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Sierra Leone’s Opposition is making preparations for the country’s presidential election slated for November

By Paul Ndiho
March 6, 2011
The National Secretary-General of the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) says his party is making preparations for the country’s presidential election slated for November this year.
However, Mr. Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie is concerned that the ruling party, All People’s Congress (APC) is bringing in people from outside the country into opposition strongholds. VOA’S Paul Ndiho recently talked to Mr. Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie about the upcoming elections and here is more.

Child Trafficking in Benin

By Paul Ndiho
March 6, 2012

In Benin, child trafficking is a crime that is strongly punished, but child trafficking still is at all-time high. Young children are being sold into domestic servitude or the commercial sex trade in Cotonou.
Dossou concentrates hard on geometry exercise. He is only 12. But he knows what it’s like not be able to go to school. After his parents split up, his father sold him. He spent three months alone and scared in Nigeria.
“One day my daddy said to me come, we’re going somewhere. And we went to Nigeria. The place he took me to, there was a lady there. She was selling maize. He told me to stay with the lady. When he left I cried. The lady told me to be quiet and I was quiet.”
Dossou’s story is not unique in Benin, a small country with porous borders where thousands of children are trafficked every year. There are also about 600-child laborers in Benin. Boys are forced to work on farms, in construction, produce handicrafts, or hawk items on the street.

“Child trafficking is big issues in Benin so UNICEF is supporting the government to fight against this phenomenon to be able to save these children, recuperate them and get them back into their childhood and to train them.”
UNICEF supports organizations such as Don Bosco and the Salesiane Sisters, which help children from the streets and victims of child trafficking like Dossou.
“With this type of child the first thing to do is reassure them, because he’s a child who has been sold by his own father. So the first thing to do was to reassure him, to guarantee his protection and to tell him that in this place he will feel safe. That’s the first thing. Then we had to motivate him so he would rediscover the joy of living, of going back to school.”
The Don Bosco Centre in Porto Novo touches the lives of vulnerable children in various ways. Some of them, like Dossou, live here. Others do fast-track schooling or learn a trade.
Three outreach centers have been opened in marketplaces for vulnerable children.
14 year-old bread seller Honorine started coming to this shelter in Cotonou’s market two years ago.
She didn’t know how to tell her mother she was taking time off from work. So she gave her a necklace she had made at the outreach center.
“I have noticed that my daughter has changed since coming here. There have been great improvements in her upbringing. I have definitely noticed changes in Honorine’s behavior.”
“The barraques that you see behind me were put in place by NGOS and they are very important step for children in life because they give them a second chance to return to childhood and begin their livelihood like a child and to start on a new path on their lives.”

Ethiopia’s Opposition faces a lot Of Challenges

By Paul Ndiho
February 24 ,2012

Ethiopia is often lauded for its economic development and for its role in the fight against Al Shabaab militants in Somalia. Yet, like many countries with a strong ruling party and ethnic factions, multi-party democracy in Ethiopia has stalled.
In 2005, hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians protested the disputed elections that resulted in the street violence that killed more than 200 civilians. The government’s repression of the protests, along with internal party leadership disputes, fragmented Ethiopia’s political opposition and left it unable to deliver democratic reforms.
But Birtukan Midekssa, a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, says the time to engage Ethiopia’s government is now.
“I think democratization is the only way we are left with and if Ethiopia is to democratize obviously opposition political parties would have an indispensable role to play.”

Birtukan Midekssa is a former federal judge and leader of the pro-democracy opposition in Ethiopia. Often hailed as the Aung San Suu Kyi of her country, she was among those sentenced to life in prison in 2005 after her party, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, won an unprecedented number of seats in parliamentary elections.
After eighteen months in prison, she was pardoned in 2007, but rearrested in 2008. Midekssa says that she’s still committed to fighting for democracy. She also notes that Ethiopians in the Diaspora need to keep pushing for major reforms in the horn of African nation.
“The Diaspora has been playing a very significant role. But those efforts and activities have been very episodic for example in 2005 the Ethiopian Diaspora even managed to get a bill introduction in the congress of United States to support democracy in Ethiopia. But currently we may not see that kind of enthusiasm and influence but we should try to maximize that kind of influence from the diaspora because the local population is very constrained.
Ethiopia’s opposition parties have routinely accused the government of harassment since the violent post-election protests of 2005. Adrienne LeBas, a professor at American University, says that Ethiopia is yet another African country dealing with a protracted democratic transition.
“I think what Ethiopia really highlights are the challenges of organizing opposition actually building opposition parties are much more severe in these kinds of closed political systems. Democratization is going to take a lot longer, it’s going to take a lot more protests and confrontation and it’s just going to be a protracted process.”
Analysts say that over the past ten years, Ethiopia’s opposition has focused on building institutions from the top down. But the opposition has been weakened by the imprisonment of many its top figures. In 2010, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s ruling party won landslide victories which extend his term in office to nearly 25 years. Opposition parties cried foul and observers say the elections did not meet international standards.

Rice Farming In Ivory Coast

By Paul Ndiho
February 14, 2012

A new rice variety is transforming agriculture in Ivory Coast, benefiting hundreds of farmers – mostly women. Its harvest time in Ivory Coast, but this rice is not destined for the dinner table. It’s a new, more hardy breed of rice, and this woman’s cooperative is producing high quality seeds for sale to a seed bank. In a country reeling from civil war, these farmers are helping to reduce poverty, according to Gnandia Fofana, president of Boundiali’s Women’s Cooperative.
“Before it was only suffering, suffering, suffering we couldn’t find any food to eat. But now selling these rice seeds we can buy food and we are doing well.”

Some 800 farmers in Ivory Coast have been trained to grow a more productive and pest resilient breed of rice, and with it have almost doubled their yield and profits. Gnandia is a widow with three children, and her group is growing Wita 9 rice. She says the new rice has meant more earnings and independence in a country where women grow over half the food but rely on men for access to land.
“Thanks to this rice I can build a house, rent a tractor and can do what men can do. Now we are the same as men.”
To ensure the seeds are of high quality, Gnandia needs a government certificate and must adhere to strict regulations, from the choice of terrain to the correct way of drying the seeds.
At least 30 rice producers attended an intensive training course and had the opportunity to share experiences with fellow rice growers. All seeds are sent to a government warehouse. Here, machines separate the good grains from the bad.
After a final quality check they are stored until next planting season, when they will be distributed to thousands of farmers.
“For almost 10 years now bad quality seeds have been used. This training has enabled farmers to get good quality seeds and has meant that their yield has increased greatly.”
It is not only rice; maize, yams and cassava cultivations are all being improved through this project financed by the European Union and managed by the UN’s agency dedicated to rural development.
Analysts say that for Ivorian rice farmers to reach their full potential political stability must continue in the country and the government should continue to invest in agriculture research.

IVORY COAST’S VOLUNTARY DISARMAMENT

By Paul Ndiho
February 14, 2012

A United Nations voluntary campaign in Cote D’lvoire is calling on civilians with illegal weapons still in circulation to hand them over. The West African nation is still recovering from the post-election turmoil that killed more than 1,000 people and rekindled the country’s 2002 civil war.
Ivory Coast is still emerging from the violence that sprang from the 2010 election dispute between former president Laurent Gbagbo and current President Alassane Ouattara.
The U.N. weapons return operation is part of a wider national campaign that began in June of last year.
Last week in a suburb of Abidjan, those who brought in their weapons stressed that they no longer need them now that violence has ended.

“We have deposited weapons because it was becoming cumbersome. The war is over. We fought for a cause that has been acquired.”
“Not every call has to be for the military life. We must deposit the arms to return to our civil life.”
Ivorians say that their nation now has more pressing concerns than political infighting.
“We had taken up arms for a cause: freedom, justice and equality. All of that has been restored, so we decided to disarm. Yet, I ask the Government to think of us. We need to eat.”
Since the weapons collection program began in Ivory Coast, more than 1,000 arms have been turned in. The program is supported by the Ivorian police in cooperation with the United Nations Operation in Cote D’Ivoire.

NEW STRATEGY FOR FIGHTING AL SHABAAB ISLAMISTS GROUP IN SOMALIA

By Paul Ndiho
February 7, 2012
In January, the Africa Union expanded its peacekeeping force in Somalia and called on the U.N. Security Council to endorse a force of close to 18,000 troops to fight al Shabaab rebels. Analysts say that the AU should focus more on development and job creation for the country.
Since Dictator Siad Barre was ousted in 1991, Somalia has descended into chaos, civil war, famine, and piracy off its coast.
In this environment, a hardline Islamist group with links to al Qaida has risen from obscurity to international prominence in less than two years. Mwangi Kimenyi of the Brookings Institution suggests that the militants will continue to pose a threat in the region if the international community does not change its focus for Somalia.

“There needs to be a development program. We cannot just focus on military options. There has to be a strategy and this is where even African countries need to get together and say, you know, we are talking about terrorism but let’s think about economic programs, let’s think about opportunities for the young people. If these young people don’t get opportunities, Al Shabaab is very attractive option and they will continue joining.”
The African Union extended the mandate of Amisom, the U.N.-backed force supporting the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia. Kenya and Ethiopia have joined Amisom forces in the fight against al Shabaab. Last month, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki thanked Uganda and Burundi for providing troops for the AU Mission in Somalia.
“The success of our community is directly related to peace and stability in our neighboring states, our engagement in bringing law and order in Somalia is driven by the desire to bring about peace and development in this region,”
The new mandate allows Burundi and Uganda to deploy additional troops; Djibouti will also send a contingent, while Kenyan soldiers are already battling al Shabaab in the south of Somalia. Mr. Kimenyi says that Amisom forces in Somalia should not be seen as invaders:
“I think Somalis hate, or they resent intervention from outside. You have seen what has happened even when the U.S. has been involved in Somalia. First of all, there is no aid strategy in Somalia. What we have seen donors doing is responding to the crisis. If there is a famine, you start getting a lot of people, you know, involved in food and dealing with the refugees and so on. That’s not a development strategy. It’s a crisis, dealing with a crisis. And we tend to waste a lot of time just dealing with the crisis.”
Mr. Kimenyi says that the international community should work for the empowerment of the Somali people.
“we need to go beyond just focusing on the crisis, and looking at what we can do that is longer term, so that it’s attractive for the youth to be in school, to be working, rather than going for the piracy, which is a very attractive undertaking, or joining Al Shabab, or any other war groups.”
Somali has not had an effective central government for two decades, and experts say that events in Somalia are difficult to predict. But they say one thing is sure: Al-Shabaab is losing momentum.

Meanwhile in Nigeria, the government continues to battle against violent attacks and killings by the radical Islamic group, Nigerians are expressing concern about the state of the nation’s security. Mwangi Kimenyi, a senior fellow and director, Africa Growth Initiative,at the Brookings Institution, says Boko Haram needs to be taken seriously because its influence is expanding.

Using Music And Dance To Inspire Hope in Congo – DRC

By Paul Ndiho
February 1, 2012

Amid the violence, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the National Ballet of Congo is using music and dance to inspire hope.
In a large open theatre, a dance group is determined to spread a message of peace and tolerance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s just a few days before the premiere.
This production fuses traditional African rhythms with modern choreography. Its movement, music and story are designed to express the harsh reality of sexual violence in the DRC. Carmen Smith is a US State Department Cultural Ambassador.
“Dance is a strong vehicle for relaying messages like this because there’s something about movement that is older than language.”
Carmen Smith spent a month in Kinshasa learning about the culture of the DRC and creating a new ballet.


“I started reading some history and tried to learn about what kinds of issues were facing women there. We hear a lot about civil war and you hear a lot about the rapes in the Congo.”
The United Nations estimates that since 1998, more than 5 million people have died from fighting, disease and starvation in the DRC. Rape has been used as weapon of war. Margot Wallström is the U.N. Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.
“I think it has to do with the attitudes that this is inevitable as one of the weapons or tactics of war.”
Mugolomi Solange is one of the dancers with the National Ballet.
“The gender violence that’s inflicted on women disturbs us because before we never spoke about this in Kinshasa. So it was kept in…”
Solange and dancer Akim Tsimba say there are painful inequalities between men and women in their country.
“Here in the DRC, women don’t have the same status as men. Women are people who have nothing. Their role is in the home. They don’t have the right to speak.”
This dancer, Kititoi Assina, says the ballet is a way to encourage women in the DRC to see themselves as equal and important.
“What we would really like to portray with this show is that the woman complements the man and that she is not his slave, not his inferior.”
“I asked the National Ballet dancers – I just talked to them for the first two days. No dancing, no rehearsal, just talking. It was these kinds of personal conversations and…hearing women talk about their lives that helped me direct the project.”
On the night of the premiere at the Hall de la Gombe in Kinshasa – as people arrive, the audience is not quite sure what to expect.
The storyline centers on a village where the men rule – and the women do as their told – at least in the beginning. But eventually the relationship between men and women begin to change, as the village women learn to stand up for themselves and gain the respect of the village.

Kenya ICC Ruling What Are The Political Implications

By Paul Ndiho
January 26, 2012

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has ruled that four prominent Kenyans are to stand trial for the inciting the violence that followed general elections there. The International Criminal Court says that Kenyan presidential contenders Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto should face trial, along with Francis Muthaura, the head of the civil service, and radio journalist Joshua Sang. The men are suspected of orchestrating Kenya’s post-election violence of 2007 and 2008.


Two others, the former Police Commissioner and an opposition politician were found not guilty of charges.
Mwangi Kimenyi of the Brookings Institution says the ICC’s decision is a milestone for Kenya.
“All of them are going to appeal which means it will be a long process before we go to the full trial. So we have key people particularly politicians whose charges were confirmed and that’s significant for the country’s politics and as we move forward it will be important.”
The ICC’s top prosecutor says that he is considering whether the four Kenyans should be tried together or in separate cases, an idea that would have to be approved by the judges.
“We are discussing in my office if we put together the two cases or not, so is it better to have one case together with four suspects, or have two different parallel cases.”
More than 11-hundred people were killed, thousands injured, and many more forcibly displaced in the violence that followed Kenya’s December 2007 elections. There were also hundreds of rapes, and many properties were destroyed.
The two cases involving the politicians are split between the ethnic Kalenjin and Kikuyu camps, as Ruto is a Kalenjin and Kenyatta is a Kikuyu:
“To me what I’d have liked to see is that we move fast with whether it’s a trial or the appeals process get the issues done. Then if there are implicated then they don’t run for office or serve in public office. But at this point, I think it’s tricky because you have these coalitions and people think that there communities are being targeted and that’s where like I have said before, the president or the Prime Minister must go above these tribal or ethnic royalties and look at what is important for the country to focus on.”
The decision by the court – whose proceedings have been closely followed in Kenya – is likely to have far-reaching consequences for the biggest economy in east Africa. Mr. Kimenyi says that President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga must go above ethnic royalties and look at what’s important for the country.
“We are not talking about issues yet; we’re talking about which tribe, which people to join. I’d have liked somebody to come and talk about the youth unemployment, talk about issues of agriculture, talk about our infrastructure issues but we haven’t seen those issues.”
Analysts say both Uhuru Kenyatta, who is the son of the country’s founding president, and William Ruto, a former higher education minister, want to run for president next year. The ICC’s decision that they must face trial will no doubt affect those plans.

World Bank says developing countries should be prepared for more slowing in the global economy

By Paul Ndiho
January 26, 2012
A new report released by the World Bank last week says global prices of farm commodities like wheat and rice may decline by more than 10 percent this year. In its new report, World Bank researchers say developing countries should be prepared for more slowing in the global economy as a result of Europe’s debt problems, and weakening growth in some big emerging economies.

“We have seen capital flows to developing countries decline by almost 50 percent and we are really beginning to see some of these effects in terms of activity. We have developing countries, the major developing countries offering slower growth now than they were earlier and that happening at the same time as Europe enters into a recession offers a pretty worrisome conjuncture.”
The World Bank is lowering its growth forecast for 2012 to about 5 and a half percent for developing countries and 1 and a half percent for high-income countries. Global growth is now projected at about 2 and a half percent for this year and next.
“Obviously if what is happening in Europe were to deteriorate significantly is going to have important impacts for developing countries. We ran some scenarios here: were that crisis to become more serious, growth in developing countries could decline by almost some 4 percentage points, GDP be lower by 4 percentage points; that is a very significant slowdown.”
Slower growth is already visible in weakening prices. Global exports of goods and services are projected to rise by about 2 percent less than they did last year. Meanwhile, global prices of energy, metals, minerals, and agricultural products are off as much as 25 percent from their peaks of 2011.
“Developing countries really have to prepare for the unexpected, if you wish. What we are really suggesting to do is take a look at their current situation, take a look at their current spending, and take a cold hard look at what might happen and plan ahead a little bit.”
Declining commodity prices have contributed to an easing of inflation in most developing countries. Although international food prices eased in recent months, down 14 percent from their peak in February 2011, food security for the poorest, including in the Horn of Africa, remains a central concern.
“We see oil prices potentially declining by as much as 20 percent that is going to have important impacts for the fiscal balances of oil exporting countries; it is going to have important impacts also for countries that are important exporters of metals and minerals. On the other hand it is going to be a positive for importers of those commodities.”
Developing countries may have less fiscal and monetary space for remedial measures than they did in the global economic downturn that began in 2008. As a result, say economists like those at the World Bank, their ability to respond to another downturn may be constrained if global conditions deteriorate sharply again this year.

Somalia Schools Population Survey

By Paul Ndiho
January 18, 2012
Thousands of teachers conducted an unprecedented primary school census in northern Somalia, helping produce the first comprehensive government-led survey on the state of schools in that region.
In an effort to rehabilitate the education system in the semi – autonomous states of Puntland and Somaliland, the centralized government launched a massive population survey of all the school-going children in a country torn apart by conflict.
Hassan Suleiman leads the census.


“This information is very important for planning; the resources are very limited in Somaliland in terms of school construction, in terms of teachers, in terms of textbooks. The resources are very inadequate. These small resources, we need to plan very effectively in order to increase the quality of education, for example we are now taking enrolment rate so when we want to decide to construct new class for new schools, we have to analyze this information and determine the ratio of teacher to students, the ratio of textbooks to the pupils.”
Hassan grew up in the United Kingdom and is one of ten advisors hired under a program to bring professional Somalis living abroad back home to work alongside senior education ministry staff. The program is designed to improve planning and policy, human resources and financial management for the goal of higher education standards.
“We think that by contributing to improve the capacities of those ministries of Education, we will help the delivery in all other program that we can carry out in Somaliland and Puntland. So if you have a ministry of education that is able to design the policy for primary education for example and have the capacity for implementing to have management systems on resources on teachers that means that the problems that you have on primary education will deliver better.”
Sohar Koshin is a technical advisor with the Education Ministry’s Gender Unit who grew up in Holland. She explains how new media such as Facebook and Twitter are connecting with Somalis living abroad to raise funds for girl’s education.
“We saw the importance of having a different department or unit that is entirely responsible for encouraging girls to go to school and also doing research about what we are the issues and looking for room of avenues for potential solutions and how we can implement those solutions.”
Koshin comes to this school often to chat with the girls who are enjoying a newly-built ‘girl friendly space.’ The facility has toilets with running water and a communal space where the girls can study. It reflects the effort by some of Somalia’s civil war refugees, who are returning to help to reconstruct a national education system.

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