Some African analysis

Ethiopian advances leave Eritrea vulnerable.

By David Fox

NAIROBI, May 24 (Reuters) – A succession of military defeats has left Eritrea with virtually no alternative but to withdraw from the little Ethiopian territory it still holds and try to negotiate a face-saving way out of the conflict, analysts say.

Ethiopian troops have carved out a huge swathe of Eritrean territory in the past 12 days, forcing their enemy into a series of humiliating retreats and causing more than 100,000 people to flee into neighbouring Sudan.

Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki says his country can and will fight back, but analysts believe the Red Sea state simply does not have the capacity to sustain a long, conventional war.

“For 30 years the Eritreans fought a guerrilla war against Ethiopia and, in effect, they won that,” said a Nairobi-based Western diplomat.

“But this is different. This is two sovereign states with two national armies slugging it out – and it looks like Ethiopia has won it.”

On paper, it is hardly surprising.

The International Institute of Strategic Studies estimates that Ethiopia has an army of nearly 300,000 troops lined up against Eritrea’s 180,000.

While both countries have spent heavily on military hardware since the border war first erupted two years ago, Ethiopia has a vastly superior air force, more heavy artillery and simply more people to call up from among its 60 million population.

Eritrea, however, does have some cards up its sleeve.

While its four million people are dwarfed by the Ethiopian population comprising dozens of tribes and ethnic groups, most Eritreans are ideologically united against Addis Ababa after their 30-year guerrilla war.

In that time the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) lived a spartan existence, expert at living off the land and equipping themselves from scraps left over from their battles with the Ethiopian military.

Their struggle only ended when they joined forces with a coalition of forces led by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front to overthrow the Marxist military regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam.

They enjoyed good relations until two years ago when a border row erupted into warfare. Eritrean troops initially routed the Ethiopians and although Ethiopia regained some territory last year and again in the past 12 days it says Eritrean troops still occupy some of its land.

Eritreans say they will have no hesitation in going “back to the bush” to fight Ethiopia, and they may also have time and the weather on their side.

The first six months of the year have proved critical in all conflicts in the Horn of Africa and this one is no different.

The war started in this period two years ago, flared anew at the same time last year and erupted again 12 days ago.

Ethiopia’s recent successes have come because at this time of the year its forces have been able to cross the Mereb river – which divides the two countries along much of their border – at virtually any point.

But rains are expected in the next few weeks and if the river floods as normal, crossing points will be limited and the Ethiopians will either have to withdraw or face the prospect of fighting with only limited support from the rear.

This happened to a succession of Ethiopian armies sent to crush the EPLF: they would make gains when supply lines were open and be beaten back during the wet season.

“The last thing the Ethiopians want is to find themselves in two months time in the same position they are now,” a diplomat said. “They could find themselves stuck”.

Ethiopia is clearly seeking a quick, decisive military victory, not necessarily in Asmara itself, which will force Eritrea to effectively surrender and accept Addis Ababa’s terms at the negotiating table.

But if Eritrea can hold out, Ethiopia might find itself in another quagmire, its army running out of food and supplies and hit from all sides by an enemy who returns to his old EPLF hit-and-run tactics.

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ANALYSIS-Still no light ahead for the dark continent.

By David Fox

NAIROBI, May 16 (Reuters) – Hundreds of years ago cartographers marked maps of Africa as the dark continent, with a warning for would-be explorers: “Here be dragons”.

Centuries later, with hopes of an African renaissance cruelly dashed, the continent remains a brutal, dangerous place that is frequently the scene of conflict and despair and rarely one of peace or hope.

“Three, four years ago it was very promising,” former Botswana President Ketumile Masire said on Tuesday during a visit to Kenya.

“Almost all countries in Africa were democratising. The economic indicators were rising. There were positive signals, positive indicators that we were going to get out of the quagmire in which we have been stuck.”

But Masire admitted the continent had since regressed.

“It’s very regrettable that when other nations are making so much progress we should be engaged in reducing the chances of our progressing.”

From floods in Mozambique to famine in the Horn of Africa, from civil war in Sierra Leone to full-scale conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, from a deadly AIDS epidemic to crippling debt, Africa just can’t seem to break out of a vicious cycle of destructiveness – both natural and man-made.

“The problem is that many people in Africa – particularly the leadership – blame the rest of the world for their woes,” a senior European Union diplomat told Reuters.

“Until they get out of that mind-set, until they start accepting responsibility for their own problems and finding their own solutions, I don’t see the situation changing.”

Katherine Mando, an analyst with a think tank that campaigns for civic action in East Africa, blames the continent’s leaders, says the only hope for Africa will come from ordinary people.

“The leadership has no credibility and until virtually all of them are thrown out of office there is little hope,” she told Reuters.

“With a very few notable exceptions such as Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere and Nelson Mandela, Africa’s leaders seek power for one reason alone – to enrich themselves and their families.”

African nations – particularly from the Sub-Saharan region – occupy the bottom places on virtually any table measuring human or economic development.

The continent’s countries are among the poorest in the world, contain the unhealthiest people with the shortest life spans, boast the most conflicts, the least educated people, the worst communications, the most environmental destruction…

The list is endless.

According to statistics from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) nearly half the continent’s people live below the poverty line and the economy of sub-Saharan African grew by less than three percent last year.

The only way poverty levels can be brought down, the OAU says, is for economic growth to reach double digits – an almost impossible dream.

But why is this?

“Other parts of the world also have the same problems as Africa, but none seem to have them all at the same time,” the EU diplomat said.

“And there is a much greater level of accountability in other parts of the world. People in Africa simply put up with too much for too long.”

Last year U.S. President Bill Clinton toured the continent to hail what he said was an “African Renaissance” and congratulate what Washington called “a new breed” of African leader in the guise of Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi.

But the renaissance appears to have faded like some 15th century canvas while even the new leaders have lost their lustre – Museveni and Kagame squabbling as their troops fight each other in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Meles ignoring pleas from the United Nations and relaunching war with Eritrea.

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ANALYSIS-Dark days for Kenya as begging bowl goes round.

By David Fox

NAIROBI, June 8 (Reuters) – The latest jokes doing the rounds of the Kenyan capital would be funny if they weren’t quite so true, but they are as dark as the power cuts that prompted them.

“What did Kenya have before candles? Electricity!”

“What does KPLC (Kenya Power and Lighting Company) stand for? Kenya Please Light a Candle!”

These are dark days indeed for Kenya – and not just because of sweeping nationwide power cuts that leave many users with just eight hours of electricity a day.

The country is going through its worst economic and social malaise since independence in 1963 and scarcely anyone – Kenyan or foreigner – can see a way out of the crisis.

“You are looking at a comprehensively bleak picture,” said Robert Shaw, a director of the Institute for Economic Affairs, a local think-tank.

“All our economic and social prospects appear to be plummeting daily. Without doubt we are getting into fairly serious negative growth and just about everything is being impacted.”

The extent of the country’s woes were revealed fully on Wednesday when President Daniel arap Moi called a rare news conference to issue an emergency appeal for international aid totalling $148 million to combat drought-related famine.

Moi, never shy of boasting of guiding Kenya to prosperity and unity since taking power in 1978, appeared embarrassed at having to hand out the begging bowl so publicly.

Nevertheless, he combatively dismissed suggestions that he or his administration was remotely responsible.

“The appeal for support is wholly due to natural calamities which have befallen our beloved country,” he said. “I am not a rainmaker. No Kenyans are responsible for the weather.”

Analysts, diplomats and opposition leaders think otherwise.

“The weather factor has only worsened an already rickety situation which has largely been of our own making,” said Shaw.

“I think there will be some sympathy and some support for Moi’s appeal,” said a Western diplomat who asked not to be named. “But really, the suggestion that the government is blameless is ridiculous. Show some contrition, please!”

The sum Moi has appealed for is not unlike that which the International Monetary Fund has been withholding from Kenya since 1997 because of concerns over poor governance and graft.

Since then, foreign investment has all but dried up, the stock market is touching six-year lows, interest rates have soared and the shilling is worth as little as it ever has been.

With per capita income of under $300 per year and GDP growth at less than two percent, nearly half the 30 million population lives below the poverty line.

One in every seven sexually active adults – those aged between 15 and 55 – either has AIDS or is infected with HIV, rising to one in three in urban areas. They will almost all certainly die within the next 10 years.

But as the the world’s second largest exporter of tea, a major grower of top grade coffee, substantial horticultural exports and pristine beaches and game parks that attract hundreds of thousands of tourists each year, Kenya should be much better off than it is.

It is difficult to see how things can be improved – in the short and medium term at least.

Although the IMF is talking about a possible resumption of lending in July, confidence will be slow to return to the struggling economy and foreign investors are unlikely to come flooding back.

The power cuts – caused by water shortages which have slashed the hydroelectric capacity of the country – have prompted already struggling industries to slash output and in many cases lay off workers.

At least the graffito that surfaced after tribal clashes caused tourist arrivals to plunge in 1998 no longer has any relevance.

“Would the last tourist to leave Moi International Airport please switch off the lights?” it read.

These days, there aren’t any lights to switch off.

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ANALYSIS – Hardship for rich and poor alike in Kenya.

By David Fox

NAIROBI, August 14 (Reuters) – When Kenya gained independence from Britain in 1963, the colonial rulers left a rich legacy of organisation and infrastructure that in Africa was bettered only in Rhodesia and South Africa.

Uniformed postmen cycled daily through the leafy suburbs of the capital to deliver mail. Garbage was collected by municipal trucks once a week, the telephone system worked, the electricity supply was good and clean tap water was abundantly available.

Less than 40 years later, the country is in a shambles.

Just last month the Nairobi council admitted that it had just one working fire engine to serve the sprawling capital city of over three million people.

There is no municipal garbage collection, no postal deliveries, no working parking meters and virtually no functioning traffic lights.

Electricity is provided to residential areas for around four hours a day – often in the middle of the night – and water once a week. One western embassy organises twice-daily bus runs for its staff to use toilets at city hotels because it has not had water for more than two months.

The majority of buildings in the city centre get no water during the day or electricity at night. After dark, central Nairobi is a no-go zone on foot for all but the most destitute or desperate.

Even in the leafy upper-class suburbs of Muthaiga and Karen you can forget the call of the wild filling the African night. The only thing to be heard these days is the cacophony of thousands of petrol-driven generators.

Kenya’s middle and upper classes – both local and expatriate – now live behind high fences with private “askari” guards patrolling the grounds day and night.

Mass unemployment has led to a significant rise in crime, and scarcely a day goes by without one of the local newspapers reporting some heinous robbery, assault or murder.

Even if you get your telephone to work and call a police station to report a crime – a burglary in progress at your own home perhaps – you will probably be asked to go and collect the officers yourself as they don’t have vehicles.

One western embassy takes the children of diplomatic staff to school in an armoured car after one of its vehicles was hijacked by gun-toting thieves.

All this in a city that is the global headquarters for two United Nations organisations – Habitat, which deals with urban planning, and UNEP, which handles environmental protection.

Kenya is going through the worst economic and social crisis in its history and analysts say even the resumption of lending by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund two weeks ago is unlikely to change things soon.

The country had been virtually without any international aid since July 1997, when the World Bank and IMF suspended aid because of concerns over corruption and poor governance.

Yet to listen to the speeches of President Daniel arap Moi or any member of his government, you would be forgiven for thinking you are living in paradise.

“Kenyans should take pride in their progress and development,” is the phrase used most often by Moi, who has ruled since taking over from post-independence leader Jomo Kenyatta in 1978.

To be fair, there has been some progress.

More Kenyans have better access to education than during colonial times. Health facilities for the masses have improved tenfold, the average lifespan has increased by more than two decades and fledgling tea and coffee production has developed into a world-class industry.

Kenyans are also responsible for their own destiny, rather than relying on London for patronising colonial rule.

But even those gains are being undermined by an administration that refuses to blame itself in any way for the country’s problems.

The country’s HIV/AIDS infection rates are among the highest in the world and while education is available to all, employers much prefer to hire graduates from foreign universities rather than local ones.

Health facilities in rural areas have slipped to the point where patients are often crammed three to a bed and even the most basic drugs are stolen by doctors to be sold in their private clinics.

Despite the shambles, members of the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) are already angling for re-election for the next polls due in 2002.

Although the constitution is supposed to stop Moi from running again, the law is under review by parliament and few people would be surprised if it wasn’t changed to allow the 75-year-old the chance to stand.

During an appeal last month for the international community to donate over $100 million to combat a drought, Moi was asked if his government was in any way responsible for Kenya’s woes.

He appeared genuinely shocked at the question. Blame God and the weather, was his reply.

Tourists can still have a wonderful holiday in Kenya – lazing on sun-kissed beaches on the coast or watching wildlife in the dozens of game parks around the country.

But residents of Kenya are finding it increasingly difficult to afford this escape from the day-to-day struggle of finding water, electricity and transport.

“Certainly Nairobi is no longer considered an attractive place to work,” a U.N. official told Reuters. “We are finding it increasingly difficult to attract staff to Kenya. People simply don’t want to live here.”

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AIDS infections fall in Africa, for tragic reasons

By David Fox

NAIROBI, Nov 28 (Reuters) – The rate of new HIV infections is finally falling in Africa – but only because the epidemic has already struck so many people, a new report by the United Nations said on Tuesday.

“The epidemic in many (African) countries has gone on for so long that it has already affected many people in the sexually active population, leaving a smaller pool of people still able to acquire the infection,” the U.N.’s AIDS body (UNAIDS) said.

The report – released ahead of World AIDS Day on December 1 – says 3.8 million Africans were infected with HIV this year compared to four million in 1999, the first decline since the epidemic first struck.

Sub-Saharan Africa now accounts for 25.3 million of the 36.1 million people living with HIV or AIDS globally – a figure which amounts to nearly one in every ten African adults.

“One continent is touched by AIDS more than any other,” the report says. “Africa is home to 70 percent of the adults and 80 percent of the children living with HIV, and has buried three-quarters of the more than 20 million people worldwide who have died of AIDS since the epidemic began.”

Some 2.4 million people died of AIDS-related diseases in Africa this year – more than those killed by war, famine and flood combined.

Botswana remains the country worst hit by the epidemic with 35.8 percent of the country’s adults infected.

But South Africa has the highest absolute number of infected people in the world, with 4.2 million of its 39.9 million people infected – nearly 20 percent of the population.

The reasons given for the stranglehold of the virus in Africa are numerous and often controversial.

Africa has less access to basic health care and sanitation than other continents. As a result many people are not treated for the sexually transmitted diseases that help spread HIV.

Discussing sex is still taboo in many African societies and governments have been loathe to upset their constituencies by promoting condom campaigns or HIV/AIDS testing.

But most controversial is the belief held by many scientists but considered politically incorrect in U.N. corridors – that Africans have more sex than the people of any other continent.

“It is not a popular theory,” one senior U.N. AIDS official told Reuters. “You certainly won’t find it in any U.N. material, but the scientific community is rapidly accepting the reality that there is more sex in Africa. There is no other affordable leisure activity.”

The statistics produced by the United Nations are mind-boggling when it comes to Africa.

– Life expectancy in Zimbabwe has shrunk from 65 to 43 years – less than it was at the beginning of the 20th century.

– One in every four South African women between the ages of 20 and 29 are HIV positive.

– HIV patients occupy nearly 40 percent of all hospital beds in Kenya and 70 percent in Burundi.

– Over 10 million Ethiopians will die of AIDS within the next decade.

There are some good signs for Africa, however.

The report says that in countries which have embraced anti-AIDS campaigns, rates of infection do eventually slow.

Uganda, where as a result of civil war in the early 1990s AIDS spread more rapidly than elsewhere on the continent, has seen the adult HIV prevalence rate drop to 8.3 percent from nearly 14 percent at its peak.

But while Uganda remains the U.N’s model for fighting AIDS in Africa, few other nations have followed its example.

The U.N. says at least $3 billion a year is needed to promote AIDS programmes in Africa that would make a difference.

“This seems like a small price to pay to help a whole continent avoid a future dominated by the social disruption that defines the AIDS era,” it says.

However, help may not immediately be at hand.

“It is estimated, for example, that the United States alone spends around $52 billion coping with the medical consequences of obesity – more than 15 times what would be needed to change the face of AIDS in Africa.”

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Scientists find fossils of man’s earliest ancestor.

By David Fox

NAIROBI, Dec 4 (Reuters) – French and Kenyan scientists have unearthed fossilised remains of mankind’s earliest known ancestor that predate previous discoveries by more than 1.5 million years, the team announced on Monday.

They said the discovery of “Millennium Man”, as the creature has been nicknamed, could change the way scientists think about evolution and the origin of species.

The first remains were discovered in the Tugen hills of Kenya’s Baringo district on October 25 by a team from College de France in Paris and the Community Museums of Kenya.

Since then the scientists have unearthed distinct body parts belonging to at least five individuals, both male and female.

“Not only is this find older than any else previously known, it is also in a more advanced stage of evolution,” palaeontologist Martin Pickford told a news conference.

“It is at least six million years old, which means it is older than the (previously oldest) remains found at Aramis in Ethiopia, which were 4.5 million years old.”

“Lucy”, the skeleton of Australopithicus afarensis found in Ethiopia in 1974, is believed to have lived around 3.2 million years ago.

An almost perfectly fossilised left femur shows the much older Millennium Man already had strong back legs which enabled it to walk upright – giving it hominid characteristics which relate it directly to man.

A thick right humerus bone from the upper arm suggests it also had tree-climbing skills, but probably not enough to “hang” from tree branches or swing limb to limb.

The length of the bones show the creature was about the size of a modern chimpanzee, according to Brigitte Senut, a team member from the Museum of Natural History in Paris.

But it is the teeth and jaw structure which most clearly link Millennium Man to the modern human.

It has small canines and full molars – similar dentition to modern man and suggesting a diet of mainly fruit and

Although no dating has been done on the remains just unearthed, strata from where the fossils were recovered have been previously proven twice by independent teams – from Britain and the U.S. – to show an age of six million years.

The Baringo area is part of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, which has long been rich in archaeological and palaeontological discoveries and the source of almost all fossils related to man’s earliest ancestors.

The area is rich in calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate that replace the organic material in bones to form fossils in an environment sealed by lava or volcanic ash.

Pickford and Senut said they were confident the team would unearth even more remains that could help form a near-perfect picture of Millennium Man.

“We are just going to publish our initial findings, to get the excitement, and continue with our work,” Pickford said. “I am sure there is still a lot more out there – possibly even older.”

Fossil parts of other species found at the same site hint at a rich variety of fauna and flora.

“We have found fossils of trees, fossils of rhino, hippo, antelope … many things,” said Senut. “They would not be what you recognise today, but earlier ancestors of them.”

Chew marks on one femur of Millennium Man suggest our earliest ancestor may have met an unfortunate end, but one that is still played out across parts of Africa every day.

“It looks like he was killed and eaten by some sort of carnivore, probably a cat,” said Pickford.

“It was probably dragged up a tree to the cat’s usual eating place and then bits fell into the water below.”

The latest fossils were found in the village of Rondinin in the Tugen hills, around 150 miles (235 kms) northeast of the capital Nairobi.

The area is home to Kenya’s long-serving President Daniel arap Moi – a coincidence unlikely to pass unnoticed by the nation’s sharp-pencilled cartoonists.

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About FoxFromZim

I am a journalist from Zimbabwe, currently based in Singapore. I report chiefly on international affairs, specialising in politics, war and natural disasters when not playing golf badly.
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