Africa News in Brief: June 5-11 edition

Courtesy of Global Information Network

Kenyan lawmakers defy president, award themselves big raise

(GIN)—Taking a page from their U.S. counterparts busy stonewalling President Obama’s modest reforms, Kenyan members of parliament voted last week to raise their own salaries, defying the newly-elected president’s call for cuts.

“We do have the requisite number and quorum to pass that motion,” Joyce Laboso, the deputy speaker of the assembly said, after MPs on both sides of the house voted overwhelmingly for more pay.

The new wage will be $10,000 a month (851,000 shillings) or 130 times the minimum wage. Kenyan MPs are already among the best-paid legislators in Africa.

Last month, President Uhuru Kenyatta, 51, implored lawmakers to accept wage cuts to free up cash to pay for free maternity care, laptops for primary school children, better roads and a million new jobs a year, in a country where the unemployment rate stands at 40 percent.

Lawmakers counter that they need high wages because constituents expect them to provide charitable support.

To many Kenyans, the bloated pay raises are symbols of an “it’s our turn to eat” political culture, in which officials view public office as an opportunity for personal gain, which has poisoned Kenyan politics for decades since independence.

“Did we vote in the wrong guys? This is nonsense! What work have they done in the last two months to deserve this?” prominent businessman Chris Kirubi said on Twitter.

So far President Kenyatta’s program of belt-tightening has drawn little opposition.

Deputy President William Ruto, however, is in hot water over a tour to four African countries this month, for which his office leased a luxury jet it said cost between $200,000 and $300,000. The actual price, however, may be much higher.

 

International court charged with ‘hunting Africans’

(GIN)—As the African Union summit drew to a close last week, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn leveled a stinging blow at the International Criminal Court (ICC) that prosecutes human rights violators, when he accused it of “hunting Africans” as 99 percent of those indicted by the ICC are from the continent.

“This shows something is flawed within the system of the ICC and we object to that,” he said.

He continued, “The intention (of the ICC) was to avoid any kind of impunity and ill governance and crime, but now the process has degenerated into some kind of race hunting.”

The Hague-based ICC, set up in 2002 to try the world’s worst crimes, insists it is an impartial body and is determined to continue with its case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and others in Africa.

“The International Criminal Court will not be reacting to African Union resolutions,” ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah told the AFP news wire.

He pointed out that four out of eight cases under investigation in Africa were referred to the court by the countries themselves.

Also, 43 African countries signed the ICC’s founding Rome Statute, which 34 have ratified, “making Africa the most heavily represented region in the court’s membership.”

Africans currently charged with crimes by the ICC include former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and Sudan President Omar al-Bashir who defied an international arrest warrant to attend the summit in Addis Ababa. The ICC has charged Bashir with genocide over the conflict in Darfur.

AU Peace and Security Council head Ramtane Lamamra echoed those who questioned how the UN Security Council could refer Bashir to the ICC when three of its five permanent members—the U.S., Russia and China—had either not signed up to or not ratified the Rome Statute which established the ICC.

“How could you refer the cases of others while you yourself don’t feel compelled to abide by the same rule?” he was quoted to say.

African leaders have been reluctant to enforce ICC warrants or support the prosecution of their counterparts, some of whom enjoy broad support by nationals at home. Currently, the AU is opposed to the ICC trying Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta on charges of crimes against humanity and wants the case moved back to Kenya.

Kenyatta, elected in March, is due to be tried in July on claims that he fueled violence after disputed elections in 2007. He denies the charge.

Kenyan lawyer Wilfred Nderitu, who represents some 150 victims of the election violence, told BBC Focus on Africa, he was concerned about the safety of witnesses if Kenyatta and Ruto were tried in local courts.

He also doubted whether Kenya’s judiciary was capable of dealing with such complex cases.

Meanwhile, University of Minnesota professor Abdi Ismail Samatar commented on the concluding AU meeting.

“Much like the past 50 years, there are a few leaders who are fully aware of what must be done and who have the courage to take charge,” he wrote. “Will current African leaders rise to the challenge of the next 50 years? There is a fleeting opportunity for the continent… (but) sleeping on the switch by free-riding the current resource boom will only reproduce Africa’s ‘Dome of Shame.’”

 

 The above articles originally appeared in the June 5, 2013 print edition.

Opposition to rigged elections spreads across borders

(GIN)—African leaders attempting to rush elections even where voter registrations are not complete or are incorrect are meeting fierce opposition in the streets.

A peaceful protest in Guinea turned ugly recently when police fired tear gas and water cannons at demonstrators after they deviated from a route approved by authorities and marched on one of Conakry’s main streets.

Mamadou Dian Balde, editor-in-chief of the Independent and Democrat newspapers, said a total of 15 people were killed by security forces during two days of protests.

The government denies its security forces targeted protesters. Instead it said the victims had been attacked by fellow protesters.

According to Balde, local observers dispute claims by the electoral commission that a successful parliamentary election can be held on June 30.

In neighboring Mali, elections have been called for July 28 despite the fact that nearly half a million people are displaced and living in refugee camps in the neighboring nations of Mauritania, Niger, Algeria and Burkina Faso as a result of a coup d’etat in January that saw a military president installed.

Besides the crucial city of Kidal, which is now under the de facto rule of the rebel National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, numerous towns and villages are still not fully under the government’s control, making it unclear how they will carry out the vote.

In Ivory Coast, local polls last month were boycotted by the opposition party of former President Laurent Gbagbo, highlighting the slow progress of reconciliation in the West African country.

A spokesman for U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon acknowledged that campaign period had been marred by “regrettable incidents, including unacceptable intimidation in certain constituencies.”

Finally, polls last week in Equatorial Guinea were called seriously flawed, according to the London-based Amnesty International and NY-based Human Rights Watch. They cited reports of voter intimidation, denial of free speech to political groups and harassment of the opposition.

 

Tutu Alicante, head of EG Justice, observed: “President Obiang often says that Africans should demand a voice in global affairs, but he denies one to the people of Equatorial Guinea… The sad truth is that Equatoguineans have never experienced a free and fair election.”

 

Ethiopia diverts Nile for giant dam, raising fears in Egypt, Sudan

(GIN)—Ethiopian government officials last week celebrated the diversion of the Blue Nile river for what they’ve dubbed the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam which is expected to provide hydroelectricity for Ethiopia and neighboring countries by 2015.

But, downstream nations Egypt and Sudan are troubled by the huge hydropower dam going up on the Sudanese border. Planning stages of the project were shrouded in secrecy, much to the alarm of regional governments, Nile planning agencies and Ethiopia’s Western donors. There was no expert analysis that would normally accompany such a titanic project, remarked Sudanese hydrologist Haydar Yousif.

“No environmental assessment is publicly available for the project. And no steps were taken before its launch to openly discuss the dam’s impacts with downstream Nile neighbors Egypt and Sudan,” he said.

“The consequences for Ethiopia’s downstream neighbors could potentially be catastrophic,” Yousif wrote in a published analysis. “The Renaissance Dam’s reservoir will hold back nearly one and a half times the average annual flow of the Blue Nile. Filling the reservoir—which could take three to five years—will drastically affect the downstream nations’ agriculture, electricity and water supply. Evaporative losses from the dam’s reservoir could be as much as three billion cubic metres per year.

“In addition, the retention of silt by the dam reservoir will dramatically reduce the fertility of soils downstream. Sediment-free water released from dams also increases erosion downstream, which can lead to riverbed deepening and a reduction in groundwater recharge.”

Further, the dam is in a quake zone and could be at risk from damage by earthquakes, yet no one knows if it has even been analyzed for this risk. The failure of such a huge structure puts the more than 100 million people living downstream at risk.

“Whatever the outcome of political arbitration, it remains irresponsible for Ethiopia to build Africa’s biggest hydropower project, on its most contentious river, with no public access to critical information about the dam’s impacts—a flawed process which can hardly result in a sustainable project,” said Yousif.

“If the Ethiopian government is serious about maintaining good relations with its Nile neighbors, and if it truly wishes to develop projects that will carry its people and the broader region into prosperity, it must begin by allowing some light to penetrate this secretive development scheme.”

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. To find out how you can support their work, visit www.globalinfo.org.

 

Category: Africa Briefs

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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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