Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Nobody Cares about the Congo

A total of six million people have been killed during six years of war in DR Congo. Most of the deaths were from disease and malnutrition. Several neighbouring countries were involved in the fighting, described by some observers as "Africa's World War".

More than 300,000 people have been displaced this month by ethnic violence in Ituri province in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN says.

The latest clashes are between Hema cattle-herders and Lendu farmers. 

The two communities have repeatedly fought over land and water in Ituri, a gold-rich region in the north-east. The rivalry left thousands dead between 1997 and 2003, amid a wider conflict.
In 2012, a Hema warlord involved in the conflict, Thomas Lubanga, became the first person to be convicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In 2017, a Lendu militia leader, Germain Katanga, became the first convicted war criminal to be ordered to pay damages to his victims by the ICC.

Mining Faults in Tanzania

Electronics companies, including Canon, Apple and Nokia, are re-evaluating their supply chains following reports they may be using gold extracted from a Tanzanian mine that has been criticised for environmental failures. The Tanzanian government has imposed penalties on the mine and ordered the operators to build an alternative to its tailings reservoir, which is used to store the byproducts of mining. Locals claimed there were still accidents and violence as a result of incursions, and toxic wastewater continued to seep from the mine into residential areas and waterways nearby.

Over the past 10 years, at the North Mara goldmine – which is operated by London-listed Acacia Mining – there have been more than a dozen killings of intruding locals by security personnel.
Under Tanzanian law, no mine should operate within 200 metres of a home or 100 metres of a farm, but Acacia has not been able to meet this requirement.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Climate Change - Bad News for Africa

New research says global warming could bring many more bouts of severe drought as well as increased flooding to Africa than previously forecast, scientists have warned.

The continent will experience many extreme outbreaks of intense rainfall over the next 80 years. These could trigger devastating floods, storms and disruption of farming. In addition, these events are likely to be interspersed with more crippling droughts during the growing season and these could also damage crop and food production.

“Essentially we have found that both ends of Africa’s weather extremes will get more severe,” said Elizabeth Kendon of the Met Office’s Hadley Centre in Exeter. “The wet extreme will get worse but also the appearance of dry spells during the growing season will also get more severe.”

It is blamed on the burning of fossil fuels, which is increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and causing it to heat up. Last month levels of carbon dioxide reached 415 parts per million, their highest level since Homo sapiens first appeared on Earth – and scientists warn that they are likely to continue on this upward curve for several decades. Global temperatures will be raised dangerously as a result.

The new meteorology study – carried out by scientists at the Met Office in collaboration with researchers at the Institute of Climate and Atmospheric Science at Leeds University – reports on the likely impact on Africa of these temperature rises and indicates that western and central areas will suffer the worst impacts of weather disruptions. Many countries in these regions – including Niger, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo – are expected to experience substantial growth in population over that time and will be particularly vulnerable to severe floods. At the other end of the precipitation spectrum, the study also revealed there would an increase in occasions when severe drought would occur for up to 10 days in the midst of the most critical part of a region’s growing season. The result could cause severe disruption to crop production.

An example of such flooding occurred two weeks ago when it was reported that eight people had died south of Kampala in Uganda after torrential rain hit the region. Similarly, at least 15 people were reported to have died during floods in Kenya last year. Thousands lost their homes.

“Our research suggests that extreme bouts of rainfall are likely to be seven or eight times more frequent than they are today,” said Kendon. “Africa is one of parts of the planet that is going to be most vulnerable to climate change,” said Kendon. “Our study of rainfall patterns shows there are going to be some very severe problems to face food security and dealing with droughts.”

South Sudanese hungry for food

A record number of almost seven million people in South Sudan - or more than 60 percent of its population - are facing severe hunger, according to a new report by the government and three United Nations agencies.  The report said close to two million people were near starvation, but stopped short of declaring a famine.

The worsening situation was attributed to food shortages exacerbated by delayed rainfall, an economic crisis and years of strain from a conflict that killed almost 400,000 people. A statement from the agencies said the annual lean season "started early following record low stocks from the poor 2018 harvest and has been further extended by the delayed onset of 2019 seasonal rains."
"Every year, hunger reaches new and unprecedented levels in South Sudan with millions of people unsure where their next meal will come from, particularly at this time of the year when hunger peaks from May to July," Hsiao-Wei Lee, of the World Food Programme (WFP), said in the capital, Juba.
The WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN children's fund (UNICEF) said about 1.8 million people in South Sudan were in an "emergency", or level four, which means large gaps between meals, acute malnutrition and excess deaths.
More than five million others were also having to skip meals. At the beginning of 2019, it was estimated that 6.1 million people were facing hunger. But this figure now stands at 6.9 million people - about 61 percent of the population.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Mali's ethnic feuds

The conflict between the Dogon and Fulani ethnic groups over resources in Mali has been exacerbated by climate change, population growth, an absentee state and Islamism. The result is a rapidly rising death toll. 

Violence reached a new height with the massacre on Sunday of over 100 people in the Dogon village of Sobame Da. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but tensions have been high since the slaughter of around 160 Fulani (also known as Peuhl) in the village of Ogossagou last March. That attack was blamed on a Dogon militia group known as Dan Na Ambassagou. Some Fulani leaders had vowed to carry out reprisals.

While the conflict of resources between the agriculture communities of the Dogon and cattle herding Fulani has historical roots, "the situation that we see in central Mali at the moment is much worse than anything we've seen, I guess one could say in living memory," Paul Melly of the London-based think-tank Chatham House told DW.

The region is being hit particularly hard by climate change. Conflicts over resources like water and land are not new. But where there used to be a predictable three-month span of rainfall in a year, precipitation has become erratic and hard to predict, increasing the pressure on the population. "You also have population growth," Melly said, explaining that while resources like water, land and pastures are dwindling, "the number of people who depend on them as farmers or cattle herders is actually rising."

Poverty makes it easy for either side to recruit fighters for the militias. "Especially young men in this region have very little to do and very few perspectives," said DW correspondent Bram Posthumus. The Fulani are seen as being linked to the jihadists of the Islamic State of Greater Sahara, while Dogon militias are said to have the support of the Mali military. The absence of the state in the region is seen as a root cause of the spiraling violence: "If [the state] is present, it is usually in a repressive form, either through the army or other security forces," Posthumus said, which means confidence in state authorities is eroded further.

The conflict took on political and religious overtones after the rebellion of jihadists and ethnic groups like the Touareg just north of this region. The uprising was quelled by the French military in 2013. But political instability spread further south, where suddenly there was an unprecedented availability of weapons.

Measles - the Congo's Killer Disease

While some anti-vaxxers refuse the MMR inoculations to safe-guard their children from measles,  in the Democratic Republic of Congo, its government has declared an epidemic of measles, which the latest health ministry figures show has now killed at least 1,500 people in the first five months of 2019, the highest since 2012, which was the deadliest measles epidemic of the last decade. 

More than 10,000 cases of cholera have been reported in the country since the start of the year, leading to 240 deaths. Meanwhile, 1,384 people have died of the Ebola virus since it was first reported in the east of the country last August, the second deadliest outbreak of the disease in global history. But measles has proved deadlier than either, in part because it is even harder to contain. One of the world’s most contagious diseases, the measles virus can live in the air when’re an infected person has coughed or sneezed for up to two hours.

Although measles kills in only about 2 per cent of cases, the young are most likely to suffer complications from the virus and the vast majority of Congo’s fatalities have been children aged under five, health workers say.
While the world's media focused on the Ebola virus, at least 87,000 suspected measles cases have been reported in 23 of Congo’s 26 provinces since January, a 700 per cent increase compared with the same period last year. 

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) called for “a massive mobilization of all relevant national and international organizations in order to vaccinate more children and treat patients affected by the disease.” 

Thankfully, the misinformation campaigns of the anti-vaxxers have so far not taken root and hopefully never will.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Sudan's ‘Revolution of the People”.

The Sudanese democracy demonstrators were the first to protest at Saudi Arabia’s interference in their revolution. We all knew that the Saudis and the Emiratis had been funnelling millions of dollars into the regime of Omar al-Bashir, wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court and now chucked out of power by a Sisi-like military cabal. But it was the sit-in protesters who first thought up the slogan: “We do not want Saudi aid even if we have to eat beans and falafel!” (a chickpea-filled patty) 

The protesters want answers about the true nature of the relationship between the Gulf states and two men: the “Rapid Support Forces” commander, the frightening Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo – aka “Hemeti” – and Abdul Fattah al-Burhan, the theoretical head of the military council which took over the country after they overthrew Bashir. Both men recently visited the Gulf states – and the Sudanese who were camped out in their capital want to know why Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates promised $3bn (£2.7bn) in aid to the transitional government. What was the $3bn for, other than to prop up head of Sudan’s military council Burhan’s own regime – brought to power by national protests over Sudan’s bankrupt economy.

Many Sudanese also realise that their own new and revolutionary experience in demanding Bashir’s overthrow along with civilian rulers who will arrange democratic elections has some remarkable parallels with the experience of Cairo’s demonstrators after 2011. he hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who staged the revolution against Mubarak have either been killed, fled, gone to ground or been arrested by the Egyptian security services. So no wonder would-be Sudanese revolutionaries – even though they would see their role as mere protesters for democracy – are fearful that they will soon suffer the same fate, and that those generous Gulf monarchies are about to strike again with more support for Burhan and his unpleasant companion.

Sudan, specifically militias led by the disreputable and extremely dangerous Dagolo – more than 10,000 men, some of them guilty of war crimes in Darfur – have been fighting for the Saudis against the Houthis in Yemen. And Dagolo, according to Al Jazeera, met the Saudi crown prince early in May and promised to support the kingdom against “all threats and attacks from Iran and Houthi militias”. He would continue, he allegedly promised, to send Sudanese forces to help Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Burhan recruited many of the Sudanese who went to fight in Yemen – a large number of whom had been under Dagolo’s command. So is it any surprise that Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman would want to continue his relationship with Dagolo? Anything would be better than parliamentary democracy in Sudan.

Save for vague suggestions from the Trump administration that it condemns violence in Sudan, there has been no serious policy statement on the massive upheaval in the country. The US wants democracy in Sudan – presumably, because that is what its own government supposedly stands for in all nations – but everyone knows that Trump, in his perverse view of the world, regards the Saudi crown prince as a trusted ally.

The Gulf states and Egypt don’t want democracy in Sudan. Are they so powerful that they can ensure the revolution will fail? Or so frightened of the influence of a Sudanese democracy on their own autocracies that the revolution must fail?

Monday, June 10, 2019

General strike for Sudan Democracy

Millions of people in Sudan have joined a general strike called by ​pro-reform groups, shutting down the centre of cities across the country despite a wave of arrests and intimidation​.

The massive shutdown was called to take place on Sunday, the first day of the working week, and is aimed at relaunching an opposition movement battered by a brutal crackdown and forcing the country’s new military leaders to resign.

Shops were closed and streets were empty throughout the capital, Khartoum, and in the neighbouring Omdurman. Four protesters were killed in sporadic violence in the two cities.
“The peaceful resistance by civil disobedience and the general political strike is the fastest and most effective way to topple the military council … and to hand over power to a transitional civilian authority,” the Sudanese Professionals Association, a leading opposition group, said.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Cameroon Chaos

Prospects for talks between authorities and separatist movements to end escalating violence in Cameroon's English-speaking region are slim, a senior human rights official said on Friday.

"There is no desire for dialogue...The abuses are coming from both sides and the civilians are finding themselves in the middle," Ilaria Allegrozzi, Senior Central Africa Researcher at Human Rights Watch, told reporters in Paris. "The position of the government is an almost complete denial ... and there is total impunity for the violence." Allegrozzi said separatists were not in denial of the scale of the crisis, but of human rights abuses by their fighters. She cited an International Crisis Group report putting the number of separatists fighters at about 2,000-4,000 fighters and there was evidence that they were acquiring more sophisticated weaponry. Allegrozzi said the Anglophone population was increasingly in tune with idea of independence. "There is a growing feeling of support towards the separatists and secession."
The United Nations estimates that, since 2017, about 1,800 people have been killed and more than 530,000 displaced with 1.3 million in need. The crisis has tended to slip beneath the international radar given President Paul Biya's close cooperation with Western states in the fight against Islamist militant group Boko Haram in West and central Africa.

Togo and child slavery

Child labour is still widely accepted in Togo and the government is not doing enough to stop it, said the U.N. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery in an interview on Friday. In a practice known as "confiage", parents send their children to live with relatives who promise to send them to school in exchange for helping with housework, she said. But this is rarely what happens. "It really results in extreme exploitation.
Many children in the West African country are forced into domestic servitude or hard labour at a young age, driven by poverty and cultural tradition, said Urmila Bhoola following a visit to Togo to assess the situation. "There is a complete lack of data, but it seems this practice mainly affects girls and some are sent abroad," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "It is very much entrenched in cultural practices and tradition." School is free in Togo but remains out of reach for families who cannot afford books and uniforms, said Bhoola.
The worst forms of child labour include slavery, trafficking, sexual exploitation and more, as defined by the International Labour Organization. The Modern Slavery Index published by the Walk Free Foundation, estimates that 50,000 people are slaves in the country of 7.4 million.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Madagascar's Misery

Recurring drought in Madagascar's south has left more than 360,000 people on the brink of famine, a top United Nations official warned on Thursday, urging donors to do more to help people prepare for climate shocks.

Ursula Mueller, U.N. deputy humanitarian chief, said the impoverished Indian Ocean island was witnessing more frequent and severe weather events, such as droughts and cyclones, which were pushing already extremely vulnerable people to the edge.
"There is a need for immediate humanitarian assistance to save the lives of 366,000 people that are in emergency levels of food insecurity - which is one step away from famine," she said following a three-day visit to Madagascar. "We need to build their resilience so that they can withstand the next shocks of drought, flood, cyclones and epidemics, and improve their lives," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview. Mueller said the south of the island - known as the Grand Sud - was severely underdeveloped and people were facing and high levels of malnutrition. "During my three days in Madagascar, I saw the impact of climate change - with the poorest and most vulnerable people bearing the brunt of a phenomenon that they had no hand in creating," said Mueller. "With every new shock, people's resilience is eroded. The country has severe needs - yet all too often the world has focused elsewhere."

Madagascar is one of Africa's poorest countries. A lack of basic services - from health and education to employment opportunities - as well as poverty and climate change have exposed many of its 26 million people to natural disasters.

About nine in 10 people live on less than $2 a day, more than 50% of children under five are chronically malnourished, and access to clean water is the fourth lowest in the continent, according to U.N. data.
In the last two decades, the country has been struck by 35 cyclones, eight floods and five periods of severe drought - a three-fold rise over the previous 20 years.

A drought caused by two years of erratic rainfall between 2015 and 2017, aggravated by the El Nino phenomenon, has left about 1.3 million people short of food.

Western nations provided about 60% of the funds needed for emergency food aid last year, but an appeal by the U.N. and the Malagasy government for $190 million to help them bounce back from the crisis was only 1.5% funded, she said.

Funding could support school feeding programs, boost health care and provide alternative incomes when disasters strike.
"It's very important that the international community steps up for recovery and resilience building projects. It's a good investment to invest in preventing major events linked to climate change," Mueller said.