Liberian pols to convene town hall meeting in Staten Island (NYC)

“STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — A delegation of Liberian cabinet members will convene a town hall meeting on strategies for reducing poverty in the West African nation whose infrastructure remains decimated by war.

The forum is Saturday at 3 p.m. in Christ Assembly Lutheran Church, Stapleton.

The speakers include Liberia’s Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs Amara Konneh; Augustine Ngafuan, minister of finance; Brownie Sumakai, minister of defense; Kofi Woods, minister of public works, and Dr. William Allen, director general of civil service. “

Historian death match!

The Guardian had provided blow by blow coverage of the recent hatefest between two British historians of Russia, Orlando Figes and Robert Service. Figes, once touted as the “angry young man” for historians, is more accurately the spoiled brat. A…

AQIM: More hostage stories

Philomène Kaboré and her husband Sergio Cicala have given interviews regarding their captivity: she having been released some time ago, and he Friday the 16th. They were taken in Mauritania, near the border with Mali, on their way south. Ms. Kaboré says they were kept confined, but treated well. They were not held by the AQIM kidnappers directly but by intermediaries, but were free to walk about in a isolated camp, well fed, and not beaten. The camp itself was so isolated they did not know what country they were in. Does this suggest strength or weakness of their captors? That they have resources and supporters enough that they need not be involved with their prisoners? Or that the AQIM are too hounded to keep a steady and secure base area? Or does it suggest that the AQIM, having begun to pay others to kidnap for them, now are outsourcing the entire operation to smugglers and friendly tribes?

Niger: Greenpeace reoprt on the Nuclear poisoning of Niger

Greenpeace’s 30 March report on radioactivity levels in the streets of Arlit and its suburb Akokan has been repeatedly denied by French nuclear company AREVA, the operator of the two nearby mines. These two (one underground, one open pit) provide almost half Niger’s exports by value, and their “success” is the basis for the some 150 mining contracts sold by the Tandja regime, mostly to Canadian and Chinese companies. Locals have long complained of the pollution from the Somair and Cominak mines. Franco Nigerien group CRIIRAD found radioactivity levels 100 times background in 2007. Construction of roads and buildings was done using radioactive mine tailings, while mine dust blows across the region from Somair pit. With the entire Talak plain west of the Aïr Massif now being sold for mining, the northern seasonal pasture lands upon which pastoralism depends will soon disappear or become polluted beyond use. This has long been known, and it is good to see renewed press attention.

CAR: Coup, or election, foiled by government?

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Image by Getty Images via Daylife"]KABO, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC - DECEMBER 17: ...[/caption]

The French press initially reported midday Sunday (14 March, local time) that the Central African Republic government had foiled plans for a coup attempt, set to take place between the 15th and the 20th. No one does coups quite like Bangui, usually with the French government pulling the strings: they’ve had a lot of practice. Jules Bernard Ouanda, the Minister of National Security and Public Order, recorded an announcement for Radio Centrafrique, passed on to the press, and since confirmed.

Ouanda claims that on Friday, the government of President François Bozizé obtained a “Plan of Action” made by the coup plotters, whom they refused to name, but described as “several political and military figures.” Ouanda red from a detailed plan: a “special form” dated March 8, subtitled “Preparations for coup from the period from March 15 to 20.” The government notations on the plan describe it as (according to a brief glimpse by reporters) “hatched by elements KAMIKAZE commandos, mercenaries, militias and expatriates in the pay of former President Ange-Félix PATASSE” Ouanda repeatedly refused to name names, but did read a portion of the “plan” that included orders to “reinforcement elements in the home of AFP.”

Reporters also spoke with former President Ange-Félix Patassé who in his thirty years of political leadership has been more than once a coup plotter, like current President Bozizé who ousted the President Patassé on 15 March 2003. Patassé told reporters “I phoned the minister. He told me that it was not me” who was blamed for the coup plan. He added that he expected it still might be an attempt to “eliminate” him from the scheduled 12 and 23 April two round Presidential elections.

Another such rival, Charles Massi was a Minister under both Patassé and Bozizé, in 2008 left political life to become the respectable front on the northeastern CPJP. When I first saw report in the CAR expat press and on the CPJP website around Xmas saying he was “kidnapped in Chad and turned over to the CAR”, I assumed this was infighting or overreaction. I was wrong. Sometime around January 9, Massi was tortured to death by the CAR government in Bossembele prison, a fact which the government admitted last month.

Lord preserve the CAR from political leaders, near and far. It brings to mind a Brecht poem a friend of mind often repeats:

Empires collapse.
Gang leaders Are strutting about like statesmen. The peoples
Can no longer be seen under all these armaments.

See Also: Centrafrique: When a neocolony collapses (17 December 2009)

Niger: Communities at odds in the north

I’ve warned that, given the poor harvests and pastures, we can expect many incidents of communal and ethnic tension across the Sahel this year. The end of the formal insurgencies in both Niger and Mali last year also leaves a residue of unemployed armed men and grudges between communities.

One example of these risks is reported in Agadez‘s “Aïr Info journal” n°108 dated this week. On page 5 is the story of an attack by armed youth from Tchi-n-Tiguit (“Tchitintagatte”, about 50km south of Arlit, coincidentally in the middle of the new AREVA Imouraren mining concession) on their neighbors at Sekkiret (“Sikirat”, about 30km west of the famous Dabous Giraffe carvings).

Earlier this week, armed young men arrived at Sekkiret, firing in the air and chasing women and children out of their homes, but left before anyone was hurt. Sekkiret youths having returned home to frightened families, set off for revenge. The paper reports it was only the intervention of two former ministers (one from each community) and the local chieftaincy which ensured security forces were quickly dispatched to calm the situation.

The cause: Sekkiret youths had reputedly harassed Tchi-n-Tiguit two years ago during the insurgency. There is no indication here of ethnicity, but that history, and the name Tchi-n-Tiguit, suggests a community of Tamasheq speakers some Tuareg caste, subgroup, or related community). Some towns in the area – like Ingall – are populated by Songhai speakers, dating back to the time when they were outposts of the Malian and Songhay Empires. Others are made up of former Tamasheq bonded communities who still bear grudges against some higher caste communities. These groups are normally peacefully intermixed, along with other groups, tribes, caste communities, and Tuareg confederations. But in times of stress, as we’ve seen from Sarajevo to Jos, people do find enemies even among neighbors.

Aïr Info concludes: “The inhabitants of these villages, brothers since time immemorial, have now become two blocs that risk, if we do not take care, of turning on each other! The state must quickly find a solution to this problem which has already gone on too long!”

Niger: A notorious baron tries to woo the junta

Zakou Djibo, or "Zakaï" as he is known, reappeared this week like a bad penny. Zakaï, a Zarma businessman and political funder, was at the center of the 2006 "MEBA Affair" that brought down PM Hama Amadou, along with the equally shady Himadou Hamani of "Sirignéré". Zakaï had been a powerful force under the later Baré Maïnassara regime, but reoriented after the 1999 coup, returning to earlier support he had given to Hama and the MNSD. He reappeared again last year as an influential "Tazartché" supporter of the Tandja power grab.

This week he was identified as under investigation, following an arms shipment coming into the country under his name (probably from before the coup). Now are reports he had a "offering" of several 4x4s to the new CSRD junta returned, with the suggestion he sell them to pay the back taxes he owes.

While a class maneuvre by the Army, one can't but think that power always corrupts in Nigerien politics, and when it does, Zakaï will be back!

AFRICOM Using State National Guard Units to Partner with Individual African Countries

(Via GUINEA OYE!) Africom commander Kip Ward announced US National Guard units (once designed to defend the US from invasion, build infrastructure, and provide disaster aid in their states) are being “paired up” with African nations, in some kind of bizarre military “Adopt a child” program.

As is now usual, a set of real, exaggerated, and imagined African problems are trotted out to convince both sides Africans need to let the US military bases there. Now that there’s oil.

More ….

Niger: Junta replaces civilian governors

The official order to replace up the eight regional governors with military governors came today from the CSRD. This is no surprise: it was noted shortly after the coup that all official appearances were being done by the Commanders of each of the Zones de Defense, which match up to the Regions. I have not seen the official list, but the reports of the Zinder and Agadez governors practical replacements were previously published here. The interesting announcement, Colonel Yaye Garba was named governor for Niamey, obviously an important post. Garba was a member of the 1996 junta, but not the 1999 transition, presumably due to personal or factional loyalty to Gen. Bare Mainassara, killed by the 1999 coup. His appointment demonstrates both the elite continuity and ecumenical openness of the regime. Also note, the actual work of governing has, since the coup, been in the hands of the General Secretaries of the regions, the highest ranking civil servants. Expect this to continue.

Mali: Release of two of five AQIM hostages

Philomena Kabour, the Burkina-Italian wife of Sergio Cicala, kidnapped near in Mauritania was released, along with Alicia Gamez, one of three Catalan aid workers kidnapped north of Nouakchott. All appear to have been taken to a AQIM camp in the remote Saharan north of Mali. Roque Pascual and Albert Vilalta (the Catalans kidnapped November 29) and Cicala (kidnapped December 18) remain hostage. There is no word on what was exchanged. Burkina authorities were the intermediaries for Kabour's release.