Africa/Middle East | Monocle

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Highway to the danger zone


Plane: Airbus a330
Airline: Iraqi Airways
Route: Gatwick to Baghdad
Frequency: Twice weekly

IA237 was slightly late arriving into London Gatwick on 5 March but after 23 years another 15 minutes was a manageable delay. Iraqi Airways’ UK routes had been one of the many victims of the long interval of war, sanctions and rebuilding that began with Saddam Hussein’s ill-advised invasion of Kuwait in 1990. For years, the closest international air passengers could get to an Iraqi Airways plane was seeing the three green-and-white Boeing 727s abandoned at Queen Alia airport in Amman.

A previous attempt to restore the London to Baghdad route, in 2010, ended in farce. Lawyers acting for Kuwait, which claimed Iraq owed it for several aircraft destroyed during the 1990 invasion, had the plane impounded. The Boeing 737-400 in question, which actually belonged to the Swedish charter airline Tor Air, was eventually allowed to return. Iraqi Airways now plans to run three flights a week between the UK and Iraq using its brand new a330 – two between Gatwick and Baghdad, and one between Gatwick and Sulaymaniyah, a city in the Kurdish north. Another Baghdad flight may be added in June. At least initially, the flights will stop in Malmö for additional security checks, and to take advantage of the Iraqi diaspora in Sweden.

Iraqi Airways is clearly ambitious: it has 30 Boeing 737-800s on order, with an option for 10 more, and is considering adding 10 787-8s. It will have noted the success of nearby airlines in turning the Middle East into a major international hub and it may not be long before passengers are flying from London to Sydney via the former Saddam International Airport.



Type: Parliamentary
Date: 12 May (proposed)
Candidates: There will be a lot of fresh faces – parliament hasn’t sat since the coup d’état of 2008. A good result for President Alpha Condé’s party, the Rally of the People of Guinea, seems likely.
Issues: The oft-postponed election will be the first parliamentary poll since 2002. Ethnic rivalries have already resulted in fatal bloodshed. The Malinke people tend to support the government, while the Peul favour opposition parties.
Monocle comment: The election is supposed to enable and encourage western aid and investment. If handled badly, it may end up doing the same for civil war.

Sartorial senator

Nairobi [POLITICS]

Gold jewellery: check. Colour-co-ordinated cap, sunglasses and tracksuit: check. Senator-elect of Kenya’s capital: check. Gidion Mbuvi Kioko (pictured), aka Mike “Sonko” (“rich man” in Sheng street slang) became the first Senator of Nairobi County during March’s nationwide elections. The wealthy former jailbird has repeatedly denied drug-smuggling allegations but none of this has slowed his meteoric rise since becoming an MP in 2010, aged 35.

Sonko cemented his bad-boy reputation the following year when he was kicked out of a parliamentary session for wearing aviator shades and earrings. “I’m representing the youth in this house,” he protested to no avail.His self-made-man image appeales to voters who, fed up with the old elites, have given him a powerful say over Nairobi’s future. “In 15 years’ time, I want to be president,” he told reporters. “That’s my game plan.”


When the dust settles

by Alex Duval Smith

Few natural phenomena are as fierce and quick as a desert sandstorm. First, there is a heavy stillness. Then a breeze shifts a few grains of sand and you lock yourself indoors. When you dig yourself out a few hours later, the dunes are all in a different place: the landscape has shifted but strangely it remains the same.

The French intervention in northern Mali came about with the speed of a sandstorm. In January, President François Hollande – whose office enjoys executive powers that are the envy of other heads of state – launched an offensive aimed at halting the southwards march of jihadists. Operation Serval looked like a win-win intervention, within a short fighter-jet flight of France and with EU logistical backing and US spy plane support. Having secured the requisite UN Security Council resolutions, Hollande was also able to reassure West African armies that their costs would be covered first as members of the African-led International Support Mission to Mali and later as UN blue helmets.

The need to fight a shared enemy is reason enough for armies to form alliances and go into battle. But as the main focus of the Mali war shifts from high-intensity strikes against suspected jihadist training camps to the longer-term business of maintaining territorial integrity, it becomes necessary to look at what has been going on in the capital, Bamako. In the past year, Mali has been run variously by US-trained army captain and coup leader Amadou Sanogo, former Microsoft executive and nasa space engineer-turned-prime minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, and an acting president, Dioncounda Traoré, who at one point was attacked in his office, stripped naked and had to spend two months recovering in a French hospital. To summarise, the country now standing as a bulwark against jihadism on Europe’s doorstep has severe governance issues. Recent attacks on media freedom, extreme poverty, endemic corruption, schools without teachers and clinics without nurses complete the picture of a country with rock-bottom self-esteem.

Many Malians will tell you in all seriousness they would like to be re-colonised. To silence such embarrassing calls and justify the cost of having a presence here, France and its allies have decided that Mali needs an institutional leg-up: the EU will train Mali’s army to be less coup-inclined, and the UN will pay for elections.

But ever since independence, Mali has always been a country between coups. It has produced great musicians. It has exported a diligent workforce of thousands of Parisian taxi drivers, kitchen staff and dustmen, who valiantly send home remittances that make up a major share of the country’s gdp. What Mali has not developed over the years is the generation it needs of politicians with the conviction that democracy can be stronger than tyranny, be it of a military or jihadist nature. The danger is that the outcome of the French intervention in Mali will be much like the desert after a sandstorm: a temporarily remodelled landscape waiting for the next assault.

Three issues that need to be tackled in Mali

  1. Endemic corruption, from police-staged vehicle checks to civil servants “privatising’’ national land.

  2. The excessive influence of the army. Previous presidents’ fears of being ousted have meant the armed forces are top-heavy with top brass.

  3. Education. Mali’s literacy rate for young adults is among the lowest in the world at 29.9 per cent. Unicef says females aged 15 to 24 fare particularly badly – only 25.4 per cent can read and write.


Blair Glencorse

Accountability Lab founder, Guinea-Bissau

The Accountability Lab has bases in Liberia and Nepal and supports projects that help citizens engage in matters of governance. Glencorse has turned his sights on coup-plagued Guinea-Bissau.

How does the Accountability Lab operate?
The Lab was set up to help people change the dynamic around them. For example, we’re working with universities in Liberia to deploy an SMS report-and-response system that helps stakeholders, students, administrators and professors co-ordinate the issues they’re facing on campus. We gather those reports then work with the universities to address each problem.

Why Guinea-Bissau?
There’s a huge agricultural potential beyond cashew nuts and in terms of tourism the Bissagos Islands are a unique ecosystem.

How do you foster civil engagement amid leadership change?
We link “accountapreneurs” with training, networks and mentorship, not just financing – though that’s part of it – so people’s ideas are seen through.


Khaled Al Sabawi

TABO founder


Palestine’s economy is characterised by temperamental infusions of foreign donor aid subject to the prevailing currents of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Khaled Sabawi, a young Canadian businessman of Palestinian origin, is challenging Palestine’s donor aid culture with a bold full-profit project called TABO (Turkish for title deed), which is developing large tracts of land in the West Bank.

What exactly is the land problem facing Palestinians in the West Bank?
Roughly 70 per cent of land in the West Bank is without title deeds. Since Israel took over the West Bank in 1967, they have employed an Ottoman law which allows the state to swallow lands without title deeds for state use. Many of Israel’s settlements actually sit on state land. We thought that as a private business we could buy the land, create urban master plans with title deeds and then sell small plots to Palestinians looking to leave increasingly expensive cities like Ramallah.

By the looks of it your business is doing the work of a government. Is this a trend in Palestine’s business climate?
In the absence of a functioning government, the private sector can and must provide services that the public sector should be providing while meeting a market demand. Our project is showing that Palestinians don’t have to be solely dependent on donor aid from Europe and the United States, while protecting our most precious natural resource: land.

Are more Palestinians looking for initiatives like TABO to restore a sense of independence?
It hasn’t been easy to meet the demands of our shareholders while providing a social good but we have done so while remaining independent. Given the political situation and the success of our project, more and more Palestinians are realising that private business is a sustainable model for social growth.

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