Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mamuwalde: "Make it a Bloody Mary"

To all fans of Mamuwalde, the African prince "sired and imprisoned in a sealed coffin by Count Dracula" and portrayed with such gusto by William H. Marshall in the deathless 1972 film Blacula, I wish you a Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A hint of Africa in the 6e arrondissement

Ascending from the Odéon metro yesterday and taking a leisurely stroll down the Rue des écoles in the ever-more-wintry Paris weather, I was pleased, given what it appears sometimes to be the French aversion to work, to find one of my favorite bookstores still open in the early afternoon.

L'Harmattan, an official outlet of the Editions Harmattan imprint, has perhaps the most impressive repository of books of Africa, Africana and Latin America-related subjects that I have yet found. Shelf after shelf of book in various languages on all aspects of political and economic history on Africa, written by both Africans and non-Africans, and a section on the Democratic Republic of Congo alone that goes on for a dozen shelves, more than many bookstores entire Africa sections. If the Haiti section veers a bit towards the obvious. a friend a mine, the Cuban-American translator Pedro Rodríguez, declared the store to have the best Cuba section that he had ever seen outside of Miami and it's hard to argue that point.

After some enjoyable browsing, I opted to purchase a copy of Côte d'Ivoire: L'année terrible 1999-2000, edited by Marc Le Pape and Claudine Vidal, which I have breezed halfway through and which thus far provides a very interesting and thorough examination of the Robert Guéï coup in that West African country and the rise of Laurent Gbagbo, Côte d'Ivoire’s current president. With bookstores under increasing pressure due to ever-climbing rents in cities in both North America and Europe, it is good to see a store such as L'Harmattan, despite their occasionally steep prices, still going strong, providing the resources for the deep study of a region that for too long has been ignored by the media at large.

Now, if only I could find that discount copy of the The Rise and Decline of the Zairian State that I’ve been looking for…

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Interview with Alassane Ouattara: "We Don't Believe Gbagbo Will Organise Transparent Elections"

Q&A: "We Don't Believe Gbagbo Will Organise Transparent Elections"

Interview with Alassane Ouattara

ABIDJAN, Oct 23, 2007 (IPS) - Will it be third time lucky for Ivorian opposition leader Alassane Ouattara during presidential elections which many hope will take place in Cote d'Ivoire next year?

To date, this high-profile politician -- a former prime minister and deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) -- has twice been barred from contesting the presidency.

In 1995 and 2000 he was kept off the ballot by a law excluding candidates with a parent of foreign nationality, or who had lived outside of Côte d'Ivoire for the preceding five years. It was insinuated that Ouattara's mother was Burkinabé, a claim he has always denied.

This occurred amidst politically-fuelled resentment towards migrants from neighbouring countries and their descendants who had helped Côte d'Ivoire take advantage of brisk economic growth in the 1960s and 1970s, but who became unwelcome guests when the economy declined along with commodity prices. A contentious debate was ignited on what constituted Ivorian nationality.

Issues of nationality also underpinned the failed coup of 2002 and subsequent civil war that saw the rebel Forces Nouvelles (New Forces) seize control of northern Côte d'Ivoire, while the government of President Laurent Gbagbo retained control over the south. The administration was further charged by the rebels with human rights abuses, corruption and victimisation of ethnic minorities.

Ouattara and members of his Rally of the Republicans (Rassemblement des Républicains, RDR) were the subject of reprisal attacks by government partisans in the financial capital of Abidjan and elsewhere after the September 2002 coup attempt.

The rebellion remained in a tense stalemate until March of this year, when the two sides signed a power sharing agreement in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou. They pledged disarmament, the creation of an integrated national army and provision of citizenship documents (a process known as "identification") to those who can prove their Ivorian nationality, to enable participation in the proposed poll. New Forces leader Guillaume Soro has also been appointed prime minister.

IPS correspondent Michael Deibert sat down with Ouattara at the RDR's headquarters in Abidjan earlier this month to get his opinions on the current state of the peace process.

Read the full interview here.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Puma pounces

Puma pounces

Foreign Direct Investment magazine

With regional conflict relatively absent, west Africa is enjoying an FDI renaissance, with sportswear maker Puma leading the way, writes Michael Deibert.

The announcement that the Germany-based sportswear multinational Puma intends to expand its historic association with African football culture by opening retail outlets in the west African nations of Ghana and Senegal has been seen by some as indicative of the mini-renaissance the region is undergoing in terms of attracting foreign investment.

Read the full article here.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Back in Paris, and on the passing of Lucky Dube

After nearly two weeks in Côte d’Ivoire that gave me the opportunity to interview presidential candidates, women’s advocates, cocoa workers, business executives and Force Nouvelles rebels (and go to one of the best reggae clubs I‘ve ever been to), I am now back in Paris and back online on a regular basis.

The much-heralded transit strike of recent days proved to be no more than a minor annoyance as my friend Gerry Hadden and I strolled around the city, checking out the Confédération générale du travail (CGT) march and interviewing protesters.

Some sad news reached me from South Africa today that the reggae star Lucky Dube was killed in an apparent carjacking attempt in Johannesburg last evening. Dube’s music was very popular among the young in some of the poorest quarters of Port-au-Prince, Haiti when I was living there for several years, and I often heard in pumping out of the boom box that my friend James Petit-Frere had during my visits to his home in Cité Soleil.

I had the opportunity to tell Dube this when I met him briefly at the Hotel Montana a few years back, when he was in Haiti to play a concert as the same time I was in the country reporting. He was very gracious in his response, as one could only expect from such a thoughtful advocate of conscious reggae, a genre that sometimes seems to be threatened with extinction by the onslaught of slackness and bling and the always hard road trod by the genuinely righteous.

“We've got to come together as one,” Dube sang in one of his most famous song. “The cats and the dogs have forgiven each other/What is wrong with us?”

Adieu, Lucky Dube. You were a shining star and you will be missed.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Les nuits de Paris: Black, blanc, beur

It is the evening of the Nuits Blanches here in Paris, the “white nights” of all-night cultural events that were inaugurated by Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë's in 2002.

As I prepare to go see a pair of African bands set to play a free concert at the Centre Wallonie-Bruxelles, the fierce debate regarding immigration in France continues. In recent months, as I alluded to in an article some time ago, France has witnessed the creation of the (often justly) maligned Ministère de l'immigration, de l'intégration, de l'identité nationale et du codéveloppement and the implementation of policies that have chased middle-aged Chinese workers and schoolboys out of windows in nighttime immigration raids and bundled screaming Malians onto planes taking them "home" to Bamako. As a resident of an immigrant community and, indeed, an immigrant myself, I can only say that I hope some kind of humanity to one’s fellow man prevails in this discussion. As I would similarly criticize the current government in the United States, one can control one’s borders without victimizing the most defenseless in society.

Also note that this blog may be silent for a bit as I depart tomorrow for a two week reporting trip to Côte d'Ivoire, which promises many, many interesting things but among them perhaps not regular internet access.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

BURMA: Criticism of Total Operations Grows

BURMA: Criticism of Total Operations Grows

By Michael Deibert

Inter Press Service

PARIS, Oct 4, 2007 (IPS) - The Yadana natural gas pipeline runs from gas fields in the warm waters of the Andaman Sea through a sliver of southern Burma and into Thailand. It also runs through the heart of the debate on corporate responsibility as to how foreign businesses should operate in a country ruled by a military dictatorship accused of widespread human rights abuses and violent suppression of dissent within its borders.

Following two weeks of protests lead by Buddhist monks against the military junta lead by General Than Shwe, the Burmese government's ferocious subsequent clampdown has shone a particularly bright spotlight on the activities of Total S.A., the French oil company that served as the driving force behind the Yadana pipeline and which continues to be deeply involved in Burma.

"Total is involved in what is essentially the single largest foreign investment project in Burma, the single largest source of hard currency for the regime," says Marco Simons, the U.S. legal director for EarthRights International, an organisation working on documenting human rights and environmental abuses. "They have entered into a direct business relationship with the Burmese military."

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007