The Somalian president's motorcade of choice, plus the imprisoned bloggers in Ethiopia.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s transport options reflect Somalia’s dependence on outside support and its material poverty. Foreign soldiers escort him by road while in the air he relies on UN aircraft to visit regional cities. When it comes to foreign travel he boards a scheduled flight like any other Somali rather than a presidential jet, although he does go business class.
It is commonplace for a head of state to have an armoured car but unlike most, Mohamud really needs his. Al Shabaab, the al Qaeda-linked insurgent group who once controlled much of the country, were forced out of the capital Mogadishu three years ago but they still carry out regular suicide bombings and plant improvised explosive devices. Little would make al Shabaab happier than a successful attack on the president and it’s not shy of trying. Twice this year squads of militants have tried to breach the fortifications at Villa Somalia, the seat of government, before being killed by African Union and Somali soldiers.
Mohamud’s convoy of armoured Land Cruisers is a fearsome fleet bristling with guns racing through the city’s broken roads. Four Casspir armoured personnel carriers provide extra muscle. Each is mounted with a Mark-19 grenade launcher and two DShK “Dushka” heavy machine guns and filled with Ugandan soldiers from the African Union Mission in Somalia. The same number of so-called “technicals” act as outriders. These improvised battlewagons have become the totem of conflicts across Africa and the Middle East, made by welding belt-fed machine guns onto the flatbed of a heavy-duty Toyota pick-up. They earned their name in the early 1990s when journalists and aid workers wrote up payments to local gunmen as “technical assistance” on their expenses forms. Think of technicals as a contemporary cavalry: fast, deadly and scary.
A group of Ethiopian bloggers known as Zone 9 remain in prison, six months after they were first arrested and subsequently charged with terrorism and “outrages against the constitution”. Prosecutors say they planned to overthrow the government. The bloggers, who write in Amharic, argue they were merely debating the country’s future. The same 2009 anti-terrorism law was used to jail two Swedish correspondents in 2011. At least seven Ethiopian journalists languish in prison while scores have fled into exile. The government maintains a telecoms (internet and phone) monopoly and a 2012 law banned the use of Skype.
The outraged clamour of human-rights defenders, including the group’s lawyer Abebe Guta (pictured), has been matched by the deafening silence of foreign donors, including the US, UK and the EU, which help keep the nation’s economy buoyant.
Date: 16 November
Candidates: This election was supposed to happen last year but parliament extended its term due to Lebanon’s precarious security situation (another postponement is not impossible). It will be contested by the traditional factions, among them the powerful militia Hezbollah.
Issues: Keeping Lebanon out of Syria’s civil war and a lid atop its own sectarian divisions.
Monocle comment: Lebanon is a country that tends to function despite, rather than because of, its government. It is vanishingly unlikely that this election will change that.