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THE INDEX - June 7, 2010

Google is facing more potential legal problems after Australia’s attorney general said the company had illegally collected personal information over insecure wireless networks while assembling data and pictures for Google Str

Azubuike Ishiekwene: Mo Ibrahim's Red Card

Sudanese multibillionaire Mo Ibrahim said his foundation’s decision to withhold the 2009 African Leadership Prize, now in its third year, was not an act of disrespect. It would have been nice to hand out in November in Tanzania the prize of $5 million (with promissary notes of $200,000 for life after that). But what do you do when the candidates fall short? The news headlines across the continent echo surprise, indifference and sadness, but they downplay the two biggest questions—why and what next?

It’s no laughing matter that two favorites for the prize—John Kufuor of Ghana and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa—failed to make the grade. Kufuor’s personal aide told a radio station in Ghana that the former president had no regrets. That is regrettable. In many respects, Ghana and South Africa under the leadership of Kufuor and Mbeki had been held up as shining examples to the rest of Africa. Both countries seemed to rate well on such criteria as good governance and democratic handover of power—key requirements for the prize.

For nearly eight years, Ghana ran a largely transparent and accountable government, investing heavily in economic reforms. Kufuor’s party, the New Patriotic Party, lost the last general elections not because the government had become wayward and badly corrupt—common vices on the continent—but largely because the pains of reform had been intensified by the government’s slow and confused response to the fallout from higher energy prices. Angry voters who felt they had been taken for granted lost their patience and voted for the opposition in the January 2009 runoff.

For its part, South Africa seemed to be doing well, especially given that country’s difficult post-apartheid legacy. Under Mbeki, though unemployment and crime remained major challenges, the economy was robust, posting an annual growth rate of 4.5 percent, while foreign investment surged, at least through the last quarter of 2006. Mbeki’s downfall could be laid first to his own obtuse style, and later, to his own party, which ousted him in a palace coup.

Given these achievements, therefore, it would appear that the top contenders, Kufuor and Mbeki, had been judged harshly when they were denied the African Leadership Prize, or that the award committee had been too idealistic in setting the bar this last round. What exactly was the committee looking for? I don’t think it was looking for angels. But if we consider objectively the key values of good governance and democratic handover of power, it clearly would have been difficult for either Kufuor or Mbeki to step forward for a leadership prize.

Jonathan Power: There Are Many Irans

Let’s exaggerate. Iran has been singled out for persecution over its alleged nuclear bomb making program because in 1979 its Revolutionary Guards took the staff of the U.S. embassy hostage, causing outrage in America with even the esteemed Walter Cronkite ratcheting up the tension, putting up on the screen, as he read the nightly news, the number of days they had been incarcerated. The sitting president, Jimmy Carter, was deposed, tarred with the brush of utter failure. Something of an exaggeration that this was the sole or even the most important factor in building a pro bomb lobby in Iran. Still it has a grain of truth: Iran has been singled out unfairly. The West and Russia are engaged in discriminating against it. Brazil has had a nuclear enrichment program for decades (including a large ultracentrifuge enrichment plant, several laboratory-scale facilities, a reprocessing facility to make plutonium, and a missile program). In the 1980s it built two nuclear devices. Three years ago I asked the chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Brasilia if Washington was worried about Brazil. “Not at all,” he replied. “In the early 1990s Brazil dismantled its nuclear weapons program, and Argentina, its supposed enemy, has done the same.” “But,” I insisted, “Brazil still has its enrichment program and a reprocessing facility”. “We have no worries about Brazil,” he answered. “We see eye to eye.” However, Brazil still resists, in part, the probing eye of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the world’s nuclear watchdog. In 1979 the attitude of the Carter administration toward Pakistan, then attempting to build its own bomb, was almost as harsh as is the attitude of the United States toward Iran today. All American military aid was suspended, even though the Taliban were a lurking potential threat. However, when Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in December of that year, Carter persuaded Congress to restart a large-scale arms program. For the next decade, in return for Pakistan’s help building up the anti-Soviet mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan (who later went to work for Osama bin Laden), Washington turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s effort to build nuclear weapons.

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