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.