Also today: Somalia’s Islamist radicals shut down Beeb, Voice of America; Zimbabwe’s controversial Bishop Muzorewa dies; Rebels kill British geologist in Ethiopia’s Ogaden oil region; Somali twins make Big Apple fashion statement.
Sudan sweats through first day of voting
Sudanese are voting in the country’s first multiparty elections in 24 years. The polls for president, parliament and state governments are being held as part of a 2005 peace deal that ended a 22-year civil war between the Arab north and black African south of Sudan. For many in southern Sudan, these elections are just a curtain-raiser to a referendum next January on possible independence. But that referendum won’t happen unless two-thirds of the southern electorate turn out and give the referendum the go-ahead with a simple majority vote. That’s a critical factor to watch, because the ruling National Congress Party in the more populated and developed north is likely to stay in power, especially as several major parties (and minor ones, too) opposed to President Omar al-Bashir say they’re boycotting the elections amid allegations that there’ll be widespread fraud. Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes in Darfur, where the UN says some 300,000 people were killed in the past seven years, and about 3 million people live in refugee camps. The elections are meant to mark the transformation from a military, Islamist government to a democratic one. But reports say election monitors in the capital, Khartoum, are saying that some election officials are going into polling booths with voters and instructing them to vote for Bashir. Free and fair? Many will say not.
Photo: A supporter of current President and candidate for the presidential election Omar Hassan al-Bashir stands near internally displaced women voters at a polling station at Abu Shouk IDP’s camp in Al Fasher, northern Darfur April 11, 2010. Sudanese queued to vote on Sunday in the first elections for almost a quarter of a century that will test the fragile unity of their country but which have already been marred by allegations of fraud. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Somalia’s Islamist radicals shut down Beeb, Voice of America
Radical Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab has banned the BBC and closed down transmitters broadcasting the Somali language service inside the war-torn country. It also shut down Voice of America transmissions, citing them and the Beeb as Christian propagandists. The al-Qaeda-allied rebels control much of the central and southern parts of the country, and recently banned the UN World Food Programme from distributing aid, saying it undermined local farmers. Al-Shabaab is fighting the UN-backed moderate Islamist government, which holds only a few blocks of the capital, Mogadishu, with the help of some 5,000 African Union peacekeepers. Al-Shabaab says the BBC supports the government and is fighting against Islam. What it means is that because the BBC has broadcast Somali, Arabic and English services across the country for many years, and is seemingly one of the most widely listened-to news services in Somalia, it threatens al-Shabaab’s intention to impose strict Sharia law, which metes out punishments including stoning and beheadings.
Zimbabwe’s controversial Bishop Muzorewa dies
Bishop Abel Muzorewa, a prominent and controversial political figure in the years before independence in Zimbabwe in 1980, has died aged 85. He was seen by whites as a moderate black leader who opposed the armed struggle that ultimately led to independence. In 1973 Muzorewa accepted the UN Peace Prize for achievements in human rights while vociferously opposing minority rule in Rhodesia. For a brief period in 1979 he was prime minister of an interim government when the country became known as Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. Muzorewa entered politics in the 1970s when black nationalists such as current Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe were either imprisoned or in exile. Muzorewa’s party only managed to win three of the 100 seats in parliament as Mugabe swept into government. Mugabe and his cronies later arrested him. It’s a no brainer that the bishop won’t be getting a state funeral and won’t be buried in Heroes Acre in Harare.
Rebels kill British geologist in Ethiopia’s Ogaden oil region
Gunmen have shot dead a British geologist in Ethiopia’s conflict-ridden Ogaden region. The man was working for IMC Geophysics International, a company contracted to conduct seismic work for Malaysia’s state-owned oil company Petronas. Ethiopian officials are reporting the incident as an act of banditry, saying the dead Briton didn’t take security measures and was driving alone when killed. A London-based spokesman for the Ogaden National Liberation Front, a rebel group fighting Ethiopia’s government, said it wasn’t responsible for the attack, despite having attacked a Chinese-owned oilfield in April 2007, killing 74 people. Ethiopian government officials say local militia confronted the perpetrators and took unspecified action, adding the act was not politically motivated. That means a number of other people are now dead, and foreign companies shouldn’t see this as a reason to disinvest, despite the Ogaden rebels warning international oil firms — including Petronas — in September last year, not to drill in the remote region.
Somali twins make Big Apple fashion statement
Two Somali women are making headlines on the New York fashion scene with a range of clothes inspired by Africa. Identical twins Ayaan and Idyl Mohallim were born in Somalia, but left for the US aged nine to escape the civil war. They grew up in Washington DC before heading off to college, subsequently setting up their own fashion label, Mataano – which in their native language means “twins”. Now they’ve brightened up New York with a splash of African colour, saying that too many people in the City That Never Sleeps wear drab black. They say in Africa people want to be noticed, so they’ve set the ball rolling among designers and fashionistas by expressing the non-homogenous nature of Africa and its different cultures, and bringing that to the Big Apple’s fashion ramps.