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Archive for October 2nd, 2008

Zimbabwe: Cholera disaster looms

Posted by African Press International on October 2, 2008

Harare (Zimbabwe) – A health disaster of unimaginable proportions looms in Harare after the water situation deteriorated even further this week, sparking fresh health concerns. An outbreak of cholera in Chitungwiza claimed two more lives this week, bringing to 13 the total number of deaths so far.

The water crisis in Harare and in Chitungwiza, approximately 30 kilometres south of the capital, has reached critical levels forcing doctors and the cities’ residents associations to exert pressure on government to put its house in order and avoid continued loss of lives. Faced with severe shortages of foreign currency required to import water purification chemicals and spares to repair the ageing water infrastructure, the government has all but admitted it does not have the capacity to deal with the problem.

The confusion over Cabinet appointments has not helped the situation.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) this week said a serious health crisis looms in urban areas owing to the severe shortage of running water. Failure by the state-run Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) to treat and pump adequate supplies of water has left most urban homes dry and forced residents to rely on unsafe sources of water.

This, coupled with a breakdown in the sanitation system (burst sewage pipes and lack of refuse collection and proper disposal) is threatening the health of millions of Zimbabweans at a time when the health delivery system is least prepared to deal with any major outbreak of diseases due to the brain drain and the shortage of drugs.

ZINWA has admitted it has not been treating the more than 300 megalitres of waste produced in the capital, which is simply being discharged into Harare’s main source of raw water, Lake Chivero. The untreated waste water has contaminated more than half of Lake Chivero. As a result the water treatment bill has spiked to such levels that ZINWA is now unable to procure the enormous amount of chemicals needed to treat the murky Chivero water for safe human consumption. Water experts have also said the treatment of Harare water has become complicated because the waste water discharges were highly contaminated with industrial toxins, which need complex methods to remove, thus exposing consumers to health complications other than cholera.

“The new government must address this crisis as a matter of urgency. It is a matter, which cannot wait for resolution of differences or ‘sticking points’. Public service provision has been inadequate for several years and requires urgent and comprehensive remedial action,” said ZADHR. The association told The Financial Gazette this week that access to safe drinking water and to adequate sanitation are basic human rights and not privileges.

“Lives have already been lost to cholera in Chitungwiza and health centres in Harare and Bulawayo are burdened by numerous cases of diarrhoea on a daily basis. It is highly likely that the number of deaths in Chitungwiza, currently reported at 13 individuals, is much higher, and that this is but the tip of an iceberg of much more morbidity. This has not been communicated to the public,” said the association.

Outbreaks of cholera at any time are symptomatic of serious structural problems within the system of public works. They are more common when rains have resulted in flooding or overload of drainage systems. An outbreak in the middle of the dry season is particularly disturbing.

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API/Source.Financial Gazette (Zimbabwe), by Nelson Chenga & Charles Rukuni – September 29, 2008.

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Zimbabwe: Mbeki urged to continue with mediation efforts

Posted by African Press International on October 2, 2008

Pretoria (South Africa) – Former President Thabo Mbeki has confirmed that the United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU) and SADC have requested him to continue his mediation efforts in Zimbabwe.

He was speaking during a farewell function, which staff in the Presidency hosted for him in Pretoria.

Mbeki appealed to the staff not to abandon their responsibilities to the country. He says that they have the obligation to serve the people of South Africa.

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API/Source.SABC (South Africa)- September 29, 2008.

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South Africa: New health minister serenaded by Aids campaigners

Posted by African Press International on October 2, 2008

Johannesburg (South Africa) – ANC Member of Parliament Barbara Hogan will take over from Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang as South Africas Health Minister following President Kgalema Motlanthes announcement of his new cabinet. The news of the demise of Tshabalala-Msimang and the rise of Hogan has been positively received.

According to news reports, HIV activists and campaigners gathered around Hogans Cape Town flat on Thursday evening to serenade and toast the new Health Minister. Among those gathered were members of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) as well as the Aids Law Project. Both organisations believe that Hogan will better meet the pressing health concerns that South Africa faces, particularly with regard to HIV/Aids.

Aids Law Project attorney Fatima Hassan said that they were “ecstatic about the appointment of Hogan. “Manto Tshabala-Msimang should have been replaced a long time ago, she told the Sowetan.

The TAC said that Hogan had been one of the few MPs to speak out about HIV/Aids during former President Thabo Mbekis term in office. She also showed commitment to the provision of anti-retrovirals (ARVs) and supported organisations such as the TAC.

“She has a reputation for being hard-working, competent and principled. We believe that the period of politically-supported AIDS denialism has ended,” the TAC said in a statement.

Tshabalala-Msimangs reputation was blemished by claims she made during her tenure as Health Minister, arguing that ARVs were not necessary and recommended instead that HIV-positive people consume garlic, beetroot and olive oil to maintain their immune systems.

The former Health Minister will serve as a minister of the Office of the Presidency.

Hogan joined the ANC in 1976 where she worked to mobilise white political left participation in campaigning. She also supplied the ANC underground with trade union information. In 1982 she was detained for furthering the aims of a banned organisation and in 1983 found guilty of high treason and sentenced to ten years in prison. Hogan was released in 1990 with the unbanning of the ANC.

In the early 1990s, she worked as the secretary of the PWV regional office, before chairing the finance portfolio committee in Parliament. She has remained in the fields of economics and finance since.

In an interview with News24, shortly before the announcement of her promotion was made public, Hogan spoke about what challenges she thinks she will face in her new job. I think [a] big challenge is going to be to boost the morale of healthworkers, to create a health system that is functional and responsive to people who are using it – and those are big challenges all in itself.

[And] I think the biggest challenge is HIV/Aids and all the strains that it places on the health system.

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API/Source.South Africa Good News (South Africa) – September 29, 2008.

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South Africa: Country to overcome difficult times, says Motlanthe

Posted by African Press International on October 2, 2008

Johannesburg (South Africa) – President Kgalema Motlanthe last night called the nation to action in his second public address since being sworn into office last Thursday.

“Our country is emerging from one of the most difficult weeks in the history of our young democracy. It has been a week of uncertainty and doubt, hurt and anger. Yet it is at moments like this that the true character of our nation emerges,” Motlanthe said in a televised address.

Motlanthe’s frankness is in sharp contrast to his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, who was often seen to be turning a blind eye in times of national crisis. The African National Congress (ANC) forced Mbeki to resign last week and has since been trying to manage the fallout.

Reflecting on Mbeki’s resignation, Motlanthe said that “we have no choice but to move forward”.

“It is when we are tested that we demonstrate our resilience and determination. We have shown in the past that though we may at times experience difficulty, we have both the will and the means to rise above the challenges of the moment,” he said.

Motlanthe stressed that the new executive was committed to constitutional values, saying that in recent days “we have proven the durability of our constitutional order and the vibrancy of our democracy”.

Addressing fears of radical policy changes, Motlanthe committed the new executive to continuity. “To succeed in these important tasks, as we strive to build a new nation, it is necessary that we harness all the available skills, talent and experience that our nation possesses.”

He said SA would meet its international obligations, inc-luding hosting the Soccer World Cup in 2010, and did not shy away from the country’s social and economic challenges.

On the global economic crisis, Motlanthe said, “We will remain true to the course that we have set, knowing that we have done what is necessary to weather the storm.” The government would remain focused on its mandate to reduce unemployment, improve healthcare and tackle crime.

Last week Motlanthe moved quickly to replace cabinet ministers who chose to resign in solidarity with Mbeki. He also replaced former ministers Manto Tshabalala-Msimang (health), Charles Nqakula (safety and security) and Brigitte Mabandla (justice).

Motlanthe was gracious in his address and said he would build on Mbeki’s legacy.

“It is difficult to reduce into mere words the contribution that President Mbeki has made to the advancement of our nation. It is to him, to his leadership, and to his vision, that we owe so much of our achievements of the past decade.”

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API/Source.Business Day (South Africa), by Hajra Omarjee – September 29, 2008.

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Pirates stick to ransom demand; standoff at 7 days

Posted by African Press International on October 2, 2008

Somali pirates who hijacked a ship laden with tanks and heavy weapons stared down U.S. warships and helicopters again Wednesday, making no move to withdraw their $20 million ransom demand or give up after a seven-day standoff in the IndianOcean.

The hijacking of the Ukrainian cargo ship MV Faina carrying 33 Soviet-made T-72 tanks, rifles, and heavy weapons that U.S. defense officials have said included rocket launchers was the highest-profile act of piracy in the dangerous waters off Somalia thisyear.

The U.S. Navy says it wants to keep the arms out of the hands of militants linked to al-Qaida in impoverished Somalia, a key battleground in the war on terrorism. To that end, it has surrounded the Faina, anchored off the central Somali town of Hobyo, with half a dozen ships, including USS guided missile destroyer USSHoward.

An official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk on the record, said disagreements among the pirates led to a shootout Monday night that U.S. officials believe killed threepirates.

He would not elaborate how U.S. officials knew this information, but the USS Howard, which is within 10 miles of the hijacked ship, has sophisticated weapons and monitoringequipment.

A spokesman for the pirates denied the shootout report, saying the pirates were celebrating the Islamic holiday that marks the end of the holy month ofRamadan.

“We are happy on the ship and we are celebrating (Eid al-Fitr),” spokesman Sugule Ali told The Associated Press by satellite telephone Tuesday. “Nothing haschanged.”

“We didn’t dispute over a single thing, let alone have a shootout,” Alisaid.

On Wednesday, his phone rang and rang but no one picked it up. A spokesman for the U.S. 5th fleet in Manama, Bahrain, the control point for the USS Howard, said they had no new developments on the standoffWednesday.

Piracy is a lucrative criminal racket in the region, bringing in tens of millions of dollars a year. There have been 24 reported attacks in Somalia this year, according to the International MaritimeBureau.

U.S. officials said 40-50 pirates were involved in the hijacking, but only about 30 were on the shipitself.

U.S. Navy officials from the 5th Fleet said they have allowed the pirates to resupply the ship with food and water, but not to unload any of its militarycargo.

Ukrainian news agencies have said the ship’s operator is Tomex Team, based in the Black Sea port ofOdessa.

The U.S. fears the armaments may end up with the militants who have been waging an insurgency against the shaky, U.N.-backed Somali transitional government since late 2006, when the Islamic fighters were driven out after six months in power. More than 9,000 people have been killed in the Iraq-styleinsurgency.

American military officials and diplomats say the weapons are destined for southern Sudan, but Kenyan officials insist the weapons are bound for theircountry.

The Faina had a crew of 21, mostly Ukrainians, but a man who has been identified as the first mate, Vladimir Nikolsky, told The Associated Press on Sunday that one man died of hypertension. Russian media said it was the freighter’s captain, VladimirKolobkov.

In a telephone conversation posted on the Web site Life.ru and apparently initiated by the news site, a man identifying himself as Nikolsky made what sounded like a coded call for help, repeating a Russian word for “seals” three times an apparent reference to a possible amphibiousrescue.

The Russian guided missile frigate Neustrashimy, or Intrepid, is traveling to the area, but was not expected for several days. Russia has used force in the past to end several hostage situations sometimes disastrously, as in the 2004 storming of a school in Beslan, which resulted in 333 deaths, nearly half of themchildren.

Most pirate attacks occur in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, north of Somalia. But recently pirates have been targeting Indian Ocean waters off easternSomalia.

Some 62 ships have been attacked in the notorious African waters this year. A total of 26 ships were hijacked, and 12 remain in the hands of the pirates along with more than 200 crewmembers.

International warships patrol the area and have created a special security corridor under a U.S.-led initiative, but attacks have notabated.

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Associated Press writers Elizabeth A. Kennedy in Nairobi, Kenya, Barbara Surk in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, and Pauline Jelinek in Washington contributed to thisreport.

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API/Source.AP

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Africans wary on new US command for continent

Posted by African Press International on October 2, 2008

By TODD PITMAN

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) A new command takes over all U.S. military operations in Africa on Wednesday, a program that many Africans fear has a hidden agenda skewed by the war on terror and a self-interested scramble for resources.

Before Africom was created one year ago, American military programs on the continent had been divvied up among three other commands more concerned with NATO and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The new command is inheriting responsibility for a Centcom-run base in Djibouti, where 1,800 troops are deployed to keep Horn of Africa terror networks in check. It also takes over European Command’s Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative and dozens of other military and maritime training programs.

“Africans believe Africom is aimed at promoting America’s interests, not Africa’s,” said Wafula Okumu, a Kenyan analyst at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies. Most Africans don’t trust their own militaries, which in places like Congo have turned weapons on their own people.

“They don’t trust Africom, either, because it’s a military force,” Okumu said. There is also “a suspicion America wants to use us, perhaps make us proxies” in the war on terror.

Africom’s deputy for military operations, Vice Adm. Robert T. Moeller, said counterterrorism is a priority, but it is not the only one.

Some key areas of Africa such as Somalia’s pirated-infested coastline will still be under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Central Command headed by General David Petraeus.

International warships now patrol waters off the Somali coast and have created a special security corridor under a U.S.-led initiative, but attacks have not abated. In all, 62 ships have been attacked in the notorious African waters this year.

“We abhor the actions of the pirates. But that is currently the purview of Central Command,” Moeller said in an interview from Stuttgart, Germany Monday.

Resistance to Africom among African governments has been so strong that commanders abandoned initial ambitions to install a headquarters on the continent. It is based in Stuttgart instead, with about two dozen Africom liaison officers posted at embassies.

Many of the African suspicions are rooted in the past.

Washington’s Cold War legacy of supporting brutal dictators, coupled with Africa’s tragic colonial history, has spawned a distrust of foreigners. And many believe it’s no coincidence Africom was born as emerging powerhouses like China and India embark on a new scramble for the continent’s increasingly valuable resources.

Over the past year, Africom officials have crisscrossed the continent, fending off waves of suspicion and reiterating they have no plans to build new military bases outside Djibouti.

Commanders say Africom will bring a focused approach to the continent, which had never been a priority before. But even some U.S. lawmakers have doubts citing the intense hostility the program has generated among African governments.

Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass, who chairs the House national security and foreign affairs subcommittee, told The Associated Press the new command’s rollout had been “badly bungled,” its mission not made clear enough to African leaders.

Over the weekend, Congress slashed Africom’s 2009 budget by a third to $225 million. It also ordered Defense Secretary Robert Gates to report back by April 1 on how the command can be improved.

Moeller, said the confusion was “unfortunate” but the command’s mandate has not changed.

“Our primary responsibility … is working with our African partners to help them build their security capacity” mainly by training armies and peacekeepers.

From the beginning, Africom was cast as a different kind of command, one that would focus American military might not on fighting wars, but on preventing them through “soft power.”

As part of the new approach, a civilian deputy equal to Moeller was appointed to coordinate humanitarian operations with other U.S. agencies. Africom’s “interagency” makeup was trumpeted as a better way to meet the continent’s development needs.

But only 13 of the 1,300 staff positions allotted so far are non-Defense Department jobs, a ratio Congress says is “not optimal for meeting U.S. long-term goals.”

Erin Weir of Refugees International says Africom is part of a growing trend toward “militarization” of American foreign policy, driven more by the war on terror than by development needs.

Over the last decade, the Washington-based group says the percentage of Pentagon-controlled development assistance abroad skyrocketed from 3 percent to 22 percent, while USAID’s share dropped from 65 to 40 percent.

“Africom has become a lightening rod for a bigger concern, which is that U.S. foreign policy is being dictated almost entirely by the Department of Defense,” Weir said.

Africom officials say such worries are unfounded. The organization says it aims to support, not shape U.S. policy. And of the $9 billion America spends annually in sub-Saharan Africa, the Pentagon’s share is just 3 percent.

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API/Source.AP

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US official: 3 pirates may be dead in shootout

Posted by African Press International on October 2, 2008

By MOHAMED OLAD HASSAN

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) Disagreements between Somali pirates holding a ship laden with tanks and heavy weapons escalated into a shootout and three pirates are believed dead, a U.S. defense official said Tuesday. The pirates denied the report.

The U.S. destroyer USS Howard and several other American ships have surrounded the Ukrainian cargo ship Faina, which was hijacked Thursday and is now anchored off the lawless coast of Somalia. The pirates have demanded a ransom of $20 million and the U.S. Navy cordon aims to prevent them from taking any of the weapons ashore.

The official in Washington who reported the shootout spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record. He refused to elaborate and said he had no way of confirming the deaths.

But the pirate spokesman insisted the report was not true, that his colleagues were just celebrating the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr despite being surrounded by American warships and helicopters.

“We didn’t dispute over a single thing, let alone have a shootout,” pirate spokesman Sugule Ali told The Associated Press by satellite telephone Tuesday.

“We are happy on the ship and we are celebrating Eid,” Ali said. “Nothing has changed.”

The Islamic feast marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Earlier Tuesday, Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers’ Assistance Program cited an unconfirmed report saying three Somali pirates were killed Monday night in a dispute over whether to surrender. Mwangura said, however, he had not spoken to any witnesses.

Elsewhere in Somalia, pirates freed a Malaysian tanker Tuesday after a ransom was paid, according to a Malaysian shipping company.

The blue-and-white Ukrainian ship Faina has been buzzed by American helicopters since Sunday. Pirates hijacked the Faina and its cargo of 33 Soviet-designed tanks and weapons Thursday while the ship was passing through the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, en route to the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

Ali said the vessel was surrounded by four warships but he could not identify where the ships were from. The San Diego-based USS guided missile destroyer Howard has been watching the pirate ship for several days and has spoken the pirates and crew by radio.

The U.S. defense official in Washington said the pirates have been moving from ship to shore and back again, bringing provisions including livestock.

He said between 40 and 50 pirates were involved in the hijacking, but a second U.S. official said only about 30 of them were on the ship itself.

On Monday, U.S. naval officials said several other American ships had joined the watch, but declined to give details.

U.S. Navy officials said they have allowed the pirates to resupply the ship with food and water, but not to unload any of its military cargo, which included T-72 tanks, ammunition, and heavy weapons that U.S. Defense officials have said included rocket launchers.

The U.S. fears the armaments may end up with al-Qaida-linked Islamic militants who have been fighting an insurgency against the shaky, U.N.-backed Somali transitional government since late 2006, when the Islamists were driven out after six months in power. More than 9,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in the Iraq-style insurgency.

Russia has also dispatched a warship to the area, but it will take about a week to get there.

American military officials and diplomats say the weapons are destined for southern Sudan.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian shipping line MISC Berhad said Tuesday that Somalia pirates released the seized palm oil tanker, MT Bunga Melati 2, on Monday, two days after its first vessel was released.

Chairman Hassan Marican said a ransom was paid for both vessels but declined to reveal the amount. All 79 crew on both ships are safe but were traumatized and will undergo counseling, he said.

Piracy has become a lucrative criminal racket in impoverished Somalia, bringing in tens of millions of dollars a year in ransom. There have been 24 reported attacks in Somalia this year, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

Most pirate attacks occur in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, to the north of Somalia. But recently pirates have been targeting Indian Ocean waters off eastern Somalia.

In all, 62 ships have been attacked in the notorious African waters this year. A total of 26 ships were hijacked, and 12 remain in the hands of the pirates along with more than 200 crew members.

International warships are patrolling the area and have created a special security corridor under a U.S.-led initiative, but attacks have not abated.

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Associated Press writers Barbara Surk in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Pauline Jelinek in Washington contributed to this report.

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Web site for USS Howard:

http://www.howard.navy.mil/default.aspx

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Published by African Press International – API

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Zimbabwe sends six peacekeepers to Darfur

Posted by African Press International on October 2, 2008

Six Zimbabwe police officers are set to leave this week for Sudans western Darfur region on a joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission in the troubled area.

The officers would join the 10,000-strong UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) for six months in the strife-torn region.

Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri said the departing officers should strive to maintain Zimbabwes peacekeeping record, which has seen the country being invited for missions in countries such as Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kosovo in Serbia.

Another group of 13 police officers returned home this week from peacekeeping duty in Liberia.

Zimbabwe hosts the Southern African Development Community Regional Peacekeeping Training Centre which trains military personnel and civilians for peacekeeping duty in the region.

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API/Source.apa

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