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Archive for December 19th, 2008

HIV cycle in Mozambique is troubling

Posted by African Press International on December 19, 2008

MOZAMBIQUE: Orphans getting caught in HIV cycle

Photo: Andr Catueira/PlusNews
More than 380,000 children in Mozambique are thought to have lost their parents to AIDS-related illnesses

CHIMOIO, 19 December 2008 (PlusNews) – With her make-up touched up, a basin filled with seasoned chicken on her head and a bundle of sharpened bamboo sticks in her hand, Lucrcia*, 16, makes her way to an old petrol station near a major truck stop in Chimoio, capital of Mozambique’s central province of Manica.

“I sell appetisers to a lot of the people who come here to drink,” she told IRIN/PlusNews. “On the weekends it’s very busy, and I can earn a reasonable amount of money to help pay for household expenses.”

Lucrcia’s parents died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2005. Since then, she has cared for three younger siblings and her elderly grandmother. Her small business makes a monthly profit of about 1,650 Meticais (US$66), which has to pay for food, education and health care for the family.

“My business isn’t that profitable, but it was the only way I could find of surviving and not falling into the mistake of selling my body, which happens with other girls in my situation,” she said.

But night-time commerce comes with its own set of dangers, like a high rate of physical and sexual violence that can also place her at risk of HIV infection.

Survival schemes

After losing their parents, most children turn to domestic work, agricultural work or informal commerce to survive, often dropping out of school to earn an income and manage household chores.

Helena Muando, a psychologist and provincial director of the Department of Women and Social Action (DPMAS) in Manica, said orphaned girls were especially at risk of physical, psychological and sexual abuse, and were more susceptible to coercion.

Many had no choice but to go into commercial sex work or marry early, both of which increased their vulnerability to HIV.

Orphaned in 2003 when her parents died in a traffic accident, Erica*, 15, accepted a marriage proposal from a truck driver because she could find no other way of supporting herself and her grandmother.

She became pregnant and discovered she was HIV positive during a pre-natal check-up. “I haven’t seen [my husband] for more than four months,” she told IRIN/PlusNews. “He never called me or came to see me after he found out I was living with HIV.”

A vicious cycle

More than 380,000 of the estimated 1.6 million orphaned children in Mozambique are thought to have lost their parents to AIDS-related illnesses. The United Nations children’s fund, UNICEF, estimates that another 650,000 children will lose their parents to AIDS in the next two years.

HIV is part of a vicious cycle that ensnares many such children and teenagers because it takes away their parents, without whom they too become more vulnerable to the virus.

“We are very concerned about the percentage of orphans in Manica Province. The number has risen dramatically in the past few years, in most cases because of HIV and AIDS,” said Mozambique’s First Lady, Maria da Luz Guebuza.

Many orphans are integrated into extended or substitute families, but a recent study by Save the Children, an international organisation working to improve the lives of disadvantaged children, found that this was not always the best solution.

The study documented abuse suffered by some orphans, especially those living with adoptive families. Some of the children interviewed said they were given less food than others in the household, suffered physical abuse, were obliged to take on a heavy load of household chores, and were not always sent to school.

Social support

The government’s DPMAS, in cooperation with various NGOs, provides support to approximately half the 400,000 orphaned children and teenagers in Manica through income-generating programmes like raising livestock, informal commerce and building houses.

A rehabilitation centre built by the Messenger of God Church in Chimoio offers health care, play therapy, life skills training and psycho-social support to orphaned and vulnerable children.

The centre also provides assistance with birth registrations, which are essential to ensuring that the children’s rights, including their inheritance rights, are respected.

Guebuza stressed that “Support at the community level plays a fundamental role in assuring that children will receive necessary care, and that their rights will be respected.”

*prefer not to reveal last names

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Local NGOs in Cameroon: Embezzelment could trigger severe food insecurity in the country

Posted by African Press International on December 19, 2008

CAMEROON: Boost maize production or face food crisis, local NGO warns

Photo: Reinnier Kaz/IRIN
Maize production is the main source of income for some three million small-scale farmers in Cameroon

DOUALA, 15 December 2008 (IRIN) – Still saddled with high food prices, most Cameroonians are turning to maize as the most affordable staple. But a local NGO says a combination of increasing demand and high production costs – allegedly complicated by embezzlement could trigger severe food insecurity.

A local NGO is calling on the government to help boost maize production, warning in a recent report: Cameroon will see its most grave food crisis ever in 2009 unless the country increases production by 120,000 tonnes. The figure is based on Agriculture Ministry estimations of national food needs, a ministry official confirmed.

The Citizens Association for the Defence of Collective Interests (ACDIC) said in its report: If nothing is done to hike the production of maize, the entire country will suffer further increases in the cost of living, with a strong likelihood of more food riots.

An Agriculture Ministry official is also worried. We have been calling this to the governments attention for many months now, Sikapin Paul, coordinator of the ministrys maize programme, told IRIN.

In February some 40 people died in Cameroon in riotstriggered in part by the high cost of living.

The government subsidises maize production but experts say the support falls far short of needs. Overall the government allocates 2.4 percent of the national budget to the Agriculture Ministry; the budgetcovers the ministry’s operations and agriculture projects.

The most widely cultivated cereal in Cameroon, maize is consumed regularly by about 12 million people or two-thirds of the population.

The price of maize has doubled over the past year, to about 230 CFA francs (47 US cents) per kilogram.

Given that the prices of most foods have gone up, maize remains among the most affordable staples for families. I prefer to buy 2kg of maize, which is enough to make a meal for four people, rather than 500 CFA francs ($1) worth of potatoes, homemaker Damen Nicole told IRIN.

Animal feed

Maize also makes up 70 percent of feed for poultry.

The demand for animal feed shot up this year, after poultry production – which had plummeted because of a bird flu scare in 2006 – resumed in March. ACDIC said the demand for maize for poultry feed shot up 40 percent in less than a year.

Photo: Reinnier Kaz/IRIN
A man carrying a sack of maize in Cameroon’s commercial capital Douala

Some poultry farmers have had to slaughter some of their animals because they can no longer feed them. The number of chickens at my farm has gone down 30 percent, Douala-based poultry farmer Djeukeu Patrice told IRIN. With the same level of revenue I can no longer afford to feed as many as before.

ACDIC said maize was the main source of income for more than three million small-scale farmers in Cameroon. But, the group said that with the high cost of fertilisers and pesticides and the lack of modern equipment, farmers revenues from maize were meagre.


The fraudulent use of agricultural funds was further squeezing resources for maize producers, the local NGO charged in its report.

The group alleged that of 805 million CFA francs ($1.6 million) in subsidies for maize production for 2008, 62 percent had been misappropriated by employees of the Agriculture Ministry.

ACDIC said it investigated a list of recipients and learned that some of the groups on the list did not exist, while others received less than stated in government records. Certain civil servants in the Agriculture Ministry created fictional [cooperatives] to divert these funds, said Bernard Njonga, the ACDIC president.

The Agriculture Ministry denies the charge. These are false and offensive allegations, Sikapin told IRIN.

On 11 December security forces arrested and detained for several hours Njonga and several other activists who had marched in the capital, Yaound, to protest against corruption in the Agriculture Ministry.


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The need for fertilisers – Maize-meal important for the African continent

Posted by African Press International on December 19, 2008

ZIMBABWE: Abel Chuma, “Very few families had received free seed and fertiliser”

Photo: Obinna Anyadike/IRIN
Forced to buy, instead of grow maize

HARARE, 16 December 2008 (IRIN) – Abel Chuma, 42, is a gardener working in Mabelreign, one of the affluent northern suburbs in the Zimbabwes capital, Harare. Adjacent to his employers’ home is a vacant piece of land, where for years Chuma has grown enough maize, the staple food, for his needs.

“It looks like I may have to start buying mealie-meal [maize-meal] next year because I cannot afford the high prices of maize seed and fertiliser.

“The little maize seed and fertiliser that is available is beyond my reach because they are sold in United States dollars, which I do not have.

“All efforts to get free or cheaper maize seed and fertiliser have failed.

“Some urban farmers have received the farming inputs, but only those who are in the ZANU-PF [party, which has ruled Zimbabwe for 28 years] leadership structures have benefited from donations of the inputs.

“I went to my rural home, hoping to access them, but was met with the same story. Very few families had received free seed and fertiliser, and those who received it were well-known party stalwarts.

“The few families with fertiliser and maize seed had received it from children, friends and relatives who work in urban areas or are in the diaspora [of millions of Zimbabweans who have left the country].

“I have identified some places from where I will collect some manure, which I will spread on my piece of land. Urban farmers have over the years contributed to the country’s food security.

By producing enough food for our families, it means the government would have fewer people to source food for. [The UN estimates that over five million Zimbabweans will need food aid in early 2009.]

“However, if we are to continue providing that service, then the government has to acknowledge our critical role by availing seed and fertiliser to urban farmers.

“Pricing inputs beyond us just increases possibilities of hunger in the country, especially in urban areas where food security is not guaranteed.”


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“My plea to [Botswana’s President Ian] Khama and his government is to think carefully about the irreversible harm they have been plotting to unleash on the region.

Posted by African Press International on December 19, 2008

ZIMBABWE: Botswana dismisses its neighbours sabre rattling

Photo: IRIN
Looking for bandits

JOHANNESBURG, 16 December 2008 (IRIN) – Neighbouring Botswana dismissed Zimbabwe’s sabre rattling at it as nothing more than “distorted” and “concocted facts”.

Zimbabwes state-controlled daily newspaper, The Herald, launched a broadside attack on its neighbour on 15 December, claiming the government had “compelling evidence” that Botswana was providing military training to “bandits” from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Botswana is the regions staunchest critic of Zimbabwe and recently suggested that sealing the landlocked country’s borders would lead to the collapse of President Robert Mugabes 28-year rule in a week.

Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa told The Herald: “My plea to [Botswana’s President Ian] Khama and his government is to think carefully about the irreversible harm they have been plotting to unleash on the region.

“Botswana has availed its territory, material and logistical support to MDC-T [the MDC faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai] for the recruitment and military training of youths for the eventual destabilisation of the country, with a view to effecting illegal regime change.”

The use of the word “bandits” is a chilling reminder of Operation Gukurahundi (The rain that washes away the chaff before the spring rain), which Mugabe’s government launched on the then opposition party and its supporters soon after Zimbabwes independence from Britain in 1980, on the pretext of tackling insurgents and counter-revolutionaries sponsored by apartheid South Africa.

Echoes of Gukurahundi

In the event, about 20,000 people, almost all civilians, were killed by the North Korean-trained 5th Brigade in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces in southwestern Zimbabwe, strongholds of the rival liberation movement ZAPU.

“We now have evidence that while they [MDC] were talking peace, they have been preparing for war and insurgency, as well as soliciting the West [the US and Britain] to invade our country on the pretext of things like cholera,” Chinamasa said.

The death toll from a cholera outbreak that began in August and spread across the country has reached nearly 1,000.

Chinamasa said the “evidence” had been handed to the Southern Africa Development Community’s (SADC) Organ on Politics, Defence and Security.

A statement by Botswana’s department of foreign affairs said: “As Zimbabwe has already publicly passed judgment on its own allegations, the ministry wishes to reaffirm that Zimbabwe’s submission [to the SADC] contains nothing more than distorted and or concocted evidence, none of which is supported by facts.”

''Zimbabwe had dismally failed to produce any tangible, much less compelling, facts in support of its allegations''

Botswana submitted its response to Zimbabwe’s allegations to the SADC on 10 December, saying in the statement that “Zimbabwe had dismally failed to produce any tangible, much less compelling, facts in support of its allegations.”

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said the rhetoric levelled against it and Botswana, which often hosts Tsvangirai, were “false”.

“The MDC does not believe in violence, and there is no way we can train youths to overthrow President Mugabe. We believe in democratic methods just like the ones we used and displayed in March this year, when we defeated ZANU-PF in the harmonised [combined presidential and parliamentary] elections,” Chamisa said.

He said the abduction of 15 MDC activists in Manicaland Province, in eastern Zimbabwe, more than a month ago was a plan to force a “confession” from them that Botswana was providing military training to MDC members.

“ZANU-PF is torturing our activists and they want to force them to admit to undergoing military training in Botswana, so as to divert international and regional attention from their own human rights record and the humanitarian situation unfolding in the country.

“But this will not work, Chamisa said. We are aware of ZANU-PF plans to declare a state of emergency in Zimbabwe, using false claims.”


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Papua New Guinea (PNG) has one of the highest prevalence rates of HIV

Posted by African Press International on December 19, 2008

PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Idau Ghou, “We tell them, ‘It’s not normal if you have that kind of discharge'”

Help at the end of the line

PORT MORESBY, 18 December 2008 (PlusNews) – Papua New Guinea (PNG) has one of the highest prevalence rates of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the Asia-Pacific region. The lack of awareness about safer sex, especially among the youth, is recognised as a particular problem.

Three months ago, Marie Stopes International (MSI), which provides sexual and reproductive healthcare services, set up a telephone hotline, ‘Yangpela’, to provide callers with information and, where necessary, refer them to MSI’s clinic.

Idau Ghou, 28, handles calls for MSI at their small office in the PNG capital, Port Moresby. She talked to PlusNews about her experiences while working on the hotline.

“I found it at first difficult to communicate with people on issues of sex and reproductive health, pregnancy, STIs and HIV/AIDS. Ididn’thave a medical background, butfrom what I learned at Marie Stopes I managed to cope, and now I’m really enjoying it.

“As a young person I’m really learning a lot from the questions people ask regarding sex and reproductive health. The most common questions are about pregnancy.

“From the signs and symptoms they tell us, we refer young people to our centre to see our doctor. STI questions are also common. We tell them ‘It’s not normal if you have that kind of discharge from the vagina or penis’. I tell them they should come to our clinic for a proper medical check.

“As young peoplethey hide from theirparents when they are pregnant, or know they have an STI, but when we do referrals we tell them, ‘it’s just between you and our medical team; it’s private’.

“So many people text [SMS] back or call back and thank us for what we’ve done – they’vebeen through medical treatment and are well now.

“I remember a young girl who was a student at Gordon’s Secondary school [in Port Moresby]. She was complaining about the [symptoms of an] STI. She didn’t know she had that, but the signs she gave [suggested it].

“She called me when she was outside the centre, she told me what she was wearing and asked me to take her in [to the centre], in case her relatives saw her.

“She was so scared. She saw the doctor and was treated. I came back to the hotline room and I was feeling really sorry for her, that she was hiding from herparents and relatives.

“Many males say they don’t like using condoms, they say they want [sex] ‘flesh to flesh’. We explain what condom use is for, that you’ll protect yourself from HIV/AIDS, STIs and unwanted pregnancies, so they have an understanding of the purpose, but I feel few use condoms.

“They call up and ask if there are other ways [of protection] so they can avoid using condoms. We say, ‘that’s the onlything we havefor avoiding STIs, HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancies’.”


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Posted by African Press International on December 19, 2008

Reports Leo Odera Omolo

The revolutionary government of Zanzibar has put up for sale Mv Mapinduzi, the government owned cargo vessel citing high maintenance and running costs.

A recent report on the viability of the vessel found that besides being expensive to run, it is too old and pose a risk to passengers.

According to the deputy Minister fro communications Mzee Ali Ussi, the same autonomous government of Zanzibar had asked local maritime exports to evaluate the working conditions of all vessels belonging to the Zanzibar maritime institute and they recommended that Mv Mapinduzi as MV Maendeleo be sold.

The two vessels have been undergoing continue maintenance as they are completely dilapidated Mapinduzi makes a regular lose of USD 3,000 per trip to the nearly two island of Pemba and another USD 21,000 lose per trip to Mtwara port on the mainland Tanzania due to the minimal amount of cargo carried.

The Isles Communication Minister Othman said the government spent a lot of money on fuel alone, and that there was not enough cargo on these routes to justify the services. Mfered by the vessels.

MV Mapinduzi has gross tonnage of 3,999 with dead weight of 1,869 and was built in 1974 in Japan.

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Coming last in the UNDP ranking

Posted by African Press International on December 19, 2008

SIERRA LEONE: Still last on human development index

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
High maternal mortality levels in Sierra Leone contribute to its low human development rank (file photo)

DAKAR, 18 December 2008 (IRIN) – For the second consecutive year Sierra Leone has come last in the UN Development Programme ranking of human development indicators of 179 countries.

Some analysts say Sierra Leone is nonetheless advancing in some areas and that the impact of the countrys 11-year civil war must be taken into account for a full measure of progress.

The UN human development index measures development based on three principal dimensions: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living. These are measured by life expectancy at birth; adult literacy and combined gross enrolment in primary, secondary and tertiary education; and per capita income in terms of purchasing power.

Life expectancy in Sierra Leone is 42, or just over half of the life expectancy in the top 20 ranked countries. Just 25 percent of women are literate, with the level at just 37 percent for the entire population.

Sierra Leones placing on the index should be a call to action for everyone who is interested in the well-being of ordinary people in Sierra Leone, Engilbert Gudmundsson, World Bank Sierra Leone country director, told IRIN.


Sierra Leones maternal mortality indicators the highest in the world continue to drag the country down, according to UNDP-Sierra Leone deputy country director Samuel Harbor. Out of every 100,000 live births, 1,800 women die according to the UNDP figures, while one in four children die before they reach age five.

While Sierra Leone emerged from conflict almost a decade ago, progress in rehabilitating the economy and building up basic health and education services has been slow, says West Africa regional World Bank country director, Ishac Diwan.

But the government is making progress on maternal mortality, says UNDPs Harbor. The government has developed a maternal and child health strategy and is collaborating closely with partners, including UNDP, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and the African Development Bank.

The strategy involves decentralizing health services, which has been slow-going, according to Harbor. Local councils are new in Sierra Leone these institutional arrangements have just been put in place, so it will take time.

The African Development Bank is helping supply district services with drugs and equipment, and the World Banks Diwan said there are more trained nurses in district clinics, and in some areas, clinics where previously there were none.

The latest UN-government figures on maternal and child mortality are expected to be published in a March 2009 health and demographic survey.


Just half of Sierra Leones primary schools are functioning, many of them in inadequate conditions, and secondary school attendance is still only at 44 percent, according to the UN.

But World Bank figures state 100 percent enrolment levels at primary school up from 64 percent in 2004.

The government is running a national Education and Youth Development Programme to maintain high primary enrolment figures and reduce the gender gap in schools.

But the government is cash-strapped. Sierra Leone is very poor, so simply put, the ability of the government to put in place development measures is very limited, said Richard Moncrieff, West Africa regional director of think-tank the International Crisis Group.

More coordinated support

To move beyond piecemeal progress, donors need to switch from funding individual projects to channeling money directly through the government, Diwan said.

The government needs national education and health strategies, and to do this we need to increase the money going through government channels, he told IRIN.

For Moncrieff, the priority should be to boost revenue by developing the agricultural sector, which contributes to 40 percent of the economy. To date the agriculture sector has been hampered by poor infrastructure, lack of equipment and poor market conditions, according to the World Food Programme.

President Ernest Bai Koroma, elected in 2007, is focusing the governments development energies on power supply, but making agriculture more efficient and boosting production is next on his list, said Diwan.

Apples with apples

Abdoulaye Sireh Jallow, senior economist with UNDP, said rather than comparing Sierra Leones development to countries with long-established institutions in place, it is better to compare its progress since it emerged from conflict.

This will give you a very different picture than the one we see in the HDI, he told IRIN. The government is making an effort and we should focus on incremental improvements that have been made and call on partners to build on this progress. Acknowledging this could make a world of difference to turn the tide around.

Sierra Leone has substantial mineral and agricultural resources but the 1991-2002 war devastated the economy, destroyed infrastructure, and diminished agricultural productivity by forcing people off their land, according to WFP.

According to Alison Kennedy, UNDP statistics chief, this years HDI trends are broadly the same as previous years: Countries where human development indicators were rising steadily are still doing so, and where there was stagnation or a decline [as with Sierra Leone], this is still the case.

Of the 26 countries designated as having low human development in the latest HDI, 12 are in West Africa.

A child born in any of the top 20 countries on the HDI index can expect to live to at least 80 years, but if she or he is born in one of the bottom 26, life expectancy is no more than 49.


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Posted by African Press International on December 19, 2008

Report Leo Odera Omolo

The inter-Governmental Authority on Development (19AD) has appointed former member of the cabinet President Mwai Kibaki s Narc government to be the lead facilitator in the Somalia Peace negotiations process

Kipruto Arap Kirwa the former Minister for Agriculture and immediate former MP for Charangany Constituency in Trans-Nzoia district in the North Rift region will be based in Djibouti but he will also have offices in AddisAbaba and Nairobi respectively.

The appointment of Kirwa, the tough talking be spectacled politician who hails from the Nandi a sub-tribe of the larger Kalenjin ethnic group was announced by Kenya Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula.

Kirwa will be the IGAD facilitator for the new momentum on peace in Somalia a desert state in the hon of Africa which has remained ungovernable for close to two decades ever since its democratically elected government led by the late President Mohammed Giad Barre was toppled by the renegade tribal forces in 1991.

Kenya was mandated under the Nairobi Declaration and the Djbouti Peace Agreement to appoint a facilitator and President Kibaki has appointed the tough-talking and independent minded Kirwa said Wetangula.

The Kenyan Minister at the same time put President Abdulahi Yusuf who head the shakily Somali interim government on notice saying IGAD will not hesitate to improve economic Sanctions in Somalia.

We are concerned over President Yusufs recent move to sack Prime Minister Nur-Hussein Hassan. Such political competitions and polarization among the top leadership of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) continues to undermine such efforts, said the minister adding that Kenya only recognizes the cabinet under Mr.Hassan and President Yusuf should know that

Yusuf had dismissed the Prime Minister after the two disagreed on a new cabinet not demanded by donor countries. Hassan consequently unilaterally sacked Mogadishu Mayor a key ally to the President. Thousands of people demonstrated in Mogadishu streets over the sacking of Hassan.

But the interim Parliament reinstated Hassan. The two also differed on the direction on the UN hosted talks aimed at power sharing with moderate Islamist opposition.

Kirwa an Independent minded Kalenjin politician who defiantly resisted the political manipulation of the retired President Daniel Arap moi had served briefly as an Assistant Minister in the early 1990s but was later fired by Moi. He was later to be an instrumental in the formation of United Democratic Movement (UDM) and remained a credible critic of Moi government for a long time.


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Posted by African Press International on December 19, 2008

Reports Leo Odera Omolo

AFRICAS largest micro-financier Blue Financial Services has acquired its rival firm in South Africa.

The firm, which started operating in Kenya last year, bought Credit U of 280 million Rands{Kshs 2 billion} in a move that will further solidify its market presence in that country.

Trade in Credit U shares was consequently suspended at the Johanesburg Stock Exchange on December 8th and the companys listing terminated this week.

The acquisition deal of the listed entity was announced in August and concuded this week.

The groups Chief Executive Officer Dar Van Niekerk was widely quoted by the Kenya Press as having said that the conclusion of the deal has paved the way cross listing of the firm in Namibia and Zambia .

Blue Financial Services has set up operations in 12 countries within the African continent and its acquisition of Credit U has increased branches to 300 with over 3,000 staff across the continent.

The company recently announced USD 70 million {Kshs 19 million loan facility frtom the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

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He was beheaded as I watched, and they buried him,” said Sichei, tears rolling down her face.

Posted by African Press International on December 19, 2008

KENYA: Battle for land fought over women’s bodies

Photo: Georgina Cranston/IRIN
“They took us to the forest and raped me for days, taking it in turns”

KITALE, 17 December 2008 (PlusNews) – Margaret Sichei*, 37, discovered she was HIV positive during a routine antenatal check-up. The pregnancy, as well as the HIV infection, was the product of a gang rape deep in the forests of Mount Elgon in western Kenya, perpetrated by members of a self-styled militia calling themselves the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SDLF).

She talked about her ordeal while waiting to pick up her supply of antiretroviral (ARV)drugs at the district hospital in the town of Kitale, near Mount Elgon, where she tested positive two years ago.

“I had just prepared supper for my family and we were seated in our house. Suddenly the dogs of our neighbour started barking viciously; we heard footsteps, and before we could even realise anything, our door was kicked open by men in huge boots, and carrying all manner of weapons.

“They accused my husband of being a traitor, and they dragged the two of us out of the house. They then took us to the forest and raped me for days, taking it in turns and saying that I would pay the price on behalf of my husband, forgetting that they had already killed him. He was beheaded as I watched, and they buried him,” said Sichei, tears rolling down her face.

She eventually escaped while pretending to fetch firewood to make food for her captors and fled to the nearby town of Bungoma, only returning to her home after the army had flushed the militia out of the area.

The SDLF began their insurgency in 2006 in response to alleged injustices committed during a land distribution scheme. Some of the area’s residents initially supported them in the belief that they were fighting to reclaim land belonging to them, but before long they started paying the price.

In a report released in July 2008, Human Rights Watch, an international watchdog, estimated that the SLDF had killed more than 600 people and kidnapped, tortured and raped many more.

Lillian Kirei, 20, also contracted HIV after first being raped by militia members and then later by members of the Kenyan security forces sent to Mount Elgon in March 2008 to quell the insurgency. Her 45-year-old mother was also raped but did not survive the ordeal.

“We were three girls and we were coming from the market in the evening when the militia abducted us,” she told IRIN/PlusNews. “One of us who tried to scream was beaten senseless and raped with leaves stuffed in her mouth. We are all HIV positive now.

“When the army came, I went through the same ordeal. I do not know for sure where I contacted the virus but I now take ARVs, and whoever gave me the virus is for God to punish,” she said.

''At the time you do things that haunt you later in life. I am now HIV positive, yet at that time we thought it was cool to rape women''

Erick Wanyama, a clinical officer at the hospital in Kitale, noted that many women who had experienced similar ordeals were now HIV positive. “There are some who are dying silently due to the stigma associated with rape and HIV – it is a double blow to women and girls,” he said.

According to Dr. Charles Onudi, medical officer for Kenya’s Western Province, out of 100 pregnant women and girls from the Mount Elgon region who said they had been raped, 35 have so far tested positive for HIV.

He added that the actual number of women who had contracted HIV during the insurgency was probably much higher, but that most women were reluctant to admit they had been raped.

In its report, All the Men Have Gone, Human Rights Watch accused both the SLDF and the Kenyan army of committing war crimes and blatant human rights abuses. Medical charity, Mdecins sans Frontires have made similar claims.

John Kirui*, a former militia member who is HIV positive, said he now regretted raping dozens of women and girls during the time he served in the rebel outfit.

“At the time you do things that haunt you later in life. I am now HIV positive, yet at that time we thought it was cool to rape women,” he said.

Jane Kibiwott, 18, was raped for two days by a group of young men belonging to the SLDF; she and her four-month old baby are both HIV positive. “I can say he is twice unlucky,” she said, breast-feeding her son.

“First, he is a child of rape, and now he is HIV positive and being cared for by an equally positive mother. Cruel things happen at times, especially for us, the poor.”

*Not their real names

ko/ks/he –

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