Africa News in Brief: July 31 edition

| August 1, 2013
al Shabab (Courtesy of GIN)

The U.S. has increased its aid to Somali intelligence agencies allied against al-Shabaab, Somalia’s Islamist insurgency. (Courtesy of GIN)

Courtesy of Global Information Network

U.S. pushes ‘secret war’ in Somalia while oil companies fish for gold

(GIN)—In a good week, reports from the Horn of Africa couldn’t be more upbeat.

“Somalia is a good news story for the region,” declared Johnnie Carson, U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs last October, “for the region, for the international community, but most especially for the people of Somalia itself.”

This year, however, the news picture went from upbeat to grim. Foreign Policy magazine reported that the U.S. has upped its aid to Somali intelligence agencies allied against al-Shabaab, the country’s Islamist insurgency. Training camps were preparing Ugandan peacekeepers to fight Somalia militants, and Predator drones, fighter jets and nearly 2,000 U.S. troops and military civilians were being parked at a base in neighboring Djibouti.

Despite billions in U.S. aid spent on Somalia, as President Obama observed, to “strengthen the security of the United States and promote world peace,” a new U.N. report confirms that “the military strength of al-Shabaab, with an approximately 5,000-strong force, remains arguably intact in terms of operational readiness, chain of command, discipline and communication capabilities.…

“By avoiding direct military confrontation, it has preserved the core of its fighting force and resources.”

Meanwhile, as the U.S. is pulled deeper into this costly and seemingly unwinnable war, Western oil companies from Canada and Norway are trolling Somalia’s semi-autonomous regions—Puntland and Somaliland—for potentially-enriching oil exploration contracts.

In some cases, Somaliland and Puntland have awarded licenses for exploration zones that overlap.

The U.N. Monitoring Group warns:

“Potentially, this means that exploration operations in these blocks, conducted by both DNO (Norway) and Africa Oil (Canada) under the protection of regional security forces, its allied militia or private forces, could generate new conflict between Somaliland and Puntland.”

“It is alarming that regional security forces and armed groups may clash to protect and further Western-based oil companies interests,” the U.N. report said.

This article originally appeared in the July 31 print edition.


Durban film festival opens to fanfare—but where’s film?

(GIN)—South Africa’s world class film festival in the city of Durban had an opening film and a closing film. But somehow, along the way, the opening night film was pulled from the program. Censors, to the dismay of many, had found it pornographic.

According to the festival program, the film tells the somber tale of a small-town high-school teacher with a penchant for young girls:

“The director’s third feature is an hypnotically engaging journey into the soul of a mentally troubled man.”

But the Film and Publication Board (FPB), a government-affiliated regulator, objected to a scene in “Of Good Report” where an actress, playing a 16-year-old-girl, has sex with a teacher. The scene did not involve nudity but was suggestive of oral sex.

Instead of the prestige of opening the festival, “Of Good Report” was now a criminal offense for those in possession of it.

“All copies must be either rendered to the police or destroyed,” wrote the FPB.

Banning the film brought back bad memories of apartheid-era censorship.


“The government calls us pornographers when we bring light to social issues,” argued filmmaker Jahmil X.T. Qubeka. “I cry this beloved country because we are in trouble.”

The film, he explained, was an expression of outrage at society’s acceptance of “sugar daddies.”

“How did we get to a point where society’s so broken down that an upstanding citizen in the community—a person of good report—can be known to be dating a 14-year-old kid and it’s alright?

“If you want men to see themselves, you have to speak their language. I don’t want to glorify rapists. I want to say they are among you. I believe that men are consciously or subconsciously at war with women.”

The movie has dominated radio and TV talk shows and social media since the ban came to light last week.

“I will win this,” declared Qubeka, a Xhosa man who grew up in the (former) Republic of Ciskei. “It’s about principle, my reputation. I have a mother and I am a proud son of South Africa.”

The festival was scheduled to close Sunday, July 28, with a U.S.-French collaboration: “Free Angela (Davis) and All Political Prisoners”

The producer of “Of Good Report” has appealed the ban and hopes the film can be shown before the Durban festival ends.


Steer clear of biotech seeds, Nigerian ecologist warns

(GIN)—Prize-winning Nigerian environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey is urging African governments to take a stand against genetically altered seeds and accept that working with nature is “immeasurably better than working against her.”

In an article titled “Standing Against GMOs” (genetically modified organisms), Nnimmo notes that genetic engineering “has strived to upturn nature and box her for profit” although nature continues to find a way to “trump the manipulators.”

Among the “manipulators,” Bassey cited the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which has proposed building a bio-technology laboratory in Nigeria. “The idea is to prime the country to produce these genetically engineered seeds not just for Nigeria but for the whole of Africa.”

Bassey was commenting on an editorial in the Financial Times that confirms what many ecologists have asserted: that GMO farming is unwise, unprofitable in the long run and a threat to the species in times of global warming.

The article was titled “Seeds of Doubt”—“Europe is Right to be Cautious over GM Crops.”

“There is no reason to allow genetically engineered crops into farms that have not been already contaminated,” insisted Bassey. “African countries must not allow themselves to be stampeded to toe paths that lead to questionable destinations. Genetically engineered crops are not as climate smart as native crops that have adapted to these conditions over the years.”

Finally, Bassey attacks seed company claims that GE crops are a solution to Africa’s nutritional deficits.

“The enrichment of crops with higher levels of vitamins has been done through plant breeding processes of biofortification that is not genetic engineering,” said Bassey.

“Europe is right in rejecting GMOs. Africa cannot afford to repeat the mistakes made by those who already walked into the GMO cul-de-sac. We must not be in the business of turning our environment and peoples to laboratories and guinea pigs.”

Bassey is the author of “To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa;” winner of the Right Livelihood Award, a Time magazine Hero of the Environment and founder of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation.


South Africa prepares for major confab of African journalists

(GIN)—Under the theme, “Speaking Truth to Power? Media, Politics and Accountability,” a major media conference will bring together journalists, civil society activists and academics to discuss African media’s role in holding political authority accountable.

The conference takes place at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, where it is hosted by Rhodes’ School of Journalism and Media Studies in partnership with South Africa’s Dept. of Communications and other agencies and corporations. The two-day confab kicks off Sept. 1 with a combination of plenary sessions, keynote addresses, debates, training workshops, networking dinners and book launches.

Key voices in the African media Industry will speak to the theme and give insights as to how the media can effectively use its role as a discourse shaper, to speak to power in addition to speaking of it.

Highway Africa, organizers of the annual affair, wrote on their website: “Over the past year the power of the media has been demonstrated in various situations from the Arab Spring to the phone-hacking scandal involving Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World newspaper.

“In response to this power of the media, governments have sought to question the legitimacy and limits of the power of the media… These developments have triggered fierce debate on the role and limits of the media.”

On the Highway Africa Facebook page, one posting asked: “How are the people formerly called ‘the audience’ using social media to question both the media and the state?”

Previous themes of the conference were: “Africa Rising or China Emerging?” Citizen Journalism; and Gender—Where are the Women’s voices?


GLOBAL INFORMATION NETWORK distributes news and feature articles on Africa and the developing world to mainstream, alternative, ethnic and minority-owned outlets in the U.S. and Canada. Our goal is to increase the perspectives available to readers in North America and to bring into their view information about global issues that are overlooked or under-reported by mainstream media.

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GLOBAL INFORMATION NETWORK distributes news and feature articles on Africa and the developing world to mainstream, alternative, ethnic and minority-owned outlets in the U.S. and Canada. Our goal is to increase the perspectives available to readers in North America and to bring into their view information about global issues that are overlooked or under-reported by mainstream media.

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