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Kampala Talks and the Situation in the Great Lakes Region

Posted by African Press International on November 9, 2013

WASHINGTON, November 7, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ Special Briefing

Russell D. Feingold, Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Via Teleconference

Washington, DC

November 6, 2013

MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. We’re pleased today to have Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo Russ Feingold, who will brief us on the Kampala talks and the situation in the Great Lakes region. Just a reminder that this is an on-the-record briefing. Special Envoy Feingold will open with a few introductory remarks, and after that point we’ll be ready for your questions and answers. With that, Special Envoy Feingold, if you’ll start us off.

MR. FEINGOLD: Good morning, everybody, and thank you for your interest and your participation. I’ll just make a few comments and then, of course, will be happy to answer any questions.

I started this position in July, but I’ve been trying to follow events in this region throughout my career in the Senate, where I was either a member or chairman or ranking member of the Africa subcommittee in the Senate. So when Secretary Kerry contacted me and asked me to take this position, I already realized that this was one of the most serious crises in the world, as you – many of you already know. Some five to six million people have died in the course of 20 years of this conflict. There is unspeakable violence, sexual violence against women and children, children being conscripted into the military, and there continues to be something like dozens of – as many as 40 to 45, perhaps – armed illegal groups in eastern Congo.

So it’s one of the greatest crises in the world, but it’s easy for people to confuse what’s really happening in terms of the attempt to try to turn this around. There are really two different processes that are in place and they are unconnected to each other formally, but are related to each other. One is the framework agreement, which is the agreement that was signed in Addis Ababa by 11 nations from the region, including the critical ones – DRC – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda. But these agreements were signed also under the auspices of the African Union and the United Nations. And that is where the significant international involvement in trying to resolve this problem under the Framework for Peace, Security and Cooperation really started in its most recent phase last – and that’s just this past February. So that’s one part of the process, and in my view, and I think the view of the international community and the envoys, that’s the most important avenue for trying to resolve the fundamental problems. So that’s one of the processes.

The other one, though, is what you’ve been hearing about in the last few days that has a significant relationship to this, and that’s the so-called Kampala talks. Before the framework, last year in December, after the M23 rebel group had taken over Goma and had further roiled the situation in eastern Congo, independently of the United Nations, President Museveni, the President of Uganda, tried to broker talks between the M23 and President Kabila and Democratic Republic of Congo. These, sponsored by the so-called ICGLR, the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region, are what are known as the Kampala talks being held in Kampala, Uganda.

These have sort of sputtered over the last few months. They were only supposed to take a couple weeks, and contemplated that the result would be the elimination of this one group, the M23, that that would somehow be negotiated. This really sputtered until late July, late August, when fighting broke out and the group of special envoys that had been appointed to take on this issue – Mary Robinson of the UN, myself, a representative of the European Union, a representative of the African Union, and Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the Secretary General – when all of us decided that it was urgent to stop the fighting, to go to Kampala and try to re-stimulate the process. So we made a first trip there and there were negotiations going on at the time that we observed and tried to support. They were going to take care of getting rid of the M23 and making arrangements for that within 14 days in September, but that didn’t happen.

And so we went back for another round just two, three weeks ago. And I was personally involved in five different evenings of negotiations that greatly narrowed the difference between the Democratic Republic of Congo and then – and the M23. Much of the question was resolved at that point, but there didn’t seem the will on the part of the M23 to actually sign. That led to a final round of negotiations this past weekend that also went late in the night in Kampala, and the result of that is what you’ve been reading about, that after all these negotiations, it was agreed that a first step to resolve the M23 issue was the M23 would announce that it is disbanding, that it is renouncing its rebellion. They have made that statement. The second is that the Democratic Republic of the Congo would say they would stop military action against the M23. Those two steps have essentially happened.

The third step, though, has to occur yet, and that is the actual signing of an agreement or engagement that has been worked out in great detail. It’s not like this has to be negotiated; it’s already negotiated. It’s ready to be signed. And I and the other special envoys are standing by, ready to return to Kampala for that sort of a ceremony or meeting as early as tomorrow or early next week. Again, though, this would only resolve one aspect of the issue, the very serious problem of the M23. It does not deal with the root cause – all the other root causes of the problem, does not deal with the so-called FDLR and the ADF and other armed groups and all the issues about what the Democratic Republic of the Congo has to do in order to reform itself. That is part of the broader framework. But we believe this signing would not only solve this one problem; it would lead and give momentum to the broader effort where, we hope, through a broader mediated dialogue, the actual countries involved would be at the table. Not the M23, per se, or that kind of a group, but the people and the entities at the table would be Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, and perhaps other countries from the region.

So I hope I didn’t get too deep into the weeds with that, but the distinction between the Kampala talks and the framework is important for understanding exactly what’s going on here.

Okay. Happy to take questions.

MODERATOR: Hi, Cynthia. If you could just again read the instructions to our callers for how they would ask a question, and then we’ll stand by for a moment for those first ones to come in.

OPERATOR: Certainly, and once again, for any questions or comments, press * and then 1. That’s * and then 1 for your questions or comments. And one moment, please, while we order the queue.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Cynthia. I think we can start with our first question in queue, Michele Kelemen from NPR.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Thanks for doing this. I’m wondering if you can – can you hear me?

MR. FEINGOLD: Yes, I can.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay, sorry. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about the role of this more assertive UN force in Congo and how much that is working and whether or not that can be translated to other conflicts as you look across the continent.

MR. FEINGOLD: That’s a very important question and important part of this.

First of all, the effort of the intervention brigade, which is a part of the MONUSCO UN operation force, is one of a series of major signs that the international community is giving unprecedented – I like to call it sustained attention to this problem. So it should be looked at not only in terms of strengthening the abilities and the capacity and the mandate of MONUSCO, but also it is combined with this framework under the auspices of the United Nations, the special envoys being appointed, the fact that the World Bank pledged over $1 billion if this process can be successful.

All of this occurred, and then in addition to that, this intervention brigade was given the ability to take offensive action to disarm and demobilize these armed groups, and as I indicated, the estimates vary, but there are certainly dozens of these groups. Most people believe this is an exceptional approach, some would say unprecedented, but in any event, it’s a very strong approach that stands in great contrast to, frankly, often criticized role of the UN forces in this region in the past which did not have this capacity.

So how does it work? Well, the IB, and in fact, the MONUSCO itself stand in support of the efforts of the federal army of the Congo. So this does not lead – they do not lead and take the – make the decisions unilaterally to decide who to go after or when, but they do provide coordination. Sometimes it’s more in the form of a backup such as making sure that civilians are protected. In some cases, it’s direct action. This occurred both at the end of July – excuse me, at the end of August – and also just recently, where in some cases, the FARDC was in the lead, in some cases it was in cooperation, and sometimes this intervention brigade or MONUSCO itself, with the intervention brigade as a part of it, do this.

So it’s a creative mechanism. I think your question really goes to the central issue, as not only is this very important for the confidence of the Congolese military and going after these illegal groups, but this may have long-term consequences for what people believe could happen if United Nations peacekeeping forces were given a stronger capacity to deal with violence and threats to civilians. This has exciting potential and the initial signs are that this is a very successful operation under the leadership of Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the Secretary General, and General dos Santos Cruz, who is a commander who had good, strong experience in Haiti. And I met with him and seeing that they are – these two are an exceptionally strong combination for this effort which certainly will be pointed to, whether for good or bad, as to whether this kind of an operation can work. The initial signs are that it is successful, so far is a good concept, and is working well, at least in this context.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Just a reminder to our callers, to ask a question, you dial *1. Again, *1 to ask a question. Cynthia, I believe our next caller is Deb Riechmann from AP, if you can open her line. Thank you.

OPERATOR: And Deb, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, I have several questions. Do you have any information about the whereabouts of some of the M23 leaders who are wanted for serious abuses? Any information on that that you could offer? And is there any details about how they will go – they will now go about disarming the rebels? And how can you ensure that the M23 won’t disappear across the border, regroup, and reemerge?

MR. FEINGOLD: I do not at this point have specific information about where some of the top leaders of M23 might be at this point. What I have seen is press speculation. I expect to get some more information in the near future, but that is something that is not clear at all.

In terms of how the process will work – disbanding the M23 and demobilizing them, disarming them – the agreement that is yet to be signed has very specific provisions that provide for the sequencing of how the group will be disarmed; where, for example, they would be in a cantonment zone, which is important because they need to be protected from other armed groups. To disarm them and not provide them protection would be obviously unreasonable and not something they would sign on to. So there is a very carefully worked out sequence of steps.

It also raises the question of groups of those who cannot get amnesty. You were sort of referring to some of those individuals. There is also an important step that has to be taken, which is the passing of a national amnesty law by the Congolese Government. That amnesty law will not provide amnesty for war crimes or crimes against humanity for people who have committed those crimes. It will only – if this agreement goes through the way I hope it will and believe it will – it will only provide amnesty for the – sort of the rank-and-file members of M23 for purposes of having been part of a rebellion. In other words, they’re forgiven for having started or been involved in a rebellion as long as they pledge individually to not rebel again. And if they do rebel again or participate in rebellion, they lose their amnesty, but no amnesty for the type of people who have committed crimes against humanity and international crime.

So that’s a major distinction between this and the 2009 agreement, actually the March 23 – M23 agreement in 2009 that did give that kind of amnesty to people who committed major crimes. In fact, they allowed them to come back into the Congolese military. That is not happening in this case if this agreement goes through the way I believe it will go through, and certainly, the international community and the United States would not support such an agreement. I also believe that the Congolese Government would never sign such an agreement this time.

So there has to be accountability. There’s no impunity in this this time.

QUESTION: So there will be some accountability for crimes committed, then?

MR. FEINGOLD: There has to be. And in fact, the United States –

QUESTION: But not rank-and-file guys. How do they determine who is held – which ones are held accountable? Does it depend on what they –

MR. FEINGOLD: They have a very good sense –

QUESTION: — or – depending on what the crime was, or depending on who they were?

MR. FEINGOLD: Yeah. Sure. Well, of course, it’s based on evidence that they committed war crimes –


MR. FEINGOLD: — whether it be crimes of rape or crimes of conscripting child soldiers or any of the sort of acts – there’s plenty of information out there, and the ability to indict individuals, some of whom have already been indicted by Congolese justice system. There’s plenty of information to identify, and we have a very good sense of the people who would be subject to that kind of a process.

So, yes, there has to be accountability. The accountability would be most likely through the Congolese justice system, and that is going to need some help. One of the ideas that is out there that the United States believes is a good idea, and the international community, is a piece of legislation that is currently pending before the Congolese parliament for what’s called mixed courts. Mixed courts provide – it’s a model that’s been used, I believe, in other places, where a court is composed of some Congolese judges but also international judges with experience in these sorts of things, probably from other African countries, so to sort of upgrade and improve the quality of the process so there can be appropriate indictments and prosecution and punishment. This will be one of our very top priorities, for the special envoys and for the Congolese Government, so that this has a very different face than what happened with – on the previous two occasions, where this – an agreement was made but it essentially just set up a system where this would happen again. The goal here is to make sure this can’t happen again.


MODERATOR: Cynthia, I believe our next caller in line is Arshad Mohammed from Reuters. Can you please open Arshad’s line?

OPERATOR: And Arshad, your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for doing the call. Two things: Can you explain to us how you hope the Kampala Declaration, once it is signed, may help pave the way to addressing some of the root causes of the conflict in eastern Congo, and notably, how it might over time help address questions such as the return of Tutsi refugees from Rwanda? And secondly – and guarantees of land for Tutsi pastoralists in eastern Congo.


QUESTION: And then, secondly, do you anticipate any change in the U.S. position on defense assistance to Rwanda in the light of the current situation on the ground?

MR. FEINGOLD: Your question goes right to the heart of this matter and what I started the conversation about, the distinction between the Kampala talks and the broader talks – hopefully, mediated talks – that need to happen under the framework agreement. The Kampala talks preceded and were not directly related to the framework, but it was our judgment as special envoys that it would be extremely important to resolve the M23 issue to get on to those root causes. In other words, if it was still actively, with its military capacity at the time, causing war in eastern Congo, it would be extremely hard to get the parties to sit down and talk about the broader context. So that’s why we put so much focus on trying to get what we hope is the resolution, conclusion of the talks, and the disbandment of the M23. But it is only a series of talks that have to do with M23 and its rebellion. It does not go to the root cause of the problem.

So how do we get to the next step? The next step is to get the parties in the region, hopefully with the help of the African Union and others, to agree on actual talks and an agenda for talks – mediated talks, I would hope – under African leadership, where the items on that agenda are not just the M23 but are things exactly what you just described. How can refugees be returned? And that’s just not a problem of how do you – where do you return them to. The question is, have you resolved and given protection for ethnic tensions, Rwandaphone populations that live in eastern Congo, land tenure issues, and others? In so doing, you have to be careful to not get into matters that are purely or largely matters within the context of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There needs to be some sensitivity to those issues that are properly within the sphere of that government and our work with them, and then some issues are international and some are regional. The framework agreement contemplates that because it has benchmarks, separate benchmarks, for international, regional, and national progress in these areas.

My belief is the only way you get those benchmarks enforced and integrated with each other is by having actual talks where countries like Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo are represented at the table, and probably other countries in the region who have an interest in this matter, because as the summit in Pretoria that I just returned from illustrates, the entire continent, particularly the SADC region and the ICGLR region, are extremely concerned about this instability in Congo and see it as threatening the entire continent, not just the specific Great Lakes region.

The other – only other point I would make is that, in the somewhat narrower context of being able to deal with other armed groups in the area, the successful disbandment of the M23 clearly opens the door for the absolute necessity to go after groups like the FDLR, which, of course, is associated with the Rwandan genocide in the past, and the ADF, which is a group that has been antagonistic to the Ugandan Government over the years and is largely operating in eastern Congo, as well as other groups. So Kampala is a jumping off point to get more serious about those other armed groups, but also fundamentally to have a series of negotiations that actually get at some of the issues that have led to this extremely complicated situation in eastern Congo.

QUESTION: How – as I understand it, there are no such additional negotiations scheduled. How quickly do you think that may happen, and what are the impediments to that happening once the M23 issue is substantially resolved, if it is?

MR. FEINGOLD: It will require the political will of the countries in the region. These countries have all signed the framework agreement in which they pledged no support for these armed groups, in which they agreed that issues about reform within the Democratic Republic of Congo and issues about the return of refugees and all – and as well as positive opportunities in terms of economic development. There’s already this piece of paper that talks about that and benchmarks. But in the end, there’s no requirement in any of that, that this be a face-to-face process where there’s a mediator who actually encourages them to come to serious agreements that can be enforced and watched over time. That is something that all of us have been working on. I have discussed this myself with President Kagame, President Kabila, Mrs. Zuma, the head of the African Union, and there’s a healthy conversation going on about whether such talks could occur, what they would look like, who might be involved in those talks.

But in the end, if the African leaders do not want such talks, they won’t happen. There’s nothing in the framework itself that mandates that that particular process occurs. It’s my belief as a special envoy that, without that, this is not likely to be a successful effort at getting at the root causes. They’re too complex to simply do by sort of a shuttle diplomacy approach.

QUESTION: Lastly, can you comment on the U.S. posture on military assistance to Rwanda?

MR. FEINGOLD: Yes. The United States has chosen this year to be firm with regard to our concern that there is a credible body of reporting that Rwanda has given support to the M23, at least in the past. Rwanda is a friend and an ally, and we have a lot of admiration for what they’ve accomplished; but any such support for the M23, of course, is inconsistent with our views, with international law, and in particular, Rwanda’s own position as a signatory to the framework.

So we have been candid with our friend. We have, in some cases, put sanctions because of a concern – concerns about, for example, the support – the recruitment or assistance in terms of children soldiers for the M23 and involvement of Rwanda in that. If it turns out that Rwanda is no longer involved in such activities, if it turns out that their role here has been a positive one and there is much that they have done during this process to be positive, with President Kagame issuing a statement that he wanted these talks concluded – if that bears out that there is a different approach here than the one we have believed is happening, then we would certainly review whether it’s appropriate to continue these sanctions. They are based specifically on certain actions that we believe occurred, and if those actions cease, there would certainly be a serious review of whether it’s appropriate to continue.

QUESTION: And do you believe that they have ceased?

MR. FEINGOLD: We don’t know for sure. This is just like the questions about where some of these individuals might be. That is still up in the air. And I think it’s going to be a fact-based investigation with the sincere hope that we find out that that support has terminated, and certainly with an open mind in that regard.

MODERATOR: I think we have time for a couple more questions here. Next in line we have Nicolas Revise from AFP. Cynthia, can you open up his line?

OPERATOR: And Nicolas, your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Thank you for doing that. A follow-up on Arshad’s question: Is it correct to say that the surrender of M23 is partly due to huge U.S. pressures put on Rwanda to cut off ties with M23 rebellion, and especially thanks to very recent phone call between the Secretary Kerry and President Kagame? Thank you.

MR. FEINGOLD: I would say, first of all, that the United States has taken a much more involved role in this entire region, that that has included efforts to try to bring the Kampala talks to a successful conclusion. And a part of that has been Secretary Kerry’s willingness to call not once but more than once to suggest to all the leaders in the region that this process must conclude.

In addition, the United States has shown tremendous interest in this by allowing me to work full-time as the first full-blown special envoy, and I have traveled to the region now three times since early September to work with the other special envoys. This is a level of engagement that is probably unprecedented for the United States. So it clearly – the decision by President Obama and Secretary Kerry to make this one of their leading priorities in Africa, and frankly, one of the leading priorities in their national policy, is really significant. And when Secretary Kerry – in addition to his phone call, when Secretary Kerry had an opportunity to chair the United Nations Security Council for the first time in his tenure as Secretary of State, he could have chosen a lot of topics to discuss, to make the topic. He chose this.

And that was an important moment to signal the very intense American involvement in this, which is continuing on a daily basis. So I am proud to be part of that effort. The leadership shown by this Administration and the engagement, I think is being noticed. In fairness, it is combined, of course, with the rest of the international community. The fact that the United Nations chose Mary Robinson, a distinguished former president of Ireland, to be an envoy, to have the full-time envoy from the European Union, an envoy from the African Union, and Mr. Kobler’s involvement.

These are levels of diplomatic sustained attention combined with the United States efforts that are unprecedented. And what’s really striking is that we are there all the time. It is not as if we have a meeting in New York or we go to Africa every once in a while. The leaders, and particularly the people at the Kampala talks, noticed that we were around even at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning on occasion to observe the proceedings. I believe all of that, including, of course, Secretary Kerry’s phone calls, were helpful in making it clear that we would not go away until this was resolved.

MODERATOR: I believe we have time for that one last question, and the last question here is from Dana Hughes from ABC. Cynthia, can you open up Dana’s line?

OPERATOR: Dana, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you again for doing this. Just a couple of follow-up questions. One, I was interested in what you were talking about with the accountability and the international sort of justice with Congolese judges and international judges as well. Can you talk a little bit about getting to the heart of the problem of the security sector reform and what role the United States is playing in that? Are – is the United States providing trainers? Are there still military trainers on the ground?

MR. FEINGOLD: Well, first of all, the accountability issue and justice issues is one of the three aspects of security sector reform. Number one, of course, is the military. Number two is police. And number three is the justice system. So I’ve already talked about the way in which perhaps mixed courts legislation could assist in that part of the process.

But there needs to be a greater reform of the military itself. Now, some steps have been taken, and I think the success of the Congolese military is an indication in its recent actions that those steps are helping. For example, they put in new, more effective commanders, they have better logistical actions.

On the other hand, there’s much more that has to be done to modernize the military. In fact, the soldiers are not even paid in an effective way. There needs to be a much better system for making sure that this is a professional army where people are paid, and aren’t encouraged to sort of get their payment by abusing local citizens, which is something that has happened in the past. We have to make sure that this army is one that would no longer take advantage of a military situation to take reprisals against citizens, or take advantage of people in a community just because they happen to be in an area that they’ve successfully taken over during a military operation.

The United States is prepared to assist, through the United Nations and through our own programs, with a wide range of reform measures involving the military. That’s one of the things I’m working with various donor communities about how we might help with something like that. An example might be sort of the online, cell phone type of bank account that’s available. Mobile banking is a way to pay a soldier, rather than having a bag of money go to a commander and being sent that way.

These are innovative ways that we can help with the process, and I think that those kinds of things to modernize the military might be among the things we can do in the near term. True reform of a military like that is going to take many years – five to 10 years. And we need some signs of confidence building to build on the other things that the Congolese military has done to make it clear to people that this military is reforming itself. And so I think those kinds of modernization things would be high on the list. We’re not looking here to provide bricks and mortar for the Congolese military. We’re looking more to modernizing it.

MODERATOR: Great. Thank you very much. I want to thank Special Envoy Feingold for his time today in doing this call, and to all of you for your participation.


US Department of State

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The fighting has caused massive displacement -International pressure needed to repair the situation

Posted by African Press International on September 15, 2013

Hoping for a lull in fighting as talks proceed (file photo)

KAMPALA,  – After months of delay, peace talks between the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and M23 rebels are back on, at the urging of regional leaders. But analysts remain sceptical that a truce can be achieved after more than a year and a half of intermittent fighting in eastern DRC’s North Kivu Province.

On 10 September, the two delegations met for the first time since April, with Ugandan Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga mediating. The talks had first kicked off in December 2012, under the auspices of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), but have broken down a number of times since then.

“We are very optimistic we shall be able to deliver something in the two weeks,” Kiyonga told IRIN. “There is renewed commitment by the two sides. For some time, the government side was not here [Kampala]. But now everybody has come.”

M23 – the March 23 Movement – came into existence in April 2012, when hundreds of mainly ethnic Tutsi soldiers of the national army (FARDC), mutinied over poor living conditions and poor pay. Most of the mutineers had been members of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), another armed group that in 2009 signed a deal with the government, which the dissidents felt Kinshasa had not fully implemented.

An estimated 900,000 people are currently displaced in North Kivu, more than half of them by the M23 rebellion; tens of thousands more have fled across the DRC’s borders with Rwanda and Uganda. Humanitarians continue to flag the issue of civilian protection as FARDC and M23 engage in intermittent battles in and around the provincial capital Goma, where the fighting has displaced more than 100,000.

International pressure

The resumption of the talks follows a directive by a 5 September ICGLR Heads of State and Government summit, which set a three-day deadline for talks to resume and conclude within a fortnight.

But analysts say it is pressure from international leaders, rather than a genuine commitment to a negotiated solution, that has led to revived talks.

While on a joint visit to DRC, Uganda and Rwanda, a delegation of senior African Union, European Union (EU), UN and US officials, led by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Mary Robinson, called for the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the Region. The framework aims for, among other things, improving security and consolidating the state’s authority in eastern DRC. The agreement was signed on 24 February in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by 11 African countries.

The officials also urged all parties to “bring the Kampala Dialogue to a positive and swift conclusion”, encourage the reduction of tensions in eastern DRC, and “identify and support confidence-building measures between DRC and Rwanda”.

“The Congolese government is coming back to the negotiations table but seems forced to do so. During the opening of the national consultations[held in Kinshasa on 10 September], President Kabila made it clear that if the talks fail, the fighting will resume,” Thierry Vircoulon, an analyst with the South Africa based think-tank International Crisis Group (ICG), told IRIN.

“I think concerted pressure by a variety of envoys from the US, the EU, Belgium and the UN has made an impact, particularly through pressure on Rwanda [which is accused of supporting the M23 rebels, a claim vehemently denied by the Rwandan government]. Whether this will amount to anything, however, remains to be seen,” Jason Stearns, director of the Rift Valley Institute’s (RVI) Usalama Project, which conducts research on armed groups in eastern DRC, told IRIN.

“The initial statements by the M23 and the Congolese government do not look promising. If the talks are to succeed, both sides will have to bridge a deep divide on various issues, particularly whether the top leadership of the M23 can be integrated into the army and whether they will be redeployed across the country,” he added.

Tough positions

Kiyonga told a media briefing on 10 September that the two parties had reached a draft peace deal, with 60 percent of its clauses agreed upon. According to Rene Abandi, head of M23’s delegation, some of the key sticking points include: the reintegration of top M23 leadership into FARDC; disarmament and demobilization of the rebels; and the elimination of the DRC-based, Hutu-dominated Rwandan rebel group Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR).

Abandi said he hoped this time “we shall be able to handle all the issues”, sentiments echoed by Francois Mwamba, spokesman for the DRC government’s delegation.

“One of the key outcomes of this round of talks will be how the ICGLR and the parties themselves deal with the issue of amnesty and impunity for the leadership of the M23. A divide has already become apparent with both the UN and US envoys making statements that amnesty must not be an option for M23 senior leadership, while the current chair of the ICGLR, President Museveni, has publicly stated that amnesty must be on the table,” Aaron Hall, field researcher for anti-genocide group The Enough Project, told IRIN.

The fighting has caused massive displacement (file photo)

“There must be accountability for the most responsible perpetrators of the most serious crimes. Previous amnesty deals for leaders of rebel movements in eastern Congo – whether it be military reintegration, house arrest, or third country resettlement – have not only failed, but continued to perpetuate conflict in eastern Congo,” he added. “History in the region clearly demonstrates that there can be no peace without justice.”

According to a recent blog post by Stearns, despite the resumption of talks, the parties effectively remained deadlocked, with M23 saying “they would only put down their weapons if the FDLR are neutralized and Congolese refugees are allowed to return to the Congo, two goals that will take years to fully achieve”.

“On the other side of the table, the Congolese government has issued arrest warrants for Colonel Makenga, Kayna and Kazarama – the number one and two of the M23, as well as their spokesperson, respectively,” he added. “It is difficult to see the Kinshasa delegation, or international observers for that matter, accepting an amnesty for these top officials, which would mean that the M23 would have to accept excluding its top leadership.”

Uganda’s Kiyonga urged all parties – including the recently deployed UN Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) – to desist from further violence while the talks were underway. The latest violence broke out in July; by early September, however, the rebels had retreated from Goma following an offensive by the UN FIB.

“It’s unfortunate that we keep getting renewed fighting in the field. You can’t keep talking yet there is fighting… Any shelling or shooting should stop,” he said. “The UN is expected to respect the dialogue. I hope they will understand, [and] there will be no fighting as we talk.”

Humanitarian organizations working in the region are keenly awaiting the results of the talks but are unsure whether they will make a difference on the ground. “The key issue is that the M23 and the situation in Rutshuru area is not the only problem in eastern DRC. There are many other armed groups that are causing unrest, and many say that there is an increase in banditism,” said Chantal Daniels, Central Africa policy and advocacy officer for the NGO Christian Aid. “In general, I’m afraid that Kampala will not change things significantly on the ground. Even if an agreement is reached between the DRC and the M23, it is questionable if and how this is implemented, what the conditions from both sides are, and what that will do with the further dynamics with regard to armed groups on the ground.”

She added: “Last week SRSG [Special Representative of the UN Secretary General] of MONUSCO [the UN Stabilization Mission in DRC] Martin Kobler mentioned that ‘islands of peace’ will be created. I am very curious to see [what] this will look like, also with regard to humanitarian access during operations, and to what extent these ‘islands’ can be sustainable.”

Doubts about Uganda, ICGLR

There has been some criticism of the ICGLR’s handling of the talks and doubt about its ability to deliver a peaceful conclusion to the conflict.

“The ICGLR has proven useful in its role as a convener. However, a fundamental flaw of the Kampala talks to this point has been lack of transparency, accountability and inclusivity,” said Hall. “In order to make gains towards peace, stability and development in eastern Congo, a broader, more inclusive process is necessary that focuses on regional drivers of instability and brings to the table key actors that have been absent from the current talks – particularly the government of Rwanda.”

Also in question is Uganda’s neutrality, particularly following the DRC government’s August expulsion of Uganda’s Brigadier Geoffrey Muheesi, coordinator of the regional Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM), set up by the ICGLR to address DRC-Rwanda border security issues. It is thought Muheesi was expelled for being too friendly to the rebels and to Rwanda.

“The talks are under the auspices of Uganda, which is not seen as neutral by Kinshasa, as demonstrated by the fact that the Ugandan general running the joint verification mechanism was recently expelled by the DRC. There is a clear lack of trust with the Ugandan facilitation,” said ICG’s Vircoulon.

Despite the challenges, analysts say there is reason to hope that the talks, if handled correctly, could reach a positive conclusion. “Given the pressure and timelines put on both sides by the ICGLR, UN Special Envoy and other international partners, this iteration of talks presents the greatest chance thus far for agreement to be reached,” said Hall, who noted that the success of the current round of talks would largely depend on both parties demonstrating “empathy and pragmatism”.

He continued: “For example, M23 cannot expect blanket amnesty and the full eradication of the FDLR in a two-week period, nor can the government of Congo expect temporary military gains made with support from the FIB and UN to be long-term solutions to dealing with the grievances of the M23.”

so/kr/rz  source

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Access to mental health services remains a key challenge in Africa

Posted by African Press International on September 5, 2013

KAMPALA,  – As African countries strive to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 and plot a new development agenda thereafter, health experts are gathering evidence across the continent to make a case for a greater focus on its millions of mentally ill.
Experts say investing in mental health treatment for African countries would bolster development across the continent, but national health priorities have been overtaken by the existing MDG structure, which has specific targets for diseases like malaria and HIV, placing them higher on countries’ agendas than other health issues.

“Everyone is putting their money in HIV, reproductive health, malaria,” says Sheila Ndyanabangi, director of mental health at Uganda’s Ministry of Health. “They need also to remember these unfunded priorities like mental health are cross-cutting, and are also affecting the performance of those other programmes like HIV and the rest.”

Global experts celebrated the passing of a World Health Assembly action plan on World Mental Health Day in May, calling it a landmark step in addressing a staggering global disparity: The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 75-85 percent of people with severe mental disorders receive no treatment in low- and middle-income countries, compared to 35-50 percent in high-income countries. The action plan outlines four broad targets, for member states to: update their policies and laws on mental health; integrate mental health care into community-based settings; integrate awareness and prevention of mental health disorders; and strengthen evidence-based research.

In order for the plan to be implemented, both governments and donors will need to increase their focus on mental health issues. As it stands, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the world’s biggest bilateral donor, will only support mental health if it is under another MDG health priority such as HIV/AIDS. Meanwhile, mental health receives on average 1 percent of health budgets in sub-Saharan Africa despite the WHO estimate that it carries 13 percent of the global burden of disease.

“Mental health hasn’t found its way into the core programmes [in developing countries], so the NGOs continue to rely on scraping together funds to be able to respond,” Harry Minas, a psychiatrist on the WHO International Expert Panel on Mental Health and Substance Abuse and director of the expert coalition Movement for Global Mental Health, told IRIN. “Unless we collectively do something much more effective about NCDs [non-communicable diseases], national economies are going to be bankrupted by the health budgets.”

The post-MDG era

According to a May report from the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the MDGs have overseen the fastest reduction of poverty in human history.

“Mental health hasn’t found its way into the core programmes [in developing countries], so the NGOs continue to rely on scraping together funds to be able to respond”

Yet it also acknowledges that they have done little to reach the world’s most vulnerable. The report says the MDGs were “silent on the devastating effects of conflict and violence on development” and focused too heavily on individual programmes instead of collaborating between sectors, resulting in a largely disjointed approach to health. Experts say without a more holistic approach to global health in the new development era, the world’s most vulnerable will only be trapped in that cycle.

“The MDGs were essentially a set of vertical programmes which were essentially in competition with each other for resources and for attention,” said Minas. “We’ve gone beyond that, and now understand we’re dealing with complex systems, where all of the important issues are very closely interrelated.”

Poverty and mental illness

In Africa, where many countries are dealing with current or recent emergencies, WHO sees opportunities to build better mental health care.

“The surge of aid [that usually follows an emergency]combined with sudden, focused attention on the mental health of the population, creates unparalleled opportunities to transform mental health care for the long term,” say the authors of the report Building Back Better: Sustainable Mental Health Care after Emergencies, released earlier this month.

In a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in July, researchers in northern Uganda – which, starting in the late 1980s suffered a two-decade long war between the government and the rebel Lords’ Resistance Army – monitored the impact of group counselling on vulnerable groups such as victims of sexual and domestic violence, HIV-infected populations, and former abductees of the civil war. It found that those groups who engaged in group counselling were able to return and function markedly faster than those who did not receive counselling, while reducing their risks of developing long-term psychiatric conditions.

“We need to be mentally healthy to get out of poverty,” Ethel Mpungu, the study’s lead researcher, told IRIN.

The link between mental illness and persisting poverty is being made the world over. According to a 2011 World Economic Forum report, NCDs will cost the global economy more than US$30 trillion by 2030, with mental health conditions alone costing an additional $16 trillion over the same time span.

“It really is around issues of development and economics – those things can no longer be ignored,” says Minas. “They are now so clear that ministries of health all around the place are starting to think about how they are going to develop their mental health programmes.”

Putting mental health on the agenda

As mental health legislation is hard to come by in most African countries, Uganda is ahead of most on the continent with its comprehensive National Policy on Mental, Neurological and Substance Use Services, drafted in 2010. The bill would update its colonial era Mental Treatment Act, which has not been revised since 1964, and bring the country in line with international standards, but is still waiting to be reviewed by cabinet and be voted into law.

Uganda is also part of a consortium of research institutions and health ministries (alongside Ethiopia, India, Nepal and South Africa) leading the developing world on mental health care. PRIME – the programme for improving mental health care – was formed in 2011 to support the scale-up of mental health services in developing countries, and is currently running a series of pilot projects to measure their impact on primary healthcare systems in low-income settings.

Research shows that low- and middle-income countries can successfully provide mental health services at a lower cost through, among other strategies, easing detection and diagnosis procedures, the use of non-specialist health workers and the integration of mental healthcare into primary healthcare systems.

Although a number of projects have shown success in working with existing government structures to ultimately integrate mental health into primary health care, the scaling up of such initiatives is being hindered by a lack of investment, as the funding of African health systems is still largely seen through donor priorities, which have been focused elsewhere.

“Billions of philanthropic dollars are being spent on things like HIV/AIDS or water or malaria,” said Liz Alderman, co-founder of the Peter C. Alderman Foundation (PCAF), which works with survivors of terrorism and mass violence. “But if people don’t care whether they live or die, they’re not going to be able to take advantage of these things that are offered.”

pc/cb  source


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Motorcycles also known as bodaboda by most Kenyans have hit the market with a bang

Posted by African Press International on September 2, 2013


Motorcycles also known as bodaboda by most Kenyans have hit the market with a bang especially because they are small enough to penetrate rough and poor roads. These have opened up places  that were previously not accessible by vehicles.
Bungoma municipality , one of the most populous and congested towns in Kenya, has seen a massive increase in bodaboda business,posing  a serious threat to the survival of vehicles taxi operators. Apart from leading as a killer road accident in the town, a new concern has arisen over the influence of the cyclists in the social settings of residents of Bungoma town and its suburbs.
The entire public is now raising concern over the rampart cases of family breakups that are related to bodaboda operators.
A such case was reported at Siritanyi-Kanduyi suburb when a wife had a heated quarrel with his husband over her regular use of bodaboda at late hours of the night. An arbitrator of the case Ezekiel Wafula says the husband confided to him he had suspected a steamy love affairs between the wife and the operator.
In Bungoma town a motorist narrowly escaped lynching from angry residents at Mayanja when a hotel attendant raised an alarm after he saw him lead a standard seven girl into a lodging.
The increasingly and major clients to the operators are said to be women as men have a low profile of the cyclists.
A survey conducted by the western hotline reveals that many women will wait as operator to ferry them even in short distances that they would otherwise walk.
Esther Mukhono a regular customer and a casual at Bungoma district hospital town says that the motorcycles have had a major impact on many women nowadays. Mukhono wakes up at dawn to find a regular taxi waiting in the compound, who picks her up to the hospital everyday and pays him shs.1,600 per month .but her husband who is always uncomfortable with the choice of her wife over the transport made, says he rarely uses the means and is dissatisfied with the fact that many women use them.
In Bungoma town,Peter Simiyu an operator near the district headquarters says that he normally ferries more women than men every day.However,lingering  question is why men do not like the idea of using motorcycles, unlike women who have since developed a passion for them.
Victor Wafula ,54,says that he cannot stand his wife using motorbike.’It’s shameful  to see my wife exposing things or clinging closely to operators as they make fun.’
Wafula ’ adds that it’s totally against African culture especially for the married ones to go around exposing themselves in public. Not only that women cling to operators but their closeness when the operator makes fun is very disgusting to most of us men.
The bodaboda operators have been accused of trading pleasures in having women customers and others claim that on a good day, they carry them free of charge.
William Mulongo,another operator plying Kanduyi-chwele  route says sometimes he makes women trust him and ensures they do not use other means of transport. He further reveals that they make an effort to get contacts of women whom they  call to confirm whether they need to travel.
Vincent  Barasa another operator who plies Bukembe-Nzoia says he enjoys serving women passengers on his motorbikes as they are fearful,’ when they cling on us when we approach sharp bends or corners that makes us feel good.’ Says Barasa.
However, police sources says that bodaboda business has changed  and they cannot rule out  the possibilities of the operators having sexual relationships with the operators.
Lucas Wekesa, a religious leader says that traffic department should introduce strict rules such as in Kampala where movement of bicycles beyond odd hours of the night is restricted. He urged women not to fall into easy traps from the cyclists, especially by avoiding travelling late hours which makes them more vulnerable in darkness.
Out of ten [10]men interviewed,talk their women should not use motorbikes, but women considered the operators more reliable and closer than any other means.



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North Kivu sees fresh clashes: What’s happening with the Kampala talks?

Posted by African Press International on July 21, 2013

Talks have stalled as fighting continues (file photo)

KAMPALA/GOMA,  – Fresh fighting between the rebel M23 and the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the eastern province of North Kivu could spell the end of efforts to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict, analysts say.

In what have been described as some of the deadliest clashes since the rebellion began in April 2012, FARDC (the DRC army) and M23 have been fighting since 14 July in areas around Mutaho, Kanyarucinya, Kibati and in the mountains near Ndosho, a few kilometres from Goma, the provincial capital.

An estimated 900,000 people are displaced in North Kivu, more than half of them by the M23 rebellion; tens of thousands more have fled across the DRC’s borders with Rwanda and Uganda. Humanitarians continue to flag the issue of civilian protection in and around Goma, where fighting over the past year has displaced more than 100,000.

IRIN has put together a briefing on recent developments in the talks and the conflict.

What’s happening with the Kampala talks?

A new round of peace talks between the two sides in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, has stalled, with Raymond Tshibanda, the DRC foreign minister and head of the government delegation, and Apollinaire Malu Malu, his deputy, absent from the venue.

The talks, which kicked off in December 2012 under the auspices of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), first broke down in April: M23 representatives walked out following a decision by the UN to deploy an intervention brigade to neutralize armed groups in eastern DRC.

“The two sides are still extremely far apart in their negotiating positions and a compromise is difficult to envision without hefty intervention by diplomats. So fighting is almost inevitable, even if only to improve negotiating positions,” Jason Stearns, director of the Rift Valley Institute‘s (RVI),Usalama Project, which conducts research on armed groups in eastern DRC.

“The Kampala talks are moribund. I can’t envision a deal acceptable to the M23 that foreign diplomats and the Congolese government could sign off on; the M23 would have to disband and reintegrate into the national army, which its leaders will find difficult to stomach, as they don’t trust the government.”

Each side accuses the other of not being sufficiently committed to reaching a diplomatic settlement to the conflict.

“It depends on whether M23 is ready to accept on what has been decided in Addis Ababa and [with] UN for them to disarm. If they accept, we are ready to finalize the Kampala process,” DRC government spokesperson Lambert Mende Omalanga told IRIN by phone.

On 24 February, 11 African countries signed a Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the Region, aimed at, among other things, improving security and consolidating the state’s authority in eastern DRC.

What are the accusations being traded?

But Omalanga accused Rwanda of continued influence over M23, a charge both the Rwandan government and M23 strenuously deny.

“Kinshasa is not interested in the talks, but a military option. We have been here seeking for a bilateral ceasefire. But government has since refused and prepared for the ongoing war,” Rene Abandi, the head of M23’s delegation, told IRIN. “It’s playing double standards… trying both methods – peace talks and military solution.”

“It may sound like a paradox but, for peace negotiations to start, the balance of power on the ground must be changed. The two parties [M23 and the DRC army] will only negotiate if they lose on the battlefield.”

Abandi added that until the head of the government delegation or his deputy arrived, M23 would not negotiate, and called on the ICGLR, the African Union and the UN to put pressure on Kinshasa to actively participate in the talks.

“Long before the resumption of fighting, the Kampala peace talks have had a bleak future. Over the course of the last seven months, the warring parties have employed deliberate delaying tactics, militaristic bluster and traded fierce accusations of foul play as a means of furthering narrow political agendas,” Timo Mueller, Goma-based field researcher for the Enough Project, which fights genocide and crimes against humanity, told IRIN.

“As the fighting rekindled on Sunday [14 July], some analysts see a direct relationship between the deadlock in Kampala and the renewed fighting. But while the fighting is a near-death experience for the talks, both parties have an interest in keeping the talks alive so as to be seen as willing to seek political peace, albeit crippled they may be.”

He added: “The rhetoric and actions of the Congolese army reflect a consistent strategy to pursue only military confrontation with M23 on the battlefield and forego any existing political efforts. But while military actions undermine and contradict the talks, Congo has no interest in unilaterally withdrawing from an initiative strongly favoured by the international community.

“M23, will desperately hold onto the talks to present itself as a grievance-driven group eager to discuss political reforms with Kinshasa and because it is too weak militarily to advance its interests outside political avenues. The talks offer the only existing avenue for M23 to deliver agreement on amnesty for senior leadership and military reintegration into FARDC, something that the UN PSCF [the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework] or any other international process would be unlikely to yield. Both parties will remain at loggerheads for the foreseeable future, leaving scant hope for a genuine peace agreement.”

Could fighting spur talks?

According to Thierry Vircoulon, an analyst with the think tank International Crisis Group, “It may sound like a paradox but, for peace negotiations to start, the balance of power on the ground must be changed. The two parties will only negotiate if they lose on the battlefield. Kinshasa accepted to come to the Kampala talks only because it lost Goma last year and was dominated on the ground.”

But Usalama’s Stearns says neither side is keen to escalate the ongoing conflict. “The M23 is limited by its troop numbers, which are probably still under 2,000, with a large area to cover. For the Congolese army, they would probably want to wait until the UN Intervention Brigade is fully operational, which could take another month.”

3,000-strong intervention brigade mandated to “neutralize… and disarm” armed groups in eastern DRC is due to be fully operational at the end of July. The UN Stabilization Mission in DRC, MONUSCO, also intends to have unarmed surveillance drones in eastern DRC to monitor developments.

How much support is there for talks?

The problem in eastern DRC is primarily political, and “no amount of military power can solve it,” Lt-Col Paddy Ankunda, Uganda army spokesman and spokesman for the talks, told IRIN.

“The causes of the M23 rebellion and the wider conflict are a mesh of political, socioeconomic and security factors. A political, non-military solution is needed, including, amongst others, security sector reform, democratization, decentralization, human development, reform of the minerals sector and regional economic integration,” said the Enough Project’s Mueller. “The Kampala peace talks should best be subsumed by the UN PSCF. It will also be critical to get Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda together to start negotiations to deal with economic and security issues that have been driving the war.”

Fighting between FARDC and M23 has already displaced half a million people (file photo)

“[UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to the Great Lakes] Mary Robinson must also ensure that the Congolese reform process and national Congolese dialogue are mediated by an impartial facilitator and have civil society directly at the table. If the process is not neutral and inclusive, the reforms will fail,” he added. “Another behind-the-door deal among elites will be just another recipe for failure, likely brewing new dissent and stoking a wholesale resurgence of violence.”

In eastern DRC, however, not everyone is keen on a peaceful solution to the crisis. Kabila has repeatedly done deals with rebels as a way of ending national and local conflicts, and has been criticized for this by oppositionists, civil society and national media. “Give war a chance” has been a popular refrain with many fierce critics of the regime.

Is there any unanimity on the ground?

“We think the government should crush the M23 rebellion,” Thomas d’Aquin Muiti, president of The Civil Society of North Kivu (an association of NGOs working for better governance in the province), told IRIN, although privately, some of his colleagues deplored his statements.

Kabila’s recent pursuit of the military option against the M23 certainly appears to have the support of many ordinary people in Goma. There were jubilant scenes on 15 July when it was learned that FARDC had retaken a hill overlooking Goma from which the rebels had threatened to target the airport. Crowds of men waving leafy branches did victory runs on the outskirts of the town, and rumours that MONUSCO was trying to block a further advance by the army prompted angry demonstrations outside a UN base.

A group of women who had been displaced by the fighting voiced strong support for FARDC when asked by IRIN what they thought of its offensive. “We will be very happy to see our village liberated and we hope the army will do it,” said 44-year-old Fouraha Kanamu to a loud chorus of approval from the other women.

But condemnation of M23 is not unanimous in Goma. Thousands gathered and cheered the rebels after they briefly occupied the city in November 2012 and organized a rally in a stadium. Many of these people were government employees who were hoping the M23 would pay them, but even before the rebel takeover some citizens were quietly expressing support for the movement.

“They can’t be any worse than those in power now,” was the kind of comment heard from some people, who would claim that the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) rebels – a Rwandan-backed movement that occupied eastern Congo during DRC’s second civil war (1998-2003) – had at least provided better policing and road maintenance in Goma.

The M23 makes much of the DRC government’s notorious corruption and incompetence, but has never held any elections, and judging by the electoral record of its predecessor movement, the CNDP (National Congress for the Defence of the People, which won just one seat in the 2011 national elections) would be unlikely to win many votes.

However, M23’s behaviour during the 10 days that it controlled Goma alienated many erstwhile sympathizers. “They plundered government offices, officials’ houses and even a hospital, so we saw they weren’t really interested in better governance,” said one civilian.

so/nl/kr/cb source


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Talking peace for DRC: M23 Kampala talks set to resume

Posted by African Press International on June 22, 2013

The M23 rebellion has displaced hundreds of thousands in North Kivu

KAMPALA,  – Delegates representing the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the rebel M23 are back in Kampala, Uganda, for a fresh round of peace talks, but analysts say that unless both sides are fully committed to the negotiations, a political solution to the crisis in the DRC’s North Kivu Province is unlikely.

The talks, which kicked off in December 2012 under the auspices of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), broke down in April; M23 representatives walked out following a decision by the UN to deploy an intervention brigade to neutralize armed groups in eastern DRC. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations says the 3,069-strong force, comprising troops from Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania, should be fully operational by mid-July. The force has been given a more forceful mandate than any previous military contingent with a UN peacekeeping mission.

“The representatives of both delegations are back here in Kampala. The talks will be resuming any time. We hope there will be commitment by both teams this time round,” Crispus Kiyonga, the chief mediator and Uganda‘s Minister of Defence, told IRIN. “We shall be working towards the signing of the peace agreement. But how soon it will be reached depends on the progress and commitment of both parties. The fact that both parties keep coming and going back shows some commitment.”

On a recent visit to DRC, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and his special envoy to the region, former Irish President Mary Robinson, urged both parties to remain committed to the Kampala-mediated talks.

An estimated 900,000 people are displaced in North Kivu, more than half of them by the M23 rebellion; tens of thousands more have fled across the DRC’s borders with Rwanda and Uganda. Humanitarians continue to flag the issue of civilian protection even as the DRC national army (FARDC) and M23 engage in intermittent battles in and around the provincial capital Goma, where fighting over the past year has displaced more than 100,000.

In May, four days of fighting between the government and the rebels saw thousands flee their homes for overcrowded camps on the outskirts of the city.


Some regional analysts are suspicious of M23’s return to negotiations.

“The M23’s return to the negotiation table should be seen first and foremost as a PR [public relations] manoeuvre. The movement wants to show that it is seeking peace by all means,” said Michel Thill, Great Lakes Region programme manager at Rift Valley Institute (RVI). “Its demands, however, are well beyond what Kinshasa would agree to negotiate with what they consider terrorists – the M23 knows that.

“The tensions are mounting between the M23, the FARDC and the civil population in North Kivu, in the face of repetitive claims by UN senior officials and the Secretary-General himself that the international brigade will be deployed in mid-July,” he added. “The renewed fighting in late May just before Ban Ki-Moon’s visit to Goma proves this.”

Other analysts see it differently: “The return from M23 to the negotiation table is a sign from M23 and its external support they want to solve the crisis politically. M23 does not receive the same support as in November 2012 and is no longer in a position to take Goma or conduct an aggressive war,” said Marc-Andre Lagrange, DRC senior analyst for the think tank International Crisis Group (ICG). “Another question is how strong the M23 really is at the moment. There are rumours that Sultani Makenga [M23’s military leader] is seriously ill and weak… It remains to be seen if the movement stands up to the current pressure.”

Both the rebels and the government say a military solution is not feasible

M23 representatives deny that Makenga is unwell. They also accuse the DRC government of lacking the will to negotiate a peaceful solution to the crisis in North Kivu, and of preparing FARDC and its allies for further clashes in the region.

“We have to seize this opportunity of the international community’s commitment to end this rebellion through dialogue. The military option can’t end the conflict,” Rene Abandi, the head of M23’s Kampala delegation, told IRIN.

In a 13 June letter to Special Envoy Robinson, the rebels accused the government of refusing to negotiate at the Kampala peace talks and of preparing for further conflict in North Kivu, claims government officials have denied.

“Their allegations are baseless,” Jean Charles Okoto Lulakombe, DRC ambassador to Uganda, told IRIN. “Some members of the government delegation are already here, and some are coming. We are determined to end this conflict through dialogue. We believe it is only the talks that can end this conflict, not military [methods]. We can’t continue to allow our people to suffer and die because of this conflict.”

Beyond talks

But analysts agree that it will take more than peace talks – and even peace agreements – to solve the problems in eastern DRC.

“I think a return to Kampala without a genuine commitment from both sides to address the root causes of the conflict, reasons for continuity and failures of past talks is a waste of time and money. It’s simply a peace joke,” said Stephen Oola, a transitional justice and governance analyst at Uganda’s Makerere University’s Refugee Law Project.

“DRC needs more than just peace talks. There is need for a shift in how the state fulfils its obligation to citizens and how local resources are accessed and utilized locally, nationally and internationally,” he added.

“Anyone interested in returning peace to the DRC should focus on strengthening the Congolese government, not undermining it… There must be investment in ensuring that the government in Kinshasa is both legitimate and strong enough to have full control of its vast territory,” said Nicholas Opiyo, a Kampala-based legal and political analyst. “The internal governance framework of the DRC must be re-engineered to be both accommodative of the various interests in the DRC and meaningful to the majority – if not all – Congolese.”

“The solution for peace in the Kivus is not just political or only military. Economic cooperation has to be put in place between the countries of the Great Lakes,” said ICG’s Lagrange. “At the same time, minorities have to be protected and land issues solved. This can be achieved through politics.”

so/kr/rz source http://www.irinnews.og

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Hunger in Uganda: Getting more nutritious food on the table

Posted by African Press International on June 21, 2013

Malnutrition costs millions (file photo)

KAMPALA,  – Malnutrition costs Uganda an estimated US$899 million annually – as much as 5.6 percent of its GDP – according to findings of a new report.

The report, part of a wider paper dubbed The Cost of Hunger in Africa, launched on 18 June in the capital, Kampala, was conducted by the Ugandan government with the support of the African Union Commission, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the UN World Food Programme (WFP). Similar reports are planned for Egypt, Ethiopia and Swaziland.

“Hunger and under-nutrition are both a cause and effect of poverty,” Sory Ouane, WFP’s country director, said at the report’s launch. “Cutting hunger and achieving food and nutrition security in Africa is not only one of the most effective means of reducing vulnerability and enhancing the resilience of national economies, it also produces high returns for social and economic development.”

Using data from 2009, the report estimated that child mortality associated with under-nutrition reduced Uganda’s labour force by 3.8 percent. This represents over 943 million working hours lost due to an absent workforce, costing the country nearly $317 million. In the educational sector, the study estimated that 7 percent of repeated school years in Uganda are associated with stunting, representing 134,000 repetitions and an estimated cost of $9.5 million to the government and families.

The study found that treating diarrhoea, anaemia, respiratory infections and other clinical conditions related to malnutrition cost Uganda $254 million, while losses in productivity reached $201 million in manual sectors like agriculture and $116 million in non-manual activities.

People affected by stunting – which results from poor nutrition in the first five years of life – are more likely to be sickly, to perform poorly at school or drop out, to be less productive at work, and to die early.

“When the child is undernourished, that child’s brain is less likely to develop at healthy rates, and that child is more likely to have cognitive delays,” the authors noted.

One out of every three children in Uganda are stunted, according to the report, while as many as 82 percent of all cases of child under-nutrition and related conditions go untreated. Some 15 percent of all child mortality cases in Uganda are associated with under-nutrition, and 54 percent of the adult population in Uganda suffered from stunting as children.

An estimated 110,220 cases of child mortality associated with child under-nutrition were reported in Uganda from 2004 to 2009.

Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi called for urgent intervention. “The findings provide us with the evidence base for building a case for food security, communication, advocacy and policy discourse on nutrition,” he said at the report’s launch. “We can no longer afford to have high prevalence rates of under-nutrition… [The report] has given the justification for increasing investment in scaling-up nutrition interventions and ensuring the availability of food and good nutrition.”

Urgent action needed

Mbabazi said the findings would be a guide for Uganda’s future nutrition policies to “prevent unnecessary losses of human and economic potential”.

“The study calls for urgent moves from governments in Africa. It encourages countries to set aggressive targets in Africa for the reduction of stunting,” said Carlos Costa, one of the authors of the report. “To have a decisive impact, a comprehensive multi-sectoral policy must be put in place, with strong political commitment and allocation of adequate resources.”

John Kakitahi, a public health and nutritionist specialist at Uganda’s Makerere University, told IRIN that some practical measures to reduce stunting included scaling-up the provision of fortified foods to schoolchildren and introducing fortified products – such as micronutrient powders – to improve food quality at home.

Getting more nutritious food on the table (file photo)

“There is need for increased awareness campaigns on good food nutrition. The government needs to support sectors like agriculture for improving food production and promoting food diversification so that people eat a variety of food,” said Elizabeth Madraa, fortification advisor with the US government’s Strengthening Partnerships, Results in Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING) project.

She also urged the government to boost funding and human resources to support the Uganda Nutrition Action Plan (UNAP), which aims to reduce child malnutrition and stunting and boost exclusive breastfeeding by 2016.

Food shortages bite

Yet parts of the country are currently grappling with food shortages that caused deaths and malnutrition.

Uganda’s first rainy season – traditionally between March and July – has been very heavy in parts of the country, causing crop-destroying floods, while other parts of the country saw little rain. A recently concluded disaster risk and food insecurity assessment undertaken by the government showed that crops, including staples like maize, beans and millet, had failed during the first rains.

In Karuma Village, in the northwestern district of Masindi, farmer Cordildo Maya told IRIN that he had lost his entire crop. “I planted them in early April, but the sun didn’t spare my crops this time,” he said.

“It’s a worrying situation, and we have notified [the] agricultural ministry to advise farmers accordingly. Farmers need to plant quick-maturing plants and make full potential of the second rains,” Musa Ecweru, State Minister of Relief and Disaster Preparedness, told IRIN.

Ecweru urged people to limit the amount of food they sold and to use it to cope with the shortages instead.

In the chronically food insecure northeast, food shortages are affecting school attendance and deaths from hunger have been reported. WFP is distributing relief food in the region.

“We expect to reach an estimated 155,000 people, targeting children, [the] elderly, disable[d] and chronically ill,” said country director Ouane in a recentcommuniqué. “However we have a funding gap of $2 million.”

“Karamoja has only one planting season, so when we miss it, it means hunger,” said Adome Lokwii Kotido, chairman of Karamoja’s Kaabong District.

“The children and parents in the region are starving due to lack of food. The parents are struggling to provide food, but can’t,” Peter Aleper, member of parliament for Karamoja’s Moroto Municipality, told IRIN.

so/ca/kr/rz source


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“Big and important opportunity for reconciliation” Museveni government reinstates Rebel amnesty

Posted by African Press International on June 1, 2013

Photo: Voxcom/IRIN
At least 26,000 members of armed groups, mostly from the LRA, have been granted amnesty (file photo)

GULU,  – Civil society in northern Uganda has welcomed the reinstatement of legislation granting blanket amnesty to members of armed groups who surrender.

Key sections of Uganda’s Amnesty Act were allowed to lapse in May 2012, meaning that members of armed groups, notably the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), no longer automatically escaped prosecution if they willingly abandoned their armed struggle.

Earlier this month, these sections of the act were reinstated and will remain in force for two years. Only top LRA commanders are ineligible for amnesty.

“We will endeavour to make known widely the decision of the government to restore the amnesty and will play our part to encourage any person still involved in armed rebellion to take advantage of the amnesty, which is a gesture of reconciliation and goodwill on the part of the people of Uganda,” said of a press statement by a coalition of civil society organizations in northern Uganda.

The region has yet to recover from decades of conflict.

“Big opportunity”

“Restoring the amnesty law in its totality is a big opportunity for the country to answer prayers for people, particularly in northern Uganda, crying for their person still held in captivity by the Lord’s Resistance [Army] rebels,” noted Stephen Oola, a transitional justice and governance advocate with Makerere University’s Refugee Law Project.

“We hope that it [the amnesty law] will stay to achieve its main objectives of facilitating a peaceful end of conflict and reintegration of rebels back to their communities. This therefore demands for all actors to engage in credible solutions to peacefully end the LRA conflict,” he said.

“I have been living in fear knowing that somebody from this village would take me to court because you know when you are in the LRA doing bad things is hard to avoid.”

Janet Awor, who abandoned the LRA in 2012 and returned to her village of Awor, in northern Uganda, said: “I have been living in fear knowing that somebody from this village would take me to court because you know when you are in the LRA doing bad things is hard to avoid.”

She continued, “Now I need to go and check if my certificate is ready at the amnesty office in Gulu, because I had applied for it at the office of the Amnesty Commission upon my arrival in Kampala.”

The act has granted blanket amnesty to more than 26,000 members of armed groups, mostly from the LRA, since it came into force in 2000.

Uneven application?

In Uganda, former LRA mid-level commander Thomas Kwoyelo is being triedfor war crimes in the first case of its kind before the High Court’s International Crime Division.

The trial has been viewed by some analysts as a case of selective justice; former high-ranking LRA commanders, such as Brig Kenneth Banya and Brig Sam Kolo Otto, have all received amnesty, according to Human Rights Watch.

Another LRA leader, Caesar Acellam Otto, who was captured by the Ugandan army in the Central Africa Republic in May 2012, has also not benefited from the amnesty.

Accelam’s wife, Nightly Akot, who was captured alongside him said: “Let him be [set] free because he is no different from other senior LRA commanders enjoying the amnesty.”

ca/aw/am/rz source

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Nakivale is home to 68,000 refugees and 35,000 Ugandans – piloting mobile courts for refugees

Posted by African Press International on April 25, 2013

Nakivale is home to 68,000 refugees and 35,000 Ugandans (file photo)

KAMPALA,  – Uganda’s government and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have launched a pilot mobile court system to improve access to justice for victims of crimes in Nakivale, the country’s oldest and largest refugee settlement.

The magistrate’s court, whose first session began on 15 April, will hear cases of robbery, land disputes, child rape, sexual and gender-based violence, attempted murder, and murder. The project – a collaboration of the Uganda government, UNHCR, Makerere University‘s Refugee Law Project (RLP) and the Uganda Human Rights Council – aims to benefit some 68,000 refugees and 35,000 Ugandan nationals in the settlement.

“With the nearest law court currently 50km away in Kabingo, Isingiro, access to justice has been a real problem for refugees and locals alike. As a result many fail to report crimes and are forced to wait for long periods before their cases are heard in court,” said a UNHCR briefing on the programme.

The mobile court will hold three sessions a year. Each session will last 15 to 30 days and hear up to 30 cases. Officials hope to extend the project to other refugee settlements in Uganda to enable more refugees to access speedier justice.

“Most of the courts are far away from the settlements, and refugee complainants faced challenges of transportation for themselves and witnesses,” Charity Ahumuza, programme manager for access to justice at RLP, told IRIN. “With the courts brought to them, the cost of seeking justice is reduced. The courts will also reduce the backlog of cases that exist of cases that arise in the settlements.”

“Refugees have welcomed this initiative since it is about bringing justice closer to them,” John Kilowok, UNHCR Protection Officer in Uganda, told IRIN.

Operational challenges

Experts say the project could face a number of operational challenges, including a need for funding and a shortage of trained court interpreters. Uganda has over 165,000 refugees from the Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia and South Sudan.

“The settlements are far away, and distance in accessing the court is likely to become a challenge. Language, too, will be a problem. The service providers through UNHCR are conducting training for interpreters to help in this issue,” said RLP’s Ahumuza. “The sustainability of the courts, I believe, will depend on availability of finances. However, the judiciary continues to face financial constraints.”

Angelo Izama, a Ugandan fellow at the Open Society Institute, says the shortage of justice in the refugee settlements is a reflection of poor access to justice across the country, a situation that needs to be addressed.

“Improving the delivery of justice helps tremendously given that, ordinarily, the severe case backlog makes matters worse for nationals – let alone foreigners. The real crisis now is not providing refugees and nationals in western Ugandan fast relief but filling the many vacancies in the judiciary so that, nationally, justice is expedited,” he said. “While justice processes improved on our side can help communities – both Ugandan and foreign – live better governed lives, the ultimate investment would be in improving governance across the border.”

“There is need for a holistic approach to look at the refugee issues in Uganda. We have to look at policy, immigration and defence lawyers for fair trials. Will the suspects have access to defence lawyers, or will they be accorded with lawyers to defend them in court?” asked Nicholas Opiyo, a constitutional and human rights lawyer in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. “Sustainability is a very crucial element in this court… If they don’t put good and proper systems to support this court, it will be a waste of time and money.”

so/kr/rz source


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Nodding syndrome – forces hunt for cure

Posted by African Press International on November 5, 2012

The syndrome has so far only been diagnosed in children and adolescents (file photo)

KAMPALA,  – Their conditions improving, nearly all of the children admitted to health centres for nodding syndrome have now been released, according to Uganda’s Ministry of Health; less severely affected patients have also started treatment.
Even as health officials bring the symptoms under control, the cause of the syndrome remains unknown, which means all of Uganda’s diagnosed patients will have to remain on treatment for long periods. And gaps in the health system – highlighted by a recent two-day strike at an affected health facility – have raised questions about the government’s ability to provide consistent care.
The syndrome, so far only diagnosed in children and adolescents, is marked by episodes of involuntary nodding, usually triggered by food or cold. It has caused reduced brain function, including loss of speech in some patients, as well as the withering of arms and legs.
Diagnosed patients have been receiving anti-epileptic medication to control the seizures, along with nutritional supplements, including vitamin B complex.
Of the 2,775 identified cases, 321 were severe enough to require hospitalization, according to Bernard Opar, the health ministry’s co-coordinator for nodding syndrome. He said many of those children had been suffering from the syndrome for years and were bedridden and suffering from severe wasting. All but a handful of those patients have now been discharged.
“You can see that there is some success,” he said. “You can see that their cognitive functions are coming back.” Reports showed that 15 patients have been able to reenrol in school, he added.
The ministry is sending teams of physiotherapists and speech therapists to affected areas to help patients regain motor and speech skills as their conditions improve.
Hunt for a cure
The success in controlling the syndrome’s symptoms has not halted the search for a cause and possible cure.
Health officials suspect the syndrome might be linked to onchocerciasis, or river blindness, a parasitic disease transmitted by black flies. Opar said have officials confirmed that the government will begin to spray black fly breeding sites within the next two weeks. They will also do a second-round distribution of onchocerciasis treatment in endemic areas next month.
Researchers also now have access to the brain tissue of a nodding syndrome patient, who died of sepsis after his bedsores became infected. It is the first time the family of a deceased patient has allowed a post-mortem examination.
Opar said the examination process will likely take months and the results may not be definitive, which means the ministry’s primary goal remains “managing the symptoms and stopping further deterioration of the patients”. He said the country continues to requisition anti-epileptic medication and is prepared to keep patients on it until they have been seizure-free for at least two years.
Health system shortcomings
The monitoring of patients presents a challenge. Nearly 40 percent of public health positions in the country remain vacant, and among filled positions there is frequent absenteeism.
In late October, in northern Uganda’s Pader District, 16 health workers – all of whom had been trained to handle nodding patients – went on a sit-down strike over having gone unpaid since September. Pader is one of the most heavily affected of six northern districts reported to have cases of nodding syndrome. More than 1,000 patients access treatment at the clinic, and many had been scheduled to come for check-ups or medication on the days of the strike, according to Alfred Akena, the district chairperson.

“They closed the outreach programme on days when it was meant for patients to receive drugs,” he said. Akena and other district leaders were able to convince the workers to reopen the programme after two days.

  • Misinformation
    The Ministry of Health is also contending with widespread misinformation about the disease.

Earlier this month, local media reported cases of nodding syndrome at a primary school in the southwestern Masaka District. Education officer Joseph Lutaaya said nine girls at the school reported uncontrolled shaking in their hands. They were sent to a local hospital for treatment.
“The children have been affected by unknown things. They are shaking all over,” he said.
They did not display any of the accepted signs of nodding syndrome, but Lutaaya said people in the region were not familiar with the syndrome’s symptoms, which may have prompted local media to report an outbreak.
“People start saying, ‘This is nodding’ when they see someone having an epileptic seizure or other kinds of convulsions,” Opar said.
While it is unlikely Masaka is dealing with nodding syndrome, Opar said the ministry would continue to send teams to investigate possible outbreaks that are reported.
“The government of Uganda is committed to providing whatever it takes. If it has to, it will beg and make sure there is enough money,” he added.



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Funding, health system constraints impede Marburg control in Uganda

Posted by African Press International on November 1, 2012

Money is needed to build isolation wards and protective gear (file photo)

KAMPALA,  – Uganda‘s Ministry of Health is facing serious financial and health system constraints as it battles to contain an outbreak of Marburg haemorrhagic fever that has killed eight people in the country’s southwest.

According to the Uganda Virus Research Institute, as of 27 October, nine patients – five in the southwestern district of Kabale, two in the western district of Ibanda, and two in the capital, Kampala – had tested positive for the highly infectious viral fever.

Seven student nurses who attended to a Marburg patient at Ibanda Hospital, since deceased, have been quarantined for at least 21 days. A total of 436 people who have been in contact with Marbug patients have been listed for close observation in the districts of Kabale (where the outbreak was first detected on 19 October), Ibanda, Mbarara, Rukungiri, Kabarole and Kampala.

From the same family as the Ebola virus, Marburg causes severe headaches and malaise, followed by bleeding from multiple orifices. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the fatality rate for Marburg is between 23 and 90 percent. The virus, for which there is no vaccine or specific treatment, is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids or tissues of infected people.


The health ministry has drawn up a 1.85 billion Uganda shilling (about US$740,000) supplementary budget to set up temporary isolation facilities and wards, purchase drugs and protective gear, pay health workers allowances, and pay for funerals, which are being handled by health officials.

“We are constrained. We continue to lobby for support, not only financial but human resources, to address the situation,” Christine Ondoa, Uganda’s health minister, told IRIN. “We have approached the treasury for a supplementary budget for a faster response to the outbreak. We hope to get a positive response. We appeal to partners to come in.”

“We urge the treasury to release supplementary funds to the health ministry to help reduce the risks,” said Joaquim Saweka, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) country representative for Uganda. “The funds will help the ministry to implement its intervention plans. If the funds are not allocated, their efforts will be worthless.”

On 31 October, Ugandan legislators called for the suspensions of public gatherings, celebrations and meetings in Marburg-affected districts.

On 29 October, the health ministry dispatched a team of experts to the southwestern region to help boost local health workers’ efforts to contain the spread of the disease. It has also set up a field diagnostic laboratory at Kabale Referral Hospital and established temporary isolation facilities and wards in Mbarara, Ibanda, Kabarole, Rukungiri and Ibanda to accommodate suspected and confirmed cases.

But a severe shortage of trained health workers has undermined efforts to contain the disease; just 63 percent health worker positions in the country’s public health sector are filled.

“The health workers are overwhelmed and stretched with the outbreak. We are struggling to contain it. The facilities are overstretched,” Patrick Tusiime, the Kabale District Health Officer, told IRIN.

Matters have been further complicated by an ongoing strike by an estimated 150 health workers at Mbarara Referral Hospital – the largest referral facility in the region – who walked out on 19 October over unpaid salaries.

Looking for a cause

Ruth Aceng, the director general of health services, says the government has embarked on studies to establish the causes of the frequent haemorrhagic fever outbreaks in the country.

“We call upon the public to remain as calm as possible; measures are being undertaken to control the situation,” Aceng told reporters on 29 October. “We are doing surveillance and studies on birds, bats and monkeys. We want to know the causes of these frequent epidemics.”

Marburg was last reported in Uganda in 2008. The outbreak comes less than a month after the country was declared Ebola-free, after an outbreak in the western district of Kibaale in July killed some 17 people. The health ministry is also working closely with authorities in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo to ensure an ongoing Ebola outbreak in the norteastern province of Orientale does not cross over into Uganda.




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