Category Archives: Africa – International and Regional News

Pearson aims to establish for-profit schools for poorest in Africa

By Keith Somerville

In a series of interviews with media such as the BBC’s Hardtalk and the Independent  Sir Michael Barber, the chief education adviser for the Pearson  global publishing and education giant, has been pushing hard the idea of for-profit schools for the very poorest in Africa.  The idea is that, to quote his Hardtalk interview, the poorest will pay 3, 4 or five dollars a month to go to school at primary level and 10 to 12 a month at higher levels of education.

He says the aim is to help achieve the UN target of getting all children into at least primary education by 2015 – a goal which Africa is lagging behind in it attempts to attain.  Pearson would invest $15 million in the scheme and would hope to sell out its minority share in each enterprise at a profit in 7 to ten years. Barber said there is huge potential in the vast global education market and that there is an important role for profit in education.

Citing alleged successes in for-profit schooling by Pearson in  Delhi and Karachi, he said this showed that schools for the poorest in society that charged a fee could work to improve educational provision while making a profit for Pearson and local majority investors.  What he didn’t say was just how poor the families were that used the schools and how many of the poorest just simply couldn’t afford it.  The view was that if it worked in India and Pakistan it would work in Africa.

But there are huge questions to be asked and in his interviews he evaded them or wasn’t pressed hard on them (as far as one could see from what was published or broadcast).  These questions revolve both around the amount of income the very poor have available to pay for schooling, the problem of making very broad brush comparisons between South Asia and Africa and the likelihood of private investors in Africa being willing to put up sufficient funds over a long enough period to fund schools without endangering the far more extensive and important government-run education sector while having a level of sustainability.

Poverty and the lack of sufficient cash income is the key issue, though.  Delhi is India’s richest area – its per capita income exceeds that for anywhere else in India and vastly exceeds that of most of Africa – including Accra in Ghana (where Pearson has started a school).  The average per capita income (and yes, there are huge disparities between rich and poor in India) in Delhi is $3,020; in Accra (richer than other areas of Ghana and far richer than most of rural Africa) it is $1,519, with the lowest quartile on $195.  If you pay the lowest rate quoted by barber of $3 a month that is still more than a sixth of a poor family’s income to educate just one child at primary level. At higher level at his lower figure of $10 a day, it is nearly two thirds of an annual family income to educate a child. The Pearsonn executive said that the schools had been hugely successful in India and Pakistan making up 70% of provision in some areas – but he was not asked what happened to government schools in those areas and what proportion of the poorest in those areas could not afford to pay and could then lose out completely if government schools close.

Barber is right in saying that in much of Africa government education is not free because of costs of schoolbooks, uniforms etc, despite there being no basic fee for going to school. But it is still below $36 a year for primary education, as he admitted.  For-profit education, whether in Africa, Asia or Europe, is a system that has as its aim profit. Companies like Pearson are not in it for altruistic reasons but to make money – even Barber at his most circumlocutious couldn’t hide that.  Africa has been a source of profit for too many for too long and to start selling off education to global multinationals desperate to find new sources of profit seems a step too far even in our increasingly rapacious, profit-seeking capitalist-dominated world.

Diane Ravitch, a bestselling writer on US education reform,  was quoted by the Guardian as saying that in its dealings with education for-profit in the United States “Pearson is overstepping the bounds of the role of a profit-making business. The corporation is acting as a quasi-government agency in several instances, but it is not a quasi-government agency: it is a business that sells products and services….At what point do conflicts of interest arise? Is it acting in the best interests of students, of the nation, or of its own business? These are questions that must be raised and answered.”

If powerful states, with strong and well-established institutions (albeit run broadly in the interests of those making profits) cannot cope with Pearson and the way it becomes so closely involved in educational decision-making and has big, fat fingers in running education as well as exam systems (such as Edexcel in the UK) and a global educational textbook business, what hope does a weak, poor African government have?

Pearson, through executives like Sir Michael Barber, has been able to gain huge influence over educational policy, notably in Britain, where Barber was Tony Blair’s adviser but then wrote two key education reports for McKinsey, the management consultants, that are widely cited internationally. He then joined Pearson.  The potential for conflicts of interest and monpolising school management, textbook supply, exam systems and debate on education are staggering and potentially very dangerous in Europe and North America. The dangers of loss of control for people and governments are even more severe in Africa, where the power of international companies is magnified by the weakness and lack of accountability of governments.

Barber made no secret of the fact, in his interviews, that Pearson would be interested in contracting out entire education systems to the for-profit sector.  The dangers for education in Africa are huge and very, very obvious. In Britain,  Alasdair Smith, national secretary of the Anti Academies Alliance, which is critical of corporate influence in education, was cited by the Guardian as warning, “This stuff frightens the life out of me. My concern is that business dictates the nature of education, and especially the aims of education”.  The danger is all the more extreme for Africa, where business interests can really reign supreme.

Reporting Conflict – blending first-hand experience with in-depth understanding

Reporting Conflict – a review by Keith Somerville

Reporting Conflict - Journalism

As James Rodgers cites in his insightful and compelling examination of the reporting of violent conflict, journalism is often seen as the rough first draft of history (p.6).  It is the way many millions around the world learn about their world and about the conflicts that both plague and shape it.  What we know about the conflict in the eastern Congo or in Somalia or Syria we know through the reporting of correspondents on the scene or as near as possible or through the analysis of politicians and experts mediated through the prism of journalistic reporting.

This makes an understanding of how journalists report conflict key to the ability of people to ingest and themselves analyse what they are being told.  Can they trust this or that journalist, newspaper or radio/TV station; where did they get that piece of video footage, that comment from an eye-witness, who produced that piece of social media; how have they represented the different parties to the conflict, the institutions, NGOs or politicians involved?  These are all questions that need to be asked when reading, listening to or watching journalists’ accounts of events and are particuarly key when it comes to distant armed conflicts.

Rodgers’s book deals with all these issues from both the viewpoint of one who has been there, done that and done it commendably well as a BBC reporter, and from the viewpoint of one who knows and understands the academic literature on journalism and war.  It is an ideal starting place for students coming to journalism either at BA level or, with knowledge and experience from earlier study or work, at MA level. But it is also going to be valuable for academics and researchers in other fields (notably politics and international relations) whose subject areas are the focus of conflict reporting but who don’t know how it works.

In true correspondent fashion the book is clear and concise and not filled with unncessary jargon or the academic waffle that is often used to hide a lack of understanding of how journalism actually works rather than how non-journalists feel it might or should work.  Rodgers notes (p.3) that while some academic accounts are illuminating, “others are wide of the mark”. From my perspective as a career journalist who now straddles journalism and academia this is very true – many academic studies which get too wrapped up with intense sociological analysis or very fine detail critical discourse analysis do not, to journalists who read them, appear to describe their roles or the environment or business in which they work and  are rather ideal-type constructs or creations of a virtual journalism that do not adequately achieve understanding of how it works, identifying processes as mechanistic and failing to account for how content is why it is.

Rodgers’s book does not fall into that trap because the author has succeeded in the world of journalism and can now apply a wide-ranging knowledge drawn from experience and measure it alongside academic study.  Using these great advantages he provides a quick but nonetheless very useful history of the development of war reporting – from the much-feted but also rather flawed William Russell in the Crimea through the world wars to the start of modern, fast, TV-led reporting with the Vietnam War and on to contemporary conflicts.  The Vietnam section is very interesting and Rodgers demonstrates the fallacies of the “journalists lost the war for America” angle describing the interplay bewteen political elites and the media and they way that at times the media was very much guided or even led by the nose by political leaders and that it was ony when those leaders lost their way and faltered that the media became more critical and its coverage of the horrors of the war hit home hard.

Rodgers, and this is no surprise given his wealth of experience, is particularly strong when it comes to looking at issues such as objectivity, balance, independencev access and the nature of the relationship between reporters at the front and the soliders with whom they go into battle or with whome they live in  combat zones.  This is a key area – especially as government and many armies have become ever more skilled in managing journalists and information in the wake of the lessons of Vietnam.

From an African point of view, I would have liked some reference to the way that the reporting of the US role in Somalia, the whole sorry Blackhawk Down episode and the reporting of it affected media coverage of US involvement in wars and may have had a profound effect on the lack of good reporting on Rwanda in 1994 and on the interplay between the media reporting and international action over both Somalia and Bosnia.  The CNN effect is dealt with in passing but I would have welcomed the views of a seasoned correspondent on Piers Robinson’s very valuable refining of the concept and his work that suggests that it is not as powerful as first thought but that when (as in Vietnam) elite confidence or will is weakened then the media can have more of an obvious effect. This obvious effect is then very much dependent on the quality of the reporting of conflict.

Overall, this will be a very useful book for students and non-journalism academics alike, and one cannot but agree wholeheartedly with the conclusion that no sunstitute has emerged despite technological advance and the role of social media for the presence and expertise of foreign correspondents (p. 138).

James Rodgers, Reporting Conflict, basingstoke, Palgrave; 2012. Pbk, pp 154.

ISBN-13: 978-0-230-27446-4

The Libyan Sandstorm – a story of Libyans, Gaddafi and revolution: book review

By Keith Somerville

Lindsey Hilsum, Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution

It’s all too common that when leading reporters and correspondents write their accounts of events, they become the key player, the focus of the action and their feelings, responses and interpretations become the prism through which the reader is invited to view events. One need only to think of John Simpson in his burqa and his personal liberation of Kabul to realise how the main story can be forgotten. So, it was refreshing as well as enlightening to read Lindsey Hilsum’s thorough, informative and, dare I say it, entertaining account of the Libyan revolution. This is not a whimsical or satirical account in the style of Bill Bryson or P.J. O’Rourke, it’s just that the elegance, pace and sheer quality of the writing make it not only a comprehensive account of events and, most importantly of all, of their context, but one written in a way that now again brings a wry smile to the reader’s face. A good example is when Hilsum discusses the Libyan revolution as part of the Arab Spring. She explains that “while the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and Syria might be similar to each other in corruption and nepotism, and might employ the same brutal tactics…Every country was unhappy in its own way” (p. 19). Neat, concise but also incisive and avoiding the simplistic accounts you get of the Arab spring.

The book starts with the brutal, vengeful beating, sodomising and killing of Muammar Gaddafi. The account pulls no punches. The fate meted out to him was violent and hate-filled, but the writer neither descends into a stock condemnation of human rights abuses nor an apologia for the perpetrators, rather she sets out why it happened. The act is explained but not justified, as is the public display of his body. As a good journalist, Hilsum conveys atmosphere, feeling and explanation, placing Libyans at centre stage, not herself. We find out why these things happen, rather than their effect on the journalist.

The book is well-structured, moving from the death of the Brother Leader to an account of the strange, massively contradictory and bombastic nature of the man – a man who could denounce the West and all its manifestations on the one hand and, at the height of his denunciations, fund a Hollywood style film about a Libyan hero, Omar Mukhtar, in which the hero is played by Anthony Quinn. She captures his fascination but effective contempt for women but also some of the positive effects of his fascination – the allegations of his womanising are detailed but this is accompanied by a detailing of the progress women were able to achieve under his rule in terms of education and employment. The strangest of all the revelations in the chapter on his Strange World are those concerned with his crazed message to Madeleine Albright, the USecretary of State, to wear green when she’s on TV to show that she loves him or his obsession with Condoleezza Rice, who he referred to as his “African Princess”.

There follows a well-researched narrative of the rise and consolidation of the Gaddafi regime – with its rejection of parliaments, formal state structures and its interwoven system of Revolutionary Committees to both mobilise and watch over the population. Hilsum also charts the rise first of the secular and then the Islamic opposition to Gaddafi and his brutal suppression of the revolts, with first-hand accounts from witnesses of killings and of the infamous Abu Salim massacre, in which 1,270 political prisoners were killed.

From an Africanist’s point of view, the King of Kings of Africa is one of the most fascinating chapters. Again, we see the contradictory, almost schizophrenic, nature of his policies. But behind it all there is a logic and that is based on his view of the interests of his regime and his standing in Africa. He supported liberation movements in southern Africa when they most needed funds, weapons and training –for this he earned the undying gratitude of Nelson Mandela. For those bordering Libya or within what he saw as his sphere of interest in Central and West Africa, gratitude is not the word most would use for their feelings towards him – hatred, bitterness and contempt for his high-handed and mercenary policies would be nearer the mark. Here was a man who thought nothing of seizing the territory of neighbouring states (Chad), fuelling but then helping extinguish revolts by movements according to narrow self-interest and helping build up brutal killers like Foday Sankoh in Sierra Leone and Charles Taylor in Liberia, not to mention his support for Idi Amin in Uganda. Gaddafi’s manipulation of the Tuareg, of the revolt in Darfur and of movements like Polisario show the way that his self-interest perverted popular or resistance movements, undermined African governments and complicated the already tangled legacy of colonialism.
Of key interest to readers now, will be the clear, empathetic but balanced account of the rising against Gaddafi, its progress, its dynamics and the challenges that now face the Libyan people. There’s no wide-eyed excitement and optimism that with Gaddafi gone all will be golden. The splits, rivalries and fault lines of the rebel movement (if it can even be called a movement) are revealed, providing an understanding of the clashes and fracturing of alliances now taking place. What is fascinating, too, is the account of why the West intervened (with guilt over Rwanda and Srebrenica mixed with less compassionate motives) and the role of Gulf states, particularly Qatar in that intervention – with nothing held back on why those states supported intervention in the hopes of averting intervention to stop the suppression of their own popular uprisings.

This is a compelling and comprehensive account of the uprising, its context and its complexity, uncluttered by jargon or the “big I am” tendency that mars many first-hand accounts by journalists of the chapters in history they have witnessed and reported.

Lindsey Hilsum’s Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution is published by faber and faber, London, 2012. ISBN 978-0-571-28803-8

Kenya: challenges facing the media with elections on the horizon

By Keith Somerville

In its review of the media in Africa in published in 2011, the Africa office of the International Federations of Journalists lamented that while out that the final communique of the African Union summit in that year spoke of the need for the rule of law, good governance and the encouragement of democratic practices as shared values across Africa it didn’t mention a free media.  The IFJ emphasised that despite a concerted effort by media stakeholders and civil society groups to lobby AU leaders and African heads of state to include press freedom, it was missing from the communique and that for the heads of state “press freedom, freedom of expression and access to information for citizens, are not yet values they share” .  The Federation also pointed out that in the year preceding the report 12  African journalists had been assassinated, 5 killed “accidentally”, 34 jailed and hundreds intimidated, threatened, physically attacked or forced into exile.  Many more had been censored, bribed or sacked to ensure that damaging or critical stories weren’t broadcast or published and that governments and major political movements were able to control the content of the press

 

In this environment the development of a strong fourth estate in individual countries is uneven and beset by obstacles and frequent setbacks.   Taking the example of Kenya, in some ways it show aspects of a thriving press, courageous and talented journalists and a striving for greater press freedom and freedom of information, but journalists will face major challenges  in the current year – challenges that, if overcome, could lead to advances in media freedom. If the challenges prove too hard, there could be an effective decline in the quality of the press and the worsening of the environment for reporting, publishing and broadcasting freely and for the benefit of  Kenyans.

Kenya – harassment, hate and the hustings

 

Even under the autocratic rule of Jomo Kenyatta and then Daniel arap Moi and the Kanu party, the Kenyan press enjoyed somewhat more freedom than its counterparts in much of Africa.  Benefitting from newspapers set up under colonialism to serve the colonists but continuing to operate after independence with foreign ownership, Kenyans were able to get more of an idea of how they were governed than in states where the media was totally under state control.  That’s not to say that the press was free but it had a certain leeway and operated as much under a system of self-censorship as under direct state restriction, though criticism of the government was severely limited. The printed media was dominated by the Nation Group (owned by the Agha Khan), which published the widely-read and authoritative (within the parameters described) Daily Nation, and the Standard group owned, then, by the British-based Lonrho multinational, which published the Standard.

Broadcasting, until the end of the one-party era, remained under state control and the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) was (and to a lesser but still significant extent still is) the mouthpiece of the state – something criticised heavily by media observers and the European Union election monitoring team during the December 2007 elections.  It was only after the formal legalisation of multiparty politics that the press became a forum for lively political debate.  Lacking a history or experience of press freedom, this debate was often unfocused and unstructured and a new factor came into play, which remains dominant today – media outlets came under the control of politicians and leading businessmen, often through proxy or covert ownership.  The Standard was sold by Lonrho and is now owned by a group of Kenyan businessmen. Since 2002 it has has been viewed as an opposition newspaper – when Lonrho sold the newspaper the first chairman of the new Standard board was Mark Too, a close relation of Moi and the paper is now regarded as part of the Moi family’s business empire

Politically motivated ownership of newspapers and other media outlets is widespread though often hidden.  Many media observers I’ve met and consulted in Nairobi believe that the controversial Kalenjin leader William Ruto, indicted by the International Criminal Court  for crimes against humanity relating to the 2007-8 post-election violence, is behind the Kalenjin radio station Kass FM and that Uhuru Kenyatta (also indicted on similar charges by the ICC) is behind K24 TV and Kameme FM radio.  Senior journalists and executives at Kass and Kameme deny the links with Ruto and  Kenyatta.

During the 2007-8 elections, the press and broadcast media were relatively free to reflect the political debates, but the European elections monitors, human rights groups and the BBC World Service Trust, who all studied the elections and media behaviour concluded that they but there is evidence that they failed to provide equitable coverage of political leaders and parties. Different media outlets expressed clear preferences for candidates or parties and the selection of stories was far from impartial Journalists in Kenya have told me that politicians use their influence in stations owned by proxies or allies to control coverage or will bribe or threaten journalists to cover certain stories or politicians and ignore others.

As Kenya approaches a new election season, there is little indication that the situation has improved.  Elections have been scheduled for March 2013 but President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga (who were rivals in 2007) can’t agree on the date and there may be a challenge in court to the timing.  Kibaki, supported by the Nation group in 2007, can’t stand again under the constitution and it was expected that Uhuru Kenyatta, in an alliance with William Ruto, would stand in his place against Odinga – though it’s never been clear what Ruto would get from such a deal. In such a case the media close to Kenyatta and Ruto would undoubtedly vociferously support them and coverage would be as partial as five years ago.  Odinga is likely to get support from the Standard, not because Moi wants to see him as President, but because Moi’s competition for support of the Kalenjin community in the Rift Valley with William Ruto would lead him to support whoever opposes Ruto.

The other key media issue likely to emerge is the use of the media – particularly vernacular radio stations – to broadcast inflammatory political messages that could inflame tensions and lead to violence, as after the 2007 elections.  Kenya has a number of vernacular stations – the most important being Kameme FM, Inooro FM and Coro FM (Kikuyu),  Chamge FM, Kass FM and Rehema Radio (Kalenjin), Ramogi FM and Lake Victoria (Luo), Mulembe FM (Luhya) and Mbaitu FM (Kamba). In 2008, Kass, Inooro, Kameme, Romagi and Lake Victoria were all accused at various times of broadcasting hate message at supporters of rival political groups and at members of other language communities.  One result is that Joshua arap sang, main presenter and editor-in-chief at Kass has been indicted by the ICC and the charges relate partly to his broadcasting at Kass.

In February 2010, the chief government media officer, Alfred Mutua, told the author that the government was unhappy about some of the material broadcast by vernacular stations but could not act under existing laws and without incurring accusations of stifling radio broadcasters critical of the government.  But later in the year the government-appointed National Cohesion and Integration Commission warned a number of stations about hate broadcasting during the referendum campaign on the constitution – Kass FM was among the stations warned.

The results of the Sang trial at the ICC could have major effects for the Kenyan media if  the charges are pressed and he is found guilty of broadcasting hate speech as part of the wider charges of crimes against humanity.  This could lead to pressure for legislation to rein in vernacular stations.  But of wider importance is the highly political nature of the media at election times – when Kenyans have to work hard to put together a clear picture of the candidates and what they really stand for from the flood of highly partial material published and broadcast.  The election will not just be a test of politicians and their policies, but also of the health of the media and it be an opportunity to see if those who own or influence it have learned the lessons of 2007-8.

 

Keith Somerville, lecturer in Humanitarian Communications, University of Kent, Canterbury, and founder/editor of A

French report suggests Kagame and RPF did not kill Rwandan President in 1994

By Keith Somerville

The shooting down on the evening of 6 April 1994 not only killed President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda and his Burundian counterpart, but was the trigger for the Rwandan genocide that killed ujp to 800,000 people.  A new French report suggests that the plane was downed by Hutu militants or their supporters in the army and not by current President Paul Kagame and his RPF forces..

The question of who downed the plane with a surface-to-air missile has always been a controversial one.  Conventional wisdom blamed the Hutu Power militants and their supporters in the Presidential Guard, army and Hutu militias; but Hutu politicians, the French and some highly sceptical experts, like the American Scott Straus, always believed it was Kagame and the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) who fired the missile.

The responsibility for the killing, while not in any justifying the genocide, has always been a key to understanding how and why the genocide occurred.  Those who says Kagame was responsible then posit the theory that while Hutu extremists had set an agenda of hatred of Tutsis and of Hutu politicians favouring equality rather than Hutu hegemony, it was the killing of Habyarimana that started the genocide and it had not been planned in advance.  They further argue that RPF military gains since the start of the uprising in October 1990 had scared not just Hutu leaders but ordinary Hutus, who feared an RPF victory would lead to Tutsi revenge on Hutus for years of repression.

But this theory rather flew in the face of most of the evidence that the genocide was carefully planned over a long period, that the media (especially the hateful Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines) had inculcated hatred of the Tutsi and contempt for Hutu moderates, and that a network of Hutu militants was prepared to act – the shooting down of the plane was the signal to act and the pretext for that action.  What evidence there was pointed in this direction.

Counter accusations

The French government had supported Habyarimana’s Hutu supremacist regime and sent troops of Rwanda to provide security around Kigali following the RPF invasion.  They armed and trained the Rwandan army and even gave it some command and control assistance in operations against the RPF.  After the killing of the President and the start of the genocide they did nothing to halt it or to protect civilians, despite having hundreds of troops in the country.  They then set up a safe zone for Hutus as the RPF advanced south – not ending killings of Tutsis in this zone for some time.  They, perhaps out of guilt for their role in the tragedy, accused Kagame of shooting down the plane.

In 2006, a leading French anti-terrorist judge investigated the downing of the plane and said (without conclusive evidence) that Kagame and the RPF were most likely to blame. The report had little scientific or technical evidence and was based particularly on the testimony of former RPF members who had become critics of Kagame.

This soured already bad relations between Kigalai and Paris and was criticized by many experts who believed that the weight of evidence and the speed and organized nature of the genocide suggested a planned murder followed by genocidal attacks on Tutsis using the killing as a justification and as a means to mobilize ordinary Hutus to kill their neighbours.

Now the new report. and the presentation in a French court of its findings thus far, appears to clear Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame of organizing the killing of Juvenal Habyarimana.  A team of experts interviewed six of those accused of responsibility in the 2006 French report and conducted a forensic investigation. It included missiles specialists, air accident experts, a pilot and two surveyors.  They tried to reconstruct the events of the night the plane was shot down.  They were mandated to carry out the tests by a French-established inquiry.  They were intent on establishing the trajectory of the missile which hit the presidential plane to work out from where it was fired.

The BBC reports from Paris that a French court hearing the evidence of this new team concluded that the missile was shot from  more than half a mile away from the plane, which was about to land at Kigali airport.  The area from which it is then likely to have been fired was occupied and regularly patrolled by the elite Presidential Guard, which then took a very active part in the genocide and the killing of moderate Hutu leaders.

The killings, and radio exhortations to rise up against the Tutsi, started within hours of the announcement by Radio Mille Collines of Habyarimana’s death.  The investigating team believe it would have been difficult if not impossible for Kagame or the RPF to have been in an area so closely controlled by elite Hutu forces and so sets out that that it  is much more likely that Habyarimana’s own elite forces or even French troops, who were in the area and supported the government, were responsible for firing the missile.

Not surprisingly, the report has been wlecomed by the Kagame government.  The Foreign Minister,  Louise Mushikiwabo , said, “Today’s findings constitute vindication for Rwanda’s long-held position on the circumstances surrounding events of April 1994.” The Minister added that, “It is now clear to all that the downing of the plane was a coup d’état carried by extremist Hutu elements and their advisers who controlled Kanombe Barracks.”

But Jean-Yves Dupeux, a lawyer for Habyarimana’s children, said the findings did not support this version of events.  According to reuters, he said that “The findings cannot point the finger at the Hutu camp. What the experts are saying is that the shots could not have been fired from Paul Kagame’s camp. That doesn’t mean it is the other side.”  While the investigating team have not directly accused Hutus, the evidence establishes from where the missile was fired and strongly suggests Hutu militants were to blame.

While the findings appear to shift the blame to France’s allies at the time and possibly even to French forces, the Sarkozy government and its foreign ministry will not be displeased by the report.  It clears the way for a continuation of the gradual rapprochement that has been taking place in recent months and which paris is keen to see continue.  The report blaming Kagame was always and obstancle to that improvement in relations.

One could be cynical and say that the new report is diplomatically convenient and therefore suspect.  However, it seems much more thorough than the 2006 and fits the known facts surrounding the killing and the subsequent genocide far better.  What the investigating team now has to work on is who did fire the missile.

By Keith Somerville

The shooting down on the evening of 6 April 1994 not only killed President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda and his Burundian counterpart, but was the trigger for the Rwandan genocide that killed ujp to 800,000 people.  A new French report suggests that the plane was downed by Hutu militants or their supporters in the army and not b y current President Paul Kagame and his RPF forces..

The question of who downed the plane with a surface-to-air missile has always been a controversial one.  Conventional wisdom blamed the Hutu Power militants and their supporters in the Presidential Guard, army and Hutu militias; but Hutu politicians, the French and some highly sceptical experts, like the American Scott Straus, always believed it was Kagame and the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) who fired the missile.

The responsibility for the killing, while not in any justifying the genocide, has always been a key to understanding how and why the genocide occurred.  Those who says Kagame was responsible then posit the theory that while Hutu extremists had set an agenda of hatred of Tutsis and of Hutu politicians favouring equality rather than Hutu hegemony, it was the killing of Habyarimana that started the genocide and it had not been planned in advance.  They further argue that RPF military gains since the start of the uprising in October 1990 had scared not just Hutu leaders but ordinary Hutus, who feared an RPF victory would lead to Tutsi revenge on Hutus for years of repression.

But this theory rather flew in the face of most of the evidence that the genocide was carefully planned over a long period, that the media (especially the hateful Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines) had inculcated hatred of the Tutsi and contempt for Hutu moderates, and that a network of Hutu militants was prepared to act – the shooting down of the plane was the signal to act and the pretext for that action.  What evidence there was pointed in this direction.

Counter accusations

The French government had supported Habyarimana’s Hutu supremacist regime and sent troops of Rwanda to provide security around Kigali following the RPF invasion.  They armed and trained the Rwandan army and even gave it some command and control assistance in operations against the RPF.  After the killing of the President and the start of the genocide they did nothing to halt it or to protect civilians, despite having hundreds of troops in the country.  They then set up a safe zone for Hutus as the RPF advanced south – not ending killings of Tutsis in this zone for some time.  They, perhaps out of guilt for their role in the tragedy, accused Kagame of shooting down the plane.

In 2006, a leading French anti-terrorist judge investigated the downing of the plane and said (without conclusive evidence) that Kagame and the RPF were most likely to blame. The report had little scientific or technical evidence and was based particularly on the testimony of former RPF members who had become critics of Kagame.

This soured already bad relations between Kigalai and Paris and was criticized by many experts who believed that the weight of evidence and the speed and organized nature of the genocide suggested a planned murder followed by genocidal attacks on Tutsis using the killing as a justification and as a means to mobilize ordinary Hutus to kill their neighbours.

Now the new report. and the presentation in a French court of its findings thus far, appears to clear Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame of organizing the killing of Juvenal Habyarimana.  A team of experts interviewed six of those accused of responsibility in the 2006 French report and conducted a forensic investigation. It included missiles specialists, air accident experts, a pilot and two surveyors.  They tried to reconstruct the events of the night the plane was shot down.  They were mandated to carry out the tests by a French-established inquiry.  They were intent on establishing the trajectory of the missile which hit the presidential plane to work out from where it was fired.

The BBC reports from Paris that a French court hearing the evidence of this new team concluded that the missile was shot from  more than half a mile away from the plane, which was about to land at Kigali airport.  The area from which it is then likely to have been fired was occupied and regularly patrolled by the elite Presidential Guard, which then took a very active part in the genocide and the killing of moderate Hutu leaders.

The killings, and radio exhortations to rise up against the Tutsi, started within hours of the announcement by Radio Mille Collines of Habyarimana’s death.  The investigating team believe it would have been difficult if not impossible for Kagame or the RPF to have been in an area so closely controlled by elite Hutu forces and so sets out that that it  is much more likely that Habyarimana’s own elite forces or even French troops, who were in the area and supported the government, were responsible for firing the missile.

Not surprisingly, the report has been wlecomed by the Kagame government.  The Foreign Minister,  Louise Mushikiwabo , said, “Today’s findings constitute vindication for Rwanda’s long-held position on the circumstances surrounding events of April 1994.”

While it appears to shift the blame to France’s allies at the time and possibly even to French forces, the Sarkozy government and its foreign ministry will not be displeased by the report.  It clears the way for a continuation of the gradual rapprochement that has been taking place in recent months and which paris is keen to see continue.  The report blaming Kagame was always and obstancle to that improvement in relations.

One could be cynical and say that the new report is diplomatically convenient and therefore suspect.  However, it seems much more thorough than the 2006 and fits the known facts surrounding the killing and the subsequent genocide far better.  What the investigating team now has to work on is who did fire the missile.

Africa 2012: A year of opportunities and threats

Keith Somerville

A week into 2012 is a good point at which to stop and consider what the year is likely to hold for Africa, with of course the caveat that what holds for one state or region does not automatically hold for another state or region.

The continuing political evolution in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia may encourage popular movements in other north or sub-Saharan states, as people bereft of control over their futures and with detatched, distant, unresponsive and often rapacious governments decide that they too can bring about change.  Though as is developing in Egypt, that change may not be what protestors thought they had brought about or is more long-drawn out and violent than they hoped at the start of their “spring”.

In 1989 and the early 1990s, there was, to steal from Harold Macmillan, a new wind of change blowing through Africa – brought about b y many factors including the end of the cold war, the withdrawal of aid from socialist or western countries or the loss of strategic salience for some areas, and also a result of a slow build-up of anger among populations at the excesses and inadequacies of their leaders.

The results of that wave of change in Africa were patchy.  The USA and EU, often using aid or the threat of its withdrawal as a lever, sought above all else to encourage free market economic reforms and the holding of Western-style elections on timetables that were unrealistic and favoured incumbents who still had their hands on the levers of power.  President Omar Bongo of Gabon said in 1990 that the ‘wind from the east is shaking the coconut trees’.  He bent with the wind a little and survived with his auocratic rule intact – it is is still intact following his detah with his son in power and able to ensure victory in elections through his entrenched power, control of key media and immense powers of patronage.

But in other areas of Africa more change continues – Ghana holds regular, fiercely contested but generally fair and trusted elections.  Senegal is approaching elections with the prospect of a serious and popular challenge to President Wade.  Zambia saw elections in which a fierce critic of corruption, Michael Sata, came to power and set about rotting out corruption and challenging some of the excesses of Africa’s new best friend, China, in its unbalanced relations with African partners.

Effective political processes like those are needed rather than what we’ve seen in recent months in DR Congo, Cameroon and other states, where the popular will is not seriously reflected through votes – either through outright fraud or use of state power, wealth and political clientism to ensure the victory of the sitting leader.

There will be crucial elections, though, this year elsewhere in Africa.  Kenya‘s, due in December, could be key to the country’s ability to escape from political corruption, cronyism and the use of communal violence for political ends.  The last vote there, in 2007, was not fair and EU and other observers found that Kibaki’s victory was not a true reflection of the voting.  Violence on a huge scale followed the annoucement of the “results” and the indecently fast swearing-in of Kibaki.

Much of the evidence available from commissions of inquiry (Wako and Krielger) and from human rights groups shows that elements on the governing PNU side and in the opposition ODM, had no great faith in elections to ensure their access to power and had planned violence prior to the announcement of the result.  groups within the ODM had plans in place to make areas of Kenya ungovernable if Raila Odinga did not win.  PNU leaders had co-opted the Mungiki gang/sect on to their side and were ready for violence.  The police and security forces were used initially to crush with extreme violence the first demonstrations by ODM supporters.

What followed was political gangsterism that took on the appearance of ethnic violence, as pro-ODM Kalenjin in the Rift attacked Kikuyu and Kisii, and Kikuyu attacked Luo and carried out revenge raids against Kalenjin.  This was violence led by politicians greedy for power and the wealth that flows from it at all costs – it was not, as it was too often depicted in the Western media, an ethnic war fueled by long-held, primeval “tribal” hatred.

Six key figures accused of fomenting that violence (three from the PNU headed by Uhuru Kenyatta) and three from the old ODM alliance (chief among them William Ruto) will hear within three weeks whether they are to be tried.  The six are charged with a number of crimes including murder, forcible transfer (effectively ethnic cleansing), persecution and rape.  None are personally acussed of committing these crimes but of planning and implementing violent political cmpaigns using these crimes as instruments. They all deny the charges.

The ICC cases will have a huge effect on Kenyan politics.  Ruto and Kenyatta both intend to run for the presidency in 2012.  If they are on trial in the Hague they can hardly campaign strenuously or hold together coalitions of diverse groups and interests.  Their influence over Kenyan politics will be considerably reduced during the key election year and they may be taken out of the equation altogether.  Some feel this will lay the field open for Raila Odinga to beat whoever becomes the candidate for the Kibaki camp – as Kibaki cannot stand for another term.

Much will depend on whether Kenyatta and Ruto can exert influence and patronage from afar, what sort of alliances among individuals and communities emerge.  Manoeuvring is already underway, with the key Masaai leader William Ole Ntimama, throwing his weight (initially and possibly for tactical/bargaining reasons), behind a leading Masaai figure, Education Permanent Secretary James ole Kiyiapi.  He has standing among his community but hardly the stature of an Odinga, Musyoka or Kenyatta.

Personalities and the ability of rich and powerful individuals to put together strong but short-term coalitions have been at the heart of Kenyan election politics.  The ICC trials could break this mould or at least change the balance of power to weaken the power of individuals who have dominated the political scene for decades.  It is unrealistic to hope that the light the ICC could shed on the role power, wealth, corruption and violence in Kenyan politics will lead to permanent change on its own, but it is an opportunity for Kenyans to seize the initiative from the rich and powerful few who have used government as their personal playground since independence.

In South Africa, there is not a national election but there will be conferences and internal ANC elections that are just as important. The ANC holds a major policy conference in June, followed by its five-yearly elective congress in December.  The latter conference will choose the ANC’s leadership for the next five years and decide who runs for president on behalf of the movement in April 2014.

This year will see an intensification of the battle for the leadership and the soul of the ANC.  President Jacob Zuma – himself gaining power after a bitter fight with incumbent Thabo Mbeki in which dirty tactics and party factionalism were used by each to undermine the other – is fighting for his political life.  Always on the backfoot as a president personally because of the rape trial and corruption investigations, he rapidly came into conflict with his important support base in the Youth League as the league’s loose cannon, Julius Malema, tried to carve out  his own power base.  When Zuma tried to keep him in order they became bitter enemies with Malema repteadly embarrassing the government domestically and internationally and mocking Zuma personally.

Malema is still fighting to overturn his suspension from thr party and showed there is residual support for him, when he was elected to the ANC  provincial executive committee in Limpopo province.  He is unlikely to lie down and be quiet in such a key year for the ANC.  The question  is whether he can still command populist support and win g blocks of votes in the leadership contest, as his stature and credibility have been damaged.

Malema and his supporters in the Youth League are likely to fight Zuma tooth and nail and appear to favour the candidacy of  Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula.  Motlanthe is a likely alternative to Zuma but doesn’t seem to want at this stage an open fight with Zuma, mirroring the one at the ANC Polokwane leadership election conference at which Zuma outflanked Mbeki with support from the Youth League.

An interesting political figure in the leadership struggle is Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale.  He is an  astute politician with a history of leadership in the Johannesburg townships, authority and respect within the ANC, and  experience as a successful businessman.  He was critical of the ANC over the Malema affair and called on the movement not to use disciplinary measures to settle political scores.  He could use his position to act as a peacemaker and kingmaker or could even emerge as an acceptable alternative to Zuma and Motlanthe.

However the factionalism and personality struggle pan out, it will be a fascinating but vital year from South Africa and the ANC.

Somalia is facing a tough year with the conflict between the transitional government and al Shabab now involving not just an AU force but also the Kenyan incursion (seemingly bogged down in the south and lacking a clear objective) and Ethiopian forces in the Ogaden.  As Mary Harper makes clear in her forthcoming book, foreign intervention and foreign-spawned peace conferences and artificial government have not solved but have usually exacerbated and prolonged conflict in Somalia.  It is time to leave Somalia to Somalis.  Developments in Somaliland suggest this can lead to innovative and positive progress.

Nigeria enters the year saddened and split by the growing violence in the north-east and repercussions at Christmas represented by the bloody attacks on churches in Abuja.  President Goodwill Jonathan declared a state of emergency, put tanks and troops in the street in areas of north-east Nigeria and threatened to crush to  the Islamist Boko Haram movement.

Amid what appears on the surface to be a Christian-Muslim split threatening a virtual civil war, there are complex social, communal and economic factors at play – as demonstrated by the widespread protests against the withdrawal of fuel subsidies, which threatened to get rolled into the whole Boko Haram conflict when protests took place in early January 2012 in Kano.

Boko Haram is a militant Islamist group formed in 2002.  It has carried out a series of attacks against both Muslim and Christian targets (as well as the military and police) in north-east Nigeria; starting in the town of Maiduguri, which has a history of violence by Muslim splinter groups dating back to the Maitatsine riots in the mid-1980s.  The attacks and bombings of churches have caused havoc and widespread fear in Nigeria, leading to Christians pledging to defend their churches and fellow-believers.

Boko Haram says its aim is to  overthrow the government and set up an Islamic state.  It is critical of what could be termed moderate Islamic leaders and politicians from the mainly-Muslim north, who it sees as too willing to compromise and to cexist with Nigeria’s Christians and secular system.  It has fed on poverty, resentment at the failure of successive governments to deliver basic services and it has used northern  and Muslim resentment or alienation at being ruled by a Christian southerner to generate support.  Some analysts have suggested that major Muslim politicians in the north, including former military officers, publicly condemn the group but have contacts with it and are not unhappy to see it undermine the current government.  It is not clear from where the movement gets its weapons and explosives.

Boko Haram proclaims an interpretation of Islam which makes it haram, or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society or Christianity.  Prohibitions include voting in elections, receiving secular education and dressing in a Western style.  According to the BBC’s Farouk Chothia, Boko Haram regards the Nigerian state as being run by non-believers, even when the country had a Muslim president.

The movement’s full name is is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, meaning “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”.  It was formed by charismatic Islamic cleric, Mohammed Yusuf, formed in Maiduguri in 2002.  Coming into conflict with successive governments, the movement carried out a major attack on Maiduguri’s main police station in 2009 – hundreds were killed in the clash.  Mohammed Yusuf was captured and died while in police custody – giving him martyr status among his followers.  Attacks by the movement had esclated since then in Maiduguri, Damaturu and then most sensationally in the Christmas Day bombings in Abuja.

President Jonathan and the security forces are committed to destroying the movement, though whether the army is totally unified in this remains to be seen.  The government has to tread a very careful line in its fight – avoiding a crusading Christian approach and ensuring that this does not become a war against the north-east or against Muslims.  He may not be helped by a US congressional report identifying Boko Haram as a potential threat to US interests. The last thing Nigeria needs is to be dragged into the American war on terror in a US election year.

Overall, Africa as a whole and not just Nigeria needs a year where it is allowed to deal with its own problems in its ways rather than by being roped into US or other external campaigns or plans.    External intervention – of whatever kind short of humanitarian aid in emergencies – in Egypt’s political evolution, the conflict in Nigeria or muddled, uninformed and ill-intentioned interference in Somalia will not be in the interests of those states, Africa or international relations.  The only exception I would make is the ICC process relating to the Kenyan post-election violence.  The inability of the Kenyan political or judicial system to seriously undermine the impunity of leading politicians means that the ICC could help bring about change in this vital area.

Africa’s Odious debts – review of a valuable guide to capital flight

Africa’s Odious Debts: How Foreign Loans and Capital Flight Bled a Continent by  Leonce Ndikumana and James K. Boyce

Zed Books/International African Institute/Royal African Society/Social Science Research Council

London, 2011 – ISBN 978 1 84813 459 1 pb

It is a perennial question – why is Africa so poor?  Followed, in Europe and the Americas by – where did our aid money go?  This book tries to answer that and particularly highlights the issue of odious debt – debt incurred by African states without the consent of their people; loans that were not then used for public benefit but for private enrichment; and, debt that was accumulated with the creditors aware (or should have been aware) of the uses to which the funds would be put (p.85).

The authors explain the problem clearly and with sufficient detail and a pleasing lack of jargon,and conclude that ‘the people of Africa will benefit from measures to stop the bleeding of the continent through capital flight and odious debt service.  The taxpayers of creditor countries will also benefit, as their money is no longer dissipated in poorly managed official loans and bailouts for private creditors’ (p. 100).

This conclusion  is backed up by an examination of the contracting, misuse and then the debt burden resulting from the looting of capital and loans.  They give the truly shocking figures that between 1970 and 2008, $700 billion in capital fled Africa.  If this had been invested, the capital sent abroad would have totalled $944 billion – the GDP for the whole of sub-Saharan Africa for the same period was $997 billion.  None of the capital sent out of the continent benefited Africans (other than the rich and powerful who looted it) in any way.  Rather, it bled the continent dry and prevented development, poverty reduction and the building of infrastructure.

It should be noted that Africa’s capital flight is smaller than that of Asia and Latin America in total monetary terms but is far higher in relation to the size of African economies.

The focus of the book is not just on corruption in Africa, but also on the guilt of creditors in this process of capital flight – that creditors could not have been unaware (apart of course from turning a Nelsonian blind  eye) of the misuse of loans and other capital flows to Africa.  These loans were negotiated with major international banks, with the IMF and the World Bank. These are not naive institutions – yet they permitted the provision of funds that would go back out through the revolving door of capital flight and impoverish rather enrich Africa.  They were aware of the mounting debt and debt service burden on African economies resulting from this process of personal and institutional greed – the latter because banks saw it in their interest to continue this process.

Read this book – it is not comfortable reading but it is very, very necessary to understand why Africa has failed to develop.

Keith Somerville