Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Sudan leaders scuffle as time runs out for peace deal

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sudanIt started with a small scuffle over a confiscated bag of protest banners outside Sudan’s parliament. And it ended in confrontations between baton-wielding police and protesters on the dusty streets of Omdurman.

At the finish, once the tear gas and protests leaflets had settled, just one victor emerged — in the propaganda stakes at least — the protesters from a loose alliance between south Sudan’s dominant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and mostly northern opposition parties.

The SPLM and opposition groups called Monday’s protest to urge north Sudan’s dominant National Congress Party (NCP) to push through a raft of reforms they see as essential to elections, now just months away in April.

The Khartoum authorities played their part perfectly, first by banning the rally, then by starting the day detaining two prominent SPLM leaders.

Overdose of trouble in West Africa

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That political stability is vital for investment and development goes without saying, but it seems as though too much instability can be bad for criminal enterprises too.

The cocaine cartels that used West Africa, and Guinea-Bissau in particular, as a conduit to Europe were long accused of worsening the chaos in one of the region’s poorest and most troubled states by buying off some factions of the security forces and political leaders.

Zuma sweeps in

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It was South Africa’s most exciting election campaign for a long time, enlivened by the split in the African National Congress and the personality of Jacob Zuma, the man who is now pretty much assured of becoming president despite the best efforts of plenty of people within his party as well as the opposition.

So far, the results don’t look too different from the pre-poll forecasts. An ANC victory was never in doubt and the battle was as much as anything about whether the party could keep its two-thirds majority in parliament, which lets it change the constitution and further entrench its power. That was still in doubt after early figures.

Will Mandela effect help ANC?

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Nelson Mandela, a global symbol of reconciliation after the end of apartheid in 1994, appeared at the ruling ANC’s last election rally before Wednesday’s vote, delivering a last minute campaign boost for party leader Jacob Zuma.

Wearing a Zuma t-shirt, he sat beside the ANC leader, who has been fighting corruption allegations for eight years. The case was just dropped on a technicality and some South Africans still question his innocence.

Will South Africa’s poor always back ANC?

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It’s one of the biggest ironies in South African politics — the most loyal ANC voters are often those the party appears to have let down most bitterly.

For millions of poor, mostly black South Africans, life has barely changed since the African National Congress defeated apartheid under Nelson Mandela in 1994.

from Global News Journal:

Is Bouteflika set for a hollow victory in Algeria election?

Reuters has interviewed Benjamin Stora, Professor of Maghreb history at Paris IX University and one of the world's leading authorities on Algeria. Stora predicts a hollow victory for Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April's presidential election and says it will take a new generation of leaders to bring change to a country where social problems are profound and there is 70 percent unemployment among young adults (according to official figures).
Below is a partial text of the interview.

Q - What is the significance of Algeria changing its constitution to allow Abdelaziz Bouteflika to run for a third term?
A - Algeria is an Arab-Muslim country with a strong revolutionary tradition marked by abrupt changes, reversals, overthrows and coups. It's true there has never been a long continuity at presidential level. Presidents had been imprisoned (Ben Bella), or died (Boumediene), or been deposed (Chadli) or assassinated (Boudiaf), or given up politics (Zeroual). This is the first time we see this sort of continuity at the state level.
This is disorientating for many Algerians and has provoked a torrent of commentary in Algeria about a Tunisian-style continuity. The widespread suspicion is that the current president wants to be president-for-life. This comes not just from his political opponents but also from intellectuals inside Algeria and in exile and from journalists. Algerians reject this notion as counter to their revolutionary tradition.

New hope for Zimbabwe?

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Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change has agreed to join a unity government with President Robert Mugabe, breaking a crippling deadlock four months after the political rivals reached a power-sharing deal.

The decision could improve Zimbabwe’s prospects of recovering from economic collapse and easing a humanitarian crisis in which more than 60,000 people have been infected by cholera and more than half the population needs food aid.

Hopes disappear of new era in Kenya

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Long-suffering Kenyans have once again had their hopes dashed of a new era of political progress freed from the depredations of their notoriously venal politicians, after a wave of high-level corruption scandals and factional squabbling inside the government. 
 
President Mwai Kibaki first won power in 2002 riding a wave of popular support for his promises to end the corruption and  misgovernment of his predecessor, Daniel arap Moi. Disillusion soon set in with massive graft scandals that mirrored the worst of the Moi years tarnishing Kibaki’s image as a reformer.
 
Then hopes rose again last April when a “Grand Coalition” was formed between Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to end two months of brutal ethnic bloodshed after a disputed election, in which at least 1,300 people died and 300,000 were forced from their homes. Despite the formation of the biggest and most expensive government since independence to pander to  the interests of both sides in the election dispute, there was optimism that a wind of change was blowing after decades of abuse by politicians pursuing only narrow tribal and regional interests as well as lining their own pockets.
 
Kenyans sick of the old political class had swept away more than 60 percent of parliament in a powerful vote for change. The new law-makers were said to be of a different cloth, more professional and educated and interested in the welfare of the nation .
 
Early signs were promising with Kibaki and Odinga reported to have struck up a strong and productive relationship and cooperating on policies that brushed aside the protests and pressures of powerful political pressure groups.
 
But the early optimism generated by the post-election settlement has dissipated less than a year later.  Squabbles between Kibaki’s PNU party and Odinga’s ODM, who accuse the president’s close supporters of bypassing them to force through controversial decisions they oppose, are so bad that a new 12-member committee has been set up to mediate within the government. The MPs, already among the world’s best paid, refused to back down on voting themselves fat tax-free allowances despite heavy criticism and pushed through a media bill seen both at home and outside Kenya as a blatant infringement of the rights of the country’s vibrant press – a powerful democratic force.
 
But worst of all, the recent revelation of a string of scandals ranging from the tourist authority to the theft of millions of dollars of petroleum products are a clear sign that not much has changed. The sheer scale of the accusations of graft has shocked many Kenyans. The most damaging is over the diversion of precious reserves of maize, Kenya’s staple food, to bogus millers while almost a third of the population are facing famine because of a long drought. As myriad scandals came to light, the heads of the cereals, petroleum and tourism authorities were all sacked. “In one year only, Kenyans have been treated to a magnitude of corruption they have never seen,” said Okong’o O’Mogeni of the Law Society of Kenya.
 
Foreign analysts say the coalition government is likely to survive its many disputes and will probably last until the next elections scheduled in 2012. None of the parties benefitting from the bloated coalition government are thought likely to want to precipitate a political crisis before then and much manoeuvring is focused on who will make a run for the presidency when Kibaki has to step down after his second term. The relative stability, unexpected when the post-election crisis ended in April, has encouraged positive forecasts for Kenya’s growth by 2010 in contrast to many other frontier markets.

But when will Kenyans get the honest politicians so many of them yearn for, so that this country can develop its full potential as a gateway to a wide swathe of central and eastern Africa and meet the government’s goal of turning it into a prosperous, well-governed country by 2012?

Ghana steps back from the brink

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Ghana’s epic nail-biter of an election has finally ended with opposition leader John Atta Mills being declared the winner by the narrowest of margins: barely 40,000 votes out of 9 million, or less than 0.5 percent of votes from the past week’s run-off.

Virtually everybody was expecting a close race, but the contest got tighter and increasingly acrimonious as both rival camps sensed power was within their reach. As the vote went down to the wire, to be decided with delayed voting held in one final constituency on Jan 2, the ruling New National Party (NNP) announced a boycott and launched legal proceedings to postpone the poll and freeze the announcement of results
 
After a year that has seen electoral bloodshed in Kenya and Zimbabwe one analyst who has followed the vote closely warned that incidents of violence during the polls indicated Ghana “may be coming close to that abyss of no-return”.
 
Yet shortly after the Electoral Commission announced results on Saturday, Akufo-Addo conceded defeat, congratulated Mills and both candidates were stressing the need for cooperation and consensus between their two parties.

Kenya’s traffic – a daily adventure

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The ancient truck labouring up the hill followed by a long queue of vehicles looked like a typical Kenyan scene — except for the legs protruding from under the bonnet. A Mafia hit? No, the legs were moving. Then I realised the bonnet was jammed slightly open and the man was adjusting some fault to keep the engine running while the truck proceeded.

Even for Kenya this was bizarre, but only slightly more unusual than the daily chaos on the roads, where almost anything goes; from enormous potholes capable of cracking the axle of normal cars, to abandoned or broken down trucks, to the swarms of battered, unroadworthy and brightly decorated matatu minibuses, driven by people whose brains appear to have been removed. A colleague recently saw a matatu swing across three lanes of traffic to smash into an unsuspecting car for no apparent reason. Matatus are the only available transport for many Kenyans but climbing into one is a daily and possibly terminal gamble. They are notorious for terrible accidents, often when smashing into oncoming trucks while overtaking on bends or hills. Matatus, like other vehicles, including huge trucks, often travel without lights at night. Matatus break down frequently, leaving a group of disconsolate passengers beside the road while the driver and tout (who takes the fares) try to change a wheel or mend the engine, creating another hazardous obstruction. Combined with the entirely selfish habits of other Kenyan drivers who think nothing of jamming a junction to get a slight advantage over other traffic, the minibuses cause the daily commute to frequently turn into a frustrating calvary with jams that last for hours. All this is made worse by regulations requiring drivers involved in an accident, even a minor shunt, to desist from moving their cars until the police arrive – which can be many hours.

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