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... More
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. More
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... 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. More
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. More
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." More
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. More
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".
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. More
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, 2003Official reaction in Nigeria to Human Rights Watch's latest paper, which claims that "Nigerians still cannot express themselves freely without fear of grave consequences" has been swift and indignant.
Earlier this week, Ms Remi Oyo, Special Assistant to the President (Media) attacked the HRW's decision to release Nigeria: Freedom of Expression Under Attack on December 2nd (neatly missing World AIDS Day) as a ploy to stir up trouble at CHOGM in Abuja this week.
Moreover, Ms Oyo vehemently defended the Obasanjo administration's record on freedom of speech, claiming that "a cursory look at any Nigerian newspaper or magazine will reveal in stark terms, a vibrant culture of journalism that stretches the boundaries of press freedom." 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: More
December 04, 2003CHOGM 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. More
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. More
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... 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. More
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...
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. More
"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. More
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." More
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. More