Saturday, 30 October 2010

Zimbabwe's blood diamonds

Zimbabwe is supposedly enjoying political stability under the coalition government formed in 2008. However, according to the UK's Channel 4's Unreported World programme, which Channel 4 describes as a "critically acclaimed foreign affairs series offering an insight into the lives of people in some of the most neglected parts of the planet", the reports from Zimbabwe are of a country still "gripped by terror and violence."

Reporter Ramita Navai and Alex Nott filmed undercover to investigate claims that gems from one of the world's biggest diamond fields are being used by Robert Mugabe's ZANU PF party to entrench their hold on power by buying the military's loyalty. (Navai is the same reporter whose story on the escalating violence in South Sudan I wrote about on this blog in November of last year). The current reports from Zimbabwe are against the backdrop of human rights abuses, which victims say are being perpetrated by the military and the police.

Filming covertly and secretly, (footage that was broadcast during the programme Friday evening), the team discovered a climate of fear reminiscent of the pre-coalition Mugabe years. Almost everyone Navai and Nott met was too terrified to talk about the diamond fields, including several members of the MDC party, which forms part of the coalition government. We see some people speak out, albeit at great personal risk. They detail stories of beatings, killings and rape connected to the diamond area. There were suggestions that powerful individuals within the government oversee and control these activities.

A military insider told the Unreported World team about how different Zimbabwean Army units are allowed to rotate through the fields to make profits from the diamonds in exchange for loyalty to president Mugabe. The serving officer claimed that syndicates of civilians are used by soldiers to mine illegally and they then sell the gems to middlemen. (In June last year, Human Rights Watch reporting on the same issue wrote about forced labour, torture and military massacres in the Marange district in Eastern Zimbabwe where the diamond fields are located. Click here for the HRW report).

The team followed the diamond trail, showing how smugglers move precious stones from the Marange fields across the border to the boom-town of Manica in neighbouring Mozambique. Filming secretly, they showed how the stones are purchased no questions asked, by Arabic speaking buyers who claim to be Lebanese. We are then informed that Manica, once a sleepy rural Mozambique village, is now buzzing with diamond buyers from around the world chasing after the flush of Marange diamonds from across the border. Its impossible to track the diamonds once they have been purchased from the smugglers, usually for meagre sums. From Manica the diamonds are absorbed into the international market and sold in upmarket and high street stores across the world.

The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) a UN-backed industry watchdog has been tasked with ending the sale of conflict diamonds. Its function is to ensure that diamonds are not used by rebel movements to finance wars against legitimate governments. It is thought however that this definition is narrow and doubts have been expressed as to the effectiveness of the KPCS, as in this BBC report of June this year. For sure, the KPCS has not prevented the reported widespread looting and human rights abuses connected to Marange and there is the suggestion that it has failed to deal with the unfolding crisis.

Next month in Tel Aviv, Israel, the members of the KPCS meet for their annual summit to decide what to do next. The State of Israel is the current Chair. The Unreported World reporters indicated that at the time of filming, there were fears that the situation in Zimbabwe could precipitate the end of the Kimberley Process itself, as internal politics and in-fighting about how the watchdog should proceed may tear it apart. (This caught my attention and is something I will be investigating further).

vast natural resources found in the Marange district of Zimbabwe could potentially change the fortunes of a country whose economy has hit hard times. These reports however, despite the coalition government, confirm that Zimbabwe is a country still plagued by corruption and violence, a serious warning of what is to come ahead of the 2011 elections.

For those in the UK, Unreported World series 10 episode 15 'Zimbabwe's Blood Diamonds' is available on the Channel 4 website for the next 29 days. Click here to watch.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Westerners no longer swallow my story, says Kagame

In this video posted on YouTube by Olivier Nyirubugara a Rwandan journalist and PhD student in The Netherlands, we hear Rwanda's President Paul Kagame commenting on the increasing divergence of views between his administration and its Western partners, formerly known to be "unconditional supporters".

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Nigeria at 50

Last Friday the 1st of October, Nigeria my country celebrated fifty years of independence from Great Britain. I, like many other Nigerians, acknowledge the fact that our country has not had much to show for the fifty years of her existence. But let us take a closer look..

Being as diverse as Nigeria is, the country merely surviving as a united nation for all of fifty years is itself a significant achievement. In this special report in the New African (among several similar reports), it is suggested that many Nigerians are disappointed, because going by its immense oil wealth, great population and intellectual acumen, (not to mention that most of the country's land is potentially arable), the country has failed to fulfil her potential as the engine of growth that carries West Africa and indeed Africa, into economic prosperity as Japan has done for the Far East. Well, my view is that what these critics often fail to acknowledge is that countries like Japan (and South Korea) do not face the same challenges that Nigeria has had to contend with.

Japan is a country populated by a homogeneous Japanese people who have inhabited that country's islands continuously, uninterrupted and have existed as a nation for centuries. This description applies to the Koreans too. Nigeria on the other hand did not come into existence as a recognisable political entity until towards the end of the 19th Century, when parts of the country that we now know as Nigeria were taken over by imperialist Britain. It was Britain's colonial officials who presumably for the purpose of easing their administration of those territories, later arranged for the amalgamation of (what was to them) various colonial territories.

The country of Nigeria is an artificial creation. It is an amalgam of different peoples and cultures (and their lands); an amalgamation for which the consent of those most affected was never sought, nor was it ever given. An appropriate analogy would be a hypothetical European state made up of Hungarians, Romanians, Czechs, Greeks and we can toss in a sprinkling of Slovaks and Albanians for good measure, where this artificial state has been foisted on the people and none of them are given a say in whether or not they should coexist as a single nation, but they must proceed nevertheless..

We all know that where artificial states have been created in Europe, those states have not stood the test of time. Yugoslavia fell apart spectacularly, leaving a trail of bloodshed in its wake. Even today there are still tensions between the Bosnians and the Serbs in Bosnia Herzegovina and between the Serbs and Kosovo. When communism unravelled in the Soviet Union, the Soviet state crumbled into its various component parts. The artificial states of East Germany and West Germany did not survive for fifty years. So in this sense, fifty years of Nigeria as a united nation is indeed a success story. Ours is a country of over 150 million people, where more than 250 languages are spoken with a corresponding number of ethnic groups. Yet, rather than breaking up or falling apart, the country's unity is strong and she has even fought (and won) a civil war to stay united.

However, I would not wish for us by getting carried away with our sense of achievement to fail to recognise that as a country we have and continue to fail in many respects. There has been a failure by us Nigerians in our minds to accord to our nation the exalted position that she deserves. This is part of the reason why those in positions of power think little of the consequences of their actions when they siphon substantial portions of the nation's financial resources for their own personal benefit, transferring the same to financial institutions overseas, whereas millions of their compatriots wallow in deprivation and poverty.

Regardless of the fact that there are very wealthy people living in Nigeria, it is still the case that most Nigerian citizens with disabilities are not provided for in an organised manner. Many are still condemned to a life of begging in the streets. And since a society is only as strong as its weakest member, the Nigerian society is not a strong one. The fancy buildings, the expensive cars and houses in Lekki and Abuja notwithstanding, the majority of the country's population continue to live below the poverty line. Since the days of my childhood, the problem of erratic electricity supply to the nation's population rather than improving has in fact worsened even further. Out of poverty, people continue to die of malaria, a disease which we all know is 100% curable; life expectancy at birth (which is a measure of the quality of life of a society) has been in steady decline in Nigeria since 2003.

The nation's resources belong to all of the nation's people and it is towards the improvement of the quality of life of its people that the nation's resources must be invested. There has been a failure by successive governments in Nigeria to recognise that the well-being of the people that it governs is the primary responsibility of any government, anywhere. There is a need for the reviving of the patriotic spirit in Nigeria, even among the leadership. I am envious of the way others are proud of their country. I wish to be proud of mine too..

Monday, 4 October 2010

Wonderful Gamuchirai

Zimbabwe's Nehanda Radio recently reported that young Gamuchirai (Gamu) Nhengu's dream of winning the UK's talent show, The X-Factor, is hanging in the balance because her mother's application to extend her visa in the UK has been refused. The report states that Gamu passport has been seized by the UK immigration authorities and will not be released to her unless her mother's appeal against the visa refusal is successful. This for me, however, is not the real story..

Gamu is tipped by bookmakers as one of the forerunners to win the ITV talent show, after she wowed the crowd at the Glasgow auditions a while ago with her rendition of Katrina and the Waves hit, 'Walking on Sunshine'. I'd heard people talk about this Zimbabwean teenager, but had not heard her sing until this evening when I stumbled upon the X-Factor show on television, although, frankly, watching X-Factor is not something I would normally be doing with myself on a Sunday evening. Gamu came on, sang and I was totally captivated..

I have since learned that Gamu's mum, Nokuthula, 38, left Zimbabwe eight years ago and settled in Tilicoultry, Clackmannanshire, Scotland with her daughter and her two sons, Milton, 12 and Marty, 10. She is in Scotland under a work-permit visa, which also covers her children as her dependants.

Gamu was just three when her dad died in Zimbabwe and her mum struggled financially to bring up her children. Mum Nokuthula eventually made the heartbreaking decision to leave the children behind in Zimbabwe and travel to the UK to study for a degree at Stirling University. Three years later the family were reunited in Scotland and Gamu told the X-Factor audition audience in Glasgow that she just wanted to give something back to her mum. Gamu has dedicated her success in the show to the people of Scotland, without whose help she says, "it would not have been possible.. I regard myself as a Scottish contestant, because this country has been so good to me. I have loads of great friends and loads of good people around me. It has been great.."

Here Gamu is singing jazz at "Learning at BBC Scotland"..

And here at the Praise Gathering Concert at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh..