Thursday, November 27, 2008

Deccan Mujahideen claim responsibility for Mumbai slaughter

MUMBAI, India – Teams of gunmen stormed luxury hotels, a popular restaurant, a crowded train station and a Jewish group's headquarters in India's financial capital, killing at least 101 people, taking Westerners hostage and leaving parts of the city under siege Thursday, police said. A group of suspected Muslim militants claimed responsibility.

Police and gunmen were exchanging occasional gunfire at two luxury hotels and dozens of people were believed held hostage or trapped in besieged buildings. Pradeep Indulkar, a senior official at the Maharashtra state Home Ministry said 101 people were killed and 287 injured. Officials said at least eight militants had also been killed since the overnight attacks that targeted at least 10 separate sites began around 9:30 p.m.

Gunmen also seized the Mumbai headquarters of the ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach group Chabad Lubavitch, the New York-based group said. Indian commandos surrounded the building in the morning, and media reports said gunfire was heard from the building. Police loudspeakers declared a curfew around Mumbai's landmark Taj Mahal hotel, and black-clad commandos ran into the building as fresh gunshots rang out from the area, apparently the beginning of an assault on gunmen who had taken hostages in the hotel. Ambulances were seen driving up to the entrance to the hotel and journalists were made to move even further back from the area. Soldiers outside the hotel said forces were moving slowly, from room to room, looking for gunmen and traps.

A series of explosions had rocked the Taj Mahal just after midnight. Screams were heard and black smoke billowed from the century-old edifice on Mumbai's waterfront. Firefighters sprayed water at the blaze and plucked people from balconies with extension ladders. By dawn, the fire was still burning. At the upscale Oberoi hotel soldiers could be seen on the roof of neighboring buildings. A banner hung out of one window read "save us." No one could be seen inside the room from the road. The attackers specifically targeted Britons and Americans at the hotels and restaurant, witnesses said.

Alex Chamberlain, a British citizen who was dining at the Oberoi, told Sky News television that a gunman ushered 30 to 40 people from the restaurant into a stairway and, speaking in Hindi or Urdu, ordered everyone to put up their hands. "They were talking about British and Americans specifically. There was an Italian guy, who, you know, they said: 'Where are you from?" and he said he's from Italy and they said 'fine' and they left him alone. And I thought: 'Fine, they're going to shoot me if they ask me anything — and thank God they didn't," he said. Chamberlain said he managed to slip away as the patrons were forced to walk up stairs, but he thought much of the group was being held hostage. The motive for the onslaught was not immediately clear, but Mumbai has frequently been targeted in terrorist attacks blamed on Islamic extremists, including a series of bombings in July 2006 that killed 187 people.

Mumbai, on the western coast of India overlooking the Arabian Sea, is home to splendid Victorian architecture built during the British Raj and is one of the most populated cities in the world with some 20 million crammed into shantytowns, high rises and crumbling mansions. The Taj Mahal hotel, filled with Oriental carpets, Indian artifacts and alabaster ceilings, overlooks the fabled Gateway of India that commemorated the visit of King George V and Queen Mary.

A spokesman for the Lubavitch movement in New York, Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, said attackers "stormed the Chabad house" in Mumbai. "It seems that the terrorists commandeered a police vehicle which allowed them easy access to the area of the Chabad house and threw a grenade at a gas pump nearby, blowing it up," he said, citing a variety of sources. He said he did not know the status of occupants of the house, which serves as an educational center and a synagogue.

Early Thursday, state home secretary Bipin Shrimali said four suspects had been killed in two incidents in Mumbai when they tried to flee in cars, and Roy said four more gunmen were killed at the Taj Mahal. State Home Minister R.R. Patil said nine more were arrested. They declined to provide any further details. "We're going to catch them dead or alive," Patil told reporters. "An attack on Mumbai is an attack on the rest of the country."

The attackers specifically targeted Britons and Americans.

An Indian media report said a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen had claimed responsibility for the attacks in e-mails to several media outlets. There was no way to verify that claim.

The state government ordered schools and colleges and the Bombay Stock Exchange closed Thursday. Police reported hostages being held at the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, two of the best-known upscale destinations in this crowded but wealthy city.

Gunmen who burst into the Taj "were targeting foreigners. They kept shouting: 'Who has U.S. or U.K. passports?'" said Ashok Patel, a British citizen who fled from the hotel. Authorities believed up to 15 foreigners were hostages at the Taj Mahal hotel, said Anees Ahmed, a top state official. It was also unclear where the hostages were in the Taj Mahal, which is divided into an older wing, which was in flames, and a modern tower that was not on fire. 

State Department spokesman Robert Wood said U.S. officials were not aware of any American casualties, but were still checking. He said he could not address reports that Westerners might be among the hostages. "We condemn these attacks and the loss of innocent life," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

Officials at Bombay Hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a Japanese man had died there and nine Europeans had been admitted, three of them in critical condition with gunshots. All had come from the Taj Mahal, the officials said.

At least three top Indian police officers — including the chief of the anti-terror squad — were among those killed, said Roy.

Blood smeared the floor of the Chhatrapati Shivaji rail station, where attackers sprayed bullets into the crowded terminal. Nasim Inam's hands shook when he spoke of seeing four attackers gunning down commuters as they walked to catch late trains home. "They wore black T-shirts and blue jeans. They were carrying big guns," said Inam. "They just fired randomly at people and then ran away. In seconds, people fell to the ground."

Other gunmen attacked Leopold's restaurant, a landmark popular with foreigners, and the police headquarters in southern Mumbai, the area where most of the attacks took place. The restaurant was riddled with bullet holes and there was blood on the floor and shoes left by fleeing customers. Gunmen also attacked Cama and Albless Hospital and G.T. Hospital, though it was not immediately clear if anyone was killed.

Early Thursday, several European lawmakers were among people who barricaded themselves inside the Taj, a century-old seaside hotel complex and one of the city's best-known destinations. "I was in the main lobby and there was all of a sudden a lot of firing outside," said Sajjad Karim, part of a delegation of European lawmakers visiting Mumbai ahead of a European Union-India summit. As he turned to get away, "all of a sudden another gunmen appeared in front of us, carrying machine gun-type weapons. And he just started firing at us ... I just turned and ran in the opposite direction," he told The Associated Press over his mobile phone. Hours later, Karim remained holed up in a hotel restaurant, unsure if it was safe to come out.

India has been wracked by bomb attacks the past three years, which police blame on Muslim militants intent on destabilizing this largely Hindu country. Nearly 700 people have died. Since May a militant group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen has taken credit for a string of blasts that killed more than 130 people. The most recent was in September, when explosions struck a park and crowded shopping areas in the capital, New Delhi, killing 21 people and wounding about 100.

Relations between Hindus, who make up more than 80 percent of India's 1 billion population, and Muslims, who make up about 14 percent, have sporadically erupted into bouts of sectarian violence since British-ruled India was split into independent India and Pakistan in 1947.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Force Mugabe out, says Botswana

Botswana has urged Zimbabwe's neighbours to squeeze President Robert Mugabe out of power to end the political and economic crisis.

In the toughest language yet from a state in the region, Botswana's foreign minister, Phandu Skelemani, called on the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) to confront Mugabe. He said Mugabe would not last if Zimbabwe's neighbours closed their borders and completely isolated him. "If no petrol went in for a week, he can't last," Skelemani told the BBC's HARDtalk programme, broadcast on Wednesday.

SADC has failed to persuade Mugabe and the opposition to implement an outline power-sharing deal signed in September, widely seen as the best hope for Zimbabwe's ruined economy. At new talks that began on Tuesday, Zimbabwe's opposition vowed to resist any compromise that would leave it sidelined in a unity government with Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

Botswana's president, Ian Khama, has emerged as one of Mugabe's harshest critics in Africa.

Negotiators from ZANU-PF, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and a breakaway MDC faction were hoping to reach a breakthrough in talks with mediator Thabo Mbeki in South Africa on a draft constitutional amendment. The amendment would allow a new government to be formed under the power-sharing deal with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai as prime minister, but the parties are still arguing over the wording and about who should control which ministries. Skelemani expressed little confidence in mediation, saying SADC should "own up" and admit it had failed, and that it was time for strong action.

Botswana's president, Ian Khama, has emerged as one of Mugabe's harshest critics in Africa. Mugabe's government has accused Khama of interference and said his call for fresh elections was an "act of extreme provocation". Zambia has also been highly critical of Mugabe.

Skelemani said Botswana would be willing to shelter Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main opposition MDC -- a position that is likely to anger Mugabe, in power since 1980. "Anybody who comes to Botswana saying that they fear for their life, from their own country, we would not chase them away because, if we did, what do we want to happen? For them to be killed first? And then do what?" Skelemani said.

In a report issued by his Atlanta-based Carter Center, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter accused Mugabe of refusing to share real power with the opposition and said Zimbabwe might become a failed state if he did not change course. "Now, after almost three decades of governmental corruption, mismanagement and oppression, Zimbabwe has become a basket case, an embarrassment to the region and a focus of international concern and condemnation," the Nobel laureate said. "When it is impossible to pay the army and the enormous civil service, the result may be a resort to internecine violence in what could become a failed state, similar to Somalia."

Carter, former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan and human rights activist Graca Machel, part of a group called the Elders, were barred from entering Zimbabwe last weekend on a humanitarian visit. Mugabe's government denied them visas, saying the visit was unnecessary.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

How not to treat my African relatives and other stories


As a man of deep religious faith blah blah blah, I know I should be forgiving and what-not. But, try as I might, I never could forgive poor or rude service. Never. I may not make a scene, but I will never be back.

That is why I have been thinking about my insurance broker and a respectable insurance company that have been treating me, a well-paying customer, like dog droppings. But my own experience is trumped by that of a close and influential relative who travelled to Cape Town in the past week on South African Airways...

My relative had made the usual mistake of buying a budget ticket, the cheap ones which are non-transferable, can’t change travel date and you are stuck at the rear of the livestock section, where the seats still have ashtrays and retain the aroma of rotten tobacco.

IF YOU ARE EXPECTING, YOU HAVE TO keep tucking your pregnancy safely away from people rushing to the toilet next door. And when they open the door after their ablutions, something reaches out from the belly of the plane and grabs you by the throat and attempts to squeeze the dinner out of your gut. Having dinner in that section is a great test of character. Budget tickets are cheap because the only worse way to travel is on a mule with your nose stuck up its backside. The relative’s return journey on SAA Flight 182 of November 18 has been the subject of significant outrage and fair amount of mirth too.

Here is my relative’s story of woe. On that flight out of Oliver Tambo, there was no space in the overhead compartments for her cabin luggage which, in true African tradition, was no cabin baggage at all but a bag of respectable proportions and, more crucially, weight. But since her flight from Cape Town had been delayed and the captain was eager to get under way, a kindly hostess offered to stow it away somewhere and give it back later, in the interest of keeping time. She witnessed ,with horror, an hostess snatch the cell phone off a passenger and switch it off by force, even though the plane was still sitting on the tarmac.

On landing, she asked an hostess to please fetch her bag. “BEG!” screamed the hostess, “WHAT BEG!” Upon which the relative calmly explained (she claimed) the circumstances of surrendering her, eh, beg. “YOU DON’T JUST COME HERE AND SAY: MY BEG!” hollered the hostess who was now very angry.

My poor relative was helped by somebody else to reclaim her ‘‘beg’’ but even as she left the aircraft, the crazy hostess was shouting to whoever would listen about MY BEG. At the baggage claim it was quickly established that her luggage, all four begs, were not on that flight. She joined a crowd of angry travellers at the airline’s busy lost baggage counter. You did not collect your baggage sticker when you checked in your luggage, they were informed, so it was offloaded. The whole thing is your fault. But, we can deliver the baggage to your doorstep tomorrow if you leave your contacts.

Their country might be rich, they may claim not to be part of Africa, but their civil war experience, compared to the “real” Africa, is nothing.

The baggage sticker is normally stuck to your ticket or passport and in all these years of suffering at airports, I have never heard of a traveller having to request for it.

My livid relative could not understand why the South Africans were spoiling for Third World War.

Their country might be rich, they may claim not to be part of Africa, but their civil war experience, compared to the “real” Africa, is nothing. I have assured the relative that I have done thorough journalistic investigation into this atrocity, including calling in favours at the Kenya Airports Authority, the Civil Aviation Authority, the narcotics police and the Military Intelligence Corps and the Salvation Army (that’s a really army, right?).

In actual fact I just talked to the staff and it was immediately quite clear that SAA are using a small aircraft to service the Nairobi-Johannesburg route. The small plane can’t handle their generous baggage allowance of 30 kg when the flight is full, so I suspect they are not loading the baggage of the last passengers to check in.

Which would have been fine with me if they didn’t go pissing off innocent relatives.

We need to bring up to speed our cousins from down south, since they are new to the community of Africans, how we treat each other. I travelled with a group of men from a neighbouring region who sat, kicked off their shoes and ordered “Johnnie Walker”.

They had the smelliest socks I have ever sat next to. A pretty and friendly hostess plied them with “Johnnie Walker” the whole journey. Like good Africans, they didn’t become violent on getting drunk, they were kissing each other’s ears and giving high fives.

Kenya Airways always infuriates me because of their delayed flights. But I love the way they treat their passengers. Every time I promise it will be my last, then I go and have some horrid experience in some airline, such as being served fish by force, then I come back quickly.

THE ETHIOPIANS ARE A STRANGE RACE. But there is one thing you can never fault them for: their treatment of fellow Africans puts the rest of us to shame. It is the only country in the world, with the exception of our neighbours, where your being African is all the visa you need. They are not rich, they are quarrelsome and they have an interesting view of press freedom and democracy. But I respect them.

I don’t think my relative has the same feelings about the ‘‘beg’’ people.


The African Union should send an army to have an argument with Congolese warlord Laurent Nkunda. It should also be made clear to nations with territorial ambitions that there will be no South Sudanese solution for the Banyamulenge. A nation does not lose its right to self-determination just because its president is a fool.

The Congolese have demonstrated, like we all have at some point, a singular lack of capacity to govern themselves. That does not give anybody the right to go into their country and steal their diamonds.

US Ambassador & Michael Jordan's mother in Sh 1.2B land-grabbing attempt

US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger and Deloris Jordan, the mother of Michael Jordan, want land worth Sh1.2 billion (around US$ 20m) bequeathed to the Nairobi City Council by the colonial government allocated to a private organisation for a hospital project.

While it is not clear what interest the US Embassy has in the project, Mr Ranneberger wrote to President Kibaki on September 18, 2008 requesting that the land measuring 5.96 acres in the State House neighbourhood be allocated to the Nairobi Women’s Hospital. The letter was written a month after Dr Sam Thenya of the hospital and Mrs Jordan had paid a courtesy call on President Kibaki at his Harambee House office on August 19 to press for the land. The letter from Mr Ranneberger mentions the strategic location of the land, the benefits that would accrue to Kenyans from the hospital, and the funds Mrs Jordan would contribute to the project.

Mrs Jordan has made numerous trips to Nairobi, including one that began last Sunday, in pursuit of the land and a new 250-bed capacity hospital for victims of gender violence. But unknown to the two Americans and Dr Thenya, the coveted land is in the process of being gazetted as a national monument because of its historic significance and the architecture of the buildings on it. Sources who attended the Harambee House meeting intimated that President Kibaki did not commit himself to allocating the land, known as Lady Northey, to Dr Thenya and Mrs Jordan. The President is reported to have asked Nairobi Women’s Hospital and Mrs Jordan to look for land elsewhere.

Sources said the organisation had been offered land in Embakasi near City Cabanas restaurant as well as another plot opposite the Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Eastleigh, Nairobi. Neither offer has been acted on. Dr Thenya claims that a directive was given to the Head of Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet, Francis Muthaura, to allocate them the prime property. Among those present, he claims, were the minister for Health, Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o, and his counterpart in Internal Security, Prof George Saitoti. “The President directed that we should be given land at this meeting,” Dr Thenya said.

However, his statement has been dismissed by the Permanent Secretary for Lands, Dorothy Angote, who said the land in question is public land which was bequeathed to the Nairobi City Council in perpetuity. “It can’t be allocated as it was a gift to the public with specific instructions on its use,” Ms Angote said. She added that a decision had been taken by an inter-ministerial committee, which included Dr Thenya, in regard to the Nairobi Women’s Hospital. “Nairobi Women’s Hospital understands the position taken and options available to them,” the PS said. She ruled out the allocation of Lady Northey to the organisation, noting that “even in the United States, public land cannot be allocated for private use.”

While the Nairobi Women’s Hospital offers medical services to victims of gender violence, especially those sexually molested, it has faced criticism from a section of Kenyans for allegedly turning away deserving patients. The hospital has been accused of seeking publicity for handling high-profile cases but of referring lesser-known victims to Kenyatta National Hospital. The 57-bed capacity hospital in the Hurlingham area is a private maternity and women’s health facility that charges Sh28,000 for a normal delivery and up to Sh65,000 for a Caesarean delivery.

A search mounted by the hospital for the title deed to the land hit a brick wall when City Council officials said it was missing.

At City Hall, the City Medical Officer of Health, Dr Nguku, also ruled out the allocation of the land to Dr Thenya’s organisation. He said the land in question was occupied by a dental clinic and a nursery school run by the City Council. “In fact, the two institutions are about to be gazetted as national monuments,” Dr Nguku said.

Dr Mzalendo Kibunjia, director for museums, sites and monuments at The National Museums of Kenya, said the land had already been gazetted as a monument. “I have already signed a notice to the minister for National Heritage to gazette the land and its buildings as a national monument,” Dr Kibunjia said.

The land is named after the wife of Edward Northey, governor of Kenya between 1919 and 1920 when it was a British protectorate. The city MoH said the council had entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Nairobi Women’s Hospital to put up a hospital to cater for gender violence victims. The two-year MoU lapsed last month. The MoH denied that the council had ever agreed to have the hospital constructed on the Lady Northey land as claimed by Dr Thenya. But despite the resistance to the Nairobi Women’s Hospital’s request, Dr Thenya went ahead and organised a high-profile ground-breaking ceremony for the hospital last year.

Among those who attended the ceremony, which was led by then Vice-President Moody Awori, were Mrs Jordan and the then Mayor of Nairobi, Mr Dick Wathika. But just days later, City Council employees removed the signs indicating that construction was about to start. A search mounted by the hospital for the title deed to the land hit a brick wall when City Council officials said it was missing. While the Permanent Secretary for Local Government said in February 2008 that the title deed was with the ministry of Health, this claim was dismissed by Dr Hezron Nyangito, who was the PS for the ministry two months later.

Dr Thenya claims that the plan to have the hospital put up a facility on the Lady Northey land was approved by the full council of the NCC in December 2005. “In October 2006, we signed an MoU with the mayor, the town clerk and the then minister for Local Government, Mr Musikari Kombo,” he said.

The land in question was bequeathed to the Nairobi City Council in 1959 by Lady Northey. Her will states that “the land and buildings shall only be used for purposes of a children’s home and orphanage.”

Monday, November 24, 2008

C-Breezy wins 3, Kanye bags 2

LOS ANGELES – Chris Brown was the big winner, but it was Kanye West's night at the American Music Awards.

Instead of his typical tantrum — a trend West started four years ago when he lost the favourite new artist prize — the rapper claimed two trophies on Sunday and called on his colleagues to up their game. "It's our responsibility as musicians to keep pushing each other," West said. "We will be the new Beatles, the new (Jimi) Hendrix. I want to be Elvis."

West was named favorite male rap/hip-hop artist and his CD, "Graduation," won favorite rap/hip-hop album.

Brown took the night's top honors — artist of the year — as well as favorite male artist in both the pop/rock and soul/R&B categories.

"I was shocked," the 19-year-old crooner said backstage. "I'm so thankful and grateful. I thought Coldplay should have won the award, but I'll take it."

Brown's gal pal, Rihanna — who wore chains and a leather corset to perform her love ballad, "Rehab" — was named favorite female artist in both the pop/rock and soul/R&B categories. Alicia Keys was another double winner: Her CD, "As I Am," was both pop/rock and soul/R&B album winner.

The American Music Awards traditionally centers on its performances, and Sunday was no exception. The show featured high-energy sets from Miley Cyrus, Ne-Yo and Beyonce, though a pair of lackluster medleys opened the program at the Nokia Theatre. Christina Aguilera channeled Madonna and the New Kids on the Block channeled an earlier version of themselves as each sang their latest singles and greatest hits.

Pink's new track, "Sober," was awkwardly introduced by slurring rocker Scott Weiland, formerly of the Stone Temple Pilots. Also performing were The Jonas Brothers, the Pussycat Dolls, Coldplay and Annie Lennox, who won the Award of Merit.

"I never thought I would live to see the day that I could be 53 years old standing on a stage," Lennox said as she accepted the trophy from Justin Timberlake. "It's been an incredible journey. Music: my friend, my accompaniment through life."

Other winners included Brad Paisley for favorite country artist, Taylor Swift for favorite female country act, and Rascal Flatts for favorite country favorite band, duo or group.

"I didn't really think that I had a chance at winning," Swift confessed backstage. "I thought, yes, it's good to be nominated, but I honestly didn't think I was going to win this award. I can't believe that I did. I can't believe that the fans did that for me. Everybody on MySpace, they're the reason I am holding this award right now."

Fans chose the night's winners through online votes.

Catch the 36th Annual American Music Awards tonight on MNet at 8:30 PM (CAT)

Who killed Juvénal Habyarimana?

By Austin Ejiet

A decade and a half after the event, the world is no closer to knowing who masterminded and /or carried out the assassination of former Rwandese president, Juvénal Habyarimana.

The president’s jet was shot down a few kilometers from the country’s international airport as it prepared to land. The president and his team had been on a peace mission in Tanzania to try and broker an end to the war between his MRND government and the RPF exile forces that had invaded the country from the North. On board the ill-fated presidential jet was the president of the republic of Burundi who had hitched a lift back home from the same peace conference. Also killed were a number of French and Belgian nationals some of whom had constituted the crew.

Two theories have been postulated as to the identity of the assassins. The most persistent theory is that an RPF hit squad somehow sneaked deep into enemy controlled territory, shot down the aircraft, and somehow managed to sneak out again unspotted. Supporters of this position argue that the RPF wanted to shorten the war by cutting off the head of the proverbial snake. The second argument that the RPF has maintained ever since is that president Habyarimana was probably assassinated by hard-line elements from his own army who thought that it was a mistake to try and make peace with the RPF in the first instance, and that he was making too many concessions.

A common mistake made by commentators ever since is to conclude that spectacular assassination is what caused the subsequent genocide that took an estimated 800,000 (perhaps one million) lives.

A common mistake made by commentators ever since is to conclude that spectacular assassination is what caused the subsequent genocide that took an estimated 800,000 (perhaps one million) lives. In point of fact the genocide had been planned almost as soon as the RPF crossed the border from Uganda from October of 1990. A systematic campaign had encouraged Hutu extremists to prepare for an Armageddon of sorts by equipping themselves with the weapons for the day of reckoning. The downing of the presidential jet merely provided an emotive and lusty spark for the orgy of murder which lasted all of the 100 days.

The French government, spurred on by the “findings” of a judge, has gone on to identity the assassins who downed the plane, killing French citizens in the process, and to issue international arrest warrants for their apprehension and prosecution. All are very commendable. Nobody should get away with murder under any circumstances.

To this end a Rwandese presidential aide, Lt. Col. Rose Kanyange Kabuye, has been arrested in Germany and extradited to France where she has been charged with murder–the murder of French nationals–and released on bail. I dare say most readers will remember the comic maxim that informed the equality ethics of George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “All Animals Are Equal, But Some Animals Are More Equal than Others”. Yes, some French and Belgian nationals perished as a result of this drastic act. But what has happened to the estimated 800,000 or 1 million who were exterminated with astonishing brutality and cruelty?

In the mid 1970’s a White British teacher trainer then based at the National Teachers College, Kyambogo, Kampala, one Dennis Cecil Hills, wrote and published a book about president Idi Amin’s government, titled The White Pumpkin. In the book he had described the president as a village tyrant with a keen peasant wit. Somebody picked on that phrase and told the president that some “Zionist” and “Imperialist” had insulted him. The author was arrested, tried by a military tribunal, and sentenced to die by firing squad.

You should have been there to witness the concerted efforts to save Dennis Cecil Hills. The global diplomacy set into motion by the impending killing of this one man was mind –boggling. Britain sent no less a person than foreign secretary James Callaghan to plead the author’s cause. Even the Pope made rare representations to the Kampala government to save Mr. Hills. Which is what finally happened? Everybody was happy. But I remember wondering why nobody had raised a finger regarding the nightly slaughter of Ugandans of black complexion.

Who killed Habyarimana? It is more accurate to ask: who killed the French crew of Habyarimana’s jet and the eleven Belgian servicemen who blundered onto the scene of the crash. The million Rwandese who died in the subsequent genocide? Who cares! Some animals are more equal than others.

Albino killings soiling Tanzania's image, says minister

DAR ES SALAAM - Increased incidents of albino killings in Tanzania have dented the country's image as a peace islet, the minister for Community Development, Gender and Children, Mrs Margaret Sitta says.

The minister made the remark in Dar es Salaam last week during the launch of Say no to violence against women and children campaign. She said the campaign is a worldwide drive meant to advocate and sensitise people to stop violence against women and children. "The habit is a big indignity in the civilized world, but our esteem could be regained if we join hands and stop the unacceptable tradition at once," she said

Mrs Sitta said the Government would strive to support such endeavours by making sure that supportive policies and strategies are put in place. "We have established a 15-year national plan of action to facilitate the fight against gender based violence especial to women and children," she said adding: "We will constantly review the plan to ensure that we are on track as far as gender issues are concerned and that the success of the campaign is in our hands, all of us, not only the Government."

Meanwhile, a counsellor at the South Africa High Commission in Dar es Salaam, Ms Carol Rath, has said her country will continue to work with Tanzania to ensure women live in peace and harmony. "Women and children are very venerable and we promise that South Africa is with you so that we can accomplish this mission together," she said.

OK, I know that flew right over your head; the report was, surprise surprise, written by a Tanzanian journalist. -ED

Wahu wins MTV Award, controversy over "live" Award

Kenyan singer Wahu Mathenge won the best female artist prize at the inaugural MTV Africa Music Awards.

Wahu, who was nominated in two categories for her song Sweet Love, fought off stiff competition from Nigerians Asa and Sasha, Dama Do Bling from Mozambique and South African Zonke to claim the award last Saturday night at The Velodrome, in Abuja, Nigeria. The best male award went to Nigerian DJiban, who trounced our own Jua Cali, among others, in the Zain sponsored event.

For Wahu, this was probably the sweetest victory in her career, and as expected, she dedicated the award to her musician husband Nameless and their daughter Tamiso, who the song is all about. Sweet Love has been Wahu’s biggest song. It has received two nominations — the British Music of Black Origin (MOBO) Awards and Kora Awards. The MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMA) focused on contemporary African and international genres chosen by the MTV audience in sub-Saharan Africa.

Nigerian artists dominated the the Mamas on their own turf in the capital city Abuja, scooping six of the 10 awards. Kenyan singer Wahu, tearfully dedicated the award to her husband, fellow musician Nameless, and to her daughter who, she said, “is too young to understand how much she inspires me”. D’banj won both the artist of the year award and the best male award, crowning a successful year for the self-proclaimed “entertainer”. Fellow Nigerian rapper Naeto C won best new act, while 9ice won the best Hip-hop award.

The live award went to a “group that plays CDs and mimes”.

BBC 1Xtra’s Trevor Nelson hosted the show in front of a crowd of 5,000 fans in the stylishly shaped Abuja Velodrome. Nigerian duo P-Square, who had five nominations, only managed to take home one prize for best group. Despite not winning, the disappointed twin brothers thrilled the crowd with their stage act. South Africa hip-hoppers Jozi won the award for the best live performers. However, Ghanaian artist Samini revealed he was not happy the live award had gone to a “group that plays CDs and mimes”. He added: “If you say ‘live’ then the music has to be with a band. I’m not picking names, but I think that the best live performer should go to a live band artist. I’m sorry if I’m being harsh here but I’m trying to be straightforward. If I watch you on TV and I see you with a live band, then you better do it on stage for me.”

There was a also cameo appearance by US rapper The Game, who gave a brief medley of his hit songs. There were also performances by the rapper’s compatriots Flo-rida, and Kelly Rowland. Other live acts included Seun Kuti, 9ice, as well as HHP from South Africa, but it was the assortment collaborations that stole the show. HHP came back on stage to join Nigerian singing sensation Asa on her song Jailer, and Rowland performed alongside D’banj.

But the biggest fusion was that of South African rockers Cassette, Kenyan rapper Jua Cali, and Ikechukwu and Naeto C. American R&B singer Alicia Keys gave a video acceptance speech for winning the best R&B award, as did South African band Seether, who won the best alternative award. The legend gong went to the late Fela Kuti, the Nigerian pioneer of Afrobeat. The award was received by the star’s children, Yemi and Seun. Speaking of Kuti, Nelson said: “He was the first man I ever heard, all the way from the UK, when I heard African music for the first time it came from this man.”

Sunday, November 23, 2008

One rape every 26 seconds in South Africa!

NEW YORK: South Africa's Academy Award winning actress and activist Charlize Theron has said that a woman is raped every 26 seconds in her country, a situation she described as "quite horrific".

Appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Theron took over her new job last Monday as United Nations Messenger of Peace to lead the campaign to end violence against women. "The statistics on rape cases were quite horrific," Theron told a news conference at UN headquarters in New York on her first day at work, joining nine other existing Messengers of Peace to help advance various UN campaigns. "One in every three women is raped in her lifetime and the number was devastating," Theron said. "It is getting worse."

Theron founded the Cape Town Rape Crisis Centre in 1999 to deal with the widespread cases of rape and the high number of people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. But she said she now needs the support of the UN to fight rape more effectively. "It's very exciting to work for the UN because it gives you access to the source of information and the responsibility," she said. Theron founded The Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project in partnership with the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF) to help improve the lives of poor children and their families in her native South Africa, particularly those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

"I am convinced you'll be a persuasive and powerful Messenger of Peace," Ban said, after he appointed Theron last week. "You have consistently dedicated yourself to improving the lives of women and children in South Africa, and to preventing and stopping violence against women and girls. I look forward to working with you to end this terrible scourge." Other Messengers of Peace include George Clooney for UN peacekeeping, Daniel Barenboim for peace and tolerance, Michael Douglas for disarmament and Yo-Yo Ma for youth.

Theron, who won an Academy Award for her portrayal of a serial killer in the film Monster, has used her star power to advocate for women since she emerged on the international scene more than a decade ago.

Sometimes, defeat can be as "sweet" as victory


Our times have verily changed, and now seem divided into BO (Before Obama) and AO (After Obama).

In BO, it seemed very few people cared for little else than the progress that Senator Barack Obama was making in his bid to become the first African-American president of the USA. Now that this chip off Kenyan genes made history and won, and anxieties about his prospects have died down, we are able to return to matters that we neglected in BO.

Obama made the record books with victory but, often, history is also made in defeat. And it’s in loss, that British boxer Peter Buckley found his fame. On the evening of October 31, Mr Buckley had the 300th fight of his career and hang up his gloves. Mr Buckley, said The Times, is considered to be Britain’s most spectacular sporting loser. Buckley has lost more fights than any other boxer in the world. Of his 300 fights, the super-featherweight has endured 256 defeats, just 32 wins and 12 draws. Throughout, The Times wrote, “He has remained magnificently undeterred. While the British Board of Control remained desperately concerned that he would do himself a lasting injury, Buckley persisted, losing bout after bout.” He almost ruined his record. He won his last fight – his first since 2003.

Staying with sport, British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton also set a record in Brazil by becoming, at 23, the youngest world champion in the sport. And another too; he is the first Black man to drive in F1, and therefore the first person of colour to be F1 champion.

It was unforgettable! Hamilton needed to finish just fifth to clinch victory. He was beaten into sixth with three laps to go. When the Brazilian Felipe Massa crossed the line first, it seemed Hamilton had missed the prize. Massa’s Ferrari team even went into a victory-hugging frenzy. But in a rain-soaked race, with 1,000 metres and no more than 10 seconds to go to the finish line, Hamilton made one of the most gutsy moves seen in the sport for years, and glory was his. I couldn’t watch the last three minutes. I fled the TV room, was out of breath and trembling uncontrollably. I crawled back to watch the dying seconds, and got there just as Hamilton snatched back fifth. My heart was beating out of my chest. Then the phone started ringing. All the callers were friends who had spent the season feeling Hamilton’s every pain and relishing his victories, panting at the other end of the line. Next year, I am not watching Formula One. I fear I might die of a heart attack.

The future belongs to Hamilton, Obama, and fellows like supreme golfer Tiger Woods, for reasons other than their talents.

I felt Hamilton’s win was a good omen for Obama. Now, it turns out that the future belongs to Hamilton, Obama, and fellows like supreme golfer Tiger Woods, for reasons other than their talents.Writing in the Sunday Times, a leading British geneticist, Steve Jones, a professor at University College, London, says that the world’s population is blending into a single shade. As more and more people move as the world opens up, the number of its multiracial population is growing dramatically. Most countries, Prof Jones writes, have “opened up their genetic pools”. Thus your great grandfather married the girl from his village; your grandfather married the girl from the next village; you married the girl from the next district; and your daughter is more likely to marry a young lad from another country.

In the 18th century, there were 10,000 black people in Britain. Today, the proportion of Britons who claim full or partial descent from Africa has gone up 20 times! “History has always been made in bed,” Jones writes, “but the beds are closer together. As a result, the human race is in the midst of a great averaging; and the future, more than likely, is brown”. The good professor argues that all genetics “are firm believers in the healing power of lust; in the ability of desire to overcome social and geographic barriers”.

So, to him, Obama’s rise might be important for several political reasons, but “to biologists, though, he is living proof that the future is almost here; a future that will look more or less like him”. The men of science also, finally, found evidence that men are not as clueless as the harsher womenfolk sometimes portray them to be.

According to The Independent, research at the Commonwealth University in Richmond, USA, has found that men are better at detecting infidelity than women – although they spoil it by tending to suspect their female partners even when they are faithful, the study found. The scientists found that women made correct inferences about their partners’ cheating about 80 per cent of the time. Impressive?

Yes, until you learn that men scored much better – they were right about 94 per cent of the times. Nothing is ever that straightforward, though. The study found that whereas men are better at detecting infidelity, women are much better at concealing it. Our God does, indeed. work in mysterious ways!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Former Obama opponent now suing to prove President-elect's citizenship

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A former opponent of Barack Obama's has come back to haunt him over questions regarding Obama's citizenship.

According to a press release from the American Independent Party, former presidential candidate Alan Keyes and other members of the party have filed suit in California Superior Court in Sacramento to stop the state from giving its electoral votes to President-elect Barack Obama until documentary evidence is provided to prove Obama is indeed a natural born citizen of the United States. A copy of the writ can be found here.
Keyes also ran against Obama as a Republican for the U.S. Senate seat in Illinois in 2004. Obama won that election to serve his first and only term in the U.S. Senate.
The Obama campaign countered similar accusations early in 2008 by posting Obama's certification of live birth, and saying: "Barack Obama was born in the state of Hawaii in 1961, a native citizen of the United States of America."
A copy of this document is available from the Obama campaign:

In October the Hawaii State Health Department declared the certificate is genuine.

Read more from by clicking here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Death threats against Obama - Shame on you America!

The Secret Service will not provide the number of cases that they are actually investigating. It is a sick American tradition that threats against a new president spike right after an election. But the Service admits that across the nation, local law enforcement officials are seeing more threats against President-elect Barack Obama than ever before. Since the November 4th election landslide, officials have seen more potentially threatening writings and other activities directed at Mr. Obama and his family than has been seen with any past president-elect.

The Secret Service has investigated the case of a sign posted on a tree in Vay, Idaho making the suggestion of a free public hanging of Mr. Obama. In North Carolina, civil rights officials complained of threatening racist graffiti targeting Mr. Obama found in a tunnel near the North Carolina State University campus. In a Maine convenience store was a sign inviting customers to spend a dollar to join a betting pool on when Mr. Obama might fall victim to an assassin. The money would go to the person picking the date closest to when Mr. Obama was attacked. The since taken down sign cheerfully closed with “Let’s hope we have a winner.” In Denver, a group of men with guns and bulletproof vests made racist threats against Mr. Obama and sparked fears of an assassination plot during the Democratic National Convention. Just before the election, two men in Tennessee believed to be skinheads were charged with plotting to behead blacks across the country and assassinate Mr. Obama while wearing white top hats and tuxedos. In Milwaukee, police officials found a poster of Obama with a bullet going toward his head on a table in the middle of the police station.

The Secret Service also cautions that the public should not assume that any threats against Mr. Obama or his family are due to racism. However, cases of racially hateful graffiti, not necessarily directed at the Obama family, have emerged in numerous reports across the nation. I guess the public is supposed to believe that this is just an unfortunate coincidence. Chatter among white supremacists on the Internet has increased throughout the campaign and since Election Day. But again, that’s just another one of those coincidences that doesn’t necessarily mean any racial hostilities are fermenting.

With the selection of Mr. Obama as the first black president, racists and white supremacists are using the belief of anonymity to post some serious hate on the internet. There are lengthy discussion threads about what will happen now that Mr. Obama has been elected as our next president. There are a number of white nationalists and patriots who inhabit these sites making derogatory postings with racist slurs.

The Secret Service cautions that the public should not assume that any threats against Mr. Obama or his family are due to racism.

Many of these people aren’t going to do anything they say. In many of the investigations already concluded the consensus was that there was no credible threat to Mr. Obama or his family. Most of these people are pretty toothless. But the behavior of these people and the sudden upsurge in racist slurs should be a concern to anyone with a genuine interest in the condition of race relations. It is true that none of these people may pose a threat to the Obama family, but many of these people may not hesitate to take their wrath out on the nearest or most convenient person of obvious African American descent.

I would expect that if anyone was to put together a message on the internet or anywhere else saying that he or she is going to go down to the local school and kill all the people there, that person would find his or her self under an FBI microscope and facing some kind of charges, if for nothing else for making somebody in law enforcement do some work. America has a rich history of people following through on their racial hate. We also have a history of blaming the victims of racial animosity for being attacked and defending themselves. People who try to get protection from being harassed, people who try to take their concerns to law enforcement, are dismissed with a roll of the eyes. Nooses are just pranks. Threats against our black president-elect don’t need to be taken seriously. And when people are attacked for having the same obvious ethnicity as our first non white president it will be nothing but a weird coincidence of ethnicity.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Investigate & prosecute Waki Report culprits, say Kenyan

A majority of Kenyans want those mentioned adversely in the Waki report investigated and prosecuted.

An opinion poll by Strategic Research Limited found that 55.8% of respondents supported the full implementation of the report on post-election violence. Only 17.6% opposed the report’s implementation. The remaining 26.7% took a middle ground, saying, recommendations made by the Waki Commission of Inquiry into the Post Election Violence should be implemented cautiously to avoid another crisis that might return the country to violence as happened after the disputed presidential elections.

The pollsters interviewed 3,011 people in 22 districts.

Ceasar Handa, CEO of Strategic Research, on Wednesday said it was necessary to ask respondents to explain their positions as the report had created friction among political leaders. Among the Cabinet ministers who have opposed the implementation of the report are William Ruto and Henry Kosgey of ODM. (It would be prudent to note that Ruto and Kosgey are among those adversely named in the envelope presented to Kofi Annan - Ed.) Those who support include Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his deputy, Musalia Mudavadi of ODM. In PNU, Cabinet ministers Martha Karua and Esther Murugi also support full implementation. Others like Higher Education minister Sally Kosgei have called for caution.

According to the survey, a majority of those supporting full implementation of the report were convinced that this would reduce impunity in the country. At least 52.9% of those calling for caution said this was the only way to maintain the fragile peace in the country. Those opposed said the recommendations were unlikely to be implemented fairly. The report recommends that key leaders who organised and funded the post-election violence, in which 1,133 people were killed and over 300,000 displaced from their homes, be tried by a local tribunal or by the International Criminal Court if Kenya fails to take action by March 1, 2009.

• 55.8% support full implementation, 17.6% oppose it
• Majority of those supporting full implementation convinced that action would reduce impunity
• 40.7% want those named to be given amnesty, but only after they confess their crimes

Justice Waki handed over to chief mediator Kofi Annan, a sealed envelope with 11 names of Cabinet ministers and MPs suspected of organising the chaos. The names in the envelope remain secret. Those calling for caution said that if the recommendations of past reports had been implemented fully, this would have hurt the parties involved. Many of those in this group said that if the 11 politicians in the envelope were eventually put on trial, fresh violence could erupt. Others said the violence came about because people were fighting for their rights. Those who opposed the report said that the suspects named in the envelope were yet to be proven guilty. Of those interviewed, 40.7% want those named to be given amnesty, but only after they confess their crimes.

President Kibaki and the Cabinet are yet to discuss the report, although the President and PM have stated it will be implemented. However, President Kibaki has said that justice should be tempered with forgiveness. Ms Murugi recently said the ministers had been given time to ventilate so that when they meet, they can discuss it soberly.

European Union ambassadors have told the Government to implement not only the Waki report but also the Kriegler Commission’s report that inquired into the conduct of the elections. If this is not done, their countries will withhold budgetary support, they said. The Government has a Budget deficit of Sh127 billion.

In the opinion poll, 51% of those interviewed said they preferred a local tribunal to try the suspects. A big number said this will help in shedding more light to the events surrounding the post-election violence. However, 47% of the respondents said a local tribunal should not be formed. By opposing this, most of them (40.9%) argued that it would end up wasting resources and achieve nothing while 24.2% believe a local tribunal would be manipulated by politicians.

If the Government fails to act on the report, 68% of Kenyans would like the suspects to be taken to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands. Only 30% of those interviewed saw no need for The Hague option.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The UN spends $23 million of foreign aid money on art ceiling at U.N. Human Rights Council during this global finacal crisis!

The U.N. Human Rights Council, frequently accused of coddling some of the world's most repressive governments, threw itself a party in Geneva on Tuesday that featured the unveiling of a $23 million mural paid for in part with foreign aid funds.

In a ceremony attended by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Spanish artist Miquel Barcelo told the press that his 16,000-square-foot ceiling artwork reminded him of "an image of the world dripping toward the sky" — but it reminded critics of money slipping out of relief coffers. "In Spain there's a controversy because they took money out of the foreign aid budget — took money from starving children in Africa — and spent it on colorful stalactites," said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch.

Spanish taxpayers paid for most of the sprawling sculpture, which has been compared to the Sistine Chapel, but around $633,000 came from Spain's budget for overseas development aid. Spain's conservative opposition party blasted the government for diverting money from projects to alleviate poverty in poorer countries, though the government insisted the funding for Barcelo's work was kept separate. Ban himself praised the piece and thanked Barcelo for putting his "unique talents to work in the service of the world." The artwork will soar above the Human Rights Council's chambers at U.N.'s European headquarters in Geneva, which may soon undergo a $1 billion renovation — but only after a $1.9 billion facelift of the U.N.'s New York offices is completed.

Meanwhile, international humanitarian groups pleaded with the human rights panel to take time out from their party to address the worsening human rights "catastrophe" in the Congo, where the government is fighting a deadly battle with several rebel groups. "Mass displacement, killings and sexual violence — involving hundreds of thousands of victims, if not more — require an urgent response," according to a statement issued jointly Tuesday by Freedom House and UN Watch. Congo has been off the radar at the Human Rights Council, which removed its monitor from the African country in March when the Congolese government and a group of neighboring nations applied pressure on the council to expel the monitor. "When the Human Rights Council was established two years ago there were about 12 or so monitors, and gradually one after another has been scrapped," said Neuer. "The other ones are all on the chopping block."

Violence is worsening in the country, where an estimated 4 million people have been killed in the past 10 years and tens of thousands have been displaced in recent months. "The [Lord's Resistance Army] leader, Joseph Kony, is continuing his brutal and abusive tactics," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The U.S. and U.K., along with the UN and governments in the region, should actively work together to apprehend LRA leaders wanted by the [International Criminal Court]." Secretary-General Ban has supported a UN resolution that would increase the UN peacekeeping force in Congo by 3,100 troops and police, but some critics say that move would not be enough.

Human rights groups — and UN officials themselves — have criticized the peacekeeping force for failing to protect civilians in places like Kiwanja, where at least 20 people were killed this week. The 17,000-man UN deployment is already the UN's largest peacekeeping commitment, but is restricted by tough rules of engagement and has a massive territory to cover. Congo is the size of Western Europe, and North Kivu, where the fighting is centered, is one-and-a-half times the size of France.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

We will implement Waki & Kriegler reports, says Raila

Prime Minister Raila Odinga has assured the international community that both the Waki and Kriegler reports will be implemented.

Speaking when he met visiting Denmark Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Mr Odinga said there were no divisions in government over the implementation of the reports. “We are talking to get a solution. We are not fighting. People are only expressing the right to give their views,” Mr Odinga said at his Treasury Building office in Nairobi. “In the case of Waki (report), we are discussing whether to do it (try suspects) in Kenya or the matter goes to The Hague where we will have no say.” He said the debate was not whether to implement the reports which are as a result of National Accord that ended two months of post election violence or not. “It is which way to do it...which way to follow. We are sure we will find the way,” Mr Odinga said, adding that the media should help cool emotions raised by the Waki report and not raise political temperatures.

On Monday, European Union member countries threatened to cut aid to Kenya if the Waki and Kriegler reports were not implemented. Mr Rasmussen said there was need for progress in healing and reconciliation process in the country for development. The PM said his country has been closely following events in the country since post-election chaos and called for the full implementation of the Kriegler and Waki reports. Mr Rasmussen said the implementation of the reports will result in greater cooperation between Kenya, the EU and Denmark. Denmark is spearheading promotion of private business in Africa for job creation and development.

At the same time, Mr Odinga called for joint venture between Danish and Kenyan businessmen in agriculture, infrastructure development, shipping and trade. He said Denmark has injected more than US$ 40 billion in Kenya since the two countries started cooperating in 1963. “We would like to see this cooperation expanded.” Mr Odinga was accompanied deputy prime minister Musalia Mudavadi, ministers Charity Ngilu (Water), Fred Gumo (Regional Development), Beth Mugo (Public Health) and acting Finance Minister John Michuki.

The Danish PM is in the country for a three day visit.

Somali pirates hijack Saudi oil tanker

Somali Pirates have seized the biggest booty ever taken on the high seas, capturing a fully laden Saudi oil supertanker and its multinational crew.
The Sirius Star – three times the size of an aircraft carrier and carrying its full complement of two million barrels of crude oil worth at least $100 million – was hijacked in the early hours of Sunday, 450 nautical miles southeast of Mombasa in Kenya, according to the US Fifth Fleet. “This is unprecedented,” Lieutenant Nathan Christensen, spokesman for the fleet, said yesterday. “It’s the largest ship that we’ve seen pirated.”

Last night the Sirius Star was heading towards Eyl, a notorious pirate haven on the Somali coast, raising fears of an environmental catastrophe if the pirates run aground in waters far too shallow for the vast supertanker. Shipping analysts said that the cost of sending freight around the world would rise after the attack as a result of higher insurance premiums and an increase in charter rates.

The Sirius Star is the latest of more than 60 vessels to be captured off the Somali coast this year, but the first supertanker. Jitters over the ease with which pirates seized crude equivalent to a quarter of Saudi Arabia’s daily output sent falling oil prices into reverse. They finished up one dollar per barrel. Odfjell, one of the largest shipping groups in the world, responded to the attack by suspending its routes through the Gulf of Aden in favour of the longer journey around the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of South Africa, raising the prospect that one of the world’s busiest trade routes could be sidelined unless global action is taken to combat the pirate menace.

Britain leads a multinational task force in the area. Last week the Royal Navy was drawn into a shoot-out with a gang attempting to hijack a cargo ship, killing two of the pirates.

But the capture of the Sirius Star hundreds of miles to the south in the Indian Ocean, as it was heading to the US via the Cape, suggests that the Gulf pirates are simply moving into unpatrolled waters or that other pirate groups, recently dormant, have been reawakened. The supertanker had avoided the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal because it is too big to pass through the canal. It is not only the largest ship to be captured but the farthest from the Somali shoreline. The US Fifth Fleet declined to say whether military action was being considered to rescue the tanker, which is manned by 25 crew from Croatia, the Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia and Britain.

Shipping experts said that a rescue attempt was unlikely because of the extreme danger both to the crew and the ship. Vela International, which operates the tanker for the Saudi state oil company, Saudi Aramco, said it had set up a negotiating team to deal with ransom demands. “All 25 crew members on board are reported to be safe,” the company said. “Vela response teams have been established and are working to ensure the safe release of the crew members and the vessel.”

Somalia has lacked a functioning government since the outbreak of civil war in 1991. But the lawlessness that has prevailed since the ousting of the Islamic Courts Government in 2007 has spawned the epidemic of piracy. The gangs’ methods vary little, even when taking a 320,000-tonne monster like the Sirius Star. Gunmen typically approach on small speedboats, opening fire on the bridge until the ship’s captain submits and allows them on board, usually throwing down a ladder. The average reaction time between spotting the pirates and being boarded is 15 minutes. Crews are strictly instructed not to resist attack once arms have been employed. Once captured, violence against crew members is rare. In recent months the pirates’ arsenal has grown more deadly, with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and possibly shoulder-mounted missiles used to threaten the crew. Pirate groups have hugely extended their reach from the coast with the use of “mother ships”, larger vessels from which they launch speedboats after they have identified their prey. While some known mother ships have been identified, other attacks are launched from ordinary dhows, traditional sailing boats hijacked from fishermen. Negotiations with ships’ owners can go on for several months and are clouded in secrecy. Fourteen ships with more than 250 crew members are being held as negotiations continue. Among them is the Ukrainian arms ship Faina, which was captured in August with a cargo of 33 battle tanks, hundreds of crates of Kalashnikovs and ammunition.

Shipping companies have noticed a pattern in which new hijacks occur within days of a ransom settlement, suggesting that the gangs are acting in rotation, moving from one hijack to another as soon as the last is resolved. “There are never less than ten to twelve ships being held,” said Giles Knowles, head of maritime security for the Baltic and International Maritime Council, which represents more than 2,700 of the world’s shipping companies. Last week, three ransom settlements were resolved, he said, with three more hijacks promptly taking place since Friday. “It would seem there is a cycle.” Terje Storeng, chief executive of Odfjell, said: “We will no longer expose our crew to the risk of being hijacked and held for ransom by pirates in the Gulf of Aden. “The rerouting will entail extra sailing days and later cargo deliveries. This will incur significant extra cost, but we expect our customers’ support and contribution.”

Mr Knowles said several companies had already consulted Bimco – an independent international shipping association of shipowners, managers, brokers and agents – on moving to the Cape route, extending the average journey by three weeks, and that he expected more to take Odfjell’s lead. Bimco has called on foreign governments to send more warships in the short term to work under a United Nations mandate to police the Somali coast. In the longer term, it would like a permanent UN coastguard force. But as long as anarchy reigns on-shore, little will change at sea. “Historically you’ve never defeated piracy at sea,” Mr Knowles said. “The resolution lies ashore – in Somalia.”

The seizure of the Sirius Star is creating consternation among insurers. Brendan Flood, a marine underwriter at Hiscox, said that the cost of insuring hulls would rise: “This shows that nothing is off limits. You would never have expected a ship this size to be at risk. This was a long way from the area we believed to be volatile.” A ship such as Sirius Star would probably be worth $100 million (£66.7 million), he said. The approach to modelling the risks to hulls, cargo and crews of sailing in Somali and nearby waters would have to be overhauled.

Shipowners said that charter and voyage rates would soar if more owners refused to operate in the region. According to Intertanko, the owners’ organisation, 17 tankers pass through the Gulf of Aden every day on average, carrying 7 per cent of world oil consumption. David Partner, of Miller Insurance Services, said that the ransom would probably be talked down to $2.5 million, but the cost of settlement may be double that.

Implement Waki & Kriegler Reports or we withhold aid, says EU

The European Union on Monday threatened to withhold budgetary support if the Waki and Kriegler reports are not implemented.

European Commission head of delegation to Kenya Eric van der Linden said the Government should also review the Constitution and land policies as agreed during the peace talks that culminated in the Grand Coalition Government. The move to withhold budgetary support would have an adverse effect on Government programmes. It would affect funding in education, health, especially the fight against HIV and Aids, and infrastructure projects, mainly roads construction. It will especially exert pressure on this year’s budget, which has a huge deficit.

The Government had planned to raise $500 million from the international market through a sovereign bond. But due to the international financial meltdown, that is no longer possible. Furthermore, the Kenya Revenue Authority has already sent notice that it is unlikely to meet revenue targets for this financial year.

If the EU withholds the support, the Government will be forced to borrow heavily from the local market to plug the budget deficit, causing inflation and interest rates to rise.

Although the constitutional review and land reforms were part of Agenda Four of the coalition deal, the Government has been accused of dragging its feet in addressing the two issues. Asked what the conditions for the release of the budgetary support were, Mr Linden said: “We are waiting for the Waki and Kriegler reports to be implemented. The development group is also looking at Agenda Four. We are looking if all conditions are met.” He said the international community also wanted to see issues related to corruption addressed, adding that impunity must be a thing of the past.

French ambassador Elisabeth Barbier said the international community was closely “watching and listening” to what the Government would do with the Waki report. She said they expected the Cabinet to discuss the implementation of the report when it meets this week. “We are keen to see the implementation of the report … there has been difficult debate but we consider there is time for political leadership of this country to take a position,” said Ms Barbier. She said the Waki team handled a complex mandate and was transparent and objective in the manner it recommended an end to impunity in the country. Ms Barbier said although there was need for further investigations, it was also necessary to reform the police force as proposed by the Waki Commission.

The two were speaking at a press conference at the French ambassador’s residence when they briefed the media on European Development Days. Kenya’s 2007/2008 budget has a deficit of Sh5.3 billion, with this gap of about 5% expected to be largely filled by donors. The EU is one of the top donors. Since 2002 it has financed the Government budget to the tune of Sh28.4 billion.