Tag Archives: African Union

The malign influence of Africa’s King of kings

As the last stand of Muammar Gaddafi plays out in blood and bullets across the Libyan desert, it’s worth remembering that Libya is the most African of the North African countries and the toppling of the green revolutionary regime will have far more impact in sub-Saharan Africa than either Mubarak’s or Ben Ali’s departures. This is no accident, or ethnic generalisation; Gaddafi, spurned by the Arab League for his increasingly eccentric ways, and their ability to see right through his blatant power grabs, deliberately turned his attention on Africa, trying to make Libya the head of a new African polity. The ‘United States of Africa’ is his dream; so is the African congress of chiefs and tribal leaders which in 2008 crowned Gaddafi Africa’s ‘King of kings‘.

This culminated, unsuccessfully, in the bizarre African Union summit last year in Kampala where he tried to get himself elected as AU Chairperson for the second time in a row, employing some of the techniques which have served him so well in Libya over the years. These techniques failed, with the AU electing Malawi’s Bingu Wa Mutharika instead (followed this year by Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang, showing that it wasn’t Gaddafi’s politics that the AU had a problem with). Nonetheless, since the 1990s Gaddafi has exerted an increasing and often malign influence on the continent, and there are a few countries who might be affected by his departure.

Most obviously, there’s Chad; the two countries share a common border, which doesn’t prevent either of them from sending in the troops when the time is right. Gaddafi brought Idriss Deby, the Chadian president, to power in 1990 by supporting him financially and militarily, and continues to dabble. Deby has subsequently denounced Gaddafi for supporting Chadian rebels trying to overthrow him.

Gaddafi supported these particular rebels, based in Chad’s far east, because of their proximity to Sudan, and the support they were able to give to another of his interests – the rebels in Darfur, particularly the Justice and Equality Movement, whose leader Khalil Ibrahim continues, as far as I can make out, to enjoy the comforts of exile in Tripoli after being denied entry to Chad.

Most controversially, if true, are unconfirmed reports that Gaddafi was sponsoring the Unity Party of Liberian president and Western media darling Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. This news surfaced at around the same time that Sirleaf announced her intention to run for office again – within her constitutional mandate, to be sure, but in violation of a very specific campaign promise she made to serve only one term. The two leaders are also alleged to be personal friends.

This is just a sampling; there are undoubtedly more African governments and political groupings that have been enjoying Gaddafi’s largesse, and his departure may well see a subtle rearranging of Africa’s own political landscape. Unless someone else steps in to fill the void.

VERDICT: A Gaddafi-less African can only be a good thing. His departure goes forth.


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SA gives Cote D’Ivoire’s opposition the navy blues

And in more other news…

While Egypt has been receiving rolling 24-hour news coverage of its political crisis, Cote D’Ivoire’s impasse is starting to look suspiciously permanent. Alassane Outtara, by most accounts the winner of the run-off elections, is still holed up in Abidjan’s Golf Hotel, protected (or penned in?) by 800 UN peacekeepers, and presiding only over the swimming pool bar. Laurent Gbagbo, the country’s president since 2000, is defying a chorus of international calls to step down. Sources at the United Nations have assured me that this policy is based on the reports of qualified election observers and not because no one can pronounce Gbagbo’s name.

But that chorus is looking a little disharmonious of late. First, there were the rumours swirling round the African Union summit in Addis Ababa that some big countries had outright refused to contemplate tougher measures to force Gbagbo out (so far, all the AU has done is send Thabo Mbeki – who returned swiftly, tail between legs – and then Raila Odinga, the Kenyan PM appointed after the violence on Kenya’s 2008 elections, to mediate the situation. This is like asking Eugene Terreblanche to resolve a racial discrimination case.).

So, who were these big countries behind Gbagbo? Well it wasn’t Nigeria, who’ve been calling for military action to depose Gbagbo, perhaps remembering all the fun they had in Liberia and Sierra Leone. It wasn’t Egypt – they’ve got a bit too much on their plate.

Ghana is a likely candidate – despite immense public pressure, John Atta Mills’ government has remained behind Gbagbo, for motivations that are puzzling; some say that it’s in recognition of the two governments’ shared socialist history.

And now, it emerges that a South African warship is stationed off the coast of Cote D’Ivoire, lending quiet but essential support to Gbagbo; acting as protection against any Nigerian-led invasion. While it is good to see the South African navy is finally being used for something other than photo-ops in Simonstown, I haven’t quite worked out what South Africa’s motivations are. It seems a good bet that SA were also playing heavy at the AU summit. For some reason, the country has decided that now is the time to start flexing their military and diplomatic muscles, and this could have ramifications beyond Cote D’Ivoire. Watch this space.

VERDICT: South Africa’s warships (well, one of them) sail forth; but African unity takes a nosedive and goes 4th.

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Obiang shows Mubarak how to do dictatorship

Obiang, his friend Mugabe, and two lovely hats

And in other news…

The African Union, in its wisdom, has appointed Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang as its chairperson. The venerable members of the institution – i.e. 52 of Africa’s 53 officially recognised countries (Morocco declines to participate) – feel perhaps that the best way to honour what the people of Egypt and Tunisia have done and are doing is to appoint as leader a man who has spent even longer in office than Hosni Mubarak. Unlike Mubarak, however, Obiang still manages to keep his people effectively suppressed and under control – none of this flagrant disrespect for the person of the dictator is allowed to go on in Equatorial Guinea. And while Mubarak looks a beaten man, even as he clings onto his position, Obiang must be smirking as becomes Africa’s top diplomat. That’s how to do dictatorship.

You might not know much about Equatorial Guinea – few do. It’s a tiny country in Central West Africa, a former Spanish colony, and produces a lot of oil. It’s GDP per person of nearly $19,000 belies the fact that most of the cash goes straight into the pockets of Obiang and his cronies. It was in the news most recently in 2004, when it was the subject of a ridiculous coup attempt by a bunch of British and South African mercenaries, seemingly trying to emulate Frederick Forsyth’s classic coup novel The Dogs of War (which was itself inspired by a fail coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea in the 1970s, supposedly). Mark Thatcher, the Iron Lady’s son, was implicated as a financier; and there were unsubstantiated rumours that another novelist, Jeffrey Archer, also contributed money.

Obiang’s appointment reveals the great flaws in the African Union; as a representative body, the institution will come to reflect its members; and as there are far too many African leaders with authoritarian tendencies, or skeletons to hide (corruption, human rights abuses, etc.), it is impossible to expect the AU to address those kinds of issues, or make sensible appointments. But hey, that’s democracy for you.

VERDICT: The African Union goes 4th.

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Downtown Cairo in lockdown

The area around Tahrir Square is in lockdown today. The violence has shifted from the square itself to the streets leading to it. Most entrances to the downtown area are sealed off by groups of pro-Mubarak supporters, and the one entrance allowing vehicles in that my nervous taxi driver (though not as nervous as me) could find was manned by the president’s men. They were immediately hostile when they saw a foreigner in the car, and demanded my passport and bag. They found the cameras immediately. “Sahafi, sahafi,” (journalist, journalist), they shouted. Fortunately I’d already fed the taxi driver, pro-Mubarak himself, my cover story. “No, no, he’s a teacher. And he’s African. Look at his passport.” It was the African argument that really swayed them, and they returned my passport and cameras with smiles and apologies. I breathed a sigh of relief and held a brief moment of thanks for the African Union and its spineless inaction on the Egypt issue. If I’d been American, I don’t think I would have got the cameras back. Or Qatari – Qataris are enormously unpopular at the moment because of the role that Al-Jazeera has played in televising the revolution. The line being peddled by the government’s supporters – and there are a lot more of them than I expected – is that the protests are a plot conceived by the US, Qatar and Israel. Despite the smiles, I am still denied entry to downtown Cairo, and I decide it’s not worth pushing it; things are still too unpredictable, tensions too high. Not everyone will buy the African argument.

The situation is very fluid at the moment. The TV coverage is providing perhaps a distorted picture of events. All the major networks have corralled themselves in apartments in Tahrir Square, and aren’t showing anything else. The attention that Egypt has received has been remarkable, but Egypt is bigger than Tahrir Square; and what I don’t know, and what Egyptians don’t know either, is how extensive the anti-Mubarak protests are across the rest of the country. I think that may be because support for the protestors is beginning to dry up; many people are happy to accept the President’s promise to retire in September, and just want their daily lives to return to normal. It seems to me that outside Tahrir Square, you’re more likely to see large crowds outside of functioning ATMS than in protest against the government. And without genuine popular support, the protestors in Tahrir are unlikely to get what they ask for. I hope that’s not true, but I’ve seen and heard nothing today that persuades me otherwise.

For a more extensive account of my day in the square yesterday:

or http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MB04Ak03.html


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The World’s Worst Dictators go 4th

Dictators, like all of us, suffer from insecurities. It’s hard to know if you’re really very good at being a dictator – there are no books that tell you exactly how to crush freedoms and sideline opposition; and there’s rarely any positive affirmation, someone telling you what a good job you’re making of this authoritarianism business. Which is why dictators all over the world – and there are a lot of them – would have been waiting in nervous anticipation for the release of Foreign Policy magazine’s list of the World’s Worst Dictators, basically the Oscars for autocrats.

Kim Jong-Il did very well, as always, stamping his authority all over the top spot in the same way he stamps his authority over renegade elements at home. His mix of repression, secrecy and potential nuclear threat proved simply too good, as it has done for decades now. The good news will come as a relief to the country after their football team’s 7-0 humiliation by Portugal at the World Cup. No Portuguese figures make it onto this list, a fact likely to be emphasised by North Korean media.

Robert Mugabe too will be pleased. A silver medal is nothing to be sniffed at, especially when you consider that he’s had to invite his main opponent into government with him. To be the world’s second best dictator in a government of national unity takes some skill, but no one is surprised –Robert is a consummate professional, indeed a role model for some of the younger names on this list, such as Bashar Al-Assad and Hugo Chavez.

Than Shwe will accept his bronze medal, but might quibble the definition, and will need to make sure that the glory is shared around a little; after all, Burma’s meant to be more of a junta than a dictatorship, and there will be a few displeased generals to placate.

There are also a few figures which will be deeply troubled by the list. Most notable of course is Raul Castro, ranked only 21st; this is hardly a continuation of Fidel’s far more impressive dictatorial legacy. Also unhappy is Muammar Al-Gaddafi, out of the top 10, although he must have seen it coming. In February, Gaddafi launched an audacious bid to stop the rotation of the African Union’s rotating presidency, and make himself African Union president for an unprecedented second time. If the move had succeeded, he would have been dictator of an entire continent; as it was, he failed, and lost some of his dictatorial capital in the process.

The likes of Gaddafi, Kim Jong-Il, Hosni Mubarak, Islam Karimov, etc., will also be unhappy with the inclusion of a few controversial names. They are proper, old-school dictators; cult of the personality, individual control, and absolute power. Hu Jintao surely doesn’t fall into this category. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad certainly doesn’t; in fact, some would argue he is more of a flawed democrat than a real dictator. Paul Kagame too would be unlikely to describe himself as a dictator, and the World Bank and IMF will not be happy with the inclusion of their golden boy on this year’s list.

Nonetheless, congratulations to Kim Jong-Il, who looks like he’s got a secure hold on the title for many years to come. That’s not to say that other dictators of the world should give up – being a dictator is a somewhat precarious position at the best of times, so Jong-Il might pop off (or be popped off) at any time. And if this doesn’t happen, one can always hold out for a lifetime achievement award.

Here are the complete rankings (note that pretensions of royalty seem to be an immediate dis-qualifier):

  1. Kim Jong-Il (North Korea)
  2. Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe)
  3. Than Shwe (Burma/Myanmar)
  4. Omar Al-Bashir (Sudan)
  5. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov (Turkmenistan)
  6. Isaias Afwerki (Eritrea)
  7. Islam Karimov (Uzbekistan)
  8. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Iran)
  9. Meles Zenawi (Ethiopia)
  10. Hu Jintao (China)
  11. Muammar Al-Gaddafi (Libya)
  12. Bashar Al-Assad (Syria)
  13. Idriss Deby (Chad)
  14. Teodoro Obiang (Equatorial Guinea)
  15. Hosni Mubarak (Egypt)
  16. Yahya Jammeh (Gambia)
  17. Hugo Chavez (Venezuela)
  18. Blaise Compaore (Burkina Faso)
  19. Yoweri Museveni (Uganda)
  20. Paul Kagame (Rwanda)
  21. Raul Castro (Cuba)
  22. Alesandr Lukashenko (Belarus)
  23. Paul Biya (Cameroon)


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Brother Leader to sponsor Johnson-Sirleaf’s re-election? Libya-Liberia ties go 4th

An intriguing sentence in a recent Africa Confidential report on Liberia: “Unity Party insiders hope for tens of millions of dollars from Libya’s Moammar el Gadaffi.” The Unity Party is, of course, the party of incumbent president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who has recently announced she will be running for a second term. Quite why her party is waiting on tens of millions of dollars from Brother Leader Gaddafi is somewhat mystifying. A quick trawl through the depths of Google produced little of substance, except to show that Johnson-Sirleaf and Gaddafi have a close and friendly relationship, with Johnson-Sirleaf even defending Gaddafi’s crazy behaviour at last year’s African Union summit. The Libyan leader stormed out of proceedings when it became clear that his vision of a United States of Africa would not be immediately realised. According to Johnson-Sirleaf: “He didn’t walk out, he just got tired.” An excessive thirst for power will do that to you.

Still, the exact nature of the relationship between these two leaders is unclear, and potentially disturbing; any clarification would be welcomed.

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