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Archive for June 2nd, 2012

Firearms have replaced more traditional weapons

Posted by African Press International on June 2, 2012

Photo: Fotopedia
Firearms have replaced more traditional weapons

BARINGO-NORTH,  – Clashes between two communities in western Kenya’s Rift Valley Province have led to the displacement of thousands of people, the closure of several schools and calls for the government to beef up security.

Relations between the Tugen and the Pokot in what is now known as Baringo County have for decades been marked by tit-for-tat cattle raids and the occasional attendant fatality. Over the years, firearms have replaced more traditional weapons, especially among the Pokot.

An escalation – in intensity and frequency – of hostilities since January has, according to the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), left more than 7,500 Tugen people displaced from their homes, living either with other members of their community or in rudimentary shelters in the bush.

A dozen schools have been forced to close, affecting around 2,000 children, said KRCS.

Local media listed the worst-affected locations as Rondinin, Chepkewel, Kaborion, Tuluk, Kapturo, Chepkesin, Kamwetio, Boruiyo, Chemoe, Barketiew, Kagir, Kosile, Yatia, Loruk and Kalabata.

Five deaths and at least 16 serious injuries have been reported.

KRCS has warned of a risk of communicable diseases among the displaced, which could be exacerbated by inadequate sanitation as well as limited access to health care. The conflict has forced some health centre staff to flee their posts, meaning the only functioning health facility is up to 40km away.

The displaced are in need of health care, mobile toilets, food and other humanitarian aid, according to KRCS.
“The clashes are foreseen to continue if security measures are not addressed well,” KRCS warned in a statement.

KRCS assistant secretary-general for the Rift Valley, Patrick Nyongesa, told IRIN a dispute over the boundaries of administrative areas established under a 2010 devolutionary constitution had contributed to the escalation of hostilities. 

“The government must… look into the boundaries issues so that communities may not fight for land resources in the name of cattle rustling,” said Nyongesa, adding that in the absence of adequate government intervention the Tugen were likely to try to acquire firearms.

Even children among the Tugen community are determined to use force to protect their families and livestock, with many using bows and arrows to do so. “I will not wait for the Pokot to kill my family, I have to take charge and remain alert,” Brian, a 12-year-old boy, told IRIN. “Raiders stole our 11 cattle. Only three remained and I have to guard them,” he said, adding that he had dropped out of primary school because of the conflict.

Mary Chemos, who was displaced from the village of Setek after an attack by cattle raiders, told IRIN: “I am lucky to be alive, the attackers shot at my house but somehow, no bullets hit either me or my three children…
“I know the Pokot will come again if I restock my cattle. I am now poor and without peace. I wish I would get somewhere to live peacefully even without owning a single head of cattle.” 

In a recent pastoralist peace meeting in Rift Valley’s capital of Nakuru, Internal Security Minister George Saitoti said additional security officers had been deployed to Baringo North. 
But residents insist the government is not doing enough. 
“We have been reporting to security agents but no action has been taken. Sometimes we have given the names of suspects,” said Richard Chepchomoe, a local leader.
Ten government security officers have been killed in the past year in cattle-rustling incidents, according to Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner Osman Warfa. 
“Our officers don’t want to be posted in cattle-rustling prone areas,” said Warfa. “Leaders must learn to preach peace rather than division… It is a shame that we are still talking about cattle-rustling in this century.” 
At least 82 people have been killed in cattle-rustling incidents across Kenya in the past year, with 47 injured and 24,000 heads of livestock stolen, according to Saitoti.

Ethnic clashes, fuelled by pre-election politics and planned development schemes have also been reported in the northcentral county of Isiolo.

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A media campaign encourages men to seek medical male circumcision

Posted by African Press International on June 2, 2012

A media campaign encourages men to seek medical male circumcision

KAMPALA,  – Uganda’s campaign to encourage male circumcision – part of its effort to reduce HIV transmission – has attracted an enthusiastic response, but the bigger challenge is rallying resources so the health system can meet the demand for circumcision before it wanes.

In 2006 the results from three trials in sub-Saharan Africa, including one from Rakai, Uganda, showed that circumcision could reduce HIV transmission from positive women to negative male partners by up to 60 percent. This prompted the UN World Health Organization (WHO) to recommend that countries offer voluntary medical male circumcision as part of their prevention strategies.

The US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and UNAIDS projected that if 4.2 million Ugandan men were circumcised in five years, it could halve the country’s HIV incidence – three-quarters of the men are uncircumcised. The Ministry of Health launched a circumcision campaign in 2010, and government officials say they hope to circumcise as many as one million men in 2012.

“We said we were offering this service… and people were really there to be circumcised,” said Paul Mayende, public relations coordinator at the Baylor College of Medicine Children’s Foundation-Uganda, a government partner in the circumcision programme. The organization is responsible for the scale-up of male circumcision at 20 facilities in two regions of Uganda.

Ministry officials confirm Mayende’s observation that demand for the operation has been high, and WHO found that 9,052 men were circumcised in 2010. More than 450 men were circumcised at Baylor’s facilities on World AIDS Day in 2011.

Media campaign

The response to the campaign has not all been positive. In an effort to encourage men to be circumcised, the ministry, in collaboration with partner organizations, rolled out an extensive media campaign. It includes a billboard with snapshots of women over a tagline reading: “I am proud I have a circumcised husband because we have less chances of getting HIV”, and another of a woman expressing shock over discovering that a sexual partner is uncircumcised.

Some of the listeners to the breakfast show on Sanyu FM, one of the country’s biggest radio stations, interpreted the billboards to mean, “you don’t have to worry about getting AIDS” if you have the procedure, said James Onen, the show’s host.

The advertising message is the result of research among Ugandan men, who said a wife or long-term partner was the “important person who can give you information about [medical circumcision] you will listen to,” said Paul Bishop Drileba, a programme officer at the Health Communication Partnership (HCP), which helped the ministry develop the campaign.

The billboards used a “feminine face” to encourage men to undergo medical circumcision Drileba said. They also included the key underlying message that circumcision reduces the risk of HIV transmission, but does not eliminate it.

The debate over the advertisements came shortly after another challenge to the campaign. In January, a Ugandan newspaper reported that a three-week-old baby died after being circumcised at a health centre in western Uganda, and that he was the fourth child to die this way. Ministry of health officials would not comment until an investigation is completed.

Photo: Edward Echwalu/IRIN
There are doubts that the country’s health system can meet the set male circumcision targets

Health system challenges

The story reflected wider concerns about inadequate patient care. Only 56 percent of positions in government health facilities are filled and the gap is frequently blamed for the high maternal mortality rate and other shortcomings in emergency care.

Medical male circumcision advocates said the campaign – including a national health hotline to answer questions from concerned men – has allayed most safety concerns, but the health worker shortage still poses a significant hurdle to national goals.

Given the problems in health infrastructure and personnel, Richard Hasunira, a coordinator at the Uganda Civil Society HIV Prevention Working Group, said the ministry’s plans to reach one million men in 2012 would be a stretch.

The current health system is “inadequate” to achieve the kind of numbers Uganda is targeting, Hasunira said. There is often only one clinical officer per facility, but circumcisions cannot be safely offered without a doctor, nurse and counsellor, and men seeking the operation are turned away.

Hasunira said the only solution was to find more money for circumcisions during the parliamentary budget debates, which have just started. Almost all of Uganda’s funding for circumcision comes from PEPFAR. Even if more money is allocated in the budget, it will not become available until August at the earliest, which will be too late to hit the mark of one million circumcisions this year.

Another major hurdle is that most of the population live in rural areas, far from medical facilities that can provide the service, but setting up circumcision facilities in smaller health centres closer to rural populations is expensive.

The PEPFAR programme at the Makerere University Walter Reed Project in the capital, Kampala, offers HIV care, prevention and treatment programmes in three districts, and also has a mobile circumcision clinic. “It’s become really clear to us that if we are to reach the rural populations that are most at risk, maybe the way forward is through mobile circumcision,” said programme manager Mark Breda.

Like male circumcision generally, the mobile clinic has been extremely popular. “We’ve had no problem with demand,” he said. “At this point, it’s meeting the demand that’s the problem.”


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Charles Taylor’s legacy – diamond curse has now given him 50 years in jail

Posted by African Press International on June 2, 2012

Artisanal diamond miners at work in an open-pit mine in Koidu, eastern Sierra Leone

DAKAR,  – The recent conviction of Charles Taylor in The Hague for aiding and abetting war crimes in Sierra Leone has been a potent reminder of the role of natural resources in fuelling conflict in West Africa.
The court’s trial chamber found that Taylor received a continuous supply of “blood diamonds” from Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, often in exchange for arms. Diamond deals with neighbouring Liberia provided RUF with its single largest source of income.

Throughout the 1990s the trade helped fuel brutal civil wars in both countries, from which recovery has been slow. The scars of those conflicts remain clearly visible in the bullet-scarred villages of northern Liberia, but it was the town of Koidu, the heart of Sierra Leone’s diamond-mining industry, which bore the brunt of the violence, changing hands four times in 1998 alone.
Sierra Leone has made significant efforts to reform its mining sector, seeking to divert a greater share of revenue to diamondiferous areas and striving for increased transparency in the operations of mining companies. However, significant challenges remain, with an estimated 60 percent of Koidu’s youth formally unemployed, and grinding poverty across the country.
Despite attempts to regulate informal diamond-mining operations, up to 50 percent of artisanal diamonds still evade government taxation, while small-scale miners face harsh conditions with little security from exploitation.
Recent large-scale mining investment has contributed to making the economy one of the fastest growing in the world, but it will require concerted efforts to ensure that Sierra Leoneans finally benefit from the abundant natural mineral wealth.

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