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Archive for September 22nd, 2009

Total confusion continues: Raila may not meet Obama face-to-face

Posted by African Press International on September 22, 2009

Prime Minister Raila Odinga and former US president Bill Clinton at the Sheraton  Hotel in New York on Tuesday. Mr Clinton pledged to mobilise funds through his Clinton Foundation to increase Kenyas forest cover from 1.7 per cent to 10 per cent. Mr Odinga is in New York for the 64th UN General Assembly. Photo/PMPS

Prime Minister Raila Odinga and former US president Bill Clinton at the Sheraton Hotel in New York on Tuesday. Mr Clinton pledged to mobilise funds through his Clinton Foundation to increase Kenyas forest cover from 1.7 per cent to 10 per cent. Mr Odinga is in New York for the 64th UN General Assembly. Photo/PMPS

ByNATION Reporter

Prime Minister Raila Odinga and United States President Barack Obama will attend two meetings together in New York, but are unlikely to meet face-to-face.

US ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger said Mr Odinga would not attend a luncheon hosted by Mr Obama for African leaders, which was scheduled to take place on Tuesday on the sidelines of the ongoing United Nations General Assembly.

Kenya thus missed out on an opportunity to join in discussions with the leader of the worlds super power on job creation, especially for young people.

Trade and investment

The leaders were also to discuss the creation of a more conducive climate for trade and investment and ways to mobilise African agriculture to create jobs and help feed the continent.

On Tuesday, Mr Ranneberger termed the confusion surrounding Mr Odingas and Mr Obamas meeting as a technical mix-up that led to the Kenyan leader being invited for the luncheon initially. He noted that the meeting was meant for African heads of State only.

The PMs director of communications, Mr Dennis Onyango, said the luncheon was never in Mr Odingas diary.

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Africa: Cementing a southern alliance towards G20

Posted by African Press International on September 22, 2009

Johannesburg (South Africa) Major developing countries are again preparing to stand together on critical issues at the G20 heads of government meeting in Pittsburgh Sep 24-25.But Southern solidarity may need to move beyond the strategic common front presented at such summits to include a strengthening of continuing ties.

A big test case could be IBSA – a grouping of India, Brazil and South Africa, which brings together major developing democracies across three continents. Many believe IBSA holds greater possibilities than does BRIC, the grouping of Brazil, Russia, India and China, which is seen more as a strategic negotiating coalition than as a solid bloc of rapidly emerging economies.

“I think IBSA is an association of countries which is built on a very solid reality,” Rob Davies, South African trade and industries minister tells IPS.
“That we are the bigger developing countries on different continents, and that we have a series of cooperation agreements which at least for South Africa have some real meaning.”

But amidst his enthusiasm for new South-South links, Davies acknowledges it’s early days yet. “I think there is work ahead to consolidate and deepen IBSA. And that’s one of our very significant priorities here in South Africa.”

For the moment, the immediate sense of presenting a single negotiating face is clearer than the future dimensions of the trilateral initiative.

“To some extent I think IBSA is a bit of a romantic idea in the sense that linking up the three countries through common air links or shipping links is a long way into the future,” says Prof. Stephen Gelb, executive director of The Edge Institute, an independent economic policy centre in Johannesburg. “I think there is a lot of scope for political alliances in multilateral fora like the WTO or the United Nations but actual links between the three countries lie somewhere in the future.”

And that push will come, Gelb says, not at political gatherings but in company boardrooms.

“Business links that happen, or would have happened, would help to build the IBSA idea rather than the other way round,” he says. “Businesses find each other when they need (to), they find markets that help to create linkages that then take on a political expression.”

What the three countries need is more trade with each other, and joint activities in third markets, Gelb says. “What I think is very important to make it a reality is that links between each pair of countries becomes much more substantial,” he says.

One instance could be the merger deal being negotiated between two major telecom companies, Bharti in India and South Africa-based MTN, looking to create a merged entity worth 23 billion dollars with more than 200 million subscribers. The merged company would service markets in Africa, the Arab world and in Asia. Several managers are already speaking of looking further afield to Latin America, where Brazil, the third pillar of IBSA, has itself the potential to be a big market.

There are besides several other agreements being worked out between companies from the three countries, and trade among the three is picking up rapidly.

The fourth IBSA summit was held in Brasilia, the Brazilian capital, in early September – usefully before the G20 summit. Visiting Brazil in early in September in preparation for the October’s IBSA Business Summit, Indian external affairs minister S. M. Krishna underlined common opportunities, and also common threats arising from the financial crisis.

The crisis will push millions in developing countries back into poverty for another generation, he said ahead of the summit in Brasilia. IBSA, he said, “can be a game-changer in today’s circumstances.”

IBSA is now considering ways of opening up opportunities beyond the three-nation base. Officials are exploring increased trade links now between India and MERCOSUR (the South American group comprising Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina), and between India and the South African Customs Union.

The three IBSA countries have a population of close to 1.5 billion (mostly in India), and a combined GDP of about 3.2 trillion dollars, officials say. One way of beating the crisis arising in developed countries, they say, is for IBSA nations to sell far more to one another.

Foreign ministers Celso Amorin of Brazil, Krishna of India and Maite Nkoana-Mashabane of South Africa have set a target more than doubling trade among the three countries to 25 billion dollars by 2015. The total trade among the three last year was 10 billion dollars.


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Ghana: Nation haggles over fate of Accra’s Sodom and Gomorrah slums

Posted by African Press International on September 22, 2009

Accra (Ghana) The Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah is being re-enacted in Accra, the Ghanaian capital. This time, however, God is not playing any role, it is the city officials who want to raze this sprawling slum on the periphery of the central business area of the capital.

The government has, however, decided to back the residents against the city officials; throwing into confusion the work on the Accra Waste Management Project, which was planned to improve the city’s sanitation problems.

Sodom and Gomorrah were two cities in the Bible where the people lived immoral lives and as a result, “the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens” (Genesis 19:24), “turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly.” (II Peter 2:6).

No one knows exactly why the place is so named in Accra. Awudu Musah, who claims to have lived at the place for more than 15 years says: “I have heard people say that the name is a bad one in the Bible, but for me, it has been a home.”

True, Accra’s Sodom and Gomorrah is a bad place. “You have all sorts of people here- pimps, gun-runners, drug addicts, homosexuals and what have you,” added James Opoku, a trader at the Agbogbloshie market, just by the slum.

Last month, Accra Mayor Alfred Vanderpuije announced that the slum residents would be evicted to enable the contractors on the project continue with work on the third phase, to reclaim land along the Korle Lagoon, which runs through parts of Accra and turn it into a tourist hub.

Without the eviction of the residents, the project cannot continue. A frustrated project supervisor, Mr Daniel Ayidzoe, told the media that attempts to dredge a canal that passes by Sodom and Gomorrah were being frustrated by the residents’ daily pollution.

“As result,” he said, “the canal must be dredged every two weeks to allow the flow of water.”

He therefore urged the government to urgently relocate the residents lest the huge amount of money invested in the project goes to waste.

But just after the mayor had announced the planned eviction, deputy Information minister Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa told an Accra FM station that the “slum would remain untouched”.

Some critics of the government claim that it is the fear of losing support among some of the residents, who are mainly from the north of the country.

The residents belong to various ethnic groups and it has also become the battle ground for the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the main opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP).

Others have also joined the fray to condemn the Accra mayor’s decision. Amnesty International (AI-Ghana) and the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) claim that plans by the city official is wrong because it would put hardship on some 55,000 people who would become homeless.

AI-Ghana and COHRE have sent a petition to President John Evans Atta Mills expressing concerns about the threatened forced eviction of more than 40,000 residents.

But, Greater Accra Regional minister Nii Armah Ashietey says accepting the status quo, would be an affront to the country, adding that, “we will not allow an illegal activity to become legal”.

Mr Ashiety said: “It is a huge problem and we will take that bull by the horn and we in government, and the Accra Metropolitan Authority will be doing the citizens of this country a lot of good by tackling this problem without fear or favour.”

AI-Ghana and COHRE decision is based on the fact that in July, director of the Accra Metro Public Health Department, Dr Simpson Boateng, admitted that a new site at Adzen Kotoku that was to be prepared for the residents, could not accommodate all of them.

They accordingly reminded the government of Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that for forced evictions or relocations to be considered as lawful, they may only occur in very exceptional circumstances and all feasible alternatives must be explored. If and only if such exceptional circumstances exist and there are no feasible alternatives, can evictions be deemed justified.”

They also argue that, “the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-Based Evictions and Displacement, which address human rights implications of development linked evictions and related displacement in urban and rural areas, require that states must ensure that evictions only occur in exceptional circumstances, and must give priority to exploring strategies that minimise displacement.”

The residents themselves are being assisted by a group of human rights lawyers to stop the city officials from evicting them.

As these arguments continue, it is becoming clear that, Accra’s Sodom and Gomorrah may not see the brimstone promised to rain on it yet by the city officials any time soon.

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Uganda: Media freedom under spotlight as new sedition law is considered.

Posted by African Press International on September 22, 2009

Lira (Uganda) – A recent spate of media arrests has provoked widespread condemnation, and raised fears that President Yoweri Museveni might be planning a clamp-down on press freedom ahead of next year’s national election.

Government prosecutors have justified some of the arrests by claiming that the journalists’ reports were seditious and undermined the sovereignty of the Ugandan state. Other journalists have been arrested under the country’s defamation laws.

Uganda’s sedition statute is being reviewed at the moment, and all prosecutions under this law have been suspended until the review is complete.
Some observers say that the amendments being proposed could make it easier for the authorities to prosecute media professionals, by claiming that their reports seek to destabilise the government.

On August 28, three editors from The Independent, a Ugandan bi-monthly magazine, were arrested and charged with sedition for publishing a critical caricature of Museveni. The allegedly seditious cartoon suggested that the ruling party the National Resistance Movement, NRM was preparing for widespread fraud in the 2011 elections.

The three Managing Editor Andrew Mwenda, Editor Charles Bichachi, and Assistant News Editor Joseph Were have since been released on bail, pending a court hearing.

In a separate incident, Moses Akena, who writes for the Daily Monitor, was arrested and charged with criminal defamation, after reporting comments made by Patrick Lumumba, the Gulu deputy speaker, at a press conference. Lumumba, who was also arrested, had alleged that the deputy resident district commissioner Milton Odongo abused his position by stealing a number of iron sheets from a refugee resettlement programme in northern Uganda. Odongo denies this.

Akena and Lumumba have been released on bail and are awaiting judgement.

On August 21, two daily monitor editors, Daniel Kalinaki and Henry Ocieng, were arrested and charged with forgery after it was alleged that they modified parts of a letter written by President Museveni. The letter, which was published on July 15, caused a political storm by suggesting that certain senior leadership positions in the Bunyoro region should only go to the native Banyoro tribesmen.

Betty Amongi, a member of parliament for the Apac District, thinks that things could become even tougher for journalists if the proposed amendments to the sedition law go through.

The law defines sedition as an act of bringing into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the person of the President, the government as by law established or the constitution. At the moment, speeches and publications that seek to point out errors made by government are not subject to the law. But, according to Amongi, this exemption could be removed under the new proposal being discussed.

This would risk undermining journalists’ continuing efforts to bring Ugandas past atrocities to the attention of the world.

Karin Karlekar, managing editor of a global press freedom survey published each year by Freedom House, says that the latest arrests of journalists in Uganda are worrying. She points out that the position of Uganda 110th in the survey is still better than many other war-afflicted African nations. In fact, Uganda is one of only three countries on the continent with a freedom of information law.

However, the past five years have seen the country slipping down the table, and it could slip even further if current media repression goes unchecked, says Karlekar.

The government is increasingly clamping down on press freedom, she said. More and more journalists find themselves facing spurious legal charges. With Museveni trying to shore up his political power base ahead of next year’s elections, the government is clearly becoming less tolerant of any criticism.

Dan Okello, a spokesman for the opposition Uganda Peoples Congress, UPC, says that the sedition law damages free and open debate.
We all know that the media plays a big role in informing, educating and entertaining people from all walks of life, said Okello. The law should not even be there. It protects a person who is in power. It imprisons the opposition and the media.

He warned that, without a freer press, journalists in Uganda have got little contribution to make. The media fraternity is being reduced to fighting useless wars, leaving the core issues of development of the country uncovered, he said.

A Lira-based reporter, speaking on condition of anonymity, complains that journalists are regularly harassed for carrying out their everyday duties.

We are always intimidated, especially in situations where reporters claim that resources meant for rebuilding war-ravaged provinces of northern Uganda have not reached the beneficiary, he said.

Not all journalists, though, are so critical of the law.

Joe Erem Oyie, a veteran reporter, says that toughening up the law could help improve the quality of journalism in the country. The law should not protect you if you are unprofessional, Oyie said. Journalists always hide behind the law whenever they give out false information.

Innocent Okello, who reports for the Etop community newspaper, agrees. Journalists are often less concerned about the consequences of their story once its published, he said. But, with the new law in the offing, reporters will have to check all the legal implications while handling a story.


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Kenya: Sex in a time of famine

Posted by African Press International on September 22, 2009

Nairobi (Kenya) – It is early evening and the suns rays paint a golden atmosphere across the bare plains of Hombo village in Kibwezi district. For Eliza Wayua, it is time to bid her two children and her frail mother-in-law goodbye. She will be out in the night on an errand that none of them understands.

But they do know that when she comes back the following morning, she will bring food to last them a day. She is their only minder.

Mounting her bike, she waves at them and navigates the narrow, maze-like footpaths of this semi arid land. She will cycle 10km to Makindu, a small, dusty town on the Nairobi-Mombasa highway. She arrives at Makindu just before dusk. A few trucks are zooming past while many others are parked on both sides of the road. Business today promises to be good.

Wayua leaves her bike with a watchman and vanishes into the dusk. The watchman will receive a stipend the next morning for keeping vigil on the bike.

The Nairobi-Mombasa highway has shocking figures on HIV/Aids prevalence rates. World Vision HIV/Aids advocacy adviser Simon Duffy says one in every three adults living in markets along the highway is HIV positive. This has been attributed to truck drivers and conductors who have been cited as a high risk group. It is in these towns and markets that they meet commercial sex workers another high risk group.

In Kibwezi district alone, there are about 20 support groups comprising people living with Aids.

Daniel Keleli, who heads the Kibwezi Network of People Living with Aids, says the current famine and food shortage in parts of Ukambani will lead to many people being infected as they try to escape starvation.

Prostitution seems to be the only option out of hunger. The relief food offered by the government is too little and irregular, says Mr Keleli.

About 75 per cent of people in this region live below the poverty line. The land is semi arid and unproductive, with very little economic activity.
Charcoal burning has for a long time been the only means of upkeep. But with the current drought, trees have diminished, leaving residents with no reliable source of livelihood.

We are seeing girls as young as 16 engaging in commercial sex with truck drivers, Mr Keleli says, adding that there has been an influx of commercial sex workers in Makindu and Kibwezi towns where he operates businesses.

Reports indicate that women and girls affected by famine in the interior rural areas are moving to towns on the highway for commercial sex to fend for themselves and their families.

As a sign of the great concern that Aids poses to residents, there are several non-governmental organisations on the ground fighting to curb the spread of the virus.

With the help of Willy Mutunga, a VCT counsellor at Hope Worldwide Kenya, we meet Ann Soila, a commercial sex worker who heads a support group for sex workers that urges them to bargain for safe sex.

Women and girls joining this trade are so desperate that they dont press for safe sex, thus risking infection.

Soila adds that the rapid increase in sex workers has resulted in stiff competition among them. Soila is a bit skimpy on how much the sex workers earn. But after much prodding, she opens up.

They normally charge about Ksh500 ($6) and above for fry (without a condom) and as low as Ksh200 ($2.5) for boil (sex with a condom). She adds that the charges vary with the kind of client and the level of bargain.

Nelson Mbithi, the Kibwezi district Aids and STD coordinator, says there has been an increase in prevalence rates in towns on the highway. Since the drought worsened this year, the prevalence rate has risen from 5.2 per cent to 5.7 per cent.

Mbithi says the current drought and looming shortage of condoms has aggravated the matter.

New infections may rise due to women and girls turning to the highway for sustenance, he says, adding that they have put 4,029 people on anti-retro virals recently.

The highway connects the three East African countries Uganda via Busia and Tanzania through Namanga.

There is hope, however, for the desperate women. The rains hitting parts of the country could last long enough to sustain crops in the region.
This will ensure that Wayua and other women have food for their children and keep off risky behaviour.

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Kenya: Flower sector shrinks 33 percent after 20-year bloom

Posted by African Press International on September 22, 2009

Nairobi (Kenya) The bloom is off the rose with a vengeance — Kenya’s once thriving flower industry shrank this year by 33 per cent. This was after experiencing luxuriant growth for over two decades.

“For the first time in close to 20 years, the flower industry has registered negative growth, with the period up to September 2009 registering 80,000 tonnes, down from 120,000 tonnes the previous year,” said Kenya Flower Council chief executive officer Jane Ngige.

She added, “We project that by December, the sector will be down by almost 40 per cent.”

Expectations that the high season would bring better returns are fading, owing to the twin blights of the global financial crisis and the scorching sun. The Kenya Flower Council reported at its 2009 annual general meeting in Nairobi last week that it is not business as usual.

For almost two decades now, the sector has boasted an annual positive growth rate of 15 per cent-plus. The high season begins in September and ends in early July, but the falling waters of Lake Naivasha, the wilting demand by external markets and the renewed carbon miles debate in the UK have conspired to spread gloom. There is little sign of an immediate answer to the multiple challenges facing the industry.

Reports indicate that demand for flowers dropped by 30 per cent in the first half of the year, compared with the same period in 2008, as consumers in rich countries cut down cuts due to layoffs and an employment freeze in Europe, Kenya’s principal market.

“With less money to spend, people are staying indoors for longer, reducing the demand for flowers,” said Fresh Produce Exporters of Kenya (Fpeak) chairman Tiku Shah. Growers have confirmed that in the coming months, they will have to prune workers off the payroll.

“Workers will be the first casualty,” said an exporter who did not want to be named for fear of spreading panic in the labour-sensitive sector.

The growers, however, are in a precarious situation, with trade unions signalling that they will not accept layoffs.

Although no official report has come in to that effect, the information on the ground is that workers are being quietly sent home with promises that they will be recalled when things get better.

Joshua Oyuga, national treasurer of the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union, says both big and small flower farms have informed the union of their intention to lay off workers.

The details are scant, but The EastAfrican learnt that a number of flower farms have scaled down production and switched to vegetables in greenhouses to take advantage of the better prices for quality produce in Europe. “This is a better option than closing down,” said Fpeak chief executive officer Stephen Mbithi.

Indeed, the Horticultural Crops Development Authority reports that while flower prices have dipped, those for fruits and vegetables have risen due to scarcity as the dry weather prevails. The price of vegetables has more than doubled, drawing flower exporters into the business, until now the preserve of small-scale producers.

The flip side is that this trend could knock out of business some of the hundreds of thousands of smallholders, reversing the gains made by the sector over the years in creating rural employment.

Mrs Ngige said that in the country’s main growing area of Naivasha, flower farms have agreed to scale down production by almost 25 per cent as they go slow on irrigation to save the drying lake. The Naivasha Municipal Council and the Water Resources Management Authority have installed metres and introduced a water rationing programme to control extraction. Otherwise, the lake could dry up for the third — and perhaps last — time.

Meanwhile, the decision by the world’s second largest producer of flowers, Columbia, to dump its produce in Europe following the collapse of the US market is dealing a major blow to Kenya’s flower sector.

The first sign that the flower industry was headed for trouble this year was the low-key celebration of Valentine’s Day. It was billed as the worst in history for flower exports.

“We had a terrible February 14, with earnings dipping 30 per cent,” said Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya CEO Stephen Mbithi.
Dr Mbithi added that there was a slight improvement in May because of Mother’s Day, the second most important day in the flower sales calendar.
But that was the only good news of the year, as the sector went into the cold season, when growth is subdued.

Lobbyists now want the government to implement reforms to save 500,000 jobs in the horticultural sector.

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