Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
Six Ethiopian opposition parties have joined forces to go up against the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in next year’s parliamentary elections, but their chances of bringing change look slim at best and they complain of heavy-handed tactics by the ruling party.
The foremost opposition figure in Africa’s second most populous country, Birtukan Mideksa, a 34-year-old former judge, has been in solitary confinement since December. She was jailed after the first democratic poll in 2005, which ended in rioting that was bloodily suppressed, was pardoned in 2007 and rearrested last year after renouncing the terms of her pardon.
Bekele Jirata, a top official from another party, recently spent four months in prison after being accused of working with rebels from the Oromo region, though he is now out on bail.
The government dismisses as “baseless” opposition accusations that political activity is restricted.
If anyone in Africa was worried that the global financial crisis might dim China’s interest in the continent, President Hu Jintao will be visiting this week to give some reassurances – as well as possibly to temper any unrealistic hopes for the amount of assistance to be expected.
As Chris Buckley reported from Beijing, this visit is also about China showing the wider world that it is a responsible power.
“Sub-Saharan Africa: Year of Regression”. That was the heading used by U.S.-based rights group Freedom House in its survey of political freedom in the world published this week.
Of course the Freedom House survey pointed to the coups in Guinea and Mauritania as well as the situation in Zimbabwe, whose elections were condemned by many countries and where the crisis shows no sign of lessening, but there were plenty of other names on the list too:
A court ruling that effectively reinstates corruption charges against African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma could hardly have come at a worse moment for him and the party that has dominated South Africa since the end of apartheid.
There appears little doubt that Zuma will be the party’s presidential candidate ahead of elections expected around April, but the ANC now faces its toughest electoral test yet with hefty graft charges hanging over its man.
This week, Ghana completed its smooth transfer of power from the ruling party to the opposition after an election that won praise around the continent.
President John Atta Mills certainly faces plenty of challenges, but the change of guard – the second such democratic victory of the opposition over a ruling party in Ghana – was a big achievement in itself on a continent where such a possibility sometimes seems more theoretical than real.
Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua left for Saudi Arabia more than two weeks ago for the Islamic obligation of the lesser Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca. Yar’Adua, who is known to have a chronic kidney problem, has sought medical attention in Jeddah and has still not returned, raising fears about the state of his health. A medical source in Saudi Arabia told Reuters he had undergone an operation.
Government and presidency officials have been tight-lipped about the president’s condition and have not said exactly when he will be back. The opposition has demanded clarity on the president’s health, adding that his absence is having an adverse effect on the workings of government and that the official silence is fuelling speculation and uncertainty.
The authorities in Ivory Coast have now embarked on what is supposed to be the last step of issuing identity papers to its citizens. Those who lost their papers during the war or never had any in the first place and missed out on previous hearings across the country are getting another chance .
This, in theory, will then allow those old enough to register to vote in elections, which are due to take place on November 30. These are the elections meant to end a crisis that was sparked by a short war in 2002-2003 and left the country, the world’s top cocoa producer and home to one of the region’s most stable and flourishing economies, divided between a rebel-held north and a government-controlled south.