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When history repeats itself…

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The Central African Republic (CAR), a landlocked African country usually ignored by the non-French media, has recently grabbed the world's attention due to the horrific human rights abuses that are being committed against the population.

It is hard to ignore the unspeakable abuses that so many men, women and children are subjected to and failing to report to the world the horror that is happening in the CAR would be harder to understand.

The conflict in the CAR is somewhat a reminder of the 2010-2011 post-election violence in Côte d'Ivoire although in a different context.

Power by force

In March 2013, Interim President Michel Djotodia (who recently resigned) came to power by force with the support of his rebel group (Seleka) and neighboring countries Chad and Sudan, sweeping southward and removing former President Francois Bozize – who ironically came to power through a coup d'état ten years earlier. Similarly, in March 2010 Côte d'Ivoire's President Alassane Ouattara benefited from the support of his rebel group (Forces Républicaines de Côte d'Ivoire), France and the UN forces to launch his uprising to take control of the capital after President Laurent Gbagbo contested the presidential election's results and refused to concede defeat. After being removed from power, Bozize fled to Cameroon while Gbabgo was captured in April 2011 and eventually transferred to the International Criminal Court in November 2011.

Religion, ethnicity and natural resources

Djotodia and Ouattara are Muslims from the North of their respective country while Bozize and Gbagbo are Christians from the South, which fueled the argument of religious conflict in both countries but the formers also belong to an ethnic group that - compared to the ethnic group of the latters - considered itself excluded from the economic power and control of natural resources. The CAR is rich in diamonds, timber, gold, uranium and oil and Côte d'Ivoire's soil is rich in diamonds, uranium, iron, gold, oil and gaz. The conflict in Cote d'Ivoire and the CAR caused a number of innocent victims which both sides were blamed for.

Violations of human rights

This power struggle in both countries has caused thousands of death and over a million of displaced. In the CAR, at least 1,000 people died since the 5 December 2013 attack launched against the Seleka troop in capital Bangui according to Amnesty International and around 700,000 are reportedly displaced in neighboring countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Côte d'Ivoire, the post-election violence led to at least 3,000 deaths according to the UN and one million displaced. The crimes reportedly committed in both instances include looting, murder and massacres.

The similarities between the situation in the CAR and Côte d'Ivoire show how sadly history repeats itself.
The CAR situation is very worrisome: half of the CAR population reportedly needs humanitarian assistance. In December 2013, the African Union has deployed its peacekeeping force, the International Mission for Support to the Central African Republic (MISCA) and France has sent its troops with some European countries pledging similar support. The country will likely receive the assistance of the international community to face the aftermath of this conflict.

The road to security and stability in the CAR will without a doubt be a bumpy and long one.


NB: This article was originally posted on Jamii Afrika, http://jamiiafrika9.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/when-history-repeats-itself/

Linda Gueye is a communications consultant. She holds a Master in International Relations and Diplomacy with a specialization in African Studies from Seton Hall University, NJ. 

Kenya’s 2013 elections in perspective

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Now that the country has completed the general elections for 2013, which ended with the declaration of Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta as the fourth president of Kenya, it is useful to reflect on the whole electoral process in perspective.

The country must be relieved that large scale violence, a characteristic of the elections in 2007, and about which there was much fear during these elections, did not materialize this time round . However, there was still serious violence, most notably at the coast where alleged members of the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) staged a series of daring attacks aimed at preventing voting at the coast. To their credit, the people of the coast bore the threat of violence with great stoicism and still voted in numbers. There is fear, however, that the numbers would have been larger if the violence had not happened.

In retrospect, the government must review its approach in tackling this group. It should be remembered that in July 2012the High Court gave a breath of legality to the MRC by lifting the ban that had been imposed on the group by the minister, who regarded it as an organized criminal group. At the time, the MRC was not known to espouse violence as a means of achieving its secessionist agenda. The attacks last week have changed all that and it will now be difficult for the MRC to justify the right to legal protection. The pre-election attacks last week must lead to a re-appraisal of the group with a view to bringing about an end to its activities.

The elections gave the IEBC its first chance to run an election. Formed only in 2010 in the place of the defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya, the IEBC had not had the opportunity to run elections before. While acknowledging that these elections were novel in many ways, as they gave rise to a situation in which the electorate was required to elect six offices in the place of the three that had been the tradition in Kenya, the IEBC did not meet the challenges particularly well. Two issues are worth noting in this regard.

Not unexpectedly, voting was very slow as there were many elections in one, and this led to massive queues around the country, the worst of which were in urban centres, particularly Nairobi. The violent attacks in Mombasa also led to a delayed start of polling in the affected areas. The effect of the delays was that the IEBC had completed the voting and started the announcement of results in some areas, while people in other areas were still in slow-moving queues, waiting to vote. This is highly undesirable as it probably affected the choices of those that were involved. Not surprisingly, one of the participating political parties complained about this problem. With better planning the IEBC could have minimized these delays. In future, there should be a time before which the transmission of results cannot start so as to allow those that are still voting to do so without the influence of knowing some results.

In these elections, the IEBC embraced technology which was supposed to promote accountability for the results. Without exception all the technology failed. There was failure of the biometric voter registration system aimed at identifying voters and checking on ballot stuffing. In most places, the failure of this system came as a result of the batteries of laptop computers running out of charge, often within one hour of the start of the voting. Surely, it was foreseeable that computer batteries would need to be charged. The failure to make provision for this when the IEBC acquired the very expensive BVR kits smacks of monumental incompetence for which the IEBC must be held accountable.

As a result of the failure of this technology, there will always be a suspicion, difficult to dispel, that more than those that were entitled to vote did so. The Kriegler Commission, which identified the problem of the 2007 elections dealt with the issue of improbably high voter turnouts and recommended reforms. Based on the performance of the IEBC, Kenya is still far from achieving reforms against ballot stuffing and related malpractices.

There was also a failure of the electronic results transmission system. In the face of this failure, the IEBC resorted to a manual tallying of results which has been criticized for its lack of transparency. In particular, the failure resulted in an inability on the part of the IEBC to declare results as and when these were available and the delayed declaration is regarded as prone to fraud. As part of the manual system the IEBC used Form 36, a form meant for collating polling station level results as its primary source of information as to the votes cast. There will always be doubt as to the integrity of these results because of this failure. Second, there is an issue on the value for money involved if an expensively-procured system, such as the one that the IEBC had in place, fails during a critical time.

Throughout these elections the media and other sectors of society, perhaps nervous about the failed elections of 2007, shunned stories portraying problems with the management of the elections in general and the shortcomings of the IEBC in particular. The consequence is that there has been a virtual self censorship by the media about elections 2013

In truth, the presidential elections 2013, like those of 2007 have been a failure. The similarity is that like Kibaki in 2007, Kenyatta has acquired a massive mandate without a commensurate amount of popular legitimacy. The difference is that the failure in 2007 produced violence. The fresh memories about the post-election violence, no doubt, helped in this regard.

The overall lesson from elections 2013 is that Kenya is still a long way from carrying out credible presidential elections. In the coming months, the agenda must be to address this problem, starting with an audit of the affairs of the IEBC, including the expensive, but ultimately useless, gadgets acquired to run the elections.

Article written by George Kegoro

George Kegoro is the Executive Director of the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists.

Sierra Leone: Ernest Bai Koroma wins presidential poll

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Sierra Leone's incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma has won the presidential election, the election commission has said.

He received almost 59% of votes cast, meaning there is no need for a run-off as he won more than 55%.

His main challenger, ex-military ruler Julius Maada Bio, took 38% of the ballots in Saturday's peaceful poll.

It was the third election since the 1991-2002 civil war, which killed more than 50,000 people.

International observers have already declared the election to be peaceful and transparent.

The average national turnout was 87.3%, the election commission said.
'Growing fast'

Mr Koroma, who faced eight candidates, took 1,314,881 votes - 58.7% of the total.

It will be his second and final term in office.

His supporters flooded the streets of the capital as news of his comfortable win became known - they danced, sang and banged pots and pans, the BBC's Mark Doyle reports from Freetown.

Parliamentary and local council election results are yet to be declared.

Saturday's vote was the first post-war election Sierra Leone had organised itself - the other two held since the war ended in 2001 were run by the United Nations.

Although many people around the world might still associate Sierra Leone with the Hollywood movie Blood Diamond - a place of war and atrocities - that image today could not be further from the truth, our correspondent says.

Sierra Leone is now a peaceful, democratic nation and the economy is growing fast - even if it remains one of the poorest nations in Africa, with a large proportion of the population of about six million living on less than $1.25 (80p) a day.

The army - once an undisciplined force containing a large number of rebels - has been rebuilt with considerable military aid from the UK and now sends peacekeeping soldiers to serve in UN missions around the world.


Ivory Coast's Ouattara names ex Foreign Minister as PM

Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara has named Daniel Kablan Duncan, a member of his allied PDCI party, as his new prime minister, Ouattara's office said on Wednesday.

The nomination of Duncan, who previously served as foreign minister, ensures that Ouattara sticks to a deal that saw the PDCI throw its weight behind Ouattara during a 2010 election run off in return for the prime minister's job.

Ouattara dissolved his government last week in a surprise move, citing the lack of solidarity within his coalition.


70 Percent of African Women Lack a Safe Toilet Increasing Their Risk of Illness, Shame, and Violence

Seven in ten women in sub-Saharan Africa have no access to a safe toilet, threatening their health and exposing them to shame, fear and even violence.

This means that on World Toilet Day, 19 November, 297 million African women and girls lack safe and adequate sanitation and of those 107 million don't have a toilet at all.

A survey commissioned by WaterAid of women living across five slums in Lagos, Nigeria, showed that one in five had first or second hand experience of verbal harassment and intimidation, or had been threatened or physically assaulted in the last year when going to the toilet.

Anecdotal evidence from other African countries suggests that the scale of the problem may be much larger than this.

Barbara Frost, Chief Executive of WaterAid, said:

"When women don't have a safe, secure and private place to go to the toilet they are exposed and put in a vulnerable position and when they relieve themselves in the open they risk harassment. Women are reluctant to talk about it or complain, but the world cannot continue to ignore this."

"Adequate sanitation, coupled with access to clean, safe water to drink, transforms lives, improving health, safety and productivity. Governments are urged to take action and invest in access to sanitation and water."

Other studies from Uganda and Kenya show that such experiences of fear, indignity and violence appear to be common in Africa wherever women lack access to safe and adequate sanitation.

Sandimhia Renato, 18, from Mozambique walks 15 minutes every day to defecate in the bush.

"Sometimes when I go I feel ashamed and go back without defecating. Sometimes I wait until dark to go there so no one can see me. I will be very concerned about Diani, my daughter, going to the bush because it is so far from here. At night it is very dangerous. People get killed. A woman and a boy were killed with knives. One woman I know of has been raped."

Security came out as a recurring concern in the poll of women from slums in Lagos, with 67% of respondents saying they feel unsafe even using shared or community toilets in a public place.

Poor hygiene has serious implications on health. Every day, over 1,000 African mothers lose a child to diarrhoeal diseases caused by a lack of adequate sanitation and clean water.

Lack of decent sanitation also affects productivity and livelihoods. Women and girls living in sub-Saharan Africa without toilet facilities spend 20 billion hours each year finding a place to go in the open, according to figures released in a WaterAid briefing.

Barbara Frost continued:

"This World Toilet Day, WaterAid is joining the call of hundreds of organisations around the world, for governments to keep the promises they have made to get adequate sanitation and safe water to the world's poorest people".

WaterAid has also released a new film showing what it would be like for women in the western world if they also lacked sanitation. The film can be viewed here.