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Archive for September 21st, 2012

Fostering science and development in COMESA member states.

Posted by African Press International on September 21, 2012

By.Thomas Ochieng, API Kenya Ochieng Thomas API reporter in Kenya Ochieng Thomas API reporter in Kenya

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa COMESA has embarked on an ambitious programme in conjunction with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development NEPAD in setting up the first science and technology and innovation council, which will spearhead science and technology applications among member states, with the technical support from Finland and the Harvard Kennedy school under the intellectual auspices of Prof.Calstous Juma.

The initiative which will be implemented across the member states is also set to have an award scheme to foster innovations in the region. Kenya will offer space for Technology Park to foster the growth of knowledge based firms through technology transfer and cross-fertilization, Sudan offered to the project the user of its renewable energy center, on its part Egypt is offering its technology innovation and entrepreneurship center. In the south Swaziland and Malawi offered centers to pursue research on the commercialization potential of indigenous plants and animals and the latter offering the use of its regional center of excellence in agriculture and natural resources.

Speaking during the second ministerial meeting in Kenya Raila Odinga Kenya’s Prime Minister lauded COMESA in its forward-looking approach towards the development of the continent for prosperity. “We live when times of knowledge and information are the catalyst of growth and development, whereby lagging behind as a continent is a luxury we cannot afford” Said the Premier adding that the use of knowledge in the world today had replaced the traditional factor of production, hence the African continent are obliged to find synergies in forging ahead together through such initiatives brought forth by COMESA.

On her part the host of the meeting, Kenya’s minster for science and technology Prof.Margaret Kamar emphasized the importance of investing in human resources in the continent to tackle the myriad of challenges facing Africa for today and importantly in prosperity. She noted that the growing youthful population in the continent it’s imperative for innovative ways of doing business in Africa.

Speaking during the high level ministerial committee round table, the Secretary-General of COMESA Mr.Sindiso Ngwenya drew a nexus of innovation and the need to protect intellectual property of the inventors and innovators. He at the same time reiterated the overwhelming need for member states to fully own and implement the cascading programmes agreed at the meeting.

The 2010 COMESA summit on science and technology Development resolved that there was a need for concrete projects that will deliver tangible results for the region to be of utmost priority. The summit also agreed on a scheme on mainstreaming science and technology in all its programmes in a cost-effective way that does not place a heavy financial burden to the member states. The communique agreed on establishing common science and technology parks, establishment of an ICT training and skills development fund, developing a common science curriculum among COMESA member states and mounting  a data base for individuals who can help in achieving these goals.



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Long-delayed parliamentary elections have sparked tension in Guinea

Posted by African Press International on September 21, 2012

Long-delayed parliamentary elections have sparked tension in Guinea

CONAKRY,  – Guineans are hopeful that the 5 September resignation of the electoral commission president – one of the opposition’s principal demands – will break a political impasse and move the country to a long-overdue parliamentary election.

Electoral commission head Lousény Camara, seen as an ally of President Alpha Condé, said in a statement that he was stepping down “in the superior interest of the nation” so that the electoral process can move forward.

Opposition groups have repeatedly accused Condé’s government of planning to rig the vote that was supposed to be held within six months of the 2010 presidential elections.

Since the presidential poll, Guinea has been stuck between a chaotic past and aspirations for a stable democracy. The absence of an elected parliament has not only held up donor funds but fuelled ethnic tensions and threatened to reverse hard-won gains, observers say.

“It seems that all political discourse these days comes down to arguments over when the legislative election will finally be held, or who’s going to try to rig the legislative election,” UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator Anthony Ohemeng-Boamah told IRIN. “The country needs to move past that, return to normalcy and focus energies on improving the lives of Guineans.”

A military junta seized power in 2008 after the death of Lansana Conté who had ruled Guinea for 24 years. Autocratic leaders and military regimes have been at the helm of the West African country since independence in 1958. The 2010 polls brought hopes for stable and democratic governance.

Although President Condé’s victory was contested, Guineans – even those who insist his opponent, Cellou Dalein Diallo, won – said they accepted him so that the country could move on. But the failure to hold legislative elections has stirred up mistrust andtensions.

Dropping the ball

Guinea formed a transitional parliament in early 2010 – the Conseil National de la Transition (CNT) – whose members are not elected; the body had a temporary mandate until legislative elections are held. CNT president Hadja Rabiatou Serah Diallo says Guinea’s political parties and the rest of civil society dropped the ball after the presidential election.

“During the transition, political parties, unions, civil society, women – everyone was unified and we spoke with one voice,” Diallo told IRIN. “Then, after the presidential election, because of party and individual interests, everyone went off in his own direction, and we all forgot… We all forgot too quickly that we needed to remain united for the interest of the nation. We thought we could say `mission accomplished’ but the transition was not yet complete.”

“It’s the poorest Guineans who carry the heaviest burden of having no parliament. The lack of development, relentless poverty – it’s the poorest who pay,” Diallo added.

Despite having some of the world’s largest bauxite reserves as well as gold, iron ore and diamonds, most Guineans struggle to get by. The European Union resumed cooperation with Guinea after the formation of a civilian government in 2010, but it has withheld much of the 174.3 euros (US$219.2 million) it had offered pending legislative elections.

“Everyone agrees this transition period has dragged on for too long,” says Ousmane Sylla, Guinea’s ambassador in Brussels. In mid-August he appealed to Guinea’s political parties to put aside what he calls “minor quarrels” and proceed with elections.

“A parliament is not a necessity just in terms of satisfying donors – it’s a necessity for the Guinean people,” Sylla told IRIN. “It’s extremely important that the people will finally be able to say `we have elected our representatives who are tuned in to our daily challenges’. Once we finish these elections, I assure you, Guinea will see greater national unity and social calm and that will facilitate development.”

Guineans hope that holding parliamentary polls will ease the current tensions.
“Holding the legislative election will allow us to finish with this political turmoil and all the street demonstrations that end up in deaths and injuries and that hurt business,” vendor Aissata Sylla told IRIN. “To be able to make a living, we need peace.”

But only a fair and transparent election will bring stability, said a Conakry resident who identified himself as Perrussot. “We are not against Condé – we don’t want to block him from doing his job. We simply want a democracy based on truth. We want a parliamentary system where everyone has a voice.”

np/ic/ob/cb source

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Disarmament and rebellion in Jonglei

Posted by African Press International on September 21, 2012

Photo: UN/IRIN
Thousands of weapons have been netted in a massive disarmament operation (file photo)

JUBA,  – A massive disarmament operation has netted thousands of weapons in South Sudan’s Jonglei State, but security in what is one of the country’s most marginalized states is now being jeopardized by a rebel leader on a recruitment drive.

The operation was launched in the wake of the killing in January of at least 600 people during an attack by Nuer fighters on the rival Murle community in Jonglei’s Pibor County.

Violence between these communities, which have a long history of tit-for-tat cattle raids, has subsided since the January attack.

Now, according to the government’s military spokesman, Philip Aguer, one of the main threats to security in Jonglei comes from a rebel group which plans “take Pibor as a place to challenge the government of South Sudan.”

Like many opponents of South Sudan’s government, the group’s leader, David Yau Yau, a Murle, had been granted a presidential amnesty and given a job – as a general – in the army. But he gave up this post and resumed his rebellion in April.

Aguer accused him of “instigating the youth of Murle not to accept disarmament” and of being behind a 23 August ambush that left 24 soldiers dead, 12 seriously wounded and 17 missing.

A few days after the ambush, soldiers came under fire again 60km away in Likuangole – a Murle town that was almost totally destroyed in January – prompting civilians to flee to outlying villages and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to beef up the number of peacekeepers there.

Likuangole’s only clinic, run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), was ransacked and looted during the January attacks, and has again been targeted.

“A number of buildings in Likuangole, including the MSF facilities there, have been emptied of materials in recent weeks,” UNMISS Director of Communications Liam McDowall said, without identifying the perpetrators.

An aid worker who asked not to be named accused government soldiers involved in the disarmament operation of “stealing food aid and other humanitarian aid from civilians. They’ve been taking what  they want from who they want”.

“Given the fact that most of the communities are still trying to recover from the violence  in January, the humanitarian aid represents a key part of their livelihoods and now civilian populations are without food or shelter,” the aid worker added.

Few aid agencies now work in Pibor County and only two do so in Pibor town. Recent flooding means many parts of the county can only be reached by boat or helicopter.

''The lull is simply part of the usual pattern of conflict, whereby the youth simply tire of fighting, take a break only to resume when one of the unresolved issues triggers a new fight''

Disarmament backlash

“The reason that Yau Yau has support is because of how abusive the disarmament process is,” said another international aid worker who asked not to be named due to fear of reprisals.

This view is shared by elders and other Murle community leaders, who, in a 1 September letter to Deputy Defence Minister Majak D’Agoot, said the disarmament operation should stop so as “to discourage youth from joining David Yau Yau, as it is the main reason which made them join him.”

Some reports suggest that Nuer as well as Murle youths are being recruited into Yau Yau’s rebellion.

While there are few Murle in the state government, they “are not the only group feeling marginalized in Jonglei,” said Judy McCallum, former head of peace-building NGO Pact’s operations in South Sudan. McCallum is currently writing a PhD thesis on the Murle.

“I hesitate to state that only Murle youth are being recruited, but would emphasize more the fact that disenfranchised youth, who have little representation and little hope that their grievances will be addressed, are the ones being  drawn into the militias,” she told IRIN by email.

South Sudan started statewide disarmament in Jonglei in March, and last week claimed to have collected 12,000 guns there.

The state was a particularly fierce theatre of conflict during the 1983-2005 North-South civil war, with its Nuer and Dinka populations for the most part fighting for the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) – which is now the national army of South Sudan – while many Murle militia groups were armed by Khartoum to weaken the SPLA.

“The Murle have long considered the disarmament as another way to punish them, and a suitable guise to do it under,” the aid worker added.

MSF noted an unprecedented level of “extreme violence” during this year’s attacks, with the elderly, women and children targeted with unprecedented brutality.

Human rights and advocacy groups have repeatedly warned of the dangers disarming the state, pointing to the lack of a buffer zone between rival communities, the failure of peace talks involving youth leaders and the violence that accompanied previousbotched disarmament efforts.

Alleged abuses

In April, UNMISS said it was “very concerned about these reports of human rights violations during disarmament”, but added it was “encouraged” by steps to bring perpetrators to justice.

In May, Navi Pillay, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged the government to end “longstanding impunity” and investigate “serious crimes” committed after the disarmament operation evolved from a voluntary phase to a forced phase.

Photo: Hannah McNeish/IRIN
Displaced…Clashes in January in Jonglei’s Pibor County forced thousands from their homes

She also urged the government to fulfil its pledge of establishing a Jonglei Committee to investigate violence – a body still not functional as of September.

Among the abuses cited in a recent Human Rights Watch report were “soldiers shooting at civilians, and ill-treating them by beatings, tying them up with rope, and submerging their heads in water to extract information about the location of weapons” as well as “rape and beatings and additional acts of torture”.

“The documented cases are likely to represent a small fraction of the total number of incidents, because many victims and witnesses do not report the crimes to county authorities,” the report said.

While describing security in Jonglei as “significantly improved,” UNMISS in late August also reported “alleged violations including one killing, 27 allegations of torture or ill-treatment, such as beatings, and simulated drowning in some cases, 12 rapes, six attempted rapes and eight abductions,” between 15 and 20 August.

“The majority of the victims are women, and in some cases children,” it noted.

A resident of Pibor County who fled to Juba told IRIN that soldiers had “raped my mother and my sister and they tortured an eight year old. Why would anyone do that to a child, and why is no one caring about the Murle to stop them?”

Between March and 20 August, MSF treated 90 people with “violent trauma injuries” – including several rape survivors – in its Pibor clinic, three of whom died from their injuries.

The government and army have dismissed reports of widespread abuses as “one-sided”, “inflammatory” and based on “rumour” and exaggerations by “politicized groups”.

Although floods are hampering transport, more troops are being sent to Pibor County to take on Yau Yau and those who have refused to disarm.

“The process of disarmament will continue,” said military spokesperson Aguer.

Cycles of violence 

For Jok Madut Jok, an academic and Undersecretary in the Ministry of Culture, public statements welcoming a decline in inter-communal clashes are premature.

“The problem is that despite the lull in that conflict and in many other similar ones, this was not a result of a concerted program of security sector reform, reconciliation between the ethnic groups or a resolution of the root causes and issues that fan that conflict,”Jok wrote in an article in the newly formed Sudd Institute.

“Instead, the lull is simply part of the usual pattern of conflict, whereby the youth simply tire of fighting, take a break and only to resume when one of the unresolved issues triggers a new fight,” he warned.

Even if the Yau Yau threat subsides, there are fears that revenge attacks will restart as rains abate in the coming weeks.

hm/am/rz source


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