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Monday, January 31, 2011

The week ahead

Africa is in a bit of a funk, which comes as a huge headache for the African Union as it began its annual summit over the weekend. To begin with, there is the clumsy stalemate in Cote d’Ivoire. Trust Yoweri Museveni to throw everything helter-skelter. With his characteristic bluntness, he has dismissed the various AU stratagems to resolve the crisis as “simplistic”.

He suggests that a re-examination of the ballots be carried out, which is exactly the thing the intractable Laurent Gbagbo has been demanding. In effect, this makes the Ugandan leader the first to cast doubt on Alassane Ouattara’s widely accepted victory. Museveni says he has talked the matter over with President Jacob Zuma.

Whether, indeed, the South African leader is in agreement is one of the hotly anticipated questions in Addis Ababa.The unfolding drama in the Arab world is, of course, of much keener interest to the rest of the world, especially the Big Powers. With Egypt, Yemen and God knows who else threatening to go the Tunisia way, President Barack Obama is voicing the usual soothing words about good governance. But, in reality, America and the West are terribly frightened.

They are praying that these malleable dictators they have been coddling will not all be replaced by fire-breathing Islamists. Ironically, I'm keeping my fingers crossed against Hosni Mubarak getting ousted, but either way, Egypt will never be the same again. It is probably time that the West started preparing for a substitute they can do business withlike Nobel Laureate Mohammed ElBaradei. If not, the alternative could very well be the Muslim Brotherhood the West and Israel mortally fear.

There could be a silver lining to all this for the AU Brotherhood meeting in Addis Ababa. The violent disruptions happening in Arab countries have naturally distracted the AU’s Arab members, who would otherwise have come to Addis Ababa ready to pick quarrels over Southern Sudan’s secession, something they have not yet digested. In fact, the successful referendum in Southern Sudan was the best news for the continent, though not necessarily for Khartoum. Historically, Africa has never been kind to secessionists, and now the honour goes to the Southern Sudanese for having been the first to break the pattern.

Then there is the small matter of Kenya and the International Criminal Court. It’s hardly a surprise as the issue has been caught up again in the internal wars of our coalition government. The benchmark for a good hearing at the AU for a deferral was for Kenya to demonstrate that it was set on making the necessary changes in the Judiciary and the law enforcement bureaucracies. I believe that was why President Kibaki rushed to announce the appointments before he left for Addis Ababa. If, in the process, he chose to ambush his coalition partner, that could probably be because ODM has taken an opposing stance on the matter. However, the bottom line is this: Did Kibaki follow and uphold the constitution when making these appointments? Everyone is in agreement that it is not a question of who is the new CJ, or A-G, or DPP.

And just when the world will be watching the continent as it holds its annual jamboree in the Ethiopian capital, the most unexpected thing happens. The next AU boss – representing the entire continent – is likely to be a stern-looking man called Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the ruler of the oil-rich statelet called Equatorial Guinea. After Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, Obiang is the second longest-serving Head of State on the continent. To be sure, I don’t believe all the things that are written about the man. But there are some I find to be decidedly odd.

He took power in August 1979 after deposing his bloodthirsty uncle, Francisco Macias Nguema, whom he had executed a month later by firing squad. Some time in 2003, state-controlled radio in Equatorial Guinea reported that the president was “in permanent touch with the Almighty’’. And his public speeches frequently end in well-wishing for himself rather than for the republic. Hail to the new AU chairman!

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