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I was left somewhat traumatised after going to see a screening of a controversial new Hollywood-backed short released this week, aimed at highlighting the link between minerals mined for British mobile phones and the use of rape and murder as weapons of war in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The highly graphic campaign video – appropriately called Unwatchable – starts with a little English girl picking flowers in the garden of her family’s multi-million pound mansion in a picturesque Cotswolds village.
This tranquil scene is shattered in an instant when armed men descend on the house, gang-rape her sister on the kitchen table and then murder her parents. It ends five minutes later with the girl running for her life.
Less than a month after launching his election campaign in a blaze of optimism, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has found himself fighting a potentially damaging propaganda war over last week’s car bombs.
Jonathan’s assertion that rebels from his Niger Delta home region were not responsible for the twin bomb attacks near an independence day parade last Friday has laid him open to a barrage of criticism from rivals who accuse him of partisanship.
As the first head of state from the southern Niger Delta, Jonathan already faced a tough battle convincing some in the ruling party to back his election bid and jettison a gentleman’s agreement that means the next president should be a northerner.
The unwritten pact in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is meant to prevent tribalism and regional rivalries becoming a factor in federal politics by ensuring power rotates every two terms between north and south.
Jonathan’s comments that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which claimed the blasts, was not responsible and suggestions from the authorities that associates of his main rival, former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida, may be involved have infuriated and united his northern opponents.
“The man … who only a few weeks ago moved us with lofty words of hope and a vision of transformation, shot himself in the foot and then put the bloody foot in his mouth,” wrote Tolu Ogunlesi, a journalist on Nigeria’s Next newspaper.
“The incident momentarily stripped him of his presidential garb and wrapped him in the gaudy garments of a tribal chieftain,” he said.
Babangida and three other northerners running against him in the primaries issued a joint statement slamming Jonathan for “exonerating” MEND and accusing him of using the bomb blasts as a pretext to intimidate his opponents.
A separate group of northern politicians led by ex-finance minister and founding PDP member Adamu Ciroma described it as a “rude shock to the nation” and called on Jonathan to resign.
Their fury was piqued by the brief detention of Babangida’s campaign director Raymond Dokpesi for questioning over the blasts by the secret service on Monday.
The presidency said the investigations were being carried out on the back of U.S. and British as well as Nigerian intelligence and that anybody could be invited for questioning.
“It is unfortunate that an unprecedented national tragedy of this nature has been politicised by people whose only interest is what they can get from the country and not what the country can get from them,” Jonathan said on his Facebook page.
“They specialise in playing one part of the country against the other and riding on sectional sentiments to promote their narrow ambitions,” he said.
Jonathan started his election campaign almost three weeks ago on a high, having unveiled plans to privatise the power sector and end chronic power shortages, better manage the country’s oil savings and fight criminality.
He pledged a new era of leadership “uncontaminated by the prejudices of the past” and his campaign team hoped the momentum would carry him into the primaries, originally due this month.
But the timetable was revised to allow the electoral authorities to overhaul voter lists, handing his northern rivals more time to steel themselves.
The bomb blasts were another blow to his strategy.
Beneath all the finger pointing and rhetoric, none of Nigeria’s political class emerge well from the episode.
Jonathan was vice president when Henry Okah, a senior militant figure charged in Johannesburg this week with conspiring to carry out the attacks, had treason and gun-running charges against him dropped under an amnesty deal.
Aliyu Gusau, another northern presidential candidate who has criticised Jonathan, was the country’s national security adviser until three weeks ago. Security experts say Friday’s attacks would have been months in the planning.
Babangida’s opponents say his assertion that Jonathan does not have a firm grip on national security is rich coming from a man largely remembered for his 1993 cancellation of an election generally regarded as fair which led to civil unrest and a bloody crackdown by the security forces.
“Politicians in Nigeria are very good at arguing with each other,” said Antony Goldman, a Nigeria expert and head of London-based PM Consulting.
“But the temptation to try to extract political advantage from a national emergency reveals the deeper issue that ten years after the end of military rule, the whole political class struggles to make itself relevant to the people.”
The propaganda war will rumble on and it is unclear what impact, if any, it will have on the candidates’ fortunes. But it bodes ill for any hopes that the elections will be based on real issues rather than scaremongering and personality clashes.
“The bomb blast is a shame because it could have been prevented, but you know in Nigeria we don’t pay attention to the things that really matter,” said Kehinde Osho, 24, a graphic artist in the commercial hub Lagos.
“Elections are next year and the voters are not even registered yet. We are fighting a lost battle — we won’t have a credible election with this kind of preparation.”
Tired of being criticised for being one of the world’s most
secretive governments, Angola is finally throwing back some
Top government officials, including the economy minister,
the finance minister and the head of the central bank, held a
news conference late on Friday to discuss the government’s first
200 days in power — the second news conference of the kind this
“You thought we wouldn’t do this again,” said Carlos Feijo,
Angola’s powerful minister of state who is seen by many as the
president’s right-hand man. “Well, here we are.”
He then went on to speak non-stop for 40 minutes, describing
how the economy had improved in recent months, plans to pay
billions in debt to construction firms and the fight against
poverty and corruption before opening up the floor to questions.
Many journalists praised the government’s decision to hold
the news conference as a step in the right direction in a nation
where officials seem to be paid to keep quiet and where people
are afraid to openly criticise the president.
Greater transparency could also bolster Angola’s chances of
receiving more Western loans and placing debt with private
investors abroad, as it seeks cash shore up its finances after
the recent slump in oil prices.
Angola was ranked in the bottom 19 of 180 countries in a
Transparency International corruption study last year.
State-run daily Jornal de Angola hailed the news conference
a success in an editorial a few days later.
“The Angolan government has explained how public funds are
being managed so that Angolans continue to trust in those they
elected into government for four years,” said Jornal de Angola.
“It is important that all Angolans, whether or not they
voted for the ruling party, to be aware of the importance of
this extraordinary performance.”
The question is whether the Angolan government is serious
about increasing transparency or simply using the media’s thirst
for information to campaign ahead of the nation’s 2012
These are confusing times in Sudanese politics — so confusing that even the activists are struggling to keep up with the shifting positions of their own parties a week ahead of national elections.
This morning, a spokesman from south Sudan’s dominant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) called round journalists inviting them to a demonstration in Khartoum.
Opposition 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.
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.