Also today: Chinese negotiate with Cameroonians over kidnapped fishermen; Uganda’s government tries to pass draconian press law; Senegalese arrest telecoms regulator over embezzlement of funds; Sierra Leonean woman wins high court bid to become chief; Nigeria’s election date depends on electoral reforms; Sierra Leone’s fisheries minister hung out to dry.
Split Nigeria in half, says Gaddafi
The Dear Brother Leader reckons Nigeria should be divided into two countries to avoid further religious bloodshed. No doubt Muammar Gaddafi would then offer to be eternal ruler of the Muslim half. He didn’t want to leave his year-long job as head honcho of the African Union, so his bid to divorce Nigerian Muslims from Christians could revive his flagging CV. It’s certainly revived his media profile! When Gaddafi doesn’t like someone or something, he’s never short of a quick solution. Last year, he said Switzerland should be abolished and divided between Italy, Germany and France. That’s because the Swiss detained and then released one of his sons for abusing two servants while in Geneva. He said the partition of Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan had saved many lives. In actual fact, hundreds of thousands of people were killed at the time, and the countries fought regular wars thereafter. No matter. The King of Africa’s Kings characterised recent bloodshed in the Nigerian city of Jos as a deep conflict of a religious nature caused by a federal state which was imposed by the British. Other astute analysts think it’s because of a complex mix of political, social and economic grievances. Photo: Reuters.
Chinese negotiate with Cameroonians over kidnapped fishermen
China and Cameroon are negotiating the release of seven Chinese fishermen kidnapped by pirates off the coast of the West African country. The hijackers want a ransom in cash – just like Somali pirates on the other side of the continent – rather than nabbing the cargo, which is what they usually do. Maybe they mistook the fishing vessel for a Chinese spy ship (there’s oil in them thar waters) and hoped to nick expensive equipment. Or, maybe the ransom contagion has spread from East Africa to West, as Somali pirates rake in millions of dollars by holding ships and crews, and don’t have to bother selling anything on. Thousands of Chinese fishermen fish in the rich waters off West Africa, and not legally by any means. The Cameroonians say their policy is never to pay a ransom, which could confuse the Chinese, who have lots of kidnapping back home. Now, the Chinese have to deal with the wiles of brigands on distant shores. That’s a price they’ll pay for investing in Africa, and the frequency of such criminal acts offshore and onshore in future is likely to soar in proportion to the money they put in. Little more than a year ago, armed Cameroonian pirates kidnapped six French nationals, saying they’d kill them unless talks were restarted over Cameroon’s legally conducted takeover of the Bakassi Peninsula, which formerly belonged to Nigeria. So it goes.
Uganda’s government tries to pass draconian press law
Uganda’s trying to pass a law that will allow government to shutter newspapers and jail journalists for articles said to undermine national security, stability and unity. President Yoweri Museveni and his cohorts will be the ones that define what that is in each case, and seeing as he’s ruled for 24 years and is standing for another term, it’s going to be entirely arbitrary. One editor says the bill is timed for a media crackdown ahead of 2011 elections. All media houses will now be required to apply for an annual operating licence. Many fear Museveni is becoming more like his predecessors, Milton Obote and Idi Amin, who also wanted to rule for life, but didn’t quite get there.
Senegalese arrest telecoms regulator over embezzlement of funds
Senegal’s arrested the former head of its telecoms regulator on suspicion of embezzling funds, according to Reuters. Authorities say Daniel Goumala Seck pocketed 2% of about $200 million from the 2007 award of a telephone operating licence to Sudan’s Sudatel. It seems his favourite employees also got a cut of the $4 million, but all is denied by his lawyer. Seck has yet to be charged, which at least means there’s some due process. Remember, you’re innocent until proven guilty, even if your client only has 2% market share. Sudatel launched Senegal’s third mobile network in 2009 and will no doubt have trouble gaining some 98% of the market held by two other firms.
Sierra Leonean woman wins high court bid to become chief
A Sierra Leone judge says a Iye Kendor Bandabla’s bid to become a paramount chief is lawful. The landmark ruling came after the high court overturned a ban on her becoming head honcho of an eastern district in the country. Traditionalists oppose women becoming chiefs everywhere except the south, where it’s accepted. Women’s rights activists have now vowed to fight similar bans in other regions, and will use the legal precedent to fight this in the supreme court, where they are lobbying for the nationwide acceptance of female paramount chiefs. Bandabla said her father and grandfather had both served as paramount chiefs, and that it’s her constitutional right to contest for the position. You go gal!
Nigeria’s election date depends on electoral reforms
Nigeria’s next presidential vote will be in January or April 2011, depending on the outcome of electoral reforms before parliament. That means there’ll be lots of politicking in the interim, as President Umaru Yar’Adua is too sick to govern. He’s just back in the country after months in a Saudi Arabian hospital, but hasn’t yet been seen in public. His deputy Goodluck Jonathan is now running the nation of 140 million people with parliament’s blessing, but there are various court cases in process that dispute the constitutionality of this. The current presidential term ends in May 2011, with elections scheduled for April that year, but the reform bill could change that. Demonstrators in big cities have claimed a cabal headed by Yar’Adua’s wife is running the country, so things are a bit rickety at present. But the biggest issue is whether the traditional rotation of the presidency between Muslims and Christians will continue as normal. By rights, it should go to a Muslim northerner (like Yar’Adua) as he is still in his first four-year term. But with the recent bouts of bitter politicking, that’s not assured.
Sierra Leone’s fisheries minister hung out to dry
Sierra Leone has fired fisheries minister Haja Afasatu Kabba, alleging abuse of office and financial irregularities, which she denies. She’s the third minister in four months to be sacked in an anti-corruption drive, so holding high office in Freetown these days is not a healthy thing to do. A British government-owned development finance institution holds a stake in Sierra Fishing Co., the country’s largest fishing business. But whether they will sink or swim over President Ernest Bai Koroma’s decision is not yet known. The country’s Anti-Corruption Commission first took out health minister Tejan Koromam, and then the minister of state of the vice president Leonard Balogun Koroma (sounds like he might be a relative of the president), after accusing them of corruption. So, it’s all change at the top in the former British colony, which is trying to attract foreign investment in its natural resources – especially big deposits of iron ore and other minerals (some of them formerly known as “blood diamonds”) – after ending a decade or so of brutal civil war in 2002.