African News Roundup

The African Union (AU), already operating in the troubled Darfur region of Sudan, is now called upon for a similar mission in Somalia after the Somali transitional federal government (TFG), together with Ethiopian forces and the support of the U.S., pushed back the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) after the Courts gained control over Mogadishu in June, 2006.

If this mission gets the go ahead, it will present a formidable challenge to the AU. Its Sudan mission, with some 7,000 troops on the ground, was and still is unable to ensure the peace in Darfur or stop the spread of the conflict across Sudan’s western borders with Chad and the Central African Republic. But after Sudan’s initial refusal to allow a United Nations peacekeeping force into the region, it now seems to be more willing, making a hybrid AU – UN mission a possibility and thus relieving the pressure on the AU troops.

But it’s very doubtful the same scenario will play in Somalia where the UN had some bad experiences in the 1990’s. Between 1992 and 1994 the UN had three missions (UNOSOM, UNITAF and UNOSM II) in Somalia but instead of solving the problem of state failure, they became a part of it. The failure of the missions had a devastating effect on Somali society and ensured the continuation of the civil war.

So, it is unlikely that the UN is willing to undertake such a commitment again in Somalia. That’s why they support the idea of a AU peacekeeping force for the country. But as we’ve seen in Darfur, it’s also highly doubtful that the AU alone can take on the task, even with the $40 million the United States and the $47 million the European Union have pledged to assist the mission and provide humanitarian aid. Another question that needs to be answered is that of Ethiopia, a country with a long-standing history of conflict with Somalia and now a major military backer (mostly because of U.S. support for the Ethiopian troops) of the TFG. How long will they stay in Somalia?

The latest news out of Somalia is that a number of Somalia’s warlords have agreed to disarm and allow their militias to be trained as government soldiers. If more clans join the TFG, the support by Somali civil society for the TNG, which now is very weak, might grow. But that will not happen for as long the TFG is considered corrupt and inept. The fact that the TFG has to be backed by Ethiopia and the U.S. to stay in control over the country doesn’t help either.

Now the elections are over: the Democratic Republic of Congo

Last year, on December 6, Joseph Kabila was sworn in as the first democratically elected president of the DRC. His contender for the position, Jean-Pierre Bemba, at first rejected the outcome of the polls citing fraud but now he has conceded his defeat. He’s planning to run for senator but this month’s planned senatorial elections have been postponed.

It might sound like the country is on track to peace and stability but the peace process in the DRC is far from over. First of all, over a million people are still displaced due to the wars, both inside the DRC, and in neighboring countries. UNHCR spokesman, Jens Hesemann, said these people hesitate to return home because "the facilities for welcoming refugees are deplorable". Also, about half of the internally displaced persons are in the North-Kivu province, where armed gangs roam and clashes with government troops still happen. There are also reports of human rights violations by these government troops in the North-Kivu province and the Ituri District.

The situation in the east of the country remains extremely volatile. And in the west, where Kabila has almost no support, only little state authority exists. The situation in the capital, Kinshasa, is particularly unstable. It also seems that freedom of the press can’t be guaranteed yet. In an row over back payments 15 journalists and other staff have been dismissed by the management of Global TV, a private television channel.

"Journalists who know they will be fired for demanding fair pay are extremely vulnerable to threats to their editorial independence. Journalists working at Global TV cannot stand up for themselves or their reporting when the company has made it clear that they will be fired for questioning management’s authority in any way", said Gabriel Baglo, director of the International Federation of Journalists’ Africa Office.

Moroccan journalists accused of defaming Islam

In another story about press freedom, two Moroccan journalists of the magazine Nichane were accused of defaming Islam and the Moroccan king because of an article about religious jokes.

Last month the prime minister prohibited the distribution of the magazine and the two journalists will stand trial this month.

A petition to support the magazine and the reporters can be found here.

World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya

The 7th edition of the World Social Forum brings the world to Africa. As many as 150,000 delegates from more than a hundred countries are expected to attend the upcoming World Social Forum (WSF), from Jan. 20 until the 25th at the Moi International Sports Center Kasarani, in Nairobi.

The theme for this edition is "People’s Struggles, People’s Alternatives". WSF organizers have identified 12 topics on which the Nairobi discussions will focus: HIV/AIDS, women’s issues, privatization of common goods, the landless, peace and conflict, migration and the diaspora, memory of people and struggles, youth, debt, free trade agreements, labour and housing.

95 years of the ANC

Originally called the South African Native National Congress, the African National Congress was founded to increase the rights of the South African black population, on 8 January 1912 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. After years as an underground organization fighting Apartheid the ANC came to govern SA in 1994 and it has been in power ever since. And although it undoubtedly succeeded in increasing the rights for the black population, in the past few years deep divisions have emerged in the ANC over South Africa’s economic policies and direction.

After 13 years since the end of Apartheid, many South Africans complain that the market-oriented economics of current president Thabo Mbeki hasn’t brought them the prosperity so many had hoped for and believed in.

Antique maps show old views of Africa

Northwestern University (U.S.) has made a collection of rare and antique maps of Africa available on the internet. The site features digital copies of 113 antique maps of Africa and accompanying text dating from the mid 16th Century to the early 20th Century. The interesting thing is that you can clearly see how our knowledge of the continent changed over time. Lake Victoria for example changes shape several times and some mountains or lakes were just placed on the maps based on nothing more then just hearsay. One map of 1767 refers to West Africa as ‘Negroland’.

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