- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2002


Political tensions rise as primaries approach

LAGOS Africa’s most populous country faces new political violence as its little-used electoral machinery creaks into action in advance of presidential, general and gubernatorial elections in March or April.

A peaceful transition from one set of elected rulers to the next in the first elections since the end of military rule in 1999 would be greeted around the world as a victory for democracy in Africa. But as parties begin holding their primaries, signs grow that the elections will be marred by mob violence, intimidation and killings.

President Olusegun Obasanjo has warned of this danger, and Nigeria’s federal police force has announced the creation of heavily armed rapid-response squads to stamp out trouble. Observers believe that the contest for the top job will be less of a trigger for violence compared with the myriad battles for potentially lucrative gubernatorial and local government seats.


New mediation sought on war in Ivory Coast

DAKAR West African leaders convened here yesterday to open what many called a last-ditch attempt at mediating an end to the war in Ivory Coast.

The summit comes amid a French military deployment building to 2,500 troops in Ivory Coast, one of its former colonies. Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade greeted Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo as the latter stepped from his plane at the airport in Dakar. The two sped off for closed-door talks called by Mr. Wade, president of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the region’s most influential bloc.

The summit follows weeks of stalemated talks in the West African nation of Togo that ended after Ivory Coast’s rebels walked out. Success of the summit here appeared uncertain, with 11 leaders in the 15-country bloc failing to arrive by mid-afternoon.


Ruling party accused of looting before vote

NAIROBI The opposition accused the government yesterday of trying to buy votes and loot public funds after officials made a flurry of large payments to businessmen in advance of general elections on Dec. 27.

Recent opinion polls suggest that the opposition National Rainbow Coalition is set for an overwhelming victory in the parliamentary and presidential elections against the Kenya African National Union (KANU), which has been in power since independence in 1963.

The KANU government, which admits official corruption is one of the economy’s biggest problems, denies opposition accusations of wrongdoing in official payments of about $57 million to contractors, made in the form of tradeable bonds, despite the bills having been outstanding for years.

Diplomats and analysts say there is no suggestion that President Daniel arap Moi, who will step down at the elections after 24 years at the helm, was involved in the payments. “The motive for this may not be getting the funds necessary for stealing the election the normal suspicion, going on past experience,” a Western diplomat said.

“In this case, where the opposition is likely to win, it may be a case of people who fear losing influence grabbing funds and sending them out of the country.”

Weekly notes

Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said yesterday that Britain and South Africa are working with Zimbabwe’s ruling party to get him to the negotiating table with President Robert Mugabe “somewhere outside the country.” Mr. Tsvangirai, who lost to Mr. Mugabe in a hard-fought presidential election last March, has rejected the outcome of that vote, citing fraud, and has demanded fresh balloting. South African President Thabo Mbeki says he is confident a peace deal for the Democratic Republic of Congo will stick, adding that it is crucial to economic progress on the continent. Mr. Mbeki, 60, who was re-elected Monday as African National Congress leader for seven years, said Tuesday that the Congo could provide electricity to most of Africa by harnessing the hydroelectric potential of the Congo River.

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