Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
The Ethiopian press corps put Thijs Berman, the EU’s chief observer for the country’s May 23rd elections, under some serious pressure at his first press conference since arriving last Wednesday – less than five weeks before the poll.
“Won’t you just rubberstamp a precooked election?” said one.
“How can you do your work with less than five weeks left?” another.
“You have 150 observers for 43,000 polling stations?!” a third.
Berman, a seasoned election monitor who has Afghanistan’s mess of a 2009 poll on his CV, took it all in his stride and even showed flashes of humour.
“If you need to examine a patient and you want to take his blood, you don’t need to take all of his blood. One drop is enough,” he said to laughter.
When the EU monitored Ethiopia’s last elections in 2005 it ended with spiteful accusations from both sides after Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi accused Europe’s then chief observer of helping incite post-election violence.
In Guinea this week, at least 157 people were killed when security forces opened fire on a demonstration against military junta leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, according to a local rights group.
Much has changed since I visited the country in April and May this year. Then, the young Camara — or “Dadis” as most Guineans refer to him – did not look particularly dangerous despite his images staring out from walls, buildings and roundabouts all over Conakry, and cassettes of his speeches on sale in the markets.
Several hundred Africans have drowned off the coast of Libya in an attempt to escape to a better life in Europe.
The head of the United Nations refugee agency says the tragedy marks a grim start to what he calls the “smuggling season”, when the weather gets better and the perilous sea voyages pick up again after the winter.
With the naval might of the United States, Europe, China and others now lined up against Somalia’s pirate fraternity, shippers are hoping the nightmare year of 2008 will not be repeated.
Somali pirates — mainly gangs of poor young men seeking a quick fortune under the direction of older “financiers” and boat leaders – reaped tens of millions of dollars in ransoms last year in a record haul of 42 hijacks, 111 attacks, and 815 crew taken hostage.
That pushed insurance prices up, persuaded some ship-owners to go round South Africa instead of through the Suez Canal, and prompted the unprecedented rush of navies from 14 different nations to the region. Even China is in on the act, deploying its navy for the first time beyond its own waters. And Japan is considering following suit despite its post-World War II pacifist constitution.
There have been some early successes from all the deployments – half a dozen pirates arrested and a series of attacks blocked, by helicopter and boat. Bad weather, too, has given the pirates some real problems, drowning five of them when their pockets were stuffed with dollars after taking their share of the ransom from the release of a Saudi super-tanker.
Yet the pirates have still managed two new hijacks and 11 attacks in the first half of January. They are hanging on to 11 ships with 207 hostages – most notably a Ukrainian ship with tanks on board.
And with such a vast area of operations — plus fancy new speedboats that have taken them as far as Kenya and Madagascar, and GPS equipment to keep away from the warships — the pirates are confident of keeping their business going. So who will win this modern-day battle of the seas? Will the shipping industry lose as much to the pirates this year as they did last? Should they keep paying huge ransoms like the $3 million paid for the Saudi boat?
Maybe, some argue, it will never really be possible to eradicate such a lucrative business which, in one of the world’s most failed states, offers an opportunity for poor and hungry men to become millionaires after a few successful raids. As one pirate told us, they will carry on until there is government again in Somalia.
Can President Robert Mugabe be trusted to implement the resolution of the African Union summit calling for dialogue and a government of national unity to end Zimbabwe’s long-running crisis? According to Mugabe’s camp, he can. “The AU resolution is in conformity to what President Mugabe said at his inauguration, when he said we are prepared to talk in order to resolve our problems,” his Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told Reuters a day after the AU passed the resolution on July 1.
While opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Demoratic Change (MDC) say they have kept the door open for negotiations, he says conditions are not yet right for talks. The MDC also makes clear its objective is a transitional arrangement leading to fresh elections rather than a unity government. The crisis could conceivably be stuck on that difference.