Inter Press Service » Africa Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 28 Mar 2015 11:41:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Activists Protest Denial of Condoms to Africa’s High-Risk Groups Sat, 28 Mar 2015 08:46:40 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo Distributing condoms in prisons and schools has set off a heated debate, rendering the fight against HIV/AIDS a challenge ahead of this year's U.N. deadline for nations to halt its spread. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

Distributing condoms in prisons and schools has set off a heated debate, rendering the fight against HIV/AIDS a challenge ahead of this year's U.N. deadline for nations to halt its spread. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Mar 28 2015 (IPS)

Tatenda Chivata, a 16-year old from Zimbabwe’s Mutoko rural district, was suspended from school for an entire three-month academic term after he was found with a used condom stashed in his schoolbag.

Regerai Chigodora, a 34-year-old prisoner at a jail in Harare, had his 36-year sentence stretched to 45 years after he was caught with used condoms in prison early this year.

With restrictions blocking the distribution of condoms in schools and prisons in Africa, health experts say the continent’s opportunity to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS in line with the U.N. Millennium Development Goals may be squandered,

“It will be hard for Africa to win the war against HIV/AIDS if certain groups of people like students and prisoners are being skipped from preventive measures,” Tamasha Nyerere, an independent HIV/AIDS counsellor based in Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian capital, told IPS.

Human rights activists in Zimbabwe say more cases of youths like Chivata and prisoners like Chigodora may be going unreported in countries where condom use in jails and schools is anathema.With restrictions blocking the distribution of condoms in schools and prisons in Africa, health experts say the continent’s opportunity to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS in line with the U.N. Millennium Development Goals may be squandered.

“It’s indeed disturbing how hard we have worked as Africa to fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS yet we have not been so pragmatic in our bid to institute preventive measures in schools and jails, where most of our African governments have vehemently refused to allow condoms to be distributed with the common excuse that they promote homosexuality in jails and sexual immorality in schools,” Elvis Chuma, a gay activist in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, told IPS.

Zimbabwean prisoner Chigodora agreed, telling IPS that “whether or not authorities here like it, homosexuality is rife in jails and even if we may smuggle in condoms to use secretly, if you get caught like in my case, you will be in for serious trouble.”

Schoolchildren in Africa like Zimbabwe’s Chivata have to contend with secret use of condoms in school. Their only crime is that they are underage, said Chivata.

“I’m serving a suspension from school because I was caught with a condom I used during sex with my girlfriend, but the same teachers teach us about use of protection if we get tempted to engage in sex. Now I’m wondering if I was wrong using a condom. Perhaps I could have gone undetected if I had opted to have unprotected sex,” he told IPS.

Under Zimbabwe’s Legal Age of Majority Act, any Zimbabwean under the age of 18 years is a minor, while a person between the age of 16 years and 18 years is defined as a young person under the Children’s Protection and Adoption Act.

Sodomy is also a punishable offence in Zimbabwe, which rights activists say, makes it difficult for this Southern African nation and other African nations to distribute condoms in prisons.

“African countries like Zimbabwe are being cornered by their own laws which bar them from dishing out condoms to prisoners and school children,” Tonderai Zivhu, chairperson of the Open Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS, a lobby group in Masvingo, Zimbabwe’s oldest town, told IPS.

South Africa and Namibia may be the only two out of Africa’s 54 countries that have adopted HIV/AIDS preventive measures in schools and jails.

In 2007, South Africa’s new Children’s Act came into effect, giving children 12 years and older the right to obtain contraceptives. The country’s Department of Correctional Services also provides condoms to inmates.

In Namibia, the country’s policy on HIV/AIDS states that all convicted prisoners awaiting trial and inmates are entitled to have access to the same HIV-related prevention information, education, voluntary counselling and testing, means of prevention, treatment, care and support as is available to the general population.

Other African countries, however, seem unclear about their position on condoms use in jails and schools.

Last year, the government of Rwanda confirmed the prevalence of homosexuality in prisons, but was non-committal on whether or not it would start distributing condoms in its correctional facilities.

This year, Zimbabwe’s Primary and Secondary Education Minister Lazarus Dokora told parliament that parents were free to pack condoms for their children in their schoolbags, but that the government would not allow them to be openly distributed at schools.

“We must say children are in school to learn and be initiated for certain life skills, and when it comes to condoms, you are the guardian of your child and you must have an intimate connection with your child so that when you pack their school luggage and prepare their books you can also pack condoms,” Dokora had said.

This laissez-faire approach has incensed certain African indigenous pro-culture activists who have been vocal in their calls against condom distribution in prisons and schools.

“Distributing condoms in prisons and in schools will render African governments accomplices to the commission of the crime of sodomy and sexual immorality among school-going children, which is against our cultural values and norms as Africans,” Bupe Mwansa, head of the Culture and Traditions Conservation Association in Zambia, an indigenous pro-culture lobby group, told IPS.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 3.2 million children lived with HIV at the end of 2013, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, with approximately 145,000 HIV-positive children from Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat) states that Zimbabwe has a total of 18,000 prisoners, with 28 percent of these living with HIV and AIDS.

In South Africa, an estimated 41.4 percent of that country’s 166,267 prisoners are also living with HIV/AIDS, based on statistics from the Ministry of Health there, despite the country being the only African nation that does not outlaw homosexuality.

Although other African governments admit there are sexual activities going on in schools and prisons, they remain hesitant to allow condom distribution in them.

“School children engage in premarital and often unprotected sex, yes we know, and prisoners also have unprotected anal sex, but presently there is nothing we can do as government to address these challenges because our laws do not allow underage children to engage in sex while homosexual, now rife in our jails, is also unlawful,” a top Zimbabwean government official speaking on the condition of anonymity told PS.

But for human rights doctors like Nomalanga Zwane in Johannesburg, fighting HIV/AIDS in schools and jails requires drastic measures.

“If school kids are left on their own with the belief that they are not engaging in sex because they are barred by being underage, we are fighting a losing battle against HIV/AIDS because the same school pupils will spread the disease even outside school while prison inmates with no access to condoms will also one day come out of jail and further spread the disease,” Zwane told IPS.

Zimbabwe’s ex-convicts like 37-year-old Jimson Gwatidzo, now an ardent campaigner for the distribution of condoms in jails after he contracted HIV in jail, sees no credible reason why some African governments forbid condoms in prisons “in the face of rampant rape-induced HIV/AIDS infections behind prison walls.”

“It is time for governments across Africa to scrap anti-sodomy laws to allow for the distribution of condoms in prisons and be able to fight HIV/AIDS spread in jails without legal barriers,” Gwatidzo told IPS.

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

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Decent Employment Opportunities for Young People in Rural Africa Fri, 27 Mar 2015 10:46:18 +0000 Kwame Buist Subsistence-oriented small-scale agriculture is often not the preferred choice of work for many young Africans. Photo credit: FAO

Subsistence-oriented small-scale agriculture is often not the preferred choice of work for many young Africans. Photo credit: FAO

By Kwame Buist

Over half of the African continent’s population is below the age of 25 and approximately 11 million young Africans are expected to enter the labour market every year for the next decade, say experts. 

Despite strong economic growth in many African countries, wage employment is limited and agriculture and agri-business continue to provide income and employment for over 60 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population.

However, laborious, subsistence-oriented small-scale agriculture is often not the preferred choice of work for many young people.

In an effort to reap this demographic dividend and attract young people into the agri-food sector, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) have launched a four-year project to create decent employment opportunities for young women and men in rural areas.

The four million dollar project, funded by the African Solidarity Trust Fund, aims to develop rural enterprises in sustainable agriculture and agri-business along strategic value chains.

Speaking at the project signing ceremony on Mar. 25, NEPAD’s chief executive officer, Dr Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, said: “The collaboration between NEPAD and FAO will go a long way in ensuring that the youth, Africa’s future, are not forgotten.

“It is by creating an economic environment that stimulates initiatives – particularly by conducting transparent and foreseeable policies – and at the same time by regulating the market in order to deal with market failures that we will attain results and impact through the new thrust given to our farmers, entrepreneurs and youth.”

The project – which is expected to see over 100, 000 young men and women benefit in rural Benin, Cameroon, Malawi and Niger – is anchored in the Rural Futures Programme of NEPAD, which is centred on rural transformation in which equity and inclusiveness allow rural men and women to develop their potential.

FAO Assistant Director General for Africa Bukar Tijani said that the project “marks an important milestone in moving forward and upward in terms of empowering youth in these four countries – especially women, as 2015 is the African Union’s Year of Women’s Empowerment.”

The project is seen as part of a drive to stimulate the agriculture and agri-business sectors into becoming more modern, profitable and efficient, and capable of providing decent employment opportunities for Africa’s young labour force.

In 2012, the African Union Commission, NEPAD Agency, the Lula Institute and FAO formed a partnership aimed at ending hunger on the continent. A year later, the four partners organised a high-level meeting of ministers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, leading to a declaration to end hunger and a road map for implementation.

This declaration was subsequently endorsed at the 2014 African Union summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, and incorporated into the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods as the “Commitment to Ending Hunger in Africa by 2025”.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Kenya Struggles with Rising Alcoholism Fri, 27 Mar 2015 09:39:49 +0000 Miriam Gathigah A crowd gathers to watch an intoxicated youth as a police officer comes to his rescue in Nyeri town, Central Kenya. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

A crowd gathers to watch an intoxicated youth as a police officer comes to his rescue in Nyeri town, Central Kenya. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

Despite legislative attempts to curb drinking, Kenya is still facing its greatest threat from alcohol abuse. Calamities associated with excessive intoxication – dementia, seizures, liver disease and early death – have done little to deter users.

Not even confirmed reports by the Ministry of Health and government agencies such as the National Authority for Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA) that illicit brewers have been turning to lethal embalming fluid used in mortuaries have cut the rate of abuse.

“Patrons want to spend as little as possible but drink as much as they can, so they opt for cheap illicit brews, especially spirits,” says Nduta Kamau, who brews home-made alcohol in the sprawling Mathare slums in Nairobi.The [Kenyan] Alcoholic Drinks Control Act was substantially weakened in 2013 with the introduction of “devolved government”. This system of ‘home rule’ means that each county government must ratify the act – an uphill battle because some county leaders are also the owners of bars.

According to Kamau, those who brew illicit alcohol also spend as little as possible “in time and money but produce as much alcohol as they can”, while chemicals used in the mortuary speed up the production process, “so we are able to produce a lot of alcohol in a very short time.”

Kamau adds that illicit brews from dens in the slums are bottled, labelled and sold in pubs across the country. A series of police raids in these dens have found women’s underwear and dead rats in the brew.

The Alcoholic Drinks Control Act of 2010 restricts the sale of alcohol to between 5 pm and 11 pm, but drinkers are finding their way around the curfew.

Data collected by Euromonitor International, a market research firm, revealed that alcohol bought in shops or off trade beer sale during the curfew in December 2012 rose by 4.35 percent to 26.4 million litres.

“They [patrons] lock themselves up in pubs and drink during curfews or they buy the alcohol and drink in their homes exposing their children to alcohol from a very young age,” says Dave Kinyanjui, a bar owner in Nairobi’s downtown area.

The Alcoholic Drinks Control Act was substantially weakened in 2013 with the introduction of “devolved government”. This system of ‘home rule’ means that each county government must ratify the act – an uphill battle because some county leaders are also the owners of bars.

Increased drinking has meant higher profits for commercial brewers. A report last month by the East African Breweries Limited (EABL) noted an average 11 percent increase in profit from beer sales.

According to EABL, the highest growth in sales – at 67 percent – was in spirits, mainly targeting the lower income earners, who are also the target for the many brands from informal sources.

Another report released by Euromonitor International confirmed the steady growth in alcohol consumption, which could rise as the economy improves further, saying that “the alcoholic drinks market is set to expand over the forecast period as the economy is expected to grow tremendously during this time due to bright prospects of oil in Kenya and political stability.”

With the availability of non-returnable bottles and cans, it has never been easier to carry alcohol to the house.

A 2012 national survey by NACADA showed that alcohol is now the most abused substance in the country and of the different types of alcoholic drink, traditional liquor is the most easily accessible, followed by wines and spirits and last but not least Chang’aa (which literally means ‘kill me quick’).

According to an “Alcohol Situation Analysis” for 2012 by the regional office of IOGT-NTO, a global temperance movement: “out of the number of people interviewed, 63 percent had used alcohol and 30 percent had more than five alcoholic beverages per sitting, which is heavy episodic use. Teenagers between 14-17 years of age are having two alcoholic beverages per sitting.”

Government statistics also show that alcohol and drug abuse is highest among young adults aged 15 to 29 years and lowest among adults of 65 years and older.

Under-age and rural children have not been spared. According to NACADA, rural children are more likely to have consumed traditional liquor and Chang’aa than urban children.

David Ogot, national coordinator of Alcohol Awareness in Kenya and a recovered alcoholic, told IPS that “excessive drinking is often viewed as a passing problem until it really gets out of hand, at which point most families hide the issue due to shame.”

He said that there is now a great need to address “alcoholism and to stop justifying the behaviour of an alcoholic.”

Alcoholics wanting to end their addictions have little recourse, according to Dr William Sinkele, Executive Director of Support for Addictions Prevention and Treatment in Africa (SAPTA). While Kenya has over 70 in-patient treatment centres, only three are government-run, he told IPS – Mathare Hospital (with an addiction unit), Coast General Hospital and Portreitz Hospital. The rest are privately owned.

“While is it is good that we have this many treatment centres, most are concentrated around the Nairobi area.  We do not have many centres outside Nairobi.  The average Kenyan with an alcohol or drug problem cannot afford treatment,” he said.

Meanwhile, many of those fighting alcohol abuse in Kenya point an accusing finger at the global alcohol industry which has a big foothold in Kenya and has undermined proper implementation of the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act with aggressive advertising and promotion through musical and artsy events.

A press release from financial advisors KPMG, titled “Incredible Growth of Kenya’s Beer Market“ noted: “Driven by strong population growth, a growing middle class and a dynamic private sector, the beer industry in Kenya has taken off in impressive ways, and is promising of even further developments in the coming decade.” Only inflation and tax increases could diminish this rise, it said.

“To expand its customer base, “the company has accordingly invested in marketing and sales capabilities in this area.”

Meanwhile, in a blog on the IOGT International temperance website,  Brenda Mkwesha wrote: “The odds seem to be against us, but we have heart-driven teams who aren’t willing to stand by while we flush our lives down the toilet. Here’s to a Life Set Free!”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris   

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Smugglers Peddle ‘Conflict Diamonds’ from Central African Republic, Ignoring Ban Tue, 24 Mar 2015 10:13:32 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 24 2015 (IPS)

Since a coup d’etat and an extremely bloody aftermath, not much has improved in the Central African Republic and that suits the black market diamond merchants just fine.

With news cameras turned away, their trade in ‘conflict diamonds’ is proceeding at a gallop, observers say, despite a global ban.

The diamond-trading ban was imposed by the Kimberley Process, a global gem-verification group formed to halt the outflow of precious stones from conflict zones. The Central African Republic is the only country among 22 diamond producers to be covered by a ban.

The ban went into effect in May 2013, two months after President Francois Bozize was overthrown by mainly Muslim militias known as Seleka. In mid-2013, groups calling themselves the anti-balaka rose up to fight the Seleka. The mostly Christian anti-balaka, who harbor hatred against Muslims, initially committed large-scale reprisal attacks against Muslim civilians and later against others.

A transitional government was installed, but attacks on civilians remain alarming and widespread. Hundreds of Muslims are said to be trapped in enclaves in the western part of the country, fearing reprisals from the anti-Muslim militia. U.N. officials called it “ethnic cleansing” but stopped short of saying the word “genocide.”

Even before the ban, an unofficial market for gems in the Central African Republic was raking in millions. High taxes on diamonds — 12 percent compared with 3.25 percent in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo – led to about 30 percent of the sparkling stones being smuggled to Cameroon or Sudan’s Darfur region, according to the International Peace Information Service, or IPIS, an Antwerp, Belgium-based research group.

A U.N. panel of experts on the Central African Republic has confirmed the illegal diamond trade is alive and well. Since the ban was introduced, at least 140,000 carats of diamonds valued at 24 million dollars have been smuggled out of the country, said Aurelien Llorca, coordinator of the U.N. panel.

With the earnings from conflict diamonds, the militias buy weapons, pay soldiers, enrich rebel leaders and keep ordinary citizens in fear, in refugee camps, or separated from their families. In and around the city of Bambari and in other regions, attacks against civilians are reported almost daily.

A ceasefire between the parties to the conflict signed in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, in July 2014, has been largely ignored.

The Central African Republic was once ranked as the world’s 10th-biggest diamond producer by value and its profits have funded successive military regimes since the country gained independence from France in 1960.

This week, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization issued an urgent appeal to provide farmers with seeds for the upcoming planting season. Some 1.5 million people are food insecure and the number is like to rise without immediate support, they said.

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Winners Announced for Free Expression Prize Tue, 24 Mar 2015 00:01:29 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 24 2015 (IPS)

At home she was subjected to death threats for defending women in northeastern Kenya who are vulnerable to rape, female circumcision and murder. This month, Amran Abdundi Amram was cheered as a hero as she collected the 2015 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award for Campaigning.

The 15th annual freedom prize was presented this month by the U.K.-based international organisation that promotes and defends the right to freedom of expression. The award honours outstanding individuals in four categories: Journalism, arts, campaigning and digital activism.

Abdundi, who heads up Frontier Indigenous Network (FIN), has been setting up shelters along the border between Kenya and Somalia – an area where militant groups pose a growing threat to local communities. In addition to the shelters, FIN maps out conflict areas, targets the illegal arms trade and has set up radio listening groups.

In thanking the judges, Abdundi acknowledged the efforts of local women with whom she had worked for over a decade. “This award goes to marginalised women of northern Kenya … for fighting outdated cultural practices that deny them the right to own property, that expose them to dangerous practices like FGM, and threaten them with sexual exploitation.”

Other women FIN defends include “conflict concubines” who were abducted by armed youths at the height of armed violence in northern Kenya and acted as comfort women for armed militias. “When these women came back from conflict zones with children born out of wedlock, they were rejected by their families. This award is for them.”

Lastly, she thanked the women who used loud speakers to block their attackers. “We documented the abuses along the border,” she said.

“The women of northern Kenya will now know that their struggles and their efforts to fight for their rights are being recognised internationally,” she said. “You are a true partner of the women of northern Kenya.”

Also recognised by the Index was Angolan journalist Rafael Marques de Morais. Marques was singled out for his courageous work exposing corruption in government and business in Angola.

Among his investigative pieces was an expose of the ruling family of Pres. Jose Eduardo dos Santos whose daughter Isabel controls over a billion dollars in assets obtained through her father, according to Marques. In 2011, he wrote a book called “Blood Diamonds: Torture and Corruption in Angola,” which recounts 500 cases of torture and 100 killings that took place over 18 months in a diamond-mining district in Angola. According to the book, the torture and killings were carried out by guards from a private security firm and by members of the Angolan Armed Forces.

Next week, Marques is scheduled to appear before a court on defamation and criminal libel charges filed by nine Angolan generals and the private security firm used by the President.

Letters protesting his prosecution have been sent to the African Commission and the U.N. by Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch and 14 other human rights and free speech groups.

Accepting his award, Marques dedicated it to “my fellow Ethiopian colleagues Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemo and the Zone 9 bloggers. They are all in jail, currently serving some of the harshest sentences in Africa for the crime of exercising their right to freedom of expression.” Alemu, he added, has been denied adequate health care although in “desperate” need.

Other winners for 2015 were Mouad “El Haqed” Belghouat, a rapper from Morocco; Safa Al Ahmad, a Saudi journalist, and the Hungarian freedom of information website Atlatszo.

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Gates Foundation Slammed for Plan to Privatise African Seed Markets Mon, 23 Mar 2015 21:59:52 +0000 Josh Butler By Josh Butler

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) has been attacked by activists over alleged support of a plan to privatise African agricultural markets.

United Kingdom social justice organisation Global Justice Now levelled the claims at the Gates Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on Monday, saying the two agencies were holding a “secret meeting” in London to promote a plan to help companies sell seeds in Africa, that will cut out small farmers.

“This morning in response food justice campaigners have held a demonstration outside the offices of the BMGF in London, with placards calling on the foundation to ‘free the seeds’ and handing out packets of open-pollinated seeds as a symbol of the alternative to the corporate model promoted by USAID and BMGF,” Global Justice Now said in a release.

“A papier mâché piñata representing the commercial control of seed systems was smashed by the protesters, with thousands of seeds inside being spilled over the steps of the entrance to the BMGF.”

Global Justice Now said the London meeting was in response to a study by Monitor-Deloitte, commissioned by USAID and the Gates Foundation, which examined how corporate seed producers could better penetrate African markets.

“For generations, small farmers have been able to save and swap seeds. This vital practice enables farmers to keep a wide range of seeds which helps maintain biodiversity and helps them to adapt to climate change and protect from plant disease,” Global Justice Now food sovereignty campaigner Heidi Chow wrote in a blog post on their website.

“However, this system of seed saving is under threat by corporations who want to take more control over seeds.”

The group claims such “corporate-produced hybrid seeds” bring higher harvests in initial years, but later show unpredictable growth patterns.

“This means that instead of saving seeds from their own crops, farmers who use hybrid seeds become completely dependent on the seed companies that sell them,” the blog post continued.

“Often the seeds are sold in packages with chemical fertiliser and pesticides which can lead to spiralling debt as well as damaging the environment and causing health problems.”

Chow called the plan “another form of colonialism” for forcing African farmers to depend on corporate interests for their continued survival.

“We need to ensure that the control of seeds and other agricultural resources stay firmly in the hands of small farmers who feed the majority of the population in Africa rather than allowing big agribusiness to dominate even more aspects of the food system.”

Ali-Masmadi Jehu-Appiah, Chair of Food Sovereignty Ghana, also expressed concern over the power that corporate interests would hold over farmers.

Activists worldwide are using the Twitter hashtag #FreeTheSeeds to protest the meeting and the plan.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: Water and Sanitation in Nigeria – Playing the Numbers Game Sun, 22 Mar 2015 14:15:11 +0000 Clinton Ikechukwu Ezeigwe Child defecating in a canal in the slum of Gege in the city of Ibadan, Nigeria. Credit: Adebayo Alao, Sept. 2007/cc by 2.0

Child defecating in a canal in the slum of Gege in the city of Ibadan, Nigeria. Credit: Adebayo Alao, Sept. 2007/cc by 2.0

By Clinton Ikechukwu Ezeigwe
OWERRI, Nigeria, Mar 22 2015 (IPS)

In Nigeria, it’s all about the numbers. My nation recently became the largest economy in Africa by some distance, with a GDP of well over 500 billion dollars.

At the same time, 63.2 million people don’t have access to safe water, and over 112 million people – two thirds of the population – don’t have access to adequate sanitation. This figure has risen since 1990.It’s clear that water and sanitation problems are symptoms of wider issues that are at stake for a secure, healthy future of Nigeria.

The ongoing conflict with Boko Haram militants in the north of the country killed well over 6,000 civilians in 2014. An extremely serious figure for sure, but by way of some perspective, every year, 97,000 children die in the country as a whole from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. It really drives home the reality of a simpler crisis on our doorstep.

There is both a North-South and rural-urban divide in this respect, and in the wider issue of reducing the serious poverty gap. Poverty in rural areas (44.9 per cent) is far greater than in urban areas (12.6 per cent) and the methods of poverty reduction in the cities are much more established, and therefore stronger.

It’s clear that water and sanitation problems are symptoms of wider issues that are at stake for a secure, healthy future of Nigeria. Getting much greater access to water and sanitation in underserved areas is only the first step – it’s got to be of acceptable quality and affordable for citizens.

All this requires serious civic engagement. My organisation is a vocal advocate for marginalised groups – and is gaining some ground. But it has not been easy.

Our previous campaigning work in Imo State – an area with one of the biggest water and sanitation crises in Nigeria – has been met with minimal success. In recent times the state wanted to deliver the water services through a private and public partnership, which did not materialise. This meant access to water and sanitation remained poor in both rural and urban areas.

In the last week, we finally made a breakthrough; succeeding in securing a political advocacy with our governor in Imo State and the Commissioner for Public Utilities and Rural Development, in charge of water in the state.

We intend to bolster this advocacy work by taking to the streets in the World Walks for Water and Sanitation. It’s the ideal opportunity to keep the pressure on, and 2,000 people are marching in our area calling on leaders to keep their promises. Indeed, plenty of them have been made.

Nigerian officials attended the Sanitation and Water for All High Level Meeting in Washington DC in April last year, making a promise to bring safe water, basic toilets and hygiene in the next 11 years.

As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) come to an end, to be replaced by the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it’s a pivotal time to make these vows credible.

At the national level, there needs to be a dedicated budget for tackling the water and sanitation crisis in the country.

We also call for improved accountability, and an acceptance of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation at the heart of efforts to reduce inequalities and bring acceptable, hygienic and appropriate facilities to all. Special considerations need to be given to rural and isolated populations.

Our leaders have come to understand the importance of the wider importance of water and sanitation – increased access to education, job opportunities and a chance for many to break the poverty cycle to name but a few – and this no doubt represents progress. There are signs of practical action, too.

Earlier this month, the Federal Government’s Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Ministry, Dr Steve Oru, made commitments to bring water supply to some communities in Imo State and others in the Niger Delta – acknowledging problems accessing these basic needs as a “tragedy.”

That it certainly is – but while these latest moves are promising, it has to be just the start of a deeper commitment to this human right being realised.

It’s certainly not the time for short-term ‘solutions’ that cover up the true nature of the problem. In another interesting statistic, 48 per cent of households across the whole of the country are dependent on sachet water, according to a very recent survey. Clearly, there’s a long way to go.

Nigeria may be the 26th largest economy in the world – but national economic health needs to lead to a healthy state. Tackling the chronic shortfall in water and sanitation facilities would go a long way to ensuring the basic rights and needs of Nigerian people are addressed.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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High-Tech to the Rescue of Southern Africa’s Smallholder Farmers Sun, 22 Mar 2015 12:50:44 +0000 Kwame Buist The Dube AgriZone facility currently incorporates 16 hectares of greenhouses, making it the largest climate-controlled growing area under glass in Africa. Credit: FAO

The Dube AgriZone facility currently incorporates 16 hectares of greenhouses, making it the largest climate-controlled growing area under glass in Africa. Credit: FAO

By Kwame Buist
DURBAN, South Africa, Mar 22 2015 (IPS)

Agriculture is the major employer and a backbone of the economies of Southern Africa.

However, the rural areas that support an agriculture-based livelihood system for the majority of the nearly 270 million people living in the region are typically fragile and there is wide variability in the development challenges facing the countries of the region.

The agricultural sector is dominated by crop production, although the share of livestock production and other agriculture practices have been increasing.Chronic and acute food insecurity remain major risks and Southern Africa still faces enormous challenges in trying to transform and commercialise its largely small holder-based agricultural systems through accelerated integration into competitive markets in a rapidly globalising world

Chronic and acute food insecurity remain major risks and Southern Africa still faces enormous challenges in trying to transform and commercialise its largely smallholder-based agricultural systems through accelerated integration into competitive markets in a rapidly globalising world.

These and other challenges facing the sector were the focus of a three-day meeting (Mar. 10-12) in Durban of management and experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which ended with a call to prioritise broad-based partnerships and build synergies to provide countries with effective and efficient support in the agriculture sector.

In an annual event designed to provide a platform for discussion and exchange of information on best practices and the general performance of FAO programmes in the region, David Phiri, FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator for Southern Africa, reiterated the importance of different sectors working together.

“Achieving food and nutrition security in Southern Africa is a challenge far too great for any government or FAO to overcome alone,” he said. “As well as the governments of developing and developed countries, the civil society, private sector and international development agencies must be involved. Above all, the people themselves need to be empowered to manage their own development.”

Building on what works

As one example of the best practices under the scrutiny of the meeting, participants took part in a field visit to the Dube AgriZone facility – a high-tech agricultural development initiative pioneered by the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government.

The facility aims to stimulate the growth of KwaZulu-Natal’s perishables sector and aims to achieve improved agricultural yields, consistent quality, year-round production and improved management of disease and pests.

The facility – strategically located 30 km north of the important coastal city of Durban – currently incorporates 16 hectares of greenhouses, making it the largest climate-controlled growing area under glass in Africa.

Its primary focus is on the production of short shelf-life vegetables and cut flowers which require immediate post-harvest airlifting and supply to both domestic and export markets.

In addition to its greenhouses, the facility offers dedicated post-harvest packing houses, a central packing and distribution centre, a nursery and the Dube AgriLab, a sophisticated plant tissue culture laboratory.

Dube AgriZone is an eco-friendly facility, adopting a range of ‘green’ initiatives to offset its environmental impact, including rainwater harvesting, use of solar energy, on-site waste management, and the growth of indigenous plants for rehabilitation efforts.

Dube AgriZone provides growers with the potential to achieve improved agricultural yields, consistency of produce quality, close management of disease and pest infestation and year-round crop production with a view to improved sustainability and enhanced agricultural competitiveness.

“I could never have been able put up such a facility and produce at the current scale were it not for this innovative AgriZone,” said Derrick Baird, owner of Qutom Farms, which currently produces 150,000 cucumbers in the glass greenhouse leased from Dube AgriZone.

“This high-tech facility with all the necessary facilities – including transportation and freight – has allowed us to concentrate on producing cucumbers at much lower costs than in other locations where we had previously tried.”

The partnership between the provincial government and the private sector behind the facility was hailed as an example of a success story that could offer valuable lessons to others across Southern Africa.

“There is plenty we can learn from this facility and perhaps one of the more important ones is on forming partnerships and alliances,” said Tobias Takavarasha, FAO Representative in South Africa.

“We need to build on what is working by adopting and adapting technologies to the local situation, and then scaling them upwards and outwards to achieve even better results,” he added.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Sparks Fly As Sierra Leone’s VP Is Expelled From Party Tue, 17 Mar 2015 15:52:46 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

An internal war is roiling the administration of President Ernest Bai Koroma with the Vice President, Samuel Sam-Sumana, at dead center. The VP, expelled last week from the ruling All People’s Congress (APC), is said to be forming a rival political movement from his home district in Kono, the country’s raw diamond capital, and an election decider.

Tensions grew so hot this week that President Koroma sent soldiers to surround Sam-Sumana’s home. This prompted the VP to put in a hurried asylum request with the U.S. embassy which has taken no action on the matter as yet.

“I have fled my house and am with my wife in a place I cannot disclose, waiting to hear from the U.S. Ambassador, whom I have asked for asylum,” Mr. Sam-Sumana told local media.

“I don’t feel safe this morning as vice-president,” he told the AP news agency by phone. He said he had spoken to US Ambassador John Hoover and was waiting for a response.

It’s not the first crisis for the Vice President, son of an influential ruling family. In 2011 his office was identified in a TV documentary investigating illegal logging. The matter was dubbed “Timbergate” by the press.

Other serious problems with the Vice President were quietly dismissed by the President. This became an irritant for the Campaign for Good Governance, a civil society group, which asked why Sam Sumana had not “cleared his name from the many allegations such as the cocaine trade and illegal timber logging that were brought against him while he was vice president in the last five years”.

“As an independent organisation, we want to see people with integrity and a clean record in our governance system,” Valnora Edwin was quoted to have said.

In the decision to expel Sam-Sumana, after a three month investigation, the VP was accused of “inciting anti-party activity, fermenting violence, deceit, false statement amounting to fraud, inciting hate, threatening the personal security of key party functionaries, flouting of rulings and decisions of the party, carrying out anti-party propaganda, and engaging in activities inconsistent with the achievement of the party’s objectives.”

Further, it was alleged, the Vice President had falsified his academic qualification – that he has a graduate degree – lied that he was Muslim prior to his selection as running-mate in 2007, and was the mastermind of political violence against party comrades in the volatile Kono district.

On the announcement of the expulsion, a large crowd gathered at party headquarters to celebrate despite the ban on such events under public emergency laws to control the spread of Ebola. The president himself was seen smiling and waving as his motorcade slowly made its way through the cheering crowd. Under the constitution, Sam Sumana cannot be fired but only impeached or removed for sufficient cause.

“Whatever way this political struggle for power and influence go, it serves as an unnecessary distraction to our fight to end the Ebola outbreak,” observed Abu-Bakarr Sheriff in a Concord Times editorial. Most significantly, it would vindicate the view that President Koroma committed an error in judgment by retaining a man with more than a fair share of scandals as the second gentleman of the republic.”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Women Often Forgotten In Cases Of Forced Disappearance Mon, 16 Mar 2015 22:10:55 +0000 Josh Butler By Josh Butler

Governments must do more to address the impacts of forced disappearances of women, according to an international justice report released Monday.

Since 1980, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has documented over 54,000 cases of such disappearances from all over the world.

The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), in releasing its report ‘The Disappeared and Invisible: Revealing the Enduring Impact of Enforced Disappearances on Women,’ urged governments to better address the effects of such crimes on females.

The report states women are the minority of those who are forcibly disappeared, but “the majority of family members who suffer exacerbated social, economic, and psychological disadvantages as a result of the loss of a male family member who is often a breadwinner.”

In surveying 31 countries – mostly in Africa and Central and South America – the ICTJ urged governments to remember “the need to consider women’s experiences, including when implementing measures like truth commissions, prosecutions, and reparations.”

The report states while women who have been forcibly disappeared experience much the same treatment as men in detention – including torture and ill treatment – women are often subject to gender-based violence including sexual violence and separation from their children.

The ICTJ said women left behind when a family member or partner is disappeared experience “ongoing victimisation” including poverty, family conflict and psychological trauma, as well as often being forced into low-paying, dangerous or exploitative working arrangements to support their families. Women may also face difficulty in accessing bank accounts, social services or ownership rights of property, which may be held in their partner’s name.

Flow-on effects are felt by children and other family members, including impacts on education, health and general well being.

“Although women make up the minority of those who are disappeared around the world, in almost every country we studied… they make up the majority of those who suffer serious, lasting harm after a disappearance,” said Amrita Kapur, senior associate for ICTJ’s Gender Justice programme.

“When a loved one goes missing, most often women are on the forefront of the search for truth and vulnerable to further abuses, even as they take on the role of breadwinner while raising children. Women’s stories are not being told, making it harder for governments to respond effectively.”

The report is part of an ongoing project between ICTJ and UN Women.

The report posits a set of recommendations to better support women who are left behind after the forced disappearance of a partner or family member. Chief among the findings is a call for a new legal category allowing relatives of a disappeared person to access benefits, inherit wealth and assets, and to dissolve marriages even without the person being declared dead.

The report cites the fact that remaining partners are often unwilling or unable to have their disappeared partner declared dead, but that many social benefits or legal avenues for redress only become available upon declaration of death.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Anger Seethes in Gabon after Wood Company Sacks Protesting Workers Fri, 13 Mar 2015 20:03:58 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom By Ngala Killian Chimtom
MBOMAO, Gabon, Mar 13 2015 (IPS)

There is rising anger among trade unionists, environmentalists and civil society groups in Gabon after a wood company, Rain Forest Management (RFM), sacked 38 fixed-term workers last month in Mbomao, Ogooué-Ivindo province.

RFM, a Gabonese wood processing company with Malaysian investment, is one of several exploiting the rich natural forests in Gabon. The forestry sector is the country’s second source of foreign exchange after oil.

RFM and the woodworkers had been locked in a lengthy dispute over working conditions, lack of contacts and legal working hours, among other complaints.

According to the Entente Syndicale des Travailleurs du Gabon (ENSYTG) union, RFM refused to negotiate with them and workers who were planning to take part in trade union meetings were threatened and intimidated.“Although Gabon’s forests are often described as being relatively undamaged and offering great potential for long-term sustainable timber production, it is clear that industrial forestry within the current policy framework threatens their future integrity and the country’s biodiversity” – Forests Monitor

After numerous threats and charges of intimidation, on Feb. 17, as the employees were returning to work, RFM called on police to evict them from their company-supplied dormitories, claiming that the workers had violated company rules.

The dismissals were linked to worker protests over poor working conditions, unsanitary housing infested with rats, cockroaches and snakes, demands for legal working hours and payment of wages on time.

Léon Mébiame Evoung, president of ENSYTG, told IPS that the workers were simply calling on the company to respect basic rights and provide a pharmacy and an infirmary that should be managed by competent Gabonese health professionals.

RFM failed to meet any of these demands, said the union official. Instead, it decided to execute its earlier threat by firing all protesting workers.

The action has provoked the ire of civil society groups and syndicates, including Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWINT), which is circulating an online petition to help the strikers’ return to their jobs.

Marc Ona Essangui, founder of the environmental NGO Brainforest and president of Environment Gabon, a network of NGOs, told IPS in an online interview that he could not accept such “gross suppression” of workers’ rights. “I have signed up to the call to protect the workers,” he said.

“I strongly protest against the dismissal of these workers, which is clearly linked to their strike action,” he insisted. Such anti-union activities, he added, violate International Labour Office (ILO) conventions 87 and 98 (on freedom of association and the right to organise and bargain collectively, respectively).

Along with other environmentalists in the region, Essangui – who once received a suspended sentence for accusing a presidential ally of exploiting timber, palm oil and rubber in Gabon’s “favourable agri-climate” – is troubled by risks to the region’s natural forests due to development activities.

The Gabonese government and international donors, however, regard the exploitation of timber as central to the country’s macroeconomic development.

According to Forests Monitor, an NGO that supports forest-dependent people, “although Gabon’s forests are often described as being relatively undamaged and offering great potential for long-term sustainable timber production, it is clear that industrial forestry within the current policy framework threatens their future integrity and the country’s biodiversity.”

The NGO notes that “production levels are already considerably above the official sustainable production estimates and are set to continue rising”, meaning that “the contribution which forestry sector revenues make to the country’s population as a whole and to people living in the locality of forestry operations is questionable.”

On its website, the World Resources Institute (WRI) notes that “nowhere is the pressure (on resources) more intense than in Gabon, a nation with 80 percent of its territory covered by dense tropical forest. With resource use demands spiralling in recent years, Gabon urgently needs better forest management planning if the government is to achieve its goal of becoming an emerging economy while preserving the country’s natural resources.”

RFM’s woodworking factory lies at the centre of three national parks – Lope, Crystal Mountain, and Ivindo – and to the east of Libreville. The park area is a small fraction of the land marked for development on a WRI map. The wood used by RFM is locally sourced.

Established in 2008, RFM produces windows and doors for the Gabonese domestic market. It exports semi-finished products to Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The company employs more than 700 workers, with a Gabonese majority.

Since November 2009, when log exports were banned, the formal economy production of processed wood has increased significantly.

According to a WRI report titled ‘A First Look at Logging in Gabon’, compiled by seven Gabonese environmental organisations, “Gabon has vast forest resources, but rapid growth of logging activity may threaten those resources. If managed properly, Gabon’s forests could offer long-term revenues without compromising the ecosystems’ natural functions.”

However, the authors continued, “(we) found information about forest development unreliable, inconsistent, and very difficult to obtain. We believe that more public information will promote accountability and transparency and favour the implementation of commitments made to manage and protect the world’s forests, which would significantly slow forest degradation around the world.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

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Safeguarding Africa’s Wetlands a Daunting Task Thu, 12 Mar 2015 19:51:55 +0000 Tonderayi Mukeredzi Africa’s wetland areas are experiencing immense pressure from commercial development and agriculture, settlements, excessive exploitation by local communities and improperly-planned development activities. Credit: Creative Commons CC0

Africa’s wetland areas are experiencing immense pressure from commercial development and agriculture, settlements, excessive exploitation by local communities and improperly-planned development activities. Credit: Creative Commons CC0

By Tonderayi Mukeredzi
HARARE, Mar 12 2015 (IPS)

African wetlands are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the continent, covering more than 131 million hectares, according to the Senegalese-based Wetlands International Africa (WIA).

Yet, despite their importance and value, wetland areas are experiencing immense pressure across the continent. Commercial development ranks as the major threat for the draining of wetlands, including for tourism facilities and agriculture, where hundreds of thousands of hectares of wetlands have been drained.

Other threats to Africa’s wetlands are commercial agriculture, settlements, excessive exploitation by local communities and improperly-planned development activities. The prospect of immense profits from recently discovered oil, coal and gas deposits has also led to an increase in on-and offshore exploration and mining in sensitive ecological areas.Commercial development ranks as the major threat for the draining of [Africa’s] wetlands, including for tourism facilities and agriculture … Other threats are commercial agriculture, settlements, excessive exploitation by local communities and improperly-planned development activities

In Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique, for example, wetlands and estuaries coincide with fossil fuel deposits and related infrastructure developments.

In northern Kenya, port developments in Lamu are set to take place in the West Indian Ocean Rim’s most important mangrove area and fisheries breeding ground.

In KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape of South Africa, heavy mineral sands are located in important dune forest ecosystems, and gas is being prospected for in the water-scarce and ecologically unique Karoo.

In East Africa, oil discoveries have been made in the tropical Congo Basin rain forest and the Virunga National Park – a world heritage site and a wetland recognised under the Ramsar Convention.

The Okavango Delta in Botswana, one of Africa’s most important wetlands and designated as the 1,000th world heritage site by UNESCO, has been home to many threatened species and the main water source of regional wildlife in Southern Africa. Yet it is shrinking due to drier climate, increased grazing and growing pressure from tourism.

“This delta is a true oasis in the middle of the bone-dry Kalahari Sand Basin, a rare untouched wilderness that’s been preserved by decades of border and civil wars in the Angolan catchment,” said National Geographic explorer Steve Boyes in an interview. “Many people along the Okavango River live like communities did some 400 years ago – and from them I think we can learn a lot about how to be better stewards of the natural world.”

Boyes calculated the abundance of life in the delta: more than 530 bird species, thousands of plant species, 160 different mammals, 155 reptiles, scores of frogs and countless insects.

“Everywhere you look you find life. We surveyed bats and we found 17 species in three days. We started looking for praying mantises and found 90 different species,” he said.

A recent survey by the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks and the environmentalist group BirdLife Botswana concluded that that the wetland’s historical zones of dense reed beds and water fig islands were largely destroyed by hydrological changes and fire. Bush fires and a high grazing pressure further reduced the natural shores of the Okavango Delta.

Studies by BirdLife Botswana also showed that the slaty egret, a vulnerable water bird living only in Southern Africa, with its main breeding grounds in the wetlands of Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana’s Okavango Delta, is now estimated to have a total population of only about 4,000 birds.

The egret, which is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as vulnerable, seems to be losing its main breeding sites in the Okavango.

Environmentalists hope that they can still save the wetland, and pin their hopes on a “Slaty Egret Action Plan” which will be used by the Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks, BirdLife and other environment stakeholders to guarantee the survival of the Okavango Delta as a safe haven for the birds.

In a further step to save the wetlands, the Botswana government announced this month that from now on, seekers of mobile safari licences would be prohibited from operating in the Okavango Delta because the area in now congested.

The Botswana Guides Association, which represents many of the mobile safaris, is threatening to appeal.

Another example of the devastation of major wetlands occurred in Nigeria with pollution of farmlands linked to the Shell oil company.  The Niger Delta Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Project, an independent team of scientists from Nigeria, the United Kingdom and the United States, has characterised the Niger Delta as “one of the world’s most severely petroleum-impacted ecosystems.”

In 2013, a Dutch court found the Nigerian subsidiary of Shell culpable for the pollution of farmlands at Ikot Ada Udo in Akwa Ibom state in the coastal south of the country.

The Niger Delta is Africa’s largest delta, covering some 7,000 square kilometres – one-third of which is made up of wetlands. It contains the largest mangrove forest in the world.

Assisted by environmental organisation Friends of the Earth, the court ruling was a victory for the communities in the Niger Delta after years of struggle against the oil company dating back 40 years, although the clean-up still has far to go.

“Destruction of wetlands is prevalent in almost all countries in Africa because the driving factor is the same – population pressure – many mouths to feed, ignorance about the role wetlands in playing in the ecosystem, lack of policies, laws and institutional framework to protect wetlands and in cases where these exist, they are hardly enforced,” John Owino, Programme Officer for Water and Wetlands with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)  told IPS from his base in Nairobi, Kenya.

Owino said that the future of African wetlands lies in stronger political will to protect them, based on sound wetland policies and encouragement for community participation in their management, which is lacking in many African countries.

But very few African governments have specific national policies on wetlands and are influenced by policies from different sectors such as agriculture, national resources and energy.

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris   

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Desolate Sierra Leonean Living Rough in UK Spurs Fund Drive Wed, 11 Mar 2015 15:09:41 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 11 2015 (IPS)

The somber face of a young man from Sierra Leone has become the emblem of Ebola’s living survivors, suffering in silence without families, papers, or homes.

A photo of Jimmy Thoronka appeared this week in local British papers. An undeclared refugee, he went missing after competing in last summer’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. The 20-year-old was a star sprinter but fell apart as Ebola took his uncle, then his adoptive mother and four siblings. He had already lost his birth parents in the country’s civil war.

Scared to go back, he decided to stay on after his visa ran out.

Thus began a seven-month spell of ‘living rough” on the streets. There were days without meals, sleeping in parks or night buses in London. When his whereabouts emerged last week, he was arrested for overstaying his visa. He was finally released Saturday night after an interview with immigration officers.

His plight, on the heels of the huge loss of life in three West African countries, now over 9,000, sparked an online campaign in his name. Thousands took part, including the comedian Russell Brand, the actor Samantha Morton and the model Lily Cole. More than 30,000 dollars was raised.

The collection took Thoronka by complete surprise. “I am amazed that people all over the world have offered to help me after they read my story. I don’t know how to thank everyone. If I can make a success of my life as a sprinter my plan is to go back to Sierra Leone and help homeless people. I know how much suffering there is when you are homeless. Last week I had no hope but now maybe I will make it.”

Thoronka’s case put a spotlight on the UK’s use of immigration detention. A recent report from an all-party parliamentary group called for detention to be limited to 28 days and used only in exceptional circumstances.

“Immigration removal centres are places where many detainees languish in indefinite detention despite not being accused of any crime, and this has a tremendous negative impact,” Emma Mlotshwa, coordinator of Medical Justice, told the Guardian. “We have seen detainees’ mental and physical health deteriorate in immigration detention and we fear for this man’s wellbeing, given his existing reported vulnerabilities.”

The fund appeal for Thoronka was started by a Cambridge University student, whose PhD is on how social networking can be used for social good. The money will be put in a trust and will pay for fees and some living costs of a year at a residential athletics training facility.

Meanwhile, the death toll from the virus in Sierra Leone is more than 3,500 and in the most recent development, Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana put himself in quarantine after the death from Ebola of one of his security guards. He is set to become acting president when President Ernest Bai Koroma leaves Sierra Leone to attend a European Union conference on Ebola in Belgium. Sam-Sumana is expected to carry out the presidential duties from his home.

He is the highest-ranking African official to be quarantined in West Africa.

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Wife of Former Ivorian President Gets 20 Years for Inciting Election Violence Wed, 11 Mar 2015 14:58:21 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 11 2015 (IPS)

The wife of former president Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast will serve jail time for inciting election violence in the 2011 post-election crisis.

Simone Gbagbo was found guilty this week of “disturbing the peace, forming and organising armed gangs and undermining state security,” according to her defence lawyer, Rodrigue Dadje. The sentence of 20 years was twice as long as prosecutors had sought.

Earlier, it appeared that she would receive a lesser sentence than she would have at the International Criminal Court (ICC) where her husband is now on trial for similar crimes. The Alassane Ouattara government refused to send her to The Hague, saying she would get a fair trial at home.

Mrs Gbagbo, 65, who may also be called by the ICC for suspected crimes against humanity, was tried along with 82 other allies of ex-President Laurent Gbagbo.

“I don’t know exactly what the concrete actions are that I am being accused of,” Mrs. Gbagbo said when the hearing began, insisting also that her husband Laurent Gbagbo was the legitimate winner of a 2010 presidential election that sparked five months of violence.

Scuffles broke out outside the courtroom with her opponents shouting “Murderers!” and her supporters shouting back “Liars!”

The court also ruled that her civil rights will be suspended for a period of 10 years. The former president’s son, Michel Gbagbo, was also convicted and sentenced to five years in jail.

Pascal Affi-N’Guessan, President of Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party, and one-time prime minister, received an 18-month suspended sentence. Last month his name was officially removed from the U.N.’s sanctions list despite his “obstruction of the peace and reconciliation process, and incitement to hatred and violence.”

Ivory Coast’s brief 2011 civil war was sparked by Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down after a disputed election backed by the international community. Violence erupted between supporters of the former president and Alassane Ouattara, now president. Some 3,000 people died in the melee which reached up into rural areas on the north.

The ex-first lady said she had been insulted and humiliated by the prosecution, which, she said, had failed to prove her guilt.

Still, “I’m prepared to forgive. I forgive because, if we don’t forgive, this country will burn, she said.

Mr Gbagbo is currently awaiting trial at the ICC, accused of crimes against humanity for his suspected role in orchestrating the violence.

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Debt Balloons Off the Charts in Ghana, Angering Critics Wed, 11 Mar 2015 14:50:48 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 11 2015 (IPS)

The steady nation of Ghana could be heading for a painful train wreck as government borrowing raises the level of foreign debt to sky-high levels.

Last month it was announced that President John Mahama had signed on to a nearly one-billion-dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund. To service the loan, the government will be forced to impose austerity measures very likely to hurt Ghanaian citizens. These include increases in fuel prices, a freeze on hiring public sector workers and an end to energy subsidies.

The plan will be presented to the IMF’s board for approval in April, with the first payment of about $100 million to be made shortly after.

According to Akwasi Sarpong, analyst for BBC Africa, the bailout was considered necessary for the restoration of investor confidence in a struggling economy beset by crippling electricity black-outs.

Then, on the heels of the IMF bailout, more borrowing was announced. State-owned Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) is close to signing a 700-million-dollar loan from private commercial lenders led by commodity trader Trafigura as part of plans to recapitalize for expansion, its chief executive said.

It’s the largest loan by the GNPC since the start of oil production in 2010 which many had cheered as a harbinger of prosperity for all.

Unfortunately for Ghana, the world is awash with oil at some of the lowest prices per barrel seen in years. In fact, the world is running out of storage for the oil that has already been pumped.

The mountainous borrowing was defended by Vice President Kwesi Amissah-Arthur who pooh-poohed the figure of one billion as insignificant. “940 million dollars over a three year period is not a lot of money, it is just about 300 million dollars a year,” he told regional ministers at a conference in Cape-Coast.

“Now our infrastructure requirements are in the region of about five billion a year, so infrastructure alone in overwhelmingly bigger than the resources we are receiving from the IMF.”

But critics of the mounting loans are worried.

At a press conference in early January, Minority Leader Osei Kyei Mensah-Bonsu attacked the ballooning of the public debt stock going from 2.6 billion in 2008 to 19.7 billion today.

“Last year at this time the burden for every Ghanaian was 582 dollars. One year on, the debt per capita has increased by 40 percent. No thanks to “yentie obi ara” (we are not listening to anyone) government.

What is the most important issue in Ghana today? asked Stephen Nyarko in Ghanaweb. “It is four letters long. Yes it is DEBT, and it is the unsustainable type.”

Nyarko went on: “Not long ago Ghana had a positive economic future according to the World Bank and IMF. The narrative of Ghana Rising was all over the international financial press. Ghana’s once mighty Ghana new Cedi has now achieved infamy as the worse performing currency in the world. The slumping currency is fuelling inflation. The impact on citizens economic wellbeing has become so that well-meaning citizens who invested in the new Ghana Cedi in 2007, have seen their wealth and savings totally wiped out.

“If we are to get over our current unsustainable debt burden we need to restart the debate about the break neck speed at which Ghana has been borrowing money and using its natural resources, oil, gold, Cocoa, as collateral The old models of just borrowing yourself out of poverty and inefficiencies do not fit.”

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Opinion: A Year of Progress for “Children, Not Soldiers” Sat, 07 Mar 2015 13:41:27 +0000 Leila Zerrougui Former child soldiers enlisted by Al Shabaab are handed over to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) after their capture by forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Nov. 1, 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

Former child soldiers enlisted by Al Shabaab are handed over to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) after their capture by forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Nov. 1, 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Leila Zerrougui

One year ago, representatives of the last eight governments of the world named by the U.N. secretary-general for the recruitment and use of children in their security forces gathered at the United Nations in New York to declare they were ready to take the steps necessary to make their security forces child-free.

The gathering in itself was historic. And so is the campaign “Children, Not Soldiers”, launched jointly with the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF exactly a year ago. The campaign builds on the growing international consensus that children do not belong in security forces and seeks to galvanise support to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children by national security forces in conflict by the end of 2016.A few years ago, it was not uncommon in my travels to be greeted by military commanders, surrounded by children in uniforms and carrying weapons. That has become unacceptable now.

The countries concerned by the campaign are: Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen.

There is still a lot of work ahead of us, but we have come a long way. A few years ago, it was not uncommon in my travels to be greeted by military commanders, surrounded by children in uniforms and carrying weapons. That has become unacceptable now.

Governments identified by the U.N. secretary-general acknowledge that children do not belong in their security forces and most have taken concrete steps to make sure their children do not become soldiers.

In the campaign’s first year, progress has been steady. The campaign received broad support and we achieved results that are making a difference in children’s lives. Chad has completed all the reforms and measures included in its Action Plan signed with the U.N. and has been taken off the U.N. secretary-general’s list of child recruiters.

Over 400 children were released from the national army in Myanmar. In all of 2014, in DRC, there was only one case of child recruitment by the national army, and the child was quickly released. In Afghanistan, the recruitment of children is in decline and only five cases were recorded by the U.N.

Six of the seven remaining countries concerned by the campaign have now signed and recommitted to Action Plans with the United Nations. These Action Plans are agreements that indicate all the steps necessary to end and prevent the recruitment of children in government forces.

The “Children, not Soldiers” campaign has also accomplished its purpose as a rallying cry to make the issue of child soldiers a top concern of the international community. “How can we help?” was the question asked by officials from dozens of countries, NGOs, partners from the U.N. system, regional organisations and many more.

Officials from countries involved in the campaign have also met with representatives from other countries who ended the use of child soldiers in their armies. These were opportunities to share experiences, successes and challenges.

This is positive, but the campaign’s first year has also shown that goodwill and commitments with the U.N. are not enough to guarantee that children will not become soldiers.

The conflict in South Sudan is a cruel reminder that acting on provisions included in an Action Plan, such as the establishment of child protection units in a country’s armed forces, or taking steps to criminalise the recruitment of children is not enough to guarantee that boys and girls will be fully protected if conflict strikes again.

In Yemen, months of work leading to the signature of an Action Plan in May 2014 have been derailed by the current political situation. Instead of the anticipated progress, data gathered by the U.N. indicates a spike in the recruitment of child soldiers by all parties to the conflict.

Even the armed group Al-Houthi Ansar Allah, whose leaders were actively engaged in dialogue with the U.N., have reneged on their commitment to protect children.

We cannot afford to watch silently while children once again pay the price for political instability in their countries. We keep reminding parties to the conflict that they cannot recruit or use children, that it is a war crime. We ask all those involved in peace talks to make sure that releasing children is a priority.

The big lesson of this campaign’s first year is that the road to child-free government armies is promising, but also full of obstacles. The setbacks of 2014 show that even if measures to protect children are put in place, gains can be reversed under the pressure of conflict.

We also have a better understanding that many countries face similar challenges. Addressing these common challenges will be a priority in the campaign’s second year.

Accountability is central to our work. To enhance accountability, I will encourage all countries concerned by the campaign that have not yet done so to criminalise the recruitment and use of children and to spell out consequences for offenders. Investigations and prosecutions of child recruiters remain far too rare, even in countries that have criminalised the recruitment of children. Without sanctions, children will never be fully protected.

Another challenge faced by most countries is verifying the age of their soldiers. That may seem like a problem easy to solve, but it is in fact a delicate and difficult task to execute in countries that do not have well-established birth registration systems.

The U.N. will continue to work with governments to establish or refine age-verification procedures to identify underage recruits and release them from the army.

Releasing children found in the ranks of national forces is essential, but they cannot be left on their own to rebuild their lives. Adequate resources must be available for community-based programmes that provide psycho-social assistance and help children build their future through educational and vocational opportunities. Helping children and their communities is the best way to not only prevent re-recruitment, but also to build peace and stability.

Throughout the year, I will continue to reach out to member states concerned by the campaign, the international community, regional organisations and all relevant partners to mobilise political, technical and financial support to address challenges faced by countries in the implementation of their Action Plan.

This is essential to encourage and guide concerned countries who must put in place mechanisms strong enough to safeguard the progress accomplished to protect children from recruitment, now and in the future should a new crisis strike.

The campaign has already received tremendous support from many who could make a real difference. This year, I call on everyone to join us, because, together, we can make sure that they are children, not soldiers.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The 15 Journalists Putting Women’s Rights on the Front Page Fri, 06 Mar 2015 20:11:39 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands ‘Joginis’, otherwise known as India’s ‘temple slaves’, dance outside a temple during a religious festival. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

‘Joginis’, otherwise known as India’s ‘temple slaves’, dance outside a temple during a religious festival. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands
NEW YORK, Mar 6 2015 (IPS)

Media coverage of maternal, sexual and reproductive health rights is crucial to achieving international development goals, yet journalists covering these issues often face significant challenges.

“When I was a baby, I got sick and some of my family members decided that I should die because I was not a boy. Decades later, I’m inspired by the courage of my mother - and countless other women – to expose and end gender-based violence and inequality.” -- IPS correspondent Stella Paul
Recognising the contributions these journalists make to advancing women and girls’ rights, international advocacy organisation Women Deliver have named 15 journalists for their dedication to gender issues ahead of International Women’s Day 2015.

Among the journalists Women Deliver recognised for their work is IPS correspondent Stella Paul from India.

Paul was honoured for her reporting on women’s rights abuses through articles on such issues as India’s ‘temple slaves’ and bonded labourers.

Paul’s dedication to women’s rights is not only shown through her journalism. When she interviews communities, she also teaches them how to report abuses to the authorities and hold them accountable for breaking the cycle of violence.

Paul is herself a survivor of infanticide.

She told Women Deliver, “When I was a baby, I got sick and some of my family members decided that I should die because I was not a boy.

“Decades later, I’m inspired by the courage of my mother – and countless other women – to expose and end gender-based violence and inequality.”

Among others, Paul’s story on bonded labour in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad has had a tangible impact on the lives of those she interviewed.

In July she blogged about how one woman featured in the article ‘No Choice but to Work Without Pay‘, Sri Lakshmi, was released from bonded labour by her employer after a local citizen read the article on IPS and took action.

Lakshmi’s daughter Amlu, who once performed domestic labour while her parents went off to work, is now enrolled in a local elementary school.

Women’s issues aren’t ‘soft news’

Another journalist honoured was Mae Azango from Liberia.

Women Deliver CEO Katja Iversen told IPS, “Mae Azango deserves a Pulitzer. She went undercover to investigate female genital mutilation in Liberia.

“After her story was published she received death threats and [she] and her daughter were forced into hiding. Mae’s bravery paid off though, as her story garnered international attention and encouraged the Liberian government to ban the licensing of institutions where this horrific practice is performed,” Iversen added.

Azango told Women Deliver, “Speaking the truth about female genital cutting in my country has long been a dangerous thing to do. But I thought it was worth risking my life because cutting has claimed the lives of so many women and girls, some as young as two.”

Iversen said that many of the honourees had shown incredible dedication, through their work.

“For some of our journalists, simply covering topics deemed culturally taboo – like reproductive rights, domestic violence or sexual assault – can be enough to put them in danger,” she said.

However despite their dedication, journalists still also face obstacles in the newsroom.

“One of the questions we asked the journalists was: what will it take to move girls’ and women’s health issues to the front pages?” Iversen said.

“Almost all of them said: we need more female journalists in leadership and decision-making positions in our newsrooms. Journalism, like many other industries, remains a male dominated field, which can be a major obstacle to publishing stories on women’s health and rights.”

But the issue also runs deeper. There is also a lack of recognition that women and girls’ health rights abuses and neglect are also abuses of human rights, and combatting these issues is essential to achieving development for everyone, not just women and girls.

This means that women’s health is often seen as ‘soft news’ not political or economic news worthy of a front-page headline.

“Unfortunately women’s health and wellbeing is still, for the most part, treated as ‘soft’ news, despite the fact that when women struggle to survive, so do their families, communities and nations,” Iversen said.

“Every day, an estimated 800 women die in pregnancy or childbirth, 31 million girls are not enrolled in primary school and early marriage remains a pervasive problem in many countries. These are not just women’s issues, these are everyone’s issues – and our honorees are helping readers understand this link.”

As journalist Catherine Mwesigwa from Uganda told Women Deliver, “Women’s health issues will make it to the front pages when political leaders and the media make the connection between girls’ and women’s health and socio-economic development and productivity, children’s education outcomes and nations’ political stability.”

Male journalists also have a role to play and two of the fifteen journalists honoured for their contribution to raising awareness on these crucial rights were men.

Besides India and Liberia, other honorees hailed from Argentina, Cameroon, Bangladesh, Kenya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and the United States.

Online Vote

Readers have the opportunity to vote for their favourite journalists from the fifteen journalists selected by Women Deliver.

The three winners will receive scholarships to attend Women Deliver’s 2016 conference, which will be held in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Voting is open until 20 March 2015.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Can Indigenous and Wildlife Conservationists Work Together? Thu, 05 Mar 2015 11:28:06 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands “The forest used to be for the Baka but not anymore. We would walk in the forest according to the seasons but now we’re afraid,” say the Baka of Cameroon.  Credit: © Survival International

“The forest used to be for the Baka but not anymore. We would walk in the forest according to the seasons but now we’re afraid,” say the Baka of Cameroon. Credit: © Survival International

By Lyndal Rowlands

Indigenous and wildlife conservationists have common goals and common adversaries, but seem to be struggling to find common ground in the fight for sustainable forests.

The forest lifestyle of the Baka people of Cameroon helps provide improved habitats for wild animals.“When wildlife trafficking and bush meat trade results in the decline in wildlife populations, the very first people to suffer are indigenous people who need those wildlife populations to survive.” -- James Deutsch

When the Baka clear a patch for a camp, the clearing later turns into secondary forest that gorillas prefer, Mike Hurran, Survival International Africa campaigner, told IPS.

“When they harvest wild yams that grow in the forest, they always leave part of the root intact and that spreads the pockets of wild yams through the forest that elephants and wild bush pigs like,” he said.

They have “sophisticated codes of conservation” and have lived sustainably for generations following the ‘ancestor’s path’.

But pressures on the Baka’s forest home are coming from many angles; logging, mining, and illegal poaching.

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), worldwide wildlife trafficking is now worth an estimated 23 billion dollars annually, threatening endangered species and ruining opportunities for sustainable development.

On the ground, tackling wildlife crime is becoming increasingly difficult. Poachers, backed by the same international crime syndicates that traffic in drugs and people, are employing increasingly sophisticated techniques.

At the same time, forests are under increased pressure from resource exploitation. Mining and logging destroy habitats and brings thousands of workers to the forest who themselves hunt, eat and trade wild animals.

“When wildlife trafficking and bush meat trade results in the decline in wildlife populations, the very first people to suffer are indigenous people who need those wildlife populations to survive,” James Deutsch, vice president, conservation strategy for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), told IPS.

Deutsch said conservationists and indigenous people have common adversaries, in organised crime syndicates and the extractives industry.

However, Survival International is concerned that although conservationists have in recent years expressed a greater commitment to working with indigenous communities, this is not always reflected on the ground.

“What these anti-poaching squads are doing, and by extension the conservation agencies that fund them, is really just focusing on the least powerful people, who are really just hunting to feed their families as they have for generations,” Hurran said.

“Often the poaching squads [that] enforce wildlife law are maybe corrupt or they don’t have much respect for the human rights of tribal people, such as the Baka,” he said.

“The Baka have told us that even when they are hunting in their special zones, using techniques which are recognised as traditional and legal and hunting just for food and not for sale, sometimes their meat is confiscated, and they are being harassed or beaten by anti-poaching squads,” Hurran added.

Survival International has named specific international conservation organisations that they say provide funding to these anti-poaching squads, including World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Cameroon.

In a statement provided to IPS, WWF said, “On the ground, advancing the status and rights of tribal communities while also protecting the resources vital to them and the global community is extraordinarily difficult… WWF agrees that parks need people, and models such as Community Based Natural Resource Management being pursued by WWF globally over many years have ensured that many parks have people.

“WWF is open to a collaborative approach to these issues.  WWF is standing by commitments to assist a Cameroon National Human Rights and Freedom Commission investigation of alleged human rights abuses by Ecoguards and military and is reviewing field experience and our activities in support of the Baka and forest protection in Cameroon.”

Deutsch also echoed WWF’s call for a collaborative approach, saying that a deeper partnership between the human rights community and the conservation community is needed to address complex conservation challenges. Survival International also says WCS funds similar anti-poaching squads in the Republic of Congo.

“The conservation community has to be committed to partnering with indigenous people, because that’s the only way that we’re both going to find a future for wildlife, but also do it in such a way that human rights are respected and traditional societies are respected,” Deutsch said.

Deutsch, who previously led WCS’s programmes in Africa for 11 years, said that solutions were not simple and required perseverance, working with local communities on the ground.

One area both sides agree on is shortfalls in national and international laws protecting indigenous people.

WWF’s statement said that complications included “lack of official recognition in law or in practice of customary rights (and) shortfalls in knowledge, commitment and infrastructure necessary to support international human rights agendas.”

Survival International also acknowledges that national and international laws need to provide more protection to tribal people, both on paper and in practice.

“The criteria that the Baka people need to meet in order to hunt legally is very strict and unrealistic, so often they are considered poachers, when they aren’t,” Hurran said.

Speaking at a United Nations event on World Wildlife Day on Tuesday, Nik Sekhran, director of the UNDP’s Sustainable Development Cluster, said, “For many communities and for indigenous people around the world, sustainable use of wildlife and sustainable use of flora for medicines for food … is really critical to their survival.”

The financial benefits of wildlife tourism are often cited as an important reason to support wildlife conservation in developing countries. However, tourism income does not always trickle down to the poorest communities in developing countries.

“It’s particularly a challenge with hunter-gatherer people,” Deutch said. “There are many cases where wildlife tourism has been created and the intention has been to benefit hunter-gatherer societies and yet in some cases it’s been difficult to make sure that the benefits go to those people because they are less able to deal with the scrum for resources that results.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Prominent Lawyer Defending the Poor Gunned Down in Mozambique Wed, 04 Mar 2015 20:53:50 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

As billions pour into Mozambique from foreign investors scooping up fields of coal and natural gas, the signs of newfound wealth are impossible to miss.

Expensive European-style bars and restaurants line the streets of central Maputo. The latest Toyota Pradas, Range Rovers and Jaguars drive down streets named Julius Nyerere, Ho Chi Minh and Kim Il Sung, former socialist leaders who might have heart failure at the wealth gap found here today.

The World Bank called Mozambique’s transition from a post-conflict country to one of Africa’s “frontier economies” nothing short of impressive. “The country has become a world-class destination for mining and natural gas development,” the Bank wrote.

Yet, according to the Bank, this rapid expansion over the past 20 years barely moved the needle for the poor. “The geographical distribution of poverty remains largely unchanged,” the Bank wrote in October last year. Per capita income is 593 dollars, less than one-third of the sub-Saharan average.

In 2014, Mozambique ranked near the bottom – 178 out of 187 countries – in the U.N.’s Human Development index.

Malnutrition has worsened significantly; life expectancy at birth is just 50 years. Malaria remains the most common cause of death, especially among children.

With signs of great wealth amidst nationwide poverty, resentment has been growing in backwater regions that have not shared in the bounty.

This week, a prominent lawyer exploring the case to decentralise power and create autonomy for those peripheral regions was cut down in cold blood on the streets of the capital, Maputo. Gilles Cistac, 54, was shot by four men in a car while riding a cab to work, police said.

A spokesman for the former rebel group Renamo said Cistac had been killed because of his views on decentralisation.

“He was killed for having expressed his opinions regarding the most contentious political issues in the country,” Renamo spokesman António Muchanga told Reuters Tuesday.

Cistac, a professor of law at the national Eduardo Mondlane University, recently told local media that the creation of autonomous regions would be allowed under the constitution. Renamo, similarly, has proposed that Mozambique be divided into two countries.

But Frelimo, the ruling party, has repeatedly rejected calls for regional autonomy, although President Filipe Nyusi agreed to debate decentralisation in parliament after Renamo parliamentarians refused to take up their seats following elections in October 2014.

Regarding the murder of Cistec, Presidential Spokesman Antonio Gaspar said, “We condemn the attack and demand that the perpetrators are caught and brought to justice. The government has instructed the interior ministry to hunt and arrest those who assassinated Cistac so that they can be severely punished.”

Meanwhile, U.S. oil major Anadarko and Italy’s Eni are developing some of the world’s biggest untapped natural gas reserves in the north of the country – a Renamo stronghold, which the group has proposed to rename the Republic of Central and Northern Mozambique.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Tackling Ebola: Give Autonomy to Local African Communities, Says International Rescue Committee Tue, 03 Mar 2015 22:52:52 +0000 Valentina Ieri By Valentina Ieri

Recommendations on how to eradicate Ebola and avoid future outbreaks were released in a report on Tuesday by the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

Titled ‘Risking Repetition: Are We Ignoring Ebola’s Lessons’, the report highlighted inefficiencies of the international response to the crisis. It was presented at a high level conference on Ebola, held at the European Commission in Brussels.

IRC president and CEO David Miliband remarked: “The lesson of this crisis is that if you lose the trust of the community then you can’t run an effective health system. This is the warning we have to take on board to avoid the risk of repetition.”

Local leadership, effective salaries for workers, and infection prevention were three main aspects which require stronger implementation in order to eradicate the disease and work out a recovery process for damaged countries, according to the report.

IRC said that self-imposed quarantines like the one they organised in Lofa County, in partnership with community leaders, played a significant role in stopping the epidemic, with 150 000 local residents screened and kept safe by community workers. Enforced quarantines, however, had had the adverse effect of fuelling the epidemic.

“The epidemic has been beaten back by local community education, mobilisation and organisation led by trusted figures in the diverse and proud communities across the countries concerned, through community-led identification, isolation, safe burial and surveillance supervisors,” said the IRC president.

“The key to the turnaround has been the degree of community credibility rather than the number of professional qualifications,” he added.

When last year’s Ebola outbreak began, nurses and doctors were striking in Liberia and Sierra Leone to protest against unpaid work. The report advised that through donor help, local governments must guarantee regular pay to workers, and provide adequate equipment, so that public trust can be maintained.

Over 500 healthcare workers are reported to have died during the epidemic. IRC focused on extending disease prevention and training courses not only in health institutions, but also in schools and workplaces.

The organisation’s humanitarian action is directed to help populations that live in damaged and conflicted areas. It assists the Liberian and Sierra Leonean governments in working to eradicate Ebola, and to actively participate in restructuring their health system.

“Our experience tells us that we need to turn upside down the way response to epidemics like Ebola has been conceived. Instead of trying to develop solutions from outside, and getting communities on board, we need to proceed in reverse order.” Miliband said.

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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