Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Eritrea and Somalia: did they or didn’t they?

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 As Somalia goes up in flames again , fingers are being pointed at Eritrea for its alleged role in fuelling the conflict.  East African regional body IGAD and the continent-wide African Union have both called for sanctions on Eritrea – including a no-fly zone and blockade of its ports – for allegedly supplying arms and equipment to Al Shabaab and other militant Islamist insurgents fighting Somalia’s interim government.The accusations have been around for years, and have surfaced in U.N. reports on breaches of a weapons embargo for Somalia. Asmara says its arch-enemy Ethiopia is driving the accusations, helped by CIA agents in the region, and denies it has given any material aid despite its antipathy towards President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s government.Asmara says the government, formed in January during a U.N.-brokered process in Djibouti, is an illegitimate administration imposed by foreign powers. It challenges its critics to produce hard evidence, and says the accusations are particularly hypocritical given Ethiopia’s recent armed intervention in Somalia.Analysts say the spat plays into the wider, unfinished conflict in the region between Ethiopia and Eritrea. They fought a border war between 1998-2000 – just a few years after Eritrea won its independence from Ethiopia – and their armies still face each other, while the governments spit enmity between them. So who is right? How can the rest of the world know the truth? What should Eritrea and Ethiopia both do to further peace in Somalia?

Media values on the high seas

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It’s a cynical adage of British journalism that one dead Briton is, in headline terms at least, worth several dozen foreign fatalities.

A similar law seems to be in play with the latest hostage drama on the high seas off Somalia, where four pirates have been holding an American sea captain in a life boat under the watchful eye of the USS Bainbridge.

Will democracy work in Ethiopia?

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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.

Is Africa a good bet?

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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?

from The Great Debate:

Somalia’s slim hope

By Daniela Kroslak, Deputy Africa Program Director, and Andrew Stroehlein, Communications Director, of the International Crisis Group, Any views expressed are their own.

ICGPirates, Islamists, refugees, anarchy, civil war -- not much good news has come out of Somalia in the last couple of decades. With warlord replacing warlord over the years and transitional governments constantly hovering between extremely weak and non-existent on the ground, the temptation will be to view this week's election of a new Somali president with an eye-rolling, "so what?"

Somalia’s new chance

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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.

Can world now stop Somali pirates?

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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.

from Global News Journal:

New world shapes up off Somalia

The Somali pirates who released a Saudi supertanker got a $3 million reward, according to their associates. Good money in one of the world’s poorest and most war-blighted corners.But the waters off Somalia are getting ever more crowded with foreign ships trying to stop the pirates. As well as potentially making life more difficult for the hijackers, it has become a real illustration of the much talked about global power shift from West to East in terms of military might as well as economic strength.This raises a question as to whether this will lead to close cooperation, rivalry or something altogether more unpredictable.This week the United States said it planned to launch a specific anti-piracy force, an offshoot of a coalition naval force already in the region since the start of the U.S. “War on Terror” in Afghanistan in 2001.It wasn’t clear just what this would mean in practical terms since U.S. ships were already part of the forces trying to stop the modern day buccaneers, equipped with speedboats and rocket-propelled grenades. It was also unclear which countries would be joining the U.S.-led force rather than operating under their own mandates.The U.S. announcement came two days after Chinese ships started an anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden. This is the first time Chinese warships have sailed to Africa, barring goodwill visits, since Ming Dynasty eunuch Admiral Zheng commanded an armada 600 years ago.As my colleague Sanjeev Miglani wrote last month, the Chinese deployment was being scrutinised by the strategic community from New Delhi to Washington.The Chinese had actually been catching up to other Asian countries. India already had ships in the region. So did Malaysia, whose navy foiled at least one pirate attack this month. Reasserting its might, Russia had sent a warship after the big surge in piracy in the Gulf of Aden between Somalia and Yemen. The European Union has a mission there.For Asian countries there is good reason to send warships. This is the main trade route to markets in Europe and their ships have been seized. Attacks on shipping push up insurance rates and force some vessels to use more fuel on the longer, safer route around Africa instead of taking the Suez Canal.But there certainly appears to be evidence too to back up the U.S. National Intelligence Council’s “Global Trends 2025” report late last year that highlighted the relative decline in Washington’s long term influence in the face of the rise of China and India.As well as being a chance for the world’s old and new powers to show their strength in terms of numbers, the anti-piracy operations off Somalia could prove something of a test of effectiveness.While the hardware the navies have will always outclass that of the pirates, the new powers may have an advantage in more robust rules of engagement. That might lead to mistakes, however. In November, India trumpted its success in sinking a pirate “mother ship”. It later turned out that a Thai ship carrying fishing equipment had been sunk while it was being hijacked. Most of the crew were reported lost.There is a lot of sea to cover, one of the reasons why naval forces have had so much difficulty in stopping the hijackings, but the presence of so many navies in the same area at the same time must raise questions over how well they are going to work together.Will this become a model for cooperation in a new world order? Or are there dangers? Might this also end up being a display of how little either East or West can do in the face of attacks by armed groups from a failed state with which nobody from outside seems prepared to come to grips? What do you think?(Picture: Commanding officer of a U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser monitors the pirated ship off Somalia REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Handout)(Picture: Forces from French naval vessel "Jean de Vienne", seen in this January 4, 2009 photo, capture 19 Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. REUTERS/French Navy/handout)

Which way will Somalia go?

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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.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

And now the Chinese navy in Somali waters…

Chinese naval ships may soon be steaming into the Gulf of  Aden to join a growing fleet of international warships fighting  Somali pirates.

A first probably for a navy that has long confined itself to its own waters, the move is certain to stir interest in the strategic community stretching from New Delhi to Washington.

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