Inter Press Service » Africa Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 27 Jul 2015 20:08:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Kenya’s Climate Change Bill Aims to Promote Low Carbon Growth Mon, 27 Jul 2015 16:33:27 +0000 Isaiah Esipisu A geothermal drilling rig at the Menengai site in Kenya's Rift Valley to exploit energy which is more sustainable than that produced from fossil fuels. A Climate Change Bill now before the Kenyan parliament seeks to provide the legal and institutional framework for mitigation and adaption to the effects of climate change.  Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

A geothermal drilling rig at the Menengai site in Kenya's Rift Valley to exploit energy which is more sustainable than that produced from fossil fuels. A Climate Change Bill now before the Kenyan parliament seeks to provide the legal and institutional framework for mitigation and adaption to the effects of climate change. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Isaiah Esipisu
NAIROBI, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

Alexander Muyekhi, a construction worker from Ebubayi village in the heart of Vihiga County in Western Kenya, and his school-going children can now enjoy a tiny solar kit supplied by the British-based Azuri Technologies to light their house and play their small FM radio.

This has saved the family from use of kerosene tin-lamps, which are dim and produce unfriendly smoke, but many other residents in the village – and elsewhere in the country – are not so lucky because they cannot afford the 1000 shillings (10 dollars) deposit for the kit, and 80 weekly instalments of 120 shillings (1.2 dollars).

“Such climate-friendly kits are very important, particularly for the rural poor,” said Philip Kilonzo, Technical Advisor for Natural Resources & Livelihoods at ActionAid International Kenya. “But for families who survive on less than a dollar per day, it becomes a tall order for them to pay the required deposit, as well as the weekly instalments.”“Once it [Climate Change Bill] becomes law, we will deliberately use it as a legal instrument to reduce or exempt taxes on such climate-friendly gadgets and on projects that are geared towards low carbon growth” - Dr Wilbur Ottichilo, Kenyan MP

It was due to such bottlenecks that Dr Wilbur Ottichilo, a member of parliament for Emuhaya constituency in Western Kenya, and chair of the Parliamentary Network on Renewable Energy and Climate Change, moved a motion in parliament to enact a Climate Change Bill, which has already been discussed, and is now being subjected to public scrutiny before becoming law.

“Once it becomes law, we will deliberately use it as a legal instrument to reduce or exempt taxes on such climate-friendly gadgets and on projects that are geared towards low carbon growth,” said Ottichilo.

While Kenya makes a low net contribution to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the country’s Draft National Climate Change Framework Policy notes that a significant number of priority development initiatives will impact on the country’s levels of emissions.

In collaboration with development partners, the country is already investing in increased geothermal electricity in the energy sector to counter this situation, switching movement of freight from road to rail in the transport sector, reforestation in the forestry sector, and agroforestry in the agricultural sector.

“With a legal framework in place, it will be possible to increase such projects that are geared towards mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change,” said Ottichilo.

The Climate Change Bill seeks to provide the legal and institutional framework for mitigation and adaption to the effects of climate change, to facilitate and enhance response to climate change and to provide guidance and measures for achieving low carbon climate-resilient development.

“We received the Bill from the National Assembly towards the end of March, we studied it for possible amendments, and we subjected it to public scrutiny as required by the constitution before it was read in the senate for the second time on Jul. 22, 2015,” Ekwee Ethuro, Speaker of the Senate, told IPS.

“After this, we are going to return it to the National Assembly so that it can be forwarded to the president for signing it into law.”

The same bill was first rejected by former President Mwai Kibaki on the grounds that there had been a lack of public involvement in its creation. “We are very careful this time not to repeat the same mistake,” said Ethuro.

Under the law, a National Climate Change Council is to be set up which, among others, will coordinate the formulation of national and county climate change action plans, strategies and policies, and make them available to the public.

“This law is a very important tool for civil society and all other players because it will give us an opportunity to manage and even fund-raise for climate change adaptation and mitigation projects,” said, John Kioli, chair of the Kenya Climate Change Working Group (KCCWG).

Evidence of climate change in Kenya is based on statistical analysis of trends in historical records of temperature, rainfall, sea level rise, mountain glacier coverage, and climate extremes.

Temperature and rainfall records from the Kenya Meteorological Department over the last 50 years provide clear evidence of climate change in Kenya, with temperatures generally showing increasing trends in many parts of the country starting from the early 1960s. This has also been confirmed by data in the State of the Environment reports published by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).

As a result, the country now experiences prolonged droughts, unreliable rainfall patterns, floods, landslides and many more effects of climate change, which experts say will worsen with time.

Furthermore, 83 percent of Kenya’s landmass is either arid or semi-arid, making the country even more vulnerable to climate change, whose impacts cut across diverse aspects of society, economy, health and the environment.

“We seek to embrace climate-friendly food production systems such as use of greenhouses, we need to minimise post-harvest losses and food wastages, and we need to adapt to new climate friendly technologies,” said Ottichilo. “All these will work very well for us once we have a supporting legal environment.”

Edited by Phil Harris

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Obama Walks Fine Line in Kenya on LGBTI Rights Sat, 25 Jul 2015 19:42:09 +0000 Aruna Dutt Presidents Barack Obama and Uhuru Kenyatta wave to delegates at the Opening Plenary at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, in Nairobi, Kenya on July 25, 2015. Credit: U.S. Embassy Nairobi

Presidents Barack Obama and Uhuru Kenyatta wave to delegates at the Opening Plenary at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, in Nairobi, Kenya on July 25, 2015. Credit: U.S. Embassy Nairobi

By Aruna Dutt

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke in Nairobi at the end of a two-day visit Saturday, focusing on Kenya’s economy and the fight against terrorism, but also briefly touching on gay rights and discrimination.

“When you start treating people differently not because of any harm they are doing to anybody, but because they are different, that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode, and bad things happen,” Obama said at a joint press conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta."You can't encourage change by staying silent." -- Charles Radcliffe

But LGBTI Kenyans are not in agreement about whether Obama’s presence will help or hurt their struggle, according to the Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Jessica Stern.

“The difference of views is a sign of the strength and diversity of the Kenyan LGBTI movement, but there’s no question that this is a potential minefield, and ultimately, those who stand to get hurt most are regular Kenyans,” she told IPS.

Some have argued that the U.S. president speaking out on LGBTQ human rights in Kenya was counterproductive in the past, and has made the people of Kenya, where same-sex relations are punishable by up to 14 years in prison, more homophobic and unsupportive of the LGBTQ community.

Anti-gay organisations like the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum claim that they gained more support due to President Obama’s comments in 2013, along with some American policies, likely because the protection of LGBTQ communities is widely viewed as an American value being imposed on African society.

After Obama’s comments Saturday, President Kenyatta stated that in Kenya, it is “very difficult to impose” gay rights because the culture is different from the United States, and the societies do not accept it – which makes it a “non-issue” to the government of Kenya.

“There’s been a deliberate attempt to portray homosexuality as a Western import, which it isn’t,” the U.N. adviser on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, Charles Radcliffe, told IPS. “The only Western imports in this context are the homophobic laws used to punish and silence gay people,” these laws mostly originating from 19th century British colonialism.

By speaking on LGBTQ human rights abuses, Obama is “imposing human values, not Western ones,” says Radcliffe. “It’s possible to respect tradition, while at the same time insisting that everyone — gay people included — deserve to be protected from prejudice, violence, and unfair punishment and discrimination.”

Radcliffe said he believes Obama and other leaders should speak out, as it will “open people’s eyes to the existence of gay Kenyans and the legitimacy of their claim to respect and recognition.”

Radcliffe advises prominent individuals to take their lead from members of the local LGBT community – who are best placed to advise on what interventions are likely to help, and which ones risk making things more difficult.

“LGBT activists are too often isolated in their own countries; they need the support of fellow human rights activists, women’s rights activists and others campaigning for social justice. Public opinion tends to change when individual members of the public get to know LGBT individuals and realise they are people too. The government should hasten that process, not obstruct it. ”

Radcliffe notes that “you can’t encourage change by staying silent.”

According to Stern, “LGBTI Kenyans have been fighting their own heroic struggle for years, but the extremists have seized upon this opportunity to undermine their credibility as Kenyans.  All Kenyans, gay and straight, lose when there’s this kind of media spin doctoring.”

Stern urged leaders like Obama and the media not to undermine an opportunity to address a spectrum of human rights abuses Kenyans are living with. Instead, she says there should be a focus on concerns which are being left by the wayside, such as the lack of police accountability, abuse by government security forces, abuse of Somali and Muslim communities, and a crackdown on NGOs, among many others.

“If the mechanisms for government accountability are weak, human rights of all stripes will suffer,” says Stern. “Kenyan activists of all stripes, including those working on LGBTI rights, are protesting corruption in government.  They’ve continued calling for accountability for violence in 2007/2008 after elections.

“They’re defending people who’ve been arbitrarily arrested and charged, such as two men in Kwale County being tried under the ‘unnatural offenses law’. They’ve documented hundreds of extrajudicial killings by police in recent years, and they’ve called for police guilty of violence and theft to be disciplined and prosecuted.”

According to Human Rights Watch, Kenya continues to be plagued by corruption at all levels of government with limited accountability.

For example, although both presidents Kenyatta and Ruto campaigned for elected office on pledges to continue their cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has charged both presidents with crimes against humanity in the past, their campaigns later painted the ICC as a tool of Western imperialism, and encouraged other African leaders to undermine the ICC.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Africa Advised to Take DIY Approach to Climate Resilience Thu, 23 Jul 2015 11:14:19 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz Carcases of dead sheep and goats stretch across the landscape following drought in Somaliland in 2011, one of the climate impacts that experts say should be actively tackled by African countries themselves without passively relying on international assistance. Photo credit: Oxfam East Africa/CC by 2.0

Carcases of dead sheep and goats stretch across the landscape following drought in Somaliland in 2011, one of the climate impacts that experts say should be actively tackled by African countries themselves without passively relying on international assistance. Photo credit: Oxfam East Africa/CC by 2.0

By Fabiola Ortiz
PARIS, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

African countries would do well to take their own lead in finding ways to better adapt to and mitigate the changes that climate may impose on future  generations instead of relying only on foreign aid.

This was one of the messages that rang out during the international scientific conference on ‘Our Common Future under Climate Change’ held earlier this month in Paris, six months before the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21), also to be held in Paris, that is supposed to pave the way for a global agreement to keep the rise in the Earth’s temperature under 2°C.African countries would do well to take their own lead in finding ways to better adapt to and mitigate the changes that climate may impose on future generations instead of relying only on foreign aid

Africa is already feeling climate change effects on a daily basis, according to Penny Urquhart from South Africa, an independent specialist and one of the lead authors of the 5th Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Projections suggest that temperature rise on the continent will likely exceed 2°C by 2100 with land temperatures rising faster than the global land average. Scientific assessments agree that Africa will also face more climate changes in the future, with extreme weather events increasing in terms of frequency, intensity and duration.

“Most sub-Saharan countries have high levels of climate vulnerability,” Urquhart told IPS. “Over the years, people became good at adapting to those changes but what we are seeing is increasing risks associated with climate change as this becomes more and more pressing.”

Although data monitoring systems are still poor and sparse over the region, “we do know there is an increase in temperature,” she added, warning that if the global average temperature increases by 2°C by the end of the century, this will be experienced as if it had increased by 4°C in Southern Africa, stated Urquhart.

According to the South African expert, vulnerability to climate variation is very context-specific and depends on people’s exposure to the impacts, so it is hard to estimate the number of people affected by global warming on the continent.

However, IPCC says that of the estimated 800 million people who live in Africa, more than 300 million survive in conditions of water scarcity, and the numbers of people at risk of increased water stress on the continent is projected to be 350-600 million by 2050.

In some areas, noted Urquhart, it is not easy to predict what is happening with the rainfall. “In the Horn of Africa region the observations seem to be showing decreasing rainfall but models are projecting increasing rainfall.”

There have been extreme weather events along the Western coast of the continent, while Mozambique has seen an increase in cyclones that lead to flooding. “Those are the sum of trends that we are seeing,” Urquhart, “drying mostly along the West and increase precipitations in the East of Africa”.

For Edith Ofwona, senior programme specialist of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), one of the sectors most vulnerable to climate variation in Africa is agriculture – the backbone of most African economies – and this could have direct negative impacts on food security.

“The biggest challenge,” she said, “is how to work with communities not only to cope with short-term impacts but actually to be able to adapt and be resilient over time. We should come up with practical solutions that are affordable and built on the knowledge that communities have.”

Experts agree that any measure to address climate change should be responsive to social needs, particularly where severe weather events risk uprooting communities from their homelands by leaving families with no option but to migrate in search of better opportunities.

This new phenomenon has created what it is starting to be called “climate migrants”, said Ofwona.

Climate change could also exacerbate social conflicts that are aggravated by other drivers such as competition over resources and land degradation. According to the IDRC expert, “you need to consider the multi-stress nature of poverty on people’s livelihoods … and while richer people may be able to adapt, poor people will struggle.”

Ofwona said that the key is to combine scientific evidence with what communities themselves know, and make it affordable and sustainable. “It is important to link science to society and make it practical to be able to change lives and deal with the challenges people face, especially in addressing food security requirements.”

Meanwhile, she added, consciousness in Africa of the impacts of climate change is “fairly high” – some countries have already defined their own climate policies and strategies, and others have green growth strategies with low carbon and sustainable development.

Stressing the critical role that African nations themselves play in terms of creating the right environmental policy, Ofwona said that they should be protagonists in dealing with climate impacts and not only passive in receiving international help.

African governments should provide some of the funding that will be needed to implement adaptation and mitigation projects and while “we can also source internationally, to some extent we need to contribute with our own money. While the consciousness is high, the extent of the commitment is not equally high.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Obama Offers Help to Track Billions in Stolen Nigerian Assets Wed, 22 Jul 2015 22:38:07 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent By a Global Information Network correspondent
WASHINGTON, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

With a dangerous insurgency spreading within his borders, the visit to Washington this week by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was certainly going to touch on increased military support against Boko Haram.

But it also encompassed a discussion of stolen assets – namely billions of dollars siphoned away by bankers, ministers, and in some cases newly-minted millionaires.

According to the new president, about 150 billion dollars has been stolen in the past decade and held in foreign bank accounts by former corrupt officials. It could have been used on education and healthcare, among other spheres of national life, he said.

Adetolunbo Mumuni, director of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), praised the agenda: “We welcome the commitment by President Obama to assist the Buhari government in tracking down billions of dollars stolen from the country. However, greater efforts are required by the Obama government to follow through its commitment if it is to secure a measure of justice for Nigerian victims of corruption and money laundering.”

The Nigeria-based organisation asked President Obama to “establish a Presidential Advisory Committee and facilitate a Congressional Hearing on stolen assets from Nigeria. These initiatives would be tremendously important in bringing renewed attention to repatriation of stolen assets to Nigeria.”

“Corruption, money laundering and systematic violations of human rights go hand in hand and that is why President Obama should do everything within his power to get to the bottom of the stolen assets from Nigeria kept in the US,” the group said.

According to SERAP, “Recovering stolen assets from the US is a lingering issue that requires justice and fairness especially given the complicity of US banks and other institutions in corruption and money laundering in Nigeria, and the fact that stolen assets have contributed to the growth of US economy. “

Johnnie Carson, a former assistant secretary of state, concurred in the view that Washington should not let security issues overshadow the need for closer trade and investment ties.

“Nigeria is the most important country in Africa,” said Carson, currently an adviser to the U.S. Institute of Peace. Now more than ever, “the relationship with Nigeria should not rest essentially on a security and military-to-military relationship,” he said.

Still, to demonstrate his resolve at purging incompetence in the military, President Buhari last week dismissed his entire military top brass, even as militants launched deadly attacks in Nigeria’s remote northeast and in Cameroon.

This was discussed at a breakfast meeting Monday with Vice President Joe Biden where they compared notes on the terror war. “Victory cannot come from the military option alone,” Biden told the Nigerian leader.

After the high-level meetings with Obama and Biden, Buhari is scheduled to meet with World Bank executives, members of the U.S. Congress and West African diplomats. He is also scheduled to hold a town hall meeting with Nigerians in the DC area.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Goats Take the Bite Out of Climate Change in Zimbabwe Wed, 22 Jul 2015 09:11:34 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo Many Zimbabweans are turning to raising small livestock like goats which survive dry conditions to avert climate change impacts that have claimed their cattle over the years. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Many Zimbabweans are turning to raising small livestock like goats which survive dry conditions to avert climate change impacts that have claimed their cattle over the years. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

With unusually hot and dry weather beating down on this Southern African nation, climate change and the accompanying drought have cost farmers much of their cattle herds. In response, many ranchers are turning to goats to preserve their livestock assets.

Climate change experts agree that breeding drought-tolerant animals like goats, which survive on shrubs and need less manpower to tend, is a better choice than high-maintenance cattle.

This is happening at a time the United Nations is urging nations the world over to take urgent action to combat climate change and manage its impact as part of the United Nations’ new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs are a universal set of 17 goals, targets and indicators that U.N. member states are expected to use as development benchmarks in framing their agendas and political policies over the next 15 years.“With rainfall patterns fluctuating in Zimbabwe, rearing cattle is becoming unsustainable. But breeding goats, which are drought-tolerant, can be much more rewarding” – Happison Chikova, an independent Zimbabwean environment and climate change expert

“With rainfall patterns fluctuating in Zimbabwe, rearing cattle is becoming unsustainable.  But breeding goats, which are drought-tolerant, can be much more rewarding,” Happison Chikova, an independent environment and climate change expert, who holds a degree in geography and environmental studies from Zimbabwe’s Midlands State University, told IPS.

“Plans are imminent to boost production of goats in Zimbabwe’s dry regions where small livestock like goats thrive and we have identified meat export markets in countries like South Africa, Tanzania, Nigeria and the Middle East, where goat meat is a delicacy,” Chrispen Kadiramwando,  president of the Goat Breeders Association of Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Official statistics from the country’s Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises and Cooperative Development show that there are approximately 136,000 goat breeders countrywide, ranging from ordinary communal goat breeders to peri-urban goat breeders.

Livias Ncube, from the country’s Region 5, the hottest part of the country in Mwenezi district, is one of the Zimbabweans who have shifted to goat-breeding, raising and selling.

“There are hardly adequate rains in this part of the country, which is the driest area here in Zimbabwe, but I don’t use any stock feeds to nourish my goats as they adapt to the conditions, and they are even fatter,” Ncube told IPS.

Besides selling the goats locally, Ncube told IPS that he has now become an exporter of goat meat to neighbouring countries like South Africa and Mozambique.

“Although I maintain a sizeable herd of cattle after a series of droughts here which killed many cows, I now have a flock of 130 goats and I’m also earning money through selling these goats,” Ncube told IPS.

Ncube said he earns an estimated 1600 dollars each month through goat selling, with each goat trading at around 70 dollars.  His goats multiply at a faster pace than cows in spite of the dry conditions in this region.

Through the Zimbabwe Livestock for Accelerated Recovery and Improved Resiliency (ZRR) programme, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Ncube learned how to manage and market his goats to improve their livelihoods.

ZRR is a programme that provides farmers with training in goat husbandry and health management, and trains community livestock workers on preventative and curative animal health techniques.

According to a research paper by the Matobo Research station on goat breeding and development activities in Zimbabwe, there are already more than two million goats in Zimbabwe, with nearly all goats (about 98 percent) reared in communal areas.

However, agricultural experts fear that indigenous goat breeders are not realising the monetary value vested in their small livestock.

“Thousands of farmers are into goat breeding here, but few have been able to ascertain the value in their animals due to lack of adequate information flow between the goat producers and the market, resulting in rural farmers ending up engaging in barter trade thereby stifling the commercialisation of goats,” Leonard Vazungu, a government agricultural extension officer, told IPS.

At the beginning of this year, the Zimbabwean government distributed 10,000 goats for breeding stock and aims to increase the number to 44 million by 2018.

This comes at a time when this Southern African nation’s cattle population has declined from 6.8 million in 2000 to the current 5.2 million.

“Investing in small livestock like goats, which have higher chances of survival in drought-prone areas, cautions the country against livestock loss,” Barnabas Mawire, country director for Environment Africa, told journalists a climate change workshop held this month in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.

But this may not be easy without a national climate change policy.

Earlier this year, citing Zimbabwe’s growing climate change effects, non-constituency parliamentarian Annastancia Ndlovu pushed a motion for the formulation of a national climate change policy in the National Assembly.

Ndlovu is chairperson of Zimbabwe’s Environment, Water, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Parliamentary Portfolio Committee.

For Zimbabwe, financial shortfalls have not made the war against climate change any easier.

“The drop in government funding for climate change means we must work with other partners to move the climate change agenda forward and we are currently developing the national climate policy – the country’s first for which we need as many resources as we can get,” Veronica Gundu, principal environment officer for Zimbabwe’s Environment, Water and Climate ministry, told IPS.

However, with or without the national climate change policy, many Zimbabwean goat breeders like Ncube say they have moved single-handedly to address climate change impacts.

“We have moved on with our lives in the face of deepening climate change impacts and through goat breeding.  For us life goes on although climate change effects have claimed most of our cattle,” said Ncube.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: A BRICS Bank to Challenge the Bretton Woods System? Wed, 22 Jul 2015 08:12:45 +0000 Daya Thussu

Daya Thussu is Professor of International Communication at the University of Westminster in London.

By Daya Thussu
LONDON, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

The formal opening of the BRICS Bank in Shanghai on Jul. 21 following the seventh summit of the world’s five leading emerging economies held recently in the Russian city of Ufa, demonstrates the speed with which an alternative global financial architecture is emerging.

The idea of a development-oriented international bank was first floated by India at the 2012 BRICS summit in New Delhi but it is China’s financial muscle which has turned this idea into a reality.

Daya Thussu

Daya Thussu

The New Development Bank (NDB), as it is formally called, is to use its 50 billion dollar initial capital to fund infrastructure and developmental projects within the five BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – though it is also likely to support developmental projects in other countries.

According to the 43-page Ufa Declaration, “the NDB shall serve as a powerful instrument for financing infrastructure investment and sustainable development projects in the BRICS and other developing countries and emerging market economies and for enhancing economic cooperation between our countries.”

The NDB is led by Kundapur Vaman Kamath, formerly of Infosys, India’s IT giant, and of ICICI Bank, India’s largest private sector bank. A respected banker, Kamath reportedly said during the launch that “our objective is not to challenge the existing system as it is but to improve and complement the system in our own way.”

The launch of the NDB marks the first tangible institution developed by the BRICS group – set up in 2006 as a major non-Western bloc – whose leaders have been meeting annually since 2009. BRICS countries together constitute 44 percent of the world population, contributing 40 percent to global GDP and 18 percent to world trade.“Our objective is not to challenge the existing system as it is but to improve and complement the system in our own way” – Kundapur Vaman Kamath, head of the New Development Bank (NDB)

In keeping with the summit’s theme of ‘BRICS partnership: A powerful factor for global development’, the setting up of a developmental bank was an important outcome, hailed as a “milestone blueprint for cooperation” by a commentator in The China Daily.

The Chinese imprint on the NDB is unmistakable. The Ufa Declaration is clear about the close connection between the NDB and the newly-created Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), also largely funded by China. It welcomed the proposal for the New Development Bank to “cooperate closely with existing and new financing mechanisms including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.” China is also keen to set up a regional centre of the NDB in South Africa.

If economic cooperation remained the central plank of the Ufa summit, there is also a clear geopolitical agenda.

The Global Times, China’s more nationalistic international voice, pointed out that the establishment of the NDB and the AIIB will “break the monopoly position of the International Money Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) and motivate [them] to function more normatively, democratically, and efficiently, in order to promote reform of the international financial system as well as democratisation of international relations.”

The reality of global finance is such that any alternative financial institution has to function in a system that continues to be shaped by the West and its formidable domination of global financial markets, information networks and intellectual leadership.

However, China, with its nearly four trillion dollars in foreign currency reserves, is well-placed to attempt this, in conjunction with the other BRICS countries. China today is the largest exporting nation in the world, and is constantly looking for new avenues for expanding and consolidating its trade relations across the globe.

China is also central to the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a Eurasian political, economic and security grouping whose annual meeting coincided with the seventh BRICS summit. Founded in 2001 and comprising China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the SCO has agreed to admit India and Pakistan as full members.

Though the BRICS summit and the SCO meeting went largely unnoticed by the international media – preoccupied as they were with the Iranian nuclear negotiations and the ongoing Greek economic crisis – the economic and geopolitical implications of the two meetings are likely to continue for some time to come.

For host Russia, which also convened the first BRICS summit in 2009, the Ufa meeting was held against the background of Western sanctions, continuing conflict in Ukraine and expulsion from the G8. Partly as a reaction to this, camaraderie between Moscow and Beijing is noticeable – having signed a 30-year oil and gas deal worth 400 billion dollars in 2014.

Beijing and Moscow see economic convergence in trade and financial activities, for example, between China’s Silk Road Economic Belt initiative for Central Asia and Russia’s recent endeavours to strengthen the Eurasian Economic Union. The expansion of the SCO should be seen against this backdrop. Moscow has also proposed setting up SCO TV to broadcast economic and financial information and commentary on activities in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

Whatever the outcome, it is clear that a new international developmental agenda is being created, backed by powerful nations, and to the virtual exclusion of the West.

China is the driving force behind this. Despite its one-party system which limits political pluralism and thwarts debate, China has been able to transform itself from a largely agricultural self-sufficient society to the world’s largest consumer market, without any major social or economic upheavals.

China’s success story has many admirers, especially in other developing countries, prompting talk of replacing the ‘Washington consensus’ with what has been described as the ‘Beijing consensus’. The BRICS bank, it would seem, is a small step in that direction.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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Ex-Leader of Chad Faces African-Led Court After Years on the Run Tue, 21 Jul 2015 14:46:27 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent A scene from the mission of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) to Chad to inquire into crimes committed by the regime of Hissène Habré in 2001. Credit: FIDH/cc by 2.0

A scene from the mission of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) to Chad to inquire into crimes committed by the regime of Hissène Habré in 2001. Credit: FIDH/cc by 2.0

By a Global Information Network correspondent
DAKAR, Jul 21 2015 (IPS)

After years awaiting justice by a court of law, Chadian citizens packed the Palais de Justice in Dakar, Senegal, to catch a glimpse of Hissene Habre, president of the central African nation from 1982-1990 during which time his iron fist rule took between 1,200 and 40,000 lives, according to evidence compiled by Chadian and international rights groups.

Members of victims’ groups, whose efforts to bring Habre to court spanned over two decades, now strained to view this now slight figure dressed in white robes and a traditional white turban to cover most of his face.

The 72-year-old former strongman appeared unrepentant. As the proceedings began, he shouted “Down with imperialism! [The trial] is a farce by rotten Senegalese politicians. African traitors. Valet of America,” setting off a struggle between his supporters and alleged victims. At least half a dozen guards rushed to remove him. A small group of supporters was also removed.

When Mr. Habre refused to return to the courtroom, presiding judge Gberdao Gustave Kam warned he would be forced to attend on Tuesday. Over 100 victims are due to testify at the trial.

“We want to show the Chadian people, and why not all Africans, that no, you cannot govern in terror and criminality,” Souleyman Guengueng, 66, a former accountant who spent more than two years in Habre’s prison, said to Diadie Ba, a Reuters journalist.

“After 25 years, to see him again – it was a very emotional experience,” said Clément Abaifouta, president of the Association of Victims of the Crimes of Hissène Habré, who claims he was forced to dig graves for many of his fellow inmates. “But now I see that I am in the sun and he is in the shade. For us, the victims, this has been an important occasion.“

The tribunal is supported by the African Union but is part of Senegal’s justice system, making it the first time in modern history that one country’s domestic courts have prosecuted the former leader of another country on rights charges.

A successful trial would also make the case that African countries could try their own, rather than have the Western-led International Criminal Court (ICC) be the venue for trials of Africans.

The case against Habre turns on whether he personally ordered the killing and torture of political opponents and ethnic rivals. In 1992, the Chadian Truth Commission accused Habré’s government of up to 40,000 political murders, mostly by his intelligence police, the Documentation and Security Directorate. (DDS)

Human Rights Watch in 2001 unearthed thousands of documents in the abandoned DDS headquarters updating Habre on the status of detainees. A court handwriting expert concluded that margin notes on one document were Habre’s.

“Rarely do we find so much evidence of crimes,” said Reed Brody of HRW. “And these match the testimonies of the victims, day for day, word for word.”

“This is the end of a nightmare,” said Jacqueline Moudeina, the lead lawyer for the victims. “The fact that he is here and listens to victims speak of all the atrocities they suffered is already a great victory.”

Habré denies being responsible for hundreds of deaths.

The trial is expected to last several months.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Somali-Based Pirates Down But Not Out Mon, 20 Jul 2015 21:30:59 +0000 Nora Happel Exercise Milan 2014 for 17 navies of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, organised by Indian Navy, at the Andaman and Nicobar Command of the Indian Armed Forces. Credit: Indian Navy

Exercise Milan 2014 for 17 navies of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, organised by Indian Navy, at the Andaman and Nicobar Command of the Indian Armed Forces. Credit: Indian Navy

By Nora Happel

While the economic cost of Somali piracy has fallen and considerable progress has been made in deterring pirate operations, the latest attacks on Iranian fishing vessels by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean may be another signal that it is too early to cut back international counter-piracy efforts, according to a new report.

The report by Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP), titled “State of Maritime Piracy 2014”, underscores that due to restrictive reporting criteria, small-scale attacks on dhows and vessels are not always included in official piracy records."We still haven’t addressed the root causes of piracy. There are still ungoverned spaces on the coastline. There is still unemployed youth that might be attracted to piracy.” -- Jon Huggins

“[This] may hide a development that the reduced cost is masking – namely that Somali pirates still possess the means and capability – and are waiting for opportunities to strike,” it says.

Conditions conducive to the development of piracy in the first place, such as illegal fishing, poverty, political instability and a lack of economic opportunities, have not been properly addressed yet, according to the analysis.

As reported by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a specialised division of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the number of pirate attacks has been steadily decreasing since Somali piracy peaked with 237 attacks in 2011. While the IMB had reported a total number of 75 attacks in 2012 and only 15 attacks in 2013, the number has fallen further to 12 attacks in 2014.

Even though the actual numbers of attacks, including on dhows and foreign fishing vessels, might be higher, a significant decline in piracy over the course of the past four to five years cannot be denied.

This is due to a variety of factors. Speaking to IPS, Oceans Beyond Piracy Program Director Jon Huggins highlighted in particular the efforts of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS), which have allowed practical solutions to be developed.

Created in January 2009 pursuant to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1851, the CGPCS is an ad hoc international forum bringing together countries, organisations and industry groups to provide support to international counter-piracy efforts in Somalia.

As explained in a report by the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) dedicated to lessons learnt from the CGPCS, the CGPCS is a highly unconventional if not unique international governance mechanism due to its open architecture, informality and malleable structure. It was established outside the U.N. system to “ensure that it was as inclusive, apolitical, issue-driven, result-focused, efficient and flexible as possible.”

“The setting up of the Contact Group reveals the limits of existing security institutions in tackling non-traditional threats which are neither state-based nor of a strictly military nature and that therefore require new forms of policy response.”

Commenting on the practical solutions supported by the Contact Group, Jon Huggins identified a combination of four main mechanisms that were required to suppress piracy. He stressed that each of these mechanisms acting alone would not have proven successful.

Thus, as outlined by Huggins, one major reason for the decline in piracy was the military counter-piracy operations carried out by the international community, especially EU NAVFOR ATALANTA, beginning in 2008, and NATO Operation Ocean Shield, beginning in 2009.

However, as incidents of piracy kept going up, these operations were complemented by wide-ranging protection and self-defence measures and improved watch and awareness procedures adopted by the shipping industry. As recorded in the Economic Cost of Piracy report by OBP, these measures amounted to approximately five billion dollars in 2012, which represented around 85 percent of the total amount the international community spent on fighting piracy.

The measures adopted were part of a broader industry-generated mechanism named the “Best Management Practices (BMP) for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy.”

Another major reason for the decrease in piracy, according to Huggins, was the “private maritime security” who enacted standards and procedures for the use of force by Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP) in the maritime domain.

A fourth factor was the steady enforcement of the rule of law through an expanded prison system, including regional prosecution centres in the Seychelles and Kenya and four new prisons in Somalia built under the UNODC Maritime Crime Programme (MCP).

Two weeks ago, the CGPCS convened for its 18th annual session at the United Nations in New York. Participants commended the immense progress over the course of the past four to five years as evidenced by the decline in pirate attacks, but also stressed the need for continued engagement as piracy networks remain intact and 26 persons are still being held hostage by Somali pirates.

“Piracy has been contained but not eradicated,” Maciej Popowski, Deputy Secretary General for the External Action Service (EAS), said at a U.N. press briefing on the CGPCS 18th plenary meeting.

Therefore, he said, a major goal of the CGPCS gathering was to “look beyond the piracy itself” and deal with a whole range of important topics related to maritime security, such as illegal fishing, migration and smuggling of human beings.

Major economic, political and societal challenges persist in Somalia that might cause setbacks or provide a favourable breeding ground for piracy in the future. According to Jon Huggins, it is vital for the international community to “maintain a minimal effort to keep the suppression going” even though this might involve major financial expenses.

“At the height of piracy in Somalia in 2010, the international community spent seven billion dollars on counter-piracy measures. Last year we calculated 2.3 billion. This is the minimum that is required in order to stay – because we still haven’t addressed the root causes of piracy. There are still ungoverned spaces on the coast line. There is still unemployed youth that might be attracted to piracy.”

According to the United Nations Development Programme in Somalia (UNDP Somalia), 67 percent of Somalis aged 14-29 are unemployed. This is particularly worrisome given that over 70 percent of Somalia’s population is under the age of 30. The school enrolment rate is 42 percent, of which only a third are girls.

Hence, extreme poverty and a lack of prospects for the future for the large majority of Somalis constitute persisting security challenges in the country in addition to the unstable political situation and weak governance structures.

Moreover, there are fears of new threats emerging as a result of the enmeshment of pirate groups with jihadist networks. As reported by Foreign Policy, young Somali pirates in Hargeisa and Bosaso are detained in the same prisons as members of the al-Shabab militant group.

“That means there’s a very real risk that impressionable, disillusioned young men could be radicalised,” it warned.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Mandela Day – Where Do We Stand Today? Sat, 18 Jul 2015 08:21:13 +0000 Tamira Gunzburg

Tamira Gunzburg is Brussels Director of ONE Campaign

By Tamira Gunzberg
BRUSSELS, Jul 18 2015 (IPS)

Today Jul. 18 is Mandela Day, the annual international day in honour of the late Nelson Mandela, the first democratically-elected President of the Republic of South Africa.

The day was instated by the United Nations after Nelson Mandela made a call for the next generation to take on the burden of leadership in addressing the world’s social injustices. Mandela said, “It is in your hands now”.

Courtesy of Tamira Gunzburg

Tamira Gunzburg

Today, then, is a moment to reflect on whether we are indeed rising to that occasion. One of the scourges of humanity today, in Mandela’s own words, is poverty. And 2015 is a year rife with opportunities to make historic strides in the fight against extreme poverty. Halfway through the year, what have our leaders made of this potential?

Many of them will have just arrived home from an international summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this week. The summit was meant to land an international agreement on how to finance development going forward. Against difficult odds, world leaders indeed signed up to an agreement that could start to reshape how developing countries are supported in their progress towards growth and prosperity.

But over the months of negotiation preceding the summit, some key areas were watered down. For example, one measure to curb illicit financial flows, involving the public disclosure of multinational companies’ tax reports, was weakened.

A proposed commitment to prioritise the poorest countries by directing half of development assistance there suffered the same fate.

The result is a final agreement that, as it stands, is not ambitious enough to be able to successfully end extreme poverty.“Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings” – Nelson Mandela, Trafalgar Square, 3 February 2005

Mandela Day is perfectly timed because his legacy reminds us that now is not the time to give up. Indeed, in just two months’ time, another historic opportunity will be within reach.

At the U.N. General Assembly in New York, world leaders will come together once again, this time to adopt a new set of Global Goals that will shape the future of our planet and its people.

The previous set of anti-poverty goals, the Millennium Development Goals, set in 2000 and due to expire this year, indeed played a critical role in drastically bringing down global average levels of hunger, child mortality, and extreme poverty.

But this time around, the Global Goals are all about finishing the job. In order to reach the very last person at the end of the very last mile, leaders will have to put the most vulnerable at the centre of their efforts from the get-go.

When this new blueprint is unveiled in September, we expect leaders to underpin the goals and objectives with the means and actions needed to actually achieve them by the 2030 deadline.

It would be the perfect opportunity for big donors like the European Union to prioritise the poorest countries by announcing they will direct half of their development aid to the least developed countries.

There are plenty more ways in which individual countries can step up and guarantee that the Global Goals are launched with the best chances of succeeding. I, for one, am optimistic about the prospects of that happening.

Part of that optimism I derive from my South African heritage. My mother, who grew up in South Africa under the cloud of apartheid, always tells me that she grew up convinced the world as she knew it would never change. And then one day it did.

We have Nelson Mandela to thank for that. But also many others who believed that a better world was possible, and who worked tirelessly to change the status quo.

In the year 2015, our generation faces formidable challenges of its own, but looking back at incredible transformations like South Africa’s shows that anything is possible.

In the last twenty years, we already halved the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty, and virtually eliminating it by 2030 is entirely possible if our leaders get it right.

There is no better day than today to contemplate the role each and every one of us can play in making sure we do not fail on that count.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Opinion: Homosexuality Will Never Be Eliminated. How About Eliminating Homophobia? Fri, 17 Jul 2015 19:34:22 +0000 Neela Ghoshal A Ugandan transgender woman in a town near Kampala, shortly before she fled the country. She left to escape the police harassment and violence she experienced after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. © 2014 Human Rights Watch

A Ugandan transgender woman in a town near Kampala, shortly before she fled the country. She left to escape the police harassment and violence she experienced after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. © 2014 Human Rights Watch

By Neela Ghoshal
NEW YORK, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

A report published in June by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), in collaboration with the Uganda National Academy of Sciences, could help reshape understandings of human sexuality – if African policymakers take the time to consider the report’s findings.

Contrary to widespread belief amongst African lawmakers and ordinary citizens, homosexuality is neither a Western import nor a matter of choice. These are some of the findings the panel of African scientists revealed after reviewing hundreds of studies on same-sex attraction.Same-sex relationships and diverse gender identities exist even where laws are most repressive, and levels of stigma are highest. Criminalising LGBT identities or same-sex conduct simply won’t make LGBT people disappear.

But some African politicians seem too busy fomenting panic around homosexuality to pay attention to the facts, by, for example, spreading false claims that U.S. President Barack Obama is pushing same-sex marriage on Kenya and Nigeria.

Desperate to distract voters from real, unresolved problems, such as poverty, insecurity and corruption, many African politicians like to raise the specter of homosexuality as a mortal danger. In the name of protecting society, “traditional values,” or children, they pass deeply discriminatory laws.

Nigeria, under former president Goodluck Jonathan, slapped 10-year prison sentences on anyone who even “indirectly” demonstrates a “same sex amorous relationship.” In Uganda, before its Anti-Homosexuality Act was struck down on procedural grounds last year, a landlord who didn’t evict a gay or lesbian tenant could have been convicted for maintaining a “brothel.”

For the proponents of these laws, Obama is the latest bogeyman, with one Kenyan politician suggesting that if Obama so much as mentions the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people during his upcoming visit to Kenya, this might tear Kenya’s “social fabric.”

But the panel of well-respected African scientists roundly dismissed claims that homosexuality is imported, finding the prevalence of homosexuality in African countries “no different from other countries in the rest of the world”.

The panel concurred with a previous a finding by Ugandan scientists that “homosexuality existed in Africa way before the coming of the white man.” When these Ugandan scientists presented their report to President Yoweri Museveni in early 2014, he shamelessly ignored their conclusions, claiming their report justified the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The recent report notes that same-sex relationships and diverse gender identities exist even where laws are most repressive, and levels of stigma are highest. Criminalising LGBT identities or same-sex conduct simply won’t make LGBT people disappear.

Likewise, an approach to sexuality and gender that is in line with international human rights law will not open the floodgates to waves of Africans “converting” to homosexuality. Indeed, countries like the Netherlands and Sweden, known to be particularly open to sexual diversity, have no higher rates of homosexuality than any other countries in the world.

The scientists find that “… studies such as this show that young people can be friends with LBGTI youngsters without fearing (or their parents fearing) that they will ‘catch’ same-sex attraction from their friends. Such ‘transmission’ of sexual orientation simply does not happen.”

Nor should policymakers worry that LGBT people are a threat to children. The fear that gays are recruiting and abusing children is often offered to justify cracking down on homosexuality. However, the panel found “no scientific evidence to support the view” that LGBT people are more likely to abuse children than anyone else.

Instead, the panel, having examined studies of child sexual abuse, concluded that “most of the perpetrators are heterosexual men.” Rather than scapegoating homosexuals, the report suggests, governments should identify and hold accountable the real child abusers.

When given an opportunity to speak for themselves, LGBT people often emphasise that they were aware of their sexual or gender identity from an early age. Similarly, heterosexual people often develop romantic feelings toward the opposite sex from early childhood—they don’t “choose” those feelings, nor can they change them.

In examining the scientific literature, the panel says that, “Overall, the surge in recent confirmatory studies,” including those of twins and of similarities in chromosomes across a population group with a particular trait, “have reached the stage where there is no longer any doubt about the existence of a substantial biological basis to sexual orientation.”

If sexuality has a biological basis, the scientists ask – and if there is no evidence that LGBT people “recruit” or otherwise harm children – what could possibly be the justification for punishing people for their sexual orientation or gender identity?

African policymakers should ask themselves the same. And rather than wringing their hands about a US court decision on marriage equality, or tearing their hair out over purely hypothetical comments that Obama may or may not make, they should look at the very real social harms caused by homophobia and transphobia.

The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights – which, like the South African and Ugandan scientists who produced the report, can hardly be dismissed as Western – passed a resolution in 2014 condemning widespread violence on the grounds of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

The commissioners expressed “alarm” that “acts of violence, discrimination and other human rights violations continue to be committed on individuals in many parts of Africa because of their actual or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity.” They cited “‘corrective’ rape, physical assaults, torture, murder, arbitrary arrests, detentions, extra-judicial killings and executions, forced disappearances, extortion and blackmail.”

The commission calls on African countries to end all violence and abuse on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The ASSAf report goes a step further in concluding that “As variation in sexual identities and orientations has always been part of a normal society, there can be no justification for attempts to ‘eliminate’ LGBTI from society.”

As the study shows, same sex attraction and gender variance have always existed and nothing will change that, no matter how many repressive laws are passed, how many LGBT people are raped, murdered, imprisoned, expelled from schools or evicted from their homes.

Instead of trying to “eliminate” LGBT people, why not begin taking steps to eliminate violence and discrimination against them?

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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In Search of Jobs, Cameroonian Women May End Up as Slaves in Middle East Wed, 15 Jul 2015 14:14:15 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom The lack of jobs after graduation frequently pushes Cameroonian girls into searching for work opportunities, sometimes overseas and sometimes with horrific consequences. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

The lack of jobs after graduation frequently pushes Cameroonian girls into searching for work opportunities, sometimes overseas and sometimes with horrific consequences. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

By Ngala Killian Chimtom
YAOUNDE, Jul 15 2015 (IPS)

Her lips are quavering her hands trembling. Susan (not her real name) struggles to suppress stubborn tears, but the outburst comes, spontaneously, and the tears stream down her cheeks as she sobs profusely.

The story of this 28-year-old’s servitude in Kuwait is mind-boggling. Between her sobs, she tells IPS how she left Cameroon two years ago in search of a job in Kuwait.

“I saw job opportunities advertised on billboards in town. The posters announced jobs such as nurses and housemaids in Kuwait. As a nurse and without a job in Cameroon, I decided to take the chance.”"We were herded off to a small room. There were many other girls there: Ghanaians, Nigerians and Tunisians … [then] bidders came and we were sold off like property" – Susan, a young Cameroonian women who escaped from slavery in Kuwait

With the help of an agent whose contact details she found on the billboard, Susan found herself on a plane, bound for Kuwait.

She was excited at the prospect of earning up to 250,000 CFA francs (420 dollars) a month. That is what the agent had told her, and it was a mouth-watering sum compared with the roughly 75 dollars she would have been earning in Cameroon, if she had a job.

“We work in liaison with companies in the Middle East, so that when these ladies go, they don’t start looking for jobs,” Ernest Kongnyuy, an agent in Yaounde told IPS.

But the story changed dramatically when Susan, along with 46 other Cameroonian girls, arrived in Kuwait on Nov. 8, 2013.

“We were herded off to a small room. There were many other girls there: Ghanaians, Nigerians and Tunisians,” then “bidders came and we were sold off like property.”

Susan was taken away by an Egyptian man. “I think I got a taste of hell in his house,” she says, tears streaming down her cheeks.

She would begin work at five in the morning and go to bed after midnight, very often sleeping without having eaten.

Very frequently, she tells IPS, the man tried to rape her but when she threatened to report the case to the police, she met with a wry response from her tormentor. “He told me he would pay the police to rape me and then kill me, and the case wouldn’t go anywhere.”

Cut off from all communication with the outside world, Susan says that she found solace only in God. “I prayed … I cried out to God for help,” she recalls.

Susan’s is not an isolated case. Brenda, another Cameroonian lucky enough to escape, has a similar story. She had to wash the pets of her master, which included cats and snakes.

“I was sharing the same toilet with cats … I called them my brothers, because they were the only “persons” with whom I conversed.”

Pushed to the limits, both girls told their employers that they were not ready to work any longer. Brenda says that when she insisted, she was thrown out of the house.

“At that time I was frail, I was actually dying and I didn’t know where to go.” After trekking for two days, she found the Central African Republic’s embassy and slept for two days in front of it before she was rescued.

Susan was locked in the boot of a car and taken to the agent who had brought her from the airport.

“Events moved so fast and I found myself spending one week in immigration prison and an additional three days in deportation prison,” she says.

When both girls were finally put on a flight bound for Cameroon, all their property had been seized, except for their passports and the clothes they were wearing.

The scale of the problem is troubling. According to the 2013 Walk Free Global Index of Slavery, about three-quarters of a million people are enslaved in the Middle East and North Africa.

The report indicates that for the past seven years, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have been ranked as Tier 3 countries for human trafficking and labour abuses. Tier 3 countries are those whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards in human trafficking and are not making significant efforts to do so.

Apart from Africa, people from India, Nepal, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, etc. … “migrate voluntarily for domestic work, convinced of the employment agencies’ promises of lucrative jobs,” said the report.

“Upon entering the country, they find themselves deceived and enslaved – within the bounds of a legal sponsorship system.”

Susan and Brenda are now back home, but they are suffering from the trauma of their horrible experience in Kuwait.

The Trauma Centre for Victims of Human Trafficking in Cameroon has been working to bring relief to the women. “We try to make them feel at home,” says Beatrice Titanji, National Vice-President of the Centre.

“They have been exposed to bad treatment. They have been called animals. They have been told they stink, and when they enter the car or a room, a spray is used to take away the supposed odour … I just can’t fathom seeing my child treated like that,” she told IPS.

She called on the government to investigate and prosecute the agents, create jobs and mount guard at airports to discourage Cameroonians from going to look for jobs in the Middle East.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Sixty-Five More Years Until Electricity for All in Africa – Report Tue, 14 Jul 2015 17:50:26 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent An electricity pylon in Somaliland being repaired by Edwin Mireri. Credit: IPS

An electricity pylon in Somaliland being repaired by Edwin Mireri. Credit: IPS

By a Global Information Network correspondent
CAPE TOWN, Jul 14 2015 (IPS)

Sub-Saharan Africa is still far behind in its ability to generate electricity, hampering growth and frustrating its ambitions to catch up with the rest of the world.

All of sub-Saharan Africa’s power generating capacity is less than South Korea’s, and a quarter of it is unproductive at any given moment because of the continent’s aging infrastructure. The World Bank estimates that blackouts alone cut the gross domestic products of sub-Saharan countries by 2.1 percent.

This dismaying picture was echoed in the annual report of the Africa Progress Panel, released in June. Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan heads the panel. The report foresees electricity coming to all homes and businesses in Africa – by 2080.

Graca Machel, a member of the panel and the former wife of Nelson Mandela, said she was taken aback by the prospect of a 65-year wait for electricity. The report also estimated that an investment of 55 billion dollars would be needed yearly to achieve universal access.

Presenting the report at the World Economic Forum Africa in Cape Town, titled “Power People Plant: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities,” Annan noted that some African countries are already leading the world in low-carbon climate-resilient development.

“African countries do not have to lock into high-carbon old technologies; we can expand our power generation and achieve universal access by leapfrogging into new technologies,” he said.

However, he cautioned that Africa’s energy challenge was substantial. “Over 600 million people still do not have access to modern energy. It is shocking that Sub-Saharan Africa’s electricity consumption is less than that of Spain and on current trends it will take until 2080” to catch up.

Modern energy also means clean cooking facilities that don’t pollute household air, he went on. “An estimated 600,000 Africans die each year as a result of household air pollution, half of them children under the age of five. On current trends, universal access to non-polluting cooking will not happen until the middle of the 22nd century.”

Africa has enormous potential for cleaner energy – natural gas and hydro, solar, wind and geothermal power – and should seek ways to move past the damaging energy systems that have brought the world to the brink of catastrophe.

The waste of scarce resources in Africa’s energy systems remains stark and disturbing. Current highly centralised energy systems often benefit the rich and bypass the poor and are underpowered, inefficient and unequal.

Energy-sector bottlenecks and power shortages cost the region 2-4 per cent of GDP annually, undermining sustainable economic growth, jobs and investment. They also reinforce poverty, especially for women and people in rural areas.

“It is indefensible that Africa’s poorest people are paying among the world’s highest prices for energy: a woman living in a village in northern Nigeria spends around 60 to 80 times per unit more for her energy than a resident of New York City or London,” he declared.

“Changing this is a huge investment opportunity. Millions of energy-poor, disconnected Africans, who earn less than US 2.50 a day, already constitute a US 10-billion yearly energy market.”

The panel is an advocacy group which lobbies for sustainable development in Africa and which was originally established to monitor whether the world’s leaders were meeting their commitments to Africa.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pledges for Humanitarian Aid Fall Far Short of Deliveries Mon, 13 Jul 2015 23:01:04 +0000 Thalif Deen This little boy was one of hundreds whose schooling was interrupted due to violence in India. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

This little boy was one of hundreds whose schooling was interrupted due to violence in India. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Thalif Deen

When international donors pledge millions of dollars either for post-conflict reconstruction or for humanitarian aid, deliveries are rarely on schedule: they are either late, fall far below expectations or not delivered at all.

The under-payment or non-payment of promised aid has affected mostly civilian victims, including war-ravaged women and children in military hotspots such as Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and most recently Yemen.“We found that on average, donors deliver less than half of what they pledged (47 percent). But, even that percentage might overstate the amount that actually arrives in recovering countries." -- Gregory Adams of Oxfam

But it also extends to earthquake-struck countries such as Haiti and Nepal, and at least three African countries devastated by the Ebola virus.

At an international Ebola recovery conference at the United Nations last week, the governments of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea requested more than 3.2 billion dollars in humanitarian aid to meet their recovery plan budgets. And donors readily pledged to meet the request.

But how much of this will be delivered and when?

At a question and answer press stakeout, Matthew Russell Lee, the hard-driving investigative reporter for Inner City Press (ICP), asked Helen Clark, the Administrator of U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), what steps are being taken to ensure that the announced pledges are in fact paid.

According to Lee, she said UNDP will be contacting the pledgers.

“But will they go public with the non-payers?” he asked, in his blog posting.

Lee told IPS that even amid the troubling lack of follow-through on previous pledges in Haiti, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen, “it does not seem the UNDP has in place any mechanism for reporting on compliance with the Ebola pledges” announced last week.

“If the U.N. system is going to announce such pledges, they should follow up on them,” he said.

On Yemen, he pointed out, while the Saudi-led coalition has been bombing the country, it seems strange to so profusely praise them for a (conditional) aid pledge, especially but not only one that has yet to be paid.

Gregory Adams, Director of Aid Effectiveness at Oxfam International, which has been closely monitoring aid pledges, told IPS that in advance of the Ebola Recovery Conference held last week, Oxfam looked at three past crises to see how well donors followed through on recovery pledges.

“We found that on average, donors deliver less than half of what they pledged (47 percent). But, even that percentage might overstate the amount that actually arrives in recovering countries,” he said.

For example, in Busan, South Korea in 2011, donors pledged they would be publishing timely, accessible and detailed data on where their aid is going by the end of 2015.

But many donors still don’t publish complete information; information is only available for slightly more than half of overall ODA (Official Development Assistance).

As a consequence, said Adams, once aid reaches a recovery country, it is difficult to know exactly how much actually gets where it is most needed.

This lack of transparency makes it hard for communities to participate in planning and recovery efforts, and to hold donors, governments and service providers accountable for results, he noted.

One of the most important lessons of Ebola was that response and recovery efforts must be centered on community needs and incorporate their feedback, Adams said.

“If people do not know where aid is going, they can’t plan, they can’t provide feedback, and they can’t make sure that aid is working,” he declared.

Even Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a special appeal to donors last December when he announced 10 billion dollars in pledges as initial capitalisation for the hefty 100 billion dollar Green Climate Fund (GCF).

Announcing the pledges, he called on “all countries to deliver on their pledges as soon as possible and for more governments to contribute to climate finance.”

Last April, Saudi Arabia announced a 274-million-dollar donation “for humanitarian operations in Yemen” – despite widespread accusations of civilian bombings and violations of international humanitarian law in the ongoing conflict there.

Responding to repeated questions at U.N. press briefings, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters last week: “I think it’s right now in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) phase between the Saudis and the various U.N. agencies to which the money will be allocated.  That process is ongoing.  We hope it concludes soon.  But those discussions are ongoing.”

He said a lot of the larger donors have standing MOUs with the U.N.

“Obviously, this is… I think my recollection this is probably the first time we’re doing it with Saudi Arabia, but I think it takes a little bit more time, but it makes things a lot clearer in the end.”

Asked if there was a conflict of interest given Saudi Arabia is one of the main belligerents in this conflict, Dujarric said: “I wouldn’t say conflict of interest.  We welcome the generous contributions from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and that… we welcome the fact that these contributions will be helped… used by U.N. humanitarian agencies, which are then the… but it… the agencies themselves are then free to use those resources in the way they best see fit to help the Yemeni people.”

Last March, at the third international pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria, which was hosted by Kuwait, donors pledged 3.8 billion dollars in humanitarian aid. The three major donors were: the European Commission (EC) and its member states (with a contribution of nearly one billion dollars), the United States (507 million dollars) and Kuwait (500 million dollars).

Several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities, including the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the Qatar Red Crescent Society and the Islamic Charity Organisation of Kuwait, jointly pledged about 500 million dollars.

But, so far, there has been no full accounting of the deliveries.

Oxfam’s Adams told IPS in order to make sure that the three countries affected by Ebola can help their people and communities recover, donors need to:

  • publish timely, detailed, and comprehensive information on their aid, consistent with the priorities outlined in the recovery plans of the Governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone;
  • seek to direct aid through local entities wherever possible, including national and local governments and civil society organisations;
  • support strong community engagement and the independent role of civil society in Ebola recovery, so that they can hold donors, governments and service providers accountable for results.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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New Malaria Strategy Would Double Current Funding Mon, 13 Jul 2015 19:56:55 +0000 Kitty Stapp Malaria has dreadful health consequences for HIV positive pregnant women and their babies. Sleeping under a net and taking antimalarial pills help HIV positive pregnant women have healthier babies. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Malaria has dreadful health consequences for HIV positive pregnant women and their babies. Sleeping under a net and taking antimalarial pills help HIV positive pregnant women have healthier babies. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Kitty Stapp

Although malaria is both preventable and curable, it still killed an estimated 584,000 people in 2013, the majority of them African children.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mortality rates have fallen by 47 percent globally since 2000. But in Africa, a child dies every minute from malaria.

The economic toll is also high: each year, malaria costs the African continent alone an estimated 12 billion dollars in lost productivity, and in some high-burden countries, it can account for as much as 40 percent of public health spending.

As the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD) kicked off Monday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, leaders presented a new strategic vision for malaria elimination that calls for doubling current financing by 2020.

“The new 2030 malaria goals – and the 2020 and 2025 milestones laid out in the WHO and RBM [Roll Back Malaria Partnership] strategies – are ambitious but achievable,” said Dr. Pedro Alonso, Director of the WHO’s Global Malaria Programme.

“We must accelerate progress toward malaria elimination to ensure that neither parasite resistance to drugs, mosquito resistance to insecticides, nor malaria resurgence unravels the tremendous gains to date. We can and must achieve even greater impact to protect the investment the global community has made.”

The result of worldwide expert consultation with regions, countries and affected communities, the strategy aims to reduce global malaria case incidence and deaths by 90 percent – compared to 2015 – and eliminate the disease in an additional 35 countries.

Experts at the RBM say that just over 100 billion dollars is needed to eliminate malaria by 2030, with an additional 10 billion to fund research and development of new tools, including new drugs and insecticides.

To achieve the first milestone of reducing malaria incidence and mortality rates by 40 percent, annual malaria investments will need to rise to 6.4 billion dollars by 2020.

“Reaching our 2030 global malaria goals will not only save millions of lives, it will reduce poverty and create healthier, more equitable societies,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “Ensuring the continued reduction and elimination of malaria will generate benefits for entire communities, businesses, agriculture, health systems and households.”

Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites. The parasites are spread to people through the bites of infected Anopheles mosquitoes, called “malaria vectors”, which bite mainly between dusk and dawn.

Approximately half of the world’s population is at risk of contracting malaria.

“Investing to achieve the new 2030 malaria goals will avert nearly three billion malaria cases and save over 10 million lives. If we are able to reach these targets, the world stands to generate 4 trillion dollars of additional economic output across the 2016-2030 timeframe,” said Dr. Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré, Executive Director of the RBM.

The fight against malaria has been one of the great success stories of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with more than six million deaths projected to have been averted between 2000 and 2015, primarily of children less than five years old in sub-Saharan Africa.

The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be approved by the United Nations in September, offer a fresh opportunity to ramp up funding for the disease and stamp it out for good, experts say.

They note that easing the malaria burden would advance development efforts across sectors by reducing school absenteeism, fighting poverty, increasing gender parity and improving maternal and child health.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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“Get to Zero, Stay at Zero” – The Comprehensive Plan to End Ebola Sat, 11 Jul 2015 10:51:17 +0000 Aruna Dutt By Aruna Dutt

“The threat is never over until we rebuild,” Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma stressed at an Ebola Recovery Conference Friday in New York.

On May 9, the west African country of Liberia was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization (WHO) after 14 long months battling against the disease. However, two months later,  in only one week ending Jul. 5,  there were 30 confirmed Ebola cases reported in West Africa, three in Liberia, nine in Sierra Leone, and 18 in Guinea, according to the United Nations.

Koroma said that Ebola is a “stubborn enemy” which tends to keep showing its face.

“The battle now is to get the few cases down to zero, and getting our countries and the whole world to stay at zero,Koroma asserted.

During the one-day high-level conference, the presidents of these three west African countries came together at the U.N. headquarters in New York along with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Zimbabwe’s President and Chair of the African Union, Robert Mugabe, as well as many other key actors to focus international attention, share recovery plans and raise funds.

In the sub-regional recovery plan there is a strong focus on rebuilding the health institutions, which were already fragile before the epidemic, according to the World Bank’s latest reports, with 4,022 more maternal related deaths of women per year predicted  in West Africa because of the  loss of health workers due to Ebola.

President Mugabe said that “we cannot afford to be complacent” because the underlying causes of the diseases’ exacerbation still exist.

Although there is emphasis on health, the recovery plans are comprehensive, focusing on  issues from water, and sanitation, to gender, youth and social protection; and even information and communication technology.

President of Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf  speaking on behalf of the Mono River Union (MRU), the intergovernmental institution comprising the three countries  — Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia —  stated that the plan is fully aligned with development plans, with a focus on “empowering our communities who were determined to protect their lives and their livelihoods”, cash transfers to local communities being a central part of the plan.

Sirleaf stated that 4 billion dollars was the amount needed for the next two years to implement the sub-regional plans, however over 5 billion dollars was promised during the pledging segment of the conference.

Both Mugabe and Sirleaf  called on the international community for a debt cancellation of 3.16 billion for the three countries, and Mugabe called on the private sector, especially those involved in extracting natural resources, to be socially responsible and engage in building economic resilience in their countries.

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South Sudanese Girls Given Away As ‘Blood Money’ Fri, 10 Jul 2015 18:26:38 +0000 Miriam Gathigah By Miriam Gathigah
TORIT, Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan , Jul 10 2015 (IPS)

So extreme are gender inequalities in South Sudan that a young girl is three times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than to reach the eighth grade – the last grade before high school – according to Plan International, one of the oldest and largest children’s development organisations in the world.

A vast majority of South Sudanese girls will have been victims of at least one form of gender-based violence in their young lives, but those living in Eastern Equatoria State face a particularly abhorrent practice which is a tradition among at least five of the state’s 12 tribes – being given away as ‘blood money’.

Dina Disan Olweny, Executive Director of the non-governmental Coalition of State Women and Youth Organisation, is one of the rights activists pushing for an end to harmful traditions and injustices facing young girls in South Sudan. Credit:  Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Dina Disan Olweny, Executive Director of the non-governmental Coalition of State Women’s and Youth Organisations, is one of the rights activists pushing for an end to harmful traditions and injustices facing young girls in South Sudan. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

“When a person kills another person, the bereaved family expects to be given ‘blood money’ as compensation,” Dina Disan Olweny, Executive Director of the non-governmental Coalition of State Women’s and Youth Organisations, told IPS.

Most tribes demand compensation when a life has been taken in one of the regular conflicts over cattle and pasture, revenge killings and other inter-village conflicts, and although 20 to 30 goats is what many tribes demand in form of compensation, Olweny explained that “most families can either not afford or are unwilling to pay so much, and prefer to give away one of their girls as compensation.”

According to child protection specialist, Shanti Risal Kaphle, “a young girl is taken as a commodity that can be given in lieu of someone’s lost life, or as ‘blood money’, to keep the family and community in peace.”

Kaphle explained that the girl’s life is negotiated “without her information and consent and is subject to violence, abuse and exploitation.”

The practice of girl child compensation has not escaped the eye of the government, which set an estimated 500 dollars as the amount for compensation for a life, but tribe people still prefer to be given a girl, saying that the figure set by the government is too little.“A young girl is taken as a commodity that can be given in lieu of someone’s lost life, or as ‘blood money’, to keep the family and community in peace” – child protection specialist Shanti Risal Kaphle

Experts say that a girl is also preferred as compensation by a bereaved family because she can either be married to one of their own without having to pay a bride price, or she can be married off when she turns 12 and attract a herd of goats.

Many of the girls handed over as compensation are often as young as five years. They are expected to forget their birth families and start afresh, severing all contacts with their natural families once the exchange has been concluded.

At this point their lives can take a dramatic turn for the worse through multiple abuse. These girls may be “subjected to child labour, and to sexual, physical and emotional abuse – to escape this hell, more of them now prefer to commit suicide,” said Olweny.

Residents here say that customary laws which perpetuate and rubber stamp these forms of abuse are seen to play a vital role in conflict resolution because they are considered cheap, accessible and the decisions are made on the basis of customs they are familiar with.

Kaphle said that customary laws and decisions are also perceived as more amicable and less time-consuming.

However, girl child compensation is just one of a multitude of abuses that the girl child in South Sudan faces.

The state of Western Bahr El Ghazal, for example, has a notorious tradition of widow compensation which has seen many young girls denied an opportunity to go to school because they are forced into early marriages.

Linda Ferdinand Hussein, Executive Director of the non-governmental organization Women’s Organisation for Training and Promotion, explained how this tradition works.

“When a man’s wife dies for whatever reasons, the man can demand to be given back the bride price that he had paid.” This price varies from one family to the next “but most families are unwilling to pay back the bride price so they give the man one of the deceased wife’s younger sisters as compensation.”

Four years after South Sudan won its independence and became the world’s youngest nation, child protection specialists like Hussein are raising the alarm. “Gender-based violence against young girls continues to be perpetrated in a variety of ways in both peacetime and during conflict,” she said.

A report released Jun. 30 by the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) revealed that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and associated armed groups recently carried out a campaign of violence against the population of South Sudan, which was marked by a “new brutality and intensity” and included the raping and then burning alive of girls inside their homes.

A report released last year by leading humanitarian organisation CARE, titled ‘The Girl Has No Rights’: Gender-Based Violence in South Sudan, highlighted the extreme injustices faced by young girls in the country.

These injustices continue to serve as obstacles towards accessing education and later exploiting the opportunities that life presents for those who have gone through school.

According to Plan International, 7.3 percent of girls are married before they reach the age of 15 years and another 42.2 percent will have been married between the ages of 15 and 18. And, although 37 percent of girls enrol in primary school, only around seven percent complete the curriculum and only two percent of them proceed to secondary school.

Edited by Phil Harris

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Opinion: Unlocking the Potential of Mali’s Young Women and Men Tue, 07 Jul 2015 21:30:49 +0000 Jean-Luc Stalon Portrait of a girl in Timbuktu, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Portrait of a girl in Timbuktu, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

By Jean-Luc Stalon
BAMAKO, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

The recent peace agreements in Mali offer grounds for optimism. It’s now time to capitalise on the accord to accelerate recovery, reconciliation and development. An important part of that process will entail placing the country’s youth at the center of the country’s agenda for peace and prosperity.

With its youthful population and track record of civil crises, Mali is the perfect case study on the relationship between youth and stability. Mali’s fertility rate is second only to Niger’s.The youth of today mix identities, from the traditional to the modern and need to be accompanied and mentored as they define their sense of self.

Yet in a country that doesn’t provide jobs, opportunities for decision-making and a sense of purpose, this youth bulge is more likely to be a powerful demographic time bomb rather than a driver of economic growth.

The complex crisis that hit Mali in 2012 compounded the issue, as armed groups found fertile ground for recruitment in Mali’s large pool of poor, disaffected, uneducated youths, enticed both by easy money and radical ideologies. The conflict also fueled important migration flows to North Africa and Europe.

Now more than ever, the country’s youth need solutions that are specific to their daily realities and will discourage them from going astray. Achieving that objective implies helping them out of the vicious cycle of unemployment, violence and poverty. Young women and men also need to be heard and should have a role in decision-making and peace processes.

To that end, the government and its partners have put into place a vast array of youth employment policies, as well as programmes to strengthen social cohesion, reintegrate displaced people and mobilise national volunteers.

These initiatives have done a lot for those targeted, but they fall short of a comprehensive, national solution for reintegrating youths and increasing their prospects for a better life.

In fact, unemployment rates among young women and men seem to have stagnated. In 2011, unemployment rates among 15 to 39 year-olds revolved around 15 percent, yet independent assessments suggest they could be as high as 50 percent when underemployment is taken into account.

As a result, in a country struggling against terrorism, organised crime and social cleavages, more and more young peole turn to violence and radicalism.

There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way that we look at youth development. Such an approach would look holistically at how to integrate young people in the economy and create new generations of entrepreneurs, while giving them a political voice and a sense of purpose within their communities and the wider nation.

First, we need to boost education, skills training and employment opportunities while at the same time serving Mali’s economic diversification and transformation agenda. This would require investing in promising sectors such as information technology, and creating learning centers and peer-to-peer networks in close collaboration with the private sector.

In this regard, Mali could learn from other successful initiatives, such as the public-private partnership developed in Kenya to create linkages between the formal and informal sectors of the economy.

Second, young Malians need to feel their likings and aspirations are taken into account in their country’s major decisions. Youth should be encouraged to vote and have a chance at running for office in a political system that favours inclusivity, trust and peaceful change.

The upcoming local elections and peace agreement implementation present an opportunity for better youth involvement and representation in the decision making process.

Third, young Malians need a sense of purpose but far too often their desires, opinions and spiritual leanings aren’t seriously considered. These can include joining a community, increasing their exposure to global events and causes, or creating a more affluent life.

The youth of today mix identities, from the traditional to the modern and need to be accompanied and mentored as they define their sense of self. Doing so would go a long way to eliminating intolerance, conflict and even radicalization.

Young women deserve our full attention. Much more needs to be done to ensure they can exercise their basic human rights, including those that relate to the most intimate or fundamental aspects of life, such as sexual and reproductive health, and freedom from violence.

There cannot be peace, poverty eradication and the creation of a more prosperous and open society in Mali without young people. A more holistic approach would be more effective and sustainable.

It could include new mechanisms such as a trust fund for youths, new channels of inter-generational dialogue and a more global outlook in the exchange of knowledge and development experiences. If we succeed in doing so, Mali could embark on an incredibly successful development path.

UNDP is working with young people from all walks of life so they can find a decent job, contribute to their communities and build a better future for Mali as a whole.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Will the New BRICS Bank Break with Traditional Development Models, or Replicate Them? Tue, 07 Jul 2015 21:10:17 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida The heads of state of three of the five BRICS countries - Russia, India and Brazil – pose for a photograph during the 2014 BRICS Summit. Credit: Official Flickr Account for Narendra Modi/CC-BY-SA-2.0

The heads of state of three of the five BRICS countries - Russia, India and Brazil – pose for a photograph during the 2014 BRICS Summit. Credit: Official Flickr Account for Narendra Modi/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida

Just days ahead of a summit of the BRICS group of emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in which the five countries are expected to formally launch their New Development Bank (NDB), 40 NGOs and civil society groups have penned an open letter to their respective governments urging transparency and accountability in the proposed banking process.

“In terms of the type of development the bank delivers, we don't have signs yet that the NDB will go in a qualitatively different direction than the Washington Consensus institutions." -- Gretchen Gordon, coordinator of Bank on Human Rights
The NDB is expected to finance infrastructure and sustainable development in the global South.

With an initial capital of 100 billion dollars, it was born from a combination of circumstances including emerging economies’ frustration with the largely Western-dominated World Bank Group (WBG) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

According to a 2014 Oxfam Policy Brief, another factor leading to the creation of the BRICS Bank was a major gap in financing for infrastructure projects, with official development assistance (ODA) and funding from multilateral institutions meeting just two to three percent of developing countries’ needs.

Strained by economic sanctions as a result of the Ukrainian crisis, Moscow has been particularly keen to bring the fledgling lending institution to its feet and has been pushing international rating agencies to rate the bank’s debt, as a necessary first step for it to begin operations.

Even without counting the contributions of its newest member – South Africa – the four BRIC nations represent 25 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) and 41.4 percent of the world’s population, or roughly three billion people.

In addition, the borders of these countries enclose a quarter of the planet’s land area on three continents.

But even as the five political leaders prepare to take centre stage in the Russian city of Ufa on Jul. 9, citizens of their own countries are already expressing doubts that the nascent financial body will truly represent a break from traditional, Western-led development models.

“The existing development model in force in many emerging and developing countries is one that favors export-oriented, commodity driven strategies and policies that are socially harmful, environmentally unsustainable and have led to greater inequalities between and within countries,” said the statement, released on Jul. 7

“If the New Development Bank is going to break with this history, it must commit itself to the following four principles: 1) Promote development for all; 2) Be transparent and democratic; 3) Set strong standards and make sure they’re followed; 4) Promote sustainable development,” the signatories added.

Gretchen Gordon, coordinator of Bank on Human Rights, a global network of social movements and grassroots organisations working to hold international financial institutions accountable to human rights obligations, told IPS, “[Although] the Bank’s Articles of Agreement have an article on Transparency and Accountability […] thus far we haven’t seen any indication of operational policies on transparency or anything relating to accountability mechanisms.”

“And unfortunately,” she added, “there is no open engagement with civil society on these questions.”

“In terms of the type of development the bank delivers, we don’t have signs yet that the NDB will go in a qualitatively different direction than the Washington Consensus institutions,” Gordon told IPS in an email.

“That is why civil society groups in BRICS countries are calling for a participative and transparent process to identify strategies and policies for the NDB that can set it on a different path and actually deliver development.”

A primary concern among NGOs has been that the BRICS bank will replicate the old “mega-project” model of development, which has proven to be a failure both in terms of poverty eradication and increased access to basic services.

A recent international investigation revealed that in the course of a single decade, an estimated 3.4 million poor people – primarily from Asia, Africa and Latin America – were displaced by mega-projects funded by the World Bank and its private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Though these projects were ostensibly aimed at strengthening transportation networks, expanding electric grids and improving water supply systems, they resulted in a worsening of poverty and inequality for millions of already marginalised people.

Following closely on the heels of this damning expose, a major report by the international watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that the Bank’s lax safeguards and protocols resulted in a range of rights violations against those who spoke out against the economic, social and environmental fallout of Bank-funded projects.

Behind this track record, rights groups and NGOs are concerned that a new development bank operating on within a broken framework will contribute to the spiral of violence and poverty that has marked the age of mega-projects.

At a time when one billion people lack access to an all-weather road, 783 million people live without clean water supplies and 1.3 billion people are not connected to an electricity grid, there is no doubt that the developing world stands to gain greatly from a Southern-led financial institution.

What remains to be seen is to what extent the new bank will move away from the old model of financing and truly set a standard for inclusive and pro-poor development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Ebola Recovery Focuses on Strengthening Africa’s Health Systems Tue, 07 Jul 2015 20:44:23 +0000 Thalif Deen Two health care workers clean their feet in a bucket of water containing bleach after they leave an Ebola isolation facility during an Ebola simulation at Biankouma Hospital in Côte d’Ivoire. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Two health care workers clean their feet in a bucket of water containing bleach after they leave an Ebola isolation facility during an Ebola simulation at Biankouma Hospital in Côte d’Ivoire. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Thalif Deen

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, addressing delegates in a run-up to an international Ebola recovery conference, said last month that “all of the investments, all of the sacrifices and all of the risks by relief workers” would be squandered if an outbreak of the disease recurs.

And it did – in Liberia, a country which had been declared free of the Ebola virus."The existing facilities need a complete overhaul, and many new structures need to be built. If another outbreak strikes, the toll would be far worse." -- Dr. Matshidiso Moeti

The World Health Organisation (WHO), which made that declaration on May 9, confirmed that a 17-year-old Liberian who died of Ebola last week had been in contact with nearly 200 people possibly triggering the spread of the infection.

As of last week, more than 27,100 people were affected by the highly contagious disease, which killed over 11,100, mostly in three African countries: Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Against this backdrop, the United Nations is hosting a high-level international Ebola Recovery Conference July 10, primarily to provide a platform for the three countries to share their recovery plans and, more importantly, to raise funds to continue the fight against the disease and also strengthen health care systems in the region.

Nicolas Douillet of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) in Africa told IPS the conference aims to mobilise the international community in support of the three countries.

The total needs identified by the three countries, and regionally, by the Mano River Union, he said, amount to 7.2 billion dollars for the next 24 months – 3.2 billion for the three countries and 4.0 billion for the Mano River Union, an Intergovernmental Institution comprising Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire.

The total requested, however, is 9.0 billion dollars, of which 1.8 billion is already committed, leaving a financing gap of 7.2 billion dollars.

Speaking of the need for strong health care systems, former U.S. President Bill Clinton told a U.N. meeting last May that severely limited resources were a “staggering burden” – and countries in West Africa were requesting funds to build better and stronger health systems through multi-year plans.

Before the Ebola outbreak, he said, Liberia had just one physician for every 71,000 people. He said Ebola had been in many fundamental ways a “man-made disaster.”

“Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone entered the Ebola epidemic with severely underfunded health systems,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“After a year of handling far too many severely ill patients, the surviving staff need support, better protection, compensation, and reinforcements. The existing facilities need a complete overhaul, and many new structures need to be built. If another outbreak strikes, the toll would be far worse,” he warned.

Sarah Edwards, head of Policy & Campaigns at Health Poverty Action, told IPS: “Yes, there certainly needs to be a focus on the longer term need for health systems strengthening at this conference and across the wider Ebola response, and specifically this needs to consider how health systems in Ebola-affected countries can be funded sustainably.”

She said this should include measures to support affected countries to explore the potential for increased tax revenues to fund HSS; take action to stop illicit capital flight; and pay compensation for any health workers trained in affected countries who are now working in the UK.

After a visit to the region last October, Magdy Martínez-Solimán, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General and Director of UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, said: “This devastating health crisis is destroying lives and communities. It is also impairing national economies, wiping out livelihoods and basic services, and could undo years of efforts to stabilize West Africa.”

“As we work together to end the outbreak, now is the time to ensure these countries can also continue to function and swiftly get back on their feet,” he added.

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, already suffering from some of the lowest levels of human development in the world, had emerged from years of civil conflict and political instability and were starting to make encouraging progress, according to UNDP.

Last September, the United Nations established the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), a single structure that will aim to stop the spread of the disease and prevent it from appearing in unaffected countries, as well as treat and care for the infected.

The UNDP said gross domestic product (GDP) in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia has shrunk by two to three percentage points. The countries are now projected to lose a total of 13 billion dollars as a result of Ebola. People’s livelihoods are shrinking from lost wages and decreased productivity.

The participants in Friday’s conference at the United Nations include: President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Chair of the African Union (AU), Alpha Condé, President of Guinea; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia and Ernest Bai Koroma, President of Sierra Leone.

The meeting is in partnership with the AU, the European Union (EU), the World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB).

The AU will hold its own “International Conference on Africa’s Fight Against Ebola” July 20-21 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.

Meanwhile the Washington-based ONE campaign said keeping track of pledges and monitoring their disbursement, has proved difficult and – at times – impossible “because of inconsistent, inefficient, and often opaque reporting processes and standards.”

In a white paper released Tuesday, it said: “One of the most fundamental questions asked during a humanitarian crisis is, ‘how much have donors promised to this effort?’

“But in the case of the Ebola outbreak, this question has been incredibly difficult to answer — and that’s a huge problem,” ONE’s Global Health Policy Director Erin Hohlfelder said.

“If we don’t know what has really been pledged and delivered, no one can adequately match promised resources to the needs on the ground. That means gaps cannot be easily identified and we risk losing time, resources, and lives.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Financial Inclusion Key to Climate Risk Reduction for Zambia’s Smallholders Mon, 06 Jul 2015 16:29:26 +0000 Friday Phiri Zambian farmer Neva Hamalengo (right) knows what it means to lose crops to the ravages of weather and have no insurance coverage.  Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Zambian farmer Neva Hamalengo (right) knows what it means to lose crops to the ravages of weather and have no insurance coverage. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
MOYO, Pemba District, Zambia, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

In the advent of unpredictable weather, smallholder rain-dependent agriculture is increasingly becoming a risky business and the situation could worsen if, as seems likely, the world experiences levels of global warming that could lead to an increase in droughts, floods and diseases, both in frequency and intensity.

Neva Hamalengo, a 40-year-old farmer from Moyo in Pemba district, Southern Zambia, knows what it means to lose everything in a blink of an eye – not only did a storm wipe out an entire hectare of market-ready tomatoes worth about 15,000 kwacha (2,000 dollars), but he also suffered maize crop failure due to a month-long drought.

“I expect very poor yields this season,” he told IPS. “We suffered crop damage through a storm and when crops needed the rains to recover, we had a severe drought.”

To make matters worse, his smallholder business had no insurance cover and, admitting that he “knew nothing about insurance,” Hamalengo said that would love to see insurance education incorporated into agricultural extension services.“When small-scale farmers are financially literate, they are able to guide fellow farmers to uptake a particular financial product such as insurance or credit … and avoid making poor decisions” – Allan Mulando, WFP Zambia

Hamalengo’s situation represents the predicament faced by most smallholder farmers – who are generally excluded from financial services – and confirms arguments by some experts that the risk of running an uninsured business is far greater if climate is involved.

While financial inclusion is considered a key enabler for reducing poverty, the statistics in Zambia are far from encouraging. According to a 2009 FinScope survey, 63 percent of the Zambian adult population (6.4 million people) is excluded from formal financial services. Slightly over half of the adult population is engaged in farming.

Putting these statistics into context, the “unbanked” majority are poor people, with many of them smallholder farmers. Now, in an attempt to help them become more resilient to climate variability and shocks, the World Food Programme (WFP) has launched the R4 Rural Resilience Initiative, aimed at tackling risk in a holistic manner.

The initiative is “an integrated approach to managing risk, focusing on index‐based agricultural insurance (risk transfer), improved natural resource management (disaster risk reduction), credit (prudent risk taking), savings (risk reserves) and productive safety nets,” Allan Mulando, WFP Zambia’s Head of Vulnerability Assessment and Mapping Unit (VAM), told IPS.

The initiative is based on a strategic global partnership between WFP and Oxfam America which, Mulando said, is aimed at “improving the capacity of food-insecure households to manage the risks of severe weather shocks.”

Working with partners such as the national Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU), government ministries, the Meteorological Department, national insurance companies, as well as credit and savings institutions, the project strives to integrate activities with already running government programmes on resilience, such as the Conservation Agriculture Scaling Up (CASU), programme.

CASU, which is being run by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and with financial support from the European Union (EU), aims to contribute to reduced hunger, and improved food security, nutrition and income, while promoting the sustainable use of natural resources.

“R4’s overall objective is to create an environment for private sector participation through market development to ensure sustainability … through insurance cover, credit provision, asset creation programmes and safety nets, as well as household saving … all of which have been identified as alternative ways of reducing vulnerability,” explained Mulando.

Stressing the importance of the project, Southern Province Principal Agriculture Officer Paul Nyambe told IPS that “the Ministry [of Agriculture and Livestock] has been encouraging climate-resilient technologies under CASU and crop diversification amid climate-induced hazards, of which financial inclusion is a key ingredient.”

Meanwhile, for the Ministry of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, such initiatives are always welcome because they fall within the government’s major objective of building the capacity of local communities to adapt to climate change.

“Stakeholders with initiatives that help people to adapt are welcome,” Richard Lungu, Chief Environment Management Officer at the ministry, said. “Right now, government is in the process of mobilising resources to support communities affected by a severe drought which led to crop failure.”

According to Lungu, who is Zambia’s focal point for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) , “climate change is now a cross-cutting developmental issue especially for Zambia whose economy is natural resource dependent”, with over 80 percent of the population dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Whereas climate shocks can trap farmers in poverty, the risk of shocks also limits their willingness to invest in measures that might increase their productivity and improve their economic situation – and this is where financial education becomes critical.

“Taking into consideration that agricultural weather-based index insurance is relatively new among our small farmers, there is a need for strong financial education,” Mulando told IPS. “When small-scale farmers are financially literate, they are able to guide fellow farmers to uptake a particular financial product such as insurance or credit … and avoid making poor decisions.”

Financial expert George Siameja agreed but noted that the problem lies at two levels – lack of financial education and an inhibiting credit finance environment.

“However, financial literacy should be the starting point because banks consider it too risky to lend money to individuals with inadequate financial capacity,” Siameja told IPS. “While farming is a function of climate, financial education is key.”

Sussane Giese, a German development and change consultant, also pointed to the so-called “dependency syndrome” which inhibits farmers from being more active. “In my interactions with some field officers,” she said, “there is something called dependency syndrome affecting farmers where they see themselves as beneficiaries and not individuals running agriculture as an enterprise.”

Meanwhile, one farmer who is singing the praises of financial literacy is 34-year-old Rodney Mudenda of Nabuzoka village in Pemba district, who has seen a dramatic change of fortunes.

“Since I was trained in financial management last year, I have changed my approach to farming. I am ready to take calculated risks like I did this season to reduce on maize and plant more sunflowers, a drought-tolerant crop. And the gamble has paid off. I expect to earn 12,000 kwacha (1,500 dollars) from an investment of 5,000 kwacha (650 dollars)”, Mudenda told IPS.

Edited by Phil Harris

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