Around Africa
January/February 2004 
A Publication of the Africa Faith and Justice Network
 

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Editorial
Question Presidential Candidates
Sudan-Negotiating the Conflict
Odyssey of an Abductee
Conflict in Northern Uganda
World Social Forum
Burundi-Nuncio Assassinated


  

DEAR AFJN MEMBERS & FRIENDS:

In September 2003, the Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, gave a keynote at the University of Notre Dame, IN. He was addressing a conference on the US Catholic Bishops' Call to Solidarity with Africa. At the end of his speech, a student asked why the former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, was still in Nigeria. The indictment of the dictator by a UN-backed court for crimes against humanity committed in Sierra Leone makes his asylum illegal. Obasonjo responded that he had given his word to Taylor and to the whole world, and that he intends to keep it.

A casual listener may have heard an exchange between a principled military leader and a quizzical student. An informed one may have been shocked by the contradiction between the rule of law and the whim of a politician. Yet, when it comes to practical matters, morality is a murky business.

To be sure, there are calls from inside and outside Liberia to bring Taylor to justice. At the same time, many West African leaders see the International Court's indictment as of little help for Liberia. Mr. Chambas, the ECOWAS chairman, even expressed his disappointment by stating that there is some unfairness in mounting pressure on Nigeria.

All things considered, it is not that difficult to reconcile the two positions: (a) given that Taylor's supporters have not disarmed and the peacekeeping forces are not totally in place, at present handing Taylor over the court may send Liberia back into wide-spread violence. For justice to be implemented, a sustainable peace is urgently needed; (b) there are many other dictators in Africa; if Obasanjo fails to keep his word, not only he but also nobody else will be able to peacefully expel a dictator from power.

There cannot be peace without justice. But there cannot be justice without peace.

Marcel Kitissou, Ph.D
AFJN Executive Director
Return to top of page


 

T he Democratic campaigns for the presidential nomination are all over the airwaves and print media. Most of us have received phone calls and literature from them already. President Bush's reelection campaign is not far behind. In the midst of the clamor, we have an opportunity to ask these candidates where they stand on specific issues. They get lots of opportunities to address matters like the Iraq war, jobs and the economy, social security and health care. They also need to hear important questions about USA policies toward Africa. We can pose vital concerns about Africa that do not get raised otherwise by taking advantage of candidates' websites, writing to their offices or attending meetings and rallies.

AFJN, together with our Washington, DC colleagues in the Advocacy Network for Africa (ADNA), Africa-Europe Faith and Justice Network (AEFJN) and our African NGO partners, advocate vigorously for African farmers' rights, water as a fundamental human right, and for conflict resolution. Here are sample questions that you can use to find out what candidates think of these issues, or to make them think about them. Adapt them or formulate your own!

African Farmers' Rights -- Africans are seeking to protect their farmers' rights to seeds, food crops and plants by keeping those resources in the public domain versus corporate practices of patenting them for private profit. Where do you stand on the patenting of living organisms like seeds and plants?

Human Right to Water -- Advocates are leading a growing initiative for international acceptance of freshwater for drinking and sanitation as a fundamental human right. Would you agree that USA trade and economic policies should recognize water as a basic human right?

Free Trade Agreement with Southern African Countries -- In trade negotiations underway between the USA and Southern African countries, in what ways would you ensure transparency and civil society participation so that everyone knows what is happening?

West African Cotton Farmers -- The USA government pays over $3 billion in subsidies to 25,000 American cotton farmers, causing overproduction that drops world prices, endangering the livelihood of two million West African cotton farmers. How would your administration address the injustice of these subsidies?

Peace and Security - How would your administration work with the international community to address conflicts in Africa?

Please look for opportunities to raise these questions with as many candidates as possible from all political parties. We have a right to do so.

Larry J. Goodwin is Associate Director for Organizing at AFJN
Return to top of page


 

Currently taking place in the Kenyan town of Naivasha, the Sudan peace talks are now focused on the thorny issue of who is to administer three disputed areas in Sudan: the Nuba Mountains, the Southern Blue Nile,and Abyei.

Khartoum claims the three areas fall under the jurisdiction of the north according to arrangements made at the time of independence. The SPLM/A says people living in these areas experience the same marginalization and repression that southern Sudanese encounter, and should therefore be included in the south.

Negotiators appear to be working out the status of the three areas, an issue some analysts have said may threaten to stop the peace talks, which aim at ending more than 20 years of civil war in which an estimated two million people have lost their lives.

SPLM/A spokesman Yasser Arman told AFJN that talks on the three areas are moving forward. “We had made some essential progress on the issue of the Nuba Mountain(s) and Southern Blue Nile in the fundamental issues of self-rule, full autonomy, and popular consultations for those two regions,” he said.

The status of oil-rich Abyei is proving to be a bit more difficult. Arman says the SPLM/A wants Abyei to be included within the territory of Bahr-el-Ghazal, which it controls. The government wants to administer Abyei through the office of the president.

Once the status of three areas is determined, an agreement on how to share the country's power is the last hurdle before a final peace deal can be reached.

Included within power-sharing arrangements are issues such as: the proportion of positions in the civil service, judiciary, Parliament and Senate to be held by the north and the south; and the acceptability of the “rotating president” between someone from the north and someone from the south.

Still to be determined is also the status of Sudan's capital, Khartoum, an issue proving to be highly emotional. According to the terms of the Machakos Protocol, the north is to be ruled by Sharia (traditional Islamic) law, while the south is to be exempt from it. The south, however, argues that Khartoum should also be exempt from Sharia law, as the capital is supposed to represent the whole country.

History was made January 7, 2004 when the two sides signed an agreement on how to share the country's wealth. Sudan produces 300,000 barrels of oil a day and this revenue is to be shared equally between the governments of the north and south. They will also equally share non-oil revenue, such as taxes.

Last September Khartoum and the SPLM/A signed an agreement outlining security arrangements by which the two sides would have separate armed forces, some integrated units, and an internationally monitored ceasefire agreement.

But the step backwards for the Sudan peace talks might very well be a little-known area called Darfur, a region in western Sudan. A rebellion has been raging there for about a year between the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) - not to be confused with the SPLM/A - and the Justice and Equality Movement joined against government troops and armed Arab militias called Janjaweed, which many say are backed by the government.

Peace talks between the rebels and the Sudanese government broke down in Chad last December. Since then, according to United Nations figures, 3,000 have already died in attacks, and anywhere from 600,000 to one million people have been displaced, leading one UN official to call Darfur the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The Darfur violence is not included within the peace talks, an omission that the International Crisis Group says could jeopardize the whole Sudanese peace process

Cathy Majtenyi is a correspondant for AFJN in East Africa
Return to top of page


A WEEK IN THE BUSH: ODYSSEY OF AN ABDUCTEE
From News from Sacred Heart Seminary (Gulu, Uganda)
Version abridged by Marcel Kitissou

 

This the tragic odyssey of a Catholic seminarian abducted by rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army in Northern Uganda, narrated in his own words.

“Those involved in the operation were very cruel boys between the ages of 9 and 18. Soon we were ordered out from our hiding places, lined up and tied with ropes at the waist. With our belongings on our heads, we were marched out of the seminary to the football field. We were ordered to squat down, then at a signal a good number of rebels joined us, appearing from all the areas surrounding the seminary's football field where they had taken cover. One of the rebel soldiers, brandishing an axe, ordered me to lead him back inside the seminary to show him the girl's dormitory. To my response that girls do not study in the dormitory, he threatened to cut me in pieces. However, I was spared when we saw a group of girls in line being herded straight to where we were. Unfortunately these were some of the school pupils who usually take refuge in the seminary for fear of this very kind of abduction.

All night long they moved with us for a very long distance and always in a zigzag fashion so as confuse us and distort our sense of direction. As we proceeded on our trek, we would meet other groups of rebels and abductees who would join our group. By evening that day, we arrived at the main camp where we met their overall commander. The abductees' arms were tied behind the back then joined to that of another person so that the two would sleep while lying back to back covered with polythene bags for a blanket.

No sooner had we settled, than we received information that the UDPF (government soldiers) were very near. One rebel soldier was charged with the task of urging me on or to kill me if I failed to make it after the rest of the group. He continuously subjected me to whips, blows, kicks and even hitting me with his RPG launcher. I fell down twice. Two of his companions joined him as he was hitting me with a cane on the head, neck and back. I fell down unconscious, though I could still faintly hear one of them advising him to hit and crack my skull so that brain could ooze out. Fortunately, however, his other companion suggested that he should just tie my hands behind and leave me since I was already as good as dead. He took the last advice.

About 7:00 when I regained consciousness, I found that it had rained very heavily and my hands were tied behind my back. I was very thirsty, hungry and unable to walk because of my swollen legs. The place, being sort of a stream, provided me with water, which I got from the holes I dug in the soil using my fingers. I had to spend the next three days at this spot, lying under a thicket and would only come out for water. It rained on me there for two consecutive nights. On the fourth day, I could drag myself slowly with the support of two walking sticks. I completed the first week in the bush neither eating any food nor coming across homesteads or people. Thanks be to God. The sun was giving me direction during this second week. There was rain almost every night.”

Marcel Kitissou is Executive Director at AFJN
Return to top of page


 

A bridged version of a paper presented at a Notre Dame University Conference on Solidarity with Africa by John Baptist Odama, Archbishop of Gulu, Uganda, and President of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative.

The current conflicts, which have been raging in Northern Uganda/Archdiocese of Gulu, for the last 17 years, started with a military attack on Ugandan Government soldiers in Gulu on August 20, 1986. The attacks were carried out by a group who called themselves the Uganda People's Democratic Movement/Army (UPDM/A). Their goal was to overthrow the government in Kampala.

A brief background of the political situation will help us understand this surge in violence. In April 1979, the government of Idi Amin was overthrown by Ugandans, who had been living in exile, with the help of the Tanzanian National Army. Toward the end of December 1980, a national election was held to restore a democratic government in Uganda after Idi Amin. The major political parties that competed for state power were Uganda People's Congress (UPC) headed by Dr. Milton Obote, the Democratic Party (DP) headed by Paul Kawonga Ssemogere, the Conservative Party (CP) headed by Ken Lukyamuzi and the Uganda Patriotic Movement headed by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.

After the national election in December 1980, the UPC party of Obote was declared the winner. The “Uganda Patriotic Movement” led by Museveni objected to the election on the ground that the vote was rigged by UPC party. Museveni then decided to go into the bush and fight against Obote's government. He formed a new military guerrilla movement called NRA, the National Resistance Army. The NRA launched its war against the government of Obote on February 6, 1980. In July 1985, the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) under the command of Brigade Commander Bazilio Okello, took over power from Obote's UPC through a military coup. The Army Commander, General Tito Okello, became Ugandan Head of State. Museveni accepted an invitation for peace talks, which was mediated by Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi.

However, the accord was not honored by Museveni's NRA, accusing the government of a continued violation of human rights. It is said that even as peace talks were going on in Nairobi, Museveni forces continued to advance and occupy territory with the intention to capture the capital, Kampala, which they finally succeeded in doing on January 26, 1986. Most of the soldiers, who were with Tito's government forces, especially those from Northern Uganda, returned home to Kitgum, Gulu and Pader districts, known as Acholiland. They mobilized the Acholi population to fight back. A genuine fear and mistrust developed among the people of Acholi about the NRA.

These former soldiers who re-grouped in Northern Uganda were joined by some politicians and formed the Uganda People's Democratic Movement/Army in Gulu on August 20, 1986. Attacks on NRA elements that day near the Uganda/Sudan border marked the beginning of the current rebellion and conflict in Acholiland. Different rebel groups have been involved, among them the infamous Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

In 1994 peace talks between the government of Uganda and the LRA broke down. The LRA eventually secured a base in Sudan with the support of the Sudanese government. It is said and believed that the government of the Sudan supplies military equipment to the LRA in retaliation for the support that the Ugandan government is believed to be giving to the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

After 17 years of fighting, at least 800,000 people have abandoned their homes and more than 20,000 children have been abducted by LRA into the Sudan.

Marcel Kitissou is Executive Director at AFJN
Return to top of page


 

I would like to use this space for a personal reflection on the World Social Forum (WSF), which just took place in Mumbai, India from 16-21 January. I did not attend myself, although a number of close colleagues did and I look forward to hearing their impressions and analysis. What strikes me is that upwards of 100,000 people from all over the world assembled in Mumbai - farmers, health care givers, workers, human rights advocates, civil society groups and NGOs - to mobilize around vitally important, gut-level issues like how the global economic system crushes poor people, hunger, women's and farmers' rights, opposing global warfare and its immoral economic underpinnings, the vicious burden of illegitimate debt on impoverished countries, to mention a few.

And we never heard about it! Not if we rely on mainstream USA media for what's happening in the world. Not unless we searched out alternative sources of news about current events. This is a strange and very troubling aspect of the American media. It effectively keeps the concerns and viewpoints of a considerable chunk of humanity invisible. Kind of like the way TV networks trot out their regular stock market analysts and finance industry specialists to explain the economy on news and talk shows but never anyone from the labor or environmental side of things.

The WSF originated as a counterpoint (some say antidote) to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which brings together elite political and financial leaders from the world's wealthy nations. These are the powerbrokers, the ones who call the shots that determine the planet's economic directions. With fewer than 150, they get coverage, whereas not a single story appeared in the Washington Post about the tens of thousands who came together in Mumbai to offer an alternative perspective from the vantage point of those marginalized by the Davos decision-makers.

In Mumbai they reiterated their opposition to the predominant neo-liberal (unregulated markets) philosophy driving global policy and, in their view, engendering massive economic, social and environmental injustice. They pledged to promote sustainable societies, oppose discrimination in all its forms, and support peasant movements, workers, women and people under threat from oppression. They took up issues that go to the heart of AFJN's advocacy. In their official statement summarizing the WSF they said:

“The indigenous people are struggling against patents on all kinds of life-forms and the theft of biodiversity, water, land. We are united in fighting the privatization of public services and common goods.

We call upon everybody to mobilize for the right to water as a source of life that cannot be privatized. We are endeavoring to recover control over public, common goods and natural resources, previously privatized and given to transnational enterprises and the private sector.” For the full text of the statement see America Latino en Movimiento Website

Africa was very visible at the WSF. In fact, since 2002 it has held its own African Social Forum as a prelude to the World Social Forum, using it to articulate its own analysis of social, political and economic injustices that need to be addressed for a more equitable world order to surface. The Africans strongly contend that “…a dynamic civil society organized in strong and active social movements can and must challenge the neo-liberal political economy of globalization.” See a fuller description of the African Social Forum at Choike Website

It goes without saying that a huge chasm exists between Mumbai and Davos. Yet the fate of today's people and of future generations depends on healing the rift. That will never happen unless the powerbrokers and their media allies recognize and validate Mumbai's voices, for real.

Larry J. Goodwin is Associate Director for Organizing at AFJN
Return to top of page


 

M onsignor Michael Aidan Courtney, Apostolic Nuncio of Burundi, was shot several times, including once to the head, shortly after midday on 29 December 2003. He was returning by car to the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, with another priest, a driver and a passenger, when the vehicle was sprayed with gunfire. The priest was slightly wounded while the driver and passenger were unharmed. The incident took place near Minago, 25 miles south of Bujumbura. Monsignor Courtney died undergoing emergency surgery in the capital's Prince Rwagasaore hospital several hours later. Burundi's President, Domitien Ndayizeye, who immediately went to the hospital upon hearing of the incident, said that the country had lost a best friend and vowed to bring those responsible to justice

The area where the killing occurred is a stronghold of the National Liberation Forces (FNL), a rebel Hutu group. The army chief, General Germain Niyoyankana, told the press that the FNL was behind the attack. Burundi's most senior Catholic Archbishop, Simon Ntamwana, also blamed the FNL, which has denied any involvement. Monsignor Courtney was wearing his cassock and the vehicle was flying the Vatican flag. Fides, a Catholic news agency, reported that it was the first time a papal nuncio had been assassinated.

Monsignor Courtney was the latest of many to die in ten years of violence, which has claimed 300,000 lives in this small country of 6.3 million people, two-thirds of whom are Catholic. For decades the majority (85%) Hutu have been trying to end the dominance of the Tutsi minority (14%), who have traditionally ruled the country. Fighting broke out in 1993 after the assassination of the first democratically elected president, Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu. In an effort to end the civil war, a transitional government was setup in November 2001. It provided for power sharing between Tutsis and Hutus by rotating 18-month presidential terms. It recently broadened the power sharing by allocating military officer posts and ministerial positions to rebel groups who sign the peace agreement. The FNL is the last rebel group outside the peace process.

Monsignor Michael Courtney was 58 years old. He had been a priest for 35 years and a bishop for three. He served as a parish priest in Ireland for 8 years before joining the Pontifical Diplomatic Academy. Beginning in 1980 he served as papal representative in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Senegal, India, Yugoslavia, Cuba and Egypt. Prior to his assignment to Burundi in August 2000, he served as a special envoy monitoring the Council of Europe and the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

Monsignor Courtney's death was mourned in Burundi and around the world. Burundians loved him for his simplicity, his closeness to them and his tireless efforts for peace. Upon learning of the assassination, Pope John Paul expressed deep sorrow and regret and called on the citizens of Burundi to reject violence. Thabo Mbeki, whose country participated in the peace process, expressed his “outrage and condemnation at the senseless murder.” Kofi Annan praised “the quiet and effective manner in which the Monsignor had been helping the peace process.”

After a memorial service at the Bujumbura cathedral on December 31 celebrated by the Vatican's Papal Nuncio to Uganda, Archbishop Pierre Christophe, and attended by over 1,500 people, his body was flown home to Ireland for a funeral mass and burial in his hometown of Nenagh.

The greatest tribute to Monsignor Michael Courtney would be an end to the fighting in Burundi. On January 6, the BBC reported that the FNL agreed to talks with President Domitien Ndayizey. We pray with the Burundi bishops who have encouraged all the people to work together for peace.

Peter Jacxsens is a volunteer at AFJN
Return to top of page



Last Revised 07-Jul-05 10:22 AM.