The Beeb has a new African music site. I haven't had a chance to check it out thoroughly, but it looks pretty slick. It includes music samples and a nice glossary.
Oh well. So much for the bid to bring Mugabe to trial in the UK.
The war on terror spreads to Mauritania, Chad, Mali and Niger. The US is spending $100 million and already has sentdefense contractors and trainers. Hey, wasn't it Niger that helped Saddam build his nuclear bomb? Oh, wait...
Movement of the People
Another story to watch: Israel is planning to airlift the rest of the Falasha Mura, the remaining Ethiopian Jews.
See You in Court?
This could get interesting: human-rights activists in Britain are trying to get Mugabe stripped of his immunity and extradited to the UK. A long shot for sure, but efforts like this-- like the attempted prosecution of Pinochet a few years ago-- are worth something, if only to put more pressure on these guys.
The funny folks over at The Onion ask what you think about Third World debt relief. Sample answer: "No fucking way we should let them off the hook—I want back those 80 bucks I lent Honduras."
Diallos Get Their Due
NYC will pay Amadou Diallo's family $3 million for killing the unarmed Guinean immigrant in 1999. As you'll recall, Diallo was shot 19 times (out of 41 bullets fired) as he reached for his very suspicious-looking, potentially deadly wallet. Diallo's mother says some of the settlement money will be used to aid other immigrants.
Sun, Sand and Special Forces
A short report about the US' anti-terrorism efforts in coastal Kenya, centered on the sleepy town of Lamu. Joint US-Kenya operations have stepped up (bizarrely codenamed "Operation Edged Mallet"), though the US denies it's planning a base there.
Diamonds Are Not Always Forever
Gotta link to this gripping tale of diamond-smuggling gone wrong from Nairobi. I recall a friend almost getting involved in a similar situation involving gemstones in Namibia. Fortunately, being completely broke, he didn't see it through.
Dude, Where's My Cash Crop?
A modest proposal for marijuana-based economic development in Ghana:
Ghana is one of the most peaceful countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The country rarely sees any violence (a benefit of pot-smoking?), has a democratically elected government and boasts one of the freest societies in Africa. Pot has been grown and smoked in the country for decades, drawing little comment. In Accra, the coastal capital of Ghana, people smoke discreetly, to be sure, because the sale and possession of pot is technically illegal. But pot is easy to purchase, arrests are rare, and smoking is popular, especially among American and European aid workers in the country.
I agree that the US government shouldn't mess with pot production in Ghana, but isn't this overstating the weed's economic and social importance? But then, pot advocates have never been shy to puff up the herb's powers...
For pot smokers, Accra is an African paradise. But like many a paradise in Africa, Accra is threatened by a man-made disaster. The disaster, funded by American tax dollars, is the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
I am no expert in the world's drug wars, or the DEA, but I spent the better part of the past two years in Ghana and I never saw any signs of pot ripping apart the fabric of Ghanaian life. There are no drug lords in Accra, no gun-toting bodyguards or pot addicts strewn across the city's derelict roads.
Just the opposite is occurring, actually. Pot is giving a people starved for economic opportunity a chance to participate in the global economy.
In the Land of Magic Journalism
A few months ago, the New York Times Sunday Magazine ran a piece about cannibalism in Congo. I thought it was rather sensational. My problem wasn't with the admittedly heinous subject matter but rather with how it was luridly portrayed by the author, Daniel Bergner. Now Adam Hochschild reviews Bergner's latest book on the violent, childlike, irrational people of Sierra Leone, titled In the Land of Magic Soldiers. I've just exaggerated Bergner's tone, but Hochschild hones in on his tendency to obscure the human motives behind African conflicts in favor of mysticizing them:
Hovering uneasily in the background of the book is the question: Is this level of barbarity unique to Africa? Bergner once or twice asks the question directly, wonders if he is racist for asking it, then backs away from it. But his final chapter seems to imply, at least, that Africa is more primitive and less rational than other violent parts of the world: he visits a village witch doctor, whose apprentices put on a demonstration of eating razor blades, placing flaming sticks on their skins and other such feats. The scene is perhaps meant to justify the book's title, and it is true that one of many ingredients in Africa's wars has long been the belief that the proper magic can make one immune to bullets. However, conjurers perform similar feats in other countries. One could also argue that Washington's confidence in high-tech weaponry represents a different kind of faith in magic. And to a civilian on the receiving end, a piece of depleted-uranium shrapnel can feel as inexplicable a horror as an ax wielded by a drugged teenager.
Note how Bergner doesn't get all mystical when he's describing the white mercenaries who fought in Sierra Leone.
What is of value in this book is less what it says about Sierra Leone than about the human condition. Here Bergner's most haunting figure is Neall Ellis, a white South African mercenary who flies the sole combat helicopter the Sierra Leone government owns. Ellis lives for the thrill of rocketing and machine-gunning from the air: ''Better than sex. . . . There's a lot of adrenaline going. You're all keyed up, and when you realize you're on target, that you've taken out the enemy, it's a great feeling.'' Human Rights Watch has documented dozens of dead or wounded civilians in towns he attacked. Yet at the same time, Ellis is using some of his salary to pay school fees for local children, to put one of his Sierra Leonean girlfriends through nursing and midwifery school in England and to put a young man through medical school. Later on, as the fighting winds down, Ellis raises funds for the treatment of a badly burned young woman, and plans a local burn center, ''because right now there isn't a place like that in the whole of Sierra Leone, nowhere a victim can go to get that type of treatment.'' A few months later, however, Bergner gets an e-mail message from Ellis: civil war has broken out in the Ivory Coast, and he is ''hoping for a possible contract.''
Is he a magical soldier? Or just a soldier like any other-- maybe a bit hungry for money, blood, power, or some other satisfaction we can't immediately recognize?
On Pirate Satellite...
Interesting piece on SW Radio Africa, AKA Radio Free Zimbabwe, in the Guardian.
In a country where Mugabe's regime ruthlessly controls all radio and television output, and where the only independent newspaper has recently been shut down, SW Radio Africa is the only independent voice. It broadcasts not from Zimbabwe but from the third floor of an office block in a grimy suburb of north-west London. And it is run not by hardened political hacks or opposition party activists, but by a group of DJs turned journalists, most of whom made their names playing pop songs on Zimbabwean state radio in the 1980s and 1990s. [...]
The station also airs regular features from Cathy Buckle, who runs the African Tears blog. You can listen to SW Radio Africa live on its website.
Some of the hardest-hitting interviews have been by Georgina Godwin. A few years ago Godwin, 36, was Zimbabwe's Sara Cox, a celebrity DJ with her own morning drive-time show and newspaper gossip column. Today she finds herself interviewing presidents, foreign ministers and dignitaries such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu. She recently broadcast a threatening rant at her by Jocelyn Chiwenga, the firebrand wife of the head of the Zimbabwe National Army. Godwin had ensured that a prize awarded by a Spanish-based organisation to Chiwenga - who has personally conducted farm invasions and once told a white farmer, "I haven't tasted white blood in 22 years" - was withdrawn. "She called me in a rage," says Godwin proudly, "and I put the call on air."
Such exposure of the regime has outraged Robert Mugabe. After trying to jam the signal the government has now simply stopped Zanu members from speaking to the station. It has also banned six of the station's staff from returning to Zimbabwe. "They would be welcomed back," justice minister Patrick Chinamasa told parliament. "Welcomed back to our prisons."