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Archive for December 28th, 2008

A vote for good governance in Ghana

Posted by African Press International on December 28, 2008

Ghanaians vote for new president

Written By:BBC,Posted: Sun, Dec 28, 2008

People in Ghana have begun voting in the presidential run-off after the 7 December election failed to produce an outright winner.

Nana Akufo-Addo of the governing party is facing John Atta Mills of the opposition in the battle to succeed President John Kufuor.

Mr Addo defeated his rival by a slender margin in the first round but not by enough to avoid the run-off.

The stakes are high as Ghana has just found commercial quantities of oil.

In order for this election to pass off smoothly, he adds, it is vital that it is seen as free and fair – otherwise Ghana risks losing its reputation for democracy and peaceful elections.

The rival sides accused each other on the eve of polls of seeking to rig the ballot through intimidation and fraud.

Mr Atta Mills told reporters that his party had in recent days unearthed “startling revelations and confessions [about poll fraud]”.

“There are certain developments since 7 December, which if not checked could distract from the peace and stability that we all want and could also affect the electoral process,” he said.

He said he had received disturbing reports of “macho men” being hired “to cause mayhem at polling stations”.

Mr Akufo-Addo’s party accused the opposition of having embarked on a “disturbing… intimidation scheme”.

“In the last two days, a most diabolical and devious leaflet which seeks to inflame tribal passions and incite ethnic tensions has been in circulation,” the party said in a statement, adding that two party activists had been assaulted by presumed opposition supporters.

“As if threats, attacks and violence is not enough, the NDC, we are reliably informed, also plans to engage in massive fraud during tomorrow’s voting.”

President Kufuor, who has to stand down having served two consecutive terms, called for a peaceful vote.

“I am appealing to all Ghanaians… we should all keep cool, go and vote, as a peaceful exercise, as a legitimate exercise,” he told reporters.

Ghana, traditionally an exporter of cocoa and gold, is preparing to start producing oil in commercial quantities from late 2010 and a major boost to the economy is anticipated.

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Trying to target the most needy

Posted by African Press International on December 28, 2008

YEMEN: Role of local NGOs in October flood relief efforts

Photo: Muhammed al-Jabri/IRIN
Floods destroyed thousands of farms in Hadramaut

MUKALLA, 23 December 2008 (IRIN) – Local NGOs, working in tandem with the military, made a significant contribution to helping people affected by the late October floods in Hadramaut and Al-Mahra governorates, southeastern Yemen.

At least 90 people were killed, and 20,000-25,000 were made homeless by the floods.

Unlike international NGOs, local NGOs were present right from the start of the crisis, providing drinking water, food and shelter. The militarys help was crucial in delivering supplies by air, and the government liaised with international aid agencies and coordinated relief efforts throughout.

One example of local assistance was that provided by Al-Ahgaff University (AU), a non-profit private university based in Mukalla, in collaboration with the Mukalla-based Islamic Association (IA).

The AU ordered the suspension of studies for two weeks and launched a relief campaign, sending volunteer students to remote villages. Abdullah Baharoon, the AU president, said his students had learnt practical lessons from their relief work. “One of the goals of establishing the university was to serve the community and we put this into practice in the relief campaign.”

“The first thing we did was to form relief committees to go to flood-stricken areas to assess the situation, and also distribute urgently needed aid. We set up an emergency operations room in Mukalla to receive information from the affected areas. We provided the students with sat-phones to use in remote areas,” said Ali Abdullah al-Hamed, head of the IA.

According to IA figures, within two weeks the association had managed to help 4,500 families in the Hadramaut and Al-Mahra governorates.

IA distributed some 5,000 sacks of rice, 2,300 bags of flour and tonnes of wheat, cooking oil, milk, canned fish, tea and other commodities. IA also distributed 6,000 blankets and 1.450.000 litres of water, but declined to say how much it had spent (most funds had been donated by the Gulf countries).

Health services

Photo: OCHA
A map of Yemen showing the areas most affected by the floods

In cooperation with the United Arab Emirates Red Crescent, the IA formed a group of doctors who toured many villages in Hadramaut, offering free health services.

As part of a reconstruction plan in the affected areas, IAs al-Hamed told IRIN his association had completed a plan for building initially 60 houses in Hadramaut and 40 others in Al-Mahra.

The Tarim-based Al-Rafa’a Association (RA), a local NGO, also provided assistance to flood victims. In the early days of the disaster, some 7,000 people benefited. The RA has been serving three meals a day to over 3,000 people in Wadi Hadramaut. It said 11,360 beneficiaries had received 13,180 bags of rice, 905 bags of wheat, 1,700 cartons of cooking oil and 200 tents since the floods started. The RA also accommodated 100 families, paying their rent and feeding them for a month.

Al-Badiah Cooperation, another local NGO, donated tents, blankets, food baskets, and winter clothes costing YR30m (US$15,000).

Trying to target the most needy

Local NGOs said they faced many difficulties in their humanitarian work. The flood had washed away the roads and we were obliged to walk for hours in some areas. Some of our stocks were looted. In some places it was difficult to distinguish between those in dire need and those who were simply poor but not affected by the floods. Poverty-stricken people came to us saying they were in need of help,” said Hussein al-Aidaroos of the IA.

Faiz Bin Shamlah, a field volunteer sent in by the IA, said it was not easy distinguishing between the needy and the well-off. We distributed financial help through secret groups. They [the groups] handed over money surreptitiously to the needy. Many people rushed to us when they heard about money being disbursed, saying they needed help. Many people lost their property in the floods but some have rich relatives in Gulf countries, while others don’t have enough money even for a cup of tea.”

Bin Shamlah said many of the displaced were still experiencing post-flood trauma: “As a result of losing their houses in the twinkling of an eye, people are fighting with each other for insignificant reasons. They are tense but we forgive them even if they shout at us.”


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Posted by African Press International on December 28, 2008

TOGO: Aridjetou Oumorou, For non-virgins, I was paid more than twice as much

Photo: Phuong Tran/ IRIN
Aridjetou Oumorou

TCHAMBA, 26 December 2008 (IRIN) – Aridjetou Oumorou, 65, had been carrying out female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) for more than four decades until 2003, having started as an assistant to her mother, a community healer in central Togo. The region has the highest concentration of FGM/C in Togo.

Five years ago, she and other women who live in Tchamba, named after the communitys predominant ethnic group, were recruited to join a microcredit programme that required her to put down her knife and attend workshops in order to qualify for an annual business loan.

I inherited my knife and my profession from my mother. The first time I cut a girl on my own, she kept on bleeding and bleeding. I went to my mother who gave me some leaves that I mixed with red earth and placed in a plate.

I then placed the plate under the girl and she sat in it. The bleeding stopped. If there is a lot of blood and I got it in my eyes, that could be blinding. I know other women like me who became blind from this work.

If the woman or girl is not a virgin, there can be complications, so we have to prepare her with a ceremony in which we kill a small rooster and cut it in half and rub her body with the bird. We then bury the other half of the bird, asking ancestors for their permission to remove the girls clitoris.

For non-virgins, I was paid more than twice as much because of potential complications, at least US$20 [in 2001]. For virgins, I was paid $6.

I did FGM/C for more than 40 years, but it was never for the money. It was because my mother had done it. I was trained as a midwife and that is how I earned money for about 30 years. So I knew the risks of FGM/C, but my mother was always there with her remedies if I had problems.

I left FGM/C behind five years ago. If my mother were still alive, she would agree with this decision. She knew it wasnt right to be doing what we did, but there was not really a choice. We had to do it because if not, the girls would be insulted for keeping their clitorises. Now, girls do not want this [FGM/C] and people do not judge them.

I would not go back to doing FGM/C no matter how much someone offered to pay me. When I put down my knife, I made a pact with God no more. Health comes first. Health over money.

pt/ np

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A donor official told IRIN: “There is currently no standard operating procedure for CSOs to work in Ethiopia and having a common set of rules and regulations is a good thing.”

Posted by African Press International on December 28, 2008

ETHIOPIA: Do they know it’s (il)legal?

Photo: IRIN/Anthony Mitchell
Some worry that Ethiopia’s new law could stifle operations carried out by local NGOs (file photo)

DAKAR, 23 December 2008 (IRIN) – Is a proposed law to regulate charities in Ethiopia an attempt to regulate a sprawling sector and block foreign political interference or a clampdown on civil society?

A draft proclamation published and revised several times this year has been criticised by African and international rights groups. Ethiopian civil society groups allege some provisions are unconstitutional.

Critics argue the proposed rules, especially on foreign funding of Ethiopian NGOs, will deliberately stifle local human rights groups critical of the government and could disrupt aid operations implemented by local groups.

The government disagrees. Meles Tilahun, a whip in parliament, told IRIN: “The law is needed to create a conducive environment for NGOs and CSOs [civil society organisations] and provide a separate legal framework for them. It does not mean to shut them down.”

The government has, however, commented that the charity sector has been used by “political activists” who are working on “other issues”, not “catastrophes that required aid and assistance”, according to a communiqu released in September 2008.

The law, the Proclamation for the Registration and Regulation of Charities and Societies, has been passed by Ethiopia’s Council of Ministers but has not yet been presented to parliament, where pro-government MPs command an overwhelming majority. A hearing was expected on 24 and 25 December.

A donor official told IRIN: “There is currently no standard operating procedure for CSOs to work in Ethiopia and having a common set of rules and regulations is a good thing.”

But attempts to revise the law seem to be running out of time. “We’ve been lobbying to get the bill changed before it is enacted but we’ve almost come to the end of the road,” said the head of an international NGO in Addis Ababa, who asked not to be named.

The (draft) law

The law establishes an oversight agency, rules and supervision for the establishment of trusts and endowments, societies and charities. Rules governing fund-raising, membership and governance are detailed. Strong powers to investigate and oversee CSOs and tough penalties are set out.

Most controversially, the law restricts activity in human and democratic rights, gender or ethnic equality, conflict resolution, the strengthening of judicial practices or law enforcement. Only Ethiopian charities or societies having no more than 10 percent of their spending from “foreign sources” would be able to work in those areas.

However, several categories of organisation are exempted, according to a copy of the draft law on the NGO consortium Christian Relief and Development Association (CRDA) website:

Photo: Jane Some/IRIN
Some NGOs have received assurances that operations in food aid, water and sanitation, education and health care will not be curtailed (file photo)

“Religious organisations, international or foreign organisations operating in Ethiopia by virtue of an agreement with the government of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia; ‘Edir’, ‘Ekub’ [traditional cooperative schemes] and other similar cultural or religious associations; and societies governed by other laws.”

The impact on international NGOs with government agreements may therefore be limited.


In November, a CRDA task force welcomed the concept of a legal framework for CSOs, but set out a number of objections to the draft: the definitions of charities and permitted activities; the lack of a right to judicial review or appeal and the requirement that CSOs must have branches in five regions; “discriminatory selection and privileging of mass-based organisations”; lack of recognition for self-regulation by the sector; a 30 percent restriction on administrative costs; too many board members nominated by the government; charities not exempt from taxes and duty; and requirement to register with the authorities within one year of the bill taking effect.

The CRDA-sponsored report also argues that the foreign funding provisions restrict the participation of the Ethiopian diaspora and the constitutional freedom of assembly.

The CRDA commentary is only one of several critiques published by Ethiopian civil society, including prominent groups such as the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, which is frequently critical of the government and heavily dependent on foreign funding.


The US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleged the law represented “a complex web of arbitrary restrictions on the work civil society groups can engage in, onerous bureaucratic hurdles, draconian criminal penalties, and intrusive powers of surveillance” and urged parliament to reject the bill.

Amnesty International, the development committee of the European Parliament, and the civil society lobby group CIVICUS, also criticised the law, as did the US government.

“I am not aware of an NGO law elsewhere that is more restrictive,”
said Chris Albim-Lackay, senior researcher in HRW’s Africa division. “It will render the activities of most international and local human rights organisations Illegal.”

However, despite reservations, many NGOs and donors agreed that regulation was needed.

But ultimately the law could end up weakening Ethiopian civil society, some argue.

“Everyone respects sovereignty. But it depends what you define as national interest. We think it’s healthy that people complain about the government and provoke citizens to complain because it leads to better outcomes for societies as a whole,” the NGO representative said.

Other NGO laws

Ethiopia is not alone in coming under fire for its NGO law. In 2004, Zimbabwe passed a law banning domestic groups working on human rights and governance from receiving foreign funding, including Zimbabweans abroad. The law set up a government oversight mechanism that the US Bureau of Public Affairs called “highly intrusive and subject to political manipulation”.

''…I am not aware of an NGO law elsewhere that is more restrictive…''

Russia’s 2006 NGO law means the government can decline to register branches of foreign organisations where their “goals and objectives create a threat to the sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity, national unity, unique character, cultural heritage and national interests of the Russian Federation”.

And in the countries hosting western critics, there are restrictions too. In the UK, foreign NGOs must register under one of six categories: prevention or relief of poverty; advancement of education, religion; health or saving lives; citizenship and community development; human rights; conflict resolution or reconciliation, and can lobby for political or legal change only if it would further one of these goals.

The Ethiopian government has mentioned US law in its defence. In the USA, tax-exempt NGOs can lobby but “may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of their activities and may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates”. However, “social welfare” tax-exempt organisations are not limited in this way.


Ethiopia receives more than US$1 billion of humanitarian and development aid every year, and reports indicate some 3,300 NGOs operate around the country.

“A significant number of programmes under the new law could be prohibited,” a donor official told IRIN, referring to those focussing on strengthening the judicial system, conflict resolution, and democracy and governance. “If the law is implemented in black and white, some non-profits might have no future,” an NGO head told IRIN.

International NGOs are concerned about the status of local non-profits that play a major role in implementing projects (and might fall foul of the 10 percent rule) and the “rights-based” discourse and advocacy element in NGO work. Some argue that over the past two decades NGO work has inevitably become more “political”. Others have been reassured they will not have to leave or curtail their “classic humanitarian” operations and advocacy relating to food, health, education and water and sanitation.

“While regulation is needed, the law could have a ‘chilling’ effect on aid operations in Ethiopia, by creating an atmosphere of fear, distrust and potentially weakening innovation. That is where the law is quite threatening,” a donor representative told IRIN.


Advocacy may have paid off in small ways.

There have been some improvements to the latest draft bill, issued in December, according to Catherine Shea, programme director with the US Center for Not-for-Profit Law, with the punishment of a prison sentence dropped for unregistered NGOs.

However, employees of charities that fail to keep proper accounts, or whose administration costs exceed 30 percent of overall programming costs, can still be imprisoned.

One aid official said the restrictions followed apparent meddling by NGOs after the 2005 elections – the move is designed to ensure outsiders do not interfere in 2010 elections.

The government’s September commentary pointedly objected to aid operations being used by “political actors… which can sway votes in national elections”.


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