Afghanistan is a Modern Society

Several months ago, I blogged a bit about the changeover of power in Guinea – at the death of a long-running ruler, the ‘official’ group of kleptocrats and authoritarians was suddenly swept aside by a new, up-and-coming group of kleptocrats and authoritarians, promising ‘democracy’ around the end of the year.

At the time I was cautious about writing off the new lot out of hand – though it was always likely that they would be indistinguishable from the previous group, it wasn’t impossible that from some anomalous personal scruple or (more likely) the continued pressure of the popular groups who had been struggling against the old government, there might be some change worth noticing – no prospect of a substantially non-shitty arrangement, but perhaps better, insofar as I’d rather live in a representative democracy with civil rights than not.

Turns out my caution was misplaced: protests banned, more than 150 shot, and the head of the military junta planning to stand for election.

Of course, any unwarranted glimmer of hope in my analysis is quite different from the sort of messianic optimism that so many people have displayed over these latest elections in Afghanistan: manifestly rigged, and besides run between rival coalitions of warlords, drug barons, fundamentalists and ultra-conservatives, who seem quite able to defy western pressure when it comes to enshrining the rights of rapists in law, but not when it comes to stopping Americans from setting off bombs in civilian areas.

Here’s an interesting thing though. There’s a certain reflex that I think many Western observers make, a mental knee-jerk which involves saying “of course, it’s terrible that these countries, like Guinea and Afghanistan, are so enmired in instability and corruption – but that’s because they are ‘less evolved’, more ‘primitive’, and over time they will build up the sorts of institutions and culture needed for democracy, like we have.”

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ECOWAS and African Integration

ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, seems to be pushing for the deployment of troops into Guinea-Bissau, which is suffering from the problem that most of its high-ups are in fact drug dealers mainly interested in bumping each other off.

This is interesting – especially given that ECOWAS has already suspended the other Guinea over a coup there. It seems that a number of Africans are trying to rectify the long-running instability of African polities through supra-national organisations – no doubt in the hope that greater integration will also bring greater economic strength.

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There are Bad Rulers, there are Really Bad Rulers, and then there’s…

For those who hate our leaders with a burning passion, a reminder to be thankful for small mercies: the president of Gambia rounds up people suspected of being witches (blamed for his aunt’s death) and makes them drink hallucinogens until they confess.

This Yahya Jammeh guy also believes himself to be capable of curing AIDS (perhaps the Pope would like to speak to him?). And wants to mandate representatives of the government to murder homosexuals according to laws “stricter than those in Iran”.

That is to say, he is about as crazy as a creationist crossed with Saparmurat Niyazov, ex-president of Turkmenistan, who famously re-named a month after his mother.

Murder, Drugs, and Genital Mutilation: Struggles in Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau is one of the world’s smallest and poorest non-island countries, and it’s recently appeared in the news (well, some news, my impression of news is mainly google world) but will no doubt shortly disappear again. I’m not really qualified to comment on it, but it bugs the hell out of me how the western media arbitrarily selects some countries/conflicts/situations and reports them in great detail, while leaving others, more significant in many ways, unmentioned. The most extreme example is probably Palestine vs. Congo, but there are endless others.

Anyway, so I have decided to counter this arbitrariness by arbitrarily selecting some little-attended issues and reporting them with the seriousness they deserve.

For those who need a brief recap of what has happened in Guinea-Bissau, about a week ago soldiers loyal to the president assassinated the head of the army, and then shortly afterwards, soldiers loyal to the head of the army assassinated the president.

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Guinea and Female Genital Mutilation

I wrote some posts in the past on the recent change of government in Guinea (West African country, long-time dictator dies, his cronies are then chucked out by a military coup who promise they’re gonna hold elections, honest).

I recently learned something about the history of Guinea. One of the supposed acheivements of Lansana Conté, the late dictator, was that he avoided the outbreak of war in the country, while neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leona did see wars, in which several hundred thousand people died.

However, that’s not quite true. There has been a war in Guinea – one in which a massive 5 million people have been seriously wounded. That war is, of course, the war on women’s bodies. It is estimated that 96% of the female half of the 10-million-strong population of the country have had their genitals mutilated.

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Elections not too far away, say Guinea Leaders

The new government of Guinea has received a visit from French politician, the first prominent Westerner to go there (he’s French because Guinea used to be a French colony).

Following this, the Coupers have said they will hold elections within a year, rather than within the 2 years they had been saying – which is still more than the 2 months the constitution prescribes, and the 6 months they promised at first.

Plus, the new head honcho, Camara, has promised not to stand in these elections.

Meanwhile, the heads of government of West Africa, in the economic group ‘ECOWAS’, are meeting to discuss whether to suspend Guinea. They also report having applied pressure for elections in 2009.

These things are promising, though hardly convincing – promising stuff is easy. “Foreign donors” are still unhappy, but I suspect that is largely to do with uncertainty over whether they’ll still get such good deals on Guinea’s bauxite and diamonds.

No huge changes, just keeping up to date.

Possibilities Stay Open in Guinea

The Camara-led government in Guinea has appointed a civilian Prime Minister – Kabine Komara, a banker in the African Export-Import Bank. He apparently was put forward as a suggested Prime Minister by the opposition and unions in last year’s protests. Since, as I mentioned in my last post on the subject, this follows a consultation with opposition and union groups on who to appoint, it seems reasonable to suppose that this guy was their pick.

The new government have done two other things. They’ve forced a lot of older generals into retirement, and they’ve announced an intention to renegotiate all of the state’s mining contracts. Since the previous government structure had endured for about 24 years, and since most of the prominent coup members are quite young, the first of these clearly indicates that part of what’s going on is just a new generation of elites forcing the older generation out – which is what you’d expect in such an ossified political system.

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