24 February 2008

Unfortunate African news headlines and associated thoughts

I get news briefs on Gambia and Ghana sent to my email, which helps explain why I have been writing more about President Jammeh recently. Of course, some of the recent news focuses on Bush's African tour, which included Ghana as one of the stops.

In case anyone is inclined to think of Africa as a diverse continent with many different experiences, and levels of political and economic development, Reuters, via the Herald Sun (Australia), puts things to right: George Bush tours disease and poverty stricken Africa.

Here's a headline from an article about some Worcestershire residents going to Gambia: We’re off to a country where children have to use melons as footballs. Now I never saw this (and the waste would not be looked kindly on), although I'm sorry to say that our kids made short work of footballs - perhaps because on one end they got shot into the brush, and behind the other goal line lurked the toilets with broken corrugated iron doors with sharp bits curling out. So I never bothered buying a football while I was in Njau.

Bush wrapped up his tour with a short stop in Liberia, a country that the U.S. and Americans should have a lot more interest in, given the shared history and involvement (although this obviously looms larger for Liberia, the smaller party) over the centuries. He's done fairly right by Liberia in recent years, including calling for Charles Taylor to step down and pressing for his subsequent extradition to The Hague.

During a brief speech, Bush made a telling observation: “It’s easier to tear a country down than it is to rebuild a country.” He was of course offering encouragement to Liberians, but may have also been in a reflective mood, as even on this legacy burnishing trip Iraq looms large.

Lastly, Nicholas Kristof does well to note that Kenya's coddled rulers belong to the Musharraf class of American allies -- dictators who we variously classify as democrats, stewards of eventual democracies, or guarantors of stability in volatile regions. Kristof doesn't bother mentioning any other members of the African Musharrafs he describes, but several would qualify to varying degrees. Among them are Blaise Campaore in Burkina Faso, Eyadema in Togo, Museveni in Uganda, Idriss Deby in Chad (where the French just turned back Sudan-backed rebels), and Paul Kagame in Rwanda (which merited a visit from Bush).

Absent from the above list is the deservedly maligned Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. He profits from the double standard, however, and can point to this and the fact that white Zimbabweans are a visible component of his victims, which seems to have drawn Britain and America's ire on him in particular. After all, Mugabe oversaw a pogrom in Matebeleland in the 1980s, but this went largely unremarked on. It's difficult to expect success rallying African opposition to Mugabe, as they see this selective denunciation.

[See also this Washington Post article with African commentary on the relative importance of democratization and stability/counter-terrorism to Bush's foreign policy.]

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