Africans Express Cautious Hope for Obama Presidency

Courtesy of GIN | 1/21/2009, 4:52 p.m.

After the initial moment of euphoria for the landslide victory of Barack Obama, some Africans are now expressing a more cautious note of hope for the new leader. ''Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East conflict, Pakistan and India are where the focus of U.S. policy is going to be,'' said Francis Kornegay of Johannesburg's Institute for Policy Studies.
''So, there is no realistic prospect that Africa will overtake any of those concerns. On the other hand, there are some pressing security concerns on the Continent.'' For some, the possibilities are endless. ''Obama has brought a big hope and has changed a lot of things for a lot of people in terms of how they view themselves,€ said professor Veronique Tadjo of Johannesburg€s Witwatersrand University.

€A Black man becoming the most powerful man on the planet is something very important.'' Whatever the policy goals, observed Senegalese analyst Lamine Savane, a new style of leadership is needed. ''The way the world is today, the bully thing does not work anymore,'' Savane said. ''It will be a hard presidency, from both sides,'' Tadjo said. ''[It will be difficult] from the White side [because] people are waiting for him to fail, and from the Black side because people have always looked at mixed-race people with a bit of suspicion-who are they, who do they represent? So he is going to have a tough job.''

Kenyan Land Giveaway Under Scrutiny

As Kenya prepares to declare a national emergency in response to food shortages, a proposed deal to lease land to the government of Qatar for agricultural use is coming under scrutiny. With its plan to lease 100,000 acres, Kenya joins the growing number of poor nations that are granting their potential food production land to countries rich in oil.

In exchange for the land, Qatar would construct a port on the island of Lamu to facilitate trade with Ethiopia and to the north in southern Sudan. It would become Kenya€s second major port after Mombasa. But the deal has drawn fire from critics who ask why government is not engaging local farmers to boost food security in the country, especially with a drought now threatening 10 million people.

''For us to rent out such a huge tract of land when 30 percent of Kenyans are facing hunger is, [in] my opinion, wrong,'' said Lusike Wasilwa of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. €Let Kenyans do what we know best. We are an agriculture-based economy. We can grow whatever product any country wants following the regulations that they need.''

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have made similar deals for land in Sudan and Senegal, which Jacques Diouf of the Food and Agriculture Organization said could risk creating a ''neocolonial'' system that could cause social unrest if local communities do not benefit.

Life Sentences for Taylor Jr. Praised by Liberians

The son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor has been handed a life sentence for the extreme torture of Liberian citizens during his father€s rule. Many Liberians living in the United States praised the decision. The sentence of 97 years was announced on Jan. 9 in a Miami court for Charles Emmanuel McArthur Taylor, also known as €Chuckie.€

It follows his conviction last October under a 1994 law that makes it a crime for U.S. citizens to commit torture overseas, and Emmanuel Taylor was born in Boston. €The arrest, indictment, conviction and 97-years sentencing of Charles Taylor Jr. is a tremendous breakthrough in international justice,€ wrote Mulbah K. Morlu, Jr. on the Web page of the New Liberian. €This legal milestone will be a part of the slow healing process that has begun in post-war Liberia.€

While one Liberian living in Minnesota called the sentence €excessive,€ Nyeah Ukatu, a Liberian living in Boston, was quoted in the online Liberian Journal saying, €I am glad that the Liberian people have finally received some justice.€ The judge was strong in her statements. €It is hard to conceive of any more serious offense against the dignity and the lives of human beings,€ said U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga as she imposed the sentence. €The international community condemns torture.€

Charles Taylor Jr. was found guilty on charges that he headed a para-military €Anti-Terrorist Unit,€ which became notorious for carrying out heinous acts of violence against civilians while his father ruled Africa€s oldest republic from 1997-2003. Emmanuel Taylor is the only person, so far, to have been tried and convicted for crimes committed during the violent 14-year Liberian conflict that killed over 300,000 people and displaced over a million more, according to the United Nations. Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president, is still on trial in The Hague, Netherlands for war crimes by a U.N. Special Court.