FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Tuesday:  November 25, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in Democratic Republic of Congo (9)

Tuesday
Oct092012

Six people confirmed dead, more missing after small boat capsizes off Mayotte (REPORT) 

(PHOTO: A boat carrying asylum seekers & migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. UNHCR/L.Boldrini)(October 9, 2012) - Six people died and 10 are still missing after a small vessel carrying 24 people capsized on Monday morning off the French territory of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean, the United Nations Refugee Agency reported today.

“The capsizing is a reminder of the risks faced by people desperate to escape poverty, conflict and persecution,”  Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.

“As in the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Aden, the seas around Mayotte are the scene of irregular movements of migrants and refugees searching for a better life or protection from persecution and war.”

This is the second such tragedy in a month, bringing to 69 the number of people reported dead or missing after incidents off Mayotte this year.

For decades, people have been using small open vessels known as “kwassa-kwassa” to sail from the Comoros to the more prosperous French territory of Mayotte, according to UNHCR.

(PHOTO: A general view of the island of Mayotte/UNHCR)Most of these movements take place without the requisite documentation and involve considerable risk to those attempting them. Asylum-seekers account for a small proportion of these movements but their numbers have been increasing in the last two years, Mr. Edwards said.

UNHCR said that last year there were some 1,200 applications for asylum in Mayotte, 41 per cent more than in 2010. The largest proportion of applicants – about 90 per cent – came from the Comoros, with citizens from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Rwanda and Burundi, accounting for the rest.

- This report first appeared at the UN News Centre

Welcome to Mayotte

Mayotte:  Is an overseas department and region of France consisting of a main island, Grande-Terre a smaller island, Petite-Terre, and several islets around these two. The archipelago is located in the northern Mozambique Channel in the Indian Ocean, namely between northwestern Madagascar and northeastern Mozambique. Mayotte's area is 374 square kilometers and with its estimated 194,000 people is very densely populated. Its biggest city and prefecture is Mamoudzou. The territory is geographically part of the Comoro Islands, but has been politically separate since a 1974 referendum in which it elected to remain under French rule. The territory is also known as Mahoré, the native name of its main island, especially by advocates of its inclusion in the Union of Comoros. In a 2009 referendum, the population overwhelmingly approved accession to status of department. On March 31, 2011, Mayotte became an overseas department. (By Alex Ohan)

Wednesday
Jan112012

Ending The LRA: Reason For Optimism And Political Commitment (PERSPECTIVE)

By Ned Dalby

Marie-Paul Kimakosa, 18, with 12 month-old son Emmanuel Mbolina, and Mado, 3 (sleeping). Formerly of Ngilima village, Marie-Paul lost her husband, her father, grand-father, grand-mother to the LRA. Two cousins have been kidnapped and not returned. She fled to Dungu where she has settled with other internationally displaced persons (IDP's). July 2011 PHOTO CREDIT: Oxfam International /via FlickrInfrequent observers of central Africa are startled and appalled to learn that the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group that emerged in the late 1980s, is still killing. Forced into the border zones of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan, its brutality can no longer be framed as political protest but rather survival by its own awful, time-tested method.

However, military and civilian efforts to stop the LRA are gaining momentum and there is now a precious opportunity to end the nightmare of thousands. To make the most of it, African leaders and foreign partners should commit to an immediate military push and measures to help traumatised communities recover in the long-term.

In late 2008 Joseph Kony, the group’s leader, refused to sign a peace deal with the Ugandan government. Talks collapsed and the Ugandan army botched a US-backed assault on the LRA’s camps in north-eastern DRC. Since then it has been trying to catch Kony and scattered, highly mobile groups of fighters in dense forest.

The political agendas of the region’s leaders have made a difficult job even harder. Since the LRA no longer presents an immediate threat to Ugandans, there is understandably little domestic pressure on Museveni to invest the men and money needed to complete the mission. He has prioritised other more politically rewarding goals, including his re-election in February 2011 and beefing up the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). In mid-2010 he pulled out about half the troops assigned to the operation. The campaign of attrition became markedly more passive and for months was little more than a cordon preventing the LRA’s return to Uganda. Local armies meanwhile have neither the will nor the strength to protect their people, let alone hunt down Kony’s fighters.

The DRC’s tolerance of a Ugandan military presence on its soil has been exhausted. During the second Congo war (1998-2003) Uganda occupied part of Congo’s territory, plundered its natural resources and earned President Joseph Kabila’s lasting mistrust. A deeply engrained animosity has seen the Congolese army deny the Ugandans access to LRA areas and in October 2011 forbid them to leave camp, reportedly on pain of death. Most of the LRA is in the CAR but could cross back into Congo at any time and find safe haven.

The LRA is inevitably a low priority for the governments of Uganda, the DRC, CAR and South Sudan sitting hundreds of kilometres away in country capitals. But an outcry from local civil society and pressure from human rights groups, particularly in the U.S, has made it difficult for western partners to stand idle.

Under direction from Congress, the US. government has committed to using political, economic, military and intelligence means to eliminate the LRA threat. The deployment in late 2011 of about 100 troops to Uganda, a minority of which have now advanced to south east CAR to advise and assist the Ugandans, is the clearest expression of US commitment to the fight.

The African Union (AU) is also in the process of launching its “regional cooperation initiative” to end the LRA. The three countries affected by Kony’s violence pushed the AU to the fore hoping it would bring in more funding. Looking to promote African ownership, the US also encouraged it. The AU’s limited capacity and difficulty reconciling the demands of affected member states and those of its main backer, the EU, have delayed the launch. But in November 2011 the AU appointed a special envoy to muster political will on the LRA issue and plans to reframe the operation as a “regional intervention force” thereby investing it with greater legitimacy.

US support, the AU initiative and other international interventions have now advanced far enough to present a genuine collective opportunity to end the LRA in the near future and enable afflicted communities to rebuild their lives in the long-term.

The U.S. military advisers in the field have the chance to embolden and strengthen Ugandan operations, in particular by improving communications and coordination among the troops and with host armies. But they will not be there long; just a matter of months according to US officials. While their expertise is on hand, while most LRA fighters are in the CAR and while the dry season allows for easier movement, the Ugandans should launch a concerted military push against the LRA, at all times prioritising civilian safety and accepting strict accountability for their actions.

As an essential complement to military pressure, the UN mission in Congo uses leaflets and radio messages to persuade LRA fighters and captives to leave the bush. Defectors say it works. The UN should take advantage of a healthy appetite among donors for such non-military measures and expand and intensify them as quickly as possible.

The UN, present in DRC, CAR and South Sudan, should also agree with government, military and humanitarian actors on procedures by which escapees are debriefed, taken home and helped to restart their lives. It should iron out unnecessary delays and funding gaps to be ready for greater numbers in the future. Assisting returnees should dovetail with long-term government and donor plans for stimulating social and economic recovery in hard-hit, border-zone communities.

For these collective efforts to come off, regional leaders, Museveni and Kabila in particular, will need to show their commitment to military and civilian efforts and cooperate. In particular, Kabila will need to allow Ugandan operations on Congolese soil and Museveni ensure his forces behave with total professionalism. It falls to Francisco Madeira, the AU special envoy, western partners and the UN to work with both on these issues.

Hoping for the best but planning for the worst, the AU should recognise the need to maintain political support among African leaders and international donors for comprehensive military and civilian efforts in the long-term, especially if domestic pressure sees the US reduce its role. This political commitment is critical to beating the LRA and enabling thousands of vulnerable families to live without fear.

Ned Dalby is Central Africa Analyst for the International Crisis Group.

- This article also appeared in AllAfrica.com

Monday
Dec262011

THE HUM - HEADLINES FROM THE GEOGRAPHIC GAP - 12/26/11

Afghanistan

High Power consumption the main factor of electricity outage

Canada 

(PHOTO: The provincial government of British Columbia has created a task force team to handle the tonnes of debris from the Japanese tsunami floating in the Pacific Ocean that is expected to hit B.C. shores. US NAVY)B.C. launches task force to manage coming tsunami debris

China 

Asia to be largest corporate, investment banking market by 2015: McKinsey

Congo (DRC)

Capital markets: Burj Capital thrives against the tide

Cuba 

US 'Disappointed' Cuba Will Not Release American Prisoner

Egypt 

(PHOTO: Ismail Haniya, Gaza Strip PM. EPA)Palestinian PM in Cairo

Ethiopia

Egypt deports 93 Ethiopians using the country as a transit stop to reach Israel illegally

Haiti 

Haitian migrants found dead off Cuban coast

Iran 

Iranian diplomats review Islamic awakening in Arab states

Tehran, Tunis Able to Further Develop Relations Far from Sectarian Differences

Iran President underlines development of ties with Africa

Iraq 

Iraq blocks Jordanian trucks heading to Turkey over Syria concerns

Israel 

Israeli gas quests plagued by pirates

Libya 

We are pumping more than a million barrels of oil a day, says Libya

Nepal 

Nepal sets up diplomatic ties with Solomon Islands

Nigeria 

Africa’s Biggest Street Party Takes Centre Stage

Paraguay

Paraguay, stuck in siesta mode, awaits Lugo's exit

Somalia 

Somalia: Protesters march the streets to stop violence aimed at aid workers 

South Korea 

(PHOTO: RIA NOVOSTI)S.Korea: doctors charged over deal with pharmaceutical companies

Spain 

Spain: King Juan Carlos Says Fighting Joblessness Top Priority

Sri Lanka 

Sri Lankan female ex-rebels faces uncertain future

Sudan 

Sudan’s Ancient Civilization: Nubian Kingdoms and the Christian Era

Svalbard and Jan Mayen (Arctic Ocean)

Pack ice breaking up in Svalbard in the arctic north of Norway (PHOTO)

 

Swaziland

Marriage trouble for Mandla Mandela  

Sweden

The tallest revolving door in the world

Busy Christmas weekend for the Swedish police

Syria

Syria Faces a New, Long-Term Phase

Taiwan

Taiwanese banks will back plant restoration in Thailand

More sons in Taiwan get inheritances than daughters: report

Tajikistan

Wheat genetics in Tajikistan could help feed the world

Tanzania

Exposed: Dar lacks disaster response system

Thailand

High waves ravage S. Thailand, thousand affected, tourists marooned

Tonga

Tonga National Population Census 2011; Preliminary Count

Trinidad and Tobago

Business owners crying as shoppers watch their pockets

Tunisia

Tunisian women’s group ATFD wins Simone de Beauvoir award

Turkey

(PHOTO: Turkey's learning disabled students. SUNDAY'S ZAMAN)Learning disabilities often confused with mental retardation in Turkey

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan to hold talks on laying international fiber-optic communication lines

Tuvalu

Anglicans tiding Tuvalu over

Uganda

Hopping mad: Uganda power cuts hit grasshopper harvest

Ukraine

Iran, Ukraine to sign oil contracts

Ukraine and Russia to hold next round of gas talks on Jan 15

Ukraine to produce 36 million tonnes of steel in 2012

United Arab Emirates

DHA: No local emergence of malaria

Most in UAE borrow to splurge, says expert

Dassanayake to embark on talent hunt

United Kingdom

Pen woman swallowed 25 years ago works

UK taxpayers face extra £250m bill for nuclear waste clean-up

The globalised underclass (Perspective)

United States

Hackers target United States security think tank

Child Homelessness on the Rise in the US 

Giant shrimp raises big concern as it invades the Gulf of Mexico

Uruguay

Uruguay to Adapt Agriculture to climate change conditions

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan’s courts launch fight against corruption

Vanuatu

Nursing School gets educational material from Rotary

Global Fund for Environment Projects Ends Year in Vanuatu

Venezuela

Chavez issues Christmas amnesty to 140 prisoners

Vietnam

(PHOTO: Thailand's `Bubble Woman'. THANH NIEN NEWS) Vietnam’s Bubble Woman to be treated in HCMC 

Vietnam still doesn’t have regulations to treat electronics waste

Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program in Vietnam, yielding positive results

More int’l brands shifting base to Vietnam from China

Yemen

Photos of Yemen’s Deepening Humanitarian Challenges

Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh heads to United States after government forces attack peaceful protesters

Zambia

Zambia’s poor still waiting for change after Sata’s 90 days

MTN Zambia launches solar green site

Women for Change launches ‘Zambia We Want Charter’

Zimbabwe

Reform efforts in Zimbabwe move slowly

Medical student wins Face of Zimbabwe pageant

Friday
Dec232011

THE HUM - HEADLINES FROM THE GEOGRAPHIC GAP - 12/23/2011

Algeria 

Algeria Eyes 2.5 Million Tourists Per Year By 2015

(PHOTO: Marriott, 198 room hotel expected to open in 2014 in Setif) Courtyard by Marriott Announces Its Second Hotel in Algeria

Bhutan 

Health referral cost escalates

Cambodia 

Challenges Ahead as Cambodia Preps for Asean Presidency

Cambodian PM Pays Last Tribute to DPRK's Leader Kim Jong Il

MSF Steps Up Tuberculosis Support in Cambodia

Finding profit potential in the rich soil of Pailin

Digital content key to growth for Kingdom’s telecom firms (Perspective)

Central African Republic

CAR: UNSC extends mandate of UN office

Chile

Pinera Says Chile Will Be First Developed Latin America Nation

Christmas Island

(PHOTO: Kirimati, Christmas Island, NASA) Seen from Space: Christmas Island

Congo (DRC)

Congo Opposition Leader Ready To Take Oath Office, Says Adviser

Egypt

Meeting condones peaceful use of nuclear power for generating electricity

India

Much anticipated short film fest in Gauhati today

Kenya

Ebola fear strikes Kenya

Morocco

Snake Charmers, Old Markets and Friendly People

Myanmar

Myanmar to allow private mining in noted ruby area

Samoa

Samoa considers decriminalising female impersonations

Slovenia

Stay at a former military prison turned art hostel in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Suriname

Suriname, Fiji ink comminique at UN

UAE group to set up mint house in Suriname

Swaziland

Over 600 armed officers hunt ‘scarface’ in Swaziland

High tech ticketing system comes to SD

Switzerland

Concern as asylum seekers forced onto street

Revised CO2 law reflects uneasy compromise

Syria

Syrian company owner  molests Pinay, 2 other workers in UAE

Violence, sectarianism stalk Homs

Taiwan

PFP VP candidate to visit Bhutan in search of happiness

Tajikistan

Tajiks need more private investment to spur economy, WB says

Tanzania

Kindle, eBooks and the future of Tanzania’s poor readership

In Tanzania, two journalists charged with incitement

Police fail to charge Tanzania media boss

Thailand

Shipbuilding seeks revival

Junie Browning Finally Surrenders to Thailand Police

China signs currency swap deal with Thailand

Turks and Caicos

Sandals Foundation brings Christmas joy to TCI kids

TCI draws more than 1 million tourists in 2011

Togo

Togo to Receive Assistance to Better Manage Flood and Land Degradation Risks

Tokelau

Tokelauan New Zealanders get help to maintain language

Tonga

Tonga speaker at risk of arrest over bail breach

Investor embarks on beef plan

Trinidad and Tobago

Chicken prices will eventually go up

Key and ministers off to Oz

Turkmenistan

Native of Turkmenistan Oleg Kononenko in second space flight

Tunisia

New Tunisian premier names coalition government dominated by Islamists

American Children Kidnapped and Taken to Tunisia By Father

Turkey

Turkey: Post-Earthquake, How Easy to Stop Substandard Construction?

Tuvalu

The Tuvalu Drought: A Microcosm of Things to Come

Uganda

Don't Break Your Nails. Hire a Chef

Lazy Ugandan men face arrest

Ukraine

Ukraine will start 2012 in precarious condition

United Arab Emirates

Citizenship law for Emirati women sets good example

Young people spend nearly 10 hours a day online

United Kingdom

Sony - Netflix's U.K. Plans Undermined By Amazon Deal

England riots: all-night courts praised, but were they a publicity stunt? (Perspective)

United States

U.S. Population Grows at Slowest Rate Since 1940s

The U.S. Isn’t Into Social Networking as Much as You’d Think, and Females are Into It More Than Males

Uruguay

Uruguay Set to Invest in Its Dairy Farmers to Make Them More Green

Vanuatu

Vanuatu minister accused of making threats

Venezuela

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Calls Obama a 'Clown'

No more kumbaya

Malicious Spam Depicts Demise of Venezuela President

(PHOTO: Theresly Malavé, Venezuelan criminal defense lawyer & president of NGO Justicia y Proceso Venezuela (Venezuelan Justice & Process) & Jackeline Sandoval, the director of the Foundation for Due Process (Fundepro); Credit Gustavo Bandres)NGOs count 24 political prisoners in Venezuela

Vietnam

Vietnam fuel companies suspected of dodgy tax practices 

Wallis and Futuna Islands

Real Estate In Wallis And Futuna Islands Look Great

Western Sahara

Justice for Killing of Young Saharawi Boy Demanded

Yemen

Unrest puts child marriage issue on back burner

Yemen faces critical period to cement political settlement: UN envoy

Zambia

Zambia’s Free Education Policy to Benefit Poor

(PHOTO: Lusaka, Zambia; CREDIT: Jacqui Wintle; September 2011)Women farmers need funding in face of climate change says environment advocates

Zambia to host 200th David Livingstone celebrations

Zimbabwe

Women still marginalised in Zimbabwe

Blitz Triggers Transport Woes

Tuesday
Dec062011

DRC Elections: Time To Ask Questions (BLOG/REPORT) 

By Yvonne Ndege in Africa 

DRC - photo courtesy of AlJazeera As people across the Democratic Republic of Congo wait for the country's election commission to announce the final results from presidential elections, there is a real sense of fear in the capital, Kinshasa.

After 16 nights here, it is not difficult to understand people's anxiety. 

At least 18 have been killed in election-related violence and the situation has raised many questions.

Can this vast country deepen its democracy or democratise successfully given the conditions here, such as very poor infrastructure, tribalism, corruption, poor standards of education and insecurity?

Then, there is its history to consider.

When ordinary Congolese flocked to the polls on November 28, it was only the third democratic election to take place after some 51 years of independence from Belgium.

Chaos expected?

The question must be asked: do we expect too much from countries like the DRC in terms of their ability to conduct free, fair and transparent polls? 

Should we expect logistical chaos, rigging, ballot box snatching, clashes between police and opposition party supporters as part of the path to democracy? 

And when one looks at the world's most developed and stable democracies, one has to ask whether they experienced such challenges on the path towards building their democracy.

There is no doubt that holding this election is a positive step towards empowering the Congolese people, but there is still a very long way to go.

For starters, the manner in which elections are organised here needs to be overhauled.

Hundreds of thousands have missed out on casting their ballots, simply because ballot papers failed to arrive in many parts of the country, and the process of compiling results has been chaotic and confused.

There is not doubt that this will lead to some candidates losing their rightful place and some candidates wrongly assuming power.

Impact on the region

The poll needs to be decentralised and it is unreasonable for such a vast country to have one just one nerve center based in Kinshasa.

Political parties need to be strengthened so that those with the true ability get a chance to run for public office, and not just candidates who are wealthy.

Overhauling the elections and decentralizing the manner in which the polls are conducted will do much to improve the legitimacy of future elections. 

Finally, there is a huge role to be played by members of the international community, remembering that this country borders nine others. 

Its political maturity and its stability has ramifications for millions in Africa, beyond its borders. Much more needs to be done, in terms of training and funding projects, individuals and organisations, who are all working towards trying to improve democracy in the heart of Africa.

But above all, the country’s key political actors will have to learn to respect the will of the people at the ballot box, and put aside any personal interests in their quest for power.

Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons Licensing 

Thursday
May052011

Congo: The Electoral Dilemma (ANALYSIS)

Democratic Republic of Congo, May 4, 2011 Photo courtesy of ICGby The International Crisis Group

(May 5, 2011) -- After four years of electoral inertia and in a stalled democratic process, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is preparing its second set of democratic elections in a hurry and on a rolling calendar. Opposition parties are trying to unite, thus far without success, and the international community is not in charge, as in effect it was the first time, in 2006.

The Congolese authorities face a dilemma: respect the constitutional deadline and organise botched elections, or ignore that deadline and slide into a situation of unconstitutional power. In both cases, the government’s legitimacy would be seriously questioned.

The only way out of this Catch-22 situation is to both speed up preparations and negotiate a contingency electoral calendar and political agreement to manage an almost certainly necessary transition period. More attention must also be paid to putting in place essential measures for transparency and inclusiveness, as well as a security system that will ultimately require important UN help. If these steps are not taken, foreign partners should disengage lest they lend undeserved credibility to a fundamentally flawed process.

Instead of signalling consolidation of democracy, the coming elections present at best a logistical problem and at worst a new cause of destabilisation for a country that has still not recovered from the long wars that marked the end of the Mobutu era and its denouement.

President Joseph Kabila’s ruling party has already launched its campaign, even before the official start of the electoral season, while the opposition is trying to find its “champion” for the presidential contest. More than logistical difficulties give reason for concern.

At the start of the year, a constitutional review removed the presidential election’s run-off round, making it a single winner-takes-all round to the incumbent’s benefit, other electoral law changes favouring the ruling party may happen soon, as the draft bill is still being discussed. Within what is a general climate of insecurity, intimidation of Kabila’s opponents has already become apparent. Despite last-minute integration of some armed groups into the Congolese army, insecurity is still rife in the Kivus, while unexplained security incidents, including an attempted coup, have occurred in the west.

Technical preparations are lagging. Neither the new electoral law, the voters list, nor the budget are ready. Set up a year late, the National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC) is in a race against time. Registration is already controversial, funding of the electoral cycle is incomplete, and the electoral calendar published on 30 March, though it partially respects constitutional deadlines, is problematic.

The international community’s role is far more limited than in 2006, when it organised, financed and secured all aspects of the elections. However, it still provides 40 per cent of the funding, gives technical assistance and maintains about 17,000 UN troops in country. Given the risks of electoral illegitimacy, bias and violence, it should not stay in the background but instead make clear to the Congolese politicians that a postponed election would be better than a botched one.

The international community, including through the UN Security Council and an inclusive donors forum, should make clear the need for the Congolese authorities to include essential measures in the electoral system and apply the same standards as in 2006. In this respect, stepped-up political engagement is required, and new Special Envoys for the U.S., France and EU should be appointed; the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations (SRSG) has an equally significant role to play.

In order not to become trapped in a biased process that could all too easily become as violent as that which Côte d’Ivoire recently experienced, technical and financial assistance should be contingent on constant and precise monitoring of the freedom to campaign, respect for political pluralism, political violence, access to state media, dialogue with the Congolese authorities and state funding for the NIEC, as well as the opportunity for civil society groups to do their own monitoring of the process.

Congolese politicians and the international community should anticipate now the very real possibility that the 5 December constitutional deadline cannot be met. Negotiating a transition agreement with the opposition, setting a new deadline for organising the elections and limiting the business of government to routine matters during the transition would not yet guarantee a free and fair election, but it would avoid having a likely unconstitutional postponement of the elections become a crisis of legitimacy.

- The International Crisis Group is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict.  Recommendations by ICG on the above topic can be found here.

Sunday
Jan092011

Southern Sudan 55-Year Quest for Freedom (Perspective)

By Hugo Odiogor

(HN, January 9, 2011) - A 55-year quest for freedom in southern Sudan makes a crucial home run today when over four million voters step out to cast their vote either to remain with their Arab and Muslim brothers or to become an independent state. The stakes are high for both sides and for Africa as a whole.Southern Sudan has considerable agricultural potential, but a lack of infrastructure - such as roads and storage facilities - and ongoing insecurity has limited production. CREDIT: Caroline Gluck, OXFAM

Sudanese President Omar Hassan El-Bashir pledged last week to abide by the result of today’s referendum, thereby dousing fears of a possible return to the trenches, in the event of southern voting to end its 113-year association with the Arab north.

El-Bashir, facing indictment in the International Court of Justice at The Hague, made what could be his last visit to the South as a united country last week and gave the world the assurance the north will not resort to violence to thwart the decision of the south. The vote is the result of a 2005 peace deal, which ended a 55-year conflict that has claimed the lives of two million people and left twice as many displaced.

El-Bashir held talks with southern Sudanese leader, Sylva Kiir, on issues bordering on citizenship rights, resource control, border demarcations, and the fate of the oil-rich Abyei, which is supposed to vote later on whether it should become part of the north or to join the south. Today’s referendum is part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended one of Africa’s longest-running civil war. In the north, the ruling National Congress Party, led by Omar El-Bashir, is campaigning for unity while  the former rebels under SPLM decided “to campaign for what the people want.”

Before the closure for registration last week, at least 3.4 million people in Sudan have registered to vote while Sudanese in Diaspora are also allowed to vote. Reports said aid agencies have been assisting to educate the illiterate rural population on how they will choose between two images on the ballot paper.

One of them is that of clasped hands symbolising “ unity.” The second symbol is a “single hand”, signalling separation from Khartoum. The vote for separation has united the diverse southern communities who are often divided along ethnic lines. There have been pro-separation rallies as the people look forward to end centuries of slavery and abuse at the hands of the Arabs in the north.

Sudan is located in the north-eastern part of Africa. It is the 10th largest country by land mass, combining the size of France, Britain, Germany and Belgium, put together. It is bordered by Egypt to the north, the Red Sea, to the northeast, Eritrea and Ethiopia to the east, Kenya and Uganda to the southeast, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central Africa Republic to the southwest, Chad to the west and Libya to the northwest. The River Nile, world’s longest river, divides the country on the east and west.

Khartoum is the political, cultural and commercial capital of the nation, while Omdurman remains the largest city. Its population of 42 million people, Arab and Nubian origins who are Sunnis and the Dinkas and other diverse groups in the South.

Islam is the official and largest religion, while Arabic and English are the official languages. The pro-Islamic policies of the government led to a second civil war in 1983,  followed by a bloodless coup d’etat in 1989. Under the dictatorial leadership of El-Bashir, Sudan has initiated a series of macroeconomic reforms which resulted in its economy being rated amongst the fastest growing in the world. Sudan is rich in natural resources including petroleum, with China and Japan as its main partners.

The British began the process of divide and rule in 1922, when the northerners were not allowed to travel over the 10th parallel south and southerners travel over the 8th north. This ensured that Muslims were stopped from spreading their faith southwards while the British supported the influx of Christian missionaries to the south. This was the basis for the dichotomy that existed till date.

The two cultures were never given a proper opportunity to interact, in the 55 years of the country’s independence. The north imposed its dominance by force and attempted to impose Sharia on southern Christians where illiteracy is almost 100 per cent; poverty is rife, healthcare is non-existent and starvation a frequent blight.

Flashpoints of conflict

Separatist movements in regions such as Darfur and the Nuba Mountains and  border areas are watching the development in the vote today; in the same way other African and Arab countries are watching the development in Sudan.

‘Under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which brought civil war to an end, two referenda were agreed: one for southern secession or unity and the other to give Abyei the opportunity to choose to be part of the north or the south.

Oil diplomacy

Sudan has achieved great economic growth by implementing macroeconomic reforms and finally ended the civil war by adopting a new constitution in 2005 with rebel groups in the south, granting them limited autonomy to be followed by a referendum about independence in 2011.

The discovery of oil in the southern part of Sudan has been one of the problems of the country. It produces 500,000 barrels every day. Eighty per cent of the oil is in the south, while the pipeline runs to the  north. It accounts for 70 per cent of government revenue and 93 per cent of its exports. South produces vast majority of oil, but north has means of processing.

El-Basir is proposing a wealth-sharing deal that splits oil profits 50-50 between north and south Sudan. The Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), runs the largest oil-extraction operation in the country. China has been roundly condemned for closing its eyes to human rights violations in Sudan because of the oil diplomacy. Its company has been accused of false declaration of oil production figures which puts the south in disadvantage. In the five years of  peace, the north has shared $10 billion in oil revenue with south.

The suspicion that the north was hiding oil revenue almost derailed the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, three years ago. Bashir’s National Congress Party and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army must negotiate a new oil revenue-sharing agreement, and a “credible, independent” company must conduct a detailed audit of the country’s oil industry and release its findings in full to the public.

Observers  believe that the ICC indictment of  El-Bashir has put him under tremendous pressure and he is not in the mood to fight any more, but the UN, and some anti-genocide groups have set up Satellite Sentinel Project, along the border areas to monitor movement of persons and troops.

The surveillance project is to prevent a new civil war in the event that the south votes for secession in the referendum. “We want to let potential perpetrators of genocide and other war crimes to know that we’re watching, the world is watching,” they said. “War criminals thrive in the dark. It’s a lot harder to commit mass atrocities in the glare of the media spotlight.”

Today’s referendum is important for the people of Sudan and the world as it may see the birth of a new nation in Africa and the world.

This article originally appeared in the Vanguard Newspaper in Nigeria

 

Saturday
Oct162010

Starved for Attention - Congo: The Malnutrition that Shouldn't Be 

Starved for Attention” produced by Doctors without Borders/ Medecins Sans Frotiers (MSF) and VII Photography captures frontline stories of malnutrition from Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, India, Mexico, and the United States.

In the DR Congo where the land is fertile enough to grow plenty of food and graze animals, constant moving as a result of war keeps children and adults alike malnourished. In the documentary above Doctors without Borders and VII photographer Franco Pagetti bring to light the result of war on this fertile soil.

Sunday
Jun202010

World Refugee Day - (VIDEO REPORT) UN warns that many displaced are unable to return home

The video story below of Somalian refugees fleeing to Dadaab, Kenya is but one example of the work UNHCR is doing and the condition many refugees from around the world live in today.

(HN, June 20, 2010) -- Today marks the 10th year that World Refugee Day will be recognized around the globe. From June 18 to 20 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) commemorates World Refugee Day encouraging people from around the globe to host events in order to draw the public’s attention to the millions of refugees worldwide who are forced to flee their homes.

In 2000 The United Nations General Assembly, in Resolution 55/76 decided that from 2001, June 20 would be celebrated as World Refugee Day. UNHCR was originally established in 1950, to help an estimated 1 million Europeans uprooted as a result of World War II to return home. In the 1960’s, the decolonization of Africa produced the beginning of the continent’s many refugee crises. New waves of refugees emerged in the following decades as a result of displacement issues arising in Asia and Latin America, continuing in Africa and turning full circle, at the end of the century, in Europe from the series of wars in the Balkans.

Today the refugees of concern to the UNHCR span the globe. More than half are in Asia and another twenty-two percent in Africa. Latin American countries host hundreds of thousands of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced persons (IDP’s); most come from Colombia. In the Middle East there are an estimated 1.8 million Iraqi’s seeking shelter overseas – while the largest number of refugees are from Palestinian territories with an estimated 4.7 million seeking a home. In Eastern Europe, statelessness, particularly as a result of the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, remains an issue of concern throughout the region. The precise number of people who are fleeing their homes in Eastern Europe is not known - but may be as high as 120,000 - as UNHCR is only beginning to quantify the problem. 

Refugees live in a wide variety of conditions, from well-established camps and centers to makeshift shelters to living in the open. The United Nations Refugee Agency operates in 110 countries, this year, has a record annual budget of $3.058 billion (U.S.) for 2010 in order to help an estimated 40 million people return to their home of origin, integrate locally or resettle in a third country.

Among the longest-standing refugee camps are the ones located in the countries adjacent to the Palestinian Territories - Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. There is now an entire generation of young people who know no life outside the walls of a refugee camp. In some of the countries, the refugees are banned from working and their children have limited access to services.

The latest wave of refugees to become part of UNHCR's case load are the more than 100,000 refugees that have fled Kyrgyzstan because of ethnic violence.

So heavy is the strain on UNHCR's resources that the Geneva-based agency suffers from a chronic shortage of donor funds.

On World Refugee Day, Seeking a Place to call "Home" (VIDEO REPORT)  

(UN News) -- The United Nations is marking World Refugee Day by urging governments and individuals not to forget the 15 million men, women and children who have been uprooted by conflict or persecution and are unable to return to their homes.

The theme for this year’s observance on 20 June is “Home,” and highlights the need to ensure that all refugees can have a place to call home, whether they return to their places of origin, settle in host countries or re-settle in a third country.

“Refugees have been deprived of their homes, but they must not be deprived of their futures,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message to mark the Day, calling for working with host Governments to deliver services, and intensifying efforts to resolve conflicts so that refugees can return home.

A recent report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted a decline in the number of refugees who are able to go home. In 2005, more than a million people returned to their own country on a voluntary basis.

Last year, only 250,000 did so – the lowest number in two decades. The reasons for this include prolonged instability in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and southern Sudan.

“Despite the decline in voluntary repatriation opportunities for refugees, UNHCR is working hard on solutions,” High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in his message.

Mr. Guterres is marking the Day in Syria, which, according to Government estimates, hosts over 1 million refugees, the majority from Iraq. It was announced today that 100,000 Iraqi refugees have been referred for resettlement from the Middle East to third countries since 2007, a major milestone for one of the world’s largest refugee populations.

He stressed the need to find solutions to help ensure that refugees have a place to call home, to do more to combat misunderstandings about refugees, and to provide education and other skills training so that even if they do not have homes they can still have a future.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and award-winning actress Angelina Jolie is in Ecuador, where she is highlighting the challenges facing refugees.

“Having a home, a place where we belong, a place where we feel safe is something most of us take for granted,” she said on the occasion of World Refugee Day. “Yet those who flee from conflict and persecution no longer have their homes, and it will be years before they can even return. In fact, many may never go home again.”

There are around 51,000 registered Colombian refugees in Ecuador, but UNHCR estimates that about 135,000 people are in need of international protection. This makes Ecuador the country with the largest refugee population in Latin America.

Mr. Guterres and Ms. Jolie are taking part today, along with United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a live video link – “WRD Live” – which will connect with Washington DC, Malaysia, Syria, northern Ecuador and DRC to talk to refugees about their experiences.

For the first time, the 79-year-old Empire State Building in New York will be lit blue on 20 June to honour the world’s refugees. Other global landmarks that will turn blue include the ancient Coliseum in Rome and – also for the first time – the bridge across the Ibar River in the divided Kosovo town of Mitrovica.

World Refugee Day activities also include film screenings, photography exhibitions, food bazaars, fashion shows, concerts and sports contests across countries in the Middle East, Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas and Africa.

Source: UN News, UNHCR, staff files