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IFC Helps Bank of Africa Côte d’Ivoire Support Trade, Small Business Growth

Posted by African Press International on December 17, 2013

ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire, December 17, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ – IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, has committed a $2 million trade finance guarantee to Bank of Africa Côte d’Ivoire and signed an agreement to provide the bank with advisory services to help it increase lending to smaller businesses in the country.

IFC’s support for BOACI will help hundreds of the bank’s small business clients gain financing to engage in cross-border trade, or to take loans to buy equipment or material for expansion. IFC’s advisory support program aims to help BOACI grow its portfolio of small business loans by 20 percent by 2016.

Lala Moulaye, Director General of the BOACI, said, “The trade finance guarantee from IFC will allow us to better support Côte d’Ivoire’s smaller importers and exporters. This partnership will help BOACI finance smaller businesses, grow its SME portfolio, and enhance its presence in international markets.”

Peer Stein, IFC Access to Finance Advisory Director, said, “IFC’s partnership with BOACI will help strengthen Côte d’Ivoire’s financial infrastructure and its small business sector, which plays a critical role in job creation and the health of the country’s economy. IFC is committed to Côte d’Ivoire’s long-term growth and our investments in the country are expected to total $250 million this fiscal year.”

IFC’s one-year advisory support program is specifically designed to help BOACI improve its market knowledge of the SME sector, roll out an SME strategy, and improve its risk management framework. IFC will also train about sixty BOACI staff on risk management and working with SMEs.

The $2 million trade finance facility, provided by IFC’s Global Trade Finance Program, will allow BOACI to establish working partnerships with a number of major international and regional confirming banks in the program, strengthening regional trade.

Although Côte d’Ivoire is one of the strongest and most diversified economies in West Africa, its smaller businesses still struggle to obtain the financing and support they need to expand or take on more employees.

IFC’s partnership with BOACI is part of its broader strategy to help Côte d’Ivoire’s smaller businesses more easily obtain financing and access training opportunities. IFC is also supporting growth in Côte d’Ivoire’s power, tourism, and agribusiness sectors and, with the World Bank, is advising the country on investment climate reforms.

 

SOURCE

International Finance Corporation (IFC) – The World Bank

 

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Niamey has been working to bolster its security strategy – Mali’s 2012 crisis put its neighbours on the alert

Posted by African Press International on September 15, 2013

Mali’s 2012 crisis put its neighbours on the alert

NIAMEY, – The takeover of northern Mali by Islamist rebels after a 2012 coup, and the subsequent French-led intervention, have widened fears of a spill-over of insurgency in the region. Niger, which has socio-political problems comparable to those of Mali, is battling to secure its territory from militants still operating in Sahel’s remote wilderness.

Insecurity is an ever-present threat. The country suffered twin attacks on 23 May, when assailants struck a military base and a French-run uranium mine in the north, killing dozens.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a prominent and long-time Sahel jihadist who had claimed responsibility for the Algerian gas plant attack in January, said his fighters were behind the strikes. The Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which had operated in northern Mali before being dislodged by the French military, also claimed responsibility.

Bolstering security

Niamey has been working to bolster its security strategy.

In October 2012, it launched a five-year US$2.5 billion plan to secure and develop its northern region, whose residents, especially the Tuareg, say they have been marginalized. As in neighbouring Mali, the Tuareg in northern Niger have carried out a series of rebellions demanding autonomy, social and political inclusion, and the development of their homeland.

The country has also introduced legal reforms, enacting anti-terrorism legislation, setting up a special team of lawyers and security officers to work with the government on terrorism matters, upgrading military hardware, and cooperating with France and the US on security. US drones began operating in Niger in December 2012. Nigerien troops are also being trained by their American and French counterparts.

“Niger has shown not only political commitment, but a certain level of coherence in dealing with the threat of terrorism,” David Zounmenou, senior researcher on West Africa at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), told IRIN.

Niger, an impoverished Sahel nation prone to droughts and food scarcity, also faces additional threats from Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria to the south and from militias in the north suspected to be operating in southern Libya, analysts say.

Politically, Niger has worked to improve the inclusion of its Tuareg population to end the cycles of insurgency.

Failed unity coalition

During Niger’s 3 August independence day celebration, President Issoufou Mahamadou called for the formation of a national unity government, part of a political cohesion plan he sees as crucial to dealing with the country’s security threats. However, a subsequent cabinet shake-up has cost his ruling coalition the support of its main ally, who quit in protest of the seats it was allocated in the new government set-up.

“In terms of security plans, it certainly weakens the national consensus that has prevailed thus far in Niger. Institutional consensus has been the backbone of the response mechanism to offset the spill-over of the insurgency in Mali and to manage successive attacks,” said Zounmenou.

But West Africa political analyst Kamissa Camara says the political disagreements have little bearing on Niger’s security worries.

“The risk is that [expenditure] on social assistance programmes could increasingly be adjusted depending on security concerns, and it is doubtful that this will be to the benefit of the Nigerien population as a whole.”

“The political fall-out is more indicative of the superficial political arrangements made before the second round of the 2011 presidential elections and the ensuing struggle for influence between two complementary but oxymoronic political figures,” Camara said, referring to the president and Hama Amadou, the leader of his coalition’s main ally.

Other threats

In addition to its security worries, Mahamdou’s government, which came to power in 2011 after a brief period of instability, is struggling to better the lives of citizens, the bulk of whom are living in extreme poverty. The country sits at the bottom of the UN Human Development Index.

Although the government is making improvements in sectors such as health, education and agriculture, some 85 percent of Nigeriens survive on less than US$2 a day. Around 2.9 million people currently face food shortages.

Natural disasters and recurrent food shortages are greater threats to many Nigeriens than security fears, say analysts. The country recently appealed for help following devastation by floods that have killed two dozen people and left some 75,000 others homeless.

Niger has the world’s largest uranium reserves, but receipts from uranium mining have made little impact on the lives of many Nigeriens. And while the country began pumping its first oil in early 2011, it was later was forced to cut back its budget due to poor revenue. The shortfalls could impact Niger’s security budget.

“An intense focus on security could affect Niger’s budget spending on other strategic sectors. The defence budget more than doubled in 2012, although it’s still behind the health and education expenditure,” said Jean-Hervé Jezequel, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.

“The risk is that [expenditure] on social assistance programmes could increasingly be adjusted depending on security concerns, and it is doubtful that this will be to the benefit of the Nigerien population as a whole,” Jezequel told IRIN.

Counterproductive?

When Islamist rebels began advancing on Mali’s capital in January this year, Niger supported the French intervention. It has also sent some 900 soldiers as part of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali. However, there are concerns that its stance in the Mali crisis and its security cooperation with Western countries could stoke extremist militia threats.

“As Islam is dominant in our country, it is easy for these forces of evil to infiltrate Nigerien youths,” noted Zarami Abba Kiari, the ruling party’s deputy spokesman, who argued that the national unity government could forestall such risks.

Insurgent groups have used Niger for their cross-border activities in Mali, Nigeria and Libya, and with light government presence in certain regions of Niger, the country risks becoming a safe haven and rear base for militant groups targeting other countries, like Chad and Algeria, that have largely expelled these groups from their territories, ISS reckons.

“The structural complexities of Niger, illustrated by its vast desert, its arid territory, and the borders it shares with Algeria, Libya and Chad, are certainly contributing factors to these [security] threats,” Camara told IRIN.

Weak governance, underdevelopment and poverty have created a breeding ground for militancy in West Africa and the Sahel, academics argue.

“There is need for concrete response to [Niger’s] socio-economic problems. Young people are looking for jobs, effective health care, education… If they are not satisfied, this can provide them with a reason to join jihadist movements,” said ISS’s Zounmenou.

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

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Cholera resurgent – The need to conduct a vaccination campaign

Posted by African Press International on August 17, 2013

West African cholera cases highest in Guinea-Bissau

DAKAR,  – More than 700 people have been sickened by cholera in Guinea-Bissau, the highest number of cases so far this year in West Africa, which has nonetheless seen a significant drop in cases this year compared to 2012.

Isolated health centres, insufficient medical personnel and detrimental traditional beliefs have contributed to the prevalence, explained Inàcio Alvarenga, an epidemiologist with World Health Organization (WHO).

Guinea-Bissau’s southern Tombali region is the worst hit, with 225 cases and 21 deaths as of late July, said Nicolau Almeida, a health ministry director.

Tombali is the poorest region [in the country] in terms of human resources. There is only one nurse per health centre. The health system cannot properly cater for patients. This is in addition to superstitions by people who don’t believe the scientific explanation of cholera,” Alvarenga told IRIN.

Continuing epidemic

As of 22 July – when the latest data was available – the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported 742 cases in Guinea-Bissau, 416 in Niger and 368 in Sierra Leone. The outbreak in Guinea-Bissau is a continuation of the 2012 epidemic, when 3,359 people contracted cholera.

“To confirm a new epidemic, the 2012 outbreak should have been declared over” by demonstrating the absence of vibrio cholera in diarrhoea, said Alvarenga.

“For reasons I’m not aware of, the government did not test cases in the first weeks of the year. These cases did not disappear but got spread around,” he continued. “I don’t think we will hit the 2008 level [when 14,204 people were infected and 225 killed], but the disease risks will be lingering for several months like in 1996-1998.”

Most cases have so far been reported in Catungo and Mato Foroba localities in the country’s south. “These are rice-growing areas where vibrio cholera can easily reproduce,” Alvarenga said.

Other cases have been reported in Catio area and in Quinara region – all in the south. Almeida said that the cases in Catio town indicated that the disease was spreading. Two cases have been confirmed in the capital, Bissau, said hospital sources.

“Residents of the city’s old town district are very concerned,” Alvarenga said. The water and electricity company has been unable to supply water to the capital in the past weeks due to financial difficulties, although it recently resumed partial service. “People are seeking all possible means to get water. It’s not rare to see water transporters on the streets.”

Need for medical personnel, drugs

Almeida, from the health ministry, said the government’s priority was to contain the disease in Tombali, where a medical team – comprising an epidemiologist, two doctors, two nurses and a community outreach specialist – has been sent.

“We, however, need to boost the medical team with three more nurses and five doctors to better guide the health sector in the region. We need to set up different teams in the different areas. There is also a huge requirement for medicines,” he said.

In neighbouring Guinea, cholera has infected 146 people and killed 10 since March, according to aid group Action Contre la Faim (ACF). In Sierra Leone, where around 300 died of cholera in 2012, 369 people have been infected so far this year, mainly in Kambia area, near the border with Guinea.

“Fish is often a factor of cholera infection in this region,” said Jérôme Pfaffmann, a health expert with UNICEF; fishermen criss-cross between the islets off the Guinean coast. The movement of people across the borders of Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone are also factors in transmission, said ACF’s Jainil Didaraly.

Guinea is conducting a vaccination campaign targeting 4,679 people.

Africa – and West Africa in particular – is the only part of the world wherecholera cases are steadily increasing.

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

 

 

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Parliamentary polls in Togo. The ruling party’s victory could stifle reforms, analysts warn

Posted by African Press International on August 15, 2013

Parliamentary polls in Togo. The ruling party’s victory could stifle reforms, analysts warn

LOME,  – Togo’s July legislative polls extended the dominance of President Faure Gnassingbé’s party, which has been in power since 1967, despite opposition claims of malpractice. These results could narrow the chances for reforms and presage the results of the 2015 presidential election, analysts say.

The ruling Union for the Republic (UNIR) party broadened its parliamentary majority, winning 62 of 91 seats in the 25 July vote, which had been repeatedly postponed. The often divided opposition cried foul, but the constitutional court confirmed the outcome.

The small West African country has seen persistent protests since Gnassingbé’s 2010 re-election – which the opposition also said was flawed – and an increase in political violence. Last year, security forces clamped down on a series of opposition demonstrations.

“The ruling party’s majority win re-emphasizes, one time too many, the overwhelming grip of the Gnassingbé family in Togo,” said Kamissa Camara, a West Africa political analyst.

The Gnassingbé family has “consolidated power through manipulation, corruption schemes, terror, etc… and have managed to control key institutions, which should in practice be totally independent from the state. This has created a totally biased and unfair democratic playing field, which translates into the way the country is run,” Camara told IRN.

Opposition fears

Gnassingbé came to power in 2005 following the death of his father, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, who had ruled Togo for 38 years. The army-backed succession sparked deadly unrest and international condemnation that forced him to step down and call elections, which he then won.

An ensuing political tension necessitated dialogue between the opposition and the ruling party, which resulted in a broad political accord that included a consultative platform for political and other reforms as well as a truth commission over the poll violence and other past atrocities. Most of the truth commission’s recommendations have not yet been implemented.

“The ruling party’s victory is merely a sign of continuity. I don’t believe it adds anything to the country’s democracy. There is no progress for Togo’s democracy, and the election disputes only add to the country’s fragility,” said Aimé Tchamie, Amnesty International’s director in Togo.

Opposition coalition Let’s Save Togo (‘Collectif Sauvons le Togo’ – CST), which won 19 seats in last month’s elections, and other groups led protests in 2012 to press for reforms, key among them a presidential term limit as well as electoral and other institutional changes.

Days to the July elections, the opposition and the government reached a deal that included opposition representation in the electoral body, party funding and the release of detained opposition members, but the accord came too late to have a meaningful effect on the opposition’s electoral chances.

“The July legislative elections basically shattered all hopes for serious constitutional and institutional reforms to take place within the short-to-medium terms.”

“The strategy of going for elections first and later undertak[ing] constitutional and institutional reforms, as called for in the 2006 political agreement, leads one to believe that the government is taking advantage of [the] parliamentary majority to block reforms it doesn’t like,” said Magloire Kuami Kuakuvi, a Togolese academic and human rights specialist.

“Redrawing the voting zones is the minimum of reforms before legislative polls. It is ironic that with just 70,000 votes, UNIR won 62 seats against 25 taken by the CST and Arc-en-ciel [another opposition group] combined,” Kuakuvi explained.

Amnesty International’s Tchamie noted that Lomé, the capital city, is home to a fifth of the country’s six million people and has 10 deputies while certain upcountry constituencies with 50,000 people have three members of parliament.

“With 62 [ruling party] members, it will be difficult to adopt constitutional reforms because the president will want to consolidate power with this majority. That is what is likely,” Michel Goeh-Akué, a lecturer at the University of Lomé, told IRIN.

Togo has no presidential term limits and the president is elected in a single round of voting with no run-off – a provision that makes it possible to be elected even without garnering the majority.

“A series of constitutional and institutional reforms are indeed needed for Togo to join the cohort of democratic states,” Camara said. “The July legislative elections basically shattered all hopes for serious constitutional and institutional reforms to take place within the short-to-medium terms.”

She argued that Gnassingbé remains the strongest candidate for the 2015 presidential race. “It will be quasi-impossible for another candidate to be elected to the presidency. Indeed, Faure has not shown any indication that he would be willing to step down and let the elections take place without him.”

Rights abuses

Human rights groups and other observers have also denounced violations of freedoms such as arbitrary arrests, widespread torture, and restrictions on political gatherings and the right to free expression.

“UNIR’s parliamentary majority is not very reassuring for press freedom in Togo. This government was repressive and voted laws that curbed liberties,” said Maxime Domégn, the secretary general of Togo’s independent journalists’ union, citing the raiding and closure of a private radio station on 25 July.

Tchamie said: “We remain concerned about human rights in Togo. Many opposition leaders are still in detention.”

The analysts called for a stronger engagement by the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) in Togo to help implement reforms agreed in 2006.

“We are worried that this [political] tension may persist up to the 2015 elections. International actors should not wait up to 2014 to help start a political dialogue [between the opposition and the ruling party],” said Tchamie.

“For democratic development and progress to occur, actors need to be renewed on a regular basis. The Togolese regime is a dilapidated one. I believe the ECOWAS involvement in the Togolese decade-long political crisis has been so far very timid and could certainly become more forceful,” Camara noted.

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

 

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Criminal groups have benefited from globalization – Embedding crime experts into UN field operations?

Posted by African Press International on August 14, 2013

Nigerian police in the UN mission to Haiti assist in quelling a student protest in Port au Prince in 2009

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Criminal groups have benefited from globalization
  • Overlap of UN peace operations and crime-affected regions
  • Organized crime can corrupt governments
  • Difficult for UNPOL to recruit effective crime-fighters

NEW YORK,  – The globalization of organized crime poses a growing threat to fragile states that lack the ability to resist it, putting pressure on the UN to find solutions.

A recently-released report entitled The Elephant in the Room, part of the New York-based International Peace Institute’s Peace Without Crime series, argues that “crime has become a serious threat in almost every theater where the UN has peace operations.” The authors of the report (Walter Kemp, Mark Shaw and Arthur Boutellis) argue that organized crime is eroding the UN’s attempts to bring about peace and stability in the many countries in which it has missions and yet these missions contain very few references to crime.

Criminal groups are one of the biggest beneficiaries of globalization, says Kemp, director for Europe and Central Asia at the IPI. “Over the last 20 years organized crime has gone global. It has reached macro-economic proportions.” Globalization has seen the growth in traffic around the world of just about everything – including contraband, says Kemp. Whereas organized crime was once regarded as a problem pertaining to the developed world, and confined mostly to cities, it has in the last few years rapidly spread its tentacles across the globe, finding new routes and penetrating vulnerable West African states like Guinea Bissau and Mali. “Much of the instability in West Africa is due to the impact of drug-trafficking from Latin America to Europe,” argue the authors.

As contraband is trafficked from one corner of the globe to the other, often moving through several transit countries, national – and even regional – crackdowns may simply shift the problem onto adjacent, potentially more vulnerable countries. Yet should the UN’s peacekeeping forces be tasked with fighting organized crime?

The authors concede that other parts of the UN may be better suited to dealing with the challenge but argue that given that “organized crime is threatening the stability, development and justice that peacekeepers are trying to establish,” peacekeeping forces cannot turn a blind eye.

While organized crime and peace operations “had almost nothing to do with each other” 50 years ago, “at the beginning of the 21st century the trajectories have converged,” they say. As peacekeeping has seen a greater integration between civilian and military aspects, and is as much about building up institutions and states as restoring the rule of law, organized crime has evolved too, “from a localized problem into a pervasive, strategic threat to governments, societies and economies”.

The authors show an overlap of UN peace operations and major crime-affected regions – Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Iraq, Kosovo and Timor-Leste to name a few – and conclude this is because “conflict affected and fragile regions – precisely the places where the UN is most needed – are especially vulnerable to transnational organized crime and provide favorable conditions for its development.”

In the first report in the series, Identifying the Spoilers, they spell out how peacekeepers and other players can identify signs of organized crime in the countries in which they operate. Elephant in the Room, the second report, shows how organized crime has had a destabilizing impact on the political economy of three nations – Guinea-Bissau, Haiti and Kosovo – and finds a “mismatch between the seriousness of the threat posed by organized crime and the UN’s ability to tackle it”.

They argue the limitations of a purely militarist approach – as when the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) countered the gang violence in Haiti. Despite their successes, they have not been able to halt the organized crime networks that still operate in and beyond Haiti’s borders. The third report, due out soon, looks at what the UN and international players can do at a systemic level to address the problem. Up to now, say the authors, “there is not much enthusiasm for the UN to tackle organized crime.”

Crime-and-instability nexus

Crucial to their argument is the notion that there is a “nexus between crime and instability” and that when transnational organized crime funds the activities and thus furthers the political aims of insurgents or rebels or corrupts governments at the highest level, the fall-out can be huge. This occurred in Guinea Bissau, for example, when the president, João Bernardo Vieira, was assassinated in 2009 in alleged drug-related rivalry between political and military officials.

“Good police work is of little use when the courts do not convict or where prisoners are released, and building capacity among corrupt officials can have unintended consequences.”

While the quantities of cocaine being trafficked through Guinea-Bissau are relatively small (an estimated 25 tons per year), at around 25 percent of the country’s GNP this is still high enough to corrupt high-level officials and undermine the tiny economy. Other contraband passing through other West African countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, DRC, and Cote d’Ivoire – and possibility posing a bigger problem in future – include fuel, timber, people, minerals, diamonds and ivory.

Terrorism versus crime

Shaw, director of Communities, Crime and Conflicts at STATT Consulting, says the focus on the threat posed by terrorism over the past decade has overshadowed the growth of crime networks. “The attention has been on the war in Iran and Afghanistan,” he says. Even the problem of opium-trafficking in the latter country has been viewed through the prism of the war. But the alarming nexus of organized crime, insurgency and terrorism in Mali has alerted the world to the fact that organized crime can step into the political vacuum in societies in upheaval.

Libya, warns Shaw, may become a haven for organized crime. “There are lots of unemployed young men, established militia and weapons, and the country is at the crossroads of a number of trafficking routes,” he says.

Crime-instability link overstated?

Ted Leggett, a research officer with the UN Office for Drugs and Crime, acknowledges a frequent overlap between organized crime and political instability but believes the connection can be overstated at times. It is important, he says, to make the distinction between the problem of local strongmen and the problem of transnational trafficking. Insurgents or rebels may profit from transnational trafficking – for example the Taliban’s taxing of opium production and trafficking in Afghanistan (earning them US$125 million annually), or militias’ involvement in trafficking minerals in DRC, to advance their wars – but they rarely take charge of the trafficking themselves. “Rather, they provide protection to transnational traffickers, specialists who pay them to operate in the areas that they control. It’s like the relationship between a state and the corporations headquartered within it. The US government does not export Ford autos, but it does tax Ford,” he says.

On the Elephant in the Room’s broader argument, Leggett says: “The idea that peacekeeping missions should help the host states build their capacity to deal with transnational organized crime is a good one but any such intervention would face serious challenges.” It is difficult, he says, for UN Police to recruit the kind of specialized staff required. “Most police peacekeepers are patrol officers from other developing countries” with limited skills and resources. Often, they can’t speak the local language. Given that “dealing with transnational organized crime requires a sophisticated understanding of the local context”, this is highly problematic. Another problem, says Leggett, and as the authors of the report note, is that the security forces are themselves often implicated in trafficking.

He adds: “Good police work is of little use when the courts do not convict or where prisoners are released, and building capacity among corrupt officials can have unintended consequences.”

Embedding crime experts into UN field operations?

The IPI report authors conclude with recommendations on how peace operations can tackle organized crime more effectively. As Shaw notes, “the complexities of illicit trafficking require much more than a law enforcement response.” Pooling information and utilizing regional offices, for example the UN Office for West Africa in Dakar, is key, as is embedding crime experts into UN field operations. Peacekeepers are well-placed to collect information, which must be managed and analysed at a higher level. They may baulk at the notion of intelligence gathering, “(but) as the UN increasingly becomes a target for terrorist attacks, and as UN operations become more exposed to complex situations involving armed groups and criminal networks, there is a growing realization and acceptance that peace operations need to have access to intelligence,” they say.

The development approach

Meanwhile, some argue that the best way vulnerable states – particularly those in conflict and post-conflict situations – can be protected from transnational organized crime is by taking a development approach: in other words, strengthening their economic, civic and government structures.

Graeme Simpson, director of Interpeace USA, which seeks to build social and political cohesion in post-conflict societies, argues that neither law enforcement approaches, nor the peacekeepers, can effectively combat transnational organized crime. “These approaches are addressing the symptoms but not the underlying deficiencies that make countries vulnerable to organized crime,” he says. “Drug cartels and drug-based economies are vibrant and they hold and employ huge numbers of people. Unless we create alternative sustainable economies and legitimate polities in these communities we won’t be able to offer alternative and viable ways for people to survive,” he adds.

pg/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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On guard: Cholera down but officials vigilant

Posted by African Press International on July 28, 2013

DAKAR,  – Some 1,700 people in West Africa have contracted cholera since mid-June, a significant decline compared to the same seven-week period in 2012 when 11,834 were affected.

Overall, 50,439 people contracted cholera in West and Central Africa in 2012, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Sierra Leone and Guinea saw 30,000 people infected and 400 deaths.

This year, most of the cases are in Guinea Bissau (652), Sierra Leone (367) and Niger (354).

“It seems we are winning the fight thus far, but we must strictly monitor the West African coastal countries [Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone] since they were so affected by cholera last year,” said François Bellet, West Africa cholera focal point for UNICEF.

Cholera often follows two-year cycles, with immunity building following an epidemic.

In Guinea-Bissau between 11 March and 8 July, 158 cases were confirmed and 18 people died of cholera. Despite fatality rates of 11 percent, Guinea’s health minister declared on 11 July “there is no scientific evidence about a cholera outbreak.”

In Mali, where no new cases have been reported in the past five weeks, the government and aid agencies launched aggressive prevention actions when cholera broke out across the border in Niger.

Guinean health officials have worked with Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) and UNICEF to vaccinate 3,740 people in the Mènyingbé Islands, near Conakry, to prevent cholera from spreading. Last year MSF launched the vaccine in Guinea for the first time. Guinea has registered 115 cases and seven deaths since 19 March.

The cholera caseload may be higher than reported, said Bellet. “Some deaths are not reported in order to avoid high fatality rates or for political reasons. But if they’re not identified, we can’t provide adequate response,” he told IRIN.

Further, the caseload usually peaks towards the end of the rainy season (in September) so health workers must remain alert, said Bruno Ngandu Kazadi, information focal point for cholera for the West Africa office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). “If rains are as strong as in 2012, we risk similar outbreak spikes,” he said.

Correctly diagnosing transmission contexts, reinforcing risk reduction strategies in the most affected zones, national planning, and promoting an intersectoral approach are also essential for prevention and treatment, say aid agencies and health officials.

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

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Worrying climate outlook

Posted by African Press International on July 27, 2013

DAKAR,  – Drastic water loss in West Africa’s River Volta basin – covering Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, and Togo – could deprive millions of people of food and hydropower in coming years due to climate change, researchers predict.

Higher average temperatures, seen to be rising by up to 3.6 degrees Celsius over the next century, and reduced rainfall could see water flows in the basin drop by 24 percent by 2050, and 45 percent by 2100, according to a new study by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).

By 2050 there would be enough water for only 50 percent of current hydropower production, the study found. Ghana’s Akosombo dam, the world’s largest man-made lake, currently generates 1,020 megawatts.

The roughly 24 million people living in the basin are mainly dependent on agriculture, which accounts for around 40 percent of the region’s economic output. This population, however, is expected to reach 34 million by 2015, up from 19 million in 2000, adding to pressure on water resources.

Matthew McCartney, the study’s lead author, told IRIN climate change effects were already being felt in the basin.

“Climate change warning signs in the Volta Basin are an upward trend in mean annual temperature,” he said. “Because of the natural variability, rainfall trends are much harder to assess than temperature, but there is some evidence of declining trends in rainfall, at least over Ghana.”

Climate change would make planned additional water storage in the basin unattainable.

In the absence of climate change about 78,000 hectares would be irrigated and 11,800 gigawatt hours per year of hydroelectric power would be generated in the coming years, explained Tim Williams, IWMI’s director for Africa. But, he said, climate change would mean that “only about 75 percent of the irrigated area will be possible and only about 52 percent of the potential hydroelectricity will be generated by 2050.”

“We do notice two trends: The increasing demand on the available water resources which is population driven – that is already affecting the water availability. On top of that there is anecdotal evidence by farmers who point to shifts in the onset of rains as well as variability within the season in terms of frequency of dry spells within the growing season,” he told IRIN.

The study’s predictions are based on a moderate impact scenario which the report says are “relatively conservative, but not overly cautious…

“In general, climate change predictions point to extreme weather events. A middle impact climate change scenario mimics the way nature works in a long period of time,” Williams said.

Solutions

Improving ground water by filling local aquifers with water from the local rivers or reservoirs as well as relatively simple solutions such as building small ponds on farms, or roofed water tanks are important for sustaining water supply, said the study.

Cooperation by the riparian states on future dam projects and incorporating climate change impact in those developments are other ways of ensuring that water from one of the world’s largest river basins continues to sustain lives.

“In many countries there has been almost no systematic evaluation of the possible implications of climate change for water resources…”

Robert Zougmoré, West Africa programme leader for Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security at Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), said offering reliable weather and climate information would help farmers plan better to avoid losses due to extreme weather conditions.

“If we are able to provide communities with up-to-date weather forecasts, this can help farmers on how to effectively manage their farms without suffering much of the effects of climate change.

“If a farmer knows that the rainy season will have above-normal rainfall he will, for instance, decide to grow rice rather than millet,” he said.

However, the study noted that climate change was not a priority in many sub-Saharan African countries. “In many countries there has been almost no systematic evaluation of the possible implications of climate change for water resources and it is given little consideration in the planning of future water resources development.”

Uncertainty about climate change impact, the fact that predictions tend to be in the distant future and that the priorities for many sub-Saharan African governments are mainly basic service provision, discourage timely climate change adaptation, the researchers argued.

“In the Volta, riparian states need to develop ‘no regrets’ options for water planning and management that are socially and economically viable over a range of possible climate futures. They also need to think much more about more integrated water planning and management across the whole basin, with all the states cooperating rather than the piecemeal ad hoc water resource development that has occurred to date,” said McCartney.

IWMI’s Williams, however, said African governments were gradually becoming more aware of the dangers of climate change, “but the rate and magnitude of climate change adaption response is not yet sufficient.”

ob/cb source http://www.irinews.org

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Who is undermining Guinea-Bissau’s stability?

Posted by African Press International on June 8, 2013

Photo: Wikimedia
Guinea-Bissau is struggling to rise from yet another coup

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Attractive conditions for drug traffickers
  • Pressure on government finances
  • Political patronage rife

BISSAU, – The small West African country of Guinea-Bissau is slated to hold fresh polls later this year after yet another coup, but opposition to security sector reform (SSR) by some in the army, the manipulation of the armed forces by politicians, as well as the military’s interference in politics could jeopardize a return to stability, analysts say.

“There is an old guard within the military that does not wish to lose control of the armed forces. From their point of view, SSR is a serious threat to their power and therefore their sources of income. So whenever we are moving forward in the SSR process, sooner or later a military coup takes place,” said Paulo Gorjao, director of the Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security (IPRIS).

Just days before the 29 April 2012 presidential run-off, the army arrested and detained Prime Minister and poll front-runner Carlos Gomes Junior and the interim president. Coup leaders accused Gomes of undermining the military. Analysts say veteran army generals are loath to reform and come under civilian control.

The army is dominated by the Balanta, the largest ethnic group. Balanta officers occupy most of the top military ranks. Gomes, of Portuguese-African descent, had defeated Kumba Yala, a Balanta, in the first round of the 2012 polls.

“The army does not [meddle in politics] on its own. It [meddles] because some sections of the political elite manipulate it as they cannot get to power through peaceful democratic elections,” UN Special Representative José Ramos-Horta, the former Timor-Leste president, told IRIN.

“But it works both ways, particularly in a society with ethnic loyalties. If you have a politician who belongs to a particular ethnic group and that ethnic group has a strong influence in the army, it’s not so difficult to anticipate where that army’s allegiance lies…

“SSR will take time. It is a sine qua non for peace and stability in the country,” said Ramos-Horta.

Drugs trade

Guinea-Bissau’s political instability has also created attractive conditions for drug traffickers over the past decade. The country is one of the key transhipment points in West Africa for drugs heading to Europe from South America.

Politicians and the military are involved in the cocaine trade and those who have dared challenge the traffickers have been killed or kidnapped, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said in a February report.

While the country’s instability predates the drug trade, analysts say trafficking has had an influence on the political crisis.

Cost of instability
69.3 percent of Guinea-Bissau’s 1.6 million people live in poverty.
Just over half of the population has access to clean water.
Life expectancy is 48 years.
Although child mortality has declined to 161 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2011 from 210 in 1990, the death rate is among the highest in the world.
Primary and secondary school net attendance rate increased from 54 to 67 percent between 2006 and 2010, but education quality remains low.
IMF predicts a 3.5 percent GDP growth in 2013 assuming increased cashew harvests and prices and a resumption of public investment, but recovery dependents on political stability, it says.
Sources: World Bank, UNICEF

“I believe that military instability and the coups are mainly explained by drug-trafficking since the control of the armed forces is crucial to control of the sources of income related to drug-trafficking. Moreover, drug-trafficking also explains why SSR is so difficult to implement,” Gorjao explained.

“So as long as we don’t act to curb drug-trafficking, Guinea-Bissau will be condemned to regular power plays within the armed forces, with the spillover effects that result from it.”

Donors stay away

Guinea-Bissau donors withdrew budgetary aid following the 2012 coup. The European Union (EU), Bissau’s main donor, has held back 60 million euros since 2010 due to the recurrent instability and has bypassed the government in supporting water, health, human rights and other projects.

“We cannot continue to give institutional assistance, more so budgetary aid, to people who are not [legitimately elected], who cannot manage the state budget and who are infiltrated by drug traffickers,” EU delegation chief in Guinea-Bissau Joaquin Gonzalez-Ducay told IRIN.

“The country continues to be governed by an army involved in drug-trafficking and a puppet government incapable of advancing a political agenda,” he said.

Pressure on government finances has been added to by pay rise demands from the civil service and the military, the World Bank said in an April report. Budget support provided by the Economic Community for West African States and Nigeria is key to preventing possible unrest due to salary delays, it said.

“The regional support has been enough to support the functioning of the government apparatus but not for investment. If there is no investment there is no employment, no growth, just current expenditure,” said Alfredo Torrez, the International Monetary Fund representative in Guinea-Bissau.

He called for the development of the private sector once the political crisis is resolved. “Everybody is waiting for a very clear message, a [political] road map. Once everything is in place, the opportunity for recovery is very high.”

Political impasse

The Party of Social Renewal (PRS) of former president Kumba Yala, the Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) of ousted candidate Gomes, and other smaller parties, have held difficult negotiations on an inclusive government ahead of elections planned for November.

In May they agreed on the government’s composition, but it has not yet been formed and the parties have not yet agreed on the electoral commission chief or the election date. Some smaller parties have rejected the unity government framework.

“It marks progress definitely, but months of work should have been invested to conclude an agreement. There’s neither a new government nor an electoral commission. This is not a good sign,” said Vincent Foucher of the International Crisis Group.

“Nothing is being done to tackle the root causes of the [2012] coup…”

He argued that Guinea-Bissau’s political and economic system of patronage – amid meagre resources – is one of the fundamental problems that have caused the country’s protracted crisis.

He also bemoaned regional inequalities: “There is a serious problem of economic development that is worsened by wide inequalities between the capital city and the rural areas over access to resources and public services,” he said.

“The other problem is that political life is defined by the Balanta-backed PRS on one side and PAIGC – a machine to win elections despite deep internal divisions – on the other. This is an explosive combination.”

These fault lines are not currently being addressed, said IPRIS’s Gorjao. “Nothing is being done to tackle the root causes of the [2012] coup because nothing is being done at this stage regarding SSR and little is being done concerning drug-trafficking.”

The international community is looking to assist deeper reforms when a legitimate government is in power. But Guinea-Bissau analyst Seco Cassama warned: “We have never had problems during elections. It is after the elections that we have problems.”

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

 

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Guinea-Bissau is very much behind on education

Posted by African Press International on June 5, 2013

Ministry of Education building in Guinea-Bissau capital, Bissau. Prolonged instability is lowering education standards

BISSAU,  – Guinea-Bissau’s chronic political turmoil is depriving children of quality education. Access to education remains low, learning is often disrupted by teachers’ strikes and the country spends the lowest portion of its budget on education in West Africa.

Since independence from Portugal in 1974, the small West African country has been jolted by a string of military coups and a deadly civil war (1998-99) which have undermined social and infrastructural development and made it one of the world’s poorest states.

The current interim government came into being after a coup in April 2012. In the three months after the military takeover, more than 90 percent of state primary and secondary schools were closed due to the absence of effective government, said Tomoko Shibuya, head of education programmes at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Guinea-Bissau.

“Schools are in a deplorable state; there are no desks; roofs are in disrepair and children cannot learn during the rainy season,” said Armando Correia Landim, head of the country’s 10,000-strong parents’ association.

UNICEF Guinea-Bissau spends US$3.5-4 million annually supporting primary education with textbooks, teacher training and curriculum revision, among others. By contrast, the government spent roughly US$11 million on education in 2010 (the most recent year for which figures are available).

In that year the government spent 11 percent of the budget on education – the lowest proportion in West Africa. At 30 percent Ghana allocates the highest amount to education in the region. More than 90 percent of Guinea-Bissau’s education budget pays salaries, leaving little or nothing for teacher training, buildings and equipping schools, according to the UNICEF.

Many Guinea-Bissau donors also withdrew budgetary aid after the latest coup; some had done so earlier owing to perennial instability.

Teachers only recently called off a strike they began in early May – the third strike this school year, resulting in the loss of about a third of annual tuition time. The teachers’ union said some of the dues owed to their members date back to 2003.

Teachers’ union leader Luis Nancassa blamed the government: “An empty sack cannot stand upright. It’s inhuman to employ someone for 4-5 months without a salary,” he said, referring to newly recruited staff. “We decided to paralyse learning because the teachers no longer have the energy or the will to continue working without pay.”

Audit required

Education Minister Vicente Poungoura admitted that the “education system is poorly organized” and that an extensive audit was required to determine the exact number of schools and teachers in order to better manage the education sector.

The government must first have a clear idea of what problems it faces in the education system. Only then can it ask for help from other partners,” said Poungoura who took up office as part of the interim government.

“An evaluation will help us understand what should be done. That is why I have insisted that a census must be done in the education sector.”

He explained that lack of a clear policy to manage free primary learning had also contributed to the country’s education crisis.

“We embarked on free education without regard to financial implications. There is also the problem of staff. We had poorly trained teachers under the free education system. In a poor country like Guinea-Bissau [free education] is sometimes utopian,” Poungoura told IRIN.

Quality poor

While the net attendance rate for primary and secondary schools rose to 67 percent in 2010, up from 54 percent in 2006, the quality of education has been poor. Only about 60 percent of children complete primary school, and the same goes for secondary school. Overall, only 22 percent of children who enter the school system complete secondary school, according to UNICEF.

The primary school completion rate is among the lowest in West Africa.

Shibuya also noted there were few female teachers. “This discourages girls from continuing with studies because they don’t have role models.”

Widespread poverty, insufficient learning materials and teachers, inadequate teacher training, early marriage for girls, the seasonal use of child labour, and long distances that some students have to cover to get to school, are some of the other barriers to education in Guinea-Bissau.

Self-help

Meanwhile, some parents have been taking matters into their own hands.

“As parents, we cannot just sit back and do nothing,” said Landim. He explained that a scheme set up by the parents’ association in 2010 had ensured that the main state schools in the northeastern Gabu and Bafata regions as well as in Tombali and Quinara in the east were functional during the teachers’ strike.

Parents make a monthly contribution of 700-2,000 CFA francs (US$1.3-4) depending on the region, to pay teachers up to 30,000 CFA francs ($60). The scheme is meant to complement their pay (they get an average of $140 per month from the government) during lengthy salary delays.

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

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Understanding the causes of violent extremism

Posted by African Press International on May 18, 2013

DAKAR,  – Academics and government, military and civil society representatives gathered for a conference in the Senegalese capital this week to assess the interplay between development and violent extremism in West Africa, with some participants suggesting that underdevelopment, marginalization and weak governance create a breeding ground for militancy.

While local factors in West African and Sahel countries have contributed to extremist violence, the rise of global jihad in the wake of the US-led “war on terror” since 9/11 has also played a part in spreading radical militancy in the region.”In the Sahel, there is a combination of bad governance, poverty, insecurity as well as several internal and external factors [that contribute to extremist violence],” said Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, head of the Centre for Security Strategy in the Sahel and the Sahara, at the opening of the 6-10 May Dakar conference.

“The Sahel has provided an ideal ground for extremist violence to take root and spread beyond national borders,” he said.

The region has a history of instability. Since the first post-independence coup in West Africa that toppled Togo’s founding president in 1963, it has seen a string of coups, some of which have sparked civil wars.

West Africa is also one of the world’s most impoverished regions despite its natural resources. Seven West African countries occupy the bottom 10 places in the UN Human Development Index.

Poor political and resource governance have often led to explosions of violence by disgruntled segments of society, and a number of studies have linked bad governance to insecurity in West Africa.

For example, Mali’s Tuareg have been fighting perceived marginalization by the central government and demanded an autonomous homeland in the country’s north. Following the March 2012 coup in the capital Bamako, the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad seized towns from government troops in the north, but was soon driven out by militant Islamist groups.

Nigeria‘s increasingly violent Boko Haram militia, which wants an Islamic state, should be seen as a reaction the government’s entrenched corruption, abusive security forces, strife between the disaffected Muslim north and Christian south, and widening regional economic disparity, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Some observers stress the local aspect. Militant Islam in Africa, while linked to broader ideological currents, is mainly driven by the local context, with Islamist groups emerging, evolving and reacting to immediate local concerns, University of Florida’s Terje Ostebo, argued in a November 2012 paper published by the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies (ACSS).

“Supporting development is a long-term approach to undermining drivers associated with violent extremism.”

“The Malian government’s failure to consistently invest [in] and maintain a strong state presence in the north. created an enabling environment for the expansion of Islamic militancy and the escalation of violence in this region,” said Ostebo, an assistant professor at the university’s Centre for African Studies (ACSS) and the Department of Religion.

Marginalization

“Poverty and underdevelopment and a sense of marginalization and exclusion that comes from lack of governance, particularly at the local level, are seen as drivers associated with violent extremism,” Benjamin Nickels, an assistant professor with the ACSS, told IRIN.

“Supporting development is a long-term approach to undermining drivers associated with violent extremism,” he added.

“You do have a number of underlying factors that make certain regions particularly vulnerable to violent extremism and extremist ideologies, and then you have a number of factors that trigger violence. Amongst these factors there is an underlying economic dimension that often gets missed,” said Raymond Gilpin, the ACSS academic dean.

Poverty, unemployment and socioeconomic deprivation partly explain the rise of Islamist movements – violent and non-violent – argued Ostebo.

“There are other factors of extremist violence. However, it is easier for militant groups to recruit unemployed youth who see no future for themselves, than those who are in employment. The more young people are able to be employed the less chances there are that they can be recruited by militant groups,” said Gilles Yabi of the International Crisis Group.

“Development is part of the measures against extremist violence. But we are already in a situation [in West Africa] where underdevelopment is so deep that reversing it is very difficult,” he told IRIN.

Ould-Abdallah cited other factors such as West Africa’s wide geographical area, weak public institutions and people’s and governments’ loyalty to tribe and clan rather than the nation state as also contributing to crime and extremist violence in the region.

In a bid to end insurgencies, Nigeria and Mali have attempted negotiated settlements, but they have also resorted to the use of force, which is limited in resolving the fundamental causes of rebellion. Repression by governments or external forces can cause Islamist militants to fight for their very existence and at the same time deepen perceptions of state illegitimacy, Ostebo warned.

Spillover

The French-led intervention in Mali has dislodged the Islamist rebels from their strongholds, but triggered fears that the fleeing militants could destabilize countries in the region from where they hail, target foreign nationals in neighbouring countries and even win the sympathy of other extremist militia.

The January attack on an Algerian gas plant is believed to have been in retaliation for the French military drive in Mali. Nigerian troops heading for Mali as part of an African intervention force came under attack by Boko Haram-linked militants in January.

On 7 May, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb posted a video message calling for attacks on all French interests across the world for its intervention in Mali.

Nigeria has teamed up with its neighbours to form a multi-national force to counter Boko Haram.

“The priority for Sahel right now is to help resolve the Mali crisis. After Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone, West Africa does not need another protracted crisis,” said Ould-Abdallah.

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

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