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One step forward, a few steps back

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One step forward, and already a few back. One of the few positives of Sudan’s elections, dubbed to be the first open vote in 24 years but marred by opposition boycotts and accusations of fraud, was a tiny opening of democratic freedom in Africa’s largest country. Direct press censorship was lifted from Sudan’s papers. Opposition politicians were finally given an allbeit limited platform to address the population through the state media and journalists were given unprecedented access to many parts of the country, including war-torn Darfur. Still it seemed for the biggest international observer missions like the Carter Center and the European Union the best they could say about the elections was 1: That they happened and 2: That people were not killing each other for once in this nation divided by decades of multiple civil wars. (At least not because of the vote anyway). They all agreed that the crack of democracy opened during the polls must be allowed to continue. It seemed more progressive members of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s ruling party agreed. Presidential Advisor Ghazi Salaheddin told me: “I don’t think we can go back”.  And even the not so West-friendly Presidential Assistant Nafie Ali Nafie was making positive noises post elections, pledging to hold the next polls in four years time. But it seems just one month after the vote, Sudan is sliding back to its old ways. In Darfur, where Bashir is accused by the International Criminal Court of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the Sudanese army has after a two-week offensive, taken control of West Darfur’s Jabel Moun – which has been a key rebel stronghold pretty much since the conflict began in 2003. I travelled there once with arguably the most crazy of Darfur’s rebel groups, led by Gibril Abdelkarim. Traversing the Sudanese-Chadian border at will, the rebels drove for hours through largely empty savannah (interrupted only by a Janjaweed attack and getting stuck in sand dunes). It’s an impressive range of hills dotted with villages full of cattle herders and farmers making it an ideal base to defend against attack. It’s also an area where the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) has enjoyed little access because of almost constant military clashes and bombing there. The army said it killed 108 soldiers from the insurgent Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which JEM denies. JEM, largely boxed in by a Chadian-Sudanese rapprochement and complaining of constant aerial bombardment, redeployed most of its troops from Jabel Moun leaving them stretched too thin and allowing the army to take advantage. Those “mobile units” as they called them also clashed with the army in North and South Darfur as they edged towards the oil-producing South Kordofan state. The lull in Darfur’s fighting during the elections did not last long. JEM argue even during the voting the government was deploying in preparation for the offensive. And then a late-night raid on Saturday on Bashir’s former close ally turned bitter enemy Islamist Hassan al-Turabi’s home, arresting him. closing his opposition party’s paper, seizing its assets and detaining three of its senior editors. A myriad of reasons were given by different NCP and security officials for his arrest. Ranging from unspecified “security reasons” to accusing him of helping JEM, to his al-Rai al-Shaab paper (which enjoys a limited readership) publishing articles damaging to national security. Editors-in-chiefs of newspapers were “invited” for a meeting at the feared intelligence headquarters on Monday, which many worry could result either in a reintroduction of censorship or at least a veiled warning of what could happen if they did not self censor. The Ajras al-Huriya paper is a shining example of what can happen if they don’t toe the line. They say they have five court cases pending against them (three raised by the intelligence services) for publishing false news among other charges, which could result in up to six months in jail for the acting editor-in-chief. The paper is pretty much the mouthpiece of the former southern rebel turned NCP partner in government after a landmark 2005 peace deal, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). So no midnight raids on them – just long, drawn out summonings and court proceedings. Whatever happens, many of Sudan’s independent dailies, already heavily dependent on government company advertising for the bulk of their revenue, are likely to write cautiously from now on. In the south, which will vote on whether to become Africa’s newest nation state in just eight months, one journalist was arrested for 13 days after trying to take pictures of electoral violence in the oil-rich Unity state. Another said he was detained and beaten by southern security forces, even though he had an identification card saying he worked for the SPLM, which dominates the region’s semi-autonomous government. A senior general revolted and is threatening a main town after he accused the SPLM of fraud in the southern elections. He said he mutinied after authorities ordered his arrest and that he has wide support, although there is little that can be independently confirmed in the remote region of Jonglei. He had said he wanted to negotiate but that attacks by the south Sudan army, sent to surround his troops, have left little room for talks. There’s still time to salvage the political scene in the north and south ahead of the southern referendum on secession which could destabilise the entire Horn of Africa if mishandled. The SPLM should engage those who left the party to stand as independents in the elections, not exclude them. And the NCP can release the ailing Turabi and journalists and follow (preferably daylight), fair and transparent legal proceedings against those it feels have erred. Darfur’s peace talks can restart, the army can stop its bombardment and JEM can haltturabiits redeployment. I had written a blog “one step forward, how many back?” a month ago. I hope these recent transgressions are not my answer.

sudanOne of the few positives of Sudan’s elections, dubbed to be the first open vote in 24 years but marred by opposition boycotts and accusations of fraud, was a tiny opening of democratic freedom in Africa’s largest country.

Direct press censorship was lifted from Sudan’s papers and opposition politicians were given an albeit limited platform to address the population through state media.

Still, it seemed for the biggest international observer missions, such as the Carter Center and the European Union, the best they could say about the elections was 1): That they happened and 2): That people were not killing each other for once in this nation devastated by decades of multiple civil wars. (At least not because of the vote anyway).

They all agreed that the crack of democracy opened during the polls must be allowed to continue. And more progressive members of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s ruling party agreed. Presidential Adviser Ghazi Salaheddin told me he did not think they could go back on the democratic gains.

Is Angolan media becoming less biased?

PORTUGAL/It was surprising to see Angola’s media regulator on Thursday accusing the nation’s only state-run newspaper of running a story that distorted a speech by the leader of the main opposition party to make him look favourable towards the government.
 
The National Media Council, a government run body comprised of journalists, seems determined to help Angola’s media sector become less biased towards the government . It urged Jornal de Angola to be more rigorous in its coverage.
 
The newspaper ran a story on March 14 based on a speech by UNITA leader Isaias Samakuva with the title: “Samakuva sees growth in several sectors of the economy,” when his words had instead been highly critical of the government, the regulator said.
 
Jornal de Angola “should avoid arriving at conclusions that may change the meaning of the facts reported even though the story may reflect the opinion of the newspaper or of the journalist who wrote it,” the regulator said in a statement published in Jornal de Angola.
 
UNITA spokesman Alcides Sakala, whose party had lodged the complaint with the regulator about the story, said the regulator’s move was a step in the right direction for a country that is opening up after a three-decade long rule that ended in 2002.
 
But Angola still ranks 119 out of 175 countries in Reporters Without Borders media freedom index.
 
The state owns two national broadcasters, the only radio station with nationwide coverage, and Jornal de Angola, the country’s most influential daily newspaper which often runs headlines praising the ruling MPLA party.
 
This has helped the MPLA secure almost 82 percent of the votes in Angola’s 2008 parliamentary elections – the first to take place after a civil war that ended in 2002.
 
The question now is whether Angola’s ruling MPLA party, which has ruled the oil producing nation for over three decades, is finally ready to loosen its grip on the media before the country holds parliamantary and presidential elections in 2012?

Thiong’o's memories of a time of war

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thiongoNgugi wa Thiong’o had been hesitant to write his memoirs, but wanted to give his children a wake up call about what life was like when you had to walk miles to school - not to mention being a political prisoner.

A giant of African literature, he has never been afraid to challenge the establishment. Yet while he recounts his time in prison with humour today, he has never moved back to Kenya full time since going into exile nearly 30 years ago despite being one of the country’s best-known writers. 

Time for an Afribond?

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KENYA

“Europe possibly needs an Afribond,” commented one contributor this week on the Thomson Reuters chatroom for fixed income markets in Kenya.

A nice quip from Henry Kirimania of The Cooperative Bank of Kenya and a reminder of just how much better placed Africa is now in terms of its debt burden than it once was and particularly in relation to what might now be regarded as the world’s Heavily Indebted Formerly Rich Countries.

Ill health hung over Yar’Adua presidency from start

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By Estelle Shirbon

NIGERIA-PRESIDENT/ARRIVALNo sooner was Umaru Yar’Adua named in late 2006 as the Nigerian ruling party’s presidential candidate than people started asking whether he would survive four years at the helm of Africa’s most populous nation.

The answer to that question came on Wednesday night, when Yar’Adua died a year before the end of his term — a sad end for a quiet man who had been in poor health since well before he was catapulted into one of the world’s toughest jobs.

Yar’Adua death leaves succession wide open

NIGERIA-PRESIDENT/The death of Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua is unlikely to plunge Africa’s most populous state into crisis, but it intensifies what was already shaping up to be the fiercest succession race since the end of military rule.

Yar’Adua has been absent from the political scene since last November, when he left for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, and his deputy Goodluck Jonathan has been running the country since February and has since consolidated his position.

World Cup Bonus for Workers

SOCCER-WORLD/STADIUMSSoccer City in Johannesburg will be home to the opening and the final of the FIFA World Cup this year. On Monday, the men and women who helped build the stadium were given letters that assured them of two free tickets to the opening match.

120 000 tickets will be distributed to construction, community workers and children as part of a FIFA initiative to make sure that regular South Africans, who would normally not have the opportunity to go watch a World Cup match, can see their soccer heroes in the flesh.

Hope and fear in African business

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It might surprise some that African business leaders are much more optimistic than the global average, which is what a new survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers shows.

The study, for which hundreds of executives were surveyed, suggested optimism had held up in Africa despite the global downturn.

Motor-rickshaws changing face of transport in Mali

 

Mali introduced Chinese-made motor rickshaws in 2006. They’ve been such a hit that most of Mali’s bigger cities are overrun with them and competition between drivers is pushing down prices. They’ve now been barred from the centre of the capital, Bamako, but in Mali’s third-largest city, Segou, the rickshaw-taxi is the main means of public transport.

“I have a wife and seven children,” rickshaw driver Bassidi Baba Djefaga told Reuters Africa Journal. “This
rickshaw is what enables me to feed my family. Before I had the rickshaw, I was a taxi driver and had two taxis. But when the new rickshaws arrived, I saw that taxi cars weren’t going to be good business any longer. So, I sold my two taxis and bought a rickshaw.”

Gabon — Africa’s least African country?

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bongoTucked between Cameroon and Congo Republic on Africa’s Atlantic coast is Gabon, a country much unlike its neighbours.

Many other African countries face problems that Gabon’s President Ali Bongo has the luxury of not needing to worry about.

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