The Africanists

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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.

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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.

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A democratic muddle

It appeared to be a relapse to 1966, the year in which the democracy in Uganda was given a farewell. The Ugandan army last week surrounded the parliament in Kampala to influence a debate about whether president Museveni, after having been in power for more than 31 years, would rule forever. The last time the people’s representatives were intimidated in such a shameless way was in 1966, when premier Milton Obote sent the army to parliament to enforce the adoption of a new constitution. Early this week skirmishes broke out in parliament, with chairs flying through the air.
In Kenya, in early September, the Supreme Court declared an election result null and void for the first time in African history. This remarkable decision was seen by many as a victory for democracy in Africa, because the judiciary has shown its independence of politicians. But since then, part of the Kenyan political class has done everything in its power to undermine the judges. “We will fix them”, president Kenyatta fulmined about the Supreme Court judges, who he called “thugs”. The opposition uses similar language. Raila Odinga called the president “a madman”. There is a danger now that Kenya will fall back to the days of chaos that followed the elections in late 2007. “Kenya stands on the edge of the precipice,” wrote the Star Thursday in a special editorial.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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‘One day there will be an uprising in Kenya. Things have to change’

Robert 'Rowbow'Ochola(Photo Petterik Wiggers)

Robert ‘Rowbow’ Ochola(Photo Petterik Wiggers)


With a new constitution since 2010 and with social media as a new tool for communication, Kenyan politics has been re-energised. But tribes and old political blocks still dominate the political discourse. Will there be space for young and independent candidates in the general election in August? Robert ‘Rowbow’ Ochola is as real as they come; a man from a hood in Nairobi. He is as poor as his voters.

“People are angry”, he says, “They are not happy with the beneficiaries of theft, corruption and shoddy dealings in the government. One day there will be an uprising, an uprising by the poor majority who also want a piece of the cake.

An interview:

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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.

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Only a strong judiciary can guarantee progress in 2017

Willy Mutunga and Al Capone(the Star)

Money does the talking in Africa, now that the continent is growing fast. Increasingly cartels and mafias are taking charge. Leaders can act with impunity. I will therefore in 2017 closely follow the beleaguered presidents of Gambia and Congo, because they will only resign if they get a guarantee from their successors that they may take their riches amassed through corruption with them. And that they will not have to stand trial for their actions.


Justice forges a nation, but these rights are still missing. The biggest challenge for Africa remains the development of an independent judiciary. Judges are the last hope for justice. As in South Africa, where ombudswoman Thuli Madonsela bravely continued to dig into corruption by president Zuma. She has resigned and it will in part depend on her successor whether South Africa remains a democracy, or it will become a nation of thieves as Congo is. If a citizen feels disenfranchised, he turns away from the state. Corruption in the judiciary is destroying the whole fabric of society, a process of erosion which threatens to unravel Congo this year.


Like Thuli Madonsela the Kenyan Willy Mutunga resigned last year. The Chief Justice of Kenya tried to tackle corruption in its own judicial system. He described himself as someone who tries to tame a tiger while the beast is trying to devour him. Courts can be a counterforce to the cartels. If that fight has been won, maybe democracy has a chance. Mutunga want to hand over the banner to a young, digital generation to keep watch. He has hope for citizen groups such as is in Senegal and Burkina Faso, which have ousted presidents. And civil society activists in Congo, which agitate against the entire political class. Is a new pan African civil movement emerging?


The law often brought no justice in the past. Capital punishment for murder? That one you bought off with $ 500. Accused of rape? That remedied you with $ 250. Why would you pay for a lawyer if you can bribe a judge? The result was that no one believed in judges any more, the last resort for a citizen if there is no democracy and freedom of press.


In Africa the greatest population explosion ever unfolds. Three quarters of Africans are young people and the authorities have not succeed in creating enough opportunities for them. After more than half a century of independence a strong state and economy are still unrealized goals. Strong economic growth in recent years has not lead to better politics.


Will the political class excel again by opportunism in 2017? Will the confused Robert Mugabe keep on wetting his pants? Will the Zimbabwean president depart or will he stand again? Will the magic witchdoctor of Gambia go or stay? In the soap opera that has become of African politics only a strong independent judiciary can provide a guarantee for progress.

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:

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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.

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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.

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Kenyan soccer run by thugs

One of the enduring curiosities of Kenya’s sporting scene has been the inability of our national soccer team Harambee Stars to make a mark on the world stage, despite the country’s sporting prowess in other fields from athletics, to rugby, swimming, rallying, volleyball and lately even some field sports. Clearly the country has the talent to be a multi-disciplinary sports world-beater.

This is not a unique contradiction. The top African club football team is undoubtedly TP Mazambe of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s city of Lubumbashi. Tout Puissant Mazambe (the Almighty Mazembe) was founded in 1939 by Benedictine monks. In 1967 and 1968 they won the African Cup of Champions and took the African Champions Cup in 2003 and 2004. In 2009 they won the CAF Champions League qualifying for the 2009 World Cup. The next year they became the first African club team in history to contest the final of the Fifa World Cup. They won the CAF Champions League again this year.

Coming out of what has historically been one of the most volatile African countries the incredible success of this little but mighty Lubumbashi team has been a tiny indicator of what is possible on the African continent sportswise with good leadership, management and dedication. In the case of the TP Mazembe the businessman Governor of the Province, Moise Katumbi took the team under his wing personally.

Ostensibly ‘more developed’ Kenya has had no such luck. Football in the country has been ran by politicians and thugs for so long that the ability of our national team Harambee Stars to punch anywhere near its weight has been truncated. Kenyans have taken to supporting British Premier League teams while our tribal politics afflicts the ability of genuinely impressive teams like AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia to inspire a reverberating national following. Meanwhile, a slum-based team like Mathare United has been the incubator for some of the outstanding soccer talent Kenya has exported to the rest of the world.

In an episode typifying the incompetence and thuggery that bedevils the management of our national team, they almost missed a crucial 2018 World Cup qualifier against Cape Verde earlier this week. We had beaten them at home in the first leg. While in our typical Kenyan exceptionalism some were asking, “Who is Cape Verde?!”, soccer lovers from the small islands were saying, “Here come the Kenyans. A slam dunk!” It emerged that apparently a disagreement between the Ministry of Sports and Football Kenya Federation almost cost them the return match through bungling.

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Stephen Ellis was a cool observer

       Stephen Ellis who died last week was one of the greatest Africanists of his generation. He was also a great friend to me and my family and also to RAS. He edited African Affairs from 1998 to 2006 bringing several bright young academics to the journal.

Stephen was a cool observer of Africa and took on the big themes that dominated Africa after the end of the Cold War. After graduating from Oxford, he was a volunteer teacher in Cameroon and then worked as a civil servant in London for a while before turning to academia to teach in Madagascar and study the rebellion in the 1890s there. He wrote his first book: “The Rising of the Red Shawls” as a result.

When he returned to London he became head of Africa at Amnesty International. This introduced him to the bad side of Africa’s politics during the Cold War. Stephen was a scrupulous researcher but he also became friends with people he had campaigned for and this introduced him to African politics.

We first met when he waited to be interviewed for the editorship of the journal, Africa Confidential. I was disappointed not to get the job but when I realised who I had been up against I realised why. We became good friends and colleagues and worked on several stories together.

But Stephen always wanted to dig deeper than journalism. He was an excellent interviewer, posing simple, almost casual, questions to find the threads that led to the truth. He meticulously unravelled them and pondered on their meaning and implications. Unlike one-dimensional journalism, Stephen hankered after the hidden and obscure, delving deep into topics such as the drug trade in Africa.

In 1991 he became Director of the African Studies Centre in Leiden in Holland and brought together several bright young researchers creating lively debates about African political power and making Leiden an important centre for African studies.

Here he wrote “The Criminalization of the State in Africa” with Jean-François Bayart and Béatrice Hibou. This exposed how the World Bank demand for the privatisation of state assets resulted in their transfer from station institutions to the ownership of the politically powerful. This grab for the national wealth by the politically powerful contributed to the wars and violence of the 1990s. In 2008 he was appointed Desmond Tutu Professor at the Vrije University in Amsterdam.

Stephen took on some of the most shocking and touchiest topics to research such as cannibalism in the Liberian civil war and the African drug trade. He also spent time exploring African traditional spirituality with his partner, Gerrie ter Haar.

Journalists like me were envious of his freedom to spend weeks, even months, in the field following one story. But he always came up with fascinating new tales and insights told with relish at dinner but treated with classic academic detachment in his writing.

This often landed him in hot water, especially when a national newspaper picked up a reference in The Mask of Anarchy to Charles Taylor’s cannibalism as part of traditional ritual practices in Liberia and Sierre Leone. Taylor sued but when several witnesses offered to testify to defend Stephen’s allegation, he did not pursue the case.

For exposing this and the shocking ritual violence deployed in those wars, he was showered with abuse by some and accused of giving Africa a bad name. This saddened him but did not deter him. Many Liberians and Sierra Leoneans were very pleased that the full horror of those wars had been made public.

In 2011 he published Season of Rains, an exploration and overview of politics, culture, and society as well as religion in Africa. But meanwhile he was delving into the secrets of the African National Congress. This infuriated many people who saw the ANC as a heroic organisation led by its saintly leader, Nelson Mandela. He exposed the ANC’s drug dealing in central Africa and also the killing of many young ANC recruits in camps in Angola.

Stephen claimed that the ANC had been run entirely by the South African Communist Party and that Mandela himself had been a member though he was never able to prove it conclusively. Although the ANC were angered by his exposure of less-then-heroic aspects of the party’s past, senior members admitted that the book was broadly accurate.

His last book, yet to be published, is on the Nigerian drug networks whose skill, power and reach across the world amazed even the US Drug Enforcement Agency.

Stephen was a very good man in Africa, positive, honest and brave.

To me he was a wonderful friend.

We have all lost a great Africanist and condole Gerrie and his family.

Nigeria: The most important elections of the decade

This election last weekend in Nigeria is the most important African event of the decade. The ‘Africa Rising’ story can only continue if the continent’s biggest economy is stable and its rulers can transform the lives of its 174 million people, as well as the region and the entire continent.

The choice is stark. Africa is the continent with the most potential, the least development and the greatest underused human talent and neglected potential. Nigeria is the big one: The gateway to Africa’s future. The rest of the world – political, commercial and cultural – is ready to engage and invest. All Nigeria needs is stability, good leadership and governance. This election and the policies of those who win it can either help create that stability or destroy it. Such an opportunity may not come again for another decade.

55 years of wasted opportunities have left 60% of Nigerians living in poverty. Unlike previous generations, the 90 million Nigerians under

14 years old are able to see the reality of how things work in Nigeria and how they are done elsewhere. Connected, they will know what they are entitled to. Denied access to education, healthcare and employment, they will suffer and die in the dark. Gaining these universal rights, they could make Nigeria one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world.



Je suis Nigeria

The great surge of marchers in Paris on Sunday the 10th of January was impressive and very moving but what was it for? We know what it was against:

murdering cartoonists – or anyone else – is a bad thing and should not happen. But what was the message to the world?

 The politicians will welcome this response because they can use it to introduce lots of new security measures which no one will question.

France’s security services will be given lots of money. I suspect we will soon see waves of arrests of Muslim activists in France.

Politically I expect France will swing to the right and become a less tolerant society (especially of Muslims).

 I will not be joining ‘Je Suis Charlie’. Why? Because although I would defend their right to draw and say what they like, these cartoonists did not respect or care about ordinary sincere believers who would have been deeply hurt by the violent dehumanised images of the founders of the great religions of the world. These were not just Muslims, but Christians and Sikhs and Buddhists as well. Some of those images came close to the sort of cartoons that the Nazis drew to depict Jews in the 1930s.

 I am not a believer. I was brought up a Catholic and worked for the Catholic Church in different ways for 10 years but now I would describe myself as a sceptic, an agnostic. As a good liberal I defend the right of everyone to write, draw or compose whatever they want.

Let the adult public decide whether they want to see it or not. They can mock the politicians and the Pope as much as they wish.

 But if writers and cartoonists use the power of their pens to attack and mock the sincerely held beliefs of the poor and voiceless in society who cannot reply, that is not just mean, it is unjust. It is also provocative and will lead to violence. That is not a moral judgement. It is a fact.

 France has a bad history with the Arab world. The vicious war for Algeria in the 1950s and 60s and the murder of many Arabs – some reports say more than 200 – in Paris in 1961 have not been forgotten.Muslims still feel discriminated against in jobs and at schools. Arabs I met – and still meet – in France complain that racism is directed at them far more than other Africans. Arabs remain at the bottom of society.

 But there is a terrible irony here. The Wahhabi Islam that has created Islamic militancy has its origins in a close ally of the West; Saudi Arabia. Wealthy Saudis, such as Osama bin Laden, from a country that grew rich on our need for their cheap oil, fund terrorism against us.

Just as in the 1970s and 80s much of the IRA’s money came from Britain’s ally, the United States.

 Friday’s siege and shoot out and the outpouring of solidarity with those who suffered and the people of France in general was deeply moving. The world will have sympathy for France. But was it also a nationalist march making a statement about the strength of France?

Will France now swing to the right and use the march to create a less open society?


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.

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What West Africa can learn from earlier outbreaks of ebola in East Africa

The Ebola plague in West Africa is worrying. It is the largest and most extensive outbreak since the disease was first identified in 1976. That was in Congo and consequently outbreaks have occurred in DRC again in 1995 in 2003, and in Uganda and Sudan in 2000.

The total recorded deaths recorded in these outbreaks was – according to Wikipedia – 606. All these were in rural areas. Already in West Africa the outbreak has spread to towns and more than 1000 people have died. More than 2000 are infected and numbers are still rising

Three points are worth making.

First, if this disease had broken out in London, New York or Paris there would be a cure by now; I am sure someone will come up with a shocking comparison between what we spend on slimming drugs and what we spend on fatal diseases in Africa.

As it is we are faced with more images of dangerous, disease-ridden Africa unable to help itself.

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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.”

Instability in Kenya: The Perfect Storm

After just over one year in government, it is becoming clear that the Jubilee regime would seem to be imploding in slow motion. It is one thing for a regime to be hated and feared, as Moi’s was in large parts of the country; both are very defining emotions. Uhuru Kenyatta’s regime faces the particular ignominy of becoming the laughing stock of its own people and the subject of sneering derision, as was seen on social media in response to his “digital government” insisting in this day and age on the “airlifting of presidential speeches” on the pretext of ensuring their security. A regime doesn’t have to ‘fall’ to implode; it merely needs to be perceived as becoming increasingly irrelevant or, at worst, having become its own enemy in the prosecution of its core functions as a state.

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The war against terror in Kenya could turn into a success for al Shabaab


THE PAST COUPLE of weeks have seen the government implement the most dramatic combination of an anti-terror operation and a crackdown against illegal immigrants in decades – Operation Linda Usalama.

Broadly it seems aimed at responding the security meltdown underway across the country and more specifically at the threat posed by ‘Islamic extremism’.

This operation has been accompanied by a series of massive sweeps in Nairobi and other towns seeking out illegal immigrants and terrorists supposedly associated with the originally Somali al Shabaab terror group.

Initially, these sweeps were aimed mainly at members of the Somali community and other Muslims in the context of a steadily and intensifying number of terrorist attacks over the past couple of years. By last week security forces were going house-to-house in an invasive (and for many expensive) graduation of the operation.

From grenades being thrown into churches, eateries and matatus killing and wounding a rapidly growing number of innocents; to the discovery of sophisticated improvised explosive devices (one of them in a car parked in a police station after being driven thousands of kilometres from Kismayo to the Coast) – its clear Kenya is under attack. Fear and anger have grown with every attack.

The most shocking was the brazen violent strike on the high-end Westgate Mall in Nairobi last September that resulted in 67 deaths and over 170 injuries. Most of the victims were middle class that lent events a resonance far more profound than would otherwise have been the case.

All this has been accompanied by the extra judicial assassination of some of the more outspoken Coast-based radical Muslim preachers over the same period.

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Is Someone Trying To Kill Devolution?

I am one of those who insist that Kenyans did not choose to adopt a devolved system of government because they had thought it through rationally, weighed all the options at hand, before deciding on it as the most efficient and desirable governance system given our circumstances. Rather, decades of centralised, ethnicised, authoritarian, corrupt, deeply discriminatory and unequal development as a result of the national government policies favouring Nairobi and the elites that dominate it, forced the hand of the majority who voted for it.

The attitude was, “We’ve tried everything else –political pluralism, successful agitation for basic freedoms and rights etc – and those who have controlled the center of power in Nairobi since independence continue to make off with a hugely disproportionate chunk of national cake.” On the ground, this developed into a powerful narrative that has in turn been ethnicised and politicised to the extent that it has helped define the outcome of elections in the multi-party era; the only policy pillar that stood out in ODM’s 2007 campaign, for example, was ugatuzi.

As a slogan, this was read by many Kenyans as essentially a political instrument to correct ethnic discrimination in development, especially as regards access to justice and economic opportunity. Devolution remains, in effect, the biggest rungu in the arsenal of those communities who aren’t, and probably will never be, part of the so-called “tyranny of numbers”.

A similar underlying rationale informed the ‘District Focus for Rural Development’ initiative of the Moi administration that kicked off in October 1982. In essence, this was in actual fact Kenya’s first real attempt at an affirmative action programme to more equitably distribute resources and opportunities to parts of the country that had historically been economically and politically marginalized. However, a mixture of incompetence, graft and the politics of patronage scuttled the potential of the initiative.

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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


Kenya celebrated its 50th anniversary as an independent country in december. I was struck by how low-key it was considering the scale of the milestone.

This was partly because of Nelson Mandela’s death and subsequent funeral. It isn’t in the best of taste to throw too big a party when the continent is mourning its most respected and beloved son.

However, it is also the case that the past nine months since the Jubilee coalition controversially won the election have been challenging ones.

The swagger and hubris of May to September has been somewhat tempered. One simple reason for this is that it is easier to run a campaign than a government; especially a government that you know contains within it a massive bloc of officials whose resentment of you is virulent and seethes below the surface.

Thus it is that those who were thumping their chests in May today plead to be given time to deliver; for the public to cut them some slack as they grapple with multiple governance challenges.

That has not, however, tempered the hubris of commercial types unable to smell the political coffee, who continue to believe that Kenya can grow its way out of its unresolved fundamental political contradictions.

This administration has emerged to be an alliance between the Gikuyu and Kalenjin elites, their followers and the corporate sector narrowly defined.

The youthful Nandi Hills MP, Alfred Keter, has been persistent in warning Deputy President William Ruto essentially that ‘the Gikuyu are out to use and dump’ the Kalenjin in the political alliance that is Jubilee.

While there are some observers who have dismissed this as the mere posturing of coalition partners grumbling that they aren’t being allowed to ‘eat’ enough (partly true), others have argued its indicative of a deeper malaise among the Kalenjin vis-à-vis their already totally unlikely and deeply uncomfortable political marriage. I tend towards the former view.

The alliance’s durability is heavily dependent on impunity with regard to grand corruption. The more the pigs can gorge themselves at the trough, the less whining one will hear out of this regime.

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The greatest leader of the 20th century

Almost no one in the late 1980s believed apartheid would end peacefully. The government was in trouble but the core of its system that kept the whites in power looked solid. It was under attack on the streets of townships – but children with stones and burning tyres, though persistent, were no match for a brutal well-armed police force. And the government was becoming more and more aggressive in killing or imprisoning opponents at home and attacking its enemies abroad. As the country looked increasingly like an archipelago of white-ruled bastions amid a turbulent black population, the rhetoric was becoming more and more paranoid. However, the main opposition organization, the African National Congress, was suppressed in South Africa, ineffective except as an inspiration. Based in Lusaka, Zambia, it poured out aggressive Soviet-styled propaganda about revolution but could do little else.

However, the ground was shifting beneath the feet of both the apartheid government and the ANC. In 1988 I was summoned by one of its senior members and told that there were rumours that Nelson Mandela was talking to the government. There had been an unsubstantiated report that he had held a discussion with some of its senior members. The official hinted that the ANC leadership in exile was no longer sure that Mandela was keeping to the ANC line. The implication was that Mandela was no longer a reliable representative.

The rumour turned out to be true. Mandela had broken the fundamental rule of the ANC: never to have contact with the enemy. He had done it entirely on his own initiative, disclosing it to no one. In 1987 he met Kobie Coetzee, the Justice Minister, and two years later, President P.W. Botha. He offered talks about talks but said that only the ANC itself could authorise negotiations. It was as if he, completely removed from the political scene for more than 20 years, cut off from his followers who dared not even speak his name, had seen a spark of light in a very dark tunnel.

In secretly agreeing to that meeting Mandela gambled everything. Already a prisoner for 24 years, he had second or third hand information about events in South Africa and even less information about the intentions of the South African government or the US and Europe. He knew that the Central Committee of the ANC would have forbidden it if they knew and would have expelled him if he went ahead. It was an extraordinary gamble. That vision and courage displayed here made him a great leader.

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Do not upset a Big Man

I knew from the moment that President Robert Mugabe said he would step down from the presidency of Zimbabwe if he lost the election that he knew he would win it. If he had not been certain of winning, he would not have called the election. Power – military, political, bureaucratic – is what he understands, loves and has enjoyed for 33 years. It’s more than love – it’s an addiction. Other African presidents try to cajole him. He charms and patronises them. British Prime Ministers and American presidents lecture him. He swats away their words and plays the colonialist card. Opposition movements challenge him. He crushes them with violence. Then he charms them.

Mugabe will leave power when he wants to – or when his body gives out.

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The Case of Kenya and the ICC: Diplomatic Earthquake

Everyone is so relieved that the Kenyan election this year did not result in a repeat of ethnic violence after the 2007 election, that we seem to have forgotten that both President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto have been summoned to appear at the International Criminal Court in The Hague charged with crimes against humanity.

This week Kenyatta was invited to London to attend the conference on Somalia, Kenya’s troublesome northern neighbour. Everyone else charged with crimes against humanity by the ICC has been arrested on sight and locked up to await trial.  But instead of slipping on the handcuffs this week, Mr Cameron grasped Mr Kenyatta warmly by the hand and welcomed him to London. He argues that Mr Kenyatta is cooperating with the court. That remains to be seen. Kenyatta must report to the ICC in The Hague on July 9th, Ruto on May 28th.

There are precedents here. Mrs Thatcher embraced Augusto Pinochet of Chile, another murderous dictator but one who helped Britain during the Falklands war, because he too was an enemy of Argentina. And Tony Blair embraced Colonel Gadaffi when he dropped his nuclear programme. But their crimes were committed before the ICC was established. {read more…}

Sudan:Let us treat the root causes


Partial negotiations of the conflicts in the Sudanese crises are not the best tool for peace in the country. Sudan is facing several serious crises, in Darfur, Blue Nile and the Nuba where hundreds of thousands civilians are displaced. The partial negotiations in Darfur have failed so far in bringing sustainable peace.

Sudanese conflicts need a comprehensive solution that entails having all the problems facing Sudan be tackled by involving all the people of Sudan. The vision should be a democratic transformation in the Sudan, provisions of security to the affect areas and inclusiveness of all the Sudanese people in matters that affects their lives and their country.

I believe if the International community, the African Union and the Arab league are really looking for sustainable peace and the end to the ongoing Sudan crises, the best solution to the Sudanese conflicts is to discourage partial negotiation of conflicts and rather support a comprehensive agenda that will address the entire problem. Let us treat the root causes.

Such inclusiveness of the opposition and the rebel groups fighting the Sudan government is for the best interest of the people of Sudan. The governing NCP is not in favor, but by rejecting such an approach it will unite its opponents. The opposition in Sudan needs to unite to address the root cause of the Sudanese problems.

On 5 May 2006, the government of Sudan signed an accord with the faction of the Darfuri movement SLA led by Mini Minnawi. However, the agreement was rejected by two other, smaller groups, like the Justice and Equality Movement. It is clear evidence that the partial agreement did not address the problems of Sudan and did not live long.

Last time the government and rebels in South Kordofan met was in June 2011 when they signed an AU brokered framework agreement. That agreement however was scrapped by president Omer Hassan al-Bashir under the apparent pressure from the army as it calls to establish political partnership with the rebels.

Sudanese officials said they are willing to negotiate a solution for the conflict in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan but refuse to include any national agenda in the talks.

Peace, justice and democracy are being denied to the already suffering majorities of the citizens of Sudan. The world needs to find immediate solutions. Or does the international community want to see civilians dying due to daily bombing in Sudan?


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.

The controversial legacy of Thatcher in Africa

cartoon Daily Nation


Mrs Thatcher played a pivotal role in the ending of Apartheid in spite of herself. She once declared the African National Congress to be a “typical terrorist organisation… Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land”.


But she gave these “terrorists” diplomatic protection. In the mid 1980s the South African government blew up the ANC offices in London and tried to kidnap its members in London including Thabo Mbeki and Oliver Tambo. She was obliged to provide armed bodyguards for their most senior officials.


A close aide once told me that she opposed Apartheid more on the grounds that it was a sin against economic liberalism rather than a crime against humanity. She also was bitterly against sanctions of any sort – they were a crime against free trade. She even went on denouncing them after Britain and the rest of the Commonwealth had imposed a ban on sporting contacts and other marginal sanctions. She boasted that she alone had managed to fight off demands for stronger sanctions.


Advised by her husband Dennis who had business interests in South Africa, she felt that anything that damaged wealth creation must be bad for South Africa. She was also a great admirer of Laurens van der Post, the South African writer and traveller later exposed as a fraud, who also opposed sanctions on the country. He introduced her to Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the Zulu leader, who played an ambivalent role in the struggle against apartheid, splitting from the ANC in 1979 and accepting “homeland” status for Kwazulu. His movement, Inkatha, helped the South African police repress ANC rebellion in the townships.

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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”

Kenya elections: Tribal politics lead to violence and bad governance

Go into one of the many new shopping halls in Nairobi and you will be amazed how much Kenya has become part of the global consumer society. The latest computers, mobile phones, honey from Australia, greasy unhealthy hamburgers and brown bread to make you healthy again, everything is for sale. Leave the shopping hall and outside you will be welcomed by huge potholes, traffic jams on bad roads, begging and stealing policemen, dangerous thugs. Between private and public lies a huge gap. Leave Kenya to the private sector and it will be fine, leave it to the greedy inapt government and it will be decay.

Kenya has modernised so much over the last 20 years or so. But it is still so tribal. I don’t know whether there is a contradiction here. After the violent elections in 2007 everybody had his tribal identity reinforced. Not just in rural areas, but also in the cities. Don’t think that only “ignorant rural people” stick to their tribe. Professors and other intellectuals do the same. During the violence five years back every Kenyan was forced to acknowledge that he or she belongs to a certain ethnic group. Because the tribes were at war and one had to take sides. Also during elections it seems your group is under pressure, so you come to its rescue. You can’t be neutral, it seems.


Abdul “Dubai”, a Kenyan of Arab origen, campaigns in Kisumu. Photo’s Patrick Wiggers

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Why the next Pope should be an African

Over the decades that I have travelled in Africa I have met only four African atheists. Africans seem naturally networked to religion. All meetings — on politics, sport and even business — begin with a prayer. God is invoked on every occasion, private or public. Religion is comfortably woven into daily life. Amid the current economic boom that most African countries are enjoying, huge new numbers of churches are being built, some of them vast halls.

The Catholic Church, the largest Christian denomination, is part of the fabric of all African societies. Its schools, community centres and health clinics are trusted far more than state ones and often closer to the people. In wars in Africa that I have covered as a journalist, I found Catholic parishes became refuges in which food and medicine were provided — like the monasteries in the chaos of early medieval Europe. The priests, nuns and church workers who run them are often the best informed about what is happening and the most committed to the local community, unlike foreign aid agencies, which are forced to pull out when there is danger.

The Catholic Church in Europe used to be like that, part of the warp and weft of society. And if it wanted to become so again, it should send for an African Pope.

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Will elections in Kenya be the road to hell again, or a new beginning?

President Mwai Kibaki leaves with a $200,000 golden handshake, but what kind of political settlement will he leave in his wake? Everyone is strapped in and the Kenyan election roller coaster has begun. A cacophony of electioneering propaganda is being blasted out through every medium. The political godfathers are flying around the country firing up their supporters, screwing down the vote, constituency by constituency and promising heaven after the March 4th poll. Kenya is poised at the top of a ride that could fling the country violently off the rails and send it to hell – as it did after the 2007 election. Or it could take the country elegantly into a dynamic new era, a transformation that would make it one of the most democratic countries in the world.

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Africa’s image and reality

© Petterik Wiggers

© Petterik Wiggers

The debate about the “image of Africa” seems to be reaching a consensus. The starving African child represents a reality that is rare and local. We must clear our minds of that image as representative of Africa, all of it, always. The growth figures show that Africa is apparently doing well economically and many of the conflicts, which were always local, often quite small but created terrible suffering, have come to an end. Medication for AIDS and other diseases has become more widely available. No one speaks of the hopeless continent any more.

Some people have tried to say that the image of the starving child was “wrong”. But it wasn’t invented. From Biafra, to Ethiopia and more recently Somalia and Niger, it is an occasional shocking reality which we will almost certainly see again. On the other hand there is a new image which projects Africa as the new China, the driver of the world economy in a few years time. This image shows Africa as young, smart, dripping in bling and driving a flashy car. These are simplistic reversals of the old image, and as unrealistic as the hopeless continent.

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Men and The Horror Of Rape: Patriarchy

Patriarchy in Africa

Most will know, but a reminder still. An Indian student drives back from a movie with her friend, on a bus. She gets raped, brutally molested and thrown out of the moving vehicle in Delhi, like an emptied soda bottle. The woman is now in Singapore, fighting for her life, in a hospital that is specialised in organ transplant, while suffering ‘significant brain injury’ (editor’s note: the lady has since succumbed to her wounds). The perpetrators have been arrested, riots have rocked the streets of Delhi, and a debate has exploded in India on the way women are seen, used, abused and sacrificed.

Africa has its share of sexual and domestic violence, too. What happened in India happens in Africa, too. Large scale sexual abuse in Eastern Congo, tens of thousands of reported rapes in South Africa. Abuse of children by family members in the slums of Nairobi. There’s a war in the bedroom, and very few men dare speak about it.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?
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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…}

Achebe’s “There Was a Country” risks opening old wounds

There Was a Country – A Personal History of Biafra

Chinua Achebe

Allen Lane, 318pp £20.00

The author is one of Africa’s finest novelists, the subject is one of Africa’s greatest tragedies, the accusations he makes could not be more serious, and his prognosis for Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is grim indeed. The combination should make for a compelling read. Instead the result is a quirky mix of opinion and autobiography, history and polemic, uneven in quality and partisan in perspective.

It has been more than forty years since Nigeria’s civil war over the breakaway state of Biafra ended and Chinua Achebe, its best known son, has at last broken his silence on the subject: “It is for the sake of the future of Nigeria, for our children and grandchildren, that I feel it is important to tell Nigeria’s story, Biafra’s story, our story, my story.”

The story he tells has all the elements that were to become so familiar across the continent: ethnic divisions, religious rivalries and regional tensions, a problematic colonial legacy, and an elite of venal politicians and ambitious soldiers who plundered national resources. {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.
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                                    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

My son’s interest in my penis, and what it means for African culture

A few but significant lies about African tradition and culture made news headlines in May and June in South Africa.

This is not, of course, the first time personal shame, prejudice and anxieties about children and what they can’t see, hear, or know have been submitted as a defining part of African culture. Or any culture. However, this time the anxieties were about penises and their cultural status. Children seeing their father’s penis and what it all means in African culture. But do beware of modern African primitivists. They come in all shapes, colours, sexes, and genders.

For readers not familiar with the big penis story, it started with Brett Murray’s painting, The Spear, which features a figure that resembles the ruling African National Congress’ (ANC) and South African President Jacob Zuma with his cock exposed.
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Black men and women are the most post-modern subjects of all

The Spear, a satirical art piece by Brett Murray, caused controversy in May 2012 in South Africa

References to African traditions and culture in the context of the controversy over The Spear, the painting portraying South African President Jacob Zuma with his penis showing by pop-satirist Brett Murray, brought back to mind one of the relatively big media stories of 2011 in South Africa.

That other story was the the story about the ‘over-supply of coloureds’ triggered by the comments made by Mr Jimmy Manyi, President of the Black Management Forum and current Head of Government Communication and Information Services.

Like the controversy evoked by The Spear, the ‘coloured over-supply’ story went big because of the central actors involved in the story. In addition to Manyi, the other central protagonists involved in the event, were the minister in the presidency Mr Trevor Manuel, and Mr Paul Ngobeni, at the time legal adviser to the minister of defence. {read more…}

Sierra Leone, a place in the forest called Rogbonko

When we go to the African continent, we go back to Mother Earth. And that return must be a warm welcome. It can be reflected in a person or a particular situation that will occur just like that, without you foreseeing it. I had that moment in Rogbonko, a village deep in the forest of Sierra Leone. I was there making an audio documentary about the place and its developing projects. They are the initiative from the writer Aminatta Forna and her cousin Morlai Forna, who have their roots in the village. My stay revealed something about myself, as happens in most of my stories.  It is something that I want to share in this writing.  We think we travel to meet new people and other cultures. But underneath all of that, I also agree that we travel to learn more about ourselves.
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The truth behind Dutch diplomacy in South Sudan

Admittedly, travelling abroad with the Dutch deputy development cooperation minister is not the most exciting journalistic assignment. Dutch involvement in Africa has waned in recent years. There was a time when former development minister Jan Pronk used his influence to get involved in the peace negotiations in South Sudan.

Nowadays Dutch interest is limited to development aid: building water wells, agricultural projects, aid for setting up programmes to improve justice and training police. “The spearheads of the new policy,” as the caretaker deputy minister stresses during his visit to South Sudan.

But the journalists travelling with the minister knew that already; we want to hear news. So I focus on the opening of the new Dutch embassy in Juba. It’s been open for 11 months already, but now Mr Knapen has come to perform an official ceremony. Could there be a snippet of Dutch news? For, what did Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders have to do with the new embassy?

The Dutch government has closed ten embassies across the world (five of them in Africa), including the economically important country of Cameroon. So why did it open one in South Sudan of all places?

For some time I’ve been hearing rumours in Dutch diplomatic circles  that this embassy has been set up in exchange for support from the Freedom Party for the coalition deal. Put simply, in the conflict in Sudan, the Christian south has seceded from the not-so-friendly Muslim state in the north. So is it an anti-Islam decision?

Although the Dutch government has already fallen, the caretaker deputy minister declines to confirm that Mr Wilders is behind the move. “I can’t understand where you got that from,” Mr Knapen says innocently.

Mr Knapen is quite prepared to talk about why South Sudan rather than Sudan was selected for development aid. The embassy in Khartoum remains open, but no Dutch aid is given to Sudan anymore. Many Western countries have followed this example and Khartoum isn’t pleased. In response, diplomats posted in South Sudan are not given visas to travel via Sudan.

As there is nothing new to report from the Netherlands, there is plenty to report about South Sudan itself. In recent days, the press has been dominated by a leaked letter President Salva Kir sent to his ministers and other government employees about corruption.

Four billion dollars have disappeared in the past few years. President Kir has called on those responsible to hand the money back. At a meeting with Vice President Riek Macha, Mr Knapen “expressed his concern” – as they say in diplomatic language – about corruption in the country. He promised to consult other donor countries to take joint action.

“Of course, there is corruption,” Mr Knapen says after the meeting. So, it’s been said. But then he says something that sounds like an appeal for people’s understanding:

“The information from the IMF which looked at Juba’s government income and spending, is that it might not all be down to corruption. When South Sudan suddenly started getting oil revenues in 2005, there was no Central Bank, there wasn’t even a Finance Ministry. And that in a non-existent state, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

Then Mr Knapen adds: “I am glad that President Kirr is taking action. Because this is a huge amount.”

Harsh reality
Harsh diplomatic language, but for whose ears: for South Sudan or for home consumption, where every cent of development aid needs to be defended vigorously?

Reports about large-scale corruption first came in five years ago, when South Sudan became autonomous. In the beginning, the Western donor countries looked the other way. After all, South Sudan was young and inexperienced. However, in the past two years, representatives from donor countries have been telling Juba that they are no longer prepared to ignore the corruption.

The United States handed over a list of corrupt ministers to President Kirr some time ago, but the president failed to take action. Critical members of the governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement say that misappropriation of funds has been rife for years.

The corruption keeps a system of patronage in place that indirectly ensureds stability for the political class. Corruption will be allowed to continue in the interests of stability for a while. A visit by the Dutch caretaker deputy minister won’t change that. That’s because there is a difference between harsh reality and diplomatic truth.

The Other Virgin Myth

© Aernout Zevenbergen

Usually the question comes from a middle-aged man. White. Well-educated and well-read. A man of the world who engages. He engages not just with his co-workers, but also with his wife and his children. He is part-and-parcel of South Africa, albeit at times from a distance. He has sincere ideals for his society, and is willing to do his best in tackling some of its most pressing issues.

He wants to know what happens around him. And he wants to make sense. He wants to make sense, so he can play his role as best he can. According to his own set of morals and ethics, which have – over the past few decades or so – shown to be malleable and flexible.

So, he attended a presentation on the theme of “What does it mean to be a man, today, in Africa?” He came, so he could listen and engage, be tickled and surprised. To hear stories of men, of manhood, of masculinities. In an era of great intimate violence. Violence against women, against children. Against toddlers even.

For the first half an hour, the speaker would try and take his audience on a journey. A journey through a different kind of Africa. Not one based on horrendous atrocities and indescribable suffering, but one based on individual men speaking about their hopes and frustrations, their dreams and their disillusionments. Honest talks. Heart’s talks. Subtle nuances, delicate complexities.

Experiences of neither victims nor perpetrators, but instead of a selection of men, from all walks of life. They are experiences that can open up the way to understand some of the currents driving other men, men who are perpetrators, acting out their pent-up anger on others through violent crime.

What is the smell of rage in your life?, for example.

Or: How does temptation feel to you?

Maybe even: Does bliss in your life come in a green, or in an orange wrapping?

After those first thirty minutes, the floor is open. Questions come. A wide variety of questions.

And surely that one; the one that always comes. As if it is the most ideal lubricant out of a potentially awkward situation. A situation where a mirror has been raised, and everyone looks at the delicate insides of one’s own life. One’s own role in this amazingly vibrant society called “South Africa”, which unfortunately also has a few deep scars and – even deeper – carries a hint of trauma.

“You have spoken about fear and anger. But isn’t the level of sexual violence better explained by the belief that having sex with a virgin will cure someone of HIV?”

Aha – the Virgin Myth.

Or what I prefer to call “The Myth of the Myth”.

Allow me to take you on a little journey.

Pagan Myths

With only a few more weeks to go before Christmas, what does your lounge look like? Will you install a tree, again? Hang Angel’s Hair from it’s branches? Decorate it with shiny balls? Where will Father Christmas be allowed to enter your home, and leave his presents? Or has the economic downturn affected Santa Claus such that your household will have to settle for symbolic gifts? Will your children perform in a Nativity Play, with a donkey, three wise man, a stable and a bright star?

Christmas as we know it today has become a hodgepodge of rituals, customs, traditions and beliefs. It’s a melting pot of over two thousand years of myths from all over the Northern Hemisphere; of stories that have merged in today’s birthplace of global culture, the USA, and have since disseminated again.

Santa Claus? His mythical origins lie in Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands, where he was called Sinterklaas, the patron saint of children. Up to today, his birthday is celebrated with an official arrival, broadcast life on national television, of the “holy man” from Spain on an old steamboat, carrying gifts for those who behaved well, and adorned with ‘Black Petes’ who will spank those who acted out of bounds.

Your Christmas tree with ‘candles’ on it’s branches? Most likely the remnant of a ritual found widely in Western Europe of millennia ago, whereby a tree was slowly burnt as a way of honouring the darkest of dark days in Winter. The reindeers and their sleigh likewise find their origins in Scandinavia.

And then there is, of course, the Mass of Christ, which only centuries after the birth of Christ is supposed to have happened, was set by Church authorities to be celebrated on December 25. Almost all over Europe, this date originally hosted a pagan celebration – a feast to honour the end of the darkness of Fall, the return of the Light. To aid the spread of the Gospel, Church Fathers decided to ease the competition by co-opting many of the pagan dates and many of the pagan celebrations.

Christmas is a period filled to the brink with stories. The dominant one, of course, is the story of a Virgin and her Immaculate Conception. For most Christians this story is a factual description of what happened, just over two millennia ago. Their Christmas tree has no other meaning than pure decoration. Every other ritual with its roots in paganism has been stripped of its pagan meaning, and now is exclusively seen as a prop in ‘spending quality time with loved ones’. The story of the ritual has changed, so the ritual itself could stay. It’s a matter of the baby and the bath water.

Our species is one that needs stories. We have been endowed with consciousness; this ever grinding buzz that tries to make sense of the world around us, and the world inside of us. Stories are the vehicle that connect what we see around us, what we feel inside us, what we think, what we perceive, what we dream, hope and aspire.

The thing with storytelling is, however, that some stories at one point or another start living separate lives, detached from their source. Stories tend to become uprooted. It’s almost as if they are caught by a bubble that encapsulates them, and takes them up, up and away to a world of their own.

What I packed in the back of my head from his words are that statistics and stories are two different things. While at some times statistics help us understand the world around us, at other times stories are as efficient, and maybe even more. Statistics appeal to reason, stories appeal to emotion. Human beings are made up of both. Both aspects are so crucial in our lives that each of our brain halfs is dedicated to one of them. The right hand side provides us with everything needed to be creative, to be empathetic, to appreciate, to communicate. The left hand side gives us logic and reason.

Stories and stats

If one looks at the different stories of the Virgin and Her Immaculate Conception and one compares historical facts from the Gospels with historical facts from independent sources, it becomes clear that Mary must have been pregnant for about ten years.

The stats say something about the storytelling. They give clues as to how to wonder and wander through what is written. When facts contradict each other, it challenges a reader to take his own responsibility. When facts contradict each other, interpretation will have to bridge the gaps. And interpretation is just one shape creativity can take. There is nothing wrong with that.

Interpretation is what happens in the most advanced departments of science, at the best universities in the world, especially in the cutting-edge sciences of astrophysics and quantum mechanics. No scientist really can claim to know what is happening now at the tiniest level of existence, or what happened during the Big Bang. What the wisest of scientist will tell you, however, is something along the lines of: “This is what we now, knowing what we know and having tested what we have tested, think…”

The best of theologians will give you the same answer. Only the fear-driven ones claim to have found the one and only Path To Truth, and will do so while speaking in tongues. If the divine mystery could really be understood by humans, it wouldn’t be much of a mystery. Some mysteries therefore are beyond understanding.

The best any sensible and reasonable person can say about the Myth of the Immaculate Conception is: “We have no idea how it happened, and even if it happened. But this is what the story means to me…”


What then about that other myth of virgins and their purifying effect on people with hiv? What about this persistent Myth of the Myth?

The myth of the purifying virgin has roamed the planet for centuries, if not millennia. It was alive in Victorian England in the 19th century, and it can be traced today to certain regions in contemporary South Africa.

Let’s just for sake of ease dissect this particular Myth of Having Sex with the Virgin, as it tries to explain sexual violence. The myth goes more or less as follows: being infected with a virus makes the infected person ‘dirty’. To be cleansed of that dirt takes a cleansing procedure. The best procedure is to be engulfed by the opposite of dirt, which is anything or anyone completely clean from outside influence.

On this earth of ours, only novices are believed to come close to that quality of purity. Children. Virgins. Just like the Virgin Mary, or so the story goes, was needed to receive the embodiment of Good, it is believed a virgin is also needed to wash away evil.

However, as an explanation for the level of sexual violence, the Myth of the Myth lacks everything needed to make a compelling case. Three quick points to explain that.

  • The myth needs HIV positive men to make up a large chunk of the rapists of babies and girls, and they also all need to know their status, otherwise the myth can’t make any impact on them; one of the major problems however in the fight against aids has been the difficulty in getting men to test for their status
  • All these HIV positive men who have gone for testing and waited for the results then need to actually go and visit a sangoma who advises them to go and rape to cleanse themselves; if that were the case then the legal system in SA would have or should have taken all these sangoma’s to court for incitement; nothing of the sort has happened, no warning was ever issued, no public outcry for that to happen has ever materialised
  • All rapes of children and babies must have happened in communities where there is a substantial following of the Myth; this is not the case, in general the coloured comunities of South Africa do not embrace neither sangoma’s nor the practice of muti, still these same communities are plagued by these crime, with with the infamous case of Baby Tshepang in Louisvale near Upington being a case in point – it was this case that gave birth to the Myth of the Myth.

It should be clear that the (possible) existence of a belief in a curing effect of having sex with a virgin can not even make a dent in trying to explain the levels of sexual violence in South Africa.

Journalists & “Dark Africa”

However, as myths go, it is especially popular amongst European and American journalists. They will never admit to believing the Myth itself; they claim to be reasonable and rational beings. Waves of journalists however have created a monster where there was none before. Rape in post-war Liberia? “Liberians believe that having sex with a virgin will cure them of HIV.” Sexual violence in rural areas near Livingstone, Zambia? “There is this belief…”

Is there?


Apart from a very, very, very few cases no (suspected) rapist has at any time in any court in South Africa or elsewhere hid behind this argument. So, if close to all perpetrators deny having acted upon the myth, why does it stubbornly hang around?

Because it is an ideal emergency exit out of a nasty situation for everyone else. A lubricant out of a moral quagmire. The Myth of the Myth lays all responsibility for the outrageous levels of sexual violence in South Africa in some dark belief in muti and voodoo. With the implications of course being: “Once they become like us, modern beings relying on reason and reason alone, this problem will be eradicated.”

By laying the blame exclusively in the lap of “them” everyone else can walk away from everything else that for the last centuries wreaked havoc, and so laid the foundations of today’s society. Even the horrendously malformed founding stones that allowed for all the privileges to end up where they have ended up.

Laying the blame on “them” and “their primitive ways” is washing one’s hands in innocence.

A story.

A comforting story, a cloak of warm ignorance.

It is a story which, like a bubble, has detached itself from its source, and has taken on a life of its own.

The Myth of the Myth has a stench to it. One of indifference. One of not wanting to take responsibility for events in our society. Of building walls between “us” and “them”, and letting “them” rot in their own problems.

For the story to come alive of an Immaculate Conception and all its implications preached from pulpits on the need to love our neighbours, it needs a thorough cleansing of another Virgin Myth. Only when that myth is erased can the gap be bridged between “us” and “them”.


Aernout Zevenbergen is the author of the book  “Spots of a leopard – on being a man”. These days Aernout is a psychological counsellor in Nyon, Switzerland where he offers Skype counselling and individual counselling to international clients, humanitarian workers and journalists. His specialties are trauma treatment, psychology for men, and life transformations

Stranded in the war of Sudan’s Nuba mountains

I don’t want to start writing this story. I’ve been stuck in a rebel area in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, surrounded by hostile government soldiers, without any way to reach the safety of the outside world for several weeks now. I feel smothered by lethargy. Hope leads to hopelessness. Writing takes energy but energy creates expectations. In order to get through this I have to put my feelings on standby.

A new war has broken out in Sudan. In 1955, the black South Sudanese started a rebellion against domination and exploitation by the Arab people of northern Sudan. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement ended decades of fighting and eventually led to the independence of South Sudan on 9 July 2011. But the CPA didn’t solve Sudan’s fundamental problem: is this an Arab or a black African nation?

The black tribes in the Nuba mountains and neighboring Blue Nile State, as well as in the western region of Darfur, continue to resist marginalization and Arab domination. Civilians are the main target in the Nuba mountains; in order to cover this vicious conflict, I have to be here where it’s happening and so here I am. The resistance is being led by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army–North (SPLA/N).

Everyday, government bombers fly overhead. The Sudanese government is using the same tactics it used during the first war: bomb the civilians in the rebel areas into submission. Tens of thousands of Nuba people have fled into the mountains to escape the bombs.

They can’t do much farming and the blockades around the cities mean that trading has stopped as well. Students don’t go to school because the bombing is indiscriminate. There is no medicine because foreign aid organizations have been prevented from entering the area. A few weeks ago, a pilot took a chance and flew me in. It’s been raining since then and the landing strip is just a mud pool.

There is no way to tell one day from another and sometimes I wonder if the sun will ever shine again. I want to be a cow and just endlessly chew and chew. Watching insects is a way to pass the time; sand flies during the day, mosquitoes in the evening and fleas during the night. Ants bite me anywhere they can and leave nasty red bumps behind. Tonight I’m going to imitate the goats: they climb up a rock-face and then slide down, scraping insects and bites off their hides. I want to scrape away the itching and the pain.

Julud was a mountain village during the first war. After 2002, the thousand inhabitants came down the mountain and created a new village; first there was a little shop, then a market with ten little shops and then more houses. Every day I go and eat my plate of beans at Arafa’s, she’s an attractive young tea lady. She serves beans with sugar or beans with crumbled cookies and sugar. She also has milk with sugar and tea with sugar. People in Sudan like sugar with everything.

Arafa brings Adam some cucumber and sour milk. When fighting broke out in the regional capital Kadugli four months ago, Adam fled to the rebel-held territory. “President Omar al-Bashir’s government wants to wipe out us Nubas,” he says loudly.

Government soldiers ransacked his house in Kadugli; anything that had any value was taken, including the furniture, the roof, the toilet and the kitchen sink. Then the soldiers brought in a bulldozer and flattened his house: Adam has nothing any more. His long political tirade in Arafa’s teahouse betrays a deep hatred of ‘the Arabs’. “It’s a genocide of the Nuba people.”

Adam tells about a bombing that took place yesterday, some ten kilometres up the road. Two women were killed by shrapnel wounds to the stomach. Exhausted rebel fighters stumble into Julud from the front lines; the government troops went on the attack but were intercepted, eight people dead.

The SPLA/N commander decides to move me to a safer area, further away from the front line. It’s cheaper in Tima; smugglers have managed to bring goods in from the besieged towns. There are tubes of toothpaste and lollies on the dusty shelves of the little shops and on market day, even a few bottles of fizzy drink. The richest person in the village has a teaching diploma and a television. In the evening, the silence is broken by a police siren screaming on a TV show.

There’s excitement in the air the following evening; the fighters welcome a man, they clap him on the shoulders and embrace him: “SPLA oyé,” they say jubilantly. He escaped from the nearby garrison town of Logowa and, after a two-month trek through hostile territory, finally made it to SPLA/N territory. He laughs, “I’m free here, I’m home.”

Will I ever get away from here? Will this ever end? I haven’t got anything left to read and there’s nothing else to do. I’m even running out of paper to write on.


Dadaab: Anyone here dying and speaks English?

Galgayo, Somalia - Petterik Wiggers/Hollandse Hoogte

Cynical press
International networks and journalists shamelessly focus their cameras on hunger and death. African leaders are embarrassed. Ethiopia wants to get rid of its image as the famine capital of the world. That’s one of the reasons its government has worked hard since 1991 towards guaranteeing food security. In his book Famine and Foreigners, Ethiopia since Live Aid, Peter Gill describes how in 2003 and 2008 the government tried to keep famine victims away from Western cameras. And now it is reluctant to let foreign correspondents cover the food crisis in the Horn of Africa.

“Anyone here been raped and speaks English?” The title of this book by war correspondent Edward Behr reflected the cynicism in the press coverage of the violence in Congo in the early 1960s. Africa had only recently become independent and Western journalists found it difficult to write in an informed way about the continent. The de-colonisation of the Western mind had yet to begin.

Visible bones
“Anyone here dying and speaks English?” Fifty years later this line haunts me during a visit to Dadaab, the refugee camp in Northern Kenya crammed with Somali refugees. Nobody knows the exact dimensions of the disaster. The epicentre lies in inaccessible territory in Somalia. There is no mass starvation in Dadaab, but the journalists need shocking images to reinforce their tales of misery so they go looking for death. There is no room for subtlety.

A staggering cow eating the straw from a nomadic dwelling, a desperate goat sucking the toes of his herder, these images may give an idea of the dimensions of the crisis for local cattle herders, but don’t contain enough drama to titillate the dulled appetites of Western readers. So the reporter goes for the kill. “Put your baby a bit more in the light, please”, a photographer asks a mother. And yes, take its clothes off – otherwise the bones are not visible.

Aid workers larded their announcement of the disaster at the beginning of July with superlatives: the worst drought since, the biggest humanitarian tragedy now. And the ace in the pack: worse than 1984’s famine in Ethiopia.

Referring to “the worst” seems the only way to get attention. Journalists copied the fundraisers’ chorus of woe. Hunger caused by a war raging in Somalia became a famine in the entire Horn of Africa. Some media even started talking about “the famine in Africa”.

When asked what he needed most, a Somali herder near the border with Kenya told me “I need respect”. Do aid workers and journalists show respect for the victims when they toss around figures like “four million dead in Congo” or “hundreds of thousands killed in Darfur genocide”.

When will figures become people? There is great suffering in Somalia, but how can aid workers claim that thousands of people have already died there because of the famine? Tens, hundreds, thousands? Is there a difference? Or have these calculations been made on the back of a matchbox to feed the journalists and the fundraisers? It seems perfectly understandable that African leaders are reluctant to join the hype created around this serious food crisis.