Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Les femmes soutiennent ATT

Place de l'Indépendance
Avenue de Mali

Dear Confidentialers

It is hard to get away from Ghana's founding father, Kwame Nkrumah, this month. Here in the centre of Bamako, a statue of the kente-clad Nkrumah bestrides the grand square like a Colossus. It is a reminder of the solidarity among Africa's first wave of Independence leaders and a mark of the esteem in which Francophone leaders hold the pioneering Nkrumah.

However, most Malians are now looking to the future rather than to Africa's history, specifically the presidential elections that are due on 29 April. That much is clear from a walk through Bamako's dusty streets, which are lined with political posters and newspaper vendors, who jostle to sell you news of the latest opposition attack on President Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT) - or vice versa.

It was even clearer in my hotel on Sunday morning. As we chatted about politics and checked our emails in the lobby, a stately procession of Malian women descended from the mezzanine floor, all wearing t-shirts proclaiming 'les femmes soutiennent ATT' (women support ATT).

Ever since ATT or General Touré ousted the repressive Moussa Traoré regime in 1991, his stock has run high with Mali's women. Under Traoré's iron rule, women and schoolchildren had suffered as much as his many male opponents.

ATT's core support is in Mali's northern hinterland. The sophisticates of Bamako have become more sceptical after his first four years in power as elected President. So ATT is relying on his female ground troops to win back the loyalty of the capital.

Perhaps the greatest surprise in Bamako today is how lightly Malians regard their status as a global music capital, with the likes of Ry Cooder, Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant and U2's Bono making their respective pilgrimages to pay homage to their musical heroes ­ the late Ali Farka Touré, Oumou Sangare and Salif Keïta. Add that to the growing celebrity of Malian filmmakers, such as Abderrahmane Sissoko and Manthia Diawara, and the country is becoming a cultural lodestar for the region.

Inevitably, news of Zimbabwe's political meltdown reached the pages of the Bamako press. President Robert Mugabe, the hero of Zimbabwe's Independence struggle and the villain of its last decade of decline, frustrates and horrifies Malians as much as anyone else.

Our lead story this week, 'Beware the Ides of March', focuses on Zimbabwe, but Africa Confidential doesn't pretend to know exactly how and when Mugabe will leave the political scene. Nor, it would seem, does he ­ but we do go into great detail about the power play within the ruling ZANU-PF, as we think that party ­ rather than the brave and increasingly bold opposition Movement for Democratic Change ­ will deliver the hatchet blow to Mugabe's rule. That change is coming soon is not in dispute. We also report on a Zimbabwe 'recovery fund' set up by a Botswana finance house: it predicts substantial returns within three years.

Ghana is floating a bond this year, which is designed to finance much-needed electricity generating projects. Our article from Accra this week looks at how the government has the chance to capitalise on this year's 50 years of Independence celebrations. Our report from Mogadishu is much less sanguine: the Somali capital remains on a knife-edge after the arrival of 1300 Ugandan peacekeepers. Few believe that conditions there will improve until President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed's government gets more serious about reconciling with its defeated opponents.

If you're interested in hearing about a key economic issue well ahead of time, I recommend you read our analysis section on capital flight and tax havens, which confidently predicts that this will be the new battle line in the fight against corruption. Also not to be missed are our reports on the latest successes in Liberia and the struggle to end the conflict in Côte d'Ivoire. There is also another trendsetting piece from Congo-Kinshasa that reveals how policy-makers are trying to earn revenue from conserving the country's vast and important tropical rain forests. Don't forget the pointers: who were the mystery kidnappers in Ethiopia; Malawi's ex-President Bakili Muluzi announces his bid for a (non-consecutive) third term; rare dissent on Angola's airwaves; and displaced Darfurians, waiting in vain for the international community to act, send an extraordinary petition to Western governments.

Good reading and until next week,

Yours confidentially

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