US media distorts Africa in chase for TV ratings

Ignorance and bigotry towards Africa are on display during the US presidential election cycle from both candidates and the broadcast media that reports their antics. Africans who watch the coverage on international news stations like CNN confront a TV image at odds with history and current reality.

Africans have reason to be concerned about the 2016 US presidential election, which features as one of its two principal candidates, a demagogue who would ban immigration and even visitation to the US by citizens of virtually every African country. If the ban on Muslim immigration to the US, that is the main platform of the Republican Party’s nominee, Donald Trump, is implemented, then no African nation will be spared having its citizens prohibited from entering the US. Thousands of Africans who regularly travel to the US on business, to train as soldiers with the US military, to study, to work, to act in movies and win Oscars, and even African leaders, would be blocked.


Mark Wiggett for IOA

This is obviously big news in Africa. However, the impact Trump’s immigration policies would have on Africa is a story that is nowhere told in the US media, be it the broadcast media or web-based news media. Africa can be forgiven if it feels that it is, once again, an overlooked continent. Africans also have reason to be angry at the lack of knowledge that news commentators and, similarly, politicians share on African current events, and not only African, but US history. Given the cultural, military and trade ties between the US and Africa, much is at stake for Africans when Americans go to the polls in November. And much is to be feared by Africans.

Africa depicted through the prism of American domestic politics

US network news programmes are aired in Africa via satellite TV and viewed by millions across the continent. CNN is a global broadcast news provider, on par with the UK’s BBC, and is probably viewed by more Africans than any other news channel, again via satellite TV reception. CNN’s news editorial policy is to refer to Libya as a ‘failed state’. Read more

Tool of warfare and African social crisis: the epidemic of gender-based violence — an interview with Catherine Akurut

So widespread is gender-based violence in African societies and so deleterious the effects on the many victims that the crime can be considered a public health issue. Catherine Akurut, an IOA consultant and conflict resolution practitioner based in Uganda, calls gender-based violence in Africa an “epidemic.”

A young girl at a camp for displaced persons in Rwanda’s Western Province.

A young girl at a camp for displaced persons in Rwanda’s Western Province. Photo courtesy Julien Harneis/Flickr

Gender-based violence is not restricted to conflict zones; and indeed some militaries use gender-based violence as a weapon of sorts, sanctioning and perhaps ordering soldiers to commit rape and other abuses to pacify or punish civilian populations. Could you elaborate further on the nature of gender-based violence in Africa’s conflict zones?

Gender-based violence in conflict areas takes on many forms including rape, trafficking, sexual exploitation and forced impregnation and is solely intended to torture and to cause physical, emotional and psychological harm. It is true that gender-based violence is not restricted to conflict zones. But, more often than not, conflicts provide the perfect conditions for such atrocities to occur. The nature of gender-based violence in Africa’s conflict zones is one that is characterised by women and girls comprising the majority of the victims. However, in recent years, it has come to light that boys and men too, can be the victims of gender-based violence. This has been exposed in the Central African Republic (CAR) where UN peacekeepers have been the victimisers. A means by which to address these atrocities continues to elude all stakeholders.

What are international organisations able to do to discourage gender-based violence in conflict zones and to prosecute perpetrators?

Prosecuting perpetrators of gender-based violence has proven to be problematic. Due to limited resources, cases related to gender-based violence take a long time to make their way to and through national and international court systems. International organisations cannot work alone to discourage gender-based violence. Read more

Rwanda’s new drone fleet raises regional security concerns

As new evidence emerges of Kigali’s sponsorship of rebels in foreign countries, Central African nations worry that Rwanda’s new drone fleet may find military applications. The drones begin flying strictly humanitarian missions in July or August, but can a government prone to nefarious military operations be trusted with drone technology?

If the country were not one with Rwanda’s history of regional skulduggery, ulterior motives for government’s embrace of a drone air force for humanitarian purposes might not be suspected. For more than a decade the UN has released evidence that Rwanda was a financial sponsor of the M23 rebel group that fought the government of neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Subsequent evidence has emerged of Rwanda seeking to destabilise the DRC by supporting other insurgency operations. The motive appears to be to keep portions of the DRC lawless so as to smuggle out that nation’s considerable mineral wealth for the enrichment of foreign entities, presumably Rwandan.

Zipline - Delivery

Zipline drones will start making humanitarian deliveries in Rwanda beginning in July 2016. Photo courtesy Zipline.

In May 2016, new UN evidence was presented implicating Rwanda in the training of Burundian rebels to overthrow the government of Burundi. The UN report confirmed the suspicions of the government of Burundi and enflamed dangerous ethnic tensions in the region. A predictable dance has emerged from Kigali as each new revelation of its misdeeds is publicised. The government of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame routinely dismisses each report, treating evidence as hearsay and characterising proof as ‘unsupported allegations’. The denials are couched in a hauteur that employs such adjectives as “ridiculous,” “childish” and “unworthy of comment.”

As Rwanda and the UN circle one another in a thus far interminable pas de deux, with neither side knowing how to end the dance, a new tool has fallen into Kigali’s hands. The new capability of drone aircraft, like all new technology, has potential for doing great good but also great harm. However, wariness of Rwanda may prompt neighbouring nations to create drone air forces of their own, and not necessarily for humanitarian purposes, spending money that the region’s indigent nations require for social services and nation building needs.  Read more

The politics of using refugees as election fodder: The case of Kenya’s government

In Africa, the worldwide trend of demonizing refugees to gain political traction has been most apparent in Kenya. Despite elections still more than a year away, Kenya’s beleaguered government has already been issuing trumped-up claims citing the nation’s large refugee population as an unacceptable security risk.

Tent shelters at Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp. Photo courtesy UK Department for International Development

Tent shelters at Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp. Photo courtesy UK Department for International Development/Flickr

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), globally, 1 in every 113 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum, with the total number at over 65 million people. Sub-Saharan Africa alone saw five consecutive years of growth in the number of displaced persons from 2009-2014, with the current total numbering more than 4 million.  The primary reason for the rise in the number of refugees around the world is the eruption or re-igniting of conflicts. Terrorism as a source of conflict increased worldwide by 80% in 2014, with the number of terrorist-related deaths rising from 18,111 in 2013 to a record high of 32,685 in 2014, according to the latest data from the Global Terrorism Index (GTI). While it is true that migrants and refugees in Africa also choose to leave their homes to escape crushing poverty or evade repressive governments, it is those from conflict zones that are targeted by craven and opportunistic politicians looking to foster support for their own election campaigns.

Kenya’s ruling coalition, led by President Uhuru Kenyatta – who until December 2014 was under indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity in relation to post-election violence in 2007 – could face significant challenge in elections scheduled for August 2017. Read more

IOA Redefining African Development Report

Meeting targets or creating change?

African nations are currently in the process of adopting two new ambitious and often overlapping development agendas: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – the successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – is an effort to confront global development challenges, while Agenda 2063 is a 50-year action plan launched by the African Union (AU) directed at addressing continent-specific issues.

With the international development agenda now set for the foreseeable future, ‘Redefining African Development’ explores the mixed success of the MDGs in Africa and investigates how the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) compare to their precursor, and how they overlap with the AU’s Agenda 2063. Specifically, the question of whether apolitical development agendas can fuel transformative change without equal focus on strengthening key institutions and expanding civil liberties and political freedoms.