The Africanists

Insights. Comments. Thoughts. Analysis. Africa.

You have chosen to see articles in the following category:

Africanist Webmaster

Life style audits in Kenya a good idea to fight corruption

By Willy Mutunga

Lifestyle audits of state/public officers is a great idea. Our political elites are never short of great ideas. In every great idea coming from them we must always ask the attendant question, namely, is there political will and commitment to implement the idea or is the idea yet another example of political distraction from what ails our nation?

In a public statement in May this year President Kenyatta told the nation there would a lifestyle audit that would begin with him followed by the Deputy President. Who would oppose such a great idea? I do not recall anybody who did.

{read more…}

Grand handshakes in Kenya reconfirm the interest of the political elite

When things go wrong. Aftermath of election in 2018(Photo Ilona Eveleens in Kisumu)

By Willy Mutunga

The handshake between President Uhuru and Raila Odinga on March 09, 2018 was not the first of baronial handshakes we have seen nor will it be the last. But the last of them will be when an alternative political leadership that can imagine our freedom and emancipation takes the reins of political power in our country.

“When Baba told us he was leading us to Canaan we did not know he meant the Office of the President!” one Kenyan tweeted, expressing the views held by many including public intellectuals who did not see this turn of events coming.

Hitherto, the narrative had been that the National Super Alliance (NASA) was the lesser of the two political evils, but the truth is they are both pawns in the hands of the imperialisms of the West and East. Indeed, their shared vision of looting the country can never set them apart.
However, I believe the swearing-in of Raila Odinga as the People’s President on January 30, 2018, is the straw that broke the camel’s back. The ceremony confirmed Odinga as a leader of the new national opposition with a following to be reckoned with. Proving he had the capacity to mobilise millions could not be taken lightly or ignored.
I saw a clear parallel from the past when Jaramogi Odinga resurrected our hopes of fighting the Moi-KANU dictatorship and the heralding of the so-called second liberation. Speaking in Bondo in his trademark shrill voice he warned Moi: “Moi-i-i-i, you do not have the title deeds to Kenya.”


I believe the current Jubilee dictatorship saw this too and negotiations started soon after with meetings booked in order to “maintain the peace”. Apparently, the staff at the Office of the President who saw Odinga walk in feared he had decided to physically evict President Uhuru from his official seat!

{read more…}

The difficulty of South Sudan’s transition to statehood

Independence day(Photo Petterik Wiggers)

South Sudan has gone from Arab to Dinka domination. The dire situation may vindicate those who had doubted the ability of the Southern Sudanese to govern themselves. However, I am convinced that it is not about the people of South Sudan failing to govern themselves; rather, it is the political leadership in South Sudan failing to meet the aspirations of the people.

{read more…}

Dutch University Slanders Genocide Hero


Samuel, one of the witnesses, showing the names of murdered family members in the genocide memorial in Mugonero

Photo by Elley Ho

Text by Jos van OIJEN

Wolfgang Blam saved lives during the genocide in Rwanda, while the rest of the world looked the other way. This hero is now depicted as a charlatan by students of VU University in Amsterdam.

Twenty-five years ago, the ‘Innocence’-project was launched in New York, set up to help the victims of miscarriages of justice in America. Since then, hundreds of wrongly convicted people have been released. This success led to similar initiatives in other countries. An example from the Netherlands is the student project ‘Reasonable Doubt’ at the Vrije Universiteit (VU University) in Amsterdam.

The most recent project of ‘Reasonable Doubt’ is the case of Joseph Mpambara. Mpambara is serving a life sentence in the Netherlands for his part in the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda by Hutu-extremists, and for terrorising a German-Rwandan family during the same period. The results of the research were published in the book A Rwandese House of Cards (in Dutch: Een Rwandees Kaartenhuis).


Unlike the ‘Innocence’-Project, ‘Reasonable Doubt’ does not search for new evidence to prove the innocence of the convicted person. In this case the students are mainly limited to analyzing the judicial files, as provided by the former defence lawyer of Mpambara. The students received additional information from a handful of other lawyers of genocide suspects, and from Mpambara himself. The postscript of the book was written by one of the advisers: Mpambara’s current lawyer.

This guidance from interested parties reveals a major weakness of the book. The VU-students criticize the manner in which the criminal investigations were carried out by the Dutch authorities, but they forget to contact those responsible. The only government official who is listed as a source tells me by phone that the information he provided is largely ignored in the book.

No independent genocide experts or victim associations were contacted either. The logical consequence is that many questions remain unanswered, forcing the students to speculate. A risky approach. “It’s a useful book with a lot to learn from, but hardly scientific,” says Martin Witteveen, an examining judge who has interrogated dozens of witnesses in Rwanda. “Much of its content is open to question. It’s more like a plea that was never made.”

Whether this plea is sincere remains to be seen, however, as several of the advisers of the project are controversial. One of the lawyers has infuriated Africa-experts by referring to Tutsi-witnesses as “vampires” and to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) as “the International Hutu Meat Mill.”

A few years ago another one disturbed an international art project about the genocide. And a third source was heavily criticized by Genocide Watch last summer for denying the genocide. So, in addition to the vested interests of the consulted lawyers, these sources display some dubious sentiments that will not have contributed to the objectivity of their information either.

{read more…}

Hands off the Judiciary! Will the Kenyan elite ever grow up?


By Willy Mutunga, Former Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court

The Kenyan elite and its variants in the political, corporate (licit and illicit), civil society, media, intelligentsia and the diaspora, need to grow up and cease their superficial dramas and look past their noses to see that their theatrics have far-wide reaching consequences that affect millions of lives.

But the million-dollar question is can they ever grow up?

The factions of the divisive Kenyan elite have consistently subverted one important pillar in the 2010 vision of the Constitution – The one on building strong institutions to deliver on the promise of democracy to the country.

The Judiciary continues to endure vicious attacks on its independence and whenever elections take place, followed as they are invariably by electoral disputes – the Judiciary is never spared. More likely, it gets thrown into centre ring for all sides to rain their blows.

{read more…}

All about Self-Liberation


Dawit Mesfin

I have a friend who served as a British soldier during WWII whose stories I find quite fascinating. In fact, I have made it a habit to meet him every other day during my coffee breaks at the British Library in London. Listening to the stories of his youth, when he was deployed to Kenya and Egypt and his stopovers along the Red Sea, helps me to understand what the situation of that time was like for young recruits as well as how the British Empire functioned.  Ken, who has recently celebrated his 88th birthday, loves to reflect on the bumpy journeys of his life as well as numerous other experiences.  Currently, he is rushing against time to finish his 3rd or 4th book on the history of medieval England.  He is a self-taught intellectual with an acute sense of the pitfalls of modern times and the ‘futile escapades’ of the young, so to speak.  I admire him for the way he maintains a steady balance of his old values by juxtaposing himself to modern times and the lives of his children and grand-children.

Ken introduced me to the writings of Yuval Noah Harari who wrote in great detail about where we, human beings, came from (Sapiens), and where we are going (Homo Deus). To learn why we are the way we are and what we can do to influence our direction is indeed interesting.  I appreciate Ken’s grasp of such complex theories which I find difficult to take in.  However, I am not sure his interpretation of Harari’s theories is spot on. There is something about the theories’ validity that I find irksome concerning Africa’s development history.  Leaving that aspect of the narrative aside let me go back to the story of my friend. Ken, from time to time, makes me flinch with some of his views of the world (die Weltanschauung). His cynicism, mistrust of elected official and contemptuous attitude towards the Wikipedia generation raise eye brows.  He tends to glorify some aspects of the past and ridicule the present. And he is constantly worried about the future because of migration anxieties.

{read more…}

Delivering justice is not the job of activists and journalists. Revisiting the Rusatira Affair

By Jos van Oijen

The arrest then release of Colonel Rusatira is often held up as an example of false accusations against genocide suspects. But a new look at the evidence raises the possibility that justice was not served but obstructed.

For the United Nations, the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda will always be remembered with shame as it failed to act and prevent the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. But even within this embarrassing stain on the international body’s history, there are some moments which are even more woeful than others.

One of those is the massacre that took place at the Don Bosco Ecole Technique Officielle (ETO) in Kicukiro, on the outskirts of the capital Kigali. Just a few days into the genocide, thousands of Tutsis had sought refuge at the school because UN forces were stationed there. But on 11 April 1994, the peacekeepers abandoned the post to evacuate Westerners.

{read more…}

Eritrea: Woldeab Woldemariam, even after death they tried to silence him


Woldeab Woldemariam, a Visionary Eritrean Patriot, Biography

By Dawit Mesfin

Now I know why a monument has been erected for Alexander Pushkin, the renowned Russian poet, in the heart of Asmara, while the country’s first independence campaigner, one who co-fathered Eritrea alongside Ibrahim Sultan and other nationalists of the 1940s, is brushed aside.

Although my primary objective is to evoke a picture of Eritrea via the story of a unique individual set in an era prior to the armed struggle, I came to realize the portrayal of Woldeab Woldemariam’s story would only cover certain aspects of the history of Eritrea. It does not do justice to those aspects shaped by Sheik Ibrahim Sultan, Tessema Asberom, Abdulkadir Kebire and others.  And then there are those who opposed Woldeab and his fellow campaigners of the Eritrea-for-Eritreans campaign. But they own the other side of the story. This is Woldeab’s.

{read more…}


Yemane Gebreab

The Ultra Nationalist Youth Wing of the Eritrean Government’s Party

Affronted in the Netherlands

By Dawit Mesfin

The youth wing of the ruling party of Eritrea had a plan to hold a European wide conference in Veldhoven , the Netherlands from the 13th to 17th of April, 2017. However, Eritrean activists successfully launched an appeal for the Dutch authorities to halt the gathering.  The conference was stopped after a Dutch court backed the mayor of Veldhoven in closing the gathering, arguing that it was detrimental to safety and security of local residents.  The event was going to be headed by President Isaias Afwerki’s senior adviser and right-hand man, Yemane Gebreab, whose arrival was described by the Dutch cabinet as “awkward”.  He was denied official reception by the government and eventually blocked from conducting a seminar for the Young People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (YPFDJ).

{read more…}

Etnic backlash may desintegrate South Sudan in ungovernable places

Back to war

By Peter Adwok Nyaba

The legendary riddle of ‘chicken and egg’ corroborates the current realities of South Sudan civil war, whose effects have rendered irrelevant its causes and triggers, but at the same time have left the culprits, the victims and the mediators bewildered.

The absence of policy tools to address the crisis left the region and the international community with only two options: confine Dr. Riek Machar to South Africa, and give President Salva Kiir six months to clear the SPLM/A (IO). The consequences now register as dire humanitarian situation, refugees and famine.

A few days ago, Mr. Festus Mogae, Chairman of Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) paid a visit to Dr. Riek Machar Teny-Dhurgon, the SPLM/A (IO) leader holed up in South Africa since November 2016. The purpose of the visit was to ask Dr. Riek to renounce violence, declare unilateral ceasefire and come back to Juba to join the national dialogue (ND) President Salva Kiir decreed last December. It was like adding insult to injury.

Mr. Mogae’s mission proves the very truth that the cause of the war is trying to catch up with its effects in view of the message he delivered. Mr. Mogae’s mandate is to monitor and to evaluate the implementation of the agreement on resolution of crisis in South Sudan (ARCISS).

Since July 2016, Mr. Mogae has been telling the world the opposite of what actually was happening in South Sudan. Intimidated by Information minister, Makuei et al, Mr. Mogae is reduced to a messenger; ferrying messages from President Salva Kiir Mayardit and the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) to Dr. Riek Machar.

This new assignment undoubtedly puts Mr. Mogae in an embarrassing situation of admitting that ARCISS is definitely dead and this necessitates a return to the drawing board.

{read more…}

We must not give up on revolutionary optimism in Kenya

Election violence 2008(Photo Petterik Wiggers)


Kenyan former chief justice Willy Mutunga speaks out. “We must not give up on revolutionary optimism”, he warns in this piece. Since a new and progressive constitution was promulgated in 2010, reactionary forces try to undermine it. But “the struggle to implement the progressive vision of this Constitution continues today”. Mutunga praises devolution, which he sees as “transformation from the margins”.

This article first appeared on the website of Transformation.

On August 27 2010 Kenya promulgated a progressive Constitution whose vision is social democracy. It’s a vision of the promotion and protection of the whole gamut of human rights; the equitable distribution of political power and the resources of society; and the creation of a nation out of different ethnic groupings. The Constitution aims to bring an end to the organization of politics through divisions; mitigate the protection of private property in land; cement agreement on national values and principles; promote integrity in public and private leadership; and build depersonalized national institutions.

The struggle to implement the progressive vision of this Constitution continues today. The elite forces of the status quo who found this vision unacceptable are resisting its implementation at every step. As the latest stage in this process, Kenya will hold new elections on August 8, 2017. I was Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya from 2011 to 2016, so I’ve observed and participated in this process first-hand. Given the efforts of the political elite to resist the implementation of the Constitution, I became convinced that the Judiciary had to play a pivotal role in defending and advancing it. We consciously developed a jurisprudence that promoted the Constitution’s robust implementation, and in that way the Judiciary became a political actor.

{read more…}

The revolution that consumed so many of us

By Dawit Mesfin

Book review

DELIVERANCE: A Tale of Colliding Passions and the Muse of Forgiveness

A Historical Novel

by Bereket Habte Selassie

The story Dr Bereket Habte Selassie presents in his latest book is about the tumultuous era during which I lived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I can say that I found it, partly, the story of my youth, reminding me of how the bright and dark shades of the 1970s shaped my attitude and the positions I took in my personal life. The account took me back to an era I had stepped out of long ago and have tried to dismiss from my memory. But the vivid portrayal of that era readily conjured the image up and I came to realise that the characters, and the story itself, touched a nerve within me.

Both Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) and the All-Ethiopia Socialist Movement (MEISON) were fervent leftist supporters of the Ethiopian Revolution that toppled Emperor Haile Selassie and abolished the monarchy in 1974. There were many Eritreans among them. Who can forget Amanuel Gebreyesus, Tesfu Kidane, Marta Mebrahtu, Yohanes Sebahtu, Amanuel Yohanes and more? The historical phenomenon of the student movement which was overtaken by the outbreak of the 1974 revolution and hijacked by the Derg, played a significant part in the intensification of the struggle to liberate Eritrea. The major part of Dr Bereket’s account revolves around the work of both the EPRP and MEISON and the era of the Derg’s Ityopia tikdem movement which ushered in a collective madness that affected all of us.

The ideological intoxication, courage, armed struggle, military ruthlessness, betrayal, youth anger and frustration, slaughter, flight to safety, life in diaspora and more are movingly depicted by the various characters in the story. The Ethiopian revolution consumed so many young lives that my mind is seized with revulsion whenever it drifts back to that era.

On the other hand, the human stories depicted in the account are heart-warming, albeit sad. Dr Bereket captures love of local cultures, love among human beings, love of God and of course, love of country. The depiction of the personal challenges people faced once bitten by the revolutionary bug is spot on. The accounts of ‘the underground days’ of the revolutionaries, their evolving consciousness during internal fighting, the Derg’s open hostility towards them, the back-biting and betrayal among rivals is emotionally draining to read.

The story challenged my heart while my mind, which retains resentful memories of that era, tried to disown it as if it played no part in my life as an Eritrean. We Eritreans have always been staunchly loyal to our own cause. However, that commitment was so abused as to allow Isaias Afwerki to manipulate and hijack the youth spirit that sustained the struggle. I would argue, heavy-heartedly, that it suffices to look around us to see where that blind loyalty got us in the end.

{read more…}

How Eritrean revolution produced an undemocratic and closed society


By Dawit Mesfin

The book is an attempt to unravel why this small country with such a rich cultural heritage turned into one of the most repressive and secretive states in Africa. By covering its three distinct eras – colonial, armed struggle, and post-independence – the book presents the history that has unfolded over the last seven decades in a nutshell, and culminates in an explanation of how today’s Eritrea has turned into a pariah state after all the hardship it went through in securing self-rule.  Plaut uses vivid anecdotes throughout the book to show how the prevalent political culture in the country has brought it to its knees and caused a severe haemorrhaging of its youth.

The main thrust of Plaut’s argument is how the Eritrean revolution, like many others in Africa, has produced one of the most undemocratic and closed societies in the world. Here Eritrea is characterised both by the generous nature of its people and the heavy-handedness of a government that has blocked social, economic and political developments that under normal circumstances would usher in people’s participation in governing themselves.

{read more…}

War is better than a bad peace

Voting for independence in 2011 in Malakal

War is better than a bad peace, writes Peter Adwok Nyaba. He is a  long standing South Sudanese intellectual, former minister of Higher Education and now a collaborator of opposition leader Riëk Machar.

In this article he lashes out at the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE), a tribal organisation which hijacked the liberation struggle against Arab-dominated North Sudan, dominates the economy and the political discourse. “Most of the corrupt businesses in South Sudan belong to Dinka political and military elite close to President Salva Kiir”, he writes. “It renders impossible ‘unity in diversity,’ which we fought against the successive Arab dominated Sudanese regimes”.

“South Sudan is burning in all its different regions. The cause of this conflict is the misguided ethnic politics pushed by the JCE. The JCE has imposed its war on the people of South Sudan”, Adwok writes in his piece. But also the opposition led by Riëk Machar, to which Peter Adwok belongs, has “major political and military weaknesses”.

Read the article below:

{read more…}

Eritrea has become a catastrophe

AsmaraBy Abraham Zere, head of Pen Eritrea

It initially sounded like a joke; gradually it got serious and then tragic. A decade and a half later, it is catastrophe.

Fifteen years ago on 18 September, 2001, fellow students of University of Asmara and I were confined in two labour camps, GelAlo and Wi’A, for defying a requirement of unpaid summer work. We were kept in the camps, under harsh, atrocious living conditions and open to the weather that normally reaches 45 C (113 F) for about five weeks. As we were preparing to return home, we learned the government had banned seven private newspapers and imprisoned 11 top government officials.

The day after our homecoming, beaten down and demoralised, I went to meet Amanuel Asrat, chief editor of Zemen newspaper. About 10 days before that, he had received an article, in which I detailed our living conditions, that I had managed to get smuggled out of the prison camp. My piece was published in the last issue of the newspaper.

An atmosphere of fear pervaded Asmara. The environment had changed abruptly from heated and loud political debates to people resigning themselves to whispers and silence.

Unlike our previous meetings when Asrat greeted me with a joke, this time his dejection was obvious.

I do not remember exactly what we talked about, nor do I remember where we met. I assume Asrat must have expressed satisfaction about my safe return (as two students had died in the camp) and perhaps asked about my family. It’s possible we talked about the days before we had been sent to the prison camp. I do not know.

{read more…}

At least, let us not have amateurs in election rigging


 Uganda had presidential and parliamentary elections on the 18th of February that have become a joke around Africa and the world.

I saw that even South African comedian brother, Trevor Noah, had a laugh with it on his programme on the American cable channel, Comedy Central.

And social media had a feast. Facebook and Twitter were blocked, opponents were beaten, arrested (the main challenger to President Yoweri Museveni, Kizza Besigye, was arrested five times in a week, including on election week), ballot boxes were stuffed, voting was delayed for 24 hours in some areas, there was over-voting galore, over-counting, and under-counting (in some places less than two per cent of the votes were counted).

 Africans are given to stealing elections, yes, but at least let us do it well and with class. We cannot have stolen elections all these years, and yet we have not mastered it. We need to refine the art of election theft and end this embarrassment.

  {read more…}

Stephen Ellis is dead


In Memoriam Stephen Ellis, 1953-2015

We are very sad to report that Prof. Stephen Ellis died on July 29, 2015. Stephen had leukemia, a disease that first manifested itself three years ago, and was treated effectively until three weeks ago. With great admiration we have seen how Stephen coped with his illness, and until very recently worked on a book manuscript about his most recent research, a history of Nigerian organized crime, which is virtually ready. If you want to share your feelings, that can be done through the ASC ( and/or directly to Stephen’s partner Gerrie ter Haar (

Stephen Ellis was born in Nottingham, Great Britain on June 13, 1953. He studied modern history at the University of Oxford and did his doctoral exam there in 1981. He studied a revolt in Madagascar in the late 1890s, that was published by Cambridge University Press (the ‘Rising of the Red Shawls’, in 1985). Later he published a book about Madagascar in French (‘Un Complot à Madagascar’, 1990, Karthala). In 1979-1980 he had worked as a lecturer at the University of Madagascar, but that was not his first time in Africa: when he was eighteen years old he worked as a teacher in Douala, Cameroon.  Between 1982 and 1986 he was head of the African sub-region at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London, followed by a position as Editor for the Africa Confidential newsletter. In 1991-1994 Stephen became the General Secretary and later Director of the African Studies Centre in Leiden, followed by an assignment for the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (for the Global Coalition for Africa; it resulted in his book ‘Africa Now’, published in 1996) and a position as senior researcher at the ASC until now. He was also appointed Desmond Tutu Professor at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam from 2008 onwards for two days per week.

Stephen Ellis is the ASC’s most prominent scholar, and one of the key researchers in African Studies in the world. The library of the ASC has 82 of his publications. Many of those publications deal with recent or historical political developments in Africa or, often together with Gerrie, about religion in Africa. He wrote most extensively about South Africa, Madagascar, Liberia and Nigeria, but also about Togo, Zambia, and Sierra Leone. Stephen Ellis’ personal page at Google Scholar shows that 4,700 colleagues cited his many publications so far. His most popular book is ‘The Criminalization of the State in Africa’, which he wrote together with Jean-François Bayart and Béatrice Hibou and which was published in 1999 (after a French version that was published two years earlier). Other books that became famous were ‘The Mask of Anarchy: the destruction of Liberia and the religious dimension of an African civil war’ (2001), ‘Worlds of power: Religious thought and political practice in Africa’ (together with Gerrie ter Haar, 2004) and ‘Comrades against apartheid: the ANC & the South African Communist Party in exile’ (together with Tsepo Sechaba, 1992). Among his recent publications are: ‘External Mission: the ANC in exile, 1960-1990’ (2013), ‘Season of rains: Africa in the world’ (2012; there is also a version in Dutch, ‘Het Regenseizoen’) and ‘West Africa’s international drug trade’ (2009).

With sadness in our heart,

Ton Dietz, on behalf of the African Studies Centre and the ASC Community

Lest We Forget The Hundreds Of Thousands Who Perished In SALVA KIIR’S Juba Genocide!!


By Peter Adwok Nyaba

Today, December 15, 2014, marks the first anniversary of the Juba massacre of ethnic Nuers ordered by President Salva Kiir Mayardit. It remains the saddest day in the history of South Sudan for it triggered the worst animal instincts, dehumanized us, that in a matter of moments we began to discriminate and decimate ourselves on the basis of ethnicity. Initially, the Nuers alone were marked for death at the hands of ‘dutku beny’ or the auxiliary presidential guards recruited specifically for that purpose at the behest of President Kiir by Paul Malong Awan. Nevertheless, any Dinka with facial marks as the Nuers suffered the same brutal fate. The village boys from Warrap and Awiel did not know that other Dinka people existed in Upper Nile or Jonglei. They also murdered a Chollo judge because they wanted to possess the Toyota V8 he drove.

Then, in a few days the mayhem spread like bush fire to other towns Bor, Bentiu, Malakal, Renk, etc., where now the Nuer in a similar fashion avenged their beloved ones against the Shilluk, Dinka, Nuer, Maaban, etc. The Shilluk also took on the Nuer; the Dinka took on the Shilluk, Nuer and Maaban. In his desperation, President Salva Kiir Mayardit invited the Dar Furi Sudanese rebels [Tora Bora], the Justice and Equality Movement to join the war against Dr. Riek Machar. He also invited the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces [UPDF] and their Helicopter Gunships whose gunners could not differentiate between the Nuers, Dinka, SPLA or White Army and bombed them without segregation, in a civil turned regional war with ill-defined political objective. Nevertheless, characterized by vengeance and counter-vengeance, for no reason, in which innocent women, elderly and children without distinction, perished in a manner unprecedented in our wars not even when we fought the mujahedeen and the muralieen.

December 15, 2013 is the day for which, we must invariably lower our heads in shame to deflate our individual inordinately enlarged ego. For that day imperceptibly exposed our five decades pretense and collective self-deception that we were one people fighting for liberation, equality, freedom and justice. On that day, inadvertently we denied our commonality, collective heritage and we forgot about neighborhood or neighbour standing up to defend the neighbour in danger.

{read more…}

Has Kenya Destroyed the ICC?

When the supporters of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto began systematically attacking the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a neo-colonialist institution biased against Africans in the run-up to Kenya’s 2013 election, their prime concern was domestic: to ensure their champions escaped prosecution at The Hague. A publicity campaign that made clever use of social media was transformed into government policy once the two men were inaugurated president and deputy president, respectively. It then acquired diplomatic wings, with envoys from Nairobi crisscrossing the continent to drum up support, culminating with an extraordinary African Union summit last October at which it was agreed that African heads of state would no longer face ICC prosecution during terms in office.

So effective has the anti-ICC campaign proved that it is now having repercussions its originators probably never foresaw: South Sudan is likely to be just the first in a series of new African conflict zones where human rights groups and civil society organizations find themselves nonplussed, unsure what to advocate in light of the body blows dealt the ICC.

“The ICC backlash has created a major dilemma for us, no doubt about it,” acknowledged the head of one human rights organization I spoke to, who asked not to be named. “Deciding the appropriate course of action has become a very difficult question.”
Their quandary, however, is no philosophical abstraction — the privilege of Western-funded NGOs with headquarters in Washington and Brussels. Every journalist is familiar with the experience of returning to the scene of an atrocity and interviewing a cowed survivor who quietly mentions that, in the street, they regularly pass men who raped a daughter, killed a father. If the ICC no longer holds out even the slim hope of eventual retribution for those who funded and armed such thugs, what alternatives exist?

In many ways, the series of abuses committed in South Sudan after fighting broke out in mid-December would be well suited for referral to the ICC, which currently can prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. First in Juba and then in dusty towns like Bor, Bentiu, and Malakal, opposing forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, carried out tit-for-tat massacres and gang rapes, with atrocities targeted along ethnic lines. Victims were shot in hospital beds, outside churches, and within sight of United Nations compounds.

For human rights activists, the sheer brutality of the violence, in a region scarred by 22 years of civil war between Khartoum and southern rebels, confirms a long-voiced argument that preventing fresh abuses means ending impunity. It is vital, many argue, to avoid the example set by Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which gave birth to Africa’s newest state in 2011 while largely sidestepping the issue of accountability for past crimes.

“We’ve had 10,000 dead in less than three months. It’s been very fast, very aggressive, and the massacres have been ethnically targeted because that’s the way the leadership presented it,” says Wani Mathias Jumi, secretary-general of the South Sudan Law Society. “In the past there was no accountability at all, and that has been carried forward. If this country is to exist anywhere but on paper, we have to see redress this time.”

South Sudan possesses other characteristics that make it suitable for ICC referral. The three-year-old country’s judicial system is still in embryonic form. No legal provision for crimes against humanity exists, and legal aid and witness protection programs have yet to be established. Judges, prosecutors, investigators, and clerks are in short supply and were often trained in the north, and so are accustomed to legal documents written in Arabic and the workings of sharia law. In South Sudan, where most inhabitants are either Christian or animist, the official language is English and the legal system is based on common law.

“Even before the latest conflict, South Sudan was struggling to cope with prosecuting ordinary crimes,” says Amnesty International’s Elizabeth Ashamu Deng. “It’s clear that the normal justice system would not be able to deal with this latest challenge without significant external input.” Daniel Bekele, the director of the Africa division at Human Rights Watch, describes South Sudan’s judiciary as “one of the weakest in the region,” adding, “In a new country, that’s not surprising.”

Always envisaged as a “court of last resort,” the ICC was set up in 1998 with precisely such circumstances in mind, offering justice to people in states too fractured to deliver it themselves. South Sudan may not be a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the ICC (neither, of course, is the United States), but the U.N. Security Council can refer a situation to the ICC, thereby establishing jurisdiction.

Yet in spite of South Sudan’s apparently meeting many ICC criteria, leading human rights and policy advocacy groups are skirting calls for the court’s involvement. Human Rights Watch says it is still assessing the situation. The International Crisis Group is calling instead for a tribunal on the lines of that staged in Sierra Leone after its civil war. Amnesty International, for its part, says it is waiting on the final recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan, set up by the African Union.

This wariness is rooted in recent, scarring experience. Shocked human rights groups are still digesting the African Union’s decision to rally behind Kenyatta and Ruto, accused by the ICC of organizing the violence that claimed more than 1,000 lives in the wake of Kenya’s 2007 elections and nearly tore the country apart.

“The ICC has, unfortunately, become a toxic brand in much of Africa,” says John Ryle, of the Rift Valley Institute think tank. “This is due to the ineptitude of its former chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, and to the skillful political maneuverings of a number of ICC indictees, who have managed to represent the court as an instrument of Western intervention in the affairs of sovereign nations. The vulnerability of the ICC to this backlash has been a blow for African civil society activists who seek justice and accountability from their leaders.”

Indeed, aware that three of the regional states now attempting to mediate a peace deal between Kiir and Machar — Sudan proper (where President Omar al-Bashir himself faces ICC prosecution), Kenya, and Uganda — have been particularly vocal in their hostility toward the ICC, many human rights groups are seeking cover behind the African Union’s commission of inquiry, which is seen as a classic “African solution to an African problem.” Led by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and launched in March, the commission includes Ugandan academic Mahmood Mamdani, who has made his impatience with the ICC clear, arguing that a fixation with delivering pure justice can clash with the political accommodations necessary for peace. Influenced by South Africa’s post-apartheid experience, the commission’s members see reconciliation as their overriding priority. It is already running months behind schedule, but its final report, due in September, is expected to reiterate initial support for a “hybrid court” as the most appropriate way of delivering justice to South Sudan.

Hybrid, or “ad hoc,” courts usually involve a mix of domestic judges and international magistrates, prosecutors, and investigators flown in to bolster a weak local legal system. The aim would clearly be to deliver a form of justice that would be both credible and recognizably local.

But many in the human rights sector see the championing of the hybrid-court model as deeply ironic — history turning full circle. Ad hoc courts of various kinds were experimented with in Africa during the 1990s as reactions to abuses committed in Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and, more recently, Chad. The ICC formula came to be seen as far preferable as a result.

“It seems we’ve gone right back to the 1990s,” says Casie Copeland, an analyst with the International Crisis Group. “The problem with the ad hoc courts was that they were tremendously expensive and that cash” — usually provided by the United States, European Union, or United Kingdom — “just isn’t on the table now.”

“Decisions to appoint ad hoc courts were often highly political, whereas with the ICC system everyone knew they were dealing with international treaty bodies,” she adds. It can sometimes prove impossible to set up a hybrid court in the country where the atrocities were committed, leaving proceedings looking just as remote to the local population as those in The Hague. Another problem with hybrid courts has proved to be the often-tense relationships that develop between internationally funded employees and local staff working in cash-strapped, demoralized courts — tensions that undermined the ambition to build up a legacy of skills, resources, and legal expertise.

“The hybrid-court approach might be one useful model, but it is no panacea for all situations,” warns Human Rights Watch’s Bekele. “The relevance of a hybrid-court model needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.”

Wary of being associated with another high-profile ICC debacle — one many observers predict could effectively spell the end of the court — human rights workers say the ball on South Sudan is now in the African Union’s court. But they privately express concerns about the commission of inquiry’s scarce resources and the modest amount of time spent on the ground. “The African Union really needs to step up to the plate on this and demonstrate it can push for accountability,” said one activist who wished to remain anonymous.

History may well come to see Kenya as the place where an idealistic — but perhaps naive — drive for universal justice was checked by the realities of entrenched elite power. The notion that sitting heads of state or popular ethnic champions would meekly allow themselves to be prosecuted seems extraordinarily starry-eyed now. But that realization still leaves unanswered the practical question of what is to be done when fresh conflicts break out and abuses are committed in traumatized African states that lack either infrastructure or political will to deliver accountability. This question is immediately pressing in South Sudan, as well as the Central African Republic, but will inevitably arise in other parts of the continent before too long.

Expect years of debate. “The end goal is that there should be justice,” says Copeland. “If there’s a way of achieving that without involving the ICC, then let’s do it. But we’re going to see plenty of efforts to find ways of working around the ICC that will be confronted with the same facts that motivated the establishment of the ICC in the first place.”

Uhuru Must Step Up To Tackle Rhino Poaching

We were getting together for a Lewa Wildlife Conservancy board meeting and as a newcomer I was excited to be part of this world-class operation. Lewa is a prestigious private conservation area in northern Kenya, famed for its rhinos and its annual marathon.

I had been thrilled when the chairman, Michael Joseph called me to his office last year and asked me “Will you join the Lewa board?”

I had always wanted to learn from Lewa’s enormous body of knowledge, and to contribute to its successful rhino conservation programme. He didn’t need to ask.

Now in my first board meeting meeting, Mike Watson, CEO of Lewa Conservancy, took an urgent phone call, then returned and informed us that gunshots had been heard at nearby Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

I called Richard Vigne, CEO of Ol Pejeta. He confirmed one black rhino bull was dead, his horns gone. There was no need for words to describe the anger, defeat, upset and sorrow he was feeling. It was not lost on any of us that the events at Ol Pejeta, just a few dozen kilometres away, might well have been here at Lewa.

Despite the news, we went ahead with our board meeting, which was upbeat and concluded on a positive note. But all I was thinking about was how to get to Ol Pejeta, and I invited others to come with me.

At first nobody wanted to. It would be depressing and besides, they said they all had other plans. I’m used to this reaction. Nobody wants to confront the horror of what is happening in its bloody face.

But after a few minutes of explaining why this is relevant to Lewa, I had a full car with members of board from both Kenya and the US.

None of them had ever seen a freshly butchered rhino before. I didn’t tell them that neither had I. But I’ve seen enough dead elephants to know that it’s a life-changing experience.

We drove to Ol Pejeta, where Martin Mulama and his chief of security Serem welcomed us. Their faces revealed a despondency rarely seen in conservation. We set off for the rhino under a heavy cloud of dark emotions.

Some of us stood in the back of a pick-up which crashed ahead through the bush followed closely by all the others in a Land Rover.

I asked Martin about the incident. As the vehicle bounced around, and branches caught my hair, Martin explained that gunshots were heard at 6 pm the previous evening somewhere deep inside the conservancy. Security was scrambled and the perimeter of Ol Pejeta sealed with road blocks. But it was too late. The killers had already gone.

The carcass was deep inside the middle of the 75,000 acre conservancy, and several kilometres off any track. Whoever killed this rhino knew the terrain.

We ploughed through thick bush, zigzagging around hyena holes and ant hills and following the muddy tracks of cars that had gone before us.

Then the car came to an abrupt halt and I jumped down. Serem pointed. The rhino was somewhere in the bush only a hundred metres away.

I walked quickly to where I knew he would be, anger and sadness driving me to look at the face of the lifeless animal. And there he lay, silently on his side, his massive grey body slightly bloated, his left legs suspended up in the air.

He had died in deep bush and was lying in a pool of his own blood that looked like black oil. His left eye was open staring unseeingly at us, a few flies buzzed around him. Bubbles of red frothy blood oozed his nose. His pointed white lips were slightly open.

It was hard to look at his face, his eye was staring up at me. His two horns had been cut off at the base with an extremely sharp instrument. They appeared almost surgically removed. His hornless face seemed misshapen – without his horns he hardly looked like a rhino.

Rhino killed by poachers with horns removed on Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya. Photograph: Paula Kahumbu

Martin explained the cuts on the rhino’s ear. Two precise notches had been cut into his ears when he was a calf to help identify him.

All the rhinos here are notched. The notches told us that this was 15 year old Sheria. Ironically his name in Kiswahili means Law. After a pause Martin said “Law is dead”.

Apart from the bloody gashes where his horns once were, he seemed unharmed. There were no other wounds. I was confused, wasn’t he shot?

If it wasn’t for Serem I would have missed the tiny bullet wounds that were almost impossible to see. He had been sprayed with bullets from an AK 47 but the entry points had closed over his thick grey-black rough skin.

Once I knew what I was looking I could see there were dozens of these wounds and I pictured the events of the night before. The deafening sound of gun shots, the acrid smell of gunfire, Sheria screaming and crashing through the bushes in a state of terror as he tried to escape the hail of bullets before he fell. I imagined that Sheria was still alive when they cut off his horns – he was probably watching them helplessly with his one open eye.

It would have taken a few minutes to cut off the horn, an eternity to Sheria. There were two murderers, one shooter and one guide. They worked quickly, silently, and escaped completely unnoticed save for the sound of bullets.

I squatted beside Sheria and leaned against his body. My arm on his massive leg, I reached out to touch his face. His body was warm, it felt as if he was still alive. I almost expected to feel him breathing.

The only smell was fresh blood. I don’t recall any sounds, the world was utterly silent. We stayed there for an hour talking in low tones, touching, feeling.

Now Sheria’s name and photograph will be removed from the rhino monitoring list for Ol Pejeta, where every rhino is sighted by security officers each day. This incident comes exactly one month after another rhino shooting. That rhino was injured and miraculously is still alive.

The escalation of poaching at Ol Pejeta is surprising because this sanctuary has some of the best rhino protection found anywhere in the world.

The population is completely fenced and anti-poaching investments include sniffer dogs, attack dogs, SAS-trained armed rangers, helicopters on standby, aircraft support, even military vehicles.

But the poachers are somehow outwitting us. They move with stealth, and are smarter and swifter. Even when they get caught they somehow subvert justice. Motivated by cash they will take huge risks – few poachers survive an encounter with KWS rangers nowadays.

Sheria was one of two rhinos poached this weekend, the other in Ngulia rhino sanctuary. These incidents are a reflection of a national and continental crisis.

Sixteen of Kenya’s rhinos have fallen to poachers in Kenya this year already. KWS says we have over 1,000 remaining but few conservationists believe these figures.

Even if we have 1,000, we could lose them all – South Africa lost over 1,000 last year alone. In Kenya all rhinos are in protected sanctuaries, yet none are safe. Rhinos are being gunned down everywhere in increasingly brazen and daring attacks in national parks and private sanctuaries like Lewa and Ol Pejeta.

Kenyans fear that the problem reflects a breakdown in governance. The people charged with protecting these invaluable creatures are turning their guns on them instead. And, the government is silent.

Kenyans are furious and determined to change things. They are now calling on the president, His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta to declare elephants and rhinos national treasures and to make it his personal crusade to stop the poaching. Without political will, the game is over for these magnificent species.

Some people think it is too late, but we did recover from similar threats in the 1980s under President Moi’s leadership. And in Nepal, rhino poaching has been reduced to nil due to the personal interventions of President Baran Yadav. Kenyans want President Uhuru to step up to this challenge – we simply cannot afford to give up.

Paula Kahumbu is the CEO of WildlifeDirect.

This article was originally published on the Kenyan newspaper The Star

Blood is thicker than reason

By Charles Wanguhu


The Kenyan 2013 election was to be one of lessons: an election in which, having looked back at the folly of our mistakes of 2007, we would take a different direction. It was to be a reflection on the ethnic question, on hate, on violence meted out to innocent individuals, on broken relationships and on the building of a new state.

We undertook massive reconstruction of the state called Kenya after the 2007 election: we passed a new constitution, set up several institutions and radically restructured some old ones. A central theme of this restructuring focused on integrity, professionalism and other key ideals we espose as a nation.

As is the tradition in Kenya every new election results in the induction of new words into the day to day Kenyan lingo; in 2002 it was ‘unbwogable’, 2005, ‘chungwa’ and banana and 2007 became the abbreviations  year with the resultant IDP,PEV and ICC; 2010 was ‘watermelons’. In 2013 the word tyranny stands out, together with the Latin ‘amicus’ after the supreme court proceedings.

{read more…}

Africa’s election aid fiasco


The development industry is as fashion-prone as any other. Fads come and go. There are a few giveaways when it comes to spotting them. Deceptive simplicity is one indication. The idea should have a silver-bullet quality, promising to cut through complexity to the nub of a problem. Even better, it should be a notion that can be rolled out across not just a country, but a region.

Covering the Kenyan elections, which climaxed with the inauguration last week of Uhuru Kenyatta as the country’s fourth president, I suddenly realised I was watching a fad hitting its stride: the techno-election as democratic panacea. We’ll see it again in Mali’s elections this summer.

Yida refugee camp, February 2013


The typical building material in Yida is grass.

Yida refugee camp is situated in Unity State just South of the border with North Sudan. It houses now an estimated 63,000 people with between 300 and 500 new arrivals every day. The reasons for its existence have to be looked for up North in the Nuba Mountains (NM).

The war in the NM resumed in June 2011. Since then the Khartoum army occupies the main towns while the SPLA / North holds most of the countryside. The main war activity going on is the Antonov. In the Christmas period the little town of Kauda on its own received more than 90 bombs. January was relatively quiet. But since then the planes fly over the area practically every day and they drop bombs arbitrarily on any small settlement.

P3 pupil Intisar Bushra from Kauda arrives at a hospital early February with bomb shrapnel in her thigh.

The bombings do not attract much outside attention, not even in South Sudan. An exception was Jau which was bombed on February 14. Jau, about 15 km North of Yida, is considered the border between North and South.

These bombings have had two main effects. Schools still function but many pupils and students have left in search of better education. Nuba students can be found now all over the South and even in refugee camps in Kenya. The bombings have also affected agricultural activity and this, combined with drought and many of the men under arms, has recently created wide-spread famine in the NM.

It is this lack of food that makes people to leave for Yida according to the refugees themselves. For many this involves a journey of 100 km or more, often to be done on foot. If they are lucky a trader’s lorry will help them; e.g. a certain Cletia paid SSP 350 for the transport over 200 km of herself, her husband, 4 children and 2 beds.

In Yida a harsh life awaits them. Once they have paid SSP 5 for the allocation of a plot in the sprawling 20 sq km vast camp they have to collect in the bush the building materials for their shelter. At the same time they have to try and get registered for the monthly food distributions.

Sorghum, pulses and oil awaiting distribution

Water point in Yida


According to WFP the refugees receive 15 kg of cereals per person per month. Refugees themselves claim the ration is more like 4 malwa which equals slightly over 9 kg per person per month. But even if WFP is right the ration is minimal and forces people to look for additional income. For many the only source is to go and collect useful items in the bush such as building materials and firewood.

Once they have settled the daily provision of water is a big challenge for the women. Samaritan’s Purse drilled the boreholes in the camp. Four NGOs are active in the field of health. MSF runs a hospital as also some outreach activities such as malnourishment monitoring. IRC does reproductive health. Solidarity International promotes sanitation. And Samaritan’s Purse makes its plane available for medical evacuations.

MSF monitoring centre

If health is relatively well taken care off then education is the most neglected service. If it was not for the local administration by the Nuba Relief and Development Organisation (NRRDO) which made schools to be built and appointed teachers, there would be no education at all for the large population of school-age kids. There is no NGO that provides any material support up to the present day.

Amazingly enough the lack of support to education is intentional. A fact finding mission from the British Anglican Church recently wrote: UNHCR “has prevented funding for schools – leaving 13,000 primary school children and young people with little access to education.” (HART visit to South Sudan, Nuba Mountains (South Kordofan) and Blue Nile, January 4-18, 2013, p. 5).

This UNHCR policy is motivated by its wish to move the entire camp further away from the border. It appears to have two reasons for this: it would make the refugee camp safer (in fact Yida was once bombed in November 2011 though without any resulting damage); and it would give UNHCR greater control over the refugee population and so protect it against accusations of feeding SPLA / North soldiers.

Long line of classrooms. There are 3 more schools like this one in the camp

Main entrance of the UNHCR compound. The two busses, though idle, undoubtedly represent the single biggest investment in Yida refugee camp.

It appears that UNHCR Geneva and a ‘coordination group in New York’ have mounted a successful campaign among the foreign affairs ministries of the main donor countries to refrain from funding support as long as Yida has not moved. However, the intention to move the camp Southwards goes against the need of the refugees to remain as close as possible to their homes, fields and relatives who stayed behind.

In fact this discussion has poisoned the relations between UNHCR and the refugees while the implementing NGOs (and probably also the UNHCR staff in the field) feel caught in the middle. But worse, since the time UNHCR came in proper service delivery has been paralysed.

For people in the field the discussion has meanwhile been overtaken by the facts. In the words of Msgr. Macram Max Gassis, bishop of El Obeid: “Who still wants to move people who have been in a place already for over a year?”


Deputy camp manager Najda Romeo Peter: “If UNHCR wants us to move let them leave us alone”

Caroline Mutoko: A Critical Look at Kenyan Media

Caroline Mutoko is one of Kenya’s most-famous and most-popular radio show hosts. She writes columns as well in “The Star”. That newspaper refused to publish the below column Caroline wrote. She decided, instead, to publish it on her Facebook page.

Ninety days to Kenya’s Next general election and counting. I know we shouldn’t put numerical items in written articles, but just for emphasis – let me say this again – 90 days to go.

Sometime towards the end of last week, I saw several articles in the dailies talking about the poor turnout in the ongoing voter registration exercise. It’s news, infact it’s big news, but once again we missed the story. The IEBC is quoted as saying it might not be possible to meet the target of registering 18 million voters if the electorate is not educated on the importance of listing.

{read more…}

The Challenges of Retaking Northern Mali

All photos: © Petterik Wiggers
(Click to enlarge)

Once considered Africa’s flagship of democracy, Mali has turned into a shipwreck of anarchy seemingly overnight. A military coup ousted Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré in March 2012, and within weeks state authority completely withered in the northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal. Covering an area as large as the state of Texas, these regions are currently controlled by three “hybrid organizations” blending Islamic radicalism with transnational crime. Deeply concerned by the security threats posed by such a sizeable sanctuary for terrorists, the international community has pressured the Malian government and military to overcome internal wrangles as preparations for an international military intervention are underway.

{read more…}

Boko Haram: The root cause of the conflict is ideological

Northern Nigeria. © Petterik Wiggers

©Petterik Wiggers

Terror initiated bomb blasts from the Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda’Awati Wal Jihad sect in Nigeria otherwise known as the Boko Haram, may decline or escalate for any period of time but the indicators for overall peace may truly be farfetched. The sense of engagement beyond unleashing military combatants in the hugely affected and now paralysed North Eastern parts of the country is utterly undefined. Indications in military circles and indeed conventional military wisdom do not suggest that the Nigeria Military has the capacity to utterly and decisively defeat the terror band.

The brand of terror introduced into Nigeria by the insurgents is not an affliction that is proverbially skin deep. It is deeper beyond the skin and requires even much deeper strategic and sophisticated engagement. Sadly, all that has been seen from players at the policy level has been anything but out-of-control techniques. There’s been so much opportunism, so much of personal profit and so much shadow acting. The superficial is at the driving seat where professionalism is in dire need.

{read more…}

The Nuba Crisis: A Continuing Assault

Dry weather means war in the Nuba Mountains. News from the front comes almost every day: shelling of Kadugli, clashes at Um Heitan, an assault on Daldogo. A steady trickle of refugees moves south, wearing their households on their heads: pots, pans, a radio, some flour and sometimes a whole bed.

Valley after valley lies desolate where rich crops used to grow, the seedbeds now in disarray and the stalks bruised. Market after market is depleted, but for some produce from the highlands. On mats no bigger than bath towels traders lay out their fare: piles of little tomatoes, okra, potatoes or three to four lemons, sometimes mangoes. Almost nobody buys.

Unmistakable overhead comes the swelling hum of engines. No more than a glint between rock and sky, the Antonov is the most widely recognized aircraft type in Sudan. More cargo plane than bomber, its creators in the Ukraine must have never imagined that it would be used in such a place, over and over again, bringing more than 2000 bombs this year, according to Montasir Nasir, head of the region’s human rights commission.

On a Sunday morning in Buram the church is emptying, stirred up by the sound overhead. The service will be held in the rocks. Through the tall grass the congregation searches toward the mountain, a group diminished by so many departed – those at the front, those in the camps, those who have died.

The deacon Isaac Kafi Nahal leads the ones that remain: Women in scarves almost neon bright, drab barefoot children, men in flamboyant shirts. The sermon is from Revelation: “Outside are the dogs and murderers. But God will come soon.” In the rock cave there is cheering, dancing and prayer. When the time comes for the collection, the congregation produces a corncob and two Sudanese pounds – half a dollar.

I expect the worst famine that this generation has experienced’

There is only one real hospital in the Nuba Mountains. It is run by Dr. Tom Catena, a 52-year old Catholic mission doctor from New York state. He has more than 300 patients.

“Over the past three years I have seen the number of malnourished children grow,” says Dr. Catena. “Within a few months, I expect the worst famine that this generation has experienced. The people have no more reserves. The rain in the past year was so bad, that they hardly made it through the year. Due to the air bombardments there is not enough harvest in November. This will lead to a great shortage of food.”

His assertion appears to be backed up by survey data collected in August by a hybrid group of local civil society and foreign aid workers. The group, which prefers anonymity owing to fears for their security, conducted a household survey in August that showed “high levels of ‘moderate’ and ‘severe’ hunger in all SPLM-N-held localities.”

“The levels of ‘severe’ hunger reported in Kadugli are particularly high, at 85.4 percent for resident households and 87.5 percent for displaced households,” the group noted in a report which was given to Radio Tamazuj in late October.

Little relief will come from the ongoing harvest, according to the survey, largely because security in many areas was too poor for planting or harvesting. The result of this is evident at the local markets: “Wheat and millet were not available in any of the locality markets surveyed and availability of maize was also limited. … The situation is notably worse in Kadugli [locality], where staple commodities are much less readily available. Indeed, sorghum, the key staple food for poor households, was only found in one market in Kadugli.”

Malnutrition rates have worsened, according to a separate August survey conducted by an international NGO that that likewise prefers anonymity, fearing retribution from the Sudan government.

The ‘Rapid Food Security and Nutrition Assessment’ report, which was vetted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, showed that food security in the Nuba Mountains “has dramatically deteriorated, with 81.5 percent of households surviving on one meal per day, compared to only 9.5 percent one year ago, and 0 percent two years ago.”

The report concludes that the nutrition situation is serious, verging on critical, with a current global acute malnutrition rate in children 6-59 months of 14.9 percent and a severe acute malnutrition rate of 3.6 percent with the presence of aggravating factors such as endemic malaria.


Nobody is counting exactly how many Nuba have fled. There are three UN peacekeeping missions in Sudan and South Sudan – in Darfur, South Sudan and in the disputed Abyei area – costing some $2.4 billion per year. But none has a mandate for the Nuba Mountains. The UN pulled its bases from the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan when the conflict began in June 2011.

The UN Coordination Agency (OCHA), however, sketches out some rough estimates. It says in an October report that the number of ‘displaced and severely affected’ people, including refugees, is 207,000 within government-held areas of South Kordofan, 350,000 within the SPLM-North territory, and 65,000 refugees in camps South Sudan.

That puts the total figure at more than 600,000, a quarter of the state’s population of 2.5 million according to the 2010 census, but a far higher percentage if one excludes the western, Misseriya-inhabited counties of the state, which have not been directly affected by the conflict.

Adrian Edwards, UN Refugee Agency spokesman in Geneva, says that a new influx is expected at refugee camps in South Sudan as the rains come to an end. He says that the agency is preparing new sites to settle refugees to relieve pressure on the already massive Yida camp. At least 100 refugees are still arriving every day at the camp, a far lower intake than earlier this year but what is taken to be only a temporary lull.

Some Nuba, on the other hand, head north, crossing the front line into government towns. They risk recrimination or abuse in the hope of accessing food and labor opportunities. Dr. Catena explains: “Here in the Nuba Mountains it is a matter of starving or you walk over to the Khartoum-controlled areas. Read the reports. What happens if you do not choose their side: torture, rape, abuse, or you will be treated as a spy.

“They are draining the Nuba Mountains of humans as one would drain a swamp. Food is in government-controlled areas, like in Talodi and Kadugli. It does not come from the government of Khartoum, it is provided by WFP,” he adds.

Other Nuba stay behind anyway. For some, they would rather die than join the enemy. For others, the journey to South Sudan is too long, and there is little chance of help along the way. International organizations that are caught providing assistance in the rebel-held region will be thrown out from northern Sudan, so less than a handful of organizations help secretely by providing medicines or food. Among them are Americans, Germans, French and Dutch.

The remnant of the Nuba still clinging to their homeland try to bring supplies from the outside. But the roads to the south are so poor that it’s cheaper, though far more dangerous, to smuggle goods from the north. At Kurchi market, for instance, a truck pulls in carrying sesame, sorghum and diesel. Nomad traders bring the goods from across government lines. The prices are less than they are at Yida refugee camp.

But virtually no one in the Nuba Mountains carries money: 73.2 percent of all households have no income, according to the Rapid Food Security and Nutrition Assessment carried out last August.

‘Language and culture are systematically destroyed’

Montasir Nasir, a chemical engineer with a calling for human rights, lists churches, schools and farms that have been hit by bombs. He shows little anger, just grief. Since the Christian Nubian kingdoms were overrun in the 14th century, “the culture of the Nuba peoples and especially the Christians is restricted,” he says.

Nasir says that the conflict is about identities: “The politics of Khartoum toward the Nuba peoples is to Arabize and Islamize. The local language and culture are systematically destroyed. In all bombings, the government is trying to hit schools and churches. By hitting the cornfields, they cause a famine.”

Any opposition to this programme – real or perceived – is met with brutality, according to Martin Boulis, a refugee working with the Sudan Council of Churches. He recalls the day he lost a friend, 32-year-old Nemeiri Phillip Kallo: “Right in front of the gates of the UN peacekeeping mission in the capital Kadugli my friend who worked for the UN was executed.”

Nemeiri was in Kadugli, the state capital and a government garrison, when the first fighting broke out on June 5, 2011. Ethnically Nuba and fighting age, he feared for his life. He headed to the base of the UN, which was preparing its exit but still had a troupe of Egyptian peacekeepers.

Pulling up near the gates of the base, in a car driven by a friend, he was stopped by security officers and taken from the car. The Egyptian UN officers at the gate did not dare to intervene, says Boulis. “A soldier pointed his gun at Nemeiri’s head. Someone shouted: ‘Do not shoot here.’”

“So they threw him in the truck, tore away around the corner and then we heard the gunshots. Soldiers threw him out of the car on the side of the road.” The account of this murder is corroborated by a former employee of the UN who was an eyewitness and driver of the car from which Nimeiri was taken.

Wounded, sick

Dr. Tom Catena lifts the shirt of a boy he operated earlier in the day. The boy has a temporary stoma surgically created because there is a shard in his bowel and abdominal cut: “No problem, it can later be removed.”

He takes the sheet off a woman. Her abdomen is covered in gauze. “I removed nothing but grass and stones from the inside,” he says. She was hit by debris from a bomb while crossing the fields near Heiban. “She has a family of seven children, and they have twice already given here a chicken. She’ll make it.”

The doctor continues his round. He is worried about the man who turned his hand to ‘spaghetti’ in an accident with a grenade launcher. He fears amputation will be necessary. Then there is a prostate patient, and a woman who miscarried twins, and a woman with a leg traction expertly mounted to the bed frame.

Doctor Tom smiles at a small man standing in the ward: “I thought he had appendicitis. I cut him open this morning. Then I found two bullets. He had forgotten that he had been shot a year earlier.”

“Look around you here in this hospital. Are these rebels? Here, look at this boy, he lost his arm. That girl is a paraplegic because of a bombardment. These are dangerous people? Are malnourished babies guilty of fighting? Help me out here, these people just live in this area,” he says.


The doctor strokes his shaved head: “Instead of giving assistance to the region, the world watches the bombs falling. We are ruled by criminals, but the international community still does business with them. President Omar al Bashir and Governor Ahmed Haroun are both indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague wanted for war crimes. But they can quietly continue their destruction of the Nuba people. ”

“This is ethnic cleansing, chasing people from their area because of their political, ethnic and religious beliefs. They had the right to fair elections, which have not been held. According to the peace agreement, the Nuba peoples had the right to a popular consultation on what form of government they wanted. Khartoum denied it,” he adds.

“Normally international organizations come in to help. The government and rebels had even reached an agreement with the UN, African Union and the Arab League to give help. But until today there is no grain that arrived in the rebel areas. But meanwhile the UN Food Programme, WFP, gives food aid to the government-controlled region.”

The lone doctor in the Nuba Mountains shakes his head: “This is a classic example of the use of food as a weapon… I don’t get it. Why don’t people understand the logic of this?”

Nuba soldiers, meanwhile, expect that more attacks are imminent. The government is preparing its dry season offensive. Montasir Nasir looks up at the sky: “Make it stop.”

Hildebrand Bijleveld is a journalist working since 1994 in Sudan. He is the founder and director of Radio Dabanga and Radio Tamazuj, shortwave broadcasters for Darfur and the other conflict zones in Sudan. Edited by Daniel van Oudenaren.

Related: Photos: The Nuba in Crisis

You can contact the director of Radio Tamazuj, Hildebrand B. Bijleveld:


A Glimmer of Hope for Somalia

Destruction has been the fate of Somalia for more than 20 years. Hargeisa in March 1991. Photo Koert Lindijer

Destruction has been the fate of Somalia for more than 20 years. Hargeisa in March 1991. Photo Koert Lindijer

Somalia eyes its first glimmer of hope in more than twenty years with the recent election of the a new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and the former minister and civil servant, Mohamed Osman ‘Jawari’, as new speaker of the newly selected parliament in Mogadishu.

Although the end of transition should have been completed by August 20, the selection of a new president and speaker represents a turn of events which not many dared hope for – except for a small group of die-hard optimists among the mainly Somali Diaspora politicians who have flocked to Mogadishu to prompt a change.

{read more…}

Africa’s Fabulous Mineral Wealth that isn’t ALL there



Copper mining near Lumumbashi in DRCongo. Photo Koert Lindijer

Copper mining near Lubumbashi in DRCongo. Photo Koert Lindijer


So let’s assume for one moment that you are an international corporate executive responsible for your company’s emerging market strategy. You are hearing a lot more about Africa of late, and feel strongly that your organisation needs a well-researched and informed strategy on a continent that has for so long evaded your radar.

Be careful though how much store you place on stock wisdom about Africa packaged as authoritative.

You may find that such commentary does not always enlighten, so that, in a paradoxical sort of way, the more you read the less truly educated you become.
Before you begin to ponder what avenues may be available to your company as it seeks to escape this information trap, let me illustrate what I mean with a classic example.

There is a near-universal belief that Africa is the richest continent on Earth from a natural resource point of view. This belief is most strongly associated with mineral wealth, which is the form of natural resource endowment easiest to measure.

In what has become the accepted narrative, Africa is poor both because of and in spite of its fabulous mineral wealth. The logical implication of such a view is clearly then that Africa has to do little more than just chuck out “its greedy dictators” and/or “incompetent governments”, for its natural endowments to translate into economic and financial wealth. Obvious enough.

But is Africa that super-endowed?
{read more…}

Beware a hurried agreement in Addis Abeba


Since its independence, now over one year ago, South Sudan has suffered from a steadily deteriorating relation with its Northern neighbour and former ruler Sudan. International pressure made the two parties to start talks that take place in Addis Abeba.

But to borrow a concept from French historian Pierre Nora, Ethiopia’s capital is a lieu de mémoire for Southerners: if there is one place in the world that plays an ominous role in the collective Southern memory it is Addis Abeba. This was the city where the peace agreement was made that ended the first war between North and South in February 1972. {read more…}

The shooting of Sheikh Rogo

An unknown gunman short dead Sheikh Rogo, a Muslim cleric who was been able to stir emotions on either side of the divide. Riots followed his shooting in Kenya’s second city, the port town of Mombasa.

The Africanists looks into his death and the resulting riots.     {read more…}

Chinua Achebe: Peaceful world my sincerest wish

By Nasrin Pourhamrang*

Recently, the classic African novel “Things Fall Apart” by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe was translated into Persian by Ali Hodavand and released in Iran. Nasrin Pourhamrang, Editor-in-Chief of Hatef Weekly Magazine interviewed the author on a wide range of topics from Art, culture and literature; politics, cultural and linguistic preservation to the legacy of colonialism and his forthcoming book there was a Country-A personal history of Biafra.

Nasrin Pourhamrang: Technology has come to the help of the borderless world of art and literature and has eliminated the geographical frontiers. How do you feel about the fact that your novel has been translated into Persian and that Iranian readers can read some of your works for the first time and make an acquaintance of Chinua Achebe?

Chinua Achebe: I received the news of the Persian translation of Things Fall Partwith great joy! Of course, one of the goals of any writer is to connect with his or her readers. Things Fall Apart in particular, indeed all my books, have enjoyed a warm readership. I am particularly grateful for the effort of the translators of my work. They extend the reach of Art, in this case stories, to more people who may not have encountered them in the original English. I am told with this Persian translation that Things Fall Apart now exists in nearly 60 world languages! It is a wonderful blessing and I am deeply, deeply, grateful! So, the fact that readers in Iran can also read my work is very important to me.
{read more…}


                                    The price you pay for oil


The predictions were dire soon after South Sudan had closed the pipeline to the North and thus its oil production. The World Bank, apparently unflustered by the reputation it has built up in South Sudan since 2005, claimed in a confidential report last February that the reserves of the country would be depleted by July and then ‘state collapse’ would be imminent. And indeed Oxfam early July exclaimed with characteristic understatement ‘Skyrocketing fuel and food prices deepen humanitarian crisis as country teeters on the brink of economic meltdown.’ But what are the facts ?

The South Sudan pound (SSP) has depreciated to the dollar in Juba’s black market as follows: in mid March the dollar was SSP 3.7; in mid April SSP 4.4; mid May SSP 4.8; mid June SSP 4.9 and mid July SSP 5.2. Fuel has been stable in Juba at SSP 6 per liter since April, though sometimes the price would triple for a few days awaiting new supplies to arrive. On July 25 over 30 tankers were waiting at Juba’s bridge to bring their diesel and petrol into the town. South Sudan is a vast country and the story will be different in the isolated border areas with e.g. Ethiopia or Uganda.

Early May in Pochalla for example one needed SSP 6 to get the birr equivalent of one dollar while in Juba it would have been less than 5. The border areas with Sudan have been even worse off but for entirely different reasons: because the Sudanese president Bashir closed the border most of these areas can now only be supplied by air. The economy too is vastly heterogeneous.

The average Toposa cattle keeper or Zande peasant lives in a cashless economy and can easily survive without the goods modern society considers important. At the other extreme is the Ugandan teacher who teaches in a Southern Sudanese school on an SSP salary: what he can send home to his family in Uganda has almost halved in value since February.

In between these extremes finds himself the salaried Southerner, including the SPLA soldier and the policeman: life has become more expensive for them but up to now they have been tolerant with considerable equanimity. Many of them have on top started to take care of relatives who returned from the North and have not yet found jobs, homes or even land.

The values of austerity and solidarity that were essential during the war have not yet disappeared among the middle class. The Southern government too deserves praise these days: it is succeeding to allocate the increasingly scarce foreign exchange to those areas where it matters most. Diversion of funds has also minimised witness the posh mansions that the elite had under construction but that are now standing abandoned half-finished. The relative ease with which the South, at least up to now, has coped with the sudden loss of the oil income raises the question whether it really needs the vast amounts of money the oil provided over the last 6 years.

It is true that both the Northern and the Southern representatives in the Addis Abeba talks think so. Khartoum has been insisting on a solution of all other issues before it would be willing to discuss the oil question. The South on the other hand offered recently 3 billion dollars plus a still very royal transit fee in return for getting the possibility to let the oil flow again to Port Sudan.

But South Sudanese president Salva Kiir admitted himself that 4 billion dollars from the oil income disappeared over the last few years. Since then the government has not taken any visible measures to prevent similar corruption from re-emerging once the oil flows again. And even when corruption was not involved there has been mismanagement, as in the case of the drug purchasing programme and the hundreds of tractors that are standing idle in Juba. Perhaps it would be best to forget about pipelines and instead limit oil production initially to what a few local refineries would need.

Such an alternative would have several advantages: the oil income would be of a more reasonable size, easier to handle and control by the government, and with a clear need for it in the society; the oil, once refined into consumable diesel or petrol, could be economically transported by tanker to the local market and to the neighboring countries, making use of the existing road network rather than of a pipeline that belongs to Khartoum or, perhaps even worse, still has to be built; more oil would remain available for future generations to benefit from; more funds would be available to future governments that no doubt will be more qualified and better equiped to handle larger budgets; the talks in Addis Abeba would not have to waste time any longer on the oil issue but could concentrate on the important issues of the human condition in the border region, the disputed areas, and Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains.

To pump out as much oil as possible as quickly as possible may be in the interest of international investors, the Khartoum government and a small corrupt elite in Juba. And it may also be promoted by the chattering classes in Oxfam and the World Bank. But it does not seem to be in the interest of the owners of the oil: the ordinary Southerners present and future.


** The author prefers to remain anonymous. The author lives in South Sudan since 1984

When Antonovs fly over: history repeats istelf

An old postcard from Antonov


The story was published  12 years ago. Many Sudanese today would not notice a difference.

He arrived at a quarter to nine in the morning, and immediately became the most feared man in our little town. “De huwo!” (“it is him”) people shouted, and everybody started to run for cover.

He kept at a safe altitude of 20,000 ft, started to make a lazy circle around the town, and then made as if to disappear. But after a few minutes the noise of his engines increased again. The town had become eerily silent: the dogs had stopped barking; even the birds had stopped singing. {read more…}