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.
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?
Despite the extremely tight security at this week’s African Union summit in Ethiopia, one brief lapse gave some journalists covering the meeting a very rare glimpse behind the scenes.
Reporters at the annual meeting in Addis Ababa are normally kept well away from the heads of state, except for the occasional carefully managed press conference, or a brief word thrown in our direction as they sweep past in the middle of a phalanx of sharp-elbowed, scowling bodyguards.
How times change. Somalia’s new Islamist president has been feted in Ethiopia, whose army drove him from power two years ago – with Washington’s backing – when he headed a sharia courts movement.
Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was greeted with a standing ovation from African Union leaders at a summit in Ethiopia, which pulled the last of its troops out of Somalia last month, leaving the government in control of little beyond parts of Mogadishu. The hardline Islamist al Shabaab militia control much of the rest of southern Somalia.
The withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia has left a nation beset by conflict for nearly two decades at a crossroads.
Ethiopia invaded to oust Islamists from the capital, but insurgents still control much of southern Somalia and more hardline groups that worry Washington have flourished during the two-year intervention.
The lines of Europe’s carve up of Africa were finally taking shape. On March 11, 1913, Britain and Germany agreed who got which bits of a swampy corner of the continent that few in either of the cold and distant countries had heard of.
Two states that did not exist at that time put the border agreement into effect again on Thursday with Nigeria formally handing over the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon.
Our route is along the Great North Road, the famed Cape Town-to-Cairo highway on what is said to be the only untarmacked stretch on the whole continent – roughly 550 kilometres from where the highway ends at Isiolo town north to Moyale on the Ethiopian border. It has all the wildlife and stunning scenery Kenya is world-famous for, but few tourists ever see it.
Although Zimbabwe got all the headlines, the official theme of the African Union summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh was water.
That made it all the more surprising for thirsty delegates that there was none for them to drink.
Journalists covering the summit had other complaints.
Usually, these meetings are a glorious chance for reporters to grab quotes from normally elusive heads of state as they glide through the plush halls, flanked by aides and bodyguards.
But the Egyptians had other ideas at this summit. Maybe it was a sign of the sensitivity of the discussions, with Zimbabwe’s election crisis overshadowing all other topics. Or perhaps it was an indication of the immensely tight security around Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak — who escaped an assassination attempt at an African summit in Ethiopia in 1995.
Local security officials banned reporters from entering areas even two halls away from where the leaders were meeting.
A few news crews still got through, but some scuffled with President Robert Mugabe’s security men late on Sunday — the 84-year-old leader was himself knocked about. After that, security became even tighter, with journalists confined only to a smoky, overcrowded press centre.
Reporters like me and Reuters colleagues Opheera McDoom and Cynthia Johnston were banned from going to interview leaders even after their aides came to escort us to see them.
At least one official was advised not to enter the press room — to avoid provoking a crush. Egyptian security said they couldn’t guarantee the safety of officials.
Meanwhile, journalists were barricaded in one end of the building, with no food provided apart from two coffee breaks during the 12-hour days. Those offerings were devoured in seconds by a ravenous pack, depriving those who weren’t quick enough for even a dry piece of cake.
AU officials griped about the lack of hospitality too.
“This is the worst summit ever,” said one experienced AU official.
The news from Somalia seems to be relentlessly negative, writes Reuters Somalia correspondent Guled Mohamed. So it has been for the best part of 17 years since warlords overran the country in 1991 to usher in the modern period of chaos in this part of the Horn of Africa.
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki is probably one of Africa’s least-known yet controversial leaders. After a successful 30-year independence war against neighbouring Ethiopia, he won praise from the West in the 1990s for being part of a “new generation” of progressive African leaders. In recent years, however, the Eritrean president has been increasingly criticised from abroad as running his small Horn of African nation along authoritarian lines.
Not usually keen on giving interviews to Western media, President Isaias Afwerki sat down this week for a nearly two-hour chat with Reuters’ Asmara correspondent Jack Kimball and East Africa bureau chief Andrew Cawthorne. In it, he criticised the United Nations, denied an incursion into Djibouti, outlined Eritrea’s economic policies and accused the United States of trying to destabilise his country.