Category Archives: Africa

What’s Next for Libya

Mahmoud Jibril is the leader of Libya’s National Transitional Council, the official name adopted by the group of Libyans who have nearly overthrown Muammar Ghaddafi’s government. He has been educated in Egypt and the United States and represents an interesting paradox. His connections with both the West and the Arab world have given him the ability to work closely with partners in both regions with the result that countries as diverse as France, the UK, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have officially recognized the NTC as the governing body in Libya.

Mr. Jibril also worked in the very government his movement has overthrown. He was the head of the National Economic Development Board from 2007 until the fall of the Ghaddafi regime. As head of the NEDB, Mr. Jibril lead efforts to privatize many of Libya’s industries and to liberalize the overall economic structure of Libya. through his position at the NEDB, Mr. Jibril worked closely with the United Nations Development Programme in an effort to spur and sustain economic growth and development in Libya.

Now that the NTC seems poised to take over the halls of government in Libya, it remains to be seen what kind of leaders they will be. There have already been reports that the armed rebels are filling in the peace-keeping roles abandoned by Ghaddafi forces and that they are doing a rather admirable job. The rebels may be filled with joyous exuberance, but it seems that most of the rest of Libya too is filled with a sort of cautious optimism. Let’s hope that the people of Libya can realize true self-determinaiton and self-rule and can create a model for the world.

*Author’s Note: While I respect the fact that, geographically Libya is traditionally considered to be part of Africa, by custom, tradition, religion, lifestyle, and societal norms, the Libyan people share a great deal in common with the people of Southwest Asia.

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Posted by on August 30, 2011 in Africa, Asia


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News from Malawi

Malawi is a country of nearly 16 million people in south-eastern Africa. Sandwiched between its much larger neighbors of Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia, Malawi rarely makes headlines. However there is a movement growing in Malawi that is largely reminiscent to those events currently happening across the Arab world. Malawians have risen up in protest against their president Bingu wa Mutharika. Mr. Mutharika assumed office following a controversial election in 2004. He would soon after split with his political party to form his own Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Mr. Mutharika, as head of his own political party, effectively nominated himself to stand for re-election in 2009. He and his party were swept into office garnering more than twice the number of votes as the opposition party. His popularity in Malawi had largely been driven by economic growth. In 2010, the Malawian economy grew by 6.7% driven by agriculture and mining operations. Even though this is a slower rate of growth than 2009 (7.6%) due to lower agricultural yields caused by drought in northern Malawi, the economy has nevertheless remained steady and growing during the otherwise global downturn.

So why have the people risen up now? In recent years, Mr. Mutharika has grown increasingly dictatorial. He has nominated his brother to succeed him in the 2014 presidential election and in 2010, he married his second wife (his first had died of cancer in 2007) in a ceremony, funded at public expense, costing $1.3 million. The GDP per capita at purchasing power parity (a measure of per capita GDP that takes into account the actual purchasing power of the people in their own market) of Malawi is only $800. Despite the growth of the economy, Malawi remains one of the poorest countries in the world. After Mr. Mutharika expelled the British High Commissioner for a disparaging remark the Commissioner made about him, the Brits withdrew aid to Malawi. The EU quickly followed suit, suspending their aid. These recent protests have also forced the United States to suspend their aid to Malawi’s energy sector. It is estimated that up to 40% of Malawi’s development budget is based on aid from foreign nations, so these suspensions from some of the largest providers of aid, have really cut into the Malawian federal budget. All told, Malawi has seen nearly $750 million in aid money suspended.

The destruction and violence in Malawi is also threatening to spill over into the rest of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), a treaty among 15 southern African nations including Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The SADC’s mission, taken from their website, is “[T]o promote sustainable and equitable economic growth and socio-economic development through efficient productive systems, deeper co-operation and integration, good governance, and durable peace and security, so that the region emerges as a competitive and effective player in international relations and the world economy.”

The organizers of the protests in Malawi have given Mr. Mutharika until August 17 to respond peacefully to their demands and for him to leave office. Let’s hope that there is a peaceful resolution to this conflict and that the people of Malawi can rejoin the world economy and continue to grow their country and their society.

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Posted by on August 4, 2011 in Africa


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The Arab Spring

In what has come to be known as “The Arab Spring,” revolutions, protests, civil war, or demands for regime changes have occurred in 17 nations across the Middle East and north Africa. Among the most televised were the protest that took place in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. Many protesters were killed in clashes with police forces loyal to former head of state Hosni Mubarak. Following the protests, which caused the toppling of Mubarak’s regime as well as the dissolution of Parliament and the suspension of the Egyptian Constitution, a peace was restored to Egypt as the country and the people began to rebuild. Some however, chose to remain in Tahrir Square as a living memorial to those who had died as martyrs for their country.

There has been a growing impatience with these lingering protesters, however. There is little threat of renewed, prolonged violence, as most people accept, or even openly support the cause represented by these temporary residents of Tarhir, but most have come to think that it is time to move on. However, the Egyptian Army forcibly removed lingering protesters yesterday, amid calls from some residents of Tahrir to finally reopen the Square. The removal lead to heated skirmishes not seen in six months since the height of the revolution.

This removal also coincides with the beginning of Ramadan, the month-long period for fasting, spiritual purification, and communion with God celebrated by Muslims. Hopefully this skirmish is over quickly and the people of Egypt can move on to rebuilding their lives and their country.

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Posted by on August 2, 2011 in Africa, Asia


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Famine in Somalia

The UN has officially declared a famine in Somalia. The UN will declare a state of famine based on the following criteria,

“Famine is declared when acute malnutrition rates among children exceed 30 per cent, more than two people per every 10,000 die per day, and people are not able to access food and other basic necessities, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).”

Famine has only been officially declared by the UN six times since 1984; in Ethiopia in 1984-85, in Somalia in 1991-92, in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) in 1996, in Ethiopia in 2000, in southern Sudan in 2008, and the most recent one in Somalia.

Many Americans remember Somalia only for the Battle of Mogadishu where Somali rebels shot down a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter and paraded the body of a dead soldier through the streets. It remains a land of violence and warlords. Despite the famine, al-Shabaab, an extremist group with links to al-Qaeda and who is in control of several parts of Somalia, has essentially blockaded the country and prevented the free flow of humanitarian supplies since last year. Only recently have the group let up their ban on outside assistance and allowed some shipments of aid through. The people of Somalia however, have continued to persevere in the face of daily struggles quite literally between life and death.

The famine has also created a humanitarian crisis beyond the Somali borders. The World Food Program (WFP) has estimated that there are some 2.2 million Somalis displaced by the famine. Clearly not all of them choose to stay in Somalia. the go where there is help and food available. This is putting enormous strain on other countries in the region, countries that are themselves the victims of famine and drought. There have been reports that one refugee camp grew to 20,000 people in under 10 days.

To help out, visit the WFP website or check out your favorite charity.

One final note, Free Rice is a great site that makes a donation to the WFP for every word that you correctly define. Got a few minutes? Give it a try. You can even create a profile to track your lifetime totals.

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Posted by on July 28, 2011 in Africa


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The World’s Newest Country

The world’s newest country is in Africa. South Sudan formally attained independence on July 9, 2011. That’s right, South Sudan is all of 13 days old. It was formed when the citizens of southern Sudan voted for independence in a referendum. This is (hopefully) a peaceful end to what has been one of the most destructive civil wars on the continent. The most recent stage of the struggle had lasted more than 20 years before a peace treaty was signed in 2005. The conflict itself, however had been raging since 1955. It was a war that made regions like Darfur and the Blue Nile infamous for bloody fighting. More than 2 million people are thought to have lost their lives since 1983 through war, famine, or disease and more than 4 million people have been displaced.

Like many conflicts around the world, this one has been rooted in religion. The northern part of what was Sudan had a largely Arab and Muslim population. People in Southern Sudan tend to be either Christian or Animist. The populations in the south felt increasingly neglected by and isolated from the political and economic capital of Sudan in Khartoum, far to the north. There are plenty of stories of atrocities committed during the civil war, but with the official declaration of independence on July 9, there is hope once more that the people in this part of the world can rebuild their lives and their homes.

The birth of a new country is always an interesting event. The citizens of newly formed countries have usually been there for a long time and yet they suddenly have a new identity. Hopefully the citizens of South Sudan can build a new identity; one of peace and coexistence and that the new political division that separates them from Sudan can provide the necessary boundaries to foster similar peace and coexistence.

Update 23 July:

The World, a radio program produced by Public Radio International ran this story yesterday on a struggle still going on in Sudan. The story describes the plight of the Nuba people, an ethnic minority in the south part of Sudan. The region they occupy is called Kordofan and is close to the border with South Sudan. The people themselves have declared their intention to remain part Sudan, but they have refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the government in Khartoum. The government has reportedly sent cargo planes over the area. Soldiers push bombs out of the back of these planes in an effort to terrorize the Nuba people and force them to flee south into the mountains.

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Posted by on July 21, 2011 in Africa


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