Africa News in Brief: May 29-June 4 edition

Obama to bypass Kenya during Africa trip

(GIN)—President Barack Obama is scheduled to embark on a major presidential tour of Africa in June but his itinerary will circumvent Kenya, his ancestral homeland.

Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania are scheduled to each receive the president and his wife Michelle. Kenya was scratched from the group, according to one news report, since being seen with the newly-elected president, Uhuru Kenyatta, who still faces charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court, would certainly spark a new crisis for the beleaguered president.

Obama’s first trip to South Africa since he became president raises the prospect of a reunion with Nelson Mandela ahead of his 95th birthday in July. But Mandela’s health now appears so frail that any photo op will require delicate handling.

The presidential trip, scheduled for June 26 to July 3, comes late for many Africans who had hoped that the son of a Kenyan would give priority to the continent. After more than four years in power, he has spent less than 24 hours in sub-Saharan Africa—a solitary visit to Ghana in 2009.

Former Chinese President Hu Jintao, by contrast, has made five trips to Africa as head of state, while his successor Xi Jinping sped to three resource-rich African countries just a month after taking over. The Asian giant has exercised soft power through building schools and hospitals.

China has quickly overtaken the U.S. with an infrastructure-for-minerals approach that wins friends and influences people. Some governments have welcomed a lack of “preaching” on human rights, pointing out that America’s own record is checkered.

Last year, the White House put out a tepid Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa with vague objectives: to strengthen democratic institutions; spur economic growth, trade, and investment; advance peace and security; and promote opportunity and development.

Elsewhere, however, a new mantra of “Africa rising,” can be heard at investment conferences, think tanks and in media commentaries.

“He’s [Obama] totally neglecting Africa,” said Koffi Kouakou, a Johannesburg-based political commentator in a press interview. “There’s not enough time to catch up. It’s a strategic neglect that is going to be costing America big time.

“Our expectations were too high. His visit now won’t have the same degree of reverberation as when he first became president.”


Reporters feel sting of government’s whip in Uganda

(GIN)—Governments on at least two continents are increasingly using obscure laws or brute force to shut down or intimidate reporters for writing exposes that reveal crime or corruption at high levels.

In Uganda last week, a major daily was raided and closed after the paper published a confidential letter from an army general who feared that assassination plans were being cooked up for those who opposed efforts by President Yoweri Museveni to install his son as next president.

In the story that appeared in the Daily Monitor, General David Sejusa said in a letter to Ugandan security officials that he feared for anyone opposing Brigadier Muhoozi Kainerugabe, Museveni’s son, in national polls in 2016.

Museveni, who has been in office since 1986, is expected to step down in 2016.

After the paper hit the streets, the Daily Monitor was surrounded by heavily-armed police who disabled the printing press, and attempted to shut down the paper’s website.

Editor Charles Mwanguhya told the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, “We get the impression the [police] operation is not only a search but designed to punish the media house.

According to published government sources, Sejusa faces possible arrest for subversive activities including propaganda.

“The general‘s letter simply champions the agenda of the radical and anarchic political opposition hence rendering him partisan contrary the Constitution of Uganda,” the report said.

A hastily-called protest on May 20 outside of the Monitor’s offices ended with tear gas fired at protestors, in a scene captured on video and uploaded to YouTube.

General Sejusa is reportedly in the UK, unwilling to return while threats are active against him.

The incident echoes a recent confiscation of phone records of AP reporters in the U.S. and the subpoena that allowed the Justice Department to read personal emails of a Fox news reporter who wrote about the rising tensions between the U.S. and Korea. James Rosen’s newsgathering efforts were said to have been investigated as a “crime,” making him an “aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator” in the leak.

Eve Burton, a leading First Amendment lawyer, said: “It appears to be that there’s a possibility at least in the minds of some prosecutor that there’s a right to criminalize what reporters do every day, which is talk to sources and to provide the public with valuable information.… If it becomes a federal crime merely to pick up the phone and ask a question, we are in for some very dark days ahead.”


Citizen groups dismayed at being barred from African Union Summit

(GIN)—As the African Union prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), AU officials have for the first time refused access to their high-level summit by citizen groups, civil society organizations and foreign diplomats, among others.

“This has not come from the commission, this has come from the member states themselves,” said AU chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, speaking in Addis. “We are implementing what we have been asked, which is very reasonable in our view.”

“Closed sessions are closed sessions. We decide which ones are closed. And if you are not going to be participating in the discussion, why be here?” Ms. Dlamini-Zuma asked, adding that she did not understand why it had become an issue.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) fear they are being excluded just when critical discussions on Vision 2063—a blueprint for the continent’s development over the next 50 years—are due to take place.

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam Int’l, expressed dismay at the lock out from the confab in Ethiopia’s capital city.

“Civil society should have as much access as possible to the discussions of our political leaders on the future of our continent,” said Byanyima, speaking to South Africa’s Business Day. “Doing otherwise will send a wrong signal, symbolically, that the African Union is closing space to civil society. That is not a signal that I think the member states want to send to African people.”

Other AU shortcomings were highlighted by Dr. Amukowa Anangwe, a consultant to the 54-member bloc. The AU, he said, still sufferers from the OAU’s principle of non-interference into the internal affairs of member states which left dictators free to continue trampling on the rights of their citizens.

“However, since the change of name in 1999, there has been a major effort to put in place mechanisms for conflict management and fewer countries are invoking the principle of non-interference,” he said.

A side event to the summit was the symposium “Being Pan African” attended by “leading intellectuals and a wide public including Rastafari from Africa and the Diaspora,” according to a press statement.  It concluded with a call to bridge the gap between the Pan African political elite and the grassroots; to be more inclusive of women and youth; and to encourage dialogue among the various Diasporas on their relationship to Africa.

A piece on Pan Africanism by Samia Nkrumah, daughter of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president, has been uploaded to the Internet.

Finally, Jamaica is scheduled to send Carlton Masters as its first-ever representative to the AU. Jamaica’s move follows Haiti’s accession to the African Union as an observer country.


The above articles originally appeared in the May 29 print edition.


Nigerian presidents agrees to release women accused with terrorist group

(GIN)—Fulfilling a demand by the insurgent Boko Haram rebel organization, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has agreed to release from jail some suspects and all women “held in connection with terrorist activity.”

The decision was aimed at enhancing peace efforts in Nigeria, according to the defense ministry.

Talk of an amnesty for Boko Haram militants ended abruptly this month when the Nigerian government declared an offensive in three states in northeastern Nigeria, a region known to be a stronghold of the Boko Haram militants.

President Jonathan announced the “state of emergency” in a televised address on May 14. His orders, he said, were based on growing evidence that Boko Haram now controls substantial territory around Lake Chad, where local officials have fled.

The battle between Boko Haram, which condemns western influences and promotes an Islamic state, and Nigeria’s security forces has taken more than 2,000 lives. Gross human rights abuses have been reported on both sides.

In a sign that the conflict will be jumping borders, Nigeria has asked neighboring Niger for military support as it seeks to police 870 miles of shared desert borders. Nigerians fleeing across porous borders are straining the limited resources of its neighbors who have already absorbed thousands of Malians and at least 500 Nigerian refugees.

Nigeria’s troubles have already drawn in the U.S. military. In February this year, the Defense Department began funneling intelligence assets into the west African nation to assist local efforts against the Islamist group.

“We are working with the Nigerian Army to tackle the activities of Boko Haram in the area of intelligence support. We are committed to ensuring that we partner with others to end terrorism anywhere in the work,” Army Gen. Carter Ham said in a briefing from the command’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany earlier this year.

Nigeria’s government has been cited numerous times for its failure to curb massive corruption that leaves a resource-rich country without any of the benefits. A report released by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan found that tax avoidance, secret government deals and other illicit schemes cost African nations $38 billion a year.

President Jonathan last week blamed foreign banks for the ease in which money can be secretly transferred.

“Corruption would be minimized if there were no places to hide the illicit funds,” he said. He challenged oil refineries worldwide to ask questions about the source of the crude they refined, adding that the administration was taking steps to check crude oil theft from Nigeria.

Category: Africa Briefs

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