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Archive for December 18th, 2008

Dear Michelle Obama….

Posted by African Press International on December 18, 2008

By Christine Vidal

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The voices of women whose stories are rarely told have been gathered by two scholars at the University at Buffalo to offer Michelle Obama messages of love, hope, admiration and support as she becomes the United States’ first African American First Lady.

The women’s words are being compiled into a book, “Go, Tell Michelle: African American Women’s Letters to the New First Lady,” by Barbara Seals Nevergold, Ph.D., and Peggy Brooks-Bertram, Dr.P.H., Ph.D., UB senior educational specialists and co-founders of the Uncrowned Queens Institute for Research and Education on Women at UB.

The book will be published in January 2009 by SUNY Press/Excelsior Editions (Albany, N.Y.). The goal is to have the book in Michelle Obama’s hands by Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2009.

The project had its genesis, Nevergold explains, in the 2008 presidential campaign as she watched President-elect Barack Obama’s journey to the White House gather momentum and his wife, Michelle, come into her own as a presidential candidate’s wife.

“Throughout the election, it became apparent that African Americans were becoming emotionally invested,” she says. “I felt such a sisterhood with Michelle Obama and a kinship.

“At the end of the election, I started to think, how can we as African-American women share with her our feelings about the new role she’s going to take?”

A week after the election, Nevergold and Brooks-Bertram used the Internet to send out a call for people to express their hopes and advice for Michelle Obama through letters, poetry and recipes. Starting with an Uncrowned Queens listserv they maintain, their request spread across the country and around the world.

“We were interested in ordinary women who’ve fallen into historical obscurity and who have never imagined themselves writing a letter like this to the next First Lady,” says Brooks-Bertram.

The response was enormous. Hundreds and hundreds of letters poured in, from professors and poets, playwrights and religious leaders, musicians, retirees and ordinary women. Eighth-grade students from Buffalo Prep sent letters. Residents of Kenya, Cameroon, Liberia and countries in the Caribbean sent letters. African Americans from around the country as well as Native Americans sent letters.

The messages were as diverse as the senders, but overwhelmingly the sentiments were of love and the desire to let Michelle Obama know she is not alone in her trip to the White House.

“There were so many messages that said ‘we never thought we’d live to see the day that a black man was elected president,'” says Nevergold. “Many letters said their ancestors were smiling down on this event.”

While only 100 letters will be published as part of “Go, Tell Michelle,” Nevergold says all the letters they receive will be included in an online digital repository available at the Uncrowned Queens Web site. Nevergold and Brooke-Bertram call the book an “excellent example of digital literacy.”

“Technology is the way to reach people,” says Brooks-Bertram. “Every letter we received came via email, with the exception of one or two.”

And the letters continue to pour in.

As an acclaimed international publisher of distinguished research and notable works of general interest since 1966, SUNY Press and its Center for Scholarly Communication are proud to support the State University of New York’s commitments to teaching, research, and public service. Through its Excelsior Editions imprint, SUNY Press makes available exceptional works for all readers and also showcases the diversity and abiding energy of the peoples, histories, and natural beauty of New York and the surrounding regions.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB’s more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities. of Buffalo

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Posted by African Press International on December 18, 2008

Leo Odera Omolo Reporting from Kericho Town.

The campaign to have the vacant cabinet slots in the grand coalition government headed by President Mwai Kibaki has intensified among members of Parliament from the South Rift.

Residents of the region, especially members of the Kipsigis community now feel they are being marginalized by the Kibaki administration. Two legislators from the region, Donald Kiprono Kipakalya Kones {Bomet} and Lorna Laboso {Sotik} perished in an aircraft accident which occurred in June last year and the by-elections to fill the two vacant parliamentary seats were held in September this year.

President Mwai Kibaki and the Prime Minister Raila Odinga while touring the region on a mission to reconcile the warring communities made public statement both in Molo and Sotik urging members of the Kipsigis community to be patient and wait for new cabinet appointments after the by-elections were completed.

The by-election resulted in two new MPs being elected. They are Mrs Beatrice Kones {Bomet} who replaced her departed husband and Mrs Dr. Joyce Laboso Abonyo {Sotik} who became the replacement for her late younger sister Lorna. And ever since the by-elections were completed in early September this year, the government has been silent. There has been no mentioned about the vacant Ministerial slots

The Kipsigis, the most populous sub-tribe of the larger Kalenjin ethnic group boost a population estimated to be between 1.3 and 1.3 million people. It’s people are found in five administrative districts, namely Kericho, Bureti, Sotik, Bomet and Kipkellion. The community has the largest number of members living in diaspora outside what is commonly called The Kipsigis Reserve Land The largest concentration of Kipsigis settlers are residents of Kuresoi, Molo, Rongai, Subukia, Goibatek, Uasin Gishu, North and South Nandi. It’s other settlers are found in Trans-Nzoia and Trans-Mara, South Narok and even in far fields of Naivasha , Nyahururu, andLaikipia

This figures put together makes this particular community to have a combined population, which exceeds two million people. It boosts a voting strength of close to one million,concentrated in Rural Kipsigis comprising five districts. The ODM and it’s de facto leader Raila Odinga had harvested close to one million votes from the Kipsigis electorate in the December 2007 general elections.

The government attitude towards the Kipsigis people by dilly-dallying over the appointment of it’s MPs to the cabinet is causing a lot of anxiety. This particular community is yawning for one of their own to be in the cabinet. And they are placing the blames at the door steps of the Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the man whom they voted for on-man-to-man in the last general elections.

The anger is caused by the fact that the ODM is favoring the North Rift where their cousins the Nandis whose voting strength is less than 400,000. Despitebeing a minority sub-tribe, the Nandis clinched three Ministerial slots in the power-sharing arrangement between President Kibaki and Raila Odinga, though this particular community only gave the ODM a paltry number of votes, which did not exceed 236,000.

The Nandis, however, have the lions share in the coalition government in the names of Willaim Samoei Ruto {Agriculture} Henry Kosgei {Industilization) and Dr Sally Koskey (Higher Education}. And to the chagrins of the Kipsigis people, only the late Kipkalya Kones was made a full cabinet Minister. Two MPs from the region, namely the late Lorna Laboso {Sotik} and Charles Keter were appointed junior Ministers. But as for now, only Keter is still serving in the government and the community now feels like unwanted in the running of the affairs of this government.

The two new MPs, Beatrice Kones {Bomet} ex-school teacher, and Dr. Joyce Laboso Abonyo a former lecturer at the Egerton University, are all cabinet materials. But the man whose name is being floated by the majority members of the community and seen as being fit to hold such portfolio, is the former Internal Security Chief in the Moi regime Hon Zakayo K. Cheruiyot {Kuresoi}.

Cheruiyot who is a native of Bureti district is one of the thousands of Kipsigis settlers in Olenguruone in Kuresoi constituency. The constituency is a sensitive one because its a semi-cosmopolitan comprising members of Kalenjin, Kikuyus, Kisii, Luhyia, Maasais and others.

The areahas for years ever since 1992 general elections remained a thorn in the flesh of the successive governments. It has experienced one of the worst and bloody tribal clashes between the Kalenjin, mainly the Kipsigis and the Kikuyus and requires someone with the vast experience in governmental matters like Cheruiyot who for a long time was in the Provincial Administration.

Cheruiyot appointment to the cabinet, said a Kericho civic leader who had requested that his name should not be made public for fear of reprisals, could be a big asset to the coalition government in its concerted effort to normalize and harmonize inter-tribal relations in the vast Molo region and bring the inter-communal hostilities in the area to an end.

The Kuresoi MP, a wealthy large scale dairy and tea farmer and businessman is a moderate and straightforward detribalised politician. Although he is a typical Kalenjin, the MP is married to a Luo lady with whom they have half a dozen of grown up children. And is said to be having a good rapport with the Kikuyu settlers and other communities who settled in the volatile Molo district.. With such a person in the government, the coalition government could count on him to bring peace and tranquility in the region which has witnessed the bloodiest clashes ever since 1992.

Civic and opinion leaders in Kipsigis land say, the area need dynamic leaders of Cheruiyot stature and callibre to bring about the much needed peace and harmony between the various communities.

The Kipsigis people, particularly the politicians have heaped a lot of blame to the Agriculture Minister William Ruto for not considering their own people in his vast Ministry which has close to nine parastatals and for openly showing favoritism to their cousins from the North. They want Prime Minister Raila Odinga, whom they gave a nick name of Arap Mibei {the son of the lake} to push hard for the appointment of the Kipsigis people to senior position in both the government and quasi-governmental bodies..

The outspoken Kericho politician Mr. William Kipkemoi Arap Kettienya blamed both Ruto and Odinga for having given his community a raw deal. Many members of the community have been kicked out of their plum jobs in the civil service, parastatal and even in the armed forces. Our community needs to get a share in the nations cake to reciprocate the support that the community gave to the ODM, said Mr. Kettienya{Chemosit}.

Two MPs from the region are known to be nursing ambition for Ministerial appointments. These are Franklin Bett {Buret} and Isaac Ruto {Chepalungu}, but their names are dented following allegations that both had benefited from thecontroversial Mau Forest Complex, (Land.)

Two other MPs Dr. Julius Kones {Konoin} and Magerer Langat {Kipkellion} are considered to be too young and at times acting like common hecklers and alleged to be cronies of William Ruto and so is the youthful Benjamin Langat .Molo is a sensitive security area, and needs someone who is all roundly a sober person, Said a Konoin farmer J.L. Koske.

President Kibaki is the appointing authority, though in consultation with the Prime Minister Raila Odinga whose party representation in the cabinet has remained less by one slot ever since the death of Kones in June this year.

Zakayo Cheruiyot appeared to have passed the community test, though the Kuresoi MP may only need a godfather to push his case to the power that be, there is a popular belief that he is the right person for the job. Others could be appointed to the position of junior Ministers.

The area is now full of behind the scene campaign. Local brokers and busy bodies are said to be making a kill under the prevailing political circumstances. And the rumors making the round have it that Raila is favoring Mrs Kones.

These are just merely and empty rumors, because the President has the final word. He will, however, take into account the security situation in the region and consult widely with his handlers on who should get the plum job and fly the national flag. The community, however, appeared to be hell-bent in seeing Cheruiyot join the cabinet.


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Circumscision time forces girls to hide in God’s houses

Posted by African Press International on December 18, 2008

KENYA: Hiding from the cruellest cut

Photo: Justo Casal
Girls such as these are at great risk of FGM in several districts in the country

NAIROBI, 17 December 2008 (IRIN) – Hundreds of girls between seven and 17 are seeking refuge in church compounds in western Kenya to avoid the ritual removal of their clitorises, a practice that remains common despite its illegality.

“Local authorities must ensure that these girls are not ostracised by the community and that their education is not disrupted,” Andrew Timpson, a senior protection officer for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Kenya, told IRIN on 16 December.

Timpson made a field visit to Kuria East and Kuria West districts in early December to examine the condition and protection needs of 340 girls who had fled their homes to avoid undergoing female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).

He said FGM/C was a major problem and that the 350 girls who sought refuge at two churches were a small group. “It is possible that several hundred girls aged 15 to 16 may have been circumcised.”

The girls left their homes in late November and sought sanctuary in two Swedish Maranatha Pentacostal mission stations Gwikonge in Kuria West and Komotobo in Kuria East.

Timpson said the girls were predominantly from Masaba, Mabera and Kehancha divisions.

“The majority of the girls were brought to the missions by their parents who resisted concerted pressure brought by their communities, elders and grandparents to have their daughters circumcised,” Timpson said. “However, there were at least 50 girls who were forced out of their homes or who had fled to avoid forced circumcisions.”

Although substantial work has been done to sensitise girls and the community at large to the dangers of FGM, Timpson said, more needed to be done to ensure that those who encourage the practice face the law as it is contrary to Section 14 of the Children’s Act.

Photo: IRIN
Anti-FGM activists: Hundreds of girls between seven and 17 have sought refuge in church compounds in Kuria to avoid the ritual

Safety concerns

Ahmed Hussein, the director of children’s services under the Ministry of Gender, said the government and its partners had provided food to last the girls two weeks.

“The district advisory council is doing everything to ensure the girls are safe and consultations are ongoing to make sure that they can resume learning when schools open,” Hussein said. “We will take the necessary measures to ensure their safe return home and to ensure their learning continues.”

Timpson said the District Officers should ensure the girls are not beaten or circumcised when they return home “and the law should be used to deal with errant fathers and community leaders”.

Relief aid for the girls has been provided by the government and agencies such as World Vision, the Maranatha Church and their Swedish partners. Other involved in efforts promoting the abandonment of FGM/C in the Kuria district include Action Aid, ADRA and GTZ/MOH and World Vision.

According to a UNICEF-commissioned study, the practice is still prevalent in most of Kenya.

“Available evidence shows that female circumcision is still common, particularly in rural areas and among women who have received less education,” according to the study, undertaken for UNICEF by Anne Khasakhala of the University of Nairobi’s Population Studies and Research Institute.

One of the main reasons is the celebration and feasting that accompanies the ceremony and the bride wealth brought during the marriage negotiations, Khasakhala said.

FGM prevalence rates in the two Kuria districts range between 75 and 90 percent, according to the study, with the age at circumcision between 12 and 14.

“It appears that the community is still hiding under history, tradition and cultures that state that the girl is likely to become pregnant if she is not circumcised and that will bring shame to the family,” the study indicated, with stigmatisation of girls who do not undergo FGM/C.

The study recommended that parents and the community be educated so that girls who are not cut are not discriminated against.


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Obama admits something went on between his people and the Senate-seat-selling Governor

Posted by African Press International on December 18, 2008

Barack Obama admits aides spoke with

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich

Monday, December 15th 2008, 8:35 PM

Aides to Barack Obama did talk to disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich about filling the President-elect’s open Senate seat, but those discussions were never “inappropriate,” Obama insisted Monday.

That was the conclusion, he said, of a now-complete internal review of all his transition staff’s contacts with Blagojevich. But at the request of federal investigators, details are being withheld until at least next Monday.

That’s Christmas week, when most Americans will be distracted and the President-elect plans to be celebrating the holiday in Hawaii – not Chicago, the focal point of the federal investigation.

“I would ask for your patience because I do not want to interfere with an ongoing investigation,” Obama told reporters at a Chicago news conference. “Those facts will be forthcoming.”

The comments came as the Illinois Legislature took the first steps Monday toward possibly impeaching Blagojevich, who was accused by federal authorities last week of trying to sell Obama’s Senate seat to the highest bidder.

House Speaker Michael Madigan appointed a committee of inquiry to look into allegations that Blagojevich abused his power.

“We’re going to proceed with all due speed, but we’re going to make sure that what we do is done correctly,” the Chicago Democrat said.

The two-term governor is showing few signs of voluntarily giving up his $177,000-a-year job. He returned to work yesterday to sign a tax credit bill after earlier seeing off his wife, Patti, and the couple’s two daughters.

Attorney Ed Genson made clear that he thought Blagojevich, who spent the weekend talking to Genson and other defense lawyers, may well choose to fight efforts to impeach him.

“I think that the case that I’ve seen so far is significantly exaggerated,” Genson said Monday. “It’s not what people think it is.”

Obama reiterated Monday that he personally had no contact with Blagojevich.

Aides to the President-elect acknowledge Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s incoming chief of staff, did talk to Blagojevich about the Senate seat and even handed over a list of candidates acceptable to Obama, a fairly common exchange in politics.

Emanuel has been accused of no wrongdoing, but a direct question to Obama on Monday about Emanuel drew only a blanket response from the President-elect.

“There was nothing that my office did that was in any way inappropriate,” said Obama, adding that his team’s review of contacts was “thorough and comprehensive.”


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According to a study by the Tanzania Commission for AIDS (TACAIDS) released earlier in 2008, HIV prevalence in Iringa rose from 13.4 percent in 2003 to 14.7 percent in 2007, more than double the national prevalence of 6.2 percent.

Posted by African Press International on December 18, 2008

TANZANIA: The downside of an economic boom

Photo: Sarah Mcgregor/IRIN
The busy Tanzam Highway ensures a steady flow of truckers through Iringa

IRINGA, 2 December 2008 (PlusNews) – For two months of the year, James Lusago can count on a steady income from working in the rice fields of Pawaga, in the southwestern Tanzanian region of Iringa. But there’s a dangerous side effect to this temporary economic freedom: lonely and far from family and friends, he spends part of his salary on sex.

“It’s a normal thing when you are away from home, doing hard work all day,” Lusago, 25, told IRIN/PlusNews. “In the village, women don’t have money or jobs so it’s necessary to give them 1,000 shillings [US$0.80] after sex.”

His story is by no means unique and may help explain why Iringa, which has a thinly spread population of 1.7 million in an area about twice the size of Belgium, has been particularly hard hit by the AIDS epidemic.

According to a study by the Tanzania Commission for AIDS (TACAIDS) released earlier in 2008, HIV prevalence in Iringa rose from 13.4 percent in 2003 to 14.7 percent in 2007, more than double the national prevalence of 6.2 percent.

In these fertile southern highlands, agriculture and timber production have contributed to an economic boom that is good news for job creation in a country where one-third of the people live on less than one US dollar a day, but bad news for the spread of HIV.

The busy Tanzam Highway, running for almost 1,000km from the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, across the country to Tanzania’s southern neighbours, Malawi and Zambia, cuts through Iringa, bringing a steady stream of relatively well-off truckers.

It is the truckers and seasonal farm workers like Lusago who keep the sex trade active and contribute to the escalating rate of HIV infections. “Sex is almost a commodity in this culture – widely available and not viewed as risky,” said Ezekiel Mpuya, the region’s medical officer.

''Sex is almost a commodity in this culture – widely available and not viewed as risky''

He added that the temporary settlement of lumberjacks and farm workers in the area had created a major bridge for HIV transmission. “A micro-level industry has grown around them, with mainly women selling everything from groceries and alcohol to sex.”

According to local HIV experts, a number of other risk factors collide in Iringa: polygamy is rife among members of the local Wahehe, Wabena and Wakinga ethnic communities, and it is common practice for widows to be “inherited” by relatives of their dead husbands.

Gosbert Buberwa, a senior technical officer with the US-funded Tunajali Care and Treatment Programme, said rural communities had been largely neglected by AIDS programmes. “We are concentrated on the easy-to-reach areas in towns and central places, but we haven’t gone in deep.”

The high mobility of many local people made their task even more difficult. “With so many pastoralists, migratory workers and fisherman – they keep moving around – you register someone for care today and you lose them the next.”

Getting condoms, AIDS tests, life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs and the safe sex message to the cut off corners of this sparsely populated and mountainous region also presents a challenge said Buberwa. Health centres are few and far between; in some rural areas the closest clinic is a day-long trip by foot and bus.

Need for more HIV programming

Having woken up to the scale of the AIDS problem in Iringa, the government is in the final stages of drafting a five-year plan to tackle the crisis. “It’s not enough for leaders to just say ‘AIDS is dangerous’ anymore,” Mpuya said. “We need a better strategy.”

Funding has been made available to ensure that a comprehensive programme is rolled out, but there is a need for better coordination and more resources for prevention efforts.

Private enterprises have also realised the danger the epidemic poses to their profits. Unilever Tea Tanzania, which produces 40 percent of the country’s tea output, runs a hospital and clinics for its 6,000 seasonal labourers and their families to keep its workforce healthy.

With financial help from the Global Fund and the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the company also educates workers on how to prevent HIV and provides counselling, testing and treatment.

A chat with local truckers suggests that prevention messages are beginning to be heard. Egbert Mahali, in the truck-stop town of Ilula, on the outskirts of Iringa, is repairing the engine of his truck, which is carrying sulphur to Zambia.

“If my truck isn’t fixed by midnight I’ll sleep in the cab so I won’t be tempted to drink and convinced by women,” he told IRIN/PlusNews. “A lot of people in my profession are wise these days; they see their friends die and decide to sleep alone.”


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A lemur from Madagascar has given scientists new evidence about the origins of the HIlemur from Madagascar has given scientists new evidence about the origins of the HIlemur from Madagascar has given scientists new evidence about the origins of the HIV virus

Posted by African Press International on December 18, 2008

MADAGASCAR: Lemur virus gives clues to evolution of HIV

Photo: Standford University
The discover of a HIV-like virus in Madagascar’s grey mouse lemur suggests such viruses have been around for millions of years longer than previously thought

ANTANANARIVO, 16 December 2008 (PlusNews) – A squirrel sized lemur from Madagascar has given scientists new evidence about the origins of the HI virus and opened up promising new avenues for investigation.

Robert Shafer, a senior author of the research, told IRIN/PlusNews that the discovery “is one of the most important missing links” required for understanding the evolutionary history of HIV-related viruses.

It is widely believed that the two strains of HIV prevalent in humans, HIV-1 and HIV-2, were passed on by primates from Africa, and that these primates have harboured the disease for a million years at the most. But the discovery of a virus related to HIV in the genetic make-up of the tiny grey mouse lemur, found only in Madagascar, has turned these beliefs on their head.

The new findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on 1 December, suggest that lentiviruses, the family of viruses to which the HIV-1 and HIV-2 belong, have been present in primates for at least 14 million years. That was the last time the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar was linked to mainland Africa, allowing the disease to pass to lemurs.

“Our discovery means that primate lentiviruses have been present in Madagascar historically and may still be circulating there,” Robert Gifford, an infectious disease researcher at the Stanford School of Medicine and lead author of the research, told IRIN/PlusNews. “Since Madagascar has been very isolated throughout evolutionary history, it’s not clear how we could have these viruses present both there and in Africa, unless they are in fact many millions of years old.”

Scientists now believe that lentiviruses could be at least 50 million years old, and that they may be found in primates throughout the world.

More than 25 million people across the world have died of AIDS-related illnessessincethe HI viruswas first identified in the United States 27 years ago. Two-thirds of the 33 million people infected with HIV globally live in sub-Saharan Africa, but Madagascar’s HIV prevalence rate has so far remained below 1 percent. The prevalence of syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases, however, suggest that the virus could spread rapidly.

The recent findings from Stanford University are unlikely to radically change the course of research into HIV and AIDS in the short term, but are expected to have a major impact on scientists’ broader understanding of the virus.

“If we are ever going to properly understand the relationships between lentiviruses and disease, assess the risk of new epidemics occurring, and harness the body’s natural defences to prevent and control HIV infections, we need to establish the proper ecological and evolutionary contexts,” Gifford said.

He described the lentivirus material found in the genetic make-up of the grey mouse lemur as “molecular fossils” that show how viruses looked hundreds of thousands or even millions of years ago. This is important, as it helps scientists understand the functions of different genes within a virus, and to assess the limits of virus adaptation and potential vulnerabilities – information that could be used to help develop new ways to prevent and treat infections in humans.

However, Gifford warned that there was still a long road ahead. “Like many things in science, our findings raise as many questions as they provide answers,” he said. “But the important thing is that they reveal something new and completely unexpected about the evolutionary relationship between primates and lentiviruses.”


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