Showing posts with label West Africa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label West Africa. Show all posts

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Peace, power at stake in elections around the world

Pres. Ouattara
(s t CC BY 2.0)
With the U.S. election looming, it's easy to miss crucial elections going on elsewhere in the world, such as Ivory Coast and Moldova, with potential ramifications for global peace.

Votes are being counted now in the Ivory Coast presidential election.  Incumbent Alassane Ouattara is hoping for a third term despite vigorous opposition.  A 78-year-old economist, Ouattara has been president since 2011, after the disputed 2010 election resulted in civil war.  The Ivory Coast constitution limits a president to two terms, but the Ouattara side claims that a constitutional revision in 2016 reset the term clock.

The Sahel
(Munion CC BY-SA 3.0)


An especially sensitive issue in the West African context, the dispute over term limits gives Ouattara's run an uncomfortable overtone of authoritarianism.  Ivory Coast is a key commercial player in West Africa, so stability or instability there ripples throughout the region.  One way or the other, the influence of Ivory Coast's outcome could be especially impactful as Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and western Nigeria all struggle to get a grip on lawlessness and violence in the western Sahel.

Frmr. P.M. Sandu
(Accent TV 2015 CC BY 3.0)
Meanwhile, voters are at the polls today in Moldova to choose between starkly different visions for the country's future.  Former socialist party leader Igor Dodon, president since 2016, faces former prime minister Maia Sandu in the country's fourth election since 1991 independence.  Dodon carries the endorsement of Russian President Vladimir Putin and resolves to look eastward for Moldova's future.  Sandu thinks the best hope to pull Moldova out of chronic economic stagnation lies westward, in the European model of development.  

Pres. Dodon
(Russian Pres. Press & Info. Ofc. CC BY 3.0)
I wrote last year about my visit to the "breakaway state" of Transnistria, which embodies the depth of divide over Moldova's future.  Yet so much more is at stake; Moldova stands as a bellwether for the region, indicative of future European or Russian influence.  And with Brexit occurring on Europe's opposite border, the continental union's prospects for eastern growth might speak to the future of the union itself.

Both elections, in Ivory Coast and Moldova, are plagued with reports and denials of poll tampering and improper influence over voters.  And people in both countries fear for the peace in the wake of an outcome favoring any side.

Protestors in Algiers, March 2019
(Khirani Said CC BY-SA 4.0)
Even these elections are not the only ones in the world right now.  The "Georgian Dream" party looks to have won third-term control of Georgia's parliament, lengthening a long-term one-party rule there that opponents say has failed to deliver economic prosperity for working people.  And today, voters in Algeria, where I also visited in 2019, opine on anti-corruption constitutional reforms hoped to quell protests that persisted after the 2019 election of presidential challenger Abdelmadjid Tebboune failed to deliver the prompt changes that the street wanted.

The American election is only one among many in the world this fall in which prosperity and peace might hang in the balance.  I'm hoping that whatever happens here on November 3, we model order and rationality.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

US President haunts African 'ghost capital'

Main traffic circle in Canchungo, Guinea-Bissau.
All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.

Throughout Guinea-Bissau, in West Africa, characteristic landmarks found in town centers, parks, and traffic circles are large, dilapidated blocks of painted concrete, often graffitied. These blocks are actually bases that have held statues of prominent leaders during the country's tumultuous history since independence was declared in 1973.

For Guinea-Bissau, it's been a journey as rocky and potholed as the nation's roads. Independence from Portugal was hard fought, with the Soviet Union, Cuba, and China pouring in arms for the revolutionaries to the end of establishing a communist foothold in West Africa. Anti-revolutionary soldiers were mass murdered after their defeat. Subsequent instability and corruption led to civil war in the 1990s, and election turmoil and political violence marked the 20-aughts. The presidential election in 2019 was contested, and just this week, since inauguration of the ultimately recognized victor, there are reports of military intimidation of the courts. No wonder statues don't last long in poor Guinea-Bissau.

That makes one statue still standing all the more an oddity. In an overgrown park in the heart of the main town on Bolama Island, in the Bijagos Archipelago, at the center of low walls of crumbling concrete that once demarcated colorful stars, the likeness of 18th U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant rises defiantly.

The Grant statue is a curious throwback to Portuguese colonial rule. Actually, all of Bolama Town is a throwback to colonialism. Once grand Portuguese constructions crumble in slow decay in what's sometimes called Guinea-Bissau's "ghost capital." European powers such as Portugal favored locating their colonial bases of operations on offshore islands, where winds kept malarial mosquitoes at bay. Today the ghost capital is inhabited, despite its state; thousands of people live in subsistence, and sometimes dependent, conditions amid the ruins.

In the 1860s, President Grant became the mutually agreed upon arbitrator between Portugal and Great Britain over territory in the islands. After Grant awarded Bolama to Portugal in 1870, the Portuguese erected the statue to honor him. Notwithstanding the resolution of that dispute, and despite British efforts to aid the Confederacy and topple the Union in the Civil War, Grant was ultimately credited with strengthening U.S. relations with Britain during his two terms as President in the Reconstruction era. Grant proved so popular abroad that he and his wife embarked on a world tour after his presidency, and, with the imprimatur of President Rutherford B. Hayes, Grant inaugurated the custom of former presidents conducting informal diplomacy abroad.

The tale of Grant's Bolama ghost gained an unusual epilog in 2007, when the statue went missing. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reported the story for NPR. Apparently stolen to sell as scrap metal, Grant was recovered in pieces, and authorities ultimately restored him--not how things usually work out for statues in Guinea-Bissau.

Ruins of Portuguese palace in Bolama Town

Abandoned cinema in Bolama Town


A storefront in Bolama Town painted for politics

Kids swinging in a refurbished Bolama Town park

Monday, February 24, 2020

Oussouye king applies customary law in Senegal

The king and his attendants in the sacred woods. All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.
The king of Oussouye in the Casamance region of Senegal received me with my group earlier this week. The Oussouye are part of the Diola, or Jola, ethnic group, who populate a vast transnational area reaching from Gambia to Guinea-Bissau. Diola also span religious faiths, having Islamic and Christian adherents, though traditional African religious tenets run strong in tandem with colonial imports. The Oussouye tend especially to traditional faith.

The king dispenses justice in both criminal matters and civil disputes in Oussouye. Civil matters cover a broad range, from real and personal property, to domestic relations, to obligations. The king also operates a local social welfare system, growing a quantity of food to support needy members of the community.

Typical of the manner in which customary and "modern" law are integrated within African countries, the king exercises a jurisdiction of first instance. He explained that if someone takes a matter to the police or the courts of Senegal, the authorities will ask whether the complainant has yet consulted the king, and will refuse the matter if not. This system does not fully obviate conflict, as questions arise over when the national legal system should take precedence--especially in high-profile cases implicating human rights, including non-discrimination and the rights of children. But the great bulk of dispute resolution is managed uneventfully upon traditional principles.

Chosen according to a spiritual calling, not lineal heritage, the king is said to be supernaturally endowed with wisdom, notwithstanding a lack of formal training. The Oussouye king readily said that he had been a mechanic before the spirit moved him toward his royal role.

Oussouye kids head home from school.






Traditional impluvium house.
Local chief in the center of impluvium house.

Evidence abounds of Chinese investment in the Casamance region.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Gambia AG initiates truth inquiry to get country on track

A Gambian customs office shades goats near the southern border with Senegal.
All images: RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.

The TRRC process includes public awareness via signage.
With the independence of a nation's attorney general now the subject of discussion in the United States, consider Ba Tambadou, AG of the African nation of Gambia, where I visited on its independence day, February 18. A former Hague prosecutor, Tambadou was instrumental in creating the present Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission, which now is holding hearings in Gambia and dropping revelations nearly by the day in the news there.


The Gambian TRRC concerns abuses of power, including repressive violence and press suppression, that kept Yahya Jammeh in control of the country from 1994 coup to surprise election upset in 2017. The ex president now lives in exile, in reportedly sweet digs in Equatorial Guinea. He seems to have ample access to the fortune he looted on the job, which is looking like hundreds of millions of dollars, despite a 2017 US freeze on his assets under the Magnitsky Act.

TRRC proceedings captivate public attention on TVs in Banjul.

Unfortunately Gambia's elected president, Adama Barrow, has raised eyebrows by recently rescinding a pledge to serve only three years, though the national constitution does permit five. Political opponents whisper about corruption, and no doubt nerves are raw since the country finally freed itself of Jammeh. All the more important then is the independent judgment exercised by Tambadou to shine light on historical misdeeds. The TRRC is the sixth of its kind on the African continent and essential to break the cycle of maladministration in government, and hence the cycle of underdevelopment and poverty in this brilliantly diverse yet smallest mainland nation of Africa.

American rice bags are repurposed to make a mattress in Gambia. All images: RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.


Friday, February 14, 2020

'Seduction' on Rue Torte, Île de Gorée, Senegal

Rue Torte, Île de Gorée, Senegal (CC BY-SA 4.0 RJ Peltz-Steele)

Happy Valentine's Day! Time magazine on the seduction tort, for the occasion, adapted by and from Clement Knox, Seduction (2020).

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Kids everywhere play

Kids find innocent fun in the toughest of living conditions. It's a reminder that soulful joy doesn't come from worldly things.

In the photo at left, kids in Ganvie Lake Village in Benin wanted to see themselves on the screen of my little camera. Ganvie has an unusual history tied to the Portuguese slave trade; read more at Atlas Obscura. Photo by my traveling mate, Dylan Armstrong. By the way, RI/South Coast US readers, you can catch Beninese world music Grammy winner Angelique Kidjo at The Vets in Providence, R.I., on February 22. Meanwhile watch her fabulous performance on YouTube.

The photos at right and below are from in and around Jamestown, a community in Accra, Ghana. This village was an NAACP stop for the 2019 Year Of Return (WBUR), and its Old Fort is one of the string of forts and castles that memorializes the horrific suffering inflicted on "the slave coast." Two boys I met on the street, one wearing a US Soccer shirt, were experimenting with a kite they had made out of plastic and wood debris and electrical tape. In Jamestown, ever smiling Masha was my tight-gripping companion. Both photos are mine, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0, taken with permission of their subjects.



Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Football is universal

Football in the Jamestown district of Accra, Ghana (CC BY-SA 4.0 RJ Peltz-Steele)
I'm a believer in sport and development and a participating researcher at the International Sport and Development PlatformRead about the great work done around the world by Boston-based Soccer Without Borders, winner of, inter alia, the 2017 FIFA Diversity Award.

Courthouse at Cape Coast, Ghana

Courthouse at Cape Coast, Ghana (CC BY-SA 4.0 RJ Peltz-Steele)