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AfricaPundit's Regional Briefing: 2003-11-05

Winds of Change.NET Regional Briefings run on Tuesdays & Wednesdays, and sometimes Fridays too. This Regional Briefing focuses on Africa, courtesy of AfricaPundit. TOP TOPICS
  • In Liberia, a new transitional government has finally assumed power. The new president is Gyude Bryant, a Monrovia businessman. Liberia's road to peace will be long and difficult, but putting Charles Taylor on trial might be a good start.
  • The Anglican church creeps closer toward schism with the recent appointment of Gene Robinson, the American Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop.
  • "DD" comments on this briefing, and talks about a recent trip to Kenya. Want to know why the continent is an economic basket case? Listen to his story.
Other Topics Today Include: War on Terror Africa update; Reports on Mugabe's madness in Zimbabwe; Homosexuality in Uganda; Sudan update; Namibia's Nujoma; France's Ivory Coast debacle; Somaliland news; Kenyan deportations; Nigerian vaccinations.
* With the recent appointment of Gene Robinson, the issue of homosexuality has taken on new significance among African Christians. CS Monitor has an interesting story about the Ugandan church's debate over homosexuality. * JK: As reader TT rightly points out, for a deeper background on why this matters and the seismic shifts it foreshadows, see the Oct 2002 Atlantic Magazine article by Philip Jenkins, entitled "The Next Christianity". * AfricaBlog reports that the French are sinking deeper into the Ivory Coast quagmire as the peace agreement signed last year in Paris looks weaker than ever. Where's the UN when you need them? * Yet another round of peace talks aimed at ending the Sudanese war have been completed. Typical of peace negotiations, these talks had an ambiguous conclusion with both sides agreeing to reach an agreement by the end of the year - maybe. * Sam Nujoma, "president" of Namibia, has apparently joined the ever-growing number of African heads of state seeking president-for-life status. It's unlikely that this arrangement will lead to Namibian peace and prosperity--except possibly for Nujoma and his cronies. War on Terror * The Washington Post reports that Islamic terrorists continue to find safe havens throughout Africa, aided, in part, by the steady growth of extremist Islam on the continent. Unfortunately, the article doesn't say which countries are funding this "missionary" work. * Instapundit has more and Dan Darling also notes that Africa has taken on new importance to a reorganized al Qaeda. * This should come as no surprise, but a new UN report has warned that Somalia is being used to plan terrorist attacks against neighboring countries, notably Kenya. * In fact, this article makes clear that Somalia was used as a staging base for last year's attacks in Mombasa. (Via Best of the Web.) Somalia's chronic lawlessness and instability should serve as a warning to anyone who thinks it would be a good idea to cut and run from Iraq. * In addition to being a threat to Kenya, Somalia is also being used as a base for attacks against foreign humanitarian workers in neighboring Somaliland (the breakaway republic on the Horn of Africa). A Taste of Africa reports. Somaliland has responded to the attacks by calling for the deportation of all illegal immigrants, most of whom are Somali. * Kenya is about to deport foreigners, too, but they're not after terrorists or even illegal immigrants--nope, they're targeting the expatriate workforce, many of whom are British. The reason for the decision isn't really clear, but it seems eerily similar to Idi Amin's decision to deport Uganda's Indian population...and the economic effects might be just as disastrous. Zimbabwe * More reports that Mugabe is again using food (or rather lack of it) as a weapon against his political opponents. * JK: And that's not the worst of it. Some of his thugs have fled to South Africa, and have begun telling the awful truth about what they've been doing. * JK: Other Zimbabwean refugees are proving very productive and helpful - to neighbouring Zambia. An African success in the making? * Head Heeb notes that Mugabe continues his war against the newspapers -- a rather brash attempt to silence criticism of his own misrule. * Despite Mugabe's blatant disregard for democracy and the rule of law, he remains widely respected in Africa as a leader who's unafraid to stand up to the West. Aidan Hartley explains why. (Via AfricaBlog) Finally * Abiola notes that some Muslims in Nigeria are rejecting polio vaccines, saying that the shots are part of an American plot to spread HIV. Seems a shame. One suspects that if Americans built day care centers, they'd be accused of trying to brainwash Muslim children.


I've been to Kenya a few times for the sheer beauty and enjoyment of it, along with side trips to Tanzania and the other neighborhood states.
On my last trip there, and probably my last trip there ever I woke up to why Africa will never progress. On this particular run, the corruption was absolutely endemic, with additional "fees" tacked on to everything you could think of. But the one thing that really convinced me that the area is genuinely hopeless started out innoucuously.
I'm involved in construction here in the Los Angeles area, my company does everything from new studios in Hollyweird, to million + designer homes. As a matter of course I always take a day or two off wherever I travel, whether it be Africa, Europe or anywhere else in the states or out of them to meet with others in the same business I am and to check out their job sites, labor costs, material costs and building techniques. And no, I don't write off the whole trip for doing these investigations, I do it for fun and I've met some great folks in these side trips.
My last trip to Kenya I met with some folks that were doing an upgrade on a resort in the Amboseli area, a contractor who was Indian and his investors. On our jobwalk I was watching some laborers break up old concrete and mixing it in with cement and pouring a new slab using chainlink as the reinforcement matting. Interesting enough in it's own way and definitely a workable solution for a lack of nearby aggregate supplies and the expence of purpose made concrete reinforcing materials. I did however notice that were being mighty skimpy on the amount of cement (the critical binding material) mix they were using per batch, and gently chided them for it. That brought up the expence question and the fact that it was costing them $28 on site for a 40kg bag of cement. An extra six shovels of sand/aggregate per mix saves a bunch of money in the scale of things, albeit the slab itself will definetly suffer, but as they showed me they didn't skimp their mix when it came to the actual foundations.
This floored me, my cost for cement is $6 here in LA for a 90lb bag.
After treating me to a fabulous lunch and trading numbers we said our goodbyes, but the rest of the trip I couldn't get out of my mind the costs they were paying for a stupid bag of cement.
I returned home to LA, put out a few minor fires and applied myself to the cement and shipping industries and was pleasantly surprised to find out my supplier was more than willing to bag cement in 40kg bags for six dollars each, and then load them into containers on site. Maersk Lines was perfectly willing to ship 40k lb containers to Mombassa for approximately five dollars a bag. A quick e mail to my hosts at Amboseli confirmed that they would gladly take as much cement as I could get to Mombassa for 15 dollars a bag.
A US export licence, zero effort and zero dollars.
And that's when the endemic problems of dealing with African government reared it's ugly head. A call to Kenya's local consulate to make an appointment with their commercial secretary was easy enough and they set an date and time. I showed up and they didn't have a clue what I was talking about, fine, we'll set another one.And then that didn't happen either, I finally got in on the fourth try and was informed that whatever proceeds i recieved in this sale would be paid in shillings in a Kenyan bank and would be unable to transfer the money, that was fine with me, I could easily spend the proceeds of one or two containers there having a grand time with four or six or ten friends at the best resorts.
This did not thrill him, but at least I got the initial paperwork, filled it out and sent it in. I shortly afterwards recieved notice that the import licence was approved and that a 10k dollar import fee could be paid in dollars only to a account number Belgian bank for issuing the shipping orders.
No name, no ministry, just an account # or no papers.
So lets do the Math:
400 bags of cement: 2400 dollars
Shipping 36k lbs of cement to Mombassa: 2000
11 dollars a bag
Bribe: 10k dollars.
36 dollars a bag

It's no wonder at all that Africa is sinking with the all out efforts of their governments just accelerating it.
If there is anywhere in the world that defines the word hopeless, it's Africa, and it ain't the fault of Joe Sixback there, nor the businessmen or Governments of the West.

It's endemic and it's at the top, fostering democracy and fair business in Iraq should be a snap compared to doing business with anyone in Africa with their governments encouragement.

Yes, DD... there is major endemic corruption in Africa. But there is also blame to be laid on Western nations. For instance, our high tariffs on crops (the EU especially, but the US as well) mean that African nations can't sell to us, we're basically protecting a few farmers and forcing millions to starve. Also, 3rd world nations have massive debt to us incurred by dictators. Money that could be spent on infrastructure and basic human needs goes to pay off debts owed to the West. Is this fair? Well, we are owed money, in the strict legal sense. Is it just? Absolutely not. We can best help the South not by throwing money at corrupt governments and NGOs but by working to change unjust national and international structures.

RE: "some Muslims in Nigeria are rejecting polio vaccines, saying that the shots are part of an American plot to spread HIV"

What would they do if Americans sent them dollars to spend as they wished? Can Americans distribute directly to the people, or do cash transfers have to pass through the hands of the government?

Last October, The Atlantic Monthly published an article on the growing dissonence between northern conservative (orthodoxy) Christianity and southern liberal (evangelical) Christianity. You can find the story here: What concerns me over the next decade or so is the end of strictly power struggle civil conflict within nations in Africa, only to be replaced by a more sinister cause for civil, and supranational conflict in Africa in the form of religious conflict. The rise of radical Islam in African nations seems on a crash course for a head-on collision with evangelical Christianity, which has been a presence for more than a century. In the tulmutuous arena that much of Africa has become, the conditions seem favorable for such a conflict between to groups with such strong convictions. It could become a microcosm of the unspoken cause that is fueling the war of the radicals of Al-quaeda and its bretheren against the US, and the West in general, now.

TT, you're probably right. Muslim persecution of Christians in Africa is going to spark a backlash, and soon it will gather to be rather more than that. As you point out, all the ingredients are there. I've believed this future scenario for over a year, for the same reasons you do. To me the only really uncertain part is when.

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