June 23, 2007

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On the move

June 15, 2007

Dear reader,

Tinyplanet has packed its bags and its moving to a new domain. Come and visit at

Chocolate guilt

June 12, 2007

Not only do chocoholics have to worry about their health and weight, now they have ethical reasons to fret.

According to Nina Brenjo of Alertnet, cocoa exports from the Ivory Coast are funding both the nation’s government and rebels.

Alright, it was Brenjo quoting the Financial Times. But her blog’s where I found the story.

Movement at last

June 12, 2007

Sudan has agreed to the deployment of a joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force for Darfur. The mission will consist of 17,500-19,600 soldiers and 6,000 police.

Not only that, but the Sudanese government has backed the need for a ceasefire and a more inclusive political process.

Now, those are all pretty words but of course there’s no guarantee the plan will be fully enforced. The UN is always stretched and strapped for cash, and the AU has long said its resources were fairly thin. But the fact that Khartoum is weighing in behind the deal is cause for celebration.

More than 200,000 people have been killed in the last four years, while about two million have fled their homes. Khartoum says only 9,000 have died since the conflict erupted and denies enlisting the Janjaweed militia to crush the rebellion.

BBC said there was no concrete timetable for deployment, which would not be before next year. There is also no definitive decision on the make-up of any such force, although it is likely to have as many African soldiers as possible. Sudan wanted nothing to do with an all-UN force as it considered that a Western invasion.

I am cautiously optimistic. This is huge news, but the follow-through may be sorely lacking. There’s no guarantee Sudan will fully co-operate with the mission, although the fact it has agreed to the force implies it should have government backing. The phrase is a cliché, but we will have to wait and see.

Fingers crossed that there could be a (relatively) happy ending to this one.

Out and about

June 2, 2007

Egypt has freed a blogger who was detained more than a month ago for being a member of the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Abdel Moneim Mahmoud, who is also a correspondent for British-based Arabic television channel al-Hewar, had not officially been charged. He had been detained along with 23 others, who were also set free.

Human rights group the El Nadim Center has claimed Mahmoud was taken into custody because of “the role he played in exposing crimes committed by the Ministry of the Interior through his blog, where he called for the release of detainees”.

The organisation also points out that Mahmoud took part in media activities arranged by Amnesty International after that group released a report documenting torture in Egyptian police stations.

The Muslim Brotherhood advocates an Islamic state — and let me state quite clearly that I support complete separation of clergy and state — but with democratic reforms Egypt needs.

For example, Egyptian presidents, with whom almost all power rests, have typically been elected in single-candidate votes since the country became a republic in the 1950s. September 2005 saw the first multi-party presidential vote; however, candidates were screened by an electoral commission which only allowed 10 of the 30 applicants to run. The Muslim Brotherhood, which has the broadest support of the opposition groups, had no candidate.

Unsurprisingly, Hosni Mubarack was re-elected.

A March 2007 referendum — which Amnesty International said represented the biggest erosion of human rights since 1981, when emergency laws were introduced following the assassination of Anwar Sadat — gave the president the power to dissolve parliament.

It also prohibited parties using religion as a basis of political activity, ended judicial supervision of elections and allowed for civilians to be tried by military courts in terrorism cases.

Isn’t politics fun?

From stricken Darfur, a good news story

May 30, 2007

Every week Awatef Ahmed Isaac produces a newspaper documenting the life of Al-Fasher, capital of North Darfur. It’s handwritten and pinned to the same tree every time.

Awatef’s work is inspired by her late elder sister, who dreamed of publishing a newspaper for her town. Al-Raheel (The Journey) contains stories of the two million people who have been displaced by the Darfur conflict. But Awatef wants to build on her experience — her ambition is to produce a daily paper to campaign against poor public services and other such issues.

She came to international attention when The Washington Post ran an article about her earlier this year, but Mohamed Hasni of Agence France Presse has checked in with her. Since the Post’s article, she has been inundated with support and her journal is now available in English and Arabic at


May 26, 2007

The UN has suffered its first casualty in Darfur since it began a small-scale deployment in December.

Lieutenant Colonel Ehab Nazir, an Egyptian national, was shot dead at his home. It appears to have been a burglary, but the world body hasn’t ruled out other motives. We shall have to wait and see if the investigation gets anywhere.

The news comes only a day after Sudan was presented with a proposal for a UN-African Union hybrid peacekeeping force. The 23,000-strong mission would be tasked with protecting civilians and helping to restore law and order.

There are already about 7,000 AU troops in the region, but these are supposed to be augmented by several thousand UN soldiers sometime this year. As it stands, the world body has less than 180 deployed there.

A peace deal was signed by the government and one rebel group in May 2006, but it has yet to be implemented. The fighting has continued between the Janjaweed militia and local militant forces.

There is the ever-present danger that the conflict will drag Chad and the Central African Republic — countries to where many refugees have fled — into the conflict, potentially starting a wider regional war (Chad and Sudan support each other’s rebels, although they recently signed a “reconciliation” deal).

The situation in Darfur only serves to make a further mockery of the United Nations. It passes resolutions which nations are free to ignore, and often can not provide adequate resources to achieve its stated objectives. It is hampered by politics and the risk of losing the donations of member states. As long as this situation persists the UN will never live up to its potential.

The hybrid force proposal will come to nothing. The UN Security Council won’t even pass a resolution until Sudan agrees to the mission, which it won’t as it considers it too big.

I have written before (in another format) on the defunct nature of the United Nations. I will try to dig up that particular essay and upload it. In the meantime, this is a good blog on how the media has become disengaged with Darfur.