Inter Press Service » Africa Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 25 Apr 2015 13:20:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Swelling Ethiopian Migration Casts Doubt on its Economic Miracle Sat, 25 Apr 2015 13:20:36 +0000 Chalachew Tadesse By Chalachew Tadesse
ADDIS ABABA, Apr 25 2015 (IPS)

The 28 Ethiopian migrants of Christian faith murdered by the Islamic State (IS) on Apr. 19 in Libya had planned to cross the Mediterranean Sea in search of work in Europe.

Commenting on the killings to Fana Broadcasting Corporation (FBC), Ethiopian government spokesperson Redwan Hussien urged potential migrants not to risk their lives by using dangerous exit routes.

Hussein’s call sparked anger among hundreds of Ethiopian youths and relatives of the deceased, who took to the streets in the capital Addis Ababa this week before the demonstration was disbanded by the police, local media reported.

Protestors cited the government’s lukewarm response to the massacre of Orthodox Christians for their outrage, the Addis Standard reported. Later in the week, during a public rally organised by the government in the capital, violence again broke out between security forces and protesters resulting in injuries and the detention of over a hundred protesters, local and international media reported.“Pervasive repression and denial of fundamental freedoms has led to frustration, alienation and disillusionment among most Ethiopian youth” – Yared Hailemariam, former senior researcher for the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (now Human Rights Council)

Almost two-thirds of Ethiopians are Christians, the majority of those Orthodox Copts – who say that they have been in the Horn of Africa nation since the first century AD — as well as large numbers of Protestants.

In the widely-reported incident in Libya, IS militants beheaded 16 Ethiopian migrants in one group on a beach and shot 12 in the head in another group in a desert area. Eyasu Yikunoamilak and Balcha Belete, residents of the impoverished Cherkos neighbourhood in Addis Ababa, were among the victims, it was learnt, along with three other victims from Cherkos.

Seyoum Yikunoamilak, elder brother of Eyasu Yikunoamilak, told FBC that Eyasu and Balcha left their country for Sudan two months ago en route to reach the United Kingdom for work to help themselves and their families, but this was not meant to be.

“I used to talk to them on phone while they were in the Sudan,” Seyoum said in grief. “But I never heard from them since they entered Libya one month ago.” Eyasu had previously been a migrant worker in Qatar and had covered his friend’s expenses with his savings to reach Europe, said Seyoum.

In defiance of the warning of the government spokesperson, Meshesa Mitiku, a long-time friend of Eyasu and Balcha living in Cherkos, told the Associated Press on Apr. 20: “I will try my luck too but not through Libya. Here there is no chance to improve yourself.” Meshesha’s intentions came even after learning about the fate of his friends.

Ethiopian lawmakers declared a three-day national mourning on Apr. 21. The government also expressed its readiness to repatriate all migrants in dangerous foreign countries, the Washington-based VOA Amharic radio reported.

The rally earlier in the week came one month before Ethiopia holds parliamentary elections, the first since the death of long-time leader Meles Zenawi, and current prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn is expected to face little if any opposition challenge.

“We will redouble efforts to fight terrorism,” foreign ministry spokesman Tewolde Mulugeta said in response to demands for action from protesters.

Ethiopia is trying to create jobs so that people do not feel the need to leave to find work, he added. “We’re trying to create opportunities here for our young people. We encourage them to exploit those opportunities at home.”

Nevertheless, disenchantment marked by asserted claims of repression, inequality and unemployment has spurred a series of protests against the regime over the last few years.

These and other issues have prompted the exodus of Ethiopian migrants to Europe, according to several observers. “The idea that the majority of Ethiopian migrants relocate due to economic reasons appears flawed,” contends Tom Rhodes, East Africa Representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists, in an email interview with IPS. Rhodes also maintained that the violation of fundamental freedoms is closely tied with poverty and economic inequality.

In an email interview with IPS, Yared Hailemariam, a former senior researcher for the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, agreed. “Pervasive repression and denial of fundamental freedoms has led to frustration, alienation and disillusionment among most Ethiopian youth.”

“Citizens have the right to peacefully protest,” said Felix Horne, East Africa researcher with Human Rights Watch. “It’s no surprise given the steps government takes to restrict peaceful protests that disenfranchised youth would use the rare opportunity of an officially sanctioned public demonstration to express their frustrations. That’s the inevitable outcome when there are no other means for them to express their opinions.”

The main opposition parties say that the government has failed to create job opportunities, making migration inevitable. The regime, they charge, favours members of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front and creates economic inequality.

Recently dubbed an “African tiger”, Ethiopia is one of Africa’s most populous nations with 94 million people (Nigeria has 173.6 million). It has been celebrated for its modest economic growth over the last years. But the average unemployment rate (the number of people actively looking for a job as a percentage of the labour force) was stuck at 20.26 percent from 1999 to 2014.

“The regime allocates state resources and job opportunities to members of the ruling party who are organised in small-scale and micro enterprises,” noted Horne. The CPJ representative agreed. “Ethiopian government authorities tend to reward their political supporters and ethnic relations with lucrative political and business positions” at the expense of ingenuity in the business sector.

In its 2015 report, the World Bank shared this discouraging view. Some 37 million Ethiopians – one-third of the country’s population – are still “either poor or vulnerable to falling into poverty”, the World Bank said, adding that the “very poorest in Ethiopia have become even poorer” over the last decade or so.

The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has estimated that about 29 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line. This explains Ethiopia’s rank at 174 out of 187 countries on the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index.

The Oakland Institute, a U.S.-based non-governmental organisation that spotlights land grabs, was recently denounced by Ethiopian officials for its latest reportWe Say the Land is Not Yours’. According to the government, the institute used “unverified and unverifiable information”.

In a reply to the Ethiopian Embassy in the United Kingdom on Apr. 22, Oakland Institute challenged the government’s claim that ongoing development was improving life standards in the country.

The institute maintained that the government’s development endeavours are “destroying the lives, culture, traditions, and livelihoods” of many indigenous and pastoralist populations, further warning that the strategy was “unsustainable and creating a fertile breeding ground for conflict.”

More than half of Ethiopia’s farmers are cultivating plots so small as to barely provide sustenance. These one hectare or less plots are further affected by drought, an ineffective and inefficient agricultural marketing system and underdeveloped production technologies, says FAO. Several studies indicate that this phenomenon has induced massive rural-urban migration.

According to Yared Hailemariam, state ownership of land has contributed to poverty and inequality. “People don’t have full rights over their properties so that they lack the motivation to invest,” he stressed. The ruling regime insists that land will remain in the hands of the state, and selling and buying land is prohibited in Ethiopia.

Yared also pointed out that the ruling party owns several huge businesses which has created unfair competition in the economy. “The party’s huge conglomerates have weakened other public and private businesses” he told IPS. “Only the ruling party’s political elites and their business cronies are benefitting at the expense of the majority of the people.”

The tragic news of the massacre in Libya came amid news of xenophobic attacks against Ethiopian migrants in South Africa last week including looting and burning of properties. Unknown numbers of Ethiopian economic migrants are also trapped in the Yemeni conflict, according to state media.

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

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Kenyan Pastoralists Protest Wanton Destruction of Indigenous Forest Sat, 25 Apr 2015 11:43:44 +0000 Robert Kibet Forest rangers putting out a fire at a charcoal burning kiln in Kenya’s Mau Forest. The future of the country’s indigenous forest cover is under threat but this has little to do with poverty and ignorance – experts say that it is greed which allows unsustainable practices, such as the lucrative production of charcoal and logging of wood. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS

Forest rangers putting out a fire at a charcoal burning kiln in Kenya’s Mau Forest. The future of the country’s indigenous forest cover is under threat but this has little to do with poverty and ignorance – experts say that it is greed which allows unsustainable practices, such as the lucrative production of charcoal and logging of wood. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS

By Robert Kibet
NAIROBI, Apr 25 2015 (IPS)

Armed with twigs and placards, enraged residents from a semi-pastoral community 360 km north of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, protested this week against wanton destruction of indigenous forest – their alternative source of livelihood.

With climate change a new ordeal that has caused frequent droughts, leading to suffering and death in this part of Africa, the community from Lpartuk Ranch in Samburu County relies on livestock which is sometimes wiped out by severe drought leaving them with no other option other than the harvesting of wild products and honey.

“People here are ready to take up spears and machetes to guard the forest. They have been provoked by outsiders who are out to wipe out our indigenous forest to the last bit,” Mark Loloolki, Lpartuk Ranch chairman, who led the protesting community members told IPS.

They threatened to set alight any vehicle caught ferrying the timbers or logs suspected to be from their forests.Illegal harvesting of forest products is pervasive and often involves unsustainable forest practices which cause serious damage to forests, the people who depend on them and the economies of producer countries

Their protest came barely a week after counterparts from Seketet, a few kilometres away in Samburu Central, held a similar protest after over 12,000 red cedar posts were caught on transit to Maralal, Samburu’s main town.

Last year, students walked for four kilometres during International Ozone Day to protest against the wanton destruction of the same endangered forest tree species.

A report titled Green Carbon, Black Trade, released by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and Interpol in 2012,  which focuses on illegal logging and its impacts on the lives and livelihoods of often some of the poorest people in the world, underlines how criminals are combining old-fashioned methods such as bribes with high-tech methods such as computer hacking of government websites to obtain transportation and other permits.

Samburu County, in Kenya’s semi-arid northern region, hosts Lerroghi, a 92,000 hectare forest reserve that is home to different indigenous plants and animal species. Lerroghi, also called Kirisia locally, is among the largest forest ecosystem in dry northern Kenya and was initially filled with olive and red cedar trees.

It is alleged that unscrupulous merchants smuggle the endangered red cedar products to the coastal port of Mombasa for shipping to Saudi Arabia where they are sold at high prices.

“This is a business that involves a well-connected cartel of merchants operating in Nairobi and Mombasa,” said Loloolki.

In Kenya, the future of indigenous forest cover is under threat but has little to do with poverty and ignorance – experts say that it is greed which allows unsustainable practices, such as the lucrative production of charcoal and logging of wood.

“This forest is our main water catchment source and home to wild animals such as elephants,” Moses Lekolool, the area assistant chief, told IPS. “Elephants no longer have a place to mate and reproduce or even give birth, with most of them having migrated.”

According to Samburu County’s Kenya Forest Service (KFS) Ecosystem Controverter Eric Chemitei, “as a government parastatal, we [KFS] do not issue permits for transportation or movement of cedar posts. However, we do not know how they get to Nairobi, Mombasa and eventually to Saudi Arabia as alleged.”

At the same time, Chemitei told IPS that squatters currently residing inside the forest are mainly families affected by insecurity related to cattle rustling, adding that their presence was posing a threat to the main water towers of Lerroghi, Mathew Ranges, and Ndoto and Nyiro mountains.

He further noted that harvesting of cedar regardless of whether forest was privately or publicly owned was banned in 1999, and that over 30,000 hectares – one-third of the Lerroghi forest – has been destroyed.

Reports from INTERPOL and the World Bank in 2009 and from UNEP in 2011 indicate that the trade in illegally harvested timber is highly lucrative for criminal elements and has been estimated at 11 billion dollars – comparable with the production value of drugs which is estimated at around 13 billion dollars.

In a report on organised wildlife, gold and timber, released on Apr. 16, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: “There is no room for doubt: wildlife and forest crime is serious and calls for an equally serious response. In addition to the breach of the international rule of law and the impact on peace and security, environmental crime robs countries of revenues that could have been spent on sustainable development and the eradication of poverty.”

According to the KFS Strategic Plan (2009/2010-2013/2014), of the 3.4 million hectares (5.9 percent) of forest cover out of the Kenya’s total land area, 1.4 million are made up of indigenous closed canopy forests, mangroves and plantations, on both public and private lands.

The plan also indicated that Kenya’s annual domestic demand for wood is 37 million cubic metres while sustainable wood supply is only around 30 million cubic metres, thus creating a deficit of seven million cubic metres which, according to analysts, means that any projected increase in forest cover can only be realised after this huge internal demand is met.

Last year, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Environment Judi Wakhungu said that KFS’ revised policy framework for forest conservation and sustainable management lists features including community participation, community forest associations and benefit sharing.

The policy acknowledges that indigenous trees or forests are ecosystems that provide important economic, environmental, recreational, scientific, social, cultural and spiritual benefits.

Nevertheless, illegal harvesting of forest products is pervasive and often involves unsustainable forest practices which cause serious damage to forests, the people who depend on them and the economies of producer countries.

Forests have been subjected to land use changes such as conversion to farmland or urban settlements, thus reducing their ability to supply forest products and serve as water catchments, biodiversity conservation reservoirs and wildlife habitats.

Meanwhile, the effect of forest depletion on women has been noted by Veronica Nkepeni , Director of Kenya’s Centre for Advocacy and Gender Equality, who told IPS that the “most affected are women in the pastoralist areas, trekking long distances in search of water as a result of the effects of forest depletion leading to water scarcity.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: To Solve Hunger, Start with Soil Fri, 24 Apr 2015 12:44:03 +0000 Anne-Marie Steyn Experts give advice on potato-planting for greater yields in an episode of Shamba Shape Up.

Experts give advice on potato-planting for greater yields in an episode of Shamba Shape Up.

By Anne-Marie Steyn
NAIROBI, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

Peter looked confused as he recounted how he’d painstakingly planted potatoes to sell and to feed his family of eight, only to find that when harvest time rolled around he had been greeted with tiny tubers not much bigger than golf balls.

A young farmer living in Bomet County in Kenya, Peter had recently been ‘shaped up’ on film, as part of our farming reality TV show Shamba Shape Up. The show is aired as a six-month-long (one growing season) series of 30-minute television programmes on leading channels in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda 2012 to audiences across Kenya.Without farmers understanding the importance of soil and having easy access to soil improvement methods, they cannot win the battle against declining soil fertility. And without soil fertility, they will lose the battle against hunger or poverty.

It is Africa’s first makeover reality television programme using real experts to show small-scale farmers how to improve pest management, irrigation, cattle rearing, poultry keeping, financial education and crop management techniques, in an engaging yet informative way.

Peter’s story is discouraging, yet it’s happening to farmers all over Africa, not just with potatoes but all manner of crops that just don’t grow like they should.

One reason for this is that the very soil in sub-Saharan Africa that should be a fertile home for helping crops thrive, is degraded, acidic, and simply won’t support crop growth. In fact, it has been estimated that as much as 65 per cent of Africa’s arable land is depleted of vital nutrients, which have been taken from the soil through continuous farming, and never replaced.  Sub-Saharan Africa represents 10 per cent of the total global population yet only 0.8 per cent of total fertiliser use.

In a region that is struggling to feed itself, addressing soil health is already a critical issue. But we need to start by showing the farmers themselves why it is so important, and why investing in soil health will pay off. Most farmers simply do not understand the importance of looking after the soil to their farm, and apply the same fertiliser, without knowing if it is the right one, season after season for their whole farming lives.

Of the 180 farms Shamba Shape Up has worked with, only one had ever conducted a soil test, to find out what kind of nutrients they needed to boost productivity. Yet when we survey farmers, or review requests coming in through our SMS information service, the topics of fertiliser, soil fertility and soil testing are among the most requested.

It is clear that there is a great knowledge gap. Bridging this gap, and educating farmers on soil health is going to be critical, if we are to meet the proposed Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to end hunger by 2030. And monitoring farmer outreach that takes place on effective soil management practices could be an effective way to track this progress.

Peter got some advice for his potatoes. An expert recommended the Viazi Power Programme, which uses a combination of nutrients that are applied to the potato crop at various stages of growth. This treatment has helped farmers on one acre of land to reach yields of 50 to 80 sacks of potatoes, that are large and of a good quality.

But Peter had actually tried to use the Viazi Power Programme in the past, and failed. His downfall was using recycled seeds from his farm that were not certified, and carried Bacterial Wilt. Sending three children to school, Peter couldn’t afford the higher price of the clean seed.

Lack of access to finance is a key obstacle to farmers taking on soil health techniques. But here is where education once again plays a vital role: if farmers are shown the return they can have on their investment and how to realise this gain, more will be encouraged to adopt more costly practices.

Shamba Shape Up now includes a soil health element in every episode we produce, and our method of farmer education is proving successful. Of the 50 per cent of the audience who adopt new practices every year from the show, 97 per cent say that the change caused an increase in money or food production from their farm.

A recent study by Reading University estimated that farmers who adopted a soil-related improvement in their maize as a result of Shamba Shape Up shows in Nakuru doubled their production. In Muranga, yields were quadrupled. For families living on 30 to 150 dollars per month, doubled production can mean school fees or surviving an illness.

As negotiators finalise the Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations later this year, we urge them to consider farmers like Peter, and the life changing transformation that better education on soil health could bring to families like his.

Without farmers understanding the importance of soil and having easy access to soil improvement methods, they cannot win the battle against declining soil fertility. And without soil fertility, they will lose the battle against hunger or poverty.

The world cannot accept defeat on such an important issue; instead we must empower farmers like Peter to win these battles, for his family, his country and his continent.

Explore Farming First’s new online essay “The Story of Agriculture and the Sustainable Development Goals” for more on this topic.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Burundi – Fragile Peace at Risk Ahead of Elections Fri, 24 Apr 2015 10:59:08 +0000 David Kode

In this column, David Kode, a Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, describes a series of restrictions on freedom in Burundi and, in the run-up to elections in May and June, calls on the international community – including the African Union and donor countries – to support the country by putting pressure on the government to respect democratic ideals and by condemning attacks on civil liberties.

By David Kode

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa is not permitted to get close to an airport, train station or port without authorisation from a judge.  He cannot travel outside of the capital of his native Burundi, Bujumbura. Whenever called upon, he must present himself before judicial authorities.

These are some of the onerous restrictions underlying the bail conditions of one of Burundi’s most prominent human rights activists since he was provisionally released on medical grounds in September last year, after spending more than four months in prison for his human rights work.

David Kode

David Kode

Mbonimpa was arrested and detained on May 15, 2014, and charged with endangering state security and inciting public disobedience. The charges stemmed from views he expressed during an interview with an independent radio station, Radio Public Africaine, in which he stated that members of the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, were being armed and sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo for military training.

The arrest and detention of Pierre Claver is symptomatic of a pattern of repression and intimidation of human rights defenders, journalists, dissenters and members of the political opposition in Burundi as it heads towards its much anticipated elections in May and June 2015.

The forthcoming polls will be the third democratic elections organised since the end of the brutal civil war in 2005.  The antagonism of the CNDD-FDD government and its crackdown on civil society and members of opposition formations has increased, particularly as the incumbent, President Pierre Nkurunziza, silences critics and opponents in his bid to run for a third term even after the National Assembly rejected his proposals to extend his term in office.“The international community and Burundi’s donors cannot afford to stand by idly and witness a distortion of the decade-long relative peace that Burundi has enjoyed, which represents the most peaceful decade since independence from Belgium in 1962”

Tensions continue to mount ahead of the polls and even though the president has not publicly stated that he will contest the next elections, the actions of his government and the ruling party clearly suggest he will run for another term.  Members of his party argue that he has technically run the country for one term only as he was not “elected” by the people when he took to power in 2005.

Civil society organisations and religious leaders recently pointed out that Constitution and the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement – which brought an end to the civil war – clearly limit presidential terms to two years.

As the 2015 polls draw closer, state repression has increased, some political parties have been suspended and their members arrested and jailed. The Imbonerakure has embarked on campaigns to intimidate, physically assault and threaten members of the opposition with impunity. They have prevented some political gatherings from taking place under the pretext that they are guaranteeing security at the local level.

Civil society organisations and rival political movements have on several occasions been denied the right to hold public meetings and assemblies, while journalists and activists have been arrested and held under fictitious charges in an attempt to silence them and force them to resort to self-censorship.

Legislation has been used to stifle freedom of expression and restrict the activities of journalists and the independent media.  In June 2013, the government passed a new law which forces journalists to reveal their sources.

The law provides wide-ranging powers to the authorities and sets requirements for journalists to attain certain levels of education and professional expertise, limits issues journalists can cover and imposes fines on those who violate this law.  It prohibits the publication of news items on security issues, defence, public safety and the economy.

The law has been used to target media agencies and journalists, including prominent journalist Bob Rugurika, director of Radio Public Africaine.

The government does not see any major difference between opposition political parties and human rights activists and journalists and has often accused civil society and the media of being mouth pieces for the political opposition, describing them as “enemies of the state”.

In the lead-up to the last elections in 2010, most of the opposition parties decided to boycott the elections and the ruling party won almost unopposed. However, the post-elections period was characterised by political violence and conflict.

Ideally, the upcoming elections could present the perfect opportunity to “jump start” Burundi’s democracy.  For this to happen, the media and civil society need to operate without fear or intimidation from state and non-state actors.  On the contrary, state repression is bound to trigger a violent response from some of the opposition parties and ignite violence similar to that which happened in 2010.

The international community and Burundi’s donors cannot afford to stand by idly and witness a distortion of the decade-long relative peace that Burundi has enjoyed, which represents the most peaceful decade since independence from Belgium in 1962.

It is increasingly clear that the people of Burundi need the support of the international community at this critical juncture. The African Union (AU), with its public commitment to democracy and good governance, must act now by putting pressure on the government of Burundi to respect its democratic ideals to prevent more abuses and further restrictions on fundamental freedoms ahead of the elections.

The African Union should demand that the government stops extra-judicial killings and conducts independent investigations into members of the security forces and Imbonerakure who have committed human rights violations and hold them accountable.

Further, Burundi’s close development partners, particularly Belgium, France and the Netherlands, should condemn the attacks on civil liberties and urge the government to instil an enabling environment in which a free and fair political process can take place while journalists and civil society activists can perform their responsibilities without fear.  (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris    

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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East African Environmental Activist Wins Major Prize Wed, 22 Apr 2015 19:17:45 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)

On Earth Day, Apr. 22, Kenyan activist Phyllis Omido takes the stage in Washington DC to receive the Goldman Environmental Prize for her efforts to defend her community from lead poisoning and force the closure of a lead smelting plant that was emitting fumes and spewing untreated acid wastewater into streams, poisoning the neighbourhood – including her own baby.

Courtesy of the Goldman Prize.

Courtesy of the Goldman Prize.

“At first we thought he had malaria or typhoid, but doctors found he was suffering from lead poisoning,” Omido recalled. The lead was traced to a smelter where Phyllis had recently started work as a community liaison officer.

“The doctors said the lead reached my baby through my breast milk,” Phyllis said in London last week as she made the trip to the U.S. to receive the Africa award of the prestigious Goldman prize.

The smelter – built in the heart of Owino Uhuru, a densely-packed slum in Mombasa, Kenya’s second city – extracted lead from used car batteries. Lead is a potent neurotoxin. It damages the development of children, targeting the brain and nervous system.

The smelter began operations in 2009 without any environmental impact assessment (EIA). One of Phyllis’s first jobs was to commission one. The findings revealed that the smelter was poisoning the neighbourhood, but the company was unwilling to move.

“I went to the company’s directors and the government’s environment agency, which had licensed the smelter. I showed them reports from lead experts. But nobody wanted to listen,” she says. Meanwhile, children were getting sick; women were having miscarriages; even the neighbourhood chickens were dying.

She claims that the company routinely sacked workers after a few months because it knew their exposure to lead was unsafe. But after a worker died, the community held a demonstration. A local MP, who was also a minister for the environment, came. “We hoped he would help. But he said we should keep quiet because the company brought jobs. He accused me of being in league with his political opponents.”

After a long struggle, with help from Human Rights Watch and the U.N. special rapporteur on toxic waste, she was able to see the company close the plant in 2014.

Since then, she has set up a local NGO, the Center for Justice, Governance and Environmental Action, to fight other causes like salt miners who are damaging Kenya’s nearby coastal fisheries. And she has more work to do in Owino Uhuru.

Omido and the other prize recipients – from Myanmar, Canada, Haiti, Scotland and Honduras – will each receive 175,000 dollars for their ongoing work. Dana King and conservation scientist Dr. M Sanjayan will be Masters of Ceremonies. For more information about the prize, visit the website.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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First Genocide of 20th Century Was in Africa, Says Nigerian Writer, Correcting Pope Wed, 22 Apr 2015 19:09:41 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)

An Anglo-Nigerian writer has respectfully urged Pope Francis to look beyond Armenia for the first genocide of the 20th century.

In an essay in the British Guardian, David Olusoga wrote: “When the media analysts at the Vatican scrutinize the social media traffic of the past seven days, their eyes might well be drawn away from Turkey and the Armenian diaspora towards a cluster of tweets, comments and Facebook posts that emanate from Africa.

“There, another debate raged last week,” he said. “The pope’s description of the Armenian massacre as “the first genocide of the 20th century” was simply incorrect. That grim distinction belongs to the genocide that imperial Germany unleashed a decade earlier against the Herero and Nama, two ethnic groups who lived in the former colony of South West Africa, modern Namibia.”

Olusoga pointed out that the Namibian genocide, 1904-1909, “seemed to prefigure the later horrors of that troubled century.” The systematic extermination of around 80 percent of the Herero people and 50 percent of the Nama was the work both of German soldiers and colonial administrators; “banal, desk-bound killers.” The most reliable figures estimate 90,000 people were killed, he said.

In the case of the Herero, he recalled, “an official, written order – the extermination order – was issued by the German commander, explicitly condemning the entire people to annihilation. After military attempts to bring this about had been thwarted, the liquidation of the surviving Herero, along with the Nama people, was continued in concentration camps, a term that was used at the time for the archipelago of facilities the Germans built across Namibia.”

“Some of the victims of the Namibian genocide were transported to those camps in cattle trucks and the bodies of some of the victims were subjected to pseudoscientific racial examinations and dissections.”

Recollection of this horror comes as a conference on reparations winds up in New York. However, unlike in the U.S. which apologized for slavery by resolutions in the House and Senate a decade ago, “All of this is now well known and widely accepted in Africa and even in Germany,” says Olusoga.

“In 2004, the German government apologized to the Herero and admitted that what Germany had done to their ancestors constituted a genocide,” he said. “As the co-author of one of the more recent histories of the genocide, I am regularly invited to attend conferences and give lectures on the subject in Germany and the word is spreading. A decade ago, my co-author and I described what took place in Namibia between 1904 and 1909 as “Germany’s forgotten genocide”. That phrase is now past its sell-by date, everywhere, it seems, other than in the Vatican.”

Olusoga wondered if the pope’s statement was made in ignorance or if the Vatican was guilty of the sin of deliberate omission. “Catholicism is growing faster in Africa than anywhere else,” he observed – “200 million Africans are followers of the faith. But awareness of history is also increasing in Africa and crimes such as the Namibian genocide can no longer be ignored, whether by accident or design.”

David Olusoga is the co-author, with Casper Erichsen, of The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Backlash Follows South Africa’s Xenophobic Attacks on Africans Tue, 21 Apr 2015 16:37:04 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives

Shocking images of South Africans beating foreign-born residents residing in Durban, Johannesburg and other parts stunned the continent which had taken a message of brotherhood from former president Nelson Mandela.

At least six people were killed, more than 5,000 displaced and shops were looted and razed in the attacks which have been building over weeks. Most of those affected were refugees and asylum seekers who were forced to leave their countries due to war and persecution, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees said.

The riots forced President Jacob Zuma to cancel a state visit to Indonesia and visit one of the camps in the Durban suburb of Chatsworth, where more than a thousand foreign nationals were sleeping in tents and relying on volunteers for food. Many were boarding buses to return to Malawi, Zimbabwe, and other home countries.

“It is not every South African who says go away, not at all. It is a very small number who say so,” Zuma said. “We want to live as sisters and brothers.”

The spark for the attacks was linked to comments by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini at a traditional event north of KwaZulu Natal. At first he seemed to be criticising South Africans for being lazy and not wanting to plough their fields. “When foreigners look at (us), they say ‘let us exploit this nation of idiots. As I speak, you find their unsightly goods hanging all over our shops. They dirty our streets. We cannot even recognise which shop is which, there are foreigners everywhere.”

He later denied the statement until media replayed a recording of it.

Retaliation against the attacks was seen in Mozambique after a national was seen murdered on TV. South African vehicles were pelted with stones. In Nigeria, South African companies were reportedly threatened with closure. Protests were seen at various South African embassies across the continent, and several South African musicians were forced to cancel concerts abroad.

Sasol, an energy and chemical giant, evacuated 340 South Africans from Mozambique over fears for their safety. In Zambia, a privately owned radio station stopped playing South African music in protest.

An anti-xenophobic peace march organised by South African local officials took place on Apr. 16 and was well attended. Some 5,000 people including religious leaders and politicians marched in solidarity with foreign nationals. The atmosphere was mostly calm, with protesters singing solidarity songs.

Still, Jean-Pierre Lukamba, an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, feared for the worst. “They are using us as scapegoats,” he said.

“Every day, migrants are living in this fire. It’s not just attacks. It’s institutionalised xenophobia. The government must do something. Those people aren’t just mad for no reason. They want electricity, they want jobs, they want water.”

Lukamba said he’s part of an organisation trying to negotiate between the two sides. “They don’t understand the history of Africa; if they do, they would know each of us, we are one,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Giving African Artists Their Names Sun, 19 Apr 2015 07:18:28 +0000 A. D. McKenzie By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Apr 19 2015 (IPS)

Quick now, can you name a famous African sculptor from the 1800s or even the early 20th century?

Anyone able to answer positively is part of a select minority – most museum-goers have become used to seeing traditional African carvings without knowing the name of the artist.

Artwork by Kuakudili on display at the ‘Masters of Sculpture from Ivory Coast’ exhibition, currently running at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, where visitors can see the forms that inspired Western artists such as Picasso, Braque and other adherents of Cubism. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Artwork by Kuakudili on display at the ‘Masters of Sculpture from Ivory Coast’ exhibition, currently running at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, where visitors can see the forms that inspired Western artists such as Picasso, Braque and other adherents of Cubism. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

But some experts are taking steps to change this, with the most extensive exhibition devoted to identifying Africa’s expert sculptors now on in Paris at the Quai Branly Museum – a venue devoted to the indigenous art of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas that is sometimes criticised for having “colonial undertones”.

The exhibition, titled ‘Masters of Sculpture from Ivory Coast’, features nearly 330 historical and contemporary works and artefacts, and runs until Jul. 26. It comes at a time when the market for traditional African art is at its highest in decades, with pieces fetching record prices, amid debate about whether these objects should be “returned” to Africa.

The show pays tribute to the remarkable artistry of the sculptors, who were often given the title of “master” in their homeland; and the timeless splendour of some of the objects will help to explain the current collecting craze. But the exhibition may also add fuel to the discussion about who should own works that reflect a region’s cultural heritage.

“Art really has no fatherland,” says the exhibition’s co-curator Eberhard Fischer, an ethnologist and Director Emeritus of the Rietberg Museum in Zurich, Switzerland.

“The interest of the artist might not be the same as the interest of the nation. Museums are responsible to the artist, and should honour them in the right way,” he added. “African art, European art, Indian art should be seen all over the world. We’re in the 21st century.”

He told IPS that what was “special” about the exhibition is the attempt to reveal the creators “behind the masterpieces”, in contrast to the objects being presented in a general context as tribal art created by anonymous makers.“Too often considered in the West as an artisanal production only involved in ritual activities, African art – just like Western art – is produced by individual artists whose works display great artistic and personal skill” – Notes to the ‘Masters of Sculpture from Ivory Coast’ exhibition

“My aim is to put these masters on a pedestal and to say ‘these were great men’,” Fischer said. “They were never given the same status as Western artists, and it’s time their individual skills were highlighted.”

In the notes to the exhibition, Fischer and co-curator Lorenz Homburger state that “African sculpture has a central place in the history of art”, and they indicate that the identification of traditional artists contributes to the recognition of this role.

“Too often considered in the West as an artisanal production only involved in ritual activities, African art – just like Western art – is produced by individual artists whose works display great artistic and personal skill,” the curators stress.

The Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) was one of the most important regions for African art production, and the exhibition “invites” visitors to discover the different “masters” of the various ethnic groups – artists who were held in “high esteem” by their communities. Some sculptors are designated only by their region, but many others do have names that are now becoming known.

Museum-goers will learn about Sra (“the creator”) who was born circa 1880 and died in 1955. He was the most famous sculptor of western Ivory Coast, according to the curators, creating “prestige objects and masks for many Dan and Mano chieftains in Liberia and for important members of the Dan and We community in Ivory Coast.”

Sra was renowned for his female figures, and visitors can admire these objects as well as his striking mother-and-child depictions. One of his contemporaries, Uopié, came from a different area but was also part of the Dan culture – in north-western Ivory Coast – and produced “bewitchingly beautiful” smiling masks, of the kind known as déanglé.

Putting a face and name to unsung African artists – photo of Kuakudili, an Ivory Coast artist who carved sacred masks both for masquerade dancers in neighbouring villages as well as for his own people. Cubism. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Putting a face and name to unsung African artists – photo of Kuakudili, an Ivory Coast artist who carved sacred masks both for masquerade dancers in neighbouring villages as well as for his own people. Cubism. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Alongside the objects, the curators give verbal snapshots of the artists whom they have been able to name: Tompieme was a “small, rather athletic, cheerful man” who was a successful farmer as well as singer and musician; Si was a hunter and youth instructor who, for many decades “circumcised boys and led the initiation camp … where he showed his initiates the art of carving.”

Then there is Tame (circa 1900 to 1965), a “handsome young man, a successful wrestler and the lover of many women.” He was the nephew of Uopié, who taught him to carve.  While there is no picture to allow visitors to judge Tame’s purported good looks for themselves, the exhibition does provide a photo of Kuakudili, the first Ivory Coast artist to have his “own face” in the show.

A picture of this sculptor is available thanks to Hans Himmelheber, a German anthropologist, art collector and Fischer’s step-father, who met the artist in 1933. The photo shows Kuakudili as a thin, serious man. He carved sacred masks both for masquerade dancers in neighbouring villages as well as for his own people, and in his work, visitors can see the forms that inspired Western artists such as Picasso, Braque and other adherents of Cubism.

Away from the exhibition, masks such as these and other objects from “African masters” are currently in great demand on the international art market, especially in Paris, New York and Brussels.

Jean Fritts, director for African and Oceanic Art at the Sotheby’s auction house, says that the median price for African art has doubled over the past decade.

“There has been tremendous growth since 1999,” she told IPS. “Part of this is related to a broader appreciation of African art.”

It is also related to some of the first collectors dying, and their heirs selling the objects, dealers have said. Many pieces have come from former colonialists in Belgium, for instance, and museums as well as private collectors are snapping up the objects that they believe were acquired by “honest” means.

Fritts said that 25 percent of the art on the market is being bought by collectors in the Middle East, with some of the works destined for the Louvre Abu Dhabi as well as the National Museum of Qatar, set to open in 2016.

In Africa, businesspeople such as Congolese entrepreneur Sindika Dokolo have also been buying on the market, with the aim of bringing some of Africa’s art back home. Dokolo had a representative at a recent Sotheby’s auction in Paris, where a coveted mask fetched 3.5 million euros (it went to another bidder).

Regarding the identity of the artists, Fritts and other dealers acknowledged that there is an “issue” because historically there has not been “much data collected about the carver”.

Given that provenance and exhibition history are important for art collectors (along with artistic quality and “rarity”), the Quai Branly show may help to add value to objects identified as being carved by a particular “master”. Fischer, the curator, sees no problem with that.

“A lot of these art pieces are sold as antiques and this is a wrong concept,” he says. “The market wants to keep them in some cloud of anonymity, but why shouldn’t African art fetch the same high prices that collectors pay for Western art? These artists have not been honoured enough.”

He sees the exhibition as the first step for these artists to have a place in prestigious museums such as the Louvre in Paris. Perhaps one day, Sra will be as internationally known as Picasso.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Tribunal Ruling Could Dent “Monster Boat” Trawling in West African Waters Sat, 18 Apr 2015 07:35:37 +0000 Saikou Jammeh Bakau fish market, The Gambia. The plight of Gambian and other West African artisan fishers could soon see a change for the better following an historic ruling by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Photo credit: Ralfszn - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

Bakau fish market, The Gambia. The plight of Gambian and other West African artisan fishers could soon see a change for the better following an historic ruling by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Photo credit: Ralfszn - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

By Saikou Jammeh
BANJUL, The Gambia, Apr 18 2015 (IPS)

It was five in the afternoon and Buba Badjie, a boat captain, had just brought his catch to the shore. He had spent twelve hours at sea off Bakau, a major fish landing site in The Gambia.

Inside the trays strewn on the floor bed of his wooden boat were bonga and catfish. Scores of women crowded around, looking to buy his catch.

“This is just enough to cover my expenses,” he tells IPS, indicating the squirming silvery creatures. “I went up to 20-something kilometres and all we could get was bonga.

“I spent more than 2,500 dalasis (60 dollars) on this one trip,” he confessed.

Badjie, 38, is not a native Gambian. Originally from neighbouring Senegal, he came here as a teenager looking for work. But the sea he has been fishing for almost two decades is no longer the same, he says somberly.

“This trade is about win and loss,” he added. “But nowadays, we have more losses. Recently, I went up to 50-something kilometres to another fishing ground but still no catch.

“The problem is the variations in the weather pattern. Also, we encounter huge commercial trawlers in the waters. Sometimes, they threaten to kill us when we confront them. When we spread our nets, they ruin them.”

But Badjie’s plight and that of thousands of other artisan fishers could soon see a change for the better.“The problem of oversized fleets using destructive fishing methods is a global one and the results are alarming and indisputable” – Greenpeace

In an historic ruling by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea – the first of its kind by the full tribunal – the body affirmed that “flag States” have a duty of due diligence to ensure that fishing vessels flying their flag comply with relevant laws and regulations concerning marine resources to enable the conservation and management of these resources.

Flag States, ruled the tribunal, must take necessary measures to ensure that these vessels are not engaged in illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU) fishing activities in the waters of member countries of West Africa’s Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SFRC). Further, they can be held liable for breach of this duty. The ruling specifies that the European Union has the same duty as a state.

West African waters are believed to have the highest levels of IUU fishing in the world, representing up to 37 percent of the region’s catch.

“This is a very welcome ruling that could be a real game changer,” World Wildlife Fund International Marine Programme Director John Tanzer was reported as saying. “No longer will we have to try to combat illegal fishing and the ransacking of coastal fisheries globally on a boat by boat basis.”

The SRFC covers the West African countries of Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

The need for an advisory opinion by the Tribunal emerged in 1993 when the SRFC reported an “over-exploitation of fisheries resources; and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing of an ever more alarming magnitude.” Such illegal catches were nearly equal to allowable ones, it said.

Further, “the lost income to national economies caused by IUU fishing in Wet Africa is on the order of 500 million dollars per year.”

The apparent theft of West Africa’s fish stocks has been denounced by various environmental groups including Greenpeace, which described “monster boats” trawling in African waters on a webpage titled ‘Fish Fairly’.

“For decades,” Greenpeace wrote, “the European Union and its member states have allowed their industrial fishing fleet to swell to an unsustainable size… In 2008, the European Commission estimated that parts of the E.U. fishing fleet were able to harvest fish much faster than stocks were able to regenerate.’’

“The problem of oversized fleets using destructive fishing methods is a global one and the results are alarming and indisputable.”

Unofficial sources told IPS that there are forty-seven industrial-sized fishing vessels currently in The Gambia’s waters, thirty-five of which are from foreign fleets.

Meanwhile, artisanal fishers, on whom the population depends for supply, say they are finding it hard to feed the market. Prices have risen phenomenally and shortages in the market are no longer a rarity.

“Our waters are overfished,” said Ousman Bojang, 80, a veteran Gambian fisher.

Bojang learnt the fishing trade from his father when he was young, but later switched gears to become a police officer.

After 20 years, he retired and returned to fishing. Building his first fishing boat in 1978, he became the president of the first-ever association of fishers in the country.

“Fishing improved my livelihood,” he told IPS. “While I was in the service, I could not build a hut for myself. Now, I have built a compound. I’ve sent my children to school and all of them have graduated.

“I transferred my skills to them and they’ve joined me at sea. I have 25 children; 10 boys and 15 girls. All the boys are into fishing. Even the girls, some know how to do hook and line and to repair net.”

Other hopeful trends for the artisanal fishers include the recognition by the Africa Progress Panel, headed by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, that illegal fishing is a priority that the continent must address.

Another is the endorsement by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations of guidelines which seek to improve conditions for small-scale fishers.

Nicole Franz, fishery planning analyst at FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture department in Rome, told IPS that the small-scale fisheries guidelines provide a framework change in small-scale fisheries. “It is an instrument that looks not only into traditional fisheries rights, such as fisheries management and user rights, but it also takes more integrated approach,” she said.

“It also looks into social conditions, decent employment conditions, climate change, disaster risks issues and a whole range of issues which go beyond what traditional fisheries institutions work with. Only if we have a human rights approach to small-scale fisheries, can we allow the sector to develop sustainably.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

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Fears Grow for Indigenous People in Path of Massive Ethiopian Dam Fri, 17 Apr 2015 00:04:11 +0000 Chalachew Tadesse Lake Turkana, believed to be four million years old, has been called “the Cradle of Mankind”. The Kwegu people living around it are under threat from the massive Gibe III Dam project, one of Africa’s largest hydropower projects. Credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Lake Turkana, believed to be four million years old, has been called “the Cradle of Mankind”. The Kwegu people living around it are under threat from the massive Gibe III Dam project, one of Africa’s largest hydropower projects. Credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Chalachew Tadesse
ADDIS ABABA, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

A United Nations mission is due to take place this month to assess the impact of Ethiopia’s massive Gilgel Gibe III hydroelectric power project on the Omo River which feeds Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, lying mostly in northwest Kenya with its northern tip extending into Ethiopia.

The report of the visit by a delegation from the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) from Ethiopia’s state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate (FBC) comes amid warnings by Survival International that the Kwegu people of southwest Ethiopia are facing severe hunger due to the destruction of surrounding forests and the drying up of the river on which their livelihoods depend.

The UK-based group linked the Kwegu’s food crisis to the massive Gibe III Dam and large-scale irrigation taking place in the region, which are robbing the Kwegu of their water and fish supplies.

The dam, one of Africa’s largest hydropower projects, is nearly 90 percent completed, according to a government press release, and could start generating electricity following the rainy season in August.

Construction of the dam has raised concerns for the much admired Lower Omo Valley and Lake Turkana, which are UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, although Lake Turkana is not now on the “endangered” list. The Gibe III hydroelectric plant is being built on the Omo River which provides more than 90 percent of Lake Turkana’s water.

The Lower Omo Valley is one of the most culturally diverse places in the world and archaeological digs have found human remains dating back 2.4 million years. Lake Turkana, believed to be four million years old, has been called “the Cradle of Mankind”.

UNESCO had previously failed to convince the Ethiopian government to halt the dam’s construction to allow independent impact assessment. The government countered that it had conducted a joint assessment with an international consultancy firm funded by the World Bank.

Their findings suggested that the dam would regulate the water flow rather than having negative effects on Lake Turkana, FBC quoted Alemayehu Tegenu, Ethiopia’s Minister of Water and Energy, as saying last month.

The Ethiopian government’s claims are highly contested, however. Several credible sources indicate that the projects would have significant implications on the livelihoods of 200,000 indigenous people in the Turkana area and Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley, including the Mursi, Bodi, Kwegu and Suri communities.Since its [Gibe III Dam] inception in 2006, international human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Ethiopian government of driving indigenous minority ethnic groups out of the Lower Omo Valley and endangering the Turkana community.

Ethiopia’s water-intensive commercial plantations on the Omo River could reduce the river’s flow to Lake Turkana by up to 70 percent, The Guardian newspaper reported. Lake Turkana is home to at least 60 fish species and sustains several sea and wild animals, the main source of livelihood for the Turkana community. Commercial plantations may also pollute the water with chemicals and nitrogen run-off.

Fears are growing that the dam will result in resource depletion thereby leading to conflict among various communities in the already fragile Turkana ecosystem. According to a recent report by the UK-based Sustainable Food Trust, “large-scale crop irrigation in dry regions causes water depletion and soil salination.”

“This place will turn into an endless, uncontrollable battlefield,” Joseph Atach, assistant chief at Kanamkuny village in Turkana, told The Guardian. Reduction in fishery stocks would have “massive impacts for the 200,000 people who rely on the lake for their livelihoods,” said Felix Horne, Human Rights Watch researcher for Ethiopia, thereby leaving them in precarious situations.

The Gibe III hydroelectric plant is also expected to irrigate the state-owned Kuraz Sugarcane Scheme and other foreign commercial large-scale cotton, rice and palm oil farms appropriated through massive land enclosures.

According to information from UNESCO, the Kuraz Sugarcane Scheme could “deprive Lake Turkana of 50 percent of its water inflow” thereby resulting in an estimated lowering of the lake level by 20 metres and a recession of the northern shoreline by as much as 40 km.

In an email response to IPS, Horne estimated that “between 20 and 52 percent of the water in the Omo River may never reach Lake Turkana depending on the irrigation technology used.”

Horne downplayed the significance of UNESCO’s planned assessment, saying that most credible sources indicate that the filling of the dam’s artificial lake combined with the reduction from downstream water flows caused by planned irrigated agriculture will greatly reduce the water going into the lake.

Yared Hailemariam, a Belgium-based former Ethiopian opposition politician and human rights activist, concurred. The main threat to Lake Turkana, he said, was the planned water-consuming sugarcane plantations. “In light of this”, Yared told IPS via Skype, “UNESCO’s future negotiations with the government should primarily focus on the sugarcane plantations instead of the reduction of the size of the hydro-dam.”

Since its inception in 2006, international human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Ethiopian government of driving indigenous minority ethnic groups out of the Lower Omo Valley and endangering the Turkana community.

Three years ago, Human Rights Watch warned that the Ethiopian government is “forcibly displacing indigenous pastoral communities in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley without adequate consultation or compensation to make way for state-run sugar plantations” in a process that has come to be known as “villagisation”.

Asked about the government’s methods of evicting indigenous communities from their ancestral homes, Horne said that “direct force seen in the early days of the relocation programme has been replaced by the threat of force, along with incentives, including access to food aid if individuals move into the new villages.”

Meanwhile, the Kenyan government’s stance has come under scrutiny. Horne and Argaw Ashine, an exiled Ethiopian environmental journalist and correspondent for the East African Nation Media Group, worry that the Kenyan government may have already agreed with the Ethiopian government to purchase electricity from Gibe III at a discounted price.

Reports show that Kenya could obtain more than 300MW of electricity from the Gibe III hydroelectric plant.

“The Kenyan government is more concerned with the energy-hungry industrial urban economy rather than the marginalised Turkana tribe,” said Argaw.

With the livelihoods of some of indigenous communities depending on shifting crop cultivation of maize and sorghum on the fertile Omo River flood lands, Horne fears that the regulation of the water flow will reduce nutrient-rich sediments necessary for crop production.

“The situation with the Kwegu is extremely serious,” Elizabeth Hunter, an Africa Campaign Officer for Survival International, is reported as saying. “Survival has received very alarming reports that they are now starving, and this is because they hunt and they fish and they grow plants along the side of the river Omo. All of this livelihood now, right as I speak, is being destroyed.”

She went on to say that “the plantations, particularly the sugar cane plantations, the Kuraz project which is a government-run project is going to need a lot of water. So they’re already syphoning off water into irrigation channels from the river.”

Since 2008, land grabs and plantations owned by foreign corporations have gobbled up an area the size of France, according to the Sustainable Food Trust, and the government plans to hand over twice this amount over the next few years.

The Gibe III hydro-power project, with its potential to double the current electric power generating capacity of the country, is a key part of Ethiopia’s five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) that aims at making Ethiopia a middle-income country by 2025.

However, serious concerns abound as to how modernisation and development should accommodate the interests and values of indigenous communities.

Yared and Argaw criticise the government’s “non-inclusive and non-participatory policy planning and implementations.” Argaw also argued that what has been done in the Lower Omo Valley was “largely a top-down political decision without joint consultation and planning involving the concerned communities.”

“The government can’t ensure sustainable development while at the same time disregarding the interests and needs of lots of marginalised local populations,” said Argaw, adding that the Ethiopian government wants indigenous peoples to be “wage labourers in commercial farms sooner or later.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris

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Investigation Tears Veil Off World Bank’s “Promise” to Eradicate Poverty Thu, 16 Apr 2015 22:39:25 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Nearly 50 percent of the estimated 3.4 million people who were physically or economically displaced by World Bank-funded projects in the last decade were from Africa and Asia. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

Nearly 50 percent of the estimated 3.4 million people who were physically or economically displaced by World Bank-funded projects in the last decade were from Africa and Asia. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida

An expose published Thursday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its media partners has revealed that in the course of a single decade, 3.4 million people were evicted from their homes, torn away from their lands or otherwise displaced by projects funded by the World Bank.

Over 50 journalists from 21 countries worked for nearly 12 months to systematically analyse the bank’s promise to protect vulnerable communities from the negative impacts of its own projects.

"The situation is simply untenable and unconscionable. Enough is enough.” -- Kate Geary Oxfam’s land advocacy lead
Reporters around the world – from Ghana to Guatemala, Kenya to Kosovo and South Sudan to Serbia – read through thousands of pages of World Bank records, interviewed scores of people including former Bank employees and carefully documented over 10 years of lapses in the financial institution’s practices, which have rendered poor farmers, urban slum-dwellers, indigenous communities and destitute fisherfolk landless, homeless or jobless.

In several cases, reporters found that whole communities who happened to live in the pathway of a World Bank-funded project were forcibly removed through means that involved the use of violence, or intimidation.

Such massive displacement directly violates the Bank’s decades-old Twin Goals of “[ending] extreme poverty by reducing the share of people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day to less than three percent of the global population by 2030 [and] promote shared prosperity by improving the living standards of the bottom 40 percent of the population in every country” – goals that the Bank promised to “pursue in ways that sustainably secure the future of the planet and its resources, promote social inclusion, and limit the economic burdens that future generations inherit.”

Far from finding sustainable ways of closing the vast wealth gaps that exist between the world richest and poorest people, between 2009 and 2013 “World Bank Group lenders pumped 50 billion dollars into projects graded the highest risk for “irreversible or unprecedented” social or environmental impacts — more than twice as much as the previous five-year span.”

The investigation further revealed, “The World Bank and its private-sector lending arm, the International Finance Corp., have financed governments and companies accused of human rights violations such as rape, murder and torture. In some cases the lenders have continued to bankroll these borrowers after evidence of abuses emerged.”

Nearly 50 percent of the estimated 3.4 million people who were physically or economically displaced by large-scale projects – ostensibly aimed at improving water and electricity supplies or beefing up transport and energy networks in some of the world’s most impoverished nations – reside in Africa, or one of three Asian nations: China, India and Vietnam.

Between 2004 and 2013, the World Bank, together with the IFC, pledged 455 billion dollars for the purpose of rolling out 7,200 projects in the developing world. In that same time period, complaints poured in from communities around the world that both the lenders and borrowers were flouting their own safeguards policies.

In Ethiopia, for instance, reporters from the ICIJ team found that government officials siphoned millions of dollars from the two billion dollars the Bank poured into a health and education initiative, and used the money to fund a campaign of mass evictions that sought to forcibly remove two million poor people from their lands.

Over 95,000 people in Ethiopia have been displaced by World Bank-funded projects.

Financial intermediaries

In a report released earlier this month, Oxfam claimed that the “International Finance Corporation has little accountability for billions of dollars’ worth of investments into banks, hedge funds and other financial intermediaries, resulting in projects that are causing human rights abuses around the world.”

In the four years leading up to 2013, Oxfam found that the IFC invested 36 billion dollars in financial intermediaries, 50 percent more than the sum spent on health and three times more than the Bank spent on education during that same period.

The new model, of pumping money into an investment portfolio in financial intermediaries, now makes up 62 percent of the IFC’s total investment portfolio, but the “painful truth is that the IFC does not know where much of its money under this new model is ending up or even whether it’s helping or harming,” Nicolas Mombrial, head of Oxfam International’s Washington DC office, said in a statement on Apr. 2.

Investments made to what the Bank classifies as “high-risk” intermediaries have caused conflict and hardship for thousands on palm oil, sugarcane and rubber plantations in Honduras, Laos, and Cambodia; at a dam site in Guatemala; around a power plant in India; and in the areas surrounding a mine in Vietnam, according to Oxfam’s research.

In response to widespread criticism over such lapses, the Bank is now in the process of overhauling its safeguards policy, but officials say that instead of making vulnerable communities safer, the new policy will only serve to increase their risk of displacement.

Citing current and former Bank employees, the ICIJ investigation claims, “[The] latest draft of the new policy, released in July 2014, would give governments more room to sidestep the Bank’s standards and make decisions about whether local populations need protecting.”

In a response to the ICIJ investigation released today, Oxfam’s land advocacy lead Kate Geary stated, “ICIJ’s findings echo what Oxfam has long been saying: that the World Bank Group – and its private sector arm the IFC in particular – is sometimes failing those people who it aims to benefit: the poorest and most marginalised […].

“It’s not just Oxfam and the ICIJ who say this – these disturbing findings are backed up by the Bank’s own internal audits which found, shockingly, that the Bank simply lost track of people who had to be “resettled” by its projects. President Kim himself has acknowledged this as a failure – and he’s right. The situation is simply untenable and unconscionable. Enough is enough.”

She stressed that the Bank must “provide redress through grant funding to those people it has displaced and left worse off […], enact urgent and fundamental reforms to ensure that these tragedies are not repeated [and] revise its ‘Action Plan on Resettlement’, released just last month by Kim in response to the critical audits, because it is inadequate to stem the terrible results of the worst of these projects.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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1.7 Billion Dollars Needed to Improve Ebola-hit Countries’ Health Care, Says Oxfam Thu, 16 Apr 2015 13:51:17 +0000 Valentina Ieri Scene from an Ebola treatment facility run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Guéckédou, Guinea, on the day of a visit from Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), on Nov. 1, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

Scene from an Ebola treatment facility run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Guéckédou, Guinea, on the day of a visit from Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), on Nov. 1, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

By Valentina Ieri

The international humanitarian charity Oxfam is calling on the World Bank and major donors to raise 1.7 billion dollars to improve poor health systems in Ebola-affected countries and strengthen community networks for preventing another epidemic.

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, said, “Communities pulling together has been vital to cutting Ebola infection rates […] But in order to be effective these networks need to work within a strong national healthcare service that is freely available to all people.”

In light of the World Bank’s talks on Ebola, set for Apr. 17 as part of the bank’s annual spring meetings in Washington DC, the focus is on the need to create a 10-year investment plan for free universal health care to ensure that countries are able tackle future disease outbreaks.

More than 10,000 people have died during the Ebola epidemic due to public health failures, remarked Byanyima. Oxfam has trained community volunteers and 1.3 million workers to visit houses and raise awareness about symptoms, good hygiene and risky behaviours, as well as supporting clinics, schools and people in quarantine with water and sanitation.

According to Oxfam, 420 million dollars is required to train more than 9,000 doctors and approximately 37,060 healthcare workers, and 297 million dollars is needed to pay their salaries.

The money is the minimum amount needed to assure health care assistance for all in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, according to Oxfam, and it would be invested in well-equipped facilities, sufficient trained staff, medical supplies and a systems of health information to strengthen community networks.

Byanyima said that, “The rise of stronger new community networks offer greater space for local people to be involved in decision making, but they have been excluded from recovery planning,” adding that this attitude should change, and donors should insist on engaging more with communities.

Building community networks is also vital to hold governments accountable for the money they spent, and if they spent it well, she remarked.

In Sierra Leone, around 12,000 children are orphans, and 180,000 people are jobless. In December 2014, in Liberia, 73 percent of people in three counties, Montserrado, Nimba and Grand Gedeh, reported dramatic economic impacts, in lost income and harvests, Oxfam researchers reported.

Oxfam urges the international community to invest in stronger public services, and to help local people to recover from the immediate psychological, social, and economic impacts left by the disease.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Kenya Orders Somali Refugee Camp Sheltering Thousands to Move Tue, 14 Apr 2015 17:07:22 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 14 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations, which is sheltering over 600,000 refugees from war-torn Somalia, has been ordered by Kenyan authorities to relocate the camp in three months.

“We have asked the UNHCR (the U.N. Refugee Agency) to relocate the refugees in three months, failure to which we shall relocate them ourselves,” said Kenya’s deputy president William Ruto in a statement Saturday.

“The way America changed after 9/11 is the way Kenya will change after Garissa,” he said, referring to the university that was attacked by Somali militants on Apr. 2.

Dadaab, the camp near the border with Somalia, is the largest refugee camp in Africa.

Macharia Munene, professor of international relations at the United States International University-Africa, said the logistics of moving hundreds of thousands of refugees across the border would be “a tall order”.

But he said there were now safe areas within Somalia from where the al Shabab armed group had been chased out by African Union forces in recent years.

“Kenya is in an emergency situation… Each country has an obligation to look after its people first,” he told Reuters.

In an effort to reassure Kenyans that the government is concerned with their safety, Kenya has been building a 440-mile wall along the entire length of the border with Somalia to keep out al Shabab militants.

But according to security and policy analyst Abdulahi Boru Halakhe, the strategy is ill-conceived. “Building the wall assumes that all al-Shabab members come from Somalia and ignores the group’s cells in Kenya and easy routes through neighboring Uganda and Tanzania,” he wrote in an opinion for Al Jazeera news.

“In fact, the suspected mastermind of the Garissa attack was a Kenyan schoolteacher from the town, and one of his accomplices was a son of a Kenyan government official.”

Joshua Meservey of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center expressed his view that Kenya was scapegoating the mostly Muslim refugees for their own security failings.

Further, suggested Mohamed Abdi, a refugee at the camp, moving the camp inside Somalia would boost al-Shabab’s recruitment efforts among the camp’s impoverished men, whose livelihoods would be threatened if their homes are displaced.

Meanwhile, the UNHCR claims it has not received any official communication from Kenyan authorities but rejects the apparent effort to use the refugees as scapegoats.

“Blanket measures that target people based on nationality or membership of a group will only cause suffering to innocent people and are usually ineffective,” said UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards. Three months, he added, is not realistic for such a relocation.

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First-Ever Training in Emergency Medicine Begins in Ghana Tue, 14 Apr 2015 17:02:07 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 14 2015 (IPS)

In a collaborative effort between the University of Michigan, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, a teaching hospital and other medical groups, Ghana has launched its first-ever training programme in emergency medicine and nursing.

Some 15 specialist-emergency physicians, trained in the programme, are already working in hospitals in the Ashanti, Greater Accra and Northern regions. Some 35 trained nurses have been posted to facilities across eight regions in the country.

The project emerged in response to the Accra Sports Stadium disaster of May 9, 2001 at the Ohene Djan Sports Stadium. Two popular teams were scheduled to play and trouble was anticipated. After the home side scored two late goals, the losing team’s fans began tossing plastic seats and bottles onto the pitch. Police responded by throwing tear gas into the crowd, sparking a stampede which led to the deaths from compressive asphyxia of 127 people.

Some gates were locked, preventing escape. The medical staff at the stadium had already gone home. “It was the longest and darkest night in Africa soccer history,” wrote Kent Mensah in

Authorities were blamed in an official inquiry with over-reacting, reckless behavior and indiscriminate firing of plastic bullets and tear gas. Six officers were accused of dishonesty and failure to take quick action.

A hearing on the incident failed to find any guilty parties but Ghanaians remember the disaster on May 9 each year. A monument “I Am My Brother’s Keeper”, mounted at the stadium, recalls the 127 lives that were lost.

In response to public pressure, a national Accident and Emergency Center was built in Kumasi. The Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons approached the Department of Emergency Medicine at Michigan University and a partnership was developed.

Prior to this new programme, most emergency care centers were staffed by medical officers with no formal training in Emergency Medicine. There were “casualty departments” in the larger hospitals but staffing was inadequate and relatively junior. Ambulance services are confined to regional capitals and are virtually non-existent in rural areas.

The training will “improve the provision of emergency medical care in Ghana through innovative and sustainable physician, nursing, and medical student training programs,” Michigan University wrote on its website. “These programs will increase the number of qualified emergency health care workers retained over time in areas where they are most needed. “

Funding for the project comes from the National Institutes of Health Fogarty International Center which is reported to be investing 130 million dollars in emergency medicine capacity across the continent.

Fifty 50 emergency nursing trainees are expected to complete their training by 2016, with 20 emergency medical technicians having been trained in triaging, resuscitation and acute care management.

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Togolese Candidates Hope for Change in Upcoming Polls Tue, 14 Apr 2015 16:57:00 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 14 2015 (IPS)

Togolese opposition leaders are issuing calls for change – the mantra of President Barack Obama – as they seek the end of the 50-year dynasty of the Gnassingbe family in Togolese politics.

Originally scheduled for Apr. 15, a presidential election will take place Apr. 25 after voter lists are checked as ordered by the Economic Community of West African States. Over 3.5 million voters are eligible to vote out of a population of nearly seven million.

Opposition parties said the list includes thousands of people who have registered twice and are likely to vote for the incumbent president.

President Faure Gnassingbe’s main challenger is Jean-Pierre Fabre, heading up the Combat for Political Change party, who faces a difficult political landscape made up of 37 ethnic groups – the main ones being the Ewe in the south (40 percent of the population), the Kotokolis in the center and the Kabye people in the north (22 percent). The Ewe straddle the Togo-Ghana boundary.

Gnassingbe rose to power in 2005 after the death of his father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled the tiny West African nation with an iron fist for 38 years. In recent months, opposition parties have tried to limit the number of five-year terms that a president can serve to two but the reform was blocked by Gnassingbe’s party.

At his party’s convention in February, which drew some 700 delegates, Gnassingbe modestly accepted his party’s backing to run for a third term.

“It is out of duty to our country Togo and trust in the ideals that we all share that I have the honor to accept to be invested as the presidential candidate of our (Union for the Republic) UNIR party,” he said. “I accept this nomination with a deep sense of humility.”

Years ago, Togo formed part of the Slave Coast, where captives were shipped abroad by European slavers during the 17th century. In 1884 it became the German protectorate of Togoland.

Political parties were legalised in 1991 and a democratic constitution was adopted in 1992.

In November and December last year, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to demand term limits but were turned back by police firing tear gas.

According to Unicef, 73 percent of Togo’s rural population and 91 percent of the northern Savanes region, lives below the poverty line.

The Unicef website for Togo reads: “The country is at a crucial point in its history. Another generation of children cannot be lost to poor services and abuses of their fundamental rights. National and international partners have a unique opportunity to ensure the health, education and social services for children in need in Togo.”

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Sudanese Leader Presumed Winner in Largely Uncontested Poll Tue, 14 Apr 2015 16:51:57 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 14 2015 (IPS)

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is predicted to roll up an easy victory in national polls this week, adding another five-year term to his already 26 years in office.

Voting began Monday and will continue for three days. More than 13 million people are registered to vote at some 11,000 polling stations around the country.

The country’s main opposition groups, however, have refused to participate, leaving some 15 little-known candidates to challenge Bashir. Among them is Fatima Abd-al-Mahmud, the only female candidate, running on the Sudanese Socialist Democratic Union ticket. A pediatrician, the 71-year-old entered politics four decades ago and has served in several ministerial posts.

Leaders of the opposition say that no credible elections can be held until peace is restored in all of the country’s regions and until all political prisoners are released and press freedom is restored.

“We are not going to participate in this election because it is not fair and free,” declared Hassan Osman Rizig, deputy president of the opposition Reform Now Movement party. “It is not recognised by the internal opposition or by the international community.”

“This is not an election and I personally, and our movement, shall not recognise this election,” echoed Minni Minnawi, chair of a Sudan Liberation Army faction that has been fighting government forces in Darfur for years, in a Guardian (UK) newspaper interview via satellite phone.

Fighting has been relentless in Darfur, Blue Nile and the South Kordofan region of Sudan, near the South Sudanese border, since conflict erupted in the fall of 2011 between the armed forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North.

In January, Sudanese air force planes bombing rebels in the Nuba Mountains area struck a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), where some 150 patients were being treated. Two bombs landed inside the hospital compound, the doctors’ group said, injuring one MSF staffer and one patient.

Still, the world community has shown signs of easing up on Bashir, once a roundly-criticised international pariah. The International Criminal Court, citing lack of support from the U.N. Security Council, ended its investigation of abuses in Darfur although the president still faces charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and three counts of genocide – accusations he denies.

Other actions favouring Bashir was the recent decision by Washington to allow communications equipment including smartphones and laptops into the country.

Both Bashir and opposition members have made improved relations with the U.S. a high priority in their campaign rallies.

The elections will be monitored by the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and the Arab League. European monitors have decided to stay home, citing doubts the exercise could produce credible results.

Quota systems in place are expected to ensure that women occupy at least 25 percent of seats in the national assembly and that all the country’s regions are fairly represented.

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Land Seizures Speeding Up, Leaving Africans Homeless and Landless Wed, 08 Apr 2015 12:54:23 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo An unidentified woman from Zimbabwe's Mashonaland Central Province at Manzou Farm packs her tobacco with the help of her children as they prepare to leave following an eviction order. “Land grabs in Africa have helped to perpetuate economic inequalities similar to the colonial era economic imbalances” – Terry Mutsvanga, Zimbabwean rights activist. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

An unidentified woman from Zimbabwe's Mashonaland Central Province at Manzou Farm packs her tobacco with the help of her children as they prepare to leave following an eviction order. “Land grabs in Africa have helped to perpetuate economic inequalities similar to the colonial era economic imbalances” – Terry Mutsvanga, Zimbabwean rights activist. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Apr 8 2015 (IPS)

There is a new scramble for Africa, with ordinary people facing displacement by the affluent and the powerful as huge tracts of land on the continent are grabbed by a minority, rights activists here say.

“Our forefathers cried foul during colonialism when their land was grabbed by colonialists more than a century ago, but today history repeats itself, with our own political leaders and wealthy countrymen looting land,” Claris Madhuku, director of the Platform for Youth Development (PYD), a democracy lobby group in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Civil society activist Owen Dliwayo, who is programme officer for the Youth Dialogue Action Network, another lobby group here, said multinational companies were to blame in most African countries for land seizures.“Our forefathers cried foul during colonialism when their land was grabbed by colonialists more than a century ago, but today history repeats itself, with our own political leaders and wealthy countrymen looting land” - Claris Madhuku, Zimbabwe’s Platform for Youth Development (PYD)

“I can give you an example of the Chisumbanje ethanol fuel project here in Chipinge. The project resulted in thousands of villagers being displaced to pave way for a sugar plantation so that thousands of hectares of land space could be created for the ethanol-producing project, consequently displacing poor villagers,” Dliwayo told IPS.

The 40,000 hectare sugar cane plantation which started in 2008 left more than 1,754 households displaced, according to PYD.

Fifteen years ago, Zimbabwe embarked on a controversial land reform programme to address colonial land-ownership imbalances, but activists have dismissed the move as disastrous for this Southern African nation.

“To say African nations like Zimbabwe addressed the land problem is untrue because land which African governments like Zimbabwe grabbed from white farmers was parcelled out to political elites at the expense of hordes of peasants here,” Terry Mutsvanga, an award-winning Zimbabwean rights activist, told IPS.

“Land grabs in Africa have helped to perpetuate economic inequalities similar to the colonial era economic imbalances,” he added.

In 2010, ZimOnline, a Zimbabwean news service, reported that about 2,200 well-connected black Zimbabwean elites controlled nearly 40 percent of the 14 million hectares of land seized from white farmers, with each farm ranging in size from 250 to 4,000 hectares, with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his family said to own 14 farms spanning at least 16,000 hectares.

Further up in East Africa, according to a 2011 presentation by Uganda’s Joshua Zake titled ‘Land Grabbing; silent pain for smallholder farmers in Uganda’, key characters of land grabbing in that country are also a few wealthy or powerful individuals against many vulnerable individuals or communities.

Zake is Senior Programme Officer Environment and Natural Resources and Coordinator of the Uganda Forestry Working Group at Environmental Alert.

According to Zake, land grabbing in Africa, particularly in Uganda, is promoted by the suspected presence of oil and other mineral resources beneath the land, such as in Uganda’s Amuru and Bulisa districts.

Zake’s remarks fit well with Zimbabwe’s situation, where more than 800 families were displaced by government from Chiadzwa in Manicaland Province after the discovery of diamonds there in 2005.

But land grabs in Africa may also be rampant in towns and cities, according to private land developers here.

“There is high demand of land for the construction of homes in towns and cities across Africa owing to the sharp rural-to-urban migration,” Etuna Nujoma, a private land developer based in Windhoek, the Namibian capital, told IPS.

“The wealthy and the powerful as well as the corrupt politicians are taking advantage of the land demand and therefore often parcelling out urban land amongst themselves for resale at exorbitant prices at the expense of the poor.”

Last year, irked by corrupt local authorities appearing to be dishing out land among themselves for resale, a group of informal settlement dwellers outside Namibia’s coastal holiday town of Swakopmund occupied municipal land with the intention of settling there.

With land grabs at their peak in Zimbabwe, members of the ruling Zanu-PF party are measuring out land pieces which they then give to people who pay in the range of 10 to 20 dollars for 30 to 50 square metres, depending on the areas in which they want to obtain housing stands, according to Andrew Nyanyadzi of Zanu-PF.

“We don’t need permission from local authorities for us to have access to the land which our liberation war leaders fought for. It’s our land and we are therefore selling at affordable prices to ruling party loyalists,” Nyanyadzi told IPS.

Houses that once sheltered farmworkers stand empty as lands are reallocated for commercial farming and other profit-making purposes in Africa. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Houses that once sheltered farmworkers stand empty as lands are reallocated for commercial farming and other profit-making purposes in Africa. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Consequently, lobby groups in Zimbabwe say havoc rules supreme in the country’s towns and cities.

“In Harare, land belonging to the city has been taken over by known militant groups of people with links to Zanu-PF, whom police here are even afraid to apprehend,” Precious Shumba, the director of Harare Residents Trust, told IPS.

“This is exactly what happened to Harare’s urban land in Hatcliff high density area, where housing cooperatives belonging to the ruling Zanu-PF leaders have grabbed council land using their political power,” Shumba said.

However, like other countries across Africa, Zimbabwe’s local authority by-laws prohibit individuals or organisations from selling land that does not legally belong to them.

Meanwhile, in Mozambique, the poor are losing out to foreign investors on land rights there despite the state being the sole owner of land.

Under the country’s constitution, there is no private land ownership – land and its associated resources are the property of the state – although the country’s Land Law grants private persons the right to use and benefit from the land whether or not they have a formal title. However, loopholes have emerged in the law.

A survey last year by Mozambique’s National Farmers’ Union showed that there was a colonial-era style land grab there, with politically-connected companies in the former Portuguese colony seizing hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland from peasants.

According to GRAIN, a non-profit organisation supporting small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems, peasants in northern Mozambique have difficulties keeping their lands as foreign companies set up large-scale agribusinesses there.

The NGO says Mozambicans are being told that these projects will bring them benefits, but this is not how Caesar Guebuza and other Mozambican peasants see it.

“Agricultural investments by foreign companies have not benefitted us, but rather we have lost land to these companies investing here and we are being treated as aliens in our own land,” Guebuza told IPS.

Economists blame the Mozambican government for favouring foreign investors, who now possess large swathes of state land.

“The Mozambican government is known for siding with foreign investors who now occupy huge tracts of land for their own use as local peasants lose out on land, which is their birth right,” Kingston Nyakurukwa, a Zimbabwean independent economist, told IPS.

With foreign investors acquiring huge tracts of land ahead of locals in Africa, ActionAid Tanzania earlier this year said that through the European Union, United States and several European countries, the European Union’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition plans to invest 7.57 billion euros in agricultural development and food security across Africa.

However, said Nyakurukwa, these will be business ventures that will strip Africans of their hard-earned money as they buy agricultural produce.

Similarly, in Nigeria, Mozambique and Tanzania, smallholder farmers are being moved off their land, paving the way for sugarcane, rice and other export crop-growing projects backed by New Alliance money, according to ActionAid Tanzania’s findings.

For Africans in Tanzania, big money might be gradually rendering them landless.

“Money from investors seem to be elbowing us out of our native lands here in Tanzania as no one has been offered the choice of whether to be resettled or not as we are being forcibly offered money or land for resettlement,” Moses Malunguja, a disgruntled peasant from Tanzania, told IPS.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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College Massacre Throws Up Questions about Kenya’s Security Mon, 06 Apr 2015 09:11:00 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 6 2015 (IPS)

In a prepared speech after the murder of dozens of Kenyans last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta declared a national war on terror. “This is a war against Kenya and Kenyans,” he said. “It is a war that every one of us must fight.”

It was a speech he gave in December after the killing of 36 miners working in a quarry not far from the border with Somalia. They were reportedly slain by members of the terrorist group Al-Shabaab.

Once again, a few days ago, Kenyans reeled in shock, but this time at news of the massacre of at least 147 students – nearly all young Christian males – by a small rebel band filtered through the media.Despite its peaceful appearance, the [Garissa] university college was a known target for the fury of the Somali-based Al-Shabaab group which has been at war with Kenya for many years. The fact that only a small handful of security guards were on duty when the attack began shocked many.

The slaughter began in the dark pre-dawn hours of Apr. 2 while everyone slept until they were awakened by the popping sounds of gunfire. The militants urged students to cooperate. “If you want to survive, come out. If you want to die, stay inside,” they warned the still-groggy students.

“I knew those guys were lying,” said a 23-year-old student Elosy Karimi who described to a reporter how she hid in the ceiling above her bunk bed for over 24 hours.

President Barack Obama, still planning a trip to Kenya, commiserated: “Words cannot adequately condemn the terrorist atrocities that took place at Garissa University College, where innocent men and women were brazenly and brutally massacred. We join the world in mourning them, many of whom were students pursuing an education in the pursuit of a better life for themselves and their loved ones. “

“They represented a brighter future for a region that has seen too much violence for far too long.”

Garissa University College lies northeast of Nairobi, near to the border with Somalia. A small school with a staff of 75, it was recently upgraded to give technical and vocational degrees as part of Moi University. Computer science and information technology were introduced last year. But the bucolic nature of the college, highlighted by a flock of sheep, green leaves and natural springs, was apparent on the school’s website.

Despite its peaceful appearance, the university college was a known target for the fury of the Somali-based Al-Shabaab group which has been at war with Kenya for many years. The fact that only a small handful of security guards were on duty when the attack began shocked many.

It was particularly inexplicable as there had been recent warnings of an Al-Shabaab attack at Garissa and other universities. A travel advisory issued by the British government just days earlier had warned against travel to Garissa.

While some foreign media outlets describe Kenya as “powerless in the face of a ruthless terrorist organisation,” Kenya is a major military power in the region, having one of the highest defence budgets in Africa, thanks to two decades of a steady increase in military spending.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an independent research organisation, the country purchased 19.8 billion Kenyan shillings (216 million dollars) worth of advanced weapons in five years between 2010 and 2014, up from 919.4 million Kenyan shillings (10 million dollars) between 2005 and 2009 — marking a huge jump in the period — which is the highest in the East Africa.

Yet four gunmen managed to hold off elite counter-terror police and military units called to the scene while they systematically massacred “hostages.” This is hardly unprecedented,” Patrick Gathara, a security analyst wrote in Al Jazeera news service.

“Much the same happened at Westgate (Mall) where four gunmen supposedly kept hundreds of cops and soldiers at bay for four days, apparently taking time off to pray and relax while the security agents looted the mall.”

“The government responded with a crackdown that targeted the ethnic Somali population within Nairobi – little more than an exercise in scapegoating and extortion,” he recalled. “Similarly, Garissa itself, which is populated mainly by ethnic Somalis, has been the site for ‘security operations’ – another term for collective punishment – for well over half a century.”

Government’s failure to stem the rise in insecurity has not gone unnoticed in the Kenyan community, especially since Kenya’s incursion into Somalia in Operation Linda Nchi in 2011. A reduction of troops was expected in 2014 after complaints by the Somali government.

A Twitter feed titled #GarissaAttack quickly filled up with comments and complaints. Ory Okolloh Mwangi, well-known ‘Kenyan pundit’, wrote: “When you look at the resources poured into winning one single seat in Kajiado Central, and then how we are responding to Garissa. Ai?”

Senator James Orengo pleaded:  “We know very well the consequences of a war of occupation. We must withdraw our troops from Somalia to end this. We must rethink our strategy and have a targeted and principled way of engaging Somalia rather than put our people at risk.”

Questions are forming, wrote Gathara, about whether this disaster is just the latest in a series of preventable terrorist atrocities that have now claimed more than 350 lives in the last two years.

An earlier security operation, a week into the Kenyatta presidency, saw the indiscriminate arrest of over 600 Garissa residents, including newly-elected local leaders, by a security team the government itself had described as “rotten”, wrote Gathara.

“Now, after the latest Garissa atrocity, President Kenyatta has issued another directive of dubious legality,” continued Gathara, namely calling up 10,000 new officers despite a court order freezing police recruitment following a corruption-riddled exercise last year.

“What is Kenya’s plan as far as Somalia is concerned?” asked Abdullahi Boru Halakhe, East Africa researcher with Amnesty International, regarding the Kenya’s troops stationed in Somalia. “What does the exit plan look like? Is it two years? Is it three years”?

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: Where Does Nigeria Go From Here? Thu, 02 Apr 2015 12:57:35 +0000 Lisa Vives General Muhammadu Buhari holding a broom at a campaign rally. Photo credit: By Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (Flickr: Wahlkampf in Nigeria 2015)/CC BY-SA 2.0

General Muhammadu Buhari holding a broom at a campaign rally. Photo credit: By Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (Flickr: Wahlkampf in Nigeria 2015)/CC BY-SA 2.0

By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK/ABUJA, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

After several tension-filled months, a majority of Nigerians swept in an opposition leader and former military man, Muhammadu Buhari, to succeed incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, whose failure to contain a terrorist wave in the northern states doomed his re-election chances.

Buhari had previously ruled Nigeria from January 1984 until August 1985 – a period in which there were widespread accusations of human rights abuses – after taking charge following a military coup in December 1983.

The Mar. 28 elections were observed by teams from the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union. Carl LeVan, an assistant professor at the School of International Service, American University in Washington, DC, took part in the National Democratic Institute’s election observation mission from the United States.“[President Muhammadu] Buhari has an unprecedented opportunity to recast the Muslim face of Africa at a time when violent terrorist movements have both perverted Islam and distorted Western foreign policies meant to be more multifaceted” – Carl LeVan, member of a U.S. observation mission for the Mar. 28 presidential election in Nigeria

Speaking with IPS, LeVan, author of Dictators and Democracy in African Development (2015), remarked on the surprise success of Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) party that was only formed in February 2013.

“The defeat of Africa’s largest political party, the People’s Democratic Party, will bring the All Progressives Congress (APC) into power after barely two years of organising, mobilising and coalition building. (Muhammadu) Buhari will enter office with a strong mandate from the voters, having won four out of the country’s six geopolitical zones, and the APC will enjoy a comfortable majority in the Senate.

“Though a northern Muslim from Katsina, his support included the predominantly Yoruba southwest, where President Goodluck Jonathan recent delivered bags of cash to traditional rulers according to news reports and where the militant Odudwa Peoples’ Congress launched a wave of thuggery in recent weeks.”

The election upset was especially poignant for Nigerians of the northern states, the area most devastated by Boko Haram terror attacks. While some of the vote counting was impeccable, not all of the voting went smoothly. Observers told of protestors objecting to perceived rigging, harassment, ballot boxes snatched and over-voting.

“Even before the results were announced,” said LeVan, “voters in the north reacted with jubilation, and militant groups, including the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, began surreptitiously re-arming in the creeks of the south. Sources I met with over the weekend in Rivers State say they have seen caches of weapons in camps backed by militants such Ateke Tom and others.

“In addition to such seemingly minor procedural problems, the public was locked out of some collation (vote counting) centres. We also received credible reports of serious harassment. A soldier was killed in some of the violence in Port Harcourt, and a large protest took the state electoral commission by storm on Sunday.”

The opposition victory has been achieved but some are already wondering what the new leader, not known for his adherence to human rights, will prioritise.

According to LeVan, “Buhari has a mandate, and his most urgent challenge is to neither misinterpret nor abuse it.

“According to an Afrobarometer poll released on Mar. 23, 40 percent of Nigerians say the president ‘should be allowed to govern freely without wasting time to justify expenses’, and 25 percent say the president should ‘pass laws without worrying about what the National Assembly thinks’. Sixty-eight percent are not very or not at all satisfied with the way democracy is working.”

Recalling a recent national election won by a former dictator, LeVan said that “the last time Nigeria elected a former dictator, Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999, he spent his first term battling the National Assembly and quelling violence in the region that largely voted against him. But he also began building institutions and establishing trust with his sceptics.

“The last time Nigerians had Buhari at the helm, the jubilation quickly gave way to frustration, repression, and economic failure.

“Buhari’s ‘honeymoon’ will therefore be critical, and probably even shorter lived than his memories of 1984. He will need to do more than make grand rhetorical gestures to democracy; he’ll need to practice it and educate his own supporters about the advantages of the justice and fairness it offers, even where the cost may be the kind of efficiency the Afrobarometer respondents appear to be longing for.”

LeVan also urged the new president to “go south” in view of the fact that Nigeria has often been a divided country with loyalties to different regional centres and different religious and ethnic affiliations, because this would send a “valuable message to northerners that he is everyone’s president.”

By “going south”, he said, the newly-elected president “could also include a clear transition plan or policy for the status of the ongoing amnesty programme for the Niger Delta militants, who need reassurance that they do not need an Ijaw president [like President Goodluck Jonathan] in order to have “resource control” taken seriously, or to have environmental clean-up and developmental needs addressed.

“The sooner and more clearly they hear this message, the less likely will be the re-ignition of the Delta rebellions … This is also important because in a country partly divided along religious lines between north and south, Afrobarometer reports that trust in religious leaders at 29 percent is higher than in the National Assembly, governors, local governments, or even traditional rulers (16 percent).

“Christian Igbos in the east (who overwhelmingly rejected the APC) and minorities in the south need to know they can trust Buhari, and he needs their cooperation to govern peacefully and practically.”

LeVan also suggested that Buhari should “reset” national security strategy, perhaps by ”replacing key members of the national security establishment.

“While some continuity may help preserve institutionalised knowledge, particularly with regard to the recent ‘surge’ against Boko Haram, the mishandling of the Chibok girls’ kidnapping reduced confidence in the national security team, and the pressure applied to the electoral commission prior to the election delay has contributed to the perception that some soldiers and many advisers are partisan.”

Boko Haram has been displaced but not defeated, LeVan warned, and this means creating a “credible counter-insurgency strategy”.

Among others, such a strategy would include “sustained high-level interactions with the multinational coalition partners, and a repairing of bridges to the United States, United Kingdom and other allies with a stake in Nigeria’s peaceful prosperity.”

In this context, said LeVan, a visit to the United States and the United Kingdom would be beneficial to reconnect with a disenchanted diaspora. “This will be important in the United States, where leadership in Congress has interpreted Boko Haram as a war against Christians, rather than a complex insurgency with many different victims and deep historical and socio-economic roots.

“Buhari has an unprecedented opportunity to recast the Muslim face of Africa at a time when violent terrorist movements have both perverted Islam and distorted Western foreign policies meant to be more multifaceted.”

LeVan also advised Buhari to pick a “credible, competent and diverse economic team”, noting that “in early 2014, the government of Nigeria (along with the World Bank and others) highlighted trends in economic diversification. The near crisis triggered by the decline in oil prices since then suggests either these claims were overstated or much more work needs to be done.

Buhari could reform the refinery and oil importation mechanisms, commit to publishing all of the federal governments revenue transfers to subnational units each month (like it used to), and pick a combination of experts from academia, the private sector and the bureaucracy to get the economy back on track.”

“A few obvious steps,” concluded LeVan, “would go a long way: reaffirm the independence of the Central Bank (whose governor was replaced last year), stabilise the currency, and consult the National Assembly about budget plans and fiscal crises … The rest is up to the Nigerian people, who spoke on Mar. 28. Voting was just the beginning.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

Any views expressed by persons cited in this article do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Lawyers, Rights Groups Rally Around Author of ‘Blood Diamonds’, Facing Jail Tue, 31 Mar 2015 23:09:18 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The Southern Africa Litigation Centre, Amnesty International and over a dozen other human rights organisations including the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights have signed an open letter demanding justice for crusading Angolan journalist Rafael Marques de Morais, whose exposés have offended several military officials and other higher-ups.

In their letter, published this week in a Malawian newspaper, the group praised Marques for “his long history of holding the Angolan government to account for human rights abuses and corruption through his insightful, thoughtful and well regarded journalistic investigations” and noted that “for his efforts, he has been arrested and detained multiple times in Angola.”

In the latest effort to silence Marques, legal action was launched by a group of generals over his book ‘Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola’, first published in Portugal in 2011.

The book cites a litany of human rights violations – including killings, torture and forced evictions – that took place in Lunda Norte in northeastern Angola where diamond excavations were taking place. Military officials, diamond miners and private security contractors – named in the book – first attempted to sue Marques for defamation in Portugal but their case was dismissed.

After the book appeared, the author filed a charge with the Angolan Attorney General on Nov. 14, 2011. He called on the authorities to investigate the moral responsibility of the generals for serious abuses. After hearing victims’ testimonies in 2012, the Attorney General set the case aside. New charges were then filed against Marques.

If convicted, he faces up to nine years in prison and damages of 1.2 million dollars on the charge.

“Mr Marques is the recipient of numerous prestigious international awards for his work. He is an equal opportunity human rights defender, working to expose violations no matter who is the accused or accuser,” the open letter writers noted.

Angola, the fourth-biggest diamond producing country by value, has been relaxing restrictions on exploration and development after producers, including South African giant De Beers, cut back operations during the global financial crisis. The move is worrying environmentalists as well as local people and the rise in numbers of anti-government protests is an irritant to the authorities who are keen to make an example of Marques with a successful prosecution.

In his speech as joint winner of the 2015 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expressions in Journalism award last week, one of several international honours he has received, Marques said that the trial would make him stronger.

“It will show Angolans there is nothing to fear and challenge them to hold the authorities to account,” he said in a press interview.

Seven journalists have been murdered in Angola since 1992 and many others intimidated or imprisoned, according to The Guardian newspaper. This month, two activists, Marcos Mavungo and Arao Bula Tempo, were arrested in Angola’s northern oil-producing province Cabinda, hours before an anti-government protest was due to take place. They have been jailed on charges of sedition.

Previous demonstrations have been broken up using what Human Rights Watch call “excessive force” and last year a female student was hospitalised after a beating by police for taking part in a march.

Other signers to the open letter include Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the UK-based Media Legal Defence Initiative.

Edited by Phil Harris    

*The book – Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola – is not yet available in English.

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