Wednesday, May 25, 2011

SUDAN: Escalating Chaos in disputed Abyei region

Sudan's northern army seized control of the disputed, oil-producing Abyei region, officials said on Sunday, forcing thousands to flee and bringing the country's north and south to the brink of full conflict.

Abyei---The northern Sudanese Army took control of the city Abyei on May 19, after three days of clashes with southern forces. South Sudan is due to become independent in July, but Abyei is still claimed by both sides. Khartoum said it had moved in because the south's Sudan People's Liberation Army was trying to enforce its presence in the town, in violation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, CPA. This agreement, which ended 22 years of devastating civil war between the north and south, requires both sides to keep their troops out until a vote to determine its future. South Sudan consequently has warned the north's 'illegal occupation' of Abyei risks tipping the country back to full-scale civil war. 
The situation in Abyei region has worsened with armed looters setting fires in abandoned towns. The main town is nearly deserted. Residents and humanitarian groups fled and northern troops dug in for what could be a prolonged conflict with southern forces. Thousands of those displaced by the fighting arrived in neighboring areas to the south, where schools were converted into shelters. Some took to the streets to protest what they called an "unjustified invasion" of Abyei by northern forces.
John Ajang was among those who fled on foot with his family ahead of the fighting. The Christian cattle herder walked two dozen miles south to the nearest town, Agok. It took him more than eight hours. He traveled Saturday with his two children on his back, sometimes carrying his sick wife as well. 

"I saw on Friday over 45 tanks belonging to the northern army," Ajang said. 

"They brought all their troops nearby from the oil fields because they want more oil."
A United Nations Security Council delegation visiting Sudan, who earlier demanded that the north withdraw from Abyei, were expected to meet the southern government in the southern capital, Juba. More than 100 people demonstrated in Juba before the meeting, chanting against the northern takeover of Abyei and against President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir. However, neither Foreign Minister Ali Karti, who was expected to lead discussions, nor Vice President Ali Osman Taha was present. 

“We are trying to solve the remaining issues and remove tensions in Abyei and pursue a peaceful solution for Abyei,” Bashir said.

Fighting in Abyei has pitted the former civil war enemies against each other since January when the district was due to vote on its future alongside a referendum on independence for the south which delivered a landslide for secession. The plebiscite was postponed indefinitely as the north and south disagreed on who should be eligible to vote in an area where conflicted loyalties and land disputes keep tensions high. 
Due to rising upheavals in the region, The United Nations Security Council has cancelled a visit to Abyei citing one of their reasons being that the government forces launched an offensive, capturing the main town, Abyei. Further, a U.N. compound was hit by mortar fire, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council called for an immediate end to the violence. Spokeswoman Hua Jiang said staff at the UN compound had taken shelter in bunkers at the height of the attack; Northern Sudanese forces had taken control of the town of Abyei after a day of heavy shelling. 
Abyei sits on Sudan's ill-defined north-south border and is claimed by both halves of the country. In many ways it is a microcosm of all the conflicts that have split Sudan for decades an explosive mix of ethnic tension, ambiguous boundaries, oil and age-old suspicion and resentment. Abyei also contains rich pastureland, water and, after a recent re-drawing of its boundary, one significant oilfield, Defra, part of a block run by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC), a consortium led by China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). Northerners and southerners fought hard over it during decades of civil war and have continued to clash there even after the 2005 peace deal that ended the war and set up the referendum.
The United States says Sudan’s seizure of much of the disputed Abyei region jeopardizes the country’s north-south peace accord of 2005 and complicates efforts at normalizing U.S.-Sudan relations. The U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan is making a crisis visit to the country this week. The State Department is condemning the May 19 attack on Sudanese troops by southern forces that apparently triggered the latest crisis.
Under the 2005 peace deal, Abyei had a special administrative status, governed by an administration made up of officials from the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's northern National Congress Party (NCP). Despite going to the polls where South Sudan voted to become independent in the January 2011 referendum, tensions have built up in the oil-producing Abyei region where both sides have set up forces. However President Omar Hassan al-Bashir had said last month that Abyei would remain part of the north after the south secedes in July. 
Southern Sudan is mainly animist and Christian and its people are ethnically linked to sub-Saharan Africa. The north is mostly Muslim, and many residents consider themselves Arabs. The south voted in January to secede, and is scheduled to become independent July 9.

Kenya: Soaring Cost of Living

The buying power is about to be gravely eroded due to high inflation levels now projected to shoot to an all-time-high of 18 per cent by the end of the year. Ones hard earned money now has less value and cannot buy the same goods it used to a few months back. 
Shortages of food and fuel in Africa; Kenya in particular are sending the cost of living upwards, threatening political and social crises. Kenya has relatively advanced agricultural and industrial sectors and substantial foreign exchange earnings from agricultural exports and tourism. Yet it is a low-income country and ranks 128th among 169 countries in the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index, which measures development in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment and standard of living.
Now, food prices are skyrocketing across East Africa- by some estimates as much as 30 percent since January. Small-scale vendors are also feeling the pinch. A vendor at the City Market, Howard Mutua, says the rising costs are cutting into his profits.

"By the time I take it from the farmers up to here I am using transportation which is really high. So I end up increasing my price and that also affect my customers. They are taking less."

Mutua, like most Kenyans, holds the high taxes imposed by the government on fuel imports are directly to blame for rise in basic commodities and consequently for the rising cost of living. With the government heavily taxing oil imports, the cost of petroleum in
Kenya has risen from around $1 per liter to over $1.30 in just the past few months.

"The best thing I would advise the government to do. They should tackle the fuel problem," Mutua noted.  "If they could work on that fuel problem, I think everything will be well."

But high taxes are not solely to blame for the rising cost of living.  Kenyans have been hit from all sides by rising inflation, government tariffs, import mismanagement,
Middle East conflict and climate change. As Economic analyst Robert Shaw explains, Kenya's underproduction of staple items has placed it dangerously at the mercy of local and global economic instability. Kenya produces an estimated 200,000 tons of corn each year, but consumes nearly twice as much.

"In the case of oil it is the volatility that has been taking place in
North Africa and some of the Arab countries," noted Shaw.  "On the other side of the coin, a number of these countries, including Kenya, are particularly vulnerable to those increases because they are major importers of not just oil but also food. Kenya imports three quarters of its wheat, three quarters of its rice." The price of corn has tripled since last year, forcing the government to remove the 50 percent tax on imports. On April 19, hundreds of Kenyans marched from Uhuru Park through Nairobi’s central business district and gathered in front of Parliament to demand action on the rising cost of living. This comes at a time that consumers are forced to buy basic goods like soap, sugar and oil in tiny quantities. In light of this, government response on the rise in cost of living has been slow.  Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta announced a 20 percent tax cut on fuel two weeks ago. The subsidy has come into effect in time for a fuel shortage across the country.  In Nairobi, roads have been gridlocked from morning till night as customers queue in front of petrol stations in the hopes of finding fuel. , Martha Karua, Member of Parliament for Gichugu said corruption and inefficiency by regulators were key parts of the crisis in Kenya. She called on government “to clean up the National Oil Corporation, the Kenya Power and Lighting Company and the Energy Regulatory Commission to protect the common man from these surging prices”.

Inflation threatens to strengthen the rise in prices. April saw a 12.05 percent inflation rate, the highest in nearly 18 months.
Kenya is not the only country in east Africa feeling the effects of global and local instability. Rising prices in Uganda have triggered protests and demonstrations over rising costs. Uganda President Yoweri Museveni has insisted there was nothing his government could do about skyrocketing prices, while vowing to suppress public protest against rising inflation.
"The prices can only go down through increased production," he said. Over the past month, the protests have been crushed with the full force of Uganda's military and police. The scenes of opposition leaders being arrested and beaten have triggered international condemnation and pushed the country to the brink of a political crisis.

Kenya is hoping to avoid the same fate, but may not be able to stem the rising tide of discontent. On Labor Day, the leader of Kenya's Central Organization of Trade Unions, Francis Atwoli, threatened strikes and protests if demands for a 60 percent increase in the minimum wage were not met. As prices continue to rise, Kenyans are watching and waiting to see if the government can head off what some are calling a looming crisis. Budalang’i Member of Parliament, Mr. Ababu Namwamba. His motion to form a select committee of Parliament to look into the rising cost of living in the country was approved by parliament Wednesday 11 May. The Parliamentary Select Committee formed to investigate the increased cost of fuel and food begins its hearings next week and has invited the public to give its views.
Cost of living is the cost of maintaining a certain standard of living. Changes in the cost of living over time are often operationalized in a cost of living index. Kenya a population of 39,802,015 according to the 2009 Census results has about 15,449,430 poor people who live in rural areas. The number of the poor, nearly half of the total population is likely to rise if the soaring cost of living in the county is unchecked.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Post Election Violence : Hallmark of African Elections

"Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must."

Africa---This year approximately 30 African countries will host or have already hosted their general elections, around half of which will be presidential. The impact of this unprecedented number of elections on the continent's economic, political and social fabric is hard to overstate. While oppressive dictatorships are on the decline, electoral processes remain weak and many of this year's elections will undoubtedly be plagued by allegations of voter fraud, corruption, and intimidation. In the History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides wrote: "Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must."

Post election violence is the aggression that erupts due to disputed election results. The violence may be planned or spontaneous. This violence, that has adverse effects on both the country as well as its citizens, sadly to say has become a common inclination in most if not all of the African states. This violence is witnessed at times even during campaigns, tallying or as results are being compiled to be announced. For instance, from December 2007-early 2008, Kenya, the once oasis of peace in the continent, experienced the worst phase of its history. This political, economic, and humanitarian crisis that erupted in Kenya after incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of the presidential election held on December 27, 2007. Supporters of Kibaki's opponent, Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement, alleged electoral manipulation. The violence peaked with the killing of over 30 unarmed civilians in a church near Eldoret on New Years Day. Tensions in the Rift Valley have caused violence in several previous Kenyan elections, most notably in the 1992 Kenyan Elections.

Following the Uganda’s presidential election of 18th February, the United States and the European Union both issued disappointing statements following these elections. In response to the Yoweri Museveni’s re-election, the EU’s High Representative, Catherine Ashton, “welcomed the peaceful conduct of the elections… which mark a further consolidation of the democratic process, not just in Uganda itself but in the whole region". Museveni must have been expecting a social demonstration after the election results since he filled the streets with police troops to quell any riotous activity.  Perhaps he fears that the Ugandan people have been inspired by the Egyptian revolution and he will be the next long-standing ruler to be ejected by the people.

Recently, the densely populated nation in the continent, Nigeria is undergoing a phase of post election as well. Analysts however said they are heartened by the fact that the poll is being taken seriously, but concerned at the possible repercussions of a north-south divide emerging in the results. Consequently, riots erupted across Nigeria's largely Muslim north on Monday, with the Red Cross saying many people were killed as youths torched churches and homes in anger at President Goodluck Jonathan's election victory. Goodluck Jonathan, the incumbent and first president from the southern oil-producing Niger Delta region has been declared winner of presidential elections. He won 57 per cent of the vote, easily beating his northern rival, ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari in the first round. Final results declared Monday evening, which the opposition rejected, gave Jonathan 22.5 million votes, while Buhari scored 12.2 million votes for 31 per cent. Jonathan’s message to the nation was "As I have always stated, nobody's political ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian."

Post election violence and demand for elections to be nullified have also been experienced in Zimbabwe, Central African Republic and Benin. With this ongoing trend the continent is to watch out for states that are warming up to the polls. Nations such as Liberia (11th October 2011), Madagascar (01 July 2011) and Chad (24th April 2011).Unless this infamous hallmark is scrapped then Africa; the world's second-largest and second most-populous continent will not elevate from its third world state. Kwame Nkrumah echoed that “Africa is a paradox which illustrates and highlights neo-colonialism. Her earth is rich, yet the products that come from above and below the soil continue to enrich, not Africans predominantly, but groups and individuals who operate to Africa’s impoverishment.”

Friday, April 15, 2011

Africa: The Emergence of People Power

The revolution currently sweeping through North Africa and the Middle East is a clear testimony to people’s frustration with their leaders and wake up call to dictators to relinquish power.
The 2010–2011 Middle East and North Africa protests, also known as the Arab Spring, are a revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests which have been taking place in the Middle East and North Africa since 18 December 2010. The succession of political crisis and popular revolutions has rocked the world's second-largest and second most-populous continent all of which revolving around the democratic aspirations of African peoples. Other factors that have led to the protests include dictatorship or absolute monarchy, human rights violations, government corruption (demonstrated by Wikileaks diplomatic cables), economic decline, unemployment, extreme poverty, and a number of demographic structural factors, such as a large percentage of educated but dissatisfied youth within the population.

Interestingly, most revolutions were facilitated through social media such as Facebook and twitter. In fact, some African states have sought to ban the media networks in a bid to stop the mass spread for information and consequent action. For instance the government of Uganda last evening (14th April) moved to curtail major broadcasting houses when it banned live broadcast of news events around the walk-to-work campaign. The Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) reportedly directed radio and television stations to stop running live coverage of the events as well as internet. However, these could be said to be kicks of a dying horse as the wind of change is blowing and nothing can change its course This goes to elaborates Obama’s remarks that “suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away”.

Swaziland, a nation that has an absolute monarch: King Mswati took up to the streets on the 12th of April 2011 demanding change of guard and how their republic was being run. April 12 is traditionally a day of protest by civil society. It marks the suspension of the constitution and introduction of the rule of Swaziland by royal decree 38 years ago. Despite a banning order and intimidation by Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini, and a meeting by the Swazi regime with union leaders on Friday to call an end to protests against sub-Sahara’s last remaining absolute monarchy. Mduduzi Gina, the secretary-general of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, said “The advisers to King Mswati III said they would get the government to engage us on the question of cutting the salaries of civil servants. But the issue of the dissolution of the current government and its replacement by a transitional government, a move towards forming a multiparty democracy was non-negotiable”. He further added that “It will be a pity if force will be used. We have applied for permission in the sense that we have reported concerns in terms of our labour relations act. We acknowledge that Swaziland is a kingdom. Mswati may remain as a monarch, but not as an absolute monarch, absolute power corrupts absolutely. We are calling for a process of democratization and the work towards a multiparty democracy.”

In Uganda, a protest is brewing as well. This protested is against the rising fuel prices dubbed: The Walk-to-Work March led by Dr. Kizza Besigye. In the recent development, the police were replaced by the army who were sent to quell the protests. On the 15th of April, the opposition leader Dr.Kizza was shot on the arm, on day two of the Walk-to-Work March. Last week, opposition leaders launched a walk-to-work campaign in solidarity with the rest of Ugandans who are suffering because of high commodity prices. The campaign took effect on Monday, a day when Dr Besigye and other opposition figures were arrested and charged with inciting violence and disobeying lawful orders.

Uganda’s Internal Affairs Minister Kirunda Kivejinja argued that “The walk-to-work demonstration had nothing to do with the current oil and commodity prices … the demonstrations were part of a hate-government campaign. It was for this reason, therefore, that police were instructed to disallow those activities.” For failure to condemn the police for shooting Dr Besigye, brutalizing the opposition leaders and people working to walk, Aswa MP Reagan Okumu warned the government of the consequences. Reagan Okumu reiterated by warning the government that “You are provoking the country into war by covering police acts. Every citizen has a right to complain when things are not good. There is a crisis and majority of Ugandans are suffering.” the manner in which Dr Besigye and others were manhandled on Monday and his subsequent shooting in the hand yesterday was too much to bear. “Shooting Dr Besigye will not solve the problems the country is facing. You can kill Dr Besigye but you will not shoot the crisis the people are facing,” said Alice Alaso. While the government told Parliament that causes of inflation were beyond their control, Ms Alaso warned: “Hungry Ugandans will be difficult to manage. The sooner the government listens and deals with the root causes of the problems, the better. People will continue walking to work until government responds to the high prices.”

This and the previous demand for change in the continent highlights several things, that the shift of authority from the dictators to either the people or the army shows that a people determination is unmatched regardless of any governmental blockage as it is evident with Dr. Besigye, Iman al Obeidi of Libya among others. It also highlights that the people are the greatest natural resource, a united people for a common goal can push for reforms. These series of revolution also shows the place of media in governance and in society. One Egyptian activist succinctly tweeted during the protests saying, "We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world."

What An African Woman Thinks: I AM NOT MY TRIBE

What An African Woman Thinks: I AM NOT MY TRIBE

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Standing up to be counted

In defiance of a culture where the views of women are rarely taken into consideration, Iman al-obeidi showed her resentment over the treatment at the hands of the Gaddafi regime, thereby sparking a revolution.
TRIPOLI – If at all the ongoing revolutions in the North African hemisphere are to be ancient history then one revolutionalist will not. Iman al-obeidi has become synonymous with the Libyan 2011 upsurge. The Libyan law postgraduate etched her name in the world events on the 26th of March 2011 by storming into a gathering of international press corps at the Rixos Hotel at the heart of the country, Tripoli.
Common to the African culture, a cliché now, a woman should only be seen and not be heard. She defied the odds and publicly denounced her treatment at the hands of Muammar Gaddafi’s government troops. She had been detained at a checkpoint, held against her will, beaten and gang-raped.  Her rights were violated at the hands of those meant to protect her.

True to the held archaic culture, a scuffle ensued as the government security forces muzzled her now too loud voice against the injustices she experienced.
She was dragged out and barred from speaking to the media corps present. It goes without saying that her life is on the edge as forces responsible to quell the ongoing upheaval are more than determined to maintain an already lost status quo.
It raises the question, who is Iman al-obeidi? A government official commented that she was drunk and mentally ill though he later withdrew the latter charges. Another spokesman as well as a Libyan media station called her a whore. The Washington Post described her as a ‘symbol of defiance against Gaddafi’.
Iman represents the voice that Africa has lacked, the voice against injustices of the government officials towards civilians. She says “there is nothing to be afraid of. We have lost everything. What is left to be afraid of? It is done.”

Iman al-obeidi represents the place of the woman entity in the African society and in the Arab setting.
She however breaks the shackles and gives the women folk their dignity despite the means being ‘stomach- churning’ as described by Amnesty International. Iman goes further to show that the people are the largest resource that a nation has that can either beak the nation or make it.
As an individual as well as widespread awareness of her experiences while in detention shows that a people’s will motivates them to getting the change they need.
The inhumane treatment she experienced and is still experiencing goes to highlight and symbolize the plight of women and children (Iman’s hand and feet untied by a 16 year old who was in detention as well) during an unrest such as the civil war in Libya and in the recent nations such as Egypt.
This also shows that the biggest victims of an unstable state are the women because even after the event is long gone the scar is as painful as it was as well as a constant reminder of the fateful day(s).

Currently, there are world wide petitions to have her released.
From Facebook to Twitter as well as other independent organizations that are demanding her release and justice for the atrocities rendered against her. Iman: a beacon for humanity a hero beyond mortal comprehension.
Ayn Rand said “There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible to live without breaking the laws” Freedom is too loud for silence; Iman is a hallmark of this.
An African proverb says ‘you cannot hide that which has horns in a sack’. Further ask yourself whether the dream of heaven and greatness should be waiting for us in our graves – or whether it should be ours here and now and on this earth. Iman’s revolution has a ripple effect not just in Tripoli, Libya which she describes as a prison but to the entire world. Her Revolution!