Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Will Kenyan police be brought to book?

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A U.N. investigator has castigated Kenya’s police force for hundreds of alleged extra-judicial killings and called for both its chief and the Attorney General to be fired immediately.
 
In a scathing indictment of the east African country’s security forces, Philip Alston, the U.N. rapporteur on extradicial executions, said he had received overwhelming evidence during a 10-day tour of systematic, widespread regular and carefully planned killings by the police. He said they were “free to kill at will” and did so with impunity for motives ranging from private disputes to extortion, to shooting a suspect instead of making an arrest. “The Kenyan police are a law unto themselves and they kill often and with impunity, ” said Alston, a law professor from Australia. In a statement laced with angry sarcasm, he accused the police of failing to provide him with virtually any of the information he sought, including the number of officers in the force. He supported allegations that police had killed 500 suspected members of the notorious Mungiki crime gang in 2007 in an attempt to exterminate it and 400, mostly opposition, demonstrators during a post election crisis last year — as reported by an official inquiry. Army and police are also accused of torturing and killing at least 200 people in an offensive to suppress a rebel movement in western Kenya.
 
Alston demanded the immediate dismissal of Police Commissioner Hussein Ali but did not stop there. He said long-serving Attorney General Amos Wako, who he accused of consistently obstructing attempts to prosecute those in high positions for extrajudicial executions, must also go, calling him the embodiment of a system of impunity. Alston added that Kenya’s judicial system was bankrupt and another obstacle to achieving justice.  And he even attacked President Mwai Kibaki for remaining completely silent about impunity.
 
Alston’s condemnation was perhaps the most high profile and powerful in recent years but it follows numerous reports by human rights groups about extrajudicial killings by the police. Ali, an army general who has led the force for five years, has survived numerous other controversies.
 
The government spokesman, Alfred Mutua, who as a sideline produces a popular television cop squad drama, immediately rubbished Alston’s statement, saying he had not been in the country long enough to draw accurate conclusions. But Kenya’s biggest newspaper, the Daily Nation, noted in an editorial that this was a routine response from the government and the U.N. official’s report could not be dismissed so lightly, an opinion shared by the other big daily, the Standard. But the government appears set to ignore even such high profile criticism, as it has done with allegations against the police in the past.
 
The case also underlines the divisions within Kenya’s unwieldy Grand Coalition government, set up almost a year ago to end ethnic bloodletting after the disputed election that killed around 1,300 people. Alston was invited to carry out his investigation by this very government, although it is not clear who did so. He said Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Justice Minister Martha Karua had expressed concern about his report. Odinga was quoted in the Nation as saying: “We must act on the report. No one will be spared. I am not willing to compromise on this one.” He doesn’t seem to have spoken to Mutua.  
 
But whatever Odinga says, nobody is holding their breath for a radical overhaul of the police despite wide public disgust over their tactics. A recent opinion poll showed that 70 percent of Kenyans surveyed felt the coalition government had achieved nothing since it was formed last April. Only 33 percent thought any political or business leader guilty of organising the election violence would ever be convicted. Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who led mediation to end the crisis, warned that political manoeuvres delaying the establishment of a tribunal on the violence threatened the country’s stability.
 
Will Kenya ever tackle these fundamental problems? Will violent police ever be brought to book?

Somalia’s new chance

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How times change. Somalia’s new Islamist president has been feted in Ethiopia, whose army drove him from power two years ago – with Washington’s backing – when he headed a sharia courts movement.

Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was greeted with a standing ovation from African Union leaders at a summit in Ethiopia, which pulled the last of its troops out of Somalia last month, leaving the government in control of little beyond parts of Mogadishu. The hardline Islamist al Shabaab militia control much of the rest of southern Somalia.

Can world now stop Somali pirates?

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With the naval might of the United States, Europe, China and others now lined up against Somalia’s pirate fraternity, shippers are hoping the nightmare year of 2008 will not be repeated.
 
Somali pirates — mainly gangs of poor young men seeking a quick fortune under the direction of older “financiers” and boat leaders –  reaped tens of millions of dollars in ransoms last year in a record haul of 42 hijacks, 111 attacks, and 815 crew taken hostage. 
 
That pushed insurance prices up, persuaded some ship-owners to go round South Africa instead of through the Suez Canal, and prompted the unprecedented rush of navies from 14 different nations to the region. Even China is in on the act, deploying its navy for the first time beyond its own waters. And Japan is considering following suit despite its post-World War II pacifist constitution.
 
There have been some early successes from all the deployments – half a dozen pirates arrested and a series of attacks blocked, by helicopter and boat. Bad weather, too, has given the pirates some real problems, drowning five of them when their pockets were stuffed with dollars after taking their share of the ransom from the release of a Saudi super-tanker.
 
Yet the pirates have still managed two new hijacks and 11 attacks in the first half of January. They are hanging on to 11 ships with 207 hostages – most notably a Ukrainian ship with tanks on board
 
And with such a vast area of operations — plus fancy new speedboats that have taken them as far as Kenya and Madagascar, and GPS equipment to keep away from the warships — the pirates are confident of keeping their business going. So who will win this modern-day battle of the seas? Will the shipping industry lose as much to the pirates this year as they did last? Should they keep paying huge ransoms like the $3 million paid for the Saudi boat?

Maybe, some argue, it will never really be possible to eradicate such a lucrative business which, in one of the world’s most failed states, offers an opportunity for poor and hungry men to become millionaires after a few successful raids. As one pirate told us, they will carry on until there is government again in Somalia.

Should developing world have more say in crisis talks?

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When world leaders meet in Washington to tackle the global financial crisis, Africa will be represented only by South Africa.

 

African officials meeting in Tunis this week to discuss the impact of the crisis argued that the continent needed better representation, given the effects that the turmoil is having in Africa as well as the continent’s growing financial importance. The complaint could apply equally to other developing countries.

How serious is Sudan’s Darfur ceasefire?

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Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir was in a jubilant mood when he announced to crowds of supporters that he was declaring a ceasefire in Darfur.

From his body language, you might have thought he had already ended the crisis and achieved his goal of avoiding a possible indictment by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

Is U.S. Africom good or bad for Africa?

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Residents of Tizimizi greet members of the US Forces upon their arrival in their area in November 2006The new U.S. command for Africa began independent operations on Wednesday, after being carved out of three other Pentagon units previously responsible for the continent. President George W. Bush originally wanted Africom to be based in Africa, and Liberia has offered to host it. But the plan met with considerable hostility on the continent, especially from big powers South Africa and Nigeria and oil giants Algeria and Libya. Many ordinary Africans were also cynical, believing Africom would be a cover for Washington to counter growing Chinese influence and control vital oil supplies from West Africa — expected to provide 25 percent of U.S. needs by 2015.

The hostility forced Washington to rethink its plans and Africom, expected to reach its full complement of 1,300 by the end of next year, began work from Stuttgart, home of the existing European command, although officials clearly expect to open a base in Africa sometime in the future. It also pushed U.S. officials to emphasise that there was no hidden agenda, that Africom would not threaten the sovereignty of any nations and that a base would not be built in Africa without the full agreement of potential host nations. They also said half of Africom’s leadership would be composed of civilian agencies including the State Department. Africom’s stated aim is to help African countries face everything from natural disasters to terrorism and its targets will including drug trafficking, arms smuggling and the kind of piracy now plaguing the waters off Somalia. Experts say U.S. forces have been cooperating quietly for years with African armies, particularly in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel where rebel and al Qaeda-affiliated groups operate. They say Africom got a bad press initially because it was associated with heavy-handed U.S. policy in Somalia and as part of the U.S.-led ”War on Terror”, but now Pentagon officials are treading more carefully, realising how sensitive Africans are about suggestions Washington is trying to dominate.

Can Africa beat corruption?

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cpi_2008_cmyk-africa.jpgTransparency International’s annual corruption report card is out and there is little surprise that many African countries are well towards the bottom of the Corruption Perceptions Index.

Somalia is at 180 out of 180. Six of the 10 worst offenders are African states. The best placed African country, Botswana, is at 36 (up from 38 last year).

What chance of success for Zimbabwe talks?

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rtr20ed8.jpgZimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition MDC are holding talks in Pretoria aimed at thrashing out a power-sharing deal to end the country’s political crisis.

President Robert Mugabe, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and a smaller MDC faction signed a framework for the talks in South Africa on Monday — a deal that South African leader Thabo Mbeki said committed Zimbabwe’s political rivals to an intense timetable.

African summit troubles

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African Union summitAlthough Zimbabwe got all the headlines, the official theme of the African Union summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh was water.
That made it all the more surprising for thirsty delegates that there was none for them to drink.
Journalists covering the summit had other complaints.
Usually, these meetings are a glorious chance for reporters to grab quotes from normally elusive heads of state as they glide through the plush halls, flanked by aides and bodyguards.
But the Egyptians had other ideas at this summit. Maybe it was a sign of the sensitivity of the discussions, with Zimbabwe’s election crisis overshadowing all other topics. Or perhaps it was an indication of the immensely tight security around Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak — who escaped an assassination attempt at an African summit in Ethiopia in 1995.
Local security officials banned reporters from entering areas even two halls away from where the leaders were meeting.
A few news crews still got through, but some scuffled with President Robert Mugabe’s security men late on Sunday — the 84-year-old leader was himself knocked about. After that, security became even tighter, with journalists confined only to a smoky, overcrowded press centre.
Reporters like me and Reuters colleagues Opheera McDoom and Cynthia Johnston were banned from going to interview leaders even after their aides came to escort us to see them.
At least one official was advised not to enter the press room — to avoid provoking a crush. Egyptian security said they couldn’t guarantee the safety of officials.
Meanwhile, journalists were barricaded in one end of the building, with no food provided apart from two coffee breaks during the 12-hour days. Those offerings were devoured in seconds by a ravenous pack, depriving those who weren’t quick enough for even a dry piece of cake.
AU officials griped about the lack of hospitality too.
“This is the worst summit ever,” said one experienced AU official.

Zimbabwe election rage

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Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe attends his inauguration in HararePresident Robert Mugabe’s re-election has sparked cries of outrage from Zimbabwean bloggers and demands for international intervention.

Mugabe’s victory in Friday’s one-candidate poll was condemned in the West and by all three African monitoring groups who said the vote was deeply flawed.

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