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Boko Haram Releases 21 Chibok Schoolgirls in Nigeria 2 Years Later
October 13, 2016 | 0 Comments


ap_nigeria_girls_kab_140919_16x9_992-1More than two years after their abduction, 21 of the missing Chibok schoolgirls have been released by Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria, a government spokesman said today.

“The release of the girls, in a limited number is the outcome of negotiations between the administration and the Boko Haram brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government,” presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said in a statement. “The names of the released girls follows shortly.”

The successful negotiations mark the first major breakthrough since the Islamic militant group kidnapped 276 girls from a school in the small town of Chibok in Borno state on April 14, 2014. Some of the girls have managed to escape but, even with today’s release of 21, the fate of nearly 200 others remains unknown.

Some are believed to have been killed in the Nigerian military’s airstrikes on Boko Haram.

Shehu said the negotiations with Boko Haram will continue to secure the release of the remaining girls. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari welcomed the girls’ release but he “cautioned Nigerians to be mindful of the fact that more than 30,000 fellow citizens were killed by terrorism,” Shehu said in a statement.

Elodie Schindler, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, confirmed to ABC News that the humanitarian group, “acting as a neutral intermediary,” transferred 21 of the missing Chibok schoolgirls and handed them over to Nigerian authorities today. The group was not part of the Nigerian government’s negotiations with Boko Haram and was only involved in the girls’ transfer and transport. Schindler denied providing further comment or additional details.

Pogu Bitrus, a village elder in the Chibok community, told ABC News that the town received word of the girls’ release today and is awaiting their arrival.

The Chibok girls’ plight prompted a global movement and social media campaign using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, which has been endorsed by international leaders such as first lady Michelle Obama and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Aisha Yesufu and Oby Ezekwesili of the #BringBackOurGirls movement issued a statement today welcoming reports of the negotiated release of 21 girls.

“This wonderful development confirms what we have always known about the capacity of our government to rescue our Chibok girls,” the statement read. “Following this development, we trust that our government will continue to work to keep the safety, security, and well-being of the other girls a high priority. We further urge the international community to continue to support our government’s effort to rescue all other abducted Nigerians, so that parents, the Chibok community, the nation, and the world can finally put an end to this nightmare once and for all.”

Allen Manasseh, an activist from Chibok, told ABC News that the #BringBackOurGirls group is waiting in the capital Abuja, where the girls will be received by Nigeria’s vice president this afternoon. The girls are believed to be undergoing medical tests before being transported to Abuja.

In May, Nigerian troops and a vigilante group found one of the missing Chibok schoolgirls in the vast Sambisa Forest, which covers over 23,000 square miles in northeast Nigeria and is a stronghold of Boko Haram.

The teenager was identified by the army as Amina Ali. She was found with a 4-month-old baby, who authorities said is her daughter, and a man identified by the army as Mohammed Hayatu, who said he is her husband.

Hayutu was detained for questioning as a suspected Boko Haram militant. The three were examined by military medics and deemed stable. Amina was reunited with her mother, the army said.

Residents said the Chibok teen told her family that six of her classmates had died.

The Nigerian military’s failure to act on the girls’ kidnapping led in part to President Goodluck Jonathan’s electoral defeat to Buhari in March of last year. Since taking office, Buhari has made the war against Boko Haram a top priority, but families of the missing schoolgirls have grown frustrated as months have passed without their rescue.

Buhari has said corruption from previous administrations was largely to blame for the army’s inability to quickly defeat Boko Haram, which aims to overthrow the federal government and establish an Islamic state in West Africa.

In the past year, Buhari has replaced the military top brass and relocated the command center to Maiduguri in Borno state, the heartland of Boko Haram’s seven-year insurgency that encompasses the town of Chibok.


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Africa: Three Women to Join Kagame’s African Union Reform Team
October 11, 2016 | 0 Comments

Louise Mushikiwabo

Louise Mushikiwabo

At least three eminent women are set to join President Paul Kagame’s team that is charged with spearheading reforms at the African Union.

After The EastAfrican exclusively reported the appointment of Carlos Lopes, Donald Kaberuka, Strive Masiyiwa and Acha Leke to the team, one of the president’s 1.5 million Twitter followers questioned why no woman had been named.

“The team is not complete… awaiting consent of two women to join the team. Thinking of three,” President Kagame replied.

The AU is expected to wean itself of donor dependency by 2018. President Kagame was tasked with leading efforts to reform the AU into a self-reliant body.

Mr Kaberuka, the former president of the African Development Bank, presented a new model of financing to African leaders during the 27th Heads of State Summit held in Kigali in July. He will work with Mr Lopes, the outgoing executive director of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and Mr Masiyiwa, the Econet Wireless founder. Mr Leke is a senior partner at global consultancy firm McKinsey & Company.

There was speculation that the team would include Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, but this was countered by the argument that her Cabinet position would not allow her to take up another full time engagement.

The other possible appointee was former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Ms Mushikiwabo, who is also the government spokesperson, confirmed that three women will join the team but said she could not reveal the names yet.

“Indeed, shortly three women will join the team working with President Kagame on the AU reform proposal to be shared with other heads of state at the next AU Summit in January 2017. President Kagame’s work on the reforms is quite advanced, but it’s never too late to get a woman’s views. The president wrote to his fellow African heads of state after the Kigali Summit asking for input to enrich his work, and a few have already responded,” Ms Mushikiwabo told The EastAfrican.

The AU has in the past come under scrutiny for its dependency on donors and its failure to make firm decisions on important matters affecting the continent.

Although the leaders have adopted a new model for financing the AU, challenges remain on how it will be implemented considering that a similar model floated by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo failed to take off. Mr Obasanjo had suggested that states levy a tourism tax of $2 on hotel rooms and a $10 levy on each air ticket bought.

The new model championed by Mr Kaberuka will see countries raise about $1.2 billion to finance AU operations through a 0.2 per cent tax on imports.

“Africa can do better in terms of mobilising internal resources,” Mr Lopes said.


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Africa: Will Rwanda Support for Kenya’s AU Chair Nominee Tip the Scales?
October 11, 2016 | 0 Comments

Kenya's nominee for the African Union Commission chair - Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed (file photo)

Kenya’s nominee for the African Union Commission chair – Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed (file photo)

Rwanda is supporting Kenya’s nominee for the African Union Commission chair – Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed – but it remains to be seen which way Tanzania and Uganda will lean.

Ms Mohamed was proposed for the job by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, who cited her credentials in diplomacy and exemplary performance in her current docket.

She has been Kenya’s ambassador/permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, and served as the assistant secretary general and deputy executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme in Nairobi.

Ms Mohamed, who will be standing against candidates from the other regional blocs, stands a better chance of election if she gets support from all EAC member states.

Elections to replace Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is stepping down after one term to prepare for a stab at the South African presidency, will take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in January.

On Friday, a committee to vet candidates met in Addis Ababa.

Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Louise Mushikiwabo told The EastAfrican that her country would support Ms Mohamed, ruling out speculation that they would front the former president of the African Development Bank Donald Kaberuka or former EAC secretary general Richard Sezibera.

“She is the best woman for the job, and she is very much Rwanda’s candidate. She is highly qualified, has incredible diplomatic and managerial experience, and the right heart and mind when it comes to the strategic interests of our continent, as well as Africa’s active presence on the global scene,” Ms Mushikiwabo said.

Uganda’s International Relations State Ministry Permanent Secretary James Mugume said the country was yet to decide on whom to support, but would back the candidate the region agreed on between Kenya’s Ms Mohamed and Somalia’s Fowyiso Yusuf Haji Adan.

The nomination process for the chairperson was opened afresh after the AU Heads of State Summit in Kigali in July failed to elect a successor to South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who has been at the helm since 2012. At the Kigali summit, none of the three contenders for the position – Botswana’s Foreign Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, her counterpart from Equatorial Guinea Agapito Mba Mokuy and former vice president of Uganda Specioza Wandira Kazibwe – obtained the required two-thirds majority after seven rounds of voting.

Ms Mohamed is expected to battle it out with Mr Mokuy, Somalia’s Ms Adan and the July elections lead candidate Ms Moitoi. Uganda withdrew its nomination of former vice president Specioza Kazibwe after she did not make it among the top candidates.

The SADC trade bloc, has, however, maintained that it will forward Ms Moitoi’s name because Ms Zuma did not serve her second term. Mr Mokuy had portrayed himself as the Economic Community Of West African States (Ecowas) candidate, yet it was Senegal that instigated the 28 states to boycott the elections due to lack of “high calibre” candidates.

Mr Mokuy had sought the support of Nigeria, the West African economic powerhouse, and Kenya, with a special appeal from President Theodore Obiang Nguema.

Another likely candidate is Senegalese diplomat and politician Abdoulaye Bathily, who is currently the UN Secretary General’s special representative for Central Africa.

Chad’s President Idriss Deby, who currently holds the AU rotational leadership, is also believed to have put forth the name of his Foreign Minister, Moussa Faki Mahamat, who served as prime minister between 2003 and 2005, and who would present a second candidate for the Central African bloc.

South Africa is said to have great influence on the SADC countries. This week, South African President Jacob Zuma will be in Nairobi for a three-day state visit, and it is expected that President Kenyatta will use the opportunity to drum up support for Ms Mohamed.

In the July elections, South Africa supported Ms Moitoi. Then South Africa’s international relations minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said the region would campaign with Botswana, and that South Africa was fully behind the SADC initiative. They have not come up with an alternative candidate.

Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Senegal, which led the Ecowas campaign to postpone the election, have also been pushing for a candidate.

In May, Senegal’s President Macky Sall raised concerns about the candidates with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. Senegalese diplomat and politician Abdoulaye Bathily who is currently the UN Secretary General’s special representative for Central Africa was presented as a candidate at the Kigali meeting, but was turned down because the nominations had closed.

In Mr Bathily, in particular, Ms Mohammed is likely to face a veteran of African politics with working experience in West and Central Africa, one whose participation in the Pan African Movement and socialist movements left him with contacts across the continent, including liberation movements in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Angola and South Africa.Additional reporting by Daniel Kalinaki and Edmund Kagire.

*Allafrica/East African

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Senegal: Meet the ‘Darkest’ and Beautiful Senegalese Model
October 11, 2016 | 0 Comments

diop2Some people believe that black is beauty while fair colour only attracts. Could you say that to this young Senegalese, Khoudia Diop who happens to be a model with an extremely dark skin that can be likened to that of Charcoal?

Diop has received a lot of attention including write-ups in Bossip and African Celebs because of her stunning features and outstanding dark skin.

She celebrates her amazing skin as she named herself “Melanin Goddess”

Melanin is a pigment that gives human skin, hair, and eyes their color. Dark-skinned people have more melanin in their skin than light-skinned people have. It is generated by cells called melanocytes

*Allafrica/Ghana Star

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Njeri Kabeberi appointed as Greenpeace Africa Executive Director
September 27, 2016 | 0 Comments

Njeri will be leading Greenpeace Africa into a new wave of environmental justice for Africans by Africans

Kenyan born Njeri Kabeberi, has been named as Executive Director for Greenpeace Africa

Kenyan born Njeri Kabeberi, has been named as Executive Director for Greenpeace Africa

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, September 25, 2016/ — Kenyan born Njeri Kabeberi, has been named as Executive Director for Greenpeace Africa  after an extensive search for a combination of skills required to drive the organisation towards a people –powered movement.

According to the Greenpeace Africa Board, Africans are hungry for a new story, one with a better take on nature, on humanity, their livelihoods, their future and their connection to the earth. “It was critical to find someone who embodies passion, activism and understands the context of environmental justice in Africa and we are confident that Njeri represents that” said Greenpeace Africa Board Chair Brian Kagoro.

Greenpeace currently runs campaigns on four key issues on the continent, to protect the Congo Basin from large scale deforestation, stop overfishing in West Africa, promote ecological farming in the horn of Africa as well as demand a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources in South Africa in order to reverse the impacts of climate change.

With a long history in human rights activism, Njeri will be leading Greenpeace Africa into a new wave of environmental justice for Africans by Africans.

“We will continue to work on our flagship campaigns but more so, we shall be working closely with communities to ensure that our campaigns speak to the local realities on the continent and can effect change in the day to day life of our people” said newly appointed Greenpeace Africa Executive Director Njeri Kabeberi.

“Africa has a major role to play in the global efforts to reverse climate change, protecting its vast natural forest and safeguarding its rich ocean resources is centre to the continent’s contribution in averting the catastrophic effects of climate change. It is important that the continent works together to push for an end to illegal logging, unsustainable fishing and a shift from industrial agriculture to ecological farming to ensure that our biodiversity is protected” added Njeri.

Njeri joins Greenpeace after serving as CEO of the Civil Society Reference Group and as the immediate former Executive Director of the Centre for Multiparty Democracy.  She is also a member of the board of advisors of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) and chairs the board of the International Centre for Policy and Conflict.

Njeri is passionate about social justice and women’s rights, and in 2010, amongst others, received the ILO Wedge Award.  She also has extensive INGO leadership and management experience and was on the Board of the Kenya Human Rights Commission for many years.

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In Rwanda, Craft Beer Opens the Door to Female Empowerment
September 26, 2016 | 0 Comments
Josephine "Fina" Uwineza

Josephine “Fina” Uwineza

Rwandan entrepreneur Josephine Uwineza is accustomed to challenging the status quo in her country’s food scene. In 2000, she brought Asian cuisine to the capital city of Kigali with the country’s first Chinese restaurant. Now she has her sights set on disrupting the pub culture in the Central African nation.

“There’s no craft brewery owned by a woman in Rwanda—not only never owned by a woman, but there’s no craft breweries in Rwanda right now,” Uwineza told TakePart.

Uwineza hopes to fill the void by establishing a brewpub in Kigali, where customers can socialize over a tasting or buy a six-pack to enjoy at home. This week, Uwineza and Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company, based in Canada, announced their partnership with aKickstarter campaign, seeking roughly $72,000 to purchase a bottling line.

Microbreweries have started cropping up across Africa, gaining popularity in Kenya, Botswana, and South Africa, but they haven’t made their way to Rwanda. The most commonly found beer in Rwanda is Primus, a light lager produced by a Heineken subsidiary.

“There are a few [beer] selections that are the exact same in every single bar, in every single store,” Steve Beauchesne, CEO and cofounder of Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company, told TakePart. “There’s this great opportunity for locally owned, locally made craft beer.”

Beauchesne, who cofounded Beau’s with his father in 2006, connected with Uwineza through a program called Peace Through Business. He was looking for a legacy project to celebrate Beau’s 10-year anniversary, and a brewery in Rwanda sounded like the perfect fit.

“We were looking for something that’s in our wheelhouse,” Beauchesne said. “We’re brewers. We’re not well diggers.” Beau’s won’t own the brewery or take a cut of its profit but rather will offer financing and expertise.

Rwanda is still recovering from the genocide of 1994, in which nearly 1 million people were killed in 100 days. Rwandan women, who afterward made up 70 percent of the population, demanded rights as they took over farms and picked up the pieces to repair the shattered economy. In the decades that followed, women changed the nation’s constitution to enshrine gender equality, provide land rights to women, and mandate that women comprise at least 30 percent of the nation’s parliament. For two years running, Rwanda has ranked in the top 10 countries for gender equality in the World Economic Forum’s annual report.

“Rwanda really encourages women to try in any business,” Uwineza said. Despite women’s gains, more than 60 percent of the country’s population still lives in extreme poverty.

Uwineza is confident that her brewpub can help change that. Along with hiring about a dozen employees to run the brewery, it will also fuel the agricultural sector.

“My main concern is the women in the village who are going to grow the raw material,” Uwineza said. “Those are the people I’m going to empower, because this is a demand that’s going to be constantly needed.”

Beauchesne and Uwineza are still in the early stages of developing recipes and selecting styles of beer, but they hope to incorporate as many Rwandan staples as possible, such as sorghum and banana. Rwandans have long distilled bananas to make homemade beer.

“We’re really interested in exploring some of these traditional brewing styles that you just don’t find in other parts of the world and kind of bringing a modern production and craft approach,” Beauchesne said.

Building the brewery will take time. Along with securing funding and training brewers, Beauchesne and Uwineza have to establish a distribution line. At least in the early stages, they’ll need to import hops, the bitter-tasting flower that’s used both to flavor beer and maintain its freshness. (Beauchesne is optimistic Rwanda’s climate will work well for hops farming.) The pair estimates that the first draft is still a few years from being poured. But Uwineza is confident Rwandans’ love of beer won’t dry up anytime soon.

“Drinking beer has always been something that’s traditional,” she said. “Anytime there’s an event, whether it’s a wedding, funeral, or any get-together, there’s always beer on the table.”

*Yahoo/Take Part

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September 23, 2016 | 0 Comments

shea-yeleen-logoRahama Wright discussed the important role women and Diaspora led businesses have in US/Africa trade engagement

Shea Yeleen, today announced its participation in the 2nd U.S.-Africa Business Forum, which was hosted by the U.S. Department of Commerce and Bloomberg Philanthropies on Wednesday, September 21st in New York City at the Plaza Hotel.

During the forum, Ms. Wright spoke about her experience working as an entrepreneur, being part of the inaugural President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business In Africa (PAC/DBIA) and how it was an opportunity to elevate the role of women, youth, and Diaspora led business. Additionally, announced during the forum was Ms. Wright’s reappointment to serve another two-year term on the Presidential Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa. PAC-DBIA members – representing small, medium, and large companies from a variety of industry sectors – advise the President, through the Secretary of Commerce, on ways to strengthen commercial engagement between the United States and Africa.

“Shea Yeleen is a perfect example of how US/Africa trade policy can benefit small businesses that have a social mission,” said Rahama Wright. “I am excited to share our company mission with stakeholders within the business community. Additionally, through my re-appointment on the advisory council, I will continue the work to improve trade engagement between the US and Africa.”

At the Forum, world leaders, including President Barack Obama, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Michael R. Bloomberg and African heads of state, met with private sector CEOs from the U.S. and Africa to examine the partnerships and innovations that have led to deepened business relationships and exciting potential for growth.

The interactive sessions focused on a variety of key issues that impact U.S. – African partnerships, including economic diversification and regional integration, entrepreneurship and bottom-up innovation, and the continent’s digital future.

Shea Yeleen is a social impact business that creates high-quality natural and organic skincare products that create living wages for women in Ghana. Shea Yeleen works hand in hand with women cooperatives members providing them with training, production facilities, and access to capital to develop value added products. The company works with 800 women in Northern Ghana.

Bloomberg Philanthropies works in over 120 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation and Public Health. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s charitable activities, including his foundation and his personal giving. In 2015, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed over half a billion dollars.

The U.S. Department of Commerce promotes job creation, economic growth, sustainable development and improved standards of living for all Americans by working in partnership with businesses, universities, communities and our nation’s workers. The department touches the daily lives of the American people in many ways, with a wide range of responsibilities in the areas of trade, economic development, technology, entrepreneurship and business development, environmental stewardship, and statistical research and analysis.



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Former Nigerian 1st lady claims frozen accounts worth $31.5M
September 15, 2016 | 0 Comments
Patience Jonathan

Patience Jonathan

LAGOS, Nigeria — Former Nigerian first lady Patience Jonathan is claiming ownership of bank accounts allegedly worth $31.5 million that have been frozen in a corruption investigation, prompting anti-corruption groups to demand her prosecution.

The wife of former President Goodluck Jonathan filed suit asking the Federal High Court in Lagos to unfreeze five U.S. dollar accounts at Nigeria’s Skye Bank. They were frozen by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in July.

Separately, her lawyer sent a letter to the commission saying $15 million of the money was a government payment for medical bills she incurred in London in 2013.

Nigerians have taken to social media to deride that claim, asking if she planned to heal the entire world or was buying eternal life. But some accused the anti-graft commission of subjecting her and others to “trial by media.”

The commission has detained hundreds of people in a yearlong investigation of tens of billions of dollars missing from the state treasury that has not produced any successful prosecutions.

The commission did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit and letter, which were dated last week and obtained by The Associated Press.

President Goodluck Jonathan left office in May 2015 after being voted out.

Nigeria’s Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, a civil society group, demanded that the attorney general immediately undertake criminal proceedings against the former first lady.

Nigerian media quoted unidentified anti-corruption commission officers as saying all but one of the frozen accounts were set up in the names of domestic workers, though the former first lady was the sole signatory.

A former senior presidential aide, a lawyer and a bank official are among people named in the corruption case that alleges graft and money laundering.

*AP/Washington Post

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Nigerian woman gives birth to baby boy onboard Mediterranean rescue ship
September 13, 2016 | 0 Comments

Faith with her new baby Newman Otas and midwife Jonquil Nicholl CREDIT: ALVA WHITE

Faith with her new baby Newman Otas and midwife Jonquil Nicholl CREDIT: ALVA WHITE

A Nigerian woman has given birth to a boy while on board a rescue ship in the Mediterranean Sea. The newborn’s nationality is uncertain because he was born in international waters.

Faith Oqunbor, the child’s mother, had been taken from an overcrowded rubber boat onto a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) rescue ship.

The medical charity announced the child’s birth on Twitter, and recounted the experience of Mrs Oqunbor.

“Faith was already having contractions when she left Libya and was terrified she’d give birth on the rubber boat,” MSF said.

The group said the baby’s father and two older brothers, ages five and seven, were both on board the ship and in good health.

They are one of thousands of families who have attempted to make the treacherous crossing from North Africa into Europe. An estimated 3,700 people died while attempting the journey last year alone.

Because the baby was born in international waters, it is unclear what his nationality will be.

Jonqui Nicholl, a midwife who delivered the baby, said the outcome would have been far less certain if Faith had not made it on board the MSF ship.

“I am filled with horror at the thought of what would have happened if this baby had arrived 24 hours earlier – in that unseaworthy rubber boat, with fuel on the bottom where the women sit, crammed in with no space to move, at the mercy of the sea,” she said, according to the BBC.

“And 48 hours previously they were waiting on a beach in Libya not knowing what was ahead of them,” she added.

Mrs Oqunbor said she had been having contractions for three days, and had become “very stressed” on board the rubber boat.

Mrs Oqunbor and her husband Otas named their child Newman Otas Oqunbor.

*Telegraph UK

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From YALI with Hope & A Renewed Sense in Public Service
August 20, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Mercy Kyeng Tetuh*

with certificateIn Africa, we say that cancer is a disease of the rich and diabetes is a disease of affluence. Contrary to this perception, it is the poor that are most affected by these diseases – including those that become poor because of it.

Non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer accounts for more than 38 million deaths or 60% of all annual deaths worldwide. In America, every 1 in 5 adults has high blood pressure as opposed to every 1 in 3 adults in Africa. Kidney failure and stoke is one of the most common outcomes of diabetes and high blood pressure respectively and both outcomes have significant economic impacts not only on the victims but the entire community and society at large.

My work is in public health and epidemiology with special emphasis on reducing mortality and morbidity rates of non-communicable diseases in Cameroon. In Cameroon, my home, the effects of high blood pressure are forcing people below the poverty line. I recall attending a conference on kidney disease and a man from the North West region of Cameroon where I come from shared a story with me. This man was one of the highest paid classes of individuals in government and suffering from kidney failure.  Because of this disease and all of the management it required – the testing, treatment, missing work – this man of wealth had to beg his relatives to help him buy food. The tuition funds he might have once set aside for his children to acquire an education were no longer a possibility. Similarly, my own friend’s father was also on dialysis and he was forced to sell his organization in order to pay for his accumulating health bills. He is now incapacitated and depends solely on his family for survival; my friend foregoes school twice per week to wait at the dialysis center for her father’s turn to use one of a handful of dialysis machines that are used to treat hundreds.

I’ve been forced to ask myself many questions like, “Why are there no policies in place to combat these conditions in Cameroon? Why is it that only 3% of global funds are allocated to non-communicable diseases?” I couldn’t find an answer and it was then that I realized I had to become an answer. That was when I organized a team of Cameroonian medical professionals and created Value Health Africa (VAHA), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “add to the quality of life and promote sustainable community development in Cameroon by improving the health of the community.”

community screening by Value Health Africa

community screening by Value Health Africa

Since little support is available for addressing non-communicable disease in my country, we knew it was important to maximize local resources like the youth. Through the power and dedication of the youth, VAHA has been able to develop strong volunteer-led community forums in partnership with higher institutions. Through the community intervention programs, VAHA has succeeded to screen over 12 communities for non-communicable disease, revealing its true prevalence in Cameroon and the associated risk factors to locals. We share this information at health research forums in my country to raise awareness and bring this problem to lamplight. We have also succeeded in developing  a disease management structure for diabetes patients in partnership with rural health centers through a task shift approach policy meanwhile, we are also putting in place an early detection program where we conduct community health screenings and promote education and awareness campaigns, benefiting more than 12 communities already. We have had real success and it seems as if a pathway for change is being made…

As I look at the progress we have made and what more we may be able to accomplish, I can’t help but to think about the challenges we face and cannot yet overcome. I see myself on a motor bike, traveling to an interior village as I have been notified of an advanced diabetic case (at stage 5 kidney disease). I am rushing to a clinic with my team to intervene and, upon arrival; I am told that he has died. This is not a terrible dream I awoke from; this actually happened. We do not have enough medical equipment to fully address the need hence, we are being outpaced. The challenge we face is huge and we are attempting to do things that have never been done before in my country.

But this challenge has opened the door to opportunities. This year, I applied to the Mandela Washington Young African Leaders Institute (YALI) program. It is a well-known and highly competitive opportunity throughout all of Africa, with the chance to come to America to undergo trainings and acquire new knowledge and resources that can be taken back to our countries. Nearly 49,000 applied but only 1,000 were chosen with just 24places for Cameroon.  Other VAHA colleagues and I, were among the chosen and I was placed at Kansas state university for a 6-week civic leadership workshop with 23 other fellows from 14 different countries in Africa.

IMG_7518I thought that, this experience would be limited to a professional workshop environment, but it was much more than I expected. This experience has changed my perspective, the goals for my organization, and my life. The Staley School of Leadership Studies taught us about the importance of community in our work and created a peer network that connected us with faculty and community members doing work similar to ours. With the help of Professor Fadi  Aramouni of the Food Science Institute at KSU, I have been able to analyze the composition of some of our local foods in Cameroon. This will help us to educate locals on better eating habits which will go a long way in improving health conditions in the community. I met Kolia Souza of the Center for Engagement and Community Development, whose work is also dedicated to creating stronger communities through healthy food access.

From there, I was connected to Professor John Calvin of Johns Hopkins University, the Medical Society of Segwick County, the Kansas Health Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and even Imagining America. I now see everything with new eyes. I see the introduction of new technologies to revolutionize our food system. I see opportunities to partner with our local schools and their nurses to develop health promotion programs that teach children using both artistic and scientific methods. I see implementing more playgrounds to encourage physical activity, because the one we have for all of Cameroon is not enough. I see the opportunity for mentorship between the young and old. I have renewed vigor for engaging, teaching, and empowering our local citizens and government to reimagine Cameroon and devise how we can get there together. Furthermore, I want this to spread across all of Africa. Through YALI, I have learned about and shared in the struggle of my fellow Africans and we have all been inspired by the possibility for transformation, discovered during our time in America.

Value Health Africa staff at work

Value Health Africa staff at work

The burden of non-communicable diseases extends beyond just medical bills. It steals time from work, time with family, and years from peoples’ lives. It also extends beyond Cameroon, beyond Africa. This is a human struggle that requires a collaborative approach for greater impact to be made. We can encourage our educational institutions to incorporate healthy eating habits and physical exercise at the elementary school level. We can teach both young and old to care for their own health and their community’s health together. We can advocate for policies that create healthier environments and holistic health systems. We can engage with our local governments to build stronger health systems in our societies. We can also donate to support projects such as these in communities so as to make the vision of a healthy community a reality. Our struggle is your struggle. My community is your community. We can uplift one another.

*MPH/Epidemiology ,CEO: Value Health Africa,Mandela YALI Fellow 2016 from Cameroon

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Making Sense of the IGAD’S and UNSC’s proposal to upgrade UNMISS Mandate
August 10, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Agook Mayek Riak*

South Sudan's First Vice President Riek Machar, left, and President Salva Kiir, right, shake hands following the first meeting of a new transitional coalition government, in the capital Juba, April 29, 2016.

South Sudan’s First Vice President Riek Machar, left, and President Salva Kiir, right, shake hands following the first meeting of a new transitional coalition government, in the capital Juba, April 29, 2016.

From 7th to 11th of July 2016, Juba-the capital of South Sudan was put under serious tension and constant bombardments as a result of the fight that erupted once again since December 2013 between the forces loyal to Salva Kiir and former First Vice-President Dr Riek Machar. The renewal of the conflict has been met with a lot of condemnation, particularly at the international spheres. This led to an outright proposal of the intervention force by IGAD Heads of states, and a view that seems to augur well with many other international diplomatic organisations, particularly the UN.

On the 5th of August 2016, the Assembly of the IGAD Heads of states held its Second Extra-Ordinary Summit meeting on the 5th of August 2016 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and deliberated on the prevailing situation in the Republic of South Sudan. In their resolve, the IGAD Heads of states endorsed the outcome of the meeting of the East African Chiefs of Defense Staff held on 29th July 2016, in Addis Ababa, on the deployment of a Regional Protection Force (RPF) as the basis for further and urgent discussion with the United Nations (UN) towards reaching a common ground on speedy deployment of the Force under UNMISS. In the Communique, the IGAD Heads further called upon the UNSC to expedite the process of extending UNMISS mandate including the deployment of the Regional Protection Force with distinct responsibilities. And since the IGAD Heads have given this hint, it will be much easier for the eagerly waiting United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to extend the UNMISS mandate, that will include the RPF.

However, one pertinent question remains as to whether the suggested RPF plus the existing UN peacekeepers will be effective in bringing desperately needed stability in the country. First of all, like so many other UN missions, UNMISS has been and is still a highly dysfunctional and a “mafia” mission characterized with so many incompetent international personnel, and many of whom bear “low moral standings”-basically living in debauchery and corrupt to the core.

Secondly, when it comes to protection of civilians, UNMISS has not lived up to its recent mandate-“Protection of Civilians”. Since 2013, UNMISS has demonstrated its incapability in so many occasions to protect civilians, for example in Bor, Malakal and even in Yambio, where hundreds and hundreds of vulnerable civilians were left stranded at its gates. In addition, UNMISS has from time to time failed to protect its national staff members who are deplorably discriminated and disenfranchised, particularly when one closely looks at the UNMISS operational or systemic policies. It beats once conscientious reasoning as to why such a dilapidated organization would be charged with even a bigger and a more challenging task.

Thirdly, the whole of the Eastern and Horns of Africa region is in one way or the other, troubled by the insecurities of tribalism and corruption, and that means the RPF to South Sudan will carry all of these inadequacies with them. This coupled with the already UNMISS existing enormous systemic challenges and the already complexities in the South Sudanese conflict dynamics, it will definitely leave a lot of doubts on the effectiveness and the successes that the forthcoming UNMISS mandate will make  as far as bringing peace to the war ravaged South Sudan is concerned.

South Sudanese conflict is more economically and institutionally driven, therefore, instead of sending in more troops to Juba, more focus in terms of resources and energy should be directed towards the economic and resilience building in vulnerable communities of South Sudan.  As echoed in the preamble of the UN Charter that we the peoples of the United Nations are determined to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples, one would suggest that UNMISS in terms of manpower and operations should be scaled down and more resources should be channeled to the UN agencies and other humanitarian organisations with clear and well-articulated guidelines in line with South Sudan Development plan on the areas of economic and social enhancement in which the funding should be used. The Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCISS) provides a good platform on how to revive the South Sudanese dwindling economy. There is a need to deliver on the Special Fund for Reconstruction (SRF) pledged by the international partners and friends of South Sudan and to be administered by Board of Special Reconstruction Fund (BSRF). South Sudan needs a vibrant economy with well-structured and functioning transitional institutions and mechanisms, instead of a huge, but redundant peacekeeping force.

*Former Political Officer UNMISS

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The four South African women who rattled the nation with anti-rape protest
August 10, 2016 | 0 Comments

Eleni Giokos, CNN and Thabile Vilakazi*

Johannesburg (CNN)In commemoration of the country’s Women’s Day, South African President Jacob Zuma unveiled statues of four women holding petitions.

The four ladies who staged the protest

The four ladies who staged the protest

Six decades ago Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Sophia Williams and Lilian Ngoyi led 20,000 women in protest against apartheid-era laws aimed at restricting the movement of people of color.

For an hour, thousands of women stood in silence in front of the Union Buildings in Pretoria in 1956.
That historic day is now commemorated as Women’s Day in South Africa.
A few days ago, a new generation of female protesters disrupted a watershed moment in South Africa — this time highlighting the ongoing rape culture plaguing the country.
Once again, four young women — named in local media as Naledi Chirwa, Simamkele Dlakavu, Tinyiko Shikwambane and Amanda Mavuso — shook the nation as they stood silently in front of a stage where Zuma was addressing the nation on the close of the local elections at the Independent Electoral Commission in Pretoria.
From the onset, it wasn’t a great night for Zuma, his ruling party the ANC, ceded control of significant municipalities in the recent elections.
It was about to take a turn for the worse. As Zuma took to the podium, the left-wing party the Economic Freedom Fighters staged a walk out as they normally do, but at the same time four girls quickly moved to the front of the stage.
Dressed in black, they held up pieces of paper with a powerful message in red, resurrecting a haunting memory. The posters read:
  • I am 1 in 3
  • 10 years later
  • Khanga
  • Remember Khwezi
The silent protest was humiliating for Zuma as it reminded the country that 10 years ago he was acquitted of rape charges.
Khwezi was the pseudonym given to the woman who accused Zuma of rape in 2005.
Khanga — the traditional outfit she wore at the time of the alleged assault. 1 in 3 — the number of women raped in South Africa.
Oblivious to the real reason the women were standing in front of the stage, with their back to him, Zuma continued his speech but the audience was rattled and whispers spread across the room.
The women stood silently, overshadowing the president’s speech.
Media congregated around them, while anxious ANC delegates discussed ways to defuse the situation.
Mobile phones hovered above the crowd as the audience strained to capture the moment.
And then it all imploded — Zuma walked off stage and state security aggressively removed the women.
The gathered media was told not to exacerbate the situation and the Independent Electoral Commission apologized to the president.
The women, who received accreditation to the event through the EFF, were escorted into a room away from the media’s view.
Later they said it was a spontaneous decision and did not want to affiliate the protest with the political party.
They were eventually released without charge. By then, social media exploded and the intent of the protest was questioned.
Videos of the inappropriate removal of the protesters also became a hot topic.
A few days later Zuma has found himself celebrating courageous women and unveiled the statues of the fearless four.
And 60 years later the power of silence and the written word is igniting much needed debate once again.
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