Twitter Chat Encourages Women to Find Their Roots for Women’s History Month
March 18, 2016 | 0 Comments
National Geographic Traveler of the Year shares her journey of turning pain into purpose
WASHINGTON, DC— For Women’s History Month, NativSol Kitchen Founder and African Ancestry President co-host a Twitter Chat on March 23, 2016 at 7:00pm EST entitled “Women Finding Their Roots: From Pain to Purpose.” The 60-minute live interactive session will give online users an opportunity to gain insight and inspiration in tracing their African lineage by following the hashtag: #comebackhome.
African Ancestry, Inc., the DC-based company that pioneered genetic DNA- ancestry tracing for people of African descent inspires all to make a connection to their identity through genetic ancestry testing and research.
“This Women’s History Month is a time to reconnect to our origin. Genetically, black women hold the key to so much of ancestral information. It is time that she claimed her place as the mother to all living things. We must birth and nurture the future.” said Gina Paige, President & Co-founder of African Ancestry, Inc. “Women are the glue that holds the family and community together.”
In 2014 National Geographic selected NativSol’s founder Tambra Raye Stevenson as one of the “Traveler of the Year” for finding her African roots through food. Since then she had yet to travel to her ancestral land until this year in late April to Nigeria.
“Between the Ebola epidemic, terrorists’ attacks by Boko Haram and presidential elections, I had kept delaying my travel,” says Tambra Raye Stevenson, founder of NativSol Kitchen. “I was reminded even by Nigerians of safety in the north [of Nigeria]. But I had to trust my instinct and decide that it was now or never to complete my journey of coming back home not for me but for my ancestors.”
While in Nigeria this May, Stevenson will launch a new initiative called WANDA: Women Advancing Nutrition, Dietetics and Agriculture to empower women and girls in sustainable agriculture and nutrition. WANDA serves as an extension of NativSol’s work in promoting the African heritage diet with women and girls as the leaders in the movement.
In the Michael Twitty’s “Cooking Gene,” upcoming book, Stevenson shares her story of discovering her roots and passion for African heritage foods. “By tracing my roots back to Africa, I became grounded in my identity and inspired to transform the path of my profession by incorporating my heritage,” says Stevenson. “Ultimately I realized I was search of my purpose. With WANDA we change the narrative of our female ancestors held captive to till foreign land to now leading a women’s movement in agriculture bridging the Diaspora and Africa.” Stevenson has kick started a crowdfunding campaign to support WANDA initiative in Nigeria and people can support at iamwanda.org.
Featured in the Washington Post, NativSol Kitchen provides culturally-centered and faith-based nutrition education programming to both youth and adults. Based in Washington, DC, NATIVSOL is on a mission to reclaim the health and spirit of the African diaspora by creating a movement to restore heritage foods into people’s daily lives. Led by trained culinary nutrition experts, NATIVSOL has the passion and talent to equip the community to cook, shop and eat their way back to health.
Founded in 2003 on years of research, African Ancestry, Inc. is the ancestry tracing company that pioneered African lineage matching in the United States utilizing its proprietary DNA-database of more than 25,000 African DNA lineages to more accurately assess present-day country of origin for people of African descent. Since its inception, African Ancestry’s lineage reveals have impacted the lives of more than 100,000 people in the U.S. from communities at large to global leaders such as Oprah Winfrey, Tom Joyner and the Reverend Jesse Jackson. African Ancestry has been featured across the globe in outlets such as CNN’s Black in America series, 60 Minutes and Essence Magazine; and was the centerpiece to the ground-breaking PBS special “African American Lives 1 & 2” with Skip Gates. African Ancestry is African-American-owned and operated and headquartered in Washington, DC.
Headquartered in Washington, DC, WANDA: Women Advancing Nutrition, Dietetics and Agriculture is leading a pan-African women’s movement from farm to fork. Founded in 2016, WANDA is on a mission to develop the next generation of women and girls as leaders in agriculture, nutrition and dietetics through education, advocacy and innovation as a means to alleviate poverty, build healthy communities and improve self-sufficiency.
join the event here
AAI Conversations on Africa Seeks to Set Direction for the Next U.S. President
March 16, 2016 | 1 Comments
NEW YORK CITY – March 15, 2016 – As the U.S. presidential election gears up for the November election, AAI will host its next Conversations on Africa (COA) forum on April 21 on Capitol Hill, where congressional leaders, U.S. Government officials, policy experts and Members of the African Diplomatic Corps will take stock of the White House’s legacy on engagement with Africa and propose U.S.-Africa policy priorities for the next Administration.
The Conversation, Looking Ahead: Setting American Policy in Africa for the Next U.S. President”, will take place at Capitol Hill’s B338 Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C.
The two-term Obama Administration will come to a close in less than a year. The full-day Conversations on Africa offers a platform for reflections and panel discussions on the White House and the Congress’ strategy and engagement with sub-Saharan Africa.
The Obama Administration laid out overarching pillars for U.S.-Africa policy to: strengthen democratic institutions; spur economic growth, trade, and investment; advance peace and security; and promote opportunity and development.
The White House signature initiatives and high-level events include Power Africa, the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), and the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit with sitting African Heads of State in 2014. President Obama also became the first U.S. president to visit the African Union in Addis Ababa in 2015.
During President Obama’s tenure, U.S. Congress passed a 10-year extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the U.S.-Africa trade law, and the Electrify Africa Act, which aims to expand access to affordable and reliable electricity in sub-Saharan Africa.
“AAI’s Conversations on Africa forum offers an opportune time for us to look back and reflect on Obama Administration’s legacy on U.S.-Africa policy,” said AAI President Amini Kajunju. “It also is a time to identify what more needs to be accomplished before the end of the congressional session, and hear perspectives in moving forward on future Africa engagement from foreign policy advisors to the top presidential candidates.”
Moderated by Witney Schneidman, Senior Nonresident Fellow at The Brookings Institute, the panel“Africa: What Should the Remaining Priorities for the 114th Congress Be?”, with congressional staffers of the House and Senate Subcommittee on Africa, will review the Administration’s key priorities and give an update on progress to date. Staffers will share where Congress stands on proposed U.S.-Africa policy legislative bills.
The panel “Reflections: The Obama Administration’s Approach to Promoting Education in Africa”, moderated by The Honorable Vivian Lowery Derryck, President & CEO of The Bridges Institute, will offer insight into the White House’s focus on education. Confirmed panelists include Julie Hanson Swanson, Deputy Chief, Education Division, Bureau of Africa, USAID and Her Excellency Mathilde Mukantabana, Rwanda
The Honorable Reuben E. Brigety II, George Washington University’s Dean of Elliott School of International Affairs, will deliver a Fireside Chat on “Identifying Best Practices for U.S. Engagement in Africa” during the Policy Luncheon.
Prior to taking the helm of the Elliot School, Ambassador Brigety was the U.S. representative to the African Union and U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. He also previously served as a deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of African Affairs and in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, among other positions.
Carol Pineau, award-winning producer, writer, director and journalist will moderate what is expected to be a spirited panel “Beyond the Obama Administration: What Can We Expect for Africa?” with U.S. presidential candidate representatives. Candidate representatives will offer the presidential candidate’s perspective on U.S.-Africa policy and their vision for U.S. strategy for sub-Saharan Africa.
COA panels are still in formation and will be updated accordingly, leading up to the event.
To RSVP to cover the event, please contact Shanta Bryant Gyan at email, email@example.com or call (202) 412-4603.
Uganda President Fears Trump Win Could Curb Exports: State Media
March 16, 2016 | 0 Comments
By Fred Ojambo*
Uganda’s leader expressed concern that Donald Trump could limit African imports if he’s elected U.S. president, potentially harming the continent’s economies, New Vision reported.
“The U.S. could limit our exports there, especially under Mr. Trump, who I like because he calls a spade a spade,” President Yoweri Museveni, who extended his 30-year rule in a disputed election last month, told newly elected lawmakers, according to the state-run Ugandan newspaper.
The East African nation exported $47 million of goods to the U.S. in 2013, mainly coffee, tea and spices, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative’s website. It was the U.S.’s 140th-largest goods supplier.
Trump remains the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination even after he didn’t get the sweep he wanted in Tuesday’s primaries in five U.S. states. The real estate mogul’s economic plans for the presidency include preventing manufacturers from leaving the U.S., bringing jobs back from offshore locations and placing high tariffs on Chinese imports.
Museveni, 71, who’s ruled Africa’s biggest coffee exporter since January 1986, won 61 percent of ballots in a Feb. 18 vote, according to the Electoral Commission. There was international concern over the polls’ credibility, with European Union monitors describing an atmosphere of intimidation. The U.S. has said it’s concerned over government violations against Ugandan citizens and the media in the aftermath.
U.N. looks to business to cut aid bill for refugees in East Africa
March 9, 2016 | 0 Comments
By Katy Migiro*
NAIROBI, March 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Mesfin Getahun, an Ethiopian living in a remote refugee camp on Kenya’s northern border, earns $10,000 a month from his wholesale and retail business and employs more than 30 people.
After arriving in the camp 15 years ago, he worked as a restaurant cleaner, slowly saving money for his own business, which sells food and household goods.
“Being a refugee is not a reason for being unsuccessful in business and life,” he told the United Nations, which profiled him as one of several successful entrepreneurs in the huge camp of Kakuma, home to some 180,000 refugees from the region.
“All it takes is dedication and the will to work hard to achieve one’s dream.”
Mesfin is part of what aid workers hope will become a new breed of refugees who can provide for themselves, boost local economies and relieve the pressure on an aid system buckling under the unprecedented number of global emergencies.
The United Nations is appealing for $20 billion in humanitarian aid in 2016, five times the amount it sought a decade ago, for crises stretching from Syria to a dozen African nations hit by drought.
“It’s not the case that finance and humanitarian resources to respond don’t exist,” said Pete Manfield, regional representative for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“It’s that we are not adequately working with others, particularly at the local level, to find where capacities exist that are not being used.”
Manfield was speaking at the launch on Tuesday of an online platform linking the private sector in East Africa with aid agencies and local government to improve the response to emergencies.
Aid groups hope greater private sector involvement will cut costs and improve access to conflict zones like Somalia.
“If Coke has access to deliver Coke and we can’t get vaccines in, surely there’s a discussion (to be had),” said Manfield.
The United Nations is piloting the new model for private sector-refugee cooperation in Kalobeyei, a 15 square kilometre (5.8 square mile) extension planned for Kakuma, which has become congested since civil war broke out in South Sudan in 2013.
Permission to extend Kakuma came with conditions attached, said Raouf Mazou, country representative for the United Nations refugee agency.
“The challenge that was given to us by the governor of Turkana was to say: ‘Don’t do another refugee camp… Do something which will serve both the host population and the refugee population’,” Mazou said.
The United Nations has replaced some of the food aid ration with cash so that local businesses can sell their products to the refugees.
It hopes Kalobeyei will become an urban settlement, not a camp, where both refugees and locals can live, do business and get services like electricity, Mazou said.
Solar lighting company D.light, which sells lights for as little as $5, has joined the East Africa platform.
“There’s an opportunity to really create a sustainable market for renewable energy in these places,” said Kate Montgomery, the company’s director of global partnerships, adding that $2.1 billion a year is spent on fuel for displaced people around the world.
Companies like Unilever and Safaricom, Kenya’s leading mobile phone service provider, are already making a good profit in Kenya’s camps.
The Kakuma branch of Equity Bank, the Kenyan bank which has the largest number of depositors in East Africa, has 50,000 customers, both refugees and locals.
RIGHT TO WORK
The East African initiative reflects the global challenge of providing for refugees at a time when a record 60 million people have fled their homes because of violence, oppression or drought.
Kenya hosts the second largest number of refugees on the African continent, some having arrived as long as 25 years ago. Legally, all refugees must live in camps and they cannot work.
With limited funding for protracted displacements, the United Nations has repeatedly cut food rations for refugees in Kenya.
There have been tensions between poor locals living around the camps, who often suffer drought and hunger, and the refugees who receive free food, healthcare and education.
“The majority of refugees if given an opportunity… could fend for themselves,” said Mazou. “The support we provide to refugees has to be limited and has to lead to self-reliance.”
Refugees who set up businesses are usually better at rebuilding their lives when they return home than those who have depended on aid for 20 years, he said.
The Kenyan government remains cautious, fearing the initiative could encourage refugees to settle permanently in Kenya, competing with locals for jobs and government services.
“When you create permanence, the whole mentality and psychology of being in a place is entrenched,” Tom Amolo, Political and Diplomatic Secretary in the Foreign Affairs Ministry, said at the launch.
“We will work with you… but it will also not detract or remove the primary responsibility of international organisations to do their part.”
Uganda and Niger: How far can the US push allies on election irregularities?
February 26, 2016 | 0 Comments
America’s response to both elections last week shows a balancing act over its commitment to democracy and fighting Islamist extremism in Africa.
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — For many Ugandans, the aftermath of President Yoweri Museveni’s disputed election win last week followed a wearily familiar script – with the exception of one offstage actor.
After police put the two leading opposition candidates under house arrest and violently put down demonstrations – echoing similarly contested elections in 2006 and 2011– the United States broke with tradition by quickly and forcefully decrying the government’s conduct.
The US, Uganda’s largest foreign donor, called the elections “deeply inconsistent with international standards and expectations for any democratic process.” Secretary of State John Kerry also personally called Mr. Museveni to voice his concerns.
For many in this East African nation, this seems a watershed moment that could force an increasingly dictatorial leader in power since 1986 to change his tune. The US’s condemnation was far stronger than when it meekly decried election “irregularities” in 2006 and 2011 amid widespread complaints of vote rigging and intimidation, and expressed disappointmentthat voting “did not occur on a more level playing field.”
“I think this [election] will really affect Uganda’s diplomatic relations with most EU member states and the US,” says Daniel Ruhweza, a Kampala-based political analyst and lawyer. “My view is that unless our government comes up to address these challenges, we shall lose aid towards military, health, education and many other sectors.”
Still, history weighs against that optimism. Both Uganda and Niger – the West African nation whose Feb. 21 presidential election has also drawn complaints of irregularities – are security allies in the US fight against Islamist extremism in Africa. And in that fight, many analysts contend, stability often trumps democracy.
“I don’t think being a repressive regime or having dubious elections hurts your chances of staying an American partner so long as you occupy a strategic position,” says Joseph Trevithick, a US-based military analyst who has closely tracked the US’s military presence in Niger.
Take Djibouti, which hosts a major base for US military operations in the Horn of Africa, and whose most recent president election was boycotted by the entire opposition. Or Chad, a staunch ally in the war on terror whose president has been winning scandal-plagued elections since the 90’s. “Washington maintains partnerships with regimes that are at best undemocratic and at worst authoritarian across Africa to maintain bases and outposts for their own interests,” Mr. Trevithick adds.
Both Uganda and Niger have in recent years become linchpins in the US war on terror. Niger – an Alaska-sized patch of desert – has since 2013 served as a home base for American drones tracking Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and other extremist groups in the region, and US and West African troops frequently train there for counter-terrorism missions. Uganda, meanwhile, has joined the right against Al Shabaab forces in Somalia, and has a long history mediating regional civil conflicts, as seen recently in South Sudan, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In that context, Western powers must strike a delicate balance when critiquing elections, says Stephanie Wolters, head of the conflict prevention and risk analysis division of the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa.
“Museveni has strategic importance because of his willingness to go into tricky areas” like Somalia, eastern Congo, and Burundi, she says. “So antagonizing him for his domestic policy may not be something the US wants to do.”
In 2014, the US and other western donors briefly cut aid to Museveni’s government after it passed a harsh law criminalizing homosexuality. The bill was later overturned, and Museveni called on lawmakers not to reintroduce it, citing the possible loss of US and European alliances. After last week’s elections, however, Museveni appeared once again confident in his ability to dictate the terms of democracy in his country.
“I don’t need lectures from anybody,” he told reporters in his home of Kiruhura Sunday. “Mr. John Kerry rang me and I told him: ‘Don’t worry, we’re experts in managing all those [elections].’”
Response to Niger
In Niger, early results from Sunday’s election put incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou in the lead with 46 percent of votes to 16 percent for his nearest challenger; opposition parties claim this is as a result of widespread voter intimidation and vote-rigging. On voting day, the leading opposition candidate, Hama Amadou, was in jail in what he says is a politically-motivated charge of child trafficking. The US State Department issued only a short brief on the election, commending Nigeriens for “overcoming logistical challenges and participating peacefully” in the voting process.
By Thursday, the streets in Uganda were calm again following days of national protest, with many ambivalent about the prospects for Western powers to put further pressure on Museveni.
“We seem to be left out by the so-called Western allies to die with our own problems,” Amos Kibuka, a Kampala businessman, concluded glumly. “This is the time we really need intervention of our allies.”
Ugandans brace for Musenveni life presidency bid
February 25, 2016 | 0 Comments
BY EDITH HONAN*
While Ugandans spar over President Yoweri Museveni’s disputed re-election this month, a bigger battle is already looming: whether the country will change its constitution to allow him to stay in power for life.
Museveni, 71, who came to power in 1986 and has endeared himself to the West by fighting Islamists in the region, is barred from the next election in 2021 because he will be past the constitutional age limit of 75 for presidential candidates.
But rivals, experts and voters said they expected Museveni to remove the age cap, following the Feb. 18 election that saw Museveni win 60 percent of the votes. The opposition has challenged the result, saying it was rigged, but authorities deny the charge.
Museveni’s critics say he is following a well-trodden path of African leaders trying to stay in power for life, ignoring calls by the United States and other Western nations for African presidents to stick to constitutional limits and step down.
“Many of these (leaders) have got a very great fear of leaving power, and that cannot be explained rationally,” said Nicholas Sengoba, a columnist for Uganda’s Daily Monitor.
In a televised interview this week, Museveni appeared to open the door to the possibility. “We don’t believe in term limits,” Museveni told the BBC. “If you don’t want them to be there forever, you vote them out.”
Museveni, who led a guerrilla war in the early 1980s that brought him to power, has been credited with bringing relative peace and economic growth to Uganda, a prospective oil producer that nonetheless still suffers poor infrastructure.
Critics fault him for not doing enough to stem high youth unemployment and sweeping corruption, as well as hampering Uganda’s progress with a top-down approach to governing. They point to Museveni’s tendency to refer to “my oil”.
Opposition leader Kizza Besigye, who took 35 percent of the vote and accused Museveni of rigging the election, told Reuters he expected the president to try to remain in office.
“Whether he changes the constitution or not, a dictator is an unwelcome thing in our country,” Besigye said. “The defiance campaign … will not stop until the dictator is out of power.”
On the streets of Kampala, many voters said they would be shocked if Museveni were to relinquish power, either by naming a successor or announcing his retirement. More than three-quarters of Ugandans are under 30 and have never known another president.
In a nation still haunted by decades of chaos under leaders such as Idi Amin, who ran a ruthless police state in the 1970s that killed or tortured an estimated 300,000 people, Museveni still represents stability for many.
“Uganda needs a calm leader,” said Benjamin Kashilling, 29, a restaurant manager in Kampala.
Others said it was time to stop the pretence of voting.
“They should just stop bothering us altogether and announce that he has a life presidency,” said Sara, 52, who only gave her first name and says the latest vote was rigged. “Stop wasting our time with these elections.”
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton once heralded Museveni as part of a “new generation” of African leaders who embraced democracy. Now, many Ugandans compare him to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who turned 92 this month and has shown no intention of stepping down.
Last year, Rwanda and Congo Republic both changed their constitutions to allow their leaders to seek third terms.
Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to stay in office beyond two terms sparked a crisis that international observers fear could return the country to civil war.
“We have said that there is going to be a review of the constitution. Many areas need to be looked at,” Ugandan Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda told Reuters. “As to what happens five years from now, it’s the prerogative of the people of Uganda.”
For now, Uganda has an age limit but no presidential term limits. Rivals say Museveni is likely to remove the age cap, just as he scrapped term limits a decade ago.
After the latest election, Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) party controls at least 275 of 381 seats in parliament.
Telling My Story Eases the Trauma-Amony Evelyn Ex-wife of LRA’s Joseph Kony
February 25, 2016 | 1 Comments
By Ajong Mbapndah L
Evelyn was 11 years old when she was abducted by the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) of Joseph Kony in Uganda. Evelyn ended up as the wife of the LRA leader at the age of 14 and had children for him. In 2005, Evelyn made her escape and fell into the hands of Ugandan troops. Refusing to let the trauma of life with Kony to ruin her , Evelyn, who now works as a human rights advocate is out with a new book to share her experiences.
The book titled I Am Evelyn Amony: Reclaiming My Life from the Lord’s Resistance Army, talks about her travails as wife of dreaded but elusive LRA leader and the challenges she and her children faced in returning to normal life.In an interview facilitated by the Women’s Advocacy Network, Evelyn says sharing her story is therapeutic. “It promotes confidence and healing,” says Evelyn.
How did you become the wife of Joseph Kony and how old were you at the time?
I became the wife of Joseph Kony at the age of fourteen (14) years old. Upon abduction 1994, I stayed at the home of Oti Lagony (Chief of Staff) for few days and thereafter was transferred to Konys home where I started babysitting his sons Shalim and Ali. In 1997 one day he called me to go and lay his bed and thereafter forced me in bed hence becoming his wife.
What did you know about him prior to becoming his wife, and how was it like living with him?
I knew he was the leader of LRA and that I was staying in his home. Kony is a humble man and stayed well with people however beating was the order of the day since he delegated his first wife (Fatuma) to control all the women in his home. She had the authority to beat other women and Kony would not say anything.
You had children with him, what kind of father was he, with the kind of atrocities the LRA committed , did you get the feeling he put his kids in the shoes of others who were married off or had limbs chopped off?
It is hard to describe the kind of father he was to his children. Some parts are hard to comment on.
Joseph Kony was constantly fighting, how was he able to protect his family?
The family stayed like any other person in the LRA camp however whenever there was war we all went through the same situation like other members of the LRA in that camp or convoy. Another thing is that he had many escorts and his family would stay in the centre of a specific base or place the LRA settled meaning he was heavily protected.
Can you tell us how you made your escape?
I escaped on the 21/1/2005 during crossfire between the government soldiers and LRA. I remember that day after escape I entered an ambush where the government soldiers were and they got hold of me later taking me to Gulu barracks Fourth Division.
Telling my story consecutively and the process of writing this book with counseling offered to me as made me cope up easily. My children always ask me where their father is but have not disclosed anything to them however they hear from people that they were born from captivity and sometimes ask me but I divert the statement to another story like telling them people only give birth from the hospital not the bush. I plan to disclose this to them fully when my first born clock twenty years.
What makes him so elusive, he has continuously escaped capture, why do you think it has been hard to get him and will you be happy to see him face justice?
It is always hard to capture rebel leaders may be that is the reason for his continuous escape from capture. I have forgiven him on my side whether he returns or not but cannot talk on behalf of the many who were affected by the war.
You probably have first-hand knowledge of Dominic Ongwen , one of the LRA Chieftains standing trial at the Hague, what can you tell the world about him and what kind of justice do you think he deserves?
On Dominic Ogwen it is important to hear from him on what he did and what he did not then judgment can be drawn from it. Views of different victims should be given attention if justice is to take its course on him and the victims.
In what way are you trying to use your experiences and exposure to help others who have gone through similar pain and trauma?
I always encourage them to acknowledge what we went through and be able to tell the world their stories because I learnt this from my experience that it promotes confidence and healing.
I also engage in peer support because that is a local way of providing counseling among Women’s Advocacy Network groups and people in the different communities. It gives people room to share their experiences freely and get ideas on how to go about it amongst themselves.
I also encourage especially women to work hard and use the little they earn to provide for themselves and their children the necessities in life like food, clothing and many more. For example I make beads and sell to provide for my family.
As the chair person of The Women’s Advocacy Network we request that if possible you use this opportunity to market us with what we do, we make beads, lap top bags different styles and dolls but have no market for them.
I apologize for the delay in responding to your questions because I was in the village where there is no internet.
Hollywood Star Forest Whitaker Is On A Quest To End The Use Of Child Soldiers
February 20, 2016 | 0 Comments
“We can help turn soldiers into teachers, doctors, and leaders.”
By Charlotte Alfred*
Forest Whitaker is known to many as a gifted actor who brought poise and gravitas to hit Hollywood movies like “The Great Debaters” and “The Butler.”
His Oscar-winning role in “The Last King of Scotland” inspired him to become a passionate campaigner against the use of child soldiers around the world, joining with the U.N. in the campaign Children Not Soldiers.
In 2012, he set up the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative, a non-governmental organization that develops peace-building programs for conflict-affected youths in Uganda, South Sudan, Mexico and the U.S.
The United Nations’ Children Fund said this week that tens of thousands of children continued to be recruited and used in conflict around the world. Some 16,000 children in South Sudan have been forced to the front lines since December 2013, when conflict broke out in the world’s newest country, according to UNICEF.
On Friday, as the world marks the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers, The WorldPost asked Whitaker about his work with these children and other young victims of conflict.
Read Forest Whitaker’s blog about his experiences with child soldiers here.
What sparked your interest in stopping recruitment of child soldiers around the world?
I first became really passionate about this issue a little over 10 years ago when I was in Uganda shooting “The Last King of Scotland”. One day on set, one of the performers — a dancer and a musician named Okello Sam — asked me if I would come with him to a school he had built called Hope North. This place was a home and a sanctuary for former child soldiers and orphans of Uganda’s civil war, which was ending around this time. As a father, I was horrified to hear the stories of what these children had to endure. But I was also moved beyond words to see their resilience and witness what Sam and his team at Hope North were doing to help make them whole again. I knew that I wanted to do my part to help these children and other boys and girls whose lives are impacted by violence.
I became very involved with Hope North and I’ve been back many times over the years. When I told my daughters about these children, they wanted to help, and they donated their laptops to the school. About four years ago, inspired by Sam’s work at Hope North, I launched my own foundation, the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative, which works to empower young women and men impacted by conflict to rise above these challenges and become leaders and community builders.
Did meeting former child soldiers influence your understanding of the problem of their recruitment and potential solutions?
One of the things I quickly came to understand after meeting former child soldiers was the importance of the work being done at Hope North to educate and rehabilitate these young people. When we talk about the issue of child soldiers, it can be easy to focus just on ending recruitment and liberating those boys and girls who are currently being held in military camps. Obviously, both of these are incredibly important goals, but it’s also essential that we not forget about former child soldiers once they are liberated. These children have all suffered truly unimaginable traumas. In some sense, when you take a child soldier out of an armed group, you’ve taken away the identity he or she has had for years, and you can’t assume life is just going to return to normal. Many of them were forced to commit acts of violence against family members or would be ostracized from their communities if they tried to go back. It can be a very difficult and lengthy process, but it’s so important that we are there for these children to help them find their true identities and rediscover that feeling of being part of a community. Rehabilitation programs have to play an important role in this solution.
The Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative trains youth, including ex-child soldiers, in Uganda and South Sudan in conflict resolution and other life skills. Why are rehabilitation programs like this so important to the future peace in those countries?
These rehabilitation and peace education programs for former child soldiers and other young people impacted by violence are some of the most effective forms of preventative peacekeeping that exist. For many child soldiers, war and violence are all they have ever known. If we don’t take it upon ourselves to show them an alternative, then they’re going to be soldiers forever, and they’ll continue to be recruited and to participate in violence if another conflict starts five or 10 years down the road. This is a cycle that has the potential to repeat their whole lives. By intervening with rehabilitation and education programs, we can break these cycles. This makes a huge difference not only in the lives of these former child soldiers, but also in the societies around them. With these programs, we can help turn soldiers into teachers, doctors, and leaders.
There was one former child soldier we worked with at Hope North named Simon. When I first met him, he was a shell of his previous self. There was this emptiness in his eyes. But over time, as he went through our program and became part of a community again, you could see a transformation occur. The light is back in his eyes, and he’s started his own business — an electronics store that he’s opened with some other students from Hope North. He’s reaching out to other youth whose lives have been impacted by conflict, and he’s becoming a role model in his community. This is an outcome that’s possible for former child soldiers. We need to work to make these stories more common.
The initiative has peace-building projects in Mexico and the U.S. What parallels have you found between children living in violence-afflicted areas in the U.S. and Africa?
One of the reasons I became so involved in this cause was that, when I first started working with child soldiers 10 years ago, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between them and a lot of the kids I knew growing up in South Los Angeles. I was in middle school right around the time the Bloods and the Crips started taking root in Compton and a lot of the other neighborhoods around me. I saw way too many of my peers — smart, kind, good kids — who got drawn into gangs and violence, and their futures were going to be forever scarred by that.
I think this is a common feature wherever there is conflict, whether in East Africa, Mexico, or right here in the United States: when young people feel like they don’t have any real pathways to a successful livelihood and future, that’s when they turn to violence. Building peace requires that we resolve the underlying root causes of conflict, and in almost all cases, that means working in communities to develop real opportunities for youths to learn, work, and succeed.
What results have you seen from your wellness programs, such as yoga and meditation, for violence-affected children in Africa and North America?
The yoga, meditation, and life-skills components that you mentioned are really important in the work that WPDI does. The model that we follow for many of our programs is to work with a core group of young women and men in vulnerable communities and develop their skills as leaders and conflict mediators. Then we support these youths as they go back to their homes and start their own peace-building initiatives and recruit other young people to join them. As you alluded to, many of our participants have been victims of violence — some are former child soldiers, some have been displaced by conflict, some have lost family members. It’s very difficult to build outer-peace in the world around you if you are struggling to find your own inner-peace. We want to help our youth peacemakers overcome the traumas and hardships they’ve faced. Teaching them yoga and meditation techniques and helping them live balanced, healthy lives is really important in enabling them to go out and create change in their communities.
So far, our youths have responded really positively to these wellness aspects of our program. There was one former child soldier we work with — who is now in his mid-20s — who told me that, before he learned to meditate, the only way he could calm his nerves was with alcohol. Some of our peacemakers have started practicing yoga every day to find a sense of calm and stability. For people who have endured some terrible hardships, these things can make a real difference in how they perceive themselves and relate to the world.
Which achievements of the U.N. campaign Children, Not Soldiers — launched in 2014 and aimed to end and prevent nations’ use of child soldiers by 2016 — that you advocated for have been most encouraging?
The Children, Not Soldier campaign is currently working with governments in seven countries that have historically recruited child soldiers. What we’ve seen over the past two years is that, for the first time, some of these nations are showing a true willingness to reform and protect children. Of these seven countries, six have signed action plans with the United Nations. I think the fact that Children, Not Soldiers has been able to make the seriousness of this problem known — especially to leaders in countries that have been among the worst violators — is an important achievement in and of itself.
We are also seeing more than just commitments to change, but also tangible reforms as well. For example, a few years ago, Chad worked with the United Nations to create an action plan for ending the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Recently, it completed every step on that plan, and Chad has now been removed from the Secretary-General’s list of parties that use child soldiers. This shows that real progress and meaningful reform are possible.
Despite Yemen and South Sudan’s commitments to end child recruitment, the ongoing wars in those countries appear to have set back progress, with more children on the battle lines. What has been your biggest disappointment of the campaign?
The lack of progress in recent months in South Sudan is an enormous disappointment and an international tragedy. My foundation has been involved in South Sudan since 2012, and it’s been heartbreaking to see the conditions that so many children in that nation have had to endure. In 2014, during one of my trips to South Sudan, I and Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, met with President [Salva] Kiir, who had committed to work with the United Nations to end the use of child soldiers in South Sudan’s army. As part of the peace agreement signed last August between the government and rebel forces, both sides reaffirmed this commitment. The fact that both parties have been violating the ceasefire agreement and continuing to recruit and use child soldiers is unacceptable. I continue to join the international community in calling on South Sudan’s leaders to honor the ceasefire and protect all children impacted by this conflict.
How can ordinary people contribute to the campaign to end child recruitment in conflict?
First of all, anyone who wants to learn more about Children, Not Soldiers can visit their website. I also think one of the powerful things about social media is that it gives people a megaphone to come together and advocate for the causes they care about. If you look throughout history, every significant social movement has had thousands or millions of ordinary people behind it, standing up for what is right. So if you want to help raise awareness of this campaign and show your support, tell your friends and followers about it and use the hashtag #ChildrenNotSoldiers.
If you can afford it and want to help WPDI empower children and youths in regions of the world impacted by violence, we would be grateful for your donation.
Finally, something everyone can do is to take a moment right now and don’t think of child soldiers as just statistics on a piece of paper or a problem that affects some far-away country. Imagine that your children were taken from you and forced to live in military camps and commit unspeakable acts of violence. Imagine you spent your childhood with a gun in your hands fighting a war, instead of going to school and playing with your friends. That scenario is a reality for hundreds of thousands of children and families throughout the world. I hope you’ll join me in showing your support for these children and telling leaders around the world that we won’t stand for it.
Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni wins disputed polls; rival detained
February 20, 2016 | 0 Comments
Uganda’s election commission has declared long-time leader Yoweri Museveni the winner of presidential elections, with more than 60 percent of the votes
By Rodney Muhumuza*
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Long-time Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni was on Saturday declared the winner of the country’s disputed presidential election, but the main opposition party rejected the results as fraudulent and called for an independent audit of the count.
Museveni got more than 60 percent of the votes, and his nearest rival Kizza Besigye got 35 percent, according to final results announced by the election commission.
Besigye himself was under house arrest as Museveni was declared the winner, with heavily armed police standing guard near his residence on the outskirts of the capital, Kampala. The capital was calm following the announcement of results amid a heavy security presence.
Museveni’s ruling party, the National Resistance Movement, urged “all candidates to respect the will of the people and the authority of the electoral commission and accept the result. We ask all Ugandans to remain calm and peaceful and not to engage in any public disruptions.”
However Besigye dismissed the results as not genuine and urged the international community to reject the official tally.
“We have just witnessed what must be the most fraudulent electoral process in Uganda,” he said in a statement. “This has not been an electoral process. This is a creeping military coup.”
The voting on Thursday was marred by lengthy delays in the delivery of polling materials, some incidents of violence as well as a government shutdown of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, which remained inaccessible Saturday.
The election was marked by an “intimidating atmosphere, which was mainly created by state actors,” said the European Union observer mission. Uganda’s election commission lacks independence and transparency and does not have the trust of all the parties, EU mission leader Eduard Kukan told reporters Saturday. Opposition supporters were harassed by law enforcement officials in more than 20 districts, according to the EU’s preliminary report.
Uganda’s elections “fell short of meeting key democratic benchmarks,” former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the head of the Commonwealth observer mission, said, talking about his group’s interim assessment.
Police on Friday surrounded the headquarters of the FDC opposition party as Besigye met with members and a helicopter fired tear gas at a crowd outside. Police then moved in and took away Besigye, a 59-year-old doctor. He was later taken to his house which was guarded by police who prevented access to journalists.
After Besigye’s arrest on Friday, his supporters took to the streets. Riot police lobbed tear gas and stun grenades at them and fired warning shots from automatic rifles, then chased them through narrow alleys, arresting some.
Besigye’s party is alleging massive vote rigging and accuses the government of deliberately stalling voting in opposition strongholds in Kampala and the neighboring Wakiso district.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by phone with Museveni “to underscore that Uganda’s progress depends on adherence to democratic principles in the ongoing election process,” the State Department said. Kerry urged Museveni to rein in the security forces.
The 71-year-old Museveni took power by force in 1986 and pulled Uganda out of years of chaos after a guerrilla war. He is a key U.S. ally on security matters, especially in Somalia. Critics fear he may want to rule for life and they accuse him of using security forces to intimidate the opposition.
Besigye was Museveni’s personal physician during the bush war and served as deputy interior minister in his first Cabinet. He broke with the president in 1999, saying Museveni was no longer a democrat.
First American of African Descent appointed Area Engineer for District 5 in MD
February 12, 2016 | 0 Comments
By Ajong Mbapndah L*
The African immigrant community recently registered another mile stone with the appointment of Dr Peter.M. Keke as Area Engineer and Assistant District Engineer for District 5 in Md. Originally from Cameroon, Dr Keke is the first American of African descent to hold these positions. From 1990 when he got to the USA, it has been a very eventful journey for Dr Keke whose experiences mirror those of most other successful African immigrants. “Never let people define your destiny and do not allow yourself be cut in myths,” says Dr Keke as he settles into his new job.
Dr Keke, you recently became the first American of African descent to hold the Office of Area Engineer and Assistant District Engineer for Construction in the State of Maryland, how did your recent appointment come about?
The Assistant District Engineer for Construction position in District- 5 was opened to those who had the qualification to interview during the month of May 2015. I was one of the interviewees out of 5 people. The interview panel was made up of 4 people and each of us was drilled with 9 questions. The selected candidate was screened and interviewed by the Governors appointment secretary for final approval. Accordingly, I emerged successful and was appointed on December 7, 2015 based on my ability to meet all the requirements, demonstration of an efficient and effective understanding of construction and managerial principles throughout the interview and screening process.
May we know what exactly your new duties entail and what jurisdiction you cover?
In a nutshell, my new duties are administrative and engineering construction management. I represent the District on all matters relating to Highway and Bridge construction within my area. Some of the responsibilities are; management of a $356 million construction program annually, attend legislative meetings to advice and report on construction projects, challenges, and needs. Attend town hall public meetings. Represent and advice the District Engineer, Administrator, MDOT Secretary on construction related matters. Inspect and coordinate construction activities of contractors, hire construction inspections, and coordinate with upper management on how to attain the District’s strategic and construction goals. My jurisdiction covers four counties: Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s Counties.
Prior to this new appointment, what functions did Dr Keke have within the MD Government?
I was a construction inspector from 1998 to 2000 in District-5. Then from 2000 I was a Project Engineer in the District up to 2004. I continued as a Project Engineer in District-3 from 2004 to 2006. In 2006 I became the first black Area Engineer in District-3 up to 2013 (District-3 covers Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties). In 2013,
I moved to District- 4 (that is Baltimore and Harford Counties) in the same capacity as the Area Engineer. And in December 7, 2015 I was appointed the Assistant District Engineer for Constriction in Disrtict-5.
What experiences and academic background does Dr Keke bring to his new job?
I bring lots of construction experiences in this position. First I worked in Ministry of Public work and Transport Cameroon, Highway Department Limbe after graduating from National School of Technology (Survey School Buea) as Chief or Technical Officer from 1982 to 1998. Then I became the Chief of Subdivision Highways Department Kumba from 1998 to 1990. I moved to the United States in May 1990 were I worked (from 1990 to 1996) at a gas station as security guard, and later served as a housekeeper, a nursing assistant, and a medicine aid, while at the same time going to school. From 1994 to 1997 I also served as the first Mathematical Student President of Bowie State University. In addition I served as a student tutor in both Mathematics (calculus 1, 2, and 3) and Engineering (Engineering mechanics and differential equations) in Bowie State University and University of Maryland College Park respectively. I also worked as a student mathematical intern with the National Air space Museum in Washington D.C for 3 months in 1997. During the same period from 1996 to 1998 I worked with the Driggs Construction Company as Quantity Engineer and Project Engineer before joining the Maryland State Highway in 1998.
Academically; I hold a diploma in Surveying, BS in Mathematics, BS in Civil Engineering, MS in Project Management/Engineering, and a PhD in Project Management.
For the immigrant that you are, how challenging has it been for you to get to where you are?
As an immigrant it has been very challenging with varied experiences from rejection, to temptations, oppositions, and a different culture. In short, the journey demands great patience, hard work, endurance, and tenacity. Another interesting challenge is language/accent. Despite the fact that I studied in the US, each time I talk people still see me as a foreigner because of my accent. Sometimes, you face rejection because of the accent and skin color. However, my focus is to not allow such distractions became obstacles; therefore, I have always been hard working, willing to learn at all times, and to take advantage of situations. My goal has always been to be the best at all times.
To the young ones who see in you a role model and will love to emulate your example and career trajectory, what message do you have for them?
Never let people define your destiny and do not allow yourself be cut in myths. For example, I was told a black foreign person cannot graduate from University of Maryland College Park. This is a myth since I graduated from the school with honors. Another, advice is to be patient with your plan, work hard on it and it will all pay off at the end. An important point to note is that transforming from a Cameroon society to US society is challenging. You must accept and be willing to make the change needed for assimilation. You will have to start with small or odd jobs, but do not allow the jobs to define you; rather use these small or odd jobs as a means to an end. Finally, things can be made much easier if you have a mentor. Though I had none, I find that a mentor to rely on can help understand, and guide you towards success.
Kaddu Sebunya Elected President of African Wildlife Foundation
February 5, 2016 | 0 Comments
Ugandan conservationist will be a vocal, visible voice for wildlife in a modern Africa
The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) (www.AWF.org) announced today it has elected Ugandan native Kaddu Kiwe Sebunya to serve as its new President. Sebunya will focus on advancing a clear policy agenda for wildlife as part of Africa’s future, ensuring the continent’s blueprint for development and growth includes space and protections for Africa’s natural heritage.
“I am excited to be stepping into the role of president at a time when Africa’s economies are surging, and when important decisions are being made as to how Africa should manage its natural resources responsibly and with accountability,” said Sebunya. “The continent is undergoing a profound change, and we must help to guide this change so it benefits Africa’s people and wildlife.”
Sebunya began his career serving as a project manager with WaterAid and as a relief program officer with Oxfam UK. Beginning with his post as the Associate Director for the United States Peace Corps in Uganda, Sebunya’s career began to focus more on conservation. He later served as a country program coordinator with the World Conservation Union—now the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN—and as a senior policy and planning advisor for Conservation International.
In 2006, Sebunya moved to Washington, DC and became AWF’s Director of Programs. He developed and implemented a legislative program to engage U.S. lawmakers on issues affecting conservation and development in Africa. In 2013, he became Chief of Party for the USAID/Uganda Biodiversity Program before transitioning to AWF’s president.
Sebunya received his Bachelor’s degree in Social and Political Science from Uganda’s Makerere University and a Masters of Science degree in Sustainable Resource Management and Policy from London’s Imperial College. He also holds a Master of Arts degree in Law, Policy and Diplomacy from Tufts UnThe African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) is a leading conservation organization focused solely on the African continent. AWF’s programs are designed to protect the wild lands and wildlife of Africa and ensure a more sustainable future for Africa’s people. AWF is headquartered in Kenya and registered as a 501(c)(3) in the United States.iversity’s The Fletcher School.
African leaders urge passage of Electrify Africa Act
January 28, 2016 | 0 Comments
By Tony Elumelu and Aliko Dangote*
In the next week, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Electrify Africa Act, passed by the Senate under unanimous consent late last year. This bill directs the President to establish a multiyear strategy to assist countries in sub-Saharan Africa implement national power strategies and develop an appropriate mix of power solutions, including renewable energy, to provide access to reliable, affordable, and sustainable power in order to reduce poverty and drive economic growth.
On behalf of the African Energy Leaders Group (AELG), a high-level public-private partnership launched last year, we welcome the leadership of the U.S. Congress on this issue. It is our view that the Electrify Africa Act will provide a durable strategic framework to address the challenges of energy poverty on the continent by leveraging a private sector-led, market-based approach which is essential to the sustainability of this effort over time. If passed, Electrify Africa will be the most significant legislation to advance U.S. commercial relations with the continent of Africa since the initial passage of AGOA, 15 years ago.
A wide range of energy sources exist on the continent. Yet, more than 600 million Africans lack access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services. Hundreds of millions are also denied access to basic nutrition, quality education, medical services and sanitation due to lack of adequate energy supply. Recent surveys of African businesses reveal that energy costs account for 40-60 percent of operating expenditure (more than 10 times what it is in the United States), dramatically increasing the cost of doing business in Africa. The effect of the power deficit on our economies is damaging and tangibly constrains development.
Africa has the largest rates of extreme poverty and the fastest population growth of any region. The rapid industrialization and sustained economic development necessary to provide jobs for this growing population simply cannot be achieved on a weak power base
We have been encouraged by the increasing awareness among both African and U.S. political leaders on these issues, and by the willingness of the private sector to invest alongside governments in meeting the growing demand for power on the continent. Through the much-lauded Power Africa Initiative, the United States is helping to provide assistance for policy reforms and transactions which expand infrastructure and strengthen regulations in the power sector. This is not only good for Africa, as these initiatives benefit U.S. companies seeking access to new and rapidly expanding markets for their equipment, expertise and products.
The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) is another critical development instrument which supports U.S. investments in Africa’s energy sector. However, it is hampered by well-intentioned yet counterproductive restrictions on carbon emissions for projects financed even in the lowest emitting countries of the world. In order to better leverage U.S. resources towards implementing the objectives of the Electrify Africa Act, we encourage Congress to follow this legislation with a strong reauthorization of OPIC that includes the flexibility to align with the national realities and priorities of the countries you wish to help and considers the full range of energy options available to them. In this regard, we must work together to identify an appropriate balance between poverty alleviation and environmental protection.
We applaud the efforts of all those who have championed the Electrify Africa Act, and urge the House of Representatives to pass this legislation without delay. From our perspective, this bill would codify access to electricity in Africa as a long-term U.S. foreign policy priority, for the benefit of millions of Africans and for U.S. companies doing business on the continent.
*The Hill.Dangote is president of the Dangote Group. Elumelu is chairman of Heirs Holdings and founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation. Both are co-founders of the African Energy Leaders Group.
The African Energy Leaders Group, launched at the World Economic Forum in January 2015, is a working group of high-level African business leaders and heads of state. In line with the targets of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative (SE4All), one of the group’s primary goals is guaranteeing access to reliable, affordable energy services for all Africans by 2030, through regional power pools and innovative public-private partnerships