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Archive for January 1st, 2011

Kenya Gay-talk: The courage to ask

Posted by African Press International on January 1, 2011

KENYA: Grace*, “I finally found the courage to ask, ‘Are you gay’?”’

Photo: lst1984/Flickr
“We clicked immediately”

NAIROBI, 30 December 2010 (PlusNews) – Grace is an attractive brunette working in Nairobi. Until recently, she was dating Will, a stylish 20-something Kenyan. She told IRIN/PlusNews how the relationship broke down, leaving her with fears about HIV.

“I met Will about a year ago through a friend of mine. We clicked immediately and became friends. One thing led to another and we ended up dating.

“Things were going on smoothly between us; we had a great sex life and loved spending time together, but I somehow felt there was something odd in our relationship. I couldn’t fully read through Will.

“One evening we were having drinks, discussing sex work in Kenya and men who deny that they fuel the trade. All of a sudden, Will looked at me and asked, ‘What would you say if your man told you he’s been cheating on you with another man?’

“The issue of homosexuality has never been taboo to me, so I simply told Will that cheating on me with a man would be the same to me as with another woman.

“I never confronted Will about the strange question, and we broke up soon after that.

“Weeks later we met at a concert and ended up chatting. He was about to leave, when I finally found the courage to ask, ‘Are you gay?’

“That night we talked for hours – that’s how long it took him to admit he is gay. I felt fooled and manipulated.

“Will and I don’t see each other any more. He was too tangled in his own string of lies and guilt. I had no choice than walking away from him for my own sanity.

“This revelation forced me to go back to our sexual life and I could finally understand why he was obsessed with the use of condoms, which I never really experienced before with a man. I had always been the one pushing them to put the rubber on. With Will it was never the case.

“Sure, I also fear HIV but we were dating for a while now and I thought our relationship was now an exclusive one and we could do without one.

“I remember one night a condom broke and he became livid. I was much more casual about it and couldn’t quite understand why he overreacted. I assured him that these things happen.

“But now I became worried about why he was so religious with condoms and why he went mad when the condom broke. Luckily, my HIV status is still negative, though I could not convince him to come and get tested with me.

“Apparently Will has known he is gay for years but can’t come to terms with it. To his family and friends he’s a ladies’ man – it’s all about his macho image. He told me if he disclosed his sexual orientation, his whole family would turn their back on him.

“In a way, I understand his conflict between the possible benefits and drawbacks of disclosing his sexual orientation. But if on the one side there is the negative stigma of homophobia, on the other, coming out as openly gay would make him feel better with himself and stop him from living a lie.

“My fear is for the women he goes with; they should be aware of the risks they are taking, despite him being cautious. A condom can break and you need to know who you are with and that you are actually part of a more vulnerable group. His lies are dangerous lies.”

*not her real name



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Madagascar continued to be in the spotlight

Posted by African Press International on January 1, 2011

SOUTHERN AFRICA: Pick of the year 2010

Madagascar continued to be in the spotlight

JOHANNESBURG, 31 December 2010 (IRIN) – The crises in Zimbabwe and Madagascar were a major focus of IRIN’s Southern Africa coverage, though riots over food and fuel prices in early September 2010 in Mozambique managed to grab the headlines for a while.

Civil rights activists warned of a possible surge of violence if elections – hinted at by President Robert Mugabe – go ahead in 2011. Major donors have said that if elections are not free and fair the level of their engagement and support will be affected.

Donor support to get essential services up and running after the devastating cholera outbreak of 2008/2009 is paying off. IRIN reported health services had improved but poor salaries have kept staff morale low.

With a poorly paid civil service, allegations of corruption are commonplace. IRIN took a closer look at the ability of ordinary Zimbabweans to access identity documents and found that a passport could cost up to US$300.

Zimbabwean migrants in neighbouring South Africa were desperate to get hold of passports as the government announced it would resume deportation of undocumented Zimbabweans from 1 January 2011. At least a million Zimbabweans are estimated to be living in South Africa and were victims of xenophobic attacks.


The prospects for the Indian Ocean island state of Madagascar – now run by former radio DJ Andry Rajoelina who seized power from President Marc Ravalomanana in 2009 with the backing of the army – worsened when some soldiers attempted to seize control in November 2010.  The coup attempt coincided with a referendum on constitutional reforms which made Rajoelina eligible to stand for election.

Donors suspended all but emergency assistance to the financially dependent country of 20 million people after Rajoelina took office, and the USA ended the preferential access enjoyed by Madagascar’s textile industry to its markets under the African Growth and Opportunities Act. This has had a devastating impact on livelihoods.

IRIN also wrote about how Madagascar’s transitional government was beginning to export illegally harvested precious hardwoods to generate revenue.

Nosy Be, an island off the northwest coast of Madagascar, was the focus of an IRIN report on community efforts to combat sex tourism.

Angola grabbed the spotlight when it continued to violently expel Democratic Republic of Congo nationals from its territory.  The Cabindan separatist movement in Angola denied that the conflict had ended (interview with IRIN).

Women’s rights in Swaziland received a setback when its highest court reversed a ruling which allowed married women to register property in their own name.

Other IRIN reports covered the increasing strains on a century-old, five-nation Southern African Customs Union funded largely by 1.15 percent of South Africa’s gross domestic product; social transfer programmes which help to reduce poverty in Africa; and World Bank cash transfers in Malawi indicating that unconditional transfers can have the same effect as conditional transfers.



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Remittances are lifelines for residents in Myanmar

Posted by African Press International on January 1, 2011

MYANMAR: Remittances support survival

Remittances are lifelines for residents in Myanmar, where foreign direct investment is weak and international markets are almost non-existent

DALA THAYA, 31 December 2010 (IRIN) – Remittances to Myanmar continue to be a lifeline for communities strapped for cash and short of food throughout the country, according to researchers and migration experts.

While officially recorded remittances to Myanmar accounted for only 0.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009, a 2008 university study calculated remittances were at least four times higher than the official figures.

Australia-based Macquarie University estimated average annual remittances to Myanmar from Thailand alone – US$300 million – amounted to five times the level of overall foreign direct investment in Myanmar.

“Some 96 percent of respondents [Burmese workers in Thailand] nominated [their family’s] survival as their first order priority,” said Claudia Natali, labour migration programme manager for the International Organization for Migration in Thailand, referring to the university survey.

According to the World Bank, $150 million in remittances was sent to Myanmar in 2008 through formal channels – the most recorded in over a decade.

But most migrants use an informal system called `hondi’ to transfer remittances to Myanmar, bypassing official recordkeeping.

“Persons moving irregularly across the border are entrusted to deliver agreed amounts of money from migrants in Thailand to family members in the migrants’ source community,” said Natali.


The number of Burmese migrants who entered Thailand “regularly” – with legal permission – between July 2010 and November 2010 was 702, according to the Thai government. But most Burmese migrants working in Malaysia or Thailand enter without documentation.

A memorandum of understanding between Thailand and Myanmar, which foresees mechanisms for migrants to enter and stay legally in Thailand for employment, was only implemented in July 2010.

In the Thai border town of Mae Sot, many Burmese migrants work in garment factories, while in southern Thailand they work on palm oil plantations or as fishermen.

“Those seeking work in Malaysia are usually village residents or lower middle class young men recruited formally by overseas employment agencies in Myanmar,” said Natali.

“It cost $1,300 to send my son to Malaysia,” said U Kyaw, a retired army sergeant in Myanmar’s capital, Yangon, whose pension, equivalent to 40 US cents a day, is barely enough to cover his expenses.

“I borrowed $600 from a rich relative, the agent gave us a loan of $400 and the family put the rest up,” said the 63-year-old father of three.

His youngest son Mya, who left for Malaysia to work as a day labourer in March 2010, now sends back $150-$200 a month. By contrast Thein, the eldest son, earns some $80 a month driving a bus in Yangon.

Poverty line

Once known as the “rice bowl of Asia”, Myanmar’s per capita GDP in 2009 was just over $1 a day.

Maung, the youngest of three brothers, exchanges the highly volatile Burmese currency into US dollars on the black market, where 10,000 Burmese kyats equalled $10 in December, versus the official bank exchange rate of $1,560. Over the course of a year, each brother earns on average $5 a day. “Luckily, my sister works in Malaysia. Last year she sent back $2,000,” said the 16-year-old.

After nearly 20 years of various trade and aid sanctions, the vast majority of people in Myanmar survive thanks to small-scale local businesses, according to US-based research group Asia Society.

The average citizen spends more than 70 percent of his or her income on food, according to a March 2010 Asia Society report.

The researchers calculated this was the highest proportion in Southeast Asia.



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