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Archive for October 27th, 2012

Why Kenyans Should Be Mad, Very Mad Indeed

Posted by African Press International on October 27, 2012

Saturday, October 13, 2012 – 00:00 — BY MWENDA NJOKA

Kenyans have some very good reasons to be mad. Very, very mad indeed. Why, you ask? Well, let us put it this way: if our leaders are not safe to travel the land and address rallies in any part of the country, who then is safe?

About a fortnight ago, Fisheries minister and MP for Magarini, Amason Jeffah Kingi was addressing a rally in Mtwapa area in the outskirts of the generally peaceful coastal city of Mombasa when machete-wielding youth stormed and started slashing everyone at the dais.

This was a completely new phenomenon in the spate of violence that has rocked some parts of the country in recent times. No wonder then that the minister and his bodyguards were caught completely unawares by the specter of violence.

Several people, including the minister’s loyal bodyguard were killed in the machete mayhem. The matter of Amason Kingi attack caught public attention for a few days and then we moved on to other “more interesting” news and issues.

And then a few days later our slumber was interrupted by yet another VIP attack. This time around it was the self-styled Boss, the Makueni MP John Harun Mwau who found himself on the receiving end.

Mwau had gone to attend a political rally in Makueni when, ostensibly out of the blues, a group of hostile youth descended on him baying for his blood.

Mwau was saved by quick action by his bodyguard-cum-aide John Ngugi who jumped in front of the irate youth to shield Mwau from their physical attacks.

So, why should Kenyans be livid, you ask?  Because attacks on political leaders in broad daylight by some crazed youth is something alien to our socio-political culture.

It is something that should make us very concerned and very scared. Something that should get us thinking long and deep, more so when such attacks happen at a time when we are just about to go into what is billed to be a most competitive general election in eons.

My grouse here is that we, as a country, don’t seem to be as concerned over these two incidents as we ought to be. Is it that we are treating these two incidents as isolated happenings that have no bearing to future insecurity? If that is the case, then we are in a state of self-denial.

And that is exactly where the problem lies. Any assumption that the attacks on Cabinet minister Amason Jeffah Kingi and legislator John Harun Mwau were mere isolated incidents of random acts violence is the national equivalent of an ostrich that buries its head in the sand when it sees danger approaching on the assumption that if it does not see the danger, then the danger will not see it too.

Such an ostrich often finds itself becoming dinner for a hungry lioness and her cubs. But on the other hand, had the ostrich clearly recognised the danger ahead and defined ways and means  of dealing with it—whether flight or flight approach—then chances are that the ostrich would have lived to see another day.

As a country, we find ourselves in the ostrich situation in regard to the recent attacks on political leaders. The danger here is that when a security threat incident of such magnitude takes place and the culprits appear to have been let scot-free, whether by design or default, it sends the wrong kind of message.

It is tantamount to telling people with grievances against political leaders (and such people are myriad) in all parts of the country that they should feel free to engage in self-help (Swahili equivalent in this regard is kuchukulia sheria mkononi mwako) against the leaders they dislike and nothing will happen to you!

That is not the kind of message a country, or a government for that matter, wants to send to her citizens more so just a few months before a critical general election.

That is why Kenyans ought to be outraged by the attacks on political leaders and demand quick and decisive action by the government.

It does not matter that you do not like a certain leader, but at the end of the day he or she has as much right to security as your favourite leader.

If we make lethargy and indecisiveness the hallmark reactions to attacks on our leaders perhaps because those to whom the attacks were directed at are not our favourite politicians or do not belong to our political parties, then we are setting a very dangerous precedent.

Yesterday the target may have been Fisheries minister Amason Kingi; today it is former assistant minister John Harun Mwau, who will be the target of violence tomorrow?

There is no knowing when and where such violence will end if given a chance to take root. There is a very dangerous genie in the bottle of violence. If we fail to completely place back the cork on the bottle by decisively dealing with proponents and financiers of violence—no matter what positions they hold in society—then we will have only ourselves as a country to blame when we are unable to put the genie back in the bottle.


———————— The Star of Kenya ————–


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Why Uhuru Doesn’t Want To Look Back

Posted by African Press International on October 27, 2012

Monday, October 15, 2012 – 00:00 — BY NGUNJIRI WAMBUGU

I have been asked on several occasions to clarify why I seem to have an issue with Hon Uhuru Kenyatta‘s politics, and whether it is all about ‘party-line’.

Now that we are on the home stretch and it is clear that he is one of the two final ‘horses’ in this race, let me share and you can decide whether it is wall about the ‘party line’.

Its all about disappointment. My first disappointment is when I look at how proud I was 10 years ago as this man made national history by becoming the first politician in Kenya’s history to publicly concede defeat in a general election.

He did not say he had been rigged out, or that his supporters had been compromised, or that the election body was biased, etc; he admitted he had lost to a better man, fair and square and that Kenyans had spoken different from his expectations. He wished the new president well and zealously took over the new role of official leader of the opposition.

Unfortunately less than five years later he rubbished that concession speech and made history, again—this time in the negative. He became the first Opposition Leader anywhere in the world to abdicate his office and ‘defect’ in support of the same government Kenyans had been paying him generously to oppose for close to five years; presumably because of ethnic considerations.

Another major disappointment was how he dealt with Kenya’s oldest, largest and most organized political party (and only national party at the time), after taking it over from Kenya’s longest serving President in a ceremony full of pomp and glamour.

A party that literally influenced who he is today; and which he took over from the former President despite great resistance from powerful forces around Moi. KANU literally starved to clinical death under his watch.

My third major disappointment goes back again; to what he did 10 years ago. At that point, like Kibaki against Matiba another 10 years earlier, he was nationalistic enough to go against ethnic considerations for what he believed in; even when it meant contesting against a friend and more popular fellow tribesman.

Today I see a man who cannot fill a hall with political aspirants without over 70% of them being from only one of the more than 42 Kenyan communities.

I also see a dictator who has forced those who do not agree with him in the Mt Kenya region to get into one party; not by the ballot, or perish politically.

It was really sad to see Hon Konchellah fold up PNU, then go to URP. I see a man who has turned a community previously recognized internationally for their capacity to resist political dictatorship during both colonial and post independence Kenya, into one where established political leaders are falling over themselves to proclaim their loyalty to him. In a country where this region suffered in pursuit of multi-party politics he has forced it back to the single-party era!

I now understand why he uses the analogy that Kenyans should not to look in the rear view mirror when driving. He might not have driven himself for decades, but he must know that the easiest way to cause a serious accident, especially in Kenya, is not to look at your rear-view mirror when driving!

His message that Kenyans should ignore history as we make crucial decisions on where Kenya should go after the next general election might be about us not looking at his history, but it will hurt our country.

If we do not look back, we will not only fail to see his past, but we also will not remember the sacrifice of the Mau Mau; the Kenya Land and Freedom Army that fought for land taken away from them but which they never got even after the colonialists left.

We might not be able to ask why it took 50 years to file a case against the British Government after well documented gross atrocities committed against what we now all celebrate us Kenya’s resistance fighters.

We will not be able to ask what happened after independence, to over 600 African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa schools that had earlier been nationalized by the colonial government.

Uhuru does not want us to look back and ask what happened to JM Kariuki; Pio Gama Pinto: Tom Mboya; Argwings Kodhek; Haki Wako Taro; Sande Barre; Kitili Mwendwa; etc. He does not want us to celebrate the sacrifices of Kenneth Matiba; Raila Odinga; Njeru Kathangu; Wanyiri Kihoro; Ngugi wa Thiongo; Charles Rubia; etc.

By asking us not to look at the rear-mirror now maybe he also does not want us to recognize how the attempts to undermine the new constitution todaymirror what happened with the Lancaster Constitution.

Or, maybe he just does not want us to look backwards lest we realize how far we have come; and understand how far we will fall if we get it wrong in March 2013.


The writer is the head of Change Associations

————– The Star of Kenya ———–


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All Is Not Well With Poll Arrangements

Posted by African Press International on October 27, 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012 – 00:00 — BY DAVID MAKALI

Keen followers of the countdown to the next general election have a reason to worry. This country is staring at another electoral disaster and everything must now switch from urgent to crisis mode if a credible poll is to be held on March 4.

And this is not just about the delay in the arrival of the Biometric Voter Registration kit and the implications of the consequent late registration of voters.

That can be dealt with by emergency measures, including declaring a three-day national work stoppage to enable all eligible voters to register en masse.

But enormous groundwork is required to turn out the vote, recruit and train the personnel to manage the multi-layered electoral exercise, which is a huge task. We are staring at potentially the most chaotic and tense election since independence.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which was initially to blame for the botched procurement of the kit, has tactically absolved itself from responsibility for the current impasse.

During the crisis stakeholders meeting on Wednesday at the Prime Minister’s office to iron out the process, the government attempted to calm the nervous IEBC amid accusations of ineptitude and attempts to sabotage the elections. But many questions remain unanswered.

Have the bureaucratic cobwebs, legal hitches and vested interests that encumber the IEBC’s work been completely thwarted?  Why have the key officials required to superintend over a smooth election — the chief accounting officer and party the registrar of political parties — not been recruited?

Given that the two coalition principals have such vested interests – one with an eye to influence his succession and the other firmly in the race — can they be trusted to smooth the way to this election as they have repeatedly stated?

On Wednesday, the IEBC expressed “cautious” optimism about the future.  It kicked the ball from its court to the executive, which promised to ensure the money is paid and the kit supplied by next week for the IEBC to manage the tenuous deadlines.

So many election timelines have been adjusted to accommodate the logistical obstacles in the registration of voters and the weird migration habits of the politicians. But the pressure cooker situation in the country can easily snap with one misstep.

Even more worrisome is the inability of our leadership to agree on a formula for achieving the divisive one-third gender requirement for all elective positions stipulated in the constitution.

After much back and forth, the political class has declared itself incompetent and hopeless. The time for a constitutional amendment –90 days after the First Reading in the House – has lapsed and yet the current Parliament will stand dissolved in the next 80 days. No bill has been published for public input, or even tabled in Parliament as required by Article 256.

The executive is now seeking the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution, in a clear effort to browbeat the public and facilitate another breach, which could further complicate the election crisis.

If the composition of the next Parliament does not meet the one-third minimum of either gender, it will be invalid. The IEBC will not gazette it and hence it will not transact any business.

Whereas the constitution provides a solution for meeting the benchmark of a popularly elected president by 50%+1 of the votes cast or a simple majority in the event of a run-off, there is no similar safety valve for a hung parliament.

The criteria for achieving this threshold was left to subsidiary legislation, which has now become a crisis.  Shall the election be nullified and seats declared vacant pursuant to Article 103 and another election called? Or shall the inability to comply with the constitution invalidate the election (Article 105)?

The paralysis consequential to this crisis is serious. First, it means that the Executive, too, will not be fully constituted because Parliament must approve the Cabinet that the President may appoint.

Thus, although the preparations for the elections are far behind schedule and goal posts are being moved to accommodate political gerrymandering, the real crisis lies in the compliance with the constitution.

The main assignment for this Parliament when it resumes in November is to clear the le remaining legal obstacles by legislating means by which the one-third rule will be achieved in elective positions.

It may also need to ponder whether vesting executive authority in one gender — a president and deputy of the same gender – does not offend the constitution. Why is it good for the judiciary and not the executive?


———– The Star of Kenya ———-

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Raila’s Speeches Are Full Of Violent Talk

Posted by African Press International on October 27, 2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012 – 00:00 — BY MOSES KURIA

With just over four months before the next general elections, it is incumbent upon all leaders, political and otherwise, to promote peace and tranquility among all Kenyan people.

The National Cohesion and integration Commission is the statutory body charged with the responsibility of ensuring that no one engages in hate speech and talk that may divide Kenyans along ethnic and other sectarian fractures.

In 2010, I presented a complain to NCIC when Prime Minister Raila Odinga warned the people of Rift Valley not to be seduced with ‘peremende’ (peppermint) by ‘those we were fighting with in the last general elections’. Although NCIC dismissed my complaint, it was the first case ever to be presented by NCIC.

Two and a half years since then, one would hope that NCIC has learnt the lesson that it is not only the direct and literal meaning of speeches that should be taken into consideration.

Subsequent cases that have been reported to NCIC involve much more subtle and mundane talk than the ‘peremende’ comments. It is almost a consensus that the nuance and tonality of speeches, the implied and general import of leaders’ talk is much more important than the express meaning.

In the recent weeks, the Prime Minister has been consistently using language that is of concern, During the last weekend rallies, Raila’s speeches made three references which, in my view, should attract more than cursory interest from Mzalendo Kibunjia and his team at NCIC.

Addressing women leaders in Narok County, he asked ODM supporters to vote in a uniform ‘6-piece’ fashion and get rid of ‘madoadoa’ (spots) . There is nothing wrong in voting in a uniform fashion.

The usage of the term ‘madoadoa’ is another matter altogether. Even as unreliable and discredited as  they are, the two Kenya National Commission on Human Rights conflicting reports of July and August, 2010 were unanimous that the usage of the term ‘madoadoa’ contributed to a significant extent to the post-election violence of 2007-2008.

Any leader with the interests of the country at heart would think twice before using the term ‘madoadoa’. The risk of misinterpretation by overzealous supporters far much outweighs the communication value that one might argue was the intention.

Later the same day, while addressing a public rally in Narok stadium, Raila Odinga asked his supporters to arm themselves with IDs and voters cards which will be the ‘guns and bullets’ in the coming elections.

‘’When I say ‘Fire!’ you fire”, Raila said. Again, he may claim that his was a benign call to encourage voters to acquire ID’s and register as voters.

But why use such kind of extreme language? In normal circumstances this would pass as ordinary talk. This is not a ‘kawaida’ (normal) general election.

This is the first general election after Kenya went dangerously close to the precipice of an abyss in the last general election. The analogy of violence, of guns, of bullets, of ‘madoadoas’ is such a stark reminder that whilst as a nation we have made strides in reforming this country, the more Kenya has changed, the more Raila Odinga has remained the same.

Then came the following day. Addressing a public rally in Dandora, Raila was at it again, this time referring to The National Alliance as snakes.

It is not the first time he did so. After the launch of TNA in May this year, Raila referred to TNA as the snake. After the recent by-elections, Raila was busy pinning different tags on various leaders.

History has proven again and again, that the easiest way to create a genocide-compliant environment is to resort to insults and use of figurative images with animist caricature. In Hitler’s Nazi regime, Jews were referred to as rats. The end result was not a Christmas party.

Earlier this year, when I reported the incitement spewed by Friends of Raila (FORA) Vice-chair Hassan Omar Hassan, NCIC found him guilty as charged. The punishment? Omar was given ‘cease orders’, which is a euphemism for a feeble warning letter.

NCIC will be judged harshly by history if they keep ignoring these obvious signals. NCIC can no longer ignore the speeches by any politician, including Raila.

Given the kid gloves with which NCIC has treated Raila Odinga and his allies, it is no wonder that they repeat these speeches with reckless abandon What is good for the goose is good for the gander. If justice be our shield and defender, let the law apply equally to all, Mr. Kibunjia.


The writer is a strategy advisor to The National Alliance and Uhuru Kenyatta 2013 Presidential Campaign

—————- The Star of Kenya —————


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A Brazilian girl auctions her virginity, cashing in USdollars 780.000,-

Posted by African Press International on October 27, 2012

Is this prostitution?

The girl says no, it is not prostitution because she will use the money to help the needy homeless families. The lucky man who gave the highest bid is Natsu, a Japanese.

The auction of the virgin girl is in connection with the making of a documentary film in Australia. Many people around the world are angered by the act, but the film maker says the breaking of the girl’s virginity will be done in Australia and the Japanese man to be flown in to Australia must use a condom.

Catarina Migliorini, 20 is said to be very exited and her parents are very supportive of what she is doing. There were 15 bidders competing to get her to bed. It is reported that a doctor will examine her to see if she is free of diseases,  and the man will also undergo the same procedure, before the two are given a go ahead to start bellying one another in front of cameras that will document the act.

A young man who auctioned his virginity, a  21-year-old Sydney student Alex Stepanov managed to attract US dollars 3.000,- only. The successful bidder, a Brazilian woman will help the young man break his virginity – also in front of cameras.


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Discontent ahead of polls in Togo

Posted by African Press International on October 27, 2012

An opposition coalition has held a series of rallies to demand reforms

LOME,  – A recent wave of protests by Togolese opposition groups and a heavy-handed clampdown by security forces have set the scene for a tense struggle for reforms in a country that has been ruled for 45 years by a father and his son.
Since April, the opposition has been holding demonstrations to press for electoral reforms ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for an as yet undeclared date this month. Their demands have steadily grown tougher: They now want to see the back of President Faure Gnassingbé who came to power following a bitterly contested poll after the death of his father, Gnassingbé Eyadema, in 2005. Eyadema had ruled the tiny West African country for 38 years.
“This is a citizen’s movement working to break the election-dispute-crackdown-dialogue cycle which is hampering Togo’s progress towards a democratic and lawful state,” said Zeus Ajavon, the coordinator of Save Togo, a coalition of opposition groups and civil society organizations.
The coalition is demanding transparent and fair elections, a two-term limit for the presidency – currently there is no presidential term limit – and respect for human rights among a raft of reforms. The last parliamentary polls were in 2007.

Street protests in June, August and September were violently quashed by security forces using rubber bullets and teargas.
The government in September led talks on electoral reforms, but the main opposition groups boycotted the negotiations. The talks’ outcome did not specify whether the two-term limit would take effect in future elections, implying that Gnassingbé could run for two more five-year terms.
“For the sake of political change… Faure Gnassingbé should not stand for re-election in 2015. Any scheme crafted to breach this limit exposes Faure Gnassingbé to yet unknown consequences,” said Agbéyomé Kodjo, an opposition party chief.
The government insists it is committed to holding peaceful elections and implementing reforms after negotiations with the opposition.
“The government’s aim is to hold inclusive dialogue to advance the country’s institutional and constitutional reforms, improve the electoral system and hold peaceful elections for Togo to consolidate democracy and build a lawful state,” said Gilbert Bawara, the territorial administration minister.
Prime Minister Arthème Ahoomey-Zunu said the negotiations in September were meant to calm tension and create “ideal conditions for transparent, credible and fair legislative polls”.
In 2005, soon after his father’s death, the military installed Faure Gnassingbé, sparking a barrage of international condemnation that forced him to resign and organize elections. However, the polls were disputed by the opposition as fraudulent, and triggered deadly violence. His re-election in 2010 also drew opposition complaints of malpractice.
“Every election time there are talks, whose recommendations are quickly shelved, then a fraudulent poll to cling to power is organized. We are no longer going to be duped,” said Jean-Pierre Fabre, head of the opposition group National Alliance for Change.
Vox pop
For Agbalè Homéfa, a market trader in the capital Lomé, the upheaval has awoken fears of a recurrence of the deadly 2005 poll unrest, a concern voiced by other residents IRIN spoke to.
“This is how things started in 2005. The opposition and the government clashed over the elections. Everybody knows what the outcome was,” said Homéfa. Fellow trader Da Yawa added: “The president’s silence is worrying. Faure should speak to the people and reassure us that his militia will not massacre us like they did in 2005.”
“The situation is very worrying. The opposition is hardening its stance and the government doesn’t seem to be listening. Holding elections under such conditions is a risky bet and a threat to peace,” said Saturnin Akué, a sociology student at Lomé University.
“I’m worried about the upcoming elections. I’m afraid they’ll cause violence if the government and the opposition don’t agree on the rules. If the make-up of the national electoral commission is already being contested by the main opposition groups, what about the results?” said Kokou Amékoudji, a mason.
The protests and the security forces’ heavy-handedness portray a country mired in crisis, argued Victor Komla Alipui, Togo’s former economy and finance minister.  “The peoples’ determination, despite the repression and threats, shows how much Togolese are angry about the government’s slip-ups in terms of human rights, acting arbitrarily and using the judiciary to cling to power,” Alipui told IRIN.

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African wheat research

Posted by African Press International on October 27, 2012

Hardier varieties of wheat bred at the Ethiopia Institute of Agricultural Research’s Kulumsa research station in southeastern Ethiopia

JOHANNESBURG,  – Researchers in Africa are identifying ways to improve domestic wheat production in the face of sub-optimal conditions and stiff international competition.
For example, in Somalia – a country better known for conflict and famine than agricultural research – postgraduate volunteers are exploring ways to reduce the country’s wheat import bil

l, a subject discussed in one of several research abstracts released at the recent Wheat for Food Security in Africa conference in Addis Ababa.
Wheat imports, which cost Somalia US$30 million to $40 million annually, consume “scarce hard currency earned from livestock exports and remittances,” reports Jeylani Abdullahi Osman, one of the Somali volunteers. He and other scholars, who studied agriculture abroad, have returned to Somalia to develop wheat varieties suitable for the country’s increasingly high temperatures. Wheat thrives in cool conditions, but is able to adapt to a wide range of climates.
In 2005, the volunteers established the Afgoye Field Crop Research Farm (AFCRF) in the Afgoye District of the Lower Shabelle Region. There, they have been testing wheat varieties for tolerance to heat and water stress. Osman reports they have identified several promising cultivars, but a lack of technical and financial support have limited commercial production.
Improving local wheat
An abstract of a study published out of Cameroon notes that, while there is growing demand for bread in the country, the protein content of the imported wheat used for bread-making is less than 12 percent. High-quality wheat has 14 to 15 percent protein.

Lead author Michael Taylor, from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, now working with the Divisional Delegation of Agriculture and Rural Development Fontem-Lebialem in Cameroon, identifies varieties of wheat with high protein content that could be grown in Cameroon.
Researchers from the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research report that the older wheat varieties used for making bread flour are unable to cope with new strains of stem rust – a virulent fungal disease that can devastate crops within weeks. The authors identify new strategies to robustly multiply newly released rust-resistant seeds for distribution.
Standing up to competition
Research teams from Zimbabwe and South Africa also have investigated how to make their wheat production stand up to competition posed by cheap wheat imports.
Zambia offers an important case study. The country, which recently became self-sufficient in wheat production, is already facing the threat of dropping yields, report researchers with Seed Co, a Zimbabwe- based company. The researchers highlight several contributing factors, including marketing challenges for small producers, the increasing cost of production and lack of availability of suitable wheat varieties.
These and other abstracts, covering Algeria, Egypt, Sudan and Tunisia, are available on request from the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, known by its acronym CIMMYT.




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Wrong or right crisis response?

Posted by African Press International on October 27, 2012

Houley Dia, in southern Mauritania, ran out of food in February, and received cash help from Oxfam

DAKAR, 24 October 2012 (IRIN) – Sahelians are used to living on the edge and doing all they can to overcome adversity. In 2011, the combined shocks of ongoing high food prices, an end to remittances from Libya, poor harvests across much of the region, and conflict in northern Mali, had a disproportionate effect on the fragile food security situation and the region’s economy: An estimated 18.7 million people are at risk of hunger and 1.1 million at risk of severe malnutrition this year.
The situation catalysed the largest humanitarian response the region has ever seen and it is widely agreed that this helped avert a large-scale disaster. As Martin Dawes, West Africa media head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), put it: “The greatest success is that the severest form of African clichés was avoided, based on timely intervention.”
IRIN spoke to aid agencies, donors and Sahel experts to find out where the crisis response worked better this year.*

Early warning worked
Donors and agencies had been “stung” by criticisms of their late response to the Horn of Africa drought in July 2011, spurring them to respond earlier and more quickly in the Sahel three months later, said Peter Gubbels with NGO Groundswell International and co-author of Escaping the Hunger Cycle: Pathways to Resilience in the Sahel. “They avoided the worst and took early action,” said Gubbels.
Early warning reports came out in October in some places; before December national governments (other than Senegal and Gambia) had recognized the early warning signals and reacted to them; and response started to scale up from January onwards.
Data on who was in need and how, is much more accurate now that governments and aid agencies across the Sahel systematically carry out SMART surveys (a methodology that gives an accurate assessment of the severity of a crisis by analysing the nutritional status of infants, and population mortality rates) every lean season; and have taken on household economy analysis (HEA) which gives a fuller, more nuanced picture of how vulnerable families are thrown into crisis.
“This is a major improvement on how to identify vulnerability and greatest need,” said Gubbels. HEAs in Burkina Faso for instance, identified food-insecure households in areas untouched by drought.
More money sooner
Donors have pumped US$971 million into the region since the end of 2011; and when compared month by month to the drought response in 2010, more money came in and sooner, with big announcements from multilaterals such as the UN Central Emergency Response Fund ($80 million) and the European Union humanitarian funder ECHO in November (ECHO and the European Commission have provided $410 million for the food crisis).The USA then gave $315 million; with smaller donors such as the UK and France following suit in January.
“Donors pumped in money from the beginning,” said West Africa advocacy adviser with NGO Oxfam, Stephen Cockburn. The crisis maintained a fairly high profile throughout the year: “We never had so many high-profile visits to our area over a condensed period,” said Gubbels.
However, despite increased donor action, funding is still at just 59 percent of the $1.6 billion estimated needs.
National governments took lead
Many national governments led on the response, and nutrition systems are now in place in most Sahelian countries, said nutrition adviser for UNICEF, Felicité Tchibindat.
Niger stands out, raising the alarm in October and using sophisticated early warning systems. It scaled up the nutrition response system that has been going since the 2010 crisis, scaled up nutrition training as part of its national nutrition protocol, and is now ahead of the game resilience-wise, says Oxfam. The country has nearly halved the death rate of under-fives since 1998.
Chad has also made significant progress since the beginning of the year, taking on a nutrition protocol, setting up referral systems, and training hundreds of health workers in nutrition. Even Nigeria now accepts SMARTs, noted Tchibindat.
Malnutrition stigma has dissipated: Governments that several years ago, sought to hide or gloss over malnutrition as they deemed it shameful, are now confronting it. “Nutrition, hunger and poverty will always be shaming subjects, but there is now an openness and dialogue involved,” said Stéphane Doyon, nutrition expert with Médecins sans Frontières (MSF).
Niger has made the most progress, from denial in 2005, to undergo “a revolutionary change in attitude,” says Gubbels, and lead agencies in setting up nutrition research, prevention and response.
RUTF supply smoother
Under the agreed regional nutrition response system, UNICEF is charged with supplying all ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) and has an automated local production line in Niger, which has led to increased better quality control, higher production and fewer stock-outs.

Photo: Anna Jefferys/IRIN
National malnutrition referral systems are improving across region

When RUTF supply lines work well “it means we don’t have to worry too much about them and can get on with other things,” said Tchibindat. This was the first time Niger-produced RUTF was used to feed malnourished children in neighbouring countries.
UNICEF estimates some 800,000 children will have been treated for severe acute malnutrition across the Sahel by the end of 2012.  “It shouldn’t be shaming to see these numbers [one million children treated in Niger since 2005],” says MSF’s Doyon. “It should encourage efforts to do more,” he said, noting that Niger preserved its treatment system even in last year’s bumper harvest.

Moderate acute malnutrition emphasized
“The importance of nutrition was better understood and better-applied,” said UN humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel David Gressly.
With some three million Sahelian children estimated to suffer from moderate acute malnutrition (MAM), the World Food Programme (WFP) has expanded its regular food security role to incorporate the prevention of MAM, reaching 3.7 million children and their mothers with fortified supplementary food and RTUF, according to Susan Rico, WFP coordinator for the Sahel regional response. The neglect of MAM over the long term in the Sahel has been widely criticized over recent years.
The supplemental food that WFP uses to address MAM is an improved version of its classic corn-soya blend (CSB). In 2010 CSB+ was created for children over two, adolescents and adults. It is less processed and easier to digest; and CSB++ was made with added milk, oil and sugar, to target moderately malnourished children under two.
While attention to MAM needs to be vastly scaled up over the long-term, WFP’s efforts have already had an impact. A preliminary September WFP study in Niger said the strategy had reduced MAM where it was used.
More cash
WFP distributed cash or vouchers to 2.1 million people as of the end of September, according to Rico, making it the biggest emergency cash distribution the organization has ever attempted. NGOs also stepped up cash distributions across the region. Evaluations have not yet been completed and much more analysis is needed of market conditions and the economic climate as cash transfers are scaled up, said Jean-Martin Bauer, a market analyst with WFP, but cash when used elsewhere has proved more nimble, flexible and quicker to leverage than food distributions, under the right conditions.
Market interventions
Some of the government market interventions in response to the crisis paid off on a limited scale, said WFP’s Bauer, notably Mali removing VAT for rice sales to try to stabilize sky-rocketing rice prices; and the government of Mauritania setting up subsidized sales of rice and vegetable oil in the capital, Nouakchott, which had an impact as it was done on a large scale in an urban setting.
Several countries – notably Niger, Mali, Nigeria – have large national grain reserves which help kick-start humanitarian response in times of need, as agencies can use them with a view to replenishing them when their food stocks arrive.
West African states are on the right path as they have a regional agricultural policy, ECOWAP, but need to implement it, says Bauer, and take it further to create a common market policy where countries standardize import taxes on cereals, create regional grain reserves, clamp down on the region-wide racketeering that ups food prices, and take other measures to enable the region to better meet the climate and economic shocks that are inevitable in the future.
Procurement quicker
WFP can now buy food on loan, paying once donor funds arrive, which speeds up procurement in some cases by up to 100 days, said Rico. Increasing regional procurement to one third of the total also sped up response. Rico estimates WFP reached eight million people with food aid or cash vouchers, which represents an estimated 80 percent of those in need.
Governments, donors more resilience-minded
Donors are slowly understanding the importance of building resilience in the Sahel. “Due to this crisis, governments are now more open to talk about food insecurity, resilience, nutrition,” said ECHO head in West Africa Cyprien Fabré.
In July 2012 the governments of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), CILLS (Inter-state Committee to fight drought in the Sahel) and donors launched the Agir Sahel initiative (Global Alliance for resilience) to help Sahelians cope with future shocks partly by focusing more on agriculture.
The UN is currently formulating its Sahel resilience strategy. And affected governments are also getting better at resilience – Burkina Faso’s government is focusing more on small-scale agriculture; Niger’s government is considering boosting social safety nets.
They should look to Ethiopia for inspiration, says Gubbels, where the government has set up a system to get cash or food to seven million of its most vulnerable citizens within two months when there is a shock. “There is nothing similar in the Sahel from what I can see,” said Gubbels.
What next?
Don’t drop the ball, say Sahel experts. This year’s harvest is not expected to be bad, and cereal prices are beginning their seasonal fall, but like every other year, over half a million children will be acutely malnourished in the Sahel this year. “The question now is where we go next,” said MSF’s Doyon. “Of course you need additional development action [to build resilience], but that shouldn’t supplant all that’s been done to gear up on health and nutrition over the past years.”
There is “a lot of good will and rhetoric,” said Gressly. “But will that be translated into operations? If it doesn’t, the status quo will be maintained and we’ll be back to where we were this year,” he warned.

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