Dictators detained and darkness at noon

It’s rare that a global event happens linking West Africa and Mongolia, two of my favorite places in the world. We got two this week:

After being captured at the Nigeria/Cameroon border, Charles Taylor was delivered to Freetown, Sierra Leone where he was guarded by Mongolian UN troops. Taylor’s extradition included a stop in Monrovia, where the AP photo shows him guarded by Jordanian troops working as part of the UN. Go Jordan! (Another one of my favorite places in the world…) Go Mongolia! Go Liberia! And Go Nigeria! It’s reassuring to see that Obasanjo’s government reacted quickly to the news of Taylor’s escape and quickly brought him back into custody.

Most bloggers are booing Taylor’s escape and cheering his capture, as Chippla points out in an excellent roundup on Global Voices. Imnakoya wonders, though, what changed Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s mind about the priority of bringing Taylor to justice:

t’s on record that the Liberia’s new president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, said in an interview with The New York Times before her inauguration in January that “Mr. Taylor’s fate was a relatively low priority, given the myriad problems facing Liberia and the fragility of the peace there.”

The reason for the sudden change of heart is puzzling. Some have suggested that the Ms Johnson may have been pressured by Washington to prosecute Taylor or the US will “withhold aid to Liberia if she did not act”.

It’s pretty clear that there was pressure in Congress and the Senate to bring Taylor to justice and that this pressure included ties to international aid. Rodney Sieh, writing for Africa Masterweb, quotes Senator Obama, who pushed hard for Taylor’s extradition, connecting Nigerian debt relief to Taylor’s extradition.

Jonathan Power, a noted commentator on African issues and a personal friend of Obasanjo, is quoted at length on Wanabehuman. He notes that Johnson-Sirleaf’s call for Taylor’s extradition put Obasanjo in a difficult situation. He’d given his personal guarantee of protection to Taylor in exchange for Taylor leaving Liberia and allowing the civil war to be pacified by UN peacekeepers, primarily Nigerians and Ghanaians.

While I think it’s a Very Good Thing that Taylor’s been brought to justice, it will be interesting to see whether he’s able to use the tribunal as a stage as Milosevic did. Some observers are understandably worried that Taylor could incite his supporters in Liberia to violence if given such a stage – the recent attempt to move the trial from Sierra Leone to the Hague may well be an effort to mitigate these concerns…

But it’s not just escaped dictators that have brought Mongolia and West Africa together – they were united by a total eclipse. The event happened early in the morning in Ghana – just the right time for schoolchildren to line up outside classrooms and watch the event through protective glasses provided by local Pepsi distributors… The bloggers were there as well: David Ajao watched from the beach and has a lovely shot of the eclispe’s reflection in the Atlantic. The eclipse – combined with Taylor’s arrest – reinforced Emmanuel Bensah’s belief in God, a sentiment reflected in an editorial in the Daily Mail:

People are reading all sorts of meanings in to this occurrence, and so must they; the main meaning we see in what happened yesterday is that as a nation, we have more things that unite us than separate us. It is perhaps God’s own way of using such phenomena to tell us humans that hubris is not the answer, for after all, yesterday, every Ghanaian who had the opportunity of witnessing the total eclipse put aside all religious, ethnic, political and whatsoever difference to do obeisance to the majesty of our solar system.

Both Ghanaian bloggers have great pictures, as does the BBC.

ijebuman reminds us that, in 2001, a partial eclipse in Nigeria led to religious violence and hopes that government warnings about the eclipse help keep the peace.

No word from the Mongolian bloggers, but Janet’s got a great eclipse story from the roof of a hotel in Istanbul:

Not a bad spot: looking in one direction we could see the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia; in the other direction, the Bosphorus. We were joined on the roof by a crowd of Turkish hotel guests and staff, some of whom got very excited that the shadow cast by the sun during the height of the eclipse looked remarkably like the image on the Turkish flag (right). More enthusiastic observers starting pulling out pens and pencils to add a drawn star next to the sun’s shadow, which was being projected onto a piece of paper in the center of the crowd. Soon enough, several stars had been added to the paper, and by reflecting the sun’s shadow just right, the image stopped being just an eclipse, and also became a naturally appearing Turkish flag.

Nothing like a natural phenomenon to bring us together – sorry I missed this one.

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