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Archive for June 10th, 2012

Kenyan MInister Saitoti and his assistant Ojodeh die in chopper crash

Posted by African Press International on June 10, 2012

According to the Kenya news media, Professor Saitoti, the minister for Internal Security and Provincial Administration has died in a Chopper crash in Kenya. His deputy, Ojodeh died with him together with 4 others – their two bodyguards and two pilots. Prof. Saitoti (left) and his fierce and finger-pointing Assistant Ojode (right) Prof. Saitoti (left) and his fierce and finger-pointing Assistant Ojode (right)

Professor George Saitoti was a presidential candidate in the coming elections. He was a hardworking man with his deputy assistant minister Joshua Orwa Ojodeh beeping up security against Al Shabaab threat in the country.

The standard online news reports that “Saitoti and  Orwa Ojode were aboard the helicopter make -Eurocopter AS 350 which crashed at 8.30am in Kibiku area in Ngong. The two leaders, their bodyguards and the two pilots perished in the accident. The helicopter is said to have exploded on impact. The pilots were identified as Captain Nancy Gituanja and Captain Luke Oyugi. Saitoti and Ojode bodyguards, inspector Joshua Tonkei and  sergeant Thomas Murimi also died in the accident.”

African Press International sends condolences to the bereaved families.



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Myanmar will hold its census in 2014

Posted by African Press International on June 10, 2012

Myanmar will hold its census in 2014

CHIANG MAI,  – A decision to undertake a national census could prove key to empowering Myanmar’s more than 100 ethnic groups, provided it is inclusive and conducted to international standards.

“Potentially, the census would have a very positive affect on the ethnic areas and could serve to support claims for ethnic rights in education, language and culture that in some areas is repressed by the state and military,” David Scott Mathieson, a senior researcher in the Asia division of Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IRIN.

The government lists 135 ethnic groups, comprising more than a third of Burma’s 55 million inhabitants, which are grouped into eight national races: Burman, Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Chin, Mon, Rakhine and Shan.

The United Nations agreed on 30 April 2012 to assist the Burmese government in conducting its first census in 31 years. The project will start in April 2014, ahead of the next general election in 2015.

“It’s incredibly important to have a census at this time, both to support the gradually expanding reforms and because there hasn’t been a census since 1983,” Mathieson said, noting that there had been severe limitations on gathering the data at the time, as ongoing armed conflict had excluded significant parts of the country.

Karen State in the east of the country is one such area, where the long-standing conflict between Karen forces and Burma’s successive governments has hampered development for more than 60 years.

Healthcare and education standards in southeastern Myanmar are described as among the worst in Asia.

According to the Thai Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), an umbrella group of NGOs working along the border, fighting has displaced more than 400,000 people.

Although the Karen National Union (KNU), which has been fighting for greater autonomy from the Burmese government for decades, is now in the initial steps of implementing a ceasefire, the census process could prove just as difficult to carry out.

“Right now, not many people in Karen state are aware of the proposed census, so the government will need to do a lot more to inform the communities about it,” said Knaw Paw, spokesperson for the Karen Women’s Organization.

“There is an urgent need to get accurate information out to international organizations and institutions, so that they are aware of the real situation on the ground in Karen State, where healthcare and education issues have been largely ignored by the Myanmar government,” Knaw Paw said.

That will take careful planning, particularly as to how the survey is conducted. Za Uk Lin, of the Chin Human Rights Organization, expressed concern that the census methodology might be skewed. “There is a significant number of Chin who can no longer speak their ethnic language fluently, so they are often mistaken for or classified as Burman,” Lin said.

According to the 1983 census, the majority Burman ethnic group accounted for 69 percent of the population.

Some 500,000 people live in Chin State, described by the United Nations as the poorest of Myanmar’s 14 regions and states, with 73.3 percent of the population living below the poverty line and having limited access to healthcare and education. Another 100,000 Chin, having fled persecution, live across the border in neighbouring India’s Mizoram State.

There is also the challenge of ensuring that everyone living in Myanmar, regardless of race, is covered, including the Rohingya, who are officially classified as “stateless”. Activists say this ethnic, linguistic and religious (Muslim) minority, has long faced persecution.

“In Myanmar, the term ‘Rohingya’ is not recognized by the government and, therefore, it does not feature in the official list of 135 national races whose membership guarantees full citizenship,” said Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, an advocacy group for Rohingya. “[It is] shocking that Myanmar’s government would only consider to include in this census people belonging to the ‘national races’.”

There are some 800,000 Rohingya living in northern Rakhine State, while 200,000 or more fled persecution and are now living in Bangladesh, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
Will the government count the Rohingya?

Another challenge, said HRW’s Mathieson, are the “countless thousands of stateless hill-tribe people in Shan State and other border areas, plus thousands of civilians who have never been registered as Burmese citizens. [They have] no birth certificates, ID cards, or passports because they grew up in insurgent -controlled areas or refugee camps or migrant worker communities.”

Such groups could strongly benefit from the upcoming census, as well as from the expected increase in international donor support, given the country’s ongoing political reforms. How that aid is spent, and its effectiveness, will require better information on the ground.

“There is a dire need for the census to guide Myanmar’s rural development and poverty reduction strategy, and 5-year national development plan. How can such plans be developed and monitored without accurate data on the number of people residing in the country, their age structure and sex, geographical locations, access to healthcare, water and sanitation?” said Mohamed Abdel-Ahad, country representative for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

In the two years leading up to the census, UNFPA will be assisting in surveyor training and drafting the forms that will be completed during the data collection exercise.

At the signing of the agreement to undertake the census, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “very encouraged by the government’s strong commitment to the project”, and urged donors to support it.

Myanmar’s Vice-President, Sai Mauk Kham, said his government “will cooperate closely with UNFPA to oversee the quality of the census, so that the result will be accurate and up to international standards”.


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A training exercise for Senegalese and Malian soldiers, who form part of West Africa’s standby force

Posted by African Press International on June 10, 2012

A training exercise for Senegalese and Malian soldiers, who form part of West Africa’s standby force

JOHANNESBURG, – With a string of political crises in West Africa over the past few months it has been a busy time for mediators of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has a mandate and history of intervention – which in terms of scale sets it apart from other trading blocs in Africa.

ECOWAS was formed in 1975 with the goal of economic integration of its 15 member states. But the Liberian civil war in 1989 proved a watershed, with a group of key countries led by Nigeria committed to military intervention. That muscular approach was formalized by a 1999 protocol on conflict prevention which explicitly linked economic development to peace, and a 2001 protocol on good governance which ruled “every accession to power must be made through free, fair and transparent elections”.

ECOWAS uses, among other instruments, fact-finding and election observer missions, the appointment of special representatives, mediators, sanctions and the formation of international contact groups to resolve or prevent conflicts. IRIN looks at some of the measures it has taken to try to resolve the region’s recent crises.


Following the toppling of Amandou Toumani Touré in a coup on 22 March by Capt Amadou Sanogo, ECOWAS has used both stick and carrot to help Mali back to constitutional rule. It has crafted a deal which will allow a civilian head of state to take office and run the country until elections next year, and has signalled its support to roll back a Tuareg rebellion in the north, where the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) has taken advantage of the confusion to unilaterally declare an independent state.

ECOWAS has an array of punitive measures it can deploy against recalcitrant juntas. At an Extraordinary Summit on 29 March, it imposed comprehensive sanctions against Sanogo and his National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy, and suspended Mali from the regional body.

Ambassadors from ECOWAS countries were recalled, borders closed, and a travel ban on the coup leaders was imposed. More severely still, Mali’s assets with the Central Bank of West Africa (BCEAO) were frozen, and all financial assistance to Mali from the West African Bank for Development (BOAD) and the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID) was suspended.

A Framework Agreement signed on 6 April demands power be handed to Djouncounda Traoré, the former speaker of parliament, for 40 days. Thereafter, an interim civilian president will run Mali until elections are held within 12 months. Sanogo and his men have been granted amnesty, but also warned that any statements seen as undermining the agreement would lead to the reinstatement of targeted sanctions against them.

What seemed fine on paper was complicated by the flight to France on 23 May by Traoré, after he was beaten by an irate crowd of Sanogo supporters who stormed his office, throwing the deal into confusion.

ECOWAS has appeared resolute over the north, where the MNLA and Islamist groups have seized control. It has condemned the separatists and has reportedly made plans for 3,000 troops to be deployed to the contested region to help restore Mali’s territorial integrity.

''ECOWAS will have to be careful with military threats and must be able to follow up with a credible threat of force''

Cape Town-based Petrus de Kock, a senior researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs, told IRIN the quick response by ECOWAS to Mali sent a message that it would not tolerate coups and unconstitutional changes of government. The immediate dispatch of the region’s “top brass to the country had a huge impact… But ECOWAS will have to be careful with military threats and must be able to follow up with a credible threat of force [against the MNLA] and deal with an insurgency that threatens regional instability… But you do not want to put it [military force] at the forefront and play a brinkmanship role… ECOWAS’s role is to build trust between the parties and design a political vision.”


Guinea-Bissau has a long history of political violence and instability. ECOWAS is mediating a solution to a 12 April coup which halted the second round of elections that Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Júnior – a strong proponent of security sector reform – seemed set to win. ECOWAS immediately announced its intention to deploy a 629-strong standby force to stabilize the country.

The first wave of 70 Burkina Faso paramilitary police – out of a complement of 140 – arrived on 17 May; Nigeria has made a commitment to deploy 300 security personnel (140 police and 160 soldiers); Senegal would make up the rest.

On 22 May the coup leaders handed power to interim President Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo and Prime Minister Rui Duarte Barros. The 28-member cabinet is said to include two army officers, including a coup participant, Col Celestino Carvalho.

ECOWAS is expected to be heavily involved in arranging free, fair and transparent elections scheduled within the next 12 months as part of the post-coup deal. The withdrawal of the 200 strong Angolan technical-military cooperation mission (MISSANG) – deployed in March 2011 to support security sector reform – was announced ahead of the coup. The coup leaders had claimed MISSANG’s intention was to annihilate the army.

Guinea-Bissau has been a perennial concern for the regional body. It stepped in during a 2004 army mutiny – triggered by the non-payment of salaries – providing a US$500,000 grant to assist in wage payments. In 2008 an audit by the army found more than the half 4,458 soldiers were either senior officers or non-commissioned officers.

Following the 2 March 2009 assassinations of President Joao Bernardo Vieira and his armed forces chief of staff Gen Batista Tagme Na Wai, ECOWAS convened its 19 March 2009 Mediation and Security Council meeting in the capital Bissau, as a show of solidarity, and recommended a joint initiative with the UN to deploy a combined force of army and police to protect state institutions. This recommendation was not supported by the government of the interim president Raimundo Pereira, however.

An ECOWAS meeting in Cape Verde, in April 2009, in collaboration with representatives from 29 other countries and international organizations, provided a $13.5 million grant for security sector reforms, such as pensions schemes and the building of a police academy, and came on the back a $2 million reintegration project established by the regional bloc in May 2007 for about 30 senior Guinea Bissau officers to be trained in agriculture in Brazil.

David Zounmenou, a senior researcher for democracy, armed conflict and human security at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, told IRIN ECOWAS’s response to the Guinea Bissau coup “raised some concerns” as putschists had been included in the transitional government and this conflicted with the organization’s 2001 supplementary protocols, as “the military are imposing who should be part of the transition,” which excluded Gomes and was in contravention of the country’s Constitution. “Because of this the UN has distanced itself from ECOWAS [in its response to the coup].”


When in 2001 former Niger president Mamadou Tandja began tampering with electoral laws to extend his term in office, and dissolved parliament and the Constitutional Court which opposed his moves, ECOWAS suspended Niger’s membership.

Tandja’s new constitution concentrated power in his hands. ECOWAS responded with the dispatch of a mediation team led by former Nigerian president Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar. Tandja rejected ECOWAS proposals for the appointment of an opposition member to the post of prime minister and a 12 month window for the drawing-up of a new constitution and elections.

Niger was suspended from the African Union after a coup in February 2010 toppled Tandja. But ECOWAS adopted a softly-softly approach to the new military rulers after they immediately dissolved Tandja’s new constitution and appointed Mahamadou Danda as prime minister. ECOWAS took a back-seat in the transition and trusted coup leader Salou Djibo’s declared intention to return to pre-Tandja constitutional rule – with the proviso of an amnesty for the mutineers. Mahamadou Issoufou was elected president in March 2011.

De Kock said ECOWAS’s response to the Niger crisis was “to reshape and get more influence over the situation. It was a hands-off approach. ECOWAS was there. It just had to deal at a different level and it was more about diplomacy.”

Côte d’Ivoire

Once seen as the epitome of stability, Côte d’Ivoire presented a different challenge to ECOWAS. After a more than decade-long crisis, beginning with the 1999 coup d’etat and ending with a contested election taking the country to the brink of a renewed civil war, ECOWAS was to wear two hats – playing both peacekeeper and facilitator for the electoral process.

The regional body was the first to deploy a stabilization force to protect state institutions after the start of the 2002 civil war, which was to last for five years. The ECOWAS Mission in Côte d’Ivoire (ECOMICI) paved the way for the UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire (MINUCI) in May 2003, which was succeeded in April 2004 by the UN Peace Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), which replaced both MINUCI and ECOMICI.

Côte d’Ivoire was divided between north and south, and ECOWAS, the former colonial power France, South Africa and the Africa Union (AU) became involved in negotiations to end the conflict. A 2007 power-sharing deal mediated by ECOWAS member Burkina Faso saw New Forces leader Guillaume Soro appointed as prime minister.

The first round of the presidential polls was held on 31 October 2010 and ECOWAS and other international bodies declared the results free and fair. The second round in December 2010 was mired in controversy, but ECOWAS quickly accepted the results, although the former South African president and AU mediator Thabo Mbeki accused the body of being too hasty in accepting the outcome of Alassane Ouattara’s narrow victory. The AU backed ECOWAS’s endorsement and this was confirmed following the AU ad-hoc investigation by five African heads of states.

The UN Security Council, at the request of ECOWAS, passed Resolution 1975 of 2011 providing MINUCI with the mandate to protect civilians during the post-electoral crisis, after the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to accept the results and a stand-off ensued threatening to engulf the country in a renewed civil war.

ECOWAS at an extraordinary session on 24 December declared that if Gbagbo did not accept the results it would have “no other option but to take all the necessary measures, including the use of legitimate force, to realize the aspirations of the Ivorian people.” It was a high-risk strategy: Apart from the difficulty of conducting a full-scale military intervention, there was the real threat of a nationalist backlash against West African nationals in Abidjan, and some ECOWAS members such as Ghana argued against military force.

''No other organization in Africa would have been able to deal with the complex situation… and that’s because ECOWAS had the experience of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea Bissau''

The stand-off was resolved when in April 2011 Ouattara’s forces, with the assistance of French troops, captured Gbagbo, who was handed over to The Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity. 

Zounmenou said the links established by ECOWAS with the AU, European Union and UN meant there was a very quick response to complex issues during the crisis.

“ECOWAS played a principled, consistent and fair role in resolving it, as it had been there since 1999. ECOWAS defined the negotiation process and monitored the implementation of the Ouagadougou peace agreement. No other organization in Africa would have been able to deal with the complex situation… and that’s because ECOWAS had the experience of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea Bissau. My only problem was ECOWAS allowed French troops to take the military option,” he said.


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Zinc-boosted food is slowly catching on in Nepal

Posted by African Press International on June 10, 2012

Zinc-boosted food is slowly catching on in Nepal

BANGKOK,  – In a newly released clinical study conducted in India, hundreds of seriously ill infants who received zinc – an essential micronutrient for the immune system and human growth – as well as antibiotics, responded better and more quickly to treatment than those who did not. This finding is the first proof that zinc supplements may boost infant survival from infections.

“It does not need to be serious zinc deficiency. Even mild deficiency can compromise a child’s immunity,” the study’s lead investigator, Shinjini Bhatnagar, of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute and All India Institute of Medical Sciences, told IRIN. The infants’ weak immune systems, among other reasons, can lead to first-line treatments not working.

More than 300 infants no older than 120 days (4 months), hospitalized in New Delhi, the capital, for suspected meningitis (an infection of the brain or spinal cord lining), pneumonia (a lung infection) or sepsis (blood poisoning), were given zinc in addition to antibiotics. They were found to be 40 percent less likely to experience “treatment failure” – needing a second antibiotic within one week of the first treatment, or intensive care or death within 21 days – than those given a placebo.

Multiple medical studies have identified widespread zinc deficiency in low- and middle-income countries, and how this increases the risk of infection, but the research has thus far focused on children at least six months old.

In 2010, infections like pneumonia and meningitis accounted for 47 percent of all deaths in children aged under five worldwide, and almost a quarter died during the first 28 days of life, according to recent research by the Child Health Epidemiology Group, a global advisory body on interventions.

Rolling out zinc

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended zinc and oral rehydration salts (ORS) to treat diarrhoea, a symptom of infections and a leading child killer, in 2004. Many low and middle-income countries have since changed their diarrhoea treatment policies to include zinc, according to a map by the US-based Zinc Task Force.

Yet only a “very small proportion” of children who need zinc have access to it, according to a 2009 WHO bulletin.

Policy changes are just one part of rolling out zinc supplements, Kenneth Brown, a professor of nutrition and child health at the University of California-Davis, told IRIN. “The distribution system – from central stores to peripheral facilities – must be functioning efficiently, and clinicians must be trained in when and how to use the [zinc] supplements if the programmes are actually going to be effective.”

Ideally, a child’s immunity should be bolstered with zinc supplements (available in syrup and tablets) to help prevent infections, he added. “However, therapeutic intervention programmes have the advantage of being less costly, and allowing targeting of those infants/children at greatest short-term risk of mortality.”

Bhatnagar has applied to expand the study to include more children in different parts of India as well as elsewhere in South Asia.


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