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AfricaFocus Bulletins with Material on Politics and Human Rights - 2003-2004

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Dec 19, 2004  Ghana: Election Commentary
    "What Ghanaians have managed to do with this election is prove that election management is no rocket science. It requires adequate and competent preparation, a high degree of transparency, a responsible government, which respects its own citizens, and an alert citizenry ready to protect their vote. ... the process that I witnessed was without exaggeration better than what transpired in the last US election." - Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Centre for Democracy and Development

Dec 12, 2004  Liberia-Sierra Leone: Consolidating Peace?
    "The [multilateral] interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone are failing to produce states that will be stable and capable of exercising the full range of sovereign responsibilities on behalf of their long-suffering populations. This is essentially because they treat peacebuilding as implementing an operational checklist, involving [quick] fixes to various institutions and processes" - International Crisis Group

Oct 26, 2004  USA/Africa: Fair Elections?
    A team of African and other international observers monitoring the U.S. presidential election issued their first pre-election report last week. The report by Fair Election International (FEI), entitled "Election Readiness: It Is Never Too Late for Transparency," called attention to the need for reforms, including nonpartisan administration of elections and reducing the disproportionate disenfranchisement of minority and poor voters.

Oct 24, 2004  Sudan: Peacekeeping without Peace?
    Last week's decision to expand the contingent of Africa Union peacekeepers in Sudan's Darfur region to more than 3,000 is the most substantial step yet towards an international presence that could deter continuing violence against civilians by government-sponsored militia. This measure is seen by almost all commentators as a necessary if not sufficient response to the crisis. Like the increased international humanitarian aid that has arrived in Darfur in recent months, however, it is unlikely to have more than a modest impact without simultaneous new advances on stalled peace negotiations.

Oct 21, 2004  Angola: From War to Social Justice?
    "Negative peace (cessation of hostilities) is far preferable to no peace at all but it ... leaves deficits and injustices in the social, political and economic structures, institutions and cultures largely unresolved. It fails to promote political negotiation and democratic processes." - Conciliation Resources briefing paper

Sep 22, 2004  Nigeria: Shari'a Manipulation
    A new report from Human Rights Watch on implementation of Shari'a law in 12 northern Nigerian states stresses that "the application of Shari'a in Nigeria has revealed patterns of fundamental human rights violations which are not peculiar to Shari'a but typify the human rights situation in Nigeria as a whole." The researchers report widespread sentiment in the states concerned that the way Shari'a has been implemented has been manipulated for political purposes.

Sep 12, 2004  Sudan: Darfur and Beyond
    U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's statement last week that the Sudanese government and its proxy militias have indeed committed genocide in Darfur caught media attention and incrementally increased the pressure on the Khartoum regime to rein in the violence. However, the Secretary of State also noted that the determination in itself dictated no new action by Washington. The political will of the international community to increase pressure remains in doubt. How best to focus such pressure is also under debate.

Aug 19 2004  South Africa: Apartheid Reparations Update
    Reparations for historical crimes against humanity, such as the centuries-long slave trade, slavery itself, and the more recent apartheid system in South Africa, are not currently on the agenda for governments preoccupied with more immediate goals. But the issues raised will not go away, as long as the deep inequalities and injustices that these crimes produced continue to exist. Whether in South Africa, the U.S., or globally, the past is in fact not yet past.

Aug 14, 2004  Zimbabwe: Test for African Responsibility
    "The Zimbabwean situation of starvation and malnutrition, willful political violence and intimidation, and the immoral use of food aid by the Zimbabwean government demands stronger and transparent intervention by African governments through the AU [African Union]" - Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC)

Aug 5, 2004  Côte d'Ivoire: Peacekeeping Continued
    West African leaders and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a late July summit in Accra, Ghana, won an unexpected new agreement from Ivorian leaders for a timetable to implement the peace settlement signed in January 2003. Some 3,500 UN peacekeeping troops, out of an authorized strength of 6,240, are in the country, with the largest contingents from Bangladesh, Benin, Ghana, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, and Togo. But the country is still divided, and it is clear that meeting the new timetable for disarmament and new election procedures will depend on continuing pressure on Ivorian leaders.

Jul 28, 2004  USA/Africa: Oil and Transparency
    Two recent U.S. Senate hearings have highlighted issues related to oil and transparency in West and Central Africa. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has focused on the options for U.S. support for transparency in strategic oil-rich countries in the Gulf of Guinea region, including Nigeria, Angola, and Equatorial Guinea. The Committee on Governmental Affairs, on the other hand, has focused on the less often discussed role of American banks and companies in fostering lack of transparency, with a detailed expose of a prominent Washington bank's role in managing suspect accounts for the leaders of Equatorial Guinea.

Jul 22, 2004  Sudan: Questions of Responsibility
    "There has been a great deal of tough talk since the visits of Mr. Powell, Mr. Annan and others, but the UN Security Council so far has failed to act decisively [on Darfur]. It is time to move directly against regime officials who are responsible for the killing." - John Prendergast, New York Times, July 15, 2004

Jun 30, 2004  Africa: Women's Rights Petition
    The Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa was adopted at the African Union summit held in Maputo in July 2003. However, only 29 of the AU's 53 member states have signed the protocol and only one (Comoros) has ratified it. This international agreement has the potential to provide a framework for comprehensive reform of national legislation, but it will remain a dead letter unless it is ratified. African groups have launched a petition to African leaders as part of a continent-wide campaign to mobilize support for the protocol.

Jun 18, 2004  Sudan: Justice Africa Analysis
    As overwhelming evidence of atrocities in Sudan continues to emerge, there are new calls for action to stop the genocide. This issue of AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from a mid-May briefing by Justice Africa focusing on key elements needed to inform such action. These include identifying the political forces within the Sudanese government responsible for directing the violence.

May 27, 2004  Eritrea: Human Rights
    Releasing its annual human rights report this week, Amnesty International charged that the U.S.-led "war on terror" has contributed to sacrificing human rights and turning a blind eye to abuses, without enhancing security. Among the African governments that has most enthusiastically embraced the anti-terror rationale is Eritrea, the subject of a new Amnesty International report released to coincide with the country's 13th anniversary of independence on May 24.

May 18, 2004  Malawi: Election Context
    "We have the greatest policies around, the most liberal constitution. We have a constitution that any liberal democracy would be proud of, but the will to implement not there." - Rafiq Hajat, Institute for Policy Interaction, Malawi

May 10, 2004  Sudan: More Reports, Little Action
    The United Nations Security Council met on Friday in private session and heard a report from the UN Commissioner for Human Rights documenting a "scorched earth policy" and "repeated crimes against humanity" by Sudanese militia and troops in Darfur, western Sudan. But they failed to take any collective action other than pledging to "monitor developments."

Apr 30, 2004  Africa: Tragedy and Hope
    "Africa eludes us; it is so clearly outlined on the map, and yet so difficult to define. From afar, Westerners have long fancied it to be divided into 'black' and 'white,' in the image of their own societies, and yet observant visitors are more likely to be struck by Africa's diversity, and by the absence of any sharp dividing lines."

Apr 22, 2004  Swaziland: AIDS in Context
    "Swaziland now holds the dubious title of [having] the highest [HIV] prevalence level in the world. ... [It] is a vivid microcosm of all the similarly afflicted countries of Southern Africa. At the grass roots, where it counts, there's a superhuman determination to bring the pandemic to heel, and to overcome the tremendous assault on the human condition." - Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa

Apr 5, 2004  USA/Africa: Policy Prospects
    A U.S. election campaign, it seems, has room for one foreign policy issue at most. That space is fully occupied by Iraq. So it is no surprise that no African issues - not even the unfulfilled Bush administration promises on AIDS from January 2003 - have edged their way into election debates. The difference that this year's election could make for Africa policy is still largely a matter for speculation.

Mar 31, 2004  Rwanda/UN: Acknowledging Failure
    "Some 2,000 personnel from several countries, including France, United Kingdom, United States and Italy, had come to evacuate their expatriates and though they were stumbling on corpses, they remained firm in totally ignoring the catastrophe." - retired General Romeo Dallaire, former commander, UN mission in Rwanda.

Mar 31, 2004  Rwanda/USA: "The System Worked"
    "In a sense, the system worked: Diplomats, intelligence agencies, defense and military officials--even aid workers--provided timely information up the chain to President Clinton and his top advisors. That the Clinton Administration decided against intervention at any level was not for lack of knowledge of what was happening in Rwanda." - William Ferroggiaro, National Security Archive Fellow

Mar 28, 2004  Africa: Parliamentary Potential
    The new Pan-African Parliament officially launched this month will have only advisory and consultative rather than legislative powers in its first five-year term. Its members are appointed by national parliaments rather than directly elected. But its rapid creation is already raising hopes that it may serve as a new public forum for airing critical African issues, including equality for women. Tanzania's Gertrude Mongella was elected by secret ballot as the president of the new body.

Mar 3, 2004  Africa: Fair Globalization Report
    "No one likes to eat crumbs from a feast; everyone likes to sit at the table." Tanzanian President Benjamin William Mkapa quoted this African proverb in introducing the report of the World Commission on the Social Dimensions of Globalization, released last week. The Commission, initiated by Juan Somavia of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and chaired by the presidents of Tanzania and Finland, offers specific proposals to move the world towards "fair globalization."

Feb 22, 2004  Tunisia: Democracy Deferred
    "This week, President Bush played host to President Zine el-Abidine ben Ali of Tunisia, giving this ruthless autocrat a long-coveted audience at the White House," writes exiled Tunisian journalist Kamel Labidi in the New York Times. "To his credit, Mr. Bush rebuked Mr. ben Ali for his violations of press freedom, but the United States is sorely mistaken if it believes that democracy and the rule of law can ever take hold under leaders like Mr. ben Ali. ... Tunisia today is one of the world's most efficient police states."

Jan 22, 2004  Africa: Davos Report Card
    In his New Year's message for 2004, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, referring to HIV/AIDS, poverty, and other global issues, concluded: "We don't need any more promises. We need to start keeping the promises we already made." A report card prepared for the World Economic Forum now meeting in Davos, Switzerland has concluded that the international community is putting in barely one-third of the effort needed to achieve internationally agreed goals.

Jan 16, 2004  Africa: Oil and Transparency
    From Houston to Luanda, London to Lagos, Washington to Baghdad, or wherever else oil is found or sold, the nexus of oil, cash, and politics poses a fundamental challenge to democratic accountability. Campaigns for greater openness, including the global Publish What You Pay campaign, are making some headway. Still, resistance to transparency is the most common note. In the US, Vice President Dick Cheney continues to refuse to release even the names of the industry executives who advised him on the Bush Administration's energy plan.

Jan 16, 2004  Angola: Oil and Accountability
    A new report by Human Rights Watch on Angola is the most detailed public examination to date of discrepancies in accounting for revenue from oil, the product that accounts for the lion's share of the country's exports and government budget. Although Angolan government officials complained about the unfair focus on their country, attributing the problems primarily to insufficiencies in financial systems, the issues raised go to the heart of questions about political accountability not only in Angola, but also around the world.

Jan 11, 2004  Congo (Kinshasa): Peace & Transition
    "While significant progress has been achieved in the Democratic Republic of the Congo ... the tangible benefits of peace have not yet filtered down to the war-weary Congolese population. Socioeconomic conditions remain dire throughout the country ... A key condition for success in national reconciliation will be a true partnership between the former belligerents in managing the transition."

Dec 18, 2003  Nigeria: Oil and Violence
    Delta State produces 40 percent of Nigeria's two million barrels a day of crude oil and is supposed to receive 13 percent of the revenue from production in the state, notes Human Rights Watch in a new report. Conflict over oil revenue lies at the root of ongoing violence, particularly in the key city of Warri. "Efforts to halt the violence and end the civilian suffering that has accompanied it must therefore include steps both to improve government accountability and to end the theft of oil."

Dec 10, 2003  Zimbabwe: "We Are Still Here Ambuya"
    "We Are Still Here Ambuya," sings mbira player and activist Machingura in his new CD released recently in Berkeley, California. Linking struggles for social justice in Zimbabwe, the United States, and around the world, Machingura's music-making in California follows on his experience as vocalist in Harare's Luck Street Blues band in the late 1990s. It has also led to his selection as one of six "Artist Ambassadors" for the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India in January. He follows in a rich tradition of Zimbabwean musicians whose music has both reflected and inspired their people's quest for justice.

Dec 7, 2003  Zimbabwe: Civil Society Voices
    A six-nation panel including Australia, Canada, India, Jamaica, Mozambique, and South Africa today recommended continued suspension of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth, until the government of Zimbabwe meets minimal conditions indicating willingness to dialogue with internal opponents. News coverage of this issue has focused on the divergent views of governments, particularly the reluctance of some African states to maintain the suspension of Zimbabwe. The simplistic image of a split between Europe and Africa, however, ignores the widespread consensus in civil society in Zimbabwe and the region in favor of continued pressure.

Nov 28, 2003  Sudan: Oil and Rights Abuses
    While diplomats say there are good chances of achieving a peace settlement in Sudan by the end of the year, fighting nevertheless continues in western Sudan, and the United Nations has appealed for $450 million to support some 3.5 million displaced Sudanese. Human Rights Watch has just released an extensive new report documenting the complicity of oil companies with human rights abuses in Sudan, and warning that disputes over oil revenue have the potential to further prolong the conflict.

Nov 20, 2003  Africa: Humanitarian Double Standard
    "But let me be clear: the aid we give them is not charity, it is their right. ... donors and citizens who can help have not only a moral responsibility to provide emergency and life-sustaining assistance, but an obligation to do so under international humanitarian and human rights law." - UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan