Saturday, May 22, 2010

In Africa, 50th anniversary of independence is an occasion to celebrate, lament

Note, the following report says Ethiopia receives nearly a billion dollars a year in U.S. assistance, and Rwanda receives hundreds of millions in U.S. aid each year. And, former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan noted that:
"South Korea and Sudan had the same per-capita income in the 1960s; South Korea is today one of the world's wealthiest countries and is "a respected member" of the international community."
Also, in the past two years, there have been military coups in Niger, Madagascar and Guinea. Sudan's first multi-party elections in more than two decades were marred by vote rigging, intimidation and boycotts.

And last week, Burundi ordered a Human Rights Watch researcher to leave the country. The group had documented official inaction over political violence in the run-up to its first presidential elections after nearly 16 years of civil war next month.

Ivory Coast, once a model of stability, crumbled into civil war in 2002 and remains tense and divided.

In Africa, 50th anniversary of independence is an occasion to celebrate, lament
Report from The Washington Post
By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, May 22, 2010; 10:26 AM
YAOUNDE, CAMEROON -- Former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan stepped up to the podium to speak about rule of law and human rights, Africa's hopes and obstacles.

Behind him, seated in a row of red velvet chairs, were the leaders of Cameroon, Gabon, the Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Chad and the Republic of Congo. All had gained power through military coups, civil wars, inheritance or manipulated elections.

"It wasn't a group of the continent's biggest democrats," remarked Richard Moncrieff, West Africa project director for the International Crisis Group.

Over the past week, hundreds of dignitaries arrived in this Central African capital to celebrate 50 years of independence from colonial rule for Cameroon and 16 other African nations. But casting a shadow over the occasion was a sober acknowledgment that the actions of many of Africa's leaders were hurting the continent's image and potential, as well as tarnishing its successes.

Ahead of national elections Sunday, Ethiopia -- a close U.S. ally -- has jailed political rivals and journalists, denied food aid to opposition supporters, and even killed opposition leaders, according to human rights activists and diplomats.

Ethiopia, which receives nearly a billion dollars a year in U.S. assistance, has denied the allegations. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, once viewed as a new breed of reformist African leader, is expected to extend his 19-year rule.

"There are still too many instances of corruption, of elite capture of resources, of growing inequality in work and opportunity, abuse of electoral processes and selective adherence to the rule of law," said Annan, who is from the African country of Ghana.

The leaders behind him nodded.

U.S. and Western officials also once hailed Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni as Africa's greatest hopes. But they, too, are accused of using repression to suppress dissent and extend their rule. Rwanda goes to the polls in August, but reports of a state crackdown on opposition parties and independent journalists are already surfacing.

"There is a very serious problem of winner-takes-all politics," Moncrieff said. "That means the stakes of presidential power are so high that people are willing to use violence to get it or abuse the rule of law to keep it."

Africa vs. Asia

Many Africans lament their continent's slow progress in comparison to Asia. Africa is rich in oil, gas and minerals. Yet several Asian countries, which also gained independence from colonial rulers a half-century ago, are among the world's most advanced.

Annan noted that South Korea and Sudan had the same per-capita income in the 1960s. South Korea is today one of the world's wealthiest countries and is "a respected member" of the international community, Annan said. Despite its oil wealth, Sudan is one of the poorest countries, and its president has been indicted by a war crimes tribunal.

"If Africa is put on the right track, it could be a major player," said Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who is from Egypt.

In the past two years, there have been military coups in Niger, Madagascar and Guinea. Sudan's first multi-party elections in more than two decades were marred by vote rigging, intimidation and boycotts.

Last week, Burundi ordered a Human Rights Watch researcher to leave the country. The group had documented official inaction over political violence in the run-up to its first presidential elections after nearly 16 years of civil war next month.

Rwanda, which receives hundreds of millions in U.S. aid each year, also recently ordered a Human Rights Watch monitor to leave the country, accusing the organization of publishing "propaganda" against the government.

There have been successes. Civil wars have declined since the 1990s. There are strong democracies, such as Ghana and South Africa. Nigeria has so far smoothly managed a political transition after the death of President Umar Yar'Adua this month.

The continent has one of the highest rates of cellphone growth. Investment from Asian nations such as China is booming, fueling relatively strong economic growth rates. The region is starting to bounce back from the global financial crisis.

Still, even the strongest and most stable African economies can quickly disintegrate. Ivory Coast, once a model of stability, crumbled into civil war in 2002 and remains tense and divided.

Kenya's 2007 election violence spurred investors to pull out or postpone investments for months. "It affected the whole region," said Valentine Rugwabiza, assistant director general of the World Trade Organization.

Calculated repression

Demonstrations erupted after Ethiopia's 2005 elections, when opposition groups charged that the government had cheated them out of parliamentary seats. Ethiopian security forces suppressed the protests, killing dozens and arresting thousands. This time, the state repression appears to be a calculated strategy to erase any serious political threat and to prevent a repeat of violence, said human rights activists and diplomats.

The State Department's most recent human rights report concludes that Ethiopian "security forces committed arbitrary and politically motivated killings," and that "there were reports of politically motivated disappearances." It noted "numerous credible reports" of unlawful detention of opposition candidates and their supporters, as well as security officials who "tortured, beat, and mistreated detainees."

A recent Human Rights Watch report accused the government of politicizing the distribution of humanitarian assistance, much of it from the United States. They accused officials of withholding food aid, fertilizer and seeds from opposition supporters, in a nation where many people survive on such help.

In a telephone interview, Ethiopian Communications Minister Bereket Simon denounced both reports as "baseless."

"We are implementing democracy based on the Ethiopian context. We are not taking any prescription from any master," he said. "This is a free and fair election. You will see how Ethiopians will give their approval for this government."

In Yaounde, none of the dignitaries who discussed Africa's future on panels or in speeches mentioned Meles. But the names of Tanzania's first president, Julius Nyerere, and South Africa's Nelson Mandela were still uttered with pride, as models to emulate.

As he concluded his speech, Annan described Africa as "a sleeping giant about to be awoken." He spoke of the potential markets, the rapid spread of modern technology. He said the continent's opportunities "are real, but also under threat."

He implored leaders to respect human rights, rule of law, to be more transparent. He urged those at the helm of oil-rich nations to use their wealth to help their people. He urged leaders to address the rights of women.

"It is strong leadership and good governance that will make difference both at home and the global stage," Annan said.

Behind him, his host, President Paul Biya of Cameroon, nodded.

Biya has been in power for 28 years and wields tight control over the government and the economy. The watchdog group Transparency International describes Cameroon as among the world's most corrupt countries. There is no real political opposition. Authority and wealth is derived from loyalty to Biya.

His portrait is everywhere, including a mega-size one that hangs in the sports arena. His supporters wear shirts emblazoned with his face and burst into song in front of him. Banners on the street proclaim him "a wise man at the service of Africa."

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, May 13, 2010

NYT Blogrunner - Headlines from Around the Web

Monday, May 10, 2010

CTV Interview: Mo Ibrahim's search for good governance

Mo Ibrahim

Photo: Mo Ibrahim (Source:

Mo Ibrahim's search for good governance
From CTV News (undated report) by Gordon Pitts:
Ask Mo Ibrahim how he rose to become the billionaire superstar of African business, and he will talk about luck.

Born in strife-riven Sudan, he insists he was lucky to get an education, and to be an expert in mobile communication just as the cellphone revolution was about to sweep the world. And lucky to sell his African mobile phone company, Celtel International, in 2005 to a Kuwaiti firm for $3.4-billion (U.S.), making him one of the great success stories of today’s Africa.

For Mr. Ibrahim, 64, moving a continent from episodic luck to permanent opportunity is the role of governments, whose performance on behalf of citizens is wildly mixed in Africa. He has made the pursuit of good governance the mission of his London-based Mo Ibrahim Foundation, and the driving purpose of his post-business life.

By governance, he means government’s ability to deliver a basket of public goods to its people, things like education, health services, rule of law and gender rights. Some countries, like Mauritius, do it quite well; others like Somalia and Zimbabwe are appallingly bad.

Mr. Ibrahim’s four-year-old foundation (The Mo Ibrahim foundation) posts a score card of all 53 countries in Africa (called the Ibrahim Index), from top to bottom. But his greater purpose is to spark a conversation. “We are trying to have a debate about what exactly our governments are doing,” Mr. Ibrahim says.

Are you a role model for young Africans?

Many African people are smarter than me – kids who could have been better. I have no claim for genius.

You have to work hard and make the right decisions, but if you don’t have the opportunity, you don’t make it. So I owe something to my friends, family, my people. If I can go back and help, I must do that. That is a duty.

Is the idea of good governance progressing in African states?

We see slow improvement.

Why is it happening?

The end of the Cold War was essential for Africa. The superpowers used to have client states, to which they’d say: “It doesn’t matter if you are a dictator or not, as long as you are in my camp – in the scramble for resources or votes in the UN or whatever.” It made for bad company. I think the Cold War was worse for Africa than colonialism.

Now, we are starting to notice the rise of the civil society in Africa. And new technology: There are 450 million mobile phones in Africa now, out of 950 million people, so it has really enabled people to communicate with each other.

And what about cellphone banking?

That is happening in Africa more than anywhere else. You will see a lot of wonderful applications where Africa is leap-frogging, not because we are necessarily smarter but because we need that. Retail banking in Africa is very weak. You can’t go to a village and get money from an ATM or visit a branch of the bank. So people have to use the Internet.

Do you agree with those who say aid is the problem, not the solution?

In most part, it is a silly discussion. Whenever there is disaster or famine somewhere, we cannot stand by and watch. On HIV, malaria, Darfur, or Somalia, we need to help our brothers and sisters. So there is not much discussion about humanitarian aid.

And we must really focus on developmental aid. We need to deliver better aid and untied aid. Actually, we need to deliver aid to end aid. Nobody in Africa loves to be a beggar, or a recipient of aid. Everywhere I go in Africa, people say ‘when are we going to stand up on our feet?’

Africa as a continent is rich, but Africans as a people are poor. The answer is governance. We really need to get our act together to improve the quality of life of our people. Developmental aid will speed up this process.

What about just borrowing more capital from banks?

That is just a fantasy. Unfortunately, our malfunctioning banking system doesn’t deal with Africa. They think Africa is too risky. You cannot rely on Goldman Sachs or whoever to really help – those guys just love subprime mortgages and all the other crap.

We should also support projects that help economic integration. Africa is disconnected. Internal African trade is about 8 per cent of the trade total. In Africa, we have 53 little countries and we are intentionally determined not to communicate and trade and move goods between each other. It’s stupid.

How do you feel about the rising wave of Chinese investment in Africa?

We welcome the Chinese, we welcome the Indians, we welcome anyone who would like to trade with us. Chinese demand for our raw materials helps increase prices that have been stagnant for almost 50 years. But the Chinese need to learn from the mistakes committed in the past by the West.

Let us trade honestly and with transparency. To say ‘we don’t care what kind of government is there, we are not interfering’ – that is a little bit dodgy. If you are supporting a repressive regime, that is a political act; you cannot claim it is just trade.

When we had the military coup in Guinea last year, the African Union stood firm, and ostracized the junta. Then we had the massacre in the stadium of peacefully demonstrating people. The soldiers raped women. The same week we hear that a lifeline of $7-billion has been extended by China to the regime. What is that? Are we throwing a lifeline to a criminal regime?

So when you throw money to a regime, you can’t be considered neutral?

That is the point. I say to our Chinese friends, please be friends to us, the people, because we are there, we will be there all the time. Dictators come and go. The West learned that lesson. They supported Mobutu, Idi Amin, these other guys, for whatever short-term reasons. But we have learned this expediency doesn’t work in the long term.

Are Canadians doing enough in Africa?

They can afford to do more, although in general Canada has been a positive force. I noticed you are now declaring 20 countries as your priority [aid] countries and you have only eight sub-Saharan countries on the list. I hope you pay more attention to sub-Saharan Africa. Tell your friends: ‘Hi guys, we are here; please don’t forget us.’

How do you convince people Africa is a place to invest?

People are too shy about Africa. All you see is 10 seconds in any news bulletin. After they talk about Darfur and [Zimbabwe President Robert] Mugabe, time is up. People have the impression Africa is troublesome, all about dictatorships and bad rule, but what they see is the bad examples. Of 53 countries, there are at least 29 or 30 democracies, and we have a good work force.

Around Christmas, what you see on TV ads for Oxfam and Save the Children is famines, terrible conditions, and that creates an impression. They think we are all sick or weak, but actually we have very healthy people. Just watch the Olympics – we run faster, we jump higher, we are excellent footballers. We are good people and we can be a good place to invest. According to World Bank reports, the highest returns on investment in the last few years were always in Africa.

But what do you do about corruption?

International business carries as much or more blame. We built mobile networks in 15 countries and we did not pay bribes whatsoever. We said no one can write a cheque of more than $30,000 without going to the board. Why can’t companies do that? It is not enough for boards to say ‘we uphold values.’ You need decisions that in reality help people out there. That raises issues of corporate governance in the West. While we are fighting for governance in public institutions, we equally need to fight for good corporate governance too.

What else do you do in your foundation?

We give a prize for African leadership, the largest prize in the world. We need to celebrate success in leadership.

What do you want people to do with the prize?

What we want is to honour African leaders who come forward, do the right thing, take their country forward and leave on time. Believe me, to be a leader of an African country is a tough job.

If somebody comes and really deals with this trouble, takes half a million out of poverty and creates jobs, rules justly and equally, isn’t that wonderful? This person needs to be honoured and we need to create role models in Africa – we had [Nelson] Mandela but that is not enough. We need to produce many Mandelas.

Read a complete biography of Mo Ibrahim on his website