Ian Birrell

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George Weah, the former world footballer of the year, has achieved his great goal by winning the presidency of Liberia. There are concerns about his bedfellows and time will tell whether he can meet the hopes of supporters desperate for change. However, this is another personal triumph for a decent man born in a slum who has travelled such distance in life.

Much attention focused on a former footballer’s success in politics. Yet Mr Weah’s triumph means 2017 was bookended by two electoral breakthroughs in west Africa, all the more resonant as demagogues and despots abuse democracy elsewhere.

Mr Weah succeeds Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female head of state, to become Liberia’s 25th president.…  Seguir leyendo »

In Uganda, two people who have sex could end up serving life sentences in prison if they happen to be the same gender. Should friends or family fail to tip officials off, they run the risk of joining them in jail under a law passed last week. The measure – which has to be signed off by the president – marks the culmination of a four-year campaign. "This is a victory for Uganda," said David Bahati, the MP behind the bill. "Parliament has voted against evil."

Most people in Britain would see bigoted Bahati as the real evil in this case.…  Seguir leyendo »

One thing was clear from the diplomatic disaster of the G20 summit in St Petersburg: western leaders are fed up with what Barack Obama called the "paralysis" afflicting the United Nations as it gazes on impotently at an unfolding human tragedy in Syria. So is it too much to hope this latest crisis will finally spark reforms that are so essential and universally acknowledged if this antiquated body is to come close to fulfilling its stated role of keeping peace around the planet?

For more than two years, the security council has been stuck in stalemate. On one side is Russia, resolute in support of a regime spending so much money on its weaponry, aided and abetted by China.…  Seguir leyendo »

Imagine if a multinational company went to one of the world's most impoverished countries and, while saying it was there to help, contaminated the water supplies, unleashing a new disease that killed thousands of people. Hundreds of thousands more develop a hideous sickness, suffering such debilitating loss of liquid their eyes sink into their face, their skin wrinkles, their body shivers uncontrollably. Then there is a cover-up as the firm evades responsibility and, when finally taken to court, it simply refuses to play ball with the legal process.

Such a story sounds like something created in the febrile mind of a Hollywood scriptwriter, which in real life would lead to a huge and justified outcry.…  Seguir leyendo »

For 10 months the collapse of Mali was largely ignored by the west. A country seen as a model democracy imploded, with an army coup in the south and an Islamist takeover of the vast desert regions in the north – but few cared outside France. Now everything has changed, and people who could barely place the country on a map are pontificating about its problems.

As ever, misconceptions become set in stone. Since the coup leader had trained briefly in the United States, conspiracy theorists see the Great Satan in the shadows. Others view France's intervention as some kind of neocolonialist adventure, or argue absurdly that its actions were driven by the desire for minerals – in this case gold rather than oil.…  Seguir leyendo »

Almost three years ago, Haiti was hit by an earthquake that killed an estimated 220,000 people in 35 seconds of unimaginable terror. It was the worst national disaster in the history of the western hemisphere. The world rushed to help, with huge sums donated amid declarations to "build back better" one of the most blighted nations on earth.

But, as the anniversary approaches, it is evident that many good intentions imploded at the expense of the people they were meant to help. Haiti stands as the latest sad example of how self-aggrandising assumptions of the global aid industry can backfire so badly.…  Seguir leyendo »