Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Were NATO strikes on Gaddafi’s home town justified?

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Britain’s defence secretary, Liam Fox, sounded a little scripted in Misrata at the weekend when I asked him whether NATO’s airstrikes in Muammar Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte were staying within its remit to protect civilians in Libya.

“NATO has been extraordinarily careful in target selection.”

“NATO has been very careful to minimize civilian casualties.”

“NATO has stayed within its mandate throughout.”

It’s a mantra that NATO, and the countries that have contributed to its Libyan adventure, have had to learn well.  They’ve been accused of stretching the legality of the mission “to protect civilians by all necessary measures” before.

But the problem with sticking to a script, is that the Libyan conflict hasn’t really progressed with any sort of predictable narrative since the fall of Tripoli on the night of August 23rd.

If the then rebels of the now ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) expected that internal insurrections would help them and they’d race into Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte and the other remaining holdout, Bani Walid, to a hero’s welcome, they were mistaken.

Is Africa drought a chance to enact new UK policy?

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New ways of managing aid are being debated in Britain as global concerns mount over a hunger crisis devastating the drought-affected Horn of Africa.

Randolph Kent, director of the Humanitarian Futures Programme at King’s College in London, says the crisis provides a perfect opportunity for the British government to test its recent promise to reform how it responds to humanitarian emergencies.

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”.

Why was Edwin Dyer killed?

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Edwin Dyer was among a group of Western tourists kidnapped on the Niger-Mali border after attending a festival of Tuareg culture in late January.

Four months later the Briton was killed by al Qaeda’s North African wing, which had been demanding the release of Abu Qatada, a Jordanian Islamist being held in Britain.

A question of scale

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For days now Britons have been regaled with newspaper stories detailing the dubious expense claims of their Members of Parliament.

The Honourable Members, it seems, have been charging for everything from a few thousand pounds for clearing a moat to a few pence for a new bath plug. An outraged nation has risen almost as one to denounce its greedy lawmakers.

Should we really care about the Chagossians?

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chagossians_prayer.jpgchagossians_prayer.jpgShould we really care that Britain’s House of Lords upheld a British government appeal on Wednesday, blocking the return of hundreds of Chagossians to their Indian Ocean homes?The decision by the House of Lords ends a years-long battle to secure the Chagos Islanders the right to return to their archipelago, from where they were forcibly removed in the 1960s and ’70s to make way for an American airbase on Diego Garcia.

By a ruling of 3-2, the lords backed a British government appeal that argued that allowing the islanders to return could have a detrimental effect on defence and international security. It’s a tough decision and an agonizing result for the Chagos islanders. They continue to suffer appalling injustice because of the British government, who booted them out of the Chagos islands – also known as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) – to make way for a US military base.

Time for colonial masters to pay up?

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Italy's PM Berlusconi is greeted by Libya's leader Gaddafi in BenghaziItaly settled its colonial era dispute with Libya at the weekend with $5 billion in compensation for wrongs done during colonial rule. The money will be invested in a major new highway as well as used for clearing mines and other projects. Both sides say that will allow them to make a new start.

Relations between Libya and Italy had been especially difficult and this was a very specific dispute, but Italian colonialism did not last all that long in Africa – even if there were episodes of particular nastiness while it did.

Colonial borders. Does Africa have a choice?

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Lord Lugard, founder of Nigeria

The lines of Europe’s carve up of Africa were finally taking shape. On March 11, 1913, Britain and Germany agreed who got which bits of a swampy corner of the continent that few in either of the cold and distant countries had heard of.

Two states that did not exist at that time put the border agreement into effect again on Thursday with Nigeria formally handing over the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon.

Should Zimbabwe’s election go ahead?

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zimbabwe-posters.jpgOpposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai detained twice in a week, U.S. and British diplomats forced from their cars by police, rallies banned, aid workers stopped from working, reports of violence from across the countryside. The campaign for Zimbabwe’s presidential election run-off on June 27 is being hard fought, literally.mugabe.jpg

The opposition accuses President Robert Mugabe of responsibility for violence and says 65 people have been killed. The ruling party blames Tsvangirai’s followers and says Mugabe’s Western foes and some aid agencies have been campaigning for the opposition.

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