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Archive for January, 2012

Is Raila Odinga and ODM ready for elections now?

Posted by African Press International on January 31, 2012

by api

The problem the ICC has brought upon Kenya after confirming the charges against 4 Kenyans including the then finance minister and now still Deputy PM Uhuru Kenyatta is huge. It is causing headache in many quarters.

Less than two years, when ODM and PNU were fighting their political wars, Raila Odinga said he was ready to go for early elections. Is the party now ready to force out the DPM Kenyatta, a good reason to go for early elections?

Many observers do not think the MPs now want to have their salaries stopped for the sake of early election, one that many of them know will lock them out of the next parliament. We think they will be more interested to continue quarreling until the election date while they pick their salaries. Some are even fighting to extend their term to March next year – a few more months to earn more, instead of allowing the elections this year.

Last time, Raila got them (PNU) in  a corner, but this time it is the other way round. There will be no ODM leader or MP who will accept to face the electorate now..

The Kenya Daily Nation online reported when the ODM had the upper hand that  “Mr Orengo said the new constitution would only work as expected if Mr Odinga becomes Kenya’s president.”

According to the Nation Online at the time, “Mr Midiwo said ODM was not ready to lose the political battle if PNU reneges on the process of constitution-making.  Mr Midiwo is ODM chief Whip in Parliament. When Raila Odinga talked of early elections, he got Midiwo’s support.

Speaking at the time to the media he warned of early elections saying;  ““We will come back to the people if the PNU wing of the coalition government proves to be difficult to accept our equal demand,” warned the ODM chief Whip.”

The question Kenyans are asking now is – what will happen next?. Is the ODM leaders ready to take the bull by the horns this time, by sponsoring a vote of no confidence in Parliament against DPM Kenyatta, knowing that it may result in early elections because of the deal signed between their Party and PNU when creating the coalition government? – No one thinks so.

The quarrel last time was about PNU’s wish to remove ODM’s Namwanba as Chairman of Legal Affairs Committee. The majority of the eleven member committee removed him, saying they no longer had confidence in him. Instead of Namwamba and ODM accepting the removal, the party at the time threatened with early elections. Now they have the chance to create opportunity for early elections if they are willing to lose their salaries.

A few months ago, the two parties were also locked in a wrangle when President Kibaki appointed a new Chief Justice and other two. The Prime Minister said the President did not consult him and there they were in a wrangle that forced the President to withdraw the nominees.

When the disagreement at the time was boiling high, then Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta got very angered and told a press conference that he would no longer sit and keep quiet. He angrily asked reporters; “Does it mean that this country cannot do anything unless Raila said so….

This time around, Uhuru says he will not resign as DPM as demanded by ODM. He is getting support from PNU.

According to Raila, he says he just wants his share of the cake as equal partner in the coalition when complaining of the lack of consultation. His intention is not to derail the implementation but says he fears that those who opposed the new constitution may be out to stop the implementation process.


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ICC in Europe: Show me a European leader who has cooperated with ICC and I will show you six Kenyans

Posted by African Press International on January 31, 2012

By api
The ICC process is going on well in the case of Kenya. No one is in detention in the Hague because the Kenyans decided to cooperate with the ICC, saying they have nothing to hide.

Now the ICC has decided to take 4 out of six to a full trial charging them of crimes against humanity. The Kenyans have said they will cooperate with the ICC to the end. That means no Kenyan will be detained as for now.

This is good for their careers and their families.
The four have now appealed the decision to face a full trial.

The ICC will decide soon on the way forward. The only thing Kenyans have to do is wait and stop speculations.


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Uhuru Kenyatta should move on

Posted by African Press International on January 31, 2012

By Thomas Ochieng  (API – Kenya)

The embattled Kenya’s Deputy Premier and finance minster Uhuru Kenyatta has handed over the finance docket to his ally Robinson Githae in what pundits call a game of musical chairs, the deputy prime minister in the pecking order in government still remain Githae’s boss hence the argument that Uhuru Kenyatta is still technically in government contrary to chapter six of the current constitution which calls for integrity of state public holders.

The conformation of the charges on Uhuru Kenyatta by the international criminal court at The Hague should be taken by the State as a game changer in the scheme of things; hence it cannot be business as usual. The process that led to this verdict was appreciated and with the participation of all the parties involved. The Kenyan government put en to paper its commitment to the ICC process and committed to itself relive duty any public official mentioned and charged by the court in relation to the post-election violence of 2008.

In any civilized society governed by the rule of law the innocence or guilt of any party is a preserve of the court and the accused is always given the benefit of doubt by being presumed innocent until proved otherwise with the burden of proof being upon the prosecution, the judges on confirming the charges against the four Kenyans stressed this principle. The charges being confirmed on the deputy prime minister being a state official should as a matter of principle and integrity step aside to pave way for the adjudication of the
charge without prejudice or putting the office of the Deputy prime minister
into question.

Uhuru Kenyatta should take time to be with his family and his legal team away from the glare of the public and political chest thumping and busy bodies around him. His family should be his immediate concern, not the self seekers around him whom are only concerned about reaping from the tide around the moment, many of the people shouting the loudest in support of Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta are only seeking their respective political ambitions they only
want to use the misfortune of Uhuru Kenyatta to ascend to their thrones. Nelson
Mandela was ounce labeled a terrorist but today he is one of the greatest world’s statesmen,Uhuru should take this misfortune in it stride and move on. It’s always said that one step forward two-step forward is still advancing.


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Many Afghans are dependent on aid year after year

Posted by African Press International on January 31, 2012

Analysis: Where Afghan humanitarianism ends and development begins

Many Afghans are dependent on aid year after year

DAMQOL,  – Afghanistan suffers from cyclical natural disasters – floods and drought – which affect people annually and require expensive emergency responses, but their impacts could well be avoided, or at least mitigated, if proper water management systems or dams were built, for example.

Some farmers could switch from rain-fed wheat crops, which require a lot of water, to other crops, like grapes or almonds. But these kinds of transitions require long-term multi-year plans, inherently at odds with emergency responses, based on annual appeals for funding.

“Responding to eight droughts in 11 years makes no sense,” Michael Keating, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan, said recently. “There is something going wrong.”

“It is not a complete mystery how some of these problems can be addressed,” Keating told IRIN. “They shouldn’t be addressed by basic emergency humanitarian action.”

And yet, for much of the past decade, humanitarians have been drawn into things like infrastructure and early recovery programmes.

“A lot of humanitarian assistance has been partly diverted from its objective,” said Laurent Saillard, head of the European Commission’s humanitarian aid arm (ECHO) in Afghanistan. “Instead of being used for what it’s supposed to be used for – life-saving emergency interventions – it is trying to address chronic poverty, and of course, at the end of the day, not achieving sustainable results.”

Over the past 10 years, a cumulative US$3.2 billion has been spent in Afghanistan on programmes outlined in the international community’s annual appeals for humanitarian funding – the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP). The CAP is estimated to account for only half of all humanitarian funding.

“[There is] frustration from the population which receives the assistance [because it] is not exactly what they need… frustration from the implementing agencies, [who] realize that they have been present for 10 years, repeating all sorts of interventions, and yet they have not addressed the problem… and frustration from the donors, [who] feel that the money is being wasted, in a way,” Saillard told IRIN.

This year’s drought – affecting 2.8 million people – brought the problem to new heights: “That is a scale that is simply not sustainable,” said Aidan O’Leary, the head of OCHA in Afghanistan.

“At the end of the day, humanitarian actors can only ever bring emergency relief,” he added. “We cannot bring solutions. [People] want houses, roads, livelihoods. Humanitarian actors can’t deliver that. They’re never going to be able to deliver that.”

New approach

This year’s CAP, launched in Kabul on 28 January, aims to “go back to basics” by focusing on more strictly humanitarian needs. “If you make the field too broad, you can’t get anything done,” O’Leary told IRIN.

The international humanitarian community has requested one quarter less than last year, even though humanitarian needs are increasing. It has asked for $437 million to help 8.8 million Afghans, including help for civilians affected by armed conflict, initial assistance for refugees and internally displaced people returning to their areas of origin, and life-saving actions for those affected by natural disasters.

This excludes projects for the “chronically vulnerable populations” – a task deemed better left to development actors.

How we got here

Much of the problem, aid workers say, lies in the fact that the billions of dollars in development aid invested in the country over the last decade have not been spent cohesively or based on needs, but rather driven by short-term political and military aims.

Around $57 billion dollars of development assistance have been spent in Afghanistan since 2001, and yet 10 million people are still living on the edge, Keating said.

“That does raise the question: Have the investments been equitable? Is the money being used in a way that helps these communities reduce their vulnerability and doesn’t expose them to repeated humanitarian crisis?”

Photo: Heba Aly/IRIN
Villagers of Damqol were in need of assistance when drought hit

Falling through the cracks

Nor has the government provided the answer, aid workers say. Saillard argues the humanitarian community is partly to blame in allowing the government to defer its responsibilities, often under the guise of lack of capacity. “The fact that there is this presence keeps the right actors sometimes outside the game,” he noted.

But the minister of rural rehabilitation and development, Jarullah Mansoori, argues that with its budget of $500 million per year, his ministry has made great strides in building communities’ resilience to shocks and in managing the impacts of disasters.

It has created a central coordinating body, the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority; has dug irrigation canals; encouraged rural enterprise development; and improved access to health and education in rural areas. The ministry’s flagship National Solidarity Programme has been credited with reaching the local level with cash-for-work or cash-for-assets programmes.

“If you compare the damage of disasters eight years ago to… now, you will see a lot of differences,” the minister told IRIN. “But still, since this country went through more than three decades of very damaging and destructive war and crisis, it needs a lot of effort in every aspect.”

Other aid workers say mitigation projects, like flood protection walls, have fallen through the cracks. They are not a central part of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, which the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan is mandated to support; nor are they technically part of OCHA’s mandate. The UN Development Programme (UNDP), which might traditionally take on such projects, has been focused on improving governance and reducing poverty, and is scaling back its direct presence across the country in order to increasingly work through the government.

“Disaster risk reduction is almost non-existent,” said one development worker. “I’ve noticed that gap. There’s very little proactive work done here. It’s all reactive.”


Another part of the problem has been a lack of understanding of what exactly “humanitarian” means and where the line is drawn. “It’s quite blurred,” as one field worker put it. “Is any one activity development or humanitarian?”

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has been dealing with this question for years, as refugees returning from Iran and Pakistan – given an initial humanitarian assistance – struggle to integrate in the longer term.

“Where does humanitarian assistance stop and where does development aid begin?” Suzanne Murray Jones, a senior adviser at UNHCR, has been asking herself. “How do we bridge the gap?”

Photo: Heba Aly/IRIN
Afghan villagers lay gravel on a newly-created road as part of a cash-for-work project to help them get through the drought season

Part of the answer, she said, is a greater dialogue between humanitarian and development partners to encourage development investments in the same areas where people are returning en masse.

“We know nothing about development of livelihoods or about large-scale agriculture. It’s not our expertise. It’s for the FAOs or ILOs to go to these sites and say this is what’s needed,” she said, in reference to the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Labour Organization. “It’s getting the synergy together to work together.”

To that end, humanitarian actors now participate in monthly meetings of the heads of developmental agencies to try to flag issues of concern, and O’Leary is increasingly advocating development.

“We have to be more vocal,” he said. “I have no interest in having humanitarians indefinitely here in Afghanistan. We have to be looking for our exit strategy. That involves a peace process and development actors developing the key issues. Is it going to take decades? Yes. But it has to be on the agenda now.”


In the meantime, as humanitarians try to return to their more traditional role, they find themselves in a tricky position. Keating recalls an informal settlement he visited in Kabul where people were living with “nothing”.

“You can’t respond on a humanitarian basis endlessly, and yet there is no development activity that we could perceive to address their needs,” he said. “They’re falling between two stools. I suspect that is true of a very large number of people in rural areas as well.”

Aid workers acknowledge that pulling back could lead to holes in coverage. But for Saillard, it might be a necessary evil. “Sometimes you have to create gaps for the right actors to wake up and take their responsibilities seriously,” he said.


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Disabled children in the quake zone have to struggle to get to school

Posted by African Press International on January 31, 2012

PAKISTAN: Disabled by the 2005 quake and still out of school

Disabled children in the quake zone have to struggle to get to school

PESHAWAR,  – Jawad Khan, 15, spends most of his day at home in his village in the remote Battagram District of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa Province (KP), sometimes glancing at a magazine, or occasionally helping his mother shell peas or cut up potatoes.

His three younger siblings spend their day in school, and Jawad, a top student in his grade till a year ago, assists them with revision and homework. He has himself refused to go to school for over a year as the new private school set up in the area lacks a ramp to accommodate his wheelchair.

Jawad lost both legs after he was trapped for over two hours under the rubble of his public school during the devastating quake of 2005 which killed at least 73,000 people in parts of KP (then known as the North West Frontier Province) and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

That school is still to be built, and Jawad says he “feels too embarrassed” to be carried into his classroom. To add to his problems, his wheelchair, donated soon after his legs were amputated when he was nine, has also virtually fallen apart. “My family cannot afford a new one,” he told IRIN.

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the 2005 quake left 23,000 children disabled. UNICEF itself is building “child friendly” schools across the quake zone, complete with facilities for the disabled, and last year opened 16 more such schools.

“At the Child Friendly Schools UNICEF is building, we try to mainstream disabled children. Ramps are provided when needed, but issues like access to schools for children in remote areas are huge ones,” Jan Madad, an education specialist at UNICEF, told IRIN.

But the 165 schools UNICEF has agreed to build cannot cater for the needs of all the quake-affected children.

According to the Earthquake Relief and Rehabilitation Authority, set up by the government immediately after the quake, 5,751 educational institutions damaged or destroyed by the quake needed to be reconstructed. Some 73 percent had been completed by the start of September 2011. Work continues on others, but this still means many children have lacked access to school. Some still do, while for the disabled it is sometimes impossible to go back to inaccessible classrooms.

Difficult terrain

Apart from school design, the terrain where the quake struck affects this. Ali Khan, now 12, lives in the Allai administrative unit of Battagram District. With his legs damaged during the quake, he can only hobble about on crutches. But the 4km walk down a steep mountain path to the school nearest his village is too arduous for him to make.

Ali, who once dreamt of becoming an engineer, told IRIN: “This is fate. I have to live with it, and I just help my father the best I can around our farm. This is all that is left for me know.”

Scattered across the quake zone, other children are in a similar situation. The 5km distance along a rickety path in her village near Bagh in Kashmir cannot be negotiated in the wheelchair used by Asma Sharif, 13, and she receives only occasional lessons at home from her uncle. “He is too busy to help any more, but at least I have kept up some of the studies I had begun before the quake,” Asma told IRIN from Bagh.

Zahoor Uddin, a doctor at the Islamabad-based Hashoo Foundation NGO, which has worked with quake victims since 2005, told IRIN: “The problems are exacerbated because wheelchairs wear out quickly in that terrain, and the victims have no funds to replace them.” In some cases he said tutors had been arranged for children unable to reach school.

Carried to school

The problems for many children are acute. “I have a nine-year-old pupil, Gul Muhammad, who is carried to school on his father’s back. His friends help him to the toilet, and the hard chairs are uncomfortable for him as he has a back problem. I feel sorry to see him and wish our school had better facilities,” said Alimuddin Ali, 35, a school teacher in Battagram.

He told IRIN he knew of disabled children in other villages with no access to school – either because of distance or the way schools were designed.

“I have read of education by radio in some areas of the world for children in remote communities. Perhaps we can use FM radio to offer them broadcasted lessons,” he suggested.

“The thing is these children need to go to schools. Radio can’t help them. My son is growing, I am getting older, and I worry about how long I can carry him to school,” said Gul’s father, Hakim Uddin.


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The war separated children due to leaders’ hunger for power

Posted by African Press International on January 31, 2012

COTE D’IVOIRE: Separated children yet to return home

“Juliana” (real name unknown) at the Sainte Philomene Orphanage in Man. She was among a group of people who fled mass killings in Blolequin early in 2011

MAN,  – Hundreds of children in Côte d’Ivoire were separated from their parents when people fled their villages during post-election violence in 2011, but nine months after the conflict formally ended only a quarter of those children have been reunified with their families, says the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Most are living with strangers who offered to take in the children. “I have difficulty supporting them but God is great,” said Brigitte Lahou, a subsistence farmer.

In March 2011, she took three separated children into her home outside Danané in western Côte d’Ivoire. One of the children – Doriane aged six – now has contact with her father and will be moving back home soon. However, the others – Davila, eight, and Junior, seven – have still not seen their parents since leaving home.

“[Davila] lost her family along the road and can’t explain where she came from. She was crying when she arrived,” Lahou said from under a tree in front of her dilapidated wooden home.

UNICEF and its partners documented 686 children who were separated or unaccompanied in Côte d’Ivoire as a result of the 2011 conflict, in which one million people were displaced. One hundred and thirty-seven have been reunified and 60 have returned on their own, their records show.

A UN Weekly Situation Report for 9-18 January, compiled by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, also shows that by mid-January, some 1,600 unaccompanied and separated children were still living in refugee camps in Liberia’s Nimba and Grand Gedeh counties. Some 128,000 refugees remain in Liberia.

Barriers to reunification

The reunification of children requires people on the ground to do the tracing, to do the reunification, and others who can go to the most isolated rural zones. “We still have reports of families living in the forested area along the Liberian border. This is all posing a challenge for reunification,” said Christina de Bruin, deputy head of UNICEF Côte d’Ivoire.

UNICEF and partners Save the Children, International Rescue Committee and Caritas Côte d’Ivoire also had limited access to the region for months following the capture of former President Laurent Gbagbo in April 2011.

“The continuous volatile security situation hampered access and hampered the research,” de Bruin said.

Photo: Laura Burke/IRIN
Brigitte Lahou, right, took in three children to her home outside of Danané during the 2011 conflict

In addition, the area where children were separated is vast and many of the villages are isolated. Finding the families of very young children poses special challenges. “There are cases where we don’t have any information about the families,” said Irene Capet, an emergency response coordinator with Caritas Côte d’Ivoire.

At Sainte Philomene Orphanage in the western city of Man, Capet stands over a group of children who are too young to explain where their villages are, their parents’ names, or even their own.

“We don’t know her real name, but we call her Juliana,” said Capet, pointing to a toddler sitting alone on a plastic mat playing with a spoon, her head bandaged from a fall at the orphanage.

In April, “Juliana” was found following a group of people fleeing killings in Bloléquin, an Ivoirian town about 40km east of the Liberian border. No one in the group knew from where she had come. When she arrived at the orphanage, she showed signs of acute trauma. Capet said the girl did not talk for three months and had lost most of her hair. Efforts to locate the child’s family members – by posting her photos in camps for the displaced and disseminating messages through other NGOs – have failed.

“We have no idea where her parents are,” Capet said.

Best interests of the child

In some cases, organizations charged with reunification establish contact between a child and his or her parents, but contact does not result in automatic reunification.

“A key principle for UNICEF is the best interest of the child so we will not force reunification if it is not in the best interest of the child,” de Bruin said.

Determining what is best for each child requires specialists. Red Cross volunteers, in close coordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross, have been very involved in reunification.

“When we manage to trace the parents, we ask them if they want us to repatriate their children; then we ask the children if they agree to return to their parents,” Albert Jamah, charged with restoring family links for the ICRC in Liberia, said in a January statement. “Every family must meet the best interests of the child.”

With the displaced returning to their villages and continued improvements in security, it may be easier to reunify children now. “The program will be scaled up and accelerated in coming months,” says de Bruin.


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Homes destroyed during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead have been reconstructed by Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation

Posted by African Press International on January 30, 2012

AID POLICY: Islamic agencies battle the odds in Gaza

Homes destroyed during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead have been reconstructed by Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH)

GAZA CITY,  – Secours Islamique France is a respected aid agency, part of the global Islamic Relief network based in the UK, but when it comes to helping Palestinians in Gaza, its operations are challenged by both Israeli bureaucracy and its own “no-contact” policy with the Hamas officials who control the territory.

Hamas is branded a “terror” organization by most western countries, despite their victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative council elections. That requires Secours Islamique France, and all other international charities working in Gaza, to tread extremely carefully to avoid falling foul of anti-terror legislation.

US rules, specifically their definition of providing support to terrorism, are the most stringent, according to a paper on Counter-terrorism and Humanitarian Action by the Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG), part of Britain’s Overseas Development Institute. “In the US, no knowledge or intention to support terrorism per se is required [for criminal responsibility] if support is knowingly provided to a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization,” says the report.

In the UK, “having reasonable cause to suspect” that support will contribute to terrorist activity is enough to attract criminal responsibility.

This notion of “support” under US and UK anti-terror legislation means that, for example, when Secours Islamique France distributes milk and fortified biscuits daily to 10,000 pre-school children in Gaza, the INGO must only deal directly with the schools, to avoid any contact with the Education Ministry.

The Israeli blockade of Gaza, tightened after Hamas seized power in 2007, is an additional impediment to INGOs operating in the territory, increasing costs and affecting project oversight.

In terms of access by international staff, Secours Islamique France has repeatedly applied for permission to enter Gaza via Israel, but is refused each time, according to country director Adel Kaddum. The group is still awaiting the verdict on its 2010 request to officially register as an INGO in Israel; Islamic Relief UK, which delivers aid in 25 countries, applied several years ago but has yet to be approved.

While all INGOs operating in Gaza face similar frustrations, an aid worker, who asked not to be identified, said Israel’s objection to assistance reaching Hamas was sharpened by “Islamophobia” when that aid was delivered by Muslim charities.
At the practical level, Islamic INGOs face greater movement and access restrictions than other agencies because some are banned by the Israeli authorities, according to Ahmed Shurrab, including his own agency, Interpal.

But the restrictions are not insurmountable. “Israel has denied requests for permits for humanitarian staff to enter Gaza, but with the Rafah crossing [along the Gaza-Egypt border] functioning better, we [expect] international staff may be able to enter,” Muslim Hands International director Saed Salah told IRIN.

Financing, however, can be a problem, with US anti-terrorism legislation complicating transfers to NGOs operating in Gaza. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), under the US Treasury Department, administers and enforces economic sanctions against countries, groups and individuals deemed a threat.

“Banks are very sensitive, particularly in Gaza, and even if an entity is not marked by OFAC, it can still be assessed as a risk,” says the governor of the Palestine Monetary Authority, Jihad Al-Wazir.


Interpal was defined as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” that aids Hamas and was blacklisted by OFAC in 2003.

“Due to the banks being threatened by the US that they will lose their US operating licence if they deal with ‘terrorists’, we do not have full and open banking facilities,” Interpal’s Gaza field office manager, Mahmoud Lubbad, told IRIN. “That makes life difficult, but not impossible.”

Interpal’s UK headquarters are able to make Euro-denominated transfers directly to its implementing partners in Gaza.

''Ten new Islamic agencies have opened offices in Gaza since Israel’s large-scale military operation in Gaza – Operation Cast Lead – ended in January 2009''

The UK’s Charity Commission has launched two investigations into Interpal, and on both occasions concluded that the evidence did not substantiate (p.14) Washington’s claim that the organization was linked to political or militant activities.

In an out-of-court settlement in 2005 the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Britain’s leading Jewish organization, said it should not have described Interpal as a “terrorist organization”, in response to a libel suit filed by Interpal against the Board.

“We believe it was a political decision made at the request of the Israeli Foreign Ministry,” said Lubbad. “There was no due process, no investigation beforehand (and despite subsequent open invitations for the US government to send investigators to look us over, they have never been taken up) and it is a costly exercise to even request to be removed from the ‘terrorist’ list.”

Numbers increasing

However, despite the movement and access restrictions on humanitarian staff and supplies, and obstacles to the transfer of funds into Gaza, the number of Islamic INGOs working with the vulnerable in Gaza is actually increasing.

Ten new Islamic agencies have opened offices in Gaza since Israel’s large-scale military operation in Gaza – Operation Cast Lead – ended in January 2009, bringing the total to 24, according to Ayman Ayeish, information director of the Hamas-led Interior Ministry in Gaza. A total of 75 INGOs, and about 900 local NGOs, maintain offices in the territory.

Islamic aid groups based in Europe are noticeably more active than their counterparts from the US, a reflection of the different history and demographic of the two communities.

“The Muslim community in the UK works in local politics and has representation in Parliament, giving them more influence over policy,” said Muslim Hands director Saleh. “Most Muslims living in the US are more recent immigrants and less integrated into the community.”

According to an American-Muslim aid worker in Gaza: “The relationship between the US and Israel discourages US-based Islamic INGOs from delivering aid to the OPT… They may choose other areas to help people, due to the political sensitivities of the OPT, and the poor track record of receiving Israeli permits.”


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Sanitation infrastructure is being blamed for the outbreak of typhoid in the Zimbabwean capital Harare

Posted by African Press International on January 30, 2012

ZIMBABWE: Typhoid stalks Harare

Photo: IRIN
Broken water and sanitation infrastructure is being blamed for the outbreak of typhoid in the Zimbabwean capital Harare. In this 2007 file photograph raw sewage flows into the street. In 2008 a year-long cholera epidemic began.

HARARE,  – Over the past few weeks some 900 residents of the Zimbabwean capital Harare have been diagnosed with typhoid, and about 60 have been admitted to hospital, say health authorities.

“Initially, we were focusing on Dzivarasekwa high density suburb as being the source of the disease outbreak but we are now receiving patients from different high density suburbs in Harare such as Kuwadzana and Warren Park,” Harare’s health director, Propser Chonzi, told IRIN.

There have been no confirmed fatalities from the disease, although senior health officials, who declined to be identified, told IRIN they were investigating the cause of some deaths at hospitals.

Chonzi said about 20 tuberculosis (TB) patients had been relocated from the 144-bed Beatrice Infectious Diseases Hospital on the outskirts of Harare to another infectious diseases institution, the Wilkins Hospital in central Harare, to make way for typhoid victims.

According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), typhoid “usually occurs where water supplies serving large populations are contaminated by faecal matter.” The disease is “characterized by the sudden onset of sustained fever, severe headache, nausea, abdominal pains, loss of appetite, constipation or sometimes diarrhoea. The illness can last for several weeks and even months,” it says.

Recent heavy rain in Harare is expected to compound the problem: Broken drains and water pipes have forced people to dig shallow wells, which are easily contaminated by human faeces.

“I can bet my last dollar there is typhoid in Chitungwiza and Epworth [Harare commuter towns]. The hygienic levels there are not good,” said Chonzi in a recent interview with the daily The Herald newspaper.

Furthermore, Chonzi said street food had been tested and found to be contaminated with Salmonella typhi, the bacteria which causes typhoid.

“We all need to change our habits if this [typhoid] outbreak is to be contained. We need to work on improving on cleanliness such as washing hands and avoiding dirty open air vending sites,” he said.

However, fish vendors, threatened with arrest by municipal police, have changed tactics and are selling their wares at night.

Cholera fears

Conditions which allow typhoid to flourish also provide favourable conditions for the waterborne disease cholera. Zimbabwe’s year-long cholera epidemic in 2008-09 killed more than 4,000 people and infected nearly 100,000 others.

“We can have cholera any time. The environment is conducive for the outbreak. We need to be proactive and play our part,” Chonzi warned in the same newspaper interview.

The Harare Residents Trust (HRT), an NGO campaigning for better municipal service delivery, said the spread of waterborne disease was due to the authorities’ failure to collect refuse, the erratic provision of water services, and the practice of pumping raw sewage into one of the main reservoirs supplying “drinking” water to Harare.

“The city must guarantee adequate clean water supplies to avoid the 2008 cholera outbreak,” HRT’s Precious Shumba told IRIN.


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Papua has witnessed a low-level separatist insurgency since the 1960s

Posted by African Press International on January 30, 2012

INDONESIA: Rights groups urge release of Papuan activists

Papua has witnessed a low-level separatist insurgency since the 1960s

JAKARTA,  – Human rights groups have urged Indonesian authorities to drop treason charges against five activists in the easternmost province of Papua.

The activists – Forkorus Yaboisembut, Edison Waromi, August Makbrowen Senay, Dominikus Sorabut and Selpius Bobii – went on trial on 30 January, their lawyer said.

They were arrested on 19 October after they read out a declaration of independence for Papua during the so-called Papuan People’s Congress in Jayapura, the provincial capital.

Police and soldiers fired warning shots to break up the gathering after the declaration and arrested dozens of activists. Three people were found dead near the scene of the congress the following day, police and rights activists said.

“The Indonesian government should show its commitment to peaceful expression by dropping the charges against these five Papuan activists,” Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said.

“It’s appalling that a modern democratic nation like Indonesia continues to lock up people for organizing a demonstration and expressing controversial views,” she said.

Poengky Indarti, executive director of the Indonesian human rights group Imparsial, echoed HRW.

“The action of the activists did not amount to treason,” Indarti told IRIN in Jakarta.

“They did not take up arms. They were simply expressing their views in a peaceful way. So rather than prosecuting them, the government should sit together with them to talk about the grievances of the Papuan people.”

Indarti said the activists were simply voicing Papuans’ concerns about human rights violations committed by the military and the police and the exploitation of the region’s natural resources.

“The government’s heavy-handed approach is likely to worsen the situation and taint Indonesia’s international reputation,” she said.

One of the defendants’ lawyers, Latifah Anum Siregar, said they could face a life sentence or 20 years in prison if found guilty.

“Our clients are not charged for organizing the congress, but for reading out the declaration of independence,” Siregar remarked. “We believe that their action was within the boundary of free speech and as we can see, Papua has not seceded and remains part of Indonesia,” she added.

Following the October crackdown, eight police officers, including the Jayapura police chief, Imam Setiawan, were given written warnings for committing a disciplinary infraction, but no other action was taken against police or military personnel.

According to HRW, at least 15 Papuans have been convicted of treason for peaceful political activities in recent years.


Remote, sparsely populated and rich in natural resources, Papua has experienced a low-level separatist insurgency since the 1960s.

According to aid agencies, despite its vast natural resources, the region remains one of the poorest and least developed in Indonesia, with some of the lowest health and education indicators nationwide.

In 2001, Papua was granted special autonomy status in an attempt to offset renewed calls for independence. After its original short-lived independence, the region was temporarily administered by the UN before being officially annexed by Indonesia in 1969.

Activists and experts say rights abuses and economic marginalization of the indigenous Papuans, who are ethnic Melanesian, are fuelling the conflict – one largely forgotten by the west.

In 1999, the government divided Papua into the provinces of Papua and West Papua.

About 60 other people throughout Indonesia, mostly activists from the Moluccas Islands, have also been imprisoned after being convicted of treason for flying separatist flags, according to HRW.


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Legal issues are often invisible in emergencies

Posted by African Press International on January 29, 2012

GLOBAL: Why international disaster law matters

Legal issues are often invisible in emergencies

BANGKOK, – More countries should follow international disaster law to ensure efficient delivery of international aid, say experts.

“Too often, this life-saving assistance is delayed by bureaucratic bottlenecks,” Elyse Mosquini, a Geneva-based senior advocacy officer of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told IRIN.

International disaster law, the legal instruments that provide guidance on how disaster assistance should work, “is the closest thing we have to a rule book on how disaster response operations should be managed across borders”, says Oliver Lacey-Hall, Asia head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA)

The IFRC’s International Disaster Response Laws, Rules and Principles (IDRL) programme developed the Guidelines for the Domestic Facilitation and Regulation of International Disaster Relief and Initial Recovery Assistance, introduced in 2007.

“The guidelines aim to provide guidance to governments on how to reduce red tape and strengthen accountability,” adds Lacey-Hall.

But unfortunately countries do not think about needing external help until it becomes an immediate reality, experts say. Only nine countries have passed IDRL-based domestic legislation – Finland, Indonesia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Peru, the Philippines and US.

Experts say more countries need to act fast and follow their examples.

Lacey-Hall said the recent floods in the Philippines showed that strong disaster laws meant response operations proceeded smoothly.

“Sadly it seems that usually it requires a disaster to focus minds on putting such regulations into place,” he told IRIN.

Mosquini urged states to move before the next disaster strikes.

“One only has to look at the increasing number and scale of natural disasters over the past several years to recognize the urgency of action in this area,” she warns.

Among the stumbling blocks covered are issues such as visas for aid workers, customs and taxes, and an overall need for coordination.


“There have been a number of cases where visas have taken time to obtain,” says Sarah Ireland, regional director for Oxfam East Asia.

Myanmar notoriously refused to give visas to aid workers for weeks following Cyclone Nargis in 2008.

“We want to bring in legitimate resources like people and goods quickly, to get these in within the first two weeks,” Ireland said. 

Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
Visa facilitation can prove key in getting assistance to those who need it most

Problems with visas can also arise once the immediate disaster response has passed: “It is often easier to get a visa during the first week of an emergency, but weeks into the response operations the procedures are not only back to basics, but the system is often clogged up by the many requests from international organizations,” notes Jesper Lund, humanitarian affairs officer at the Emergency Services Branch of UN-OCHA, based in Geneva.

The IDRL recommendations include granting or waiving visas and work permits for aid workers; recognizing driver’s licences and qualifications of doctors, engineers; and making an effort to hire local staff as much as possible.

Customs and taxes

“Stories of relief shipments delayed at customs processing points for months after they would have been useful are well known,” Mosquini says.

“There are two issues in customs,” adds Ireland. “One is being allowed to bring in things, and sometimes you have to import things like vehicles and communications equipment, which can be sensitive. And then some of the challenges are with taxation – because sometimes taxes are 100 percent.”

“In Haiti, water trucks were parked for months because of the registration process in the country, which created substantial expenditures in renting local water trucks,” says Isabelle Sechaud, IFRC’s field logistics manager.

The IDRL guidelines propose exempting relief shipments from customs and taxes; permitting re-exportation once they are no longer needed; temporarily recognizing foreign registered vehicles; and reducing barriers to import of communications equipment and medicines.

Lack of coordination

“A large part of the assistance in the first phase of a new emergency is donated with the heart rather than based on sound humanitarian needs assessments,” says Lund.

In 2004, many agencies sent inappropriate or even harmful items, such as expired food and medicines, in response to the Indian Ocean tsunami, according to Mosquini.

“There was pretty much a free-for-all at the start of the aid operation,” says Lacey-Hall, referring to the tsunami aftermath in Indonesia. “[Lack of coordination] meant there were no clear rules of engagement, that turf battles broke out between aid agencies on who worked where.”

The IDRL guidelines say affected states should have primary responsibility and sovereign rights to regulate relief operations, and the right to decide whether to invite in international assistance. International actors are advised to calculate aid priorities based on need alone, not interfere in internal affairs of the affected state and coordinate with domestic actors.


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Discovery of unsafe levels of arsenic in Nepal’s groundwater more than a decade ago

Posted by African Press International on January 29, 2012

Analysis: When aid meets arsenic in Nepal

A girl drinks from a public tap installed last year in Nepal’s Nawalparasi District

PARASI,  – After the discovery of unsafe levels of arsenic in Nepal’s groundwater more than a decade ago, government officials and aid groups are finally taking a critical look at whether their efforts have made a difference.

“We didn’t raise money for broken filters,” said US-based geologist Linda Smith, expressing frustration during a recent visit to Nawalparasi District in the southern Terai region, one of Nepal’s hardest-hit areas by arsenic-contaminated groundwater, when she came across abandoned water filters.

At one home, two broken cement water filters were being used as planters, while another filter distributed by the NGO she heads, Filters for Families (FFF), sat dismantled in the yard.

At a neighbouring home, parts were missing from a two-bucket filtration system from Bangladesh known as a Sono. The filter stand had been converted to a clothes-drying rack.

Smith retrieved unused filters and reimbursed families for the US$5 they had paid per filter, which has an actual cost of $70.

“There are people who need filters, and they need to realize this,” she said.

Some 2.7 million people in Nepal – nearly 10 percent of the population – are drinking water with arsenic concentrations above the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended 10 parts per billion (ppb), according to 2011 government estimates.

In Nawalparasi District alone, a 2008 government survey of tube wells (shallow wells 14-24m deep controlled by hand pumps) found almost 4,000 wells had arsenic that exceeded national standards (50ppb).

Another 4,418 met national standards, but not the international 10ppb threshold – altogether affecting nearly 140,000 people who depend on those tube wells for drinking water.

Not a priority?

More than half of the country’s 33,000 tube wells that contain unsafe levels of arsenic have been addressed with the distribution of filters, but it does not mean the filters are used or maintained properly, said Madhav Pahari, water and sanitation specialist for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Kathmandu, which supports the government with arsenic containment.

“We have been providing temporary solutions through filters, but that requires changing behaviour, [which does not] occur overnight.”

A 2007 UNICEF-funded study of 1,000 tube wells in Nawalparasi found that while the filters technically worked, people were not maintaining them properly, which then rendered them faulty and then, ultimately, useless.

Little has been done to address the problem, in part because arsenic is not seen as a high priority for the government, said Pahari.

Photo: Shamsuddin Ahmed/IRIN
Hands of an arsenicosis patient in southern Bangladesh

“Microbial parasites are more important,” says Pahari. “Because if your kids have diarrhoea today, they’ll die tomorrow. But arsenic, of course, will take 10 years. It’s dangerous, but slow.”

Prolonged exposure to unsafe levels of the metal arsenic in drinking water can lead to poisoning, or arsenicosis.

Symptoms include skin problems, cancers of the skin, bladder, kidneys and lungs; diseases of the blood vessels of the legs and feet; and possibly, diabetes, high blood pressure and reproductive disorders – but the cancer can lay dormant without spreading for years, even decades, notes WHO.

According to a senior engineer in the government’s Department of Water Supply and Sewerage (DWSS), Dan Ratna Shakya, arsenic is indeed a priority, but the government has lacked funding and the right technology to figure out what works best.

What works?

Pahari as well as Shakya said UNICEF and the government have both lagged in evaluating the filters, used for the past six years.

DWSS has never conducted a comprehensive water quality testing programme before, said Shakya.

“It’s not a one-time business. It should be periodical. But this is also linked to funding. There are so many… districts that are affected by arsenic and to go to each household for monitoring would be expensive.”

Pahari said there is a plan to compare the efficacy of Sono filters produced in Bangladesh with locally produced Kanchan arsenic filters.

Today, the Sono filter remains one of six technologies certified for sale in Bangladesh – one of the most affected countries worldwide in terms of arsenic-tainted drinking water, according to WHO; the Kanchan one failed local certification.

Until there are scientific tests, Pahari said, he cannot pass judgment on the best way to contain the arsenic crisis, but those tests have languished, as has the government committee in charge of water quality.

Deeper wells

The government’s recently reconfigured National Water Quality Steering Committee has only in recent months started “thinking about” permanent solutions to solve arsenic contamination, said Ram Lakhan Mandal, the head of water quality at DWSS.

“We thought the arsenic problem had been solved because of all these organizations that have implemented temporary mitigation measures like filters.”

The committee, which includes 19 government and civil society members, has been “passive” and has not met in the past three years, said the government engineer Shakya.

But things will change soon pledged Mandal.

“In the past, everyone came for mitigation and they did as they wished. But there was no set distribution of responsibilities. Now we are defining what we must do: tube wells and piped deep boring.”

Photo: Marcus Benigno/IRIN
A 29-year-old man in Nawalparasi District shows his blotched chest, a symptom of arsenic poisoning

The government is investing in a pilot project of “deep boring” wells that go at least 100m deep, below the arsenic threshold, estimated to be at most 55m deep in Nepal, according to Smith.

An entire deep boring (up to 150m) and water tank (25,000 litres capacity) construction can cost $16,000, of which 20 percent is paid by the community, which is also responsible for building the water tank which funnels the water to village public taps.

At one water tank construction site IRIN visited in a section of Nawalparasi known as Kunwar-Ward 13, villagers complained that without cash incentives, volunteers who were supposed to be building the tank were, instead, in their fields harvesting sugar cane.

As permanent solutions still prove elusive, families continue to line up for subsidized filters, said Smith.

“At the moment we have a waiting list of 700 [requests for] Sono filters,” said Smith.

Since 2007, FFF has assembled and delivered up to 1,000 filters to households and schools in villages across the district, replacing Kanchan filters previously installed by FFF and DWSS – an example of how a solution can become part of a greater problem, noted Pahari from UNICEF.

Poor coordination

Pahari said the number of agencies working to fight arsenic is unclear – as well as the total aid invested in arsenic containment – and the government has little oversight.

Mandal told IRIN a law in place for the past 20 years requires that any agency or NGO working in the water sector report its activities to the district office, which then informs DWSS.

“But this is not happening,” he said, while his colleagues cited stumbling on a Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA)-funded project of which they were not aware that is raising awareness about arsenic contamination in Nawalparasi.

“The government is not aware of how this money comes and how it goes. There are no reporting channels… JICA and ENPHO [local NGO, Environment and Public Health Organization] have a mutual understanding, but they don’t pass on the information.”

But a senior programme manager with ENPHO, which is implementing a 28-month $400,000 local capacity building project for arsenic mitigation, said government officials at both the national and local levels had signed off on the project and have been apprised at every step.

Photo: Marcus Benigno/IRIN
An abandoned arsenic water filter stand- turned-planter

“We had informed [the water quality improvement and monitoring section at DWSS] about our project to responsible personnel there. As far as I know, the chief [of the section] has changed a few months back. At DWSS there are many staff, so it is important whom you had contact with.”

Meanwhile, in Manari village in Nawalparasi, Smith and her NGO’s technicians visited the family of Ramesh Chaudhary, who died last November from stomach cancer at age 32, six months after his brother Ram Chaudhary, 40, died from similar causes.

In 2011, arsenic levels in tube-wells in Manari were 600 ppb, 60 times the limit WHO deems safe to drink.

FFF tested the water filter in use in front of surviving family members to quell their doubts as to its efficacy. Ramesh’s mother, widowed wife and son stood by as a technician tested the water.

A slip of paper sensitive to arsenic fumes alters in colour to measure the metal in parts per billion. The result was clean, indicating arsenic at less than 10 ppb.

As the group left the village, a 29-year-old man approached Smith and showed her what has become an image far too familiar in the district: dark spots blotting his chest, a visible symptom of arsenicosis.

In an August 2011 survey by ENPHO in three sections of Nawalparasi, including Manari, 25 percent of those surveyed had similar symptoms.

DWSS estimates solving the arsenic crisis here and elsewhere in the country, including the health fallout, will cost an estimated $18.6 million.


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Hunger strike – Australian immigration policy remains a contentious debate

Posted by African Press International on January 29, 2012

MIGRATION: Asylum-seekers in Australia suspend hunger strike

Australian immigration policy remains a contentious debate

BANGKOK,  – About 150 asylum-seekers in Australia have suspended their hunger strike after accusing the government of reneging on a promise for community detention and bridging visas for long-term detainees who posed no risk, activists confirm.

At least 34 of the participants had been on hunger strike for a week.

“The ball is now in the government’s court,” Ian Rintoul, a spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC), told IRIN from Sydney. “I hope this will be followed by action and not just words.”

The suspension follows a meeting between an official from Australia’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship and 12 elected hunger strikers from the group on 24 January, with an agreement for both sides to meet again a week later.

More than 3,000 boat people – mostly Sri Lankans, Afghans and Iranians – are now in detention in eight high security immigration detention centres (IDCs) across the country, many for extended periods of time.

According to the government’s own statistics, 38 percent of asylum-seekers had been in detention for over a year.

Policy shift

On 25 November, the government announced a shift in policy that boat arrivals who did not pose risks would be considered for placement in the community on bridging visas, following initial health, security and identity checks.

Priority would be given to those who had spent the greatest amount of time in detention.

Under the plan, asylum-seekers on bridging visas have the right to work and support themselves while their claims for asylum are processed, as well as have access to necessary health services.

“This will be an ongoing, staged process to ensure an orderly transition to the community and that only suitable people are released,” Chris Bowen, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, said at the time of the announcement, noting he expected at least 100 asylum-seekers to be released per month.

But two months on and only 107 bridging visas issued, detainees and activists have grown frustrated by the slow pace of the process.

More than half the Afghan asylum-seekers, many of them ethnic Hazara, at the Pontville centre, joined the recent hunger strike which ultimately resulted in the hospitalization of at least three.

“There is nothing like 100 visas a month being issued and tensions are growing in all the detention centres,” Rintoul said, describing the government announcement as a “cruel hoax”.

Element of hope

“The process may not be going as fast as we would like, but we acknowledge that it’s a difficult process and one that needs to be done properly,” Alex Pagliaro, a refugee campaign coordinator for Amnesty International, told IRIN, describing the government’s plans to release more asylum-seekers into the community as “genuine”.

“They need to ensure that all necessary services are available to them when they are released,” she said, adding: “Once the process speeds up, this will take the pressure off the detention centres, which are already overcrowded.”

“Issuing bridging visas for asylum-seekers who arrive by boat is an important first step towards ending the suffering of thousands of vulnerable people experiencing extended and needless detention,” Paul Power, chief executive officer of the Refugee Council of Australia, added.

“We encourage the Federal Government to continue releasing more people into the community while their claims for asylum are being assessed,” he said, citing the importance of having a single system of processing, regardless of whether asylum-seekers arrive by boat or by plane.

According to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, there are more than 5,000 asylum-seekers in Australia today, including 3,464 in the IDC system on the mainland, 945 in immigration detention on Christmas Island off the southern coast of Indonesia, as well as 1,324 living in community detention.

Under Australian immigration law enacted in 1992, any asylum-seeker arriving in the country without a visa by boat can be detained indefinitely, while those arriving by plane with a visa can be processed in the community.


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Up to 120,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to return home

Posted by African Press International on January 28, 2012

DRC-CONGO: Refugee returns to start in April

Two DRC refugee children on the Oubangui river (file photo)

BRAZZAVILLE,  – Up to 120,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will be helped to return home from the north of neighbouring Republic of Congo after more than two years.

An agreement on the voluntary repatriation beginning in April was reached during a recent meeting between officials from the two countries and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in Congo’s capital, Brazzaville.

A statement released after the meeting explained that by April the level of the Ubangui river, which separates the two Congos, will be high enough to allow navigation by the large vessels needed for the operation.

“For this return to be effective, we need everyone to make an effort,” said Germaine Bationo, UNHCR’s deputy representative in DRC.

“We are thinking in particular of donors in both the humanitarian and development sectors. We invite them to join us and invest in [DRC’s] Equateur Province where inter-communal clashes rooted in resource conflicts prompted a large-scale exodus in late 2009 so that the refugees’ return is sustainable,” she said.

The voluntary repatriation had been scheduled to start in April 2011 but was postponed for logistical and security reasons.

During the Brazzaville meeting, officials from DRC said peace and security had improved in Equateur, a prerequisite for return expressed by 80 percent of the refugees, according to UNHCR.

Some 11,000 of those who had fled Equateur have already returned there from Congo and the Central African Republic, the agency said, adding that some 100,000 people displaced internally in DRC had also returned home.


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The IMF predicts average growth of 5.5 percent for Africa in 2012

Posted by African Press International on January 28, 2012

AFRICA: AU wants peace, security and bigger global role in 2012

The IMF predicts average growth of 5.5 percent for Africa in 2012

WASHINGTON, – The African Union (AU) has unveiled an ambitious wish-list of priorities for Africa that would give the continent a stronger global voice, boost democracy and encourage peace and security.

AU Ambassador to the United States, Amina Ali of Tanzania, presented the list of top priorities at a conference on 11 January held at Washington think-tank, the Brookings Institution.

Among them were the regulars – peace and security, enhanced democracy and good governance – as well as improved regional trade and greater involvement of the continent’s large diaspora in African affairs.

The first priority for Africa was the AU’s resolve to review its international partnerships to ensure they bring greater benefits to Africa.

“We are working to be able to build closer partnerships with our international partners so that Africa can really attain a sustainable economy,” Ali told the conference.

The AU wants Africa to manufacture and export finished products to its trading partners rather than just selling them the raw materials as it does now. She cited China, India, the EU and US and other rising stars in trade with the continent, including Turkey and Latin America, and said the AU had held talks on the new breed of partnerships with some of them.

The AU also wants Africa to have a veto-wielding seat on the UN Security Council, and a place at the G20 negotiating table, Ali said.

The peace and security that have eluded Africa for decades continue to be high on the list of problems that the continent needs to resolve, but she spoke only of conflict in Sudan. “The AU will continue to look into issues for Sudan,” Ali said.

A report released at the conference, Foresight Africa, highlighted other tinderboxes and called for “urgent instability and warfare policy reviews” to meet the challenges the continent faces in not only Sudan but also in Somalia and Nigeria.

The report compares the instability in Africa to the decade-old US-led war in Afghanistan, and warned that if “the current trend continues”, a swathe of Africa, stretching from the Horn to Nigeria, “is likely to experience increasing instability and warfare, while narratives of jihadist revolt and terrorist technologies circulate among its citizens”.

AU wish-list for 2012
Revamped international partnerships to bring more benefits to Africa
Peace and security
Good governance and a better democratic process
Fewer internal trade barriers leading to an Africa-wide free trade zone
Greater involvement in African affairs for the diaspora
Improved food security

The unrest could affect Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Sudan, Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia, the report says. Clearly, the AU has to do more than just supervise goings-on in Sudan and its new neighbour, South Sudan.

The AU also pledged to “review the mechanism for democratic process in Africa” after the wake-up call from the uprisings in the Arab world, including North Africa, a year ago, Ali said.

The AU will press member states to sign a charter ratified by the AU assembly in 2007, which aims to strengthen democracy and good governance in Africa, she said.

The charter was inspired in part by concern that “unconstitutional changes of governments” are a key cause of insecurity and “violent conflict” in Africa, and by a determination to “strengthen good governance through the institutionalization of transparency, accountability and participatory democracy”.

As of November last year, 38 of the AU’s 54 member states had signed the charter, but only 10 had ratified it. It is notable that nearly all the countries in the areas of Africa that are “likely to experience increasing instability and warfare” have signed the charter, with the exception of Somalia and Eritrea in the east and Cameroon in the west.

Food security

The AU will take steps to establish “food reserves” that give areas that face drought a “cushion” against famine, said Ali. She also voiced fears that parts of west Africa could be hit by drought this year, highlighting the need to rapidly establish food reserves – a tough challenge in a time of high food prices and an economic crisis in Europe, which has hit Africa.

Africa also has to “secure access to markets and competitive prices for farmers” or “risk inciting unrest” and food riots, the Foresight Africa report says.

AU officials will push in 2012 to establish a free trade zone that spans the length and breadth of the continent, Ali said. It would boost commerce between countries, a key step towards development.

At present, less than 15 percent of African trade stays on the continent – the rest is sold abroad.

The last item on the AU wish-list is greater involvement of the African diaspora, said to outnumber Africans at home, in the continent’s affairs.

The AU is due to host an African diaspora summit in May, Ali said.

Ali stressed the importance of the diaspora to the continent: remittances represent a larger revenue source for Africa than overseas development aid.



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Displaced people from Damaturu city collect relief items

Posted by African Press International on January 28, 2012

by api

NIGERIA: Boko Haram displaced fear returning home

Displaced people from Damaturu city collect relief items

KANO,  – Many of the tens of thousands of civilians who have fled their homes following a string of deadly attacks by “terrorist group” Boko Haram in northern Nigeria over recent weeks have not yet been able to return home – or been offered any shelter by the authorities.

Local government authorities are wary of setting up camps for the displaced, says the Nigerian Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), as these could turn into further Boko Haram targets.

The number of displaced is unclear, say aid agency representatives in Nigeria, as Boko Haram attacks are continuing.

The largest estimated displacement was 90,000 people who were reported to have fled Damaturu city in Yobe State following deadly attacks in late December, said Ibrahim Farinloye, northeastern Nigeria coordinator for NEMA.

According to the Nigerian Red Cross, members of the Christian Igbo ethnic group – a minority in the mainly Muslim north – are fleeing the northeast in significant numbers.

Some 10,000 people are reported to have been displaced in the southern state of Benin on 9 January following what are believed to be retaliation attacks on mostly-Muslim Hausa residents, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Many displaced families told IRIN they were wary of returning home both because of further Boko Haram attacks, and because of what they say is heavy-handed military tactics used by soldiers patrolling their neighbourhoods.

Babagana Ari fled the Pompomari neighbourhood of Damaturu city in Yobe State in late December following attacks and ensuing violence which reportedly killed over 60 people. He, his wife and six children are staying with his brother in a two-room house in another part of the city (Bakin Kasuwa).

“Some residents who went back to pick some belongings in their homes never came back, and the assumption is that they were shot dead by soldiers who took them for Boko Haram members,” he said.

Another displaced person, Yahaya Masu’ud, voiced similar fears: “I don’t know when I can return to my home, especially with the state of emergency that has been imposed on the city by the president… This has conferred enormous power on soldiers.”

Hundreds of soldiers have been deployed to patrol the streets of Damaturu, Maiduguri, the capital Abuja, and other cities.

“The enemy is faceless”

A military officer who preferred anonymity told IRIN of the difficulty in identifying potential Boko Haram attackers. “We are dealing with a guerilla insurgency where the enemy is faceless and can blend with ordinary civilians. Boko Haram elements are hardly recognizable by appearance, they can only be known when they carry arms and strike, and they then dissolve into the population which makes our operation very difficult.”

Several security specialists have urged the government to take a more considered approach to quelling the power of Boko Haram – through stronger intelligence-gathering and in some cases, more proactively engaging with the group – as they say a strong-armed military approach will merely lead to more violence.

A state of emergency has been declared in Yobe, Borno and Plateau states, while curfews have been imposed in Adamawa State, according to the government. The state of emergency has also complicated returns as it entails imposing dusk-to-dawn curfews and a ban on motorcycle taxis, which is the principal means of transport between cities, said NEMA’s Ibrahim Farinloye.

With the displaced remaining largely uncounted, and so spread out, aid groups find it difficult to reach them, said local NGO Actionaid head Abdu Hussaini.

“People are not stationed in one place. Most are staying with extended families… We need a different way of responding to that,” he said, adding that keeping track of where people are headed is also difficult, and recommended closer monitoring of the situation.

NEMA set up a relief committee in late December to coordinate distributions, and has asked international NGOs to help with basic materials, a call to which the International Committee of the Red Cross has responded. NEMA has reserved emergency supplies in warehouses across several states, said Farinloye, in case more aid is needed.

The government announced it would leverage US$570 million on counter-terrorism efforts, which would include relief for those affected by the violence. But this needs to be carefully spent and accounted for, warned Hussaini. “They need to define the criteria of how much they’re giving and who it’s going to, to make sure no one is excluded from the aid and that it isn’t hijacked.”

aa/aj/cb source

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