Inter Press Service » Africa http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 29 Jun 2015 21:43:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Opinion: The ACP at 40 – Repositioning as a Global Playerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-acp-at-40-repositioning-as-a-global-player/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-acp-at-40-repositioning-as-a-global-player http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-acp-at-40-repositioning-as-a-global-player/#comments Sun, 28 Jun 2015 16:25:36 +0000 Patrick I. Gomes http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141340 ACP Secretary-General Patrick I. Gomes, who sees the group’s role as “a global player defending, protecting and promoting an inclusive struggle against poverty and for sustainable development in a world enmeshed in inequality”. Photo credit: ACP Press

ACP Secretary-General Patrick I. Gomes, who sees the group’s role as “a global player defending, protecting and promoting an inclusive struggle against poverty and for sustainable development in a world enmeshed in inequality”. Photo credit: ACP Press

By Patrick I. Gomes
BRUSSELS, Jun 28 2015 (IPS)

In his memoirs, Glimpses of a Global Life, Sir Shridath Ramphal, then-Foreign Minister of the Republic of Guyana, who played a leading role in the evolution of the Lomé negotiations that lead to the birth of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States, pointed to the significant lessons of that engagement of developed and developing countries some 40 years ago and had this to say:

“As regards the Lomé negotiations, the process of unification – for such it was – added a new dimension to the Third World’s quest for economic justice through international action. Its significance, however, derives not merely from the terms of the negotiated relationship between the 46 ACP states and the EEC, but from the methodology of unified bargaining which the negotiations pioneered.

Never before had so large a segment of the developing world negotiated with so powerful a grouping of developed countries so comprehensive and so innovative a regime of economic relations. It was a new, and salutary, experience for Europe; it was a new, and reassuring, experience for the ACP States.

“Forty years later, that lesson remains retains its validity. Unity of purpose and action remains the touchstone of ACP’s meaning and success.”

With a conscious appreciation of that founding unity of purpose and action, the ACP Group convened a high-level symposium at its headquarters in Brussels on Jun. 6. The event marked the milestone of four decades of trade and economic cooperation, vigorous and contentious political engagements and a range of development finance programmes – all aimed at the eradication of poverty from the lives of the millions of people in its 79 member states.“The ACP will craft its future path to continue the struggle against power, inequality and injustice, the core purpose for which it was established in 1975”

In 1975, it was 46 developing countries that met in the capital city of Guyana, to sign the Georgetown Agreement and give birth to the ACP Group. They had recently embarked on their post-colonial path of independence following successful negotiations of non-reciprocal trade arrangements with the then nine-member European Economic Community (EEC) in February.

Known as the Lomé Agreement, after the capital of Togo where it was signed, this legally-binding, international agreement had a life-span of 25 years to 2000. Essentially, it comprised three pillars of trade and economic cooperation, development assistance – mainly through grants from the European Development Fund (EDF) – and political dialogue on issues such as human rights and democratic governance.

During that period, the preferential trade and aid pact undoubtedly gave an impetus to various aspects of economic and social development in the ACP Group. Substantial revenue was received from preferential access to the European market for exports of clothing, banana, sugar, cocoa, beef, fruit and vegetables, for example, and with the accompanying aid programmes.

The benefits were seen in the economies of Mauritius, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Namibia, Guyana and Fiji, to name a few. Member states of the ACP Group, less-developed countries (LDCs), landlocked states and small island developing states (SIDS), had access to returns from trade for improved social services and in this sense, the first decades of Lomé were certainly gains for development in sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific.

But these gains entrenched an aid-dependency of commodity export economies with minimal structural transformation through value-added manufacturing and related service sectors in ACP countries.

The fierce trade-liberalising world of the late 1990s, rising indebtedness due to enormous increase in the cost of energy and pressure from the challenge of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to the European Union’s discriminatory practice of preferential trade and aid to this exclusive set of developing countries meant that post-Lomé ACP-EU trade relations had to be WTO-compatible.

Finding compatibility for “substantially all trade” between the economies of the ACP’s 79 members – grouped in six regions of Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific – and Europe, and ensuring that development criteria take precedence over tariff reductions and WTO rules have proven contentious in this long-standing partnership.

With this overhang of tensions in its troubled access to its principal market, the ACP faces the conclusion of the 20-year Agreement signed in Cotonou, the Republic of Benin, in 2020.

A soul-searching and vigorous process to be repositioned as a global player defending, protecting and promoting an inclusive struggle against poverty and for sustainable development in a world enmeshed in inequality is the singular task on which the ACP now concentrates.

Such a task has entailed a series of actions that are informed by the report of the Ambassadorial Working Group on Future Perspectives for the ACP Group of States that was approved by the Council of Ministers in December 2014.

The main thrust of the transformation and repositioning of the ACP is captured in the strategic policy domains identified in the report.

These are in five thematic areas that address:

a) Rule of Law & Good Governance;

b) Global Justice & Human Security;

c) Building Sustainable, Resilient & Creative Economies; and

d) Intra-ACP Trade, Industrialisation and Regional Integration;

e) Financing for Development.

In each of these, and in ways that are mutually reinforcing, very specific programmed activities of an annual action plan are being prepared and will be executed.

For example, the annual plan will address the thematic area of “sustainable, resilient and creative economies” through the mechanism of an ACP Forum on SIDS with financial resources, mainly from the intra-ACP allocation of the EDF and the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO), one of the partner agencies of the UN system with which the ACP Group works very closely.

Conceptualised so as to address systemic and structural factors affecting sustainable development, the ACP emphasises South-South and triangular cooperation as a major modality for implementation of its role as catalyst and advocate.

The current stage of rethinking and refocusing provides an opportunity for 40 years of development through trade by which the ACP Group and the European Union could recast the world’s most unique and enduring North-South treaty of developed and developing countries to effectively participate in a global partnership where no one is left behind.

The ACP has social and organisational capital accumulated from a rich experience on trade negotiations with the world’s largest bloc of Europe and its 500 million inhabitants.

Undoubtedly marked by contentious issues on trade provisions to satisfy the WTO’s non-discriminatory behaviour among its member States, ACP-EU relations reveal the persistent battle of poor versus rich with a view to finding common ground on issues of mutual interest.

The 40th anniversary celebration by the ACP Group at a High-Level Inter-regional Symposium on Jun. 4 and 5 witnessed reflections on achievements and failures, as well as limitations in the performance of the ACP Group, in itself as a group and among its member states, as well as in its partnership with the European Union and the wider global arena.

The theme of the symposium covered the initial Georgetown Agreement and the ambitious objectives that were set in 1975. The high point was the keynote address by H.E. Sam Kutesa, President of the UN General Assembly.

Interestingly, discussions revealed how relevant and timely they remain and of special note was the “promotion of a fairer and more equitable new world order”.

This retrospective conversation has been recognised as fundamental for how, and in what direction, the ACP will craft its future path to continue the struggle against power, inequality and injustice, the core purpose for which it was established in 1975.

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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German Development Cooperation Piggybacks Onto Africa’s E-Boomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/german-development-cooperation-piggybacks-onto-africas-e-boom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=german-development-cooperation-piggybacks-onto-africas-e-boom http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/german-development-cooperation-piggybacks-onto-africas-e-boom/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 15:56:06 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141320 During re:publica 2015, Juliet Wanyiri (centre), illustrates a practical workshop organised by Foondi*, of which she is founder and CEO. Credit: re:publica/Jan Zappner

During re:publica 2015, Juliet Wanyiri (centre), illustrates a practical workshop organised by Foondi*, of which she is founder and CEO. Credit: re:publica/Jan Zappner

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

In a major paradigm shift, the German government is now placing its bets on digitalisation for its development cooperation policy with Africa, under what it calls a Strategic Partnership for a ’Digital Africa’.

According to the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), “through a new strategic partnership in the field of information and communication technology (ICT), German development cooperation will be joining forces with the private sector to support the development and sustainable management of Digital Africa’s potential.”

“Digitalisation offers a vast potential for making headway on Africa’s sustainable development,” said Dr Friedrich Kitschelt, a State Secretary in BMZ, noting however that this “benefits all sides, including German and European enterprises.”

Broad consensus about the overlap between public and private interests in attaining sustainable development goals was apparent at two high-profile events earlier this year – the annual re:publica conference on internet and society, and BMZ’s ‘Africa: Continent of Opportunities – Bridging the Digital Divide’ conference, both held in Berlin."Governments will put up walls, but young people will always find ways of circumventing barriers – the key issue is how to bring services locally and work together in democratic internet governance, promoting civil society engagement and private sector partnerships” – Muhammad Radwan of icecairo

In Berlin for re:publica 2015 in May, Mugethi Gitau, a young Kenyan tech manager from Nairobi’s iHub, an incubator for “technology, innovation and community”, delivered a sharp presentation titled ‘10 Things Europe Can Learn From Africa’.  “We are pushing ahead with creative digital solutions,” said Gitau, delivering sharp know-how and hard facts.

The Kenyan start-up iHub is a member of the m:lab East Africa consortium, the region’s centre for mobile entrepreneurship, which was established through a seed grant from the World Bank’s InfoDev programme for “creating sustainable businesses in the knowledge economy”.

In turn, m:lab East Africa is part of the Global Information Gathering (GIG) initiative, which was founded in Berlin in 2003 as a partnership of BMZ, the German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation (GIZ), the Centre for International Peace Operations (ZIF) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

The m:lab East Africa consortium has spawned 10 tech businesses which have gone regional, and boasts a portfolio of 150 start-ups, including Kopo Kopo, an add on to the M-Pesa money transfer application which has scaled into Africa, the PesaPal application for mobile credits, the Eneza ‘one laptop per child’ project, and locally relevant rural applications such as iCow and M-Farm which help farmers keep track of their yields and cut out the middleman to reach buyers directly.

“We are by nature a people who love to give, crowdsourcing is in our genes, our local villages have a tradition of coming together to help each other out, so it’s no wonder we have taken to sharing and social media like naturals,” Gitau told IPS, mentioning the popular chamas or “merry-go-rounds” whereby people bank with each other, avoiding banking interest costs.

Referring to the exponential tide of 700 million mobile phone users in Africa, which has already surpassed Europe, Thomas Silberhorn, a State Secretary in BMZ, told a re:publica meeting on e-information and freedom of information projects in developing countries: “This is a time of huge potential, like all historical transformations.”

The pace and range of innovative mobile solutions from Africa has been formidable. The creative use of SMS has enabled a range of services which enable urban and, significantly, rural populations to access anything from banking to health services, job listings and microcredits, not to mention mobilising “shit storms” against public authority inefficiencies.

However, the formidable pace of digital penetration has raised concerns about the “digital divide” – the widening socio-economic inequalities between those who have access to technology and those who have not.

Increasingly a North-South consensus is growing concerning three core aspects of digital economic development – the regulation of broadband internet as a public utility; the sustainable potential of mobile technology and low price smart devices to bring effective solutions to a whole gamut of local needs; and the need for good infrastructure as a precondition for environmental protection and as the leverage people need to lift themselves out of poverty.

New models of development cooperation, technology transfer and e-participation governance are emerging in response to the impact of digitalisation on all sectors of society and service provision in areas as disparate as they are increasingly connected including health, food and agriculture – access to education, communication, media, information and data and democratic participation.

“Tackling the digital divide is crucial,” said Philiber Nsengimana, Rwandan Minister of Youth and ICT, addressing BMZ’s ‘Africa: Continent of Opportunities – Bridging the Digital Divide’ conference. “It encompasses a package of vision, implementation and much needed coordination among stakeholders.”

Rwanda, which now boasts a number of e-participation projects such as Sobanukirwa, the country’s first freedom of information project, is committed to universally accessible broadband and is rising to the forefront of Africa’s power-sharing technical revolution. 

The most active proponents of the e-revolution argue that digitalisation also offers the possibility to place governments under scrutiny and have leaders judged from the vantage point of e-participation, open data, freedom of expression and information – all elements of the power-sharing models that have seen the light  in the internet age.

“Governments will put up walls, but young people will always find ways of circumventing barriers – the key issue is how to bring services locally and work together in democratic internet governance, promoting civil society engagement and private sector partnerships,” said Muhammad Radwan of icecairo.

Launched by UNDP Egypt, the icecairo initiative is part of the international icehubs network, which started with iceaddis in Ethiopia and icebauhaus in Germany.

The icehubs network (where ‘ice’ stands for Innovation-Collaboration-Enterprise) is an emerging open network of ‘hubs’, or community-driven technology innovation spaces, that promote the invention and development of home-grown, affordable technological products and services for meeting local challenges.

The network is enabled by GIZ, a company specialising in international development, which is owned by the German government and mainly operates on behalf of BMZ, which is now intent on using a “digital agenda” to guide German development cooperation with Africa.

“Let us take digitalisation seriously,” said Kitschelt. “Let us use the potential of ICT for development, address the digital and educational divide and build on that resourcefulness in our partnerships by advocating for digital rights and engaging in dialogue with the tech community, software developers, social entrepreneurs, makers, hackers, bloggers, programmers and internet activists worldwide.”

Kitschelt’s words certainly found their echo among African e-revolutionaries whose rallying cry has moved forward significantly from “fight the power“ to “share the power”.

However, while this may be well be what the future looks like, there were also those at the re:publica meeting on e-information and freedom of information who wondered about priorities when Silberhorn of BMZ told participants: “”The fact that in many development countries we are witnessing better access to mobile phones than toilets is a clear catalyser for changing development priorities.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

*  Foondi is an African design and training start-up that focuses on creating access to open source, low-cost appropriate technology-related sources to leverage local technologies for bottom-up innovation. It provides a platform for problem setting, designing and prototyping entrepreneurial-based ventures. Its larger vision is to nurture a group of young innovators in Africa working on building solutions that target emerging markets and under-served communities in Africa.

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Charleston Church Shooting Sparks Debate on Race in South Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/charleston-church-shooting-sparks-debate-on-race-in-south-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=charleston-church-shooting-sparks-debate-on-race-in-south-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/charleston-church-shooting-sparks-debate-on-race-in-south-africa/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 15:01:51 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141318 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

South Africa’s old guard of separatist whites who supported the racist policy of apartheid have been reading with interest about Dylann Roof, accused assassin in the deaths of nine churchgoers at the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The right-wing Front National party was quoted to say that the photo of shooting suspect Roof, wearing a jacket bearing apartheid-era South African and Rhodesian flags, was photoshopped.

“…The liberal media in South Africa and a host of liberal social media platforms have been spitting acid about the young man who shot and killed a number of African Americans in a church in Charleston in the south of America”, they wrote in a Facebook post.

“Front National South Africa started questioning the picture … and suddenly, in the blink of an eye, the Facebook profile ‘disappeared’, but not before we got hold of the original “un-photoshopped” picture. The REAL badge is rather reminiscent of the logo of the American Democratic Party of Barack Obama!”

Another view was expressed by South African writer Eusebius McKaiser who pleaded for understanding of a wayward young man.

“Dylann Roof isn’t a terrorist,” insisted McKaiser. “He isn’t a racist. He isn’t a monster. He isn’t a murderer. And he certainly isn’t singularly responsible for having allegedly killed nine people.

‘Roof is the product of a world that created him… We created the racist society into which poor Roof was born. It is our collective racism and hatred that are the building blocks of the Roof tragedy.

“Perhaps the saddest part of the whole tragedy is that Roof’s empathy for other people shone so brightly for an hour in that church,” the black South African lamented. “For a whole hour, he was in communion with people different from him. He reportedly tells us that he almost didn’t shoot any of them because they were so nice to him. I confess, I was moved to tears.

“What that shows is that it would be cruel for us to lock up Roof and scapegoat him for society’s ills.”

An opposing view appeared in the Mail & Guardian by Terri Barnes, history professor now at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, who compared the controversy over the statue of Cecil Rhodes, founder of the policy of enforced racial segregation, at the University of Cape Town with the Confederate flag.

Barnes wrote: “After a great deal of pressure from many quarters and a lot of good, hard debate, the statue has since come down. (Still), the odious Confederate flag and versions thereof officially fly in seven US states: South Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida.

“Cape Town University had the wisdom to remove a symbol of racist oppression, elitism, and callous barbarism from its campus. Will Americans have the wisdom to tackle their own outdated symbols of a horrible past?”

“It is heartbreaking,” the long-time resident of South Africa continued, “even in the midst of a killing season the likes of which America has perhaps never before witnessed — that the stench of the old South Africa and of racist Rhodesia still have the power to inspire someone like Roof.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Sub-Saharan Africa, Addis and Parishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-sub-saharan-africa-addis-and-paris/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-sub-saharan-africa-addis-and-paris http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-sub-saharan-africa-addis-and-paris/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 16:53:19 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Rudi von Arnim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141254 Artisanal diamond miners at work in the alluvial diamond mines around the eastern town of Koidu, Sierra Leone. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

Artisanal diamond miners at work in the alluvial diamond mines around the eastern town of Koidu, Sierra Leone. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Rudi von Arnim
ROME, Jun 23 2015 (IPS)

After the turn of the century, growth in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) picked up again after a quarter century of near stagnation for most, mainly due to increased world demand for minerals and other natural resources.

The region became second only to East Asia in recovering from the global slowdown following the 2008-2009 financial crisis.Thanks to the failure of development over the preceding quarter century, SSA was the only region not to make any progress in reducing the population share in poverty, with the number of poor people actually rising significantly.

During the decade 2003-2013, growth was faster, averaging 2.6 percent per capita annually. The SSA growth acceleration of the past decade fueled hopes that growth on the continent had finally begun to accelerate and catch up.

Annual SSA per capita real GDP growth had averaged a respectable two percent in the 1960s, but had slowed down from the late 1970s. Over the next two decades, real per capita income for sub-Saharan countries shrank by about three quarters of a percentage point annually on average.

While SSA growth resumed in the last decade, reliance on natural resource extraction has compromised its developmental impact. Such economic activity, especially in mining, has few linkages to the rest of the national economy, thus limiting its growth and employment creation impacts as well.

As its economic performance has closely followed the vagaries of the global commodity price cycle, SSA growth in the last decade was largely driven by the minerals boom on the continent.

But the high commodity prices of the past decade have been reversed by the spreading global economic slowdown and the Saudi decision to drastically reduce oil prices.

However, natural resource extraction does not have the same potential to accelerate development as manufacturing. No country has successfully developed without substantially increasing manufacturing or high-end services. Sub-Saharan Africa has not done well on this score in recent decades.

While the manufacturing share of GDP for all developing countries has risen over 23 percent, it has fallen in SSA to 8 percent from 12 percent in the 1980s. Meanwhile, the primary commodities’ share of total SSA exports reached almost 90 percent in the past decade.

Premature and inappropriate trade liberalisation has damaged SSA’s limited export capacities. The region’s share of world merchandise exports fell from 5 percent in the 1950s to 1.8 percent during 2000-2010. Meanwhile, its share of world manufactured exports stands at a paltry one-fifth of one percentage point.

Trade liberalisation has also undermined the fiscal capacities of many governments in poor countries, with dire consequences for development and social progress.

Since many transactions in developing countries are informal, and hence untaxed, poor developing country governments have traditionally relied on trade tariffs to raise revenue.

Thus, trade liberalisation has reduced their ability to raise revenue, without providing alternate sources. As a consequence, the share of government spending in GDP has fallen from an average of around 16 percent during 1980-1999 to 13 percent during recent years.

Thus, neither trade nor financial liberalisation has helped accelerate economic growth in SSA. Growth requires investments, but investment as a share of SSA GDP has fallen in recent decades, to only 17 percent before the crisis.

External financial liberalisation from the 1980s was supposed to draw in foreign resources, but portfolio investments in SSA are negligible, and more crucially, ill-suited to facilitate sustainable growth.

Instead, there have been net outflows of capital from the world’s poorest region to international financial centres, including tax havens.

Appropriately targeted ‘greenfield’ foreign direct investment (FDI) has more potential to make a positive impact. However, Africa’s share of FDI to all developing economies has fallen from 21 percent in the 1970s to only 11 percent in recent years, or from 5 percent to 3 percent of global FDI.

To make matters worse, FDI in SSA overwhelmingly involves natural resource extraction, with few developmental spillovers from such investments.

According to World Bank estimates, the share of the SSA population living in extreme poverty rose from 50 percent in 1980 to 58 percent in 1998 before falling back to 50 percent in 2005.

Thanks to the failure of development over the preceding quarter century, SSA was the only region not to make any progress in reducing the population share in poverty, with the number of poor people actually rising significantly.

A decade ago, in 2005, the G8 summit at Gleneagles committed to increasing Official Development Assistance (ODA) by 50 billion dollars by 2010. The Gleneagles summit also promised to increase ODA to Africa by 25 billion dollars to 64 billion. Actual delivery fell short by 18 billion dollars, or by 72 percent!

In 2012 dollars, annual ODA to SSA hovered around 50 billion during 2006-2013, up from about 42 billion in 2005, but well short of what was promised. G8 aid to Africa falls well short of promised levels, even below the contributions from the small Nordic countries.

Not surprisingly, the recent G7 summit made no reference to the Gleneagles promises. Instead, it focused on addressing climate change, and it seems likely that climate finance conditionalities will undermine the principle of common, but differentiated responsibilities.

The struggle leading to the Conference of Parties in Paris will be to ensure that climate finance will be additional to the longstanding ODA promises, and will promote climate justice and development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Names Winners of First Nelson Mandela Prizehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-names-winners-of-first-nelson-mandela-prize/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-names-winners-of-first-nelson-mandela-prize http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-names-winners-of-first-nelson-mandela-prize/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 17:54:11 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141250 Nelson Mandela, Deputy President of the African National Congress of South Africa, raises his fist in the air while addressing the Special Committee Against Apartheid in the General Assembly Hall, June 22, 1990. Credit: UN Photo/Pernaca Sudhakaran

Nelson Mandela, Deputy President of the African National Congress of South Africa, raises his fist in the air while addressing the Special Committee Against Apartheid in the General Assembly Hall, June 22, 1990. Credit: UN Photo/Pernaca Sudhakaran

By Kitty Stapp
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 22 2015 (IPS)

The winners of the first-ever United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize were announced Monday by General Assembly President Sam Kutesa, 25 years to the day that Mandela addressed the U.N. General Assembly to denounce apartheid in his home country of South Africa.

They are Dr. Helena Ndume of Namibia, and Jorge Sampaio of Portugal.

Kutesa said that the winners were chosen from about 300 applicants for the prize from a variety of sources, including member states as well as observer states of the U.N., institutions of higher education, intergovernmental organisations and NGOs.

The Prize was established in June 2014 by the General Assembly to recognise the achievements of those who dedicate their lives to the service of humanity by promoting the purposes and principles of the United Nations, while honouring and paying homage to Nelson Mandela’s extraordinary life and legacy of reconciliation, political transition, and social transformation.

Dr. Ndume is a Namibian ophthalmologist, widely renowned for her charitable work among sufferers of eye-related illnesses in Namibia. Dr. Ndume has ensured that some 30,000 blind Namibians have received eye surgery and are fitted with intra-ocular lens implants free of charge.

She is currently the head of the ophthalmology department at Windhoek Central Hospital, Namibia’s largest hospital, and is one of only six Namibian ophthalmologists. Ndume has also set up eye camps in Angola, working with international organisations to bring eye surgery to the country’s poor.

Jorge Sampaio is a Portuguese lawyer and politician who was president of Portugal from 1996 to 2006. He became a leader in the struggle for the restoration of democracy in his country, and also served as deputy minister for external cooperation and as mayor of Lisbon from 1989 to 1995.

He is a strong advocate of the European integration project, actively supported its enlargement to all democratic countries in Europe as well as to Turkey, and played an active role in engaging ordinary people, in particular youth, in public debates on European affairs.

Sampaio is now a member of the Club de Madrid, a grouping of more than 80 former democratic statesmen that works to strengthen democratic governance and leadership worldwide by drawing on the experience of its members.

In May 2006, Sampaio was appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General as his first Special Envoy for the Global Plan to Stop Tuberculosis, where he raised the international visibility of this poverty disease’s scale and its impact on the Millennium Development Goals’ agenda.

In April 2007, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon designated him as High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, a position he held till September 2012.

Ban said the United Nations hoped to carry on Mandela’s “lifelong work through this meaningful prize.”

Chaired by the President of the General Assembly, the United Nations selection Committee for the Prize this year was composed of the Permanent Representatives of Algeria, Latvia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Sweden, representing the five United Nations geographical regional groups.

The Permanent Representative of South Africa was an ex-officio member of the Committee. The U.N. Department of Public Information served as the secretariat.

The award ceremony will take place on July 24 at United Nations Headquarters in New York. It will be part of the annual commemoration by the General Assembly of Nelson Mandela International Day.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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South Sudan Again Tops Fragile States Indexhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/south-sudan-again-tops-fragile-states-index/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudan-again-tops-fragile-states-index http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/south-sudan-again-tops-fragile-states-index/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 11:51:19 +0000 Beatrice Paez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141192 South Sudanese Police Cadets taking oath during their graduation ceremony at the Juba Football Stadium. September 17, 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy Gideon Lu'b

South Sudanese Police Cadets taking oath during their graduation ceremony at the Juba Football Stadium. September 17, 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy Gideon Lu'b

By Beatrice Paez
SAINT JOHN, New Brunswick, Canada, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

For the second year in a row, South Sudan has been designated as the most fragile nation in the world, plagued by intensifying internal conflict that has displaced more than two million of its people.

Headline-making events of the past year have spurred much of the movement of countries’ rankings – for better or worse – in the Fragile States Index (FSI), a joint annual report by Foreign Policy magazine and think-tank Fund for Peace (FFP) released on Jun. 17.“For me, Nigeria was one of the most interesting stories of the year. All indicators showed intensive pressures on all fronts...and yet people were able to really rally at the local, national level.” -- Nate Haken

Sub-Saharan Africa found itself leading the pack, with seven out of the top 10 countries ranked as the most fragile. As far as regional trends go, the Islamic State’s encroaching influence pulled states such as Yemen, Libya, Syria and Iraq into the top 10 most-worsened countries of 2015.

Cuba stood out as the most-improved country this past decade, owing its designation to the thawing of relations with the United States and the gradual opening of its economy to foreign investment. Though trends suggest the nation is on track to improving conditions, there remains the challenge of access to public services and upholding human rights.

In an effort to measure a state’s fragility, the index accounts for event-driven factors and makes use of data to illuminate patterns and trends that could contribute to instability. The report analysed the progress of 178 countries around the world.

“At the top of the index, countries do tend to move minimally, but at the centre of the index, you tend to see a lot more movement,” said Nate Haken, senior associate of FFP. “That’s partly because fragility begets fragility and stability begets stability.”

And yet, the report highlighted, there are outliers like Nigeria that defy easy categorisation even as pressures on all fronts – political, social, economic – would indicate a country on the brink of descending into conflict.

“For me, Nigeria was one of the most interesting stories of the year. All indicators showed intensive pressures on all fronts,” Haken told IPS. “Oil prices were down, there was more killing this past year.”

But in an unexpected turn, Haken noted, the political opposition led by Muhammadu Buhari emerged as a credible threat to incumbent Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party. He added that many expected a polarising outcome that would pit the north and south against each other, whatever the outcome.

“I think most observers looking at these trends thought this was bound to be a disaster,” said Haken. “Every empirical measure shows a high degree of risk and yet, people were able to really rally at the local, national level.”

Meanwhile, Portugal and Georgia joined the ranks of Cuba for the most improved, with strides being made in the economy.

Whereas some countries’ progress or decline has held steady, a closer look can reveal an emerging narrative, said Haken. The United States’ year-over-year score (ranked at 89) has remained flat, but group grievances – tensions among groups – has been increasing since 2007, with respect to the immigration of children fleeing Central America and protest against the police over racial relations.

Far from being a predictive tool, the index functions as a diagnostic tool for policy makers working in human rights and economic development to identify high-priority areas, he noted. As well, it serves to turn the spotlight on countries that seemingly have marginal bearing for the international community.

In the case of the Ebola crisis in West Africa, countries like Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone may not have figured large in headlines, but the “ripple effects across the region” also had far-reaching consequences for the international community as the world scrambled to contain the outbreak, Haken noted.

Demographic pressures – massive rural-urban migration – coupled with lack of proper road infrastructure gave way to the spread of Ebola.

“One thing that came out of the index is how critical infrastructure is for sustainable human security,” he said. “… Once it began to spread, it was difficult for medical personnel and supplies to reach the rural areas.”

This regional crisis, in particular, served as a reminder that “post-conflict” nations “on path to recovery” still face vulnerabilities, the report noted.

The index relies on 12 indicators (plus other variables) to make its assessment. They account for state legitimacy; demographic pressures; economic performance; intervention of state or non-state actors; provision of public services; and population flight, among others. Each indicator is given equal weight, and countries take a numerical score, with one for the best performance and 10 for the worst.

On this basis, policy makers are encouraged to use the index to frame research questions and to help determine the allocation of humanitarian aid.

Since 2014, FSI moved away from the use of the term “failed” in favour of “fragile,” as a way of acknowledging that in some instances, the pressures a state faces can be beyond its control, said Haken.

For instance, he cited refugee crises in which governments – ill-equipped or not – take on a large number of refugees.

“Failure connotes culpability somewhere, whereas that’s not what this index was ever trying to do,” he said. “It was looking at factors – some of which governments have influence over, some of which they don’t.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Could Peacekeeping Wives Deter Sexual Abuse in U.N. Overseas Operations?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/could-peacekeeping-wives-deter-sexual-abuse-in-u-n-overseas-operations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=could-peacekeeping-wives-deter-sexual-abuse-in-u-n-overseas-operations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/could-peacekeeping-wives-deter-sexual-abuse-in-u-n-overseas-operations/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 15:00:34 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141172 A Uruguayan peacekeeper with UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) watches as the helicopter carrying Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, makes its way back toward Goma after Mrs. Ladsous’ visit in Pinga, North Kivu Province. Credit: UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti

A Uruguayan peacekeeper with UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) watches as the helicopter carrying Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, makes its way back toward Goma after Mrs. Ladsous’ visit in Pinga, North Kivu Province. Credit: UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 17 2015 (IPS)

Back in November 2007, about 108 military personnel from an Asian country, serving with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti, were deported home after being accused of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of minors.

After their return, one of the expelled peacekeepers was quoted in a local newspaper as saying, rather defiantly, “What do you expect us to do when the U.N. is providing us with free condoms?”“I believe that an unstable place with a weak (or no) government may create a sensation of lack of accountability, of power over the local population and a few individuals might feel free to engage in unacceptable behaviour." -- Barbara Tavora-Jainchill

But then all those free condoms were being provided to prevent sexually-transmitted diseases and not to encourage sexual abuse.

As a result of the widespread sexual abuse with peacekeeping missions, the United Nations plans to set up an independent review panel calling for recommendations specifically to prevent these crimes and also to hold those responsible accountable for their deeds and mete out punishments.

But as a preventive measure, would it help if peacekeepers and U.N. staffers are sent on overseas missions along with their wives, partners and families?

Pursuing this line of thinking, Joe Lauria, U.N. correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, told IPS, “Perhaps the U.N. should look into making it possible for U.N. peacekeepers to have their wives and girlfriends and children live with them during their deployment.”

He said he realised it would be an added expense for the U.N. to transport them and perhaps to find suitable housing on U.N. peacekeeping bases.

“But the potential benefits of cutting down on what is an epidemic — of U.N. peacekeepers sexually abusing the people they are sworn to protect — could be immense. It is difficult to understand why the U.N. has never thought of this before.”

Lauria also said there is a longstanding tradition throughout military history of soldiers allowing their wives to accompany them– even to the front.

Two examples are in ancient Rome and in the American Civil War. And U.N. peacekeepers are rarely in combat situations, so the logistics are simpler, he said.

Today U.S. troops stationed at bases abroad, such as in Germany or South Korea, are allowed to live with their families. The wives and girlfriends of U.N. peacekeepers could be expected to live from the salaries of the peacekeepers, perhaps with an additional stipend, he argued.

“It would be troubling for the U.N. not to look into this possibility given all the negative fallout for the organisation, not to mention the serious harm done to the victims of U.N. peacekeeper’s sexual abuse,” said Lauria.

When he raised this issue at a press briefing last week, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that virtually all of the peacekeeping operations, with a couple of exceptions like Cyprus, are “non‑family duty stations for the civilian staff.”

“You raise a point that’s interesting, that I don’t know the answer to. I don’t believe uniformed peacekeepers or police officers are able to bring their spouses along,” he said.

Pressed further by Lauria, Dujarric said: “I think I see where… where you’re going, but I think the issue of abuse of power, of sexual abuse needs to be fought, regardless of what those rules may be.”

Since the United Nations has no political or legal authority to penalise military personnel, most of them escape punishment for their criminal activities because national governments have either refused or have been slow in meting out justice within their own court systems.

Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), representing 60,000 staff working at the United Nations, told IPS that as far as it concerns U.N. civilian staff, “I’m not sure you can draw a link between the two.”

“We have over 21,000 civilian colleagues in field and peacekeeping operations, doing a great job and almost all in what are called non-family duty stations. Yet reported sexual abuse by staff, while horrific, remains extremely low,” he said.

Three staff were reported, investigated and fired for sexual abuse last year.

“So these are very specific cases rather than a generalised trend. All U.N. staff are aware of the organisation’s zero-tolerance approach to sexual abuse and sign a declaration on this when they’re recruited.

“Therefore, I’m not sure that absent spouses is an issue in this sense. In any case, non-family duty stations are declared as such because they are in conflict zones or prone to rebel or terrorist activity. They’re not places to bring spouses or children,” Richards added.

A U.N. staffer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS there were some U.N. civilian staffers, based in a virtual war zone in Iraq, who housed their families in neighbouring Kuwait, but at their own expense.

But staffers serving in these missions are well remunerated with “hazard pay allowances” (HPA) and “mission subsistence allowances” (MSA).

A senior U.N. official told IPS it is very unlikely that wives and families will be permitted in overseas missions, specifically high risk missions, because it would be difficult to ensure their security (and it will double or triple the U.N.’s current burden of protecting staffers).

Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union in New York, told IPS even though being away from the family brings stress, “I believe that an unstable place with a weak (or no) government may create a sensation of lack of accountability, of power over the local population and a few individuals might feel free to engage in unacceptable behaviour.

“Accountability should be strengthened in peacekeeping and political missions and the U.N. should adopt a serious whistleblower policy, because sometimes whistleblowers are the ones who make accountability possible,” she added.

Meanwhile a High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, chaired by former President of Timor-Leste Ramos-Horta, has released a report with a comprehensive assessment of the state of U.N. peace operations and the emerging needs of the future.

At a press conference Tuesday, Ramos-Horta emphasised the United Nations had “zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse.”

He said sexual abuse by peacekeepers “rocks and undermines the most important power the United Nations possesses: its integrity.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: GM Cotton a False Promise for Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-gm-cotton-a-false-promise-for-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-gm-cotton-a-false-promise-for-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-gm-cotton-a-false-promise-for-africa/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 08:58:31 +0000 Haidee Swanby http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141132 Zambian cotton grower sitting on his bales. Some African governments and local cotton producers have high hopes that GM technology will boost African competitiveness in the dog-eat-dog world that characterises the global cotton market. Credit: Nebert Mulenga/IPS

Zambian cotton grower sitting on his bales. Some African governments and local cotton producers have high hopes that GM technology will boost African competitiveness in the dog-eat-dog world that characterises the global cotton market. Credit: Nebert Mulenga/IPS

By Haidee Swanby
MELVILLE, South Africa, Jun 15 2015 (IPS)

Genetically modified (GM) cotton has been produced globally for almost two decades, yet to date only three African countries have grown GM cotton on a commercial basis – South Africa, Burkina Faso and Sudan.

African governments have been sceptical of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for decades and have played a key role historically in ensuring that international law – the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety – takes a precautionary stance towards genetic engineering in food and agriculture.

They have also imposed various restrictions and bans on the cultivation and importation of GMOs, including on genetically modified (GM) food aid.

But now resistance to GM cultivation is crumbling as a number of other African countries such as Malawi, Ghana, Swaziland and Cameroon appear to be on the verge of allowing their first cultivation of GM cotton, with Nigeria and Ethiopia planning to follow suit in the next two to three years.“Scrutiny of actual experiences [with GM cotton] reveals a tragic tale of crippling debt, appalling market prices and a technology prone to failure in the absence of very specific and onerous management techniques, which are not suited to smallholder production”

Some African governments and local cotton producers have high hopes that GM technology will boost African competitiveness in the dog-eat-dog world that characterises the global cotton market.

At the moment African cotton productivity is declining – it now stands at only half the world average – while global productivity is increasing. The promise of improving productivity and reducing pesticide use through the adoption of GM cotton is thus compelling.

However, African leaders and cotton producers need to take a close look at how GM cotton has fared in South Africa and Burkina Faso to date, particularly its socioeconomic impact on smallholder farmers.

Scrutiny of actual experiences reveals a tragic tale of crippling debt, appalling market prices and a technology prone to failure in the absence of very specific and onerous management techniques, which are not suited to smallholder production.

As stated by a farmer during a Malian public consultation on GMOs, “What’s the point of encouraging us to increase yields with GMOs when we can’t get a decent price for what we already produce?”

In Burkina Faso, the tide turned against GM cotton after just five seasons as low yields and low quality fibres persisted. In South Africa, GM cotton brought devastating debts to smallholders and the local credit institution went bust. Last season, smallholders contributed to less than three percent of South Africa’s total production.

In Malawi, Monsanto has already applied to the government for a permit to commercialise Bollgard II, its GM pest resistant cotton, to which there has been a strong reaction from civil society and an alliance of organisations has submitted substantive objections.

Even Malawi’s cotton industry, the Cotton Development Trust (CDT), has publically voiced its concerns over a number of issues, including inadequate field trials, the high cost of GM seed and related inputs, and blurred intellectual property arrangements.

In addition, CDT has expressed unease over the potential development of pest resistance and the inevitable applications of herbicide chemicals.

Regional economic communities (RECs), such as the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS), are also key players in readying their member states for the commercialisation of and trade in GM cotton, through harmonised biosafety policies. Together COMESA and ECOWAS incorporate 34 countries in Africa.

The COMESA Policy on Biotechnology and Biosafety was adopted in February 2014 and member states validated the implementation plan in March 2015.

The ECOWAS Biosafety Policy has been through an arduous process for more than a decade now and pronounced conflicts between trade imperatives and safety checks have stalled agreement between stakeholders. However, recent reports indicate that agreement between member states and donor parties has been reached and a final draft of the Biosafety Policy will soon be published.

Experiments and open field trials with GM cotton have been running for many years in a number of African countries and are increasingly at a stage where applications for commercial release are imminent.

However, there are many obstacles to the birth of a new GM era in Africa, chief among them the fact that this high-end technology is simply not appropriate to resource-poor farmers operating on tiny pieces of land, together with fierce opposition from civil society and sometimes also from governments.

Attempts by the biotech industry to impose policies that pander to investors’ desires at the expense of environmental and human safety may be easier to realise at the regional level, through the trade-friendly RECs. This is where many biotech industry resources and efforts are currently being channelled.

Despite whatever legal environments may be implemented to enable the introduction of GM cotton regionally or nationally, the fact remains that Africa’s cotton farmers are operating in a difficult global sector – prices are erratic and distorted by unfair subsidies in the North, institutional support for their activities is often lacking, and high input costs are already annihilating profit margins.

Fighting for the introduction of more expensive technologies that have already proven themselves technologically unsound in a smallholder environment is deeply irresponsible and short-sighted.

It is time that African governments turn their resources to improving the local environments in which cotton producers operate, including institutional and infrastructural support that can bring long-term sustainability to the sector, without placing further burdens and vulnerability on some of the most marginalised people in the world.

Civil society actions will continue to vehemently oppose and challenge the false solutions promised by GM cotton and will insist on just trading environments and true and sustainable upliftment for African cotton producers.

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. 

* This opinion piece is based on the author’s more extensive paper titled Cottoning on to the Lie, published by the African Centre for Biodiversity, June 2015

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Kidney Disease Treatment Not For All in Ugandahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/kidney-disease-treatment-not-for-all-in-uganda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kidney-disease-treatment-not-for-all-in-uganda http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/kidney-disease-treatment-not-for-all-in-uganda/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 08:27:04 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141129 Patient undergoing dialysis treatment at Mulago Hospital in Kampala. Credit: Rebecca Vassie

Patient undergoing dialysis treatment at Mulago Hospital in Kampala. Credit: Rebecca Vassie

By Wambi Michael
KAMPALA, Jun 15 2015 (IPS)

Vincent Mugyenyi, a 65-year-old retired pilot from the Ugandan Air Force, has lost count of how many dialysis treatment slots he has had to attend in the eight years he has been fighting chronic kidney disease.

He spends eight hours a week on a dialysis machine in Mulago National Referral Hospital that filters toxins from his blood, performing the functions of healthy kidneys. The ultimate aim of dialysis is to bridge a gap until kidney functions recover or until a transplant is available for patients.

“I used to have a small farm with about one hundred animals. I sold all those animals for treatment because I still needed life. That is how this disease has affected me. It has depleted every resource of mine … land is very important but I have sold mine just to buy life,” Mugyenyi told IPS.

Mugyenyi is both luck and unfortunate. He is one of the minority of Ugandans with chronic kidney disease who has been able to receive dialysis treatment, but he does not qualify for a kidney transplant operation because of his advanced age.“We don’t have sufficient data on the disease. We understand more about HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, because these are diseases with lots of funding behind them. But funding for kidney disease isn’t there. Kidney disease deserves the same level of importance as HIV” – Dr Robert Kalyesubula, nephrologist at Mulago Hospital in Kampala

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a growing health burden in Uganda that is affecting the economic, social and physical livelihoods of patients and their family members.

Dr, Simon Peter Eyoku, a kidney disease specialist at Mulago Hospital’s renal unit, told IPS that CKD affects mainly Ugandan adults aged between 20 and 50, and that the commonest causes of kidney diseases in Uganda are HIV-related infections of the kidney, followed by hypertension and diabetes.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that with CKD being the 12th leading cause of deaths worldwide and its incidence growing by around eight percent annually, it is a global public health concern.

Mulago National Referral Hospital is the only public hospital in Uganda treating patients with renal or kidney-related complications and, according to Eyoku, that often places a further burden on patients who have to travel long distances to the dialysis unit.

“I have seen patients migrate from far corners of the country to Kampala because that is where the dialysis machines are. That is how costly this disease can be to patients,” Eyoku told IPS.

A further problem is that the dialysis unit only has 33 haemodialysis machines for a total population of about 36 million people.

When the unit opened almost eight years ago with four dialysis machines, a patient had to pay the equivalent of 500 dollars for a week of dialysis treatment, making the cost of treatment prohibitive.

“Those who could afford it would fall out after selling land, houses, cars and then failing to continue. And at that time, the cost of a transplant was equal to the amount of money you paid in a year for dialysis,” said Eyoku.

In March 2014, the administration of Mulago Hospital decided to reallocate its budget in order to finance the renal unit and brought the cost of a week of treatment down to 40 dollars, but that is still out the reach of most Ugandans.

The hospital is now also offering two free sessions of dialysis, and Eyoku told IPS that this has led to an influx of patients with CKD, “so now we are struggling because we are getting many more patients on dialysis.”

Uganda’s health planners are accused of not giving priority to kidney-related diseases. “I wish we had more specialists managing kidney diseases,” Dr Robert Kalyesubula, one of the four consulting nephrologists at Mulago Hospital, told IPS.

“I wish we had more specialists managing kidney diseases, I wish we had more awareness programmes about kidney disease so that people know about it because it is devastating. I have seen big people break down on being diagnosed with kidney disease. And the pain, because it affects a whole family. If a father gets the disease then the children will not go to school.”

One of the difficulties with kidney disease is that in its early stages it has no specific symptoms so the patients who turn up for treatment are often in the final stages of the disease.

“Patients come in the dying stage,” said Kalyesubula. “You spend 90 percent of your time struggling to keep people alive rather than making them live.”

In addition, said the nephrologist, in Uganda as in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, the magnitude of CKD is unknown and is not given sufficient importance.

“We don’t have sufficient data on the disease. We understand more about HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, because these are diseases with lots of funding behind them. But funding for kidney disease isn’t there. Kidney disease deserves the same level of importance as HIV. We are ignoring a disease which can be treated in its early stages.”

Patients who cannot afford to pay the 40 dollars a week for dialysis are treated in ward 4C, and the impression is that they are prisoners condemned to a death sentence with no possibility of appeal.

When IPS visits the ward on a busy afternoon, the scene was one of pathetic chaos, with the few doctors and nurses available rushing round, attending to both adult males and young girls in the same ward.

A male patient in his mid-forties had just died from kidney failure, and at the entrance to the ward, IPS met Rosemary Kyakuhaire, packing the bags of a brother who had died earlier in the day. She said that he had spent three weeks in the ward receiving palliative care because her family could not afford the expensive dialysis treatment.

In Uganda, Kalyesubula told IPS, a person would rather be diagnosed with HIV than kidney disease. “I say that mainly because HIV has a lot of support systems in Uganda. But for kidney disease, you are there on your own.  I have also seen people sell their houses to go for a kidney transplant but you don’t have to do that for HIV/AIDS.”

Provision of CKD treatment in Uganda depends primarily on whether the patient has health insurance or can otherwise afford treatment through taking out loans, selling property or financial support from relatives and friends. There are two private hospitals offering dialysis but only a lucky few can afford them.

Twenty-seven-year old Benon Mulindwa is one of the lucky ones. His employer, the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF), had medical insurance cover for his treatment and transplant costs. He told IPS that without that medical cover, he could not have afforded the 20,000 dollars or so a year for dialysis and another 20,000 dollars for his kidney transplant.

However, Mulindwa received the transplant not in Uganda but in India, with his employer’s medical insurance cover paying for the costs of transport to India and surgery there. He explained that most patients have to look for their own kidney donors at home.

Unlike developed countries which run public kidney donation registries, patients in Uganda have to find potential donors and that, said Kalyesubula, is where one of the difficulties for CKD patients lies.

Because of lack of awareness about the safety of kidney donations, many Ugandans are unwilling to donate a kidney to save the life of one of the growing number of patients on the kidney donation waiting lists.

But that is not the only difficulty, as Mulindwa explained. “It is very difficult because there those who come as thieves, there those who come expecting to be paid a lot of money. I know of one who promised to donate a kidney to one of the patients, but when the money was sent the ‘donor’ disappeared.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Rights Groups Call for Durable Solution for Europe’s Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/rights-groups-call-for-durable-solution-for-europes-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rights-groups-call-for-durable-solution-for-europes-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/rights-groups-call-for-durable-solution-for-europes-migrants/#comments Sat, 13 Jun 2015 21:58:52 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141121 Migrants send a message – “We are humans, not animals”. Credit: Amnesty International France

Migrants send a message – “We are humans, not animals”. Credit: Amnesty International France

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Jun 13 2015 (IPS)

Human rights groups are calling for a sustainable solution to the migrant crisis in Europe, especially following the dismantling of refugee camps in Paris and Calais, France, over the past two weeks.

In one of the latest incidents, tense confrontations occurred in the French capital when security forces evicted migrants from a park last Thursday, with activists later blocking the police from entering a former barracks where the migrants were temporarily sheltered.“The state has a duty to ensure durable accommodation solutions for all those who seek asylum” – Marco Perolini, Amnesty International

Amnesty International, present as observer during the operation, said that the state needs to do more to find housing solutions for migrants who have been sleeping on the street and in public parks.

“The state can evict people for various reasons, but migrants also have rights,” Stephan Oberreit, director general of Amnesty International France, told IPS.

“If the state informed people, explained the regulations and offered decent shelters, then that would be fine,” he added. “But this is not the case. They are not providing enough shelters for migrants and asylum seekers.”

Some of the migrants in the park – at the Bois Dormoy in the city’s 18th district – had already been evicted from a makeshift camp set up under a metro overpass, where conditions had become increasingly unsanitary.

Others came from a second cleared camp in northern Paris where about 350 migrants had been living. Most of those affected are from Sudan but there are also Somalis, Eritreans, Egyptians and other nationalities among the groups, officials said.

Activists and migrants protest evictions in Paris. Credit: Amnesty International France

Activists and migrants protest evictions in Paris. Credit: Amnesty International France

The authorities had additionally evicted about 140 migrants from two makeshifts camps in Calais, northern France, where more than 2,000 migrants have been living in rough conditions in tent settlements.

On Thursday, at the Bois Dormoy, in incidents that lasted late into the night, the migrants took steps to organise their own response to the security operations after they had been told to leave the park. They held meetings among themselves and liaised with activists – who have been providing food and support – to make their concerns known.

City officials initially offered about 60 places at state shelters but eventually increased the number to accommodate more of the migrants, following negotiations. Rights groups feared, however, that many would still remain homeless.

“The French authorities cannot just keep moving these migrants and asylum seekers from pillar to post without seeking viable alternatives – the state has a duty to ensure durable accommodation solutions for all those who seek asylum,” said Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Discrimination in Europe.

“Real and viable alternative solutions must be found to give these migrants and refugees adequate shelter and services, including access to asylum procedures,” he added.

Other groups such as GISTI (Group for Information and Support to Immigrants), told IPS that they were also providing legal assistance to the migrants, with their lawyers representing asylum seekers at court hearings.

Meanwhile, the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said she would like to open a “welcome centre” for migrants who may be en route to other countries, or who may eventually decide to seek asylum in France.

“We are facing a huge increase in the numbers, and we need to open some kind of welcome centre,” she told French media. “One thing is certain – they cannot sleep on the streets.”

Such a centre would only be for temporary stays, and groups such as Amnesty International say that more permanent solutions are urgent and necessary.

This week, the European Commission, the executive branch of the 28-nation European Union (EU), called for member states to endorse its proposal to resettle 40,000 migrants as the boats keep arriving at Italian and Greek shores.

According to United Nations figures, more than 100,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean since the start of 2015, and about 1,800 have died in the perilous boat trips, as they flee poverty and warfare in their homelands.

Thousands have entered France, often in an attempt to reach other countries such as Britain.  But while both France and Britain are against the proposed EU quotas, the number of people who would be relocated in France is just a “drop in the ocean”, Oberreit of Amnesty International told IPS.

“We can’t keep looking at temporary solutions,” Oberreit warned. “Individuals must be able to have a proper process of their situation in order to have refugee status, and migrants must have some form of shelter so they don’t have to be out in the street and go hungry.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: Journey Towards an African Taxation Renaissancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-journey-towards-an-african-taxation-renaissance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-journey-towards-an-african-taxation-renaissance http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-journey-towards-an-african-taxation-renaissance/#comments Fri, 12 Jun 2015 07:42:45 +0000 Sipho Mthathi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141103

Sipho Mthathi is Executive Director of Oxfam South Africa

By Sipho Mthathi
JOHANNESBURG, Jun 12 2015 (IPS)

Africa is known as the ‘paradox of plenty’. How can a continent so rich in natural resources be so poor?

Economic growth is predicted to increase by 4.5 percent across the continent this year, despite falling oil prices and the Ebola crisis. South Africa’s economy, the second biggest in Africa is expected to continue to grow by 3.5 percent this year; Nigeria will grow by an enviable 5.5 percent.

Sipho Mthathi, Executive Director of Oxfam South Africa

Sipho Mthathi, Executive Director of Oxfam South Africa

However, millions across Africa are struggling.  Economic inequality is on the rise, and public coffers are insufficient due to an increasing demand for public services like health, education and housing.

Recently, Thomas Pogge and other distinguished academics have written about the cost of progress. Surprisingly, history provides us with examples of countries where, if there is a balance between economic growth and public spending, it is possible to address inequality.

There is no time to waste in looking for ways to address this widening gap across Africa.

It is urgent that, collectively, African nations look at the billions of dollars flowing out of the continent every year, most of which can be attributed to corporate tax dodging.

In January, the report of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) from Africa, chaired by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, contended that IFFs from Africa increased from about 20 billion dollars in 2001 to 60 billion in 2010 in the merchandise sector alone.

According to Global Financial Integrity’s 2014 report on IFFs from developing countries, South Africa alone may have lost more than 122 billion dollars between 2003 and 2012 in IFFs.

This is a lost opportunity for money that could have been reinvested in advancing Africa’s development and increased access to public goods for her Africa’s people.“It is urgent that, collectively, African nations look at the billions of dollars flowing out of the continent every year, most of which can be attributed to corporate tax dodging”

But this is only the half of the story. Multinational companies are gaining at the expense of African people through other ‘legal’ forms of corporate tax dodging, and through negotiated tax breaks. This is happening because of a lack of fair global tax rules, and behind-closed-door deals between corporations and governments, rushing to seal deals under pressure.

Africa’s astounding growth is affecting human development. And these losses in tax revenue come at a time when the role of official development assistance to Africa is declining.

Fair and progressive tax systems should be providing financing for well-functioning government programmes to enable governments to uphold citizens’ rights to basic services (such as healthcare and education), and cement trust between citizens and governments.

Establishing an effective tax system is critical if Africa is going to mobilise the resources it needs to tackle poverty and inequality.  Africa is home to six out of ten of the world’s most unequal countries – South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Central Africa Republic.  Some estimates on Africa’s financing needs include 40-$60 billion dollars per year to finance the post-2015 development agenda.

This is not just Africa’s problem. Around the world, many lower-income countries have been subject to harmful tax practices, including transfer pricing, whereby a transfer price may be manipulated to shift profits from one jurisdiction to another, usually from a higher-tax to a lower-tax jurisdiction.

After revelations of how multinational enterprises (MNEs) such as Starbucks, Google and Apple deliberately structured themselves to minimise their tax bills, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) launched an effort to reform this base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) practice. This reform is expected to wind up by the end of 2015.

However, since the launch of the BEPS Action Plan, developed countries have not had a real voice or influence in the process.  Just four African countries, including South Africa as a G20 member country, have been invited to participate as observers.  These countries are bringing attention to the many mining corporations which are offered lucrative tax incentives which must be addressed in the BEPS plan.

The African Tax Administration Forum (ATAF) is a regional tax body that has been invited by the OECD/G20 to participate in the BEPS reform process.  This should provide further scope to influence the BEPS process with an African perspective.

At the same time, the South Africa Revenue Services (SARS) is going after billions lost through wasteful incentives and trade mispricing. SARS has recovered 5.8 billion rand (460 million dollars) over the three-year period 2011-2014, 55 percent (3.4 billion rand or 274 million dollars) of which is attributed to the mining industry.

South Africa’s membership in the G20 (and its role as co-Chair of the G20 Development Working Group) provides an enormous opportunity to insist on broad inclusion of all nations in the BEPS reform process.

At a recent conference convened by ATAF, South African Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene called for “Africa to protect its own tax base, and advance domestic resource mobilisation through a common voice, a common concern and a common action plan.”

It is time that all African finance ministers wake up to the possibility that tax revenues for financing essential services for their citizens, or investment in small-holder agriculture or infrastructure, could come from the recovery of billions of dollars lost from corporate tax dodging and unfair tax competition.

Tax breaks provided to six large foreign mining companies in Sierra Leone, for example, are equivalent to 59 percent of the total budget of the country – or eight times the country’s health budget.

It is time for a global inter-governmental body on international tax cooperation to allow for a more inclusive and coordinated approach to ongoing tax reform, beyond BEPS.

All countries should be able to participate in tax negotiations on an equal footing, which guarantees one country, one vote, and where representatives will have the political mandate to speak on behalf of their governments.  Simply relying on the BEPS process to re-write tax rules will not be enough to end international tax dodging.

Through the BEPS reform process and this new tax body, there would be real potential for an African taxation renaissance.

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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Infrastructure Investments in Emerging Economies Hit Record Levels – but at What Cost?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/infrastructure-boom-in-emerging-economies-hits-record-levels-but-at-what-cost/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=infrastructure-boom-in-emerging-economies-hits-record-levels-but-at-what-cost http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/infrastructure-boom-in-emerging-economies-hits-record-levels-but-at-what-cost/#comments Thu, 11 Jun 2015 16:50:16 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141081 Large-scale energy and logistical infrastructure initiatives in Brazil are notorious for their delays. The majority of railways, ports, highways and power plants are several years behind schedule. Credit: Darío Montero/IPS

Large-scale energy and logistical infrastructure initiatives in Brazil are notorious for their delays. The majority of railways, ports, highways and power plants are several years behind schedule. Credit: Darío Montero/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Jun 11 2015 (IPS)

According to new data released by the World Bank Tuesday, investments in infrastructure in 139 emerging economies shot up to 107.5 billion dollars in 2014, with just five countries – Brazil, Colombia, India, Peru and Turkey – accounting for 73 percent of the total.

The update, published by the Bank’s Private Participation in Infrastructure (PPI) database, reveals that projects with private participation in the water, energy and transport sectors totaled 51.2 billion in the first half of 2014, compared to 41.7 billion in the first half of 2013.

"The concept of ‘appropriate scale’ has been deleted from […] policy discourse because now instead of ‘small is beautiful’, the catchphrase is ‘big is better’.” -- Nancy Alexander, director of the Economic Governance Program at the Heinrich Böll Foundation
Based on a review of investments in some 6,000 projects in 139 low- and middle-income countries between 1990 and 2014, the data show that the energy sector accounted for the greatest number of new projects, but the transport sector captured the largest amount of investment, securing 55.3 billion dollars or 51 percent of the total.

Some 33 road construction projects attracted 28.5 billion dollars in investment, with four of the top five road projects in Brazil and one in Turkey. Five airport projects secured 13.2 billion dollars in investment commitments.

Driven largely by massive infrastructure booms in Brazil, Colombia and Peru, Latin and America and the Caribbean accounted for 55 percent of global investments, snagging 69.1 billion dollars last year.

These mega-projects include 11 major ventures, eight of them in the energy sector, in Peru alone, amounting to over eight billion dollars, the largest of which, the Lima Metro Line 2, brought in 5.3 billion dollars in investment.

Not all regions are seeing an increase. Both India and China experienced declines last year, with the latter witnessing its lowest infrastructure investment levels since 2010, at 2.5 billion dollars. India’s commitments dropped down to 6.2 billion dollars.

In sub-Saharan Africa investment plunged from 9.3 billion in 2013 to 2.6 billion in 2014, although increased infrastructure activity in Ghana, Kenya and Senegal suggests that the downward trend might soon be reversed.

Despite uneven investment levels globally, the Bank estimates that spending on infrastructure projects in 2014 represents 91 percent of the five-year average between 2009 and 2013.

In a statement released on Jun. 9, Bank officials claimed, “This is the fourth highest level of investment commitments ever recorded, exceeded only by levels seen from 2010 through 2012.”

What this data reveals is that a global consensus to bolster public-private partnerships in mega-projects is bearing fruit.

Practically every major international organisation from the United Nations to multilateral development banks believe that strengthening road, energy and transport networks are crucial 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.

But a closer look at the track records of these gigantic infrastructure projects and new plans for financing them suggests that pouring billions of dollars into highways and dams in the developing world not only enriches some of the wealthiest sectors of the population, they also threaten to further impoverish the poorest, thereby widening global inequality.

‘Appropriate Scale’ – a thing of the past

The world’s most cited scholar on mega-project management and planning, Bent Flyvbjerg of Oxford University, found that on average only one in 1,000 mega-projects is completed on time, within its stated budget and with the ability to deliver what was promised.

Flyvbjerg’s extensive database on the subject reveals that approximately nine out of every 10 large-scale projects incur cost overruns, often over 50 percent of the stated budget – an expense borne primarily by taxpayers.

According to Nancy Alexander, director of the Economic Governance Program at the Heinrich Böll Foundation, these massive projects can cost “potentially billions and trillions of dollars, so when they go over budget and over time, they can devastate the national budget of a country.”

Alexander told IPS that, while there is a very real need for improved infrastructure, particularly in developing countries, there is an equally urgent need to tailor such ventures towards those who would most benefit from the services.

“Whether they are in education, healthcare, water or electricity, projects really need to be appropriate in scale to meet their goals. But the concept of ‘appropriate scale’ has been deleted from […] policy discourse because now instead of ‘small is beautiful’, the catchphrase is ‘big is better’.”

Part of the reason for this change, experts say, is the push to use investment in infrastructure to finance development, particularly by strengthening public-private partnerships and by ‘financialising’ investment.

Research by the Heinrich Böll Foundation reveals that the G20 group of major economies aims to finance the so-called infrastructure gap by tapping into the roughly 80 trillion dollars in long-term private institutional finance – from pension funds to insurance schemes – by creating infrastructure as an “asset class”.

Under this model, governments will undertake a range of public-private partnerships (PPPs) and financial institutions will package and sell financial products “that offer long-term investors a stake in a portfolio of PPPs”.

“When speculators take stakes in physical infrastructure,” the organisation says, “such infrastructure is subject to the whims of herds of investors [and] could trigger instability in the provision of basic services.”

Already, a lack of evidence on the success of PPPs suggests that the current pace of investment in infrastructure with private participation is at best a gamble – and at worst a recipe for disaster.

In a sample of 128 World Bank-financed public-private partnerships, 67 percent of those in the energy distribution sector failed, as did 41 percent of those in the water sector. These are the findings of the World Bank’s own independent evaluation group (IEG).

Other research indicates that mega-projects seldom lead to improvement in access to basic services, since many such ventures are undertaken to serve global, rather than local, demand.

“Energy projects, for instance, are often launched to serve a mine, or you’ll see a dam or power plant built for the same purpose – as is the case with the Inga Dam in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Alexander explained.

The very countries highlighted in the Bank’s latest update have a poor track record of successfully managing mega-projects.

Large-scale energy and logistical infrastructure initiatives in Brazil, for instance, are notorious for their delays, while the majority of railways, ports, highways and power plants are several years behind schedule.

Meanwhile, back in April, an expose published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) revealed that in the course of a single decade, some 3.4 million people were evicted from their homes, torn away from their lands or otherwise displaced by projects funded by the World Bank.

Fifty percent of those displaced by large-scale ventures – ostensibly aimed at improving water and electricity supplies or beefing up transport and energy networks in some of the world’s most impoverished nations – reside in Africa, or one of three Asian nations: China, India and Vietnam.

The investigators further alleged that the Bank and its private-sector lending arm, the International Finance Corp, pumped 50 billion dollars into projects that financed governments and companies accused of human rights violations.

Brent Blackwelder, president emeritus of Friends of the Earth International, told IPS that “planning bigger and bigger projects despite the failure rate proves what Einstein said: that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Africa on Threshold of Triple Energy Win for People, Power and Planethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/africa-on-threshold-of-triple-energy-win-for-people-power-and-planet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-on-threshold-of-triple-energy-win-for-people-power-and-planet http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/africa-on-threshold-of-triple-energy-win-for-people-power-and-planet/#comments Thu, 11 Jun 2015 08:11:17 +0000 Kwame Buist http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141092 By Kwame Buist
CAPE TOWN, Jun 11 2015 (IPS)

Renewable energy is at the forefront of the changes sweeping Africa, and a “triple win” is within the region’s grasp to increase agricultural productivity, improve resilience to climate change, and contribute to long-term reductions in dangerous carbon emissions.

This is the message of a new report by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Africa Progress Panel, titled Power, People, Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities.

The report calls for a ten-fold increase in power generation to provide all Africans with access to electricity by 2030, saying that this would reduce poverty and inequality, boost growth and provide the climate leadership that is sorely missing at the international level.

It also urges African governments, investors, and international financial institutions to scale up investment in energy significantly in order to unlock Africa’s potential as a global low-carbon superpower. “We categorically reject the idea that Africa has to choose between growth and low-carbon development. Africa needs to utilise all of its energy assets in the short term, while building the foundations for a competitive, low-carbon energy infrastructure” – Kofi Annan

“We categorically reject the idea that Africa has to choose between growth and low-carbon development,” said Annan. “Africa needs to utilise all of its energy assets in the short term, while building the foundations for a competitive, low-carbon energy infrastructure.”

Over 62 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity – and this number is rising.

The report notes that, excluding South Africa, which generates half the region’s electricity, sub-Saharan Africa uses less electricity than Spain. It would take the average Tanzanian eight years to use as much electricity as an average American consumes in a single month. And over the course of one year someone boiling a kettle twice a day in the United Kingdom uses five times more electricity than an Ethiopian consumes over the same year.

Power shortages are estimated to diminish the region’s growth by 2-4 percent a year, holding back efforts to create jobs and reduce poverty.

Despite a decade of growth, the power generation gap between Africa and other regions is widening. Nigeria, for example, is a petroleum exporting superpower, but 95 million of the country’s citizens rely on wood, charcoal and straw for energy.

The report reveals that households living on less than 2.50 dollars a day collectively spend 10 billion dollars every year on energy-related products, such as charcoal, kerosene, candles and torches.

Measured on a per unit basis, Africa’s poorest households are spending around 10 dollars/kWh on lighting – 20 times more than Africa’s richest households. By comparison, the national average cost for electricity in the United States is 0.12 dollars/kWh and in the United Kingdom 0.15 dollars/kWh.

The report says Africa’s leaders must start an energy revolution that connects the unconnected, and meets the demands of consumers, businesses and investors for affordable and reliable electricity.

It urges African governments to:

  • Use the region’s natural gas to provide domestic energy as well as exports, while harnessing Africa’s vast untapped renewable energy potential.
  • Cut corruption, make utility governance more transparent, strengthen regulations and increase public spending on energy infrastructure.
  • Redirect the 21 billion dollars spent on subsidies for loss-making utilities and electricity consumption – which benefit mainly the rich – towards connection subsidies and renewable energy investments that deliver energy to the poor.

The report also calls for strengthened international cooperation to close Africa’s energy sector financing gap, estimated to be 55 billion dollars annually to 2030, which includes 35 billion dollars for investments in plant, transmission and distribution, and 20 billion dollars for the costs of universal access.

A global connectivity fund with a target of reaching an additional 600 million Africans by 2030 is said to be needed to drive investment in on- and off-grid energy provision, with aid donors and financial institutions doing more to unlock private investment through risk guarantees and mitigation finance.

Time to end ‘climate negotiating poker’

The report also challenges African governments and their international partners to raise the level of ambition for the crucial climate summit in Paris in December, and calls for wholesale reform of the fragmented, under-resourced and ineffective climate financing system.

G20 countries are called on set a timetable for phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, with a ban on exploration and production subsidies by 2018.  “Many rich country governments tell us they want a climate deal. But at the same time billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money are subsidising the discovery of new coal, oil and gas reserves,” said Annan. “They should be pricing carbon out of the market through taxation, not subsiding a climate catastrophe.”

While recognising recent improvements in the negotiating positions of the European Union, the United States and China, the report says that current proposals still fall far short of a credible deal for limiting global warming to no more than 2˚C above pre-industrial levels.

The former U.N. Secretary-General said that “by hedging their bets and waiting for others to move first, some governments are playing poker with the planet and future generations’ lives. This is not a moment for prevarication, short-term self-interest and constrained ambition, but for bold global leadership and decisive action.”

“Countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa,” he added, “are emerging as front-runners in the global transition to low carbon energy. Africa is well positioned to expand the power generation needed to drive growth, deliver energy for all and play a leadership role in the crucial climate change negotiations.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Cape Verde’s Newest Voice Sends Message to Girlshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/cape-verdes-newest-voice-sends-message-to-girls/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cape-verdes-newest-voice-sends-message-to-girls http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/cape-verdes-newest-voice-sends-message-to-girls/#comments Thu, 11 Jun 2015 07:05:05 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141086 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/cape-verdes-newest-voice-sends-message-to-girls/feed/ 0 Cameroonian Women and Girls Saying No to Child Marriagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/cameroonian-women-and-girls-saying-no-to-child-marriage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cameroonian-women-and-girls-saying-no-to-child-marriage http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/cameroonian-women-and-girls-saying-no-to-child-marriage/#comments Wed, 10 Jun 2015 18:08:52 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141070 Bienvienue Taguieke, now 15, who refused to be sold into marriage when she was 12 for the equivalent of 8.5 dollars. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

Bienvienue Taguieke, now 15, who refused to be sold into marriage when she was 12 for the equivalent of 8.5 dollars. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

By Ngala Killian Chimtom
MAROUA, Cameroon, Jun 10 2015 (IPS)

Twelve-year-old Bienvienue Taguieke was expected to obey her parents and marry a man 40 years her senior, but an association of women in Cameroon’s Far North Region, where child marriages are rife, put a stop to it in a sign that women are starting to speaking out against the practice.

“I was a pupil at a government school in Guidimdaz, a village in the Mokolo area of the Far North Region when a man offered 5,000 CFA francs (around 8.50 dollars) to my mother for my hand in marriage. I refused and alerted some people including the headmistress of my school,” Bienvienue, now 15, told IPS.

Bienvienue believes her mother had considered the offer for economic reasons. “I think my mother wanted to sell me because of poverty. My father had died and there was nobody to pay my school fees and take care of us,” she says.“My daughter will not suffer like me. I will do everything to keep her in school. I am appealing to government to outlaw early marriages, so that girls can go to school, and get married only after their studies” – 15-year-old Nabila who succeeded in escaping from her marital home

However, the school’s headmistress, Asta Djarmi, begged Bienvienue’s mother not to give her daughter away to a much older man. “The headmistress stopped the marriage arrangement my mother had initiated, then the people of ALDEPA, a local civic group campaigning against child marriages, intervened and repaid the 5,000 CFA franc “dowry” to this man. They are also the ones paying my school fees today,” says the grateful schoolgirl.

The 15-year-old says she dreamt of becoming a teacher, and that getting married as a child could have ended that dream. Now that she not had to do so has revived that dream.

Hers is not an isolated case of resistance in the region. Across the Far North Region, teenage girls are resisting what they consider a hurtful culture.  In neighbouring Zilling village, for example, 15-year-old Nabila succeeded in escaping from her marital home.

“I was forced by my parents into marrying an elderly man two years ago when I was only 13. I lived in the man’s house for 14 painful days. I felt as if an evil spirit was haunting me and I decided to run away,” the young girl recalled.

But those 14 days left her pregnant, and the teenager now raises the child by herself. Ironically, the man she was coerced to marry has now filed a court case against her, demanding that Nabila return to her marital home.

“I can’t do that,” she insists. “Not for anything in the world.” The premature marriage spoiled her chances of becoming the nurse she had wanted to be and now Nabila insists that she will never let her daughter go through the same trauma.

“My daughter will not suffer like me. I will do everything to keep her in school. I am appealing to government to outlaw early marriages, so that girls can go to school, and get married only after their studies.”

ALDEPA is now providing legal assistance to the teenage mother, and a senior official of the association, Henri Adjini, told IPS that it is currently paying the school fees of 87 teenagers rescued from early marriages.

Adjini said that forced marriages were part of the culture of the local Mafa and the Kapsiki tribes, explaining that parents marry off their daughters in exchange for dowry payments in the form of money, livestock or goods.

“The wish to strengthen family ties and friendships is very important for people here and they believe marrying off their daughters could do just that. Some other parents simply use their daughters to pay off their debts … the young woman’s choice hardly counts here,” he told IPS.

Marrying daughters off is an income-generating strategy in Cameroon, where almost one-third of the country’s 22 million people are poor, according to the United Nations.

In fact, according to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), there is a relationship between early marriage and poverty in the Central African country, with 71 percent of child brides coming from poor households. Figures from the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for 2014 show that 31 percent of teenage girls in the Far North Region fall prey to early marriages.

Cameroon’s Minister of Women’s Empowerment and the Family, Marie Therese Abena Ondoa has publicly condemned these marriages, saying that it is “immoral to sell out girls as if they were property.”

Child marriage is not unique to Cameroon, however. Many countries in the region and in the world face similar, or even worse case scenarios.

According to a 2013 UNFPA report, two out of five girls under the age of 18 are married in West and Central Africa. The worst culprit is Niger with 75 percent of child marriages – the highest rate in the world – followed by Chad with 72 percent and Guinea with 63 percent.

Like most governments in the region, Cameroon does little to protect these girls. The legal minimum age of marriage in Cameroon is only 15 years for girls, and 18 years for boys.  Even then, the legal requirement that marriage should only be contracted between two consenting partners is hardly enforced.

Minister Ondoua has helped launch advocacy campaigns and collaborated with NGOs, community and religious leaders in rural areas to educate the population, but she has not been able to convince government to raise the legal marriage age.

Nevertheless, the campaigns have been bearing fruit, with many girls saying “no” to family attempts to sell them off.

Girls like Abba Mairamou who resisted her father’s attempt to sell her off at the age of 12, are a living testimony to this success.

“I was only 12-years-old when my father pulled me out of primary school in 2004 to offer me to his friend as a wife. I refused and my father got angry and wanted to send me away from the house. I was desperate until I was, introduced to the association that fights against violence towards women in Maroua,” Abba says.

“Later, my father was invited to a meeting and he was persuaded to be opposed to early and involuntary marriage .This completely changed my father and me. I not only refused to be a victim of involuntary marriage, but today, I am a fighter against it.”

Abba formed the Association for the Autonomy and the Rights of Girls, known by its French acronym ‘APAD’, to sensitise teenage girls and parents in her Zokkok neighbourhood in Maroua against early marriages.

“We now offer shelter to many victims of forced marriages, and many girls are now standing up to that hurtful custom,” she beams.

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris

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Why ACP Countries Matter for the EU Post-2015 Development Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/why-acp-countries-matter-for-the-eu-post-2015-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-acp-countries-matter-for-the-eu-post-2015-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/why-acp-countries-matter-for-the-eu-post-2015-development-agenda/#comments Tue, 09 Jun 2015 16:20:13 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141043 By Valentina Gasbarri
BRUSSELS, Jun 9 2015 (IPS)

We are witnessing a shift in the original rationale behind the unique relationship between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries of the ACP group, which goes beyond the logic of “unilateral aid transfer”, “donor-recipient approach” and “North-South dialogue”.

“The [ACP] Group will have to transform itself if it wants to realise its ambition of becoming a player of global importance, beyond its longstanding partnership with the EU” – Dr Patrick I. Gomes, ACP Secretary General
In November last year, in his mission letter to the newly appointed European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker said: “The first priority is the post-2015 framework and the second priority of my mandate is the future of EU’s strategic partnership with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.”

With the agreement for that partnership coming to an end in 2020, both the European Union and the ACP group are currently stimulating intense debates on a critical review of the past and future perspective as well as challenging issues for the future “acquis” between the ACP countries and Europe under the umbrella of the Cotonou Agreement.

Last month’s Joint Session of the ACP-EU Council of Ministers held in Brussels (May 28-29) May offered an occasion for discussing innovative options to outline new bases of common interests, needs and difficulties, and to forge forthcoming cooperation, particularly in terms of the post-2015 agenda, financing for development, migration, international trade, climate change and democratic governance.

At ACP level, there is a growing awareness among members that “the Group will have to transform itself if it wants to realise its ambition of becoming a player of global importance, beyond its longstanding partnership with the EU,” said ACP Secretary General, Dr Patrick I. Gomes.

“There is the need to re-balance the ACP-EU partnership in favour of the ACP Group” was one of the key messages from the 101st ACP Council of Ministers held on May 27-28 to re-align ACP positions before the Joint Session with the European Union.

Within the European Union, there is also recognition of the relevance of the EU-ACP relationship. “Our exchanges of view on a number of key issues such as the post-2015 development agenda and migration once again underlined the importance of our partnership,” said Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica, Latvian Parliamentary State Secretary for E.U. Affairs, in a statement.

Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica (right), Latvian Parliamentary Secretary of State for E.U. Affairs and Meltek Livtuvanu, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Vanuatu and President of the ACP’s Council of Ministers. Photo Credit: EU Council

Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica (right), Latvian Parliamentary Secretary of State for E.U. Affairs and Meltek Livtuvanu, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Vanuatu and President of the ACP’s Council of Ministers. Photo Credit: EU Council

On paper, the Cotonou Agreement remains the most sophisticated framework for ACP-EU cooperation, covering political, trade, economic and development cooperation issues.

According to the last figures for the E.U. budget for 2014-2020, a package of 30.5 billion euros is specifically provided to ACP regions and countries. In fact, the ACP still remains the biggest group of states with which the European Union has a partnership.

The European Development Fund (EDF), an implementing instrument of the Cotonou Agreement, will finance E.U. development cooperation projects until 2020 to assist partner countries in poverty eradication. These funds will target the people most in need and finance different sectors such as health and education, infrastructure, environment, energy, food and nutrition.

Looking towards the future, the ACP is determined to move from being on the receiving end of development assistance to asserting its aim to speak with “one voice in global governance institutions”, in the words of ACP Secretary-General Gomes.

The need to consider and treat ACP countries as “responsible partners” at the global level despite the reluctance of the international community, emerged strongly during the E.U.-Africa Summit in  April 2014, with ACP members hoping for a lift-up effect on the ACP’s political leverage.

According to observers, ACP countries matter for the European Union partly to help overcome the effects of the economic crisis. Some ACP countries in the North African region, for example, have witnessed upturns in economic growth since 2004. At the same time, the abundance of natural resources in ACP countries provides an alternative to the volatile Middle East, Russia and some other countries as a source of energy and raw materials.

On the issue of financing for development, Alexandre Polack, European Commission Spokesperson for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management & International Cooperation and Development told IPS: “We need to come away from Addis with a comprehensive agreement which covers all the means of implementation for the post-2015 development agenda.”

He was referring to the Third International Conference on Financing for Development which will take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from Jul. 13 to 16 this year.

“This,” added Polack, “means addressing non-financial aspects, including policies. We need an agreement which puts domestic actions and domestic capacities at the heart of poverty eradication and sustainable development, and adheres to the principles of universality in terms of shared responsibilities.”

Observers also point out that the ACP countries can also be important interlocutors during the U.N. Climate Change Conference this coming December in Paris.

While the Western industrialised and emerging countries are the main greenhouse gas emitters, many ACP countries – particularly Small Island Developing States (SIDS) – are directly threatened by the consequences of climate change through, for example, natural disasters, hurricanes and tornados, flooding and drought.

Their voice on this, along with their experience and good practices developed in countering or mitigating the drastic effects of climate change, can make a useful contribution to the deliberations in Paris.

Meanwhile, the ACP-EU Joint Council has endorsed recommendations concerning the migration crisis, including enacting comprehensive legislation on both trafficking in human beings and smuggling of migrants, stressing the differences between both phenomena, while also implementing relevant national laws.

The co-President of the Joint Council, Hon. Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu of Vanuatu, speaking on behalf of the ACP ministers, said: “We consider that even if the military and security approach is meant to discourage and respond immediately to the issue, there is an urgent need to have a comprehensive approach to deal with the root causes of this phenomenon, in partnership with all the countries involved.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Civil Society, Journalists “Risk Death” as Burundi Crackdown Intensifieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/civil-society-journalists-risk-death-as-burundi-crackdown-intensifies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-journalists-risk-death-as-burundi-crackdown-intensifies http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/civil-society-journalists-risk-death-as-burundi-crackdown-intensifies/#comments Thu, 04 Jun 2015 17:27:48 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140982 Burundi refugees at the transit centre of Busegera in Rwanda. Credit: EU/ECHO/Thomas Conan

Burundi refugees at the transit centre of Busegera in Rwanda. Credit: EU/ECHO/Thomas Conan

By Kitty Stapp
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 4 2015 (IPS)

As the U.N. Security Council met to discuss the ongoing political crisis in Burundi Thursday, a rights group says violence has intensified in the capital Bujumbura, with individuals and groups close to the presidency and the ruling party targeting civil society activists, journalists and opposition members.

Presidential and parliamentary elections were postponed this week after almost daily protests in the capital since April over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in office.

On June 2, U.N. Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told reporters that the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, Said Djinnit, had returned to the capital after attending the East African Community Summit on Sunday. But diplomatic efforts have so far failed to resolve the standoff.

Since early April, nearly 100,000 Burundians have fled their country, according to U.N. estimates, including many staff from independent media organisations. Meanwhile, those who stayed say they fear for their security if they continue to do their jobs.

“They want to break the journalists’ morale. There is harassment, phone calls, threats, blacklists,” Innocent Muhozi, the head of the Burundian Press Observatory, told the Guardian. “Some have gone into exile, others are in hiding.”

According to another media analyst and blogger in Bujumbura, “As an activist active on social media, I cannot sleep at my house any more, I cannot even stay there anymore. If I continue to work the way I did before, I risk death…The Imbonerakure have weapons and their verbal assaults spread terror.

“They say, for example: if you don’t vote for the party, we will slit your throats. They sometimes wear police uniforms, sometimes the t-shirts of the ruling party. I was personally assaulted three times. The first time, I was verbally assaulted, along with my team, by Imbonerakure bearing sticks and clubs. The second time, they broke my equipment. The third time, in the city center, a police officer hit me twice and told me: ‘If you don’t leave the area, I will shoot you down.’”

A journalist working for a radio station burned down after the coup attempt says, “The slogan of the Imbonerakure, which has even became a song, is ‘we are going to wring you out’ [tuzobamesa]. When they sing this song, they most often burst a balloon with a needle, to imitate the noise of a gun. They call the people who do not follow their group ‘Ivyitso’, literally ‘the enemies’, ‘those who are against us.’”

According to Cléa Kahn-Sriber, head of the Africa Desk, Reporters Without Borders, “A war of information is being played out in Burundi. Reporters without Borders calls on the Burundian authorities to provide credible guarantees for the protection of journalists and the reopening of what remains of private media.

“Returning to free and pluralist information is essential to avoid disinformation and de-escalate rumors which only fuel conflict. Legitimate elections wouldn’t be conceivable unless media outlets can work without restriction and journalists can report and inform the population freely.”

Calling for stepped up efforts by the U.N. and others, Thierry Vircoulon, project director for Central Africa at International Crisis Group, said, “The international community has invested so much in negotiating and implementing the Arusha agreement. If Burundi returns to conflict, it will be a terrible blow for the region but also for the credibility of all peacebuilding processes in the world.

“It will send the message that peacebuilding is just a waste of time and money.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Sets Up Independent Panel to Probe Sexual Abuses in CARhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-sets-up-independent-panel-to-probe-sexual-abuses-in-car/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-sets-up-independent-panel-to-probe-sexual-abuses-in-car http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-sets-up-independent-panel-to-probe-sexual-abuses-in-car/#comments Wed, 03 Jun 2015 18:56:48 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140962 A displaced family in Bouar, Central African Republic. As of February 2014, the town and region around Bouar were experiencing ethnic cleansing, principally against Muslim civilians. Credit: Nicolas Rost for OCHA

A displaced family in Bouar, Central African Republic. As of February 2014, the town and region around Bouar were experiencing ethnic cleansing, principally against Muslim civilians. Credit: Nicolas Rost for OCHA

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 3 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations, which came under heavy fire for its failure to act swiftly on charges of sexual abuse by French troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) last year, has decided to set up an External Independent Review (EIR) to probe these allegations.

U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters Wednesday the review will be broad in scope and the composition of the team will be announced next week.“If Mr. Ban Ki-moon and Member States want to rescue zero tolerance, they must cleanse the UN system of negligence and misconduct once and for all." -- AIDS-Free World

He said the EIR will not only examine the treatment of the specific report of abuse in the Central African Republic – by soldiers not affiliated with the United Nations – but also a broad range of systemic issues related to how the U.N. responds to serious information of this kind.

The establishment of the review panel is also the result of strong criticism from civil society organisations (CSOs), which lambasted the United Nations for its alleged “cover-up” and for not responding fast enough.

Among the allegations were charges that French soldiers traded food in exchange for sex with starving minors and teenagers.

Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World, who helped break the story of a long-suppressed report on sexual abuse in CAR, told IPS she welcomes the appointment of the EIR and “it was a step in the right direction.”

But, she cautioned, no one from the U.N. staff or the Secretariat should be associated with the team, primarily because they cannot investigate themselves.

Donovan said she sincerely hopes this EIR is not a thinly-disguised excuse to allow U.N. staffers to refuse to comment on any ongoing or future sexual abuses on the ground because “the panel is at work.”

Amongst the many demands by CSOs was for any review panel to be armed with subpoena powers in order to strengthen the scope of the investigation.

As has been stated over the past few weeks, Dujarric told reporters, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “is deeply disturbed by the allegations of sexual abuse by soldiers in the CAR, as well as allegations of how this was handled by the various parts of the U.N. system involved.”

His intention in setting up this review is to ensure that the United Nations does not fail the victims of sexual abuse, especially when committed by those who are meant to protect them.

In a statement released Wednesday, AIDS-Free World, which over the last several weeks has launched its Code Blue campaign demanding answers for the sexual abuse in CAR, said the secretary-general has three challenges.

First, this must be a truly external and independent inquiry. No member of existing U.N. staff should be appointed to investigate nor to act as the investigators’ secretariat.

Second, it must be understood that top members of the secretary-general’s own staff will have to be subject to investigation. This must go right up to the level of under-secretaries general (USG).

No one can be excluded, whether the director of the Ethics Office or the USG of the Office of Internal Oversight Services or the secretary-general’s own Chef de Cabinet.

“It would appear that all of them acted inappropriately in response to the dreadful events in CAR,” the statement said.

Third, the reference in the secretary-general’s announcement to a review of ‘the broad range of systemic issues’ is crucial to the inquiry.

“What happened in the Central African Republic was an atrocity, but the fact that the U.N. stood silent for nearly a year after its own discovery of widespread peacekeeper sexual abuse (even if by non-U.N. troops) is itself a bitter commentary on the Secretary-General’s declared policy of ‘zero tolerance’,” the statement said.

“If Mr. Ban Ki-moon and Member States want to rescue zero tolerance, they must cleanse the UN system of negligence and misconduct once and for all.”

Last year, there were more than 50 cases of sexual abuse at the hands of U.N.-supported field personnel, although the actual number is said to be far higher.

The existence of diplomatic immunity is said to allow perpetrators to go unpunished and avoid legal constraints.

A longstanding proposal, going to back to 2008, for an international convention to punish those accused of sex crimes in U.N. operations overseas never got off the ground.

But against the backdrop of the current campaign, called Code Blue, the proposal may be revived, even though it could be shot down by developing countries which provide most of the soldiers in the 16 peacekeeping operations currently under way, with an estimated total of 106,595 military personnel and 17,000 civilian staff.

The largest contributors of peacekeepers include Bangladesh (9,307 troops), Pakistan (8,163), India (8,112), Ethiopia (7,864) and Rwanda (5,575), according to the latest U.N. figures.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Zimbabwean Women Weave Their Own Beautiful Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/zimbabwean-women-weave-their-own-beautiful-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwean-women-weave-their-own-beautiful-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/zimbabwean-women-weave-their-own-beautiful-future/#comments Wed, 03 Jun 2015 17:49:17 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140954 Siduduzile Nyoni, a mother of three, busily completing one of her ilala palm products, which will be sold through a women’s cooperative in western Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Siduduzile Nyoni, a mother of three, busily completing one of her ilala palm products, which will be sold through a women’s cooperative in western Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
LUPANE, Zimbabwe, Jun 3 2015 (IPS)

Seventy-seven-year-old Grace Ngwenya has an eye for detail. You will never catch her squinting as she effortlessly weaves ilala palm fronds into beautiful baskets.

“Working together as women has united us, and strengthened our community spirit.” -- Lisina Moyo, a member of the Lupane Women's Centre (LWC)
Her actions are swift and methodical as she twirls, straightens and tugs the long strands into a fine stitch. Periodically she pauses to dip the last three fingers of her right hand into a shallow tin of water that sits beside her, to wet the fibres and make them pliable.

Slowly, under the deft motion of her hands, a basket takes shape. She insists on attention to “detail, neatness and creativity.” Once she has decided on the shape and colour of her product, she will work for seven days straight to complete the task.

When she’s done, the basket will be inspected for quality, carefully packed up, and shipped off to its buyer who could be anywhere in the world from Germany to the United States. Her efforts earn her about 50 dollars a month – a small fortune in a place where women once counted it a blessing to earn even a few dollars in the course of several weeks.

Ngwenya lives in Shabula village in Ward 15 of Zimbabwe’s arid Lupane District, located in the Matabeleland North Province that occupies the western-most region of the country, 170 km from the nearest city of Bulawayo.

Home to about 90,000 people, this area is prone to droughts and has a harsh history of hunger.

Today, rural women are putting Lupane District on the map with an innovative basket-weaving enterprise that is earning them a decent wage, preserving an indigenous skill and enabling them to erect a barrier against extreme weather events by investing the profits of their creativity into sustainable farming.

Perfecting skills, preserving arts

It started small, when a group of women came together in 1997 to produce baskets and other crafts from local forest products and sell them along the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls road, a major tourist route.

In 2004, with the help of a Peace Corp volunteer, they establised the Lupane Women’s Centre (LWC) in order to streamline their production. At the time they had just 14 registered members.

A decade later they have grown their ranks to 3,638 members hailing from 28 wards in the district. Average earnings have increased from one dollar to 50 dollars a month, and this past May one of their number earned 700 dollars from the sale of her crafts.

For a community that was barely able to put three square meals on the table every day, this is a huge step towards a more wholesome life.

“Weaving has transformed my life, even in my old age,” Ngwenya tells IPS, pointing to a half-built residence not far from where she sits, busily threading away. In this impoverished village, the emerging two-roomed brick house is a veritable super-structure.

Grace Ngwenya, a skilled weaver from Zimbabwe’s Lupane District, deftly threads palm strands into a sturdy basket. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Grace Ngwenya, a skilled weaver from Zimbabwe’s Lupane District, deftly threads palm strands into a sturdy basket. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

“This year sales have been slow,” she says, “but God willing, my house should be complete by next year. I have already bought the windows and I will plaster and paint it myself.”

In addition to a dwelling place, her income has helped her buy a goat and erect a fence around her ‘keyhole’ garden, a popular farming method all across the African continent involving a keyhole-shaped vegetable bed with an active compost pile at its centre that feeds crops in the walled-in plot.

At a weaving competition last year she even won an ox-drawn plough and recently sunk more of her savings into the purchase of a heifer and some simple farm tools.

Considering that she joined the collective during a drought year back in 2008, she is forever grateful for her newfound wellbeing. And it is not just her own life that has changed.

Barely a stone’s throw away is the homestead of her sister Gladys, and her husband, Misheck Ngwenya. This cluster of huts is distinguished by solar lights attached to their thatched roofs, a luxury secured with the boons of Gladys’ basket sales.

“In the past I would go to my neighbours to ask for sugar,” Gladys Ngwenya recalls. “Not anymore.”

She tells IPS the women’s centre has helped her perfect her art by improving the dimensions and measurements of her craft work.

Beating hunger with baskets

It is no coincidence that these entrepreneurs sprang from the dry soil of Lupane District. The area is a farmer’s nightmare, yielding only drought-tolerant crops such as sorghum and finger millet and receiving inadequate rainfall – just 450-600 mm annually – to allow extensive maize cropping.

When the weather is bad, with long, dry spells, rural communities suffer badly.

Statistics from the Department of Agriculture and Extension Services indicate that Lupane experiences annual food shortages. In 2008, it had a food production deficit of more than 10,000 metric tonnes of grain, producing just over 3,000 tonnes of cereal against an estimated annual requirement of 13,900 metric tonnes.

The situation has not changed seven years later. In 2015, scores of people are at risk of hunger, with government data suggesting that only half of the region’s required 10,900 metric tonnes will be produced this year.

Families who practice subsistence agriculture will be forced to purchase food to make up for lower harvests, a situation that could leave many with no food at all given that income-generating opportunities are scarce.

Zimbabwe is this year importing 700,000 tonnes of the staple maize grain to cover a deficit following another bad agricultural season. The country requires 1.8 million tonnes of maize annually.

The Women’s Centre in Lupane is now tackling these twin problems – hunger and livelihoods – by helping craftswomen become breadwinners.

Hildegard Mufukare, who manages the Centre, tells IPS that putting women at the head of the household has created “peace in the home.”

“Women have bought assets from farm implements to cattle, they have taken up agricultural activities and are working together with the men to sustain their families.”

Applying a communal, grassroots approach to its management and upkeep, members contribute five dollars annually towards operational costs, accounting for 31 percent of the Centre’s required financing.

The remaining 59 percent comes from donors, including patron backers like the Liechtenstein Development Services (LED), but members say they plan to cultivate greater self-sufficiency by establishing and running a restaurant, conference centre and farm which will serve the dual purpose of providing more food and skills to the community.

As they grow their markets overseas, securing additional funding will not be difficult. Already members courier their wares to clients in the U.S., Germany, the Netherlands, Australia and Denmark.

Revenue from craft sales tripled over a two-year period, going from 10,000 dollars in 2012 to 32,000 dollars in 2014. The members keep the bulk of the profits while the Centre retains 15 percent to cover administration fees and government taxes.

The baskets are multi-functional, doubling up as waste bins or fruit bowls. The women are now toying with the idea of turning them into biodegradable coffins – to ensure sustainability even in their deaths.

Members of the Lupane Women’s Centre hope to market these ‘eco coffins’, biodegradable caskets made from local materials, to ensure their community is sustainable, even in death. Credit: Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Members of the Lupane Women’s Centre hope to market these ‘eco coffins’, biodegradable caskets made from local materials, to ensure their community is sustainable, even in death. Credit: Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

They are unsure how such an idea will be received, but their bold proposal suggests a commitment to holistic living that goes beyond incomes or nutrition.

Preparing for a changing climate

Community-led buffers against the horrors of global warming are desperately needed in Zimbabwe, a country of 14.5 million that faces a host of climate risks from floods to droughts.

Unable to access adequate international climate finance, the country was forced to slice its environment ministry’s budget from 93 million in 2014 to 52 million this year.

The funding crunch has crippled the country’s ability to respond to natural disasters, with the meteorological services department – responsible for forecasts and early warnings – also experiencing budget cuts.

This means that when calamity strikes, remote communities and especially rural women will be left to fend for themselves, a reality that the women of Lupane are more than prepared to deal with.

Siduduzile Nyoni, a mother of three who joined the cooperative in 2008, says that the simple act of weaving baskets has helped her build a lifeline for times of crisis.

She has used her savings to buy a goat, and is also maintaining a chicken farm and a thriving vegetable garden. When the weather is fine, the garden feeds her family. If it takes a turn for the worse, she simply dips into her surplus stores to tide her over until the land yields food again.

“I joined the centre even though I didn’t know how to weave,” she tells IPS. Her husband is unemployed, but she is doing well enough to support them both.

She and three other women have created their own micro-savings scheme, pooling five dollars of their monthly income into a rotational pool of 20 dollars that each enjoys on a quarterly basis.

Other groups of women have taken advantage of skills training at the Centre and taken up potato farming, bee keeping, candle making, and cattle rearing. Rearing indigenous chickens is also hugely popular activity as an additional source of revenue, and nutrition.

Women from Zimbabwe’s Lupane District invest the profits of their craft sales in ‘keyhole’ gardens to ensure food security. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Women from Zimbabwe’s Lupane District invest the profits of their craft sales in ‘keyhole’ gardens to ensure food security. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Others have turned to small-scale farming so they don’t have to rely on central supply chains for their food. According to Lisina Moyo, who joined the Centre in 2012, keyhole gardens “should be a part of every home” – earning 15 dollars a month from her personal vegetable patch has helped her pay her children’s school fees and contribute to a savings club that keeps her afloat during harsh seasons.

Saving the forests

Perhaps more importantly, the thousands of women who comprise the cooperative’s membership are natural caretakers of forests, having practiced sustainable harvesting of forest products for years.

The art of basket-weaving from both ilala palm and sisal, a species of the Agave plant found in Zimbabwe’s forests whose tough fibres make strong rope and twine, has been passed down for generations.

Furthermore, local communities have traditionally relied on surrounding forests for medicines, timber, fuel and fruits, so they have a vested interest in protecting these rich zones of biodiversity.

Considering the country lost an estimated 327,000 hectares of forests annually between 1990 and 2010, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), empowering guardians of Zimbabwe’s remaining forested areas is crucial.

With an estimated 66,250 timber merchants operating throughout the country, as well as millions of rural families relying on forests for fuel, deforestation will be a defining issue for Zimbabwe in the coming decade.

But here again, the women of Lupane are planning for the worst, creating small plantations of ilala palms to ensure propagation of the species, even in the face of rapid destruction of its natural habitat.

Their work is reinforcing the land around them, and breathing life into the women themselves.

As Moyo tells IPS: “Working together as women has united us, and strengthened our community spirit.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This article is part of a special series entitled ‘The Future Is Now: Inside the World’s Most Sustainable Communities’. Read the other articles in the series here.

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Campaign for Affordable Medicine Gains Ground in South Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/campaign-for-affordable-medicine-gains-ground-in-south-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=campaign-for-affordable-medicine-gains-ground-in-south-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/campaign-for-affordable-medicine-gains-ground-in-south-africa/#comments Wed, 03 Jun 2015 08:18:49 +0000 Kwame Buist http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140951 By Kwame Buist
JOHANNESBURG, Jun 3 2015 (IPS)

Patient and leading health organisations in South Africa have now joined a Fix the Patent Laws campaign launched in 2011 by Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to push for reform of the country’s current patent laws.

The campaign’s promoters say that these laws severely restrict access to affordable medicines for all people living in South Africa.

The organisations which have adhered to the campaign are: People Living With Cancer (PLWC), South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), DiabetesSA, CanSurvive, SA Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH), Stop Stock Outs, Cancer Association of Southern Africa (CANSA), Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder Alliance (SABDA), South African Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance (SANCD Alliance), Marie Stopes, Epilepsy South Africa and Cape Mental Health.

Together, they are calling on the South African government to finalise a National Policy on Intellectual Property that champions measures to reduce prices and increase access to a wide range of medicines for people in need across the country.

TAC and MSF reported Jun. 1 that the expanded coalition of organisations represents public and private sector patients in South Africa seeking treatment and care for a range of cancers, mental illnesses, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases – as well as tuberculosis, HIV and sexual and reproductive health diseases.

South Africa currently grants patents on almost every patent application it receives, allowing companies to maintain lengthy monopoly periods on medicines, argues the campaign. This keeps prices of many medicines higher in South Africa than in many other countries.

According to TAC and MSF, it is estimated that 80 percent of patents granted in South Africa do not meet the country’s patentability criteria. This is largely due to the fact that patents are granted without substantive examination of applications to ensure that patentability criteria are met.

“Some cancer patients would rather go to other countries, like India, for treatment – the combined cost of the flight, medical services and drugs is cheaper than buying the drugs alone in South Africa,” said Bernice Lass of cancer group, CanSurvive.

Linda Greeff of PLWC said that her organisation was supporting the campaign because “we want to ensure that there is proper scrutiny of patent applications before patents are granted. We want a patent granting process that is ethical and transparent, so that more people can access the medicines that they need.”

According to Cassey Chambers of SADAG, the group deals with “patients every day who cannot afford medication or treatment, and as a result become more depressed, helpless, hopeless and even suicidal in some cases.”

DiabetesSA’s Keegan Hall stressed that as health organisations, “we have an obligation to take steps to improve affordability and access to medicines. The cost of insulin and other diabetes management tools are far too expensive for many patients,” Hall added.

Health organisations joining the Fix the Patent Laws campaign say that they recognise the opportunity South Africa has to improve access to medicines for all diseases through reforming problematic patent laws.

South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has already embarked on the process of legislative reform, releasing a Draft National Policy on Intellectual Property for public comment in 2013. The draft policy contained important commitments to reform the laws in order to restore the balance between public and private interest, in favour of people’s health.

The Fix the Patent Laws campaign coalition is calling for urgent approval of a finalised National Policy on Intellectual Property, as a critical first step toward reform of problematic patent laws and practices that deprive people living in South Africa of more affordable treatments for all conditions.

It notes that as a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), South Africa is required to uphold minimum standards of intellectual property protection as defined by the international Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). This includes granting 20-year patents on medicines.

However, South Africa also has significant flexibility under TRIPS to amend national legislation in order to improve access to medicines. According to the health organisations, reforms could include the government taking measures to limit abusive patents being granted on medicines.

At the same time, it says, government could establish easier procedures for overcoming legitimate patent barriers when medicines are unaffordable, unavailable or not adapted for patient needs.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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