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Africa, explained
 

Africa's economic growth needs equitable distribution

New Africa Progress Panel hails continent's progress but says more work is needed.
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Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, right, and the President of the Chinese Investment Corporation, Gao Xiqing at the World Economic Forum in Addis Ababa, on May 10, 2012. Eight African leaders and former British prime minister Gordon Brown are among the more than 700 participants expected at the three-day Addis Ababa meeting. The conference will focus on boosting public-private investment and fostering economic diversity to boost development across Africa. (Jenny Vaughan/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — The 10-member Africa Progress Panel, a group set up in 2008, has published its latest annual report warning that the continent's economic gains are threatened by growing inequality.

Africa weathered the economic storms of recent years better than other regions and is growing at over 5 percent according to the International Monetary Fund. But speaking at the launch of the Africa Progress Report 2012 at the World Economic Forum Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: "The strong
economic growth in Africa is at risk due to rising inequality marginalizing large sections of our society."

In the introduction to the report, titled "Jobs, Justice and Equity", Annan writes:

"It cannot be said often enough, that overall progress remains too slow and too uneven; that too many Africans remain caught in downward spirals of poverty, insecurity and marginalization; that too few people benefit from the continent’s growth trend and rising geo-strategic importance; that too much of Africa’s enormous resource wealth remains in the hands of narrow elites and, increasingly, foreign investors without being turned into tangible benefits for its people. When assessing nations, we tend to focus too much on political stability and economic growth at the expense of social development, rule of law and respect for human rights.

"We ... are convinced that the time has come to rethink Africa’s development path. Not all inequalities are unjust, but the levels of inequality across much of Africa are unjustified and profoundly unfair."

This is a truth apparent to even the most casual and blinkered visitor to the continent, let alone those who live here.

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Sudan: Pressure on Bashir builds

Khartoum regime confronted by new rebel gains in Darfur, fighting in Nuba, Blue Nile and student protests.
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Rebel fighters of the SPLA-North prepare for an attack on a garrison of the Sudan army in Talodi. The rebels say they have armed themselves with weapons they captured from the army in previous battles. (Trevor Snapp/Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting/GlobalPost)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Khartoum’s policy of hoarding Sudan's power and wealth at the center to the detriment of the marginalized peripheries lies at the heart of all the country's conflicts. Such inequality and disenfranchisement predates the 23-year rule of President Omar al-Bashir who added an extremist layer of religious and racial prejudice to the existing tensions.

Bashir's Sudan was drastically diminished by the South’s secession last year yet it remains a vast and diverse territory, in race, language, religion and landscape. For many years oil revenues have allowed Bashir to spurn international sanctions and disdain his pariah status.

Under Bashir Sudan has not known peace, nor does it seem likely to get it. In the 1990s Bashir hosted Osama bin Laden and his capital was targeted by US missiles in retaliation for the 1998 bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Later Bashir was accused of genocide for ordering attacks on the people of Darfur, beginning in 2003. Bashir and a handful of his most senior lieutenants were indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes
including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The civil war in Darfur continues. Today the Sudan Liberation Army, a Darfuri rebel group that is part of the new Sudan Revolutionary Front alliance, claimed new gains. As peace came to the South last year fighting re-ignited in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, and has more recently resumed along the shared north-south border where the South Sudan army continues to allege aerial bombardments.

Right now Bashir looks weaker than at any time since he took power in a coup in 1989. The loss of South Sudan robbed Khartoum of 70 percent of the
country’s oil which lies below fields south of the new border. Last month South Sudan's army occupied the north’s main oil field at Heglig and although it was pushed back the assault was a black eye for Khartoum and left the oil facility in ruins.

Sporadic student protests against Bashir's rule have erupted in Khartoum since the Arab Spring of last year and although security forces have nipped them in the bud their very existence reveals an undercurrent of discontent that might bubble up at any time. Rumors of internal divisions within the ruling National Congress Party and the Sudan Armed Forces suggest Bashir’s power is not as secure or monolithic as in years past.

Rebels in the Nuba Mountains told me they will march on Khartoum and while this looks like little more than bluster at the moment, momentum does seem to be building and Bashir's days may indeed be numbered.

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Few are lucky in Sudan's Nuba Mountains

Civilians caught between Sudan bombings and rebel fighters are going hungry and children are dying.
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A man carries the body of a two-year-old girl at the Yida refugee camp nutrition center and hospital in Yida, South Sudan, on April 26, 2012. Thousands of people from the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan, Sudan have fled to Yida to escape recent fighting and airstrikes by Sudan's Armed Forces (SAF). (Adriane Ohanesian /AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Working in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan was, to me, exactly what foreign reporting is all about.

The story is an important one that remains under-reported, it is a difficult story to report because you have to sneak illegally into Sudan to see what's going on and it's dangerous because you travel through rebel-held territory during an active conflict. Of course I already knew what was happening in the Nuba Mountains, but that's not the same as seeing it for yourself.

Afterward, I left feeling profoundly depressed. Yes, the ordinary folk of South Kordofan were displaying remarkable resilience — incredible, really — in the face of the daily attacks launched by Khartoum; and, yes, the rebel army fighting to defend its land and its people had seemed motivated and disciplined, and its commanders had talked the impressive talk of democracy, freedom and human rights; and, yes, the landscape was one of desiccated beauty, hills and huge
sky; and, yes, the people had been open, welcoming and tolerant of my ignorance.

More from GlobalPost: Nuba Mountains: Sudan's next Darfur?

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Sudan and South Sudan: Conflict continues

In the shade of a mango tree, the south's VP proclaims 'There is no ceasefire.'
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Sudanese soldiers pose next to seized mortar rounds from the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) of South Sudan in the oil region of Heglig on April 23, 2012. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said during his visit to Heglig that there will be no more talks with South Sudan after weeks of border fighting in contested regions and tension between the two states. (Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images)
“Our history is a history of fighting each other,” said South Sudan's Vice President Riek Machar, who held court beneath a large mango tree on the bank of the Naam River. He perched himself on a pair of flimsy blue plastic chairs, stacked on top of each other for extra strength. He’s a big man, with a heavy gold Rolex, black and gold cufflinks, and gold rings on the fingers interlinked over his large belly. “We fight, and we talk.”
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Who killed Malawi's president? Economic hubris

Bingu wa Mutharika spurned economic advice but was hurt by hospital shortages.
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Malawi pallbearers carry the casket with the remains of Malawi's late President Bingu wa Mutharika at Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe on April 14, 2012. (Amos Gumulira /AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Bingu wa Mutharika, the self-styled Economist-in-Chief of Malawi whose touchiness, authoritarian reflexes and blind belief in his own infallibility piloted Malawi's economy into a tailspin during his second term in office from 2009, wasn't much mourned after he died of a cardiac arrest earlier this month.

His deputy, Joyce Banda, has since been sworn in becoming — by happenstance — the continent's second female president.

A detailed report from Reuters reveals how Mutharika spurned all economic advice, refusing to meet an IMF delegation he thought was "too junior" and lectured CEOs he had gathered to discuss economic policy.

Mutharika's ongoing row with foreign donors on whom the country relies but who had been alienated by the dead president's increasingly erratic behavior made the economic malaise still worse.

"Mutharika blamed Satan, international donors and political opponents for the fiscal woes and cozied up to the Chinese, who helped build a massive parliament building in the capital. He wore Chinese-style attire and took out a $90 million loan from the Import & Export Bank of China to build a massive luxury hotel in Lilongwe," Reuters reports.

The man's hubris was his downfall but it his dire economic handling of his country may have directly contributed to his death. As Reuters reports, the medicines that might have kept him alive were largely out-of-stock thanks to lack of foreign exchange. Even if he had been put on life support power cuts are frequent and "the hospital's emergency generator was out of diesel."

Mutharika was flown to South Africa, but it was too late.

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West Africa coups redux

Why is there a new round of upheavals in the West African region?
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Guinea-Bissau presidential candidate and Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior shows an inked finger after casting his vote in the first round of presidential elections on Mar. 18. He is now missing after his home was attacked during an attempted coup. (ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — It's like the 1970s all over again in West Africa.

In the last month there have been coups in Mali and now, today, in Guinea Bissau.

In the last few years Niger and Guinea have also suffered coup attempts and come under military rule for months on end.

Independence in West Africa was, for the most part, followed by dysfunctional civilian governments which were overthrown by military men who thought they could do better. They couldn't and coup followed coup.

According to historian Martin Meredith in his book 'The State of Africa', "In the first two decades of independence, there were some forty successful coups and countless attempted coups." By the 1990s large parts of the region had devolved into some of the nastiest civil wars the world has had the misfortune to witness in places like Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Then things started to get better.

Military strongmen were replaced with elected rulers (in some cases these were in fact the same individuals), large-scale conflicts subsided, economies ticked up thanks to rising commodity prices and global demand. It seemed by the mid 2000s that West Africa's coups could be safely consigned to history.

Not so. It seems there are still plenty of men (for it is always men) who think a uniform, a gun and a grievance gives them the right to dictate to civilians, rather than protect them.

More from GlobalPost: Guinea-Bissau: Army seizes parts of capital in attempted coup

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Congo's 'Terminator': ransoming a country's peace

Military leader Bosco Ntaganda wanted for war crimes, but will his arrest trigger instability in eastern Congo?
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Congolese military leader Bosco Ntaganda is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. Now Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila also says Ntaganda should be arrested. This photo of Ntaganda was taken on January 11, 2009 at his mountain base in Kabati, near the provincial capital Goma. (Lionel Healing /AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Bosco Ntaganda, aka The Terminator, has for years enjoyed a life of luxury and impunity in eastern Congo.

He plays tennis at a smart hotel, drinks in popular bars, owns businesses and commands sections of the national army. He is also wanted for war crimes.

Five years ago he was indicted by the International Criminal Court on similar charges to his his former boss, Thomas Lubanga, who was found guilty last month of recruiting child soldiers. Ntaganda is also accused of murder and rape committed in the northeastern Ituri region between 2002-2003.

Soon after that judgement hundreds of Ntaganda loyalists integrated into the Congo army as part of a 2009 peace deal defected while their commander went to ground. Now Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila has said, for the first time, that Ntaganda should face justice, but before a Congolese court not at The Hague.

"I want to arrest Bosco Ntaganda because the whole population wants peace," Kabila said, according to Reuters.

But on his CongoSiasa blog author and Congo analyst Jason Stearns points out that Kabila spoke in Swahili and the message may in fact be rather less determined, simply raising the possibility of his arrest rather than ordering it.

In a statement ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said: "Bosco Ntaganda is a fugitive from justice and is allegedly responsible for massive crimes in the Kivus. He should be arrested for the safety and the security of victims and citizens in the whole region."

Congolese officials have in the past stressed that Ntaganda's freedom is "the price of peace" calculating that his arrest (or even the attempt to arrest him) would trigger renewed fighting allowing the former warlord to hold the region's peace to ransom. That seems now to be changing, spelling uncertain and worrying times ahead for the people of eastern Congo.

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Mali coup: Sanctions for all

African Union joins ECOWAS in imposing harsh restrictions on Mali's coup leaders. Tuareg rebels get sanctions, too.
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Mali residents line up to buy gasoline on April 3, 2012 in Bamako. The troubled nation's military rulers faced fuel and money shortages from sanctions. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — The African Union (AU) has followed regional bloc ECOWAS in imposing punitive sanctions on Mali, targeting both the coup leaders and the Tuareg rebels.

With its borders shut and imports blocked, Mali is under siege.

Fuel, cash and food are all running short.

It is hard to see how the junta can withstand the pressure.

The rebels may fare better. The Sahara desert is the nomads' home, its borders are pretty much theoretical and the Tuaregs have for generations ruled the trans-Sahara trade routes.

So while the junta in Bamako runs out of gas (and everything else) thanks to the closed borders the rebels will simply continue to use their ancient supply lines.

The regional and continental sanctions will damage the coup leaders more than the rebels.

 

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Al Qaeda spreads across Africa, says new report

Group spreads through partnerships in Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa according to new study.
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A resident inspects a police patrol van that was bombed by Islamic extremists Boko Haram outside Sheka police station in northern Nigerian city of Kano on January 25, 2012. (Aminu Abubakar /AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Under pressure in its traditional hideouts in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq the terrorist outfit Al Qaeda is increasingly focused on Africa, according to a new report from Britain's Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

The report, "Global Jihad Sustained Through Africa," is scary reading.

"Since the central leadership of Al Qaeda is weakened and challenged, the terrorist movement is looking to partnerships in Saharan and Sub-Saharan Africa to re-group and re-energize," the report says.

It points to groups such as Somalia's Al Shabaab, Nigeria's Boko Haram and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) which it says have "undergone similar patterns of strategic, tactical and propagandistic evolution." The report describes their activities as creating "an arc of regional instability encompassing the whole Sahara-Sahel strip and extending through to East Africa."

The warning is timely as reports emerge from Timbuktu in Mali of AQIM leaders meeting with an Islamist branch of the Tuareg rebellion there raising fears that extremists may be gaining a firm foothold and control of territory in the desert north.

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Another time, another Timbuktu

Mali's turmoil threatens historic city that houses precious manuscripts 1,000 years old.
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A resident of Timbuktu walks past the restored City of 333 Saints' Djingareyber Mosque. (ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — As Timbuktu is thrown into turmoil by a rebel occupation UNESCO is warning of the potential threat the fighting and looting might pose to the city's collections of ancient manuscripts. There are more than 100,000 of them and some are nearly a thousand years old. They are mostly kept in family collections and all are proof of a thriving cultural, religious, commercial and literary life in the African desert at a time when Europe was lost in the Dark Ages.

A few years ago I traveled to Timbuktu to learn about the manuscripts and then left by boat on the Niger River heading for the town of Mopti, a few days sail away. The peace and beauty of Mali then is all a depressingly far cry from the news today, so here is a story about what it was like before and what it might be again.

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The turbaned curator, Abdel Kader Haidara, smiles as he pages gingerly through a small centuries-old leather-bound book, one of 9,000 he looks after in his family collection. In the baking hot streets outside swirling dust devils skitter across the dirt road throwing columns of desert sand into the air.

Among Timbuktu's greatest surviving treasures are more than 100,000 manuscripts that can be found in collections such as Haidara's or simply on shelves and in chests in family homes across the city. "The manuscripts are our heritage," he says, "they have been passed from generation to generation. They are the history of Africa, the history of mankind." Written in Arabic script on parchment, tree bark or tanned antelope skin the manuscripts date back more than 800 years. Many are decorated with illustrations and gold leaf.

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