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Nigeria’s leader fights propaganda war



Less than a month after launching his election campaign in a blaze of optimism, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has found himself fighting a potentially damaging propaganda war over last week’s car bombs.
    Jonathan’s assertion that rebels from his Niger Delta home region were not responsible for the twin bomb attacks near an independence day parade last Friday has laid him open to a barrage of criticism from rivals who accuse him of partisanship.

    As the first head of state from the southern Niger Delta, Jonathan already faced a tough battle convincing some in the ruling party to back his election bid and jettison a gentleman’s agreement that means the next president should be a northerner.
    The unwritten pact in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is meant to prevent tribalism and regional rivalries becoming a factor in federal politics by ensuring power rotates every two terms between north and south.
    Jonathan’s comments that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which claimed the blasts, was not responsible and suggestions from the authorities that associates of his main rival, former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida, may be involved have infuriated and united his northern opponents.
    “The man … who only a few weeks ago moved us with lofty words of hope and a vision of transformation, shot himself in the foot and then put the bloody foot in his mouth,” wrote Tolu Ogunlesi, a journalist on Nigeria’s Next newspaper.
    “The incident momentarily stripped him of his presidential garb and wrapped him in the gaudy garments of a tribal chieftain,” he said.
    Babangida and three other northerners running against him in the primaries issued a joint statement slamming Jonathan for “exonerating” MEND and accusing him of using the bomb blasts as a pretext to intimidate his opponents.
    A separate group of northern politicians led by ex-finance minister and founding PDP member Adamu Ciroma described it as a “rude shock to the nation” and called on Jonathan to resign.
    Their fury was piqued by the brief detention of Babangida’s campaign director Raymond Dokpesi for questioning over the blasts by the secret service on Monday.
    The presidency said the investigations were being carried out on the back of U.S. and British as well as Nigerian intelligence and that anybody could be invited for questioning.
    “It is unfortunate that an unprecedented national tragedy of this nature has been politicised by people whose only interest is what they can get from the country and not what the country can get from them,” Jonathan said on his Facebook page.
    “They specialise in playing one part of the country against the other and riding on sectional sentiments to promote their narrow ambitions,” he said.
     Jonathan started his election campaign almost three weeks ago on a high, having unveiled plans to privatise the power sector and end chronic power shortages, better manage the country’s oil savings and fight criminality.
    He pledged a new era of leadership “uncontaminated by the prejudices of the past” and his campaign team hoped the momentum would carry him into the primaries, originally due this month.
    But the timetable was revised to allow the electoral authorities to overhaul voter lists, handing his northern rivals more time to steel themselves.
    The bomb blasts were another blow to his strategy.
    Beneath all the finger pointing and rhetoric, none of Nigeria’s political class emerge well from the episode.
    Jonathan was vice president when Henry Okah, a senior militant figure charged in Johannesburg this week with conspiring to carry out the attacks, had treason and gun-running charges against him dropped under an amnesty deal.
    Aliyu Gusau, another northern presidential candidate who has criticised Jonathan, was the country’s national security adviser until three weeks ago. Security experts say Friday’s attacks would have been months in the planning.
    Babangida’s opponents say his assertion that Jonathan does not have a firm grip on national security is rich coming from a man largely remembered for his 1993 cancellation of an election generally regarded as fair which led to civil unrest and a bloody crackdown by the security forces.
    “Politicians in Nigeria are very good at arguing with each other,” said Antony Goldman, a Nigeria expert and head of London-based PM Consulting.
    “But the temptation to try to extract political advantage from a national emergency reveals the deeper issue that ten years after the end of military rule, the whole political class struggles to make itself relevant to the people.”
    The propaganda war will rumble on and it is unclear what impact, if any, it will have on the candidates’ fortunes. But it bodes ill for any hopes that the elections will be based on real issues rather than scaremongering and personality clashes.
    “The bomb blast is a shame because it could have been prevented, but you know in Nigeria we don’t pay attention to the things that really matter,” said Kehinde Osho, 24, a graphic artist in the commercial hub Lagos.
    “Elections are next year and the voters are not even registered yet. We are fighting a lost battle — we won’t have a credible election with this kind of preparation.”

Can’t do or won’t do? Ending Darfur’s kidnap business


American Flavia Wagner who works for U.S. charity Samaritan's Purse on her release after 105 days alone in captivity in Darfur Kidnappings targeting foreign workers in Sudan for ransoms have become a dangerous phenomenon in Darfur in the past year with 10 separate cases and at least 22 expatriate victims. These are not the al Qaeda kidnaps of West Africa. The Darfuri criminals so far have demanded money and have not killed any of their victims. Some have threatened to sell their captives onto al Qaeda-linked groups if they do not get paid. The abductions have severely restricted the operations of those aid and U.N. agencies still working in Darfur, with foreigners mostly relocated to the main towns and rarely travelling into the rural areas where people are arguably most in need of help. The question always debated by Sudan watchers is: “Is it that Khartoum can’t protect foreign workers in Darfur or that they won’t?” Many point to the timing as an indication — these politicised abductions became a regular crime after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in March 2009. Others speculate that the government, which has long had a hostile attitude to the international humanitarian agencies in the world’s largest aid operation in Darfur, does not want them to travel and report on the worsening situation in the rural or more remote areas. This is one way to prevent that. But the problem now negatively affects the government too, making them look weak and unable to control even the region’s main towns. Russia voiced rare criticism of its African ally after three members of a Russian aircrew were taken from the middle of Darfur’s largest town Nyala, just days after another Russian pilot was detained by Arab militia loyal to the government. The Russian envoy said it was clear Khartoum was unable to control the security situation, striking a blow to Khartoum’s argument that the conflict in Darfur and the “isolated” cases of banditry are under control. Nyala, Darfur’s largest town and economic hub, was largely insulated from the brutal revolt and counter-insurgency campaign which has for seven years terrorised Darfur’s inhabitants. Now it is the epicentre of the abductions, with criminals taking foreigners from inside their guesthouses or in the town centre  in broad daylight. Fuelling the kidnaps are constant reports of Khartoum paying money for many of the hostages, another expensive reason why the government would want to end the crimes. Kidnappers told me hundreds of thousands of dollars had been paid out to abductors. The government says they know who these kidnappers are – their tribes and their families. They threaten to arrest them. But the threats appeared empty as after the release of the longest-held hostage ICRC staffer Gauthier Lefevre when there was a two month kidnap-free window, no action was taken to prosecute or bring the kidnappers to justice. Cue the abduction of Samaritan’s Purse Flavia Wagner two months after Lefevre’s release. She then endured a 105-day ordeal alone in captivity with her kidnappers threatening to rape or kill her on numerous occasions. And new spate of shorter kidnaps also began. Those who support the theory that the government is sanctioning the kidnaps ask why they have not apprehended any of the criminals. But Khartoum is not in an easy position. The kidnappers are usually young men from mostly Arab tribes – the same powerful tribes who Khartoum mobilised to help quash the Darfur rebels. One government official told me they feared any attack on the young Arabs would provoke the entire tribe — already disillusioned by the government who they feel has not delivered on promised development and services — to defend their own. The local government in Darfur is often run by those from the same tribes as the kidnappers, creating a reluctance to act against them and risk losing their support base. In remote regions far from Khartoum, the tribe provides and therefore rules. Central policy set in Khartoum is not always in the interests of the Darfur state authorities run by the governor and vice versa. But it seems that Khartoum’s interests are now clearly in line with the international community’s – to stop the kidnaps. Some officials in Khartoum are convinced action must be taken to stop the crimes. And in the last kidnap, the army acted quickly — closing down on the kidnappers before they could whisk their victims away to a desert hideaway. Again now Khartoum has a brief moment of kidnap-free time to apprehend the abductors as threatened. The world will be watching closely to see what they do.

Kidnapping foreign workers in Sudan for ransom has become a dangerous business in Darfur in the past year with 10 separate cases and at least 22 expatriate victims.

These are not the al Qaeda kidnaps of West Africa. The Darfuri criminals have so far demanded only money and have not killed any of their victims. Some have threatened to sell their captives to al Qaeda-linked groups if they do not get paid.

France’s former colonies, 50 years on


 Over the last week, a string of African nations have been busy celebrating 50 years of independence from France. Almost inevitably, the prickly relationship between Paris and her former colonies has come under the microscope.

 Sarkozy with former President Bongo in Gabon.

Under President Omar Bongo, Gabon represented the clearest example of Francafrique – the intertwined political and economic interests of the French government and the elite in former African colonies.

Nightmare start for Africa’s year of soccer


    Africa’s year of soccer scarcely could have got off to a worse

    Days before the start of the African Nations Cup — a
warm-up for the continent’s first World Cup in South Africa this
June — the gun attack on Togo’s national team by separatists in
Angola for many will confirm Africa’s reputation for chaos.

Sweet potatoes to beat climate change?


A major obstacle to producing enough food has been the dry weather which hit many African countries last year, including Kenya, where 10 million people urgently needed food when rains failed. Now Kenyan farmers have been asked to grow drought tolerant crops to help prepare for the effects of climate change.

Nancy Opele has been growing sweet potatoes on her farm in Kenya’s western Trans Nzoia district. She started growing the potatoes in 2003 after researchers approached farmers and introduced them to the crop.

Soccer match creates Arab diplomatic rift












In scenes more akin to a prelude to war than a soccer match, Algeria won Africa’s last place in next year’s World Cup finals in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on Wednesday.

With 15,000 extra security men manning the stadium and heavily armed riot police on virtually every street corner for Algeria’s 1-0 win over Egypt, there was little opportunity for major violence.

Bringing aid and being a target


Posted by George Fominyen, AlertNet‘s humanitarian affairs correspondent for West and Central Africa, based in Dakar. He is also West Africa coordinator for Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Emergency Information Service.

The abduction of two Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) workers in Chad this month after a robbery at their compound near Sudan’s Darfur region has again brought to the fore the question of attacks on aid workers.

from Global News Journal:

Saviors or conquerors? UN mulls “responsibility to protect”

By Patrick Worsnip
What's more important -- the right of a sovereign state to manage its affairs free of outside interference or the duty of the international community to intervene when massive human rights violations are being committed in a country?
The United Nations -- nothing if not a talking shop -- has been debating that question this week in the General Assembly. It goes to the heart of what the U.N. is all about.
At issue is a declaration issued four years ago by a summit of more than 150 world leaders asserting the "responsibility to protect" -- R2P in U.N. jargon -- populations threatened with genocide or other mass atrocities. It was a somewhat belated response to widespread criticism of the United Nations for failing to stop massacres in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s.
The carefully crafted declaration said the responsibility began with the government of the country concerned. If that failed, it foresaw a sliding scale of international action, ranging from advice through mediation to -- in a last resort -- intervention by force. And such a use of force could only be authorized by the Security Council, meaning the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China would all have to agree.
Cautious as it was, the summit document was seen by many advocacy groups as a step on the road to fulfilling their dream that if a government was committing atrocities against its people, the United Nations would march in and stop it.
In the real world, U.N. officials say, that is not going to happen, at least under the peacekeeping rules that have applied in recent decades. These do not authorize U.N. forces to go to war against the national army of a sovereign state -- a move that would amount to invasion. Witness the six-year-old conflict in Sudan's western region of Darfur -- branded by some as genocide -- where a U.N./African Union peacekeeping force is only now being slowly deployed with the consent of the Khartoum government. The only time that R2P has been invoked in practice -- and even then retrospectively -- was in former U.N. secretary-General Kofi Annan's mission to mediate in post-election violence in Kenya last year, U.N. officials say.
This week's debate was to take stock of R2P and discuss how to take it forward, although no immediate action is expected. It came against the background of a determined attempt by radicals led by General Assembly President Miguel D'Escoto, a former Nicaraguan Sandinista government minister, to kick the issue into the long grass.

For D'Escoto and those who agree with him, R2P is code for an attempt by big Western powers to impose their will on the weak. In a contentious "concept note" issued to all U.N. members he declared that "colonialism and interventionism used 'responsibility to protect' arguments." One member of a panel of experts D'Escoto convened to launch the debate, U.S. academic Noam Chomsky, said R2P-type arguments had been used to justify Japan's 1931 invasion of Manchuria and Nazi Germany's pre-World War Two move into Czechoslovakia.
While some radical states, such as Venezuela, echoed D'Escoto's line in the assembly debate, human rights groups expressed relief that most cautiously supported a strictly defined interpretation of R2P and backed proposals by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for developing it. Ban has proposed periodic reviews of how countries have implemented R2P and regular reports by himself on the issue. "To those that argued this week that the U.N. was not ready to make a reality of the commitment to end mass atrocities, the majority of the General Assembly gave its answer: you are wrong," said Monica  Serrano of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. Despite that, there have been clear signs of concern among developing countries that unless tightly controlled, R2P could be used in support of future Iraq-style invasions of countries that have angered the big powers.
What's your view?

Overdose of trouble in West Africa


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.

from Environment Forum:

New ‘gold rush’ buzz hits Germany over Sahara solar

A "gold-rush-like" buzz has spread across Germany in the last week over tentative plans to invest the staggering sum of 400 billion euros to harvest solar power in the Sahara for energy users across Europe and northern Africa. Even though European and Mediterranean Union leaders have been exploring and studying for several years the idea of using concentrated solar power (CSP), the Desertec proposition suddenly captivated the public's attention a week ago when German reinsurer Munich Re announced it had invited blue chip German companies such as Deutsche Bank, Siemens and several major utilities to a July 13 meeting on the project. The 20 companies aim to sign a memorandum of understanding to found the Desertec Industrial Initiative that could be supplying 15 percent of Europe's electricity in the decades ahead.

Germany's deputy foreign minister, Guenter Gloser, has been the government's point man for the project. I had the chance to talk to him about it.