Friday, January 26, 2007

African Development: Kofi Annan's Take

Immediate past UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, recently delivered the inaugural lecture of the Ghana Golden Jubilee Lecture Series. His lecture was titled: "Championing Africa's Renaissance: Peace, Development and Human Rights", and Mr. Annan stressed the necessity of those three factors to development on the continent. He deplored the reliance of many African countries on primary production, believing that it had made them "subjects to the whims of the market without having any say in its functioning". He also empathized with those Africans who believed they had been exploited continually, initially through colonialism and then subsequently by bad governance and an inequitable world order. According to Mr. Annan, the high percentage of the youth in Africa, urbanization and technological change were changing realities that demanded "more inclusive, more accountable and more responsive Governments, and leaders who are in tune with this new Africa and myriad complexities".
It will be interesting to observe Kofi Annan's post-retirement activities in Ghana. It is being whispered around that he is being courted as a presidential candidate, but I sincerely hope that he continues as he has began, utilizing the respect he commands to serve as an impartial voice exhorting good leadership and accountability not just in Ghana but on the whole continent.

Desperate Women and Children Turn To the Forest in Ethiopia

Illegal destruction of the eucalyptus forests is a growing problem among the impoverished females citizens of Ethiopia. Due to extreme poverty women and children are forced to reluctantly turn to the forests in order to make less than $1 at the local market for approximately 65 pounds of wood. This article focused on a young girl named Maselech Mercho who has been gathering wood in the forests since she was six years old. Maselech, now 10, uses the money she earns from selling wood for food and to pay her school fees. The repercussions of being caught by the forest guards are terrifying. Usually those who are caught are beaten, however, rape also serves as a consequence. An approximate 15,000 women and girls earn about $240 per capita annually, which is double the average per capita income, collecting wood from this Entoto forest. The Former Women Fuel Wood Carriers Association (WFC) has been trying to provide jobs and opportunities by teaching these females other skills. The World Bank has finally stepped in and given Ethiopia $2 million in aid. The World Bank is hoping to hit two birds with one stone so to speak: “uplifting the lives of poor women and protecting the environment.”
While the World Bank and the Ethiopian government are trying to discourage illegal wood gathering, their approach is one of realism. They understand that they cannot completely put a halt to illegal wood gathering because of the large number of women who participate and who do so simply because they have no other options. Along with better access to forests where wood collection is permitted, the members of the World Bank helping with the implementation of their program are going to be looking for alternative methods of transportation. This solution is in order for the women to get the wood to better markets where they will be paid better prices. This approach to the problem is promising in that it acknowledges the current flaws and is trying to correct it and make it legal by slight changes rather than completely eliminating any possibilities of improvement for a different solution. These women do not choose to break the law and destroy the environment but are left with no alternatives. Hopefully, this new approach will be successful and accomplish both aspirations of the World Bank pushing Ethiopia to make some progress in the right direction and put an end to deforestation in the country.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Ugandan Rebel Leader breaks silence

Since we were discussing Uganda today and the lack of news coverage today, I decided to do a little digging. On BBC, I found incredible amounts of information about the conflict, child soldiers and the one I linked here about Joseph Kony's interview. In the interview he discusses how the peace talks will be good for the country, saying, "If Museveni can agree to talks with me it is only a very good thing, which I know will bring peace to the people of Uganda." However, he does insist that the allegations concerning abduction of children to fill in his ranks of the LRA and killing civilians are completely false. He says "I do not kill the civilian of Uganda. I kill the soldier of Museveni." If they are so false, why does the ICC want him for 33 counts of crimes against humanity? Why is he hiding out in a DRC army camp? This is his first interview with the press since the conflict started.

Another interesting thing: if people are interested in reading an account of a child soldier in Sierra Leone, there was a very interesting article called "I was a child soldier" in the New York Times Magazine on 01.16.07.

Cote D'Ivoire Soccer Star To Acheive UN Millennium Development Goals

Soccer star of the UK soccer Premiership League and European Champions League Didier Drogba is from Cote D'Ivoire. He has recently been appointed by the UN as a Goodwill Ambassador to try and fight poverty, one of the eight Millennium Development Goals, especially focusing on Africa. Other such world known soccer stars previously appointed by the UN are Zinedine Zidane (originally Algerian) and Ronaldo (Brazilian). Drogba commented on how lucky he felt to have found a way to succeed and how even when he had overcome his humble origins, he never forgot them and wished to help those in need.
Drogba has worked several times in the past with development and poverty eradication programs, charities and organizations; and led his homeland, Cote D'Ivoire, to its first ever World Cup final in 2006. Both he and the UNDP are hoping that his fame and involvement will help spread the word and increase funding in the long run.
Other UN organizations have also appointed national or international sports stars to help different causes be publicized and hopefully create a network for further funding opportunities.
I think having appointed an African star as a Goodwill Ambassador to help Africa was a good idea since that way Africans can gain hope and the progress that may come from this may be felt closer by Africans. Also it will seem more convincing by the world population as a success story that though many Africans ARE poor, they can prosper and succeed in life, they just need to be given a chance.

Can Peacekeepers aid Somalia?

Problems within Somalia continue to grow even with the recent steps taken to remove Somalia's Islamists from Mogdishu. These problems center around the fact that removing the Islamists is one thing, but keeping them out is something totally different. These Islamists were pushed out of power by the Somalian government with aid from Ethiopian forces, which seemed like an easy task, however do these two African nations have the funds and resorces to keep them out? It seems that Western powers will "foot the bill" but it will be the African peacekeepers that will provide the man power to undergo this endevour. One country that has offered up troops is Uganda led by Yoweri Museveni. He has pledged at least 700 troops to aid the conflict in Somalia. This concerns me. Why would Museveni send troops to aid another country when his own country is riddled with problems? Well.. "The motivation of Uganda is political, partly to keep in America's good books," says de Waal. "Museveni's record on democracy leaves a lot to be desired, and closer to home he's fearful of a resurgence in militant Islam. So the Ugandans want to make sure they are part of some regional coalition with Nigeria and Ethiopia to keep it at bay." In this situation it is obvious that the UN should undergo some type of game plan to aid the crisis within Somalia. It seems that using African peacekeepers, made up of soilders from "Big-Man" countries like Uganda only acts as a front for the real goals of the leaders of these countries. Africa's problems should not be kept at 'arms length' for too much longer, because failure in the aid of these countries will only add to the problems and we could possibly see an Iraq-like situation rise from all of this.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Irony of the African Diamond Charity Campaign

In a recent article from the BBC news, Edward Zwick, the director of the Hollywood film Blood Diamond, was highly critical of the US diamond industry’s newest charity campaign. The US diamond industry will donate $10,000 to an African charity for every movie star who raises his or her hand, wearing a diamond ring, during Hollywood events like the Oscars. This campaign is ironic to many, including Zwick, because illegal diamond profits have been funding wars in Africa for years. This charitable campaign is also suspicious because Zwick’s film illustrates the atrocities of the violence in Africa funded by diamonds. Many in the diamond business have expressed reservations that the film will reduce the demand for diamonds.
Those in the diamond industry will be quick to point out that nearly 99.8% of new diamonds come from conflict free sources compared to 4% in the late 1990s. Personally, I feel as though the diamond charity campaign is a bad idea. Even the smallest percentage of diamonds coming from violent African areas can still create large profits. Furthermore, the money donated to the African charities many not necessarily halt the violence and the promotion of diamonds by Hollywood starts will only increase the demands for diamonds. Thus, with a greater demand for diamonds, there is a greater chance that diamonds will come from the violent areas of Africa and will fund these African wars.

A New Cycle of Violence in Rwanda?

BBC reported on Monday that Rwandan authorities must address the killings of genocide survivors that have occurred in recent years for fear that a new cycle of violence may erupt within the country. The Rwandan genocide, which claimed the lives of an estimated 800,000 Tutsis, as well as moderate Hutus, lasted for a 100-day period in 1994. Since the end of the genocide, numerous witnesses who were to take part in the judicial process have been killed. The Human Rights Watch believes that if swift action is not taken against these events, violence could rear its ugly head again. Officials in Rwanda have given some numbers as to how many genocide survivors have been killed in recent years, 16 in 2005 and 7 in 2006, however, survivor groups within Rwanda estimate around 20 genocide survivor killings a year since the end of the conflict.
The killings of genocide survivors have also caused reprisal killings in Rwanda. The article notes that, "in one case, the killing of a genocide survivor sparked the reprisal killings of eight adults and children." While the HRW argues that reprisal killings have been rare in the past, they add to the potential of an increase in violence if they continue to occur. Additionally the HRW is concerned over the deaths of three individuals who were incarcerated for the murder of a gacaca judge. Although a new constitution was adopted in 2003 which prohibits any political activity or discrimination based on race, ethnicity or religion, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) have continued to promote unity among Rwandans, fear of a new cycle of violence has grabbed international attention.