By Kim Won-soo

Following are excerpts from remarks by UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Kim Won-soo at the opening of the United Nations Conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination on March 27, 2017. He represented Secretary-General António Guterres who was travelling on official business.

NEW YORK (IDN-INPS) - This conference is taking place against a backdrop of rising international tension, renewed arms competition and an absence of results in disarmament bodies.

The Secretary-General recognized these developments when he recently described our world as one of “new and old conflicts woven in a complex, interconnected web” where “global tensions are rising, sabres have been rattled and dangerous words spoken about the use of nuclear weapons.”

- Photo: 2021

Surprise Developments in South Africa, Nigeria and Ethiopia

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK (IDN) — Supreme Court judges “reconsider and rescind” their own judgement against a former president, a leader faces trial for secessionist activities, a rebel movement trounces an army: these surprise developments are the focus of this week’s Africa News Briefs on South Africa, Biafra and Ethiopia.

Jacob Zuma beats the odds

Former South African President Jacob Zuma has beaten the odds, winning a last-minute review of his sentence of 15 months on serious corruption charges when he was president. With hours to spare, senior judges suspended his immediate lock-up and agreed to “reconsider and rescind” a finding of guilty in multiple graft scandals over nine years in power.

The former president had failed to appear at a pre-trial hearing on multiple charges related to a multi-billion-dollar arms deal. He stepped down under pressure from the ANC in February 2018.

Zuma, age 79, and his counsel asked the court to put off the sentence citing poor legal advice, ill health, and financial constraints because his state-sponsored legal fees were halted.

Observers in South Africa expressed surprise at the Supreme Court’s decision to consider the former president’s challenge to its own decision.

“If Zuma goes to prison, we can say we have the rule of law in South Africa. If he doesn’t, then we don’t. There is no new evidence, so this means the system is being bent to fit the politics and people everywhere will be very disappointed by that,” Ralph Mathekga, a leading political analyst told a news outlet.

Similarly, South Africa’s deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo said the failure of the ex-president to respond to the court would send the message that people can ignore or disregard summons and orders of courts with impunity …[and] “there will be very little that will be left of our democracy.”

The South African Supreme Court in its own message noted that the former president had “repeatedly reiterated that he would rather be imprisoned than to cooperate with the corruption inquiry”.

Zuma and other officials are alleged to have accepted bribes from five European arms manufacturers to influence the choice of weaponry bought in the deal.

In March 2018—a month after he resigned as president—national prosecutors decided Zuma was liable to face prosecution on 783 counts of corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering charges relating to the arms deal.

In another notorious case, South Africa’s graft watchdog found Zuma to have “benefited unduly” from so-called security upgrades to his rural Nkandla residence in KwaZulu-Natal province, paid for with taxpayers’ money. The upgrades included a swimming pool—which was described as a fire-fighting facility—as well as a cattle enclosure, an amphitheatre and a visitors’ centre.

Meanwhile, thousands of his supporters, mainly members of the African National Congress’s Umkhonto Wesizwe military wing, have been camped outside his home in Kwa-Zulu Natal province for weeks.

“They can give Zuma 15 months … or 100 months. He’s not going to serve even one day or one minute of that,” his son Edward Zuma told the news agency Reuters at the gathering. “They would have to kill me before they put their hands on him.

Biafra leader faces trial for secessionist activities

The leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), has been arrested in London and returned to Nigeria where he faces trial for leading a secessionist movement in south-east Nigeria in 1967 which was met with a declaration of war by the Nigerian government, 30 years of fighting and more than a million deaths. 

Nnamdi Kanu, a British national who has lived in south London, had been wanted by Nigerian authorities since 2015, when he was charged with terrorism offences and incitement over broadcasts aired on Radio Biafra, a digital station he founded and ran from his home in Peckham.

Kanu remains a hero to hundreds of thousands of followers.

For more than a decade, his fiery radio broadcasts and social media posts were thorns in the side of the Nigerian government.

The war became a seminal event in Nigeria’s modern history, even for those who did not live through it. Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in an article titled “Hiding from our Past, was born before the Biafran war but says her family was scarred by it.

“In 1967, after massacres in northern Nigeria that targeted south-eastern Igbo people, the southeast seceded and formed an independent nation called Biafra. Nigeria went to war to prevent secession.

“By the time Biafra was defeated, in 1970, at least a million people were dead, including my grandfathers—proud, titled Igbo men who were buried in the unmarked graves of refugee camps. My parents lost other relatives, and everything they owned. A generation was robbed of its innocence.”

After two Nigerian governments were overthrown in what were seen as “Igbo coups” led by junior army officers, riots in northern Nigeria targeted at Igbos, killed many and forced up to a million to return to south-eastern Nigeria. Biafran independence was declared in 1967 but its capital, Umuahia, fell to Nigerian forces in 1969. Surrender followed in 1970.

The IPOB and Kanu have continued to frustrate the Nigerian government. At the beginning of this month, President Buhari tweeted that “those misbehaving” would be dealt with in “the language they will understand” — a reference to security challenges in South-East Nigeria.

After the tweet was deleted by Twitter and remains shut down, Nigeria went on to issue a nationwide and controversial ban on Twitter, with threats of imprisoning citizens circumventing the ban.

Kanu is reportedly being held in the capital city of Abuja where he is awaiting trial. He currently has 11 charges levelled against him including “engaging in subversive activities.”

Tigray Rebels trounce Ethiopian forces

One of the strongest armies in Africa was trounced this week by a rebel movement in the Tigray region whose people greeted the returning fighters with cheering, weeping with relief and chanting “Victory is ours!”

Eight months ago, the government of Ethiopia mounted an offensive in the Tigray region, creating what is now one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises in the country’s northern region. More than 1.7 million people have been displaced and as many as 900,000 are suffering from hunger, according to U.S. officials.

But on Monday, Ethiopian troops were on their back foot, routed by the rebel army and paraded through the Tigrayan regional capital in a stunning reversal. Observers reported seeing the Ethiopian soldiers with bowed heads and eyes cast downward, some wounded, some on stretchers.

Tigrayan officials are reportedly in touch with the International Committee of the Red Cross and plan to release the low-ranking soldiers but will keep officers in custody.

The regime of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has claimed it withdrew its forces voluntarily for humanitarian reasons, but the military had been losing ground in recent days to the Tigrayans, according to local analysts, that now call themselves the Tigray Defence Forces.

Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigrayan leadership, accused the Ethiopian troops, on their retreat, of robbing banks, looting and cutting off electricity and telecommunications. He said that Tigrayan leaders would consider a cease-fire and negotiate with Mr. Abiy’s government only if services were restored and Tigrayan territory returned.

“You cannot cut off electricity and services and expect to make peace,” he said. “You cannot expect to make peace while you are robbing our banks,” he was quoted to say.

Meanwhile, at the centre of the rebellion against the Ethiopian government was a former army general, Gen. Tsadkan Gebretensae, regarded by international security analysts as one of the finest military strategists of his generation.

By 2021 he was able to turn barefoot young fighters into a serious fighting force that achieved parity with its adversaries. In June, they routed eight divisions of the Ethiopian army and achieved an astounding military victory against the well-trained Ethiopian army, dealing their forces a heavy setback that few expected.

According to The Economist magazine, their victory may reshape Ethiopia —and the region. [IDN-InDepthNews – 05 July 2021]

Collage: Pictures of Jacob Zuma, N. Kano and T. Gebretensae from Internet.

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