Inter Press Service » Africa http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Fri, 25 Jul 2014 13:09:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 Social Protection Needed to Reduce Africa’s Inequalities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/social-protection-needed-to-reduce-africas-inequalities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-protection-needed-to-reduce-africas-inequalities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/social-protection-needed-to-reduce-africas-inequalities/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 20:34:49 +0000 Monde Kingsley Nfor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135730 David, 14, transports gallons of palm oil for his father in Penja, in Cameroon’s Littoral region. Experts say there is a strong need for a people-centred approach if growth in Cameroon is to be resilient. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

David, 14, transports gallons of palm oil for his father in Penja, in Cameroon’s Littoral region. Experts say there is a strong need for a people-centred approach if growth in Cameroon is to be resilient. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

By Monde Kingsley Nfor
YAOUNDE, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

For the last 13 years, Michael Ndah, 37, has worked for three road construction companies in Cameroon, but it is only in the last two years that his current employer has managed to register him with the National Social Insurance Fund (CNPS). 

The CNPS is a pension system for workers in the private sector but they can only join if they are signed up by their employers. Benefits also include medical and surgical care and hospitalisation. But Ndah’s CNPS cover does not provide for his family’s health.

“When my wife goes to the hospital I cannot use my insurance card for treatment and they say I must first pay in cash,” he tells IPS.

The labour code provides that seven percent of a worker’s salary is given to CNPS each month, with the highest salary calculated by the system being 300,000 CFA (about 640 dollars) — even if the person earns above this.

It is a contributive system where 2.8 percent of the payments are covered by the employee, with the remaining contributions covered by the employer. But with 640 dollars being the maximum wage allowed by CNPS, overall pensions are low.

And it’s a huge concern for Ndah.

“I don’t know if, before my retirement, I would have contributed enough to be eligible for a monthly pension payment,” Ndah worries.

The number of working-age people who are members of the CNPS is also low. According to the United Nations, about 53.3 percent of the country’s 21.7 million people are of working age (16 to 64 years). But only about 10 percent of them are insured by the CNPS.

“All workers in the formal sector are supposed to be registered with the social insurance [CNPS] eight days after signing an employment contract but many employers do not implement this law,” John Yewoh Forchu, a general inspector at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, tells IPS.

The high rate of unemployment here – about 30 percent – favours most employers who do not run organised work environments and are not ready to sign any form of contract with employees.

Warda Ndouvatama, a Yaounde-based civil administrator and expert on social security and protection, says that most employers falsely declare the number of workers employed by their organisations to avoid social insurance contributions.

He tells IPS that this phenomenon is not only common in Cameroon but in many African countries where more than 70 percent of the population work in the informal sector and do not have employment contracts.

“This has a big impact on the ability of people to cope with present and future eventualities,” Ndouvatama says.

While countries in Africa are enjoying higher levels of economic growth and well-being, the latest annual Human Development Report by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) says that countries on the continent need to intensify their fight against deprivation.

The report states that by providing an additional and predictable layer of support, social protection programmes help households avoid selling off assets, taking children out of school or postponing necessary medical care, all detrimental to their long term well-being.

“One commonly held misconception is that only wealthy countries can afford social protection or universal basic services. As this report documents, the evidence is to the contrary. Except for societies undergoing violent strife and turmoil, most societies can — and many have — put in place basic services and social protection,” the report states.

Mutale Wakunuma, the Zambia country coordinator of the Africa Platform for Social Protection, agrees.

“We all know that there is overwhelming evidence of the role social protection plays in reducing extreme poverty and helping countries recover from crises, but we need these implemented in earnest by governments,” she tells IPS, pointing out that social protection programmes that help reduce poverty are few and far between.

“This failure to implement them in earnest is why the report observes that in spite of the progress, sub-Saharan Africa is the most unequal region in the world,” she adds.

Lisa Simrique Singh, senior economist at UNDP in Yaounde, says in terms of Cameroon and the global and national discussion post 2015, the focus is on “resilience and growth that leaves no-one behind.”

“There is thus a strong need overall for a people centred approach if growth in Cameroon is to be resilient,” she tells IPS.

“To this end there is need for a systemic approach which combines macro, sectoral and micro interventions in a meaningful way that responds to the real needs of the poor. And as a policy tool, there is a strong need for social protection to be mainstreamed into the overall growth agenda of the country.

“Social security currently exists but it is only one component of it since it covers and benefits only those in the formal sector, which account for around 10 percent of the population.”

Cameroon, however, is looking to reform the CNSP. Future changes will include increasing the monthly contribution from seven to 13 percent of a person’s salary, creating a security system for informal sectors and universal health coverage that guarantees access to medical treatment even when a patient has no money.

Officials at the fund also acknowledge that if nothing is done to get more people integrated in the fund by 2020, the social security system will be grounded. This is because very few formal sector workers and no informal workers benefit from social security and the existing social security does not cover many risks.

“The social insurance fund scheme of 1974 is old and major reforms have to be done because we have [a larger] ageing population than before the 1990s. In the 1990s, 10 workers were contributing for one retired person but today 10 workers contribute for six retired persons,” Forchu says.

He explained that the system in place is a social solidarity system where those working contribute to help those who are out of activity.

“Fewer people now contribute to retired people. The cost of living and prices has increased without a relative salary increase and workers’ pensions cannot really meet the standards of life today.”

*Additional reporting by Amy Fallon in Kampala, Uganda and Friday Phiri in Lusaka, Zambia.

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OPINION: Empowering DR Congo’s Sexual Violence Survivors by Enforcing Reparations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/op-ed-empowering-dr-congos-sexual-violence-survivors-by-enforcing-reparations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-empowering-dr-congos-sexual-violence-survivors-by-enforcing-reparations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/op-ed-empowering-dr-congos-sexual-violence-survivors-by-enforcing-reparations/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 08:26:58 +0000 Sucharita S.K. Varanasi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135716 Rape survivor Angeline Mwarusena. Reparations, both monetary and non-monetary, can provide emotional, psychological, physical, and economic relief for the pain, humiliation, trauma, and violence that sexual violence survivors have endured, according to Physicians for Human Rights. Credit: Einberger/argum/EED/IPS

Rape survivor Angeline Mwarusena. Reparations, both monetary and non-monetary, can provide emotional, psychological, physical, and economic relief for the pain, humiliation, trauma, and violence that sexual violence survivors have endured, according to Physicians for Human Rights. Credit: Einberger/argum/EED/IPS

By Sucharita S.K. Varanasi
BOSTON, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

Before a sexual violence survivor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has her day in court, she must surmount many obstacles. Poor or nonexistent roads and costly transportation may prevent her from going to a police station to report the crime, or to a hospital to receive treatment for the injuries sustained during the violence.

Inadequate training of law enforcement, limited resources for thorough investigations, and lack of witness protection may also compromise her case.

In the DRC, another impediment is a heavy reliance on traditional forms of justice. Sexual violence survivors are compelled by their families and communities to seek redress through traditional mechanisms because the process often leads to the survivor’s family receiving some type of compensation, such as a goat.

However attractive traditional justice may be for the family of those victimised, the survivor is rarely at the centre of the process. Understanding the various hurdles that a survivor must overcome in accessing the formal legal system is the first step in a survivor’s pursuit of justice.

Until recently, the international community has largely ignored the fact that even if survivors overcome many of these challenges and win their legal cases, they rarely receive reparations.

During a roundtable discussion hosted by Physicians for Human Rights, Georgetown University Institute for Women, Peace and Security, and Columbia School of International and Public Affairs earlier this year, experts identified reasons why survivors are unable to retrieve these hard-won reparations, and issued a set of recommendations that aim to help reverse this trend.

Sucharita S.K. Varanasi, a senior programme officer with Physicians for Human Rights says that in order to receive court-ordered monetary compensation, survivors of sexual violence in DRC must  navigate the onerous post-trial process alone. Courtesy: Physicians for Human Rights

Sucharita S.K. Varanasi, a senior programme officer with Physicians for Human Rights.

In order to receive court-ordered monetary compensation, survivors of sexual violence must  navigate the onerous post-trial process alone – without counsel or support – and either pay upfront prohibitively expensive administrative fees and duties or collect and present difficult-to-obtain paperwork necessary to waive these fees.

Overcoming these obstacles can prove daunting – even insurmountable – for individuals who are well-resourced and connected, let alone for the majority of survivors who are financially indigent and disenfranchised.

The international community is finally paying apt attention to the fact that even if a survivor surmounts the many obstacles she faces in pursuing justice, it may never lead to compensation or to her perpetrator being brought to justice.

The roundtable participants, including key international stakeholders in the DRC, provided short-term recommendations to help survivors receive their judgments in hand. These include the training of judges on relevant Congolese laws to help survivors; direct international funds to help survivors navigate the post-trial process; engagement and education of community chiefs within traditional justice mechanisms about survivors’ rights and the need to direct survivors to the formal court system; and the strengthening and enforcement of penitentiary systems so that sentences are upheld and punishment can be a deterrent to committing such crimes in the future.

Long-term recommendations from roundtable participants included the need to marshal political will, creating both a sovereign mineral fund and a victims’ fund, and reforming the legal sector by creating mixed chambers and revising key pieces of legislation. Significantly, long-term strategies to support reparations for survivors must also take into consideration collective community responses for the many survivors who never report their violation or never engage in the justice process.

These recommendations are by no means exhaustive, but showcase a desire and commitment from international actors to help survivors receive monetary judgments.

Reparations, both monetary and non-monetary, can provide emotional, psychological, physical, and economic relief for the pain, humiliation, trauma, and violence that sexual violence survivors have endured.

Enforcing monetary reparations justifies the hardship and difficulty of pursing justice in the first place for the survivors. The international community can help a sexual violence survivor move from a position of pain to power. The main question is whether we are willing to urge local governments and community leaders to make it happen.

Sexual violence survivors waiting to testify in a Congolese mobile court. Courtesy: Physicians for Human Rights

Sexual violence survivors waiting to testify in a Congolese mobile court. Courtesy: Physicians for Human Rights

Sucharita S.K. Varanasi is a senior programme officer, at the Programme on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones with Physicians for Human Rights. She travels and works in DRC and Kenya.

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Cameroon’s Rising Sea Drowns Tourism http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/cameroons-rising-sea-drowns-tourism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cameroons-rising-sea-drowns-tourism http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/cameroons-rising-sea-drowns-tourism/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 07:19:31 +0000 Monde Kingsley Nfor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135711 Fisherman in Kribi, Cameroon, say this is the last stretch of beach with enough space for them to anchor their canoes. Credit- Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS.jpg

Fisherman in Kribi, Cameroon, say this is the last stretch of beach with enough space for them to anchor their canoes. Credit- Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS.jpg

By Monde Kingsley Nfor
KRIBI, Cameroon, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

Pierre Zambo is a hotel manager in Kribi, a sea resort town in Cameroon’s South Region. In the past his hotel would have “more than 100 tourists each week. But today if I manage to have 50 people registered into my hotel weekly, then it’s good business.”

Located in the gulf of Guinea, Kribi is a town with an estimated population of about 50,000 whose livelihoods depend on farming, fishing and tourism.

However, rising sea levels and increased tides have eroded most of the once-sandy beach along Kribi. Now beaches are reduced to narrow muddy paths. And local hotels, bars and restaurants are feeling the impact of this erosion directly in their pockets as tourists reduce in numbers.

“Tourists come and are less interested in our beaches and prefer spending time in the forest attractions,” Zambo tells IPS.

Emmanuel Founga, a botanist, owns a hotel on Kribi’s coast."I have to make sand bags every August to October when the sea is very high to avoid further erosion of land and the danger of my walls collapsing." -- Pierre Zambo, Kribi hotel manager

“The Kribi coastline has eroded from about 50 to 100 metres since 1990. It is evident from the trees that are uprooted by waves today but were found inland some years ago,” Founga tells IPS.

He says the local population is losing an important source of livelihood as the number of tourists reduce, local restaurants and bars are beginning to close down.

“High degradation of the coast has a big implication on tourism in this region; sea level rise has caused not only erosion but has polluted the coast. Much waste from the Atlantic Ocean is swept by the sea to these beaches. The waves in return cause erosion of the banks, leaving the beaches muddy and filthy,” Founga explains.

“Climate change is having a devastating impact in Cameroon and the coast of Kribi is a perfect example of the problem of rising sea levels and the enormous impact on safety and livelihood of the population,” Tomothé Kagombet, the focal point person for the Kyoto Protocol at the Ministry of Environment Nature Protection and Sustainable Development, tells IPS.

Climate change is not only a coastal problem but has had widespread impact on this Central African nation. Across the country there are reports of limited and erratic rainfall, pests and plant diseases, erosion, high temperatures, droughts and floods.

Cameroon’s economy relies heavily on climate-sensitive sectors, mainly agriculture, energy and forestry — with 70 percent of the population depending directly on agriculture.

While Cameroon’s Ministry of Tourism is currently channeling funds from a United Nations World Tourism Organisation project called ST-EP or Sustainable Tourism – Eliminating Poverty to climate change projects along the coast, it is not enough.

Through ST-EP, various projects are being implemented in Kribi beach and its forests and along other coastal areas such as Douala and Limbe to help people adapt to the changing climate and develop their sites for tourism.

“Due the problem of a degrading coast, we are encouraging locals to also develop other touristic sites such as the forest with Baka pigmies and their rich culture, which recently has been a huge attraction. We have given funding for them to restore and  manage beaches from Kribi to Limbe and other sites,” Muhamadu Kombi, director of tourist sites in the Ministry of Tourism, tells IPS.

However, this is but one project. The concrete implementation of nationwide climate change adaptation strategies are lagging due to the absence of funding.

The National Climate Change Adaptation Plan (PENACC) provides strategies and actions to mitigate the effect of climate change, but Kagombet points out that Cameroon does not benefit from any funding from United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) negotiations.

“But one of the main problems facing Cameroon and other developing nations is the problems of implementation. We depend on funding from developed nations to better implement this elaborated adaptation plan of action.

“In this document [PENACC], Cameroon’s vulnerability is considered by sector and adaptation actions are formulated following these specificities. With the coastal ecosystem, for example, there is a need for both mechanical [building of dikes] and biological [planting of mangrove trees] means of adaptation,” Kagombet says.

An aspect of Cameroon’s planned action is the introduction of climate change as a subject in schools, with proposed syllabuses already available. The plan of action also prioritises actions in the industrial sector, waste management and transport sectors.

“It is a package with every requirement; capacity, technology and other resources needed to adapt and mitigate climate change effects,” Kagombet says.

While Cameroon plans to implement and carry out Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) projects, operational dawdling could hinge on the country’s commitments to mitigate climate change.

Meanwhile, those who have not benefited from adaptation projects in Kribi find that not only their livelihoods are threatened, but that they are constantly paying out of their own pockets to adapt to a changing climate.

“These high tides has brought many problems. I have to make sand bags every August to October when the sea is very high to avoid further erosion of land and the danger of my walls collapsing,” Zambo says.

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Focus on Child Marriage, Genital Mutilation at All-Time High http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/focus-on-child-marriage-genital-mutilation-at-all-time-high/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=focus-on-child-marriage-genital-mutilation-at-all-time-high http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/focus-on-child-marriage-genital-mutilation-at-all-time-high/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 14:41:50 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135704 Female genital mutilation (FGM) traditional surgeon in Kapchorwa, Uganda speaking to a reporter. The women in this area are being trained  by civil society organisation REACH in how to educate people to stop the practice. Credit: Joshua Kyalimpa/IPS

Female genital mutilation (FGM) traditional surgeon in Kapchorwa, Uganda speaking to a reporter. The women in this area are being trained by civil society organisation REACH in how to educate people to stop the practice. Credit: Joshua Kyalimpa/IPS

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 23 2014 (IPS)

As Tuesday’s major summits here and in London focused global attention on adolescent girls, the United Nations offered new data warning that more than 130 million girls and women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation, while more than 700 million women alive today were forced into marriage as children.

Noting how such issues disproportionately affect women in Africa and the Middle East, the new report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) surveyed 29 countries and discussed the long-term consequences of both female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage.“What we’re really missing is a coordinated global effort that is commensurate with the scale and the size of the issue.” -- Ann Warner

While the report links the former practice with “prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and death,” it mentions how the latter can predispose women to domestic violence and dropping out of school.

“The numbers tell us we must accelerate our efforts. And let’s not forget that these numbers represent real lives,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a statement. “While these are problems of a global scale, the solutions must be local, driven by communities, families and girls themselves to change mindsets and break the cycles that perpetuate [FGM] and child marriage.”

Despite these ongoing problems, Tuesday’s internationally recognised Girl Summit comes as the profile of adolescent girls – and, particularly, FGM – has risen to the top of certain agendas. On Tuesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced a legislative change that will now make it a legally enforceable parental responsibility to prevent FGM.

“We’ve reached an all-time high for both political awareness and political will to change the lives of women around the world,” Ann Warner, a senior gender and youth specialist at the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), a research institute here, told IPS.

Warner recently co-authored a policy brief recommending that girls be given access to high-quality education, support networks, and practical preventative skills, and that communities provide economic incentives, launch informational campaigns, and establish a legal minimum age for marriage.

Speaking Tuesday at the Washington summit, Warner added that there has been “a good amount of promising initiatives – initiated by NGOs, government ministers and grassroots from around the world – that have been successful in turning the tide on the issue and changing attitudes, knowledge and practices.”

Advocates around the world can learn from these efforts, Warner said, paying particular attention to the progress India has made in preventing child marriage. Still, she believes that a comprehensive global response is necessary.

“What we’re really missing is a coordinated global effort that is commensurate with the scale and the size of the issue” of FGM and child marriage, she said. “With 14 million girls married each year, a handful of individual projects around the world are simply not enough to make a dent in that problem.”

U.S. action

The need for better coordination and accountability was echoed by Lyric Thompson, co-chair of the Girls Not Brides-USA coalition, a foundation that co-sponsored Tuesday’s Girl Summit here in Washington.

“If we are going to end child marriage in a generation, as the Girl Summit charter challenges us to do, that is going to mean a much more robust effort than what is currently happening,” Thompson told IPS. “A few small programmes, no matter how effective, will not end the practice.”

In particular, Thompson is calling on the United States to take a more active stand against harmful practices that affect women globally, which she adds is consistent with the U.S Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013

“If America is serious about ending this practice in a generation, this means not just speeches and a handful of [foreign aid] programmes, but also the hard work of ensuring that American diplomats are negotiating with their counterparts in countries where the practice is widespread,” she says.

“It also means being directly involved in difficult U.N. negotiations, including the ones now determining the post-2015 development agenda, to ensure a target on ending child, early and forced marriage is included under a gender equality goal.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. government announced nearly five million dollars to counter child and forced marriage in seven developing countries for this year, while pledging to work on new U.S. legislation on the issue next year. (The U.S. has also released new information on its response to FGM and child marriage.)

“​We know the fight against child marriage is the fight against extreme poverty,” Rajiv Shah, the head of the United States’ main foreign aid agency, stated Tuesday.

“That’s why USAID has put women and girls at the centre of our efforts to answer President Obama’s call to end extreme poverty in two generations. It’s a commitment that reflects a legacy of investment in girls – in their education, in their safety, in their health, and in their potential.”

Global ‘tipping point’

Of course, civil society actors around the world likely hold the key to changing long-held social views around these contentious issues.

“Federal agencies, in a position to respond to forced marriage cases, must work together and with community and NGO partners to ensure thoughtful and coordinated policy development,” Archi Pyati, director of public oolicy at Tahirih Justice Center, a Washington-based legal advocacy organisation, told IPS.

“Teachers, counsellors, doctors, nurses and others who are in a position to help a girl or woman to avoid a forced marriage or leave one must be informed and ready to respond.”

Pyati points to an awareness-raising campaign around forced marriage that will tour the United States starting in September. In this, social media is also becoming an increasingly important tool for advocacy efforts.

“Technology has brought us a new way to tell our governments and our corporations what matters to us,” Emma Wade, counsellor of the Foreign and Security Policy Group at the British Embassy here, told IPS. “Governments do take notice of what’s trending on Twitter and the like, and corporations are ever-mindful of ways to differentiate themselves … in the search for market share and committed customers.”

Wade noted within her presentation at Tuesday’s summit that individuals can pledge their support for “a future free from FGM and child and forced marriage” via the digital Girl Summit Pledge.

Shelby Quast, policy director of Equality Now, an international human rights organisation based in Nairobi, reiterated the importance of tackling FGM and child marriage across a variety of domains.

“The approach that works best is multi-sectoral… including the law, education, child protection and other elements such as support for FGM survivors and media advocacy strategies,” Quast explained. “We are at a tipping point globally, so let’s keep the momentum up to ensure all girls at risk are protected.”

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Touaregs Seek Secular and Democratic Multi-Ethnic State http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/touaregs-seek-secular-and-democratic-multi-ethnic-state/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=touaregs-seek-secular-and-democratic-multi-ethnic-state http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/touaregs-seek-secular-and-democratic-multi-ethnic-state/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 11:10:13 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135695 By Karlos Zurutuza
LEKORNE, France, Jul 23 2014 (IPS)

The government of Mali and Touareg rebels representing Azawad, a territory in northern Mali which declared unilateral independence in 2012 after a Touareg rebellion drove out the Malian army, resumed peace talks in Algiers last week, intended to end decades of conflict.

The talks, being held behind closed doors, are expected to end on July 24.

Negotiations between Bamako and representatives of six northern Mali armed groups, among which the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) is the strongest, kicked off in Algiers on July 16. Diplomats from Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other international bodies are also attending the discussions.

Moussa Ag Assarid, MNLA spokesperson. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Moussa Ag Assarid, MNLA spokesperson. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

IPS spoke with writer and a journalist Moussa Ag Assarid, MNLA spokesperson in Europe.

You declared your independent state in April 2012 but no one has recognised it yet. Why is that?

We are not for a Touareg state but for a secular and democratic multi-ethnic model of country. We, Touaregs, may be a majority among Azawad population but there are also Arabs, Shongays and Peulas and we´re working in close coordination with them.

Since Mali´s independence in 1960, the people from Azawad have repeatedly stated that we don´t want to be part of that country. We do have the support of many people all around the globe but the states and the international organisations such as the United Nations prefer to tackle the issue without breaking the established order.

And this is why both the United Nations and Mali refer to “jihadism”, and not to the legitimate struggle for freedom of the Azawad people.

However, we are witnessing a reorganisation of the world order amid significant movements in northern Africa, the Middle East, and even Europe, as in the case of the Ukraine. It´s very much a clear proof of the failure of globalisation and the world´s management.“We [the people of Azawad] do have the support of many people all around the globe but the states and the international organisations such as the United Nations prefer to tackle the issue without breaking the established order” – Moussa Ag Assarid

The French intervention in the 2012 war was seemingly a key factor on your side. How do you asses the former colonial power´s role in the region?

The French have always been there, even after Mali´s independence, because they have huge strategic interests in the area as well as natural resources such as the uranium they rely on. In fact, you could say that our independence has been confiscated by both the international community and France.

The former Malian soldiers have been replaced by the U.N. ones but the Malian army keeps committing all sort of abuses against civilians, from arbitrary arrests to deportations or enforced disappearances, all of which take place without the French and the U.N. soldiers lifting a finger.

Meanwhile, Bamako calls on the French state to support them under the pretext they are fighting against Jihadism.

Another worrying issue is the media blackout imposed on us. Reporters are prevented from coming to Azawad so the information is filtered through Bamako-based reporters who talk about “Mali´s north”, who refuse to speak about our struggle and who become spokesmen and defenders of the Malian state.

So what is the real presence, if any, of the Malian state in Azawad?

Mali´s army and its administration fled in 2012 and the state is only present in the areas protected by the French army, in Gao and Tombouktou. Paris has around 1,000 soldiers deployed in the area, the United Nations has 8,000 blue helmets in the whole country, and there are between 12,000 and 15,000 fighters in the ranks of the MNLA.

We coordinate ourselves with the Arab Movement of Azawad and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad. Alongside these two groups we hold control of 90 percent of Azawad, but we are living under extremely difficult conditions.

We obviously don´t get any support from either Mali or Algeria and we have to cope with a terrible drought. We rely on the meat and the milk of our goats, like we´ve done from time immemorial and we fight with the weapons we confiscated from the Malian Army, the Jihadists, or those we once got from Libya.

You mention Libya. Many claim that the MNLA fighters fought on the side of Gaddafi during the Libyan war in 2011. Is that right?

Many media networks insist on distorting the facts. Gaddafi did grant Libyan citizenship to the Touaregs but he later used them to fight in Palestine, Lebanon or Chad. In 1990, they went back to Azawad to fight against the Malian army and, even if we had the chance, we did not make the mistake of fighting against the Libyan people in 2011.

Gaddafi gave Touaregs weapons to fight in Benghazi but the Touareg decided to go to Kidal and set up the MNLA. It´s completely false that the MNLA is formed by Touaregs who came from Libya. Many of our fighters have never been there, neither have I.

Do Islamic extremists still pose a major concern in Azawad?

In January 2013, AQMI (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), MUJAO (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa), a splinter group of AQMI and Ansar Dine attacked the Malian army on the border between Mali and Azawad.

Mali´s president asked for help from Paris to oust them but it´s us, the MNLA, who have been fighting the Jihadists since June 2012. The United States, the United Kingdom and France claim to fight against Al Qaeda but it´s us who do it on the ground. Ansar Dine has given no sign of life for over a year but AQMI and MUJAO are still active.

One of the most outrageous issues is that Bamako had had strong links with AQMI in the past, or even backed Ansar Dine, whose leader is a Touareg but the people under his command are just a criminal gang. Today, the Jihadists backed by Bamako have become stronger than the Malian army itself.

Are you optimistic about the ongoing talks with Bamako?

So far we have signed all sorts of agreements but none of them has ever been respected. Accordingly, we have already discarded the stage in which we would accept autonomy, or even a federal state. At this point, we have come to the conclusion that the only way to solve this conflict is to achieve our independence and live in freedom and peace in our land.

Mali has never fulfilled its word so that´s why we call on the international community, France and the United Nations.

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BRICS – The End of Western Dominance of the Global Financial and Economic Order http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/brics-the-end-of-western-dominance-of-the-global-financial-and-economic-order/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brics-the-end-of-western-dominance-of-the-global-financial-and-economic-order http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/brics-the-end-of-western-dominance-of-the-global-financial-and-economic-order/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 07:17:42 +0000 Shyam Saran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135688

In this column, Shyam Saran, former Indian Foreign Secretary and currently Chairman of India’s National Security Advisory Board, argues that the new financial institutions put in place by the BRICS countries at their recent summit in Brazil will alter the global financial landscape irreversibly.

By Shyam Saran
NEW DELHI, Jul 23 2014 (IPS)

The sixth BRICS Summit which has just ended in Brazil marks the transition of a grouping based hitherto on shared concerns to one based on shared interests.

Since the inception of BRICS (bringing together Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in 2009, it has been seen as a mainly flag waving exercise by a group of influential emerging economies, with little in terms of convergent interest other than signalling their strong dissatisfaction over persistent Western dominance of the world economic, financial as well as security order, but unable to fashion credible alternative governance structures themselves.

However, with the Fortaleza Summit finally announcing the much awaited establishment of the New Development Bank (NDB) with a 50 billion dollar subscribed capital and a Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA) of 100 billion dollars, the monopoly status and role of the Bretton Woods institutions – the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – stand broken.

Shyam Saran

Shyam Saran

True, it may take the NDB and the CRA considerable time and experience to evolve into credible international financial institutions but that clearly is the intent.

BRICS leaders have kept the door open for other stakeholders, but will retain at least a 55 percent equity share. They have also been careful to declare that these new institutions will supplement the activities of the World Bank and the IMF, and this has also been the initial response from the latter.

Nevertheless, the emergence of an alternative source of financing with norms different from those followed by the established institutions will alter the global financial landscape irreversibly.

It may be noted for the future that the one component of the global financial infrastructure where Western companies still remain supreme is the insurance and reinsurance sector. Global trade flows, in particular energy flows are almost invariably insured by a handful of Western companies which also determine risk factors and premiums.

In Brazil, the BRICS countries have given notice that they will examine the prospect of pooling their capacities in this sector. A more competitive situation in this sector can only be a positive development for developing countries.“The emergence of an alternative source of financing [BRICS Bank] with norms different from those followed by the established institutions will alter the global financial landscape irreversibly”

The BRICS initiatives were born out of mounting frustration among emerging countries that even a modest restructuring of the governing structures of the Bretton Woods institutions, to reflect their growing economic profile, was being resisted. The commitment made in 2010 at the G20 to enlarge their stake in the IMF remains unfulfilled while the restructuring of the World Bank is yet to be taken up.

The longer the delay in such restructuring, the more rapid the consolidation of the new BRICS institutions is likely to be. It is this factor which played a role in helping resolve some of the differences among the BRICS countries over the structure and governance of these proposed institutions.

The setting up of the BRICS institutions owed a great deal to the energy and push displayed by China. It is doubtful that the proposals would have been actualised had China not put its full weight behind them and showed a readiness to accommodate other member countries, in particular India. Russia became more enthusiastic after being drummed out of the G8 and subjected to Western sanctions.

Chinese activism on this score must be seen in the context of other parallel developments in which China has also been the prime mover and sometimes the initiator. These are:

1. The proposal for setting up an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to fund infrastructure and connectivity projects in Asia, in particular, those which would help revive the maritime and land “Silk Routes” linking China with both its eastern and western flanks. The parallel with the NDB is hard to miss.

2. The consolidation of the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralisation (CMIM) and the associated Asian Multilateral Research Organisation (AMRO) among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) + 3 (China, Japan and the Republic of Korea). The CMIM is now a 240 billion dollar financing facility to help member countries deal with balance of payments difficulties. This is similar to the 100 billion dollar CRA set up by BRICS.

AMRO has evolved into a mechanism for macro-economic surveillance of member countries and provides a benchmark for their economic health and performance. This would enable sound lending policies and may very well be linked in future to the AIIB. The CMIM and the AMRO thus provide building blocks which could serve as the template for the NDB, the CRA and the AIIB.

3. In addition to the CMIM and the AMRO, there are ongoing initiatives within ASEAN + 3 to develop a truly Asian Bond Market which could mobilise regional savings into regional investments through local currency bonds. To support this initiative, a regional Credit Guarantee and Investment Facility has been established. A Regional Settlement Intermediary is proposed to facilitate cross-border multi-currency transfers.

These developments are taking place just when there is a rapidly growing Chinese yuan-denominated bond market, the so-called dim-sum bonds, which have become an important source of corporate financing. This reduces the dependence on euro and U.S. dollar-denominated bonds. The NDB could tap into this market to build up its own finances.

It is important to keep in mind this broader picture in assessing the significance of the decisions taken at the Fortaleza Summit. In systematically pursuing a number of parallel initiatives, China is attempting to create an alternative financial infrastructure which would have it in the lead role. The dilemma for other emerging countries is that there appear to be no credible alternatives, especially since the Western countries are unwilling to cede any enhanced role to them.

The Fortaleza Summit marks the beginning of the end of the post-Second World War Western dominance of the global economic and financial order. The existing institutions will now have to share space with the new entrants and may be compelled to adjust their norms to compete with the latter.

The prime mover behind the establishment of a rival network of financial institutions is China, whose global profile and influence is likely to increase as the various building blocks it has put in place come together to shape a new global financial architecture. This is still in the future but the trend is unmistakable. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

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U.S., Russia, China Hamper ICC’s Reach http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-russia-china-hamper-iccs-reach/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-russia-china-hamper-iccs-reach http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-russia-china-hamper-iccs-reach/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:10:39 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135685 President of the International Criminal Court Sang-Hyun Song speaks at a U.N. event. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

President of the International Criminal Court Sang-Hyun Song speaks at a U.N. event. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 22 2014 (IPS)

Despite making important strides in the first dozen years of its existence, the International Criminal Court (ICC) faces a daunting task if it hopes to create a reputation as a truly global institution.

With a skewed distribution of states parties and cases, the ICC has struggled to mature at its seat in The Hague as an effective and comprehensive purveyor of justice.“It is a global entity. It is not a universal entity.” -- William Pace

The Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty, authorises the Court to prosecute individuals who have committed genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. It was adopted in 1998 and came into force in 2002.

Some 122 states have ratified or acceded to the Rome Statute, but many of the world’s most populous countries have remained outside its jurisdiction.

William Pace, the convenor of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), told IPS, “[The ICC] doesn’t apply to half the people on the planet, but it applies to almost two-thirds of the member states of the United Nations, which is also over three billion people.

“It is a global entity,” he said. “It is not a universal entity.”

Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s international justice programme, told IPS that “There is unevenness in state party representation, with Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa in particular being starkly missing.”

The most crucial impediment to the ICC’s global reach is the fact that the United States, Russia and China have not joined the ICC and continue to obstruct its functioning with U.N. Security Council vetoes.

Cases can be brought to the ICC by the chief prosecutor, by the countries themselves or by referral from the Security Council. The judicial functioning of the Court is independent of the United Nations, but when Security Council referrals become involved, politics can easily creep in.

Most recently, Russia and China prevented the Security Council from referring the conflict in Syria to the ICC on May 22.

Dicker called the United States, Russia and China key obstacles to the ICC’s future.

“These three who have remained outside the reach of the Rome Statute of the ICC have shielded themselves and, through their use of the veto on the Council, their allies from accountability when national courts in those countries don’t do the job,” he said at a recent press conference on the future of the ICC.

Without U.S. ratification of the Rome Statute, the ICC will find it difficult to achieve global legitimacy.

Dicker told IPS that the United States’ attitude has slowly evolved since the early 2000s, when “the [George W.] Bush administration was on a crusade against the International Criminal Court.”

In the wake of increased flexibility towards the Court in the later Bush years, “the Obama administration has significantly strengthened the cooperation afforded by the U.S. government to the Court,” he said. However, U.S. diplomatic support for the Court has only extended to “situations where the Court’s position and U.S. foreign objectives coincide.”

The U.S. Congress has not overturned the American Servicemembers Protection Act of 2002, also known as the “Hague Invasion Act.” According to Human Rights Watch, the law “authorizes the use of military force to liberate any American or citizen of a U.S.-allied country being held by the Court.”

The United States’ non-participation in the ICC damages the Court, but not irrevocably.

“It was constantly said throughout the treaty negotiation period of the 1990s and the ratification period of the last decade that if you don’t have the United States as a part of the ICC, it won’t work,” Pace told IPS. “Well, it is working, even with the handicap of having the great powers against it, but it is up, it’s running and I don’t know a week that goes by that someone doesn’t invoke the ICC.”

As the Court conducted its first investigations and prosecutions, it encountered significant opposition from the African Union (AU). All eight of the countries currently under investigation by the ICC are African, spurring accusations that the Court is unfairly targeting the continent.

The cases in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and Mali were referred to the ICC by the countries themselves, while the cases in Sudan and Libya were referred by the Security Council and the cases in Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire were brought to the Court by the chief prosecutor.

“The politics of Kenya and Sudan are escalating the tensions between the ICC and the African Union,” Stephen Lamony, the CICC’s Senior Adviser for Africa, told IPS.

The indictments of President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir and Uhuru Kenyatta – who was later elected president of Kenya – in 2009 and 2011 provoked criticism by the AU that the ICC was a tool of Western imperialism.

Why is a court based in Europe targeting African leaders, critics ask, but ignoring atrocities in Syria, Gaza, or North Korea?

The AU has been developing an African Court of Justice and Human Rights to compete with the ICC, “to ensure that Africans are prosecuted in Africa,” said Lamony.

However, at the end of June the AU voted to give sitting heads of state immunity from the incipient African Court, leading African grassroots activists to fume that the problem is not the ICC, but the culture of impunity amongst African leaders.

“The heads of state are trying to protect themselves, and the ordinary man and woman are saying ‘no, you should be held to the same standards. You should stop committing these crimes against us,’” Lamony told IPS.

Six of the 10 situations under preliminary examinations by the ICC are in non-African countries. If one of these countries is chosen to be the next object of investigation, the Court may dispel some, but not all of the criticism it has received for focusing on Africa.

According to Lamony, “At this stage, no African leader is threatening to withdraw from the ICC,” because the condemnation of the Court mainly comes from countries that are not states parties.

Despite the imbalance in the makeup of the ICC’s states parties and its Africa-heavy case load, much of civil society is convinced that its very existence changes the international landscape.

“Justice is not living in tents or trailers anymore. It is now a permanent institution in the ICC,” Dicker said. “And that fact alone spurs expectations and demands for justice where mass atrocity crimes occur.”

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Creating a Slum Within a Slum http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/creating-a-slum-within-a-slum/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=creating-a-slum-within-a-slum http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/creating-a-slum-within-a-slum/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 07:49:42 +0000 Adam Bemma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135668 In 2009, nearly 5,000 Kibera residents were relocated to the KENSUP Soweto East settlement, pictured here. However many say the housing project has become a slum. Credit: George Kebaso/IPS

In 2009, nearly 5,000 Kibera residents were relocated to the KENSUP Soweto East settlement, pictured here. However many say the housing project has become a slum. Credit: George Kebaso/IPS

By Adam Bemma
NAIROBI, Jul 22 2014 (IPS)

At the eastern edge of Nairobi’s Kibera slum, children gather with large yellow jerry cans to collect water dripping out of an exposed pipe. The high-rise grey and beige Soweto East settlement towers above them. A girl lifts the can on top of her head and returns to her family’s third floor apartment.

Inside, 49-year-old mother Hilda Olali is sweeping the floor. She’s had enough. Her family of five has no running water or electricity in their two bedroom apartment.The rancid smell of refuse wafts into the apartment throughout the day. Hilda Olali's considering a move back to the slum, turning in her family's brick and mortar home for her old mud and tin shack.

“When we first arrived we really enjoyed life. But now it’s hard because we don’t have water for weeks. This forces me to go and buy water outside. I can’t afford that,” she told IPS.

Outside her kitchen window, garbage has been accumulating over the last six months. The rancid smell of refuse wafts into the apartment throughout the day. She’s considering a move back to the slum, turning in her family’s brick and mortar home for her old mud and tin shack.

“In the slum things were cheap. When we came here they took us as if we were people who could afford expensive things,” she added.

It’s been 12 years since the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme, or KENSUP, launched its pilot project in Kibera. Many residents feel the government and United Nations’ Human Settlements Programme, or U.N. Habitat, have abandoned them soon after its doors opened.

In 2009, nearly 5,000 Kibera residents were relocated to the KENSUP Soweto East settlement. The 17 five-storey buildings are home to around 1,800 families. Population estimates in Kibera range from 800,000 to 1.2 million, making it one of Africa’s largest slums.

“We were told to move and it’s like we were forced. They [KENSUP] were carrying everything for us. Transport was arranged by them. I had seven rooms in the slum. Here I only have three,” Olali said.

According to the U.N., cities are now home to half of the global population. Forty percent of Kenya’s 43 million people are living in urban areas. More than 70 percent of Nairobi’s 3.1 million people live in 200 informal settlements, or slums. A lack of affordable housing in the city makes Kibera an attractive place to settle.

Godwin Oyindo, 24, is a recent university graduate and a close friend of Olali’s son. He grew up in Kibera and was hopeful this housing project would change the lives of all its residents.

“This slum upgrading project was established to address a few things in Kibera, the security of tenure, the housing of people, accessibility to services, and also to generate economic activities. One of their main objectives is a slum free society,” Oyindo told IPS.

Back in 2003, the government of Kenya and U.N. Habitat began working together to improve housing and quality of living for residents not only in Nairobi, but in Mombasa, Mavoko Kisumu and Thika. KENSUP is mandated to improve living standards for 5.3 million urban slum dwellers by 2020.

U.N. Habitat came on board with its Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme, working alongside KENSUP providing expertise and technical advice. The officer in charge of this department, Joshua Mulandi Maviti, said objectives have been met in all projects.

“Kibera was the focus of our work with the ministry,” Maviti told IPS. “But we also coordinated infrastructure, land tenure, water and sanitation projects across Kenya, in Mombasa, Kisumu and Mavoko.”

Justus Ongera, 24, shares a room with his younger sister in a two bedroom apartment in the Soweto East settlement. The two share the apartment with another family. Ongera believes he may need to instruct residents on how to improve sanitation.

“When we first moved in the garbage outside was cleared every two weeks. Now it’s been rotting there under the sun for six months,” he told IPS. “This is a serious health hazard. Something needs to be done.”

Due to the 12 years which have elapsed since the contract began, U.N. Habitat ended its collaboration with KENSUP once contracts expired, according to Maviti. But he assures this doesn’t mean it’s the end of the relationship.

“The government of Kenya and the ministry haven’t engaged with us on the issues faced by Soweto East residents. We need to hear from them officially to be able to help,” Maviti said.

Olali is now weighing her options, whether or not she should move her three kids out of this apartment project and back into the slum. The fact that she has no running water forces to make a long trek through Kibera to visit the public toilet. This costs her five Kenya shillings each time.

“It all adds up, costing me even more money,” Olali said. “Some women didn’t even know how to flush a toilet before moving in, but now they do. We’ve all experienced a lot living here.”

Kenya’s Ministry of Land, Housing and Urban Development, along with KENSUP, turned down requests to be interviewed for this story.

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U.S. Debating “Historic” Support for Off-Grid Electricity in Africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-debating-historic-support-for-off-grid-electricity-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-debating-historic-support-for-off-grid-electricity-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-debating-historic-support-for-off-grid-electricity-in-africa/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 23:02:57 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135654 Sub-Saharan Africa has large potential for hydropower generation, but is yet to exploit it. Pictured here is the Kariba Dam. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

Sub-Saharan Africa has large potential for hydropower generation, but is yet to exploit it. Pictured here is the Kariba Dam. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jul 21 2014 (IPS)

Pressure is building here for lawmakers to pass a bill that would funnel billions of dollars of U.S. investment into strengthening Africa’s electricity production and distribution capabilities, and could offer broad new support for off-grid opportunities.

With half of the U.S. Congress having already acted on the issue, supporters are now hoping that the Senate will follow suit before a major summit takes place here during the first week of August. That event is expected to include heads of state or representatives from as many as 50 African countries."We could see an energy revolution that looks similar to what happened with mobile phones – leapfrogging centralised systems altogether and moving towards transformative solutions.” -- Justin Guay

The summit, the first time that such an event has been organised in Washington, will focus in particular on investment opportunities. As such, many are hoping that the three-day event’s centrepiece will be President Barack Obama’s signing of a broad investment deal aimed at Africa’s power sector.

“The overwhelming majority of the African leaders are going to be coming to Washington emphasising trade and investment, and in that context this issue is very central to their many constituencies – touching on economic, political and social issues,” Ben Leo, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a think tank here, told IPS.

“Coming forward with something concrete that will lead to additional capital, tools or engagement will be noticed and welcomed. But lack thereof would also have a message for African leaders and others travelling to Washington.”

A U.S. Senate subcommittee did pass a bill, called the Energize Africa Act, late last month, but much remains to be done. The legislation now needs to be voted on by the full Senate, after which the final proposal would have to be brought into alignment with a similar bill voted through by the House of Representatives in May.

Meanwhile, the entire Congress is scheduled to go into recess for a month at the end of July. Still, backroom talks are reportedly well underway.

“There’s growing pressure and momentum in the Senate, as well as a growing appreciation of how doing this is both strategic and important,” Leo says. “Not having a bill to sign would certainly be a missed opportunity in terms of the optics and concreteness of action, either before or when everyone’s in Washington.”

Some 68 percent of the sub-Saharan population lacks access to electricity. Both the House and Senate bills would seek to assist African countries in expanding basic electricity access to some 50 million people.

“Our support for this bill is a direct response to what we hear from African leaders, citizens and global development experts,” Tom Hart, U.S. executive director of ONE, an advocacy group that focuses on eliminating poverty in Africa and has mounted a major campaign in favour of the Senate bill, said in a statement.

“[O]ne of the biggest challenges for overcoming extreme poverty is the inability for millions of people to access the basic electricity necessary to power health clinics, farms, schools, factories and businesses.”

Beyond the grid

The current legislative push comes a year after President Obama unveiled a new initiative called Power Africa, proposed during his June 2013 trip to the continent. Seen as the president’s signature development plan for the region, Power Africa aims to double energy access in sub-Saharan countries through a mix of public and private investment.

While Power Africa is ambitious, its long-term impact greatly depends on the legislation currently under debate.

For instance, while Power Africa directly affects just six countries, the bills before Congress take a continental approach. Likewise, as an executive-level project, the initiative’s policy priorities can only be cemented through full legislation.

Power Africa initially came under significant fire from environmental and some development groups for its reliance on fossil fuel (particularly natural gas) and centralised power projects. Many groups say that such a focus is ultimately counterproductive for poor and marginalised communities.

Yet last month, the United States announced a billion-dollar initiative to focus on off-grid energy projects across the continent. This approach could now be codified through the legislative discussions currently taking place in Congress.

“Congress is now looking to pass a bill that would be relatively historic in terms of its support for beyond-the-grid markets,” Justin Guay, Washington representative for the Sierra Club, a conservation and advocacy group, told IPS. “The [Senate] bill is the first legislation we’ve seen starting to drive investment to unlock that potential.”

To date, Guay says, most investment from the U.S. government and multilateral agencies has skewed in favour of fossil fuels and centralised power generation. For the first time, the new legislation could start to balance out this mix – a potential boon for the environment and local communities alike.

“If you look at the energy access problem in sub-Saharan Africa, it’s largely a rural issue. So this bill could stimulate distributed, clean-energy solutions that can get into the hands of poor populations today, rather than forcing them to wait decades in the dark for power,” Guay says.

“In this way, we could see an energy revolution that looks similar to what happened with mobile phones – leapfrogging centralised systems altogether and moving towards transformative solutions.”

The House’s companion bill includes fewer progressive provisions than the Senate version, but it also doesn’t include amendments that could deliberately doom the legislation. Still, it remains to be seen how conservatives in the House react to the Senate’s proposals.

Strengthened support

These new opportunities have broadened support for the Senate’s legislation. On Friday, for instance, the Global Off Grid Lighting Association, a Germany-based trade group, expressed its “strong support” for the Energize Africa Act.

The legislation is also being welcomed by African environmentalists.

“We believe this bill has emerged as a strong source of support for our efforts to address energy poverty,” Mithika Mwenda, secretary general of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, said in a letter to U.S. lawmakers from earlier this month.

“We are particularly supportive of new efforts to expand loan guarantee authority at USAID” – the main U.S. foreign aid agency – “as well as the goal of ending kerosene based lighting. Both of these aspects are critical to ending energy poverty in poor rural areas.”

Meanwhile, both the House and Senate bills have enjoyed an unusual level of bipartisan support. Still, it’s not clear whether that will translate into the passage of a new law – particularly by the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, slated for Aug. 4-6.

“There’s not a lot of time left, so it’s is very difficult,” the Center for Global Development’s Leo says. “However, if it doesn’t pass by the summit, the summit will invariably create a lot of action shortly thereafter.”

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Spain: A Precarious Gateway to Europe for Syrian Refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/spain-a-precarious-gateway-to-europe-for-syrian-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=spain-a-precarious-gateway-to-europe-for-syrian-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/spain-a-precarious-gateway-to-europe-for-syrian-refugees/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 23:01:27 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135662 Spanish Refugee Aid Commission centre in the southern city of Malaga. The banner on the second floor balcony reads, “The right to live in peace.” Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Spanish Refugee Aid Commission centre in the southern city of Malaga. The banner on the second floor balcony reads, “The right to live in peace.” Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MALAGA, Spain, Jul 21 2014 (IPS)

Little Samir covers his face with his hands as he plays under the orange tree in the centre of the inner courtyard of the Spanish Refugee Aid Commission (CEAR) centre in the southern city of Malaga. He is four years old and has spent nearly a year in Spain, where he arrived with his parents, fleeing the war in Syria.

Samir (not his real name) and his family, who remain anonymous at their request, were among millions of Syrians who abandoned their homes and way of life to escape the conflict that flared up in March 2011.

Some of those who seek protection in the European Union come to Spain by plane with a visa, but others come through Morocco, crossing the borders into the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa, with fake documents purchased on the black market.

“The journey from Syria to Spain can take up to three or four months,” Wassim Zabad, who is from Damascus and has lived in Malaga for 11 years, told IPS.

“Why does Spain offer less help to refugees and take longer to process asylum applications than Germany or Sweden? If I had known it, I would have travelled to another country." -- Adi Mohamed, a 33-year-old Syrian
Many people reach Morocco after travelling through Egypt, Libya and Algeria, said Zabad, who owns a travel agency specialising in taking Spanish tourists to Lebanon, Egypt and Syria. Business is bad because of the conflicts in those countries.

In his view, the conditions for refugees “are quite bad” in Spain, which is why “98 percent of Syrians” move on to other countries where they may have relatives or believe there are better facilities and economic assistance, especially France, Germany or Sweden.

Francisco Cansino, the CEAR coordinator for eastern Andalusia, told IPS that the majority of Syrians his organisation helps, coming from the Melilla Centre for the Temporary Stay of Immigrants (CETI), prefer to request asylum in other EU countries, although the standard procedure is for them to seek asylum in the country of entry, and this is what they are told.

The European Commission’s Dublin II Regulation of Feb. 18, 2003 establishes the principle that the first safe country entered by an asylum seeker is responsible for examining the asylum application, and provides for the transfer of an asylum seeker to that EU country.

“They don’t stay. They leave because they think their chances are better in other countries. They ask to leave the same day they arrive. They say they have relatives in Europe,” Cansino said. In his view, Syrian refugees are “suddenly facing an abyss of uncertainty.”

Four Syrians – a couple with two children – have been living at the Malaga CEAR centre for the past few weeks. They receive shelter, food, clothing, a monthly allowance (equivalent to 68 dollars per person), Spanish language classes and job training programmes. CEAR is an independent volunteer-based humanitarian organisation.

So far in 2014, some 200 people from Syria have been cared for in this centre, Cansino said.

“Only a minority of Syrian refugees come to Spain. The majority are displaced within Syria itself or seek safety in neighbouring countries,” David Ortiz, the head of the Red Cross Refugee Reception Centre in Malaga, told IPS.

At this Red Cross centre, one of seven in the country, 13 of the 20 beds are occupied by Syrians and Palestinians who were living in Syria. Among them are two families with children, who have been attending school since they arrived.

A total of 100,000 people have died in the war in Syria, 10,000 of them children. About 2.6 million people have fled to other countries, and 6.5 million are internally displaced, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“Syrian refugees come to us tremendously traumatised,” said Ortiz. They have to rebuild their lives, learn a new language and find work in a country like Spain, where the unemployment rate is over 25 percent, he said.

A report on the situation of refugees in Spain, presented by CEAR in June, indicates that the country received 4,502 applications for asylum in 2013, compared to 2,588 in 2012, owing to an increase in applications from persons from Mali (1,478) and Syria (725).

According to Eurostat data cited in the CEAR report, in 2013 some 435,000 asylum seekers came to the EU. The largest group came from Syria (50,000) and the applications were mainly directed to Germany, with 109,580 applications, followed by France and Sweden. But only three percent of Syrian refugees have been granted asylum in Europe.

“I hope to find stability here in Spain,” said Adi Mohamed, a 33-year-old Syrian, who had a visa that allowed him to fly to Malaga in April, where he lives with some Syrian friends. He owns a restaurant in Palmira, near Homs, and he is worried about the safety of his parents and the five brothers and sisters he left behind.

Mohamed, who ran a restaurant with fifty employees, asked, “Why does Spain offer less help to refugees and take longer to process asylum applications than Germany or Sweden? If I had known it, I would have travelled to another country,” he said.

The length of stay in the refugee reception centres is six months, renewable for the same period in the “very frequent” case that the asylum application has not yet been determined. Families with children may stay for up to 18 months, Ortiz said.

“Asylum processing times are different in different EU countries, and so are benefits for refugees,” said Ortiz. He complained that the Dublin Regulation was “unfair” to oblige refugees to apply for asylum in the country where they first enter the bloc.

In a report published Jul. 9, Amnesty International (AI) says that while 1.82 billion euros (2.46 billion dollars) of EU funding was allocated to control of its external borders between 2007 and 2013, only 700 million (950 million dollars) was spent on improving the situation for asylum seekers.

The AI report accuses EU migration policies of “putting the lives and rights of refugees and migrants at risk” when they try to cross into the EU, especially through Bulgaria, Greece and Spain, and warns that some 23,000 people have lost their lives trying to get into Europe since 2000.

Several NGOs have denounced inadequate conditions at the Melilla CETI, which houses hundreds of Syrian and sub-Saharan migrants, as well as delays in processing asylum applications, which prevents them from leaving Ceuta or Melilla under Spanish law.

According to the UNHCR report ‘Syrian Refugees in Europe: What Europe Can Do to Ensure Protection and Solidarity’, published Jul. 11, the CETI was housing 2,161 people as of Jun. 12, when its maximum capacity is 480. Among them were 384 Syrian adults and 480 children.

(END)

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Fragility of WTO’s Bali Package Exposed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/fragility-of-wtos-bali-package-exposed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fragility-of-wtos-bali-package-exposed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/fragility-of-wtos-bali-package-exposed/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 22:19:23 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135658 By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
GENEVA, Jul 21 2014 (IPS)

The “fragility” of the World Trade Organization’s ‘Bali package’ was brought into the open at the weekend meeting in Sydney, Australia, of trade ministers from the world’s 20 major economies (G20).

The Bali package is a trade agreement resulting from the 9th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Bali, Indonesia, in December last year, and forms part of the Doha Development Round, which started in 2001.

The G20 group of countries includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union.“… the Bali package is not just about trade facilitation and it also includes other issues ... That was the premise on which the developing countries agreed to trade facilitation and it has to be self-balancing” – South African trade minister Rob Davies

During the Sydney meeting, India and South Africa challenged the industrialised countries present to come clean on implementation of the issues concerning the poor countries in agriculture and development, according to participants present at the two-day meeting.

Ahead of the G20 leaders meeting in Brisbane, Australia, in mid-November, Sydney hosted the trade ministerial meeting to discuss implementation of the Bali package, particularly the trade facilitation agreement (TFA). The TFA has been at the heart of the industrialised countries’ trade agenda since 1996.

More importantly, Australia, as host of the November meeting, has decided to prepare the ground for pursuing the new trade agenda based on global value chains in which trade facilitation and services related to finance, information, telecommunications, and logistics play a main role.

“I said the Bali package is not just about trade facilitation and it also includes other issues,” South Africa’s trade minister Rob Davies told IPS Monday. “That was the premise on which the developing countries agreed to trade facilitation and it has to be self-balancing.”

Davies said that “the issue is that while South Africa doesn’t need any assistance, many developing and poor countries have to make investments and implement new procedures [because of the TFA]. What was there in the [TF] agreement is a series of best endeavour provisions in terms of technical and financial support together with best endeavour undertakings in terms of issues pertaining to least developed countries in agriculture and so on.”

Over the last few months, several industrialised countries, including the United States, have said that they can address issues in the Bali package concerning the poor countries as part of the Doha Single Undertaking, which implies that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

The specific issues that concern the interests of the least-developed countries include elimination of cotton subsidies and unimpeded market access for cotton exported by the African countries, preferential rules of origin for the poorest countries to export industrial products to the rich countries, and preferential treatment to services and services suppliers of least developed countries, among others.

“Even if there is an early harvest there has to be an outcome on other issues in the Bali package,” the South African minister argued.

There is lot of concern at the G20 meeting that if the trade facilitation protocol is not implemented by the end of this month, the WTO would be undermined.

“What we said from South Africa is to commit on the delivery of the outcomes in the Bali package,” Davies told IPS. “And a number of developing countries present at the meeting agreed with our formulation that there has to be substantial delivery of the outcomes in the Bali package.”

At the Sydney meeting, the industrialised countries pushed hard for a common stand on the protocol for implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement by July 31. The TF protocol is a prerequisite for implementing the trade facilitation agreement by the end of July 2015.

The United States also cautioned that if there is no outcome by the end of this month, the post-Bali package would face problems. “Talking about post-Bali agenda while failing to implement the TFA isn’t just putting the cart before the horse, it’s slaughtering the horse,” U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman tweeted from Sydney.

The industrialised countries offered assurances that they would address the other issues in the Bali package, including public distribution programmes for food security, raised by developing countries. But they were not prepared to wait for any delay in the implementation of the TF agreement.

Over the last four months, the developing and poorest countries have realised that their issues in the Bali package are being given short shrift while all the energies are singularly focused on implementing the trade facilitation agreement.

The African countries are the first to point out the glaring mismatch between implementation of the TFA on the one hand and lack of any concerted effort to address other issues in the Bali package on the other. The African Union has suggested implementing the TFA on a provisional basis until all other issues in the Doha Development Agenda are implemented.

The industrialised countries mounted unprecedented pressure and issued dire threats to the African countries to back off from their stand on the provisional agreement. At the AU leaders meeting in Malibu, Equatorial Guinea, last month, African countries were forces to retract from their position on the provisional agreement.

However, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Uganda insisted on a clear linkage between the TFA and the Doha agenda.

India is fighting hard, along with other developing countries in the G33 coalition of developing countries on trade and economic issues, for a permanent solution to exempt public distribution programmes for food security from WTO rules in agriculture.

New Delhi has found out over the last six months that the industrialised countries are not only creating hurdles for finding a simple and effective solution for public distribution programmes but continue to raise extraneous issues that are well outside the purview of the mandate to arrive at an agreement on food security.

India announced on July 2 that it will not join consensus unless all issues concerning agriculture and development are addressed along with the TF protocol.

India’s new trade minister Nirmala Sitaraman, along with South Africa, made it clear in Sydney that they could only join consensus on the protocol once they have complete confidence that the remaining issues in the Bali package are fully addressed.

Against this backdrop, the G20 trade ministers on Saturday failed to bridge their differences arising from their colliding trade agendas.

The developing countries, particularly India, want firm commitment that there is a permanent solution on public distribution programmes for food security along with all other issues concerning development, an Indian official told IPS.

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As Winds of Change Blow, South America Builds Its House with BRICS http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/as-winds-of-change-blow-south-america-builds-its-house-with-brics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=as-winds-of-change-blow-south-america-builds-its-house-with-brics http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/as-winds-of-change-blow-south-america-builds-its-house-with-brics/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 14:36:36 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135624 Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, President of China Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma take a family photograph at the 6th BRICS Summit held at Centro de Eventos do Ceara' in Fortaleza, Brazil. Credit: GCIS

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, President of China Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma take a family photograph at the 6th BRICS Summit held at Centro de Eventos do Ceara' in Fortaleza, Brazil. Credit: GCIS

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

While this week’s BRICS summit might have been off the radar of Western powers, the leaders of its five member countries launched a financial system to rival Bretton Woods institutions and held an unprecedented meeting with the governments of South America.

The New Development Bank (NDB) and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement signal the will of BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) to reconcile global governance instruments with a world where the United States no longer wields the influence that it once did.“The U.S. government clearly doesn't like this, although it will not say much publicly.” -- Mark Weisbrot

More striking for Washington could be the fact that the 6th BRICS summit, held in Brazil, set the stage to display how delighted the heads of state and government of South America – long-regarded as the United States’ “backyard”— were to meet Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

At odds with Washington and just expelled from the Group of Eight (G8) following Russia’s intervention in the Ukrainian crisis, Putin was warmly received in the region, where he also visited Cuba and Argentina.

In Buenos Aires, Putin and the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández, signed agreements on energy, judicial cooperation, communications and nuclear development.

Argentina, troubled by an impending default, is hoping Russian energy giant Gazprom will expand investments in the rich and almost unexploited shale oil and gas fields of Vaca Muerta.

Although Argentina ranks fourth among the Russia’s main trade partners in the region, Putin stressed the country is “a key strategic partner” not only in Latin America, but also within the G20 and the United Nations.

Buenos Aires and Moscow have recently reached greater understanding on a number of international issues, like the conflicts in Syria and Crimea, Argentina sovereignty claim over the Malvinas/Falkland islands and its strategy against the bond holdouts.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Washington and Buenos Aires remains cool, as it has been with Brasilia since last year’s revelations of massive surveillance carried out by the National Security Agency against Brazil.

Some leftist governments –namely Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador— frequently accuse Washington of pursuing an imperialist agenda in the region.

But it was the president of Uruguay, José Mujica –whose government has warm and close ties with the Barack Obama administration— who better explained the shifting balance experienced by Latin America in its relationships with the rest of the world.

Transparency clause

In an interview before the summit, Ambassador Flávio Damico, head of the department of inter-regional mechanisms of the Brazilian foreign ministry, said a clause on transparency in the New Development Bank’s articles of agreement “will constitute the base for the policies to be followed in this area.”

Article 15, on transparency and accountability, states that “the Bank shall ensure that its proceedings are transparent and shall elaborate in its own Rules of Procedure specific provisions regarding access to its documents.”

There are no further references to this subject neither to social or environmental safeguards in the document.

After a dinner in Buenos Aires and a meeting in Brasilia with Putin, Mujica said the current presence of Russia and China in South America opens “new roads” and shows “that this region is important somehow, so the rest of the world perhaps begins to value us a little more.”

Furthermore, he reflected, “pitting one bloc against another… is not good for the world’s future. It is better to share [ties and relationships, in order to] keep alternatives available.”

Almost at the same time, Washington announced it was ready to transfer six Guantanamo Bay detainees to Uruguay, one of the subjects Obama and Mujica agreed on when the Uruguayan visited the U.S. president in May.

Mujica has invited companies from United States, China and now Russia to take part in an international tender to build a deepwater port on the Atlantic ocean which, Uruguay expects, could be a logistic hub for the region.

But beyond Russia, which has relevant commercial agreements with Venezuela, the real centre of gravity in the region is China, the first trade partner of Brazil, Chile and Perú, and the second one of a growing number of Latin American countries.

China’s president Xi Jiping travels on Friday to Argentina, and then to Venezuela and Cuba.

“The U.S. government clearly doesn’t like this, although it will not say much publicly,” said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“With a handful of rich allies, they have controlled the most important economic decision-making institutions for 70 years, including the IMF [International Monetary Fund], the World Bank, and more recently the G8 and the G20, and they wrote the rules for the WTO [World Trade Organisation],” Weisbrot told IPS.

The BRICS bank “is the first alternative where the rest of the world can have a voice.  Washington does not like competition,” he added.

However, the United States’ foreign priorities are elsewhere: Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

And with the exception of the migration crisis on its southern border and evergreen concerns about security and defence, Washington seems to have little in common with its Latin American neighbours.

“I wish they were really indifferent. But the truth is, they would like to get rid of all of the left governments in Latin America, and will take advantage of opportunities where they arise,” said Weisbrot.

Nevertheless, new actors and interests are operating in the region.

The Mercosur bloc (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) and the European Union are currently negotiating a trade agreement.

Colombia, Chile, México and Perú have joined forces in the Pacific Alliance, while the last three also joined negotiations to establish the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In this scenario, the BRICS and their new financial institutions pose further questions about the ability of Latin America to overcome its traditional role of commodities supplier and to achieve real development.

“I don’t think that the BRICS alliance is going to get in the way of that,” said Weisbrot.

According to María José Romero, policy and advocacy manager with the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad), the need to “moderate extractive industries” could lead to “changes in the relationship with countries like China, which looks at this region largely as a grain basket.”

Romero, who attended civil society meetings held on the sidelines of the BRICS summit, is the author of “A private affair”, which analyses the growing influence of private interests in the development financial institutions and raises key warnings for the new BRICS banking system.

BRICS nations should be able “to promote a sustainable and inclusive development,” she told IPS, “one which takes into account the impacts and benefits for all within their societies and within the countries where they operate.”

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BRICS Forges Ahead With Two New Power Drivers – India and China http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/brics-forges-ahead-with-two-new-power-drivers-india-and-china/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brics-forges-ahead-with-two-new-power-drivers-india-and-china http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/brics-forges-ahead-with-two-new-power-drivers-india-and-china/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 18:07:51 +0000 Shastri Ramachandaran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135604 By Shastri Ramachandaran
NEW DELHI, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

The Sixth BRICS Summit which ended Wednesday in Fortaleza, Brazil, attracted more attention than any other such gathering in the alliance’s short history, and not just from its own members – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Two external groups defined by divergent interests closely watched proceedings: on the one hand, emerging economies and developing countries, and on the other, a group comprising the United States, Japan and other Western countries thriving on the Washington Consensus and the Bretton Woods twins (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund).

The first group wanted BRICS to succeed in taking its first big steps towards a more democratic global order where international institutions can be reshaped to become more equitable and representative of the world’s majority. The second group has routinely inspired obituaries of BRICS and gambled on the hope that India-China rivalry would stall the BRICS alliance from turning words into deeds.The stature, power, force and credibility of BRICS depend on its internal cohesion and harmony and this, in turn, revolves almost wholly on the state of relations between India and China. If India and China join hands, speak in one voice and march together, then BRICS has a greater chance of its agenda succeeding in the international system.

In the event, the outcome of the three-day BRICS Summit must be a disappointment to the latter group. First, the obituaries were belied as being premature, if not unwarranted. Second, as its more sophisticated opponents have been “advising”, BRICS did not stick to an economic agenda; instead, there emerged a ringing political declaration that would resonate in the world’s trouble spots from Gaza and Syria to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Third, and importantly, far from so-called Indian-China rivalry stalling decisions on the New Development Bank (NDB) and the emergency fund, the Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA), the Asian giants grasped the nettle to add a strategic dimension to BRICS.

With a shift in the global economic balance of power towards Asia, the failure of the Washington Consensus and the Bretton Woods twins in spite of conditionalities, structural adjustment programmes and “reforms”, financial meltdown and the collapse of leading banks and financial institutions in the West, there had been an urgent need for new thinking and new instruments for the building of a new order.

Despite the felt need and multilateral meetings that involved developing countries, including China and India which bucked the financial downturn, there had been no sign of alternatives being formed.

It is against this backdrop – of the compelling case for firm and feasible steps towards a new global architecture of financial institutions – that BRICS, after much deliberation, succeeded in agreeing on a bank and an emergency fund.

From India’s viewpoint, this summit of BRICS – which represents one-quarter of the world’s land mass across four continents and 40 percent of the world population with a combined GDP of 24 trillion dollars – was an unqualified success. The success is sweeter for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) because the BRICS summit was new Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first multilateral engagement.

For a debutant, Modi acquitted himself creditably by steering clear of pitfalls in the multilateral forum as well as in bilateral exchanges – particularly in his talks with Chinese President Xi Jiping, with Russian President Vladimir Putin and with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff – and by delivering a strong political statement calling for reform of the U.N. Security Council and the IMF.

In fact, the intensification and scaling up of India-China relations by their respective powerful leaders is an important outcome of the meeting in Brazil, even though the dialogue between the Asian giants was on the summit’s side-lines. Nevertheless, Modi and Xi spoke in almost in one voice on global politics and conflict, and on the case for reform of international institutions.

The new leaders of India and China, with the power of their recently-acquired mandates, sent out an unmistakable signal that they have more interests in common that unite them than differences that separate them.

Against this backdrop, Indian Prime Minister Modi’s outing was significant for other reasons, not least because of the rapport he was able to strike up, in his first meeting, with Chinese President Xi. The stature, power, force and credibility of BRICS depend on its internal cohesion and harmony and this, in turn, revolves almost wholly on the state of relations between India and China. If India and China join hands, speak in one voice and march together, then BRICS has a greater chance of its agenda succeeding in the international system.

As it happened, Modi and Xi hit it off, much to the consternation of both the United States and Japan. They spoke of shared interests and common concerns, their resolve to press ahead with the agenda of BRICS and the two went so far as to agree on the need for an early resolution of their boundary issue. They invited each other for a state visit, and Xi went one better by inviting Modi to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in China in November and asking India to deepen its involvement in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Modi’s “fruitful” 80-minute meeting with Xi highlights that the two are inclined to seize the opportunities for mutually beneficial partnerships towards larger economic, political and strategic objectives. This meeting has set the tone for Xi’s visit to India in September.

Although strengthening India-China relationship, opening up new tracks and widening and deepening engagement had been one of former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s biggest achievements in 10 years of government (2004-2014), after a certain point there was no new trigger or momentum to the ties. Now Xi and Modi are investing effort to infuse new vitality into the relationship which will have an impact in the region and beyond.

As is the wont when it comes to foreign affairs and national security, Modi’s new government has not deviated from the path charted out by the previous government. BRICS as a foreign policy priority represents both continuity and consistency. Even so, the BJP deserves full marks because it did not treat BRICS and the Brazil summit as something it had to go through with for the sake of form or as a chore handed down by the previous government of Manmohan Singh.

Before leaving for Brazil, Modi stressed the “high importance” he attached to BRICS and left no one in doubt that global politics would be high on its agenda.

He pointed attention to the political dimension of the BRICS Summit as a highly political event taking place “at a time of political turmoil, conflict and humanitarian crises in several parts of the world.”

“I look at the BRICS Summit as an opportunity to discuss with my BRICS partners how we can contribute to international efforts to address regional crises, address security threats and restore a climate of peace and stability in the world,” Modi had said on eve of the summit.

Having struck the right notes that would endear him to the Chinese leadership, Modi hailed Russia as “India’s greatest friend” after he met President Vladimir Putin on the side-lines of the summit.

India belongs to BRICS, and if BRICS is the way to move forward in the world, then BRICS can look to India, along with China, for leading the way, regardless of political change at home. That would appear to be the point made by Modi in his first multilateral appearance.

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North’s Policies Affecting South’s Economies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/norths-policies-affecting-souths-economies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=norths-policies-affecting-souths-economies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/norths-policies-affecting-souths-economies/#comments Wed, 16 Jul 2014 08:40:13 +0000 Yilmaz Akyuz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135587

In this column, Yilmaz Akyuz, chief economist of the South Centre in Geneva, argues that in recent years developing countries have lost steam as recovery in advanced economies has remained weak or absent due to the fading effect of counter-cyclical policies and the narrowing of policy space, and he recommends measures to reduce the external financial vulnerability of the South.

By Yilmaz Akyuz
GENEVA, Jul 16 2014 (IPS)

Since the onset of the crisis, the South Centre has argued that policy responses to the crisis by the European Union and the United States has suffered from serious shortcomings that would delay recovery and entail unnecessary losses of income and jobs, and also endanger future growth and stability. 

Despite cautious optimism from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the world economy is not in good shape. Six years into the crisis, the United States has not fully recovered, the Euro zone has barely started recovering, and developing countries are losing steam. There is fear that the crisis is moving to developing countries.

Yilmaz Akyuz

Yilmaz Akyuz

There is concern in regard to the longer-term prospects for three main reasons.

First, the crisis and policy response aggravated systemic problems, whereby inequality has widened. Inequality is no longer only a social problem, but also presents a macroeconomic problem. Inequality is holding back growth and creating temptation to rely on financial bubbles once again in order to generate spending.

Second, global trade imbalances have been redistributed at the expense of developing countries, whereby the Euro zone especially Germany has become a deadweight on global expansion.

Third, systemic financial instability remains unaddressed, despite the initial enthusiasm in terms of reform of governance of international finance, and in addition new fragilities have been added due to the ultra-easy monetary policy.“The external financial vulnerability of the South is linked to developing countries’ integration in global financial markets and the significant liberalisation of external finance and capital accounts in these countries” – Yilmaz Akyuz

The policy response to the crisis has been an inconsistent policy mix, including fiscal austerity and an ultra-easy monetary policy. While the crisis was created by finance, the solution was still sought through finance. Countries focused on a search for a finance-driven boom in private spending via asset price bubbles and credit expansion. Fiscal policy has been invariably tight.

The ultra-easy monetary policy created over one trillion dollars in fiscal benefits in the United States – which was more than the initial fiscal stimulus; the entire initial fiscal stimulus was limited to 800 billion dollars.

There was reluctance to remove debt overhang through comprehensive restructuring (i.e. for mortgages in the United States and sovereign and bank debt in the European Union). Thus, the focus was on bailing out creditors.

There was also reluctance to remove mortgage overhang and no attempt to tax the rich and support the poor, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States – where marginal tax rates are low compared with continental Europe. There has been resistance against permanent monetisation of public deficits and debt, which does not pose more dangers for prices and financial stability than the ultra-easy monetary policy.

The situation in the United States has been better than in other advanced economies. The United States dealt with the financial but not with the economic crisis, whereby recovery has been slow due to fiscal drag and debt overhang. And employment is not expected to return to pre-crisis levels before 2018.

As for the Euro zone, Japan and the United Kingdom, all have had second or third dips since 2008. None of them have restored pre-crisis incomes and jobs.

Meanwhile, trade imbalances have not been removed, but redistributed. East Asian surplus has dropped sharply and Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa have moved to large deficits. Developing countries’ surplus has fallen from 720 billion dollars to 260 billion dollars. On the contrary, advanced economies have moved from deficit to surplus, whereby U.S. deficits have fallen and the Euro zone has moved from a 100 billion dollars deficit to a 300 billion dollars surplus.

As tapering comes to an end and the U.S. Federal Reserve stops buying further assets, the attention will be turned to the question of exit, normalisation and the expectations of increased instability of financial markets for both the United States and the emerging economies.

This exit will also create fiscal problems for the United States because, as bonds held by the Federal Reserve mature and quantitative easing ends, long-term interest rates will rise and the fiscal benefits of the ultra-easy monetary policy would be reversed.

Developing countries lost steam as recovery in advanced economies remained weak or absent due to the fading effect of counter-cyclical policies and the narrowing of policy space. China could not keep on investing and doing the same thing. Another factor contributing to the change of context in developing countries has been the weakened capital inflows that became highly unstable with the deepening of the Euro zone crisis and then Federal Reserve tapering. Several emerging economies have been under stress as markets are pricing-in normalisation of monetary policy even before it has started.

The external financial vulnerability of the South is linked to developing countries’ integration in global financial markets and the significant liberalisation of external finance and capital accounts in these countries. These include opening up securities markets, private borrowing abroad, resident outflows, and opening up to foreign banks. While developing countries did not manage capital flows adequately, the IMF did not provide support in this area, tolerating capital controls only as a last resort and on a temporary basis.

Several deficit developing countries with asset, credit and spending bubbles are particularly vulnerable.  Countries with strong foreign reserves and current account positions would not be insulated from shocks, as seen after the Lehman crisis. When a country is integrated in the international financial system, it will feel the shock one way or another, although those countries with deficits remain more vulnerable.

In regard to policy responses in the case of a renewed turmoil, it is convenient to avoid business-as-usual, including using reserves and borrowing from the IMF or advanced economies to finance large outflows. The IMF lends, not to revive the economy but to keep stable the debt levels and avoid default. It is also inconvenient to adjust through retrenching and austerity.

Ways should be found to bail-in foreign investors and lenders, and use exchange controls and temporary debt standstills. In this sense, the IMF should support such approaches through lending into arrears.

More importantly, the U.S. Federal Reserve is responsible for the emergence of this situation and should take on its responsibility and act as a lender of last resort to emerging economies, through swaps or buying bonds as and when needed. These are not necessarily more toxic than the bonds issued at the time of subprime crisis. The United States has much at stake in the stability of emerging economies. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

 

*   A longer version of this column has been published in the South Centre Bulletin (No. 80, 30 June 2014).

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If You Cut One, Plant Two http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/135576/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=135576 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/135576/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 10:18:44 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135576 Students from Kisule Primary School in Kampala at the International Children’s Climate Change Conference (ICCCC), July 2014, Uganda. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Students from Kisule Primary School in Kampala at the International Children’s Climate Change Conference (ICCCC), July 2014, Uganda. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Jul 15 2014 (IPS)

Olga Mugisa, 11-years-old, takes to the microphone in front of her peers, the Ugandan flag proudly draped behind her and green plants framing the stage. She has an important message to share with her fellow students: “If you cut one, plant two.”

“I tell all of you here you to plant trees at school, at home, everywhere,” she says in a loud and confident voice to participants at Africa’s first International Children’s Climate Change Conference held in the Ugandan capital at the weekend.

“If you plant those trees you will get air that you breathe in and (you) will breathe in oxygen as you produce carbon dioxide,” adds the Primary 5 student at Mirembe Junior, an international school in Namuwongo, traditionally a slum area of Kampala.“Children are the future generation, but at the moment we are in this climate change quagmire because adults cut trees with impunity. We do not think twice … we didn’t plant them” – Joseph Masembe, founder of Uganda’s Little Green Hands

Joining forces with Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), Uganda’s Little Green Hands NGO organised the International Children’s Climate Change Conference, which brought together about 280 “child delegates”, aged between five and 12, from 23 schools in four Ugandan districts, at Kampala’s GEMS Cambridge International School. There were also students representing 35 countries including Spain, France and the United States.

Students performed skits, sang and recited poems, as well as posing questions and giving PowerPoint presentations in their own style. Everything revolved around the causes and effects of, and solutions for, climate change.

Children can bring hope, especially when it comes to climate change, says lawyer turned social entrepreneur, environmentalist and founder of Little Green Hands, Joseph Masembe. He is showcasing a “new form of environmental stewardship” in Uganda involving young people.

According to The State of Uganda’s Population Report, released in February 2013, the east African nation has the world’s youngest population, with over 78 percent aged under 30.

“A wise man once told me a child’s mind is like wet cement -when you write on it, it’s permanent,” Masembe tells IPS. “So involving children at such a tender age in environment conservation means the future is ensured and it’s guaranteed.

“Children are the future generation, but at the moment we are in this climate change quagmire because adults cut trees with impunity. We do not think twice … we didn’t plant them.

“But if we get these children to start planting trees at a tender age, by the time they grow up they will have sentimental value attached to these trees, so they won’t chop them down,” Masembe explains.

It’s getting thumbs green that was the focus of the Little Hands Go Green Festival, an annual eventcreated by Masembe in 2012. In December that year, more than 16,000 children flocked to Kampala’s Kololo Airstrip, where they were given seedlings to take home and plant fruit trees. Masembe says “Africa’s only green festival” was even “gate-crashed” by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, after he heard about the large gathering of children. Out of it, sprang the ICCCC.

As highlighted in the The State of Uganda’s Population Report2013, Uganda has been identified as one of the world’s least prepared and most vulnerable countries when it comes to the climate change. The study stressed that Global Climate Change models project the nation will experience an increase in average temperatures up by up to 1.5 oC in the next 20 years.

Hot days are increasing, cold days decreasing; glaciers on the Rwenzori Mountains are continuing to melt and almost all regions of the country are experiencing “intense, frequent and prolonged droughts,” the report said.

“You find that now the rains do not come as they used to come, the seasons are changing and it’s a lot hotter,” Masembe tells IPS. “The dry season takes a lot longer. Farmers are telling you their crops are being affected a lot. You have mudslides in Bududa (eastern Uganda) almost every other year.”

Despite her age, Olga is all too aware of the impact of climate change on her country, which she notes is called the “Pearl of Africa” but which, because of climate change, “will no longer be the Pearl of Africa. Lake Victoria and (Lake) Albert will dry up… climate (change) is something that can destroy a country.”

“The ozone layer is the layer that protects from the direct sunshine, so when it’s spoilt we shall get the direct sunshine and the plants will dry up, drought will be there,” she adds.

As she plants a tree at the end of the ICCCC, Olga says that she will encourage her mother, father and two siblings to do the same. “I’ll keep encouraging people to plant trees … They have a responsibility.”

Olga is fortunate that she attends an international school where the study of climate change is on the curriculum. “In the international schools they teach it, in the local schools, which is the majority, they don’t,” says Masembe. “So we have to find other ways to sneak it in, through extracurricular activities for instance.”

“The Green Festival (to be held on August 24) is one opportunity. And this conference, which will become annual, will become part of the way whereby children can use their voices and hopefully adults can start to listen.”

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South Sudanese Children Starving While Aid Falling Short http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/south-sudanese-children-starving-while-aid-falling-short/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudanese-children-starving-while-aid-falling-short http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/south-sudanese-children-starving-while-aid-falling-short/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 00:20:56 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135568 By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 15 2014 (IPS)

Even as aid workers are warning that children in South Sudan are falling victim to mass malnutrition, international agencies are said to be missing their fundraising goals to avert a looming famine in the country.

On Monday, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the international medical relief organisation, reported that nearly three-quarters of the more than 18,000 patients admitted to the agency’s feeding programmes in South Sudan have been children. South Sudan has experienced mounting civil violence in recent months, which humanitarian groups warn has directly impacted farmers’ ability to plant and grow crops.

A child snacks in her family's new shelter, at Protection of Civilians (POC) camp III, near UN House, in Juba. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

A child snacks in her family’s new shelter, at Protection of Civilians (POC) camp III, near UN House, in Juba. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

Yet even as South Sudan’s malnutrition epidemic intensifies, seven major international aid agencies, all of which prioritise food security in South Sudanese villages, may have to shut down their projects due to severe funding gaps.

Naming South Sudan to be “the most pressing humanitarian crisis in Africa,” CARE International, a U.S.-based relief agency, has stated that the United Nations’ most recent appeal for South Sudan is less than half funded.

The U.N. says some 1.8 billion dollars is urgently needed in the country, yet CARE says that seven implementing agencies are short by some 89 million dollars.

“We will be staring into the abyss and failing to avert a famine if funds do not start arriving soon,” Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam, said in CARE’s report.

“This is a not a crisis caused by drought or flood. It is a political crisis turned violent. The people of South Sudan can only put their lives back together once the fighting ends. In the meantime… we are asking the public to help us with our urgent humanitarian work, but mainly we are calling on governments to fund the aid effort before it is too late.”

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of State announced it would provide another 22 million dollars in humanitarian assistance to facilitate “basic life support” in South Sudan. Yet the following day, three U.S. lawmakers wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, expressing “grave concern” over the growing conflict in South Sudan’s border region and urging “renewed diplomatic engagement” with the international community.

While solving the political problem at the root of South Sudan’s current violence is a significant priority, aid workers say the international community’s most dire concern should be for the nutritional needs of South Sudanese children.

“Many of these children have walked for days to receive medical care and food security, and these are only the ones we see,” Sandra Bulling, media coordinator for CARE International, told IPS from South Sudan. “We don’t even know about the ones hiding in the bush.”

Centrality of nutrition

The malnutrition crisis comes amidst tumultuous domestic politics in South Sudan, resulting in fighting that has raged since December. Some 1.5 million South Sudanese residents are now estimated to be displaced within the country, thereby decreasing their access to reliable food sources and requiring them to share already-limited supplies.

Dr. Jenny Bell, a medical worker and expert on South Sudan with the University of Calgary in Canada, acknowledges that “the nation’s health situation wasn’t brilliant before December,” but warns that the civil conflict has “compounded” the country’s medical issues.

South Sudan “already had the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, and it had been estimated that one in five South Sudanese children die before they reach age five,” she told IPS.

“But even though there had barely been enough food before, now there really won’t be enough, as [internally displaced] farmers were unable to grow crops [due to the violence], and cannot do so now because South Sudan is well into [its] rainy season.”

Adequate nutrition needs to be South Sudan’s top priority, Bell emphasises. The three leading causes of death in the country – malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections – are much more likely for a person to contract when he or she is malnourished, she notes.

Yet she adds that despite the “amazing agricultural potential” of South Sudan, funding for this purpose has been weak.

“The United States’ monetary aid to the region is complicated because they don’t trust the South Sudanese government,” she says. “Because of this, they’ve shifted everything to humanitarian aid, and all the development efforts have been wiped out.”

In addition to monetary aid for agricultural development, Bell says health-care facilities urgently need both supplies and personnel.

CARE’s Bulling agrees that training medical personnel is of key importance in South Sudan, adding that her focus is to work with local staff but fly in as many experts as possible.

“But it is mainly money that we need, so we can procure medicines and all of the necessary nutritional requirements,” she says.

When asked what it would take for the international community to react to the need for more funding in South Sudan, Bulling cited a technique that she says has historically been effective.

“We need to have photos of children starving and dying before the world reacts to such a disaster,” she says.

“This is what has worked for Somalia … you need these pictures to talk. For South Sudan we do all these press releases and calls to action, but as long as there is no big report with photos to show how bad the situation is, there is no response.”

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Time to “Drop the Knife” for FMG in The Gambia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/time-to-drop-the-knife-for-fmg-in-the-gambia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-to-drop-the-knife-for-fmg-in-the-gambia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/time-to-drop-the-knife-for-fmg-in-the-gambia/#comments Sun, 13 Jul 2014 11:23:18 +0000 Saikou Jammeh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135524 Circumcisers in the Gambia publicly declaring that they have abandoned the practice of FGM. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

Circumcisers in the Gambia publicly declaring that they have abandoned the practice of FGM. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

By Saikou Jammeh
BANJUL, Jul 13 2014 (IPS)

Women’s rights activists in the Gambia are insisting that more than 30 years of campaigning to raise awareness should be sufficient to move the government to outlaw female genital mutilation (FMG).

The practice remains widespread in this tiny West African country of 1.8 million people, but rights activists believe that their campaign has now reached the tipping point.

Two years ago, GAMCOTRAP, an apolitical non-governmental organisation (NGO) committed to the promotion and protection of women and girl children’s political, social, sexual, reproductive health and educational rights in The Gambia, and one of the groups behind the anti-FGM campaign, sponsored a draft bill which has been subjected to wide stakeholder consultations.

Several previous attempts to legislate against FGM have failed, with no fewer than three pro-women laws having had clauses on FGM removed from draft bills. But activists now appear determined to make the final push and hope that when introduced this time round, the bill will go through.“We’ve caused lots of suffering to our women ... if my grandparents had known what I know today, they would not have circumcised anyone. Ignorance was the problem” – former circumciser Babung Sidibeh

The time has now come for final action, says Amie Bensouda, legal consultant for the draft bill. “There can be no half measures. The law has to be clear. It’s proposed by the law that FGM in all its forms is prohibited. This discussion cannot go on forever. The government should do what is right.”

“The campaign has reached its climax,” Dr Isatou Touray, executive director of GAMCOTRAP, told IPS. “A lot of work has been done. I am hopeful of having a law because women are calling for it, men are calling for it. I know there are pockets of resistance but that’s always the case when it comes to women’s issues.”

“In 2010, we organised a workshop for the National Assembly,” she continued. “They made a declaration, pledging to support any bill that criminalises FGM. I am happy to report that, since 2007, more than 128 circumcisers and 900 communities have abandoned the practice. This trend will continue to grow.”

Seventy-eight percent of Gambian women undergo FGM as a ‘rite of passage’. However, after more than three decades of the anti-FGM campaign in Gambia, a wind of change is blowing, sweeping even conservative rural communities.

Sustained awareness-raising programmes have resulted in public declarations of abandonment of FGM by hundreds of circumcisers. Babung Sidibeh, custodian of the tradition in her native Janjanbureh, the provincial capital of Central River Region, 196 kilometres from Banjul, was one of them. The old woman assumed the role after the death of her parents, but she has since “dropped the knife”, as no longer practising FGM is known here.

Sidibeh did so after receiving training in reproductive health and women’s rights. “Soon after we circumcised our children in 2011,” she told IPS, “Gamcotrap invited me for training. I was exposed to the harm we’ve been doing to our fellow women. If I had known that before what I know today, I would never have circumcised anyone.”

With a tinge of remorse, she added: “We’ve caused lots of suffering to our women. That’s why I told you that if my grandparents had known what I know today, they would not have circumcised anyone. Ignorance was the problem.”

Mrs Camara-Touray, a senior public health worker at the country’s heath ministry confirmed to IPS that her ministry has since taken a more proactive role on FGM.

She explained: “The ministry has created an FGM complication register. We’ve also trained nurses on FGM. Until recently, when you asked most health workers about the complications that can arise with FMG, they would say it has no complications. That’s because they were not trained. Since 2011, we’ve changed our curriculum to include these complications. After we put the register in place, within three months, we’d go to a region and see that hundreds of complications due to FGM had been recorded.”

In March, Gamcotrap organised a regional religious dialogue that sought to de-link FGM from Islam. Touray said that the workshop was a prelude to the introduction of the proposed law in parliament.

“Islamic scholars were brought together from Mali, Guinea, Mauritania and Gambia,” she told IPS. “We had a constructive debate and it was overwhelmingly accepted that FGM is not an Islamic injunction, it’s a cultural practice. It was recommended that a specific law should be passed and a declaration was made to that effect.”

However, there is resistance in some quarters. An influential group of Islamic scholars, backed by the leadership of the Supreme Islamic Council, continue to maintain that FGM is a religious injunction.

With a large following and having the ears of the politicians, these clerics have in recent times also intensified their pro-FGM campaign.

“It will be a big mistake if they legislate against FGM,” Ebrima Jarjue, an executive member of the Supreme Islamic Council, told IPS.

“Our religion says we cut just small. We should be allowed to practise our religion. If some people are doing it and doing it bad, let them stop it. Let them go and learn how to do it. If circumcising the girl child when she’s young is causing problems, then let’s wait until she grows up. That’s what used to happen.”

Meanwhile, the Women’s Bureau, the implementing arm of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, is hesitant about legislating against FGM.

“As far FGM is concerned, the position of the Women’s Bureau is that there’s need for more sensitisation and dialogue to push the course forward,” Neneh Touray, information and communication officer of the Women’s Bureau, told IPS. She declined to comment on whether the bureau thought that the bill was premature.

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Defying the Ebola Odds in Sierra Leone http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/defying-the-ebola-odds-in-sierra-leone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=defying-the-ebola-odds-in-sierra-leone http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/defying-the-ebola-odds-in-sierra-leone/#comments Sat, 12 Jul 2014 18:52:22 +0000 Mohamed Fofanah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135520 A medical centre at the Bandama checkpoint in Kenema to test people in transit for symptoms of Ebola. Credit: Mohamed Fofanah/IPS

A medical centre at the Bandama checkpoint in Kenema to test people in transit for symptoms of Ebola. Credit: Mohamed Fofanah/IPS

By Mohamed Fofanah
KENEMA, Sierra Leone, Jul 12 2014 (IPS)

Adikali Kamara is a 36-year-old student nurse working in the government hospital in Kenema, a sprawling town on the fringe of the Sierra Leone’s Gola tropical rain forest.

On June 19, he began feeling unwell, complaining of fever and a headache, and went to a chemist near where he lived to buy anti-malaria drugs and antibiotics to treat typhoid fever. “I thought that my symptoms indicated either malaria or typhoid because these are the most common ailments suffered by everybody here,” said Kamara.

However his condition did not change and two days later he decided to seek proper treatment at the hospital. That was when the doctors discovered he was suffering from Ebola, a disease that causes fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhoea and kills up to 90 percent of those infected.

Kamara was admitted immediately and just seven days later he was discharged after receiving supportive treatment.“People are vehemently denying that Ebola exists despite the massive awareness raising that is going on, and those that do believe the illness exists are so afraid that they do not come to the hospital or bring their relatives when they are sick. That is how Ebola spreads in the community” – Michael Vandi, Public Health Education Officer for Sierra Leone’s Eastern Province

Kamara is one the fortunate 51 persons in Sierra Leone who have survived the current Ebola scourge that is also ravaging two other West African neighbours – Guinea and Liberia. So far, 99 have died in Sierra Leone and a further 315 men, women and children have tested positive.

The Public Health Education Officer for Sierra Leone’s Eastern Province, Michael Vandi, who is based in the Kenema hospital which houses the country’s only Supportive Treatment Centre and testing laboratory for Ebola, said that the country is far from winning the fight against the disease, blaming people’s fear and denial of the disease.

Vandi said that “people are vehemently denying that Ebola exists despite the massive awareness raising that is going on, and those that do believe the illness exists are so afraid that they do not come to the hospital or bring their relatives when they are sick. That is how Ebola spreads in the community before we are aware of cases.”

According to Vandi, people are accusing doctors of administering lethal injections to the Ebola patients or removing vital organs for sale in European markets. He said that some even claim that people are being deliberately infected with the virus to reduce the population.

As a result, doctors and nurses in the hospitals have been attacked and many nurses are not wearing their uniforms on the way to work for fear of being attacked in the streets.

“Patients who were admitted – both male and female – are abandoning the hospitals,” said Vandi. “They are now going to pharmacies or being treated by quack doctors or nurses in their homes. This is worrisome because the signs and symptoms of Ebola mimic the prevalent malaria and typhoid fever in the country and, before they know what they are dealing with, it will be too late.”

The Senior Human Rights Officer who heads the Human Rights Commission’s Office in the Eastern Province, Hassan Yarjah, blames the government’s Ebola awareness raising strategy for fanning mistrust and disbelief among people.

He pointed out that the eastern part of the country, in which almost all cases of Ebola have so far been identified, is an opposition stronghold. “What the central government is doing, which I think is wrong, is sending people to these communities that the people cannot identify with; they are parliamentarians, they are ministers, they are executives from the ruling All People’s Congress party and this is a country where everything is polarised,” he said.

According to Yarjah, people in the country’s Eastern Province are saying that “because a census is scheduled for September, the politicians want to scare people away from this part of the country so that their number will dwindle; then, when they delimit the boundaries for constituency seats, this will mean less representatives for the opposition in parliament in the next election.”

“I think government should use the local structures, like the paramount chiefs, the medical personnel on the ground, and the local councils,” Yarjah told IPS.

Meanwhile, the government has announced a ban on regular trade fairs in Kailahun, one of the districts in Eastern Province worst hit by Ebola. There has also been an executive order for placing medical personnel at a number of checkpoints on roads from the Eastern Province to check people for Ebola-related symptoms.

“This has affected our agriculture,” complained Lamin Musa, a farmer from Kailahun. “We cannot sell our produce now at the trade fairs and this had heaped more hardship on our poor people. Even bush meat, which had been a lucrative trade for us, has been banned. It is difficult for us to understand all the suffering we have to undergo because of Ebola.”

Whatever the misgivings, misconceptions and accusations, the virus is thriving, in part due to dysfunctional medical systems and weak disaster management structures in Sierra Leone and its neighbours.

At the beginning of July, the World Health Organization (WHO) held an emergency meeting in Accra, Ghana, with health ministers from 12 West African countries to discuss and propose suggestions to combat the outbreak of Ebola virus that has hit the three West African countries.

The ministers adopted a common inter-country strategy calling for accelerated response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The strategy stressed the need for regional, sub-regional and national leadership, coordinated actions by all stakeholders, enhanced cross border collaboration and the involvement of communities.

For his part, Kamara is optimistic. “I was able to beat this disease and any of you out there can,” he said. “You have to believe that Ebola is real, set aside prejudice and go to the hospital early if you experience the symptoms.”

The problem is that while Ebola may be a killer, a potentially greater threat to Sierra Leoneans and West Africans in general lies in less spectacular diseases. During the current outbreak of Ebola, other diseases are quietly taking their toll. Malaria is still rampant, and there is concern that cholera, which usually attacks during this period of the rains, will resurface to claim more lives.

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Mechanical Pumps Turning Oases into Mirages http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/mechanical-pumps-turning-oases-into-mirages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mechanical-pumps-turning-oases-into-mirages http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/mechanical-pumps-turning-oases-into-mirages/#comments Sat, 12 Jul 2014 12:28:18 +0000 Cam McGrath http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135513 The water table is falling in Egypt's desert oases, raising questions of sustainability. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

The water table is falling in Egypt's desert oases, raising questions of sustainability. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Cam McGrath
BAHARIYA OASIS, Egypt, Jul 12 2014 (IPS)

Using a hoe, farmer Atef Sayyid removes an earthen plug in an irrigation stream, allowing water to spill onto the parcel of land where he grows dates, olives and almonds.

Until recently, a natural spring exploited since Roman times supplied the iron-rich water that he uses for irrigation. But when the spring began to dry up in the 1990s, the government built a deep well to supplement its waning flow.

Today, a noisy diesel pump syphons water from over a kilometre below the ground. The steaming-hot water is diverted through a maze of earthen canals to irrigate the orchards and palm groves that lie below the dusty town of Bawiti, 300 kilometres southwest of Cairo.

“The deeper source means the water is hotter,” Sayyid explains. “The hot water damages the roots of the fruit trees. It also evaporates quicker, meaning we have to use more water to irrigate.”

Bahariya, the depression in which Bawiti is situated, is one of five major oases in Egypt’s Western Desert. While Egyptians living in the densely populated Nile River Valley and Delta depend on the Nile for their freshwater needs, communities in this remote and arid region rely entirely on underground sources.“This [water drawn from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer] is fossil water, which means it was deposited a very long time ago and is not being replenished. So once you pump the water out of the aquifer, it’s gone for good” – resource management specialist Richard Tutwiler

Since ancient times, freshwater has percolated through fissures in the bedrock, making agriculture possible in the otherwise inhospitable desert. Water was once so plentiful in the five oases that they were collectively known as a breadbasket of the Roman Empire on account of their intensive grain cultivation.

Ominously, where groundwater once flowed naturally or was tapped near the surface, farmers must now bore up to a kilometre underground, raising fears for the region’s sustainability.

“Historically, springs and artesian wells supplied all the water in the oases,” says Richard Tutwiler, a resource management specialist at the American University in Cairo. “But water pressure is dropping and increasingly it has to be pumped out, particularly as you go from south to north.”

The water is drawn from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer, an underground reservoir of fossil water accumulated over tens of thousands of years when the Saharan region was less arid than it is today. The vast aquifer extends beneath much of Egypt, Libya, Sudan and Chad, and is estimated to hold 150,000 cubic kilometres of groundwater.

But it is a finite resource, says Tutwiler.

“This is fossil water, which means it was deposited a very long time ago and is not being replenished,” he told IPS. “So once you pump the water out of the aquifer, it’s gone for good.”

Extraction is intensifying in all of the countries that share the aquifer. In Egypt alone, an estimated 700 million cubic metres of water is pumped from deep wells each year.

The increase in water usage is the result of agricultural expansion and population growth. Nearly 2,000 square kilometres of desert land has been reclaimed by groundwater irrigation in the last 60 years. Farmers employ flood irrigation, a traditional technique in which half the water is lost to evaporation and ground seepage before reaching the crops.

Since the 1980s, government programmes aimed at alleviating population pressure on the Nile Valley have encouraged Egyptian families to relocate to the desert. Existing oasis communities have grown while new ones have sprung up around deep wells.

One of these settlements, Abu Minqar, was founded in 1987 and now boasts over 4,000 residents. The isolated community only exists because of its 15 wells, which draw groundwater from depths of up to 1,200 metres.

“Water management in (places like) Abu Minqar must be sustainable,” says Tutwiler. “Because if the wells dry up, it’s game over.”

The number of wells in the Western Desert has increased immensely since the first appearance of percussion drilling machinery 150 years ago. Records show that in 1960 there were less than 30 deep wells in all the oases – today there are nearly 3,000.

In Dakhla Oasis, 550 kilometres southwest of Cairo, natural springs and 900 wells provide water for the 80,000 inhabitants of the oasis, as well as orchards that produce date palms, citrus fruits and mulberries. This was traditionally one of Egypt’s most fertile oases because of the proximity of the aquifer to the surface – less than 100 metres throughout the depression.

But here, as elsewhere, water sources that flowed freely less than a generation ago now only flow with the aid of mechanical pumps. Groundwater extraction has exceeded 500,000 cubic metres a day and the water table is dropping, in some places by nearly two metres a year.

“There are too many straws in the same glass of water,” remarks hydrologist Maghawry Diab

While Diab estimates the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer may hold enough water to last the next 100 years, Egypt’s desert communities could have a lot less time.

Over-pumping has created localised “dry pockets” in the aquifer, which behaves more like a layered damp sponge than a pool of water. Tightly-spaced deep wells are drawing down the water table, while their overlapping well cones intercept upward flowing groundwater before it can recharge the shallower wells.

“All the wells are tapping the same larger cone of depression,” Diab told IPS. “To gain years, we’ll have to find even deeper groundwater sources or (come to terms with) using saline water.”

In an effort to reduce pressure on groundwater resources, Egypt’s government has set restrictions on the drilling of new wells and reduced the discharge rates of certain high-productive ones.

At government wells, a formalised system of water sharing is in place. But farmers thirsty for more water have drilled their own wells, concealing them from authorities or bribing local officials to turn a blind eye.

“We have tried to control the drilling, but there is a lot of resistance from farmers,” says one former irrigation ministry official. “Every time we capped (an unlicensed) well, two more would appear.”

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Future of Rwanda’s Orphans Still Uncertain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/future-of-rwandas-orphans-still-uncertain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=future-of-rwandas-orphans-still-uncertain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/future-of-rwandas-orphans-still-uncertain/#comments Fri, 11 Jul 2014 15:24:15 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135504 Deborah (in red), a 14-year-old Rwandan girl who lost her parents when she was young, at Gisimba Memorial Centre orphanage in Kigali. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Deborah (in red), a 14-year-old Rwandan girl who lost her parents when she was young, at Gisimba Memorial Centre orphanage in Kigali. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KIGALI, Jul 11 2014 (IPS)

Every day, 14-year-old Deborah wakes up in an orphanage, goes to school, and comes home to an orphanage. It does not matter when or for how long she leaves the orphanage, she always knows she’ll be back.

“This is where I live, this is my home,” says the teen, sitting at a wooden desk with other children at the Gisimba Memorial Centre orphanage. She has been intensely colouring in a nativity scene of one famous family – Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.

Deborah had both her parents for only three years, before her mother died. Her father passed away two years later. Both had AIDS. Her four sisters and brothers also live at Gisimba Memorial Centre, in the Nyamirambo quarter of the Rwandan capital.“Decades of research show that orphanages cannot provide the care children to develop to their full potential, leading to attachment disorders and developmental delays that can be physical, intellectual, communication, social and emotional” – communications consultant Annet Birungi

The original Gisimba orphanage was founded by Peter Gisimba and wife Dancilla, and began taking in children, orphaned through a variety of circumstances, in the 1980s. The couple died in the late 1980s. When the orphanage was renamed the Gisimba Memorial Centre in 1990, it was home to 50 children and had reached its capacity.

That was until the 1994 genocide when up to 700 people took shelter in Gisimba. “People were sleeping in the dormitories, outside, everywhere, as long as they were together,” coordinator Elie Munezero tells IPS.

Close to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed during those bloody 100 days.

Today there are about 125 young people living at the orphanage. “All generations,” explains 50-year-old Munezero. “Babies, infants, adolescents, young adults.” The youngest is two years old. The two eldest are 30. About 40 percent are aged under 16.

Deborah and the other siblings are just some of the estimated 2,171 children today languishing in 29 orphanages across the east African country, says Annet Birungi, a communications consultant for Rwanda’s National Commission for Children (NCC) and UNICEF.

Nine years in an orphanage, in Deborah’s case, does not shock Birungi. She points out the alarming results of the National Survey on Institutional Care, conducted in 2011-2012 by Rwanda’s Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF) and groundbreaking NGO Hopes and Homes for Children (HHC). It found thatabout 13.6 percent children living in institutions had been there for more than 15 years.

Staying in institutional care can scar children for a lifetime, with those aged between 0-3 years especially vulnerable.

“Decades of research show that orphanages cannot provide the care children to develop to their full potential, leading to attachment disorders and developmental delays that can be physical, intellectual, communication, social and emotional,” says Birungi, adding that “abuse, neglect, physical and sexual violence, isolation and marginalization are common in orphanages.”

Before colonial rule, there was a culture of treating “every child as your own”, notes Birungi. “Children were for the community and when a mother died, it was a responsibility of aunties and grandparents, family friends to take care of the orphan (s).”

The atrocities of 1994 are said to have left at least half a million children without parents. During and after the genocide,women informally took in children from the opposite ethnic group. Mothers were encouraged to be a “malayika mulinzi” (“guardian angel”). Systems of “kinship and foster care” operated, even if informally.

At the same, this was when most of the orphanages that exist today appeared but most of them lack exit plans for children who have grown up in them.

Meanwhile, the belief that children are better off in institutions than in families has also kept some children in care, says Birungi, and while there is no denying that some centres are able to provide shelter, food, clothing, health and education, they cannot offer the love of a family.

Today, there is no power and no water in Gisimba. Both have been cut off because the bills have remained unpaid, says Munezero. “Nothing is good,” he adds in despair.

A major issue with children being cared for in institutions is that some may still have living members of their family.  “You could be calling a child an orphan but he’s not,” Munezero admits.

The African Child Policy Forum (ACPF), an independent, not-for-profit, institution has reported that the majority of so-called “orphans” adopted from Africa by foreigners have at least one parent still alive.

International adoption was temporarily suspended by Rwanda in August 2010, to allow the country work on implementation of the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, which calls on states to consider national solutions before international adoption.

Birungi says the government wants to revive the culture of “treating every child as your own”. NCC is currently working with HHC to reintegrate those living at Gisimba back into families.

An NCC-trained psycho-social team is in the final stages of the reintegration process and Gisimba will be transformed into a primary school to benefit children in the surrounding area, according to Birungi. On July 10, HHC announced that the first of five children had been moved out of Home of Hope, another Kigali institution.

HHC’s country director in Rwanda, Claudine Nyinawagaga, says a number of alternative care services are available for children in the country, including “kinship care”, when a young person is placed with extended family, neighbours or friends.

But national adoption is yet to be fully implemented and since HCC started the closure of the first Rwandan institution in 2011, only one child has fully undergone the domestic adoption process. NCC-drafted guidelines on domestic and international adoption are awaiting approval by Rwanda’s Cabinet.

“Several meetings with local authorities revealed that the general population and local authorities do not have enough information about adoption,” Nyinawagaga tells IPS. “This is likely to be addressed through the approval of the adoption guidelines, and the sensitisation of the community.”

So, for the time being, Deborah remains in an institution.

“I like singing and drumming,” she says, when asked what she likes doing in her spare time. “We have a small choir that I’m in.”

Despite her plight, she is ambitious and looking forward to her future: “to work in an industry, and make fruit juice and yoghurt.”

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