Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

South Sudan’s unlikely hero

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SUDAN-REFERENDUMSouthern Sudanese may not like to admit it but the unlikely hero of their independence is an octogenarian northern lawyer always close to controversy who has pulled off what was touted as a mission impossible. Holding south Sudan’s referendum on secession on time.

Bespectacled Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, head of the south Sudan Referendum Commission, looks frail and sometimes walks with a stick. But he’s sharper than all of his younger colleagues, can run rings around journalists in Arabic, English and French and handles his own very busy mobile phone traffic.

“When he starts something he attacks it like he’s in his early twenties,” said one colleague.

Khalil, in his late eighties, was sworn in as head of the commission in July some three years later than he should have taken up the post. He then made his first trip to south Sudan.

West must change approach to Africa

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SUDAN/Tom Cargill, Assistant Head of the Africa Programme at Chatham House, writes on the West’s relationship with Africa:

French President Nicholas Sarkozy put it best this week, when he spoke of the increasing important of Africa in Global Affairs: “Africa’s formidable demographics and its considerable resources make it the main reservoir for world economic growth in the decades to come.”

Is Obama Africa’s saviour?

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Africa is rich in natural resources like oil, gold, diamonds, platinum and yet millions of African people live in abject poverty. The global economic and climate crisis have made life even harder.

At the recent G8 meeting in Italy, African leaders and members of civil society voiced concerns over the promises made in previous G8 meetings of aid and assistance that have yet to materialise.

Should West back Zimbabwe’s government?

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The United Nations has joined Zimbabwe’s power-sharing government in appealing for more than $700 million in humanitarian aid for the ruined country.

But while Western countries may show willing when it comes to emergency aid, they are still reluctant to give money to the government between President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, his old rival.

Will Bashir warrant worsen war?

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Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has seen off other challenges in almost 20 years in power and there is no sign that he is going to give in to the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Some supporters of the court’s move hope it will eventually persuade Sudan’s politicians to hand over their leader in a palace coup, end the festering conflict in Darfur and do more to repair relations with the West.

Time to stop aid for Africa? An argument against

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Earlier this month, Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo argued that Africa needs Western countries to cut long term aid that has brought dependency, distorted economies and fuelled bureaucracy and corruption. The comments on the blog posting suggested that many readers agreed. In a response, Savio Carvalho, Uganda country director for aid agency Oxfam GB, says that aid can help the continent escape poverty – if done in the right way:

In early January, I travelled to war-ravaged northern Uganda to a dusty village in Pobura and Kal parish in Kitgum District. We were there to see the completion of a 16km dirt road constructed by the community with support from Oxfam under an EU-funded programme.

Tale of an African whistleblower

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A new book on corruption in Kenya is considered so explosive there that copies are only being sold under the counter in Nairobi by some book sellers too nervous to display them openly.

“Within these pages, we stand eyeball to eyeball with corruption. The book is an ironclad tell-all that mercilessly bares all to the light,” said the local Sunday Nation newspaper in a review of Michela Wrong’s book. “It feels dangerous to just read, let alone write.”

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?

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.

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)

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