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Ethiopia: Human rights are "crippled," says Amnesty International

A new Amnesty International report says Ethiopian law cripples human rights.
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Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi speaks at the opening plenary session of the High Level Segment of the during the COP 17 conference held at the International Convention Centre in Durban on Dec. 6, 2011. (Rajesh Jantilal/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — There is no love lost between Amnesty International and the leadership of Ethiopia, and this latest report titled "Stifling human rights work: The impact of civil society legislation in Ethiopia" is not going to patch up the relationship.

"Rather than creating an enabling environment for human rights defenders to work in, the government has implemented a law which has crippled human rights work in Ethiopia. The space to make legitimate criticism is more restricted than ever," said Amnesty's Deputy Africa Director Michelle Kagari.

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It's not news, really, as the report looks at the impact of a piece of legislation from 2009 but a few years down the line it's now possible to see the impact of the "Charities and Societies Proclamation" that was brought in ahead of the last round of elections.

It was a smart law on the part of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government because it doesn't outright ban human rights groups — that would trigger outrage and might even force the hand of supportive foreign donors like the US — it just makes life really hard for them.

The law has "changed the face of civil society in Ethiopia," according to Amnesty. "Human rights organizations have shrunk in number and in size, having to cut programs, close offices and lay off staff. The law has been used by the government to freeze financial assets of more than US$1 million belonging to the country’s two leading human rights organizations," the group says.

If you believe that governments should be accountable to their people, however vulnerable, downtrodden or marginalized, then this is bad news. But don't expect any change in Ethiopia.

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Kenya News: Police make arrests after deadly Nairobi attack

Kenyan police have arrested four suspects in an Al Shabaab-linked grenade attack in Nairobi.
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A man is assisted into the hospital on Mar. 10, 2012 after a bomb attack at a bus station in Nairobi that killed at least three people and wounded more than 20 others. (Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Reports say Kenyan police have arrested four people in connection with Saturday night's multiple grenade attack on a busy bus terminal in the capital that killed at least 7 people and injured scores more.

On Monday morning the Kenya Red Cross said one of the 42 casualties admitted to hospital had died bringing the death toll to seven.

Kenyan authorities have blamed Somalia's Al Shabaab for the attack and although there has been no claim of responsibility it certainly bears strong similarities to two previous attacks in October when grenades were flung into a dingy bar and a busy bus stop killing one person and injuring dozens of others.

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Those bombings were blamed on Al Shabaab which threatened terrorist attacks after Kenya sent its army into southern Somalia in mid-October.

On Monday local newspapers reported that four people had been arrested. It remains to be seen whether Kenya's notoriously corrupt and ineffectual police force has got their men or whether they have simply rounded up the usual suspects, seizing whichever Muslims and Somalis were closest at hand.

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Wildlife News: South Sudan opens Boma National Park

New wildlife park opens in Boma, a huge national reserve in South Sudan's Jonglei State.
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This photo shows Boma National Park Headquarters opening ceremony in the Republic of South Sudan on Mar. 8, 2012. Photo © Paul Elkan WCS (Paul Elkan/Courtesy)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Last year GlobalPost reported on the surprising discovery of one of the world's largest animal migrations in southern Sudan, then a soon-to-be-independent country that had only emerged from a hugely damaging decades-long civil war a few years earlier.

The story showed how by protecting its remaining wildlife South Sudan (as its now known) could attract tourists and help diversify its economy away from a near total reliance on oil exports. Reporting this story from Boma National Park made a refreshing change from all the politics, warlike rhetoric and worrying divisions that threaten to topple the new nation.

So it was great to hear that last week the Wildlife Conservation Society and the government of South Sudan have opened the new park headquarters in Boma, a huge national reserve in Jonglei State where much of the recent tit-for-tat ethnic violence has been carried out. The HQ and the wider conservation program are funded by USAID.

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Speaking at the opening ceremony General Kuol Manyang Juuk, Governor of Jonglei State, said: “Wildlife is an abundant resource in South Sudan that we have to preserve and use as a source of income. Oil will one day finish, but tourism will continue forever if we maintain our wildlife."

WCS South Sudan Director Dr Paul Elkan described the opening as “another major step toward establishing a functioning network of national parks and reserves across South Sudan, which will provide protection for the country’s exceptional wildlife and great migrations, and provide a platform for creating partnerships to improve security—for the benefit of both wildlife and local communities."

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It is hoped that before too long the infrastructure will be in place to allow first tourists to go to Boma to see for themselves the spectacle of the antelope migration and in doing so help change the all too common perception of South Sudan as a place of nothing but strife.

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African journalists increasingly threatened

African journalists face more danger than their international peers, according to The Economist
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A photojournalist runs for cover from tear gas fired by Egyptian security forces during clashes with protesters near the interior ministry in downtown Cairo on February 3, 2012. (Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)

As The Economist points out in a recent Baobob blog post, journalists in Africa — more specifically African journalists in Africa — are being increasingly targeted by government prosecutors, militant bullets and criminal gangs.

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Kony 2012: Invisible Children spark very visible controversy

The viral campaign Kony 2012 proves the power of social media.
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Ugandan soldiers search through thick vegetation around the Congolese jungle, a longtime hideout for renegade Joseph Kony, leader with a bounty on his head of the notorious Lord's Resistance Army infamous for brutal mutilations on its human victims. (Ben Simon/AFP/Getty Images)

Live by social media, die by social media.

The San Diego based activists Invisible Children clearly have their collective heart in the right place in wanting to end the reign of terror of Joseph Kony, once of Uganda, now more likely to be found in Central African Republic. Or Congo. Or South Sudan.

And if their hugely successful fund-raising means they get to travel and make hi-def films that resonate with their high school and college-aged followers while they're at it, who are we to argue.

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But the success of their recently launched viral campaign Kony 2012 on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook has attracted some criticism and triggered some unhappy repercussions for them.

One is forensic analysis of their financial records. Another is this photo, now making its way around the internet of the freshfaced lads with some very big guns:

Not a good snapshot for a group of well-meaning peaceniks.

But then again it was largely their advocacy for ending the war that persuaded President Obama to send 100 military "advisors" to Africa to "remove Kony from the battlefield" last year.

So who are we really calling peaceniks?

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Nigerian ex-governor admits guilt in money laundering

The ex-governor of Nigeria's Delta State has admitted guilt in a money laundering case in a blow against the widespread corruption in the oil-producing nation.
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Former governor of oil-rich Delta State James Ibori (L) discusses with his former deputy Benjamin Elue in the courtroom at an Asaba High Court on December 17, 2009. The Federal High Court sitting in Asaba struck out all the charges against the governor accused of stealing millions of dollars during his tenure, however British police had also been investigating Ibori following the discovery of assets in the country suspected to have been acquired with stolen money. In his eight years as governor, Ibori's annual salary was less than 25,000 dollars (17,000 euros), yet according to media reports he was able to transfer millions of dollars to British bank accounts. (Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya – The name James Ibori may not mean much to most people, but to Nigerians or those who have worked in or on the country his admission of guilt in a money laundering trial in London today is a huge blow to the super-rich, super-corrupt power brokers who have kept most Nigerians mired in poverty and made their nation a byword for corruption.

Ibori was once governor of the oil-producing Delta State. His election to the post was dubious and couched in violence. Once there he stole hundreds of millions of dollars and laundered it through London, according to British police who say he stole $400 million during his four year tenure. Arriving at a court in London on Monday for the start of the corruption case Ibori unexpectedly changed his plea to guilty on 10 counts of money laundering and fraud.

Employing a Fela Kuti style inflection the prosecutor described Ibori as "a thief in government house."

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Anti-corruption activists and prosecutors have been after Ibori for years. Ibori successfully pressured then-president Umaru Yar'Adua to sack the energetic head of Nigeria's anti-corruption commission when he tried to bring charges against him. In 2007 the UK froze assets worth $35 million somehow accrued while he earned an official salary as governor of just $25,000 a year.

In a statement issued earlier today Britain's overseas aid agency, the Department for International Development, said the stolen money would
be returned to poor Nigerians. It said, "Ibori, former governor of Nigeria’s Delta State, lived a life of luxury after he embezzled what the Met estimates to be $250 million of Nigerian public funds — equal to $60 from every person living in the state at the time of his crimes."

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Senegal Presidential Election: Abdoulaye Wade and Macky Sall to face run-off (VIDEO)

President Abdoulaye Wade is likely to face run-off against former ally Macky Sall.
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A combination of two pictures taken in Dec. 2011 in Dakar shows (L) former Senegalese Prime Minister and opposition candidate of the Alliance pour la Republique (APR) Macky Sall and (R) current Senegalese president and presidential candidate Abdoulaye Wade. (Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — As is often the case with fraught election run-ups the vote itself was calm and peaceful on Sunday in Senegal.

There was the wonderful and rare moment when President Abdoulaye Wade was booed and jeered as he cast his own vote spoiling a normally well-choreographed photo op. But there were barely any reports of the fraud, intimidation or violence that frequently mars elections in Africa.

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Now as the votes are counted up it seems that Wade is headed for second round run-off against his former ally Macky Sall.

In a bid to forestall the violent unrest that is widely forecast if Wade succeeds in winning a third term in office, the former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo suggested that a compromise should be arranged in which Wade is allowed to rule for two years before stepping aside.

Let's hope that doesn't happen.

That kind of backroom deal dressed up as 'governments of national unity' in the name of reconciliation cheats ordinary people of their right to choose their own leaders and undermines nascent democracies.

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Here's a video of Sunday's election:

Senegalese Vote in Presidential Polls
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Senegal Presidential Election: Rallies and riots continue

The voting on Sunday will likely be marked by triumphal rallies and violent riots.
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Text written on the ground in chalk reads 'Down with the police' as riot policemen stand guard, blocking access to Independence Square during an opposition demonstration against Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade's controversial bid for a third term, on Feb. 23, 2012, in Dakar. (Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Six people have died in recent weeks of political protest and violence in Dakar, Senegal's usually laidback seaside capital.

On Sunday the voting takes place in which President Abdoulaye Wade — the focus of the protestor's anger — will face 13 challengers, and today is the final day of campaigning.

It will likely be marked by triumphal rallies and violent riots.

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The unrest was triggered by Wade's decision to stand for a third term despite promising not to when he was first elected in 2000. It doesn't help that Wade is at least 85-years old and rules over a very youthful population many of whom have just reached voting age.

Nor does it help that many suspect he is grooming his son, Karim, to succeed him.

Third terms, monarchical succession: these are strategies taken straight from the dictator's playbook.

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The world is watching and nervously calling for calm.

They'll probably get it, at least until the results start to trickle in. That will be the real litmus test: will the election be viewed as free and fair by international observers and, more importantly, by opposition activists? Or will the results be a trigger for further protests and an still stronger government crackdown?

If you want to learn more London's Royal Institute of International Affairs, or Chatham House, has an excellent paper analyzing the coming elections.

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Uganda: US troops reduce Lord's Resistance Army attacks

The extremist rebel group is less effective because of US troops.
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US soldiers assist Ugandan Air force personnel at a military airbase in Entebbbe, Uganda on Dec. 6, 2011. In Oct. President Barack Obama sent 100 special forces soldiers to track down LRA Chief and international fugitive Joseph Kony. (Michele Sibiloni/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Pressure groups in the US won a victory last year when President Obama agreed to send 100 "military advisors" to Central Africa to help fight the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that specializes in child abduction, mutilation and murder. Now it seems that decision is having some effect.

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In a telephone briefing with journalists this week, Rear Admiral Brian L. Losey said US troops were based in South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and Uganda. The LRA emerged in Uganda in the 1980s, but was evicted from the country in 2005, and now roams across the other three countrues, looting, pillaging, and attacking villagers.

"We've already seen a decrease in the lethality of LRA activities, which we think is attributable in part to the pressure we and our partners are applying," Losey said.

LRA boss Joseph Kony, a mystical leader who claims to want to rule Uganda according to the Ten Commandments, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for a host of crimes.

At a separate briefing at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) deputy assistant secretary of state for Africa, Karl Wycoff, said:

"With our support, these four military forces continue to make some progress in reducing the LRA's numbers and keeping them from regrouping... In the last several months, scores of people have defected, escaped, or been released from the LRA's ranks."

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Somalia: Mystery air strike hits Al Shabaab territory

The air strike killed at least four militants. It is unclear who was responsible.
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Anti-war protesters displays an effigy of an attack drone as they take part in a demonstration in front of the White House in Washington, DC, on Mar. 19, 2011. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — At least four people were killed when missiles hit a convoy of vehicles outside the Somali capital in the early hours of Friday. The air strike at an area called K60, 37 miles (60kms) outside Mogadishu and deep in Al Shabaab-held territory, is said to have killed at least four militants, among them foreign fighters.

The BBC reported that the explosion was unusually large and could be heard nearly 100 miles away.

The air strike is the latest to target Al Shabaab militants who earlier this month declared their formal allegiance to Al Qaeda. In January a British-Lebanese commander was killed in a similar attack.

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It is unclear who was responsible for Friday's killing.

Ethiopian troops in the west and Kenyan troops in the south both have fighter jets but residents have not reported seeing or hearing any aircraft prior to the explosion. The US has a drone base in neighboring Ethiopia and is known to have carried out numerous drone strikes in Somalia, which it denies. European naval forces off the coast of Somalia are also capable of launching missile attacks on the mainland.

Before and during a conference on Somalia in London yesterday there was much talk of missile strikes. Somalia's PM called for targeted missile attacks on Al Shabaab militants and camps while Britain said such attacks were under consideration. For its part the US said it wouldn't be carrying out air strikes.

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Speaking in London yesterday Hillary Clinton said:

"I am not a military strategist, but I think I know enough to say air strikes would not be a good idea and we have absolutely no reason to believe anyone, certainly not the United States, is considering that."

The recent history of (denied) US drone strikes shows Clinton's statement to be disingenuous, and today's strike proves it wrong.

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