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IRIN - East Africa


The foreign invader costing African farmers $3 billion

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 16:32:49 +0000

My brother is a Zimbabwean farmer who has done pretty well for himself, but is now a worried man.   Last season he lost a significant amount of his maize crop to a single, voracious pest, and he fears for the worst when the new growing season begins in November.   Fall armyworm, or FAW, is new to Africa but has made an immediate impact. The caterpillar, originally from Latin America, was first detected in Nigeria in January 2016. By January 2017 it had reached South Africa – spreading officially to 24 countries within a year on a lightening journey down the continent.   It’s a ravenous feeder, with an appetite for more than 80 plant species – including maize, wheat, rice, sorghum, millet, and cotton. If left untreated, it can cause crop losses of up to 50 percent, munching its way through a hectare within 72 hours.   A foreign invader   My brother, Sipho Mpofu, like virtually all farmers in southwestern Zimbabwe, grows maize, and in the last few years has added drought-tolerant sorghum and millet in response to the country’s drying climate.   He received his land from the government under its land reform programme that subdivided and redistributed fertile commercial farms to landless subsistence producers. He has seen his yields steadily improve and has been able to expand his farm, investing in new buildings and equipment.   Over the years, like other farmers in Mashonaland West Province, Mpofu would get occasional outbreaks of African armyworm, which marched over from East Africa several decades ago.   It’s a cousin to the FAW, almost as rapacious, with a particular fondness for maize. But having been around for many years, farmers now know how to deal with it.   Last year Mpofu encountered FAW for the first time. He assumed it was the usual armyworm (the difference is in the markings) and tackled them with the recommended tried-and-tested pesticides. To his dismay, they didn’t work.   Fortunately, the government was quick to recognise the new threat and recommended alternative pesticides. “That saved many farmers from certain ruin,” said Mpofu.   But he still lost about 20 percent of his maize crop. “There was a significant percentage [of armyworm] which was not affected by the pesticides,” he said, possibly because heavy rains prevented follow-up applications, or the caterpillars had burrowed deep into the plant. Foster Dongozi/IRIN Sipho Mpofu (foreground) inspects his maize Impact on Africa   According to a the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International, Africa stands to lose $3 billion worth of maize this coming year as a result of FAW.   This will be a dramatic setback for small-scale family farmers who grow the bulk of Africa’s maize. With limited access to inputs and services, they also receive low prices for the maize they do sell – and need all the support they can get to combat FAW.   David Phiri, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's coordinator for southern Africa, expressed his deep concern over “the emergence, intensity, and spread of the pest”.   As a moth, they are good flyers – averaging about 100 kilometres a night. They also multiply at a prodigious rate, with a female laying around 2,000 eggs in her 10-day caterpillar lifespan.   Climate change may also be an ally. Drought, followed by lots of rain – as southern Africa experienced last year after an especially strong string of El Niño seasons – seems to give them a boost.   “FAW has come to stay and it must be managed,” said Phiri. But farmers and agricultural extension officers in Africa are still learning how to identify the pest and understand its biology and ecology in order to manage it.   Mpofu has done his own research and is not optimistic. “I am worried by several issues,” he said. “The first one is that it is difficult to eliminate FAW, even using the recommended pesticides.”   Response   The best chance to destroy the caterpillars with regular contact insecticide is when they are y[...]

Why I’m proud to be African today

Fri, 01 Sep 2017 21:34:06 +0000

It’s not easy to get a sitting president to leave office. In some cases, corruption, violence, and institutional inertia have conspired to keep some African presidents in office for decades.   In other cases, the sheer weight of going up against a person who knows the system, has the theoretically unlimited resources of the state at their disposal, and to whom political appointees owe their allegiance is often too much for opposition parties.   So, elections are held, but there is rarely a surprise. Hence why today’s annulment of the election victory of President Uhuru Kenyatta by Kenya’s supreme court is such a landmark moment.   Change certainly can happen at the end of a constitutional term in office. But the power of incumbency means that it is rare for a sitting president to be turfed out if he or she is not ready to retire.   But in the last three years some significant shifts seem to be occurring. A quick survey of the status of incumbency across the continent suggests a growing political maturity – not in African voters, who have always turned out in big numbers to make their voices heard – but in African politicians who are increasingly willing to accept defeat.   In a world where generalisations and trends about Africa tend to be negative, this resurgence of democratic spirit is an important one to note.   Steps forward   It began in Nigeria in 2015 when Muhammadu Buhari beat then-president Goodluck Jonathan in a hotly contested poll. Given Nigeria’s chequered political history there was real apprehension over whether Jonathan would concede. But he not only conceded, but congratulated Buhari for his win.   Then John Dramini Mahama became Ghana’s first one-term president. He happily handed over to Nana Akufo-Addo in 2017, that man he defeated in the 2012 vote.   A slightly different set of circumstances led to an unexpected transition in the Gambia. Self-proclaimed ruler-for-life Yahya Jammeh surprisingly accepted electoral defeat after 22 years in office.   Granted Jammeh did try and walk back his concession after the opposition threatened to prosecute him for crimes committed in office, but in the end he fled into exile in Equatorial Guinea.   And then in Somalia, Mohamed Farmaajo took over from Hassan Sheikh Mahmood in February this year in a peaceful transition that defied the logic of the country’s ongoing civil war.   Status quo   Of course, it’s not all been smooth sailing. In Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza’s tampering with the constitution to stay in office has thrown that country into chaos. In Gabon, Omar Ali Bongo needed one of those last-minute 99 percent turnouts in his home constituencies in order to secure his stay in power.   Elections in Chad and in Guinea led to violent boycotts that did nothing to shift the status quo, while in Angola, although Jose dos Santos is nominally stepping aside, his hand-picked successor is about to slip into his shoes.   And while the victories of perennial presidents Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) and Paul Kagame (Rwanda) were never in doubt, there was still a measure of disappointment that neither made any serious effort to at least sustain the illusion of democracy.   In Uganda, perpetual oppositionist Kizza Bessigye has been repeatedly detained and harassed, while Diane Rwigara, one of Kagame’s challengers, has lately gone missing.   Asante Kenya!   That’s what makes the news from Kenya so astonishing, and the court’s judges such unlikely heroes.   The commission that runs the elections had declared incumbent Kenyatta the winner of the 8 August election – despite loud protest by the opposition party, NASA. The opposition insisted that though the vote had been free and fair, the tallying of the results had been fiddled with.   So certain was NASA that it would not get a fair court hearing that it initially refused to lodge a petition and present its evidence of electoral fraud.   The decision by the supreme court, by a 4-2 majority, that there were enough irregularities in the conduct of the b[...]

Same old problems for Kenya’s newest refugee settlement

Tue, 29 Aug 2017 16:35:18 +0000

Kalobeyei was supposed to be different. Refugees here would be self-reliant. They would be integrated with the local community in a mutually beneficial arrangement of shared services and bustling markets. And it would all cost a lot less for Western aid donors.   But it hasn’t quite worked as planned.   Kalobeyei, in Kenya’s remote northwest, was built to decongest nearby Kakuma camp and attract the more entrepreneurially-minded refugees who could take advantage of the tiny plots of land on offer and trade with the local community.   The World Food Programme provides a $14 monthly cash allowance to each refugee*, which it says is enough to cover 80 percent of minimum needs. The 40,000 refugees are expected to supplement that stipend.   The problem is that Kalobeyei was established just as South Sudan’s civil war intensified. With Kakuma full, people have been arriving in Kalobeyei with little more than the clothes on their backs – and without the resources to make a go of it.   Jean-Marie Shamalima, who fled Burundi’s brutal civil war last year, is the kind of refugee Kalobeyei was designed to accommodate.   Beside his shack, constructed out of tarpaulin and corrugated iron, are rows of okra, beans, and spinach growing in a small sunken bed. It’s an incongruous sight in the middle of the arid Turkana region.   He arrived when the settlement opened, and his seeds were among the few possessions he brought with him.   Integration   Kalobeyei, built by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, in conjunction with the local Turkana county government is an “integrated settlement”. That means it aims to provide economic benefits and services to host and refugee communities alike, including schools, hospitals, and marketplaces where Shamalima can sell his produce.   "It was difficult when we first arrived. There wasn't a lot of water available. But now things are improving and I'm growing lots of different vegetables," Shamalima said, gesturing proudly to his five-by-six-metre plot.   “I sell my spinach and okra in the market place,” he explained. “It provides me with an extra income so that I can buy clothes and seeds to grow more crops to sell.”   But even he struggles to make ends meet.   For other refugees it’s harder still. A 20-kilo bag of just maize flour, the staple carbohydrate – enough to last a family of five for a month – costs around $9 and one litre of oil is $2.50. Then there's all the other ingredients that go into a meal, plus the charcoal to cook the food, and the WFP allowance becomes increasingly stretched.   “I buy maize, beans, onions and oil with the money I get and it's barely enough for us to eat," South Sudanese refugee Mary Naduru, a mother of four, told IRIN.   Kalobeyei is a new model for Kenya. It is an acknowledgment that Kakuma, and the larger Dadaab camp in the northeast, are outmoded. They are in effect refugee islands sucking up dwindling donor aid.   Although the new looser settlement model doesn’t go as far as neighbouring Uganda, where refugees have free movement, the right to work, and access social services anywhere in the county, Kalobeyei offers a part-solution in a country where the politics of asylum is highly charged.   "The ultimate aim is to make Kalobeyei a self-serving, self-reliant settlement,” Neville Agoro of the Danish Refugee Council told IRIN. “The idea wasn't to make people rely on humanitarian agencies from the start.”   But there is a large wrinkle. “So long as we keep on bringing people who've just arrived from South Sudan, bringing them to Kalobeyei and trying to [introduce] self-reliance is not possible,” he added.   New arrivals get a patch of ground to grow food on, and that’s it – not even seeds and tools or training.   “They just tell us 'this is your house, this is your garden', and then just leave us to get on with it," said Mary Naduru, who fled South Sudan two months ago. Charlie Ensor/IRIN "I would like to [...]

Briefing: Inside Kenya’s troubled elections

Thu, 17 Aug 2017 18:31:26 +0000

More than a week after Kenya’s general elections, the opposition continues to dispute the results, but rather than calling for further protest action on the streets, it’s taking its challenge to the Supreme Court.   This briefing explores the key issues thrown up by the poll – in a country that is the region’s economic powerhouse but also one where electoral turmoil a decade ago spawned ethnic violence that left more than 1,200 people dead.   The poll pitted Uhuru Kenyatta – one of the country’s wealthiest men, vying for a second term in office – against veteran opposition leader, Raila Odinga. At aged 72, it is perhaps Odinga’s last stab at the presidency.   Kenya’s elections have historically been plagued by fraud and voter intimidation. Odinga and (many independent analysts) believe he was rigged out of the 2007 election, and possibly cheated again in 2013.   Four years ago the electronic voting system had suspiciously failed. This time Odinga’s opposition National Super Alliance, NASA, had pushed hard for reforms in the electoral authority, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. The IEBC’s promised safeguards were in place for a free and fair poll.   But after one of the world’s most expensive elections – an eye-watering $499 million – Odinga has again cried foul, and labelled the newly elected government as “computer-generated”.   Why did the opposition protest?   The murder and torture of Chris Msando, IEBC’s IT chief a week before the elections sent NASA concerns into overdrive. His killers have not been found.   The assumption was that as the custodian of IEBC’s computer system, he had been forced to reveal the passwords to the servers.   Most opinion polls had predicted a tight race. So as the initial electronic results came in putting Kenyatta and his Jubilee Party well in the lead, NASA claimed the fix was in. They alleged that an algorithm had been planted in IEBC’s servers to undercount Odinga’s votes.   The IEBC moved fast to quash those claims. It acknowledged there had been an attempt to hack into the system, but that it had failed.   “On the question about passwords: no passwords were given to anyone within the Commission until on the eve of the election as part of assuring the integrity of the system,” the head of the electoral commission, Ezra Chiloba, said.   What undermined NASA’s argument was that it kept shifting the goal posts over the election malpractice it was exactly alleging. By its own tabulation Odinga had won handsomely, but it also unaccountably changed the numbers it claimed were his real votes.   Jubilee fought the election on its economic record, despite accusations that it had bungled the response to a savage drought, and allegations – and anger – over widespread corruption.   But it also campaigned hard and intelligently in key swing regions. NASA’s organisation by contrast was underfunded and shambolic, with reports of even polling agents – its key representatives inside the voting centres – having not been paid.   According to the Elections Observation Group, an independent monitoring body, NASA had agents in only 84 percent of polling centres. ELOG’s parallel tallying in roughly four percent of polling stations matched IBEC’s official results.   What should have settled the question quickly were the individual result forms from all the 40,000 polling stations, the so-called 34As, verified by the party agents. IEBC did not wait for all of them to come in and be validated before announcing Kenyatta and Jubilee’s victory.   The 34As should have been transmitted electronically to the national tallying centre. But even allowing for connectivity problems, the IEBC’s failure to account for all the forms and publicly post them on its website, days after the polls had closed, was an embarrassment.   "The absence of forms 34A, and the lack of clarity from the IEBC on this issue has bred mistrust and been very u[...]

“Recovery lending” helps disaster-stricken African farmers get back on track

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 17:04:23 +0000

Accessing credit has long been a major hurdle for small-scale farmers in Africa, who produce some 70 percent of the continent’s food. Not only does this mean yields fall far below their full potential, but the ability of farmers to manage the increasingly frequent and severe weather shocks brought about by climate change is also greatly reduced. However, help could be at hand. A new method of aid microfinancing, known as recovery lending, aims to give such farmers a much-needed short-term boost, especially in times of crisis. Vision Fund International (VFI) is a project of the international NGO World Vision. It sourced a £2 million returnable grant from the UK’s Department for International Development to be loaned to 14,000 families in Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia after disasters so they can rebuild their lives and start generating income again. Farmers need loans at the beginning of agricultural seasons to buy seeds, fertilisers, and other vital inputs. But as smallholders often lack title deeds or other forms of collateral, traditional banks don’t view them as viable debtors, while the rules imposed by other kinds of lenders – the return of the principal sum in full, for example – don’t always suit the seasonal economics of farming. Charity Mati, VFI Kenya’s business development and integration manager, explained that the lender tries to tailor its repayment terms to borrowers’ needs, unlike other microfinance institutions that charge interest every month, leaving the entirety of the loaned sum due on maturity. “Most of our clients are farmers,” Mati told IRIN. “While recovering from the El Niño rains, they were met with a second shock: the drought. We sat down with them and developed workable repayment plans, listened to their voices, and arrived at a solution,” she told IRIN. A case study In 2015, Alice Muthee, a smallholder farmer in Motonyi, a village nestled in Kenya’s Narok County, took out a $200 loan from a microfinance organisation and leased an acre of land with the aim of turning a good profit from growing tomatoes. “With five mouths to feed, in addition to the pressure of educating my children, life had seemed overwhelming,” recalled Muthee. “I had had to sell livestock to meet the rising demand for finances in my family.” Muthee believed her tomatoes would bear fruit and she would be able to repay the loan within three months. But tomatoes are a notoriously fickle crop and certainly no match for the El Niño rains that wreaked havoc in late 2015, not only in parts of Kenya, but also in Somalia, Uganda, and Ethiopia. “From the cost of leasing the land, labour, purchase of seedlings, and fertiliser, I ran a deficit,” Muthee told IRIN. “My several attempts to have extra money for buying pesticides failed. When the 2015 rains persisted, I watched helplessly as my tomatoes disappeared.” Facing the daunting prospect of having to sell more livestock in order to repay her loan – the terms of which required full settlement of the principal sum in a single payment at the end of the agreed period – Muthee heard about a new kind of finance geared specifically for small-holder farmers, small businesses, and communities recovering from disaster shocks. ‘Hand up’, not ‘hand out’ Recovery lending, described as a “hand up” rather than “hand out” approach, was pioneered by VFI in the aftermath of 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, with the disbursement of almost 5,000 loans with an average value of $430 designed to help people restart their lost small businesses. According to Philip Ochola, CEO of Vision Fund Kenya, in the wake of major disasters, many microfinance institutions grow reluctant to continue extending loans because potential customers lack collateral and are seen has having little ability to make repayments. Robert Kibet/IRIN “Credit is required most during post-disaster to help rebuild comm[...]

Fighting violent extremism – humanitarians beware

Thu, 03 Aug 2017 14:31:19 +0000

Communities in some of the most dangerous corners of the world will be left without lifesaving aid because of countering violent extremism agendas. Millions of people living in countries facing famine may be hardest hit.   “Countering violent extremism” is a popular concept doing the rounds in today’s humanitarian circles. It is a strategy that states are increasingly using to combat terrorism. Approaches include domestic surveillance, policing, counter-extremist messaging, and education. In more repressive countries, extreme methods include mass arrests, detention without trial, torture, disappearances, and executions. These actions target people who are considered at risk of joining extremist groups.   Sound familiar? That is because they have much in common with counter-insurgency and anti-communist strategies dating back to the Cold War. Let’s not forget that winning hearts and minds has a poor track record. The US strategy to defeat the Taliban insurgency by providing development aid in Afghanistan is a classic example.   But governments are keen to embrace the countering violence extremism concept to convince voters they are working to keep terrorists at bay. Some aid organisations are also stepping in line, especially when donors are allocating their money. But this is a dangerous road to take, and many humanitarians are reluctant to follow suit.   Aid organisations are often seen as well placed to implement strategies of countering violent extremism as many of our organisations work in some of the harshest corners of the globe where radicalised young people live. For example, extremist groups are active in three of the four countries currently on the brink of a famine – Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen.   Some states see aid as a means of killing two birds with one stone; injecting money into relief programmes in areas where radical extremists are likely located, in an effort to deter them from picking up arms.   Sound too good to be true? It is, and here are four reasons why:   First, the cornerstone of humanitarian action is delivering aid based on needs alone – giving to the most vulnerable communities whose lives often depend on it. Does this mean families in radicalised areas of Iraq deserve food more than families on the brink of famine in South Sudan, or those displaced by political violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where radicalisation is not considered a threat?   The head of the World Food Programme, David Beasley, recently remarked that his organisation “is the first line of offence and defence against extremism and terrorism.” But to what cost? The lives of millions of families on the brink of famine depend on Beasley’s food aid.   We must not view human suffering through this lens.   Second, humanitarian principles by which aid workers operate keep us impartial and independent. The countering violent extremism agenda asks us to abandon our humanitarian constitution in favour of a political agenda.   Consider young men who have fled conflict. They are seen as particularly vulnerable to violent extremism. Does this mean they should get special treatment in refugee camps over the needs of young women or even children? In conflict situations, women and children are statistically more vulnerable – women to rape and abuse, children to malnutrition. Funding often goes to ensure the particular needs of these vulnerable groups are addressed and that they are protected.   Third, aid workers abide by the concept of neutrality. Not taking sides in a conflict enables us to deliver aid to communities on all sides based on their vulnerability, not political criteria.   Negotiating access in many parts of the world is a carefully planned and managed process, whereby trust is built between the aid organisation and the groups controlling an area with acute humanitarian needs. Successful access negotiation is often premised on humanitari[...]

The dangerous fiction of Darfur’s peace

Wed, 02 Aug 2017 09:23:33 +0000

In May of this year, Darfuri rebels based in Libya barrelled across the border in some 160 vehicles, breaking through Sudanese defence lines and giving the lie to the widely touted notion that conflict in Sudan’s vast western region was finally over. The Sudanese Armed Forces and their allied militia, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), managed to exact some losses on the Mini Minawi faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA-MM). But the rebels, after two years spent mostly in Libya and South Sudan reconsolidating their forces, managed to achieve what the RSF had thwarted in 2015: place a significant number of troops back in Darfur. While the attack may have been only of modest strategic significance in Darfur itself, it was a good time for the SLA-MM to leave Libya. There, Darfuri rebels were growing tired of fighting as mercenaries in a foreign country, one where they might easily find themselves taking on their compatriots enlisted by other parties to Libya’s multifaceted conflict. The chaos of Libya had also given the rebels an opportunity to re-arm sufficiently to attempt another incursion. The timing was also propitious because of major political developments further afield. Sudan’s diplomatic situation has been weakened by the row between two of its main allies: Qatar and Saudi Arabia (who are also at odds in Libya). The attack took place shortly ahead of a scheduled US decision on whether to fully lift, after a six months’ easing, its economic sanctions on Sudan, and just as the hybrid UN/African Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) announced a 25 percent reduction of its contingent, amounting to 5,000 personnel. The attack neatly laid bare the fragility of the narrative put forward recently by the US and by elements within the UN – and by Khartoum long before – namely that rebels no longer operate in Darfur and that peace has been restored there. Still, the messages emanating from the UN are mixed. On 10 July, the UN Country Team in Sudan, which includes UN agencies working on development, emergency, recovery, and transition, called for a “positive decision” on sanctions relief, citing a “marked improvement in humanitarian access”. Continuing violence Yet civilians in Darfur still face "violence and criminality", the UN's then head of peacekeeping told the Security Council in January. Hervé Ladsous pointed in particular to the "widespread proliferation of weapons and the inadequacy of law and justice institutions" as well as inter-communal violence over land, water, and other resources. This violence and tension prevents the return home of some 2.1 million internally displaced people, according to an April overview from the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. A growing number of Darfuris consequently are making their way to Europe through risky crossings of the Sahara and the Mediterranean. UNAMID is well aware of this continuing violence and of who is behind it: the RSF, which are no less abusive than the infamous janjawid used to be in 2003-2004. Two years ago, Human Rights Watch accused UNAMID of failing to report the magnitude of RSF's crimes in Darfur. UN Photo/Stuart Price The UN/AU mission in Darfur is set to shrink by a quarter, or 5,000 personnel Given the fiction of improved security, “the only reason” UNAMID is downsizing, according to one UN official, “is that donors have no more appetite for it”. What happens with the 20-year-old US sanctions is less certain. President Barack Obama eased them days before leaving office in January, reviving a long-running debate over Sudan policy between fans of carrots and those of sticks. It’s worth noting that both camps have co-existed within various US administrations: the publicly bipartisan nature of Sudanese issues has long hidden significant divisions, especially under Obama. Thes[...]

The war in Equatoria

Wed, 12 Jul 2017 07:15:02 +0000

When South Sudan’s civil war broke out in 2013, much of Equatoria – the country’s breadbasket ­– managed to stay out of the conflict. But that respite was short lived. As the government army began purging the region of perceived opponents last year, it triggered the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis, with the United Nations warning of a potential genocide. Reporter Jason Patinkin and videographer Simona Foltyn travelled to rebel-held Equatoria and the refugee camps across the border in northern Uganda to report on the human cost of South Sudan’s brutal civil war. This is what they found. Pastor Cosmas Lodiong crouches over a dark stain on a concrete walkway in Jalimo, a small town in the forested hills of Kajo Keji county in South Sudan's Equatoria region. "Someone was killed here," he says. "He was a civilian. He was a peasant." Two weeks earlier, in mid-April, government soldiers from a garrison to the south stormed Jalimo after clashing with rebels, the pastor says. In total, they killed four people in the town, all civilians, before setting fire to dozens of homes. The "peasant" was named Joseph Duku, according to Lodiong. The other three deceased had been drinking tea down the street when soldiers pulled them from their chairs and shot them in the street. Lodiong was outside the town at the time of the killings and ventured to Jalimo once the gunshots stopped. Duku's relatives buried his body. Lodiong placed the rest in a mass grave on the edge of town. Like most of South Sudan, Kajo Keji is at war. In towns like Jalimo, bullet holes mark the walls of stores, shell casings litter the roadways, and dozens of homes are burned black. Rebels occupy the town, in view of a government garrison across a green valley. Nearly all the civilians have fled to Uganda, with the few who remain plagued by hunger, disease, and fear of the next battle. Although he is Jalimo's pastor, Lodiong himself no longer lives here. He only came to show IRIN the mass grave. If Jalimo is any indication, South Sudan's war, now in its fourth year, shows no signs of stopping. "I pray that God listens to the pastors so peace comes," says Lodiong. Pastor Cosmas Lodiong, Jalimo, South Sudan width="640" height="360" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""> Simona Foltyn/IRIN A rare look inside South Sudan's spreading conflict The war in Equatoria soldiers_on_back_of_truck.jpg Jason Patinkin Simona Foltyn Special Report Aid and Policy Migration Conflict Human Rights KAJO KEJI IRIN Africa East Africa South Sudan Equatoria explodes Kajo Keji has a long history of conflict. A half century ago, when Sudan was still united, southern Anyanya rebels held bases in the county during the country's first civil war, which lasted until 1972. When southerners again rebelled in the 1980s and 90s, Kajo Keji served as a rebel headquarters for the SPLA, the rebel outfit that is now the name of the independent nation's government army. When the Second Sudanese Civil War ended in 2005, Kajo Keji at last enjoyed peace, earning a reputation for its fertile fields and well-educated populace. Even after the latest civil war broke out in 2013 – mostly pitting ethnic Nuer rebels of former vice president Riek Machar against the largely Dinka army under President Salva Kiir – Kajo Keji, like much of Equatoria, managed to remain at peace and stayed out of the conflict, which devasted the country's northeast. Ironically, it was a peace deal between Kiir and Machar that marked the return to large-scale violence in Equatoria, which covers the country's southern third. In August 2015, the two [...]

Displaced Congolese civilians sent back to a widening war

Tue, 11 Jul 2017 14:03:01 +0000

Squatting outside a tiny hut of sticks and dried grass in Kaseke, where she and her five children have been living for nearly 10 months, Feza Mwange recounted how her family narrowly avoided death in a conflict the authorities insist, against all the evidence, has been brought to an end. “We fled as the pygmies* arrived at our village to kill us,” Mwange told IRIN. “Our chief was killed the day after we left.” Similar stories were easy to find at Kaseke and the other displacement camps located around the town of Kalemie, the capital of Tanganyika Province in southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. At nearby Kalunga, home to nearly 25,000 internally displaced people, Bulanda Sulemani Cyprien recalled how he escaped one night last November from Kitunda, his village 55 kilometres to the north. “A group of pygmies came suddenly under the cover of darkness to attack us and burn the houses. There was nothing else for us to do but flee with our families.” Those who stayed behind or reacted too slowly were murdered by militiamen armed with bows and arrows or machetes, he added. Since May 2013, rival militias composed of Luba, a Bantu people, and Twa, a pygmy tribe indigenous to several Great Lakes’ states, have been engaged in a deadly conflict in Tanganyika. Bands of armed men have been invading each other’s villages – typically equipped with only traditional weapons – in wave upon wave of reprisal attacks. Widening war From late 2014, troops from MONUSCO, the UN mission in Congo, supported by the Congolese armed forces, have tried to pacify the province. In September 2015, the UN and the provincial authorities launched local councils known as baraza to address the causes of the violence, and it seemed for a time they might put an end to the clashes. However, the Congolese military’s bid last July to arrest a Twa warlord triggered fresh bouts of fighting that spread from the territory of Nyunzu to affect five of the province’s six territories, while thousands of IDPs have fled to the sixth, Kongolo. A peace forum in Kalemie in February, as well as continuing military activity by MONUSCO and the Congolese army, has succeeded in checking the violence in parts of the province, but attacks continue in others. In recent months, a new front has opened up in the north of Tanganyika, where Twa militias have targeted the livestock-rearing Banyamulenge (Tutsi) community by slaughtering its cows.  The conflict, now in its fifth year, has caused a devastating humanitarian crisis in Tanganyika, the most visible symptom of which is hundreds of thousands of IDPs. In late March, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, revealed that 3.7 million people are displaced in Congo, the most in any African country. The majority are in either the Kasai region, where the government has been fighting a militia known as Kamwina Nsapu for almost a year, or the Kivus, where dozens of armed groups have wreaked havoc for two decades. But Tanganyika this year has “recorded the strongest growth of IDPs, from 370,000 in December 2016 to 543,000 at the end of March 2017,” according to OCHA. About 240,000 are currently living in camps and host communities in Kalemie territory. “Tanganyika has become a humanitarian hotspot, but our current response capacities are being outstripped by the massive levels of critical needs,” Mamadou Diallo, MONUSCO’s coordinator of humanitarian affairs, has said. Between July 2016 and January 2017, only 27 percent of the province’s IDPs received help from UN agencies and NGOs, according to OCHA. Uncountable fatalities Nobody knows how many people have died as a result of the conflict, either directly or indirectly. “It’s really difficult to know the number of people who have been killed because neither the government nor anyone else can access all the places,” s[...]

The rocky road to Kenya's elections

Mon, 10 Jul 2017 16:52:55 +0000

In a remarkable, if coincidental, series of events across Kenya last weekend, nine people were beheaded by suspected al-Shabab militants, the internal security minister suddenly died, the main opposition leader was hospitalised with food poisoning, and the president appeared to accuse the judiciary of trying to delay general elections scheduled to take place in less than a month. The events underscore the immense challenges Kenya faces in combatting extremism and maintaining national security, as well in ensuring the elections – in which voters will choose a president, his deputy, members of parliament and of local government bodies – will be free, fair, credible, and peaceful. Read: Kenya reconciliation faces major election test On Friday night, nine people were beheaded in Jima village in the coastal county of Lamu, in the latest of a slew of attacks allegedly carried out by al-Shabab. In response, the government evacuated local residents and imposed a 90-day curfew in parts of the county, as well as in the two neighbouring counties of Garissa and Tana River. Four officers had already been killed by al-Shabab on Wednesday two kilometres away, at the Pandaguo police post. The previous week, on 27 June, in Lamu East constituency, eight people – four police officers, and four students – were killed when a police vehicle ran over an explosive device suspected to have been planted by al-Shabab. Death of a minister The curfew was imposed by the new interim secretary [minister] for the internal security and coordination, Fred Matiang’i, on his first full day on the job. On Saturday morning, his predecessor, Joseph Nkaissery, was pronounced dead after collapsing at his home and being taken to hospital. An investigation into his death has been opened. Leaders from all parties mourned the loss. Nkaissery, the most senior security official in government, was a highly divisive and powerful figure in Kenyan politics. He had served as a general in the armed forces in the 1970s, before joining politics, and led Kenya’s counter-terrorism efforts as minister. He was in charge of the response to the Garissa University attack in which 148 students were killed in April 2015 and admitted that vital intelligence was ignored and that various security forces failed to coordinate effectively. Nkaissery also stood accused of failing to properly respond to allegations of serious misconduct and human rights violations by police forces during counter-terrorism operations. He threated to arrest journalists who reported the alleged extra-judicial killing of a female terrorism suspect in December 2015. The late minister was also a major force in government efforts to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees living in Kenya’s Dadaab camps, in some cases for decades, despite continuing insecurity in Somalia. His death is a major loss to President Uhuru Kenyatta – who is running for re-election – and creates a vacuum in national security as well as within politics among the Maasai community. He was the most senior Maasai in government, and a leader within the community. The day before his death he had been on the campaign trail with Kenyatta. Kenyatta attacks judiciary Amid intense campaigning by Kenya’s two main political groupings, hostile rhetoric and accusations of unfairness by Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga are intensifying. The latest opinion polls released last week showed Kenyatta maintaining a five-point lead over Odinga. But this gap has narrowed in recent months – not long ago it stood at 30 points. The president and the chief justice traded barbs on Sunday over a recent case relating to ballot papers for the presidential election. Two days earlier, the High Court nullified the tender for printing the papers, which had been awarded by direct procurem[...]