Defusing Violent Extremism in Fragile States

Cases in Sahel, Lake Chad and Other Regions Illustrate What Works

By: Fred Strasser, United States  Institute of Peace

In Nigeria, a radio call-in show with local Islamic scholars provided an alternative to extremist propaganda. In Somalia, training youth in nonviolent advocacy for better governance produced a sharp drop in support for political violence. In the Lake Chad region, coordinating U.S. defense, development and diplomatic efforts helped push back Boko Haram and strengthened surrounding states. Such cases illustrate ways to close off the openings for extremism in fragile states, experts said in a discussion at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Three men who defected from the al-Shabab militant group stay at an undisclosed location in Somalia in June of 2014.

Noor, Bashir and Ahmed, men who defected from the al-Shabab militant group, stay at an undisclosed location in Somalia. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times/Daniel Berehulak
For 15 years, the annual rankings of the Fragile states Index  have prompted the question of what works and what doesn’t in improving governance, enhancing stability and, increasingly, in reducing violent extremism, said Patricia Taft, programs director at the nonprofit Fund for Peace, which produces the Fragile States Index.From the Sahel to North Africa to South Asia, fragility generates the political grievances, social alienation and economic failure that fuel extremism, the panelists said at the event, part of the regular Conflice Prevetnion and Resolution Froum . Fragility, as defined last year by the USIP-led Fragility Study Group , is the absence or breakdown of a social contract between people and their government, with institutional weakness and a lack of political legitimacy.

The impact of fragility—and the openings it provides for extremist influence—surfaces throughout a society, the panelists said. Read more…….

 

Ebola to Piracy: Sustaining U.S.-China Work in Africa

By: Jennifer Staats

U.S. and Chinese leaders have worked with counterparts across Africa to combat a range of security threats on the continent, from Ebola to piracy to instability in Sudan and South Sudan. A recent United Nations Security Council Resolution condemning terrorist attacks and violence in the Lake Chad Basin illustrates that more joint efforts are needed to support Africa’s stability and development. Unfortunately, distrust and skepticism between the United States and China are getting in the way of further progress. But there may be a way to prevent backsliding.

US and Chines Military MIO Exercise

U.S.-China counter piracy exercise. Photo Courtesy of U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Gary M. Keen/Released
Initial trilateral efforts in Africa have revealed three key lessons for effective cooperation, according to experts in a recent discussion at USIP.  First, successful efforts must be African-led and should work through existing African institutions. Second, leadership matters, and the U.S. and Chinese ambassadors in Africa play a critical role in making collaboration possible. Third, engagement must be sustained, holistic, and long-term, rather than ad hoc.

Although both the United States and China want to see an economically prosperous and secure Africa, there are many barriers to closer cooperation. They include competition, lack of transparency, different definitions of “stability,” and bureaucratic stovepipes.

Three ambassadors and an associate director at the Carter Center in Atlanta considered ways to overcome these hurdles in a March 2017 article in Foreign Affairs.

“The goal should be to transform occasional moments of cooperation—such as the shared efforts of China, the United States, and African governments during the Ebola crisis—into what China expert Kurt Campbell has called “habits of cooperation” on those areas where all parties largely agree.”

Campbell and the four authors addressed the point at the USIP event on April 11, held to discuss progress in a three-year project between the institute and the Carter Center, called the Africa-China-U.S. Consultation for Peace. The program is being conducted in coordination with the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel.

In addition to the authors’ recommendations, experts identified other opportunities for collaboration:

  • Coordinate humanitarian assistance to the Lake Chad Basin to avoid duplication and gaps.
  • Conduct joint research on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea, including piracy as well as illegal and unreported fishing.
  • Strengthen maritime security structures in West Africa, particularly the Interregional Coordination Center in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
  • Develop African merchant marines to facilitate trade.
  • Address threats to food security and public health.
  • Build the capacity of African peacekeepers and establish a reliable source of funding for African Union peace operations.
  • Invest in civilian security, governance, economic rehabilitation, effective community-police relations, and the judicial and security architecture in the Lake Chad Basin.
  • Align development assistance, infrastructure projects, and economic investment with conflict prevention efforts.

The need for three-way cooperation in Africa remains high.  Where direct collaboration is not possible, one alternative might be to pursue complementary policies that still would allow parties to work in parallel toward the same goals, as long as they maintain some openness and transparency.

The United States and China should commit to adding these issues to the new U.S.-China Consultative Dialogue, to ensure these opportunities get the attention they deserve. The challenges facing Africa cannot be ignored just because leaders in Washington and Beijing cannot overcome their mistrust. Instead, the three parties must find creative ways to pursue complementary efforts that will help everyone realize their shared interests.

Source : United States Institute of Peace

Africa: Get Rich or Die Trying – the Chinese Multinational Scamming Millions From Ugandans

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Thousands of people in Uganda have signed up to a company believing it will cure all their illnesses and help them make a fortune. It is more likely to do the opposite.

This article is republished here to coincide with the new documentary Uganda’s Health Pyramid, aided by African Arguments, into the company TIENS in Uganda. The film, made by Banyak, will be available on AlJazeera from 1st February 2017. The article below was originally published on Think Africa Press (now defunct) in 2014. As the documentary shows, not much has changed.

On the corner of a bumpy, red-soil road in the rural town of Iganga in eastern Uganda, there lies a small store. A handful of people mill around the entrance in the glaring sun, waiting their turn to enter. They are the main source of activity on this placid street, but their patient presence barely betrays the hubbub within.

Inside, almost a dozen people sit crammed on makeshift benches around two edges of the stifling room. Most of the remaining space is taken up by a shop counter, behind which are shelves piled high with vibrantly-coloured health products covered in Chinese characters.

Visit Twins shop

A couple of customers compete with a baby wailing as they read out lists of products to the shop attendants who pick them off the shelves. Every now and then, the door in the corner opens. Someone steps out, usually holding a piece of paper, and the person sitting closest steps in.

Beyond that doorway is an even smaller room, windowless and illuminated by a single light. As I peer in, three people are undergoing diagnostic tests, a woman is standing on a machine that hums loudly as it vibrates, and a few more patients are waiting slumped along the wall.

Wasswa Zziwa Edrisa – or “Doctor Wasswa” as he is known here – stands in the centre wearing a fresh, chequered shirt on his back and an unwavering grin on his face. With the easy charm of a seasoned salesman and the swaggering self-assurance of Uganda’s national bird and symbol, the crested crane, Wasswa welcomes me in.

“I will show you how we help so many people,” he says, beaming. “Let me show you the machines.”

“This is one of the scanners,” he explains, pointing to a piece of kit that looks a bit like a 1970s radio. “It shows everything. We can see if you have diabetes, kidney deficiencies, liver problems, eye problems. Everything.”

Wasswa explains that the test works using a traditional Chinese understanding of the body whereby different points of the hand relate to different internal organs. We watch as an attendant prods a patient’s left palm with a metal tip, making a little meter light up. When the light goes green, he explains, it means that part of the body is fine, but if it goes orange it indicates a problem.

Next Wasswa points me to the corner where a woman is standing on a small machine and holding onto a pair of handlebars to which she is harnessed. Her whole body blurs in the dim light as the platform beneath her vibrates rapidly, its droning buzz filling the room.

Similar machines can be found in many gyms these days and are meant to help tone muscle, but the uses Wasswa presents are quite different.

“This is a blood circulation massager,” he announces. “You see how she sweats. It opens the vessels and deals with paralysis. It helps people with stroke.”

Wasswa then shows me another diagnostics machine, this one connected to a laptop. As the patient holds on to an appliance plugged into the computer, pictures of different organs flash up on the screen for a few seconds each as a dial next to it oscillates erratically. After a minute, a one-page document pops up, listing how well his organs are functioning.

In the airless room, Wasswa runs through a few more devices – a face pain remover, a blood pressure reducer, a necklace that removes radiation – before squeezing past bodies and chairs to get back to the first patient we met. By now his diagnostic test is complete. He tells me that he came to the store because of some mild pain around his mouth, but Wasswa breaks the news that there are more serious things about which he ought to be concerned.

“Ah, he has a problem with his spleen,” says Wasswa, nodding knowingly. “At times, he gets constipation and some swelling in the legs and arms. There is also some paralysis in the legs. He gets headaches. At times he feels dizziness. His brain arteries need to be detoxified. He has kidney deficiencies. He has bad chest pain. He has high cholesterol. He has poor circulation. And he has problems with his stomach.”

The roster of the young and healthy-looking patient’s conditions seems extreme, but Wasswa is not perturbed.

“He needs to improve his circulation by using our machines and he will need to take our products. If he uses them, he will be fine,” he reassures.

Back in the light and noise of the waiting-room-cum-pharmacy, Wasswa shows me some of these products. He picks goods off the shelves, ranging from capsules to toothpastes to body creams, and stacks them on the counter as he explains what they each do. “This takes away all the radiation in your body. This helps with diabetes. This treats ulcers. This is for slimming. This adds more white blood cells to your system. This is for people who are mentally disturbed,” he says.

“These medicines are good for everything,” he concludes finally, the pile of products on the counter now complete. “If you have cancer, we can help. If you have HIV, we can help. Even if you have a hernia or a tumour or appendicitis, you just take our products and they will disappear.”

This small store in eastern Uganda employs a handful of staff and, according to Wasswa, receives dozens of patients each day. Wasswa is also frequently heard on local radio advertising his services and has made quite a name for himself in the area. He was previously a school teacher and says his parents were “peasants”, but now, in his 30s, he is anything but. These days, Wasswa drives a shiny four-wheel drive, wears sharp suits and even goes on jet-setting trips around the world. All this makes him quite the exception in Iganga, but across Uganda, this young ‘doctor’ is by no means a solo pioneer and his store is by no means unique.

Similar stores can found all across the country, from Kasese in the west to Soroti in the east, and from Gulu in the north to Entebbe in the south. There are four such outlets in Kampala alone. These stores offer the same diagnostic tests, stock the same range of products, and above all their doors, there hangs the same innocuous green and orange sign which reads: “TIENS: Together We Share Health And Wealth.”

TIENS – also known as Tianshi – is a multinational company based 10,000 miles away in the Chinese metropolis of Tianjin. It was founded in 1995 by Li Jinyuan, who has since become a billionaire from the venture. The company has established branches in 110 countries including 16 in Africa, employs over 10,000 staff globally, and reportedly enjoys net profits worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

TIENS first began tapping into the Ugandan market in 2003 and it has grown steadily ever since. There are now around 30 stores across the country, TIENS distributors regularly engage in outreach programmes to rural communities, and according to the company’s national chairperson, Kibuuka Mazinga Ambrose, TIENS-Uganda has an annual turnover of around $6 million.

The company has even bought the most prominent advertising spot on the Health Ministry’s official calendar, a particularly brazen move given that none of its outlets are registered health facilities.

Patients who come to TIENS seek help for a whole range of conditions – from malaria to paralysis – but they tend to tell similar stories of how they arrived here. Typically, they say that they first went to public facilities (some told me they had even visited two or three), but were either not seen to or found the treatment ineffective. TIENS is almost always a last resort. But in a country whose healthcare infrastructure is riddled with chronic problems and which, by some measures, ranks as one of the worst in the world, the last resort is often one that needs to be taken.

In many areas of Uganda, public health facilities are virtually inaccessible, while those who do manage to reach them may find their walls crumbling, their clinics under-staffed, and their shelves bereft of drugs. Although the government has promised to invest more in the sector, much of the country’s healthcare infrastructure is in decay. Doctors and nurses are over-worked and underpaid, and although services are meant to be free, in reality patients face many hidden costs.

In this context, stores like Wasswa’s – with its quick turnaround, attentive staff and fully-stocked shelves – offer an appealing alternative. The always conclusive diagnostic tests are highly convenient; attendants’ claims about the healing powers of TIENS products may well be reassuring; and many patients say the fact the medicines travelled thousands of miles from China suggest they must work.

Many customers who use TIENS products also insist that they do work.

On the Friday morning after my tour of Wasswa’s clinic, the courtyard next to the outlet is packed. Over a hundred people sit on plastic chairs facing forwards while latecomers lean against the back wall. A red tarpaulin sheet shields the crammed attendees from the sun and gives the whole atmosphere an eerie pink hue.

‘Doctor Julius’, a man in his late-30s with an intense glare and impatient demeanour, stands at the front. He has just finished explaining the healing powers of TIENS toothpaste – which as well as cleaning teeth, can be used to treat ulcers, angina and skin problems amongst many other conditions – and he invites attendees who have used the product to give testimony. Four hands go up immediately.

“I had terrible problems with my teeth,” says the first speaker. “I went to see doctors but a new tooth had to be uprooted every week. When I started to use TIENS toothpaste, the pain went away.”

The next patient tells a very similar story before two mothers relay how the toothpaste cleared up their respective children’s skin rashes and burns.

Every now and then over the next few hours, many more attendees are invited to recount their experiences of using TIENS products. We hear how a man with back pain can now walk, how another man was cured of vertigo, and how a woman’s child was once bed-ridden but is now running around. At one point, Wasswa looks particularly pleased as a mother tells of how her young son – who she had taken to three separate public healthcare facilities before he was cured of cerebral malaria by TIENS – now wants to change his name to ‘Doctor Wasswa’.

“You see, these products work,” Wasswa announces after one of the testimonies. “At hospitals, they will ask you how you feel, but here, we tell you how you feel. At hospitals, they treat signs and symptoms. Here, we treat causes. At hospitals, they give you medicines made from chemicals which are harmful and can give you ulcers. Here, we use herbal medicines which have no side-effects.”

“This is real,” he continues. “This is Chinese herbal medicine based on 5,000 years of traditional medicine and it works.”

In Kampala, I test this out for myself. I visit a couple of the company’s stores, nestled in the city centre’s endless bustling plazas, and in one of them, managed by an intense man named Frank, I get tested.

Frank, the self-declared “best in the business” at doing diagnostic tests, seems thrilled at my presence and bundles me across to the end of the room. He sits me down and pulls across a thin curtain to give us a modicum of privacy from the handful of waiting patients. He takes out a battered looking hand-held device, pushes a 9-volt battery into its back and plugs a wire into it that branches into two metal tips. He gives me one of the electrified points to hold in my right hand and says he will use the other to press points on my left palm. With a grave look on his face, Frank instructs me to tell him when I feel a tingling. This seems to be a more basic version of the first test I’d seen in Iganga.

To begin with, I report whenever I feel something, which is every single time the tip touches my hand, completing the basic electric circuit. Frank nods excitedly when I do so and explains that I have a serious problem in whichever part of my body he is testing. After a while, however, I decide to stop reporting every time I feel a tingling. Frank lets me get away with one, but after that he frowns when I stay silent and simply keeps the metal point on my hand until I give in, sometimes rubbing my hand and even licking the metal tip if I am being particularly resistant.

In the end, Frank writes out a list of around 25 health conditions including “liver disorder,” “STROKE,” and “enteric fever [aka severe typhoid],” and prescribes a roster of products that comes to over USH 1 million ($400).

Before committing to his costly regimen, I decide to get a second opinion.

In the bright, clean reception of Beijing Clinic, a private health facility in Kampala, I relate my experience to a young Ugandan doctor, who trained and qualified in China, specialising in traditional Chinese medicine. The doctor, who prefers not to be named, laughs as I explain the machines I saw in Iganga and the test I underwent in Kampala. “No machine can test all those things like they claim,” he says.

Next, I show him the TIENS Information Guide, a booklet from which it seems Julius and Wasswa get most of their information. On page 3 of the booklet, a short disclaimer warns: “Tianshi Company does not make any medical claims whatsoever.” However, the next 60 pages are filled with bold declarations about the powers of its products and instructions on how to treat different diseases.

“Whatever this is, it is not Chinese medicine,” says the Chinese-trained doctor with a combination of amusement and incredulity. He chuckles as he reads how TIENS medicines are supposed to treat about a dozen different conditions each, from preventing cancer to reversing impotence to promoting “the growth of children’s reproductive organs.”

However, the doctor’s amusement soon turns to horror as he reaches the section of the booklet advising distributors on what steps to take when patients are suffering from different diseases. TIENS customers are typically encouraged to undergo diagnostic tests in store, but most who go to TIENS have previously been to hospital and know some of the conditions from which they are suffering. The company guide offers clear and easy instructions on what they should be prescribed.

Of the few hundred conditions listed – which span from AIDS to Yellow Fever – a handful include the recommendation to ‘see a doctor’. But the rest just list a few products to be taken.

“This is a death sentence,” mutters the doctor, falling silent.

One of the most repeated claims by TIENS distributors is that because the products are ‘herbal’, they have no side-effects. This assertion is used to elevate them above Western medicines, which they say are made from chemicals and so can be harmful, but the claim is also used to suggest that there are no dangers involved in taking them.

“Even if I tell you to swallow one and you swallow four, there will be no problems,” Wasswa had insisted. But when put to the Chinese-trained doctor in Beijing Clinic, he just shakes his head. “That is a flat out lie,” he says.

He recalls that last year, he was consulted by police after a man suffering from kidney problems died suddenly from liver failure. A toxicology report found that he had had a toxic overdose and it was suggested that the TIENS supplements the patient had been taking without his doctor’s knowledge had either caused additional problems or reacted badly with other medicines. The man’s family could not afford to get a more detailed medical report, however, and declined to take the matter further.

At another private clinic in Kampala, Dr Wen, a highly-regarded practitioner with three decades experience, is similarly concerned. “This is not medicine,” he says, “but it is still dangerous. Everything has side-effects. Even herbal medicines and herbal supplements used wrongly can kill.”

I contacted Uganda’s Health Minister, Ruhakana Rugunda, repeatedly for comment, but received no reply.

Apart from the story of the kidney patient, I didn’t come across other rumours of deaths, but cases of the products not working as miraculously as promised were easy to find. After all, TIENS products are not medicines. Some of the company’s goods have been registered with Uganda’s National Drugs Authority, but as ‘food & dietary supplements’. In fact, stories of TIENS products not fully working were even common amongst some of TIENS most ardent fans.

Back in Iganga, with the courtyard seminar over and Wasswa busy talking to a small circle of attendees eager to hear more, Sarah*, 25, moves towards the back of the courtyard closer to where I am sitting.

During the seminar, she had given testimony telling of how she’d taken her baby boy, who was suffering from sickle cell anaemia, to several hospitals before she came to TIENS. Many of those who told their stories directed them matter-of-factly at Julius or Wasswa, but Sarah had turned to face the crowd and spoken passionately as she’d explained how the products worked wonders.

Asked a few more questions after the symposium, however, her story reveals itself to be far less straightforward. It transpires that her son is still ill. So ill, in fact, that she recently quit her nursing job to look after him full-time. Sarah nevertheless insists that the TIENS medicines work and says the reason her son is still suffering is because his treatment is incomplete. She bought half the products the boy needs for a full recovery but is struggling to find the money to purchase the rest.

Robert, 30, tells a similar tale. He too claims to be a firm believer in the healing powers of TIENS, and acted as my translator throughout the seminar, seemingly on Wasswa’s instruction. Robert says that he came to TIENS with kidney problems and maintains the products worked where hospital treatments failed. Like Sarah’s son, however, he admits that he is still in pain. Firstly, he attributes this to the fact that his kidney treatment is incomplete; he too has had financial difficulties. Secondly, he explains that the TIENS diagnostic test revealed his kidneys are not his only problem; while his original condition may have improved, he now knows he is suffering from other conditions that need to be cured too.

Sarah and Robert reveal that they have each spent USH 460,000 ($180) on products so far, paying in instalments from what they could borrow or scrape together. Sarah says she needs USH 500,000 ($200) more to complete her son’s treatment, but doesn’t know where the money will come from given that she is now jobless and that the father of her son is in school. Robert says he needs around USH 200,000 ($80) more, but says that as a “peasant”, he too will struggle.

“I haven’t balanced it well,” he says, “but I hope it will balance out soon. I am still feeling pain.”

It is not a coincidence that Robert, Sarah and a few others who spoke to me had all purchased exactly USH 460,000 worth of products. Nor is it an inexplicable peculiarity that individuals with no reliable source of income had shelled out what little they had, and more, on TIENS products. After all, TIENS is more than just a supplier of health supplements.

In the symposium in Iganga, once Julius had waxed lyrical about various products, it was time for Wasswa to take over the stage to talk about another benefit of TIENS. Though not before Julius had the opportunity to rouse the crowd.

After finishing his demonstration of TIENS’ disease-curing sanitary pads, Julius put down the product and strolled ponderously along the front of the courtyard before turning to face the audience. “Tianshi!” he shouted suddenly. “Together we share!” came back the reply on cue, a hundred voices amplified by the concrete walls. “Tianshi!” Julius proclaimed a second time, a little louder. “One dream!” came the soaring response. “Tianshi!” yelled the doctor a third time. “The best of all!!” bellowed the crowd.

Next, Julius taught the audience a new trick. Since all points in ours palms relate to different internal organs, he explained, clapping stimulates the whole body and works as a kind of “first aid.” He held his hands apart and, together with the crowd, clapped out a rhythm that crackled across the courtyard. Julius explained that the louder you clap, the greater the benefits to your internal organs, before holding out his hands and going again. And again.

Finally, looking satisfied, Julius completed his session and handed over to Wasswa.

“TIENS is not just good for your health,” the salesman proclaimed, taking to the stage, “it is also good for your wealth. If you register with TIENS, they will start to pay you. You come here for treatment, but over time, you will start to get a salary.”

Over the next few minutes, Wasswa explained that this is what he had done and that he was not only receiving thousands of dollars every month now, but had been taken on international trips by the company, received huge cash bonuses and been given a brand new car.

“When you reach a certain level, you start earning,” he said. “And it does not matter if you have no qualifications or education. TIENS does not care if you are educated. TIENS only cares how many products you buy and how many people you recruit.”

Wasswa said these words with a weighty earnestness, but they were not news to half the courtyard. Robert, Sarah and many others around them – all recognisable by the golden lion-shaped badges they were wearing – were not just TIENS patients, but members and distributors already. They were here on Wasswa’s instructions to give testimony and help convince others to join too. For these returning members, TIENS is not just a medical supplier, but a livelihood, an investment, and a chance to follow in Wasswa’s jet-setting footsteps.

Sitting behind his desk at the TIENS-Uganda headquarters, located at the top of King Fahd Plaza on a busy street in Kampala, Kibuuka Mazinga Ambrose is delighted to explain how the business model works in more detail.

“Anyone can join,” says the company chairperson, wearing a bright yellow TIENS-branded cap. “All you need to do is pay a small initial fee of $20.” Once you have done this, you can buy products at wholesale prices and sell them on at a profit. However, this is just the start, he says. You don’t get rich by selling a few bottles of herbal supplements. Under TIENS’ model, there are eight ranks and you need to move up the levels to really start enjoying the benefits.

The first few levels can be reached simply by buying more products, which essentially brings with it a small discount on goods. However, to get to the bigger rewards, you need to start recruiting others. This way, you receive a commission whenever they make purchases and also get rewarded if they recruit their own followers.

The more people you recruit and the more they recruit in turn, the higher you move up the rankings, and soon you can just sit back and watch as the commissions roll in. Furthermore, once you’ve reached the 8-star level and keep growing your network, you will eventually become a Bronze Lion, then a Silver Lion, then a Gold Lion, and enjoy rewards of cash prizes, international trips, a brand new 4×4 car, a luxury yacht, a private jet, and finally a “Luxurious Villa Palace.”

“It’s all about growing your network; their success is your success,” says Ambrose cheerily. “TIENS does not care who you are. Anyone can do it, and there is no limit on what you can earn.”

As the TIENS Guide puts it, joining the company means: “You stop struggling financially,” there is “little risk of losing”, and “if you work for 5 years you can retire.”

According the company website, over 200,000 Ugandans have joined TIENS, eclipsing even the number of government school teachers in the country.

Given Uganda’s high rates of unemployment – youth unemployment is over 80% according to some estimates – the appeal of membership is clear to see. Decent jobs are scarce and rags-to-riches stories like Wasswa’s are even scarcer.

Furthermore, the company’s image is significantly helped by the Ugandan government. Not only does TIENS advertise on the Health Ministry’s calendar, but according to Wasswa, around ten MPs are members of the company and at the Iganga seminar, Stephen Wante, the mayor of Bugembe, made a guest appearance. In 2011 meanwhile, Vice-President Edward Ssekandi officiated a ceremony in which a distributor was awarded a car and organised for TIENS to donate some of its products to a government health centre. A photograph of the Ssekandi shaking hands with TIENS’ president also has pride of place on the company website.

However, despite all of TIENS’ promises of wealth and perceived legitimacy, actually making money from the scheme is virtually impossible. At the TIENS headquarters, where members can print out their balance sheets, many leave the office holding spreadsheets indicating that they are owed almost nothing, if anything at all. Meanwhile, back in Iganga, several members who had joined several months ago, attended every biweekly seminar, bought lots of products, and gone on recruitment drives, revealed that they had not earned any notable income either. It seems many others have also abandoned the scheme after finding they could not make it work.

According to most TIENS members – both those who are profiting and those who aren’t – the reason for these failures is simple: the individual did not work hard enough. When I asked Sarah why she thought she hadn’t made any money after being a member for five months, for example, she hesitated before Robert helpfully chipped in to say “it means she is not performing well.” Yet Robert had barely received any income either, despite having been a member for six months and having recruited nine people. Other members who had yet to make money also suggested their situation was down to bad luck or poor performance.

This feeling was perhaps most starkly expressed after the seminar as I spoke to Wasswa within earshot of three members, all of whom had been distributors for up to six months yet not come anywhere close to getting a decent income. I asked Wasswa how long it typically takes to break even. “Some people can take a month, but sometimes maybe two months,” he replied. What if someone has been working hard but hasn’t started getting an income after 6 months, I followed up. “Six months?” Wasswa exclaimed. “No, it’s rare. Very rare. If someone is serious, they should be on a high level and earning well after six months.”

I looked over at the three recruits who all just stared at the floor, looking sheepish and, I thought, ashamed.

The reality, however, is that failure under TIENS is not the individual’s fault. In fact, for the vast majority of members, the business model is designed to fail. TIENS in Uganda appears to be little more than thin-veiled pyramid scheme.

Recruiters emphasise that to join, all you need to do is pay a $20 membership fee. But in reality that is only the start. Members have to buy products to move up the rankings and then continue to buy goods to keep their accounts open.

Members could make money selling these products, but the idea of shifting all these goods is a non-starter. Not only does each distributor have to compete with 200,000 other sellers as well as 30 well-established stores, but it doesn’t even make economic sense for customers to buy from individual members when they could sign up to TIENS themselves and get much lower prices anyway.

This is perhaps why Wasswa and other recruiters barely even mention selling products and why the emphasis instead is very heavily on “growing your network.” The incentives for signing up new members are higher than those for sales; the training sessions teach recruits how to sell membership rather than goods; and the TIENS Guide’s main piece of practical advice is a 6-step plan of how to “make a name list of at least 100 in a shortest time possible.”

If not from selling products to the public then, the bulk of the money in the TIENS system comes members’ own pockets as they pay to join, pay to move up the rankings, and pay to keep their accounts open. And it is this same money that finances top-level distributors’ huge salaries, shiny new cars and trips around the world. Given all the money in the system comes from members, the only way this tiny elite profits is because the rest of Uganda’s 200,000 members do not.

TIENS refer to itself as a ‘multi-level marketing’, but in reality it seems to be an unsustainable and fraudulent pyramid scheme designed to extract money from the many to pay the salaries of a few.

I later contacted Ambrose, Wasswa and Jamba George, another 8-star recruiter, for their response to these allegations, but they all declined. The manager of TIENS-Uganda, a Chinese expatriate, and the company’s global headquarters in Tianjin did not make a comment either.

It should also be noted that TIENS is not just in Uganda, nor is it the only scheme of its kind. The American firms Forever Living and GNLD also deal in health supplements and follow a multi-level marketing model, while TIENS’ presence on the continent seems to be particularly strong in West Africa, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. It is further notable that TIENS has offices in many Western countries, though the products there seem to be marketed more directly as mere food supplements.

Back in the courtyard in Iganga, Robert is listing the products he was prescribed six months ago. Like so many others faced with Uganda’s struggling healthcare system, Robert ended up seeking alternatives and eventually ended up at Wasswa’s busy but welcoming clinic.

The products worked, Robert insists. Up to a point. He just wishes, he says, that he could finish the treatment and be fully cured of his kidney problems as well as the other health conditions detected by the diagnostic test he underwent. But he cannot afford it.

Robert has no other jobs – he says there are hardly any jobs available in the area – and has five children to support. When he joined the company half a year ago, he thought TIENS was the answer to all his prayers, but he is still in pain and deeper in debt.

“Money is a problem, he says. “It is not easy to recruit people and I spend USH12,000 ($5) every week on transport to come to these seminars.”

I ask him why he is still part of the company despite losing money each week. He pauses for a moment before answering, “I believe I will balance my accounts soon. And I am close to moving up to the next level when I will be able to earn more.”

He explains that a technical misunderstanding delayed him moving up a rank, but that it should be sorted out soon. I point out that even if he moves up a level and earns slightly more than now, he will still be earning a tiny fraction of what he has invested. He nods in agreement, but adds, with a faint smile, “But with TIENS, time is on your side.”

But what if it still doesn’t work out, I push. What if Wasswa is the exception that proves the rule? What if it never works out?

Robert looks me in the eye for a few seconds before gazing out across the courtyard where a few groups of attendees are still standing around chatting.

“If the money defeats me, ” he says quietly, turning back to me, “I will disappear.”

*Some names have been changed to protect interviewees’ identities.

James Wan is editor of African Arguments. He was an associate producer on the Aljazeera documentary Uganda’s Health Pyramid. He is a fellow of the China-Africa Reporting Project, managed by University of Witwatersrand.

Source : African Arguments

African Least Developed Countries Need Greater ‘Momentum’ to Graduate From LDC Status

Kigali 15 December (ECA)- After several years of resilience following the global financial crisis, economic growth in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) has declined sharply since 2012 and significantly reduced their chances of graduating out of a LDC status.

According to “Least Developed Countries Report 2016: The path to graduation and beyond: Making the most of the process” – a new report released on Tuesday by United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) – global poverty is increasingly concentrated within the group of 48 LDC countries, which are falling further behind the rest of the world in terms of economic development.

Currently, approximately 80 percent (38 of the 48) of the LDCs are African. According to UNCTAD’s projections, by 2025 the LDCs group would be composed of 32 countries, and all but two (Cambodia and Haiti) in Africa. In Eastern Africa, there is a particularly notable concentration of countries which classify as LDCs – 12 of the 14 fourteen are currently part of LDC group (Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and United Republic of Tanzania).

Speaking at an ECA Policy Dialogue to discuss the findings of UNCTAD’s report, Mr. Andrew Mold, Acting Director of ECA in the Sub-Regional Office for Eastern Africa, explained that the UN classifies a country as an LDC if it has a combination of both a low per capita income and scores lowly on two composite indicators relating to the level of human development and degree of economic vulnerability.

Insight Into African Integration & Industrialization @ #UNCTAD14

Insight Into African Integration & Industrialization @ #UNCTAD14

Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) speakers offered a plethora of insight at the 14th United Nations Conference on Trade and Development #UNCTAD14, taking place in Nairobi, Kenya, from 17-22 July. ECA panelists talked about why extractive industries’ policy should ensure their revenues are used to particularly “transform the lives of those in the local area where the extraction is taking place”; why regional integration among African countries grows innovation, which enhances competition, and how investing in STEM education is the key to developing that innovative capacity. Finally, ECA’s executive secretary Carlos Lopes talked about boosting agricultural productivity and the transformational effect this has had on the Ethiopian economy. More about the ECA in this BRIEFING.

Mold clarified that LDCs typically suffer from three types of development traps: first, low incomes which lead to low investment, limited economic growth, and high levels of poverty; secondly, a low-level of economic diversification and heavy dependency on primary commodities exports, and finally, weak productive capacities.

The report argues that graduating from the LDC category should be achieved concomitantly with a rapid structural transformation of the economy, so that countries can better take advantage of the global economy.

During the policy dialogue, it was noted that only a very limited number of LDC have graduated to date – only four countries in the 45 years since this classification was established (Botswana in 1994, Cape Verde in 2007, Maldives in 2011 and Samoa in 2014. Other countries, such as Equatorial Guinea, Tuvalu and Angola, are forecast to graduate over the next few years, but pointedly only one in Eastern Africa (Djibouti).

Discussing ways of increasing the prospects for graduation from LDC status, Mr. Mold called for countries in the region to scale up public investments, including projects that strategically address bottlenecks in the productive sector, as well as accelerating the transformation of rural economies by upgrading agriculture and promoting non-farm activities.

Mold also highlighted that countries could graduate faster with more effective help from the international community in terms of finance, trade and technology. “Donors need to fulfill their long-standing commitments for assistance to LDCs and most importantly align their support more closely with national development strategies”, he said.

Source : United Nations Economic Commission For Africa

Africa: IFJ Condemns Closure of Three Radio Stations

Press Release

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The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today condemned the closure of three independent radio stations in the Gambia.

According to the Gambia Press Union (GPU), Taranga FM, Hill Top FM, and Afri Radio were closed down on Sunday 1st and Monday 2nd December by the National Intelligence Agency NIA without explanation.

Media reports claim the NIA agents ordered the members of staff of the privately owned Taranga FM to stop transmission.

“Four NIA agents and a uniformed policeman came to the radio this afternoon (Sunday) around 2:30 pm (local and GMT) and told us to stop broadcasting,” Taranga FM staff told AFP on condition of anonymity. Local media sources also reported that Hill Top FM was closed down later the same afternoon.

Taranga FM is said to be critical of the Jammeh administration and is a popular radio station in The Gambia for its daily translation into national languages of the news published by the Gambian newspapers. Since its inception, it has been closed several times and has often been reopened conditionally as in 2011, when it was allowed to resume its activities but prohibited from addressing the subjects raised by the private press. Its journalists were also sometimes summoned to the NIA, arrested or tried.

IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: “We condemn these closures and the attack on freedom of information this represents. The rights of all media workers in The Gambia must be fully respected and the stations allowed to broadcast without unlawful interference”.

The move is part of a renewed crackdown on independent media in The Gambia. Prior to December elections, freelance journalist Alagi Manka and journalist Yunus Salieu of the Daily Observer were arrested and detained at the NIA headquarters in Banjul. The director of the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) Mr Momodou Sabally was also sacked on 8 November, was detained and has faced a trial. GRTS journalist Bakary Fatty was also arrested.

Source : International Federation of Journalists

How Communities Resist Violent Extremism

By:
Lauren Van Metre

In 2003, the women of Tononoka, an ethnically and religiously diverse neighborhood in Mombasa, Kenya, organized security to protect themselves after a series of violent rapes had gripped the community. This movement, which they dubbed Sauti Ya Wanawake (Women’s Vioces), has spread nationally to prevent sexual violence, and the precedent has inspired Tononoka to mobilize repeatedly for its own security, including during the violence that followed the 2007 Kenyan elections. Today, this resilience is at play again as the community works to resist violent extremism.

Friends and family of victims of the 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Kenya during a memorial service. The siege by the Islamist extremist group al-Shabab left more than 60 people dead and many wounded. Photo Courtesy of the New York Times/Tyler Hicks

In the case of the election-related violence, citizens in Tononoka heard that ethnically based vigilante groups on the payroll of political parties were on their way to incite the community’s youth. Citizens mobilized to guard the community’s perimeter and repelled them. This same vigilance about security has allowed the community to resist violent extremism, as mosques, community watch groups and the local administration (elders and chiefs) work together to report on newcomers, screen religious speakers and manage mosque events.

Such citizen-led security organizations that work together and cooperate with the government are one of the key factors that build a community’s resilience to—or ability to resist—violent extremism, based on a comparative research study I conducted for USIP with Sahan Research and Development Organization in Kenya. The study looked at six urban communities (Eastleigh, Pumwani, Tononoka, Majengo in Mombasa, Kisuani and Kongowea) that were equally at risk for violent extremism, but exhibited different levels of violent extremist activity.

“Communities similarly at risk, but with less violent extremist activity, had high degrees and varieties of connections across religious groups.”

As the head of the research team, I selected Kenya as the study site because it is accessible and relatively safe and because it has a growing extremist problem.  Since the Kenyan military’s invasion of Somalia, Kenya has seen an increase in activity, including violent attacks, by Somali-based Harakat Al-Shabab Al Mujahideen, commonly known as al-Shabab. Recruitment for the war in Somalia, the radicalization of youth, the infiltration of local mosques and illicit financial transactions linked to extremist groups also have risen.

At the same time, the heavy-handed response of the country’s security forces to growing levels of violent extremism has antagonized Kenya’s local communities and angered youth, increasing their vulnerability to radicalization and recruitment. Kenya’s experience demonstrates the need for effective alternatives to traditional law enforcement and intelligence approaches to prevent violent extremism and terrorism.

With this research, I really wanted to understand how communities on the frontlines undermine and rebuff violent extremist groups. If the study could identify core capabilities and successful strategies that could be compared with similar studies across different communities and geographies, it could provide solid evidence for how to prevent violent extremism.

Deep Social Bonds

Previous research on how communities resist other types of violence had identified specific capacities and strategies to test on the ground in Kenya. Seminal works like Ashutosh Varshney’s Ethnic Conflict and Civil Life:  Hindus and Muslims in India, while focused on communal rather than extremist violence and not formally described as resilience research, identified key resilience factors. They included bonds among different societal groups that specifically work together on projects across ethnic and religious divides, rather than simply meeting at sports games and at markets. That distinction, Varshney concluded, has a direct relationship to the ability of a community to manage violence.

We wanted to test whether similar dynamics were at play in communities facing violent extremism. In addition to social cohesion, the Kenya study looked at other resilience factors drawn from other research. For example, collective efficacy—the belief that a community has the power and ability to successfully confront problems—and citizen participation, or the ability to work with the government to make change, were some of the resilience capacities that were tested in the six urban neighborhoods in Kenya.

A key challenge for the research team was security.

“We had to take measures to ensure the security of the surveyors and the respondents, since we were asking questions about violent extremist activity in their community,” Scofield Muliru, who managed the two surveys and one focus group discussion organized in each neighborhood.

The resilience research team also considered how to translate the resilience capacities identified in the literature review and describe them in ways that made sense to survey participants. By asking how communities responded to other crises and incidents of violence, such as the 2007-2008 unrest after national elections and a cholera outbreak not long before the study, survey participants were able to identify the key factors that they believed helped them resist violent extremism.

The key factor they cited was Christian-Muslim association. Communities similarly at risk, but with less violent extremist activity, had high degrees and varieties of connections across religious groups that allowed them to stop cycles of retributive violence and build greater levels of trust across religious lines. That trust allowed Christian leaders to assure their congregations that Muslim leaders were doing everything they could to prevent radicalization and recruitment.

Another capacity that existed in communities with less aggregate extremist violence of various types was community-organized, but unarmed, security groups that worked together and with the government to report violent extremist activity. The groups might be young people performing community watch-like patrols, or religious leaders sharing information, or tribal elders maintaining contacts with their communities.

Risks of Bribery, Informant Networks

The configuration of these groups was critical – there had to be more than one group sharing information, or community members would manipulate it. Also, if there was only one existing security group, it would have to rely on informant networks and bribes to cover enough territory to be effective, decreasing its legitimacy with certain populations. Multiple security groups, on the other hand, could verify information with each other, and they were in a better position to protect community members who made reports from being arrested or being subject to retribution from extremist groups.

Andia Kisia, who lead the Sahan research team, noted that communities that experienced heavy-handed police action – detentions, unwarranted arrests and beatings—stopped talking about violent extremism in their community. When these conversations “went underground,” it severely impeded a community’s ability to identify the violent extremist threat and develop successful strategies.

The study showed us that police brutality not only increases levels of recruitment and radicalization, it undermines a community’s resilience—its ability to act. It hits them on both sides by making them more vulnerable and less resilient.

The study’s recommendations are limited to urban communities in Kenya, because rural communities might have different dynamics. But non-governmental organizations and government officials trying to prevent or counter violent extremism in such areas should prioritize Christian-Muslim association in their activities, and support coordinated, community-led security organizations that work with the government to resist violent extremism.

The research results were briefed to Kenya’s National Counter-Terrorism Center and to participating community members. A leader in Pumwani said his community was preventing violent extremism by tapping into the same capacity they used to resist electoral violence in 2007-2008 – high levels of social cohesion based on widespread inter-religious and inter-ethnic marriage, which reflected the community’s tolerance and also strengthened its resistance to the electoral violence, much of which was based on ethnic divisions.

Perhaps communities that recognize the strengths they have and know how to use them can develop resilience strategies for different shocks, such as the potential risk of repeat electoral violence in Kenya in 2017.

Lauren Van Metre, the former head of USIP’s Center for Applied Research on Conflict, teaches at George Washington University and conducts research on community resilience.

Source : USIP

UN Recognizes the DRC as ‘Most Successful Experience’ in Countering Sexual Violence

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Kinshasa, DRCOver the course of the past three years, the DRC has reduced incidents of sexual violence by half, from 15,000 cases in 2013 to 7,500 cases in 2015, according to a UN Security Council Preliminary Report on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence.

From October 11 to 13, 2016, the DRC’s Office of the Personal Representative in Charge of the Fight against Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment held a conference in Kinshasa, in partnership with the UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, MONUSCO and UNDP. In bringing together over 200 participants including Congolese government representatives, religious leaders, civil society organizations, victim advocate groups, local embassies, NGOs, and donors, the conference assessed progress made in the DRC, identified remaining challenges, and provided a forum for recommendations which are being used to establish a three year roadmap for national priorities (2017-2019).

“The DRC is our most successful story. It has been our laboratory and we will take what we’ve learned here and apply it in other places such as Iraq and South Sudan,” said Zainab Bangura, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. She also applauded the Congolese government’s efforts to support the fight against sexual violence and congratulated the DRC’s Personal Representative on Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment, Jeanine Mabunda, on her office’s successful implementation of various programs to support victims and reduce sexual violence.

“After three long years of tireless work, the results are now visible as the rate of cases of sexual violence has been cut in half. The United Nations is inspired by the DRC’s success story,” said Mrs. Bangura.

“After three long years of tireless work, the results are now visible as the rate of cases of sexual violence has been cut in half. The United Nations is inspired by the DRC’s success story.” – Zainab Bangura, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict

Mrs. Mabunda noted the strong political will of the Congolese government to continue to work towards zero tolerance for sexual violence in the DRC. She recognized the collaborative efforts of various partners, applauded their collective success, and issued a call to action, encouraging further cooperation to maximize impact on the ground.

After the conclusion of the conference, Mrs. Bangura and Mrs. Mabunda led a field mission to the eastern DRC, to Goma and Bukavu, to survey ongoing projects. In Bukavu, South Kivu province, the joint mission participated in the opening of a new police facility specifically established to better protect the rights of women and children. A spokesperson for the police department discussed the decline in cases reported, saying “For nearly two years, there has been a steady and significant decline in cases of sexual violence reported to the police in Bukavu: 484 cases in 2014, 255 cases in 2015 and from January to 14 October 2016, 154 cases. With this new building, we will be able to provide better protection to victims.”

Next, Mrs. Mabunda and her team traveled to Oïcha, North Kivu, approximately 40 km from Beni, where a series of six public hearings were being conducted by the Butembo Military Court from 15 to 21 October 2016.

Five convictions were secured against perpetrators of sexual violence. Penalties included prison sentences ranging from 2 to 7 years, payment of damages to victims, and the death penalty was issued in the case of a rape and subsequent murder of the victim. To support the demands of justice across the DRC, increasing numbers of female magistrates have been deployed to conflict-prone areas, particularly in the eastern regions of the country, to enhance the presence of women in the judicial system prosecuting cases of sexual violence.

The Office of the Personal Representative has worked closely with the Ministry of Defense to address impunity, working to secure convictions through the military justice system, and to initiate programs and reforms within the military to reduce instances of sexual violence. These initiatives have resulted in measurable change, and convictions of high ranking military officers for crimes of sexual violence have set a new precedent, demonstrating that accountability for all is a priority. From 2014 to 2015, 246 convictions were secured in cases of sexual violence, according to General Joseph Mutombo, who is leading the follow-up Commission on the FARDC Action Plan for the Fight against Sexual Violence. Those convicted included one General and three Colonels.

The Office of the Personal Representative continues to work in close partnership with UN Women and UNFPA on the Break the Silence! campaign, to change social behavior across the DRC, promoting dialogue and encouraging zero tolerance for sexual violence. The Office is now working with partners to expand the campaign to additional provinces and also to further support an emergency call center which allows victims to report perpetrators and provides them with information regarding where they can obtain legal and medical support. 

In 2014, President Joseph Kabila appointed Jeanine Mabunda to serve as Personal Representative in Charge of the Fight against Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment. Over the past two years, her office has worked to fight impunity, resource civilian and military justice systems, provide critical services to victims, empower women and girls, and mobilize society to stop sexual violence in the DRC. Jeune Afrique magazine has named her one of the 50 most influential African women.

Source : Office of the personal Representative in Charge of the Fight Against Sexual Violence and Child Child Recruitment(Kinshasha)

Africa: Violators of Human Rights Must Be Booked

Editorial

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Peace and security in Africa remain rare. Most economies on the continent remain donor-dependent, partly because of lack of peace and security. Over the years senseless conflicts have engulfed the continent comprising of 54 nation-states.

Lack of patriotic leaders has crippled economic progress, forcing majority of continent’s populations into abject poverty. At the same time, natural resources that were meant to help the people overcome poverty have often turned into a curse.

Democracy and rule of law continue to suffer in African states. This is often done deliberately as the ruling elite clings to power at all costs including stifling opposition. Vote rigging is the norm during most elections.

Human rights abuse, in various forms, continues unabated. Thousands flee their countries in search of safety elsewhere. In so doing, they lose their independence and are subjected to new laws that at times hinder their economic growth. They leave their homes, jobs, farms and investments in a bid to save their lives. They even lose their beloved ones.

Burundi has been in the news for the past 18 months or so – all because of the conflict that was triggered by the decision of its president, Pierre Nkurunziza, to seek a third term in office. Many forward looking citizens saw the move as a violation of the Arusha Peace Accords of 2000 that helped restore peace to the central African nation that had been torn apart due to civil strife.

During that period, Burundi has produced thousands of refugees who sought safety in Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Tanzania alone received over 100,000 refugees.

ICC quit

Recently, the Burundi administration decided to remove itself from the International Criminal Court based in The Hague. Like several other leaders on the continent, President Nkurunziza, through his minister has said that the Court, established by the Rome Statute in 2002, was deliberately targeting Africa.

His government has sent a bill to the two parliaments, which endorsed the decision. Therefore, the country is in its final stages to officiate the decision.

Burundi is not the first to contemplate such a move. In recent years, Kenya was seen pushing for the agenda through the African Union. The pressure was so huge but later it was decided that such a decision should be taken by individual countries rather than by AU as a bloc.

African states comprise almost 30 per cent of the International Criminal Court’s membership. As regards to the convictions made by the Court so far, one could ask this question: Do the convicts, whether they are from Africa or not, deserve the kind of protection that some leaders like Nkurunziza have been pushing for?

It goes without saying that conflicts produce thousands of victims. There are rape incidents, injuries, torture and denial of human rights. All those who suffer in one way or another deserve justice. The culprits must also be booked. There is a general conviction that victims everywhere deserve some form of national or international justice. As the Burundi administration pushes for the country’s withdrawal from the ICC, who will administer justice to the victims of the civil strife that has rocked the tiny state?

It is high time; President Nkurunziza and his subordinates were made accountable for the sufferings their people had to go through. When acts of gross violation of human rights go unprosecuted, who will provide justice to the victims? Burundi administration, through its resolve, proves only that they have things they wish to hide that is why had rather keep away from the justice system rather than face it.

Source : The Citizen

Africa: Rwanda Third Best Place to Be a Girl in Africa

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The Girls’ Opportunity Index report by Save the Children has ranked Rwanda the third best country in Africa to be a girl and 49th globally out of 144 countries studied.

The report released on Monday, just a day before the International Day of the Girl which was marked on October 11, considered five indicators including rates of child marriage, adolescent fertility, maternal mortality women MPs and lower-secondary school completion.

The report states that while most countries are struggling to achieve gender parity among members of parliament (MPs), Rwanda tops the table with 64% of female, followed by Bolivia and Cuba. In contrast, only 19% of MPs in the United States of America (USA) are women and only 29% in the United Kingdom.

USA, the world’s largest economy, was ranked 32nd behind Algeria as 31st globally and first in African followed by Tunisia which is ranked 33rd globally.

The world’s best five countries to be a girl are Sweden, Finland, Norway, Netherlands and Belgium. Germany is ranked 12th, UK 15th and France 18th. Other big economies like Russia and China are not on the ranking.

Niger was ranked the worst (144th), followed by Chad, Central African Republic, Mali and Somalia as the last five countries. In the region, Kenya was ranked 97th, Burundi 107th, Tanzania 118th while Uganda was 120th. Singling out the US in particular, the report stated that not all rich countries are doing as well as they could for their girls.

“There are things where we do not shine on the U.S. side,” said Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children. One major example she pointed to was female representation in national government.

The US was hurt by relatively high rates of teenage pregnancy and maternal mortality compared to other countries in the same income bracket. Fourteen women died per 100,000 live births in the US in 2015 compared to only three deaths in Poland, Greece and Finland. Women hold 19.4% of the 535 seats in the US Congress while in Sweden, by contrast, women make up 44% of the MPs.

The report indicated that one girl under 15 is married every seven seconds in the world, revealing the scale of the threat posed by child marriage to education, health and children’s safety. “Girls as young as 10 are marrying to much older men in countries like Afghanistan, Yemen, India and Somalia,” reads the report.

Source : Rwanda Focus

African Women Meet At Mount Kilimanjaro to Demand Rights

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Rwandan rural women, together with their counterparts from various countries on the continent, will today convene at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in an effort to advocate for unrestricted women’s rights to land and other natural resources across the continent.

Participants from Rwanda say they are taking part in the cause as a sign of solidarity with women from parts of Africa that continue to be discriminated against with regard to land ownership.

Officials believe that the ‘Kilimanjaro initiative’ offers a unique window of opportunity to unify and amplify the struggles of rural women across Africa.

The three-day event starts today in Moshi town. The women will climb Mountain Kilimanjaro as a sign to show their difficulties in land ownership.

A group of ten women was selected to represent women from various rural cooperatives countrywide, according to James Butare, head of programmes and policy at Action Aid, which is supporting the initiative.

He said the event is expected to be the largest rural women’s land rights assembly ever seen at the foot of Mountain Kilimanjalo.

Women will share experiences on identifying and addressing key barriers to women’s land rights such as early marriage, poor access to information, and unfair inheritance, among others.

Butare said that, while Rwanda has actively promoted equal rights on land, it is worthwhile to share experience with women from elsewhere on the continent, learn from them and share success stories.

Speaking at a news conference in Kigali over the weekend, Butare said that the event is important as it brings together women from various countries to share experiences.

“This is a solidarity action because, if women have land problems in some countries, women elsewhere are also affected. In Rwanda, we have reached 50 per cent when it comes to women rights to land ownership while others still claim just 30 per cent, this would be an opportunity for us to share experience while also learning from each other,” he said.

With 2016 declared by the African Union as the Africa year of human rights with a particular focus on the rights of women, women movements believe that it is time for action.

“At the meeting women will produce a charter on demand for fair and equal rights and the charter will be presented to the African Union and United Nations for action,” Butare noted.

Esperance Nyirahabimana, who hails from Karongi and one of participants, said they expected to learn a lot from the gathering.

“Though land rights in Rwanda have been promoted and women given equal rights as men, the main challenge we still have is a culture where some women still fear to claim their land rights and where some people have a misconception that both women and men can not have equal rights to property,” she said.

“We shall learn from others how this can change.”

The event will be attended by women from 20 African countries.

Catheline Katundu, Action Aid’s land policy manager, said ” The women gathering at Mount Kilimanjaro are saying ‘enough is enough’, we cannot continue to build our nations upon land that is then pulled from under us when it suits the whim of big business, an uncle seeking inheritance or local government.”

A recent research study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation indicated that less than one quarter of agricultural land in developing countries is controlled by women, while low female access and control of land significantly obstructs access to financial assets.

Source : The New Times