12 February: Zambia’s Chiluba loses big appeal
Also today: Ivorians say hasta la vista to polls; British government squirms over torture allegation; Nigerian central bank claims full-speed ahead for reforms as Jonathan takes throne; UN continues to worry that Sudan’s bluffing over Darfur prosecutions; Ugandan president tells sages what onions they should know; EU gives Zimbabwean peasants peanuts.
Zambia’s Chiluba loses big appeal
Zambia's supreme court has dismissed an application by former president Frederick Chiluba to ignore a British court ruling that he pinched money from public coffers while in power. In 2007, a UK judge ordered Chiluba to pay $58 million to the Zambian treasury, as compensation for alleged theft during his 10 years in office. Zambian officials filed a civil case in Britain to try to recover assets in Europe owned by Chiluba and his mates. Now Zambian prosecutors can register the UK judgment in the Lusaka high court so it can be enforced in Zambia. It should get even more interesting from here on in, but it won’t be quick. Photo: Reuters.
Ivorians say hasta la vista to polls
Ivory Coast can kiss its dismal farce of even pretending to hold elections goodbye. The poll has been repeatedly postponed since 2005, following a 2002/3 war that split the country in two. The vote was scheduled for the end of this month, but President Laurent Gbagbo, who has accused the nation’s electoral commission of trying to add hundreds of thousands of disputed names to the electoral register, has now suspended voter registration indefinitely. He says the names haven’t been cross-checked to ensure they’re those of Ivorian citizens. Many Ivorians are descendants of migrants from neighbouring countries and have ties to the mainly Muslim north. Ethnicity is what drove the country apart in the first place, but Gbagbo says the issue is fuelling tensions, so he’s delayed the vote again. And nobody can call his bluff, as he raises tensions even more.
British government squirms over torture allegation
A UK court of appeal allowed disclosure of secret information that backs claims of torture against an Ethiopian-born UK resident. Hooray for that, although the British government doesn’t think so. Binyam Mohamed says British spooks knew he was tortured in Pakistan and Morocco at the behest of US spies. His lawyer says there’s lots more information showing his client was abused during “extraordinary renditions” to “black site” prisons under the administration of George W Bush. The British government is in breach of UK law if what the CIA told British intelligence about Mohamed's treatment is true. So it’s reiterated that it doesn’t condone torture and cruelty, and quickly published the findings on the foreign office website. US agents suspected Mohamed of getting weapons and explosives training from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and it’s alleged that Mohamed was subsequently shackled and subjected to continuous sleep deprivation, which led to him being put on suicide watch. The court said the evidence didn’t compromise national security, but government said it brought the appeal because shared intelligence should stay shared. Now, the Americans think the Brits really are poodles and say they might not share intelligence so readily in future.
Nigerian central bank claims full-speed ahead for reforms as Jonathan takes throne
Nigeria’s Central Bank says there’ll be no slowdown in banking sector reforms after vice president Goodluck Jonathan took executive powers this week by becoming acting president. It seems that Jonathan has always been privy to Central Bank decisions, and gives them his blessings. The announcement puts some sort of a lid on one of the controversies surrounding Jonathan’s ascension to the top job as there were rumours a new committee had been set up to review the central bank's powers. The two-month absence of President Umaru Yar’Adua, who’s ill with heart problems, caused widespread fears of a power vacuum in the country of 140 million. But Jonathan has just sworn in 17 top civil servants, which points to government business returning to normal. Meanwhile, the bank plans to vary capital requirements for different types of banks, and may soon regulate proprietary trading to avoid a repeat of last year's banking crisis. Central Bank governor Lamido Sanusi says an obsession with rapid growth without managing risk had been central to the nation’s financial problems. He might have added that dozens of bankers are charged with fraud and theft in the notoriously corrupt country, after a crackdown by financial authorities.
UN continues to worry that Sudan’s bluffing over Darfur prosecutions
The UN says Sudan hasn’t charged or tried anyone for crimes in Darfur. That’s not surprising as President Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes there, and may soon see genocide added to the charge-sheet. Sudan appointed a special prosecutor for Darfur in 2008 after the killing of some 300,000 people in the region by armed militia said to be supported by Sudan’s government. Critics say Khartoum hoped any subsequent trials would delay the work of the ICC. Some 120 investigations are said to be underway, but the prosecutor says he’s facing problems accessing rebel-held areas and finding witnesses who left the country. Unfortunately, those are real problems, along with political will and capacity issues. Thabo Mbeki played a big role in this state of affairs, and few, if any, are likely to ever be prosecuted.
Ugandan president tells sages what onions they should know
Poor Uganda. It looks like it’s got another president for life. The country’s main opposition says President Yoweri Museveni wants to deny it media access ahead of presidential elections in early 2011. Museveni’s been in power for the last 24 years, and is expected to run for another five-year term. In the early part of his reign, he became the darling of the West because he likes capitalism and supported democracy. But now he’s starting to behave like his predecessors, Milton Obote and Idi Amin. Kiiza Besigye, leader of the Forum for Democratic Change party, says that FM radio stations cancelled his scheduled appearances on "orders from above". He claims Museveni’s party, the National Resistance Movement, is increasing harassment of media organisations that give a voice to opposition politicians. Museveni’s also been under pressure over an anti-gay bill tabled in Uganda. He’s stepped back from endorsing the death penalty for certain homosexual acts, after he realised investors and aid donors might look elsewhere.
EU gives Zimbabwean peasants peanuts
The EU will give tens of thousands of Zimbabwean subsistence farmers $13 million to help revive the country's devastated agriculture sector. Zimbabwe’s suffered chronic food shortages since 2001, when President Robert Mugabe started seizing white-owned farms to give them to landless black people. The EU says the cash will benefit some 80,000 households by way of training and inputs such as seed and fertiliser. The West won’t help Zimbabwe with the $10 billion it says it needs to get its feet back on the ground, until it’s satisfied that the road to democracy is really being restored. The paltry $13 million is evidence of how many potholes need to be filled.