Inter Press Service » Africa http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:38:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 U.N. Visa Denials Appendage of U.S. Foreign Policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-visa-denials-appendage-u-s-foreign-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-visa-denials-appendage-u-s-foreign-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-visa-denials-appendage-u-s-foreign-policy/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 23:27:13 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133695 The United States has rarely, if ever, denied a visa to a head of state seeking to visit the United Nations to address the 193-member General Assembly, the highest policy making body in the organisation. But it did so last November, prompting Sudan to register a strong protest before the U.N.’s legal committee: a protest […]

The post U.N. Visa Denials Appendage of U.S. Foreign Policy appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

The United States has rarely, if ever, denied a visa to a head of state seeking to visit the United Nations to address the 193-member General Assembly, the highest policy making body in the organisation.

But it did so last November, prompting Sudan to register a strong protest before the U.N.’s legal committee: a protest that went unsung and unnoticed."Washington believes it can deny visas whenever it chooses to do so and most governments, fearful of negative consequences, remain silent and do not make a fuss." -- James A. Paul

Hassan Ali, a senior Sudanese diplomat, told delegates, “The democratically-elected president of Sudan, Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, had been deprived of the opportunity to participate in the General Assembly because the host country, the United States, had denied him a visa, in violation of the U.N.-U.S. Headquarters Agreement.”

Furthermore, he complained, the host country also applied arbitrary pressures on foreign missions, “depending on how close a country’s foreign policy is to that of the United States.”

“It was a great and deliberate violation of the Headquarters Agreement,” he said, also pointing to the closing of bank accounts of foreign missions and diplomats as another violation.

“Those missions have now been without bank accounts for some three years,” he added.

The refusal of a visa to the Sudanese president was also a political landmine because al-Bashir has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

But does the United States have a right to implicitly act on an ICC ruling when Washington is not a party to the Rome Statute that created the ICC?

“Good question,” said John Quigley, professor emeritus of international law at Ohio State University.

“As you suggest, the U.S. had no obligations under the Rome Statute,” he told IPS.

So the question would not arise of Washington having an obligation that might conflict with the obligation to grant a visa to a representative of a U.N. member state, he added.

It would be harder if the United States were a party to the Rome Statute.

Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al Bashir addresses a ceremony marking the fourth anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on Jan. 9, 2009. The refusal of his visa was also a political landmine because al-Bashir has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al Bashir addresses a ceremony marking the fourth anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on Jan. 9, 2009. The refusal of his visa was also a political landmine because al-Bashir has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

“Even then, the two obligations might not conflict. That is, the U.S. would have an obligation to let him in. Once he is in, the U.S. would have an obligation to turn him over to the ICC,” said Quigley, author of ‘The Ruses of War: American Interventionism Since World War II’.

The U.S. decision last week to deny a visa to the Iranian envoy-in-waiting, Hamid Aboutalebi, has been challenged as a violation of the Headquarters Agreement – even though Washington got away scot-free after barring the Sudanese president from the General Assembly last year.

James A. Paul, who served for over 19 years as executive director of the Global Policy Forum, told IPS the U.S. government was in clear violation of international law and practice.

This includes violations of specific international agreements such as the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, and particularly the U.N. Headquarters Agreement, entered into by the U.S. and the U.N. in 1947 and unanimously ratified by Congress.

This particular violation of visa denial is one of many such violations, some of which get lots of attention and some of which don’t, he said.

“My guess is that there have been hundreds of cases in which the U.S. has refused entry visas for various reasons. There are also hundreds of other cases of violation of the agreement in other ways,” said Paul, who has kept close track of the politics of the United Nations for nearly two decades.

In response to the U.S. refusal to grant a visa to Palestine leader Yassir Arafat in 1988, he said, the General Assembly had to move its meeting to Geneva at huge expense and inconvenience.

“That case made headlines, but most do not,” said Paul.

Take, for example, the U.S. refusal to grant an entry visa to a senior Argentine diplomat who had been accredited to participate with the Brazilian team on the U.N. Security Council in 2010.

“Washington took this step presumably because it wanted to block regional coordination on the Council – a totally illegitimate reason,” Paul said, adding there was no argument the person involved represented a security threat.

“So I think we can say that Washington believes it can deny visas whenever it chooses to do so and most governments, fearful of negative consequences, remain silent and do not make a fuss,” he added.

Quigley told IPS he saw no exception for security, terrorism and foreign policy in the Headquarters Agreement.

The resolutions by the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives to bar the Iranian envoy, are irrelevant, he said.

“What matters is the text of the Headquarters Agreement. If domestic legislation was adopted that purported to reserve rights to the U.S. that are not expressed in the Headquarters Agreement, the domestic legislation does not allow the U.S. to evade its obligations,” said Quigley.

“As I read the legislation adopted by Congress, it gives grounds for denial of a visa, but it is still up to the president to decide the grounds exist, so it is not Congress that is denying a visa to a particular person.”

The president should properly regard the Headquarters Agreement as his guide, added Quigley.

The U.S. has accused Aboutalebi of being involved in the 1979 forcible takeover of the U.S. embassy and its diplomatic personnel in Tehran.

But the Iranian says he was only a translator and negotiator between the hostages and the hostage takers – and that he was not even in Tehran when the embassy was physically taken over by a group called the Muslim Students.

Quigley said, “I can see that there might be some validity to the view that the U.S. and Iran should work this out, but at this point the U.S. has denied and does not seem inclined to reconsider.”

That being the case, it is the U.N. that is the injured party under the Headquarters Agreement. It should not be up to Iran to take the initiative to take action on the matter, he argued.

Paul told IPS some diplomats face restrictions as to where they can live and where in the U.S. they can travel.

There have been many complaints about U.S. banking restrictions having serious negative consequences for delegations, who sometimes cannot pay their bills as a result.

Finally, of course, there is the scandal of spying on U.N. staff and on delegations.

“When you put all this together, you have a stark picture of disregard for the norms of diplomacy and the letter of international agreements. It is a sad story,” he added.

The post U.N. Visa Denials Appendage of U.S. Foreign Policy appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-visa-denials-appendage-u-s-foreign-policy/feed/ 0
Court Upholds Most of U.S. “Conflict Minerals” Law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/court-upholds-u-s-conflict-minerals-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=court-upholds-u-s-conflict-minerals-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/court-upholds-u-s-conflict-minerals-law/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 21:14:21 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133691 The United States’ second-highest court has upheld most of a landmark U.S. law requiring companies to ascertain and publicly disclose whether proceeds from minerals used to manufacture their products may be funding conflict in central Africa. The ruling, released Monday, means that U.S.-listed companies will need to file their first such reports with federal regulators by […]

The post Court Upholds Most of U.S. “Conflict Minerals” Law appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
National police arrive on a boat at Goma's port in DRC as U.N. peacekeepers look on. Credit: William Lloyd-George/IPS

National police arrive on a boat at Goma's port in DRC as U.N. peacekeepers look on. Credit: William Lloyd-George/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

The United States’ second-highest court has upheld most of a landmark U.S. law requiring companies to ascertain and publicly disclose whether proceeds from minerals used to manufacture their products may be funding conflict in central Africa.

The ruling, released Monday, means that U.S.-listed companies will need to file their first such reports with federal regulators by the end of May. The statute, known as Section 1502 and covering what are referred to as “conflict minerals”, became law in 2010, but the details of its actual implementation have remained up in the air ever since.The ruling is “a major step backward for atrocity prevention in the Great Lakes region of Africa and corporate accountability in the United States.” -- Holly Dranginis

“There are very encouraging aspects of this ruling, and the bottom line is that the rule hasn’t been overturned and now companies will need to move forward,” Corinna Gilfillan, head of the Washington office of Global Witness, a watchdog group that supports Section 1502, told IPS.

“The heart of this statute is companies carrying out due diligence on their supply chains so they can figure out whether their minerals are coming from conflict areas. Due diligence is a process – first knowing the supply chain and then taking action to address any problems. This ruling has upheld the due diligence and reporting aspects.”

The U.S. Congress hoped Section 1502 would help quell the violence that has wracked Africa’s Great Lakes region, particularly in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for the past decade and a half. Findings by the United Nations, rights groups and others have warned that rebels in these areas have funded their operations in part by mining and selling any of five minerals that have become particularly sought after by the international electronics industry.

The rule has come under attack by U.S. business groups who say the requirements would be onerous and infringe on their constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech, by forcing them to label their products “conflict free”. But agreeing with previous rulings, a three-judge bench on Monday dismissed most of these concerns.

The dismissal included business concerns that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had not adequately analysed costs and benefits of the regulation.

“The rule’s benefits would occur half-a-world away in the midst of an opaque conflict about which little reliable information exists, and concern a subject about which the [SEC] has no particular expertise,” the court stated in its decision.

“Even if one could estimate how many lives are saved or rapes prevented as a direct result of the final rule, doing so would be pointless because the costs of the rule – measured in dollars – would create an apples-to-bricks comparison.”

Compelled speech

Yet the court also offered a split decision in favour of the manufacturers on the free speech concern, allowing both proponents and critics of Section 1502 to claim victory.

U.S. law allows for certain “compelled” public disclosures, but generally only if those are recitations of straight fact. However, the court found the issue of conflict minerals to be far more complex.

“[I]t is far from clear that the description at issue – whether a product is ‘conflict free’ – is factual and nonideological. Products and minerals do not fight conflicts,” the court stated.

“The label ‘conflict free’ is a metaphor that conveys moral responsibility for the Congo war. It requires an issuer to tell consumers that its products are ethically tainted, even if they only indirectly finance armed groups … By compelling an issuer to confess blood on its hands, the statute interferes with that exercise of the freedom of speech.”

It is unclear whether the SEC will appeal this part of the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court (the agency says it’s reviewing the ruling). For now, the decision undermines a key strategy for groups hoping to use a labelling requirement to shame companies into compliance, though related information will still be publicly available.

The ruling is “a major step backward for atrocity prevention in the Great Lakes region of Africa and corporate accountability in the United States,” Holly Dranginis, a policy associate with the Enough Project, an advocacy group here, said Monday.

“The court’s proposal that a conflict-free determination is ideological is unfounded and undercuts the power of society’s growing awareness that global markets and security in fragile states are in fact linked.”

Meanwhile, a separate case before the same court could soon undermine the free speech finding. A smaller bench has already ruled in favour of requiring meat producers to include “country of origin” information on their products, and the case is now slated to be heard by the full court in mid-May.

A dissenting opinion in the conflict minerals ruling noted that the meat-labelling decision could have a significant impact on Monday’s ruling.

6,000 reports

The complexities of implementing Section 1502 remain highly problematic in central Africa, and some are warning that the law could soon collapse under its own weight. Yet others say the regulation is already having a noticeable impact, with the Enough Project suggesting that “over two-thirds of tin, tantalum and tungsten mines [are] now free of armed groups.”

Monday’s ruling should now allow the U.S. side of the statute’s implementation to proceed. This means that around 6,000 U.S. companies will need to file reports with the SEC, and post them to company websites, by the end of May.

The lawsuit against Section 1502 was brought by three of the United States’ largest business lobbies, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable. In a joint statement sent to IPS, the three lauded the decision.

“[W]e are pleased with the D.C. Circuit’s decision … finding the statute and regulation are unconstitutional,” the groups stated. “We understand the seriousness of the humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and abhor the violence in that country, but this rule was not the appropriate way to address this problem.”

Yet other businesses are already complying with the spirit of Section 1502. Perhaps the most significant of these companies, Intel, is actually a member of NAM.

In January, the company pledged to remove all conflict minerals from its microprocessors. It says it now has no plans to change course.

“Regardless of this decision, we will continue to do our part to achieve conflict-free supply chains and to report publicly on these efforts,” Lisa Malloy, an Intel spokesperson, told IPS.

“The challenge of responsible minerals sourcing requires a comprehensive solution that involves government agencies in the U.S. and internationally, non-profit groups and industry. We urge all partners to continue the momentum towards a solution.”

The post Court Upholds Most of U.S. “Conflict Minerals” Law appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/court-upholds-u-s-conflict-minerals-law/feed/ 0
Côte d’Ivoire’s Tech Solutions to Local Problems http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/cote-divoires-tech-solutions-local-problems/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cote-divoires-tech-solutions-local-problems http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/cote-divoires-tech-solutions-local-problems/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 18:41:45 +0000 Marc-Andre Boisvert http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133677 When Ivorian Thierry N’Doufou saw local school kids suffering under the weight of their backpacks full of textbooks, it sparked an idea of how to close the digital gap where it is the largest — in local schoolrooms. N’Doufou is one of 10 Ivorian IT specialists who developed the Qelasy — an 8-inch, Ivorian-engineered tablet […]

The post Côte d’Ivoire’s Tech Solutions to Local Problems appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Thierry N’Doufou and his team of IT specialists developed a tablet — the Qelasy — specifically for the Ivorian market as they aim to bring local school kids into the digital era. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Thierry N’Doufou and his team of IT specialists developed a tablet — the Qelasy — specifically for the Ivorian market as they aim to bring local school kids into the digital era. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Marc-Andre Boisvert
ABIDJAN, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

When Ivorian Thierry N’Doufou saw local school kids suffering under the weight of their backpacks full of textbooks, it sparked an idea of how to close the digital gap where it is the largest — in local schoolrooms.

N’Doufou is one of 10 Ivorian IT specialists who developed the Qelasy — an 8-inch, Ivorian-engineered tablet that is set to be released next month by his technology company Siregex.The parent- and teacher-controlled tablet replaces all textbooks, correspondence books, calculators and the individual chalkboards often used in Ivorian classrooms.

“It is more than me feeling sorry for them. It is also about filling the digital gap between the south and the north, and bringing Ivorian education into the 21st century,” N’Doufou tells IPS.

Qelasy means “classroom” in several African languages, including Akan, Malinke, Lingala and Bamileke.

The Qelasy team began by converting all government-approved Ivorian textbooks into digital format.

“We were obligated to process everything in a way to have quality images for high definition screens. It is a lot of work,” explains N’Doufou, who is CEO of Siregex.

“We also enriched the curriculum with images and videos in way to make the educational experience more convivial.”

A solution to Ivorian problems 

The tablet uses an Android operating system and is resistant to water splashes, dust, humidity and heat.

“The Qelasy is protected against everything that an African pupil without transportation might encounter during their walk home from school,” says N’Doufou.

“We knew we needed our own product … Our clients’ needs are very specific,” he explained.

The parent- and teacher-controlled tablet replaces all textbooks, correspondence books, calculators and the individual chalkboards often used in Ivorian classrooms.

It can also be programmed to allow kids to surf the web or play games according to a pre-defined timetable. Siregex staff have also developed a store where parents and educators can buy over 1,000 elements like apps, educational materials and books.

While the Qelasy is currently focused on education, its marketing director Fabrice Dan tells IPS that users will soon be able to use it for other things. “We believe in technology as a way to create positive changes. And we believe in education. But eventually, we will present solutions in other fields, like agriculture and microcredit,” he says.

Qelasy was launched at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress 2014.  Exactly how much it will sell for has not yet been determined, but it is expected to be priced between 275 and 315 dollars.

That’s a steep price in a country where, according to government figures, only two million of its 23 million people are classified as middle class, earning between two and 20 dollars a day.

While N’Doufou expects the government to purchase a few tablets for use in schools, this product will mostly benefit the country’s middle and upper classes.

For now, it is only available for the Ivorian market, but the firm is targeting Francophone and Anglophone Africa.

However, the biggest challenge to the success of the product remains the electricity deficit. In a country where, according to the World Bank, only 59 percent of the population has access to electricity, a tablet with an eight-hour battery life faces limited penetration.

But N’Doufou says “There is an 80 percent cellphone penetration rate in Côte d’Ivoire in spite of the low electricity penetration. People find solutions in villages. They will for this too.”

While N’Doufou says “most of the know-how comes from here,” the Qelasy was assembled in the Chinese manufacturing hub of Shenzen, where 10,000 units have been produced.

Other Ivorian Tech Solutions 

The Qelasy is merely the latest in locally-developed technologies designed specifically to answer Ivorian problems.

Last week, young Ivorian programmer Regis Bamba launched an app to record the licence plate numbers and other details of taxis. Taxi Tracker allows a user to send this information about the taxi they are travelling in to selected users who can follow their journey in real time.

It is an attempt to find a way to prevent incidents like the murder of young Ivorian model Awa Fadiga, who was attacked during a taxi ride home in March.

The story of Fadiga’s tragic death gripped the nation as it exposed gaps in the country’s security and healthcare systems. She had been left untreated in a comatose state for more than 12 hours at a local hospital, which allegedly refused to treat her until payment for her care was received.

“It is my reaction to her death. I saw her picture, and I thought that could be my little sister. I told myself that I could not just sit back with my arms crossed,” Bamba tells IPS.

“It is my concrete solution as a citizen until the authorities do something meaningful to protect citizens. So Awa’s death will not be in vain.”

Another application, Mô Ni Bah, was developed by Jean Delmas Ehui in 2013 and allows Ivorians to declare births through SMS.

Trained locals then transfer the information provided in the SMSes to a registration authority. It has been another important invention in a country where the great distance between rural areas and government centres has hindered birth registration. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, almost a third of births are undeclared here.

Bacely Yoro Bi, a technology evangelist, internet strategist and organiser of ConnecTIC — a gathering of Abidjan’s IT enthusiasts — says there is definitively a boom in the local IT business.

“There is a lot happening here in terms of technology, although it is still limited to Abidjan. There are several start-ups that have been created with a local focus,” he tells IPS.

Part of the success, says Yoro Bi, is because of the cooperation among developers.

“Qelasy has been possible because there is a techie community that support each other,” N’Doufou points out.

Yoro Bi says that Côte d’Ivoire’s inventions should be exported to the rest of West Africa and to the world.

With the creation of two free trade zones dedicated to technology in Abidjan’s suburbs, and investments in internet infrastructure, he predicts that inventors like N’Doufou and Bamba now have the potential to go beyond the national borders.

The post Côte d’Ivoire’s Tech Solutions to Local Problems appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/cote-divoires-tech-solutions-local-problems/feed/ 1
Q&A: Malawi’s President Banda Confident ‘I Will Win this Election’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 13:37:27 +0000 Mabvuto Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133637 Mabvuto Banda interviews Malawian President JOYCE BANDA

The post Q&A: Malawi’s President Banda Confident ‘I Will Win this Election’ appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has vowed to get to the bottom of a corruption scandal where more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006. She is currently campaigning ahead of the country’s May tripartite elections. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has vowed to get to the bottom of a corruption scandal where more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006. She is currently campaigning ahead of the country’s May tripartite elections. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

By Mabvuto Banda
Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda is campaigning ahead of next month’s elections to extend her term of office. But many believe that the massive public service corruption scandal here has weakened her chances of winning.

This southern African nation goes to the polls on May 20. However, after a February auditor’s report into the scandal revealed that 30 million dollars were stolen over just six months in 2013, Africa’s second female president has faced calls to resign. She become president in April 2012 after her predecessor President Bingu wa Mutharika died in office."We have repealed repressive laws, we have changed the status of women, the media is free, and we allowed everyone to demonstrate freely when just two years ago people were being killed for doing just that." -- Malawi's President Joyce Banda

But Banda is confident that she has done more than enough to address the corruption  — where a total of more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006 — and ensure her chances of retaining office.

She has taken on the powerful players involved in the corruption scandal and arrested 68 people, including a former cabinet minister, businessmen and senior public officers. “Cashgate” was first exposed last September after a failed assassination attempt on a government budget director who was believed to be on the verge of revealing the theft.

Banda has frozen over 30 bank accounts and 18 cases are currently in court. In this interview, Africa’s most influential woman discusses with IPS correspondent Mabvuto Banda her two years in power, the challenges, and what her hopes are for the future. Excerpts follow:

Q: President Banda, it’s been a tough two years of fighting to right a sputtering economy left by your predecessor, the late President Mutharika. How have you fared?

A: We inherited an economy that was in a crisis. Today, we have turned around the economy because we took decisive action to heal the country, recover the economy, and build a strong foundation for growth. It’s been two years since our people spent hours in fuel queues, it’s been two years since businesses struggled to access foreign exchange.

Q: How did you manage to do that?

A: We agreed to swallow the bitter pill and made unpopular decisions like the devaluation of the Kwacha, we have been implementing a tight monetary policy…our fiscal policy has been tight. These are some of the pills that have set the economy on a path of healing and represent the foundation of a transformational agenda that we will implement in the next five years.

Q: You rightly said that your first job was to bring back donor confidence and unlock aid which was withdrawn. You did that but now because of the “Cashgate” scandal, donors have suspended 150 million dollars in budget support. Do you take responsibility for this?

A: Yes, I do because “Cashgate” happened on my watch and my job entails that I take responsibility and deal with it. This is why we have taken far-reaching measures in dealing with fraud and corruption and engaged foreign forensic auditors to get to the bottom of this corruption in the public service.

Q: Your critics think your administration is not doing much to get to the bottom of all this. Any comment?

A: Sixty-eight people, including a former member of my cabinet, have been arrested, more than 18 cases are already in court, 33 bank accounts have been frozen. This is the risk I have taken which very few African leaders do when they are facing an election.

I have vowed not to shield anyone, even if it means one of my relations is involved. Now tell me, is this not proof enough that we are taking this corruption very seriously?

Q: But many believe that you personally benefited from this “Cashgate” scandal. What do you say?

A: When you are fighting the powerful, an influential syndicate like this one, this is not surprising. Secondly, this is an election year and you will hear a lot of things but the truth shall come out.

The other thing you should know is that I am a woman in a role dominated by men and I am therefore not surprised that I am getting such amount of pushback…we shall overcome this, and those responsible for stealing state funds will be jailed and their properties confiscated.

Q: You face an election next month and the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit has projected that you will win the election despite the scandal. Do you believe that?

A: Yes I do believe that I will win this election. I also know though that it’s a close one but the advantage is that people have seen what we have done in two years.

We have repealed repressive laws, we have changed the status of women, the media is free, and we allowed everyone to demonstrate freely when just two years ago people were being killed for doing just that.

Q: Forbes Magazine named you as the continent’s most powerful woman. Do you feel that powerful?

A:  No, I don’t. I will feel that powerful when every woman in Malawi and Africa is free from hate and is empowered.

I will feel powerful when woman no longer have to lose their lives because they are abused, when they stop dying from avoidable pregnancy-related deaths. I will feel powerful when women in Africa take their rightful place as equals.

The post Q&A: Malawi’s President Banda Confident ‘I Will Win this Election’ appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election/feed/ 1
Trauma Still Fresh for Rwanda’s Survivors of Genocidal Rape http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/trauma-still-fresh-rwandas-survivors-genocidal-rape/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trauma-still-fresh-rwandas-survivors-genocidal-rape http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/trauma-still-fresh-rwandas-survivors-genocidal-rape/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 09:48:37 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133588 Claudine Umuhoza’s son turned 19 this Apr. 1. And while he may be one of at least thousands of children who were conceived during the Rwandan genocide, he’s not officially classified as a survivor of it. But his mother is. Two decades after the massacre — during which almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate […]

The post Trauma Still Fresh for Rwanda’s Survivors of Genocidal Rape appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Claudine Umuhoza a survivor of Rwanda’s genocide believes that the country has a positive and united future. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Claudine Umuhoza a survivor of Rwanda’s genocide believes that the country has a positive and united future. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 11 2014 (IPS)

Claudine Umuhoza’s son turned 19 this Apr. 1. And while he may be one of at least thousands of children who were conceived during the Rwandan genocide, he’s not officially classified as a survivor of it. But his mother is.

Two decades after the massacre — during which almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives — most Rwandans are still coping with the trauma of the violence. Most affected are the women who have children born of genocidal rape. It is estimated that between 100,000 and 250,000 women were raped in Rwanda during the genocide."The future of Rwanda will be better, people will be united. That doesn’t mean that people will have forgotten they are Tutsi or Hutu." -- Claudine Umuhoza, genocide survivor

Umuhoza, who lives in Gasabo district, near the Rwandan capital, Kigali, was only 23 when a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was shot down over Rwanda’s capital Kigali on Apr. 6, 1994.

During the conflict that ensued she was raped by seven men — one of whom stabbed her in the stomach with a machete. She was left to die, lying on the floor.

Umuhoza survived only because a Hutu neighbour helped her escape to safety and gave her a fake Hutu identity card.

“The neighbour who saved my life is no longer in Rwanda, his family went to Mozambique. I’d like to say thank you for saving me. I would have died if it was not for him,” she remembered.

She lost four brothers and other family members in the massacre.

Now 43, Umuhoza is infected with HIV and has not yet told her son the origins of his birth.

“I have not being able to disclose to my son how he was born. My son doesn’t know. I got married in September 1994, after the genocide ended.

“I was pregnant when I married and after giving birth my husband realised the child born was not his. He didn’t accept this and as a result he left home,” she told IPS.

Umuhoza never remarried. Rape is a taboo subject in Rwanda’s society.

According to Jules Shell, the executive director and co-founder from Foundation Rwanda, even though this Central African nation has made great strides in rebuilding the country, women who were infected with HIV as a consequence of rape still face severe stigmatisation.

The U.S.-based NGO was established in 2008 and began supporting an initial cohort of 150 children born of rape with their schooling in 2009.

“A disproportionate number of the women who were raped were also infected by HIV,” Shell told IPS, explaining that the exact infection rate was not known but it is estimated that 25 percent of the country’s women are living with HIV.

According to the government, women comprise the majority, 51.8 percent of this country’s population of 11.5 million. However, antiretroviral treatment only became widely available here 10 years ago and is accessible through the national healthcare system.

“We will never know the true number of children born of rapes committed during the genocide.

“As many women are afraid, unable, or understandably unwilling, to acknowledge the circumstance of their children’s birth … we will never know the true number,” Shell said.

The consequences of the genocide still affect the youth who were born after it.

“Many of the young people are experiencing a phenomena common to the children of Holocaust survivors, known as the ‘intergenerational inheritance of trauma’.

“This has resulted from the inability of mothers to speak openly to their children about their experiences and own trauma, which in turn affects them,” explained Shell.

Like Umuhoza, many other women still have not publicly acknowledged that their children were born of rape, though their children are aware that they have fathers who are unknown to their mothers.

This also creates problems for these children when they try to register for national identity cards, which requires the identification of both names of father and mother.

But thanks to Foundation Rwanda, Umuhoza’s son is about to finish high school — something she did not have the opportunity to do. Umuhoza is one of  600 mothers currently supported by Foundation Rwanda, which also provides fees and school material for their children.

“I am very happy that my son is in secondary school. One thing that I pray to god for is to see my son in school … and I have a hope that he will be able to go to university.

Preventing another genocide
There are over 3,000 volunteers in the country using various strategies to bring about reconciliation such as community dialogue, community works, poverty-reduction activities and counselling.

Richard Kananga, director of Peacebuilding and Conflict Management department at the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, said that another genocide could occur if national authorities do not promote inclusive and reconciliation to bring people together.

“Through community dialogues people are being able to talk to one another. Talks have helped to reduce the suspicion promoting trust and healing,” he said.
 

“It is very important for me. I know it is expensive, but I didn’t even think that he would attend secondary school. So doors may open suddenly. I have hope,” she trusted.

Her dream is that her son becomes a lawyer to advocate for poor and marginalised people. However, he has dreams of his own and wants to become a doctor.

“He always sees me going for treatment and feeling a lot of pain and he dreams about being able to treat me,” she explained.

Because of her ill health and the severe stomach pains caused by the machete wound, Umuhoza is only able to perform light housework.

As a survivor she receives medical treatment from the Government Assistance Fund for Genocide Survivors (FARG) — to which the government allocates two percent of its national budget.

And on Apr. 15 she will undergo an operation to repair her wounds in the military hospital in Kigali.

Twenty years after the genocide, the country has not been able to forget its past, remarked Shell. She explained there is still stigma and discrimination against Tutsis, particularly in rural and isolated areas where they are very much a minority.

According to the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) survey, at least 40 percent of Rwandans across the country say they still fear a new wave of genocide.

“Suspicion is still there. Trauma is still an issue. We still have recently-released prisoners who are now in society but not integrated yet,” Richard Kananga, director of the Peacebuilding and Conflict Management department at the NURC, told IPS.

The NURC was created in 1999 to deal with aspects of discrimination among local communities and lead reconciliation in Rwanda.

According to Kananga, reconciliation is a continuous process.

“We can’t tell how long it will take, it’s a long-term process. We have researchers to measure how people perceive this process of human security in the country. We cannot say that in 20 more years we’re going to reach 100 percent [of people who feel secure],” he said.

The children born after the genocide may represent a dark period of Rwanda’s history, but, according to Shell, they also represent the “light and the hope for a brighter future.”

Umuhoza believes it too.

“I have hopes that the future for Rwanda will be good. Comparing how the country was 20 years ago and how it is today. I wish for unity and reconciliation.

“The future of Rwanda will be better, people will be united. That doesn’t mean that people will have forgotten they are Tutsi or Hutu. Rwandans will still know who they are,” said the mother.

The post Trauma Still Fresh for Rwanda’s Survivors of Genocidal Rape appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/trauma-still-fresh-rwandas-survivors-genocidal-rape/feed/ 0
Peacekeepers Greenlighted for CAR, but Mission Will Take Months http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/peacekeepers-greenlighted-car-mission-will-take-months/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peacekeepers-greenlighted-car-mission-will-take-months http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/peacekeepers-greenlighted-car-mission-will-take-months/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 23:56:17 +0000 Samuel Oakford http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133585 Amid alarming reports of ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to send an official peacekeeping mission to the conflict-torn country where the minority Muslim population has all but disappeared in much its Western half. The French-authored resolution would rely on a force of some 10,000 troops and […]

The post Peacekeepers Greenlighted for CAR, but Mission Will Take Months appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Rwandan Defence Forces deploy to the Central African Republic in late January. Credit: U.S. Army Africa photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Mills

Rwandan Defence Forces deploy to the Central African Republic in late January. Credit: U.S. Army Africa photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Mills

By Samuel Oakford
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

Amid alarming reports of ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to send an official peacekeeping mission to the conflict-torn country where the minority Muslim population has all but disappeared in much its Western half.

The French-authored resolution would rely on a force of some 10,000 troops and 2,000 police to restore order and prevent further sectarian violence that has left thousands dead and displaced roughly a quarter of the population.“The roads and bridges need to be fixed, all the transportation infrastructure. In Bangui there are only two hotels." -- spokesperson for U.N. peacekeeping

The Council in December mandated a joint AU-French force that thus far has proven unable to clamp down on violence against the Muslim communities, particularly outside of the capital Bangui, where peacekeepers have been light on the ground.

The Council’s morning session was preceded by reports of anti-balaka attacks in the central town of Dekoa, 300 kms north of Bangui, that left some 13 dead.

Despite Thursday’s vote, rights groups point out it will be a full six months before the mission, known as MINUSCA, is operational.

“There are tens of thousands of vulnerable Central Africans who need protection and assistance right now,” said Mark Yarnell, senior advocate at Refugees International.

“Clearly, a U.N. peacekeeping operation, once fully deployed, can contribute to peace and stability over the long term. But this mission will not address the atrocities, displacement, and dire humanitarian needs on the ground today.”

A “re-hatting” of many of the 5,000 AU troops would take place on Sep. 15, the official start date of MINUSCA’s peacekeeping operations. It is unclear, given a paucity of peacekeepers in several other countries, how long it will take the mission to reach full capacity.

“You will not even be getting to 10,000 troops by September given the global shortage,” Yarnell told IPS. “There is no guarantee they will arrive by that date.”

A spokesperson for U.N. peacekeeping told IPS the landlocked country is a particularly difficult location to build the infrastructure for a mission from scratch.

“We can send engineers to assist and we’ll ship some equipment and cargo to Cameroon, the nearest port,” he said. “The roads and bridges need to be fixed, all the transportation infrastructure.  In Bangui there are only two hotels – we will need to construct our bases, starting with sanitary facilities and offices.”

The transition will come nearly two years after the Séléka, a loose coalition of predominantly Muslim rebels from CAR’s neglected northwest and Chad, announced their alliance and took up arms against the government of former president François Bozizé.

In March of 2013, the rebels captured Bangui and for nearly a year presided over a state of anarchy, pilfering what was left of the state infrastructure and targeting Christians with impunity.

Christian anti-balaka self-defence militias with unclear ties to the former regime formed to combat the rebels. Following the arrival of French and African Union troops in December, the militias began gaining the upper hand.

In January, under international pressure, former Seleka leader Michel Djotodia resigned the presidency and ex-Seleka forces began pulling back from the capital, creating a power vacuum and leaving Muslim communities under threat from the vengeful Christian majority.

Peacekeepers were slow to recognise the anti-balaka as a new and larger threat, even as militias repeatedly carried out massacres in Muslim enclaves. The result, according to the U.N., has been the “ethnic-religious cleansing” of the West of CAR.

In a report, Amnesty International called the exodus of Muslims from CAR “a tragedy of historic proportions.”

“Not only does the current pattern of ethnic cleansing do tremendous damage to the Central African Republic itself, it sets a terrible precedent for other countries in the region, many of which are already struggling with their own sectarian and inter-ethnic conflicts,” the report said.

In response to a Central African government request, the resolution gives MINUSCA the emergency capacity to supplement the state’s meagre police force by authorising peacekeepers to make arrests and carry out basic law and order functions.

The first of an expected 1,000 EU peacekeepers arrived this week and are expected to spell French troops that have guarded a makeshift camp for displaced persons at Bangui’s aiport. Until MINUSCA is fully functional, EU advisors are meant to assist local authorities in rebuilding the criminal justice system. Several recent arrests of anti-balaka leaders have seen them flee or be released only hours later.

The Security Council had an opportunity to mandate a peacekeeping mission as far back as November, but due to logistical and financial concerns gave the AU time to demonstrate its capacity at peacekeeping on the continent.

Though observers have highlighted the efforts of troops from Rwanda and Burundi, Chadian peacekeepers were implicated in atrocities of their own, including the deaths of over 30 civilians in a market on Mar. 29. The Chadians were allegedly attempting to evacuate residents from one of Bangui’s few remaining Muslim enclaves when they opened fire.

Chad has since withdrawn its battalion from the AU mission, forcing African leaders to search for a further 850 troops.

The CAR vote comes as Rwanda commemorates its own 100 days genocide that began 20 years ago this week.

The post Peacekeepers Greenlighted for CAR, but Mission Will Take Months appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/peacekeepers-greenlighted-car-mission-will-take-months/feed/ 0
Zimbabwe’s Urban Farmers Combat Food Insecurity — But it’s Illegal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/zimbabwes-urban-farmers-combat-food-insecurity-illegal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-urban-farmers-combat-food-insecurity-illegal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/zimbabwes-urban-farmers-combat-food-insecurity-illegal/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 09:04:56 +0000 Ignatius Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133556 It is harvest season in Zimbabwe and Janet Zondo is pressed to find space on the piece of land she is farming to erect a makeshift granary. Zando says she could very well build a miniature silo, judging by the size of the maize crop that she is preparing to harvest. But Zondo is not a […]

The post Zimbabwe’s Urban Farmers Combat Food Insecurity — But it’s Illegal appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Residents in Bulawayo's high density urban suburbs have taken to farming vacant plots of land after last year’s unexpected rains, thereby combatting food insecurity. However, in Zimbabwe, urban farming in illegal. Credit: Ignatius Banda/IPS

Residents in Bulawayo's high density urban suburbs have taken to farming vacant plots of land after last year’s unexpected rains, thereby combatting food insecurity. However, in Zimbabwe, urban farming in illegal. Credit: Ignatius Banda/IPS

By Ignatius Banda
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

It is harvest season in Zimbabwe and Janet Zondo is pressed to find space on the piece of land she is farming to erect a makeshift granary. Zando says she could very well build a miniature silo, judging by the size of the maize crop that she is preparing to harvest.

But Zondo is not a communal farmer somewhere deep in the rural areas. She is one of the many residents in Bulawayo’s high-density urban suburbs who have taken to farming vacant plots of land here after last year’s unexpected rains filled rivers, destroyed dams and claimed lives.

In the residential suburbs of Tshabalala, Sizinda and Nkulumane, here in Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, vacant plots of land are flourishing with maize. "It's a self-regulating mechanism, and for the sake of sustainability, trying to feed yourself must not be illegal." -- Japhet Mlilo, a development researcher

Like many here, Zondo had always dabbled in farming. But her maize crop always failed because of successive poor rains. Last year’s heavy, unexpected rains provided the right conditions for planting.

“I have never harvested this much maize crop,” Zondo, who is from Nkulumane, told IPS.

“I expect to produce more than 100 kilograms of mealie meal [course flour made from maize] from my maize field,” Zondo estimated.

Other residents farming on vacant plots also expect to harvest a bountiful crop this season. But there are no guarantees that Zondo, or any of the other residents who have taken to farming, will be tilling the same piece of land next season.

This is because the land is owned by the local municipality. And Zimbabwe’s bylaws prohibit farming on vacant municipal land.

“We are aware people are farming on undesignated areas but we also must make humanitarian considerations. People need food and we know not everyone can afford mealie meal,” a Bulawayo city councillor, who himself planted maize on a vacant municipal plot, told IPS.

“Most of the land is reserved for residential homes, which means these farming activities are not permanent,” he said.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), while acknowledging that urban agriculture is illegal in many countries, estimates that more than 800 million people around the world practice urban agriculture and it has helped cushion them against rising food costs and insecurity.

FAO says the number of hungry people has risen to over one billion, with the “urban poor particularly being vulnerable.”

Under its Urban and Peri-urban Horticulture Growing Greener Cities project, FAO is working with governments in developing countries on “integrating horticulture into urban master development plans,” and this is what residents like Zondo could benefit from.

“We are always in constant fear of our crop being chopped down by the municipality. I am in a rush to harvest before anything like that happens,” Zondo said.

Regina Pritchett, global organiser for land and housing, and community resilience at the U.S.-based Huairou Commission, a global coalition of women in development and policy advocacy, says that while women are at the forefront of sustainable development, they are still bogged down by bureaucracy in accessing land.

“You need local solutions for women and access to land,” Pritchett told IPS.

However, experts note that this lack of formal ownership of small pieces of land could threaten livelihoods and food security in the long term in developing countries.

As increasing numbers of urban residents grow their own food, it could help cushion them against food shortages in Zimbabwe’s cities, says Japhet Mlilo, a development researcher at the University of Zimbabwe.

This southern African nation is already facing a food crisis. Last year it imported 150,000 tonnes of maize from Zambia in what experts say is a sign that local farmers are once again not going to meet demand.

According to the agriculture ministry, the country requires 2.2 million tonnes to meet its annual maize requirements.

“At the end of the day it’s simple arithmetic. Make urban farming totally illegal and people fail to plant their maize, which means [they will] starve. Or you can let them plant their own crop and you help reduce the number of people who need food assistance,” Mlilo told IPS.

“Residents already know which piece of land is theirs even without having titles to it. I am yet to hear residents fighting over land they allocated to themselves without municipality approval. It’s a self-regulating mechanism. For the sake of sustainability, trying to feed yourself must not be illegal,” he explained.

If globally women were given title deeds to land, it will help contribute to the sustainability of farming projects as owning resources provides some “incentive” for  women to continue farming, said Karol Boudreaux, a land expert with the Cloudburst Group, a U.S.-based think tank.

“Securing land rights can help deal with issues that range from food security and women’s economic empowerment,” Boudreaux told IPS.

For Zondo, however, the assurance that the her crop will not be destroyed by municipality’s police is enough.

“I have worked hard for this, imagine losing it,” Zondo said.

The post Zimbabwe’s Urban Farmers Combat Food Insecurity — But it’s Illegal appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/zimbabwes-urban-farmers-combat-food-insecurity-illegal/feed/ 0
Kenya’s Pastoralists Show their Green Thumbs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/kenyas-pastoralists-show-green-thumbs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-pastoralists-show-green-thumbs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/kenyas-pastoralists-show-green-thumbs/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 14:58:25 +0000 Noor Ali http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133534 For more than a decade Dima Wario from Rupa, a village in Merti division, northern Kenya, escaped death and watched helplessly as many in his community died in a spate of fatal clashes over receding resources. “We were attacked from all sides, as different communities battled over water points and pasture. I survived many attacks […]

The post Kenya’s Pastoralists Show their Green Thumbs appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Dima Wario from Rupa, a village in Merti division, northern Kenya, has moved away from pastoralism and become a farmer in the country’s semi-arid region. Credit: Noor Ali/IPS

Dima Wario from Rupa, a village in Merti division, northern Kenya, has moved away from pastoralism and become a farmer in the country’s semi-arid region. Credit: Noor Ali/IPS

By Noor Ali
ISIOLO COUNTY, Kenya, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

For more than a decade Dima Wario from Rupa, a village in Merti division, northern Kenya, escaped death and watched helplessly as many in his community died in a spate of fatal clashes over receding resources.

“We were attacked from all sides, as different communities battled over water points and pasture. I survived many attacks and raids, lost almost all my animals to raids for them to only be wiped out by drought four years ago,” Wario told IPS.

Merti division lies in Isiolo County, in Kenya’s Eastern Province which stretches all the way to the country’s northern border with Ethiopia.

Kenya’s underdeveloped, vast and semi-arid north is plagued by prolonged and recurrent violent conflicts over resources, deadly cattle raids, and increased incidents of natural disasters like droughts and floods.“Now have enough food. Relief food is forbidden in our house.” -- farmer Amina Wario

The African Development Bank’s Kenya’s Country Strategy Paper 2014 to 2018 indicates the region is the poorest in the country, with more than 74 percent of the population living in a desperate state of poverty.

“First we believed the El Niño phenomenon, flash floods, Rift valley fever and severe droughts [from the 1980s through to 2009] were a curse. Our people conducted rituals to prevent similar phenomena but it became more rampant,” Wario said. Emergency food aid offered little relief.

Although traditionally communities in Kenya’s arid regions have been pastoralists, over the years “the impacts of climate change have combined with other environmental, economic and political factors to create a situation of increasing vulnerability for poor and marginalised households,” says a report by CARE International.

But Wario and his household can no longer be classified as vulnerable. He’s moved away from the livelihood of his forefathers and is currently one of a new generation of successful crop farmers in this far-flung, remote village in Merti division some 300 km north of the nearest established town of Isiolo.

His only regret is that he took so long to switch from pastoralism.

His first wife, Amina Wario, told IPS this change was thanks to the Merti Integrated Development Programme (MIDP), an NGO in the region which educates pastoralists and livestock owners on climate change resilience and sustainable livelihoods.

“We grow enough food for our family, relatives, traders and local residents. This farm produces watermelons, paw paws, onions, tomatoes, maize, and tobacco for us for sell to those with livestock and earn an average profit of Ksh 50,000 [581 dollars] a month,” Amina Wario told IPS.

The Wario family farm is partitioned by trenches of flowing water from the nearby Ewaso Ng’iro River, which is drawn by a pump.

Five years ago, the MIDP began teaching 200 families who had lost all their livestock to drought about alternative livelihoods.

Now, more than 2,000 families across Merti division, a region where people are predominantly pastoralists, are part of the programme.

At Bisan Biliku, a settlement 20km from Merti town, many wealthy former livestock owners are now farmers.

Khadija Shade, chairperson of the Bismillahi Women’s self-help group, said the community’s departure from pastoralism has empowered and emancipated people in Bisan Biliku.

Women are now innovators and the main breadwinners in their families, she said. The women’s group grows a wide variety of crops and also purchases livestock from locals, all of which is sold to a chain of clients in Isiolo County, central Kenya and the country’s capital, Nairobi.

She also runs an exclusive shop that sells women’s and children’s clothes, and perfumes.

“[Now] we have enough money but nowhere to keep the money safe. We need banking facilities. At the moment we travel far to use mobile phone banking,” she added. This is because there is no mobile network coverage in Bisan Biliku and locals are forced to travel to an area with coverage.

A respected clan elder in Bisan Biliku, who requested not to be identified, told IPS that after attending a series of seminars by the MIDP a few years ago, he sold some of his livestock, bought a truck and built two house in Isiolo town, the capital of Isiolo County. He rents out the houses and earns an additional income.

“From the seminars I learnt how to reduce risks and increase my income and lead a better life. Now I am obviously not at risk of being a poor man,” he said.

Abdullahi Jillo Shade from the MIDP told IPS that the project “has been embraced by many families in Merti [town], and the neighbouring settlements of Bisan Bilku, Mrara and Bulesa and Korbesa.”

“Our people are proud farmers and traders. They have changed the tidal wave. These days we have more trucks transporting food to the market in Isiolo town than trucks with relief food…” he said.

Others too are adapting to the changing climate in their own way.

Isiolo legislator Abdullahi Tadicha says decades of deliberate marginalisation and punitive policies have denied those in northern Kenya development funding and subjected communities to displacement, massive losses of wealth, and severe poverty.

However, money has now been set aside to assist communities.

“The Isiolo south constituency development fund committee has identified, prioritised and allocated funds to address food insecurity and disaster management, and to support families rendered poor by past drought, floods and conflicts,” he told IPS.

The constituency fund, he said, helped start the Malkadaka irrigation scheme on 400 hectares of land in Isiolo south in August. It supports 200 families whose livestock were wiped out by successive droughts and floods.

Yussuf Godana from the Waso River Users Empowerment Platform, a community-based organisation, told IPS that locals suffered the most during the recurrent droughts but said education has helped people accept that erratic and harsh weather trends are not a curse but a global crisis.

He said thanks to the community diversifying its livelihood and the reduced conflicts over resources, “this whole place is now covered with a green carpet of crops – it’s an oasis.”

Partners For Resilience (PFR) is an alliance of various associations including Netherlands Red Cross (lead agency) and CARE Netherlands. It is working in partnership with Kenya to empower communities, with a focus on educating people about disaster prevention and management, and strengthening the resilience of at-risk communities.

Abdi Malik, a PFR official working with the Kenya Red Cross, told IPS that the various adaptation programmes in the region have created relief-free food zones and recorded significant decreases in families seeking food and assistance with school fees.

These programmes, said Malik, have also changed how the Kenya Red Cross engages with the local communities. Now people only visit their office to seek support for various projects, unlike in the past when they camped outside for days waiting for relief food.

Amina Wario is optimistic that her family will never need aid again.

“Our family is now respected, from the proceeds from this farm we have constructed a house … and educated our children.

“Now have enough food. Relief food is forbidden in our house,” she said happily.

The post Kenya’s Pastoralists Show their Green Thumbs appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/kenyas-pastoralists-show-green-thumbs/feed/ 1
To Tell or Not to Tell? Ugandan Teens Grapple with HIV Disclosure http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tell-tell-ugandan-teens-grapple-hiv-disclosure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tell-tell-ugandan-teens-grapple-hiv-disclosure http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tell-tell-ugandan-teens-grapple-hiv-disclosure/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 08:07:34 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133502 This is the second in a three-part series on youth and AIDS in Africa

The post To Tell or Not to Tell? Ugandan Teens Grapple with HIV Disclosure appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Many HIV positive teenagers struggle to disclose their status to their sexual partners. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Many HIV positive teenagers struggle to disclose their status to their sexual partners. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Wambi Michael
KAMPALA, Apr 8 2014 (IPS)

Silence is golden, it is said. But not for Constance Nansamba* from Uganda, who paid a dear price for keeping silent about being HIV positive and pregnant at age 18.  

“I was terrified. I ran away from my brother’s home. I could not follow the PMTCT [prevention of mother-to-child transmission] guidelines, so the baby is HIV positive,” she told IPS.“There are few designated adolescent-friendly outpatient health care facilities, while in-patient paediatric wards care for children up to age 12." -- Dr. Sabrina Kitaka, an adolescent health specialist

Nansamba knew she was born with the virus but, afraid of rejection, she did not tell her boyfriend. “We used a condom, he always complained, we abandoned the condom, I got pregnant.” Although he did not contract HIV from her, they broke up.

Nansamba, now 20, has found the courage to tell her story to help others. She is a member of Uganda Young Positives (UYP), an organisation that offers HIV counselling, testing and treatment adherence advice.

She told IPS that many teenagers born with HIV do not know their status when they start having sex, or they know but don’t tell their sex partners.

A survey by Uganda’s Mildmay Health Centre involving 200 adolescents receiving antiretroviral treatment found that 75 percent were not willing to disclose their HIV status to their sexual partners and 30 percent did not want to have protected sex.

“They simply don’t have information to guide them in negotiating disclosure, dual protection and consistent condom use,” said Nansamba. “I faced the same challenge because I would not discuss issues about sex with my elder brother, who was like my father.”

Nansamba’s parents died when she was a baby and her brother raised her.

HIV among the young

Uganda is a young country; nearly 80 percent of its 34 million people are below the age of 30.

National seroprevalence is 7.2 percent and, worryingly, is slowly rising. Among youth aged 15-24, five percent of women and two percent of men are HIV-positive, according to the Uganda AIDS Indicator Survey 2011.

The United Nations Children’s Fund’s Stocktaking Report on Children and AIDS 2013 estimates that Uganda has some 110,000 adolescents aged 10-19 living with HIV, of whom 64,000 are girls and 48,000 boys.

Emmanuel Elwanu was 14 years old when he learned that he had been born HIV positive. Fearing discrimination, he struggled with telling his HIV negative friends. “I had to go through a lot of counselling before I could open up,” he told IPS.

Elwanu was lucky: his school had weekly counselling sessions around HIV and he joined the Reach Out Mbuya Parish HIV/AIDS initiative.

“Many of my HIV positive colleagues out there are going through really difficult times with relationships,” explained the 18-year-old Elwanu. “I think about sex, but it is not my biggest priority.”

Elwanu, whose parents died while he was a child, has decided to abstain from sex until completing his studies.

Polly Nuwagaba, a counsellor with the Naguru Teenage Information and Health Centre in Kampala, told IPS that most adolescents have a problem with disclosure.

“They look healthy, they attract HIV negative partners, and they have sexual desires,” she explained. “Some tell us that when they say they have HIV, those they tell don’t believe it, and they end up having unprotected sex.”

No condoms for teens

Dr. Sabrina Kitaka, an adolescent health specialist at Makerere University’s College of Health and Sciences in Kampala, notes the gap in health services for the youth.

“There are few designated adolescent-friendly outpatient health care facilities, while in-patient paediatric wards care for children up to age 12. So adolescents are typically admitted to adult wards,” said Kitaka.

In 2013, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that the failure to put in place effective HIV services for youth has resulted in a 50 percent increase in AIDS-related deaths among adolescents globally, compared with the 30 percent decline of such deaths in the general population from 2005 to 2012.

WHO asked governments to review their laws to make it easier for adolescents to obtain HIV testing without parental consent.

But Ugandan health officials are divided on whether teenagers should be offered family planning services and condoms.

Dr. Stephen Watiti, a physician who lives with HIV, observed that the laws and policies surrounding condoms and contraceptives for adolescents in Uganda are unclear and interpreted inconsistently. This makes it difficult for both youth and health staff to understand their options.

Officially, only those 18 and over qualify for family planning services and condom distribution. However, more than half of young women aged 18-24 had had sex before the age of 18, according to the 2011 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey.

“As clinicians, you cannot go to schools and promote condoms or contraceptives. But when you come across a 14-year-old who is sexually active, then you have no option but to teach them how to use condoms,” Watiti told IPS.

At the UYP meeting held in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, in late January, Nansamba told the young audience: “You guys, it is not easy to live with HIV. You will always feel guilty whenever you sleep with someone, but at the same time you have sexual desires that need to be fulfilled.”

Her decision these days is “to abstain [from sex] because I don’t want to put anybody at risk of HIV.”

But for many HIV positive teenagers, abstaining is not an easy option – and neither is disclosing their status or practicing safe sex.

*Name changed to protect identity.

The post To Tell or Not to Tell? Ugandan Teens Grapple with HIV Disclosure appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tell-tell-ugandan-teens-grapple-hiv-disclosure/feed/ 1
IFC-Negotiated Privately Run Hospital Sapping Lesotho Budget http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ifc-negotiated-privately-run-hospital-sapping-lesotho-budget/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ifc-negotiated-privately-run-hospital-sapping-lesotho-budget http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ifc-negotiated-privately-run-hospital-sapping-lesotho-budget/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 23:12:48 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133498 The world’s first hospital to be built and run in a developing country under a public-private partnership is taking up more than half of the health budget in Lesotho, according to new estimates, diverting resources from populations outside of the capital. The unique funding arrangement for the Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital, which opened in 2011 […]

The post IFC-Negotiated Privately Run Hospital Sapping Lesotho Budget appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

The world’s first hospital to be built and run in a developing country under a public-private partnership is taking up more than half of the health budget in Lesotho, according to new estimates, diverting resources from populations outside of the capital.

The unique funding arrangement for the Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital, which opened in 2011 in the capital city of Maseru, came about under a deal brokered by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank’s private sector arm.“It’s very concerning that the deal was structured to give a 25 percent return to a private company – that’s a phenomenally high rate." -- Anna Marriott of Oxfam

Yet while the Washington-based IFC was negotiating on behalf of the Lesotho government, the final agreement will see returns of around 25 percent for the private company running the hospital.

Now, critics from civil society and within the Lesotho government are warning that the contract, which lasts for 18 years, is already forcing officials to cut back on health and other services, particularly for the country’s rural areas – where 75 percent of the Lesotho population lives.

“The big promise was that the new hospital would cost exactly the same as the old hospital and bring better results, but that’s clearly not the case. Even at the point the contract was signed [in 2009], costs had already escalated beyond what was agreed to be affordable,” Anna Marriott, a health policy advisor with Oxfam Great Britain, a humanitarian and advocacy group, told IPS.

“It’s very concerning that the deal was structured to give a 25 percent return to a private company – that’s a phenomenally high rate – and the idea that the World Bank would advise on a deal of that type is truly surprising. It feels as though the IFC was negotiating on behalf of the company rather than the government.”

In a report released Monday, Marriott writes that the new hospital is costing around 67 million dollars a year, three times more than the old hospital. Further, it’s currently accounting for some 51 percent of the country’s health budget, even while rural services are being cut, including for agriculture and education.

“The [new] hospital has had a bad impact on how we’ve allocated resources over the last two years,” the report quotes an anonymous senior Ministry of Health official as stating. “There are less and less resources for primary health care and district services.”

Non-competitive bidding

While the Lesotho government has proposed a significant increase in its health budget for coming years, a large majority – some 84 percent – of this will be earmarked for the new hospital. Yet most people in Lesotho can’t easily make use of these facilities.

“For many people, travelling to urban areas or the capital can take two days or more,” Lehlohonolo Chefa, director of the Lesotho Consumers Protection Association (CPA), which co-authored the new report, told IPS.

“For a long time, the government has been relying on the Christian Health Association of Lesotho to provide most of the primary health-care services in rural areas. But with the advent of this project, the majority of funding goes to financing the federal hospital while sacrificing that primary health care.”

Chefa is in Washington ahead of semi-annual meetings between the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), which are taking place later this week.

Lesotho is one of the poorest and most unequal countries in the world. The new Queen ‘Mamohato Hospital replaces the country’s previous central health service provider, a century-old institution that nearly everyone agreed needed to be renovated or overhauled entirely.

Yet when the government of Lesotho went to the World Bank to request funding to do so, Oxfam’s Marriot says the bank’s window had already closed for the concessional assistance that would typically be used in such a situation. Instead, officials were pointed towards the IFC, which took over the main technical advisory role for the deal.

That process resulted in a contract between the government of Lesotho and Tsepong, a consortium headed by Netcare, a South African company that has long experience in the private health-care business.

Critics point to a host of problems with the negotiating process and structure of the eventual contract, however, including that only two companies engaged in the bidding process. In addition, the contract significantly underestimated the number of patients the hospital would see, while requiring the government to pay Tsepong for visits over that number.

Further, Tsepong’s priorities are at times at odds with those of the government. Lesotho, for instance, has the world’s third-highest rate of HIV/AIDS, yet CPA’s Chefa says the new hospital has scaled back these services.

“Most of the HIV/AIDS treatments are not provided in the new federal hospital, so people have to look elsewhere,” he says. “For the private sector, HIV/AIDS is not profitable – we’re seeing the same problem with mental health services.”

Landmark model

The deal was quickly lauded by the IFC, which continues to embrace the project’s broader aims.

“The World Bank Group shares Oxfam’s concern that the health network in Lesotho is being overburdened as it attempts to fulfil greater than anticipated public demand for basic health services,” Geoffrey Keele, an IFC spokesperson, told IPS in a statement.

“The World Bank Group is supporting the Government of Lesotho in strengthening the country’s health system so that everyone in Lesotho, especially the poorest, can access the essential health services they need.”

Keele notes that the project has improved the quality of care for around a quarter of the country’s population, while the overall mortality rate at the new hospital has fallen by 41 percent.

Indeed, the IFC started making plans to replicate the project in other countries almost immediately.

“The landmark deal might serve as a model for aging and overburdened health care systems across Africa,” the IFC said in a statement at the time. “The real potential of the Lesotho project becomes apparent if it could be scaled up across populous countries such as Nigeria, where there could conceivably be scope for 20 or more such hospitals.”

Currently, the IFC is advising on similar projects in Nigeria and Benin.

Oxfam is now urging the World Bank to investigate the IFC’s role in the project. Meanwhile, CPA’s Chefa says the Lesotho government will need to renegotiate the contract, but warns that the contract details remain under wraps.

“Renegotiating the contract is the only way out of this mess, and whether that’s possible is based on the government’s and the IFC’s willingness to change,” he says.

“For the moment, there is incredible secrecy around the project. But if this is a flagship project, how can they not be open about what’s in the contract?”

The post IFC-Negotiated Privately Run Hospital Sapping Lesotho Budget appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ifc-negotiated-privately-run-hospital-sapping-lesotho-budget/feed/ 0
On 20th Anniversary of Genocide, Rwanda’s Women Lead http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 16:25:49 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133463 When Rwandan Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa was just a girl, she wasn’t allowed to attend secondary school because of her ethnicity.  It was only in the wake of the country’s state-driven genocide in 1994 — where almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives in 100 days — and after a new […]

The post On 20th Anniversary of Genocide, Rwanda’s Women Lead appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Rwanda’s Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa says women in Rwanda have fought for political representation. In the Lower House of Parliament women occupy 64 percent or 51 out of 80 seats. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Rwanda’s Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa says women in Rwanda have fought for political representation. In the Lower House of Parliament women occupy 64 percent or 51 out of 80 seats. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

When Rwandan Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa was just a girl, she wasn’t allowed to attend secondary school because of her ethnicity. 

It was only in the wake of the country’s state-driven genocide in 1994 — where almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives in 100 days — and after a new government took power that she was able to attend high school.

By then she was already in her twenties. "[Women have] become part of the reconciliation process, we reconcile and help to reconcile others. We are taking things forward.” -- Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Agnes Kalibata

But she seized the opportunity to receive an education.

Nyirahirwa, 43, is now starting her second term as a deputy in the country’s lower house of Parliament. She belongs to the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the second-biggest of the country’s 11 political parties.

She hails from Ngoma district, Rukumberi Sector in Eastern Province, and remembers that growing up there were many barriers imposed on minority Tutsis attending school.

“We were segregated because of the regime, it was a part of the country … where people who lived there couldn’t go to school due to ethnic problems. It was very difficult to get a place in secondary school,” she explained.

It was the disappointment of her childhood that spurred her on to fight for a seat in Parliament. “I was frustrated watching the ones who were leading our country and I wanted to change things.”

Like many Rwandans, Nyirahirwa lost relatives and friends in the genocide and says, “Every Rwandan must be aware of the causes of genocide and do his or her best to fight against it. I am a Rwandan and I don’t want to leave my country.”

Remains of some of the over one million victims of Rwanda’s 100-day genocide. Credit: Edwin Musoni/IPS

Remains of some of the over one million victims of Rwanda’s 100-day genocide. Credit: Edwin Musoni/IPS

Things are certainly different now. Nyirahirwa says women here have fought for political representation.

“We are happy for this achievement and for being the majority. There was a time when women in Rwanda were not considered important for the development of the country and they did not have jobs,” she said.

In the September 2013 elections, the PSD won 30 percent of the vote, with Nyirahirwa being one of four women from the party to win seats in Parliament.

But Nyirahirwa’s success is not an anomaly here.

As Rwanda commemorates the 20th anniversary of the genocide this week with memorials across the country, this Central African nation has become a regional leader in promoting gender equity and women’s empowerment.

Women are leading the way in national reconstruction and are considered to be at the forefront of promoting peace and reconciliation. Women, in fact, are leading the nation.

  • In the last parliamentary elections, Rwanda once again broke its own world record of being the country with the highest level of women’s participation in Parliament.
  • According to the Rwandan government, average women’s representation worldwide in a lower house stands at 21 percent and 18 percent in a Senate or upper house.
  • This sub-Saharan country has three times the world’s average of female representation in the lower house, with women occupying 64 percent, or 51 out of 80 seats. During the previous parliamentary term, from 2008 to 2013, women held 56 percent of seats in the lower house.
  • Rwanda also has twice the world’s average of women’s representation in the Senate: some 40 percent, or 10 out of the 25 seats, are held by women.
  • There are also 10 female ministers who head up key ministries including foreign affairs, natural resources and mining, agriculture, and health.

Gender empowerment became a reality after the war and genocide when the new government, currently led by incumbent President Paul Kagame of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, took power. It was then, according to Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Agnes Kalibata, that the government began addressing national unity and women’s political participation as part of the reconstruction process.

Rwanda’s constitution, adopted in 2003, states that both men and women should occupy at least 30 percent of all decision-making bodies.

Kalibata said that now women are able to compete with men on equal grounds.

“We created a policy environment to give them a fair chance. Rwanda is leading this since we’ve had the decision that we needed to secure a place for women in employment and in the public space. We also want to try to influence the private sector to appreciate that,” she told IPS.

In her opinion, women are at the centre of national reconciliation.

“Empowering the women is part of nation building. Women are the majority and the major part of the agriculture sector. We know how to teach our children, how to handle our communities and how to build society.”

Nowadays, women are able to influence what happens in Rwanda, she argued.

“By influencing how our husbands think, we influence how our children think. And now in politics we also influence how the general population thinks. We’ve become part of the reconciliation process, we reconcile and help to reconcile others. We are taking things forward.”

Kalibata, who has been in charge of the ministry of agriculture for six years, admitted that reconstruction is still a challenge, especially in the field of agriculture.

It is estimated that 70 percent of Rwanda’s 12 million people live in the countryside, with women comprising the majority — 65 percent.

“This nation has had the worse nightmare that any country can have. It is fulfilling to have an opportunity to put it back together through agriculture; there are still many people whose lives can improve because they use agriculture to reduce their poverty,” she said.

When asked about the possibility of a female president, Kalibata said she was confident it would happen after seeing other women on the continent hold the post.

Africa already has three women presidents: Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Malawi’s Joyce Banda and the new interim president of Central African Republic, Catherine Samba-Panza.

“Yes, a woman president would be great if she is competent enough. This is beginning to happen on this continent. If a woman becomes president it will be because she is extremely competent to manage this country and I would be very happy,” she concluded.

Meanwhile, Nyirahirwa will keep working to change the lives of the people living in Eastern Province. And she intends to stay in Parliament for over 10 years at least.

“There is a significant change: every Rwandan now has the right to education. Before it was difficult to get the right to go to school. Now, we have a chance to go to university and also complete an MBA,” she stressed.

“I want to ensure that every Rwandan is able to get any job anywhere.”

The post On 20th Anniversary of Genocide, Rwanda’s Women Lead appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong/feed/ 0
Biofortified Beans to Fight ‘Hidden Hunger’ in Rwanda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/biofortified-beans-fight-hidden-hunger-rwanda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biofortified-beans-fight-hidden-hunger-rwanda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/biofortified-beans-fight-hidden-hunger-rwanda/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 16:36:24 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133453 Joane Nkuliye considers herself an activist. She is part of a select group of farmers producing biofortified crops on a commercial scale in Rwanda.  Nkuliye owns 25 hectares in Nyagatare district, Eastern Province, two hours away from the capital, Kigali. She was awarded land by the government and moved there in 2000, with plans of […]

The post Biofortified Beans to Fight ‘Hidden Hunger’ in Rwanda appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Joane Nkuliye, a rural entrepreneur from Rwanda’s Eastern Province, grows biofortified beans on a commercial scale. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Joane Nkuliye, a rural entrepreneur from Rwanda’s Eastern Province, grows biofortified beans on a commercial scale. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 6 2014 (IPS)

Joane Nkuliye considers herself an activist. She is part of a select group of farmers producing biofortified crops on a commercial scale in Rwanda. 

Nkuliye owns 25 hectares in Nyagatare district, Eastern Province, two hours away from the capital, Kigali. She was awarded land by the government and moved there in 2000, with plans of rearing cattle. But she soon realised that growing food would be more profitable and have a greater impact on the local community as many of the kids in the area suffered from Kwashiorkor, a type of malnutrition caused by lack of protein.

“I have a passion for farming. We are being subsidised because very few people are doing commercial farming,” the entrepreneur, who is married with five children and has been farming for over 10 years, told IPS.

Biofortification on a Global Scale

Every second person in the world dies from malnutrition. In order to fight the so-called hidden hunger — a chronic lack of vitamins and minerals — biofortification aims to increase nutrition and yields simultaneously.

HarvestPlus is part of the CGIAR Consortium research programme on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), which helps realise the potential of agricultural development to deliver gender-equitable health and nutritional benefits to the poor.

The HarvestPlus programme is coordinated by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture and the International Food Policy Research Institute. It has nine target countries: Nigeria, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Brazil has also begun introducing biofortified crops.

The director of HarvestPlus, Howarth Bouis, told IPS that the goal was to reach 15 million households worldwide by 2018 and ensure that they were growing and eating biofortified crops such as cassava, maize, orange sweet potato, pearl millet, pumpkin and beans.

“It is always a challenge but it’s much easier than it was before, because we have the crops already. Years ago I had to say we wouldn’t have [made an] impact in less than 10 years. Now things are coming out and it has been easier to raise money,” Bouis said.

Four years ago, she was contacted by the NGO HarvestPlus, which is part of a CGIAR Consortium research programme on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health. The NGO is considered a leader in the global effort to improve nutrition and public health by developing crops and distributing seeds of staple foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals.

HarvestPlus provided Nkuliye with seeds, packaging, outlets for distribution and know-how. Now she grows biofortified beans on 11 of her 50 hectares of land.

“After harvesting beans I grow maize as an intercrop. I also grow sweet bananas, pineapples and papaya. I harvest 15 tonnes of food; I talk in terms of tonnes and not kilos,” she smiled.

Nkuliye was invited by HarvestPlus to speak at the Second Global Conference on Biofortification held in Kigali from Mar. 31 to Apr. 2, which was a gathering of scientists, policymakers and stakeholders.

Rwanda has ventured into a new agricultural era as it boosts its food production and enhances the nutrition level of the crops grown here.

In this Central African nation where 44 percent of the country’s 12 million people suffer from malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency, biofortified foods, like beans, are seen as a solution to reducing “hidden hunger” — a chronic lack of vitamins and minerals.

One in every three Rwandans is anaemic, and this percentage is higher in women and children. An estimated 38 percent of children under five and 17 percent of women suffer from iron deficiency here. This, according to Lister Tiwirai Katsvairo, the HarvestPlus country manager for the biofortification project, is high compared to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Biofortified beans have high nutritional levels and provide up to 45 percent of daily iron needs, which is 14 percent more than commonly-grown bean varieties.

They also have an extra advantage as they have proved to produce high yields, are resistant to viruses, and are heat and drought tolerant.

Now, one third of Rwanda’s 1.9 million households grow and consume nutritious crops thanks to an initiative promoted by HarvestPlus in collaboration with the Rwandan government. The HarvestPlus strategy is “feeding the brain to make a difference,” Katsvairo said.

The national government, which has been working in partnership with HarvestPlus since 2010, sees nutrition as a serious concern. According to Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Agnes Kalibata, five government ministers are working cooperatively to address nutrition issues here.

She said that biofortified crops ensured that poor people, smallholder farmers and their families received nutrients in their diets. Around 80 percent of Rwanda’s rural population rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.

“Beans in Rwanda are our staple food, they are traditional. You cannot eat a meal without them. Beans that are biofortified have the main protein that will reach everybody, they are the main source of food,” she said.

Katsvairo explained that Rwanda has 10 different varieties of biofortified beans and that Rwandan diets comprise 200 grams of beans per person a day.

“Our farmers and population cannot afford meat on a daily basis. In a situation like this we need to find a crop that can provide nutrients and is acceptable to the community. We don’t want to change diets,” Katsvairo told IPS.

The ideologist and geneticist who led the Green Revolution in India is an advocate of what he calls “biohappiness”. Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan became famous for the Green Revolution that increased food production and turned India into a sustainable food producer.

“I am an enthusiast of biofortification. It is the best way to add nutrients like iron, zinc and vitamin A. In the case of biofortification it is a win-win situation,” he told IPS.

According to Swaminathan, who has been described by the United Nations Environment Programme as “the Father of Economic Ecology”, the concept of food security has grown and evolved into nutritious security.

“We found it is not enough to give calories, it is important to have proteins and micronutrients.”

Swaminathan says it is also a way of attacking silent hunger — hunger caused by extreme poverty.

“It fortifies in a biological matter and not in chemical matter, that is why I call it biohappiness,” said the first winner of the World Food Prize in 1987. He  has also been acclaimed by TIME magazine as one of the 20 most influential Asians of the 20th century.

According to Katsvairo, Rwanda has become an example to other sub-Saharan countries as the issue of nutrition is now part of public strategic policy here.

“Rwanda is still at the implementation stage but it is way ahead of other African countries,” confirmed Katsvairo.

Meanwhile, Nkuliye aims to expand her farm over the next few years and increase her crop of biofortified beans.

“I wanted to improve people’s lives. My husband is proud of me but I feel I haven’t done enough yet,” she said. Currently, she employes 20 women and 10 men on a permanent basis and hires temporary workers during planting and harvesting.

She first started her business with a three-year bank loan of five million Rwandan Francs (7,700 dollars). Now, she has applied for 20 million Rwandan Francs (30,800 dollars).

“I want to buy more land, at least 100 hectares. What I am producing is not enough for the market,” Nkuliye explained. While she harvests tonnes of produce to sell to the local market, she says it is not enough as demand is growing.

But she is proud that she has been able to feed her community.

“I have fed people with nutritious beans, I changed their lives and I have also changed mine. We have a culture of sharing meals and give our workers eight kilos of biofortified food to take to their families,” she said.

Fabíola Ortiz was invited by HarvestPlus and Embrapa-Brazil to travel to Rwanda.

The post Biofortified Beans to Fight ‘Hidden Hunger’ in Rwanda appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/biofortified-beans-fight-hidden-hunger-rwanda/feed/ 2
Getting into CAR, When so Many Want to Get Out http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/getting-many-want-get/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=getting-many-want-get http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/getting-many-want-get/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 15:05:02 +0000 Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133429 In a country suffering from what the U.N. has called “ethno-religious cleansing”, a “disappeared” state structure and “unacceptable sectarian brutality,” gaining access to the population of the Central African Republic has proven a difficult and sometimes deadly task for humanitarian workers. “For everyone in this country, security is a challenge, because [the situation has] been […]

The post Getting into CAR, When so Many Want to Get Out appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Over 601,000 people have been uprooted from their homes throughout the country, with over 177,000 of them in Bangui alone. Credit: EU/ECHO Jean-Pierre Mustin/cc by 2.0

Over 601,000 people have been uprooted from their homes throughout the country, with over 177,000 of them in Bangui alone. Credit: EU/ECHO Jean-Pierre Mustin/cc by 2.0

By Jonathan Rozen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

In a country suffering from what the U.N. has called “ethno-religious cleansing”, a “disappeared” state structure and “unacceptable sectarian brutality,” gaining access to the population of the Central African Republic has proven a difficult and sometimes deadly task for humanitarian workers.

“For everyone in this country, security is a challenge, because [the situation has] been very volatile and violent…Last year there were nine humanitarian workers who lost their lives,” Judith Léveillée, deputy representative for the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF in the CAR, told IPS from Bangui.“We don’t carry weapons and we never use armed escorts.” -- Benoit Matsha-Carpentier of IFRC

“I’ve never seen anything like it, and this is my seventh mission,” she said.

The conflict in the CAR began in 2012 when Muslim Séléka rebels launched attacks against the government. During the following two years, the conflict has grown along sectarian lines, with Christian anti-balaka (anti-machete) militias taking up arms against Séléka groups. While Muslim civilians represent a majority of the targeted population, Christians have also been threatened.

“There are situations where we physically cannot access the people we need to reach because the forces that are fighting are making it hard for us to get to them,” Steve Taravella, spokesperson for the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), told IPS.

“Roads are blocked, convoys are redirected, food supplies are looted and people are being otherwise attacked,” he said.

In recent months, due to both the increase of international forces and the mass flight of the Muslim population, the U.N. has reported a calming of hostilities in the capital.

Nevertheless, the extreme and often random violence in the CAR poses a complex network of security challenges for aid workers trying to reach the approximately 2.2 million people in need to humanitarian assistance.

“At one point, the only road that goes from Cameroon to Bangui, the one we use as a corridor for food, was completely closed because the drivers from Cameroon, who were mainly Muslim, didn’t want to cross the border. [For weeks] they were too scared,” Fabienne Pompey, the regional communications officer for the WFP based in the CAR, told IPS.

“Now the road is open to transport the food from the border, but we use a military escort from [the African Union peacekeeping mission] MISCA.”

“Insecurity and banditry is on the rise, and this is of course a very big problem for humanitarian organisations…Its difficult to drive on the roads, and its complicated to have vehicles in your own compound because there is a risk that they will be stolen,” Marie-Servane Desjonqueres, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in central and south Africa, told IPS.

The EU has been airlifting life-saving humanitarian cargo to the Central African Republic. Credit: EU/ECHO Jean-Pierre Mustin/cc by 2.0

The EU has been airlifting life-saving humanitarian cargo to the Central African Republic. Credit: EU/ECHO Jean-Pierre Mustin/cc by 2.0

International presence

The creation of a secure environment for the delivery of humanitarian aid in the CAR and an increase of international troops were both key elements of U.N. Secretary-General (UNSG) Ban Ki-moon’s six-point recommendation of Feb. 20.

Nevertheless, security remains an issue and aid workers continue to be targeted and attacked by armed groups, the U.N. reported Thursday.

Currently, the only international military forces in the CAR are roughly 2,000 French troops, under the Sangaris mission, and approximately 6,000 African Union peacekeepers, under the MISCA mission.

Following the UNSG’s request, the European Union pledged nearly 1,000 to lend further support, but this force has yet to materialise.

For UNICEF and the WFP, the use of armed escorts allows for access into areas of the country with serious security concerns.

“We do regularly act with [escorts from] the Sangaris or MISCA operations…but that is in the case of a last resort,” explained Léveillée. “It’s very important that we keep our neutrality. We don’t necessarily want to be associated with armed escorts.”

On Mar. 3, the UNSG proposed a 12,000-person U.N. peacekeeping mission in the CAR. The U.N. Security Council (UNSC), which must approve all peacekeeping missions before their implementation, is expected to vote on the resolution during the second week of April, with a perspective implementation in September, current UNSC president and Nigerian ambassador, Joy Ogwu, told reporters Wednesday.

Negotiating access

While some organisations, like Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) do not use armed escorts, negotiating with the parties to the conflict is a universally used tactic to gain access to people who would be otherwise inaccessible.

“We do not have armed personnel for security, we rely on the respect of the parties to the conflict,” Sylvain Groulx, head of the MSF mission based in Bangui, told IPS. “A lot of our operation includes outreach and dialogue.”

“We don’t carry weapons and we never use armed escorts,” Benoit Matsha-Carpentier, spokesperson for the IFRC, told IPS. “This is actually one of our principles.”

“There are ongoing discussions, whether at high level with the government or at the volunteer level…with whoever is in front of them, to make sure [aid workers] have safe access to those who are in need.”

Beyond the larger international organisation, the IFRC has a network of national, country-specific societies, which help facilitate support on a more local level. This IFRC national society in the CAR has had a major impact in helping both the IFRC and other humanitarian organisations that may be experiencing restrictions get aid to the Central African population.

“If it’s too dangerous to have us on the ground, then we [distribute] using a local partner,” Desjonqueres explained. “Our main partner in CAR is the Central African Republic Red Cross. They have a very strong network all over the country, a lot of volunteers all over the place.”

Changing the perspective

Broadening respect for humanitarian access is an important factor in the ability for aid workers to support the suffering population in the CAR.

“One of our mandates is to disseminate the respect for international humanitarian law,” Desjonqueres continued. “For many years, we have been conducting sessions…to talk about those basic rules of humanity that need to be respected during times of war, and that includes safe passage for humanitarian workers.

“We are distributing food to the people in need, our criteria is people in need,” stressed Pompey. “It is very important to repeat this every time so that the parties involved in the conflict let us go.”

For the crisis in the CAR, which has killed thousands and displaced more than 600,000 people, getting aid to those in need is an immediate objective, but it is not a long-term solution.

“The best option would be a political settlement [to the conflict],” Pompey told IPS, “something inside the country to help make peace.”

The post Getting into CAR, When so Many Want to Get Out appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/getting-many-want-get/feed/ 0
Tanzania’s Farming Cooperatives Struggle to Bear Fruit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tanzanias-farming-cooperatives-struggle-bear-fruit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tanzanias-farming-cooperatives-struggle-bear-fruit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tanzanias-farming-cooperatives-struggle-bear-fruit/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 10:32:27 +0000 Adam Bemma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133419 John Daffi climbs to the top of a hill overlooking a scenic Rift Valley wall and the Ngorongoro forest, where wildlife migrates between the world famous Ngorongoro crater and Tanzania’s Lake Manyara. Daffi, 59, looks down upon his family’s farm below and reminisces about the time his father first brought him here as a boy. […]

The post Tanzania’s Farming Cooperatives Struggle to Bear Fruit appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
John Daffi on his piece of land that is part of a cooperative that began in 1963 in Upper Kitete. However, recent attempts by the government to revive cooperatives have been a failure. Credit: Adam Bemma/IPS

John Daffi on his piece of land that is part of a cooperative that began in 1963 in Upper Kitete. However, recent attempts by the government to revive cooperatives have been a failure. Credit: Adam Bemma/IPS

By Adam Bemma
ARUSHA, Tanzania, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

John Daffi climbs to the top of a hill overlooking a scenic Rift Valley wall and the Ngorongoro forest, where wildlife migrates between the world famous Ngorongoro crater and Tanzania’s Lake Manyara. Daffi, 59, looks down upon his family’s farm below and reminisces about the time his father first brought him here as a boy.

“Upper Kitete was a model farming village set up by the government of Tanzania. My father received a call while he was in Arusha from his brother in Karatu telling him to apply. We were selected as one of the first 100 families,” Daffi told IPS.

In 1962, British agriculturalist Antony Ellman came to Tanzania and from 1963 to 1966 helped establish the Upper Kitete Cooperative Society on 2,630 hectares located in the Karatu district of northern Tanzania, about 160 kilometres from the city of Arusha.“Even though the population has increased, the land hasn’t. Every inch of it is cultivated.” -- farmer, John Daffi

“It was a very exciting time as Tanzania just received independence and it was a real opportunity for aspiring farmers to have access to great land,” Ellman told IPS.

Daffi’s father, Lucas, relocated his family from Mbulu village in Manyara region to Kitete village in Arusha region. The villagers selected began a social experiment, and distinguished themselves from other nearby villages with the name Upper Kitete.

The cooperative movement pre-dates independence. Professor Amon Z. Mattee, from Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture, told IPS that the prosperity of cooperatives in the 1960s made the government want to create a level playing field for all.

“Coops started in the 1930s for some of the cash crops like coffee and cotton and for many years up to the time of independence in 1961. They were really member-based and offered excellent services in terms of research, extension, inputs, profitable markets and even social services like education for members’ children,” Mattee said.

Tanzania’s founding President ‘Mwalimu [Teacher]‘ Julius Nyerere started the village settlement programme where farmers were encouraged to work cooperatively hoping they would prosper economically. Eighteen months after independence in 1963, the Upper Kitete Cooperative Society was born and it continues to this day.

“The soil was so fertile. We began farming cereal crops like wheat and barley. Now we’re much smaller scale and farm mainly maize and beans, our staple crops,” Daffi said.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), Tanzania remains primarily a rural country with an agriculture-based economy that employs the majority of the national labour force. Its economy is still highly dependent on predominantly rain-fed agriculture that contributes an estimated 30 percent to the GDP and accounts for 64 percent of all export earnings.

Its main traditional export crops are coffee, cashews, cotton, sugar, tobacco, tea, sisal and spices from Zanzibar. Maize is the main food crop alongside sorghum, millet, rice, wheat, beans, cassava, bananas and potatoes, according to the FAO.

“For the first 10 years Upper Kitete was on an upward path. People worked together willingly and life was improving for everyone. They continually had better yields, built bigger homes and the services improved as a result,” Ellman said.

In 1974, the dream faded as Nyerere forced reluctant Tanzanians from urban and rural areas to move into villages causing environmental and organisational strain to existing villages like Upper Kitete. At this time, its population ballooned from 210 to 1,200 residents.

A 2001 study by academics Rock Rohde and Thea Hilhorst called ‘A Profile of environmental change in the Lake Manyara Basin, Tanzania’ examines the stress put on the land due to government directives.

“Ujamaa [Nyerere’s brand of socialism] aimed to move the entire Tanzanian rural population into cooperative villages and achieved this under ‘Operation Vijijini’ when land was redistributed and several million peasants and pastoralists resettled in new, more compact villages, often under duress. [It] had a profound social and economic effect, especially on the highlands of Karatu where wealthy commercial farmers were deprived of their land holdings,” the study states.

Since then, Daffi has witnessed the land at Upper Kitete become scarce as it was divided into smaller portions for the growing community. This village of 500 people in 1963 is now a town of nearly 5,000. Now, the cooperative produces much less than it previously did because it has less land.

“Even though the population has increased, the land hasn’t. Every inch of it is cultivated,” Daffi said.

Mattee researches farmers’ organisations in Tanzania. He said recent attempts by the government to revive cooperatives, like the 1997 Cooperative Development Policy, were a failure.

“The government has since the 1990s tried to revive the cooperative sector by introducing new policies, but the coops were already too weak and farmers had completely lost faith in them,” Mattee said.

Ellman reflects on his time at Upper Kitete with great nostalgia. But he realises they face the problem all remaining agricultural cooperatives in Tanzania face — a lack of unity and insufficient resources to support the fast-growing population.

“I keep in touch with many people at Upper Kitete and I visited again in 2012. They’ve asked me to record its history,” Ellman said. “It’s been difficult. With such a dense population they need to adopt more intensive forms of land use and even diversify out of agriculture. Tanzanians are resourceful people. They can do it.”

The post Tanzania’s Farming Cooperatives Struggle to Bear Fruit appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tanzanias-farming-cooperatives-struggle-bear-fruit/feed/ 0
Using Ethiopia’s Healthcare Gaps to Do Good and Make a Profit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/using-gaps-ethiopias-healthcare-good-make-profit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=using-gaps-ethiopias-healthcare-good-make-profit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/using-gaps-ethiopias-healthcare-good-make-profit/#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 07:45:46 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133341 For a while now, Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI scanners have typically been a luxury that both government and private hospitals in Ethiopia have struggled to afford to purchase for in-house use. Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital with an ever-growing population of around 3.8 million, currently has only four stationary MRI scanners that provide services […]

The post Using Ethiopia’s Healthcare Gaps to Do Good and Make a Profit appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Ethiopians waiting inside a hospital in Addis Ababa on the weekend. The capital has only four stationary MRI scanners, providing services to 30 government- and private-run hospitals. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Ethiopians waiting inside a hospital in Addis Ababa on the weekend. The capital has only four stationary MRI scanners, providing services to 30 government- and private-run hospitals. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
ADDIS ABABA, Apr 3 2014 (IPS)

For a while now, Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI scanners have typically been a luxury that both government and private hospitals in Ethiopia have struggled to afford to purchase for in-house use.

Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital with an ever-growing population of around 3.8 million, currently has only four stationary MRI scanners that provide services to 30 government and private hospitals, according to Zelalem Molla, a surgeon based in Addis Ababa.

Outside of the capital, only two MRI scanners exist. But the six scanners — in this Horn of Africa nation of some 92 million people — are old fashioned and far behind the technological curve in the West.

“It would be wrong to claim that the mobile MRI scanner would save lives,” says Zelalem, whose lunchtime chat with American entrepreneur Peter Burns III about the paucity of scanners sparked a business idea.“[In a developing economy] a government’s focus on financial market stability and security issues can result in healthcare issues remaining on the side-lines.” -- Alayar Kangarlu, MRI research centre, Columbia University

But, Zelalem notes, more MRI scanners — which use strong magnetic fields and radio waves to generate images of the inside of the body that can be analysed on computers — would crucially allow more doctors to diagnose illnesses far earlier when they are operable and potentially curable.

“Often it is not possible for doctors to diagnose illnesses such as tumours until they physically appear at a stage when the chances of saving a patient are slim — or it is too late,” Zelalem tells IPS.

However, actual figures about the number of people directly affected here by the lack of MRI scanners do not exist.

In the past, some Ethiopians have needed to travel to other African countries such as Kenya and South Africa, or to Europe to have scans. This even included Haile Gebrselassie, Ethiopia’s track runner, who used to go to Munich, Germany for scans to help diagnose running injuries.

Ethiopia technically has free healthcare for all, which is provided by government-run hospitals. The reality, however, is that “there are not enough hospitals and most suffer from inadequate staffing, budgets and machinery,” Zelalem says. Private hospitals exist but as an option affordable to very few Ethiopians.

And the cost of an MRI scan proffered privately is a frightening figure for most Ethiopians, many of whom earn between 500 to 1,000 birr (28 to 56 dollars) a month.

The scale of demand at government-run hospitals for free MRI scans means patients can be left with the choice of having to wait and risking their health, or raising funds to pay for a scan at a private hospital or institution.

Such gaps in Ethiopia’s healthcare are areas of concern to the government and many NGOs as three of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for 2015 are healthcare focused, concentrating on reducing child mortality, improving maternal health as well as combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

But people like Burns are taking advantage of these gaps to do good while making a profit at the same time.

“This project represents the highest form of achievement edified by the mantra: ‘Doing well by doing good,’” Burns, who is based in Addis Ababa as a self-styled “ExPatrepreneur”, tells IPS.

Burns describes the project to provide the country with scanners as a for-profit enterprise with a charitable component.

“We will be offering a total of 25 percent of our scans for free to those that are unable to afford it,” Burns says.

So far, Burns says he will only bring one mobile MRI scanner to Addis Ababa and will sell its services on a pay-per-scan basis.

Also, there is a plan for a portion of profits to fund a not-for-profit venture called Doctors Within Borders, which aims to provide financial incentives to encourage Ethiopian doctors to remain within Ethiopia, as well as work in remote rural areas.

A previous private MRI scanner service in Addis Ababa set a precedent for profitability, Zelalem says. The business conducted about 30 scans a day — an MRI scan typically costs from about 115 to 150 dollars to conduct and process the images — totalling annual revenue of more than one million dollars. However, this scanner is fixed and patients are transported to it from various hospitals across the city.

“[In a developing economy] a government’s focus on financial market stability and security issues can result in healthcare issues remaining on the sidelines,” Alayar Kangarlu, who leads the physics and engineering group at the MRI research centre at Columbia University in New York, tells IPS. At the same time this creates an opening for private business, he notes.

And generating a healthy bottom line can have a beneficial role in healthcare provision, some say.

“NGO-based humanitarian healthcare usually struggles with sustainability and operates from grant to grant,” a worker within the health sector in Ethiopia, who wished to remain anonymous due to current work commitments, tells IPS.

Private enterprise, on the other hand, he notes, can achieve long-term sustainability thanks to profit generation. And it is usually more flexible, and more efficient due to greater accountability, than NGOs typically hampered by rigid fiscal rules on profit. Private enterprise can also free up capacity within public- or NGO-provided healthcare.

Admittedly profit generation within healthcare can turn sour and escalate wildly, he notes, as witnessed in the U.S., but Ethiopia’s healthcare system remains light years away from encountering such problems.

Burns remains confident that he can improve MRI scanner availability in Addis Ababa.

And if that is achieved, then the same business model could be applied to other major Ethiopia cities around the country — and go some way towards helping achieve the MDGs related to healthcare.

“Much can be accomplished through the small combined efforts of the many, and it is each of our responsibility to contribute,” Burns says. “This is one small step to serving just one of the many needs of a population in a place like Ethiopia.”

The post Using Ethiopia’s Healthcare Gaps to Do Good and Make a Profit appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/using-gaps-ethiopias-healthcare-good-make-profit/feed/ 3
Zimbabwe’s Positive Children, Negative News http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/zimbabwe-positive-children-negative-news/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwe-positive-children-negative-news http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/zimbabwe-positive-children-negative-news/#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 07:42:07 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133392 This is the first in a three-part series on youth and AIDS in Africa

The post Zimbabwe’s Positive Children, Negative News appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Afraid of losing playmates, children hide their HIV positive status from their peers. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Afraid of losing playmates, children hide their HIV positive status from their peers. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Apr 3 2014 (IPS)

Three years ago, Robert Ngwenya* and his father got into a heated argument over medication. Ngwenya, then aged 15, refused to continue swallowing the nausea-provoking pills he had been taking since he was 12 years old, and flushed them down the toilet. 

During the argument, Ngwenya understood he had been born HIV positive, had been taking antiretrovirals (ARV) and not vitamins and anti-allergenics, and that his father too lived with the virus and the guilt of having infected him.

“This is unfair, what did I do to deserve this?” Ngwenya laments.

How to Dance
"Next time you see me walking on the street
Know there's a story that hides in me
Don't look away and pretend that l'm not there
All l want is for someone to care for me

I too have dreams of a better life
That someone will love me as I am
To hold my own child in my arms
And make sure she's safe from harm

What l'd like is some of your affection
Not your pity, just some kind of attention
You think l'm worthless,
You don't even know me
It's not my fault that this
Blood flows through me.

I want you to know that we're just kids
Even though we were born with HIV
Prenatal, virgin contraction
The first of a fighting generation,
We fight against AIDS and discrimination
We're God-made, put there for a reason
It's time to change and now's the reason
Yes, we're special but we're no different

But in the Storm
We've learned how to dance"

Ngwenya lives in the high density suburb of Pumula in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, with his father, a car mechanic, and his younger brother, who is HIV negative. His mother died when Nwengya was 10 and his father never remarried.

Ngwenya’s life was all planned: finish high school, get a degree in information technology, find a job and buy a car. Not any more. After the revelation, he is no longer the same outgoing teenager whose company brought smiles to friends and family.

“How do I tell my friends? How do I start a relationship knowing someone will have to carry my burden?” he asks.

Like Ngwenya’s father, other HIV positive parents, weighed down by guilt, find it hard to tell their children they were infected at birth.

How and who tells a child or teenager that they will live with the virus for the rest of their lives?

Hard choices

Thanks to ARV therapy, increasing numbers of HIV infected children are living to adolescence. In 2012, Zimbabwe had 180,000 children aged 0-15 and 1.2 million people aged 15 and above living with HIV, says the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

“As these children grow and surpass the immediate threat of death, the issue of informing them of their HIV status arises,” says a study on teenagers born with the virus in Zimbabwe.

Disclosing to adolescents is different from telling younger children and requires tailored, age-appropriate guidelines, says the study.

Adolescents aged 16-20 interviewed for the study preferred to be told by health care workers at clinics, with the presence of family.

“Disclosure to this age group in a healthcare setting may help overcome some of the barriers associated with caregivers disclosing in the home environment and make the HIV status seem more credible to an adolescent,” reports the study.

Silence and lies

Zivai Mupambireyi, a researcher with the Centre for Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Research (CeSHHAR) and co-author of a 2013 study of HIV positive children aged 11-13 in Zimbabwe, told IPS that children prefer to learn about their HIV status at the clinic because they believe health workers give them more and better information than their carers.

Children reported that their carers delayed disclosure, concealed information and lied about the pills.

“Most of these children were looked after by non-biological carers, as their parents were the first generation of AIDS patients and died before ARVs,” Mupambireyi explains.

Whether it is parents overwhelmed by guilt or carers distressed by the enormity of the revelation, telling adolescents they are HIV positive is fraught with pain and ambivalence.

Mupambireyi found that HIV positive children believe that disclosing to peers will expose them to discrimination. Although this often was not the case, fearing a loss of social interaction and friendship, children hide their HIV status.

“Although HIV status disclosure is noble and recommended, children’s concerns and fears around disclosure must be addressed before they are encouraged to disclose,” says Mupambireyi.

Health workers, parents and educators are tongue-tied as to the timing and best method of disclosing HIV status to youth.

Building trust

Definate Nhamo is the coordinator of Shaping the Health of Adolescents in Zimbabwe (SHAZ), a research and intervention project. One offshoot, SHAZ for Positives, reaches more than 700 youth living with HIV in Chitungwiza, a suburb of Harare, the capital.

Nhamo told IPS that the best age to disclose HIV status is probably around nine or 10 years, before puberty, and preferably in the presence of parents, guardians or a counsellor.

“When the child is younger, she is trusting, and will grow up knowing she must take the ARVs religiously,” says Nhamo.

SHAZ for Positives members agree that knowing their status early helps kids accept their condition and learn to be open about it, Nhamo told IPS.

Some adults tell children the ARV pills are for tuberculosis, without realising that children can google it. “Teenagers just stop taking their ARVs and do not tell their parents because they feel they are more informed since they have access to the internet,” observes Nhamo.

A young female participant in the SHAZ study, who did not want to be identified, tells IPS that her mother, distressed at having infected her, never told her the truth. At age 17, the girl took a routine HIV test and tested positive. Since she had never had sex, she confronted her mother and learned that her two siblings were HIV negative but she had been born positive.

“I was angry and frustrated. If my mother had told me earlier, I could have accepted my status better,” she says.

Zvandiri, meaning “what I am” in the Shona language, is a support group that helps adolescents deal with HIV.

In 2013, Zvandiri produced a catchy song and DVD, How to Dance, with cool young people spiritedly belting out their hopes and fears: “I too have dreams of a better life, that someone will love me as I am.”

They sing, “how to dance in the storm”.

* Not his real name

The post Zimbabwe’s Positive Children, Negative News appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/zimbabwe-positive-children-negative-news/feed/ 2
Africa’s Youth Not Lured by Unglamorous Farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/africas-youth-yet-lured-unglamorous-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africas-youth-yet-lured-unglamorous-farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/africas-youth-yet-lured-unglamorous-farming/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 10:10:17 +0000 Matthew Newsome http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133366 Ketsela Negatu is the son of an Ethiopian goat farmer living close to the country’s capital, Addis Ababa, who refuses to follow in his father’s footsteps. The 19-year-old has negative perceptions about the family profession after seeing the dim prospects a farming livelihood has offered his father.  “I will go to the city and try […]

The post Africa’s Youth Not Lured by Unglamorous Farming appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
A farmer in Woliyta area of Ethiopia. Concern is growing that not enough is being done to engage Africa’s youth - it’s largest workforce - in food production Credit: Ed McKenna/IPS

A farmer in Woliyta area of Ethiopia. Concern is growing that not enough is being done to engage Africa’s youth - it’s largest workforce - in food production Credit: Ed McKenna/IPS

By Matthew Newsome
TUNIS/ADDIS ABABA, Apr 2 2014 (IPS)

Ketsela Negatu is the son of an Ethiopian goat farmer living close to the country’s capital, Addis Ababa, who refuses to follow in his father’s footsteps. The 19-year-old has negative perceptions about the family profession after seeing the dim prospects a farming livelihood has offered his father. 

“I will go to the city and try and find work. I don’t know what I will do but I want to find a job that pays more money so I can live a good life,” he told IPS."We will also lose the young who want to be connected and communicate via phones and the Internet if these needs [for reliable power] are not met.” -- Cheikh Ly, secretary of the FAO regional conference

But Ketsela’s thinking is just like that of other young people on the continent as poor financial returns and unglamorous prospects of Africa’s rural economy are spurring young people to leave the fields and migrate to urban centres.

And concern is growing that not enough is being done to engage Africa’s largest workforce – its youth – in food production as they are key to safeguarding food security on the continent, eliminating hunger and accessing global food markets.

“There is not enough stimulus for young people to participate in agriculture in African countries. The young farmers need good prices for good products, otherwise we will lose them to the urban areas. Why should they do the hard work and stay poor,” Gebremedhine Birega, Ethiopian representative of the NGO East and South African Food Security Network told IPS.

The share of youth in Africa’s labour force is the highest in the world with approximately 35 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and 40 percent in North Africa, compared to 30 percent in India, 25 percent in China and 20 percent in Europe. World Bank projections indicate that 60 percent of the world’s labour force growth will be in Africa between 2010 and 2050.

Although economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to reach 6.3 percent in 2014, well above the global average, agricultural leaders at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) regional conference held in Tunisa from Mar. 24 to 29 agreed that prodigious growth is not translating fast enough into employment for Africa’s youth.

Gerda Verburg, chairperson of the Committee on World Food Security, told IPS that increased commercialisation of agriculture will harness unemployed youth in rural Africa and create a productive and profitable agricultural sector. It will thus bolster food security and create decent income and employment opportunities for young people.

“We have to try and reverse the rural mentality that says farming is a last option. To prevent this loss of labour we need to look at how to improve the financial prospects of those who work in the agricultural sector.

“Private sector finance and agri-industries are helping to modernise agriculture by creating value adding chains that will pay a farmer more for his labour than the local market,” she said.

Economic growth on the continent, and the changing dietary trends of Africa’s emerging middle class, are also providing attractive and lucrative value chains for young agricultural producers to participate in, FAO director general José Graziano da Silva told IPS.

“There are emerging markets such as aquaculture where we are seeing good potential for growth. More investment in these growing markets will provide greater opportunities for youth employment,” he said.

Greater electrification of rural Africa is also expected to help retain the youth population in the countryside and satisfy an aspiration for a modern lifestyle that features telecommunication and Internet connectivity. Currently, less than 10 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s rural households have access to electricity.

Cheikh Ly, secretary of the FAO regional conference, told IPS that a major contributing factor behind the decision taken by young people to migrate to urban areas was the lack of electricity in rural Africa.

“Electrification is a key need for Africa’s rural economy. Modern agricultural production is not possible without reliable access to power. We will also lose the young who want to be connected and communicate via phones and the Internet if these needs are not met,” he told IPS.

Greater investment in African agriculture seemed a fait accompli when African leaders met in Maputo, Mozambique in 2003 to commit a minimum of 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture and to lifting agricultural growth to six percent of GDP per annum by 2008.

However, of Africa’s 54 countries, only nine – Ghana, Burkina Faso, Malawi, Mali, Ethiopia, Niger, Senegal, Cape Verde and Guinea - managed to uphold these commitments.

Low investment is causing low productivity and thwarting Africa’s agricultural sector, which employs close to 60 percent of Africa’s labour force but accounts for only 25 percent of the continent’s GDP. A deficit of political willpower from African leaders is delaying agricultural expansion on the continent, says Action Aid International’s David Adama.

“Empty words won’t feed empty stomachs. African governments must follow through on their promises and provide more money for agriculture and ensure it is better targeted to help the millions of smallholder farmers who make up most of their citizens and produce most of Africa’s food,” he told IPS.

The potential for the lucrative engagement of Africa’s youth in agriculture should be within grasp. Africa boasts over 50 percent of the world’s fertile and unused land, while foreign investment in African agriculture is expected to exceed 45 billion dollars in 2020, according to World Bank statistics.

However, Africa’s youth are yet to feel the pull of any new “agricultural renaissance” on the continent.

“I would stay and work in the countryside but only if things got better here; unless they do, I will leave for the city and see if there is something better,” Ketsela said.

The post Africa’s Youth Not Lured by Unglamorous Farming appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/africas-youth-yet-lured-unglamorous-farming/feed/ 1
OP-ED: Europe’s Commitment to Africa’s Children is Still Needed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-europes-commitment-africas-children-still-needed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-europes-commitment-africas-children-still-needed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-europes-commitment-africas-children-still-needed/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 11:29:26 +0000 Philippe Cori http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133342 
Philippe Cori, director of the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) European Union Partnership Office in Brussels, says over the last decades, development assistance from partners like the EU and its member states has been critical to expanding and improving the quality of basic social services, especially for the poorest and most marginalised children.

The post OP-ED: Europe’s Commitment to Africa’s Children is Still Needed appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
UNICEF says in many parts of the African continent children are living beyond their fifth birthday, more children are going to school and more children are better equipped for the challenges of the 21st century. Pictured here are students at Motshane Primary School, Mbabane, Swaziland. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

UNICEF says in many parts of the African continent children are living beyond their fifth birthday, more children are going to school and more children are better equipped for the challenges of the 21st century. Pictured here are students at Motshane Primary School, Mbabane, Swaziland. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

By Philippe Cori
BRUSSELS, Apr 1 2014 (IPS)

As African and European leaders meet in Brussels this week under the theme of “Investing in People, Prosperity and Peace”, it is clear Africa’s greatest natural resource, its children, must be centre stage. 

Between 2010 and 2025, the child population of sub-Saharan Africa will rise by 130 million, making it the youngest continent in the world. By 2050, one in every three births and almost one in every three children under 18 will be in Africa.

Yet for this youth dividend to be the driver of Africa’s prosperity, it is critical that all of the continent’s children have the right foundations to be able to participate as well as benefit.

This means equitable access to basic quality social services in health and education, especially early childhood care as well as access to safe water, sanitation, good nutrition and protection from abuse, violence and exploitation.

A lot of the focus is now on how business can be a critical driver in the continent’s transformation.  And there is no doubt that new economic investment is yielding results, stimulating growth and new opportunities.

But it is also clear for Africa to ultimately benefit from these economic investments, it still needs a development focused partnership that builds the foundation of a strong, fair and equitable society for its youngest citizens.

In many parts of the African continent, life for millions of children is changing for the good. Along with the new investments in infrastructure, the rapid changes in access to mobile technology and an increase in economic growth, the good news is more children are living beyond their fifth birthday, more children are going to school and more children are better equipped for the challenges of the 21st century.

Philippe Cori, director of the United Nations Children’s Fund’s European Union Partnership Office in Brussels, says in many parts of the African continent, life for millions of children is changing for the good. Courtesy: UNICEF

Philippe Cori, director of the United Nations Children’s Fund’s European Union Partnership Office in Brussels, says in many parts of the African continent, life for millions of children is changing for the good. Courtesy: UNICEF

As Europe’s own experience demonstrates, investments in early childhood care, good nutrition, a quality public health system and safety nets to protect the most vulnerable,  are the foundations that lead to stable, inclusive and prosperous societies.

Over the last decades, development assistance from partners like the European Union and its member states has been critical to expanding and improving the quality of basic social services, especially for the poorest and most marginalised children. The success can be measured in concrete results, including a drop in child mortality by 45 percent between 1990 and 2012 and an increase in primary school enrolment among others.

We also know there is much more to be done. At least one in three children under five in Africa are stunted and over half of the world’s out-of-school children live in Africa (33 million).

Preventable disease like pneumonia, malaria and diarrhoea still account for 40 percent of all under five deaths. Hundreds of millions remain without access to safe water and adequate sanitation. Poverty pushes families to migrate, affecting children directly: whether they are left behind, migrating with parents or alone, they are increasingly exposed to vulnerabilities, including child trafficking — its darkest facet.

And we also know that economic growth, trade and business alone cannot translate Africa’s youth dividend into the dynamic asset it could and should be. Investments in human security, strong public institutions and equitable access to basic social services will remain vital to stability and our shared global prosperity.

Europe’s commitment to Africa’s children, especially the poorest, is still needed. Not just because it makes good business sense as it can help make sure there is a financial return on economic investments.

Not just because it will lead to less chances of conflict, insecurity and displacement. Not just because it makes sense for our shared humanity and our shared global future. But ultimately because Europe is and can make a difference by giving every Africa child the opportunity to reach their potential, to determine their own future and write their own story.

Philippe Cori is the director of UNICEF’s EU Partnership Office in Brussels which is managing UNICEF’s relations and partnership with the European Institutions with a view to influence and contribute to EU policies particularly in key areas such as nutrition, health, education, protection, gender, disability, poverty eradication and humanitarian assistance. This partnership aims at mobilising and leveraging quality resources for the realisation of children’s rights everywhere and especially the most disadvantaged.

The post OP-ED: Europe’s Commitment to Africa’s Children is Still Needed appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-europes-commitment-africas-children-still-needed/feed/ 0
Somali Diaspora Not Ready to Buy One-Way Tickets Home Yet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/somali-diaspora-ready-buy-one-way-tickets-home-yet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=somali-diaspora-ready-buy-one-way-tickets-home-yet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/somali-diaspora-ready-buy-one-way-tickets-home-yet/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 21:53:21 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133323 On a Friday afternoon men wearing kamis — long white traditional robes — climb the steps to Somcity Travel, a small family business and travel agency in Kisenyi slum, in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. The agency boasts that they “fly all over the world” but to one destination in particular — Somalia. “In a day we may […]

The post Somali Diaspora Not Ready to Buy One-Way Tickets Home Yet appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Kisenyi slum, in Uganda’s capital, Kampala is believed to be home to a large portion of the country’s almost 12,000 Somali immigrants. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Kisenyi slum, in Uganda’s capital, Kampala is believed to be home to a large portion of the country’s almost 12,000 Somali immigrants. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Mar 31 2014 (IPS)

On a Friday afternoon men wearing kamis — long white traditional robes — climb the steps to Somcity Travel, a small family business and travel agency in Kisenyi slum, in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. The agency boasts that they “fly all over the world” but to one destination in particular — Somalia.

“In a day we may have up to five customers – four of them will usually be Somali,” says Mohamed Abdullahi, 25, the manager of Somcity Travel. The travel agency is situated opposite the the Al-Baraka cosmetic store and the Cadaysay shop, which provides mobile money transfer services and sells mobile phones and phone accessories.

“Some of them go [back] for holidays to Somalia. But they always come back. The business is kind of booming. We are booking a lot of tickets,” he tells IPS.

Kisenyi, informally known as Little Mogadishu, has been the heartbeat of the Somalia community in this East African country since the 1990s, according to Abdullahi.

But it was only in 2002 that businesses here started to take off. Today, Kisenyi’s streets are dotted with travel agencies, hotels, restaurants, petrol stations, supermarkets and other businesses — all of which are Somali-owned. And there is also a mosque.

“We are very tough when it comes to business, sometimes we can even challenge Indians,” Abdul Kadir Farah Guled, Charge De Affairs at the Somali embassy in Kampala, who came to Uganda around 1974, tells IPS.

“But our problem is our hot tempers. Sometimes we don’t like each other because of tribal conflicts. But at the end of the day, we support each other.”

Official statistics are hard to come by, but he estimates there could be up to 12,000 Somalis scattered throughout Uganda and that about 85 percent of Kisenyi’s population is Somali, with a large number of them being refugees and Ugandans of Somali-origin. It is believed that the slum could be home to over 4,000 Somali refugees.

The area is a place of transition for many — a stepping stone to a better life for many residents and workers.

“Somalis get respect from Ugandans and the government also supports Somalis,” says Abdullahi. Above his desk, a framed portrait of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni stares down at him. On the wall alongside it is a Brussels Airlines poster declaring “Africa, all wrapped up for you.”

Abdullahi used to live in Towfiq in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. In 2007, he left the Horn of Africa nation, along with relatives and friends, aged just 17.

“I came here to get an education and live a life [that is] different from [the one I lived] in that place where there is civil war,” he says.

Militants belonging to terrorist network Al-Shabaab were flushed out of Mogadishu in 2011 but still control many rural areas of the country today.

When Abdullahi came to Uganda, where his uncle, Ahmed, had resettled in 2003, he couldn’t speak English. In Somalia the official tongue is Arabic. But today Abdullahi converses impeccably in English and has completed both his O and A levels. Now he works six days a week at Somcity Travel, earning about 200 dollars a month.

“It’s getting better in Somalia but there are still some problems, like homes are bombed. There’s a problem walking at night.”

For most Somali’s coming to Uganda for the first time, the language barrier is a big problem says Shukri Islow, 28, the founder of NGO Somali Youth Action For Change. She founded the organisation to help empower Somalis here and bridge the gap between the two communities.

“When you know the language you feel a sense of belonging,” says Islow, who was born in Somalia and left the country when she was eight. She has lived in Sweden, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, before settling in Uganda in 2009.

“We give them that inspiration, motivation and empower them that they can do it it’s never too late, even if you’re 20.”

Today Islow, who graduated in November from Uganda’s Cavendish University with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and diplomacy, is the face of the Somali youth community in Uganda.

She also counsels  Ugandan African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) soldiers who are deployed to her homeland on how different Somalia is and what to expect when they get there.

Uganda was the first country to deploy troops under AMISOM to Somalia in 2007. A 22,000-strong AU force operates there under a United Nations mandate. Uganda leads the force, with 6,223 troops, but in early March said they would send up to 410 extra to guard U.N. facilities.

The last time Islow was in Somalia was in 2002 when the situation was “much, much better”.

“Right now you don’t know who’s going to kill you tomorrow, and you don’t know the reason. You’re being attacked for your lifestyle or ideology,” she tells IPS.

She’s aware that even if she returns home for a holiday she will be a target.

“I’m more at risk [from Al-Shabaab] if I go there because I’m all over social media and my pictures with Ugandan soldiers are [online],” says Islow.

She has relatives still living in Somalia and, eventually, she would like to return home permanently.

“Of course I’d like to go back because you go east and west, home is the best,” she says.

For the time being she will continue to live elsewhere and hopes to further her studies in Melbourne, Australia.

Abdullahi also hopes to do the same. He has an uncle in Australia and has enrolled in a management course that starts in July at a Sydney college.

“I want to continue with my education and at the same time work and have a new life, a better life, get married and have kids,” he says.

In January, the Somali Embassy in Uganda held its first-ever engagement with the Somali diaspora here to discuss the ongoing stabilisation and peace process in the Horn of Africa nation. Officials hope that educated youth, like Abdullahi and Islow, will return to help rebuild the country.

Already the diaspora has contributed much to Somalia. A 2011 report by the U.N. Development Programme estimates that the Somali diaspora is between one to 1.5 million people. The report stated that Somalis abroad provided much-needed humanitarian assistance back home through remittances – estimated between 1.3 to two billion dollars a year.

Last July, Air Uganda started direct flights from the country’s Entebbe International Airport to Mogadishu.

Abdullahi hasn’t returned to Somalia since he left. And if he does, like many of his clients, it may not be on a one-way ticket.

“Now I’ve adapted to this life of living abroad and some things are not favourable in Somalia so I can’t live there for good,” says Abdullahi.

The post Somali Diaspora Not Ready to Buy One-Way Tickets Home Yet appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/somali-diaspora-ready-buy-one-way-tickets-home-yet/feed/ 0
The Gambia’s Women Demand a Seat at the Political Table http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/gambias-women-demand-seat-political-table/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gambias-women-demand-seat-political-table http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/gambias-women-demand-seat-political-table/#comments Sun, 30 Mar 2014 08:37:37 +0000 Saikou Jammeh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133294 The countdown to the Gambia’s 2016 general elections has begun with a rare move to bring together female politicians from across the divided political spectrum to ensure increased female representation. This week, local women’s rights NGO Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (Gamcotrap) launched a campaign calling for political […]

The post The Gambia’s Women Demand a Seat at the Political Table appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Dr. Isatou Touray, executive director of women’s rights NGO Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children says that increased women’s representation in the Gambia’s is important for development. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

Dr. Isatou Touray, executive director of women’s rights NGO Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children says that increased women’s representation in the Gambia’s is important for development. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

By Saikou Jammeh
BANJUL, Mar 30 2014 (IPS)

The countdown to the Gambia’s 2016 general elections has begun with a rare move to bring together female politicians from across the divided political spectrum to ensure increased female representation.

This week, local women’s rights NGO Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (Gamcotrap) launched a campaign calling for political reforms to ensure the effective participation of women in all positions of political leadership.

“We are now saying that we want to fetch our own water and drink with men from the same well,” Dr. Isatou Touray, executive director of Gamcotrap, tells IPS. The NGO has received support for the campaign from the National Endowment for Democracy, a U.S. non-profit that supports freedom across the world.“We are now saying that we want to fetch our own water and drink with men from the same well.” -- Dr. Isatou Touray, executive director of Gamcotrap

“What we’re doing has nothing to do with partisan politics,” says Touray. “It’s not about disempowering men. It’s about development, and it’s about gender politics.

“When we talk about gender politics, we’re talking about women from different political parties coming together to look at their issues and promote it, under one umbrella.”

The preliminary results of this tiny West African nation’s 2013 census show that women constitute more than 51 percent of the country’s almost 1.8 million people.

As of 2011, women represent 58 percent of national voters. Their numerical strength is not, however, reflected in the number of women in governance and leadership positions at both national and local level.

This is despite the fact that the Gambia has a female vice-president, Dr. Isatou Njie Saidy, who has held the post since 1997.

“Out of 53 National Assembly members, we have only four who are elected and one nominated female deputy. That’s nine percent,” Amie Sillah, a gender activist and politician, tells IPS.

“Also, out of 1,873 village heads, only five are women. There’s no female governor, no female district chief. So is that impressive?”

The structures within various political parties, at best, relegate women to being permanent deputies of male propagandists. Women mostly only hold leadership positions in the female wings of their political parties.

And the majority of politically-active women here spend their time campaigning for votes and financial donations for their male counterparts.

“In the selection committees of parties, even if a woman is made chair, as our proverb goes: ‘They [men] give you the head and take out the tongue’, so that the woman is not able to speak out. Men give you just a nominal power. In a nutshell, you propagate what they want you to,” Sillah says.

The Constitution guarantees women’s right to participate in politics and criminalises any form of gender-based discrimination.

Over the past four years, at least three pro-women laws have been passed: the Women’s Act of 2010, the Domestic Violence of Act, and the Sexual Offences Act, both of 2013.

Yet, women remain politically marginalised.

Activists say that because men dominate the political scene, the pro-women’s legislation has been watered down.

“Most of [women’s] issues have not been passed into law…and if passed, critical clauses are removed,” Touray says

Sillah explains: “They took out all the good things, all the crucial provisions in the Women’s Act dealing with marriage, inheritance … Also, they’ve refused to pass the provision on female genital mutilation. They took it out and this is about the reproductive health rights of women.”

Sillah called for an affirmative action quota system for the National Assembly that will allott at least 30 percent of seats to women.

“It’s time for women to be where the laws are made. So that when laws come that protect women’s rights, they can effectively engage to allow the bills to be passed.”

Haddy Nyang-Jagne is one of the four female members in the National Assembly from the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC). She thinks that the government has done a lot to ensure women’s participation in politics and that one of the reasons for the low number of women in parliament is the existing cultural barriers.

“The government has created the enabling environment, sensitised women. Now, is it stigmatisation? Women are afraid to come out because people speak ill of them.”

“Is it lack of funding? In APRC, money is given to candidates…Sometimes, it’s about religious and cultural barriers. Some people would tell you our religion of Islam does not accept women taking part in politics and we know that proposition is unfounded,” Haddy, who is serving her second term in the National Assembly, says.

However, women from the opposition say that the democratic space for vibrant multi-party politics has shrunk as arbitrary arrests and detention of opponents have become the norm.

Mariama B. Secka, the secretary-general in the opposition United Democratic Party’s female wing, explains that it is hard to be part of the opposition in the Gambia. The country has been a one-party dominant state since 1996 when army leader and now President, Yahya Jammeh, formed the APRC after he took power in a 1994 coup.

“I was invited to a forum by the women’s federation. When I started introducing myself as a member of opposition party, I was heckled. I was totally harassed. It’s not easy at all. We need a more level playing ground,” she tells IPS.

And the only people who can change this are the country’s majority female voters.

“We’ve observed that most of the educated women don’t even vote. We want to remain in our comfort zones,” says Touray. “And until the educated woman goes to the grassroots, we may not be able to achieve what we want.”

But Touray is optimistic and doesn’t rule out the possibility of a female presidential candidate for as early as the 2016 presidential elections.

“Of course yes! Why not! It’s possible,” she says. “The political landscape is for everybody. Women are saying that they have a right to be there and we’re going for elective positions rather than being nominated.”

The post The Gambia’s Women Demand a Seat at the Political Table appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/gambias-women-demand-seat-political-table/feed/ 0