Sunday, 1 December 2013

1 DECEMBER 2013: WORLD AIDS DAY


1 December 2013
WORLD AIDS DAY: SOUTH AFRICAN EDUCATION CHARITY TACKLING HIV WINS UK AWARD
On World AIDS Day, the Stars Foundation is delighted to announce IkamvaYouth as 2013 Impact Award Winner for Education in Africa-Middle East. The remaining Impact Award Winners will be announced in the first week of December. 

More people are affected by HIV/AIDs in South Africa than any other country in the world. UN figures reveal almost 6 million people are infected in South Africa – with three quarters of all new HIV-infections occurring amongst 15-25 year olds.  
IkamvaYouth has identified a shocking trend in which ‘most children enter the education system HIV-negative; a growing number leave school HIV-positive, and many more become HIV-positive shortly after leaving. Dealing with this problem of HIV is a one of the priorities of IkamvaYouth. HIV directly affects all aspects of individual’s life, including their education.’
IkamvaYouth’s HIV programme tackles HIV and AIDS in poor townships through awareness sessions, testing and counselling – enabling young people to take responsibility for their own health and protection. If HIV-positive, they learn how to manage the disease; if HIV-negative, they learn how to protect themselves from future HIV infection.
Confronting the epidemic prevalence of HIV and AIDS amongst the country’s young people, IkamvaYouth also addresses the challenges of urban poverty and inequality perpetuated by South Africa's education crisis. Started by two young researchers in 2003, IkamvaYouth has evolved into a countrywide network, drawing on local university students, volunteers and IkamvaYouth alumni acting as educators, mentors and role models.
Endorsed by Stellenbosch University, the organisation provides tutoring in academic subjects and life skills to empower disadvantaged youth to escape poverty and create fulfilling futures. “We have been inspired to dream big, to rise above our situations and inspire others,” said one student.
This is particularly significant given that 1.3 million learners start school each year in South Africa but less than half reach matriculation (high school graduation). And yet, regardless of HIV status, IkamvaYouth matriculation results have far-exceeded national averages since 2005.
Last year, volunteers provided the equivalent of more than three million rand in HIV awareness programming, tutoring, career guidance mentoring, computer literacy training and workshop facilitation to over 700 young people. But while remarkable progress has been made, significant challenges remain.
IkamvaYouth now aims to enhance and expand services to more townships across South Africa. Provisional plans include identifying more organisations to replicate the Ikamva model, setting up programmes in rural areas and targeting children of primary school age.


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

'Slaughter of the Innocents'


As more details emerge about the drowning of over 350 African migrants when their ship capsized on 3 October a few miles off the Italian island of Lampedusa, officials at the European Union are under pressure to find ways to prevent such disasters. Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano described it as a 'slaughter of the innocents' and Pope Franciscalled for a 'day of tears' after lamenting that the world 'does not care about the many people fleeing slavery, hunger, fleeing in search of freedom'.

With some 440 people on board the ship, this is one of the worst incidents on a migration route – regularly used by Africans, Arabs and Asians – on which over 6,000 people have perished in the last 20 years. Lampedusa is the new 'Checkpoint Charlie' between Western Europe and the developing world, said Angelino Alfano, Italy's Interior Minister. The people-smugglers, who charge migrants at least US$3,000 each for the trip, are ruthless and expert at evading prosecution. Over 10,000 Eritreans and Somalis have arrived in Italy this year – and more than 7,000 Syrians fleeing from the civil war.

Quite what Europe, which is fast losing its economic and diplomatic role in Africa to Asia, could do is a matter for fierce debate. Many in Africa and beyond blame the 'fortress Europe' strategy for forcing would-be migrants to resort to the remorseless people-smugglers. Neither have many politicians in Europe tried seriously to counter the current wave of xenophobia against migrants and explain their massive economic contribution to the continent.

Italy, which receives many of Africa and Asia's migrants on its shores, says the issue requires action from the European Union. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which has a small office in Libya from where many of the migrants' boats set sail, is also under pressure to do more. There are reports that the captains of other ships fail to stop when they see a ship of migrants in trouble; some are calling for an international law to compel them to help. Tougher action against the criminal organisations that run the people-smuggling operations might also help, as would an information campaign in African and Asian states warning people of the dangers of clandestine migration. But in war zones such as Syria, migrants say the choice is between being shot at home or to risk death while trying to escape.


Sunday, 12 May 2013

Darfur double act

'We were blessed to have the State of Qatar!', declared the head of the Darfur Regional Authority (DRA) on 8 May in London. Not everyone says that, at a time when the Gulf emirate is rising up the international monitoring list for jihadist funding. Along with Tehran, Doha is also Khartoum's main aspiring saviour at this shaky time for the regime.

What El Tijani Seisi Mohamed Ateem was referring to was the Darfur Donors' Conference last month, 'a success', he told his audience at an on-the-record meeting at Chatham House, where Darfur had received 'massive financial support', including 'US$560 million' from Qatar. The word is that the combined other donors – including Britain and the United States – pledged less than that and, as the aid world well knows, pledges are not disbursements. President Omer Hassan Ahmed el Beshir's cash-strapped regime itself pledged most – $2.65 billion. As it is expected to be the main end-user of any aid, Sudanese are sceptical that the people of Darfur will see much of the water-supply, sanitation or health and education provision which El Tijani said they so desperately needed: 'We expect donors to step up their support'. This meeting may not have helped his cause.

No one would have disagreed with most of what this former economist at the United Nations Commission for Africa said. He steered a careful course between on the one hand, describing Darfur's problems (conditions in the displaced people's camps were 'dreadful', which is not how Khartoum usually describes them) and on the other, avoiding mentioning the regime's responsibility for a catastrophe which has now officially lasted a decade (though it is several years more since Africa Confidential began receiving 'urgent appeals' from Fur and Messalit communities about 'genocide' by Khartoum-backed militias.

History has been partly rewritten and indeed still is being. As El Tijani Seisi pursued his careful course, his fellow speaker, the State Minister responsible for Darfur at the Presidency, Amin Hassan Omer, leaned towards Chairman Glenys Kinnock and whispered loudly that he was offering his colleague five minutes of his own speech. 'He wanted to show him who was boss!' observed one South Sudanese afterwards. Tijani took this opportunity to say that one of the 'challenges' for the DRA was that 'We don't have the support of our people'. Khartoum doesn't say that, either.

The sting came when Amin Hassan Omer began by saying he had 'not much to say as we're representing the same government', a fact that Tijani had tried to avoid mentioning. In fact, the man who has demonstrated his position at the core of it all by leading the NCP team on the South Sudan referendum and is also now party Secretary for Thought and Culture had plenty to say, even if much of it did not entirely tally with the title of the gathering at the Royal Institute of International Affairs: 'Sudan's Approach to Darfur: Resolving a Decade of Conflict'.

He immediately launched in on how to 'bring over' the non-signatory groups to the Doha peace process, without of course mentioning that the two Sudan Liberation Movement factions and the mainstream Justice and Equality Movement comprise a majority of the Darfur opposition – and have joined the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF).

Having stressed the importance of negotiation in order to bring peace, he promptly slammed those 'with a strategy of regime change' and refused to negotiate with them. Some detected a contradiction. The SRF, which also includes the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North and others, has signed the New Dawn charter with the main opposition parties, grouped in the National Consensus Forces. This calls for regime change: the only major disagreement between the SRF and the parties is over resorting to armed struggle. They remain allies.

Amin Hassan then attacked the SRF from a different angle: 'No one can claim he is representing the whole Sudan!' This produced a predictable own goal: 'Who gave him the right to speak for the whole Sudan?' asked a questioner from Darfur. Amin's riposte of 'I was elected!' triggered laughter and smiles among the audience.  He then decided to try to win the match and unusually for a pillar of the regime, mentioned the coup which brought it to power in 1989 – overthrowing many of the same civilian politicians who now lead the SRF and NCF. 'Many elections' had taken place since, he declared. More smiles.

The NCP is trying to defeat its critics, at least verbally, by taking on some of their criticisms head on. This may provide a fig-leaf for governments that want to 'engage' but it doesn't work with Sudanese. 'Many say the Sudan government never keeps to the agreements it's signed... Our response is... we followed the [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] to the letter.' It would be hard to find Sudanese or South Sudanese who agree.

Africa Confidential decided to press Amin on his refusal to negotiate with the SRF which, we pointed out, was giving the armed forces a hard time in Darfur and Kordofan. The Minister took refuge in his government's standard 'divide-to-rule' tactic. 'We talk with the components of the so-called SRF separately'. The SPLM-North is of course one such component but Khartoum is still dragging its feet on talks in Addis Ababa, despite (belated) international pressure to get aid to tens of thousands of destitute people in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, known as the 'Two Areas'. Yet Amin went on to say: 'We don’t recognise the SPLM as a counterpart at Addis Ababa. We’re talking to
representatives from the SPLM in the Two Areas'. Dividing but finding it ever harder to rule.

Tijani employed his closing remarks to take a swipe at the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur. Again, though Khartoum does, as one questioner from Waging Peace put it, 'its utmost to hamper Unamid', the NCP doesn't usually accuse the overwhelmingly African force of dereliction of duty: that might lose it valuable votes at the AU. Tijani saw his chance: Unamid does not have a robust policy for addressing the aggression from some of the perpetrators', he complained. 'They abandon their vehicles, their weapons; they flee'.


William Hague and Ali Ahmed Kurti  – FCO

Amin sat grimly silent, indeed, the only time he smiled was when he was warmly greeted afterwards by a former senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office diplomat. This was appropriate – only the day before, his comrade-in-arms Ali Ahmed Kurti (another non-smiley) had sat cautiously smiling in the office of Britain's FCO Minister, William Hague (also smiling in the official photo). The NCP Foreign Minister was a guest at the Somalia Conference, which reminded everyone that his more outgoing colleague, Mustafa Osman Ismail ('Mister Smile') had once declared that Sudan was the 'eyes and ears' of Western intel services in Somalia. As the founding Secretary of the precursor of Al Qaida, the People's Arab and Islamic Conference, Mustafa Osman certainly knows what he's talking about. So does Ali Kurti, founder of the People's Defence Force 'parallel army'. What they tell the West about it remains open to question – as does how Khartoum knows so much about Islamist operations in Somalia.

Monday, 18 March 2013

The West wobbles as Odinga tests election in the courts


The post-mortem on Kenya's 4 March election could prove as important as the vote itself. It is under way after Raila Odinga, presidential candidate for the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord), submitted a detailed petition to the Supreme Court 16 March arguing that the election result giving victory to his opponent to Uhuru Kenyatta lacked credibility and legitimacy.

Those Western countries who had warned about the consequences of voting for Uhuru Kenyatta and running mate William Ruto because of the charges they faced at the International Criminal Court, now maintain a discreet silence. Some are briefing journalists that they find the election results entirely convincing, echoing the cautious assessments released by international observers such as the African Union, the Commonwealth and European Union (which contributed some $100 million to the cost of the election).

By all accounts, Kenyatta and Ruto have won the first bout of arm wrestling over the ICC case. Pressure on the court and its witnesses will increase massively should Kenya's Supreme Court confirm that Kenyatta's election is legitimate.

Odinga's petition to the Supreme Court aims not just to prove that Kenyatta did not surpass the 50% threshold necessary to avoid a second round of voting – the Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission (IEBC) claimed he did that by just 8,400 votes -- but to prove the process was so flawed that an entirely fresh set of elections should be held.

Despite Odinga's penchant for hiring blue chip advisors – he had Margaret Thatcher's political consultants Bell-Pottinger working on election strategy and he has hired William Burck, George Bush's lawyer in the 2000 election, to argue his case in the Nairobi Supreme Court – he has a formidable task ahead. Possession, in the case of Kenya's presidency, is nine-tenths of the law. Judges, no matter how non-partisan, don't like annulling elections, least of all in Kenya's febrile political climate.

From briefings that leaders of Kenyatta's Jubilee coalition gave to the press last week it is unlikely they would be prepared to accept a court ruling that annulled the election results. They have warned of any moves that could disturb the 'fragile peace' in the country. And from the look of their supporters bussed into Nairobi last week, that is no idle threat.

Kenyatta's team is already acting like the new government. “These days you can become an incumbent before you are inaugurated,” a veteran journalist joked last week in Nairobi. Musalia Mudavadi, the third running presidential candidate after Kenyatta and Odinga, has already been offered and apparently accepted a job with the Jubilee team. The team also looks confident of stitching together an alliance of MPs that would give them a small majority in parliament.

So far so consistent, when it comes to the leading political players. Victor celebrates and starts to look presidential; aggrieved party runs to the courts in the name of rescuing democracy. It is the third parties whose behaviour is more curious.

Issack Hassan, chairman of the IEBC and his colleagues, far from acting in the spirit of the reformed constitution which is meant to guarantee the independence of the electoral body, are fighting their corner with a vehemence which has raised new questions about the management and probity of the commission (Africa Confidential Vol 54 No 6). Journalists and Odinga's legal team, complain that questions are parried and sets of data, even basic numbers about turnout and the electoral registration process, are being withheld by the IEBC.

At least four areas of concern emerge from the IEBC's management of the elections:
* the credibility of the voters' register and the failure of the biometric registration systems;
* the breakdown of the electronic vote transmission system which was to have provided a check against vote tampering in the constituencies;
* reports that at several polling stations the numbers of votes cast exceeded the number of registered voters;
* lack of internal consistency in the election results, that is the voting figures for the presidential candidates and rejected ballots didn't add up, as well as improbable discrepancies between the presidential and parliamentary votes.
The other third parties, the spin doctors and lawyers, are equally active in pushing their agendas. Kenyatta and Ruto's advisors speak gaily about the imminent collapse of the ICC case against their clients. Jendayi Frazer, former United States Assistant Secretary of State and family friend of Kenyatta, lambasts her government's stand on the ICC arguing the court has lost legitimacy because of its Africa obsessions. Odinga's team say they had advocated credible local trials for the accused all along.

All this will put added pressure on Kenya's Supreme Court and Chief Justice Willie Mutunga who told Africa Confidential about the trouble his taken to ensure that its judges cannot be accused of political bias.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Kenya's election goes to court

by Patrick Smith in Nairobi

Questions about Kenya's election results four days after voting and the crash of electronic systems meant to provide safeguards against rigging are raising the political temperature. Opinion is divided between those who want the results out as soon as possible to defuse tensions, and those who argue the release of disputed results could cause its own problems. Civic activists are seeking a court injunction on 8 March to stop the vote which they say has been compromised by the malfunction of the electronic vote reporting systems

The constitutional requirement is that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission announce the final results of the presidential election within seven days of voting on 4 March.

On the afternoon of 7 March, Issack Hassan, the beleaguered chairman of the IEBC, said he would easily meet this and announce the final results on 8 March. Those who framed the rule that results be announced within seven days of voting have logic on their side. Lengthy delays and and micro-debates about the legitimacy of results keep the voting public waiting and can worsen tensions.

Equally, natural justice dictates that IEBC officials thoroughly scrutinise and verify all election results prior to announcement. That means reconciling all data from the country's 33,000 polling stations with the results announced by the returning officers from Kenya's 290 parliamentary constituencies.

This reconciliation is significant because it is the main check that political activists on the ground have to verify what they say and agreed to in the polling stations against the results being announced by IEBC central at the Bomas Centre, just outside Nairobi.

Making the right call between the demands of the constitution and those of an election seen to be credible by the maximum number of people is a matter of the utmost seriousness. At stake is the credibility of the 4 March elections. And the outcome of the vote could affect the security and future of one of Africa's most culturally and economically dynamic countries.

Such effects would ripple far beyond its borders. If Kenya goes wrong now, it would be a terrible negation of the spirit of “can-do” optimism currently coursing through the Africa's veins.

It is not an easy balance to strike. To fulfil its constitutional mandate, the IEBC must produce definitive and final results as soon as possible: that is the first powerful argument. Should it fail to do so, it would breach the law.

A second argument is that any further delays in announcing the results will inflame tensions and play into the hands of those who – for whatever reasons – want to see to a rerun of the 2007-2008 election crisis.

The other course would be to proceed more slowly and deliberately with the checking of the multiple sources of voting data, before announcing definitive final election results. In practical terms this would mean ensuring that the agreed results sheets – which should have been signed by all the competing parties at each of the 33,000 polling stations -- can be reconciled with the accumulated results announced for all 290 constituencies by the local returning officers.

This meticulous procedure was followed for several constituencies in the vote counting on 6 March at Bomas Centre. But to follow it for all 291 constituencies would risk delaying the announcement of final presidential results beyond the constitutional deadline of 11 March. It seems that the IEBC officials judged that process to be too rowdy, acrimonious and time-consuming and ordered all the party agents to leave the secure counting centre in the evening of 6 March.

However, if a way to run this verification exercise in full view of the rival parties could be found,
it would meet many of the concerns over transparency voiced by Raila Odinga's Coalition for Reforms and Democracy and sundry other political groupings. The post-election manoeuvres have now reached a critical point.

By the end of 7 March, Odinga's organisation seemed to be moving towards a rejectionist position. To questions about whether the coalition would recognise election results that did not allow a full verification process, Odinga's Vice Presidential candidate Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka replied “probably not” as he strode out of his press conference earlier in the day.

A rush to judgement is in no one's interests. In the aftermath of the widespread technical and administrative failures in the 4 March elections, restoring their credibility is surely the main goal. That credibility is in question after the IEBC abandoned the biometric systems to verify the identities of registered voters on election day and subsequently ditched the problematic electronic transmission of results in favour of the old-fashioned manual systems of signed results and tallying sheets, constituency by constituency.

Certainly, it was always the case that the manual systems of results sheets would provide the formal and final election results. But the electronic transmission of the voting data from each of the polling stations and biometric voter registration were meant to provide a useful checks against tampering with the results. The absence of these safeguards require that the rival candidates show a herculean capacity to trust the system. To judge from the main candidates' public utterances this week, their
trust in the IEBC is fast evaporating.

So the best course of action would be for senior representatives from each of the competing parties to agree a way to test thoroughly all the results to be announced with the senior managers of the IEBC. That agreement should then be communicated to all of their respective followers with a warning that they can expect further and legitimate delays in the release of the results.

If the political leaders and the IEBC directors can agree – even at this late stage – on a solution that addresses most of the constructive criticism, trouble can still be averted. Without such attempts to reach consensus on the management of the results, given the administrative and technical malfunctions of the IEBC's reporting systems, the justifiably lauded patience of Kenyans could be stretched to the outer limits