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Archive for January 12th, 2013

South Africa bolsters its troops in Bangui

Posted by African Press International on January 12, 2013

JOHANNESBURG,  – South Africa has deployed 200 troops in the strife-torn Central African Republic (CAR), which some see not simply as an e ffort to assist CAR’s army but also as a move to counter French military influence in the region.

The deployment comes as rebel groups – acting together under the Séléka coalition – make rapid territorial gains in CAR. Since December 2012, rebels have seized key towns and mining areas in the absence of any significant resistance from CAR’s national army. According to reports, they are poised just outside the capital, Bangui.

The rebels’ gains have been accompanied by reports of widespread looting and violence among a poor and vulnerable population, creating fears of a burgeoning humanitarian crisis.

But South Africa’s troop deployment was “coincidental to the context”, South African National Defence Force (SANDF) spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini told IRIN. He said the soldiers’ purpose is to train CAR’s defence forces rather than engage rebel fighters.

Military cooperation agreement

South African presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj said in a statement on 6 January that President Jacob Zuma had “authorized” the deployment of 400 soldiers between 2 January 2013 and 31 March 2018, as part of a military cooperation agreement. The authorization means the South African force could be doubled at short notice, without any procedural delays.

South Africa and CAR signed a military cooperation agreement in 2007, which was renewed for a further five years in December 2012. That agreement is providing CAR’s army with an array of military training, from infantry, artillery and special forces training to logistics and driving courses, as well as “refurbishment” of military infrastructure in Bouar and Bangui. South Africa’s military has also supported disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programmes, and it assisted in CAR’s 2011 elections.

After the signing of the military cooperation agreement – and before the recent deployment – the numbers of SANDF personnel had fluctuated by between 20 and 46 soldiers, Dlamini said.

He declined to comment on any operational or equipment details, but said that according to rules of engagement, South African troops could act in self-defence and also “protect property we [ South Africa] have there.”

In February 2011, the South African government said, in a written reply to an opposition party parliamentary question, “South Africa’s involvement in the security of the Central African Republic followed President Francois Bozize’s request to South Africa to assist the Central African Republic’s Defence Force to upgrade their military capabilities.” A SANDF special forces unit was also provided for “VIP protection to President Bozize.”

Bolstering military presence

A host of other countries are also bolstering their military presence in CAR after the rebels’ recent successes.

Ugandan troops, with the support of US special forces, are operating in the country in pursuit of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony. About 100 US special forces have been advising and coordinating the fight against Kony for more than a year, operating in CAR, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan and Uganda; the majority are thought to be in CAR. US President Barrack Obama has reportedly ordered an additional “standby security force” of 50 troops to CAR owing to the “deteriorating security situation”.

About 500 troops from Economic Community of Central African States – the majority of them from neighbouring Chad – are also in the country. Chad’s government has reportedly pledged a further 2,000 troops to support Bozize’s government. Bozize came to power in a 2003 coup supported by Chad’s President Idriss Deby; he has been elected twice since, although the 2011 poll was dismissed by opposition parties as fraudulent.

However, it was France’s recent move to boost its troops in CAR from 250 to 600 that may have provoked South Africa’s increase in its own military presence, David Zoumenou, a senior conflict analyst at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS), told IRIN.

Since CAR achieved its independence from France in 1960, the former colonial power has maintained an almost continuous military presence in the country. France’s habit of stationing troops in its former colonies has always been a contentious issue for the African Union (AU) and its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

Diplomatic wars

Zoumenou said, “We are asking why South Africa has deployed so many troops [to CAR].” It can been viewed as “a new battlefield between France and South Africa”.

South Africa, the continent’s powerhouse, has championed the AU’s mantra of “African solutions to African problems,” and is increasingly becoming involved in Francophone Africa, Zoumenou said. It is an open secret that tensions exist between France and South Africa over how to deal with Madagascar’s nearly four-year-old political crisis.

South Africa’s troop deployment to CAR can also been seen as a new foreign policy direction for the country, whose focus on the continent is changing from the human-rights-based agenda that held sway under former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki towards strategic interests, such as mineral concessions and markets for South Africa’s arms industry.

But there are drawbacks to South Africa’s use of military influence – particularly capacity issues, according to Zoumenou. The country is “overstretched” by its commitments to the continent in AU and UN missions, and it is handicapped by its force design, he said.

go/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

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Businesses close in fear of electoral violence

Posted by African Press International on January 12, 2013

KISUMU,  – With less than two months left until Kenya’s general election, some business owners in the western city of Kisumu are suspending opera tions out of fear violence could erupt, as it did after the 2007 polls. The move leaves thousands without jobs.

“Before Christmas, our company’s director told us to wind up our duties. We thought it was the usual routine where we normally close for the festive season. But this time, things were different since we were paid all our cumulative dues… The company was closing down,” George Onyango, an employee at a Kisumu iron and steel company, told IRIN.

Some 2,000 employees could lose their jobs from the company if the closure is permanent. The company’s management said they would resume operations after the elections in 2013, but only if the situation remained peaceful.

Onyango says the prospect of being jobless forced him to send his family back to their home village.

Rise of gangs

Fahad Abdullah, who runs a building and construction company, saw his property looted and destroyed after the 2007 election. Fearing a repeat of the violence, he has decided to close his business, leaving 1,200 employees without jobs.

“My family and friends operate a chain of businesses in this town, and already seven of them [employing about 2,300 people] have closed down.”

“In the previous elections, we witnessed growing hatred for the Asian communities. I don’t know why. Perhaps we are seen as intruders here, and we have no choice but to flee in time. My family and friends operate a chain of businesses in this town, and already seven of them [employing about 2,300 people] have closed down,” he said.

Security officials told IRIN the emergence of criminal gangs in 2012 – allegedly sponsored by politicians – have worsened these fears.

“The gangs are sponsored by politicians and use Mungiki [a criminal gang found mainly in Central Province and Nairobi] style tactics of [extortion] and intimidation to create fear,” provincial police boss Joseph Ole Tito said.

The city was one of the epicentres of post-election violence five years ago, which left some 1,500 people around the country dead and 500,000 more displaced. Kisumu is home to the country’s prime minister, Raila Odinga, a presidential candidate in both the 2007 and the upcoming elections.

Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, current candidates on a rival ticket, are among several people accused by the International Criminal Court of committing crimes against humanity during the 2007-08 violence.

Eroding economic gains

Joyce Atieno, a vendor selling food to employees of some of the closing businesses, said she now struggles to feed her family. “My major buyers are employees from the [companies], but they are now closed down. I have no business. In a day, I used to make a profit of US$4. But since the company closed down, I rarely make even $2. If the situation continues, I’ll be forced to close down and go to my rural home,” she said.

Experts told IRIN that another round of electoral violence – or even the fear of it – could reverse Kenya’s recent economic progress.

“We are making good economic progress as a country, but the fear of electoral violence and the possibility it might reoccur are real, and it erodes all the economic gains we have made as a country,” Paul Akumu, an economist at Masinde Muliro University, said.

The World Bank projects the East African Community’s economic growth rate for 2013 will be 6.1 percent, but says Kenya’s will be 5 percent should it experience election violence.

“Historically, Kenya has also been vulnerable to election-related shocks, and there will be increased attention on the conduct of the 2013 elections, given the post-election violence of 2007-08,” the World Bank noted in a recent report.

“If violence accompanies the 2013 elections, Kenya’s image as a maturing democracy would be tarnished for a long time,” added the report.

The police say they are working to maintain order. “We will continue to crack down on the gangs. We arrested several gang members and arraigned them in court,” said the police’s Ole Tito.

ho/ko/rz source http://www.irinnews.org


 

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Ex-refugees want land, ID cards

Posted by African Press International on January 12, 2013

PK6/ROSSO/NOUAKCHOTT,  – Nearly 25,000 Mauritanian refugees who had sheltered in Senegal for two decades after fleeing violence in 1989, have returned home since 2008, but despite extensive efforts to resettle them in their original villages many lack ID papers and/or access to their old farmland.Tens of thousands of black Mauritanians fled ethnic killings carried out by security forces in the early 1990s. Some fled to Mali but most to Senegal.

Aliou Moussa So is head of a returnee community of 73 families in PK6 village, 6km from Rosso in southern Mauritania near the Senegalese border. Like most of the returnees, he fled in 1989 and returned in 2008 when the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) started to repatriate refugees.

Most of the returnees were originally from PK6 though when they fled it was called “Wellingara”, loosely meaning “a nice place to visit” in their local language Peulhar.

Moussa So was angry when IRIN spoke to him about his problems. “I can’t recount all the problems I’ve had or we’d end up spending all night. I am sick of answering questions to you people in four-by-fours – that is all that anyone ever does here, they come, ask questions, and do nothing.”

PK6 is a scrappy village with half-built brick rooms scattered around a small shop with half a dozen sacks of cereal for sale, and a few corrugated iron shelters covered in rugs to protect them from the sun.

UNHCR provided the materials to returnees to build 150 brick shelters, but turned to corrugated iron shelters held up by wooden poles when their funding ran out.

The agency’s repatriation exercise ended in March 2012, having repatriated 24,536 refugees and resettled 14,000 in Senegal.

Access to land

The problem for returnees in PK6 is they cannot access the old land they used to farm – some 14 hectares have been sold to someone else (they do not know who), and many of them cannot access the ID papers required to officially make their claim.

Moussa So has “complained to everyone” including the National Agency for Support and Resettlement of Refugees (ANAIR), the mayor of Nouakchott, the Ministry of Interior, “even the president of the republic”. Authorities from the Interior Ministry visited the village last year, but since then nothing has happened, he said.

“I am starting to lose hope,” said So. “We are exhausted. We are farmers. If we have no fields, how can we live?”

Many returnees face these same problems, said Oumar Diop, head of the Clinique Juridique in Rosso, which is partly funded by Oxfam and the UN, and helps returnees try to access lost land.

“We have many cases of people who have difficulties reclaiming their land. We follow these cases at the district (`ouaddi’) level, and will even go up to the national ministry [of interior] level if necessary,” Diop explained.

The Clinique is currently working on 16 cases but Diop is also exasperated. “Most cases just don’t have a solution,” he said, and out of 640 problem cases, just 115 have been resolved, he said.

According to ANAIR director Ndiwar Kane, the success rate is much higher, and 400 have been sorted out.

One of the problems says Kane, is that the land never belonged to the villagers in the first place: in the 1980s most farmland was owned by the state. After the villagers left, the land was redistributed among other villagers, mainly by village chiefs.

Private land ownership

Since then, private land ownership rights have developed in Mauritania, and businessmen and officials have started to purchase the land – many of them living in Nouakchott or other towns, and managing it from afar. “A lot of the deals that took place were quite murky,” said Kane, “We are not used to individual land ownership here.”

In a bid to diminish tensions, in some cases the government and ANAIR tried to strike deals with locals to return part of the land to the returnees. But ANAIR has no legal right to intervene in land rights issues – and neither does UNHCR. Instead, it is the job of the civil affairs bureau, which is in charge of registering people’s status, and the Ministry of Interior, says the government.

“We can only try to help resolve small problems,” said Kane. In 2008 ANAIR, UNHCR and others presented a report listing returnees’ main problems and priorities for district and regional chiefs and for the Ministry of the Interior. Four years on, the principal problems remain.

Hard to get an ID card

Getting hold of identification cards has been a process fraught with difficulty Kane agreed, but the same is true for many Mauritanians he says – it is a national issue.

Returnees who had been registered as refugees by UNCHR were registered on the Mauritanian side by the Etat Civile (civil authorities) who gave them a Formulaire de Rapatriement Volontaire (VRF) which allowed them to move around freely. A deal was struck with the civil administration, whereby these two forms would suffice to attain an ID card.

The tripartite repatriation agreement signed by Senegal, Mauritania and UNHCR in November 2007 stated that repatriated Mauritanians should have their citizenship papers within three months of their arrival.

Hundreds of returnees have not been able to obtain permanent ID cards says the Clinique Juridique in Rosso

But hundreds of returnees still do not have their cards, says the Clinique Juridique. Without ID cards it is difficult to register for health care, or to enrol children in school in Mauritania. Even travel can be difficult in a country littered with military checkpoints.

The problem lies at the level of the civil administration, said Kane, which lacks the resources to adequately process returnee identification, and has not been restructured as advised by others. Hundreds of cases remain blocked in their systems, says Diop.

A minority of returnees – those included in the first convoy – returned to Mauritania without having the correct birth registration records for their children born in Senegal. A solution to this was found during meetings between ANAIR, UNHCR and the Senegalese authorities, though he is unaware of the outcome of individual cases.

Returnees say the civil authorities choose not to address their problems.

One refugee official said the problem also lay with the returnees: you have to pay 1,000 ouguiya (US$3.40) to pick up your identity card, a sum that many returnees refuse to pay.

ANAIR assistance

The residents of PK6 have not been abandoned said Kane. ANAIR provided the village with a water source; provided materials to the returnee association to set up a community shop to sell grains at reduced prices and gave them cooking gas to sell. It gave the women’s association a grinding machine so they would not have to walk long distances to purchase flour; helped them set up a dyeing business; and provided rudimentary fencing to protect their market gardens from being eaten by animals and pests.

ANAIR has distributed 91 such grinding machines to returnee villages as part of wider income-generating efforts across many of the 124 villages to which ex-refugees have returned.

PK6 villagers have access to 18 hectares of land, he said, six of which are for market gardening.

Moussa So recognizes the help ANAIR has given. “It has certainly helped us. But when we complained about our papers, we got cooking gas,” he said, pointing to a heap of cooking gas canisters in the corner of his one-room house.

While returnees do have small market gardens, they cannot access their land to grow rice, said Moussa So. Returnees get by mainly on small trade or dyeing clothes.

For UNHCR’s reporting officer in Nouakchott, Elise Villechalane, the fact that 80 percent of returnees stayed in the regions to which they had returned, is a sign of success. UNHCR was in charge of registering and repatriating over 24,000 people across 124 villages. “It wasn’t an easy operation,” she said.

Returnees IRIN spoke to do not want to move on – they are home at last – but they do want their old lives back. “We used to farm. We used to get by. Now we rely on outside help,” said So, using the Peulhar expression `boofni’, which loosely translated means “How can an empty sack stand up?”

aj/cb source http://www.irinnews.org



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