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A journalist’s guide to covering Sudan politics

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sudanSudan’s opposition is often criticized for being unable to unite. And on Thursday night they didn’t disappoint.

The chaotic scenes after a meeting to discuss whether to boycott Sudan’s upcoming elections left most reporters dazed and confused, especially those who were new to politics in Africa’s largest country.

Here is a short guide of how to cover Sudanese politics (or not):

Rule #1: Never make plans around a press conference:

When they say the meeting is at 1900, it inevitably starts at 2100. Much of a foreign correspondent’s time is spent waiting around for meetings which begin hours late, take hours to finish and are followed by a press conference which lasts almost as long.

Unfortunately a journalist’s biggest fear is to miss the story — so we have to arrive on time – just in case.

A new dawn for Sudanese press freedom?

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SUDAN-DARFUR/

Hosting a rare debate between Sudan’s much-maligned National Elections Commission (NEC) and opposition parties, the privately owned Blue Nile television was taking a risk broadcasting live to the nation.

In a country where, ahead of April’s first multi-party elections in 24 years, party political broadcasts are pre-recorded and censored, the evening promised to be fun.

Are you the Darfur Justice and Equality Movement?

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darfurThere is a classic scene in Monty Python’s film The Life of Brian where the hero sets off in search of a secret band of insurgents. “Are you the Judean People’s Front,” he asks a group of malcontents. “The Judean People’s Front!” they reply in disgust. “We’re the People’s Front of Judea … The only people we hate more than the Romans are the f***ing Judean People’s Front … And the Judean Popular People’s Front. Splitters!”

Darfur’s more Islamic rebels will not appreciate the Judean comparison. But there has been an undeniable Pythonesque quality to recent efforts to negotiate with the splintered insurgent factions in Sudan’s strife-torn west.

The unnumbered dead

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CONGO-DEMOCRATICThe simple answer to the question of how many people died in Congo’s civil war is “too many”.

Trying to get a realistic figure is fraught with difficulties and a new report suggests that a widely used estimate of 5.4 million dead – potentially making Congo the deadliest conflict since World War Two – is hugely inaccurate and that the loss of life may be less than half that.

Searching for reasons to be cheerful in Sudan

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sudanOnly the most foolhardy commentator would dare to say anything optimistic about the coming year in Sudan, four months away from highly charged elections and 12 months from an explosive referendum on southern independence.

So here goes — five reasons why Africa’s largest country might just manage to reach January 2011 without a return to catastrophe and bloody civil war, despite the worst predictions of most pundits.

from Global News Journal:

Darfur: Is the war over or is the world losing interest?

A girl holds her sleeping brother in Zam Zam camp in Darfur, Sudan in June 2008. REUTERS/Louis CharbonneauIt's more than six years since mostly non-Arab rebels in Sudan's western Darfur region revolted after accusing Khartoum of neglecting their remote corner of Africa's biggest country. Khartoum's U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, declared in New York this week that the "war in Darfur is over."

But Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, disagrees. Although levels of violence in Darfur have fallen, he told the Security Council that crimes "are continuing." He said those crimes include indiscriminate bombings of civilians, creation of inhumane conditions for displaced people in order to "exterminate" them, rapes and sexual violence, and the use of child soldiers.

The ICC has already issued arrest warrants for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, another government official and a former Janjaweed militia leader for war crimes in a government-led counter-insurgency campaign that drove more than 2 million from their homes. The United Nations says as many as 300,000 people have died since the conflict erupted in 2003, but Khartoum rejects that figure.

A slick visit to Darfur’s red carpet camps

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There was a time when visits to Darfur were uncertain affairs, fraught with danger. These days — as long as you travel with the right people and stick strictly to the right route — they can be as comfortable as a coach trip.

The African Union delegation plane touched down in El Fasher, North Darfur’s capital, at 9.35 a.m. on Tuesday. We were on the bus heading back to the airstrip at 4.40 p.m.

Is Sudan’s Darfur crisis getting too much attention?

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Activists often say that the world is not paying enough attention to Sudan’s Darfur crisis. But could the opposite be true — that Darfur is actually getting too much attention, from too many organisations, all at the same time?

A rough count shows at least 10 international and local initiatives searching for a solution to the region’s festering conflict. Many of them are at least nominally coordinated by the United Nation and the African Union. But with so many parallel programmes in play, the opportunities for duplication, competition and confusion are legion.

Is the new U.S. policy on Sudan the dawn of a new era of engagement with Khartoum?

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On Monday U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration announced its new Sudan policy after months of speculation and lobbying from those opposed to any positive overtures to Khartoum and those who said further isolating Sudan would derail years of peace efforts.

U.S.-Sudanese relations have seen many ups and down in recent years. U.S. sanctions were imposed in 1997 and the United States bombed a Sudanese pharmaceuticals factory in 1998. There was praise for a 2005 north-south peace deal ending more than two decades of civil war, but it was overshadowed by outrage over atrocities in the 2003 Darfur uprising where Washington accused Khartoum of genocide.

from Global News Journal:

Norwegian memo sparks PR crisis for UN’s Ban Ki-moon

Ban Ki-moon isn't having a good year for public relations. Halfway through a five-year term as U.N. secretary-general, he's been hit with a wave of negative assessments by the Financial Times, The Economist, London Times, Foreign Policy and other media organizations. In a March 2009 editorial entitled "Whereabouts Unknown," the Times said Ban was "virtually inaudible" on pressing issues of international security and "ineffectual" on climate change, the one issue that Ban claims he has made the biggest difference on. The Economist gave him a mixed report card, assigning him two out of 10 points for his management skills while praising him on climate change (eight out of 10 points).
    
This week, Norway's Aftenposten newspaper made an unpleasant situation much worse. It published a confidential memo assessing Ban's 2-1/2 years in office from Oslo's deputy U.N. ambassador, Mona Juul, to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. Juul's report is scathing -- and it comes from a representative of one of the world's body's top financial contributors. She says the former South Korean foreign minister suffers from a "lack of charisma" and has "constant temper tantrums" in his offices on the 38th floor of the United Nations building in midtown Manhattan.
    
She describes Ban as a "powerless observer" during the fighting in Sri Lanka earlier this year when thousands of civilians were killed as government forces ended a 25-year civil war against Tamil Tiger rebels, trapping them on a narrow strip of coast in the country's northeast. In Darfur, Somalia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Congo, she wrote, Ban's "passive and not very committed appeals seem to fall on deaf ears." She says that his recent trip to Myanmar was a failure and that some people in Washington refer to Ban as a "one-term" secretary-general.
    
Juul's letter could hardly have come at a more inopportune time. Ban is planning to visit Norway in the coming weeks, where he intends to meet with government officials and visit the Arctic circle to see for himself the effects of global warming and the melting polar ice. Now U.N. officials fear reporters will be more interested in what he says about Juul's memo than climate change.

So far Ban has not reacted to the letter. However, a Norwegian diplomat told Reuters that Ban's press office had been instructed to hold off on confirming his visit to Norway shortly after the news of Juul's memo began to spread.
    
Ban's PR difficulties didn't start this year. In March 2008, his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar sent a memo to U.N. employees explaining how to say his boss's name. "Many world leaders, some of whom are well acquainted with the Secretary-General, still use his first name mistakenly as his surname and address him wrongly as Mr. Ki-moon or Mr. Moon," Nambiar complained.
 
Then came Ban's own speech to senior U.N. officials in Turin, Italy last year, in which he described how difficult it was to improve the working culture inside the United Nations. The secretary-general seemed to acknowledge that his internal management style had failed. "I tried to lead by example," Ban said. "Nobody followed."
    
Ban's aides vehemently defend him, saying he's being treated unfairly by the press. One senior U.N. official suggested privately that Ban could very well turn out to be "the greatest secretary-general ever." They complain that people continue to compare him to his predecessor Kofi Annan, who was a very different U.N. chief and relied less on "quiet diplomacy" than Ban. Annan became a hero to many people around the world for standing up to the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Annan called the March 2003 invasion illegal. U.N. officials also complain bitterly about the indefatigable blogger Matthew Lee, whose website Inner City Press regularly accuses Ban and other U.N. officials of hypocrisy and failing to keep their promises to reform the United Nations and root out corruption. (Some U.N. officials accuse Lee of not always getting his facts right, but his blog has become unofficial required reading for U.N. staffers around the world.)
    
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, diplomats in New York say, is among those supporting a campaign against a second term for Ban. Juul's memo said Helen Clark, New Zealand's former prime minister and current head of the U.N. Development Program, "could quickly become a competitor for Ban's second term." But diplomats say they expect the United States, Britain and other major powers to reluctantly back a second term for Ban, if only because there appears to be no viable alternative whom Russia and China would support.
    
A recent article in the Times of London said the best U.N. chief in the organization's 64-year history was not Swedish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dag Hammarskjold but the Peruvian diplomat Javier Perez de Cuellar, who held the top U.N. post for 10 years until 1992. Nicknamed "mumbles" because he was so difficult to understand, Perez de Cuellar kept a low profile and, like Ban, preferred backroom diplomacy, not Annan's bully pulpit. Among the Peruvian diplomat's successes were managing the end of the Cold War, leading a long-delayed revival of U.N. peacekeeping and encouraging member states to back a U.S.-led military operation to drive Iraq's invading forces out of Kuwait in 1991.
    
Will Ban's preference for quiet diplomacy make him as good or better than Perez de Cuellar? That remains to be seen.

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