Too Many Sons in Power in Africa

It's burning and looting time in Gabon.

Besides successful elections in Ghana and Sierra Leone, which saw the opposition win, this continues a string of disappointments in democracy and accountability in West and Central Africa. A good coup followed by a bad coup in Mauritania, and another fraud electorally-installed coupmaker, much like in the Central African Republic, changing the constitution and staying in power in Niger, killing off all in Guinea-Bissau entangled in the even more deadly business of drugs than resource politics, some of the world's worsts staying on in Congo-Brazaville and Equatorial Guinea, the death of the long time chain-smoking, diabetic, sitting by the baobab tree Conte in Guinea, promises broken by the coup leader, who will now run in elections and cheat himself to victory, the "alleged" son installed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, running one of the world's worst and most corrupt governments, with the aid of the United Nations, and western powers, who resume business as usual, with competition from businesses from China, India and Russia, but to the detriment of the Congolese people, as always.

They come in with their speeches, give a few smiles on their first visit to a refugee camp, but then get irritated by the heat, inefficiencies they themselves cause, and then throw up their hands, roll up their tinted windows, and drive like madmen on unfinished roads from inside their four by fours, loaded with AC, technological gadgetry, their little spaceships that of course rules forbid them to give a ride in to anyone who hasn't been security cleared and signed dozens of papers.

The scenario in oil-rich Congos is the same in Chad, and the Central African Republic, meaning the resources are being looted by foreign companies colluding with corrupt government officials, who leave little room for people outside their own circle, than to be extreme political activists or rebels, or just passive victims.

When will the United Nations learn that to aid massively in such politically unfair environments is to keep the rot rotting and just give jobs to aid workers and contracts to ruthless foreigners.

A most interesting scenario was in Ivory Coast where the coup leader eliminated what he thought were the main opposition candidates and then was outsmarted and outcheated by one of the continent's smartest politicians, Laurent Gbagbo, who should face a new challenge soon, more difficult to predict, and potentially much more explosive. Gbagbo could well win an election but not regain the country's rebel-held north, making him the badly elected president of half a country.

In Gabon, the current scenario is very generally what happened in Togo (notwithstanding more complex ethnic dimensions in Gabon), first a death of a long-time leader, then the son taking over after violent elections, opposition leaders crying foul and disappearing, consulates of the powers that be burned to the ground, angry youths setting up barricades, to show they can at least control mayhem, a part of a street, and say what they have to say for a few minutes, with the only expression that gives them attention, that of the burning, discarded tire.

While trying to get their word out, I was trapped in Togo between two burning barricades, and a mob of youths with gasoline canisters at the ready, nailed pieces of wood swinging around, but luckily the reasonable in the mob, were able to talk down the more defiant, letting us through.

After seeing military soldiers openly run away with ballot boxes, votes discarded on a dusty street, an editor started adding the word "allegedly", to cheating, and started writing "reported" to the violence, even though I had seen it all with my own eyes.

The neutered and distant quality of American journalism is sometimes unfortunate, which is why blogs can be nice too :). Although I do miss reporting on the looting and burning, precisely because it was an opportunity for these youths to be heard, and not to have to justify to editors why they needed to be heard, and at least, even if violent, they were on those days, out in the open, screaming for all to hear.

Here are a few pictures, from recent elections, across west and Central Africa. One day, they may be heard.

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