Has anyone else been following the news out of Niger? I’m guessing not, but it’s an interesting story. At first glance it looks like any one of a dozen stories that have come out of Africa over the years, but some people, myself included, are hoping it’s different. Basically, a military coup has overthrown Niger’s government, a uranium rich but extremely poor Saharan nation with a history of rebellions. This is unfortunately all too common in this part of Africa (see Guinea in Dec 2008). The new junta is now promising democracy and reform, something else frequently done by juntas across the world. The question is are they telling the truth? I’m guessing most people would answer no, or if they’re feeling extremely optimistic, maybe yes but it won’t happen. As for myself, I’d like to believe.
Here’s what I know: former President Mamadou Tandja was not democratic. He was one of many African leaders who rode into power on a wave of democratic revolutions but overstayed his welcome. Like many such leaders, he pushed through constitutional amendments to allow him to stay in power longer than previously allowed. Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe Velez are other such leaders. Some also fear that in Rwanda President Paul Kagame will do something similar, but I have my doubts. Anyway, Tandja ended up a dictator. Fast forward to February 18 of this year: military coup ousts Tandja. As you probably know, I don’t usually like militaries to have any influence at all in governance, but there have been a few promising signs out of this. For one, elections have been promised, but of course, these promises are easy to break, and they usually are. For another, members of the military junta AND the transitional government will not be allowed to run in the new elections. Again, it’s just a promise, but it’s a good one to make. Finally, although Tandja is being tried for treason, the junta is not seeking the death penalty, even though that would be permissible by law. I find that last one interesting. It could be just a smart move to prevent making a martyr out of him, or it could be something different, something promising. If nothing else, it shows that the junta is not planning a purge, which would a sure sign of trouble.
Will this coup lead to anything other than another dictatorship? If history were our guide, it would look like a resounding no. However, this does not mean we should immediately condemn the coup in Niger. Tandja’s government was not a good one, and this could be an opportunity to create a new functioning democracy in Saharan Africa, a region that desperately needs good role models. The governments of the US, Canada and the EU should reach out to Niger and offer to help them through the difficult process of building a new government. Will any of this come to pass? Who knows! But one thing is for certain: I’ll be following the news out of Niger.
Sad news out of Rwanda. There were recently three grenade attacks in Kigali shortly before French President Sarkozy’s visit (or due to the upcoming 2010 elections). One attack took place in front of a bar/restaurant I used to frequent, Chez Venant. They had cheap beer (for Kigali) and a nice atmosphere. I’m hoping the restaurant remains open and that there are no further attacks like this one.
Other random crap:
Now, I’m sure that the hats I purchased in Rwanda were probably made in China, like many of the things you could buy there, but I still think of them as my Africa hats. (You may have seen me wearing the brown one in many of my Rwanda photos.) They weren’t extremely common in Rwanda, but I’d see them every now and then, usually being worn by musees/old men. So when I saw an old man wearing one here in Houston, I smiled. A lot. And almost greeted him with a Mwirire!
So, small world, eh? I tend to have these moments quite often, like running into my parents in DC or meeting a guy I went to high school in South Dakota with in a random bar in Kigali. Or meeting a nice American in a hotel in Butare who know a friend of mine from SDUS. This latest incident is not nearly as interesting, but I have little else to write about. I met a fellow at a meeting about census jobs and we got to talking. He went to school in Iowa and when he found out I formerly lived in South Dakota, he happened to mention that the father of one of his friends ran for governor there! This would be Jack Billion of course, whose campaign I volunteered for and whose children I met while campaigning. I love being reminded of how interconnect the world is.
Finally, HOCKEY! Canadian women took the gold and I’ll be watching the men’s game tonight. NBC isn’t doing a good job of covering hockey, and I can’t seem to find it online to watch. Solution? My dad is going to set up his computer in front of his TV in Ontario and I’ll be watching it over Skype. Aren’t technology and parents awesome!?