December 10, 2003Mugabe is in town and due to speak this afternoon - we'll keep you posted.
December 08, 2003The otherwise unclubbable. The Declaration of Aso Rock was swamped by Zimbabwe: the only live issue of this year's CHOGM (read all posts here). Just the same, Secretary General McKinnon's spokesman was buoyant afterwards, "The Commonwealth has been vindicated. We have stood firm on the Harare Principles."
President Obasanjo warned against talk of winners and losers, then proceeded to blame John Howard, Australian PM and Troika chair, for his role in the Zimbabwe issue...
Howard was in the air heading back to Australia and unlikely to reply. But like British PM Tony Blair, he cannot be said to have lost much in what is a faraway dispute. The real trouble lies for Mugabe's neighbours.
Mozambique's Chissano, a member of the committee of six, broke ranks almost as soon as the decision was announced. Along with Mbeki of South Africa and Mwanawasa of Zambia he's said to be furious. All are members of SADC, and it's here we may see the fallout from today's messy end.
McKinnon keeps his job after a fumbling attempt to unseat him by eleven out of the fifty four nations. Obasanjo gains greater influence as Chair-in-Council, and with some expectation that he may open up channels to Mugabe.
And CHOGM? We came expecting news on development, democracy and the Doha trade talks. Not only us, but the Nigerian press has been full of little else, while the business and people's forum all hosted lively debates.
But the heads of government produced little evidence that they had considered anything other than Zimbabwe, while quartered in the president's villa at Aso Rock. After all, can any of the Aso Rock's stated declarations (pdf) be achieved by what is, in Mugabe's words, little more than 'a mere club'?
The summit has depressed many observers. Is the Commonwealth a serious organization able to make a tangible difference - both locally and globally. Or is it an international society for the otherwise unclubbable? AIDS in Nigeria: "Vivian Nyoko wears a low cut white top and tight denims as she perches on a dirty plastic chair outside a bar on a potholed rubbish-strewn dirt road in central Abuja, trying to lure clients...
"Of course I am scared of Aids. But what am I to do?" Nyoko says, sipping from a beer bottle... "Of course I must make sure that men wear condoms when we have sex. Some men don't want to wear a condom, but then I fight them - I am not stupid, I am not going to kill myself."
Read the whole thing.
David Steven @ 02:59 PM | Comments (8)CHOGM news - the summit's communique has been issued...
...but everyone's still talking about Mugabe. ABC news says CHOGM "limped to a close on a sour note of crisis and recrimination," the Age says Zimbabwe's withdrawal from the Commonwealth "stunned weary Commonwealth officials," while Channel News Asia points out that many countries, such as Singapore, have refused to give any opinion at all on the Mugabe issue.
The BBC's Paul Reynolds argues that many small countries have taken an anti-Mugabe stance, though some Africans are infuriated by the summit's outcome:
"The anger in southern Africa will no doubt persist. The memory of Robert Mugabe as the freedom fighter who overthrew the white minority regime of Ian Smith remains strong...
"But the attachment of some of the Commonwealth's smaller countries, especially those in the Caribbean and increasingly in Africa, to democratic values cannot be underestimated either."
There are some non-Mugabe stories... the President of Ghana has been talking about an African single currency; Commonwealth Foundation director, Colin Ball wants visa-free travel between Commonwealth countries; while Zenith Bank CEO, Jim Ovia has tried to focus attention on poverty...
David Steven @ 02:44 PM | Comments (0)Mugabe withdrawal. Despite protestations from the New Zealand premier that "the Zimbabwe government's decision to withdraw is not a disaster for the Commonwealth," much of the press pack is obsessing over the issue.
"This is a disaster for Mbeki" said one South African journalist. "He's basically been in there trying to save Mugabe's ass, but he's ended up looking stupid."
Australian PM John Howard was sounding conciliatory, though: "It's always regrettable when a country decides to leave, but nothing is permanent. There is no reason why Zimbabwe won't come back into the Commonwealth".
The Nollywood story - home video has revolutionised the film industry here. It's provided an alternative to the foreign dramas and soaps that still dominate network television. Daily Summit talked to Charles Ozoemena of the Vanguard.
"It started in the early nineties. The film which began the revolution was called Living in Bondage. It's the story of an ordinary man and his family. He does a business deal that results in the death of his wife. Her ghost comes back to haunt him. He has no peace until by the end the Church comes to his rescue.
Ozoemena argues, "it has established a recognisably African cinema with themes ranging through romance, friendship and family. In a country with an estimated population of 120 million the market is large. Nearly every home has a TV and video player. Even if they cannot afford to buy the films there are rental outlets in all of the urban areas".
The films are largely made in Lagos but the commercial city of Onitsha is the nerve centre for the distribution system of this flourishing industry. "Production values remain a long way behind the foreign imports" says Ozoemena, "but they are beginning to catch up and investing in the right technological materials. Some of the actors and actresses can earn up to 1.5 million Naire (6500 pounds) per movie".
While it may not yet have found a comfortable home within the mainstream, the Nigerian Film Board has not been able to ignore it. The films are now examined before general release, and pornographic or violent scenes excised. Classifications are applied. Many hope that within the next fifteen to twenty years it will close the gap with the film industries of the developed world. Zimbabwe out? Last night the BBC reported Robert Mugabe's intention to pull Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth. Additional reporting from Barnaby Mason.
December 07, 2003A NZ radio journalist, sitting beside me, took these slightly undignifed photographs of this senior member of the New Zealand delegation. As a veteran of every CHOGM since 1989 he has his own description of the typical debate: full, frank and meaningless.
Zimbabwe, a decision at last. A committee (yes, another one), chaired by Jamaica, and with Australia, New Zealand, Mozambique and South Africa as members, has been mandated by the Commonwealth Secretary General "to encourage and facilitate progress and the return of Zimbabwe."
If 'sufficient progress' is made, the Heads of Government will be consulted on whether Zimbabwe should be allowed back into the club. There is no further detail - but it looks like an inelegant fudge to me. I'll try and get some reaction...
CHOGM news: the Queen apparently cancelled her trip to Kano and the Kano Commissioner of Information believes Kano is being punished for being a 'sharia state'; while the panel considering Zimbabwe's fate may or may not be deadlocked; and Nasir Danbatta has an excellent round-up of Nigerian reaction to the summit.
"With the nation's currency value on an unprecedented downward slide, a missing N300 billion annually from the coffers of Nigeria's economic live-wire (the NNPC), hostile living conditions; a debt profile of more than 30 billion US dollars and the N1.5 trillion owed indigenous contractors, the amount committed to CHOGM may have merely added salt to injury," he writes.
"It is widely-believed that the ongoing CHOGM is just another jamboree," he concludes, "exerting further pressure on the country's economy, while the citizenry pay the price." Amnesty calls for Human Rights commitment Amnesty International pulled off the coup of holding a press conference in the Media Centre - civil society actors are generally keep well away from the press breifing areas. Their spokesman Ced Simpson called for CHOGM to agree that all member countries commit to setting up national Human Rights Commissions to monitor in-country Human Rights violations.
Human rights portal "NigeriaNet is a powerful instrument that will give access to ideas and fight the battle for knowledge". Jack Straw, the UK's Foreign Minister launched a new online human rights project at the British Council in Abuja.
It's the result of a two year process. Karinne Sanders of the British Council, "we started from scratch and consulted with about three hundred NGOs. We've developed an online platform for people working in human rights all over Nigeria".
Web manager Toyin Oyenkenu, "it is a learning resource above all else. We have written guides on how to source and apply for agricultural subsidies. It also contains a comprehensive guide to legitimate Human Rights organization".
With original articles being added every fortnight, it is hoped that the site will become an important portal for Human Rights organisations throughout Nigeria.
NigeriaNet is a partner of the One World Human Rights portal. Heard in the press centre - CHOGM = Cheery Holidays on government money.
Blair speaks right now as the panel of leaders meets to decide the fate of Zimbabwe. One Independent on Sunday journalist reckons he knew the outcome last night.
On Sky TV Tony Blair insists that the impasse is not a black versus white issue and names Kenya, Ghana and The Gambia as being in favour of continued suspension. He could have included most sub-Saharan countries. If anything this is shaping up as a north versus south Africa problem, with a sprinkling of discontent from some of the smaller island states.
Last word on the Blair toilet story to Cathy Buckle. Understanding CHOGM is not easy. According to one Commonwealth insider "it is increasingly difficult to explain to the outside world precisely what the Commonwealth is, does and can do."
In its final communique, the People's Forum stated that "the Commonwealth could play a powerful leadership role on issues such as development, security, and globalization, but only if its principles were to be most closely matched by practice".
But can it? One Australian delegate suggested, "there is more than a hint of truth in Mugabe's jibe that the Commonwealth is little more than 'a mere club'. The trouble is that now they have to prove to the rest of the world that it is serious".
The communique also hints at the frustration felt by some delegates, "the principles of transparency, participation and accountability must also apply to CHOGM itself. Civil society representatives have less access to these meetings than they have to meetings of the World".
However, the same Australian source suggested that this was a misreading of the nature of the beast, "If members of civil society want to make impacts on the leaders at CHOGM, the lobbying has to be done well in advance in order to get their concerns and agendas onto the programme".
But getting an agenda addressed here is not easy, even for the Heads of Government inside the retreat. The Australian delegation is one of the largest attending the Meeting, and was prepared to push for some breakthrough on trade, particularly in light of the breakdown of the WTO talks in Cancun.
But so far, according to Prime Minster John Howard, trade has not yet been discussed.
December 06, 2003From Zimbabwe, mildly feverish reports of unilateral withdrawal proved to be no more than speculation. Still, it gave a little relief to the ennui pervading the media centre. The BBC's veteran foreign correspondent, Brian Hanrahan, was seen at the People's Forum today in search of a story, any story to pep the news, or lack of news, from CHOGM.
With the leaders in retreat at Aso Rock, the Presidential Villa, and public briefings few and far between, most hacks are happy the Zimbabwe issue has given them an line or two for tomorrow's papers.
I expected chaos and confusion. But in fact it's been rather stately and slow. If you miss the intermittant briefings by Tony Blair's soft spoken official spokesman, that's it. The well equipped briefing rooms (two of them) have yet to be fully worked. Maybe we'll get more on Sunday and Monday when the communique breaks and the delegates are released from their collective vows of silence.
In the meantime, it seems that any quote will do to beef out the column inches being sent home. New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark's annoyance at the absence of Zimbabwe from the Leaders' meeting is lept on with gusto. One UK journalist compares it to the time he spent in Qatar during the Iraq war, which was worse and for six weeks.
The Canadian Prime Minister Chretien was a hit and widely appreciated for the wit and humour of his floorshow. "They seem to be more open in direct relation to their lack of importance", remarked another. "The Bush Whitehouse is notoriously difficult, and extremely unleaky. Though the Pentagon is less so for some reason." More credit please. Vincent Del Buono, co-ordinator of the Access to Justice programme for the British Council, outlines how law reform can promote economic growth.
"Yes there are real problems here in Nigeria, but it also has the talents of its people and enough resources to turn things around. The people are natural entrepreneurs. They put a huge amount of energy into their small and medium sized enterprises".
"Most of the country's growth is based on oil. It creates good revenues but some also refer to it as the 'curse of oil'. The few industries that existed here before the oil boom, such as an extremely vibrant textile industry in the north, have all but disappeared."
"One of the most important things to note about Nigeria is that no one uses credit cards. In effect we have a cash economy, which in turn means there is little planning for the future whatever the pressing need of the day is attracts resources."
"Further, it means people will only do business with people they know, which immediately limits the number of people they can do business with. There is no effective consumer protection and no sense that there is someone they can complain to, or in extreme circumstances sue."
"Legislation is needed but in a country as diverse as Nigeria it needs to more precisely accord with local practices. It needs also to be timely, efficient and get results. And it needs to be fair and transparent."
"What consumer legislation there has been has proved ineffective, largely because of lack of enforcement. It makes people leery of being cheated. The result is that we have a restricted rather than a closed community". One world weary journalist at breakfast this morning: "There are no truly global events anymore. You have to wonder whether the only news worthy aspect of CHOGM is just the sheer numbers of the heads of state here. Take development for instance. Clearly it is a crucial issue for Mozambique, but does anyone in Malaysia really care? There is no common interest in any of these themes."
Meanwhile, in CHOGM news, Malta is bidding for the next summit, the Indian prime minister is in a hurry to get home, Kofi Annan wants the Commonwealth to focus on AIDS, Pakistan's suspension is to continue, and Nigeria's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom collapsed in session and had to be rushed to hospital.
Nigerian opposition leader, Chief Don Obot Etiebet has hit out at Commonwealth aid to poor countries and suggested his country's human rights record is little better than Zimbabwe's, in an interview with Daily Summit.
The Chief is national chairman of the conservative All Nigeria People's Party, which has links with the Abacha regime and is currently Nigeria's second party behind the ruling People's Democratic Party.
"It is baffling to see the Commonwealth is treating Nigeria differently from Zimbabwe," the Chief told us. "As noted by international observers in our last general elections in April and May, the scale of rigging far surpassed that of Zimbabwe."
He also called for an end to development aid to countries like Nigeria. "The developed countries of the Commonwealth should realise by now that no amount of hand outs from them to underdeveloped countries have made them change or prosper over all these years.
"In fact, in Nigeria we do not believe that development or democracy will change anything if the abuses of the electoral system in the country are not put in check".
Chief Etiebet accused the Obasanjo government of multiple breaches of human rights, including the assassination of Chief Bola Ige, the former Minister of Justice. Why, he asked, has Commonwealth chosen to come to Nigeria, when it continues to exclude Zimbabwe? Zimbabwe could prolong PM's visit Tony Blair's spokesman, asked whether the PM is prepared to return from Abuja even if there is no resolution to the Zimbabwe crisis, has said that the UK government is "instantly adaptable." We could see an extension to his stay here: a technique of flexible deadlines honed to perfection in Northern Ireland...
December 05, 2003As a panel is set up to decide Zimbabwe's fate, Daily Summit has talked to Peter Tatchell, who has twice tried to arrest President Mugabe. First, in London in 1999, then in Brussels in 2001, where he was severely beaten by the dictator's bodyguards, as Belgian secret service agents looked on.
Tatchell was on typically passionate form - accusing Thabo Mbeki of standing aside while South African electricity is used in Zimbabwe torture chambers; describing Mugabe as Ian Smith with a black face; and calling for an armed struggle against the Mugabe regime...
"Suspending Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth is a waste of time," Tatchell told us. "It hasn't caused Mugabe to lose a single night's sleep - let alone done anything to halt his human rights abuses. Since Zimbabwe was suspended, Mugabe's reign of terror has got worse - not better. International pressure has been a total failure."
He describes President Mbeki's 'quiet diplomacy' as an abysmal failure - a policy of collusion with dictatorship. But South Africa could do much more, forcing Mugabe to the negotiating table by cutting off its electricity.
"That kind of threat was instrumental in forcing Ian Smith to negotiate majority rule in the late 1970s," says Tatchell, who campaigned against the white Rhodesian regime. "It worked then. It can work now. It's outrageous to think that South Africa's electricity is being used by Zimbabwean torturers to electrocute political prisoners."
So why has Mugabe remained so popular within Africa? Tatchell believes Mugabe continues to live off his legacy as a liberation hero. "Many Africans are unwilling to now acknowledge that he has turned into Ian Smith with a black face.
"Like Joseph Goebbels, he's a master of propaganda and manipulation, successfully hoodwinking many Africans that he's fighting against colonialism. In fact, he's murdering his own black African people, orchestrating a phoney land reform programme that is mostly redistributing seized white farms to his own government and party cronies."
Peaceful change is no longer an option. "The Zimbabwe Freedom Movement has announced its intention to begin a new war of liberation to restore democracy and human rights. The ZFM doesn't want external help. It is determined that the liberation of Zimbabwe will be achieved by its efforts alone.
"On two occasions, in London in 1999 and Brussels in 2001, I attempted a citizen's arrest of President Mugabe on charges of torture under international human rights law. What's the point of having these laws if the Commonwealth and the rest of the international community refuses to use them?"
Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe itself, a rally of the party faithful has been held. Among the protest signs, a stark - but puzzling - one could be spotted. "Blair the Toilet," it said. Eh? McKinnon talks the talk. Commonwealth secretary-general, Don McKinnon made some populist statements at the opening of CHOGM this morning. "To bring sustainable peace and security to our peoples," he said. "We must address the imbalances of wealth and power and ensure that more people are part of more decisions."
But can he walk the walk?
More CHOGM news: Don McKinnon, once New Zealand's foreign minister, has just been re-elected as Commonwealth secretary general, despite facing opposition from a dozen or so African countries.
They - with South Africa's Thabo Mbeki to the fore - are angry about Commonwealth treatment of Robert Mugabe. Unusually, the Sri Lankans forced a vote, with their candidate, former foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, also in the ring.
"They usually like to conduct these things honourably. The vote was held in the afternoon during the second session so that Sri Lanka could withdraw their candidate, but they did not," says an unnamed Commonwealth source. Canadian compromise? The Canadians are apparently trying to broker a compromise to get Zimbabwe back into the Commonwealth within the next two years...
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe is desperately short of food (via mostly Africa - required reading!)
The BBC is blogging CHOGM, too. Reporting from the opening ceremony, Peter Biles ticks off the world's leaders for being too smartly dressed: "The dark suited leaders of Commonwealth countries looked sombre and incongruous as they watched the actors and dancers in the most extravagant Nigerian costumes."
He doesn't like Abuja much either - "a town planners nightmare, with hardly anything - buildings, roads or bridges - that looks even vaguely complete."
Good governance comes to the fore at people's forum. Delegates to the Commonwealth People's Forum were yesterday asked to consider drastic measures to institutionalise good governance and develop the role of women in government in the developing world.
Speaking in Abuja at the conference of civil society organisations that is running in parallel with CHOGM, two female participants spoke up in favour of the use of sanctions and affirmative action to hasten change.
The president of the National Council of Women's Societies of Nigeria Mrs Sarah Jibril, announced that a committee has been established to represent women who feel they currently lose elections because of their gender. "We will be sending a representation to the president to demand that women constitute 30 percent of all appointments made both at federal and state levels," she said.
Mrs Ad Abu Obe called for international bodies to consider using sanctions against administrations that simply pay lip-service to dealing with corruption. By way of an example, she pointed to the establishment of the Independent Corrupt Practices Council in Nigeria, claiming that 'not a single big fish has been successfully prosecuted' since its establishment four years ago.
She said, "We in Nigeria live as though in a strange dream world, where laudable objectives are never attained. We have to start calling on the outside world to bail us out in earnest."
But perhaps the country is already waking up. President Obasanjo yesterday fired Labour and Productivity Minister, Mr. Husaini Akwanga, who is currently under investigation concerning the $214 million national identity card contract. Ironically, the Permanent Secretary to the ex-Minister, one of the seven senior figures arrested earlier this week, is female. Daily Summit spoke to one former member of the Global Internet Policy Initiative who expressed some doubts that WSIS would address the concerns of developing countries.
"At the level of examining what we are currently doing and deciding what we should be doing and even how we move forward in a global setting, WSIS is fine. My worry is that the politics of how it is to be conducted will reduce it to a power play between the G7 countries. In which case, does our presence add up to much, or are we there simply to make up the numbers?"
419 exclusive - the scammer speaks! A few days ago, Daily Summit covered what people claim is one of Nigeria's biggest industries - separating gullible foreigners from their money.
Now, we have an interview with an ex-fraudster - a motor mechanic by trade, who left Benin for Lagos in the hope of making bigger money. Here's what he has to say:
"It is about greed, yes. But it was also the economic situation. I was asked by a friend to get involved in a scam. There is so much unemployment, that it seemed to be a quick way to make money. If we had jobs we would not be doing it. Even so, there are also students at university doing it and even civil servants who want to make more money."
"Whatever you get from it, it can take months and years before you get a client. And it has to be somewhere like Lagos or Port Harcourt where you can easily make country to country calls."
"We usually did it teams. It might be one or two people. Or if it was very successful, you might have a team of eight, nine or ten. It means that when a client rings up he can speak to the 'Manager' one time, and then the next time it would be the 'Public Relations officer'."
"Some of the big boys make millions every year. For instance if you have a small team, and you can make two to three million in one go. You only need to do it two or three times a year and you are living very well. Some of them even have big company holdings, factories and filling stations to cover it up."
"When we began, we used letters. The important thing was to get genuine letterheads. Oil companies were good because everybody knows about Nigerian oil. The internet makes it much easier. You can get long lists and pick the email addresses that suit you."
"But then you would have to send out maybe 500 letters before you would get a reply. Sometimes people would get the same letter from different people and the game would be up."
"If we sense danger we lock up the premises and watch for security men. And if it gets hot, we quickly put some money aside to pay the security men. $1,000 for a policeman who earns about $100 dollars a month is hard to resist."
"Then you are in a better position. He may come to you and give a warning, 'that game is up, don't keep on with it'. Some who are caught have 'godfathers' in the government, who can shield you and provide a distraction to any investigation."
More from Daily Summit on 419 scams here... CHOGM news: the Commonwealth Business Forum has adopted the "Abuja Manifesto on Business-Government Partnerships for Removing Practical Obstacles to Wealth and Job Creation," while civil society continues to call for more robust engagement with the intergovernmental process. But as leaders arrive in Nigeria, President Mugabe - who is not invited - continues to dominate media coverage
December 04, 2003CHOGM news. The Mugabe issue is going away? Yeah, right.
Readers with long memories may recall Daily Summit's coverage of the Zimbabwean President's performance at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, when his speech was met with laughter and applause from many of the world's journalists (the only leader to get any reaction from the hard-bitten media).
What South Africa's News 24 dubs a "quasi-racial divide" between the "white Commonwealth" and African countries seems certain to remain a major talking point in Abuja.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that support for Mugabe is growing with Zambia's President, Levy Mwanawasa, lobbying hard on Mugabe's behalf. Tanzania, meanwhile, is threatening only to send a low-level delegation to CHOGM in protest, while South Africa continues to argue for a rapprochement with Zimbabwe.
There is undoubted support for the President in Africa, with one commentator praising the "commendable bold steps taken by President Mugabe to free his people from serfdom and bondage," steps which "did not go down well with Britain, the so-called mother of all Commonwealth countries."
Just as Britain has ganged up with "other white supremacist countries," so should African countries "unite, put their heads together, be strong and never let that old wolf Britain dictate to them who to invite and who not to invite to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)."
More fireworks expected... CHOGM brings together forty heads of Government, 10 Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Ministers or senior Ministers and 1000 members of the press. But what for?
Secretary General, Don McKinnon has been battling to get his agenda across (although the press mostly wants to bait him over Robert Mugabe). McKinnon believes the Commonwealth could help break the logjam over the failed WTO talks held in Cancun in September.
McKinnon reckons the talks can be hauled back on track if consensus between developing and developing nations can be brokered within a Commonwealth framework.
Pakistan is likely to dominate the first key meeting this evening of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) (more here and here). The Secretary General made some pointed remarks on the issue, suggesting democratic reforms will get Pakistan back into the Commonwealth club, not its contribution to the war against terror. Nigerian schools are going online, with SchoolNet Nigeria aiming to get schools on the net, sharing information with other schools, and using IT to enrich the school curriculum.
Under the DigiLab programme, thirty-five schools should be live by the end
of December, with each having 20 PCs, powered by diesel generators and/or solar power.
Gbenga Arolasafe, project head, tells Daily Summit that: "Before now everything was text book based. We are having to work hard to get ICT accepted by our teachers as a legitimate form of education. It also poses challenges for the way that they teach. Our teachers are not used to the informal collaborative approach, where they are no standing in front of the class."
But the early results are encouraging. "In the Diginet schools we've seen ICT awareness increase enormously. The students no longer see it as something that comes out of the blue. It's there in their school. And they have free access to the Internet; although only to a limited number of sites. They do most of the collaborative learning on their own."
December 03, 2003Civil Society makes us nervous, admits Commonwealth secretary-general Don McKinnon.
"I have to face fifty four governments, the people who pay for CHOGM. They are very keen to tell me what they want - but, in fact, they are more keen to tell me what they don't want. They want to know who is coming, and whether they are going to do what they say they are going to do. Above all, they want to keep control of the situation."
Well there's a surprise...
Nigerian spam scam. According to the Register, Nigeria is once again cracking down on so-called 419 fraud, setting up a new commission to tackle fraudsters who lure the gullible through emails promising millions of dollars to victims who pay an up-front fee (examples here, here and here).
President Obasanjo is determined to stamp out a fraud he believes is giving Nigeria a bad name, the BBC reports. He has promised "the government will step up measures against these criminal activities."
Apparently, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has already recovered 200 million US dollars from fraudsters, with 200 suspects under arrest. But this is a drop in the ocean, if the Register's figures are to be believed. It claims the 419 "industry" earns Nigeria 5 billion dollars a year, making it one of the country's most successful export earners. (You're advised to handle these figures with care!)
Daily Summit remembers an article that Slate published around a year ago, which traces the roots of the 419 fraud back to "The Spanish Prisoner" scam of the 1920s (or even earlier according to a reader).
Author, Brendan Koerner concludes that there may be a silver lining to the fraud - it's helping Nigeria power into the online era:
"The proliferation of cybercafes in Nigeria can be linked directly to the demand supplied by 419ers, who form the establishments' core clientele. Walk into an Internet cafe in Lagos, and chances are that a good percentage of the terminals are occupied by men masquerading as Laurent Kabila's long-lost son or as a rogue official at the Central Bank of Nigeria.
The wiring of Nigeria is being propelled by 419 - much as America's appetite for porn helped shepherd the commercial Internet through its infancy. AOL made it through its lean, early years only because of adult chat rooms and spicy picture downloads (which kept the meter running during the era of per-hour access fees)."
There are those who take a less sanguine view, however - and who are aggressively trying to scam the scammers. Check out this ongoing exchange between a spammer and his victim, who is pretending to be Father Ted from the Church of the Holy Cow.
Father Ted promises to release a small sum of money (say, 274,330 US dollars), but only if the recipient will take the following steps:
"You will need to print out the church logo as large as you can (holycowlogo.jpg). Then you must find either a BOTTLE OF MILK or a CARTON OF MILK. Sit in a chair and place the bottle or carton of milk ON YOUR HEAD and also hold the picture of the CHURCH LOGO. Then get someone to take a photograph of you in this pose. One you have had the photograph taken of yourself with the MILK ON YOUR HEAD and HOLDING THE LOGO, please send it back to me."
Developing... McKinnon rejects Mugabe's criticism. Commonwealth secretary-general Mr. Don McKinnon reacted fiercely today to Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe's claim that the UK, Australia and New Zealand have formed an unholy alliance against his country.
McKinnon was terse in his response: "I have not met with Mr. Mugabe for 18 months. I have tried to raise a team to hold talks with him, they were denied visas. Within the last six months, I have talked at least once with every Commonwealth leader." Intrigued, Daily Summit pushed him further...
"I have spoken most of the 54 heads of government at least once in the last six or eight months," he told us, "and there is certainly more that one view on how the Commonwealth should lead on the issue of Zimbabwe. But this is by no means a question of an Afirca versus the rest of the world split."
Enter the Queen. The Queen of England, Elizabeth II, arrives in Abuja today, with the little children who presented flowers to Her Majesty when she first stepped her feet on Nigerian soil now grandmothers themselves.
The Queen will be kept away from the nitty gritty of CHOGM's politics, but will be kept busy all the same. She will get the chance to see a few of the rustic villages just outside the city, including the settlement of Karu, whose orphanage is under the patronage of the wife of the late dictator, general Sani Abacha.
260 stranded children live in the home, which is the biggest such charity etablished for children in Abuja. The wife of the late general Abacha, Mariam provided the initial funding for the home with money realise from her pet project - the Family Support Programme (FSP).
For security reasons, the Queen's itinerary remains under wraps for security reasons, but we hear that, as soon as she is through with CHOGM's opening ceremony , the queen may also be visiting the settlement of Jiwa, where there is HIV/AIDS management centre run by NGO, ActionAid.
If she goes, she'll be following in the footsteps of Princess Anne, who visited by centre in October 2001. Princess Anne also visited the British Council, and we suspect her mother is going there too.
Council officials seem to be spending a lot of time tidying up their offices, indicating Her Majesty may be planning a courtesy call. More on the Queen on arrival... Unemployment... Outside the media centre, we were surrounded by a group of people desperate for work -most of them graduates.
Precious had slept rough for two months in the shell of a luxury hotel before it was refurbished for CHOGM. She came to Abuja to pick up work two months ago and she's getting increasingly desperate.
Others included graduates in economics, physics, finance and marketing. But within a few minutes, the scrum around us had attracted the attention of police and nervous security officials. They quickly moved the us - and the graduates - on.
Civil society leader arrested. Activists hope that the global media attention around CHOGM will lead to a marked improvement in Nigeria's human rights record.
Change may not come overnight, however. According to The Punch, Osita Ike, chair of the partnership for Sustainable Development, was "whisked away to an unknown destination by 'four men in dark suits' who came in a convoy of two cars." as he travelled to a pre-CHOGM forum in Lagos.
According to the paper, Ike's whereabouts are still unknown, with campaigners accusing the "government of intolerance and adopting strong-arm tactics, inimical to the creation of an enabling environment for sustainable development in the country."
Ike apparently received two anonymous telephone calls wanring him that "his civil society people [should] not upset anyone." Ironically, the forum was due to discuss "Citizenship and Good Governance." As a result of Ike's arrest, it was cancelled.
December 02, 2003Arrested? Well not quite, but nearly. We certainly caused a bit of a stir outside the Sheraton Hotel today where many of the senior delegates to CHOGM are staying.
Oghogho's car ran out of fuel just opposite the main entrance, after a day chasing around after visas for WSIS in Geneva. The police were not happy and it took half an hour for him to persuade a Deputy Inspector General that it was just an innocent mistake...
Never be afraid of being lost. Abuja, federal capital city of Nigeria, is wearing a new look as it prepares to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) which kicks off in earnest in a three days.
And why shouldn't it? 54 world leaders are expected - head of countries where 30% of the world's population live. Many who live in the satellite settlements of Kubwa, Nyaya, Karu, and Gwagwa may be apathetic, as they have been ever since the government became addicted to hosting lavish international meetings. But for the army of unemployed, CHOGM spells one thing - opportunity.
For weeks now, they have besieged the CHOGM task force secretariat. Hordes of energetic university graduates, currently doing their National Youth Service programme, have been engaged in traffic control.
An array of beautiful ladies are now trained as ushers, while many diggers, painters and horticulturists are having a field day.
"Now we are having visitors, take them without arguing," advises Salisu Ahmed, a taxi driver. "You know our people will normally argue with you over money, so now I concentrate mostly in picking up these visitors. I have been plying the Conference centre route for quite some time now. It is better for me that way"
Commercial motorcyclists around the city have also caught the fever; in a different kind of way. Usually seen as nuisance, they are now being told that they cannot ply certain routes while the summit lasts. Apparently, international visitors cannot be allowed to witness the menace of these riders who glide through the city's roads without protective helmets for themselves and their passengers!
The hospitality industry is also at top gear, with the Hilton expecting all 54 world leaders. Other visitors have been moved out and security beefed up. It's much the same at the Sheraton, where "normal" visitors are not welcome for the duration of the summit.
Addressing civil society groups yesterday, the minister of the federal capital territory, Mallam Nasir El Rufai, guaranteed security for all visitors. He did not stop there:" You can take time out to savour the beauty of our city. Everywhere, there are enchanting rocks and hills. The people are friendly. Never be afraid of getting lost."
One person who will certainly be kept safe is the Commonwealth's titular head: the Queen of England, Elizabeth II. She will be quartered at Aguda House, within the precincts of the well-protected Presidential Villa at Asokoro. Triumph of Hope over Organisation. The spanking new International Conference Centre is an impressive sight - but will be more so when it's finished.
As I wandered around over the weekend, there were armies of people scrambling around, applying the finishing touches. Carpets were still being laid and rendering was being slapped onto bare brick walls.
Every so often I'd come across a room packed with boxes of television sets, or computers. At the media centre, in search of my pass, I met the man charged with pulling things together, crammed into the back of a tiny prefab office.
He welcomes me to CHOGM with a smile and a handshake but, no, the passes are not ready yet. In fact, neither is the media centre. I met delegates who had spent all day in the search for accreditation.
One described the summit sadly to me as "the triumph of hope over organisation." "The meeting becomes a marketplace, where marketing decisions are taken and affairs discussed," the head of media for CHOGM, Otumba Olusegun Runsewe, told the Vanguard. "We deal in oil for instance, others deal in agricultural materials etc, the interaction is enormous and it will help our economy."
AIDS in Nigeria. Yesterday was World AIDS Day and, although Nigeria's epidemic is not of the same intensity at that found in some African hotspots, nearly 6% of Nigerian adults are now thought to be HIV positive.
This is a society still in denial. According to Professor Babtunde Osotimehin, chairman of the National Action Committee on AIDS, only 100,000 of the four million or so people carrying the virus openly admit their HIV status. Only 60% of Nigerians, meanwhile, have even heard of the disease.
"My husband is a typical Nigerian," the matron at a Lagos hospital told one of the Nigerian newspapers. "He does not believe that AIDS is real and he would say 'kan kan lo ma paniyan' [death is certain to come through any cause]."
"When AIDS just broke we organized lectures and seminars for the youths. He attended and when it was question time he would stand up and say it was an oyinbo [white man's] disease that is not for Africans. He was only convinced when he lost a friend to AIDS."
Fiona Duby, from the UK's Department for International Development, told me that leadership was desperately needed. "We can go on putting in money and expertise, but if things here are not going to change if people in charge are not going to make them change" she argues.
Paul Okwulehie, National Co-ordinator of Workplace Response in the Ministry of Labour, is one of the more dynamic figures driving the Nigerian's government's campaign against the epidemic. Under his direction, his department is taking a more strategic and hands-on approach.
"We are running the largest single support programme for people living with HIV and AIDS in the country," he told Daily Summit. "Here in Abuja, we are running a programme over two weeks. In the first session, we discuss the condition in general, good nutrition, and the positive effects of multivitamins. The second session focuses on personal counselling."
"We even bury people when they die, as many don't have anyone else to do it for them." No summit in a developing country would be complete without arguments about whether the money it costs could be better spent.
As Hamidele Aturu put it in Sunday's local Guardian, "Right now most Nigerians cannot afford three square meals a day or other basic necessities which have been priced out of their reach. More than 70 per cent of them live below the poverty line. Unemployment continues to soar."
However the project is clearly dear to President Obasanjo's heart. He wants to increase Nigeria's profile in West Africa and further afield. He claimed in his monthly interactive radio broadcast that the cost of holding the event has been exaggerated by critics.
It will only cost 3 billion Naira (1.2 million UK pounds). First impressions. I have just arrived in Abuja to spend ten days covering CHOGM 2003 and find myself in one of Africa's newest, and most unusual, capital cities.
Abuja was conceived in 1976, with work only starting in 1981 to build a city that would better serve Nigeria's diverse population than the vast and unsettled coastal metropolis of Lagos.
Slowly a new capital has grown from the wilderness inhabited by the semi-nomadic Fulani people, who still tend their cattle by the busy dual carriageways. The city has a broadly regular road network, but I was warned to beware of maps. "It is hard to find one that is reliable. Roads are marked that simply haven't been built."
The city is gradually filling up (and out), as the government moves its workforce to the city. Land prices are astronomical - with plots changing hand for as much as 40-45 million Naira (approximately 160,000 UK pounds) and rents are too high for most local wage earners.
"Abuja is now the fastest growing city in the world," said Mallam Nasir El Rufai, Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, yesterday, as he opened the Commonwealth People's Market.
As across Africa, wealth sits beside poverty. In between the grand houses, farmers tend small patches of ground. Though at this time of the year, just after the rains, there are few crops still to be harvested.
Life is quieter than in Lagos, with Adeoluwa Akomolafe, an IT administrator, telling me he was glad to have escaped the stress of Nigeria's biggest city. "Here in Abuja," he says, "You can drive around the city and visit all the clubs and fish bars in one evening."
As I woke up on my first morning, I thought about the city's failure to yet banish the countryside. In bed, in the posh Rockview Hotel, I heard a cockerel crowing from the small holding next door.
December 01, 2003Buy 1 summit, get 1 free. From tomorrow (Tuesday), Daily Summit will be reporting from CHOGM, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which is taking place this year in Abuja.
Our reporter, Mick Fealty - of noted blog Slugger O'Toole - will be online soon, bring you all the news from the summit.
For the uninitiated, the Commonwealth is an association of former British colonies, dependencies and other territories (as well as Mozambique).
Recently, the key issue for Commonwealth countries has been Zimbabwe, and the activities of Robert Mugabe's government there. Last week, Secretary General Don McKinnon told the BBC that the Commonwealth had failed in its efforts to engage with the Zimbabwean President - and the issue isn't going to go away at this summit.
However, the host country - Nigeria - isn't without its problems either.
You may ask while Daily Summit is looking at two summits at once.. well, alongside CHOGM, the Commonwealth People's Forum is taking place. It's a major civil society summit, and we feel that those attending WSIS and those attending the people's forum will have similar aims - so, ultimately, we're getting a headstart on WSIS.
Aaron Scullion @ 07:39 PM | TrackBack