Congo-Kinshasa: New Study Reveals Economic Toll of Malnutrition in Democratic Republic of Congo

The Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA) study was undertaken by the government of DRC in collaboration with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the African Union Commission (AUC), the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

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The study shows that the losses are incurred each year through increased healthcare costs, additional burdens to the education system and reduced workforce productivity.

“I welcome this important joint initiative which will contribute significantly to the government’s efforts to minimize the loss of human and economic potential to malnutrition,” said DRC Prime Minister and Head of Government Bruno Tshibala Nzenzhe, at the launch ceremony in Kinshasa. “Malnutrition is a silent emergency, accounting for nearly half of all infant deaths. For the country to develop, we need to address this situation urgently.”

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According to the report, DRC could save up to CDF355 billion (around US$383. million) by 2025 if the prevalence of underweight children is reduced from 11 to 5 percent and if stunting (low growth for age) is reduced from 43 to 10 percent.

“These results call on all of us to act now to avoid future losses caused by hunger,” said WFP Country Director in DRC, Claude Jibidar. “I’m convinced that with the understanding we now have of the terrible economic and social impact of malnutrition on children, we and our partners can work with the government to make a real difference to this alarming situation.”

“In line with Agenda 2063 – ‘The Africa we want’ – we seek to completely eliminate hunger and food insecurity on this continent during coming decades,” said Kefilwe Moalosi, speaking on behalf of the African Union Commission and NEPAD. “Africa has the potential to reap a demographic dividend from a young, educated and skilled workforce. But this potential can only be harnessed if we continue to invest in the health and nutrition of its people, particularly its women and children, and secure the necessary economic growth”.

The Cost of Hunger in Africa study has so far been conducted in 11 countries. The economies of these countries suffer an estimated annual loss associated with child undernutrition that is equivalent to between 1.9 percent and 16.5 percent of GDP. Results of recently undertaken COHA studies are due to be released soon in Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Similar studies are being planned for Mali and Mauritania.

Source : United Nations  World Food Programme

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South Sudan: Botched Vaccine Campaign Kills 15 Children in South Sudan

At total of 15 children have died in South Sudan after being given contaminated measles vaccines. Health officials said that the vaccines had been improperly refrigerated and were also administered by an untrained team.

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The UN has appealed for more funding to help nearly two million people who have fled South Sudan. A World Food Programme (WFP) official called their suffering “unimaginable.” (15.05.2017)

A new study has found that cases of the highly contagious disease have jumped significantly in the past year. Adults are poorly informed about their own vulnerability, the report found. (24.04.2017)

Children in rural South Sudan died as a result of a bungled vaccination campaign to combat measles, the United Nations and South Sudan’s government announced on Friday.

South Sudanese Health Minister Riek Gai Kok expressed “deep regret and sadness” at the deaths of the 15 children, who lived in the rural, south-eastern village of Kapoeta.

An investigation into the deaths supported by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN children’s fund UNICEF found that the children died as a result of “the administration of a contaminated vaccine.”

Around 300 children up to 5-years-old were treated during the four-day campaign which saw the local team using a single reconstitution syringe to mix multiple vaccine vials. The UNICEF-supplied vaccines were also kept in a building with inadequate refrigeration.

Another 32 children suffered from fever, vomiting, and diarrhea, but were able to recover from their symptoms, a joint statement from the WHO and UNICEF said.

Children administering vaccines

Although local teams had been trained by development partners and the WHO, the investigation showed that local officials failed to follow immunization guidelines.

“We have to look into why the training was not passed on to the teams on the ground,” said WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic in Geneva.

South Sudanese Health Minister Kok also noted that the team that administered the vaccines was not well-trained.

“The team that vaccinated the children in this tragic event were neither qualified nor trained for the immunization campaign,” Kok told a news conference.

The untrained team also recruited two children aged 13 and 12-years-old to administer the vaccines, the health minister added.

The risk of measles remains high in South Sudan due to an ongoing military conflict that has killed tens of thousands and seen almost 2 million people flee the country. According to the UN, the country has suffered from measles outbreaks caused by a backlog of unvaccinated children.

Source : DW

Uganda: Councillor Ssegirinya Holds ‘Salt’ Prayers to Curse Middle East Employers

Jocular Kawempe North Kampala Capital City Authority councillor Muhammad Ssegirinya has today perfected the ‘bush prayers’, a tradition started by his comrade-in-comical politics Mubarak Munyagwa (FDC, Kawempe South MP).

In an early morning video, Mr Ssegirinya is seen in the company of other individuals wearing the traditional Muslim men head gear, absorbed in prayers cursing tormentors of Uganda’s overseas labourers.

Mr Munyagwa controversially made the infamous “edduwa ya Kamulali,” translated to mean the hot pepper supplication, where he burnt the choking plant, praying amid the fuming smoke.

His student Mr Ssegirinya has instead replaced pepper with salt, asking God to descend his wrath on the Arab employers whom he accuses of torturing Ugandan employees.

Recently, Mr Ssegirinya claimed to have travelled to the United Arab Emirates, where he commiserated with Ugandans he said are under-going extreme abuse and exploitation.

When Mr Munyagwa said his hot pepper sprayer last year, it earned him a shouting match with the Kibuli based Muslim establishment spokesperson Sheikh Nooh Muzaata.

Mr Ssegirinya organized his controversial prayer to coincide with the International Labour day celebrations, which he said was unnecessary to celebrate in Uganda given what he termed as the suffering endured by Uganda’s workers in Middle East.

Dr Abdulhafiz Walusimbi, a Sharia expert at the Islamic University in Uganda dismissed Mr Ssegirinya’s duwa as having no legal basis in Islam.

“Such kinds of duwa are not acceptable in Islam because the Prophet Muhammad’s way of supplication was very normal, this salt duwa has no legal basis in Islam,” he said.

He added that the method employed by the cheeky politician is “intimidating but illegal.”

The acting chairperson of Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA), Ms Lillian Keene Mugerwa, recently told the Parliamentary Committee on Gender that up to 65,000 Ugandans are doing odd jobs in the Middle East.

This is 15,000 higher than the number that was working there one year ago.

Most of them are working as either cleaners, waiters/waitresses, drivers, tailors, construction and factory workers or security guards.

“Their annual contribution in the form of remittances is $400,000,” said Ms Mugerwa.

Unemployment

Due to unemployment in Uganda, some of the Ugandans now working in countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, sold family property to finance their travel to the Middle East.

Many Ugandans have been made to believe that the ‘returns’ there would be higher than they would ever make in Uganda.

In January 2016, the government banned the export of maids. The ban came on the heels of reports that many Ugandan workers were being mistreated by their Saudi Arabian employers.

According to Action Aid (2012), six in every 10 Ugandans are unemployed. Some lack the skills employers need. In other cases, the economy is not expanding as fast as the labour force.

Uganda: Labour Exports to Middle East Up By 15, 000

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Kampala — Up to 65, 000 Ugandans are doing odd jobs in the Middle East, the Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA) says.

This is 15, 000 higher than the number that was working there one year ago.

Most are working as either cleaners, waiters/waitresses, drivers, tailors, construction and factory workers or security guards.

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“Their annual contribution in the form of remittances is $400, 000,” the acting chairperson of the UAERA, Lillian Keene Mugerwa, told the House Committee on Gender, on Wednesday.

The committee had summoned the 63-member association to brief the committee on its business.

“Due to unemployment in Uganda, some of the Ugandans now working in countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, sold family property to finance their flights to the Middle East,” she said.

“Many were made to believe that the ‘returns’ there would be higher than they would ever make in Uganda.”

The government in January 2016 banned the export of maids.

The ban came on the heels of reports that many were being mistreated by their Saudi Arabian employers.

Ms Mugerwa, who was accompanied by the Managing Director of Middle East Consultants Gordon Mugyenyi, the MD of Magrib Agencies Ltd Catherine Ocen Ssabwe and the General Manager of Horeb Services Ezra Mugisha, urged the government to lift the ban on the export of maids.

They said the ban is not serving the purpose.

“The ban was put into place without taking into account the fact the majority of the workers that were complaining [of mistreatment] had been deployed by [human] traffickers,” Ms Mugerwa said.

“The few licensed companies…stopped. But as we stopped, the traffickers continued to export people to Saudi Arabia. When Saudi Arabia stopped the influx, the traffickers are now taking maids to Oman.”

Serere Member of Parliament, Patrick Okabe, concurred with the recruitment agencies and said the ban should be lifted.

“If we maintain the ban, people will find alternatives,” Mr Okabe said.

Ms Beatrice Anywar, the vice chairperson of the Gender committee called on government should address the reasons that drive Ugandans abroad.

According to Action Aid (2012), six in every ten Ugandans are unemployed.

Some lack the skills employers need.

In other cases, the economy is not expanding as fast as the labour force.

Source : The Monitor

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.

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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

Libya: UN Voices Extreme Concern At Worsening Humanitarian Situation in Benghazi

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The United Nations is extremely concerned by the continued worsening humanitarian situation in Ganfouda area in the Libyan city of Benghazi due to increased hostilities over the past week, a senior UN aid official in the North African country said today.

“I am extremely worried by the impact on civilians of intense fighting in and around the Ganfouda area,” the Libya Humanitarian Coordinator a.i.,Ghassan Khalil, said in a statement. He also noted that many people remaining in the area have limited or no access to drinking water or food, while other essential goods and medical supplies are running critically low.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Ganfouda district has been inaccessible for many months for aid organizations, leaving civilians in dire and urgent need of protection and humanitarian assistance. The Humanitarian Country Team stands ready to assist as soon as access is granted by all parties.

He called on all parties to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians and civilian infrastructure in the conduct of hostilities.

“The sick and injured must be allowed to seek and receive medical assistance and civilians and captured fighters alike must be treated humanely, regardless of their origin or political affiliations,” Dr. Khalil said.

“Women and children should receive special assistance and protection. Those civilians wishing to leave should be allowed to do so in safety and dignity without delay,” he added.

Following six months of armed conflict in 2011, Libya has been plagued with fresh violence and political divisions.

Source : UN News Service

Uganda: Teachers Seek to Follow Uganda and Ban UK-Backed Private Schools

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Nairobi — Push comes after Uganda court ruled to close chain of private schools due to poor sanitation and unlicensed teachers

Kenyan teachers want the government to ban a chain of low-cost private primary and nursery schools, backed by Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Britain’s aid budget, after it faced criticism from a court in neighbouring Uganda for hiring unlicensed teachers.

Uganda’s high court on Friday ordered Bridge International Academies (BIA) to close 63 schools in the country for operating without a licence, having poor sanitation and for using unregistered and unlicensed teachers, the judgment said.

The company, founded by an American couple, started working in Uganda in 2015 after opening 405 schools in Kenya since 2009 that use an ‘Academy in a box’ model in which teachers read lessons from a tablet computer.

However, the fast-growing company has faced opposition from teachers unions in Kenya and Uganda, where it often hires staff who have not undergone government training to read scripted lessons, delivered via the internet.

“These academies should not be allowed to operate anywhere in third world countries,” said Wilson Sossion, secretary general of the Kenya National Union of Teachers, adding that his union will release a report criticising BIA in December.

“We want to believe that will open the eyes of the government of Kenya to move a step further to close down Bridge schools.”

Kenyan government officials were not immediately available for comment.

Low-cost private schools are expanding across the region, particularly in unplanned slums where there are not enough government schools.

Last year, the United Nations adopted an ambitious set of development goals, pledging to leave no one behind, including the 57 million children around the world who are not in primary school – most of them in Africa.

BIA, which aims to reach 10 million students by 2025, targets families that live on $2 per person per day, keeping its costs down through technology, standardised content and scale among other factors.

Tuition fees in Uganda range from 54,000 shillings ($15) to 108,000 shillings ($30) per term, depending on age and location.

GHOST TEACHERS

BIA has filed documents to appeal the Ugandan ruling, citing its adherence to government standards, BIA’s Expansion Director in Uganda, Andrew White, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Bridge is being singled out by other vested interests who fear the innovation and changes that Bridge could bring to the education sector,” White said.

Rates of teacher absenteeism are more than 25 percent in Kenya and Uganda and large sums are lost through the payment of ‘ghost’ teachers who do not exist, a 2013 report by anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International said.

With BIA’s tech-based approach, teachers have to log in and out each day, cutting absenteeism to below two percent, White said.

“A teacher cannot be absent in our class,” he said. “A ghost can’t log in and can’t log out.”

BIA’s entrepreneurial approach has won it financial backing from Mark Zuckerberg and Pierre Omidyar, the wealthy founders of Facebook and eBay, as well as the World Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation.

But increased foreign investment in private sector schools, has been controversial, with campaigners calling for a greater focus on the right to free quality public education.

Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) has come under fire for investing $7.1 million of taxpayers’ money in BIA through its development finance arm, CDC, and the venture capital firm Novastar.

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child criticised DFID’s funding of private schools in July, saying it could contribute to substandard education and leave behind children who cannot afford even low-fee schools.

“Our priority is to ensure children in the world’s poorest countries get the education they deserve, regardless of whether the school is public or private,” a DFID spokesman said.

“When state provision is not delivering for the poorest, we work with low-cost privately run schools to provide an education to children who would otherwise get none.”

Source : Thomas Reuters Foundation

Cote d’Ivoire: Authorities Must Stop Arbitrary Arrests and ‘Mobile Detention’ Of Opposition Supporters Ahead of Referendum

Press release

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 Authorities in Côte d’Ivoire must stop targeting opposition members by curtailing their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, Amnesty International said ahead of Sunday’s referendum on constitutional changes.

On 20 October, at least 50 opposition members were arbitrarily arrested at a peaceful protest and detained for hours in moving police vehicles. Some of them were dropped in several places in the main city Abidjan, others around 100 km away from their homes and forced to walk back in a practice known as “mobile detention”.

“This form of inhumane treatment is at odds with international and regional human rights law and standards. Whether people campaign ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for the referendum, everyone, including opposition members, has the right to peacefully express their opinion and to have their dignity respected at all times. Members of the security forces responsible for this must be identified and held to account,” said Gaëtan Mootoo, Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher.

“Côte d’Ivoire needs to focus on creating a safe and enabling environment in which all voices can be heard. By unduly restricting the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly of mainly opposition members and other dissenting voices, the authorities are failing to be on the right track.”

On 20 October, as anti-referendum protesters started to gather, police fired tear gas, clubbed the leaders and arrested at least 50 people.

An opposition leader who escaped to the arrest told Amnesty International:

“Security forces seized the cell phones of those arrested and loaded them in police vehicles that have circulated for hours throughout the city and outside Abidjan. After hours, they told them they were released but clearly indicated that since they wanted to protest they only had to walk all the way from there to the city. They called the practice ‘mobile detention’.”

Amnesty International urges the authorities to stop this practice of arbitrary detention and calls on them to ensure that opposition members can freely express their views.

Those who are still in detention solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights, must be released, including Tahouri Wase Marius, who was arrested after the 20 October protest and charged with disturbing public order. His trial is due to begin on 28 October, according to his lawyer.

The former President of the National Assembly, Mamadou Koulibali, has been arrested twice since referendum campaigns began on 22 October before being released.

Amnesty International has noted a worrying pattern of arbitrary arrest and detention of opposition members during peaceful protests or gatherings.

During last year’s presidential election period, more than 50 opposition supporters were arrested and detained solely for their political beliefs and for peacefully expressing their views. They were released after months in detention.

Amnesty International delegates, including Alioune Tine Regional Director for West and Central Africa, met the Ivorian Human Rights Minister in February to raise concerns, including on the detention of prisoners of conscience, secret detention places and selective justice. The Minister requested 100 days to consider Amnesty International’s recommendations.

However, the government has failed to take any action, despite receiving a follow-up letter from the organization in April. Meanwhile arrests of opposition groups still continue.

 Source : Amnesty International

Congo-Kinshasa: Bemba and Four Associates Convicted for Witness Tampering

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Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba alongside four associates, who include two of his former defense lawyers, have been convicted in the witness bribery trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Their sentences will be announced at a later date.

Upon conviction for offenses against the administration of justice covered by Article 70 of the court’s Rome Statute, judges may impose a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years, a fine, or both. Today judges ordered that those convicted, besides Bemba, would remain on conditional release pending the determination of their penalties.

Bemba and his former lawyers Aimé Kilolo Musamba and Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo were found guilty of corruptly influencing 14 witnesses – D-2, D-3, D-4, D-6, D-13, D-15, D-23, D-25, D-26, D-29, D-54, D-55, D-57, and D-64 – and presenting their false evidence before the court.

Furthermore, Kilolo was found guilty of inducing the giving of false testimony by the 14 witnesses, while Bemba was additionally convicted for soliciting the giving of false testimony. The judges also determined that Mangenda aided in the giving of false testimony by two witnesses and abetted the giving of false testimony by seven witnesses. Mangenda was acquitted of charges of aiding the giving of false testimony by five witnesses.

Congolese Member of Parliament Fidèle Babala Wandu, who is Bemba’s close confidante, was found guilty of aiding in corruptly influencing two witnesses but acquitted of similar charges in relation to 12 witnesses. Babala was also acquitted of charges of aiding in giving false evidence and presenting false evidence.

Meanwhile, Narcisse Arido, a former soldier in the Central African Republic (CAR), was found guilty of corruptly influencing three witnesses but acquitted on charges of aiding in presentation of false evidence and in aiding the giving of false testimony.

The false testimony mostly related to claims by witnesses that they served in the army of the CAR, or in rebel forces, during 2002-2003 when Bemba’s troops were in that country helping the government to fight back a coup attempt. These witnesses claimed Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops were not responsible for the crimes committed during the conflict and that the Congolese troops fell under command of Central African generals.

Judges determined that Bemba, Kilolo, and Mangenda jointly agreed to illicitly interfere with defense witnesses to ensure they would provide evidence in favor of Bemba. They “adopted a series of measures with a view to concealing their illicit activities, such as the abuse of the Registry’s privileged line in the ICC Detention Center, or money transfers to defense witnesses through third persons or to persons close to the defense.”

They said Kilolo and Mangenda secretly distributed new telephones to defense witnesses without the knowledge of the Registry and in breach of the cut-off date for contacts imposed by judges so that Kilolo could stay in contact with them. “They also used coded language when speaking on the telephone, making reference to persons by using codes, or using particular expressions… signifying the bribing or illicit coaching of witnesses,” states the summary judgement issued today.

Today’s ruling brings to eight the number of individuals convicted by the court since its founding in 2002. Those previously convicted are Thomas Lubanga, Germain Katanga, Ahmed Al Faqi Al Mahdi, and Bemba. Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, a former leader of a Congolese militia group, has hitherto been the only person acquitted by the ICC.

Bemba’s co-accused were arrested on November 23 and 24, 2013, from Belgium, the Democratic Republic of Congo, France, and The Netherlands. In October 2014, Judge Cuno Tarfusser ordered their interim release, stating that continued pre-trial detention would be disproportionate to the penalties for the offenses charged. Whereas his co-accused were released, Bemba stayed in detention on account of his main trial, in which judges repeatedly rejected his appeals for interim release.

Bemba is currently appealing the 14-year prison sentence handed down to him earlier this year following a unanimous conviction on all crimes charged in his main trial. The appeal raises several fair trial issues arising from the witness tampering case, including the extensive access by prosecution officials to privileged defense communication and the defense strategy, and failure by trial judges to grant the defense in the main case an opportunity to respond to allegations of witness tampering.

Source : Bemba Trial Website

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