Also today: Major Sudanese opposition party boycotts poll; UK outlaws ‘vulture funds’ that prey on Africans; US sanctions alleged Guinea Bissau drug lords; Egyptians free Muslim Brotherhood members.
Environmentalists halt GM maize shipment at Mombasa
Environmentalists have blocked a shipment of South African genetically modified maize, containing varieties developed by US multinational Monsanto, at the Kenyan port of Mombasa. The protestors say safety checks haven’t been carried out on the crop and fear it could contaminate Kenyan soil. GM imports are banned in several African countries, though not in Kenya. South Africa’s department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries gave the shipment the green light, but a South African-based bio-safety activist says the country is a GM gateway allowing multinationals to contaminate the rest of the African continent. There’s pressure on African nations to grow GM crops to tackle hunger, malnutrition and drought, but many, including local farmers, oppose the moves. Photo: Reuters.
Major Sudanese opposition party boycotts poll
Umma, a major Sudanese opposition party, says it’ll boycott presidential, parliamentary and state elections this weekend, because it fears vote rigging. The polls were meant to be the first multiparty elections in 24 years, after a 22-year north-south civil war ended in 2005, but only some minor opposition parties are taking part in northern areas of the country. The main party of southern Sudan, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, is only contesting in the south, after its presidential candidate pulled out last week. The Umma party is one of the oldest and most popular parties in northern Sudan, winning the last elections in 1986, only to be ousted in a coup led by current President Omar al-Bashir. The run-up to the polls on 11 April has been characterised by violence and intimidation. Opposition parties gave the Sudanese government a deadline to introduce democratic reforms, saying they’d take part in elections as long as these were postponed until May. Bashir, who’s wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague over war crimes in Darfur, is now all but assured of remaining president. Other smaller parties had already announced a boycott of the election. And the EU’s just pulled its election observers out of the Darfur region over security fears.
UK outlaws ‘vulture funds’ that prey on Africans
Britain’s parliament voted to ban “vulture funds”, which buy up poor nations’ debt at rock-bottom prices, before going to court to recover the full amount. The law will come into force later this year. One of its first effects will be to block a fund trying to collect millions of dollars from Liberia for a debt dating back more than 30 years. Western governments spent billions writing off the debts of the world’s poorest countries so that they could spend that money on health and education. But one vulture fund operator bought Zambian debt dating from the 1970s for $3 million just before it was due to be written off, subsequently threatening to close down the whole economy by suing anyone who had dealings with the country. He then sued Zambia in the British courts and won $15 million.
US sanctions alleged Guinea Bissau drug lords
The US says two top military officers in Guinea Bissau are international drug lords, one of whom appears to have been prominent in the ousting of the country’s military leadership by an army faction last week. The Americans fear the country’s been turned into a narco-state, a problem that’s become apparent across West Africa, as a shipment point for Latin American smugglers into Europe. The US is banning its citizens from any financial or commercial transactions with the two, who will also see their US assets frozen. Guinea Bissau has been unstable since independence from Portugal in 1974, with high levels of corruption and compromised law enforcement that make it a paradise for dirty money.
Egyptians free Muslim Brotherhood members
Sixteen Muslim Brotherhood members have been freed by Egyptian authorities after months in detention for alleged links to a former leader who was executed in the 1960s, but whose ideas have inspired Islamic militants. A court found no evidence against them, in what’s seen by members of the Brotherhood as a political case ahead of parliamentary elections. The Brotherhood is officially banned, but won 20% of seats in parliament in 2005 when its members ran as independents. The group says it wants peaceful political reform to establish a democratic state run according to Islamic law. The main grouping renounced armed struggle years ago, but breakaway factions have been accused of multiple murders, including the massacre of tourists, most memorably at Luxor.
Watermelons were originally cultivated in Africa.