LONDON (Reuters) – With his penchant for Bedouin tents, heavily armed female bodyguards and Ukrainian nurses, Muammar Gaddafi has cut a showman like figure as Libya’s leader for more than 40 years.
For most that time he also held a prominent position in the West’s international rogues’ gallery.
Africa is providing a lot of fine material for the London theatre these days.
A rare outing for Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman was a highlight at the National last year. This was followed, also at the National, by Matt Charman’s The Observer, which unpicked preparations for an election in an unnamed African nation.
More recently, Lynn Nottage’s excellent Ruined, which dealt with tough themes relating to women’s lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has just finished an acclaimed run at the Almeida in Islington.
My colleague Emma Farge has blogged on the confusion that arose in oil markets after reports of a coup in Niger caused erroneous rumours that last month’s military takeover had taken place in Nigeria, a similar-sounding country with its own history of interventions by the men in uniform.
This is not the first time the confusion has arisen. During my time as a correspondent in Lagos in the 1980s, a report appeared on the front page of a local newspaper saying Nigeria had rescheduled its foreign debt, an important issue at the time and a story I certainly did not want to miss.
Have the Islamists started to go too far in Somalia?The reaction among ordinary Somalis to an al-Shabaab car bomb attack on African Union peacemakers last week may be instructive.The attack was billed as an act of revenge against America for a commando raid carried out a few days earlier by U.S. troops, who killed one of the most wanted al Qaeda men in Africa.Seventeen of the peacemakers, all Africans, were killed. So too were a number of Somalis who had gone to the peacekeepers’ base for medical attention. At least 19 Somalis died in shelling that followed the car bomb attack.”Bombing Somali Muslims because of a dead foreign terrorist is totally ungodly andinhumane,” businesswoman Asha Farah told Reuters after the al Shabaab attack. “I can only say that al Shabaab are mad.”Her view reflected that of many Somalis that Reuters correspondents spoke to in the capital, Mogadishu.Will any of this make a difference to a group that has already conducted executions and punishment amputations and which shows no sign of letting up in its fight to oust the transitional government?That remains to be seen, but it is perhaps worth remembering that both in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, al Qaeda lost a lot of ground when they began killing innocent Muslims during their attacks on Westerners.There is certainly frustration among Somalis, who feel that al Shabaab is misinterpreting Islam and using religion to justify criminal acts in what is after all a traditionally moderate Muslim society.Most Somalis are not in a position to take the initiative against al Shabaab — but if a real international force took the fight to them in Mogadishu and elsewhere, it could find it had more support on the ground than expected.
There has been some excellent writing and drama from South Africa over the years, and much of it is serious stuff.One thinks perhaps of Athol Fugard and J.M. Coetzee. Even the titles — Sizwe Bansi is Dead and Disgrace — convey a certain gravitas, at the very least.So, a science fiction movie set in Johannesburg comes, to many outside South Africa at least, as something of a surprise.For those who haven’t seen it, South African-born director Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 is the story of how a mysterious space craft appears over Johannesburg.It turns out to contain starving aliens, referred to scathingly as “prawns”, who are brought down to the city and housed in an enormous and chaotic shanty ghetto.The film is done in the form of a documentary — although it can’t resist some goodold-fashioned shoot-outs involving the aliens’ space weapons.It’s also pretty funny as it satirises just about everybody — the bureaucrats given the task of evicting the prawns from District 9, the soldiers who have to be restrained from shooting them, the Nigerian bandits who exploit them ruthlessly and the unfortunate prawns themselves, who are addicted to cat food.But of course it’s not all sci-fi fun. This being South Africa, audiences are also asked to consider more ponderous questions that relate to the country’s racial history and also how to deal with “aliens” who suddenly appear on the doorstep after being afflicted by some crisis at home — something the South African government has had to contend with in recent years as Zimbabwe has imploded, forcing millions across the border.
****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ******The Boko Haram sect surprised many in Nigeria and elsewhere with the violence of their uprising last week.******Before Boko Haram was suppressed by the security forces at the cost of nearly 800 lives, we learned that the group’s name means “Western education is sinful” in the Hausa language used in northern Nigeria.******We also learned that the sect’s charismatic leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was, before he was killed while in police detention, opposed to all things Western.******Which prompts two thoughts. The first is that the anti-education message may not have much traction in Nigeria, a country whose inhabitants are determined to get ahead and secure the best education for their children. In many cases that will be either in the West or in Nigerian schools offering a Western-style curriculum.******During the years I spent in the country, staff working for me were always concerned about being able to raise enough money for their children’s school uniforms and books.******And the second thought: Yusuf’s opposition to the modern world seems to have had its limits. When the violence erupted in Maiduguri, he was seen riding in a Toyota car, dressed in military-style fatigues and accompanied by men carrying Russian-designed assault rifles.
So far the exact toll from the latest bout of religious rioting in northern Nigeria is not clear. At least 150 have died and the toll may well go higher.The killings are bad enough, but the north has experienced much worse within living memory. One of the bloodiest outbreaks of religious rioting occurred in Kano in 1980, and northern cities saw a series of upheavals during the decade that followed.The Kano riots, led by Muhammadu Marwa, a Muslim preacher otherwise known as “Maitatsine”, were put down by the army.Reporting nearly 30 years ago on the Kano disturbances, Lagos Radio quoted the then defence minister, Iya Abubakar, as saying: “The armed forces have successfully dislodged religious fanatics from areas occupied by them in Kano.”Hostages captured by the fanatics have been set free and are being kept by the infantry brigade in Kano.”At the time, the death toll from 10 days of rioting was put at 1,000. Nearly a year later the government-controlled Daily Times said it was in fact 4,177.
We often hear of the human cost of war. We don’t often see the cash cost laid out so baldly as in the price list that went with my colleague Abdi Sheikh’s feature from Mogadishu on the arms market that thrives in the city amid Somalia’s tragedy.Among popular weapons, a 120 mm mortar costs $700, plus $55 for each mortar bomb. A 23 mm anti-aircraft gun (truck mounted), fetches a hefty $20,000.Pistols range from $400 to $1,000 according to condition and country of origin. An Indian-made AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle costs $140. Better quality versions from North Korea cost $600 and the Russian original costs $400. Hand-grenades go for $25 each, landmines $100.Huge weapons systems, such as nuclear missiles, are the stuff of international geopolitics. But in Africa at least, the weapons that are killing people on a daily basis in places like Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Darfur are more modest in scale and can be bought at a relatively low cost.
Four months later the Briton was killed by al Qaeda’s North African wing, which had been demanding the release of Abu Qatada, a Jordanian Islamist being held in Britain.
The scandal engulfing British members of parliament over their often startling expenses claims has started to bring down some prominent victims: the speaker of the House of Commons, two Labour Party MPs and four from the Conservatives at time of writing.
The Daily Telegraph, which obtained a disk containing unexpurgated details of claims for moat dredging, floating duck houses, plasma screen televisions and reimbursement for mortgages long paid off, is now on Day 19 of its unremittingly lurid revelations.