Also today: Somali pirates set new distance record; South Sudan official jumps the gun on oil and independence; IMF tells Zimbabwe pay up, or else; Online campaigners target Ethiopia’s huge new dam.
Sudan’s Bashir makes Don Corleone remark about foreign election monitors
Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir says his government will “cut off the fingers” of foreign election monitors and “crush them under [its] shoes”, after they suggested the country’s first multiparty vote in 24 years should be delayed. He was mainly referring to the US-funded Carter Centre (of former US president Jimmy Carter) that claims the April poll is in jeopardy because of security concerns and the limited capacity of the nation’s electoral commission. Opposition politicians have also repeatedly said the election should be put back because of chronic instability in the south of the country, and a continuing refugee crisis in the western province of Darfur. The election is meant to redress the chaos caused by a 22-year north-south civil war that ended in 2005, but with Bashir’s turn of phrase, it sounds as if things are falling apart all over again. He’s already expelled 13 aid groups in retaliation for the International Criminal Court in The Hague issuing an arrest warrant against him for alleged war crimes in Darfur. Photo: Reuters.
Somali pirates set new distance record
EU naval forces say Somali pirates hijacked a ship in waters closer to India than Africa, signalling a marked change in the pirates’ range. They’ve previously taken vessels near the Seychelles, but now the EU – Nato combined maritime forces have launched a strategy to push the pirates further into mid-ocean, to make them more vulnerable. The Gulf of Aden has become one of the most dangerous shipping lanes in the world, with pirates having hijacked hundreds of vessels in recent years, for which they’ve been paid millions of dollars in ransom money. In the latest incident, a Turkish-flagged cargo ship was taken some 1,800km offshore, and now appears to be heading for one of the known pirate ports in Somalia with its 21-member crew. It’s a big stretch of water, and even the world’s biggest navies can’t be everywhere.
South Sudan official jumps the gun on oil and independence
A senior south Sudan official told Reuters the region will review oil deals struck between the government in Khartoum and foreign firms when it gains independence, citing concerns about excessive profits and environmental damage. That won’t help calm things before a jittery election scheduled for April that might lead to a 2011 referendum on southern independence, if, and only if, enough voters agree. The China National Petroleum Corp., Malaysia’s Petronas and India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corp. are the main foreign oil firms in Africa’s third biggest producer. Most of the oil lies in the southern part of the country, but a peace deal struck in 2005 provides for splitting revenues equally between the more populated north and much poorer south after they fought a two-decade civil war. Talk of an independent south Sudan reviewing the contracts at this time will only cause more trouble.
IMF tells Zimbabwe pay up, or else
The International Monetary Fund says Zimbabwe won’t get any more financing until it’s cleared its $140 million in arrears and rehabilitated infrastructure and social projects supporting vulnerable people, while at the same time maintaining macroeconomic stability. Western donors continue to hold back on providing crucial aid, despite Zimbabwe’s unity government managing to stabilise the economy after a catastrophic 10-year decline following President Robert Mugabe’s so-called land reform. The IMF says Harare needs to reduce the government’s wage bill and better prioritise budgetary expenditure. Zimbabwe owes about $6 billion in external debt, so the IMF’s playing hardball.
Online campaigners target Ethiopia’s huge new dam
International campaigners have launched an online petition against Ethiopia’s massive Gibe III dam project, which will be Africa’s second largest hydro-electric dam, providing some 1,800 megawatts of electricity. They say it’ll destroy the livelihoods of about half-a-million people, condemning them to hunger and conflict. The country’s government says the 150km-long dam is needed to generate electricity, which they’ll also sell to neighbouring states. But the campaigners claim the government still needs about $1.4 billion in funding, and are lobbying for donors and banks to hold off. The dam would flood areas where crops have been planted for generations.
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