Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
When I first began to cover Darfur in 2003 – nobody was interested. The story was all about the north-south peace talks in Naivasha. “Where’s Darfur again – is that in the south?” I would often hear.
But once Darfur’s conflict stalled the Naivasha talks to end Africa’s longest civil war, and reports of appalling atrocities in Sudan’s west began to seep into the public domain, Darfur became the only story. It overshadowed even the historic 2005 north-south peace deal named “comprehensive” because the negotiators said it would resolve all of Sudan’s problems.
Year after year Darfur dominated the diplomacy and headlines while many in Sudan kept warning – don’t forget the north-south problem – it will come back to haunt you.
After years of neglecting the north-south accord, much of which was either not fully implemented – or done only after threats and standoffs – here we are again at crisis point where Sudan is heading for an acrimonious split and again there is a battle to implement the final chapter – the referendum on southern secession.
Forget the days when the image of Africa in the developed world was one of rolling vistas of unspoilt safari parks, natural disasters and war.
In the last 10 years, western firms and investors have been showing much greater interest, ploughing increasing investment flows into the continent of 1 billion people.
Some eye-catching numbers from Standard Bank out today on the influence of BRICs countries -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- on Africa.
First off, the bank says the global recession and its recovery have been nourishing these so-called South-South ties. But it is all now ready to take off. The bank estimates:
The latest twist in Uganda’s hang the ‘homos’ saga was played out last week when the High Court in Kampala ordering Rolling Stone newspaper to stop publishing the names, photographs and addresses of people it says are gay. Alongside the photos, the paper urged the government: “Hang them.”
The court order came too late for the 26 already featured in two issues of the young newspaper that most people in the East African country have never heard of.
If the potential success of an election could be judged by the excitement generated by its first day of campaigning, then Uganda is set for an excellent poll.
It can’t, of course, but it was heartening to see both ruling party and opposition supporters whooping it around capital Kampala yesterday ahead of a February 18th voting day that most think will be nothing but a foregone conclusion.
Al Qaeda’s North African wing has been creeping up the radar with an increase in attacks in the Sahara. But some have still sought to play down any strategic threat, citing the lack of key interests in the desert.
Westerners were at risk – a couple have also died in the hands of the Islamists – but incidents had mostly ended with in some sort of agreement involving a mix of prisoner swaps and, say experts, cash being passed to the right people.
The shiny new headquarters of Sudan’s referendum commission was buzzing with activity on Monday, less than four months ahead of the scheduled start of a seismic vote on whether the country’s oil-producing south should declare independence.
Unfortunately, officials were not all busy putting the final touches to voting registration lists or preparing publicity materials for the region’s inexperienced electorate.
Kidnappings targeting foreign workers in Sudan for ransoms have become a dangerous phenomenon in Darfur in the past year with 10 separate cases and at least 22 expatriate victims. These are not the al Qaeda kidnaps of West Africa. The Darfuri criminals so far have demanded money and have not killed any of their victims. Some have threatened to sell their captives onto al Qaeda-linked groups if they do not get paid. The abductions have severely restricted the operations of those aid and U.N. agencies still working in Darfur, with foreigners mostly relocated to the main towns and rarely travelling into the rural areas where people are arguably most in need of help. The question always debated by Sudan watchers is: “Is it that Khartoum can’t protect foreign workers in Darfur or that they won’t?” Many point to the timing as an indication — these politicised abductions became a regular crime after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in March 2009. Others speculate that the government, which has long had a hostile attitude to the international humanitarian agencies in the world’s largest aid operation in Darfur, does not want them to travel and report on the worsening situation in the rural or more remote areas. This is one way to prevent that. But the problem now negatively affects the government too, making them look weak and unable to control even the region’s main towns. Russia voiced rare criticism of its African ally after three members of a Russian aircrew were taken from the middle of Darfur’s largest town Nyala, just days after another Russian pilot was detained by Arab militia loyal to the government. The Russian envoy said it was clear Khartoum was unable to control the security situation, striking a blow to Khartoum’s argument that the conflict in Darfur and the “isolated” cases of banditry are under control. Nyala, Darfur’s largest town and economic hub, was largely insulated from the brutal revolt and counter-insurgency campaign which has for seven years terrorised Darfur’s inhabitants. Now it is the epicentre of the abductions, with criminals taking foreigners from inside their guesthouses or in the town centre in broad daylight. Fuelling the kidnaps are constant reports of Khartoum paying money for many of the hostages, another expensive reason why the government would want to end the crimes. Kidnappers told me hundreds of thousands of dollars had been paid out to abductors. The government says they know who these kidnappers are – their tribes and their families. They threaten to arrest them. But the threats appeared empty as after the release of the longest-held hostage ICRC staffer Gauthier Lefevre when there was a two month kidnap-free window, no action was taken to prosecute or bring the kidnappers to justice. Cue the abduction of Samaritan’s Purse Flavia Wagner two months after Lefevre’s release. She then endured a 105-day ordeal alone in captivity with her kidnappers threatening to rape or kill her on numerous occasions. And new spate of shorter kidnaps also began. Those who support the theory that the government is sanctioning the kidnaps ask why they have not apprehended any of the criminals. But Khartoum is not in an easy position. The kidnappers are usually young men from mostly Arab tribes – the same powerful tribes who Khartoum mobilised to help quash the Darfur rebels. One government official told me they feared any attack on the young Arabs would provoke the entire tribe — already disillusioned by the government who they feel has not delivered on promised development and services — to defend their own. The local government in Darfur is often run by those from the same tribes as the kidnappers, creating a reluctance to act against them and risk losing their support base. In remote regions far from Khartoum, the tribe provides and therefore rules. Central policy set in Khartoum is not always in the interests of the Darfur state authorities run by the governor and vice versa. But it seems that Khartoum’s interests are now clearly in line with the international community’s – to stop the kidnaps. Some officials in Khartoum are convinced action must be taken to stop the crimes. And in the last kidnap, the army acted quickly — closing down on the kidnappers before they could whisk their victims away to a desert hideaway. Again now Khartoum has a brief moment of kidnap-free time to apprehend the abductors as threatened. The world will be watching closely to see what they do.
Kidnapping foreign workers in Sudan for ransom has become a dangerous business in Darfur in the past year with 10 separate cases and at least 22 expatriate victims.
These are not the al Qaeda kidnaps of West Africa. The Darfuri criminals have so far demanded only money and have not killed any of their victims. Some have threatened to sell their captives to al Qaeda-linked groups if they do not get paid.
Africa is turning into a fashionable post-crisis investment destination as investors regain their confidence and start to focus on the continent’s lack of direct involvement with the global market’s volatility drivers and trouble hotspots. Africa is benefiting not only from a resumption of international debt and equity flows; it is also a beneficiary of international efforts to maintain the flow of trade finance via multilateral guarantee programmes – 45 issuing banks from 27 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have joined the IFC’s trade finance programme, for example.
At the same time, bilateral and multilateral development agencies are actively investing via an assortment of public and private-sector channels; the international capital markets pipeline is building – sovereign debt offerings on the docket for Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, and Zambia with Libya believed to be looking – while the slew of private equity and hedge funds being raised this year for Africa are seeing healthy interest from public-sector and private LPs.