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Archive for July 24th, 2013

Can oil and water mix

Posted by African Press International on July 24, 2013

Fishing communities in Malawi fear their economic interests will be overlooked as the country looks to the mineral sector for greater revenues

NGARA,  – Civil society’s shorthand for Malawi’s drive to expand its extractive resource sector is T2 – “trouble or treasure”.

While Malawi has dabbled in mineral exploitation in the past, it only formed a mining and minerals ministry in December 2012. The country hopes to ramp up the sector’s contribution to GDP from less than two percent a few years ago to a forecast 20 percent by 2016; currently, the sector’s contribution to GDP is about 10 percent.

Mines minister John Bande said the country’s new approach to the minerals sector would rebalance an economy reliant on agriculture amid “climate-related challenges” and global anti-smoking campaigns that have reduced demand for tobacco – Malawi’s main foreign currency earner.

But Malawi’s plans are causing tensions with neighbouring Tanzania over the disputed border in Lake Malawi, which is being explored for oil. Civil society has also warned that the push to exploit minerals is racing ahead of any comprehensive legislative regulatory framework. Communities in potentially mineral-rich areas, meanwhile, say they fear their livelihoods are being threatened by a get-rich-quick gamble.

Living off the lake

Ngara, a northern village on Lake Malawi, has about 1,400 registered households, but its population swells for months on end as fishermen and their families come for what is widely considered the best spot for catching the local usipa fish.

Snapshot of life in a Lake Malawi fishing village
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Bwaia Maxwell, 60, has fished Lake Malawi since 1971 and has a crew of eight. On a good day, they make about 120,000 kwacha (US$363) from the usipa catch.

“We are not supporting that [oil extraction],” he told IRIN. “And there are thousands of fishermen working on the lake. We live off the lake, and when the oil starts, it will kill the fish, and then we will not have any work. Fishing paid for my children’s schooling and everything else. We won’t allow it, but there is nothing we can do. We don’t have a voice.”

Fishing fuels all of Ngara’s economic activity, from providing start-up capital for taxi businesses to supporting service enterprises like hair salons.

Elizabeth Kaira, 48, a mother of five, has worked as a fish trader for 30 years. She makes a daily profit of about 50,000 kwacha ($149), and sells the fish in the capital Lilongwe, the city of Blantyre, and in neighbouring Zambia as well.

“They don’t need to take the oil,” she told IRIN. “We earn a living from the lake; it pays for our life. The water we use for drinking. If it is contaminated, it will be no good for us to use.”

Ngara community leader Manuel Kanyika told IRIN, “I accept the oil extraction as a source of wealth. We have experienced fuel shortages, and it might be a solution if we have our own oil. [But] the fish – that is our wealth. Oil will have a negative impact on our lives. It is good for government, but what benefit will it have for individuals here?”

Laws needed

Catch from the lake is estimated to provide 20 percent of the protein requirement for Malawi’s population, according to Christopher Mwambene, executive director of Coordination Union for Rehabilitation of the Environment (CURE), a Blantyre-based environmental NGO. He told IRIN that about 1.7 million Malawians rely “exclusively” on the lake. Tanzanians and Mozambicans derive livelihoods from it, as well.

Though Mwambene agrees Malawi must find additional revenue sources, he says the rush to bring the minerals sector on line carries inherent dangers, from the resource industry’s reputed lack of transparency to the government’s poor capacity to engage with the industry.

“There are always risks in economics, and the higher the risk, the higher the returns. The epicentre [of oil exploration] is in the northern part of the lake, and if something happens like in the Gulf of Mexico [2010 BP oil spill], the pollution would be concentrated, and there would be no capacity to address it,” Mwambene said.

There is also no guarantee the shift towards resource extraction will bring tangible benefits to all Malawians, he says.

Rheinford Mwangonde, executive director of the Lilongwe-based NGOCitizens for Justice, told IRIN, “If you are engaging an industry which is very strong, very shrewd and without proper laws [or] enough capacity to implement [them], the contracts are going to be very poor, and Malawians will not make anything from it. That’s the problem with this big rush, and government says it is going to rush. But it has not put its house in order.”

Leonard Kalindekafe, principal secretary of Malawi’s mining ministry, told IRIN the NGOs’ concerns were well-founded and that the absence of a regulatory framework was problematic: “We have to sort it out. They are right.”

“There is no alternative. This country cannot sit and be poor or continue to be poor”

He said the government was relying on mining laws from 1981, petroleum exploration legislation from 1983, and laws such as the 1968 Explosives and Blasting Act. “The challenge there is we must quickly move towards revising existing laws and, if those laws don’t exist, produce new laws, and there are so many of these [new laws needed]. So we have to move very, very quickly in a short period of time. Otherwise, if the sector booms and we don’t have good laws and policies, it is going to cause problems.”

New mining legislation is expected “by Christmas”, but for now contracts are being drawn up on an individual basis, Kalindekafe said, adding that any decision on oil extraction from the lake was several years off.

“It’s a lot of pressure. But what is the alternative? There is no alternative. This country cannot sit and be poor or continue to be poor – the alternative is doing nothing, and that to us is a non-starter.”

Bright Phiri, biodiversity programme officer at the Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy, told IRIN, “People see mining as the only mechanism to allow Malawi to climb up the ladder. But mining should be seen as catalyst to economic growth, and we should not lose focus on agriculture. Minerals are not [a] renewable resource.”

Investment environment

Unlike its regional neighbours, Malawi has no tradition of large-scale commercial mining, and the extent of its mineral reserves has yet to be mapped. Still, there is interest on the part of the extractive industries.Surestream Petroleum, a British-based company, was awarded an exploration licence covering 20,000sqkm of Lake Malawi in 2011.

Malawi has also known reserves of uranium, coal, rare earth minerals and niobium. The $300 million Kanyika Niobium project, a joint Chinese-Australian venture is expected to begin operations in 2015 and to have an annual production of 3,000 tons of niobium oxide, an ingredient for “superalloys”, and 150 tons of tantalum, a cell phone component. Mkango Resources, a Canadian-based company, has been granted rare-earth prospecting licences covering 1,751sqkm in southern Malawi.

But the reception for foreign investors in Malawi has not always been to their liking.

Gregory Walker, international affairs general manager of Paladin Energy, told IRIN the Australian company’s initial $300 million investment in the Kayelekera uranium mine, some 50km west of Karonga, had climbed to more than $500 million, with little to show for it.

The mine was “a pathfinder” for the country’s anticipated mineral revolution, but “the difficulty with Malawi is that there was no track record [of commercial mining]. So there was a leap of faith [by Paladin],” he said. “Malawi now has a track record – and it is not good.”

He said government was not supportive of the enterprise, which has “has never made a cent”. Paladin had so far spent $15 million on community projects, the lion’s share for a state-of-the-art water system in Karonga, Walker said, but the company has still faced criticism over health concerns and its community-development obligations.

All it would take for the government to head-off such criticism would be a two-line statement saying the company was abiding by its contractual commitments, but this was not forthcoming, he said.

“There has been a lot of disappointment and frustration. I have had to explain that development is a process, and it is a little slower than a lot of people were expecting”

The government is a 15 percent shareholder in Paladin, but it profits from 3 percent of the uranium royalties regardless of the company’s performance.

When the mine was conceived, the uranium price was $70 a pound “and expected to go north. Today it is $39.50… No one factored in the impact of Fukushima [the 2011 Japanese nuclear disaster] and the impact that had on the demand for uranium.” Paladin must choose between closing the operation or “soldiering on” in hopes that uranium prices will eventually rise, he said.

A teacher at Kayelekera Village, who declined to be named, said it was Paladin’s responsibility to help the community, and not the government’s, and dismissed its claims of losses. “If they are not making money, they would have closed already, but they are still doing the same thing. That means they are still making profits. If you don’t make money in business, you stop doing it.”

Jim Nottingham, Paladin’s corporate social responsibility officer, told IRIN: “When we came here people thought the presence of the mine was going to transform the north, and a lot of people were going to be rich, but it has not happened that way. There has been a lot of disappointment and frustration. I have had to explain that development is a process, and it is a little slower than a lot of people were expecting.”

go/rz  soure http://www.irinnews.org

 

 

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Fears of political, religious and cultural backlash suppress gay rights in Africa

Posted by African Press International on July 24, 2013

Photo: SML/Flickr
Fears of political, religious and cultural backlash suppress gay rights in Africa

DAKAR,  – US President Barack Obama’s recent call for equality for gays during his Africa tour drew assurances by his Senegalese counterpart that the country was not homophobic. Yet dismantling anti-gay laws and attitudes carries huge political and religious risks few leaders in the continent are willing to take, rights groups say.

President Macky Sall told his guest that Senegal was not ready to decriminalize homosexuality, which is punishable under the country’s laws by up to five years imprisonment or fines between US$200 and $3,000.

“President Obama’s visit made us understand the president’s [Sall] position about decriminalizing homosexuality,” said a Senegalese activist who preferred to be identified as DD.

“President Sall added that the country is not homophobic, but if that is the truth, I’d like to know exactly what homophobia means to him,” continued DD, who heads an organization that aims to prevent HIV transmission among homosexuals. “Before he [Sall] was elected, he pretended that he would resolve the issue socially, but now he has shown his true colours. But even if the debate is not in our favour, we are at least talking about it.”

The Pew Global Attitudes Project found in a June study that 96 percent of Senegalese thinks homosexuality should not be accepted by society.

“In Senegal, people are prosecuted, hounded, [their bodies] exhumed because of their sexual orientation,” said Djamil Bangoura, who heads an organization for Senegalese lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI).

Political will

While external pressure may have limited effectiveness in changing homophobic attitudes in Africa, “South Africa and Brazil have taken the lead in certain UN resolutions on LGBTI rights,” Human Rights Watch LGBTI researcher Neela Ghoshal told IRIN. “This shows that it is no longer Africa against the West. Rwanda is also debating more about homosexuals’ rights. It should take a bigger role in the debate.”

Among the 37 African countries where homosexuality is criminalized, Senegal is notorious for convicting and jailing gays, Ghoshal said.

The responsibility of decriminalizing homosexuality rests upon the political class to influence the society, argued Ghoshal. “A president cannot simply change the law, but he can explain to the citizens the obligation to respect and ratify international human rights treaties,” she said.

But fears of political, social and religious backlash undermine the political will to defend gay rights in places like Senegal, said Aboubacry Mbodji, the secretary general of the African Rally for Human Rights (RADDHO).

“No head of state is willing to commit [to defending gay rights] for fear of losing voters’ support or the support of marabous [traditional religious leaders] who have a huge political influence in the country,” Mbodji said.

“In Senegal, some recently radicalized people – extremist marabous – are at loggerheads with moderate religious brotherhood and urge for the lynching of homosexuals.”

Certain interpretations of the Koran have added to the anti-gay laws, said DD, noting that other countries are more lenient. “In Morocco, an Islamic and a very religious country, homosexuality is tolerated, even if it’s just by allowing gay bars.”

“All depend on the mentality of the political leadership. Some leaders prefer just to govern and not touch on this [gay rights] debate. Others [are like Zimbabwe’s] President Mugabe, who likes to exploit the issue during national crises to deflect attention,” said Damian Ugwu, the Africa programme coordinator at International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).

In Malawi, for instance, President Joyce Banda failed to hold on to a pledge to open debate about gay rights once she took power, said Ugwu. He also explained that anti-gay bills in Nigeria and Uganda have fuelled an intense debate between rights activists and religious fundamentalists.

“The right to live”

Senegalese NGOs involved with LGBTI limit their activities to health matters, leaving rights issues to a handful of local and international activists, said Bangoura. Many homosexuals live in hiding for fear of the law.

There are public health consequences, according to RADDHO, which says that HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Senegal is 21 percent while the national prevalence is about 1 percent, largely because discrimination against homosexuals hinders their access to health services.

“Changing mentalit[ies] is a protracted struggle, more complicate[d] than a simple decriminalization [of homosexuality],” DD said. “People tend to think that homosexuality does not exist in the country, that it originated from the West. A Senegalese should stand and declare that ‘I am a homosexual’.

“Moreover it is not about legalizing marriage or adoption by gay couples, but simply having the right to live.”

Mbodji says, “It takes time for changes to happen. In the West, acceptance of LGBTI people took several years, and even the recent legal reforms in France and the US did not stop certain groups of people from protesting.”

But the fact that there is debate at all on a topic that was considered taboo a few years ago indicates there has been some progress, contends IGLHRC.

cr/ob/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

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No consensus on implementation

Posted by African Press International on July 24, 2013

Many Rwandan refugees have lived in host countries for decades (file photo)

KAMPALA/JOHANNESBURG,  – The future of tens of thousands of Rwandan refugees living in Africa remains uncertain nearly two weeks after the 30 June deadline recommended by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) for the discontinuation of their refugee status.

UNHCR has recommended countries invoke the “ceased circumstances”clause for Rwandans who fled their country between 1959 and 1998. The cessation clause forms part of the 1951 Refugee Convention and can be applied when fundamental and durable changes in a refugee’s country of origin, such that they no longer have a well-founded fear of persecution, remove the need for international protection. Both UNHCR and the Rwandan government have pointed out that since the end of the civil war and the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has been peaceful, and more than three million exiled Rwandans have returned home.

However, many of the estimated 100,000 Rwandans who continue to live outside the country – mainly in eastern, central and southern Africa – remain unwilling to repatriate, citing fear of persecution by the government. Refugee rights organizations have also warned that human rights abuses by the current government have caused a continued exodus of Rwandan asylum seekers.

“We have been told time and again that Rwanda is safe and there might be some truth in that. However, one wonders why the call for cessation is happening while there are still people who are seeking asylum,” Dismas Nkunda, co-director of the International Refugee Rights Initiative, told IRIN.

Differing views on protection

So far only four countries in Africa – Malawi, the Republic of Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe – have followed UNHCR’s recommendation to invoke the cessation clause, a fact that, according to Nkunda, “speaks volumes” about how different African countries view this group’s need for protection.

In an article in the July issue of a newsletter produced by the Fahamu Refugee Programme, a refugee legal aid group, John Cacharani and Guillaume Cliche-Rivard accused UNHCR of pressuring states to follow its recommendation, “holding hostage the fate of more than 100,000 Rwandan refugees who, of their own volition, have decided not to repatriate, yet continue to fear the end of their international protection.”

“One wonders why the call for cessation is happening while there are still people who are seeking asylum”

But in response to questions from IRIN, Clementine Nkweta-Salami, UNHCR regional representative for southern Africa, emphasized, “It is the responsibility and prerogative of states to declare the cessation of refugee status.” She said UNHCR’s role was only to make a recommendation based on its analysis of conditions in the country of origin and how they relate to the refugees’ reasons for flight.

That only four states had agreed to implement cessation as of 30 June did not in any way indicate that UNHCR’s recommendation was premature, she insisted. At an April 2013 meeting of host states held in Pretoria, “some states underscored that, for various legal, logistical, practical or other considerations, they are not in a position to apply the cessation clauses by 30 June 2013. Others have specified that, for the time being, they will concentrate on taking forward other components of the [comprehensive durable solutions] strategy, namely voluntary repatriation and local integration”.

Preparing for returnees

Meanwhile, Rwandan officials say the country is prepared to receive therefugees, and has developed a comprehensive plan to repatriate and reintegrate returnees. So far this year, an estimated 1,500 Rwandans have returned home following government-operated “go-and-see” programmes.

“The conditions that forced them to flee no longer exist,” Rwandan High Commissioner to Uganda, Maj Gen Frank Mugambagye, told IRIN. “The government has established three transit centres which are well equipped with shelter, education and health services. These people will be given packages for three months. We have mobilized the local authorities to receive and help them reintegrate into the communities.”

He added that for Rwandans seeking local integration in host countries rather than repatriation, the government will issue national identity cards and passports that will allow them to retain their nationality.

IRIN spoke to government officials and UNHCR representatives in several of the African countries that are hosting significant numbers of Rwandan refugees to find out how they are handling the cessation clause.

Countries invoking the clause

Malawi

Although Malawi is among the countries said to be invoking the cessation clause, the process is still in its early stages. According to George Kuchio, UNCHR representative for Malawi, the first step of informing the 660 refugees covered by the clause of their right to apply for exemption has just been completed, and the government has yet to decide what options it will offer for local integration.

“If there are people who still have compelling reasons for not returning, they’ll be given the opportunity to have their say,” Kuchio told IRIN.

However, the principal secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Besten Chisamile, was quoted in the local media as saying, “The situation in Rwanda stabilized long ago, and there is every reason for the remaining ones [refugees] to return to their home. We are working with UNHCR on ensuring we repatriate them.”

Malawi is host to a further 500 Rwandan asylum seekers whose refugee status has yet to be determined but who are unlikely to be covered by the cessation clause.

Republic of Congo

In June, the Republic of Congo announced that it would invoke the cessation clause for the 8,404 Rwandan refugees it hosts. They will now have to choose between voluntary repatriation, naturalization or applying for exemption.

“Those who fail to choose one of these options will be subject to the laws pertaining to foreigners’ entry, residence and departure,” said Chantal Itoua Apoyolo, director of multilateral affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation.

Juvenal Turatsinzé, 49, who is among 2,500 Rwandan refugees living in Loukolela, in the northern Cuvette region, said: “We’ve been worried since hearing about the loss of our status. We’d love to go back to Rwanda, but the conditions that would allow us to do that willingly are not yet in place.

“There are often arbitrary arrests in Rwanda. There is no freedom of expression, no democracy. We don’t think the time is right for voluntary repatriation… There are no security guarantees there.”

He added, “I have already put in my request for naturalization as a Congolese citizen.”

Zambia

Zambia hosts 6,000 Rwandan refugees, about 4,000 of whom are covered by the cessation clause. According to Peter Janssen, a senior protection officer with UNHCR, the majority of these have applied for exemption, but most have been rejected. “Officially their refugee status has ceased, but the government has made it known that there will be a possibility for people to acquire an alternative status,” said Janssen.

“That still needs to be fine-tuned, but it is positive because, until a while ago, it looked like people would be left without a status and have to return to Rwanda.”

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe, which is also following the recommendation to invoke the cessation clause, is further along with the process.

Prior to 30 June, 72 cases comprising over 200 individuals who left their country before 1999 were identified as falling within the scope of the clause, out of about 800 Rwandan refugee and asylum seekers living in the country. Those unwilling to repatriate who qualify for local integration, either through marriage to a local or through employment in certain professions, such as lawyers, doctors and teachers, have been encouraged to apply for permanent residence or work permits. However, they cannot be issued permits until they are in possession of Rwandan passports, which the Rwandan government have yet to issue.

The majority who do not qualify for local integration but do not want to return home have already applied for exemption from the cessation clause. According to Ray Chikwanda, a national protection officer with UNHCR in Zimbabwe, only six out of the 60 cases that applied were successful. Those who were rejected have been encouraged to appeal.

“Our reading of the situation is that until there is a political consensus in the region [about invoking the cessation clause], these appeal decisions are unlikely to be released,” said Chikwanda.

Countries not invoking the clause

Democratic Republic of Congo 

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has said it will not immediately invoke the cessation clause for the estimated 47,500 Rwandan refugees it hosts, but will instead adopt a phased approach.

Rwandan refugees will first be identified, registered and asked if they want to return. Following a meeting in October, a repatriation plan will be drawn up. Julien Paluku, governor of North Kivu Province, where most of the Rwandan refugees have settled, told the Associated Press that refugees who do not want to return home will be allowed to apply either for a residence permit or for Congolese nationality, which may be granted on a case-by-case basis.

UNHCR has helped some 8,000 Rwandans return home from DRC since 2012 and says it will continue to assist with repatriation.

Uganda

Out of 14,811 Rwandan refugees living in Uganda, about 4,100 individuals fall within the scope of the cessation clause. However, the government has not invoked cessation because ambiguities in the country’s Immigration Act and Constitution would hinder local integration – an alternative to voluntary repatriation that host states are supposed to make available as part of the comprehensive solutions strategy.

For example, Article 12 of the Constitution bars the children of refugees from qualifying for citizenship, while sections of the Immigration Act effectively preclude refugees from qualifying for permanent residence or work permits.

“The government of Uganda has declared that, pending the resolution of the [legal] ambiguities and the charting of a way forward towards implementing local integration and alternative legal status, they will not be invoking the ceased circumstances clause,” Esther Kiragu, UNHCR assistant representative for protection, told IRIN. “They will, however, announce a date for invocation in due course once the road map is clearly drawn.”

South Africa

At a ministerial meeting convened by UNHCR in Pretoria in April 2013, South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs Naledi Pandor said, “The position of the UNHCR in relation to Rwanda has created anguish and uncertainty among the refugee community in South Africa”, suggesting that much work remained to be done to clearly articulate the reasons for the clause being invoked.

The South African government has since informed UNHCR that it will conduct its own research into existing conditions in Rwanda and consult extensively with the local Rwandan community before making a decision on invoking the cessation clause.

A local Rwandan refugee leader, who did not wish to be named, commended South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs for “welcoming Rwandan refugee leaders, listening to their concerns and fears of being returned to Rwanda, and sharing with refugees the government of South Africa’s position around the cessation clause”.

ks/kr/nl/lmm/so/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

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