Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Africa in crisis

Many African states are in turmoil with violence and civil war

Chad remains in crisis after violence broke out in the capital N'Djamena. Rebels launched a major assault and have seized control of large parts of the city. The crisis could have major implications for attempts to end the conflict in neighbouring Darfur, since Sudan's government is accused of backing the rebels in Chad. The rebels are an alliance of three groups – the UFDD (United Force for Democracy and Development), which is led by Mahamat Nouri, the RFC (Rally of Forces for Change), led by Timane Erdimi, President Deby's former chief of staff, and the UFDD-Fondamentale, a splinter group of UFDD, currently headed by Abdelwahid Aboud. Thousands have fled the capital in the past few days as rebels and government troops continue to fight pitched battles on the streets [BBC]. The crisis in Chad will add to the continuing crisis which persists in the Darfur region of Sudan which borders Chad.

Meanwhile the situation in Kenya is continuing to worsen with rival gangs battling each other. At least 20 died in fresh violence on Saturday and peace talks have failed to end the animosity between rival gangs [BBC]. The current crisis followed an election in the country which was widely criticized for being rigged.

Zimbabwe is the next African state to see elections which are set for March. It is a country where inflation is above 26,000%, the highest in the world, and where less than one in five has a job. Simba Makoni, seen as a moderate politician, has put himself forward as a contender for the upcoming election, but he will have a tough fight in a country where Mugabe’s opponents are often silenced, sometimes violently [BBC].

In Rwanda the search for survivors of a natural disaster continued throughout the weekend [BBC]. Two powerful earthquakes measuring 5 and 6 on the Richter scale hit the Great Lakes area of the country killing 40 and injuring more than 300 [BBC]. The lack of stability in many African states is of great concern for many multi-national companies who invest heavily in the continent.

Attacks and kidnappings are common in oil rich states including Nigeria where attacks have increased sharply over the last few months. Threats to oil workers and facilities in Nigeria have cast a long-term shadow over oil supplies from the world's eighth largest oil exporter. Suspected militant attacks on January 2nd in Nigeria's main oil city, Port Harcourt, heightened concern over the potential for further disruptions in shipments. "With the military and the militant warlords engaged in a violent tit-for-tat, the risk for oil disruptions in Nigeria remains higher than in the past few months," said Olivier Jakob of Petromatrix.

In other African states peace agreements are having little effect on the ground. Congo still remains on the brink of more violence [BBC] besides attempts to broker a peace deal between rebels and the government. Ian Smith [Obituary], former Prime Minister of Rhodesia [now Zimbabwe], was often criticized for saying the black population were unable to run their own affairs. He was once quoted as saying, “I do not believe in black majority rule…not in a thousand years”. Besides having made some moves forward since the end of colonialism, much of Africa has descended into chaos and inter-tribal fighting. Smith is indelibly cast in the image of the arch white racist. But black Zimbabweans after independence admired him for his unbending, blunt criticism of President Robert Mugabe — giving voice to opinions that they dared not utter. As economic decay set in, Mugabe would be haunted by the words of fellow blacks, “It was better under Smith.” The indiginous population of Africa must prove the protagonists of Smith, and others like him wrong. They must build for a safe and secure future, not only for Africa but also for the pride of the black population as a whole.

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