Saturday, July 11

Obama on Africa

“No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves, or police can be bought off by drug traffickers. No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top, or the head of the port authority is corrupt. No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end.”
From the New York Times story on Obama's visit to Ghana. Clearly, sub-Saharan Africa is a low-priority for the administration, and Africans know that. But many will pay attention when he says things like this and, combined with the simple fact that he provides an example of a leader people can get excited about, it may go some way toward encouraging voters in African countries to get behind more inspiring candidates.

Monday, July 6


            So after two and a half good years in Nairobi, I left on Thursday and will now be back in the USA for at least the next couple of years. In the coming weeks I'll be reevaluating the utility of the blog - at the least, the picture and theme and maybe the name will need some adjusting. I doubt you do, but if anyone has input/suggestions feel free to let me know. In the meantime, I'll keep posting some intermittent links to riveting must-sees on the Internet, like a 13-year old reviewing the Walkman (BBC). If you're starving for Africa dispatches, my friend Rob is doing some summertime Liberia blogging. And I've gotten myself set up on Twitter, though I'm not promising much in the way of updates at this point.

            Monday, June 29

            Friday, June 26

            Rafsanjani on female beauty

            "Can anyone tell me where it says in the Holy Koran that women have to make themselves look ugly?"
            That's former Iranian president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, the man the media call the best hope for challenging Khameinei's hold on power, speaking in the mid-1980s, in reference to hard-right female journalists decked out in black. From a dispatch by John Simpson, who was in Tehran with the BBC until he was recently kicked out.

            Thursday, June 18

            East Africa roundup

            • Somalia's internal security minister has been killed in suicide bombing (Bloomberg)
            • Lions are on the loose in Nairobi! From the Nation:
              The animals were seen crossing Magadi Road outside Multimedia University (formerly KCCT Mbagathi) in Nairobi..."We would like to assure the public that they have no reason to worry: KWS is in control, and the lions should be back in the park soonest." KWS said in a statement
            • Meanwhile, a British woman has been killed by a zebra in Kenya (Sun):
              "There are different suggestions as to how that occurred. Clearly a zebra collided with her and there were problems."

            Wednesday, June 17

            East Africa roundup

            • The UN 'runs out of food aid' in Ethiopia (BBC)
            • The police chief of Mogadishu was killed as the fighting there keeps on going (BBC)
            • I hope everyone had a pleasant Day of the African Child yesterday (Relief Web)
            • Uganda has the world's second-highest rate of road accidents, according to the Uganda Red Cross (New Vision)

            Tuesday, June 16

            East Africa roundup

            • A new Obama book. From DPA:
              US President Barack Obama's half-brother, George Obama, is working on a book to be published by Simon & Schuster, the US publishing giant said in a statement Monday. George Obama, 27, is the youngest of the seven children born to Obama's father in Kenya and was recently arrested there for marijuana possession. The two Obamas have different mothers and never met until Obama visited Kenya in 1987.
            • From the Daily Mail, the perils of Kenyan beaches:
              An hour later, the head of department arrived. By this time, I'd had to turn the light out in the room as I was in so much pain. I'd had no sleep for three days and was in no state to meet the most devastatingly handsome doctor I had ever seen, but there he was. I was swooning with pain, but I swooned some more.
            • Maybe I'm getting jaded, but this strikes me as an example of 'couldn't we think of something better to send?'. From the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin:
              A Wausau West High School teacher this summer wants to make graduation a little more special for students on the other side of the globe. Choral director Phil Buch has asked local graduates to donate their commencement gowns so that students in Ethiopia may wear them. Buch has collected 30 gowns since June 1, with a goal of 75.
            Or maybe I'm just concerned that this kind of behavior would cut down on the stock of second-hand gowns in local thrift stores, making it harder for people like me to construct a 'zombie William Rehnquist' Halloween costume.

            Thursday, June 11

            East Africa roundup

            • The hand grenade: weapon of choice in Burundi? Esdras Ndikumana for AFP:
              In post-conflict Burundi, hand grenades go for around one dollar (about R10) on the black market and have become the weapon of choice for everybody, from petty criminals to disgruntled lovers.
            • The khat menace in D.C. From Phillip Smith at Alternet:
              Last fall, at the urging of DC US Attorney Jeffrey Taylor, Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) introduced a proposal to criminalize fresh khat as a Schedule I drug, as it is under federal law. The DC City council is currently considering the proposal as part of its 2009 Omnibus Crime Bill and is likely to act on the measure before its session ends July 15. "It's sad that they want to put the resources of crime fighting against individuals from a different culture who don't have anybody except their community and try to punish them for doing what they have always done," said Abdul Aziz Kamus of the DC-based African Resource Center. "It seems like DC wants to punish hard-working immigrant taxi drivers who are law-abiding citizens."

            Wednesday, June 10

            East Africa roundup

            • Some of the international aid groups expelled from northern Sudan following the International Criminal Court's approval of a warrant for Sudan's president, including Mercy Corps, CARE, and Save the Children, are in discussions about returning (Reuters)
            • Sudan might delay its elections - currently set for February - again. Shocking. Reuters:
              The deputy chairperson of the National Elections Commission, Abdullah Ahmed Abdulla, told Reuters the commission was behind schedule because of delays in announcing results of a vital census and in setting up election committees in states. "We are considering a modification, an adjustment of our old timeframe to accommodate the delays that have taken place," Abdulla said on Tuesday, adding it would "not be very much of a delay".
            • For francophones, a dispatch from Mogadishu by Matthias Bruggmann in Paris Match:
              "La démocratie, c’est quand un homme peut forniquer dans la rue. Il peut se balader nu et forniquer avec d’autres hommes. » Ahmed est sûr de son fait. Avant, dans une autre vie, ce père de famille était enseignant dans une madrasa, une école coranique. Puis il a rejoint Al-Chabab, mouvement islamiste radical somalien, placé par les Etats-Unis dans la liste des groupes soutenant le terrorisme. Aujourd’hui, les combattants fondamentalistes contrôlent presque tout Mogadiscio, après trois semaines d’offensive sans précédent contre le gouvernement. A 34 ans, Ahmed se retrouve émir et commande à une dizaine d’hommes.
            That first quote, from an Islamist insurgent, is worth translating: "Democracy is when a man can fornicate in the street. He can walk around naked and fornicate with other men." What's the problem?
            • Another confirmation that pirates are a sure-fire crowd-pleaser. Broadcast:
              The hour-long show Ross Kemp in Search of Pirates, which saw the former EastEnders actor investigate the boom in piracy off the coast of east Africa, was up by 29% on the channel’s slot average for the year so far of 487,000 (2.2%). The channel’s performance this year at the time has improved significantly compared with 2008 when it managed 276,000 (1.3%) at the time.
              Last night’s show improved on Kemp’s previous investigation Ross Kemp: A Kenya Special which attracted 532,000 (2.9%) on 22 September last year.
            • Paul Collier on African elections (Wall Street Journal):
              In Africa, presidential elections have become the fashionable norm, like state airlines used to be. This year there will be 15 of them. But like those airlines, in the absence of supporting institutions elections have proved to be more decorative than functional, a veneer beneath which the autocratic rule of the pre-1991 era continues little abated. Autocracy in Africa was ruinous: Narrow ethnically based elites plundered the country for their own short-term benefit. America and the other Western countries that encouraged democracies were right to think that what Africa needed was accountability of government to citizen, but wrong to think that this could be achieved simply by elections.
            • Swedish expats' dreams of opening a hotel and living out their days in a Kenyan paradise are rudely shattered, along with their innocence. From the Independent:
              But yet again our success was not tolerated. When we refused to pay the customary bribes to the chief, the water was cut off. Nobody had told us that our paradise was corrupt. No water – no hotel – no mushrooms.
            • The Council on Foreign Relations interviews Kenya's prime minister. On an ethnic interpretation of Kenyan politics:
              I don't agree. It's a very simplistic view of Kenyan politics. Kenyan politics are much more complicated than that, and they are fairly ideological. ODM party [Odinga's party] is more of a social democracy [party]. PNU [Kibaki's party] is a more conservative political party. But ideology has even died in America. What is the difference between Republicans and the Democrats? Go to Britain. Labor and the Tories. It is not just only Africa. That is a very simplistic view of what's happening here.Our politics are not ethnic. Look at elections last time. My party won seats in all the eight provinces in the country. Look at the presidential elections. I won the vote in six of the eight provinces. I did not win in [President Kibaki's province], but I also got some votes there. I did not win in Eastern Province, but I also got some votes there.

            • Rwandan Hutu rebels, targeted by a joint DRC-Rwanda military operation earlier this year in Congo's North Kivu province, are causing trouble again, now in South Kivu (mediacongo)

            Tuesday, June 9

            East Africa roundup

            -A campaign to distribute Michaela Wrong's new book on Kenyan corruption more widely in the country (Nation):

            Fear of libel cases has prevented Kenyan booksellers from stocking the book. The new plan is to break the bookseller boycott by distributing over 5,100 copies, for free or at discount prices.

            “The plan is to get the book to those Kenyans who cannot afford to travel themselves and don’t have credit cards — to access it,” the author says in an email over the new move.

            -From Reuters, a look at the arms business in Somalia. This fellow seems rather blunt:
            Sitting on a mat at home between taking orders for arms on his two mobile phones, Osman Bare gives thanks for the riches flowing from Somalia's war.

            "I have only been in the weapon business five years, but I have erected three villas. I have also opened shops for my two wives," said the 40-year-old, one of about 400 Somali men operating in Mogadishu's main weapons market.

            "Peace means bankruptcy for us."

            -A Tanzanian, Ahmed Ghailani, is the first Guantanamo detainee to be transferred to the United States (Washington Post)
            Ghailani faces multiple charges and, if convicted, could face the death penalty for his role in the bombing of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, which killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.

            -Somalia, already greatly under-reported, is about to become more so. From Inside Somalia:
            Nearly thirty journalists in Mogadishu have agreed to cease reporting events following the killing of two staff members of Radio Shabelle on Sunday.
            The journalist have gathered in Mogadishu and announced that the risk to their lives does not warrant reporting unless warring sides respect rights of journalists and freedom of reporting.

            -And Gabon's president is, indeed, dead. (RFI)