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Archive for March 9th, 2008

Changing roles – mens outcry in Norway

Posted by African Press International on March 9, 2008

Norwegian men want another role

After six months of meetings and arguments, 32 men have made their conclusions about what to do for their own equality and needsthey want a new definition of masculinity.

Men in Norway feel ready for a new role… and the new Minister of Children and Equality just got their report.

PHOTO: CRESTOCK.COM

The newly-appointed Childrens and Equality Minister, Anniken Huitfeldt, received the document outlining the needs and advice from the “Mens Panel”, which was made up of men of different ages and from different professions.

“Men should continue to be able to be men, but we need to break out from the straightjacket of how we should behave,” said the leader of the panel, Arild Stokkan-Grande.

After many and long discussions, the panel concluded that changing masculine ideals would be the most important factor towards combating violence against women.

The panel said that men are expected to fulfil many roles, and when they dont manage to live up to these ideals, they lose honour.

“Men are more individually-inclined, and rarely think of themselves as a part of a group,” said Stokkan-Grande. “Women stick more together with each other. But men have to do that, too.”

The discussion in the Mans Panel about violence against women has been one of the most difficult, according to Stokkan-Grande. But the men came up with five concrete suggestions, which will be submitted to the new Childrens and Equality Minister.

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Crime rate rockets in Norway

Posted by African Press International on March 9, 2008

Four times more crime in Oslo than New York

The crime rate in Oslo has been growing at an alarming rate and recent statistics show the Norwegian capital had 20 percent more robberies last year than in 2006.

Oslo police at work during a demonstration.

PHOTO: MORTEN HOLM

While crime in the rest of Norway has been going down, it has been quite another situation in Oslo, where personal and automobile thefts increased markedly last year.There were 10,600 crimes reported in public places in 2007, up from 8,000 a year earlier, writes Norwegian daily newspaper Dagbladet.

Oslo had the highest rate per person in Scandinavia in terms of reported crimes, with 90 reported crimes per 1,000.

Copenhagen had 50 crimes reported per 1,000 and Stockholm had 79.

In New York, there were 22 reported crimes per 1,000 inhabitants.

This means there were four times as many reported crimes per person in Oslo as in New York.

The Oslo police are blaming the increase on an influx of East Europeans, and Minister of Justice Knut Storberget is reportedly partly in agreement.

However, Storberget said it is necessary to be careful drawing parallels with such statistics. “But regardless, we can say the crime figures in Oslo are too high,” he was reported to have said.

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Insurgents using oil to get attention

Posted by African Press International on March 9, 2008

From Scott A Morgan

The attack over the Weekend of March 8th in the Cabinda Province of Africa could be indictative of a new tactic. They are targeting the Oil-Rich Provinces in their respective States to ensure that the Western Powers listen to their Grievances.This attack by Rebels in Angola comes in the same week when Henry Okah the Unofficial spokesman for MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) was extradited back to Nigeria from Angola.

He now faces Charges of Treason that if he is convicted could lead to his Execution. The extradition also comes in the same week that the group sent a letter to President Bush asking for his Mediation in the crisis.Another Country that was recently in Crisis is T’Chad. Insurgents reportedly Armed and Encouraged by Sudan launched an Attempt to overthrow the Government. Although Many Observers felt that this was an attempt by Sudan to prevent the European Union from sending Peacekeepers to the Region. In Recent Years T’Chad has discovered Oil in the Country. It Produces about 800,000 Barrels Anually. Instead of improving the Infrastructure in the Country the Government has procured Arms. It ships its Oil to the Gulf of Guniea with a Terminus in Cameroon.

There have been riots recently in Cameroon as well. The Motivation of the Rioters in Cameroon is more Political than Oil Related. The President is trying to Amend the Constitution in order to run for an Additional Term of Office. There has also been a crackdown against Independent Media Outlets as well. There will be ample reasons to monitor this situation the closer the Election Date draws near.The attacks in Cabinda do have interesting timing especially after a Peace Deal was signed in August 2006. Cabinda is the location of most of the Oil Drilling of Angola. So Luanda wants to ensure that it remains part of the country despite that there is no connection with the rest of the country. So what impact will these incidents have besides raising concerns regarding not only about the Supplies of Oil on the International Market but also regional stability as well? In recent weeks Oil has topped more than $100 a barrell in trading. But there may be a platform for the United States to intervene if it is deemed necessary. Earlier this Year the US launched AFRICOM (African Command). One of the areas that the US has interest in is the Gulf of Guniea. This area which is one of the most unstable parts of Africa is also home to the majority of the Oil Production.

Currently one of the Main Missions of AFRICOM is Protection of Energy Production locations. The region also happens to be where the US is conducting most of its African Counter Terrorism Operations as well.It will be in the best interests of the United States and the West to ensure that the region is stable. But the efforts should not be based entirely on Oil However. Those that are cynical will argue that the only reason for any form of Intervention is for Petroleum. Political Stability has to be Paramount for any effort to be successful.So what will be the next move by those who advocate Democratic Reforms? And more importantly where do they want it and how will it be implemented? There are people that want change but noone is listening to them.The Author Publishes Confused Eagle on the Internet.

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Posted by African Press International on March 9, 2008

The Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Owoye Azazi, on Thursday said that no amount of criticisms would make the military recant its loyalty and support for President Umaru YarAdua.

Azazi said the military had a duty to protect the nations democratic process, adding that it would not tolerate blackmail on the matter. The CDS spoke at the maiden edition of the Nigerian Air Force Senior Non-Commissioned Officers Convention in Abuja. Azazi, who earlier warned officers and men of the military against unprofessional conducts, said the military had a duty to protect democracy in the country. He said, Recently, I have been criticised severally in the media over my statement that the military will defend the President. I just want to restate my stance, that we are loyal to the President.

We have a duty to protect our democracy and we must ensure that at all times. I want to reaffirm that the criticisms will not make us shift our position. It is our duty to stand by the President. The defence boss also reacted to the situation in the Niger Delta, saying that security in the area had greatly improved in recent times. In his speech, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Paul Dike, said no amount of external influence would make the Air Force compromise on laid down military laws.

Dike said, Many of us today conveniently forget that our rights as military personnel are to some extent circumscribed by military laws and regulations.Very often, personnel sidetrack such laid down procedures in the erroneous belief that they can use external pressures to influence situations in their favour. For the avoidance of doubt, let me restate that the military is an organisation governed by rules and regulations, and indeed traditions. While we have a duty to apply those laws fairly, we cannot apply them selectively to suit individual caprices.

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Uganda: Country looks to rebuild

Posted by African Press International on March 9, 2008

Prospect of peace has many northern Ugandans seeking a new start.

As Uganda officials and members of the Lords Resistance Army, LRA, prepare to sign a peace agreement at the end of this month, victims of 20 years’ of war in the north of the country are taking tentative steps towards rebuilding their lives. In many corners of the north, that work has begun as the nearly two million people displaced by the war take tentative steps to leave the regions 200 internal refugee camps and start anew by constructing homes, gardens and raising animals. Some who have returned to their land have are now earning money from cash crops theyve raised, harvested and sold, signaling the re-emergence of the agricultural economy in the north that had been dormant for decades.

Simon Eluk, a resident of Okokolako village 60 kilometres northeast of Lira, told IWPR that this past growing season he grew enough food to eat and sell, enabling him to pay for clothes and school fees for his four children. After languishing four years in the Abako internal refugee camp, Eluk now lives in his recently-built hut and is looking forward to the signing of a peace agreement so that the north can refocus on development. In the ethnic regions of Lango, Acholi, West Nile and Teso, villages recently have reappeared, cleared from overgrown tropical bush. Thatched huts that were destroyed by the LRA have risen.

Slowly we are trying to get out of this situation, by involvement in agricultural practices, as we wait for the final outcome of the peace talks, said Eluk, seated in front of his hut. This is the time we can feed our families and send children [to] good schools, because [the] peace we have been praying for is in our hands, said Geoffrey Onyanga, another displaced person. Given [sustained] peace, we shall also catch up with other districts, said Onyanga, who left the Bar refugee camp, 30 km from Lira, about two years ago. Optimism is high across the north as news spread of the permanent ceasefire between the rebels and Uganda after more than 18 months of negotiations in Juba, South Sudan.

And that feeling remains high despite statements by LRA negotiators that rebel leader Joseph Kony, who is in the northeastern corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, wont sign the deal until indictments against him are lifted by the International Criminal Court, ICC. Kony has been charged by the ICC with 33 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the war, which he contends was waged to establish a government based on the Ten Commandments. Earlier this week, the ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, however, refused to meet with a special lawyer hired by Kony to argue for the removal of the charges.

Likewise, the Ugandan government said it considers the talks finished and that the final peace agreement needs to be signed before Uganda will consider asking the ICC to lift the indictments and allow it to place Kony before a special court. Despite that, Norbert Mao, the Gulu district commissioner, said this week he had spoken with Kony who assured Mao that he would sign the agreement personally. This should alleviate fear that Kony might escape punishment, he said. As part of the peace agreement, Uganda would set up a special court to try Kony and the LRA commanders for war crimes.

Mao said he was confident that the LRA and the government would not return to war because a permanent ceasefire has been signed. Other officials in the north shared this sense of optimism.
Ugandan army Brigadier General Lucky Kidega told IWPR that no LRA remnants remained in the north and that the new challenge in the region was not war, but how to rebuild. The problem now is not insecurity, but how to improve the lives of people who suffered the 21-year-old conflict, Kidega recently told residents of Orum County who have resettled their villages.

Rice, beans, simsim, sorghum, millet, cassava and cotton were all being grown in the area, they said. Jusphanti Adupa, 50, of Atwenyi village, said the newly resettled war victims showed that redevelopment will be fast, regardless of government support. She explained that three years since she has begun revisiting her old village and working her garden plot, she had harvested 3,000 kilogrammes of rice, beans, millet and simsim. Simsim is a grain that is crushed and used to flavour food.

I can sell and get 5000 Ugandan schillings (just over three US dollars), unlike when I was in internal refugee camp where you could [go] days without food or even a coin to buy a piece of soap, she said.
A local official in Omoro county, Francis Omaramoi, explained that although people have trekked to their villages, clean water is scarce and is yet another problem faced by returnees. Omaramoi said some people were drinking unsafe water and may contract water-born diseases. He appealed for aid agencies to help address the problem.

The Ugandan government has announced a massive redevelopment programme which will be coupled with promises of an estimated 20 million euro (about 31 million dollars) for the Northern Uganda Rehabilitation Programme, NUREP, from the European Commission. EC representative to Uganda, Vincent De Visscher, said the organisation has already provided financial support to the Juba peace talks with some two million euro. Another 4.2 million euro is expected for reintegration programmes in Gulu and peace building in the Karamoja region of eastern Uganda.

*Patrick Okino in an IWPR journalist in Uganda.

 

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Africa at large: Scientists call for permanent forum

Posted by African Press International on March 9, 2008

Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) – African scientists on Thursday ended a four-day brainstorming conference in Addis Ababa with a call for the creation of a secretariat that will serve as a permanent forum for interaction between them and their international partners.

Conveners of the conference, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the African Union Commission (AUC), were urged to collaborate to set up the secretariat that among other functions will monitor and evaluate actions that the scientists have suggested to move the continent forward in the areas of science, technology and innovation. For Africa to occupy an appropriate position in the contemporary global knowledge-driven economy, it has to put to better use current scientific knowledge and skills to address its priorities, according to the final report of the conference.

The Science with Africa Conference called on the African Union (AU) and its partners to foster the development of the African science and technology policy framework. At the same time, the report suggested that African countries prioritise innovation as part of the science and technology strategy for job creation, market competitiveness and wealth creation. “African countries should develop national innovation systems that have clear development indicators, and clear interface between education, research, science and technology policy and business enterprises,” said the report.

It said the continent required policies that were founded on its basic needs, especially poverty reduction through sustainable economic growth. The report said in view of the persistent shortage of funding for scientific research and innovation activities by African institutions, the conference suggested that governments and the private sector should undertake mobilization of the necessary funds. Noting that almost all African countries need an enabling environment to put science and technology to use, the conference called on governments to develop mechanisms that will address the brain drain and encourage the circulation of experts through South-South and North-South cooperation.

With regard to intellectual property rights (IPR), the conference heard that Africa faces challenges in setting up balanced systems, technical capacity building and adoption of a common position at international meetings on the issue. “Some of the existing IPR protocols have strong protection regimes that increase prices of some commodities and promote piracy,” said the report. It was noted that Africa continued to lose its indigenous knowledge and traditional artifacts due to inadequate IPR regimes, while the few available patents could not be commercialized due to lack of financial resources, technology and access to markets.

In order to improve the performance of poorly functioning transport and energy supply systems, the meeting advised African institutions dealing with these sectors, including water and infrastructure, to establish networks for sharing information, knowledge and experience. Besides scientists other participants of the conference were policy and decision makers, entrepreneurs, journalists and students in the disciplines of science and technology.

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Africa at large: Continent needs trade deal, says WTO chief

Posted by African Press International on March 9, 2008

The first international trade negotiations which proclaim as one of their objectives reducing discrimination against developing countries in the global trading system are entering a critical few months.

The talks, which began in Doha, Qatar, in 2001, have long been plagued by differences over issues such as the measures which countries take to protect their own farmers, or industries, against cheaper imports from elsewhere. Developing countries want rich countries to cut agricultural subsidies, or tariffs on agricultural imports, so they can export their produce there. Industrialized countries want newly-emerging countries to cut import tariffs so they can export manufactured goods to those countries.

Now, says Pascal Lamy who, as director-general of the World Trade Organization, referees the talks there is a better chance than ever before that a deal can be done which will help African and other developing countries break through into new markets in industrialized countries. Lamy was in Lesotho last week for a conference of the bloc known as the least-developed countries (LDCs). On his way back home through South Africa, he spoke to AllAfrica. Excerpts:

Last time we spoke, you compared the process of concluding the Doha Round of talks to an aircraft preparing to land. Some people now think the aircraft is going to crash; it certainly must be running out of fuel. How would you apply that analogy now?
I think we now know in agriculture which portion of the tarmac we will land on. It’s still a bit less clear in industrial tariffs, which is why the coming weeks must be focused on that, but we definitely have the landing zone in sight.

What about talks on services?
Services is a more complex negotiation because it’s a request-and-offer negotiation, so it takes more time. And the services negotiation is very much linked to the final conclusion of the round. There will be a result on services because services are mandated just as trade and environment, or trade facilitation or fisheries subsidies or anti-dumping rules are. We have kept to this principle that we have a single undertaking. If something is agreed on farm subsidies, on farm tariffs and on industrial tariffs, it will only be accepted as part of a global deal with 17 other topics. The services negotiation is one of those 20 topics and if members don’t agree with what’s on the negotiating table there is no deal.

What are the sticking points for Africa in each of those areas agriculture, industry and services?
Well, it’s as difficult to speak about Africa as a whole as it is to talk about Asia or Latin America as a whole. South Africa is not Kenya, Kenya is not Senegal. And in WTO we don’t have one-size-fits-all. We have tailor-made solutions depending on the level of development. On agriculture, African countries are mostly on the offensive. They want the United States, the European Union and Japan to reduce their subsidies [paid to farmers to produce certain types of crop]. They want the U.S. and EU to reduce their tariffs [on agricultural imports] and they will get that. The question now is exactly how much they will get.
On industrial tariffs, African countries are more on the defensive. But only very few of them South Africa, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco will have to take tariffs cuts according to a general formula. All the other African countries, because they are LDCs or have a low number of fixed tariff rates will be exempted from cuts in industrial tariffs. Overall the conclusion of the LDCs’ conference which took place in Lesotho and the majority of African countries are LDCs is that they are pushing for a deal as they are the ones in this negotiation who will gain the most from a success while paying a very modest price.
LDCs would benefit from duty-free, quota free treatment on 97 percent of their exports. Rich-country cotton export subsidies would be eliminated straight away and other forms of trade-distorting support would be reduced by an even higher percentage that the cuts on support for other crops. Cotton exports from LDCs would receive duty-free, quota free treatment. If the round fails, it will be bad news for LDCs. This is why a Doha agreement is so important.

On industrial tariffs, they’re on the defensive because they’re being challenged to reduce the tariffs which they’ve used to protect their industries?
Well, yes, for some of them the price of a deal is that they will have to reduce some of their applied tariffs. Now the official currency in WTO is bound tariff which is the maximum tariff a country can apply. It’s not the applied tariff and usually applied tariffs are lower. So it’s a very complex issue because the reduction that you take is on your bound tariff but it only impacts your business or constituency if it bites into applied tariff.
Some emerging countries notably South Africa will have to take some cuts in some of their applied rates, although they will benefit from flexibilities so that it doesn’t cut the rates too much, which the U.S., the EU and Japan will not have. A year ago it was being suggested that a deal needed to be done by last year for President [George W.] Bush to get it through the U.S. Congress. Now people are saying it needs to be done this year, while he’s still in office.

Is the door ever going to close?
The Bush administration has made very clear that they want to conclude the Doha round in 2008, before the new president takes office. The U.S. administration does not need authority to negotiate. What is needed in the U.S. system, as in any in other democratic system, is that Parliament accepts the final deal. In the case of the U.S. it implies that Congress has to waive its right of amendment because you vote on a trade treaty by ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. You can’t start saying, “Oh yes, there are things that I like and I’ll take those, and there are things that I don’t like and I won’t take those.” But we are not there yet. We first need a deal on the table and the prospect of a deal to be there for this debate to restart.

One might say that actually you keep moving the goalposts. Are you moving the goalposts, or are deadlines being set an attempt to force people to take talks seriously and to push for settlement?
Deadlines are a symbolic way of making the game simple. The problem is that negotiations do not work with deadlines; chemical reactions do not work with deadlines, they work with accumulation, they work with what’s on the table, they are a process, which involves assessing every day where exactly this process stands. What’s for sure is that if you look at what’s on the table, there is much more than last year. Any negotiator will agree with that. Where they will disagree is how much remains to be done, depending on the negotiator and the topic. The notion of how far we are is something which is inevitably tactically spun by each negotiator, depending on the cards he has in hand. So it’s difficult to assess. If we can get agreement on agriculture and industrial goods trade in the coming weeks we would have six to eight months to do the technical work on scheduling these agreements while working simultaneously on the other areas of importance. So what I can say as a neutral party is that, yes we are nearing the end game. Now whether the end game is success or failure, I don’t know. I think it’s do-able and I think many countries want this to happen and I think the world economic outlook is propitious to that now. But it’s like chemistry you have to have the right ingredients, the right temperature and pressure. [If you do] it usually works. It doesn’t always work.

Can you allow the Round to fail? Can you ever finally close the door?
I am not the negotiator. I’m not the one who makes proposals. I am a facilitator, maybe a midwife. The negotiators [for each country] have to take responsibility because at the end of the day they are the ones accountable to their domestic political systems. I am not the one who will go to the Indian Parliament or the EU Council of Ministers or to the U.S. Congress saying, “Please vote for that deal because it’s a good deal.” The ministers will do that, they are accountable, they take the decisions.

Where does your ‘Aid for Trade’ initiative stand at the moment?
It’s working well We’ve already collected quite a bit of money for organizations like UNIDO (the United Nations Industrial Development Corporation), for instance, for industrial development. We adopted last week in the WTO a road map for this year, which basically is putting more focus on country experiences. It will take a bit of time before we (a) mobilize a few more billion dollars and (b) make sure that recipient countries have the right and stable set of priorities, the problem being that if they do not set their own priorities, then donors have a tendency to promote their priorities. Since building capacity for trade is extremely dependent on local conditions problems with energy, with ports or sanitary and phytosanitary issues [which ensure food is safe to eat] the right order of priorities depends on local conditions. We have been working hard and I must say, well with regional development banks. In Africa, the African Development Bank has a very clear aid-for-trade strategy and this is partly the result of what we’ve been doing around the table.

How do the regional Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), over which there is currently so much controversy, relate to Doha? Would the potential for conflict be reduced if Doha was concluded?
International trade is regulated by different sources. WTO does the multilateral part, not the bilateral part. If South Africa decides to have a free trade agreement with India or the EU, it’s not for the WTO. But there is a simple medical check that the conditions laid down in multilateral rules for bilateral deals which is that they are really seriously trade-opening need to be met. So EPAs are beyond the WTO remit. Then you have the systemic issue of what the right cohabitation is between bilateral trade agreements and multilateral trade. On this there are various sides of the coin. Bilateral agreements are sometimes good because they acclimatize an economy to being more open than it is multilaterally. But it is sometimes is a big problem because you create a preference between two countries and then in order to keep this preference, people will resist WTO tariff reductions, which is very bad for the multilateral trading system because it creates what [economist Jagdish] Bhagwati calls a spaghetti bowl of preferences So it’s a mixed bag.
I think that the way ahead is probably to reinforce the multilateral discipline by which bilateral deals have to abide.

If you were an African trade minister, what would you be doing now?
The rules of the WTO on farming have not been that development-friendly because they were drawn up at a time when the weight of developing countries around the table was not that big Those [who subsidized their agriculture] had the upper hand for a long time in the international system. Agriculture has taken such a prominent position [in negotiations] because of the politics of the international system.
I would be pushing for a WTO deal that ensures that, for instance, given the rise in food prices my comparative advantage in agriculture can be used to develop my country. On top of that you need the oil of world trade to make sure that supply adjusts to the changes in demand that will increase prices. If I’m an African country I would do that.

In Lesotho I visited a very interesting aid-for-trade operation which grows mushrooms, with extremely simple technology and which is very labour-intensive, doesn’t depend on water and is nutritionally extremely rich. That’s the sort of product in which a country like Lesotho has an enormous comparative advantage, for which there is a huge demand, notably in India and in China. I know that in the short term, food price increases do hurt a number of net food-importing developing countries. But if we want this problem to be addressed the only solution is to make sure that supply reacts to demand through making available more land, better technology, more training, which will all improve productivity in agriculture. That’s something which I think for Africa is now very important.

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South Africa: Gautrain on track for 2010 arrival

Posted by African Press International on March 9, 2008

The power outages and a few geological surprises on site have not derailed Gautrains target to complete the route from Sandton to OR Tambo airport by 2010.

Gautrain spokeswoman Barbara Jensen said yesterday the first leg of the rapid rail link was on track . The first year of construction had been spent largely on finalising civil engineering designs, the train depot and the route between the airport and Johannesburgs Park Station. This year would see vigorous civil construction works. She said R5,6bn was spent in the 2006- 07 financial year, and this was expected to increase to R7,7bn in 2007- 08 .

The highlight of 2008 will be the expected meeting of two tunnels that are being simultaneously excavated from Marlboro Portal and Mushroom Farm, she said. Most of the tunnelling between Rosebank Station and Park Station, which is to be carried out by the German-made boring machine, is also expected to be completed by the end of the year. The 6km stretch is the only section that will not use drill and blast techniques, because of the high water content and soft soil.

Jensen said 6km of test track, consisting of hardened high-speed railway track, would be laid in Midrand towards the middle of this year . The laying of the 80km train track was scheduled to begin in about 12 to 18 months . The construction of the stations, which would also be completed in the first phase scheduled for 2010, was proceeding as planned, Jensen said. Tunnelling at Park Station towards Rosebank Station was 250m from the tunnel portal, while more than 160m had been excavated at Rosebank in the direction of Sandton. Work had begun to link Sandtons two shafts, which are about 50m and 45m deep , with 50m of tunnelling having been completed.

Jensen said construction was under way in the Midrand area, heading towards Centurion. This section included a number of bridges and two of the 15 viaducts planned. Disruption in areas where viaducts were being installed had been minimised by using precast sections made at the Midrand depot and then moving them to the site. It will be the job of transport civil engineering company Arup SA, as the projects independent certifier, to check that the Gautrain is designed and built properly. This includes certifying more than 2500 milestones the Bombela consortium completes along the way. Arup then issues operating certificates allowing Bombela to be paid.

Chris Andrew, a member of Bombelas technical team, said yesterday work was taking place simultaneously across the 80km route, with the exception of a few pockets where there are still difficulties gaining access. In some cases this had to do with public objections, including an objection in Centurion to noise. He did not believe the objections would delay the project. There have been delays in some sections. But we are ahead in others, so on the whole the project is running on schedule. Andrew said dolomite in the Centurion area had provided some difficulties because it created large differences in depth from one area to the next, but surveyors had sorted them out.

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Cameroon – Duties on basic foods suspended

Posted by African Press International on March 9, 2008

api-correspondent-tansa-musa.jpg<From Tansa Musa
YAOUNDE, March 8 – Cameroon’sPresident Paul Biya has raisedsalaries for civilian and military personnel in the countryby 15 percent and suspended customs duties on basic foodstuffs like fish, rice and cooking oil in a bid to ease discontent over high prices which provoked riots last week.
The decisions were contained in two decrees published on Friday evening. In the broadcast on state radio, Biya increased the wages of civilian and military personnel from April 1 and raised their family allowances by 20 percent of the monthly basic salary.
The radio also said custom duties on cement would be cut to 10 percent from 20 percent until the end of August, to ease an acute shortage of building materials which has led to a doubling in the consumer price for cement in recent months.
Biya also urged the government to settle its payment arrears, maintain salary and pension advances, strengthen youth employment programmes and recruit more part-time teachers.
In the medium term, he demanded a review of the pricing of fuels, telephone rates and bank charges and he urged the government to press ahead with stalled industrial, mining and agricultural projects.
“I urge the prime minister to scrupulously carry out with celerity and efficacy the instructions I have just given. I will not tolerate any failure in their execution,” Biya said.
The measures in Cameroon came in the wake of a Feb. 25-28 taxi drivers strike to protest at fuel price hikes in the central African country that degenerated into rioting in several towns against the high cost of living and Biya’s intention to extend his 25 years in power. The government put the death toll from the clashes at 24, although human rights activists put it at over 100, most of these shot dead by the police in the economic capital Douala.
The government said 1,671 people were arrested, about 200 of whom have so far been tried and sentenced to serve between six months and three years in prison. Rights organisations denounced the summary trials behind closed doors and heavy jail terms.
Meanwhile, union groups criticised Biya’s announcements. “For us, these are just cosmetic measures and a non-event,” said the president of the Cameroon Teachers Trade Union (CATTU) Simon Nkwenti. “What we want is the restoration of salaries to their pre-1993 levels.”
In 1993, as part of IMF-backed reforms, Cameroon cut wages by 70 percent and, one year later, the CFA franc currency was devalued by 50 percent, slashing consumer purchasing power. In the early 1980s, Cameroon was one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most successful economies, with annual growth of over 7 percent. But the country was plunged into a prolonged economic crisis in the mid-1980s by a collapse in coffee, cocoa, and oil prices, which exposed the weakness of economic policies, a situation aggravated by gross economic mismanagement and rabid corruption. (END)
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