cracking jokes over foul (beans). It’s all about interaction. But right now Khartoum, the rebels and the Darfuri victims could not be further apart. After seven years of negotiation yielded little progress, maybe the mediation should forget protocol and pomp and allow the Sudanese to approach the talks as only Sudanese can.

darfuridpIt’s well-known that peace talks can cause fighting. I remember before every round of doomed negotiations on Darfur since 2003, either the govenment or the rebels would start a military campaign to gain ground ahead of any potential settlement.

But the violence in the past week in the camps that are home for two million Darfuris displaced by conflict is different.

Dust settles but questions linger after Qaeda raid in Sahara

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hostageNearly a week after Mauritania’s army and French special forces attacked a group of fighters from al Qaeda’s North African wing deep inside Mali, the dust may have settled, but many questions still need to be answered.

 Seven Islamists are dead, including the Algerian military commander of al Qaeda in Mauritania and a Moroccan computer specialist, according to security sources. But so too is the 78-year-old French hostage Paris said it was trying to rescue.

Britain on Sudan: Selling out or cashing in?

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- Britain’s new coalition government made its priorities on Sudan very clear as Henry Bellingham, the minister for Africa, used 90 percent of his opening remarks at his first press conference in Khartoum to outline how Britain could increase trade with Sudan. The other 10 percent dealing with the run-up to the south’s referendum on secession which is likely to create Africa’s newest nation state and the International Criminal Court arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide all seemed like just an after thought. On first glance many would say Britain was selling out — engaging economically with a government whose head is a wanted man would destroy the global divestment campaign’s years of efforts to make investing in Sudan a poisoned chalice no one wants to touch in the hope of isolating Khartoum to pressure it to stop rights abuses and allow democratic freedoms. Many Darfuris and rights activists who have been victims of torture and harassment will be dismayed by the move which clearly extends a hand of friendship to Khartoum who had until now been reduced to almost pariah status since the ICC warrant for Bashir last year which propelled him to international fame — for all the wrong reasons. Is Britain selling out? In fact many ordinary Sudanese say no. They say U.S. sanctions, imposed since 1997 has had little effect on the government who took control in a 1989 bloodless coup and was elected in expensive and heavily disputed April elections. The economy has grown on average eight percent a year, Khartoum extracted the oil pretty much without Western companies, built hundreds of miles of tarmac roads, and erected high-rise government buildings which sparkle so much in the sun the rays mock the Americans even far out of town in their heavily secured embassy compound. But sanctions have made life almost impossible for any normal Sudanese to do business abroad or at home. It’s those struggling to become an emerging middle class who welcome initiatives Bellingham suggested to use the 35,000 Sudanese living in the UK to facilitate small and medium sized businesses investments in Sudan bringing much-desired jobs and training with them. Britain is the former coloniser of Sudan and many families have close links with the country often visiting to shop and visit family there. They would welcome British products instead of the often cheap and poorer quality Chinese goods flooding the market here in Khartoum. It would certainly lessen their excess baggage bills. But Bellingham went one step further saying British companies were lagging behind Chinese companies and missing out on great investment returns in Sudan, emerging from decades of civil war. He also mentioned the unmentionable. Oil. Most Western oil companies pulled out of Sudan citing rights abuses during the north-south civil war which ended in 2005 with a shaky peace deal which has just about held if only partially and reluctantly implemented. Some firms were even implicated by rights activists in those rights abuses. But for example a battered British Petroleum, a move into an oil industry in a country whose government has historically shown scant regard for its population or the environmental effects of exploration might be a silver lining to the clouds gathered over its HQ of late. So is Britain cashing in? Only if they can make it happen. Western oil companies have been reluctant to enter to a post-war Sudan. Oil exploration is a long-term and costly venture and the stability of the country is far from guaranteed. Many are waiting to see what will happen after the southern referendum on independence in five months because the oil lies mainly in the south. They worry contracts signed with a united Sudan may not be honoured post secession by a new nation fighting to survive as a country in its own right. British banks in the past five years all but stopped transactions to/from or those with any mention of Sudan, no matter what the currency and no matter who the recipient. Sudanese abroad had their bank accounts closed down regardless of who they were, foreigners working in Sudan received similar treatment and mortgage companies turned down anyone whose work brought them to the war-torn nation. Lloyds TSB, which also owns Halifax and Bank of Scotland, last year paid a massive $350 million fine to the United States for fraudulent transactions to U.S.-sanctioned Sudan, Libya and Iran. So how will Whitehall convince them it’s a good idea to facilitate investment in an opaque Sudanese economy dominated by companies many of which have been hijacked by government organs or ruling party officials? They will need considerable help from Sudan’s government to increase transparency and allow private businesses to flourish free from government interference. The jury is not only out on the moral implications of Britain’s new policy but also on whether London can convince UK businesses and banks to invest in a country which regularly ranks in the top five of failed states indices.

Britain’s new coabellinghamlition government made its priorities on Sudan very clear as Henry Bellingham, the minister for Africa, used 90 percent of his opening remarks at his first press conference in Khartoum to outline how Britain could increase trade with Sudan.

The other 10 percent dealing with the run-up to the south’s referendum on secession, which is likely to create Africa’s newest nation state, and the International Criminal Court arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide all seemed like just an afterthought.

Gordon Brown resurfaces. In Africa

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It’s odd to see a once powerful man walk slowly. And odder still to see him sit in the corner of a restaurant nursing a glass of water for more than an hour. But that’s exactly what delegates to an African Union summit in Ugandan capital Kampala saw former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown do on Saturday.

Brown has been treated as something of a fugitive by the British media since his May election defeat with a slew of “Have you seen this man? type articles published in the country’s newspapers. Speculation on what he was up to ranged from bashing out a book on economics to Alastair Darling’s “he’s reflecting”.

Live Aid anniversary: Unknown Ethiopia

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NEW YORK

This week is 25 years since a bunch of bouffant-haired pop stars staged the most ambitious concerts of all time to help millions of starving people who had never heard of them.

Live Aid, organised to raise money to stop Ethiopia’s catastrophic 1984/85 famine, was a huge success by some measures. An audience of more than 1.5 billion tuned in around the world to watch simultaneous live concerts from London and Philadelphia — an incredible technological feat for the time — and a staggering $230 million was raised for the emergency.

from Photographers' Blog:

No turning back as Africa’s hour arrives

A local child carries a ball while playing soccer at a dirt field in Soweto, Johannesburg June 7, 2010. The 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup kicks off on June 11.          REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The 2010 World Cup has been a memorable and momentous occasion not only for me, but for South Africa, the African continent and the rest of the world.

It has indeed been incredible. It has been a unifying factor, with people beginning to appreciate the importance of their national symbols such as flags.

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