Towards the restoration of civilian rule in Guinea ?

Last Saturday in Burkina Faso, a breakthrough deal was reached concerning the Guinean burning situation. Its wounded exiled leader, Moussa Dadis Camara, signed an agreement stating his support to the junta’s General Sekouba Konate. The new leader had been in charge since the assassination attempt which targeted Camara in early December.

Wounded : Captain Moussa Daddis Camara

Although the two men had come to power together in the 2008 coup, their political visions have been growing apart ever since. Moussa Camara, the junta’s No. 1, ruled the country with an iron fist, ordering last September the massacre of 156 people demonstrating for a civilian government. However, when grabbing power upon Camara’s injury,  Konate sent an emissary to meet with the country’s opposition in order to draw plans for future elections.
Fears of conflict sparked by Camara’s supporters were fueled by rumors concerning the leader’s degrading health. According to Boubacar Diallo : « International observers, especially the U.S. and France, had expressed deep concern that if Camara had been allowed to return he would likely have propelled the country towards civil war ». The agreement, mediated in Burkina Faso by several West African leaders, eases fears of further turmoil tearing Guinea apart and threatening the stability of the region as a whole.

Troubleshooters : Burkinabé Blaise Campaore and Liberian Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson

Most importantly, the protocol says the transition period will last no longer than six months, indicating that Guinea will hold multiparty elections in June. In the meantime the army is to remain peaceful, the agreement states. The transition will be led by Jean-Marie Doré, a prime minister appointed by the country’s opposition.
The transition is seen as a period of convalescence, both for Camara and Guinea  itself, a country ruled by one-party regimes since independence from France in 1958. While previous democratic initiatives remained still born, the forthcoming elections bear tremendous expectations. One of the least developed countries, alongside Eritrea and Mozambique, Guinea  could thrive on political stability to achieve sustainable economic growth. Among others, the country is now ripe for oil development, and therefore actively courted by foreign firms in this endeavour.
Sources :

2010 : L’agenda

Troubles en Guinée, diverses élections, situation en Somalie et à Madagascar, coupe du monde en Afrique du Sud… bref regard sur les évènements à suivre en 2010.
Les enjeux de la transition démocratique

En gardant de l’année précédente une impression d’inachevé, j’aborde 2010 avec une enthousiasmante appréhension à l’idée que divers pays du continent peuvent s’élancer sur la voie démocratique tout comme ils risquent de chuter dans le gouffre de l’autoritarisme. Immédiatement, on pense à la Guinée : 2008-2009 a vu successivement la fin du règne Lanssana Conté, un regain d’espoir en assistant à l’arrestation d’anciennes personnalités corrompues, les violences des bérets rouges le 28 septembre 2009 et la tentative d’assassinat de Dadis Camara. Depuis, ce dernier étant toujours hospitalisé, l’avenir du pays repose dans les mains du militaire Sékouba Konaté. Et si certains veulent croire en une possible transition pacifique, beaucoup craignent des tensions lors du retour à Conakry de Camara.
Tout pourrait se jouer en un début d’année, période également crucial pour la Côte d’Ivoire où les élections promises par Gbagbo pourraient finalement avoir lieu après de multiples reports depuis 2005.
La situation à Madagascar demeure toute aussi intrigante, la période post-coup d’État commence véritablement à s’éterniser et l’on s’interroge sur la capacité de résistance d’Andry Rajoelina aux diverses pressions aussi bien nationales qu’internationales.
Les conflits se poursuivent

À suivre également avec attention, ces pays, périodiquement au centre de l’actualité en raison des conflits, de graves troubles, mis au ban voire simplement négligés par une partie de la communauté internationale. La guerre civile somalienne, les affrontements au Soudan, les péripéties politiques zimbabwéennes, les soulèvements dans le delta du Niger nous rappelle l’incapacité ou le manque de volonté des certains gouvernants africains d’assurer la stabilité de leur nation.
2010, une année riche en commémorations

Nouvelle année, nouvelles célébrations, en l’occurrence celles indépendances de quelques dix-sept pays. Chronologiquement, le Cameroun, le Togo, le Mali, le Sénégal, Madagascar, la République Démocratique du Congo, la Somalie, le Bénin, le Niger, le Burkina Faso, la Côte d’Ivoire, le Tchad, la République Centrafricaine, la République du Congo, le Gabon, le Nigeria et la Mauritanie célébreront leurs 50 ans d’indépendance. Le Zimbabwe et la Namibie fêteront respectivement leur 30ème et 20ème anniversaire. L’occasion pour ces pays de dresser le bilan de l’héritage des luttes indépendantistes et envisager les prospectives d’avenir.

Allégorie de l'indépendance (source : le grandsoir.info)

Une année à élections

Plusieurs pays africains se rendront aux urnes au cours des douze prochains mois et à nouveau, hélas, il faudra sans doute en déplorer l’opacité et les fraudes. Si le suspens s’absentera au scrutin local en Tunisie ou aux parlementaires égyptiennes,  il sera en revanche au rendez-vous au Ghana, en Namibie, à Madagascar et surtout en Guinée. Bien sûr, nous attendons tous celles de Côte d’Ivoire prévues pour le premier trimestre. Enfin, nous assisterons à des scrutins particuliers, au Darfour – où le choix porte sur la fusion éventuelle des trois États constituant la région – mais encore dans la jeune République du Somaliland. En tout cas, à travers les lignes du calendrier électoral, on y perçoit la diversité des régimes africains et des enjeux géopolitiques.

Calendrier électoral 2010 (source : eisa.org.za)

Quelques soient les évènements prévus par le destin, difficile d’échapper au principal : la planète aura, durant un mois, les yeux rivés sur l’Afrique du Sud, premier État africain organisant une coupe du monde.

Logo de la Coupe du monde 2010

La nation arc-en-ciel profitera de cette couverture médiatique afin de prouver son aptitude à assumer pleinement le rôle qu’elle s’est fixée : celle de puissance régionale, représentante du continent sur la scène internationale. Rentrent en compte les enjeux commerciaux, pour les sponsors tout comme pour l’industrie nationale du tourisme ; en effet, l’image d’une Afrique du Sud gangrénée par la délinquance éloigne toujours et encore de potentiels voyageurs. Globalement, un tournoi se déroulant dans de bonnes conditions impactera, qu’on le veuille ou non, le reste du continent ; les médias ne parlent-il pas d’un véritable « test pour l’Afrique », une sorte de grand examen ?
En somme, largement de quoi s’occuper pendant 365 jours…
Bonne année à tous !
V.V

Cherrypal Africa : the $99 computer

This year 2010 may be the opportunity to bridge the ever-widening digital divide between the West and African countries. For that matter, California-based CherryPal company recently launched a new nettop (1) computer, named Africa, designed with developing countries in mind.

The technical details include a seven inch screen, 400MHz processor, Ethernet, WiFi, touchpad, 3 x USB ports, SD card slot, USB HDD slot, internal speaker and microphone. For non-geeks like me, that covers the basic computer duties such as data processing and most importantly, Internet surfing.

However, Cherrypal founder Max Seybold explained that the device is not meant to be sold as a computer as such, which would compete with existing firms on the market. Instead, he rather describes it as an “appliance” to provide Internet access to people who could not afford to buy a traditional computer. One could wonder why the great value laptop is offered openly to customers in the western world as well as in developing countries. According to Seybold, the device will also help people of all countriers living in rural and remote areas who cannot afford mainstream laptops.

Buy online

(1) A nettop is a very small form factor, inexpensive, low-wattage desktop computer designed for basic tasks such as surfing the Internet, accessing web-based applications, document processing, and audio/video playback. The word nettop is a portmanteau of Internet and desktop, similar to the portmanteau netbook (Internet + notebook)

Season’s Greetings

Afrikaans Geseënde Kersfees en ‘n gelukkige nuwe jaar
Amharic Melkam Gena, Melkam Addis Amet
Arabic Ajmil at-tihānī bimunāsabah al-mīlād wa ḥilūl as-sanah al-jadīdah
English Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
French Joyeux Noël et bonne année
Hausa Barka da Kirsimatikuma barka da sabuwar shekara
Ido Joyoza Kristonasko e Felica Nova Yaro
Kinyarwanda Noheri nziza n’umwaka mushya muhire!
Luganda Mbagaliza Christmass Enungi Nomwaka Omugya Gubaberere Gwamirembe
Malagasy Mirary noely sambatra/ Arahabaina tratrin’ny taona vaovao
Portuguese Feliz Natal e próspero ano novo
Sesotho Keresemese e monate le mahlohonolo a selemo se setjha
Shona Krisimas yakanaka
Somali Ciid wanaagsan iyo sanad cusub oo fiican
Swahili Krismasi Njema/Heri ya mwaka mpya
Spanish Feliz Navidad y próspero año nuevo
Tigrinya Rhus ewed ‘amet
Yorùbá E ku Ayo Keresimesi ati Odun Tuntun
Zulu Sinifesela uKhisimusi oMuhle noNyaka oMusha oNempumelelo

What’s up, doctor Megrahi ?

While in London, last summer, I remember the media buzzing with shocking news. Although I couldn’t quite figure it out at first, I heard things about a large-scale deadly terrorist attack back in the 80s and the convict being freed on this very day. Surely, said I, there must be legal reasons attached to it, lawyers must have found that the convict’s trial was bogus or worse, that some sick state-driven terror conspiracy had been put to the light of day.
Therefore I paid more attention to the news that was frantically repeated over and over on my small living room TV. It turned out the large scale deadly attack back in the 80s occurred in 1988. Days before Christmas, to be precise. The Pan Am Flight 103 from Heathrow to JFK was blown up over the small town of Lockerbie, southern Scotland, killing 259 on the plane and 11 in the town, as sections of the plane fell in and around the town.
The bombing caused much distraught across the country, for it remains the deadliest attack ever to strike the UK, although IRA terrorism had been operating since the late 1930s. After a 84-day trial, Libyan intelligence agent Abelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was found guilty. He was convicted by a panel of three Scottish judges sitting in a special court and subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment.

Lockerbie convict : Libyan agent Al Megrahi

However, Al-Megrahi was freed last summer on compassionate grounds, after doctors reported that he had terminal prostate cancer and had less than three months to live. Consequently, this decision caused much uproar in the UK. Some argued that beyond the veracity of the disease, it was only fair that he died in prison and should not allowed to return home, according to the “eye for an eye” stand.

Secretary of Justice Jack Straw

On the contrary, Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, explained :
“We don’t want terminally ill prisoners to die in prison because there is no public purpose in that. I’ve certainly not criticised the [Scottish] decision, if that’s what you are saying. What we have done, with the Libyans, is seek to explain the circumstances in which compassionate release could take place.”
But the decision brought about suspicions that Al Megrahi’s liberation was a political fix, aimed to stall the BP deal that was concluded soon afterwards.

Fuelling controversy : British Petroleum

Jack Straw confessed : “It [the trade and BP related issue] was a very big part of that. I’m unapologetic about that. Libya was a rogue state. We wanted to bring it back into the fold and trade is an essential part of it — and subsequently there was the BP deal.”

Some claimed the scandal turned out be Gordon Brown’s Watergate. A potential British government involvement, up to now firmly denied by Downing Street, would be a blatant case of interference with judicial matters. The general dismay was fueled even more by the images of Al Megrahi landing in Libya as a national hero upon his liberation.

Watch here:

American official had also unsucessfully asked Libya to show some restraint, since 189 US citizens were killed in the attack. However, the Megrahi’s scandal also occured days before the extravagant celebrations to mark Kadhafi’s forty years in power.
All in all, nearly four months following his compassionate liberation, Al Megrahi still seems to defy British doctor’s predictions. On an diplomatic level, this affair undoubtly puts Colonel Kadhafi in a favourable position, considering the symbolic meaning attached to the liberation of his intelligence agent. On the other hand, David Cameron, the Tory leader, has demanded an independent inquiry. To this extent, Brown’s political future seems even gloomer than Al Megrahi’s life expectancy, as the 2010 general elections are coming up.

Mogadishu : Inside the world’s most hostile city

Very insightful photo gallery, released by the Independent.co.uk yesterday :

A fighter killed by Islamist rebel group Al-Shabaab

Fighters exchange gun fire with government forces in Mogadishu

A government soldier stands next to the body of a fighter at KM4 X-Control frontline section of Mogadishu where Islamist Fighters belonging to the Al-Shabab attacked the stronghold of the Government positions in the early hours of 1 December 2009

A street gunfight in Karan, south Mogadishu

Somali Hisbul Islam militia walk past at a training camp on the outskirts of Afgoye district in Somalia's lower Shabelle region

Full gallery available at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/inside-the-worlds-most-hostile-city-1833154.html?action=Popup&ino=1

Source : AFP/Getty Images. All rights reserved.

Deadly attack strikes Somali government

Today, Somalia was shattered and blood stained by another terrorist attack, this time targeting the members of the transitional government. A male suicide bomber dressed as a woman attacked a university graduation ceremony in the capital city Mogadishu, killing up to 19 people, including three Cabinet ministers and three journalists. The attack is a severe blow to a country long battered by war and underscored the government’s tenuous hold on even a small area of Mogadishu. African Union peacekeeping troops protecting the government wage near daily battles with Islamic militants who hold much of central and southern Somalia and act so brazenly in the capital that they carry out public executions.

Sheer horror : minutes after the Mogadishu attack

The AP quoted the Somali Information Minister Dahir Mohamud Gelle as saying : “What happened today is a national disaster”, who confirmed that the ministers for Education, Higher Education and Health were killed in the blast. The ministers for Sports and Tourism also were wounded in the, he said. No group immediately claimed responsibility, but suspicion fell upon the militant group al-Shabab (“the Youth”), which has ties to al-Qaida, controls much of the country and has carried out past suicide attacks.

Al Shabab's flag

However, as spectacular and deadly as it is, the attack is nothing less than the consequence of a dramatic mismanagement of the country for the last 15 years. More than 45 years after it gained independence, Somalia is still torn by civil war and anarchy on daily basis. It has had no stable central government since 1991. Fifteen years of fighting with local warlords have led to the death of more than one million people. Poverty, insecurity, and lawlessness remain the main problems the country has to tackle.  The stability of the Horn of Africa as a whole, along with the rebuilding of freedom and order, sadly crippled by decades of mismanagement and civil war are at stake.

Still-born democracy

After long-lasting dictator Siyad Barre was toppled in 1991, a coalition led by the UN entered the country, under the name of “Operation Restore Hope”. Nonetheless the army was to be defeated by powerful local warlords and ended up withdrawing from the country in 1995 suffering heavy casualties. Somalia plunged into a deeper turmoil as a civil war broke out. It led to a dramatic balkanization of the country, as the regions of Puntland, Juntland and Somaliland declared independent. Today, most of the African Union troops that are currently in charge of securing the country remain the target of terrorist attacks, similar to the one that cost the lives of over 19 people today as I write these lines. The international community renounced to military intervention, as it only worsened the situation and compromised all hopes for democracy. To this extent, the UN urged for peace negotiations to reinstate a sustainable dialogue between the fighting factions.

In May 2000, a peace conference was held in Arta, Djibouti, in order to gather Somali politicians. The Somali Transitional National Government (STNG) was formed, even though it was not granted any legitimacy by the warlords who were actually ruling the country. Finally, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of the Somali Republic, which is currently in charge, was created in 2004 in a conference in Kenya.

At first, the TFG clashed with the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). Based on Sharia, this institution supported warlordism and displayed fierce hostility towards the TFG. As of 2006, the TFG only controlled the tiny regions of Baidoa and Baar-dheere, while half of the country was under the iron fist of the Islamic Courts, let alone the secessionist Puntland and Somaliland states. Following the War with Ethiopia, the loss of the ICU  at the hands of the TFG in late 2006 sparked growing discontent amongts islamist warlords, who formed Al-Shabab, sadly famous for today’s attack.

Map as of 2006 (click to enlarge)

Uncertain future

To this extent, what could be done to restore order and democracy in tomorrow’s Somalia? Clan-based parties in the 1960s, along with the following dictatorship, tend to prove that a central government in Somalia is doomed to collapse. Most minorities in Somalia remain reluctant to a central power, as shown by the Puntland and Somaliland examples, which now enjoy relative stability. Nevertheless, considering the risk of advanced balkanization, it is crucial to unite the people: The TFG, led by president Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has attempted to revive the belief of a “Great Somalia” shaped by Siyad Barre, in order to unite the population. However, as shown by today’s tragical event, the islamist rebels remain hostile to the possibility of relinquishing their authority to a central power. Given the scope of this problem, it would be a lost cause for a central government to handle the Somali crisis alone. Likewise, the use of military force to unify the country is very likely to backfire.

Hard times ahead : President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed

To put it bluntly, the perspectives for Somalia remain very bleak. On a national level, today’s attack reminds us of the impossible task the TFG is trying to carry out against the powerful islamist warlords. Somalia’s neighbours are not helping, either: the old feud between Ethiopia and Somalia concerning the Ogaden region, as well as Ethiopia’s invasion of Somali territory in 2006 (which they never withdrew from) spark anger and hatred on both sides. Besides, Eritrea, although not technically one of Somalia’s neighbours, tries to interfere by providing Somali rebel factions with weapons to fight long-lasting enemy Ethiopia. For example, the 2002 Eldoret Reconciliation Conference (Kenya), which promoted democracy, human rights, and disarmament, was unsuccessful, as Ethiopia and Eritrea were blamed for interfering in peace negotiations. Finally, the international actors do not seem to speak up loudly enough to solve the conflict. The African Union and the European Union “condemned the attack” today, but it is unlikely that additional military forces will be sent to back up the TFG.

However, it is a necessary, albeit tricky, mission for the international community to lead intelligent negotiations, working hand in hand with multiple levels of governance. Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, himself former commander in chief of the Islamic Courts Union, is probably to bargain with Al-Shabab. Such discussions ought to be overseen by the African Union and the UN, so that Islamist networks will not gain their power back. In the midst of this quagmire, it is time to raise the alarm and sing in the words of the Somali anthem « Soomaaliyeey Toosoow! »: « Somalia, Wake Up ! »