Category Archives: East Africa

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.

Signs of hope in Somalia’s shattered state – read this book!

Mary Harper, Getting Somalia Wrong? Faith, Hope and War
in a Shattered State

Zed Books, London, 2011.  ISBN 978 1 84813 000 0 hb/ pb, 2011 forthcoming

Mary Harper’s informed, perceptive and empathetic  book on Somalia could not be coming out at a more apt time, with the country  back in the news and now the scene of a major Kenyan military incursion.

This is a work that demonstrates the importance of  engaged but impartial journalism and clear, uncluttered thought expressed  simply  but effectively.  It deserves to make a big impact on the  understanding of what is happening in Somalia and why – something that is  clearly needed.

A journalist with the BBC African Service for more  than 20 years and one who had reported from Somalia and regularly visited the country  since 1991, Harper demonstrates in her book the qualities that made the World  Service the world’s most balanced, fair-minded but courageous news service.  Above all else she tries and succeeds in  conveying understanding and where understanding is difficult or impossible to  convey why.

Starting with a short but clever section on how  British children react to the word Somalia, Harper describes the negative  images that fight each other to get on TV screens or newspaper pages when  events in Somalia are reported – drug-crazed teenagers with guns, cut-down Land  cruisers with guns mounted on the back, pirates, skeletal women and children.  She rightly says of Somalia that ‘these
images act as barriers to other ways of seeing Somalia” (p.2) and so dominate
the news at the expense to the exlucison of all alese, especially the signs  that amid the conflict and crisis, Somalis are themselves inventing alternative
economic and political systems and effective survival strategies.

Somalia is the ultimate image, for many, of the failed  state.  It has seen almost constant  conflict since the overthrow of Siad Barre in 1991.  It has also seen, as the author patiently and  clearly explains, a series of ill-conceived, poorly executed and severely  damaging foreign interventions.  These
have been negative rather than positive factors in Somalia’s evolution – from the
disastrous US intervention ending after the now infamous Black Hawk Down
episode, via the brutal US-backed Ethiopian invasion to overthrow the Union of
Islamic Courts (for a brief period a source of stability) to the endless and
largely pointless peace conferences held in plush hotels around the Horn and
East Africa.

These are described clearly in their historical,  political and international contexts and show how a total lack of understanding of Somalia, its history, culture  and political development led to attempts to force change that were doomed from  the start.  They amply demonstrated that interventions
not based on knowledge of how Somalia works (which it does when left to itself,
as Harper’s account of the development of politics in the Somaliland area shows)
works against reality. As she explains (p.12), ‘Outsiders tend to find it a
hard place to understand, and there is generally a wide gap between the various
attempts made to introduce solutions to its problems and the reality lived by
its population’.

This gap  in understanding is not just a European or American phenomenon.  Somalia differs hugely in its culture,  traditional structures, economy and informal but lasting political/social institutions  from much of Africa.  The clan-based  pastoral system that encompassed the economic, social and political spheres makes  Somalia a poor environment for centralised government on a Western or hybrid Western/African  pattern – so attempts to achieve this have failed.

Siad Barre  failed to forcibly centralise the state – though of course it can be argued, as  Harper does, that he was attempting both the diminution of clan influence and  the hegemony of his own clan at one and the same time.  Peace conferences based on the participation  of elites distanced from the grassroots, trying to hammer out Western-backed  deals involving centralised transitional governments have produced weak  governments that have not only failed to end conflict but have all too often  (through outside interventions) worsened it.
These attempts are described, picked apart and roundly and cogently
criticised by the author, as is the tendency to view Somalia through the prisom
of the “War on Terror”.

For me,  the most valuable section in what is a readable and very well-informed study,  is that dealing with Somaliland and its slow,  careful and, above all, Somali-generated progress from a break-away state beset  by competing clans or movements to one of the most stabe and inventive polities  in Africa.  Denied international  recognition but also largely free of outside interference, Somaliland has developed  a working economy and an indigenous hybrid system of representative government  that involves but doesn’t just centre on the clans and which is increasingly  accountable – (p.133) ‘Because Western models of peacemaking and state-building  have not been imposed from the outside, Somaliland has in many ways saved  itself from the fate of Somalia.  The
example of Somaliland has demonstrated that when left to themselves, Somalis
can form a viable nation state’.

The book  deals with politics, economic, culture and society in a clear and uncluttered  way.  It is written, as you’d expect from  an experienced World Service journalist, in a clear and impartial manner and is  not littered with jargon that inhibits understanding.  The section on piracy is particularly good –
not falling for any of the simple and beguiling solutions or explanations but
talking to those involved and analysing why it is happening.

If there is one criticism it is perhaps that the author did not foresee the scale and
planned nature of the current Kenyan intervention,though she does set out well
the threat events in southern Somalia posed to Kenya and the Kenyan desire to
find a solution.

That minor criticism apart, this is a book that must be read by those who want to
understand Somalia, those involved in any way with the country whether as
policymakers, security “experts”, in NGOs or those seeking to do business
there.  It is engaged but balanced and very clear in its well-founded belief  that (p.13)‘until Somalia is more clearly understood  and a different approach is found, it will continue to perplex, alarm and threaten the international community, and it will be very difficult to find a way forward for the counter which works for the Somalis themselves and for the outside world.’  And, as Mary Harper rightly concludes, the world needs to be more creative, like the Somalis themselves, in its dealings with the country and its people and (p.200) ’ torecognize that Somalis can be very good at doing things for themselves’.

Keith Somerville

Keith Somerville

Civilians killed in Kenyan air attack on Somali town

Keith Somerville

At least 10 Somalis have been killed in an attack by Kenyan combat aircraft on a town in southern Somalia.  The raid was targeted at al-Shabab fighters, though aid agencies say some of those killed were in a camp for civilians displaced by the conflict.

The MSF agency and eye-witnesses say that at least three civilians were killed and over 50 wounded.  Kenyan bloggers following the military action report that the civilian death toll could be much higher.

The Kenyan military says this was an attack on a military target and claim 10 al-Shabab fighters were killed.  A Kenyan military spokesman told the BBC the planes had targeted the outskirts of the town of Jilib. “We received intelligence that a top al-Shabab leader was to visit a camp in Jilib so we conducted an air raid,” Kenya army spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir said.  He added that 10 fighters were killed and 47 wounded.

The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said at least three people were killed in the air raid, which hit a camp for displaced people.  MSF says the camp houses 9,000 internally-displaced people. Gautam Chatterjee, who heads MSF-Netherlands’ Somalia mission,told AFP that, “Our staff said that around 52 people, all civilians, mostly women and children, had been wounded and that three were dead”.

On the wider military front, the Kenyan  military spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir said it was only a matter of time before Kenyan troops engaged Al-Shabab in the much-awaited battle to capture Afmadow.  This has been a target since the incursion began.  But rain and mud have held up the Kenyan advance. But Chrchir expressed the hope that a break in the rains would now enable movement, adding, ” One of our commanders is prepared to move the troops forward in the battle for Afmadow”.

Kenyan forces say they have captured the towns of Busar and Burgavo in sothern Somalia.

On the political front, despite denials from Somalia’s transitional government about cooperation with kenyan forces,  Somalia’s Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali flew to Nairobi on Monday for talks with government officials over the security operations against Al-Shabab.

Max’s travels in Ethiopia – Part 2

Max Levene

Upon our return from Mekele we had a couple of lazy days around the house. One of these days I decided to leave the confines of the house with my helper Haile, to not only meet our local neighbours and see the area, but also to practice some Amharighna (the local language).

Outside the house is what some would describe as shanty but you soon realise it is rather better built then the slum areas; people dry their spices on the streets and sell vegetables, and there are numerous small shacks selling groceries.

The trip was interesting seeing the ‘local stores’ however the Amharighna
did not go so well as I pointed to Lucy (our Ethiopian street dog) and said,” Habesha woosha”, which to my understanding meant ‘local dog’, however it turned out I had insulted the old Lady I was talking to, calling her a dog. Haile later told me adding the word ye in front of my phrase would have worked! Oops!!

Graduation ceremony

Upon the arrival of the weekend we had been invited to a disability event. Being the only known frengi (foreigner) in a wheelchair I was invited to the first ever graduation of disabled sports eachers in Ethiopia. This was being held in the National Theatre.

When I arrived I was promptly hown through to what I thought was my seat only to find myself behind stage with the graduates.  Hding behind the curtain so as not to be seen (I really didn’t want to take any of the spotlight from
them seeing as I stood out like a sore thumb) I explained I wasn’t one of the graduates and was ot so quickly carried up the stairs to the auditorium (great disabled access for the graduation).
The crowd was going crazy hooting and hollering and it was a great ceremony, very inspiring, but w also smiled at the unseen person somewhere who kept wanting to blast out Ethiopian music at full volume at every smallest lull in the procedures, to be firmly told by Lydia, the Dutch organizer to turn it off .

He finally got his chance and we were blasted out of the Theatre with the sound
following us across the car park. Later we went to the celebratory party held in the Dutch embassy, a really modern building with even worse access than the theatre, even though it was designed by Dutch architects.

Meskel in the rain

The next big event was Meskel (the finding of the true cross) and one of the biggest celebrations in Ethiopia. This was held on Tuesday 27th September. Typically, Meskel day was blighted by downpours of tropical proportion but we decided to go to the main square (to the surprise of many) to watch the ‘must see’ celebrations.

I got kitted up in 4 layers and a coat with a bin bag on my legs and off we went, somewhat resembling the Michelin man. The celebrations start at 3pm and round up with a bonfire at 7pm so we arrived nice and early. The crowd swelled in the huge amphitheatre – type square until there must have been in excess of 100,000 people in the square, an impressive sight.

We found a spot on one of the terraces and the police allowed me to sit in the stairway for a better view, however everyone else stood in mud- puddles a couple of inches deep. They have people who try and sell you bits and bobs, food, crosses and such-like, although amusingly one was flogging fireworks to the crowd.

To be honest not a lot happens before sunset; the priests gather and each Sunday School presents a dance to the Ethiopian Pope. We were more entertained by
the game of how many Ethiopians could huddle under my umbrella during one of the downpours.
The whole event was a mixture of perhaps the sort of ceremony that happens at Lourdes, crossed with medieval type religious alms giving to disabled beggars, with a large amount of torrential rain as typifies the Glastonbury Festival!

The wait is worth it for at sundown at 6pm, once the sun sets everyone in the crowd lights a taper and suddenly the square is alight in twinkling beauty- although the restless crowd were told off by the Pope for lighting up too early, though they are never officially told when they SHOULD light up!.

Finally at 7pm the bonfire was lit by the Pope and soon after the crowd started to frantically exit. I ended up surrounded by a heaving throng within seconds, with thought of another Hillsborough type disaster, although the people did let me through with every farengi in the crowd latching on to the path I was creating.

Eventually we escaped.

That night we got home at around 8 o’clock, just in time for the Meskel celebration on our front lawn. The locals in the neighbourhood had built a bonfire, set up a marquee (with sofas and rugs for the old ladies) and had even got hold of draught beer. The lead organiser seemed to be the CD man
from outside our house who usually blasts Ethiopian music most of the day.

When asked before the
event to help out with the celebrations we were sent a letter saying we could ‘ give anything’ or ‘do anything’ that we wished to the CD man; not sure that’s quite how they meant it to sound.

The’ garden party’ was a fun night. Firstly, they cut bread and each person made a promise, most people offering money for next year’s celebration, however to our surprise the German family from across the road promised to build a children’s playground in our front garden; nice idea but the landlord might not be too happy!

Later into the night the bonfire was lit, first with sticks but on failing that a rather large quantity of kerosene did the trick. Once lit the local men ran laps of the fire and chanted songs although once they realised the fire was out of control and about to burn down the telegraph pole they all stopped to find water to douse the flames, after which the chanting continued.

The fire is officially finished when the large cross, made of yellow Meskel flowers placed in the middle, falls over whereupon the chanting stops. After the bonfire a music player was blasted out (courtesy of the CD man) and everyone danced into the night.

On the Thursday we were asked by Martha (a friend of ours and wife to dad’s assistant) to trial run the new restaurant and art gallery where she works. With trepidation about being human guinea pigs, and mum driving for the first time, we set off.

Mum drove quite well, aided by 3 back-seat drivers, but the roads are very chaotic and you always have to be on guard, therefore rightly she was anxious. This wasn’t helped when something came through the window and smacked her in the side of the head; at first we could not fathom what it was however upon finding a rather stunned bird in the car we soon worked out the culprit.

Once there, the food was good and thankfully it was vegetarian (being a trial run it felt safer eating vegetables). The art gallery was also interesting,
displaying local art with an exhibition by a disabled artist who works with shattered glass due to start next week.

Max Levene broke his neck playing rugby.  See also – http://somervillesafari.com/2011/10/11/tigre-or-bust-on-the-road-in-ethiopia/