SOUTH AFRICA, which is supposed to be "facilitating" a solution in Zimbabwe to the three-year-old power struggle between Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), seems to have adopted the 87-year-old dictator's view on the perniciousness of the West's targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe.
At a press briefing on March 1st in Pretoria, the South African capital, Marius Fransman, South Africa's newish deputy foreign minister, called for the lifting of the sanctions, "most of which serve to deter potential investment in Zimbabwe", insisting that this "would go a long way to supporting the required economic recovery" in that benighted country.
How the removal of targeted sanctions (there are no others), involving a freeze on the overseas assets of Mr Mugabe and some 200 of his henchmen along with restrictions on their foreign travel, would help boost flagging foreign investment in Zimbabwe, Mr Fransman did not explain. His ministry's official spokesman was unable to offer any enlightenment either. Odd, too, that Mr Fransman should have noted earlier in his briefing to the "noticeable progress...particularly on the economic front" made in Zimbabwe over the past two years—notwithstanding those pesky sanctions.
At the same time, Mr Fransman revealed that South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the guarantors of Zimbabwe's power-sharing pact, would be insisting on the adoption of a new, more democratic constitution by Zimbabweans before fresh elections could be held. To hold elections any earlier would be in breach of the pact, he said. Mr Mugabe, who has called for elections by June, is hardly likely to be quaking in his boots at such an announcement. After all, he continues to flout most of the other key provisions of the power-sharing deal with total impunity. And SADC does nothing.
THE streets in Kampala today were peaceful; bored even after Uganda's general election on February 18th. Just as Baobab predicted (though hardly the work of an oracle), President Yoweri Museveni won at a canter. His main opposition rival, Kizza Besigye, protested the results. Even that had a sense of ritual about it. Mr Besigye has now lost three times to Mr Museveni. He has neither the funds, the message, nor the popularity to trump "M7". According to the official tally, Mr Museveni won with 68% of the vote, with Mr Besigye trailing on 26%. For the president, the result was an improvement on the 57% he scored in 2006. And it came without the thuggish treatment of the opposition that made a mockery of that election. With a measly voter turnout, Mr Museveni appeared not to need ghost voters or local officials to fabricate results in his favour. But few doubt those mechanisms were in place. A popular uprising looks unlikely. The army and police are squarely behind Mr Museveni. Exit polls indicate that even younger Ugandans were mostly forgiving of the corruption and dithering that has stalled the country's development. Mr Museveni is now the longest ever serving leader in east Africa, outlasting Tanzania's Julius Nyerere. And he still has at least five more years to go.
AFRICAN UNION troops in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, claim to have made a decisive advance in the fight against the al-Qaeda-linked Shabab militia. Several days of fierce fighting have seen the AU troops and their Somali allies punch through Shabab lines in districts close to the Bakara market. According to Major Barigye Ba-Hoku of the Ugandan army, a trench system used by the Shabab has been destroyed and foreign fighters have been killed, including:
Abdi Asad (Syria)
Magid Abu Yaman (Yemen)
Abdi Mansour (Pakistan)
Saman Bito (Kenya)
Anool Joorkay (India)
Sahan Barqish (nationality unknown)
The Shabab still controls Bakara and its flow of revenues. But the market is closer to falling and with it the jihadist dream of an Islamist state in the Horn of Africa. At least, that is the hope. Baobab would exercise caution in writing off the Islamists. The Shabab have plenty of commanders with field experience who will resume the fight through a campaign of bombings, sniper fire, executions and mutilations. The group controls most of south Somalia and continues to earn money through fishing, charcoal, fruit and local taxation. There was probably also some connection between the AU advance and the general election in Uganda on February 18th. Most of the frontline troops in Mogadishu are Ugandan. Last year the Shabab attacked Uganda with sucide bombers. For domestic political reasons it was important for the President Yoweri Museveni to show voters that their troops were hammering the fanatics on election day. The AU says it controls 60% of Mogadishu and 80% of its population. Its claim that 2m people live in the city looks far too high.
IN CROWDED vegetable markets and on the porches of traditional chiefs’ houses, Nigerians have in recent weeks been registering to vote. Many registration centres consisted of little more than a plastic table, a laptop and an umbrella for shade. But the goal—to compile a new, high-tech voters’ list for Africa’s most populous country—is seen as crucial to preventing rigging during presidential, parliamentary and state governorship elections due in early April.
Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s president, has made the $580m list the costly centrepiece of his pledge to oversee proper polls this spring. The ruling People’s Democratic Party, on whose ticket Mr Jonathan is running, has won three elections since army rule ended in 1999, all marred by violence and fraud. A bogus voters’ list featuring Nelson Mandela and Mike Tyson allowed for much of the foul play.
Nigeria’s election commission is now working on a snazzy biometric list, complete with photographs and fingerprints. During a three-week registration drive that ended on February 7th, the commission says over 65m voters had their pictures taken and their fingers scanned. Laminated voters’ cards with barcodes were handed out. The fingerprints are now being cross-checked at a central server that will remove duplicates, if all goes to plan.
But registration alone was chaotic. Too few kits were dispatched. Registration officers kept running out of ink and plastic for the cards. Nigeria’s woeful electricity supply, an irony of Africa's largest oil and gas producer, caused further problems. Some voters waited for hours and returned day after day; others gave up. "I’ll wait another minute but then I have to go back to work," said Ifeoma Okfor, a seamstress who had been queuing for three hours one day in her slum on the edge of Lagos, the commercial capital on the southern coast. "The election is not the most important thing for me."
Lists were meant to have been displayed at polling stations from February 14th, so that voters could spot any errors. In many parts of Lagos and some northern cities they are yet to appear. In any case, there are few ways to verify the claims of those who registered. Census results have been hotly disputed since the first post-colonial survey in1962, as each state’s population is tied to its share of the national energy revenues.
Around half a dozen other African countries, including Congo and Mozambique, have each spent tens of millions of dollars on biometric voters’ lists in recent years to try and ensure clean elections. Others such as Ghana are considering it. It is expensive everywhere but Nigeria’s costs are particularly high, at around $8.90 per voter, largely because it is trying to complete a task that often takes at least a year in less than three months.
But Astrid Evrensel, editor of a book about voter registration in Africa, says biometric lists are often mistakenly viewed as a panacea. "The technology is just as good as the [people] who use it," she says. In countries where rigging is commonplace and perpetrators rarely prosecuted, politicians simply find other ways to help things go their way. Mozambique’s opposition parties felt that way when a biometric list was compiled in 2007-8. They said fewer registration kits were sent to their rural strongholds, while cross-checking was purposefully opaque.
In Nigeria, which has lurched between military coups and disputed elections during 50 years of independence, there are indeed many ways to fiddle a poll. Pro-democracy activists say that, aside from inflating the voters’ list with duplicates, tactics include bribing or intimidating voters and changing results after votes are cast. Some fear such plans are already underway.
"We have had reports of party members sitting by the centres and taking down the names and numbers of those registering," says Francis Onahor of Reclaim Naija, an activist group that collected SMS and email reports from citizens during registration. "What do they want them for?"
PRESIDENT Yoweri Museveni of Uganda is heading into Hosni Mubarak's league. He seized power in 1986, following a bush war. In elections due on February 18th, Mr Museveni should handily win another five years in office. He and his National Revolutionary Movement (NRM) positioned themselves as guarantors of peace and security. Over time, freedom fighters became "historicals"—grandees who benefit financially from state connections.
In the 2001 elections, many Ugandans decided they had had enough of Mr Museveni. They voted for Kizza Besigye, a doctor. In 2006, the mood was even more squally. Fearing defeat, Mr Museveni had Mr Besigye tried on trumped up rape charges. Opposition supporters were beaten up and jailed, the press censored. Mr Museveni won the election, but the vote was not fair.
This time, Mr Besigye and other opposition candidates can campaign freely. The press is also free. That is because Mr Museveni has decided to buy his way back into office. He has personally distributed brown envelopes stuffed with cash to lucky peasants, teachers and officials up and down the country. The election is the most expensive in Ugandan history.
Mr Besigye is also spending money, much of it from businessmen hedging their bets. His Forum for Democratic Change will contest 295 of the 330 parliamentary seats. It voters will be inspired by events in Egypt too: "People are saying no to dictators and leaders who are imposing themselves on the people," says Mr Besigye. He suspects that the NRM has recruited large numbers of underage voters. If the result is close, he promises peaceful and determined demonstrations. If opinion polls are even approximate, there will be little doubt about the result. The police have invested heavily in equipment and extra officers to make sure protests do not turn violent.
Mr Besigye’s problem is that he fails to inspire. There has been no spike in newspaper circulation during this campaign. His manifesto is lacklustre. Many voters say he comes across as angry. It counts against him that he once served as Mr Museveni’s personal surgeon and chief political commissar. He has failed to exploit the ill-will many Ugandans feel towards government interference with the traditional Bantu kingdoms.
By contrast, Mr Museveni has all the luck. Roadside stalls sell posters of the 67-year old president as Rambo, the eponymous Hollywood commando. Peace is holding in the north and east of the country. Then there is oil. Recent discoveries in the Albertine basin, shared with Congo, could yield 3 billion barrels of sweet crude. Mr Museveni wants to build a $2 billion oil refinery before 2015.
Hopes of an energy-independent and industrial Uganda are undermined by worries of the IMF and others that the country has not strengthened its institutions for when the oil starts flowing. Negotiations with oil companies have gone better than expected and there is some degree of transparency, but few expect that to last. The army will want its share of the $50 billion bonanza. Its generals are already given choice lands and budgets for soldiers that do not exist.
Even if the oil is handled well, there are warning signs. Uganda’s population has grown from 15m in 1986 to 32m today, half under 16 years old. Youth unemployment is 80%. The NRM’s campaign promises in 2006 to support industry have amounted to little. Mr Besigye is right to talk about a "massive collapse in service delivery" in terms of schools and hospitals.
For now, Mr Museveni has managed to keep youth frustration at bay by appealing to national cohesion, especially in the face of suicide bombings by jihadist groups, and with gimmicks such as performing rap songs and buying up popular entertainers. But his clinging to power and failure even to indicate a successor have reduced Ugandan politics to a spoils system. The influence of the first lady, Janet Museveni, has fallen away. Events in Egypt make it more unlikely that Mr Museveni’s son, Lieutenant-Colonel Moohizi Kainerugaba, commander of the presidential guard, will succeed him. So Mr Museveni looks set to spend political capital and money his country can ill-afford to buy himself yet another term in 2016.
IT IS a measure of just how uncomfortable Sudan’s awful president, Omar al-Bashir, must be feeling right now that a few days ago he promised his impoverished and downtrodden people that he would give them all "internet, computers and Facebook". I doubt Mr Bashir has ever set eyes on a Facebook page—but he certainly knows that whatever it is, it is something to be reckoned with, given recent events in neighbouring Egypt.
Whereas Muammar Qaddafi has tried to ban the pesky revolutionary networking site in Libya, Mr Bashir seems to be trying the opposite tactic in Sudan. I doubt it will help him very much—and if his past promises are anything to go by, we can be pretty certain that almost no one will get a broadband connection, let alone ever get to see Facebook.
Of all the ageing dictators in north Africa and the Middle East, Mr Bashir certainly knows the most about the potent threats of people power and popular uprisings—he has lived through two of them in Sudan. The first took place in 1964: the so-called "October revolution" ousted newly independent Sudan’s first military dictator, General Aboub. The second occurred in 1985 and toppled another military dictator, Jafar Numeiri, who had come to power in a coup in 1969. It is this uprising that will be preying on Mr Bashir’s mind today.
Last year I sat down for a chat with the man who inadvertently became the leader of that revolt, an amiable and mild-mannered lawyer called Omer Abdel Ati. He explained to me what happened. Events unfolded in a remarkably similar fashion to what has just happened in Egypt. Tens of thousands of people spontaneously gathered in central Khartoum for days of protests, their numbers swelling as the uprising gathered steam. Like in Egypt, nothing was planned, and there were no specific leaders or political parties provoking the revolution. Mr Ati ended up as the figurehead for the revolt merely by virtue of the fact that he happened to be head of the Sudanese Bar Association at the time, and many of the middle-class trade unions were in the vanguard of the revolution—lawyers, doctors, bankers, academics and the like.
The reasons that so many people took to the streets will also be familiar. The economy was in dire straits; decades of economic mismanagement had left thousands of young people unemployed and disillusioned. There was a full-blown famine in the western province of Darfur; starving refugees wandered the streets of Khartoum. On top of this years of political repression had left the middle classes angry and resentful, hence the very active involvement of otherwise respectable professionals. Numeiri, like Mubarak, had relied on the army to keep a lid on things, helped along by large amounts of American aid money. But, faced by the size and determination of the 1985 uprising, the generals caved in, ironically while Numeiri was on a visit to Washington to see his great supporter Ronald Reagan. They declared an interim government, which paved the way for democratic elections the following year.
After Mr Bashir and the Muslim Brotherhood launched their own coup in 1989, they spent the first few years of their rule specifically trying to eradicate those people and organisations that had risen up so effectively in 1985. Thus the middle-class trade associations and unions were closed down; many doctors and lawyers fled overseas. Student unions were closed and academics sacked. The new secret police tortured and killed many of those who had participated in the 1985 revolt.
However much Mr Bashir thinks he can control things, the idea of a popular uprising still exercises a powerful hold on the Sudanese imagination. In 2005 the shanty-towns on the fringes of Khartoum rose up in days of rioting and looting after the death in a helicopter crash of the southern Sudanese rebel leader, John Garang. The following year there were sporadic riots in the capital over rising food prices; in 2008 one of the Darfur rebel groups launched an audacious attack on Omdurman, next to Khartoum, in the hope that it would spark a more general revolt against Mr Bashir’s regime.
In the last week or so there have been occasional protests, involving no more than a few thousand people, but clearly modelled on the recent Egyptian and Tunisian experiences. The secret police acted swiftly, detaining student leaders, and even some opposition politicians, for short amounts of time. Even in the good times, Khartoum was closely monitored to prevent another 1985; all bridges have two "technicals" at either end with loaded machine-guns ready to fire on any protesters, and the main bridge from Khartoum to Omdurman has three tanks permanently stationed at the Omdurman end. I have not been there this year, but I would imagine this security has been beefed up.
However, Mr Bashir knows he is vulnerable. An election victory last year was certainly no measure of his popularity; the polls were comprehensively rigged and the main opposition parties boycotted the whole process. Although an influx of oil money has benefited the president and the ruling elite, most north Sudanese, let alone Darfuris, are probably as poor and disadvantaged as when Mr Bashir came to power 22 years ago. Importantly, Mr Bashir has also just lost the south of his country to an overwhelming rejection of his rule, diminishing his reputation among his own supporters. Oh, and he’s also wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
The circumstances, therefore, are certainly there for another 1985-style revolt, even if the regime long ago took plenty of precautions against just such an eventuality. It would be wonderful if it did happen; Sudan, perhaps even more than Egypt, desperately needs a new beginning. One of the most talented and creative peoples of Africa deserves it.
AN ATTACK that reportedly took place in South Sudan bodes ill for the soon-to-be created country. In fact, this may be the single worst bit of news since the referendum last month that saw overwhelming support for secession and which was subsequently endorsed by the central government. Some 200 people are said to have been massacred in Jonglei state on the border to the north.
The culprit, apparently, is George Athor, a former general in the South Sudanese army who mutinied last year. His men are said to have attacked civilians and driven them into a river. General Athor has received support from northern Sudanese forces hostile to an independent state in the south. With Western help, South Sudanese forces last autumn impounded a helicopter transporting men and munitions from the north to his rebel base.
However, last month General Athor agreed a ceasefire with the South Sudanese government. He was the last of a whole range of rebels dotted around the south who have returned to the fold. If that is reversed, a peaceful secession looks less likely. General Athor may have received a green light from his supporters in the central government to wreck southern independence. But even if not, the attack is still deeply worrying.
The greatest threat to the creation of a state of South Sudan comes from internal conflicts. The civil war with the north, where the central government is based, ended in 2005 and while fighting has flared up on occasion, the peace has held overall. At the same time, tensions between the various armed groups inside the south have remained high. The South Sudanese are perhaps their own worst enemies.
EVERY trend has its cliches. Africa's growing resource wealth (see this week's Economist) is invariably called a "scramble". Publishers seem to find it impossible to put out a book on growing oil wealth and burgeoning mineral extraction in the once colonised continent without prominent reference the tussle, scurry, dogfight—choose your synonym—for Africa by European nations (which followed the Conference of Berlin in 1884-1885, which regulated trade and colonisation in Africa, is proving another increasingly popular reference point in academic literature). So here is your choice of scrambles (add your own egg):
THE Angolan government this week said it sees Luanda, the capital, as a "new Dubai" and there certainly are similarities with the emirate. Luanda has access to vast oil wealth. If only they could get visas, tourists would love the beaches and game parks. Flight routes have been improving following the opening of a modern airport; planes arrive non-stop from Europe and America, mostly carrying oil engineers. Ryanair, the low-cost carrier, has looked into the route from London.
Then there are Luanda’s new skyscrapers. Oil money has swept into local banks and quickly seeped into the construction sector (even though the country much more desperately needs farm loans to boost agriculture). Half a dozen more luxury hotels are under construction along the Marginal, the waterfront promenade, adding to the spiky shadows over the marina on the sandy Ilha peninsula where a $5.5m 110-ft Ferretti lords it over the other super-yachts.
If only that were enough. Dubai’s rise may have started with oil but it has long since run out and the emirate now relies on banking, tourism and foreign investment, sectors where Luanda, and Angola in general, do poorly. Few banks give the appearance of commercial savvy or probity. One critic refers to them as "Laundromats". The American government recently froze the accounts of the Angolan embassy in Washington over irregularities.
Suspicion runs both ways. In formerly Marxist Luanda, foreigners from capitalist countries are not warmly welcomed. It is nigh impossible to get a visa unless one has a powerful sponsor or some other in. Those who make it past the airport face additional hurdles. It takes 56 steps to set up a business if you are Angolan, and foreigners must jump through even more (even tighter) hoops.
Baobab was walking along a seafront road between the presidential palace and the national police command this week when an armed policeman approached and asked to see my passport. Two Japanese were caught in the same drag net. We explained—using primitive sign language--that we were not carrying our passports and in any case did not speak Portuguese. The copper became increasingly irate. He spoke no English except for "mani, mani" (try saying it out loud). His less-than subtle demands for a backhander eventually led him to write $10 into the sand with a stick. We continued to insist that we didn’t understand. He stammered, "Angola… policia… bandidos." We smiled broadly and repeated, "No Portuguese". The policeman shook his head—presumably at how thick the world outside Angola must be—and let us go.
AFTER weeks of good news from South Sudan, where a peaceful referendum last month paved the way for independence in July, reports from Juba suggest that Jimmy Lemi Milla, minister for co-operatives and rural development, has been shot in his office. This is unlikely to be the start of a sustained campaign of violence or an attack on secessionist leaders more generally. But it does make clear how far South Sudan is still from having a fully functioning state. Security is amazingly lax in the soon-to-be-capital. A gate that leads on to the airport runway is often left open and entire private convoys drive up to planes. Passenger screening is little better. In town, anyone can walk into the parliament building or into ministers' offices. Among officials, only Salva Kiir, the president, is properly protected. Foreign embassy offices and aid agencies are too, having built little fortresses for themselves surrounded by razor-wire topped walls. Given the violent nature of Sudanese politics in recent decades that seems more than justified. Security firms do brisk business, just not in government offices.
FILING expenses is one of Baobab’s least favourite things to do, never more so than after a trip to Angola. It is painful to explain to The Economist bosses that Luanda, the capital, really is that expensive. A by no means luxurious hotel room costs $400, a non-alcoholic drink in the lobby $10 ($2 in a supermarket). The underwhelming hotel buffet will set you back $75 and a pizza on a street corner $25.
A regular taxi ride easily adds up to $50, especially since the taxi company (the only one in town) starts the meter as soon as the car leaves the depot. There are no cruising cabs. For a driver with a decent car I paid $350 per day (for two days only, then I walked everywhere in 35°C heat and 100% humidity). An apartment costs $10,000-$15,000 to rent per month or at least a million dollars to buy. Labourers get paid $50 per month. That tells you a lot about the gap between rich and poor. Angola has one of the worst Gini coefficients in the world.
For several years Luanda has been the most expensive city in the world. That is not primarily a consequence of the influx of oil money, although there is a lot of it about since Angola is sub-Saharan Africa’s second biggest producer. The crazy prices were initially the result of limited supply during and shortly after the civil war that ended in 2002. When peace became permanent, trade routes opened up again and new companies tried to enter the market.
But insiders had come to like the wildly above-average profits they were making and so made sure the trade barriers stayed in place. In Luanda an avocado can cost $5, while in the countryside you get a hundred avocados for $10. To get fruit to town, lorry drivers and merchants have to negotiate a mesmerising obstacle course of bribe-seeking officials, guards, thugs, policemen and soldiers.
The supermarket Casa Dos Frescos sold a melon for $100 shortly before Christmas to an irate Frenchman. He tried to sue the retailer for profiteering in a local court last month and presented a picture of the rather ordinary melon plus the receipt. The judge threw out the case for lack of evidence—the original melon. The Frenchman had eaten it.
IN THE past five years, Bill and Melinda Gates have given more money and ideas to Africa than most European countries. They discovered early on that the problem with philanthropy in Africa was finding partners "on the ground" reliable enough to do the work and not just suckle on the milksome teat of Seattle. In response, they have sought to make the most of their giving by focusing on measurable technologies. In this guest post for Baobab, Mr Gates argues that the focus of the Gates Foundation should be health and agriculture. Medicine, especially, is the very hardware of development. He reports that since 1980 vaccines have cut polio in Africa by 99%, diptheria and measles by 93%, and measles by 85%. Even so, the "wise government investments" on health and agriculture Mr Gates points to have mostly been designed and paid for by donors. While giving all credit to unparalleled generosity of wallet and spirit, Baobab would argue that given the limited time Africa has to take advantage of its demographic dividend—10 years at most—imaginative philanthropists (and many others besides) should urgently work to come up with new thinking and opportunities on urbanisation and new media. Software matters too.
In 1993, Melinda and I took our first trip to Africa. I was working with Microsoft at the time, and I was convinced that the power of technology could change the world. But during our visit, I saw that many of the world’s life-saving, life-enhancing discoveries were not available in Africa. That was deeply upsetting to me. It didn’t fit my belief that innovation is for everyone. I became convinced that if science and technology were better applied to the challenges of Africa, the tremendous potential of the continent would be unleashed, and people could be healthier and fulfill their promise.
Since our first visit, many African countries have made striking advances, driven by wise government investments in health and education and agriculture. Incomes have risen. Poverty has fallen. Trade and investment have doubled. Childhood deaths are down. Africa is on the rise. When a country has the skill and self-confidence to take action against its biggest problems, it makes outsiders eager to be a part of it. That is why Melinda and I are so optimistic about our work on the continent. We see the promise.
The principal focus of our foundation is on health. We believe that if children are healthy, they can learn, become educated, start businesses, improve their farms, and help their families prosper. In the area of vaccines—the biggest financial commitment of our foundation—there have been some striking successes. From 1980 to 2008, vaccines drove diphtheria cases down 93 percent, tetanus cases down 85 percent, and measles cases down 93 percent.
But if we don’t keep moving forward, we quickly fall behind. In the last few years, we didn’t do so well vaccinating for measles, and that led to outbreaks in 28 countries. This doesn’t have to happen. Last year, Melinda went to Malawi and was inspired to see that frontline, well-trained health care workers helped the country reach at least 85 percent of all infants with standard vaccines. All countries should try to match that.
An immediate test is polio. Polio cases have dropped 99 percent. We are on the threshold of eradicating the disease. But the last few years have given us a humbling lesson in how difficult it is to eradicate a disease. The answer is a strong, society-wide partnership of people and their leaders to strengthen vaccine coverage. We can end polio. We are so close.
We have been especially impressed with Africa’s progress on malaria. Ten countries have dropped cases and deaths by 50 percent. The effort has been a model of government-citizen action. I hope we can see this same kind of partnership in other crucial challenges, such as AIDS, vaccines, and agriculture.
In AIDS, treatment has expanded to 5 million people. That’s an impressive accomplishment. But there are 33 million people living with HIV. Treating every one of them would cost four times the money currently provided. The maths is harsh, but inescapable: we cannot defeat AIDS unless we dramatically cut the number of new cases through prevention.
To do that, we have to make new preventive tools widely available as soon as possible, especially male circumcision, microbicide gels, and an anti-HIV drug that blocks infection. The people of Africa and their leaders should demand these preventive tools now.
Finally, I believe that agriculture—our foundation’s second-biggest commitment after health—offers one of the greatest opportunities in Africa. If African farmers can use improved seeds and better practices to grow more crops and get them to market, then millions of families can earn themselves a better living and a better life.
The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, led by a former United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, is working to develop and distribute new seeds that have higher yields and stronger resistance to pests, drought, and disease. If citizens and their governments ensure that African farmers can use these new seeds and have all the advantages of recent advances, the farmland of Africa can become the answer to hunger and poverty—and a trigger for wide economic growth.
JULIUS MALEMA, firebrand leader of the ruling African National Congress’s Youth League, can apparently get away with singing songs urging people to “Shoot the Boer”, but not, it seems, with suggesting that the ANC might own a nightclub where South Africa’s new black elite can lick sushi off a near-naked woman’s body.
At a multi-million rand sushi and champagne bash, hosted by Kenny Kunene, a flamboyant ex-convict turned business tycoon, to advertise the imminent opening of his ZAR club in Cape Town, Mr Malema accused Helen Zille, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, of trying to close down all nightclubs in the DA-run Mother City with her new liquor-licensing laws. "This one belongs to the ANC", he announced triumphantly—with the implication that it was therefore untouchable.
The ANC was not amused. A similarly lavish party, complete with sushi-bedecked blond beauties, hosted by Mr Kunene to celebrate his 40th birthday at his ZAR club in Johannesburg last year, also attended by party-animal Mr Malema, provoked much tut-tutting in a country where more than half the population still lives below the poverty line. Zwelinzima Vavi, leader of Cosatu, the main trade-union federation, an ANC ally, said that such ostentatious displays of wealth, often secured by dubious means, "turn my stomach".
At the time, the ANC, itself not usually averse to a good knees-up, said little. But then it wasn’t facing imminent local government elections. Now it is, and women make up over half the electorate.
In a terse statement issued on January 31st, the ruling party, which has more than its fair share of the so-called "black-diamond" set, said it wished to make it "categorically clear" that it had no interest in running a nightclub or in endorsing its owners. "The ANC is not into nightclubs or partying," it claimed, "it is a revolutionary movement," and serving sushi on a woman’s body was decidedly "anti-ANC and anti-revolutionary". It was also "defamatory, insensitive and undermining of a woman’s integrity". Mr Kunene has now bowed to ANC pressure and says he won't be throwing any more sushi parties (for the time being).
Mr Malema, who comes up for re-election as the Youth League president in June, promptly claimed he had been misquoted. He fully agreed that the ANC wasn’t "into nightclubs or partying", he insisted. He and the League also disapproved of "serving any kind of food on human bodies". All he had said at Mr Kunene's do was that the right of black people to own a club in predominantly white territory was given to them because of the ANC. Odd that so many journalists got his quote quite so wrong.
IN RICH countries the advertising slogan above has become a description of reality: online stores for applications that run on smartphones now boast hundreds of thousands of apps and billions of downloads. More surprisingly, the words have started to ring true in the poor world as well. Since mobile phones have become widespread there, services that go beyond voice and text messages are multiplying—facilitating everything from transferring money to identifying fake goods and logistics to the mapping of natural disasters.
To be sure, these services still only number in the hundreds and most are delivered via simple mobile phones. But should they take off, their impact could be momentous for the development of poor countries. They make bad physical infrastructure less of a problem; they connect the world’s poor to the digital economy; they help them learn; they give them a voice; they cut out middle-men. Yet for mobile services to have the truly transformative effect they might, aid organisations, telecoms operators and governments have to get behind them.
Unfortunately, most of these services, however promising, appear stuck in the pilot phase. Few seem able to scale up enough to really make an impact. They are too dependent on donor money. They have neither the capital nor the technology to grow beyond their initial market. Worst of all, their founders often lack the business skills to market the offerings effectively and make money from them.
Ultimately, it will be up to clever entrepreneurs to overcome these barriers. But others must help. Start with aid organisations. Their seed money is often needed to get a service off the ground. Yet instead of creating yet another "m-services project", as many do, they should focus on funding much-needed research on the impact of mobile services and on spreading knowledge to stimulate entrepreneurship.
Telecoms operators, too, need to change their approach. They often try to do everything themselves. Instead they should turn their networks in to platforms on top of which others can build services. This would include launching app stores and providing basic services that more complex offerings need, such as payment and identity. Operators should also support mobile services with reduced rates. In Bangladesh, for instance, carriers agreed to halve the price of airtime for English lessons people can listen to on mobile phones. As a result, the service, called BBC Janala and sponsored by the BBC World Service Trust, has now 1.2m regular users.
Yet it is governments that must do most. In many countries, mobile communications are still much more pricey that they could be, making them unaffordable for many. In some, not enough radio spectrum is made available, in particular for next-generation networks. In others, governments pile on taxes; in sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, the ratio of mobile-related tax to operator revenues exceeds 30%. Another reason for high rates is that in some countries there is not enough competition. Incumbent operators are often the only player at the table with a well-trained and well-paid staff—and are thus able to shape telecoms policy. In Kenya, for instance, rates have dropped steeply since Bharthi Airtel, which pioneered rock-bottom rates in India, has aggressively moved into this market (although there needs to be some regulation of speed as well as price).
At the same time, governments should use mobile services themselves whenever they can, not least to make their bureaucracies more efficient. In the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, a clever combination of a mobile phone, a fingerprint reader and a small printer is used to disburse welfare payments and pensions directly—cutting out the middleman, often a corrupt local official who takes a cut. Governments should also support the development of “innovation hubs”, such as the iHub in Nairobi, which has become the place to be for many African start-ups.
Mobile services are certainly no cure-all for the ills of poor countries. But they could provide them with a huge boost, if more were done to remove the obstacles to their wider adoption.
Still, the space between political risk and technology in emerging markets is a fertile one for Baobab to explore. How to judge the utility and durability of technologies for economies which have 80% unemployment, which are unstable, and which are environmentally stressed? Consumer electronics and apps go only so far in dealing with issues like climate change, failing soils, ill-considered urbanisation, and rampant population growth. The choice of innovation matters just as much, or more, with simple technologies, vitamin pills, for instance, or cooking stoves. In rural Ethiopia last week, Baobab was struck by how even the poorest farmers wanted to abandon their traditional wattle-and-daub construction for inferior and more expensive cement and glass. What mattered to the farmers was making a statement that they were moving up in the world. Yet the new building materials were less functional, less beautiful, and less sustainable than the existing ones. In Baobab's view that is the kind of failure of ideas and of the market that increases political risk. Expect much more from Baobab on such technology questions as the year goes on.
AFTER an eight-year struggle, Botswana’s indigenous Bushmen have won the right to access borehole water in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, enabling them to resume their millennia-old hunter-gatherer lifestyle on their ancestral lands. On January 27th the Court of Appeal, Botswana’s highest court, ruled that the government ban on their use of the borehole, in one of the driest regions in the world, amounted to “inhuman and degrading treatment”.
For reasons no one can quite fathom, the government has been trying to remove the scantily clad Bushmen from the Central Kalahari since the mid-1980s. Some link this to the discovery of diamonds in the reserve at about that time. Others say that the predominant Tswana people, who did not arrive in Botswana until the 15th century, are embarrassed by their paler-skinned countrymen. President Ian Khama has described their way of life as an “archaic fantasy”.
In 2002 the government forcibly evicted about 5,000 Bushmen from their traditional homeland, placing them in soulless resettlement camps outside the reserve. But in December 2006 a court ruled their eviction to be unconstitutional and they were allowed back. Although the government decided not to appeal, it has sought other ways to prevent the Bushmen returning to the reserve, including sealing off their only borehole. The required water infrastructure could endanger the life of wild animals, it argued. The same reasoning did not seem to apply to luxury safari camps, complete with showers and swimming pools, in the area.
Most of the Bushmen were forced to go back to the resettlement camps, where they became dependent on alcohol and government food hand-outs. But a few decided to remain, some making a 300km roundtrip to collect water on their donkeys—until the government decided to ban those too. A High Court ruling last year, upholding the government’s borehole ban, appeared to dash the Bushmen’s hope of ever returning to their ancestral lands. The Court of Appeal, from which no further appeal is possible, has now overturned that judgment. But how many will actually wish to go back to the rigours of their traditional way of life is another matter.
AFTER two days of media frenzy and rumour-mongering over the state of Nelson Mandela’s health, the South African government broke its silence at lunchtime today to announce that, far from being at death’s door, South Africa’s first black president was “in good health”. There was “no need to panic”, the country’s deputy-president, Kgalema Motlanthe, said. The 92-year-old national icon was in “high spirits” following treatment for an acute pulmonary infection and has now been discharged from hospital.
Until the press conference at which Mr Motlanthe was speaking, nothing definite had been heard about Mr Mandela’s condition since a first report put out on January 26th by the Mandela Foundation, which deals with his public relations, announcing his admission to Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg for what were described as routine tests. Concern mounted when grim-looking political dignitaries and family members, including his second wife, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, started arriving at the hospital but refused to talk to the hordes of journalists gathered outside. Officials likewise refused to answer journalists’ calls.
There appeared to be a complete news blackout. Under those conditions, it was inevitable that rumours would spread. The situation was not helped by a statement from the president’s office, issued a full 24 hours after Mr Mandela’s hospitalisation, calling for calm and saying that President Jacob Zuma, in Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, was being "kept abreast of developments". That sounded ominous rather than reassuring. South Africans began to fear the worst as thousands of messages of sympathy started to flood in from around the world, including one from President Barack Obama and his wife.
Concern turned to alarm when the nation’s beloved liberation hero was kept for a second night in hospital with still no explanation as to what was going on. When journalists protested, they were castigated for behaving like vultures. Speculation over Mr Mandela’s health was "very un-African and very alien to the African culture”, Mr Zuma’s official spokesman said. But at today’s press conference, Mr Motlanthe admitted that "with the wisdom of hindsight, we could have handled this matter differently".
Mr Mandela is now back at his home in the affluent Johannesburg suburb of Houghton. The military surgeon-general, who is responsible for the health of all the country's presidents, past and present, said that Mr Mandela had surprised doctors daily with his powers of recovery. He had responded well to treatment and his condition was now "stable", though still subject to intense monitoring. "Medically," he said, "there is at the moment no need to panic." Nic Dawes, editor of the Mail and Guardian, South Africa's leading political weekly, summed up the emotions of many of his compatriots when he wrote: "What South Africans feel for Madiba (Mr Mandela's clan name) is not simply affection or respect. Even love may not be a strong enough word. His presence is part of our national being. We worry that we may not be quite ourselves without him."
THE preliminary official results from southern Sudan’s independence vote prove unsurprising to Sudan-watchers. Figures posted over the weekend on the referendum commission’s website show that more than 99 percent of voters in the south’s plebiscite want secession for their oil-rich but everything-else-poor homeland.
The vote has already been praised by observers, and there is little doubt that the process is indeed representative of the will of the Southern Sudanese people. Thanks to the commission’s efforts to keep its website up-to-date with the latest results as they are processed, it is easy to track voter turnout across the south and to see the how many favour unity and how many secession. But a cross-check between the number of votes cast per county and the number of voters listed for each county in the final voter registry reveals discrepancies in more than half of the south’s ten states.
Turnout of more than 100 percent in ten of the 60-plus counties where all of the ballots have already been processed has yet to be explained by the commission, which has opted to quarantine results only from polling stations where turnout exceeded 105, not 100, percent. International observers in Juba have quietly expressed scepticism about this choice, saying that it is not in keeping with international standards. Advisers working for the commission have accounted for this decision by saying last year’s voter registration process was flawed—an issue which no one bothered raising publicly during or immediately after the vote.
Minor hiccups aside, the nearly four million people who voted in the referendum will almost certainly see their wishes realised. However, several key steps remain before the Juba government can declare independence come July. Aside from securing international recognition of the vote, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement must address a range of thorny issues related to its imminent divorce from the National Congress Party in Khartoum. They range from the division of $38 billion of debt to the demarcation of a contentious border to agreeing upon the future status of Abyei, an oil-soaked strip of land straddling the border between the two halves of Sudan. Northern and southern officials will need to find common ground—and fast—at the negotiating table if a definitive agreement is to be reached before the 2005 north-south peace deal expires on July 9th this year.
At the same time, the Juba and Khartoum governments both have "domestic" issues to contend with which could distract from the all-important north-south negotiations: rising food prices in both regions plus a discontented populace in the north and a hopeful one in the south mean both governments will have their hands full in the run-up to the country’s split.
BAOBAB wrote a piece on conservation last year which began with the strange journey of four northern white rhinos from a zoo in the Czech Republic to a conservancy close to the icy peak of Mount Kenya in central Kenya. The beasts constituted half of the northern white rhinos left alive on the planet. The move home to Africa was a last-ditch attempt to save them from extinction. The hope was that back in the wild (or almost the wild, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy being surrounded by electric fences), the male rhinos would find their vigour and the females their lustre.
And so they have. Baobab can report that the northern whites have started the year with a bang. The first mating was between the oldest northern white, Sudan, and a southern white rhino named Aramiet. That will not save the northern white, which has probably been distinct from the southern whites for one million years. But a second mating, between Fatu and Suni, northern white on northern white, just might. To Baobab, the vitality of the rhinos is a challenge to the claims of rich-world zoos that they are the ark of salvation: Africa is destroying its nature, unthinkingly, but under certain circumstances it can be the sanctuary of endangered species.
EARLIER this week, Baobab asked its readers to come up with ideas for a name for South Sudan if and when it secedes from the north. Yesterday Baobab conducted an unscientific opinion poll in the streets of Juba, the region's capital, asking residents for their thoughts on the best name for their homeland which hopes to take its place as the 193rd member of the United Nations later this year.
Southerners had creative ideas of their own on the topic, few of which, it might be noted, were among those suggested by Baobab readers. But many reasoned that keeping it simple would be best. An official in South Sudan's culture ministry said his government was not likely to rock the boat with an evocative choice such as "The Nile Republic" or "Kush". They might be seen as unrepresentative of the diverse south, whose population includes not only Christians and animists, but Muslims too as well as groups that are not "Nilotic" (the largest two tribes—the Dinka and the Nuer—are in fact Nilotics).
"If we called it Nile Republic, then we’d have to be 'Nilians' or 'Nilotics'," said Jacob Akoi, 24, an unemployed university graduate in Juba playing dominoes near a mobile-phone shop on Thursday morning. "That wouldn't be right. We are South Sudan, we don’t need a new name."
Dismissing the suggestion that the name could benefit from the addition of a dollop of democracy, James Taban, 31, said that he thought the region's western neighbour would not approve. "We wouldn’t want to start conflict with the people of Congo,” he reasoned, referring to the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo next door.
Even devout Christians think choosing an overtly religious name, like Kush, would be a mistake. "That title does not represent all our peoples, and it includes peoples are not even part of the south," said Reverend Peter Deng. He pointed out that the Biblical “Kushites" are also found in Ethiopia and in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, a place which—to the chagrin of many of its people—has found itself north of the country’s contested north-south border.
A cluster of tea sellers in one of Juba’s main markets voiced the desire of many to hold onto the geographical reference as well. "We are southerners," said Hourida Hassan. "The South" has been a phrase and an idea that has united disparate, sometimes warring, factions within the region throughout the decades of war fought mostly against the Khartoum government—but sometimes against each other. "I grew up hearing 'the south,'" says a Southern Sudanese-British woman who, after growing up mostly in the UK, now lives and works in Juba. "It’s something that people can identify with."
IN A land where the state has yet to set up much in the way of infrastructure, the church with its simple but sturdy network is king. At least, so one might be tempted to say in South Sudan where a civil administration is only gradually being built as the region heads towards independence, separating southern Christians from northern Muslims. A secession referendum held last week enjoys massive backing from church leaders who are far more respected by the population than the grim old bush fighters that lead the soon-to-be country. Priests urged believers to vote in churches across the south.
President Salva Kiir, a Catholic, regularly appears at the cathedral in Juba and he sometimes sermonises or leads prayers. But the priests are keen to point out that only they do the preaching. At one point last year, the bishop prevented the president from speaking, saying "today is a time of peace". The tension between the two institutions, though not especially high, is palpable. Government leaders are jealous of the stability of the church. It is the only organisation that survived decades of civil war intact. In fact, it has thrived, in part because it alone could offer steady, non-violent employment to the educated.
Evangelical interlopers were scared away by violence, but that is no longer the case. Charismatics are building churches in Juba, even if out in the countryside—where most South Sudanese still live—the traditional church still rules. The church has lost half of its priests since the end of the civil war in 2005 a wider choice of employers has become available. But new priests are still joining.
January 2nd, a Sunday, was the climax of campaigning for the referendum that started a week later and Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro travelled several hours from Juba to the town of Lirya. A new church had been built on a hill last year and plastic chairs covered the tiled floor. A generator was producing enough power to run fans, a rarity, and a gospel choir sang with all its might. Priests read a litany of saints and after each one the congregation exulted "pray for us". As the archbishop walked in he was joined by dancers in traditional dress, musicians and nuns.
Most of the town's thousand-strong population thronged in and around the church and still more could be seen arriving through swathes of tall grass. Tinny bells rang and drums rumbled. Women chanted, clapped and ululated. The archbishop said, "This is a great success for the church in Sudan." He meant the building of a new church and the ordaining of a priest, the reason for his visit that day. But everyone understood the political significance. A local village official came to the altar and read out an appeal to vote in the referendum. The archbishop endorsed it and amplified it. He said he was praying for peace and then, mixing pidgin Arabic and English, the two main tongues in Sudan, he said, "killo vote": everyone vote.
YOU can tell a lot about a developing country from what its residents do with shipping containers. They are more than a means of transporting goods from factories and ports. South Asians turn them into shops by cutting open the front and adding tables for selling goods stored in the back. Some Afghan warlords have perfected the weapon-isation of the shipping container (which was originally used to ship American materials during the Vietnam War), using them as prison cells, torture chambers and execution grounds.
But in terms of ingenuity the South Sudanese are hard to beat. They have embraced the shipping container (which comes in a choice of 20-foot or 40-foot models) as the basic building block in the construction boom accompanying their search for independence. Many of the foreign officials and journalists who flocked to the capital, Juba, to witness the referendum on secession last week know all too well. They sleep in containers. Building materials are hard to come by since no paved roads reach Juba and there are few original buildings. So the South Sudanese hold on to the containers brought in on rutted dirt tracks and turn them into dwellings. Anyone who has visited UN and embassy compounds in Iraq and Afghanistan will nod sagely in recognition.
But they would be wrong. These really are actual shipping containers, not the purpose-built housing units en vogue in Baghdad and Kabul. They can be lined up on the ground or stacked up with an external staircase connecting them. For protection against the sun the South Sudanese put thatched roofs on top. Heat is also reduced by attaching air-conditioning units. To get a bit of light, windows are cut into the exterior walls, as well as regular doors. The interior is often divided with plywood walls, especially useful when the containers function as hotel rooms. A bathroom is cordoned off at one end of the container and a sink and toilet are installed. A shower can be cemented on to the floor, which is often covered with laminate. The nicer containerised hotel rooms in Juba come with desks and double beds covered with mosquito nets (see picture). Baobab spent New Year in his container and slept rather well.
AFTER a week's voting in a long-anticipated referendum, the secession of South Sudan looks ever more likely. The early results suggest that southerners have voted overwhelmingly in favour of splitting from the north and forming a new country. If and when the world's 193rd country is born, there will be many things to decide. What will it adopt as its national anthem? Which numbers will it pick as its international dialling code? Will it continue to use .sd as its internet domain suffix? But most importantly, before any of these, what will this newborn country be called? The north will no doubt hang on to the Republic of Sudan moniker so that's off the cards. Will it want to emphasize its Christian and animist character, in contrast to the largely Muslim north? Will it be keen to add a bit of democracy into its alias as many others choose to do? Given this opportunity, will a new government choose something more fanciful? To give them some ideas, we'd like you, our readers, to come up with some suggestions for names for Africa's newest state. Please leave your ideas in the comments box below.
Update: Read what South Sudanese in Juba had to say about their future country's name.
SHORTLY before dawn on Friday January 14th, Goodluck Jonathan was pronounced the victor at Nigeria’s ruling party primaries. As the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which has been in power since the end of army rule in 1999, Mr Jonathan is now likely to win presidential polls due in April. That would place a man often referred to as an “accidental leader” at the helm of Africa’s most populous country and biggest energy producer for the next four years.
In some ways, Mr Jonathan should have been in a position of weakness at the all-night event in Abuja’s Eagle Square, where some 3,500 delegates in colourful traditional robes cast their votes into glass boxes.
First, Mr Jonathan is relatively inexperienced. He came to power unexpectedly last May following the death of then president Umaru Yar’Adua. He had previously served as Mr Yar’Adua’s rather quiet vice-president. Atiku Abubakar, Mr Jonathan’s main rival for the PDP ticket, was a founding member of the party and an adroit dealmaker with two decades in national politics. “I am more trustworthy, experienced and prepared for the task,” Mr Abubakar said in his final speech to the delegates at dusk on Thursday, before voting began.
Second, Mr Jonathan’s candidacy breaks the PDP’s “zoning” pact, an informal agreement whereby the presidency rotates between Nigeria’s mostly Muslim north and largely Christian south every two terms. Mr Jonathan is Nigeria’s first leader to hail from the oil-rich and restive southern delta. Mr Abubakar hails from the north-eastern state of Adamawa.
Yet Mr Jonathan won in 31 of Nigeria's 36 states and Abuja itself, counted as its own area though not a separate state. He even won in most of the northern states, including Adamawa. The president’s backers say delegates are clearly fed up of zoning and want to select candidates on merit. But others say the result simply proves the “power of incumbency”—a phrase muttered in many of Abuja’s plushest hotel bars and suites last week.
Nigerian primaries and elections have historically favoured the sitting president, who can steer a patronage network funded by vast oil and gas revenues. The incumbent can also bestow his blessing on those seeking political appointments. Mr Jonathan’s smartest move, some say, was to back PDP state governors seeking a second term in April.
Last Wednesday, rival camps were darting around Abuja to secure last-minute support. Whatever happened during the discussions and deals, they were certainly exhausting affairs. Although the primaries were slated to start at 10am on Thursday, Eagle Square's concrete parade ground was deserted until late afternoon, as delegates caught up on much-needed sleep. The president himself had only finished the night’s meetings at 9 o'clock that morning.
On this blog our correspondents delve into the politics, economics and culture of the continent of Africa, from Cairo to the Cape. The blog takes its name from the baobab, a massive tree that grows throughout much of Africa. It stores water, provides food and is often called the tree of life.