A Primer on Africa (on the Brink)

6 Mar

Jedidah Oneko contributed a concise piece on contemporary human rights abuse in Africa on Amnesty International’s member newsleter, ‘Human Rights Defender’ (vol. 28 no. 1 March/ April/ May 2009) which acts as a good introduction for those who wants a general picture of the situation.

Given it is not available online (and also to avoid the problem of copyright ), I thought I would produce an excerpt of the article for general readership.


Africa on the brink

Conflict, a common denominator through most of Africa, is a recipe for human rights violations, writes Jedida Oneko

Africa is a continent plagued by humanitarian and human rights crises.

The majority of the population in African countries is affected, and people have watched as progress achieved since gaining independence has been eroded by political instability and the humanitarian predicaments faced by the poor. Injustice and insecurity go hand in hand with poverty , disease and displacement.

Somalia, which has had no effective government since 1991, is described as one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Decades of conflict have seen more than a million people displaced. Coupled with drought and famine, this has left 3 million people (one-third of the population) with inadequate access to water, food and health services.

President Abdullahi Yusuf, who recently resigned, had control over the town of Baidoa (home to the transitional government’s headquarters) and parts of the capital Mogadishu. The rest of the country is run by warlords who rule with impunity. Hardline Islamist groups impose Sharia law of the type that recently saw a 13 year- old girl stoned to death because she has been raped. (see Human Rights Defender Dec/Jan/ Feb 2008/9).

Sharia law is also applied in Nigeria – but seemingly only to the poor.

Coup Culture

Many other parts of Africa are under the control of authoritarian governments. There has been a trend for African leaders to attain power by force and retain it by military control. Guinea for example, is facing further military rule since the death of President Lansana Conte late last year. He had come into power through a military coup over Sekou Toure.

Guineans have had their freedom curtailed for half a century and are among the poorest people in Africa. Bad governance has left a legacy of no water, no electricity and very little infrastructure. Most children do not complete primary education and have little prospect of employment as adults.

The military leaders have promised to hold elections and have set up a 32- member National Council for Democracy and Development – but the  Guinean population is conditioned to hold out little hope for stability, let alone democracy.

The African Union (AU) called the military take-over in Guinea a “flagrant violation of the Guinean constitution” and suspended Guinea from the AU, with a six- month deadline to return to constitutional government. The junta has named Kabine Komara as the interim Prime Minister but says it will not hold elections until 2010, when President Conte’s term would have ended.

In August last year, Mauritania experienced its fifth successful coup since gaining independence in 1960 – and only a year after the country’s first democratic presidential election. It was a bloodless coup, but Mauritanians nevertheless lost their short-lived right to freedom of choice.

The oppressed have become the oppressor in independent Africa. The emancipators from colonialism have become despots. This is epitomised by Zimbawe’s Robert Mugabe, who sees his role in liberating his country as a licence to plunder it. “Only God can remove me from power,” he says.

It is impossible to calculate the rate of inflation in Zimbawe (see Human Rights Defender Sept/ Oct/ Nov 2008) and its people are reduced to finding foreign currency for basic foodstuffs and household items – when these are available. The once prosperous country’s smooth roads are riddled with potholes and the once-efficient health system is completely incapable of dealing with rampant HIV/AIDS or with the cholera outbreak, that has killed more than 2,000 and spread to South Africa and Botswana.

What hope is there for the future generations of Africa? If African leaders do not adopt a new form of governance, the Millennium Development Goals will not be achieved in 100 years, let alone by the 2015 target. Africa’s youth knows no world other than one in which leaders declare themselves elected for life and change constitutions or declare one-party states to stay in power.


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