Tag Archives: Chad

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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Omar Al-Bashir goes to Chad, ICC goes 4th

Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir (Image courtesy of http://www.fettan.com)

Last week, Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir decided to thumb his nose at the International Criminal Court  by paying an official state visit to Chad. As a fully signed up and ratified member of the Rome Statute (which founded the ICC), Chad is technically supposed to have arrested Al-Bashir upon arrival due to his outstanding arrest warrant for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and – added just last week – genocide.

Of course, this didn’t happen. Instead, yet again, the ICC looked just as weak and ineffective as always as it called for Chad to do ‘the right thing’ while having absolutely no means to make it do so. Al-Bashir, as any good internationally shunned leader would, has made the most of this powerlessness, claiming his trip as “more than a double victory”.

And so it was. As well as strengthening ties with notorious frenemy Chadian President Idriss Deby, this trip was the first taken to a country that recognised the ICC and was thus something of a risk. As for Chad, while it may have earned wide condemnation from the UN and the EU for its decision, it was an opportunity to establish itself as something more than just an international puppet, as well as curry favour with a fairly important neighbour.

No doubt it is the ICC who have come off worst with Al-Bashir’s little holiday. Not only was its helplessness over arresting one of the world’s most wanted men freely advertised, but the familiar claim of its racism was rehashed too, as Chad, in a frenzy of support for Sudan, accused it of anti-African bias. While this claim may not be strictly true (let us not forget that of the 5 investigations currently being carried out into situations in Africa, 3 were referred to the Court by the governments of those countries themselves), it has been one that the Court has had to fight off multiple times in its short history and has not been helped by the African Union taking this opportunity to reiterate its decision to order member states not to co-operate with the ICC. So far, as all indications go, most of its members are listening. Except for arguably the strongest member: South Africa, who has just released a statement that Bashir had better not try his luck in Johannesburg.

One can’t help but feel pity for the Court; afterall, it is simply trying to arrest someone accused of extremely serious crimes. And if Al-Bashir really is as innocent as he claims, why not defend himself in a Court of law and clear his name once and for all?

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The Great Green Wall goes forth

This is a fascinating idea. Spearheaded by Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade (he of the infamous African Renaissance statue), African leaders agreed last year to the establishment of a “Great Green Wall” across the Sahel and Sahara deserts, and US$120 million of funding has just been approved by the Global Environment Facility. Basically, this is a 15 km strip of trees which would stretch for 7,100km across the continent, East to West, and act as a barrier to desertification.

This is an important step which hasn’t received much coverage. Every year the desert creeps further down the continent, drying up water sources and making previous arable land infertile. This desertification has already had huge consequences – it is often cited as one of the root causes of the violence in Darfur, as it pushed people out of their traditional areas and into places where they had to compete with others for the scarce resources.

If it works – and to receive the backing of the Global Environment Facility it must have scientific merit – the Great Green Wall is a particularly elegant solution, touching on desertification, forest depletion, climate change, African unity, and regional integration all at once. And imagine how good it would look from space.

Nonetheless, implementing this idea is going to be tricky. Trees need attention to grow; specifically, they need water. And water is not something that Sahel and Sahara deserts are famed for. If irrigation is sorted for the project, how exactly are the local population going to react when the trees get lots of water, while their crops wither?

A cross-continental effort, of any kind, also needs lots of cooperation from lots of different governments. And even if the governments are on board, the Great Green Wall is going to pass through some areas where the government just doesn’t have very much control – Eastern Chad and Darfur are the obvious problem areas.

Nonetheless, the breadth of vision of this project must be admired, and it is encouraging that the Saharan/Sahelian countries are taking steps to combat a problem that is only getting more serious.

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