Africa is setting an example for Arabs

Arab leaders and citizens do not often look at Africa for inspiration. For decades, the Dark Continent has been beset by civil wars, military coups, famine and recurrent outbreaks of endemic diseases. Millions of lives have been lost and economies destroyed. But Africa is waking up and moving forward and for the first time in decades achievements have been secured and growth sustained in many of the continent’s 55 nations.

This month something remarkable happened that promises to change the fate of African nations for good. At the African Union’s summit in Niger, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari gave the African Continental Free Trade Area a major boost by signing the continent’s largest economy onto the deal. With Nigeria joining the pact the world is now seeing the birth of the world’s largest free trade zone — a 55-nation bloc worth $3.4 trillion.

The pact aims are creating a single market for goods and services, facilitate free movement of people and investments, and eventually introduce a single-currency union.

Even more remarkable the leaders launched a Pan-African payment system aimed at reducing the use of third currencies — US dollars and Euros — in bilateral trade settlement across Africa saving nations between $5 billion and $7 billion, according to Okey Oramah, president of the African Export-Import Bank.

Geopolitical impact

There are efforts to push for the creation of an African Monetary Fund to help African states engage more actively in regional trade and intra-regional trade. The purpose is to help supplement what the IMF provides to countries facing balance of payments problems. Once operational it will have a capital subscription of up to $22 billion, but for the fund to exist a treaty that was agreed on in 2014 must be ratified by at least 15 nations.

Coming into effect by 2020 analysts believe the bloc will become the world’s largest free trade zone by cutting trade tariffs and barriers between 1.2 billion people. Aside from improving the continent’s infrastructure and bilateral trade, leaders hope that the free zone will have positive geopolitical impact by bringing in stability and preserving peace.

Raising the income of citizens and improving their living standards will help in the fight against terror groups in the long run, according to observers. UN Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed was quoted as saying that the AU’s goal of achieving peace across Africa by 2020 was attainable, adding that “we must work hard to silence the weapons.”

The continentwide trade agreement took 17 years to negotiate and approve but its rewards will be felt within few years, according to observers. African countries currently trade only about 16 per cent of their goods and services among one another, compared to 65 per cent with European countries. But by agreeing to reduce tariffs on 90 per cent of goods and services the AU estimates it will give a 60 per cent boost in intra-African trade by 2022.

Positive flow OF FDIs

In addition the agreement is expected to increase the positive flow of direct foreign investments into many countries in Africa. With more than 75 per cent of Africa’s external exports are raw material, such as oil and minerals which has stripped the continent of its natural wealth for centuries, the new pact will attract foreign investors who are expected to invest in the manufacturing sector, thus creating a new wave of industrialisation.

Yet the deal will have to go through a teething phase that includes tough negotiations on removing barriers and providing for fair competition. Also the deal faces legal and stereotypical challenges in the form of existing World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements that may hinder Africa’s collective negotiations on free trade with the rest of the world.

But overall the perception is positive and exciting and this is why one feels, as an Arab, that we have fallen behind.

The Arab world, of over 300 million citizens, should have moved to integrate its economies and create a viable free trade zone long ago. Ironically, the legal frameworks and agreements within the Arab League charter and beyond do exist and references to intra-Arab free trade have been made since the mid 1950s. But a quick look at intra-Arab trade reveals that it only makes less than 10 per cent of total external Arab trade estimated at $1.75 trillion dollars.

Interestingly, trade among GCC countries makes up more than 70 per cent of total intra-Arab trade and more than 80 per cent of total Arab external trade, the bulk being oil and related products. It is incumbent upon the GCC countries to take the lead in integrating other Arab economies since they have the infrastructure, wealth and experience.

There is a lot or work to be done especially as we need to move from the rhetorical assurances to enforcing agreements and creating a real pan Arab economic structure that ensures free trade, economic complimentarily, movement of people and intra-Arab flow of investments. The rewards are not only financial but political as well. That is the only way this part of the world can compete, innovate and preserve its achievements for future generations.

— Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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Here is why Yahya Jammeh is unlikely to face justice soon

Two weeks ago, new allegations were added to a litany of human rights abuses that have been levied against the former president of The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh. The exiled former leader, who once infamously claimed that he could cure AIDS with his own secret herbal mixture and spiritual healing techniques has been accused of sexually abusing at least three women at the height of his power.

Then President of The Gambia Yahya Jammeh and First Lady Zeinab arrive at the White House in Washington DC for the US Africa Leaders Summit in 2014. EPA/Michael Reynolds
Then President of The Gambia Yahya Jammeh and First Lady Zeinab arrive at the White House in Washington DC for the US Africa Leaders Summit in 2014. EPA/Michael Reynolds

Jammeh ruled The Gambia with a totalitarian grip for 22 years after seizing power in an army coup in 1994. After he suffered a shock defeat in the 2016 presidential election, he refused to relinquish power. It was only after regional troops mobilised troops on The Gambian border that he fled to Equatorial Guinea. He’s still there.

Since then, allegations of torture, enforced disappearances, freedom of speech violations, and suspicious deaths in government custody have emerged. To get to the bottom of the allegations hearings are being carried out by a Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission set up by the new government.

Under the slogan, “never again”, the Commission has the job of creating an impartial historical record of violations of human rights that took place under Jammeh’s regime. It is hoped that process achieves a number of objectives. These include promoting healing and reconciliation, addressing the impunity of previous members of government, establishing the fate of disappeared victims, allowing victims to tell their account of violations, and to grant reparations where appropriate.

So far, the public has heard from current and former members of armed forces over an alleged counter-coup plot against Jammeh early in his rule. The testimony of those soldiers has been horrific. But even if more victims come forward and speak out, and more human rights violations are revealed during future testimony from both victims and abusers, pursuing legal consequences against Jammeh is likely to prove very difficult, if not impossible.

The problem is one that those pursuing justice against former dictators and human rights abusers have encountered before. After Jammeh lost power, he fled to Equitorial Guinea with the equivalent of more than $1 billion from public funds. Equitorial Guinea is not a signatory to the Rome Statute and has no obligation to return him to The Gambia to face justice. This has left Jammeh’s fate in the hands of the country’s President Teodoro Obiang, a close friend and ally.

The evidence

In one incident an alleged member of the counter-coup was arrested, beaten, stripped naked, shot and stabbed with bayonets. It was then discovered that his body was too tall for the grave that had been dug, so one of the executioners chopped off his legs with an axe.

Three women so far have levied accusations of sexual violence against Jammeh. Two have remained anonymous while one – Fatou “Toufah” Jallow – has agreed to come forward publicly. She is expected to give testimony to the Commission later in the year.

In graphic detail, Toufah explained to Human Rights Watch how she became a target of the president’s unwanted attentions when, at the age of 18, she won a state-sponsored beauty pageant. As part of her duties as a beauty queen, she was called to a meeting with Jammeh, who began to shower her with presents and money. After a sexual attack in the presidential residence, and fears for her future safety, she disguised herself in a burka and fled across the border to Senegal.

Two other women have also made allegations to Human Rights Watch, but they have chosen to remain anonymous. Marion Volkmann-Brandau, the researcher who exposed these allegations, believes that there were many more victims.

Toufah has said that she hopes her revelations encourage other victims to come forward and share their stories. Her plea has been echoed by the Attorney General  who has praised her actions and asked others to speak out.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has not yet examined any allegations of sexual violence. These hearings are due to take place later in the year.

Justice might be elusive

Pursuing legal consequences against Jammeh is likely to prove very difficult, if not impossible. One reason for this is that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission does not have the power to prosecute Jammeh, or any other individual for human rights abuses. Its powers are limited to recommending that the Attorney General acts on cases that can be taken before the courts.

Even if cases are brought, the Gambian government would have to extradite Jammeh from Equatorial Guinea to face trial. Initially, there were hopes that Obiang, who himself has been accused of numerous human rights atrocities, might feel political pressure to return Jammeh to The Gambia to face his accusers. But a recent video of the two celebrating New Year together extinguished those hopes.

At least in the short term, it looks unlikely that Jammeh will face either his victims or consequences for human rights abuses.

Sophie Gallop, Lecturer, Nottingham Trent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Women in Kenya mobilised for peace after surviving violence

Women are rarely represented adequately at peace negotiations yet they make up half the population of any country in conflict or at war. This remains the case despite increasing global policy awareness on how women are affected by conflict and the importance of including them in peace and security processes. For instance, the UN’s landmark framework on women, peace and security reaffirms the important role women play in the prevention and resolution of conflicts.

Kenyan women hold a vigil for victims of violence. Dai Kurokawa/EPA

Women’s contributions are also underscored in African peace instruments like the Maputo Protocol and Kenya’s National Action Plan.

But how do women in conflict actually engage in peace building? There is considerable academic literature on the links between gender and peace but the lived experiences of women peace builders are not well captured.

To understand this better I studied the peace activities of women in Kenya. I interviewed 57 women from six communities affected by violence. They were all survivors of the violencethat broke out in the country after elections in 2007. I also convened focus groups to find out what peace activities they had organised ahead of Kenya’s 2017 poll.

The aim was to provide in-depth insights into their agency, perceptions and contributions to peacebuilding.

I found that women had primarily come to engage in peacebuilding because they had been survivors of violence in their communities. Interviewees highlighted the particular effects of conflict on women. One said;

Women are the ones who carry the burdens of war and so they fight for peace.

They initiated a range of effective peacebuilding activities – including peace dialogues which enabled them to pick up community tensions early on, mediation, and economic empowerment initiatives – which they experienced as empowering and transformative.

This study is important because we need to understand the opportunities and challenges of community peacebuilding from the perspective of those involved, especially in poor and marginalised environments with little or no external funding for peacebuilding.

Women and peace in Kenya

Kenyans have regularly experienced political violence. It is often accompanied by gross human rights violations and typically occurs around elections. Kenya’s political violence is driven by long-standing conflicts and injustices relating to land, corruption, and the unequal distribution of resources.

In 2007/2008, over 1,000 people were killed, 660,000 displaced or forcibly removed, and 40,000 were victims of gender-based violence. Ten years later the country went through a closely fought but relatively peaceful election.

My study found that women survivors of violence were involved in a number of peacebuilding activities within their communities in the run up to the peaceful election. Their initiatives included:

  • Women organised informal initiatives to provide monitoring and early warning through peace dialogues across ethnic communities. A mother of five who lost her husband to post-election violence, for example, brought together widows from all ethnic communities. The aim was to pick up tensions in the community early on and promote the benefits of peace for the community.
  • Women in inter-ethnic marriages were able to become mediators in their husbands’ communities. Some mediation and training activities were undertaken by community-based organisations with donor funding. However, this kind of support was not available in all violence-affected communities. Beyond such funded peace work, women shared their experiences of mediating in very direct and physical ways. Said one;

I talked to the men to stop fighting, to stop burning houses. After some time I started finding myself being a peace builder and the community was listening to me.

  • Economic empowerment such as saving and investing money through micro-saving groups. Such groups also served as spaces of encounter and dialogue in which peace could be discussed.

Most of their activities were unfunded, informal, and led by survivors of violence. With little to no external funding for peace work, women used their social roles and networks to foster peace, for example by initiating inter-ethnic dialogue in divided communities.

This kind of peace work at the communal level is sometimes seen as not properly transformative. But my research showed that women’s diverse activities were empowering and also helped transform community dynamics for the better.

‘Gendered’ nature of conflict and peace

Women who are involved in peacebuilding should frame their own engagement. This was the case with the women I interviewed in Kenya. This is important because women and men, girls and boys, are affected differently by conflict. Gender stereotypes persist when it comes to building peace: women are often portrayed as inherently good at, or interested in, building peace because of their social roles as mothers and carers.

But my research shows that women are able to break through these stereotypes and become effective agents in their pursuit for peace.

Despite the empowerment the women in this study described, there are still many constraints to women’s peacebuilding roles. These include poverty, the divisive nature of ethnic identity, and patriarchal cultures and values. Nor does the focus on community level peacebuilding mean that the lack of participation of women at the national and international levels should be neglected.

Nonetheless, activities such as the ones discussed here are essential to peacebuilding in the communities where they occur.

Natascha Mueller-Hirth, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Robert Gordon University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

With new aviation laws, Ghana aims for safer skies

Ghana recently spent $275 million expanding and modernising Kotoka International Airport located in the capital city, Accra. This is part of its plan to attract eight million tourists annually by 2027. A significant increase from the 1.2 million people who visited the country in 2015. Given that most of these tourists will arrive in the country by air, attracting them partly depends on Ghana’s ability to create and maintain a safe air transport sector.

With the right legislation, Ghana hopes to improve aviation compliance and safety. Shutterstock

Ghana is a state party to the Chicago Convention. This multilateral treaty established the fundamental principles governing international air travel. It also created the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) – a United Nations agency which manages the international air transport system. As a member of ICAO, Ghana is expected to comply with its standards and recommended practices.

But it has had some compliance problems. In 2006, Ghana ranked below average in five out of eight criteria set by the organisation’s Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme. Although it met the requisite standard level for licensing, accident investigations and aerodromes, Ghana’s aviation industry was found to be unsatisfactory when it came to legislation, organisation, operations, air worthiness and air navigation services.

In 2010, two Ghanaian airlines appeared on the European Union Air Safety List for failing to meet certain international safety standards. The list is a directory of airlines which have been banned or otherwise restricted from flying in the European Union. Currently, Ghana is a Category 2 country on the American Federal Aviation Authority’s International Aviation Assessment Program. This means they were found to have not met the requisite safety standards.

Ghana’s been working hard to address its aviation deficiencies. This has yielded some important successes. In 2015, the two Ghanaian airlines were removed from the EU Air Safety List. In June 2019 Ghana was awarded a provisional Effective Implementation grade of 89.89% in aviation safety oversight under ICAO’s Coordinated Validation Mission.

This is a remarkable achievement: it surpasses the organisation’s minimum target of 60% and significantly outshines the global average of 66.5%. It is also the highest score for an African country. The Effective Implementation average rate for the continent is just over 50%.

So how has Ghana achieved this milestone? Through inter-agency cooperation and efforts to amend existing legislation and pass new ones. These legislative efforts kicked off after the country’s poor performance in the 2006 audit. Legislators and aviation authorities realised they needed to strengthen the country’s laws to improve the situation. This work culminated in two particularly crucial pieces of legislation – the Ghana Civil Aviation (Amendment) Act, 2019 and Aircraft Accident and Serious Incident Regulations, 2019. Both were passed by Parliament in March this year.

There is still a need to address the other areas identified by the audit, air worthiness and organisational efficiency, for example. These require effective and efficient business administration. One solution may be to involve a commercially-focused private company to rectify the outstanding operational issues. Indeed there have been rumours of privatisation. The financial investment and strategic management necessary to maintain the safety improvements made, and take Ghana’s aviation industry to the next level – one to rival counterparts in Nairobi – just might require the private sector.

New laws

The first of the two crucial laws aimed at improving aviation safety is the Ghana Civil Aviation (Amendment) Act 2019 (Act 985), which modified a number of pre-existing laws.

Under it, the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority will retain its regulatory function. But it will no longer be responsible for operational functions such as navigation services. These will be coordinated by a new body. This separation of roles should improve economic efficiency and minimise conflicts of interests.

The Act has also strengthened some important roles within the aviation sector. For instance, powers of the Minister of Aviation and Chief Investigator have been enhanced. The Civil Aviation Authority’s Director General has also been given extra powers. This person can now compel an individual to produce documents – or testify – before any person or panel whose work falls under the authority’s mandate. These changes should assist the effective investigation of aviation incidents and accidents.

The other new legislation is the Aircraft Accident and Serious Incident Regulations, 2019. This requires airline operators to immediately notify authorities of an accident or serious incident. The law created the Accident Incident Bureau to manage investigations of civil aircraft accidents and serious incidents in Ghana. Its remit also covers any state-registered aircraft that are involved in incidents or accidents outside the country.

The new regulations also provide for the establishment of a database of facts and figures relating to accidents and serious incidents for the first time. This will enable officials to do useful analysis on actual or potential safety concerns. It will also help identify any necessary corrective measures.

These legislative changes are meant to improve aviation safety oversight, enhance the powers of aviation officials and address inefficiencies. It should also facilitate the transition to Category 1 status on the FAA’s list.

It’s hoped that the new legal framework will help Ghana improve its reputation and performance in all sorts of safety and compliance measures. And make the country’s aircraft even safer for passengers.

What still needs to be done

Whether these new laws have their intended effect depends largely on the degree to which they are implemented. Additional resources are likely to be required. This could include a cash injection to sustain the progress made and increase the number of professionals with technical training and expertise in aviation. Any optimism about successful and long-lasting compliance requires senior officials with a sound understanding of the importance and will to enforce violations.

The tragic Ethiopian Airlines crash in March 2019 was a sobering reminder that major problems arise when safety and security are concentrated in one stakeholder, like airline manufacturers.

The more stakeholders, including states, involved in evaluating, implementing and maintaining safety standards, the better. This is why stronger legislation is so important. Now it’s incumbent on Ghana to ensure consistent compliance with its new laws.

Julia Selman Ayetey, Doctoral Candidate, Institute of Air & Space Law, McGill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

South Africa’s Baxter: ‘We can’t give the country hope’

British manager has taken Bafana Bafana to the last eight of the Africa Cup of Nations despite chaotic preparation and underfunding

South Africa head coach Stuart Baxter, centre, celebrates with his players after the win over Egypt. Photograph: Hassan Ammar/AP

There are times when Stuart Baxter surveys the agonies surrounding South Africa’s football team and asks himself whether the benefits really add up. “It’s not one of those you get used to,” he says. “You’re constantly wondering if it’s worth it. Constantly.”

It is easier to answer that question during a week when, against all odds, Bafana Bafana have hauled themselves back among Africa’s elite. Baxter calls South Africa “a country of extremes” and he should know, given that he is two years into his second spell managing the national team. On Saturday night the dial swung to paroxysms of euphoria as they outplayed Egypt, host country of the Africa Cup of Nations, in front of a baying home crowd and reached the last eight with a 1-0 win. For the 65-year-old Baxter, taking South Africa through to next Friday’s final would be the pinnacle of a globetrotting career that has never been defined by his Anglo-Scottish upbringing.

“Winning this would be the biggest,” he says, with Nigeria posing the next challenge in Wednesday’s quarter-final. “Without sounding egotistical I think this would represent a massive personal victory for me, partly because it’d be coming far more quickly than it should and partly because this is such a big tournament.”

Africa Cup of Nations: Hosts Egypt stunned by late South Africa strike

 Read more

It was 1996 when South Africa, only four years out of a lengthy Fifa suspension and still buoyant in the early stage of Nelson Mandela’s presidency, won their first and only Cup of Nations. Baxter has brought Mark Fish, their defensive cornerstone back then, into his backroom staff to maintain a connection but he is at pains to point out that so much has changed since then. At that time Bafana Bafana, managed by Clive Barker, could ride the wave all the way home; these days they face a smothering pall of negativity that he believes places unrealistic demands on the sport’s role.

“The whole country was full of optimism in ’96,” he says. “Full of hope and belief in the future. I think the team reflected that hope. When we beat Libya to qualify this time, the sports ministry wrote to me and said: ‘You’ve given the country hope’, and for me that’s where all this negativity stems from.

“If the country is dependent on a result by the national team to give it hope, we fail. We can give it hope for five minutes, but every defeat is met with such negativity because on wider level those hopes and dreams have been flattened. There’s too much going wrong in the country: getting the electricity shut down every day, the water shortages, the unemployment, you name it. The country’s not hopeful and they’re in a mental stage of depression; I think that gets reflected. They cannot accept any more negativity so one bad result is met by a tirade.

“We can’t give the country hope. We can’t. Only temporarily. I’m just happy we can give them a night off where they can wear the shirt proudly.”Sign up to The Recap, our weekly email of editors’ picks.

South Africa lost to Ivory Coast and Morocco during the group stage, squeaking past lowly Namibia in between, and only reached the knockouts on goal difference as one of the best third-placed sides. The dissenting voices were deafening at that point; Bafana’s early matches had been turgid, although Baxter points out that their preparation for this tournament verged on the disastrous, with funding issues seeing their schedule decimated and only one friendly, against Ghana, eventually being played. An already young, reconstructed squad arrived in Egypt badly undercooked and Baxter says their performance against the hosts, in which they obeyed his instructions to play an aggressive, attacking game to the letter, was the kind that banishes any weariness.

“That’s basically why I’ve hung in there, because the players have shown such an interest in wanting to be better, such a genuine pride in themselves when they get it right,” he says. “They’ve been so loyal and patriotic that I’ve always gone that extra mile.”

Baxter is used to doing that. His story is well told by now but a quick refresher course in his life and times underlines what a journey it has been. He has coached in eight countries, won titles in Sweden with AIK and South Africa with Kaizer Chiefs, bitten his lip when fired after two games in Turkey and contributed significantly to football’s explosion in Japan. Were it not for the Midlands inflection – Baxter was born in Wolverhampton – it would feel like a chat with Roy Hodgson, as much for his urbanity and unaffected studiousness as for his winding road here. But unlike Hodgson he has never heard a loud clarion call from home, despite a few offers earlier in his career.

South Africa celebrate during their win over Egypt. Photograph: Samuel Shivambu/EPA

“As it’s moved forward there hasn’t been the opportunity, and that’s because I fall between two stools really,” he says. “I’m not the exotic foreigner and I’m not the big-name English knight in shining armour; I’m neither the José Mourinho nor the Frank Lampard, and the game in the Premier League has become about perception.Advertisement

“I’m not saying that’s the alpha and omega of it, but it’s why I’m realistic to know I’m not going to have a queue of people saying: ‘He’s won leagues all over the world and he’s a Brit, let’s bring him back.’ I’ve become a little, not exactly cynical, but non-expectant. When the phone rings it’s from other places: I’m exotic and attractive there but back home I’m not.”

He fancies another crack at the Champions League, in which he competed with AIK, but feels confident in his capacity to set down roots anywhere in the world and describes himself as “pretty easily transportable”, moulding himself to the project at hand. “I’m not this instructor going round the world teaching football according to the theories of Stuart Baxter,” he says. Perhaps there is an extent to which, in an era where philosophies and grand visions tend to seduce more than sheer practicality, that has held him back too.

Not that there will be any sense of regret when South Africa walk back out at Cairo International Stadium, the venue stunned into dumbfounded silence by Thembinkosi Lorch’s 85th-minute winner those few short days ago, to face Nigeria. “We have to do it as underdogs again,” he says. “They are one of the best, but if we can put together a gameplan that gives them the problems we gave Egypt then we have a chance. At this stage it sometimes takes on its own life. The difference in the squad now, the belief they have, is absolutely night and day.” Dawns like that are why, for all the brickbats and moments of doubt, Baxter comes back again and again.

SOURCE: The Guardian, UK

Book review: Travellers by Helon Habila – cool and adroit

The acclaimed Nigerian author’s ‘novel-in-stories’ about six African refugees in Europe is rich and complex

Helon Habila: ‘open-minded approach’. Photograph: Heike Steiweg
Helon Habila: ‘open-minded approach’. Photograph: Heike Steiweg

From his 2002 debut novel, Waiting for an Angel, about a reporter jailed in the 90s under the regime of Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha, to 2010’s Oil on Water, a hostage narrative set amid the petroleum industry’s ruin of the Niger delta, Helon Habila has tackled weighty issues without solemnity. It’s a virtue on show once again in Travellers, a nuanced, often surprising novel-in-stories about the experiences of six African refugees in Europe, and his first book set outside his native Nigeria.

Its unnamed narrator (like Habila, a Nigerian based in the US) joins his American wife, Gina, in Berlin, where she has a year’s fellowship to produce a series of portraits of “real migrants”. When he starts drinking with Mark, an anarchist squatter from Malawi who has been rejected by Gina as a prospective subject – not real enough – it’s a sign of marital tension as well as the novel’s suspicion of Gina’s authenticity fetish.

As the narrator learns why Mark – born Mary, it transpires – ran away from his pastor father, we infer that ideas of “realness” might boil down to prejudice by another name.

Mark’s is only the first story the narrator gets mixed up in; later, he meets a hunger-striking asylum seeker who flees Boko Haram only to fall foul of Theresa May’s hostile environment, and a Libyan surgeon employed as a bouncer after losing his wife and son en route from Tripoli, stubbornly bringing his 11-year-old daughter to the family’s prearranged rendezvous at Checkpoint Charlie every Sunday, in a heartbreaking denial of reality.

Habila’s acknowledgments thank “the voices whose stories animate this book… for trusting me”, which adds to a sense that he’s drawing on as-told-to testimony.

In the standout chapter, a Zambian woman travels to Switzerland to meet her brother’s wife, jailed for his manslaughter. She learns that in Europe, her brother, David, went by the name Moussa and claimed to be from Mali for reasons to do with his feelings about his father, a once-exiled poet who, drunk on fame, pandered to western liberals keen to view Africa as “one huge Gulag archipelago”.

The novel’s unassuming title is suggestive of Habila’s cool, open-minded approach to a hot-button subject. While he leaves us in little doubt of the horrors his characters have escaped, he seldom invites us to gawp. Adroitly teasing out the rich quiddity of his characters’ diverse journeys, he instead makes the simple yet valuable point that refugees’ lives are as irreducibly complex as anyone else’s.

• To order Travellers by Helon Habilago to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99

From drug dealers to tortillas sellers: the future of former gang members

Becoming a gang member is often assumed to imply few long-term life opportunities beyond dying or being imprisoned. In most of the world, however, this only concerns a minority of gang members, with the majority tending to “mature out” out of their gang, and becoming (more or less) upstanding members of society.

Indeed, a striking finding of my longitudinal research in Nicaragua is that many former gang members can actively thrive directly as a result of their gang-related experiences, to the extent that we can talk about there being clear dividends.

Only gang leaders thrive

In their book Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner famously highlight how the benefits of being a member of a drug-dealing gang are often quite limited. In particular, the authors describe how the overwhelming majority of those involved in the US drug trade earn less than the minimum wage, with only gang leaders receiving anything in the way of substantial material returns.

While this is not necessarily the case everywhere, there is no doubt that the material benefits of drug dealing can often be unevenly distributed. In a scene from the film Scarface (1983), gang leader Tony Montana enjoys the profits of his drug-dealing business before going ‘legit’.

In a scene from the film Scarface (1983), gang leader Tony Montana enjoys the profits of his drug-dealing business before going ‘legit’

At the same time, being a member of a drug gang can also provide individuals with more intangible benefits drawing from street-experience or specific skills and knowledge inherent to the “job”. These can potentially have more important consequences for post-drug dealing trajectories than any putative material returns.

However, the long-term benefits are highly variable, as my research shows through the contrasting trajectories of Milton and Bismarck, two former members of a drug-dealing gang in the barrio Luis Fanor Hernández, the poor neighbourhood in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, where I carry out my work.

Selling crack on a bicycle

Between 2010 and 2011, Milton was a crack dealer, selling drugs in a concealed manner to avoid attracting attention. As he explained:

“I wouldn’t sell on the streets but would only sell to regular clients and … deliver drugs to them directly, whenever they wanted it instead of having them come to the barrio … I had a good number of clients, who would text me whenever they wanted some crack, which I’d then deliver to them on my bicycle.”

Milton was a successful dealer but he did not save much money, preferring to spend conspicuously. He ceased drug dealing in 2011 after the drug trade in Luis Fanor Hernández collapsed due to the local wholesaler’s arrest. Finding himself out of work, he decided to start a tortilla-making business instead.

“Everybody likes tortillas”

“Why a tortilla-making business, you ask? Well, my mother was a tortillera – you know, a tortilla-maker – but she was getting old and wanted to give it up, so I told her, why don’t you let me take over?”

Milton went on to explain how normally tortilleras would make their tortillas early in the morning, but by the time they go out to sell them they would be all stale and cold, and “nobody likes a cold tortilla”. He had an idea that would enable him to sell fresh, steaming-hot tortillas:

“I thought to myself, ‘Why don’t I do like I did with drugs, get people to text me when they want tortillas, and I’d then make them and deliver them straight away?’”

Tortillas come in all form and shapes (Mexico, 2016). Omar Torres/AFP

Milton therefore confidently approached local businesses with samples of his tortillas, and told people that if they wanted fresh, hot tortillas, they should just text him.

“At first only a few people did so, but word got around, and pretty quickly I was getting more orders than I could cope with.”

A success story

These were the days when rapid-food delivery companies were in their infancy worldwide. In Nicaragua such services were unknown, so this new way of producing and delivering tortillas was a game changer. Milton’s business expanded rapidly, to the extent that he had to hire five people to make tortillas and invest in a motorcycle for deliveries.

A delivery motor-bike parked in front of a tortilla restaurant in Mexico. digiyesica/FlickrCC BY-SA

Now producing around 3,000 tortillas a day, Milton’s business is extremely successful, and completely dominates the tortilla market in Luis Fanor Hernández and its surroundings.

In 2016, it provided him with a weekly profit of almost US$200, more than twice Nicaragua’s monthly median wage, and about 80% of what he used to make as a drug dealer.

This success is directly due to Milton’s having drawn on his drug-dealing experience to structure his new business. In particular, the use of mobile technology and the “just in time” delivery enabled him to gain an edge on existing tortilla sellers. Normally this field of economic activity has traditional means of operating and low profit margins. But Milton established the basis for an exceptionally profitable mode of operation.

Bismarck, the real-estate baron

At the same time, the knowledge and skills learned in gangs are not always useful or deployable in a sustainable manner. The case of Bismarck, who dealt drugs in barrio Luis Fanor Hernández between 2000 and 2006, is a case in point.

Unlike Milton, Bismarck saved a significant proportion of his drug-dealing profits. He had much less of a conspicuously consuming lifestyle, and would regularly invest in real estate, buying houses to rent out and building an inexpensive hostel in Luis Fanor Hernández.

When he stopped dealing drugs, these properties ensured that he continued to enjoy a comfortable monthly revenue, albeit equivalent to about 55% of what he had earned as a drug dealer, something that Bismarck professed himself to be more than happy with insofar as “being a businessman was much less dangerous than being a drug dealer”.In Colombia, tour operators guide tourists around Pablo Escobar’s famous properties. But real-estate can be risky.

In Colombia, tour operators guide tourists around Pablo Escobar’s famous properties. But real-estate can be risky.

A risky venture

Unlike other property owners in the neighbourhood, Bismarck was successful at obtaining prompt rental payment because he drew on his gang experience to intimidate, threaten and sometimes enact violence against his renters.

This proved to be something of a double-edged sword, as within a few years, Bismarck lost all of his property portfolio except for his own home, due to the very reason that had made his real estate business initially successful. Some of his houses were expropriated by renters, themselves former gang members, who banded up to intimidate and beat up Bismarck. His hostel was burned down by a group of ex-military men staying there who did not take well to being threatened when they failed to pay their rent.

Bismarck’s post-drug dealing trajectory thus contrasts strongly with Milton’s, and highlights how the skills and knowledge gained through having been a gang member can have different consequences and variable outcomes. Not all gang-related skills and knowledge are always beneficial, and their dividends depend very much on the way and field of activity within which they are deployed.

But knowing that the gang member experience is not necessarily always negative and can sometimes potentially lead to more positive outcomes is clearly important in relation to developing coherent policies and opportunities for former gang members that will harness their undoubted vitality and allow them to maximise their post-gang contribution to society.

Dennis Rodgers is a research Professor, Anthropology and Sociology, Graduate Institute – Institut de hautes études internationales et du développement (IHEID)

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Ozubulu Church Massacre: Chief Great Akpunonu is innocent – Court

Anambra High Court sitting in Awka has discharged and acquitted the two remaining suspects standing trial for the attack on worshipers at St. Philips Catholic Church, Ozubulu in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State in which 13 people lost their lives.

Unknown gunmen had on August 6, 2017, invaded the Church in a commando style and shot sporadically, killing many worshipers while many were injured in the process.

The incident which generated heated arguments received the attention of the government of Anambra state with the governor vowing to ensure that justice prevails and the killers brought to book.

Chief Great Akpunonu in the Court

Four persons were later arraigned in court, in connection with the massacre and two had earlier been discharged.

The four suspects – Chief Great Chinedu Akpunonu, 44; Vincent Ike, 57; Chukwudi Ugwu, 30 and Onyebuchi Mbanefo, 46, were arraigned on a 24-count charge in Suit No: HN/36C/2017 bordering on conspiracy and murder, while others allegedly involved in the attack were at large.

In a judgment that lasted for four hours, the presiding judge, Hon. Justice Fidelis Aniukwu ruled that the prosecution counsel was unable to prove beyond reasonable doubt, the allegations leveled against the two defendants, Chief Great Chinedu Akpunonu and Onyebuchi Mbanefo.

Well wishers jubilating over the news of Chief Great’s acquittal

The Judge had in January 18, 2019 discharged two of the four persons charged with the attack, one year after the commencement of the trial, for lack of proper evidence.According to Justice F. I. Aniukwu, whose judgment reads in part, ” that the shooting that took place on 6/8/2017 at St. Philips Catholic Church Ozubulu is unfortunate. It is, however, more unfortunate that the Prosecution was not able to prove that the Defendant took part in the shooting.

The consequence of a finding out of guilt against the Defendant or any of the Defendant is death by hanging. For the Court to make a finding of guilt, therefore, the Court insists on cogent and concrete evidence the standard of which is enough to ground such finding against the Defendants. Such evidence was not led before me.

In the circumstances, I am constrained to return a verdict of not guilty in favour of the Defendant in all the counts against them. The Defendants are hereby acquitted and discharged in all the counts of the charge”. 

Friends and supporters jubilating and celebrating the Court’s judgment
Speaking after the ruling, one of the defendants, Chief Great Chinedu Akpunonu said “God has vindicated me from an attempt by some persons to smear my reputation”.

He, however, said he has forgiven his accusers and appealed to them to join hands to ensure that peace reigns in Ozubulu community.

At least 30 people killed in triple suicide bombings in Nigeria’s Borno state

Over 30 people were killed in a triple suicide bombing in northeastern Nigeria, emergency services reported on Monday, in an attack bearing the hallmarks of the Boko Haram jihadist group.

Three bombers detonated their explosives late Sunday outside a hall in the town of Konduga, where soccer fans were watching a game on television. Konduga is about 22 miles southeast of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State.

Usman Kachalla, the head of operations for the Nigerian emergency management agency, said on Monday: “The death toll from the attack has so far increased to 30. We have over 40 people injured.”

Ali Hassan, the leader of a self-defense group in Konduga, said that the attack happened at around 9 p.m. on Sunday and that the operator of the hall had prevented one of the bombers from entering the packed venue.

“There was a heated argument between the operator and the bomber who blew himself up,” Mr. Hassan said by telephone, adding that two other bombers who had mingled among the crowd at a tea stall nearby had then also detonated their vests.

“Nine people died on the spot, including the operator, and 48 were injured,” Mr. Hassan said.

Mr. Kachala of the emergency management agency said that the high number of fatalities was because responders had been unable to reach the site of the blast quickly and were ill equipped to deal with large numbers of wounded.

“Lack of an appropriate health facility to handle such a huge emergency situation and the delay in obtaining security clearance to enable us deploy from Maiduguri in good time led to the high death toll,” he said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the attack bore the imprint of Boko Haram, which has led a decade-long campaign to establish a hard-line Islamist state in northeastern Nigeria.

The last suicide attack was in April, when two bombers blew themselves up outside the garrison town of Monguno, killing a soldier and a vigilante and wounding another soldier.

Konduga has been repeatedly targeted by suicide bombers from a Boko Haram faction loyal to its longtime leader, Abubakar Shekau. The faction typically carries out suicide attacks against civilian targets such as mosques, markets and bus stations, often using young women and girls as bombers.

The jihadists are believed to sneak into Konduga from hiding places in the nearby Sambisa Forest.

The Boko Haram insurgency has so far claimed 27,000 lives and forced around two million people to flee their homes. The violence has spilled into neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting the formation of a regional military coalition to battle the insurgents.