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Friday, May 30, 2008

South Africa and Kenya share a common fate

BY JERRY OKUNGU

The relationship between South Africa and Kenya is a perfect example of a study in sibling rivalry. It is a hate-love relationship that seems to have matured into a common fate!

It goes way back in colonial times when the current Kenyan senior citizens like Charles Njonjo ventured there for their higher education.

In the 1970s, when Njonjo was a powerful Attorney General, he invited South African heart surgeon, Dr. Christian Bernard to Kenya against the wishes of then foreign affairs minister.

It was rumoured then that Njonjo would secretly visit South Africa in violation of Kenya’s travel ban to that country. When South Africa abandoned apartheid and embraced democracy in 1992, it was Kenya they chose to showcase their industrial and technological advancement.

Though dubbed ‘Contact Kenya’, the whole of eastern Africa travelled to Nairobi to marvel at the once vilified and mysterious South Africa. Sooner, it was obvious to the political and business class that South Africa was out to dominate the continent that had boycotted it for half a century. Their desire was to overrun the little industrial development that there was in the region and convert sub-Saharan Africa into one great consumer market for their products. After all they were manufacturing everything from sanitary towels to satellite electronics.

In just months of electing Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first black president, South African goods were everywhere on our streets. In neighbouring Tanzania, they acquired Tanzania’s national airline with direct flights to Dar-es- Salaam and Entebbe. Meanwhile, South African Airways established a daily flight between Nairobi and Johannesburg.

This thirst to dominate business in sub- Saharan Africa saw South Africa’s Castle Breweries build a new beer plant in Kenya to compete with East Africa’s oldest and largest brewery.

Meanwhile when Kenya Breweries tried to export their own Tusker brand to South Africa, it hit a snag. That was the first salvo that South Africa was not ready for competition on their soil but was eager to assist her nationals dominate other markets.

The trade wars that followed saw South African Breweries fold up and leave the country after Castle beer failed in the Kenyan market. This setback was quickly followed by their departure from Tanzania Airways.

Despite these setbacks, Kenya and South Africa have had very cordial relations at least at the country level. Many Kenyans have gone to South Africa in the past decade to work or do business there. The same can be said of many South Africans in Kenya.

This cordial relationship can be attributed to two extraordinary South African ambassadors that have been posted to Nairobi in the last 10 years.

Between 1998 and 2002, Ambassador Griffith Memela was a household name in Kenya. The ambassador travelled widely all over the country making many friends along the way. His handling of the Kenya Breweries-South African Breweries tiff was as diplomatic as it could be. Memela knew what it meant to be a diplomat in situations of straining bilateral relations.

Between 2005 and now, Kenyans have hosted another great South African Ambassador, Tony Msangana, a self-effacing but social diplomat who has been at the forefront of every Kenyan crisis since his posting here.

When Nelson Mandela visited Kenya for two weeks in 2005 with his wife Graca Machel, it was Tony and his mission that made it possible for Kenyans of all walks of life to celebrate the icon’s presence here.

In the last two years, the ambassador has visited many parts of Nyanza province on charity missions. In the process, many communities have adopted him as their son.

When Kenya was in crisis following the 2007 elections, Tony was again at the forefront searching for peace. Through his efforts in conjunction with other eminent persons in Africa, Bishop Desmond Tutu and Cyril Ramaphosa were flown in to come and help.

The tragedy is that both Kenya and South Africa have gone through the African Peer Review process where in Kenya; the burning issues pointed out were inequality, poverty and landlessness.

In South Africa, the glaring problems the APRM found out were poverty, inequality and xenophobia.

A year later, the two countries have erupted in an orgy of violence precisely for the very reasons cited in their APRM reports but which the political leadership in both countries chose to ignore!

Why can’t we read the signs on the wall and avoid hurting ourselves unnecessarily?

jerryokungu@gmail.com

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Army fatally shoots man in SA violence

South African troops have shot dead a man in a Johannesburg township as they moved to put down growing anti-immigrant violence.

An army spokesman announced the killing on Saturday, as the authorities continued their bid to stem the tide of violence that has seen mobs of armed youths attack foreigners across the country. General Kwena Mangope, an army spokesman, said: "We unfortunately had an incident where a member of the public was shot when he pointed a firearm at a soldier. He was shot dead." The army said the man was killed on Friday at about 6pm (16:00 GMT) in the East Rand area. "A male was allegedly assaulting a woman. Our men confronted him and then he pointed a firearm at them," Mangope said.

Army on the streets
The army was deployed on the streets of Johannesburg, the country's largest city, on Thursday and again on Friday to help deal with a wave of attacks that have killed at least 42 people and seen 17,000 people displaced. More than 500 people have been arrested in connection with the attacks.

Many immigrants from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi have been living in South Africa but have fled back to their homelands to avoid the violence. African Union officials have expressed shock at the attacks in Africa's most developed nation.

Civil unrest
Thabo Mbeki, South Africa's president, bowed to pressure to call in troops after a request from the police. It is the first time the army has been used to deal with civil unrest since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Attacks on immigrants, who are being blamed by many for South Africa's high crime rate and unemployment levels, have spread to seven of South Africa's nine provinces. Some suggested the call to the military was an overreaction and raised fears about using troops who lacked the training to control crowds of people.

Many remember that, under white apartheid rule, the army was frequently called upon to help police put down civil unrest by blacks in poor townships and such incidents often ended in violence. On Friday, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, South Africa's deputy president, apologised for the unrest. "We reject the notion that some of the people who are living in South Africa who are not South Africans can be blamed for the problems that we have," she said during a trip to Nigeria.

But even as she apologised, violence was reported in Cape Town, South Africa's second city and a major tourist destination.








































Tuesday, May 27, 2008

South Africa shoots itself in the foot ahead of 2010 World Cup

CAPE TOWN - Violence against foreigners in South Africa spread to Cape Town overnight with people assaulted and shops looted.

The attacks broke out during a meeting called to prevent anti-foreigner violence in the Dunoon township. BBC's Mohammed Allie in Cape Town says Somali shops were looted and one Somali killed and six others injured. He says there have been shack-to-shack searches for foreigners and some local residents have begun flying the South African flag outside their homes.

Meanwhile, the governing African National Congress (ANC) party has urged its supporters to help police take back control by forming street committees. More than 40 people have died and some 15,000 people have sought shelter since the violence initially flared up in the Johannesburg township of Alexandra almost two weeks ago. There are fears that the unrest could have longer term consequences for the country.



Moeketski Mosola, head of South Africa Tourism, said the government is alarmed by the situation, especially as they are preparing to host the football World Cup in 2010. "We are extremely concerned about the situation on the ground, you must remember that 67% of the tourists coming into South Africa are mainly African," he told the BBC's World Tonight programme. Cape Town is the hub of South Africa's tourism industry.

There have also been new attacks in Strand, east of Cape Town, Durban and North-West province, where three people, reportedly from Pakistan, were stabbed and dozens of Mozambican and Somali nationals displaced. On Thursday, troops were deployed to quell attacks - the first time soldiers have been used to stamp out unrest in South Africa since the 1994 end of apartheid.

Police said it took them eight hours to contain the unrest in Dunoon, 25km from the city centre, and several people were arrested. "Some people were assaulted, but mostly shops were looted," police spokesman Billy Jones told AFP news agency. John, a Malawian at the Dunoon meeting, said it disintegrated and foreigners started fleeing as groups began to loot Somali-owned shops. "We feared for our safety. They're just killing everyone - they start beating you when they find out you're a foreigner," he told the BBC, adding that he was returning home as soon as possible.

Thursday night's unrest prompted some 500 people, including Somalis, Mozambicans and Nigerians, as well as Zimbabweans to flee their homes, some seeking refuge in police stations. Our correspondent says the police have beefed up their presence in other Cape Town trouble spots as looting spread on Friday. Cape Town first witnessed xenophobic attacks two years ago when the Somali community - especially those who owned shops - were targeted and some murdered. Durban also witnessed unrest earlier this week but most of the violence has been in the Gauteng region around Johannesburg, which is now reported to be relatively quiet.



Meanwhile, the government and union leaders are to meet to address the crisis in South Africa's crucial mining industry. Medium-sized firm DRDGold said two of its workers - one of whom was South African - had died in violence near Johannesburg on Tuesday. It said more than half of the miners on Thursday's day shift had failed to report for work. Almost a third of the mine's semi-skilled workers are foreign.

National Union of Mineworkers President Senzeni Zokwana appealed for calm. "This situation has to stop; it cannot continue happening; it doesn't help the local people to chase others away. It is just wrong," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme. Mozambique's president has urged his compatriots not to respond to the attacks. His government has also mobilised emergency services normally used for natural disasters to cope with the exodus of an estimated 10,000 Mozambicans from South Africa.

Some Zimbabweans are also going home, preferring to risk the violence there than stay in South Africa. One Zimbabwean woman told the BBC she had decided to return home from Johannesburg after seeing a gang douse a Mozambican immigrant with petrol and throw him into his burning shack. "The screams of the burning Mozambican still haunt me. When I close my eyes to try to sleep, I see the man screaming for help. But no-one helps him," she said. "I have never seen such barbarism."

Mugabe calls top US diplomat "a prostitute"

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has accused the US of political interference and threatened to expel its ambassador, as his party began its campaign for next month's election run-off.

Sir Robert said the US State Department's top diplomat for Africa had behaved like a prostitute by suggesting the opposition Movement for Democratic Change had won the March 29 elections. The attacks on the US ambassador, James McGee, and the Assistant Secretary of State, Jendayi Frazer, on Sunday signalled the start of Mr Mugabe's campaign for the June 27 run-off against Morgan Tsvangirai, who won the first round but fell short of an absolute majority.

"He [McGee] says he fought in Vietnam, but fighting in Vietnam does not give him the right to interfere in our domestic affairs," he said. Of Ms Frazer, he said: "You saw this little American girl trotting around like a prostitute celebrating that the MDC had won. A disgraceful act."

State media said yesterday that Mr Mugabe would respect the voters' will if his 28-year-rule was ended in the run-off.

- REUTERS

Bemba's arrest is selective justice

Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba was arrested in Brussels on Saturday night on an International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant for war crimes.

Bemba is accused of having led a campaign of mass rapes, torture and pillage six years ago in the Central African Republic (CAR), where he had been called in by then president Ange-Felix Patasse to quell an attempted coup d’etat. The arrest is likely to be seen as politically-inspired, both in the DRC and the CAR.

In the DRC, it removed the main challenger to president Joseph Kabila at a time when a strong opposition is badly needed to stem rampant corruption and increasingly authoritarian rule. In the Central African Republic, it has paved the way for President Francois Bozize to deal a final blow to the elected president he eventually overthrew in a military coup in March 2003.

Bemba’s arrest is also likely to be seen as selective justice. Both Bozize’s forces and Kabila’s army have been accused of widespread and systematic human rights abuses in recent years. “CAR security forces have been responsible for the most serious violations in the conflict, including multiple summary executions and unlawful killings, widespread burning of civilian homes, and the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands,” said Human Rights Watch in a 2007 report.

In the DRC, government soldiers have been accused of killings, arbitrary arrests, rape, as well as looting of property of civilians. “Tens of thousands of women and girls have been victims of sexual violence, especially in the war torn eastern parts of the country. Armed groups and government forces continue to rape large numbers of women and girls with impunity,” Human Rights Watch wrote in January this year.

As long as you commit atrocities as part of the government army, they do not qualify for war crimes, seems to be the message. There is the risk of another signal Bemba’s arrest might send to Africa: Don’t stop fighting or accept defeat in elections because they’ll drag you to The Hague.

The ICC must be seen as impartial and politically neutral; its criteria equal to all parties. The court must explain why atrocities committed by the government armies in both countries do not pass the threshold of gravity. It must, above all, avoid to be seen as a court for Africans only.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Tibetans question nonviolence

DHARAMSALA, India - Palgay spent more than two weeks dodging Chinese authorities to fulfill his lifelong dream — a face-to-face meeting with the Dalai Lama.

His journey to the seat of the spiritual leader's government-in-exile high in the Indian Himalayas began earlier last month when he paid a driver nearly $800 to hide inside a pile of luggage headed for Nepal. From there, he sneaked across the border, feeling his way along treacherous rocky terrain under the cover of darkness.

Sitting on a bunk at the Tibetan Reception Center, the 28-year-old shepherd, who refused to give his last name, voiced doubts over the Dalai Lama's nonviolent strategy amid the military crackdown by Chinese forces. Since protests began in Tibet on the March 10 anniversary of the 1959 uprising against Chinese rule, 22 people have died, according to Chinese officials. The government-in-exile says 140 Tibetans have been killed. "In Tibet, we have no rights, no freedom," said Palgay. "Waiting has brought us nothing. ... Unless China frees us, we will not stop this fight." His bitter view is emblematic of a growing sense of impatience among young Tibetans, inside and outside Tibet, where anti-government unrest has reached its highest level in decades.

"Many Tibetans are starting to question whether nonviolence is getting them anywhere given the stance of the Chinese regime. The protests show how youth are torn between the two," said Lhadon Thethong, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet in Dharamsala. Mr. Thethong said the clashes across Tibet have opened a "good discussion that Tibetans are human beings, not perfect saints that are calm under any circumstance."

A hard-line shift in attitudes toward the Chinese may be due to a generational and geographic gap: Tibetans who have spent their entire lives stifled under Chinese rule know less of the man their parents taught them to revere. Since he fled Tibet in 1959, eight years after it came under Chinese control, the Dalai Lama has promoted what he calls "the middle way" — nonviolence and sustained dialogue — to secure greater political autonomy for Tibet. He repeatedly says he is against full independence.

Some 100,000 of his countrymen followed the spiritual leader into India, most of whom have never challenged his nonviolent stance, though the CIA is widely reported to have trained Tibetans in Nepal to wage guerrilla warfare against the Chinese in the 1950s and 1960s during the Cold War. Over the years, analysts say, the Tibetan leader's commitment to dialogue has never wavered even though Chinese Communist Party boss Zhang Qingli recently blamed him for the unrest in Tibet, branding him a "wolf in monk's robes." When protests led by Buddhist monks turned violent on March 14 in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, the Dalai Lama pledged to step down as spiritual and political leader rather than see his movement turn violent. "If things become out of control, then my only option is completely resign, completely resign," he said at the time.

Contending that Tibetans and Chinese must learn to live together and put tensions aside, the 72-year-old monk insists he is ready to negotiate greater autonomy for Tibet — a move that has alienated some activists. "The middle way has been in existence for 20 years and nothing has come out of it," Tsewang Rigzin, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, said recently. The Tibetan Youth Congress, formed in 1970 with the Dalai Lama's blessing, claims to have more than 30,000 members worldwide. They favor full independence and employing the same tactics used against South Africa's former apartheid government, including boycotting companies that do business with China. "There is a tragic battle going on between those who claim that only exile stridency or even violence can attract world attention, and those who say that violence is what most helps China justify its use of force and its attacks on the Dalai Lama," said Robbie Barnett, director of the modern Tibet studies program at Columbia University. "People are caught in the vise of this dilemma."

In the months leading up to the Beijing Olympic Games — a period some activists here see as the best opportunity to draw international attention — Mr. Barnett says angry exiles will have to ask themselves whether the media attention is "worth the risk of a seriously divided community, which could damage the Dalai Lama's standing." The ban on foreign media coverage has made it all but impossible to gauge the sentiments of young Tibetans inside the region. But ongoing unrest has boiled over across China's borders.

The Indian capital New Delhi has seen several violent protests by Tibetan refugees. Police in the Nepalese capital, Katmandu, routinely detain dozens of protesting Tibetan exiles. There have been protest rallies in several world capitals, including Washington. In Dharamsala, protesters wield Tibetan flags, chanting slogans for a "Free Tibet" and calling on China to end its oppression.

Dozens of students and nuns are on hunger strike and pledging to continue until Beijing calls off its soldiers.
Their fervor is fueled by a steady stream of news updates and posters of Tibetans reportedly killed and maimed by Chinese forces that cover town walls. Most victims appear to have been shot in the head and chest. "We want peace, but I see what's happening to our people over there and I think maybe there is no choice [but to fight]," said a 32-year-old man who identified himself as Choephel. He said his 23-year-old nephew was killed by Chinese forces a week ago in Amdo city in Tibet along with five others.

But Kalsang Sherab, 28, said nonviolence remains the only way to gain lasting improvements for Tibetans. "We may feel angry and want to strike back, but the middle path is a good one," he said. "[The Dalai Lama] has shown the way, and it's good for the whole Tibetan community."

Monday, May 12, 2008

Barack Obama: on my faith and my Church

























The pastor of my church, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who recently preached his last sermon and is in the process of retiring, has touched off a firestorm over the last few days. He's drawn attention as the result of some inflammatory and appalling remarks he made about our country, our politics, and my political opponents.

Let me say at the outset that I vehemently disagree and strongly condemn the statements that have been the subject of this controversy. I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country or serves to divide us from our allies. I also believe that words that degrade individuals have no place in our public dialogue, whether it's on the campaign stump or in the pulpit. In sum, I reject outright the statements by Rev. Wright that are at issue.

Because these particular statements by Rev. Wright are so contrary to my own life and beliefs, a number of people have legitimately raised questions about the nature of my relationship with Rev. Wright and my membership in the church. Let me therefore provide some context.

As I have written about in my books, I first joined Trinity United Church of Christ nearly twenty years ago. I knew Rev. Wright as someone who served this nation with honor as a United States Marine, as a respected biblical scholar, and as someone who taught or lectured at seminaries across the country, from Union Theological Seminary to the University of Chicago. He also led a diverse congregation that was and still is a pillar of the South Side and the entire city of Chicago. It's a congregation that does not merely preach social justice but acts it out each day, through ministries ranging from housing the homeless to reaching out to those with HIV/AIDS.

Most importantly, Rev. Wright preached the gospel of Jesus, a gospel on which I base my life. In other words, he has never been my political advisor; he's been my pastor. And the sermons I heard him preach always related to our obligation to love God and one another, to work on behalf of the poor, and to seek justice at every turn.

The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation. When these statements first came to my attention, it was at the beginning of my presidential campaign. I made it clear at the time that I strongly condemned his comments. But because Rev. Wright was on the verge of retirement, and because of my strong links to the Trinity faith community, where I married my wife and where my daughters were baptized, I did not think it appropriate to leave the church.

Let me repeat what I've said earlier. All of the statements that have been the subject of controversy are ones that I vehemently condemn. They in no way reflect my attitudes and directly contradict my profound love for this country.

With Rev. Wright's retirement and the ascension of my new pastor, Rev. Otis Moss, III, Michelle and I look forward to continuing a relationship with a church that has done so much good. And while Rev. Wright's statements have pained and angered me, I believe that Americans will judge me not on the basis of what someone else said, but on the basis of who I am and what I believe in; on my values, judgment and experience to be President of the United States.

Persperctives on Zimbabwe

After one week of that Lucy post (which apparently ruffled a few feathers) we can now move on. And into the Zimbabwe crisis. I have with me excerpts from an email I received, and thought I should share it...

Our father Mugabe
Who art in Harare
How bad is your name that it can be hated in all corners of the world?
Thy kingdom is no more
Give us this day our poll results
And forgive us for voting you out
As we forgive you for trying to rig the votes.
Lead us not into stoning you, but deliver us from your policies.
For thine is the cruelty, the poverty and the shame.
Amen

PS- Don't join politics, it will destroy you! Look at how handsome this man was back in '53...

Friday, May 2, 2008

Where is Lucy Kibaki?

Just the other day, the lads here at Siasa Duni were having a hot debate that I couldn't help over hearing: where has the man-slapping, tantrum-throwing, TV studio-storming First Lady disappeared to? Good question, because the last time we heard from her was a resounding slap from the cheeks of one Gitobu Imanyara, which reverberated throughout the city. But Gitobu, being a Meru man, could not and would not take it with a stiff upper lip like the lesser men before him; whereupon he floored Lady Lucy with a salvo that sent her sprawling across the floor, in clear view of Kenya's CEO and Thief-in-Chief (who apparently was watching all this unfold). So I decided to investigate and find out exactly where our Lady of the Spank is.

You see, I know people who know people who hear things. Before very long, I got a lead. Apparently, Lucy is holed up in State House and is having her teeth done. Now, whether the teeth were misplaced during that confrontation with Imanyara or whether she is growing old and her teeth are falling out is yet to be confirmed. Either way, she is terrified of the world seing her toothless, hence her absence. One of our readers, "Mike Tyson", asked in the comments section how many teeth she lost to Gitobu's power punch. Several, it would seem...

Akon cons Uganda

KAMPALA - Akon has done it again! The Senegalse-born R&B superstar is scheduled to perform at Lugogo Cricket Oval later on tonight, but all indications are that the show is off. Flags were raised when he failed to appear for a pre-concert meet & greet party at Sway Club yesterday, raising fears that he was not even in Uganda in the first place.

The biggest casualty of this clearly is Celtel. The multinational mobile company has staked it's very reputation on the concert. Celtel, apparently oblivious of Akon's antics next door in Kenya, has gone ahead and crafted a consumer promotion based around the star-crossed concert, paying out (or at least promising to) millions of Uganda shillings, promising winners a night at the hotel where Akon is supposed to be staying, a limo ride to the concert and a helicopter pick-up from anywhere in Uganda, among other mouth-watering prospects. All would-be winners need to do is use Celtel and their products.

According to Akon's official website, however, he's scheduled to perform in Las Vegas this weekend, making it highly unlikely that he will be performing in Kampala tonight. Word on the street is that Celtel, attempting to save face, have not given up the wild-goose-chase and will ensure that he makes good of his promise to perform in Kampala. So they are sending a jet to pick him up for the long-awaited concert that has now been postponed to next week. We can only hold our breath!

Al Jazeera cameraman released from Guantanamo

Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj has hit out at the US treatment of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison where he was held for nearly six and a half years.

Saying that "rats are treated with more humanity", al-Hajj said inmates' "human dignity was violated".
Al-Hajj arrived in Sudan early on Friday, was carried off the US air force jet in a stretcher and immediately taken to hospital. His brother, Asim al-Hajj, said he did not recognise the cameraman because he looked like a man in his 80s.
Still, al-Hajj said: "I was lucky because God allowed that I be released." But his attention soon turned to the 275 inmates he left behind in the US military prison.

Dignity violated
"I'm very happy to be in Sudan, but I'm very sad because of the situation of our brothers who remain in Guantanamo. Conditions in Guantanamo are very, very bad and they get worse by the day," he said from his hospital bed. "Our human condition, our human dignity was violated, and the American administration went beyond all human values, all moral values, all religious values. In Guantanamo ... rats are treated with more humanity. But we have people from more than 50 countries that are completely deprived of all rights and privileges. And they will not give them the rights that they give animals," he said.

Al-Hajj complained that "for more than seven years, [inmates] did not get a chance to be brought before a civil court to defend their just case".

Free man
The US embassy in Khartoum issued a brief statement confirming that a "detainee transfer" to Sudan had taken place and saying it appreciated Sudan's co-operation. A senior US defence official in Washington speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that al-Hajj was "not being released [but] being transferred to the Sudanese government". But Sudan's justice minister told Al Jazeera that al-Hajj was a free man and would not be arrested or face any charges. Two other Sudanese inmates at Guantanamo, Amir Yacoub al-Amir and Walid Ali, were freed along with al-Hajj. The two said they were blindfolded, handcuffed and chained to their seats during the flight home.

The Reprieve organisation that represents some Guantanamo inmates said Moroccan detainee Said Boujaadia was also released and flown home on the same aircraft as the three Sudanese. Al-Hajj was the only journalist from a major international news organisation held at Guantanamo and many of his supporters saw his detention as punishment for the network's broadcasts.

Seized in 2001
He was seized by Pakistani intelligence officers while travelling near the Afghan border in December 2001. Despite holding a legitimate visa to work for Al Jazeera's Arabic channel in Afghanistan, he was handed to the US military in January 2002 and sent to Guantanamo Bay. Al-Hajj, who is originally from Sudan, was held as an "enemy combatant" without ever facing trial or charges. He was never prosecuted at Guantanamo so the US did not make public its full allegations against him.

But in a hearing that determined that he was an enemy combatant, US officials alleged that in the 1990s, al-Hajj was an executive assistant at a Qatar-based beverage company that provided support to Muslim fighters in Bosnia and Chechnya. The US claimed he also travelled to Azerbaijan at least eight times to carry money on behalf of his employer to the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a now defunct charity that US authorities say funded armed groups.

The US also clamed he met Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, allegedly a senior lieutenant to Osama bin Laden who was arrested in Germany in 1998 and extradited to the United States. His lawyers have always denied the allegations.

'Element of racism'
Al-Hajj had been on hunger strike since January 7, 2007. David Remes, a lawyer for 17 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, told Al Jazeera that the treatment al-Hajj received "was more horrific than most" and that there was "an element of racism" in the way he was treated. He said he had been in contact with the lawyer representing al-Hajj and it appeared the cameraman had been "psychologically damaged". "The Europeans would never receive this treatment," Remes said.

About 275 detainees remain at Guantanamo and the lawyer said European detainees had all been returned to their countries, leaving nationalities such as Yemenis - who now constitute one third of the inmate population. Remes said al-Hajj had been released because the Bush administration "wants to flush as many men out of Guantanamo as quickly as possible … as Guantanamo has become such an international badge of shame".

"Once the Supreme Court said the men could have lawyers the pressure increased [on the US] and condemnation isolated the US administration. Guantanamo was a PR disaster," he said. "Unfortunately Americans appreciate violations of rights but they have no sympathy for men held at Guantanamo as the [Bush] administration has done such a good job in portraying them as the worst of the worst and as evil doers. I've met many prisoners, gotten to appreciate their suffering ... we know them as humans not as worst of worst, we've met their families. I've been to Guantanamo and the human dimension of Guantanamo is a story yet to be told," Remes said.

Al Jazeera concerns
Al Jazeera had been campaigning for al-Hajj's release since his capture nearly six and a half years ago. Wadah Khanfar, the network's director-general who was in Khartoum to welcome al-Hajj, said "we are overwhelmed with joy". But he criticised the US military for urging al-Hajj to spy on his employers. "We are concerned about the way the Americans dealt with Sami, and we are concerned about the way they could deal with others as well," he said. "Sami will continue with Al Jazeera, he will continue as a professional person who has done great jobs during his work with Al Jazeera. "We congratulate his family and all those who knew Sami and loved Sami and worked for this moment."