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Archive for September, 2009

Forced by big fish to exit? Ringera resigns from KACC

Posted by African Press International on September 30, 2009

Roseleen Nzioka

Embattled director of the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission Justice Aaron Ringera finally bowed to public pressure and resigned.

Mr Ringera announced his decision to his staff before addressing a Press conference that was transmitted live on national television.

He announced that he and his deputy Mrs Fatuma Sichale had tendered their resignation letters to President Mwai Kibaki. The other deputy Dr Smokin Wanjala, quit two weeks ago.

Assistant director in charge of Investigations and Asset Recovery Dr John Mutonyi shall head Kacc in an acting capacity.

Justice Aaron Ringera

The move comes hot on the heels of sustained pressure from the KACC advisory board, civil society and Kenyans for him and his deputies to step down following their controversial re-appointment by President Kibaki.

MPs accused President Kibaki of disregarding the law in appointing Mr Ringera without consultation with the KACC advisory board and Parliament and threatened to cut off KACC funding unless the appointments were rescinded.

At the press conference held at Integrity Centre in Nairobi, Ringera turned spiritual, quoting Ecclesiastes: “There is a time for everything,” and that it was time for him to exit.

Ringera said he was leaving KACC with his head held high: “We have discharged our mandate with integrity, courage.and have conducted ourselves with utmost professionalism.”

Ringera said he and his team had managed to forward for prosecution over 500 corruption cases which they had so far investigated, including ministers, MPs and Permanent Secretaries.

He enumerated various proposals for the way forward for KACC to successfully eradicate corruption, strongly advocating for a review of the legal framework within which KACC operates. Key among the proposals is for KACC to have powers to prosecute the cases it investigates.

source.standard.ke

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Eritrean Diplomat held over illegal return to city

Posted by African Press International on September 30, 2009

By Cyrus Ombati

Police in Nairobi arrested a top Eritrean diplomat in connection with terror activities.

Anti-Terror police officers yesterday nabbed the First Secretary at the Eritrean Embassy Tewaled Holde Nagesh along the city streets after they realised he had sneaked back to the country.

Mr Nagesh was arrested and deported last October after police declared him a threat to national security.

Yesterday, anti-terror police said Nagesh forged travelling documents and sneaked back to the country through the Ethiopian border.

Police Spokesman Eric Kiraithe said Nagesh is expected to be deported any time and that he was expected to appear in court.

“Preliminary findings show he used fake documents to return to Kenya. He was arrested this morning and will be deported anytime,” said Mr Kiraithe.

Security threat

Kiraithe termed Nagesh a threat to national security and the relationship between Kenya and Eritrea.

Said Kiraithe: “If he was deported last October how did he find his way back to the embassy in Nairobi?”

Police were looking for some officials at the embassy for grilling.

Meanwhile, police shot dead a suspected follower of Mungiki sect yesterday in a confrontation in Nairobis Dandora Estate.

Police said the deceased was in the company of five others who had been demanding money from matatu operators when the incident occurred at about 3pm.

Matatu operators alerted the police, complaining that they were harassed.

Buru Buru Deputy OCPD Karisa Mwaringa said they are looking for other suspects who escaped on foot. He added that they recovered a pistol from the suspect.

source.standard.ke

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Uganda: Women seek gender recovery plan in the North – “not just roads”

Posted by African Press International on September 30, 2009

Kampala (Uganda) – After two decades of war during which thousands of children were used as child soldiers and many women raped, northern Ugandas recovery plan is to be spent on building roads rather than helping the countrys most vulnerable. Civil society and women parliamentarians are not happy with the government and donors, as there are no concrete measures to meet gender-related concerns over the recovery plan for Northern Uganda.

The over 600 million dollar Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) 70 percent of which was sponsored by donors and the remainder by the Ugandan government was designed to stabilise and bridge the economic disparities between Northern Uganda and the rest of the country.

Most of the money, to be spent over three years, is to be used to construct feeder roads and infrastructure destroyed during the war.

And while roads were needed, the needs of the women also needed to be met, said Oyam District Member of Parliament, Amongi Beatrice Lagada. “The women took on so many burdens during the war. So unless we recognise those gender roles we shall not restore the gender perspectives which were there before,” she said.

An estimated 30,000 to 66,000 children were abducted during the 20 years of conflict. About 90 percent of the LRA ranks were populated by children forced to terrorise civilians by cutting off hands and lips, among other atrocities.

A study conducted by United Nations Children’s Fund in 2005 in one of the Pabo displaced-persons camp found that at least 60 percent of women there had suffered sexual or domestic violence.

Monica Amonding, coordinator of the Uganda Women Parliamentarians’ Association (UWOPA), says the PRDP has no budget to resettle single mothers, female-headed households, widows, formerly abducted girls, women with disabilities and other vulnerable groups.

Amonding said many war-affected women, girls and boys had resorted to begging in streets in urban centres because they had not been assisted to cope with life after two decades of war.

The Women’s Task Force on a Gender-Responsive Peace, Recovery and Development Plan, and UWOPA say the war affected women and men differently, because of gender advantages or disadvantages.

They say women and girls have suffered from brutal levels of sexual and gender-based violence that increased their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. But the recovery programme lacks interventions to alleviate the plight of women.

Beatrice Anywar, a female MP from Kitgum district on the Uganda-Sudan border, said the PRDP should help child mothers to return to school, or gain skills for income generation.

“We have stressed that women and children have suffered most, whether those who remained at home or those who were abducted and were serving with (Joseph) Kony. A woman is now charged with more responsibilities than a man, but there is little on the table to show she will get a fair share of the money,” she said.

Joseph Kony, leader of Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group, was indicted by the International Criminal Court for the atrocities committed on civilians during the two decades of war in Northern Uganda.

Ugandas Minister in Charge of Northern Uganda reconstruction, David Wakikona, told IPS the ministry was working toward including some of the women’s concerns in the next budget. He said people with disabilities, women, and other special interest groups had to present fundable projects through their groups.

“We shall definitely fund them, because we know that the women have suffered, so the women should not be worried,” he said.

But Amonding said the government should not operate like a donor.

“For us PRDP will be meaningless as long as it continues to focus on hardware issues like roads, bridges and so on. We want software issues like counselling services, maternal health and adolescent-friendly services for boys and girls. But these have not been reflected anywhere in the framework.”

Jane Alisemera, a female member of Parliament and UWOPA chairperson, told IPS: “Eighty percent of formerly displaced persons are women and children. The PRDP’s intended objectives will fail to deliver tangible results if gender gaps are not urgently addressed.”

The activists say the PRDP framework is not in line with accepted national, regional and international gender instruments such as Uganda’s gender policy, the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) or the Beijing Platform of Action. Ugandas gender policy, like CEDAW, requires the state to take measures to eliminate discrimination against women.

Alisemera further noted that sex-disaggregated data had not been included in the framework for planned interventions. “The budget allocation has not been broken down by gender; this makes it nearly impossible to determine the projected spending on men and women, or boys and girls. So you cannot come out with gender-responsive tools to monitor and evaluate its impact,” she said.

The two years of peace in Northern Uganda have seen many formerly displaced people resettling in their villages, but it has not been easy for those with disabilities. This is one of the areas that the activists want the money channelled to if people with disabilities are to return home. For disabled people, moving from IDP camps means they will now have longer distances to travel for food, fetch water, access medical care and essential services.

Margaret Babadiri, a Member of Parliament from Kobko, is visually impaired. Climbing the Parliament of Uganda stairs with her white cane, she told IPS: “Well first of all Im happy because the PRDP will benefit areas that have suffered from war for a very long time. But what Im not happy with is the way it was developed. It did not involve everybody, or include people with a disability women and so on. They think we are uniform. It is actually disability-blind and gender-blind.

“If I can take it close to home: during the insurgency a lot of havoc has been done, people were killed, many became disabled and the number of disabled persons in Northern Uganda is greater than any other region in Uganda.

“Because you step on a landmine, your leg is cut off, and the atrocities caused by Kony where the lips are cut off. So this PRDP should target people with disabilities, but we don’t see any specific programmes aimed at us,” she stressed.

Santos Okumu, representating the visually impaired in the Gulu District Disabled Persons’ Union, told IPS the women had suffered most from war-related disabilities, and women with disabilities were no longer supported by their spouses

“They are really suffering. When they got married they were walking, but now the landmine has blown off one leg. They look like a cock that has folded one leg, so the spouses dont want them. These people are highly traumatised. They don’t only need psycho-social support, they need financial support if they are to gain a livelihood. But unfortunately many will miss out on the PRDP in its current form,” he said.

Irene Laker is a victim of a landmine planted by the Lord’s Resistance Army. She was about to get married, but now lives a single life after her leg was amputated.

“You know at the time I was hit by a mine, I was going to get married. But because of that disability, that person saw me in the hospital without a limb, then he disappointed me. That was the first challenge. And then the family members look at me as a burden. I was doing some small work at the district, but lost that job because of the disability.” Laker has remained unemployed, and is yet to marry.

Uganda’s Finance Minister, Syda Bumba who until recently was Gender Minster, said the concerns of the women were genuine and expected they could be addressed in the subsequent budgets. “I’m aware that we discussed those issues even when I was still at Gender (Ministry). And I (am) aware that discussion are still going on between the different actors and the Prime Minister’s office. So I believe those issues will be addressed by government,” she said.

Source.IPS

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Gambia: African leaders must stand up to Jammeh, say lawyers

Posted by African Press International on September 30, 2009

Dakar (Senegal) – Lawyers and rights activists are calling on the African Union’s human rights body to move its headquarters out of The Gambia after President Yahya Jammeh on national television threatened human rights defenders and said he would kill anyone collaborating with them.

African leaders must stand up and draw a line and say this is unacceptable,” Chidi Odinkalu, legal adviser with the Africa Open Society Justice Initiative, told IRIN. “We cannot defend human rights internationally if our leaders are going around threatening people [with death].”

In a speech televised on 21 September President Jammeh said: If you think you can collaborate with so-called human rights defenders and get away with it, you must be living in a dream world. I will kill you and nothing will come of it.

He continued: We are not going to condone people posing as human rights defenders to the detriment of our country. If you are affiliated with any human rights group, rest assured your security and personal safety will not be guaranteed by my government. We are ready to kill saboteurs.

The Gambia hosts the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, which hears cases brought by human rights defenders from across the continent.

It is extraordinary,” Odinkalu told IRIN. “When presidents begin to threaten death and killing on people who defend human life and human rights it reflects a system with a total absence of accountability.

This is not the first, second or third time he has issued threats [but] there is a chilling dimension to this threat. It is indiscriminate and it is directed at the whole world…The human rights situation in Gambia…is intolerable.

Lawyers from the Open Society Institute and the Coalition for an Effective African Court on Human and Peoples Rights have signed a petition to be sent to the African Union on 28 September, calling on the Commission to stop holding sessions in The Gambia until the matter is resolved, and for civil society organizations to refrain from attending any sessions.

Such comments by a public official are simply contemptible, as well as in violation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights,” said a communiqu accompanying the petition. “But Jammehs threat is even more cynical considering that the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights maintains its headquarters in the Gambian capital city, Banjul.”

The Commission, charged with promoting and protecting human rights throughout the continent, was established in 1986 by the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and set up its headquarters in Banjul in 1989.

source.irinnews.

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Somalia: Obama investing in government survival (analysis)

Posted by African Press International on September 30, 2009

Nairobi (Kenya) The recent killing in Somalia of a top US target shows that the Obama administration is fully committed to taking military action in support of the shaky Transitional Federal Government.

The September 14 helicopter attack that killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who had long been hunted by the US for his alleged role in terror attacks in Kenya, signalled to militant Islamist groups that “we have a long reach and a long memory,” US counterterrorism expert Jack Cloonan told the Associated Press.

Nabhan, linked to the 1998 East African embassy bombings and the 2002 suicide attack on the Paradise Hotel near Mombasa, ranked alongside fellow Kenyan Fazul Abdullah Mohammed as the US’ most wanted foreign fighters in Somalia. The United States regards Fazul as the leader of Al Qaida’s East Africa cell.He is also said to be a principal figure behind both the attacks with which Nabhan was associated.

The daytime raid that reportedly killed five other foreign fighters, in addition to Nabhan, leaves no doubt that the United States will try to kill Fazul whenever a suitable opportunity arises. And Washington may feel growing urgency to act. Somali sources recently told The New York Times that Fazul is training a cell of suicide bombers in Mogadishu.

At the same time, the Obama administration appears determined to proceed cautiously in its military operations in Somalia.

“We’ve all learned how important it is to avoid civilian casualties,” a US official told Reuters following the helicopter strike which was carried out only after Nabhan had entered an unpopulated area.

The United States launched cruise missiles at targets in Somalia on at least five occasions during the Bush years, resulting in the deaths of dozens of Somali villagers. That collateral damage enraged many Somalis, and thus benefited the Islamist forces seeking to overthrow the US-supported transitional government.

Somalis generally welcomed the most recent operation, according to an unnamed activist in Somalia quoted by Reuters.

“On the one hand, people are relieved. It happened in an isolated place with very little damage or killing of innocents,” he said. “And no one is crying about the loss of individuals who are not Somali.”

Kenya, however, was critical of the American operation. Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula complained in an interview with Reuters last week that the US had carried out the mission “without information or cooperation or collaboration.”

“That lone ranger behaviour has often not succeeded in many places,” Mr Wetangula said.

The Al Shabaab insurgent force targeted in the US attack made good on a vow of retaliation. The Islamist group killed 21 members of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (Amisom) in a September 17 suicide bombing in Mogadishu carried out with stolen United Nations vehicles.

In addition to taking direct military action against Shabaab, the Obama administration is increasing weapons shipments and financial support to the TFG, as well as training Somali forces at sites in Djibouti and, possibly, in Kenya, too.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Nairobi recently after holding talks with TFG head Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed that she and President Obama “want to expand and extend our support” for the Somalia government. American officials subsequently indicated that this would involve a doubling of the 40 tonnes of weapons and ammunition that the United States has already supplied the TFG this year.The US is also giving the TFG cash to buy weapons.

Recently, for example, $1.2 million was handed over to Somali leaders in “a brown paper bag,” according to an account published on the website of Washington-based Foreign Policy magazine. The money had been flown to Mogadishu from Nairobi, the magazine said, citing letters sent to the United Nations Security Council by a top diplomat at the American UN mission in New York.

Alejandro Wolff, deputy permanent US representative to the United Nations, wrote the letter to request a Security Council exemption from the UN’s 17-year-long arms embargo on Somalia. The council subsequently agreed that the US arms shipments could proceed.

The United States is also the principal underwriter of Amisom, which currently consists of about 5,000 Ugandan and Burundian troops.
Amisom is seen as the main bulwark against the overthrow of the TFG by Al Shabaab, which is said to be linked to Osama bin Laden’s Al Qa’ida network. Washington has contributed about $135 million to Amisom since its deployment in 2007.

Ugandan forces, which account for most of the Amison troops, may soon go on the offensive in Somalia. There are plans for the Ugandans to invade Kismayo, a port town in southern Somalia controlled by a Al Shabaab-allied group, The New York Times reported last week.

The Obama administration also intends to increase the clandestine US presence in Somalia. In a story filed from Mogadishu, Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman indicated that the CIA plans to open a base in former officers quarters near the Amison-guarded airport in the Somali capital.

Somali sources told Mr Gettleman that three CIA agents visited the presidential palace in Mogadishu last month to discuss training of Sheik Sharif’s intelligence services. Obama administration officials are emboldened to deepen the US commitment to the TFG due to the virtual absence of domestic or international opposition to such a strategy.

No influential US politician spoke out against the recent military strike in Somalia, nor did the attack spark any diplomatic protests, according to Johnnie Carson, the State Department’s top Africa official.

Al Shabaab has very few defenders in North America and Europe, given its apparent ties to jihadis intent on striking civilian targets in the West. And Al Shabaab may also be losing support in Somalia.

Mr Gettelman reported that two recent Al Shabaab defectors say that financial backers outside Somalia are contributing less money to the group as Sheik Sharif’s government wins greater favour among Somalis. In addition, Mr Gettleman wrote, “Aid workers said Al Shabaab were taxing food in their territory, a very unpopular move when food prices are already high because of drought.”

Somalis may be wearying of Al Shabaab’s vision and composition, as well. Thousands of foreigners have come to Somalia to fight in Al Shabaab’s ranks, according to sources cited by Mr Gettleman — as compared with the few hundred that US officials have said are operating in Somalia.

“Our commanders were trying to tell us that there’s no Somali national flag and no national borders,” one Al Shabaab defector, identified only as Mohamed, is quoted as saying in the Times story.

“They told us the jihad will never end. Once we finish in Somalia, we go to Kenya and then elsewhere.”

source.TheEastAfrican.ke by Kevin Kelly

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Uganda: Police named most brutal institution

Posted by African Press International on September 30, 2009

Kampala (Uganda) Uganda Police Force have been listed as the most oppressors and torturers of journalists in the recent riots in Kampala, the Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ-Uganda) has revealed.

According to a survey done by HRNJ last week, more than 20 journalists especially photojournalists were unlawfully arrested, tortured and attacked by police and rioters during the three-day riots in Kampala and several parts of Buganda region.

HRNJ findings indicate that Police committed 80 per cent of the offences registered during the riots.

“All cases recorded were acts of unlawful arrest and detention, torture, cruel inhuman and degrading treatment which undermined articles; 24 and 29(1)of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda and other regional and international treaties to which Uganda is a party,” Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala, HRNJ-Uganda Programme Coordinator said.

The Kampala Metropolitan Police deputy public relations officer, Mr Henry Kalulu on Saturday said: “I have not received a copy of the survey and therefore I cannot comment.”

The riots which were sparked off by the government’s refusal to allow the Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi to visit Kayunga District left at least 24 people dead and hundreds injured.

This is the biggest number of journalists to have been subjected to unlawful arrest and detention, torture, cruel inhuman and degrading treatment just in an incident, according HRNJ – statistics.

“We are increasingly concerned about the on-going threatening atmosphere and condemn such acts which undermine the right to freedom of expression and the media as well as free flow of information which are very vital in any democratic system,” the report states.

The number of the victims is likely to go higher as some victims continue to withhold information, according to Mr Ssebaggala.

The survey revealed that Police and other security organs which were performing their duties at the behest of Police put reporters at gun point, assaulted, illegally arrested and detained them for reporting about tortured victims and people shot during the riots, according to HRNJ.

HRNJ-Uganda Board Chairperson Mr Robert Ssempala asked the Inspector General of Police, Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura to institute an inquiry into these “brazen attacks” on journalists and bring all culprits to book as soon as possible.

“We also call upon the IGP to commit himself to a process which will formulate minimum standards to be recognized by both the security organs and the media to safe guard journalists from continued attacks by security operatives,” Mr Ssempala said.

The attackers confiscated reporters’ belongings while others were forced to destroy photographs taken before they were released.

source.TheMonitor.UG

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ZAMBIA: The repercussions of suspending aid

Posted by African Press International on September 30, 2009


Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
A Zambian sex worker

MPULUNGU, – A freeze in donor funding after allegations of Zambian government corruption is being keenly felt by those living with HIV in rural areas, which were receiving the lion’s share of financial HIV/AIDS support.

“We are suffering very much here; every month we have to come here [the health centre in Mpulungu town] to get drugs,” said Evans Sikazwe, who lives in Mpulungu district in Northern Province, about 1,100km north of the capital, Lusaka.

“Previously, health workers used to follow us [up] and bring us drugs in our area, but for the past two months we have been coming [to get them] on our own,” Sikazwe told IRIN. He has been HIV-positive for the past two years and now has to travel 70km every month to access life-saving antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.

About 200,000 Zambians nationwide are accessing antiretroviral therapy (ART) services at various government health facilities, but only urban clinics are mandated to administer ART in rural districts.

In the absence of donor funds, outreach programmes such as mobile voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) and ART services have been discontinued. The Mpulungu clinic is the main referral centre for the district’s 82,000 inhabitants.

“It is very unfortunate, especially for people like me who are on ARVs and also TB [tuberculosis] treatment. Things are very difficult … this is like punishing us, and yet we need the support of everyone,” Sikazwe said.

''The crisis in the health sector financial management, the issue of single sourcing of procurement of mobile hospitals, issues surrounding road sector investments and a general lack of progress in financial management reform in government are the most notable issues''

Corruption

In May 2009 several donors, including two of Zambia’s main donors, the governments of the Netherlands and Sweden, announced the suspension of aid after it was confirmed that senior government officials had embezzled about US$5 million of donor funds from the health ministry. Donors provide 55 percent of Zambia’s health budget for the prevention and treatment of malaria, TB and HIV, as well as training medical staff.

A tough stance on corruption had endeared the late President Levy Mwanawasa’s administration to the donor community, but since his death in August 2008, that of his successor, President Rupiah Banda, has been deemed soft on corruption.

In the wake of the aid suspension, Zambia’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and its Auditor-General investigated the corruption claims and a number of high-profile officials subsequently appeared in court. However, donors insist that Zambia needs to meet certain benchmarks in good governance and public financial management before further funding is released.

“The crisis in the health sector financial management, the issue of single sourcing of procurement of mobile hospitals, issues surrounding road sector investments and a general lack of progress in financial management reform in government are the most notable issues,” the Dutch Ambassador to Zambia, Harry Molennar, told a local newspaper, The Times of Zambia.

“The recent developments in Zambia regarding high-profile corruption cases, and the international response to it, serve as a case in point to illustrate the need for both strong political leadership in the fight against corruption, and the resolve of that same leadership to let justice have its independent and transparent way,” he said.

Obert Mubyana, the district HIV and TB programmes officer in Mpulungu, told IRIN that in “The past three or four months [since donor aid was suspended], the situation has been very bad. We are not able to travel … [and] have a lot of patients that we need to monitor.” A lack of funds has also meant that patients in outlying areas who need to start taking ARVs are not doing so.

“The whole grant … per month … [from] donors and government is about 120 million kwacha [about US$27,000], but after the withdrawal [of donor funding] we have been receiving as [little] as 40 million kwacha [about US$9,000]. This is not enough because … [we have] to carry out mobile VCT, mobile ART, we need fuel, we need allowances, so we have had to suspend a lot of programmes,” Mubyana said.

Trading hub

Mpulungu, Zambia’s only port on Lake Tanganyika and a regional trading hub, attracts people from neighbouring Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and is a high-risk area for HIV infection.

The town has thousands of sex workers, some of whom often travel the country’s highways. “We come here this month; we go to Kapiri Mposhi [town on the main road about 150k north of Lusaka] next time. We go to Chirundu [on the Zimbabwean border] also, even Nakonde [on the border with Tanzania],” a teenage sex worker told IRIN. She charges about US$1.25 for her services.

HIV Prevalence is around 12.6 percent the national average is 14 percent but unofficial statistics from local health facilities estimate the rate could be as high as 50 percent. At Mpulungu clinic, 2,308 people have been tested for HIV since 2006, of whom 1,199 were found positive and 1,189 are receiving treatment.

“Of course, most of these people only come here when things are really critical, after they have failed with their … [traditional healers], so there could be some margin of error,” Flexon Mauluka, a data entry clerk at the clinic, told IRIN.

nm/go/hesource.irinnews.org

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In Brief: Somaliland “should heed Kenyan election lessons”

Posted by African Press International on September 29, 2009


Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
A man sets a car on fire during a demonstration after the disputed 2007 elections in Kenya (file photo)

NAIROBI, – Stakeholders in Somaliland need to reach a consensus on the role the media can play before, during and after elections to avoid election violence, a report says.

The report, entitled The Role of the Media in the Upcoming Somaliland Elections: Lessons from Kenya, discusses potential scenarios and interventions in the run-up to Somaliland’s elections and compares them with the post-election violence experienced in Kenya in 2008.

It is published by the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy at the University of Oxford, Center for Global Communication Studies at University of Pennsylvania and Stanhope Centre for Communications Policy Research, London.

Both countries have polarized electorates with significant political and economic grievances, political parties accused of manipulating the system, weak institutions and politically influential media. “The challenge… is how the media can be harnessed for nation-building rather than partisan politics and violence,” the report notes.

Somaliland’s elections were planned for 27 September, but were postponed after violence broke out. The term of the current government ends on 29 October.

aw/mw source.irinnews.org

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IRAQ: Remote control aid

Posted by African Press International on September 29, 2009


Photo: Sabah Arar/UNICEF
Displaced children in an abandoned government building in Baghdad

BAGHDAD, – He uses aliases, has more than one ID card, and only his parents and two sisters know what he does for a living.

Like a thief, I work in the dark,” said GS,a humanitarian aid coordinator for a foreign NGO which is assisting orphans. “I live in fear for offering help – what an irony.

Foreign and local humanitarian aid workers in strife-torn Iraq face constant danger from militant groups whose targets include Western agencies and their local staff. The latter are deemed an extension of the US-led forces by some extremists.

Foreign aid groups flocked to the country after the 2003 US-led invasion and thousands of local NGOs were established. However, the subsequent violence forced many to pull out or keep a low profile, and they have increasingly switched from direct implementation of programmes to a form of remote oversight from neighbouring countries or the relatively peaceful north.

This has led to serious inefficiencies and inadequate operational capacity on the ground, according to a report, ‘More Challenges Ahead for a Fractured Humanitarian Enterprise’, by the US-based the Feinstein International Center early this year.

We used to have eight offices scattered nationwide, with the main office in Baghdad, but since early 2005 all offices have been closed and international staff have been relocated to Jordan; international staff depend on locals on the ground who work from home, GS said.

The deteriorated security situation from 2005 to 2007 made it impossible to reach all those who needed our help; our work was limited to some parts of Baghdad and some relatively peaceful cities outside it, he added.

During this period, GS and his colleagues in Baghdad and the provinces, sometimes relied on local tribal leaders, government officials or community dignitaries to reach beneficiaries.

Attacks

Local and foreign humanitarian organizations were attacked by militants – with assassinations, kidnappings, bombs and car bombs.

The first of these was in August 2003 when a suicide bomber drove a large truck packed with explosives into the UN headquarters in eastern Baghdad, killing at least 23 people, including UN senior representative Sergio Vieira de Mello.

This forced the UN mission to run all its operations from neighbouring Jordan for a few years. Later it returned to Baghdad – but to the fortified Green Zone where key Iraqi government offices and the US and UK embassies are located.

Also in 2003 a suicide car bomber attacked the main office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Baghdad killing 12 people, including two ICRC employees. ICRC withdrew its entire mission to Amman, Jordan.

A high-profile kidnapping and murder of a British aid worker took place in 2004 when militants seized Irish-born 59-year-old Margaret Hassan as she went to work in Baghdad. Hassan, who was married to an Iraqi and had lived for 30 years in Iraq, served as the country director of CARE International.

Nearly two years later, gunmen disguised in Iraqi army uniforms burst into the Iraqi Red Crescent Society offices in western Baghdad and kidnapped 25 employees and volunteers. Six were later released while the others were either killed or are still missing.

Despite a decline in violence since late 2007, NGOs have not rushed to return: It is still too early to resume our previous activities and reopen all eight offices, GS said.

No chance to gain experience

The absence of the UN and international NGOs has deprived Iraqs nascent NGO community of contacts and the chance to build up experience of aid work.

Most Iraqi NGOs lost a golden opportunity to be in touch with international aid workers to learn international standards of aid work, said Nidhal Amer Mohammed, an aid worker with the local Basra-based al-Zahraa NGO, which works on womens issues.

To be in touch with international NGOs on a daily basis is vital, Nidhal said. Emails or phone calls or training courses once or twice a year outside Iraq cant help develop the fledgling Iraqi NGO community I think this has led some local NGOs to lose direction or fall under the influence of particular political parties.

Remote programming

Greg Hanson, the author of the Feinstein International Center report, predicted an upsurge in violence and said NGOs needed to find ways other than remote programming to carry out their work.

He noted that remote programming, keeping a low profile and bunkerization where aid workers protect themselves with highly visible security – were leading to a loss of proximity to affected Iraqis, and a fragmented delivery of humanitarian services.

Whilst remote programming options have kept the aid pipeline into Iraq open, it has been an increasingly imperfect and inefficient way to work, Hanson said.

He said one of the effects of remote programming had been the inadvertent institutionalization, over time, of the geographic and psychological gaps between those in remote management roles and their counterparts on the ground inside Iraq… The emergency mindset that comes from living and working among people in need is more difficult to maintain at a distance.

sm/cb/oa source.irinnews.org

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BOTSWANA: San controversy rekindled

Posted by African Press International on September 29, 2009



Photo: Survival International
Government accused of not being ethical towards the San

GABORONE, – A report on the marginalization of Botswana’s San people by a faith-based organization that monitors corporate responsibility has ignited a war of words with the government and diamond companies operating in the country.

A foreword to the report – Corporate Social Responsibility in the Diamond Mining Industry in Botswana: De Beers, Botswana and the Control of a Country – published on 23 September by the Bench Marks Foundation (BMF), challenged corporations to “address some of the negative impacts mining brings”, and find innovative methods “to promote development”.

The plight of the San, also known as Bushmen, has become an international public relations nightmare for Botswana. Although the country is generally applauded by donor nations for its commitment to democracy, and health and social programmes, the San issue has continued to tarnish the government’s reputation.

A key finding noted that mineral prospecting and mining, “including diamonds in national parks and conservation areas, is simply unethical. Strict legislation must be in place in this regard and enforced by government. The threat posed to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) by prospecting, and the potential threats to the Okavango Delta, are matters of serious international concern.”

Controversy has raged for more than a decade about diamond mining in the CKGR, the Bushmen’s ancestral lands, an arid area the size of Belgium. In 2006 the Botswana High Court ruled that hundreds of San had been wrongly evicted and should be allowed to return there. However, after the judgement the attorney-general said the government was not obliged to provide essential services to the Bushmen in CKGR.

BMF said mining operations in the CKGR were making it difficult for the community to access water, and proposed that mining companies pay royalties to indigenous communities.

The report also claimed that operations by the Debswana Mining Company, a partnership between the government and diamond conglomerate De Beers, did not benefit communities living in and around such areas, and had been excluded from environmental impact assessments, even though most mining operations were on ancestral lands.

In a joint statement the government and De Beers dismissed the report as inaccurate, and said it had failed to provide “any significant insights from it in terms of our performance as corporate citizens or in terms of defining our role as a development partner in Botswana”.

''Debswana’s contribution to social development in Botswana vastly exceeds the global benchmark for Corporate Social Investment of 1 percent of pre-tax profits''

“The key criticism made by the BMF is that Debswana’s operations have not generated benefits at a community level in Botswana. This is not the case,” the joint statement said.

“Debswana is widely recognized as one of the most successful public-private partnerships in the world in terms of its contribution to national and community development – within the region of 80 percent of all gross profits realized by Debswana goes into government revenues,” the partnership maintained.

“Debswana’s contribution to social development in Botswana vastly exceeds the global benchmark for Corporate Social Investment of 1 percent of pre-tax profits.”

The government and mining companies argue that the communities “all formed following the initial discovery of diamonds … Before the mines were established, the Jwaneng [in southern Botswana] and Orapa [in the northeast] areas were utilised as cattle-posts and seasonal grazing.”

Any talk of communities benefiting from royalties was dismissed out of hand by the government. “This policy [that the state owns all mineral resources], dovetails with a common understanding, found among virtually all of our country’s indigenous communities, that nature can never be owned, is now firmly embedded in legislation.”

''A mining project like that will bring some economic empowerment to the people. The fact that there will be economic activity in their area means that Basarwa will be able to benefit more''

Mining empowers Bushmen

Haile Mphusu, managing director of diamond mining company Gope Exploration, told IRIN: “People have been accusing us of denying drinking water to Basarwa [a local term for Bushmen]. There was never water at Gope – the government borehole is at least 120km by any road from Gope. The people of Gope never really use that water; they depend on water from the neighbouring farms.”

He said mining at Gope had not displaced any Bushmen. “The problem with most of the people pointing fingers at us is that they have never been to the CKGR, let alone Gope.” He insisted that a few families arrived in Gope during the rainy season, when the berries were in fruit, and then left.

“Bushmen were very happy to co-exist with us. We consulted four communities in the CKGR and five communities in villages outside the CKGR, three of which comprise people who were resettled from the reserve,” Mphusu said.

“A mining project like that will bring some economic empowerment to the people. The fact that there will be economic activity in their area means that Basarwa will be able to benefit more than any other community in Botswana from the project.”

He said a social impact survey was conducted after human rights organizations had raised objections to mining in the CKGR. “If I believe that starting a mine in Gope would not benefit … [the people] in the CKGR, I would not get involved.”

vss/go/he source.irinnews.org

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SOMALIA: Drought conditions persist in Somaliland

Posted by African Press International on September 29, 2009


Photo: Mohamed Amin Jibril/IRIN
A dead cow (file photo): Severe drought has made food increasingly scarce for the poor because of reduced livestock products and the lack of saleable animals

HARGEISA, – Recent rains in eastern parts of secessionist Somaliland have done little to improve drought-affected pastoral and agro-pastoral livelihoods in the region, says a local official.

“[By] Allahs mercy, rains were received in most of the region’s districts, but the problem is that the people and the animals are still [affected]. I [still have] to send my relatives in the remote areas animal [feed] and food,” Ahmed Aw Dahir, the mayor of Lasanod, in Sool region, told IRIN.

Aw Dahir estimated that about 400,000 people would still need assistance in the coming months due to the effect of the prolonged drought.

“The people in the region will need food assistance in the forthcoming months not only in the countryside, but even in the capital of Lasanod [where] about 20 percent of the population is suffering [a] lack of food,” he said, adding that appeals for food have been made at mosques.

“The pastoralists used to sell milk to the urban centres; unfortunately the drought led to the deaths of most livestock,” he added.

The low value of the remaining livestock, most of which are in poor physical condition, also meant residents could not afford to buy food.

According to an 8 September report by the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit – Somalia (FSNAU), food has become increasingly scarce for the poor because of reduced livestock products (milk) and cereals, the lack of saleable animals and limited job opportunities.

“The pastoralists have no ability to buy foodstuffs in the interim period as we move from drought to the wet season. We are afraid of starvation,” Bashir Ahmed Hayir, a resident of Hudun village in Sool, told IRIN.

Poor roads have aggravated the situation, said a local journalist. “People in the remote areas cannot receive food even if they can [afford to] buy it because the rains have closed [off] the roads,” he told IRIN.

Almost all pastoral and agro-pastoralists in the northwest have less food, according to FSNAU. In Togdheer Agro-pastoral and Sool Plateau, the pastoralists are facing an acute food and livelihood crisis, with a high risk it could deteriorate into a humanitarian emergency before December.

The situation is similar in Hawd and Nugal Valley, while all agro-pastoral areas of Awdal and Galbeed regions, as well as Golis/Guban, are facing an acute crisis.

The situation is attributed to three consecutive rain failures, low to no calving and kidding and high livestock off-take. Agro-pastoral areas have also suffered crop failure.

According to FSNAU, very poor pastoralists in regions such as Sool, Togdheer, and Sanaag are moving to camps and other villages in search of help. Other coping mechanisms include household splitting, switching to cheaper cereals and skipping meals.

maj/aw/mwsource.irinnews.org

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GLOBAL: First positive results from an HIV vaccine

Posted by African Press International on September 29, 2009



Photo: Ciao-Chow/Flickr
The results are a shot in the arm for AIDS vaccine research

JOHANNESBURG, – A six-year clinical trial in Thailand has yielded the first ever evidence that an AIDS vaccine can provide some protection against HIV infection.

The trial team in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital announced on 24 September that rates of HIV infection were 31 percent lower in trial participants who got the vaccine than in those who received a placebo.

“These new findings represent an important step forward in HIV vaccine research,” said Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the main funder of the trial.

The study, known as RV144, began enrolling 16,000 HIV-negative men and women between the ages of 18 and 30 in October 2003. Half the volunteers received a placebo; the other half were given shots containing two different vaccines. The first, called ALVAC-HIV, used a disabled form of a bird virus known as canary pox to deliver synthetic versions of three HIV genes into the body. The second, called AIDSVAX, was composed of a genetically engineered version of an HIV protein.

The synthetic HIV components in both vaccines were based on subtypes B and E of the virus, which are most common in Thailand, the US and Europe. Scientists do not yet know whether the vaccine would be effective against other strains, such as subtype C, which is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa.

The trial was designed to evaluate whether the combined vaccines lowered HIV infection risk, and whether they had any impact on viral load [the amount of HIV circulating in the bloodstream] in the volunteers who became infected.

Of 8,197 people given the vaccine regimen, 51 became infected, compared to 74 of the 8,198 volunteers who received the placebo. This result is considered “statistically significant”, meaning that the difference is unlikely to be a coincidence. The vaccine did not have any effect on viral load.

“Today’s result is not the beginning of the end of the epidemic, it’s the end of the beginning of finding an AIDS vaccine. It’s a thrilling moment,” Mitchell Warren, executive director of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC), told IRIN/PlusNews on the phone from New York. However, he emphasized that additional studies and analysis were needed to confirm and understand the findings.

''Today’s result is not the beginning of the end of the epidemic, it’s the end of the beginning of finding an AIDS vaccine''

The vaccine’s modest effectiveness means it is unlikely to be licensed or produced in large quantities in Thailand, where the rate of HIV infection is relatively low. However, Prof Gavin Churchyard, CEO of the Aurum Institute, a non-profit medical research organization based in South Africa, said even an AIDS vaccine that was only 30 percent effective could have an impact in southern Africa, where HIV infection rates are much higher, “but we would need to know if it would work in this population”.

Churchyard said the results had come as a surprise to many in the vaccine field. “We weren’t actually expecting a positive result,” he commented. Previous efficacy trials of AIDSVAX, the second vaccine in the regimen, had found no benefit and the decision to go ahead with the large-scale trial in Thailand had generated controversy.

Warren noted that vaccine science had evolved considerably since the trial was launched in 2003. “There are new ideas and approaches that no one imagined six years ago. Anytime you start a trial, it’s like buying a new computer – it’s outdated before you even get it out of the box.” He added that whether or not the approach used in the trial was determined to be the most effective, the findings would still influence future strategies.

Good news at last

The positive results from the Thai trial are expected to give a crucial boost to a field in desperate need of good news after a series of setbacks in recent years. A four-continent trial of a vaccine developed by pharmaceutical company Merck was halted in 2007 after preliminary results suggested that it not only did not provide protection against HIV, but might actually increase the risk of infection.

Dr Glenda Gray of the Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU) at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, chief investigator in the South African arm of the Merck vaccine trial, told IRIN/PlusNews the outcome in Thailand was “a huge step forward – it opens up the field again and gives us an indication that this [a vaccine] is possible.”

The results are also significant for the future of two HIV vaccines that began small-scale human trials in South Africa in July. One of the vaccines uses components from the family of pox viruses similar to those used in one of the Thai vaccines. “It means, hopefully, there’ll be more interest in our vaccine,” said Gray, the lead investigator of the trials being conducted by the South AfricanAIDS Vaccine Initiative (SAAVI) and NIAID.

“We are planning a larger trial next year and having these results makes it much easier for us to convince funders to go ahead with the next phase,” Gray said.

More information on the Thai trial results will be presented at an AIDS vaccine meeting in Paris in October.

ks/hesource.irinnews.org

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In Brief: Crucial climate negotiations to be held in Thailand

Posted by African Press International on September 29, 2009



Photo: Shamsuddin Ahmed/IRIN
Bangladesh is experiencing rising sea levels and more flooding as a result of climate change

BANGKOK, – Some 2,500 participants will gather in the Thai capital next week for a crucial round of talks to seek a new deal to combat global warming.

The Bangkok Climate Change Talks, from 28 September to 9 October, are the penultimate round of negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change treaty (UNFCCC), and aim to advance a negotiating text for the deal. The talks come ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December, when 192 nations will try to sign off on the deal before the 2012 expiry of the Kyoto Protocol.

Negotiations have lagged, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this week urged nations to overcome their differences on the burden of emissions cuts and other issues to agree a new deal. Let us make this a year that we, united nations, rise to the greatest challenge we face as a human family: the threat of catastrophic climate change, Ban told a meeting of the UN General Assembly on 23 September.

Our road to Copenhagen requires us to bridge our differences. I firmly believe we can, he said, a day after convening a one-day summit of world leaders to discuss the issue.

ey/mw source.irinnews.org

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LESOTHO: A little money goes a long way

Posted by African Press International on September 29, 2009


Photo: Tomas de Mul/IRIN
91 year old Maphoka Tsolo now takes care of her two orphaned grandchildren

MATHEBE,- Despite her twisted spine and cataracts, Maphoka Tsolo, 91, still managed to lead the way down the steep narrow path behind her stone house in Mathebe, a small village in Mafeteng district, eastern Lesotho, determined to show why her orphaned great-grandchildren deserved the money from the government’s cash grants scheme.

“With nothing growing here it is very difficult to take care of myself and the children,” she said, pointing to her tiny plot of fallow land with a home made walking stick cut from a tree branch. She lost her husband and her three children “a very long time ago”, and old age had brought nothing but hunger, physical pain and financial misery.

Her grandson disappeared eight years ago, so there was no one to work the rain-starved land. “He said he was going to look for work but he never came back.” She had to stretch her 300 Maloti (US$39) monthly pension to support herself and the two children her grandson left behind.

Her situation is not uncommon: according to the Department of Social Welfare (DSW) Lesotho has more than 180,000 orphaned children, of which 55 percent have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS-related illnesses. About 23.2 percent of the nearly two million population of this tiny landlocked country are HIV positive – one of the highest HIV prevalence rates worldwide.

Rescue in cash

At the beginning of 2009, Tsolo and her great-grandchildren were thrown a lifeline when the local Village Verification Committee (VVC) – consisting of the chief, a community councillor, two volunteers from caregiver groups, and a DSW representative – identified her household as one of the poorest and most vulnerable with children.

Being in the bottom 10 percent meant she would be eligible for a quarterly amount of $47 from the Lesotho Child Grants Programme (LCGP), which would ease the poverty that prevented the children from having enough to eat, staying healthy and going to school.

Mantoa Sejake, a Senior Child Welfare Officer at the DSW, commented: “That might seem like a small amount, but for those that are targeted this is very meaningful.” The money would help cover the cost of school fees, uniforms, health care and other needs.

The LCGP has targeted some 5,000 orphaned and vulnerable children living in 1,250 child-headed households, low-income households caring for AIDS orphans, and other vulnerable children in three communities – Matelile in Mafeteng District, Semonkong in Maseru District, and Lebakeng in Qacha’s Nek district – in the pilot phase of the programme.

The European Commission donated $7,3 million to the project, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) provided technical assistance. The government eventually hopes to extend the programme throughout the country.

How poor is poor enough?

Mohemmad Farooq, a UNICEF child protection specialist who helped design the programme, said around 60 percent of the population were living below the poverty line and the country’s resources were limited, so prioritization of the most destitute households was crucial, yet extremely challenging.

“Giving people money is very sensitive. Who is the most deserving? If we look at the indicators, we have divided the ‘poor’ category into three – poor, very poor and destitute – and we were focusing on destitute only.” He recognized the danger of creating a dependency on cash handouts, but also noted that the programme came at a time of rising desperation.

''Who is the most deserving? If we look at the indicators, we have divided the ‘poor’ category into three – poor, very poor and destitute – and we were focusing on destitute only''

Years of chronic food insecurity due to erratic weather and soil erosion, the impact of HIV/AIDS, persistently high rates of unemployment – aggravated by retrenchments in Lesotho’s textile industry and the mines in neighbouring South Africa, on which many people depended for survival – meant deepening poverty across the country.

“And with the financial crisis the cost of living has gone up; this hits the poorest of the poor the hardest,” Farooq said. “Many people live just above the poverty line – it only takes a small shock to bring them down into poverty.” Lesotho now imports 70 percent of its food, mostly from South Africa, making it particularly vulnerable to food and fuel price hikes in that country.

“At this stage social protection is not a choice. If you don’t provide this type of coping mechanism people will go into negative coping mechanisms, like taking children out of school so that they can work, selling off assets – if they have any – or taking loans with high interest rates, for which they could end up in bonded labour, so the situation will get worse,” Farooq said.

The grants are to be spent mainly at the discretion of the household, but the programme includes a social mobilization and sensitization campaign. “We have a community-based targeting mechanism [through the VVCs]; people are sensitized to learn that the money should benefit the children.”

Attaching conditions like mandatory school attendance were not always feasible. “There is a problem with the supply side here – you can’t say you will only give the grant if the child goes to school, when often there are no schools to go to in the first place,” Farooq commented.

Primary education is free in Lesotho, but poverty keeps thousands of children out of school “because of the indirect costs like books, uniforms and transportation”, he said.

Tsolo picked up her first payment in April and a second in July, and said she looked forward to the next one in October. The money had gone on food, a school uniform for the 12-year-old girl, shoes for the eight-year-old boy, and school fees; and, she shyly admitted, “I also bought shoes for myself.”

tdm/he source.irinnews.org

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In Brief: Food security improving in Djibouti but prices still high

Posted by African Press International on September 28, 2009


Photo: Omar Hassan/IRIN
Shelters built by drought-affected pastoralist families in Djiboutiville (file photo)

NAIROBI, – Recent rains in Djibouti have replenished pasture and water resources, improving the food security situation in some pastoral areas, the Food Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) says in a September report.

The rains were three weeks late in July and relatively poor, but in general, replenished supplies. El Nio conditions are prevailing in the region and Djibouti can expect above-normal rains in late September, it adds.

Even then, the urban poor still continue to struggle with high prices of essential food and non-food items. The situation is compounded by annual school fees, especially in poor quarters of Djibouti City, such as sections of Balbala and PK 12.

According to the World Bank, Djibouti, a small country, is characterized by pervasive poverty and high inequality. All food is imported and the global rise in food prices had a disastrous effect on the welfare of the population, particularly the poorest.

In May, UNICEF expressed concern about the high levels of acute malnutrition, particularly in peri-urban areas around Djibouti City and in the northwest pastoral zone. Admissions to feeding centres rose from 7,302 to 18,417 children between December 2007 and December 2008.

eo/mw source.www.irinnews.org

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