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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.

Bringing aid and being a target

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Posted by George Fominyen, AlertNet‘s humanitarian affairs correspondent for West and Central Africa, based in Dakar. He is also West Africa coordinator for Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Emergency Information Service.

The abduction of two Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) workers in Chad this month after a robbery at their compound near Sudan’s Darfur region has again brought to the fore the question of attacks on aid workers.

Is Africa a good bet?

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For those looking to invest in Africa, the best prospects are in Nigeria and Ethiopia according to a new index of potential investment destinations published this week.

But should anybody want to put money into Africa at a time the global financial crisis and falling prices for export commodities, on which the continent is so reliant, have discouraged investors who had begun to see some African countries as promising frontier markets?

from Global News Journal:

More power-sharing in Africa?

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Kenya's power-sharing government was only born after weeks of election violence that killed 1,300 people. Zimbabwe's power sharing agreement is yet to bear fruit as southern Africa's former breadbasket crumbles into economic ruin.

So will power sharing in Central African Republic, where one of Africa's most forgotten conflicts has been simmering for more than half a decade, fare any better?

from Global News Journal:

Drugs and guns in Guinea-Bissau

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Members of Guinea-Bissau's unruly armed forces have blotted the military's record again with another attack against the country's political institutions. Early on Sunday, Nov. 23, renegade soldiers, their faces hooded, sprayed the Bissau residence of President Joao Bernardo "Nino" Vieira with machine-gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire. The president survived unhurt this latest apparent attempt to topple him.

 

But The attack underlined the fragility of the small, cashew nut-exporting West African nation, one of the poorest in the world and a former Portuguese colony which has suffered a history of bloody coups, mutinies and uprisings since it won independence in 1974 after a bush war led by Amilcar Cabral. The assault followed parliamentary elections on Nov. 16 which donors were hoping would restore stability and put in place a new government capable of resisting the serious threat posed by powerful Latin American cocaine-trafficking cartels who use Guinea-Bissau as a staging post to smuggle drugs to Europe.

from Global News Journal:

Does Algeria now have a president for life?

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After the Algerian parliament changed the constitution to lift presidential term limits, north Africans are asking whether Algeria now has a president for life.

 

In making the change, Algeria has followed a route taken in recent years by other African countries such as Cameroon, Chad and Uganda, all of which removed the limit of two presidential terms.

Sudan struggles

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By reaching the gates of Khartoum, Darfur rebels have dealt one of the heaviest blows to Sudan’s traditionally Arab ruling elite since independence in 1956.

Early on Sunday, it looked as though government assertions that the army had beaten back the initial assault were true, but what is the attack going to mean for Africa’s biggest country and the way it is run?

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