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Pambazuka News 249: On the transition from activism to politics in Nigeria

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Highlights from this issue

Featured this week


FEATURED: Kayode Fayemi on the imperatives of transition from activism to politics in Nigeria
- Women have not been adequately included in Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement, writes Roselynn Musa
LETTERS: The children of Uganda; Is homosexuality “unAfrican”?; Falling down in Zimbabwe
BLOGGING AFRICA: Blog columnist Sokari Ekine wraps up the blogosphere
PAN-AFRICAN POSTCARD: After Charles Taylor, who will be the next to face justice?
CONFLICT AND EMERGENCIES: Northern Uganda deaths worse than Iraq, says report
HUMAN RIGHTS: Export Processing Zones the worst abusers of workers' rights
WOMEN AND GENDER: An open letter to a sister in need in relation to the Jacob Zuma rape trial
REFUGEES AND FORCED MIGRATION: UK authorities slammed for treatment of immigrants
ELECTIONS AND GOVERNANCE: Police stop meeting of Obasanjo opponents
DEVELOPMENT: April deal on WTO talks unlikely
CORRUPTION: Britain’s involvement in African corruption criticised
HEALTH AND HIV/AIDS: The impact of migrating health workers
ENVIRONMENT: Terminator technology stays banned
MEDIA AND FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: Niger says no to BBC famine coverage
ADVOCACY AND CAMPAIGNS: Get on the bus to stop violence against women and children
INTERNET AND TECHNOLOGY: What is a technology activist?
PLUS: Fundraising and Useful Resources; Courses, seminars and workshops; Jobs; Books and Art.

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Imperatives of Transition from Activism to Politics in Nigeria

Kayode Fayemi


Where does the intersection between activism and politics take place? Kayode Fayemi explores this sometimes complex relationship in the context of Nigeria’s fractured political landscape. He concludes: “I believe we can revive the State in a qualitative manner and make democracy more meaningful to our people, provide jobs for the jobless, improve healthcare, modernise agriculture and reclaim our young people from a future of violence, decadence and despair by linking activism to politics and not drawing artificial divisions.”

The topic of my presentation this afternoon gives the impression that there is a difference between activism and politics, and that it requires moving from one to the other. If one follows this line of thought, one might be tempted to assume that the two – politics and activism – are mutually exclusive. There have always been attempts both in recent times and in our not so recent past to make a distinction between those who stand at the barricades seeking change in their quest for a better society and those who wield power in politics in defence of the State. Indeed, theories have been propounded about State-society relations deepening the difference between civil society and political society. Activists are often seen as occupying the moral high ground, irrepressible in their campaign for what they believe in, often living in utopia in the quest of the unattainable and generally cantankerous and obstinate in the pursuit of their beliefs. On the other hand, politicians are seen to be janus-faced – on the one hand, charismatic, visionary, fascinating and sophisticated, and on the other, repulsive, cynical, calculating, and opportunistic. My own interest this afternoon is really not to indulge in any deep philosophical or political arguments about these distinctions many of which you are familiar with but to simply explore – based on my limited experience, the possibilities of harmony in this pseudo-dichotomy – to explain that this pattern of categorizing people is at best a luxury, and at worst irrelevant in our own setting.

I am going to suggest that this pseudo-divide of activism and politics has impeded our abilities to connect with each other and work together towards a more positive future. I am convinced that the structuring of actors on the basis of either/or, and us/them with one of the other being valued more leads to domination and we need to really try as much as possible to avoid such separation and fragmentation and work towards community and cohesion. Consequently, I intend to argue that politics – properly conducted - is a form of social activism and another stage in the struggle to restore the dignity of humankind – an integrated continuum rather than discretely compartmentalised oppositional phenomena, often complicated and contradictory, but mostly in the quest to make a fundamental difference.

Activists have always occupied that realm between the household and the State, populated by voluntary groups and associations, sharing common interests and largely autonomous from the State, but often promoting core values that are consistent with what the State ought to stand for – participatory involvement, transparency, accountability, openness, ownership, legitimacy, equality of opportunities and respect for fundamental human rights.

Many people always ask activists and politicians the same question: Why, with all the callings in this world that could perhaps earn one considerable social, financial and personal security, would anyone want to go into something like activism or politics, particularly in a setting as dangerous as Nigeria, unless one has a death wish? The unvarnished truth is that many activists and, I believe, even politicians love life too much to want to celebrate death. Many activists who make a transition into partisan politics have probably done so for the same reasons they embraced activism. It was not aimless boldness that drew many into activism. It was often a selfish desire to live their lives in freedom, peace and in a democracy that transformed ordinary folks into bold activists against all forms of oppression and in the service of their communities.

This is why perhaps the issue should not be one of transition from activism to politics, but the extent to which we are able to achieve citizen participation in our democracy. Our discussion should really focus more on the making of leaders and citizens in a good society because without direct citizen participation, the legitimacy of our political institutions will continue to decline. It is for this reason that I strongly believe that political leaders – be they politicians or activists should worry because their ability to lead effectively is being seriously undermined by the desertion of average citizens from the public space, deepening the crisis of legitimacy in our State. Yet, this lack of legitimacy cuts both ways. When we the people withdraw our trust in leaders or discountenance politicians, we make our democratic institutions less effective and risk making ourselves ungovernable.

While politics may have lost its edge globally - suffering a decline, apathy or disinterest, it is also true to say activism is on the rise in the form of single issues pressure groups which have continued to thrive around the world – whether in the form of campaigns like ‘Make Poverty History’ or in the promotion of an international rights regime in the form of an International Criminal Court or a fair trade regime in the world.

Yet even these popular campaigns still suffer from certain limitations in a world that is essentially statist and in which citizens’ rights are better protected locally, even if we subscribe to universal ideals. In our case, it is the belief that another Nigeria is possible – one that embraces democracy, fairness, equity and justice and the possibility of saying what we like, write what we think, participate in the political process without fear of intimidation, make our votes count so that our views will matter. These are the beliefs that have continued to propel the activists that I know in the struggle for a better society.

But let me back up a little and locate this discourse within the context of our recent history in Nigeria as it concerns the relationship between activism and politics in Nigeria. Many will recall that with the sudden demise of the dictator, General Sani Abacha in June 1998, things had begun to look up for the country. We saw the end of military dictatorship in sight. Those of us who were involved in the campaign to restore the mandate of Chief MKO Abiola, the winner of the annulled election of 1993 had expected that it was only a matter of time for Abiola to be installed as President and for him to convene a sovereign national conference. Our focus at the time was not elections, but the institutionalisation of a fundamental restructuring of the Nigerian state and the strategy in the democracy movement was to put pressure on the new military leadership to release Abiola and install him as President. The new military leader, General Abdul-Salami Abubakar was seen as a common sense choice amid a largely obdurate military clique determined to maintain the status quo.

Clearly under pressure locally and on the international scene, he made every effort to win the confidence of the civil society movement by releasing jailed leaders and requesting exiles to return home. And then, all of a sudden Chief Abiola died and this threw us into a deeper quandary in the democracy movement and the country tilted on the precipice. To arrest the religious and ethnic polarisation that had surfaced, General Abubakar went for elections, even at a time that many felt the national question had gone beyond simply organising elections and putting people in authority. Yet, because the military was so despised, the decision coupled with the sudden death of the most legitimate arrowhead of our struggle increased the urge for anything but the military, a mood which we shared but which equally caught us unawares in the democracy movement.

In the ensuing confusion, the central question for us in the democracy movement was: should the democracy community and the human rights movement participate in, or boycott the transition programme announced by General Abubakar? After extensive deliberations, we agreed that the new dispensation required new strategies, which should reflect a balance between principle and pragmatism. Some expressed strong views that the democracy movement’s capacity to influence change would be severely limited if it decided to boycott the transition programme. Equally, others felt that getting involved in the military-directed transition would amount to a betrayal of the last bastion of the people’s defence against oppression – especially as the professional politicians were eager to return to business as usual with the military, without addressing the root cause of the governance crisis in the first place. In the end, there was no consensus on the way the pro-democracy movement should proceed and we only agreed that individuals could participate while letting political groups stay out of the fray.

My own sentiment was with the latter group since I believed that the path, players, processes and patterns of the transition adopted by General Abubakar could only result in neo-militarism rather than a civilian, democratic dispensation. At the time, many of us were fond of saying that the path we were treading was one of transition without transformation. We argued severally that it was wrong to suggest that any opening after Nigeria’s prolonged authoritarian rule was inherently irreversible and would lead to the deepening of democracy without interrogating the nature of the opening itself. We felt at the time that we needed to think more carefully about the implications of what we considered to be a staged-managed democratic transition, especially in a setting where the ethos, language, and character of public discourse remain completely militarised.

Looking back, the civil society leadership may have been correct to be cautious about embracing the military transition of 1999, but I now believe we were tactically wrong for completely eschewing participation in politics. The fact that the military had not responded to a full-scale defeat by the democracy movement could hardly be discounted in understanding the nature of post-military governance. The eventual dominance of the party hierarchy by retired military generals and civilians closely connected to them certainly set the tone for party formation and also resulted in authoritarian presidential governance. Essentially, the nature of that transition ensured a mere reconfiguration of the political space, rather than a transformation of politics.

Given this context, the eventual election of an ex-military General with significant support from the military constituency was seen by many of us in civil society as an extension of continued military rule. The fact that most of the governors elected (save in the South West) were all what we referred to derisorily at the time as “Abacha politicians” was further confirmation to some of us that we had no business being involved. Yet, even with all of this, we could have started the process of organising along political lines, rather than agonising about the dominance of these elements. After all, we were the ones who risked our lives to fight for the restoration of democracy in Nigeria – only to vacate the space when power was literally lying on the streets. Indeed, as Nigeria’s Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, recently noted,

“…one ceaseless complaint against the democratic movement is that its protagonists carried out this struggle at immense personal sacrifices of varying dimensions, only to hand over future responsibilities to proven reprobates and opportunists…whatever self retiring principles may have governed the impulses of a number of us in that struggle…we have indeed left the field to brigands, parasites and unworthy custodians of power and authority, including even collaborators, that is those who have not only made such struggles necessary in the first place, but contributed to our personal woes, and even stained their hands with the blood of our fallen comrades.” [1]

So, we ended up having a democracy without democrats and the result is clear before our very eyes. In spite of the current government’s best effort, the crisis of governance remains deep-seated. Yet, for many of our citizens – democracy was supposed to bring the end of military dictatorship in form and content; they hoped that it would bring greater involvement of ordinary people in politics, whether in state institutions or in civil society ones. They hoped for real and immediate dividends in employment, clean water, better shelter, accessible health care, improved education, reliable and consistent power supply, rehabilitated roads and food on the table. Beyond electoral democracy though, it was also obvious that the nation-state has become a source of unending conflict itself. Many Nigerians of unquestionable nationalist credentials had begun to question the very viability of Nigeria, especially if left in the hands of a centralised state. Constitutional reform was therefore seen as a major pivot for creating and sustaining democratic institutions that can address deepening conflict in Nigeria. To our people, the rising disquiet in the Niger Delta and other parts of Nigeria, for example, may not be a sign of a failing democracy but a sign of a maturing democracy that is conflictual and contradictory – which should find its own level through mediation, deliberation and negotiations.

Although the challenge of reforming the State is fundamentally structural, the issue of leadership – particularly how we conceptualise leadership is central to it. For too long, our political culture has perpetuated the myth that strong leaders can bring about change single-handedly – rather than convert the formal authority derived from their electoral mandate into a process of democratic renewal. In my own view, real leadership ought to involve motivating people to solve problems within their own communities, rather than reinforcing the over-lordship of the state over its citizens and to build and strengthen political institutions that can mediate between individual and group interests. The authoritarian residues of politics over the last seven years have achieved the purpose of turning many away from politics even if they are still active in their neighbourhood associations and their community projects. The main challenge of political leadership therefore is to reconnect democratic choices with people’s day-to-day experience and to extend democratic principles to everyday situations in citizens’ communities and constituencies.

Understandably, if you make political discourse more negative as some do – you deliberately turn ordinary people off politics; more people grow cynical and stop paying attention to politics. This experience is not unique to us in Nigeria; in fact it is the crisis that democracy is experiencing all over the world, with low turn out at the polls and scant regard for political leaders. Yet, if we as citizens choose not to play a part in this process of activism in our communities and our State, we will get the politicians we deserve, allow the hijack of the political realm by special interests and ethnic jingoists only keen in the promotion of their narrow agendas.

To avoid this problem, many of us in the Nigerian civil society sought the middle way after the election of the new government in Nigeria in 1999, even as we were lukewarm about the dawn of electoral democracy in the country. We put skills that were abundant in civil society to the service of the new government as a way of helping to bridge the gap between civil society and an elected government. At our own level in my institution - the Centre for Democracy & Development - we became associated with government at several policy and practical levels – assisting with the shaping and running of the Human Rights Violations Investigations Commission (the Oputa Commission); promoting an agenda for constitutional reform, helping with the reform of the security sector and democratic control of the defence and security establishments, building civil society capacity and pursuing issues of transparency and accountability. Our point always was that democracy is not an abstract concept. It must be relevant to people’s lives. If democracy is not capable of curbing corruption, guaranteeing transparency and improving people’s well being and quality of life, it is at best an empty concept, at worst a sham. Poverty and despair, oppression and humiliation, economic and social insecurities are breeding grounds – even if not the only reasons – for violence and conflict and as much as Nigerians want democracy, they also want to see concrete evidence of democracy making a difference in their lives.

My own experience of working with government over the past seven years as an outsider looking in is captured by the African adage that it’s not possible to shave someone’s head in his absence. The wheel of government bureaucracy turns very slowly and frustratingly so if the central actors are not alive to issues of transformation. No matter how good the policies formulated by outsiders are, implementation is key to transformation. It is for this reason that those who want to re-draw the map of Nigeria’s future must return to more solid grounds rather than tie themselves to the apron strings of power-holders that neither have a track record nor demonstrate a vision that they are better than what we can offer our people. This solid ground must be within a larger movement though, one that accommodates the place of political institutions and not simply the celebration of astute individuals as the ultimate panacea to our crisis of governance. The most practical way to link individual choice to collective responsibility is to participate in the institutions that influence our lives. We must ensure that formal and informal institutions are democratised and given more responsibilities for exercising state power. To do it well, we have to see Nigeria as a permanent enterprise that has to be fought over and restructured in order to provide cover for all Nigerians.

This is why I see the debate about whether activists should become politicians superfluous. Important as they are, the institutions of direct state power and electoralism are just the tip of the iceberg in the democratisation complex. Indeed, genuine democracy ought to rest on a much richer ecology of associational and organisational life and should be nourished and reproduced through every-day struggles of the citizens. But when we broadly define these everyday struggles as simply the handiwork of ‘civil society’, we strip it bare of its spontaneity and deeper meaning and romanticise the civil society as the rationally ordered, codified and all-knowing alternative to government and overplay our abilities as activists to counter the inherent inequities of class and markets. Even worse, we are presented or we present ourselves as antidotes to globalisation, which is why causes like ‘Make Poverty History’ have been hugely successful in form but exaggerated in their expectations. The reason for this crisis of exaggerated expectation that activists suffer is not far fetched. The truth is that as long as we live in the post-Westphalian world of sovereign states, we exaggerate the ability of the civil society to stand up to the power of the nation-state or the mega corporations on its own steam.

This is why I am not sure that the solution to the current deficit that our democracy is experiencing can be solved with posing activism as a counterpunch to politics. For autonomous institutions to play a different role in mediating citizens’ democratic choices, their organic development must be combined in a more nuanced manner and a more systematic way with the use of public and state power. The choice is therefore simple: one can continue to snipe on the fringe and complain that government is not listening to the yearning of the people. Alternatively, one can stop agonising about missed policy opportunities and organise in a manner that places citizens as drivers of change in our quest to restore communitarian values and a future of hope and possibilities for our people.

I know the world sees us - Africans - as incurable optimists and hope mongers. The other day, the New York Times, attempting to unravel the roots of the consistent optimism of the average African asked for my thoughts and I argued that while it may be difficult to find a verifiable basis for our collective and individual optimism amid unremitting misery – hope is God’s last bastion for the African, the evidence of the unseen future of a life more abundant – since, for many, things can hardly get worse than they are. [2]

Yet, as I said earlier, this is not bleary-eyed optimism. It is not the optimism that believes that the crisis of governance in our land will simply go away; it is not the hope that we will all be winners of million dollar lottery tickets today. I am talking about the hope of our founding fathers in the struggle for independence and freedom and their unshaken belief in our inalienable right to rule ourselves. It is the hope of the freedom fighters resisting apartheid and racial discrimination in Southern Africa; the audacity of hope and the determination of optimism that led us to resist the military oppression in our land because of our belief that another Nigeria is possible – one that will be accountable to its citizens, legitimate in their eyes, transparent and respected around the world; the hope that allows us to hold our heads high, proud of our accomplishments and contributions to humankind - the hope that help is on the way.

I believe we can revive the State in a qualitative manner and make democracy more meaningful to our people, provide jobs for the jobless, improve healthcare, modernise agriculture and reclaim our young people from a future of violence, decadence and despair by linking activism to politics and not drawing artificial divisions. It seems to me a self-evident truth that where there is no civil society engaged actively in social activism and the promotion of core values in society, there can be no political society and the state runs the risk of decay and illegitimacy. Renewing our democracy through the strengthening of institutions and public participation increases our collective capacity to tackle the major problems facing our society – with a corresponding achievement of individual contentment even as we pursue the common good. This is where we ought to be headed and I am convinced we will get there in our lifetime.

* This is the text of a lecture presented at the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center, Howard University, Washington, D.C., USA on Thursday, March 16, 2006.

* Until recently Director of the Centre for Democracy & Development, Dr Fayemi is an advisor to the Nigerian government on NEPAD and Security Sector Reform and to ECOWAS, African Union Secretariat, NEPAD Secretariat and Economic Commission for Africa. He now aspires to the Governorship of Ekiti State in Nigeria.


[1] Wole Soyinka, “A Nigerian Morality Tale”, Foreword in Kayode Fayemi, Out of the Shadows: The struggle for Freedom and Democracy in Nigeria, (Lagos: CDD & BookCraft, 2005), p.viii. Also see an interesting interview with Olisa Agbakoba, former President of Nigeria’s Civil Liberties Organisation in The Guardian (Lagos) on July 20 & 21, 2004 – “I am tired of being an armchair critic”

[2] See New York Times, March 5, 2006 or International Herald Tribune, March 6, 2006
Where does the intersection between activism and politics take place? Kayode Fayemi explores this sometimes complex relationship in the context of Nigeria’s fractured political landscape. He concludes: “I believe we can revive the State in a qualitative manner and make democracy more meaningful to our people, provide jobs for the jobless, improve healthcare, modernise agriculture and reclaim our young people from a future of violence, decadence and despair by linking activism to politics and not drawing artificial divisions.”

Comment & analysis

Sudan’s peace agreement and the position of women

Roselynn Musa


Although the agreement that ended 21 years of civil war in Sudan goes by the title of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), Roselynn Musa points out that in order for something to be comprehensive it must be all-inclusive. Yet, when it comes to the inclusion of women, this is not the case, with the agreement being full of gaps on women’s representation. Sustainable peace, she warns, will be achieved only if women and men are considered.

Africa has witnessed and continues to witness armed conflicts, especially ethnic conflict. According to UN statistics more than thirty wars have occurred in Africa since 1970. While these wars have had a devastating impact on the African population, both soldiers and civilians, African women in particular have been more affected than any other group. It is now common knowledge to all and sundry that women are usually the most affected in any war situation and the last consulted on subsequent peace negotiations. Apart from loosing their lives, women’s rights have been greatly abused during and after the wars. The case is not different in Sudan where women were not consulted or included in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and mention of women was minimal and vague.

Inclusion of Sudanese women is imperative because women’s rights are human rights and women have borne the burden of war and paid their dues for the cost of peace. Moreover peace, democracy and justice are fundamental concerns that need to be addressed by all Sudanese and not just a section of them. Women and children suffer more deeply and intensely the physical and emotional pains of conflict than their male counterparts because women are both primary and secondary targets of conflict. Women suffer deeply and often in silence.

The issues are that despite existing commitments like the UN Resolution 1325, Beijing+10, Nairobi+ 20, Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, IGAD Gender Policy, Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality, National Constitutions etc African women and girls continue to experience gross forms of abuse and remain at the margins of peace negotiations and post- conflict planning.

The Peace Protocols signed in January 2005 represent a qualitative transformation in Sudan’s modern history. It is a political agreement that brought the war to a close and established a new political context that embraces many issues that were neglected or side lined in previous peace agreements. The agreements include protocols on state and religion, self-determination, power sharing, security, a ceasefire agreement and a separate set of modalities.

The CPA represents a political and social instrument that aims to reform the conditions in Sudan through shaping new understandings and establishing grounds for the flourishing of new social power. It is supposed to constitute a Comprehensive Peace Agreement, yet one would expect that for something to be comprehensive it must be all- inclusive. Nevertheless the CPA is evidently full of gaps on women’s representation and the position of women in it is ambiguous.

South Sudan is a state emerging from a civil war that lasted over 21 years. The current healing and rehabilitation processes focus on the soldiers and men to the exclusion of women and children. In the few occasions where women are involved they hardly do more than act as gender advisers in peace operations. They need to do more than that by participating throughout and in all positions.

The CPA states inter alia that:

- The state shall guarantee equal rights of men and women to the full enjoyment of all civil, political, social, cultural and economic rights;
- The state shall promote women’s rights through affirmative action;
- The state shall combat harmful customs and tradition, which undermine the dignity and status of women;
- The state shall provide maternity and child care and medical care for pregnant women.

But in conducting a gender analysis of the CPA it is important to note the following points:

- Gender and women was mentioned in the six protocols only a few times;
- While gender policy and women empowerment are mentioned in the competency of each level of government , there are no targets, indicators and time lines for their achievement;
- The formula agreed for regional and political representation was not extended to women;
- Ethnic and religious chauvinism that has excluded or marginalised the vast majority of its citizens were listed as some of the roots causes of the crisis, yet this definition has not taken into account the marginalisation of Sudanese women and the fact that it could lead to conflict;
- The Machakos protocol mentions a framework for governance through which power and wealth shall be equitably shared, and human rights guaranteed but there is no mention of women in the criteria of sharing power and wealth of the nation;
- The fact that women bore the brunt of war for twenty-one years was not considered as a criteria for equitable sharing and allocation of wealth;
- Women are subjected to cultural and traditional attitudes leading to lack of participation in decision- making;
- Many women are not aware of their rights;
- Women’s participation in government in many cases are through tokenism by governments that are headed by men.

Resolution 1325 recognises that if societies are governed in a way which marginalises the views and experiences of women and girls, this carries a cost. The role of women is crucial in preserving social order, and as peace educators, both in their families and in their societies, thereby playing an important role in fostering a culture of peace in strife-torn communities and societies.

If women are to play an equal part in maintaining peace, they must be empowered politically and economically, and represented adequately at all levels of decision making both at the pre-conflict stage and during hostilities, as well as at the point of peace keeping, peace building, reconciliation and reconstruction. I have witnessed an occasion in which a minister in the government of Sudan was challenged on why Sudanese women were side-lined in the peace discussions and agreements. He rationalized the position of the government, stating an instance when women were asked to send their representatives to a forum and they did not come up with one. If that was the case then it is not surprising because it is not enough to ask women to participate in peace discussions and negotiations. As a pre-requisite, Sudanese women need to have their capacities built towards that direction so that they can function well as peace negotiators. That is to say that Sudanese women are not just agitating for numerical increase to their participation alone, but to be in a position to make qualitative contributions that will make a difference. They should not just be there to complete the number required. Obviously that was the point they tried to make when they declined to send women to the forum.

In order for the CPA to adequately consider the unique contribution that women can make towards peace, the following recommendations are important:

- Women should be encouraged to play active roles in dialogue and arbitration among warring sides. They generally have special gifts for these and are able to sacrifice personal ego for the greater good of the community. They are excellent in maintaining peace and promoting harmony. Their insights easily provide a way forward for communities that are not able to reconcile their personal and communal conflicts. Given the role women play in society and the fact that they are more intent on reaching a compromise for the sake of the greater good of the community, there ought to be an insistence that women participate in all peace initiatives with at least 30% participation.

It is not enough to pass laws on the minimum number of women to be included in peace negotiations, it is also important to allow them to choose who among them will best represent their interests and articulate their views. Women know one another more and since they interact with each other more than they interact with men, especially in the more reserved areas and cultures. By letting women choose among them who will be their representatives, they will be more confident in the negotiation process as well as the negotiator and they will be more willing to make their views known. This will ensure that their input is made in the peace initiatives and will avert a situation where issues that affect them in times of conflict are wholly ignored.

- The Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has been hailed as one of the most comprehensive instruments on the rights of women. It has however not been ratified in many countries and even where this has been done, implementation is wanting. CEDAW needs to be ratified and implemented in all countries so that women’s rights are respected and promoted even in times of conflict. This will provide a legal framework within which women’s rights will thrive, and when these rights are violated, women will be able to assert them.

- It is necessary also to ensure that women are included at all levels if decision making fora and in all issues that affect society. Women are usually excluded from these fora on the premise that decision-making is a male preserve and this in turn translates into a situation where women are left out of the very processes that dictate their lives.

- Women’s concerns should be incorporated in the peace negotiations. It is not enough that women be given the opportunity to speak at the peace making fora, the concerns raised should be taken into account whenever arriving at a decision. Measures should be put in place to ensure that women’s concerns are not ignored once they have been brought to the attention of the peace negotiators.

- Complete political, social and economic equality of all sexes should be spelt out in all peace agreements. This will serve to ensure that equality is maintained alongside peace. These initiatives should further be incorporated in the constitution to give them legal backing.

- Sudanese women should be more aggressive in demanding their rights because no one will drop it on their laps. They should rise up to the challenge of rising up to their rights without fear of giving in to intimidation.

- The educated Sudanese women should work with and carry along women in the grassroots. This will enable them to speak with one voice. This will also dispel animosity or mistrust that may come about if one group feel sidelined or ignored by the other due to parallel activities undertaken by both sets of women. When these sets of women work together in harmony, they will complement each other and implement activities that serve both their interests and by extension, the society at large.

- There is need to revisit the common agenda developed for Sudanese women to identify areas of priority and adopt areas of intervention. This is because society is dynamic and regular reviews should be made to ensure that the agenda remains to their needs and concerns.

- Civil society organisations, international organisations and political parties should coordinate their efforts and pool their resources towards achieving their common goals. This will create a situation where focussed activities are implemented and greater resources are availed to implement then. This in turn will be of great benefit to Sudanese women.

- The manifestoes of political parties should be engendered to encourage Sudanese women to join the political fray. Sudanese women will be more interested in politics if the environment is not hostile to their gender. It is also essential that political party members undergo capacity building sessions focussing on gender issues and concepts. This will enable them to dispel misconceptions they may have about women in politics.

- Working with the media can create significant opportunities for Sudanese women and girls, especially those living in the rural areas. Articles in newspapers and publications of general interest will sensitise the society on gender issues and those involved in gender advocacy initiatives need to work with the media.

- Gender stereotypes are often ingrained in members of the society at an early age and these stereotypical ideas later manifest themselves in discrimination against women. These notions lead women to believe that they are well suited for certain roles and should shun others. As such, gender sensitisation and civic education should be included in educational curriculum to reverse this trend.

It goes even without mentioning that Sudanese women have made some gains in recent times in the campaign for the agitation for their rights. They should be proud of their accomplishments and celebrate the gains they have made, no matter how small, rather than down-play their successes.


Both war and peace are gendered experiences and women and men are bound to have different priorities and expectations in a peace process. Sustainable peace will therefore be achieved only if women and men are considered. It is pertinent to bear in mind that the building and construction of especially Southern Sudan requires the participation, effort and contribution of everyone from all levels to focus collectively to build the war-torn country regardless of political, ethnic, gender, religious and other differences, where everyone will live with dignity, respect and equal opportunity. Women need to be encouraged to play active roles in dialogue and arbitration among the warring sides.

It is commendable that Sudanese women have now realised the fact that they will not be helped unless they start by helping themselves. It is worth mentioning that towards this direction they have been holding consultative meetings, prominent among which was the Donors’ Conference for Sudan, which took place from April 11 to 12, 2005 in Oslo, Norway. In a statement at the end of the conference the women’s group reiterated its principle of equal representation for women and men, pegging the minimum at thirty percent. The group, in addition to other pressing demands, also asked for urgent programmes for addressing negative custom and religious practices which continue to foster women’s marginalisation in all spheres of life.

Women’s immense contribution towards development is unquestionable and their participation in peace building and peace keeping is therefore crucial for the prevention of conflict and the sustainability of peace initiatives. Women as well as men have much to offer in terms of skills on the negotiating table and a lot to gain when peace is gained, therefore integrating a gender perspective into peace building in reconstruction is an essential step in the process of ensuring democratic decision making at all levels of society. Decision makers who invoke and manipulate gender to justify armed conflict and similarly exclude women from conflict resolution are gambling with the safety and security of women, men and children throughout Africa and this must be challenged with renewed energy.

* Roselynn Musa works for The African Women's Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) in Kenya and has been involved with the Solidarity on African Women’s Rights, a coalition of women’s organizations working to ratify and domesticate the Protocol on African Women’s Rights.

* Please send comments to [email protected]
Although the agreement that ended 21 years of civil war in Sudan goes by the title of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), Roselynn Musa points out that in order for something to be comprehensive it must be all-inclusive. Yet, when it comes to the inclusion of women, this is not the case, with the agreement being full of gaps on women’s representation. Sustainable peace, she warns, will be achieved only if women and men are considered.

Advocacy & campaigns

Africa: Amnesty International campaigning manual


For more than 40 years Amnesty International (AI) members have been campaigning to protect and promote human rights. This manual aims to pass on the experience of these campaigners in an accessible format. We hope it will become a well-thumbed reference book for all those campaigning for human rights. Although the manual stresses that all parts of AI's work, such as fundraising, campaigning and organization, should be integrated, the book has been divided up into self-contained sections.

Liberia: Stop Firestone exploitation


Liberia, West Africa, which was founded by freed slaves from America in the 1820s, is suffering from serious poverty and unemployment. This is because a Liberian Civil War, that ended in 2003, destroyed the infrastructure and economy. In this country where people do not even have peace, a Japanese company and its American subsidiary are committing labor abuses including forced labor.

South Africa: Organisations launch national "Get on the bus" campaign to stop violence


The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, in collaboration with forty different organisations from around the country, have joined together to launch a national month-long bus campaign challenging violence against women and children. The campaign has three main aims:
- To promote communities' awareness of women's rights as set out in the Domestic Violence Act, the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, the Maintenance Act and the Firearms Control Act;
- To collect petitions calling on both Parliament and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to consult with civil society around the finalisation and enactment of the Sexual Offences Bill; and
- To take women and children's voices to parliament by recording their concerns and experiences of violence.

Pan-African Postcard

After Taylor, who will be next?

Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem


The capture of Charles Taylor should be welcomed, but there are several aspects to the former Liberian leader’s trial that are worrying, notes Tajudeen Abdul Raheem. Chief among these are the way in which the trial allows Liberia, and those complicit in Taylor’s rule, to externalize justice for his crimes.

I have been following the arrest and swift dispersal to the UN Special Court in Sierra-Leone, of the former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, with mixed feelings. In spite of the tawdry politics surrounding the saga I share the relief of many from Liberia, Sierra-Leone and people of the West African sub region that this gangster of a president was finally caught.

As warlords and rebel opportunism go and their grotesque notoriety and infamy across Africa, Taylor was in a separate class of his own, probably only comparable to the late Jonas Savimbi. He was dubiously even 'luckier' than Savimbi because a nation fatigued by his mendacious war 'rewarded' him with the presidency of the country.

Savimbi 'only' got himself a negotiated vice presidency, after he had lost the popular polls (which he rejected) but pressures were brought to bear on the Angolan government to accommodate his megalomania. This included the ridiculous provision that named him in a special gazette with a compendium of rights and privileges as the 'official leader' of the opposition. All this capitulation to his vanity did not stop him from further conspiring to prolong the war until he finally fell on his sword.

Charles Taylor rode to power on the broken limbs and severed heads of his compatriots. Even as president, Taylor continued his brigandage through murders, smuggling of diamonds, laundering timber, gun running and human trafficking. He basically operated a criminal state infrastructure. But we must be clear that he is not alone, even though he may have been excessive.

The way Charles Taylor was caught just shows again how cowardly these dictators are once they are stripped of their terror infrastructure. It echoes how that other sad sadist, Saddam, was caught in a hole like a frightened rat. Taylor, who had sent so many innocent people to their untimely deaths, was caught trying to run across a border like the common smuggler he was. There was no exchange of fire, no resistance and no act of courage on his part. Even the bags of money that he was carrying and willing to trade for his escape could not help him.

However despite my sharing the relief of many I am not as enthusiastic that the cause of peace in the region will automatically be served by his trial and even conviction. For instance, who is talking about Saddam's trial now? Does it really matter if he is hanged, commits suicide or just rots away in prison?

One needs to be more circumspect and cautious about a one-dimensional definition of justice, which has been tried several times without much success. How long did it take the Hague court to get Milosevik to trial and at the end what happened? Now that he has died without a verdict will his death resolve anything in Serbia?

Since it was established, defendants and their lawyers have bogged down the Sierra-Leone Special Court in procedural matters and deliberate delay tactics, hence not many of those indicted have been convicted. This includes the former militia leader turned defence minister, Hinga Norman. Charles Taylor's comrade in arms, Foday Sankoh, died in prison while awaiting trial. Did his death mean accountability for all the charges against him?

There are other aspects of Taylor's indictment that have always concerned me. He was indicted not for all the atrocities he committed against the people of Liberia but for his foreign misadventures in neighboring countries and especially Sierra-Leone. This has allowed the Liberian political class to externalize the resolution of their own political problems and outsource the search for justice and accountability. Internally he was more or less given impunity. If he had not been indicted for Sierra Leone he would have got away with his atrocities in Liberia. This is typical of most internal settlements in Africa that often reward perpetrators of violence in the name of 'national reconciliation'.

Taylor was not the only beneficiary of national impunity. All other politicians who collaborated with him and the various armed rebel groups for two decades also escaped an accounting for their actions. This is justice by second hand. Since millions of our people already depend on second hand clothes, second hand vehicles, second hand everything, justice coming via second sources is not altogether surprising!

Second hand justice may be better than no justice at all. By this precedent of outsourcing justice many presidents in Africa should not be sitting complacently in their mansions. They may be relatively 'safe' now but justice may catch up with them once they are out of office. For instance, it is now possible that after his third or fourth term, President Museveni could be indicted for the activities of his army or rebel groups he supported, in the DRC. President Omar Al Bashir may never be prosecuted for genocide in Darfur but can be indicted for LRA atrocities in Uganda. Internationally we should be looking at possibilities of Bush and Blair being indicted for their illegal war in Iraq or various French or Belgian leaders being indicted for genocide in Rwanda. Taylor's saga demonstrates that while 'The Strong Man' may intimidate his national compatriots into submissive peace it is possible for him to be tried for regional crimes against humanity.

It is not only Charles Taylor's supporters who will be monitoring this trial keenly. There is a need to widen the trial to include those companies and individuals (arms dealers, diamond dealers etc etc) who aided, abetted and facilitated him and his cohorts for all these years. This will certainly open up a huge Pandora’s Box. Senior elements in the new political establishment, including the president herself, cannot wash themselves clean of previous associations and culpability in Taylor's bloody match to Monrovia from 1989. That is why it is convenient for them to have him tried for his foreign intervention instead of welcoming the opportunity to try him at home.

If Taylor goes for broke and comes clean on his bloody career we might yet get to know those who facilitated his escape from a US prison, after which he went on to build a rebel army which was initially popular. Libya and Burkina-Faso are regularly mentioned as countries that helped him to power, but so did Jerry Rawlings in Ghana and the Late Houphoet-Boigny of Ivory Coast. Who are Charles Taylor's bankers? Where are his billions kept? Where would the blood trail stop?

There are millions crying out for justice but there are powerful interests too that may not want Taylor to face full justice. It is rather too early to be congratulating ourselves that Taylor is behind bars. In spite of all the contradictions and uncertainties, his arrest and impending trial at a symbolic level should warn our leaders that indeed 'no condition is permanent'. Strong men of today may become the weakling cowards of tomorrow. Taylor, Saddam and Milosevik must have once thought of themselves as untouchables, just like some of our presidents who are riding roughshod over the basic rights of their peoples. After Charles Taylor, some of them may be next.

* Dr Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem is General-Secretary of the Pan African Movement, Kampala (Uganda) and Co-Director of Justice Africa

* Please send comments to [email protected]
The capture of Charles Taylor should be welcomed, but there are several aspects to the former Liberian leader’s trial that are worrying, notes Tajudeen Abdul Raheem. Chief among these are the way in which the trial allows Liberia, and those complicit in Taylor’s rule, to externalize justice for his crimes.

Books & arts

Africa: Defence, Militarism, Peace Building and Human Security in Africa


The formation of the African Union in 2002 reaffirmed the commitment of African political elites to foster a peaceful and safe continent, a commitment fleshed out through the creation of the African Security Council. Later, an African Stand-by Force was established, with the intention of intervening in conflicts and offering civil protection. Against this background, the studies in this book reflect on the current situation as regards defence, military and human security across the African continent.

Rwanda: The Rwanda Project


Alfredo Jaar's "Rwanda Project: 1994–2000" is a series of photography-based installation works derived from his experiences in Rwanda. He first travelled there in the summer of 1994 while the genocide was still ongoing and overwhelmingly ignored by the international community. It is estimated that almost one million people were killed over a period of three months, from April–July 1994. The Rwanda Project attempts to counter and transform the conventions of photojournalism, which frequently objectifies violence through unmediated images of victimization. Alternatively, Jaar reverses the lens' eye to focus on the eyes of the witnesses and the hauntingly beautiful landscape in which this massacre was enacted as a means of eliciting an emotional response from the viewer.

Uganda: Trial Justice

The International Criminal Court and the Lord's Resistance Army


The International Criminal Court has run into serious problems with its first big case - the situation in northern Uganda. There is no doubt that appalling crimes have occurred here. Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army have abducted thousands, many of them children, and have systematically tortured, raped, maimed and killed their victims. Nevertheless, the ICC has confronted outright hostility from a wide range of groups. This book argues that much of the antipathy to the ICC is based upon ignorance and misconception.

Zimbabwe: Mann Friday releases song in aid of health charity


Rise is the title of Mann Friday's new song about Zimbabwe. All proceeds from sales of the single will be donated to health charity Shared Health Empowerment (SHE). Sharing Health Empowerment UK sponsor volunteer doctors and health specialists to visit Zimbabwe and share their skills with the local healthcare community, with particular emphasis on HIV management and the welfare of AIDS orphans.

Letters & Opinions

Children of Uganda

Joe Bryak


On the Ugandan dance troupe's visit to the United States, it is a hell of a thing that the AIDS-orphaned children of a nation that has been bled dry by imperialism then go to that bloodsucking empire's home base and "grin and skin," as Black folk put it.

Another, more extreme version of that is when the US GIs took a smoke break from raping and killing in My Lai, some of them then gave chocolate bars to some dazed, surviving children (whose parents, again, the US soldiers had just been slaughtering).

This dance tour is a little more removed, roundabout. But it's much the same thing. On the other hand, if a big part of why they are on tour is to raise money, who else has money but the populace in the imperialist powers? If it is to promote some sort of nebulous "good will" (a highly questionable proposition), then in some sort of perverted logic, it is most important to try to achieve this, uh, 'better will' precisely in those countries who have long rained down hatred on Uganda, Africa, the Third World.

But looking at it thusly makes it look ridiculous, a total farce. You have kidnapped my ancestors, steamrollered my country and its institutions, pillaged our resources and left us in ruins -see me dance!

But governments are overwhelmed by this enormous AIDS crisis. Despite the greater picture and all the historical perspective one might bring to bear, here and now people need help. So how can we say anything to undercut the effort these good young people are making? We have to applaud and support their tremendous effort, despite all our misgivings about them being used by those with a more sinister, imperialist agenda. Yes, it is a trap, but it is one we cannot avoid. All we can do is try to attack these problems on every front. And if somehow this dance troupe, besides raising some funds for one particular project, laudable in itself, manages to raise awareness of the African AIDS crisis - inseparable from its other problems - here in the center of this world empire that has its hand in everything, then it is a good thing. The main thing is the people, always the people.

Discrimination undermines development

Kasha Jacqueline


I am a 25yr old lesbian woman. I have been in one committed relationship for the last five years. I call this marriage, since some heterosexual couples who cohabit for many years regard themselves as married. But what I have really failed to understand is why all HIV/AIDS activists always preach about safer-sex measures for men and women in heterosexual relationships and not same-sex relationships. I know you are all going to say that it’s because homosexuality is illegal. Many acts are illegal in Uganda, but still exist. Corruption, for instance, is illegal, but it’s rampant in the highest positions of government. Don’t use this reason when defending the exclusion of homosexuals in the fight against HIV/AIDS. As much as many of you will pretend that homosexuals do not exist, they do and they live, work and eat with you.

There is a myth that gay men are infected with this disease the most. Let’s say this is true. Do you know how much that is harming Ugandans? Many gay men are forced to marry because that’s what society wants them to do. But remember you cannot keep your feelings to yourself forever. So these gay men will marry, but may still have boyfriends. Because they do not receive proper HIV/AIDS prevention education, they will have unprotected sex. Even if you say use condoms, condoms given out in Uganda are not meant for anal sex, but vaginal sex. So it will definitely break during sex. If they cannot have one partner because their secret affairs will be revealed, they may have multiple partners. If they are married, they may have unprotected sex with their wives. In this cycle, gay men can transmit any STIs, including HIV.

Suicide is another tragedy that homosexuals face daily. You may wonder why a rich and handsome married man would kill himself. It’s simply because he is not happy about not being able to be who he really is. He may also fear stigma and discrimination if he came out as gay. He would rather take his life than suffer for the rest of his life in a forced marriage. Next his parents will be among the people calling into Radio Simba and blaming it for hosting gays who make the public aware about their existence.

Many lesbians think they cannot get AIDS, as the risks are very low, but that does not mean they should have unprotected sex. AIDS activists should supply lesbians with dentals dams or latex gloves. This will protect a man who is also living a false marriage with this lesbian woman from contracting STIs and HIV.

But how will homosexuals get all this information of how to protect themselves? The only way they can get this information is if the government accepts that homosexuals exist and starts helping them. Already the rights to which they are entitled as any other citizen of Uganda are violated, but if their right to health is violated, not only will it affect them, but also the whole country because they are hidden everywhere due to fear of prosecution. If gays were given freedom, they may not hide in forced marriages. It could help all Ugandans from living false lives. Imagine spending the rest of your life in a marriage with a woman who sleeps with other women. Her feelings are not with you, but with a fellow woman. This woman is married to you because she wants to be accepted in society. Who would like to spend the rest of their lives with someone whose heart is somewhere else? Of course, no one would. But I can assure all Ugandans, even those who think they have happy families, are living false lives all because of one law. This law not only affects homosexuals, but also all Ugandans. Since it was made by a human being it can be changed by a human being. Yes, it certainly can be changed with the help of all Ugandans.

I hereby call upon all those who believe in equality for all to join hands and put a stop to homophobia against homosexuals for the good of all Ugandans. If Ugandans could just admit that homosexuals exist and tackle issues like HIV/AIDS, maybe this scourge would subside. Discrimination against homosexuals is affecting all Ugandans.

Is homosexuality really “UnAfrican”?

Sylvester Mensah-King


I personally find you as annoying and irritating as the ones you criticise for being anti-gay and lesbian. (Is homosexuality really unAfrican? My sexuality is my private business and I do not go round trumpeting it into your head. So why can't you keep yours private for goodness sake! Whether you are attracted to goats or pigs and I am attracted to dogs and cats, let us respect ourselves and keep our prefernces personal and private. That way we do not irritate each other and refrain from over bearing attitudes towards each other. Civilised, isnt it?

Editors reply: You are right. Your sexuality is a private affair. But when the state puts it in the public domain through legislating against non-heterosexuals, when the state or church or police attack or harass such people, then they are putting the matter in the public domain. Gays, lesbians and others have a right to respond to such attacks in the public domain and to organise publicly to proclaim their own humanity. Pambazuka News has a duty to offer space for their voices.

Zimbabwe - We all fall down (1)

Mary Pyne


I wish to express my concern and my solidarity in the very crucial situation faced by my global brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe. I wish there were some way in which the international community could intervene. I feel sorry to be just standing by and watching the situation unfold. I am wondering if Amnesty International of which I am a member could have a role to play in the situation in Zimbabwe. Yours in solidarity.

Zimbabwe: We all fall down (2)

Sibanze Simuchoba


This is a brilliant piece. Truly, the ordinary people's suffering in Zimbabwe is unbearable. Comrade Mugabe is right on the land question. But he needs to change tactics to ensure that Zimbabwe's people survive to enjoy the fruit of the land reform.Why should restoration of land necessarily lead to the continuing impoverishment of the people of Zimbabwe as though uncle Bob has already quit the stage? Comrade Mugabe, please deliver the people to the promised land of plenty.

Blogging Africa

Africa Blogging This Week

Sokari Ekine


Kenyan blogger and Africa’s resident environmental guru, AfroMusing ( points to a post on using African deserts as hubs for solar energy. The idea is that the Sahara, which is some 9 million sq km and the Kalahari which is 900,000 sq km, could be used as solar energy farms to supply cheap electricity for the continent. AfroMusing quotes Anatole France, who wrote:

“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.”

This is definitely one technology we should all dream of - dream hard and believe so that it may come to pass.

Nigerian blogger, Oro ( introduces yet another web technology innovation - Talkr. Talkr allows bloggers to convert their written posts to podcasts using computer-generated voice.

“I think its a really cool tool for bloggers (and media houses that have compatible websites) to use because we can now conveniently rest, assured that those who may be visually impaired can still have access to news and informative/educative/entertainment (someone tongue-twisted this to read “edu-info-tainment”) resources.”

Ugandan blogger, Undo ( takes us on a boat trip to the Kalangala District of Uganda. Kalangala is made up of some 84 islands in Lake Victoria.

“At this point, it became evident that I stop looking back to the reference point of my emergence, to explore something other in these waters, having lost it all…to some aspect of nature…the horizon I had religiously referred to determine my fate...being a collection of wild wave after another offering no comfort when…looking, trying to perceive the existence of a lost piece of existence, I ended up looking at a green embrace like canvas wafting in an endless gesture, fluttering in a slow afternoon wind…ending as a straight lining at the edge of where the water and cloud discreetly met. Marking the beginning of my imagination, replicated on the faces of all that were pondering the distance being lost, making the flat earth theory more pronounced.”

Sotho guest writing on Mzansi Afrika ( takes up a comment by another blogger, Juan, responding to Sotho’s previous post entitled “Affirmative action”.

Juan obviously fails to grasp racism or possibly he is just a refusnik and writes:

“How did whites deny them (Black South Africans) education? By tying them up and not allowing them to learn? Since when did it become our responsibility to educate other cultures? Since you advocate so strongly that your culture is equal to mine, give me proof of where you invented something or built something that we can’t or couldn’t?”

Sotho’s response is:

“Black people have undergone quite a lot at the hands of white people. White people have undergone very little at the hands of black people, all over the world, but especially in America and in South Africa. I've always been amazed at how the transition from minority government to majority government did not turn uglier. There's of course the question of farmers getting killed. While that tragedy cannot be overlooked, I'm happy that there has been no all out bloodbath. From 1652 when Jan Anthoniszoon Van Riebeeck arrived till 1994 when Mr de Klerk stepped down, nastier things than you can imagine were meted out to the black population. That's 342 years, Juan, or three centuries and 42 years. And you can't take 12 years (1994 to 2006) of practically no ill-treatment!”

Freedom for Egyptians ( reports on a clash between members of the liberal party Al Wafd, whose headquarters was stormed by “thugs and gang members” - followers of Nomaan Gomaa. Gomaa is the deposed leader of the Al Wafd party and after a 10-hour battle that included gunfire was arrested by police.

“The acting party leader Mahmoud Abaza and prominent member of the party Munir Fahkry Abdel Nur complained that the police looked idly on as Gomaa and his supporters stormed the compound. Nur said: ‘There were 50 policemen this morning and all they did was phone for ambulances as they looked idly on and Gomaa fired his gun.’ Abaza said: ‘It's an act of madness. Someone who is mentally sane does not open fire on journalists simply trying to do their work.’ Gunshots were fired as Gomaa and his gang removed employees of the party and of its official newspaper. Witnesses said Gomaa himself fired shots at Wafd journalists.”

Black Star Journal ( reports on Charles Taylor’s first day in court in Sierra Leone and lists the 11 charges against him including: use of child soldiers, abduction and forced labour, physical violence, sexual slavery, rape and murder. On suggestions that the trial may be moved to the Hague, he writes:

“Some people would've preferred Taylor be allowed to remain in exile and impunity in Nigeria so as to 'ensure the peace' of Liberia. This was a false choice. Pres. Sirleaf said that the decision to extradite Taylor was a 'hard decision which ensures the long-term safety of the Liberian people and the security of the state.”

Music blog, Sound Roots ( posts on celebrating the birthday of South African musician Hugh Masekela who was 67 on the 4th April.

“He has worked with many of the greats (Fela Kuti, Paul Simon, Abdullah Ibrahim, Bob Marley, Herb Alpert) and for a time was married to South African icon Miriam Makeba…When you think of Masekela, you have to think not only of his music, but his role as something of an ambassador-at-large for South Africa (and specifically, black South Africa). The stories he tells in his songs capture snapshots of life, past and present, for ordinary South Africans.”

* Sokari Ekine produces the blog Black Looks,

* Please send comments to [email protected]

Women & gender

Africa: For her it is the big issue


It is estimated that women and girls in low-income countries spend 40 billion hours every year fetching and carrying water from sources which are often far away and may not, after all, provide clean water. From this standpoint, it is simple to understand that a woman could be empowered by having a nearby pump that conveniently supplies enough safe water for her family. Easier access to such basic services enables women to identify and grasp new opportunities for themselves, to grow in confidence and attain a greater sense of personal dignity.

CAR: Women lobby for peace


At least 2,000 women demonstrated on Monday in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), in an appeal for peace in the country. "Our objective is to alert the nation and the international community to the new wave of troubles looming ahead," said Georgette Debale, a university lecturer and one of the event's organisers. The demonstration was held in the wake of increased armed banditry and rebellion in the northwest of the country, close to the border with Chad. According to the demonstrators, three rebel groups are now active in the region.

Somalia: Women join war on rape


In January this year, Abshiro Xasan Guleed had just settled into a sound sleep after a long day of work when she was awoken by incessant knocks on her door. Her first thought as a traditional birth attendant (TBA) for the last 15 years, was that the man had come to request her to attend to his wife who was in labour. But when she opened the door after they identified themselves, she got a totally different message. The man had walked more than two kilometres to report to her about his six year-old daughter who had been knifed three times by a man attempting to rape her.

South Africa: An open letter to a sister in need

In relation to the Jacob Zuma rape trial


"I write per the direction of the National Gender Machinery and behalf of my sisters and colleagues, in the hope that you find solace in knowing that you have our support in your continued and brave quest to access your democratically guaranteed rights...We are fully aware that it is your right, in this constitutional democracy to access justice without fear, favour or prejudice. We have witnessed, as the process unfolds that this has not been totally true in your case. Instead you have been rendered both faceless and voiceless, and have had to live under sequestration."
* Related Link
Zuma's HIV beliefs irresponsible

Sudan: AU's Darfur troops in abuse probe


The African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission in Sudan says it will look into claims that its troops committed sexual abuse in the western region of Darfur. The UK's More4 TV channel last week aired allegations that AU soldiers paid women, some as young as 11, for sex. The AU said the claims were disturbing, but added there had recently been many allegations against its mission - all of which had been found to be baseless. The AU has 7,000 troops guarding some of Darfur's 2 million displaced people.

Human rights

Africa: Top abusers of workers rights named


The worst violation of workers' rights occurs in Africa's export processing zones, trade unions have said. "The practice is also rampant in enterprises operating under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), according to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, African region. "Due to their thirst for unbridled competition, often at the expense of severe social and labour rights, owners and sometimes with the tacit support of public authorities, have remained resolute in their opposition to unionisation," said the organisation's secretary-general, Mr Andrew Kailembo.

Burundi: Independence of truth commission and criminal court questioned


Officials from the United Nations and the Burundian government have agreed to terms for setting up two postconflict institutions - one for reconciliation and the other for justice - but opposition leaders have questioned the proposed bodies’ objectivity. A UN delegation from New York met government officials from 26-31 March, after which they issued a joint communiqué announcing the framework for both a truth and reconciliation commission and a special court for prosecuting crimes against humanity committed in Burundi since it gained independence from Belgium in 1962.

DRC: Rape of two minors reported


The International Secretariat of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) has been informed by the ‘Ligue de la Zone Afrique pour la Défense des Droits des Enfants et Elèves (LIZADEEL)’, a member of the SOS-Torture network, of the rape of two young girls of 13 and 17 years of whom the names are not mentioned for confidential and safety reasons. OMCT is deeply concerned about the use of sexual force in Kinshasa of which an important part is reportedly done by organised gangs.

DRC: What future for street children?


Tens of thousands of children living on the streets of Kinshasa and other cities of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) suffer extreme hardship and exposure to daily violence, says a new report from Human Rights Watch. "Turned out of their homes and without family care and support, they are victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. With no secure access to food, shelter, or other basic needs, they are exploited by adults, including law enforcement personnel, who use them for illegal activities to the detriment of their health and welfare and in violation of their basic human rights."

Liberia: UN must address costs of moving Taylor to Hague


If the war crimes trial of Liberia's ex-president Charles Taylor is moved from Sierra Leone to The Hague, the international community must shoulder the increased financial costs and address the likely negative impacts for Taylor's victims, the Open Society Justice Initiative has warned. The warning comes as the UN Security Council is widely expected to consider a resolution to relocate the trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone from Freetown to The Hague because of concerns over the potential impact of the trial on security and peace in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
* Related Link
Charles Taylor on Trial,40,5,975

Nigeria: Obasanjo must recognise gay rights


As Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo prepared to visit the United States, he was urged to reaffirm his commitment to the human rights of all Nigerians and withdraw proposed legislation to introduce criminal penalties for same-sex relationships and marriage ceremonies, as well as for public advocacy or associations supporting the rights of lesbian and gay people. In a letter to President Obasanjo, a coalition of 16 human rights organizations urged him to disavow the bill, which contravenes international law and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights that ensure rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly.

Sudan: Peace and Justice in Darfur: Victims' Rights hijacked


While the human rights situation in Darfur is more and more alarming, FIDH and its affiliated organisation SOAT (Sudan Organisation against Torture) condemn the opposition of Sudanese authorities to the takeover of the mandate of the AU by UN forces and call for the active cooperation of Sudan with the International Criminal Court (ICC), one year after the Security Council referral of the situation in Darfur to the ICC.

Zimbabwe: Military taking control of food production, claims NGO


The military has taken control of food production by small-scale farmers in parts of southern Zimbabwe, a rights NGO headed by church leaders claimed on Wednesday. The Solidarity Peace Trust alleged that under the guise of Operation Taguta/Sisuthi or 'Operation Eat Well', launched last year to help revive the agriculture sector, army units have "hijacked" plots and maize harvests in the southern province of Matabeleland, leaving the smallholder-farmers with no income or food.

Zimbabwe: The Human Rights Commission and the issues at stake


The proposal to establish a Human Rights Commission in Zimbabwe, a body whose mandate will be to investigate and promote human rights issues is an important one. Since the colonial era to the present, Zimbabwe has known no culture of human rights and yet evidence is abound in international law on the universality and the special regime status that the human rights discourse has attained. The question that we ought to ask ourselves as Zimbabweans is whether the ruling ZANU PF elite, that have been the biggest human rights violator since the attainment of independence in 1980 should be the one to spearhead the debate on the establishment of a Human Rights Commission. Phillip Pasirayi from the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition assesses the proposal.

Refugees & forced migration

Ghana: Verification of Togolese refugees in Volta region to begin


In Ghana, UNHCR along with its government partners plans is to start a six-week verification exercise to confirm the presence of some 12,500 Togolese refugees in the Volta region of Ghana and facilitate the determination of refugee status by the authorities. The Togolese started fleeing to Ghana and Benin in late April last year during a violent political crisis. In Ghana, most found refuge with host families spread over a wide area.

Global: Inspector condemns treatment of detainees awaiting deportation


Immigration detainees facing deportation at Heathrow airport are being treated as though they are parcels, not people, the chief inspector of prisons in the UK, Anne Owers, has complained. She also found too many cases of force being used on reluctant deportees to take them to aircraft, with the counterproductive result that airlines refused to carry them.

Liberia: Refugees say they are living in fear


Hundreds of Liberian refugees living in Freetown and parts adjacent say they are living in fear since the arrest and detention of former Liberian President Charles Taylor in Freetown, Sierra Leone. According to them, there are rumors in Freetown that when Taylor was arrested at the Robert International Airport (RIA) by the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), some Liberian youths loyal to Taylor attacked Sierra Leoneans living in Monrovia.

Somali: Drought and insecurity drives more Somalis into Kenya


Insecurity and drought have driven some 1,780 Somali refugees into Kenya since the beginning of January, a spokesman from the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has said. There are more than 100,000 Somali refugees living in three camps in the Dadaab area of Kenya's Northeastern Province, which borders on Somalia. Most of the refugees in Dadaab arrived in the 1990s, to flee the fighting and famine caused by Somalia's civil war.

Sudan: First returnees from Ethiopia arrive safely in Sudan


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has handed over to Sudanese authorities the first group of 150 refugees returning from Ethiopia. The Bonga refugee camp, from which the initial returns are taking place, was established in January 1993. After the first group has left for home, the population of the camp now stands at 18,154 refugees. Some 79,000 southern Sudanese refugees live in five camps in west Ethiopia. Most of the refugees arrived in Ethiopia in 1983 and in the 1990s as a result of the civil war in southern Sudan.

Uganda: UN emergency chief meets Uganda’s President; displaced people key issue


United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland has met with Uganda’s President and other top officials in wide-ranging talks that covered the need to improve the conditions in camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) uprooted in the 20-year rebellion by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Mr. Egeland also discussed with President Yoweri Museveni the need to do more to protect civilians, and also the idea of a Special Envoy for Northern Uganda.

Elections & governance

DRC: No shortage of candidates for elections


The large number of presidential candidates, the withdrawal of the main opposition party and the continuing violence in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), have given rise to fears among international observers of a fraught run-up to the elections. By the time the registration of candidates in the 2006 election closed Sunday, 72 candidates had put themselves forward for the presidency and more than 4 000 for the 500 posts up for grabs in the legislative elections, the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) said.

Egypt: Three months after parliamentary elections, opposition in shambles


A gunfight that broke out at the headquarters of Egypt's oldest opposition party on Saturday served to underscore the plight of Egypt's political opposition, in a state of disarray since parliamentary elections were held three months ago. "The incident is proof that none of the secular opposition parties are capable of resolving their rapidly growing internal differences," said veteran local journalist Gamal Essam El-Din. "It comes as little surprise that people resort to violence when they're prevented from engaging in free political activism."

Guinea: PM fired in power struggle


The president of Guinea, Lansana Conte, has reportedly sacked Prime Minister Cellou Dalein Diallo in an apparent power struggle between the two men. The dismissal comes a day after a state radio broadcast announcing greater powers for Mr Diallo was interrupted by soldiers who burst into the studio. A statement from President Conte, broadcast on Wednesday, said Mr Diallo had been sacked for "grave wrongdoing".

Nigeria: Police stop meeting of Obasanjo opponents


Nigerian police on Wednesday blocked a meeting of politicians who oppose a campaign to extend President Olusegun Obasanjo's time in power, opposition officials said. Police surrounded the conference centre at the Sheraton Hotel in Abuja, where the politicians were scheduled to meet to discuss strategies to prevent Obasanjo from obtaining a third term in office, and stopped anyone from going in. Authorities have in recent weeks stepped up their actions against opposition groups, who accuse the government of becoming increasingly intolerant of dissent, particularly on the controversial question of a third presidential term.

Senegal: President’s onetime protégé to run for election


Senegal’s popular former prime minister Idrissa Seck snatched the limelight from Independence Day celebrations and a state visit by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on Tuesday by announcing his plan to run for the presidency in 2007, setting the scene for a potentially fraught election battle. The 47-year-old Seck, who was recently freed after spending several months behind bars, is likely to be running against his former mentor and current head of state President Abdoulaye Wade, who despite being 82 intends to run for a second term.

South Africa: Province hit by spate of political killings


Following a recent spate of political killings in South Africa's east coast province of KwaZulu-Natal, an independent monitor has called for an overhaul of the police force. The ANC claimed it had lost 11 of its officials since local government elections on 1 March this year. "We have lost many more since the beginning of the election campaign, mostly in former IFP strongholds. The fact that all [those] killed are ANC members, and that all [those] arrested are IFP members can only let us believe that it is an IFP campaign," alleged ANC spokesman Mtholephi Mthimkhulu.

Zimbabwe: Moyo interviewed on SW Radio


For 5 years, Professor Jonathan Moyo was President Robert Mugabe's strident defender as Information Minister. Today, he is an Independent MP and sitting on the other side of the fence, tearing into the man he loathed, then liked, and now loathes again. On Tuesday night, he spoke to SW Radio Africa's top inquisitor, Violet Gonda. Visit the URL provided for a transcript of the interview.


Africa: UK MPs criticise Britain’s involvement in African corruption


Researchers and campaigners welcomed a new report issued on 29 March by UK parliamentarians which argues that the British government is failing to fulfil its international obligations against bribery, corruption and money laundering; and highlights the role of UK-linked tax havens in laundering the proceeds of African corruption. The report, launched in London by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Africa, argues that the UK is not doing enough to tackle the 'supply side' of corruption: limited financial transparency and weak corporate regulations which allow UK multinational companies to be involved in corruption, and for allowing dirty money to be channeled through British banks, shell companies, trusts and financial professionals.

Equatorial Guinea: Equatorial Guinea hosts ethics workshop


Is a traditional tribal leader a government official, and could giving money to him be considered bribery? These questions, which oil and gas company executives grappled with recently during a workshop in Equatorial Guinea, are more than an academic exercise. Oil seems to have enriched Equatorial Guinea's kleptocratic leaders alone, as citizens sank deeper into poverty, disease and hopelessness. The country's critics said the unprecedented workshop on ethics and international law was at best a small step on a long road to reform.

Global: Corruption at the bank


The Government Accountability Project (GAP) has hailed a 10-page investigative report focusing on corruption at the World Bank. The article in the April 3 edition of US News & World Report focuses on extensive internal problems at the bank including how “kickbacks, payoffs, bribery, embezzlement, and collusive bidding plague bank-funded projects around the world.” The report estimates that more than 20 percent of the loans distributed by the World Bank, or $4 billion annually, are associated with corrupt practices.

Kenya: Vital questions on president's health expenses


Three Cabinet ministers in Kenya, separately told anti-corruption czar John Githongo of close links between President Kibaki and a businessman behind an Anglo Leasing type deal who is said to have paid the head of state's medical bills in Britain, according to a report by the Daily Nation. The businessman had reportedly helped the President during the election campaigns in 1997 and 2002, and are said to have helped to meet his medical expenses in the UK following his car crash in 2002 on the election trail.

Uganda: Global Fund probe reveals massive graft


An ongoing probe into the misuse of money from the Global Fund on AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Uganda has unearthed a "pile of filth" in the running of affairs in the East African country, according to the head of the commission of inquiry. Following the suspension in August 2005 of five grants worth US $367 million, questions had arisen regarding the fund managers' integrity. The Global Fund lifted its suspension in November 2005, after agreeing with the government on ways to overhaul the management of the fund. President Yoweri Museveni ordered a judicial inquiry into the use of the money.


Africa: Economies worst placed to cope with knock-on effects of drought


Many African economies, which largely rely on agricultural revenue, are the least equipped to deal with the devastating impact of regular drought, economists have said. About 43 percent of Africa's land surface is arid and low rainfall is considered a normal fact of life. However, drought, which used to occur on average every five to six years, has been happening more frequently over the last 12 years. It is the single most important natural hazard in terms of shattered livelihoods, starvation, deaths and nutrition-related diseases on the continent.

Africa: More yet to be done on debt releif


Last July, debt relief was all the rage. The Live 8 benefit concert in London was one of almost a dozen taking place worldwide. The leaders of the G8 nations met in Scotland to negotiate a response to the issue. The leaders unanimously declared that providing relief, especially for sub-Saharan Africa, was a moral and economic imperative. Fast forward to the present. Public attention has shifted elsewhere, the G8 deal has only been partially implemented, and much more work remains to be done to eliminate unjust debts that stifle countries in the developing world.

Africa: Resources for development scarce and mismanaged


The first United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) could arguably be seen as the mother of MDGs, as a country's ability to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty will be a determining factor in whether it attains the other seven goals. But there are concerns about whether enough is being done to achieve MDG one.

Global: British and Europeans in deceptions about aid


Britain and other European countries have been accused of misleading the public about their supposed generosity in aid by including debt relief - especially for Iraq and Nigeria - as part of their calculation of the increases in aid. DfID admitted to including debt relief of GBP 1.15bn for Nigeria and GBP 673 million to Iraq to hide the fact that otherwise development funding would have fallen in real terms.

Global: Hopes fade for April deal in WTO trade talks


With time fast running out, scepticism is mounting at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that a deal on farm and industrial goods, crucial to an overall global trade pact, can be struck by the end of the month. Diplomats in Geneva say that the deadline - set by trade ministers last December in Hong Kong - looks unattainable and the big question facing the 149-state body is how to prevent a fresh failure from killing off the negotiations completely.

Global: IMF needs muscle to police global economy


Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge wants a new sheriff to police the global economy, a revamped and strengthened International Monetary Fund that would engage in "ruthless truth telling." In a speech at the Harvard Club, he expressed clear frustration with the failure of the world's leading industrialized countries to pursue reforms that he said are needed to head off a looming financial crisis. He proposed retooling the IMF to make it the global institution responsible for co-ordinating market-friendly reforms around the world, and for issuing warnings when countries fail to heed danger signs in their own economies.

Tanzania: New water law unfriendly to the poor


Opposition groups on the semiautonomous Tanzanian island of Zanzibar have criticised new legislation that declares all water on the island the property of the government and introduces fees for water, which had been free. "Water in whatsoever form, location or state, including fresh, saline, marine, surface, ground flowing or dormant water bodies and any kind of public water is hereby declared to be owned by the government," said the bill, which also included penalties and possible jail terms for those who waste the precious resource.

Uganda: Tightened expenditure after donor aid cuts


Uganda's Ministry of Finance controlled expenditure tightly in the first half of the 2005/6 financial year after donors cut or withheld $73 million in aid, a ministry report says. According to the semi-annual budget performance report, cuts in expenditure mitigated against the shortfall in domestic resources and grants, resulting in a budgetary deficit of Ush127.8 billion ($69 million) against a projected deficit of Ush140.9 billion ($76.1 million).

Health & HIV/AIDS

Africa: The scandal of poor people's diseases


People with AIDS all over the world are fortunate to have fellow sufferers in America and Europe, says this New York Times article. "In poor countries as well, it helps that AIDS strikes all social classes. Brazil would never have become the first poor country to guarantee free AIDS treatment to all who need it without the activism of its many homosexual organizations. For every AIDS victim, though, there are many more suffering from diseases that lack this kind of constituency. Today, contracting a serious disease that affects only poor people is the worst luck of all."

Global: The impact of migrating health workers


An article in this International Labour Organisation publication, Merchants of Labour, examines the role of migration on health workers and systems. It reflects on the question of whether health worker migration constitutes a brain drain, brain gain or brain waste and underline that the international recruitment of health care workers has adverse effects on strained health systems of poor countries, which raises moral concerns.

Kenya: AIDS widows, women who lose everything


Across Africa, the AIDS pandemic is creating chaos for hundreds of thousands of women forced to leave their land and homes when their husbands die. Campaigners say the best way to protect the growing number of these ‘AIDS Widows’ is to introduce and enforce laws which give women equal rights to inherit and own property. In Kenya, these rights continue to be denied. But there are signs that things might change. Whatever happens next, many believe that unless something as influential as a new constitution takes up the cause, the calamity surrounding women’s land rights, widows and AIDS is unlikely to go away.

Kenya: Measles outbreak alert as 14 children die


After the deaths of 14 children in the last few months, health experts are now warning that Nairobi and several other districts could be on the verge of a measles outbreak. After the upsurge in cases and deaths caused by the highly infectious disease, the Government issued a red alert after three children died in Nairobi's Kayole estate last week. The children aged six, five and eight months died one after the other over a period of 10 days.

South Africa: Government hand in TAC exclusion from UN meeting


The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the National Department of Health are set to lock horns again - and this time it is over the exclusion of the activist group and its allies from the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on AIDS (UNGASS). The TAC and Aids Law Project (ALP) has been excluded from gaining accreditation to the critical meeting because the South African government had objected to its participation. It is two of only six international organisations who were denied accreditation.

South Africa: HIV prisoners end hunger strike


More than 240 HIV-positive inmates at Westville Prison in Durban, South Africa, on Wednesday ended a hunger strike to advocate for access to treatment, Agence France-Presse reports. According to Xolani Ncemu, chair of the prison's HIV/AIDS support group, he and 241 other inmates launched the strike after months of negotiations with officials to resolve issues that have prevented some inmates from accessing treatment such as requiring identification documents.

Uganda: Training for HIV positive troops stopped


The Ugandan military has barred soldiers who are HIV positive from some training programmes. Military officials say the decision was taken on humanitarian grounds so that HIV/Aids sufferers did not have to undergo strenuous military training. But the move has been strongly criticised by Aids campaigners, who say it shows ignorance. Uganda has been held up as a model of how to fight HIV/Aids, with infection rates falling from 15% to 5%.


Ghana: University of Ghana to cut down admissions


The chairman of the University of Ghana's council, has disclosed that the University of Ghana is planning to cut down on the number of students at the university in order to instill discipline and monitor attendance of lectures. This according to him has become necessary because of the findings of the Mfodwo Committee set up to investigate cases of examination malpractices in the university.

Great Lakes: Free basic education the way forward, UN official says


There is a need to lighten the burden of keeping children in school in Africa's southern and eastern region, where an estimated 20 million children are currently deprived of education, a United Nations official said on Wednesday. The regional director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), Per Engeback, said 30 percent of education spending in sub-Saharan Africa was being spent on fees. He was speaking in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, during a conference on the abolition of school fees in southern and eastern African countries.

Ivory Coast: University opens in rebel north after three-year closure


More than three years after war forced it to shut down, the University of Bouake in the rebel-held north of Cote d'Ivoire officially reopened this week, giving new hope to a generation of youth missing out on schooling. Hundreds of hopeful students and dozens of lecturers attended the opening ceremony on Tuesday, which many hailed as a major step towards a return to normal in the north. Several members of the administrative staff had already returned earlier this month.

South Africa: Lessons in equity and quality reforms


In the period 1995 to 2002 South Africa managed to make major policy changes in education. Almost everything about the education sector has changed. This paper focuses on policies aimed at resource distribution. It documents significant improvements in certain measures of resource inequality. It documents that, against perhaps excessively optimistic expectations, responses in learning outcomes have not followed automatically, but have instead required much managerial pressure and oversight.

Sudan: UN launches education drive


The UN children's agency, UNICEF, on Saturday kicked off a massive education campaign in southern Sudan aimed at doubling the enrolment in primary schools in the war-ravaged region, officials said. UNICEF deputy director Rima Salah said education was vital in efforts to spur growth in the region, which has been ravaged by more than two decades of deadly war between ex-rebels, the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM), and the Khartoum government.

Racism & xenophobia

Russia: Schoolgirl stabbed in hate crime


A nine-year-old African-Russian girl was hospitalized with stab wounds following an attack by a group of suspected teenagers in downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday, two days after the controversial acquittal of the defendants in the trial for the murder of a nine-year-old Tajik girl two years ago. "Public inaction and a general silence, indicating indifference to the rising extreme nationalism, is tantamount to its justification," said Aliou Tunkara, head of the St. Petersburg African Union.


Africa: Net rate of forest loss second highest in the world


The net rate of forest loss in Africa is the second highest in the world, while the continent leads the globe in the frequency of forest fires, FAO told the African Forestry and Wildlife Commission at its meeting in Maputo, Mozambique. Globally, Africa suffered a net loss of forests exceeding 4 million hectares per year between 2000 and 2005, according to FAO. This was mainly due to conversion of forest lands to agriculture. Forest cover went from 655.6 million hectares (ha) to 635.4 million ha during this period.

Botswana: Massive solar project targets 88 villages


A massive solar-based rural electrification of at least 88 villages is expected to be rolled out countrywide mid this year. Finance Minister Baledzi Gaolathe announced the P34 million National Rural Photovoltaic Electrification Programme during the 2005-2006 budget. He noted that the aim of the project is to improve access to energy services in rural areas and promote the use of renewable energy.

Global: Terminator technology stays banned


Calls for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to end its six-year moratorium on the planting of infertile genetically modified (GM) crops have been rejected. On Friday (24 March), a CBD working group rejected a proposal to allow field trials of the crops, which produce sterile seeds, on a "case-by-case" basis.

Namibia: NGO slams prepaid water scheme


A Namibian rights NGO has slammed a local government scheme to provide prepaid water, saying it is making the basic commodity "unaffordable for the poor". Helena Negumbo is among several thousand informal dwellers who have to buy water, when they can afford it, from a municipal tap. "I must first buy a card and put it into [a meter-box near] the tap. When the [money on the] card is finished, the water stops running, but I don't always have money for [more water]," she told IRIN.

Tanzania: Government takes measures to protect the environment


The Tanzanian government will take stringent measures to curb environmental degradation, including the eviction of pastoralists and farmers from protected lands and the prohibition of thin plastic bags, according to the Vice-President. Human activities such as reckless tree felling, use of plastic bags, uncontrolled cattle grazing, invasion of reserved forest areas and mountains were cited as some of the causes of extensive environmental degradation.

Land & land rights

Kenya: State violated rights of squatters


The government of Kenya massively violated the rights of thousands of people it evicted from its forests recently, its own watchdog has said. The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights has criticised the evictions, saying neither the law nor internationally accepted regulations were followed. The victims were not given alternative settlement or access to basic necessities like food, shelter and healthcare. The commission is now compiling a report after a fact-finding mission to establish the extent of human rights violations in the evictions, including the one in Kipkurere Forest in Uasin Gishu two weeks ago.

Uganda: Pastoralists hit by market reforms


Accustomed to their age-old freedom to roam, the nomadic pastoralists of Uganda are now having to cope with a law that seeks to settle and ‘modernise’ their communities. Pastoralist societies in Uganda are increasingly facing market-driven demands to ‘settle down’ on a piece of land – pressures that are not only disrupting their centuries-old lifestyle but also taking a toll on the indigenous, long-horned Ankole cows. "Before the idea of owning a box (owning land) came about, our cows used to move freely across boundaries. This was better use of land," says Richard Mugisha from the pastoralist community of Ankole Region in Mbarara District.

Media & freedom of expression

DRC: Editor freed on bail


Jean-Louis Ngalamulume, the editor of the newspaper "L'Eclaireur", was freed on the evening of 31 March 2006 after paying US$40 in bail. He had been detained since 31 January. After meeting with Reporters Without Borders and its local partner organisation, Journalist in Danger (JED), President Joseph Kabila sent the justice ministry a request for the release of Ngalamulume and "La Tolérance" editor Jean-Pierre Pambu Lutete, who is expected to be freed on bail in the next few days.

Ethiopia: Ethiopia licenses first private FM radio stations


Ethiopia has issued its first broadcasting licenses allowing private radio stations to operate in the Horn of Africa nation, officials said on Monday. The licenses were issued to two radio stations that will broadcast on FM, following a decision reached in February, according to Sissay Melese, spokesman for the Ethiopian Broadcast Authority (EBA).

Niger: Niger says no to BBC famine coverage


Niger has withdrawn permission for a BBC team which found evidence of hunger in the country to continue to report on the humanitarian situation there. Officials said international and local media would not be allowed to do stories about the food situation as they did not want that subject touched.

The Gambia: Two journalists held illegally for the past week


Reporters Without Borders has voiced alarm at the impunity with which the Gambian government has been able to illegally detain Madi Ceesay, the managing director of the biweekly newspaper The Independent, and Musa Saydikhan, its editor, for the past week. The press freedom organisation wrote to the British, French and US ambassadors in Banjul calling on them to "urgently intercede with authorities to obtain the release of these two journalists," adding that their detention was illegal under Gambian law as charges must be brought against a detainee within 72 hours.

Conflict & emergencies

Africa: Marketing humanitarian crises


Why do some crises attract global attention while so many others do not? asks this article from Yale Global Online. "The reality is that resources devoted to international issues are simply too small to meet the needs of the world's poor, diseased and conflicted. Even the largest NGOs complain of too few funds and constantly campaign for more. This creates a lop-sided power relationship strongly favoring NGOs. While many have good intentions, NGOs must choose carefully where they devote their scarce money, personnel and time. They also have internal needs - pleasing funders while sustaining and expanding their organizations."

Africa: Recruiters of child soldiers targeted for prosecution


The United Nations and international human rights organisations have long campaigned against recruiters of child soldiers, urging their prosecution as "war criminals". But the first break came only last week when the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague decided to arrest Thomas Lubanga, a founder and leader of the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC), on charges of conscripting children in the current insurgency against the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). UNICEF has estimated that up to 300,000 children globally are being used by armed rebel groups and military forces in a variety of roles, including as combatants, cooks, porters, messengers, spies and for sexual purposes.

DRC: Greater UN presence needed in Katanga to counter hunger, atrocities


United Nations relief officials are calling for stepped-up humanitarian and peacekeeping measures to confront hunger and "horrific atrocities" in Katanga in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where fighting between the army and Mai Mai rebels has driven over 150,000 people from their homes in the last six months. Apart from the people who have fled, many others remain trapped or hidden in remote and inaccessible locations, making it likely that the actual figure is much higher than 150,000, OCHA added of the situation around three Katanga sites – Mitwaba, Malemba Nkulu and Dubie. Many of these people are living in appalling conditions with alarmingly high malnutrition and mortality rates.

Ivory Coast: Disarmament talks on track at last


Rebel and army chiefs completed a first full round of working talks on Tuesday in Cote d'Ivoire's rebel stronghold of Bouake in what was described by the government as a sign of progress in efforts to reach an agreement over disarmament. "The talks were fruitful and focused on the concerns of both forces and the establishment of a structural framework," said a joint statement issued by Ivorian chief of staff Philippe Mangou and rebel military leader Soumaila Bakayoko.

Sudan: The CPA and the long road ahead


More than a year after it was signed, Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) is showing signs of strain, says the International Crisis Group (ICG). "While the agreement ended one of Africa’s longest and bloodiest civil wars, it was an agreement between only two parties, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), and continues to lack broader support throughout the country, particularly in the North."

Sudan: US against sanctions on Sudan officials


The United States is opposing the inclusion of any Sudanese official on a potential UN Security Council sanctions list of individuals blocking peace in Darfur, two diplomats said on Wednesday. The United Nations is trying to halt atrocities in Sudan's western region of Darfur where the government is accused of backing Arab militia, known as Janjaweed who have raped, killed and driven more than 2 million African villagers from their homes. But the United States recommended for the sanctions list just one middle-ranking Janjaweed militiaman.

Uganda: Northern conflict an "epicentre of terror"


United Nations under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland declared the 20-year conflict in northern Uganda "the world's worst form of terrorism" during a visit to a camp for internally displaced persons in Pader District. "Conditions here are totally unacceptable. It has to change, because we believe people have to live a better life and have a better future," he said during a visit to Patongo camp, some 400 km north of the capital, Kampala. Egeland, who is on a four-nation, nine-day tour of conflict- and drought-ravaged East Africa, said there was a need to provide security to the almost two million people living at camps across northern Uganda.

Uganda: Northern Uganda deaths 'worse than Iraq', says report


The violent death rate for northern Uganda currently stands at 146 per week, or 0.17 violent deaths per 10,000 people per day. "This is three times higher than in Iraq, where the incidence of violent death in the period following the allied invasion was estimated to be 0.052 per 10,000 people per day," claims a new report by a coalition of over 50 leading non-governmental organisations, Civil Society Organisations for Peace in Northern Uganda (CSOPNU). Almost two million people have been displaced by the conflict. A staggering 25,000 children have been abducted during the 20-year war. A quarter of the children in northern Uganda over 10 years old have lost one or both parents.

Internet & technology

Africa: The daylight robbery of mobile charges


Last week the European Commission announced that it will force mobile companies to lower their excessively high international roaming charges and scrap all roaming charges for receiving calls abroad. A fortnight ago the annual meeting of the Arab ICT Regulators Network heard a presentation of a study of Middle East roaming charges that covered parts of North Africa. It also concluded that in the field of roaming that there was an absence of real competition and this was a strong disincentive to operators to negotiate lower prices. Sub-Saharan Africa’s solution? An expensive African Telecommunications Study to develop a single SIM card that can be used across the continent. Russell Southwood looks at the findings of the Egyptian study in the latest edition of Balancing Act News Update.

Global: Introducing wikipad


wikidPad is a Wiki-like notebook for storing your thoughts, ideas, todo lists, contacts, or anything else you can think of to write down. What makes wikidPad different from other notepad applications is the ease with which you can cross-link your information.

Global: Technology Activism

2006-04-04 reflects in this article on what a technology activist is? "At the end of the day, it's a very broad and ill defined area which is a bit scarey, because perception might lead people to believe that technology activism is limited to a select group, when in fact I believe it isn't. I believe that it's a part of the natural course of technology," he writes.

Kenya: IFC pledges support for ICT sector


The International Finance Corporation (IFC) has agreed to support private and public sector players build capacity for ICT outsourcing in Kenya. IFC and the ICT Park (ICTPark.Com) - a consortium of local, regional, and global organisations working together to make Kenya ICT capital of Africa, have announced plans to start offering courses from April 10 to 25 in Nairobi.

Rwanda: President creates a new science ministry


Rwanda's president Paul Kagame has created a science ministry and placed it under his direct supervision in an effort to accelerate the integration of science and technology into all sectors of the economy. Kagame announced the move on 18 March along with a broad cabinet reshuffle.

Uganda: Makerere University to reduce bandwidth due to lack of funds


Makerere University Kampala, is to scale down its bandwidth from the current 21 Mbps (Megabits per second) to 6 Mbps due to lack of funds. Bandwidth controls the amount of data that can be passed along a communications channel in a given period of time. A higher bandwidth means a lot of data can be transferred within a short period of time. But the university has failed to sustain the current bandwidth due to lack of funds. The university's public relations officer says the bandwidth scale down will make the Internet services much slower thus affecting data communication.

eNewsletters & mailing lists

Africa: First issue of bulletin on APRM


A new bulletin that focuses on the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) and civil society has been released by Partnership Africa Canada (PAC). The first issue contains articles on the following:
- a description of the APRM, its structure and composition;
- news of a civil society workshop on the APRM held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia;
- the civil society workshop declaration;
- news about the Ghana APRM report presented to the APRM Forum at the African Union summit in Khartoum;
- media coverage of the APRM;
- reference materials on the APRM and governance.
Visit to find out more.

Fundraising & useful resources

Africa: African Conflict and Peace Review: Call for Papers


The Africa Programme of the University for Peace is launching during this year a new academic journal dealing with conflict and peace issues from a multi-disciplinary, and distinctly African perspective. The African Conflict and Peace Review will provide a vehicle for African scholars, and those focussing on Africa, to publish their views on issues of conflict and peace affecting the continent.

Africa: Rainbo small grants project


The Rainbo Small Grants Project was started in 1995 to provide modest funds and technical assistance to African non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that might not otherwise have access to mainstream sources of funding. To date the project has worked with 76 grassroots organisations in 20 African countries.

Africa: What does an affordable and sustainable 21st-century African health system look like?


Research Matters is currently seeking several writers interested in writing on the topic: "What does an affordable and sustainable 21st-century African health system look like?"

Global: Rights journal call for contributions


Sur – International Journal on Human Rights welcomes contributions to be published in its coming issues. The Journal is published twice a year, distributed free of charge to approximately 3,000 readers in over 100 countries. It is edited in three languages: English, Portuguese and Spanish and can also be accessed through the internet at

Courses, seminars, & workshops

Ethiopia: Gender and Organisational Development Course


This course is designed for development professionals who seek to build up their skills and knowledge in mainstreaming gender in their organisations and their programmes and projects. The course will focus on concepts and approaches to mainstreaming gender and how to operationalise these within the total organisation.

Global: iCommons Summit, Towards a global digital commons


The past few years has seen the burgeoning of a number of initiatives aimed at opening the fields of creativity, science and knowledge in communities around the world. Practitioners from these movements currently identify themselves as falling within a particular community – 'free and open source software', 'open access', 'open content' and 'open science', amongst others – but they share key processes and values whose common elements are yet to be fully realized. This year's iCommons Summit aims to bring together, in a creative, stimulating and cooperative environment, the pioneers from these communities – to inspire and learn from one another and establish closer working relationships around a set of incubator projects.

Zambia: Certificate in Youth Participation for Africa's Development Processes


The second annual Certificate in Youth Participation for Africa's Development Processes will take place in Lusaka, Zambia from the 29th of May - the 9th of June 2006. This leadership training is being offered jointly by the African Youth Parliament (AYP), Young Women in Action (YWA) and the Coady International Institute.

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