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May 14, 2017 | 0 Comments

-With Wheel to Africa, a young American and his friends highlight the importance of people-to-people engagement in US-Africa relations.

Support for a noble cause:Ambassador Arouna with Jason and his young friends collecting bikes to send to Africa

Support for a noble cause:Ambassador Arouna with Jason and his young friends collecting bikes to send to Africa

Today Saturday, May 13, 2017, I pulled up into Bethesda Library Parking lot on Arlington road.  Bethesda is an affluent Maryland town in the suburb of Washington DC the nation capital.  I am here to meet Jason a college rising sophomore in African studies who spent summers in Africa, mainly Tanzania and Ghana. Jason and his friends under the guidance of his parents are collecting bikes to ship to Africa as part of the Wheel To Africa Initiative.

As soon as entered the parking lot I was greeted by a jubilant and grinning group of kids happy to see the two bikes attached on the back of my car. I could not help but to reminisce, back to the day… I mean, way back when I received my first bike as a child and how happy it felt then. Thinking about it, I am sure it is probably a fair statement to say that, these kids look as happy as the people who will soon be receiving these bikes in the continent of Africa.

Upon getting out of my vehicle, I met and greeted Jason Kohn the young men who initiated today’s event, his parents, and a few of his friends, all passionate about Africa. I introduced myself and we talked about their initiative and their passion for Africa while some of the kids unloaded the two bikes I donated and stacked them against dozens of others bikes neatly arranged on the asphalt. I spent few more minutes’ chit-chatting before saying goodbye, and got into my car.  While I was putting the key in the ignition to start the car, I murmured to myself, “Jason loves Africa… so does America” before driving off…

In today’s America where most in the international development community are wondering about the Trump administration stance on Africa, Jason and his friends with their good deeds remind us, this simple fact; before there was a government, there are people and there lies the answer.

A strong and stable relationship between the United States and Africa is undoubtedly at the center of the Trump overall foreign relations. Washington’s support to the security of the continent, especially as part of the global war on terrorism is probably an essential part of “making America great again” US foreign policy, however many non-governmental or “people-to-people” interactions such as trade and cultural exchanges as well as initiatives such as Jason’s are paramount. This dependence is expected to remain unchanged in the foreseeable future.

As history teaches us, whether it be slavery, the rise of African Nationalism, or the Cold War, America and the African continent have a complicated history full of contradictions, but ultimately the strength of the relationship lies in people-to-people engagement on both continents.

About Wheel To Africa:

During a vacation in Africa with his mother, 10-year-old Winston Duncan was struck by the distances that people had to walk to find food, water, and medical care. It was then that he decided that he needed to find a way to help

His answer: Collect bikes, because “everyone has an old bike”!

In Africa, a bike is a lifeline to survival for many people. It is often their only means to access food and water, markets, education, and jobs. Winston’s passion has motivated family, friends, neighbors and acquaintances to organize annual drives across three states

*Omar Arouna is the immediate past Ambassador of the Republic of Benin to the United States of America. He answers regularly present to initiatives that touch on US-Africa Relations and is President & CEO GlobalSpecialty, LLC.

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Kenya’s black market in “refugee real estate”
May 4, 2017 | 0 Comments
A makeshift barber shop in Kakuma camp

A makeshift barber shop in Kakuma camp

By Cory Rodgers*

The informal system of shelter ownership that has sprung up in refugee camps in Kenya and elsewhere has allowed entrepreneurial activity to flourish, but it is also unregulated, corrupt, and leaves some refugees vulnerable to losing everything.

“It was more than just our source of income. It was the place we called home. And now, after they’ve taken it and given it away, it’s just a place to sell cheap Ugandan beer.”

Daniel’s email suggests bitter defeat. He has attached a photo of himself standing proudly outside the shelter-cum-printing studio he and his wife ran in one of the Kakuma refugee camps in northwestern Kenya. That situation came to an abrupt end recently when Daniel was accused by his landlord of defaulting on his “rent”, charged by the police for failing to vacate the shelter, evicted, detained, and finally released without being assigned a new shelter.

Outside Daniel’s old home, the sun-drenched street is bustling. Sales clerks, bike mechanics, and hairdressers chat busily with customers and friends. A noisy diesel generator rumbles in the background, providing electricity to local homes and businesses. It’s a far cry from the images of idle, tent-dwelling aid recipients that have dominated popular depictions of refugee camps.

“We don’t reap huge profits,” says Abdul, who fled Somalia in the late 1990s and now operates a cinema and electricity-generating service in Kakuma. “We are struggling to manage our lives, but we thank God that we are not begging and asking others to manage our lives for us.”

The first refugees arrived in Kakuma more than 25 years ago and, according to the last count, the camps are now home to 155,000 people. The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, provides no electricity and only very limited firewood rations. In recent years, the World Food Programme has been forced to reduce monthly food rations by as much as half. An informal camp economy has developed to fill the gaps in aid delivery and provide a vital income to camp residents.

“As a single mother, I needed more than the food supplied by the UN,” explains Axlam, a Somali woman living in Kakuma. “So, I came up with this plan of baking and selling biscuits.” Her income from selling biscuits means she can buy extra food as well as school supplies and medications for her children.

Most camp businesses – restaurants, barbershops, and even a cyber café – operate out of modified structures originally built as shelters. Each new arrival receives a randomly allocated shelter free of charge, depending on where space is available. But, especially for entrepreneurs like Axlam, location matters: businesses thrive closer to market areas and the main highway.

When Daniel arrived four years ago, after fleeing political persecution in Ethiopia, he was allocated a shelter in the relatively remote Kakuma 3 Camp. Daniel needed money to pay for medication for his wife’s chronic renal condition. With the aim of opening a small printing studio in the market, where he would have a customer base and access to electricity, he made an informal agreement with another refugee living in the market area who had expanded his shelter. Daniel agreed to pay him 5,000 Ke

yan shillings per month (about $50) for two rooms: one to live in and one for his shop. After reaching 200,000 Kenyan shillings in payments ($1,915), registration of the shelter would be transferred to him.

Informal “real estate” markets

UNHCR supports refugee self-reliance. Multiplying refugee crises and growing shortfalls in donor funding mean that promoting refugee livelihoods has become an increasingly important focus of the agency’s work. But in countries like Kenya, where the host government restricts refugees’ freedom of movement and right to work and where the majority of refugees are still confined to remote camps, the agency faces a dilemma. The informal “real estate” market in Kakuma goes against UNHCR’s policy on the free provision of shelters, but with no formal route to acquire a place to do business, it is the only option for camp-based entrepreneurs.

This dynamic is not unique to Kakuma. In Uganda’s refugee settlements, government officials have complained that before moving, some refugees sell their land allocations to other refugees. Farm plot allocations in the Nakivale settlement, for example, are often sold by Somalis to obtain start-up capital for shops in Kampala. In the camps administered by UNRWA in Lebanon, Rayyar Marron has described the informal real estate system among Palestinian refugees, and a similar system operates in Jordan’s Zaatari camp where shelters in the Champs-Élysée market area command high “rents”.

The informal system makes it possible for industrious camp residents to make a living, and the income from shelter and business sales can make it easier for refugees to fund repatriation or ease the transition to resettlement countries.

But the black market in refugee real estate also foments disputes and corruption.

Benjamin Loyseau/UNHCR
A Somali refugee family posing in front of their shop in Kakuma camp

Refugees leaving Kakuma are required to surrender their shelter to the government’s Department of Refugee Affairs – recently restructured as the Refugee Affairs Secretariat – for reallocation. But many refugees move to Nairobi without notifying the DRA and others pay “fees” to DRA staff to maintain their shelter registration. Refugees about to be resettled to a third country or returning home sometimes “sell” their shelters to other refugees before they depart. A bribe is paid to someone at the DRA who transfers registration to the buyer.

Daniel had nearly completed his 200,000 Kenyan shillings in payments when his refugee “landlord” moved to Nairobi and – in need of money – decided to sell the shelter to another refugee. Daniel was told to leave, but refused. His landlord filed a complaint with the police, money changed hands, and Daniel was evicted from his shelter.

UNHCR often tries to resolve such disputes, but its mediation is unofficial and once someone takes a case to the police, the agency is sidelined.

“The police are supposed to solve land conflicts and refer the case for resolution,” says a refugee with experience in shelter disputes. “However, if the police see money in the conflict, they take bribes from both parties. The winner is often the one who paid more.”

Refugee entrepreneurs who can afford to pay higher bribes can acquire a significant portfolio of shelters, becoming what some have termed “refugee real estate tycoons”.

Protecting refugee assets

In 2015, UNHCR signed an agreement with the Turkana County Government to create a new refugee settlement at Kalobeyei, just north of the existing Kakuma camp. Relocations began last year. Kalobeyei is being billed by UNHCR as a new approach to refugee assistance that promotes the self-reliance of refugees and equally impoverished host communities.

A UNHCR official explained to IRIN that business development at Kalobeyei will occur by facilitating informal market activities: “We want them to do it themselves: the [refugee] traders and the host community. Our job will be to create the environment for this to happen, to demarcate the commercial spaces.”

A market at Kalobeyei Settlement

But encouraging informal business activity is not the same as providing protection for property and assets. The lack of a legal system for refugee property in Kalobeyei may leave refugee entrepreneurs feeling vulnerable and wary of investing in non-movable assets. As Daniel told IRIN: “I had a plan to develop my studio into something big. I had the potential for it. But if I fear that one day they will come and force me to leave… you stop thinking about investments.”

Jeff Crisp, former head of UNHCR’s Evaluation and Policy Analysis Unit, told IRIN that “amongst all the protection problems confronting camp-based refugees, those arising from the informal market in plots and shelters are the least well documented and most poorly understood by humanitarian organisations.

“They must be given much greater attention if refugees are to realise their full entrepreneurial potential.”

Yet UNHCR is facing a difficult political landscape in Kenya. Caught between a local government eager to direct humanitarian resources toward local voters, and a national government that has promised to shut down Dadaab – the country’s largest refugee complex – by the end of May, UNHCR has very little space to advocate for refugees’ rights. There is also no legal framework that allows the agency to regulate land use or ownership.

UNHCR and refugee advocacy groups are now pushing for the introduction of a bill to update Kenya’s current refugee legislation. The draft bill includes protections for movable and immovable property, and would set up a trust to compensate refugees for legally held property following resettlement or repatriation. But these protections would not be applicable in areas designated as camps and settlements, leaving camp-based refugees to pursue livelihoods in the unregulated informal economy.

Daniel and his wife – now pregnant with their first child – are staying with friends while they await a new shelter allocation. Having lost three years of investments to the dispute with his landlord, Daniel is unsure how he will find the capital to re-open his studio.

“It is like I am starting from zero. Maybe less than zero.”


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Tana Forum Brainstorms on How Africa Can Harness its Resources
May 2, 2017 | 0 Comments

By Maureen Chigbo, reporting from Ethiopia  *|

THE sixth Tana High Level Forum on Security in Africa presented another opportunity for African leaders, academics and security experts to discuss issues affecting the growth and development of Africa in an informal setting barred from rigid protocol and officialdom. Both the young and old in the presence of presidents and ex-presidents of some African countries brainstormed on how Africa can manage its natural resources in a sustainable way to move the continent forward and provide job for the youths.

It was particularly exhilarating when Farah Nguegan, Ph.D. candidate, International Relations Institute of Cameroon, who won the Tana University Essay Competition with her essay entitled: “African Natural Resource Governance” addressed the audience. She stressed the importance of education and job creation through effective management of Africa’s natural resources to absorb the teeming unemployed youths in the continent.

Participants at the event were not disappointed as those who spoke to Realnews said some of the frank contributions were provocative although their expectations were met. Some also made suggestions as to how to improve the forum in future. For instance, Elissa Jobson, African Union, AU, Relations, who is attending the forum for the fourth time, thinks the forum is unique in making it possible for people to have access to heads of state of African countries. However, she observed that

“It’s got a bit more formal. It will be good to go back to it being a dialogue between experts and heads of state. But even so it’s unique; there is no other forum as intimate as this”.

Ethiopian prime minister at the Tana forum

The two-day forum from April 22-23, started with launch of the book: Making Africa Work: A handbook for Economic Success, co-authored by Olusegun Obasanjo, former president of Nigeria and chairperson of the Tana Forum and Greg Mills, director of the Brenthurst Foundation, South Africa.

The book is a practical account of how to ensure growth beyond commodities, and to create jobs. It is a handbook for dynamic leadership inside and outside the continent based on the authors’ experience.

According to Obasanjo, the book is the first to be launched at the Tana Forum since it started six years ago, adding that there is no reason why a book launch should not be part of the forum’s future activities. “It is not an academic book. It is a realistic book about what has been, what is and what should be in the future,” Obasanjo said, adding that there is no magic formula for leaders to develop Africa except to do a few things right and continue to do them right as stated by Lee Kuan Yew, former late leader of Singapore.

Shortly after the book launch, another special event: the 2017 Annual Meles Zenawi Lecture Series saw Akere T. Muna, chairperson of the International anti-Corruption Conference and Sanctions commissioner of the African Development Bank group, Cameroon, delivering the lecture: “Leadership in Africa: Reflections on the legacies of the late Wangari Maathai, environmental activist and Nobel Peace laureate.” During the lecture, he emphasised that leadership is not about noise-making but about setting the right example, adding that the passion you brought into what you do as a leader guarantees your success.

[L-R] Billene Seyoum, moderator at the lecture delivered by Muna

[L-R] Billene Seyoum, moderator at the lecture delivered by Muna

This is exactly the kind of leadership Hailemariam Desalegn, prime minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and Obasanjo demonstrated at the opening of the 6th the Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa which ended a resounding success. Desalegn recollected Ethiopia’s long standing contribution to Pan Africanism and its ideals, emphasising that Tana High Level Forum on Security in Africa is only one aspect of Ethiopia’s commitment to African causes. Also, when Victor Ochen, a young participants from Uganda, observed that the forum did not involve youths who are future leaders of Africa in the proceedings at the forum, Obasanjo readily accepted and promised to correct the omission in future. While welcoming participants, Obasanjo noted, with immense appreciations, that the Forum has established itself as a front-runner gathering in the calendar of high-profile events of its kind specifically addressing broad issues of peace and security, especially as they concern the African continent.

“I personally believe – and I imagine many of you must share my conviction – that with the myriad peace and security issues confronting our continent, the importance of this Forum for the frank exchange of ideas and in the search for creative solutions is assured,” he said.

As it has become the Tana Forum tradition, Obasanjo reminded participants of the informality of Tana and the mutual learning process it provides. “Let me begin by casting my net wide. We cannot but be globalists because whatever happens anywhere else in the world has implications for us in Africa. We must therefore think globally while we act continentally to ensure peace and security in Africa as a crucial contribution to global peace and security.

He noted that since 2016 Tana Forum, some water has passed under the bridge elsewhere in the world which cannot be ignored. The first was the heavily increased outflow of migrants from Africa and Middle-East to Europe and the effect it had on the political and social landscape of Europe. The phenomenon has remained as the causes of migration from the countries of origin are still very much there. The next issue flowing directly or indirectly from migration is what is regarded as rising populism and abandonment of liberal attitude or de-globalisation in favour of diminishing integration leading to Brexit in June last year.

He observed that by “admiring Brexit and using it to campaign in the U.S, saw the emergence of President Donald Trump, who against popular run of the mill became the 45th President of America with his populism, America First etc and the unknowns and the apprehensions about his presidency.

“There is a lot of disquiet about French election. All these cast dark cloud on the horizon of world peace, security, stability and solidarity especially as they are superimposed on the war in Syria which has now lasted more than six years, the situations in Iraq and Yemen,” Obasanjo said.

According to him, “We are moving from the fairly liberal, stable if not totally predictable world to an unstable, unpredictable, populist, world with disequilibrium. There is danger for every nation and for every region in such a world. And Africa by virtue of its apparent weakness cannot wish for such a world where it will be a pawn and a victim especially in light of our current precarious peace and security situation.”

No doubt, the security of Africa to a large extent hinges on the management of its natural resources for the betterment of its people. That is why the theme of the 6th Tana Forum entitled: “Natural Resource Governance in Africa” is apt.

After all the presentations, deliberations, and discussions on the various aspect of the natural resources governance in Africa covering the extractive sector, biodiversity, land and oceans by different discussants, Stergomena Lawrence Tax, executive secretary, Southern Africa Development Community, SADC, Botswana, presented the takeaways from the forum. She among other key issues reiterated that Africa is blessed with countless God-given resources, whereas, the resources are extremely beneficial they are often negatively impacted by poor or insufficient systems of governance. These resources if managed appropriately will transform African economies.

Another takeaway is that natural resources extraction, distribution and usage have social, economic, environmental, and political underpinnings, influenced by both endogenous and exogenous factors. These attributes have generated low-intensity tensions or large scale insurgencies, and are more complex in situations where there is lack of transparency and insufficient accountability and management mechanisms in licensing, exploration, contracting, extraction, and in revenue generation and sharing, just to mention a few.

There is also the relationship between natural resource governance and security which is also affected by the global resource politics, which is mainly generated by the involvement of multinational corporations. This has fueled social inequalities, where the locals have not benefitted from the extractions while the global actors have become grandiose.

It was also said that Africa is over reliant on external support for the management of its natural resources and strategies to address her challenges. Hence she observed that Illicit and illegal extraction of natural resources along the entire value chains benefit a few individuals, and illegal international syndicates at the expense of communities that own the natural resources.

Tax said that lack of, or inadequate benefits that accrue to the intended beneficiaries result in conflicts and, hence, insecurity, which give an advantage to the global illicit players to smuggle the resources. Due to the availability of the infrastructure for illicit financial flows, there is tendency to fuel armed conflicts and increase security threats in order to continue with illegal extractions.

As a way forward, Tax said in order to ensure proper governance of the natural resources, “there is need to re-orient the focus, from the conventional understanding of extractive industries, namely, oil, gas and minerals, etc, to broader natural resources endowments, which include non-extractive natural resources such as land, water, seas, forests and biodiversity. All these have a security bearing and direct impact to sustainable growth and development of African economies.

Obasanjo at the 6th Tana Forum

Obasanjo at the 6th Tana Forum

Africa needs to build the necessary capacities, in both, state and non state actors, that will facilitate proper management and governance of natural resources in among others, contract negotiations and management, enforcement of rights and responsibilities, monitoring and evaluation, etc. Without setting aside adequate funding for this cause, the whole agenda becomes easily distorted because, as it is said, “Those who pay the piper play the tune“. African countries cannot continue to rely on external funding if is to ensure proper governance architecture of her natural resources.

She said natural resources are supposed to benefit the people of a particular sovereign state. This calls for participation of the local communities in decision-making processes to instill a sense of ownership and ensure sustainable use, thereby reducing tensions and conflicts. Deliberate efforts should be made to promote and facilitate reviews of national policies and legal frameworks in order to promote ownership and facilitate transparency and accountability in natural resource management and governance, while ensuring optimal use and benefits.

The SADC executive secretary said that as long as Africa continues to lose its natural resources to global actors, the continent will continue to face discontentment among its citizenry. This will continue to cause conflicts and threaten peace and stability in Africa.

Unlike the scramble for Africa of the yester-century, African citizens have become of age in terms of their knowledge of resource governance. They demand that African resources should be used for Africa’s development, and that can only happen if there are measures to institute accountable and transparent governance systems.

According to her, at the centre is how African national governments can develop a long term transformation ideology and strategy, and promote good governance, rule of law, accountability and transparency.

*Culled from Real News

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Tillerson snubs African Union chair: report
April 26, 2017 | 0 Comments


Permanent AU Representative to the United States, Dr. Arikana Chihombori Quao with stakeholders from the Diaspora in Washington

Permanent AU Representative to the United States, Dr. Arikana Chihombori Quao with stakeholders from the Diaspora in Washington

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson invited the African Union chairperson to a meeting in Washington only to drop out at the last minute, according to a new report.

Tillerson’s proposed meeting with A.U. Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki fell apart last week, Foreign Policy said Tuesday.

Sources told Foreign Policy that Tillerson invited Faki to Washington the week of April 17 after Faki finished meetings at the United Nations in New York City.

Faki reportedly scheduled a trip to D.C. for April 19 and 20 while waiting for details of his visit with Tillerson to be finalized, Foreign Policy reported.

Tillerson’s office then went silent, Foreign Policy’s sources added, leaving Faki frustrated by the turn of events.

Faki, the head of a 55-nation bloc, canceled his visit to D.C. entirely over the misunderstanding.

Foreign Policy said Tillerson’s team offered Faki a chance to see lower level State Department officials instead, but that meeting never materialized.

“African officials were incensed,” said Reuben Brigety, a former U.S. ambassador to the A.U. who was familiar with the circumstances surrounding to Faki’s visit.

“This is ridiculous, particularly at a time when Africans are increasingly becoming more and more aware of their choices in partners around the world,” he said, calling the mishap “the dumbest thing in the world.”

Arikana Chihombori, the African Union’s ambassador to Washington, confirmed to Foreign Policy that Tillerson’s invitation to Faki did not end in a successful visit.

“The people I dealt with at the State Department were very attentive and did the best they could,” she said.

“We tend to rise above situations like this,” Chihombori added, noting the incident would not likely harm relations between the U.S. and A.U.

*The Hill

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Africa: New AU Chief Puts Peace Back On the Agenda
April 24, 2017 | 0 Comments

Moussa Faki Mahamat – African Union Chair. Source -the Guardian

Moussa Faki Mahamat – African Union Chair. Source -the Guardian

The scene is not a familiar one at the African Union (AU): the AU Commission (AUC) chairperson, in shirtsleeves, walking in the blazing sun down an unpaved alley in a war-torn country. Yet this picture of Moussa Faki Mahamat, the new AUC chairperson, on a visit to South Sudan, is probably the first of many.

Mahamat last month visited South Sudan and Somalia, two of the worst war zones the AU has had to cope with in the past few years. He was accompanied by Smaïl Chergui, the AUC Commissioner for Peace and Security. He also met with politicians from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali.

Mahamat’s predecessor, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, was criticised in some quarters for not paying enough attention to burning crises on the continent. She rarely travelled to conflict zones. Mahamat has been travelling to hotspots and meeting with leaders about solving conflicts.

Four days after his January inauguration in Addis Ababa, Chad’s former foreign minister left for neighbouring Somalia where he met with newly elected President Mohamed Abdullahi ‘Farmajo’ Mohamed. Somalia is the location of the AU’s main peacekeeping effort, where the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) is fighting al-Shabaab.

While in Mogadishu, Mahamat laid a wreath for the unknown soldier – an overdue gesture for the countless African soldiers who have died in battle in Somalia this past decade. Shortly afterwards he travelled to Nairobi to attend a special summit organised by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) about the future of Somali refugees.

A day after the Nairobi meeting, on 27 March, he was in South Sudan where civil war has been raging since December 2013, with no end in sight. The AU Peace and Security Department posted pictures on Twitter of Mahamat holding a baby in Ganyiel in South Sudan’s Unity State, where famine has been declared. The UN reports that 5.8 million South Sudanese require food aid.

The UN has also warned that genocide could occur in South Sudan if no political solution is found soon. Refugees streaming over the border to Uganda in the past few weeks have told horrific tales of ethnic cleansing and killings based on tribal affiliation.

Mahamat might have been thinking about this as he sat with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame in Kigali on 8 April to commemorate the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Then, Africa said ‘never again’. In fact, the very AUC that the Chadian diplomat is now heading, is tasked with intervening in crises on the continent and preventing things from escalating to such an extent that lives are threatened on a massive scale.

 Besides the crises in Somalia and South Sudan, several African countries are still battling with terrorist threats. Last week, on 10 April, the foreign minister of Mali, Abdoulaye Diop, spoke to AU ambassadors in Addis Ababa during a meeting of the Peace and Security Council on the new plans to fight terrorism in the Sahel. These efforts are led by the G5 Sahel countries (Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania).

The G5 Sahel is planning a joint intervention force similar to the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) against Boko Haram. Mahamat also knows these battles very well. Boko Haram has been in his backyard for years. Chad in fact plays an important role in the regional offensive against the terror group. The MNJTF, headquartered in the Chadian capital N’Djamena, has made a lot of progress and has weakened Boko Haram.

Back in his office in Addis Ababa, the AUC chief will soon be reminded that when it comes to solving Africa’s conflicts, the AU’s hands are tied on many levels. Firstly, the AUC – with its representatives from 55 member states – remains a highly bureaucratic institution with huge organisational problems. Mahamat and his new team, including his deputy and eight commissioners, are charged with implementing new reforms at the AU, adopted by heads of state at their 28th summit in January.

 Secondly, financial constraints still plague the AU. The new financial structure that was adopted in July last year by heads of state, which will see 0.2% of African imports taxed to finance the AUC, is only being put into place very slowly. For now, the AU programmes and especially peace support operations are almost fully funded by outside institutions like the European Union.

Finally, nothing can be done about peace and security without the cooperation of the AU’s member states. Time and again, AU peace efforts have faltered because states are unwilling to acknowledge the AU’s role and responsibility in the internal affairs of member states and/or have not been willing to provide the resources to back its plans.

One of the reasons that the peace efforts in South Sudan have failed is the lack of coordination and commitment by countries in the region, some of whom have taken sides in the conflict.

The AU has vowed to silence the guns by 2020. Mahamat said in his election campaign for the AUC’s top job that he speaks fluent French, English and Arabic and has a lot of experience in diplomacy. Those skills will have to be put into practice to convince African leaders and belligerents to cooperate in the interest of peace and security.

*ISS/AllAfrica.Liesl Louw-Vaudran, ISS Consultant

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US sends dozens of troops to Somalia, 1st time in decades
April 15, 2017 | 0 Comments

FILE - In a Dec. 10, 1992 file photo, a U.S. Marine gives the thumbs up as a truck load of troops arrive at the reopened U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu, Somalia. According to the U.S. Africa Command on Friday April 14, 2017, the U.S. military is sending dozens of regular troops to Somalia to train Somali soldiers in the largest such deployment to the Horn of Africa country in roughly two decades. (Denis Pauqin, File/Associated Press)

FILE – In a Dec. 10, 1992 file photo, a U.S. Marine gives the thumbs up as a truck load of troops arrive at the reopened U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu, Somalia. According to the U.S. Africa Command on Friday April 14, 2017, the U.S. military is sending dozens of regular troops to Somalia to train Somali soldiers in the largest such deployment to the Horn of Africa country in roughly two decades. (Denis Pauqin, File/Associated Press)

MOGADISHU, Somalia — The U.S. military is sending dozens of regular troops to Somalia in the largest such deployment to the Horn of Africa country in roughly two decades.

The United States pulled out of Somalia after 1993, when two helicopters were shot down in the capital, Mogadishu, and bodies of Americans were dragged through the streets. Even now, Somalia’s fragile central government is struggling to assert itself after the nationwide chaos that began with the fall of dictator Siad Barre in 1991.

The U.S. Africa Command on Friday said this deployment is for logistics training of Somalia’s army, which is battling the extremist group al-Shabab that emerged from the country’s years of warlord-led conflict. About 40 troops are taking part.

The U.S. in recent years has sent a small number of special operations forces and counter-terror advisers to Somalia, and President Donald Trump recently approved an expanded military role there. It includes carrying out more aggressive airstrikes against al-Shabab and considering parts of southern Somalia areas of active hostilities.

The country’s new Somali-American president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, last week declared a new offensive against the extremist group, which is based in Somalia but has claimed responsibility for major attacks in East Africa, including the Garissa University attack in neighboring Kenya in April 2015 that killed 148 people.

Al-Shabab also caused alarm in February 2016 when it claimed responsibility for the bombing of an airliner that made an emergency landing with a gaping hole in the fuselage shortly after taking off from Mogadishu.

The extremist group this week announced that its recent escalation of deadly attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere is in “doubled response” to Trump’s approval of expanded U.S. military efforts. On Sunday, Somalia’s new military chief survived a suicide car bomb attack following his swearing-in, while 13 people were killed. A day later, a suicide bombing at a military academy in Mogadishu killed at least five soldiers.

Al-Shabab was chased out of Mogadishu several years ago by national and African Union multinational forces but still controls some rural areas. Meanwhile, fighters pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group have emerged in the northern part of the country.

*AP/Washington Post

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ITFC supports the textile and garment industry through its first African-Asian Cotton B2B meeting in Bangladesh
April 15, 2017 | 0 Comments
ITFC furthers its commitment to promoting sustainable intra-trade relationships by organizing its first Cotton B2B meetings between African cotton suppliers and Bangladesh Cotton Importers
ITFC supports the textile and garment industry through its first African-Asian Cotton B2B meeting in Bangladesh

ITFC supports the textile and garment industry through its first African-Asian Cotton B2B meeting in Bangladesh

DHAKA, People’s Republic of Bangladesh, April 10, 2017/ — In its continuous efforts to promote and foster intra-trade development, the International Islamic Trade Financing Corporation (ITFC) , member of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) Group, organized its first African-Asian Cotton B2B Meeting event as part of its Cotton Development and Partnership Program. The Meeting took place in the Westin Hotel, Dhaka, Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh.

The event was inaugurated by H. E. Mr. Abul Maal Abdul Muhith M.P, Minister of Finance, Government of the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh and Chairman of the IDB Board of Governors and Eng. Hani Salem Sonbol, Chief Executive Officer, ITFC. The meeting also witnessed the attendance of West African cotton producers, the African Cotton Association, the Bangladesh Textile Mills Association, the Bangladesh Cotton Association, and Bengali Spinning/Textile Mills.

The Meeting supports in the first place the Bangladeshi textile industry, which is the source of employment and export earnings for Bangladeshi economy. ITFC was able to bridge between the Asian countries, specifically Bangladesh and Indonesia, to reach out and develop new business partnerships with African cotton suppliers.

Eng. Hani Salem Sonbol, CEO ITFC expressed his special thanks to the President of African Cotton Association, Mr. Baba Berthe and CEOs, representatives of West African Cotton Ginning companies for being part of this B2B Meeting, which ITFC is co-hosting with the Bangladesh Textile Mill Association and Bangladesh Cotton Association. He went on to say, “ITFC is very thankful to its strategic partners for co-hosting this important business development event for OIC’s cotton industry. ITFC, as the trade finance and trade development arm of the IDB Group, brings businessmen together from its member countries and provide them with the platform as such today to develop new business partnership to benefit from direct trade linkages between cotton exporting countries and Bangladeshi textile industry.”

From his part, H. E. Mr. Abul Maal Abdul Muhith M.P, Minister of Finance had expressed his confidence in the impact of this meeting to the Bangladeshi’s to the textile and garment industry, which is the backbone of the Bangladeshi economy and stimulator of its economic growth. “This meeting opened doors to our cotton importers to build new opportunities with the African suppliers. With the current challenging economic environment and the increasing competition, ITFC had given us the chance to reach out to new destinations.”

Calik Cotton, sponsored the meeting as the event’s strategic partner. Calik Cotton supplies cotton of different origins grown both in Turkey and abroad and serves major local and international textile industrialists. Moreover, this event serves as a platform for networking and business partnerships, and provides an opportunity for discussing ideas, industry trends and market updates.

On the sidelines of the B2B meeting, Eng. Hani held one to one meetings with H.E. Mr. Abul Maal A Muhith, Minister of Finance, H.E. Mr. Fazle Kabir, Governor & Chairman of the Board, Bangladesh Bank and H.E. Mr. Nasrul Hamid M.P., State Minister, Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources. The meetings focused on the longstanding and strategic partnership between ITFC and the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh, especially in supporting Bangladesh’s energy sector in addition to the opportunities in supporting the agricultural sector.

ITFC is recognized as the leading trade financier for cotton in West Africa. As such, it is mandated to facilitate and promote intra-trade among Member Countries of Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), and assist them in developing the competitiveness of their strategic products.

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East Africa: EAC Passport for Release Next Year
April 11, 2017 | 0 Comments

 The new East African e-passport.

The new East African e-passport.

Arusha — Issuance of international passports for East African Community (EAC) has been re-scheduled to early next year, the same time the African Union also intends to release its travel document.

The EAC six partner states, it was revealed at the just ended 35th EAC Council of Ministers’ meeting here, have been directed to start issuing the new East African machine readable Electronic- Passports by January 31, 2018 after preparedness of each partner state was considered.

The council directives come on the backdrop of the 17th Ordinary Summit of the EAC Heads of State that directed the partner states to issue the new EA e-Passport by January 1, 2017 and execute the phase out programme for the current machine readable East African and National Passports between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2018.

According to the 35th EAC Council of Ministers’ official report, Burundi reported that through the Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement, the country had completed the process of procuring the EA e-Passport booklets and was ready to issue the document by April 3, 2017.

 Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda reported to start issuing the New International EA e-passport not later than April 2017 while Tanzania will be ready to issue the East African e-Passport by January 1, 2018.

The e-Passport is expected to boost free movement of people across the East African region and facilitate implementation of the Common Market protocol, which guarantees the right to move between countries in East Africa.

The EAC e-Passport will have diplomatic, service and ordinary categories, different from the current machine readable passports issued by the partner states. It will be valid for up 10 years while the diplomatic passport and service passport will be valid according to the holder’s specific term of the service.

 The standard international e-Passport will have a chip that holds the same information as printed on the passport’s data page, the holder’s name, date of birth and other biographic information. It will also contain a biometric identifier and have a digital photograph of the holder as well as security features to prevent unauthorised reading or “scanning” of stored data.

The new EAC travel document will come in red, green and sky blue — the colours of the EAC flag — but with text and national emblems, in gold to complete its face. The colour of the passport will depend on categories.

The EAC diplomats will carry the red passport, while officials and ordinary citizens will have green and sky blue, respectively. The outer front cover will have the ‘East African Community’ inscription in gold on top and below the name of the issuing partner states will be pasted.

But, the recent African Union (AU) summit in Kampala floated its own idea of having the AU passport, which will be a hybrid travel document serving as VISA to all the 55 countries on the continent. Officially known as the African Union (AU) e-Passport, the electronic document will grant holders the visa-free access to any of the 55 AU member states.

 The e-Passport has symbolic importance too. It is seen as a key step toward the AU’s vision of a “continent with seamless borders”. Supporters hope the visa will improve intra-Africa travel, trade, and development.

The AU, according to an official release from Addis Ababa, plans to abolish visa requirements for all African citizens in all African countries by 2018, in line with the AU Agenda 2063.

The AU has been citing 2020 as the new start date for the proposed visa- free African travel.

*Tanzania Daily News/Allafrica

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Trump’s America First Budget Puts Africa Last
March 27, 2017 | 0 Comments

By Ty McCormick*

Slash-and-burn cuts to the State Department and USAID would deepen the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

Slash-and-burn cuts to the State Department and USAID would deepen the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

NAIROBI — It gets more U.S. foreign aid than any other continent, the largest share of U.S. global health and disaster relief spending, and it hosts nine out of the world’s 16 U.N. peacekeeping operations — and four out of the five most expensive ones.

Sub-Saharan Africa is grappling with record levels of displacement and hunger due to conflict and drought, but President Donald Trump is proposing “deep cuts to foreign aid” that would hit this continent the hardest. According to the U.N., more than 20 million people are on the edge of starvation in just four countries, three of which are in Africa: South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria.

Trump’s “skinny” budget blueprint, released by the White House last week, aims to slash the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) budgets by close to 30 percent, while eliminating several executive agencies, including the U.S. African Development Foundation, which funds grassroots development projects in 30 African countries. The cuts are supposed to partially offset a $54 billion increase in defense spending.

On the humanitarian side, the demand is as great as it has ever been, including in Africa,” Gayle Smith, who ran USAID under President Barack Obama, told Foreign Policy. “This in essence calls on us to tie one hand behind our back, if not both, at a time when we are confronting huge challenges as well as huge opportunities.”

In addition to gutting America’s most important diplomatic and humanitarian organs, Trump aims to cut funding for the U.N. and affiliated agencies. State Department officials have reportedly been instructed to eliminate more than half of the United States’ annual $10 billion contribution to the U.N., cuts that would drastically reduce the world body’s ability to fight hunger, disease, and war.

“If implemented, President Trump’s ‘skinny’ budget would have a serious impact on Africa,” John Campbell, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, told FP. “Most forms of foreign assistance would be eliminated. Contributions to the U.N. system, including peacekeeping, would be much reduced if not eliminated altogether.”

The blueprint leaves intact funding for HIV/AIDS and malaria treatment, both of which are critically important for Africa. But it hints at deep cuts elsewhere in the aid budget, including to initiatives aimed at countering the effects of climate change, which is already affecting parts of the continent through coastal erosion and desertification.

Until the Trump administration submits a more detailed budget proposal in May, it’s impossible to say which programs will be hit the hardest. Given that much of the State Department and USAID budget is fixed, however, it’s their discretionary spending on development and humanitarian relief that’s likely to get the chop, according to former USAID officials.

“Because they’re not going to close down embassies and lay people off, I don’t think, the cuts could be more draconian than 28 percent,” Andrew Natsios, who served as USAID administrator under President George W. Bush, told FP. “If you take it out of the foreign aid budget, which is discretionary, it would be more like a 50 percent cut. We don’t yet know how [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson will allocate that, but I think it’s worse than it appears.”

Trump’s blueprint is just the opening salvo in what will be a months-long negotiation with Congress over the spending bill. Already, it has encountered stiff opposition, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calling the “diplomatic portion” of the federal budget “very important” and Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the subcommittee on state and foreign appropriations, saying the budget proposal is “dead on arrival.”

Although the budget is unlikely to pass in its current form, it sends a powerful message to one of the world’s most aid-dependent regions that the Trump era will be anything but business as usual. “We are entering a new territory here,” said a senior Kenyan diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We don’t know yet what will happen, but we are fearing that it will leave a big hole in terms of the aid people are getting.”

The State Department and USAID together spent more than $8 billion on foreign assistance to sub-Saharan African countries in 2015, the last year for which there are data. (By comparison, Britain, the world’s second-largest bilateral donor, shelled out a little more than $3 billion.) Of that, they spent more than $1.13 billion on foreign disaster relief, including $717 million on Ebola response and hundreds of millions feeding and securing people in conflict zones like South Sudan, Central African Republic, and northern Mali.

Since then, things have only gotten worse. This month, the U.N. warned that the world is facing the worst humanitarian disaster since World War II, citing crises in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and northern Nigeria. “The administration doesn’t realize it yet, but they are going to call up AID when there is a major disaster that threatens the U.S., like Ebola, and say, ‘What can you do about this?’” Natsios said.

It’s not just disaster relief that is threatened by Trump’s budget. The cuts would wipe out much of the development funding that, at least in theory, should create sustainable economies that are less susceptible to future crises. At $28.2 million, the 2017 budget request for the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) is less than the cost of an Apache helicopter. But its provision of small, direct grants to grassroots organizations means that its programs benefit 1.5 million people, mainly in impoverished trouble spots in Africa’s Horn, Sahel, and Great Lakes regions.

Trump’s blueprint eliminates USADF, meaning that dozens of development programs run by its African partners would come to a halt overnight. In South Sudan, where the U.N. recently declared a famine, that would mean terminating four sustainable agriculture programs that are worth a combined $670,000.

“The situation now is very critical, with many people depending on these funds,” said Albino Gaw Dar, director of the Foundation for Youth Initiative, the USADF’s partner organization in South Sudan. “The communities we are supporting will be devastated [by the cuts.] Their livelihoods will be devastated.”

More than 1,000 direct beneficiaries and between 5,000 and 10,000 indirect beneficiaries — mainly family members of those working on the projects — would be affected if USADF is forced to end its operations in South Sudan, according to Dar.

Peacekeeping is another area that could suffer in the Trump era. The budget blueprint caps U.S. spending on blue helmet operations at 25 percent of the peacekeeping budget, which in 2016 was $7.9 billion. (This year, the U.S. contribution amounts to almost 30 percent.) Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has indicated that her office will undertake a mission-by-mission review of peacekeeping operations, suggesting that those in Africa are especially deserving of scrutiny.

“If you look at the peace missions in Africa, it has been devastating to see the sexual exploitation, the fraud, the abuse that’s happening,” she said during her Senate confirmation hearing. Speaking generally about U.N. peacekeeping, she asked, “Do we need to shift and do things differently, or do we need to pull out?”

The missions in South Sudan, Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been roundly criticized for their failure to protect civilians and for the criminal conduct of their peacekeepers. Last year, at least 311 people were allegedly abused by U.N. peacekeepers, the largest number by blue helmets in Congo. In July, peacekeepers in South Sudan reportedly stood by as civilians were raped in full view of their compound. But part of the reason these missions have performed so poorly is that they’ve been deployed to places where there is no peace to keep.

“It’s more expensive to deploy missions into zones of active conflict and into remote regions which lack even basic infrastructure,” said Paul D. Williams, an expert on peacekeeping at George Washington University. “Yet it is in precisely such areas where most of the large U.N. missions have been sent by the Security Council.”

Cutting funding to these missions, nearly all of which are in Africa, will only make them less effective, Williams said. “Trump’s budget proposal reveals this administration’s slash-and-burn approach to the U.N. is ideological. It is not the product of a thoughtful review process carried out and then implemented to find sensible reforms. This is an attack on an institution based on prejudice and ignorance,” he said.

The mission in Congo, which at $1.2 billion is the U.N.’s largest and most expensive, will be the first to come up for review during Trump’s presidency. Since American interests in Congo are less clear than in a place like Mali, where blue helmets have been drawn into a conflict with al Qaeda-linked militants, it will be something of a bellwether for peacekeeping in the era of Trump.

If the budget proposal is likely to be watered down substantially before it is signed into law, there are more subtle ways in which Trump’s administration is already leaving its mark on humanitarian operations in Africa. The president’s temporary travel ban, which caps the number of refugees entering the United States at 50,000, has brought refugee resettlement operations on the continent to a sudden halt. Church World Service, which is contracted by the State Department to run the only resettlement support center in sub-Saharan Africa, laid off more than 500 employees in the wake of Trump’s executive order. The organization had set its targets based on Obama’s pledge to resettle 110,000 refugees; overnight it found itself with virtually nothing to do.

Others in Nairobi’s massive aid worker community — the city serves as a hub for operations across East Africa — are feeling jittery about their jobs. Some, USAID contractors especially, are brushing up their résumés.

“Trump was supposed be the jobs president,” one contractor who works on a USAID-funded project said only half in jest. “Looks like he’ll be the biggest job killer Nairobi has ever seen.”


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Kenya to Reopen Border With Somalia
March 25, 2017 | 0 Comments

By Mohammed Yusuf*

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta speaks during a joint news conference with Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed at State House in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, March 23, 2017. Mohamed is on an official State visit to Kenya.(AP Photo/Khalil Senosi)

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta speaks during a joint news conference with Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed at State House in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, March 23, 2017. Mohamed is on an official State visit to Kenya.(AP Photo/Khalil Senosi)

The Kenyan government says it will open the border with Somalia to boost trade and allow the flow of people between the two countries. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta also pledged to help Somalia in the fight against al-Shabab militants and support and train government workers. His remarks followed a meeting he had in Nairobi with his Somali counterpart, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed.

After a closed door meeting that lasted more than three hours, the two heads of state addressed the media in a display of friendship.

President Kenyatta discussed the border issue.

“We agreed to take the following actions within the shortest possible time, open two border posts, in Dobley-Liboi and Mandera-Bula Hawa, and to facilitate the movement of people, goods and services,” he said.

The borders have remained closed for the last two-and-a-half decades since Somalia descended into conflict; however, people living along the borders and refugees have found a way to get into Kenya.

Kenya has also agreed to train 500 Somali men and women in different economic fields including teaching, nursing, and administration, to help in their country’s rebuilding and recovery.

Despite the optimism expressed by the two leaders, the threat of Somali militant group al-Shabab exists, and both countries have reaffirmed their commitment to defeating the organization.

Kenya has also had issues with Somali refugees living at the Dadaab refugee camp, in the northeast of the country.

The east African nation plans to close the refugee camp, the world’s largest, by the end of May, but, in what some say might be a change of heart, Kenyatta says his government will build a training institute at the camp to educate high school graduates.

FILE - Refugee and her baby at Hagadera transit camp in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp, September 20, 2016. (Jill Craig/VOA)

FILE – Refugee and her baby at Hagadera transit camp in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp, September 20, 2016. (Jill Craig/VOA)


“Kenya will establish a technical training institute for youths currently in the refugee camps as well as the environs of Dadaab and this I believe will greatly help in providing these young men and women the necessary skills they will require to develop and grow Somalia,” said Kenyatta.

Thousands of Dadaab high school graduates can not join universities and training institutes in Kenya because they are confined to the camps.

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed says the latest economic collaboration will improve the security of the region.

“Close economic cooperation between Kenya and Somalia will not only help to improve the lives of our millions of people but will also enhance the security situation in East Africa. Therefore my government is ready to work very closely with your government in the realization of full economic cooperation between our two nations,” he said.

The two eastern African countries also agreed to cooperate on security issues to confront the threat of al-Shabab in the region.


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Africa has worst hunger crisis in 70 years amid budget cuts
March 25, 2017 | 0 Comments


In this photo taken Sunday, March 19, 2017, Rosa Lyo eats fruit at a camp for those who were previously displaced by fighting, near a church in Rajaf, South Sudan. As the world marks World Water Day on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 more than 5 million people in South Sudan do not have access to safe, clean water, compounding the problems of famine and civil war, according to UNICEF. (Matthieu Alexandre/Caritas Internationalis via AP)

In this photo taken Sunday, March 19, 2017, Rosa Lyo eats fruit at a camp for those who were previously displaced by fighting, near a church in Rajaf, South Sudan. As the world marks World Water Day on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 more than 5 million people in South Sudan do not have access to safe, clean water, compounding the problems of famine and civil war, according to UNICEF. (Matthieu Alexandre/Caritas Internationalis via AP)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Africa faces the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since 1945, with more than 20 million people facing starvation, and any cut in funding to humanitarian agencies working in famine-affected areas will cause untold suffering, a spokesman for the World Food Program said in Johannesburg Thursday, responding to questions about U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposal to cut $10 billion in foreign aid.

“Any cuts at this time are extremely significant, not just for us but for any U.N. agencies and any aid organization,” said David Orr, WFP’s Africa spokesman, at a media briefing in Johannesburg. “With the magnitude of needs at the moment is it vital that we continue with a high level of assistance.”

The current hunger crisis is in three African countries, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria, as well as nearby Yemen.

The U.S. is WFP’s largest donor and was one of the organization’s founders. Last year it contributed more than $2 billion, representing about 24 percent of WFP’s total budget, Orr said.

U.N. operations in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria will require more than $5.6 billion this year, he said. At least $4.4 billion is needed by the end of March to avert a catastrophe, he said, but so far the U.N. has only received $90 million.

“The more dramatic cuts in any aid budgets, the more the number of debts, the more suffering there is going to be,” Orr said.

“We have a situation where famine has been declared in two counties in Unity state in South Sudan. That means there are already people dying in those places. This has been caused by a combination of factors including conflict, which prevents access. Humanitarian intervention is very difficult. Huge numbers of people are displaced,” Orr said. “Now famine is threatening in other parts of South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen.”


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UK’s Boris Johnson makes surprise visit to Somalia
March 16, 2017 | 0 Comments
This handout photograph taken and released by the Office of the Somali President on March 15, 2017 shows British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson (R) standing next to Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed in Mogadishu (AFP Photo/HO)

This handout photograph taken and released by the Office of the Somali President on March 15, 2017 shows British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson (R) standing next to Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed in Mogadishu (AFP Photo/HO)

Mogadishu (AFP) – Britain’s foreign minister, Boris Johnson, made a surprise visit to Somalia on Wednesday, conferring with leaders on its security problems and a devastating drought ahead of a conference in London.

Johnson met the new president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, in the centre of the capital Mogadishu, Somali sources and the British foreign office said separately.

He also saw a demonstration of training provided by the British military to the Somali army and the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) force, the British statement said.

Johnson also visited an operations centre coordinating action to combat Somalia’s drought, met regional leaders and lawmakers and joined training aimed at improving the Somali justice system, it added.

Aid agencies say the drought has left about three million people in crisis, adding to the problems of a country battling jihadist insurgents.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned in February that Somalia risks facing its third famine in 25 years. The last one, in 2011, killed an estimated 260,000 people.

More than 6.2 million people — half the population — need urgent humanitarian aid, according to the WHO.

Somalia, which declared a “national disaster” over the drought on February 28, is among three nations on the verge of famine, along with Yemen and Nigeria. In South Sudan, 100,000 people are already in famine conditions. Overall, more than 20 million people face starvation in the four countries.

Johnson’s visit to Somalia had not been announced for security reasons.

It started a tour of East Africa and after Mogadishu he headed to Uganda.

He will then visit Ethiopia and Kenya, “where he will be discussing regional security, prosperity and the upcoming London Somalia Conference on May 11, 2017 and the Commonwealth Summit in April 2018,” his office said.

An AFP journalist in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, said Johnson met President Yoweri Museveni, and thanked him for Uganda’s support for AMISOM.

AMISOM has been deployed to back Somalia’s internationally-backed administration in fighting the Shabaab jihadist militia.

The force has 22,000 troops, of whom 6,200 are Ugandan, the largest single contribution. The country last June announced it intended to pull out its troops in December 2017.


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